Note: This is the second installment in my Fallout 3 trilogy. The first part is entitled "Out of the Dust, She Rises" and can be found by clicking on my username. I highly recommend reading the first story before starting this one, as it gives a lot of necessary background for the characters, and people seemed to really enjoy it. :) The reason I'm splitting these into three stories is because they move through different periods in my Lone Wanderer's development, I'm still playing around with writing(reading my profile will tell you why I'm doing this), and I find it makes everything easier to read and digest. As always, thanks much for reading and your reviews! On with the show.

Cort wasn't sure where her priorities had shifted. Currently, she was sitting on the edge of the irradiated remains of the Potomac River, watching the sluggish green water churl by as the tide moved through the DC basin. Some of it was still streaming off of her, making a puddles on the rubble she was slumped on, and she took time to admire the way her own tiny rivers were shining in the dusty morning sunshine before looking back up to where Dogmeat and Charon were engaged with a Mirelurk. Swimming across the river from the Citadel had attracted two of the creatures, and the ghoul had already made short work of the first.

Making it across the river had nearly done Cort in. Charon's earlier assessment of her condition had been blisteringly precise, and she was bitterly feeling her current deficiencies in spades. Her armour felt loose and too heavy, her pack was like a lead weight even after he had redistributed most of the contents to his own, and while she could shoot as straight as ever, the way she felt had sucked the wind out of her confidence. Her head didn't feel too hot either, and she wondered if she had managed to bang it off the headboard while she was sleeping(she could recall waking up, but wasn't sure of the reason for it or what had happened, only that she was unsettled). The ghoul had taken one look at her after coming out onto the shoreline and barked at her to stay out of the way, turning to fight the mutant crabs with the dog. Another boom issued out from the big man's combat shotgun and she blinked, forcing herself out of the self-pity she had allowed herself to wallow in. Enough of that, not good for you. Not good for anyone. You'll get better again. The Mirelurk was collapsing to the ground, the top of its carapace blown off.

"Like that, you little mud-eating fuck?" Cort smiled as Charon swore at the corpse and immediately started to butcher it, Dogmeat burying his muzzle into the crater left by the shot blast. This was one priority she had a bead on, had down pat, even if the rest of her life was currently directionless. The massive ghoul was the most important thing in her life, and the rock she had tethered herself to. Laughing as he continued to spin out profanities, she clapped happily, drawing his attention. "What?"

"I ever tell you how brutally efficient you are at killing things? You're positively fantastic. Epitome of homicidal efficiency." She watched as the ghoul rolled his eyes and snorted before returning to what he was doing, but not before she observed him subtly puffing out his chest a little at her comments. I don't compliment him enough. I should do it more often. Cort tilted her head, watched him lean over to ram his combat knife into the side of one massive claw, grinned wickedly, then yelled out again. "You also have an ass that would stop rush hour traffic!"

"WHAT?" He snapped his head up so fast it practically blurred, giving her such an affronted and flat out incredulous look that she immediately dissolved into giggles upon seeing it. Slowly calming down, she schooled her face into something resembling haughtiness.

"I believe that you heard me perfectly well."

Shaking his head, he walked over and handed her a halved claw, having left it around the large chunk of meat it contained like a plate. "Here, motormouth. You want to stop feeling like a wash-up, eat up."

"I thought you liked my mouth."

"That doesn't preclude me from noticing that it never stops running." Leaning forward, he briefly kissed her forehead before returning back to the carcasses, continuing to strip anything edible from them.

Cort closed her eyes and smiled again, thinking about the way his rough lips had felt on her skin and other things related to him. If you had asked her a year ago who she thought she would have ended up with, a morose ghoul mercenary almost five times her age wouldn't have even come close to figuring into the equation, not being aware then of what a ghoul even was in the first place. She would have thought carefully, and then responded with a best and worst case scenario. Best case would have been Paul Hannon Jr., if she had had anything to say about it, and worst case would have been Butch DeLoria. Although Butch wasn't bad, not really. Easy enough to manipulate, but that wasn't really what I was looking for in a relationship. I also wasn't looking for a chauvinistic asshole, even if he was kind of a friend. Freddie Gomez would have been somewhere in the middle, and Wally Mack didn't even enter into the equation. Thinking about Wally and his winning personality, Cort grimaced. Christ, whoever marries him is going to end up as a punching bag. Although the only other girls are Amata and Christine, and there's no freaking way Amata would be allowed to marry Wally even if she wanted to, no matter how far Alphonse's cheese may have slid off his cracker. Frowning at the thought of the Overseer and her old Vault in general, she turned her mind towards what had started her thinking, and reached her left hand over to play with the bracelet on her other wrist. Her expression lightened as she ran her fingers over the warm metal, and she thought about the man who had given it to her so unexpectedly, wondering if he had any idea what the gesture had meant to her.

Opening her eyes and seeing that the object of her musings had paused in his work to glare at her, she pushed her helmet visor up and dug into the claw with the other hand, ripping the flesh apart and devouring it as she pulled it free, rapidly making short work of it. "Charon, do you know what it means when you give a ring to uh, someone, and they take it?"

Watching her break apart the big piece of shell to lick the insides, the ghoul took it as a random, unimportant request for information on her part, and responded as such. "No idea, and knock that off, you'll slice your tongue up. Here, greedy." He came over and gave her another split claw, which she tore into immediately, Charon grunting approvingly at her.

"Thank you." She was hungry, and the pieces of Mirelurk were the first thing she had had to eat today. Scrabbling at the shell to get everything she could out of it, she put aside her earlier train of thought and reflected on what they had done before crossing the Potomac.

They had slipped out of the Citadel early that morning, Cort not wanting to be bogged down by anyone, only waiting long enough for Durga to start her work so they could get their weapons back. Charon had retrieved them and traded for anything they needed with the caps they had left, then returned to help her get ready. Before coming back to her, he had ducked outside for a moment, digging her combat knife out of the bundle. Looking at it, he had thinned his lips at the dried blood still smeared over it, then jammed it between two paving stones on the edge of the Bailey, snapping the blade off with a flick of his wrist and violently flinging the hilt into a pile of rubble. She would still carry a knife, would have to, but it would never be that one again. By the time he got back, Cort had put her and Dogmeat's armour on and was glowering at her pack. The ghoul took one look at her and sighed. "What now."

"It's too heavy."

"Oh. That's why you look so pissed? That's nothing, we'll just move shit into mine." He rolled his eyes, then started repacking their belongings and sorting out their weapons as she started griping.

"Perfect. I can't even carry my own shit. Why the heck aren't you all flabby from having a month out anyway. I feel like a Goddamned limp noodle."

"It doesn't matter how long it was for me. I was ghoulified in this condition, so I stay in this condition, perpetual regeneration. That's why I could stand in that fucking corner for that long and not turn into a pile of puke, fuckface didn't exactly let me out for calisthenics. Lucky me." Charon finished rearranging everything heavy into his own pack, putting all the clothing and lighter hear into Cort's, then slung hers at her head when she stared at the ceiling and snorted. One hand shot up blindingly quick and she caught it without looking, the other joining it as she slung it on. "See? You can still do that spooky shit of yours. Reflexes are fine. Aim's fine. You'll be fine. Now come on, it's getting light out, and you didn't want to deal with any of these scrubs when we left."

"Yeah." Opening the door, Cort yelped and jumped back. Irving Gallows was standing directly in front of it and had just managed to scare the everliving shit out of her. "Don't DO that!"

The voice issuing from the helmet sounded distinctly pleased with itself. "Sorry." She was fighting down the sudden urge to beat him to death when he raised his left hand and proffered something towards her, the sight of it distracting her entirely.

"Mine?" Cort took the sniper rifle when he did nothing but silently hold it out, running her hands over the new weapon. It was in immaculate condition, and she ran her fingers over the notched barrel, imagining what she could do with it in graphic detail. "Awesome. Thank you!"

"Good luck, and use it well." Gallows paused, then tilted his head imperceptibly towards her. "Wherever it is you're planning to go."

She smiled up at him sadly. "Can't pull one over on you, can I."

"Nope." He tilted his head again before turning away, this time towards the ghoul, who nodded back. "Charon."

Both of them had watched the armoured man walk down the hall until he had disappeared around the corner(somehow managing to move without making a sound in the heavy gear), then left the Citadel without looking back.

"I told you to stop that." Cort shook herself out of her reminiscing as Charon poked her shoulder. She had been licking at the shell in her hands again, having eaten everything out of it.

"Sorry. Force of habit."

"Still hungry? I can unpack more." Rolling his shoulders, he started shrugging the straps off of them.

"No, I'm stuffed. I feel lots better now too. We can get going." Cort discarded the empty claw and raised her Pip-Boy, scrolling through to her maps as Charon re-shouldered his pack, looking smug. "Hmm, shit. I don't want to go to Anacostia Crossing from here. Too close to the Jefferson. Or through Farragut, it'll take forever. Ooo!" She looked back up to him, smiling. "Remember where we blew up molerats? We can go through there to get to Georgetown, and then it's only one more trip underground to get to the Mall."

Charon felt a grimace forming on his face at the thought of going into an unknown area with her as she was and then rapidly turned it into a grin, not wanting to discourage her. Losing her confidence could turn out worse in the long run than pushing herself too hard. Besides, the familiar places have had more than enough time to fill up with hostile shit as it is. Broad as it is long. "Fabulous. I get the stick first this time."

"You wish."

So far, making their way to the Mall hadn't been as bad as the ghoul had expected it to be. Enamoured with her new rifle, Cort had managed to take out several targets before they were even aware they were being attacked, and the slow, stealthy pace she was setting meant that she wasn't in danger of overtaxing herself. Georgetown itself had been somewhat hairy, a Super Mutant Overlord perched on a balcony halfway through the area taking potshots at them with a Missile Launcher, driving them back behind the shelter of a shattered building. Cort had switched to her repeater and handed him the sniper rifle, and they had made a game of slowly picking the monstrosity apart, blinding it first and then obliterating the launcher before moving to its extremities. While she had seemed a little too enthused with torturing the mutant to death, Charon had chalked it up to her being happy to be out and moving again. Heading back underground, something happened that would have twigged him to there being a much larger problem with her behaviour if not for a set of extenuating circumstances that distracted him completely.

After descending into the Georgetown/The Mall Metro station, they were immediately ambushed by a large squad of Talon Comany mercenaries, five instead of the regular three. The leader had shot Charon in the leg before turning his attention to Cort to gloat as the remaining four covered them. It was a fatal mistake.

"Well looky looky, I got your screw buddy! We fucking knew you'd drag your zombie-loving ass back to the Mall sooner or later, you corpse-fucking bi-" It was impossible for him to continue, the entirety of his head having been ventilated by an extremely irate ghoul with an extremely fast draw, who had barreled down on the remaining mercs bellowing like a freight train out of hell.

"Sloppy, unprofessional pricks. I'm going to eat your fucking faces off and shit them in your FUCKING MOUTHS!" One of the mercs had turned tail and ran at the sight of the massive terror bearing down on him, Dogmeat pulling him down a second later as Charon blew the other's chest open, grunting as another bullet pegged into his arm. He turned to engage a third as Cort hurled herself at the last man, tackling him to the ground and wrenching a laser pistol away from him as she yanked her combat knife out of her boot, pressing it to his neck. She was fairly certain there were burns on her side from him shooting at her, but for whatever reason they seemed far away and unimportant.

"Gotcha!" Looking up into her crazed face, the merc froze. Her pupils were narrowed to pinpricks in the gloom and her face was drawn into a rictus of a smile, the weight she had lost making it look like a death's head. She grinned wider, watching his eyes frantically move around, looking for help, and started talking in a conversational tone as Charon swore in the background. "I am really, really tired of you fucks coming after me and my family, so we're going to have a little fun first."

"You're fucking nuts! You-" Cort flipped her knife to the back of the blade and pushed down hard, forcing his voice into a set of muffled gurgles. Seeing more of the people hired to kill her had made her half-crazed. The assholes getting the drop on them had infuriated her. Watching the leader shoot Charon and start taunting her about it had driven her straight into the red, pushing all other concerns out of her mind. She had decided to get some back, and she was going to do it as slowly as possible. Tossing her repeater aside, she leaned in closer, burying a hand in his hair.

"Shhh. I am talking. You know what I noticed the first time I stabbed someone? It's surprisingly difficult. You wouldn't think so, but skin is tough. If the knife isn't sharp enough, it'll practically bounce right off it. There's a fantastic feeling of tension right before you slip through it and finally penetrate." She looked almost lustful at this, and the merc struggled harder before she pushed down again. "I think I'll demonstrate it for your benefit. It'll be a good lesson, since I'll be using you."

"Cort? What the holy fuck are you doing?" She jerked her head up, looking at the blood-spattered ghoul hitching rapidly towards her. It gave the frantic man under her an opportunity, and he grabbed the first weapon he could lay his hands on, pulling it loose from his belt. Snapping her head back down at the noise, Cort snarled and drove her knife into his throat, just in time to take the blast of the pulse grenade he had triggered full in the face.