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Title: Strangers in the Night
Author: MustInvestigate
Disclaimer: I only own action figures
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Fallout New Vegas, F!Courier/Lonesome Drifter
Summary: The Mojave wasteland singles’ scene is hard.
(This is the kinkmeme’s fault.)

He spotted the woman when she wanted to be seen, standing on the ridge so that her silhouette was clear against the twilight sky. She waved one hand in the universal “don’t shoot, I’m friendly” gesture, the other firmly on her gun. He waved back, finger on his own trigger until she’d scuttled into the light of his campfire and dropped her pack.

They paused, passed a sheepish look back and forth, and mutually dropped their guard.


“That’s a hell of a moustache. It’s wearing you, not t’other way around.”

The words weren’t the most sociable icebreaker he’d ever heard, but her smile seemed genuine enough. “Thank you kindly. I’m right proud of it.”

“What kind of madman camps within pissing distance of a fire ant nest?”

“My kind, I guess,” he shrugged. “They’re friendly enough neighbours, long as I keep the noise down, and they scare off bad company.”

She chuckled and pulled a bottle of whiskey out of her pack, offering him a toot. “You must be a real lonesome madman, to consider fire ants company. Is that a guitar?”

“Yes, ma’am. You won’t find many like it.”

“Back in Maxson, I knew an old woman who played a fiddle, but I’ve never seen anything so fine.”

He warmed to her admiration, and the slug of whiskey. It wasn’t the usual rotgut but a fine smooth burn down his throat. He wondered who she was, to be carrying pre-war hooch and sharing it so casually.

He hoped he hadn’t catastrophically misjudged her friendly look, now worried that he’d invited into his campsite a rogue bearing burglar’s wine and an eye for his fine guitar. But, no, she was drinking from the bottle herself, humming appreciatively.

She was older than him, but probably by no more than a decade. The firelight was kind to her face, as sun- and wind-worn as his own.

They both froze as a flicker of fire lit up the valley not twenty yards from them. Two immature queens play-skirmishing over territory, he reckoned.

She handed him the bottle again and stood. “I know I’m breaching the laws of hospitality something fierce, but I must murder your neighbors before their skittering little feet drive me as mad as you.”

His only response was a tip of his hat and the upending of her bottle. He watched her slink across the road and settle against a high rock, propping her rifle and taking her time lining up a shot. All he heard, finally, was a soft fwut!, and all hell broke loose in the desert valley below. She didn’t move an inch, so neither did he, though sorely tempted to take to his heels and chance the open scrubland behind him.

When the noise and flames died down, she slung her pack over her shoulder and sauntered into the abattoir. He lost her as she moved into the mountain’s shadow, and wondered if he’d seen the last of this brief companion until she returned with a filled tarp the size of a bighorn on her back. She dropped it near the campfire with smug triumph.

“Hope you like ant meat.”

“I surely do, if you’re buying.”

She unpacked a queer boxy structure, which folded out to several times its original size, and started a small fire downwind of the campsite. She soaked some of his spare firewood and piled that on, then added several honey mesquite pods and a splash of whiskey. On top of that, she placed the box – which he realised was a series of wire racks surrounded by canvas, now stuffed with ant meat – letting it fill with sweet smoke. The whole process took her less than ten minutes.

She made him feel like a right idle cuss, sitting on his behind while she bustled. He supposed it was a fair assessment, since his get up ‘n’ go had started dribbling out the second trip through Montana, and run out completely here on the El Dorado pass.

She’d saved two chunks, which she skewered and propped over his fire, then turned her attention to the tarp, washing it down with rad-soaked water. “That’ll be done by morning, and ant meat keeps forever when you smoke it right. Save you running to the Super Duper Mart for a spell.”

“You don’t owe me two weeks’ food for the use of my camp,” he said, astonished.

She shook her head. “I’m travellin’ light and fast. Take the meat, or it’ll just go to waste.”

He felt a sudden pang, reminded of his mother and her firm policy on eating his greens. “Well, thank you kindly, ma’am. If you don’t mind me asking, what the hell happened with those ants, anyway? It sounded like you set off a hundred frag mines.”

She chuckled again. From the depth of her laugh lines, he reckoned she did that a lot.

“Pinged the biggest buggie in his antennae. That drives ‘em nuts, makes ‘em attack everything they see. Easiest way to clear out a nest there is, an’ damn good money in the nectar they drop.”

“You’re a hunter,” he said, annoyed he hadn’t realised the obvious by her efficient chores. Too caught up watching the shift of her hips as she went through the motions, if he was honest with himself. It had been a long time since he’d crossed paths with any sort of pleasant company; the last woman to come through El Dorado pass had been a jet-huffing trader who’d smelled worse than her ill-treated pack brahmin. He wondered if the huntress could be persuaded to abide a day or three.

“Was,” she shrugged. “Easy way to make caps when you can’t move around much. Since my little girl’s grown, I’ve been a courier, ranging all up and down this desert on Mojave Express’s cap.”

“Sounds nice,” he said. “Here I’ve been drifting through the wasteland for free. They hiring?”

“Always,” she said, losing her smile. She pushed her hair out of her face and showed him a deep, raw scar on her temple. Bullet, or maybe two, small calibre. “There’s a reason for that.”

He whistled, impressed. “Might be the ants are safer company.”

“Might be.” She brightened with an obvious effort, patting her hair back over the puckered skin. “What blows you about, anyway?”

“Looking for my pa,” he answered. “Well, I was. He left when I was little, y’see, and my mama died a few years ago, so…”

He trailed off, knowing how foolish he sounded. A wasteland child was lucky to have one living parent, and he’d hit the jackpot, graced with a mother so fiercely loving.

She made a sympathetic noise. “That’s a song I know well. I’ll sing the chorus with you.”

“I’d like to hear that story,” he said, “if you don’t mind telling.”

“Not much of one.” She turned the ant meat, frowning thoughtfully. “Soldier on leave. Silly Junktown girl with more poetry in her head than brains. Pretty words, and…”

She cleared her throat. “I’m sure your mama filled you in on the birds and the cazadores.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied solemnly. “Though she went light on the danger of soldiers’ promises.”

“And my mama too, to my sad downfall.” But she smiled again when she said that. “When my girl got old enough, she tracked him down with a heart fulla vengeance, found him sittin’ fat as a tick in a soft NCR recruitment post.”

He sat up, waiting impatiently as she pronounced the meat finished and handed him a skewer. “What happened?”

“She enlisted.” She laid down the punchline with a wry smirk. “Guess he still had that silver tongue.”

He couldn’t help it – he laughed, almost dropping his dinner in the dirt.

She joined in, and held up the nearly empty bottle of prime liquor. “A happy ending. Particularly since she’s procurement sergeant to the Hub bigwigs, and never forgets her old mother.”

They ate in easy silence. He savored the fresh meat, thinking of the centuries-old packed food that had been his primary vittles as he wandered what remained of the nation. If he never choked down another tin of Cram, it would be too soon.

“Maybe I should cut to the chase, sign on myself,” he joked.

“Hmmm…don’t know the NCR has much need for layabout troubadours.” The curve of her mouth sweetened her too-precise aim. “Maybe you should keep looking. Your daddy, he ever known to wear a checkered jacket?”

“He was more the trenchcoat type.”

“Shame.” She spread a much-mended bedroll on the sand. “We coulda joined expeditions. Last sip?”

He accepted the bottle again and drank the dregs, relishing the slide of good liquor on his tongue. “Staying ‘til first light?”

She was already settling in, face toward the stars, one arm flung over her head. “If ya don’t mind.”

He fidgeted, then picked up his guitar. “You want to hear a song I’ve been working on, since the neighbors can’t complain about the ruckus anymore?”

“I’ve been waiting for you to strum those strings since I sat down,” she teased. Her hair had fallen to the side, revealing the rough edge of the scar. He wondered again about that story, but was selfishly glad she hadn’t volunteered it. He liked her smiling.

“I’ve only got the opening so far,” he said, and sang:

From this wasteland they say you are going
We will miss your bright eyes and sweet smile
For they say you are taking the sunshine
that has brightened our world for a while

He strummed the verse a couple more times, enjoying the sound of it drifting over the valley without the skittering of ants to break up the beats. He certainly wasn’t stalling, trying to come up with a line that wouldn’t creep her right out of his campsite if her intentions weren’t in line with his hopes.

“You got a good cowboy voice,” she told him. “Earnest, not showy. Leaves someone wantin’ to hear more.”

“Do you now?” he teased, wrapping the guitar in a tanned gecko skin. The night air could play hell with the old wood. “If that’s so, you’ll have to hang around a mite longer than first light.”

She hmmmed, neither yes or no. “Looks to be a chilly night ahead. Two bedrolls would be warmer than one.”

He thanked the stars above for roundheeled women.

It went too quickly, the way life’s sweet moments always seemed to pass. Her hand curled around his neck when he kissed her, sweet and chaste, then dropped to playfully pinch his ass. They got in each other’s way, trying to strip away clothes and fondle skin still hidden at the same time. He called her beautiful, nuzzling her breast; she called his moustache tickly and demanded he tickle her someplace better. Her thighs clamped around his ears, then minutes later his hips, pulling him in deeper like she could never get enough. He muffled his groans in her neck, tasting sweat and smoke.

And she was right; two cuddled up in two blankets was a damn sight warmer than one of each, and he dropped into sleep like a deep well.

He woke with his bedroll tucked around his shoulders to find her stuffing the collapsed smoker into her bag. The cured meat was neatly laid out on a clean rock.

“Mornin’ sleepyhead,” she said. “Your hair’s truly a sight to behold.”

He ran his fingers through the offending locks. It was morning to only a very generous beholder, the eastern sky a lighter indigo than the west and both still speckled with stars.

“I can’t convince you to stay a spell?” he tried. “Rest up for the hard travelling ahead?”

She shook her head.


No answer.


“Thanks for the gentlemanly offer, but no.” Her bag was ready, her smile half-hearted. “Aim to make Boulder City by dusk.”

He sat up, alarmed. Goosebumps broke out on his bare chest, bereft of the bedroll’s cozy heat. “That’s just a ruin, and the trail there’s full of the worst sorta savages. Why would you…?”

She touched her forehead. “Got to see a man about a bullet, and before anyone else gets to him first.”

He felt a chill unrelated to the desert’s cold. She didn’t look like a traveller planning a return trip. The bright friendliness of the varmint-sniper he’d welcomed to his fire was now packed away as securely as her gear, carried by a different kind of hunter.

He’d just have to count his blessings, he decided, and wished her godspeed. Still, he couldn’t resist, “If you get back round here, I’ll have the rest of my song ready to sing for ya.”

She softened at that, and leaned over for a kiss, dropping it not on the lips but his forehead. “I’m grateful the road put a good soul like you in my path, after so many wicked. Maybe it’ll be kind again. If not…I hope you find who you’re looking for.”

He tipped an imaginary hat, since his real one was lying next to the embers of the fire. “Wish I could say the same.”

He watched her go until the desert swallowed her up.

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