Other People

In which Charon doesn't have a clue

Before now, Charon had thought he was good with people. Not that he liked them. No, most days he'd rather shoot himself in the foot than converse with anyone, but he knew how to find and exploit a weakness before it became a matter of life and death. Body language tells more about a person in a second than an hour of mind numbing chatter. But yet this kid—his employer, Charon has to remind himself as he watches her over the fire—is a fucking mystery.

She's like no employer he's ever had, that's for damn sure. Walked into Ahzrukhal's like she owned the place and had the balls to haggle the bastard down. And yet out in the wastes, she's handing him stimpaks at every little scrape and splitting everything she finds as evenly as she can make it. Even now, with them tucked safely inside a cave full of Yao Guai—fucking creepy the way they take to her—she's reading his contract over and over again like she's going to find some kind of loophole he hasn't found already.

"Charon," she says after an eternity has crawled by. "This makes no sense."

And he stares at her because it doesn't take a genius to figure out you point, he shoots and he's pretty sure anybody that can wheedle Azhrukhal down to eight-hundred caps should be able to comprehend that much. But she just glares at his contract, the freckles on her nose crinkling in a way he absolutely does not find attractive, and shakes her head again.

"This is ridiculous. I think Azhrukhal gave me the wrong paper."

Charon shrugs and turns back to prodding his dinner, one eye on the ancient Yao Guai sleeping nearby.

"That is my contract," he tells her, resisting the urge to add, "It's not complicated."

Her frown deepens and he watches through the corner of his eye as she reads the paper again.

"But what am I supposed to pay you?"


The question haunts him. The frown in her eyes when she asked—the indignant look on her face when he couldn't help laughing. She'd wanted to pay him. It'd taken him a week of refusing her caps—no good getting used to the idea when she'd just want them back later—before she'd finally stopped offering. And even then he'd caught her slipping extra ammo in his bag when she thought he wasn't looking, piling him with as many meds as he could carry when he was.

"You look sore," she'd tell him. "I have extras. Don't worry about it."

And if he were anyone else—if he still had a face to speak of—he'd think the kid was flirting. But nobody is that fucked up and as much as he'd like to pin her to the wall—or slip in next to her one night just when it starts to get cold—he knows damn well better than to hope.

Still, as he stands in front of Flak and Shrapnel waiting for her to finish buying whatever it is she came here for, he can't help wishing he'd taken her up on her offer. They have a Victory rifle here. Through some strange twist of fate, they have a Victory rifle. He's wanted to get his hands on one of them for years. Hell, ever since he'd been old enough to hold a gun. But something happened to most of them after the war, and he knows damn well chances are he'd never see another—

Charon stops thinking at the feel of a hand on his arm, snapping back to attention, fingers twitching towards his gun out of habit. But the kid only laughs and grins up at him as she turns back to packing up her shit, the same look in her eyes she always gets when she does something stupid like giving him the last bottle of purified water for no better reason than he likes the taste of it.

"You look like your heart's breaking," she says, tossing him a couple packs of ammo. "What? See something you can't bare to leave without?"

Charon shrugs and nods towards the rifle.

"Haven't seen one of them since I was a kid."

And most people would leave it at that. Hell, most people wouldn't have asked in the first place. But the kid isn't most people and when she catches Shrapnel's glare and points towards the rifle, Charon starts to wonder if he ever knew all that much about people at all.

"Don't give me that look; Flak will carve you a new one for scaring off the customers again," she laughs, pulling the rifle from its case. "How much? And I won't even haggle, I promise."


Charon cleans the rifle for the sixth time that night, taking it apart and putting it together again until the barrel gleams through the dark and he can tell the pieces apart by touch.

There's only one bed. The kid spent her last cap on the Victory rifle and it was only after she sold the shitty 10mm she kept for nostalgia, Charon, just humor me that she could even afford the room.

The single room.

With only one bed.

That she found absolutely no problem with.

Except there is a problem—namely that for the last week his fragmented mind has seen fit to ferret in some rather graphic dreaming and he wakes up every morning feeling like a goddamned teenager again. Which is all well and good when he has his own room—or at least his own bed—but to spend the night with her pressed up against his back, making those noises in her sleep…

"Jesus, Charon," she chuckles from the bed, voice thick with sleep. "Are you going to play with that gun all night?"

Yes, he thinks vehemently, not at all contemplating the way her skin would feel under his hands.

"Almost done," he says instead, hoping that she falls asleep before she can order him to come to bed.

She's silent a long moment and Charon almost relaxes, thinking that maybe she has fallen asleep. But then she shifts, pressing herself against the wall so that she takes up barely a sliver of the bed and Charon can see the outline of her frame, still and fragile in the dark.

"Suit yourself," she says so quietly he barely hears her. "I was just trying to be nice."

And Charon's never felt like such an asshole in his life, but it doesn't stop him from staying where he is. He knows whatever she's thinking about him now is better than the truth of it and it's such a goddamned novelty to have a pretty woman looking at him without disgust that he doesn't want to ruin it.

But when he hears her breathing slow, he can't help creeping over to sit by her side a moment—just to watch her as she twitches, murmuring in her sleep something that sounds almost like his name. He knows better. He's not a fucking teenager anymore and he knows better. But he can't help running his fingers through her hair just once—can't help laying down next to her for a moment, just to imagine what it'd be like to share her bed. And when she curls into his arms, he can't help wondering what it'd be like to have this every night—to wake up twined together every morning.

For a moment he lets himself pretend—she's not like other people, after all—but in the end he forces himself out of bed, wincing as she flings an arm out in her sleep, searching for him. He runs his fingers through her hair to calm her, watches her troubled, sleeping face and wishes there was something he could say. But as much as he wishes things were different, he knows his place and it's not next to her.

"Goodnight, kiddo," he says and it's not enough—it will never be enough—but it'll have to do.