"Fawkes?", Leila asked as she sat facing their campfire, the flames reflecting off her silvery-blonde hair and giving it a warm orange tone.
"Yes?", Fawkes replied from his seat behind her, pausing cleaning his gatling laser.
"Do you still miss your family?"
Fawkes set his gun down and swiveled himself around to face her back, rather than crane his neck to look at her partially. He sat there for a moment, contemplating the question.
For too long it seemed; Leila turned her head to look at him in anticipation. There was that face. That kind, gentle smile that Leila wore for as long as they had known each other. It was an oddly comforting yet bittersweet sight, and he could never tell if she was actual on the verge of breaking out in an exhausted sob, or if it was just the way her delicate features made her look in the first place. But she looked more tired than ever today. Maybe something was wearing her down on the inside. Maybe it was the extreme radiation poisoning she'd received from finishing her father's life-long project.
"Sometimes... I think of my father and my sister. I do not know what happened to them, but I assume their fate was met in the vault. But when my sister and I were children, our mother was very sickly and frail. She died before they could take her away and mutate her. I am glad that she was not damned to those forms of faulty, forced evolution", Fawkes responded finally.
Leila wrapped a lock of hair around her fist, a habit of hers, and Fawkes could see the brittle hairs snapping off in between her knuckles.
"Leila, your hair", he pointed out to her.
She looked down in shock and quickly let go of her hair, pulling away several strands without so much as a pinch of pain in her scalp. She looked as if she were about to cry at the sight of it.
"I don't regret finding my father and helping him complete Project Purity. I don't regret destroying the Enclave, or helping the Brotherhood. I don't even regret sacrificing myself to save the Capital, even though I'm slowly falling apart. But... I regret that my family dies with me. I regret that I never got to find a spouse... Have a child... Make my own family. Is that selfish?", Leila asked with a quivering voice.
Fawkes was surprised at this statement. Leila was strong, independent, stubborn, and extraordinary in every way - too much so for Fawkes to have thought that she'd ever have such common dreams as marriage and children. He considered what kind of child she would have. They'd probably come out made of steel. Or they'd come out with the same strong moral compass and compassionate eyes as Leila. What kind of person would she marry? He'd always thought she was a lesbian, but that she wanted to have a baby indicated she could swing both ways. They'd have to be as courageous and intelligent as her, and would need to be able to put up with her headstrong behaviors.
And then for a split second, he imagined himself as that person. Not as he was now, but as he was what seemed so long ago. Mahogany curls and fair skin, a pair of black plastic-frame glasses perched on the bridge of his nose - wearing not a vault suit, but the scavenged attire of a wasteland settler. And Leila smiling and carrying a plump toddler with a toothless grin and all the best features of both of them combined.
And as soon as he thought it, it was gone. Of course he cared deeply for Leila, but he'd not considered being in love with her. He assumed she cared for him as well, but not... Not in any way like that. Yet as he realized that she would never love him, nor have the chance to grow to love him, he felt a sinking in his gut.
"No. Not at all. I too had assumed that one day I would start a family of my own. Now I have many brothers; but they are not the kind of family I had desired", Fawkes answered in as quiet a voice as he could.
"Oh", Leila replied with a rough throated whisper.
Fawkes put a fist under his chin and watched Leila dip her head down with her hands between her knees. She always took this form of posture when the radiation caused her to feel even more sick and weak. Fawkes reached into their med bag to find a syringe of Med-X. Leila hadn't been a fan of chems before Project Purity, but Fawkes had talked her into allowing herself to live her last days in comfort rather than laying in her bed in Megaton feeling so awful and sensitive that all she could do was focus on the extreme discomfort of it all.
He handed the syringe to Leila with pleading eyes, and she took it from his massive hand with a sigh before administering it to her thigh. Within a few minutes she was sitting up straight again - but her head continued to hang with her hair flowing around her face like a silver veil. A poetic, sad kind of beuty, Fawkes thought to himself.
"I suppose... You have become my family, Leila. You treat me like any other being, not like my ignorant kin. You cannot begin to understand what that means to me."
Leila looked up at him and smiled warmly.
"That's because I don't see you as any different at heart or behavior than any other human. You... The ghouls in Underworld... Anyone who used to be human. Ghouls still are human; their DNA is the same. They've just adapted to radiation. While Supermutants are no longer human, they all used to be. And those of you whose intelligence and morals haven't deteriorated? I consider you just as human as me. I don't really care what anyone looks like. Hell, before we met I had a pretty big crush on a pair of ghouls!", she replied, a spark of the same old enthusiasm for helping people popping in her voice with a bolt of bashful delight at learning that Fawkes thought of her that way - and that she had the opportunity to tell someone her ideologies. Before she passed away.
"An interesting way of looking at things, though I doubt most of the wasteland would agree with you", Fawkes nodded.
"May I ask... Who were they?"
Leila blinked slowly and fiddled with the empty need in her hands. It became apparent to Fawkes that she was having trouble remembering. He couldn't tell if it was because of pain killers or the brain deterioration.
"I... Carol... Carol was one of them and... Charon! Carol and Charon! Yes... That's it... They were both so kind to me, both such good people, beyond anything I'd experienced from any smoothskin like myself. Charon especially was attractive to me. Something about him just... Put me at ease. He was protective, and smart, and had so many interesting secrets. And Carol was simply a beautiful, kind-hearted woman. I wonder if she and her wife would be open to having a third...", Leila trailed off.
Fawkes raised his eyes, a bit surprised at Leila's open-mindedness.
"Just kidding of course. Well, mostly. I'm certain that she thinks of me as a daughter, so I put that silly childish crush on the back-burner, and fostered a familial love for her instead. Remember how overjoyed she was to get Gob back?"
"I do. I'm glad we could buy out his contract."
"It's not like I had any reason to save up caps, anyway."
"What about Charon? What happened with him?"
She fidgeted with her hands. Truth be told, she couldn't really remember.
"I think... I'm pretty sure that I never got around to telling him how I feel. And then we got separated, but... But I don't remember how...", she mumbled.
She began to trail off again, once again twining her hair around her hand, and more of it broke off with each repetition.
Fawkes very carefully, very gently reached out an enormous hand and tapped her forearm to get her attention.
She snapped out of her daze, and when he looked again into her eyes, he could see that they had faded somewhat. Not the same shine it had but a moment ago.
"I'm sorry", she said slowly. "I... What were we talking about?"
It crushed him, those words. And it gave him an idea.
"Leila, think carefully; where did you last see Charon? Was there somewhere he said he'd meet up with you should you ever become separated?", he asked seriously.
She paused and put a finger over her mouth, tapping gently at her chapped lips. It was a habit she'd always had when she was to concentrate. Fawkes couldn't bare to think that he would never see that again.
"Gra-ve yard? Junkyard? Ghoulville? Underville? Under... Under s-om-e-th-ing..."
And just like that Leila lit up again, and that million watt smile chased away any lingering gloom in her face.
"Yes! That's it! Underworld!"
"Then for tonight, rest. Tomorrow, we'll set out - for Underworld."
Fawkes attempted an endearing grin - which ended up a grimace that resembled someone in pain. But he could see just as plainly as anyone that Leila didn't recoil at his attempt; she loved him for it.