Janice groaned loudly, clutching at her bad hip. She dropped her weight against the adobe wall behind her and slid down to the ground. She began fiercely rubbing the aggravated joint until the spasm passed. Christine watched from the opposite side of the gate as she rocked back and forth. She coughed raggedly and croaked out. “Okay?”
“Yeah, just cramped up from running.” The cripple ground out, grabbing her leg and moving it around until a soft pop was heard. Janice sighed with relief and shifted to stand. She pulled herself up using the wall and turned to limp away from the gate.
Compared to the Police District, the Medical District was deserted. They continued through the maze of crumbling building and dense Cloud for hours, encountering only half a dozen or so Ghosts. Finally the holographic image of Vera Keys appeared in the distance, Christine let her lips rise into a smile. She clapped Janice on the back, an action sudden enough to nearly send her tumbling head over heels. The cripple shot her angry look but remained quiet.
Janice had fallen silent approximately six hours after they had slipped into the Medical District. Usually the journey from the gate to the fountain took her an hour at most, but her companion moved at a much slower pace and found many of her short cuts to be impassable. They’d been trekking through the Villa for ten hours now and the strain was affecting Janice’s mood.
Christine smiled at her and pointed to the fountain excitedly. Janice shrugged and continued hobbling forward. The bald woman frowned at her and continued on with her.
They arrived at the holographic projection nearly an hour later. Janice collapsed on the brim, dunking her head into the water. Christine let her relax for a few minutes before pointing out the gate.
“That’s my way out, huh?” Janice asked tiredly, propping herself against the fountain and sitting with her legs fully extended. Christine nodded. “Got a place I can take a nap before I shove off?” The scarred woman gestured to the Madre high up on the hill.
“Beds.” She stated in her crackly voice. Janice sighed and shook her head.
“Too far.” Christine cast a glance around. The air was Cloud free and Ghosts avoided the hologram’s light, Janice could sleep here, but the Madre was much safer.
The former mute crouched in front of her crippled companion and grabbed her chin. “Carry!” She insisted. Janice shook her off.
“No!” She replied stubbornly. Christine trapped her face between two unyielding hands.
“Not weak.” She assured her. “Tired.” Christine coughed and rubbed her throat. Janice averted her eyes and gave a slight nod.
The bald woman released her companion’s head and pressed a chaste kiss to her lips. She stood and waited for Janice to do the same. “Not weak!” She insisted again, feeling her voice begin to waiver as she noticed the watery look of the girl’s eyes.
“Not weak.” The cripple mumbled, bowing her head. She allowed Christine to wrap an arm around her waist and duck under her right arm. Soon they were off, heading toward the waiting doors of the Sierra Madre. They traveled to the Madre in ten minutes, but it felt much longer due to Janice’s uncontrollable sobbing. Christine understood, she was tired and in pain, plus the added humiliation of being carried the final leg of her journey. She did her best to sooth her, running her hand along her back and occasionally mumbling raspy words of support to her until her voice gave out altogether, leaving her hacking. Christine shoved the doors to the Madre open and paused for a second.
The lobby of the Sierra Madre was exactly as she had left it nearly two days ago. The doors to the elevator stood open, the dirty carpet and yellowed walls remained ugly but sturdy, the holograms stood ready to deal any game and the vending machines glowed warmly. Christine had patched up the holes that allowed the Ghosts and the Cloud to infiltrate the Casino shortly after the Courier left. She’d also fixed the lights so the whole bottom floor glowered brightly with the promise of life. This place had become her sanctuary, it was hers and hers alone, the fact that Elijah’s corpse was rotting in the vault below was only an added bonus.
A sniffle to her left drew her attention away from the lobby. Janice had quieted her sobbing and was now attempting to clean her face, Christine smiled at her, and carefully pulled away, and making sure she was steady before stepping away and pointing to the elevator.
Janice stumbled into the elevator and leaned heavily on the support bar. Christine followed her in, lips set into a tight line. The car wasn’t small but she still felt the vague effects of claustrophobia setting in. Normally she used the stairs and saved the elevator for emergencies, but it was a thirty second ride to the suites and it saved Janice from being carried up two flights of stairs. She pressed the button that corresponded to the suites and closed her eyes as the doors slid shut. The cart lurched into motion, drawn upwards on two hundred year old mechanisms with loud creaks, shrieks, and groans. The elevator stopped and opened its door on the floor of the suites.
She’d done her best to fix the top floor as well. The piles of rubble on the floor had been recycled into building materials to repair holes in the floors and walls. She’d shut off the holograms that patrolled rooms and done her best to stockpile all the supplies in the safe in Vera’s room.
Christine lead Janice through the halls, until they came to a suite close to Vera’s, all of the walls were intact or repaired and the bed was in decent condition. The cripple thanked her and headed over to the bed, collapsing wearily upon it. Christine turned to go to her own room, happy to return to her sanctuary, but Janice called her back. “We need to talk, about earlier. Tomorrow!” She commanded before closing her eyes.
The mute returned to her room three doors down. It was similar to Janice’s, but a little larger with a desk. The east wall had crumbled, so there were boards lining it where most of her repairs had taken place. After being trapped in Vera’s room for so long, she could never sleep there, especially not with Vera still sitting in the corner. She sat down on the bed and began removing her boots, sighing as they slid off. Next she took her pants off and threw them on top her boots. The bald woman crawled into bed and allowed herself to dream once again.
Christine woke with a bad taste in her mouth. She leaned over the side of the bed for her canteen. After she had drained the water from the small container, she stood and dressed.
She left her room and headed to Vera’s suite. The suite was also exactly as she had left it. The auto-doc stood open, Vera still sat in the corner surrounded by Med-ex and the safe was locked up tight. She opened the safe with Vera’s key and pulled out three bottles of purified water. She used two to refill her canteen and set the third to the side. She grabbed a box of Sugar Bombs and shut the safe, relocking it before dropping the key back into her pocket.
Christine headed to Janice’s room, water and sugar bombs in hand. She nudged the door open to find Janice on the ground with her transmitter in pieces around her. The cripple glanced up at her. “Figured I would rip the burnt out filter out so my transmitter works when I get out of here.” She explained. The bald woman held up the water and sugar bombs. Janice nodded. Christine sat down next to the door.
She watched for a few moments while Janice switched between a piece of paper and a circuit board. The cripple found what she was looking for apparently and pulled the components from the board easily. “So who did you think I was?” She asked suddenly, her eyes flicking upward to watch her response.
Christine scrunched up her face before circling her heart. Janice nodded.
“Do you dream about her?” Christine nodded reluctantly. She pointed to Janice, then to herself. The cripple dropped her eyes down to the transmitter again, beginning to reassemble it.
“Someone I loved a long time ago.” Christine frowned and pointed to Janice’s heart. “I don’t know maybe. I still think of him. I still miss him.” She finished putting together the transmitter and slipped it into her duster.
Christine opened the box of sugar bombs and held them out to Janice. The cripple accepted the box and dug a handful out. She handed the box back and started picking the sugary atomic bombs into her mouth. Christine pulled a handful out as well, but shoveled the whole thing into her mouth. As she chewed she pointed to Janice’s heart again then pulled her hands out farther.
“He got shot by a raider while escorting a caravan between towns. He managed to make it back to town before he died of blood loss.” She held out her hand for the water. Christine cracked it open and handed it to her. The cripple took a sip and handed it back. She finished her handful of Sugar Bombs and held her hand out again. Christine dipped her hand in and shoved another handful into her mouth and passed the cereal over to her companion. She took a large sip from the bottle of water.
“What happened between you and the girl who doesn’t love you?” Janice asked around the sugary yellow mush in her mouth. Christine reclaimed the box and shook another mouthful into her mouth. She passed the water to Janice before beginning to relay her answer.
She mimed the two walking fingers and the hand separating them again. One of the fingers chased the hand. Christine scrunched up her face. She pointed to herself then traced her outline in front of her, then started using her hands to reshape that outline. She pointed to the other finger, shook her head, and pointed to the phantom outline.
“You didn’t even try to go back to her?” Janice questioned. Christine shook her head. “Why?”
The bald woman pointed to her head, pointed to her finger, drew a heart and pointed herself. “You’re afraid of rejection.” Christine frowned. She cast a glance around the room. “This place doesn’t need you.” The bald woman nodded then pointed to Janice. The cripple scowled at her and snatched the box of Sugar Bombs from her. She proceeded to empty the remains of the box into her mouth. Christine finished the water and stood.
Janice followed the motion and collected the rest of her belonging before following Christine to the elevator. They read down together and left the Madre. The journey down the hill was tense.
When they reached Vera’s fountain, Christine touched Janice’s arm and mouthed an apology. Janice shook her head playfully. “No hard feelings.” Christine led Janice to the gate.
The gate was a double door wrought iron gate. There was a chain wrapped around two of the poles to keep the gate from swinging open. Beyond it was a brick work open ceiling corridor that supposedly led back to the Mohave Wasteland.
Janice turned to Christine. “Come with me.” She requested. “You’re so different from everyone else I’ve met. You deserve better than this hell hole.” Christine smiled sadly and shook her head. She knew what leaving would mean for her. Janice looked too much like Veronica; it would end only in uncounted moments of heartbreak.
“The NCR and the Brotherhood have a peace treaty now you could go back to the Brotherhood and continue being a Knight.” Christine shook her head and gestured to the Villa around them. “You could protect a lot more people in the Mohave.” Christine shook her head a final time before raising her hands, she pointed to the gate and drew a five pointe shield in front of her, and she shook her head and gestured around herself. She pointed to herself and drew the shield, traced the outline of a person, then dropped her hands down to her sides. She screwed up her face and motioned for Janice to lean in close.
“This place changes people, it tends to strip away greed and make them evaluate their priorities. Helping people in the Mohave is different. They just take, here in the Villa they give back too. I want to save people who have changed.” She whispered in her croaky voice.
“Damn it Christine! I want you to come with me to be around you. I like you, and I want to work with you. I want you to kiss me again. Being with you makes me forget about all the stuff that makes me feel inadequate.”
Christine took Janice’s chin between her thumb and forefinger and pressed a kiss to her forehead. A life with Janice was tempting, a new life with a new Veronica. She knew that it wouldn’t turn out that way, but she could dream. The bald woman wrapped her arms around the cripple and spun her around, shoving open the gate.
She pulled Janice into a rough kiss. Janice responded by gripping her shoulders and pulling them closer together. Christine shoved her tongue between the cripple’s lips to find a tongue ready to halt her advance. They battled bitterly until Janice slipped into Christine’s mouth, quickly subjugating her tongue and exploring her mouth. The bald woman could feel hands roaming her sides and bottom. Internally, she sighed. Janice felt right, and working and living with her would be nice. She wasn’t Veronica though, despite her looks, and her heart would always belong to Ronnie. Circumstance would never matter. With a final surge back into her mouth she gave Janice a hard shove backward.
The cripple stumbled back a few steps and fell on her ass. Christine quickly swung the gate inward, wrapping the chain around the last two poles. Janice regained her feet a moment later and limped over to the gate. She attempted to pull it open but Christine held it firmly shut. The bald woman’s tear ducts ached with hot tears as she did her best to hold them back.
Janice continued fighting her for an eternity before she tired and let go, tears seeping from her eyes. “Let me stay with you at least!” She shrieked. Christine shook her head and managed to croak out around the growing lump of emotion in her throat.
“You have a future out there. Don’t deserve this hell hole.” Janice sniffled and wiped her eyes.
“You don’t either, we could still be together even in hell.” Christine shook her head.
“I’m going to be alone. You need to find someone.” Janice leaned her head forward to touch it to the bars. She remained that way for several minutes before standing. She turned away and hobbled off down the cobblestone path.
Christine waited for Janice’s outline to disappear from the horizon before turning away from the gate. Tears blurred her vision as she trekked up to the Sierra Madre again. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was once again walking away from her only chance of happiness.
Once in the Madre Christine made the journey to the suites and found herself heading for Vera’s room. She collapsed on Vera’s bed and allowed herself to cry for the second time since Janice had come into her life. At least, she thought bitterly, I’m not alone. She cast a side long glance at the skeleton in the corner.
Days passed before Christine could bring herself to leave the Madre. Her greatest fear was that the sight of the gate would send her charging back to the Mohave. Even if Janice wasn’t Veronica and the daily realization of that fact would have killed her, she couldn’t stop thinking that it might have been worth it for those fleeting seconds bliss.
When the time came that she could drag herself from the casino to patrol the Villa, she found herself wondering how much Med-ex it would take to dull the ache in her chest.