Disclaimer: Not mine. Although I'd proudly take Raul if they'd let me.

Author's Notes: I should really be finishing my other Raul story (as well as chapter 12 of Imperium et Libertas), but I'm in the midst of figuring out the flow I want for the events in it. This one just came to me and although it may be kind of strange or maybe has a theme that's been done before I really wanted to write it, because Raul's had a lot taken from him and I thought it was time to give something back. Note the following story, while not exactly fluff, is fairly sweet. So if you're looking for mature content this isn't it. I have other stories planned for that sort of thing.

Tagline: The love of and for a child is the purest and greatest of all.

R&R, thanks!


Sandstorm

A lot of men would not want to raise another man's child. Raul Tejada was not like a lot of men. In fact, most would not have considered him a man in the first place, and he didn't mind that much either. After over two hundred years of putting up with bigotry it got too old to give a damn about what other people thought. It was the people that were closest to you that mattered, and she didn't seem to care either. "She" was Cecily Zimri, the woman that was formerly known as the Courier, but to him would always be his Célia. When they'd first met she had been working for the NCR, trying to help their war against the slavers called the Legion, and as a side job she had learned of the trouble along the roads near Black Mountain and decided to investigate.

Long story short she and a super mutant named Neil had fought their way up the irradiated road leading to the top of Black Mountain, where Cecily had the unfortunate luck of meeting Tabitha, the settlement's (if you could call it that) ruler. Ducking into a nearby building she found the scrap heap that had formerly been known as Rhonda, Tabitha's robotic lover. When Tabitha stormed in and warned her to get away from Rhonda Cecily had offered to fix the thing, happening to have just the right parts on her because, as Raul found out later, she was an obsessive-compulsive pack rat. When she was finished Cecily asked about the man she'd heard on the radio, "that man named Raul?"

"Oh yes, Raul, that useless old ghoul." Tabitha roared. "Should have killed him a long time ago for not fixing Rhonda, but you've done that now." She thanked the human and left without another word, leaving the girl dumbfounded, question unanswered. So she searched Black Mountain until she found him locked in his cell. Seeing her dirt-smeared face was the best thing he had seen in a long time because it meant that something had happened that would allow a human to make it to him. Free, he ended up traveling with her.

He wasn't the only one, but he was never jealous of her friendships, which were all quite close and meaningful to her. Few people in the wasteland loved as deeply and as loyally as Cecily. Sometimes that could be her weakness, especially when it came to a certain Chairman named Benny, who, despite the murder-attempt had found a place within the young woman's heart. Unfortunately it didn't stop there. When he was captured by the Legion she broke in to rescue him (and obtain the Platinum chip again) and what did he do? He disappeared, despite his written promise that he would return to New Vegas and left Cecily holding a giant candle and pissing Raul (and the rest of her friends) off simultaneously.

She dove headfirst into her work with the NCR, but as time passed she began to grow disenchanted with them and their practices. They weren't as bad as the Legion, yet they still got on her nerves. So she took the little chip she'd swiped from Caesar's dead body and called good ol' Yes Man over to Lucky 38. At this point Mr. House was already dead seeing as she had determined he was a big threat to the well being of the Mojave as well as, as she put it, "that bastard just needs to die already." At first she just meant to test the NCR's reaction to the upgrades on all the Securitrons, which were now under her control. It was a volatile one and they threatened to brand her a terrorist if she continued to make moves against them.

That irritated her, but she played cool. Over the next few weeks she pretended that she was on their team and everything was fine. After the battle at Hoover Dam she sent them packing, telling them that if they so much flipped her off on the way out of the Mojave she'd redefine the meaning of the term "tear them a new one."

However, it was what was playing behind the scenes of Cecily's Mojave Heroine drama that would affect both their lives the most. It wasn't just disappointment Benny left behind, but an unborn child that not the NCR, not the Legion, and not the people of the Mojave were privy to. Only Cecily's close friends, her comrades, knew her burden. She was just beginning to show when the battle for Hoover Dam arrived and despite the pleading from those that did know she still fought. Luck was on their side and she came through relatively unharmed and went on to leave the Strip in Swank's capable hands. She had not wanted to be a leader, after all.

After her famous travels she was determined to get away from it all and settle down and Raul had went with her, reluctant to let her out of his sights. She had begun to mean more to him than just a friend or fellow soldier of fortune. After all this time he had finally found himself loving again. He wasn't surprised or upset that it ended up being her, though he would never tell her because she still longed for Benny to come back, even leaving the child's father's name slot empty when she was born. Raul stayed, a silent supporter as Cecily raised her child.

The first time Isabel called him "Daddy" he was sure Cecily was going to pull her aside and tell her that she was wrong, that her real father had went away somewhere, and in her gentle way not making it sound like they'd been abandoned. "Raul's just a friend, baby." He could almost hear her saying in that sweet voice of hers and he knew that it would break his heart but he'd smile anyway and agree and tell Isabel the truth. He wasn't her father. No, her real father was a rat who had shot her mother, and even after that she'd still fallen for him, but he'd gone away and left them, not knowing the kind of life he was missing.

To Raul's surprise Isabel was not corrected, in fact the mistake was never even mentioned. Eventually he figured that Cecily was going to tell her when she was old enough to understand the situation because there was no use in upsetting a two year old with adult-sized problems. Isabel might end up confused and hurt later, but at least she'd be able to comprehend and possibly move on instead of it ending in some kind of trauma. Cecily was a good mother, and wise. Raul left the issue alone and let the child call him Daddy, and sometimes Papa.

Cecily's daughter had inherited Benny's dark hair, which at times reminded Raul of the long-vanished man, but never in a way that he would look at her in a negative light because it wasn't Isabel's fault that her father was a no-account. Other times he allowed himself to be lost in the fantasy that his mind would sometimes play, inspired by the child's insistence on calling him her father, and pretend that it was dark because she was his. It was a stupid little thought really because ghouls couldn't have kids, but that was part of the magic of it. Not only could he enjoy his position as surrogate father more, but also he could forget that he was pretty much cursed with the visage of death.

It didn't help matters that Isabel was becoming the talented bilingual. Even though Cecily had pretty much given Swank and a few chosen others the keys to New Vegas and thus the Mojave, she still remained a big part of the goings-on, but in a quieter way. There were times when she had to travel back to the Strip and conduct business, where she might be away for a week or two at a time. She admitted she hated this because Isabel had become her life, her great love, and her reminder that the world still had innocence left in it. Raul told her that it was necessary and she was taking a hands-on approach to making sure her daughter's world stayed the way she wanted it to.

It was during these trips that Raul would reverse into muttering to himself in Spanish, his native language. Isabel began to pick up on it, and eventually he started teaching her, because it never hurt to be a little more educated in this world, and the time to teach was when they were young, when their minds soaked up information like sponges. He knew Cecily well enough to know that she wouldn't mind, in fact more than once she'd tried to learn herself, but admitted she was bad with linguistics and struggled terribly with it. He was happy that she tried though. When Isabel had learned enough it became their habit of speaking only in Spanish when Cecily was gone, almost like their own special code that no one else knew.

Each day Isabel became less and less like Benny and more and more like Raul. She was six now and her favorite pastime was sitting on the fence behind the house the three of them shared and watching him shoot at bottles and the occasional wasteland mutant animal. The girl was enamored with guns. He blamed it on both of them. Even Cecily was a crack shot, but she was more of a rifle type of girl because of her training with Boone. It drove Isabel nuts that she wasn't allowed to shoot anything they had in the house, which they kept locked up in a cabinet with the key in a safe. The one time she had been allowed to hold a gun it had been one of Raul's pistols and he'd made sure it had no bullets in it. His hands had hovered over hers the entire time.

"Its heavy." Isabel said.

"You know why its heavy don't you?" He asked.

"Yes, Papa, because its not a toy!" She said beaming proudly because she remembered the lesson he had given her on projectile weapons.

"That's right, mija, it's not a toy. Where do you always point it?" He asked, seeing a perfect time to conduct an impromptu quiz to see if she remembered anymore.

"At the ground."

"Good. And if you ever do point it at someone?" He prompted, finally taking it from her hands and replacing it back in the holster at his side. He would put bullets back in it later.

"It had better be for a good reason and I had better mean to use it!"

"Very good." He told her, unable to hide the smile on his face. "Last question: what are some good reasons to use it?"

The girl thought for a moment and then raised her small index finger, "to protect people that I love. Like you, or Mama, or Uncle Craig, or Aunt Cass, Uncle Arcade, Grandma Lily—"

Raul just leaned back against the post and let her continue on listing those close to her until she began to run out of steam, looking frazzled that there was no one else to name. When she finished she looked up at him expectantly and he almost forgot to tell her that she was right. "That's the best reason, but it's also the last option. Killing, even in the defense of someone you love or yourself, is still killing. Its never a good thing."

Isabel was already quite bright and pursed her lips in thought before she said, "but you and Mama, you've both killed people haven't you?"

He sighed. "Yes, we have. We didn't want to do it, but it had to be done. You know what War is don't you?"

"War is when a lot of people are mad at each other."

He'd never heard it so simply put. It would take a child to put it into perspective. "That's right." They fell into an almost uncomfortable silence until he said, "you want to go into town and do some shopping for your mother?"

"Yeah!"

-X-

Raul had immediately loved the little house they settled down in, but hated the town that was nearby. It was full of gossipers and bigots. They always looked at Raul, Cecily, and Isabel like they were a plague and took every chance they got to ruin any good mood they were in. This day would be no different. The two had finished their shopping and were packing it all into the two bags Raul carried with him for their outings when he noticed a couple of the town's boozers hanging around on the Saloon's porch next to the General store. Most of the time the locals would just give them dirty looks or mutter under their breaths, but he always kept a close eye on them. More than once he'd seen that quiet hatred bubble into tragedy and he was not going to allow it to happen around Isabel or Cecily.

"Papa, you think Mama will like her new armor?" Isabel asked, zipping up the last bag. She had been the one to pick it out because it had a slight blue tint and Cecily liked blue.

"I think she'll love it."

"Hey, kid!" One of the boozers yelled. Both Isabel and Raul looked up at them. "You know he's not your real dad, right?" The man mocked, sneering at the pair. His friend giggled at his side, a bottle of whiskey in one hand. They were despicable, and if Isabel hadn't been with him Raul might have taught him a lesson in civility.

"What?" Isabel looked really confused. "Of course he is."

"Sorry to tell you this, short stuff, but ghouls can't have kids. It's impossible. So whoever your mom banged to get you it wasn't him."

"Though they're probably fuckin' now." His friend muttered under his breath and Raul hoped Isabel didn't hear it. He knew what the townspeople said and none of it was true. He and Cecily's relationship had never gone father than friendship, even after all these years. Most of the time he ignored the talk. Squabbling over it was for lesser men and he knew he couldn't change their minds no matter how hard he tried.

"That's enough." Raul growled, shouldering the largest bag. Isabel always carried the smallest because she liked to feel useful. "She's just a child, show some decency."

"That's funny coming from a ghoul." The Lead Boozer snorted. "If you knew anything about decency you would have crawled into a hole and let yourself die. You'd save that little girl and her sweet-ass mother a lot of trouble."

He didn't know if it was this scumbag talking that way about Cecily or if it was the way Isabel clung to him, frightened and confused, that made him say it. He reached to his side and put his hand on his gun, leveling the most murderous look he could muster. "Son, I've shot men more deserving to live than you so don't consider for a moment I won't think twice before putting a bullet between your eyes, and if Laughing Man over there thinks he might be able to get me all revenge-like before I can turn on him then perhaps you should remind him of my reputation around here." Yes, Raul had earned a reputation. Through Cecily his old gunslinger ways had been reawakened and despite their wish to live under the radar it was still the wasteland and his skills had need from time to time. "So, if you would ever be so kind as to shut up and let us be on our way I'll return that kindness and not put you in a shallow grave."

He hated to talk around Isabel like this, but it wouldn't do to shield her from the harsh realities of the world they lived in. She needed to see that bad men were out there, and she had to learn how to deal with those bad men, even if was only with words. Thankfully the two men took Raul's suggestion and shut up, at least until they were far enough away for it to be pointless to do anything about it. He could hear one of them yelling after them, "Its not your fault, kid, I'm sure they've filled your head with all kinds of lies! You should be ashamed of yourself, ghoul!"

Raul just lifted his hand to wave them off. Not worth it.

The two of them walked in silence for a while, and he felt truly bad for Isabel. He could tell her mind was trying to work through what had just happened. "Listen, Izzy, I know what happened back there must not make sense to you. If you have any questions about it you can ask."

"No, I think I understand. I actually feel sorry for him."

This he had to hear. "Why is that?"

"Because there must be something wrong with his brain." Isabel explained. Raul raised an eyebrow at her. "Of course you're my Daddy!" The little girl said it so knowingly, so lovingly that he didn't know what to say. It was the best thing he had ever heard in his life. "You're the one that puts me to bed at night. You tell me stories. You teach me about things. When Mama's gone you look after me. Of course you're my dad. That's what daddies do, right?"

That night after Isabel had been put to bed he told Cecily all about it so she'd know. She sat with her hand over her mouth and that unreadable expression in her eyes he'd come to know as her contemplative state. She had nodded and then excused herself to go to bed. He didn't take it personally that she hadn't discussed it with him. Cecily did that sometimes, took in what was told and thought about it overnight before saying anything. The next day however she didn't say anything about it, nor the day after that, and then he caught her packing one of her travel bags and she told him she needed to go to the Strip on business. She didn't ask if he would watch Isabel; she already knew the answer.

-X-

Cecily had been gone nearly a week when the sandstorm hit, howling across the wasteland like an angry, bloodthirsty beast. Raul had just gotten the windows barred and secured when the worst of it hit and barely made it back to the front door. Isabel was standing there in her pajamas, rubbing her eyes and holding the teddy bear Boone had given her for her birthday close to her chest. "Isabel, go back inside." He grabbed her up in his arms and whisked them both inside, shoving the door closed behind him. "You should be in bed."

"I got scared." She sniffed. He could see the tears welling in her round green eyes. "I called for you, but you didn't answer…" She laid her head against his chest, fingers gripping the front of his shirt.

"I'm sorry, mija, I was outside and didn't hear you. I won't do it again."

She nodded against him and muttered a muffled, "okay."

"Its time to go back to bed now."

"No!" She shook her head. "The wind's yelling and I don't like it."

He sighed. "All right, you can sit in here with me, but only for a little while. Your mother would never forgive me if I let you stay up all night. You're spoiled enough as it is."

The pair stayed in the main room for hours. Isabel dozed on the couch, first as she listened to Raul tell some of the stories from his past that he had refashioned into bedtime stories (meaning he got rid of most of the child-inappropriate content and embellished a little), and then as he started to systematically take apart and clean his guns. It was one of his personal rituals while Cecily was away, the up keep of all their firearms, plus it gave him something to do in the quiet when Isabel was usually asleep. He had found it difficult to rest when Cecily was gone.

Isabel was just falling back to sleep when the front door swung open, a mini-cyclone of dust swirling in through the room before the figure clad in leather pushed it closed. Cecily pulled the bandana that had been over her mouth and nose down and tossed the biker goggles onto the small table by the door. "Holy mother of sand devils!" She exclaimed. "What a storm!"

"Mama!" Isabel had reawakened and jumped up from the couch and ran to embrace her mother.

"What are you doing up? You should be in bed."

"I was scared."

"Well, its definitely safe now, so right back you go!"

"Moooooooom!"

"Don't Mom me, get!" Cecily said. "There is nothing to be afraid of. We're perfectly safe in here."

"What if the wind breaks in?" Isabel gripped her teddy bear.

Cecily frowned for a moment and then replied, "its scared to come in here. It knows that Raul is here and you know what he can do? He can rope that wind and make it do whatever he wants, so as long as he is here that nasty old storm won't dare try to hurt us."

Raul was always taken aback by Cecily's creativity. She always made him the hero in everything, too, probably because for so long everyone had seen her as one and she didn't want any part of that anymore. Smiling at Cecily he added to Isabel, "the storm can't be all that bad. It swept your mother home, didn't it?"

Between Cecily and Raul's assurances of safety Isabel looked particularly cheerful and hurried off to bed. He thought Cecily would follow soon after but she just changed and returned into the living room, combing through her long hair and shaking the dust out. "I'm going to have grit in my hair for weeks." She complained, dropping onto the couch.

With Isabel now gone Raul turned a little more serious. "You shouldn't have been out in it in the first place."

She dropped the comb on the coffee table. "I know, but I was already so close to home when it hit. It just didn't seem right to stop. I wanted to get back."

"What if you had run into raiders or a pack of deathclaws?" He asked her worriedly, knowing that there were times when he really showed his age, but he didn't care.

"I didn't." She smiled, standing up and going over to her bag. After a moment of rifling around she came out with a piece of paper and handed it to him. "Can you put that in the safe with the rest of the important documents? I'm so tired." She patted him on the arm and went back to the couch, this time propping her bare feet up on one end and using the other as a headrest. She put one arm over her eyes and breathed a deep, exhausted breath.

Raul frowned. The safe was only a few feet away and she could have put it up herself. Not that he wasn't willing to do it for her, because it wasn't a big deal. It just didn't make sense. Regardless he gave her a nod and rose to his feet to take it to its destination. It was a regular sized slip of paper, but was a little heavier, and it was slightly crinkled from its travel in her bag yet seemed really well taken care of from what he could tell. Then he spotted the title at the top of the document, and the scrawling borders. As he read it he felt as if someone had picked up his world and everything he knew about it, shaken it, and then dropped it right back down.

Birth Certificate

Child's Name: Isabel Sofia XXXXX Tejada

(Zimri had been scrawled out and beside it, his surname inserted.)

Date of Birth: June 3, 2282

Mother's Name: Cecily Ann Zimri; Father's Name: Raul Alfonso Tejada

"Célia." That spot, that empty spot Cecily had left for so long, she had had it filled, but not with the name he had ever expected. "Célia, I—" God, he didn't know what to say. He realized that his hand was shaking. When he looked back at her he saw her eyes watching him from under her arm, her lips curved into a smirk. He swallowed a breath of air and knelt next to the safe, mind whirring as he went through the combination. He was going to complete what she had asked him to do and put it in the safe, and while he was doing that he would think – think of something to say.

Behind him he heard her shift and when he turned back around she was sitting up with her head resting on her hands, elbows on her knees. "I should have done that a long time ago." She said. As she spoke he moved to sit in the chair opposite her, still drifting in a cloud of surrealism. "I should have done that when I decided that I didn't care if Benny came back or not."

"When was that?" Raul had found his voice again. It was difficult to keep all the emotion he was feeling out of it so it was actually understandable.

"Three or four years ago."

Shit.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, "I just got so used to things being the way they were. It was comfortable. Everything was perfect. Is perfect." She stood up and wrapped her arms around her body and began to pace. He followed her movements, but was frozen himself. "If you don't like it I'll have it changed, but I just thought that you seem to love her so much that it was right. After what you told me, about what happened in town, it seemed that that's what fit for Isabel, too." Her head swiveled in his direction. "And I know that you're probably not interested in me, I mean, hell, its been six years and you've never…" She trailed off for a moment, eyes glancing up at the ceiling and then back down. "I know I'm not that spectacular, trust me, so I get it if you just want to be friends, because Isabel needs someone like you, and no matter what you're always going to be my best friend. I just need you to know that I love you, Raul Tejada, and I have for quite a while."

He had no words, only action. Before he realized he was moving he was already out of his chair and standing in front of her, one hand slipping behind her back to pull her forward and the other grabbing her chin to lift it. A small growl of pleasure rumbled through his throat as he lowered his mouth on hers, tasting her for the first time. Simultaneously he felt like an idiot and the luckiest man in the world. He should have seen it, her feelings, but nothing could take away from this moment. He heard her gasp for breath, but refused to end the kiss, her fingers hooking in the collar of his shirt.

When they finally had to break away for a second, he whispered against her lips, forehead leaning against hers. He was so used to speaking in Spanish while she was gone, and he was so caught up in the moment that it took him a moment to catch that she didn't understand what he was saying. From the way her brows were knit he could tell she was trying to remember some of the words, but was having difficulty. He chuckled, shaking his head, more at himself than her. "Si! Si! Yes, I love you!"

Suddenly, from the dark hallway they heard a stifled giggle. Both of them looked away to see Isabel pressed against the wall, trying to be sneaky but failing. "Isabel!" Cecily cried. Her cheeks were turning red, the realization hitting her that her daughter had caught her passionately kissing someone.

"Are you gonna marry Papa now?" Isabel asked. Raul's first reaction was surprise, but she had no doubt learned that from town. They constantly talked about how horrible it was that there was a ghoul nearby, but even more so that he was shacked up with that woman. He knew that from the fact that Isabel obviously wasn't his they most likely thought Cicely was some kind of perverted whore. Normally he would have been angry, but at the moment he couldn't find it in himself to care where Isabel had learned that they weren't married or whether they should have been or not.

Cecily raised an eyebrow at the child and then looked at him. She lifted her left hand and pointed at her ring finger as if to say, want to?

Raul shrugged. Why the hell not. He had waited over 6 damned years for this; being joined with her was more than he could have ever asked for.

"I guess so." Cecily said.

The little girl smiled. "Yes!" She cried, making a motion of victory with her arms. When she was finished celebrating she put on her best serious look and regarded her parents. "You grown-ups don't make any sense sometimes. Just to let you know you both did this backwards."

Cecily snorted with laughter, but quickly sucked it up, her hand fluttering to her lips. Raul just gazed at the child in surprise. "You know," Cecily replied, still holding back her laughter, "I think you're right." The excitement finally getting to her she sat back down on the couch, pulling Raul along with her. For a moment Isabel still stood in the hall, but Cecily raised her hand and crooked her finger, motioning for her to come on, and the girl squealed and ran into the room, jumping up on Raul's lap and cuddling in between the two of them.

He leaned back and put an arm around Cecily's shoulder, drawing her close enough to place a soft kiss on her temple. With the other he hugged Isabel, his daughter. The sandstorm raged outside, but inside there was peace and he knew he could get used to this – and he planned to start immediately.

The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
Theodore Hesburgh