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New Dear Hearts and Gentle People (M)

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Offline Jabbathejack

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"Stimpaks, some mentats as well, psycho. I think that's it. Basic stuff."

Yet even if they didn't use it themselves, it would still fetch a price from a trader.

He nodded as the conversation turned to armour.
"I've got what I need for the moment." Joe indicated the boots he now wore. "Anything more I can see if I can salvage later on. I don't hold much faith in a few spikey straps to stop much of anything."

He turned and headed back to the shop floor, choosing a corner towards the back to set down camp. At least it was far enough away from the bodies that they'd left behind. Lowering himself to the floor, he settled with his back against the wall.

Joe took one of the food tins and offered it to Lucy.
"Are you hungry? I'm kind of famished."

In the rush to escape Megaton, he'd barely had time to eat anything. He peeled back the lid on his own and sniffed at the contents tentatively, he wasn't sure what sort of meat it was, but it was alright. It would do.

He fell silent as he ate, not wanting to upset Lucy with too much idle chatter. When he was done, he turned to his new rifle and began to strip it carefully, checking and cleaning each component.


Offline Kreed

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"It's unfortunate for the raiders that they didn't think to take those mentats before we shot em up. Clearly they could have used the extra help." They tapped their temple. Between the respirator, the hat, and the glasses, Joe only had body language and tone of voice to give him any indicator of Akuma's mood. Sadly for the former slave, the latter stayed next to flat and would probably take some time to figure out for the average person. A more practiced and socially intelligent ear, however, might have picked up on the humour teasing the rough edges of the smaller person's voice.

"If you don't plan on using those chems, I could make em worth their weight." The trouble would be finding a vendor willing to buy them, but in Rivet City - where it sounded like there were plenty of intellectual sorts - Akuma was sure that there was a way to argue for the usage of the drugs, even if just for research purposes.

They didn't move as Joe scoped out his real estate for the night. It wasn't until the man settled in to place that Akuma shifted, quietly but almost leisurely strolling across the  dusty floor to join him. Before they could find their own place to settle in, Joe offered them food. It made them freeze, and they didn't immediately answer the man. Slowly, Akuma looked up at him gave a quiet half-snort of amusement.

"I'm not hungry. Thank you."

Their attention turned to settling in. After dropping their backpack to the floor, Akuma set about unrolling their sleeping bag and thin foam mattress and flatting their bedding with the palms of their hands. After a moment of consideration, they straightened up and wandered a short distance away, gathering up a few of the longer planks that the raiders used to walk back and forth from the tops of the aisles. They came back with a couple under each arm and wedged them at a diagonal between the wall and the closest shelf.

"I'm going to see if these raiders had any mattresses lying around or something..."

Akuma didn't provide much explanation before disappearing into the darkness of the store. Gradually, they returned with a combination of a few mattresses, sleeping bags, and tarps. They hoisted all but one mattress onto the planks and - except for the cleanest sleeping bag - opened up the tarps and other fabrics to their full square footage and draped them over the lifted mattresses, creating a dark but well insulated lean-to which blocked out the cold creeping in from the ruined main entrance.

"That's for you." They jerked their head toward the mattress and sleeping bag on the floor. "Obviously, can't take the whole bed when we leave but it'll be nice for the night."


Offline Jabbathejack

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When Lucy froze at his clumsy offering of food, Joe instinctively froze as well, feeling the rush of panic at the prospect of upsetting his companion. For a moment, they stared at each other, before Lucy finally seemed to relax and Joe found himself exhaling softly in relief.

"Sorry." He whispered automatically and he took the declined tin and returned it to his pack. He nodded when Lucy got up, still wary.

With Beckett, he had learned to read his expressions and body language, catching on the sharp tone that often preempted a beating. With Lucy, he had no such tells, or if there were any, he would have to learn them. He wondered, not for the first time, what lay beneath the mask and respirator. Did they hide a disfigurement that needed to be hidden from the rest of the world?

When they returned, Joe automatically set aside his rifle and stood, helping them set up the shelter. In only a few minutes, they had a half decent shelter built.

He stared at Lucy in surprise as they indicated that the mattress was for him. He opened his mouth to ask if they were sure, then hurriedly closed it again.

"Thank you." He murmured softly and he sat down, reaching again for his rifle. It was a decent model, better kept than a lot of the ones that they found in the wasteland.

He glanced up at Lucy, pausing for a moment before he spoke.
"Do you have anything that you want cleaned? I'm not too bad at maintenance. I don't mind."

In truth, it was something that he liked doing. It gave him something useful to do with hands, keeping his mind focused on something steady and methodical, despite the turmoil that his life might be right then.


Offline Kreed

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"You don't need to apologize for offering something to me." It occurred to Akuma that Joe couldn't read their expressions, and while their voice was normally quite flat, it wouldn't do to have a complete stranger going blind with their responses. Especially since this was someone who was in desperate need of support and a space to heal. They realized that they'd have to be explicitly clear with their language, because between their kinestics and their tone of voice, their intentions were as clear as mud. "...I appreciate it. I'm just...not really hungry. I'd rather you eat. You need to rest up and heal."

Speaking of, it would do well to settle down for the night. Akuma removed their sunglasses and hung them on the leather band around their hat before setting their bag down. They untied their rolled sleeping bag from the top and spread it out before removing their boots. They used their socked feet to smooth out the sides of their makeshift bed as Susana slowly ambled back over to flop down at the foot of the bag with a weary sigh.

Akuma looked up suddenly when Joe thanked them - in part due to their surprise, but also because the barrel of his rifle caught the glint of the moonlight. Without the darkness of their shades to conceal their eyes, their expressions and features were somewhat more visible. Initially, they frowned with suspicion, but quickly relaxed when they realized Joe was merely moving to clean his new gun. The sliver of face that showed between the respirator and the brim of their hat was so pale, it all but glowed in the light of the fire and the moon. Their brows, now slack, were pale as well, somewhere between silver, white, and the palest blondes; and thick with a soft arch. Their body relaxed, and their monolid eyes, kohl-lined, catlike and milk-blue flitted from the barrel of the weapon onto the face of their new tag-along. The smallest creases grew underneath them as the southerner smiled faintly.

"You're welcome."

The smile wilted when Joe asked Akuma if they wanted him to clean their guns. Akuma glanced toward their bag and grunted in thought, frowning as they mulled over the pros and cons. On one hand, they barely knew each other. Putting all of their weapons in this man's hands was a hell of a gamble. Even if he didn't intend to use the guns against them, it meant feeling comfortable enough with being unarmed around a stranger. On the other hand... it would give the poor man something to do, a sense of purpose, and...autonomy. Akuma reminded themselves of the decision they made seconds before to express themselves clearly and sighed.

"How about this: I keep my pistol to myself, but you can clean anything else you'd like. Starting with my rifle." They slipped the gun off their shoulder and set the safety on, unloading the magazine before setting it down within a foot or so of Joe. "No offense", they added, "we've only just met, so I like to keep a little something on me for protection. I'm sure you get it."


Offline Jabbathejack

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Joe watched transfixed as Lucy removed their glasses; it was just a small thing, but to Joe, it was important. Seeing a person's eyes gave a lot more information on their motives. He was surprised; Lucy seemed to be so pale, more so than anyone he had ever seen before. Like he imagined a ghost. Their hair was white, like an older person, yet their body was young. Male or female, he still didn't know, but it wasn't like something like that was important.

As he watched, he could see the debate about letting him alone with one of their guns. Of course, it was understood. It was expected. He was a stranger, after all.

"I'll be quick." He murmured softly as he reached out slowly for the gun.

"Its good to have something to focus on." Joe kept his attention focused on the gun as he cleaned it methodically. "Keeps my fingers occupied."

When he was done, he slid the gun back over to its original position and he sat back so that Lucy could retrieve it. He watched and waited, remembering the feeling of trepidation that he often felt whenever he cleaned Beckett's guns. Would his work be accepted?


Offline Kreed

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True to their word, Lucy handed over the rifle without a sign of distrust. If their new tag-along were to try anything, it would take them longer to line up their shot with the longer barrel than it would be for them to shoot Rosette from the hip. As far as the Southerner was concerned, they had absolutely nothing to worry about, and that was assuming Joe did turn on him. Which, they suspected, wasn't too likely anyway.

"Take your time. We ain't in any rush."

They settled down on their mat and moved their bag to the side. Back in Megaton, they'd gone through the trouble of sorting through everything prior to tucking in for the night. It was just shame they'd wasted those counterfeit caps on something they didn't even to use. Akuma stretched out, propping their socked feet up on the back of the half-asleep yao guai. The bear lifted its head slightly, turning to nibble harmlessly at their toes before flopping back down. Akuma shifted to lie on their back, cupping the back of their head in their hands. They shifted their hat forward over their face, a big messy bun of thick, white curls flopping out from underneath the brim.

"Know what you mean", they murmured in response to Joe's comment on working with his hands. Lazily, they jerked their thumb towards their supplies. A beat-up guitar case covered in stickers, dirt, and graffiti sat lopsided up against one of the metal aisles beside their backpack. "When I get itchy fingers, I hit the strings." But there would be no guitar playing tonight. That was a concert for another day.

When the man finished his work, it was a moment before Akuma reacted. An untrained eye might have suspected them of sleeping, but after a seconds of stillness, they shifted their hat to peer over at Joe and examined their rifle where it lay. Slowly, they sat up and picked up, eyes scanning Joe's face before setting it in their lap. It was clear the man wanted input, so they gave the gun a thorough once-over, shifting to unload and look down the barrel with the light of their Pip-boy before humming in acknowledgement.

"That Beckett guy made you clean his guns, huh."

It was more statement than question, because it was evident by how much care the man had put into his work, and how anxiously he looked on as Akuma inspected the outcome. "I can tell. You did a good job."

A pause. Blue eyes settled on the man before Akuma sighed. Clearly, Joe was still at a ten as far as restlessness went. He wouldn't be getting any sleep any time soon. One gun wasn't enough to keep antsy hands busy. They lowered their gaze toward their lap for a moment, thinking a few seconds before decidedly setting their rifle between themselves and the wall. After a moment, they removed their pistol from their holster. "This is my favorite gun, but she could use that kind of cleaning up and you look like you really need something to do, else I reckon you won't be sleeping none."

He offered Rosette with an open palm, eyes leveling on Joe's face, calm but scrutinizing. Intense. "I trust you."


Offline Jabbathejack

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Joe glanced at the battered case, frowning slightly; he had assumed that it held weaponry, not an actual musical instrument. There wasn't too much of that these days, cept the stuff playing on the radios, but he knew that most of that was stuff recorded long before any of them had ever been born. Before the war.

Turning back to Lucy, Joe slowly exhaled the breath that he hadn't been conscious of holding. The stranger seemed so relaxed, their feet resting on the back of the yao guai with complete trust. He wondered how long it had taken to achieve such a bond.

Just when he thought they'd fallen asleep, Lucy moved to check his work. Joe frowned, waiting for the verdict.

"Yes." He replied softly. "Other things too."

He did not elaborate, yet in truth it was more that cleaning guns had been something that he had done before he was captured. It was a throwback to easier times that he had managed to hold on to, taking his mind away from whatever pain he had been in.

Apparently he had passed the test, but to his surprise, Lucy even offered their favourite gun, staring at him with an intensity that Joe found disconcerting. Slowly, he reached forward and took the offered gun, settling back to examine it. It was a well balanced weapon; he could imagine with the modifications that it packed quite a punch.

He forced himself to slow down this time, taking care as he cleaned it, finding the process relaxing to a degree.


Offline Kreed

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Other things. He didn't need to elaborate. A low hum of understanding rumbled in Akuma's throat. Their eyes were soft, but it wasn't a matter of pity. They broke the thread formed between them and looked away, eyes lowering and shrouded by snow-white lashes. "Well. You're a free man now", they whispered, "and you can do anything you want now."

On the outside, the stranger appeared to relax, shifting their hat and stretching before sinking deeper against the floor. Bones popped in their back and shoulders as they settled in again. Just when it seemed as though they might be asleep, they would glance over and check on Joe's progress before resuming their rest. If they had any protests, they didn't make them known. Before long, the yao guai, Susana, was snoring in a slow, steady rhythm. Akuma, however, still appeared to be wide awake.


Offline Jabbathejack

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"Yeah." Joe whispered, his voice soft as he dropped his gaze down, focusing on his work. He was silent for a long time as he worked, but his mind was reeling at the prospect of being free. It felt as if he had almost forgotten what that was like.

"Don't really know..."

He muttered, keeping his gaze low. He glanced up as he heard the snores, but he realised it was the bear rather than his companion that they came from. He finished cleaning the gun and he slid it out towards Lucy before leaning back against the wall.


Offline Kreed

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"You don't have to know. Not right away, or even ever." Akuma shrugged from where they lay and didn't look up towards Joe as they spoke. "For some people, that's really scary. For others...it's liberating. Not knowing. Not having to care."

They shook their head. For themselves, the thought of having no clear trajectory was terrifying. The thought of being lost, drifting without meaning, was one that had plagued them for far too long. It wasn't a fate they'd wish upon anybody else, but some...were truly content to have no direction. It gave them the freedom to go anywhere. Joe, he suspected, was not one of those people.

"At any rate, you can come with me until then. The right thing will come along if you ain't looking too hard for it."

A hand shot out with lightning reflexes, snapping up the pistol that Joe slid across the floor. Almost just as quickly, it vanished into its holster and under the folds of the stranger's jacket. "Looks good. Feels good. I appreciate it." Idly, they popped their knuckles before settling back into place. It was as though they had never moved.

"Should get some sleep while it's still dark. Make use of the daylight come sunup."


Offline Jabbathejack

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Just as he was beginning to relax, Lucy moved so fast, it made him snap upright, instinctively reaching for his own rifle with a sharp intake of breath. Breathing hard, he realised that there was no danger and he slowly settled back, his heart hammering.

Sleep. Yeah... Joe doubted that he'd be able to sleep at all, after everything they'd been through over the last few hours. Yet even so, now that he had finally had a chance to sit quietly, he realised that he was nearing exhaustion.

Joe lay back, moving slowly and stiffly. After a while staring up at the ceiling, he finally fell asleep, automatically moving onto his side so that he didn't snore too much.


Offline Kreed

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Throughout the night, Joe was not woken up to relieve the night watch. Dawn came, and the east-facing windows glowed a soft neon gold in the radioactive dust of the old mart. The yao guai, Susana, had at some point in the night migrated to take over the entirety of Lucy's bedroll. Lucy themselves, on the other hand, was noticeably absent. When Joe woke with a start, the bear sleepily opened her eyes and groaned, swiping a large paw over her blistered white muzzle to wipe the sleep from her eyes.

She watched Joe, eyelids drooping with sleepiness though her ears swiveled forward, alert and waiting for his next move. Behind them, Akuma silently re-entered the building, casting a faint blue shadow on the cracked tile floors as they moved.

"Did I wake you?" They questioned. "You needed the rest pretty bad. You should sleep in a little if you can. Otherwise, let's get a move on."


Offline Jabbathejack

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Joe woke with the horrible realisation that he had overslept. His eyes wide with panic, he dragged himself upright hurriedly. Yet he was alone with just the yao guai for company and he realised that he wasn't held under Beckett's thumb anymore. He heaved a sigh, rubbing at his face; this whole situation was going to have to take some getting used to.

He wheeled as Lucy spoke from behind him, still with the residual effects of his panic.
"I... I'm alright." He couldn't keep the stutter out of his voice, betraying his words for the lies they really were. "I'll be ready in no time."

Immediately, he dropped to one knee and began to roll up his makeshift bedding, tying it securely to his pack ready for travel.


Offline Kreed

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While it was obvious the man was lying, Akuma knew it would do their building trust little good to come out and say Joe was completely full of shit. This was a matter of gentle phrasing and caring tone of voice, neither of which were the Southerner's forte nor their cup of sweet tea. Still, they considered, they wanted to give the poor soul what they themselves had wanted desperately in their own darkest hour. They would have to do what they could to try and provide support. Even if they had to take their dry, shrivelled soul, and wring out a couple drops of kindness like an old, stiff, dirty towel.

"If we're going to travel together", they approached carefully, well within Joe's line of sight, with a measured pace so that he had time to see they weren't presenting a threat, "it's important that we maintain transparency with one another."

Big words coming from someone who sleeps with a respirator on their face.

"It's important you let me know how you're feeling and what you need from me to help support you. You won't be able to heal if you keep your emotions bottled up. I know you must want to try and prove your worth to me by trying to remain strong, but I don't want you to worry about that right now. You need some time to heal from what happened to you, and that means taking it easy when you need to. Once you're feeling better, that's when you'll truly be at your best. Until then, I just expect you to keep me updated and let me know how I can help. Is that fair?"

They didn't yet move to pack up their own things. They wanted Joe to know he had their full attention. And, honestly, it was taking their complete focus to try and keep their normally flat and robotic tone cut and softened down to something palatable.