Charon first saw her in the Ninth Circle a month ago.
She sauntered up to the counter with more confidence than a smoothskin should have in a place like this. With no more than a cursory glance at her surroundings to ensure her own safety, she took a seat on one of the barstools. Ahzrukhal put the handful of caps he'd been counting back into the safe, closed it shut, and beamed at his new customer. "Well, now, lookee here. We got us a smoothskin that I ain't ever seen before. What will it be?"
The girl smiled and an expression of deep consideration took over her light face. "Oh, how about a whiskey?" Her voice startled Charon just a tiny bit, as much as anything could ever really startle him. It was . . . strong. The light, tinkly voice of a girl her age, but thick with authority.
"Certainly," Ahzrukhal chimed, reaching for a glass.
She reached forward and stopped him with a hand on his wrist. "The whole bottle, please."
Chuckling with surprise and admiration, the ghoul set the cup aside and slid the entire bottle of whiskey forward. "Enjoy, smoothskin."
"Thanks." She scooped the bottle up with one hand and deposited a copious amount of caps onto the counter with the other. "Keep the change," she said over her shoulder as she headed for a table near the back. In her peripheral vision, she took in Charon's tall, dark form before choosing a table at least ten feet away from him. Setting the bottle almost lovingly down onto the table, she swung down onto the seat and brought out that mechanism on her wrist that was custom for every Vault brat to have.
Charon wanted to spit. Of course she was some spoiled Vault-dweller, come to explore the Wasteland like she knew what she was doing. It explained the over-tipping and over-confidence. Her armor was top-notch, some silver metal that clanked when she walked, dirty from her travels. Surely some rich daddy had bought it for her. He snorted quietly to himself.
Unfortunately, it caught the girl's attention. Her head twitched in his direction, blue eyes darting sideways to take in his expression: hateful. As it always was, and always would be. Her head inclined the tiniest bit, confidence turning to arrogance as she closed the thing on her wrist and brought a book out from her bag. She kicked her boots up onto a nearby chair, flipping through the book and occasionally taking a good long sip from her bottle. The book had a picture of two men hand-to-hand fighting on the cover.
Charon found himself wondering what the book was titled. He'd never before cared whether or not he could read, but at this very moment, he wished that he could.
Because absolutely nothing else in this bar was interesting in even the slightest fashion. He didn't care if it was a bright blue behemoth wielding a fire truck as a weapon, anything new was a relieving break from the everyday drag of the Ninth fucking Circle. Between the desire to kill both himself and Ahzrukhal, and the sometimes desperate wondering what he had done to deserve to be in this hell, Charon would take any distraction he could get, even if it was some hateful thing like this girl.
The scraping of a chair on the grimy tile of the bar caught his attention. He moved his eyes, but kept his head still, to watch the girl get up, her bottle already empty. She drank like a man—it had only been a few minutes. Sure, liquor these days was diluted and stale, but that was a feat you didn't see every day: a small girl absolutely demolishing a bottle of alcohol. She stuffed her book away and then left, just like that, but not before sending him one last glance. Upon seeing his eyes on her, the smallest of smiles jerked her lips upward, and then disappeared just as quickly as she did.
Now she thinks I was looking at her.
Leah ran a hand through her hair. It was getting pretty messy—she'd have to ask Carol for a key to the showers downstairs. She was climbing the flight of steps with a loud and messy yawn, her shoulders aching from all the weight in her backpack.
"Heya, smoothskin. Any scrap metal for me?"
"Oh, thank God you asked, Winthrop," she sighed, slipping her bag to the floor as delicately as she could—who knows how easily some of the weapons within could go off. She rummaged around inside and finally fished out a box full of scrap metal she'd collected. "Here you go. Just in time, too, my back was killing me."
"Yeah, yeah," Winthrop grunted, stuffing the metal into his pockets. He pulled three stimpaks out of his jumpsuit's pocket and slid them into her bag for her. "Thanks a lot, outsider!"
"See ya, Winthrop," she sang over her shoulder. She dragged the damn bag behind her as she passed Snowflake. "No time for a haircut today, Snowflake. Sorry!"
He looked up from the table beside him, where there was quite a collection of Jet accumulating. "It's no problem, friend! I'm always here when you're ready for one, though."
"Thanks." She grinned and backed her way into Carol's Place.
"Oh, honey, you're back!" Carol greeted her in her sweet, raspy voice. "I've had Greta set up your room for you!"
"Thank you, Carol," Leah said sincerely. "I'm totally exhausted from travelling back here."
The ghoul hurried around to open the room for her, holding the door open so Leah could lug her things up onto the bed. Smiling graciously, she grabbed Carol's hand, surreptitiously shoving twenty caps into her grasp.
"Oh!" Carol gasped, but Leah cut her off.
"I've had a long day, Carol, and I think I'm going to get some shut-eye. Good night!"
Carol ducked her head. "Have a good sleep, smoothskin."
"That human is staying here. Can you believe that, Charon?"
The bar was empty except for the two ghouls—bartender and bouncer—master and slave.
Charon didn't answer, but approached the bar nonetheless. He thought of the tiny cot in the room just off the bar with longing.
Ahzrukhal took a deep pull on his cigarette. He knew his slave wanted to sleep, so he dragged him on a little longer. "A beautiful piece of flesh, wouldn't you agree?" He tapped the ash from the cigarette into a small, chipped tray on the counter. "Yes, I wouldn't mind tasting her sweet, smooth skin," he sighed, emphasizing the words with a sort of rough relish. "I've had a smoothskin or two in my day. Not something you forget." He glanced up at his slave's flat expression, the arms crossed wordlessly over his chest. "Oh, all right. Get out of here."
Charon dipped his head, before turning and walking back to the only place he could call a home.
She came back to the bar a couple weeks later. Only this time, she ordered vodka and sat one table closer to him. She wore no armor, but a torn T-shirt and blue jeans, ragged from years of use, again flaunting her boldness in a place that would make most humans wet themselves.
Ahzrukhal drank in the sight of her, eyes flickering up every few seconds from his daily routine of counting the caps in the register.
Leah glanced up from her book at Charon. He was . . . interesting. The other ghouls were rather chatty—talking about how they hated humans like her, the Brotherhood, the sweltering heat and being ghouls in general—so his complete silence was rather intriguing. She wanted to hear him speak. Maybe he had no voice.
Of course, he made no sign of acknowledgement whatsoever.
She hummed quietly to herself, looking back down at her book again. She seemed completely oblivious of the bar-owner's appreciative gazes as she buried her nose in a book with a picture of a pistol on the cover. She flipped through the pages at an ungodly rate, so that every time Charon's eyes would—by chance—fall on her in their intermittent scanning of the room, she would be much farther in the book than anyone should be.
She set it down onto the table, catching Charon's reluctant attention. Keeping the pages open with her now empty bottle, she pulled a dingy ribbon from her pocket. With a blindingly fast movement, she had grabbed all of her black hair and tied it up in a lackluster ponytail. Nothing flashy. Just out of the way. Content, she picked her book back up and continued to read.
It had been a very long time since Charon had seen a human female in this context: not some raider he was about to dispatch in the wastes. It seemed he had forgotten how soft they looked, clear skin rolling over thin muscle. For some reason the back of her neck captivated him—so fragile and slender, and yet the only thing connecting her brain with the rest of her body. The way she held her head was . . . elegant.
And he hated her with a thousand passions. She was everything in life that he could not have: freedom, money, friendship, love. His self-loathing was more than he could handle. He wanted to pin her down to the table and strangle that thin neck until she stopped breathing and then leave the body somewhere he would never see it again so that he would not have to be reminded of how despicable and hateful of a person he was.
The door creaked open and Charon had an excuse to turn his head: to make sure that whoever entered wasn't a threat to him, his master, or his master's bar. It was just Willow, sauntering in with her rifle at her side.
"Hey there, tourist," she said to the human, looking a bit concerned.
The girl had tensed up at the sound of the door, her hand jumping to the holster at her side as her head swung around to watch who walked in.
At least she's not stupid enough to ignore an opening door.
The girl relaxed instantly into a smile. "Hey, Willow. Sit down, I'll buy you a drink," she offered genially.
"That sounds great, but I've gotta get back out on watch. I just had to come see Ahzrukhal."
"I'll keep a rain-check on it, then," she promised, grinning once more before turning back to her book.
"What is it, Willow?" the bartender demanded irritably.
His tone made the girl glance back up, almost protectively.
Don't even think about it, smoothskin. If you do anything against Ahzrukhal, I'll have to kill you. And we wouldn't want that, now, would we?
His lips twitched downward in confusion. He wasn't actually sure. Would he want that?
But Willow rolled her eyes and leaned against the bar. "Couple of passing ghouls outside claim you owe them some money, you bastard."
Ahzrukhal glared at the female before replying. "I will send Charon down with their sum. You can leave my bar now," he said icily.
Willow winked at the girl as she left. "See you around, tourist. Don't get on that one's bad side. He'll sic his dog on you." With that eloquent sentence, she left.
The girl frowned, apparently disliking her reference of anyone as a 'dog.' Ignoring it completely, Charon marched forward to the bar at Ahzrukhal's beckoning.
"Here. This should keep those motherfuckers at bay. I don't know what their fucking problem is. They give you any trouble, just kill them, Charon. I don't have time for this bullshit."
Charon nodded, taking the bundle of caps Ahzrukhal shoved across the bar and pocketing it. When he turned, the human was staring at him full-on, brow furrowed, a question in her eyes. He resisted the urge to snarl at her. It would piss Ahzrukhal off and get him in trouble later. He had a job to do now and it made him feel alive again.
He completely disregarded the human, brushing past her without a word. As he walked through the door, he pulled his shotgun from its holster on his back. It felt nice to do anything but stand there in that goddamn corner anymore. It felt good just to stretch his damn legs. Once the doors had closed behind him, he stretched his arms above his head as well. They gave a few sharp pop's as the muscles came alive again. As much as he hated that fucking bar, Charon didn't mind Underworld as a whole so much. There was an understanding between them all: they were different and always would be. Becoming a ghoul was horrific for everyone. Now that they were together, they could continue to live with some semblance of normality.
Humans held no sort of appeal or promise of reward for him. All the humans he had dealt with hated him and he gladly hated them back. On good days, he even got to kill the ones that pissed him off. He scanned the lobby as he moved down the stairs. Winthrop was grumbling to himself as he crossed the atrium. He stopped immediately as he saw Charon and lowered his eyes to the ground, moving aside to allow him passage.
Male and female ghouls all watched in silence as he passed. It wasn't every day that Charon came outside of the Ninth Circle. And though he was a ghoul just like the rest of him, he was a person who had seen much more darkness in his life. They gave him a wide berth and he was thankful for it. He couldn't imagine ever being friends with them anyways.
Hell, he couldn't imagine being a "friend" of anyone. The word didn't function in his mind like it should.
Quinn was leaning against the exit, lips clamped around a cigarette. Wordlessly, he offered one to Charon.
The slave took it. Nothing like the feeling of smoke building in his ruined lungs as he pulled the trigger and took a few assholes' lives. He pushed the double doors open with a feeling close to hope in his chest.
The four ghouls gathered outside were nothing short of pathetic. Their shoddy excuses of armor could have been torn apart by a sleeping radroach. When they caught sight of Charon, they all pulled weapons from their holsters. Charon scanned all the open space he could see, spotting Willow toward the very edge of the courtyard. She was watching in amusement.
"Where's Ahzrukhal?" the leader demanded, fisting his measly pistol in fury and bringing Charon's attention back to him.
He pulled the bundle from his pocket and tossed it down the steps at them.
The leader gestured his gun at the bag and one of his followers quickly scrambled forward to pick it up. He sifted through the caps inside.
Charon closed his eyes. He heard the almost melodic tinkling of the caps as they clanked together in that little bag. The low grunts of the ghouls as they waited for orders. Willow's crunching footsteps as she paced across the courtyard. His own deep breaths as he tried to inhale as much of the open air and smoke as he could before he would be forced to return to that damn corner again.
"You're ten caps short, asshole!" he heard the leader shout.
Charon swung his shotgun forward and pulled the trigger before he even opened his eyes. He opened them quickly, though, to watch the ghoul's expression as his gut was completely blown open. His body fell backward into one of his followers, stalling him as the other two rushed forward.
Chick-chuh, BOOM. Chick-chuh, BOOM.
The left ghoul's head exploded completely, blood splattering over Charon and the surrounding stone of the courtyard. He hit the right ghoul in the chest, sending him flying backward. His body hit the ground with a dull thud, skidding a few more feet before coming to a complete stop.
The third had finally managed to wrestle his leader's dead body off of him and ran at Charon with a kitchen knife.
A kitchen knife! You've got to be kidding me.
Charon dropped his shotgun, grabbed the ghoul's wrist, twisted it—breaking his arm—and shoved his own hand into his chest, knife and all. The ghoul stumbled backward, tripped over one of his fellow's bodies, landed on his ass. He stared down at the handle protruding from his chest in horror, unable to even summon words to his lips. His croaking gasps were a symphony to Charon's ears as he leaned down to pick up the bag of caps, now soaked in the ghouls' blood. He spat out the cigarette—now all the way down to the butt—and ground it into the stone with his foot.
When he reentered Underworld, Charon got even more stares. His boots left tracks of crimson across the floor, his armor dripping in blood. He kept his eyes straight ahead of him as he climbed the steps back up to the Ninth Circle. He heard Winthrop's angry muttering again as he complained to a nearby ghoul about having to clean this mess up, along with the four new corpses on the doorstep.
"As if we don't get a bad enough rap being ghouls!" he fumed.
Charon tossed the double doors of the bar open. The stale air, haze of smoke, and strong scent of alcohol hit him like a tangible force, as they did every time he entered the godforsaken place. His body moved without his permission. He ached to turn around and leave forever, and yet his muscles continued to propel him forward. Every fiber of his being was connected to that contract and the person who held it—even if that person was a rat bastard.
Ahzrukhal hummed in interest as Charon dropped the bundle back onto the bar. The blue material of the bag was dark with blood.
"A problem, I presume," Ahzrukhal mumbled in an offhand sort of way as the dark liquid began to ooze across the bar.
"Ten caps short."
"Ah." He picked up the bag and began depositing the caps back into the register. "I must have miscalculated."
Hatred churning in his veins, Charon returned to his corner. Blood covered his face and chest. The human girl was gone. The bar was a living Hell.
Four lives today.
He wanted to die.
Let me know what you think so far... there are quite a few Charon/FLW fanfics out there and I couldn't resist writing my own! And I am way into it.