Disclaimer: I do not own nor profit from Fallout 3 or its characters.

-o-o-o-

She stormed into the Ninth Circle, steely look to her gray eyes, black hair starting to loosen in her hastily done bun. The fact that she was a smoothskin made Charon's ever-present frown deepen, his fingers itching for the trigger. Something about her made him take a second glance. That wasn't just normal leathers thrown over her lithe form, gripping her slender curves protectively. It was reinforced. Hell to pierce with a blunt weapon. Hell to keep repaired and functioning, as well.

The sleek silver and green glow of the plasma rifle strapped to her back spoke enough for her. She was no pushover. Her confident gait spoke volumes as well.

She wouldn't hesitate to stick it in whoever stood in her way.

He watched, blue eyes sparking with begrudging amusement -absent for the last couple decades- as the little whirlwind headed straight to the bar. Straight to his employer.

The Lone Wanderer slammed herself into the nearest seat, eyeing the snappily dressed bartender. Dismissing him as a threat, unless it involved her caps, she relaxed a fraction. She had already discreetly scanned the room on her way in. The only one who looked like he would put up a fight was the six-foot seven-inch behemoth decked in leather, leaning against the corner. She was respectfully wary of the heavy duty shotgun he slung carelessly over his shoulder. Its ragged exterior would have fooled everyone else, but she could tell the barrel had been tinkered with, the gun itself looking worn solely due to use. Though overindulgence was a more apt term. The way he was eyeing her made her frown. She didn't like being watched. And she sure as hell would let him know.

Without even glancing in his direction, she gave a one fingered salute. She could almost swear she heard an amused snort from that darkened corner.

She turned her attention from him, to the other ghoul in front of her as he began what sounded like a much rehearsed, dry, welcoming speech.

She wasn't in the mood.

Dead Super Mutants and metro raiders killed that as dead as she had killed them minutes earlier. What a sight the Museum of History had been. Not to mention the 'friendly' greeting from the town's guard dog, Willow. They had stared each other down the ends of their scopes, neither flinching nor breathing. Eventually, the girl ghoul had lowered her gun, letting the little Asian smoothskin through with clipped warning. She had no friends in Underworld. One wrong breath and she was a goner.

Ari had simply smirked wearily and continued on her way, the useless junk she scavenged weighing heavier with each step closer to a possible trading post.

"Just give me a drink." She cut the surprised bartender off, caps already in hand.

Whatever insult may have come across his dry lips vanished the moment he sensed the amount of coin this stranger had brought in with her. His faltering grin went into a full fledged smile as he hastened to comply, "Of course."

He didn't know what would bring a lone smoothskin, and such a pretty young thing at that, to this place. But Azhrukhal wasn't complaining. Caps were caps. Others in the bar, however didn't mind letting their disagreements become verbal.

Unfortunately, the Lone Wanderer heard the mutterings of one patron nearby. Something along the lines of 'damn smoothskins' and thinking they 'owned the place'.

She was normally very calm. Controlled. Honestly she was.

But today had been a bad fucking day. Raiders had caught her with her pants down, literally. Taking a piss.

Really, who the fuck slept underneath the burning husk of an automobile? She didn't have enough time to be embarrassed. Even after she had shot him, then his buddies, until they were more goo than flesh, the embarrassment didn't come. She did, however, have time to limp disgustedly over to an irradiated pool at the nearest exit, ridding herself of her own smell.

Where she was then nearly drowned by a Mirelurk.

Getting insulted by a guy who was covered in less skin than she had covering her own ass didn't seem near as bad... by itself.

But combined...

That was the last straw.

She felt the familiar cool metal of A3-31's plasma rifle under her tense fingers as she was at the other table in a blink of an eye, her bar stool toppling at the counter seconds later, like the thunder to her lightening movements.

"What was that?" She demanded, growling.

She felt a spike of pleasure as she read the sudden fear in his eyes. Fear was a very valuable commodity out here in the wastes. It gave you the edge of life-saving seconds when facing countless odds and enemies. If you gave in, it could also end you.

A valuable lesson for a vault kid.

And a hard one to learn.

Before he could stammer out useless apologies, the girl heard the cock of a shotgun and the press of a cold barrel on her temple.

Fuck, how had he gotten there so fast?

Even as she cursed inwardly, knowing she had written her own death warrant by forgetting him, she outwardly exuded a measured, deadly calm.

Appearances were everything, as well.

"Wouldn't do that." The voice rumbled with the rough curse of the irradiated, though the deep bass echoed with a danger that was the man's own.

Ari let out a slow, defeated exhale, making a show of lowering her arms. The bouncer barely bought it, but that small fraction was enough. Dropping her plasma weapon, she quickly swiveled, ducking as the shotgun blasted millimeters from her ear. Her head was ringing even as she surged upwards and grabbed the base of the gun and twisted. With little force, she made the brute decide between losing his weapon, or losing healthy limb functions. He chose the former, though she was sure it was more out of surprise than anything.

Rage twisted his features at the loss of his gun. His expression said it all.

Bad move, smoothskin.

Realizing she should've gone for a stunning blow rather than the ranged weapon in such close quarters, Ari fired the weapon close to his face to buy time. He twisted his torso, turning away as the blast tore the air inches from his cheek, pellets shattering useless glass bottles on the far shelf.

Damn he was fast for such a big guy.

Ducking under his retaliating backhand, something the Lone Wanderer knew would have made her see stars, Ari jammed her hand into her powerfist. She barely felt the hiss and click of it locking in before she rushed a body shot to his torso.

He doubled over.

For anyone else, the hit would have been at least a crippling blow, at worst a disemboweling one.

But this one was different.

Even through the powerfist, Ari's knuckles throbbed. What was the ghoul's abs made of? Brick? Fucking steel?

He was winded. She knew that much. But as he rose with a growl and a flame to his eyes, she knew she was in some deep shit. Should've gone with the deathclaw gauntlet. That would've made some serious damage. But for some insane reason, she had held back. Too late for regrets now.

"Fuck." She cursed, hearing the sound of her back slamming against the table before she felt the explosion of pain or the strong hand gripping the front of her leather armor.

Her head throbbed as she took a moment to gather her wits. She gave a muted cry, though, as she felt her gauntlet torn from her hand and tossed halfway across the room.

The fist at her front collar shook her, hard, to get her attention.

Mission accomplished, asshole, her steel eyes glared. Her voice merely snarled, "What?"

"Hit me with that again..." His voice growled, dripping with blood-drenched promises, "and you won't live to regret it."

"Don't give me a reason to, and I won't." She hissed, her eyes telling him to shove it.

A measure of surprise flit through his eyes before the growl rumbled from his chest, fist tightening as he leaned closer. He had worked in the Ninth Circle for some time now. Under Azhrukhal's employ, he had thrown out many drunks and badass wannabes. She was different. She had more than a spine. She had some serious balls. Charon wasn't the type to think about his own appearance. But he knew others didn't give him such a large berth because of his pretty face. His bite was worse than his bark, which was insanely effective on its own.

He was a fucking monster. Even among his own kind he was larger than average. That made her, this little toothpick of a human that dared stand toe to toe with him... well...

...interesting.

Unfortunately, this wasn't just any bar she had started shit in. This was the Ninth Circle. And Charon was contracted to get rid of troublemakers. His slight frown at that realization surprised him.

Did he... actually NOT want to end this smoothskin?

Ari squirmed, realizing her dire predicament. Her opponent was not only taller and male, but he had the ghoul strength wired in his muscled body.

'Genetic and physical strength, fuck me.'

She felt the powerful toned form of the ghoul before her, as his body pressed against hers, pinning her down. It was unnecessary, as she knew his single hand alone was enough to keep her down. Damn ghoul strength. Then again, he probably didn't want another unwelcome greeting with her fist, knee, or possible foot to face.

It was in the strained silence that she finally took note of their positions. Her flat on her back, legs dangling off the table from her knees. Him, standing between said spread legs, leaning in.

"Stop." She hissed, as his continued movements rubbed intimately against her heated core. Months of traveling the wastes took their toll. At least in Megaton, she had Jericho to have a rough and tumble with. What better than sex with no strings? They had been one and the same. Some would say murderers or killers. In truth, they were survivors. But everyone had needs.

Charon paused, confused. Her tone had shifted to a different kind of urgency. Possibly even a tint of panic. Though it would be the first weakness he had spotted since she walked in.

He shifted his weight, only to receive the surprise of a hitched breath. His cold eyes looked down at her curiously, before noticing the growing heat pinned beneath him. Him between her legs. Her sudden stillness and narrowed gaze. His brow raised. Surely she could not-

He raised questioning eyes to steely gray. Her tanned skin deepened as a flush rose. Her eyes were furious.

He smirked.

She practically snarled, "Just fuckin' kill me already."

Before he could even form a reply, his employer was raging at them both, "Get. Her. OUT of here!"

"Hmm. Your lucky day..." Charon rumbled with a grunt, pulling back from her warm body. Surprised to find himself a little unwilling to end the contact.

She just snarled wordlessly, shrugging off the helping hand to spring agilely to her own feet, dusting off broken chips of glass and ceramic plates.

"You are forbidden to leave Underworld until your debt to me is paid in full!" The bartender continued to rage.

"Fine, how much is that?" Ari snapped, though she was much more composed now that the ghoul had stopped touching her.

Her hairs stood on end, though. As he remained nearby. Close enough for her to reach out her arm... and punch.

She shook her head. She didn't want trouble. This far out, the Underworld looked to be gold in the trenches of shit and supermutants. She couldn't afford to stir things up when so much caps could be made in exchange.

"2,000 caps!" Azhrukhal demanded.

"Fine." The Lone Wanderer hadn't even batted an eye lash. She must've had that much in her pinky alone.

Made the bartender grumble as he kicked himself for not asking more.

She was straightening herself up, eyeing the smirking bouncer beside her, when her foot accidentally made forceful contact with an empty Nuka cola bottle. Said bottle 'accidentally' rebounded sharply off the face of a certain ghoul that had snarked the little comment that started the whole mess. Ari could only grin in satisfaction as she heard the ghoul cry out, stumble, and crash into a now-broken table.

"3,000!" Azhrukhal demanded triumphantly.

"Whatever." Ari waved off, brushing a stray strand from her face as she strode over to pick up her powerfist, tucking it into her pack as she scoured the ground for her most prized weapon.

Apparently, the greedy bartender wasn't done. He waved a certain plasma rifle in the air as he crowed, "AND... I think I shall be keeping this little rifle as a token of your deepest apology."

He hadn't liked her tone. And he didn't like the way she trashed his bar. This last comment really got to her, he noted with a wry grin, as the girl tensed in place.

The ghoul had gone too far.

No one. NO ONE, took her well earned weapons. Especially the one she got from A3-31, or Harkins, as the android had designated himself. That had been a hell of trouble to drag herself through, and it wasn't worth it for anything less than the rifle that was in the ghoul's grubby paws. Plasma rifles carried by the enclave were powerful enough, but that little baby was modified by the genius android himself. It was faster, lighter, and packed one hell of a punch.

Ari didn't realize she was moving until she was at the counter, the bartender fighting the urge to shrink back, though she could read it in his cowardly eyes. A light growl and a hand on her shoulder brought a surge of smugness and confidence in the suited man's eyes that did not belong there. Charon had shadowed her steps, and was towering behind her now.

Her weapon was so close.

The Lone Wanderer reached into her pack. But a second firm hand and solid grip, this time to her forearm, stopped her. Her eyes widened slightly at the silent strength in the limb. She wasn't caught off guard too often, but this was definitely one of those times. She couldn't move if she wanted to. She turned enough to catch the smirk in place on the bouncer's face. He had obviously caught her surprise, and was bolstered by it. She glared at him for a few moments longer before he let her go.

The message was sent.

Try anything and she wouldn't stand a chance.

She reached into her pack for the caps and tossed them on the counter. She could just feel the pure greed pouring from the sleazy ghoul's pores as he scooped them up.

"Of course." She said mockingly in reply, attempting to turn and get the hell out of there before she did something she might regret.

But a certain hand still placed on her shoulder forced her to stay. She sent a scathing glare up at it's owner, but Charon wasn't even looking at her. He was watching Azhrukhal. Feeling the body guard's intense stare, the bar owner looked up for a fraction from his counting before waving them off, "Yes, yes, she is free to leave."

The hand remained on her a moment longer than necessary, before she was released. Simmering in barely contained rage, Ari turned and stalked out of there without a word. Azhrukhal had just sealed his fate. For a man like him, she had something planned worse than death. She would take everything he owned.

Every valuable possession he held dear.

He shouldn't have fucked with her gun.

-o-o-o-

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

At least, that's what Ari had to keep telling herself as she waited. It only took a couple days of the Lone Wanderer coming in the Ninth Circle, buying drinks and acting like nothing happened, for Azhrukhal to let his guard down.

But it had been two weeks and that damn body guard was still watching her like a hawk.

Two fucking weeks!

Ari was starting to get the itch that always came from staying in one place for too long. The longest time she had ever spent in the same location was the vault. For 19 years. Fuck that.

Like hell she was going to head back out in the wastes without her gun, though. Who knows what sleezebag merchant the scum could sell her precious plasma rifle to.

She was running out of time.

Or rather, out of patience.

She was immersing herself in her latest book, whiskey in hand, when the thump of a drink on her table and the scrape of a chair announced the other's arrival.

Ari's eyes took in the leather-armored form of the body guard in surprise, before bitterness filled her. So far as she was concerned, this whole mess with her gun was as much Charon's fault as it was Azhrukhal's.

They sat there in relative silence, Ari pointedly reading her book, even as the silent ghoul studied her.

He was no imbecile. Though he couldn't speak much for his current employer.

She was clearly plotting something.

Charon took another deep chug, the vodka burning his torn throat. If she made a move against Azhrukhal, he would have to kill her this time. He was certain.

In the past, none of this would have phased him. Another face. Another smoothskin. Another dead body.

But this time was different.

SHE was different.

Surprise overtook him as he realized what his next step was going to be. He was going to do something for her he had never done before. He was going to warn her.

And for the life of him, he couldn't figure out the reason or logic behind it.

"If you physically harm him..." Charon broke the silence between them easily, taking another deep drink before setting the bottle down and continuing, "your ass... is mine."

Her eyes had flicked up to his as he finished the sentence. Unbidden, the words and the following growl sent a flurry of heated pictures through her brain. Namely with one muscled, naked ghoul riding her-

'What the FUCK is wrong with me?' She wondered, blushing a furious shade of red as the ghoul followed her lowering gaze. She caught herself before it could go much lower than the table top, but the damage was done.

The bastard was smirking again.

She recovered faster than she thought possible, barreling forward with a shield of rage.

"My ass," She snarled, slamming her drink down, "is my own."

His blue eyes gleamed with a smug, 'if you say so...'

"AND..." She continued through clenched teeth, burying the growing heat in anger, "I don't give a fuck what you know or what you THINK you know, but you don't have to worry. I won't be touching a hair on your precious friend's head."

The ghoul's eyes hardened. His hand clenched so hard on his bottle that it burst, cleaving through the uneasy air with chips of glass and booze. He leaned across the table, freshly broken shards glimmering on the top. Ari observed warily as his jaw clenched, broken bottle still in his trembling grasp. Normally, she was good with words, but this time Ariadne wondered if she had pushed it too far.

He stopped within an arms-length of her, which was already within dangerous limits. She forced herself to remain relaxed, glaring eye for eye.

He finally spoke.

The words that came out, however, were the last thing she had been expecting, "That rat bastard... is NOT my friend."

With that said, he left. Leaving a confused girl in his wake.

-o-o-o-

Ari did not have time to waste figuring out the mystery that was the silent bouncer at the Ninth Circle. Or at least, mostly silent. The most she had ever heard him talk was when he was threatening her or placing future threats on her person.

Personally, she thought he should be completely mute.

Of course, that wouldn't change the fact that he had a fuckin' sculpted body that anyone could get hot under.

Ari paused.

Reexamined that last thought.

Then promptly diagnosed herself as mentally insane.

She shook her head and focused on the task at hand.

Which was currently sneaking past drunk and snoring ghouls as she made her way to the Ninth Circle's counter. She could sneak her way behind an army of Super Mutants or a single Deathclaw. Making her way past a bunch of ghouls gone soft in the Underworld sanctuary was a cinch.

As she crouched behind the bar, she felt a sudden urge to call out, as though her plasma rifle would respond. She scoffed at the thought.

Getting serious, she thought hard. She hadn't seen her precious weapon since... well, since the jerk-off had taken it. Which means... ah ha! She could've crowed as her eyes fell on the safe tucked in the floor. It was nearly hidden by the shelf on top of it, unlike what must've been a decoy safe up on the wall.

She could already tell by looking at it, that it was a tough one. Determined, she took out her bobby pins and set about jiggling the lock. It took a good twenty minutes, ten near breaks of her pin, and a trickle of sweat down her brow, before the final bolt fell into place.

With a silent surge of pleasure, she watched the safe door swing open after that resolute click, catching the stubborn piece of metal before it could clash against the shelf it partially hid under.

Digging up her A3-31 Plasma, she practically preened before holstering it on her back, the familiar weight calming her frayed nerves. She then continued scooping the remaining loot in her bag -which included a shit load of caps and drugs- before closing the safe with a soft click. A little befuddled, she held the last item in her hand. It had been obviously important, as it was tucked safely away underneath everything else.

Of all things, it was a piece of paper.

Not a book and definitely not a schematic.

Ari frowned as she whispered the title to herself, "Contract...?"

She hissed, uttering a muffled curse as a deep red line appeared on her finger. Figures. She could cripple a limb or two, get a couple concussions and gun shot wounds, and still be bothered by something as simple as a paper cut.

A silent foot fall. Leather sole against the ground.

Her hair stood on end.

Ari jerked up, paper in hand, eye staring straight down the barrel of a familiar shotgun.

The tall, shadowed form was unmistakable. A sense of grim dread settled around them both, facing the inevitable outcome.

She should've known. Should've heard.

No one surprised her like this ghoul. No one ever could. Or she would be dead right now.

She glared at him, slowly standing. If this was how it would end, she would die standing.

His eyes were unreadable as he followed her movement, finger putting pressure on the trigger. Then the light cast over the parchment in her hand and he let out a sharp breath, standing straight as though physically struck. A small red splotch was barely discernable against the flickering glow, seeping slowly down the aged parchment, drying as fast as it had spilled. Blood. The smoothskin's...

Ari had tensed at his sudden movement, wary as she saw that shotgun lower harmlessly to the ghoul's side.

His whole demeanor changed, eyes holding hers in a way that had her chest constrict. Her lungs stalled, his gaze striking her as if she had been shot. For the first time, she saw the ever present grimace disappear, face resembling a ghastly smile.

She didn't know what he had planned. But the eager gleam in his eye promised it to be anything but pretty.

"Excuse me for a moment..." He purred, as though immensely pleased.

Ari was at a loss for words, as her executor turned and walked away, footsteps stomping to the slow beating of her heart. She blinked. He was heading for the cot of one Azhrukhal sleezebag. Charon kicked the sleeping ghoul awake, giving the man enough time to become coherent, with a stuttered, "Ch-Charon...?" tumbling from his lips.

Charon sneered, the look ghastly in the dark as light and shadows angled his features towards demonic, "I am no longer under your employ, Azhrukhal."

Understanding horror dawned on the man's face, a hand held out, "No... How-? Wait. Wait Charon- don't!"

BOOM. Cha-chung.

The first shot blew off his arm and part of his face.

BOOM. Cha-chung.

The second took care of the rest.

Standing in the gore that once was Azhrukhal, Charon felt the ending of the first, wicked smile in decades, disappear from his lips.

He turned to look at the silent girl.

But she was gone.

-o-o-o-

Ari was barreling down the hallway like hell itself was on her heels.

Could she not, in her short short life, ever run into someone normal?

Honestly.

For once, just once, it would be a nice change of pace!

Cerberus, the sentry bot, whirred questioningly at her as she sprinted past, but she had no time to chat. The door to the Ninth Circle slammed open and she risked a look back, fearing it was the demon ghoul on her heels. But it was just the drunks, rudely awakened and scattering out of the bar with panicked yells. She had just reached the end of the staircase when a voice, louder and more demanding than the rest, called out, "Smoothskin!"

She stumbled.

The familiar tone set her blood to ice. No no no no.

If someone like that could kill a person he was close to without blinking, what could he possibly do with her?

Friend or not, Azhrukhal had to have meant something to the larger ghoul.

Ari was as bad as they come. But this ghoul was ten times as crazy and the Lone Wanderer was in no mood to compete.

Winthrop gave her a confused glance as she breezed by, not stopping even as she burst through Underworld's door. The old double doors banged heavily against the marble walls, the dinosaur skeleton laughing as the echo from the violent motion lingered.

She had just reached the door to the Capital Wasteland, when she heard the first set of doors slam open behind her.

"Smoothskin!" There was warning and anger to his tone.

Damn he was fast!

"Fuck off!" Ari shouted in reply, glancing back past the t-rex. She wished she hadn't, the glimpse of the determined ghoul and his set blue eyes burnt straight into her soul. She couldn't breath.

She stumbled through the last set of doors.

Fresh air slammed into her from outside, forcing her stalled lungs back to work as the light of predawn blinded her. Willow aimed first, then just curiously stared as the girl continued sprinting past.

The old ghoul was even more surprised as Charon burst out a moment later. His taller form and longer stride were sure to help him catch up to the smoothskin, though Willow couldn't figure out why on earth he would want to. Unless he was trying to kill her. Shrugging, the old girl went back to patrolling.

It was stupid, Ari knew. Stupid to just run without looking. Run without discipline or without using your goddamned senses.

That's how people got killed.

Then irony slapped her in the face with a bitch stick.

In the form of a hulking, two ton, super mutant brute.

Eyes wide, Ari pulled her plasma rifle out even as he swung his sledge, obscenely large green muscles rippling as he gave a guttural roar, "Kill you!"

Her forward momentum from sprinting allowed her to do little else than sidestep, taking the brunt of the attack on the upper left side of her body, clipping her shoulder as she spun from the force.

Pain rippled through adrenaline-powered muscles.

She gave a shout of agony as she landed on the ground, arm dangling uselessly. Damn.

Dislocated.

She raised the rifle with one hand, blasting it as the Super Mutant came at her one more. Her good arm struggled, the weapon meant for two. She was aiming for his heart but hit his kneecap instead. He stumbled, sledge striking empty ground as Ari used the distraction to roll out of the way. She stumbled to her feet, firing blindly as the Brute turned to charge her once more.

She stumbled back, barely stepping out of another swing, before she had to throw herself to one side to dodge the monster entirely.

But he was on her before she could blink, arms and sledge raised one final time, "You die now!"

She had made plenty of mistakes the moment she walked out of the Vault to the shitty reality of the Capital Wasteland. But she never thought she could fuck up so much to be ended like this. In mere seconds by a crippled Mutie bucause she hadn't been paying attention.

She took a moment to think of her dad. Regret laced through he.

She was about to close her eyes.

Smoothly, silently, the ghoul stepped in front of her. Charon was the epitome of calm, unflinching power, as he poured lead into the creature's face. He reloaded and shot his shotgun again.

One handed.

BOOM. Cha-chung.

Time slowed. Ari watched the empty shells spiral after each ringing blast. With each shot, the Super Mutant staggered back. And with each stagger, the ghoul would take a step forward.

Face half gone, the Super Mutant took a swing with it's Super Sledge.

Charon lifted his leg, easily tilting his torso to compensate for balance, as he delivered a savage, booted blow to the Mutant's offending limb. The Brute's arm was kicked back like it weighed nothing, sledge hammer cutting a blunt path through the air before crunching into debris a yard or two away.

The ghoul graced the dying mutant with a final blow to its caved-in face, brain matter splattering from it's cranial prison.

The dead Super Mutant Brute fell to it's knees, finally toppling over as Charon stepped up to its corpse.

"You first." Charon grumbled as he crunched what was left of its gray matter, skull bits ground beneath his heel.

Gritting in pain, she eyed the leather-armored ghoul warily. Her eyes asked what her voice would not.

What did he want with her?

The ghoul merely stepped up to her, fury receding from his burning gaze. Leather boots crunched gravel and bone bits as he slung his shotgun over one shoulder, "My name is Charon. And you, Smoothskin, are my new employer."

He extended a helping hand.

But Ari was busy gaping.

What the fuck did she drag herself into this time?