Disclaimer- I do not own Fallout. The only thing I own is my Sole Survivor's character.

Author's Notes- There's pretty much nothing for me to say. Really, nothing. I hope you all enjoy regardless.

A world that we see

Plagued by deceit

A fate of the world

In the hands of belief

Exile or death

To fight or to flee

Is this what it means to be free?

Born from the ashes of earth we sleep

Is this what it means to be free?

-Mechina, The World We Lost

It was no secret that Cait loved fighting. Nothing, not even the strongest chems, could compare to the feeling she got when she threw herself at her next opponent, head-on, with an insatiable drive to win. She loved it even more when her targets fought without holding back - it made every victory all the sweeter, knowing that even when they gave it their all, they still didn't have enough power or determination to defeat the hardened Irish woman. The last three years of her life revolved solely around survival via combat. Losing was never going to be an option; not if Cait had anything to say about it.

Life in the Combat Zone was harsh, but simple. If you wanted to eat, you had to fight. If you wanted to live, you had to win. The prize caps she won after each fight were also a nice bonus.

And speaking of winning or dying...

"Aww, what's the matter? Ashamed you got yer arse beaten by a girl?" she asked in a deceptively sweet voice to her current opponent. Some raider from the southwest, armed with a pool cue and protected by rusty pieces of scrap metal which barely passed as armor. Maybe not even that, seeing as there were numerous exposed areas of flesh not covered by the set, and the fact that all of his visible, normally tanned skin was beaten an ugly shade of black and blue by Cait's trusty baseball bat.

She stood, heaving but only slightly fatigued, over the broken body of the raider sprawled out on the floor of the Combat Zone's caged arena. The man didn't seem to hear her earlier taunt, babbling incoherently instead, yet making no effort to get up. Hmm, she must've either broken a few bones or whacked his head a bit too hard during their fight. Oh well. He wouldn't have to worry about any of that for long, anyway.

Cait repeatedly tapped her bat into the palm of her hand, pausing to bask in the guttural cheers and angry curses emanating from the scum populating the audience. She heard a few of the outlaws in particular cry out: "Lady's a fucking psycho!", "Next time you won't be so lucky, bitch!", and "Finish his sorry ass!". She ignored the snide insults, since picking another fight with the audience would've driven poor Tommy up a wall, but finishing her opponent off? That was something she would be more than happy to oblige.

"Sorry mate, but you know the rules. Can't have some lousy piss-poor fighter ruin it for the rest of us, can we?" She grinned viciously at the downed raider.

She had to strain her ears over the sound of the crowd to hear the man's response. "No, please... Please don't kill me... I just needed the caps, I swear..."

Bullshit. He'd come into the arena bragging about all the different ways he'd have fun with her once she was too injured to fight back. It had honestly been a pathetic match; Cait wasn't the reigning three-year champion of the Commonwealth's most dangerous fight club because she spent her off hours sucking Lonegan's ghoulified dick. She'd earned her title the hard way, by showing her stubborn refusal to ever let anyone have that kind of power over her again, consequences be damned.

She was, in her opinion, the most ruthless bitch in all of the greater Boston area. And while she wasn't incapable of showing mercy... well, who was going to miss a single, lowlife raider?


The man screamed as Cait's baseball bat connected with his nose, instantly shattering it into dozens of tiny bone fragments.

"You say you need caps, huh?" the redhead growled, raising her weapon to strike a second time. "Well guess what?"


The raider was openly sobbing at this point, his tears mixing with the blood and snot running down the sides of his face.

"So do I!"


She felt her opponent's skull cave in under her last hit, and the man's body instantly went limp. Cait panted heavily, prying her bat free and examining the sticky red mess coating the blunt end. This part of the job wasn't always so easy. She'd fought all kinds of different people during her time here, and a few of them had even managed to gain her respect, but still - rules were rules. She wasn't above killing a random stranger for a hot meal. If there was anything she'd learned in her twenty-six years of tortured existence, it was to always look out for number one.

Speaking of "number one"... Tommy Lonegan, her boss (not owner - fuck whatever the contract said!), entered the arena from the sidelines and strode toward her with all the charisma and swagger a rotting ghoul could hope to muster. Once again repeating a routine she'd now performed dozens of times, Cait tossed her weapon to the ground and didn't resist as the Combat Zone's founder grabbed her free arm. He hoisted it skyward in victory, smirking at the noisy applause his paying customers gave to the two of them.

"Now that's gotta be one of the most brutal match-ups I've seen in decades! This poor son of a bitch learned the hard way what makes the Combat Zone the ballsiest fight club in all the wasteland: Sometimes, it's all pain and no gain!"

The other raiders in the crowd continued to cheer, stomping and hooting in approval at the merciless display of violence they'd just witnessed. Tommy was momentarily lost in the applause, soaking in all the attention he was getting. Cait rolled her eyes at his vanity, but like any obedient combatant, was forced to play along with his little shtick. He could send her back to her old life with only a signed piece of paper if he wanted to.

Tommy bellowed, "I present to you all the winner of this fight, our reigning champion, the red hot engine of destruction, CAAAAAIIIIIIT!"

Ugh, the noise was starting to make her head hurt. The Combat Zone was already the farthest thing from being a place of class, and yet it had somehow gotten more... disgusting, ever since this band of thugs scared away all the customers from Diamond City and became the new regular clientele. Cait hated their goddamn guts. She wasn't scared of them, although some of the lustful looks they gave her from their seats in the audience were enough to make her skin crawl.

The cheers and celebrations were cut short when a raider near the back stands shouted, "Hey, who the hell is this guy?!"

All eyes, including Cait's, turned to the doors leading to the building's lobby. She could vaguely see a figure standing at the entrance, although the dim lighting in that area made it hard to make out any features. What she could tell was that the figure was accompanied by some kind of animal, likely a large dog.

"What the... he ain't supposed to be in here! Rip 'em to shreds!" a second raider yelled, unholstering a crude automatic pipe rifle.

"Oh no," Tommy moaned, releasing Cait's arm. A look of mixed worry and resignation was etched over his decayed face. "They can't honestly be this stupid. Please tell me they ain't gonna..."

All hell broke loose.

Both the ghoul and his prized fighter barely made it to cover behind a reinforced metal wall on the side of the cage when the bullets started flying. Cait crouched into a corner and covered her ears, futilely attempting to drown out the combined noise of automatic rifle fire, powerful shotgun blasts, the loud cracks of hunting rifle shots, and a dog barking ferociously. The one sound trumping all of that, however, was the steady scream of a minigun unleashing a hail of 5mm death at anything unlucky enough to get caught in its sights.

Just what the FUCK was going on?! Everything was perfectly normal five minutes ago!... Okay, maybe not normal normal, but as close to an average day as one could get in the Combat Zone. Then the raider audience had to randomly go apeshit against some nobody who probably wandered in by accident. Cait decided, if she survived this, that she would inhale half a week's worth of Jet all at once and pass out, just to forget that this day ever happened.

The firefight dragged on, now accompanied by the occasional explosion. How? It was essentially an entire theater packed with raiders against what looked like a single person and a dog. Whoever was fighting against this pissed off bunch, she had to give them credit for surviving this long. Raiders didn't usually bring out the grenades unless they were getting desperate - they carried a high risk of damaging whatever valuable salvage their victims might have been carrying.

She and Tommy both flinched when a raider was tackled into the side of the cage by a large German Shepherd clad in heavy metal armor. The animal wasted no time moving in for the kill, clamping its powerful jaws around the man's throat and tearing into his delicate arteries.

"That one was ugly, anyway." Cait said with a small chuckle.

"Quit joking around! Don't you realize we're in danger?" Tommy hissed.

The pit fighter rolled her eyes. "I've always been in danger living here, Lonegan. 'Bout time you saw how your employees get by."

"Why you ungrateful little-!"

"WOOOOOOO!" A male's voice in the stands cut off their soon-to-be argument. "Let's go, raiders! Don't you want to keep the party going? 'Cause I'm having the time of my life right now! Or did you guys finally realize that picking a fight with me was a very bad idea?"

She heard the minigun spool up and fire again, followed shortly by a fresh chorus of screams. Cait couldn't remember the last time she smelled so much blood in one place before.

Finally, after another nerve-wracking thirty seconds of gunfire and shouting, the carnage died down.

"... You think they're done out there?" Tommy murmured, breaking the silence. He called out to whoever was left alive, "We don't want any trouble! Not any more, at least."

"Oh, just peek yer head up, ya damn coward!" Cait snapped at him.

The ghoul scoffed. "To heck with that; I'm too pretty to go out like this. Hey! Whoever's out there, why don't you come over here, and show us you mean no harm? We were rootin' for you the whole time!"

More silence. Then, a pair of heavy footsteps was heard walking over to the cage's entrance.

Cait's jaw dropped. Was her boss a goddamn idiot?! What if it was a raider who survived? There would be nothing stopping them from killing both herself and Tommy, stealing whatever valuables they owned, and passing it off as an accident. And what if, by some freak coincidence, the unknown drifter and his dog succeeded in killing all the raiders? She'd left her shotgun next to her sleeping bag and Tommy wasn't armed. They wouldn't be able to defend themselves if the stranger turned out to be hostile. She wanted to punch the ugly son of a bitch right where his nose should've been.

Pampered piece of shit knew nothing about how the real world worked...

She put her hatred for her employer aside momentarily and steeled herself when the stranger rounded a corner and entered the arena proper, the armored canine trotting alongside him.

Her first instinct was to call him a Gunner mercenary. He was an average looking Caucasian, clad in a full suit of sturdy combat armor with a pale khaki color. Under the armor he wore a light green button-up shirt with the sleeves rolled up, a pair of tattered brown jeans, and mud-encrusted black work boots. A simple brown newsboy cap was worn over his unkempt, shoulder-length black hair. His eyes were covered by a pair of tinted goggles, and a black bandana with a grinning skull pattern concealed his mouth. She could see the barrel of the minigun he used earlier sticking out of a large leather backpack.

She didn't miss the blood coating the spikes and barbed wire attached along the length of the weapon.

He could've passed as a normal Gunner... if not for the Pip-Boy 3000 strapped to his left forearm. Where did he get that? Was he from the nearby Vault 81? No, that couldn't be it - even if he was Vault security, she doubted any of them received enough specialized training to combat a whole raider gang, much less get permission to wield a minigun. Maybe he scavenged it from a junkyard or something?

As the man approached the frightened duo, he lifted his goggles up with one hand while simultaneously lowering his bandana with the other, giving a clear view of his face. He appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, with electric blue eyes and a week's worth of facial hair around his jaw.

He looked briefly at Cait, giving her a small nod, before turning his attention over to Tommy.

"I presume you're the owner of this establishment?" he dryly asked. "I'd like to file a complaint."

Cait found herself grinning. First he trashes Tommy's entire business, then he goes and insults it in front of her boss' face? She liked this guy already.

The ghoul stood up from his crouching position and dusted his suit off. "Is it over? Well, that could've gone worse, I suppose."

"Heh. I dunno. Seemed quite the performance from where I was standin'," Cait interjected, still openly smiling. She survived, and that's what counted the most. She held no lost love for any of the raiders.

Tommy scowled, temporarily forgetting about their "guest" to berate her. "Are you fucking high or something? Why am I asking, of course you are." He sneered nastily.

"Hey," the new guy frowned. "Isn't she your employee? You can't speak to her like that."

"Was still winnin' the fight, wasn't I?" Cait bit back, ignoring him. As far as she was concerned, this was between her and her contract holder.

"You're strung out and getting sloppy is what you are," Tommy retorted.

... Dammit, he had a point. She'd have to up the dosages if she wanted to keep herself in prime fighting condition. Of course, there was no way in Hell she was letting him know he was right - he'd never live it down. Adding to that, her current payment wasn't enough to keep up with her growing need for chems. Perhaps she could steal a few from somewhere...

"'Course, I suppose you ain't got to worry about that now. Seems this one just put us out of business." Tommy continued, now glaring at the armored man standing a few feet away.

Wait... what?

"I'm not sure if I should kiss you or have my little bird here feed you your own entrails," the businessman growled.

"Come on now. I didn't wreck the Combat Zone that badly," the stranger insisted. As if on cue, some damaged wooden beams holding up a shanty structure collapsed under its weight, sending the shack crashing down into the stands.

The quartet watched the destruction unfold in silence. "Besides," he spoke up, "it's not my fault that this place doesn't meet standard construction safety protocols."

"And I told you to quit callin' me that!" Cait cut in. Feeding someone their own entrails... She had only done that once, okay?! She was in a foul mood that day, she was irritated from a short withdrawal, and her opponent had been an utter jerkass who totally had it coming. She was denied dinner for three days straight after that particular match.

"Look, for what it's worth, I'm sorry. I was just defending myself, and you two could've gotten mixed up in the trouble." The black-haired man apologized.

Tommy gave a loud snort; it wasn't a pleasant sound. "Trouble? Nah. But keeping those idiots entertained was what kept the lights on. Not exactly sure what we're gonna do now."

"To hell with 'em." Cait said dismissively. "More'll come. Just need a quick breather and I'll be ready to go."

Despite everything that had happened, she wasn't worried. As long as there were raiders, psychopaths, and other scum populating the Commonwealth, then Tommy would be able to get the Combat Zone back on its feet without too much trouble.

So she was honestly surprised when Tommy turned to face her with a frown. "A breather? What? So you can slam more of that junk into your arm?" He shook his head. "No, no. You know what? I think this was a blessing in disguise."

His gaze shifted to the newcomer. "You must've caught the end of that bout... and the guy missing half of his head. What'd ya think of Cait's work?"

The man shrugged. "She's clearly talented. Doesn't seem to go easy on anyone, either."

"See? Least someone knows skill when they see it." Cait beamed with pride. Hmm... she might actually miss this guy once he left. That left a nagging thought in her mind, though: how did her combat abilities relate to a "blessing in disguise", as Tommy put it?

"It ain't your fighting skills I'm concerned with." Tommy stated bluntly. The ghoul sighed, looking at the ground and rubbing his head in thought. "So here's my predicament. I suddenly got no audience. No audience means I got no caps coming in."

... Uh oh. She didn't like where this was going. Meanwhile the other guy and his dog stood there dumbly, like they had zero clue what Tommy was rambling on about.

Her employer turned to look her in the eye. "And if you ain't bringing in caps, little bird, you ain't an asset. You're a liability. To me... and to yourself."

Cait's eye twitched. No. No. Her idiotic boss couldn't possibly be implying...?

"So... here's what I'm thinkin'." Tommy looked back at the armored newcomer. "What say I let you take over her contract? She goes with you, watches your back... look, you'd be doin' me a favor while I try and get the place back in order. What do ya say?"

Cait didn't hear the last part of what he was saying. She was too busy stewing in rage; her hands were shaking from the effort it took to keep from lashing out and killing Lonegan on the spot, followed by giving this stranger a good hard whack to the crotch with her baseball bat.

Three years. She spent three whole fucking years cooped up in this shithole, risking her life almost daily in the arena against some of the wasteland's deadliest combatants. All for the sole purpose of making money for Tommy, who would occasionally pay her extra if she gave the audience a more showy and drawn-out performance.

She hated Tommy, both as a businessman and as a person. She hated the Combat Zone as a whole. The food was shit, the beds were haphazardly scattered around, and the company was, to put it lightly, unbearable. Some days she would crawl into her bed, broken and bloody and sniffling after barely squeezing out a win against a much tougher opponent, and inject herself with chems until she passed out so she wouldn't have to feel the pain. It was a miserable life, but... it was the only one she had. There was simply nowhere else for her to go and no other contacts she could make. Cait was fully expecting to live and die as a cage fighter, but now...

Now Tommy was giving her contract away to someone she hadn't even known existed ten minutes ago. He was willing to send her out into the dangers of the Commonwealth with some drifter and his stupid dog, simply so he could rebuild his miniature empire and pretend he was the emperor watching his tiny army of gladiators fight to the death.

"Hmm... I'm not sure about this." The new guy spoke up, breaking the Irish woman from her increasingly dark thoughts. "I mean, you're not the only one with a predicament right now. What about Cait? What does she think of this?"

What did she think of this? She would tell him exactly what she thought of this.

"I... I don't suppose I have much of a choice," she sighed, lowering her head. "I have nothin' more to gain by stayin' here. I'll go grab me things."

The other human nodded in understanding. "Take all the time you need. I'll be waiting for you in the lobby."

He whistled to the German Shepherd and the two of them made to depart the cage. Cait followed after them, pausing at the arena's entrance long enough to flip Tommy the real "little bird" before making her way up to the top of the stands. Her personal belongings were meager, consisting only of a sleeping bag, basic hygiene supplies, a box of bobby pins, some chems, her bat, and her favorite double-barreled shotgun.

As she rolled up the sleeping bag she pondered her words from earlier. Everyone, including herself, had probably been expecting a violent outburst at some point once the plan was announced to exchange her contract. In the back of her mind, however, she knew that Tommy was right to send her off. He was running a business, and now that his clientele were all dead, he would have a much harder time supporting himself, let alone two people. A large part of her still resented the decision, though. He knew what hardships she'd endured over the course of her life. He knew she was the best at what she did, yet he'd cast her aside as easily as any other aspiring fighter he'd deemed inadequate. She hated how he hadn't even tried to look for another way to keep her there.

She passed the ghoul in question heading to his office as she came back downstairs.

"What exactly are you gonna do without me here?" Cait asked him. It was more for curiosity's sake than anything else.

"You don't need to worry about me," Tommy replied, shrugging. "I'll get this place set up right, maybe find a less bloodsoaked clientele. Now get the hell out of here. You ain't welcome here anymore, little bird."

Cait's fists clenched. "You're a real son of a bitch, you know that, Tommy?"

"You don't have to tell me," he smirked ruefully.

She should've shot him right then and there, but instead watched in silent fury as her now-former employer disappeared into the office. She needed to kick someone's ass, and soon. Maybe her new "owner's" if he proved to be annoying; after all, it wasn't like anyone would care.

Speaking of her companion, she found him lounging against the wall of the lobby, lazily tossing a baseball around the room for his dog to fetch. He looked up when he heard her approach, and she noted that he'd re-fastened his goggles and bandana during her absence. If she had to be cliché, she would say that the getup gave him an air of mystery... and untrustworthiness.

"So... Cait, is it?" he casually inquired. He moved himself away from the wall and offered a hand to shake. "It's nice to meet you. My name's Elijah Fardale."

Cait crossed her arms and glared at him. "Listen buddy, I don't know who you are or why you're runnin' around the wasteland with a stupid dog, and I don't give a shite. If I'm going to travel with you, there are three things you need to know about me first. One: I'm good at killin' things and pickin' locks. There's no door or safe I can't unlock given enough time and bobby pins. Two: I'm a chem addict. If ya have a problem with that, then fuck you. And three: I don't take kindly to bein' threatened, so ya better watch yer mouth around me. 'Course, you seem like a goddamn law-lover in me own opinion. Remember all that, and we ain't gonna have a problem."

Her new contract holder - this "Elijah" person - tilted his head and stared at her from under his goggles.

"Interesting," he noted. "In that case, there are three things you should know if you're going to travel with me. One: I'm proficient with a lot of guns, but I prefer automatics and heavy weapons. I'm also great with robotics and hacking terminals, so having someone around to pick locks will help add some variety. Two: I don't give a damn if you're an addict, as long as you don't suddenly turn blue and die in the middle of a firefight. I'm not in control of the decisions you make in your life; only you are. And three: I don't take kindly to being threatened, either. Treat me with respect, and I'll be your best friend. Show me disrespect, or pull a gun on me, and I won't hesitate to dish out some discipline, so to speak. This applies to everyone, not just you."

He gestured to the canine, who was busy drooling and wagging its tail happily for no reason whatsoever. "Also, this is Dogmeat. Be nice to Dogmeat. I trained him to attack anything that tries to kill me."

Cait glanced down at the dog and snorted. "I'll give this mangy mutt a biscuit once he tears out a super mutant's throat."

"That can be arranged." Elijah told her cryptically.

Was he messing with her? He had to be messing with her. And she didn't like that, not one bit.

The armored man turned and started heading out the Combat Zone's exit. He gestured back for Cait to follow after him; she conceded, albeit a little begrudgingly. Dogmeat, on the other hand, was more than happy to obey his master's nonverbal order.

"So where are we headed off to first?" Cait asked once they were outside.

It was a cloudless and sunny day in the Commonwealth. The hot mid-afternoon sun beat down on her forehead, and she hated it. She never much cared for the heat. Hopefully her new traveling partner would take her someplace interesting enough to help distract her from this petty annoyance.

Elijah "hmm'd" in thought.

"Well... I have some very important business to take care of in Diamond City..." He paused. "But I found a flyer on some dead guy on the way there, and I couldn't resist the temptation to take a look into this."

He produced a crumpled piece of paper from his pants pocket and handed it to Cait. She grabbed the parchment, quickly unfolding it. And when her eyes saw what was written on the flyer, she couldn't decide if Elijah was more naive, ambitious, or just plain stupid. Maybe all three.

"Come and see the fabulous Treasures of Jamaica Plain! This stunning display will be on exhibit for one week only before these priceless items are sealed away, never to be seen again! Bring the entire family to this once-in-a-lifetime event!"

... I still have nothing to say. Favorite? Follow? Review, maybe? Those are always nice...

2/12/16: Minor edits. Added song lyrics at the beginning, since they seemed like a good fit for this story's theme.