"You, check that equipment!"
"The Enclave is retreating. . . ."
". . . we have a location on their base . . ."
". . . still remains comatose . . ."
"He's awake! Check his vitals—is he delirious?"
". . . and that isn't going to help at all!"
"Get the water supplies to the cities that need it most. . . ."
"After all this, to be left in a state like that?"
"Smoothskin. . . . I'm here."
TWO WEEKS LATER
Leah found herself once again regaining consciousness after who-knows-how-long of sleeping . . . of healing. It was getting old. She was beginning to feel incompetent. If it wasn't for Charon –
She flung herself upward with a gasp, feeling the pull of an IV in her arm as she struggled to make sense of her location. A cracked ceiling, small room, cot in the far corner with a huddled form stuffed onto it. Terminals, IV stands, desks littered with papers and clipboards.
Nobody but the other poor soul in the opposite corner.
"Charon?" she croaked, even though she knew the body was too small to be him. She got no answer anyways, so she gritted her teeth and threw her legs over the side of her cot, grabbing the IV and tearing it out of her arm with a wince. The cold of the tile shocked her nerves as her toes skimmed the floor and a shiver sprinted up her spine. A frantic beeping began in the nearest terminal and made her jump in surprise. She scrambled desperately to her feet to try and stop it, but crumpled the second she was no longer supported by the bed. The IV stand fell down with her and she landed in a heap of limbs and metal, a soft groan getting lost in her throat at the shot of pain through her entire body.
There was a shout in the adjacent hallway and Paladin Glade came skidding into the room, wearing the bottom half of a set of power armor and an undershirt, gasping for breath. "Leah!" He knelt beside her and tried to pull her up, muttering something about not moving and how she was a stubborn cow for already trying to stand.
"Charon," she mumbled, her voice slurred from misuse. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Where's Charon?"
Glade cocked an eyebrow at her. "He's fine. He's –,"
"Right here," a raspy voice interrupted, making both humans turn. The ghoul was standing in the doorway, and then he was marching over with determination hardened in his eyes, a look of furious triumph on his face. He pushed the paladin out of the way to scoop his smoothskin into his arms and clutch her close. Glade was sent tumbling backwards into a desk as Charon lifted Leah off of the ground and planted a kiss on her lips that she would never forget, not years or even decades later, so intensely charged was it with love and relief. The ghoul ignored Glade's angry grumblings behind him as he framed his smoothskin's face with his ruined hands and kissed her until she had to pull away, laughing, to regain her breath.
Leah inhaled deeply and traced Charon's face with her light fingertips, hungrily taking in the face that she very well could have lost. "How did you make it out?"
Charon glanced up as Elder Lyons came striding quickly into the room. "A story for another time, smoothskin." He put an arm around her and helped her back up onto the cot where she could rest her shaking legs. They turned to Elder Lyons who, after a concerned, hopeless gaze at the cot in the corner, cleared his throat and forced a smile.
"I'm very glad to see you awake. You had us scared for a moment there," Elder Lyons murmured with fatigued eyes. "You'll be happy to know that the purifier works and the Tidal Basin is now filled with fresh, clean water."
Leah sighed in relief and slumped against her ghoul counterpart. "If I wasn't half dead, I'd victory dance my ass off."
Charon rolled his eyes, but couldn't hold back a grin. Nobody but Leah. . . .
Paladin Glade facepalmed. Elder Lyons's mouth twitched in confusion, but he continued. "You seem to be fine. There was an energy spike when the purifier was activated –,"
"Is Sarah all right?" Leah demanded, her smile disappearing at once. She looked over toward the unconscious figure, putting two and two together.
"With your reawakening, we are almost certain that she will make a full recovery," Lyons said, but his voice was strained in obvious concern. "She is under the care of our best medical staff. Without your help . . . and your sacrifice," he added, eyes flickering over to Charon, "she might have perished. Truly, the work that you and your father committed your lives to has saved countless more – and will continue to in the years to come. For your dedication and sacrifice, the Brotherhood has decided to award you both with the Knight title. With this honor, I pose a question: would you be willing to continue assisting the Brotherhood in our goal to eradicate all traces of Enclave from the Capital Wasteland?"
Leah nodded without a second thought, much to Charon's disquiet. She'd just woken up and already she was agreeing to more of their stupid, suicidal missions. But she held up a hand when Lyons opened his mouth to speak. "I will need time to rest and heal. I need to gather my bearings. I've got friends to see before I can set off again. All these near-death experiences are making me nervous. So yes, Elder Lyons, I will agree to help you, but I'll need some time."
After a long moment of thinking, Elder Lyons nodded in agreement. "That is understandable after your ordeal, Miss Montgomery. I wish you a swift recovery. We shall be waiting here for your return." He bowed his head at the couple and left, gesturing Paladin Glade after him.
"Good you're back up and kickin', Vault Girl," Glade said with a grin before following after his superior.
The ghoul and girl exchanged a quick glance the second they were alone and she threw her arms around him with a cry of joy. "We did it! Can you believe it?"
Charon chuckled and helped her onto her feet, hands ready to catch her if she stumbled. But Leah powered onward with a grin on her face. "You were amazing," she said fervently, taking shuffling footsteps forward. "I was so worried."
"Me, too," he admitted with a gruff laugh.
"You want to tell me everything that happened now?" she asked, much like an excited child might ask for a story, standing up on her tiptoes to kiss the underside of his jaw.
Charon put a strong arm around her shoulders. "The blast knocked out a few of the windows. I climbed through them and found you and the Lyons girl unconscious on the ground. That was . . ." His brow twitched and he frowned as if in pain. "That was not easy. But I knew you two were still alive, so I threw you over my shoulders –,"
"Like a sack of spuds?" Leah asked, laughing to think of it. "I guess we're lucky you're so strong."
"May I finish?" His eyes glinted with humor as she pouted. He chuckled and touched her lips, shaking his head. "The rest of the Museum was still intact, and with the assistance of the Brotherhood I managed to get you guys here. I was very weak. I fell unconscious as soon as we reached the Citadel."
"Oh," she gasped, her face falling at once.
"I'm fine now, smoothskin," he laughed, rubbing her shoulder comfortingly. "I woke up a couple of days later. Took a hell of a lot of stimpaks and radiated water to get me feeling normal again. And then I waited." He leaned close to whisper in her ear, "I was the only one to touch you."
Her eyes widened and she couldn't help a small smile, cheeks turning pink. "Not even a doctor?"
"No. I dressed your wounds, bathed you, gave you water." He grinned proudly, the expression heartwarming on his ruined face.
"Thank you." She bit her lip, looking away for a moment. "You've saved me so many times." It seemed to tax her pride to say it.
But Charon simply shrugged. "You saved me. It's only fair that I stick around to save your ass, too."
Charon leaned back against a boulder and watched his smoothskin approach a line of small mounds in the ground outside of the Memorial. She held a cluster of elegantly made paper flowers – Lucy had taught her and Bumble how to make them in their short stay at Little Lamplight. She knelt to place one at each dirt mound and took the time to run her fingers over every piece of engraved stone at the head. At the very last one, she sighed deeply and closed her eyes for just a moment. She placed the last flower on the dirt just below the headstone. This one was different. Instead of colored paper, it was constructed of shining metal that glinted in the sunlight. Leah ducked her head, lips trembling, before she climbed to her feet and returned to her ghoul's side. He smiled questioningly at her and she huffed a small sigh before returning the sentiment.
She'd had to see her father. Just one last time.
Charon shouldered open the door to the saloon and Leah danced past his arm. "Gob!" she shouted in irritation, having just been accosted by an annoying apologetic Leo Stahl. He'd been drunk enough and sorry enough to talk to them for nearly half an hour before Leah had to drag them away with a blunt, "I get it, you were horny. Leave us alone."
"God damn it, Gob, where the fuck are you?"
"Gob, I swear to God –,"
Charon abruptly put a hand over her mouth with a quick "Shh! Listen." They both fell silent. The sound of moaning and laughter drifted down from the second story, among the occasional thump and the loud banging of a headboard against a wall. Leah couldn't help it—she burst into laughter. "It's about time that old man got some," she remarked in appreciation to her ghoul, who was shaking his head. "We can leave him a note, then."
Still smiling, she fished a slip of paper and pencil from her bag and set to scrawling Gob and Nova a message.
Gob jogged down the steps, clutching a bed sheet around his waist. He ran a hand over his face, muscles drained from the three-hour lovemaking session. He was just grabbing two beers from the refrigerator when he spotted the note on the counter. Sliding it toward him, he set the bottles down and took a quick seat on a stool to read.
Most of it was scrawled in Leah's lilting, elegant cursive:
Dropped by to say hello and heard your lovefest upstairs – didn't want to interrupt. Didn't know you had it in you, tiger! We waited for about thirty minutes before just giving up and leaving. Have to say – we're impressed, big guy. Keep it up. We took the liberty of putting a "closed" sign on the saloon door so nobody else would have the misfortune of tiptoeing in on your shag-session. You can thank us later.
Love you, buddy.
There were two signatures at the bottom: one long and elegant, a twirling L followed by a series of loops to spell out Leah Rose Montgomery.
Below that, in six carefully formed, perfect letters, was the name Charon. The end of Leah's y – in Montgomery – curled down to loop through the C in Charon's name. Short and simple. The epitome of their personalities.
Gob shook his head and, with a chuckle, clenched the note between his teeth to show Nova. He crossed to the saloon door and cracked it open, popped his head out to see their note.
BEWARE: VIOLENT LOVEMAKING AFOOT. TURN AWAY WHILE YOU CAN.
That sentence was hastily scribbled out, and underneath it written:
Gob shook his head and snatched the paper, immediately crumpling it and tossing it into the corner of the room to deal with later. Growling out a reluctant laugh around the note in his mouth, he took the stairs two at a time to return to his waiting smoothskin. And as he burst into the room to see her stretched catlike across the bed, naked as the day she was born and wearing a smile that would melt ice, he was grateful for the Vault Girl and her mischievous ghoul. He handed Nova her beer and the note. Her eyes widened and twinkled with amusement as she read it and Gob threw himself down beside her and imagined the two of them having a good laugh scribbling out their scandalous notes.
They gave him hope.
Those crazy bastards.
Leah sprinted the last few yards over the hill to Little Lamplight, her boots slipping in the dry Wasteland dirt. Charon caught her arm as she nearly tripped headlong into the dirt. She murmured a small thanks and he smiled tightly.
They exchanged a glance before looking at the wooden door leading to Little Lamplight. Apprehension rose wordlessly between them. Charon threw an arm protectively over her shoulder and they stepped cautiously into the dark caverns.
The wooden door closed with a loud smack behind them and Leah winced under Charon's arm. They could've alerted anyone to their presence. Who knew what could have happened in their absence? Slavers could have raided the place and taken off with all of the children and –
"LEAH AND CHARON!" There was the pattering of quick, light footsteps and then the couple was bombarded with the tiny bodies of countless children. Leah fell backward onto her ass and Charon just barely managed to stay upright as they were attacked by the mini-army.
Leah let out a breathless giggle, trying to make sense of all of the faces and voices. The smallest body clung to her torso with tiny fists balled around the straps of her armor. "Bumble?"
"Leah," the girl cried into her shoulder. The Vault Dweller cuddled her close and grinned at all of the other children.
"Smooth – skin," Charon grunted, barely staving off a very affectionate Knock Knock as the girl climbed onto his back and hung there for dear life. Leah told the children to give them room to breathe and the small bodies retreated to a respectful distance. Charon pulled his smoothskin up to her feet and gave her a scathing look for roping him into this whole children business. It would drive him to a premature grave, about that he was certain.
Large, stomping footsteps had Leah and Charon instantly on edge. Fawkes came ducking into view, clearly very cramped in the tiny caverns. "My friends!" he roared in triumph, holding his arms out. Leah jogged and threw herself into a big super mutant hug.
"Thank you for taking care of them, Fawkes!" she breathed in sincere appreciation, squeaking when he squeezed her just a little bit too hard and Charon had to step forward to remind the mutant that she was very much human and very much fragile.
"My mistake," Fawkes apologized, loosening his hold and setting her on her feet. He patted her head in what he clearly meant to be a gesture of affection and Leah endured it, hiding her wince with a smile. "As for the tiny ones, it was no problem at all to see over them! I must admit, I grew quite fond of them over time."
"Fawksy," Bumble added as a confirmation, giggling into a clenched fist.
Leah beamed up at the mutant, who held out a hand to the small girl. She clung to his wrist and he lifted her up onto his hunched shoulders.
"Yeah, he's been a riot," a snarky voice remarked from behind them. They all turned to see Joseph smirking, his arms crossed over his chest. "Glad you made it back, gramps. You're really startin' to prove your worth around here."
Charon grinned and crossed the room to cuff the boy on the head with a big fist. Joseph cried out in pain and punched the ghoul in the stomach. With a growl, Charon grabbed the boy by the arm and flipped him onto his back and the fight began.
Leah sighed, her hands on her hips as she watched them, smiling fondly. The other children milled around her and cheered, Leah running her fingers through Lucy's hair absentmindedly. She looked up at Fawkes, whose face was surprising in its relaxed smile.
"Yes, I, too, can enjoy the pleasure of a family, my friend," he said, catching her eye.
She grinned and turned back to watch the love of her life pin down a fifteen-year-old boy and laugh in wild excitement.
"Come on, boy! I know you have more than that!"
"It's not fair, you weigh a million pounds!" Joseph snapped breathlessly, struggling to upend the ghoul.
The pleasure of a family indeed.
"Hello there, children! I've got a special broadcast for you today, kiddies. You know that crazy gal been runnin' around from Vault 101 and savin' lives left and right? Well ol' Three Dog roped her into sitting down for an interview. Now, I didn't know she'd be bringing half of her new family with her, but the more the merrier, am I right, little Lone Wanderer?"
"Yeah, sorry about this, Three Dog! They're insufferable, children. Why I thought I'd like them –,"
"Smoothskin, I told you I hated them from the start! You were the one that wanted to keep them!"
"Well, they were cute! You can't blame me! I mean, look at Bumble. Look at those big eyes. How can you say no?"
"Leah? Can I ask you a question now?"
"Oh. Sorry, Three Dog! Shoot."
"All right, Le –,"
"Zip, don't touch that!"
"Charon, please! Sorry, Three Dog. Sock it to me."
"After escaping from that Vault, finding your father, and saving the Capital Wasteland, what would you say that you have now that you wouldn't give up for the world?"
". . . . That's a tough one."
"A fantastic ass."
"Well, I wouldn't give that up."
"Good one, gramps!"
"You two are impossible."
"You have a family now."
". . . That's a good one, Bumble. Thank you. I've got a family, Three Dog. I never really had one, besides my dad. But now I have more family than I can handle and it's better than I ever imagined it to be."
"Good answer, Leah baby, good answer. There's gotta be more, though."
"There is, it's just hard to think of an answer."
"She has my heart. My soul. And anything else she would like to have of mine. It's all hers."
"God, that was sweet."
"Someone's pullin' to get some tonight, am I right, Joseph?"
"God damn it, R.J."
"You also have a story, Leah! And a pretty kickass one, too."
"That's right, Knock Knock. I have that, too."
"So, Leah? Your final answer is?"
"Three Dog. . . . It's been a long year since I left the Vault. I've seen a lot of shit. Killed people, saved people. Met people who will change my life forever. And they're all right. I've got a family. Love. A story.
And I've got a future. I'll let you know what I manage to do with it. But for now, I've got kids who need naps, a super mutant waiting outside, and a ghoul who needs some hot, hot lovin'. I bid you adieu, my friend."
"Just don't forget what happened to the schmuck who got everything he ever wanted, Leah."
"Why? What happened?"
"He lived happily ever after."
"You're a crazy bastard, you know that, right?"
"Just trying to remind you to be sensible, Lone Wanderer."
"Haven't got a sensible name, Three Dog."
Wow, you guys. Phew. It's over. I can't even believe it.
Don't worry, there will be a sequel. You haven't seen the last of Leah and Charon. I can't get enough of them.
As always, I have many thanks to hand out. First and foremost, to my friend Simmony who has supported me through this whole process. I'd have given up at chapter one without her constant enthusiasm. I think I've mentioned that before (the first smutty chapter, because that's what's most important haha) but it remains ever true.
A special thanks to Pattyn for tagging along with me for the ride and making me the happiest camper in all of FanFiction land! Her story was the one that finally inspired me to get off my ass and start writing Fallout fanfiction and for that I'll always be thankful!
Lastly, a huge thank you to everyone who reviewed any of my stories ever. Really, you guys know how much you mean to me. Schurchk, your review is a huge honor. When people start tossing around the words "undoubtedly" and "best fanfiction" in the same sentence, my heart rate picks up. I'd seriously recommend Pattyn's Fallout series. If you enjoy mine, you'd love them.
You guys have been great. Wouldn't trade you guys for the world :)