Benefit of Friendship
I originally wrote this for the Fallout k-meme a while ago (2 years?). Turned into a longer story than I bargained.
Prompt: Cass/Julie, where Cass arrives at the Old Mormon Fort (Your option of how), and gets treated by Julie.
"I don't give a fuck," Cass swore at the courier. She shoved at Six, and Cass thought she managed to knock the courier over until she realized she'd knocked herself on her own ass. Damn, she'd not made it ten feet out of the Atomic Wrangler before she'd fallen down. Six glared at her and dragged Cass to her feet again.
"You'll give a fuck when you sober up and I get some evidence against Crimson Caravan. I didn't think you'd have the nerve to get drunk while I risked my life breaking and entering at the Silver Rush. I found the document for you, by the way."
Cass stopped, wobbled sideways, and steadied herself by sticking her index finger in Six's chest. "If you don't know I'm never sober, you haven't learned a damn thing about me!"
The courier threw up her hands in frustration. "I'm leaving you for someone else to babysit. I was hoping you'd be able to help me at the Crimson Caravan. Too much to ask for, I guess."
Cass staggered against Six's shoulder as they walked through Freeside. She gave the Silver Rush crier the finger and called out something she thought was witty at the random Kings member lounging against the School of Impersonation.
"That's absolutely disgusting," Six replied to Cass's suggestion. "You realize it's not even noon yet?"
"Fuck," Cass mumbled. "Fuck'n fuckers. Why didn't you let me kill that bitch and her bitch brother?"
"First of all, they want to kill you. I think they'd manage with you in your state anyway. Secondly, killing them isn't going to do a damn thing that isn't destructive."
She realized they were standing in front of the cracked wooden doors of the Fort and squinted through the gap at the bustling decrepit state of the Followers' refugee camp. Six pushed the gate open with her shoulder, and the door somehow jumped in front of Cass's face. She rebounded and staggered sideways. "Ow, shit."
"You are so drunk." Six caught her and stopped, oddly silent. "Oh, wow."
The pain began to pulse through Cass's inebriated numbness as she squinted at Six's concerned face. She groaned, trying to touch her nose and only hit her forehead. "What the hell?"
The courier shoved a stained handkerchief under Cass's nose, which hurt like hell. "Quit it, bitch!"
"Well, it's a good thing we came here, because I think you just broke your nose."
"Ugh." Cass fumbled for the handkerchief and groaned when she knocked her own nose. The pressure in her skull pulsed in waves of agony. The taste of blood mixed with cheap whiskey, and Cass bent over without warning and threw up her last few drinks. "Ow," she moaned, inclined to throw up again. Instead she staggered sideways and fell over on her side to protect her face.
"Um, Julie!" Six's shout carried across the fort.
Apparently Julie Farkas heard Six. From her fetal position on the ground, she heard the two women murmuring softly, presumably to each other. Then, after their soft conversation, Six's shadow blocked the cruel sun from Cass's face. "I'm leaving now. I may be back by tomorrow morning. Don't give Julie any trouble."
Six left. There was a moment of peaceful solitude, then a calm soft voice murmured, "I'm going to help you up, Cassidy. Then we'll see about fixing your nose and getting you to sleep."
Cass attempted to ignore that soothing voice, but hands were under her armpits, dragging her to a seated position then to her feet. Cass staggered as the ground pitched and rolled. Her sinuses felt like they were going to explode. She threw up again. Then, finally, she was out of the sun and seated on a sturdy stretcher.
"I'm afraid I can't risk giving you any strong pain medication since you've been drinking. I'm going to set your nose now."
"Come at me, sister," Cass muttered. Her composure lasted as long as it took for Julie to pop the bone back into place; she let out a short scream as she tasted blood again.
There was no change to Julie's calm voice. Cass hated her a little then. "I'm going to administer a stimpack to the area to get the cartilage to fuse. It should reduce swelling as well. Are you ready?"
Cass nodded, not trusting herself to open her mouth. Her eyes were closed; either that or she was so drunk she couldn't see straight. It helped a lot when the stimpack came at her face. There was sharp, aching, white pain as the needle pressed under her skin, then the ache eased as the stimpack did its work. The pressure began to fade almost immediately.
"That should do you," Julie murmured in her ear. "Sip on this."
Cass dutifully sipped at the bottle of purified water that appeared in her hand. After some time she felt sense begin to return to her, and along with it came both rage at the injustice—the fucking human greed and cruelty—of her situation and embarrassment that she'd been drunk enough to both bust her nose and blow chunks all over the Mormon Fort. She doubted Julie Farkas had ever been in such an…ungraceful situation. If Julie Farkas had ever been drunk, Cass would eat her hat.
After a little while, the world slowly eased to right, and Cass could focus her sight again. She used the last of the water to wipe the blood from her face, though there was nothing she could do about the few drops on her shirt. Cass looked Julie full in the face when the doctor ducked back into the treatment tent to check on her; yep, she could focus with a little effort. "Good, you finished the water." Julie offered her hand, and Cass took it awkwardly. She got to her feet and forgot her awkwardness as her balance swayed. Oh, she was still drunk. Julie put an arm over Cass's shoulder and steered her with gentle strength.
"Bet you think I'm a fool."
"I think Six has a few things to answer for, knowing your condition and not offering a supportive hand." Julie pulled her to a stop as a stretcher carrying a bloodied local passed in front of them. Cass watched the child following alongside the stretcher with a twist of pain in her gut. "She got me here, didn't she?"
Julie was reproachfully silent as they crossed the yard. She braced her hand on the wooden door in the corner of the fort. It squealed open to a dimly lit interior room. She helped Cass clear the door and they began the climb up the rickety stairs. "You're an alcoholic, aren't you, Cassidy?"
"The fuck is that your business?"
"As your doctor, I'm asking. It isn't just a habit to kick, Cassidy. It's a slow death sentence. Your body isn't made to filter that amount of alcohol through your system every day."
Instead of obstinate anger, Cass was resigned. "Fuck. I'm dead anyway. My mother's dead, my old man stepped out years ago, and my Caravan business was destroyed by competitors. What's the point of doing anything but killing myself?"
"Don't you want something more? A family, a steady life?"
Cass groaned as she settled into the bed in that cramped upstairs room. She squinted at the mantle on the opposite wall. "That snow globe will net you two-thousand caps from Mr. House. You ought to let Six sell it for you."
"Shit, call me Cass."
"What's your full name?"
"Rose of Sharon Cassidy. Don't fucking call me that." To punctuate that, Cass pulled off her hat and placed it over her face to block out the outside world. Julie's warm, firm touch settled on her stomach, and Cass's body responded with a shocking shiver of pleasure. The doctor had healing hands. Not the hands of the few female whores and drunk soldiers Cass had bedded. Julie wasn't coming on to her. After a long pregnant silence, Julie said, "I'll check on you in a few hours. If you need anything in the meantime, just ask."
Cass answered with her silence.
Quite a few hours later, Cass was surprised to find she'd slept. The stillness she sensed outside in the fort suggested it was after dark. Her head also suggested it, ache reduced to minimal pain from her hangover. She addressed that discomfort with the tablet of pain reliever that had been left on the bedside with a bottle of water. Cass rubbed at her nose, which was a little sore but in one piece. Her embarrassment returned.
She approached a tiny cracked mirror in the corner of the room and wiped her face clean, retied her hair, and rubbed futilely at the blood stains on her shirt.
"Are you feeling better?"
She jumped and spun to face Julie, who peered around the corner of the stairs into the room. Cass watched wordlessly as Julie Farkas continued into the room and sat down on the bed. She stood, her hands awkwardly on the lapels of her shirt. She felt slightly naked without her suede jacket or boots on.
"What time is it?"
An uncomfortable thought occurred to Cass. "That's your bed, isn't it?"
"Yes," Julie replied, apparently unconcerned at the weirdness of a fall-out drunk stranger sleeping in her bed. "Are you feeling better, Cass?"
"Yeah. Except for the mortification."
"We've seen much worse." Julie's voice and expression spoke of understanding—more than made Cass comfortable.
"Except worse wasn't me. Today was."
"Why were you so upset?"
"I ran into a door and broke my nose."
"I meant what pushed you to drink so much this morning?"
Cass slowly settled on the bed next to Julie as she considered what to say. She sat on her hands and stared at her hat on the bedside table. What was the point in hiding the truth? For all she knew, Six had already told Farkas. "I found out that Van Graff and McLafferty slaughtered my caravans. I want to storm in and blow their heads off. But fuck it if Six doesn't want to collect evidence of their 'misdeeds' and turn them in to the NCR."
"That sounds like a reasonable…and safer…response."
"Who needs safety? They killed my caravaneers. They destroyed my business." For the first time, Cass felt tears prick hot behind her eyes. "I was blind. I let my men die."
Julie brushed a hand over her arm. "Even in New Vegas it's a stretch to think your competitors would resort to those means."
"What, murder?" Cass gave a harsh laugh. She stared at the grated red brick of the walls as her bitterness rose. "My fucking bad luck was actually human intervention."
"Six will get the evidence."
"It's not what they deserve."
"Maybe not. But killing them is a death sentence. And you don't deserve that."
"What really boils me up is I gave in. I sold my company to McLafferty. After she fucked me over, I gave her exactly what she wanted."
"I imagine being under the thumb of the NCR isn't at all what she wants."
"Blowing that bitch's head off would be a lot more satisfying."
"Maybe. But it doesn't pay to kill."
"How would you know, Miss Goody-Two-Shoes?" Cass immediately regretted her words. "Shit, sorry. I didn't mean that."
"I imagine you probably did. And to tell the truth, I had a very large attitude problem back before I became a part of the Followers. I had a chip on my shoulder the size of the NCR. I wouldn't take help from anyone. I refused to talk about my problems. I was an alcoholic."
Cass met Julie's soft expression, startled. "You?"
Julie smiled a little bitterly. "Among other chems."
"I don't touch anything but whiskey. I have a heart condition."
"That's good. But alcohol is as bad as chems when you have an addiction."
"Don't tell me you're trying to get me to give it up. I rely on my whiskey." Julie just looked at her. Cass sighed. "Yeah, after the stunt like this morning, I get it. I do. But what else do I have? I might as well make what's left of my life as comfortable as possible."
"You have so much more to live for."
"Like what? Helping Six in a gunfight? Sitting on my ass at the Mojave Outpost? Fuck no."
"You don't have a lover, any family?"
"Like I said, my family's gone. And the closest I come to a lover is a quick roll in the hay." Cass thought of Julie, who for all it appeared was alone, and she continued. "And I don't have some organization to keep me going—someway to do good for people. I'm not strong. I'm not you."
"You're wrong. But in any case, you don't have to be strong. You have skills that can help people."
"I'm not a doctor."
"You don't have to be one."
"Call me Julie."
Cass hesitated, startled by the calm request. "Julie. Look, Julie, I'm not worth it. I know it. So I wish you wouldn't even waste the effort trying to get me to stop drinking."
Julie touched her thigh. Cass's pulse skyrocketed, and whatever was left of her hangover disappeared in a jitter of nerves. "Will you at least stay here tonight?"
"Um. You aren't coming on to me, are you?" Cass let out a mortifying silly giggle. "I mean, I have to be really drunk for that, usually." Fuck, why had she tacked on that 'usually'?
"I am propositioning." Julie hesitated, but when she continued her voice was still soft and calm. "I'm afraid I don't have any smooth moves. I thought asking would just be best, however unromantic or unsexy is."
She only managed to get out a squeak. Julie continued into Cass's flabbergasted silence. "And it seems like you shouldn't be alone tonight."
Whatever Cass felt before immediately dissolved into righteous anger. "What is this, a pity party? Fuck you!"
Julie, damn her, laid a calming hand to Cass's thigh. It was completely nonsexual, but coupled with Cass's sharp burst of anger, it ratcheted her body heat up in a shockingly pleasant way. She shivered despite herself as Julie said, "I apologize. I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I want to have sex with you because I'm attracted to you. And it seems to me that maybe you need a night with someone who cares about you as well."
"You don't know me." Cass's protestation was weak, and she knew it. Her thighs fell open slightly under Julie's hand, and her breath went a little shallow.
"I've seen you enough times before this to know you're a good person. And I know something of what you're going through." She tightened her grip gently when Cass stiffened in indignation. Her expression remained calm, barely hinting at a smile. "I know enough, Cass."
"Oh, hell," Cass whispered, too aware of the hot touch of Julie's palm on her leg. She couldn't help but imagine that hand elsewhere on her body, and Julie's ever-calm voice murmuring in her ear made her wonder about that voice whispering obscenities at her. She was being seduced. Fuck it if it didn't feel good. But she wasn't gay. Hell, Miss Brotherhood Veronica probably deserved Julie Farkas's attention way more than Cass. Despite herself, her protest was pathetically weak: "I, um, don't usually sleep with—"
"Women?" Julie's hand slid up the top of Cass's thigh and settled against her crotch. There was no question in that touch.
"Ah, that's—" Cass gasped sharply as Julie squeezed her crotch.
"Will you stay?" Julie leaned over and brushed her nose against Cass's neck. Her Mohawk, soft and wispy by this time of night, tickled Cass's ear. Her fingers opened the fly on Cass's jeans and slipped beneath her underwear.
"Yes," Cass hissed, beside herself as Julie's fingers slipped against her sex. Gentle play against her flesh made her lean her head back against Julie's shoulder and sigh, taking pleasure in the soft touches. Julie breathed into her ear and continued the gentle rub of her fingertips unhurriedly. "Do you like being teased?" the doctor asked softly. "I'm very good at it."
"I can't wait to fuck you. Nice and hard. But we'll go slow first."
Heat built behind Cass's breast and flooded her entire body. She was sweating under her clothes, no longer taking simple pleasure in the soft massage of Julie's fingertips. That gentle touch it wasn't enough anymore, not with Julie's murmurs teasing Cass's arousal to a burst of fire. Cass's breath caught, and her hips began to flex as her pleasure demanded more.
"More?" Julie asked calmly. Cass answered with a long moan. "Yes, all right, Cass. More. In just a minute."
Julie withdrew, and Cass moaned in protest.
"Take off your pants."
At the command, Cass fumbled with her jeans and shucked them with her underwear, almost falling over in her shaky arousal. Even during drunk sex she'd always worried about being graceful and sexy. Now she just wanted to please Julie by obeying her. "Sit," Julie commanded softly. Cass fell back onto the bed, and managed to coordinate her body to the position Julie wanted. "Wider." She opened her legs wide and sat at the edge of the bed, ready to beg for the attention her body needed.
"Take your shirt off, Cass."
Cass fumbled at the buttons on her plaid shirt and shucked it, then stripped off her tank top underneath. She nearly fell off the bed again as she got tangled in her tank. Julie's strong hands settled on her shoulders and untangled her. Cass was finally naked, her breasts exposed, her thighs open, inviting Julie's attention. She needed… She just needed, more than she ever had. Julie's fingers worked through her hair, and it fell around her shoulders. Cass shivered, completely undone.
"What do you want?" Julie's breath ghosted over her collarbones, and Cass's skin broke into goosebumps. Her nipples were tight, and the fire in her chest and belly rose to her head in a dull roar of arousal. She was hot all over, and she had the impression of the top of her head about to come off. Julie's touch on her arms stayed her, and the gentleness of Julie's lips against her neck calmed her somewhat. "Calm down," Julie whispered. "I've got you. I'll take care of you, Cass. Tell me what you need."
"Inside me," Cass finally managed to gasp. Instead of attending to Cass's need, Julie pinched Cass's nipples, massaged her breasts. "Not just yet," Julie whispered against her nipple. Cass moaned, tears of frustration and pleasure rising to her eyes as Julie's capable hands and mouth worked on her breasts. "Enjoy this." And, even as the arousal her legs rose to almost unbearable frustration, Cass concentrated on Julie's touch on her breasts. She calmed somewhat, still shaking with arousal, but didn't take for granted the gentle attentions to her body. This wasn't just about orgasm, and though Cass was beyond being able to conceptualize that, she managed to obey Julie's quiet command.
Cass finally wrapped her thighs around Julie's waist and tried to rub against her—not to come, but for greater contact between them. She wanted Julie pressed against her entire body, cradling her, loving her. Julie continued teasing her breasts, but her hands fell to Cass's hips and pulled her closer. Cass rubbed her aching sex against Julie's shirt. With the aid of Julie's grip on her waist, she folded into Julie and sighed at the feel of it. The press of Julie's warm body beneath her shirt eased some of the ache between Cass's legs.
Then finally Julie pushed her back on the bed and rubbed at her clit. "Like this?" she asked, when she damn well knew it wasn't enough. In spite of that, Cass nearly came, moaning at the exquisite pleasure of the touch. "Don't tease me, please," she finally begged. "Please."
"Inside?" Julie murmured. "Let me fill you up." For the first time, Julie gasped, and Cass cried out just at the sound. "Oh, Cass, you want this so badly, don't you?"
Finally Julie filled the ache. Her fingers slipped into Cass, and Cass moaned, lifting her hips to take more. "You're so open, so wet," Julie whispered. "Do you want it all?"
"Yes," Cass moaned, rapturous. She met Julie's eyes, shocked to see that Julie was not as composed as she sounded. She looked like she was being given a gift, like she was seeing something wonderful for the first time. Because of me, was Cass's shocked thought. She looks like that because of me. In that moment of stillness between them, Julie's hand slipped inside of Cass. Cass gasped sharply, crying in shocked pleasure, a noise Julie echoed softly. She was stretched and full, pleasure burning through her entire body, and Julie's hand pressed up inside her, rubbing and increasing her tension tenfold. She rubbed up against Julie's body and clutched at her shoulders, and they strained together as Julie withdrew her hand and then pushed back in.
Cass arched and shivered and moved against Julie's hand and her body, moaning with each of Julie's gentle, strong touches. Cass strained against Julie, the tension ratcheting inside her, until she crested in a white-hot surge of pleasure, her body clenching, folding, releasing in a shocking, novel burst of pleasure. She felt like she might never be normal again as the orgasm continued to ripple through her, and she cried out as Julie gently withdrew, her back arching, heels kicking into the bedclothes, her sight graying out in her dizzying rapture.
Cass finally came back to herself to hear her own gasps and sobs. Julie's touch brushed up her sweaty stomach, between her breasts, and eased up to her ear and into her hair. Cass accepted her touch with no qualms, and for the first time in her life, she accepted a lover's embrace and cried into Julie's shirt.
"Are you all right?"
Cass sniffed the rest of her tears down. Her voice was still embarrassingly thick. "I probably won't be able to walk tomorrow, but that was so worth it."
"May I kiss you?"
Cass blinked up at Julie, shocked but appreciative. She understood the question at its core, but she was surprised that Julie did as well. Shy despite what they'd just done, what she'd just given, Cass nodded, lifting her chin as Julie's breath caressed her ear.
Their mouths touched, a gentle press of lips and the soft brush of Julie's tongue against her mouth. Cass sighed shakily at the sweetness of the gesture, followed by Julie's soft question. "Will you stay tonight?"
"Yeah," Cass said. She relaxed into the mattress and accepted Julie's embrace when Julie returned to bed in her underclothes. She sighed into Julie's shoulder and fell asleep.
It was weird waking up alone. Just as weird as the dark satiation of her body. That was new. As much as she was used to leaving bed before her partner of the night, she was just as used to carrying her sexual frustration out with her. For the first time in her life, Cass felt like lying in a blob in bed and waiting for Julie to return and fuck her senseless again.
But, well, she still had some pride. That was the only thing that made Cass roll to her feet and pull on her clothes. She sniffed her clothes and wrinkled her nose. If Six wasn't here, she'd head to the Lucky 38 for a bath and fresh clothes. Oof, she was a little sore. No surprise there, considering her…newfound flexibility the night before.
Oh, hell. She sat down on the bed and clutched at her shirt, suddenly terrified of her memories of the night before. Why the fuck had she done that? It had been amazing, sure, but god, she'd given up so much more than she should have. Cass had always thought that lesbian sex was about each partner giving to make the other orgasm, but last night she knew she'd been the one to give everything up. She'd surrendered for the first time in her life. Shit. Talk about no self-respect.
Cass yanked on her clothes and took the stairs two at a time in her haste to escape. Fuck her timing though, because in walked Julie Farkas just as she got to the bottom landing.
"Sorry, I was just going—"
"Cass, can we talk before you go?"
Damn Julie and damn her calm, gentle strength. Cass was mortified by the tears that stung at her eyes. "I should go."
"Please. Let's talk."
"I really don't want to."
"I'm afraid if I let you go, I'll never see you again." It was the first time Cass had ever heard vulnerability in Julie's voice, and it was the only thing that kept her there. She looked at her feet and nodded sharply. Julie reached out to her but withdrew her hand at the last moment, gesturing up the stairs.
"I'd rather talk down here, all the same," Cass mumbled, afraid of the bed and afraid of herself and her desires.
"All right. There are chairs down here."
They sat adjacent to each other in the tiny examination room. Cass was careful to keep her eyes anywhere but on Julie. Finally, Julie spoke. "I know that you gave me something special last night."
"If you're talking about my virginity, you're sadly mistaken." Inner bitch had arisen in sharp, hurtful defense.
"I think that was the first time you gave yourself to someone. In the very least, it was the first time someone has ever surrendered to me like that. I just want you to know that I understand, and I'll never forget or take for granted what happened."
Cass shuffled her feet. Inner bitch had been cowed into silence. All that was left was honesty. She wanted a drink real bad. "I… It was… I mean, it was amazing. But I'm scared as fuck and mad at myself for just giving up to you."
"I think it must have taken a lot of courage. And you've had an emotional week, if I've gathered the situation correctly."
"I don't want to talk about it. I really just want to go."
"I won't betray you, Cass. I'm not the best person with words—" Cass gave a laugh of disbelief, despite herself remembering Julie's soft, dark voice the night before. Julie ignored her and continued. "But I want you to know that I think last night was special. To both of us. And I don't want you to disappear from my life."
For the first time that day, Cass jerked her head up and met Julie's eyes, her shock overpowering her chagrin. "You aren't suggesting that we…"
"I want to know you, Cass."
Cass's jaw dropped. "I'm not girlfriend material. First of all, I'm not a lesbian. Second of all, I'm an alcoholic. Third, I'm a deadbeat with no future prospects. Hell, the only thing I'm any good at is brewing whiskey."
Ever patient, Julie replied, "I see no issue with us at least forming a friendship. I want to know you, Cass, and that doesn't have to include a sexual relationship."
Cass's shock doubled. "You don't mean you want to be friends?"
"I do mean that."
"I…" She rubbed her sweaty palms on her jeans. "Shit. No one's ever asked me that before. Hell, I've never even had a friend before."
"Not Six?" Julie asked.
"No way, not Six. I mean, I don't think Six. Oh hell, I don't know. My brain isn't working, which is your fault by the way."
Julie's gentle smile didn't change, though her body seemed to relax in soft degrees. "You'll consider it, then?"
"Fuck. Yes. Fine. Just let me out of here." Cass got to her feet. She started for the door and felt like a giant jackass. So she turned around, wiped her still sweating palm on her jeans, and held out her hand. Julie rose, but instead of the shake Cass meant, Julie caught her fingers in an intimate, shared grip. "Um, see you later, I guess. Friend."
How fucking awkward.
Bright amber liquid taunted her. Cass had been staring into her glass for half an hour, which caused the male Garret twin to take a few double-takes. Cass didn't have the anger to spare to send him a glare. Nope. She'd ordered a perfectly good whiskey, and it all sat there in a tumbler in front of her. She could smell the burnt mint and acetone, taste it subconsciously, but she couldn't make herself pick it up. Couldn't move her hand despite…or maybe because of the giant ball of black need to do just that.
It wasn't about kicking the drink. It was about going to see Julie Farkas without the good doctor smelling whiskey on her breath. Julie cared, damn it, and Cass wanted to see her. To be friends. No sex. No way. Fuck, she didn't know what she was doing. For the first time her adult life, she wanted something more than whiskey—whatever that something was.
A decidedly male form—judging by the cheap cologne—slid into the barstool next to her. "Are you a little down, little lady?"
Cass tore her eyes from the whiskey to give Old Ben a withering stare. "I'm not interested."
He was shocked by her rude rejection, but he hid it well. Cass sighed at the stab of guilt and, her hands shaking, shoved her whiskey over in front of him. "My treat."
The sky had grayed by this time of evening, though light spilling from the Strip would keep most of Freeside visible through the entire night. Every step away from that bar eased the black ball of craving in her gut until it melted into a massive burst of relief. And, oddly, of pride. Cass tugged at the strap of her new shotgun—a gift from that crazy Red Lucy who Six had or hadn't dropped pants for—and drew the combat knife from her sleeve, warning off a would-be mugger. He shuffled back and made for a quick exit into a side-alley.
The Silver Rush crier grew quiet as she passed. He glared at her, keeping eye contact as he pulled a finger across his throat. So the Van Graffs already knew she'd handed the NCR their proverbial head on a platter? How surprisingly satisfying.
The rubble wall gate opened with a groan, and Cass jumped as a giant rat sprinted across her toes, followed by two children. One of these days she was going to shoot that rat just to see what the hell those kids would do.
The Mormon Fort hadn't locked up for the night. Cass stepped through the wooden doors, taking care not to let her nose close to it. She wandered through the tent-ringed camp and couldn't catch sight of Julie. An important looking Follower was bent over ED-E's body in a tent lit by floodlights, and she mumbled furiously to herself as she bit her knuckle and stared at the parts on the table. "So that's where that hunk of junk went."
April Martimer shrieked. "Shit, you scared me!"
"Sorry. Any idea where Julie is?"
April looked at her blankly.
"Oh, right, Julie. She was in surgery last I recall."
Cass hesitated. "You haven't broken it, have you? I was kind of fond of the combat music."
"Huh? Oh, no. I'm just…hm…surprised by the technology in this Eye-bot. Solar powered, with more efficiency than I've ever seen. I wonder how…" Then April Martimer was lost in her thoughts and unresponsive to anything but ED-E. Cass realized she should have asked where Julie was doing surgery, but her chance looked to be gone.
Cass jumped and turned to Julie, who stood behind her. Her coat was flecked with blood, but her hands and face were clean. She appeared weary though her straight-backed stance was as strong as ever. She was lovely as her lips flicked into the faint suggestion of a smile.
"—I just finished." Julie cocked her head, and Cass followed her as they walked toward Julie's little room in the corner of the fort. "How are you?"
"Doing better than a couple weeks ago. You look kinda tired."
"Things have actually started to ease in Freeside. Six has been a god-send, making peace between the NCR and the Kings. And that's really lowered civilian injuries as well. And our supplies are beginning to be somewhat north of completely-gone. But yes, I'm tired."
"Six is pretty scary effective."
Julie motioned Cass inside the corner room of the fort. As the door closed behind them, she started up the stairs. When Cass didn't follow, Julie glanced back, as if following her up the stairs was would be the most mundane action possible. "I have dinner upstairs."
"Um," Cass mumbled. She remembered that bed very vividly. She wasn't sure if she wanted to remember it or not.
"I said 'friendship', Cass. I won't do anything inappropriate. Though if I want to seduce you, I don't have to have a bed to do it." It was said so matter-of-factly that Cass couldn't take offense to it.
"Right." She glanced at the surgical table in the room on the ground floor. "To my credit, I doubt you'd want to have sex on a bloody table. Doesn't someone need to clean that up?"
"John should be in shortly to sterilize it."
Oh, good, double assurance: from Julie and from the man bumbling around downstairs. "Okay."
Julie raised her eyebrows, still halfway up the stairs.
"I'll have dinner with you."
Julie's definition of dinner was a step up from the old processed canned food the courier dined on at the Lucky 38. Fresh vegetables and fried mole-rat steak with a half of a potato, steaming from its crumbly white insides, topped with fresh Brahmin-butter. Cass hadn't had food like this since her mother still cooked. She opted for water over the Sunset Sarsaparilla that Julie drank from. "Huh, that's a star bottle cap."
"Is it worth anything?"
"One bottle-cap," Cass replied, flicking it across the table with her thumb. "The courier took Veronica to the Sunset Sarsaparilla factory, and the jackpot for 50 star bottles caps was a load of shit. Of course, Six looks at things as the bottle half-full, and she found a room in that building with over a thousand caps in it. Veronica also tells me that the guy who 'created' Sunset Sarsaparilla murdered someone else to steal the recipe."
Julie raised her eyebrows and gave her bottle of soda a penetrating look. "Maybe I should stop drinking it."
"Better than Nuka-Cola, honestly."
"What happened with McLafferty and Van Graff?"
The change in subject wasn't all that unexpected. Cass leaned back in her chair and concentrated on the few kernels of corn left on her plate. "I handed the two documents over to Jackson. He's a good guy, and he'll see they get to the right people." She met Julie's penetrating gaze as she said, "Part of me still wants to rush in and start shooting though."
"I think you did the right thing."
"Thanks." For all it was worth, it did feel good to hear Julie say it. "Funny enough, though, I do feel okay about what I did. I'm not upset or all that angry anymore. It's like… It's just done, you know?" Julie regarded her gently, and Cass remembered part of the reason why she'd come here. She leaned forward, elbows on the table, cradling her water between her hands. "Listen, you know Six is working for the NCR, right?"
Julie hesitated, eyes darting away from Cass. "I wasn't entirely sure."
Cass's voice took on a sharp, quiet fervor. "Well, she is. And anyone Six works for is set to win, which means the NCR is probably going to slaughter Caesar's Legion when the time comes, and then they're going to annex New Vegas. Which means you'd better get on their side when the time comes."
Julie just looked at Cass. Her expression didn't change, and she didn't make a reply.
"I know you want an Independent Vegas. But that's not going to happen. And if you help the NCR, they'll treat you well. You know. You're friends with that NCR trooper handing out supplies here in Freeside right?" A twinge of something hit Cass's chest, and she nearly asked if Julie knew the woman intimately. Which was just petty and stupid, especially when she didn't want a repeat of the other night. "So the courier's probably going to come around asking if you'll support the NCR at Hoover Dam one of these days. You should say yes."
There was a frozen moment of silence. Then Julie seemed to uncoil from her stiff façade. She put her chin on her hand. "I'll consider it."
That was likely to be all she'd get for that. "Thanks for the dinner. I should probably go."
"You won't stay a little longer?"
It was a courteous question, but it didn't stop Cass from thinking about the last time she'd slept in Julie's bed. She flushed and nearly tripped on the first step going down the stairs. "Um, no. I need to get back to the Lucky 38. Six wants me to go with her down into an old Vault. What with my shotgun skills."
"34, I think. Apparently in abundance of ghouls."
Julie's mouth tightened almost imperceptibly. "Be careful."
"My new shotgun should do me well. I faced down some Deathclaws with Six for it, so I think I'll be okay against a few ghouls." Cass turned her head and sniffed, scenting disinfectant. Whoever had cleaned up downstairs had been damn quiet about it.
"I could have gone a long time without knowing you were out poaching Deathclaws." Julie's mouth had tightened a bit more. Cass paused, startled. Was Julie just a little bit worried about her? It felt kind of good knowing that; it had been a long time since someone was concerned over her safety.
"I'll be careful." The words left her mouth before she could sensor them.
They stood at the door, closer than strictly necessary. Julie's eyes searched Cass's face, and Cass lifted her chin, startled by how much she wanted to kiss Julie.
"May I kiss you?"
The same gentle question. Julie titled her face towards Cass's, but Cass couldn't wait for her. She lurched forward and pressed into a toe-tingling kiss that was as passionate as she'd ever experienced. Their mouths came together roughly, and she tasted Julie's mouth, taking no cares to hide her desire. Cass couldn't stop her moan.
Eventually she noticed Julie's lips were soft, her kisses were gentle and light, and she eased off her own kisses to match Julie's gentle touches. Their last kisses were achingly sweet. Cass realized she had her hands on Julie's cheeks as Julie drew back. "Good night, Cass."
She nearly said 'huh?' aloud before she realized it was a goodnight and goodbye kiss. Hell, she had been—was—ready to climb into Julie's bed again. Friends. Right. Not fuck-buddies or lovers. Friends. And friends didn't have sex at the drop of a hat. Hell, those kisses were amazing. She finally cleared the cobwebs from her brain and nodded. "Yep. Goodnight. See you later."
"I would like that," Julie replied, fingers brushing over Cass's arm. "Be safe."
The walk back to Lucky 38 was a blur. Cass guessed she showed her passport to the Securitron on the way through the gates on account of her being in one piece as she stood in front of the elevator waiting for Victor to roll around. Belatedly, she remembered Victor was history, along with Mr. House, and she punched the elevator control herself. Six was already passed out on her enormous bed, snoring with one leg still on the floor. Cass gently set her to right and wandered back to the other bedroom. Veronica was an unmoving lump under one set of sheets, but she lurched up when Cass flipped on a bedside lamp.
Her hair was rumbled, and her eyes wide. Cass smirked at this quite-removed vision of Veronica. "It's just me."
"Oh, hi." Veronica settled back down onto her pillow and let out a long sigh, her body relaxing by degrees.
Cass shucked her clothes but sat at the edge of the bed, unable and unwilling to attempt to sleep. "Hey, Veronica. When did you know you were gay?"
Veronica gave a very rude groan. "What did I do to deserve this?" She sat up and slung her legs over the edge of her bed to face Cass. "I was having a dream about Fancy Lady Snacks and the perfect combustion ratio of a gun."
"Aren't they Fancy Lads Snacks?"
"Not in my dream."
"Okay, that's a little too much information."
"Yeah, well, you asked." Veronica stretched her arms over her head and arched her back. "I know the Brotherhood is all kinds of male-female heterosexual bullshit, but I did get that horrible question pitched more than once."
"How many baby dykes were there?"
"Excuse me, that's an offensive term. And, okay, so I only had one girl ask me that, but still!"
"Well, what's the answer?"
"What? Oh well, my girlfriend and I were friends since we were babies. And one day she kissed me."
"Just like that?" Cass frowned at the simplicity of it.
"Well, I may have punched her in the face and avoided her for a few days. But that was the start, and I warmed to the idea. Then I realized she figured it out before I did. About me, I mean. That I'm gay and I have a thing for leggy brunettes."
"Said girlfriend sounds like a keeper."
"Technically, yes, she was a leggy brunette, but she kept her head shaved."
"Well, I can't say anything about that." Julie had a fine peach-fuzz but not much else. Didn't mean she wasn't feminine or hot. Shit, that voice, those eyes. Her lips… Cass wouldn't mind revisiting those lips in other ways…
Veronica paused uncertainly. "You aren't coming on to me, are you? 'Cause I'm flattered, but no, thanks."
"Gee, you sure know how to make a girl feel welcome."
Veronica went comically wide-eyed in alarm. "Oh, shit. You were coming on to me?!"
"No, relax. There's someone else."
"Sheesh. I'll never get to sleep now. Did I at least help a little?"
"Not really. But I guess I expected that. Thanks for answering the question though." She turned off the lamp, and they both settled in their beds. Cass felt no closer to an answer. She knew she wanted to have sex with Julie. She wanted Julie to be safe. But she didn't really know her. She felt suffocated at the thought of any sort of permanency to their…agreement, aside from occasionally having dinners and chatting. And maybe having sex sometimes.
But was it fair to think she could? She wasn't a lesbian. Or, she didn't think she was.
"What does it mean to be a lesbian?"
Veronica shifted on the bed. Her voice was soft with sleep. "It's more than being able to have sex with a woman. It's about being romantically involved with one. It's like, I could probably have satisfying sex with a man—not that I want to—but I would never want to be with one. Every time I picture having a relationship with someone, it's a woman."
"At least, that's what Christine always said. I agree, but I'd never have come up with that on my own. Mm, she was always good with words." Veronica shifted on her bed and rolled over. Her breaths deepened in sleep.
"Thanks," Cass murmured, her mind finally rolling into slumber.
The battle was set to happen soon. Six wanted to get to the dam no later than noon the next day, and from then on it would be a waiting game on when Caesar's forces attacked. The courier wanted them all there: Cass, Veronica, Lily, the dog and robot—returned clean and music-ready from the Followers—and some of the other companions she'd picked up along the way as well, including the emo sniper and the mechanic ghoul. All the weird people you meet in life…
Veronica glanced up at Cass from her seat at the long dining table in the Lucky 38. She blew some dust off of her canned Cram and cracked it open. Veronica sniffed delicately at the open can and immediately withdrew with a retch. She dropped the can on the floor, and whistled Rex over. Rex took a few cautious sniffs before he returned to the doggy bed in the corner. "What I wouldn't give for a Brahmin steak."
Cass stared at Rex, watching his not-so-seamless mesh of flesh and mechanics work together into a whole. She knew technology had been greater in the past, but she couldn't imagine how anyone could think up, let alone execute, creating a cyborg organism.
She jerked her head up to meet Veronica's concerned gaze. "What?"
"Uh, huh." Veronica popped open the container of some old potato chips and punctuated her sarcasm with a vicious crunch. "She must be some girl."
"You, and whatever chick you've been rubbing lady parts with." At Cass's wide-eyed shake of her head, Veronica rolled her eyes. "Come on, you asked me The Question. About knowing your sexuality, what it means to be a lesbian. That means you've been questioning your sexuality. And the only way I can figure that happened for you was you did the nasty while not-under the influence with a fellow female. Not to mention you don't smell like booze anymore."
"Ugh." Cass leaned over the table and put her face in her hands. "Remind me never to play poker with you, girl."
"My poker skills suck. You were just really obvious."
"I really don't want to talk about it."
"I'm just wondering why the hell you're here, with lame-o me, instead of with your new lady friend."
"You're so obnoxious."
"Thanks." Veronica blushed and ducked her head to her bag of chips. It took Cass a moment to realize she'd hurt the scribe's feelings. "Oh, hell. I'm just pissy because I don't know what to do. Part of me wants to march down there and throw her on the bed. Part of me thinks, well, it isn't fair. I get to sleep with her, but I don't offer something more. Which I figure she wants. I don't even know that."
"All you can do is ask. I don't really see what 'more' matters now, consider we all might be dead by tomorrow night."
Cass hesitated. Veronica was right. "That puts things into perspective, huh?"
"Yep. I charge at an hourly rate, by the way. This session was free. Talk to my secretary if you want a follow up."
Already on her feet, Cass glanced back over her shoulder. Veronica cut a sad figure, sitting alone at the table in an abandoned suite. Six was snoring on the bed in her suite, and somewhere in a dark corner, Boone was dissembling his weapon. She didn't know where Raul had gotten off to. "What about you? There're some nice looking women wandering around on The Strip."
Veronica smile was sardonic. "I appreciate it, but I prefer to have sex with someone I know, care about, and trust. And the odds of finding that here are nill."
"What about Six?"
Veronica looked alarmed. "I may know, care about, and trust Six, but she's also sleeping with that Vault woman, who I don't mind so much. But Red Lucy is really scary. Being affiliated with someone who's sexually involved with a woman who refers to herself in third person is a little too close for comfort. Nothing against Six, just she gets around a little too much."
Cass shrugged. That Six had time to sleep with anyone was news to her. "Well, I'll see you."
"I hope you get lucky tonight."
It figured that on the night before probably the most dangerous day of her life, she'd actually get jumped walking through Freeside. It was barely dark, and some mugger caught her in the side with his dull kitchen knife. Cass's ribs burned where he's sliced her, but he was past feeling pain after her shotgun shell blew his head into a fine mist of bone and brain matter. Fucker.
She was embarrassed to walk into the Fort in her state, especially when she'd planned to be at least a little suave with Julie.
Julie was, for once, standing off from the tents not doing anything constructive. The entire camp was quiet, other doctors murmuring and moving sedately from one tent to the other. There didn't appear to be very many Freeside residents in dire need of care. Six had really cleaned the entire community up, and it showed here. Though after another battle with Caesar's Legions, it was doubtless there would be a huge influx of wounded and destitute. This was the calm before the storm.
Julie turned her head and caught sight of Cass. Her smile was immediate and gentle. "Hi."
"Hey." Cass winced as her arm brushed the gash on her side. Ever perceptive, Julie saw her wince and guessed the reason for it. Cass tried to joke away the doctor's concern. "We've got to stop meeting like this."
"You're telling me." Julie motioned Cass towards her rooms at the corner of the Fort. "Can you walk there?"
"It's not that bad. A dirty kitchen knife. I doubt he could have poked my eye out if he'd tried. Anyway, I took care of him before he could do more damage."
Julie held open the rough-planked door for Cass and motioned for Cass to take a seat on the examination table on the ground floor. Cass complied, easing out of her jacket and shirt. She needed a replacement badly. She was regretting turning down the shirt and combat vest Six had offered her. The vest would have come in handy tonight. Maybe she'd grab that before they left tomorrow. Maybe she'd take the jeans too… There were patches over her patches on these jeans.
"Can you hold your undershirt up?"
"I'll just take it off."
Julie met her eyes for a moment as if judging her. Cass gave her a weak smile. "I'm not really worried about resisting you tonight."
Julie's expression didn't change. Her tone was even. "I see."
Cass told herself not to be disappointed. She hid her face as she carefully removed her undershirt, and she managed to school her expression quickly. The doctor's hands brushed over her side, and she jerked both because the touch tickled and hurt. "Have you had a tetanus shot recently?"
"A couple months ago. Ish. Everyone who teams up with Six gets one eventually."
"Then I'll sterilize the wound and put in a few sutures. The wound is just through the skin. Have you had anything to drink today?"
Cass held her breath, then released it as she said, "No." She paused. "Actually, it's been thirteen days." Every day was an accomplishment, but it wasn't has much of a trial as she'd thought. Six kept her so busy that she hardly had a thought for taking a drink, and rebound worked wonders. And right now, in her first idle moments in weeks, she was too busy thinking about Julie to think about whiskey. It was always there, in the back of her mind, but now it was more easily drowned out.
Once again Julie's eyes met hers. "I'm glad," was all she said. And yet, it was enough. Cass was proud of herself—as proud as she'd ever been.
Julie prepared a shot which numbed Cass's side. Then she pulled out a curved needle, shiny thread, and scissor clamps. Cass couldn't help but watch the gentle precision of Julie's movements, directing the needle and thread into tiny, even stitches. "I'll administer a stimpack now. The sutures should come out tomorrow. You're lucky…the blade didn't cut into muscle. I'm also giving you an injected antibiotic."
"I guess you'll have to be gentle tonight." Cass was surprised the tone of her murmur. Soft, not sultry. Maybe it had been watching Julie's hands: healing hands.
Julie looked up at her again, but she didn't answer. She readied the stimpack and injected Cass's still-numb side. The skin immediately began to heal. Feeling vulnerable, Cass pulled on her undershirt and sat, waiting for Julie to remove her gloves and clean up her supplies. At last, Julie turned back towards her. "Are you sure?" she asked gently, finally addressing what Cass had been hinting at since she'd gotten there.
An odd moment of clarity hit Cass. "You can't do the doctor and lover thing at the same time, can you?"
For the first time, Julie seemed taken aback by Cass. "I hadn't thought of it like that. I don't think I can treat a patient and conceptualize them, their body, their skin that I'm suturing, as my friend's. …Or lover's."
Those last two words eased some of the doubt and chagrin that had surfaced in Cass after she'd asked her question. She hastened to clarify her feelings. "I'm not saying I want to marry you or anything. Or that I'm gay. But it's stupid to pretend I don't want to sleep with you. Especially with our odds coming up."
Cass parted her legs for Julie to settle between them. Julie brushed her hands up Cass's thighs, tracing a lovely set of sparks under her skin. "I thought you said anyone Six backed was destined to win."
"Sure. But there's only one Six in this world. And the NCR can win even if it loses most of its troops."
"There's an uplifting thought."
"Well, you'll be there to patch us up, right?"
Julie sighed, pressing her forehead to Cass's shoulder. All the upright strength in her body seemed to drain from her, and she sagged against Cass. "Yes," she sighed. "We'll be supporting the NCR."
"It won't be as bad as the alternative," Cass said. She wrapped her arms around Julie, drawing her closer into a hug.
"Then why does it feel like losing?"
Cass nearly brushed the question off with a placation, but she reconsidered. "I understand," she murmured, fingers rubbing gently over Julie's shoulder blade.
"I guess you do." Julie sighed and wrapped her arms around Cass. They were hugging each other now, rocking in a vague sway. "Promise me you'll be careful tomorrow."
"Yeah. I have a reason to be careful now." Julie's head came up, and Cass had the courage to meet her questioning gaze. She smiled weakly. "I don't want to die. Even if I haven't figured out what I want to live for, it doesn't mean I should die."
"I'm glad you feel that way." Julie brushed her nose along Cass's. Cass chose to enjoy the tender close contact, shivering as Julie's breath caressed her lips. Then, finally, she lost patience, and she closed the distance. An impatient moan escaped her when Julie immediately withdrew. She was further shocked at Julie's complete withdrawal, but the doctor simply said, "Not here."
Oh, the examination table. Cass slid off the table and followed Julie's back as they ascended the stairs. Upstairs, Cass folded her arms and leaned against the wall, watching Julie watch her. This time things would be different, and she communicated that by not stepping past the threshold of the room. "I want you naked, Julie."
Julie raised her eyebrows. Her voice was calm, but Cass heard the shaky arousal behind it. "Is that what it takes to have you in my bed again?"
"No," Cass admitted. Julie's lips quirked into the faint suggestion of a smile, and she shed her lab coat. She folded it neatly and set it on the chair in the corner. Then one button at a time, she undid her shirt, folded it, and set it on top of the lab coat. And on, in that same unhurried, unromantic manner. Cass just watched, leaning against the wall, as Julie shed her guise of doctor and became woman.
What a woman. Cass was all skin and bone and muscle, but Julie had soft curves Cass lacked. She smiled softly, an expression mirrored by Julie. Coupled with the doctor's sudden apparent shyness, Cass felt an aching protective affection. She'd never felt anything like it before. "I guess I should take my clothes off too."
Julie nodded wordlessly and slipped under the covers of her bed.
Cass wasted little time, but it wasn't the clumsy shucking that had characterized their last time together. She joined Julie beneath the covers and molded herself close. They both gasped.
Cass pulled Julie in for a kiss, lightheaded from the simple stimulation of Julie's breasts and hips and thighs rubbing against hers. Caught up in the moment, Cass's desires were a lot more explicit than she'd imagined. She crawled down Julie's body and settled with Julie's legs over her shoulders. "Can I…?"
Julie nodded wordlessly; she seemed shocked by Cass's audacity.
Cass bent her head and went to work. It sure didn't feel like work though. It was sexy, wet, wonderful, and for the first time she could hear Julie's wonderful sexy voice softened with pleasure. Julie cried out, arched, dug fingers into Cass's hair, twisted, and gasped. Every sound she made, every movement made Cass feel like a sex goddess. Obviously she was doing something right.
Then Julie's hips lifted, and she gave a long cry. She sank down onto the bed, shivering, and pushed Cass's face away gently. Cass nipped at her inner thigh and ascended with a grin. She was stunned by Julie's heavy kiss. "Thank you," Julie whispered.
"Usually people say that when you do something you don't want to do." Cass gently sucked on Julie's earlobe, and Julie moaned. "And that definitely wasn't the case." Cass trailed soft kisses down her throat and smiled against the skin there when Julie's breaths began to take a deep, soft pattern. The doctor had fallen asleep.
The trust in that gesture was worth more to her than reciprocation. Cass settled carefully against Julie and followed her into sleep.
They awoke some time in the early morning and had sex—made love—again. Then, for the first time in her life, Cass was content to laze in bed with Julie and talk. They talked about their families, places they'd seen, about the Follower's University, and exchanged crude jokes about the Legion that had been thought up by a few smart-ass NCR soldiers.
Something Cass hadn't noticed before was the collection of books in Julie's otherwise bare room. "I guess you read a lot."
"When I have time." Julie's fingers brushed along her shoulders. Her voice was muffled where her face was tucked under Cass's chin.
"Some of it. I tend to keep any book I find."
"Yes. I know if I sell a book or throw it away, it'll turn into kindling. Books are our connection to the past, to what used to be, and it seems important to preserve what I can."
"You ever think of starting a library?"
"All the time. Maybe one day."
Cass kissed the soft fuzz that had grown out along Julie's scalp. Through the night her Mohawk had softened to a band of long, fine hair that lay along her scalp. It was soft and more brown than black. "I'll keep any eye out for you."
Julie's fingers suddenly tightened on her shoulders, but her voice was calm. "Be careful."
It was an unpleasant reminder of the days to come: the Battle for Hoover Dam. Cass hugged Julie to her wordlessly. Then, knowing she'd tarried long enough, she rose to dress. Julie walked her down to the door, and they kissed gently on the threshold. "You'll be there?"
"Then you be safe too. Don't waste your time worrying about me."
A muscle clenched in Julie's jaw, but she nodded slowly. "Yes."
And that was that.
It was just as well the battle happened the very day the Courier had predicted. It took less time than maybe anyone had thought, and the losses the NCR had sustained were nowhere near the worst-case-scenario.
All the same, the Mormon Fort was overrun. Cass picked her way through the haphazard tents and wounded NCR soldiers and civilians, keeping an eye out for Julie despite herself. She'd seen Julie once at the dam after the battle was over, and they'd both stared for a moment of shocking connection—mutual relief at finding the other unharmed—before Julie had turned back to her work and Cass had followed Six out of the medical station.
Cass figured that Julie was still in the bowels of the dam, trying to put NCR soldiers back together. Still, it didn't hurt to look for her.
She spotted April Martimer practically running across the Fort, and held out a steadying hand as the woman nearly crashed into her. "Hey, is Julie around?"
April squinted up at her through her glasses. "No. She'll get here in a few days. You don't happen to have any medical supplies to donate?"
"You're low? I thought the NCR was supplying you."
"Yeah, well, they forgot to mention they were low too."
Of course. Cass let April go and stood as out-of-the-way as she could. She watched the Followers moving person to person, saw the strain on their faces, and wondered where they could get a good amount of medical supplies to help with the shortage. What did they have to trade for them: medical treatment? Food. Fresh food.
Cass itched with a plan and felt something shift in her life to ease the crushing anxiety of having nothing. This might work, and it might mean she had something to offer in the aftermath of the war against Caesar's Legion. She flagged down April a second time. April's face was tight with barely restrained impatience. "What is it this time?"
"It could be that I could get you more medical supplies. You gotta trust me with it thought."
April's face screwed up as she considered the proposal and studied Cass's face. Finally, she said, "Then you'd be the fucking savior of this fort. Where would you get it?"
"I'd need…two Brahmin and the biggest load of fresh food you can manage."
April hesitated. "That would be easy. But who would trade food for medical supplies?"
"Leave that to me. It would take me two or three days, maybe, to get there and back with supplies."
"Where though?" April's voice was sharp this time. Cass realized she'd been dodging the question and gave herself a mental shake. "The Brotherhood."
"…Of Steel? That's crazy!"
"I know someone there, and I know fresh produce and meat is never in good supply there. If you trust me to do this, then I might even manage to make a continuing supply deal."
April chewed on her lip. "Two days there and back?"
She sighed. "What the hell? I'll have everything ready in maybe an hour."
The Sloan deathclaw den was eerily silent as Cass led her cattle by. The Brahmin didn't seem concerned, and she sweet-talked them along that once-dangerous stretch of road. She was thankful for Six taking on the Sloan job; the western path through the mountains was by far the fastest from New Vegas to the Brotherhood bunker. She motioned a hello to the men of Sloan and chatted as the prospector walked with her for half a mile. He supplied her with a canteen of water which she guzzled gratefully. Then she got to the most dangerous part: the Brotherhood of Steel bunker.
It was shocking how easily the Brotherhood accepted her offer of a trade. There wasn't much haggling about the process, as she wasn't really sure what medical supplies were worth, but she did have a list that she passed over to the paladin in charge of the trade. He looked it over, nodded, and said, "We'll have everything ready tomorrow morning."
Cass didn't read an invitation in that statement, and settled for the lamp they handed her instead of a bed inside. She opened up her bedroll and had a vague wish for whiskey. It had helped pass time in moments like these, when she had nothing to do except sit and stare at a lamp for over twelve hours. The low-ceiling, wide walls, and dank staleness of the bunker entrance was incredibly oppressive.
Then relief presented itself. The rusty door groaned open, and Veronica stepped into the dusty entrance room. Cass almost didn't recognize her in the red scribe robes. Veronica looked taller and more mature without the sack-and-hood getup. "Hey, girl!"
"Hi, Cass. I figured it was you when they said someone was here to trade. What got you into helping out the Followers?"
"I figured it was a good way to get back into the business."
"Don't lie," Veronica said, flopping down next to Cass. "You totally did it for your girlfriend!"
Cass's jaw dropped. "How the hell did you know?!"
Veronica's eyes rounded. "Oh, wow, you're actually sleeping with Julie Farkas? I was just taking a completely random shot in the dark, figuring I could get something out of you."
That was worth a heavy sigh. "I'm telling you, you should play poker for a living." She glanced over the red robes Veronica wore. "So glad you're out of those rags, scribe."
Veronica's mouth twisted, and not into a smile. She sat cross-legged and stared down into her lap. "Yeah."
That was definitely not the response Cass expected. "You're not happy to be home? Prodigal daughter and all that…?"
"This isn't home." Veronica put her head into her hands and massaged her scalp in frustration. When she lifted her face, her eyes were bright with tears. "After I challenged McNamara, I'm never going to be accepted again. I'd hoped… But, well, it's no great loss. The only person who ever really liked me was Christine, and she's long gone."
"Yeah." Veronica shook her head, setting her face against Pushy, ever-present on her right hand. "I keep hoping it'll feel like home again, but I guess I saw so much with the courier… I mean, I could guess there were problems before, but now I know what the problems are."
"Then why not leave?"
"I can't just leave." It was more a question than a statement.
"Why not? Not like the Brotherhood has any great secrets to protect, now that they're allied with the NCR. And I bet Six would be happy to see you again. She wasn't too keen on you leaving the dam when you did."
The unwilling hope in Veronica's eyes was telling. Cass's jaw dropped. "You're in love with Six. You little shit, you totally bluffed out of wanting Six before! Hell, you really should play poker."
"Yeah…" Veronica mumbled. "What if she's sleeping with those women?"
"I'm not so sure she is. Just ask her and tell her what you want. Nothing to lose by doing it."
"Besides looking like an idiot?"
"It pays off sometimes." They were both silent for a moment, then Cass said, "You coming with me tomorrow?"
Veronica heaved a sigh. "Yeah, I guess."
"I won't be seen with you wearing rags. I have some jeans and a shirt in my stuff. They should fit you."
"Cowboy hat?" Veronica asked hopefully.
Cass grinned. "You bet your ass."
While Cass didn't expect a hero's welcome or anything, she sure didn't expect the glare April leveled at her. She stopped short, and the Brahmin thumped into her shoulder and almost sent her to the ground. "Thank god you're finally here!" April snapped.
"It was a safe and easy journey, thanks for asking. And yeah, I got you enough supplies to last for at least a few weeks. Med-X, stimpacks, doctor's bags, syringes, clean scalpel blades, antibiotics, you name it. You're welcome."
April heaved a sigh. "Thank you. I had every confidence. It's just that Julie's been on a tear since she got here. Go find her and tell her it was your idea to go!"
"Julie? Really?" Cass wasn't sure if she was more flattered or shocked.
"That's a cue for me to duck out," Veronica said. "I'll be by later, probably. Earlier if Six laughs her ass off when I clumsily attempt to proposition."
"Sheesh," Cass said. "Just kiss her if you're worried about talking."
"Yeah, sure." Veronica gave her a wave and started to leave. She doubled back to give the Brahmin an affectionate pat on each head. "See you later, girlies. Bye, Cass. Don't let them eat the cow."
"Uh, huh." Cass glanced around for April to pass the brahmin off, but she'd disappeared. Instead, Julie was striding towards her. Cass had never seen her move with such intent. "Um, hey," she said, surprised at her own nervousness.
"Did you even consider that you should take someone with you?" Julie said, her gentle voice sharp. It was the closest she'd ever heard the good doctor come to snapping.
Cass opened her mouth to reply when one of the Brahmin's heads caught her under the knee. She fell against the animal's flank and gave out a string of curses. "Dagnabed stupid piece of steak! Imma cut that head off of you, girl, see how you do with one, you damn annoying son of a bitch! I should have let them eat you, not the other one!" She got to her feet, yanked at the halter sharply and turned 'round. "One of you Followers wanna claim the medical supplies I got for you? I'm about the sell the cow out from under it!"
A nameless doctor hurried over. He shot Cass a look of consternation. "Sorry, we're a little busy right now." He grabbed the Brahmin from her. And the stupid cow wouldn't go. "Hei, cow, hei!" Cass flapped her arms at the Brahmin's shoulder, but instead of the normal reaction of turning away from her, she turned to Cass and rolled two sets of condescending eyes at her. "Where's Veronica when you need her." Cass laid a slap to the Brahmin's side, and the beast finally began to walk in the right direction. Belatedly, Cass unbuckled her satchel from the load and settled it over her shoulder.
She turned back to Julie. "Sorry, you were saying?"
Julie seemed to have deflated in temper and body. She gave Cass a rueful little smile, and then she motioned Cass in the direction of her little corner of the fort. They walked past a surgery Cass pointedly did not look at, and took the stairs to the quiet upstairs. Once there, Julie sank down on the bed. Cass settled on a rickety chair in the corner.
"I'm sorry," Julie murmured. "I trust you, and I know you know how to survive in the Mojave, but I was so hoping to see you when I came back…"
"And I wasn't here." Cass shook her head, disgusted with herself. "Never in my life have I had to think about that kind of thing. Shee-it. I told you I wasn't girlfriend material."
"I'm not usually…so clingy. I guess I wanted reassurance after Hoover Dam."
"Yeah. I see that."
"But I'm glad you went. We needed the supplies. It was the right thing to do."
Cass cocked an eyebrow. "Julie. Seriously, girl, I don't mind that you were pissed I wasn't here. Just, in the future… Know I'll be back, okay?"
They shared a long, sober look.
"Then you plan to stay?" Julie finally asked. There was no pressure in her voice, but her words quivered in gentle hope. Cass answered with a smile and nod. "As long as you're here."