I’m telling you, this shit comes right out of her sleeve. How was I supposed to know she’d pull a stunt like that? I wasn’t pissed. I was outright fucking furious. Sure, I’m just a piece of merchandise, and she was only having me along to shoot off the bad guys, but at this point I was expecting more of her than to trade me off to this sorry sop of a bastard Moriarty. One asshole to the next, I guess. What’s another fifteen years of servitude?

On the upside, this greasy rat seemed to know about my past. Maybe he’d let me in on the story if I was patient enough. Nah, who’m I kidding? I was doing the exact same shit in Moriarty’s that I was doing in the Ninth Circle: standing in the corner, waiting to blow some jack ass’s face off.

Smoothskins were even worse when it came to their alcohol. I remember ghouls being able to slam a few beers before feeling a buzz at the Ninth Circle. I remember Ahzrukhal mentioning he liked it that way; it made him more money. But these shit buckets were rowdier than fuck, howling and spilling their shit everywhere. I was starting to miss Ahzrukhal when I saw some armoured ass grab for the bar’s whore, making her stumble and knock over some bottles.

“Hey, Nova, I think I wanna show you a good time—”

“Get off, Jericho!” She yanked herself away from the bastard.

“Who’s to say I ain’t buyin’?” Jericho stood and towered over her. Silence swept the bar and I flicked my eyes over to Moriarty. He was leaning in to some chatty guy in a eye patch, but his eyes were trained on the staring match. Eventually, he looked to me, and with a shit eating grin, he tilted his head toward them.


“You know, I could take you outta this place,” Jericho mumbled under his breath as he reached for her again.

“Get off, Jericho!”

My hand came down heavy on his shoulder, and I spun him around. He was a relatively short guy (by relatively, I mean to me, but everyone was generally shorter than me) but he peered up at me, his nose crinkling up and his eyes narrowing a little too much. “Yeah? You want somethin’?”

“Get out.”

He looked me up and down. “So, you’re Gob’s replacement, eh?” he said, letting go of Nova. She made a show of tearing herself away, but she stood on the spot, watching. I noticed the guy’s voice was almost as raspy as mine, and I entertained the idea of what he’d sound like as a ghoul. It was an amusing thought, but he cut me off. “Carry your weight a lot better than he does, huh? You both look like shit, though.”

“Jericho,” Nova growled threateningly, and his face screwed up in annoyance.

“Shut the fuck up a second, will ya?” he said, lifting a hand up to put her off. His body shifted slightly from me, and his attention was elsewhere, so I lunged out, grabbing the scruff of his shirt that peeked out over his armour, pulling him close. He stumbled forward a bit, caught off guard, and his face was momentarily blank.

Get. Out.”

I think it took him a bit to work this through, ’cause a few seconds passed before he struggled from my grasp. He pulled his armour straight, then stretched his neck a bit. I was pretty sure he was gonna try to start something, the slick little fuck. He started strolling past me all casual like, then he threw a jab. I grabbed his fist, twisted his arm around and aimed him toward the bar’s door, then kicked him by the ass into it.

He smacked against the door and recovered as fast as he could to maintain what scraps of dignity he had left. After a second, he tore the door open then stormed out. I suppose he wasn’t used to being made a fool in front of a bunch of sorry assholes. I might’ve felt bad for him in any other case. Nah, who’m I kidding? I could give two shits about that guy, I could give two shits about anybody. Not anybody, not anymore.

The chatting started up again after a pause, and Moriarty’s business was set straight again. “Hey, thanks, sugar,” Nova said behind me, lighting up a cigarette and stepping to my side, “I owe you one.”

“I didn’t do anything for you,” I grumbled without looking at her, making my way back to my miserable post by the door.

“No,” she mumbled disdainfully, and I could hear her breathe out the smoke slowly, “I guess you didn’t.”

I was going to hate this place a lot faster than I’d hate the Ninth Circle. When I stood with my back to the wall again, my eyes landed on Moriarty, and I could see him give me some sort of smirk.

I shifted my eyes over his shoulder.

After a few hours (I think, I wasn’t keeping track) a better portion of the bar cleared out for the night, and it looked like things were wrapping up. Moriarty caught my glance again, waving his hand for me to come over. I sidestepped around some schmuck that collapsed on the ground from too much booze. “Charon, do me a favour and clear out the rest of the customers, will you? It’s time to close up.”

“As you wish,” I muttered. The moment Moriarty said this to me, a few people around the bar stumbled to the door. I turned to the first table, tapping the guy on the shoulder rather bluntly. Like all the other plastered idiots, his movements were slow and slurred as he threw his head up from the table to look at me. He mumbled something incoherent, but I only growled in response, pointing a finger towards the door. Some of the others were easier to persuade, others I had to drag, but eventually the bar was clear. I could feel Nova watching me the entire time, with some sort of contempt drawn on her face. Whatever, it’s not my fault her ghoul buddy got traded for me. I was probably just as bitter as she was about me being there. When I threw down the lock on the door, it was just the three of us, and I could hear Moriarty begin to count his caps.

“Nova, be a dear and hand over your tips, would you?”

I noticed she was watching me when she went toward the counter to put down her handful of caps. The fuck was her problem? She was starting to bug me more than the boss had. We stood around, watching Moriarty count his caps. He finally swept the rest into the cash register again, then slapped his hands together, like he was trying to brush off the dust from a long, hard day’s work. The prick.

“Well, it’s going to be a little more quiet without Gob around, eh, Nova?” She didn’t reply to him. He looked over to me, nodding his head. “Since there aren’t any guests in the rooms tonight, you can have the night to yourself. You can have Gob’s old room—last room at the end of the hall.”

“Thank you, master.” Ah, fuck. I was starting to like “Mistress” ten times more than I should have.

“And Nova, get a good night’s sleep. Wouldn’t want you tuckered out for work tomorrow, would we?”

“’Night, Moriarty,” she droned, and started up the stairs. I followed in step behind her, and as I climbed the fourth step, Moriarty waved me down.

“Oh, and if you hear anything during the night, come down and check it out, yes? You see anybody besides me rifling through that cash register, don’t hesitate to blow their fucking brain across the floor.”

“Yes, master.”

“You’re a good lad,” Moriarty said, throwing a hand over his head as he retreated behind the counter. “G’night.”

Fuck, he didn’t just say that to me, did he? Christ…

At the top of the stairs, Nova motioned lamely over to the room at the far back. “That’s yours, now.”

I went for it.

“You could at least say thank you.”

“Fuck off.”

I guess I kind of slammed the door a little too hard, but I didn’t care so much, as long as it was okay with Moriarty. Man, I hated myself, this pitiful existence—as long as it was okay with Moriarty. The boss had shown me what it was to be myself for the first time in years, and to have a taste of freedom before being shoved back into my cage made me ten times more furious.

I rubbed a hand over my head, ruffling the bits of hair that were left, and I turned to face the room. It was small, dismal, and dingy—an obvious home of a ghoul.

I took my shotgun off my back, propping it up on the wall next to the dirty, ruined mattress. I started unclipping the straps to my breast plates and shoulder guards. When I slept (which was rare to begin with) I usually wore my it. Being in what was practically an iron fortress and having had a shitty fucking day, I needed to shed the extra weight where I could. I’d moved up in the world from Underworld to Megaton, but I really hadn’t progressed any. Still in the same stinking shit position. Fucking boss.

I laid back but trying to get some sleep when the opportunity was handed to you on a fucking silver platter was like trying to be happy about getting sold to a better slaver. Even though I’d just decided I’d best move on quick, she was kind of stuck in my head. Remembering I was absolutely pissed at her for trading me off so fast helped me put her out of my train of thought. Okay, sure, we weren’t the best of buddies, and her sole purpose of taking me along was to help Gob out of his predicament, but man, did she have to be a cunt about it?

Some thoughts ran through my head, if you want to call it dreaming. I thought of how Gob and Moriarty looked at me, like they’d known me my whole life, and how much I hated not having the advantage in any situation. But I could see her more clearly than the others, all those faces she’d shown me that seemed so stoic, even when she was figuratively shitting her pants. It was her face the last time I saw her, that time when she didn’t have the fucking guts to look me in the eye when she kicked me to the curb, that I saw the most. That moment…no, fuck it.

So, ah…there’s a first for everything, all right? So fuck you before you get any notions. The moment I felt someone’s hand come close to my neck I whipped the shotgun from the side of the bed and pointed it in the intruder’s face. I was expecting to see Nova, come to kill me in my sleep or something, but it wasn’t. At the end of my barrel was the boss’s face.

My finger was on the trigger. I would have shot her there and then, but thankfully Moriarty’s orders were too specific; I was only to shoot thieves, not intruders. If I had taken the liberty in killing her he might not approve, wanting to take care of her himself or something. But I didn’t lower my gun either. I just held her eyes for too long with my shotgun in between us. Know what a look of surprise is on a girl like her? The same look she might have for something mildly interesting. She was sitting on the mattress next to me—she probably fell on it when I aimed my barrel in her face—and her hand had fallen on my chest for balance. “I’m sorry,” she breathed.

I pumped the barrel. “Get out, or I’ll bring you to my master.”

Then—Jesus Christ, what a brave little bitch—she raised her hand raised slowly, and I could see the yellowed piece of paper clutched gently in her hand. She had my contract. She had my contract.

I lowered my shotgun immediately, then sat up in the bed, letting her hand slip away. The reset button was hit again, but this time…I dunno, maybe it’d been too soon since she’d last been my mistress, but I felt myself open up again like a floodgate. “Boss, what the fuck—

“It was the only way, but I am sorry,” she said again, keeping her voice real low. “I need you to escort me out of Megaton now, as quickly and quietly as possible.”

I got up before she finished speaking. I’d left my armour plates on the floor, and I started clipping them on again. I’m pretty sure I was grinning when I replied, “My pleasure.”

We were about a mile out from Megaton, setting up camp, when I stopped in my task. Gob had been more silent than Charon, if that were even possible. I was looking out over the horizon for a while, trying to sort out what I was thinking, what I was doing. What have I done?

“Smoothskin?” Gob grumbled, but I didn’t acknowledge him. I didn’t think I could at that moment. “Hey, kid…I appreciate you comin’ to save my hide an’ all,” he said, and I could hear his feet shift in the dirt, “but…you’re not gonna leave him there, are you? Charon, I mean.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Listen, Charon, he…you can’t leave him with Moriarty, it’s not fair. I don’t know how you ended up with him, but I’m not worth the trade. Really, can’t we just go back?”

I turned to look at Gob. “What do you mean? You want to stay in Megaton? You don’t want to go back to Carol?”

“Well…don’t get me wrong, I miss her a lot,” Gob said, wringing his hands. I supposed he wasn’t used to people keeping direct eye contact with him for so long. “But Charon’s different. Sure, he’s a tougher guy than I am, and he can make it, but you pretty much threw him in the garbage back there. You can’t…you shouldn’t just leave him to Moriarty like that. It’s not a good life.”

I closed my eyes as if he had struck me. “I didn’t know about Charon’s past and Moriarty wouldn’t let it go. I had no other choice.”

“A ghoul for a ghoul doesn’t sound like much, I know,” Gob muttered, and I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me short, “but despite what you may think, Charon’s got it worse than anyone out in the Wastes. The fact that he had no choice in you swapping us should say a lot to that.”

I stared at him. How far I was willing to go to find my father and how far I went for a mother and son…I claimed to be above the worst the Wasteland had to offer, but I was rolling around in the dirt with the worst of them, trading slaves and condemning lives.

Gob was shuffling even more now. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Don’t say that.” There was no need for others to be sorry for my actions. I had to be. “There’s no way I’ll be able to get him back now. Moriarty doesn’t seem willing to part with his new-found prized possession.”

Gob’s voice raised a few notches, as if he’d just caught a ray of hope somewhere. “Hey, you ever listen to Galaxy News Radio?”

I was puzzled; this change in topic seemed hardly appropriate. “Why?”

“You ever hear those episodes of Herbert ’Daring’ Dashwood and Argyle?”

I must have been showing the utmost perplexed expression on my face, because Gob seemed to squirm under my eyes. “What?”

“I’m just saying…we could go back in at night and sneak him out, like Dashwood and Argyle would’ve done.”

I knew that Gob was passionate about the radio the first time I’d seen him; he was banging on it insistently, cursing it to work, hoping the signal would come back to life if only he hit a bit harder this time. It had been constantly fuzzy for the past few months, and it continued to be so, but Gob would still listen for the DJ, Three Dog, through the white noise, hoping for those inspirational messages about fighting the Good Fight.

I couldn’t entertain a fantasy like him. “We’re not a radio program. This isn’t a dramatic story of heroism.”

He waved his arms at me. “You’re not exactly the picture of a helpless bystander. You’re the go-getter. You risked your neck for me and Carol. Why not for him? You know him better than you know me, anyway.”

“Between the two of us? We don’t stand a chance against that town if even one of them takes up arms against us. I risked all of this to get you home safely. You can’t expect me to willingly jeopardize you after that.”

God wrung his hands some more but had no further arguments on the subject. I turned back to my fire pit to finish what I started, but found I couldn’t. What a mess I’d made.

“We go from here to D.C. without protection? That’s just asking for jeopardy.”

I contemplated his words while staring at my horrible craftsmanship.

“I know you came all the way here to take me home, but I ain’t leaving with you, not with an old pal stuck back there. I’m going back for him, with or without you.”

I didn’t know much about Gob, but what little I did know did not leave room for bravery like this. This time when I stared at him, he didn’t flinch or fidget. He puffed out his chest, even. What was left of his skin was flushed. “So. You comin’?”

Even though I felt the need to deny it, I knew Gob was right, and I knew that I agreed with him all along. I couldn’t leave Charon behind, not because it was morally corrupt, but because I realized I couldn’t go on without him there with me. I was concerned about security in the Wastes…but I was also concerned about a friend. Although I was certain I wasn’t considered a friend in his eyes. The disdain he held for me was fairly plain. I had bought him because I could not go it alone. And I supposed I cared more for his well-being than I was ever going to admit.

“Suppose I go with you, Gob. How do you propose we go about rescuing him from Moriarty?”

“Ah, well…” He glanced back at Megaton, bravado deflating. “I was hoping you had some ideas.”

I watched him look after the town, the small patches of hair on his head blowing around in the wind. We were so helpless, dreaming of things too far out of reach, knowing there was no way to achieve our goals, realizing how small we were.

Well, we had to start somewhere if we were serious about doing this. “Gob, is there a safe where Moriarty stores his valuables?”

He pondered it for a while. “Yeah, the wardrobe in his room. Or at least, last time I checked, that’s what it was for.”

“He’d likely have it locked, then.”


“So we have to get into that wardrobe when he’s indisposed.”

“Whoa, whoa,” Gob said, holding his hands up. “Going into that wardrobe is like walking into the yao guai’s jaws.”

“What else are we to do?” I replied with a little annoyance. “You were the one who brought this up, and if we’re to get Charon back, the first thing we’re going to need is his contract. If Moriarty is as serious as he seems to be about Charon, then that contract is going to be in that wardrobe. Now, how am I going to get into it without being noticed?”

Gob grimaced. “Ah, I dunno…doing it at peak hours.”

I didn’t expect that. “When the bar is full of eyewitnesses?”

“No. When the bar is full of money making potential. Moriarty’s always on the floor when the bar is full. His room is behind it by the back door. We can go in there.”

I was impressed. If I didn’t have Gob with me? My methods would have likely gotten me killed. “Right. When are peak hours?”

“Between ten and one.”

Now we had a way in…“Are you skilled in picking locks?”

“Eh…” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I suppose I could be if I needed to.”

“I may need you too.”

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

“After that speech you made earlier? You aren’t afraid. You’re being cautious. And that’s good. Caution keeps you alive. We can’t do this by force but we can do this covertly.”

His shoulders squared off again and a goofy grin was trying to break across his face. “Yeah. Yeah, I can go pick the lock. You can count on me.”

“Good. We’ll have to steal the contract during those peak hours but get to Charon once the bar is closed. Is there a vantage point where we can see into the bar without being seen?”

“Hm. We might be able to see them between this slat on the east side. It’s always jigging loose. Never could get it fixed.”

“All right. We’ll keep watch by the back door. When there’s a thorough enough distraction on the bar floor, we’ll make our move. And there will be a distraction. I’m sure Moriarty won’t waist time trying out his new…employee.” I was going to use the word “toy,” but it made me feel I’d stooped to a lower level.

“Hold on,” Gob said, giving me a concerned look, “what if Charon gets in our way? If Charon sees you trying to steal from Moriarty, he won’t so much as blink before he blows your brains over the wall.”

I nodded. “I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

Peak hours started early. From the town entrance we could hear the roaring and screeching laughter from the saloon across the way. Many others had retired for the night and we had free passage to Moriarty’s unseen. We rounded the building to the gap in the slats. Though the peephole was limiting, I could see Moriarty behind his bar and Charon at the front door quite clearly. To see him as a sentry in someone else’s employ made something cold and hard settle in my stomach. I should not have kept him as a slave. I should not have let someone else keep him as one. I should not get to take him back, but I should not be allowed to leave him. I felt more the monster than people thought he was.

Gob tapped my shoulder. “Let me use your knife as a torque.”

I handed it over and stood by, watching Gob fit the tip of the knife into the lock and slipped something skinny inside on top of it, twisting it gently, using more finesse than I possessed. I frequently threw a glance over my shoulder, worried that someone would chance by us while we loitered suspiciously in an alley. After a long, hard, drawn out minute, the lock clicked tenderly, and the door slowly tilted open, light and laughter spilling through the crack. Gob looked at me with a triumphant grin, and whispered: “I’ve always wanted to do something like this.”

I went back to the peephole to watch. Nova was sauntering around the floor, casually leaving drinks for patrons at their tables. When she passed another table a man grabbed for her and pulled her onto his lap, drawing raucous laughter from around the bar. She struggled to free herself, but the man seemed persistent. I watched Charon and Moriarty like I was watching a pendulum swing. Moriarty inclined his head to Charon, and Charon moved in. Just watching him approach someone else made my pulse quicken and my chest constrict.

“Now,” I muttered to Gob. This could be our only moment.

He opened the door slowly, and he started in, holding a hand out behind him towards me. “Make a noise if it breaks up before I’m back,” he whispered.

I knew I could trust Gob, but it was me who wanted to go through with this plan and me who should take the fall should we be spotted. Not having control in the situation frightened me. If I wasn’t on the front lines I felt I was powerless to ensuring success. I would not save Gob just to risk his life and undo the stupid decisions I’d made. Of course, I wouldn’t know how to pick locks if I needed to get that contract back, so I would only be a useless body if I did advance. Beyond that, a few scenarios developed in my mind; what if the contract wasn’t in the cabinet, but on Moriarty himself? What if we were caught? I had a feeling Moriarty wouldn’t just give us the kindness of a quick death. And he would make Charon do it.

The drunk took a swing at Charon and Charon swung him into the front door with a swift kick to his backside. I darted my eyes between him and Moriarty. Don't break this up so quickly, I thought. We needed a few minutes more to be safe. But the drunk tried to collect what little dignity he had left and then stormed out of the saloon.

I tried to steady myself, exhaling deeply. They were still preoccupied, I did not need to sound the alarm yet. This was no time to lose my nerves. I never lost my nerves, anyway; I am a cool, calm, collective individual, capable of rational thought and—

Almost as quickly as he’d left, Gob slipped back through the door, closing it gently behind him. I looked upon him eagerly, waiting for an answer. It was hard to see his face in the dark, but I could just make out that smile, and I could feel my heart jump as he lifted the contract in between us.

Even after all of those happy years with my father, I could only recall smiling like this a handful of times. Why was I so moved by this moment? Getting Charon’s contract back into my possession was important to me…but was it this important?

“I learned really quick how to sneak around and not get caught in this place,” Gob explained. He let me tuck the contract into the gap between my wrist and the Pip-Boy for safe keeping. “Moriarty usually closes up around two. It’ll be best to wait back here where we won’t be seen until three.”

“How did you ever end up here? You were simply born for adventure, weren’t you?”

“I like to think so,” he said with a crooked smile, rubbing the back of his neck.

Once again, we hid in wait for the late hours of the night, and even though half of the trial had been overcome, I still felt uneasy, on edge, impatient. Seeing Charon’s contract was a burst of joy that was doused quickly in light of the task ahead. I had to plan how I was going to approach him and sneak him out without drawing notice, but I found myself childishly thinking about the words I wanted to say to him once we were face to face. I’d only known him for a few moments, essentially, and we exchanged very few words, but I still found the need burning at the back of my mind to redeem myself. To have him in my company again. I couldn’t lie; this was partly about me proving I was the better person. But I needed to know I he was done right by.

Quite abruptly, the noise died down in the bar. There was the clink of caps being tossed into a register, then the chime of it being closed and locked. We would have to wait until Moriarty was asleep before sneaking past him into the bar. I wasn’t certain if Moriarty would send Charon to bed or make him keep watch over the bar during the night, but I was prepared for the latter. If Charon so happened to kill me before I could declare my heroism, then so be it. I would rather die by his hand than by Moriarty’s. It was grim, but I found myself putting very little worry to the whole thing. I waited with Gob for another painful hour, while his ear was pressed to the door. “I think this is it…well, here’s the hard part.”

I nodded. “Gob, where would Charon be if he’s not on duty?”

“Probably in my old room,” Gob said quietly, pointing up, “on the second floor at the back.”

“Thank you, Gob.” I paused, mentally preparing myself. Odd, how possibly facing death now only felt like preparing for a job interview. “Gob…I want you to meet me outside of Megaton. I’ll go in after Charon myself. If you suspect I’ve failed…just go. Try to make it back to Carol. For me.”

He looked like he was going to argue, but he seemed to decide otherwise. He nodded quickly. “Good luck.”

“I want you to take these as well.” I pulled the revolver from my waistband. “Guns are not my forte, and I can’t leave you out here knowing you have no way to defend yourself.”

He looked at the gun as if I had just suggested he do something obscene with it. I wasn’t about to leave without him taking the gun, so I continued in a hushed, forceful voice: “There’s only four rounds in it, so use it only as a last resort.” I said the statement as a demand for him to take it, not an explanation.

He took the weapon from me and held it distastefully. “If it’ll make you feel better.”

“Much better.” Then I took off my large backpack and handed it over to him. “Carol’s life savings. For your debts.”

He clasped the arm straps as if holding a picture of her and remembering a fond memory. “Thanks,” he said very softly.

I gripped the door handle tightly. “Gob, I mean it; if you think I’m dead, run for Underworld, try to make it home.”

“As long as you promise you’ll make and effort not to get yourself killed.”

I felt the slightest layer of sweat form on my palms. I opened the door with a trembling hand.

All lights were off, making it darker inside than out. Faint snoring came from Moriarty’s room. I couldn’t hear anything else. Charon was not in sight.

With careful gestures, I closed the door behind me, catching Gob’s eye for one last moment before he was shut out from me. I crept around Moriarty’s room and up the stairs, taking each step carefully as if on thin, cracked glass. I’d removed the contract from the gap in my Pip-Boy and clutched it tightly in my sweaty hand. The threat of death could rain down on me from Charon at any moment.

When I got to the top, I followed the hall all the way to the back. All but two of the doors were closed, including the one in the far corner. I tried not to get ahead of myself, and I forced my feet to keep a slow pace as I approached the door. I had to breathe deeply before I could grab the door handle. He would more likely than not shoot me before he even saw me, but for some reason, I didn’t want to hold the contract up like a paper shield, where he would see it immediately and stand down. I think it was perhaps that I didn’t want him not to kill me simply because I had that paper. I didn’t want him to kill me simply for fact that it was me.

I pushed the door open slowly, but not as slowly as I had Moriarty’s door. There was just enough light to see his silhouette lying across the bed. Was he asleep? I thought it impossible, but when he didn’t get up after I had opened the door, I stepped forward anxiously. Parts of his armour lay on the floor and his shotgun was propped up on the wall next to the decades-old bed. He was unguarded. I approached the bed, more on edge than I had been all night.

I had to take a few calming breaths before I could speak. “Charon.”

He did not wake, so I reached down to touch his shoulder gently. I knew that was like reaching into a fire ant nest. It was a risk I wanted to take. “Charon,” I whispered again as I got closer.

Too fast for me to comprehend, Charon’s shotgun was no longer against the wall by the bed, but pointed in between my eyes. I fell, catching myself on his chest and turning to stone there. I could see his hollow eyes staring at me from down the gun. He did not fire.

Of course, all the things I’d spent hours thinking up to say to him vanished. I was left with: “Charon, I’m sorry.”

He pumped the gauge. “Get out, or I’ll bring you to my master.”

I hated to hear those words, though I knew he was bound to say them. I couldn’t tell if his true actions were hesitant, or if he couldn’t wait to kill me, but at that moment, I’d hoped that he found it regretful, at least unfortunate that he would have to kill me. I could feel his heartbeat beneath my hand, and it was quick, warm, different. I’d only hugged my father a handful of times in my life. This, right now, staring down a barrel, was the closest I’d been to anyone besides that. When I had accidentally brushed up against Charon the night before, I felt like I had been singed. It wasn’t that I was repulsed by the idea of touching him. Now I was on fire and I was torn between keeping very still and repairing personal space. Yes, looking back, I find it very strange that this is what I was preoccupied with with a barrel in my face. I think it’s because I already knew he wasn’t going to kill me, not if he hadn’t done it already.

So, without sudden movements, I lifted the contract. He withdrew and sat up. That was all it took. Charon was under my employment again, as awful as that sounded, and I was that much closer to saving him, saving me. The stony mask he’d worn broke apart in to pieces and he stared at me incredulously. “Boss, what the fuck—

“It was the only way, but I’m sorry.” I’d had a more eloquent speech planned earlier, but given our predicament, it was more than enough. “I need you to escort me out of Megaton now, as quickly and quietly as possible.”

He slipped past me quickly, leaving me sitting on the bed as he silently put on his armour. His back was to me, but I could hear the excessive pleasure in his voice when he muttered, “My pleasure.”

He quickly donned his armour then ensured his gun was fully loaded before he walked briskly and quietly into the hall. I followed after him with careful footing, making sure to keep quiet as we made our way towards the front door. Walking down the steps had proven to be difficult; the steel slats were unstable, and stepping on them caused a louder disruption than I would have liked. Charon was like a predator, moving swiftly and quietly through the dark, and I had to put forth my best efforts to keep up after him with an equal silence. For a big man, he was as quiet as a breeze.

When we got to the front door, I heard Charon start to throw the lock upwards, but I could just hear something else from under it too. I looked back and caught the gleam of a ten millimeter poking out from Moriarty’s door behind the bar.

I barely had time to process what I had just seen when I bounded forward, swiping an empty bottle off a nearby table, and hurled it at him. I heard Charon open the front door and pause as the bottle flew through the air. There was a blur as Moriarty dodged behind the corner and the bottle shattered on the wall, louder than I thought it should have been. Charon grabbed me forcefully by the arm and dragged me out. We had been caught. We were doomed.

Charon slammed the door closed behind us, and he released my arm to raise his gun. As we ran along the ramp, a bullet flew past our heads, and I ducked in response. Charon fired back, keeping pace behind me while walking backwards, eyes on the saloon. “Keep moving,” he told me, and I did. When we got closer the exit, however, more people started to emerge from their homes to investigate the gunfire, blocking the way. Moriarty kept spraying bullets at us and Charon returned careful fire. As more people gathered, Moriarty shouted: “I’ll fucking hunt you down!”

Walter, the man who ran the water processing plant, emerged from his doorway just as we ran by. Too close. Instincts kicked in and I lunged, taking him down hard. He landed heavily on the ramp with a shout of surprise, and I could see his eyes wide with fear in the faint moonlight. Charon grabbed hold of my collar and threw me forwards again.

We had a clear shot for the gate. We took it in a sprint and tore through. I could see Gob standing just before the maze of outcrops that separated Megaton from Springvale, and I let out an exasperated cry. “Gob!” I called, and I could see him shift his hands nervously, the glint of the revolver catching my eye. He was prepared to use it, but I knew he didn’t want to. As we neared him, he started into a run in the direction we were heading, and one last bullet flew over our heads as we slipped away into the Wastes.

“You’re a fucking dead man!” Moriarty screamed after us. It echoed once, hollow, then was swallowed whole by the vast desert.

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