Actions

Work Header

Lost Legacy

Chapter Text

                                                                                 Cover


CHARACTERS

Nora

Nora OUtift

Robin

robin 

Bobbi No-Nose

Julia Tyrell

Lucas Gringham (L ittle John)

 

Mel

Mel (Fallout 4) - The Vault Fallout Wiki - Everything you need to ...

Robert MacCready

Was playing Fallout 4 and realized that MacCready resembles our ...

Chapter Text

The bandit thought herself something of an artist. There was skill, she thought, to the perfect "break and enter".

Her method often took time and a lot of thought, but the rewards were always bountiful. She was good at picking targets. Depending on who she had chosen – whether it be rich citizens in the upper stands in Diamond City or even a Raider boss hidden away in their den – she would always get her mark. She would watch her targets carefully for a week or two in various brilliant disguises, or hide like a ghost in the shadows. She would learn their routines, their relationships, their weaknesses. Once she had calculated the best point of entry and the best time, it was on to the second phase: she would make sure she knew how to disable their defences – the mines, the tripwires, the pressure plates. She was an expert at picking locks of any kind; if she couldn’t pick a lock, all she had to do was place a charge and blow the door off its hinges (which went for safes, too). Plenty of weapons-vendors gave her the explosives she needed, if she paid them enough for it.

The final step was posing as someone her target could trust so that she could go in and make sure she knew where every valuable worth taking was. For the rich families in the upper stands, she could pose as a cleaner or a repair-man, or dress expensively and appeal to their pretentious standards. Once they thought she was wealthy and snobbish, she only had to invite herself over for a drink and they wouldn’t bat an eye. That was how she’d stolen from the same five families several times over the past few years. Small sums of money at first: gold jewellery, expensive silver antiques, wads of Pre-War cash. They hadn’t really noticed until recently, when she stole an entire safe full of gold bars and important documents from Malcolm Latimer. He’d put all of Diamond City Security on high alert – for months now, they had been searching for her.

For Raiders, all she had to do was wear the rags and armour she’d scrounged from one of their corpses, douse herself in blood, wear a hood, and stroll right in through the gates. They greeted her like a comrade. As soon as she got close enough to the boss to know how many valuables he or she had, she’d note it all down for her grand break-in. The Raiders always noticed immediately when their money was missing, but she was long-gone before they could do anything about it. Unfortunately, as with the security in Diamond City, this had made her public enemy number one amongst Raiders. Some groups had banded up in an effort to track her down.

And so, while her method of thievery was important, the bandit had decided long ago that there was something much more important at the basis of her plans. Even a world-class outlaw couldn’t do everything alone. Since she first arrived in the Commonwealth, she’d been schmoozing with all the right people. She always had friends on the outside, ready to cover her back; her own band of followers who loved her work and would do anything for her as long as she gave them a small sum of caps in return. They would have safe houses ready for her should she need them, new disguises, and new weapons. Some of the people who worked with her would scout out new targets once she’d told them what she was looking for. Over the past two years, she’d had a den built in an old subway tunnel – Fens Way station – and most of them lived there, safe from danger. Some of her youngest recruits had been learning the trade from her whenever she visited; her favorite was about fifteen, and he was wickedly devious. They all called him Fox, partly because he was cunning, and partly because of his shock of bright red hair. The bandit thought of him as a prodigy – already, he was an expert pick-pocketer. Should she die or be captured, he would continue the crusade she had already begun.

Currently, her closest group of followers was twelve people strong and continuing to grow; over half of them were kids. The more publicity that the bandit got, the more Commonwealth folk she had begging her for a job. She also had caravans, traders, security personnel and nondescript citizens who she could slip a cap or two when she wanted them to turn a blind eye while she worked. Some of them called her “Silver-tongue” – it was rumored that she could charm someone into giving her everything they had for no payment in return. Some went as far as to call her an anti-hero or a villain, as if she belonged in a comic book alongside Grognak or the Silver Shroud. She didn’t bother to dispel these rumors; in fact, she rather enjoyed them.

Only the poorest of Commonwealth people knew her self-dubbed name – Robin. Most of them called her Robin the Sly, though they were unaware of the original tale of Robin Hood, the old folklore hero who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. She lived up to the name as best she could. The money she stole always ended up in the poorest settlements, in the hands of street vendors, in the stomachs of the hungry. Very little of it was kept for herself – it wasn’t money she needed, after all. She had plenty of people giving her things for free simply because they respected her. The point of stealing was that it gave her a thrill, that it made rich people look stupid, and that she knew she could never be caught. Then again, her job security had been lacking recently.

Over the past month, due to her souring reputation in Diamond City, she had been featured about five times in Publick Occurrences. Piper Wright, the city’s reporter, certainly wasn’t fond of her. Thieving was bad even if it was done for good, it seemed. The Minutemen, while aware that the money Robin stole was helping their settlements, had their own moral code to follow. They had only just made a deal with Diamond City to see if they could help capture her and bring her to justice. Even the Brotherhood were on her tail; she’d looted from one of their bases a month ago and they hadn’t taken it lightly.

Diamond City, the Minutemen, the Brotherhood, Raiders, Gunners... Robin had so many enemies now that she might as well have painted a bright red target on her back. While she was certainly more careless than she used to be, it was the tactical evasion of her enemies that made her job interesting in the first place. Stealing was fun for sure, but more fun was the scheming; remaining two steps ahead of all of those who wished to capture and kill her. This meant she had to constantly relocate after every job and moved throughout the Commonwealth like a fugitive. But the Fens Way den was a place she could always return to if she had nowhere else to go. For the past two years, it had remained untouched and undiscovered. Her followers remained tight-lipped and completely loyal. She had won over their hearts and souls. They had all been poor, once. Perhaps they’d been living on the streets of Diamond City or Goodnieghbor; perhaps they had been put in jail for petty crime and Robin had broken them out for need of their skills. Many of them were still poor – so was she – but they all seemed proud to be helping her with her schemes, even if that meant becoming an enemy of the Minutemen, the Brotherhood, and every Raider in the Commonwealth.

Steal from the rich, give to the poor. Wasn’t that everyone’s favorite line?

Robin wanted to be able to say that she had started a new age for the Commonwealth, but her work wasn’t at a scale large enough yet. The problem, while she hated to admit it, was the sheer number of her enemies; no true hero could get work done if they were being torn at from all sides. Unlike the Minutemen, who everyone loved, she was met with mixed reactions of adoration and fury. In an attempt to stay under the radar and avoid capture, Robin had resolved to stay away from the major cities. Which was why she currently sat slumped in a chair inside a darkened room, her face turned towards the doorway, her hands cold around a bottle of Beantown brown beer – the only goddamn beer that she’d been able to find in this place. The dilapidated brewery was something of a let-down, really, because she’d hoped to be getting some good alcohol out of this mission as well as the usual caps and excitement. Most of the beer tasted like sour piss. Hell, it probably was piss. Never trust a Raider running a bottling factory.

It was very quiet today. Robin was almost painfully aware of the time ticking by, the pocket watch on the desk beside her drawing her eyes every now and then as she made sure the second-hand hadn’t stopped completely. Twelve forty-five in the afternoon and she was sitting here doing nothing. Bored as hell.

“Hey, pass me the Jet, would ya?”

Robin tore her eyes from the doorway to regard the man on her right, his face obscured by a bandanna and a pair of goggles. His head was shaved completely bald and the skin there was patchy and rough from sun damage. He was a heavy-set guy, perhaps a foot taller than Robin was, and had a rather disturbing fondness for pictures of naked women. She was pretty sure he was the type of Raider who’d strip a woman’s body once he’d killed her just to have a look at her and jack off. All the more reason not to get caught and killed.

Robin reached into the cooler by her feet and picked out a Jet inhaler, tossing it across the room to him. He caught it with fumbling hands, grunted as he lifted the gas mask and applied it, then let out a blissful sigh and retreated to silence. Robin rolled her eyes.

She checked the time. It was twelve forty-seven. Only two minutes had passed since the last time she’d checked. Robin had plenty of patience once she had her eyes on the prize. Today, however, she was beginning to wonder if that prize even existed. The boss, Tower Tom, hadn’t left the brewery’s office room for an entire day – she was sure it had something to do with the girl he had in there with him who he'd kidnapped and chained to a wall. Robin was itching to know what had happened to her, even though she had little to do with the operation. Some hostage in a Raider gang war, most likely.

“Hey, could you pass the-”

“Fuck off,” Robin snapped suddenly. “Get it yourself. I’m goin’ for a smoke.”

The other Raider turned to stare at her as if in anger but she was on her feet and leaving the room before he could do anything to her. Robin hated killing people while she was on the job – even Raiders – but maybe she would make an exception for this prick.

When she’d joined up a few days ago in order to get close to Tower Tom, having heard that he was sitting on an impressive pile of caps, they hadn’t let her go anywhere alone. They’d hooked her up with this disgusting brute, as if being a Raider in Tower Tom’s gang required some sort of training. There wasn’t exactly a beginner’s guide. All she had to do was talk like a chain smoker, pretend to take at least five chems a day, drink until she was red in the face, and shoot at anything that moved. If she wanted to really sell it, she could pick a fight with one of the least-liked Raiders and make a big show of being the toughest woman in the gang. That was also a fast-track way to impressing the boss and getting into his good books. And his pockets.

Robin had never been undercover for longer than a week, so ideally she’d be out of here by tomorrow, fleeing with the loot. Tower Tom would definitely send people after her, but they’d never find her. The moment she was out of the brewery, she’d be a ghost; a shadow. She’d been wearing a hood over her face the entire time she’d been here so none of them knew what she looked like anyway – most of them probably suspected she had a horrendous injury hidden beneath it. To the contrary; Robin knew that her best chance at remaining unrecognized was hiding her un-Raider-like smooth skin.

The brewery was dank and musty, the metal platform ringing under her boot soles as she walked nonchalantly along. There were only eleven Raiders in this gang; enough to fortify the brewery but hardly enough to establish any real threat to the world outside. They were rich, some of the richest Raiders in the Commonwealth because of the sheer number of caps they'd discovered here, and perhaps a little smarter than most. Robin was glad of this. A challenge always made her job much more interesting.

She passed very quietly by the brewery’s office, stopping momentarily to see if she could make sense of the voices inside. One of the other Raiders was in there with Tower Tom and they seemed to be having a very heated discussion. The kidnapped girl was silent. Cunningly, Robin glanced back over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching her and then rapped on the office door with her knuckles. The voices immediately fell silent.

There was a faint, “Fuck off!” from inside. Robin knocked again.

As the lock unclicked and the door was wrenched open, Robin immediately turned her eyes to the room beyond, even though Tower Tom’s impressive figure was blocking her view. “The hell do you want?” he growled.

Robin was making the most of this opportunity, noting down the steamer trunk in the far corner, the locked drawers of the desk, the toolboxes stacked against the wall… there were probably valuables in all of them. But was there a safe? This visual evidence was enough, at least, to go ahead with her plan.

“There’s a fight,” she said, thinking on her feet. “Two of ‘em are at each other’s throats again.”

“So what?”

“We all start killin’ each other, you have no protection. No gang to lead. Am I wrong?”

He looked like he was about to pull out his gun and shoot her in the face. His fingers seemed to flutter towards his hip, but then he just huffed and turned to the Raider who’d been in the room with him. “You. Go break up the fight.”

“But-”

“Now.”

The female Raider shoved past Robin, grumbling under her breath, pipe pistol already in her hands. Robin took one last look around the room, frustrated that he was blocking her from seeing the far wall, then stepped back from the doorway. Tower Tom immediately yanked the door shut and locked it behind her.

Robin turned, a smile on her face beneath the hood.

“So? Where’s the fight?” the female Raider asked her.

“South wall catwalk. Room where all the coolers are.”

The Raider grumbled under her breath again as she set off in the opposite direction, heading straight for the room where Robin had previously been keeping watch. She’d love to see the look on that brute’s face when he was accused of something he hadn’t even done.

Have fun puzzling over that one, pal.

Robin headed straight for the brewery’s main anteroom, strolling just as casually as before. While the fact she’d lied about the fight was perhaps suspicious, she knew the Raiders were unlikely to bother punishing her. Once that brute felt cornered, he'd start a fight anyway, and no one would even throw a look in Robin's direction. She was good at remaining unnoticed; forgettable. The distraction of a fight was all she needed to slip away for a few minutes.

Once she was outside the brewery, Robin shivered, her rags failing to protect her against the autumn wind. She walked straight down the bridge towards Cambridge, keeping watch for enemies. No one would think twice about killing a Raider, after all, and she'd hate to be mistaken for one. At the far end of the bridge, she leaned against the stone wall and waited. Her breath was coming out as steam in the air and the wind was gently ruffling against the fabric of her hood. Untying it, she yanked it off her head and let out a relieved sigh. Now she could feel the wind in the tousled strands of her black hair, too, cool against her scalp. She touched a finger to the skin around her eyes, pleased to realize that the dark paint she’d applied was still there. It was an extra precaution she’d taken to make sure no one recognized her face. Only if they looked closely would they see past the black smudge across her eyes.

The sound of panting roused her from her thoughts and Robin straightened as she listened for accompanying footsteps. As she caught sight of a man strolling down the hill towards her, she smiled. So he’d seen her from the window like she’d planned and understood her signal. Robin crouched as a mangy white-furred dog came trotting towards her. “Hey, girl,” she cooed, scratching behind her ears. “How’s my baby?” The dog, whom she had aptly named Sugarbomb, snuffled into her hand with a wet nose and let out a whine.

Robin straightened to gaze at the man who’d stopped a few feet away. He had wrinkled dark skin and a yellow rain slicker on his head, dressed in jeans and a padded jacket. Most people would think he was any old settler; he looked like he worked on a farm. He was actually one Robin’s most useful assists - and, more importantly, her closest friend. Ever since she’d saved his life after he’d been kidnapped by Gunners a while back, he’d been convinced that he was forever in her debt. He was her rescue line and always remained somewhere nearby. When he wasn’t needed on a mission, he was in charge of Fens Way station. Robin had decided to call him Little John after the second-in-command of the merry men in the Robin Hood stories.

“Hey there,” Robin drawled.

Little John removed a rucksack from his back and tossed it to her, amusement clear on his face. “Hey, Robin. Having fun?”

“Oh, plenty.”

They nodded to each other and she made a two-fingered sign with her left hand, signalling that she was planning to escape early in the morning. Little John would ensure everything was in place. Robin petted the dog’s head one last time before drawing away and pulling her hood back on. She began to walk slowly back towards the brewery, already going through her plan in her head:

Tower Tom only really left the office late at night and early in the morning, when he went for a piss and a cigarette. Three of the Raiders would be on guard duty throughout the night – the rest went to sleep in the anteroom chambers. Robin would need to time it perfectly; volunteer as one of the guards tonight, station herself close to the office, wait for Tower Tom to leave (he’d likely take twenty minutes at most), and pick the door’s lock so she could break inside. She’d have ten minutes to take everything she possibly could, then she’d escape the brewery through its chained back entrance. Once she was far enough away, she’d meet up with another of her assists – Tanya, who had always been in charge of getaways - and change into a different outfit, leaving her Raider persona behind and becoming a simple trader instead. The money she’d stolen from Tower Tom would go to Deb, a merchant in Bunker Hill, who dealt with all of Robin’s stolen goods. She’d send it by caravan to Warwick homestead, where a group of struggling farmers had been needing to replace their water pump for quite some time now but hadn’t had the money to do so. They’d finally have enough clean water to last a lifetime.

Robin, successful yet again, would congratulate herself on a job well done.

Chapter Text

Nora rolled her eyes, slapping her cards down on the table. “How the hell do you always win? This is meant to be a game of luck.”

“It’s not luck, it’s a gamble,” Robert MacCready corrected her.

“There’s no difference between those two things.”

“Yeah, there is. I just know how to use luck to my advantage.”

“So..." Nora shot him a withering look. "Basically you’re cheating.” 

“No. I'm crafty. I won fair and square,” he retorted, scraping the pile of caps towards him.

She sighed, soaking in the laughter and smiles of the people surrounding her who had been watching the game. The longer she spent in Goodneighbor, the more comfortable she came to be in its underground jazz club. Conversations swirled constantly in clouds of thick smoke, cigarette stench hanging stagnant in the air. Although Nora had never had much interest in drinking, especially when it came to the dodgy-looking liquors in the Third Rail, she was extremely aware of a sharp smell of alcohol wafting towards her. Above it all, with each note carrying through the room in waves of silk, Magnolia sung her newest set-list. Nora loved her songs; it was nice hearing something besides the overplayed music on the radio.

“What, are you giving up?” MacCready teased with a smirk, noticing that she'd fallen silent. “Bitter that I keep winning?”

Nora was about to quiet him with a derisive reply but a hand fell gently to her shoulder, squeezing a little to get her attention. She turned to see the face of one of her accompanying soldiers, his eyes apologetic. “Sorry to interrupt, General, but you’ve been summoned. Preston Garvey wants you back at the Castle as soon as possible.”

She sighed. “I’m not done out here – you told him I'm busy, right?”

The soldier’s uncertain eye fell to the table covered in playing cards, cigarettes and empty bottles. “Uh… yes, ma’am. He said there’s something important which needs to be brought to your attention and it can’t wait.”

“I just spent two entire days murdering Raiders for that guy, and I don’t even get the weekend off?” Nora scoffed. Still, she took her hat from the edge of the table and placed it carefully on her head. Her job was her life and she enjoyed every second of it, even though she barely ever had any time for rest.

It had been four years since she had joined the Minutemen and Preston Garvey had decided to promote her to General. Four years since she had left Vault 111 after the Great War, horrified at what the world had become. A little over four years since her husband Nate had died – though she had finally come to peace with that.

Three years since she had found her kidnapped son as an old man inside the Institute and tried to convince him that the way the Institute was treating the Commonwealth was wrong. She had failed. And he’d had cancer, lost already to death before she could properly reconcile with him. The Institute had been destroyed and he’d chosen to go down with his ship. He had been an old man capable of making his own decisions, and however much it had pained her, she could not take that away from him, so she let him go. The gift he gave her, the little boy synth who would never age, who had her son’s beautiful memories, was taken in with open arms. She loved that little boy, and she had been so incredibly glad to have her baby back, even under such strange circumstances. She waited almost an entire year to tell him that he was a synth, after months spent hearing him talk of his hopes for the future and the sort of man he’d grow up to be. He had deserved to know.

Two years ago, he told her he didn’t want to be a child forever. Shaun was not stupid, even as a boy. The grief she had seen in him after learning the truth was heart-breaking and she could hardly bear it; a child didn’t deserve to feel such sorrow. He asked her to help him find a way to escape his fate and she knew to respect his wishes as she had respected those of her real son. Nora had Doctor Amari download his memories into the body of an adult synth.

Two years ago, Nora lost her son for the third time. Shaun woke up in the body of a twenty-year-old man but his memories weren’t there. He didn’t remember her, and as Doctor Amari had warned her of the risks before the procedure, there was nothing that Nora could do. She let the Railroad take him, knowing they'd find somewhere safe for him. And she took her synth child’s empty body to Sanctuary Hills and buried him beside his father.

For a year, she was in mourning. She spent a long time in the first stage of grief: denial. Nora had not realized that the world could be so cruel. She’d always had a strong spirit that fiercely loved everyone and everything, that sought to heal others and bring joy, and she found it hard to believe she deserved the life she’d been given. Soon enough, however, Nora learned to stop thinking about her past and made plans for her future. She made it through the grief of losing her life before the Great War, her husband, and each reincarnation of her son Shaun, and through the process she found a better version of herself. When that year ended, she looked back over her history, and she knew it was time to start over again.

Nora returned to the Minutemen to lead them. She devoted her life to the Commonwealth and her comrades became her family. She valued each of her soldiers as she would a relative and swore to protect them however she could. She expanded the Castle, their base, and turned it into the grandest settlement the Commonwealth had ever known – bigger now than Diamond City. She had thought that becoming the General of the Minutemen must have been her fate all along, that she had been meant to lose so much if only to make her stronger.

So, no, Nora didn’t really mind that nothing else existed besides her job. She loved it, in fact. Her post as General was the only thing she could love without fear of losing, at least for now.

“Ma’am?” the soldier asked tentatively, bringing her out of her stupor. She shook her head to clear it, realizing how jumbled her thoughts were. Even though she hadn’t drunk a drop of alcohol, it was as if she were caught in an alcoholic haze.

MacCready was looking at her with some concern, his teasing manner vanished. “I’ve kept you awake all night, huh?” He reached over to poke her arm when he saw the distant gaze in her eyes. “You can spend the night in my room out back.”

She smiled. “Are you inviting me to spend the night with you?”

“Could be.” He grinned and winked, making her laugh. She had met MacCready during her period of grieving; he had given her purpose for a few months to take her mind off the sadness. He was a good man, a great gunman, and a wonderful father to his son. But his heart, as it always had, belonged to his wife who had passed long ago.

Nora graciously accepted MacCready’s suggestion, turning to her soldier to give him a meeting time by Goodneighbor’s gates the next morning. As he strode off, she excused herself to follow MacCready to the back room where he left her to undress and climb onto one of the satin couches for a well-deserved slumber. She slept like the dead.

  ---

The Castle was as cold and grey as Nora recalled, but she felt her excitement spike as she entered through one of the great archways, as usual pleased to find herself back at home. She weaved through the afternoon market crowds, edging past the dense flow of soldiers and settlers, each of them appearing cheerful and well-fed. The Minutemen had never been rich, and didn’t have much to offer the settlements in terms of money, but the people had been glad for protection and safe places to live. Happiness in the faces of her people wasn’t a surprise. The curious thing was the health – the glowing cheeks, thick limbs, booming laughter.

The gritty stone ground shone from recent rain and the pre-winter chill struck Nora deep in her bones. She knew the way to the meeting chamber. In fact, she knew the entire Castle and the surrounding settlement as if there were a map drawn on the insides of her eyelids. The Castle walls housed the barracks, a market, dormitories for the soldiers, and large quarters for the General and her commanders. Outside the walls of the Castle was a vast sprawl of shacks and cottages, some built on the shore and some floating upon the sea. Nora had tried navigating the Castle’s city several times, but each time she returned she found a new section had been built and there were a hundred more twisting alleys to add to her memory. Farmland stretched for hundreds and hundreds of yards and cattle grazed constantly by the foot of the Castle; still, Nora had been worried that soon they would be incapable of supporting such a vast amount of people.

Then again… there didn’t seem to be half the struggle she’d been expecting. Not like there usually was during the approach of winter. Again, she wondered at the well-being of the people she had seen in the market and on the outside of the Castle walls. Had life really improved so suddenly? She had been gone for a month and found it hard to believe that poverty had been overturned in such a short amount of time. They did not seem starved or bitter, which unfortunately was something she had grown used to. Nora was very glad to find her people so well, but surely there still had to be those going hungry, being forced to leave to emptier places where there were more opportunities? That was how it had always been, hadn’t it?

“General, we have a problem.”

Those were the first words Preston Garvey spoke to her as she entered the meeting room. To her surprise, he was alone – the other commanders were either busy around the Castle or absent with duties elsewhere in the Commonwealth.

Nora nestled herself in the chair across the table from him, tired from her journey but eager to begin. The meeting room was so silent that she could hear wind rattling against the window shutters. The edges of the room had been furnished with shelves, each of them housing books which she was sure Preston spent every waking moment poring through. The feeling of the room was similar to that of a Pre-War library; the smell of fading ink and ageing paper reminded her of her years spent studying for a degree which would amount to nothing. A lawyer in a world without laws.

“Hello to you, too,” Nora said pointedly. “What do you mean, we have a problem?”

“Hey – sorry, General. I’m very distracted."

She believed him. He was looking older than usual. While Preston lived and breathed Minuteman politics, the stress normally seemed to fill him with life, not drain it from him.

“What’s so urgent that you needed me back so soon?” she inquired earnestly.

“The settlers are all happy.”

She cocked her head, not quite sure she’d heard him right. “I noticed. So? That’s what we’ve been striving for all this time.”

“Not because of us.” He sighed, looking conflicted. “Do you remember when we met with the Mayor of Diamond City three months ago? She said they’ve been dealing with more thieving recently. Someone’s been stealing massive amounts of money from people living in the Upper Stands. Used to be more subtle, I guess, but whoever it is has become reckless, or lost their patience.”

“Oh, yeah. Of course.” Nora’s lips tightened into a smile. “The one they call ‘Silver-tongue’. Every time I pass a settlement and ask about him, I’m met with blank stares and silence.”

“That doesn’t worry you? That our people are willing to lie to protect him? It worries me.”

“Well, if what I’ve heard about him is true, then no – I’m not worried.” Nora tapped her fingers idly on the edge of the table. “Come to think of it, I overheard a conversation in Goodneighbor the other day. They were talking about some guy called ‘Robin the Sly’...”

Preston’s eyes narrowed. “Different guy, or the same?”

“Apparently, Robin stole goods from one of the richest Raiders in Cambridge a week ago and disappeared like a ghost. Sounds like either Silver-tongue has a twin with the same sticky fingers, or he and Robin are one and the same. The Raiders are furious. They want his head on a pike.”

“Jesus, the Raiders too?” Preston massaged his jaw and bent to write something on the paper before him. “Well, I guess that means the mysterious Robin – Silver-tongue – whatever… doesn’t discriminate. He steals from everyone, not just the wealthy residents in Diamond City.” He scowled. “The problem, General, is that it’s recently come to my attention that the money he’s stealing is ending up in our settlements. Soon enough all the anger and tension in the Commonwealth will be directed at us. How can we prove that we haven’t orchestrated this when all of our settlements have stockpiles of money to prove otherwise?”

“So that’s why everyone looks so happy,” Nora mused.

“Caravans bring money to the poorest settlers in the Commonwealth. I’ve tried to send some soldiers to track down where exactly all of them are coming from, but each caravan comes from a different place. All of the traders are suddenly tight-lipped about who they’ve been dealing with. The caps are untraceable.”

“Robin certainly knows how to win them over.”

Preston eyed her, silent for a moment. “You’re impressed.”

Defensively, she muttered, “I can’t deny that I’m happy the people of the Commonwealth are happy.”

He hesitated. “Me neither. I’ve never seen the people here look so cheerful.”

“Have you heard the story of Robin Hood?” She leaned forwards, solemnly meeting his eyes. 

“No.”

“He’s a legendary outlaw who steals from the rich and gives to the poor – in ancient folktales, that is. I doubt he was ever real. But he was a hero. He sought to help the underdog and undermine the evil and corrupt. Whoever our Robin is, he’s got that same idea. He’s the people’s hero.”

“But that’s what we are, isn’t it?” Preston said, worried.

Nora frowned. She didn’t like it either. For the past years, she had been the people’s hero. Now it seemed she had been outdone. “We have a code. Morals. We do what we can for the people, but we can’t offer them what Robin can. He’s not bound by anything, has no law to follow. It’ll be very hard to catch him with our own people cheering him on.”

“The Brotherhood are also looking,” Preston pointed out. “We could ask for some assistance, just as long as they don’t try and capture Robin themselves – I’d rather serve real justice than have him tortured and killed.”

“The people of Diamond City will want a say in what happens once we catch him,” Nora retorted. “And I’m pretty sure they’ll want torture and execution, too. It's the way of the Commonwealth.”

“Well… we’ll see.” Preston sighed, scribbling again on the paper before him. Realizing it was a letter, Nora leaned forward to see if she could read it.

“Copies of this are going to everyone we can trust,” he said idly, sensing she was struggling to read his writing. “People in the Brotherhood, Diamond City, Bunker Hill, Goodneighbor. We’ll give them a bounty – something more than even Robin can provide. Hopefully with multiple people hunting him at once, he won’t stay hidden for long.”

Nora nodded decisively. “Good. I’ve got a few friends who owe me favors. I’ll ask them to keep a lookout for anything suspicious. There're also traders who are loyal to me – at least, I think they are. If they catch wind of Robin’s plans, they’ll tell me. I’m sure of it.”

“We’ll see.”

Nora didn’t blame Preston for being uncertain. The Minutemen had never been the bad guys before. They'd never needed to deal with such an intricate matter as bringing down the so-called hero of the people. They had heard multiple stories about robbery over the past three years, but that was common. Scavengers, Raiders and Gunners did it all the time. It hadn’t been until their meeting with the Mayor of Diamond City that they realized there was a single person behind most of the larger thefts. Robin had either grown careless or decided it was time to make himself known to the people. Nora didn’t think carelessness was a likely scenario. Hitting the same family multiple times wasn’t reckless – it was cunning. What sort of person was capable of stealing from the same people several times in a row?

Nora wanted to meet him. She wanted to know whether the Robin Hood persona hid someone who was arrogant, who enjoyed feeding on the attention, or whether he was actually determined to do some good for the Commonwealth.

In fact, Nora suddenly couldn’t think of anything she wanted more than to meet the Commonwealth’s newest legend.

Chapter Text

Robin had a feeling Bobbi was trying to trick her again.

She’d worked a few missions with the ghoul before, and while Bobbi had a knack for never revealing her true motive until they were already in trouble, the result had always been pretty extraordinary. Normally she departed with more than enough caps to support poor settlers, feed her friends and maintain her image. Now, however, she was pretty sure Bobbi was just telling tales.

“Treasure, Bobbi? Really?” Robin repeated, arms folded.

The ghoul woman had a mask over her face, hiding the wrinkled, scorched flesh from view. She'd always thought the entire world was after her; in truth, Robin was perhaps in more mortal danger than she. The fact that Bobbi had to make every meeting so cloak and dagger was an endless source of amusement for Robin.

“Don’t say my name so loudly,” Bobbi growled.

Smirking, Robin spun around on her stool, absorbedly glancing sidelong at the Diamond City marketplace. Even with suspicion and tensions running high, the security guards were terrible at their jobs. Robin had walked in wearing a giant gas mask and they hadn’t even asked to see what was underneath. As long as she looked confident, they didn’t bat an eye. Sure, no one really knew what Robin looked like, and she could have walked in bare-faced, but where was the fun in that? Making up different characters was one of the most amusing ways to spend her time.

The sun shone pitilessly down on the marketplace. Some citizens were holding hands against their foreheads to shield themselves from the sun while others were fanning themselves with copies of Publick Occurrences newspapers. Robin wondered idly if she had made the news again. Little John had warned her that the Minutemen were increasing their efforts to find her -  rumor had it, the General herself had started searching for her. While Robin knew she should be worried, it was flattering to be such a high-status fugitive. She'd heard exciting stories about the Minuteman General and wondered if this might be her biggest challenge yet; staying two steps ahead, as usual, from the very same woman who had been two steps ahead of the Institute years ago. Robin didn't know what she looked like, but she imagined someone tall and imposing, plain enough that she could slip into the shadows unnoticed. Perhaps she was lurking somewhere in the city.

Slightly more alert, Robin glanced around her, eyes narrowed. Shopkeepers were screaming at the tops of their lungs to attract customers; customers were desperately attempting to bargain for the best possible prices, only to fail miserably. Robin had never really liked cities. She had spent the first years of her life a country girl, born in the Capital Wasteland. Her parents had been scavengers, too poor to buy a single thing for themselves. They'd made a living stealing off passing caravans in the countryside, which eventually got them killed. 

“Hey, are you even listening to me?”

“Sure I am,” Robin said quickly, not looking at Bobbi – she knew it would infuriate her. She drew her shoulders up, forcing the memories to banish themselves from her mind. “And I call bullshit.”

Bobbi was clearly losing her patience. “I’ve never lied to you…”

Barking out a laugh, Robin couldn’t help but spin to face her again. “Oh, really? What about that time you told me we were stealing from the Diamond City vault and we ended up in Hancock’s stronghold?”

“What’s the difference between Hancock and McDonough? Rich is rich.”

“The difference is that I don’t like risking my life when I don’t know the entire plan. We almost died. He knew we were coming.”

“We still got the money.”

Robin rolled her eyes. “Fine. What about the time you sent me and Mel to that old fort, only to forget the small detail of its lethal robot inhabitants? Again, we almost died.”

“If I’d told you, you wouldn’t have agreed to it, would you? And again, you still got the money.”

Now Robin sensed sly humor in Bobbi’s voice and she reluctantly relaxed. “Well, I suppose you’re right about the money…”

“Exactly!”

“Is Mel gonna be involved in this too?” she asked hopefully. She liked working with him and his custom robots – he was smart and didn’t play games. Her favorite kind of person. While she had offered him a place with her crew, he’d turned her down, preferring to work alone. It had been months since she last saw him.

“All in good time,” Bobbi said mysteriously. “I need you first. You’re gonna find me the map.”

“Ah, of course. The treasure map.” She stood and lifted her arms with flair. “Arr! Me beautiful treasure map will lead ye to the most bountiful booty ye’ve ever laid yer eyes upon! Mountains of shinin’ gold and gems that glow like the stars…”

Bobbi was definitely scowling beneath that mask. “Can you stop being annoying for a minute? Sit down. This is a serious job. Do you know how much money this could get you?”

“You haven’t told me yet."

With a barely contained sigh of frustration, Bobbi slid her a piece of paper with an address on it. “Before the Great War, the world was ruled by millionaires and billionaires. Some of them, like Jeremy Sawyer, were… eccentric, let’s say. With the war coming, he knew he needed to protect his fortune. He was one of the richest men in America. People were gonna kill him and take his money, there was no doubt about it.”

Glancing down at the piece of paper, Robin found her curiosity growing. “How do you know all that?”

“Just listen,” Bobbi said impatiently. “He made a gamble, entrusting every last coin, every last bar of gold in which he'd invested, to his grandchildren. Not just for them to keep, of course. He told them that if anyone came for the money, they'd have to hide it so well that no one but his descendants would be able to find it. When the war finally came and Boston was torn apart by the bombs, one of the grandchildren survived the ordeal. For his entire life, this grandchild kept the money safe, but soon the Commonwealth had settled enough that people remembered Sawyer’s fortune existed. They came to steal it from him. Remembering what his grandfather told him, and not wanting his family’s fortune to be taken from him, the grandchild enlisted the help of some of his most trusted friends... and he hid it."

Robin wrinkled her nose, puzzled. She realized all of a sudden that she had no idea how old Bobbi was, or where she had come from. She couldn’t have become a ghoul as a product of her parents as all ghouls were sterile, but the point she became a ghoul could have been anywhere between a decade to a century ago. "Seriously, how and why do you know all of this?"

“Doesn't matter," Bobbi muttered. "Point is, I know for sure it's real - that fortune exists. It's waiting out there in the Commonwealth. Waiting for me to find it."

“And so you want to steal it for yourself.”

“Of course I do,” Bobbi remarked. “Sawyer’s grandson never told a soul how the fortune could be found, save from his own family. Once it was hidden, only he knew its exact location. And, of course, he lived a life of luxury. The rich are always shockingly selfish, aren’t they?”

Robin couldn’t disagree with that.

“Anyway, apparently there’s a map which can lead the heirs to the hidden fortune. And a code which only they should be able to break. All I've wanted for years was to find the treasure, but I never knew enough. I never even knew the billionaire’s name, let alone where to start looking. Until recently.”

“How?”

“Tracked down one of Jeremy Sawyer’s real heirs,” Bobbi said, and Robin could imagine her wicked smile behind the metal of her mask. “Didn’t expect it to take me this long, but they’re like a fuckin’ cult. Each one of them has this crazy notion that it’s up to them to protect their ancestor’s secrets. As I’d expected, the details of how to find their fortune have been passed down. Luckily, settlers nowadays are cowards – they don’t have the same mettle as the original heirs of Sawyer’s fortune would have had. I suppose there’re other things to worry about than a treasure they’ve never even seen with their own eyes.”

Robin tried very hard not to bristle at the insults towards the very settlers she had dedicated her life to save. “So the heir you found… they just told you exactly where it is?”

“She forfeited fairly quickly once I showed her my gun. But she only knew where I could find the map, not the treasure. She also had no idea about the code. Perhaps her family'd already decided she was the weakest link, told her as little as possible.”

“Did you kill her?” Robin demanded.

“Didn’t need to,” Bobbi said, waving a wrinkled pink hand. “She ran for the hills.”

Robin stared at her. “What the hell-”

“Look, this is the real thing, do you understand?” Bobbi interrupted. “This is a big deal. Jeremy Sawyer’s treasure will be my break, the biggest operation I have ever pulled off.” She paused. “Half my life I’ve wanted this. But I can’t do it alone.”

Robin knew how corrupt Bobbi was. She knew that Bobbi was selfish, wanted money and glory for herself, and didn’t care about anyone else, but she couldn’t help but wonder…

“How much money is it?”

Now she knew for sure that Bobbi was grinning like a Cheshire cat. “Ah, well that’s the question, isn’t it? Like I said, Jeremy Sawyer was one of the richest men in America. A billionaire. Imagine… a room filled with stacks upon stacks of bank notes and gold. Imagine how many caps they would sell for.”

And Robin could imagine it. She imagined the glow of the gold – more gold than she had ever seen in her life, more than she knew what to do with. She imagined melting it down, selling it piece by piece, sending huge caravans filled to the brim with gold and caps to Goodneighbor, the Castle, the little settlements in the countryside. She imagined a much better world built from the gold she and Bobbi discovered, one where everyone was rich and no one had to suffer.

Perhaps it was little more than an exaggerated pipe dream. Still, Robin knew that her legacy would never be forgotten if she managed to pull this off. Bobbi was truly offering her the opportunity of a life time. Would she take it, even knowing that Bobbi was likely to be withholding something important from the story, as was her usual tactic?

Was it worth the risk?

 ---

As Robin skipped down the escalator, she saw Fox waiting for her with folded arms, clearly trying to look larger than he was. On guard duty. Robin was only displeased by this because she preferred for him to be out in the Commonwealth honing his skills. He was too small to be much good in a fight; stealth was the only answer. Robin only knew because she was built in the same way.

“You went off for a while this time,” he muttered, his tone disapproving.

Robin rolled her eyes as she stalked past him, ruffling his orange hair with one hand. “Did you miss me, little Foxy?" she crooned, knowing the condescension would irritate him. "What’ve you been up to?”

He followed as she strode into Fens Way station, grumbling under his breath, “There was a group of Minutemen who passed close by. We were prepared for an attack.”

Startled, Robin halted and turned to him. “When was this? And was there one?”

“Three days ago. And no. If there was, we obviously wouldn’t be here,” he snickered, a mischievous smile growing on his face. “I snuck into the camp they set up in Hangman’s Alley. Stole about five rifles and some very fancy-looking hats right off their heads. Probably thought they’d been robbed by a ghost.”

Entertained, Robin couldn't resist reaching out to ruffle his hair again. “Good boy.”

While Fox was capable of being a typical moody fifteen-year-old, he also had a fantastic sense of humor. Perhaps Robin was quite a bit older than him - twenty-seven herself - but she thought of him like her younger brother. The idea of any harm coming to him worried her, but she trusted him enough to stay out of trouble.

As she passed the other kids, Robin patted each of their heads in turn and asked for updates on their training. Most of them were in high spirits upon seeing her. The youngest was an eight-year-old boy called Patrick who had come to Robin with his two older sisters (seventeen and eighteen years old respectively) begging for work. He was like a little blond cherub with his chubby cheeks and big blue eyes. Apart from Patrick and his sisters, there were also two orphaned kids who had wanted to join Robin's cause. She'd taken them in only because she knew how cruel the world could be to children like them; after all, she'd been an orphan once too, and had been forced to rely on help from strangers in order to get by. Rather than dump them off in a random settlement, Robin decided she'd see what good they could do in Fens Way Station.

The other adults were sat around a table on the far corner of the platform, apparently deep in conversation. However, they shouted their greetings when they saw Robin approach. Among them was her getaway coordinator Tanya; her muscle - two giant-sized brothers who called themselves Flint and Lock; her weapons tech expert, an ex-Brotherhood soldier called Pete who had been exiled after severe injuries to half of his body; and an older woman named Hera, who ran the settlement by Little John's side. Hera stood to give her a quick hug once she approached, smelling of flowery laundry detergent, informing her that ‘Lucas’ was cleaning weapons further down the tunnel.

Little John was indeed sitting alone on the furthest end of the platform. When Robin approached, he glanced up at her with his usual serene smile. He was still wearing his stupid yellow rain slicker.

“Hello, Johnny,” she said, playfully flicking the brim of his hat. “Did I ever get to thank you for your help at Beantown Brewery?”

“No thanks is ever necessary. What you do with the money is enough.”

“Good answer.” She batted her eyelashes. Then she caught sight of the boards nailed to the wall behind him, shocked by the sheer number of locations written down. Leaning forwards, she squinted and then groaned. “Ugh, Diamond City again?”

“It’s been months since you last hit ‘em properly,” he pointed out. “They wouldn’t be expecting another robbery now, would they? You could definitely get the Codmans again. They’re dumb as hell.”

Robin shrugged uncertainly. She glanced at another of the targets which had been mapped out. “And… a robotics factory?”

“I found that one,” Fox said proudly, coming up behind her.

“Look, I can deal with rich people, Raiders, Gunners – whatever – but I am not dealing with robots,” Robin said firmly. 

“But think of all the loot!” Fox coaxed. “Think of the materials they used, the circuitry – that stuff sells for hundreds of caps!”

“Stealing from robots just makes me a scavenger. I’m meant to be a heroic outlaw, remember? I need to make better use of my time.”

Fox looked at her with scowl on his face. “You used to like scavenging. You used to like money.”

“Listen, Fox, do you want to be a scavenger, or would you rather be a mastermind? A hero?” she inquired. “I think I know what your answer’s gonna be.”

He rolled his eyes.

“Besides, my plate is way too full right now. There might be something coming up that’s larger than a factory full of old robot parts, much larger than any of my schemes put together…”

Fox looked at her blankly. “I know exactly what you mean,” he sighed, disapproving once more. “You’re dealing with Bobbi again, aren’t you?”

“Oh, come on.” She reached out to affectionately touch his hair again, but he danced out of her reach and sulkily went to sit with the rest of the kids. She knew he was impatient and wanted to be useful to her, but he was still too young to know exactly how she worked, and why she made the choices she did. To be fair, she didn't always know, either. Perhaps in five years she could start properly including him in her schemes.  

Reverting back to business, Robin spun to Little John and muttered, “Speaking of a full plate… I need your advice.”

He gestured with his head to the empty train car and she followed him inside so they’d have some privacy. They sat across from each other and she told him, from start to finish, exactly what Bobbi had offered. When she was done, he blinked at her, deep in thought, and muttered, “If I had to count the number of times that woman has almost gotten you killed, I’d run out of fingers.”

“You’re exaggerating,” Robin scoffed. “And besides, you only have seven fingers.”

He looked at her levelly. “My point is, why’s she giving you this amazing opportunity now? What exactly makes you think she’s gonna let you have any part of that fortune once you find it? If you find it.”

“She said she can’t do it alone. I’d assume I’m the only person she knows with the skills needed to find this map. Or... something like that.”

Little John still looked worried. “How do you know she won’t betray you?”

“She’s irritatingly good at hiding information when it's needed the most, but she wouldn’t betray me,” Robin said firmly. “Bobbi’s not that much of an asshole.”

“So you’re already planning to do this, I see. Was I just a soundboard?”

She smiled at him. “You know I value your opinion, Little John, but with this sort of thing… I like to make my own choices.”

“Well, you don’t have to find that map on your own. I’ll come with you, how about that?” he suggested. “I won’t do anything, I’ll just be there to accompany you. Wouldn’t a companion be nice?”

Robin wanted to decline, but the expectant look on his face made her forget why she was so reluctant in the first place. She enjoyed Little John's company. And he was right about Bobbi – she couldn’t be trusted. Having someone there to watch her back for nasty surprises would be valuable.

“Will you bring Sugarbomb?” she asked brightly. The dog technically belonged to Hera, Little John’s wife, but she seemed to prefer the company of bandits.

“No dogs allowed on top-secret missions, I’m afraid.” He smiled kindly and reached out to squeeze her hand. “Thanks for letting me have your back, Robin.”

“Thanks for having it.” She returned his smile before standing and leaving the train car.

Hands on hips, she raised her voice so everyone on the platform would hear her. “Right, who's gonna make me dinner? I’m starving!”

Chapter Text

The address Bobbi had given Robin was strange. It wasn’t a house number, or a street name, or even the name of an area. There were just two words: Sawyer Terrace.

She knew the billionaire’s name was Jeremy Sawyer and she must be looking for a household of some sort which had once belonged to him, but she didn’t understand why Bobbi couldn't have just told her where the goddamn house was located. Perhaps the woman she’d interrogated hadn’t known either. The usual pattern of Bobbi’s great schemes was to tie Robin up on a wild goose chase and watch her run around like a bloodhound after a fox. Robin knew people in all sorts of places, people who had secrets to tell, people who could help her find things. While her role was often a pain in the ass, Robin had to admit that she was glad to always be such an invaluable part of Bobbi’s plans.   

Finding a house that no one else seemed to know about was fairly similar to surveillance; she and Little John moved from settlement to settlement asking around. It was tedious. They went through Diamond City, Goodneighbor, and even passed by the Castle. Robin noticed the Minutemen were on much higher alert, and she wasn’t stupid enough to believe she had nothing to do with it. She kept her head down, hoping their General wasn’t home.

Their never-ending search was like living in constant twilight, stuck between day and night. Every possible lead they found became a dead end. How had the Commonwealth people forgotten about the billionaire Sawyer and his treasure so quickly? Bobbi had made him sound famous.

Finally, Little John suggested they talk to ghouls instead of settlers, who had likely been around much longer. They got a tip from one of the ghouls living in the Slog; he’d heard the name Sawyer before and pointed them towards an area of the Commonwealth that was disturbingly close to the Glowing Sea.

Sawyer Terrace, as Robin had expected, was an enormous estate complete with a mansion. Nevertheless, it wasn’t a surprise that most Commonwealth settlers had no idea about it, as the building was now obscured by thick trees and massive hedges. The old stone path was overgrown with radioactive ivy and ferns, each crevice sprouting with green leaves. The mansion was slightly stooped and faded, but the colors of marble and brick still glowed, reminding Robin of the proud houses of Upper Stand folk in Diamond City.

The iron gates creaked as Robin and Lucas swung them open and they found themselves flanked by rows of skeletal trees crowned in crimson leaves, swaying slightly in the chilly autumn wind.

“Looks creepy,” Little John said into the silence.

“Maybe we’ll get to meet the ghost of Jeremy Sawyer – wouldn’t that be cool?” Robin wiggled her eyebrows. “Ooooooohhh, Johnnnyyy, I’ve been expecting youuuuuu…

“Stop it,” he muttered.

They checked the windows first to ensure there was no one waiting inside before breaking in through the front door. It was clear that no one had been here in years, every surface blanketed in a thick layer of dust. Robin sneezed and then quickly pulled up the collar of her coat to cover her mouth and nose. They split up, each exploring a wing of the house. It all looked magnificent to Robin: mahogany wood floors, expensive fabrics, white marble, floor-length mirrors, a grand staircase...

After only a few minutes, they met in the middle again, both with brows furrowed.

“Nothing?” Little John asked.

“Nothing at all.”

“I think that woman gave Bobbi a false lead,” he muttered.

Robin bit her lip, eyes searching each detail of the room they were standing in. It was some sort of reading room, perhaps, with large bookcases and some comfy-looking chairs facing a pristine marble fireplace. She knew very little about rich people in general, but she'd read books about them. Didn’t rich people always have secret rooms?

She trailed her fingers along each shelf of every bookcase, searching for something out of place. To her pleasure, she finally saw a slight scuff mark on the floor, so faint that she had to crouch to see it properly. Someone had clearly tried to conceal it with the carpet. Her eyes lit up and she grinned at Little John in triumph. “Eureka!”

With feigned self-assurance, she pressed her hands along the mantle of the fireplace and felt one of the stones give way beneath her fingertips. With an ancient creaking and grinding of stone, the fireplace slid as if on hinges, revealing a staircase leading into darkness.

“What the hell…” Little John stared in shock. “How did you know?”

“Not only am I a thief, but I'm a master detective,” Robin explained. She straightened her shoulders proudly and headed first down the steps, reaching up to illuminate the one naked hanging light bulb. As expected, it didn’t flicker on. No power. She was struck suddenly with a sense of foreboding as she stared down into the darkness. “Go and find us some candles or lamps,” she instructed. “Search the kitchen.”

Little John’s footsteps faded as he did as he was told and Robin was left shivering with her body half in darkness. A strange, eerie wind was drifting up the staircase towards her, smelling of damp concrete.

Little John returned carrying two oil lamps, each of them burning weakly. They’d have to do. Robin took hers impatiently and began to descend again, warning her friend to keep close behind her. After what seemed like hours of carefully climbing down the stairs, her feet met solid, unending floor. Raising her lamp, Robin’s jaw dropped. “Uh… wow.”

Little John said nothing; when she turned to him, she noticed how pale his face was and felt a little sorry for him. “You can go back up and wait if you want,” she suggested.

His jaw tightened and his voice was firm. “No, I’m with you all the way.”

She turned back to the sight before her: they were in a gigantic room which might have been a bunker once, or some sort of cellar. Gigantic wooden pillars had been set across the sides of the room, each carved with an intricate flower-like pattern. Jeremy Sawyer had this room built fully intending for it to look like some sort of temple of doom. Rich people certainly had style.

While Robin now knew the Sawyers had been paranoid for a reason – clearly there were still people desperate to get their hands on the fortune – she couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to be rich like this, swathed in secrets and hoping anyone trying to get close would fall short. Robin couldn’t imagine being paranoid enough to hide something of hers like this. She didn’t own anything valuable enough.

“I’m having second thoughts,” Robin said truthfully. She shifted from foot to foot, turning to her friend for reassurance. “Bobbi’s definitely forgotten to tell me something. She always does.”

“Guess there’s nothing to do but find out,” Little John sighed.

Robin stepped forward, and as she did she felt the floor shift beneath her foot and heard a sharp click. A few seconds before her face was burned to ash, Little John yanked her back by her coat, slamming them both against the wall.

The room was filled abruptly with burning tongues of flame.

As she wiped tears from her stinging eyes and tried to calm herself, Robin clutched Little John’s arm and shouted over the roar of the flamethrowers, “This place must be full of traps! They weren’t gonna make this easy.” She pointed at the pillars, cool and untouched from the flames lining each wall. “I’m assuming Martin's heirs would know exactly how to get through each obstacle. They thought anyone else would give up after seeing exactly what’s in store.”

Little John smiled for the first time, seeing what she meant. “And we’re not?”

“Don’t insult me, Little John.”

Robin dragged him after her, gritting her teeth against the incredible heat filling the room. If they didn’t get out soon, it would become a massive oven and roast them alive. She reached the first pillar and was pleased to find that it indeed was just far enough from the flames that the wood could not catch alight. Rather smart in its simplicity. She demonstrated for her friend, curling her body around it so that the flames only singed her hair a little. Once she was sure Little John had gotten the gist, she crouched like a cat and leaped to the next pillar, and then the next, her entire body drenched in sweat by the time she finally found herself on the other side of the room. After a few minutes, Little John joined her, sweating just as profusely. They paused to catch their breath, even as the room continued to grow unbearably hotter.

“Okay,” she said, feeling her self-assurance returning. “I’m good at this. I know traps.”

She led the way again, her feet light and careful, using her lantern to find the small door which lead further into the sequence of underground chambers. The next room was just as large, a gaping black maw seemingly with no end.

“Turrets,” Little John whispered. “Oh god, there’s so many…”

Robin could see them now, too; hundreds of blinking lights in the darkness. One false move and they would be dead in seconds.

“What do we do?” Little John whispered, as if the sound of his voice alone would wake them.

She strayed around the doorway, careful not to step properly into the room, examining every feature that her lamp could illuminate. “Sawyer’s grandson wouldn’t have put a computer somewhere on the off-chance someone could shut down all of the traps. There’s no deactivating these.”

“So?”

“We’ve got to just try not to activate them.” She knew that uncertainty could be just as damaging as arrogance in this situation; tentatively, she walked forwards into the room. “Follow every single step I make, okay?”

Lowering herself to the ground, Robin began to half-crawl, half-shuffle towards her imminent death. It was then that she saw exactly how difficult their path was about to be. Halting, she whistled under her breath. “Hey, I hope you’re feeling limber today.”

“Why?”

“There’s an entire maze of trip-wires here. If you’re not feeling it, stay there and I’ll come back for you.”

Little John shook his head. “I said I’d be with you till the end.”

“Don’t be stupid.”

“I’m not. I’m being loyal,” he replied. “I’ve got your back.”

She wanted to argue with him, but she was scared she’d lose her nerve. “Fine. But I’m telling you, if you don’t copy every single move my body makes, we’re both dead.”

She edged forwards again. The trip-wires were little more than delicate filaments which glowed from the light of her lantern, criss-crossing from wall to wall like the strands of a spider’s web. Robin hoped to god she wouldn’t get caught. She breathed slowly and bent by the first couple of wires, aware that even the slightest vibration could set them off.

“Could you disarm them, do you think?” Little John asked hopefully from behind her.

“Too risky.” She straightened up, checking that she could fit her body through the space, and then deftly twisted her arms into her waist. With a graceful spin, she passed the first cluster of tripwires, not even daring to turn and look at Little John. She was terrified for him, but she couldn’t show it. Not if she wanted him to succeed.

Robin instead concentrated on the rest of the maze, her eyes quick to find gaps in the web, her muscles tensing as it got harder and harder to squeeze through without snagging a body part on one of the wires. If she hadn’t already been sweating before, now it was as if she was melting, her skin slick with moisture. All she could think was, One wrong move. One wrong move and I’m dead.

After what could have been hours, she realized that there were no more wires. She lifted her lantern and stared all around her to make perfectly sure it wasn’t a trick, but there was nothing but empty air. A grunt behind her drew her eyes immediately, only to find that Little John had landed surprisingly lightly by her side, his face set in a toothy grin. “Very limber today, I’d say. Like a ballerina.”

“Show-off.” She allowed a sigh of relief to leave her body, shoulders releasing their tension. “That was intense. You were right about Bobbi. She definitely knew about this, knew she’d never make it through if she tried on her own.” She made a growling sound in the back of her throat. “Ugh, what a bitch. I say we don’t even give her the map when we find it - what do you think? I bet we can find this treasure on our own.”

“If she knew more about this than she was letting on, she probably knows how to read that code she mentioned, too,” he pointed out.

“We’ll find a way to decipher it without her.”

Little John shook his head, clearly doubtful. “Let’s keep going. Can’t be much longer.”

---

Robin had expected another gigantic room filled with lethal traps - had been bracing herself for it - but instead she was faced with a very pleasant looking chamber carpeted in red.

“Do you think we’ve made it?” Little John asked, both eyebrows high.

“I don’t know.” She was careful as she watched the boundaries of the room, her feet light on the carpet. “We might have.”

“If I’d been hiding billions of dollars’ worth of secrets, I’d set up more traps than this Sawyer guy did,” Little John remarked. “That’s really it?”

“You ever heard the saying, ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’?” she muttered.

“No.”

She sighed and surveyed the room again. “Okay, be careful, just in case, but let’s search all of these shelves. You take that side.”

They split up again, and for the next few minutes there was silence as they pored through Sawyer’s grandson’s possessions. Robin wasn’t sure if she was looking for an honest-to-god treasure map or some sort of book. There was a large mahogany desk at the very end of the room and she sat in its chair, searching through the drawers. Files of boring-looking documents, extra stationary, a photograph of some children…

Robin wiped dust from the photograph and brought it to her face, seeing for the first time the man who had hidden the treasure. Turning the photo over, she saw there was some writing on the other side:

Little Martin and Louise, March 12th 2063

If Robin could remember correctly, that date was before the Great War. Martin, the little boy with light eyes and a wide, happy smile, must be the grandson who had survived and continued his father’s legacy by hiding the treasure.

“Tell me your secrets,” she whispered. Careful not to fold the photograph, she slipped it into the pocket of her coat.

“Robin, I think I’ve found something,” Little John called, his voice calm. He was standing with his back to her, holding a file in his hands. As she approached, she saw that each piece of paper inside was marked with strange symbols. They examined it together, saying nothing, until Robin swiftly took it from his hands. The first sheet had a single line of numbers across the top while the rest of the page had been criss-crossed in a large grid, each tiny box containing a number between one and ten. “This looks interesting,” she said. “Could be coordinates, maybe?”

“So, you think that's the map?”

“Yeah. I probably shouldn’t have been imagining some sort of fancy drawing with an X marking the spot.”

Little John slipped the second sheet from beneath and held it up to the light. “These symbols are weird.”

“If Bobbi has some sort of code-breaker, she’ll be able to read both of them.” Robin narrowed her eyes. “Here, switch.”

She handed him the file and took the second coded sheet from his hands. Carefully, she folded it up and slid it into the same pocket as the photograph. “You were right,” she said upon seeing his confusion. “If Bobbi has a way to break the code, we do need her still. And as long as I’m holding half of the map, she’ll still need me.”

After ensuring there was nothing of use left in the room, Robin and Little John made a more important discovery: the faint lines of a trapdoor in the ceiling. If they’d been aware of its existence at any point before descending into the belly of the beast, their journey could have been a lot less dangerous. Climbing onto her partner’s shoulders, Robin smashed against it relentlessly with her elbow. She took out her knife and wiggled it in the cracks, wondering if maybe it had been painted over. Just as she was prepared to give up, the trapdoor swung open by itself. Hands gripped her arms tightly and yanked her with an incredible strength into the daylight above. As her eyes adjusted, she found a seared, nose-less face staring down at her, lips pulled back to reveal a glistening grin.

“Bobbi?” Robin spluttered, shocked.

“Thanks for getting my attention with all that banging,” she said. “Thought we were gonna have to wait for you to make your way back through those other rooms again.”

There were several men standing behind her – her triggermen gangster buddies, it looked like, each of them holding a massive machine-gun.

“You followed me here,” Robin said, understanding all of a sudden. “You thought I’d betray you?”

“I knew you’d be angry.”

“You didn’t tell me I’d be risking my life, as usual. Of course I’m angry.” Robin climbed to her feet and bent over the hole to see Little John peering up at them. “It’s just Bobbi!” she called.

“Help him out of there,” Bobbi ordered her men.

Two of them carried a rope over and waited for Little John to tie it around himself before lifting him with strained arms and grunts of exertion. Once he had levered himself out, Little John wiped a hand over his sweaty face and let loose a short laugh, realizing they were outdoors again. “Well, that was an adventure and a half.”

“I’m sure it was,” Bobbi agreed. “The map, please.”

Little John stared down at her extended hand. “Uh… map?”

“Are you dumb or what? Just hand it over, time's a wasting.”

Robin met Little John’s eyes and saw the panic in them. She’d guessed this might happen. To discourage him from causing any trouble, she quickly shook her head. Let her have it.

He tentatively untucked the file from his jeans and placed it in her open palm. Drawing it close to her, Bobbi ran her eyes greedily across the page of numbers. “Beautiful,” she sighed.

She clicked her fingers and the triggermen raised their guns, pointing them directly at Robin and Little John. “Now, I hope you don’t mind, but I need you to stand still a little bit longer. I’ve invited some friends along.”

Robin’s heart thumped hard in her chest and her anger rose in a split second. “You son of a-”

“Don’t tell me you didn’t see this coming, Robin,” Bobbi interrupted, her smile cunning. “This isn’t anything like my other schemes. It’s much too important. I know better than to trust you with a map that leads to a billionaire’s treasure. All you ever do is give your money away – what kind of partner does that make you?”

Robin wanted to shout at her but bit her tongue and stared daggers instead. She had to remain calm or they’d never find a way out. “Fuck you,” she growled.

“Oh, come on. It's just business.”

Several shapes appeared by the edge of the garden – more men. This time, Robin recognized them instantly. The Minutemen were here, had been waiting for them to emerge, to capture them. Robin wanted to tear Bobbi apart; instead, she stepped to take Little John’s hand. “I’m sorry,” she whispered to him.

“Don’t be. You couldn’t have known.”

“But you warned me.” Tears prickled in her eyes. She was adamant that she wouldn’t let Bobbi see her cry; the woman was watching her gloatingly, the map safely tucked under one arm.

Little John’s jaw clenched and his glower landed on the Minutemen waiting silently by the hedges, surrounding them. In a low voice, he said, “You know I can’t let them take you. You’re too important.”

Robin stared at him. “Don’t you dare.”

He pulled his hand abruptly from her grip. “I’m going to give you a chance to get away. Go back to the base, tell ‘em all what happened.”

“No!”

Little John pulled out his gun and all hell broke loose – Robin threw herself to the grassy ground as the triggermen and Minutemen simultaneously opened fire. Windows smashed, wood splintered, and there were cries of pain throughout the garden. Hands pressed to her ears, Robin tried to make her escape, crawling towards safety, but Bobbi’s hand yanked her hair and pulled her back into the fray.

In less than a minute, Little John had been disarmed, his shoulder and one leg leaking with dark blood. He coughed and splashed red onto the grass. The triggermen roughly forced him to his knees by the still-open trap door. For a short moment, Robin met her friend’s eyes and saw the fear in them, the guilt for his failure. His lips moved and she realized he was apologizing to her. Robin's mouth tasted of blood from a bitten tongue but she opened it in an attempt to plead for his life, to ask the Minutemen to help spare him –

Two shots to the skull. Robin watched it happen blankly, watched his brain splatter the wall of the building behind him, watched the animation leave his face as his eyes rolled back and he fell straight through the trapdoor into the room below. Bobbi slammed it shut and it was as if the door had never even been there, the grass obscuring it from view. He was gone. Forever.

Robin tore wildly at the ground, trying to drag herself towards him, screaming at the tops of her lungs – she was restrained as the Minutemen stepped forward and grabbed her under the arms, beginning to lift her to her feet. There was nothing she could do to stop it; she was numb to all feeling besides the incredible sorrow of losing her closest friend. Tears trickled silently down her cheeks and, despite the anger which had roared to life inside of her like a hungry fire, she forced her eyes to focus on Bobbi one last time before she was out of sight. That cold, triumphant smile; those beady, calculating eyes.

I’ll kill you. One day, I’ll make you pay.

It was a vow she would keep.

Chapter Text

The Minutemen brought Robin directly to Diamond City. Apparently the news of her capture had spread like wildfire: as she was lead through the city to the lock-up, crowds of people were swarming to watch her pass. Some jeered, some booed. Robin ignored them, hardly able to walk in a straight line. All she could think of was Little John’s face; she was terrified that if she stopped seeing it in her mind, the memory of him would fade away.

She had never wanted him to die for her. While Robin had gotten her friends in plenty of trouble before, she’d never had to face the possibility of their deaths; in fact, it had never even occurred to her. What would the rest of them think? Hera, his wife, would be beside herself with grief. Little Patrick would cry, and a few of the other kids would, too. Fox would hide his tears with anger. Robin had always been so careful to keep them hidden, to keep them safe. She'd been so cautious when dealing with people like Bobbi, evading capture at every twist and turn... but for the first time she had underestimated the danger. Trusting Bobbi this time had cost Little John's life and her identity as Robin the Sly. 

No longer was she an invisible comic book hero the Commonwealth people could worship; she was just a woman. Now they all knew.

Robin was placed in a cell on her own. She slumped on the bench and fell asleep immediately, plagued by the same gruesome image of Little John’s face as he died, as she lost him again and again. It was unfathomable – had he really died so suddenly? Had it really been Bobbi’s fault, or had it been her own? She had a tendency to be impulsive, careless, but never on this scale.

Robin slept on and off for hours, days. She didn’t know how long. All she was aware of was her anguish and the dreadful anticipation of whatever punishment the people of Diamond City deemed fit. She awaited an execution. Her slumber, eventually, was interrupted by one of the guards. A chunk of bread was shoved through the bars for her and she ate it without tasting. They gave her water, too, and she only drank it because she knew she had to survive. If she died, she wouldn’t be able to find Bobbi and avenge Little John’s death.

Robin slept again. No other prisoners were introduced to her cell and the guards didn’t bother her, though they watched her closely. She knew that even once her crew figured out she'd been caught it would be next to impossible to rescue her. Now that Diamond City had her, they wouldn't let her go.

Finally, Robin received a visitor.

The guards who had patrolled every second of every day disappeared one morning. A silhouette appeared on the other side of the bars, tapping gently against the metal to wake her. Robin blinked through a groggy haze and saw a woman. She was tall and lithe, dressed in a battle coat with a fedora perched on her head. When she approached, Robin felt intensely dark eyes on her face – eyes which missed nothing. Robin knew immediately who she must be.

“It’s your lucky day, General,” Robin muttered sleepily. “All this time the Minutemen spent searching for me… and I fall right into your hands.”

“Too bad. I was enjoying the cat-and-mouse chase,” the General replied smoothly.

Robin was surprised by the lightness of her tone. She'd expected a boring speech about justice, a long list of her crimes, or even the details of her punishment - but not that. Not humor. She sat up, rubbing her eyes. “Oh, really? You know, if you let me go, I could make the stakes even higher-”

There was an indulgent smile. “Not gonna happen.”

Robin huffed, turning away so that the woman was treated to a view of the back of her head. She felt a stab of pain run through her as she remembered, again, Little John’s kind face. It seemed impossible that the pain would ever cease. “So, what do you want? I thought the Minutemen brought me here so Diamond City could deal with me.” 

“Yeah. By executing you.” The woman's tone was thoughtful. “Would you rather be executed?”

Robin couldn’t help it – she turned again, this time to examine the General’s uniform and the solemn expression on her face with interest. She looked almost exactly like Robin had predicted: tall, dressed in black clothing, though not as plain as she’d imagined. It was more her eyes than the shape of her features which struck Robin as fascinating. They were intensely dark and thoughtful.

“More important question is: why do you care?”

“I believe in justice,” the Minuteman General said simply. “And I’m talking about real justice, not your Robin Hood bullshit.”

Robin couldn’t help but laugh. “Oh, I believe in justice too. Just more the poetic kind. You and I aren’t so different.”

“Aren’t we? Pretty sure I’ve never taken advantage of someone to get what I want. I’m not a thief.”

Robin rolled her eyes. “I bet you have. And anyway, I don’t keep the money. Maybe I get it through immoral means, but I don’t steal it for myself.”

“So I’ve heard.” Now there was a real smile, another strangely striking feature on such a serious face. “You’ve interested me for a long time, Robin. The more people you made angry, the more I wanted to meet you. I think many kids have been fans of Robin Hood growing up - I'm no exception. I wondered what the real-life hero would look like.”

“Well… do I live up to expectations?”

The General didn’t answer, but Robin sensed those deep, dark eyes on her, considering her. In any other situation, and if this woman wasn’t her enemy by proxy, Robin might even turn the charm up a notch. In this case, she wasn’t willing to take any chances. Maybe the General was a bit of a smart-ass, but she was powerful – a hell of a lot more powerful than Robin was. Even though she’d startled Robin with her smooth sarcasm, there was something extremely intimidating about her.

“I thought you’d be a man,” the General finally said. 

“Why? Are only men allowed to be outlaws?” Robin retorted.

“I’ve only ever heard people say ‘he’ when they’re talking about you. Now I realize I was stupid to assume any of them have ever even met you in person.” The curiosity deepened. “And yet... they seem to want to protect you with their lives.”

“People talk about me? How flattering.”

“Actually, I found many people had a talent of not talking at all when I asked them about you. You’ve inspired silence of the masses, some sort of rebellion. I don’t even know what they’re rebelling against - the Minutemen aren't their enemy.”

“Don’t you?” Robin said haughtily. “Surely there were inequalities between rich and poor back before the Great War, too. Surely you’d know better than anyone.”

The General cocked her head. Was she surprised, perhaps, that Robin knew who she was and where she had come from?

“Of course. But you’d think the people of the Commonwealth have other things to worry about.”

“No. You lead the Minutemen, so you know exactly what people worry about. Whether they’ll be able to feed themselves day after day, whether they’ll always have a bed to sleep on and a roof above their heads, whether they'll be able to protect themselves from the next raiding party that comes along, whether or not their source of drinking water will eventually turn them into ghouls…” Robin hardened her expression. “The people of the Commonwealth don’t have to struggle to survive, General. I‘m trying to help them. So can you.”

“By stealing,” the General said flatly.

“By distributing the wealth evenly. Fairly.”

“There’s nothing fair about stealing from people who earned their money fair and square.”

“They didn’t earn it,” Robin scoffed. “It gets passed down to them by rich mommies and daddies. Or they steal it themselves. They use it to wield power they don’t deserve.”

The General grew silent again. The more she stared, the more uncomfortable Robin felt under her bottomless gaze. “I didn’t come here for a moral debate,” she said. “In fact, I wanted to give you a chance at justice so you don’t have to rot in this cell or die in front of a firing squad.”

“You don’t think I deserve those things?”

To her surprise, the General mutely shook her head. Robin met her eyes for the first time and was taken aback by how unfathomable they were, intense only because they held such a depth of emotion. She was thoughtful and serious, but she wasn't cold.

“Then what do I deserve?”

The General sighed. Long gloved fingers wrapped around one of the bars. “The Minutemen haven’t decided yet. But you should understand that I don’t want to be a villain. I certainly don’t want to be unjust, especially as the people love you, for whatever reason that is. Well… perhaps that’s unfair.” Her eyes bored into Robin’s face. “I'd assume you're incredibly smart. Cunning. You probably have a well-honed set of abilities. Imagine what your skills could do if they were used for actual good.”

It dawned on her all of a sudden that the General was trying to recruit her.

“You can’t buy me into the Minutemen!” she snapped quickly.

“I’m not trying to buy you into anything. I’m telling you that there’s another way.”

“I don’t think your other leader friends will approve of this,” Robin remarked spitefully. “You, offering me a hand, when you should be killing me.”

The General’s eyes flashed. “They can’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do.”

Robin rolled her eyes. “General, may I remind you, you didn’t even know I was a woman before coming here to see me. What you think you know about my smarts and my abilities is nothing. You don’t seem to have any idea what to do with me, or what justice I deserve, so why did you even bother coming to talk to me?”

The stoicism had returned to the General’s features. She stared at Robin for a long while. “Only an idiot would bat away a helping hand when they’re drowning,” she said finally. “I see you’ve already accepted your fate. Good luck.” She turned and began to walk away.

Robin bit the inside of her cheek, chastising herself. Do not call after her, do not call after her, do not call –

“Wait!” Robin snapped.

The General halted but did not turn to face her.

“I still don’t think you have any idea what you're asking of me,” Robin muttered. “But… funnily enough, there is something I want from you.”

“I’m not about to let you out of your cell.”

“Not that. Well… partly that. I want you to help me find and kill Bobbi No-Nose.”

Now she had the General’s attention. The woman spun, a gleam in her eyes. “Bobbi made a deal with us knowing you’re the bigger threat. Although I’m aware that she’s betrayed you, I’m not about to dishonor our agreement.”

Frustrated, Robin sat up straighter and growled, “You don’t have to kill her. I will. She betrayed me and killed my…" She swallowed down the bitter taste of sadness. "You have no idea what this is even about.”

“Enlighten me,” the General said, her voice still exasperatingly calm.

“Bobbi used to be a gangster. She worked with the triggermen years ago but decided she wanted to run her own operations instead of follow orders. When she looks at someone, she sees them as a sum of their skills and any benefit they have to her. If they’re not useful, she'll treat them like dirt beneath her shoe. If their talents threaten her, she’ll do whatever she can to have them put down.”

“Like you, I assume?”

“Yeah, like me. She employs me every time she wants to build a team; we've worked together on and off for five years. She’s stolen from Diamond City, from Mayor Hancock – probably even from the Minutemen. The only reason you’ve never heard about any of it is because she always makes sure other people take the fall. So many of the criminals you’ve caught have probably been her pawns, disposable pieces she no longer needs. She’s smart. All she ever wants is money. She doesn’t care about the people or the Commonwealth, unlike me.”

“Bobbi No-Nose hasn’t raised as many red flags as you.”

“So you’ll let the real villain get away simply because she’s more of a calculating bitch than I am?” Robin demanded. “What happened to justice, huh?”

“Perhaps you should’ve thought about being more subtle so you wouldn't be sitting here in the first place.”

Robin scowled at her. “Is the General of the Minutemen seriously telling me to be a better criminal? Is that how justice works nowadays? Do whatever you want, as long as you don’t get caught?”

“You have a point,” the General replied, and there was a budding smile on her face. “Still, with no proof, I have no reason to make an enemy of Bobbi.”

“She’s already your enemy. All she wanted was to use your Minutemen to betray me – she doesn’t care about some stupid agreement you have. One minute she’s pretending to be your ally, the next minute she stabs you in the back. I never thought I'd outlive my use to her and yet here I am. She’s a crook, it’s what she does.”

“Ironic to hear those words coming from your mouth, I’ve got to say.”

“I’m not a-!” Robin caught herself and took a deep breath. What could she do? How could she get the General of the Minutemen, her declared enemy, to be on her side? Hesitantly, she said, “Look, I’ll work for you if you help me catch Bobbi No-Nose.”

Silence. The General approached the bars as if to hear better. “What was that?”

“I said I’ll cooperate with you and the Minutemen if you help me take her down. I promise this is a much better agreement than the one you got from Bobbi.”

The General searched her face. “I’m sorry about your friend,” she said, her voice startlingly gentle. “But if I agree to help you, I can’t let you kill her. An eye for an eye isn’t how the Minutemen do things."

“We can sort out the specifics later,” Robin grumbled. An idea had formed in her mind. “Hey, I can even sweeten the deal for you.”

“Oh?”

“I know what you did for the Commonwealth a couple years ago, taking down the Institute. You protect people. In fact, I even believe you want the best for them. It has to suck that they’re suddenly so much more interested in having me as their knight in shining armour.”

There was a sour look on the General’s face. “I’m not that arrogant. I don’t need them to worship me.”

“But it doesn’t hurt.” Robin smirked. “What if I can make you their savior again? You and me, working together, taking down Bobbi No-Nose and… discovering a secret treasure that will change the Commonwealth forever.”

A blank stare. “You can’t be serious.”

“I know it sounds crazy, but hear me out. Bobbi sent me to find a map before she betrayed me. She knew it would be dangerous, that’s why she had me do it. She knows that the map will lead her to a massive amount of money which she wants all to herself. You help me capture her, you can have all of it.”

The General didn’t look convinced. Still, she asked, “How much money?”

The fact she was even asking the question was evidence enough that she was already hooked. Robin feigned indifference, shrugging. “The man who hid it was a billionaire. That’s what Bobbi said.”

“And you believe her?”

Robin thought for a moment. “Yeah. That, at least, isn’t something she'd lie about. Ever heard of Jeremy Sawyer? He was supposed to be one of the richest men in America before the war.”

“Yeah,” the General said without hesitation. “He owned a tech company. Very seedy guy, notoriously paranoid about his money.”

“So you believe me then?”

“Maybe. How're you going to find Bobbi or the treasure when you have no map? She would have taken it from you when she had you captured.”

“I’m not that stupid.” Robin reached into her coat and pulled out a folded piece of paper – the second half of the map – and waved it mockingly in front of the General’s face. “She can’t get to the Sawyer fortune without this.”

Robin thought the General looked impressed. There was a tense silence while she eyed the map and her dark gaze narrowed with concentration. When Robin tucked the map back in her pocket, the eyes moved to her face instead. After a few more seconds of thought, the General glanced around the lock-up. “I’m gonna go.”

“What?” Robin leaped to her feet, facing her. They were hardly inches away from one another, separated only by the iron bars. The other woman seemed surprised by the sudden movement but she didn't step back. “Don’t go. I swear I'm telling you the truth! We can help each other.”

One of the General’s eyebrows rose but she said nothing. Robin stared into her eyes, wanting to prove somehow that she was truthful. They were so deep, so dark, and she wondered all of a sudden if she had just been tricked, if this was how the General interrogated people. The depth of her gaze could make any mortal spill their secrets.

“Please,” Robin said, hating that she had to resort to begging but knowing she had no choice. “Imagine what all that money could do for the Minutemen. Think of how happy your people could be – how happy I’ve already made them, but multiplied by a billion.”

There was amusement in the General’s gaze. For a second, she seemed to struggle against a smile, but she eventually let it freely spread across her face. “I was curious whether the stories of the ‘silver-tongue’ were a myth, but you really are quite persuasive.” She stepped back from the bars. “I’m leaving, but I’ll come back. Before I give you an answer, I have to speak to someone.”

“Who?”

“None of your business," she said simply. "Sit tight, Savior of the People.”

With that final derision, the General left the lock-up, the click of her boots echoing into the silence.

Chapter Text

Nora hadn’t expected such a small, unassuming woman to be the mastermind behind so many cunning robberies. How could she have? The most intimidating thing about Robin the Sly, ironically, was her ingenuity. Nora had seen how quickly her mind worked, even just in their single conversation. She was intelligent for sure, but even the most intelligent women could make stupid mistakes. To create a whole persona out of thievery and work alongside dangerous gangsters was not only foolish; it was ridiculous. Nora wasn’t sure arrogance was the right word for it, but it was pretty damn close.

Had Robin really thought she’d never get caught?

Their debate about justice had been interesting too, Nora had to admit, but she hadn’t gone through years of studying law to be out-reasoned by a thief. An ethical criminal was still a criminal, after all. Still, despite the arrogance and the mislead convictions, Nora had been impressed. Robin wasn’t at all what she had expected.

As for her offer, Nora had been surprised by how credible it had been. She didn’t trust her; she doubted she could ever trust someone who had made a living out of their own stealth and cunning. But Robin had seemed genuine. Nora was a good judge of character and she would have excelled as a lawyer. Her judgement told her that Robin really did want Bobbi No-Nose dead, to avenge her dead partner, and to find the billionaire’s treasure – whether it was real or not. All of those things, and in return she would let the Minutemen bring her to justice in whichever way they wanted. It wasn't an unreasonable deal.

In the early afternoon, Nora found herself sitting in her rented room in the Dugout Inn and connecting to the Castle via Pip-Boy radio to speak with her commanders. Nora had never been comfortable making decisions on her own. Even though she was already inclined to accept Robin’s deal, she wanted to know what her people thought of it first.

The Commonwealth loved Robin the Sly – at least, those who hadn’t been her victims. They would probably rejoice at the notion of their General joining forces with the underdog hero. Now that Robin had been captured and all of the Commonwealth finally knew what she looked like, there was no telling whether her following would grow larger or smaller. Only one thing was clear: they could help each other.

After making sure she could hear all of the five commanders’ voices over the radio, Nora officially began the meeting. She recited what Robin had told her and, after she had finished, there was a long silence.

“We asked you to go over there to check it was really her, not fall under her spell,” Ronnie Shaw finally scoffed. “How did she win you over so easy? Little smile, bat of her eyelashes…?”

“She seemed genuine,” Nora said calmly.

“Why were you even talking to her?” one of the other commanders grumbled. “You know they call her Silver-tongue for a reason…”

“She’s a human. A woman. The rumors of her persuasion aren’t unproven, I guess, but she didn’t have any power over me. Robin was in a cage, I was offering her a more justified punishment than death, and she asked for something in return.”

“She’s a criminal. She doesn’t get anything in return,” Ronnie remarked. “That’s not how it works.”

“I know,” Nora said, ignoring Ronnie’s condescending tone. “And she knows that, too. Which is why she mentioned the fortune that Bobbi hired her to find. She said it could be all ours.”

Preston spoke up for the first time: “General, you know I trust your judgement, and I’ve got your back whatever you decide to do. But… they don’t call her Robin the Sly for nothing. This is definitely a trap.”

“Fine.” Nora changed gears. “So what if it is? I’m no pushover. If she leaves that jail cell, she’ll be under my control. I’ll have the map, I’ll have all the weapons, and I’ll be keeping an eye on her everywhere we go. If she tries to run, she’ll end up right where she started.”

Another silence.

“What does the Mayor of Diamond City think of your plan?” Ronnie asked craftily. “All in, was she?”

Nora, still maintaining her calm, ground her teeth together. She’d gone to see the Mayor immediately after talking with Robin, wanting to get a feel for how Diamond City had reacted to her capture. A vote had been conducted several days before Nora had arrived, and she was incensed to hear that Upper Stands votes apparently held more weight in the polls – and, of course, as they had often been Robin’s victims over the years, they had voted for her execution. Robin technically wasn’t the Minutemen’s responsibility anymore but Nora strongly felt that death wasn’t a suitable punishment for stealing. Diamond City didn’t have much in the way of laws, but surely letting only the snobby rich citizens decide what happened to a criminal they hated wasn’t the way to go. Nora hadn’t said as such during her conversation with the Mayor, but she’d gathered fairly quickly that Robin wasn’t about to walk out of that jail cell a free woman.

If Robin was going to escape execution, she would need to leave the lockup before the weekend. Which created an even bigger problem than making a deal with a criminal in the first place: Nora was going to have to help her escape.

Implicating herself in a jailbreak certainly wouldn’t make the General of the Minutemen look good.

“The Mayor didn’t seem to think there’s any chance of Robin surviving past this week. Apparently they want to execute her.”

“As we thought,” Preston sighed, and he did genuinely sound remorseful.

“So, I guess this is the big question then,” Ronnie said. “How exactly are you going to help her kill Bobbi-whats-her-name and find this treasure if she’s dead?”

Nora didn’t answer.

Realizing she had her cornered, Ronnie’s voice grew more sly: “Are you planning on breaking her out? Killing the guards, picking the lock?”

“I’m working on a way to help her escape which doesn’t implicate me,” Nora replied smoothly.

There were a few grumbled comments from the other commanders but Preston quickly interrupted, “Robin is not worth the destruction of our relationship with Diamond City, General. Just let it go. No matter what she’s promised you, no matter how sincere she sounded, you can’t take a risk like that.”

“Sometimes, as a leader, you have to take risks,” she countered. “Did I not take a massive risk with my life when I had Sturges build that particle accelerator to teleport me into the Institute? It could have backfired, but I still did it.”

“You had nothing to lose.”

“What’s the difference between then and now?” Nora challenged. “From what Robin was saying, Bobbi No-Nose sounds like a massive threat. If you doubt it, do some research. Look into any caravans which have been looted, other leaders who have complained about robberies, whether anyone’s tried to break into the Castle through the tunnels – investigate the secrets Bobbi’s most likely been covering up this whole time. We’ve heard about her before, so don’t play stupid.”

“Bobbi gave us Robin as a gesture of goodwill,” one of the commanders protested. “Why are you suddenly so interested in going after her? She helped us.”

“Only because it suited her personal interests. Look, Robin may be a thief, but she only steals from rich, greedy bastards and gives all of her money to the poor. What she’s giving us now, in return for basically nothing, is a much more cunning criminal who’s likely been a danger to innocent people for ages, and a fortune large enough to protect the Commonwealth for years to come. Tell me: what exactly are we risking here going after Bobbi and trying to find that treasure? It seems to me that the only person risking anything is Robin herself.”

Again, she had achieved silence over the radio.

“Well,” she said smoothly, victorious. “I’ve stated my case. I value all of your opinions, so I’m calling for a vote. If you vote in favor, I’ll find a way to free Robin without Diamond City knowing I was involved – they can believe she escaped herself for all I care – I’ll find Bobbi No-Nose and make sure she’s brought to proper justice, and I’ll see what I can make of Jeremy Sawyer’s hidden money. If you vote against Robin’s freedom, I’ll leave her in that cell. She’ll be killed when the weekend comes and no one will ever hear from her again. The people will have lost their hero, and it will be all our fault. Bobbi will continue to operate in the shadows and this certainly won't be the last we hear from her.”

There were some uncomfortable coughs. Ronnie cleared her throat and muttered, “Not our problem.”

“Preston, do a vote. You know where I stand,” Nora instructed.

While he called for those for and against, Nora waited in anxious silence to see what the next step was. She hadn’t been lying; if none of her commanders trusted Robin – which was fair enough – she would leave. No questions asked.

“It’s three; two. In your favor,” Preston said finally.

Nora had tried to convince herself that Robin was probably trying to trick her anyway and she was better off not getting involved, but she still couldn’t quite explain the relief she felt when she heard Preston’s words. She drew herself up, back to business. “Great. I’ll be in contact once I’m out of Diamond City.”

“I hope you know what you’re doing, General,” Preston said quietly.

 ---

When Nora returned to the Diamond City lockup the next morning, the guards left her alone with Robin immediately, apparently eager to take a break from watching their charge. She paused a few feet away from the bars. Robin was awake and plainly knew who her visitor was but she didn’t bother to turn around.

“So?” came her curious voice.

“So…” Nora glanced around. The guards were out back somewhere taking their break; the only man in the office was clearly fast asleep. There were no cameras. If Robin strolled out of her cell right now, there was a high chance no one would see her do it.

Still waiting for an answer, the other woman finally stood and turned to her. Dark green eyes searched her expression, her body language, the tense aura around her. After a while, a cat-like smile stretched across her face. “I can hardly believe it. You’re gonna be my partner-in-crime, huh?”

“I still don’t trust you,” Nora said firmly. “But yes, we have a deal. Only under one condition: you give me the map.”

Robin narrowed her eyes, clearly considering it. She removed the sheet of paper from her coat and traced her fingers over the lines of typed code. “Just realized,” she said quietly. “I don’t really trust you either.”

There was a long silence, and Nora was painfully aware of the minutes ticking by. They didn’t have long until the guards came back to check on her.

“You don’t really have a choice,” she pointed out. She stepped towards the bars and held a gloved hand out expectantly, wiggling her fingers.

Grimacing, Robin took a deep breath and passed the sheet of paper through, letting Nora remove it from her possession. A leap of faith. If Robin was going out of her way to show her devotion to their agreement, Nora could do the same. Folding it up, Nora transferred it into the pocket of her own coat, feeling Robin’s eyes carefully following her hand. The scrutiny was profound.

“So, do you have a key or something?” Robin asked impatiently, clearly hoping to be free as soon as possible.

“No.”

Robin’s eyes widened slightly – she’d only just realized they were on their own. A smirk tugged at her lips again. “Oh no. Don’t tell me you’re thinking of breaking me out? How the tables turn…”

“You’re the thief. Why don’t you come up with a plan to break yourself out?” Nora countered.

“If that were possible for me to do alone, don’t you think I’d already be gone by now?” Robin said dryly.

Nora couldn’t help but smile. “Fair point.”

The time was still ticking by. They probably had five minutes at most. She clenched her jaw, trying to force her brain to decide on a strategy, feeling Robin’s amused gaze on her.

“Hey, don’t worry so much, General,” Robin said flippantly. “I’ve already thought of a way out with only a little bit of assistance.”

“How little?”

“Well, depends on how good you are at being sneaky.” She pointed towards the office in the corner. “There are keys to all the cells in that office. In the top drawer, I think. All you’d have to do is creep in as quietly as possible without waking sleeping beauty and find the right one for my cell. Bring it back to me and I’ll let myself out.”

“Stealing a key involves me more than a little. They’ll know you had some help.”

Robin rolled her eyes, pouting. “Fine – there’s another much less simple plan, but it requires some skill with a computer. I’ll assume a Pre-War vault dweller’s had some experience with logging on and off?”

“Yeah, I’d say so,” Nora said witheringly.

“There’s an old protectron behind the wall of my cell,” Robin clarified. “Probably hasn’t been activated for years, so it wouldn’t be surprising to anyone if it happened to… malfunction.”

Nora nodded curtly, catching on. “I see what you’re getting at. I’m sure the guards would have their hands full dealing with a robot on the loose.”

“Exactly. And while the guards are running around like idiots, my cell might magically unlock itself. Would take a minute, tops. Probably less.”

“Where’s the terminal?”

Robin pointed.

Before she walked off, Nora shot her a firm look. “Don’t forget I’ve got your map. You make a run for it, you’ll regret it.”

“Yeah, yeah...” Robin sat casually down on the bench again, one leg tucked beneath her and her hands folded in her lap.

Nora crossed the lockup and passed behind Robin’s cell, regarding the port with the protectron nestled inside. The guards’ voices were faint; they were eating breakfast in the back room, oblivious. Powering up the terminal, Nora began to guess the password. After three attempts, she was locked out. She cursed, hoping they hadn’t heard that long error beep. After ten seconds, she was permitted to try again. The fifth guess let her bypass security; she quickly tapped through the system in order to activate the protectron and set it loose. Almost instantly, there was a series of clicks and bleeps as it detached itself from the port. Cursing again, Nora hurriedly shut down the terminal and sprinted back around to the front of the lockup before the robot could begin shooting at her. A string of angry shouts came from the break room as the guards realized what was going on.

Nora ducked out of sight between two cells, ensuring she was hidden by the shadows, as the guard who’d been fast asleep in the office ran past with a loaded pistol in his hand. Gunshots and yelling provided her the distraction she needed to return to Robin’s cell, only to find that the door was already wide open and the thief had disappeared.

Nora froze, reprimanding herself for having gone along with Robin’s crafty plot. Shit. She’d made a run for it, hadn’t she? Her fears had been confirmed; not only had she let the thief trick her, but she’d made herself look like an idiot in the process.

“What the hell are you waiting for?” came a hiss from the entrance.

She turned, even more shocked to see Robin free from her cage and still standing in the lockup, waiting patiently for her.

Nora gawked as Robin darted forward and seized her arm, dragging her down the corridor and out into the sunshine. Eventually she found her feet and began to lead the way, swerving behind the houses as they approached the entrance of the city, well aware that anyone who saw Robin would know exactly who she was now. Robin lifted her hood to cover her face as they careened up the steps and left the stadium behind. They didn’t stop running until they had passed the turnstiles and put several blocks between them and the city.

It was likely that the security had already been alerted of Robin’s escape. Soon enough, they’d be out here searching for her. While Nora would have preferred to keep on going until they were well beyond capture, Robin tugged urgently on her hand. She halted and let the thief regain her composure, automatically checking the roads and buildings on all sides for anyone who might have followed them. Even though they’d run at full speed for almost ten minutes, she hardly felt out of breath.

“Are you a fucking marathon runner or something?” Robin wheezed.

Nora didn’t answer. Instead, she stared down at the woman with raised eyebrows, surprised to see blood and bruises on her face which had earlier been concealed by the cell's darkness. The injuries looked recent. Although she had been intending to keep her mouth shut, Nora couldn’t suppress her curiosity. “Who did that?”

“Had a visit from Malcolm Latimer last night,” Robin grumbled, straightening. She pulled her hood back down from her face and raked a hand through tousled strands of shoulder-length black hair. Now that Nora was standing next to her, she realized the other woman was at least a foot shorter, her body wiry and slender. Robin was small enough that she probably remained unnoticed most of the time, even without a disguise. “You know, even after all those times I stole from him, I never knew he was chummy with the triggermen.”

“He’s a gangster?”

“He brought in a couple of his associates to rough me up a little. Said he was excited to watch Diamond City security fill me with holes on Saturday.”

Nora’s face formed itself into a disapproving frown but she bit her tongue. While she felt sorry for Robin, it was without a doubt her own fault that dangerous gangsters like Malcolm Latimer and Bobbi No-Nose wanted to stick a knife in her back.

“So, what next?” Robin asked casually, blinking up at her.

Nora stared.

“Don’t look at me like that. You’ve got the map, you hold the reins.”

“I guess I’m surprised you’re still hanging around.”

Robin smirked. “Yeah, I saw your face back there. Thought I’d run off, didn’t you?”

Nora turned and beckoned with her head. “Come on.”

They walked mostly in silence, Robin limping a little with an arm braced around her rib cage, until Nora finally gave in to her pity. She halted and dug into one of her many pockets. “Here.”

Now it was Robin’s turn to gawk.

"Have you never used a stimpack before?” Nora remarked.

“They’re expensive.” Graciously, Robin took the stimpack and injected it into her shoulder.

“You steal enough money to buy thousands of them.”

Robin muttered, “You already know where my money goes.”

Looking her over once more, Nora took in the state of her coat and trousers - they looked old and worn, but Nora assumed they'd been looted from someone or somewhere else. Robin didn't seem the type of woman to have any sort of materialistic desire whatsoever, and yet Nora had never met someone in the Commonwealth who was content to survive without caps. She had to admit that if she'd ever been exposed to as much money as Robin had, she'd find it hard to turn it all down.

“But why?”

Robin shot her a furtive look as she tossed the empty injector onto the pavement. “That’s a stupid question.”

Nora thought it was a perfectly valid question. Still, she decided not to pursue it. While she was admittedly curious about the woman she had spent the last month trying to find, her job now was only to catch Bobbi No-Nose and discover Sawyer’s fortune; Robin’s life story wasn’t part of the package. And, more importantly, Robin was a high-status fugitive who could be dangerous for all Nora knew. Surely, to be in the business of stealing from people like Malcolm Latimer, she had to be pretty fierce. Nora would be better off not appearing too friendly.

They walked again, Nora leading the way. She had two .44 pistols on her but didn’t think she’d need them; still, she kept a hand hovering over her hip. Perhaps it was as much to warn Robin of the presence of her weapons as well as being ready to defend herself. She had promised the other commanders that she wouldn't let Robin get the better of her.

Her Minuteman detail were waiting in the ruins of an old gas station, cooking breakfast over a fire barrel. As Nora approached, they stood and nodded their heads respectfully. When they caught sight of the smaller woman behind her, however, a couple of them gaped.

“This is Robin,” Nora said coolly.

“Uh… y-yeah,” one of the men stuttered. “I thought… isn’t she…?”

“The legendary Silver-tongue?" Robin piped up with a grin. "Savior of the People? Cunning vigilante shrouded in mystery?"

"... In jail?” he finished lamely. When Robin shot him a frown, he pointed out, "There've been pictures of you up all over Diamond City. And Goodneighbor. And they've been sent to settlements, too. I wouldn't be surprised if most of the Commonwealth knows what you look like by now."

Robin seemed to pale slightly but she managed a small shrug. “Well, at least everyone's still talking about me.”

The other men grew silent, looking between the General and the thief.

Nora sighed. “You can ask your questions, I won’t bite.”

“What's going on? Are you working together?” one of the younger Minutemen demanded.

“We’ve come to an agreement.”

“Isn’t she supposed to be executed on Saturday? I heard there was a vote-”

Robin snorted, interrupting him, “Your General here decided I was worth more alive. Which is true.”

“But, General, how did you get her-”

“Okay, never mind. Stop,” Nora ordered abruptly, rubbing a hand wearily over her forehead. She hadn't yet thought up a way to explain her alliance to Robin; she'd hoped she wouldn't have to explain it at all. Her men fell silent, a couple of them giving her sullen looks.

Nora knew most of the soldiers respected her and would follow her every command, but she hadn't always been a good leader. When Preston made her General, she'd known little about how the military worked. Still, her husband Nate had been in the army, and what little she'd learned from him she tried to teach to her soldiers. Nora made sure to be strict and unyielding, and to think of their safety above all else, but when she'd started out she hadn't been much of a fighter. It was only after she infiltrated the Institute and brought the Minutemen to victory that she finally earned a large following. Nevertheless, she was sure some of the men still thought she was a stupid bitch. 

“Finish your breakfast. We’ll be setting off soon,” she instructed, dismissing them. 

“General, can I speak to you for a second?”

She turned to Robin, raising her eyebrows. Suspiciously, she stated, “Go ahead.”

“In private.”

They stepped out of the gas station and Nora surveyed the tense set of Robin’s shoulders. “What?”

“You aren’t seriously bringing all of them?” When Nora didn’t move to answer, Robin glared at her. “This isn’t a fun holiday or a settlement visit. So many people travelling in one group is risky. It’s Bobbi we’re dealing with here.”

“I don’t travel alone.”

“You won’t be alone, you’ll be with me,” Robin said, and instantly her expression and tone became coy.

Nora almost wanted to laugh. “You can’t expect me to-”

“Send them somewhere else or our agreement is off.”

Now she did chuckle. “You’d rather be executed than travel with my men? Be my guest.”

Scowling at her, Robin took a step back, then another. Nora's hand immediately fell to the pistol at her waist and she slowly withdrew it from the holster. If Robin tried to run, Nora would shoot her. She had no time for games, and she certainly wasn't about to be the one who let the Commonwealth's most notorious vigilante escape.

Robin's eyes snapped to her gun immediately and the bridge of her nose wrinkled. "Seriously?"

"I'm willing to honor our agreement," Nora said evenly. "If you don't, I have no reason to let you go. Run, and I'll shoot you myself."

For a second, there seemed to be pure surprise on Robin's face, as if she'd truly thought she saw some sort of ally in Nora. It was quickly replaced with defiance. "I don't believe you."

"You'd better." Nora's finger twitched on the the handle of her .44 and, in a well-practiced movement, she unclicked the safety and raised it level with Robin's chest. 

"Hey - okay!" Robin quickly threw her hands up placatingly. "Jesus. You know, if I wanted to run, I'd have gone already."

Nora just stared at her, gun unwavering.

With a deeply frustrated sigh, Robin muttered, “Look, all I'm saying is I made a deal with you, not your Minutemen. I don’t trust them.”

“From what I recall, you don’t trust me, either.”

“Yeah, well, one person is a lot easier to manipulate." She quickly grinned to show Nora she was joking and then lowered her hands, eyeing the gun. "Don't shoot me. You'd probably regret it."

After a few tense moments, Nora finally lowered her pistol. “I'd regret it more if I let you take advantage of me. Or escape."

"I won't," Robin said simply.

Narrowing her eyes, Nora searched the other woman's face carefully. She didn't appear to be lying, but she could easily just be very good at it. Nora switched the safety off and holstered her pistol once more. Smoothly, she stated, "My soldiers are coming. You have no say." She met Robin’s eyes with a challenge, refusing to be the first to look away. The dark green shifted and after a few seconds Robin glanced at the ground, a sour expression on her face. Victorious, Nora made to turn and return into the gas station.

“Please."

Why did the hero of the people begging appeal to her so much? Nora halted and pressed a hand to her forehead, imagining what Preston Garvey would think if he were here. His General had been making so many stupid judgments recently. And yet, he clearly had faith in her decision-making ability or he wouldn't have made her General in the first place. 

Sensing she'd gotten Nora's attention, Robin continued, "I know I said you hold the reins, but please can we do this my way? I know Bobbi better than you do – she’ll already be wary enough of you. We’ll never find her if we have a group of soldiers with us.”

“Yeah, well, Bobbi betrayed you, so you clearly don’t know her that well….”

“I know how good she is at being invisible.” Robin stepped closer, looking into her eyes again. “Please, Nora. Trust me.”

“Wait." Nora, yet again, found herself staring at the other woman in surprise. "How do you know my name?”

Robin smiled apologetically. “I know the names of all of my enemies.”

Enemies? Nora supposed they were technically enemies, though she respected Robin more than she'd ever respected previous rivals of the Minutemen. This woman had been keeping settlers alive, delivering them food, repairing their homes, even though it meant heading into danger without even a single stimpack as insurance. And, strangely enough, she had knowledge of things that most people did not. Nora's name had been 'General' for years now. Only the other commanders knew her real name; as did Robert MacCready, her closest friend. For Robin to know it was not only disconcerting, but it was incredibly suspicious. Squinting at her, Nora tried to make sense of this mystery woman. What else did she know? Her mind rushed as she tried to think of a way to gain back some control of the situation. “Tell me you’re not trying to trick me," she said curtly. "Let’s see if I believe you.”

Those dark green eyes didn’t leave her own, perfectly solemn. “I’m not trying to trick you.”

For god’s sake, how was she supposed to know now if Robin was telling the truth or not? She’d been distracted hearing her name coming from a near-stranger’s mouth. Her judgement, which was normally crystal clear, had been thrown off. Nora had worked with a partner plenty of times, even alongside people more dangerous than Robin, but what she hated most of all was being made to look like an idiot. If Robin led her into a trap, she’d lose her perfect calm. She’d lose her control.

After a few moments of staring intently at Robin’s face, Nora touched her hand to the pocket inside which the map was resting. Was it the only thing keeping Robin by her side? Did she really trust a single piece of paper to hold Robin to her word?

Resisting the urge to curse out loud, Nora finally came to a decision. Careful to keep her face impassive, she backed away and entered the gas station, calling for attention. The men straightened again, awaiting instruction. “Change of plans. You’ll head back to the Castle as soon as you’ve finished your breakfast,” she declared. “Once you arrive, you’ll go straight to Preston Garvey and tell him this is a stealth mission and I have no use for extra men. I have perfect control over the situation.”

They accepted the command without question but Nora saw the uncertainty in their eyes. When she glanced back over her shoulder, Robin was grinning at her triumphantly. She was too tightly wound to accept that she’d lost the argument. “Let’s go,” she said brusquely. Her bag was sat in the corner of the room, filled with ammunition and meds as well as a few spare changes of clothing and toiletries. She had no idea how long she'd be on the road but she was certain it would suffice. Slinging the strap over one shoulder, she checked the magazine of her assault rifle before taking her leave.

It was only when they were walking away from the gas station, side by side, that Nora wondered what exactly the consequences of this decision would be. She’d accepted the agreement and there was no going back; but what exactly had she signed herself up for?

Chapter Text

There was one thing Robin needed to do before they began their search for Bobbi No-Nose: her crew deserved to know what had happened. Surely they’d heard the rumors about Robin’s capture and wondered at Little John’s absence. She dreaded having to tell them that he was gone forever but couldn’t put it off for any longer. It could be weeks, months - even years - before she saw them again. 

They’d been walking for most of the day. Robin soon made a show of sighing and dragging her feet. Nora had definitely noticed, but she said nothing, choosing to focus on the path ahead. After having been forced to stare down the barrel of the General's gun earlier, Robin knew better than to test her patience. Still... there had to be a way to convince Nora to trust her, just this once.

“Where are we going?” Robin asked finally.

“Not sure yet. Somewhere we can camp for the night and figure out our next step.”

It sounded simple. Logical. With another pointed sigh, Robin stopped walking altogether. As she’d hoped, this made Nora come to a halt as well. When the other woman turned to face her with her usual serene, impassive expression, Robin found herself lost in those dark eyes once again. They were mesmerizing like a whirlpool of water where secrets lurked. The gaze never once left her face, two dark stars pulling her in.

Suddenly uncomfortable, Robin cleared her throat. “I have a request.”

“I’d be very careful what you ask for,” the General said, her lips tilting into a cautioning smile.

“My crew... I need to see them.”

Nora didn’t even hesitate. “No.”

“Look, my whole Robin Hood gambit is over. I have nothing to hide from you anymore. For all I know, once we’ve found Bobbi and all that treasure, you’ll turn me into one of your Minutemen and I’ll be forced to serve you for the rest of my life.”

Nora raised an eyebrow, apparently entertained by this idea.

“I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I don’t work alone. Some things can’t be done by just one person. I’ve got a crew who assist me and they... deserve to know what happened.”

“Hmm.” Nora’s finger idly traced the barrel of her rifle but her eyes still didn’t shift from Robin’s face. “Do I get to meet them?”

“That wouldn’t be a good idea,” Robin said firmly. “I’ll need to tell them what happened to my friend. He… uh, he’s…” She trailed off, her breath coming short, and tingled all over with embarrassment. Little John’s death still haunted her; she had no idea how to get the rest of sentence out. Did saying it out loud make it any less horrible?

“I know,” Nora said with surprising gentleness. “I remember you telling me about his passing.”

Passing. As if he had peacefully left this world of his own volition rather than with two bullets fired into his skull at close range.

“Well.” Robin cleared her throat, cheeks flushing. “Anyway, they’ll be torn up about it. And knowing that your people were there, watching, while Bobbi-” Again, she ground to a halt, unable to force the words out.

Swiftly, Nora saved her again: “I get it. They probably wouldn’t be too fond of me.” She looked away for the first time and Robin thought she saw guilt flicker across her face. “You know, if I’d been there…”

“You weren’t,” Robin said quickly. “And I don’t believe for one second you’d risk your life for one of my crew. We’re thieves. Criminals, right? You’d be standing there watching like the rest of your men.” Nora looked as if she wanted to argue but Robin hastily moved on, remembering that she was supposed to be persuasive. “All I want to do is tell them what happened to Little John. That’s all. I’ll come right back afterwards.”

Instantly, Nora's lips drew into a firm line. “You’re not going anywhere alone.”

“Well, what would you rather, General?” Robin retorted sarcastically. “A blindfold? A crafty disguise? Once I tell them what happened they’ll want to shoot you in the head.”

“You’re not going alone,” Nora repeated.

Frustrated, Robin kicked at a loose piece of pavement and watched it skitter away. Light was leaching out of the sky, signalling the approach of a spectacular sunset. Fens Way Station wasn’t far from here and she could make it there and back before it was dark, but she knew for absolute certain that she could not bring Nora with her. How could she trust that, upon learning the location of Robin’s hideout, the General wouldn’t send soldiers to raid the place and capture her friends? How could she trust that her friends wouldn’t shoot Nora in the head the moment they saw her and open a whole new can of worms?

“Fuck,” she muttered under her breath.

It was time for a last resort.

Robin reached inside her coat slowly and pulled out the document she’d picked from Nora’s pocket several hours ago. For the first time, the expressionless mask on the General’s face slipped completely and her features hardened into an expression of shock. “How the hell did you…?”

Robin nonchalantly held it out. “I’m a thief. It’s what I do. You should’ve been watching your pockets.”

Nora ripped the map from her hands, glowering at her. “And you want me to trust you?”

“Pay attention, General,” Robin said softly. “I had the map. I could’ve run, couldn’t I?”

As Nora began to understand her meaning, the anger on her face dulled slightly. She was clearly still irritated, however, her nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed. Robin wondered how often people got one up on the General of the Minutemen.

“I know you don’t trust me, and you probably won’t believe this, but I am a woman of principle,” Robin pointed out. “If I make a promise, I stick to it.”

Nora released a heavy sigh, still glaring at her.

“I’ll be back in an hour. You can wait here, and if I don’t come back…” Robin quickly pulled out the small slip of paper with Sawyer’s address on it which Bobbi had given her. She turned it over. “Do you have a pen?”

Still wary, Nora reached into her bag and handed her one.

Feeling as if she was making probably the biggest mistake of her life, Robin wrote Fens Way Station before folding the paper slip in half. And then, determinedly not meeting Nora’s eyes, she stepped close and tucked it into one of the front pockets of her coat. “You can only read it if I don’t come back,” she said firmly. “Promise.”

Nora stared down at her, distrust plain on her face. Finally, something new seemed to grow in her eyes – understanding? Respect? She dipped her chin slowly in a nod.

“I’m trusting you so you’ll trust me,” Robin clarified. “Promise me you won’t read it unless I don’t come back.”

“I promise.”

They stared at each other again. 

With a careful step back, and then another, Robin began to leave her behind. Soon enough, she broke into a run, knowing that there was no time to waste. She knew without a doubt that the General’s eyes were on her the entire time until she had disappeared between the buildings.

 ---

Robin had expected tears and anger. She hadn’t expected complete silence.

Several minutes before, her crew had gathered around her after exchanging hugs and stating how happy they were to see her. The past week had been a frightening one, first when they heard about Robin's capture, and then when they heard nothing from Little John. Apparently they had been planning a way to break Robin out before her execution but the security at Diamond City had almost doubled in size; none of their plans had any chance of success. They rejoiced to see that she'd somehow gotten out on her own. Robin impatiently sat them down and told them what had happened at Sawyer Terrace, not wanting to stall with the truth. The silence now was almost deafening; they were all just staring at her.

Finally, there was a terrible wail and Hera jumped to her feet and stumbled off. Some of the youngsters began to cry, too, but Robin’s eyes were fixed on the space in which Hera had been sitting moments before, an icy hand clenched around her heart. Fox, who was sniffling and clearly trying to hold back tears, touched her shoulder. “Are you sure he’s…?”

“I saw it. It’s not something I’ll ever un-see,” Robin said with a bitter taste in her mouth. “He’s gone.”

The group dispersed as if a bomb had gone off. Flint and Lock, both angry, stormed off towards the entrance of the station, trailed by a sobbing Tanya. Pete sat stone-faced by himself in the corner. After a terse instruction from Robin, Fox led the youngest kids into the train car to calm them down. Robin went off in search of Hera, feeling her heart throb with sympathy.

Hera was sitting on top of her sleeping bag, knees tucked into her chest, tears streaming down her cheeks. Rough, uncontrollable sobs were being torn from her chest. Robin sat beside her and immediately wrapped her in a comforting hug. Tears filled her own eyes and threatened to spill over. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “It should’ve been me.”

Through a break in her sobs, Hera muttered, “Don’t say that.”

They sat there for a while until the hiccups had faded away. Robin stroked the older woman’s hair, wondering how it must feel to lose a soulmate. They had loved each other so much. Little John had always been so excited to return to his wife after time spent away from the hideout. Robin would forever remember the day she entered the station and found them dancing slowly like a newly married couple to a song on the radio; there hadn’t been a dry eye in sight.

It was so startlingly real now, coming home to Fens Way Station and him not being here. Not seeing his serene smile, his pure happiness when he was planning a mission for her, the stupid yellow rain slicker he’d loved wearing so much...

“Lucas knew what he had to do,” Hera said finally, her voice weak. “He did what any of us would’ve done.”

“I never wanted any of you to die for me,” Robin mumbled.

“But we would. Every single one of us.”

She shook her head, rubbing the leftover tears from her cheeks. “It’s better this way, then. If I stop being Robin the Sly. No more operations, no more secret hideout, no more dealing with psychopaths…” She trailed off, unable to believe that it was all over, after everything she had been through.

“What you do has saved so many lives,” Hera whispered.

“But it took one of the most important lives. And I can’t ever let that happen again.”

Realizing that her time was running out, she released Hera from her hug and climbed to her feet. “The Minuteman General gave me a chance to find and kill Bobbi. I promised her that I’d cooperate with the Minutemen in return. It’s over now – all of it. When Bobbi betrayed me, I lost everything.”

Hera looked up at her miserably, face swollen from tears. “Promise me you’ll be careful,” she said. “Don’t let Bobbi hurt us a second time by taking you, too.”

“I promise.”

Robin returned to the platform to tell her friends she was leaving. To her surprise, they didn’t seem to hate her new partner at all; rather, they were satisfied that Nora was helping to find Bobbi. Even though the Minutemen had been hunting Robin’s crew for so long, they still respected their General.

Fox had never been a particularly touchy person, but he pulled Robin into his wiry arms and hugged her tight. She relaxed, breathing in the familiar smell of him, and wondered how long it would be until she saw him again. Sometimes it was months, but this time there was a fairly high chance they would never be together again. He was her little brother. Tanya, Pete, Flint, Lock, Hera... they were her closest friends. A family which Robin had made for herself but now had been ruined by grief. 

“Are you sure I can’t come with?” he asked, voice muffled against her shoulder.

“Too dangerous,” she murmured. She pulled away and patted his cheek.

Fox gave her a brave smile. “I’ll take care of the place while you’re gone, just like Little John used to.”

“You do that.”

Robin turned to head up the escalator but Hera shouted, “Wait!” The older woman pulled her into one last embrace, patted her all over, and then held out a yellow bundle. “It’s his hat,” she explained. “And a photograph of when we first met and he was a lot younger. I think he’d want you to have something to remember him by.”

“Oh, no, Hera – you should-”

“I’ve got plenty of photos and drawings,” she insisted, pressing the bundle firmly against Robin’s chest. Robin gently turned the rain slicker over in her hands, remembering the last time she’d seen him wear it.

Thanks for letting me have your back, Robin.

Blinking back yet more tears, she peered at the photo inside. A square-jawed young man with already thinning hair, dark eyes, and a calm smile stared back at her. It had clearly been taken on a farm somewhere, likely when Little John – well, Lucas Gringham – had still been living as a settler. Before he’d been kidnapped by Gunners and Robin had met him by circumstance.

“Thank you,” she whispered. She wasn’t entirely sure whether she was thanking Hera for the memories, or the ghost of Little John for being there for her since the day they’d met. Worried she was going to cry again in front of her crew, she hastily shoved the slicker into her pocket and hugged Hera one more time. Muttering a goodbye, she ran up the steps.

The sky was purple when Robin exited Fens Way Station and she paused for a moment to gently touch the side of the building, realizing she might as well say goodbye. One day, hopefully, she would return. There was no time to be brittle or sad anymore; she had a job to do. If Robin the Sly had been unmasked and there was no longer an easy future for her in the Commonwealth, she was going to make this her last great scheme. She was going to find that treasure, whatever it took. And, of course, she was going to honor Little John’s memory somewhere along the way.

By the time Robin had returned to where she’d left the General, she was out of breath. From afar, she saw Nora sitting on a pile of bricks with the piece of paper Robin had given her twirling between two gloved fingertips. She was honestly surprised Nora hadn't tried to follow her; even more surprised that Nora hadn't immediately checked what was written on the paper and called the Minutemen. 

Bolstered by the possibility that Nora had upheld her end of the deal, Robin felt suddenly spirited. She lowered herself, sneaking in a wide circle so she wouldn’t be seen. If she wanted, she could become a ghost; a shadow. She'd learned long ago how to move without making a sound, how to evade even the sharpest eyes under cover of darkness. Once the General’s back was to her, she took a running jump and threw herself into her line of vision, yelling, “HEY!”

The General was on her feet in an instant, rifle pointing directly into her face, and Robin quickly threw her hands up in surrender. While she wasn't too pleased to have yet another gun pointed at her today, she couldn't help but laugh at the furious expression on the General’s face. “Oh, sorry, did I scare you?”

Lowering her rifle with a huff, Nora growled, “I could’ve shot you.”

“You didn't.” Robin bent over to pick up the piece of paper which had fluttered from Nora’s hands. “Besides… aren’t you glad to see me? I came back with a few minutes to spare.”

“It occurred to me after you ran off that you could’ve written anything on that,” the General said, eyeing the slip of paper.

Robin’s smile dropped. “Did you read it?”

Looking at her furtively, Nora grabbed it from her hands. She ripped the paper into tiny pieces and let them float back to the ground. “Like you, I’m a woman of principle.” In a lower voice, she grumbled, “Great deal of good that’s gonna do me while I’m traveling with you.”

Robin pouted. “Well, for your information, what I wrote was the truth. I’m surprised you didn’t immediately send a message to your Minutemen buddies and tell them to head on in.”

“Looks like we both held up.” Nora had finally recovered from her anger; she brushed off her trousers and slung the assault rifle back over her shoulder. Back to the composed, expressionless mask. Her eyes, as usual, traveled over Robin’s face and saw everything. “Have you been crying?”

“None of your business,” Robin muttered.

“You’re right,” she said simply, turning away. "Let's go."

 ---

They camped under a tree in the middle of a park. It had been Robin’s idea; she pointed out that neither of them had sleeping bags and grass was a lot more comfortable than stone. Nora, with surprising resourcefulness, built a fire and produced food from her bag. They ate in silence. Robin hadn’t eaten properly for an entire week and could barely contain her hunger. After watching her scarf down her steak in a matter of minutes, Nora handed over her own portion.

“I can’t take your-”

“Get your energy up,” Nora instructed. “I’m sure Diamond City jail didn’t have much in the way of food service.”

With the same speed as with the first, Robin finished the General’s steak, washing it down with two entire cans of water. She gasped for breath once she’d finished and let herself fall heavily back against the grass, staring through the black branches overhead. There was no moon in the sky but it still shone with a purple tinge: the beauty of radioactive fog.

“I’m sure your friends were happy to see you,” Nora said lightly.

Recognizing it as a casual offer for conversation, Robin shot her a wary glance before she nodded. “Yeah, they were.”

"Did you tell them how you escaped Diamond City?"

Robin smirked. "Yeah. And before you ask, yes, I told them about you. They weren't nearly as angry as I expected them to be. As long as you help me find and kill Bobbi, you can redeem yourself."

"I'm the one who needs redemption, huh?" Nora leaned back against the grass too, pillowing her head on her bag and staring thoughtfully into the fire. "Did they know your other friend? Little John, was it?"

His face flashed in Robin's mind, eyes pleading her before the bullets struck his skull–

"Yeah, they knew him," Robin said, feeling sick. She closed her eyes tightly, trying to banish his face from her mind. She no longer worried about forgetting it now that she could carry a piece of him wherever she went. The hat and photograph weighed on her like stones in her pocket.

"So I assume they were... upset?"

Abruptly, Robin sat up to glower at the other woman. “Look, maybe you haven’t noticed, but I don’t really feel like talking about my dead friend. Yes, they were upset – I’m upset.”

Nora was silent for a long while. It was incredible how she always stayed so calm, sometimes even when Robin tried to rile her up on purpose. 

“If you look around, I’m sure you’ll see there’s no shortage of grief in the Commonwealth,” she finally said, her words almost lost beyond the crackling of the fire.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Robin demanded.

“I know sadness,” Nora said. “When you lose someone, the grief you feel… you can never really repay it. It's this incredible weight, like a loan. Someday you just learn to live with the hurting and the weight becomes a part of you, as if it was always there.”

Robin blinked, admittedly surprised by the depth of her words. Nora, in that moment, sounded every bit as old as two hundred years. In comparison, Robin felt like a foolish child – foolish, because she’d forgotten that the General was older than the Commonwealth itself. To be so well-acquainted with grief was something Robin couldn’t even fathom. It was true; losing Little John wasn't something she could ever forget, but she'd never thought about her grief like it was some sort of un-payable debt before. How many times did you have to lose loved ones to begin to form such a metaphor?

Nora’s eyes returned to reality, flicking to Robin’s face. “I’m sorry if I was insensitive,” she said, shrugging. “I guess I’ve gotten so used to my own grief that I forgot what it looks like in others.”

“Yeah,” was all Robin could manage. She felt like she’d finally been permitted to learn something about the other woman and it filled her with mixed feelings of confusion and satisfaction. Robin had been aware of the General’s achievements and reputation for years but she’d never known quite enough to be impressed. Perhaps, since they were working together now, there were things they could learn from each other. Robin knew what she wanted to learn from Nora: Control. She wanted that power over herself and everything around her, to be calm in the face of loss and adversity.

Robin had a feeling she’d be needing that control very soon indeed.

Chapter Text

Ȣ¤ðǂՃǂΘ¤¤₶Θ¤₪ᴥɷΨ§₪ǂ§¤

ʖՃȸΘↁՃ₶⸖ǂ₶Θᴥↁ₶ͻ¤ʖ₪.

₶ʖΨ¤Θ¤¤ȸᴥͻ₶Θ¤§ǂ¤Ճ’§ɷ₪ǂ¤§;

ᴥՃ¤Ѫǂ§§₶¤⁜,⸾ᴥ§¤ʖ⸾⸾ϠᴥↁΘᴥȸȸ¤ʖ₪.

“So, you don’t have the slightest idea what any of this means?” Nora asked thoughtfully, eyes trailing over the lines of strange symbols on the map. The symbols were structured in sentences and paragraphs but there was no deciphering what they meant without experience in hacking or code breaking. Nora had skills in neither of those areas. For some reason beyond her knowledge, some of the symbols looked familiar. She traced her fingertip across the paper, squinting, but was incapable of unlocking her memories. Were some of them Greek symbols, maybe? Currency signs?

“Bobbi might have some sort of code breaker. We find her, we take back the first half of the map, and we can find the treasure.” Robin had just finished applying thick black soot to her face, a bar covering her eyes like a mask. She and Nora had both agreed that it was for the best that she traveled in disguise from now on. 

“What did the first piece of the map look like?”

“A lot of numbers.” Robin pulled her hood up to hide the tousled locks of her dark hair. “And this weird grid thing.”

“Okay, well… here’s an idea.” Nora chewed on the inside of her cheek, lowering the piece of paper. “Finding Bobbi is our priority, sure, but from what you’ve said, the only way we’re likely to find her is if we go after the treasure first and catch her along the way.”

Robin sat down beside her on the grass, disdainful. “All we have is a page we can’t even read. How are we supposed to know where to start?”

Finally letting her eyes rest on Robin’s face, Nora had an idea spring to mind. “Bobbi talked to one of Jeremy Sawyer’s heirs, didn’t she? Did she say what happened to them?”

“Ran for the hills, apparently,” Robin muttered. “We don’t know her name or where she’s gone. There’s more chance of finding the treasure blindfolded.”

“We’ve got to start somewhere.” Nora packed up her things, replaced the fedora on her head, and drew her coat back around her shoulders. “No time to waste. We’ll have to ask around to see if anyone’s seen either a woman on the run or an infamous gangster after some big fortune.”

“I’ve got connections.” Robin was clearly reluctant, but as she jumped to her feet, she seemed significantly more energized.

“Connections where?”

With a mischievous glint in her eye, she leaned in to whisper, “Everywhere.”

Nora forced back the urge to smile. “Good. Then lead the way.”

“Really?” Robin was evidently pleased to have gained a little of Nora's trust; she immediately set off walking with a hop in her step. Her mood had skyrocketed since yesterday and Nora had no idea where the sad, serious woman had gone. The night before, Robin had slept almost immediately after their dinner while Nora had stayed awake the entire time, not trusting that Robin wouldn't make an escape or try to steal the coded sheet again. While she'd let Robin go off on her own yesterday - which had been an incredibly stupid idea, she had to admit - Nora felt that she at least had gained some useful leverage. She had little reason to believe Robin would write down something truthful on that slip of paper, but she had a feeling that Fens Way Station was actually where her crew lived. Should Robin cut and make a run for it, Nora would know exactly where to start looking. Telling the Minutemen didn't interest her; as long as Robin proved herself trustworthy, Fens Way Station would remain their little secret.

They didn’t talk much. In fact, Robin was even less talkative than Nora had expected, keeping her thoughts entirely to herself. They traveled without time for rest, from settlement to settlement, and Robin hassled Nora several times by trying to make her wait far away and protect the identities of her informants. At first, Nora argued about it, irritated that Robin felt the need to take the whole arm every time she was offered a finger. Then again, she couldn’t help but respect the secrecy. These people clearly wanted to remain anonymous, and they deserved some privacy - at least for the sake of this mission. Bobbi seemed dangerous. Should she hear any rumors, it was best they were not about innocent settlers tattling on her.

Nora had also made sure to tuck the map inside her coat now, right at her breast, and she was fairly certain Robin wouldn’t try to pickpocket her again. As long as the map was secure, Robin wouldn't think to run. So, finally giving in, she allowed Robin to scout ahead and talk to her informants, waiting patiently for her return each time.

Robin truly did have friends everywhere. While Nora’s frustration rose as they moved to and from settlements she had spent the past years trying to help – all of these farmers operating behind her back, the Minutemen’s backs – she recognized how happy they were to see Robin. She saw new water pumps, better crops, electricity which hadn’t been there before. Had Robin really been doing a better job than the Minutemen at helping these settlers? Her means were inexcusable, but perhaps she’d had a point about distributing wealth. If the Minutemen were able to organize themselves more – if they had Jeremy Sawyer’s massive fortune to distribute – perhaps they could be the ones helping these farmers instead of the notorious Robin the Sly.

Sometimes, when they passed settlements Nora hadn’t visited for a while, she refused to wait behind. The settlers were just as happy to see the Minuteman General. However, when it came to talking about gangsters, they were quiet as mice. Nora still couldn’t be sure whether they were scared of the triggermen or if they simply didn’t trust that the General would keep their secrets. She didn't like learning how little the settlers trusted her, and unfortunately it made her even more suspicious of Robin. Was this her doing? Had she been intending to turn the Commonwealth against the Minutemen?

Nora wanted to dislike Robin as much as she distrusted her, but it was hard to be angry at someone in such consistently high spirits. As days passed at breakneck speed, Nora began to get used to her presence. Robin, rather amusingly, had a different disguise for each day. She’d tie a bandanna around her face, or wear a hat, or cover her skin entirely in soot. Nora began to look forward to seeing who she’d be traveling with each day. It occurred to Nora that Robin had very little need for caps; she lived like a ghost, flitting constantly through different towns, avoiding conflict. Either she stole or she was given items for free. It wasn’t an honest existence, but it seemed to be a simple one.

“What?” Robin had just noticed her staring; she put her hands on her hips and stared back suspiciously.

Nora stepped over and used her thumb to wipe at the single pale spot left on her cheek, smoothing the soot across. “There.” She’d done it nonchalantly, but realized she had overstepped when green eyes stared back at her in wary surprise. With a shrug, Nora moved out of the other woman’s personal space, rubbing idly at the black powder left on her fingertip. “Have you always done this? Worn disguises everywhere you go?”

“Not always. Now, however, turns out half the Commonwealth probably knows my face, and I need to protect my helpers.”

“Seems like a lot of work.”

Robin winked at her and tugged the green bandanna up over her hair. “I can’t afford to be as recognizable as you, General. There are loads of people who want me dead.”

Dryly, Nora said, “I’ve realized. But surely you’ll run out of disguises at some point.”

“Never.”

Nora looked at the other woman thoughtfully, taking in the obscured shapes of her features, and realized how easily the dark soot changed her face. Only her eyes were recognizable, a forested green. Almost immediately, they were covered with a pair of sunglasses, and Robin grinned at her. “Whaddya think?” She spun around with a flourish.

“When did you decide?” Nora asked, unable to disguise her curiosity.

Robin stopped spinning. “Decide what?”

“That you wanted to be Robin Hood.”

“A story for another time, don’t you think?” The shape of her eyes had narrowed behind the sunglasses. “You already know too much about me. And I know next to nothing about you besides the rumors my followers have brought to me. Why don’t you tell me one of your secrets?”

“I have none to tell.”

“Everyone has secrets,” Robin countered.

Nora shook her head imperceptibly, already wanting the conversation to be over. They’d only been meaning to stop for a quick lunch in the leafy glade but had spent much longer than necessary among the trees, soaking up ribbons of sun. She retrieved her bag and rifle and began to walk, knowing that Robin would rush to follow like she always did. While the other woman hadn't said it out loud, she clearly didn't trust Nora either. Now that she was prevented from pick-pocketing the coded sheet, she was nervous that Nora would do something with it.

Despite the minor annoyances of Robin's mischievous nature, their rare arguments, and the fact that neither of them trusted each other, Nora had realized that Robin was actually the easiest partner she had ever traveled with. Although their companionship had been formed under strange circumstances, neither of them were particularly confrontational or impatient. It was lucky, really, because Robin’s good behavior meant that Nora didn’t need to treat her like a prisoner at all. She'd expected to have to cuff the other woman in her sleep, stay awake every night, keep a gun trained on her at all times. Instead, she found herself actually letting her guard down. It seemed she was beginning to trust Robin the Sly after all. 

The days soon blurred into weeks, with no luck in hearing anything about either Bobbi or the Sawyer heir. They left the countryside and re-entered the city, passing shady meeting spots, warehouses, new and old settlements… but there was no new information. Robin had been right. If Bobbi didn’t want to be found, she was invisible. As for the heir, there was no finding someone who they had never met. Even Robin was beginning to become disheartened on their search. Every night, they took it in turns to pore through the symbols on the sheet she’d stolen, but even though Nora still felt that same itch of familiarity, she just couldn’t figure it out.

Finally, they received a sign.

Robin had wanted to meet another of her informants alone and Nora had, with her usual reluctance, settled down to wait. When she heard the other woman returning, she grabbed her rifle and peeked around the corner of the building to see a very pale-faced Robin with a piece of paper clenched in her hand.

“What’s wrong?” Nora demanded.

Wordlessly, Robin held it out.

I know you’re looking for me. Beacon Hill Apartments

After re-reading the note several times, Nora glanced up at Robin’s face again. “Finally, a tip,” she said in relief. “Do we know if this is from Bobbi or the heir?”

“Not Bobbi’s style,” Robin said curtly. “And my informant didn’t seem scared shitless, so it can’t have been gangsters who gave it to him.”

“Well... what would Sawyer’s heir still be doing in the city if she ran away?”

With a look of disgust on her face, Robin muttered, “Shocker – seems like Bobbi might have lied.”

They set off immediately, even though Beacon Hill took them back the way they had come. Nora kept the note in her pocket alongside the map, her heart set with determination now that she actually had something to do, a place to go.

Even before the war, Beacon Hill had been one of the more beautiful parts of the city, with cobbled streets and gas-lit alleys. Back then, she’d never known someone with such a high status as to own one of its houses. Now, of course, houses didn’t need to be bought. The only reason Beacon Hill had remained mostly empty of settlers was because it allowed little security against the likes of Raiders and Gunners.

When they reached the correct street according to her Pip-Boy’s inbuilt GPS, Nora immediately regretted having let her guard down. They’d been avoiding danger over the past few weeks on purpose; she'd decided that fighting would take up too much time and energy. At any sign of a threat either from other humans or Commonwealth beasts, Nora would change their path and take them on a detour. She'd become too used to avoiding or ignoring opportunities for conflict. Now, they’d walked straight into a fight.

A group of men in suits were lounging outside the entrance to the apartment building, guns across their laps and cigars between their lips. As Nora and Robin had approached without subtlety, stepping right into the middle of the street, the triggermen caught sight of them instantly. Commonwealth gangs always attacked as a mob; there was no feigning honor. At once, all of the men jumped and raised their guns and Nora hurriedly yanked Robin off the street as rapid-fire peppered the cobblestones they had just been standing on. Robin immediately shrugged her off, her eyes wide and filled with fear and resolve. “Triggermen," she growled. 

"Stay here, I'll deal with them." Nora was already calmly unslinging her rifle and checking her ammo, prepared to duck around the corner.

"Hey - no! Give me a gun or something!” Robin insisted, grabbing her arm.

Nora had already made an assessment of her partner’s skills. While at first she'd considered that Robin might be dangerous, she'd eventually resolved that this was a woman who had rarely been forced to stand and fight. She’d made a career out of sneaking around and making swift escapes. Giving her a weapon would make her a liability, not an asset.

“No.” Grimly, Nora pulled her arm away, checked the safety of her rifle, and ducked back out onto the street. She already knew that they had no need to worry. In the next few seconds, she carried out an attack which was equal parts fierce, efficient and deadly.

Screams reverberated off the walls of the buildings. The men rushed down the street, one of them shouting orders. Guns fired. More shouting. More screaming. More running. Nora turned the tide almost immediately, calmly aiming, shooting, ducking. Most of their bullets reverberated harmlessly off the material of the armour which was buckled beneath her coat – some of the best defense the Minutemen could manufacture. Even with their sub-machine guns, the triggermen had been doomed from the start.

Once she had checked all of their corpses, Nora efficiently ejected the magazine and replaced it with a new one from her belt. There were bound to be more of them inside the building; she wouldn’t stop until all danger had been eliminated. A choked sound of surprise came from behind her. She whipped around, only to find that Robin had followed her, and her eyes were round with disbelief. “So, that was... quick.”

Nora shrugged nonchalantly.

“You’re a killing machine, huh?” Robin was looking at Nora in a way she had never done before, her features clouded with horror – perhaps some respect, too.

“You have your skills, I have mine.” Nora didn’t particularly care how she came across. She’d killed plenty of people by now, and she’d learned not to think of the connotations; how it felt to die so suddenly and in pain, whether they had loved ones who would miss them... these things were pointless to obsess over. The Commonwealth wasn’t the sort of place where a woman who killed to survive and protect could afford to feel guilty. “Let’s go,” she instructed, spinning away.

Robin jogged to catch up with her. “So... I get it, you’ve clearly got everything under control, but I want to be able to protect myself, so can I have a-?”

“You don’t need to protect yourself,” Nora said curtly. She yanked open the door to the apartment building and did a quick sweep of the entrance, gun held aloft. “You’ve been useful so far. Stick to your guns – metaphorically, of course.” She paused. "And wait down here, I'll be done in a second."

Robin was clearly not happy about this. “I’ve been travelling without a weapon for weeks! What happens if someone catches me by surprise and you’re not there?”

Nora ignored her and headed up the first flight of stairs, immediately irritated when she heard the sound of Robin's quick feet as she followed close behind. "Come on," Robin whined. "Give me something - anything! A knife would do."

They had passed the first flight of stairs and a round of bullets spattered against the wall to Nora’s right, sending chips of concrete flying into her face. Grimacing against the sting, half-blind, she twisted and returned fire with a controlled double shot, sending the triggerman staggering back through the wooden door of one of the apartments. Nora wiped thin trails of blood from her cheek, blinking to remove the blur from her right eye, and turned to shoot Robin a glare. “Go back downstairs and wait.”

“No,” Robin responded defiantly. "I know what I'm capable of. I've spent my whole-"

“Enough!” Nora snapped, losing her patience. “Look, don't think of me as your partner, think of me as your commander. If I tell you to hang back, you do it, no questions asked. Understand?"

Robin pouted. "Would you let one of your Minutemen travel into danger unarmed, Commander? Or is it just me?"

They had no time for this. There was a desperate shuffling on the floor above, followed by muffled shouts. Nora wondered how many gangsters were left for her to kill. "Distract me again, and we’re both dead," she snapped.

“Then give me a weapon! You've got two knives. I'm pretty sure you don't need both of them.”

Robin wasn’t her equal, and giving a weapon to a prisoner was far from protocol. That being said, Nora had also broken plenty of the other rules she had made; for example, letting Robin leave to say goodbye to her crew, go off and talk to informants alone, keep watch some nights…

Nora had already begun to treat Robin like a real partner. And, against her better judgement, she had begun to trust her like one, too. She deliberated for a few seconds more. Finally, Nora yanked a knife from her belt and held it out, wordless. Robin took it with a small, victorious smile on her face.

They cautiously searched the first floor and headed up the stairs to the second. Three triggermen were waiting for them. Nora blocked the hail of bullets with her armour, gasping at the full force of them; she took down the first two assailants with head-shots. When the third ran to the door of one of the apartments, a knife struck him squarely in the shoulder. He stumbled and let loose a shout of pain. His gun-hand rose and fired wildly backwards at them, sending Robin skittering back down the stairs with a yelp. Nora shot him twice in the neck. The burst of blood and agonized gurgle as he collapsed would be committed to memory for a while but Nora made sure to watch him until he had gone still. When Robin peeked her head back up over the banister, face pale, Nora commented, “That was a nice throw.”

“I told you, I know what I'm capable of,” she said flippantly.

Nora swiftly climbed the stairs to check the top floor, finding it empty. Satisfied that they were now the only inhabitants in Beacon Hill Apartments, she returned to check that Robin wasn’t hurt. “Did he hit you?”

“No.”

Nora nevertheless did a full orbit to check for wounds, knowing that adrenaline sometimes overcame pain after a fight like this. Satisfied that the other woman was unharmed, she finally patted Robin’s shoulder, returning to face her. “Some advice: in a fight like this, if you shoot, you shoot to kill. Same goes for any weapon.” She glanced thoughtfully down at the triggerman with the knife in his shoulder. "I also prefer to keep the prolonged suffering to a minimum. No slow deaths."

Robin walked over and yanked the knife from her victim’s shoulder, looking at the blood on the blade with an expression of disgust. “I’m not a killer.”

“Everyone’s a killer.” Nora frowned at her, unable to mask her astonishment. “If you’re incapable of taking a life, how exactly are you going to take your revenge on Bobbi No-Nose, huh?”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?” Nora cocked her head. “Are you trying giving me reason to doubt you, Robin?”

Robin scowled at her, eyes narrowing. “You don't need another reason to doubt me. Just existing seems to be enough.”

Ignoring her jab, Nora inquired, “Have you ever killed before?”

“Of course I have,” Robin scoffed.

“But you didn’t like it.”

“I’m supposed to like murdering people?”

“No, you’re supposed to like being alive – surviving another day.” Nora frowned at her. “You’re smart, and you’re good at avoiding conflict, escaping before things go haywire. You have contingency plans for every situation you get yourself into. When you have to fight, you always have people there to protect you. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Robin simply glowered at her.

“Knowing when to run is a good thing,” Nora said, softening her tone. “But you’ve got to know how to end a fight, too.”

Robin’s bottom lip disappeared between her teeth as she turned away, eyeing the body of her victim on the floor. Nora wondered if she was thinking about her friend, Little John. She had lost him so recently; even the most battle-worn soldier could make a fatal blunder in a fight if he was too busy thinking about his own grief. Nora didn’t say it out loud, but she was certain that Little John’s death had made Robin more aware of human mortality. It had made her squeamish.

“If I have to kill someone, if there’s no other way, I’ll do it. I have done it. I wouldn’t be alive if I didn’t know how to,” Robin muttered. She was clearly trying to convince herself, which was a sure sign that Nora’s words had gotten through to her.

Nora chewed on the inside of her cheek, considering their situation. Her ribs were aching, her cheek was stinging, and they had a messenger to find. “Leave the fighting to me,” she decided. “Okay?”

Robin still looked tense, her eyes hard with determination. She deflated. Thrusting out a hand, she muttered, “Fine. Take your stupid knife back.”

“Keep it.”

The other woman stared at her, puzzled.

“I can spare a knife if it'll make you feel any safer.” Nora abruptly turned away, back to business. “Let’s go.”

If Robin was surprised or grateful, she didn't show it. For once, she followed Nora's command without comment. They checked every apartment in the building, and while one of them had clearly been defiled by the triggermen, there was no one inside. Not even a hostage. They left Beacon Hill Apartments and checked the street outside. Nothing.

“Whoever wanted us to deal with the triggermen must be nearby,” Nora said decisively. “Watching from one of the other buildings, maybe?”

“Let’s search them too.”

 ---

It was dark by the time they had finished checking almost every single house in Beacon Hill. They returned to the apartment block with sunken hearts, realizing there was nothing left to do but find somewhere to camp for the night. Their tip had been a ruse.

Robin abruptly grabbed Nora’s arm to get her attention and pointed. One of the windows on the top floor of Beacon Hill Apartments was now glowing with a warm yellow light. “Someone’s home after all.”

Someone – likely their messenger in person – had snuck back into the apartment building once the triggermen had been disposed of. Nora wondered who exactly they would find. She led the way back up the stairs, gun raised. Once they reached the top floor they found themselves staring at a half-open door. Open in invitation. Very gently, Nora tipped it open with her foot. Inside, several lanterns had been lit, and most of the mess created by the triggermen had been cleaned up. At the table in the center of the room, hands curved around a mug of steaming coffee, a woman sat gazing at them.

Nora started and lowered her gun.

“It's you - the heir! Right?” Robin said triumphantly from behind her. She nudged Nora aside and strode into the room so she could see the woman up close.

“I guess so.” She was blonde, her face creased with frown lines, eyes deep-set and solemn. She was small, too, smaller even that Robin was, with narrow shoulders and fine, delicate bird-like wrists. With a small, uncertain smile, she said, “Thanks for getting rid of those men.”

“No problem,” Robin said flippantly. She pulled out a chair and sat down, making herself at home.

Nora carefully closed the door behind her and walked to take a seat as well, removing both her rifle and her bag to free her aching shoulders. After stretching each of her long limbs, she relaxed and let Robin take the lead.  

“What’s your name?”

“Julia.”

“Julia," Robin repeated pensively. "You clearly wanted them gone so you could come back. Which is weird, because Bobbi told me you ran for your life-”

“I did. She tried to kill me.” The woman's eyes were dark with frustration. “When I got away, she sent some of her people here to wait for me so I couldn’t come home. But I've been wanting to - I had to leave everything behind when I ran.” For a moment, she appeared apologetic. "I'm sorry, I would've included the danger in the message, but I thought you wouldn't come if I did."

“They’ve been waiting for you all this time?” Robin narrowed her eyes, disbelieving. “So Bobbi was desperate for you to be gone or dead – why?”

“Why not?”

“What do you mean, why not?”

Julia looked uncomfortable. She glanced into both of their faces before muttering, "You clearly know who Bobbi is. And you know that I'm the heir to... some kind of fortune. But before Bobbi came to me, I had no idea about any of it. I’d heard the name Sawyer maybe once in my life. Bobbi told me that she was finding each of Martin’s offspring and killing them. None of them knew anything and it frustrated her. She would’ve immediately disposed of me, too, but… I had a book. A diary.”

“An heirloom?” Robin guessed.

“My mom gave it to me.” Julia looked a little embarrassed. “I never really thought anything of it. Most of the stuff in it was boring, the daily life of a man I never even knew. He always signed off as Martin. The only mention of the name ‘Sawyer’ was in the first few pages.”

“And your mom? She never told you anything about your family, your ancestors?”

“Never. She told me the diary was important and I should take care of it, but even she didn’t know why. I don’t know anyone in my family who kept secrets as big as this.”

Nora interjected for the first time, struggling to understand one small detail. “Bobbi told Robin that you were the only heir she was able to find, and that she scared the truth out of you before you ran away.”

“Bullshit.” Julia’s eyes were shining with angry tears. “I can promise you, there were many people she found before me - she told me so herself - and none of us knew anything. If I knew I was heir to some massive fortune, I would’ve tried to find it myself, wouldn’t I? I’ve been living in this shithole almost my entire life. Sometimes there’s no food, no water, no light to see by. Now I suddenly hear that there’s a billion dollars somewhere in the Commonwealth belonging to me.”

Robin's jaw tightened. “So Bobbi's been interrogating and murdering innocent settlers. How did she know to find any of you?"

“Look, everything she knows about Martin Sawyer came from that diary. Before that... I don’t know.” Her face crumpled slightly. "I wish she hadn't found me," she said softly, clearly on the verge of tears. "Now she won't let me go. She thinks I'll tell other people about the fortune, or rally troops and go after her or something. But all I want is to go home."

"I'm sorry," Nora said gently. "You know, there are safe places you can go where she won't be able to find you. I can help with that."

Robin looked furious. She shifted suddenly as if she was a second away from flipping the table. “It suddenly seems to me that every single thing Bobbi told me before I risked my life getting that map for her was a lie. Everything. Little John died for a lie.”

“Centuries pass, people forget,” Nora said evenly, glancing at her warily. Robin losing her temper wouldn't do anything good for their situation, and it certainly wouldn't help Julia, who was devastated enough as it was. “Even a billion dollars could easily be forgotten. Bobbi knew about Jeremy Sawyer’s existence before she even began looking for his heirs. So, one thing she didn’t lie about: she’s been searching for this money for a long time. Maybe she suddenly had access to some sort of family tree. Either way, she’s desperate. She wants all of the money for herself, and she’s willing to say or do anything to get it. She wouldn’t risk telling the truth. Not even to her colleagues.”

Nora glanced at the small blonde woman across from them who had been listening to their conversation with wide eyes. “Did Bobbi say anything else to you? Anything about a code, or maps?”

“Like I said, she stole my diary and learned everything from Martin’s entries. I hardly read them, thought they were nothing special. Now I wish I’d known.”

“From what you did read, what was written in there?”

“Martin didn’t write about any giant fortune. He mentioned his father and his life before the war in the first few pages. After that it was little adventures and boring, everyday stuff.”

Nora met Robin’s eyes, wondering if she had come to the same conclusion. “So it’s likely Bobbi doesn’t know how to break the code after all. She’s in the dark just like we are.”

“Yeah, and she’s missing half of the map, too.” Robin smiled for the first time. “I wonder how frustrated she is right now.”

“Excuse me, but… who are you?” Julia interjected suddenly.

Neither Nora nor Robin moved to respond.

Julia stared at them, worrying at her lower lip with her teeth. “I was hiding out at Bunker Hill and someone told me you were looking for someone on the run, someone linked with Bobbi No-Nose. Without a doubt, I knew it must be me - or someone like me, another 'heir'. But you’ve been talking about working with Bobbi – and if you’re not, why would you be trying to find her? And what do you want with my ancestor’s money?”

“I guess we forgot to introduce ourselves,” Robin said matter-of-factly. “I'm Robin. Bobbi hired me to help her get the map after she interrogated you. Then she betrayed me. Killed my friend. So, naturally, I want to make her pay.”

“And you?” Julia stared at Nora. Before she could reply, Julia added, “I know you’re the General of the Minutemen. I was told that much when I heard you were looking for me. But what would you want with Bobbi No-Nose?”

“I have more interest in finding the treasure, I’ll admit,” Nora said. “Robin here offered me an agreement. I help her find Bobbi and bring her to justice, and all of that money could go towards helping the people of the Commonwealth.”

“Well…” Julia frowned. “After what Bobbi tried to do to me, and has been doing to people like me, I think I want revenge, too. As for the money…” She shrugged. “Apparently it belongs to me.”

Nora and Robin exchanged a glance. They couldn’t deny it, but perhaps they could convince her that it was better off in the hands of the Minutemen.

“I only want a little, enough that I don’t have to live like this anymore,” Julia added quickly. “The rest can go to the people of the Commonwealth. I like that you’d rather help other people than keep it for yourselves.”

“Seems fair,” Robin decided.

“So… I can come with you?”

“Absolutely not,” Nora said.

Nora,” Robin hissed.

Eyes sliding to the other woman’s face, Nora arched an eyebrow. “What?”

“Can I speak to you outside for a moment?”

Nora had to resist the urge to roll her eyes. She stood reluctantly and followed Robin outside, hands deep in the pockets of her coat. Lit only by the light filtering from Julia’s apartment, Robin’s expression was glowing gold; she was apparently bothered about something. Her eyes flitted over Nora’s face, searching her expression, but Nora knew that her mask was impenetrable as always.

“We could use her,” Robin pointed out in a low voice. “Bobbi wanted her out of the Commonwealth, right? If we used both Julia and our part of the map to lure her in...”

“We’re not using her as bait.”

“You’ve got to admit – it would work,” Robin insisted.

“I’m not going to lead an innocent woman into danger when I’ve already got my hands full with you.” Nora felt that the argument was over. She turned around, prepared to enter the apartment again, but a hand landed firmly on her arm.

“Every time you argue with me, I end up convincing you I’m right,” Robin said, her mouth tilting into a knowing smile. “Don’t you think that means I am right most of the time?”

“You’re not,” Nora grumbled.

“I don’t care about the danger!” came a third voice, startling them out of their standoff. They turned to see that Julia had come to the door and was peering at them with a determined expression on her face. “I deserve to get my revenge on Bobbi too, don’t you think? I want to help. And you can't exactly stop me from following you if you don't let me come.”

“Don’t take this personally,” Nora said flatly, “but you’re more likely to get in our way than help us.”

Julia glared at her, unmistakably offended.

Robin, hand still on her arm, moved closer to work that silver-tongue of hers. “Trust me, Nora. I know it’s hard, but try. Over the past few weeks I’ve proven myself – I know I have. I'm not out to trick you here. I just want to find Bobbi.”

Now they knew how desperate Bobbi was, it was time to change their tactics. Robin was correct, Nora had to admit, at least in that they now had things Bobbi wanted. If they wanted to lure the gangster into a trap, they’d need to make use of their advantage as soon as possible. Bobbi would hear about the massacre of her men that had occurred here soon. She’d also probably hear, as Julia had, that the Minuteman General and a strange woman in disguise had been searching for her. She’d wonder why someone with a whole faction to lead was after her… and then she’d probably come to the conclusion that it was all Robin’s fault.

If Robin acted as bait, Bobbi would just send someone to kill her and take the second part of the map. If it was Julia, and if they gave Julia the map and told her to act like she knew more than she’d previously let on; that she wanted to make a deal with Bobbi in exchange for the map and a way to break the code…

There was something solemn swimming in Robin’s eyes where normally they were quick, lively. The eyes never lie. Nora searched the other woman’s gaze carefully, wanting to know that she could truly trust her. Did Robin really want what was best for them? Did she care that Julia would be putting herself in danger?

“Please,” Robin said softly.

As usual, Nora lost the battle immediately once Robin started begging. She was like a puppy. An annoying puppy who was always right. Robin may be a cunning liar, but her eyes were very good at telling the truth.

Nora turned to the blonde woman who had been watching them in silence, eyebrows drawn into an anxious frown. “You can’t stay here. Once she hears what happened, Bobbi will send more men here and they'll kill you. Gather what you need and meet us downstairs.”

The expression on Julia's face was one of triumph; she immediately jogged into her apartment and began to shove her possessions into a small rucksack, pulling a leather coat over her shoulders. Nora went to the table to collect her bag and rifle, ignoring Robin’s eyes on her until she was out the door and striding down the stairs. As they reached the ground floor, she reluctantly glanced at her partner and admitted, “You were right.”

“Don’t feel too torn up about it,” Robin said with a grin. “I’m very rarely wrong.”

For the first time since meeting the other woman, Nora didn’t doubt it.

Chapter Text

Robin had recommended they set their trap somewhere Bobbi was likely to feel safe. They arrived at Goodneighbor two days after rescuing Julia, and while Nora was clearly still unconvinced about their plan, she seemed content as long as she took charge. Robin was happy to let her lead.

While Robin had built a large web of followers through her years in the Commonwealth, she felt Nora trumped her in leadership. She had an aura of power, of intimidation. When she met with Mayor Hancock to secure a warehouse, it took only minutes for her to get what she wanted. An exchange of casual greetings and a reminder of a favor she had once done for him and he handed her a rusted set of keys to almost every house in the town. Robin was fascinated. She’d learned to rely on her skills of persuasion when trying to convince people to do her bidding; Nora, on the other hand, achieved such things on the grounds of merit and respect.

Most of the homeless settlers who normally leered at passers-by or attempted to pick their pockets didn’t even dare to look up when Nora led Robin and Julia past them to The Third Rail. Nora clearly came here often and had built herself a reputation of someone not to be messed with. Even Ham, the bouncer outside the club, simply nodded respectfully as she passed, apparently well-acquainted with her.

Robin recalled the appalling scene from the day before: Nora, calm and efficient, as she killed every single one of those triggermen without hesitation. She hadn’t even flinched in fear from their bullets. In fact, she’d proven that she was something for them to fear despite being outnumbered. Robin had never been happier to have formed an agreement with the Minuteman General, if only because it meant she wasn’t officially her enemy anymore. She wasn’t sure if she was more intimidated of Nora, or if her obvious tactical skill and unruffled competence had warranted more respect. Perhaps there was a little of both.

When they reached the bar, Julia tapped Nora on the shoulder. “I’m gonna go and talk to some people.”

“What? Who?” Nora demanded.

Julia reassured her with a confident smile. “Anyone. Everyone. I’m gonna do something I’m good at - socialize. Do some recon. Spread some rumors about my rich family and the secret treasure my old pal Bobbi No-Nose is trying to find, and see if anyone has something to say about it. ”

"Sure that's smart?" Robin inquired doubtfully. "Bobbi's gangsters probably come here often. If they hear you blabbing about Bobbi, they might just shoot you straight off. Or kidnap you and take you to her."

"I'm sure you'd stop them before that happened." Julia glanced between them. "I mean... the General of the Minutemen, and the Commonwealth's most famous vigilante? I wouldn't underestimate either of you." 

Robin wasn't entirely sure what to do with that compliment. It was true that she could overcome just about any situation with her smarts, and the General could probably incapacitate everyone in this room without suffering a single scratch, but... somehow, Robin still worried that Bobbi would find a way to beat them. Even working together, the Minuteman General and Robin the Sly were no match for that snake.

Julia shot them a wink before turning and walking up to a random patron: a grizzled man drinking shots at the counter. Robin stared after her, a little surprised by her self-assurance. She’d thought Julia to be fairly timid during their conversation at Beacon Hill; now she was proving herself to be quite the opposite. She moved from one drunkard to the next, chatting easily as if striking up a conversation with a stranger was something she always did. Finally, Julia sat down at a table with a ghoul couple and Robin assumed she’d gotten them hooked on a story about maps, treasure, and a gangster named Bobbi No-Nose.

“Not such a liability after all,” Robin muttered under her breath.

“What do you want?”

Robin turned her gaze to the woman at her side. “Hmm?”

“What would you like to drink?”

“Oh. Just a beer would be fine,” Robin said absently, still enraptured by the lively energy Julia radiated from across the room.

Nora ordered herself a glass of Nuka-Cola and a Pilsner for Robin. When their drinks were served, Robin cast her a puzzled glance. “Do I need to… pay you back?”

“No,” Nora said simply. She turned around with her back to the bar, dark eyes searching the room. Robin was a little surprised by her generosity but she wasn’t about to complain. She took a long swig of the beer and twisted to glance around as well, wondering what her partner was looking for.

The underground jazz club was uncharacteristically empty. Men and women who looked older than they were sat slumped against the bar or in booths. Whitechapel Charlie, the Handy-bot bartender, was clearing numerous pint glasses and shot glasses off the counter, grumbling about drunkards. Someone was crying in the corner, their anguish lost in the din of voices. In the early afternoon, the Third Rail was a graveyard. Still, Robin felt her skin itch as she imagined suspicious eyes watching her, recognizing her despite the baseball cap and sunglasses. Malcolm Latimer’s gangster buddies sent after her to bring her back to Diamond City for a gruesome execution; Bobbi’s men come to find her and drag her off to her death…

“Don’t you drink?” Robin asked suddenly. She needed something – anything – to get her mind off her insecurity.

“Never.” Nora seemed surprised she’d asked. “I can’t stay alert if I’m not sober.”

“But when you’re traveling with other soldiers? Not even then?”

“No. It’s my job to protect them as much as it’s their job to protect me.”

Robin glanced at the amber-brown color of the other woman’s Nuka-Cola, wrinkling her nose. “I hate that stuff. Too sweet.”

“Well, I don’t particularly like beer.” She shot Robin a mocking look. “Too bitter.”

“You’re a child,” Robin retorted.

“Is it only children who’re allowed to enjoy sugary things?” Nora took a sip of her cola and an expression of exaggerated satisfaction came over her face. “Maybe I am.”

Robin snickered, unable to help herself. Most of the time she found Nora hard to relate to - she was intimidating and impassive, gave Robin a hard time about not following instructions, and made her distrust very clear - but sometimes she wasn't so bad. She had a sense of humor, at least.

Robin glanced back over the club, letting her eyes catch Julia again, and wondered what she was chatting so animatedly about. Such a small woman, built like a little bird, but with an aura ten feet tall. Somehow, she reminded Robin of herself when she was a little younger and had just arrived in the Commonwealth. Perhaps escaping Bobbi and her gangsters hadn’t been a feat of luck; Julia was more than she seemed. What a coincidence to have met two people over the past weeks who were more than they seemed. Robin had thought that no one could surprise her anymore.

“We’ll keep her safe,” Robin said, noticing that Nora was now staring at their new friend as well. “And if we can’t, I’m getting the impression that she’ll keep herself safe.”

“I wasn’t underestimating her. What I’m trying to do is avoid underestimating Bobbi.” Nora’s lips drew into a thin line. “I’m not a reckless person.”

“No, I’d say you’re the opposite,” Robin muttered. Something which often got on her nerves was how much of a stickler for rules the General was. She seemed to have rules for everything: when to wake up, when to eat, when to clean her weapons, when to sort a change of clothes, what to talk about, where to go... the routine was hard to get used to. Robin had her own rules that she was used to following; she'd always been more impulsive, doing everything on a whim. Which was perhaps why she'd always had a reputation of being reckless herself. 

“She’ll know something’s up. Even if we get her an anonymous message, tell her where to meet, and there’re rumors everywhere about Julia and the second half of the map… she’ll know. She’ll know you’re involved, for sure.”

Robin shrugged. “We can still trick her. She’s desperate enough to risk her life for this treasure.”

With a quirk at the corner of her lips, Nora inquired, “Are we?”

It was a question Robin hadn’t been prepared for; she opened her mouth to reply but realized she had nothing to counter with. She was very rarely speechless.

“I let you convince me this was a good idea because, against my better judgement, I do trust you,” Nora said seriously. “But I want you to know that I’m not desperate enough to risk my own life or anyone else’s – not for Bobbi, and not for a mysterious hidden treasure. If it comes to that, our agreement is off.”

Robin would have expressed her gratitude at what Nora had said about trusting her but the rest of her words were too surprising to let go. “You’ve already risked your life. Why are you still here?”

The noise of the club rose up to fill the silence between them. Robin hadn’t meant to sound so surly. She knew that Nora had different reasons than her to be here; after all, Nora hadn’t been in jail awaiting an execution. Still, she thought it would be useful to know what exactly was keeping the intimidating General on her side. Especially when half the time Nora didn't even seem to like her that much. 

Arms folding defensively across her chest, Nora finally sighed. “Maybe I’m not driven by a need for revenge like you and Julia are, and maybe I’m not desperate enough for that money to die for it, but there’s something about this which I can’t walk away from. Duty, I guess. If I can really make a difference for the Commonwealth, the risk may be worth it.” She shrugged. “Maybe I just like the adventure.”

“Or maybe…” Robin wiggled her eyebrows suggestively. “… you like me.”

Nora rolled her eyes. And then, after a short pause, she admitted, "Don't get a big head about it, but yeah, you’re not so bad.”

With a feeling of glee, Robin noted that down as one of her victories. Making the General admit she quite liked the company of the vigilante she’d been so determined to bring to justice was something to celebrate, right?

When Nora finally turned to meet Robin's smug gaze, the intensity of her look, of her soft, deep brown eyes, was intoxicating. Robin stared, unable to pull away even if she wanted to. They were close enough that she could reach out, feel her warmth, even touch her if she wanted. It was a sudden and uncontrollable urge which originated somewhere deep inside her chest – but she didn’t dare satisfy it. In fact, the urge to touch the General was more confusing and embarrassing than anything else. They'd known each other for a few weeks, but they were hardly even partners, let alone friends. Robin forced her eyes away and muttered, “I guess there’s only one thing left to do. Find Bobbi and bring her here.”

“Yeah.” Nora’s voice was curt. Had she seen something in Robin’s face which made her uncomfortable?

Robin cursed herself. Was she attracted to the General? She'd never really cared about anything so trivial before. It had been a little while since she'd gone to bed with someone; normally, once she did, she never had to see them again. First woman she came across since then who offered her something more than a rivalry – of course she was going to feel this way. 

“Oh, there he is,” Nora said suddenly. She pushed herself off the bar and strode towards the back of the underground club with a new sense of purpose. Robin struggled to drive her thoughts away before following, wondering who exactly Nora had been waiting to meet.

Robin could hardly fathom her all-encompassing shock when she caught sight of someone leaning casually against the wall, dressed in a duster with a green cap perched on his head. He had much sadder eyes than she remembered, a beard, and the broad shoulders of a man, but he was still unmistakably the same tough, fearless kid Robin had once known. She stopped dead in her tracks, gaping at him. Nora gave him a hug in greeting and he returned it the way a good friend would, squeezing her shoulders. When his eyes passed Nora and landed on Robin, a frown marred his features. “New friend, huh?”

“Oh,” Nora turned around. “This is-”

“He knows me,” Robin said. The risk was worth it; she took off her glasses and the cap, raking a hand through her hair, and grinned at him slyly. “Hey, Mayor MacCready.”

Now it was MacCready’s turn to gape at her. “Holy shit.”

“What?” Now Nora was frowning, looking between their faces in bewilderment.

MacCready’s shock had given way to fascination as he looked her up and down. “Robin... the sneaky little thief. How’ve you been?”

“Good,” she said flippantly. “And you, the little boy who turned his rifle on anything that looked at him funny... how are you?”

Robert MacCready grinned, waving a hand at himself. “As you can see, amazing. How in the hell did you end up in the Commonwealth?”

“Road trip a few years ago. Capital Wasteland wasn't doing it for me."

MacCready was one of the only kids she remembered well from her time spent in Little Lamplight. He’d been smart, one of the toughest boys there. After all, he hadn’t gotten the title of Mayor at ten years old for nothing. When Robin had arrived, they’d been about the same age. Robin had played a lot of pranks on the other kids, stealing their ammunition and caps, but she’d never tried it on MacCready. She'd respected him.

“Uh… so how do you know each other?” Nora prompted, apparently confused by the rapt silence.

“Come on out back,” MacCready suggested. He reached out to pat Robin’s shoulder, as if to check she was real. “Maybe it's time you learn a little bit about my childhood.”

---

Nora and Robin sat opposite MacCready on one of the satin-lined couches. While Robin was thoroughly enjoying her return to some fairly pleasant childhood memories, Nora just seemed puzzled.

“So, Little Lamplight is a… child-run settlement? In the Commonwealth?”

“Capital Wasteland,” MacCready corrected.

Her eyebrows rose. “Which is… where?”

“Pre-War it was called Washington DC.”

“Oh.” The pensive look on Nora’s face made Robin wonder whether she’d even known that there were areas outside the Commonwealth still capable of functioning after the war.

MacCready continued, “Legend has it, Little Lamplight used to be some sort of cavern tour. A group of students and teachers were stuck inside when the bombs fell. The adults slowly died off or left, some leaving the cavern, others being injured in accidents inside. Soon enough it was just the kids left to fend for themselves. They turned against all adults and mungos weren’t allowed to live there.”

“Mungos?”

“That was our name for ‘em,” MacCready clarified. “The rule was, any kid who reached the age of sixteen would have to leave.”

“We left around the same time,” Robin interjected.

MacCready nodded in agreement. “Yeah, she came to Little Lamplight with this caravan driver. What was his name again?”

“Harley.” Robin noticed Nora staring intently at her and shut her mouth, unsure whether she should be volunteering this information so easily. She’d been careful of what she told her partner so far, and it wasn't as if Nora was going to grace her with a personal story in return. Then again... what was the harm?

“Yeah, I remember. He ditched you with us. You were, what, thirteen? Same age as me.”

“And smarter than all of you,” Robin remarked. “If it weren’t for me, you’d all have starved to death for lack of caps.”

“Not true.” MaCready smirked at her. “I remember when you first arrived. For a whole week, you climbed the cave walls like a spider while everyone was sleeping and stole their most prized possessions. We found it all hidden in your sleeping bag. There was a petition to get you kicked out – I let you stay. Remember that?”

Robin shrugged. She easily recalled everyone disliking her when she first arrived at the settlement. Harley had let her travel and work with him for nine years but several terrible losses in his stock had made him poor, much too poor to support her any longer. He’d thought the kids would take better care of her. Robin, unused to the presence of other young people, had seen them more as worthy victims than possible friends. She’d soon learned to get along with them, however, stealing only from the mungos who passed through Little Lamplight instead.

Nora, amused, leaned back against the pillows and muttered, “The origins of Robin the Sly don’t disappoint.”

MacCready’s eyes lit up with recognition. His eyes flicked between Robin’s face, her disguise, and Nora’s knowing expression. “Wait – no way! I had no idea that was you! Should’ve put two and two together ages ago. You were always obsessed with those Robin Hood stories, weren’t you?”

Robin scowled. “I wasn’t obsessed.”

“Oh, come on. You arrived at Little Lamplight with that book, and you left with it, too. I always thought there was something weirdly familiar about everyone’s new favorite vigilante…”

“They were good stories!” Robin protested.

Children’s stories.”

“Well, they’ve served me well.”

He huffed, hazel eyes delighted, and Robin realized she rather liked the adult version of Robert MacCready. She’d respected him when he was her Mayor, too, of course, but he was much more fun now he wasn’t running a settlement. Perhaps, if she’d known he was in the Commonwealth much earlier, she’d even have thought to ask him to join her cause.

Puffing his chest out, MacCready said, “You know what served me well?” He patted the rifle leaning against the couch beside him. “Got myself plenty of contracts. Best sniper in the Commonwealth.”

“Seems both of you found your calling in unfortunate ways,” Nora said pointedly.

Robin’s eyes narrowed of their own volition as she bristled. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“MacCready worked for the Gunners. And you – you’ve spent years stealing.”

Exchanging a glance, Robin and MacCready both grinned.

“Oh, Miss Virtue over here,” he snickered. “Disappointed in how we chose to survive in the wasteland, are you? Would’ve preferred we were polite and ethical and long-dead? Give me a break.”

“Not every good person ends up dead,” Nora pointed out smoothly, as if she was reciting something she’d told MacCready many times before.

Robin scoffed. “Oh, I forgot we were in the presence of one of them.”

“You think Nora’s an angel?” MacCready guffawed again. “I guess she’s forgotten to tell you a few things.”

Now Robin turned on Nora, challenging. “Is that so? What things?”

Nora stood sharply, her discomfort clear in the agitated way she straightened her coat. Both Robin and MacCready watched as she headed swiftly to the doorway, placing her fedora back on her head.

Is she insulted? Does the fierce, justice-obsessed General have a dark secret?  Robin thought curiously.

Unfortunately, Nora was as difficult to read as she usually was. She glanced back at MacCready. “It’s nice to see you but I’m not really here to catch up. I need your help getting a message to someone – she can’t know it’s us who sent it. You’re good at that sort of thing.”

“Okay, I can go get my-”

“Come find me later, we’ll be squatting in one of the warehouses.” As if to cover up how abrupt she had been, she rather pointedly squinted over shoulder and added, “Sorry, our other friend is still out there chatting up strangers. I should rescue her.”

MacCready watched her leave the room with a mildly guilty expression on his face. Robin stood as well, prepared to follow her.

“How exactly did you and Nora become friends?” MacCready asked curiously, making her pause. “I know her. I know how proud she is. No offense, but what’s she doing with a lowly thief you?”

Robin was stung nevertheless. “Not that it’s any of your business, but we have an agreement. We’re… trying to find someone. And something.”

He dropped his chin to his chest. “I remember how sly you were as a kid. Look, take it from me – the General is a very smart lady. If you have some other agenda, she’ll soon find out, and she won’t be happy.”

“You don’t understand our partnership,” Robin snapped. “I’m not interested in betraying her. In fact, I respect her.”

MacCready just looked at her flatly. “Sure.” His expression softened and he glanced away. “I’m just looking out for her – and, you know, I liked you back in the day, so I’m looking out for you, too.”

"Good to know," she muttered.

 ---

Robin found Nora and Julia waiting by the bar, both of them scrutinizing her as she approached; Nora with a frown on her face and Julia in amusement.

“What was that about?” Julia asked airily.

While Robin was curious what had soured her partner’s mood so suddenly and made her storm from the room, she knew she was unlikely to get any sort of answer if she drew attention to it. Instead, she shrugged and said, “Nora’s friend. Apparently he’ll be helping us set the trap for Bobbi.”

“I trust him,” Nora interposed.

Didn’t seem like it back there, Robin thought, studying the other woman’s face but finding no emotion beyond her impassive mask. Still, she kept her mouth locked shut. It wasn’t any of her business. That was her biggest reminder now that she had begun to toe the line separating partnership from friendship. She and the General had worked well together so far. There was no sense in ruining it when they were so close to catching Bobbi. And they couldn’t get distracted with personal issues now, anyway; Julia was about to be in massive danger. A fish on the end of a hook. If they were incapable of staging this plan perfectly, she’d be shot in the head before they got within ten feet of Bobbi.

Nora chose one of the warehouses along the edge of town, tactical in its isolation from the rest of Goodneighbor’s inhabitants. When they entered, it was to the sound of gruff male voices. Several well-dressed men sat in the entrance, chewing on their cigars. Robin was instantly thrown back to her memory from a couple days before, the street littered with the bodies of dead gangsters. She hoped Nora wasn’t about to slaughter everyone in here as well. In fact, she was prepared to do whatever she could to avoid a fight.

“Hey, guys,” Robin greeted cheerfully.

They all twisted to glower at her. One of the men piped up: “What the hell do you think you’re doin’?”

Nora lifted the keys and jingled them emphatically. “Clear out.”

They didn’t seem to like her tone at all. One of them made to stand, his eyes narrowed into angry slits.

“We’ll make an exchange,” Robin decided quickly. “I’m sure you boys wouldn’t mind if we gave you a bigger, nicer warehouse to hang around in, would you? You can smoke all the cigars you want in there. Shoot cans. Compare stories of all the prostitutes you’ve slept with. And the... non-prostitutes you’ve molested.” Robin paused and turned to grin impishly at Nora and Julia. She whispered, “What do thugs do these days? I have no idea.”

“Are you trying to make this better or worse?” Nora muttered.

“How about you get the fuck out?” The most outspoken of them all had stood up, proving himself to be almost a foot taller than Nora, towering over Robin like a skyscraper. Unfortunately, he was also the beefiest, each of his arms the same size as Robin’s thighs. She was starting to wonder if she should’ve just stayed quiet.

Taking a step back, she urgently whispered, “Maybe he’s got a point.”

Nora was definitely resisting the urge to roll her eyes. “Look. I need this warehouse for a few days. That’s it. If you have a problem with that, I say you bring it up with Mayor Hancock.”

“We don’t belong to Hancock.”

“Alright,” Nora said impatiently. “Who do you belong to?”

“A very, very dangerous lady,” he said with a slowly-spreading smile. He was cracking his knuckles already. Robin, who had very quickly lost the window in which her skills could be useful, stepped back even further towards Julia, moving her hand towards the knife at her waist.

“I’m pretty dangerous myself,” Nora told him coolly, completely unperturbed by his advance. “May I ask… what’s this woman’s name?” Her voice lowered. “Bobbi No-Nose, is it?”

The man said nothing, but the threatening look on his face said everything. Robin gawked. Bobbi had men in Goodneighbor, too? How much more powerful had she become since their last dealings? Back then she’d had a few men, some loyal gangsters who liked how much she paid them. Now she had an influence stretching wider than that of even the biggest names in the Commonwealth. Was she promising each of them a part of the Sawyer fortune?

“We should just go to that other warehouse,” Julia muttered.

Nora’s shoulders squared up and she dropped her bag by Robin’s boots, sending dust billowing up all around them. “No, I’ve had an idea.”

The other men had climbed to their feet now, reaching for their guns as they anticipated the fight that was sure to come. Nora was much quicker. In a move that Robin had never seen before, she twisted her body and wrenched their leader’s arm over her shoulder, bending at the waist and letting her momentum carry his entire bulk over her foot. He landed hard on his back, grunting as the breath left him, and in the next split second had Nora’s rifle pointing directly into his face from under the tails of her coat.

“I’ll kill you if your men try to hurt me or my friends,” she said, still composed. “I suggest they put down their weapons.”

The other triggermen were much younger and smaller than the gangster Nora had pinned to the ground. Very slowly, they dropped their guns and stared with wide eyes at the woman who had bested their leader in less than a minute. Robin, too, felt that swoop in her stomach much like falling – she knew now that it was a mix of fear and wonder. Glancing at Julia, she saw that the other woman was as captivated as she was.

Together, they went to the triggermen’s feet and retrieved their machine-guns. Once they had returned to stand behind Nora, she straightened, her rifle still pointing directly into the beefy man’s face. “What’s your name?” she asked curtly.

He had to be prodded a few times with the barrel of Nora’s rifle before he finally spat, “Wayne!”

“That’s a pretty shit gangster name,” Robin pointed out, receiving a furious glare.

“You’re very lucky today, Wayne,” Nora continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “I don’t particularly like gangsters. Is Bobbi really your boss?”

He moved as if to break away but Nora’s rifle immediately smashed down against the side of his face, making him hiss. “Fuck! Yes, she’s my boss.”

“Great. You’re going to deliver a message for me.”

He stared at her. “Why the fuck would I do that?”

“Because if you don’t, I’ll kill you.” Nora leaned back with a triumphant smile on her face, as calm and composed as a lioness who had sighted her prey and was waiting for her chance to pounce. “And believe me, she’s gonna want to hear this.”

Chapter Text

When MacCready finally found them at the warehouse, Nora patiently waited for him to approach before beginning to form an apology. “Look, about earlier. I didn’t mean to-”

“Hey, it’s fine.” He shrugged casually. “Whatever you’re up to right now, I’ll just assume it’s stressful.”

“Yeah. Understatement.” She sighed and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her palms. After using duct tape to bind all of the gangsters to a set of pipes jutting from the wall, she’d left Robin and Julia to guard them while she waited for MacCready by the entrance. While she no longer needed him to help get Bobbi's attention, he would still be useful in their mission. She didn’t trust that gangster Wayne to deliver a message on his own, so MacCready would follow at a distance to make sure he didn’t make the fatal mistake of betraying her.

“So… what’s going on?” MacCready inquired. His hazel eyes were curious, glancing around the open space with a slow scrutiny. Nora took his arm and led him towards the back of the warehouse where their prisoners sat glowering under the watchful gazes of Robin and Julia.

“I’m using one of them to deliver an anonymous message to Bobbi. He already knows what to say. I’m gonna need you to follow him and make sure he does exactly what I told him to.”

“Bobbi? As in Bobbi No-Nose?” MacCready rubbed at the stubble on his cheeks. Clearly, everyone in the Commonwealth knew exactly how dangerous that woman was. More dangerous now that she'd increased the size of her following twofold.

“If you can’t do it, I will,” Robin interjected confidently. “I’m not scared of her.”

MacCready grumbled, “I’m not scared. Just…thinking.”

Nora shot Robin a warning look. “You’re not going anywhere.”

“Big mistake,” she retorted, hands on hips. “Staying hidden, not being seen – no one does that better than me. Sitting here and waiting for Bobbi, however, is...”

“Is exactly what you’re going to do,” Nora said firmly.

Robin’s eyes creased into a glare of frustration.

“I’ll do it,” MacCready decided.

“Great.” She beckoned to Robin. With a world-weary sigh, the other woman strode over to Wayne and cut his ties. He stood, rubbing his bruised wrists, looking at Nora as if he wanted to rip her in two. With a serene smile, she nodded her head towards the door. “Go on. Get lost.”

He grumbled something foul under his breath and ambled stiffly past.

“What’s he supposed to be saying and doing exactly?” MacCready asked.

“He’s going to tell Bobbi about some woman walking around Goodneighbor claiming to be the heir of the Sawyer fortune. And that she has things that Bobbi doesn’t – a part of the map and a way to decode it.”

“Sawyer fortune? A map?” he repeated. Then he sighed. “Nora, what the hell is all this about?”

“It’s a long story. I might even tell you once you get back.” Delivering him a grateful smile, she squeezed his shoulder. “Thanks for doing this. And be careful, okay? Just make sure you follow the guy and stay close enough to hear what he says when he finally finds her.”

“And if he tries anything?”

“Shoot him,” she said simply.

MacCready nodded. With his sniper rifle secured across his shoulders, he waved goodbye to the three of them and followed Wayne out of the building. Now, all they had to do was prepare themselves for Bobbi’s arrival in Goodneighbor. Nora hadn’t slept for two days and her head was pounding. Her thoughts were too conflicted to form any sort of plan. To her relief, Julia seemed to notice her stress. “Hey, we’ve got at least a day till we have to worry about Bobbi coming to Goodneighbor,” she said. “You should take a nap.”

Nora had been prepared to deny how tired she was; instead, she glanced between the two women pensively. Finally, she said, "Julia, are you alright watching them for a bit?"

Confidently, Julia nodded, tapping the .44 pistol Nora had let her borrow. "I've got it under control."

"Good." Nora stepped forward and clasped Robin’s wrist. “Come with me.”

Robin didn’t protest, but she tore her arm away as she followed Nora to a spot where they could talk without being overheard by Julia or the imprisoned gangsters. Apparently she’d been waiting for a chance to be with Nora alone, because she immediately burst out, “You need to stop underestimating me!”

Calmly, Nora replied, “I’m not.”

“First with the fighting and not letting me have a gun, now you won’t even let me do what I’m good at!” she complained.

“You’ll be needed here.” Nora's firm gaze didn't waver. “It was your idea to lure Bobbi in using Julia and the map, wasn't it? So, you’re in charge.”

Robin gaped at her. Very quickly, she seemed to reign in her anger and it was replaced with an endearing sheepishness. “...Oh.”

Nora smiled, more entertained than irritated. Robin was a spitfire, she could be impulsive, and she often went out of her way to cause mischief, but Nora wouldn’t think to underestimate her. Not anymore. Her respect for Robin had grown, especially after learning that she’d known MacCready as a child. Removing her coat and sitting down with her bag pillowed beneath her, Nora patted the floor by her side invitingly. After a couple moments of hesitation, the thief sat, glancing furtively out of the corner of her eye.

Before now, Nora had never cared much for small talk or casual conversation. Certainly not after her failed attempt the night they formed their partnership. Nora had been determined to remain business-like and let Robin keep her personal specifics to herself. Now, she felt as if a stronger bond of trust between them might actually do some good. She'd finally begun to believe that Robin wouldn’t betray her, but would the other woman have her back in a fight? Would she trust Nora's judgement once they were finally face to face with Bobbi No-Nose, or would she lose control? Nora reasoned that it was worth improving their partnership for that matter.

"Can I ask a question?" Nora turned her head to examine Robin’s face curiously. When the other woman nodded, she ventured, “Your name isn’t actually Robin, is it?” 

Robin’s eyes flickered with unease but at least she wasn’t quick to turn Nora away. There was a slight shake of her head. “It is and it isn’t."

“That’s vague.”

Robin’s face very clearly illustrated her internal conflict. She seemed determined to keep her secrets, just as determined as Nora had been. Was there a possibility that they could be actual partners someday? After all of this was over, could they end up working together for good? It could be a real future: Robin, no longer operating from the shadows, using her complementary skills alongside Nora’s for the benefit of the Commonwealth. They didn’t have to be strangers to one another if an extended partnership was in their cards. Was that even something Robin would want?

If Robin wasn't going to open up, Nora would pave the way. She braced herself and then began cautiously, “What MacCready said earlier, about me not telling you the bad things about myself... he was exaggerating. But only a little. I haven’t always been what I am now.”

“That’s vague,” Robin quipped.

Nora smiled. She stalled as she forced past her own defenses, trying to find the right words to start. Recalling the things she'd seen and done over the past four years in the Commonwealth would never get any easier. Some of them made her feel physically sick. Finally, she said, “I’ve killed a lot of people. And not all of them have been bad people.”

For a fraction of a second the corners of Robin's mouth twitched downwards, and then she ventured, “What do you mean?”

“When I first started out, nothing made sense to me. I didn’t know who was good or bad. Everyone seemed to be hiding something. I’ve killed people who I thought were synths but it turned out they were just innocent settlers. Worked as a mercenary for a bit, which sometimes meant helping people with bad intentions. And then there was the Institute..." She let out a short breath and closed her eyes momentarily, remembering the pristine white halls and fluorescent lights of the city below the ground. The Institute had been beautiful in its own artificial way, full of scientists carrying out important, ground-breaking work, only unaware of the vast amount of suffering that they were causing in the world above. "Most of them, I'd say, were just ignorant. Not evil. But while I tried to evacuate them, so many were left behind when the Institute went down. Those who died in the explosion didn’t deserve their fate, but I had to make a decision - and it was an impossible one. Even now, I don't entirely know if I chose right."

Carefully, Robin asked, "How many people do you think you've killed?"

Nora's immediate reaction was to shoot back a defensive retort but she forced the feeling away with considerable effort. She didn't like what Robin was implying with her question; the tone of her voice said she'd meant to phrase it differently: How many people have you murdered? 

"I don't know," she said evenly. "But a lot."

Robin's face was serious all the way from her eyes to her mouth, no pleasure at all, not even masked. “I guess, to be as good at killing as you are, you’d need a lot of practice.”

Nora winced, rubbing at her eyes again. Did she deserve that? She wasn't sure. Survival wasn't so black and white in the Post-War world - the line separating good actions from bad had always had a distinctive blur, but ever since the fall of the Institute she'd tried her best to set laws for the Minutemen to enforce, to try and make their morals clearer. Even so, she constantly found herself with others at her mercy, deciding whether to end a life or prolong it. If Nora were more of a pessimist, she'd realize that the Commonwealth couldn't be saved. There would always be Raiders, Gunners, gangsters, scavengers...

“What I do, stealing from rich assholes, you think that’s worse than everything you’ve done?” Robin demanded.

“Not necessarily.” Nora had expected some resentment. She knew that the truth sounded a lot like hypocrisy. However, Robin's attitude was starting to make her own hackles rise and she had to force that familiar defensiveness back down before it got the better of her. “A lot of what I did, I felt I had no other choice. And I’m still trying to make up for it – I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to redeem myself." She couldn't help but add, "As for you, you’ve got a choice. You’ve always had a choice.”

“That’s not true,” Robin retorted, her eyes flashing with anger.

“Isn’t it?” 

For a while they sat in silence and Nora wondered if dredging up the past had actually just made everything worse. There was no taking it back, though; a fact which both irritated and depressed her. She wouldn't have bothered telling Robin anything if she'd known she'd react in this way.

Finally, Robin asked quietly, “Would you have killed me if you were the same person as you were back then? If you’d been told to capture me?”

“If you tried to steal from me or the Minutemen... maybe. But my priorities were different. I had a son to find. No one and nothing else mattered.”

Robin’s lips parted in surprise as she studied Nora’s face with considerably more interest. “You’re a mother? You don’t look old enough.” She quickly backtracked and added, “Well, not that you couldn’t have been young when you were – I guess… I don’t know…” She coughed awkwardly. “So you have a husband, then?”

As painful as it was to admit, Nora let the grief pass quickly before she simply said, “I did. He’s long-gone now. So is my son.”

The air between them had become even more strained. Robin leaned over and nudged her gently with an elbow, and while the movement was awkward, it was also reassuring. She didn’t say anything, there was no false apology, but Nora sensed that she was sorry anyway. Robin knew quite freshly how it felt to lose a loved one. After a short pause, Robin sighed and said, "Thanks for telling me." She gave Nora a crooked smile, adding, "It's good to know I'm not traveling with a complete square."

"Yeah, well... true saints don't exist," Nora responded, shrugging. "Even I had to learn from my own mistakes."

The silence after that was long enough that Nora seriously considered turning her back and going to sleep. And then, out of the blue, Robin cleared her throat and said, “Robin is a name I chose for myself when I was little.”

Facing her, Nora raised an eyebrow.

“I probably did have a name once – one my parents gave me. But they were dead by the time I was four and at that point I'd never really learned to answer to anything. I hadn’t ever learned how to read, or write, or even speak in full sentences. They didn’t have time to teach me that sort of stuff.”

Nora angled her body so she could show she was listening intently. 

“Anyway, they were killed because they stole from this trader called Harley – he owned a caravan. After he’d protected his stock and gotten rid of my parents’ bodies, he felt bad for me, so he decided I’d travel with him and learn how to be a trader. I did. But it turned out that the one thing I’d learned from my parents was how to steal. I took a book one night when he was sleeping.”

“The Tales of Robin Hood, I’m assuming?”

Robin grinned and nodded. “The cover looked cool, that’s why it drew my eye. But, like I said, I couldn’t read. When Harley figured out I’d stolen it, he probably could’ve killed me like he killed my parents. Instead, he sat with me by the fire, put me on his lap, and read the whole thing from start to finish. I loved it – I thought Robin Hood was the most exciting hero in the world. Harley told me he’d teach me to read as long as I never tried to steal from him again, and he let me keep the book.”

Nora imagined a little black-haired child in the lap of worn-faced trader, eyes bright as she relived the life of her favorite hero, and smiled at the adorable image. "Did you never hate him? For what he did to your parents?"

Robin shrugged one shoulder. "I don't remember anything about them now. Can't even imagine their faces, or what they sounded like, or smelled like. But I remember Harley - he was nice to me. And he taught me things my parents never would've been able to."

Nora nodded slowly, a little surprised but reluctant to show it. Robin didn't seem particularly bothered by grief, nor did the poverty of her past seem to faze her. But she could imagine how a little girl in her situation might have seen the fictional Robin Hood not only as a hero, but as an inspiration. "So... you just decided you wanted to be Robin Hood?”

“Even though I wasn’t allowed to steal from Harley, I did pick the pockets of some of the other caravans we camped with sometimes. I was a natural. They didn’t see me unless I wanted them to. When I was in Little Lamplight, I spent a lot of my time learning how to disarm all sorts of traps, tripwires, lasers. I could pick any lock. I was good at disguises and accents and I learned how to use my voice to persuade people, too. I read so many books, articles, building my knowledge, because I thought that was my best bet at survival: knowing things." She smirked. “And then there was the fact that I could climb like a monkey and I was quick – none of the other kids could catch me. I learned to shoot a gun, throw a knife, but I didn’t want to be a soldier or a mercenary. I thought that one day I could be like Robin Hood and make it so that people as desperate as my parents would never have to exist. No one would need to steal, or starve, or die in poverty.”

“Because you’d steal for them.”

“Exactly.” A grin spread over her face, wide and open. “Because I’m a much better thief. I know what I’m doing.”

Nora shook her head in disbelief. “Well… I guess you grew up to live your childhood dream. That’s an enviable thing.”

“What, and you didn’t?” Robin teased. “Didn't you dream your whole life about becoming the General of the incredibly boring yet helpful and well-meaning Minutemen?”

“I’m glad where I’ve ended up. But no, of course not,” she scoffed. She shifted to gaze at the other woman and was met with the most open smile she’d seen since they started traveling together. An honest, vibrant smile. A person could smile with more than their mouth, and Nora saw it in Robin's entire face, in the glittering green eyes, in her movement when she leaned to nudge Nora’s arm playfully. Perhaps Robin could be annoying, impulsive and righteous, but there was something very infectiously charming about her, too.

“Julia was right, you should sleep,” Robin said after a moment. She climbed to her feet. "I've got some planning to do."

She turned and marched back towards where Julia still watched over their prisoners. Nora admired the determined set of her slender shoulders, knowing that Robin was likely to come up with an effective way to trap Bobbi in the next few hours. Meanwhile, she could catch up on the hours of sleep she’d missed and dream about a little girl and her fantasies of becoming a storybook hero.

 ---

Bobbi fell for it.

Two days passed before MacCready finally sent a message via Nora’s Pip-Boy radio. Wayne had told Bobbi what he'd be instructed to but had soon after attempted to go back on his word; MacCready, watching from a nearby rooftop, had waited until he was alone before shooting him in the head. Luckily, Bobbi was none the wiser and still on her way to Goodneighbor. MacCready would stick to the shadows and update Nora on her journey.

Robin appeared the morning they expected Bobbi to arrive dressed in a full charcoal-colored suit she’d taken from one of the gangsters, a very realistic-looking beard, and her usual pair of dark sunglasses. As a bowler hat concealed her hair from view, Nora almost believed that one of the triggermen had escaped. She automatically reached for her gun. When Robin spoke, however, all she could do was stare.

“I know. Sexy, right?” The thief was definitely winking at her.

“Uh… wow.”

“Told you it’d look good!” Julia exclaimed, clapping her hands together. With a sideways glance at Nora, she added gravely, “I’m the one who had to shave the guy’s head and find the glue.”

Nora struggled to contain a grin. She approached Robin and walked a full circle around her, surprised that the suit fit her so well. While Robin had worn many costumes before, they’d always been androgynous; she’d never intentionally disguised herself as a man before. It was… convincing. Almost.

Stopping a foot away, Nora reached out and poked at the beard. “You seriously have some man’s sweaty hair glued to your face?”

“'Course I do.” Robin grinned, white teeth very obvious against the black of the beard. “Also, check it out.” She lowered her chin and grumbled, “Hey, Bobbi. We got her, tied her up in the warehouse just like you asked. She ain’t so talkative now. Just waitin' for you to break her.”

While her voice wasn’t exactly masculine, it was low enough for her to pass as a young man. The accent was spot-on.

Julia giggled. “You sound like my dad.”

After a curt nod to show she was impressed, Nora glanced at the single chair Robin had placed in the middle of the warehouse. “So, what’s the plan exactly?”

“Julia sits right there. Make sure she’s tied up, but not securely.” Robin then pointed to the walkway ringing the ceiling above. “After that, you’re going up there to watch. You’re not very good at being subtle and I’d rather Bobbi doesn’t get distracted. Prepare yourself for a fight - I'll give you the signal.”

“And you?”

“Me and my gangster buddies are gonna go pick Bobbi up when she arrives.” She adjusted her hat with a flourish and then gestured to the men still chained at the back of the warehouse. They had clearly all been briefed about this plan already because there was not one face that wasn't scowling.

“Are you sure that’s smart?”

Robin’s gaze was still piercing, even behind the sunglasses. “Of course it is. I’m smart.”

“You said you wanted to kill Bobbi. How do I know you’re not planning to simply walk out there, shoot her in the head, take the map, and then run off?”

“Oh, please. She’ll have more men with her. I’d have no chance,” Robin scoffed. She clasped her hands together. “Can I have a little faith?”

Nora exchanged a look with Julia but the blonde woman simply shrugged. “I trust her. She knows Bobbi better than we do, right?”

“Exactly,” Robin agreed pointedly. “Also, I’d love her to know what an idiot she is before she dies. Revenge tastes best when served with a side of deception.”

“That’s not how the saying goes,” Nora told her flatly. “And let’s not forget what I told you at the start of all this; an eye for an eye isn’t how the Minutemen do things.”

Robin’s face tightened. “Whatever. Julia, can you release my gangster cronies?”

As Julia went to untie the remaining men, Robin winked at Nora again. “It’ll go to plan, Nora, don’t worry. Julia won’t get hurt, and neither will you.”

“That implies that you will.”

“Aww, are you worried about me?” As the other gangsters walked over to flank her, all looking sullen, she turned to them. “Remember, one wrong word and my friend here will snap your necks.”

Nora’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t agree to that.”

“I’ve offered them money too, don’t worry,” Robin said with an impatient wave of her hand. “They have no reason to make this hard for me and ruin my carefully crafted plan. Isn't that right, boys?”

Several of the men shook their heads; the others just glared fixedly at the floor.

“Right. I’ll see you later,” Robin said briskly. And then, removing a fat cigar from her pocket and tucking it between her lips, she stalked off with the other men trailing behind her. A con artist ready to take down her biggest prey.

 ---

Crouching up on the walkway, Nora kept her rifle trained on Julia as the warehouse doors swung open and a large group of gangsters entered the building. To her relief, they were led by the small, wiry form of Robin in disguise. Right behind her was a ghoul woman dressed in simple trousers, a white shirt and suspenders. She didn’t look like much; without the severe bobbed wig she wore perched on her head and her impression of authority, she could easily be any other ghoul in Goodneighbor. But Nora knew who she must be: Bobbi No-Nose in the flesh.

Julia squirmed a little in the chair, selling her fear as Bobbi glared down at her.

“I’m a little surprised to see you, little mouse,” Bobbi said shortly. “You knew I wanted you dead. And yet here you are, blabbing about the treasure and telling everyone it belongs to you. Could it be true? Was the little mouse stupid enough to think she could lie to me?”

Julia didn’t answer, staring straight ahead.

In a viciously rapid movement, Bobbi’s hand snaked out and grabbed Julia by her hair, yanking her head backwards. She gasped and Nora’s finger tightened on the trigger. Should Bobbi actually try to hurt her, she’d mow her down without hesitation. Robin’s whole form was tense. Nora allowed her eyes to land on her once, to examine her stature and make sure she was okay, before she returned her gaze to Julia and Bobbi.

“Answer me,” Bobbi said, her voice low and hissing like a snake.

“Maybe you’re the stupid one,” Julia spat audaciously. “Did you really think I’d know nothing about my own family's treasure?”

Bobbi appeared calm but Nora sensed that she was frustrated. She clearly didn’t like being made to look like an idiot in front of her men. Rather abruptly, she released Julia and turned to the man on her left – Robin, still looking tense – and growled, “Start cutting off her fingers. One by one. Let’s see what she has to say after that.”

Robin coughed and answered in her faux-male voice, “But she’s already volunteering the infor-”

“Do it!” Bobbi snapped.

Julia squirmed again and a whimper of fear left her. Robin drew the knife that Nora had given her and crouched by one of the arms of the chair, looking deep into the other woman’s eyes. She wasn’t going to do it – Nora knew she wouldn’t. But still she felt her stomach flip and her entire body stiffen. It bothered her that she didn’t know Robin’s entire plan.

There was a loud slam as the latch on the warehouse door was pulled across. Everyone in the room turned to stare at the man who had done it: one of the gangsters Robin had managed to persuade to help them.

“What the hell are you doing?” Bobbi demanded, her voice tight with anger.

“I’m sorry.” He shifted his stance, clearly scared of her. From the glance he sent towards the darkened walkway, it seemed he was more scared of Nora hidden above with her gun. “I… I had to.”

For the first time, an expression of confusion was displayed on Bobbi’s face. “What…?”

Robin spun, the knife still clenched in one first, and punched one of Bobbi’s gangsters in the face. She hadn’t punched hard enough to knock him down, but Nora got the message; it was time to attack.

A chaos of gunfire and shouts shattered the careful silence. Taking quick breaths in between, Nora aimed at each of the gangsters in turn. Three had immediately drawn their guns on Robin when they saw her punch their comrade; each of them fell to the floor with holes in their chests. Nora shot every subsequent man who moved. Maybe she wasn’t as good a sniper as MacCready, but she’d always had good aim and quick reflexes.

Robin had already helped Julia out of the chair and they sprinted to take cover behind some empty crates. Bobbi, crouching with her arms over her head, was yelling orders to no avail. Finally, ten triggermen had fallen to the ground, clutching numerous wounds. Only Bobbi, a red-haired man who didn’t look much like a triggerman, and the few gangsters currently working for Robin remained standing. Bobbi was very clearly shocked. Gradually, she lifted her eyes to the walkway upon which Nora stood, her ghoulish lips pulled into a grim line. Then she glanced to where Robin and Julia were hidden, apparently connecting the dots and realizing too late that the warehouse had become her trap.

Nora slung her rifle over her back, grabbed one of the lift cables she’d used to climb up to the walkway, and swung down with ease. When she landed, Robin had already approached Bobbi and disarmed her. Together, they shoved Bobbi into the chair. She let them manhandle her, a sly smile on her face despite her defeat. “I didn’t see that coming.”

“Of course you didn’t.” Robin gave her a cold glare. 

After a casual sweep of her eyes to take in every detail of Robin's disguise, Bobbi smirked even wider. “Oh, I see. This is about your friend.”

“Of course it fucking is!” she hissed.

“Don’t make this worse,” Nora sighed, giving Robin a warning look. She looked down her rifle at Bobbi. “You – just hand over the map.”

Bobbi made no move to do as she’d been told, still smirking at them. Robin moved in and began to tear through her pockets. She came up empty-handed, confusion etched into her face. “Where is it?”

After a few seconds more of Bobbi’s blank stare, Robin spun to the man accompanying her: the only non-gangster. “Mel?”

He looked at her in surprise and then stuttered, “Uh, I-I don’t know.”

Robin’s face flickered with a mixture of hurt and disgust. She shoved hard at his chest. “What the fuck, Mel? Don’t you know what she’s done? What are you doing?”

“I’m earning caps.” He rubbed at where she’d pushed him, wincing. “And I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“She murdered Little John!” Robin snapped, jabbing a finger in Bobbi’s direction.

His face paled; Nora realized he must be another old friend of Robin’s. Perhaps an accomplice. “Lucas? I-I didn’t-”

“Oh, come on,” Bobbi sneered. “I didn’t kill him. I wasn’t the one to pull the trigger. If you want revenge, Mikey’s right over there. He’s the one who shot your friend – Mikey, isn’t that right?”

One of the injured triggermen on the floor began to drag himself away, panting in fear. But Robin just turned her head slowly to look directly into Bobbi’s eyes. “You betrayed me.”

“It’s just business.”

There was stillness on both sides. If hatred was visible the air would have been scarlet.

“Look, just tell us where the map is,” Nora said, realizing that the situation was about to spiral very far out of her control. “No one has to die today.”

Bobbi simply laughed. “Oh, she won’t let me live. I can see it in her eyes. The bloodlust.” She sneered at Robin’s reddening face. “I’m sure you remember every second of it, don’t you?” she whispered tauntingly. “The moment you realized I betrayed you. The blood, his last words, the moment the life left his eyes…”

There was sudden movement, so quick that Nora had no time to try and bring peace to the situation. Robin threw herself forwards and rained blows onto Bobbi as if she meant to smash her into the very earth. She didn't just want her dead, she wanted her shattered, obliterated, nothing left to bury. The moment Nora saw the knife flash in her hand, she reacted on instinct. She dropped her rifle in order to catch Robin’s wrist before it could come down to impale Bobbi in the neck, twisting it behind her. With Robin pinned, she growled, “Stop! Control yourself!”

In the next moment, a boot struck her spine and she was forced to release her partner, staggered by such a sudden hit. Rolling onto her side, she found herself staring down the barrel of her own rifle. One of the grim-looking gangsters Robin had won over glared back at her. Clearly he had never been fully convinced, just waiting for an opening. Nora cursed herself for having let her guard down again.

She was too astonished to react as Bobbi punched Robin hard in the face and shoved her aside, taking back control once more. She stood and rearranged the wig on top of her head. One of the remaining gangsters took Julia by the back of the neck and forced her onto her knees. Her wide eyes met Nora’s, full of real fear this time. Once all of them had been restrained by the double-crossing gangsters, Bobbi chuckled and wiped blood from her leaking mouth. “Well… I appreciate your efforts. You were pretty smart. Just not smart enough.”

Robin was wriggling like a fish as another man pressed her hard into the grainy floor with his knee. Leaning down beside her, Bobbi tore at the hair she had glued to her jaw, turning it over in her hands. She chuckled in amusement. “Creative.”

After a short growl of fury, Robin twisted and spat directly into her face, which Nora thought was impressive from her angle. Bobbi simply sighed, wiping her forehead clean with her sleeve. “You and I are similar,” she said softly. With one hand, she reached down and shoved Robin’s face harder against the floor so that she let out a sound that was half-agony, half-frustration, pinned like an animal. “Betrayal is a part of the business. You shouldn’t have taken it so personally.”

Robin struggled so hard that Nora could see blood beginning to bead where her cheek was scratching against the floorboards. A terrible clawing guilt rose in her stomach. If she hadn’t restrained Robin, if she hadn’t reacted on instinct… would this have happened? It could have been argued, too, that if Robin had remained calm, they wouldn’t currently be at Bobbi’s mercy. Their friendly conversations had done nothing to improve the trust between them. In the end, their lack of agreement on what should happen to Bobbi had resulted in their defeat. Poor Julia was now caught in the crossfire, just as Nora had dreaded would happen.

"I'm not stupid. I know you withheld part of the map when I sent you to find it," Bobbi hissed. "Give it to me!"

Robin made a small sound of helpless pain as she was shoved even harder against the floor.

I’ve got the map!” Nora snapped. “Leave her alone.”

Bobbi grinned wickedly, pleased to hear her voice. She released Robin’s head, straightening her body and gliding over. “What happened, General? I thought you and I had our dealings already. I thought we were done.”

"We've never met," Nora muttered coldly.

"Maybe not in person. But the Minutemen agreed: I give you Robin the Sly, you leave me the hell alone. Now, what do I see? The General herself banded together with the criminal, killing my men, trying to capture me. What exactly did the Silver-tongue give you, eh? How did she convince you to join her on this suicide mission?"

Nora knew Robin was listening; it was in her best interest she say nothing. “Here.” Nora slowly reached into her coat pocket and withdrew the map. “Take it and go.”

While Bobbi plucked it from her hands and gave the code a thoughtful once-over, she didn’t seem in any hurry to leave. “You know, I think I’ve got a better idea. Ten of my men – you shot all of them before they could even begin to react. You’ve got skills I could use. And Robin… well, it’s clear that she could still be an asset to me despite this mess. I heard Sawyer was a big fan of technological tricks and traps.”

“I’m the General of the Minutemen,” Nora pointed out. “You’re playing with fire here, Bobbi.”

“I know.” Bobbi crouched down to look at her levelly. “You clearly want a piece of this treasure. I think it’d benefit us both if you came with me to find it.”

“No.”

With a weary sigh, Bobbi stood and gestured at one of her men. He withdrew a snub-nosed pistol and placed it against Julia’s skull. She cried out, shuddering with fear.

“Stop!” Nora shouted, moving to stand - she was immediately kicked down again, her rifle shoved closer to her face.

“I’ve heard the General doesn’t like it when innocents get killed,” Bobbi said tauntingly.

Nora gritted her teeth. The gangster's finger was tightening on the trigger, playing with her reaction. One press and Julia was dead. 

“I could really use your help finding the Sawyer fortune. I’m giving you a pretty fair opening, here,” Bobbi told her, spreading her hands.

Nora glanced into Julia’s eyes again, seeing the barely contained fear in them. She couldn’t see Robin’s face, but the other woman was panting hard, still with her head pressed to the floor. Nora knew when she had lost. They had failed and Bobbi had triumphed. Continuing to fight wouldn't benefit any of them.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she muttered through her teeth, accepting defeat.

“Wonderful!” Bobbi tucked the map into her pocket and called for her men to lift everyone to their feet.

As Nora was dragged up and prodded to begin walking, she strained to meet Robin’s eyes. The other woman had blood running down one side of her face, her skin ashen, and her gaze was burning with anger. As they were shoved through the doors of the warehouse into the sunshine, this time as prisoners, Robin glared at her with a livid, wounded expression on her face. As if it was Nora now who had betrayed her.

“Why did you stop me?” she demanded. “Why?

Nora looked away and didn’t answer. She figured they had both made mistakes; now they’d have to live with them.

“Nora!” Robin hissed, desperation in her voice.

Luckily, Nora was saved from having to reply. She and Robin were quickly separated as they were marched down the streets of Goodneighbor. No one even turned to watch them as they went by. There was no respect for a woman stripped of her authority. Nora was a ghost now, just like Robin. And she had no idea how any of them were going to get out of this alive.

Chapter Text

Bobbi was resting against the wall with an expression of utter nonchalance, as if she were merely waiting for a bus. She wasn’t slumped, yet her body was just as relaxed as her face. She was almost smiling – smiling as if something good were about to happen. Good for Bobbi was likely bad for Robin. Very bad.

With an aching face and her arms tied very tightly behind her back, she didn’t have much choice but to wait and see what was in store for her. The first plan in a long line of plans had failed and she could still hardly believe it. All because Nora had turned against her at the worst possible moment. Robin couldn’t do anything about the roaring anger inside her, not when the person she was so furious at was sitting right next to her. She kept her jaw tight and her face turned away so Nora wouldn’t attempt to talk to her. Julia, on her other side, was mute with fear. 

It was surely still daytime. Slivers of grey light shone from the outside through cracks in the splintered windows. Moldy, browned wooden walls with water stains painting as scars upon skin surrounded them, and fragments of plaster from the ceiling were lying damp over a long-untrodden floor. Robin shivered, sensing a cold wind seeping in from outside. She reckoned they were in some sort of old shophouse near Goodneighbor. They hadn’t had to walk very far before Bobbi decided they’d stop for a nice long rest so she could ask some questions. Each of them was taken alone into the cashier room to be interrogated. Luckily, none had come back missing fingers or toes yet, though Robin believed Bobbi was starting to get impatient. She thought they knew something more, but the clearer it became that they’d lied to her about everything but the second part of the map, the less civil she would be.

Robin wondered what Bobbi was going to do next. Maybe she’d managed to best her only other competitors, but she still had no way to decipher Sawyer’s code. Was it over? Did she have any other options? Robin hoped she did. If it turned out the treasure could not be found, Bobbi would have no use for them. They’d be buried in unmarked graves, gone forever like Little John was.

It had been a period of about thirty minutes since Nora was dragged back into the room from her interrogation, her face impassive despite the growing bruise on her cheekbone. From what Robin had heard through the wall, she had calmly answered all of Bobbi’s questions, so there wasn’t much reason for punishment. Not that Robin felt sorry for her. Nora deserved a couple punches for getting them into this mess.

Nora made no indication that she was either in pain or helpless, her stature proud even with her arms tied behind her back. As if she had all the time in the world, she crossed her legs and leaned back against the wall, relaxed much like Bobbi was. Robin sort of hated her. However, nothing could surpass her hate for Bobbi. It was the fuel that kept her heart pumping and brain ticking. Revenge was coming. It was coming real soon. And this time Nora wasn’t going to stop her.

Bobbi’s men were spread between the corners of the room and the street outside, all of them anticipating for their boss to tell them what to do. Bobbi, still nonchalant and half-smiling, seemed intent to build the suspense. She smoked two cigarettes consecutively, watching all three of her prisoners with those beady black eyes, perhaps considering which one she’d return to interrogate. Surely she already knew they had no other information to offer her – she wasn’t stupid. So what would be her next move?

Mel was sat on a chair next to her, his face pale and his eyes trained anywhere but on Robin’s face. Robin hated him, too. He’d met Little John several times, had even been friendly with him, but even knowing now that Bobbi had murdered him hadn’t made a difference to his loyalty. As usual, business was all that mattered. Clearly Robin couldn’t count on his help to escape.

“Robin,” Bobbi called finally, her voice carrying across the room. “You ready for another chat?”

Robin didn’t bother to answer; she knew she didn’t have a choice. Two beefy triggermen yanked her to her feet once more, making her grunt as her arms seemed to tear momentarily from their sockets. She rolled her eyes in a show of irritation as they walked her again into the cashier room and sat her on a flimsy fold-able chair. Once the door had locked behind them, she glowered up at Bobbi. “I’ve told you everything,” she said flatly.

The other woman pouted. “Oh, I know. The only person I can’t seem to crack is the General, but I’m pretty sure she’ll open up once I shoot the little mouse. Don’t you think?”

Robin didn’t rise to the threat. For now, as long as Nora remained quiet and didn't cause trouble, Julia wouldn't be harmed.

“Like I’ve already said, our first priority was finding you, not the treasure. And neither of us could read that code anyway, so we gave up.”

“Doesn’t sound like you. Giving up.” Bobbi sat opposite her on top of the counter, still at ease, still smiling as if this were a fun little game they were playing. A cat toying with a mouse. Bobbi had crossed a line that Robin would never forget. She knew that she wouldn’t stop searching for revenge until Bobbi was beaten – dead. She didn’t even care about making her suffer. She just wanted those cold black eyes extinguished from the universe. To have to sit here and let Bobbi taunt her, talk to her as if there was nothing wrong, was a slap to the face.

Struggling to contain her anger, she bit out, “What the hell do you want, Bobbi?”

“Who are you angrier at? Me, or the General?”

Robin stared at her. “What kind of question is that?”

“Just humor me.” Tapping the pistol at her waist, she added, “Not that you have a choice.”

With a huff, Robin clenched her jaw and said, “It doesn’t matter. We aren’t partners anymore. We’re prisoners.”

“She saved my life. I did thank her for that,” Bobbi said thoughtfully. “You really wanted me dead, didn’t you?”

“Still do.”

With a short chuckle, Bobbi reached back and pulled something from the waistband of her trousers. She slapped it down on the counter in front of Robin: a leather-bound book. The pages were tattered and yellowed, but it was in pretty good shape for something so old. Robin supposed this was meant to be the diary belonging to Martin Sawyer.

“You can kill me after we find the treasure,” Bobbi declared.

“What?” Now it was Robin’s turn to laugh. She laughed until her chest hurt and she had to take a few deep breaths to loosen the pain. “You think I’d actually work for you again? After everything you’ve done? Are you fucking insane?”

Bobbi feigned offense. “Oh, come on. Don’t look at me like that. Yeah, I’ve done bad things and I’m a bad person, but I never meant to be.” She sighed wistfully and glanced out of the window. “I wonder if it’s just what happens when you mix ambition, power and smarts all into one person. I see myself in you, sometimes. Like looking into a fun house mirror. It ain’t pretty, but it’s still me.”

“Will you stop with that shit?” Robin snapped. “I’m nothing like you.”

Bobbi cackled at her frustration. “We have the same motivations. I know you want that treasure. Maybe you wanted me dead first, but you didn’t wanna give up on finding a fortune of that size.”

“Just get to the point.”

Bobbi stood and slid the diary towards Robin, opening it to the first page. Neat writing filled each line, the ink faded. “Stop being so emotional. Put your feelings aside and focus on the fortune awaiting you.” She tapped the paper with a fingernail, stroking the lines of text. “This diary could be the key to figuring out what the codes mean. I’ll never be able to trust the General, and the little mouse is too afraid of me to be much use. But you – there’s a reason I’ve needed your help so many times before. I… made a mistake when I betrayed you. I’ll admit that now.”

“Oh, really?” Robin muttered sarcastically.

“I think it could have gone differently,” Bobbi continued casually, her voice lacking in any hint of an apology. “I’d say it was a lapse, really. All of a sudden, all I could think was that you would try to betray me. So I decided to betray you first.” Her smile extended so wide it was almost obscene. “And you did betray me, it turns out, so I’m not gonna apologize for what I did.”

Robin hadn’t expected her to apologize for killing Little John. But Bobbi had no idea what hurt she had caused, not just for Robin, but her crew, his wife, everyone who had ever met him – and worse, she didn’t care at all. They were all pawns to her, pieces in a game she was determined to win. If Robin didn’t play the game and show Bobbi what she was truly capable of, she would regret it until the day she died.

“If you stop fighting me and we both work on deciphering these codes, it’ll get done much faster. And just to sweeten the deal, I’ll give you an even bigger cut than I promised before.” She paused for effect. “I’ll give you twice of what I've promised Mel. How does that sound?”

Robin said nothing.

Bobbi leaned in, coaxing her with a voice as low and smooth as silk. “Let’s try a partnership one last time, you and me. We don’t have to like each other. We don’t even have to trust each other. All you’ve gotta do is help me find this treasure. Once we get it, if you still wanna kill me, let’s do it. I’ll give you a fair chance.”

Biting her bottom lip, Robin stared at the diary, at the words written by Martin Sawyer himself. How much bloodshed had happened so far in his name? Surely his fortune had to exist somewhere in the Commonwealth – what would be the point of all this otherwise? And surely, after everything that had happened, Robin deserved to be the one to uncover it.

“You have nothing to lose,” Bobbi whispered.

"Don't I?"

Working with Bobbi again would be akin to continuing to love a dog that had bit her over and over, choosing simply to keep herself safe from the sharp teeth and powerful jaws. Fear and hate should evaporate in the face of duty and ambition. Robin couldn’t let her emotions guide her any longer. What Bobbi didn’t know was that she was offering Robin one last attempt to deceive her. And Robin was going to be as cautious and calculating as a fox. She had spent years improving on her skills of deception and this time Bobbi wouldn’t even see her coming. When it came to the end, she would realize that she had never been as smart nor as powerful as Robin, and she would be sorry for ever underestimating her.

“Will you untie me, then?” Robin asked sullenly.

Bobbi’s expression was priceless. The muscles where her eyebrows should have been rose so high that they seemed to disappear into the line of her wig. Finally, her lip-less mouth spread into a knowing smile. “Hmm. That was too easy.” She slammed the diary shut and tucked it back into her waistband. “You show me you’ve managed to set your feelings aside and you’re ready to find this treasure, and I’ll treat you like a real partner. How about that?”

“How am I meant to-”

“You’ll find a way to prove yourself.” She grinned. Walking to the door, she knocked to summon her men. As they came to yank Robin to her feet and return her to the other two prisoners, she met Bobbi’s eyes solemnly.

Bobbi was right. If she really wanted this, she would find a way. She always did.

 ---

Robin stewed in her thoughts for the rest of the afternoon. She didn’t speak to either Julia or Nora, thinking instead of her conversation with their captor. No one else had been summoned for a second interrogation which meant that Bobbi had nothing more to say to any of them. When it was night, they were untied for exactly ten minutes to relieve themselves on the street outside before Bobbi had them returned to their spot by the wall to sleep. Three men were kept in the room with them while Bobbi and the rest of her triggermen retired to the cashier room for their rest.

It was then that Nora finally spoke. “I’ve got a plan,” she said in a low voice.

Julia, who had been falling asleep, perked up. “Really? What is it?” 

“When they let us outside I picked up a piece of scrap on the pavement. It’s sharp. Good enough weapon to use against the three men in here.” She bent a little so they could see it held between her fingers.

“How are you gonna kill three people in handcuffs?”

“I’m not going to be in handcuffs.” Nora turned to look pointedly at Robin. “Surprised you’re not already free. I thought there wasn’t a lock in the world you couldn’t pick.”

Robin didn’t meet her eyes. “I’ll pick my cuffs now. It'll take a couple minutes.”

While Nora evidently sensed that she was still the subject of Robin’s anger, she moved on without addressing it. “Great. Free yourself first, don’t make it obvious. Then help me with mine.”

“What about me?” Julia demanded in a hushed voice.

“She’ll get you last while I disable the three guards and make sure we’ve got a safe passage out of the building. Okay? This needs to be efficient and quiet – for god’s sake, don’t make a single sound.”

Reluctantly, Julia nodded.

While Robin had already managed to get a bobby pin into her right hand from one of her back pockets – it had become a habit to keep pins in all articles of clothing in case she needed them – she felt a feeling of dread rear up inside of her as she realized what she had to do. This was her time to shine. Prove herself so she could get close to Bobbi and turn herself from a useless, disposable chess piece into one of value. Her wrists hurt like hell while she fiddled with the lock on her handcuffs, but she made no sound or expression to indicate her pain. The gangsters guarding them didn’t even look up. She sensed that Nora was watching her with her usual deep, intense stare, but she didn’t meet it with a gaze of her own. What if Nora saw in her eyes what she was about to do?

It didn’t matter. They weren’t partners anymore. If anything, Nora was just another piece in Bobbi’s game. Robin couldn’t waste time caring what she thought, with all of her hypocritical justice bullshit.

There was a faint click and Robin let loose a controlled sigh of relief as she carefully pulled her wrist from the unlocked manacle and let the blood flow return to her hand. Without a word, she leaned slightly and reached to begin working on one of Nora’s handcuffs. The other woman’s back was tense while she waited; Robin almost caught herself admiring the faint feel of lean muscle through clothing, but flicked the thought away as she would a pesky fly.

“There,” she whispered as another faint click sounded.

Nora nodded her thanks. She cleared her throat to get the attention of the three men in the room. “Excuse me!”

One of them sauntered over, suspicion clear in his face. “What?” he snapped.

“I need to speak to Bobbi.”

“You can wait till morning,” one of the others muttered gruffly.

“It’s important. Something she’s been waiting to hear. I’m ready to tell her everything I know.”

All three men exchanged glances.

“Get up.” The closest man grabbed Nora by the shoulders and hauled her to her feet. Robin watched with baited breath as they began to lead her towards the closed door behind which Bobbi slept, oblivious to the sharp piece of metal clenched in one of her fists.

Nora struck the first man in the back of the neck, her other arm snaking around to cover his mouth as he cried out and spurted blood. Almost immediately, she dropped him to the ground and slashed the second man across the face in a vicious arc. He let out a shout, but it was quickly muffled by both of her arms winding around his neck in a choke hold.

Robin flew to her feet and ran – not to Nora’s aid, but to the door beyond where Bobbi slept.

“They’re escaping!” she yelled as loud as she could, smashing her fists against it. Almost immediately, the door swung open and several more triggermen swarmed out with their guns held high, restraining Nora and freeing their comrade from her hold. She was beaten back and flattened against the floor, nothing more than a gasp leaving her. Quick and efficient.  

Bobbi strode into the room with a wide cheshire-like grin on her face, applauding leisurely. She clearly hadn't been sleeping at all. “Well, that didn’t take long.”

Robin dared a look towards Nora and saw pure unadulterated astonishment on her face. Robin had never seen her look like that. She wasn’t sure she liked it, being the betrayer. Still… it felt a little good to make Nora feel somewhat the way she had felt earlier that day.

“Well done,” Bobbi said graciously. While Robin hated the ghoul, she accepted her praise with a false smile. If she was going to be Bobbi’s partner, she might as well act the part. 

“What have you done?” Julia cried, her eyes shining with angry tears. Her hope had been dampened immediately the moment Nora was restrained. “What is wrong with you?”

Robin swallowed down her remorse and glanced towards Mel instead. He offered her a small smile, though it was pitying; clearly he knew she had made the better of two terrible choices.

“Tie her up. And do it properly this time – if she escapes again, I’ll kill each of you myself,” Bobbi instructed her men curtly, gesturing towards where Nora was still pinned against the floor. She then pulled a set of little keys out of her pocket and grabbed Robin’s arm, unlocking the cuff from her other wrist. “There,” she said with a smirk. "A deal's a deal."

Robin couldn’t help herself; again, she glanced furtively over her shoulder and saw Nora gazing straight back at her. While all traces of shock were gone, the new sentiment in the other woman's gaze was much worse: disappointment. Bitter, bitter disappointment.

She and Nora weren’t friends anymore, and they certainly weren’t partners. From now on, Robin’s focus needed to be on the mission at hand, not on the fates of Bobbi’s prisoners. She couldn’t afford to let Bobbi second-guess her again.

“So,” she said, feigning confidence as she turned back to the ghoul. “Show me everything you have so far. I’ll see what I can help with.”

Bobbi’s smile shone like the spark before the fire; the lightning before the storm. Graciously, she stepped back to let Robin pass. “Come on in. Mel and I will give you a briefing." After a lengthy pause and a taunting glance back to where Nora and Julia sat, she added, "Partner.”

Chapter Text

While Nora no longer had her hands tied, she was flanked by six of Bobbi’s gangsters and all of her weapons and armour had been retained. She felt naked. She had no control over her vulnerability, but her mind was full of nothing but tactics: strategies on how to escape now that Robin was no longer on her side, ways to trick Bobbi and her men, how to keep Julia safe. She wondered whether MacCready had heard about her capture and would be coming after them. Unfortunately, she couldn’t depend on him to help with her escape. It was something she and Julia would need to figure out on their own.

Admittedly, the main subject of Nora’s thoughts was still Robin. Even a week after her betrayal; even though she had come to understand that she shouldn’t have expected anything less from the shrewd outlaw, she was still reeling at how quickly Robin had let hate swallow her. Nora had felt she’d gotten to know the other woman a little better over the past weeks. She’d trusted her. The more Nora contemplated Robin’s new partnership with Bobbi No-Nose, the more puzzled she became.

There was only one thing which was undeniable: if Robin had chosen to take Nora’s side, they wouldn’t even be here anymore. Julia would be free to run to safety. They could have waited a few days, caught their breath, and then gone after Bobbi once more. Nora could have called in some soldiers to join her so they wouldn’t be outnumbered; Robin could have called upon her crew. Instead, for whatever ridiculous reason, Robin had chosen to stay and work for the woman who had murdered her friend. The only explanation was that Robin was blinded by her desperation for revenge. She was trying to be cunning about it, but surely even Bobbi could see where their partnership was headed.

After her years spent in the Commonwealth, Nora could understand revenge. She knew it the way a mother knew her own child. It had been vengeance which drove her to the Institute after she left Vault 111. Unfortunately, she had learned the hard way that achieving retribution had changed nothing. All it had resulted in was more unhappiness. While Nora was aware that Robin thought she was a hypocrite and had no right to tell her what to do, she also wished the other woman would see just for a moment where she was coming from. Nora had only ever told Robin what she knew for a fact. Over the past days, she had tried to explain and make Robin see plainly, but so far every attempt at a conversation had been ignored entirely. The charming thief had transformed into a righteous mercenary. A creature adapted for survival.

“Psst!” Julia hissed.

She was behind Nora, flanked by her own set of guards. While she was much smaller and had struggled to keep up over the past few days, there was no stopping their trek. Yesterday, Nora had half-carried her for almost two hours before Bobbi finally decided to set up camp. Julia had been up all night nursing bleeding feet and swollen ankles. When Nora demanded that they at least travel a little slower, Bobbi simply smirked and told her that if Julia was incapable of keeping the pace, she’d be disposed of. As furious as she was about this, Nora refused to give the gangster the satisfaction of seeing her frustration; she resolved to do whatever she could to ensure Julia made it to wherever they were going.

With a quick glance back over her shoulder, Nora kept her voice low. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Julia muttered. She was limping, though. Nora had seen it out of her periphery vision.

They had no idea where Bobbi was taking them. All of Bobbi's conversations with Mel and Robin had been spoken in frustrated voices; even if they were too hushed for Nora to hear what they were saying, she knew they’d still had no luck with decoding the two map pieces. It filled her with hope, for the longer they took, the more time she had to figure out an escape.

“Look at her,” came Julia’s voice again, this time bitter. “The traitor, having the time of her life.” She was unmistakably talking about Robin, who strode ahead of them beside Mel and was deep in an animated conversation. While Nora was still doubtful that Robin could have betrayed them out of spite, she didn’t particularly approve of how much the other woman seemed to be enjoying the journey. Robin had seen what bad shape Julia was in yesterday, but apart from a glance of mild unease, she hadn’t shown any sympathy. Over the past week, as Nora and Julia were being chained up to sleep overnight, she’d been enjoying her comfortable sleeping bag in a separate room. For every meal, she got a large portion of food along with Bobbi and her men, and hardly seemed to care that all Nora and Julia got were scraps of bread and dirty water.

She was a cold and calculating stranger. Was this another of her characters, or was it really her? Had she been acting the entire time Nora was travelling with her?

“Yeah, she does,” Nora agreed finally. There wasn’t much else to say. The more she contemplated Robin’s betrayal, the less she seemed to understand it.

“Do you know where we are?” Julia inquired.

Nora glanced around, squinting beneath the brim of her hat at the tall grassy hills. “Somewhere to the west,” she decided. They’d taken her Pip-Boy too, so she had no map to consult. Still, she knew from the direction the sun was setting that they were heading past the river that surrounded Boston and travelling a slow path in the direction of the Weston region. There were very few settlements out here, but she was fairly certain that they’d need to pass one at some point, if only to trade and stock up on essential items such as food and water. She’d have a chance then to get a message to the Castle and have the Minutemen come and rescue them.

Over the past couple of minutes, the group of travelers had begun to slow their pace. Nora felt an arm land on her shoulder, yanking her to a sudden stop. She swallowed down her frustration at the rough manhandling and examined their location. While the city was only barely visible as a glint of metal and glass in the distance, Nora thought she might know exactly where they were. Fort Hagen and its surrounding town was in their path. They were likely to reach it in another day if they traveled at the same speed tomorrow. If they began heading southwest, they would approach the Glowing Sea in a little under five days.

Currently they had halted their journey by what looked to be an abandoned farm. A barn blossomed on the hill amid the grass and weeds as if it too had grown from a seed. Neglected, overgrown meadows unrolled ahead of them down the sides of the hill, bordered by splintered wooden fences. It had been a cattle farm, most likely. Nora could almost smell the cows, the hay, the manure. There was very little she could remember beyond the last couple of years of her life before the Great War, but sometimes smells could return her to the most inexplicable memories: a young girl visiting a farm, feeding the animals, horrified when she learned that most of them would be slaughtered before the end of the month. It was strange how sensitive she had been about death back then, before she had been forced to confront it in the most extreme of ways. She had thought it was unfair for innocent creatures to be treated so badly. While that was still her belief, she no longer troubled herself with the lives of Commonwealth animals. Most of them, in their irradiated forms, were far from vulnerable, anyway. It was the humans who required her help.

Speaking of…

She sighed as she twisted to catch Julia’s eye, seeing exhaustion in her face. “Looks like we’re stopping for the day,” she said in an effort to cheer the other woman up.

Julia’s jaw was tight while she nodded. Her hostile gaze was still focused on Robin. While Nora was also disappointed with Robin’s decision, she couldn’t help but wonder about Julia’s bitter fixation.

Although she hadn’t asked out loud, Julia muttered an answer: “I’ve heard so many stories about Robin the Sly. People like to say she’s smart, and fierce, and selfless. When I met her, it seemed like all the stories were true. I thought I was so lucky to get to help her, to travel with her – and with you, too. Both of the Commonwealth’s heroes. No one gets to do that.”

Nora frowned.

“I may only have known her for a little while, but I also sort of felt like she was… a friend.” Julia’s lips bent down at the corners and she indignantly jabbed a finger in Robin’s direction. “But her? I don’t know who the hell that woman is.”

Turning her eyes once again in Robin’s direction, Nora surveyed her thoughtfully. Behind the tangle of black hair billowing around her face, she could tell her lips were twitching upwards, smiling wryly. Nora realized she felt the same as Julia did. She thought she had been taking the time to get to know someone she liked, but by now it was clear her efforts had been pointless. Robin was a master of disguise and deceit. The truth was, they all should have seen this coming.

“We’re stopping here!” Bobbi called out. She had already begun to trek up towards the barn, some of her men following on her heels like joyful little guard dogs. Robin and Mel exchanged a cryptic glance. While Mel started up the hill after Bobbi, Robin turned in the direction of the city and stood with her arms folded, glaring out at the Commonwealth. Nora hadn’t seen her alone since she began working with Bobbi. 

Nora and Julia were nudged in the direction of the barn too but Nora dug in her heels, hoping to catch Robin’s attention. She could talk to her one last time, make her see sense –

Nora was grabbed around the shoulders but ducked impatiently under the reach of the gangster trying to hustle her. When another of them lunged, her instincts were too fast to be overcome; she sidestepped and twisted until she found herself standing on the precipice of the hill. Julia shouted her name, telling her to make a run for it. She could make a run for it. Even if it meant leaving Julia behind. Even with their guns at her back. She could throw herself down the hill and roll all the way to the bottom, and then she’d be hidden by rocks and trees anyway. They’d struggle to follow her. Once she had Minutemen reinforcements at her back, she could return to save Julia’s life.

Robin turned at the sound of the struggle. Their eyes met. Nora’s adrenaline had fired up just at the thought of escaping, but now all she could do was stand and stare.

Compassion wasn’t something that could be taught. You either had it or you didn’t, and Nora wouldn’t say it was necessarily an advantage in the Commonwealth, either. Still… she was certain she saw it in Robin’s eyes in that moment. The same woman she remembered from before all of this, revealing herself beyond the cold façade. Nora knew, right then, that her first supposition had been correct. However ridiculous it was, however irrational, Robin was willing to sacrifice everything she had for one thing: revenge. She was playing the long game. All of this coldness and indifference had been a method to demonstrate her mettle under Bobbi’s hawk-like gaze. Nora had not thought she was capable of being cruel. She had found it difficult to fathom after seeing how hard Robin found it to take another life, not to mention how passionate she was about her vigilante persona. But she had been cruel. She'd made her decision and hadn't thought it necessary to explain why.

Nora glanced over the side of the hill again and made to step towards freedom, but Robin shouted, "Wait!"

It had taken Nora years to learn to control her volatile emotions and most of the time she succeeded in suppressing them, but now she felt a sharp anger pierce her calm. Before the gangsters could either shoot or grab at her, Nora threw herself towards a very surprised Robin, grabbing the lapels of her coat and slamming her back hard into one of the wooden posts of the fence. Robin's breath rushed out in a sudden gasp, hands already shoving at Nora's shoulders as she tried to duck away, but the back of Nora's open palm slammed across her cheek before she could escape. She let out a small yelp of pain and shock but finally went still, eyes wide as she stared into Nora's face. She looked scared. 

Nora realized she had no idea what to say. The impulsive action had been out of character; she hadn't expected her own reaction to the realization of what Robin was doing. But this was what she had feared all along: that Robin would play her. That Robin would betray her. And she'd told Robin explicitly that she had no intention of risking her life for this bullshit. Her frustration had been boiling up the whole week they'd been traveling; seven nights of hardly sleeping, days of having to watch Julia struggle to walk, many meals of stale bread and the grim bits of food that no one else wanted to eat. She was being treated like an animal and she hated it.

With their faces just inches apart, Nora could see the conflicting emotions in Robin's eyes. She was angry, too - still angry that Nora had stopped her from killing Bobbi - but she was also guilty, and ashamed, and scared of what Nora could do to her. Collecting herself, Nora let the anger fall from her face and she roughly released Robin's coat and shoved her away. She muttered, "I expected more from you."

Robin opened her mouth as if to make a retort but she seemed to know better than to answer back. Her eyes flickered away and she lifted a hand to cover the red mark on her cheek where Nora had hit her. Nora felt only a little bad about it. She felt worse about the fact that she'd let her anger take over; it had been years since she'd done something so impulsive. Now that she had nothing left to say to Robin, she simply stared at her. And while she stared, she realized she had her own plan. Nora had spent her life studying tactics for both the courtroom and in battle. If anyone could beat Bobbi at her own game, it was her. Perhaps it was time to prove her own worth.

Robin finally met her gaze, and her eyes, while still feverish with righteous anger, had softened slightly. Nora was almost certain that she regretted all of it - most of all, standing by while Bobbi treated them like dogs - and yet she still hadn't apologized. Nora reasoned whether hitting her again would force the words out of her. In the end, she just backed away and silently returned to the group of gangsters, all of whom had lowered their guns to stare. A couple of them looked entertained, others upset it hadn't accelerated into a real fight they could make bets on. Julia's eyes were wide with surprise and confusion. As Nora returned to her side and the gangsters resumed in leading them up to the barn, she didn't look once in Robin's direction, maintaining an impassive expression.

Julia leaned in and whispered, “What was that? Why didn’t you run?”

“Doesn’t matter.” And then, realizing she’d be no better than Robin if she left Julia out of the loop, she added, “I think I’m going to speak with Bobbi. It’s about time we make ourselves useful.”

“Useful? Why?” Julia demanded.

“We make it clear that Bobbi will never find that money without us, and she’ll stop treating us like scum. At the very least, she’ll let up with all this prisoner nonsense.”

Julia shot her a disbelieving look. “What happened to your Minutemen principles?”

“The Minutemen have principles, life has compromises,” Nora said grimly.

“Meaning?”

“Sometimes, if you want something, you have to do things you don’t agree with.” Nora glanced around as they entered the barn, pleased for the shade after a long day of walking in direct sunlight. She bent to whisper in Julia’s ear without being overheard. “If Bobbi thinks we’d rather help her than escape, what do you think will be the easiest thing to do?”

Julia pulled back with a small smile – the first Nora had seen in days – and murmured, “Escape.”

“Exactly.”

 ---

The next morning, Nora was finally accepted into the small tack room at the back of the barn for a conversation with Bobbi. The sky was slate-grey and cloudless and the mood seemed to have lowered significantly overnight. Bobbi, Robin and Mel had spent most of the night arguing about decoding the maps and what their next steps should be. Apparently they had come up with no answers.

“I was wondering how long it would take for you to come to this realization,” Bobbi said absently.

Nora’s wrists were rubbed raw from the cuffs they’d been using to chain her wrists every night. Her legs, too, were normally tied together – ever since her attempt to escape, Bobbi hadn’t trusted a single pair of handcuffs to keep her subdued. In truth, Nora was sick and tired of letting them make her feel so vulnerable. She wanted some semblance of control back, if only so she and Bobbi could see eye to eye.

Rubbing at the raw bruises on her wrists, Nora cocked her head. “And what realization is that?”

“We’re better off as friends than rivals.”

“Friends is… pushing it a bit. Allies I can do.”

“Fine.” Bobbi stood and walked a slow circle around Nora, apparently thoughtful. “What would make you a good ally, huh? Tell me what you can do for me.”

“You tell me.”

Bobbi chuckled. “That’s not how this works.”

Nora smiled coldly in return. “You’ve gone through the trouble of carrying me and Julia along with you for the past week. Clearly you think you need us for something.”

Bobbi shrugged noncommittally.

“I’ve seen you all arguing over those maps all day every day. You’ve been losing hope. Perhaps what you need is… a fresh perspective?”

Bobbi’s beady eyes were suddenly hard, dull like lumps of coal. “You think you know something I don’t?”

“Of course I do.” Nora could see that the trap she’d set was already tightened around Bobbi’s neck like a noose. “I’m a Pre-War relic, didn’t you know? I’m perhaps the only other person beside you who’s known who Jeremy Sawyer is this entire time. Maybe I’m not as smart as you, Mel or Robin, but I definitely know a lot more than you do.”

Bobbi’s eyes were searching her face intently. Her cheek was twitching. “So you can decode both of those sheets?”

“I can’t promise you anything. But…” Nora shrugged. “…I can at least offer you ways to find a solution. I’ve led the Minutemen for years now. If I know anything, it’s tactics. Results. What you need is an advisor.”

There was a bitter look of near-annoyance on Bobbi’s face. She clearly knew it wasn’t a smart idea to employ two of her rivals – the same rivals she had overpowered and imprisoned – but Nora was hoping she had realized at the same time that she had no choice. Bobbi was impatient to find Sawyer’s fortune. If Nora was offering her a little extra help, she was sure to take it.

“No. I don’t believe you,” Bobbi said finally, and for the first time Nora thought she heard uncertainty in her voice. “From what Robin’s said, you’re a real stickler for the rules. You’re trying to get close so you can betray me.”

Nora had to force down her immediate flare of irritation. So Robin had been talking about her. Undermining her. Helping Bobbi get a feel for how dangerous she could be. Now Nora was determined for equal footing so she could do the same, make Robin feel vulnerable for a change. It was only fair. Nora was very capable of being sly and deceitful when she wanted to be.

Calmly, she countered, “What good would that do me? I’ve tried to escape once – Robin stabbed me in the back. You have about fifteen men travelling with you, most of whom seem to hate me for killing their friends and would also like to stab me in the back. Allying with you benefits me, too. It gives me security.”

Bobbi snorted derisively. “I’d hate for you to feel secure, General, I really would.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “You know what? Fine. As I said, I’ve been waiting for you to offer your services to me so I don’t have to force your hand – that always gets messy. But since I can’t be entirely sure whether you and Robin have a plan to undermine me, I’m gonna need some insurance.”

“Robin and I aren’t partners anymore,” Nora said, grinding her teeth. “She made very sure of that.”

Bobbi grinned. "Yeah, a couple of my men said you attacked her yesterday. Wish I could've seen the look on her face." After a short laugh, her smile abruptly disappeared. "Still... doesn’t give me much confidence in your ability to make friends.”

Nora arched an eyebrow. “I’m not looking to make friends. Just allies. Remember?”

“Well. Like I said, insurance is necessary. One wrong move and I’ll kill the little mouse. That’s incentive enough, isn’t it?” After a few seconds pause, she changed her mind. “Actually, every time I even think you’re about to betray me, I’ll cut off a piece of her. How about that? It’s up to you whether she suffers or she reaches that treasure in one piece.”

Nora’s chest felt full of stones. She tried to swallow them down but they would not be dislodged. “Julia can be useful too – she’s the heir, she could-”

“No. She doesn’t know anything,” Bobbi dismissed immediately. “But you’re right, she can be useful. Useful in controlling you.”

If Nora had thought it would benefit her, she would have backed down at the thought of Julia being harmed because of her, but even if she continued to travel as Bobbi’s prisoner, Julia would still be used as 'insurance'. The only way she could save Julia was if she employed herself in Bobbi’s strategy and found a way out using her wit.

Make yourself useful. If you’re useful, she’s useful.

“Fine,” Nora said curtly. She extended a hand. For a long while, Bobbi stared down at it. Her withered ghoul fingers eventually accepted Nora’s offer, gripping tightly as they shook. After an intense stare directly into Nora’s eyes, Bobbi smirked. “Welcome aboard, General. I’ll be watching you. You’d better hope you're useful to me, or we’re gonna have to rethink this agreement.”

Nora didn’t reply. Instead, she asked, “So can I have my armor and weapons back?”

“’Course not.” Bobbi laughed at her. “What, you think I’m stupid? Think of this as probation. You’re an advisor, not a soldier. You don’t need a gun to come up with solutions.”

She’d wanted to try, at least. Nora shrugged. “All right.”

“Come on.” Bobbi walked ahead of her out of the tack room, her stride leisurely as she led Nora back into the barn where the rest of the triggermen were waiting. Everyone turned to stare as they entered – Bobbi’s gangster cronies with intense suspicion, Mel with curiosity, Julia with hope. Robin’s expression, though, was absolutely priceless. Nora hoped to remember it.

She looked like she’d just swallowed a scorpion.

It seemed they’d just become partners once again, and Nora was looking forward to giving her exactly what she deserved for her behavior over the past week. For her betrayal and cruel treatment of the only people who had actually wished her well. Perhaps showing herself to be more useful than Robin would be punishment enough. If she was a more valuable player in Bobbi’s game, where would that leave the thief?

Nora smiled across the barn at Robin, pinning her with a challenging gaze.

Your move.

Chapter Text

Robin stared across the room at the General, wondering what exactly she had told Bobbi for the privilege of no longer wearing shackles. She had felt Nora’s penetrating gaze on her several times already today and knew without a doubt that the other woman hated her. There was a bruise on her face left from the impact of Nora's vicious backhand the day before, and Robin felt her cheek tingle as she remembered the fierce anger in the General's eyes. She had never expected Nora to hit her; the other woman generally didn't show much emotion whatsoever. But clearly she'd hated Robin enough to attack her. Julia certainly hated her, too. Robin could take the hate – she felt she probably deserved it – but she didn’t like the competition. She knew she should let it go, the fact that Nora had tried to stop her from taking her revenge, but her inner peace had been shattered. She had scores to settle. Nora making the same move as her, trying to ally herself with Bobbi, filled Robin with a mix of conflicting emotions.

Anxiety. If Nora managed to undermine her, what would happen? What if Nora was more successful in proving her use to Bobbi? What if Robin became the prisoner?

Guilt. She had ignored their suffering when Bobbi forced them to walk miles and miles each day, fed them very little, treated them like vermin. She had wanted to interfere but told herself that getting closer to Bobbi was more important. Should she show compassion, Bobbi would certainly grow suspicious of her intentions.

Regret. Robin had liked Nora, and their partnership had suited her for the weeks they traveled together. The other woman had made her feel safe. She had an all-encompassing sense of calm and strength and had been intent on protecting Robin, teaching her to be better, turning her towards the way of the Minutemen… but now they just stood on opposite sides of the battlefield again. No longer did the General want to protect her; now she wanted to destroy her. Robin wouldn’t underestimate the General more than she would Bobbi herself. 

Nora’s eyes were on her again, staring so intently that Robin couldn’t help but look away. She felt as if she were trapped under a microscope. After a few seconds, she chanced a look in the General’s direction and was relieved to see she had simply crossed to where Julia stood and was busying herself removing the handcuffs from her wrists. The raw, red marks made Robin wince. She had seen how badly Julia was dealing with their journey westwards but even now she had no idea what she could say to her to make it better. It had been Nora who carried her when she exhausted herself, treated her bleeding ankles, gave her extra food and water. And now it was Nora who had freed her from those handcuffs. Everything Nora had done had been for Julia. Because she was kind, and she refused to deviate from her own duties by a single degree. She had rules to follow, as all heroes did.

Nora was good. And, so far, it seemed that Robin was bad. She didn’t like it at all. It unsettled her. Robin had never been anything less than a hero, but right now she knew she was seriously missing the mark.

“So, since you’re so wise, tell us what we don’t know,” Bobbi mocked when Nora returned to her side.

Calmly, Nora asked, “What've you done so far?”

“Robin had the idea to return to Sawyer Terrace and see if there’re more clues in the mansion. That’s where we’re headed.”

Nora’s eyes graced Robin’s face momentarily but they flicked away before she could react. Perhaps she was surprised Robin wanted to go anywhere near the place Little John had died - which, partly, was true. But Robin's real reason for wanting to go there was that she knew she could probably use the house's traps to her advantage. 

“Show me the map," Nora said.

Bobbi crouched down and spread both pieces out on the floor of the barn. “One,” she said, tapping on the grid of numbers, and “two,” tapping on the lines of code on the second sheet. Nora examined them both with a sharp gaze. In hardly over a minute, she had apparently gained enough information to come up with a theory.

“Jeremy Sawyer owned a big tech company. They made and distributed terminals – most of the terminals you see around the Commonwealth were probably designed by Sawyer Tech. The company was all about innovation, changing the world.”

“And how’s that info gonna help us, exactly?” Bobbi prodded.

Nora continued, “He made programs and software, too. Software to be used by scientists, the military, that sort of thing. If Martin only wanted someone from the Sawyer family to eventually find the money, surely he’d encode the map using something related to his grandfather’s company. It could be worth returning to Sawyer Terrace, as Robin suggested, but… I doubt we'd find anything. It would be too easy to find the fortune if he left all the clues in one place.”

Robin scowled. “We won’t be looking for intentional clues he left behind – I just think we need to know more about the Sawyer family in general if we want to understand those sheets.”

“And you’re right,” Nora said, to her surprise. “But we won’t find anything in that mansion. What we need to do is search one of their company buildings.”

Bobbi, Mel and Robin all stared at her, not catching on.

Nora pointed at the sheets of code. “What I’m trying to say is, the grid with all the numbers means nothing to us, but maybe we’re not supposed to read it. Maybe it’s supposed to be read by a terminal.”

“I’ve thought of that,” Mel interjected. “Unfortunately, the format wouldn’t suit any system I’ve come across.”

“That’s because it’s probably meant to suit a system designed by Sawyer Tech. A partly-developed software. Maybe a prototype? We should find one of their factories or headquarters and look for information and clues there.”

Bobbi was impressed with her suggestion, Robin could tell. Her smile had grown while Nora was speaking and now it seemed to stretch crudely across her face.

“Well.” She shot Robin a glance that was half-taunting, half-challenging. “Looks like the General’s given us a proper lead. How about that?”

“If you give me back my Pip-Boy I can probably find one of their buildings on my map,” Nora said. “Shouldn’t be too far from here. Might have to retrace our steps a little and go back into the city.”

After reaching into her bag, Bobbi produced Nora's vault-computer and handed it over. "Radio's gone, so don't even think about trying to contact your Minutemen," she warned.

Nora didn't react, simply buckling the Pip-Boy to her wrist and beginning to boot it up. Robin couldn’t help but glare at her. They’d come all this way on Robin’s recommendation and now Nora had taken control, just as she’d dreaded she would, and was about to send them straight back the way they’d come. Robin would have to rethink the plan she'd been crafting and start from scratch.

Point to Nora.

---

Luckily it only took two days to retrace their steps and approach an old Sawyer Tech lab building in the city. It was one of the skyscrapers Robin had always noticed but never bothered to wonder what it had been used for. The windows glittered, the metal girders gleamed, and it was bordered by a tall brick wall topped with barbed wire. Unfortunately, the only gate into the compound had been locked with several chains from the inside. While Bobbi’s men could probably have shot their way through, Bobbi made it clear that she didn’t want to draw attention. If there was anything waiting inside Sawyer Tech, it would be alerted immediately.

Robin put her hands on her hips and surveyed the wall. Even with the barbed wire, she felt it wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for a skilled climber.

“I can jump over and force the gates open from the inside,” she offered.

Bobbi smiled. “Go ahead.”

Robin made sure Nora and Julia were watching first, sneaking a glance over her shoulder, and then crouched to survey the bricks. They had been cemented flat but there were several gaps in between which could support her fingers or the toes of her shoes. Even better: the column reinforcing one side of the gate created a perpendicular corner which she could take advantage of.

Backing up a few steps, Robin inhaled deeply and took a running jump, leaping with one foot against one side of the crook in the wall before immediately launching herself into another foothold, and then another, using her momentum. The fingers of one of her hands caught hold of a small crack between two bricks; she clasped another brick with her other hand. Although her arms shook, she held herself firm and flat against the wall, already over halfway up. Mel whistled below, impressed. Remembering the nearly flat cave walls of Little Lamplight she had loved to climb, Robin smirked. In contrast, this was basic. She began to scale towards the barbed wire with slow, deliberate movements, ignoring the lactic burning sensation in her muscles. To those watching from below, she hoped she made it look easy.

Once her fingers had grabbed the lip of the wall, she released one hand to begin shrugging off her coat, and then the other. Gritting her teeth, she swung it over her head so it landed across the barbed wire. Certain now she wouldn't rip her arms to shreds, Robin yanked herself up to crouch like a cat right on the edge. The inside of the compound housed a fairly large car park across from the building’s entrance. From what she could see, there was no one waiting for them; she didn’t think she’d been seen. Unfortunately, she did recognize the green barricades and sandbags set up by the building’s doors.

Gunners.

She turned to wink down at Mel, who grinned up at her in turn. With a flourish, Robin flipped herself right over the top of the barbed wire, yanking her coat with her as she dropped straight down the other side.

Point to Robin, she thought triumphantly.

Each of the chains had been fastened with a heavy padlock. Again, not so complex for a skilled thief. Robin took four minutes to pick the lot of them. Once she’d yanked them away without making too much noise, she ceremoniously dragged the gates open and beamed, pleased with herself.

“Good job,” Bobbi said simply, strolling past. She nodded towards the building. “Anyone in?”

“Gunners, I think.”

The ghoul’s expression darkened. “Great.”

Mel slapped Robin on the shoulder as he approached her, smiling wide. “I’d forgotten what a show-off you are.”

When Julia passed, still flanked by her usual two gangsters, she refused to meet Robin’s eyes and didn’t say a word. Nora, however, graced her with a reluctantly approving look.

Robin didn’t take that to mean their competition was over.

Gangsters weren’t well-known for their tactics. Bobbi didn’t bother with any sort of formation or strategy; she simply led her men straight inside the building with weapons held high. Almost immediately there was deafening gunfire and shouts. Robin hung at the entrance by Mel’s side, weapon-less and rather uninterested in getting herself killed before she managed to get what she wanted. Nora and Julia, too, waited patiently outside the building with two gangsters minding them. Evidently Bobbi didn’t trust they wouldn’t try to escape while she was clearing the building. Robin’s lack of babysitters at least meant Bobbi thought she was more trustworthy.

There were flashes of gunfire, jeers, shouting. A window was smashed. Robin had no idea who was winning or what they were supposed to do if Bobbi and her men actually lost the fight. Being killed by Gunners after everything she had been through would be an embarrassing way for Bobbi to go; even if Robin didn’t get to kill her herself, she decided it would be a suitable end.

Nora, meanwhile, apparently wanted to take her alliance with Bobbi very seriously. She didn’t have any weapons either, but this small detail didn’t faze her. One second she was standing outside with them; the next, she had disappeared into the building. Robin, shocked, found herself exchanging a glance with Julia. The other woman was clearly surprised, too. Her only ally had just run into a fire fight with no gun. Then, as if remembering she was supposed to hate Robin, Julia quickly dropped her head and glared at the ground with an expression of anger stiffening her features.

Robin wondered what she would do if Bobbi and Nora died. Bobbi deserved to go, but Nora didn’t. Still… Robin wasn’t a soldier. With no weapon, she wouldn’t stand a chance against the Gunners. She was sure that Bobbi and Nora would win their fight without her help.

It took several more minutes for the gunfire and shouts to cease. Robin immediately strode to the entrance, peering cautiously through the shattered glass doors to see the carnage within. Several gangsters were lying dead in the lobby, but they were greatly outnumbered by the bodies of Gunners. It seemed Bobbi had won – and from the look of Nora, her face spattered with blood and a laser rifle resting across her arm, she had been the turning point in the battle. Almost ten Gunners lay dead around her. One of them gurgled, not quite dead yet, and Nora instantly lifted her rifle and shot him through the skull. It was quick, efficient, perhaps intended to end his suffering, but Robin still felt unsettled. With her dark gaze, Nora surveyed the room, her eyes passing over Robin and Julia standing in the doorway before she turned to face Bobbi. In a gesture that was definitely out of character, she extended the rifle, volunteering to be weapon-less once more.

Bobbi immediately shook her head. “Keep it. I’d thought we were outnumbered, but I guess I forgot that you count as about ten people.”

Nora ignored the compliment. “Might be more of them upstairs. You can wait here while your men and I clear the rest of the rooms.”

The expression on Bobbi’s face was a mixture of surprise and captivation. She nodded, and her smile was approving. “Be my guest.”

When Nora gestured to the gangsters left in the lobby and instructed for them to follow her, they did as they had been asked without hesitation. Robin wondered if that was just how it worked; they couldn’t help but admire the woman who had taken control of the fight, their heroic superior. Even though the gangsters had hated Nora hardly a few minutes ago, they now respected her, much like soldiers on the battlefield respected their captain for leading them out of conflict.

As Robin watched her leave the lobby, she felt a muscle in her jaw jump. She had to admit that she admired Nora, too. But Nora’s success would result in her own downfall.

Point to Nora.

Bobbi called over one of her gangsters, the one who had been given all of Nora’s and Robin’s possessions. She took Nora’s bag from him. A few minutes later, when Nora and the rest of the gangsters returned to report that the building was empty, Bobbi placed the bag at Nora’s feet.

“You’ve impressed me,” Bobbi said curtly. “For the time being, you can have your weapons and armour back. I want you fighting by my side, not hiding.”

There was a small smile on Nora’s face, imperceptible enough that Bobbi wouldn’t have seen it as she turned around to face her men. Robin saw it. She thought it looked as if Nora had just succeeded beyond her own expectations. It made Robin’s frustration rise, because she now knew for certain that Nora was playing the same game as she was. Getting close to Bobbi, gaining her trust, recovering control. But she didn’t want revenge – she’d saved Bobbi’s life twice now. So what exactly was her goal?

Bobbi had Julia wait in the lobby with her two babysitters and led the rest of the party further into the building. Her men lingered by the elevator while Bobbi, Mel, Nora and Robin traveled up to the offices on the top floor. When the doors opened, Bobbi exited first, Mel on her heels as they began to search the first office. Nora dropped her bag and began to peel off her coat.

“What are you doing?” Robin demanded.

Nora glanced up, surprised to hear her voice. “Putting my armour on,” she said evenly.

Scowling, Robin muttered, “I don't mean that. What are you doing with Bobbi? Why are you trying to get her to trust you?”

Nora’s eyes narrowed. She twisted away and crouched to buckle the polymer plates to her legs.

“Is it because of me?” Robin challenged. “Are you trying to get back at me?”

“I’d like to say I’m not that childish. But yes, I guess I am.” Nora straightened and reached for her chest armour. Her eyes were still narrowed, still not quite reaching Robin’s face. “Have you ever heard the phrase ‘quid pro quo’?”

Robin glared at her. “More words of wisdom. What a surprise.”

“It means ‘something for something’. A favor for a favor.” She finally met Robin’s eyes, exasperatingly calm in the face of her anger.

“Is that supposed to mean something to me?”

“Give and take. Action, reaction. You made your decision, and your decision was to deceive us. Now I’m making mine.” She shrugged, buckling armor onto her forearms. “Partly, I want to punish you for being cruel to Julia. If we’d escaped, if you’d followed my plan, she wouldn’t have suffered. Bobbi wouldn’t be able to use her against me.”

Robin swallowed down her guilt and glowered at the other woman. “What, I’m supposed to feel bad when you’re the one who got us captured in the first place?”

“If you hadn’t lost control, we wouldn’t have been captured,” Nora returned curtly. “I told you time and time again that revenge isn’t worth it. Did it really surprise you that I tried to stop you?”

“You’ve killed people for less!” Robin hissed. “Plenty of people, if I remember what you told me. Get off your fucking high horse for a second, will you?”

For the first time, there was a crack in Nora’s composed mask. Robin wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or offended. Her movements as she finished clasping the last plate of armour were jerky, forceful. Finally, she said, “I’m not just in this to compete with you. When I studied law, I learned that quid pro quo specifies an item or a service which has been traded in return for something of value.” She slung her rifle over her shoulder and picked up her bag. “I’ve given Bobbi my services – since, apparently, killing people is all I’m good for…” She shot Robin a frown. “… And in return she’s letting me sleep without my arms and legs tied, eat food that isn’t stale or radioactive, and walk without being beaten or manhandled by her men. Come to think of it, she’s offering me many things in return for my service.”

Robin lowered her eyes, suddenly finding it hard to meet Nora’s gaze.

“So, no, I’m not just in this to compete with you,” Nora said quietly. “I’m sorry if it frustrates you that I prefer not to be treated like an animal.”

As she opened her mouth to retaliate, Robin felt a hand on her shoulder. She turned to see Bobbi and Mel watching them.

“Something wrong over here?” Bobbi asked.

Nora answered first, her voice tight. “No, we were just… talking.”

Bobbi looked between them curiously. She didn’t question the hostility; perhaps she enjoyed the fact that they were enemies. It certainly drew their anger away from her. “Mel’s found a working terminal in one of the offices,” she clarified.

“Good,” Nora muttered. She brushed past Bobbi and followed Mel into the office without sparing another glance in Robin’s direction.

Robin took a few moments to compose herself. No emotion. Don’t let emotion control you, she chastised. At least Nora hadn't tried to hit her again; Robin honestly felt that she wouldn't stand a chance in a fight against the General, especially without a weapon. When she entered, Mel was sitting at the terminal and Nora was leaning over him to stare at the screen, one hand on the back of his chair. She looked so calm that Robin almost felt as if their argument had been a figment of her imagination.

“So?” Bobbi asked expectantly, leaning one hip against the desk.

“Currently reading through his personal files,” Mel said, eyes darting from left to right across the screen. “There’s a list of programs that Sawyer Tech has developed but never put on the market.”

“Any of them look helpful?”

Mel slowly shook his head. “Might take a while, but I’m sure I’ll find something.”

“This is probably the department head’s office,” Nora said, appraising the room.

“The what?” Bobbi inquired.

“The boss. He or she would have had access to all of the company’s files.” She strode over to the row of filing cabinets against one wall and began checking through the drawers. Robin watched for a few seconds before her curiosity overcame her. “Anything useful?”

Nora glanced up. For a second her features tightened and it looked as if she wasn't going to answer. In the end, she mutely shook her head. Approaching the filing cabinets as well, Robin ran her hand over the shiny metal, examining the labels on each drawer. “Each of these has a year on them,” she said thoughtfully.

“Yep.”

Robin’s whole body tingled and her eyes widened. She had an idea. “Wait a minute...”

Nora and Bobbi turned to peer at her as she reached into her pocket and pulled out the photograph she’d taken from Sawyer Terrace right before she and Little John discovered the coded map. She stared at the little boy Martin’s face before turning the photograph over to see the scribbled words on the back.

“March 12th 2063…” She faced Nora, who was still patiently waiting for her to explain herself. “Try 2063.”

Nora’s eyes flew across the cabinets. She finally found the correct drawer and yanked it open, flicking through the numerous files inside. Approaching her, Robin pointed at the file which said 'MARCH' in capital letters. Drawing it out, Nora placed it on the desk. She searched through each piece of paper quickly. “Most of these pages are just boring finance forms-”

Nora paused.

“Hang on.” She pulled a singular sheet of paper from the middle of the file. “This one has Martin’s name at the top. I think it’s the name of a project.”

Mel took it from her. “Yeah, it’s an approval form for some sort of program.” He read it out: “‘Martin TrueBlue’.”

Bobbi cocked her head, glancing between the photograph in Robin’s hands and the sheet of paper. “But Martin was just a kid in 2063.”

“Maybe Jeremy Sawyer wanted to dedicate a software to his son,” Nora suggested.

“How sweet,” Bobbi muttered dryly. “Well, what does 'Martin TrueBlue' do, exactly?”

Nora skimmed the lines of printed words. “It looks like it was intended to be used by geoscience companies. Some sort of computerized mapping software. Just sat in this file, forgotten.”

“A mapping software?” Now Bobbi was enthusiastic. Her black eyes took on a shine as she approached Mel and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You said there’s a list of programs in the terminal files.”

“Already on it.” Mel’s eyes were darting back on forth again. Finally, a grin spread across his face. “Yeah, this one. Right at the bottom, see?” He pointed at the screen. “Martin TrueBlue. It was…‘decommissioned’?”

He didn’t seem to know what the word meant. Both Nora and Robin moved to look over his shoulder as well.

“Decommissioned,” Nora repeated. “Means they withdrew it and stopped development.” She thought hard for a moment. “I’d assume that Sawyer Tech put more focus on the military as the war approached. Developing programs for scientists would have had less financial benefits than supplying tech to be used by the army.”

“See if you can open it,” Bobbi said eagerly.

Mel nodded. He selected the program and inputted a series of commands. “It’s definitely not complete. If they halted right in the middle of developing it, it’ll be a shambles. Might not even work.”

“Martin wanted one of his heirs to find the program and use it to figure out the map,” Robin said without hesitation. “It’ll be complete enough.”

They all watched as the terminal rebooted, this time entering into the Martin TrueBlue program. Mel leaned back in his chair so they could see the screen properly. Finally, all that showed on the monitor was a grid. A grid that exactly matched what had been printed on the first piece of the map.

Triumphant, Bobbi slapped the map onto the desk. “Get to work,” she said impatiently.

Mel began to enter the correct numbers into each of the boxes on the screen. Even though there were many and it was a slow progress, Nora, Robin and Bobbi couldn’t draw their eyes away. Robin hadn’t noticed before, but there were clusters of the same number in some parts of the grid. When she pointed this out, Mel told her, “I think each number is a different type of topography. Stone, grass, trees, water…”

He entered the last two numbers and they all waited with bated breath for the screen to render again.

Robin’s eyes widened. “Look!”

Although it was lacking in detail, an image had been formed from the numbers they had inputted. A key on the right of the screen told them that ticks represented trees, circles represented water, and stone and grass were represented by empty and full boxes respectively.

“It’s a map,” Bobbi breathed, as if she couldn’t quite believe it.

Satisfied, Nora straightened and nodded. “Well, there you go. I told you Martin’s codes would have something to do with Sawyer Tech.”

Robin scowled. “Yeah, but this doesn’t tell us where the map actually is. It’s just a picture of stones, grass and trees.”

“That’s why there are coordinates, too,” Nora countered confidently, pointing at the line of numbers above the grid. She lifted her Pip-Boy and began to fiddle with the tabs. Her self-assured gaze soon grew into a frown. “Oh...”

“What?” Robin asked smugly. “Your vault computer doesn’t know where it is, huh?”

“Too far out of range.” She met Bobbi’s eyes. “Wherever this is, it’s not in the Commonwealth.”

There was a long silence as they all contemplated this. Robin was unsure if any of the others had ever been outside the Commonwealth, but she knew from her own experience how scary it was to venture into the unknown.

“So…” she said finally. “We don’t really know much more than we did before.”

“We do,” Nora disputed. “Boston Public Library isn’t far from here. They’ll have maps of the US there. I can search through the archives and see if I can find anything that matches what’s on that screen. And the coordinates.”

“It’s definitely countryside,” Bobbi said, beginning to sound eager again. “No buildings. A lotta rocks and trees...”

“Could be a mountain,” Nora established. “There’s a river there – see?” Again, she pointed at the screen, running her finger along the water line. “Maybe it’s a mountain with a waterfall. We’ve got enough to go on for now.”

Bobbi turned back to Mel. “Is there a way to print that?”

“Yeah.”

“Get it done.” She appraised Nora. “Good work. You can go to the library. We’ll meet you there in a little while. I wanna search the rest of the offices to see if there’s anything which could help us with the second code.”

“I’m going too,” Robin interjected suddenly.

After looking at her with uncertainty, Nora firmly shook her head. “I don’t need any help.”

Bobbi glanced between the two of them, thoughtful as she weighed the pros and cons of actually letting them both go. She was too excited about their discovery for the possibility of their betrayal to put a damper on her mood. “I lost a lot of men – can’t spare any to keep an eye on you.”

“You don’t need to,” Robin said, her eyes not leaving Nora’s face.

“I disagree,” Bobbi replied. “However, I’m not blind to the fact that it was both of you working together which got us this map in the first place. Maybe you should both go.”

“No,” Nora snapped.

If Bobbi was surprised by Nora’s hostility, her face didn’t show it. “You’ll both go,” she decided. “It’s a risk I’ll take – and only because Julia will stay right here with me. I suggest you don't test me, or Julia will be missing certain body parts the next time you see her.”

Nora’s eyes reflected her displeasure. Still, she reluctantly managed to nod. “Fine.”

“Fine,” Robin agreed. She reached to pluck the map Mel had just printed and folded it, tucking it into her pocket with the photograph. With a challenging smile, she faced Nora. “Come on, partner. We should get going.”

Nora was still angry at her – it was hidden very carefully by the serious expression in her eyes, but Robin knew. They were both equally as reluctant to work together, but the job had to be done somehow. And Robin wasn't about to sit back and let Nora take all the credit.

Chapter Text

“So, how do you know we’ll find what we need in here?” Robin asked as they approached the library.

Built from pale bricks which had greyed over time, Boston Public Library had a proud silhouette, even surrounded by the city’s much taller skyscrapers. Each window was marked with a beautifully constructed archway. Nora had loved this library so much that she’d often spent entire days inside while studying for her degree. The library had offered lectures, readings and recitals, all of which had greatly intrigued her. She’d eaten her lunches in the building’s central courtyard by the fountain, sometimes joined by Nate when he was home from camp.

Since the bombs fell, she’d been to the library once. It had been so broken on the inside, filled with burned books and overturned shelves, that she had been reluctant to return. Not to mention the multiple Super Mutants she’d had to exterminate. Another place destroyed by a meaningless war.

“It was the second largest library in the United States,” Nora stated absently, still held fast in her memories. “Plenty of books and historical records – though I suppose much less now since years of neglect, looting, and vandalism have ruined them.”

Robin made a soft noise of interest, looking at her with raised eyebrows. “So, you’ve been here. Before the war.”

“Yes,” Nora agreed. She didn’t bother to elaborate. It didn’t suit their mission, and she had no interest in talking about her past with Robin. Not anymore.

When they entered through the front doors, Nora sighed wistfully. It was a building full of rotted corpses and ruined property – like most in the Commonwealth, in fact – but this one was special to her. She recalled that there was a large records room, a computer room, and even the pavilion which opened to the central courtyard. In the uppermost level of the building there was a spacious area with a vaulted glass ceiling where Nora had used to spend most of her time.

Robin muttered, “Looks empty.”

“The Minutemen clear the library out every two months,” Nora clarified. “Under my command, of course. I wanted them to recover and preserve all the knowledge that hasn’t been destroyed. Maybe most Commonwealth people only care about surviving right now, but someday they’ll want to know more. Knowledge is power, after all.”

Robin’s smile was only small, but at least it was better than the permanent frown that had been on her face since they left the Sawyer Tech building. “That's true,” she said.

Nora gazed at her for a long second, feeling her frustration bubbling just beneath the surface. Arguing with Robin was currently the most exasperating thing to do, because the other woman’s retort always seemed to be based more in her own emotions than the quality or intention of Nora’s response. Robin was blind. She refused to let Nora show her who she was, or what she was doing. More than that, she was angry, and she was letting her anger drag her places a woman like her would never go otherwise. Nora missed the uncomplicated times before they found Bobbi and they were capable of working as a team. She wouldn’t tell Robin that; she knew it wouldn’t change her mind. The best thing she could do was make sure Robin knew that context mattered, that she needed to abandon her black and white opinions and open her mind to the possibility that she was wrong.

If Robin didn’t even feel remorse, there was nothing Nora could forgive her for.

“Let’s go,” Nora commanded, moving before Robin could catch her staring. She headed down the hallway, through the courtyard, and found the stairs to Copley Station, flanked by two gigantic lion statues.

“You mind explaining to me what lions have to do with lending books?” Robin inquired wryly.

As they climbed the stairs to the top floor, Nora glanced down over the banister at the statues. “Friendly reminder of what could happen if you damage the library’s property.”

Robin laughed softly. "Hasn't worked so far, I guess."

“In here,” Nora instructed. They entered the large room and paused to look around. Many bookshelves were missing, and most of those remaining had been ransacked. Still, Nora was determined to find something that could be useful. She didn’t want Bobbi to hurt Julia if they showed up empty-handed.

“I’ll start over there,” Robin said, eyeing a stack of bookcases.

Nora watched her walk off. Again, the frustration rose up inside of her. The only reason Robin had volunteered to come with her was to compete for Bobbi's attention. Unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about it now; they'd have to work together. She let out a sigh before turning to survey the left side of the room. There, on one of the tables hidden between shelves, she had used to pore through books and archived cases, sometimes forgetting how much time had passed. Sunlight would fall through the ceiling and ignite the space with a fiery glow. 

She was crouched and flipping through a book which had had clearly once been part of a bonfire, the pages charred and blackened, when Robin called, “Hey!”

Nora lifted her head and peeked over the bookshelf to see that Robin had approached, a rather wide book held against her chest. She looked uncharacteristically nervous as she turned it over so Nora could see the cover, biting her lip. “Hiking in Massachusetts,” she said. “All the pages seem to be there. Think it could help?”

Nora reached over to take it from her, running her fingers reverently across the front of the book. “I’ve seen this before,” she muttered.

“Where?”

She struggled to grasp the memory but for once she was incapable of retrieving it. “I don’t know.”

Carrying it over to one of the tables, Nora sat to begin reading the contents. When she glanced up to see Robin still standing, she nodded towards the chair opposite her. “Sit," she instructed.

A fleeting expression of willfulness crossed Robin’s face; she seemed to be resisting the temptation to make a retort. Which was a good start, as far as Nora was aware. If Robin was trying to be nice to her, perhaps she felt the same about their ruined relationship.

Robin sat.

For a few minutes there was only silence as Nora flipped through the pages. And then, out of nowhere, several pieces clicked together in her mind. She slapped her palm down on the page she had been reading and Robin half-flinched.

“What-” She composed herself. “What the hell was that?”

“Show me the map.”

Puzzled, Robin extracted the printed sheet of paper from her pocket and unfolded it on top of the book. “Have you found it?” she asked eagerly. “Is that it?”

“I…” Nora felt that odd surge of nostalgia breeze through her again. “I guess I recognized the map and didn’t even realize it. I’ve been there.”

“Where?”

Nora touched the map, running her finger along where the water had been marked. She had been so young. A hiking trip up a rocky path, a picnic in a glade, a view that stretched on for miles...

“Monument Mountain,” she murmured finally.

“Okay…” Robin frowned when she failed to expand, dark eyebrows drawing together. “How do you know it’s the right place? I mean, it’s not exactly uncanny. The picture in the book is much more detailed-”

Nora spun the book to face her and pointed at the coordinates listed directly below the tiny map on the second page.

“Oh.” Robin slowly smiled. When she met Nora’s eyes, she actually seemed impressed, so Nora knew she wasn’t sarcastic when she added, “You’ve cracked it, General.”

Nora returned her smile without thinking. When she remembered that she was supposed to be angry with Robin, however, she quickly wiped her face clean of emotion and looked down at the book again. 

“You said you recognized it,” Robin recalled lightly. “What do you mean?”

After a few moments of deliberation, Nora eventually decided that the truth couldn't hurt. “When I was a child, I went hiking there. With my parents. It was only once, and I don’t remember exactly what it looked like, but… I remember the map we used, and I remember there was a waterfall…” She stroked the page, wistful. “I was so young. Back then, I don’t think I was ever worried about anything.”

“I’ve never thought about you having parents before. And I definitely can’t imagine you as a little girl,” Robin said with a smirk.

Was that meant to be a jab at her? Nora glanced up to suspiciously survey the other woman's face but only saw playfulness in her gaze. She lowered her guard. “Yeah, well.” Nora looked away, unable to help the sadness which emanated from her chest as she remembered her carefree childhood. The faces of her parents, who had loved her and wanted the best for her, were blurry now. She'd never managed to find a single picture. “It was hundreds of years ago.”

Robin’s gaze became remarkably gentle. “Did they…?” She cleared her throat. “I mean, you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to, but when the bombs fell, did they… die?”

Nora wasn’t the type to beat around the bush. “Yes, probably.” Abruptly, she shut the book. “We should get this back to Bobbi.”

“Wait.” Robin leaned forward and put a hand on her wrist. Even through her glove Nora could feel the warmth of her touch. She imagined herself ripping her hand away, irritated at the other woman's display of affection, but couldn't bring herself to do it. Instead, she arched an eyebrow, waiting for Robin to explain herself.

“Every time you open up, you shut down immediately after,” Robin said, frowning. “Why?”

Nora was exhausted with Robin’s constant competition, her desperation for revenge, and the grief she clearly hadn’t bothered to deal with. And now suddenly she wanted Nora to share things about herself as if they were friends? Where did this end? How long would they have to circle each other until one of them fell?

“What do you want, Robin?” she demanded finally, the weariness coming through in her voice. 

Robin chewed on her lip. “Every time I learn something about you, I just… I feel like I have to know more." She looked worried as she scanned Nora's face carefully, perhaps unsure of the reaction she'd get. "You’re... interesting.”

“Interesting,” Nora repeated flatly. Abruptly, she tore her hand away from Robin's and sat back in her chair to put as much distance between them as possible.

Looking a little hurt, Robin withdrew her own hand and asked, “Is that surprising to you?”

“Are you looking for ammunition?” she countered bluntly. 

Robin’s face transformed into an expression of dismay. “No, of course not!”

With a sigh, Nora insisted, “We should really get going."

“Nora, wait, seriously.” Robin grabbed her arm again before she could stand up. Her eyes darted over Nora’s face with a nervous energy; she clearly didn’t know what exactly she was trying to say. For a moment, Nora thought she was finally about to apologize for the way she'd been acting. Instead, she muttered, “I know you hate me, or are disappointed in me, or whatever. But I think you’d probably agree that you and I work well together. We’re a good team.”

Nora stared at her blankly. "You haven't seemed to think so over the past couple of weeks."

“We need each other. Now more than ever,” Robin asserted. “We’re about to leave the Commonwealth, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen the sorts of things that are out there." She swallowed, and real fear flooded her eyes. "Where we’re going, it’ll be dangerous, and Monument Mountain will be nothing like you remember.”

“So.” Nora narrowed her eyes. She had to resist the urge to let out a bitter laugh. “You want to work together without all this petty rivalry. Are you sure you’re ready for that?”

Robin sighed at her sarcasm. “I know how I’ve made myself look. And I’m not ready to apologize for that yet. Mostly because I think I’m doing the right thing – for me, for my…” She paused. “… well, my family. My crew. I’m doing what Little John would have done for me if I’d been the one who Bobbi killed.”

Cocking her head, Nora examined her face, trying to decide whether she was being serious or not. This was the most familiar Robin had been since they joined Bobbi’s ranks. One thing Nora could admire was that Robin fought for every step; even if it wasn’t always in the right direction. She flew, because her will was the most powerful thing about her. Nora was only afraid that soon she would crash. That she would have to watch it happen. There was no way for her to help Robin if it did. It turned out Nora did still like Robin, and she didn’t want to see her hurt - but she was beginning to realize that caring at all was a massive mistake in itself.

“I don’t know how to make a partner out of a woman I don’t trust,” Nora said finally. “You’re trying to get close to Bobbi so you can kill her. And I don’t want to be involved with that.”

“And you’re trying to get close to Bobbi so she’ll let her guard down and you can escape,” Robin retorted.

“I’m trying to save Julia’s life. And I would’ve saved yours, too, if you hadn’t turned against me.”

Robin frowned, concern lacing her voice. “Bobbi will keep a close eye on Julia. You won’t escape without Bobbi hurting her. You know that, right?”

“Oh, so you care about Julia now, do you?” Nora snapped irritably. 

Widening her eyes, Robin said, “I’m not trying to start-”

“I hope you know that Bobbi can see you coming from a mile away. She knows you’re waiting for the right moment to strike. She’s not stupid-”

Robin abruptly stood and slapped both palms hard down on the table's surface. “I’m not trying to argue with you, Nora! I’ve had enough!” she shouted, incensed. 

Admittedly, Nora was shocked by her sudden outburst, but she didn't show it. She gazed impassively up at the other woman and said, "You started this, all of this, just to get revenge - there's nothing rational about that, and you know it."

Robin was silent. Her eyebrows drew together and she looked as if she was struggling against another outburst. Cheeks pinking with the effort of keeping her frustration hidden, she slowly sat down again, showing an impressive display of control. "I don't want to argue with you," she said again, much more quietly. 

Lowering her chin and folding her arms, Nora admitted, “Me neither.”

After a long silence to let the tension settle, Robin continued, “I’m just saying we have one thing in common: we both hate Bobbi. You want to escape her, I want to kill her. We should work together, at least the way colleagues do.”

“You want us to be civil with each other?” Nora chewed on the inside of her cheek, exasperated. “I’ve tried to be civil with you, Robin.”

“I know.” The other woman fiddled with the edges of the map. “But just give me one more chance.”

A moment passed, and then another. Neither of them would be escaping Bobbi's command any time soon; what did she have to lose? Nora set her jaw and agreed, “One chance.”

Robin seemed surprised that Nora had given in so easily. She relaxed, the tension leaving her shoulders. “Thank you.” For a few seconds, a smile came across her face that reminded Nora of the woman she’d known before all of this. And then, slumping a little in her chair, she muttered, “Just for the record, I’m glad you and Julia aren’t being treated like…like...” She struggled to find the right word.

“Slaves?” Nora supplied lightly. “Animals?”

Robin’s cheeks flared pink. “Well, yeah. If I’m sorry about anything, it’s that. I should’ve done something. I didn’t want Bobbi to hurt you, but I didn’t feel like… well, I know I had a choice, but I thought it’d be too much of a risk-”

“Robin,” Nora said flatly.

“Yes?”

“Don’t apologize to me. It's not going to change anything. All it'll do is irritate me.” After a moment’s thought, she appended, “Though I’m sure Julia would like to hear an apology.”

Robin’s eyes darkened. “She wouldn’t listen. It’s pretty clear how much she hates me.”

“She told me she doesn’t know who you’ve become. If I’m being honest, neither do I.” Nora shrugged. “Maybe the real Robin was the selfless, charming woman who I traveled with before all of this. Or maybe I hadn’t even met the real Robin until we found Bobbi. If that’s true, then I’ll never be able to get along with you.”

Robin, on her part, did seem truly guilt-ridden. “I don’t know if I recognize myself sometimes,” she said quietly. “A lot of disguises. Hiding. Trying to be something I’m not. Maybe it’s started to affect me.”

“You know who you are,” Nora said firmly. “You’re the one who told me about the little girl who grew up reading Robin Hood and wanted to change the world. You’ve spent years giving all your money to the poorest people in the Commonwealth even though it meant living without meds, good food, and a roof over your head. Who was that, if not you?”

Robin didn’t reply, but her eyes were unfocused; clearly she was thinking through Nora’s words.

Nora leaned forwards. “Don’t apologize for what you’ve done. Sometimes it’s better to show rather than tell. Show me who you really are, Robin.”

A bright determination appeared in Robin’s green eyes. Curtly, she nodded. Hope beaded on Nora’s skin like dew on spring grass; she felt she had finally gotten through. Her gaze traveled to Robin's cheek and she was a little surprised to see a faint mark there - a fading bruise. Nora hadn't realized she'd hit her so hard. A pang of guilt overwhelmed her briefly. "I'm sorry I hit you the other day," she said quietly. "Normally I don't let my anger overwhelm me like that."

Looking self-conscious, Robin just shrugged and said, "I know I deserved it."

They exchanged a long look, one that was considerably less hostile than it had been several minutes ago. While Nora was far from forgiving Robin or thinking of her as a friend, she felt she was at least capable of getting along with her from now on. She stood, glancing up through the glass to see that the sky was darkening with the purple stains of sunset. “Bobbi will be here soon.”

Robin joined her as she returned down the staircase into the courtyard, thoughtful and silent. After their fairly productive conversation – it couldn’t be called a reconciliation, but it was close enough – and their discovery of the area the treasure was hidden, Nora felt a new optimism. The dawn was a long way away, but there was light inside her which had been missing the day before. A spark of hope, a fire yet to be born, but it was there. An anticipation of good things to come. She had a sense that there would be more suffering in her future, especially with where they were going, but she was suddenly much more optimistic that she would come out alive. 

Chapter Text

That night, Bobbi brought the rest of her men - Julia and Mel included - to meet Nora and Robin in the pavilion of the library, expecting answers. When Nora briefed Bobbi on Monument Mountain, Robin’s first instinct was to remind everyone that she’d been a part of its discovery, but she forced herself to remember that there was no point in rivalry between them anymore. She had convinced Nora to give her another chance at partnership and, should she not stick to her word, she was very unlikely to ever get the General to trust her again. For now, there were more important things at stake than winning over Bobbi.

Bobbi was incredibly pleased to hear that they had an actual location in mind for the treasure. She sat with all three of her advisers – Mel, Robin, Nora – and read every single detail about Monument Mountain written in the book. Hiking trails, spectacular views, special features… Eventually, once she had noted down everything of importance, she turned to them with a proposal. “We’ll set off immediately,” she declared. “There’s a fortune waiting for us on that mountain. The sooner we get to it, the sooner this’ll be over.”

Nora seemed troubled. “But… surely we should stock up on supplies? We might be heading pretty close to the Glowing Sea so we’ll need rad meds, stimpacks, extra ammunition, all of you will need armour-”

“General-”

“And we haven’t figured out the second sheet,” Robin pointed out, interrupting Bobbi. “What if the key to decoding it is in the Commonwealth? We can’t leave until we’ve found it.”

Bobbi’s eyes flashed and a very cold snake-like smile plastered itself to her face. “I’m gonna make one thing clear to you two.” Almost in sync with her words, two gangsters stepped in beside her, raising their guns. The click of the safeties on their weapons made the hairs stand up on the back of Robin's neck. Intimidation was Bobbi’s favorite tactic, as far as Robin could remember. It was better to get this over with; Robin sighed and raised her hands in surrender. After receiving a warning glance, Nora reluctantly lifted her hands, too.

“You’ve helped me so far, and I won’t forget it,” Bobbi said. “But you’re not in charge of this operation. I am. If I say we’re leaving immediately, that’s exactly what we’re gonna do.”

Nora was clearly not ready to let it go. Out of the corner of her eye, Robin saw her jaw clench and her hands lower an inch. Don't do it, she thought urgently. Don't argue with her. It was too late - Nora retorted, “But if we don’t take precautions, we're as good as dead out there. It's simple logic."

Bobbi's eyes narrowed very suddenly into slits. She turned to one of her triggermen and instructed, “Shoot her.”

While Nora didn’t even flinch as he rapidly lined his gun up with her chest, Robin jumped automatically forwards, unsure if her intention was to take the bullet herself, or somehow block it. "Bobbi, don't-" 

“Stop!" Julia yelled, so loudly that Robin herself was stunned by the noise. With a shocked expression at the sound of Julia’s voice after so many days of her silence, Bobbi spun to stare. A few long seconds passed where no one dared to move or speak. The triggerman who had been prepared to shoot Nora seemed unsure of what to do now, looking towards his boss for instruction. Robin opened her mouth to try to dispel the tension but Mel beat her to it.

“Bobbi, can I talk to you for a second?” he asked lightly.

Now Bobbi’s angry eyes faced him. “Really? You, too?”

“In private, preferably,” he muttered.

Bobbi huffed and followed him out into the courtyard, leaving her men to hold them at gunpoint. Robin tried to meet Nora’s eyes but they didn't leave the weapon pointed directly at her chest. She had narrowly avoided death at Bobbi's ire.

“He’ll convince her to stand down,” Robin reassured her. “Mel’s a good guy.”

“He can’t be all that good if he’s somehow the only person Bobbi can trust,” Nora replied coldly.

Robin bit her tongue at the retort which threatened to shoot out. Instead, she muttered, “You’ll see.”

And, as she’d predicted, when Bobbi and Mel returned to the pavilion, Bobbi had calmed down significantly. She waved a hand at her men and they finally lowered their guns. When Mel caught her eye, Robin shot him a smile and a small thumbs-up to show she was thankful for his saving Nora's life. He didn't the know the General, and he didn't often try to talk Bobbi out of things, so the only person he could've done it for was Robin. She'd have to pay him back somehow. Or perhaps this was him trying to make up for his guilt about Little John's death? In that case, Robin would at the very least try to forgive him for choosing Bobbi as his business partner.

“We’re leaving immediately,” Bobbi said again, scrutinizing their faces with defiance. “Do you understand that, or are we gonna have another disagreement?”

Nora and Robin both nodded.

“Good.” She glanced around the pavilion. “We’re sleeping in here tonight. Tomorrow morning we’ll head west. I’d say it’ll be about five days till we’re outside the borders of the Commonwealth. From there… who knows?”

Robin didn’t glance up when she felt the gangster’s eyes on her face, but she already knew what was coming.

“Robin.”

“Yes?”

“You’re from outside the Commonwealth, aren’t you? Where exactly?”

Robin muttered, “The other side of the country. Very far west.”

“So you know what to expect out there.”

“Not really-”

Bobbi opened the book and placed it on the nearest table surface, flipping to the large map at the back. “Monument Mountain is in the direction of ‘New York’,” she said, pointing at the path they had to take inland. “Did you travel along the same path when you came to the Commonwealth?”

Swallowing hard, Robin shook her head. “Not really. I was travelling with caravans, and they thought it would be safer to avoid the major cities. Took several detours.”

“Hmph.” The tone of Bobbi’s voice was cold with displeasure. “I’ve heard there’re creatures out there that the Commonwealth hasn’t seen. Surely cities would be safer than the forests and plains where they live.”

It had been several years since Robin’s arrival in the Commonwealth. There had been things she’d witnessed during her journey which gave her nightmares for months afterwards. Visions of a winged creature with razor-sharp teeth, and a strange plague which swept through the entire party of caravans and transformed almost every one of Robin’s traveling companions into ghoul-like creatures which screamed night and day and tried to kill everything in sight. Twenty-five travelers out of the original twenty-nine had been infected and eventually exterminated by the other survivors. They had later found out that the plague had been carried by the winged beasts the same way mole rats sometimes carried rabies, and that the beasts had ventured much further north than usual, apparently indigenous to the southern lands. Robin had been terrified that she’d start developing symptoms: lose her skin, her hair, her mind…

And then there were the wolves which hunted them for days, gigantic bears which prowled the forests, lizard-like monsters which pounced in the middle of the night. If they ever did pass by cities, it would be the humans who stalked them – scavengers, Raiders and Gunner mercenaries. Robin had sharpened her mind to the point of hardly ever sleeping, watching out for danger, preparing plans to escape if they were confronted. It had been the first time she ever had people depending on her for their survival and she had been determined not to let them down.

The danger had been worth it. Robin had been certain that she wanted to leave the Capital Wasteland behind and find somewhere new to begin her life. She’d heard about the Commonwealth from a nomadic caravan guard and thought it sounded perfect; plenty of settlements, some well-formed cities, and – most important of all – no one would expect a vigilante. They’d be too focused on their invisible enemy, the Institute, to do anything about a mere thief. She’d thought it would be the perfect place to put her skills to use, build a network, and create a legend out of herself. Unfortunately, Robin had not determined how long or difficult the journey would be into a land she had never set foot in. Surviving the journey had been what she thought of as a necessary step to get to where she wanted to be. 

Now, if Robin was being completely honest, the idea of leaving her home of many years to return to those unsettled places beyond the border of civilization was… terrifying.

Nora nudged her arm. Glancing up quickly, Robin realized she had been silent for almost a minute. Bobbi was glaring at her, arms folded and fingers tapping against her bicep impatiently. “Uh – yes. If you want to travel through cities or settlements, that's your choice. But humans pose just as much danger as the animals. We were raided several times.”

“We can deal with raids,” Bobbi said dismissively. “Even so, I’ve decided you should guide us. Since you know the wasteland so well.”

“Guide you?” Robin quickly shook her head, widening her eyes. “I’d rather not.”

Bobbi let out a sound that was half-amused, half-impatient. “You don’t have a choice.”

Remembering that Bobbi had ordered for Nora to be shot earlier simply for answering back, Robin physically bit down on her tongue to stop herself from arguing. Bobbi was adamant that they reach their destination, no matter what it took. Finding out that the treasure was at Monument Mountain had made her ruthless rather than lenient. If Robin wanted to survive, she would need to follow Bobbi's commands to the letter, no matter how much she hated it. 

“I assume it’s pretty terrible out there,” Nora murmured, sidling up once Bobbi had stalked off and instructed her men to turn the library’s pavilion into an indoor campsite.

“Hmm?” Robin's mind was elsewhere, thinking of the dark path ahead.

“You went quiet when Bobbi asked you how you got to the Commonwealth.” Nora regarded her pensively. “Anything I should know?”

“It’s dangerous,” Robin admitted. “But… everywhere is dangerous when you think about it.”

Her reply had been ambiguous, and even she knew it. Nora narrowed her eyes while a hint of concern entered her voice. “And you’ll be okay guiding us through that danger?”

Robin shrugged, feigning nonchalance. “Like Bobbi said, I don’t have a choice.”

Nora examined her face and the distant tinge of fear that probably remained in her eyes before giving her a curt nod. She looked as if she wanted to say something more, her lips parting, but Julia approached and interrupted their conversation.

“What’s this?” she remarked snidely. “The General and the traitor are friends again, are they?”

Robin winced. Now was a better time than any to see if she could ask for forgiveness. “Julia, I-”

“Save it,” she snapped. While her voice was sharp with anger, Robin could see the hurt in her eyes.

“-I know it won’t change anything, but I’m sorry,” Robin forged ahead firmly, though she knew how lame her words sounded. “I really am.”

Julia was glaring daggers at her. “You’re right. It doesn’t change anything.”

Robin flicked her gaze to Nora’s face and saw that the other woman was staring, one eyebrow raised. Waiting.

Sometimes it’s better to show rather than tell. Show me who you are, Robin.

“Fine,” Robin muttered. Swiftly, she turned away and stalked over to Mel instead. Until an opportunity presented itself to show how sorry she was, she would have to deal with the consequences of her actions, just like Nora wanted.

Robin slid down the wall to sit by Mel’s side. “The more we discover, the more desperate Bobbi becomes,” she said, wanting to distract herself momentarily from Julia’s hatred.

Mel's grey eyes glittered with something akin to humor, though she knew already how he felt about Bobbi’s attitude. “She knows we’re getting closer.” He shrugged. “If I’d spent half my life searching for something and only just found a massive lead, I’d be excited too.”

Robin scowled. “Excited enough that she threatened to shoot one of the people who got her that lead in the first place.”

Again, he only shrugged.

Quietly, she added, “Thanks for stopping her.”

Instead of replying, his eyes moved to where Nora and Julia stood across the room, deep in a conversation of their own. “Do you trust the General?”

Robin's reply was immediate: “She’s honorable.”

“That’s not really an answer.”

Now it was Robin’s turn to fall silent. She scrutinized the General just as intently as Mel had. Nora’s appearance wasn’t as immaculate as it used to be. Her shoulder-length brown hair was barely combed back behind her ears, held in place by her fedora, and dried blood was smeared across her cheek and forehead. But she held her tall posture with her usual dignified, confident authority, giving the appearance of a woman who was relaxed in her surroundings despite being ready to strike or defend herself at a moment’s notice. While she could rarely be bested in a fight, Nora’s biggest advantage was her seeming lack of fear. Any smart man would agree that fear was a facet of survival, but Nora didn’t care to show it. Robin was sure she felt it; it was just hidden somewhere deep down. As usual, she had an unnerving control over her emotions that Robin simply couldn’t fathom. Apart from her angry outburst the other day when she lashed out and hit Robin, she was very rarely volatile. More unnerving than her strange ability to contain herself was the seriousness about her. She hardly ever smiled. Robin suddenly couldn’t remember if she’d ever heard Nora laugh before. If Robin had to base her trust on the General’s appearance, then no, she didn’t trust her. She couldn’t. Nora was unknowable.

But her eyes. Her eyes collected and bore every wrongdoing that had been poured upon her, every tragedy she had survived, and every battle she had won. Those were pensive eyes that one would look for in a poet or a dreamer rather than in a soldier. Robin trusted Nora’s eyes.

“Yes,” she finally said, turning to Mel. “At the very least, I trust her more than Bobbi. Bobbi’s about to lead us straight to death.”

Mel countered, “Apparently you are, actually.”

Grumbling, Robin drew her knees to her chest and placed her chin upon them. “Do you think Bobbi knows how badly I still want her dead? Is that why she's putting me in charge? So she can keep an eye on me?”

Mel had avoiding talking to Robin about her intentions with Bobbi so far; even now, he stiffened visibly. He was a man who preferred to be on the fence, far from danger. If he had to pick a side, he would pick the winning side. Currently, that side was Bobbi’s. Robin had forgiven him for working for Bobbi if only because she had missed him. After she’d betrayed Nora and Julia, he was the only friend she had left whose support she could count on. Now, she realized that he wasn’t her friend at all. If their circumstances changed, he could just as easily be her enemy.

“Never mind,” Robin muttered.

Could she trust anyone?

Again, her eyes landed on Nora. The other woman had removed her fedora and coat and was preparing a place to sleep on the other side of the pavilion next to Julia. She was so concentrated on her work, so lost in her own thoughts, that she looked like a different person. Robin recalled how it had felt to be on good terms with the General. How nice it had been to know that Nora would kill to protect her. And Julia, who had chattered nonstop about stories she'd heard, people she'd met, the places she'd been; a contagious energy and a fiery spirit. Trust could not be bought or begged for. Nora was right. If Robin wanted someone on her side during the journey to come, she would need to prove her worth once more. She had to remind both Nora and Julia that she was still a good person, still wanted the best for the Commonwealth, and was capable of redeeming herself. Perhaps, even though Robin hated to admit it, her alliance with these two women was more important that her desire to get revenge for Little John's death. At least for now.

 ---

The journey west towards the border of the Commonwealth was taken at an even faster pace than before. Robin was used to a large amount of exertion on a daily basis and had often made sure to train her agility and endurance, but even she was struggling with their trek. Julia, again, could barely keep up. Rather than ignore her suffering this time for the sake of keeping Bobbi's approval, Robin took the opportunity to begin proving her worth.

During one of their breaks on the first day of travel, she offered the other woman her only can of purified water. Robin herself was terribly thirsty but she could see that Julia needed the water more. Bobbi would replenish her with food and water by nighttime, anyway, which was an added benefit of being one of her 'advisors'. Without a word of thanks, Julia took the can from her and chugged it down to the last drop. Once she was done, she tossed the can away, wiped her chin and glanced curiously into Robin’s face. There was no exchange of words between them, but Robin thought Julia was probably thankful. When she’d walked off to sit down, Robin looked to Nora – perhaps in hope that she’d impressed her – but the General was as impassive as ever. Even after their conversation in the library, she still avoided Robin at all costs and barely talked to her. If anything, Nora was very good at playing hard to get. Disappointed, Robin turned away and joined Mel. 

On the second day, they had almost reached the barn with its surrounding empty farmland. Robin had been hanging near the back of the traveling group and noticed Julia was hobbling along as they climbed up one of the grassy hills. She halted to unlace her own boots, pulled off the extra pair of socks she wore, and handed them wordlessly to the smaller woman. Julia stared at her dirty socks, nonplussed.

“Your shoes are too big,” Robin clarified. “These will help.”

Julia leaned against a boulder to remove her own shoes and Robin saw that her socks had been soaked with blood, much of it old and yellowed. Bobbi had one of her men carry all of the group's supplies and she was extremely reluctant to lend any of them to the rest of the travelers. Even Nora, while having had her bag returned, hadn’t been allowed to keep any of the meds or caps she’d kept on her. Everything they had belonged to Bobbi now. So, while Nora had been doing what she could to patch up Julia’s bleeding feet, it was clear that there was no possibility of healing anytime soon.

Without thinking, Robin muttered, “You’ll need shoes that actually fit you if you’re going to make it to Monument Mountain. I’ll find you some.”

As Julia rolled the extra pair of socks over her feet she shot Robin a furtive, almost confused glance, as if she didn’t know what to make of her. She re-tied her shoes. When she tried walking with a few tentative steps, a look of relief came over her face. “It hurts less.”

Robin made sure to lace her own boots back up very tightly. They were sturdy and flexible, unlike Julia’s shoes, and much more suited to long periods of walking and climbing. However, she’d always worn two pairs of socks as a precaution against injuring her feet or ankles. This was a sacrifice she was willing to make to ensure Julia’s safety. If the other woman began to lag behind too much, Bobbi would become frustrated. When Bobbi got frustrated, people got hurt.

“Thanks,” Julia said quietly, looking at Robin without hostility for the first time in days.

Robin just shrugged. “Let’s catch up.”

They both sped up the side of the hill to find the rest of the party waiting for them. Bobbi had an angry expression on her face but, to Robin’s relief, didn’t say a word. Instead, she beckoned impatiently with her hand and everyone began to walk again. Robin left Julia behind to stride beside Mel. While he shot her a curious glance, he didn’t ask what she’d been doing; he already knew she’d made it her mission to help Julia, and while he thought it was unnecessary, he'd always respected Robin’s interest in charity. Besides... he wouldn't say it out loud, but he clearly didn't much like it when Bobbi was cruel to people. Mel wasn't that much of an asshole. 

Nora, meanwhile, slowed to walk beside Julia, and they talked for a little while in hushed voices, sending momentary glances in Robin’s direction. Robin tried to ignore it, but again she found herself trying to catch the General’s eyes and gauge her thoughts. Finally, she thought she saw a satisfied look sent in her direction.

Show, don't tell.

Perhaps Robin was on her way to redemption after all.

Chapter Text

The robbery was almost boring for Robin. In essence, it was one of the easiest she had ever planned.

Robin strolled down the street under the moonless sky, a woolen hat pulled over her hair and a bandanna tied around the bottom half of her face. Besides the dark green of her fatigues, she also had on black combat boots, a thin pair of gloves, and some light leather armour hidden beneath her clothing. A 10mm was tucked in the waistband of her trousers and a small dagger was concealed in her boot. She didn’t expect to have to use them, but a robber had to take precautions.

There were only five Gunners patrolling the building, backed by two turrets. Robin ducked past the searchlights and flattened herself against the wall of the bank, knowing that the darkness would conceal her as the patrol team passed.

The climb was made easy by the pock-like holes which had been punctured into the side of the building from past gun fights and explosions, creating plenty of handholds. Robin scaled the wall like a spider until she reached the flat plane of the roof. Once up there, she gulped down a large breath of freezing air and lowered herself to look around. Her entire body was tense, ready to duck, sprint, jump, climb – whatever it might take to escape. Fortunately, the Gunners were stupid enough to believe no one could possibly enter their building from the roof.

After letting loose a short chuckle, gleeful in her superiority over them, Robin scampered to the door, picked it open, and slipped inside as swift as a shadow. The stairs from the roof led her down to the second floor. While Robin hadn’t known what to expect inside the building, she’d been careful in the weeks before the robbery to count each Gunner who went in and out of the building. Unfortunately, it seemed she hadn’t accounted for one person.

The Gunners had a hostage.

He was guarded on the second floor by three men and one woman. Tied up, gagged, bleeding from multiple wounds; it looked as if he’d been here for a while. Robin reckoned that they were likely waiting for ransom money from whichever settlement they’d kidnapped him from. If it had been this long since he’d been captured, it was likely his family had already given up on him. Very soon, the Gunners would shoot him in the head and be done with him.

Bitter anger roiled in Robin’s gut. All of a sudden, she realized two things: one, she wouldn’t be leaving here with any money; two, she was likely to get herself killed. This man was now her priority, and she would do whatever she could to get him out.

But how to get past his four guards?

Robin, contemplating her new mission, continued down the stairs to the first floor. The rest of the Gunners were down here guarding the bank’s main vault. Robin had dressed in their fatigues so she could walk out without being noticed. Now, she was wondering how she could alert them to danger without giving herself away.

What had pre-war banks used for protection back in the day? Her eye caught sight of a protectron port down the hallway to her right. With a grin, she skipped over and hastily typed several commands into the terminal. Once she had released the robot, she moved on to the next hallway where she found another. At this point, there were already shouts and gunshots as the Gunners fought the first protection. Robin freed two more bots before circling back and drawing her gun. With a gruff shout, she ran straight into the lobby where she’d heard most of the conflict. She fired off a few shots in the direction of the protectron to sell her part, ducking behind some sandbags with another Gunner soldier – to her satisfaction, he hardly glanced at her, too distracted to realize he didn’t recognize her.

Idiot.

Robin sprinted out of the lobby and up the stairs, shouting, “Robots on the loose! We need backup!” at the top of her lungs.

As she’d expected, all four of the Gunners who had been guarding the hostage came sprinting down the stairs and shoved past her. Again, she was ignored. And, again, she grinned at her own craftiness. She slunk up the stairs to the second floor and crouched in front of the hostage. His face was bruised to the point that he could hardly open his eyes, but he gasped as he felt her hands tugging at the duct tape binding his wrists and said, “Wait – who are you? Please, I don’t-”

“Calm down,” she muttered. “I’m here to help.”

“But–who are-”

“Shh!” She slipped her knife from her boot and sliced through the tape. The Gunners had been torturing him: he was missing three fingers on his left hand. It filled Robin’s chest with both repulsion and anger.

She cut the tape binding his ankles too and then put both hands beneath his shoulders and lifted him to his feet. He was much larger than her and therefore much heavier, so she grunted with the effort. Finally, with him half-leaning on her, she stared dumbly at the room around her, realizing she had made one important mistake: she’d been too sure of her plan’s success to formulate a second strategy. If she’d just been taking the money, she would have walked casually through the front doors, letting her disguise do all the work. Now, she had a bleeding hostage with her.

There were grumbling voices below – the protectrons had all been destroyed. Robin had hardly a few seconds to decide what to do before they returned upstairs and discovered her. She couldn’t fight all of those Gunners on her own. With no other choice, Robin half-dragged the man across the room to the staircase, leading him up to the roof. She was breathing heavily by the time they reached the door and barely managed to kick it open with the heel of her boot. Behind them, there were shouts as the Gunners realized their hostage had escaped – it would be several more seconds before they realized where he had run off to.

Robin flew to the edge of the roof and teetered just at the edge, glancing down to see the floor far below. The man was too heavy and injured to climb. She turned back to him and grabbed both of his arms, pulling him along with her to the furthest edge instead.

“How far can you jump?” she asked him.

“I don’t know.” His eyes were squinting at her face. “Lady, who are you? Why are you helping me?”

Despite the danger, Robin found herself smirking at him. “Why wouldn’t I?” She pointed across the empty space below them at the next building. Robin knew she could make it – the roof was lower and hardly more than seven feet away – but he was in bad shape.

“I think I can do it,” he decided.

“Good.” Robin backed them up a few feet so they’d have a good run-up. T here was a loud crash as the door to the roof swung open and Gunners swarmed towards them, shooting and yelling. Robin swore, throwing herself forwards to avoid the hail of bullets, and snagged the man’s arm as she sprinted towards impending doom.

“Jump!” she snapped as her foot hit the edge.

The man jumped.

For a few breathless seconds, they seemed to hang in mid-air, and then Robin had tucked her body into a ball and was rolling jarringly across concrete. She finished off her roll in a well-practiced crouch and immediately twisted to check that the man had survived the jump. He was groaning and coughing up dust next to her.

Good.

Robin sprinted to the edge of the roof again, this time swinging out with one arm at the single Gunner who had tried to follow them. She hit him directly in the chest and he fell to his death below. Wincing, Robin moved away from the edge, not wanting to see his mangled body. A Gunner’s life for the life of an innocent man – as much as she’d hated killing him, it was worth it.

The others had halted on the bank’s roof, too afraid to follow their comrade. They raised their guns to continue shooting and Robin cursed yet again. To her surprise, the hostage jumped up and yanked her behind a chimney block, shielding them both from the bullets. Robin caught her breath, leaning her head back against the bricks. She pressed a hand to a growing agony in her shoulder – she’d been hit. Blood seeped from beneath her fingers.

The man was staring at her again. “Thank you,” he said softly. “You saved my life.”

Robin gritted her teeth against the pain. “Not yet, I haven't. Come on.”

They crossed to another roof, this one an apartment building, and threw themselves down the fire escape. Once they hit the road, Robin weaved between buildings, sprinting blindly in the dark, until she was certain they were far enough away that the Gunners couldn’t have followed. Only then did she turn to the man and smile, pleased that she’d managed to save him against all odds.

Still… what a mess.

“Thank you,” the man said again.

Robin ducked her chin in a nod. “What’s your name?”

“Lucas,” he replied. “I… I don’t think I can go back.”

Frowning, Robin inquired, “What do you mean?”

“Can’t go back home. I can’t put my settlement in danger,” he said worriedly. “That’ll be the first place the Gunners look for me. They only took me because I tried to fight back – the others'll be safer without me.”

Robin was still clutching her shoulder. Although she herself hadn’t been expected it, she huffed, “Well, come with me, then.”

“Really?”

“A favor for a favor. I helped you escape, you help me patch up my wound,” she said, shrugging with her uninjured shoulder. "Then we'll see what else you can offer."

“I owe you a massive debt. I’ll do whatever you ask me to.”

“Well…” Robin smirked. “Doesn’t sound half bad, Lucas. I appreciate loyalty.”

“Can I tell you something?”

Frowning, Robin nodded. “Sure.”

“Don’t trust Bobbi.”

Robin’s heart pumped harder all of a sudden in her chest. She stared at the man incredulously. “Uh… what?”

“I know you miss me, and you hate Bobbi for killing me, but… let it go. There’s too much at stake,” he insisted.

The street around them seemed to spin.

“Little John…” She halted, realizing she shouldn’t be using that name yet. She didn’t begin calling Lucas ‘Little John’ until he’d helped her with several of her operations. “This isn’t real, is it?”

“Prove to the General that you can be trusted. She’ll protect you.”

She struggled to find words. “I… I’m trying.”

“I know,” he said gently. He came to her and took both of her hands in his. “Robin, you’re a good person. I died ‘cause I wanted to protect you, ‘cause I believed in you. After all the adventures we’ve been on together, I know what you’re worth. Be smart, forget about revenge, and forget about money.”

“Those two things are the only reason I met the General in the first place.”

“I know. But this is bigger than anger and greed, Robin. You want to make a proper change for once in the Commonwealth, but you won’t survive to do that on your own. You’ll only make a change if you have the General on your side.”

His face was there but not there, blurring before her very eyes. She grabbed him and pulled him closer.

“Don’t leave!”

---

Robin burst into a sitting, gasping air deep into her lungs as she stared around her. It was dark and the eerie glow of the moon above told her that it was still night-time. She’d had a vivid dream – a memory which blended into something else entirely. She remembered all of a sudden where she was: somewhere along a main road which they’d started taking yesterday. Right on the edge of the Commonwealth, facing the unknown. Tomorrow, Robin would take over and guide Bobbi’s group of misfits into the world she’d had nightmares about.

Robin dug desperately into her pocket and felt the smooth plastic of Little John’s rain slicker. She pulled it out and clutched it to her chest, calming her breathing, feeling as if she were holding a small piece of him against her heart. Then, gingerly, she pulled the photograph out which Hera had given her and stared at his kind face. Although it hadn’t really been him in her dream – more an extension of her thoughts – she knew he’d been right. For the past few days, she had been fighting with herself about what was more important. Nora had told her very solemnly of her plan a couple mornings ago: she wanted to secretly leave a message for the Minutemen in the next settlement they passed. The question was, would Robin assist her in her secrecy, or would she sit back and refuse to get involved so she could remain in Bobbi’s good graces? While she had been intent on working professionally with Nora and leaving hard feelings behind, she wondered if maybe helping Nora with a new betrayal was a bad idea. If Bobbi caught them, it would all be over; no revenge and no money. 

This is bigger than anger and greed, Robin, Little John's voice whispered, resonating from somewhere deep inside her head. 

She sighed. Lowering the photograph of Little John, Robin climbed to her feet. She stepped over Mel’s sleeping bag and nodded at one of the gangsters keeping watch. He was eyeing her suspiciously, clearly wondering if she was about to run off. All she did, however, was walk to the edge of the road and stare up at the sky. No stars yet, but she remembered seeing stars on her journey to the Commonwealth. She assumed that soon there might be a parting in the fog and they’d see the real sky.

At least there was one nice thing waiting for them.

Bobbi was sound asleep surrounded by three of her men, one of them snoozing with her, the other two keeping watch. Nora and Julia had set up close to Bobbi, as instructed. Robin took a tentative step towards them and regarded their sleeping faces. Julia looked so much younger, like a child, curled up on Nora’s coat as Bobbi had refused to afford another sleeping bag. Nora herself was lying on the bare ground, still dressed in her armour, one hand on the grip of her rifle even while she slept. Her face was stoic, though her features were considerably more relaxed than when she was awake. Her smooth skin creased only in the space between her eyebrows – a tiny frown. What did the General dream about? Robin was struck with the sudden urge to lean down and smooth the crease out with her thumb. Instead, she explored the General’s features carefully with her eyes, realizing that it had been days, perhaps, since she had forgiven her for saving Bobbi’s life. How could she not trust Nora after watching her care for Julia, hearing little tidbits about her childhood before the war, seeing some distant sadness in her eyes as she recounted all the tragedies she had come to terms with? Nora’s compassion was the bridge between them, and it had taken time for Robin to trust her weight on it once more.

Every time she thought the General had had enough of her, there was only patience she never felt she’d earned. Robin hadn’t wanted to be this way, vulnerable and seeking redemption; she had pride. She’d always wanted to be seen as strong, although recently she hadn’t been. Her actions spoke of desperation, of an inability to choose rationally instead of emotionally. She was still so far from achieving Nora’s trust in return. However, her dream of Little John had reminded her that it was vital to try. Robin’s crew was very far away. All she had now was the ruthless ghoul who had betrayed her and seemed intent on watching her suffer, an old friend who would just as soon turn on her as he would help her, and two women who didn’t know what to make of her anymore. Robin wished she’d realized earlier, but at least she finally understood now that they were the allies she really needed. She wanted Nora to protect her, to trust her, to admire her. And she wanted Julia to forgive her.

Nora shifted slightly and Robin remembered with alarm that she was a very light sleeper – quickly, she padded away and returned to her sleeping bag. Again, she sat and looked down at Little John’s face in the darkness.

Don’t trust Bobbi.

She had never planned to. Still… she would take the advice to heart. Tomorrow she would take the leap and tell Nora that she would assist with her strategy to call for the Minutemen. And she’d send a message of her own, too, to see if her crew were up to the challenge of following her to Monument Mountain.

Hopefully, Bobbi wouldn’t know of their betrayal until it was too late.

 ---

The sweeping hills were the color of charcoal under the sallow sun, feeble rays struggling to shine through the broken layer of clouds above. A few hundred yards to Robin’s right was the lip of a gorge, obscured by a rise in the land, and rolling away to the left and ahead was the harsher landscape she remembered from many years ago: hard, dry soil, scraggly bushes, skeletons of trees, telephone poles. She wanted to stick to the road and avoid the buildings that could be seen in the far distance, only passing through cities that coincided with their path, but she was worried by the silence here – a main road should never be so quiet. Even the crows were nowhere to be seen. Robin felt fairly safe surrounded by her band of gangsters, but there was still a creeping sense of dread rising in her stomach.

She brought the group to a halt and consulted the map which Bobbi had torn from a book in Boston Public Library. A thick black line had been drawn on with a marker, emphasizing the path to Monument Mountain. She chewed on her lip, sensing that someone had approached her side. While she’d expected Bobbi, it was instead Nora who appeared in her peripheral vision, leaning over her shoulder to see what she was looking at.

“Something wrong?” the General asked.

“No.” Robin shivered and lifted her eyes to the landscape again, feeling a strange wind rise out of nowhere. A breeze on a perfectly still day. “It feels like something bad is gonna happen.”

“So, you want to take a detour?”

When Robin turned her eyes to Nora’s face, she saw both concern and a meaningful look in her eyes. There was only one settlement Nora knew of out here, one she had come across by accident some time ago. It was called Rydell Farm and consisted of several families all cultivating the same land. The farmers had refused to join the Minutemen back when Nora visited them several years ago, however, traders often passed through the settlement when they traveled into the Commonwealth from elsewhere on the continent. If they could get their messages to one of the traders, they would be delivered quickly to their recipients. The only issue was that the settlement was considerably far to the left of their path. How could they change direction without Bobbi getting suspicious?

While her increasing sense of dread had little to do with the literal road ahead, Robin caught on. This was their chance. She glanced back over her shoulder and caught Bobbi’s eye. “There’s a town up ahead,” Robin called. “We should go around it.”

“Why?”

“I heard gunshots,” she lied.

Bobbi scowled. “I didn’t.”

“Neither did I,” one of the gangsters grumbled.

“It’s pretty far off still,” Robin said, unfazed. She pointed in the direction of Rydell Farm. “If we go that way, we can avoid whatever conflict’s going on. There’s also a settlement out there, I think.”

“Two days away,” Nora interjected.

“There will be traders there. We can top up our supplies.”

Bobbi stared suspiciously at the two of them. “Really?”

Robin just shrugged again.

“Taking a detour will make our journey longer.”

“Not by much,” Robin said. “Better to avoid conflict if we can. You already lost enough men fighting those Gunners in Sawyer Tech.”

Bobbi seemed for a moment as if she was going to threaten them again and put them in their place. After an exchanged glance with Mel by her side, who gave her an imperceptible nod, she finally agreed to the new path. “Lead the way,” she muttered.

Robin veered off the main road with Nora by her side. Leaning in, Nora murmured, “Good job.”

Robin was content with the praise. “They don’t call me Silver-tongue for nothing.”

While Nora’s face hardly shifted into a smile, her eyes danced with amusement. They weren’t quite what they used to be, but Robin felt she became closer each day to having Nora like her again. Even Julia had stopped ignoring her. Now that the woman could walk without limping, courtesy of the new shoes Robin had looted from an abandoned house they'd passed, she’d even begun striking up a friendly conversation from time to time.

Prove to the General that you can be trusted. She’ll protect you.

Little John's advice in her dream last night still brought a chill. While Robin wasn’t superstitious enough to believe that dreams carried real messages, she still wondered what exactly she might need the General to protect her from.

“You said you felt like something bad was going to happen,” Nora said in a low voice, as if reading her mind.

Robin released a tense sigh. Yes, she did. Even now they’d left the main road, there was that painful silence, the eerie breeze; typical signs of foreboding. First of all, she was worried about betraying Bobbi, not just because the gangster had become even more cold-blooded with each passing day, but because she knew never to underestimate her smarts. Bobbi was prepared for a betrayal, especially one from her two so-called advisors working together. If Nora and Robin weren’t careful, they’d end up in handcuffs again – or worse, dead. Did Bobbi still need them? Perhaps. But not enough to warrant the danger of their banding together and trying to usurp her. She was too desperate to find that fortune to allow them to get in her way. Robin had formed a temporary alliance with a snake. But, should she provoke it in any way, it would not hesitate to sink its fangs into her and inject a deadly poison.

“When I first arrived in the Commonwealth, before I even began planning robberies, I did a lot of training,” Robin started, keeping her tone light. “Not just physical training – mental, too. I read a lot of books. It sounds stupid, but... I didn’t want to end up a villain rather than a hero. Decided to make sure I understood the fine line between.”

Nora raised her eyebrows; Robin already knew what she was going to say. “You were-”

“Stealing from people, I know.” Robin rolled her eyes. “But stealing from assholes doesn’t make me a villain. I checked. The hero follows their duty and their desire to protect others. Even if it means suffering along the way, the hero will do what they can to make sure others are safe. If they commit a crime, they only do it for noble purpose.” She recalled her dream last night – the memory of choosing Little John’s life over a large bounty. Before Bobbi had killed him, Robin had always put the lives of innocent people first. The loss of her closest friend had shaken everything up. 

Nora was pensive. “I suppose your purpose was fairly noble. At least, the Commonwealth people seem to think so.”

“I was a hero. I made sure of it,” Robin said firmly. “Bobbi, however, is a villain. She only desires power and money and thinks nothing of making other people suffer as long as she gains an advantage.”

“Okay,” Nora said. She furrowed her brow. “So? What’s your point?”

“The world benefits people like Bobbi. It’s not going to change. I feel a sense of… anticipation, I guess, because I know that Bobbi has – and always will have – the upper hand. No matter what we do.”

As she thought through this, Nora’s eyes seemed to darken. “I don’t think that’s true.”

“It is,” Robin insisted. She wondered if it would sound insane if she mentioned her dream from the night before, including the warning not to trust Bobbi and to get the General on her side. After some consideration, Robin decided against it. “We’ve given ourselves value in Bobbi’s eyes, but we still don’t have control. Both of us are trying to beat her at her own game, but… only Bobbi knows how it ends.”

Nora stared at her, waiting for her to continue.

“If we actually succeed in getting messages to our people in the Commonwealth, we’ll be able to introduce new pieces, which will throw her off. But if we fail…” Robin shivered, wondering if that mysterious breeze had picked up again. “There will be consequences.”

“You could’ve just told me that you’re afraid my plan won’t work,” Nora said wryly, shooting her a look. “Instead of using hero-villain metaphors. I would have understood.”

Robin sighed.

Quick footsteps behind her alerted Julia’s presence. Robin turned to see that the smaller woman had caught up to them, panting a little, still flanked by two of Bobbi’s gangsters. Bobbi took great pleasure in still treating her like a fugitive even though she allowed Nora and Robin to walk around without guards. Julia wasn't so easily put down, however; she either chatted nonstop to her guards until they got irritated enough to give her space, she'd hum a tune that she knew would get on their nerves, or she'd ask to go to toilet and embarrass them about not giving her privacy. She was surprisingly good at manipulating them when the opportunity arose. Robin was impressed by her resilience. 

“So? We’re going to that settlement you talked about?” Julia whispered. While her two guards glanced over, they didn’t seem to have heard what she’d said. They also didn't seem to care. They hated Julia just as much as she hated them.

Robin merely nodded.

At the same moment, Nora seemed to realize that all three of them walking together at the front of the pack would certainly look suspect. She took Julia’s wrist and muttered, “Come on, let’s slow down for those injured feet of yours.”

As they fell back, Robin thought through what she’d just told Nora. Heroes. Villains. Bobbi’s game. Rydell Farm. Secret messages. The foreboding silence, approaching darkness, mysterious wind. Robin’s dream had had a strange effect on her mind. Perhaps she was just being paranoid. Or perhaps she truly did have something to fear about the journey ahead of her. Either way, she hoped she'd made the right choice switching alliances again, even if she'd only done it because of Little John's dream-advice. She would always trust him, whether he was dead or alive. He wouldn't lead her astray.

Chapter Text

Nora had been curious, but not wary, of the lack of adversaries they had encountered so far into their journey. They were a few hours away from Rydell Farm at most, having traveled across several winding roads and through parts of what used to be a forest, walking at a much slower pace than they’d taken through the Commonwealth - perhaps because Robin was now their guide and she was more wary of Julia’s struggle to match their speed. Bobbi decided they would set up camp by the edge of the withered forest, ignoring the high levels of radiation Nora warned her about. After all, Bobbi was a ghoul; radiation didn’t affect her as much as it affected everyone else. Without much choice, Nora ended up settling down to sleep with her Geiger-counter still clicking urgently.

If Nora had been more wary about the lack of danger so far, if she’d really thought about it and seen why nothing had dared to approach them, perhaps she wouldn’t have let herself sleep so deeply.

Instead, Nora woke to the sound of a knife slicing through the air.

Nora’s body flooded immediately with adrenaline but the trajectory of the blade was impossible to escape. The most she could do was roll onto her side so that the blade pierced her left shoulder instead, digging so deep into the muscle above the plate of her armour that she let loose an immediate cry of pain. Her attacker withdrew his blade quickly and prepared to stab down again, this time in a killing blow, but there was a meaty thunk as a different blade sunk into the back of his neck and jutted out through his throat, spraying Nora’s face with blood. She rolled him off of her and leaped to her feet immediately, rifle already in her hands, shocked at the sight around her: what looked to be twenty, maybe even thirty men and women dressed in dark clothes, each holding a long blade. No guns; this had been intended to be stealthy, swift. Cutting throats while their victims slept, stealing their belongings, and slipping away into the night.

Bobbi and the rest of her men had awoken at Nora’s cry of pain and, as she watched, the camp reduced into chaos. Triggermen opened fire at the knife-carrying bandits, yelling obscenities, and Bobbi herself picked up a machine gun and jumped right into the fray, Mel close on her heels. Nora caught sight of Robin just before she joined the fight. She was standing several feet away, staring straight at her, one arm still extended as if she couldn’t believe the knife she’d thrown had actually hit its mark.

Robin had saved her life, but there was no time to thank her.

Nora unsheathed her own knife and lifted her rifle, twisting as two women flew at her. She weaved between both of their blades and shot the first in the chest, lashing out with a foot to catch the other in the ribs. The woman stumbled back, winded, and Nora prepared to shoot her – but her recovery was almost inhumanly quick. In a move that was definitely not Raider-like, she twisted her body in a deft spin and brought her knife in a wide arc which sliced Nora’s arm from elbow to wrist. The General hissed her pain and pulled back, only to find another blade flying towards her face. She ducked so quickly that she felt wind by her cheek and then launched herself at her new attacker’s feet and sprawled on top of him, stabbing down into his chest several times with her dagger until he had stopped moving. One-armed, she gritted her teeth and shot wildly at the woman attacker behind her. Nora didn’t wait to see if she’d gone down, bounding to her feet again and sprinting to where Bobbi and her men had become surrounded by the rest of the bandits.

The way the attackers fought confirmed that they were well-trained, and as Nora dodged yet another knife thrust, she wondered who they could possibly be and what they could possibly want from a random group of travelers. The momentary retreat into her thoughts was all that was needed to catch her off guard – a startling pain in her right flank made her double over, automatically pitching herself away from her assailant in an effort to protect the wound. He had managed to stab her right between the straps of her armour. How had he known where to strike with such efficiency? It wasn't the sort of knowledge a regular bandit would have. 

Nora rolled nimbly to her feet, gasping against the pain, and shouted, “To me! Circle me!”

Bobbi’s men had already seen how efficient she was in battle. The remaining gangsters instantly retreated to her side, looking to her for instruction. Bobbi and Mel, too, pulled back and joined the makeshift formation.

“Shoulders together, protect the circle!” Nora barked.

She had no time to wonder where Julia or Robin were – the rest of the attackers flew at them in a seemingly well-practiced synchronization. Nora shoved her way to the outside of the formation and let off a round of bullets, managing to rake down three men and one woman. A resounding click told her that her chamber was out. There wasn’t enough time to reload. Nora dropped her rifle and ducked her body swiftly under the arm of one of the bandits, bringing her knife up hard into his armpit. He screamed in pain and fell.

Eight attackers left. The moment they heard their comrade’s scream of pain, all of them seemed to halt and exchange glances. In their pause, another man was mowed down by Bobbi’s bullets. With hardly a look back towards their victims, they all sprinted from the campsite at incredible speed, disappearing between the trees before Nora could begin to think of following.

She stared after them in shock, lowering her blade and letting it slip from her bloody fingers.

“What the fuck was that?” Bobbi snapped, apparently just as shocked as she was.

Now that the battle was over, Nora fell to her knees, grunting as she pressed a hand to the pulsing wound in her side. Even though her vision was greying at the edges, she turned, still trying to remain alert as she checked to see who had been left. Bobbi and Mel had survived along with only five triggermen. Robin and Julia stood some way off, wide-mouthed as they stared at the numerous dead bodies littering the ground.

“What the fuck,” Bobbi said again, this time under her breath.

She turned to Nora, panting, and then strode over to one of her fallen men – the triggerman who had been carrying all of her supplies. From her bag, she withdrew two stimpacks. She extended one to Nora.

“You fought well. Heal yourself,” she said simply.

Nora could feel herself weakening already from the blood loss. She took the stimpack in a hand slippery from blood and injected it directly into her uninjured shoulder, glad at least for the fact that there had been no bullets to remove. As the stimpack took effect, she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth.

In what seemed like only moments, Nora found herself flat on her back with Robin by her side, pushing hair from her face and checking her wounds. She blurred sickeningly above so Nora closed her eyes almost as soon as she’d opened them. Had she passed out? After taking a deep breath, she lifted her head to look around her and realized she was lying on top one of the dead gangster’s sleeping bags and the sky was lightening with the rays of dawn. All of the dead bodies of their assailants had been dragged into one corner of the campsite and Bobbi and Mel were searching through them.

“Welcome back,” Robin said softly, peering down at her.

Had the attackers come back to finish them off, Nora would have been completely vulnerable in her unconscious state. Internally, she scolded herself. “I lost a lot of blood,” she muttered.

“Yeah. I saw you get stabbed about three times, and yet you still killed almost half of them,” Robin said wryly. “Typical.”

Nora could taste blood in her mouth. Despite the pain still resonating from the wound in her flank, her forearm and her shoulder, she forced herself into a sitting position. She could barely suppress a whimper of pain – Robin’s hand quickly tucked around her back to support her as she withdrew another stimpack. While the needle was injected into the crease of her arm, Nora felt her blood run cold. “Where’s Julia?”

“Here,” said a voice off to her left. Nora turned to see the other woman sitting cross-legged beside her, unharmed. “Robin dragged me behind the trees so the attackers couldn’t see us. I wanted to help, but-”

“It’s good you didn’t,” Nora interrupted, relieved. She gave Robin an approving glance. And then, remembering how the battle had started, she gave her a smile, too. “You killed a man for me. I’m flattered.”

Robin shrugged, her cheeks pinking. “My reaction was automatic.”

“How did you know we were being attacked?”

“I woke up because I felt… something wrong. And then I saw why – I saw them appear around the edges of the campsite and one of them silently crept over to you with a knife in his hand.”

“The bad feeling you’ve been having over the past days,” Nora said suddenly. “Do you think it was them? Do you think they’ve been following us?”

“Maybe.”

Nora clenched her jaw. “Help me up.”

With Robin’s assistance, she managed to limp over to Bobbi’s side. The grey, dead faces of their attackers had been un-hooded to show young features. Each of them wore the same clothing: black trousers, a black jacket, black boots. They must be part of a faction of some sort, and yet Nora had never seen settlers so well-trained and organised. “Mercenaries,” she muttered.

Bobbi twisted at the sound of her voice. “Did you have a nice nap, General?”

While the sarcasm irked her, Nora simply nodded. “Did any of them survive?”

Pointing to where two of her remaining men were guarding a single body, Bobbi said, “That one’s still alive. We’re gonna interrogate her, you and I.”

Nora hoped the woman would give up her information easily. She’d never had the stomach for torture, preferring to get prisoners to confess through the use of persuasion. If Bobbi took the lead, there would be some truly horrifying things to have to watch. As they approached, Nora saw that the woman was panting, her face so pale it seemed to glow in the early morning light. Still, despite the wounds she was clearly suffering, her lips were pulled into a faint smirk. When she recognized Nora, she muttered, "General.”

Nora started. “You know who I am?”

“Everyone knows who you are.” She bared her teeth. “You've made a bad choice, making this woman your partner.” With a shaking hand, she jabbed a finger in Bobbi’s direction.

Nora had been prepared to deny it, but she swiftly remembered that she was supposed to be Bobbi’s advisor. There was no denying the truth.

“Why did you attack us?” she demanded. “You came for me first – why?”

The woman seemed to have no problem forfeiting this information. “We’ve been watching for some time. We’ve seen how well you fight. Had we succeeded in killing you stealthily, we would've won the battle tonight.” Her amber eyes fell on Robin, dark with displeasure. “Unfortunately, this one saw us coming.”

“What, you don’t know who I am?” Robin scowled. “I can be dangerous, too, if I want to be.”

"Robin the Sly," the woman said without hesitation. "We know you."

Bobbi’s lip curled. She leaned in, a knife suddenly having appeared in her hand. “You said you’ve been watching us. For how long?”

The woman’s smirk didn’t waver. “Weeks,” she said. “Months, in fact.”

“Why?”  Nora inquired.

Robin’s face twisted into an expression of surprise. “Since I broke into Sawyer’s mansion and took the maps – that’s when you started following, isn’t it?”

For once, the woman didn’t reply. After a few seconds, she jerked her head in Bobbi’s direction and spat, “Kill me, I dare you! There are many more of us, and we won’t fail to stop you. We’ve stopped so many before you-”

Bobbi’s knife flashed and the woman let out a cry of pain. Her ear, severed from the side of her head, dropped to the grass followed by a dark red spurt of blood. Nora snatched Bobbi’s hand away without thinking. “Hey!”

Bobbi turned on her. “Seriously? We were attacked by almost thirty people tonight. Her people.”

Nora glanced down at the bloody knife and this time kept her mouth shut, releasing Bobbi's arm. She needed to remind herself what her priorities were. Later today she would be betraying Bobbi – there was no way she’d succeed if the gangster already mistrusted her.

“What do you mean, you’ve stopped many before us?” Nora asked, turning back to the woman.

She was gasping, one hand pressed to the earless hole in the side of her head. Still, she mustered enough anger to spit, “Bandits. Mercenaries. Treasure hunters. They come for the maps and search for the fortune.”

“People have found the fortune before us?”

With a furrowed brow, the woman decisively shook her head. “Once we are alerted the maps have been stolen, we find them and kill them.”

“Why didn’t you do the same to us?”

There was a long silence.

Bobbi, knife extended, moved in threateningly. “Answer the question. Why did you wait till now to attack?”

After shooting her a glare, the woman muttered, “We saw that this one…” She pointed at Robin, “… had betrayed you. And formed an alliance with the General of the Minutemen.”

“Why does that matter?” Bobbi snapped.

Almost tauntingly, the woman said, “They wanted to capture you. We thought they would do our job for us.”

Nodding along, Nora muttered, “But we didn’t. Instead, we allied ourselves with Bobbi. We helped her figure out where the treasure was hidden. You decided you would move in and stop us before it was too late.”

The smirk was back on the woman’s face. She shrugged. “We will kill all of you before you reach the fortune.” Her eyes landed on Nora’s face, her stare intense and insistent. “Not even you will be able to stop us, General.”

Impatiently, Bobbi withdrew a 10mm from her trousers, lifted it to the woman’s forehead, and pulled the trigger. Nora sensed that Robin’s head had turned away during the rapid execution, but she forced her own eyes to remain on the woman’s face even despite her own disgust. As the woman slumped back, instantly dead, Bobbi reached down and tugged at something around her neck until it came free.

“What is it?” Nora asked, forcing down her frustration at having their only prisoner killed. She’d been answering their questions without being prompted – Bobbi should have waited until Nora was finished. Still, there was no going back now.

Bobbi’s face was tight with anger. “You tell me. All of ‘em have one of these.”

Leaning in, Nora took a small silver pendant from the ghoul’s hands, squinting at it.

“That’s the symbol,” Robin said faintly, glancing over her shoulder.

“What? What symbol?” Bobbi demanded.

Robin stared between the two of them. “Uh… the symbol on the side of the Sawyer Tech building. You don’t remember?”

With a smile, Nora silently thanked Robin’s excellent perception. The symbol represented three interlocked boxes in the formation of a triangle. It was familiar – Nora must have seen it so many times in her life but never recognized it. “The Sawyer Tech logo.”

Bobbi's eyes flashed with a sort of grim recognition and she turned abruptly to her men. “Leave the dead here. We’ll set a fire before we leave to burn the bodies. Collect all weapons and ammunition.”

“Wait a second.” Robin stared at the ghoul. “Why don’t you seem surprised by any of this?”

With a glower in Robin’s direction, Bobbi tucked the pistol back into her trousers. “I’ve dealt with them before. Fucking cult.”

Both Robin and Nora stared at her. Quickly, Julia advanced and snapped, “What does that mean? You knew this was gonna happen?”

“They think it’s their job to protect Martin Sawyer’s fortune.” Bobbi waved a hand as if it didn’t matter. “I don’t think even they know where the treasure is. No one has ever gotten as far as we have. But, no matter how many of my people they might’ve killed, I ain’t gonna give up.” Her eyes blazed. “I’m getting to that treasure. It’s mine.

Julia’s lips parted and her eyes widened. “But-how did you-”

“Did you know?” Nora demanded, meeting Mel’s eyes past Bobbi’s shoulder.

Very slowly, he shook his head, his face so pale it was nearly translucent.

“You risked all of our lives tonight, including yours,” Nora hissed at Bobbi. “All of us could’ve died because of you.”

Bobbi’s knife was in her hand again in a flash and she took a threatening step towards her. “I may have lost most of my men tonight, but I’ll still gut you like a fish, General,” she threatened in return. “Know your place.”

“I'll stand down once you tell me the rest of the truth!” Nora retorted. “They’re not just after you. They’re after all of us now – you’ve resigned all of us to death.”

When Bobbi just glowered at her, resolute, Robin muttered, “This is what she does. She never tells the whole truth. The only person who ever holds all the cards is Bobbi.”

“Bobbi, please,” Mel said softly. “Who are they? Why didn’t you tell me we’d be dealing with… that?” He gestured to the blood-stained ground of their campsite. For a second, Bobbi seemed almost taken aback, realizing that she was surrounded by four people who were demanding answers, three of whom didn't harbor even the tiniest amount of respect for her. After looking into all of their faces, a soft huff left her. “Fine.” She sheathed the knife again. “I heard about Jeremy Sawyer from an old colleague sixteen years ago. He asked for my help, said he was being hunted. I owed him a favor so I agreed. Found him already dead with a knife in his throat.” Her eyes narrowed to slits. “He’d left me a message about a billionaire called Jeremy Sawyer which… caught my interest, to say the least. I knew, if someone had killed him just for knowing about Sawyer, that the price must be real, and it must be big. So I decided I’d find out more.”

“How do you know they’re a cult?” Robin asked.

“I don’t,” Bobbi said dryly. "During the years I spent researching Jeremy Sawyer, I figured out that Martin himself founded some sort of organisation to protect both his heirs and the fortune. Once he was gone, though, they forged their own path and their ideals became… extreme. For two centuries, they’ve worshiped Sawyer Tech like it’s their religion and Jeremy Sawyer is their God. They enlist mercenaries of all sorts and train them to keep people from finding the treasure. I don’t think they want anyone to find the money – ever. Not even Martin’s heirs.”

“Is that why I never knew who Jeremy Sawyer was?” Julia asked quietly. “Is that why no one in my family knew?”

“They’ve removed all traces of Sawyer from the Commonwealth. You’ll never find a book, a terminal entry – not even a goddamn instruction manual – which will tell you anything about who the billionaire was, and what his grandson did with the family money.”

“If that’s true, then I don’t understand how you know all this,” Nora said suspiciously.

“My colleague.” Bobbi smiled. “He was a mercenary. They enlisted him, but once he heard about the money, he changed his mind about working for them. He wanted to find it. Before I discovered him, he made sure to record everything he knew.”

“And… you’ve dealt with them before? They’ve tried to kill you already?”

“There was a time where I went after them, thinking they had all the answers I needed. But it was as if they didn't exist. I only had them contact me through other people when they tried to warn me.” Bobbi smirked. “Since I sent Robin to collect the maps, they’ve been killing my men, sending me angry messages, threatening that if I didn’t give up, they would slaughter me and everyone I loved.”

Robin said flatly, “But you don’t love anyone.”

Nora had expected Bobbi to be offended by this statement, but she only cackled. “Exactly! It was an empty threat.”

“Not so empty since they came here tonight intending to slaughter all of us,” Nora pointed out.

Bobbi hummed. She clapped her hands together. “Either way, all this means is we need to pick up the pace. I don’t know how many people are in this cult – or organisation… whatever it is. But they’ll need time to recover before they come after us again.”

There were so many more things Nora could say. She could argue all night if she had to. However, she forced herself to remember Julia – the woman whose life depended on her – and the plan she had formed with Robin to send messages to their people once they reached Rydell Farm. Perhaps Bobbi was still withholding important information which could risk them their lives, but Nora would find time to get it out of her after her own mission was completed.

“Come on,” she said to Robin and Julia, turning away.

“Not her,” Bobbi interjected calmly.

When Nora turned, she saw three of Bobbi’s remaining men surrounding Julia. The woman glanced up at them, both confused and fearful. “What is this?” she demanded.

Angrily, Nora made to take a step forward. "Bobbi, what’re you-”

With a careless wave of her hand Bobbi said, “I’m not gonna lose my leverage over you, General. Just because you're a good fighter doesn't mean you have any power over me or my men. It’s clear you still don’t trust or respect me, but as long as the little mouse is in danger, you’ll follow through with what you’ve promised.”

“What I’ve promised?” Nora challenged angrily. "I never made you any promises."

“You’re gonna get me to that mountain. No matter the danger.”

Robin opened her mouth to join the conversation but Bobbi shot her a glare. “Don’t even try.”

An insistent tugging on Nora’s wrist was the only thing which made her stand down. She gave Julia a worried look but the smaller woman simply shook her head, mouthing, Go, I’m fine.

“See? She’s fine,” Bobbi said with a cold smile. “Recover properly before we get going. I’ll need you in peak condition from now on.”

 ---

Even as the morning approached, there was a scattering of stars which shone like a beautiful, surreal blanket above their heads. Nora sat heavily back on her sleeping bag, glaring at the twisted branches of the forest. Staring down momentarily at the pendant she still had clenched in her hand, Nora quickly stuck it into the inside pocket of her coat to hide it from view. Quietly, Robin sat beside her, and although she didn’t speak, Nora could sense she was upset from the tension in her body. After a few moments, Nora sensed Robin’s unwavering gaze on her face, though there was nothing sinister about it. In fact, Nora only got the feeling that she had Robin’s undivided attention.

“We need to get Julia out,” Robin said finally.

“Yeah.” Stonily, she yanked at a fistful of grass and let the dry strands fall from her fingers. “I need the Minutemen’s help now more than ever. If we don’t manage to get a message out…”

“If we don't, we’ll find another way,” the other woman reassured her.

With a sigh, Nora muttered, “But we’re running out of settlements we can use to our advantage. If we move too far out of range, I won’t be able to send anything to the Minutemen.”

Again, a long silence. Robin was chewing on her lower lip, her eyes still scanning Nora’s face. “What do you think about what Bobbi just told us?”

“I think our whole situation has just gotten impossibly more difficult,” Nora muttered. “Not only are we trying to beat Bobbi at her own game and find a way to undermine her control, but now there’s apparently an organisation after us who will do whatever they can to stop us from getting to Monument Mountain.”

“So you think she was telling the truth?”

Nora sent her a frown. “Maybe.”

“I think she was.” Robin sucked on her bottom lip again. “Well… mostly.”

Something else occurred to Nora. “How did you know to ask that woman whether it was you stealing the maps which alerted her people?”

“All the traps in Sawyer Terrace were in good condition. When I really think about it, it would only make sense for them to work if someone was checking up on them every now and again…” She trailed off. "That, and Little John and I expected way more security. Clearly this cult - or whoever they are - don't think the maps need that much protection when they can just dispatch mercenaries to kill the thieves."

As Nora watched, Robin’s shoulders hunched against a shiver. “Are you cold?” she asked curiously.

“No,” she muttered, pulling her knees up to her chest and folding her arms over them. With a pointed look, she returned, “Are you?”

“Stimpack’s still working. I won’t feel cold for a while.”

With a concerned glance at the elbow blocking the wound in her side, Robin ventured, “Do you want me to take a look at that for you?”

“It’ll be fine.” Nora pressed her elbow harder against her side, gritting her teeth against the sudden throb of pain. “Now that Bobbi’s apparently made me her glorified bodyguard, there’ll be plenty more stabbings where this one came from.”

Robin’s face took on a determined look – protective, almost. It surprised Nora, not only because their relationship had been a rocky one for the past few weeks, but because Robin had never seemed to care so much for her welfare. “Once we’ve got our own people here with us, she won’t be able to use you.”

They both returned their gazes to the forest, contemplating the day ahead and the night they had barely managed to survive. Nora remembered waking up to see a blade flying towards her face – and the memory made her shiver for an entirely different reason. While she’d experienced her own fair share of danger, she’d most often been able to see it coming. There was something incredibly disturbing about a group of knife-wielding mercenaries sneaking after them like ghosts, attacking only when they slept. Nora could stay alert, but she couldn’t stay awake forever.

As many questions as Nora still had about them – why they had chosen to protect the treasure at all costs when they had no interest in obtaining it themselves, why they hadn’t killed Bobbi immediately once she had both maps in her possession, why they were so well-trained and able to move with such efficiency – there was no chance of any of them being answered tonight. All she knew was that she was well out of her depth.

“When I agreed to help you find Bobbi, I didn’t expect it to end up like this,” Nora sighed.

With a furtive glance in her direction, Robin admitted, “Me neither.”

This time, when Robin shivered, Nora shot her a disapproving look. She carefully considered what she was about to do for several moments before acting; favoring the wound in her side, Nora moved to put an arm around the other woman’s shoulders. It was a simple gesture of comfort but Robin immediately flinched away from her. Nora halted, twisting to look at Robin in surprise. She hadn't meant to make the movement so sudden. As partners, they had rarely touched even casually; perhaps Robin just didn't understand her motive. Nora lifted her arm again in invitation, this time waiting to see what the other woman would do. Robin's eyes narrowed and she remained stiff for almost an entire minute before quickly shuffling under Nora's waiting arm. Her actions were almost reminiscent of a cat that didn’t want to show that it actually enjoyed being cuddled should it lose its impression of cool indifference. 

Amused, Nora patted her arm and lifted her chin slightly, allowing Robin to rest her head against her shoulder. Beyond the very familiar scents of sweat and blood, Nora thought she could smell something fresh, sweet, like pine and honey. Not a perfume or a soap fragrance, so perhaps it was just Robin; something real, genuine, hidden beneath her many layers of disguises. Closing her eyes, Nora breathed it in, pleased that something so simple could create such a distraction from her troubles. It surprised her that she felt so comfortable like this, sitting in the middle of a battlefield under the early morning sky, huddled up next to Robin. A week ago, she'd have sooner hurt Robin than let her get this close. Now, the other woman's proximity was somehow exactly what she needed. 

“Well…” There was a teasing lilt to Robin’s tone as she broke the silence. “Have I proven I can be trusted again, General? I’ve been trying very hard, in case you haven’t noticed.”

Nora smiled. “I’ve noticed.”

“So?” Robin prompted.

“Thanks for saving my life last night.” After a moment, she added, “And for trying to get Julia to forgive you over the past few days. She appreciates it. So do I.”

Robin’s response was curt. “Good.”

“Honestly, Robin…” Nora stalled, and she opened her eyes to watch the sky again, feeling some residue of dread return to her body. “I can’t say I understand your motives with Bobbi, but other than Julia, you’re the only person out here I can trust.”

Robin’s head tilted as she glanced up at Nora. “Gee, that's flattering. Thank you,” she said sarcastically.

“I'm serious.”

“You didn't say you trust me. You just said you trust me more than Bobbi."

"What more do you want?"

With a smile, Robin just said, "I guess there's still work to do." After a few seconds, her lips pursed and a bitter expression crossed her face. “Look, I have another apology to make.”

Nora waited patiently, sensing she already knew what was coming.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think since our last conversation in the library. When we tried to capture Bobbi and I lost my cool and I attacked her – I know I was in the wrong. I knew even when I blamed you. I just felt like revenge was all I had left. My closest friend was dead, my name was in tatters, and I thought you’d taken the only thing I had left. But the more I think about it, the more stupid I feel. And the more I realize that it was just me being reckless. Impulsive.” She smirked all of a sudden. “You know, when I was with Harley, he always used to say those were my worst qualities. I made decisions without thinking them through, hated being wrong, and refused to listen to advice.”

“Sounds familiar,” Nora teased.

Robin ignored the jibe and continued, “So, as much as I hate to admit it, I’m glad you stopped me.”

Surprised, Nora glanced down at her. She’d been anticipating the apology, but she hadn’t expected Robin to admit she was wrong.

“Little John wouldn’t have wanted me to risk my life – and other people’s lives – just to get revenge. I told you I was doing what he would’ve done if the situation was switched around, but he wasn’t that kind of guy. He wasn’t hateful. I mean, he’d have hated her, definitely, but he wouldn’t have tried to murder anyone.”

“I don’t blame you for losing control,” Nora said firmly. “Everyone makes decisions out of desperation.”

Robin nodded slightly, her cheek brushing against Nora’s shoulder. “Even you?”

“Yeah, even me. I’ve made plenty. Hatred can seem like a cure for pain when it’s really just gasoline for the flames. The more I killed for what I called revenge, the more pain I seemed to cause, and the more death. But never more healing.”

After a moment, Robin sighed and said, “Ugh, see what I mean? Everything that comes out of your mouth sounds like some old moral saying. Have you ever thought about writing these things down?”

Nora chuckled. "Can't say I have."

The silence which followed was comfortable, more comfortable than any they had shared, even during their first weeks travelling together. Nora had the odd urge to smile, to relish the fact that Robin had finally stopped being so aloof. If this was the real Robin, she didn't ever want her to go away again. This one was open, and charming, and was capable of being vulnerable without lashing out. This was the Robin who was selfless, thoughtful, intelligent - and had a big heart. Even though they were in even more danger than ever, it all seemed surmountable with the right companion by her side. Although she knew it would sound strange, Nora asked, "Is this the... real you? The real Robin?"

Robin stiffened again and her hair brushed against the side of Nora's neck as she turned to gaze up at her. "Who else would I be?" she replied scornfully. And then, quieter, she added, "You know, there's only one of me."

Nora smiled at her. "Good." Robin melted into her side again and the slow, steady breaths of the warm body against her own calmed Nora. There was that scent again: pine and honey. She tilted her head slightly to breathe in more of it, hoping Robin wouldn't notice.

Suddenly, the other woman lifted her head once more and asked, “So, are we still just colleagues, or can we be friends?”

“Which would you prefer?"

"I'd prefer for you to answer my question," she retorted cheekily.

Nora sighed. "Friends. If you want.” She couldn’t see the other woman’s face, but somehow she could feel her grinning. A hand landed on her knee, patting gently as if to make sure she was really there. It was an awkward yet somewhat endearing action.

Nora didn’t have many friends – none, in fact, apart from MacCready. It was odd for her to give her trust so easily to someone who had so recently let her down. But Robin was special. She was different somehow. Perhaps the reason Nora had continued with this adventure despite the danger was because of Robin, after all. She had to admit, at the very least, that should she have the chance to take Julia and leave now, she'd refuse if it meant leaving Robin behind. The other woman wasn't just a criminal to her anymore. Nora cared what happened to her. 

So... yes. Friends. Being friends with Robin was the least she could do. 

Chapter Text

They reached Rydell Farm at midday.

It had started raining as they approached and rivulets of muddy water had soaked the soles of Robin’s boots. Still, despite the terrible night before and the miserable weather, Robin couldn’t deny her relief at seeing normal settlers – not gangsters, or assassins, but honest farmers. The farmyard was patchy with mud and the rows of crops were brown and grey; with winter approaching, they wouldn’t get much more out of the soil. The smell of Brahmin manure hung thickly in the air over the musky scent of hay. A poorly constructed gate of wooden planks and chicken wire that seemed to flex and bow in the wind barred the bottom of the farmyard. Finally, a tall corrugated metal wall bordered the settlement, surrounding all three of the houses and the field within it. The families were all outdoors carrying out their chores – every single one of the settlers glanced up to see the traveling party approaching, their faces suspicious.

“Don’t worry!” called Bobbi jovially as she approached the gate. “We’re just travelers. Traders. Heard that plenty stop here on their way to and from the Commonwealth – that’s true, ain’t it?”

One of the men stood and approached the fence. He eyed all of their weapons, his gaze settling finally on Julia and the two beefy gangsters guarding her. It was clear they weren’t traders – he wasn’t stupid enough to believe Bobbi was telling the truth. Still, he clearly didn't want any trouble. “You can go round,” he said after a moment. “Caravans normally rest out back by the water pumps.” His eyes moved across them again, finally landing on Nora’s face, and then narrowed. Did he recognize the Minuteman General? Nora lowered her chin slightly, the brim of her hat obscuring her eyes from view.

“Thanks,” Bobbi said. She stepped around the gate, gesturing for her men to follow her. As Nora and Robin passed, the farmer sighed and turned back to his duties.

Walking closer so their shoulders brushed, Robin whispered, “How are we gonna do this?”

“Patience,” Nora muttered.

Three Brahmin were harnessed by the water pumps, guarded by five caravan guards and three traders. They glanced up when they saw Bobbi approach, seeming more confused than suspicious of her lack of a caravan.

“You selling ammunition? Meds?” she probed. “We ain’t here to stay. Need to stock up and move on.”

One of the traders stood immediately, glad for new business, and gestured for her to follow him over to his caravan. Julia was forcefully sat by the small campfire which had been set up before the water pumps, covered by a plastic tarpaulin to protect it from the rain. The rest of Bobbi’s men surrounded her, scowls on their faces as they regarded the rest of the traders and caravan guards. Mel stood awkwardly by one of the pumps, his face still pale from remembrance of the night before. Robin glanced again at Nora, wondering what she was waiting for. They wouldn't be able to give their messages to the traders under the careful watch of Bobbi's gangsters, but if Nora could slip away into the farm, she could try and get the settlers to help.

“Right,” Nora muttered after a moment. She pulled something from her pocket – a small folded piece of paper. Robin, on cue, pulled the photograph of Martin out from inside her coat. On the back, she had drafted a short message to be taken to Deb at Beacon Hill. Stepping forward, she pressed it into Nora’s hand, meeting her eyes. “Be careful.”

She meant it. Should Bobbi figure them out now, especially after the carnage of last night, there was no telling how she'd react. Nora nodded at her and then slipped out of sight around the edge of the settlement’s wall. Quickly, Robin walked over to the campfire and clapped her hands to get everyone’s attention. “Well! Nice weather today, isn’t it?”

One of the traders shrugged. Bobbi’s men glowered at her.

Casually, she said, “You know, I once knew this girl who had a rain fetish. Said it always made her wet.”

After a few moments of silence, one of the caravan guards guffawed. “A comedian, eh?”

She grinned, glancing around to make sure she had all of their attention. To her satisfaction, most of the traders and caravan guards seemed grateful for a distraction from their monotonous work and the grey weather. “Yeah, well, I was told once that if you don’t have a sense of humor, then you have no sense at all.”

“Tell another joke!” Julia called. She was the only other person who knew that Nora had sneaked off; while her blue eyes were sobered with concern for the General should she get caught, her lips had tilted into a wide, pleased smile.

“If you say so.” Robin thought for a moment. “What’s a Rad-Scorpion’s favorite song?”

“Dunno,” one of the traders said.

“Stinging In the Rain.”

Several more of the guards and traders chuckled this time. Even Mel arched an eyebrow at her, clearly not understanding her goal but amused nevertheless. After looking at her doubtfully, one of the gangsters muttered, “Sit down and shut up.”

“But they’re enjoying this,” Robin complained, pouting. She turned to the rest of her audience. “Aren’t you?”

There was a resounding agreement.

“Leave the lady alone!” one of the caravan guards called.

Robin patted the gangster on the shoulder reassuringly. “Don’t worry. I’ve got one for you, too. What do people from outside Boston have in common with a bottle of beer?”

Suspiciously, he squinted at her. “What?”

“They’re both empty from the neck up.”

Julia giggled loudly and even Mel chuckled, though he seemed to think it was a poor attempt at a joke. Fed by the laughter, Robin gained confidence. “Oh, oh – here’s another-”

“What the hell is going on here?” Bobbi snapped, appearing by the campfire with her hands on her hips. It hadn’t even been a minute since Nora had slipped away. Robin had been banking on the possibility of Bobbi taking much longer to trade. She quickly searched for another way to distract everyone. With a wide faux grin, she turned back to the traders and said, “How many ghouls does it take to change a-?”

“Stop,” Bobbi commanded, stepping forward with a sudden vigilance. “Only time I’ve ever seen you drawing attention to yourself is when you’re trying to create a distraction.” Her eyes darkened as she quickly understood what was going on. “The General – where is she?”

“I don’t know what you’re-”

All five of the Bobbi’s gangsters sprang into action, lifting their guns and running at break-neck speed towards the settlement’s entrance. Bobbi drew her own pistol – a new revolver she’d just bought – and leveled it at Julia’s head. Robin stepped forward to intercept but Bobbi snapped, “Stay there!”

All of the traders and caravan guards instantly dispersed, unwilling to be a part of the conflict. Even Robin’s jokes hadn’t given them enough reason to want to get involved.

“Mel!” Bobbi barked. “Make yourself useful.”

For a long second, he stared into Robin’s eyes, and she could see the conflict in them; he was thinking of ignoring Bobbi’s order – Robin could see it. She wished she could encourage that tiny flame of mutiny, stoke it into a fire, and remind him that Bobbi was a cruel, heartless woman who was only using him. If he joined Robin and fought back, Bobbi wouldn’t stand a chance, not now most of her men had run off to intercept Nora. But Mel drew his gun and pointed it straight at Robin’s head. His eyes flicked away from her face and he muttered, “I’m sorry. Just… stand down. Don’t make me shoot you.”

The betrayal wrenched at Robin’s gut. She stared at him, unsure whether she should be angry or sad. “Shoot me?” she murmured. “You’d shoot me, Mel?”

He didn’t speak, but his gun hand wasn’t wavering. Robin realized all of a sudden that he would. Mel would do whatever Bobbi told him to, as subservient as one of her lapdogs. Of course, Robin had expected this to happen; for Mel to choose to fight against her. He wasn’t an asshole, but he was still practical-minded. Friendship didn’t matter to him as much as money did. Little John’s death hadn’t mattered – so why should Robin’s?

“Got her!” one of the gangsters shouted. A few seconds later, Nora was dragged into view, caught between the arms of two of Bobbi’s men and struggling to remain on her feet. There was blood running down the side of her face – clearly she had tried to fight them off. Just behind her, two young children with round, frightened eyes were being escorted as well. They couldn’t be more than fifteen, the both of them.

“What’s this?” Bobbi snapped.

“The settlers were trying to protect her,” one of the gangsters said gruffly. “So we punished ‘em. Shot all the men, took the youngest.”

For a second, Bobbi’s eyes widened. And then she let loose a cackling laugh. “These country hicks really are stupid, aren’t they?”

Robin felt a roiling hatred rise in her gut. Nora met her eyes, and although her face was stoic as it always was, the sadness in her gaze was clear. It was true – Bobbi’s men had executed the farmers and kidnapped their children. Guilt replaced the hate, and the feeling was suffocating. Robin felt it as a weight in her chest, a knowledge that what had been done she could not un-do. She and Nora had failed, and not only did Bobbi now see fit to punish them, but she would hurt anyone who had tried to help them. The rest of the settlers, now mourning over their dead fathers, husbands, sons, would want to retaliate. But if they did, they would all die.

“Now, General,” Bobbi said chidingly. “I did warn you, didn’t I?”

Nora’s eyes glanced to Julia’s face and the pistol being held against her skull. “Leave her. If you want to punish someone, punish me. I’m the one-”

Bobbi lowered her gun and fired. With a scream, Julia buckled at the waist, clutching at her knee. When she fell to the ground, into the mud, Robin watched as if with a film over her eyes, hardly able to register the speed with which their situation had gone downhill. A bullet to the knee likely meant Julia would never walk properly again. No stimpack could repair a shattered kneecap, and there were no surgeons skilled enough out here to try to reverse the damage. Nora started struggling again and managed to viciously yank an arm away from one of the gangsters, but two more immediately restrained her again, forcing her back to her knees.

“Every action deserves a reaction, General,” Bobbi said coldly. She glanced past the General at the two children and Robin could see the gears turning in her head. She quickly stepped forward, shielding them with her body. Even though she knew it wouldn’t make a difference, she said, “They’re just kids, Bobbi.”

“Exactly,” Bobbi agreed. “Mel, tie their hands together. I don’t want them to be able to wander away.”

“Mel, don’t,” Robin hissed. He ignored her, purposefully avoiding her insistent gaze as he approached the young boy and girl with a roll of duct tape. They made no move to run, perhaps still in shock from the carnage they had witnessed.

“More leverage,” Bobbi clarified, crouching to look Nora in the eye. “Since apparently the little mouse doesn’t matter enough to keep you in line.” She straightened and shot Robin a sour look. “And since you have chosen the General’s side once again, even though she’s offered you nothing. Did you forget what I promised you?”

“I don’t care about the fucking money, Bobbi!” Robin snapped, her voice sharp as glass.

Bobbi’s eyebrows rose.

“For god’s sake, there are people after us, trying to kill us just for knowing about it! And you’ve been killing people, too – innocent people – and for what? All you’ve offered me is death!”

A tense, suspenseful silence stretched between them.

“I should’ve expected that you’d be unable to put your volatile emotions aside.” Bobbi rolled her eyes and turned to look down at Julia still writhing in the mud, her sobs coming out muffled. “Unfortunately, I still need you. Both of you. And I don’t have time for this rebellious bullshit.”

She gestured to one of her men. “You. Stimpack the little mouse. She won’t be able to run now, at least – but you’ll have to carry her.”

While he grumbled about his duty, the triggerman did as he was told, approaching Julia and kneeling beside her.

“Mel, hurry up with the tape. You’re in charge of the kids. Benny will guard them with you.” She slapped the shoulder of another of her gangsters. Mel finished binding the wrists of the young girl before nodding his affirmation of her command. With his gun, he waved the youths forward and they shuffled towards Bobbi like lambs to the slaughter, still wide-eyed and scared. “And you can let the General go,” Bobbi said to her last three men, waving a careless hand.

Nora made no move to stand once she was released, spitting blood and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. For the first time, she looked extraordinarily angry – Robin had never seen such an expression of hatred on her face. In any other situation, it would be frightening. Right now, it just made Robin feel hopeless, because even Nora’s anger couldn’t get them out of this. Every time they attempted to sneak by Bobbi, they failed. Anyone else would have already given up.

But heroes didn’t just give up when things got tough. Perhaps Robin understood now that revenge was the wrong path to take, but she refused to accept that Bobbi would always have power over her. Robin wouldn’t stop fighting until they reached that stupid mountain – and even then she would fight every step of the way. The only obstacle Robin had left to consider was Bobbi’s hostages. She was much more likely to hurt them little by little rather than kill them off if she felt Nora and Robin weren’t following her rules. Torture was a worse fate than death, and Bobbi excelled at it. Thus, there was no point in trying to get help from the outside anymore. Power would come from within – from being smart, turning Bobbi’s entire strategy on its head, and taking away her control. Robin’s duty now was to help the hostages escape. She would come up with a plan so artful, so clever, that even Bobbi wouldn’t see it coming before it was too late. If anything, Robin owed it to Julia and her crippled leg. And she owed it to the General, who had not once wavered from her duty to protect those around her.

---

Robin slowed for Nora to catch up for the fifth time that day. She had offered to help her clean up a little after they set off walking again, but the other woman had studiously ignored her, choosing instead to seethe quietly. Robin knew Nora felt guilty but her plan couldn’t wait – she needed the General's opinion. “Nora,” she hissed quietly, trying to get her attention.

“Robin!” Bobbi snapped from up ahead. “Stop trailing back. Get over here.” Gritting her teeth, Robin shot Nora a worried glance before she sped up again to walk beside Bobbi at the front of the pack. Robin wondered only momentarily why the ghoul still wanted her to be the group’s guide after her betrayal. She supposed it was as good a way as any to keep her under control.

It was already nearing night-time again, and with the two youths stumbling along behind them, Bobbi was getting frustrated at the much slower pace. She’d tried telling Mel to make them move faster, but he was no good at being cruel. The horrors of what they’d seen had caught up with them now, and they had been silently crying the whole way.

“We’re stopping!” Bobbi barked, finally giving in. Robin immediately turned away, prepared to join Nora where she stood, but Bobbi’s hand latched onto her arm. “You can scheme with the General later,” she muttered. “First, you’re gonna do a perimeter check.”

Although Robin knew Bobbi was purposefully trying to keep her away from Nora, she didn’t know why she still bothered. Bobbi had three hostages. Six armed men, including Mel. Although Nora still had her weapons, her bag with most of her ammunition had been taken away. Robin and Nora were basically prisoners again. “Why can’t you get one of your men to do a perimeter check?” Robin grumbled.

"Because I want you to do it."

Just the memory of all those dark shapes circling their camp the night before sent a shiver down Robin’s spine. Ever since the attack, she’d stopped feeling that strange foreboding sensation – the sensation of being watched – but there was still a chance that they were being followed. Should she find them out there in the approaching darkness, waiting beyond the buildings to slit her throat… Bobbi had let Robin keep the knife she’d pick-pocketed, but it seemed flimsy in the face of such danger. Sure, Robin had managed to pick off that one assassin who had gone for Nora, but that had been an automatic reaction, a stroke of luck. She doubted she could reproduce that throw. “Can I bring one of your men with me?”

Bobbi glared at her. “No.”

Without much choice but to do what she’d been told, Robin drew her blade and stalked off into the darkness. She did a quick skip around the street and surrounding houses, melting herself into the shadows, making hardly a sound with her boots on the tarmac. Robin could have run off, slipped into the darkness like a ghost and left all of this behind. But she couldn’t turn back now. Revenge wasn’t keeping her here anymore, but somehow she was still attached to Bobbi’s operation. She wouldn’t leave Nora and Julia behind. And her fate was sealed anyway, wasn’t it? The cult of assassins knew who she was. She didn’t doubt that they’d find her, even if she tried to run.

Eventually, Robin returned to the camp to see that a fire had been lit and sleeping bags had been unrolled. Even though there were considerably less people in their traveling party, it was almost as if nothing had changed. The gangsters still bantered together, telling each other crude jokes. Bobbi and Mel sat by the fire, having a hushed conversation about the coded sheet which had yet to be deciphered. Nora sat alone staring into the distance, her legs crossed and her arms relaxed like she was meditating. But there was a tension which hadn’t been there before. Julia was sat on the ground with her injured leg stretched out before her; next to her on either side were the farmer’s kids, their eyes wet with tears. Three triggermen sat opposite them, all with rifles across their laps. Robin didn’t doubt that they’d shoot at even the slightest sign of retaliation. Robin moved instinctively towards Julia, wanting to see how she was doing, but–

“Robin!” Bobbi snapped. Again, Robin stopped in her tracks and ground her teeth. Of course Bobbi would keep her away from the hostages. It was the only way she could guarantee control. When Julia looked over at the sound of her name, her cheeks were streaked with tears, but she gave Robin a grim nod. Bless her – Bobbi had crippled her today but she hadn't seen fit to dwell on it. She wasn’t meek. She wasn’t a ‘little mouse’. Julia was still ten feet tall.

Robin spun to face Bobbi. “I didn’t see anyone,” she said, keeping her voice casual. “Seems clear.”

“Good.” Bobbi scrutinized her, seemingly wondering whether or not to trust her judgement. Finally, she waved a hand. “Get out of my face.”

Pleased to finally be free of her duties, Robin decided who to see to first. Julia and the two kids were completely off-limits. Bobbi would instantly become suspicious if Robin went anywhere near them. So, with one more furtive glance in Julia’s direction, Robin strode over to where Nora sat. “Hey.”

Nora’s eyes lifted once to search her face before returning to their spot in the distance. Perhaps she’d deserved a day to feel sorry for herself, but Robin was done with the silent treatment. “Nora, come on.” Robin plopped down in front of her, forcing herself into her field of vision. “It wasn’t completely your fault. I was part of the plan, too. We need to accept what happened and find another way.”

With a sigh, Nora removed her hat and tucked a few billowing strands of dark hair behind her ear, and for some reason that was the exact moment Robin realized how beautiful she was. And as soon as she realized it, she recognized why. It had nothing to do with the shape of her features, or the color of her eyes, or her body. Nora was beautiful in the way she revealed herself. Even when her face and posture remained stoic, formal, her eyes would give her away – sometimes glinting with humor when she thought Robin had said something funny, sometimes reflecting earnest sincerity as she spoke, and on rare occasions, Robin thought she saw a genuine affection in the General’s eyes. And those emotions; the sincerity, the flashes of humor or hurt, the attentiveness she directed towards Robin – they were why Robin trusted her. Those were the things that made Robin drawn to her.

But now Nora's eyes were sad, and confused, and angry, and although she still didn’t speak, Robin understood that she was conflicted. Nora had never wanted to be here; she had never wanted to end up risking her own life or anyone else’s just to get to the Sawyer fortune. She’d said as much when they were in Goodneighbor. And yet, she had already thrown herself headfirst into a battle with Gunners and fought off a wave of dangerous assassins, all with Julia’s life being dangled above her tauntingly. Now, there were two innocent farmer’s kids trundling along with them, and Bobbi might as well have already marked them for death.

“I’m sorry,” Robin whispered, unsure if an apology would even make a difference. She should have apologized at the beginning of this mess. She should have escaped with Nora when she had the chance.

Nora’s sigh was of a softly deflating; it was as if a tension had lifted yet left her with a melancholy instead of relief. Her eyes traveled over to where Julia and the youths sat. Currently, it seemed Julia was trying to get them to speak, the tone of her voice gentle. The girl was grieving silently but the boy attempted to answer one of her questions in a low, wobbly voice. Robin, feeling a little self-conscious, reached out and tucked a finger against Nora’s chin, turning her gaze away from Julia. She hadn’t ever touched the General in this way before, which was why she’d thought it would finally get her attention. To her relief, it did; those dark eyes landed on her with more focus this time, drinking her in with a faint curiosity. Robin tilted her head slightly to the side and examined the dried blood on her face, searching for its source. While Nora didn’t need meds for the cut, it could do with some cleaning.

“You’re very predictable,” Robin muttered. “You’d do anything for anyone else, but nothing for yourself.”

For a brief moment, one corner of Nora’s lips threatened to pull into a smile. Then she shook her head. “I’m alright. I can take a punch.”

“Oh, I bet you can.” Robin stood and retreated to the fire so she could collect a can of purified water and then returned quickly to Nora’s side before her attention could fade away again. She kneeled and quickly used her knife to tear a small square from the bottom of her shirt. It was the least grimy part from their weeks of traveling as she normally tucked it into her trousers.

“What are you doing?” Nora demanded when she heard the sound of ripping fabric.

“Shut up and stay still.” Robin doused the rag with water and, making sure to be gentle, lifted it to begin wiping the blood from the side of Nora’s face. When the other woman realized what she was doing, she fell completely silent. With the fingertips of her free hand, Robin kept Nora’s face still, lightly pressing against her other cheek. Nora’s skin was smooth, soft, chilled from the autumn wind. Robin did her best to ignore the sudden desire to run the pads of her fingers along the shape of Nora's cheekbone, the curve of her eyebrow, the line of her jaw. Someone as untouchable and unknowable as Nora sitting very motionless and vulnerable while letting someone else take care of her... well, it was a phenomenon. And it wasn't lost on Robin. 

“It’s strange, seeing you like this,” Nora finally said, sounding amused.

Robin lowered the rag to soak it with more water, meeting her eyes momentarily. “What do you mean?”

“You’re being very… gentle.”

Hopefully Robin’s cheeks weren’t reddening as much as it felt they were. She cleared her throat and muttered, “I’m capable of being compassionate. Sometimes.”

This time she felt the slight rise to Nora’s cheeks under her fingertips as she smiled. A smile, just for her. Robin was flattered. She wiped the last of the blood from Nora’s jaw and sat back on her haunches to admire her handiwork. “There.”

“Thanks.” Nora rubbed the side of her face to clear the residual dampness. She looked at Robin a little strangely after that and Robin refused to meet her eyes, knowing that if she did, she'd find it hard to look away. 

"Does it hurt?" she asked lightly. 

"Not really," Nora responded. She cocked her head and her gaze ran from Robin's eyes, to her mouth, to the hands holding the bloody rag, and then back to her eyes again. Although it made Robin tingle with a sort of excitement at being under such scrutiny, she decided not to look too much into it. 

“You had something to tell me?” Nora asked. 

Finally.

Robin discarded the rag and sat cross-legged before the General, just close enough that she could talk in a low voice and not be overheard – but not too close, so Bobbi wouldn’t think they were conspiring against her again. “We knew it might not work. I guess we didn’t know exactly how Bobbi would react, but… we were aware there could be consequences.” Robin paused. “And Julia knew, too. So stop beating yourself up about it.”

Nora’s eyes drifted over to their friend again, and Robin noticed some of the sadness had returned. “I didn’t want her to get hurt.”

“Me neither,” Robin agreed softly.

“And those farmers…” Nora let out a slow breath, closing her eyes. “Robin, they still have the messages. I'd only just handed them over when Bobbi’s men came for me. The settlers recognized me as a Minuteman. They never even joined the Minutemen, but they still tried to protect me. And died for it.”

“Have you never had people die for you before?” Robin inquired doubtfully. She felt a slight pang in her chest – her daily reminder of Little John’s sacrifice.

“Well, I have. Of course I have. Doesn’t make it any less sad.”

Robin felt a twinge of guilt. “Yeah, I guess not.” Her voice lowered. “Did they really kill all of the men in the settlement?”

“Yes.” Nora’s eyes opened again. “But the settlers will still have the messages I gave them. If they’re smart, and they want to get back at Bobbi and her men for what they did – which they will, I’m sure – they’ll get those messages to where they’re needed.”

Robin hadn’t expected Nora to have succeeded. Perhaps their plan hadn’t been such a failure after all. Just the idea of her crew coming to her rescue both excited and worried her. She wanted assistance, but she was also afraid that Bobbi would hurt them like she hurt Little John. She couldn’t let Fox put himself in danger – not the way those two farmer’s kids were. He was smart, but it seemed that no one was smarter than Bobbi. To avoid any thoughts of her crew being in danger, Robin changed the subject: “In the meantime, we seriously need to get rid of Bobbi’s leverage. If those messages get out, then your plan wasn’t in vain, but it could still take ages for them to come after us. Meanwhile, we need a sure way to get Julia and those kids free.”

Nora’s eyes became alert. “I’m listening.”

Robin had spent the entire day formulating her plan. It was simple, it was easy, and she was almost completely certain it would work. Unfortunately, it would take a pretty large sacrifice, but she didn't mind that so much. Trying not to feel too smug, she shuffled a little closer to the General and began to list each step, adding detail where necessary. As she spoke, she noticed the frown between Nora’s eyebrows slowly disappear. By the time she was finished, she realized the General was smiling at her. It was a grim smile, but still... the General had faith in her. And that was all Robin needed to have faith in herself.

Chapter Text

By the end of the week, they were quickly approaching Monument Mountain. The open fields and towns in the valley had given way to a nearly impenetrable forest. Feral ghouls, mirelurks and radscorpions were lying in wait just over every rise, behind every tree, under every rock. Fortunately, Nora was much better at killing Commonwealth beasts that she was at killing invisible assassins. She’d heard Robin talk about the sorts of monsters she’d seen on her way to the Commonwealth, but Nora reckoned they weren’t going so far enough beyond the Commonwealth border to have to worry about those. For now, she could easily deal with the ghouls, scorpions and crabs. They were a welcome distraction.

There had been no more midnight assassination attempts. Nevertheless, Bobbi’s men took it in turns to sleep, most of them remaining awake and on guard throughout the entire night. Nora, too, found it impossible to sleep when she knew how much danger they were in. She remained alert, ready to fight should the assassins return or monsters attack - or, should Bobbi change her mind and decide she didn't need them after all.

She’d only managed to exchange a few words with Julia over the past days as Bobbi had made sure to keep her very busy; she often sent Nora to scout ahead for any danger and deal with their foes, wanting to keep her men safe and alive. The youths, while still dragging their feet, had managed to speed up a little, meaning Bobbi was at least in a better mood. She had started feeding them a little more, letting them refresh themselves whenever there were breaks in walking, and she didn’t get so angry when Nora and Robin attempted to check up on them. The boy’s name was Michael and the girl was Amy. Simple farmer’s kids, they didn’t know much other than how to raise crops and cattle. Nora doubted they even knew how to read and write. They probably hadn’t been far outside their farm – maybe they’d barely even stepped foot in the Commonwealth. But after talking to them a bit, Nora decided they were pretty smart. Smart enough for Robin’s plan to succeed. It was Robin who asked them the important questions.

They had stopped for a break and Bobbi was busy glaring down at the second coded piece of the map, still unfortunate in her capacity to decipher it. All of her men stood in a semi-circle around Julia and the two kids, keeping them cornered so they had nowhere to run. Still, the gangsters only sent Robin and Nora suspicious glares as they approached, seeing the cans of water in their hands and reluctantly letting them enter the circle to deliver them. Bobbi had grown a little more lenient again with her rules, distracted with the mission at hand, and Nora intended to take full advantage of it.

As she crouched down, Robin inquired rather casually, “So, would you two say you’re fast runners?”

The gangsters were chatting amongst themselves by now – one of them looked over, but there was only faint distrust on his face.

“She’s fast,” Michael said in a low voice, pointing to the girl. “Faster than anyone I know.”

“He’s fast, too,” Amy said shyly.

Robin nodded, as if pleased with this answer. Setting the cans of purified water down on the grass before them, she glanced at the boy, eyes seeming to pause on his wiry arms and the shape of his shoulders. “How strong are you?”

He shrugged cautiously. “Why?”

Robin smirked and straightened, turning to Julia. “How heavy are you?”

There was a sour expression on Julia’s face, though it was combined with a bright spark of humor in her eyes. “That’s a very rude question, Robin.”

Robin raised her hands, feigning innocence. “I’m just curious.”

“She’s tiny,” Nora interjected. “Wouldn’t weigh much at all. A hundred, a hundred and ten pounds?”

“Would either of you like any of my other measurements?” Julia asked dryly.

Sensing the eyes of a couple of the gangsters on her now, Nora made a show of pretending to consider Julia’s question. “No, that'll be all.”

Robin crouched down again, this time pretending to take a can of water for herself as she whispered to Michael, “Think you could run with a hundred and ten pounds on your back?”

He looked at her with understanding blooming in his eyes. He had probably watched his father die, perhaps some brothers, uncles - if there was something useful he could do, he would do it in their honor. Puffing his scrawny chest out, he said, “Yeah, I think so. I’ve carried sacks of flour and grain weighing much more.”

“Great.” She flashed him a quick grin and straightened, snagging Nora’s arm. “Let’s go.”

As they left the circle and retreated some way away to drink their own water, Nora gazed at her expectantly. “So?”

“It could work.” Then, steeling herself, Robin corrected, “It will work.”

Nora glanced towards where Bobbi sat, Mel peering over her shoulder. They had been continuously working on trying to decode the second part of the map, but so far they’d had no luck. While Nora’s advice had helped them decipher the first part, she was unable to offer them anything more. For now, she just stayed out of their way and prepared herself for the moment Robin set the ball rolling. Nora still had her doubts, but there was no other choice but for them to succeed. The trust Nora was giving Robin, that Robin was giving in return, was what would keep both of them safe and alive. It was something Nora had recently come to depend on. Their friendship, she’d decided, was something of a diamond in the rough. A spark in the darkness. Perhaps it was only just the beginning, but there was something electric about it. No one else knew – save from Julia – that Robin and Nora had come to trust and like each other so much. Nora preferred it that way.

“You should tell Julia,” Nora said, turning back to Robin. “And the kids, of course. So they know what to expect. If they hesitate in the moment…”

“They'll know once I’ve got everything ready.”

Nora arched her eyebrows. Again, she glanced towards Bobbi and the coded map in her hands. “How’re you gonna take it from her if she’s constantly staring at it all day, every day?”

“A great magician never reveals her secrets.”

“First a thief, now a great magician?” Nora repeated, amused. “How arrogant of you.”

Robin scowled at her. “Oh, you’ll see how great I am.” She shot Nora a playful wink and left her side, half-skipping her way over to Bobbi and bending to speak to her. After a few seconds, Bobbi nodded brusquely and stood, clapping her hands loudly for attention.

“Let’s go!” she snapped. “Move it! On your feet!”

As they set off again, Nora bringing up the tail of the pack, her eyes automatically landed on Robin walking up ahead. There was something of the cat-like grace with which she moved combined with the simple contentedness in her face that made Nora’s heart reach out. Over the past few days, she'd found it amusing simply watching the other woman guide the group. Sometimes, out of nowhere, she'd call random colors - yellow for 'slow down', red for 'stop', purple for 'everyone shut up' - or she'd scale a tree like a monkey to 'survey the area'. Nora wondered sometimes if she was just taking the piss. Bobbi certainly didn't find it amusing. 

In that instant, Robin twisted and caught her eye; before Nora could turn away a genuine grin spread across the other woman’s face. The faint glimmer of the afternoon sun ghosted over Robin’s pale skin and lit up her smile. A satisfaction was expressed by the curve at her mouth’s corner, her eyebrows raised quizzically. Ordinarily, Nora might not care about being caught staring, but this time it made her feel strangely bare, as if she had been spotted doing something she shouldn’t. And then she saw why Robin had looked at her. Below her hip, held in one fist, was a bunch of crumpled paper – Nora had no idea how she’d done it so quickly. How had she gotten close enough to Bobbi to…?

Nora supposed it didn’t matter. The traveling party wouldn’t stop to set up camp until night was falling, so they had a few hours now to notify Julia and the kids about what was going to happen before Robin set the timer. Bobbi wouldn’t know her maps had been pick-pocketed until it was too late.

Robin had given Nora hardly a moment to prepare herself. How much time did they have? Nora reminded herself of her own job – release the prisoners and shove them in the direction of the town which was located to their right through the thick forest, with instructions on where to hide and for how long. Robin had shown her where they needed to run using the map; a perk of being their guide meant she knew where they were at all times.

Nora’s job was relatively simple. She shouldn’t feel so nervous, and yet all she could think about was the bloody massacre of all those settlers in Rydell Farm. It was her duty to protect people, not get them killed.

We’ll do it right this time, she promised herself. Robin knows what she’s doing.

And thank god for Robin’s mischief and smarts, because Nora probably wouldn’t have come up with something so simple yet cunning all by herself. Robin might be the only person she’d ever come across with a tactical mind that could rival her own.

 ---

The mountain lay in the distance like a ridiculous camel hump or perhaps the nose of a slumbering giant turned to rock. Although the forest swathing the rock was orange and brown rather than green, Monument Mountain still looked strangely familiar to Nora. Only a few jagged peaks of stone penetrated through the canopy, sharpened like claws pointing towards the sky. There were parts of the mountain which were incredibly steep, and others which swelled slowly upwards, voluptuous curves bending into one another. The visible hiking trails must have been overgrown by now, which would make the climb considerably harder. Nora hated to think what creatures now inhabited those forests.

Monument Mountain was enormous. Which was perhaps why Bobbi’s mood seemed to sour as they finally saw it appear over the rise ahead of them. Without that second part of the map decoded, it could take weeks, months – maybe even years – to find the treasure. Bobbi couldn’t spare that amount of time.

If Nora could remember correctly, there should be a break in the treeline nearer the mountain. They were already climbing up a shallow incline, but they’d reach a flatter plane where lodges and a car park were situated. It was the most likely location for their next campsite, where Bobbi would decide what to do next. Which meant that, if Robin wanted her plan to work, she needed to set it off now.

Nora had already sped up a little and pressed a small hastily-written note into Julia’s hand. On it were the words: Robin will create a distraction. I’ll release you. You run. She’d also drawn as good a replica as she could of the path they’d have to take through the forest to the village. The trees would at least give them enough cover to get to safety if the triggermen started chasing them. Once they got to the town, they’d need to find a way to get back to the Commonwealth on their own. Nora and Robin would no longer be able to help them, facing Bobbi’s wrath in their stead.

As Nora walked, she noticed Julia kept sending subtle worried glances back at her from the arms of the triggerman carrying her. She still couldn’t walk properly, even though her leg had healed, which was why that boy Michael would need to carry her on his back. Knowing Julia, this probably made her feel frustratingly vulnerable. But she knew there was no other way. 

The suspense continued to build as they received no sign from Robin that it would begin. Nora fixed her gaze on the back of Robin’s head, irritated at her lack of communication. How would Nora know when to rush over to the hostages and release them?

And then, as deliberately as could be possible, Robin suddenly said loudly, “Bobbi, I think I’ve changed my mind. I do want the money after all.”

Bobbi glared at Robin. “Too bad. You’ve lost your chan…” She trailed off, halting in her tracks as Robin backed away and waved the crumpled maps at her, grinning impishly. Bobbi’s hands immediately went to her pockets, frantically digging inside them. The shocked and furious expression on her face when she realized Robin had taken the maps without her knowing was priceless.

“Robin, don’t be stupid,” Mel warned, approaching her with his hands outstretched.

Robin instantly turned tail and sprinted off through the trees, laughing gleefully. All of Bobbi’s men at once gave chase, hurriedly cocking their guns – even Mel followed, yelling desperately for her to stop and come back. The gangster who’d been carrying Julia dumped her unceremoniously to the ground and darted off into the trees, hoping to provide backup.

Bobbi screamed, “Get her! Shoot her!”

Nora wasted no time. She instantly threw herself towards the kids and used her knife to hastily sever the tape binding each of their wrists. Michael, on cue, crouched so Julia could climb onto his back, the note Nora had given her clenched in one fist. Nora slipped one of her pistols into Julia’s other hand, hissing, “Be careful. Once you’re safe, call the Minutemen.”

You be careful,” Julia countered, giving her a worried look. Even despite her haste, Nora wondered momentarily if this would be the last time she saw the other woman. But, as long as Julia was safe, it would be worth it. She squeezed Julia’s hand and nodded.

“Go!”

Bobbi turned just as the kids set off running in the opposite direction to Robin, disappearing almost immediately through the trees. Her face, if possible, grew to be even more shocked and furious, and she bellowed, “GET BACK HERE!”

But it was no use. With all of her men focused on capturing Robin, the hostages slipped away without being seen, gone before Bobbi could even think of giving chase. Although her skin was already mottled and scorched in appearance, it seemed to grow redder than Nora had ever seen it. She spluttered and drew her gun, but she didn’t seem to know what to do with it. Nora allowed her lips to curl into a smile of satisfaction. Julia was safe, and so were the two farmer’s children. Whatever Bobbi wanted to do to her as punishment, Nora would take it. At least Bobbi didn’t have any more innocent people to use against her. 

“…okay, okay!” came Robin’s voice. As expected, she had been caught almost as soon as she took off – which, unfortunately, had been a necessary part of Robin’s plan all along. To Nora’s relief, she hadn’t been harmed by any stray bullets, but from the look on Bobbi’s face, this was only a small victory. What she was about to do to them would likely be much worse than a bullet wound.

Robin was deposited face-first on the ground by Bobbi’s feet. She pushed herself up onto her knees and spat dirt from her mouth, scowling. When she lifted her face and smirked up at Bobbi, however, she looked so triumphant that Nora had to smile too just at the sight of her.

Bobbi’s voice was deadly quiet. “You do realize you’ve gotta pay for what you just did, don’t you?”

Robin’s smirk only wavered slightly; there was an apprehension behind her expression. Nora abruptly realized that Robin hadn’t planned to live beyond letting the hostages escape. Neither of them had tried to think past the success of their plan and what it would mean for the two of them. In hardly six minutes, it was all over; everything they had fought for, laid out in front of them like spoils of war. No revenge, no money. But at least they had fought like heroes - wasn't that all that mattered?

Robin apparently wasn’t the type of woman to cry or cower in the face of death. Gloatingly, she rose onto her feet and spat, “Do your worst.”

Nora felt suddenly sick. Adrenaline flooded her system; it pumped and fought like it was trying to escape her body. Nora saw Bobbi lift her gun, saw it pressed against the side of Robin’s forehead – and the swelling of feeling inside her chest as she saw Robin close her eyes and accept her fate was unexpected. 

Nora knew fear. Fear was her challenge, her demon to slay, for it would come for her until she did, unannounced every time. Nora had learned to read her fear. Fear would take her by the hand to the things she kept and guarded as precious. Fear woke her up to the truth: told her what was really important. And what her fear told her now was that Robin's life was important. Had been important, all this time. And Nora was not prepared to watch her die.

She still had the option to remain still, to be quiet enough to choose how to fight, but when she saw Bobbi’s finger tighten on the trigger, she couldn’t control the powerful reaction her body provided; it was as if she was deciding between her own life or death. Nora took two long strides and threw her whole weight at Bobbi’s chest, knocking her sideways into a tree. Bobbi’s pistol flew out of her hand and clattered into the undergrowth. She instantly retaliated; grabbed a fistful of Nora’s hair beneath the fedora, jerking her head back as she threw a quick and vicious punch into her face. Nora stumbled, her jaw stinging. She would have attacked again if she hadn’t heard the cocking of so many weapons behind her. So, instead, she backed up in front of Robin to shield her and leveled Bobbi with a challenging glare. Nora was pretty sure she didn’t need to say anything – her point had been made. Over my dead body

Bobbi’s eyes were wide as she wiped blood from where her head had smashed into the bark of the tree. She stared down at the red on her fingertips. And then, slowly but surely, she began to laugh, small rumbles in her chest slowly gaining volume until they became a full-fledged cackle, filling the forest around them. Some of her men laughed, too, but more confusedly, as if they didn’t know what was so funny. There was an audible shuffle as Robin quickly rounded Nora’s side. The expression on her face was both stunned and grateful. She had chosen to risk her life for the sake of freeing Bobbi’s hold over Julia and the two kids. If Nora hadn’t already forgiven Robin completely before now, she would have done so again twice over. She linked their fingers together and squeezed the other woman's hand firmly. They would face Bobbi together or not at all.

Bobbi laughed so much that tears came to her black eyes and she wiped them away with mirth. There was a short disruption while she walked to pick up her gun, and when she returned and saw Nora and Robin standing hand in hand, she started laughing all over again. Nora remained quiet. She figured that keeping Bobbi entertained was perhaps their only chance of surviving anyway.

After another entire minute of laughter, Bobbi wiped her eyes again and said, “Phew, that got me! That really got me…”

“You don’t need hostages,” Nora interjected firmly, hoping to gain back some control of the situation. “Trying to bait us with innocent lives was a mistake.”

“A mistake?” Bobbi repeated, still amused. “You just made an even bigger mistake. No - you’re right, General, I don’t need those hostages at all. You know what I just realized?” 

Nora didn’t dare meet Robin’s eyes, but she felt a slight tightening of the other woman’s fingers around her own.

"I've realized that by hurting one of you, I hurt both of you."

Before now, Nora hadn't even considered that Bobbi might try to kill Robin. She'd been focused on keeping Julia safe. Had she pretended to be indifferent, Robin would be gone. No more smug smiles, or stupid jokes, or surprisingly selfless acts. She had become so familiar, more familiar than anyone had been in a long time. To lose Robin would not only be strange, but it would be horrifying too, because Nora knew now that the world without her would feel empty. 

Nora became so caught up in her sudden realization of what she had to lose that her shoulders tensed and her jaw tightened – and Robin must have noticed, because there was a gentle swipe of a soft thumb against the backs of Nora’s fingers. Reassuring her. If Robin was reassuring her, it meant she was okay. It meant that they were still in this together as friends and allies, even if Bobbi now saw fit to use them against each other. Nora forced her anxiety down.

“Obviously I’m glad you’ve solved the problem of my missing hostages,” Bobbi continued, sighing. “But my power relies on control. And I’m very tired of the two of you trying to one-up me. I think it's time for a demonstration.”

Mel seemed to realize where she was going; he took a half-step forward, his face paling as he muttered, “Bobbi, look. We’ve reached the mountain, we’re so close. Surely we can just-”

Bobbi cut him off with a sharp hand gesture. One of her men came forward with all of her supplies and she unzipped the largest of the bags. And then, to Nora’s horror, she began to hand out knuckle-dusters and batons. When all five of her men were armed, she smiled slyly at Nora. “General, you seemed very insistent on taking Robin’s place for punishment – ain’t that right?”

“Bobbi, don’t,” Robin snapped, but she sounded more pleading than threatening, a note of fear cracking her voice. Her fingers tightened even more around Nora's hand, anchoring her there, even though she must have known she was powerless. Nora wanted to remind her that they were a team; she had chosen to take a hit. She would take a hundred hits if it meant her friend would continue to live.

Nora noticed the men had surrounded them; her adrenaline rushed full again. Her automatic instinct was to fight back, but her rifle was lying some way away and she’d dropped her knife after freeing the hostages. These men weren’t armed to kill, but they were definitely armed to beat the living shit out of her.

Abruptly, Robin was yanked away by Bobbi, their hands disconnecting, and Nora immediately missed the reassurance of her touch. She gritted her teeth, preparing herself for what was to come –

A baton strike flew at her from behind and she only barely managed to dodge it, already rolling as another baton struck the earth hard where her head had been. However, she couldn’t dodge forever; as soon as she’d jumped to her feet again, a metal-braced fist slammed into her ribs and she gasped, all of the breath leaving her lungs. And then another fist punched her side directly where her stab wound had been, and although it was already long-healed, she felt the ghost twinge of pain and it incapacitated her. She floundered, doubling over and trying to catch her breath, and that was all the space the gangsters needed. They moved in all at once, surrounding her, and she covered her face and fell to one knee as strikes rained down upon her, metal against bone, against flesh, aiming to bruise and break even through the plates of her armour. She didn’t know if she made a sound. She didn’t even know if she tried to fight back. All she was aware of was the sudden pain seeming to explode from everywhere in her body, and the distant throb of her heartbeat – and, above all of that, Robin’s distraught voice shouting her name.

And then Nora finally found that the painful blows had ceased, but the intense agony had been left behind. She was lying curled on the ground, face pressed into the dirt, and she could hardly breathe. Every gasp for air seemed to yield nothing; she was choking on her own blood. The pain was so intense that it became numbness, and she couldn’t hear nor see nor smell. And then, almost more cruel than the actual beating itself was the prick of a needle in her neck, and as the stimpack medicine rushed through her body, the pain returned at full force.

She released a long groan. Someone said her name. Hands tucked beneath her body, lifted her. They were dragging her along the ground; Bobbi would give her no time to recover. She had known that by punishing Nora, she would punish the both of them, and now her job was done.

Nora drifted away.

 ---

She woke up in a room. As she hadn’t been indoors for several weeks, just having a roof above her head was alien enough. Nora blinked through the blur of her eyelids at the wooden boards of the ceiling, trying to come to terms with what had happened. To her left was a small window set in the wall, but it filtered no light in; outside, the sky was unfathomably black. When Nora rolled over, wincing against a throbbing pain in her ribs, the boards beneath her creaked in protest, and her eyes graced the closed door at the end of the room. This must be one of the lodges by the foot of the mountain. They hadn't traveled far. Nora hadn't been out for more than a few hours.

When Nora tried to sit up, it was with great difficulty. Not just because of the pain still tingling in her body, but because her hands were tied behind her back and she couldn’t get enough leverage to push herself off the floor. Her armour had been taken away once again, and so had her weapons. All she wore was a baggy long-sleeved grey shirt and a pair of dark trousers which definitely weren’t hers. 

A sudden huff caught her attention and she rolled in the other direction to see that she wasn’t alone. Just the sight of her partner filled her with a conflicting mix of relief and anxiety. The other woman was evidently unharmed, but there was a similar expression of concern in her eyes, almost overtaken by amusement. "I was wondering when you'd finally wake up," she said. "You were snoring like a Brahmin."

She too seemed to be wearing different clothes: black trousers and a green flannel shirt that matched her eyes. Her legs were crossed in front of her and her arms were similarly tied, although she’d made no attempt to release them. In fact, Robin looked awfully relaxed.

Nora had the sudden urge to laugh.

“How do you feel?” Robin asked lightly. 

“Terrible.” Nora finally stopped trying to sit up, hungrily searching the other woman's face for answers. “Tell me what happened.”

A shadow passed over Robin’s expression and she bit her lip. Nora hadn't seen her look so upset about something since the death of her friend. "What? What's wrong?"

“You really don't remember?"

"Nothing past..." Nora trailed off, remembering the pain and the angry faces of Bobbi's men above her. "Well, I remember being hit, obviously."

"You had broken ribs and a punctured lung. And you kept on coughing up blood. You looked... half-dead. Bobbi's men could've killed you and she would've let them. Funnily enough, it was actually Mel who managed to get Bobbi to tell them to stop.”

Nora examined Robin's face, still not understanding why she looked so pale - and had she ever frowned this much before? Flatly, she prompted, “And?”

“Bobbi wanted us to keep moving, just said to give you more stimpacks, but I told her we’d need to stop if she wanted you to live. You know, so she could continue to use us against each other. So she gave in.”

"There's that silver tongue," Nora said wryly. 

Robin didn't smile at that; in fact, her expression seemed to become even more grave. She gestured at the room around them with her chin. "Anyway, we reached whatever this place is. She had Mel and one of her men help me deal with your injuries. None of us are doctors, but we did our best. Eventually you started breathing properly again, but your clothes were all covered in blood…”

When she trailed off, a slight blush stained her cheeks. Nora cocked her head as best she could from her position on the floor. “I take it that you – and not Bobbi’s men – gave me this new outfit.” She lowered her face and sniffed her own shoulder. "And... uh... do I smell lemon?"

Robin's cheeks pinked even further, but she rolled her eyes. “Okay, look, it's not exactly the way I imagined seeing you naked for the first time, either."

Shocked, Nora demanded, "You've imagined seeing me naked?" 

Robin grinned rather impishly at that. "Anyway, I wasn't about to let Bobbi's men be the ones to do it. And I did ask before shoving you in the bath, and you seemed pretty enthusiastic about it. Though you were pretty drugged up at the time." After a short moment, she added, "Also, you needed a wash. Smelled like a feral ghoul."

Nora shot her a dirty look. "Speak for yourself."

"Well, I had a bath too, so not anymore," Robin retorted haughtily, giving her own shoulder a pointed sniff. "Though not at the same time as you - obviously."

Nora eased herself onto her other shoulder again so she could look around the room once more. It was mostly bare, although there was a fireplace, several couches and a nice patterned rug, so she assumed this was some sort of lounge. “So... why are we tied up?”

“Well, I assume Bobbi didn’t want me immediately trying to pick my way out of our makeshift cell.”

“And you haven’t tried?”

Robin just shrugged. And then, with a little flourish, she pulled her hands from behind her back to show that they weren't tied together after all. “Harder to do without a bobby pin, but I made do,” she said with a grin. She lifted the edge of her belt to show Nora the part she’d used to cut the ties. "They kept checking in and I didn't want to give them any reason to worry."

Nora let out a half-chuckle, impressed. “Can you… help me sit up?”

Crawling over, Robin gently eased her up against the wall by the window. The concern had returned to her eyes but her cheeks had flushed a little again. Nora wondered fleetingly why she was being so awkward. "Are you acting weird because you saw me naked?" she asked bluntly. She wasn't sure she minded at all - she was glad to be clean and she liked the fact that Robin had worried enough to take care of her. But things did feel a little strange between them now, as if something had changed. 

"No, of course not," Robin muttered. "It's very hard to wash blood off someone without looking, but I think I managed it pretty well."

"Well... thanks." Lifting her eyes, Nora scrutinized her friend, unable to figure out what exactly was so different. Was it saving Robin's life that had changed things? Perhaps something else had happened, something Robin hadn't yet told her...

To her surprise, Robin abruptly leaned in and her eyes flicked deliberately downwards, not exactly in a flirtatious manner, but in a way that made it very clear what she was about to do. The rush of heat Nora felt in response was almost as overwhelming as her previous anxiety. Before she had a chance to unpack the feeling, to understand the sudden tension between them, Robin tentatively slipped a hand around her neck. She bent her chin and pressed her mouth flush to Nora’s lips, tasting her for only a second, and then quickly pulled away with an embarrassed look on her face.

“Sorry, I don’t know why… I just… felt like I should do that,” she muttered. 

Nora ran her tongue along her bottom lip, unable to help herself from instantly recalling the momentary press of the woman’s mouth, however chaste. She noticed that Robin had watched the movement of her tongue, her eyes widening a little in response, and felt her own cheeks heat slightly. Robin’s gaze was suddenly too intense; it made her feel vulnerable. She considered the kiss carefully, not just because having a woman like Robin kiss her was a momentous occasion, but because this was incredibly unexpected.

Wasn't it?

Maybe there had been something more hanging between them for a while; they’d just been too oblivious to grasp at it. Bobbi had certainly seen it.

“Uh…” Nora fumbled for words. Finally, she just lowered her eyes from Robin’s face. “Untie me.”

Coming close to her again, Robin’s fingers made quick work of the tape binding her wrists together behind her back. Once Nora could tug her hands free, she rubbed her arms to get some feeling back into them. She reached up and pressed her fingers to the bruises on her cheeks, the cuts on her forehead. Bobbi’s men had really done a number on her. They’d healed her wounds most of the way, but it would take a while for the pain to fade. She probably looked an absolute mess.

Robin kneeled in front of her again, peering into her face with worry. “Are you feeling okay?”

Nora was suddenly reminded of the way Robin had cleaned the blood from her wound after Rydell Farm, her face set with concentration, her hands surprisingly gentle. The tingling feeling of her touch against skin that hadn’t been touched in so long…

Nora stopped touching her bruises, eyes drifting until they met Robin’s, and they stared at each other for a long while. It was as if they were strangers again, neither of them sure what to do next. And then, cautiously, Nora reached out and grazed the other woman’s cheek with the backs of her fingers. She examined the smooth porcelain of her skin, the dark murky green of her eyes, the mouth that was always so quick to draw into a mischievous grin. Robin had a remarkably open face, really. Emotions were not easily hidden on such a face. Her worry was evident in the crease between her eyebrows and the down-tilt at the corners of her lips. Robin didn't often look worried. Nora had always thought of her as a naturally cheerful person. To see her look like this now, and for it to be Nora’s fault, was a bizarre thing indeed.

She had to ask. "Why did you kiss me?"

Nora expected Robin to act awkward again, to draw away, or to change the subject. Instead she leaned into Nora's touch and said simply, "Because I wanted to. Isn't that normally why people kiss?"

Robin had wanted to kiss her, had wanted to take care of her, and had been scared enough for Nora's life that she'd chosen to stay here instead of run the moment Bobbi gave her the chance. And while Nora may have been oblivious to such feelings previously, she knew she felt them too. She didn't throw herself in front of a bullet for just anyone. She figured she had cared for Robin since Rydell Farm; since she saw the compassion on her face and felt the gentleness of her touch. Perhaps even before that. The way she felt about Robin wasn’t something she intended to deny or run away from; naturally, these things just happened. But there was that fear she had hoped to avoid which now rose inside of her, something she hadn’t dared to fear for years: loss. There was a reason Nora had few close friends, and even more reason she had avoided taking a lover. If she loved someone, she loved them fiercely, and she would never stop. If she'd seen this coming, she would have done whatever she could to avoid liking Robin enough that losing her would cause unbearable pain. She wasn't sure she could bear going through such loss ever again. Nevertheless... here they were. Robin had kissed her. It had been unpredictable. Vulnerable. Honest. The least Nora could do was be honest in return.

Nora found herself leaning forwards and her fingers slipped from Robin’s cheek into her hair, nestling in the soft black strands there. She rose quickly onto her knees so they were level with one another, connected only by Nora’s hand, eyes unwavering. Robin's gaze widened. 

They were imprisoned in a room in a lodge at the bottom of a mountain, outside of which armed gangsters were deciding what their fate would be. This was perhaps the most absurd situation Nora could think of to share a kiss – and yet, it was also perfect.

Nora pulled Robin in so tightly, so suddenly, that the other woman’s breath rushed out, and she laughed a little against Nora’s mouth, gentle with delight. And then they were kissing, lips parted, and Robin’s hands were softly touching her face, her jaw, her neck. Reverent touches, careful; even as Nora’s own hands seemed to reach possessively for everything at once. Robin's mouth was soft and yielding, and while Nora had never let herself wonder what it might feel like to be this close to her, she couldn't deny how wonderful it felt. Had they been anywhere else and in any less danger, Nora might have lost control right then. She hadn’t anticipated her body's delight at Robin's touch, how much her heart surged at being able to touch in return.

Nora carefully twisted until Robin was pushed back against the wall behind her, drawing an approving hum from the other woman's throat. She felt the teasing swipe of Robin's tongue, a slender hand grabbing the back of her neck to keep her close, and abruptly the kiss became something else; less cautious, more hungry. Nora pressed their bodies together a little rougher than she'd meant to, grasped at Robin's thigh, her bottom, the curve of her hip. She was starved, and Robin knew it, and she clearly loved it, because her hands were suddenly at Nora’s waist and pulling her even closer, lips raking her skin, tongue trailing down her neck…

“Wait. Stop,” Nora gasped, eyes squeezing shut.

Robin let go of her immediately, though with noticeable reluctance. When Nora opened her eyes again, Robin was studying her intently. There was a very small smile on her face - almost a smirk - though she was clearly trying to stifle it. Of course Robin would look smug. She'd gotten even more than she'd hoped for from that kiss; more than Nora herself had expected to give.

"Well," she said flippantly. "I guess you've been wanting to kiss me, too."

Nora gave her an exasperated look. 

The smirk faded into a solemn expression. Tenderly, Robin leaned in again, as if Nora was easily broken and she didn’t want to hurt her. She kissed the bruises on her cheek, her brow, her forehead. She smoothed her hair back from her face with gentle fingers, traced the line of her jaw. Robin was bold with her affection, and Nora felt the emotion rise up inside her again; a deep sort of longing. How could she possibly have missed this? How could she have completely misread the fond glances Robin sometimes sent her way, the incredible loyalty, the need for approval? And now they were in too precarious a position to even begin to untangle whatever new bond it was that stretched between them.

Nora firmly pulled Robin’s hands free from her face.

“What’s wrong?” Robin asked quietly.

“Nothing. This isn’t the right time.”

Robin rolled her eyes. With a light curse under her breath, she admitted, “You’re right.”

“Where we are, it’s – this is a complicated situation, you know? With the assassins, and Bobbi, and the treasure-”

“I know, I know.” Robin laughed sheepishly. “Good things come to those who wait.”

Nora’s cheeks flushed at the darkly wanting look the other woman shot her way. She released Robin from her arms, shuffling back and composing herself once again, sitting cross-legged in the center of the room. The other woman moved to sit across from her. Somehow, the slight distance helped; Nora was able to calm herself and force down the desire to grab Robin and pull her close. 

“I don’t see how we’ll get out of this,” Nora sighed. “Bobbi’s desperate at this point. She might actually kill us after all.”

“Oh, she will,” Robin muttered darkly.

Nora couldn’t help but smile. “That’s reassuring.”

“But we can kill her first.” After raising an eyebrow, Robin said, “Unless you still don’t think killing Bobbi would align with your Minuteman values…?”

“Until the Minutemen get here, I’m going to do whatever I see fit to survive,” Nora said firmly.

“Good. Because I’d love to see Bobbi suffer for what she did to you.” After a pause, she muttered, “I thought you were going to die. And… I didn’t know what to do about it if you did.”

Nora cocked her head at the sound of distress in Robin’s voice. Did the other woman really care for her so much? Automatically, she found herself remembering that event after Rydell Farm once more; the gentle touches, the unfamiliar look of concern. All the times Nora had caught her staring or had found herself staring in return. The close warmth of her body the night those assassins attacked and they found comfort in each other. The feel of her lips, her careful hands, the longing in her eyes... 

“It scared me,” Robin admitted quietly. “And I realized that you're pretty important. Not just as a partner. I’ve never thought to say it before, and I didn’t really think about it either, with everything that was going on...”

“I get it.”

Robin looked at her as if surprised, and then an amused expression crossed her face. “It’s hard to tell with you,” she said wryly. “Most of the time I have no idea what you’re thinking.”

“Well, I could say the same about you,” Nora retorted. 

Robin narrowed her eyes at that, though she was smirking. "Me? I'm an open book."

"Yeah, right." Nora smiled teasingly. "But, in all seriousness, I plan to be more... honest from now on. If you need to be told that you're important, I'll tell you."

"Go on, then."

Nora rolled her eyes. "You're important." At seeing Robin's delighted expression, she also admitted, "And yes... I did want to kiss you."

"Oh, that was very clear," Robin said, her smile becoming even more smug.

Nora shook her head in exasperation. “There have been times I’ve wondered whether you’re flirting with me or just trying to get under my skin,” she mused. “You use disguises and games to hide everything. I never knew what was real.”

Robin’s expression sobered. “Well, do you know now?”

Nora wondered at that rise of intense feeling in her chest again, and the urge to kiss the serious look off Robin’s face. 

“Yes, I think I do,” she said.

The smile they shared was one of gladness, even despite the little freedom they had left, the danger they faced, and the company that kept them. Nora suddenly felt that all of the danger she had put herself through was worth it for the sake of being able to know Robin in this new, intimate way. And it gave her something worth fighting for. If there was any reason to keep on going, this was it. Robin was it.

Chapter Text

Nora and Robin had just begun searching the room for a viable escape route when the door was abruptly unlatched and swung open. They both hastily spun to stare at the man who had entered – one of Bobbi’s gangsters. He, too, was wearing new clothes he must have found somewhere in the lodge. A sub-machinegun was slung across his shoulders and a cigarette was glowing between his lips. “Hey,” he said gruffly, removing the cigarette and blowing out a cloud of smoke as he glanced around.

Robin blinked. “…Hi.” She realized he was staring at their wrists, apparently irritated they had untied themselves so quickly, and pointedly folded her hands behind her back. Rather than leave and return with another roll of duct tape, however, he just huffed and moved on: “Bobbi says you got forty-eight hours.” He tossed Martin’s diary and the coded sheet onto the floor. They skidded a little before coming to a rest at Nora’s feet.

She glanced down at them, frowning. “Forty-eight hours for what?”

“To figure out what that second code means,” Robin muttered, putting it together first. “Bobbi’s making us do it.”

“She says, since you figured out the first map, you should be able to do this one, too.” The gangster – Benny was his name, if Robin could remember correctly – shrugged nonchalantly. “Oh, and if you don’t do it, I get to kill one of you.” With a grin, he patted his gun. “I’ve been needin’ some target practice, anyway.”

Typical, Robin thought angrily. As usual, Bobbi was incapable of completing this operation by herself, even with Mel’s help, so she’d decided to enslave Nora and Robin instead and incentivise them with the promise of death if they didn’t succeed. Robin knew better than to argue, especially now that she had a very recent reminder of how it felt to watch Nora almost die.

The gangster frowned at them, took another draw of his cigarette, and then slammed the door closed again, latching it from the other side. Deliberately, Robin turned so she could see Nora’s reaction. How could they possibly decipher the code in forty-eight hours? Neither of them knew how. They had been struggling to understand what the code meant since they’d met, but clearly there was still something missing – most likely something back in the Commonwealth which they had no chance of retrieving.

“Well…” Nora smoothly sat down, brushing her hair behind her shoulders, and pulled the slightly crumpled sheet and diary towards her. “Might as well get to work.”

Even though Nora was always calm, and Robin supposed she should be used to it by now, she couldn’t help but think how incredibly exasperating it was. Nora hadn’t reacted at all to the promise of death.

“We should be figuring out an escape route instead,” Robin muttered, folding her arms.

Without looking up, Nora clarified, “Window and chimney are too small to escape through. The walls are too thick to successfully knock through within forty-eight hours – and we don’t have any tools to use, anyway. And the only door to the room is locked and latched on the outside.” She paused, her eyes flicking uncertainly to the side as she listened for noises beyond the walls. “Two guards out there at all times. Bobbi makes them take shifts. Even without our hands tied, we have no chance of overpowering them without weapons.”

Robin strode over and collapsed on the floor beside Nora, frowning so deeply that she felt an ache between her eyebrows. “Just so you know, I noticed all that too,” she grumbled.

Looking at her pointedly, Nora said, “If we manage to decode this, Bobbi won’t kill us. That’s our escape.”

“How do you know?” Robin snapped. “Will she really need us after we’ve given her everything she needs to find the treasure?”

“Robin.” Her name was said so calmly, so surely, that Robin automatically fell silent and looked to Nora to see what she was going to say. Those dark eyes gazed back at her and Robin automatically regretted not meeting them earlier – if she had, she would have realized that Nora was just as worried as she was. And yet there was also something very comforting about her gaze; the assured way with which she looked at Robin, as if she had already seen their future and knew they’d make it through.

Robin hadn’t realized she was still frowning until Nora scooted over and reached out to poke her between the eyebrows. “Stop that,” she said with a slight smile. Even though Bobbi had given them no light to see by, and the small window only shone a slight ambient glow into the room, Robin could see that the smile drew up only one corner of Nora’s mouth, a slight dimple forming, and for some reason she found it incredibly enticing.

Doing as she was told, Robin relaxed her expression, taking a deep breath in and trying to calm herself. However, while she was less anxious about their current predicament, now Robin was restless for another reason. Nora’s touch reminded her instantly of possessive hands, passionate kisses, and the feel of the other woman’s lean body pressing tightly to her own. Their kiss had lasted less than a minute but Robin couldn’t forget a single second. Now she knew what it was like to kiss the General, she couldn’t help but wonder how to make it happen again. Robin’s eyes automatically dropped to Nora’s lips and the slight dimple formed by her smile. She raked her gaze down the slim neck to the lean shoulders, and then the opening of her shirt, and then the shape of her body through the shirt –

“Stop that, too,” Nora said suddenly, her smile disappearing.

Quickly, Robin lifted her gaze again, grinning a little sheepishly at having been caught with wandering eyes. “Sorry.”

To her satisfaction, Nora’s cheeks had darkened, and the look in her eyes was one of conflict. She was the type of woman used to prioritizing her duties over everything else, and yet she was clearly just as preoccupied as Robin was. They couldn’t simply ignore the new intimate energy between them, could they? And one kiss wasn’t going to kill them…

Robin’s eyes immediately dropped to Nora’s lips once more.

Nora’s jaw tightened and she demanded, “Could you not be distracting? Just for the next hour, at least?”

It was so straightforward, and so unexpected, that Robin let out a terse laugh. “Well,” she said coyly, leaning in. “Maybe if you bribe me with a kiss, I’ll think about it.”

Nora shot her a withering look.

“Okay, okay…” Disappointed, Robin sat back and pulled her knees up to her chest. “Look, it’s been a long day. We definitely won’t get anything done in this state. Maybe the best decision right now would actually be to sleep.”

Nora glanced uncertainly down at the maps. “I don't know..."

“There’s nothing we could try now that we haven’t tried already,” Robin said flatly. “Wasting a few hours on sleep isn’t gonna make a difference.”

Nora started to glare at her, and then turned her head to the side at the last second, huffing her irritation. After rubbing her fingers resignedly over her eyelids, she grumbled something under her breath.

“What?”

“You’re right. We’ll sleep until morning and then…” She shot Robin a firm look. “Then we figure this out. Okay?”

“Great!” Robin jumped to her feet again and moved towards one of the couches, wondering what it would take to get Nora to join her. Almost as soon as she had stood, however, there was the now-familiar sound of the door being unlocked and unlatched. She twisted to see who was visiting them this time.

Benny, again.

He muttered, “Toilet break. One at a time.”

“Really?” She was pleased that Bobbi was at least treating them like human beings. And this gave her the inkling of an idea for escape. If only she had more time to think it through…

Robin let him lead her out of the room first, taking note of the hallway which connected them to the entrance of the lodge. She was surprised he wasn’t just taking her to the lodge bathroom, but she knew better than to ask why. Besides, if she saw what it was like out in the open, she’d have more chance of figuring out an escape route.

At the door, Robin paused to let him lead the way, his gun held aloft. Outside were two more gangsters, both curling their lips when they saw her, apparently less than happy to be on toilet duty. Robin was led to a tree outside. All three of the men took a few steps back and stared at her.

“You gonna watch?” she drawled.

One of the men cleared his throat awkwardly. Slowly, he turned his back and the others followed suit. Robin could have reassured them; she wouldn’t try to escape anyway, not when it would mean leaving Nora behind.

Robin took much longer than necessary to do her business, taking note of their surroundings. The darkness had always been her comfort; her black cloak until she was ready for the dawn. In the night, she could go anywhere, do anything, and her enemies and victims alike would be none the wiser. When she tilted her head skyward she could see clearly millions of bright stars dotted on the black canvas of night, yet none of their light seemed to filter far enough down to illuminate the sides of the mountain or the trees surrounding the flat grassland upon which the lodge sat. She knew for certain that a night like this would be perfect to slip away in. The darkness would shroud her, the trees would be almost impossible to weave through without a torch, and the strange night-time forest sounds would distract from the noise of feet in the underbrush.

Of course, she wouldn’t be running now. She and Nora would need to escape tomorrow night – of this, she was certain. They’d be together.

If they wanted to survive in the forest, they’d need to get their hands on some weapons somehow. They’d need to get Nora’s Pip-Boy back so she could light their way. And they’d need to take the diary and maps with them, too. Running back to civilization and leaving the treasure behind wasn’t much of an option anymore; all Robin could think of now was how far they had come, and how close they were to reaching the place Martin Sawyer had hidden his family’s fortune. They’d head up into the mountain forests and find the money before Bobbi could. Although Bobbi would attempt to come after them, she wouldn’t know where they were going without the map to guide her, and soon enough she would have to accept defeat. This meant that Nora had also been right; figuring out that second coded sheet was just as important as planning an escape. Robin had a feeling it would tell them some very vital things about the dangers hidden in the mountain they were about to climb.

When Robin was returned to the room, Nora looked up hurriedly, her face showing a flicker of worry before she could quickly school her features into nonchalance. “You thought I’d run?” Robin said with a smirk. She couldn’t quite make her voice sound taunting, though; truthfully, it sort of hurt that Nora thought she’d leave without her. Had Robin not proven that she was more than a selfish thief? Had she not proven how much she cared?

Nora seemed to notice the indignant expression in her eyes because she muttered under her breath, “If you saw an opening, you should have.”

Robin purposefully brushed Nora’s arm as she passed, wanting to touch her more but knowing the other woman wouldn’t allow it – especially not in front of one of Bobbi’s men. “I’ve got zero interest in leaving you behind,” she said firmly.

At this, she received a small smile. Nora squeezed her hand and moved to the doorway. Once she'd left for her own toilet break, Robin sat on the couch and stared into the empty fireplace, her mind rushing as she tried to fit all the pieces together. Night-time. Weapons. Pip-Boy. Maps…

A tap on the shoulder nearly made her jump out of her skin before she realized Nora had already returned and she’d zoned out for several minutes. “Jesus,” she muttered.

“You’re planning something, aren’t you?” Nora said, amused. Sitting beside Robin – surprisingly close, in fact, even though there was plenty of space for both of them to stretch out if they wanted – she looked at her curiously. “It’s like your mind just leaves your body.”

Robin smiled sheepishly. “I may have an idea.”

With a hum, Nora said, “Bobbi letting us out for toilet breaks is a good sign.”

Robin bit her lip. Her mind was too hazy to fit all the pieces of her plan together. The day truly had been long and difficult, and all Robin could think right now was that she wanted comfort instead of stress. She glanced at Nora, meeting her gaze and giving her a playful smile. The reaction on the other woman’s face was satisfying; a slight narrowing of her eyes and a wrinkling between her brows. “What?” she asked suspiciously.

Slowly, as if approaching a wild animal, Robin shifted towards her. Again, Nora’s face changed. She seemed both guarded and amused by Robin’s behavior, but she didn’t try to move away. Robin reached out and stroked a thumb along her cheek, cautiously watching for a reaction. Almost immediately, there was a sigh and Nora grasped her hand to pull it away. “We said we were taking a break to sleep.”

“Yeah, but ‘sleep’ has so many connotations,” Robin retorted coyly. She dropped her hand though, knowing better than to overstep her boundaries. It was clear that Nora was stressed enough about their situation without being pushed to be more affectionate when she wasn’t ready. After a few moments of awkward silence, she glanced away and muttered, “Sorry.”

Nora remained quiet and Robin was a little afraid to look at her; she definitely wasn’t about to show that the rejection had hurt. Instead, she stood and walked to the fireplace, curiously regarding the leftover blocks of charcoal from a fire. Settlers had been here fairly recently, but they hadn’t stayed long considering there were absolutely no personal possessions in any of the lodge’s rooms, which was foreboding in itself. What had scared them away? Robin turned and stared towards the window, and then at the door.

“What’s wrong?” Nora asked finally.

Robin shrugged. While wood trapped heat fairly well, there had never been any warmth in here to begin with; she was already beginning to feel the prickle of cold in her bones. Walking to the door, she banged on it with her fist. “Hey! Open up!” She kept on banging until finally it swung open so fast she had to leap back to avoid being slammed in the face. One of the more unfamiliar gangsters stood on the other side, glowering at her. What was his name again? Was it Melvin? Monty?

“The fuck do you want?”

“It’s cold. And dark,” she told him innocently. “A lantern or something would be nice.”

He made an irritated huffing sound and slammed the door closed again, his heavy footsteps disappearing down the hallway. Robin assumed he’d gone to pass on her request to Bobbi.

It took several minutes for him to return; Robin was waiting impatiently by the window, fidgeting with the hem of her shirt. He opened the door, placed a lantern on the floor, and then shut and locked it behind him. Robin shot Nora a triumphant smile as she strode to pick the lantern up and bring it over to the fireplace, setting it on top of the mantle. The room was lit abruptly in a warm orange glow, reminding Robin of a campfire – the sort of glow she’d become used to over the past weeks of traveling. It gave her the comfort she’d been missing.

“You scared of the dark now?” Nora asked softly, approaching her from behind.

“No.”

Robin was surprised to feel Nora’s arms snake around her waist and pull her into an embrace. She wasn’t used to the General without armour; wasn’t used to feeling that lean muscle against her, the warmth of her body. Robin couldn’t help but release a blissful sigh, melting back into Nora’s chest. She wasn’t used to being held in this way, but she liked it, because it was Nora holding her, and Nora made her feel safe.

Chin nudging into her shoulder, Nora whispered, “I’m sorry.”

“Why?” Robin turned her head, surprised, trying to meet the General’s eyes.

Nora only shrugged, one corner of her mouth pulling up into a small smile. “For getting annoyed when you flirt with me. It’s not that I don’t want you to.”

“I can be pretty annoying,” Robin allowed with a grin. “But I thought you’d be used to it by now.”

A slight laugh. “Yeah.” After a thoughtful silence, Nora said quietly, “Look… there’s a chance that in less than forty-eight hours one of us will be dead. For that reason, I guess I’ve realized pushing you away is pretty stupid.”

Robin turned completely in Nora’s arms, frustrated that she couldn’t see her face properly. Unfortunately, the other woman was as impassive as ever; whatever she was feeling, she wasn’t showing it. But Robin wondered at the look in her eyes – was it fearful? Affectionate? Bitter?

“I’m not expecting anything from you,” Robin said firmly. A little hesitant after Nora’s rejection earlier, she reached up and pressed her palm to the other woman’s cheek, relishing the softness of her skin.

That deep, dark gaze stared back at her, examining every inch of her face. “I know,” Nora replied simply.

They looked each other in the eye and Robin felt a sudden nervousness bloom in her chest; a fluttering. She liked this woman a lot. And it overwhelmed her, perhaps because she’d ignored it for so long. Now she was allowed to touch, she didn’t want to stop touching. And with the way it felt when Nora returned her touches, Robin didn’t want to stop feeling, either. When their forty-eight hours were over and they inevitably failed to decipher Martin’s code, she would be incapable of having any of this. Nora would be taken from her, one way or another. Robin knew she shouldn’t be thinking of Nora as someone who belonged to her. Nora didn’t belong to anybody. But she couldn’t help but feel possessive of this woman who had kissed her with such passion; who had told her stories of a life before the war; who had saved her life and vowed to protect her, even in fear of Bobbi’s wrath.

Robin leaned in so their cheeks brushed and a sharp inhale of breath told her Nora was just as electrified by the proximity. She smelled wonderful – something sweet, sharp, heady. Assumedly some of it was the laundry detergent in her clothes. Still, Robin breathed her in and her eyes fluttered closed, feeling a hand land on her waist as if to steady her and anchor her in place. Robin murmured into Nora’s ear, “In the spirit of being more honest with me… perhaps you can tell me what you’d like me to do? So I don’t, you know, overstep?”

The hand at her waist tightened, but Nora didn’t answer except to tug her a little closer. Perceiving this as a green light, Robin kissed Nora’s cheek first, softly, and then the edge of her jaw, incapable of keeping herself from tasting the line of her neck with a flick of her tongue. Nora’s reaction was to let out a sharp breath, and realizing she liked it, Robin kissed the same spot again, right by her ear, sucking experimentally at the skin. Nora’s hands shot to her hips and grasped them tightly. Pleased at this reaction, Robin smirked against her and said, “Good?”

Nora let out an approving hum.

With just the right hint of passion, Robin worked her way down Nora’s neck to her collar bone before coming right back up for the lips she knew would be waiting. She was slow, gentle, tasting the salt of Nora’s skin, enjoying the feeling of a quickened pulse beneath her lips. She paused for a moment before kissing Nora’s mouth, wanting to take her time, wanting to remind her senses that this was real, that Nora was really letting her do this. And then the other woman’s lips found her own, soft and careful at first, but as with their first kiss she seemed to get caught up in the feeling of it. Robin gladly let Nora pull her close and kiss her deeply, fervently. She sighed into it, melting into the strength of Nora’s arms as they wound around her and fingers stroked down the length of her spine, warm through the material of her shirt.

Robin didn’t expect more than a kiss. She wanted Nora to give in, to let her emotions show, to be raw and vulnerable, but she understood that for someone like her it could take time. Not to mention, Robin herself had so rarely thought about romance before now. Her attractions had always been fleeting and ended almost as soon as they began. It would take some time for her to get used to this, too; caring for someone as much as she was enticed by them.

Nora pushed her until she hit the arm of the couch and dropped backwards, for a moment struggling to steady herself. And then, hands stroking from her hips to her thighs, Nora settled between her legs, pressing up close in order to kiss her again. As usual, Robin didn’t at all mind letting the General take charge. She liked how tightly Nora’s fingers gripped her – firm, but not painful – and the possessive way she kissed, each decisive movement of her lips and tongue sending mind-melting heat circulating through Robin’s body. Trailing her fingers up Nora’s forearms, Robin felt the shift of toned muscle beneath the sleeves of her shirt. She slipped her fingers down Nora’s shoulders, across her back, stroking her sides, and finally landed on her hips. There, she had to pause, as Nora had suddenly started kissing her neck and Robin felt a sharp skim of teeth that sent tingles to her very core. She sighed softly, reached up one of her hands, and wrapped her fingers in Nora’s hair, pulling her head closer. More teeth, she wanted to say. More tongue. More everything.

But she didn’t need to speak her wishes out loud. Almost immediately, Nora bit down lightly on the curve of Robin’s neck where it met her shoulder, making her tremble. Her sigh this time was more of a choked gasp, fingers tightening in those dark locks of hair. And then, a careful press of a hot tongue over the same mark, followed by a searing kiss against the fluttering of her pulse. Robin moaned a little, unable to muffle the sound before it could leave her throat; she was already imagining the firm movement of Nora’s mouth against even more sensitive parts of her body. Closing her eyes, she tilted her head backwards, inviting more of the feeling.

Although it wasn’t quite like what they had shared earlier – Nora hadn’t suddenly exploded into movement, lost control – Robin felt her entire body burst into a frenzy of tingling as Nora’s tongue met her neck again. In a way, it felt even better than the rough, mindless passion of their previous intimacy. It felt good, and Robin liked being touched so carefully, so thoughtfully. It felt as if Nora was studying her, testing her reactions to each particular touch, each movement of her lips, teeth, or tongue. When Nora’s hands stroked down her ribs, across her belly, Robin automatically released a sharp hum and shifted her hips upwards into the touch. She didn’t know exactly what she wanted, only that it needed to be more; she wanted there to be more weight behind Nora’s hands, more force, more passion.

But Nora pulled back, still hovering over her. Her hands had paused at Robin’s hips. For a second, Robin wondered if the other woman had changed her mind. Before she could ask what was wrong, Robin felt a build-up of tightness in her chest and her throat. She yawned, covering her face with both hands as she did so. Embarrassed, she peeked through her fingers to find that Nora was chuckling at her. “I see I’m boring you.”

Robin muttered, “It’s been a long day.”

With an indulgent smile, Nora leaned to kiss her one last time, soft and careful. When she moved to create space between them, however, Robin decided she didn’t like the distance at all. She stood and dragged Nora back into another kiss, and then another, fingers winding tightly into her hair so she couldn’t back away, until again they were interrupted by another yawn – this one even bigger. She groaned and pulled back, irritated at herself, but Nora was only laughing at her again. When Robin tried to tug her close once more, Nora set her hands on her hips and shoved her onto the couch. “Sleep,” she instructed.

Robin fell back onto the pillows, too tired to put up a fight, and muttered, “You sleep.”

While Nora didn’t seem particularly comfortable with sharing the couch with her, she took one of the pillows and settled herself on the rug close-by, and Robin could see part of her face illuminated by the lantern light, tilted towards her.

“You should sleep up here,” Robin said, yawning again. “I can sleep on the floor.”

“I’m used to the floor.”

Robin’s eyelids were already drooping; she didn’t manage another reply. Instead, she dangled her hand over the edge of the couch and wiggled her fingers insistently. It was only as she was dozing off that she finally felt Nora take her hand and bring it to her lips. And then Robin felt herself drift off into the deepest, most wonderful sleep of her life.

 ---

She woke abruptly only hours later to a strange stab of fear, finding that the room was entirely silent. She quickly sat up, staring around her through a blur of sleepiness, and let out a deep sigh of relief when she saw Nora still lying on the rug, hands folded beneath her head as she stared intently up at the ceiling. At Robin’s abrupt wakening, she tilted her head to give her a curious look, smiling a little. “Morning.”

Extending her arms above her in a long, well-needed stretch, Robin inquired, “How long have you been awake?”

“Few hours.”

Already aware she was a light sleeper, Robin dropped her head in a knowing nod. She wondered briefly whether the General ever had nightmares. There was nothing to indicate it, but Robin knew enough about her past that she wouldn’t be surprised.

“I’m hungry,” she muttered, shooting a sullen glance towards the door. They hadn’t eaten in a while and she didn’t expect Bobbi to be as lenient with feeding them as she was with giving them bathroom breaks. The sooner they got out, the sooner she’d be able to satisfy the ridiculous twisting complaints of her stomach.

It was early enough that the room still needed light; Robin picked the lantern up as she walked past the fireplace to sit in the middle of the room. After a moment, Nora joined her, sitting close enough that their knees touched – her hand reached out and rather absently warmed Robin’s thigh as she settled herself, and the random display of affection made Robin grin all of a sudden.

“What?” Nora demanded.

“Oh, nothing.” With a great effort, Robin managed to wipe the stupid smile from her face. Drawing the coded sheet towards her, she squinted down at the lines of symbols, holding it close to the light. “This is hopeless. You know that, right?”

Nora retorted, “Well, have you given any more thought to your escape plan?”

Robin had been too tired last night to come up with any answers. She’d also been very distracted. With a smirk in the General’s direction, she remarked, “I would have, if we hadn’t spent so long making out.”

For a second, Nora looked as if she were about to roll her eyes at Robin’s flirting; and then, rather surprisingly, her cheeks tinted and she glanced at the floor. “Well, it was your idea.”

Robin didn’t think she’d ever seen the General blush before. She found herself grinning again, staring at Nora in satisfaction. “What’s that?” She reached out to flick at Nora’s cheek, only for her hand to be grabbed millimetres from the other woman’s face.

“If I'm so distracting, until you find a way out of here, don’t touch,” Nora said firmly, this time with a smirk of her own.

While Robin would have loved to banter with her all morning, she knew that the reason she’d woken so abruptly was due to their impending doom. They had less than two days now to either decode the sheet or find a way to escape. It wasn’t long at all.

Sobering up, Robin retracted her hand and picked up Martin’s diary instead, flattening the pages next to the lantern so she could see the words clearly. She’d already read a few of the entries inside but hadn’t yet seen anything out of the ordinary. Settling herself on her stomach, Robin began to flip through each entry, growing more and more irritable as the hours passed. Nora spent her own time staring at the code, cheek resting on her fist, but Robin had a feeling she’d already lost interest in the task at hand.

Bobbi’s men came to lead them out for their respective bathroom breaks at dawn and Robin took another look around, this time in daylight, noting down which was the most probable way to escape without getting caught. When she returned, she let Nora take the diary from her and switched to planning their getaway instead, using the single pencil Bobbi had provided to make notes on the back of the coded sheet. It was approaching midday when the door opened once more; Robin sat up, expecting to leave for another bathroom break, but it was Mel who entered, carrying two plates of food. He set them down on the floor and straightened up, staring directly at Robin. Just seeing the nervous expression on his face made her instantly livid. Not only had he betrayed her time and time again to appease Bobbi, but he hadn’t even bothered to act apologetic. The only reason she was holding back from throttling him right now was because he’d managed to stop Bobbi’s men from killing Nora the day before.

“How’s your pal Bobbi?” Robin asked snidely.

He shuffled his feet. “She’s fine.”

“Any idea how many hours we’ve got left till she executes one of us?”

Mel’s grey eyes shifted away as if looking at the anger in Robin’s eyes made him uncomfortable. “A little over twenty-four hours.” 

It only occurred to Robin then that the expression on Mel’s face was guilt. He didn’t agree with Bobbi – in fact, he rarely agreed with Bobbi when she turned to violence. After a furtive glance down at the escape plan she’d been drawing out, Robin climbed to her feet and smiled across the room as him. “Did she ask you to bring us that?” She nodded towards the plates of food.

Mel didn’t have to answer; he didn’t even have to react to the question. But he returned his eyes to her face, apparently surprised at her sudden switch from anger to openness, and shook his head.

“You know, if anyone can talk Bobbi out of killing us, it’s you,” Robin said pointedly.

Mel’s lips drew into a sad smile. “Not this time.”

“Aren’t we friends, Mel?”

He winced, but no words left his mouth.

“I know you don’t like how she treats other people,” Robin said, taking several steps towards him. He flattened himself against the wall, hand tightening on the door handle, but that same expression of guilt appeared on his face. She approached until they were face to face, and although she was shorter than him, she felt that he was at least a little intimidated. “Why don’t you ever fight back?”

“I can’t,” he said quietly. His eyes were so different in moments like these. The professional man was gone and replaced with someone much kinder, rather soft-hearted. But he was a coward. Robin hated him for how gutless he was when it came to Bobbi. Mel could build technological marvels – machines more intricate and powerful than any Robin had ever seen – and he was incredibly clever, but somehow, despite all of this, he couldn’t raise a single finger against Bobbi when she threatened to kill innocent people. He never stood up for anyone. His life revolved around his work. It was the only thing he could be loyal to, because he never had to make decisions that would cost him his own life. His work and the caps he earned made him important and therefore indispensable. 

“Don’t say that. You can,” Robin snapped, surprised when she found her eyes welling with tears – not just for Mel’s cowardice, but for everything hopeless with their situation: the still-persistent grief from Little John's death, the fact that she had accepted her feelings for Nora now only to lose her, that she had no idea whether Julia and those farmers’ kids were dead or alive, that she didn’t know if she’d ever see her crew again…

Mel saw the tears in her eyes. He stepped forwards as if to comfort her but Robin instinctively slapped his hands away. She opened her mouth to snap at him but nothing came out – nothing except more disappointment, more tears – and she ended up tightening her fingers in the material of his shirt and shoving him back against the wall instead. Robin hadn’t cried in a long time, not since Little John died, but she couldn’t help but feel crushed under the pressure of each passing second; each second bringing her closer to death.

“Robin,” Nora warned, projecting her voice from where she still sat. “Not a good idea. Let him go.”

Glaring into Mel’s eyes, Robin let out a hissed breath. She knew that Nora wouldn’t hesitate to come over and separate them if her command wasn’t followed. Reluctantly, Robin released him, stepping back and angrily wiping at her cheeks with her sleeve. Mel gave her one last uncertain, guilty look before slipping out of the room and latching the door behind him.

“Are you okay?” Nora inquired, coming over. Robin ignored her, dodging past her reaching hands and stomping to the couch. She sat and buried her face in her hands, irritated that her body’s best response to all of this had been to cry. Several minutes passed before Nora even dared to approach her again, the cushions dipping by her side. “Are you-”

“I’m fine!” Robin snapped. She regretted it instantly, of course. Nora wasn’t her enemy. Honestly, neither was Mel – he just happened to be one of Bobbi’s favorite pawns. But it was all so hopeless that Robin couldn’t be bothered to apologize for taking her anger out on either of them. Her eyes simply welled with tears again and she bit down on the fabric of her sleeve to keep the frustrated sobs inside of her.

“Hey,” Nora said gently. She didn’t say anything else. She didn’t touch her, didn’t try to ask if she was okay again; just sat. Valuable time was passing but Nora didn’t seem worried anymore. Robin felt those dark eyes on her, could imagine the concern in them, and it made her feel even worse. Why was the General wasting time trying to comfort her? Why couldn’t Robin just stop letting her emotions get in the way for once? They were going to die, and it would be all her fault.

She lifted her head suddenly, glanced at Nora through the blur of her leftover tears, and said, “We’re not getting out of here, are we?”

Nora’s eyes narrowed into a frown at the helpless expression on her face. “Yes we are.”

“How?”

“You tell me,” she said simply.

But Robin’s plan was missing something – something important – and she didn’t know what. She was too anxious to figure it out. They were meant to be leaving tonight. Robin had been banking on knowing exactly what to do by the time darkness fell, but she was running out of time…

Nora tugged her shoulder to draw her attention. “Stop spiraling,” she said softly.

Robin had little experience in trying to control how she felt; in fact, her emotions had saved her life on multiple occasions. She relied on the impulsions her body provided, the instincts that came from razor-sharp intuition. Robin had always felt that, without them, there was no chance of survival. But she knew that Nora was right. Spiraling would do her no good. Her emotions were overwhelming her right now and she couldn’t think.

“How?” she demanded, turning to face the General. “How do I do that?”

Nora scrutinized her for a moment. Then she scooted back a little and drew sharply at Robin’s arm until she'd tipped sideways. Robin breathed in deeply, abruptly, overwhelmed beyond compare. She curled into Nora’s lap and wrapped her fingers in the soft grey material of her shirt, clinging as tightly as she could. She wanted to cry all over again when she felt the other woman’s fingers reach over and begin gently stroking through her hair. Robin had never had a mother or a father to comfort her like this, nor had she had close friends with whom she had physically affectionate relationships. The simple care that Nora was giving her felt all-encompassing; although it was unfamiliar, it filled her with a deep longing that seemed to tear through her very being. She knew it must have been there for years. Perhaps her whole life. Maybe she had never noticed what she was missing, but her body had. Nora had once said that grief was like a debt unpaid; a weight that soon became forgotten. Robin hadn’t been certain the metaphor could apply to her.

Now she knew.

She burrowed herself into Nora’s lap, pressing her face to her stomach, and let the rest of her tears fall away. The stress seemed to evaporate with each breath she took and she found that the urge to cry was no longer as overwhelming. All she could focus on was the gentle movement of Nora’s fingers in her hair and the brain-melting tingling they left behind. And she could hear Nora’s heartbeat too, slow and steady, the sound of her every breath; she felt the swell of her ribs, the way the muscles in her belly shifted with each inhale. When Robin finally dared to turn her head and look up into Nora’s face, she found that the other woman was staring down at her with an unfamiliar look in her eyes, one that Robin hadn’t yet learned to read. Nora’s fingers left her hair to wipe the residue wetness from her cheeks. “Better?” she asked tenderly.

“Yeah.” Robin cleared her throat, and although she would have preferred to stay in Nora’s lap for a while longer, she quickly sat up and drew away. “Thanks.” She took a few moments to collect herself, taking several deep breaths and closing her eyes. Nora watched her the entire time, stock-still and silent.

And then Robin’s eyes snapped open. “Mel!”

Nora’s eyebrows rose and she looked both amused and concerned by Robin’s sudden switch from sadness to manic excitement. “What about him?” 

Robin flew to her feet and began to pace. “He looked so guilty. I know I can get through to him…”

“What're you talking about?” Nora climbed to her feet as well.

“He’s our key, Nora. He can get us weapons, meds – whatever we need. He’s the last guy Bobbi would expect to betray her, being a coward and all.”

“He hasn’t helped us so far,” Nora said uncertainly. “Why would a coward risk his life to help us?”

Robin set her jaw. “He has to. I’ll make him listen.” She walked back again to the coded sheet on the floor and was about to lift it and go through what she’d planned so far, but her eyes landed on something else – something which staggered her completely. “What the hell…?” Lowering herself to her knees, Robin crawled to the diary and halted; a strange excitement crept up her spine. “Nora,” she whispered in awe. “Look.”

Nora was by her side in a heartbeat. Wide-eyed, she stared down at the diary. Slowly, they turned to look at each other, both with matching grins. “I told you!” Nora declared. “Wasn’t so hopeless after all, was it?”

“But I don’t understand how it – how? How did it…?” Robin trailed off, incapable of even putting her bewilderment into words. She lifted the diary and gazed in wonder at the faint new brown-colored markings which had appeared between the lines of written ink. A secret message. She flipped hurriedly through the rest of the pages but it only seemed to be the one page the book had opened on which had changed.

“Put it back next to the lantern,” Nora ordered.

“Why?”

“Just do it.”

Uncertainly, Robin lowered the diary next to lantern again, this time flipping to a different page. “You think the heat did it?”

Robin wasn’t sure she had ever seen the General look so excited. Her eyes brightened as she explained, “When I was a kid, I remember writing secret messages to my best friend in invisible ink so my parents couldn’t read them. Used lemon juice – once it dries it becomes completely invisible. You hold a light bulb to it and it’ll appear. Maybe Martin did something similar.”

“Look,” Robin prompted, pointing at the page. This one had even more writing on it – in the margins, between the lines, on the edges. Each letter appeared very slowly but the shapes of the words were already visible. “How didn’t we figure this out before?”

Nora had already sat herself before the diary, crossing her legs. Her face hardened into a look of total concentration as she flipped back to the first page of the diary. “We’ll need to go through the entire thing and see what else Martin wrote. A way to decipher the code might be in here, after all.”

“Nora,” Robin said suddenly, placing a hand on her shoulder. “Bobbi isn’t getting the diary. Right? She can’t.”

Nora turned to meet her eyes, resolute. “No.”

“Good.” While Robin still couldn’t be certain her plan to convince Mel to help them would work, she knew she had to try. They had the map, the code and the diary. They had secret messages in the diary. This was a reason to rejoice – already, they were a step closer to that treasure. And Bobbi didn’t even know about it. 

Robin went to the door to collect their plates of spam and crackers, bringing them over to the floor where Nora sat. She ate her portion without tasting it, so hungry that she finished the entire plate in less than a minute. Then she crossed her legs, closed her eyes, and brought an image of Mel to mind. All she needed had been written in his face, in the guilt of his expression. He'd been tipping towards their side for a while, standing up for them when he knew it wouldn't hurt him. All he needed right now was a push. Robin was certain of it. And, once they had his help, they'd be out of the lodge and deep in the forest, far from Bobbi's control. Their only obstacles then would be whatever dangers the mountain had to offer. Robin was willing to risk them for freedom - in fact, she was starting to believe she would risk anything.

Chapter Text

“To whomever is reading this message, I hope you can do so with an open mind.

My father wasn’t an easy man to love. In fact, I can say with certainty that I hated him more than anyone. But I respected him. And, in his own way, he respected me. While I didn’t often see him growing up, he made sure to keep me in the loop about his work and everything going on in Sawyer Tech. I knew he wanted me to take over once I was old enough, and honestly I was excited for the day I could finally rule the empire he had created. Unfortunately, my father died much sooner than any of us expected.

The war had been building on the horizon for years. Tensions were running high. Supermarkets were being raided, bunkers were being built, and thousands of men were being drafted into the army. My mother died five years before the war arrived and my father, all-knowing as he is, suspected that he’d be the next to go. So he called me and my little sister into his study one night and told us something that I knew I would never forget: he told us he was withdrawing as much of his money as he possibly could from the bank and he was storing all of it in a vault he’d been building. He figured that wartime was the worst time for his money – his life’s work – to fall into the wrong hands. He didn’t want thieves, or mercenaries, or greedy soldiers to get a single piece of it. And so he assigned Louise and I as its protectors. She was just fifteen and I was nineteen. We weren’t old enough to understand the magnitude of his words back then, and I hate to say it, but I didn’t at all take him seriously. I’d already known the Sawyer fortune would fall to us as his only children anyway. I thought my father was just being paranoid.

But the war came; when the bombs fell, everything I knew was turned to dust. We retreated underground for many years into our family bunker. Father survived for most of those years, but we eventually lost him to a persistent sickness, and the ownership of Sawyer Tech automatically fell to me at the age of twenty-seven. Louise died almost as soon as we left the vault, shot down by Raiders. The newly formed Commonwealth was a vicious place. I barely survived with the help of some of my father’s men – one of them, Tyrell, was like a brother to me, and we protected each other in all the ways we knew how. Luckily, it seemed that no one even remembered the name Sawyer, or if they did, they didn’t think anything of it. For most of my life after the war, I focused only on surviving, even though my father’s words remained in the back of my head like a mantra. I was the only man in the Commonwealth who knew where the bunker was, yet I didn’t see the point in uncovering all of that money. It felt more like a curse now than a luxury. What would I use it for? All the fortune would do was make me more of a target. Sure, it could go to my descendants, but therein lied the same issue; would it help them or harm them?

My answer came soon enough. I suppose the Commonwealth started to remember the world before the war – and, of course, there were people smart enough to recall how rich Jeremy Sawyer had been. They came searching for me. At this point, about seven of my fellow vault-dwellers remained by my side, all of us much older. We’d built a name for ourselves in the Commonwealth and had a nice little settlement by the sea. I hadn’t tried returning to the mansion; it only brought back terrible memories of that day the bombs fell. Besides, I had met a wonderful woman here and now had two young daughters. I truly loved my life in the post-war Commonwealth, even after all the sadness I’d had to endure, and preferred it to the dreary, lonely one I’d lived before. When greedy folks started coming for me, wanting to kill me, to claim the fortune for themselves, I knew that I couldn’t put anyone else in danger. For a single person, my father’s fortune would be a terrible burden to have to carry. But for many?

I hadn’t told any of my colleagues and family where the fortune was for good reason – as per my father’s wishes – but now I needed their help. So, I sat down with those I trusted the most and together we created what I ended up calling the New Order (tacky, I know): the group of us were the only people aware of the existence of the fortune. And, as I had them all pledge to me, they were willing to keep it a secret, no matter the threat to their lives. Some of my closest friends had once worked for Sawyer Tech before the war; like me, they knew that there were ways to ensure the money was never found by thieves and Raiders alike. Together, we spent years securing the fortune in the mountains, making it nearly impossible to uncover.

Nonetheless, out of respect for my father and his life’s work, I don’t want his fortune to remain hidden forever. I secretly hope that one day someone will recognize the clues I’ve left behind and put them all together. Not a Raider, or a thief, but someone smart, someone who may come to read this message and fully understand that to take my father’s money will mean to take on a massive burden. And, if the person reading this is one of my progenies, then all the better.

Should you choose to go after it – after all, I assume you can feel the thrill of adventure already set upon you – I’ll leave you with a final warning: I have spent my entire life running from what my father gifted to me. The Commonwealth is no place for a fortune like this; it is a world of greed and hunger. Expect it to be taken from you. Expect only the fear and insecurity that I have felt. But, if you are brave, intelligent and strong enough to find the money I have so carefully hidden away, perhaps you are already prepared for its consequences. In that case, I can only wish you luck.

Regards,

Martin Sawyer.”

Nora lowered the book and stared across the couch at Robin, who had been listening to her read with a furrowed brow. She sat forwards and said, “So, those assassins who attacked us – they were the ‘New Order’? The organisation Bobbi said Martin created?”

“Seems so,” Nora agreed. “They cleared all evidence of the Sawyer family from the Commonwealth, secured the fortune through the use of technology, and then melted back into the shadows.”

Robin quietened, tapping at the side of her jaw thoughtfully. She’d been frowning so much lately that Nora almost wanted to reach over and kiss her until that grave expression on her face had gone away, but now wasn't the time for messing around. “They can’t be the original members of the New Order, right? There were so many that night when we were attacked.”

“I think Bobbi was right about that, too,” Nora said decisively. “The New Order’s original members probably died along with Martin while its descendants took on a new aim: to simply kill anyone who learns about the Sawyer fortune. They enlist and train mercenaries for the job so they don’t have to get their hands dirty.”

“Interesting how Julia ended up with his diary after all these years. The one document the New Order didn’t manage to wipe from existence...”

“Well, Martin wanted someone to find it one day, right? He’d have made sure it would stay safe, even from his own organisation.” She paused, an idea suddenly springing to mind. “Hey, what’s Julia’s last name? Did she ever tell us?”

Robin sat up quickly, eyes round, and a wide smile appeared on her face. “I think… Tyrell.”

“Martin’s friend,” Nora said triumphantly. “He said Tyrell was like a brother to him. So, when he died, he either gave it directly to Tyrell or to one of his kids, and each generation kept it safe until eventually… it ended up in Julia’s hands. Maybe she's not Martin's heir after all. Bobbi must've known the New Order would get rid of everything to do with Martin Sawyer - but not his friends. Which was why Martin decided to give the diary to someone outside of his immediate family.”

Robin was silent for a while, picking at a thread on the knee of her trousers. That frown was back, her dark eyebrows pulled sharply inwards. “Kinda wish she was here to figure all this stuff out with us,” she mumbled. “But I suppose she’s better off out there.”

“She is,” Nora said confidently. “Julia’s probably already on her way back to the Commonwealth.”

“I hope so.”

This time Nora couldn’t resist. She reached forwards and placed one hand on Robin’s knee, squeezing as she brought herself in for a quick kiss. The other woman’s mouth was soft and warm; a bubble of surprised laughter came between them before Robin moved to return the kiss, but at that point Nora was already pulling away. She examined Robin’s face curiously, pleased to see a rose-colored tint to her cheeks. She was so wonderfully open, her emotions displayed almost entirely in the movement of her features. As Nora watched, Robin ran her tongue briefly across her bottom lip, as if she could still taste her. And then she drew the lip between her teeth and peered up through her eyelashes, apparently trying to look as flirtatious as possible. “Hmm... what was that?”

“A kiss,” Nora deadpanned. “Stop looking so upset, will you? We’re getting out of here.”

A teasing look came to Robin’s eyes. “If you think you need to kiss me every time I look upset, I assure you I’ll be looking upset a lot more often.”

“Don’t push it.” With an uncontrollable smile of her own, Nora drew back and took the diary into her hands again, flipping towards the start where she’d seen much smaller edits and inscriptions made with the invisible ink. Each normal letter here had a faded brown shape drawn next to it – a symbol. She and Robin had rejoiced earlier at seeing these particular symbols because they very clearly represented some sort of answer to the code. They hadn’t tried to actually crack the code yet, however; for now, their getaway was more important. Robin had already asked one of their guards whether they could see Mel again but they couldn’t be entirely sure if he’d come, especially after Robin’s outburst a few hours before. So they sat, and they waited, and they read some of the longer invisible entries in Martin’s diary to pass the time.

Robin stretched her legs so they settled on either side of Nora’s and gave her an impish smile. “Can I ask you a question?”

Nora peered over the pages suspiciously. “Depends what it is.”

“Did you always know you liked women?”

The question was more surprising than it should have been. Nora’s mind seemed to grind to a stop as she lowered the diary to stare. After a few moments, Robin’s eyes flashed with apprehension and she quickly asked, “Am I overstepping?”

Nora’s first instinct was to say yes. But it wasn’t true, and lying would be unfair considering she'd promised to be honest. So, instead, she replied, “I don’t know.”

“That’s not really an answer.” Robin’s lips curled into an uncertain smile.

Nora quickly returned her gaze to the diary but the words were too hard to read now; she was distracted with the vivid memory of Nate that Robin had somehow dredged up. They were sitting on the carpet in what would soon become Shaun’s room. Her belly was big – she was six months pregnant – and she was reacting to the summer heat pretty badly, sweating so profusely that Codsworth had needed to bring her a giant glass of ice water. Nate, across from her, was wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, his hair tousled and his brown eyes glowing with happiness. He was struggling to fit two pieces of Shaun’s crib together, cursing under his breath, and she was watching in amusement.

The pain hit Nora like a sucker-punch. She hadn’t thought of Nate properly for so long. Not thinking of him at all was very strange considering she’d known him almost her whole life, but it was easier not to remember – it hurt less.

“Nate was my first and only,” Nora said quietly, realizing Robin was still staring at her expectantly.

Robin’s eyes softened and she reached forward to rest her hand lightly on Nora’s ankle. “Nate? Is that your husband’s name?”

Nora liked the way she’d said is, as if he were still alive out there. “My husband, and my best friend. We were inseparable as children and when we grew up we found we loved each other romantically, too. So… I guess I never really thought about whether I liked women, or even other men.” She shrugged. “I find it hard to be attracted to someone if there’s no emotional connection there already anyway.”

“Demisexual,” Robin said simply.

“What?”

She laughed at the bewildered expression on Nora's face. “I think that’s what it’s called. When you need an emotional connection to be attracted to someone.”

“How do you know that?” Nora asked.

“I read a lot.” Robin shrugged. “Also, I was curious about my own sexuality once upon a time. Did a little bit of research.”

“Really?” Nora challenged. “What are you, then?”

Robin gave her a playful grin. “I have no fucking idea.” She paused and her cheeks tinted a little as she prepared herself for what she was about to say. “…But I like you. I know that, at least.”

“Yeah, me too,” Nora said without hesitation. When she looked at Robin, however, it was with some anticipation. She had effectively told Robin that she had feelings for her – and not just sexual feelings. Did Robin even feel the same way? Or was it more physical for her? Before Nora could scour up the courage to ask, there was the slamming of the latch on the door and they both leapt to their feet. To Nora’s satisfaction, it was Mel who came in, shooting them both an uncertain glance as he carefully closed the door behind him. The fact he was here at all was a very good sign. “You asked to see me again,” he said evenly. “Why?”

Robin was the first to approach, pausing a few feet away and folding her arms. “Don’t speak, don’t even think about arguing – you’re going to listen to every word I say from beginning to end. You owe me that at the very least. Do you understand?”

Mel’s interest had been piqued. Very slowly, he nodded. When Nora gestured for him to come and join them, he walked over and sat on the couch opposite, one of his knees jumping nervously. Robin sat down too. She took a deep breath and said, “Mel, we need your help.”

 ---

Nora crouched just inside the doorway, Robin opposite her, as they waited with barely-suppressed impatience for their usual night-time toilet break. She could see the anticipation in the other woman’s eyes and knew it must be matched in her own. They only had a very small window in which this plan would work, and if Mel didn’t keep up his end, they would fail miserably. There were so many things that could go wrong but Nora forced herself to be optimistic anyway. Could they trust Mel? They had to. Would he have alerted Bobbi already that they were planning to escape? Hopefully not. And surely she was already aware they might try something like this, anyway; Nora only hoped she wouldn’t be prepared for the exact scheme that Robin had thought up.

Heavy footsteps approached outside and there were the vibrations of deep voices as Benny spoke to the two men standing guard. While Nora couldn’t hear what they were saying exactly, she knew from the snickering and tones of their voices that they were talking about the two women waiting in the room beyond. Saying something foul, most likely. Nora knew that whenever Benny came to take them for their toilet break, it coincided with a change in guard shifts. There would be a short moment during which no one would be guarding their door whatsoever – and that was the point Robin saw fit to sneak out.

Two sets of footsteps faded off down the hallway in the direction of the rest of the lodge’s rooms while Benny’s hand set on the latch and the door handle. Nora immediately sprang into action the moment he had opened the door, jamming her foot in the crack and yanking him by the front of his shirt into the room. “Hey-!” She jabbed him hard in the face with her elbow, cutting his shout off before it could carry down the corridor, and then took his face in both hands, smashing the bridge of her forehead so hard and fast into his face that it made him stumble back and collapse on the floor, his nose spurting red and his eyes dazed. Without hesitation, she followed him and straddled his chest, throwing a few more quick punches into his face, ignoring the intense pain in her knuckles. Once he was still, she inhaled slowly and raked her hair back out of her face.  

Robin was staring at her with a mixed look of barely-disguised dismay and awe on her face but she shot her a thumbs up and immediately scooted over to begin stripping the gangster’s clothes from his body, needing Nora’s help to lift him so she could pull them out from underneath his hulking weight. She got dressed just as quickly, pulling the trousers and shirt over her own clothes, securing the suspenders over her shoulders, and then grabbing his hat so she could cover her hair and hide her face. She still looked too small to be properly recognized as one of the gangsters, but the disguise would last her long enough to slip through the house towards Bobbi’s room. Robin would meet Mel there – hopefully he would have already managed to distract Bobbi somehow – and help her stock up on everything they needed out on the mountain. The one way Robin had been certain he would help them was by inviting him along; they’d told him that they already had a way to find the treasure and promised him more money than Bobbi had offered as a reward. Now they just had to see whether he was courageous enough to switch sides.

Robin darted towards the door and gave Nora one last long look before she disappeared. Nora felt her chest physically clench in reaction to that final image of the other woman’s face. While her own part of the plan was no more dangerous, she hated it; mostly because once she’d incapacitated all of the gangsters outside the lodge, she’d have to wait in the forest where Robin had told her to. And if Robin never appeared, she was supposed to go off alone. Take the maps somewhere Bobbi would never find them.

Nora didn’t want to leave Robin behind. Not ever. Unfortunately, for the time being, there was no better choice. Nora wasn’t very good at creeping around, and there was only one disguise, so she simply had to trust that Robin could do her job without getting hurt.

From Benny’s half-naked body, Nora picked up his weapons. To her glee – and disdain – he’d been carrying one of her knives in his shoe. But his other weapon was a sub-machinegun, much less accurate and capable of less damage than her own rifle. She took it anyway. Nora also shoved the coded sheet and Martin’s diary into her waistband. With the knife in her left hand and the rifle in the other, she silently pulled open the door and glanced to both sides, very much aware that she was wearing no armour and a single bullet could be the death of her. Faded voices sounded to her right. The men who’d been waiting outside for Benny must have become restless by now. Clutching her finger over the trigger, Nora crept towards the entrance of the lodge, passing tapestries of hunting scenes, picture frames, mounted taxonomy –

The first shout caught her completely by surprise. It had come from behind her. Nora immediately spun and let off several rapid rounds towards the origin of the sound, catching the triggerman in his shoulder and sending him spiraling backwards. Her cover had been blown immediately. Cursing at the terrible accuracy of her new rifle, Nora sprinted around the corner to the entrance, knowing she’d already lost her element of surprise. When she booted open the front door, it slammed hard into one of the triggermen’s backs – he collapsed forwards with a yell and his friend immediately began firing at Nora through the door, sending her ducking out of view again. Wincing against the splintered wood and glass which had sprayed into her face, Nora considered her odds. With two men outside, Benny knocked out, and the gangster she’d already downed in the hallway, that left a single triggerman with Bobbi, wherever she was. Nora hoped Robin wasn’t facing him off alone right now.

Nora didn’t think she could go out and kill both of the men blocking her escape without getting severely injured, but perhaps she could use tactics to her advantage. Drawing back and making sure to keep an eye on both the lodge’s entrance and the hallway stretching behind her, Nora reloaded her sub-machinegun and waited for them to come to her. Almost immediately, the first idiot threw himself through the front door, firing as he did, and Nora simply flattened herself into the corner and shot him twice in the chest. He fell with a gurgling shout but apparently his gruesome wound hadn’t killed him yet; he shot one last time at Nora and she winced as the wall right next to her head was torn to pieces. She had no time to think about how close she’d been to death, however. The second triggerman’s rifle clicked as he paused in the doorway and they both realized at the same time that he had an empty magazine in his gun. Their eyes met. Nora knew she had a very short window in which to incapacitate him before he reloaded.

She threw herself at him, knife lashing out, but he dodged nimbly and hollered, “Bobbi! They’re escaping!”

This guy had been right up there with Benny in Bobbi’s good books – Nora remembered now that Monty had been one of the better fighters in the group. Every time she ventured forwards to slash at him he was a step ahead of her, dodging and ducking. Eventually he’d retrieved a knife of his own and he grinned wickedly at her. “This time I ain’t gonna spare you,” he taunted. “I’ll gut you and hang you on the wall like one of these trophies.”

Nora’s only response was to drive him further back against the wall, this time lifting her rifle to retaliate, but he immediately threw himself out of the door, rolling down the steps as she sprayed the wall close behind him. Her machinegun clicked to signify that she was now out of bullets too and she cursed loudly, letting it clatter to the ground as she advanced outside with her knife held high. Monty was waiting for her to the left of the entrance; when he tried to stab her, she instinctively twisted just fast enough that his blade cut through the clothing at her hip instead of biting into her flesh. Unfortunately, the evasion set her off balance and sent her tumbling down the steps onto the grass. She only barely managed to roll herself sideways as Monty brought his blade hard down where her head had been just moments before.

“You know your girlfriend’s already dead, don’t you?” he sneered. He accompanied his words with a swift slice across her body as she leapt to her feet. It only barely scraped her stomach, but it was enough to draw blood, and Nora immediately recalled the attack of the New Order assassins. She had won then, but that was because she’d had her rifle. While Nora had been told she excelled at hand-to-hand combat when she had Ronnie Shaw train her years ago, she still preferred to keep a hefty distance between herself and her enemies. Now, unfortunately, she had no choice.

“Maybe it’s Bobbi who’s dead,” Nora replied calmly, refusing to rise to the bait. “You called for her, didn’t you? So where is she?”

With a scowl, Monty advanced again and Nora realized she was on the back foot now, incapable of doing anything other than defend herself. She ducked, dodged, weaved, but it was already tiring her out, and Monty knew it. Her breaths were coming in ragged gasps and the pain of the wound across her stomach was already beginning to blossom. Nora finally saw an opening; he’d thrust forwards hard, aiming for her chest, giving her just enough space to roll to the side and deliver a hard jab with her knee into his groin, at the same time pushing her entire weight into his shoulders. Her momentum tumbled them both to the ground and Nora heard him wheeze in pain; she ripped the knife from his hand and made to bring it down into his shoulder but he caught her arms, twisting so hard that she was forced to drop both of the blades. So Nora used the only weapon she had left: she headbutted Monty in the face, once, twice, until he was spluttering blood. He was so dizzy now that he could hardly lift a hand to stop her as she reached for one of the discarded knives and brought it high over his neck, stabbing down in one swift arc.

When Nora stood, she was displeased to find herself absolutely covered in blood. Her forehead throbbed and she felt dizzy, but her form must have been pretty good because she was sure there would only be a slight bruise from all that headbutting. Everything was quiet now and she allowed herself a momentary sigh of relief.

And then she heard gunshots. Inside the lodge.

Nora had promised Robin she’d wait outside and let the plan run its course, but right now all she could think was that her partner was in trouble and she needed to do something. Nora took both knives and sprinted back inside, darting rapidly down the hallway and only halting when she realized the man she had shot earlier was no longer there, a bloodstain left on the carpet where he had lain. So she hadn’t killed him after all – he’d gone to protect his boss.

Nora moved towards the noises more carefully now, hearing another ra-ta-tat of bullets. She was shocked to find that the main room had both doors flung wide open with a full-fledged firefight going on inside. On one side of the room was Bobbi and her two remaining men. On the other was Robin hunched behind a desk. Mel was frozen with his back to the wall between them, apparently too terrified to fight.

Nora felt a cold horror wash through her. He’d clearly done something wrong if Bobbi was retaliating.

“Robin!” Nora snapped. “Just run!

Robin’s eyes flicked to her in shock at the sound of her voice and she ducked lower behind the desk as Bobbi tried to take her head off with a round of bullets from her revolver. “I can’t!”

Nora had to throw herself backwards from the doorway as Bobbi’s men abruptly realized she had joined them. Bullets spewed over the carpet and the wall behind her – she waited for them to pause to reload and then twisted half her body into the room to try and toss one of her knives at her assailants. She missed horribly, the blade pinging off a table and burying itself in the floor. Unlike Robin, knife-throwing wasn’t something she’d had much practice in. Nora ducked away again and took a few deep breaths, meeting Robin’s eyes once more, this time in desperation. “Run!” she hissed. She wouldn’t leave Robin behind. And she also couldn’t bear to watch her die here.

Robin looked scared. She’d taken a pistol off someone but didn’t seem very confident in using it. It was only then that Nora noticed the black bag strapped over her back and realized she’d already picked up the items they needed. Bobbi must have caught her in the act. If Robin could find a way to escape the room now without getting shot, they were already set for freedom.

Bobbi snapped, “Come out! I’ll make this nice and quick.”

In a split second, Robin’s face transformed and she almost seemed to pout. “Nothing’s ever nice with you, Bobbi,” she retorted. And then she lifted her head just enough that her eyes could reach Mel where he was standing and Nora saw her mouth something to him imploringly: Please. You owe me.

Nora had no idea what must have changed, because even earlier he hadn’t seemed certain about following their plan – just as cowardly as Robin had said – but now his gaze seemed to harden and his jaw clenched. His grey eyes switched to Bobbi. At his attention she stopped firing towards Robin’s hiding place momentarily and shrieked, “What are you doing? Shoot!”

He puffed his chest out. “Fine.” And he withdrew his pistol, lined his sights up with Bobbi, and fired. Bobbi’s men immediately moved to block the bullet but Nora thought she heard the ghoul cry out in pain. Robin sprinted from the room almost as soon as there was a break in the standoff but even as Nora grabbed her arm and tried to drag her away, she shouted, “Mel! Come on!”

The moment Mel appeared next to them, his face pale, Nora spun and hastily led the way down the corridor, running as fast as she could towards the entrance of the lodge. For a second, as they burst out into the fresh air, Nora thought they were going to make it. But the edge of the forest suddenly seemed very far away, and as Nora focused all of her attention on it, sprinting even faster, she heard several more gunshots ringing out behind her. There was an exclamation of pain and the sound of a body dropping to the ground but she didn’t spare a single glance back to see what had happened; she knew it would slow her down. All that mattered was that she could still hear Robin’s quick breaths behind her.

They ran as hastily as they could. The path became unfamiliar as they entered the woods on the mountainside, winding through trees. Each bend was a surprise – it took all of Nora’s courage to guide them through, and as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t spare a thought to make sure Robin was still behind her. Black trunks against an almost black sky didn’t give her much to see by and her imagination began to supply horrors to fill the void around them. Finally she heard rushing water; a creek. She wanted to run faster but all she could do was take faltering steps, hands raised in front of her as branches slapped against her face. She wanted to silence her feet, too, but the forest floor was covered in twigs and stones. Robin’s footfalls – if that was her close behind – were much quieter, and Nora had no idea how she moved so gracefully in the darkness.

Nora saw the glitter of water and leaped over it, stopping with her hand against a tree trunk as she whipped her head around to stare back the way she came. Robin almost barreled straight into her, fingers tugging at her shoulders as she came to a standstill, her breaths coming out heavy and uncontrolled. Nora had a feeling that it wasn’t because she’d found their run exhausting – they’d both heard the gunshots before they escaped into the forest. They both knew Mel was dead. When Robin’s breathing hitched and she let go of Nora’s shoulders to press her hands to her face, trying to keep her anguish quiet, Nora’s assumptions were proven correct. Whatever differences they’d had, Mel had been her friend. And she’d convinced him to help them only for his courage to end in a brutal death.

Nora drew the other woman into her arms, wrapping her tight in a hug that was as much for her own benefit as it was Robin’s. She wasn’t sure if it was the gangsters’ footsteps she could hear in the distance or if there were other creatures out there, watching them. She felt a little safer with Robin pressed in close. The other woman sniffled against her shoulder, clutching her so tightly that she felt a little winded. But she didn’t ask Robin to release her; instead, she hugged her back just as tight. Their heartbeats were pumping wildly out of unison, rapid from the adrenaline of their escape. They stood there, both panting, waiting for silence to fall once more, and Nora watched the dark forest around them with blind eyes. While she was triumphant that they had finally achieved freedom, the reality of where they were had finally begun to set in. They could just as easily die out here as they would have in the lodge. This was a false liberation, one that came from having little choice to begin with.

“We need to get out of the open,” Robin huffed suddenly.

Nodding, Nora took her hand and began to walk again. They walked until the slope became steeper and the underbrush grew thicker, until finally she felt a tug on her arm and noticed Robin was pointing at something: a sort of indent in the rock to their right, lit only barely by the starlight filtering through the trees. It was a shallow cave, one which at least would provide them a solid wall to put their backs to. Nora immediately changed direction, tugging Robin behind her as she approached it. Once they entered, she drew her knife and glanced around carefully, making sure it wasn’t inhabited. Then, with a relieved sigh, she pulled Robin into another tight embrace, setting her chin atop the other woman’s head. She couldn’t help it. She was just so happy that they’d both gotten out alive.

Robin pulled away after only a few seconds, her face a pale smudge in the darkness. She unslung the black bag she’d stolen from Bobbi and dropped it on the floor of the cave. Nora took the diary and the coded sheet from her waistband and bent to tuck them into the front pocket, checking inside the other compartment to see that it contained almost all the meds and caps which Bobbi had originally taken from her. She smiled in satisfaction when she saw the little bag of her toiletries, too, and some spare changes of clothes which Robin must have tossed inside at the last minute. After buckling the Pip-Boy back to her wrist, Nora glanced up, about to praise the other woman for her deftness, but saw the outline of her body language in the darkness. Nora started to say her name but the other woman moved quickly to sit down, drawing her knees to her chest and staring out through the opening of the cave at the forest. Nora followed suit, sitting behind Robin and relaxing her head back against the wall of rock to let the remaining adrenaline seep from her body. After several minutes of silence, she couldn’t take it anymore. Not being able to see Robin’s face made it hard for her to tell how the other woman was feeling.

“He died doing something good. Heroic. Not everyone does,” she pointed out.

“I know.” Robin sounded strangely emotionless. She hadn’t moved an inch, her back still turned.

Chancing a glance at her, Nora ventured, “Are you okay?”

“Stop always asking me that,” Robin said sharply. “I’m fine.”

A little taken aback by her tone, Nora fell silent. When Robin scooted forwards to lay down, pillowing her head on the bag, Nora kept her distance, imagining that the other woman wanted space. Only a few minutes passed, however, before Robin abruptly lifted her head and demanded, “What are you doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“Can you come here?” Noticing that her voice had softened a little, Nora took one careful glance out through the opening of the cave before lying down beside her, keeping her knife clenched tight in her fist. “And… hold me?” Robin added faintly, noticing the distance between them. She sounded so vulnerable and uncertain that Nora’s heart swelled with pity. Seeing Robin sad just felt wrong. Incongruous to how she usually acted, all bright and spirited with her jokes and sarcasm, the sadness made Nora wonder whether she’d ever really had anyone to comfort her when she felt this way. She’d only talked about her crew a few times but she made them sound more like friends than family. Robin didn’t seem like the sort of woman who usually succumbed to sadness, and Nora had a feeling that was because she had no idea how to deal with it. No one had ever taught her to deal with it.

Luckily, Nora had seen first-hand the soothing effect that simple affection had on her. She tucked herself in closer, slinging her free arm over Robin’s waist and pulling their bodies tighter together. As if she’d just been waiting for permission to do so, Robin immediately burrowed her face into Nora’s chest and clutched one hand over her hip, taking a few deep breaths before falling silent. Nora stroked a hand over her back comfortingly, staring over her head into the forest beyond the cave's entrance. While Nora knew she wouldn’t sleep, she allowed herself to relax into the feel of Robin’s body, her scent, her warmth. And she closed her eyes, letting her ears search the darkness for her, taking note of each and every sound which came their way.

This was going to be a long night.

Chapter Text

Nora had already left the cave to look around by the time Robin woke the next morning. Now that she could see what the forest looked like, she wanted a better idea of where they were. She only returned when she heard the sound of Robin calling her name, not wanting the other woman to worry about where she was. When she walked into the cave and saw the sleepy look on Robin’s face, she almost smirked at how cute it was, but held off when she recalled the woman’s dark mood from the night before. Nora couldn’t be sure whether Robin would feel better or worse this morning.

Robin rubbed at her eyes, gazing blearily up at Nora, and seemed to notice for the first time that she was covered in dried blood. Guilt replaced the confusion on her face as she hopped to her feet and marched over. “I’m so sorry – I didn’t even ask if you were hurt last night.”

“I’m not really.” Still, Nora didn’t stop her as Robin lifted the front of her shirt and traced the length of the cut across her belly, stretching from her left hip to just under her bra. Robin’s careful touch was such an alien feeling that Nora almost flinched at it. “Really, it’s fine. Very shallow,” she insisted, pulling away.

“Well, at least change into something less bloody.”

“You just want to see me undressed, don’t you?” Nora very rarely flirted, so her comment seemed to take them both by surprise. With an amused smirk, Robin lowered her chin and said, “Well, now that you’ve mentioned it…”

Nora smiled at her sly tone but faltered when she saw how quickly the other woman seemed to sober up again. Although she knew Robin hated it when she asked, she attempted, “How are you feeling?”

Green eyes searched her own before dropping to the ground. “Better.”

“I’m sorry about Mel.”

“You’re not the one who keeps killing my friends,” Robin muttered bitterly. “I have half a mind right now to head back to that lodge and stab Bobbi right in her stupid face.”

While Nora knew she wasn’t serious, the idea still bothered her. “I wouldn’t recommend that.”

When Robin didn’t move to answer, Nora ducked around her to the bag and pulled out one of the spare pieces of clothing. By the time she’d pulled the bloody shirt over her head and tossed it aside, Robin had turned and was watching her with a smile, eyes leisurely travelling from her face, to her chest, to her hips – and then up again. At least flirting was putting her in a better mood.

“What?” Nora teased. “You’ve already seen me naked, haven’t you?”

“That was different,” Robin said immediately.

“Why?”

She shrugged and her eyes traveled down again, this time staring at the other marks on Nora’s skin – old scars from past battles. She pointed at the one just at the bottom of her ribcage and asked, “What’s that from? It’s massive.”

“Railway spike went clean through me,” Nora said, already knowing which she was talking about. “Almost killed me.” Realizing Robin was expecting a story, she continued, “It happened during the Battle of Bunker Hill. I was working undercover at the Institute at the time, so… suffice to say, I ended up a pretty big target.”

Robin hummed her interest. She approached slowly and lifted her fingertips to lightly sketch the shape of the scar. Still unaccustomed to her delicate touch, Nora shivered a little, but she didn’t tell her to stop. When Robin glanced up to meet Nora’s eyes, her smile had become shy. “You’re beautiful.” It was said so quietly, so sincerely, that Nora knew she’d meant it. She was surprised by the compliment, but also pleasantly flattered. It meant more coming from Robin than it would have from anyone else. Unsure how to respond, she finally just tilted her head in a nod.

Nora wondered if it would sound false if she returned with a compliment of her own, but Robin turned away before she could, heading for the entrance of their cave and peering out at the forest beyond. Nora quickly pulled the new shirt over her head, this one a dark blue and more closely-fitted, and wondered fleetingly if it would be worth returning to that creek they had passed the night before so she could wash the blood from her skin. When she suggested it to Robin, the other woman shook her head, not lifting her eyes from the trees. “We can’t go back. Only forwards. And this is the safest place we’ve found so far.”

“You think we should stay?” Nora asked, surprised.

“For the time being, yeah.” Shooting a pointed look towards their bag, she added, “We’ve got a code to figure out. There’s no point in going anywhere until we know what to expect.”

Nora agreed, but still caught up in the need to be clean, she holstered her knife – the only weapon between the two of them apart from the pistol Robin had taken, preferable since it needed no ammunition – and left the cave in search of a closer water source. She knew that there was a river somewhere on the mountain but wasn’t sure how far. All they had was the coded sheet and Martin’s diary. The actual map displaying the mountain’s features was still in Bobbi’s possession.

Eventually Nora heard rushing water again and moved a little faster through the trees, making sure to glance around her as she approached the little trickle of a stream running down the mountain on the other side of the cave. She was pleased to find that this stream converged into what looked to be a sizable pond. It would serve as a decent source of drinking water. What wasn’t so pleasing was the sight of a dead animal carcass on the other side of the pond – a radstag, she assumed – and the lone wolf which had begun growling almost as soon as Nora approached. It was emaciated and missing one eye but Nora was aware that it must have taken down the stag on its own. A fearsome hunter. The carcass was fresh and the wolf was clearly hungry enough that it had remained out in the open to eat despite the dangers of being seen in daylight.

Nora saw the warning in the wolf’s single working eye. It had already marked her for death.

Nora took a careful step back, holding her hands out to calm the beast, but she’d never had much experience with dangerous wild animals. The more steps she took back, the angrier the wolf seemed to get. And then, with hardly any hesitation, it bounded towards her around the edge of the pond and Nora immediately twisted to run. Unfortunately, she hadn’t prepared herself for a quick getaway and her foot caught in a patch of brambles. Nora fell face first into the thick undergrowth, rolling down the steep incline so suddenly that she almost dropped the knife in her desperation to find a handhold. Once her arms wrapped around a tree trunk and she jerked to a stop, the wolf lunged for her. With no other choice, Nora gasped and let go again.

This time she skidded downwards fast enough that when she saw she was approaching what looked to be the edge of a very steep drop, she immediately panicked. Digging her knife hard into the soil, Nora finally managed to slow her rapid descent. Again, the wolf had bounded after her and lunged the moment it saw her halt – Nora forced her feet into the weeds so they would hold her weight and ripped the knife upwards as the beast smashed into her body. The blade stabbed through its chest and throat but it already had those sharp jaws clamped around her arm, and Nora felt her flesh tear. They rolled together towards the edge of the cliff and Nora pulled the knife out to stab again, and again, until the jaws loosened their hold on her. And then, with all of her might, she shoved the wolf’s body over the precipice.

Nora slid to a stop just before she could follow the beast to her own doom, panting heavily and clutching her bleeding arm. She was so stunned by the suddenness of her fight for survival that it took several minutes just to process what had happened. Fighting humans was familiar. Fighting nature was not. After she’d gotten her breath back, Nora lifted her injured arm to survey the damage. The wound was deep and bleeding profusely, and she wouldn’t be surprised if it was already infected. A stimpack could easily reverse the damage, but it still hurt like hell. Glancing down at her new shirt, Nora sighed to see that it was already stained with fresh blood and smeared with dirt and grass. Great.

The climb back up the steep slope was made much harder with only one usable arm. Nora had to stop for several breaks, feeling lightheaded from the bloodloss. Once she had returned to the pond, she glanced around to ensure there were no other creatures hiding among the trees, and wrapped her fingers around one of the radstag’s antlers, beginning to drag its half-eaten body across the ground with all of her might. It took ages for her to lug the carcass all the way back to the cave one-handed, but she felt that almost dying would only be worth it if she’d managed to get something useful out of it. This meat was fresh enough that it would last them for days.

By the time Nora reached the entrance of the cave, Robin had already been alerted by all her huffing and hawing. She came to see what was going on and a look of instant shock came over her face when she saw the state of Nora’s arm and the mud and grass smeared all over her clothes. “What the hell happened?” she demanded, jogging over.

Nora shrugged and immediately regretted it when she felt an answering throb in her wound. Wincing, she finally answered, “Wolf.”

Robin’s face shifted; a fierce anger burned in her eyes. Without another word, she returned to the cave and came back out with several stimpacks and a roll of gauze. Nora gave her a wary look. “I don’t need all that. We shouldn’t waste meds we might need later.” Robin ignored her, pressing a firm hand to her shoulder so that she collapsed onto the grass. Crouching, Robin injected the stimpacks one by one into Nora’s arm, being much rougher than she needed to be. When Robin moved to inject the third stimpack, Nora immediately tore herself away, grimacing from the pain. “Robin, stop,” she snapped. “What are you even angry for?”

Briefly, Nora wondered if Robin was about to explode at her – her face had reddened and her lips had tightened. With a great effort, she calmed herself and muttered, “Sorry.”

She still looked pissed off, though. While Nora extended her arm again so that Robin could wrap a bandage over the wound, grateful for the help, she scrutinized her face carefully. “It’s not like I knew it was going to happen,” she pointed out indignantly. “I was just looking for water.”

“I know.” Robin sat back on her haunches and Nora noticed the tension in her shoulders. “Don’t go out alone again. Please,” she said, her voice clipped. When she didn’t receive a reply, her eyes flicked to Nora’s face with a burning intensity. “I’m serious. Don’t leave me alone out here.”

At hearing the anxiety in her voice, Nora finally understood. She lowered her head in guilt, imagining how she would feel if it had been Robin who went out and returned covered in blood. She’d be angry too, for sure. Although Nora hadn’t meant to walk straight into danger, she should have been more careful. They needed each other now more than ever. There was so much more at stake than there had ever been, and they were only going to get through it if they worked together.

“I’m sorry,” Nora said. “From now on, if we leave the cave, we leave together.” Robin tilted forwards and met Nora’s lips with a kiss that was both searing and tempestuous. She kissed her so forcefully that Nora was a little taken aback, but she returned it as best she could and gave Robin a surprised look once she drew away. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Robin nodded curtly, satisfied. She twisted towards the radstag carcass and changed the subject. “So, you stole a wolf’s breakfast? Is that why it tried to kill you? Not the smartest idea, Nora.”

Nora chuckled at her sarcasm. “We should cook as much of it as we can. It’ll last us for a while.”

When Robin stood up to go and look at it, Nora was pleased to feel that the edges of the wound on her arm were already closing. When she glanced down at her shirt, though, she sighed at the bloody mess. “Speaking of leaving this cave together… are you up for a swim?”

 ---

Nora knew they probably shouldn’t swim unless they had a way to make a fire and dry off after. But there was plenty of wood in the forested area around the cave, and as long as she could find a suitable rock, Nora was certain she could get some sparks using the blade of her knife.

The pond was freezing. Once Nora had stripped off her shirt and trousers and climbed in, dunking her head beneath the surface, her muscles seized and she had to struggle not to hold her breath. Robin, striding in until the water reached her hips, muttered a sharp, “Fuck, that’s cold.”

Nora chuckled at her reaction and held out a hand to pull her the rest of the way in. They were both silent for a while as they tried to accommodate to the chill of the water. Nora began to scrub at the marks of red on her body, watching blood swirl from her skin in ribbons. She unwrapped and cleaned both of her wounds, too, even though they’d faded most of the way thanks to the stimpacks Robin had given her. Once she felt spotless and refreshed, Nora leaned back with a sigh against the stone bank of the pond and closed her eyes, listening to the twittering of birds above and the rustling of wind in the trees. It took only a few moments for Robin to start fidgeting, and Nora peeked one eye open to see her drifting closer in the water. The mischievous expression on her face exposed exactly what she was about to do. “Don’t you dare,” Nora said warningly.

But Robin was already smirking at her. She lifted both her hands and sent a wave of water directly into Nora’s face. Immediately wiping it from her eyes, Nora retaliated with a massive splash of her own. Spluttering, Robin made to escape to the other side of the pool but Nora lunged and grabbed her around the waist. She spun Robin and pressed her to the edge of the bank she’d been leaning against, effectively trapping her. “You’re not getting away that easily,” she said triumphantly.

It was only when Robin turned in her arms that Nora realized she’d had an ulterior motive. The other woman was smiling in delight, green eyes trailing over her face, and slowly she slid her arms around Nora’s neck. “Maybe I don’t want to get away,” she said smugly.

Nora huffed a laugh, amused at her audacity. This was the first time in almost a month that they had been alone together, and the realization that they were both half-naked too made something in Nora’s stomach flutter. She smiled into Robin’s face, admiring the way the light reflected off her skin, the droplets of water in her eyelashes, and the teasing smile that was on her lips. There was an uncertainty in her gaze that reminded Nora of the way she’d acted in the lodge whenever her advances were rejected. Robin clearly wasn’t entirely sure how she’d be received – which was ridiculous considering how affectionate they’d been over the past two days.

“Would you like to kiss me?” Nora asked evenly.

Robin scowled at her. “Since when do you need to ask?”

Nora retorted, “You seem to be waiting for something.”

In reply, Robin finally rocked up and pressed their lips together, tightening her hands where they hung around Nora’s neck. The kiss was gentle, nothing like the frustrated fire of earlier, and Nora eased into it. She was suddenly very aware of all the places they were touching; their knees, chests, mouths. She shifted, finding more warmth the closer she moved to Robin’s body. They kissed for long enough that Nora lost track of time. At some point when she drew back for air, Robin’s legs came up and wrapped firmly around her hips. She pushed herself up out of the water a little so Nora no longer had to bend her neck so far. Grasping her thighs, Nora felt the shift of taut muscle beneath her skin as she tilted her head, pleased at the better angle. They were pressed so close now that almost every part of them was touching and Nora felt her arousal growing. Suddenly every brush of Robin’s lips, every squeeze of her thighs, every time she tightened her hands at the nape of Nora’s neck, was incredibly provoking. But Nora still felt it was too soon to go any further.

Then again… Robin’s slight hum of pleasure when Nora pressed harder between her legs was a fairly stirring response. In fact, the sounds she made were pretty goddamn sexy. And she seemed so comfortable nestled in Nora’s arms, as if it was exactly where she belonged, that Nora didn’t feel the need to draw away from the kiss just yet. So she kissed Robin deeper instead, relishing the hitch in breathing that it caused and especially enjoying the sound that left her mouth when she felt hands stroking up her thighs. Nora’s fingers met the edge of Robin’s underwear and, for some reason, that was the first and only feeling that gave her pause. She sensed that Robin was holding her breath, waiting to see what she would do next.

Nora pulled away, a little dazed. “We should probably return to the cave.”

Letting out a reluctant groan, Robin leaned forward and drew her back in, sucking lightly on her bottom lip. She soon traveled to her neck, pressing hot, open-mouthed kisses to the sensitive skin there, and the feeling was so stimulating that Nora almost forgot where they were. She instantly put Robin at an arm’s length, giving her a reproaching look. “We’re out in the open.” When she pulled away and released Robin’s thighs, the other woman swam backwards with a smug smile on her face, satisfied enough with the effect she’d had on Nora’s self-control.

When Nora pulled herself out of the pond, she felt Robin staring at her and shivered at both the cold and the attention. With the same concentrated gaze, she turned to watch Robin haul herself out of the pond too, biting on the inside of her cheek when she saw how translucent her underwear and bra had become. Her skin was pale and smooth, mostly unscarred, and Nora was entranced by the faint lines of muscle along her thighs and her stomach. Parts of Robin she had never seen before.

“You’re beautiful, too,” Nora said suddenly. When she realized what she’d just said, she regretted making it sound so transparent. 

Robin looked embarrassed as she walked to pick up her discarded clothes. “No one’s ever said that to me before.”

Nora was a little surprised. It had seemed pretty clear so far that Robin had quite some experience with romance. She was incredibly flirty when she was trying to get what she wanted, she was skilled with her hands, and for the most part she didn’t seem put off whenever Nora flirted in return. Surely, when she wasn’t wearing one of her disguises, there were people who tried to hit on her? Robin was attractive. Sometimes Nora wondered how she could ever have looked at her and not found her so. She had those athletic curves, and an elegant way of moving, and when she smiled it was one of the most beautiful things Nora had ever seen.

“How come?” Nora asked curiously. “I mean… I assume you’ve been with a few other people.”

Robin teased, “Nora, are you callin' me a floozy?” She’d switched to a Boston accent halfway through the sentence and snickered to herself.

Nora began to lead the way back to their cave, carrying her boots and clothes in one hand as she avoided stepping on brambles. “I’m calling you… well-practiced. That’s a good thing, isn’t it?”

“I’ve been with a few people, yes,” Robin said, shrugging. “Doesn’t mean we spend the whole night complimenting each other.”

Nora rolled her eyes. “Have you only been with women?”

When Robin glanced over at her, there was an amused curl to her lips. “Mostly.”

They hadn’t really talked about sex before now but suddenly it felt as if they were right on the precipice of broaching the topic. Nora didn’t know whether she was ready to talk about it yet. Even though she knew she wanted Robin, she couldn’t be sure whether now was the right time to give in to her desire. Admittedly, she was also a little uncertain about what Robin expected from her. She’d never been with a woman before, unless she counted some of the fantasies she’d had. When she’d been younger, Nora had felt there might be something wrong with her, but yesterday Robin had told her there was a word for what she was. Demisexual. It was nice to know that there was nothing wrong, and that there might be people out there just like her. Nora’s feelings for Robin had been slowly expanding for a while, which was perhaps why physical affection was so much easier with her than it had been with other people, but time was still needed. Would Robin understand? Would Nora even be able to be vulnerable with her, to expose herself, if Robin didn’t feel the same sort of connection?

Robin seemed to notice the conflict in her eyes. “What’s wrong?”

While she debated telling Robin exactly how she was feeling, Nora eventually decided against it. There was no point in trying to make a big deal out of their new relationship when they had so much else to worry about. “Nothing,” she said with a reassuring smile.

Once they reached the cave again Nora dropped her clothes and ventured just outside to collect some wood. She made sure to collect some twigs and dry leaves, too, wanting to make the center of the fire easily combustible. When she returned, wincing at how some of the sticks were digging into her injured arm, Robin was still watching her with wandering eyes.

“Enjoying the view?” she asked sarcastically, dumping the load of sticks by the cave’s entrance.

“Well… yeah. Didn’t realize I’d get to tick 'watch Nora build a fire in her underwear ' off my bucket list so soon.”

“You could help me,” Nora pointed out, chuckling. “Then we’d both be building a fire in our underwear.”

Robin just shrugged. “I’d rather watch.”

Once Nora had the fire going, she scooted as close as possible so that she could continue feeding sticks into the growing flames and dry off at the same time. She gestured for Robin to join her and was only slightly surprised when the woman immediately pressed into her side. Robin had become much more physically intimate now that she knew Nora would allow it; she snuggled in as if they’d been dating for months already. After giving her an amused huff, Nora stared into the flames for a little while, pleased to see that the smoke filtered out through the opening of the cave instead of swarming them where they sat. The canopy was thick enough that she trusted the smoke wouldn’t easily give away their position if Bobbi was out there searching for them. 

As soon as her skin felt sufficiently dry, Nora stood and began to tug her clothes back on, but not before she caught the disappointed look from Robin. She carefully ignored it. After lacing her shoes, Nora returned to the fire and began to look though the messages in the diary again. She glanced up only when she noticed that Robin had also gotten dressed and was cooking some of the radstag pieces they had cut earlier. Upon  eating her fill, Nora’s night of absolutely zero sleep abruptly caught up with her. She probably should have been more worried that the smell of meat would draw predators to them later in the day, but in her exhausted state she could only trust that they’d keep their distance as long as they saw the fire. Although she tried to focus on the words in the diary, Nora's eyelids were drooping.

Nudging her in the ribs, Robin said, “Go on. Sleep. I’ll keep watch.” Nora made a show of protesting, but she drifted off almost as soon as she crawled over to the bag in the corner and laid her head down.

She woke at night. Robin was still sitting by the fire, though it had burned down to an orange glow. She had her knees drawn up, the diary in her lap, a pencil twirling in her hand. Once she noticed Nora was awake, she grinned and waved her over. “Look at this,” she said excitedly. Nora strode to lean over her shoulder, curious to see what she’d figured out, and realized that Robin had matched each symbol Martin had drawn in his diary with a corresponding letter. “I think I’ve cracked it,” Robin said proudly. “It’s actually surprisingly simple.”

Nora took the diary from her hands to look at the changes she’d made. Once she saw the little key in the corner of the page with the alphabet and each matching symbol, she found herself smiling. She agreed, “Yeah, I think you have. It’s a sort of ... Caesar cipher.”

“A what?”

“You substitute each letter with something else.” Nora shook her head, honestly disappointed with herself for not figuring this out sooner. “I learned about it when I was in school. The cipher was used by Julius Caesar – he used this sort of code in his private correspondence.”

“Who’s that?”

Nora laughed a little sheepishly, remembering who she was talking to. “He was a very powerful Roman politician.”

Robin still looked a little confused, but she said, “Roman. Like the Roman Empire? I think I might’ve read about that once.”

“I doubt there’s anyone else in the Commonwealth who has,” Nora said, pleased with her capacity of knowledge. “Most people don’t see the importance of stories from so long ago.”

“They’re clearly still pretty important,” Robin said pointedly, gesturing to the code. She took the diary back and gave Nora the sheet, adding, “I’ve translated the first paragraph.”

Nora was so pleased to see something that actually made some sense after all these months of not understanding the point of the second sheet that she almost laughed out loud. Clearing her throat, she began to read: “Begin it where the rocks rise and hunt without a fear. Take heed of the siren’s cries; one misstep, lose all you hold dear.”

“Four paragraphs, four sets of instructions,” Robin explained. “We’ll have to decode the other three, but after that we’re set to go.”

“I mean… it still requires some understanding.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s like a riddle,” Nora clarified. “Begin it where the rocks rise? That’s probably literal, might be a specific location on the mountain. Devil’s Pulpit maybe. Hunt without a fear…” She thought for a moment. “I don’t know, I assume we have to find something. ‘The siren’s cries’… once we find what we’re looking for, we’ll have to face something dangerous, and a single mistake could result in death.”

Robin shrugged. “We’ll have to figure out the riddle as we go along. Bobbi will be searching for us now. We can’t stay here for more than another day.” She tilted her head back and froze when she noticed Nora was beaming at her. “What?”

“You’re clever.” Nora leaned in and kissed her cheek, wondering if it was possible she was even more attracted to Robin when she spoke like she knew everything. She got so confident, almost to the point of arrogance, and there was something strangely appealing about it. “I like it.”

“Really? Most people find it intimidating.”

“Oh, I’m very intimidated,” Nora promised, allowing Robin’s lips to softly touch her own before pulling back. “I’ll translate the rest if you want.”

“Are you sure? You’ve only been sleeping for a few hours. If you’re tired…”

“I’m good.” Nora settled herself behind Robin, leaning back against the cave’s wall. While she could do with some more sleep, she was only just beginning to feel warmer, and she wanted to keep feeding the fire throughout the night. When Robin shuffled back into her, almost to the point of sitting in her lap, Nora rolled her eyes and spread her legs a little so the other woman could slide between them and lean back against her body. Robin inclined her head and grinned cheekily up at her. “I’ll keep you company while you’re working,” she decided. “It’s the least I can do.”

“The least, huh?”

Although Robin definitely heard the flirty tone in her voice, she apparently decided not to do anything about it. Instead, she set her hands on Nora’s knees and rolled her head back against her shoulder, releasing a heavy sigh. Nora almost wanted to drop the diary and wrap her hands around the other woman’s waist to pull her closer, but she forced herself to focus on the task at hand. She knew that was what Robin wanted her to do, which was why she wasn’t going to do it.

After translating the second and third paragraphs – or stanzas, really, as the code more resembled a poem – Nora noticed Robin was stroking the side of her hand, tracing the lines of tendons to the muscle of her forearm, and then her elbow, and then the swell of her bicep. “I’ve only got one to go,” Nora pointed out, amused that Robin couldn’t help but distract her.

“Then do it,” Robin said insolently. She didn’t stop stroking Nora’s arm, however, moving back and forth, and Nora could tell she was doing it on purpose. It was hard to ignore her but Nora gladly accepted the challenge, turning her attention back to the sheet and beginning to translate the last lines of code into letters. By the time she was done, Robin’s stroking had turned to her thighs, both hands running up the outsides and pausing on the knees. Nora felt as if her whole body was full of butterflies.

“There,” she said softly, tilting her chin forward to speak the word against Robin’s ear. She felt the other woman stiffen and was pleased at her response. The tension between them had grown almost to that of their time spent at the pond earlier. Robin’s entire back was flush against the front of her body, and the weight and warmth of her was extremely rousing. Nora wanted to bite at the shell of her ear, suck at the skin of her neck, kiss her shoulder, but she just barely held back. Pulling away, she instead began to read the rest of the sheet:

“If you’ve been wise and brought the blaze,

The forest path you shall take.

But a careless man may lose many days

For foolish mistakes he will make.

 

And shall you succeed the rocky track

My labyrinth you shall find.

Hidden at the mountain’s back

Through waters treacherous from time.

 

Beware of the secrets hidden within

Which guard the treasure you seek

Not far, where the light grows dim

Is a beast which feeds on the weak.”

Robin chuckled a little. “It sounds kinda stupid, doesn’t it? Like a children’s rhyme.”

“I guess Martin had a flair for the dramatic.”

“We’re leaving here tomorrow then, right?” Robin said.

“Tomorrow,” Nora agreed.

“So, right now…” Twisting a little in her arms, Robin gave her a coy look. “…we should relax.”

Nora knew what she was implying, but although part of her flared up with excitement, another part closed itself off completely. She was panicking a little, and she knew it was stupid, because she knew Robin now, and she knew she liked her, but… it would be too much. She wasn’t ready.

The happy expression on Robin’s face dropped instantly. “Okay, can you seriously tell me what’s wrong? Every time I ask if I’m overstepping, you avoid properly answering the question. But I can tell when I am.”

“Then why do you ask?”

Robin gave her a withering look. “I don’t mind waiting until you’re ready, if that’s what this is about.” She searched Nora’s eyes. “Is it?”

Nora should have said yes. She should have been honest, just like she’d promised Robin after the first time they kissed. But all she could do was mutter, “Maybe you are overstepping.”

Looking a little furtive, Robin immediately removed herself from Nora’s arms and shuffled to face her. “Do you feel like I’ve been pressuring you?"

“Yes,” she said instinctively, even though she didn’t mean it. When she saw Robin’s face fall, regret bubbled up inside her.

The other woman climbed to her feet and glared down at her. "Then I’m mad at you.”

“What? Why?”

“If you feel uncomfortable, you should be telling me,” she snapped. “Don’t just wait until it feels like I’m… violating you. I don’t want that!”

“Really? What do you want, then?” Nora countered, unable to help herself. She did want to know what Robin wanted, after all, even if an argument wasn’t the best way to find out.

Now Robin looked both angry and surprised. “What do you think, Nora?” Before Nora could respond, she threw both hands to her head and huffed incredulously. “I knew it. After everything – all of this – you still don't trust me. You think I’m just some asshole who wants to get into your pants, huh? Is that how you think I’ve been acting around you?”

“This isn’t about what I think,” Nora protested.

“Isn’t it?” Robin shot her another glare and then stomped over to the other side of the fire, sitting down with her arms folded across her chest. After a few moments, she called, “Maybe you’re the asshole. You’ve got the emotional capacity of a rock.”

Now Nora was angry, but she refused to say anything, turning her gaze down to the sheet in her hands. Her fingers were clenched so hard around the edges that they had started to rip. She was irritated that she couldn’t leave the cave and be on her own, away from Robin, but she’d promised she wouldn’t. As upset as she was about their argument, she wasn’t about to go back on a promise. So Nora let the silence linger and tried to focus on working through the riddles she’d decoded, even though she was seething. When she next looked up, Robin was laying down, still with her arms folded, and had very purposefully turned her back on the fire.

At least, if Robin was sleeping, she wouldn’t protest if Nora left momentarily to retrieve more wood.

When Nora returned from the dark forest with the load of sticks she'd collected and dumped them a little more forcibly than she’d needed to on the cave floor, Robin’s back was still turned. She stared at her for a long time, feeling something painful expand in her chest, wondering how she’d even let their argument come about. While she and Robin had argued plenty of times, it had never been so emotional. They’d always gotten along so well before this.

Nora sighed and sat down by the fire again. Her anger was mostly gone now, replaced with a confusing concoction of emotions that she wasn’t used to. With Nate it had always been simple; they’d known each other so well for so long. He’d always been calm and understanding, and when they argued it ended fast. Robin, in comparison, was… baffling. Sometimes she was so open and nothing could really bother her, but if Nora said something which made her angry, she was capable of saying exactly what she knew would hurt. She was clever, exciting, wonderful, affectionate, and… different. Very different. And perhaps that was what Nora liked about her – that she was so different to Nate. That she was softer, and she flirted more, and she didn’t take shit from anybody.

Nora was in the wrong. She knew that. She should never have turned it into an argument in the first place. Robin had very clearly been trying to be patient and understanding. But it didn’t help that Nora still didn’t know what she wanted exactly. If it was just sex Robin wanted, then she wasn’t going to get it. Nora’s feelings for Robin were deepening; she knew that going through another big loss would be unbearable. After Nate and Shaun, it had taken so long to pull herself back together and keep on living. If Robin was going to matter to her the way they had mattered, Nora needed to know now whether she was going to stick around. 

Nora turned her eyes to the fire and stared into the flames. It took hardly a few minutes to become lost in them, and only several minutes after that did she feel her eyes closing. And then, although she hadn’t planned it, Nora slept, dreaming of her life in Sanctuary Hills before the war. But instead of Nate, it was Robin by her side. And she had never been happier.

Chapter Text

Robin watched Nora re-pack the bag, folding everything with her usual disciplined neatness. She hadn’t said a single thing all morning. In fact, she’d hardly looked over. When Robin woke to see the fire was out, she had at first been relieved; she’d thought their argument had just been a stupid dream. But the very real memory made her heart sink. Robin had tried to be so cautious, so understanding, but she had no idea what was really going on in Nora’s head most of the time. Now the General was back to ignoring her again. Where had she gone wrong? Robin knew Nora had once told her to show, not tell, but was that not what she’d been doing all this goddamn time? Showing Nora that she cared certainly hadn’t had the anticipated effect.

Robin considered breaking the silence and apologizing first, but she was a little confused as to what she should be apologizing for, apart from the hurtful things she might have said last night when she’d wanted to get the last word in.

“Breakfast?” Nora asked lightly.

Robin was so surprised to hear Nora speak that she simply gave her a blank stare. She was lost for words already and they hadn’t even had a proper conversation yet. When Nora saw the expression on her face, a muscle in her jaw jumped and her dark eyes lowered to the floor. “We should probably talk.”

“Yeah...” Shrugging, Robin rubbed at the back of her neck to relieve some of her discomfort. She didn’t like having to approach these sorts of conversations. Honestly, she was a little worried that Nora would be angry enough to break off whatever had been going on between them, and if she did, Robin didn’t know what she’d do with herself. To cut through the tension a little, she joked awkwardly, “So, you’re breaking up with me?”

Nora’s expression transformed into one of confusion. “What?” She cocked her head, looking weary all of a sudden. “Look, I was going to say something as soon as you woke up, but I didn’t know how to phrase it. When you said I have the emotional capacity of a rock-” She broke off to smile a little and shake her head, as if she found the phrase more amusing than hurtful now. “Well, I guess it’s not that far off the mark. But I do actually have feelings, Robin. And I’m worried about you hurting them. Most people don’t get close enough to.”

“Why would I ever want to hurt your feelings?” Robin demanded, climbing to her feet.

“Maybe not intentionally.”

Robin didn’t want to have another argument, but she couldn’t help but add sharpness to her voice as she grumbled, “I just don’t understand why you acted like I’m trying to push you. I’d never do that.”

“I know that,” Nora said softly.

“Then why? You turned it all on me, like I’m the bad guy, when all I’ve been trying to do is just show you that I care about you,” Robin snapped, frustrated. And then, although she didn’t want to sound so vulnerable, she asked quietly, “Do you really not want me in that way? Because I’ll stop. It’s just… it’s confusing when you give me so many mixed signals. You seem to enjoy it when I touch you, but sometimes you just go still, and I don’t-”

“I’m sorry.” Nora stepped forwards and gently took her hands, and Robin stared at her again, once more too surprised to form a single sentence. “I really am. This isn’t your problem, it’s mine. Okay? I’ve never been very good at communicating.”

“Just tell me what the problem is,” Robin said before she could lose her nerve. “Do you want me, or not?”

Nora winced. “It’s more complicated than that.”

“Why?”

“No matter how much I want you, I’m… not ready. Not for the things that you want from me.”

Robin blinked at her. “You thought I wouldn’t get that?” She already knew that Nora had lost many of the people she loved, that she had been through a lot, and that was the main reason she’d been trying to be cautious with her so far. But if Nora had been more explicit with how she felt, Robin would have known to be even more cautious. “You’re such an idiot,” she said finally. “If you’d just told me that, we’d never have had a stupid argument in the first place.”

“I know.” Nora smiled at her, the relief clear in her face at Robin’s response. “But I suppose I didn’t know how you’d take it. I still don’t really know if what you want from me is just the… physical aspect? Or if-”

“Oh, fuck off,” Robin said suddenly, laughing before she could stop herself. “Seriously? I wouldn’t be trying this hard if I just wanted to have sex with you.”

Nora arched an eyebrow. “I’m not sure whether that’s offensive or not.”

“I’m fine with waiting,” Robin insisted, drawing closer. “I’m not the kind of person who’s going to push you.”

“Really?” Nora asked.

Robin rolled her eyes. “Unless you make it abundantly clear that you’d like things to go that far, then yes, really.” She laughed again and said, “I really thought this conversation was gonna go in another direction. But now that I know it’s just that, I’m relieved. You definitely overreacted.”

Nora frowned and smiled at the same time, as if she was caught between relief and embarrassment.

“I thought it was pretty obvious what I wanted from you,” Robin said, incapable of keeping an amused chuckle from leaving her throat.

“Well, it wasn’t obvious to me,” Nora retorted. Her face softened and she began to look guilty. “I’m sorry.”

Robin pretended to be thoughtful. “I might accept your apology… if you do one thing for me.” She pulled back slowly, building the suspense, and then tapped the side of her face expectantly. Nora chuckled at her, leaning in to kiss her cheek. Her eyes had darkened a little once she drew away. Robin wondered if it was desire or affection she saw in the General’s eyes. She was starting to realize how separate those two things could be.

“With that stupidity over with… yes, I’d love some breakfast,” Robin said cheerfully.

Nora smiled and delivered a terse nod. “We’ll eat while we walk.”

 ---

The forest that must have once been so alive now chilled Robin. Partly because most of the trees were strange warped shapes and almost completely leafless now that winter was coming; partly because there were so many shadows, even during the day. Now that they had left the safety of that cave behind, they were incredibly exposed. Robin half expected monsters to be waiting for them at every turn. But with Nora leading the way, she felt considerably safer than if she had to forge this path alone.

Even without a map of the mountain, Nora seemed to know more or less where to find this ‘Devil’s Pulpit’ she’d mentioned last night. She walked with confidence, as if she knew the forest off by heart, even though she was hopeless at concealing the sound of her every step. Whenever Nora landed on a stick and it cracked loudly, Robin automatically winced, imagining every living thing in the area immediately converging on them. If there was one thing the General was terrible at, it was stealth. Normally she was so dignified and self-assured, but here in the forest Nora was clumsy. She was clearly used to asphalt and concrete, not brambles and tall grass. Robin found it rather entertaining watching her trip over things, and she even snorted out loud sometimes, to which she normally earned a hard glare. Not only was it entertaining, but it was endearing. They were alone, Bobbi was somewhere far away, and they were out in long-unchartered wilderness. Robin was hoping that this new setting would reveal more about Nora. 

“Do you think Bobbi even bothered trying to follow us?” Robin asked curiously. She made sure to keep her voice low, listening out for danger over the sounds of birds in the trees and the low hum of wind.

“She didn’t have many men left. If she’s smart, she’s staying put.”

Robin nodded her agreement. “Probably sent for more. Once they get here she’ll sweep the entire mountain to find us.”

Unbothered by this theory, Nora only shrugged. Robin didn’t miss the way she stumbled a little at the same time, her foot catching in some weeds. Once she’d righted herself, she kept on walking as if nothing had happened, but a grin automatically spread across Robin’s face. “Maybe you should start watching where you’re going,” she suggested helpfully.

“Shut up.”

Robin snickered – she couldn’t help herself. “Alright. But don’t come crying to me when you twist an ankle.”

It took exactly ten minutes for Nora to stumble again, and this time she did twist her ankle. With a quiet curse, she stopped walking and lifted her foot. Instantly, she shot Robin a glare, warning her not to say anything, but Robin was already smirking. Her gaze said very clearly what she was thinking, anyway: Told you so.

After rotating her ankle a few times, Nora set it down and said, “Fine. You lead the way. Since apparently floating is more your speed.”

“I don’t even know where we’re going.”

“I’ll give you directions.”

“Hmm.” As she overtook the General and began walking again, Robin couldn’t resist but mutter a coy, “I suppose I don’t mind you telling me what to do...”

The sigh behind her told her that Nora was yet again exasperated with her teasing, but Robin couldn’t stop smiling nevertheless. After their argument the night before, she wasn’t about to go back on her word and try to seduce Nora – hell, she wasn’t even going to touch her unless she got an explicit instruction to – but flirting was fair game. And she was starting to think that Nora liked it. Just a bit.

They walked in silence for the next couple of hours, more due to their need to be alert rather than because they had nothing to say, and Robin returned her attention to the forest around them. It was strangely... empty. Robin took that to mean that most of the dangers came out at night-time. As long as they found somewhere safe to rest, they wouldn’t have to face off anymore wolves. Or bears. Or radscorpions. Or – well, perhaps it wouldn’t do to dwell on the dangers which could be waiting for them. Robin had enough to worry about as it was.

Autumn leaves from the tall trees lay scattered on the forest floor, each of them turning brittle brown. The ones that Robin couldn’t avoid with her nimble feet made a sound like dry cereal being crunched underfoot. Of course, this aspect in particular created a low throb of grief in Robin’s stomach, because cereal reminded her of Sugarbomb, her favourite canine. And Sugarbomb reminded her of her crew. Her friends. Her family. They didn’t know where she was. They didn’t know how many times she had cheated death. There was no reprieve. Robin had never been on a journey like this one in her life, not even when she left the Capital Wasteland. She didn’t know how it could possibly end, if not in her own death.

They stopped for lunch by the edge of a small rise, both equally as daunted by how steep the mountain side was becoming. They were still finishing off that radstag meat Nora had almost gotten killed over and Robin was beginning to wonder how they would survive out here once it was gone. There were only eight bullets left in the pistol she’d taken from the lodge. Perhaps she could use the knife to kill something, but she’d never even tried to hunt before. Nora definitely wouldn’t do very well either with her leaden feet.

Once they picked up walking again, Robin tried to remember how she’d survived during her journey to the Commonwealth. Most of the caravans she’d been travelling with had made sure to have an excess supply of food and all of the traders had rifles anyway, so using stealth to hunt, or learning enough about the undergrowth to forage, had been entirely unnecessary. Nevertheless, Robin thought she recognized some of the plants they passed. The glowing fungus was edible, even if it probably contained a high level of radiation. And those mushrooms she’d seen peeking out from tree trunks and under the rotting leaves looked familiar too, so she figured they couldn’t be poisonous. If they couldn’t find any meat, they’d have to turn to a vegetarian diet. At the very least, the few things Robin could scavenge from the forest floor might last them until they reached the vault where Martin had secured the treasure.

Nora continued to give terse directions as the ground grew steeper. They began to climb using tree trunks and branches as handholds, and while Robin found this easy, Nora struggled a little with her still-healing arm. Robin made sure to stay with her every step of the way, even though she would have preferred to rush ahead and get the climb over with. She'd become so accustomed to working alone throughout her life that this felt incredibly out of character, but she was truly beginning to understand the benefits that came with having a partner. If they stuck together, there was little they couldn't achieve.

Once they reached flatter ground, Robin could see the bottom of the mountain rolling down ahead of them. She was surprised at Nora’s next instruction: “Climb one of these trees and tell me what you see.”

Robin scaled the trunk fairly easily, although bark and branches kept peeling off below her feet and she felt more nervous the higher she got. Once she reached the canopy, she balanced herself between two branches and stretched her neck to look around. This must be one of the highest points of the mountain, although it was nowhere near the peak. She saw some smoother planes, cliff faces, a much thicker forest, and, far off to their left, jagged slabs of rock. As she relayed all of this down to Nora, she noticed that the wind was picking up. Bruised grey clouds hung over the horizon – a storm was coming. Once Robin had scaled her way down again and brushed off her palms and clothes, she looked to Nora for her opinion on what they should do.

“Those jagged rocks you saw - I think those are Devil’s Pulpit,” Nora mused. “We need to find a safe way to get there.”

“There’re some steep cliffs in the way. We should go round, through the forest,” Robin proposed, pointing in the direction in which she’d seen these features. After a few tentative moments, Nora nodded her agreement.

Hardly half an hour after they began walking again, the rain arrived. It poured down so suddenly that both Robin and Nora halted to stare up at the sky in surprise. As there was no shelter nearby and they were too vulnerable to stop their progress right in the middle of the forest, Nora grabbed her hand and they began to run. The rain sent rivulets of water running down the mountain sides, saturating the undergrowth and softening the mud beneath their feet so that they sank a little with each step, having to boost themselves forwards so as not to get stuck. Leaves fell, branches creaked and bowed, trees swayed, and a thick mist filled the air around them. It was hard to see even a few feet ahead of them and Robin had to grab Nora around the waist so they could support each other while they ran. She gave up on trying to wipe water from her eyes, simply gasping and spitting it from her mouth, and as her clothes weighed her down she began to feel intense cold seep into her bones. Although the running kept her warm, she knew that she’d feel the chill once they stopped. And there was no chance of building a fire in weather like this.

They ran until Robin’s muscles and lungs were burning and both of them were stumbling and tripping through the undergrowth. Ahead of them the forest trees were thinner, giving way to perhaps a clearing or a glade. At this change in foliage, Robin felt hopeful, thinking maybe they were about to reach another rock formation which they could huddle under until the storm passed. Nora apparently had the same idea; her hand tightened around Robin’s waist and she sped up, her long legs carrying her quicker towards the opening ahead. But then, before Robin could even fathom why, Nora abruptly skidded to a halt. Robin almost fell flat on her face. She slid, windmilling her arms to find her balance, and then tilted back to see Nora’s expression through the rain. At the look of shock on her face, Robin instantly turned to see what was bothering her.

Standing just through the trees in the clearing, looking straight at them, were perhaps a dozen men and women dressed in black, all of them with hoods drawn up to protect against the rain. They each held a blade in one hand, clearly having chosen stealth again; they planned to kill without drawing attention from any of the forest's beasts. Robin’s heard lurched. Pure terror burst to life inside of her and her immediate instinct was to turn and run, but Nora grabbed her arm tightly and held her back. “We can’t,” she hissed firmly. “We’re outnumbered.”

“They’ll kill us!” Robin snapped. She knew she sounded angry, but she was scared. So scared. They had both known the New Order assassins would come back for them; they just hadn’t known when. It was pure bad luck that the assassins had returned at a point where they had only eight bullets and one knife between them.

“They haven’t attacked yet,” Nora said calmly. “I think they’ve been waiting for us.” Even over the hard pounding of the rain, Robin could hear the thoughtfulness in her voice. She clearly thought the assassins were here to negotiate. Although Robin’s flight response was almost overpowering, she resolved to trust Nora. She reached down and took the General’s hand again, squeezing tightly. 

Once they reached the edge of the clearing, they stopped hesitantly just under the cover of a pine tree which provided some reprieve from the heavy rain. One of the assassins stepped forwards and drew down their hood. It was a woman with greying auburn hair and dark eyes. Her face was plain and pale, her mouth an impassive slash across her face. “Hello,” she said nonchalantly.

“The New Order,” Nora responded evenly. “Was wondering when we’d next run into you.”

The woman’s eyes were deep and dark, but not in the same way Nora’s were. They were cold and emotionless, as if there was something dead inside of her. “You’re an impeccable fighter, General. I admit, we underestimated you. But never again.”

“What do you want?”

“Where's your colleague?” the woman asked, glancing around. “Bobbi No-Nose?”

“We left her behind,” Robin interjected. When the woman glanced at her, she immediately regretted speaking up, because it felt as if those black eyes cut right through her.

“Interesting.” The woman bowed her head for a moment and then turned back to one of her people. A few murmurs were shared between them and then, as if it had been practiced many times, half of the assassins slipped away from the group and exited the clearing. They moved slowly, smoothly, and once they were gone Robin realized they had left in search of Bobbi. Six remained. When their leader turned to face them again, she looked grave. “You have to give us the documents, please.”

“Why don’t you want Jeremy Sawyer’s fortune to be uncovered?” Nora asked curiously. “Surely it could benefit you, too, to know where Martin hid it all. Both physically and… spiritually.”

“This is a sacred place. We protect the fortune until Sawyer is prepared to return for it.”

Robin interjected again: “Uh… what? You know he’s dead, right? As in, centuries-old dead.”

“He will return. He told us so,” the woman said, her voice clipped. When she looked at Robin this time, it was with a glare. “And when he hears we have let a thief into his vault to take all of his treasure, he will kill us all.”

Robin shifted uncomfortably. They were a cult after all, just like Bobbi said. And she now knew why, although they knew who she was, they refused to acknowledge her the way they acknowledged Nora. The New Order was able to at least respect the leader of the Minutemen for all she’d done, but they couldn’t approve of a common thief.

“Give us the documents,” the woman said again, turning her intense gaze on Nora.

“Do you know why we want the fortune?” Nora asked, changing tactics. “It was Robin’s idea, actually. She wants to distribute the wealth amongst the Commonwealth settlements. Help those in need. We aren’t like Bobbi – we aren’t doing this out of greed, or just for the thrill of it. Martin’s money could reshape the entire Commonwealth in our hands.”

“Give us the documents,” the woman repeated. The knife, still clenched in her hand, was glinting as she twirled it. Robin only noticed then that the woman had a small white label on the edge of her jacket in the shape of the Sawyer Tech logo. While she wore the same necklaces as all of her comrades, this particular feature set her apart. Robin spoke up: “You’re one of the leaders of the New Order. Aren’t you?”

“Do you think so?” 

“You’re older than the rest of them. And you don’t have the mercenary attitude I’m used to, so you’re clearly not just doing this for money.” Robin pointed at her jacket. “And that symbol on your jacket sets you apart.”

“Perceptive.” For the first time, the woman smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. “Yes, I am one of the Five. Descendants of the original New Order members, each selected by Martin himself. Each of us has made a vow to protect his fortune with our lives. So… that is what I’ll do.”

“We must be pretty important if they sent one of their leaders here,” Robin said casually. “No one’s ever gotten this far, have they?”

“None.” The woman seemed proud of this, puffing her chest out a little.

“Well… maybe there’s a reason for that. Maybe…” Robin paused, letting the tension build, pleased when she felt the woman’s eyes glued to her face in anticipation. “Maybe Sawyer wants us to find it. He’s guided us this far – are you really going to stand in our way? His way?” The woman’s jaw clenched and the line of men and woman behind her shuffled a little uncomfortably; their first movements since the beginning of the standoff. Robin was pleased at the effect of her words. “Are you sure what you’re doing is the right thing?” she asked lightly. “Are you sure you’re not just acting in your own interests?”

“This mountain is sacred,” the woman hissed. “The fortune is sacred. Who are you to question my devotion? No matter the wonders that remain inside the mountain – no matter the good they could do if they were unearthed – I cannot let you take them. Ever.”

This woman was steadfast in her judgement. And it was clear that once they handed the documents over she’d kill them anyway. Unfortunately, Robin also had a feeling she was more well-trained than any of her recruited mercenaries were. A fight would not end well.

“Nora,” Robin murmured worriedly, shifting into her. “We should run.”

But the General wasn’t listening. Her eyes were flicking over each of the assassins in the clearing, clearly noting different tactical scenarios for how this battle could end. Running wasn’t an option for Nora – it never had been. She was much too brave for her own good. Robin noticed a metallic taste on her tongue and realized she’d been biting into it. She felt nauseated by her returned fear; the anticipation that something bad was coming. The same creeping premonition she’d had once they left the Commonwealth, right before the assassins attacked for the first time.

“Give me the pistol,” Nora said, low enough that only Robin could hear. “Keep the knife. And run.”

No.

Robin was remembering all too vividly the last time someone had fought to protect her. Little John should never have bothered. He’d died for her and Robin wasn’t sure she’d ever forgive herself. If Nora did the same thing, she would… god, she didn’t know what she’d do, how she’d live. But she couldn’t change Nora’s mind. The assassins' leader had already lifted her knife and was gesturing to her remaining comrades to circle the clearing and effectively trap her foes. She’d realized Nora wasn’t going to hand over the documents willingly. They would fight to the death.

“Nora-”

“Gun, now,” Nora ordered, cutting Robin off. The Minuteman General was back in action, dignified and calm. Brutal fighter. Expert gunman. She extended her hand and Robin quickly placed the pistol onto her palm, unable to tear her eyes from her face. Robin was worried this would be the last time she saw it.

Nora shoved her hard, so hard that she stumbled and automatically started running of her own volition. Back into the forest, ducking under branches, gasping as she slid and tripped over muddy grass and undergrowth. Gunshots rang out behind her and she automatically flinched, wondering who had been hit. Wondering if Nora was already dead. But she still kept running, following the order she had been given. Right behind her was the sound of heavy breathing and thudding footsteps. Some of them had followed. Robin only had a knife to protect herself, and she’d never been very good at close combat. She was fucked.

Robin skidded, flipping herself over a fallen log, and the rain seemed to pick up as she climbed back to her feet and began running again; the water filled her eyes and blinded her. A knife thudded into a tree trunk to her right and she instinctively jerked away, switching her path and veering off to the left. Branches slapped at her face, some scratching into her skin, and she bruised herself on the rocks and branches she was too slow to dodge. Robin could hear them gaining on her – another knife flew at her and she threw herself to the ground as it whistled over her head. She was up again in an instant, tossing herself at the nearest tree and beginning to climb.

Climb. Just climb. Don’t stop climbing. They might follow. You can’t run forever.

She ascended as her fingers slipped on the wet wood and her legs shivered from exertion. Dark shapes moved about through the film of rain at the bottom of the tree. Another knife flipped past her, this time just barely skimming shoulder and slicing through the fabric of her shirt. One of the branches Robin had been about to grab snapped and she almost fell with it; she caught herself with both arms around the tree trunk at the last second, winded and feeling rainwater fill her mouth. She was going to die. She wouldn’t make it out. It was over.

A roar.

Robin was certain that was what she heard – something deep and bloodcurdling, louder than the rain. And while she clutched the trunk, she dipped her head to look down and saw a gigantic lumbering black shape moving towards her assailants. A bear. A giant fucking black bear. Robin could have laughed if she wasn’t so scared. It tore into the assassins even as they tried to run, as they tried to fight back. It was massive. And deadly. It tossed one of the assassins around like a ragdoll, bellowing again, and then smashed his skull against a rock. One of the women screamed and sprinted for cover but the bear pounced on her immediately, the top half of her body quickly dismembered from the rest. Robin shut her eyes tight when she saw this, dizzy and nauseated at the sight of all that blood. She opened them again quickly when she realized what she had to do. The bear was occupied with the assassins. If she wanted to run, she had to do it now.

Robin began to scale back down the tree once more, even as her limbs shook and she could hardly get a proper breath into her lungs. Lowering herself straight into the bear’s line of sight took all the courage she had in her. It was nearly twice as tall as she was, dagger-like teeth glistening with blood, body round and muscled, eyes filmed over. The bear was blind. It couldn’t see her. Currently, it was tearing at one of the assassins’ entrails, enjoying a well-earned meal, and the low rumbles of its hungry growling seemed to shake the very earth. This was a beast of Robin’s nightmares, but it had saved her life – the mountain had chosen to let her live once more.

Robin quickly spun and darted off into the trees, stumbling and sliding in the mud. She didn’t dare look back to see if the bear was chasing her. She ran so fast and so hard, knife clenched in her grip, that she almost stopped breathing altogether. All she knew was that she had to get back to the clearing. Back to Nora. Only, when Robin returned to the clearing, she didn’t see Nora at all. Not at first. Robin stumbled and almost fell to her knees, noting that two of the remaining assassins had already been killed, blood seeping from multiple bullet wounds. She darted her eyes desperately around the open space and finally saw Nora off to the far right, flat on her back. The New Order leader was straddling her, knife postured directly above her head.

Robin put on a burst of speed she hadn’t known she was capable of, driven by her adrenaline, and she tossed her entire body at the other woman, rolling her as far from Nora as possible. As they rolled she stabbed at whatever parts of the woman’s body she could reach – her side, her back, her thigh, her neck. Robin kept on stabbing as the woman cried out, and even once the woman had grown still. Those dead, dark eyes became blank. Robin shoved the weight of the body off her and coughed rainwater and blood from her mouth. Almost as soon as she climbed to her feet, she stumbled and threw up. She threw up until there was nothing left in her stomach, and then a little more. She wanted to cry, but she didn’t have the time to. And besides… it was over. She and Nora had won – the assassins had been beaten once again. They had to run before that bear came searching for another meal.

Robin limped her way over to where Nora still lay in the grass, falling almost on top of her. “Nora! Let’s go!” She yanked desperately at her shirt, trying to help her stand, but almost immediately noticed that there was something wrong. The shoulder of the General’s shirt was red with blood. Her dark eyes were flickering, staring at something far away, and her skin was ashen. Her parted lips whispered words which Robin couldn’t understand. “Nora!” Robin snapped, and her fear returned in an instant, searing through her veins. She tore at the shirt covering the woman’s chest so she could see the wound – it wasn’t even bleeding that much. No vital organs could have been ruptured. Robin knew it wasn’t possible she could already be so close to death after a wound like this, but…

Robin dashed to where the New Order leader lay and picked up the knife she had used. She sniffed at the blade, ran her fingertip along it, and felt a sharp sting on her skin. A poison. Or a venom. The woman had only needed to nick Nora in order to incapacitate her, but she’d stabbed her. As a powerful wave of dread began to rise in Robin’s stomach, she dug through the woman’s pockets, desperately searching for some sort of counter-poison, but found nothing. She crawled back to Nora and tugged at her shirt again, trying to lift her, but the woman let out a low groan of pain. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry,” Robin murmured frantically, feeling a lump form itself in her throat. She rolled Nora a little so she could retrieve the bag from under her body, digging through the main compartment and pulling out the rest of the stimpacks. She injected the first directly next to the wound in Nora’s shoulder, expecting it would at least numb some of the pain, but Nora’s first reaction was to flinch and gasp. She shook as if she was physically fighting something, teeth gritted, and Robin stared down at her in shock. “Nora?” She immediately reached to inject another stimpack, but this time Nora let out a short cry of agony and Robin saw tears collecting in her eyes.

The stimpacks were causing her pain. And, as Robin watched in frustration, they weren’t doing anything to the wound, either. Whatever had been on that blade, it was preventing this cut from healing. She didn't know much about venoms, but she knew radscorpion stings sometimes prevented healing. However, stimpacks always worked on those sorts of injuries. Perhaps it was a mix between radscorpion and stingwing venom? 

Oh god oh god oh god…

Robin found herself frozen in place. She didn’t know what to do, how to help Nora, how to ease her pain. The General looked as if she were on the brink of death. What if it was a poison instead of a venom? How were poisons dealt with? Robin didn’t know. She didn’t know anything. This was something she had never read about in books. Nora was going to die, and she’d have to watch it happen.

When Robin urgently pressed a hand to Nora’s shoulder, beginning to try and clean it with some of the rainwater, Nora shuddered again and her eyes rolled back. She went completely still. “Nora?” Robin demanded, her voice cracking. She patted the General’s face, terrified that it was already over. “Hey, Nora, don’t fall asleep on me – please, please…”

Don’t cry. There’s no time for that.

Nora was still breathing and her skin was feverish. She was sweating; her body was fighting whatever had entered her system. If Robin didn’t know how to counteract the substance, she was just going to have to do whatever she could to help Nora fight it. She reached for some gauze and began to bind the wound as best she could and, at the very least, stem the flow of blood. Soon enough the wound would heal. It had to. Nora wouldn’t go yet. She was stronger than that.

Robin slung the bag over her back, stuck the knife in her belt, and shoved her hands under Nora’s armpits. She began to drag her into the trees, grunting with the effort. The General was more or less made of muscle, so it wasn’t a surprise that she was so heavy. Although Robin was exhausted, and her whole body was aching, she forced herself to tap into hidden reserves of energy. She would find shelter, food, water. The bear wouldn’t hunt them down. The assassins would stop coming for them. They would be safe. Nora would wake up. She had to.

Robin truly didn’t think she could survive out here on her own.

Chapter Text

Robin was starving in a forest full of food. For the first two days, she couldn’t bring herself to leave the small overhang she’d found as shelter. She didn’t sleep, she didn’t eat, and she only ever ducked out to try and capture some of the rain in her palms when she was thirsty. It had been raining constantly without pause, as if some higher being had the intent to drown the world. At night, she heard terrible sounds – roaring, braying, screeching. She imagined she heard footsteps approaching, human voices; imagined she could smell woodsmoke and blood. Every second seemed a second closer to fighting for her life again.

So Robin stayed hidden. She knew that leaving the shelter and drawing attention to herself could be dangerous, even if the forest around them was empty, and she couldn’t risk leaving Nora here all by herself. She tended constantly to Nora’s wound, which still hadn’t healed. And she talked to her, even though she was sure the other woman couldn’t hear a word she was saying. Nora drifted in and out of nightmares, sweating, muttering in gibberish, fighting her own body as it worked against her. Robin forced her to drink, made her eat the remaining pieces of radstag meat, and ensured she kept it down. She checked her fever every hour and wet a t-shirt with the freezing rain so she could use it as a compress for the raw wound. Robin had never taken care of someone like this before. She had no idea what she was doing, but she was doing all she could.

She spent her nights shivering, huddling next to Nora’s feverish body for warmth. Although she was incredibly hungry, she still couldn’t bring herself to leave the shelter. Robin had to admit that she was scared. She was so far out of her element here. She could do disguises, she could do traps, she could sneak around like a shadow in the night… but Robin couldn’t survive in a place like this. Monument Mountain was a death trap in itself.

Robin’s stomach growled and she squirmed, trying to silence the rumbling as if it was loud enough to draw attention. Her eyes were drooping from exhaustion and her body was so worn-out that it hurt even to move her arms. But she couldn’t sleep. If she slept, she would expose herself to danger. Instead, Robin sat, and she stared, and she counted seconds in her head. She counted the leaves on the trees. She counted her own breaths. It was the only semblance of control she felt she had left, and she reveled in it. Nora mumbled something unintelligible and writhed as if in agony; Robin reached out and took her hand, squeezing it tight.

Eventually, the radstag meat ran out. Nora would start starving too if Robin didn’t find something else to eat. So, on the third day, she took the knife in hand and left their shelter for the first time. She covered Nora in a blanket of leaves, hid the entrance of the cave with some branches which had fallen in the rain, and stalked off into the forest. It was early morning and the rain was lighter now, pattering gently against the leaves of the canopy. Several trees had been felled by the storm and Robin had to step over their trunks carefully so as not to slip and fall. If she fell, she probably wouldn’t be able to get back up. It was so hard to keep her eyes open, but her adrenaline kept her alert. Robin moved numbly through the forest, glancing warily around her, feeling her heart pumping too fast and loud in her chest. She kept thinking she saw dark shapes moving about in the distance – human shapes. Monsters. But when she blinked they were gone. Was she hallucinating? Several nights without sleep; whenever she felt herself nodding off, she pinched herself awake again. Now she was suffering the consequences.

…fifty-six, fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine…

Robin counted each of her steps, shivering at the cold, stumbling because her feet were so numb. She saw something glowing and decided it must be that edible fungus. It would do. She grabbed fistfuls of it and stuffed it into her pockets. She heard a lonely wolf howl in the distance and flinched at the sound. Robin turned and fled back the way she had come, and once she reached the small overhang and tore away the branches to see that Nora was still there, still breathing, she was overwhelmed with an intense sense of relief. She began to cry. Silently. If she cried too loudly, it would alert the rest of the forest to her presence. But all of her fear, her exhaustion, finally seemed to catch up with her, and it felt like something snapped inside her chest.

Robin bent over Nora’s body, leaning against her, and cried so hard that everything else faded away. She hated that Nora was so distant even though she was right there. Hated that she didn’t know if Nora would make it. Hated that she was so useless, and so scared. And then, even though she didn’t stop crying, she took the branches she had previously used to cover the entrance of the overhang and began to build a fire. She’d seen Nora do it and figured it couldn’t be too hard. Robin used a flat piece of stone to try and bring sparks to the pile of wood, but they were too wet to hold a flame. Eventually, she gave up and collapsed against the wall. Her limbs were full of hard lead, so heavy, and her eyes were closing…

Don’t sleep. Not yet.

Jerking awake again, Robin pulled the fungus from her pockets and crawled to lean over Nora again, inching the woman’s mouth open with her fingers and forcing pieces onto her tongue. Then she lifted Nora’s body until she was sitting and rubbed under her chin to get her to swallow. Nora, still in between dreams, complained and twisted against her, but Robin held fast. She fed Nora until only a few pieces were left, and then let her lay down again. She wet the t-shirt and placed it against Nora’s forehead, hating how much her skin still burned. She would die soon if this fever didn’t go away. Robin had used up all of the stimpacks trying to keep her alive over the past few days, but now it was up to Nora to fix whatever was still wrong in her body.

Robin heard a voice call her name in the distance.

“What?” she snapped irritably in reply.

“You should take the maps and go. Find the treasure. The money’s what you really want.”

“No it isn’t,” she retorted automatically.

“I don’t believe you.” It was Bobbi’s voice. Robin turned and realized she could see the ghoul’s silhouette between two trees outside. Her arms were folded and she looked casual, dignified. “I know you better than anyone, Robin. We’re so alike, you and me.”

“No we're not,” she grumbled, though her voice sounded weak to her own ears.

“Yes we are. You’re selfish. No matter how hard you try, you always end up thinking for yourself. You can’t escape your destiny. Your parents were greedy, starving, desperate thieves. So are you.”

“No,” she whispered hoarsely.

Yes.” Now it was Little John’s voice. The silhouette’s shoulders were broader and there was a rain slicker perched on the top of his head. His tone was a little softer: “Robin, you’re gonna die out here if you don’t eat. Or sleep. You have to sleep.”

“I can’t.”

“If you die, the General will die. Go on. Just take a nap. A few hours.”

Robin’s eyelids started drooping again but she fought hard against it. “No. I can’t,” she snapped, frustrated.

“You did this to her.” Now it was Julia’s voice. The silhouette had become small, slim, arms folded. “All you’ve ever done is hurt her. And me. You never gave a shit about either of us. You just wanted Bobbi and the money.”

“Please stop,” Robin whispered, and the lump had returned to her throat. She was going to cry again.

“Sleep,” Little John crooned. “You’re so exhausted. Just close your eyes…”

She shut her eyes, but only so she could block out the image of his shape in the darkness. Her fingers were jammed in her ears, but they couldn’t dim the voices. Was she just imaging this? Reality wasn't what it used to be - Robin had forgotten how long she'd been here, how long since she last slept. She could remember the assassins, and that giant bear, and the fact that Nora was dying, and she knew dimly that they were here for a reason, but beyond that everything was blurry.

“You’re a mess,” Julia said bitterly. “What the hell have you done for her? What have you ever done for anyone, really? Pretending you’re stealing for the good of the Commonwealth, when really you just wanted to prove that you were the best. You were arrogant. Even Nora knows that. And she knows you’re only sticking around because you want to fuck her.”

Robin, shocked, removed her fingers from her ears and began to disagree: “No, that’s not what-”

“But just because you want her doesn’t mean you have to stay,” Bobbi pointed out coolly. “Just take the maps and go. Stop wasting time. Stop being so emotional.”

Robin was sniffling now, trying to keep the sobs at bay, and she opened her eyes again as she said, “I think… I think I’m in love with her.”

A tense silence. The silhouette had disappeared. She was going crazy. Hallucinating. Two nights without sleep, without food, shivering away her energy…

Robin brought the rest of the pieces of the fungus to her lips and swallowed them whole, coughing and feeling her stomach spasm. She reached for Nora’s hand again, needing to feel those strong fingers against her own, the softness of the other woman’s skin. It was the only comfort she had left, even if she didn’t deserve it. God, she was so tired…

 ---

Robin jerked awake. She panicked at first, realizing she had fallen asleep. It must have been hours.

Stupid, stupid, you fucking idiot.

When she sat up and clambered over to Nora, she placed a hand against the woman’s forehead. Was she less feverish? A spark of hope ignited in Robin’s chest. She didn’t believe in any gods, but she’d been praying for Nora’s survival. She’d pray over and over again if that was what it took.

Robin’s mind felt more in order now, even though her stomach was aching from hunger; even though her limbs still felt heavy and the cold had made her fingers so pale they were almost blue. Robin took the knife and the stone and began to try and make a fire again. Her fingers were numb and clumsy, but after several sparks, the wood lit and she almost shrieked her victory out loud. She blew on the pile until the flames licked over the rest of the sticks, grinning wildly to herself. She was lucky Nora wasn’t awake enough to see how crazy she looked.

With the fire going, Robin quickly fed in some more sticks. And then she collected her knife, concealed the overhang as best she could once again, and stalked off into the forest to find more food. It took a while, but she eventually managed to climb to the lowest branches of a tree and found a nest; the eggs inside were very small, but they would do. She picked more fungus and discovered some edible-looking mushrooms at the foot of an oak. She avoided a bush with bright red berries but found another one with blue-purple hubflowers. When Robin returned to the shelter, she used the knife to hollow out a chunk of wood and filled it with some of the leftover rainwater. Holding the wood far enough above the flames that it wouldn’t set alight, she began to throw in the mushrooms, fungus and flowers. It would be a pretty disgusting soup, but much better than anything else they had eaten so far. More importantly, Nora needed to warm up now that her fever was fading.

Once the mushrooms were soft, Robin took a sip from the bowl and grimaced. Then she scooted over to Nora’s side, tilted her head up, and began to feed the soup into her half-open mouth. Almost immediately, Nora tried to spit it out, but Robin clamped a hand over her lips. “Come on,” she muttered. “I went through all the trouble of cooking this for you. At least pretend you like it.”

With the soup mostly gone, Robin brought the bowl to her own lips and finished the rest. It tasted terrible, but she desperately needed the energy. She returned to the fire and managed to settle a slab of stone on top. She cracked the eggs over it, smiling wide again when she noticed how good they smelled. There were four eggs. She took three over to Nora and shoveled them into her mouth, and for the first time the General didn’t grimace or try to pull away. Robin saved the last one for herself.

Now that the hunger pangs had been somewhat satisfied, she felt a little better. She was still exhausted, but the few hours of sleep she’d gotten had benefited her greatly. Her strange hallucinations were gone. When Robin changed the bandage over Nora’s shoulder again, she saw that the wound was beginning to close up and the bleeding had stopped. Tears prickled at her eyes. Nora would live. They would both live. Robin had been too out of it to properly reflect on how terrified she’d been to lose this woman. Now, she couldn’t think of anything more uplifting than the fact that Nora was finally beginning to sleep peacefully and had stopped groaning in pain.

After she had finished changing the bandage, Robin huddled by Nora’s side again and took her hand. She began to count the leaves on the trees once more. The warmth of the fire was finally beginning to leach away the heavy chill in her bones. With the fingers of her other hand, she stroked at Nora’s hair, humming under her breath. She would stay awake this time – at least until Nora was finally better. Night was approaching and there was still so much danger out there.

Once Robin finished counting all the leaves she could see on the first tree, she moved onto the next and started again. Nora’s steady breaths calmed her and she momentarily turned her head so she could gently kiss the woman’s forehead. “You told me you wouldn’t leave me alone out here,” she said matter-of-factly. After a few more seconds of counting, she decided she'd missed the sound of her own voice. She continued, “It’s been very hard over the past few days. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something more difficult than having to watch you suffer and not being able to do anything about it. I mean, it sucks.” She giggled at herself. 'It sucks' was perhaps the least appropriate expression for what she’d been through, even if it hit the nail on the head.

“Honestly, I’m pretty tired of having to watch you almost die, Nora. You need to stop being so heroic. Just for a little bit. I’d rather not have to worry about you so much. You know, out of all the people I’ve lost in my life, I think losing you would be the most painful. I’m not entirely sure why.” She sat there thoughtfully for a minute, remembering her visions from the day before. “I’ve been attracted to you for a while – probably since I first saw you. I definitely thought you were hot, even if you were uptight and treated me like I was one of your soldiers, which was irritating. But at some point I started to… care about you.” She frowned. “I don’t know when that was.”

Although she knew Nora wasn’t listening, Robin couldn’t help but pause and stare down at her face for a reaction.

“Just so you know, I don’t think I’ve ever loved someone before, so this is a pretty big deal,” she pointed out. “I never thought I'd have time for a relationship like that, didn’t think I needed it. But I guess I was wrong. It’s been hard, but if I had to make the same decisions again, work with Bobbi, lose Little John, expose my real face to the Commonwealth… I would do it again just so I could end up here with you.”

Very romantic, Robin. Well done, she praised herself. If she weren’t so out of it, she probably would have stumbled over the words and second-guessed herself. She half wished Nora was awake to hear this. Honesty didn’t come so easily to her. But a part of Robin was more pleased that she could say this now without worrying about what Nora would think, or how she would react. That she could pour her heart out without fearing consequence.

Eventually, Robin fell silent and turned back to the forest again. Darkness was coming. She was hearing those terrible, terrifying wilderness sounds again. Although she had only just begun to enjoy the heat of the fire, Robin quickly crawled over and put it out. She didn’t want anything or anyone to be drawn to the sight of the flames. When she joined Nora again, she laid down with her head propped on her elbow and stared at the General’s face. Every angle, every plane, every curve – she mapped it all out and stored it in her memory. She’d never stared at Nora like this when she was awake. Now, she could finally examine how long those eyelashes were, how high the cheekbones, how full the lips. But what Robin missed most of all was her eyes. She missed how serious and intelligent they were. She missed the way Nora looked at her, sometimes in irritation, sometimes with affection. And Robin would do anything to hear her dry sarcasm again.

“I really miss you,” Robin thought out loud. She reached to take Nora’s hand once more, bringing it to her lips. “It feels strange just talking at you. I think I’ll stop now.” She curled herself into the side of Nora’s body, breathing in her scent, stroking a thumb over the back of her hand. And although she was tired, she kept her eyes open. She began to count Nora’s breaths.

One, two, three, four, five, six…

 ---

The next morning, Robin’s eyes were burning from exhaustion and she felt incredibly weak, but she’d managed to stay awake almost the entire night, and for that she praised herself. Nora’s skin was much cooler now and she’d been sleeping peacefully for hours. When Robin checked her shoulder once more, the wound had already scabbed over. She smiled triumphantly, leaning to press her lips against Nora’s forehead before she shuffled over to start another fire. It took a few tries this time to get the sticks to catch alight; her fingers had become even more clumsy and she couldn't feel the weight of the knife and stone in her hands. Her mind also kept drifting, even with this simple task, and she had to keep reminding herself of what she was doing.

Fire. Make a fire. You need to warm up.

Robin was cursing under her breath and fanning at the flames to make them bigger when she heard a soft movement behind her. Spinning abruptly, she found herself staring directly into Nora’s groggy half-open eyes.

Nora was awake.

Robin was so shocked to feel that gaze on her, to see an expression of weariness and confusion on Nora’s face, that she began to cry. Again. It was embarrassing, but she couldn't force back the urge. She sniffled at first, bringing her hands to her face, and then when Nora shifted to look at her more closely, she broke out into gut-wrenching sobs. Confused, Nora had to take several tries before she asked hoarsely, “What’s wrong?”

There was no way Robin could stifle the sound of her crying now. She was just so damn happy. And relieved. And tired. And cold. Crawling back to Nora, she wrapped her arms around the other woman’s neck and hugged her. The other woman tentatively stroked at Robin’s back with her uninjured arm and whispered, “Why’re you crying?”

Robin could only cling tighter. She sobbed into Nora’s neck a little longer and then quickly pulled away, trying to collect herself.

Jesus, Robin, get a grip.

“This is the safest I’ve felt in almost a week,” she admitted.

Finally seeming to notice the wound in her shoulder, Nora grimaced and sat up to check it out. There was some color back in her cheeks and her eyes didn’t look so distant anymore; she’d made a full recovery. In less than a day she'd probably be back on her feet. “That woman stabbed me, didn’t she?” she muttered. “It burned.”

“There was something on the blade,” Robin clarified, wiping at her face. “You were dying. And there was this bear, and it was raining, and – all that blood – and I felt like I was starving, and I couldn’t find anything to eat – but then I did. But it was so cold, and I haven’t slept-”

“Hey, hey.” Nora jerked forwards and took Robin’s hand, her eyes a little wide. She paused to glance down before she muttered, "Your fingers are frozen." 

Robin wiped at her face again. "They're numb."

Now Nora's eyebrows lowered into an expression of suspicion. “You haven’t slept? How long have you been awake?”

Don't tell her. She's not supposed to be worrying about you - it should be the other way around. 

“Days,” Robin whispered hoarsely. “I thought if I slept something would come and attack us. Or you would die and I would miss it. So I stayed-”

“How many days?” Nora demanded.

Robin realized she didn’t really know. Had it been four days? Or five? She’d stopped counting fairly recently.

Take a deep breath, Robin. Close your eyes, count your heartbeats - there you go... one, two, three, four, five, six- 

"Can you even hear what I'm saying? You look exhausted.” Nora began to massage warmth into her hands but Robin barely felt it. 

She managed a crooked smile and forced her eyes open again. “I guess I’m kinda tired.” 

“And pale.” Nora’s eyes raked her up and down, quickly becoming more and more concerned. “Have you been eating at all?

“When I foraged, I didn’t find a lot to eat. I had to choose, you or me. So I chose you. Because you were sick. Obviously.” Her words were so disjointed. She probably sounded like she'd only just learned to speak. 

Nora's going to think you're insane if you keep talking like that. Get a grip.

The side of Nora’s mouth quirked up. “Did you say something about a bear earlier?”

Robin nodded vigorously and immediately launched into another babbling trail of speech: “It was massive. When those assassins chased me, I climbed a tree – but it was raining, and I was finding it pretty hard, I won’t lie – and then this giant bear started tearing them all to shreds, and there was so much blood…” Robin realized she was just blurting everything that came to mind and tried to slow herself down, but now that she finally had someone to speak to, she suddenly couldn’t stop. “I came to find you and killed her, but she’d already stabbed you, and you looked like you were dying, and I didn’t know what to do – but I carried you and found a place here to hide, and – oh, you had a fever, by the way, and a lot of nightmares, and you were in a lot of pain but there wasn't much I could do about that-”

“Robin,” Nora interrupted again. She was trying not to smile; that much was clear. “Can you even hear yourself? You’re speaking a hundred miles a minute.”

“I saved your life. Don’t you dare make fun of me,” Robin retorted. She shot her a withering look. “I’m an assassin’s assassin.”

“Yeah, you are. Twice over,” Nora agreed. Her smile stretched even wider. “Come here.”

Robin approached and gave Nora a much more careful hug this time, so pleased to feel the steady thump of her heartbeat that tears welled in her eyes again. When Nora noticed she was about to cry once more, she pulled away and shook her head incredulously. “I’m alive. You saved my life, Robin. Why are you still crying?”

“I don’t know,” Robin sniffled. And she really didn’t. She figured she’d probably reached her emotional limit by now.

Get a grip get a grip get a grip-

“Do you want to talk about it? The last few days?” Nora asked carefully.

Robin hurriedly shook her head. She didn’t want to go back there, not for a long time. Now that Nora was awake and healing, she just wanted to be here, in the moment.

“Are you sure?” Nora reached out and stroked a thumb over the side of her face. “Honestly, you look kind of… haunted.”

Robin shook her head again, shivering at the gentle touch. It felt so good. Nora was wiping up fresh tears that she hadn't even realized were falling; she probably looked like a broken mess.

"Robin, you seem..."

"I'm fine."

Nora apparently understood the state she was in, because after giving her one last concerned look, she simply began to tug on her arm. “Sleep,” she instructed.

“No, I think I should probably-”

“You’ve done enough,” Nora said firmly. “I’ve spent the past few days resting. I can stay awake now if it’ll make you feel better.”

Robin shot her a determined look. “You’ve only just woken up. You’re still weak.”

Realizing how hard she was resisting and seeming startled by it, Nora quirked an eyebrow. “So are you. Robin, you’re suffering from sleep deprivation. You’ve been starving yourself to death. And you’re shivering.”

Robin hadn’t even noticed.

“Robin,” Nora said again, and now she sounded stern. “Please just lay down.”

“No.”

Now that she didn’t have to keep watch, Robin wanted to do it all the more. She had an urge to keep control, to be aware just in case something else happened. Although she knew it was just the paranoia returning, her stubbornness was a hard feeling to combat.

Nora’s eyes searched her face, both worried and thoughtful. 

Although Robin tried to stifle it, she felt another word-vomit coming. “I know this probably sounds weird, but I feel like if I sleep something bad will happen and I won't be able to stop it. Or that I'll sleep and wake up and none of this will have been real, because I was..." She paused, a little embarrassed. "Well, I've been seeing a few things that probably weren't real, even though they seemed very real. I sound crazy, I know-”

“Here,” Nora said simply. She reached forwards, took Robin’s hand, and set it against her cheek. For a few seconds, Robin just stared at her. Those dark eyes were so focused, so serious, and she relished the attention – it was like feeling the sun on her face for the first time in weeks. "I don't know exactly what happened while I was sleeping, but I promise I'm here now, and I'm okay. Nothing will happen to me. You understand?"

Robin nodded slowly, trying to force her body to accept the words. She couldn't shift her eyes from Nora's gaze.

"Your brain can't survive like this, Robin." Nora’s calm voice and the look in her eyes had drained the tension from Robin’s body. She deflated slowly, and once the breath had left her lungs, she felt the painful aching deep in her bones and realized how stupid she was being. Nora was definitely right – she was sleep deprived. Maybe she could relinquish control just for a few hours. Hesitantly, Robin withdrew the knife from her belt and pressed it into Nora’s hand. “Wake me up if anything happens?”

“Nothing will,” Nora said immediately. Her expression softened. “Let me return the favor and take care of you.”

Robin laid carefully down beside her, all of the pains in her body arriving at the forefront of her mind. They were crushing. She felt Nora stroke her shoulder, and then her arm. The touch was feather-light; Robin shut her eyes and let out a long sigh, focusing on it. She was shivering. Now that she was lying down again, she realized that the aching in her muscles was from the cold.

God, everything hurts.

“You don’t have to take care of me. I’ll just sleep for a few hours,” Robin said casually. But when Nora laid down beside her and cupped her cheek, she didn’t resist the comfort that it gave. She didn’t protest when Nora maneuvered her injured shoulder and pulled Robin against her chest. Nora was warm, and Robin needed warmth. She pressed further against her, hand clutching at her waist, remembering from that first night in the cave how soothing it was to fall asleep in Nora’s arms. She shivered again and Nora began to rub warmth back into her bones, muttering, “Stubborn idiot.”

“I’m so happy you’re alive,” Robin sighed.

“I know,” Nora said gently. “Now sleep, please. Before I make you.”

“I’d love to see you try,” Robin retorted weakly, opening up one eye just so she could wink.

A short chuckle. “No you wouldn’t.” A soft kiss was pressed against the top of her head and Nora’s arm tightened around her. She was so warm, and her voice was so calm. Like the wind in the trees. Robin shut her eyes again and let her body relax. She was asleep within seconds.

Chapter Text

Nora’s shoulder was beginning to throb with pain. Gritting her teeth, she began to shift her position, but Robin grasped her arm and held her still. “Stop moving,” she grumbled.

“I can’t help it.” Nora had always been patient, but her shoulder wound was making keeping still so much harder than it used to be. She glanced down to see what Robin was doing and instinctively smiled at the expression on her face: a slight wrinkling of her nose, eyes dark with concentration. Nora’s smile wavered when she saw the dark circles that had remained under the other woman’s eyes. She remembered how pale and gaunt Robin had looked the other night. The way she’d blurted out random mismatched sentences and couldn’t seem to stop herself from crying, or laughing, or both. Nora had woken from days of fever to see that Robin was a different person entirely. A stranger. It had been incredibly disconcerting. Even now Robin was a little distant. Nora had been the one so close to death, but it seemed the entire ordeal had had more of an impression on Robin’s mind than her own.

Fortunately, Robin had slept for almost twenty hours and was now more or less revitalized. While the past few days had likely been a sort of hell for her, she would pull though – Nora knew she was strong enough. Nora herself had felt horrible and achy upon waking up, but now was refreshed and almost bouncing on her feet. Days of doing nothing had left her with an immense amount of energy and she couldn’t stop fidgeting.

Stop,” Robin snapped again, grabbing Nora’s shoulder as she made to stand.

“You’ve already tied it.”

“Not done yet.” After tugging a few times on the bandage to secure it, Robin rolled down the sleeve of yet another new shirt Nora had chosen and shot her a withering look. “Now I’m done.”

“Great.” Nora jumped to her feet and stretched the length of her body in satisfaction. It was sunny – the rain had finally ceased the day before, giving way to the clearest sky Nora had ever seen. They were beside a creek which meandered slowly through the trees and off the edge of a cliff. She and Robin had left the overhang almost immediately after waking up, taking a wide detour through the forest and around the clearing in search of somewhere they could wash the days of sweat and dirt off them. This place, surrounded by rocks on all sides, had seemed like the safest spot. They removed all of their soiled clothes and burned them before changing into new ones. Now that she was clean, Nora almost wanted to lay by the creek and bathe in the sun for a little while, but as Robin kept on reminding her, the forest was far too dangerous for that. They had to keep moving.

Nora extended a hand to Robin to yank her to her feet. Before Robin could move to the bag and discard the rest of the roll of bandages, she was tugged into an abrupt hug. “Thanks.”

“…You’re welcome.” Robin ducked away to pack up the rest of their things. Nora stared after her, biting the inside of her cheek. She’d been finding it very hard to stop touching Robin – a few seconds without it was often more uncomfortable even than the itching and throbbing of her wound. Perhaps it was that she felt indebted? Nora would never forget what Robin had done for her: the way she’d let herself starve just so Nora could eat; the way she’d gone out alone in the forest even though she was scared just so she could find supplies to keep Nora’s fever at bay; the way she’d watched over her for days without sleep, tending to her, cleaning her wound. Nora could remember her soft voice from those strange fever dreams, talking about inconsequential things, and she could remember the feeling of Robin’s fingers in her hair and against her face…

“You’re staring at me,” Robin muttered, swiveling to face her. A slight smirk appeared. “Thinking of something dirty?”

Rolling her eyes, Nora reached out to pull her close again. Robin wriggled out of her grasp immediately, but only so she could loop both arms around her neck. “How are you feeling?”

“I should be asking you that.”

Robin countered, “Why?”

Instead of answering, Nora just gave her a look.

“Okay, okay.” She grinned slyly. “I’m fine. What’s there to be upset about? Now you’re awake I can start flirting again.”

Arching an eyebrow, Nora muttered, “You’re incorrigible.”

“Yeah, but you like that,” Robin hummed. Her grin became more subdued, and when Nora drew away, green eyes seemed to pass over every inch of her. There was an unfamiliar grave expression on Robin’s face. “In all seriousness, I’m… happy. That you’re here.” She cleared her throat a little awkwardly. “As in, awake. Alive. You have no idea.”

“I have some idea,” Nora pointed out. “You’ve been telling me the very same thing every few seconds.” She smiled at the vexed expression on Robin’s face. This time when she leaned in it was slower, more careful. Their brows touched, and then their noses, and Nora finally delivered a soft kiss to Robin’s lips. She thoroughly enjoyed the way the other woman sighed, leaning into her and pulling her close at the same time. Nora didn’t want Robin to have to feel upset anymore, or scared, or like she was responsible for something that was out of her hands. She just wanted her like this – warm, and close, and happy.

Nora had only been planning a chaste kiss, but when Robin pressed up against her body and gave a gentle swipe of her tongue, she felt a sudden flare of excitement. Apparently her recovery had given her a new libido, too. A sound Nora hadn’t expected was almost dragged from the back of her throat, but she quickly pulled back just in time to stifle it. There was a rush of heat, of excitement, and she licked her lips and looked quickly into Robin’s eyes to see if she’d noticed. While she had every possibility of making a flirtatious comment, Robin said nothing. Her eyes searched Nora’s face curiously, almost frantically, as if she was searching for something she couldn’t quite see.

Nora cleared her throat. “We’ve got treasure to find.”

“Yeah.” Robin’s hand went to Nora’s collarbone, tugging on the necklace she’d hung there. It was one of the Sawyer Tech logo pendants she’d taken during that first attack by the New Order. Somehow, wearing it now felt like a great big ‘fuck you’ to that stupid cult. She’d survived, they’d all died, and she was fully prepared for another attack should it come. They wouldn’t take her down again. “Before we go, though, I have a question.”

“What?” Nora asked curiously.

“Do you remember… anything that I was saying to you? While you were fighting that fever?”

“No, why?”

Still tracing the shape of the necklace, Robin didn’t meet her eyes. “Oh, never mind.”

“Was there something important you said?” 

“Kind of.” Robin smirked a little when she drew back and moved to pick up the bag, but it was nothing like her usual teasing. She seemed so much emptier now, so much more distant, and Nora wasn’t sure what to make of it. “Guess you’ll have to find a way to convince me if you want to hear me say it again.”

“Maybe I will.”

Robin hardly reacted to her suggestive comment. As soon as she’d secured the bag over her shoulders, her smile dropped. She had refused to talk in detail about the last few days and Nora almost wanted to shake the truth out of her. Something must have happened to make her like this. Robin wasn’t subdued – she teased, and she smiled a lot, and she chatted nonstop. She had never been so grave and quiet. They’d been through a lot so far, but nothing else had made Robin like this. Nora couldn’t bring herself to ask what was wrong; all she could do was hope that, with enough time and rest, the shadow hanging over her partner would fade away.

 ---

Their journey to Devil’s Pulpit this time was done with an even wider detour, and while it was slow, Nora preferred this more careful path. After hearing Robin describe her encounter with that gigantic bear, and after her near-death at the hands of the New Order, she was suddenly a lot more aware of the fact that both animal and human adversaries were hiding in these forests. The way Robin had described that beast made her wonder if it was some sort of radioactive mutant. Maybe there were creatures local to Monument Mountain which hadn’t been seen anywhere else on the continent. Dangerous ones. Nora didn’t want to be caught off guard again, especially now she had nothing more than a knife to protect the both of them.

They reached Devil’s Pulpit by the late afternoon without much trouble and set up camp in a small grassy alcove. As the sun was setting, they were treated to a spectacular view of the multi-colored sky and spears of glowing sun-rays disappearing over the horizon. Birds swam through the air, returning to their nests before darkness could fall; strange chattering sounds from insects took over the silence; distant roars and screeches began to punctuate the night, sounding alien enough that Nora’s blood ran cold. But she sat by the fire with Robin by her side, sharpening the blade of the knife, and felt oddly calm. They were on one of the mountain’s peaks which gave them a pretty clear view of the forests below them. If anything approached, they’d see it before it could attack. Nora felt tactically much safer here than she had anywhere else so far.

After Robin’s quick trek around the campsite, she was able to return with mushrooms and what looked to be some sort of mutated rabbit with six legs instead of four – and the sharp teeth of a carnivore. The deeper into the forest they went, the stranger the animals seemed to become. Nora stripped the flesh from the rabbit’s bones and charred it over the fire. She forced Robin to eat most of the meat, still disconcerted by the pale, sickly look of her. To her relief, there was no argument this time and Robin did as she was told. Once they had eaten, the two of them laid together by the fire and stared up at the stars. Nora held Robin’s hand, stroking each of her fingers, and wondered again whether she ought to bring up the events of the past week. By the time she’d turned her head with the words on her tongue, she realized Robin had already fallen asleep. Sighing with disappointment, Nora tucked a hand protectively across the other woman’s body and let exhaustion take her as well.

The next morning, the sky was slate-grey. Nora was woken by a potent, frigid wind – she sat up immediately, shivering, and stared in shock at the white surrounding her.

Snow?

It was barely even November. While they were at a fairly high altitude, she couldn’t quite believe that the weather could have changed so abruptly overnight. Climbing to her feet, Nora marveled at the fresh tracks that her boots left in the thin white snow. She lifted her head and let some of the flakes settle on her tongue, an ancient childish excitement igniting inside of her. After she’d entertained herself sufficiently, Nora shook Robin awake and began to rebuild their fire.

“What the…” Robin sat up almost as suddenly as Nora had, staring around them. Her face softened and she smiled wide. “It’s beautiful.”

The entire forest had been dusted in a thin sheet of white like the icing on a cake. Their view of the sky and the landscape beyond reminded Nora of an unfinished painting; so much of it was perfectly white, as if the artist had yet to return. While the mountain was freezing and she knew they would struggle on the frozen path to come, Nora was satisfied now to simply enjoy how pretty it looked.

Robin rummaged through their bag and pulled out the last few articles of clothing left. “Time to double-layer, I think.”

They both pulled on two shirts each. While the shirts provided more of a barrier against the cold, Nora’s legs still shivered and she desperately wished she could cover the tips of her numbing ears. She settled for rubbing the stiffness out of her fingers by the fire, simultaneously deciding what their next step should be. Their journey was already dangerous enough without accounting for this rapid change in weather. Would they make it to Sawyer’s fortune without dying from hypothermia first?

Crouching by her side, Robin leaned heavily into her body and reached to take her hands. The added warmth helped; perhaps if they stuck close together they’d make it through the cold. A surplus of food with which to warm themselves with would also be beneficial. Unfortunately, they hadn’t found much so far through hunting and foraging. Now that they’d reached Devil’s Pulpit and would be following on the path of Martin Sawyer’s instructions, they’d just have to hope that they could find something along the way.

Tilting her head, Robin rubbed the side of her face against Nora’s neck like a cat. Nora laughed and demanded, “What are you doing?

“What? You’re warmer than I am,” Robin grumbled.

Nora looped an arm around her shoulders and shuffled them both closer to the fire. “I’ve never seen snow in the Commonwealth,” she remarked. “Isn’t that strange?”

“Me neither.” Robin was still shivering. “Or in the Capital Wasteland.”

“What was it like there?”

Robin’s shoulders rose and fell in a shrug. “I grew up in the countryside. It was…barren. Like a desert. My parents could’ve been farmers instead of thieves if the soil could support life. But everything was dead.”

Remembering some of the reports from the day the bombs fell, Nora nodded her understanding. “Washington was the capital. Prime target. Bet the Chinese dropped most of their payload there and wiped almost everything out.”

“There were a lot of radioactive storms. And most of the time there was nothing to eat or drink that wasn’t infected. But most of us didn’t have a choice over there.” Again, Robin shrugged, and Nora sensed some reluctance about where this conversation was going. “It wasn’t terrible. But I’m lucky that Harley took me with him once my parents were dead. If he hadn’t… well, the only option other than death would be slavery. It’s still a pretty lucrative business in the Capital Wasteland. I would’ve been sold in the moment someone found me. I know a couple kids who weren’t as lucky as I was.”

Nora knew that Commonwealth Raiders often dealt with slaves, but few other factions, however immoral, would condone such a thing. It seemed that the one thing the Commonwealth could agree on was that a four-year-old girl being forced into slavery was extremely appalling. Nora finally understood why Robin didn’t blame that caravan driver for killing her parents: he had given her a good chance at a better life.

“So I guess you’re glad you made it to the Commonwealth, huh? I mean, it’s still pretty bad. But it sounds better than the Capital Wasteland,” Nora said.

“It is,” Robin agreed. “And I don’t think I’d ever go back. But… it’s still my home. I became who I am there.” She grinned. “Every hero has to have an origin story, right? Well, that’s how mine begins: orphaned girl learns to fight to survive the horrors of the wasteland – very original, huh?”

“Do you think you’ll ever leave the Commonwealth for good someday?” Nora wondered.

Robin wrinkled her nose. “Strange question.”

“Is it?” Nora had certainly never seen herself leaving. The graves of her husband and son anchored her in the Commonwealth, as did her station as General of the Minutemen. How could she possibly leave when there was still so much to do? But just coming out here to Monument Mountain had spun her entire life plan on its head; not only had the adventure ignited a sort of passion in her soul, but she was able to see how the rest of the world had been faring since the Great War. It was intriguing. She couldn’t help but wonder if the continent in the south or the north differed from where they were now. What about crossing the seas? The Commonwealth was so tiny and Nora had always had such a taste for traveling and adventure which expanded beyond the city in which she’d been born. If she didn’t feel so tied down, she’d probably choose to leave in a heartbeat.

Surely Robin could leave, however. She wasn’t Robin the Sly anymore, so there were no anchors holding her back. Perhaps she wouldn’t return to the Capital Wasteland, but there were so many other places to explore – other lands she could spread her legend.

“After all of this, what will you do? Where will you go?” Nora rephrased.

“I don’t know. I thought the whole point was that you were meant to decide,” Robin remarked with a smirk. “Considering I pledged my soul to the Minutemen when you agreed to help me with all this. Remember that?”

“Oh yeah.” Nora chuckled. “I guess I assumed you’d disappear before I could put you to work. Being a soldier definitely isn’t your sort of thing.”

“I’m not gonna disappear. Right now…” Robin hesitated. “Right now, I don’t think I’d want to leave if it meant I’d never see you again.” She slipped away from the fire and stood, feigning nonchalance, but Nora could see from the pink tint to her cheeks that she was shy. “You’ve sort of… grown on me.”

“Have I?” Nora was indescribably pleased to hear this, even though she’d already known.

Robin suddenly didn’t seem to know which way to look. She cleared her throat and stalked off to examine the rocks, hands in the pockets of her trousers. Nora watched after her with amusement. She took the translated code from the bag and quickly followed, leaving their fire still burning. “Hunt without a fear…” she muttered. “What do you think we’re trying to find?”

“No idea. Guess we’ve got to take a few risks to find out,” Robin said confidently. And with that, she grasped a handhold and began to climb. The cluster of rocks was tall enough and steep enough that a fall would likely result in death. While Nora wanted to snap at her to get down, she held her tongue, knowing that Robin had the right idea. She instead folded her arms and watched worriedly as the other woman scaled the smooth face with considerable effort, her muscles straining as pieces of frozen rock crumbled away beneath her. She leaped gracefully from one slab to the next and then paused, crouching just on the tip of one of the highest boulders. “Uh...”

“What?” Nora demanded immediately.

“You’re gonna need to get up here somehow,” Robin said faintly. “You think you’ll be able to climb with that shoulder?”

“Why? What did you find?”

“Sawyer Tech logo’s been inscribed into the rock up there. There’s a break between these two boulders. It’s… some sort of cave. Or a passage.”

“Ugh.” Nora glanced up at the rocks. She definitely wasn’t going to be able to follow in Robin’s footsteps. Maybe there was an easier route? “I’ll go around and find another way up,” she called.

“Be careful,” Robin returned.

Nora put out the fire, collected their bag, and began to circle the mound of rocks. She could hear Robin humming up there, sitting cross-legged and waiting to see what she would do. After entering the forest and checking the cliffs for easier points of entry, Nora saw a piece of the rock face which was much shallower and less coated with frost. She’d manage the climb without getting herself killed, at the very least. After several minutes of huffing and straining, Nora dragged herself onto the lip of the first slab and yanked the bag from her back as she took a breather. Robin peered over the edge of the boulder above, grinning. “D’you think you’ll get up here before Christmas?”

“Shut up.”

She tossed the bag at Robin’s face but the other woman caught it with one hand, settling it behind her. “I’m only kidding. Take your time.”

Nora glanced up to see that Robin had extended a hand to her. Grateful, she accepted the help and painstakingly dragged herself up the final face without putting too much weight on her injured shoulder. She was breathing heavily at this point and her wound felt like it had been ripped open again. Wincing, Nora closed her eyes and tried to catch her breath.

Robin leaned in and pecked her lips before grabbing the bag. “Take it easy now.”

Nora ignored her advice, climbing to her feet and approaching the logo Robin had mentioned. The familiar three interlocked boxes had been carved deep into the rock. She cocked her head and stared into the dark space between the rock faces – a tunnel. It didn’t look particularly safe, but if they were going to get to Sawyer’s fortune, they didn’t have much choice but to follow and see where it led.

“Take heed of the siren’s cries; one misstep, lose all you hold dear,” Robin recited. “What do you think that means?”

“Just keep an eye out.” Nora drew the knife. “And stay behind me.”

The tunnel was as inexplicably dark as she had expected. An eerie wind blew in from the other direction as Nora paused in the entrance, signifying that there was an end somewhere. Good. She had no intention of getting lost in the middle of the mountain. The walls were damp with moisture and Nora felt the dripping of water from somewhere above. She wiped her face, shivering, pleased at least that they’d be far from the snow in here.

“I can’t see a damn thing,” Robin muttered. Fingers wrapped around the hem of Nora’s shirt by the small of her back. In the forest, Nora had been too worried about getting discovered to use her Pip-Boy to light their way. Now, she had no reason to stumble through the dark like an idiot. Nora lifted her wrist and toggled the flashlight, grimacing when the green light almost blinded her. Finally, she could see the black stone walls illuminated around them and the tunnel stretching far ahead. “Better?”

“Uh-huh.” Robin didn’t let go of her shirt. “Lead on.”

Their footsteps echoed along with the dripping of water. Nora was starting to feel claustrophobic; they’d only been walking for a minute. The tunnel seemed to taper until the ceiling was brushing against her head and she had to duck a little to pass through. Robin’s fingers at her back were reassuring, clutching tightly like a lifeline. She considered reaching back and taking her hand.

“I wonder how long it took to dig this thing,” Robin mused. “Does it go on forever?”

“Wait.” Nora stopped abruptly, hearing rushing water. She took a few steps forward and lifted her wrist to extend her Pip-Boy’s glow. To their right was a door – yellow metal with a mining sign stamped over it. When Nora approached and tried the handle, she found it wasn’t locked; when the door swung open and she swept her flashlight over the interior, she found herself staring into some sort of dormitory. Beds, trunks, cupboards of cans and food packages. Whistling, Robin finally released her shirt and stepped around her, approaching the food. “Looks like we won’t need to go hunting anymore,” she said with a grin, already ripping open a box of Sugarbombs and beginning to shovel them into her mouth.

After checking the rest of the room – there was a door which led off into yet another tunnel, a large bathroom with several empty stalls, and a desk with a terminal in the corner – Nora joined Robin for a well-earned breakfast.

“It’s empty,” Nora commented as they ate.

“So?”

“Strange. Normally there’d at least be skeletons or something. Or… I don’t know, rats. Roaches.”

“Maybe Martin cleared everything out.”

“But why? What would be the point? And you’d think that after a century or two something would find its way in here.” Chewing thoughtfully, Nora strode over to the bunks and began to search through the storage lockers. She was very pleased to come up with a 10mm pistol and several boxes of suitable ammunition. She also found an ushanka hat which she tossed to Robin, a leather jacket which she kept for herself, and several trunks of mining gear. Nora took one of the pickaxes, thinking it could probably double as a useful weapon, but left the rest of the equipment where it was. It wouldn’t do to be weighed down once they decided to move again.

Yanking the flaps of the hat down over her ears, Robin tossed herself onto one of the beds and bounced around a little before stretching out like a cat. “Oh god, I’d forgotten what a real bed felt like.”

Smiling, Nora climbed on beside her, closing her eyes momentarily at the soft feeling of the mattress beneath. “Me too,” she sighed blissfully.

Robin remarked, “It is creepily silent down here, isn’t it? Doesn’t feel right.”

“No, it doesn’t,” Nora agreed. Although she still felt restless and fidgety from her week-long fever, Nora set her hands behind her head and allowed herself to relax for a couple of minutes. A rest like this was welcome, even if she wouldn’t allow herself to sleep. Before they continued, she wanted to take advantage of the quiet safety of this room.

Eventually, Nora peeked open an eye to see that Robin’s fingers had tucked into her belt loop, tugging playfully. Heat flushed through her. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing.” Robin released her, though there was an impish smile on her face. A strange longing frustration rose up inside Nora’s chest and she quickly levered herself into a sitting. Catching sight of her expression, Robin quickly backtracked: “I’m sorry, I wasn’t trying to-”

“No, don’t apologize.” Nora examined the other woman sprawled out beside her, eyes running over the length of her body. She lingered at the buttons of Robin’s shirt, sucking in a breath when she realized what she wanted to do. Here, in the middle of this musty, silent room, where no one would hear them. She’d found it so hard to communicate the ways in which she cared for Robin – those words would never come easily to her – but she could touch her. She could make her feel good, find out what she really wanted–

“Don’t look at me like that,” Robin said quietly, returning her gaze. “Not unless you’re actually gonna do something about it.”

Leaning over her, Nora said in a low voice, “I want to.”

“Really?” Robin’s eyes widened with disbelief.

She reached out to touch the strands of black hair which fell from the hat on Robin’s head, smiling slightly. “You look so surprised.”

“Well… shouldn’t I be?”

“No,” Nora breathed, bending to delicately kiss her lips before withdrawing and looking at her again. She glanced questioningly into Robin’s eyes for a moment before reaching for the buttons on her shirt. “Do you want me to stop?”

“Uh, no, are you kidding me?” This time she saw Robin’s familiar trademark smirk. She pushed herself up onto her elbows, eyes wide with delight. “Are you sure? That you want to-”

Nora leaned down to kiss her hard, already unbuttoning the top of her shirt. She suddenly didn’t care that she’d never done this before; she didn’t care that this was not the time or the place to be getting intimate. All she really cared about was the fact that Robin cared about her. And for the first time, she didn’t doubt it at all. She just wanted to show Robin that she had noticed, and that she cared too. Sliding one hand into the opening of Robin’s shirt, Nora stroked the curve of her breast, feeling the other woman shiver at her touch.

“Oh,” Robin whispered softly. She squirmed even more when Nora sucked a small bruise into the side of her neck. She clutched at Nora’s body with an unexpected strength, careful of her shoulder, and pulled her close, but Nora was much too impatient to take her time exploring. What she wanted was to hear Robin panting, moaning, moving against her. She wanted to wash that smug smirk off her face and replace it with a look of unadulterated pleasure.

Decisively, Nora reached down and unbuttoned Robin’s trousers. She stalled before touching, reaching up to kiss the other woman’s mouth once more. Robin’s lips moved urgently against her own, body arching upwards; it was incredibly clear what she wanted, what she was waiting for. Nora was a little worried that she was going to let her down. She knew the hesitation was probably stupid – she’d touched herself enough times to know what to do – but Robin was the type of woman who she wanted to do more than please. Her feelings made this a big deal.

In the end, it was Robin who finally took Nora’s uncertain hand in both of her own and eagerly led it down between her thighs. She muffled a soft sigh against Nora’s neck at the contact. The sound sent waves of excitement swelling through her.

“Jesus, Robin,” Nora murmured, twitching her fingers experimentally. She almost groaned herself at the feel of it, at knowing for sure now how much Robin wanted her. It was so sudden, so thrilling, to feel how wet she was.

“What did you expect?” Robin retorted, though her voice was shaky. She shifted her hips a little, encouraging the movement of Nora’s fingers, and again Nora felt the excitement stab through her. Robin was aroused because of her. She was squirming so impatiently, lip caught between her teeth, and it was the most erotic thing Nora had ever seen. She shifted her fingers gently again, pulling back so she could watch Robin’s face. The sounds were delicious: short gasps, barely-muffled moans. Nora pulled the ushanka hat from her head and tossed it aside so she could wrap her fingers in the other woman’s hair. When Robin’s eyes flickered closed, Nora whispered for her to open them again. She wanted to see the desire. When the murky green gazed back at her, there was a spark of familiar light, an awakening. She bent to kiss Robin again as deeply and possessively as she could.

Nora soon realized that Robin needed exactly what she wanted to give – she didn’t want to be teased. There was no time for that. What she needed was release. Nora immediately applied more pressure with her fingers and kissed Robin’s neck again, rubbing into her body with each stroke. Robin was gasping more now, her hands coming to rest on Nora’s hips. She parted her legs a little wider, tilting her head back, and squeezed her eyes shut. “Can you… inside…?” she panted.

Nora slid a finger into her and was rewarded with a long, low moan. Robin palmed her neck, and then her face, the movement of her hips losing their rhythm – she was so close. Nora began to stroke again with her thumb, pressing hard with each thrust, improving her technique with each sound, each frantic movement. She nipped at the shell of Robin’s ear, and then her jaw, finally fusing their lips together.

Robin let out another tapered whimper into her mouth and trembled, abruptly reaching down to press Nora’s hand hard into her. She bucked her hips upwards and Nora let herself go still so she could properly feel those urgent movements against her. She pulled back a little to rest their foreheads together, watching in awe as each emotion, each tremor flickered across Robin’s face. The sight was somehow even more arousing than the touching itself. She bent again to nip at Robin’s lip with her teeth and then lick into her mouth. The taste of her, the soft feel of her, was shockingly pleasurable. Nora couldn’t stop touching even if she wanted to.

Finally coming down from her high, Robin let out a long blissful sigh and grabbed Nora’s face to kiss her back languidly. Her entire body seemed to simultaneously arch up and press back into the mattress at once. Finally, she pulled away and grinned shyly. “That was pretty damn good for someone who didn’t even know she liked women before she met me.”

“Really?” Nora couldn’t help but smile too.

“Fuck yes.” Robin stared up at her intently. “I have been waiting for that – for you to touch me like...” She closed her eyes, apparently re-imagining it, and a small pleased smirk returned to her face. “…Again?”

Nora chuckled, not sure whether she should even be surprised. Eagerly reaching back into Robin’s trousers, she ran her fingers through that silken flesh, pleased when Robin sucked in a breath. This time, she didn’t pause for uncertainty or attempt to tease – Nora rubbed tight, firm circles, watching Robin’s face attentively as she began panting heavily again. It didn’t take long at all. Almost as soon as Nora curled a finger deep inside her, Robin let out a groan and bucked her hips once more. This time Nora kept on stroking until the tremors had left her body, her eyes hungrily following the other woman’s reactions. She only withdrew when Robin’s thighs clenched tight around her hand. “Finally satisfied?” she asked, feigning indifference. In truth, she felt all of a sudden hot and restless, and she knew it was because she wanted Robin to do the same things to her. A tingling feeling had taken over her body, burning low in her gut.

Robin laughed a little and pressed an elbow to her face to hide the flush on her cheeks. “That was… I wish I could tell you how much I-” She halted, gulping, and pressed her lips together.

“What?” Nora asked gently.

“Just…” Robin sat up, glancing down at Nora’s body. “Can I return the favor?”

A little surprised, Nora wordlessly shook her head.

“Okay.” The answer was immediate; Nora was pleased to see that Robin truly didn’t seem to mind. She smiled – not a smirk this time, but a wide grin. “Waiting makes it better. You’ll see.”

“Does it?”

“Oh, believe you me. It does.” Robin climbed off the mattress and buttoned her trousers and shirt back up. Her hair was so delightfully tousled, her cheeks pink, and Nora wanted to hold her close and never let go. She wanted to touch her again and again. Make her feel better even than this. There were so many things she wanted to do to Robin; she only wished there was more time.

When Nora stood, she couldn’t tear her eyes from the other woman’s face. Eventually, noticing that Nora was still staring, Robin frowned. “What’s wrong?” Her voice came out uncertain. “You don’t… regret that, do you?”

“No, of course not.” Nora wouldn’t even think to lie about how much she had enjoyed being so intimate. She couldn’t just pretend that it hadn’t happened. It had been world-changing.

“Good.” Robin smiled again. Nora picked the ushanka hat off the floor and tugged it down over Robin’s ears, gently brushing hair out of her face. And then, because she couldn’t quite help it, she pulled Robin into a tight embrace.

“You’re smothering me,” Robin muttered into her shoulder after a few seconds. “Not that I mind, necessarily…”

“Oh god, it’s only going to get worse now, isn’t it?” Nora sighed dramatically. “I won’t hear the end of your flirting.”

“Probably not.”

Nora held her tight for a few seconds more before she dared to release. And then, just because she could, she kissed Robin again. For once, there was no one else here. There was no Bobbi, or hostages – even the Minutemen were nowhere to be seen. Robin belonged to her and only her. The possessive feeling was alien to Nora, yet she liked it.

They drew apart and Robin delivered her a curious, thoughtful look. “Okay,” she said finally. “Task at hand: I’m gonna fill the bag with food. You check out the next tunnel.”

The spur into action reminded Nora of what they were supposed to be doing – she immediately turned, switched her torch back on, and headed over to the dark corridor which led even further into the mountain. She felt strangely lighter, even less anxious somehow. Perhaps she’d start touching Robin like that more often, if only to reap the benefits that came after. Once Robin returned to her side and took hold of the back of her shirt again, Nora led the way into darkness. As the room behind them disappeared and they entered a dilapidated mine shaft, Nora felt her entire body stiffen – there was that wind again. It whispered against her face almost tauntingly.

They walked for several minutes until they reached another door, this one made of thick iron. Robin managed to unlock it in just under three minutes, working by the light of Nora’s torch. As the door swung open, they both flinched in shock at the sudden howling of a siren. Flashing red lights. Blaring noise. And a loud vibrating BANG! as something exploded in the tunnel behind them. Nora was abruptly sent back to that day the bombs fell, when the entire city was sent into chaos. She felt the blood leave her face, stumbled into a wall, and for a few seconds her body went numb. Only when Robin shouted something unintelligible into her ear and began to drag her by the hand did Nora return to reality – and begin to run.

The tunnel was collapsing behind them, the noise almost deafening as each explosive was triggered one after the other. Take heed of the siren’s cries, Martin had warned them. They hadn’t been paying enough attention. This was Martin’s game, his trap. Outrun the tunnel or die. Outrun death, or death will outrun you. Nora picked up her feet, but she saw no daylight - no end. She didn't want to end her life here in the darkness, buried deep inside a mountain. Debris from the explosions behind them filled her lungs and she could hardly breathe; she heard Robin coughing as they ran, slowing down. And then the ground at their feet suddenly seemed to crumble and Nora instinctively clawed at Robin's arm.

They fell through the floor into yet more darkness, her torch flashing wildly. There was a loud splash and a sudden enveloping of freezing water. Spluttering, Nora tried to grab hold of something - anything - but the walls were too slippery. Robin's hand was torn from hers and she heard the other woman's voice echoing distantly. A powerful current tore at Nora's body, dragging her away, and she had to struggle to keep her head above water, her muscles frozen and the sounds of her struggle echoing throughout the chamber. She was flipped through the current, smashing against walls and jagged rocks, her shoulder burning. The more she struggled, the less energy she had, and she realized she could no longer hear Robin's voice.

"Robin!" she shouted urgently, spitting water from her mouth. As if in retaliation, the water dragged her under once more. She closed her eyes, struggling not to draw the freezing liquid into her lungs. Almost too soon, she ran out of oxygen, and the swirling current wouldn't let up. Drowning would be a terrible way to die. With both arms and legs, Nora struck out against the walls to slow her speed and almost immediately felt her head break the surface - she dragged in a desperate breath of air. 

And then she was falling again.

When Nora landed in yet more water, her shoulder struck the bottom and she almost blacked out from the pain of it. Dragging her free arm beneath her, she pulled herself to the surface once more. After gulping in a few more breaths of oxygen, Nora noticed that there was no current down here. Her torch illuminated rounded cave walls and a long, deep pool of water. A rushing waterfall had deposited her here - she was lucky to have survived the journey. 

"Robin?" she called quickly, dragging herself out of the pool and onto one of the stony banks. 

"I'm okay," came a distant cough. Nora dragged herself across the stone to where Robin was sitting, squeezing water out of her clothes. She was covered in scratches and absolutely soaked but she didn't seem hurt. Nora drew her into a one-armed shivering hug and held her close. Once she pulled away, Nora realized just how cold it was. They were somewhere deep in the mountain's belly, which perhaps had been Martin's intention all along. If the collapsing tunnel and rushing rapids hadn't killed them, hypothermia probably would. 

Grimly, Nora turned back to Robin and muttered, "We need to find a way out of here."

Chapter Text

When Robin closed her eyes, she was cold and alone again in the forest, surrounded by terrifying shadows, watching over Nora’s prone form as the darkness threatened to overtake them. When she opened them, it was still cold, but she wasn’t alone. Nora was crouched before her, demanding that she stay awake. Blinking, Robin forced the sleepiness away and stared into the other woman’s shadowed face. “It’s cold,” she grumbled.

“I know,” Nora said gently. She stood again, flashing her torch around the cavern, and Robin watched as she walked off once more to search the walls for a way out. Pushing herself to her feet, Robin trailed behind her, not wanting to be left alone in the darkness.

It had surely been almost an hour since they were deposited in this freezing, dark hole. They were both shivering and exhausted, beginning to lose hope that they’d ever get out. Robin’s fingers and toes had gone numb and she had to wrap her arms tight around herself to keep the wracking shivers at bay. Even the memory of what Nora had done to her, the way she’d touched her – the pressure of her fingers, her lips, the desire in her eyes – didn’t return any warmth to Robin’s body. It had happened hardly over an hour ago, but down here it felt like days had passed. All Robin could think about was the darkness.

“If you help, we’ll find a way out faster,” Nora said, turning back so that the Pip-Boy torch highlighted her disapproval. There was only a slight tremor to her voice but Robin could see how badly she was shaking.

“There’s no way out,” Robin sighed morosely. “It’s a dead end. ‘One misstep, lose all you hold dear’ – remember that part? We fucked up.”

With an irritated huff, Nora stopped walking and snapped, “Why do you accept defeat so easily?”

“What?” Robin looked up in surprise at the sudden appearance of anger in the other woman’s voice.

“You talk big game, but when things get really tough, you just give up,” she clarified. “Tell me I’m wrong.”

“You’re-”

“You always choose the easy way out, Robin, but there isn’t always going to be an easy way out.”

Robin growled, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Really? Prove it,” Nora countered.

Incensed, Robin glared at her. She wanted to explode with fury but simply didn’t have the energy for it. Instead, she muttered, “Give up? I’ve risked so much for you – more than I’ve ever risked for anyone else. Even Little John. Nothing has been easy since I met you, yet I’m still here, aren’t I? How’s that for giving up?”

There was a short silence. “Nothing’s been easy since I met you, either,” Nora finally admitted.

“Well.” Robin hugged her arms tighter around herself. “Once this is all over, I guess we can both go back to things being…easy. Right?”

Robin wasn’t quite sure where the argument had come from, but it made her feel even colder, even more alone. They were both exhausted, which probably made each of them more irritable – even Nora, with her impassive superpower… but Robin couldn’t help but let the words get to her. She angled her body away, staring into the darkness. Squinting, she realized something was glowing just at the edge of her vision.

“Over there,” Robin sighed. “Point your torch that way.”

Silently, Nora did as she was instructed, and this time they both saw the glowing shape on a distant wall. As they approached, Nora said under her breath, “Another logo. Isn’t a dead-end after all, hmm?”

“Yeah. Whatever.”

Robin sensed Nora’s dark eyes on her, carefully searching her face in the torchlight. After a while, she sighed and said, “I’m sorry. I was trying to… set a fire under your ass. Not start an actual argument.”

“Well, you did.” After a few moments, Robin rolled her eyes and added, “Both. You did both.” She touched her fingers to the glowing logo on the cave wall. “‘If you’ve been wise and brought the blaze’,” she recited. “I guess that’s as literal as the siren part was. This thing reacts to light.”

Nora tested this theory, switching off her torch and watching the logo disappear entirely. Once she'd illuminated it again, she ordered, “Press it.”

With only slightest pressure from Robin’s fingertips, there was a loud heaving of rock and Nora instinctively grabbed her arm and yanked her backwards. Jaw dropping, Robin threw a hand up to protect her eyes as the cave was abruptly flooded with sunlight. Another of Martin’s trademark secret doors. Once her eyes had adjusted once again, Robin dropped her hand and ventured cautiously outside, staring around her incredulously. The snow hadn’t reached this part of the mountain – if that was even where they were anymore – and the trees here somehow seemed much more intimidating, looming over the cave’s entrance.

“Well… I take it back. We really are on the right path after all,” Robin mused.

Still shivering, Nora came to a stop beside her, a satisfied smile on her face. “‘If you’ve been wise and brought the blaze, the forest path you shall take’…”

Robin cast a worried glance towards her. “You okay?”

With a shrug, Nora said, “Let’s make a fire.” As she moved to begin searching for wood, however, Robin noticed for the first time that her left arm was held immobile against her side, and it looked like something dark had seeped through the layers she was wearing. Blood.

“Hey, hey…” Robin skipped over and skidded to a halt right in front of her. “Your shoulder. What happened?”

As if just remembering the pain, Nora winced slightly. “It’s probably fine. Need new bandages, though.”

Narrowing her eyes, Robin commanded, “Sit down. I’ll make the fire.” She ignored the mildly surprised expression on Nora’s face and set off, collecting the driest sticks she could see deposited on the forest floor. Once she returned and managed to set them alight, she turned her concentration on her partner. “I know you’re cold, but… you need to take everything off.”

With no indication that she was troubled by this, Nora began to struggle out of her layers. Seeing that her arm had been rendered virtually useless, Robin sighed and wandered over to help. When she unwrapped the wound, she grimaced at the sight of it. The edges were puckered and bright red. Infected, perhaps? An infection out here could be a death sentence, especially now that they were out of stimpacks. Robin sighed. “You were only just beginning to heal.”

“I’m aware. However, I can’t really help being tossed up against a thousand walls by a strong underground current, can I?”

“Hey,” Robin retorted with a faint smirk. “We can’t both be the smart-ass. Leave that to me.” She touched Nora’s other shoulder, feeling the shivering beneath her hand. Their bag had become soaked during their journey through the mountain so the new bandages were bound to make Nora even colder. Making a split-second decision, Robin said through chattering teeth, “Let’s warm up first, huh? We can dry our things too.”

Robin stripped down to her underwear and set all of her clothes next to the fire. After doing the same with Nora’s clothes, she curled up beside her, trying to not think about what pressing their bare skin together implied. This was just for warmth, not for entertainment. Robin carefully adjusted Nora’s injured shoulder and then wrapped an arm and a leg around her from behind. She pressed her lips into the spot where Nora’s spine bent into her neck, slowing her breathing and ignoring the chilled wind against her back. If they’d had a blanket, heating up would have gone a lot faster. As it was, it took a long while for Nora’s shivers to fade away completely. Robin herself kept on shaking until Nora eventually rolled over and pulled her into a proper embrace. As Robin listened to Nora’s heartbeat, she remembered the calming effect of the sound from all those days watching over her during her fever. How wonderful it had been to know that the General was still alive, still fighting to come back to her. Robin would have been happy to stay in that warm embrace for ever, intoxicated by the sound of Nora’s heartbeat, her scent, the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Just being alive with her, in the middle of this strange, foreign place. After a while, however, Robin’s eyes wandered open again and she saw the state of that knife wound.

After cleaning and re-wrapping Nora’s shoulder with the slightly drier bandages, Robin got dressed once more. She checked through all the food in their bag, making sure none of the packages or tins had been ruptured, and handed Nora back the pistol she’d found. They were both grim, mechanical, as if the cold had stolen more than just their body heat. Once they began walking again, Nora took the lead. There was no sign of the path they were apparently supposed to take – at least, not until Robin’s eyes picked up on another faint Sawyer Tech logo which had been carved into the top of a small pile of stones. Next to the logo was an arrow pointing further into the forest. Robin shivered, but there was no time to be fearful of what lied beyond.

There were only small sounds of rustling bushes and the howl of the wind; some distant screeching, clicking, barking. They didn’t know what hid in the dark forest, they only knew that it wasn’t going to be a peaceful journey. Robin could feel the shadows drawing closer and pressing down, suffocating her slowly as she took careful steps through the thick maze of undergrowth. She kept her eyes locked on Nora’s shoulders ahead of her but the looming trees and icy breeze kept drawing her attention away. Almost too soon, the consistent distraction almost cost Robin her life: her foot caught on something taut and she noticed too late that it was a tripwire, almost invisible in the half-light. Stiffening, Robin threw herself instinctively upwards and only barely managed to grab hold of a branch overhead, yanking her feet clear off the ground.

The undergrowth erupted in spikes almost a metre tall, stabbing into the air with a whoosh. Had Robin been even a second slower, she’d have been impaled in an instant. Gasping for breath, she hung unsteadily from the branch with both hands and searched urgently ahead for Nora. The General had stopped at the sound and spun around, dark eyes wide. When their gazes met, Nora whispered, “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” Robin grumbled.

With a careful step forwards, Nora reached a hand out. “Do you need me to-”

“Don’t move!” Robin snapped urgently. “Stay right there. What was the next part of the riddle?”

“Don’t remember.”

With both hands, Robin swung herself back and forth a couple times before shooting her body sleekly over the obstacle and landing on her hands and feet like a cat. When she straightened, she collected Martin’s diary and the coded sheet from her bag, grimacing when she saw the state they were in. She was lucky she’d made corrections in pencil instead of pen, but even those markings were faded and smudged from water damage. “Something about foolish mistakes,” she muttered.

“Didn’t you memorize the whole thing?”

Robin grumbled, “Yeah, well, cold and exhaustion can make even the simplest memories hard to reach.” She deposited the documents back in her bag and glanced thoughtfully back at the spikes. They were rusted steel, glinting and deadly. Most animals would be wary enough to step over or around the tripwire. It was likely that Martin and his buddies had constructed it in a way that only a considerably large applied force could set off the trap. It was high-tech, made for environments such as these. Made to last for a long, long time. Robin had no doubt that there were plenty more lying in wait. She had zero experience in disarming such things – evasion was their best hope. She turned to Nora. “I’m taking the lead this time.” Robin didn’t wait for acknowledgement, already forging ahead with her eyes raking the ground. Nora followed silently and again they returned to their mechanical teamwork – Robin giving instructions when she saw something glinting in the undergrowth, Nora watching the trees around them for adversaries. Eventually, they came to a branch in the path. Right in the gap between the two branches was another pile of rocks.

“What now?” Nora inquired.

“We’re supposed to choose,” Robin clarified. “I assume one way leads to certain death.” She brightened, suddenly remembering the next line of the riddle: “‘A careless man may lose many days, for foolish mistakes he will make’… if we want to get out of this forest, we’ve got to choose the right route. Otherwise we’ll find ourselves wandering in circles.”

Nora regarded the two directions, one eyebrow raised. “They look exactly the same.”

Robin had always prided herself on her instincts and perception. Now, she was beginning to doubt herself. What if she chose wrong and got them both killed?

“It’s okay,” Nora said suddenly. She reached for Robin’s hand and squeezed. “Whichever you choose, I trust you.”

Glancing back into Nora’s eyes, Robin saw immense calm – and, more importantly, faith. Curling her lips upwards, Robin teased, “You’re putting your trust in a thief? Look how far you’ve come.”

“I know better now, I suppose,” Nora said solemnly. “Robin the Sly is more than just a thief.”

“Don’t go around telling people that. It’ll ruin my reputation.”

They grinned at each other. With a furtive glance in both directions, Robin took a deep breath, clasped Nora’s hand in hers, and made a decision.

 ---

TWO DAYS LATER

“Oh my god,” Robin groaned, collapsing dramatically to her knees. “I’ve never been happier to see the sky.”

Nora reached over and slipped the ushanka hat from her head, ruffling her fingers affectionately through Robin’s hair. “Really? I was beginning to enjoy that forest. Peaceful, mysterious, full of secrets…”

Robin frowned up at her as she climbed to her feet again. “You do realize you’re just describing yourself?”

Flashing her a smile, Nora only shrugged. Robin focused on her eyes, which were darting back and forth, shining in the sunlight. As open and expressive as they were, there truly was something enigmatic about them, something glistening. They held secrets, the same way a pot holds layers of deep soil in order to keep the plant safe, the roots held carefully in place. Robin wanted to know them all – she wanted to know everything, no matter how long it took. She’d realized, somewhere between the horror of that week where Nora had been struggling with a fever and now, after they had spent days wandering through the dark woods, avoiding traps and monsters, that she didn’t really want this to end after all. Not if it meant returning to the Commonwealth and watching Nora leave her behind. Robin’s life had been spent pursuing excitement and danger, but no journey had been as exciting or as dangerous as this. And there had been nothing as thrilling as having the General by her side, fighting for her and with her, becoming more important as the days went by.

I should tell her.

The realization made Robin’s throat tighten. She glanced away stubbornly and replaced the hat back on her head. There was no time for heartfelt confessions. Robin didn’t believe that Nora would be particularly surprised – in fact, it was clear that a similar sentiment was felt in return – but she was beginning to doubt that the General would choose her in the end. She wouldn't choose her over the Commonwealth, and the Minutemen, both of whom she was incredibly loyal to. Robin didn’t want to have to worry about saying goodbye until all of this was over. At least then she could wallow in her loss in peace instead of in the face of constant danger.

“So, we’ve finished the first two parts of the riddle,” Nora stated, gratified. “I’m starting to think we might actually make it to the treasure.”

“Imagine.” Robin glanced at the shallow hills around them. As usual, she had no idea where they really were. Monument Mountain was much larger than she’d realized. However, she was beginning to feel intense anticipation as they approached the end of Martin’s coded instructions. “No sign of New Order assassins, or evil giant bears, or Bobbi and her men… we’ve been lucky so far.”

Nora’s hand went to her throat and Robin realized she was touching that pendant again, twisting it between her fingers. “Let’s not jinx it, shall we?”

They began walking again, tilting their bodies into the wind. The mountain path grew wide where the soil was soft and then narrow in the rocky passes. Eventually, they came to a large rock face with a path which was barely there at all, and Nora and Robin had to flatten themselves against the cliff to avoid falling to their deaths into the gully below. There was no trace of civilization in this wilderness apart from a worn out path that snaked through each rocky ridge, winding up towards the mountain’s peak. Mist had begun to crowd the valleys, and when Robin tilted her head to look out over the landscape, the breath was stolen from her throat. Inside the forest, she hadn’t been able to see the big picture. Now she realized she had never set her eyes upon something so wild and beautiful in all of her life – she’d never seen so many trees in one place, so much green-and-gold. If only a place this achingly stunning could feel like home.

“Was all of the world like this before?” Robin asked curiously as they stopped for another break on the other side of the precarious cliff face.

“A long, long time ago… yes. Before us humans came along and ruined it.” Nora grinned. With her dark hair blown about her face by the wind and a spark of life in her eyes, she looked like she belonged here, reflecting the beauty of the wilderness just as the animals and the trees did. Robin smiled at her, again suppressing the urge to speak her mind. The containment was making her more and more miserable, but somehow the words just felt wrong. I love you didn’t sound right, even if spoken out loud. Three words weren’t enough of a description for Robin’s feelings; she floundered trying to understand them herself.

The air had that smell of woodland before rain, harsh wind beginning to whip and scream through the sky. A rough, oily darkness had descended – again, the rain would return. And this time it would catch them on the edge of a slippery cliff. Nora and Robin continued their hike, stumbling against precarious rocks. Even Robin, used to climbing the smoothest of rock faces, found it hard to keep her feet steady. She had never been scared of heights, either, but now the sight of the ground far below was filling her veins with adrenaline. Whenever Nora’s clumsiness almost got the better of her, Robin was forced to do whatever she could to keep them both from falling. This included grabbing her by the straps of her bag, throwing herself onto a lower ledge to offset their weight, and eventually making Nora take out the pickaxe and use it to pin herself to the wall. Once they finally reached flatter land on the other side of the peak, Robin felt raindrops on her face and shoulders. Not only was the sky about to break open, but night was approaching, too – they needed to find cover as quickly as possible.

“Okay, so we’ve succeeded the rocky track…” Robin glanced around the small basin they’d found themselves in – a dip between peaks. “We’re supposed to find some sort of labyrinth.”

“‘Through waters treacherous from time’,” Nora said under her breath. “The river – look.”

The river wound its way through the forest and down a succession of steps, and at the very top of the basin, Robin’s eyes caught sight of a waterfall. The river was long – it would take a while of walking to get to their destination – but this was the first time Robin properly felt like she knew where she was going. The fortune was here, in this very basin, and she could almost smell it. Robin jumped and quickly threw her arms around Nora’s neck, before she excitedly declared, “Let’s go get our treasure!”

The sky had opened once they reached the bottom of the basin and Robin could barely see where she was walking. The river was wider than any Robin had ever seen, the water turbid and brown as it eroded the banks. Branches had been blow in by the storm. Both daunted by the dangerous rapids, Nora and Robin continued up the river’s bank, sheltering themselves as much as they could from the rain underneath the trees. At this point, the wind was howling, and Robin couldn’t hear a word Nora was saying. She eventually realized the other woman was recommending that they cross further up, next to the waterfall. She agreed.

Robin made Nora walk on the side of her, away from the river, not quite trusting that she wouldn’t slip and fall in. As they walked, wind ripping at their clothes, rain sharp against their skin, Robin felt the weather’s power like a hum beneath her skin. It was a radioactive storm, but the vibration wasn’t anything like what she’d felt when it rained in the Commonwealth or the Capital Wasteland – this was the true power of nature. The tingling of ozone in the air as lightning flashed through the sky; the tremor of millions of raindrops pounding into the earth; the swaying of a thousand trees and animals as they weathered the storm. There was nothing quite like it. She laughed and Nora shot her a strange look. Robin didn’t know how to explain why the feeling filled her with such joy now when previously the mountain’s storms had terrified her. Grasping her hand, Nora tugged her faster along the river’s bank. Robin skipped after her, tilting her face towards the canopy so that she could catch more tingling raindrops with her skin.

The roar of the waterfall was even louder than the rain and the thunder combined. It smashed mercilessly against the rocks below, bound on one side by a large cliff wall and on the other by a steep bank. The only way to reach the waterfall was to cross the river; and the only way to cross the river was by using the few sunken boulders as stepping stones.

“We should wait for the rain to stop!” Robin shouted over the noise.

Nora’s reply was firm. “No. I can see a cave behind the waterfall. That’s where we need to go.”

Robin didn’t voice her concerns out loud, knowing that Nora would probably take offense. I don’t think you’ll make it across. Her teeth began to chatter, but more from nervousness than the cold. “Are you sure?”

Nora nodded decisively. “You go first. I’ll follow.”

Every atom in Robin’s body seemed to tense together in overwhelming disagreement with this plan. She bit her tongue. Nora looked at her then. Robin couldn’t help but think she’d never seen such dark eyes with so much light in them. She’d considered recommending that they cross the river together, but when she saw the fierceness and pride in Nora’s gaze, she knew that she would not accept any help. A soft hand touched her face. “It’s okay. I’ll be fine. Focus on getting yourself across – I’ll be right behind you.”

Will you?

Borne out of nervousness, out of sheer will, words fluttered from Robin’s mouth abruptly and without permission:

“I love you.”

Robin’s voice seemed to cut through the roaring noise around them as sharp as a blade, and as soon as she’d said the words, she knew she could never take them back. Whatever the consequences were, she’d accept them, and she’d wear her heart on her sleeve right where it belonged.

Nora looked uncharacteristically astonished for a moment. “What?”

“I’m sorry, I never seem to say it at the right time,” Robin said a little awkwardly. “But it seems like there’ll never be a right time, anyway. So… fuck it. I do. I love you. I’m in love with you." She let out a short sigh. "Feels good to get that off my chest.”

Still gaping at her, Nora stared for a long while. Finally, she demanded, “You’ve said that before?”

“Most of the things I told you while you were recovering from that fever probably got lost to the void.” Robin smiled. Nora was speechless, letting the noise of the storm fill the silence between them once more. Turning, Robin tightened the straps of the bag over her back. “Be careful. I’ll see you on the other side,” she called, walking away quickly before she could hear anything Nora had to say. The beauty of confessing and receiving no answer was that she could pretend Nora loved her too. At least for now.

The stones were as slippery and unstable as Robin had imagined. She had to cling on with both hands and feet as the rushing water on all sides threatened to wash her away. Leaping from one rock to the next, she often paused for a minute at a time to regain her balance and prepare for the next jump. A sheen of icy water coated each boulder and she thanked the traction on the bottom of her boots when they held firm. Rain filled her eyes and her hair clung to her face but she couldn’t spare a hand to wipe her vision clear. Each time she found purchase on a new rock, the other bank seemed even further away. Was Nora behind her, making her own way across? Robin hoped so.

Finally, Robin reached the final boulder peeking from the rapids and had to roll her shoulders forward to protect against the vicious spray. The rock wobbled beneath her, catching her by surprise, and she automatically made the decision to jump again, even though the other bank was much too far to reach. When she threw herself forward, Robin realized in a split second how badly she’d miscalculated. Almost instantly, a wave caught the bottom half of her body and she plunged into the rapids, the current tearing at her frantic arms and legs. Robin swallowed water so she wouldn’t have to breathe it in; she searched for the surface, but she didn’t know which way was up anymore. Everything was spinning and dark, and she realized with a cold fear what was about to happen. The river clutched her in its powerful arms and began to suffocate, pulling her deeper and deeper.

Robin closed her eyes.