And Wolves Beneath Their Seams
Nobody goes alone. They split up in even numbers—V through the front with Jericho, Butch and Charon at the far border, Fawkes and Cross behind the slave pins.
Whatever Charon's concerns, Butch handles his string of grenades like a professional. He keeps his head low, his body in shadow, waiting for the signal.
They hear nothing for a long time—a good sign. The plan had Jericho distracting the gate guard long enough for V to stab him in the throat. A moment more passes without an alarm. And then, finally, over the sound of slavers laughing, Charon hears the gate grind open.
"Show time," Butch whispers. Sweet and clean, he tosses grenades over the edge of the wall. Charon follows suit, throws longer, bombarding the range.
Inside, slavers scream and swear. Gunfire erupts from the bottleneck. Distantly, Charon hears V laugh, hears Jericho swearing around the stub of a cigar.
"They're at the door!" someone bellows.
Another shouts, "Jotun, the walls!"
As Charon throws the last grenade, Fawkes sinks his fists into the wreckage that forms a wall around the slaves' quarters, ripping the signs and cars away as easily as carrying children. Cross sets a charge, blows the wall open like cracking an egg.
"To me!" she calls through the opening, climbing inside. "Allow me to deactivate your collars!"
Charon files in behind her, Butch and Fawkes at his back. They emerge in Paradise Falls to flames and bloodied smoke, slavers firing on their own in the confusion, bullets flying in every direction. Charon takes down three men before they can turn, easy as picking bottles. Poorly armored and unprepared for an organized assault, it is not nearly as difficult as cleaning DC.
Butch splits off, heading for the Pulowski Preservation shelter that marks the edge of his assignment. As he opens the door, Charon covers him. A man in a collar stumbles out, too-thin but grinning, bitter and joyful, demanding, "Give me a gun, any gun, just let me help!"
Without a thought, Butch gives the man the 10mm he keeps in his belt, shoves ammo into his hands. "Go to the pens!" he shouts over the fray. "Cross can get you out of that collar."
The man shakes his head, checks the clip. "Cross can get me out later," he says and lunges into the fray.
Service rifle tight to his shoulder, Butch backs up, guarding the door to the slave pen. Locked in step with Fawkes, Charon moves forward, picking off slavers as they emerge from the buildings. Their new addition runs fast and low, keeps to corners, fighting hard and vicious. He takes out slavers at the knees, finishes each he downs with a boot to the face.
Training, Charon thinks, recognizing the tactics of an old merc saving ammo.
He does not have time to dwell on it long. Soon, between them, the yard clears. V meets him, grinning. Her arms are bloody and for a moment Charon's breathing catches in his throat. It must show on his face, in his eyes, because V grins at him and says, "It's not mine."
"Shit, yeah, it's not," Jericho mutters, sucking viciously at his cigar. "Put her arm straight through a guy. I mean fuck."
"What, you wanted shot? I grabbed what I could," she laughs. "How about you take Fawkes and go bust down the gun show? Maybe visit the medic." And then, spotting their new addition, "Hey. New guy. You okay, buddy?"
The man grins, all teeth, jamming a second clip into his borrowed gun. "Fucking fantastic. Let me guess—V?"
Jericho rolls his eyes. "Goddamn saint. Fucking everybody's heard of you."
"Yeah, yeah, your shitty-ass reputation is ruined," V says. "Cry me a river."
"Guy came in a couple days ago," the new man says, "beat up real bad, crying about how the Saint of the Wastes would kill everybody here. Eulogy called him crazy. Shot him in the head to shut him up."
At Charon's side, V hums. She glances up at him with mischief in her eyes and looking at her, Charon sees the woman who carried him twice from Underworld, beautiful and vicious.
"Well," she says. "That worked out better than I hoped."
And she is monstrous—how could she be otherwise?—but soaked in blood, fighting for her, Charon is achingly, blindingly proud.
"Listen," the new guy says. "Eulogy's a monster with that .44. He's got two girls in there with him—don't waste time trying to save them. They're crazy about him and I mean fucking batshit psychotic. They'll kill you any way they can."
V nods. "Understood. Thanks for your help. Head back to the pens, Cross can get that thing off your neck."
Still, the man shakes his head. "Think I'll help your friends here if you don't mind. Got some scores to settle."
Shrugging, Jericho sends up a cloud of smoke, notches his gun to his shoulder again. "Your funeral," he grunts. "Come on."
V stands in the courtyard long enough to watch Fawkes put his boot through the armory door, shattering it into splinters as Jericho shoots and inside, someone screams.
Looking up at Charon, she grins. "I like today," she says. And then, tilting her chin at Eulogy's balcony, "Give me a boost."
With some effort, Charon hoists her up enough for V to reach the edge of the platform. Grabbing two posts for leverage, she scrambles up the rest of the way herself, stands, carbine ready, waiting at the door.
Charon takes his position.
Above, V calls a count of three.
He kicks down the front door; she kicks down the balcony. Together, they walk in shooting.
Afterwards, with the slavers cooling in the dust and the slaves newly unadorned, V lifts her Pipboy to her mouth, records, "Dear Wasteland, Paradise Falls is dead. Love, V."
She records a second message, next, explaining what they've done, listing their names, finishes with, "So here you go, Three-dog. Hope this counts as a special occasion."
And standing amongst the bodies, V finds Charon's hand—bloody though it is—and smiles.
The report goes live as they're on their way to Big Town, the ex-slaves walking in a tight huddle, surrounded by their team. They stop at the foot of the hill—Big Town's roofs just visible over the next rise—and listen.
Three-dog can barely speak. Voice tight, stuttered with joy, he says, "As if safe passage through DC was not enough, as if pure water for the Wasteland was not enough, boy and girls, I just got another love letter from our very own Saint."
And then V's message plays, rough with static but every word clear: "Dear Wasteland, Paradise Falls is dead. Love, V."
"You hear that, children?" Three-dog asks, playing the clip twice more for good measure. "That's right, kiddies. The Wasteland cleaning team just overtook Paradise Falls. Ding! Dong! Eulogy Jones is dead. Him and his little slaver shitheads, too.
"You can go ahead and thank your very own War and Death, Butch Deloria of Rivet City, Fawkes of Underworld, Jericho of Megaton, and Brotherhood Paladin Cross. If you see these guys in the wastes, buy them a drink. Hell, buy these heroes the whole damn bar. Tonight, the world is a better place than it was when we woke up."
He plays the song without introduction, the sounds of the bar, Gob laughing, Nova laughing—and then V, "Hold still, Charon, I need your shoulder"—climbing onto the bar and singing, everyone singing, the crowd of them messy, off-key and triumphant.
And Charon is proud—he is so proud—to stand by her side, bloodied and aching, raw and flushed from their victory.
"Better get a free drink outta this," Jericho mutters and Butch laughs.
"We all better get a free drink outta this," he says.
Normally stoic, Cross grins. "We have made history today, my friends."
The new man—Rory—snorts. "Yeah, well. I think this is probably a typical Tuesday for V. Anyway," he says, holding up a bag of caps. "Drinks are on Forty."
Most of the others crowd, laughing, into the Club House. Fawkes does not enter the town, preferring to spend the night in an abandoned house further up the road so as not to alarm the children. V returns to their house at the gate, fingers trailing Charon's boot print on the door—a habit already begun.
"If there is a god," she announces, trailing armor and clothing on her way to the bathroom, "the water will still work."
Apparently, there is a god. Or, at least, something close. With an almighty growling and explosive protests, the rusted pipes manage to spit a fair amount of water into the tub.
V grins up at him. "Flip you for it?" she asks.
Charon thinks of Rivet City, of shy eyes and V murmuring, "You go first. I owe you one."
"No," he says. But he know she will protest—knows she will argue and he will lose—and so, instead, before she can order him otherwise, Charon scoops her up and deposits his employer in the tub.
He walks out to V cursing her way through his family tree—returns just long enough to deposit her pack inside the door.
"Thank you, Charon," he hears as he eases the door shut. "You jerk."
She is a strange creature, his War.
When he emerges from the bathroom himself, half dressed and newly clean, he finds V watching him from the bed.
He stops. Something in her eyes. Charon swallows, loses track of his hands.
Slowly, V rises. She crosses the room like creeping up on yao-guai. Her fingers find his, trail his arms, meet again around his neck.
He cannot tear his gaze from her eyes, cannot move, afraid to break the moment, afraid he is wrong—
But V presses her lips to his and Charon cannot think. English flees him, Russian passes in a blur. Without meaning to, he spins, pins her against the wall. And he cannot think—cannot stop—but V does not mind. She laughs into his mouth, pulls him down. They kiss and kiss again, her teeth nipping at his bottom lip, and Charon presses tight against her, cannot get close enough—could climb inside her skin and not be close enough—
"Can I ask you to fuck me?" V asks, low and warm, and Charon groans, shaking in his bones.
"Please," he chokes.
She shatters him. Smiling, laughing, she tugs him towards the bed. V holds him, his face in her hands, her mouth on his—searching, teasing—and Charon burns. He breaks into her, pressed as tightly against her as their bodies will allow. Her skin feels like a fire against him.
Together they manage to get rid of the layers separating them, and she is smooth where he is rough, but they are both scarred. V kisses an old bullet wound; he licks a knife scar. They catalogue each other's history, find the new wounds shared between them. They are by turns lazy and frantic. A particular twist of an old knife, a newly discovered freckle—and then V's breath hitches, his hips snap to hers, someone moans, someone bites—so much heat and need and want.
Eventually V laughs, breathless into his mouth, "God, we take a long time," and arches up, wraps her legs around him, reaches between them and pulls him home.
Charon finds a prayer in her name. She is too much—she is everything. She is inevitable, his saint, his War and Charon rocks into her—sweetly, gentle as he is able—but her legs are tight around his hips, her hands spanning his shoulders, demanding, urging, a plea in every bruising fingerprint.
"Fuck, Charon, harder," she manages and there is nothing she could order him that Charon would not do.
So he fucks her, hard and close, feeling her heartbeat through her skin, feeling her, his mouth on her scars, on her name. Her nails rake bloody patterns down his back and physical violence violates his contract, but Charon feels deliciously violated—feels free—and fucks her harder for it, biting, claiming, until she is gasping, each little hitch of air a fragment of his name. V spasms around him and Charon is lost, utterly lost. He spills into her, shatters, feeling V's hands on his back, putting his pieces back together, keeping him from shaking entirely apart.
She rebuilds him, shapes him. Charon pulls out and pulls her to him, tucks her head beneath his chin and holds her close. V laughs, her breath tickling the hollow of his throat. "We waited too long for that."
He presses a kiss to the top of her head. V laughs again, soft, nuzzles into him.
Charon holds her. A quarter-hour creeps by and he feels the tension leave her frame, feels her breathing slow as she falls asleep against him.
For some time, he lies awake, breathing the scent of her hair, her skin, feeling her heat, trailing his fingers down her spine. She is so much of him, he thinks, lying with her legs tangled in his, Charon is not sure where he begins and ends.
He finds he does not mind. And holding her against him, gently, he slips to sleep.
V wakes before sunrise. When he opens his eyes in the early morning, feeling sticky and sated and hopeful for more, he finds her watching him, smiling. Sunlight plays along the bridge of her nose, paints her lips in gold.
Charon reaches for her—because he can, because he chooses to—and pulls her close. Presses a kiss to her sunlit mouth, to her jaw, to the curve of her neck.
They have sex again, sweet and lazy, curled close against the chill of the morning.
"I love you," V whispers against his skin. And then again, "I love you."
And though he is not built for it, though it has no bearing on the terms between them…
Charon is happy.
(A/N: All done! That's it, everybody. Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed it.)