Most people would say that Esther had never known her mother, but Esther knew that wasn't so. For the first few pure, glorious moments of life when child first meets mother, the being who had nurtured and carried them for nine months, she knew her. The way James had explained it to me, Catherine nursed her for a couple of minutes before truly realizing what she had known all along: that she was not going to make it. She had a bad heart, and she finally succumbed to cardiac arrest. Esther had cried when James pulled her from the breast, still suckling, trying to get warmth from the only source she knew. A Brotherhood of Steel soldier had taken her into the next room and calmed her, letting her suck on a finger. When Catherine passed minutes later, Esther had begun to cry inconsolably.
The two had forged a bond that was unbreakable by the gates of death, unstretchable at the hands of time. When Esther had spoken to me about her mother, there was warmth and longing in her voice. When she was scared, she would sing a song James had said Catherine had sung to her while she was gestating. I was astounded at the inexhaustible amount of strength it gave her every single time she called on it. Esther had sworn to me that she could remember hearing it, and at first I was skeptical. Now I'm not.
The first time I saw her, she was frazzled. The blonde hair that I would become so used to being combed was knotted and matted with blood. Her big glassy hazel eyes were bloodshot and brimming with tears. She had run into Underworld to get cover from the Super Mutants roaming the expanse of the National Mall. Esther limped to a stool and sat down at the bar. I grimaced inwardly for her. Ahzrukhal was not a good person, especially when you were weak. He and his business thrived on weakness. She broke down and began to cry. I watched her shoulders rise and fall with each gasping breath. Ahzrukhal patted her back, rubbed it softly. His rough hands made their way down to the exposed soft skin of her shoulder. I braced myself for the inevitable. He took vulnerability and used it against people, especially women. She looked so virginal and angelic. The things he would do to her would rob her of that. The purity she possessed was rare in the Wasteland.
Esther outsmarted Ahzrukhal at his own game. She stayed at Carol's Place for several nights, coming into the Ninth Circle every day. She would buy whiskey and pretend to drink it while he wasn't looking. When she had convinced Ahzrukhal that she was intoxicated, she made him tell her secrets to gain her trust. The bastard was so certain that she wouldn't remember anything and that he would get what he wanted from her that he told her almost everything she asked. One night, after he had fallen asleep and I was the only person awake in the Ninth Circle, Esther came back in. Normally I would've shot an intruder, but Ahzrukhal had foolishly told me to let her in. She had promised him intercourse that night. She sauntered over to him, still trying to act like she was drunk for my sake. I don't know if she knew that I wasn't fooled. She whispered something to him and he hazily drew a key from his pocket. She bent down and kissed his cheek. He swatted her buttocks when she walked away; the disgust was visible on her face. She held up the key when she walked by me.
"Chems," she said. I didn't respond. She unlocked his safe. I shook my head in disbelief. She was going to rob him blind. I despise thieves, and that's what Ahzrukhal was. He stole more than money from people. He stole dignity. Esther didn't bother me. She was a personification of karma. He had had this coming for a long time.
I watched her as she rummaged through the safe. She pushed aside the chems and caps. That's when I realized what she was doing. She grabbed a parchment and read it over. Then she approached me.
"Charon," she began. I shushed her. The apprehension and nervousness in her eyes turned to complete fear when I drew my shotgun. I crept to Ahzrukhal's sleeping figure. When I cocked my shotgun, he opened his eyes. Unfortunately for him, that shotgun barrel was the last thing he ever saw. Esther didn't ask, didn't chastise me. She just accepted it. And I think she was a little relieved that she wasn't my target. Before we left, she grabbed the caps and the chems.
And so it began. I couldn't begin to describe the whole of our adventures. We spent the next four months together looking for her father. We soon found out he was trapped in a tranquility lounger in a vault. When we reached the vault, Esther discovered that she had to enter the same simulation her father was stuck in to free him. There was one caveat: if she didn't find a way to free him, she'd be stuck in it as well. As Esther climbed into the lounger, she looked at me with those eyes. For so long we waited in that limbo, her leaning over the side of the pod, finger resting uncertainly on the button that would close her in that bubble, inches away but so damn far apart.
"Goodbye Charon," she whispered, her voice barely audible above the hum of the vault machinery. I climbed onto the lounger and knelt beside her.
"One person per tranquility lounger," a Robobrain called to me in its sing-song voice. I ignored it.
"I'll be here Esther. I swear to you," I promised earnestly. Contract or not, she was all I had. Her with those small, helpless hands, those trusting eyes, and those rosy, welcoming lips. I had always wondered if her lips were as soft as her hands. I had to find out.
I held her close, our foreheads touching. I breathed in her exhalation, tasting the sweet remnants of her last meal.
"Charon…" she began. Once again I shushed her, raising my index finger to her lips. Oh God, they were soft, softer than I could ever imagine. I ran my other hand down her cheeks. They were as soft as her lips. And… damp? Tears were staining that wholesome face.
"Why are you crying?" I asked despairingly. Here I had opened up, subjected myself to cruel vulnerability.
"I… I love you. I don't want to leave you," she sobbed. I held her head to my chest. The Robobrain began harping at us again. Her body convulsed with her hiccups.
"Hey… hey," I said. She looked up at me. Something inside me twisted. "Don't cry. You're the only chance your father has. I would do this for you; I would, if I had a Pip-Boy. Please, be strong. The sooner you get in there, the sooner I'll be with you again. Be strong." Still she shuddered against me. As her crying subsided, I began to hear that familiar tune under her breath. I sang with her. She looked up at me again, but this time the lost look in her eyes had turned into appreciation.
"I love you," I murmured in her ear. She nodded at me, trying to return the sentiment but too overcome with emotion. I drew her to me, resting one hand on her shoulder and the other on her cheek. We kissed to the symphony of humming machinery and mechanical clanks. She tasted like all that was good in the world, and she breathed her warm breath into my mouth, breathing life into me.
When I slid off the lounger, she sealed herself inside. I pressed my hand against the glass. She glanced at me and then looked back at the monitor in front of her. Her body jolted slightly and then she was gone, lost in a state of subconscious. I paced for hours, trying to occupy myself. I pulled a cigarette from a pack we had found in the garage to trade and lit it, smoking a fourth of it before extinguishing it. I finally laid beside her lounger and slept, awakening almost ten hours later. I fidgeted with things here and there, hoping I wasn't damaging anything that was keeping Esther alive.
I discovered that the terminal connected to her lounger was monitoring her vital signs. I watched it constantly. Occasionally I tried typing messages on the computer, hoping they might somehow reach her and show her that I was there.
For three days I stayed like this, waiting impatiently, starving for her. While I was looking into her lounger, I heard a long, low beeping from another terminal. I darted to it, checking those vitals.
"SEEK EMERGENCY MEDICAL ATTENTION," blinked across the screen. My heart dropped to my knees. I ran to Esther's monitor; her vitals were still fine. Other terminals began to sound their alarms. I panicked, slamming my fist into the glass of her lounger. Across the room, I heard a hissing sound as another lounger opened. I turned toward it, drawing my shotgun. A man with wavy gray hair and a beard climbed out. I kept my shotgun raised but I knew exactly who he was. When he saw me he became alarmed, holding up his hands.
"What can I do for you?" he asked slowly. I lowered my shotgun.
"You are Esther's father?" I asked. The man nodded sharply.
"What business do you have with my daughter?" he asked harshly. I began to answer when Esther's lounger hissed. I turned around. She climbed out slowly. I smiled broadly as she stood looking between me and her father. I stepped out of the way; she smiled shyly at me and ran to her father. He embraced her hugely, kissing her forehead. She radiated happiness as he let her go. She turned to me.
"Daddy, this is Charon," she said, indicating at me. I walked to him, trying not to look down at him and seem condescending. His powerful stare made up for his small stature as he looked me up and down. I extended my hand and he received it warmly.
"Nice to meet you, Charon," he said sincerely. "My name is James." Esther beamed. The two became deep in conversation for a while; submersed in issues from a past I didn't come from. Esther tried to include me in the chatter from time to time, and I would nod when she looked at me, but I was just watching her, thankful she was alive.
We soon began the long journey across the Wasteland. The first night we made camp, James and I sat up talking while Esther slept soundly.
"How did you meet Esther?" he asked. I told him a condensed and edited version. He raised an eyebrow at me.
"Charon, you are probably much, much older than I am. But my experience with the teenagers and hypochondriacs in the vault tells me that you are lying. Well, that and the fact that my daughter told me another story," he said with a hearty laugh. "I can't say I'm thrilled with her behavior, but at least she's crafty." I nodded, and we chatted the rest of the night. He told me about Catherine and about raising Esther.
"Do you love her?" he asked suddenly. I turned to him, taken aback by the abruptness of his question. I nodded.
"Yes," I said, my gravelly voice cracking a little.
"She loves you. And I…" he quieted for a moment, and in the flickering of the fire I saw the tears glazing his eyes. He shook his head. "I don't know if you've slept with her. I-I don't want to know. I just want—I want to thank you, Charon. For keeping her alive, for loving her," he turned away from me. I wanted to pat him on the back. I offered him the best comfort I could.
"We haven't made love," I whispered, half wishing I could retract my words. He chuckled, wiping away his tears. I kept watch that night long after James retired. When Esther stirred in the night, I knelt beside her.
"Esther. I love you. I love your silky hair, your inquisitive eyes, your delicate lips." I paused momentarily, stealing a kiss from my sleeping beauty. She grumbled ever-so-softly. "I'm neither a handsome man, nor particular intelligent or learned. I'm only skilled in one thing, and a murderer isn't worth a woman like you. I just want you to know-no, I need you to know that as long as I can be, I will be here for you. I love you so much." She didn't react, just breathed deeply and steadily. But the next morning, as we were continuing on our journey, she grabbed my hand and held it.
We made it Rivet City without much opposition, and we helped James reestablish Project Purity. And when the Enclave claimed stake on the purifier, I watched as helplessly as my lover as her father died. The next two months was a blur of power armor and Super Mutants. I carried the GECK back through the maze of the horrific laboratory that was Vault 87. I should've seen the Enclave coming, but they bludgeoned me from behind. The rest was a blur to me until I woke up alone in the vault. I ran back through it, screaming for Esther.
I was returning to the Citadel when I stopped at Megaton where Esther and I kept a permanent residence. I was eating and listening to Galaxy News Radio when I heard Three Dog talking about an explosion at Raven Rock, the Enclave headquarters. I nearly choked when I heard that Esther had escaped. I was running out of the gates that sealed Megaton from the Wasteland when a familiar figure limped toward me. I threw myself at her, lifting her in the air and spinning her around. She laughed and kissed me hard.
She demanded we return to the Citadel; I demanded she rest. We butted heads for a few moments until she fell asleep soundly in my arms. I laid down next to her, whispering her mother's song to her.
Two weeks later we made love. We were lying together, reveling in the company of one another when she rolled on top of me. She kissed me slowly and deliberately, and I knew what was coming. I tumbled over and lay above her, kissing her neck gently. I looked back up at her.
"Are you sure this is what you want?" I asked. She nodded innocently. I kissed down her forehead to her lips, parting them with my tongue. When she took me inside of her, she wiggled uncomfortably. I stopped immediately. "Are you okay?"
"Yes," she panted breathily. I relaxed a little, entering her more gently. We climaxed together and laid in silence. I caressed her smooth, porcelain skin, savoring the feeling of her back against my stomach. Esther loved me so fiercely she made me forget how hideously deformed I was.
"Charon?" she asked meekly. I relished the way she said my name.
"Yes?" I asked, rolling onto my side. I propped myself up with my elbow and let her slide beneath me. I became her personal shelter.
"That was my, um, first time." She whispered the last two words like they were a secret. I kissed the tip of her nose.
"Mine too." She stared at me in disbelief. "What? I've spent the last two hundred years as a combat servant to power hungry men. I've had no time or free will to have sex." I looked at her, trying to show her with my eyes how sincere I was. "And no desire. I wanted to make love, not just meaninglessly screw someone." She kissed me, and we had each other again, more ravenously than before.
When we finally climbed out of bed, we travelled to the Citadel. I listened in awe as we were admitted into the Brotherhood as members of Lyon's Pride. We took our armor into another room to change as Scribe Rothchild and Elder Lyons discussed the giant robot ally we would have. I took her armor off of her and she peeled mine off of me. We stood there in the remains of America's military headquarters, naked. We enjoyed each other again quickly and quietly. We dressed each other in the heavy armor, and when we emerged from the room we were soldiers, ready for command.
We demolished, well, Liberty Prime demolished the Enclave troops as we made our way to the purifier. Inside, Esther fed Colonel Autumn the end of her rifle and we secured the control room. My heart sank as I heard Dr. Li's words over the intercom, the words "power surge" and "explosion" catching my ear. Esther, Sarah and I all looked at each other. Esther looked at me and I shook my head vehemently, removing my helmet as she took off hers.
"Charon, I need to. I can't let you go in there and die in my place. This is not your fight," she said.
"Any fight of yours is a fight of mine. Esther, you can't." She ignored me and turned to Sarah. Sarah nodded and used the intercom to tell Dr. Li what the situation was. I kissed her as hard as I could, breathing heavily through my tears.
"I love you," she said, hiccupping.
"I love you more," I choked. She climbed into the control room as Sarah held me back; the huge door sealing me from my soul mate forever. I placed my hand on the glass like she was climbing in the tranquility lounger back in Vault 112. I wished so hard that we were back there, that I could still have more time with her. She looked back at me, fear in her eyes. I sang the song to her, trying not to vomit. My heart had never hurt so deeply. She pushed a button and a loud whirring sound filled the room. The water in the center of the rotunda began to move, morphing from aquamarine and muggy to a clear and pure. Esther walked to the glass and pressed her lips against it. I pressed mine back, pretending my lips were against hers and I could feel her warmth against myself. An explosion from the core of the purifier rocked the room. Esther collapsed on the ground as the life left that body I had guarded for so long, the body that had housed the love of my life. Sarah fell to the ground, knocked unconscious by debris. I opened the control room door and grabbed Esther's body. I carried her down the stairs, draping her legs over my arms as though I was carrying her across the threshold. I laid her down reluctantly to get Sarah out of the room before we lost her, too. When the other Brotherhood soldiers had her, I picked up my love again.
I buried Esther next to where James had indicated to me that Catherine was buried. I sang her song to her as I lowered her into the ground. I left the contract with her. She would be my employer forever. I hadn't thought about it in so long, and I had changed. Kissing her for the first time had stirred something inside of me; changed me. I was no longer a mindless killing machine; I was a lover. I spent the night beside her grave, not able to bring myself to leave her. The next morning I had convinced myself that she was peacefully resting with her mother, and I walked to the Citadel. Elder Lyons saluted me upon my arrival, thanking me for saving his daughter and giving me his condolences for Esther. I thanked him, asking him what happened that had killed her. He explained that the Enclave had sabotaged the purifier so that the person who started it would die. I choked. I had thought that it was purely accidental. To think that the Enclave had taken away the one person in the world who could save it enraged me. My desire for revenge was fueled when Paladin Tristan told me about the loss of Liberty Prime and the assault they were planning on Adams Air Force Base. He asked me for my assistance.
I made it through the Presidential Metro with ease. The ferals that roamed the tunnels didn't bother me. I carried Esther's rifle on my back with my shotgun: my shotgun was for the robots; her rifle was for the Enclave. The initial assault on the base was simple; all I had to do was sneak around the many turrets guarding the area, trying to keep from compromising my position or wasting ammo. As I entered close combat with an Enclave soldier, I slit his throat with my combat knife. The warmth of his blood on my hands gave me strength. I laughed loudly. As the Enclave resistance increased, the other Brotherhood soldiers arrived. They gave me cover as I made it to the mobile base crawler to disable the bombing mechanism.
As I reached the launch control terminal, I realized that there was no way to disable the bombs. I had to destroy the base and myself with it. I didn't know if the Brotherhood had known this and sent me on this suicide mission anyway, and I really didn't care. I did what I had to; I initiated the launch on the base. As I headed outside, I heard the alarms sounding. From the data on the terminal, I figured I had about two minutes. I could run to a possible cover and live for God knows how much longer, yearning uselessly for Esther. Or I could accept this death as a way to meet with her again, to be with her for eternity. I laid down on the deck of the base crawler and looked up at the sky. I couldn't see anything, but I figured that if I could, I'd be moments away from death. I remembered how bravely Esther went. I remembered how she called up courage.
"Baby don't worry about a thing."
The alarms grew louder. Enclave troops ran from every direction, trapped in by their own force fields that they had used to keep the Brotherhood out. I scoffed at the irony. I was comforted by the thought that they would be faced with the same fate as Esther and me.
"'Cause every little thing is gonna be alright."
I remembered the feeling of Esther's lips against my finger the first time I touched those full, silky lips. She had been crying because she loved me and didn't want to leave me. Don't worry baby, I'm coming to you.
"Singin' don't worry about a thing."
I remember sitting up night after night with James. He told me all about Catherine, about how Esther reminded him of her. Every night James would thank me for loving his daughter. 'You're a good man', he had told me. He had known nothing of my past, and neither had Esther. Yet she loved me unconditionally.
"'Cause every little thing is gonna be alright."
When I first saw her, that fragile, broken creature, I had never expected to fall in love with her. I had never expected to fall in love, period. I had never actually expected much of anything, but Esther taught me to open up and think of things not in terms of a contract but in terms of emotions and life. Several nights we had sat in silence, both wanting to say things we couldn't bring ourselves to say. Until we reached Vault 112.
"Rise up this mornin', smile with the risin' sun."
Making love to her was beautiful and wonderful. Her body was a maze of beauty. Something more perfect and delicate was hidden behind every curve. The small of her back drove me wild. It curved so lusciously. I hungered insatiably for it, to put my lips on her and taste the salty perfection that was Esther.
"Three little birds pitch by my doorstep."
The alarms began to grow shriller. I breathed deeply, drawing in a huge gulp of air. Esther had gone with such courage. All I wanted to do was follow in her footsteps, to touch on an ounce of her bravery. She was my strength.
"Singin' sweet songs of melodies pure and true."
Loving her was the best thing I had ever done. She had changed me for the better. She had seen past this disgusting body and seen something worth saving inside. I had never asked her why she had gone after my contract.
"Sayin': This is my message to you."
Watching James die hurt, and not just because it devastated Esther; James and I had become fast friends. His drive for saving humanity in all its aspects drew me to him. He wasn't just worried about humans; he cared about Ghouls as well. He was open-minded like Esther. I had promised to teach them both how to handle guns and defend themselves. I never got the chance to teach them, and I hoped that when I met them again that I wouldn't have to.
"Singin' don't worry about a thing."
I had no worldly connections. I knew this was a horribly strange thing to be worrying about just moments before death, but I loved my shotgun. I drew it and laid it across my stomach. I wondered what death was going to feel like, but I didn't dwell on it. If Esther could do it for me and the rest of humanity, I could do it for her.
"'Cause every little thing is gonna be alright."
Oh Esther, how I've missed you. You should see the Wasteland. People are healthier than ever before. The entire Tidal Basin is purified. The mirelurks are dying off now. I think the pure water might help people in more than one way. God I missed you so much. I love you, you know. I love you more than you could ever fathom. The sun grew dark and I closed my eyes. I'm coming darling.
"Sayin': This is my message to you."