After we raised the flags, the day passed with a heady, celebratory mien. None of us quite had the words to explain what we felt at the time, but I think looking back on it, it was the sense that we'd been the lucky few to witness something historic with our own eyes. And after, unplanned but somehow feeling like we were all coordinated - like we knew exactly what we needed to do, there was a day of rest and leisure. Home-cooked meals were made and shared, small parties and get-togethers were had, and after the couples retired one by one for more private pursuits, the unattached members of my community entertained themselves with games and reminiscences.
I think it was the first time since we started rebuilding Sanctuary that any of us had really been able to take a complete day off. I wondered if, in years ahead, February 24th would take on a special meaning for my people. I kind of hoped it would.
The next morning, just as dawn was warming the horizon, I met Winter and Seth outside my home.
"Ready to visit Blake and Connie, Winter?" I asked.
She nodded, "Yes, and if... once they sign on with us, I'd like Seth to come by and take a look at that water pump of theirs, too. I'm pretty sure it's due for a tune-up."
"That's a great idea," I agreed. "But let's have it just be the two of us at first. I want to keep this personal and just among familiar faces. I kind of get the feeling that Blake especially is kind of a private person, and strangers might make the conversation more difficult."
Seth waved off what I was saying, "no need to explain. Just let me know when they're ready for me to visit."
"OK," Winter continued, "there's another decision you need to make. About the vault suits."
"Oh? Tell me more."
"I mentioned earlier that I'd found a bunch of hidden options for the suit fabrication. One of them is color. I had an idea that maybe we can set up each settlement with their own color uniform. If we keep this up, we'll grow fast past the 'everyone knows everyone' stage, and the colors would let folks know where a stranger came from right away. It might also reveal an imposter if their outfit doesn't match their cover story."
"Hmm," I chewed on the idea for a moment. When Winter had started explaining it, my first reaction was to reject the idea... to go for uniformity. However, I could see the point she was making, and it offered some utility."
"Plus," Seth chimed in, "everyone likes getting a little bit of a say in things. I heard about how you let the Donahues choose the color for the trading post. They really appreciated that. I bet it might do at least a little bit to help the Abernathy gang feel welcomed if they get to leave their mark on things."
"Hmm," I was still undecided. "I'll think about it on the way over there... but just talking through it I think you're kind of convincing me. Anyway, it'll be daylight soon. Let's hit the road."
Winter nodded her assent and we headed for the gates. I paused then, considering.
"Should I take the power suit? In case we run into trouble on the way?"
"No," Winter answered definitively. "The way to the farm is pretty safe these days, and you don't want to show up there loaded for battle. This is the friendly takeover, remember?"
"Yeah, you're right," I agreed. "Let's go, then."
The sun was fully up by the time we reached the farm, and I found Blake making his morning rounds of the tato patches.
"Blake," I said, "it's been too long! How is the spring treating you?"
"See for yourself," he answered, pointing to the vines all around him that were already bearing fruit. "Things are looking good for the harvest. And I guess that's what you're here for, right? To talk about trading for food?"
"Not... exactly," I admitted. "The trust is, I've got a proposal for you and Connie. Lucy too."
"Well, if I didn't know you folks better, I'd say that sounded a little ominous. Is this one of those proposals that we should sit down for?"
I nodded slowly. "Nothing ominous, I promise, but we should probably get comfortable to talk it over."
He shrugged, and led me into the fort. While the place wasn't exactly neat and tidy, it was spacious and solid-looking. I took a seat at the head of their dining room table and Blake and Connie settled in around me. I'd lost track of Lucy and Winter, and I wondered if they were speaking separately.
I laid out our plans - how we wanted to rebuild Concord. How we'd already run the raiders out of town, but now we needed to control the roads if we wanted to keep them out. I explained how their farm's position on a hill over Sudbury Road made it ideal for keeping unwanted visitors out of Concord - or at least warning us that they were coming.
More to the point, I explained how much I appreciated the help they'd given us when we were first setting up, and I wanted the Abernathy family to be part of our community. The offer I made, the offer I hoped they'd accept, was that their family could join our community, and we'd provide them with technical assistance to upgrade and improve their farm. At the same time, they'd allow - within reason - for settles to improve the unused areas of land on the Abernathy farm. Blake or Connie, their choice, would be the mayor of this new settlement, and I'd leave the day to day decision making to them.
Finally, I knew that they were producing a significant food surplus that they must be struggling to safely get to market. I didn't explicitly tell them about Preston's plans to revive the Minutemen - I wasn't ready to announce that yet - but I explained that as Concord grew it would turn into a stable and reliable market for their produce, and as part of our community the Abernathy family would have first access to that market.
Blake looked surprised, but Connie nodded slowly. "I wondered if it was going to come to that," she said.
"To that?" I asked, probing.
"You're no raider, Charley, but you've got a little bit of that conqueror's spark in your heart. I can see it in your eyes when you're talking about Sanctuary. You don't want just an acre to raise a family on. You don't even want to get back all the comforts of the old world. You want those things... and you want them for the people who follow you, too. I can't imagine you think its a good idea to have a rich farm like ours right on your doorstep, but not under your thumb."
I grimmaced a little about what she said. She really wasn't far off the mark. "You're right on most of that," I admitted. "Except for the thumb part. I'd rather have you standing side by side with me."
"Ha," she barked softly, "maybe, but you mean side by side, one step behind you, wearing your uniform, right?"
"I admit, even if I was inclined to say otherwise, I think the rest of Sanctuary would insist on the uniforms. Somewhere along the way, our customs turned into our laws, and now its important to them that any new partners uphold them. But for what you'd stand, so to speak, I meant side by side. While I'd ask you defer to me to make the first step in certain circumstances, I'd value having you as peers. That's part of why I want you to formally be the leaders of this land if you join us."
"If," Blake muttered, "like we have a choice."
"Oh, come on Blake," I said, "that kind of stung. Have I ever treated you unfairly? Hell, have I ever hesitated to help you when you asked? What about Winter? How many times has she been here now? She's always treated you right, hasn't she?"
"Ah, I'm sorry, Charley," he answered, "I guess I'm just a little prickly after all these years. It's true that you've been a good neighbor, and I haven't forgotten how you went into that raider den trying to find our Mary. I... listen, let's not dance around it, we don't really have a choice in this. I know. But it's hard to accept maybe not having as much control as we had before. Listen, can we think on this for a bit? Maybe we can, um, reconvene at lunch time?"
"Sure, that's fair. I'll leave you to it then."
While they deliberated, I took a moment to walk the perimeter of the farm. I imagined how we could make improvements and secure the site, and I wondered what kind of community they would build here, given the chance. As I wandered, I spotted Lucy working at a melon patch. Kneeling down, I drew close to her.
"Lucy," I said, "how are you doing?"
She paused her work, looking up at me. "Not bad at all, though we're in for a lot of hard work." Gesturing towards a particularly large melon she added, "look at this - best growing season we've had in a good five or six years."
"I bet," I said, "you've got a great place here."
Lucy's face stilled a bit. "Are you here to ask my parents about taking me back to your town? Like you talked about in the winter?"
"Not... exactly. I have a nice idea, and if your folks agree - if you agree, for that matter - then I don't think you'd need to move to Sanctuary."
Lucy actually looked a little disappointed. Glancing side to side as if to make sure we weren't being snooped on she admitted, "I've been practicing working with my pants off, to get used to how you do things up there."
I wasn't expecting that response and it drew a little laugh out of me. "Well," I said, "if my plan goes through that practice will still do you well. I asked your folks if you wanted to join up with us and try to turn your farm into a settlement, partners with Sanctuary."
"You say, partners, but it sounds like you want us to follow your rules."
"Yeah, you got me there. The offer's that you all join Sanctuary, and then your folks would be mayor of the farm here, boss over any new folks who move in to start building a small town, and also in charge of... well, Lucy, can you keep a secret?"
She nodded warily. There was an eagerness, a restlessness in Lucy that he parents didn't have, and I had a hunch that Preston's plans for the Minutemen might resonate with her.
"We're bringing back the Minutemen," I said. "It's still a secret, not even your folks know yet, but we want to build a base on the empty lot just down the hill from here, overlooking the road. We'll use it to keep raiders from coming back to Concord."
Lucy blinked slowly at me. Once, then twice, before she answers. "I thought the Minutemen were all dead. Some Gunners came through last fall, looking for food. They told us they'd smoked them out of Quincy and now they were all gone."
"Gunners?" I asked, "I don't think I've run into them before."
"They're soldiers. Don't say who they work for or why they're here, but they've been slowly working their way north and west for a few years now. The have bases on some of the old highway overpasses."
Hearing that, I had some idea what she was talking about. When I'd gone to Cambridge, I'd seen a fort built up on the Route 2 overpass a ways east of here. It looked like trouble, and I avoided it. I suspected that was a Gunner base, given how Lucy described them.
"I see. Well, they were mostly right, but a few survived. One of the last - maybe the last - officer made it to Sanctuary, and now we're planning to rebuild the force. Our first operation is going to be to secure Concord so we can turn it into a safe place to rebuild."
"Fuuuuuck," she whispered, then laughed, "haha don't tell my dad I said that. But seriously, Charley, if they say no to your idea, I'll come back with you to join the Minutemen. We need them back so badly, and, honestly, I want some payback for Mary. And if they say yes... well, once you start building that base, I'll be the first in line to sign up."
"I'm glad to hear it," I said, patting her on the shoulder.
After letting Lucy get back to work, I finally tracked down Winter. She was at the farm's water pump, fiddling around with some equipment and drawing off a water sample.
"See this?" she asked.
I squinted at the water sample she was holding up, and Winter gave it a bit of a flick. "Seth warned me about this - he said that a pump of this design was probably pulling sediment up into the supply, and over time it would start clogging up the whole system. Worse, if any of the soil was hot, then the water would start carrying rads too. My Geiger counter's coming up negative on the water, which is good, but they really need a whole tear-down for maintenance."
"I hope they sign on with us, then. I'll bet he first in line to help them, but it's hard to justify doing the work if they don't come onboard."
"They talking it over still?" Winter prodded.
I nodded. "They said for me to come back at lunch time. What about you? Did you get a chance to talk to them or Lucy?"
"Only briefly. They seemed kind of guarded but not unfriendly. I think they're just scared of giving up control over the farm."
"Dammit, everyone keeps saying that, but if there's one think I don't want to do its take over the farm. Do they really just not believe I don't want them as partners?"
Winter laughed. "Do you believe you really just want them as partners?"
Winter leaned over, whispering in my ear before taking a little tug at my earlobe with her lips. "I know you better than that, Charley. You want to be their boss. Sure, you'll be happy if they can do everything on their own, and do it well, but you'll be itching to step in if stuff goes sideways. You've got a need in you to make other people do things your way. Lucky for you, your way is usually the right way."
Her hot breath on my ear, and then the moist pull of her lips against my earlobe made me take in a little breath, then I exhaled and relaxed my shoulders a little. "You've got me all figured out, don't you?"
She pulled back, smiling, "Yes. I. Do." Leaning back toward me, she planted a kiss on my lips, gently pulling at my bottom lip until my mouth parted enough for her to slide her tongue in. I tasted her flesh in my mouth, and I pulled her a bit closer, savoring the contact.
After indulging for a while more, Winter disengaged from me and grinned. "You have till lunch, you said? That's good, because I brought something."
Reaching into her pack, Winter retrieved the strap-on dildo we'd enjoyed back in the vault, and a few times since. "Bend over, mighty Overseer. I have something for you."
I followed her instructions and groaned contentedly as she slid the rubber cock into me from behind. Our earlier canoodling had left me moist and eager, and only the tension of the muscles in my pelvis kept the thick dong from pushing all the way to my cervix on each thrust. Not accepting anything less than full command over me, Winter intensified her thrusts, plunging deeper and deeper all while pulling me into her by the wrists.
At last, I felt my thighs starts to spasm and a moment later I cried out as I came. Winter kept hammering away at me for a while yet, evidently greatly enjoying my jerking and spasming, until my knees started to fail me and she gently let me down to the ground.
"Oh," I sighed, "I needed that."
"I told you I had you all figured out," Winter said, slipping out of the strap-on harness. "Now, once you've caught your breath why don't you check in on the Abernathys. It can't be much longer before they'll have an answer for you."
Winter's intuition was on target - Blake and Connie had emerged from the fort when I got back, though only Connie came to speak with me.
"Lunch time already?" I asked.
"Very funny," Connie said with a smirk. "But no sense waiting longer. We talked it over, talked to Lucy too. You really won her over, didn't you? She's practically jumping out of her clothes already just at the thought of teaming up with you folks."
"I did kind of get that impression," I admitted.
"Eh, doesn't matter. We both know that we're just arguing over when this happens. So we're in. I'm the mayor. Blake just want's to tend the farm, nothing more."
I didn't try to hide the relief on my face as Connie didn't mince words.
"Thank you, Connie, I appreciate you trusting me on this. Trusting all of us. So... what color do you want?"
"For your vault suits."
She rolled her eyes at that. "They come in different colors?"
"Sure," I said, "that way if a stranger shows up from one of the other settlements, you'll know which one they're from."
"Ah, I guess that make sense. What have you got?"
After some discussion, we settled on green. The farm was the center of this future settlement, after all, so might as well acknowledge in the color of the suits. After a trip back to Sanctuary to fabricate the suits, Winter and I helped the family get equipped - just in time, as it happened, since a warm rainshower rolled in just as we were finishing up.
"Well, one thing I'll say for these is the rain's no bother at all. Actually feels kind of nice," Connie conceded.
"You three look good," I said. "Everything comfortable?"
"More or less," Blake volunteered, "but I don't understand how you people get around in these heels. It's like I'm walking on my tiptoes all the time."
Winter chuckled at that, "you just need some practice. You'll be used to it in no time. Why don't you just focus on getting adjusted to the shoes and breaking in the suits today. Tomorrow I'll be back and we can start coordinating the improvements for your farm."
"No need for you to leave," Lucy volunteered. "Stay the night, we'll make you a hot meal and you can tell us more about your plans for Concord."
And just like that, we'd made the first step towards seizing control of Concord.