[ Fleetwood Subway Station ]@Apocalypse
, @Polaris North
For awhile, John didn't speak to anyone else in the tunnel, choosing to keep to his own affairs. To some, he may have looked the part of the scoundrel, mysterious and exciting. But to others, he would have seemed himself: an embittered man, weathered and worn away by the Wasteland like the sea against a stone. Didn't matter much what others thought of him. He learned that a long time ago.
Soon, however, smoking began to lose its appeal to him; the brief wave of relief long-since dissipated, leaving him smoking now out of habit more than anything else. Disgustedly, he flicked the still-lit cigarette butt to the ground, casually grinding it out with the sole of his shoe. With still no sign of the Pariah, and tensions beginning to flare up from within the group's ranks, John knew with certainty that things would get messy if they didn't start moving soon. Groups like these, united only by common goal, were slow-to-trust and slower to cooperate. Indeed, the Pariah was not a discriminating recruiter: a varied company carried the benefit of wide-spread skills and abilities, with the downside of equally wide-spread suspicion and mistrust.
Some of these recruits, like the Talon mercs, were rabid dogs chained to rotting ropes. They wanted to kill, to maim. They couldn't be bargained with, only coerced or forced. Even some of the more mild-looking members, like the Ghoul in the hooded coat, seemed ready to raise his rifle at the drop of a dime.
Saving his thoughts for the road, it was when John looked up from disposing the cigarette that he saw it: the hand-signal. It took him a moment-or-two to process what he was seeing, but his bewilderment soon turned to indignation; he knew the prospect of a free-roam mission was too good to be true. Even without X3's involvement, he couldn't escape the Institute's all-seeing-eye. He had figured the Mask to be a deserter, a renegade. But everyone returns to the fold in the end.
They could take it all from him, but he was still a rebel in mind. They couldn't steal his thoughts - not yet, at least.
Scoffing once, a noise that would have sounded more like a sharp cough, John jammed both hands in the pockets of his still-damp coat, pushing himself off the wall to pace about the tunnel, his feet beginning to ache from standing still. Fixing the brim of his hat to keep the candlelight from his eyes, John kept a close, wary eye on anyone he spotted in the vicinity. Some of the adventurers, like him, minded their business, hardly looking up or around them, preferring to check their gear or clean their weapons. Others still chose to interact with each other, whether just to pass the time or with genuine intention to make friends.
The Mask sought out the Brotherhood Paladins, her behavior almost contradictory given not only her choice of words, but the way she spoke them. It was trying to goad a response without intention to offend. Such behavior perplexed John. It would require more observation to determine whether this was a psychological tactic, or simply the way she spoke. He made a mental note in his mind to keep a closer eye. Indeed, both the Mask and the Paladin called Stormwind
seemed to share his suspicion, as both women kept a hand either on, or not-too-far from their weapons, a soldier's habit, usually.
It was when the Stormwind emerged from her Power Armor that John's aloof expression flickered briefly to surprise. The Power Armor had increased the woman's height and bulk substantially, making the truth all-the-more anticlimactic. He was taller than her by a head at least, and her physique seemed ill-suited to face the horrors of the Wasteland head-on. Still, John knew better than to underestimate a Brotherhood Paladin based on looks alone. Even outside their impenetrable Power Armor, these were men and women who would regularly face down Super Mutants in direct combat, something that he would think twice about before doing.
Farther from the Paladins, three of the mercenaries were discussing...something (John paid little attention, himself), and noticed a general sense of unease from the trio. It was apparent none of them had spoken before now, and the awkwardness of new conversation was making itself known. Two of the mercenaries, both women, seemed generally ill at ease in the present company, but for different reasons. The woman on the bench eyed the Paladins warily, almost obsessively, while the other who moved from the corner to the bench seemed more off-put by the male mercenary's presence, as to why, John couldn't ascertain. Maybe a flirtatious remark gone sour? John had made one-or-two of those in his lifetime. Or maybe something else.
Even farther still from the trio, the Ghoul in the coat was speaking to one of the medics. She was small, petite, possibly underfed, but who wasn't, and seemed to want to stay as out-of-sight as possible. Still, her body language seemed friendly, if almost surreal given that she was practicing what John could only call 'stretching' while speaking to the Ghoul.
John, without thinking, moved closer to the duo, if only to find himself out of the Paladins (and the Mask's) sight. He knew any conversation she wanted to have relating to the...business, would be inevitable, but he wasn't looking forward to it. Not here, not now. Cursing X3 under his breath, John, both hands still in his coat-pockets, listened closely as the young medic asked for the Ghoul's story. Someone who cared about history...it was interesting. And the Ghouls may as well have been living chronicles, with more than a few going back to the Pre-War times. John, in that moment, felt an odd, painful pang in his chest, the tugging of emotion at things long lost.
His expression, an awful blend of discontent yearning, choked down whatever dark thoughts threatened to creep in his head, letting out maybe a too-loud, too-heavy sigh to be subtle.