The silence that follows eats away at me like a cancer in my very bones. His gaze never wavers, eyes steady on me as he waits with a calm I can't hope to duplicate... internally, at least. Externally, I'm frozen in shock, staring right back at him; as I feel I have been, ever since I met him.

Finally, at long last, my mind catches up to what he's asked me to do.

My lips loosen and let me speak one word. I pour all of my horror, my incredulity, my outrage into this one word, ending with an edge of soul-wrenching sorrow I couldn't hope to fabricate.


He arches a brow at me, belatedly lifting his hands to repeat himself, but I hold my own hand up to halt him. "No. No. Why? Why... explain... why do you want this? What did I do wrong?"

He's shaking his head before I even finish, already signing by the time I do. 'Nothing; you did nothing wrong. I do not wish you to sell my contract to be rid of me.'

I blink at him vapidly, my confusion beyond apparent. Slowly, I try to make sense of things. "How would selling your contract not get rid of you, Charon? That makes absolutely no sense."

He sighs heavily, his motions slightly clumsy as he explains, fumbling on a word here and there. 'I wish you to sell my contract to Mayor Hancock,' he reasons, spelling John's surname out, 'because it will remove any possible doubts which might prevent me from...' he swallows, normally confident gaze falling to the side, 'pursuing specific paths, which I believe I am now ready to choose.'

I watch him carefully, turning my observational skills onto him keenly. The pale blush making its way across his battered cheeks under my stare gives him away. He's... embarrassed, though the why of it all is not yet apparent. I take a breath, bracing myself. "What paths?"

His gaze shifts to my knees, then my feet, then away again. He lifts his hands, then lowers them, faltering. He opens his mouth as if to speak, relief fluttering in my heart before he crushes it with a hitch in his breath that he swallows, releasing that breath softly, the sound stuttering shakily. He closes his eyes, seeming to center himself, then again raises his hands, his signing halting, painfully slow. 'It... is less a path... more a... person.'

All at once, it hits me.

All the awkwardness over the past few months, the extra looks, the long stares, the odd sort of eagerness he's had lately—well above and beyond the usual enthusiasm he has to fulfill the demands of his contract—the suspicions I've held of the secret he's been keeping from me... it all comes crashing down on top of me, with the inescapable truth.

...I can't do this.

I can't.

...Can I?

If I'm right—which, what the hell else could it be? All signs point to it—that damned contract of his is indeed a noose that could hang his chance to follow this avenue to its conclusion, whatever that may be. I chew my lip in consideration, scowling at the floor as I mull this over.

Evidently, I'm pondering for a bit longer than I'd meant to, as Charon finally clears his throat and speaks, "Shana, please say something."

My gaze steals up to his, the scowl on my face turning into a tiny, hesitant smile. "It's good to hear you talk again."

It's not the answer he expects; that much is evident in his surprised expression, in the flushing and his subtle shifting from foot to foot. He huffs and links his hands at the base of his spine, straightening to his full height, squaring himself as he looks down at me.

I know that look all too well: he wants an answer.

I'm not completely sure how to give him one, but the fact remains that he deserves his pound of flesh.

I fold my hands before me and take in a deep breath of air that tastes like a rad storm stirring outside. My attention flits to the window behind him for just long enough to confirm it; the green clouds roiling through the sky on the horizon spell out the need for me to take my rad-x, and soon.

Again I bite my lip, looking up to him, meeting his stare. At last, I break. "What do you want me to say, Charon? I've seen you, I've been watching, I know what this is about. What I don't see is how selling your contract to John is going to make any of this..." I gesture helplessly, looking away with a sigh shuddering from me as my throat tightens. I let my head fall to rest my brow in my waiting palm.

It takes a few long seconds for him to formulate a response. "...You would keep my contract, despite knowing... my intentions?"

I scoff, shaking my head into my hand, only bothering to lift my skull from its morose position to peer up at him incredulously. "What else would you have me do? What good would selling it to John even do? If you're worried about what other people think, couldn't they assume he would order you just as easily as I could to..." I can't even finish the sentence, already sick to my stomach at the thought of such an order. I cover my mouth with my hand and shake my head again, shutting my eyes tightly against a wave of nausea.

His voice slices through the twisting in my gut. "I am only worried how you view the situation. It is not the concern of anyone else. I would not have my pursuit of you tainted by a thought of influence from the contract, in any way. It would be untenable."

I slide my hand from my mouth and tighten it to a fist instead, resting my cheek on it with a sighed breath. I look up at him, as he fully admits his reasons; laid out on the field like tin soldiers lined up for battle. "As I said, selling it to John wouldn't change that, Charon. Selling it to anyone I know well enough to trust them with it wouldn't change that, and I'm not selling it to some random stranger, so where does that leave us?"

He stiffens, eyes pinned to the wall behind me. "You wish me to cease my pursuit?"

I wait until he lowers his gaze back down to me before I slowly shake my head. "No," I almost whisper, but I know he hears me, "no, I don't." I stand, carefully making my way over to him, keeping my eyes steady on him all the way. "I asked you what you wanted, months ago. If this is your answer... if you're absolutely sure, Charon... then I want you to do what I told you to."

"I want you to do what you want."