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A Change in Management


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Chapter V


My eyes traced the shape of Kaori's gracefully thin body, curled into a tight ball as she slept. I had no doubt in my mind about it now, as I tended to the fever she'd developed. I was falling for her. Hard.


If it were anyone else in this little room, curled up on the only bed, sick after drinking too much, I'd let them suffer through the fever and vomiting. But this girl was different. I couldn't see her in pain. She was the one who changed my world from the dingy, dark interiors of Underworld to the bright, warm sun of the Wasteland.


She stirred slightly, her eyelids twitching as she mumbled in her sleep. I smiled, unable to hold back a chuckle. She seemed even more innocent when she slept than when she was awake. I'd found out tonight that her character had more depth than I initially thought. At first, she seemed to be purely a pretty face with a happy disposition, but now she was so much more than that.


As I sifted through her backpack in search of medicine, I noticed a few things that caught my eye. I tossed the alcohol she'd bought into a corner, the bottles clanking loudly, but not breaking. I knew all too well how horrific the quality of Azhrukhal's liquor was. He really was quite an evil man, putting things in the drinks to make them more addictive so he could drum up more business.


I looked down at the floor, unenthused about the prospects of sleeping on it. A pale hand then darted its way into my periphery and tugged at my belt once. I turned, "You wish to speak with me?"


"I'm cold and I have the worst effing hangover ever," Kaori whined, her eyes still closed and her face flushed a deeper red than her hair.


"I'll try to find something to help," I replied gently, shaking my head at my own feelings. Rummaging again through her backpack, I found a bottle of pain relievers wrapped inside a note written in neat cursive script.


Freckles, I can smell that hangover coming even from all the way over here. Take these, they might help. Be nice to Charon, he's a great guy.


P.S. Thanks for the watch, honey.


"How did..." I began, rubbing my forehead questioningly.


"What is it?" Kaori moaned, holding her own head, although in pain rather than confusion. I tossed the bottle and note to her, and she caught it with the strange, graceful dexterity she'd shown with the knife earlier. She dry-swallowed two pills and read quickly aloud. She raised one eyebrow. "He's one mysterious guy, huh? Well, he doesn't have to worry about my being nice to you. I do that anyway!" A grin spread across her face, revealing her perfect teeth.


"My treatment is not required to be humane." I retorted, the lines of my contract running through my mind.


Her eyebrows knitted themselves into a broken V, and one eye twitched slightly. She opened her mouth to speak, and the left side of her upper lip pulled itself higher than the right, as if an invisible fishhook were trying to catch her. I smiled a little, and she glared at me. "Something funny there? My face, maybe?"


"Well, your face kind of looks like..." I grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, then drew a comical, exaggerated version of it.


She giggled, "Hey, that's pretty good! Looks just like my annoyed face!" She folded the paper and stuck it in her pocket, "I'm keeping this."


I wondered why she'd want to keep something so meaningless at a drawing, then shrugged and decided it was a vault thing. "Very well."


She crossed her arms, "There's that formality again. I have half a mind to destroy your contract right here."


A shiver raced down my spine, my heart took flight and roosted in my throat. For a moment, I felt human. I collected myself swiftly, and looked around the room for that piece of paper I hated so.


"Looking for this?" Kaori asked in a musical voice, pulling a folded but familiar piece of paper from inside her shirt.


I snatched it out of her hand and felt a disturbed look creep across my face, "Where were you keeping this?"


"Oh!" she said, then pointed to her chest, "It was in my bra! Smart thinking, eh?"


My face grew warm and my palms got sweaty, "Not really. I'm still a guy, so..." I cleared my throat.


Kaori rolled her eyes, "You're reacting the same way Butch would." She paused, "Well, he'd probably also then try to collect himself and add a 'If you wanted something of mine in your underwear, all you had to do was ask!'"


"If you don't mind my asking, who exactly was he to you?"


"Oh, he was my secret friend," Kaori laughed, "I would sometimes go to his room to talk past curfew, when everyone else was sleeping. He was Mike's worst enemy, pretty much. And for a few scattered moments throughout my time in there, he was more than a friend."


I put a hand on her shoulder and tried hard to smile despite the multitude of knots in my chest.


Looking down at my contract, I said, "I wonder how he's taking your being gone."


She rubbed her right forearm. "Probably not well."


"Hey, kid..." I said as soothingly as I could manage with my gravelly voice.


She looked back up at me, "Yeah?"


"Tell me about some of the things you guys used to do together. Or even what it was like when you joined his gang and you didn't have to keep your friendship secret." I wasn't that interested, really, but I couldn't just sit there while she looked so sad.


She grinned, and my heart jumped a little, which made me feel ridiculous. "Well, when I was ten, I snuck into the clinic and gave him my sweetroll and said I was sorry and stuff. I was just trying to keep up appearances when I'd hit him." She paused. "You're the only person I've ever told that." She waited for a response, then smiled kindly when I gave none, and continued, "When I was thirteen, I hit a growth spurt, so to speak. I looked a little older than I was. Anyway, that was the first time since I was ten that he'd spoken to me as if I were human."


"How old was he?" I asked, a little concerned.


"He was sixteen," she replied with a shrug.


I nodded in understanding. Age gaps like that were common in relationships. "So what happened?"


"Well, he told me to come see him after curfew, the way I had before. So I did. And he was expecting something very different than what I was. And when he tried something with me, I grabbed his switchblade and pulled the move I did on you yesterday. It was funny. We spent the night talking after that. It was nice."


"Sounds like he had good reason to fear you," I commented, my interest starting to waver. My gaze left her and settled on the cold metal floor before me. Rust delicately edged the grimy steel, and a tiny bug crawled in one of the corners.


A finger poked me in my back from behind, and I started slightly. "Doesn't look inviting, does it?" Kaori said, sitting cross-legged with her hands in her lap.


It took me a moment to realize she was referring to the floor. "I've no complaints, Kaori. If it is where you wish for me to sleep, it is where I shall sleep."


"Ugh. More formalities."


I sighed and began to grumble to myself about her insistence that I have my own free will.


She raised an eyebrow in agitation, her feverish complexion slightly comical, "You don't want any free will, eh?"


I glared at her, "Finally, you get it. Want a medal?"


She glared back intensely. "Then get in this freaking bed right now."


I looked at her questioningly, "You would sleep on the floor?"


She laughed at me, a cruel, yet lovely smile on her face, "Oh no. You won't be that lucky."


I sat on the corner of the bed, and watched as she stood up. I shrugged, lying down on my back and staring at the rusty ceiling.


Without a word, Kaori plopped down next to me. "Scoot over, you've got all the pillow."


I sat bolt upright, my heart racing as all sorts of things she could be implying by sharing this bed with me coursed through my mind. "What are you doing?!"


"Whatever I want. You belong to me." She leaned toward me with her eyes half-lidded and her mouth open wide, sticking her tongue out straight toward me so that it looked like it pointed sharply at the end. She let out a small noise like a breathy hiss.


I jumped off the bed faster than I'd thought my own body was even capable of. "No! A thousand times no!"


Kaori smirked. "It seems you do have free will. Now get in this bed and sleep facing the opposite direction as me."


And I did. Gratefully.

Edited by tokyobleach
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  • 3 weeks later...
Oh bravo! Excellent story (can't wait for more!) and it has me wanting to play FO3 again... I'd give two thumbs up, but they only allow one here...
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  • 8 months later...

Author's note: After a LONG hiatus, I give you the latest chapter. Many, many thanks for everyone's patience.

Chapter VI

I gulped and pulled the trigger on my .44. An explosion of bloody mist erupted from a Raider's bare stomach, and the Raider clutched at her wound as blood spurted from her mouth. She soon slumped over, and her body gave a final sickening twitch. Dead.

My eyes filled to the brim with tears, and I doubled over.

Charon snatched the gun from me and I heard three gunshots.

I looked up. It was clear who was more skilled here. Three headless corpses, and another one with intestines hanging out like crimson ribbons decorating the scarred and filthy body of a woman who was just surviving the only way she knew how.

"Congratulations! Your first cold-blooded murder," they seemed to proclaim as crows landed amongst them, pecking, tearing, feasting. I bet she was still warm.

My vision blurred, and I dropped onto my hands and knees, leaning over the side of the cliff Charon and I were standing on. The little bit of food I'd had in my stomach rose from deep within my throat and poured out of my nose and mouth.

"You're still sick," Charon said, watching me. He knew exactly why I was vomiting, but was preserving my dignity. At least, I was pretty sure that was what he was doing.

I wiped the foul-tasting, liquified contents of my stomach off my lips and chin with the back of a hand. Not like there was much in my stomach to begin with. For three days now, Charon had been teaching me how to shoot precisely, and for three days, I'd been ralphing up anything I'd eaten. Coincidence? Unlikely.

I feebly collapsed and propped myself up against a boulder as best I could. The scorching, bitter taste in my mouth served as a nice reminder of how the past three days had gone.

I silently went over a list of how my victims had ended up. There was a rabid dog whose front legs I'd blown off. Of course, it lived through that. Charon put it out of its misery. Three ghouls on the verge of going feral that I refused to shoot until Charon took my hands in his and pressed my finger against the trigger. Once. Twice. Thrice. That was all it took. And now, this. I found the guts to shoot and what had happened? This Raider lost hers.

Charon sighed impatiently. "Why are you so upset about killing?"

"Where I come from," I started, rubbing my scorched throat, "nobody kills anybody, unless they've done something wrong. Basically, killing is the punishment for killing."

"In case you haven't noticed, that's how the majority of people out here are. You're killing the ones who are trying to kill you." Charon's words sounded as if he were trying not to be harsh.

"You don't effing say," I mumbled, running a hand through my bushy, overgrown locks. Butch would probably have thrown a fit over how thick and unkempt it had become since he'd last trimmed it. Worrying about my hair. God.

Shaking off those ridiculous thoughts, I once again ran my hands through my tousled mane, unaware that it was becoming an obsessive habit.

"Well," Charon began, seemingly unfazed by my sarcastic attitude, "these people would only try to kill someone else, if you didn't kill 'em first. Think of it as... Wasteland justice."

"I'm sorry, did I come across as a symbol of justice and peace on Earth instead of a girl trying to survive in the wasteland?" My lips quivered, and I bit down on my tongue to keep from blurting out more.

"Go on," Charon urged, propping himself against the same boulder as me.

"Am I that transparent?" I released with a pent-up breath and a weak smile, running a hand through my hair.

"Like glass, kid." He put a cold, rough hand on my shoulder, quite hesitantly, his palm barely making contact with my skin. I smiled as a sense of comfort washed over me. Was that all I needed? Friendly gestures, comforting words?

"I feel like I should have brought Butch out with me. He'd face the bad people, the rabid animals, the crazed robots... And he'd feel no remorse. They try to kill him first, so he kills them. That's logic he would have no problems with. Now I'll never see him again, because I wanted him to be safe in there. I should never have-"

Charon's hand pressed harder against my shoulder, his grip tightening. "He's safer there, I feel. You did the right thing."

With a sharp and tense intake of breath, I checked the time and flicked my eyes around the immediate area. "This won't do for the night. We need to find somewhere to sleep."

Charon threw his pack down and shook his head. "You kidding? We're safer up here than in ninety percent of the wasteland."

I sighed, grudgingly accepting that he was right, and I was only restless. I threw my pack down and began untying the knots holding my bedroll onto it. After a few minutes, I had my half of camp set up, but Charon was already done.

"How did you do that faster than me?" I asked, pulling a few cans out of my pack and testing their weight unconsciously.

"Practice." He sure was helpful.

Feeling as if I needed to fill the silence, I shifted and unzipped my pack, pulling out two pairs of leather gloves and tossing one to Charon. "It's going to get cold."

He pulled them on as I did the same with mine, then made eye contact for a split second, before averting his gaze. "Gloves and no coat?"

"What?" I muttered, before becoming aware of the breeze on my arms and shoulders.

"You even have one?" he asked, his cloudy eyes on the sunset behind me.

"Yeah..." I rummaged through my stuff, pulling out the black leather jacket that I'd gotten to call my own during those last few weeks I was in the vault. As it slid it on, the still-strong smell of cigarettes wafted into my nose. It was a nostalgic scent, for some reason, and made me feel quite happy.

"Alright, good. You won't freeze to death tonight." Charon's eyes were working over every detail of my jacket again, as if he were trying to take in all the aspects of it. It was, once again, as if there were another world inside what he was staring at, and I cleared my throat to catch his attention.

"I-I, er, feel uncomfortable with you staring like that." I gave a nervous, but half-serious chuckle.

"My sincerest apologies." It was empty, a robotic response.

I pursed my lips in thought and grinned, digging my hands into the pockets of my jacket. The sound of crinkling paper greeted my ears as I yanked them out, several thick pieces of paper in my hands. I stepped over to Charon and held them out, waiting for him to take them.

His sticky, cold hand brushed against mine as he took them with a more delicate approach than I had taken.

"Photographs..." His gaze wandered over the first crumpled picture. It was a badly-taken one of myself and my dad, Mike's face in the corner, accidentally cut off by myself when I'd set up the camera. I remembered crying after it was developed when I realized how terrible it'd been, but dad had smiled and ruffled my hair, before putting it in a frame in his office.

"That one's about ten years old," I explained, running a hand through my hair.

Handing the photo to me, he examined the next one, the slightest smile creeping over what was left of his lips. I grinned as well upon seeing myself at my tenth birthday party. The photo had been taken right as I'd decked Butch in the face. The look on Mike's face was what made me keep the photo. He was laughing, and seemed genuinely proud of his sister.

Charon wordlessly handed the photo back to me and flipped the next one over to examine it. It was a shot Butch had snapped of me unexpectedly, hooking me by the waist and grinning. it was taken a week after Mike had left, and my face held a tired, but happy cast, as the impromptu photo had made me laugh a little.

He handed that one back, looking a little somber.

"Sorry, that's all I have on me." My eyes drifted up toward the sky, before flicking back to Charon. I hugged my knees against my chest as a chilling wind blew. "What was it like for you growing up?"

"I..." Charon fumbled, "I don't remember."

"Don't remember or don't want to share?" I pursed my lips again, nibbling on the lower one a bit nervously.

"I don't want to share it." Charon's milky blue eyes were focused on something distant, as if he were looking at something outside my field of vision.

"Well, I guess we could listen to the radio instead of talking, if you want." My fingers hovered over the knobs on my Pip-Boy already. I was eager to hear a little music, anyway.

Charon chuckled slightly, a sound like rocks shifting underfoot, followed by a wheezing cough that would most likely frightened away any nearby small animals. "Well, now you know why I don't laugh."

"So it's not because you're full of sadness about your lack of freedom?" I joked, patting my chest protectively, as I always kept Charon's contract tucked inside one of the cups of my bra for safe keeping.

"Turn on the damn radio." Charon lit up a cigarette as he spoke, inhaling deeply and exhaling moments later in one smooth motion, the grey wisps zigzagging through the air as they left his lungs.

I grinned, remembering the time several weeks back when the Tunnel Snakes had gotten me to smoke a cigarette. I had coughed and gagged for three solid minutes, and been called all sorts of names which implied how much of a lightweight I was.

Charon reached over and turned the dial on my Pip-Boy himself, blowing smoke out of the holes where his nostrils had once been. It was such a comical sight, I couldn't help but let out a giggle. He responded in kind with some semblance of a smile.

Hey, nifty America, it's me, your president, John Hen--
Hahaa, gotcha! Three Dog here, how's everyone doin'?

Charon and I listened to several songs, and I even sang along with a few of them. Apparently, the radio signal wasn't all that strong a while ago, and Charon was glad to hear the station clearly once again.

After a particularly bad crooning of Easy Living, my heart skipped a beat upon hearing the latest news in the wasteland.

Edited by tokyobleach
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