Disclaimer: I do not own nor intend to use Fallout 3 for monetary gain.

-o-o-o-

"I swear kid, you move one more time, and I'm tipping this bunk bed over and you better pray it doesn't crack your skull in the process." His deep-throated growl resonated somewhere beneath the time-worn and torn mattress beneath me.

"Stuff it, Jericho." I snapped back, not in the mood for his gruff demeanor, "We've traveled god knows how many miles, took down a whole pack of Super mutants on top of the usual raiders, and you're whining because of a little squeaking?"

"No, I'm whining cuz a certain little miss princess on the bunk above me won't stop fuckin' shiftin' around. Can't get a goddamn wink of sleep in." His voice was slightly raised. A sure sign of his elevating pissed meter.

Knowing I was asking for it, I leaned over the edge to stare at the ex-raider as I made a pouty face, "Aww… does the big bad mercenary need his beauty sleep?"

It had been a while since I had seen his face, ever since he took to wearing that Tesla armor, all I ever saw was its cold grey exterior as lightning rhythmically skipped across its metal surface. So I was a little taken aback by that familiar, stubbly scowl and that piercing dark brown gaze. Ever since I had left Vault 101, I had learned quickly to be prepared for anything with every breath I took.

This… was not one of those times.

Raised on his elbow, his other arm shot out and grabbed me by the collar. I had enough time to widen my eyes before he grinned, yanking to complete the motion before I was dropped to the ground like a mutant's sack of limbs. My pride was wounded as much as my ass as I glared at him through my raven-colored bangs.

He stared at me silently, still perched on the bed as I sat up on the floor.

"Jericho, you ass." I scowled.

He snorted then, mumbling off a "Night kid," as he flipped over, the back of his close-shaven fuzzy head facing me.

Sighing, I shook my head and picked myself all the way off the floor. I just didn't know what to make of him. Some days he was nearly tolerable. Others, he was his usual jerk self. I don't even know what he was still doing traveling with me if I frustrated him this much. Hell, why was I still traveling with him?

Glaring daggers at the back of his head, I clenched my jaw as I came to a final decision.

It wasn't until he was snoring softly away that I slipped into Linden's Outcast Power Armor. Dogmeat whined from his huddled corner of the tent, but I shushed him with a silent finger to my lips. For good measure, I shook my head slowly even as I put on an Enclave power helmet I had resurrected from one of my kills. I divided up the loot equally in half, though it was a bitch not making any noise with all those bottle caps, and placed them in a sack next to the mercenary's favorite weapon, the Shiskebab. I smiled at the memory of how his face lit up when I made the weapon. With the portable tank you had to wear like a backpack, I found it too bulky, but had wanted to breath life into the schematics I had found in some abandoned ruin. While it was wicked cool, what with the blade enshrouded in flames, it wasn't for me.

Jericho was only too happy to knock aside my fear of wasting it.

Dogmeat whined and pawed at my armored feet as I headed towards the exit. Unable to turn down that wolfish pout, I sighed and jerked my head, mutely telling the dog to come with me. Immediately, his tail began wagging again. He had already been abandoned once, I wasn't about to do that to him again. Hefting my own favored weapon, the A3-31's Plasma Rifle, I walked out of the tent, securing the flap and double checking the tripwire before heading off into the night.

-o-o-o-

"Dogmeat, I think I bit off a little more than I could chew…" I muttered softly, hand over my abdomen as the other restrained him by the scruff of his fur. Not that he was going anywhere, his four-legged stance protective even as he guarded me behind our stone cover, nose scrunched as he bared his teeth silently. The silent growl wasn't so much directed at a person as much as it was in the general direction of the fighting.

My hand was covered in too much blood for me to get a good grip on my rifle.

It wasn't so much the fact that we had been caught off guard as it was the missile launcher one of the Super mutants had in his arsenal. The shrapnel from it cut me good in the side, even as the explosion blew me to where I currently lay, propped up against a boulder. What was wrong with me? I've handled worse wounds, lay in worse situations, before.

I was just so… distracted.

Angry at a weakness I couldn't describe, I reached into my bag and fumbled with a stimpack. But my hands were shaking too much. Had I lost that much blood already?

On the other side of the boulder, a couple yards away, I could hear Fawkes roaring above the whine of his machine gun. No doubt holding his own. But I couldn't just leave him to fend for himself. Concentrating back on the needle, I attempted to wrench off the cover with my other hand, but the blood only made my fingers slide against the plastic encasing. Cursing, I raised the stimpack to my mouth, planning on ripping it off with my teeth.

Dogmeat growling fiercely beside me warned me before my eyes even raised to see them. Three centaurs, their grotesque tongues and limbs flailing, slithered slowly towards me. Dropping the stimpack, I quickly rolled to the side as acid sizzled the boulder where I was moments ago. I cried out in pain as I landed, momentarily unable to move any further. I looked up with widened eyes at certain death.

Dogmeat was a streak of black and white fur, tackling one and ripping out its throat before going for the other. But even with the second preoccupied, there was still one more. I pushed myself up agonizingly to one knee, combat knife dragged out of its sheath with my less bloodied hand. I would have preferred my Deathclaw gauntlet, but I wasn't in a position to strap it on in time.

It was close enough that it no longer needed the acid attack, and it rushed forward eagerly.

"You wanna piece of me?" I demanded, steeling myself for the attack.

Suddenly a glint of metal pierced its pulpy chest from behind, making it cry out even as it burst into flames. The metal disappeared back into its bleeding hole before making a swift reappearance as it lopped off the ugly creature's head. I watched with disbelief as the burning, beheaded form sagged to the ground like so much slime.

When I looked up, it was to the crackling intensity of a plated suit, and two burning orbs behind a Tesla helmet, "Yeah… I do."

I just stared, dumbfounded. With the way the chest plate heaved with his ragged breaths, he was obviously either very winded, or very pissed off. Or both. I eyed the Shiskebab he still held in his grip a little nervously.

"J-Jericho?" When I finally found my voice, it was so dry it cracked, "I split the loot evenly. I didn't cheat you, I swear."

He stalked towards me and all I could do was watch him, wondering if he would behead me as cleanly as he did the Centaur. I was helpless like this. I've killed Raiders, Bandits, Mutants, and creatures too ugly to name. And now… now what it came down to was this? Coming to my side, Dogmeat let a growl slip out of his throat, ears back.

"Shut yer yap, mutt." Jericho snarled at the dog, staring Dogmeat down.

The very air around the ex-bandit burned, and it was not because of the Shiskebab. His eyes glared with such unbridled fury behind the helmet, that even Dogmeat eventually cowered back, tail tucked between his legs. I found myself shrinking back as he came to crouch before me.

Normally, I was not prone to fear. But this was the one person who I had trusted with my life, who had stuck with me through thick and thin, and who I still couldn't bear to raise my knife, or any weapon, against.

"I swear Jericho, it was an even split." I found the words spilling out of my mouth as he grabbed me gruffly by the collar, "I admit, maybe I should have giving you notice ahead of time, but I didn't think you'd mind. Unless… you thought you deserved more loot?"

He paused at his words. I hadn't thought it was possible for him to get any more upset.

I was wrong.

Ripping off his helmet, he fixed that heated stare on me as he dragged me closer. So close my nose almost brushed his.

"You… just don't get it, do you?" He growled.

Then, before I could say, or even think anything on a reply, I felt a sharp jab into my side. Looking down, I saw the stimpack emptying its contents into me, just beside the gash. I was lightheaded, and I felt my eyes drooping closed. As I felt the darkness descending, I lolled my head back to look up at the mercenary. There was something, some emotion on his face that I just couldn't pin down.

"Jericho…" I mumbled, before I felt my body relax its muscles one by one.

I felt him place me carefully on the ground, even as I spiraled into unconsciousness. Just before I went, I heard him give a gruff order for Dogmeat to stay and guard me.

-o-o-o-

When he had seen her, raven hair plastered by sweat and blood to her forehead, her usual messy bun unraveled, Jericho couldn't help getting as pissed as he was. What had she been thinking? Running off on her own. Not even telling him…

Being left behind left a bad burn that slid down his throat to his gut, settling in uneasily. Hell, he didn't know why he felt this way. He didn't even understand half the shit that came out of his own mouth. When he saw those ice blue eyes close shut behind exotically thick-framing lashes, he couldn't help the knot of worry that twisted in his chest. He was a mercenary for god's sake.

And before that, he had made a living off of other people's suffering. At the time, it seemed like the only option. Kill or be killed. Scavenge or die. Loot or be looted. It was so simple. Until that one time…

Jericho shook his head, clearing it. It wouldn't do to go daydreaming before rushing into a battle. He had told the mutt to watch her before sprinting off.

Unease fluttered within his gut. He didn't like going into a fight unprepared. He had met the Super mutant Fawkes maybe once before. He could only hope the other would recognize him as well.

He couldn't help the sting of realizing she had left him for the company of the large mutant. Did she think he could protect her better just because of his immense size? Jericho growled as he charged forward, slicing through a Super mutant attempting to get at Fawkes from behind.

All Fawkes could see was Jericho, and with the way he turned his machine gun, the mercenary was getting a bad feeling at how he had to look like to the mutant. Jericho raised his blade, inches from being torn through like a jackhammer, when the machine gun suddenly died down.

The intelligent Super mutant frowned, "I know you…"

"Yeah, let's save the chitchat for later, shall we?" The bearded ex-bandit growled, hiding his immense relief at the close call.

Fawkes frowned deeper, but only nodded before both turned back to back and continued the battle.

-o-o-o-

I emerged briefly from unconsciousness to find myself cradled in Fawkes's large arms. I felt like a tiny porcelain doll in them.

The mutant didn't realize I was awake, as he was too busy arguing with Jericho.

"-don't see why she keeps company with the likes of you." Fawkes commented.

"I could say the same." Jericho replied gruffly, a puff of smoke trailing into my vision.

"Why must you continue to poison your body with that when you have no mutations?" The muscled mutant frowned, and I could feel his agitation rumbling through from his chest.

"Why must you keep up with the useless questions?" Jericho demanded.

"Perhaps you do not care about your own body, but think about Frost. She is still healing." Fawkes continued, undeterred by the mercenary's demeanor.

There was a lull in the conversation, and I saw another large puff of smoke drift past. Then I heard the sizzle of a cigarette dying in a small puddle of irradiated water.

"Don't feel much like smoking anyways…" Jericho muttered.

I was surprised. With how much he always went on and on about how hard it was to find smokes these days, and how he pretty much breathed as much as of the stuff as the rest of us breathed air, why would he waste one just like that? Not sure what to think, I felt myself drifting back to the warm depths of sleep.

-o-o-o-

Jericho frowned. He could've sworn he had just seen the kid move.

Nah, must've just been his overactive imagination.