Persephone Aquilina, for all of her charm and glamour, is bad at people.
When it comes down to it, Nico’s the one who can connect, the one who’s been making them all of their friends as they tear across the Mojave together. He’s the one who convinced Arcade to come with them, the one that Rex likes best. Percy has a hard enough time talking to Nico about things, especially because she can’t just fall back on flirting and innuendo like she does with other men. He’s her brother, and he understands her, and it makes her so uncomfortable that she wants to tear her fucking skin off.
She’s so bad at people that she’s not entirely sure why Raul keeps hanging around her. Nico is off in the corner with Arcade, doing something to ED-E, and Raul is just… sitting next to her on her log-turned-makeshift bench, staring at the fire. He’s got a handsome enough face, for a ghoul, and Percy thinks he was probably a real looker back when he had all of his face.
She clears her throat, and offers him one of the Sunset Sasparillas she found earlier. “You tryna rot what’s left of my teeth, boss?” he asks, but he’s grinning and he takes the bottle from her. “How’d you know I’ve got a sweet tooth?”
“I do pay attention sometimes, vaquero ,” she replies dryly. “Why’re you calling me boss , anyways? Wouldn’t that be Nico?” She nods in her brother’s direction, wiggling her fingers in a wave when he looks up.
“Nico’s not the one who picked all those locks, eh?” he points out, voice gravelly. “Besides, boss , I think it’s pretty clear who’s in charge, here.”
Percy grins at him, pushing her hair out of her face. She’s not used to men- especially not old men -complimenting her on things that aren’t her tits or her face, and she’s pretty sure he meant that as a compliment. “And you reckon that’s me, old man?”
There’s something in his gaze that Percy can’t quite read, a glimmer in his eye that sends a shiver down her spine. “I reckon that’s you,” he confirms, and when a laugh bubbles up in Percy’s chest, she doesn’t bite it back down.
Sleeping with Raul isn’t something Percy really thought was going to happen.
After Gomorrah, though, the itch under Percy’s skin is like fire. She’s never been ashamed of being a hooker- Percy’s gorgeous, doubly so by wastelander standards, and she’s also a firm believer that if you’re good at something, you should never do it for free. After Benny’s goons dragged her out to Goodsprings and the bastard put a bullet in her head for no goddamned reason, though, Percy thought she wasn’t ever going to have to go back to- to not having a choice.
Sal had taken one look at her as she walked through the door before he tried to tug her off to see Nero, hissing about damaged goods, and Percy had told him to let her go once. Once was all it took for Sal to hit her across the face, and when she hit the ground, Percy hadn’t gotten back up.
It’s fucking humiliating , the reminder that she was nothing more than a product. That when faced with her past, all it took as a backhand to the cheek to put her in her place. She walked off a bullet to the fucking head, but all it took was being back in that place to reduce her to a damsel in distress. She can’t stand being in the same room as Arcade right now, can’t look Nico in the eyes after he had to put himself in danger to save her dumb ass, so she picks the lock to the room she knows Raul is staying in.
“Boss,” he says, standing up from the bed, “where’s the fire?”
Percy stops in front of him, toe-to-toe and chest-to-chest, and she has to tilt her head back to look him in the eye like this. “Boss?” Raul says, and he sounds a little confused and more than a little breathless at the proximity. “Are you… alright?”
“I want you to fuck me,” she tells him bluntly, and his eyes widen. “If you don’t want to do that, I’m going to go to the Atomic Wrangler and pay someone else to.” Percy’s really, really hoping she doesn’t have to do that, because Santiago is a sleaze in a bad way, Beatrix scares the living daylights out of her, and once with Fisto to sate her curiosity was more than enough for her.
Raul’s still staring at her like she’s not real, like she’s crazy; and maybe she is. Maybe she lost her damn mind when she took a bullet to the face. But she trusts Raul, against her better judgement. He stares but gets embarrassed when she catches him, he’s dry and sarcastic and cutting, he’s a hell of a shot and he’s come in a clutch too many times to count. “Am I gonna have to ask twice?” Percy asks, putting her hand on his chest. She can feel his heartbeat under her palm, slower than hers but faster than what it usually is for a ghoul.
“No, ma’am,” Raul says, and when he hooks his hands under her thighs to pick her up, Percy goes with a grin.
“What do you think?”
Percy’s pretty proud of the dress, gotten from the Atomic Wrangler in exchange for a truly insane amount of chips: high-necked, cinched at the waist, the whole thing in a shade of pale yellow that looks beyond good against her skin.
Nico gives her a thumbs up. Arcade doesn’t say anything, but he’s raising an eyebrow in what Percy can only assume is approval. Veronica is clapping, Cass whistles at her, and Rex barks, which Percy is choosing to take as a compliment. Raul…
Raul is looking at her like she’s something to eat. Percy grins at him, and twirls so the circle skirt flares up high, showing off her calves and combat boots. “I don’t see too good anymore, but I think that dress is askin’ for someone to try and gank you, boss,” Raul sniffs. “Doesn’t seem too safe.”
Percy can’t help but roll her eyes at that. “Veronica smacked the shit out of someone while wearing a dress two days ago,” she reminds him, “and just because you can’t see that I’m packing heat doesn’t mean that I’m not.”
He waves her off with a mumble, and biting back disappointment, Percy goes about her day. They’re operating out of Freeside, at the moment, so Arcade can touch base with the Followers of the Apocalypse and Percy can spend her spare time slumming in bars and gambling until she’s got enough caps to keep them going for a little longer. Nico comes with her, sometimes, but today he’s following around after Arcade like a lovesick puppy, leaving her to her own devices.
She’s sprawled in an armchair, glass of whiskey in her hand when Raul comes into her line of sight, and she grins up at him. “ Hola , cowboy.” He offers her a hand up and she doesn’t hesitate to take it, letting him haul her up onto her feet, dress swishing around her calves. His eyes dip low, and Percy’s grin widens. “Thought you weren’t a fan of the dress.”
“Not a fan of you being dead,” Raul grumbles, but he ducks his head like he’s embarrassed. “You, uh. You look good, boss. Real pretty.”
By all means, it is a plain, even common compliment. Nico called her pretty yesterday, although he had followed it up with pretty fuckin’ mean, that is . Veronica and Cass have both called her pretty, in tones ranging from derisive (Cass) to awestruck (Veronica), and it hasn’t ever made her heart melt in her chest and her knees go weak like this does.
Fuck, she must be going soft, but damned if she doesn’t kind of like the feeling. “That the best you got, old man?” she asks playfully, before she can open her mouth and ruin the moment with her weird, mushy feelings.
A beat passes, and then Raul laughs. “I’ll show you my best, boss,” he promises, and Percy leans in to kiss him.
He follows her across the country.
Even after Veronica is gone with the wind and Cass is back to selling her wares in a Mojave that’s a little bit safer, because of them, Arcade and Raul remain constants at Nico and Percy’s backs. They split up, occasionally, because Nico is a big boy who can take care of himself, and because if Percy spent 24/7 with her twin she’d go insane and murder someone. Six years pass and Percy still can’t help but think that Raul’s only with her for the protection it offers, for the sex and companionship, not because he feels- like that about her.
Percy isn’t the infamous Courier Six, doesn’t have legends built around her like Nico does. But every story about the Courier comes with whispers about a shadow, malevolence to balance out kindness, a seductress assassin with a matching scar on her forehead. Being friends with her has some pull, around the Mojave, and she tells herself over and over again that it’s the only reason Raul’s still around.
But then they get the message from the Commonwealth, a cry for help, for unity, and Percy’s already packing her shit when Nico asks her to go. When she shows up to leave the next morning, Arcade is there, he and Nico’s wedding rings glinting in the weak morning sunlight. And Raul is there too, cowboy hat on his head, guns at his hips. “Alright, boss?” he asks, and Percy doesn’t know how to say what the fuck are you doing without sounding like a bitch about it, so she just nods and hopes no one asks her to talk.
When they make their first camp for the night, on the edge of territory that’s considered familiar , Raul wraps his arms around her waist and tucks his chin against her shoulder when they lie down. It’s familiar in itself, the same thing they’ve been doing for six years; but now Percy’s only thread that lead to sanity is rapidly coming unraveled in her hands. “Onto the next great adventure, eh?” he whispers, and Percy tries not to stiffen. “Here’s hoping my old bones can carry me that far.”
Percy says, “you know you’re fucking crazy for agreeing to this, yeah?” and tries to ignore the way her stomach swoops at the idea of him leaving.
Raul’s laugh rattles where his chest is pressed against her back. “Yeah, I figure I must be,” he admits. “But I’m hardly gonna give up on us now, boss.”
Us , like they’re a unit, a single force, inseparable. Something Percy has never really thought she’d achieve with anyone other than her brother, who she loves in a way that’s easy as breathing, as waking up in the morning, as pulling a trigger. No second guessing, no not-knowing, just the unfaltering knowledge that she would do anything to protect him.
That’s not how she feels about Raul, though, so she can’t possibly be in love with him.
It comes to a head when Percy tries to fight a Deathclaw with a machete and rage and very little else. One of the Commonwealth natives- a hard-ass named Mallory who squints and growls and threatens people if they call her anything other than Mal -comes storming in with a power suit and finishes off the Deathclaw before it can finish killing Percy.
The other Commonwealth-er, Eli, puts Percy on the good shit while she’s healing up. She’s not high enough to be a complete moron, though, and it would take a complete moron to miss the fact that just about everyone from the Mojave is pissed at her. With Arcade, it’s at least a semi-constant state of being, something familiar to fall back on. With Nico, she knows it’ll pass. This isn’t their first time being angry , and eventually one of them will snap, they’ll have a screaming match, sort their shit, and then be done.
But Raul being mad at her like this is uncharted territory. Usually, when he’s mad, he gets snarky and turns into a passive-aggressive asshole until she needles him into coughing up whatever stick he has up his ass. Usually, he’s mad at her because Percy is kind of a bitch, sometimes, and it’s something they both have learned to live with. But now, Raul is just… avoiding her, only giving her hurt glances when she manages to catch his eye, and she doesn’t know how to fucking fix it.
The doctor they have that isn’t Arcade isn’t from the Commonwealth. She’s got curly auburn hair, mismatched eyes, and the very first signs of ghoulification showing around her edges. “Trouble in paradise?” she asks when Percy shouts something unsavory after Raul on the third day of silence.
“He drives me fucking bonkers,” Percy grinds out. The doctor prods along Percy’s new scar, a line straight across her chest. A badge that says this could have killed me but it didn’t . “Won’t even fucking tell me what’s wrong!”
The doctor- Rory, that’s her name, Rory Weaver -doesn’t kick up a fuss about Percy’s language, or the fact that she’s bedridden in the first place; which instantly puts her above Arcade in Percy’s book. She does sigh kind of wistfully when she tugs Percy’s shirt back into place. “I know how that can be,” she says sympathetically. “But… I don’t know how old your ghoul is, but give him some time, okay? Mortality is kind of a rough spot for them, especially when they love humans, and you nearly died a week ago.” She pats Percy’s stomach, and grins again. “But you’re all good now! No more bedrest for you, Ms. Aquilina, but I would recommend take it easy on the Deathclaw hunting.”
Usually, Percy would have some sort of witty comment in reply to that, but all she can bring herself to say is: “He’s not in love with me. I- we are not in love.”
Rory shrugs. “You’d know better than me, I suppose,” she says, and that’s the end of that.
The doctor’s words linger in Percy’s mind for the rest of the week- especially when they love humans , she had said, so simple, so easy. As if it weren’t impossible, as if it weren’t the type of thing that would bring Percy’s whole worldview crumbling down.
Because Raul can’t be in love with her. Percy is the definition of damaged goods, even by Wasteland standards; she’s mean and violent and on the wrong side of crazy, she got raised for the sole purpose of being a hooker, she’s almost died more times than she can count on both hands. Raul can’t be in love with her, because that would be too cruel, for him to love someone who’s going to die before him, who can’t love him back.
Percy would, if she could. She’s just not capable of it. Nico is different, of course, because Nico is her blood , shares her DNA, the very fabric of what makes Percy Percy . They’re made of the same stuff, quite literally, and Percy has known since the minute they woke up in that house in Goodsprings that he was her brother and nothing could take that away from her.
“Nico,” Percy says when she finds her brother. “I think there’s something wrong with me.”
“I’ll say,” Nico replies, and he ducks when Percy swings to hit the back of his head. “Seriously, Perce, it’s like you’ve got a demon in you are some bullshit, with how crazy you’ve been acting. What’s wrong?”
Percy fidgets, for a moment, before admitting in a rush: “The doctor- Rory, not your husband -thinks Raul is in love with me.”
Nico blinks, slow, like a cat. Percy waits for him to talk patiently, painfully aware of how frustrated he gets when people don’t give him time to think, to work through his scrambled brain and put things into order. (She’d kill Benny Gecko a dozen times over if she could). “And... that’s a bad thing because ?”
“Are you kidding?” Percy asks, throwing her hands in the air. “He can’t be in love with me! I’m a mess! I don’t- I’m not like you, and Raul isn’t Arcade , and we can’t be some… frothy domestic apocalypse power couple!”
“First,” Nico says, “you’re exactly like me, we’re fucking twins, Perce. Second ,” he continues, “I really don’t know how to tell you this, but you and Raul already are a frothy domestic apocalypse power couple.” Nico pauses for a long moment, finding the words. “You live together, and are… involved,” he grimaces, “and you go out into the desert and kill shit together. That’s basically what Arcade and I do, but we’re not repressed about it.”
“Get bent,” Percy snaps. “I’m not- Raul isn’t in love with me!”
“Fine,” Nico sighs. “But you’re in love with him , aren’t you?”
“No,” Percy says, but it’s mostly out of reflex. Quieter, she asks, “how would I even know?”
“How would you feel if he left? If he went off to go fight a Deathclaw on his own?” Nico asks pointedly. “Or if he, I don’t know, shacked up with Beatrix at the Atomic Wrangler to be BDSM cowboy lovers?”
“He wouldn’t !” Percy says, horrified by the thought.
“You’re right,” Nico deadpans. “And the reason why he wouldn’t is …?”
For a long moment, Percy is silent, and Nico continues to stare at her. Eventually, she stands up, and says, “God fucking damn it,” before sprinting out of the room at top speed.
Nico watches her go fondly. “Fuckin’ dumbass,” he says cheerfully, before turning back to his pre-war magazine.
Percy practically tackles Raul when she finds him, sends them both sprawling into the dirt. “What the fuck,” Raul squints up at her. “You trying to break every bone in my body, boss?”
“I’m in love with you,” Percy says, breathless and rushed because it’s the only way she’s going to get it out. Raul’s eyes widen, hands coming to rest on her hips as she leans over him, her long hair falling in a curtain around their faces. “I’m an idiot and I’m bad at this but I love you and-” she knows his history, doesn’t know why she’s never put the dots together before. “And I’m not going anywhere, vaquero ,” she promises. “So you don’t have to worry.”
He stares up at her for what feels like an eternity, hands like brands against her hips, until eventually, he laughs. “You’re a lunatic, boss,” he manages, but he’s beaming up at her all the same. “You know that?”
“I’m being very vulnerable here,” Percy reminds him. “Pouring my heart out, and everything.”
Raul reaches one hand up to grasp the back of her neck, pulling her in close. “I love you too,” he tells her, and when he kisses her, she’s smiling. “No more running into danger, then?”
Percy grins, and presses another kiss against the corner of his mouth. “Not without you,” she murmurs. “Deal?”