Chapter 164: Roundabout
Guess who’s back, children? That’s right! You can HEEEEEEEAR MEEEEE! THREEEEE DAWG! OW! Ya can’t stop the signal, baby! Sorry for the interruption, but I’m back with a treat for all y’all listening! Some BRAND! NEW! MUSIC! That’s right kiddies, I’ve got some new music not heard since the Big One, and you are gonna hear it here first! Don’t you feel special? Damn right you do! AHWOOOOO!
I brought my Corvega to a halt in front of the Jacobstown front gate, and the bushes to either side got up and approached me.
“Oh,” the super mutant in the ghillie suit grunted out as soon as he recognized me. “It’s you again.”
“You get many other visitors up here, driving cars with racing stripes?” I asked with a smirk. The bush in front of me rustled slightly.
“Who are they?” The walking foliage motioned with his gun at the Roadkill and the Deuce behind me.
“It’s cool, they’re with me,” I said. “There’s a super mutant from the east coast, wants to see Marcus. I promised him that I’d make introductions.” The mutant in the ghillie suit stared at me for a few seconds (at least, I think he stared. Hard to tell under all that foliage), but eventually stepped aside to let us in.
“Stay out of trouble, kid.”
- - -
“Marcus!” I yelled, waving to get his attention. “There y’are! Been looking all over for you, man!” Even from this distance, his orange metal shoulder made him distinctive from the other super mutants, so it’s not like I could miss him. The large super mutant turned at the sound of my voice, while smoke from his cigar curled around his head.
“Oh, if it isn’t the Courier again,” Marcus pulled the cigar from his mouth and pointed at the vehicles behind me. “And friends!” He chuckled and shook his head, displacing the halo of smoke. “You need a hobby other than collecting people.” Behind me, I heard the top hatch of the Roadkill pop open.
“You know, I get the same spiel from Sarah every time I head back east,” Chris said, stepping out of the hovercraft with a thud. “Though, to be fair, we kinda ended up collecting each other for our adventures the last few days.” Chris paused, cocking his head to the side as if pondering those words. “Er... so to speak.”
Marcus regarded the Vault kid carefully as he approached and held out his hand to the mutant. After a moment’s hesitation, Marcus shook it heartily – though he did seem surprised that Chris’ hand was large enough to not get swallowed up entirely by his meaty fist.
“Nice suit,” he said with a chuckle. “My name’s Marcus. I’m pretty much in charge here in Jacobstown.” Chris nodded, smiling broadly.
“Oh, I know who you are. I must’ve read my father’s journals about a million times over.” Marcus did a double take, and narrowed his eyes in confusion at Chris, who just kept smiling and patted his chest. “My name is Christopher. I’m James’ son.”
Marcus’ jaw dropped.
“You are having me on!” he practically shouted.
“I’m serious! I know all about my old man’s shenanigans as the Chosen One. Guess this kind of adventuring, crazy, heroic spirit just kinda runs in the blood, right?”
Chris made a clicking sound with his mouth and pointed at me with a nod. Before I could question what the hell that meant, he started patting Marcus on the back, leading him to the Roadkill and laughing. To be honest, the whole thing happened so fast that I wasn’t entirely sure I’d actually seen what I thought I’d seen.
“Look, you and I have a lot to talk about,” Chris said as the two of them walked. “I mean, I definitely want to find out what my old man was like back in the old days, before he settled in the Capital Wasteland. But the main reason I’m here is because I’ve got someone who wants to meet you. Hey Fawkes!” No answer. “FAWKES! You awake?”
An indistinct grunt echoed from deep inside of the Roadkill. Chris sighed heavily and shook his head.
“Uh... gimmie a minute. This... could take a while,” he said, climbing back into the hovercraft; the fact that he seemingly disappeared into the darkness entirely and I couldn’t see where he’d gone made me wonder if his hovercraft had some of that ‘bigger-on-the-inside’ alien tech like the Mothership. Marcus stood there, a bit stunned, and I made my way over to his side.
“Yeah, he does that,” I said, folding my arms across my chest. Rather thankfully, because it managed to soften the blow when he backhanded my chest with what he probably thought was a love-tap. It almost knocked my off my feet.
“What the hell! The Chosen One’s kid shows up, and you don’t come to me first?”
“What, just like that you believe him?” I asked. “I didn’t believe him until I saw the Vault 13 suit hanging on the wall.”
“Of course I believe him. He’s practically a carbon copy of James, except with blonde hair instead of brown. This is just the kind of thing I meant when I said ‘call me if things get weird,’ you know?”
“Yeah, I know. I’m sorry, but we really didn’t have time to visit before we had to travel to the lunar surface to fight the Space Enclave in their Secret Nazi Moon Base.”
There was a long pause.
“What,” Marcus deadpanned.
“Don’t worry, I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of the other reason I’m here, actually...” I glanced back at the Roadkill; it was shaking in midair, but I still couldn’t see either Chris or Fawkes. “It wasn’t just to introduce you to those two idiots. I’ve got a bit of a business proposal for you.”
“Do I even want to know?”
“I’ve spent most of today visiting all the major players in the Mojave, trying to get them together for a meeting in the Lucky 38 tomorrow. The Followers, the Three Families, the Boomers, the Kings... I even talked to some folks from Goodsprings and Novac. So far, everyone has agreed to come – even on such short notice – and I thought I’d extend an invitation to you as well, so Jacobstown can... shall we say, get in on the ground floor.”
“A meeting?” Marcus eyed me curiously, taking a long puff of his cigar. “What kind of meeting?”
“One where we decide on the future of the Mojave once I send both the NCR and Legion packin’ with their tails between their legs,” I said with a smirk. “I don’t want Vegas to be just like it was before the bombs. And it needs to change from how it is now, still trying to shake off House’s influence. I want a place were people can look to the future, rather than clinging desperately to the past and lamenting about how great things used to be. I’m gonna try and make something new, and something better... for everyone and anyone who wants the chance to be better. I want that plan to include you, and everyone else in Jacobstown.”
Marcus thoughtfully rubbed his chin for a few seconds, contemplating the idea. Cigar smoke leaked out of his nostrils in oily, dirty ribbons.
“It’s an interesting idea...” he said, pulling out the cigar and blowing a massive smoke ring. “But how would I even get to Vegas in the first place? There’s a reason Jacobstown is so far out of the way. People just don’t like us muties, and it’s been years since I was able to roll into a town and come out un-shot. And that was just because of James.”
“Well, obviously that’s one of the hurdles we’re going to have to work on. But I think I have a good short term solution to get you to the meeting, so we can all work on a better long term solution.” I leaned to the side to point at the deuce. “You guys can use that. It can hold Stripe in the back hidden by the tarp, no problem, so I’m sure you and a few others won’t have any problem either. Besides, once you guys get close, I’ll dispatch a squad of securitrons. They’ll give you an armed escort all the way through the city, just to be on the safe side.”
“Call me crazy,” Marcus grunted. “But I still think someone is going to notice a super mutant behind the wheel before we even get close to the Vegas wall.”
“And I think you’re giving people too much credit,” I said, unable to hold back a smile. “Nobody has noticed or said shit about Roxie driving the deuce, and she does it all the time.”
On cue, I heard a bark from the inside of the truck cab. Roxie rested her front paws on the window frame and stuck her head out, panting happily and obliviously. Marcus stared for several seconds, his jaw working uselessly and the gears in his head grinding so hard that they were practically audible.
“Yeah... don’t bother trying to figure out how she does it,” I said with a shrug, patting him on the side of the arm. “I haven’t worked it out my own self.”
“... And here I thought my time with the Chosen One meant I’d seen everything.”
It was at this point Christopher and Fawkes emerged from within the Roadkill; Fawkes was still rubbing his face, blearily trying to wake himself up.
“Why is it you only ever wake me up when I’m dreaming about the twins?” Fawkes grunted to Chris. “You always manage to wake me up before it gets good!”
“Marcus,” Chris said, hopping out of the hovercraft to get in front of the still waking-up mutant. “I’d like you to meet a friend of mine. Fawkes, Marcus. Marcus, Fawkes.” By now, Fawkes had seemingly regained basic control of his motor skills, and reached out to shake Marcus’ hand.
“Ah, hello! It’s nice to meet you, I’ve heard a great deal about you and your accomplishments. I’ve also heard about this settlement! I’ve been curious to know what a peaceful metahuman community is like, ever since I heard the first rumors...”
“It’s nice to meet you too. And, really, Jacobstown is nothing special,” Marcus said. “We’re honestly all just folk now, trying to get by.” He paused, taking a draw from his cigar to try and mask his deliberation as to how he should phrase his next question: “But... ah... if you don’t mind me asking, where are you from? You don’t look like one of The Master’s or one of those Second Gens...” He chuckled. “I didn’t think we could turn yellow.”
“Ah, yes! Well, I originally hail from Vault 87. They had vats of FEV there, before the bombs, and...”
I didn’t get to hear the rest, because a pair of thunderous footfalls was approaching fast, accompanied by a harsh voice that sounded like someone woke up every morning to gargle some gravel and broken glass.
“Jimmy!” the rough voice said before a pair of familiar hands wearing oversized gardening gloves wrapped themselves around me, picking me up off the ground. “Oh, little Jimmy, it’s so wonderful to see you! Give your grandma a hug, snookums!” Thankfully, the noise had given me time to prepare, so I avoided the same injuries as the last time this happened.
“Hello, Lily,” I said with a smile, wedging my cybernetic arm in just the right spot in her bear hug to keep her from crushing me. “It’s nice to see you too.”
“OH!” she seemed genuinely surprised. “You’re not Jimmy! Of course you’re not!” She paused, her grip around me loosening for half a second before coming back round again. “Well, give your grandma some sugar anyway! It’s been ages since you came to visit!”
- - -
I will remember you!
Your silhouette will charge the view!
Of distant atmospheeeeeeeere!
Call it morning driving thru the sound and even in the valleeeeey!
“Sounds like Three Dog is adjusting to the new music rather well,” I said with a smile and nod. Chris, Cass and I were all up on Mothership Zeta for a bit of well earned relaxation, and Galaxy News Radio was playing on the ship’s intercom. I kicked back in the metal chair bolted to the deck, cracked open a beer on the armrest, and enjoyed the view of the planet and stars beyond the window in front of me.
“Oh, yeah! He thinks it’s great!” Chris swung his leg over the back of the chair next to me and sat down with a fresh six pack in hand. “It’s a bit too soon to say for certain if everyone else will like the change, but apparently he’s already gotten a few calls, praising the new tracks. I think Veronica’d like that.”
“Speakin’ of, where is V? I haven’t seen her since breakfast this morning,” Cass said from somewhere behind me. She was walking around the room, checking out all the various bits and bobs Chris had stored here; apparently, he called it his ‘trophy cabinet’ because this was where he kept all the souvenirs from his adventures.
“Yeah... I don’t think we’re going to see a lot of either her or Christine,” I said, unable to hold back a chuckle. “I mean... you saw the two of them at the table, right? They hardly touched any of the food, since they were so focused on each other!”
“Fair point,” Cass shrugged. “They deserve th’ win.”
“From everything you’ve said about those two, it seems to me like they’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Chris chuckled along with me. “Good for them.”
“So, here’s a question fer ya,” Cass leaned against the back of Chris’ chair and poked the top of his head before pointing at a spot behind me. “What are you gonna do with th’ Prime head?”
I shifted in my chair to look at where Cass was pointing, and saw the giant severed head of Liberty Prime sitting silently in the corner. The single eye was dim, but not completely burned out, and every once in a while it pulsed softly.
“Oh, trust me. I’ll make good use of the big lug – probably rebuild him. Again. But hey, at least this time I won’t have to start from scratch, right?”
“I’m still surprised you were even able to save that much,” I said, knocking back another gulp of beer. “I thought for sure you’d have been like Cass’n me: too busy worrying about everything exploding to worry about too much else.”
“Well, I had to go back for at least the head. The braincase is where the AI core and memory databanks are located,” he grinned, toasting his glass in the direction of the giant metal head. “Here’s to ya, big guy! I’ll have you back up and on your feet in no time!”
The single eye pulsed brightly, and the robot head tried to stutter out some words. But unfortunately, it was too garbled and unintelligible to understand.
“The thing I want to know,” I shifted to look back at Chris. “Did he win his fight with the Mega Patriot?”
“I think so,” Chris nodded, taking another drink. “I mean, there wasn’t much left when I found him, and there wasn’t much time to check before everything went boom. But I’m pretty sure I saw most of Prime’s sword buried in the Patriot’s face.”
“Good man!” I practically shouted, holding my drink up in Prime’s direction again. “I knew you’d kick his ass!” Chris and I started laughing, but we stopped when Cass spoke up again.
“Hey, Shea! C’mon an’ take a look at this!” I grumbled a bit as I reluctantly pulled myself away from my seat. And I had just gotten myself settled, too. But I eventually got up and made my way over to Cass, who was standing next to a bobblehead stand, emblazoned with the Vault Tec logo on the side. Cass poked a couple, and laughed as their comically oversized heads started wobbling. “I thought he was kiddin’ about th’ whole bobblehead collection!”
“That is certainly a lot of bobbleheads,” was the first phrase to spring to mind. There were twenty of the damn things, all in various poses and all wearing Vault suits, but the really odd thing... “Hang on, did you find these in the wasteland? There isn’t a scratch on ‘em.”
“Oh yeah, I found those all over the place! The whole bobblehead hunt is a great way for stat building if you’ve got the right SPECIAL setup.” Chris took another drink, and Cass wasn’t really paying attention (still flicking the heads of the various tiny statues), but the little voice in my head was screaming his British head off.
“Okay, no,” I said, prodding Chris in the chest. “I’m not letting this shit go by unquestioned anymore. What the fuck are you talking about, stat building? And I want an answer I can understand, none of that incomprehensible gibberish bullshit jargon you like to spout.” Chris looked at me curiously, but kept smiling.
“What, have you never checked out your SPECIAL stats on your Pip Boy? What did you think that ‘STATS’ button meant? It’s been there the whole time, you’ve just got to tab away from the medical diagram. Here, let me show you.” He motioned for me to give him my arm, and I barely raised it halfway before he took the arm computer in hand and started flicking through the functions. “There you go, all your vital statistics, easy to understand on a 1 to 10 scale. Take a look.”
“... huh.” I said aloud as I read what were (apparently) my SPECIAL stats. All fairly straightforward stuff, if it was accurate. Several of my stats – like strength, intelligence, and luck – were a lot higher than I was expecting, but there was one thing about this list that immediately caught my attention because of how low it was (at least, compared to all the rest):
“Hang on, six?” I yelled, tapping the screen, thinking it was a mistake. “SIX?! I have more endurance than that!” Next to my shoulder I heard Cass snort out a scoffing laugh.
“That’s up fer debate,” she laughed, before wrapping her arms around my shoulders and giving me a soft peck on the cheek. I floundered a bit; on the one hand I wanted to be a bit upset, but on the other hand I was not actually upset at all. And then I floundered even more when she started nibbling on my earlobe, casual as you please, and started whispering into my ear: “Ahhh, y’know I’m just teasin’ ya...”
“Hello sir!” a very familiar voice blared out of my Pip Boy after beeping several times, and Cass jumped at the sound. “Do you have a free moment? I have some news!”
“Uh... kinda busy here, Yes Man,” I said. However, Cass pulled away from me, her cheeks already starting to redden. Damn. I’m pretty sure I heard her mutter something about forgetting Chris was standing there. I let out a disappointed sigh. “Alright, what do you need?”
“Well, I think it’s time we talked about the President situation!” Yes Man said cheerfully. “His visit is, after all, fast approaching! Do you think you could come down to the penthouse at your earliest convenience?”
“Uh... sure. I’ll be down soon,” I said.
“Take your time!” Yes Man said. “I’m here to work for your schedule!” With a click, the transmission ended.
- - -
“Alright, Yes Man,” I said, stepping off the teleport platform in a flurry of sparks. “What have you got for me?”
“One moment, sir!” he replied from the other room, his voice booming and echoing through the speakers. “We should probably wait for our other arrival!”
“Other arrival?” I asked aloud, leaning on the railing.
The elevator doors opened up, and seconds later Boone emerged. He nodded once at me, and calmly made his way to a spot at my side.
“What’s this about?” he grunted, folding his arms across his chest.
“It’s about the NCR President, Aaron Kimball!” Yes Man said. “As you know, I intercepted and decoded a military radio transmission, and I have conformation that the President is going to make an appearance at Hoover Dam on Christmas Day!”
“Wait, Christmas Day?” I asked aloud. “That... that’s the 25th, right?” Boone nodded next to me, and I paused, thinking. “What day is it right now? I can’t remember.”
“Pretty sure it’s the 22nd,” Boone said simply. I shook my head and sighed.
“Fuck me, where the hell has the time gone?” I chuckled softly, scratching the back of my head. “So, why’s he coming to visit now?”
“Probably to boost the morale of the troops!” Yes Man replied. “However, I’ve been doing some digging into some of House’s files. According to projections Mr. House made, Kimball has an 83.75% chance of being assassinated! Whoops!”
“And that was before we started fuckin’ with the Legion for shits and giggles, I bet,” I said, leaning against the railing. Yes Man’s monitor flickered.
“Yes, indeed!” Yes Man replied. “Anyway, it looks like Mr. House thought it was important to keep President Kimball alive!” That threw me for a loop. Before I could ask why, Yes Man continued. “Mr. House ran projections on how the NCR public will react to a defeat at Hoover Dam! Overwhelmingly, they’ll blame Kimball!”
“So, if we save the President it’ll just make him look like an idiot in the long run?” I asked rhetorically. Cautiously, I turned to Boone. “Would you be okay with that?” Boone shrugged.
“Better than letting him die. Besides...” Boone shrugged. “He’s the whole reason the NCR is even in this God-awful mess in the Mojave. He’s no Tandi, that’s for sure.” He snorted derisively. “I’m... not a fan.”
“Not to mention,” Yes Man continued, drawing our attention back to the screen. “If you save the President’s life, he’s sure to owe you a favor! A favor from a head of state seems like a good draw card to have! However: if Kimball dies at Hoover Dam, there’s no obvious scapegoat for the NCR public to blame. So they’ll blame Vegas instead!”
“That does not sound good,” which seemed like the understatement of the century.
“No, it doesn’t! Mr. House’s only concern was the reduced tourism and the reduced income as a consequence. However, I believe a negative view of Vegas from the NCR public will almost certainly hinder your overreaching plans for Vegas as well!”
“There’s just one problem,” I said, thinking back to my unfortunate meeting with Ambassador Crocker the other day. “I don’t think the NCR really likes ‘The Courier’ all that much. Pretty sure they’re not going to let me even get close enough to the President to protect him.”
“I think that’s why I’m here,” Boone grunted. He turned back to the screen. “Those intercepted transmissions you picked up – did they tell you who’s in charge of security?”
“Yes, they did!” Yes Man replied happily. “A Ranger Captain named Graham Grant is in charge of security for the event!”
“And that’s our in,” Boone smirked. I looked up at him questioningly. “I know Grant from my 1st Recon days. He may be a ‘shoot first, the questions aren’t important’ sort, but he trusts anyone who’s served alongside him in combat. If you let me do the talking, I can get us close enough to help.”
“Fantastic!” I clapped him on the shoulder with a laugh. “Let’s go save President Dumbass then!”
“Kimball,” Boone corrected. I shrugged.
“Once the President is safe, there’s one more thing you need to take care of...” Yes Man began, but I held up a finger and he immediately stopped. My Pip Boy was beeping at me, in the same way it always did when I got a message. And that made me slightly apprehensive.
“Hang on... Yes Man, did you just send something to my Pip Boy?” I asked. Yes Man’s monitor flickered.
“No, I haven’t sent you anything. I’m talking to you right now! There’s no need to send you anything!” The bottom immediately fell out of my stomach, as I started to wonder just what the fuck was going on. I fiddled with the knobs until I came to the message tab on my wrist computer. It was little more than a few simple words:
13th and Carson
I stared at the words for a few seconds, unable to make sense of it. Seemed like an address... and the only place those street names would really work would have to be somewhere out in Freeside. I racked my brain, trying to place it on a mental map... And then, it hit me like a sledgehammer to the back of the skull.
It couldn’t be. It wasn’t possible. But my heart skipped a beat just the same, and before I knew what was happening, my feet were already carrying me to the exit.
“...I have to go,” I muttered. As I ran to the elevator, Yes Man called out to say one last thing.
“Be careful out there! It won’t be long before the Legion makes its move!”
- - -
It was pitch dark by the time I reached my destination in Freeside. The point where 13th street met Carson Avenue was a nondescript warehouse... and on the roof was a broken skylight. This was where my fight with Tuera had abruptly come to an end, obviously, and there was only one reason anyone would tell me to come here. I looked around apprehensively... but I was all alone.
Or so I thought.
“You followed my advice,” a soft voice called out to me from the darkness. I turned at the sound, trying in vain to control my breathing.
A familiar female figure walked out into the open, from behind the still dented and broken AC box at the far end of the roof. She was wearing civilian clothes – jeans, a black jacket over a white shirt, with a black baseball cap covering her face – but I knew those curves like the back of my hand.
“Tuera...” I whispered out hoarsely, hardly able to believe it. “How are...” I gulped, trying to swallow away the dryness in my mouth. “How did you survive?” She kept her hands in her jacket pockets and shrugged.
“How did you?” she smiled at me from under the brim of her ballcap. My mouth twitched, and I let out a single, wheezing chuckle. Every fiber of my being wanted to run up to her as fast as I could, wrap my arms around her, and never let go.
Both of us stood at opposite ends of the rooftop, rooted in place.
“When... when you and Panzer squared off, and I... you didn’t...” I shook my head, running my hand across the top of my head. “I thought you were a goner.”
“So did I,” Tuera said calmly, reaching up to grab the brim of her hat and pull it down over her face. Slowly, she started to walk in my direction. “But he left without confirming the kill.” She chuckled. “He always was sloppy. I escaped, fought my way to one of the launch bays, and stole a cargo shuttle.”
“But... what about...” I gulped again; the dryness in my mouth would not go away. “Didn’t you say you wanted to die on your feet?” Without even really thinking about it, my legs started carrying me in her direction.
“I do,” she said calmly, and a shiver went up my spine. “But I was never going to just lie down and let myself be killed. They all tried their best to bring me down...” She looked up, and her eyes caught in the moonlight, glinting slightly. “And they all failed.”
For fuck sake! I thought to myself. Why the hell didn’t she tell me that before?!
“Well, t-there y’go,” I stammered out. Even I couldn’t tell if I was trying to smile or if it was just a full-on grimace. “I told you we’d all make it out of there alive.”
“That you did,” she let out a single, soft laugh. “I guess I shouldn’t have doubted you.”
“You shouldn’t have doubted yourself.” The two of us came to a halt, about an arms length away from each other. “You... you have no idea how glad I am to see you...” She smiled up at me, and my heart leapt.
But then I got a good look at her face: she was trying to hide it with the hat, but her left cheek had a nasty, jagged scar that ran along the line of her jaw, and forked into three prongs as it approached her eye. My breath caught in my throat. I wanted to reach out and touch her, if only to prove to myself that she was really standing in front of me, and I wasn’t just imagining it...
I didn’t budge an inch.
“So,” I gulped back the dryness, yet again, if only to try and calm myself down. “What are you going to do now?”
Tuera was silent for a long time, looking down at her shoes to hide her face.
“Hadn’t really thought about it,” she shrugged. “I suppose I’ll just... keep doing what I’m best at.” She looked up slightly, but her eyes were still hidden. “Survive.”
“You know,” I coughed, desperately trying to maintain composure. “You don’t... you don’t have to go...” She curiously peeked out at me from under her hat brim. “I mean... there’s plenty of room at the 38, after all. We still need all the help we can get to take down Caesar.”
“Less than you might think,” she said with a chuckle. I furrowed my brow, confused.
“What do you mean?”
“About a month ago, I infiltrated the Fort,” she said simply, and that caught me completely off guard. “My mission was to assassinate Caesar, to try and cut the head off the snake. But the job was already done.”
“Wh... hang on, Caesar’s dead?” I asked incredulously. She nodded. “Who killed him?”
“Time,” she shrugged. “I overheard some of the high ranking Legionnaires talking about what happened. Apparently, he’d been suffering from a malignant brain tumor for some time. One day he fell asleep, and just didn’t wake up.”
“Dying in his sleep...” I growled, shaking my head. “That’s too good of an end for that slave trading fuck.” Tuera chuckled, nodding in agreement.
“No argument from me,” she said. I paused, the gears turning in my head as I did the math, and realized:
“His death hasn’t changed a thing,” I sighed. “Has it?” Tuera shook her head.
“Doesn’t look that way.”
“Still, I... well...” I scratched the back of my head, unable to properly figure out what to do with my hands. “Look, the real reason I want you to stay is...” Despite my best efforts, the words were refusing to manifest. “I just... I’d love it if you decided to stick around.”
Tuera slowly shook her head and my heart sank.
“Look, Shea... I... I’m sorry,” she practically whispered. “But I’ve... Hell, I’ve seen the way you look at that Cassidy girl. And I...” She sighed heavily. “I don’t want to complicate things.”
If you pay close attention, you can actually hear the shattering sound of my heart.
“I... I understand.” I muttered. Every part of me felt numb, and I turned on my heel to walk away. “Guess we missed our window...”
A hand reached out to take hold of mine, and I halted on the spot, looking back.
“Shea... I don’t think you do understand.” Cautiously, I stepped back, and she reached out to take my other hand. “I love you. I still love you. I always have, and I always will. But...” Her mouth worked up and down for a few seconds, but no sound emerged. “I can’t have a... a life with you. I haven’t aged a day since the procedure that turned me into... this... thing. I don’t know how long I’ll live. I don’t know if I can even die...” She reached up and gently touched my cheek, and the two of us drew in closer. “Shea, please believe me. I would love the chance to live a normal life with you...to grow old with you... but I physically can’t. Not in this lifetime...”
I didn’t hesitate a moment more. I reached out and grabbed the bill of her hat, tossing it aside. Her hair fell loosely around her face, and I wrapped my arm around her waist, holding her in a tight embrace. I took her face in my hands, and...
For a single moment, everything in the world was perfect.
“Well then,” I whispered to her huskily. “I guess I’ll just have to find you in the next one, won’t I?” Tuera laughed softly, and she wrapped her arms around me tighter. She planted another soft kiss on my lips, pausing just long enough to nibble slightly. Her warm breath caressed my cheek, sending shivers of excitement down my spine.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
- - -
The air was crisp and cool as I walked through the Freeside streets, but there was warmth in my chest, lifting my spirits. When I closed my eyes, I could still taste her on my lips... smell her sweet, intoxicating scent... feel the electric tingle of her fingers on my skin...
I opened my eyes and couldn’t help but smile. The chapter of my life with Tuera may have finally come to an end... but at least this time, I got the chance to say goodbye. And that alone made it worth everything.
I sighed contentedly, and resumed the stroll back to the 38.
“To be continued...”