Here's the longer and far less sunny prequel to "could be worse or better if you tried a bit harder", where I continue my Bad And Lengthy Naming Conventions.
Charon can remember the first time he saw the Lone Wanderer in a fight, mere hours after he had been plucked from Underworld. A wholly unimpressive display, confirming almost every suspicion he had about the boy. That he had bought him off because he was a weak vault dweller who needed protection.
The rattling of chain metro gates is the only thing they hear before Talon Company mercs are on them, leaving them with no other option than to engage.
"Well, now... If it isn't the little saint from the vault. We've been looking for yo—”
Charon doesn’t even let the man finish his sentence, catching him point blank with one pump of his shotgun. Then all hell breaks loose.
He’s concentrating on protecting his new contract holder but he’s also observing, can see how the boy’s hands shake around his bat and how his body sometimes locks up when the sounds of battle are too loud and too close for him to handle. A baseball bat? Really? In a gun fight? Is he an idiot? He’s not fighting too terribly, but he’s erratic and switching weapons all over the place, just picking them up and dropping them as needed. If he hadn’t been watching him the entire time he would have assumed the boy dosed up on psycho with the way he was going, but it was clear he was just on some kind of panic induced adrenaline rush. Charon watched as he blindly, stupidly wrestles a revolver out of the hands of the last man standing, unloading the entire cylinder into his head. Then, after seeing how he’d reduced the man’s face to what was essentially a paste he promptly turned around and threw up into a corner. What a disaster.
“Damn bounty hunters.” He spits, blood and bile spattering against the concrete. He jabs himself with a stimpak hard enough in the thigh to make even Charon wince, snarling out a string of pained noises before tossing the syringe and crumpling into a tangle of shuddering limbs right on the metro steps. Charon was so sure he had just fucking died on the spot with the way he collapsed, but when he approached he realised the boy was crying.
“Why won’t they just leave me alone?!” Charon finds he has to take a step back at the sudden increase in volume. "What, I try to be helpful, run a few errands for people because I need money and suddenly everyone wants my head on a goddamn plate?! Who the hell even has time to be a saint in this piece of shit world?? I’m just trying not to die!” He throws the revolver still clutched in his shaking hand so hard down the steps several rather important looking pieces fly off in different directions. He’s breathing heavily, hands pressed hard into his own face and nearly hyperventilating as Charon watches awkwardly from the sidelines. He’s never had to deal with anything like this before and he has no idea what he should be doing. He's a weapon, not a goddamn counsellor. At a complete loss, he looks down at the scrap of paper he’d gotten off what he assumes to be the leader of that particular group of Talon mercs.
Boys and girls, we've got ourselves another holier-than-thou white-knight who needs putting down.
Here are the details:
Name: James Yang
The bounty is 1000 caps this time around. And for a change of pace, they want the head this time.
James Yang. Only ever introduced himself with his last name, never his first. Couldn't be older than 18 or 19 in Charon's opinion. But then again, a lot of smoothskins end up looking around the same age to ghouls until they start to get wrinkly. Clearly from a vault, his skin still has a healthy glow to it despite the layer of dirt and grime, and all his teeth are intact.
Charon is used to hating his employers on sight but this...well. He's just a kid. Of course, he hates him a bit, but that’s mostly on principle. Anyone willing to buy his contract has to be a little bit hateable by default, but for now he's mostly just perplexing. As far as he can tell, the boy is not a chemmed out lunatic, or a slaver (well, Charon supposes he kind of is now), or Ahzrukhal, who was his own entire category with alphabetically ordered subcategories of nasty. Maybe he’s got a fetish? That happens sometimes.
“God, uh, sorry.” Yang finally calms down long enough to wipe his face on his sleeve, looking away. A quiet embarrassed laugh. “Pretty terrible first impression I’m giving you huh?”
He doesn’t need to say anything. Not part of his job. He’s not here to give tips to people who buy his services, to help them prolong their lives on their own. But this display is too pitiful.
“…Permission to speak, if possible.”
Yang sniffs, scrubbing at his cheeks in an attempt to wipe away the tear tracks left behind. “What? Oh uh, yeah. Whatever you want, don’t need to ask me if you wanna talk. Actually don’t bother asking for permission to do anything, do whatever you want. I don’t care.”
Odd kid. It's like he doesn't want or doesn't get that Charon has to bend to his every whim. He suddenly looks like a completely different person, not the clean cut young man sweetly talking Uncle Ahzrukhal into giving him a discount. He looks ragged, suit torn and blood dripping from his nose and over his mouth like a wild animal.
“It is very difficult to protect you if you keep getting in my line of fire. Especially if you are not wearing any armour.”
He at least has the decency to look sheepish. “Ah, yeah. Sorry again. I forgot you were there to uh, help me. Just got pissed off you know? I’m…I’m tired. I haven’t really been sleeping much because Talon’s been on my ass for a couple of weeks. Sometimes I think I should just let them kill me.”
Great. His new employer might as well be fucking suicidal.
"And I would recommend…” Charon reaches forward to pick the bloodied bat off the ground. It’s almost entirely split down the centre at this point, there’s gore smeared into it and splinters all over the handle. “…a better weapon. Preferably one that allows you to keep your distance. You are not physically strong enough to fight this way.”
Charon is testing the waters. He does it with every new employer, just to see what he’s working with. But the boy doesn’t get angry. Every other contract holder he’d had would have been furious at Charon essentially calling them weak, for challenging their authority, but Yang simply nods.
“Yeah…Makes sense. I’m just um. I suck at keeping guns working you know? No idea how to maintain em.” He mumbles. He’s trying to stand now but is extremely unsteady on his feet, clearly he had overexerted himself almost to the point of collapse. Weak, weak, weak, he’s so unbearably physically weak and soft and vault bred Charon cannot fathom how he’d managed to survive alone in this harsh world for as long as he had.
He’s finally upright again, but still shaking like a leaf. “Okay let’s just…we’d better go now. Or else I might be sick again.” And off he goes, stumbling away. Charon grumbles. This one may not be so distasteful personality wise so far, but he’s obviously going to be a handful.
It’s another couple of days of travel before Charon gets to see Yang in his element, before his continued survival begins to make sense despite his clear incompetence in battle.
After the incident with Talon, Yang insisted they mostly travel by night, or at least beginning at dusk. Charon has no choice but to obey even if he thinks it’s a shit idea. That, and all the creeping around stations and skulking through buildings is raining down hell on his knees.
Yang suddenly puts his hand up, gently pressing his palm into the centre of Charon’s chest. That in itself throws him off a little, because people don’t usually willingly touch him unless it’s to initiate violence. And, seeing as the contract is invalidated by violence, it’s extremely rare that an employer is willing to touch him at all. Charon doesn’t think he can remember another time where he’d felt such soft steady pressure. He isn't sure if he likes or hates the feeling of another person's body heat, the distinct press of every one of those long fingers against his ruined skin through his shirt.
The boy looks back at him and presses a finger to his lips. Leans in close so close far too close so he can whisper. “Raiders. Stay here, please. Just for a second.” Still reeling from the warmth left lingering on his body from that one single innocent touch Charon doesn’t even have a chance to protest, to grab him and tell him this clearly isn’t safe and the boy is already gone. Charon’s head hurts and he has to momentarily lean on the metro wall for support. This is far too many surprises happening at once. Did Yang pull out a fucking stealth boy? Where the hell did he go?
Even as a ghoul with better vision in low light than the average smoothskin he can’t see a goddamn thing. He’s expecting to hear screams, gunfire, something! At least that way he’ll know where to go, he’d been told to stay but direct endangerment of his employer’s life overrides all other commands and he needs to obey the contract’s call of protect protect protect protect him—
But Yang is back and he’s wiping his blood slick knife on a dirty rag as if he’d never left. Charon stares down at his red spattered hands. They’re steady as a surgeon’s.
“Sorry. Pretty sure I got all of them, so we can pass through now. This is why I prefer travelling at night.” The boy chuckles quietly. “Way less scary to kill people when they’re asleep.”
Perhaps he’s not as helpless as Charon first thought.
“Absolutely not. You are not bringing that in here, it practically looks feral.”
Yang looks up at Charon and back at the man blocking their way into Rivet City. He scowls.
“What the hell Harkness? Rude, he’s not feral! Don’t talk about him that way, he’s standing right there!”
“Doesn’t matter. It's not coming in here.”
Charon bristles but turns, ready to go back across the bridge to wait. He’s not surprised, places like this are rarely very accommodating. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been left waiting in the elements while his employer would stay in settlements that didn’t accept ghouls. He stiffens when he feels a hand latch onto his own, pulling him back. Again with the touching! And on his bare skin this time no less. Yang doesn’t even show the expected signs of disgust at having to touch a ghoul, it’s like he doesn’t even care. He simply sighs and pats his caps pouch, letting the little metal pieces inside clatter about.
“Fine. Whatever. C’mon Charon, let’s go.”
“Now hold on. God dammit Yang don't be a brat, you know you can come back in if you need to use the market, but your ghoul stays outside.”
Yang shoots the man a withering glare.
“He goes where I go, if he’s not welcome I’m taking my caps and leaving. I've been to the Muddy Rudder, and the last time I was here Paulie Cantelli died of a psycho overdose. I don’t know what other kinds of people you have on your little…boat city. Look at me. you know I’m delicate Harkness, what if someone tries to jump me while they're on a chem trip?” He sniffs, crossing his arms and tapping his foot petulantly. He turns, swaying in a way that makes his bag jingle again. Charon has to admit, it does sound like a surprisingly full bag of caps…exactly how did this kid who could barely last ten minutes in a fight earn that much?? There’s no way it was all from night time scavving.
It takes a few more minutes of whining and finessing before Harkness allows them both to enter, but not before warning him to “Keep his ghoul on a tight leash.”
Yang shoots him a pleasant smile before closing the metal marketplace door in his face.
“Wow, so you basically found Rivet City? That’s amazing!”
Bannon visibly preens.
Charon thinks he has Yang’s basic methodology down at this point. When he’s around other people and not in immediate danger Yang becomes confident, boisterous, larger than life, a personality that takes up an entire room. This is the armour he puts on, more protective than any leathers he could buy. He knows what to say to get the reaction he wants, to convince others to either trust him or fear him, to spill gossip. A combination of showering people with compliments and a bit of sleight of hand. They’re fully stocked with food, meds, weapons freshly repaired, clean pressed clothing, and Yang had yet to actually part with a single cap for longer than a few minutes. The only time currency left his hand for real was when they rented a room for the night, with no easy way to bypass the exchange.
His caps pouch is already looking a little bit heavier than when they’d first arrived.
The room had only had one bed, but it was a double so Yang had said they would share. How generous. It’s a sarcastic thought, but Charon wasn’t going to say no to sleeping in a bed if the opportunity came up. Yang had also said previously he had permission to speak whenever he wanted, so Charon was going to take full advantage of that to run his mouth until his free speech was inevitably revoked again.
“So, you are a thief. And an actor.” He finds his sentences coming out clipped and short, briefer than the thoughts in his head. It had been so long since he'd been allowed to just talk, Ahzrukhal had always preferred a quiet bouncer.
Yang scoffs at him as he changes out of his beat up vault suit, although not in a way that sounds offended. He had asked Charon turn around to preserve his modesty.
“I mean I guess you could say that. Wouldn’t normally go this far to save a few caps honestly, I’m not above picking a lock or a pocket or throwing out a few fake compliments but ugh. Everyone here treats you like shit. Is this what it’s always like for you? If it is it's the worst.”
Charon rolls his eyes and continues to glare at the wall. How naive. Does this boy really not know anything about ghoul-human relations? Even if he is from a vault he’d been out for long enough by now, it’s not exactly something people hide. Although… it was very strange to be under the employ of someone who seemed to be intent on actively defending him, rather than joining in on the scorn. For the moment this kid was proving to be his most compassionate ‘owner’ to date. But the word sits heavy in his gut and he doesn't like it, ‘employer’ is better, gives him a sense of agency no matter how fleeting or false. Regardless of his generally pleasant personality and very unthreatening appearance, Charon can't let himself forget that Yang still holds his entire life folded twice and tucked neatly into his breast pocket.
Charon’s observations on this new contract holder so far are thus:
1) Weak. He looks like he might be a couple of inches taller than the average waster, but his legs and arms are long and slim, like a newborn radstag. Can’t seem to handle anything heavier than a pistol.
2) Not above killing or committing crimes to achieve goals. Honest about it.
3) Very persuasive, unfortunately also very chatty.
4) Prone to panic in combat situations.
5) So far not…too much else to complain about.
Doesn’t mean he doesn’t hate Yang a little, or a lot, it just means the situation is better than it was with Ahzrukhal. Anything would have been better than Ahzrukhal really. But Charon is not an optimistic ghoul. This vault boy is young, the wasteland will chew him up and spit him out soon enough and then he’ll become like every other bastard who had held his ball and chain. Sending him out to do their bidding for their own profit, taking advantage of his inability to make his own decisions. Coming up with creative ways to bypass the clause that states they cannot commit violence against him.
If he even manages to survive that long of course.
Yang’s first experience with the Brotherhood of Steel had severely coloured his opinion of them; His second solidified his position on them to one of Heavy Distaste. They’re forced to travel through a more open area than either of them are comfortable with and Charon had just leaned forward to tell Yang to be careful when they hear the first shots being fired. Bullets ricochet against the concrete around them and the boy grabs Charon’s arm in terror.
“Brotherhood.” Charon mutters, pulling Yang back and out of the line of fire. Irritating.
“Wh-what the hell?! They've never shot at me before!”
“They are shooting at us because I am a ghoul. Idiots, can’t tell the difference between us and ferals. They probably did not even see you.”
“You need to get back-”
Charon feels a push, and Yang is suddenly in front of him, like somehow he can shield Charon’s much larger body with his own.
“Stop! Stop, he’s with me, stop shooting god dammit!!” He’s shouting and Charon panics because what the fuck is this idiot thinking?
Then Yang flinches back with a yelp, smacking his back into Charon’s chest hard. Charon grabs him by the shoulders to steady him but when he pulls away his hand is wet with blood and he’s going to lose his mind. The firing finally stops and Charon can take a second look down at the damage. It’s just a graze across his bicep, but the mental spiral the whole situation had sent him in is enough to make him dizzy. His own arm throbs dully in the same spot and it’s pissing him off. He had forgotten about how much the contract hurts him when his employer is in danger; he’d spent 20 years standing in the corner of The Ninth Circle with Ahzrukhal safely tucked behind the bar. The most action that he saw during that time was throwing drunks out during the day and trading chems or weapons by night. Or…other things. Things he didn’t like to remember. But he’s glad the slave trade lost a player when he pumped Ahzrukhal full of lead.
“Apologies local, but you shouldn’t hang around here. You and your shuffler. Might get more than just a little scratch.”
Yang grits his teeth and steps forward but can’t do much more before Charon shoves his hands under the boy's arms and turns to make a quick exit. He knows better than to start an argument with heavily armed bigots in power armour.
“Charon we can’t just leave, they fucking shot me! I saved your tin can friends from a behemoth you rude pieces of shit--”
Charon doesn’t reply, doesn't acknowledge his kicking and screaming. He simply pushes and pushes until they’re around the corner out of earshot of the Brotherhood patrol before he turns on Yang and grabs him. It’s not hard enough to hurt (the contract wouldn’t allow him to do that) but it’s definitely hard enough to get his point across.
“You…stupid reckless boy.” He hisses, shaking him like a rag doll. Gently.
“S-s-sorry I just—”
“When you are injured in combat, it affects me as well. So I would advise you just let me do my job protecting you, so we both don’t have to be in pain.”
The emotions that flicker across Yang’s face are all too quick to catch, but he finally settles on concerned. Brows furrowed and teeth worrying at his lower lip.
“You….it hurts you when I get hurt?”
Ah. He hadn’t known. Charon curses, of course he hadn’t known. Charon had just revealed something unnecessarily, another aspect of himself that could be exploited to his disadvantage.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know! I uh, I’ll be more careful!! I swear!”
Charon shoves him back roughly and grumbles, leaving the boy to wrap his arm up himself with trembling hands.
They’d been together about a month at this point and Charon was slowly learning and observing the way the young vault dweller navigated the wasteland. Mostly he is careful. Plots his routes out in advance on his pip-boy, keeps them away from main roads and large open spaces. In private when it’s just the two of them his humour is dry, quieter than it is in the presence of others. He definitely hams it up for an audience.
He’s also stunned at just how terrible Yang’s sense of self preservation is. At first Charon thinks triumphantly that he is right, this boy was just like all the others before him. Punishing him by withholding food and rest for long periods was the easiest way to bypass his violence clause after all. That is, until he sees the boy trip on a very visible pile of rocks and smack his head directly into a wall. Yang sputters out a string of curses and when Charon jogs over to check the damage he can see how pale and drawn his face is, how dark the bags under his eyes are.
“Sorry…Guess I haven’t been eating lately. Or sleeping.” Yang chuckles like somehow the situation is humorous and commonplace, before his expression morphs into one of horror.
“Oh…Which means you haven’t been eating or sleeping either. I uh, I didn’t mean... I’m sorry I just forget sometimes you know? I’m sorry! You must be hungry! We can stop right now and eat and…I’m sorry.”
He seems so genuinely apologetic Charon can’t help but believe him.
“I guess I should set alarms on my pip-boy. Remind us to eat.”
“I can remind you if you wish.” Charon has no idea why he offers. It’s extra work for him.
“Really? You’d do that?" The boy looks appreciative. "That’d be great, thank you, yeah. And I mean don’t worry about it being at set times, just let me know any time you’re tired or hungry and we can stop alright?”
Any time he says? Charon is definitely going to test his boundaries with that.
Yang really wasn’t kidding about any time.
Charon starts off small. Reminding Yang that they need to eat regularly, once in the morning and once in the evening. Then, when the boy doesn’t seem too bothered by that schedule he changes it up. At one point when he was feeling particularly bold he even ‘reminded’ him to eat or rest every hour on the hour and instead of being irritated by the interruptions and telling him to stop, Yang simply asked him if he was injured and offered him a stimpak. He had assumed the constant breaks were because Charon was hurt, rather than Charon just testing his patience. Weird. Uncomfortable.
Yang also always insists that Charon eat first, that he’s bigger and probably needs it more than he does. It makes Charon incredibly suspicious, but he’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth so he eats and it’s enough food to fill him up for the first time in decades. He feels stronger, well rested.
But it’s surely too good to be true and he waits daily for these privileges to be taken away, even though Yang continues to serve him food first and to give him generously sized portions like it’s not a waste of his precious resources.
Like he cares or something, the little bastard.
Charon’s final conclusion after another month of this is that Yang genuinely doesn’t seem to have any malicious intent toward him. He’s just very bad at taking care of himself. Honestly the dumb kid needs a nanny more than a giant ghoul bodyguard.
Charon eventually settles back on a regular reminder schedule. It’s healthier for the both of them anyway.
It takes around three months before Yang’s travel route swings back around to Megaton, and he had seemed very reluctant to go back despite often referring to it as his home. Charon wants to know why but can’t find it in himself to ask. He doesn’t want to show too much interest.
Megaton, Charon decides, is an odd and very dusty town. Everything is haphazardly built up in piles connected by twisting metal ramps, but he supposes with the towering walls and the sniper up top it seems safe enough. The atomic bomb in the middle of town is…troubling, but Yang had reassured him it was deactivated.
Yang is barely through the gates before a young girl runs up the steep hill toward him and Charon is so startled by it he nearly shoots her.
He stiffens automatically. It’s the first time Yang has actually told him to do anything with any kind of authority, actually commanded he do something. He’d been getting too complacent, he’d forgotten how much power this boy had over him. It’s a sudden reminder and it stings like he’d been slapped.
The girl looks up at Charon warily, before returning her attention to Yang, handing him a box of fancy lad snack cakes and a handful of caps.
“Thanks for helping the town mister!” She chirps cheerfully, and Yang takes the proffered gifts with a strained smile.
“I’m sorry! I swear, I really didn’t mean to do that, I just didn’t want you to hurt her. Please don’t be mad at me.”
Charon is getting annoyed, Yang has been non-stop apologising for the past ten minutes. He looks scared, like he thinks Charon is going to hurt him. As if he’d forgotten Charon can’t regardless of how much he wants to right now. He doesn't even know why he's mad really, this is just what he should have been expecting. He's a tool, a weapon, he should expect to be treated as such.
“It is fine.”
“I said. It. Is. Fine.”
“Can I make it up to yo—”
Charon slams his fist against the wall just above Yang’s head, relishing the shriek of terror he gets out of it. He still can’t hurt him of course, but he can scare him. Charon is observant, he’s noticed how the boy is confident when he knows he has the upper hand but shrivels when the tables are turned. How his eyes dart around the room, looking for a way to escape.
He knows it’s petty, but he’s angry and he doesn’t care. Charon’s clear height and weight advantage comes in handy here, even more so now that Yang has slid down the wall and to the floor on shaking legs. Charon leans in close, keeping his voice low.
Yang swallows nervously and Charon’s eyes track the movement down the column of his throat, before he’s ripping himself away. He doesn’t know why that somehow affects him so much, why everything is so much right now, but he suddenly needs to get out of there, to get away from him.
He feels a breeze as Yang dodges past him and bolts up the steps, before the door to one of the rooms clicks quietly shut.
Charon doesn’t know if he’s allowed to use the other room to sleep in and he doesn’t want to ask, so he ends up sleeping on the couch in the main living area with his shotgun propped up against the wall. He wakes up to a box of snack cakes and a pack of cigarettes sitting on his chest, Yang nowhere to be seen.
He pockets the cigarettes and eats the cakes because fuck it.
Yang avoids him for the next two days. The first day it doesn’t bother him too much, Charon is used to doing nothing for long periods so being able to enjoy his time quietly smoking, cleaning his gun, and repairing his armour is a welcome change of pace. The Mister Handy that apparently comes with the house floats by occasionally, making a point to indignantly whirr its fans at him to waft away the smoke. He flicks a cigarette butt at one of its eyestalks and it sputters affronted british colloquialisms at him. Quaint.
By the second day, he’s getting annoyed. And surprisingly lonely. After a few months of travelling with another person the silence for hours on end is unsettling.
He decides he doesn’t like it.
Yang returns to his periphery quietly. One minute Charon is alone and the next Yang is sitting next to him on the couch, like nothing had happened at all. He hands him a fresh box of shotgun shells and another pack of cigarettes (a peace offering?), then starts quietly scrolling through his pip-boy. Looking over his shoulder Charon can see he's mapping out their next travel route.
“You have anything you need to do before we go, Charon?”
“No.” Why would he ever? He's just there to serve.
“Okay, great. We’ll leave tomorrow then.”
And just like that, things are normal again.
He can’t remember when or how his contract came into being, can’t remember a life before eternal servitude. But whatever was done to him, it had been thorough. The pull he feels in his head is as strong today as it had ever been, always starting from the base of his skull and spreading up, outward, until his whole head is tangled in it. His entire life is tied to that flimsy slip of paper. Even with his years of knowledge and experience in battle, as soon as his employer is in danger all that goes out the window and he’s compelled to throw strategy to the wind in favour of protecting the holder of his contract at all costs.
It’s an impulse he hates, a reminder that against his own wishes his personal safety is secondary to the safety of his employer. The worst is when it takes him by surprise, when his body moves without him realising, like he’s being controlled remotely. In those moments he’s completely helpless, out of his own body.
But Yang travels cautiously, which Charon can appreciate. It means those impulses crop up far less. Sometimes he can almost forget he has them. But the occasional surprise is inevitable.
And it’s never a good thing to be surprised by a deathclaw.
One minute it isn’t there, and the next it’s rounding on them, charging, the ground shaking with every step.
Charon shoves Yang behind the outcropping they’re backed up against, gesturing for him to get to cover. He looks terrified but complies, clambering up to hide among the rocks. Charon doesn’t need to be worried as long as he’s up there, he’s small and sneaky so he’ll be safe as long as he keeps his head down.
A shotgun doesn’t have the best range, but the deathclaw is close enough now for him to try get a few shots in before he has to side step. The first blast is still too far away and it bounces off hard scales, not enough power behind it. The second is better, catching the deathclaw in the neck and tearing out a few chunks of flesh, but it’s still not enough to even slow it down. He barely has enough time to duck, can feel the wind against his side as the deathclaw misses him by a hair. He stumbles, and it rears back for another blow.
The second strike never comes, he hears instead a suppressed pop from somewhere behind him and the deathclaw lets out an agonised scream. Blood pours from its pierced eyeball, sending it back in pained surprise. He has to admit, Yang’s not a terrible shot when he’s not in panic mode. He takes it out with one last blast point blank under the chin, ducking out of the way as it collapses in a cloud of sand and dust. Yang rejoins him, toeing at the large beast’s body curiously.
Until it isn’t.
Another roar, sudden and piercing. From the opposite direction.
Charon had forgotten some deathclaws travelled in pairs.
His blood runs cold and he feels his body turn like he's on autopilot. He hooks his arm around Yang’s body, turning to shield him. He doesn’t even have time to brace for impact before he’s knocked down, can feel sharp claws tearing into the flesh of his back. It cuts through his armour like it’s made of butter. Under him he feels the vibrations of Yang screaming more than he hears it, blood pounding, throbbing in his ears.
He can feel hands on him, scrabbling at the straps of his armour, dragging his body through the dirt and his contract is screaming no no no. All Yang has on him is that flimsy silenced 10mm, he needs to run.
He feels like he's short circuiting, like his head is on fire. He keeps whiting out, his contract warring with his physical condition. It's screaming for him to get up, to protect, to defend, keeps sending him bursts of pain but he can't he can't. He can barely even feel his legs let alone stand, what the hell was he supposed to do? He can hear Yang panting with exertion, struggling to drag Charon's much larger form along with him. Can feel him suddenly press over his body, chest to chest, flattening them against the ground. Were they hiding? This wouldn’t work, couldn’t work. The ground is shaking again, thundering steps all around them. They were both fucking dead.
When he comes to, he feels warm. Dazed, damp. Yang's arm is looped over him, pressing his back against the boy's chest. His body feels better, healing, but his head is still buzzing. The contract is still telling him his employer is in danger. But he can't hear anything around him, the deathclaw is gone. There's just a soft rapid ticking coming from somewhere....
He snaps upright with a splash. He recognises that ticking sound. It's the sound of of a geiger counter. His stomach twists and he looks around.
Barrels and muddy water.
Yang looks up at him, his eyes unfocused. He looks sick. Charon wrenches his thin arm up, fumbles to find the rads counter on his pip-boy. It's at 450, and steadily climbing.
"Charon. You okay?"
Charon curses and throws the boy unceremoniously over his shoulder. They need to get out of this irradiated hole right now.
"What the hell did you do-"
"I heard that rads could help-" Yang gags violently, covering his mouth with his hand. "H-heard it would help ghouls heal. D-didn't know what else to do, thought you were gonna die. 's peachy th-though I took rad-x, 'n...got some radaway in my bag."
"You have severe radiation poisoning." Charon hisses, stumbling in his urgency. "You should not have done that."
"I didn't want you to die."
Charon curses again, trying not to be too rough as he props Yang's limp frame up against a rock, digging through his pack. He administers the radaway a bit too aggressively. Yang winces and gags again, but otherwise says nothing.
His headache finally starts to subside as he quietly watches the colour return to his employer's face.
It takes all the radaway they have on hand to flush his system.
“Something’s wrong with me.”
Charon turns. Yang looks fine, and they hadn’t encountered anything more difficult than molerats lately. Maybe he’d reopened an older injury during the day? The cave system they were hiding in to avoid the current radstorm outside had uneven ground, he wouldn’t be surprised if the stupid boy had tripped or something.
“Do you require a stimpak? We do not have many left.” We?
The boy shakes his head, pulling his legs up and wrapping his arms around them. Holding himself in a tight little ball, like if he does it hard enough he can disappear.
“No I mean, there’s something wrong with me. Not my body. I’m bad. I’m a bad person.” He laughs. “I’m…Everyone in the vault predicted I'd be a fuck up, and I just realised today that they’re right. All of them, the overseer, my dad, they were all right about me.” Yang digs his fists into his hair, pulling, clawing at his head and face. “I don’t know what it is but something’s wrong, I’m selfish, I'm an asshole, I can't control my temper. Hell I bought…”
He chokes on the words.
“I bought your contract even though I knew what it was, I’m pretty sure I knew what I was buying. I didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to…you know. I didn’t want to admit to myself what I was doing. But I couldn't pass up the opportunity for someone who wouldn't...who couldn't leave me. I keep forgetting if I ask you to do things, you can’t say no. You’re trapped. If I'm in danger you don't have a choice, you have to protect me. And even if I knew how to release you from your contract I don't know if I would. I don't want to be alone again."
He throws his head back and he’s really laughing now, panicked and high and on the verge of hysterical.
“I’m a monster." He goes back to clutching his head and if he pulls on his hair any harder he's going to rip chunks out.
“Charon I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I never…You didn’t ask for this, I didn’t want to become this. I just keep thinking about what happened with the deathclaws and...I'm sorry. I’m sorry.”
The contract is quiet. He doesn’t need to do shit if his employers insist on hurting themselves, as long as it won’t kill them. In the past he’d even silently encouraged it, content to watch as they poisoned their bodies with chems and booze. But he finds himself compelled to move anyway, grabs Yang’s wrists in his hands and pulls them away before he can do any real lasting damage to himself.
“Stop.” Charon squeezes, thinks about how easily these thin fingers could break under his own.
Yang obeys. Relaxes his entire body. Interesting.
He complies. His exhales come out shaky, but he’s starting to calm down.
The dynamic is unfamiliar. Charon is used to taking orders, not giving them. He reaches across to grab a bottle of purified water.
Yang takes the bottle without question and drinks. Wipes his mouth with the back of his hand. Looks up at him expectantly, like he’s waiting for more instruction and it's too much, too intimate, too trusting, too much like a normal partnership where there’s give and take and Charon has to remove himself from the situation immediately. He can’t let himself indulge in the idea that they might be equals, can’t let himself forget that ultimately he’s on the losing side of this power dynamic. Because in the end, Yang can choose whether he listens to Charon’s suggestions, and Charon cannot. This is the first time he had specifically acknowledged that Charon wasn't there of his own free will, and it’s setting him off kilter. It angers him.
He stands and moves away, back to where he was sitting before the outburst. The rest of the afternoon is spent in silence. Charon doesn’t mention that as far as he knows, there is no way to release him from his contract. There’s nothing they can do.
He really is a child, Charon thinks. The way he shrinks into himself as if unwilling to touch the walls of the vault, how he cries and apologises and clings to Amata like she’s his lifeline.
He’s surprised to find that it bothers him when Amata tells Yang he isn’t free to stay. It bothers him even more that the boy simply smiles and nods stiffly. He doesn’t fight at all. This strikes him more than the openly disgusted stares he receives from the other vault residents. It doesn’t bother him that the boy gives up, like he thinks it should. It bothers him that he’s being treated like shit.
“Yeah it’s fine. I get it.” He sounds tired.
“It’s…It’s for the best! Jay, James, I promise, I wouldn’t be doing this unless I thought it was absolutely necessary—”
“I’m sorry Amata, I hope things get better around here. I’m…about everything. I’m sorry.”
He had come back to settle their petty vault squabble, and once he had served his purpose he had been kicked out again. Used and then discarded, like a tool. How familiar. It leaves an acrid taste in his mouth.
It’s dark enough when they exit the vault for Charon to pretend he can’t see Yang wiping away angry tears.
There’s nothing remarkable about what they’re doing, it’s the typical set up he’d grown accustomed to over the past months. They find somewhere to hole up, kill the inhabitants, barricade all the entrances. Build a small fire, cook a simple meal. They only have one bowl between them so they take turns eating.
Charon accepts his share of food first as he always does and he feels a spark of dread in his pit of his stomach when he realises how comfortable he feels in this moment.
How quickly he had let his guard down.
All it had taken was one young man who crawled out of a vault and decided to treat him like a person, not an object. This kid who provides him with the resources to eat as much as he wants when he’s hungry and rest his body when he’s tired and he's suddenly vulnerable, laid bare. It’s almost pathetic, how easy he was. Stupid, what was he thinking?!
He realises now that if Yang betrays the trust he’s spent months quietly cultivating between them, it would break him more effectively than the decades of creative torture he'd experienced up to this point. And he’d allowed it to happen. He’d wanted it.
For the first time in his fragmented memory both the pull of his contract and Charon himself, his desires as a person entirely separate from his conditioning, want the same thing. To protect his employer.
He hates that he likes Yang, and it's the most horrifying combination of feelings he's experienced in his life. it's horrifying because it's confusing, and it's aimed at him, this terrible, selfish, weak, monstrous boy with a daddy complex. He hates that he can admire how Yang has no misgivings about the kind of person he is. Charon can respect a self identified asshole. He likes him, and he hates him for it. He isn't sure which impulse is stronger.
Charon had been passed through many hands in his long life, Yang is certainly not the first to have treated him well. But those had all been self obsessed bleeding hearts, clearly more interested in how taking his contract and not treating him like shit made them a better person than anything to do with his wellbeing. They expected grovelling and gratefulness because they'd so kindly taken him on as a charity case and the 'nice' treatment never lasted long when they realised they wouldn't get the satisfaction they wanted out of him. He was a passing fancy, like keeping a pet or a new toy. To be sold off or thrown away when boredom struck. it was easy to resent these people just as it was easy to resent those who were like Azrukhal. Evil for evil's sake.
But this time it’s different. He isn't interested in using Charon for gain, or because he thinks it'll fuel his own feelings of self righteousness or earn him good karma. James Yang does things because he wants to do them, nothing more and nothing less. It's refreshingly honest and so very human it's almost disgusting. When he kills it's because he wants to do it. He steals, he lies, he manipulates. He openly admits he bought and kept what is essentially a slave because he's what, lonely? Just a pathetic lonely boy.
But Charon also notices all the times he stops to hand clean water to the beggars sitting in the street and he knows he's not doing it to put on airs or because anyone is watching. Sees the way he pulls that Wilks boy behind himself when he hears mention of fire ants roaming the area. Goes three days travel out of their way to find the damn kid a new home. Whenever they meet people unfortunate enough to become imprisoned by super mutants, he makes a point to free them but refuses the meagre supplies and caps he's offered in exchange.
“Nah, nah, you keep it. Pretty sure you're gonna need it more than us."
Yang makes a big fuss about doing everything for himself and for the caps, but Charon is beginning to realise it was never about any of that shit at all.
Charon is too close, is getting far too attached to this kid. He knows it’s irresponsible. Humans have such short lifespans, this…whatever this is. It can't last.
The line between hate and love is thin, and Charon wonders when the wires in his fucked up head crossed.
Normally Charon could enjoy seeing an employer getting hurt, even through his own corresponding reactions driven by his programming. It’s a moment of satisfaction before his body begins to react without his consent, to draw him to his ‘master'. It makes his head throb, ache, it forces him to feel what they feel. It’s supposed to be incentive for him to do a good job, but it doesn’t stop him from liking it, from getting a perverse sort of pleasure seeing people get what he believes to be their comeuppance. They deserved it, all of them, every single one. The last scrap of his own personal will, this petty enjoyment is all he has left.
But as the pained gasp tears itself from Yang’s lips when a raider’s knife drives through his back Charon’s breath catches in his throat and he knows it’s something he never wants to hear again. He can’t enjoy this, he doesn’t. Sirens are going off in his head and that’s normal, that’s just part of how the contract works. But there’s also a new feeling deep in his chest so strong he has to take a split second to check he hadn’t just been shot as he sprints toward the source of the sound. He tackles the raider to the ground, nearly taking her head off with how hard he snaps her neck.
Yang is curled up in the dirt, hands clutching desperately at nothing. Charon drops to his knees and gathers the boy up into his arms, hisses when he sees the knife is buried in his left side all the way to the hilt. It’s not a very big knife but it’s big enough and when Yang coughs Charon can feel liquid spilling warm down his own back and there’s so much blood. Thin hands paw at him weakly.
“-m, sorry. I’m sorry, wasn’t paying attention….m-my fault, ’s my f-fault.” He rasps, delirious from the shock and blood loss. Of course this stupid boy is more worried about Charon’s phantom pains than the real actual blade in his own back.
“Shut up.” He snaps, he’s out of line and he knows it but the boy’s mouth clamps shut and he goes silent immediately. Good. He can concentrate on getting them to safety now, without both Yang’s babbling and the sirens in his head warring for his attention. He whimpers when Charon lifts him as gently as he’s able but otherwise stays obediently quiet.
Charon almost regrets telling him to stop talking because as he’s doing his best to navigate the dark building he’d rushed into for cover, the limp, cold body in his arms feels remarkably like a corpse.
When Charon finally feels safe enough to set Yang down he’s so sure he’s dead, but when he leans in to check his vitals he can feel the slight puff of his breath against the back of his neck and a heartbeat tapping weakly against his ear. Alive, but barely. Of course he was alive, stupid. Stupid.
“Yang. Wake up.” It’s the first time he’s ever used his name outside of combat. It rolls strangely in his mouth, feels odd to be saying and not shouting. He wonders if his pronunciation is right. Yang had tried to teach him before but the name is foreign and he had never quite gotten the intonation down, can’t quite get his tongue around the dips in the vowel.
He mumbles tiredly, eyes blinking open. He can’t seem to lift his head to look at Charon, staring instead at the floor. He coughs again and it comes out sounding wet. More blood drips from between his lips.
“H-h… Ch-Charon, h-hurts.”
“You must stay awake. Listen. Stay awake. I will have to undress you to treat your wound.”
Yang nods, his eyelids drooping. Charon gently smacks his cheek with his fingers until he opens his eyes again. Once he’d made sure he was at least partially awake Charon pulls off the leather pieces of his armour, cuts away the jumpsuit he’s wearing from the point of injury up to the neck. It would be too hard to get it off any other way, so unfortunately it would be unsalvageable. But that’s the least of his worries right now.
Charon administers a small dose of med-x to try dull the pain, and the muffled scream Yang chokes out against his palm when he pulls the blade out makes his chest tighten. He has to keep his hand over the boy’s mouth, clasped firmly to his face while he jerks and sobs. Yang is struggling so much and it takes some maneuvering but Charon finally manages to use the two stimpaks he’d found in one of their bags. He pants, frantic, watching the skin and muscle stitch itself back together, only relaxing once he can see the wound is fully closed and scarred over.
When he comes back to himself he has no idea how long it’s been, but he’s still holding the boy in his arms with his face pressed into his dark hair. He smells like blood and soap and leather and he’s damp with sweat, breath only just beginning to even out. But he’s alive.
He allows himself another moment to hold Yang’s limp body even if he knows he shouldn’t. This is a mistake.
“Charon it’s…I’m cold."
Charon jumps, startled, and shoves the curled shivering form off his lap. When had he fallen asleep? Or did he pass out?
“O-ow! wh-w-what the f-fuck man. Hurts, you f-fucking asshole.”
He’s disoriented by the sudden pain in his head, and it takes him a moment to realise what he’d done: he’d shoved a severely injured man onto the ground. He feels bad, in a lot of new and different and exciting ways.
“Sorry.” The word comes out weird, stilted. He doesn’t think he’s actually said it and meant it before.
And ah, now that he has his bearings he feels even worse. The room they’re in is a mess, some kind of pre-war office building. There’s a draft coming from somewhere above them that is bringing the temperature of the room down. Mostly though: Yang is cold because his armour is in a pile on the floor and his clothes are still bloodied, half torn off his body. He looks ravaged, debauched.
And Charon can’t stop staring.
It takes all the willpower Charon has left to tear his eyes away from the arch of the boy’s back and down past the swell of his hip visible through the long cut he’d made in his suit. He looks pointedly away as he finally helps Yang up.
“D-dammit, wh-what happened? I feel like shit.” Yang is shaking. His body really does feel cold.
“You… Some raiders. You were stabbed.”
He groans, pitching forward a little before managing to steady himself. He’s still holding Charon’s arm for support. His cheek and his neck have hand print bruises beginning to bloom from where Charon had been holding him down too hard and he hates how he remembers how soft the skin was, how delicate his throat had felt under his hand.
“Ugh, definitely feels like I got stabbed. W-why ‘m I so cold? Charon it’s so cold.”
He needs to get Yang clothed. Right now. He’s suddenly experiencing too many conflicting things at once and he has no idea how to cope or compartmentalise. Charon wants to redress him, help him strap all his armour back on so he’ll stop complaining, he wants to wrap his hands around his neck, crush his windpipe, he wants to tear the last shreds of his modesty to pieces and fuck him into the floor—
Yang sneezes, shivers, and Charon feels disgusting.
Charon finally manages to get Yang a spare outfit from his bag, turning away to face the wall while he dresses himself. He can hear the slightly laboured breathing, can hear that he’s struggling and fumbling with the buttons and zippers but Charon can’t bring himself to offer any help. Just tries his best to ignore the new sounds and images burned into his mind, his teeth and fists clenched.
By the time Yang finishes, Charon has somehow managed to swallow down most of his confusing clamouring emotions. He hopes they won’t come up again.
Warning: There's a brief mention of a sexual assault attempt in this chapter.
“Charon, how old are you?” It comes suddenly, out of the blue.
Charon doesn't like this line of questioning, doesn't have any answers. Every aspect of himself before the contract was a mystery. Worthless. Unimportant. Lost to time. He must have been human once, but god knows how long ago.
He looks up from where he’s skinning the wild dog they’d killed, wiping his hands on a rag. The abandoned house they were in was mostly boarded up, but there was enough light streaming through the cracks to see the expression on Yang's face. Chin resting on his hands, brows furrowed in concentration as he watches Charon work over a wobbly kitchen table. He looks young like this. Inquisitive. He’s still walking with a slight limp from the deep knife wound he'd received days earlier, Charon tries not to think about it again.
“You…you don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. I’m just curious.”
“It is fine. Quite old.”
“Are you pre-war? like Carol is?”
“I do not care to remember. Most likely yes.”
Yang nods and seems satisfied with the answer, to Charon’s relief. It’s not something he wants to talk about. Or can, really.
But Charon is in a bold mood himself. He has questions of his own.
“How old are you?”
Yang stares at him for a moment, like he’d spontaneously grown a second head. A fair reaction, Charon had never asked him anything personal before.
“Wh- Me?? Oh. I’m…” He checks something on his pip-boy, fiddling with the knob on the side. “…I guess I’m nearly 21. In a few months at least.”
It’s a little older than Charon is expecting. He continues.
“Why did you leave your vault?”
Yang sputters. The legs of the chair he’s sitting in scrape loudly against the floor as he pushes himself away from the table.
“Woah woah woah, wait, loaded question there. Where’s this coming from? You never ask me about anything! Hell, I was pretty sure you didn’t care about all that history shit so—”
“I am simply curious about you.”
That shuts him up. His lips are parted slightly in his surprise, eyes darting again. Nervous, twitching, trying to escape the conversation. So Charon follows through, leaning close into his personal space. He likes this, he decides. Likes that this way he can briefly feel like he’s in control. He likes how Yang’s face flushes, how his eyes go glassy with unshed tears and how it makes him cower with uncertainty. He knows any semblance of power he feels right now can be taken away in an instant, he could easily be ordered to stop or to back up and he would have no choice but to obey. But he wants to see how much he can push this employer, how far he would be allowed to go. When Charon reaches out and grabs his arm Yang jerks, startled, but doesn’t pull away. Doesn't order him to stop.
Charon didn't think he would.
“…A-alright. I guess I don’t mind telling you about it. But you should finish what you were doing first!” Yang finally concedes.
The questioning is mostly a power play, but admittedly he is quite curious. James Yang talked, and talked a lot, yet somehow the subject of himself rarely came up. If anything, he actively avoided it, had ways of turning a conversation away from anything to do with himself or his past life underground. The only time Charon can remember hearing Yang talking about the vault at all he was having his little panic attack, and he hadn’t learned much actual information from it. Charon hadn’t even gotten anything out of him when they visited the vault itself. He wasn’t usually the curious type, but he wanted to know more.
Charon finally nods and releases his arm. Somehow, he’d won this round. He watches as Yang shoves himself back immediately and makes a hasty retreat, skittering away to a different room like a radroach. He doesn’t come back until Charon is done, skins and meat wrapped up and ready to pack away.
Yang still seems a bit jittery when he settles down on one of the old mattresses they’d dragged into the room, and flusters even further when Charon sits strategically close, boxing him into the corner.
Their shoulders are nearly touching, near enough that Charon can feel the warmth radiating between them.
“Are you sure you want to hear about this? I mean…it’s kind of…”
Charon levels him with an unimpressed stare, and he sighs.
“Okay okay, fine.” Yang holds his hands up in defeat, before settling back into a more comfortable position. “I had to leave the vault because of dad. If I didn’t, they would have killed me. Dad was working on something up top, before I was born. Guess he decided it was time to get back to it. 101 was never supposed to be opened, no one was supposed to be able to get in or out, so when dad bounced they needed someone to blame it on. Ding ding ding, guess who got lucky?”
That surprises Charon. The residents of vault 101 hadn’t seemed particularly friendly, but he didn’t think they would be capable of killing. Sounded more like wastelander justice to him.
“I knew they weren’t bluffing, Jonas…they killed Jonas. He was my dad’s assistant and he was helping dad to leave so they just fucking offed him. Jonas was a good guy, he didn’t deserve that. I freaked out when I saw his body, there was blood everywhere and I was so mad. I…"
Yang stops to take a breath, teasing open a hole in the mattress to reveal the age stained foam padding underneath.
“I killed. God. I don’t even know how many people. People I grew up with. A few of the guards. The overseer, Amata’s dad. I tried to reason with him, but…well. He didn’t want to listen. He had a gun and he shot at me, and they were threatening Amata, so I beat him to death right in front of her, while she screamed and begged me to stop.” Yang had started picking at the exposed foam, tearing it off into crumbs with the tips of his fingers. “I can barely remember how I got out of there after that but then I was seeing the sun for the first time and it was so bright and hot I thought I was going blind. I really thought I was going to die.”
Charon was beginning to regret asking about this. He wanted to take it back.
“Actually, I guess I got pretty close to dying on my first day? I had no idea where I was or where I was going, I completely missed Megaton even though it was right in front of me. No idea how, you've seen Megaton, it's not exactly inconspicuous. But nah of course, I miss the giant structure with the sniper on top and walked right into a nest of raiders instead. They…well." He makes some vague gestures, before letting his hands drop back to the mattress. "...You’re an adult, I don’t need to tell you what they tried to do. Didn’t get far before I managed to fight them off and run though, most of them were way too fucked up on chems to care. Nearly bit a guy's dick fully off when he thought he could get so close to my face without consequences. I don't think what happened there ever really sank in for me, I was still full of adrenaline but...I guess it still scared me enough to stop travelling during the day.”
Charon suddenly remembers some of the more impure thoughts he’d had recently and his stomach turns.
“Anyway, after that everything is kind of a blur. Got some answers in Megaton, turns out I wasn’t even born in the vault at all. Dad brought me there after mom died. Everything I thought I knew about myself was a lie. Could’ve stopped there I guess, but I…I don’t know. I wanted to get answers from dad directly. I tracked him all the way to vault 112 and honestly I can’t believe I made it there at all. I was still only wearing my vault suit back then and I had barely figured out how to use a gun but I managed somehow. He was stuck in some kind of VR sim, for god, I don't even know how long. Did some terrible shit but it's what I had to do so I could get him out.”
Yang’s little pile of foam shavings was starting to grow. Charon wonders if he should stop him, before he picked the whole mattress apart.
“Dad wasn’t happy to see me out of the vault, but I think he was happy to see me alive. Maybe. I don’t really remember because I was so mad at him. We argued all the way back to Rivet City. Took us two days, hid in the metros when it was dark. I didn’t rest at all. Just watched him while he slept and thought about slitting his throat, every night.” He laughs, dry and humourless. “I didn’t, it wouldn't have accomplished anything, but I really think I could have. I doubt I would have even regretted it.” he grimaces and sweeps the little foam pieces away with his hand, scattering them haphazardly across the room.
“Dad met up with his scientist buddies back at Rivet City, and then they all went to the Jefferson Memorial to start working on their project again. They wanted me to help them, but I told everyone to fuck off and then I left. I even decked some guy named Daniel or something while I was there, so I think they probably prefer me out of the way. Wandered around for a bit. Deactivated the bomb in the middle of Megaton because I had nothing better to do, that’s why they gave me that house. I still feel kind of bad about that to be honest." He tips his head back and sighs. "I did a bunch of stuff around town because I needed the caps, just something to occupy my mind, and now they think I'm some kind of local hero. So, I had to leave again because I felt too guilty and I couldn't handle it. Then I met—” He pauses, brows knitted. “-I bought...I bought your contract.”
Yang looks up, a faint smile on his face. It’s raw and resigned, like an open wound, and suddenly the ambient noise is far too peaceful. The dry grass outside rustles and the ancient wood of the house creaks as it settles around them.
“And now, here we are.”
Warning: Some kinds of fucked up sexual violence imagery? Just in case.
They had a system worked out now, which was strange to think about. Charon wasn’t really used to working with an employer, more accustomed to being a hired (purchased) gun or a meat shield than a partner, but he had to admit he and Yang were surprisingly effective together. Charon would deal with anything close to mid range, while Yang would either snipe threats from a distance or go his preferred route of night time throat slitting. He still wasn’t strong enough to bear the weight of an actual sniper rifle, but he was getting good with a scoped .44 which gave him similar distance. The distance was a weight off Charon’s mind too, as it meant he didn’t have to spend so much time contractually worried about his employer and mostly got to focus on defending himself. It was…nice? Something like that at least.
Charon again does his best not to think about how short human lifespans were, and how he shouldn’t be getting too comfortable. Good things don’t last in the wasteland.
“Steady hands. You have done this before.”
Yang glances up for a second before returning to his task; removing a bullet from Charon’s shoulder. Charon had been surprised the boy had offered at all, didn’t think he’d have the stomach for it, but he had removed the first with no trouble and was now onto the second.
“Yeah, only on myself. Dad’s a doctor, so I have to know a thing or two. These conditions suck though, nothing’s sterile, and I’m pulling bullets with goddamn forceps. I’m just gonna hope ghouls are tougher than humans and you won’t get an infection.” He mutters, tossing the second bullet to the ground with a metallic click and twisting to rummage around in his bag behind him. “Alright now, arm out so I can flush it with some purified-”
“That is a waste of your water.” Charon interrupts.
Yang glares at him, while forcefully popping the top off a can of clean water. “…as I was saying, I’m going to flush your wound with purified water, and then I’m going to switch to irradiated. If it still hasn’t healed fully, we’ll use a stimpak.”
“You are wasting your resources-”
“Charon you got hurt because you were defending me, again. It’s not a waste of resources to treat you!” He grits out, frustrated, slamming the water down onto the ground beside him. “Look, just. It’s fine okay? We have enough water. I can buy more water. Just let me do this for you.”
There’s a moment of tension, but Charon nods tersely.
“As you command.”
Later when they make camp, Charon thinks he sees Yang from the corner of his eye flipping the contract over in his hands, but when he turns to take a better look it's tucked safely away again.
“Hey, Charon. I've been thinking...if I figure out how to break your contract, would you kill me, like you killed Ahzrukhal?”
Yang’s expression is distant, nursing a rapidly warming nuka-cola one of the locals had handed him. The question is left hanging uncomfortably in the air, hushed chatter and the sound of Megaton life drifting up around them. He continues with his thought before Charon can say anything.
“I've been thinking about it a lot lately. I think I'd like that. It just feels right you know?”
Charon shifts his weight slightly. His cigarette hangs limp between his fingers, burning down close to the filter.
"Taking's all I'm good at really. I took my mom's life when I was born, I took my dad from his work, I took project purity from the wasteland. And I took you for myself. For once I just want to give something back."
Charon tries not to watch the condensation from the bottle slipping down Yang's fingers.
"Isn't it pathetic? The only person I give a shit about right now and spend all my time with isn't even here of their own free will."
Yang grins. His eyes are gleaming and his tone is sincere. Bare feet kicking idly over the railing and it's such a youthful, innocent action, it feels wholly innapropriate for the topic at hand.
“I owe you a lot, Charon. I like you. I’ve been really happy this past year, despite the injuries and hardships and it’s all at your expense. I can’t imagine how much you must hate me, having to basically babysit me every day. So if I figure this out, my life and everything I have is yours. Think of it as my shitty parting gift.” He finishes off the nuka-cola in his hands and sets it down beside him with the gentle clack of glass against metal. “You could kill me, you could fuck me, I dunno. Both? Anything you want. I hope it’ll be at least a little bit satisfying. I just want to give you something to say thank you, and this is all I could think of.”
Charon again briefly imagines his hands wrapped tight around that neck. He feels a bit queasy.
He's not entirely sure how to unpack how he feels about this selfish, self-loathing young man.
The dog is a welcome distraction.
Charon watches, irritated, as Yang rubs her dirty matted fur through with his fingers and coos at her lovingly. Irritation is good, a simple, recognisable feeling for him. Easy. Everything else had been confusing lately so it was nice to slip back into familiar emotional territory.
"You're so cute!! I think you're the first nice dog we've met out here. Were you scrap hunting too girl? Can you show me where the good shit is? If you do I'll buy you some brahmin jerky~"
The dog follows them all the way back to Megaton. Yang is delighted and gives her a bath immediately.
He names her Dogmeat. It's a terrible name.
Charon isn't surprised at all.
The next time Charon passes by the low bookshelf in their Megaton home he finds himself actually noticing the kinds of things Yang had collected from their trips. A few relatively unscathed teddy bears, some assorted weird toys and models, and a veritable library of books. He remembered the boy insisting that what he was bringing back was important, remembered helping him to drag heavy bags full of loose papers and hardbacks all the way back from the Arlington Library.
At the time he thought Yang was just being petty, sneaking pre-war books out from under the Brotherhood’s nose, but he feels a now familiar twisting sensation in his gut when he glances through the kinds of titles he’d brought back.
Multiple heavy looking books on brainwashing, several military research and training guides. A few thick tomes on psychology and the brain, loose papers on ptsd, mind control, trauma and recovery, all dog eared and full of tabs and bookmarks.
Charon flips through one of them and the margins are full of hastily scribbled notes. He can only read the notes half the time, they're very messy, some in English and some in what he assumes to be Chinese. His name comes up a fair number of times, and several mentions of "dad," all angrily scribbled out.
He considers the possibility of a life without his contract and wonders if he would take up Yang’s offer. His mind brings up unbidden a frenetic jumble of images, morphing and combining; leather belt digging in around a smooth neck, over his mouth, Yang on his knees, Charon’s rough ruined hands fisted through his thick dark hair, soft fingers gently cupping his radiation scarred jaw, the familiar barrel of his gun shoved between spit slick lips into his mouth and down his pretty throat as he pulled the trigger—
He has to sit on the stairs and breathe. He wants to throw up. He doesn’t think these are actually things he wants but he’s been a machine and a weapon for so long his brain has trouble separating visuals, blurring the lines between sex and violence. Dogmeat pads quietly up to him and shoves her face against his, like she's trying to comfort him.
He wonders vaguely when he started thinking of the house as theirs.
The realisation hits Charon one day, watching the back of Yang’s head as they’re walking. The unplaceable expression he'd catch momentarily on the boy's face countless times over the past few months in particular. He'd seen it before.
He's seen that expression on Dogmeat, every time Yang gave her any attention.
Charon hadn't caught on until now, because prior to this he'd never seen that expression aimed at himself. He's had many employers over the years, he's seen lust, contempt, disgust, a combination of all three. Irritation, when he twisted the meanings of commands too literally just to spite them. Anger, in battle. But never...this. Weirdly affectionate but also wistful and a little bitter.
He looks at Charon like he's someone important.
Yang turns to looks up at him, and there it is again. It's quick, just the briefest flicker, like a candle flame blowing out. The smallest quirk of his lip. A micro-expression at best, one he tries to hide. But it's there.
"You okay back there big guy? You slowed down."
He nods stiffly.
"I am fine."
He's not fine. He's not fine because he also remembers something Yang had said to him while they were still in Megaton.
I can’t imagine how much you must hate me.
A short museum interlude
Charon feels a little strange whenever they visit Underworld. He’s pretty sure Ahzrukhal made him throw almost everyone down the marble steps at least once, so now he's worked up a bit of a reputation. He won't show his discomfort of course, he's still good at keeping up his impassive poker face, but it is still a bit awkward to be back.
They’d swung by a number of times over the past year, and everyone had very obviously given him a wide berth when he’d stood in the corner to let his employer run around doing business. But now that he’d crossed some kind of threshold in his mind with Yang he was starting to notice exactly how popular the damn boy was down here. He’d decided to follow him through the museum this time instead of waiting, and was mildly surprised to see virtually everyone greeted him at least once. Even Patchwork, who he’d thrown off the balcony a lot seemed to decide that his desire to speak to everyone’s favourite smoothskin overrode his fear of Charon. He circled around them almost comically, reaching with a shaky hand and Yang reached back, gripping his trembling leathery fingers in a confident firm handshake.
“Patches! How’re you doing?”
“G-good. I th-think. H-how ar-are you?”
“Doing my best! You staying out of trouble like you promised me? Oh, and have you seen Winthrop? I’ve got a bunch of scrap I want to trade with him and I feel bad having Charon carry it all.”
At mention of his name Patchwork’s terror visibly increases tenfold.
“I-I d-dunno, I th- I think he might b-be out back……..…? O-okay I g-gotta go bye!”
Charon's gaze is steely as he watches Patchwork stumble away as fast as his legs would carry him.
He’s not jealous, he insists to himself as he watches his employer making friendly small talk with Tulip. He’s leaning casually over the counter with one of her radiation roughened hands in both of his as they chatted about a book she’d given him the last time he’d visited. When Quinn enters Yang stands and greets him cheerfully, clapping one hand on his back and ushering him in to join their discussion on the origins of Satan or something. Charon sighs, annoyed that the conversation would drag on longer now that there was a third party involved, but he’s starting to understand.
It’s touch, Charon thinks later, as he watches Yang interact with Carol and Greta.
The ghouls like him because he’s willing to touch them.
Other smoothskins, even ones who have nothing against ghouls always seemed apprehensive when it comes to physical contact. It wasn’t surprising, ghouls could look pretty rough. But Yang seemed just as comfortable touching cratered, irradiated, peeling skin as he did with any other human contact. He was direct, thoughtful, never hesitated. It probably gave them some sense of normalcy, to have such positive physical contact. He probably made them feel human again.
“Ooh, Carol, Greta, both in matching blue today? You look great, ladies!”
So, maybe he’s a little jealous he thinks, watching Greta roll her eyes and Carol giggle and titter over Yang like he was the cutest thing she'd ever seen.
Later when they finally leave (not before Yang antagonises Cerberus for a bit and Cerberus retaliates by calling Yang a communist), Charon stays close. Places a heavy hand on Yang’s shoulder and tries to convince himself it’s not a silly, possessive action. Yang looks back at him in surprise, but shoots him a lopsided grin and reaches up to squeeze his fingers in his own.
His hand feels warm.
“So, how’s our favourite tourist treating you? Better than ol’ Ahzrukhal I’m guessing?”
Charon grunts, smoke billowing from his mouth and the hole where his nose used to be as he breathes out. Yang had flagged down a travelling merchant just outside the Museum of History to sell off some spare items, so he and Willow were taking a quick smoke break while they watched the merchant desperately try to speed up the transaction. This was super mutant territory after all.
He tries to ignore Willow’s knowing cackle.
The next time they settle down for a break Charon makes a point to push the mattresses they'd found closer together than usual.
Yang joins him and doesn’t acknowledge the sudden proximity. He simply sits and sets the radio on his pip-boy to GNR, leaning his back against Charon’s shoulder.
Charon's not great with words. He’s never had to be. He’s built his walls high and thick to endure the kind of lifestyle he’s had to live, set his face in stone. But now that he thinks maybe, just maybe it’s worth trying to communicate, it’s like he’s wading through a dense fog with no end in sight. His thoughts get tangled somewhere between his brain and his mouth, coming out too formal or too brusque.
So he’s really not sure how to tell Yang he doesn’t hate him, and that he doesn’t want to kill him, but he thinks actions might be a good start. Hopefully.
It seemed Charon initiating contact was all it took to break the dam; Yang had clearly been waiting for permission to touch him. It’s nothing sexual so far to his slight disappointment, mostly playful and friendly, but it’s pleasant nonetheless. Leaning against him at every opportunity, tugging on the straps of his armour to get his attention. Bumping hips and shoulders gently while they walked. Yang was physical with everyone except Charon until he had taken the initiative, probably too scared to overstep his boundaries, and Charon finds he doesn’t mind much at all. He’d never realised quite how starved for touch he really was.
Punishment was a memory at this point, though not distant enough to be healing, and remembering still made his blood thrum with something angry and bitter. Decades, no…two centuries of regret, and even further back than that a whisper of something else. Fear, pain, reinforced obedience, a loss of self. He doesn't try to think that far back if he can help it, it's far too late to try pick up those pieces. Better to focus on the immediate. His contract states that violence against him allowed for retaliation, but violence was a very difficult concept to quantify. What exactly counted as violence and what didn't? Withholding food and sleep were common, as was exercising him to the point of exhaustion, but a lot of his employers were more creative than that. Charon was no saint, but he had his own moral code, things that if given the choice he would rather not to do.
And a moral code was exploitable.
Ahzrukhal had been particularly good at abusing it, at figuring out what Charon hated. Forcing his hand. He was slippery, clever, twisting with his words where Charon was not. He was a weapon, he wasn't built to play mind games. When Charon would refuse to obey on technicalities, Ahzrukhal would pull from a different direction, wearing him down, tugging him apart at the seams.
He’s startled out of his thoughts by a threadbare blanket falling over his head, and as he pushes it out of his face he feels the pressure of a smaller, warmer body getting comfortable against his shoulder. A smooth hand with long slender fingers hands him a mirelurk cake. He takes it.
It had been a long line of terrible people before he’d reached this point, and although he can’t say it was necessarily worth it, this was pretty decent compensation.
He's not entirely sure what he wants from the lone wanderer, really. Not sure if it's sex, or friendship, or security. Doesn't think he has the capacity to grasp things like love or normal relationships, even platonic ones. But...he likes the attention, the friendly gestures and the playful words. He likes being able to pretend he has choices.
He's been a slave for so long.
He should let himself have this, just for a little while.
Dogmeat fucking loves him. He has no idea why.
Charon doesn't deal with feeding her or playing with her, mostly he's been completely ignoring her presence. But she still insists on following Charon around the house and through Megaton every day like he's her mother. Yang thinks it's hysterical.
"She adopted you Charon! That's adorable….you’re her old man now. You're her dad. This is your new dad Dogmeat. Charon’s your dad.”
Charon sighs and silently endures Dogmeat leaping onto his lap and stealing food directly from his hand for the third time in the past hour while Yang covers his mouth and tries his best not to laugh through his half eaten salisbury steak.
Charon kneels to join his employer in the dirt, assessing the zigzagging path of mines in their way. This was stupid.
"You are aware your friend is...unstable. Correct?"
Yang snorts, creeping forward. “Who, Moira? Absolutely. She's fucking crazy, but she's the first nice person I'd met out here so I figure I owe her some favours.” His hand shoots out and it’s a couple of tense seconds before the mine beeps out its deactivation tone. “Besides, what she’s doing is pretty interesting. Who knows? it might be beneficial for future generations.”
"It would not be beneficial to me if you were dead." Charon growls.
It's not quite what Charon was trying to say, but he was doing his best.
Yang turns to peer at him over his shoulder. Tucks his hand under his chin with a coquettish smile. "What, you worried about me big guy?"
Yang laughs and reaches for him, patting his shoulder. Charon does his best not to lean into the touch.
“It's just a couple of land mines. We can deactivate 'em until the playground like Moira asked and then we'll go, okay?” His tone is reassuring.
Charon is about to begrudgingly agree before he tenses, noticing something out of the corner of his eye. Something glinting in the sunlight, up on the furthermost ruined building. A sniper?
A couple of telltale pings of metal against metal confirms his suspicions and Yang curses. They both sprint to cover, ducking behind one of the abandoned houses just in time to avoid the pre-war car exploding. It sets off a chain reaction, several surrounding mines also going off and showering them in hot shrapnel.
"Well, shit! Should've figured mines arranged so deliberately meant someone was here." Yang mutters, wiping away the pinpricks of blood starting to run down the side of his face with one hand while rummaging through his pockets with the other. He pulls out a scope ripped off an old sniper rifle they'd found that was damaged beyond repair and pokes his head out from behind the cover of the house to assess the situation. He's calm, alert, a far cry from the reckless and terrified boy Charon remembers from a year ago. Better equipped and far far tougher, he barely even seems to register when Charon reaches over to pull out a piece of metal that had lodged in his thigh.
He taps Charon on the shoulder and hands him the scope. Gestures for him to look. Charon takes it with a grumble and they both lean around the corner, Charon's chest pressing against Yang's back so they could peek at the same time. He tries not to think about how much he'd like to wrap his arm around the other man's waist from this position.
Charon had been right though, a sniper had set up shop on top of the decrepit old building at the very end of the street. He was at a clear advantage, had the higher ground.
“An old dragon protecting his hoard huh? There's gotta be something valuable around here, think it's worth the risk?” Yang leans back against the wall, looking to Charon for his opinion as he pulls out his usual scoped 44. and rubs at the cut in his thigh idly with this fingers.
Charon thinks for a moment, arms crossed. “….Not at all.”
“Not even if I can pop his head from here? If we kill him, we can take our time exploring. It’ll be fun! C’moooon Charon. You know I’ve been getting good with this thing, you're an excellent teacher.”
He sighs, scrubbing his hand over his face. It was impossible to get James Yang to change course once he had his mind set on something, but Charon had been learning the art of the compromise.
“If you cannot eliminate him in under five minutes, I recommend we leave.”
“Five minutes? Buddy you’re on. I’ve got this.”
He lines up a near perfect head shot in just under four.
They don’t find much in the end, but they do drag back a total of 42 deactivated mines which Yang presents to Moira with a bow and a flourish, to her delight.
"So, is my most favourite super assistant ready for more research?" Moira asks, hands clasped in excitement. She's a little too excited, in Charon's opinion. The extent of her scientific fervour makes him a bit uneasy.
Yang shrugs, tucking away the supplies he'd just traded with her.
"Hey, why not? I sort of remember what you mentioned was going into this chapter. And I'm going to hate myself for asking this, but...what exactly did you mean when you asked about handling injury?" He stands, slinging his bag over his shoulder while sending Moira a look of concern.
"Oh!" She claps her hands together with a smile and her exuberance makes Charon's eye twitch. "Yes! That one. I hesitate to ask, but I'll need to examine the effects of serious physical trauma."
"So what, you want me to break a leg or something?" He grins at her, raising his brow. "Why Moira, rads, molerats, raiders, mines, now a broken limb? If I didn't know better I'd say you were trying to kill me!"
"Ooh a broken leg would be perfect actually! I wouldn't ask if I couldn't fix you up afterwards, of course!"
He couldn't believe this. His employer was actually considering breaking a bone just for this mad woman's mad experiments. Charon did not approve.
"No." He interjects gruffly. Yang glances up at him and there's that look again, that fond half smile.
He turns back to Moira, shrugging.
"Sorry! Guess that one's gonna have to wait because someone isn't gonna let me jump off the railing in front of Craterside for your book. Anything else?"
"Aww, alright! Well, maybe next time! I have a few other things you could do though..."
Charon grumbles and looks over at the mercenary propped up beside the door, who only offers him a tilt of the head that seems to say "They're both crazy."
When they leave Moira's store carting along an observer unit to bury in fucking mirelurk eggs, he finds he's inclined to agree.
He rolls over, grimacing at the sudden bright light from Yang’s pip-boy screen. The man in question is sitting on the floor beside the bed, hands pressed onto the covers. Charon rubs at his eyes tiredly. It’s a strange feeling to be surprised awake and still be so off guard. He still hasn’t quite gotten used to having a safe place to stay with a room and a comfortable place to sleep.
“…It is the middle of the night. Do you require something?”
“Nah it’s nothing like that I just…I’m kinda restless. Wanted to ask you something.” His tone is hushed, even though they’re the only ones in the house aside from the dog.
“Charon, do you uh...like me now?”
Charon is wide awake now. He sits up.
“I know it’s a weird question but…I dunno. I just feel like you’ve been nicer to me lately. That’s not a contract thing is it? Cos if it is, I’m sorry. You don’t have to do that.” Yang rests his chin on top of his hands, his expression is apologetic.
“It is not.”
“Okay good, good! I’m glad. Just checking, sorry I woke you.” He stands and gives Charon’s shoulder a squeeze, before turning to leave. “G’night. Again, sorry.”
Charon’s body is lurching forward before his brain can catch up, wrapping his thick arm around a slim waist. They both freeze.
“I do not hate you.” The words come out forcefully, barked, more aggressive than he’s intending to be.
“Charon you don’t have to-”
He squeezes. He hears his employer's breath hitch. That small response is enough to leave him aching, wanting.
He wants this.
“I do not hate you.” He repeats it, slower. His already rough voice is still gravelly with sleep, nearly a growl.
Yang lets out a strangled moan, before clapping his hands over his mouth in horror.
“I-I, S-sorry that was, that wasn’t- I didn’t—”
Charon presses his face into the small of his back and lets out another rumbling noise deep in his throat, enjoying the shiver he gets in response, the extra weight in his arm when Yang goes suddenly weak at the knees.
He wants nothing more right now than to drag him into his bed.
"Can we even do this?? I'm...I don't want to....I don't want this if you're just doing your job." Yang's head falls back and he groans. He looks conflicted, troubled, but his pupils are blown and his cheeks are flushed.
He pulls away. Charon misses the warmth of his body immediately.
"Charon. I'm sorry I asked. That I woke you up. I was way out of line, I shouldn't be trying to push-"
"You did not order me to do anything."
"Yes but...that's! That's only half of the problem!" Yang presses his back up against the wall, hands carding through his hair. He looks frazzled. "I want...I...I only want this if I'm certain you could say no to me, at any time. Only if i know I won't accidentally give you an order. We both know this is a mistake, right? I still...your contract...this isn't a line we should cross."
He stays flush against the wall as Charon stands and moves toward him, breathless and nearly panting by the time Charon slowly plants both of his hands either side of his head. His eyes are wide and his body is trembling with need, it's...very flattering. Hearing this boy moan and seeing him squirm and knowing he's the one making this happen. He slowly leans in to brush his mouth over the smooth curve of his neck, up to the edge of his jaw, settling just below his ear.
"Then, we will make this a mistake together.” He wants this. Say yes dammit.
When Yang grabs the front of his shirt and wrenches him down to crush their lips together, Charon feels a coiled tension in his chest finally release.
He wants this, he wants a moment to be selfish, he wants to take.
THEY'RE GONNA!! FUCK!!
warnings: this chapter has Fucking. nsfw!
“Charon can I—” Yang stifles a moan behind his hand when Charon bites a kiss into the base of his throat, before squirming out of his grasp. “M-mh can I….can I do something for you?” He pushes himself back off the bed, slipping down to rest in a kneeling position on the floor. Charon watches as the smoothskin places his hands on his thighs, gazing up at him with such starry eyed devotion he has to look away. It's too much.
“Only if you’re okay with it of course...?”
Charon nods, stiffly. He doesn’t trust his brain and his mouth to coordinate properly right now. Can’t possibly formulate meaningful words when he’s trying to burn the image of his employer (kind of fucked up but holy shit) settling between his knees into his head for eternity, to memorise the way his slender fingers reach for his zipper and the contrast of their skin, smooth against rough.
"It's been a while since I've done this though so...go easy on me okay?”
The first press of soft lips against the head of his cock has Charon growling and clutching the sheets hard enough to tear them under his grip, and it takes every ounce of his will not to thrust up into the wet heat or to grab a fist full of dark hair to fuck into his mouth.
With his length and girth there was no way he would ever be able to fit entirely, but Yang was nothing if not a trooper. He takes Charon at least half way with every slow bob of his head, bringing one hand up to curl over what his mouth can’t reach. He pulls off with a soft sound and laves the flat of his tongue up from base to tip, chest heaving as he takes a few much needed breaths. His lips are red now, swollen and slick. The boy is more experienced than Charon was expecting.
He takes Charon’s hand in his, rubbing a thumb gently across the veins and ridges, tilting to press a reverent kiss down the corded, ravaged skin of his inner wrist to the palm and it feels so much like worship that Charon’s head feels light. Yang grins and rubs his face against Charon’s hand.
“Charon, wanna come in my mouth?” He purrs affectionately, voice roughened by his previous activities, and Charon struggles to hold himself together as those words nearly make him finish on the spot.
It doesn't take much longer for Charon to spend, but he feels too good, too comforted to even be embarrassed about it.
“You should spit that out, the rad-”
Yang crawls back up onto his lap and wraps his arms around Charon’s neck, eyes locked as he tips his head back and swallows.
Charon thinks if he were any younger he’d be hard again instantly.
He's pliant under Charon's hands, relaxed, trusting, stretched out across the bed with his shirt shucked up to expose his stomach and Charon vaguely wishes they had a working camera. He runs his gun calloused hands down across Yang’s skin, brushing rough over scars and healing bruises. He’s not smooth and unmarred like he must have been when he first escaped the vault, but each mark represented a battle won, another day of survival in a difficult world. He presses his mouth against a more recent addition, a long knife mark across the collarbone, and Yang arches pleasantly. He looks good, with his back curved like that. Flexible.
"Charon, pleaseee." He whines, impatient as always.
Charon wonders what they must look like to an outsider. Thinks he probably looks monstrous, like a predator looming over its prey, but Yang simply looks up at him and his lip quirks slightly. He looks amused, happy, no trace of fear or apprehension on his face.
"You like touching a lot huh? You've been poking and prodding at me for the past ten minutes. When are you gonna get to actually fucking me?" He teases, reaching for Charon's face. The pads of his fingers gently rub over his cheek and down his neck, and he smiles when Charon leans into his hand.
"You are very...soft." Charon rumbles.
Yang snorts at that. "Damn! You saying I need to work out? That's harsh Charon. Not everyone can have your goddamn...adonis physique. You handsome devil."
It feels strange to be complimented.
"It does not bother you?"
"Huh? That you're bigger than me? Nooo I like it. You're huge and fit as hell, just my type. Do you know how hard it is to find someone taller than me out here?"
Charon sighs and shakes his head. "Not...not that."
It takes him a moment, but Yang finally seems to register what Charon is asking and snaps his fingers. "Oh! What, the ghoul thing?" He sits up and waves his hand dismissively. "Nah."
Charon feels a hand trailing up his chest, moving to cup his cheek briefly, then to the back of his neck. He allows himself to be pulled down, explored.
"Doesn't bother me. Kind of weird to be asking after we made out so much and I sucked your dick though, don't you think?" Yang murmurs, kissing a line across his jaw.
Charon doesn't know what to make of this combination of sweet and filthy. It's...a lot.
He's a lot.
"Ff-fuuuck, you're big." Yang gasps as he sinks slowly onto Charon's cock, biting his lip and tossing his head back. "G-god, glad I got you to prep me so thoroughly because holy shit..."
Charon massages his thumbs gently into Yang's hips, letting him adjust. As much as he'd like to just push him over and fuck him so hard he won't be walking tomorrow, he needs to show some restraint if he doesn't actually want to hurt the boy.
(Doesn't want to? Or can't? Something traitorous inside him whispers, but he pushes it down, won't think of that right now.)
"Yeah! Yeah don't worry, I'm okay buddy just..." Yang laughs a little breathlessly, the hands pressed against Charon's chest giving him a reassuring pat. "...hoo boy, gimme a second okay? Glad I got good oil for this, spit and stroke was not gonna cut it."
Charon watches, fixated, as Yang slowly rolls his hips, eyes closed and thighs trembling slightly with the effort as he fucks himself down a little further each time. By the time he feels their hips pushed flush together the boy above him is shaking, one hand cupped over his mouth.
"Oh my god, can't believe I managed that." He pants as he looks down at how he's fully seated on Charon's lap.
Charon can barely believe it either, nearly frantic with need at this point.
"O-okay, you…you can move a little more now, I think I'm ready-"
He doesn't need any more encouragement than that, grabbing Yang's wrists and practically slamming him onto the sheets, their positions now reversed. The boy squeaks, toes curling when Charon snarls and thrusts so hard his whole body shifts up the bed. "Charon oh, fuck-"
He sets an honestly brutal pace but he can't help himself, couldn't possibly slow down now, focused only on the slick drag of skin against skin, long legs wrapped around his waist and the way Yang's lips are parted in a silent moan, the way his mouth tastes, how his breath catches in his throat and oh, how he tightens every time Charon growls into his ear.
Neither of them last particularly long after that.
Yang falls asleep almost as soon as Charon pulls out, but not before dragging him down for a slow lazy kiss and a tired murmur of thanks. So now Charon is propped up on one arm just watching him sleep in his bed and okay, it’s a bit creepy maybe, but he’s just hoping he won’t regret this too much when morning comes.
He certainly doesn’t regret it in the moment, although he does quickly swipe Yang’s pip-boy from where he left it on the desk to check for rads. There’s a slow steady clicking coming from it but the levels aren’t high enough to bother with so he sets the machine back down. Overall it was…great? To be able to just enjoy sex without it being forced from either side. He can’t remember if it’s something he’s experienced before. Perhaps long ago, before the contract, when consent was still something relevant in his life.
It’s a little bittersweet though, having to wonder if this was a one time thing.
Just a moment of weakness between them that won’t get a repeat performance.
When Charon wakes the next morning things are starting to sink in. Last night he was too reckless, drunk on perceived independence. He’s not going to panic, that's not what he does, but he does feel a little something. Uncomfortable maybe? Worried? It didn't occur to him last night how much a quick fuck might change the nature of their relationship but now that he's thinking about it he's getting antsy. If one lust filled evening ended up ruining whatever good thing they had going it wouldn't be worth it at all. Consensual sex was nice, sure, but sex itself wasn't a rarity. An employer who wasn't complete ratshit however, one who treated him with even a modicum of respect, one who made it so easy to forget he was still technically a slave (no matter how much he denies it to himself) was pretty much priceless. If he loses this now, he's going to be kicking himself for the rest of his probably very long life. As it is, he already knows when this kid inevitably dies by bullet or old age it's going to fuck him up more than anything else he's ever experienced.
Looking down at the source of his current dilemma he assumes Yang is still asleep, tucked neatly against Charon's chest with his face nestled into the crook of his neck. But the moment Charon shifts to try to get up, Yang tilts his head to peer up at him. There's no trace of drowsiness on his face, so Charon assumes he must have been awake for a while. This close up he can see some details on Yang's face he hadn't really noticed before. The boy's eyes are dark, nearly black from a distance, but here he can see they're actually a very deep brown. He also seems to have developed a light smattering of freckles across his cheeks and nose. Cute? Probably. To some. He’s definitely seen the way people look at James Yang when they pass through settlements, being clean cut and relatively handsome. When Yang isn’t with Charon he can even be a little imposing, standing at a good 6 feet tall against the 5’6” Wasteland average. Must be the result of good vault nutrition.
“…Hey. G’morning.” Yang says quietly.
Charon nods in response, watching Yang sit up and stretch out languidly. His eyes trace across his body, noting with a slight feeling of guilt the bruises forming over his thin wrists. He didn’t realise he’d been gripping so hard. Gaze drifting further down to still oil-slicked thighs, Charon feels a jolt downstairs and he quickly has to look back up before that becomes something else he has to deal with.
Yang sighs and drops back down onto the bed, hands pressed to his face.
“So. Last night. Great. 100% satisfied. But we… probably shouldn’t have done that huh?” He groans, turning over to face Charon again. “I got carried away. I should have stopped.” He mutters to himself. "That was...wrong of me, god, that was so wrong on so many levels, oh my god, I'm really properly thinking about this now and I'm freaking out, what have I done-"
Charon grabs Yang by the shoulder and holds him down before his panic can escalate further. "You did not order me, you did not force me into anything." He says firmly.
"It was not your fault." He grits out. He's annoyed, not at Yang of course, but that the boy is blaming himself again even though Charon is pretty sure he was the one who was angling the most for a sexual encounter. Hell, he even looks like he's about to cry.
Charon catches the rest of whatever he was going to say in a kiss, pinning him to the bed roughly. He knows it probably isn't the right thing to do in the moment, but the way Yang relaxes under his hands and kisses him back he's going to assume it's not completely wrong either. When he pulls back, the boy looks considerably calmer, blinking out of a post make out haze.
"...This is still really fucked up, you know that right Charon? Even if you seem totally okay with it." Yang sighs out. "I really liked how things were going before..."
"That does not have to change." Charon interrupts. "Sex is just sex."
Yang groans and buries his face in the pillows. "I-I know that!!" He whines, words barely audible through the padding. "And yeah usually for me that's true! I've slept around a lot and it's never been a problem but...but..." He finally turns back over, face red. He looks mortified. "But...I don't know if I can handle this being just sex."
Of all the things to come out of this little incident, this isn't what Charon had been expecting. At all. His mind had been bringing up older less pleasant experiences as his only reference for repercussions; having his contract passed on or sold, physical or mental punishment of some kind, etc.
There was no lifetime in which he would or could expect what was essentially a love confession.
Yang has gone back to trying to bury himself in the sheets, while Charon's mind is working a mile a minute, trying to understand. He should have known, really, all the signs were there. The lingering affectionate looks, the barely platonic touches...
"Don't! Don't even! I can't believe I told you all that!! Oh my god." Yang lets out a strangled scream into the pillows, legs kicking wildly. "Hey there, I'm kind of a slut and also I love you or like you very much maybe, person who can't leave me because of a piece of paper I bought once. What was I thinking letting you fuck me, oh god, when will I stop thinking with my dick, I need the ground to open up and eat me alive." He whimpers.
Don't was technically an order, but Charon doesn't really know how he's supposed to interpret it so he just...sits back and watches quietly. Don't...speak? Don't move? Don't what? Yang finally seems to realise what he'd said and lets out another noise of frustration.
"Oh!! Oh my god see?! This is...This is why this is a bad idea, I didn't even realise I'd just told you to stop everything, oh my god I'm sorry how do I take that back, I take back that order. Abort that order."
Charon puts his hand on Yang's back and the boy squirms.
"I...I can't do this okay? I'm terrible at all relationships. Even normal ones. How am I supposed to begin navigating something this complicated? Don't you feel weird about this? Or am I just losing it?" Yang attempts to get up but Charon simply pushes him back down again.
"This is one of the better situations I have been in." Charon says after a moment of deliberation. Because it's true. Things have been quite good.
Yang sighs and stops his wriggling. "That...sucks. Honestly. The fact that this isn't a terrible situation somehow. I hate it, I hate thinking about how people must have treated you. I know we've never really talked about it because well, it seems private. But I can guess." He says vehemently. "I'm sorry this is the way things are. As much fun as we had I guess we should just forget last night ever happened huh?"
"If that is what you wish." Charon rumbles. What else can he say really? The fact that Yang doesn't seem violently upset in the slightest is already more than he expected. Maybe a return to normalcy isn’t off the books yet.
"Of course that's not really what I want! God, you have no idea. Charon, look." Yang bites his lip and looks away. Embarrassed, teary eyed again. Charon is having a hard time keeping up with all this emotional flip flopping, as always the boy is an absolute goddamn mess. “I lov…uh. Care about you a lot, okay? And I get that you can't really...reciprocate. Which is fine of course! I'd never ask that from you! But I don’t think I could just keep having sex without getting um…more emotionally invested? So it’s better if we just…if we forget it.” He sighs and rubs at his eyes with the heel of his palm.
All true, Charon thinks to himself. He really doubts he could reciprocate Yang’s specific feelings, mostly because he doesn’t know if he has them. Not to the same degree in any case, love’s a foreign concept to him at best and a stupid defunct one at worst that he doesn’t think he could ever grasp in this lifetime or the next.
Devotion however, he does understand. Loyalty. He gets that. It's practically wired into him because of that fucking piece of paper. He’s bound to anyone who holds his contract whether he likes it or not, has to serve them for good or ill. And he knows he at least has a capacity for care, he cares for Yang’s wellbeing quite a lot entirely outside of his obligations if he’s honest to himself.
Even without the contract, he thinks he might be willing to follow this kid to hell and back.
It’s not quite love, but it’s close enough right? It’s the strongest feeling outside of anger and bitterness Charon's felt in a long time, it has to be worth something.
So he shifts forward and wraps his arms around the pathetically sad boy sitting in front of him.
It's...not really a hug. Not a very good one anyway. It's not like he's ever had to actually hug anyone before, he's pretty sure it's about as terrible and stiff as being held by a sentry bot.
Yang sniffs but allows this weird and awkward simulacrum of an embrace. "What... uh. What are you doing...?"
Charon sends him a glare and Yang's mouth snaps shut. He pulls the boy closer to rest his chin on the top of his head, feeling him slowly relax and uncoil against his chest. It takes a few minutes of just sitting quietly before Yang throws his arms around Charon's neck and sighs.
"Why are you doing this to me?" Yang whispers. He sounds tired, broken. "You're making this so difficult. How am I supposed to feel? I thought you weren’t supposed to be able to hurt me.” He chokes out.
Charon squeezes him a little tighter. Yang hiccups softly.
“That was not my intention.”
Why indeed? He has…no clue. Hell, he has no fucking idea what he’s doing right now.
“I...care for you. I can provide that much.” Charon says slowly, digging his fingers firmly into Yang’s back when he starts to protest. “It has nothing to do with my contract.”
The boy squirms violently and pulls away, hands clasped on Charon’s shoulders. “S-so, when you said you didn’t hate me last night, you um! You really meant it huh? You do like me, at least a little?” He asks, hopeful. Charon scowls at him and nods, all these misunderstandings were going to give him a headache.
“I had assumed it was quite obvious.”
“Listen bud, the contract thing still fucks me up okay. I didn’t know! I just figured you were finally getting used to me! And I assumed you…last night was just you interpreting my um, my actions or maybe something I said uh, as asking for it? So I was feeling awful for somehow coercing you into sex and getting extremely carried away because maybe this is something I’ve been dreaming about for months but I was feeling bad for nothing? Or well maybe I should feel bad because the situation is still kind of not ideal…But...Oh my god I’m an idiot, I—”
Charon rolls his eyes and cups the back of Yang’s neck, dragging him up bodily to kiss the rest of his sentence away. Always so noisy, but Charon is finding this to be a very convenient way to shut him up.
“You are.” He says smugly when he finally pulls back and sees Yang’s stunned expression.
“H-hey! You can’t just kiss me every time you want me to stop talki—
Turns out, Charon can.
Pretty short chapter this time, and we've reached the point of everything I've written so far! I'm not gonna stop updating but they will definitely be slower than my previous pace haha.
Ooh also thank you @ everyone for all the comments and kudos, I appreciate them! Hell I appreciate anybody reading this at all haha.
In hindsight, Charon isn't sure what he was so worried about.
Sure, after the awkward and confusing post-sex half confessions Charon hadn't been sure what to expect. He'd been concerned about how it would change their relationship, had been dreading getting accustomed to a different dynamic, but the only real change he's noticed is Yang had occasionally taken to joining him in his bed at night. He's guessing they won't be needing to find more than one mattress when travelling from now on either.
Yang may not be the most stable person emotionally, but he's also never been particularly demanding even at his most violently hysterical. Outside of combat and the occasional stop or wait, Charon can't really think of any other instances where his employer had commanded him to do anything at all. Force of habit he guessed, he's used to being suspicious of everyone's intentions. It’s a relief though, he’s not sure what he’d do if Yang had decided he wanted to force something more...romantically inclined from him. As it is they’ve settled into a nice routine of friends with occasional benefits (Employee - employer with benefits? A little fucked up.) and he’s 100% alright with the arrangement. Mostly guilt free sex on occasion with a person he actually finds attractive and a warm body to share a bed with on cold nights? Not the worst set of circumstances he's been in, so he'll choose to savour it for now.
Charon barely looks up when Yang pokes his head into the room, shifting over and lifting the covers to make space for him. The boy takes that as permission to approach and flops lazily onto the bed before tucking himself comfortably against Charon's side, throwing one long leg haphazardly over his thigh.
Charon reaches over to ruffle Yang's hair and gets a gentle open palmed thwap on the chest for his trouble.
Charon had gotten accustomed to waking up with company, and the physical contact was definitely something he found enjoyable. At this point Yang had completely stopped using his own room for sleep, the clingy brat.
So, to wake up to an empty bed throws him off a bit.
He sits up and puts his hand on the sheets beside him. Cool to the touch, so Yang must have been gone for a while. Odd, Charon usually woke up first, being accustomed to far less sleep. The past few employers he’d had didn’t let him rest much so he still finds sleeping for more than 3-4 hours at a time to be difficult.
He checks downstairs, noting a pair of boots missing and a distinct lack of pattering dog claws on the metal floor. So, he must have gone out. Charon should probably be more worried about his employer, but if the boy has Dogmeat with him he should be fine, right? Whatever. Yang wouldn’t leave town without telling him. Wadsworth tries to hand him some purified water which he waves off, instead opting for a book and a can of whatever-the-hell was within arm’s reach. After finishing his meal (it turned out to be pork 'n beans) he takes the book back upstairs to flip through, not wanting to deal with the distracting background Mister Handy noises for any longer than necessary.
He's only just settled down into a chair and gotten a few pages into the book when he hears a commotion coming from downstairs. Banging metal against metal, loud voices, Yang yelling something and Dogmeat barking, so Charon drops the book immediately and reaches for his shotgun.
He slams the door open and storms down the stairs, gun at the ready, only to find Yang and Dogmeat seemingly unharmed. Yang yelps and trips over Dogmeat as he whips around, startled by Charon's sudden aggressive appearance.
"W-wait, Charon it's okay it's just me!!" He manages, scrambling to get up off the floor. Charon lowers his weapon. Looks up at the main doorway, only just noticing what was blocking it, Moira's mercenary guard peeking in from behind...
"....Is that a nuka cola machine?"
"Uh. Surprise..?" Yang says with a nervous shrug and grin. "...It was an impulse buy."
It's an utterly unnecessary luxury. They mostly use it to keep beer cold.
The house was looking...livelier. The first time Charon had seen the inside of Yang's Megaton shack it had been almost entirely bare save for essentials such as storage and beds. Since then however Yang had slowly been adding things such as new lights, shelving laden with books and trinkets, several work benches, an insane pile of salvaged blankets acting as a dog bed, and of course the ridiculous cola machine. (Charon will admit though, having ice cold drinks on hand at all times was the kind of excess he could get used to.)
Charon had also noticed their time spent in Megaton lasting longer and longer, Yang barely stopping by for a day or two at the beginning of their travels together to whole weeks at a time in the present.
He wonders what changed.
He wonders a lot less when he opens the front door one day to Yang snickering and a huge light fixture shaped like a couple engaged in a passionate missionary position embrace right above the main living space. Nothing’s fucking changed, his employer is still a goddamn idiot.
"Charon, wanna go Talon hunting tomorrow?"
One thing he still isn’t quite used to is Yang's need to be completely incomprehensible about his plans at all times. Charon looks up from his routine weapon maintenance with a concerned furrow of his brow, indicating for Yang to continue with whatever insane plan was forming in his mind.
"They have pretty decent armour so I wanna salvage some to repair for you. It'll be more protective than what you're using now!" The boy explains, kicking his feet up onto the couch and patting his lap. Dogmeat jumps into his arms and wriggles like a dying molerat, incredibly pleased to be receiving her owner's attention. "And besides, I think you'll look good in black once I scratch off their company paint job..." He adds a little sheepishly behind a faceful of exciteable dog fur.
Charon snorts, to his own surprise. He can't remember the last time he's genuinely laughed at anything. "So you want to play dress up."
"Tha-That's not!! Um. That's not my main reason..."
"But it is one of your reasons."
Yang's cheeks are starting to flush. "Well....Yeah okay fine, you got me there. But it's cool with you right? I wasn't kidding when I said it would be more protective! Last time we were out and you got shot the bullet nearly went right through the leather, I’d feel better if you had more military grade stuff on."
Charon takes a moment, hand hovering. “You are worried about me.”
Yang stands and hauls Dogmeat up in his arms as he walks over. They both look ridiculous, she’s far too big to be a lap dog and he’s too skinny to be holding her like a baby.
“Well I mean, yeah. Obviously. Not saying anything about your skills because you’re clearly more experienced than I am, but I just don’t like seeing you get hurt more than necessary! Especially when it’s because you’re defending me. Problem?”
Charon regards his employer and his dog (their dog??) for a few more seconds before nodding. He reaches over to place a few pats on Dogmeat’s exposed stomach, a very small smile tugging on the corners of his mouth when Yang sputters at her wagging tail smacking him in the nose.
“No problems. Tomorrow then.”
In the end they (mostly Charon, Yang complained about the weight one too many times) haul back four full sets and several assorted loose pieces of glossy black Talon armour in varying states of repair.
It was satisfying to note Yang was having no trouble with Talon Mercs at this point, Charon can appreciate how much the boy has improved in combat. Charon even almost cracks a smile when Yang cripples one with a well aimed grenade, something he definitely knows he taught his employer. Good to see he does listen sometimes.
Yang jitters, hands clasped under his chin. "How does it fit? Not too small is it?" He asks, bouncing from one foot to the other. "I did my best to modify it to your height but I dunno... you're fucking tall man."
It's a surprisingly decent repair job. He'll probably make his own minor adjustments if Yang will allow him to (of course he will.) but otherwise it's a near perfect size.
"Really? Great!" Yang says, beaming at him, before taking a second to look him up and down. “You look really good by the way. Knew the black would suit you." He adds, his silly grin transforming into something more coy.
Oh. So that's how he wants to play huh? Charon can oblige. He backs Yang into a corner, one hand against the wall just above the boy's head. He's feeling a little déjà vu, definitely remembers them being in this position about a year ago under far less pleasant circumstances. Back then Yang had been a terrified shaking wreck, but now he just looks very very pleased with himself.
"You're even better from this angle. Thanks for the view." He laughs, tracing one finger across the chest plate on Charon's new armour.
Charon growls and snatches up the wandering hand, wrenching Yang forward into his arms and smashing their mouths together. It's too rough, more than he's intending again (he really needs to work on that) but Yang responds eagerly, practically vibrating under Charon's grip with another laugh bubbling up in his chest. "Always fun when you let me rile you up!" Yang gasps between kisses, unable to contain his undignified yelp when Charon lifts him up and slams him against the wall. He wraps his legs around Charon’s waist instinctively and clings, breathless.
“H-hey warn a guy next time would you? Holy shit.”
“You talk too much.” Charon snarls, hands moving to support the boy's weight (also, conveniently get a handful of his ass.) Yang cackles and squirms, grinding his hips against Charon’s with very clear intentions.
"Hff, only because I like you a little rough...the whole displays of strength thing? Extremely hot." He says, voice breaking into a squeak when Charon presses him harder against the wall. "Ooh yes like that."
They don't get much further in this position before Dogmeat interrupts them, their noises drawing her natural animal curiosity. They're forced to retreat upstairs to the bedroom, Charon tossing Yang onto the sheets with the boy's laughter still ringing pleasantly in his ears as he kicks the door shut.
He's gotten good at reading Yang's body language, can see he's nervous even though he's grinning and doing his best to keep his tone casual and confident. He'd sat down beside Charon approximately ten minutes ago and had started just rambling about everything and nothing, hands clenched around a stack of papers. Charon's been patiently waiting for Yang to get to the fucking point and even with his longsuffering nature he's starting to get annoyed, but the boy finally stops his inane chatter and takes a deep breath.
"Um...Charon. Can I uh, actually I wanted to talk about something more serious? Is that cool with you?" He asks meekly, paper crinkling under his white-knuckled grip.
Finally. Charon gives him a simple nod in response.
"O-okay. Okay. Cool. Okay." The boy nods, biting his lip. "Okay. Um, so, I've...been doing some research. I'm sure you've seen the books around the house..."
"...And I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions. You know, about your past and uh, stuff? But I don't wanna make you uncomfortable so I uh...I wanted to know if i had permission to ask you some things? Are you okay with that?" Yang's feet are beginning to tap against the metal floor, another instinctive nervous action, and Charon reaches over to grip his thigh and stop his movements from shaking the entire couch.
"It is fine. Ask." Charon doubts he'll actually be able to help. He somewhat appreciates the kid being thoughtful enough to consider how this line of questioning might affect him though.
Yang takes another deep breath and shuffles through his notes to a blank sheet, hand rummaging in his pocket for a pencil. "Alright. Um. Might be a stretch but do you remember anything about the group that brainwashed you? Anything at all, even if it doesn't seem important."
Charon doesn't think he can remember back that far, but then again, it's not like he's actively tried before. He's buried so many memories over so many years.
"Take as much time as you need." Yang says, smiling at him sadly. "And just let me know if you don't wanna uh, you know. Do this. Or if you just don't remember anything. 'S fine."
Good to know he has an out if he needs it, but if the boy has figured out some way to break his contract then...well. That's something he wants too. So Charon sits back, sighs, starts to peel back the layers and hopes the mental discomfort will be worth it in the end.
It doesn't surprise him that most of his memories are of pain.
Yang hates this.
He's always been terrified of doing anything that would cause trouble for the people he liked.
And he likes Charon a lot.
Not only that, but Dogmeat aside, Charon's all he's got left.
He keeps thinking back to the vault, to Amata, to how much it crushed him when she told him he could never go back. How despite everything she'd said, the reassurances that one day things would be different, the reality is he'd probably never see her again. How hard it was for him to just smile and agree with her, because he knew it'd be easier for her if he didn't make a fuss. Amata had been his closest friend and confidant, it'd be less painful to him if she had just kicked him straight in the teeth. He should have fought for himself more, should have protested...
God, he's a coward. But he's trying! He knows this is important. Charon deserves better. If Yang had his way they would continue their lives as is, things had been good lately after all. He can still barely believe Charon was okay with their...arrangement, but hell if he wasn't going to take advantage of it even if he's sure Charon will never fully reciprocate his feelings.
He turns to face the source of his predicament, watching as the ghoul sits deep in thought. Not too closely though, because then he'll just start admiring Charon instead and he's not a horny teenager anymore, he's a...well. He's a horny twenty one year old. He's an adult! This isn't like the desperate angry handjobs he and Butch shared in dark corners of the vault when they were sixteen! But god, he does like looking at Charon... a little too much. Is it weird for him to be so attracted to a ghoul? Probably. He's sure people would think so. But no, he's getting distracted again!! He shouldn't be thinking about how much he'd like to--
Learning as much as he can about the circumstances and conditions surrounding Charon's employment would be incredibly helpful, but Yang is very worried that being the one to ask him to relive what were surely terrible memories would cause Charon to withdraw. They had finally gotten comfortable with each other, and Yang doesn't want to lose that, doesn't want to be alone again.
There's so many different books and countless brainwashing methods he's read about, but most of them seem so very pedestrian. Nothing like the intensity that seems to manifest in Charon's case. What the hell kind of mind altering regime could cause a person’s reactions to be that strong? For someone to be compelled beyond control to obey verbal commands? He suspects military involvement, because the few times he's found any mention of more extreme cases they were all part of very vaguely described military experiments. But the documents he'd found were always full of jargon he couldn't quite grasp, and he could never quite piece together full articles without whole paragraphs too damaged to read or entire pages lost to time. Honestly, if Charon's had some kind of brain surgery or implants in the past they're probably fucked, so he's hoping it won't be either of those things.
He knows he benefits the most from Charon being forced to stay with him because of that damned slip of paper. Even before they started getting along the ghoul was a source of comfort and protection; He couldn't hurt Yang, and he couldn't leave him either. But now...
If anything he feels even guiltier. Guilt at how fucking good it feels to fully trust in someone again. Charon is powerful and capable, has years of experience under his belt, has already saved his life countless times. And Yang really wants to believe that Charon doesn't mind being with him now. After all, he doesn't see any resentment in his gaze anymore, not like he did at the beginning. They started sharing a bed, Charon's pretty nice to him, surely that means something? Most of all though he feels guilt every time that pang of something swells in his chest, that possessive desire to keep Charon to himself. A horrible little voice in his head reminds him that with the contract in place Charon will be by his side as long as Yang wants, but without it... who knows? He'd be able to make his own decisions. Live his own life, make choices for himself. He'd be able to leave, if he wanted. It’d make sense.
Thinking about it makes him feel ill.
Thinking about how selfish he is makes him feel like throwing himself off the top of Tenpenny Tower.
No, regardless of his own wants and needs, Charon deserves a chance at freedom.
A little bit of poking around is the least he can do.
A lot of Charon's old recollections are fragmented, bits and pieces of whole experiences that he's swept under the rug. He's survived so long by remaining in the present after all, repressing, protecting his mind, rinse and repeat.
It's a lot of getting hurt at the behest of others, a lot of receiving and committing violence. A long line of employers, each with their own agenda and their own uses for him. Fixating on each one, until they dragged themselves to their own inevitable deaths or he was passed on and he had the opportunity to end them himself. Azrukhal flashes to the forefront for a moment but he shoves the memory aside, that was recent and not relevant to what he's looking for now. Even if reliving his brain splattering across the bar was quite satisfying. Digging further back is hard, he's not sure if it's just been such a long time or if he's not supposed to remember, but it feels like he's hitting a wall. A lot of fuzz and static where recollection should be, but he pushes through, tries to reach in and claw for whatever information he can piece together. As his vision slowly burns outward, registering to him as something tangible and understandable rather than just a blur, he can vaguely see that the static he remembers comes off a screen.
When he comes back to the present it's like breaking the surface of the water and taking a much needed breath. It feels like it's been hours and he's been running the length of the wasteland, but he's sure it's probably only been a few minutes. He feels a small jerk at his side, Yang jumping a bit in surprise at Charon's shuddering intake of breath.
Yang reaches for him and places a hand over his forearm. "You okay?" He whispers, concerned. The point of casual contact between them is jarring but also a small amount of comfort, is helping to bring him out of the old mindset he'd reverted to while remembering past lives he's lived. He clasps one shaky hand (when had that started?) over Yang's smaller one and squeezes tightly.
Yang looks at the trembling hand curled over his own in alarm and sits up on his knees, turning Charon’s face toward his own with his free hand cupped over Charon's jaw.
"Hey! Hey you're alright, it's just me! Charon, you’re fine."
God, he's let himself go, it's alarming how effectively hearing that voice helps to calm him down.
“Yeah.” He manages to grit out. “Yes. Fine.”
Charon only realises he’s been fixing Yang with an intense stare when the boy breaks eye contact first, looking away awkwardly and letting his hand drop from where it was resting against Charon’s cheek. Dammit. That was weird right? Fuck. And he’s still basically crushing Yang’s hand in his own, he should probably let go of that soon. But he doesn’t seem to be complaining or in pain…maybe he’ll be fine with Charon holding on for a little longer.
“Soooo…Anything?” Yang asks lightly, rearranging himself to be more comfortable with the grip Charon has on his fingers. He splays out and kicks his legs over Charon’s thighs, his back against the couch armrest. Charon relaxes his grip some and nods, allowing Yang to pull his hand onto his lap and brush smooth fingertips over the back of his knuckles.
“Yes. But not much.”
“That’s fine, I hope it wasn’t too traumatising. Don't imagine it’d be pleasant to relive some of the things you’ve been through.”
Charon scoffs. He doesn’t need the sympathy. “I am not that weak.”
“Man, never said you were! It’s okay to be…upset. You know? Feel like shit? Doesn’t make you weak.” Yang mutters, pinching Charon’s hand as best as he can. The thick leathery skin doesn’t have much give to it so he very quickly gives up. “But okay whatever, you say you’re fine so I’ll believe you. Gimme what you know.”
It occurs to Charon all of a sudden how domestic this whole scene seems. Both of them lounging on a mostly intact couch, Yang holding his hand, hell Yang was basically cuddling up to him and having this conversation with Dogmeat asleep in her quiet corner. It’s weird to think about, but it feels alright. Comfortable.
"I still cannot parse much, but I remember...some form of simulation training. There were several of us, most did not live long enough to complete the program."
"Military? Were you a soldier?"
"Not sure. Do not recall."
"Hmm, okay...Simulation training huh? like...like VR? Those pod machines?" Yang makes sweeping circular gestures with one arm. "Big round things, lots of pipes and wires?"
"Yes. There were other components to the project, such as experimental drugs and surgery, as well as electroconvulsion therapy, but I believe the simulations were the main focus. I think I was from a...later batch. So I was spared the surgeries at least."
"Electro-what now? They electrocuted people? Operated on them?" The boy makes a face, like he's tasting something unpleasant. "That's barbaric."
Charon shrugs. "Some did not survive the treatment. Even the ones who did often suffered long term damage. I believe some developed amnesia, some forgot how to speak, how to read and write. I was...fortunate. Comparatively. I do not know how many survived, it is hard to remember."
Yang makes a noise of frustration, rubbing his temples with his fingers. "That's...God I dunno. I don't even know what to say. The fact that you survived at all though, clearly you've always been pretty tough." He says, shaking his head. "But anyway, it's good you remembered so much! It's a stretch but VR simulations are better than nothing!"
Charon throws him a look of incredulity. Yang simply grins and sits up, cupping Charon's face in his hands. "Vault 112 had those pods. And offices, hopefully with documentation. I didn't explore when I was there last because I didn't need to, but now the information is relevant so we can go back and have another look around! And if necessary I can try to go back into the Tranquility Lane simulation and ask Braun some questions directly."
"Yeah, he was a scientist who worked for Vault-Tech, I think I read somewhere that he was the head of the division that dealt with stuff like the VR sims and advanced weapons." The boy explains, shaking Charon gently. “He’s still alive. This is good, this is something we can work with. If...well. Only if you want to of course. This is about you after all."
It was worth a shot.
"How the hell did you get through this area alone??" Charon hisses, one hand fisted tightly into the back of the coat Yang was wearing over his armour and the other shielding his face as he drags them behind a train car. "There are raiders everywhere."
Yang squirms, wriggling out of Charon's iron grip just in time to dive on top of a frag mine nearby and deactivate it. “I don’t know, I just snuck around em I guess! And it was at night too, so I guess they didn't see me? Hell, maybe not, I don't remember coming past this area! Evergreen Mills didn’t even show up on my pip-boy last time!"
Charon catches Yang before he trips over as he scrambles back to cover, pushing them both up against the sun-warmed metal and straining to hear if the raiders flanking them were getting closer. It sounded like there was some confusion, but they would be found eventually. Not even the stupidest raider could miss them, trapped as they were right in the middle of a narrow passage with sheer rock faces on either side. Charon isn’t sure if this ambush had been set up or if they’d just been unlucky, but they were now bottle necked into an incredibly difficult position with only two options: fight back out the way they came with minimal cover, or try to sneak deeper into the mills and hope there was another exit. Yang was glancing frantically in both directions, hesitating for a few seconds before nodding to their left. Deeper in then. Charon tilts his head in acknowledgment and follows.
Charon has no idea how they managed to sneak around undetected for as long as they did, but they’d crept around half the perimeter of the valley quietly taking out raiders and still hadn’t found any way to escape. Yang sighs and leans his back against one of the run down raider shacks, looking over at Charon with a helpless shrug.
“What the hell are we gonna do? Ya think that group of raiders that were patrolling the passage are gonna be gone by now? We could try to backtrack.”
Charon shakes his head and drops to one knee, handing the boy a can of purified water from his pack. He can see Yang beginning to tire out and it’s worrying, they were still in a vulnerable spot with no real cover and no exit in sight.
“Hey, Charon….” Yang starts, before Charon interrupts him.
“Y-you didn’t even let me finish!”
“Whatever idea you are considering, no. It will be bad. And dangerous.”
His employer huffs and downs the rest of his water. “Like this is any less dangerous? We’re completely unprotected here.” He mutters, crushing the can and dropping it to the ground.
Charon frowns, takes a moment to glance away from keeping watch. “You forget that I will protect you.” He snaps, irritably.
Yang’s unhappy expression softens and he shakes his head. “God, That’s not what I meant. I know you will, I trust you.” The boy says quietly. “But you need to trust me too, okay? At least listen to my idea first.”
Charon really doesn’t want to do that. He’s been with Yang long enough now to know his ideas were often half formed, disastrous and completely reliant on luck. It’s not so much that Yang is overconfident, more that in his desperation he’s willing to take huge risks for very little reward. He can go from being cautious to reckless in the blink of an eye, and Charon finds it’s better to stop his plans before they can form lest his job of protecting becomes more complicated. But unlike with his other employers, he finds it much harder to disagree with Yang even when given the option. Especially when Yang is giving him that puppy-eyed stare he does when he wants something. Dammit. He relents, gesturing for the young man to continue speaking.
Yang grins and sits up from his slouched position, suddenly excited.
“Okay, so, you know how we were avoiding that behemoth cage…”
Charon regrets this already.
The plan isn’t…bad, per se, but definitely is risky. It involves more sneaking around for Yang to get to a better position to shoot the generator powering the electrified cage housing the behemoth. How simple raiders managed to capture a behemoth of all things is a mystery to him, but it’s also not a huge surprise that they’d be stupid enough to keep it so close. He’s confident enough that his employer will be able to hit the generator from a decent distance, but this also relies on the behemoth keeping the attention of every raider in the area for long enough to allow them time to escape. They had run into a problem when the topic of the slave pens came up, but after some thought Yang shook his head and sighed. “No, we can’t. It’s…it’s unfortunate but it’s too dangerous. Hopefully because where they are the behemoth won’t notice them, but it’s too risky to try and free them for now. We have to think of ourselves.” Charon is glad, if he’s honest. It’s the decision he would have made himself. There was no time for heroics.
Charon has already backtracked and crouched in the shadows near their exit, to provide cover for Yang if needed when he makes a run for it. He tucks himself into the rock face more as he waits, he can’t see where Yang is anymore and it’s making him antsy.
Then a single gunshot rings out and it’s chaos.
Over the behemoth’s roaring he can hear raiders, more gunfire, his anxiety mounting when a minute ticks by and Yang is still nowhere to be seen. A few more minutes pass and Charon is beginning to think he needs to go back and look for the damn boy before Yang is sprinting around another train car, waving wildly. “Charon! Go!!!” He shouts, ducking out of the way just in time as Charon fires a round into the raider that was in pursuit.
They don’t even bother trying to disarm any of the frag mines they’d missed on the way in, letting them explode at their backs as they tear through the narrow passageway to safety.
Yang collapses into a crouch, panting and laughing quietly. "Wow. That was…a disaster.”
Charon reaches for his employer, about to tell him that they still weren’t safe here, but jerks back when Yang flinches at his touch. He pulls Yang toward him, eyes now glued to the ragged hole torn in the boy's shoulder. He mustn't have noticed it in the confusion, hadn't heard any sounds of distress from his employer the entire time. A sharp flaring pain begins pulsing in his head before Yang waves his hand off and pierces himself with a stimpak. The wound knits together and Charon's pain quickly subsides.
Yang smiles at him, despite looking a little pale and unsteady from running and blood loss. "Geez, Charon. I'm alright, don't worry, bullet went clean through. But…guess we found a flaw in the programming. Seems like you were fine until you realised I was injured huh? We’re learning a lot about you.”
Charon shakes his head in disbelief. “You…you stupid boy. Worry about yourself more.” He grits out. Yang simply laughs again, falling from a crouch into a reclining position.
“Mmh, hard to do that. I’m always more worried about you.” He drawls easily, rubbing his shoulder with one hand to loosen the muscles as they heal. “Anyway, gimme a second to take a break, I’m exhausted. I swear if I try to get up to walk any more I’m gonna pass out.”
It still stuns him how honest Yang can be with how he feels. How much he seems to care. Unbelievable.
“We cannot, it is not safe here.” Charon says, trying to soften his tone a little despite his frustration.
“But I seriously can’t walk anymore…” Yang whines, slumped in the dirt and still kneading out the knots in his shoulder. “My legs feel like they’re gonna break in half! I wasn’t kidding when I said I was about to pass out you know. Then you’ll have to drag my body the rest of the way.”
Charon rolls his eyes and kneels again, turning to face away from Yang. He shoots him a look over his shoulder. “I will carry you then.” He rumbles. There’s a few seconds of nothing, and he’s starting to feel foolish for offering at all, but then a firm pressure falls gently onto his back and long arms wrap around his neck.
“You sure?” He feels more than he hears Yang’s voice against his ear, warmth blooming across his neck. He’s glad ghoul skin doesn’t flush like human skin does, or he’d be even more embarrassed. Despite everything, he still finds small intimate moments like this quite flustering.
He grunts as he stands, glad the boy isn’t too heavy even if he is all gangly limbs and a little awkward to hold along with his shotgun. “Keep your arm raised, I will need the map.” He mutters, jostling Yang a little when he chuckles breathily against Charon’s neck. “And stop that.”
Charon doesn’t like vaults.
Granted, Charon doesn’t like a lot of things. But he feels like with vaults he’s at least a little justified. They were difficult to navigate, full of similar looking winding corridors, most of them turned out to be death traps, and even the ones that didn’t still had a sinister atmosphere to them that would have made his hair stand on end if he had any on his body left to speak of. Yang doesn’t seem to be having a good time either, judging by how high he leaps into the air and shrieks when he turns a corner and bumps into one of the friendly robobrains.
By the time they reach Braun’s office, Yang’s hand are shaking and he’s having trouble with the keys on the terminal he’s trying to get into.
“Shit!!” He groans, stepping back from the terminal and wringing his hands out. “Shit. Just. Just gimme a second...” He mutters, mostly to himself. “J-just gotta…”
“Yang.” Charon says quietly, holding the boy by his shoulders. “Why are you…acting this way? I thought you grew up in a vault?”
“I-I… I did but I um. I don’t know. I’m not exactly claustrophobic but I've never really liked the…the low ceilings. And the corridors. Usually they just make me a bit uncomfortable but uh, th-the…being near the loungers is also making me extra nervous I guess.” Yang blurts out quickly, clenching his fists in an attempt to stop the shaking. “Also I think I might just be kind of tired…but I-I’m alright. Just being stupid.” He laughs, high in his chest. Charon isn’t too convinced but releases his grip anyway, letting his employer get back to trying to crack into the terminal. He understands, the pods make him feel extremely uneasy too. It takes Yang longer to hack the terminal than it usually does, but eventually the door slides open and Yang lets out a triumphant sound.
Braun's little office is disappointingly empty, as is the overseer's which takes a bit of rummaging around to find a password and gain entry, but Yang does tuck a few stapled bundles of paper under his arm before they move on so Charon supposes it wasn't a complete waste of their efforts.
Yang places his hands on the tranquility lounger locked in the overseer's office and stands on his toes, peering in through the glass. "Guess you were hiding in here the whole time huh Braun? You old bastard." He taps at the lounger with his fingers.
"I do not think you will get a reaction." Charon calls from the doorway, He'd escaped the room as soon as he was able, he really didn't like being in close proximity to the pods. Yang finally turns, moving to join Charon back in the hallway.
"Mm, no, not from here anyway. Guess I'm just gonna have to go back in for round two." He groans, leading Charon back to the main area and starting to yank off his armour.
"What are you-"
"Didn't find as much info as I was hoping, so I'm gonna hop back into the simulator and try to have a chat with the old geezer again." The boy says nonchalantly, kicking his pile of armour into a corner and then starting to clamber up into the closest unoccupied lounger before Charon walks over and drags him back down.
"Are you mad? This is unsafe!"
Now that Charon is holding him, he can feel that Yang is trembling, can see the terror evident in his eyes. Despite the flippant attitude, the boy is clearly not keen to do this.
"I-I...I've done this before. I got out alright last time, I should be fine!"
"You are afraid."
"Well yeah of course I am! H-he made me..." He bites his lip. "It's nothing. It's not important. He made me do some unpleasant things but it's all...It's a simulation right? None of it is real, none of it matters. It's temporary. I'll be alright. Charon, I swear, it won't hurt me so it won't hurt you. I'm just a little nervous to see Braun again, but I know there's a failsafe somewhere if he won't cooperate with me. I'll be able to get out one way or another."
It takes some more reassuring, but Charon finally yields and helps Yang back up into the lounger. Watches as his employer gives him a small nervous grin and two thumbs up before the pod closes and seals with a hiss.
Then he's helplessly alone, and more lost than he's felt in a long time.