The crackling of the flames licking up over the branches and broken bits of furniture in the fire echoes softly against the walls and high ceiling of the warehouse they've holed up in for the night, creating the only break in the quiet surrounding the party, aside from the occasional scraping of utensils against freshly heated food containers.

It's been a week and a half since they interrogated the man who'd been stalking the pack, but nothing in her plans have changed, despite the event. She still seems to be taking her time reaching into the core of her new obsession to poke and prod at it until it answers her questions.

While he appreciates the slow, careful approach she's taking, the other present pack members are less receptive to her strategy.

The Mayor has already advised a retreat to Goodneighbor for rest and restocking, and the mercenary she considers a brother is impatient to return for the sake of several jobs that apparently await his attention.

He has no opinion on the matter.

He will follow her, regardless.

Fire's dying down by the time John finally gets sick of it all.

Something's goin' on between those two.

He just... fuck.

He can't actually put his finger on it.

And it's drivin' him completely' fuckin' crazy.

The shit that's been brewin' between 'em for the past few months just keeps simmerin' into a thicker and thicker broth; so much so that it's practically a fuckin' tar pit at this point, and he's...

He's fuckin' worried.

He's not sure what to think of whatever's stewin' between 'em, but he needs to talk to his Sunshine about it openly, and he can't do that with half of the issue hangin' around all the goddamn time. Bein' as she's refusin' to give the giant orders outside of combat now, he can't exactly get her to tell Charon to just go outta hearin' range or anything, so he's stuck.

Somehow, he's gotta get his girl away from the ghoul whose life she basically holds in her hands.

Once upon a time, the obvious answer would've been sex, because surely the guy wouldn't stick around to listen to that shit. But no; apparently the guy's not just stone-faced, but a masochistic eunuch too, 'cause as many times as John's tried to use that approach, whenever he goes back outside for a smoke, there's Charon—standin' watch, nary a boner in sight.

S'fuckin' frustratin', s'what it is.

He peers across the flickering tongues of the fire at the ferryman, as Shana so often introduces him, and sighs, lips pursed and eyes narrowed in frustration. The taller ghoul's working on some small wood engraving of some sort, only glancing up on occasion to give Shana a visual once-over, before returning to his little project.

That's not unusual.

What is unusual is the second, hesitant look he slips over her only seconds after, which is clearly not his ordinary status check, but something else entirely, judging by the significantly surreptitious nature of the action—the slow, raking gaze he sweeps over her form, the slightly guilty shifting of his seated position, the barely-there pursing of his lips, the unbidden swallowing, as if someone had actually caught him with his hand in the muffin basket.

Meanwhile, Shana seems almost... willfully oblivious to it all.

She never returns the other ghoul's looks, unless she already happens to be looking in his direction. The only time she seems flustered over his attentions at all is when he's actually overt about it, which is becoming less and less rare as the days go on. But otherwise, she treats him exactly as she always has.

The hell happened between these two?

One way or another, he's gonna find out.

"Darlin, y'mind if I borrow Charon to help me go find some more shit for the fire? Figure it'll go faster with two of us, y'know."

His attention snaps up to focus on the short ghoul across the fire from him, immediately putting forth the effort to gauge the intention behind the man's odd request. It's rare the Mayor shows any interest in his existence, beyond a general sort of politeness, which he has judged to be more for his Mistr—for Shana's sake, than for anything else. He swivels his head to catch her immediate reaction to the solicitation, only to find her looking right back at him, her gaze steady before it absently falls back down to the fire.

She shrugs, the gesture overly casual to his eyes. "It's up to him." She half-points in his general direction. "Ask him."

The Mayor's smile tightens as his focus shifts to Charon now, arching a terse brow at him. "Well, how 'bout it, then? Mind lendin' a hand?" The smaller ghoul gestures to the fire, nodding toward it at the same time, before looking back up at him. "S'gonna need some more fuel if it's gonna last the night."

Of course, it will. He's more than aware of how cold the nights have been for the past month, so the man pointing out the obvious is not only odd but suspicious.

Pushing that thought aside, the fact that more fuel is indeed needed drives him to nod his agreement and stand, gathering himself and his weapon in preparation to follow the Mayor. He casts a precautionary glance around the room, allowing it to slide over Shana twice before he finally moves his feet to shadow her lover.

It takes mere moments to catch up to the significantly shorter man, though he shortens his stride to match Hancock's noticeably jittery gait once he reaches him. When he finally takes a moment to pause next to a small pile of refuse, with the pretense of searching it for low-toxicity burning materials, it is long after they've left the earshot of their human pack mates.

Hancock yanks a split and ragged two-by-four from the pile, tossing it to the side in the beginnings of a 'burnables' stack, then takes a deep breath and slips a mild glare to Charon, pausing with his hand on what looks like a chair leg. "So."

Charon lifts a brow at the Mayor, then tugs a partly rotted stack of pallets out and tosses them at the burnables.

The other ghoul ticks his jaw to the side thoughtfully, thin lips pursed into a thinner line, just before he rights himself and speaks. "Been tryin' t'figure you out for a while now, but it's hard to get to know a ghoul when he don't wanna be known. See," he grunts, fingers curling around the chair leg and dislodging it after a few tries, "normally, I wouldn't bother, but you've got this whole life debt complex goin' on with my Sunshine—and, wouldn't ya know, not knowin' ya well enough to b'sure if I can even trust ya kinda puts a kink in things, and not the good kind."

Charon sighs and gets to work breaking down the pallets and chair. "Is there a—" SNAP! "—point to this—" Creak, crack! "—discussion?"

The Mayor's eyes narrow, hands landing on and gripping a smaller table top. "Yeah, there is. Point is," he makes several attempts at pulling the table free, but it stubbornly denies his efforts, "even though I might not trust your ass, she does. So, since she does, I've sat back, watchin' t'see how you handled her."

After several more tries at the table, Charon lends his own strength to the effort, and the reticent dining furniture finally gives in. Charon begins the process of breaking it down as he inquires, "And what have you deduced from your observations?"

Hancock leans back against a rusted out forklift, black eyes sharp as he crosses his arm and studies Charon while he works. At length, he deigns to answer, "A lot, actually. But not enough, at the same time."

Charon doesn't respond, keeping his attention on his work as he gives the other ghoul time to elaborate on his own.

Finally, by the time Charon is nearly finished breaking the last leg off the table, the Mayor pipes up again. "You respect her, more'n that contract she holds calls for. I think you might've followed her even without it if ya had the option." Hancock looks down, fiddling absently with a large splinter of the two-by-four. "I think whatever you got with her goes a helluva lot deeper than contracted obedience."

He looks up, meeting Charon's eyes, though his fingers continue to twirl the short length of wood. "I think somethin' happened a few months back that changed how you see her somehow. No idea what it was," he shrugs now, peering back down to his makeshift toy, "but the shift's been pretty damn unmistakable. She's noticed, too, but I think she's tryin' to ignore it, hard as she can." He peeks back up, lips pressed into a grim line. "It's a battle even she can't win."

Hancock shakes his head, his attention shifting over to where Shana sits by the fire. "So, the point of all this, is that she's too damn trusting. I'm tryin' t'make sure she don't get hurt without reason here." He turns back to Charon. "By you, or anyone else. I don't know ya well enough to say y'won't end up hurtin' her, so... I guess I'm just tryin' t'figure out what your angle is here."

He half-chuckles, half-huffs a laugh, as if the thought occurring to him is so highly improbable that it amuses him, but also compels him to find the truth of it. "I mean, are y'sweet on her, or somethin'?"

John watches carefully, drinking in every detail he can manage to catch as he sees Charon stiffen, his eyes widening just enough to be noticeable if you're payin' attention.

Ahh, so that's the deal. Well, shit. Guess it's not so surprising; she did manage to bag him and Nick, after all, but that's just the thing—she's already got two. And despite her willfully ignoring Charon's altered behavior, there's no guarantee she knows or understands what her stone giant of a protector is goin' through.

That's the killer, though.

'Cause, even if she doesn't...

...She'd want to.

Because god save anyone who doesn't want help with their problems when she's around.

"Well, shit," Hancock voices that particular thought aloud, then sighs and shifts a bit awkwardly, chucking the little wooden shank he'd been twiddling with down to the ground and crossing his arms pensively. "You tell her yet?"

The corner of Charon's mouth twitches into a rueful grimace, then holds, just as he gives a tiny, subtle shake of his head.

John huffs the ghost of a laugh at his response, both brows lifting over a tiny wince. "D'you want to?"

An immediate and much sharper shake of Charon's head gives him all the answer he needs, but the ghoul further clarifies, "She would assume... it would... my contract... complicates matters." He visibly sags in defeat at the admission. "She has... already granted me every grace available, within its restrictions. Even if she had a desire to... she would see any potential reciprocation as taking advantage of the contract."

Hancock mulls that over for a long moment, then slowly nods. "You're probly right, my man; but even if she does end up seein' it like that, shouldn't she be the one t'decide that? Y'know she ain't too keen on people makin' decisions for her—and lemme tell ya, it's doubly so when it comes to shit like this." He shrugs, reaching into his coat's breast pocket and retrieving his mentats tin. "Not t'mention, she might just surprise ya—she shocked the shit outta me n Nicky with the deal we've got right now between us. Could be, she's not as opposed to the idea as you think."

"Then again," he continues, waggling his head a bit as he speaks around the three chalky tablets he's sliding between his molars, "she could say no, too. I can't tell ya." He smirks as he grinds the mentats to dusty paste and swallows, his view lifting to find his Sunshine watching them curiously from the fire. "She's the least predictable woman I've ever met. I'd say, just find you a moment with her and talk it out, see what happens."

Charon scowls at him spectacularly, his expression of disapproval far more obvious than it usually is. "Why would you suggest such a path? What if she accepts the idea? Will it not cause interference with your current arrangement?"

John peers back up at Charon, countenance speculative. "Depends. You wantin' t'join us, or ya wantin' somethin' more personal-like?"

The giant takes some time to think that over, his answer hesitant when he finally gives it. "I do not know."

Hancock arches a brow at his response, then shoves off from the forklift and busies himself with picking up and tucking bits of their salvaged fuel under his arm. "Well," he offers, as he picks up the last piece he can handle on his own for this trip, "I'd say figure it out, and take it up with her," he nods and points at Shana with the table leg in his hand, "then if she likes the idea, we'll figure shit out from there."

Charon slowly nods, taking a breath and straightening from his previously defeated posture. "I will consider it. I..." He looks down at John, "would... appreciate it, if you would keep this quiet, for now. I will bring the matter to her myself, in... due time."

John looks the taller ghoul over once, then shoves the table leg in his hand into the cramped stack under his arm temporarily, to extend his hand to Charon. "Secret's safe with me, my man. Just do me a favor and you treat her right, no matter how this clusterfuck ends up, yeah?"

Charon eyes his hand, then shakes it firmly after only a moment's hesitation, looking him straight in the eye. "You have my word."

Hancock smirks and retrieves the table leg from beneath his arm, then leaves Charon to pick up his own stack and cart it back to the fire. He chuckles softly, shaking his head as he picks his way across the liberally littered concrete floor back to his Sunshine.

Never in his life could he have predicted things would turn out like this. In a relationship with a possessed synth detective and a woman out of time who'd taken the 'Wealth by its throat and finally wrangled it into some sort of order, and now suddenly there's the potential for yet another troubled soul to join their little family as much more than just a pack mate. And that's not even touching on the forces she wants to go to war against, or the secretive organization she's determined to make an ally of. She's already the leader the Commonwealth needs, and soon she'll be even more than anything they could've hoped for.

And she's his.

...And Nick's.

And who knows? Maybe she'll be Charon's, too.

It's the kind of shit you just can't make up.

This is his life.

Well, shit.