Ch 6 I Could Make You Care
"Well, I think we can relax, and maybe grab an hour or two's sleep." Cass lay back on the Queen-sized bed with a sigh. "There's no way that scum-bag can get out of there."
"Not unless he's the Legion's own Houdini," Veronica agreed, allowing her head to sink into the soft pillow beside her.
"Unless he's who?"
"Houdini was a legendary escape artist. But even he might've have difficulty, cramped upside down in a wardrobe with his hands and legs tied together." She added with satisfaction, "Not a comfortable way to spend the night."
Cass turned to recline on her left side, facing Veronica and propping herself up with one elbow. She reached for the nearby whisky flask, and gave a shark's grin. "Yeah. Some might say its a kind of torture leaving him like that. But you can't be too careful, can you? Still it's as well that he's gagged too. Using your panties was a nice touch, I thought."
"I figured they weren't needed with this get-up on."
"True." Cass tilted back the bottle, and eyed Veronica's recumbent form. "Not much call to wear anything under those."
Veronica had searched diligently for her missing robe, but Vulpes had either discarded it elsewhere or disposed of it entirely. The only set of clothing she'd discovered looked like it had belonged to one of Gomorrah's working girls. Or perhaps had been part of someone's fetishistic games.
Looking at herself in the mirror, Veronica had been struck by the transformation. The reflection in the flecked glass was not a modest Brotherhood scribe in a loose, travel-stained brown robe. Instead she was confronted by a glittering vision of sexiness: a magnificent show girl in a tight-fitting, bejewelled and sequinned bikini. I scarcely imagined I would ever look like this. She'd been tempted to try on the feathered headdress, crystal necklace and long white gloves too, but hadn't yet overcome her embarrassment at what Cass might say.
Cass was watching her now with a faint smile on her face."Reckon it suits you though. Makes you look like a fairy princess. Say, did you ever wish you'd grow up to be a dancer?"
"Not one like this!" Veronica's cheeks reddened. "What kind of childhood do you think I had in the Brotherhood? It was pretty sheltered."
"Oh, I can easily guess. Not like mine; travelling from place to place, you get to see all sorts. Still most little girls like dressing up, or if they can't, they imagine instead. You're a scribe; didn't you ever get to look at pre-war stuff about … Vegas show girls, shady ladies, and so on?"
"I ..." Veronica wasn't inclined to provide Cass with yet more ammunition to tease her with. She certainly wasn't going to reveal the kind of fantasies that had teemed in her head as an adolescent. Strange how, when she's already seen me completely naked, wearing these clothes makes me feel even more exposed. "I … we ... we weren't supposed to mess with that kind of thing. We learned about the past to benefit humanity, not to … indulge ourselves." She added, rather lamely, "They said … well, Father Elijah said it was a waste of time."
"A waste of time!" Cass laughed. "Jees, he must have been a fun guy to be around!"
"He was my mentor. He meant to be kind … he just ... didn't understand."
"It sounds like it." Cass regarded Veronica humorously. "I can guess how frustrated that made you feel. And when those frustrations start to build up, then you ..."
"As a matter of fact," Veronica went on quickly, "I think they're a little tight … the clothes I mean."
"Look fine to me." Cass's arched eyebrows indicated she'd seen through Veronica's rather too obvious attempt to change the subject.
"I mean, I feel sore and itchy, and they aren't helping." Veronica wasn't exaggerating all that much. The stimpak she'd taken a short time before had more or less healed her welts, but some discomfort remained.
"That can happen with stimpaks," Cass conceded. "Sometimes the surface skin cells take longer to regenerate. It'll pass in time."
"Well, its bothersome now. Perhaps I should take some med-x or ..."
Cass's voice soared in volume. "You're better off avoiding that shit. People think its okay because its medicine, but its addictive as hell. Its like 'I hurt my little toe, shoot me some med-x'. Bull-crap! You should've seen what happened to my daddy … drugs were almost the death of him ..."
Well there's a bonus, I've got her on her hobby-horse. Veronica couldn't resist a little counter-teasing. The spectacle of Cass, the whisky-holic, waging a puritanical war on drugs was just too funny. "Maybe I ought to sup some of your battery-acid moonshine instead."
"You could do worse," Cass asserted loftily. "Still … that's given me a notion. What you need is some natural healing."
"Oh, no!" Veronica exclaimed. "I'm not becoming the guinea-pig for your homoeopathy experiments!"
"They're not experiments," Cass protested. "They're tried and proven trail remedies!"
"Hocus-pocus and quackery!" Veronica scoffed.
"The Courier uses them herself. She learnt from an excellent teacher, Sunny Smiles of Goodsprings."
"Never heard of her." Though the mention of the Courier had, as Cass intended, somewhat diminished the scribe's scepticism. "In any case, have you been hiding herbs in your shorts?"
Cass smiled impishly. "I've got all sorts of secret hiding places. But if I know anything about Legionaries, I'll be saved the trouble. They nearly always carry healing simples. Got to give them some credit for smarts."
"Or they're just pathologically opposed to progress."
"Whatever." Cass slid off the bed, discarded the half-empty bottle and started to rummage around. Veronica was given a full view of her clinging outfit, and her upturned rump, as she bent over to go through Vulpes' pockets and gear. Those are very tight shorts. The scribe gulped, and tried not to look too closely. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's ass. That's one they forgot to put in the Codex.
"Ah-ah! I knew it!" Cass jubilantly held aloft a small bag. "Looks like there's everything I need here: broc flower, xander root and some mutfruit. And there's a small cooker and a pot to brew them up. Won't take more than ten to fifteen minutes, allowing for cooling."
By which time I'll probably be fine. "Really I'd rather not swallow that stuff ..." Veronica watched anxiously as Cass went about her preparations, using her Bowie knife to shred the leaves, slice the fruit and grind up the root.
"You won't have to." Cass tipped the ingredients into the pot, lit a gas jet and began stirring. "I'm gonna make a paste that you can spread on like ointment. Mmm, can you smell that … makes me feel better already!"
But there's nothing wrong with you ... and not much wrong with me ... physically. Veronica rose from the bed, and strolled about the room uneasily. Cass continued stirring the pot, while following Veronica with her glance.
The machete gladius ... or kopis, as Veronica preferred to call it, still lay on the floor, along with the tailed whip. The sight returned unwelcome thoughts to her mind, and she stooped to pick them up, stowing them away in the Ottoman. Cass frowned slightly, but made no comment.
The associated memories continued to nag. You are a forgotten people, doomed to wither.
Cass's blue eyes uplifted to stare intently into Veronica's brown ones, causing her to blush and look away. She had seldom addressed the former merchant in such an intimate manner.
"What's up? You look all serious."
I admire the purity of the Legion's justice.
"Do you think … the Courier … hates the Legion as much as we do?"
Cass actually stopped stirring for a moment, leaning her head to one side as though in cogitation, then tilting it back to engage Veronica with the full force of her gaze. "Now that's quite a question you're asking me. Reckon I'm entitled to wonder why."
Veronica found it impossible to avoid her direct look. Lifting her chin defiantly, she said, "Vulpes told me he'd met her. He … seemed to respect her. And he believed she reciprocated that feeling."
"What he believes is neither here nor there." Cass maintained her hard stare. "She sweet-talks a lotta folks for sure."
"I know that." Veronica spoke in hasty, brittle fashion. "But … what do you think anyway?"
Cass finally released the scribe from her scrutiny, and turned to prod at the concoction with her spoon. "Since we're talkin' about it, did you hate them before … Vulpes did what he did. I mean really hate them."
"I ..." Veronica paused for a long moment. "I suppose I didn't," she confessed.
"That's what I thought." Cass stirred lazily. "What had they done to hurt you? NCR, on the other hand, kept you from the dam, and killed plenty of your people at the battle of Helios One. NCR was why you were hiding in your bunker, why you were skulking to the 188 in a cloak and hood, instead of marching across the Mojave in your fancy power armour. NCR is an immediate threat. And my enemy's enemy is my friend, isn't that right?"
"That's not entirely true." Cass gave Veronica a sceptical glance, and she hurried on. "I always thought the Legion were a bunch of hypocritical, sadistic arseholes. I feared the NCR, but I never despised them in the same way. But yes, we considered the Legion as a counter-balance. While the NCR was occupied with them, they were less likely to come looking for us."
"Didn't you hate the Republic though? For killing your folks, your parents?"
"If I could remember exactly when and why they died, perhaps. But I don't blame the NCR in any case. We brought our troubles on ourselves. We were always arrogant, thinking we were the true heirs of humanity; that things like the dam and Helios were ours by right. So we overreached ourselves, and in the end we paid for our stubbornness and stupidity."
Veronica spoke passionately, and with bitterness. She had previously vented such feelings only to the Courier, but it seemed Vulpes had sharpened her anger. Cass listened, with a slight smile on her lips. When Veronica stopped for breath, she said:
"Well, that was brutally honest, at least."
"If only there was some way ... some way we could come to realise … some way that we could change ..." Veronica stifled a sob.
"I guess I got my answer." Cass's tone verged between sympathetic and tenderly mocking. "You're hoping that the Courier's gonna wave her magic wand, and hey presto! A brand new order where the NCR, the Brotherhood and maybe some of the less ornery factions live together in peace and harmony. But if the Courier's prepared to get into bed with Caesar, then that's all gonna be moonshine … with an extra dollop of battery acid."
And that wouldn't be the only shattered dream. "All right, I admit it. I have the audacity to hope." Veronica's bejewelled chest heaved. "Is that wrong? Don't you hope for something like that too? When you're not dead drunk."
"Ouch, you got me there!" But Cass seemed unphazed by Veronica's bluntness. "Sure, when the whisky hits me just right, and I'm in that mellow mood, I can dream the Republic might live up to its ideals, and all its greed and corruption will drain away like a punctured boil. And then I remember that we're the race that scoured the land with fire, and tainted the water with radiation. That's when I really need to drink."
Veronica lowered her eyes. "We don't know who started it, or why."
"Jesus, Veronica!" Cass showed the first signs of exasperation. "It was fucking nuclear war. Armageddon. What the fuck does it matter who started it, or what their dumb-arse reasons were?"
"No, you're right." Veronica's gaze remained downcast. "We built the bombs in the first place. But we survived, and we might yet re-build."
"We survived, but have we learnt anything?" Cass shook her head. "That's a question too deep for me right now. You asked me what the Courier thinks of the Legion. On the face of it, that's far easier. Why would any woman wish for her own slavery? Whatever special dispensation Vulpes claims she might have, I can't see her trusting Caesar. Big Horners don't vote for barbeques. But that wasn't the only point of your question, was it? With the Securitrons on our side, we've got a chance to make our own destiny outside the Legion and the NCR alike."
Veronica nodded. "So what the Courier thinks ..."
"Will have a big effect on what Vegas will be like after the fighting's over. And if she thinks anything like Caesar ..." Cass left the sentence unfinished. "Are you sure you're up to listening to this?"
I cannot choose but hear. "Go on."
"It's a tough one," Cass hesitated, seemed to be making an effort to coalesce her thoughts. "Because she's harder to get a read on than Boone. Oh, I know she talks a helluva lot more. But its like … I dunno if you'll follow this … a conversation with her is like being in a hall of mirrors. You think you're looking at someone else, when its just a twisted reflection of yourself. She throws back your own words, your own thoughts until you've forgotten where they came from, so that you're not sure where you end, and she begins."
Veronica said, "I think I understand what you mean. But does that mean you've given up trying to understand her?"
"I don't think anyone rightly does, but no, I ain't entirely thrown in the towel. I set myself thinking about what it would be like to be her. Being hauled outa that grave in Goodsprings, then waking not knowing who you were, remembering almost nothing about your life, your folks. And I reckon it'd be pretty much like being born again. You'd have to take life as it came, work everything out again from scratch. And for every decision you made, that would be the person you'd become."
Veronica said, "That makes sense: you'd be defined by your actions, not your background. Your past would be like a blank sheet, which you'd have to fill up every day."
"That's a good way of putting it."
"But ..." Veronica mused, "if that's so, then the Courier works to help as many people as she can. So doesn't that make her a … good person? Not like Caesar at all."
"I wish it were that simple. Thing is, there's the question of why she helps 'em. Somehow I don't think its just out of the goodness of her heart; there's something planned, something calculated about everything she does."
Veronica was beginning to wish she hadn't asked Cass about the Courier, but it was too late. "What? What does she want?"
"Feels like I'm caravanning through a blind pass," Cass admitted. "Still if I put myself in her shoes, I guess I'd be fretting about that part of me that's been lost. It'd be like a missing limb; something that needs fixin'. But I can't see anyway to fix it."
"You could try doctors," prompted Veronica.
"I tried that already. Vegas clinic, Followers of the Apocalyse, Dr Henry and more. Drew a blank every time. And if the doc in Goodsprings who put my head back together couldn't manage it, what's the odds anyone else can?"
"Okay, granted. And so?"
"So suppose I got me a notion. Fix the world. Something's sure gone wrong with it too. There's blood all over the Mojave. Caravans raided by Fiends, cattle mutilated by rogue Nightkin, Vegas factions at odds, NCR and Legion squaring off, and so on. Fix all that, control all that, and somehow maybe I can fix myself."
Veronica's mouth fell open. She'd known that Cass was an intelligent woman, but she'd never figured imagination to be her strong point. Canniness and calculation, yes. But thinking outside the box, making that visionary leap … well that was something she expected of someone like the Courier, or Father Elijah, or even herself. And now here was Cass thinking as laterally as a quantum physicist trying to escape from Schroedinger's Cat's box.
But is she anywhere close to the mark? Paying Cass the tribute of a tone of wonderment, she said, "That's one of the craziest notions I've ever heard. Just supposing its true, then my point still holds. What she's doing is for the good of us all."
Cass gave her head a solemn shake. "No, its not. What she's doing is for her. You, me, Arcade, Boone, the whole of Vegas … everything centres on her alone. Not so different from Caesar."
Could she be right? Even if she is, I don't want to believe her. "Where does that leave us then? If its all about her, then why choose us?"
Cass smiled wryly. "Isn't it obvious? Because we're the most like her. We're broken people, searching for something or someone to fix us ... for something that's missing. I know that's what I was like when I met her, and from what you've told me, you feel exactly the same."
Veronica felt her eyes pricking again. "But she … but she cares. About Vegas. About us. Isn't that all that matters?"
Cass's smile faded. "Did you ever have a dolly when you were a kid? Well, I did, a poppet I called Lenore. Thought she was the sweetest thing, the best toy ever. Well, one day Li'l Lenore got caught on a prickly pear, and her arm tore off. So I sat down next to the campfire, and I sewed it back on. And there she was, whole as before. Now … " Cass drew Veronica into the blue depths of her eyes again. "Imagine you were Li'l Lenore; how you'd feel about it all."
No, no I won't. It can't be like that.
In an offhand tone, Cass added, "My next birthday, I got me a fine, new toy, a BB gun. Felt like I didn't need Lenore no more, so I threw her in the fire."
Damn you, Cass! Damn you, a hundred thousand times!
Cass sniffed at the steam from the pot, ventured to take a sip. "Seems like its about cooked." Casually she added, "Take a while for it to cool. Reckon we've had enough of soul searchin' questions, don't you? Let's find some other way to kick back."
Cass gave her a mischievous grin. "Well, how about you try on the rest of that outfit for me?"
"Th … this one … y … you want me to …? W … why?" Her tongue felt like it was tied up in knots
Cass rested her chin on her knuckles, and regarded Veronica with a knowing smile. "Because I think it'd make you look real pretty, and I'd like to see that."
Once more Veronica found herself entirely unable to free herself from Cass's arresting gaze. It's as though our eyes have created a connection, and I can't break it.
."Y … you would?"
"Surely." Cass's composure was in inverse proportion to the scribe's embarrassment. "Wouldn't you like to see that?"
"I, I guess so. A … all right, I will."
With quick nervous movements, Veronica sought about for the long, white gloves, began to clumsily slide her fingers into them. She felt herself trembling as she pulled them up over her elbows. Her breaths were coming shorter and shorter.
"Here, let me help you. Sit down." Cass deliberately placed a chair side on to the dresser. Moving as though under a spell, Veronica complied and seated herself.
"Now, then ..." Cass gave Veronica's countenance a searching inspection "first we need to clean you up a little, seeing as you've been in the wars lately." She took a napkin from the drinks tray and moistened it with some whisky. Then she set to work dabbing at Veronica's face, cleansing the areas where her make-up had smeared and run.
Veronica sat very still, allowing Cass to touch her. There was something comforting about it which helped to calm her a little. Her thoughts went back to her childhood in Hidden Valley Bunker. She remembered her mother showing her how to put on her make-up, and then remove it.
"I have to do all this, just to look nice for stupid boys?!"
Her mother had given her a patient smile. "If you want to marry a handsome Paladin eventually, then yes, you do." She would never have guessed that it was impossible for me to marry the Paladin I chose.
The memory of her mother, and of Christine was pleasant. Cass finished her task. "There, that's much better. Now for the piece-de-resistance." She helped Veronica put on the glittering, close fitting cap, adjusting it so the nodding, white plumes spread out evenly on each side. "Take a look." She rotated the chair and Veronica so the scribe could see her reflection.
Veronica could only stare and stare. Is this really me? Or something supernatural?
Cass was close behind her. "Certainly flatters your figure more than that old robe. One last thing." She leant forward to drape the choker around Veronica's neck, brushing her smooth cheek against her own as she did so. The light reflected from the crystal circles in a thousand sparkles.
Everything … shines. I look like … I look like a …
"Wow!" Cass lightly rested her hands and chin on Veronica's bare shoulders, gazing over them at her reflected image. "If your mother could see you now … she'd think her daughter looked like a goddess!"
My stomach, full of butterflies. But the thrill that ran through Veronica was one of excitement rather than nervousness. She was more than ever aware of how near Cass was. Especially when the ex-caravanner gently squeezed her shoulders, and turned her face so that her lips were practically touching Veronica's ear.
"How's that make you feel, Santangelo?" she asked softly.
"It … makes me feel good about myself." And about my body, which I'm showing so much of.
"Well, I'm glad to hear that. I hoped it would."
"Thank you. Not just for saving me. For showing me … for showing me myself."
"That's okay. I couldn't have done it unless you were ready to look." Cass let her fingers slide down to gently massage Veronica's upper arms.
Is she going to …?
Cass let go. "Guess that potion should be 'bout ready by now."
Confound the potion! Is this another tease? "I could do without the gook, thanks."
"Aw, don't be like that! You've gotta give it a try after I've gone to so much trouble." Cass carefully poked the concoction with a finger. "Yeah, it's all done … just lacks a little … adhesion."
"In that case I'd really rather not have runny stuff poured all over me..."
"Now some may call this cheating ..." Cass continued, overriding Veronica's objection. "But I think it needs mixing with something like gello. And it so happens that I noticed the very thing in a drawer earlier."
Surely she can't mean …
Cass held up the tube triumphantly. "You never know when you might be in need of lubrication! Especially in a place like this!"
She does … she is actually proposing to …
"We must be a lucky pair of bitches," Cass went on, squirting generous amounts of gel to mix with her trail mixture. "'Cos everything we've needed has turned up right to order."
"I guess we've been lucky, yes," Veronica said faintly.
"Reckon we're ready to get this show on the road! You should sit on the bed again. It'll be easier … " Cass gave Veronica a sly wink "for me to lay my healing hands on those hard to reach places."
"No buts! Mama Cass knows best!"
She can have the devil's own charm when she chooses. Veronica obeyed, still feeling herself to be in a dream-like state. Cass positioned herself kneeling just behind her, with the gel mixture in easy reach on the bedside table.
"Right." Cass drew a long breath in the manner of someone getting down to business. Veronica felt her hands on the clasp of her bra top.
"Wh … what are you doing?" she quavered.
"Heavens, Veronica." Cass spoke in her most innocent tone of voice. "How else do you expect me to spread this stuff where it needs to go?"
Veronica's heart beat rapidly picked up speed, and her breaths came faster and shorter again. You don't really believe I'm that naïve! You're showing your hand at last!
Working the clasp, Cass said, "Just let Mama Cass take care of everything."
Unresisting Veronica allowed herself to be divested of her upper garment. A glimpse in the mirror across the room revealed an image even more like that of a sex goddess. She felt her exposed skin tingle and flush, electric thrills radiating from her sensitive zones.
Cass dipped her fingers in the mixture. "Are you ready for this?"
I can no longer pretend what I want. "Yes."
The gel was warm and soothing on Veronica's back, the hands spreading it firm and assured. Beginning from the centre of her spine, Cass smoothed the slippery substance upwards and outwards to cover her shoulder blades, squeezing hard to massage the tension from the deltoid muscles. Working industriously, she leant in close to whisper in Veronica's ear.
"Does that feel good?"
Cass's breath wafted Veronica's cheek, the tip of her nose brushing briefly against her skin. The combination of these very subtle sensations with the more obvious stimulation provided by her roving fingers was already having an electrifying effect on the scribe. She felt the build up of her arousal like the rising of super hot magma beneath a volcano, gave a half-gasp that was almost a moan.
"I'll take that as a 'yes'." Cass laughed softly, wickedly. Keeping one hand kneading Veronica's shoulder, she let the other track slowly down the length of the scribe's spine, gently rubbing her lower back.
I haven't been able to admit I've wanted this … until now. Veronica gave another, louder gasp as Cass cunningly slipped her middle finger into her panties, between the cleft of her buttocks.
In a casual tone, as though nothing out of the ordinary was occurring, Cass asked, "Is all the itching gone yet, Santangelo?"
"No," Veronica just managed. Please, no more teasing, I can't take it much longer!
Cass deliberately sawed the finger back and forth."Tell me where you still itch."
Veronica gulped, tried to control her breathing. "Here ..." she made an embarrassed gesture at chest height "... and here," pointing vaguely much lower down.
Cass sounded as if she was enjoying herself. "And do you truly wish for Mama Cass to bestow her healing touch on you, there … and there?"
Oh, you bitch, you know very well I want you to!
"Yes, yes I do."
Cass withdrew the finger, instead slid her well-lubricated hands around Veronica's slim waist, holding them poised just below her breasts.
"Say, 'please, Mama Cass, lay your healing hands on me!'"
Veronica could no longer hold back the moan of desire that had been building and building. Her bared nipples felt like they were on fire, the shining, sequinned panties were starting to soak with her wetness.
"Please, Cass. Please, please touch me there!"
*And there, I fear, we must leave it for now, lest an even unreasonably longer delay occur. The last quarter of the chapter took as much time as the rest. I feel its not the worst place to stop (no doubt many of you will disagree!), as hopefully you can imagine what's likely to happen next. The same applies should I be unexpectedly run over by a bus before being able to finish the story.
I should warn that there may be some further hiatus, as I'm very probably going to be writing another chapter of my Fable fic first. If you really can't stand to wait, why not try reading that one instead; at least it will be updated sooner. And it also badly needs the reader attention.
I will be two weeks somewhere with less distractions, which may help me finish it. And then we can proceed to the … (ahem) … climax of the tale. For now, the usual notes:
Houdini: would almost certainly have escaped from the wardrobe with no trouble at all. Although this was intended as an 'off the cuff' remark by Veronica, I was delighted to find that there's actually a Houdini Museum at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. Perhaps a testimony to a kind of '6 degrees of separation' between people and places, and the wonderfulness of the internet.
Drugs were almost the death of him: Cass's father (John Cassidy, a character in Fallout 2) had heart trouble, which made him susceptible to certain drugs. Cass tells the Courier he disappeared when she was very young, so her mother presumably warned her to avoid drugs in case she inherited the condition. But, knowing Cass, she'd be unlikly to admit this weakness was why she disliked drugs.
Gas Jet: with a certain DLC you can use one like you would a campfire. Which makes so much sense you wonder why you should need to download at all.
Whisky: On some internet threads, people appear horrified at the notion of using alcohol as a cleanser. Conceivably it might not be a good idea in the long term, but it seems perfectly okay for a one-off 'emergency'.
Schroedinger's Cat's box: I'm not sure if this actually makes sense, or whether you can even get out of the box. That's probably because I don't really understand quantum physics. If any quantum physicists are reading, I would ask them to indulge my metaphor should it appear confused.
You never know when you might be in need of lubrication: its really like they're in a Room of Requirement. One of those kind that exist in the minds of fanfiction authors rather than of J. K. Rowling!*