sideways: [inside] boy looking upwards to next challenge (►we're coming back for more)
[personal profile] sideways
Title: Like a Thief in the Night
Rating: PG
Series: Fallout: New Vegas (original characters)
Wordcount: 1922
Summary: In at least one 'verse, Larkin and Vivian don't start off on the best of footings.
Remarks: What the devil I cannot stop writing lately, and also when will I be any good at action. Viv is still Kris'.



Larkin woke without knowing why, and that said all it needed to.

She kept her breathing even, her body curled motionless, and slitted her eyes open. The fire still had fuel; she could feel the warmth at her back, and long shadows flickered across the ground with every shift in the air. Should be enough to keep a coyote wary, make a molerat skirt wide, give even a radscorpion pause. The list of critters who saw fire as invitation was short and foreboding.

Glass clinked very softly nearby.

The poncho was bunched close around her but not tangled, which was a small mercy. Made sliding a hand down to the holster at her hip that much easier; she always kept it unclipped at night, had never been enough of a toss-and-turner to worry about throwing it loose as she slept. Her rifle was close and tempting, but there'd be no reaching for it without her intruder noticing, and a 10mm hole in the head was as effective as any other.

Shadows bunched; someone exhaled raggedly, scarce feet away. Just one, Larkin thought, and tightened her grip.

She moved quick, no hesitation, throwing the poncho off and clear in the same moment she pushed up into a seated position and swung the pistol towards whoever was elbow-deep in her goddamn bag. There was a surprised huff, like a half-formed shout, and then a hard hand grabbed her around the wrist and shoved her aim high.

The pistol went off with a crack that bounced twice off the rocky cliffs, and the intruder swore almost as loudly. Nails dug in deep enough to draw blood and they yanked her arm sideways, twisting it to the point of pain, a grip she couldn’t break – Larkin realised she wasn't going to win the arm-wrestle about the same time they seemed to figure out she was no brawler.

A second rough wrench sent a shock through to her shoulder and Larkin felt the pistol slipping from her grasp, but she was already moving in counter; rocked backwards to curl her knees to her chest, and then lashed out sharp and vicious with both feet. A strangled yelp said she'd connected as hoped – her boots were by the fire, assuming they weren't already on the intruder's feet, but as close as they were there was no missing the soft vulnerabilities of their torso. The grasping fingers weakened and she pulled back hard, tearing free, letting herself go over – the pistol fell somewhere in the sands, but no matter. She kept the momentum, rolling gracelessly to the other side of her bedroll, and there was the reassuring shape of her repeater underhand. Larkin hooked it one-handed and lunged to her feet, hauled back hard on the loading-lever chamber the rounds, sought her target before they could take up her lost weapon or draw their own-

"Wait, wait!" Hoarse, urgent, almost angry. "Just – shit, don't shoot. I'm no danger."

Larkin stood, chest heaving, adrenaline a burn in her gut. The firelight danced wildly, casting a dozen jumpy movements to make a rudely woken traveller twitchy on the trigger, but the one dark lump stayed motionless, still down on hands and knees with an arm half-raised, signalling stop more than surrender.

"Both hands," Larkin said.

"Alright," the intruder said – a woman, Larkin was starting to think, if only by the voice. "Just take it easy now." She shuffled, easing up into a kneel, but even lifted her left arm was crooked low and close to her body. What little light there was suggested worn leather and a long gun of some kind slung across her back, short-shaven hair and skin dark enough to make picking out features difficult. Not junked up enough to be Viper, but no prospector or caravaneer should be poking around someone else’s pack.

“Look,” the woman started, but fell silent when Larkin tsked in sharp warning.

“There others?”

“No. I’m alone.” She seemed to realise how that sounded, and added, “Not to say there aren’t people who’d miss me.”

Didn’t like getting a look at that gun. Didn’t like not knowing how many more were on her. The dark was a confounding element – made it hard to read her, impossible to see anyone else coming overland, and all too easy to feint or slip a weapon free. Could tell her to turn around and start walking for the opposite horizon, but Larkin would have to pack up camp and move out herself to be sure of safety. They both knew who was stronger in a struggle now.

Something in her face showed, or maybe the silence just sounded like bad news. The woman said, “No, wait.”

“Shoulda considered those people,” Larkin said, sighted down the rifle-

I’m a courier.”

And paused.

Shifted her feet. Dragged her tongue along her teeth as her finger teased the trigger, and finally squinted at the woman with sincere annoyance. “That story work on a lot of folk?”

She’d half-turned, thrown an arm up in front of her face in flinching anticipation of a sour ending. Now the woman lowered it just a little and cast Larkin a wary look. “Well, it didn’t work on the Fiends who put an energy bolt through my shoulder, but hope springs eternal I guess.”

“Kinda south for Fiends,” Larkin said sceptically.

“They didn’t want to hear that either.”

Kept her composure well enough, Larkin would give her that. Spoke with conviction said that either she was telling the truth or lying with skill, and that was not a call that wanted misjudging; whether it was a knife in the back or a slighted faction coming down on her head, the consequences weren't worth courting. Larkin stifled a tired sigh. Sun wasn’t anywhere near the horizon yet and it would be so much easier to just put a bullet in her and go back to sleep.

“Don’t see a band,” she said instead.

Granted it wasn’t easy to see a whole lot of detail in this lighting, but the woman didn’t protest its existence. Just said, sounding confused, “A what?”

Strike one. “A badge, a band. Some kinda marker says who you work for.”

“Oh. Right.” She caught the twist of a grimace crossing the woman’s face. “Believe me when I say I know how this’ll sound, but I just never took to wearing one.”

“Of course,” Larkin drawled. “Didn’t want to try ‘the Fiends stole it, ma’am, I swear’?”

“You want a detailed description of Hobb and Co’s HQ?” the woman said, snappish now. “You want me to name everyone from old lady Hobb down to the kid who licks envelopes closed? I can show you the goddamn package if that’s what you need.” Her arm shifted, reaching for her jacket.

Larkin tensed, made a warning sound low in her throat, and the woman froze. Slowly lifted her arm clear again. It looked shaky in the firelight.

“Look. I’m not after trouble,” the woman said, and Larkin could hear the thready exhaustion behind the words. “I was on a run, I walked into a situation, I lost my pack and everything I need to fix up the holes in my body, so you can appreciate it’s not been a good day for me. I was just looking for supplies.”

“And you didn’t consider asking?”

“Couldn’t risk you saying no.”

Larkin canted her head.

The woman’s tone turned a touch sulky. “Yeah, well. Don’t need to tell me how that worked out. The point is I’m not out to do you harm.”

“And I’m not so charitable,” Larkin said, “as to count being robbed as harmless.”

The woman hitched out a sigh that sounded like it came through clenched teeth. “I wasn’t going to take more than a stimpak or two, maybe a little water. That’s all. Only enough to keep me going.” Dropped to a mutter to add, “But of course, you’re a light sleeper.”

“You’re a loud walker.” A lie. Of all the things she didn’t like about tonight’s adventures, the fact someone got within arm’s reach of her without notice tops the list.

She could tell the woman knew it for untruth by the flash of indignation. “I could have pulled a gun on you and I didn’t. Hell, could have grabbed the whole damn bag and made a run for it, and that would have done you harm.”

“Oh?” Larkin said; let it come out sincere and interested. “And how far did you figure you could run?”

“You tell me,” the woman said, “since you’re the one still insisting I’m a threat.”

Had to bite back a grin at that. She was awful mouthy for being on the other end of a gun, but if her story was true – and Larkin was starting to lean that way – then a thinning temper was understandable.

“You kept the package.”

“What?”

“The package,” Larkin said. “You get shot by Fiends, lose all your worldly belongings, and you keep hold of the package?”

“It’s in the job description,” the woman said with real affront, like anything less would be a stain on her pride, and with that Larkin knew she was telling the truth. Had met that attitude often enough.

Which meant it really was a case of attempted thievery by a courier, out in the wastes, away from any proper road. Oh, but did the world have a strange sense of humour sometimes.

Didn’t mean she was going to go completely reckless now. Larkin jerked the rifle a little, was gratified to see it still elicited a wince. “Toss the gun on your back aside.”

The woman just stared a moment then, very cautiously, began to lower her arms. “You should know I’ve got more than that on me.”

“Oh, I figured,” Larkin said dryly. “But one step at a time.”

It was clear that unstrapping the gun wasn’t easy for the woman; still wasn’t moving that left arm much, and outright hissed a curse at one point, but she managed to get it up over her head and slung it to the side quickly, as if worried Larkin would get the wrong idea if she held onto it for a second too long. “Pistol at my waist,” the woman said, like a polite warning.

“That too. And your knife.” Wouldn’t be much of a wasteland wanderer if she didn’t have one.

The woman snorted with a bitter kind of amusement, tugging the promised pistol free of its holster. “So, shall I take this as a good sign, or you just not wanting to get blood everywhere?”

“Gums up the mechanisms something fierce,” Larkin agreed, and caught a sour look for it. The pistol hit the dirt near the shotgun and, sure enough, a knife followed it. Could still have more on her, but at least that evened out the standings a bit, made a point that’d stick past Larkin lowering her rifle. Besides, she was starting to rethink just who’d win another round of wrestling. The injury was clearly paining pretty bad.

The woman lifted her right arm again, wiggled her fingers in an eloquently sarcastic manner. “Anything more? Pledge of allegiance, perhaps, or a reciting of the courier code?”

Just for that, Larkin held position for a silent few seconds, long enough for the attitude to slip and tension creep back in – and then uncocked the rifle. Swung it back up against her shoulder, and watched the woman sag in exhausted relief. “No need, I’m familiar. Courier looks after courier, right?”

It took her a moment – or maybe she was just trying not fall at the way onto her face – but a few beats later the woman looked up, sharpish, incredulous. Larkin turned, let the firelight catch her arm. Thumbed the badge stitched roughly onto the sleeve.

“Oh, don't say it,” the woman said flatly.

“Aw, don’t be like that,” Larkin said, and grinned, wide and cheerful. “Comrade.”
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