Characters: Charon, F!Lone Wanderer, Ahzrukhal (for the moment)
Pairings: Charon/F!LW (eventually)
Relationship: Het
Summary: Charon finds a certain kinship in his new employer. Shared badassery ensues.

And Wolves Beneath Their Seams

She is not the first smoothskin in Underworld. Certainly not the strangest, or even especially beautiful. And Charon has seen mercs—he has seen legions come and go and die outside their doors—but this one…

He feels a certain kinship for her—recognizes something in her eyes.

Charon is not a man for words. Still. She is… fabricated, he thinks. She is not a woman entirely of her own design. Not unlike himself. Humanity hangs on her like ill-fitted sheepskin.

"Are you for hire?" she asks him.

"Talk to Ahzrukhal," he says.

And she does. She sits down at the bar like a lady from a lost world, loose-limbed and poised, heavy boots crossed neatly at the ankle. He hears snatches of their conversation—hears her pod and pry, the dull drone of Ahzrukhal's voice, pitched low, meant to hide beneath the radio.

At last, she says, "I want to speak to you about his contract."

And Ahzrukhal laughs. "Oh, would you now? He is a highly valuable asset to me and to the Ninth Circle—"

"He terrifies you." It is not what Ahzrukhal expects. He stops mid-word, twitches, once, hard—a bad tell for a gambler—and Charon wonders if Ahzrukhal will order him to intervene, to erase this slip as he has erased others.

Instead, his employer laughs again—or tries to—the canny salesman; charming, unafraid.

But Charon has hated this man for nearly fifteen years. He knows him. He can see his hands from here, white knuckled, clenched beneath the bar.

"Terrifies me? Madam, I assure you, I have nothing to fear. Charon is absolutely loyal to whomever holds his contract. Unfailing, unflinching, until the day that employment ends."

The woman smiles, inclines her head. "Then why spend so much time to reassure a stranger?"

"Reassured strangers buy more." Ahzrukhal grins, leans too close, shows too many teeth. She has unnerved him. "Are you sufficiently reassured? I don't suffer squatters here, little girl."

Ahzrukhal's eyes flash to Charon, groping, over the distance. An unsubtle threat. Charon ignores him—he has not been ordered to do otherwise—fixing his attention to the other patrons in the bar.

But the woman sees. She turns a little on her stool, smiles at him over the distance.

"There is a point where your contract can't hold him, isn't there? A line in the sand between the two of you, but you don't know where," she says. Charon feels her gaze on him like an itch, like radiation.

Like indoctrination, two-hundred years before.

And still, the woman smiles. She swivels again, to Ahzrukhal, and Charon has seen kinder snipers, quiet sun-lit scopes staring in the distance. "You don't sell unwavering loyalty to the first pretty merc who happens by."

Ill-fitting sheepskin, Charon thinks. And wolf beneath her seams.

"A lot of talk for someone so…" Ahzrukhal gazes around at the patrons with the air of a cheap magician, "out of her element. Am I correct in assuming you mean to offer me a deal?"

A bag of caps falls to the counter between them.

"Eight-hundred," she says.

"An insult, madam." But his eyes jump from the bag to Charon. "For two-thousand, perhaps…"

The woman does not move. Billie Holiday swells in the silence between them.

Charon reminds himself not to hope.

"Eight-hundred," she says. "Today. And I never bring him here again."

Ahzrukhal swallows. His eyes dance—the bag, his corner—

The woman unties the pouch. A river of caps clatters free, spilling over the counter, over Ahzrukhal's anxious fingers, onto the floor.

Charon does not hope. He does not breathe.

Quietly, his contract changes hands.

From her seat at the bar, the woman cocks her head at Charon and smiles. "Do what you need to do."

"What?" Ahzrukhal spits, scrambles backwards. "Our deal—"

Charon is not a man for words. He shoulders his shotgun, squeezes the trigger—once, twice.

Billie Holiday stops singing. His new employer smiles. With the pad of her thumb, she wipes a drop of blood from her sleeve.

"Good enough?" she asks.

Charon gives her a sharp nod, holsters his weapons.

"Grab your hankies, children, cause I've got a heart-warming tale to tell," Three-Dog croons from the radio. "It's about a little girl's search for her… for her daddy."

Deftly, the woman flicks the radio off. She rises to her feet, leaves her caps scattered on the floor between Ahzrukhal's battered leather shoes.

Smiling, she hooks an arm through his.

"Then let's go."