Things That I Used to Do
A Fallout Story by Lywinis
The things that I used to do
Lord, I won't do no more.
I used to set and hold your hand, Baby
Cried begging you not to go.
I would search all night for you, Baby
Lord, and my search would always end in vain.
(The Things That I Used To Do is copyright Guitar Slim and all copyrights belong to their rightful owners.)
Boone took a deep breath, let it out. His chest felt hollow as he cleaned his rifle, getting the grit of the Mojave out of the barrel and smoothing it with a rag soaked in gun oil as he surveyed the city below him. New Vegas was still the brightest thing in the desert for miles; the glare of the Strip was still a beacon to all elements, good and bad. The Lucky 38 was the brightest of the glare in the hazy pre-dusk of the Mojave, towering above the other buildings in its secretive splendor.
The fires of Gomorrah burned behind him, the sign blinking in a lurid red haze as the remainders of the Omertas scurried beneath him to do their new master's bidding. He glanced down at the dancers who were now paid a fair wage, instead of the drugs that had been forced on them with their capture. Slaves were forbidden in the new rule of New Vegas; the King and the 38's new master had seen eye to eye on that, and the outskirts of the city was now patrolled by Protectrons and leather-jacketed gang members as a peacekeeping measure.
Slaves were forbidden, prostitution was not, so long as the girls were paid a fair wage and were protected from overzealous johns. No contracts, just day to day labor, with healthcare provided by the Followers of the Apocalypse. All nice and neat and above board.
Boone snorted through his nose, puffing a coal onto the end of a crushed cigarette.
One by one, each of the factions in the city had fallen sway to the new master of the Strip. The Omertas cowered like whipped dogs, remembering her fury as they had gone from room to room, executing the slavers and gang members who didn't surrender. All because of one man who thought abusing a woman was a good idea and his right. The Chairmen fell in line, admiring a woman who could get the job done and the mercy she showed them when it was revealed that their leader, Benny, worked on his own to overthrow House. The White Glove Society had been purged of its cannibalistic notions, her intervention saving many lives and shedding light on many disappearances on the Strip as well. The Gourmand wouldn't be serving any more long pig, if it knew what was good for it.
Freeside was flourishing as well. The King had declared a partnership, and reconstruction efforts on the outer edges of Freeside had begun, a battalion of Securitrons cleaning out the rubble and doing minor repairs on the shops and storefronts for people to begin the long renovations themselves. It was still a squatter's paradise, but the food, water, and shelter were regulated, brought through by a joint effort of the King and the NCR sharecroppers. The water was rationed for growth instead of just production, the extra caps freed up by replacing the soldiers patrolling the farms with Securitrons going toward more water for the crops. For once in its life, the Mojave housed flourishing growth as water from the Dam was sluiced off to make way for the green things that would come in brown and stunted otherwise.
It was a golden age for the city that never slept. Boone approved.
But that isn't why you're on the roof of Gomorrah tonight, is it?
No, he answered his stray thoughts as he squinted through his shades up at the torch-tower of light that was the 38's revolving diner. She'd smacked the nose of the Bear, and that came with repercussions. Denying them sovereignty and instead declaring New Vegas a free state was something that the higher-ups wouldn't like, especially after wasting so much manpower to drive the Legion back. The NCR wasn't one to abandon something it had clawed for over so many years.
He looked back up at the balcony surrounding the restaurant at the top of the tower.
He knew she would be up there soon, her post when she came back at the end of a long day. She'd leave the long duster she was fond of draped over a chair, the tank top underneath it hinting at bound, high breasts and a long, lean torso. She'd stand on the catwalk and smoke, letting the tension seep from her shoulders like the heat from a stone. She would lean out over the railing, the cigarette dangling from her fingers as her hair hung down, unbound from the bobby pins that confined it during the day. Long and golden, like spun threads of the bars she brought back one evening without explanation, it would hang in her face in messy curls, begging for someone to brush it back and reveal her dark blue eyes, stormy with hidden thoughts. He'd never acted on the impulse, and had caught a lot of shit for running around the wasteland without ever attempting it.
First Recon guys understood, though. Your spotter was your lifeline.
He didn't often entertain these thoughts, too caught up in day to day life in First Recon again. He adjusted the scope on his rifle, the .50 caliber a gift from her, as was the ammunition and the modifications. It was fitting he'd use the gift to repay her this way; his life was always bad luck coming home to roost.
He set the large rifle on the rest he'd built for himself in the week preceding; these things took time, even when the outcome was inevitable. He'd known the order would come. When Colonel Hsu had placed the sheet of paper in front of him, giving him the choice, he'd taken it. He'd spent the time to make his movements unnoticed, the face in the crowd, and it would all be worth it. He could take the shot, and none would be the wiser.
Thus always, to tyrants.
He peered through the scope, focusing it on her spot. He still had time. She wouldn't be due there for another half hour. He just wanted to make sure the scope was correct. It was the ritual. It was comforting, and deadening, all in one.
Would Cass be up there with her this evening, drinking and laughing with her? Or Arcade, patching some wound and muttering invectives against her and her damn foolish ideas? Rex was always there, tongue lolling out of his mouth as he put his head in her lap, her hand splayed across the glowing blue dome of the cybernetic brain casing she'd helped to repair. Who would be with her in the hour of her death? Who would convey the Courier to her final rest?
He would, and that, somehow, was enough for him, in a twisted way. Another sniper might miss; another sniper might hit an imperfect shot, make her writhe in pain as she bled out. He would be her angel of death, one last time. It would be quick, and clean, and it was what she deserved. He would do this last thing, and sign his resignation from First Recon. Hsu had understood it was his last mission. He hadn't decided what he would do after. Perhaps he'd finish hunting Legionaries, alone this time.
He blew out another stream of smoke, crushing the cigarette out on the tarred square of the roof before he returned to the task at hand.
It was time.
He sat, his shoulder braced against the butt of the .50 cal, his eye set to the scope. He trained the gun on the balcony, searching.
"Et tu, Craig?" came the voice, low and disappointed, with a touch of humor that was never far behind. She found dark humor in a lot of things. He could see her in the corner of his eye, the duster abandoned for the tank top and fatigues, the first recon beret he'd given her perched on her head. It was right that she kept it; she was almost as good a shot as he was. Her smile, when turned on him now, was devoid of life. Dead, through and through, and it sent a chill down his spine, raised every hair on his hackles.
He turned, noting the silenced .22 she had trained on him, and sagged back against the short wall that encased the roof of the casino. He'd been caught. It was foolish to think he'd gotten up here unnoticed. He was too well known, one of her companions. The word had to have gotten out somewhere. A leak, a whisper, and mentioned sighting, and she'd come to investigate.
"Sarah," he said, glad his eyes were hidden behind the dark glasses – another gift from her. "I –"
"Stow it, Boone. We both know your orders." She smiled again, that dead thing, and he wondered if this was what Caesar had seen before she'd taken off his head with the .308 she carried. "I've had McCarren tapped since last month. I know what Oliver has planned for me."
No, he decided. Caesar didn't know the half of what he was seeing when he looked into the eyes of his executioner. At the time, it had been a thrill of violence, the crow of "Thumbs down, you son of a bitch!" ringing in the air like gunshots. Now, there was ice in his veins, something the desert would never thaw.
"Why'd you take the mission?" she asked, gesturing with the pistol.
"I owed it to you," he said.
"You owed me an assassination?" She snorted. "Boone, there's repaying a favor and then there's repaying a favor."
"Someone else would have botched it. Someone else would never have gotten this close."
"You're right about that. I've had you pegged since you walked onto the Strip." She shook her head. "I let you get this close. The Omertas wouldn't have allowed you in the hotel without my say-so. I was just wondering if you'd actually have the balls to do it."
"Of course I do. I'm the last thing you'll never see." He gave a dead smile of his own.
"I'm not Carla, Boone." It was cold, harsh, and meant to make him rise to the bait. He struggled to his feet, but the bullet that whizzed past his ear froze him. She could fill him full of holes should she want to; they both knew it. All he carried besides the anti-materiel rife was his machete. It lay on the warm tar tiles of the roof next to his feet, and she'd shoot him before he ever got to it.
"I don't need saving," she said. "Not your brand, not anyone's. I wonder if General Oliver told you what we talked about, Boone, when we met in the aftermath of the Legate's camp? Did he?"
"It was classified," he said. It was stiff, and formal, and harsh. She smiled in the face of it.
"Of course it was. Did he tell you that he wanted control? That he was going to kill me to get it, and anyone else that wanted a free Vegas?" She gestured out to the lights of the Strip, the lights of the renovated Freeside beyond. "How many people would die in the ensuing conflict? A few hundred? Would it matter?"
"You feel that strongly about it," he said. "Why not let the NCR in? Why take over for yourself?"
"Wouldn't you?" She smiled, dropped the pistol to her side. "You've seen how much good we've done for the surrounding area. Violent crime has dropped by half. Food production is up, as is energy. We're a utopia now, and people flock in from the desert to see us. Cibola, city of gold. Bumpty-bump."
She chuckled, a private joke.
He shook his head. "I have orders."
"Of course you do." She sighed, rolling her shoulders. "The NCR is stretching itself far too thin, with no troops to protect the lands they've seized. What I've offered them is a compromise, one that benefits us both. They get a percentage of the food we grow, power routed from the Dam when it's fully functional, support in tracking down the scattered remnants of the Legion. Trade. It wasn't good enough for General Wait-and-See, not when he had the whole shebang in his grip. So now the NCR is massing on my borders. And he sends my best friends to kill me."
He was silent. He'd often been silent, letting her make the decisions while he'd stewed in his mind, opening old wounds fresh and letting the bile spill onto the hardpan. She'd made the right ones, as far as he was concerned, working with a silver tongue far more than a rifle, and she was whip-smart, for all the bullet to the head might have scrambled her brains. She was lucky, luckier than she knew.
"Dammit, Boone, you were at Bitter Springs. You know what happened there, and you were a part of it. You know what the brass is capable of, and I won't have it in my town. Not when I risked my ass and yours out on Fortification Hill to take out the one son of a bitch that would have ruined everything. We sweated and bled and damn near died, and what would the NCR have done? They'd have pinned medals on our chests and told us to shut the fuck up while they exploited every person out here who gave a damn about us."
"About you." It spilled from his mouth, brassy like a spent casing. "You were the one capable of all this. I wouldn't have gotten near as far as we did."
"You'd have died trying." Her smile was genuine this time, full of memories, and he felt his heart twist. "You damn stubborn fool."
"Sarah," he said, and then stopped. There wasn't anything that needed to be said. For the first time in his life, he was at peace. He smiled at her, a genuine smile that made the angry expression on her face soften. "Make it quick."
"You always said I'd be the death of you," she said.
"Yeah," he said as the smile morphed into a smirk. "And I was right."
He closed his eyes, the busy street below a soothing balm to his troubled heart. It would have been better if he'd been in the open, on a ridge, in the wild where he belonged. He supposed it didn't matter. He remembered, in a moment of idle introspection, that he'd met Carla not too far from here, in the Tops. It might have been nice to go back once more. But his life was full of regrets anyway. His biggest one was about to get payback. He braced himself.
The shot didn't come.
He opened his eyes as he heard the shuffling of her seating herself next to him. The warmth of her lean length against his side felt right, and he hadn't felt right in a long, long time. Not since his last jaunt with her in the Wastes. He let out a breath at the same time she did. Shoulder to shoulder, they stared up at the lurid red lighting of Gomorrah's sign. She tapped out a cigarette and offered him one. He took it, offering her his lighter.
She lit her cigarette and passed it back, blowing a thin stream of bluish smoke from her nostrils. Tension seeped out of her like heat from a stone, and he felt the knots in his own back loosen as well.
"A man chooses. A slave obeys." She took another drag on her smoke. "I read that, or heard it, somewhere once. I can't remember, but it stuck with me."
He nodded, taking a drag off his own cigarette.
"You always seemed to me like someone who chose his own path, even in subtle ways. You chose to follow Carla to Cottonwood Cove. You chose to move to Novac and try to start a new life. You chose to follow me." She drew her knees up and rested her arms on them. "I figure giving you a choice in this is the only sporting thing to do."
"A choice?" He'd been so braced for death, this was like a rattling of a watch wound too tight.
"Yes, a choice." She smiled at him, her teeth gone bloody in the red neon. "A man chooses, after all. You can stick around with me, help me out with my errands around here. Or, the alternative..."
He nodded. He understood. "I don't think I could get rid of you if I tried."
"I need you to keep me on the straight and narrow, remember? A sniper is only as good as her spotter, after all."
"What do we tell the NCR?" he asked. "Technically, I signed on for another tour."
"Fuck 'em. They know the risks for sending someone without backup so deep into enemy territory. They owe me for that mess with Kimball anyway. We're even now." She nudged him, and to his surprise, he chuckled, a rusty sounding thing that clawed up from his belly. It turned into a full-throated laugh, something turning loose in him as his crazy-ass Courier grinned at him. He rested his head against the warm stucco of the low wall, looking up at the darkening sky.
Rex barked, trotting around the corner and plopping his head in Boone's lap. Boone scratched the dog behind the ears, and Rex gave him an adoring look, even with the beret.
"Welcome home, Boone."
"Good to be back." And for once in his life, the truth didn't hurt.
A/N: I enjoy Boone far too much.
This is something that's been kicking around my hard drive since New Vegas came out. Enjoy, Constant Readers.