For anyone that missed it, the completed version of chapter 64 is up. I'm going to try and write out the last of ItPSF in one long go and post it after this. I have a lot of it already written, it's just the joining up.
There are certain songs that will remind me of different characters or situations when I hear them. The last one that reminded me of Charon was 'Momma Sed' by Puscifier, and it fits pretty well for this chapter. For anyone who listens, it'll fit pretty well for the next few.
Everything was red, and everything was all around him. Everywhere. It was also entirely too big, or was until he looked down at himself, and realized it was he who was very very small. He said as much.
"I'm too small."
"Yes, but you'll grow, now won't you?"
It's a familiar voice, and he feels his heart leap in expectation. "Cort?"
"So smart already! Yes, you'll grow, and then go courting some pretty girl." He turns, and there's a woman there, but she's tall, too tall, and she's red warmth instead of cold iron. If he could remember his name, either one of them, he thinks he would run from her, remember the things hidden in that scarlet mess, but he remembers the forgotten instead, and lifts up his arms. "Grow big and strong and fine and find some pretty girl. Isn't that right?"
She bends down to pick him up, her hair falling around him like a curtain and opening his insides like a door. Insides. They came and her insides-
Everything inside her is red, and her insides are everywhere around, and his arms are around her neck, then just his hands, and he's pulled loose but no, he's grabbed her hair, red and thick and snarled around his wrists and fingers and if he can just hang on long enough, if he can pull himself back, if he just pulls as hard as he can he can push the strings that have come loose from her belly back in like so much stuffing, if her hair would just stop breaking, strand by strand by strand, it's too long and the screaming, he's screaming so loud for her to make it stop-
"Stop it. Now. Do you hear me? I order you to-"
Red stains to umber as the words continue on and pound into his head, fading into the black of a new, sweeter voice, a savage one, laden with command and the promise of forgetful oblivion.
When he woke up, there was a long piece of thread tied around one of his wrists. He laid there for a moment, staring at it with no small amount of puzzlement, then for no good reason he could think of, calmly turned over and shrieked into his pillow until he ran out of air.
When he got up to see where it led, he found Cort on the other end, sitting naked on the room's balcony in a slanted patch of sun and fussing with a jumble of faded black fabric in her lap, Dogmeat sprawled against her back. She looked diminished again, the commanding aura he had sheltered in the previous day subsumed beneath the distracted, fragile air she now carried so often.
Charon held up the slack thread. "What's this?"
"Breadcrumbs." She dug around, first under her rear and then back in the bundle, looking annoyed. "I wanted the daylight and you to keep sleeping, so-" Her gaze hardened for a split second. "What do you remember after you went to sleep?"
He looked at her blandly, wondering what she had gotten up to and deciding to let it slide for the moment. There weren't any fresh bloodstains or new bodies that he could see. "Nothing, Cort. I was asleep."
"Oh. Good. Breadcrumbs. For when you woke up. Don't lose it; I want to give anything extra to Barrows."
He dutifully started coiling it up. "Did you even sleep?"
She scrunched her face up. "I...I don't think I...no. No, I didn't. You needed it more. That's why I came out here, in the sun. I couldn't keep awake without making myself busy." She fumbled around in her lap, hands fluttering and her voice going thready. "Light, light is important too it might burn everything out if I get it all over."
"After you finish, you're taking a nap. I'll put the mattress on the balcony." He furrowed his brow. "What are you doing?"
She replied with another question. "Why did you look like that?"
"Like what?" Charon hedged, even though he thought he had a general idea. Cort cut straight into this thought with ruthless, childlike phrasing.
"He made it so you weren't behind your face anymore. You never look like that when I order you to do something."
"I want..." Charon trailed off, then jabbed his thumb into his chest. "I want to follow your orders. Me. Myself. Not what I am."
"Oh." Cort made a little grunt and jerked her hand up to her mouth, first plucking something free of it and then licking off the bright bead of blood that was now welling up on her thumb. "Sometimes I forget. It's like living with two people."
Charon regarded her solemnly. Cort the girl. Cort the lunatic. She started up a tuneless humming, staring off into space as she waited for an answer, thumb still tucked into the corner of her mouth. Cort. My broken Cort. "I know. I shouldn't have let myself...let you..."
Cort straightened up and smiled. "Charon, stop punishing yourself. That's my job. And actually, speaking of that." She smacked her lips expectantly. "Why does my dog have bald patches and jaundice?"
"Moira." She gave him an alarmed look. "He's gotten much better since we left."
Dogmeat dragged in a breath and let it out in a long, sighing whuff, and Cort raised her eyebrows. "He doesn't think so."
"He's a moth-eaten drama queen you're using to change the subject. Why didn't you say yes? You could have."
"I didn't feel like dying."
"He wouldn't have killed you immediately. You're smart. Useful. You could have figured something else out."
"I-" Cort tilted her head and let out a long sigh. "I am a stubborn, prideful, arrogant person. Daddy always said I could be depended on to cut off my own nose to spite my face. He also said I came by it honestly. I guess it's true." She fell quiet, looking over the desert. "I couldn't let that pile of human filth force me to do something so terrible, even to pretend, just because he drew a little blood. I just couldn't. I couldn't guarantee I would get another chance to protect those people. I did have that chance. That moment, right in my hands. It makes me so, so angry, and I'm so, so sorry about what happened because of it. And I told you. You weren't behind your face anymore." She jabbed at the fabric, her voice sounding beautifully hard for a moment. "I was not going to permit that any longer than I had to."
Charon ran through the riot of complicated thoughts and different emotions this produced , then decided to do as he always did and state things simply. "I love you."
"I love you too." She smiled again, pleased. "Oh, and I'm listening. I think I want to go that way. I think it wants to sing with me." She pointed off to the southwest, smiling wider. "Have you ever explored in that direction?"
"Only as far as I was required to, which wasn't very." She nodded, picked up the bundle of cloth, and Charon finally realized what it was she was doing, what he had actually been asking about. She was sewing, and from the looks of it she had been at it for some time, only a few inches of seam left. "Is that my shirt?"
"Yes. I...I scrubbed it too hard, getting it clean. It came apart. I didn't want you to have to wear anything from here. I tied your pants and armour to the railing as soon as I got up, too. They should be dry soon."
She raised her eyebrows and stared at him, nodding slowly. "Yeees, I found a little kit in one of the nightstands. I am also sat on the floor buck naked and a girl. Naked girl, at your naked feet. Honestly, you decide to state the obvious and focus on my housekeeping skills?" Straightening up, she continued primly on. "I can also darn socks, knit and make cupcakes, which were apparently Vault-Tec's frigging idea of appropriate gendered activities." She scowled briefly. "I speak fluent latin, but could I figure out crochet? Nooo."
"There's spares all over the building."
"I know, Dogmeat told me after I started. I needed to mend this one for you." She jerked her chin towards the wall, and he followed the gesture. Tucked against it was a corpse wound up tightly in a bedsheet. "It's the old man with the shotgun. I sewed him up, too. The sheets are linen, I checked."
Charon nodded as if he understood why she thought that was important. "Thank you."
"Who was he?"
He briefly considered telling her, deciding in the end that it wouldn't make any difference, except to make her sad. He shook his head at the bundle. She loves your stupid radio shows, you tired old bastard. Why ruin things when I can avoid it for once.. "Just someone I met on the way. Someone who wanted to do the right thing. Winthrop, Barrows, Crow, Reilly, Irving or Sarah."
Cort blinked. "I need to sew for them now?"
"My contract. In that order."
"All of them are responsible people you like. None of them are likely to relinquish it without a hard fight, although Irving and Sarah's loyalties could be problematic, which is why they would be a last resort. All of them would keep me busy." All of them might kill me if I asked.
"Okay, but." She tilted an eyebrow. "Crow? Really?"
"You like the sonofabitch. I can work a caravan. It's good enough."
Coming to the end, she knotted the thread and bit it off, then sat staring at the whole shirt in her hands. "There. We're ready to go off into the unknown."
"Cort, are you sure you don't want to go home?"
"Yeah. Over there tickles my fancy. It's been a while since we went out, and we're here now anyway. Besides, we need to get some more map markers for Reilly. Can't be slouches, it's unprofessional." She hummed and tapped a finger against the floor. "Can't be around people, it's unsafe." Charon closed the space between them and sat down as she started to rock back and forth, arms resting on his knees and his side flush against hers, waiting for her to stop and come around again. Her eyes eventually wavered up to his, and she pulled her arms and legs up to match. "Charon?"
"Please put me back together now?"
"As you wish." He reached up and buried a hand in her short hair. "Cort?"
"Please don't tie me up again. I don't think I like it."