Dearly Departed What Have We Gathered to Witness?
OCtober Day 25 - Spirit (ft. Varmint & The Ghost of Courier Six)
[warnings: blood, death mention, light violence, brief body horror, fire, drug mention, ghosts, suggestive content]
This one is pretty long, if you would rather read it on AO3 here is the link
“Now that you and me's got some privacy, I gotta ask - what kind of business are lookin’ to do here? You track me halfway across the Mojave, waltz into the 38 like you own the joint, turn my own men against me, all for what? Bragging rights?”
Benny rolled a cigarette between his fingers casually, even as they trembled. From exhaustion, chem use, withdrawal, or all of the above, Varmint wasn’t sure. Nor did they care, sliding themself onto the stool to his right. They crossed one leg over the other and leaned in towards him, an elbow propped on the bar.
“A little birdy told me you’ve been bad. I’m here for justice.”
Benny scoffed, puffing a cloud of smoke into Varmint’s face. “Is that what they’re saying? No, Baby, I’m just playing the game, same as everyone else. I’ll admit, I feel a little sorry about what went down out in Goodsprings, but a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”
He ran a hand through his hair, further mussing it until runaway strands fell into his face. “You still haven’t told me why you chased me down all this way. You don’t strike me as the bounty hunting type. So, you family of the departed? Friend? Heart broken lover? Believe me Doll, revenge ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.”
They cocked a grin. “Can’t I just be an everyday hero, hunting down the bad guy, saving the day?”
“Ha, that’s a hoot. Don’t listen to what those hippies are preaching over in their little fort; no one does anything out of the goodness of their heart. Besides, she’s already six feet under. Who are you saving, exactly?”
Varmint didn’t have a response to that. He had a point, another senseless death didn’t make for a good hero’s tale. Besides, the hunt had lost its fun days ago. Mr. House’s offer, however, maintained an alluring taste.
“At this point? My career. I bring that shiny chip back to House and I get a headliner right upstairs. Or… downstairs, I guess? Whatever. Wherever the Aces Theater is, I’m going to be in it.”
Benny finally turned to them with as much incredulity a man who appeared to be on death’s door could muster. “Wait, you’re tellin’ me you’re doing all this for a gig? Baby, Tommy’s schedule is wide open. You want that spot, it’s yours, so long as we can close this night out peacefully. What do you say?”
Now, Varmint’s loyalty could be easily won - or changed for that matter - but the opportunity to get their hands on such a coveted item as whatever the Platinum Chip was, well… they weren’t about to let that slip through their fingers. Not for that cheap, at least.
“What about the chip? I’m thinking shared custody, you can see it on holidays and weekends.”
Benny’s amusement curled around his lips, but didn’t quite make it up to bloodshot eyes. He huffed something approaching a laugh. Even under the shoddy lighting and whatever the hell ailments he was nursing, Varmint was transfixed.
“Now you know I can’t do that,” Benny muttered after a long moment, barely audible. He reached into his suit and retrieved a large silver coin, spinning it between his fingers idly. Suddenly, he froze, eyes comically wide like he had peered into the gaping maw of hell itself. His burnt out cigarette fell from his other hand. A beat passed, then two, and he panted, “fuck!”
His fingers closed around the tumbler that sat in front of him and he hurled it against the wall.
“Get out of my head!”
Varmint flinched, a blink, a twitch of their hand. They hid it under a laugh that wasn’t mocking but wasn’t entirely friendly either.
“Why do men always say that?”
Benny didn’t acknowledge their lament, hunching over the counter limp.
“Or… hm, he might have said bed… that makes a lot more sense actually.”
Benny pushed himself up onto his elbows, the strain of it visible, and held out the coin to them.
“Just take the damn thing.”
They itched to continue their stream of consciousness, endlessly searching for a willing audience. He may not have been ‘willing’ in the traditional sense, but Benny was there and too exhausted to object to Varmint’s rambling thoughts on their old flame of a researcher.
The silver caught the dingy lights of the Presidential, carrying away with it the words on their lips. They grabbed at the coin and Benny’s grip tightened, like his fingers hadn’t gotten the message from his brain. Varmint started to pry it out of his grasp and he relented, wincing.
It was a pretty thing, a solid weight in their palm, the emblem of the Lucky 38 etched into both faces. They bit it experimentally.
“What are you - don’t -” Benny tried to protest, cut off by Varmint’s quiet “ow”.
The frowned down at it accusingly . “It’s real. I guess. I don’t get the point of that.”
“Glad we’re on the same page,” Benny mumbled, shaking his head.
They slid the coin into their pocket, the only place it wouldn’t up and disappear on them. There was still a chance they wouldn’t see it again, but they trusted their pockets, especially on such a fancy get up. Opulent silver embroidered into crimson velvet was a sure sign of a trustworthy suit.
“Thank you, it’s nice.”
“It’s nice? I hand you the keys to Vegas and that’s all you gotta say about it? Tell that to me when we’re looking out over the Strip from that 18 karat view House has been hoarding.”
Keys to Vegas? Varmint had an inkling they would have to be a lot more high to get on Benny’s level. The fifty caps they could turn from pawning it wouldn’t cover the buy in for half the tables in the casino, but his pure, dumb confidence piqued their interest. Truly a man after their own heart.
Benny continued, “this ain’t a gift neither. After we cash out here, head up to my suite. A, uh… pal of mine will fill you in on the details. We pull this off and you’ll never have to worry that pretty little head of yours about pulling a gig ever again.”
God, he was batshit insane.
“I love the way you think. I’m all in.” Never commit halfway, that was Varmint’s tried and true code. Unless, of course, someone else was willing to pay more. Or they got bored. “But I think you’re stalling. Where’s the Platinum Chip?”
If Benny had looked tired before, it was nothing compared to the way his face crumpled, aging him ten years in seconds. “That is the Chip.”
Varmint ignored Benny’s sudden onset despondence and fished the coin out of their pocket, holding it back up to the light. “Ooooh, it’s a poker chip!”
“I’m doomed,” Benny groaned into his hand.
Varmint grinned, flipped the chip up into the air with their thumb, and dropped it into its cozy hiding spot.
“It’s been a gas, but it’s time for me to split. Talk to the cat upstairs, keep your mouth shut, and we’ll both be made in the shade.”
Before Benny could begin lugging himself to his feet, Varmint leaned over, letting their thigh snuggle up to his.
“Does the party have to end so soon?”
His eyes flitted over their form as if sizing them up. “I’m out of your league, Honey. I don’t swing that way.” He didn’t attempt to put any space between them.
Varmint raised a wing-tipped shoe onto the rung of his barstool. “Handsome women not up your alley?”
They didn’t receive a response and they suspected he hadn’t heard them, staring blankly down at the bar through half lidded eyes. Just as well, he looked as if the mere sight of a bed would knock him out cold. Another time, perhaps, if their venture went anywhere and Benny didn’t keel over before Varmint returned.
They moved out of his personal space gracefully. Benny finally blinked and pushed himself off his seat in one motion, swaying slightly. “Just get that cursed chip out of my casino.” Down to the dregs of his hospitality, Benny dragged himself to the elevator doors and disappeared.
Varmint sighed into the silence and began sifting through the minibar’s inventory. Some grand adventure their visit to Vegas had turned out to be. Their hand hovered over a vintage cognac they had every intention of pretending they knew what to do with. As their fingers met glass the bottle shattered, coating everything but themself in alcohol and jagged shards.
“You tried to sleep with him!?”
They jumped back with an undignified squeak. A lone figure stood at the foot of the nearest pool table, the stagnant air surrounding it shifting and shimmering with all the rage of the voice that cut through it. It took Varmint a long moment to parse the vision. Opaque, but not fully there, a dream that had crawled its way into waking consciousness. It begged the question of whether Varmint’s cybernetic eye was malfunctioning. Again.
They ducked as a billiard ball was chucked at their head.
“What happened to ‘justice’?!”
Against all sensibility, Varmint stepped closer until their hips met the bar counter.
“Wait, I know you.”
Blood poured down from two gaping holes in the phantom's skull, thick and dark, dripping to the faded carpet only to disappear. Fat raindrops in the scorching, dry summer, never soaking into the soil.
The last time Varmint had seen that face, it had been much more clean and much less animated, limp on Doc Mitchell’s cot.
“You’re Courier Number Six!” they beamed, laughing maniacally.
The Courier’s hand fell from where it had lined up another shot at Varmint’s face and she blinked. “Courier… number six?”
Excitement palpable, Varmint nodded, awkwardly clambering onto the countertop to get a better look at her. “Yeah, ‘courier six out of six’. That’s what the delivery note said.”
Brandy seeped through their pants at the knees, but they couldn’t bring themself to fuss about it.
The Courier eyed them suspiciously, anger holding firm around the edges. “You really tracked him all the way from ‘Springs?”
“Yeah, it was a pretty amazing feat of detective-ing if I do say so myself.”
And there it was again. The second billiard ball hit them square in the stomach with an inhuman force and they doubled over, the sharp thud radiating up through their ribs.
“You - you came all this way then let him walk!?” The Courier’s voice echoed, folded over itself like the clang of metal scraping metal.
Gasps ate Varmint’s intended defense, shards of glass slicing their palms where they braced themself against the countertop. Blood melded with the alcohol that seared into the open wounds.
“How could you believe a single word that comes out of that snake’s mouth!?”
They slid down off of the bar, holding their stomach with their forearm, careful not to let the blood smear on their jacket. Taking a step forward, they locked eyes with her and the world went dark.
Seconds ticked like minutes as their sight began to clear. Varmint looked down at themself through the haze, not recognizing what greeted them. Limbs bent at impossible angles, shattered bones breaking through skin, rib cage opened and hollow. Around them, the Presidential Suite burned. Flames licked at their face, but they were paralyzed, forced to watch as their own body melted beneath them.
All at once, the vision faded and they struggled not to collapse onto their very much intact, if not soaked, knees. “What-” they gasped, “was that?”
The Courier watched them carefully, tracking every twitch, waiting for something. Varmint had never been good at living up to expectations.
“You’re a ghost.” It wasn’t a question and she didn’t answer. Varmint grinned despite their unsteadiness. “Do it again.”
She didn’t heed the request, stepping towards them, features caught between anger and curiosity and something far more dangerous. When she spoke it was a whisper, a warning. “You aren’t taking the Chip to Caesar’s camp.”
Varmint barely missed a beat, too light hearted for comfort. “Caesar? Like the dude the NCR is always bitching about? I wasn’t planning on it. I mean…” was Caesar interested in in-house entertainment? They didn’t finish that thought. “Why would I?”
She sneered, “pretty boy’s robot is going to tell you to take it to Fortification Hill so he can one up House. I didn’t let Benny get there and if you so much as think about doing it yourself, I’m going to rip your intestines out through your mouth.”
The horde of threats against them piled higher, unable to work their way under Varmint’s skin. “Didn’t let him? I doubt he could walk down the block in that state.”
They pulled a stool out and propped themself on the edge of it comfortably, just a nice calm chat with their local vengeful spirit.
The Courier frowned, glaring down at Varmint’s suit pocket. “Where the Chip goes, I go. There are a hundred and one ways I could ruin his heist, but turns out the human body can do that just fine on its own. Provided it’s deprived of sleep for nearly a month.”
Oh, that was a far more entertaining explanation than they could have hoped for.
They let out an easy laugh. “I’m sure you have no problem keeping people up all night.” They hadn’t meant it to be a line, though they heard it as it left their mouth. A completely subconscious act, but they weren’t about to backpedal.
The Courier raised a blood slick eyebrow.
“Why’d you want me to kill him?” Varmint asked, quickly recovering the conversation. “You too busy playing with your food?”
For a split second they swore they saw the hint of a grin flash across her face. “I’m taking my time.”
“Just seems a little hypothetical.” The word didn’t sit right on their tongue. It rolled around their mouth a few times and they corrected, “hippo… hypocritical.”
Another statement she deemed unworthy of a response, apparently. She took a step towards Varmint, feet not quite touching the floor.
They grinned and pulled a second stool out beside them. The Courier ignored the offer, stubbornly remaining standing - or floating, as it were.
“Sooo…” they began uncomfortably. It wasn’t often that they found themself struggling for conversation. “You don’t want me working with Benny, but what do you want? Other than revenge, obviously.”
That was always the million dollar question, the one guiding factor in Varmint’s life. It was just the way the world worked. People did the things they did because they wanted to, simple as that. Varmint was no different, no better. If there was another way of being, they refused to see it.
The Courier sighed, eyes washing over the suite in contemplation. “I want… I have an offer.”
They had been warned about making deals, but was a spirit the same as a devil?
She continued, “get me out of this casino. I don’t care where as long as the Chip and I don’t end up in Caesar or House’s grubby hands.”
Easy enough. “And I get?”
“The life not being slowly and painfully drained from you.” Varmint made an exaggerated hum of consideration and she added begrudgingly, “and my thanks. Maybe.”
That sounded an awful lot like friendship to Varmint. They didn’t care much about their own life, they could always get another, but they were ready to bend over backwards to have a ghost sidekick.
“Alright, you have a deal. I hope you like road trip songs.” If they were giving up a spot at the Aces, the Courier would have to do as an audience, enthusiastic or not. “Wanna take care of the Ben-Man first?”
She raised a finger in the way a mother would scold a child, voice briefly carrying the ghostly echo it had earlier. “Do not - don’t call him that. And… no, actually. Not yet. I want him to watch everything he’s worked for crumble around him first.”
The more they talked, the more Varmint’s hopes and dreams of bringing Benny to bed melted away. Ah well, better to have loved and lost. They would remember their stilted conversation fondly.
“Alrighty. Vámonos, then!”
Varmint stood, stretching dramatically, and began walking towards the elevators, bouncing on their toes as they went. They fumbled for the elevator button a few times, inadvertently smearing blood across the wall from the all but forgotten glass before finally calling it successfully. The doors opened and they turned to the Courier. What they found was an empty room. Right. They patted their jacket with the back of their hand, reassuring themself that the chip was safe and sound and entered the cab.
Now this - this was the first chapter of a hero’s tale worth telling.