This baby was one hell of a fun to write, I tell you. I hacked this into my keyboard in four days flat, suffering from wrist pains and hurting forearms but unable to stop. Contains all the goodies: friendship, flirts, action, adventure, shootouts, heartaches, violence and sex - a bit of everything. Originally all I had wanted to write was a happy threesome, but for some reason it turned into a serious multi-chapter love story. And honestly: Flak and Shrapnel DO deserve more attention. Don't they?
If they hadn't been best mates for so many years maybe at this point they would have had an argument as to whom of the two she had been blowing that kiss as she left the marketplace.
"And here everyone calls her Angel of the Wastes", Shrapnel said with a very thoughtful frown and slightly annoyed twist around his mouth. "She sure likes to flirt."
Flak lit his cigarette, took a deep breath and replied without moving a muscle in his face. "A damn cock-tease is what she is."
Finding nothing to add to this, Shrapnel leaned back and patted his pockets. "Damn it. I'm out again."
"You smoke too much", his friend replied as he held out his pack of smokes.
"I know. Thanks."
They sat in silence for a while, both of them more or less thoughtfully watching the door through which the woman whom everyone called a saint and who called herself nothing but Sandy had disappeared. It was clear to both of them as they sat there that they both suffered from a major infatuation with the girl who was hardly more than a kid. But despite her age she had seen more than many people twice her years, and it showed. It showed in the way she talked with people, the way she carried herself, and it showed in the way she flirted.
And damn her if she didn't have the prettiest silver-grey eyes in the wasteland. Framed with long lashes, domed by softly curved brows, she used these eyes to her advantage whenever she could. Had used them, in fact, mere minutes ago, when saying goodbye to the two shopkeepers sitting on their old and shoddy couch beside their wares. Had alternately fluttered eyelids at both of them, and had constantly smiled, as if life had no hardships to offer.
To be honest, the sun set every time she left. Not that they talked about this. But after so many years of friendship and of sharing a room and a business, some things didn't need to be said to be communicated. And in some mysterious way that only works in a deep and mature friendship between men, they had agreed that if it would ever have to come to a decision one of them would be hurt, and since none of the two could really stomach seeing the other one hurt they both tried to repel the flirting and none of the two encouraged her in any way.
That didn't stop her, however. For some reason, it seemed to make her increase her efforts. What the goal was, however, was anyone's guess, but Shrapnel's theory that she liked men to fight for her and then chose the stronger of the two seemed the best bet.
"No way I'm gonna break my best mate's nose for a chick", Flak had replied.
Still, fact was that they liked the kid, and that they got along pretty well with each other. She was easy to talk to and had her share of interesting things to tell. Maybe at one point she would realise that there would be no forced decision and stop flirting, and they could remain friends. Because what was likely going to happen was that once a decision was made, the triangle of friendship would break.
And no matter how hot she was swinging her hips like that when she climbed the stairs up to the door, none of the two would willingly jeopardise a friendship for her that had lasted them almost half their lifetimes.
"Maybe it's all a game to her", Shrapnel said as he extinguished his cigarette. "All fun and games. I mean, she's flirting with the both of us simultaneously. She probably thinks it's funny."
Flak had crossed his arms, his cigarette hanging loosely in the corner of his mouth. "Yeah. But wouldn't it have been a real boost to my ego if she had meant it." He chuckled dryly.
The problem was that she was such a sweetheart that neither of the two could really be angry with her. And in the end, she was hardly more than a kid and most likely didn't know what she really did to a man with those eyes of hers and the way she threw back her hair with a flick of her upper body. Although to be honest, she was quite mature otherwise and wasn't of the naive and blue-eyed sort...
At one point she would grow tired of the game. That's what the two of them hoped, anyway.
None of them mentioned it, but as she failed to come back after more than two months, they secretly got worried. They kept telling each other, on the rare occasions they deemed it safe to casually mention her, that she would be fine; that the tough little smart-ass was just on one more ludicrous trip to save someone's musical instruments or whatever else there was worth saving out in the Capital Wasteland. Heck, having heard her talk, her being her daddy's daughter, she could be out there somewhere delivering mutant babies, if mutants would be able to have them, that is.
Since not even the batshit radio DJ let anything on about her, they both silently began to fear the worst; to assume that the Wasteland had finally claimed her when after another month she had still not returned.
And then, one day along the fourth month after she had left, she came back, just like that. No announcement in the radio, no message from Three Dog that the Saviour of the Wasteland had returned. One morning the door to the marketplace opened and in she walked.
Although staggered would be the better word to use. And fuck if it hadn't both of them taken almost a minute to recognise the figure that came stumbling down the stairs. Both of them had risen from the shoddy old couch as she came to halt in their stall to welcome her, but instead of her usual cheerful, infectious smile, she just stared at them out of dull and tired eyes. Flak and Shrapnel exchanged a short and worried glance before looking at the girl again. Her eyes were sunken and shadowed, her face gaunt; it was almost impossible to recognise the pretty vault girl in this dirty, emaciated figure that hunched over with a hacking cough and dropped a couple of rifles on the desk.
"Sandy?" Shrapnel took another step forward. "What the fuck...?"
"Just gimme some caps", she rasped, her voice a hoarse grating; nothing left of the silver, pearling laughter that had made them smile every time they had heard it. "I need to see Preston."
Flak counted some caps onto the counter, watching her with narrowed eyes. "Kid, where the fuck have you been? You look..."
"I know", she snapped and coughed again. "I've bitten off more than I could chew..." She coughed, and coughed some more, and her face grew even paler as she tried to regain her breath. The sound of her laboured, painful breathing made both of them wince. "I need to see Preston..." She grabbed a corner of the table for support, but even as she did so her legs gave away under her.
"Fucking hell!"Shrapnel was standing close enough and caught her before she hit the ground. "Get the caps, Flak."
Flak swept the caps into his open palm and turned around to the crowd that had gathered around the stall in the last minutes. "Anything missing..." he began, but Harkness interrupted him.
"I'll watch it, Flak. Go get her to Preston."
With Flak opening doors for Shrapnel as he carried Sandy's unconscious form, they made their way to the clinic as fast as they could. As Shrapnel put the girl's body onto the stretcher in the corner Flak dropped off the caps on Preston's desk.
The doctor in turn had seen them coming and had already put some gloves on. "Thanks guys. Now get out of here."
"Don't you need a hand?", Shrapnel asked, but Preston snorted as he pushed him aside. "It's what you wish fore, sure. Get out of here."
Seeing as the doctor unceremoniously unbuckled the straps of her jacket Flak and Shrapnel retreated again; they could well imagine how little she would care for being seen so helplessly exposed by more people than absolutely necessary. Silently and deeply worried they made their way back to the marketplace. The rest of the day passed in uneventful, nerve-wracking quietness.
They went to check on her again after they had closed their place down and found Preston sitting at his desk, alternately staring into a microscope and at his computer screen. "I sincerely hope you two are coming in brotherly concern", he snapped at them as the two hovered in the door. "Because she ain't in any shape to be fooling around with either of you two."
"Seriously, Doc", Shrapnel gave back after exchanging a hurt look with his friend. "Is that how you think of us?"
Preston slowly turned around, giving both of them a scrutinizing look. "Well, it doesn't take a team of clairvoyants to see you two have some major crush on the girl. I'd hate to see someone take advantage of her, especially in her current stage."
"Trust me, Doc", Flak replied slowly, his eyes boring into the doctor's. "So would we."
Doctor Preston returned that look in a long, stern glare until he nodded. "Fine. Because she needs help. To hell if I know where she's been and what she's done there, but it sure wrecked her up. To begin with, she's pumped full with some kind of drug I can't even identify and that doesn't respond to my anti-addiction treatment; secondly, wherever she's been, it filled her lungs with so much poisonous dirt that it's half a miracle she can breathe at all."
He let these words sink in for a moment before continuing.
"Were I a vulgar man I'd say she is royally fucked. Whatever drug it is, I can't get it out, and she's started jetting as well, I guess to counter the withdrawal of the stuff. And with all the poison cruising in her bloodstream, I can't get that out properly, either. So there is no other way to get rid of this mess than go cold, ice-cold I'd dare say. And still she needs to be out in the open air as much as possible. As far as I can tell, whatever she's been exposed to has done no lasting damage yet, but she'll be coughing blood for a couple more weeks. So she's weak, and she's vulnerable, and even here in this ship are people ruthless enough to sell her any shit she can use to fight the hell of withdrawal. So someone needs to watch her all the time, support her and help her going cold. But she has no family with her father dead, but I sure as hell don't trust you two with any girl in that state, knowing what I know about your feelings for her."
"Now listen Doc", Flak began after he had rallied himself. "We're not gonna..."
A weak rasp interrupted him; it was Sandy, her broken voice calling out for the Doctor. "Preston..."
"Yes?" He was at her side in an instant.
She licked her cracked lips and painfully cleared her throat. "They're my friends."
Preston took one of her grimy hands. "Do you trust them?"
Her tired eyes swivelled to the two men hovering in the door and back to Preston's face. "Yes."
"Right." Preston turned around. "I'll take her word for it." Then he walked up to the two men, giving each of them a stern look. "You're her custodians. You keep her safe. You watch her, because she can't do it herself. And if I find out you've been exploiting her weakness I'll have Harkness throw you out, what's left of you anyway after he's done with you. You know his moral codes."
Flak narrowed his eyes.
"You could at least give us the benefit of doubt, Doc", Shrapnel said, looking equally cross. "The way you talk... Jesus, you think we're two teenage boys unable to hold their dicks in reign?"
Preston smiled a tired, little smile. "To be honest, no man is truly able to hold his dick in reign, but I get it. Apologies, boys. It has been a hard day for all of us, I guess."
Something rare happened then. Flak swallowed his anger and took the offering of peace. "Sure has, Doc. See you tomorrow then."
As the two of them settled down on their cots for the night, they exchanged a long, worried glance.
"You sure we're up to this, mate?", Shrapnel finally asked, breaking the mutual speechlessness. They both hadn't said a word after leaving the clinic.
"No", was the reply. Flak just wasn't the man for many words; he had never been and never would be. Yet, after a moment of pondering silence, he added: "But I'd rather eat my own dick than let that bastard Sister or that drug-pot Cantelli anywhere near her."
"I hear you, buddy. I hear you."