Broken Steel - MangoBait - Fallout 4 [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: Every Story Has a Beginning


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

My voice was hoarse from lack of use, from screaming at the top of my lungs, from begging and pleading as the man placed a pipe pistol to my husband’s head. Nate’s arms were wrapped protectively around our baby, our Shaun, shouting for them to leave, to back off. My knuckles bloodied from pounding on the cryogenic tube that had just released me from my frozen sleep.

Don’t take him… Don’t take my baby… Please, take me instead, but leave him!

My pleas melded uselessly against uncaring ears.


The gun shot ripped through the air, blood splattering the tube across from me… my husband’s blood. My lips were parted in silence, in shock, in terror. Nate’s death not quite hitting me. I watched helplessly as Shaun was taken down the hall, out of my view. No, no, no, nononoNO!

My slender fingers curled around the handle to my prison, rattling the piece of sh*t for all I had, dry sobs torn from my lungs.

The cryogenic tube hummed to life, giving a small tired moan in the process. The vents opened once more, leaking fluid and gas into the chamber. No, not again. Please no….

But it didn’t matter, resistance was futile. I had no choice.

And I returned to my bitter cold hell.


I awoke with a start, gasping eagerly for air, a singular sheet tangled around my legs, face and hair damp with sweat even as cold chills raked my body, adrenaline coursing through my veins. My eyes scanned the room I was in, pulse wild and uncontrolled. Recognition took some time to sink in.

Sanctuary… I was in Sanctuary. It was just a dream. I wasn’t back in the tube… only reliving a memory.

I had left Vault 111 nearly a month ago. I’ve been searching for Shaun ever since but have made little progress. Codsworth was helpful, as were the Minutemen I had located in Concord.

A wet nose touched my hand, a low whine. “You’re helpful too, boy,” a warm smile curling my lips upwards regardless of the tremble as I stared down at my favorite companion – Dogmeat. I had located him at the Red Rocket station just south of Sanctuary and we had been inseparable since. I would likely go absolutely senile if it wasn’t for him. Hell, I wasn’t sure if I was already there and just teetering on the brink of insanity.

I rubbed a bruised and battered hand over my eyes, breathed in the disgustingly humid, heated air. The drone of the generator in the hallway filled the room. I could hear Mama Murphy singing away to Diamond City Radio ‘Atom Bomb Baby’ though she was so ungodly off pitch it would make a Brahmin run in the opposite direction. The smell of something cooking on the fire made my stomach groan to life.

Groggily I pulled the sheet from my limbs, stretched out my arms and stood from the cot I had created for myself out of bits of cloth and steel. I wore little more than a large fraying t-shirt, dirt and grime covering the majority of the fabric. In another life I would have been dissatisfied by the state of my clothing but there are just some things you got used to when you’re in a post-apocalypse world. Other examples were raiders constantly peppering you full of bullet holes, radroaches the size of your head biting at your toes, and feeling the burn of radiation whenever you drank water that wasn’t religiously purified.

Dogmeat jumped to all fours, bouncing back and forth in the hallway, head stuck in the door as he watched me, tongue hanging lazily out of his mouth. “You don’t mind the heat much, do you?” I asked, to which he co*cked his head to the side and offered a playful yelp.

I tugged on some ratty jeans and a red plaid shirt over a white tank that was stained from god knows what. As I shoved my feet into a pair of combat boots, I tucked my long auburn hair into a ponytail, brushing back the strands that did not quite reach behind my ears. I pushed past Dogmeat who followed at my heels. Moving into the hallway, I noticed that the room next to mine was empty, meaning that the Longs were up already, likely picking mutfruit and tatos in the garden out back.

“Morning, Blue Eyes,” Mama greeted from her position in the big green chair I had crafted for her when we first arrived. “Any plans for today, hmm?”

I presented a lop-sided smirk in response, shaking my head slightly. “Nothing more than getting that generator over by the front gate up and running so we have some flood lights over the bridge.”

“You best be careful now, don’t want the others getting all worked up over you again, not after what just happened.” Her gaze fell to Dogmeat, eyes twinkling in the poorly lit room. “You take good care of her now, you hear me?” He barked back in response, nose scrunching, tail wag increasing in speed. “Sturges is making breakfast, best eat before starting to work.”

I nodded obediently and ducked out of the dilapidated house through the open door, the paint on it long gone. Sturges was seated at the cooking station, bent over what looked like a few hunks of radstag doe skewered through with barbed wire pieces. It was crude, but functional. “Smells good,” I commented as I moved closer. I took a a seat on the cement doing my best to ignore the way my ass protested, muscles complained, and back bitched. Sorry body, no such thing as Tylenol in this world.

“Good morning to you too, Ash. Didn’t know you were awake already. Couldn’t sleep?” Sturges eyed me sideways, a worried look embedded into his irises. He was concerned for my health. I couldn’t blame him. I was unstable at best and reckless to the point of no return. Trigger happy paired with crazy didn’t make a very survivable combo out here.

“Nah. I’m good, don’t worry about it.” For them, for all of these people in Sanctuary, this was normal. None of them knew what it was like pre-nuka-hell. But I did. I remember waking up and taking a hot shower, using actual soap to clean myself, brewing coffee and drinking it out of mugs that I didn’t have to pick mold out of before use. I remember reading the morning paper and laughing at cartoons with my husband, of singing to Shaun in his crib, planning his future. But that was 200 years ago. And I wasn’t part of that world any more.

I snatched one of the skewers off the pit, picking at the meat with my fingers and placing small chunks in my mouth before chewing. It tasted similar to venison, plus the added flavor of radiation. Yuuum. Funny, I knew so little about radiation prior to waking up in the apocalypse but I was learning quickly. It made the sun blazing hot, the air sticky and taste like metal, the water barely drinkable as it burned your throat, and coated food that wasn’t fully cooked. It scorched your skin, charred your gut, and was a bitch to wash out of your clothing and hair.

A gentle hand touched my shoulder. “You doing better?”

Preston; I could recognize that voice anywhere.

“If you mean better in the sense that my sanity is in check and everything is sunshine and rainbows, not really. If you mean my busted leg? Yep.” I winked up at him but was only met with apprehension.

“You had us all terrified, the way you came limping back in here, blood caked to your armor, barely able to say a word before you passed out. Had I known that sending you to Finch Farm was going to result like this, I would have sent you with backup.”

“I had Dogmeat,” I pointed out, gesturing with a tilt of my head towards my ever lovable companion.

Preston’s lips pulled together in a thin line before he replied, “You did, however, he doesn’t have a gun or any real way to protect you on patrol.”

“We could always mount an automated turret to his back if it makes you feel better. I’m sure Sturges and I could come up with something.”

Sturges paused for a moment, seriously considering the possibility before Preston whacked him on the back of the head. “Don’t give into her ideas.” The mechanic gave a cheesy, innocent smile at me as Preston continued, “We just want you safe. You’ve done so much for us in these past few weeks, losing you would hurt… everyone.”

No, pal, it would hurt you. Specifically, you. It was no big secret that Preston cared for me though he did everything in his power to hide it. If Mama Murphy hadn’t hinted at it a week ago, I probably would have gone on in ignorant bliss, too locked in my own headspace to pay attention. Was there anything wrong with Preston? f*ck no. He was kind, protective, nurturing, and helpful, if not a little stern. But it was obvious he cared. But that didn’t mean that I could shake off the fact that I lost my husband a month ago… or at least, what felt like a month ago. Honestly, I’m not even sure how long ago I watched Nate die in that Vault on the hill. However long it was, I clearly wasn’t over it, the wedding band on my left hand a symbol of that. I should move on, that’s what I told myself. But, not yet.

“I’ll be more careful, Preston. I promise.” I gave a reassuring grin and an enthusiastic thumbs up. He sighed heavily but seemed to lose some of the tension in his shoulders as he took a seat next to me.

The Longs joined us shortly thereafter along with several of the other settlers in Sanctuary. Some of them were farmers, others manned the wooden guard posts, and a select few ran the shops over on the foundation west of the main building. They sold odds and ends from the caravans that stopped through the settlement every few days – ammo, provisions, armor pieces, food that wasn’t entirely destroyed by radiation, and chems (though we kept those away from Mama as best as we could).

They all greeted with warm smiles and happy faces – an expression I wish I could give in return on a regular basis but I struggled to even reply with a genuine welcome. I knew this was all normal for them, that this was the life they were born to. I was the abnormal one, the freak, the odd woman out.

Even after a month it was difficult for me to remember that.


“Screwdriver,” Sturges requested, hand outstretched towards me as I gave the tool a small toss to him.

I unwound the coil of copper from my belt, snaking one end around the spotlight in front of me. I had already built up my fair share of calluses making a once painful task, simplistic.

“Wrench,” he called again.

“f*ck, why don’t you just take all the tools while you’re at it?” I quipped, grumbling as I rummaged in the red metal box at my feet, locating the item he was demanding and handing it over.

“Because this is practically the only form of communication we can get from you, so I might as well keep at it right?”

I snorted, lifting the spotlight into position. I made my way to the generator, careful to make sure the wire in my hands was taut and untangled. Using clippers, I snipped it at the spot I needed, connecting it to the generator as Sturges finished up the repairs.

“Okay… that should…” he started, stepping away from the machine, “… do it,” and he flipped the switch. The little beast jumped to life, buzzing away merrily as if it was never broken to being with.

“Perfect, as always,” I congratulated. The spotlight began to swivel in its spot, light on and ready to provide coverage when night fell. “Try to sneak up on us now, raiders,” I mocked.

Sturges began to gather his equipment, tucking tools back in the red crate. I helped but my eyes kept drifting out over the bridge. “What are you thinking, Ash?” he questioned after a long pause, stopping mid-put-away to give me an unyielding look. “You’re not going back out there, are you?”

My lips parted to reply but he didn’t give me a chance before cutting in, “You know Preston doesn’t want you to leave the settlement till your leg is fully healed.”

“It’s fi-“

“Stop lying, Ash. You’ve hardly put any weight on it all day and you do this little wince whenever you do. Why are you so hell bent on returning to the wasteland?”

“Because…” I ran a hand through my hair, eyes scanning the horizon. “Because Shaun is out there somewhere and I have to get to him. I can’t just sit around here, waiting for an infant to find me. I don’t know about this time but, 200 years ago, babies weren’t born with the ability to walk or ask for directions to their mothers…” I didn’t mention that being with the Minutemen wasn’t fulfilling for me, or that I was going absolutely stir crazy with every passing second. I know I was helping a lot of good people, that Preston enjoyed my presence, and that having a belly full of albeit radiated food was better than having an empty one, but I couldn’t deny that there had to be something more worth doing out there.

At least, something that would be able to distract me from Shaun more so than building structures and generators.

Sturges cursed under his breath, switching his weight from foot to foot as he played with his choices. He knew stopping me was a waste of effort on his part. But he also knew that Preston would be furious if he found out I left and Sturges had known about it. “What am I supposed to tell the lead guy?”

“Whatever you want to tell him.”

“You realize that not’s very helpful?”

“You realize that it won’t be my problem once I’m gone?”

“How are you even going to leave without him knowing? He wakes up before everyone else and takes the final watch of the night.”

“You’d be amazed how creative I can be.”

He exhaled slowly. “Just… be careful, Ash.”

I tilted my head towards him, a coy smirk playing across my full lips, bright blue eyes sparking with excitement. “When have I never not been?”


Turns out ‘creative’ simply meant squeezing my tiny self out of the window in my room, pack slung over one shoulder. I had crammed the bag full of stimpacks, radaway, bullets for my rifle and handgun, bandages, corn, and Fancy Lad Cakes (because they were delicious and practically the only thing I had that reminded me of my life before now). It also held some more personal belongings: Nate’s ring, Shaun’s teddy bear that I had managed to find buried in a pile of rubble, and a picture of the three of us the day after he was born. It was stained with rain water and mud, the edges crumpled and damaged… but I could still recognize us. I could still remember us, and how we used to be… Before… Before those men came in and ruined our lives.

Dogmeat whined, paws pattering along the base of the window frame.

“Ssshh,” I hushed him, waving my hand in his general direction, couching low in the bushes and praying no one heard him. According to my PipBoy, it was a little after four in the morning. The sun, and thus heat, hadn’t woken up yet, leaving the majority of the Commonwealth shrouded in darkness. The caravan owners were asleep, Brahmin conked out in their stalls, and the settlement quiet. A gentle breeze from the north occasionally tickled the back of my neck but otherwise? Complete and utter silence.

Which only amplified Dogmeat’s continual pestering. “I can’t take you with me!” I whispered, poking my head back through the opening to give him a once over. I understood he wasn’t thrilled with the concept of me going anywhere without him but… I wouldn’t get past the guards with him at my side. “I told you, follow me tomorrow afternoon when no one is looking. You can do it, you’re a dog. You have scent and tracking and whatever the hell else you have up your… paw.” I rolled my eyes and pressed my chin against the frame, fingers reaching over to touch Dogmeat. I get it, he’s an animal and shouldn’t understand a thing I’m saying but something in my gut told me he could. Or maybe I had been listening to Mama Murphy too much while she was dosed. “Please, boy, I need this. I need to get out of here. I can’t find Shaun while I’m stuck here.” That and I’ll go crazy if I stay. I had too much time to think, too much time to dwell on what had happened. No, the longer I could keep all of those memories and heartache tucked away in the magical box at the back of my head, the better.

I’m sure a psychologist wouldn’t agree with that but, last I checked, that profession wasn’t really a thing anymore.

Dogmeat’s tongue lapped at my fingertips, head nuzzled against my palm.

It was the best answer I was going to get.

“See you in a few days, buddy,” I gave him one final pat. “You be good. Don’t growl at Preston too much.”

And with that, I was off.

I stayed close to the house and low to the ground. My boots were all but soundless as I skimmed along, careful not to disturb too much of the dirt and debris for fear that Preston would suddenly become a professional hunter and be able to track my foot prints. With no professional training on espionage or spy work in my resume, I had only my brief understanding of how television portrayed stealth at my disposal… which was essentially useless. Still, I managed to make it around to the back of the house without waking up every single person in Sanctuary.

I was more or less pleased with myself.

Peeking around the corner assured me no one was present though the light in Preston’s room across the road was on. He was up. Somewhere.

I glanced back to the river. My goal was simple: get there.

Okay, I sucked at planning. I was great at winging it, great at thinking on my toes… but when it came to actual tactics and strategy? Yeah I f*cking sucked. At least I knew where my weaknesses were. I managed to stay alive this long… I could manage to get to the other side of the damn river without getting caught.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself. I wasn’t super convinced yet.

I did another scan, this time towards the bridge. There were a few guards on post, I could see the barrels of their snipers from here, the moonlight just strong enough to twinkle off the shined metal. They were likely newly trained, much like all the settlers who arrived at Sanctuary. However, if they managed to scope me and thought I was a raider? I would be dead. Boom. A blood splatter against the other bank of the river.

One of the men moved further west, down along the slope and away from me. Good. The other stayed in position. Bad.

He raised his hand, waved to someone. I scanned over. Preston. sh*t. Double bad.

Their voices were faded from here, inaudible. I strained to hear the tiniest bit of exchange but came up short. And Preston appeared to be staying for good, feet planted. Triple bad.

Part of me wanted to back out, part of me wanted to scurry my sorry ass back to my bunk, curl up under the blankets, and call it a good attempt. Part of me was a chicken. But… the other part? The larger part? It knew that if I did that, I would be sentencing myself to death. This life wasn’t for me. I needed more, I needed much more than what Sanctuary was providing. Yes, I was doing a ton of good, I was helping a ton of people. But I couldn’t live like this anymore.

Taking in a slow breath to calm my nerves, my gaze fell back on the river.

It was not close by any stretch of the imagination. If I was too loud, they would see me. If I stumbled, they would see me. If I made too big of a splash when I entered because I was a dumb ass and slipped on a rock, they would see me.

No pressure.

I checked on Preston and the guard once more. Their backs were turned away from me, focused on something else.

I exhaled, attention returning on my goal.


I launched forward, pushing myself ahead with my momentum and racing across the open field. My hand stayed pressed against my pack, forcing it to my hip so the contents inside wouldn’t juggle about. A quick look told me they were still unaware, encouraging me to pick up speed. My build was slender, my height minimal; all of it was working in my favor for once.

Within a matter of seconds I had made it to the pebble ridden shore. I tucked myself low, breath coming in controlled pants, heart drilling out a steady beat. I knelt low, fingers dusting the edge of the water. The PipBoy on my wrist prattled to life, ticking out my Geiger counter. But the guards were too far away, they wouldn’t be able to hear it from their positions.

Which meant Preston too would remain in the dark.

At my spot along the river, the water was shallow, perhaps only reaching about knee height at the deepest. By the bridge? Way over my head with jarring rocks that would skewer me through if I wasn’t careful. The flow was safe here, the current regular, nothing that would pull me away. It was manageable.

I stood gradually, eyes never leaving the front gate. When I was three thousand percent sure they had no f*cking clue I was there, I concentrated on the task at hand.

A handful of boulders of varying degrees of slipperiness stood between me and the other bank. With a tentative approach, I reached out to the first with my right leg. When I was certain I wouldn’t go into the water, I moved my weight over to it, bringing my left leg out for the next.

Just like when I was a kid, playing in the river…

I moved from rock to rock, arms spanned out at my shoulders for balance.

I could remember sitting on the shore with Nate when we were still dating. I could picture his smile, almost hear his laugh. The way his eyes would sparkle with amusem*nt as I made a face at the frog he held out to me. We both wound up soaking wet from head to toe by the time we left and-

“sh*t,” I cursed, foot sliding out from under me, plummeting into the cool radiated water below.

“Did you hear something?”

“It was over there.”

“I’ll check it out.”

I dashed out of the water, not caring for the sound I made. Pants soaked, boots heavy, skin burned and sizzled where the river kissed it. I hissed, blinking past the sharp pain.

“Someone get a light over here!” Preston shouted as he got closer.

Move, damn it!

Ignoring my new injuries, I flew across the river and tumbled onto dry land. I was on the other shoreline, speeding for the trees by the time they arrived at my starting point. I tucked myself behind an oak, the branches long since bare of their leaves and flowers, and held my breath.

My heart beat haphazardly in my chest, rhythm now chaotic and untamed. I feared they would be able to hear it.

“You see anything?”

A pause…

An agonizingly long pause.

Preston finally replied, “Nothing. Probably just a startled doe. Nothing to worry about. Raiders would have gone into the settlement, not away. Return to your posts.”

I waited for their footsteps to retreat, waited until there was silence, and then I did a little bit more waiting just to be sure. And then I pried my body away from my makeshift shield, peering around the trunk to guarantee that my possible captors were gone.

But I still wasn’t safe, not really. Phase one was complete but I still needed to get further from Sanctuary.

Keeping to the shadows, I began my trek southwards. I knew I wanted to get to Concord, Lexington, and Cambridge. Someone in those towns had to know something, or know of where to go to get information. I had to broaden my resources if I wanted to get anywhere.

I paused at the Red Rocket gas station, bumping open the swinging glass door with my shoulder as I entered. The place was almost unrecognizable from its former glory. The once red stools lay mangled and broken on the dirtied tiled floor. The posters were torn, images all but invisible from years of being in the sun.

Still, it was good enough. Moving to a back room, I found a suitable place to bunker down for a few hours until the sun came up. After locking the door, I dumped my pack on the ground and took a seat beside it.

Combat and I were not the best of friends. I knew little of proper shooting mechanics or even the basics. I could defend against molerats and radroaches just fine but… ghouls and raiders? Not so well. Stealth helped in some instances, allowed me to sneak by whole encounters or take people out one at a time. But it wasn’t going to do a damn bit a good once I hit the cities.

I rested my head against the back wall. I could worry about it in a few hours.

For now… For now I would patch myself up and get a few winks of shut eye.

And prayed no one would find me.


Hello! Hope you liked the first chapter!

I have a collection of One Shots for this gal as well (Broken Steel One-Hosts, boring title but gets the point across). If you have any suggestions for plot or just have an idea you want to see made into reality, let me know! Post in the comments or message me. Thank you!

Chapter 2: Meeting the Brotherhood

Chapter Text

A rattle on the door handle startled me awake with a gasp, sleepy heavy eyes groggily scanning the room. My brain hadn’t kick started yet, the hamster still conked out on its wheel.

Where am I again?

Hushed voices filtered in, “Damn thing is locked. You got a bobby on ya?”

“Naw man, and you know I’m not any good at that sh*t any ways. And neither are you. Last door you tried to pick, you broke.” Both men, both with gravely voices. Settlers? Raiders? I couldn’t tell from inside.

Recognition flickered to life. The Red Rocket Station… sh*t.

I fumbled for the gun I owned, the rifle nestled in its holster on back of my pack. It still felt foreign to me no matter how much training Preston had attempted to put me through. Shooting at empty Nuka Cola bottles wasn’t the same as shooting at a live target – one stood still and politely waited for you to shatter it, the other had the whole ‘preserve life’ instinct and would bob and weave all over the f*cking place.

“There’s gotta be something good inside for it to be locked.”

“Man, who cares. Let’s get back.”

“Chancer will be pissed if we don’t bring anything.”

“She can kiss my white ass. Bitch has gone off the deep end recently.”

Chancer? I’d heard that name before. Well, read it. Chancer was a leader for one of the raider gangs that littered the Commonwealth. Her name had been listed on a terminal back at the Ironworks. All of the head honchos kept tabs on the others, kind of like a network of diabolical scumbags.

But this did confirm something for me: I was dealing with raiders.

I lifted my bag onto my shoulders as I stood on unstable legs, my gun rested awkwardly in my arms, the shooting bit aimed in the general direction of the door. The knob rattled again, one of the two men cursed loudly.

“Think we could just bash it in?”

“Looks pretty sturdy. Not sure we can do that.”

“We could always just, I dunno, try. You got any better ideas hot shot?” Irritation, annoyance. Someone’s patience was wearing thing. “I’m not a fan of just sitting around and waiting for results. We gotta bring something back with us. No f*cking way am I being put on cook duty again. f*ck that sh*t.”

The door shuddered in its hinges, the wood moaning in protest as one of the raiders slammed his shoulder against the precious barrier separating me from them. With another heave, it cried louder but still refused to budge. I recoiled, sinking further into the room, spine pressing against one of the exterior walls. My eyes flashed around the enclosed space. There had to be another way out… Most buildings pre-war had alternative routes in case of a fire…


Far above my head was a window, just large enough for me to fit through. Getting to it, though, was another matter entirely.

Again the raiders ran at the door, again it quaked in reply, this time with the added sound of oak splintering. I was going to run out of time if I didn’t act quickly.

Holstering the rifle, I grasped one of the desks along the far wall. Crouching down, I forced all of my weight against it, encouraging the desk to grind across the tiled floor. The counter screeched as metal grated on ceramic, causing me to wince as my ear drums cringed.

“What’s that?”

“It’s coming from inside the room!”

“Someone’s in there.”

“Get this door open!” Their efforts began again, this time with renewed vigor. Amazing what a difference a chance at bloodshed could make for these guys.

“Come on, come on,” I grunted, a sweat breaking out along the top of my forehead, hair sticking to my face. Close enough, it would have to work. I scrambled up onto the structure, fingers outstretched for the latch on the window. Knowing I had precious little seconds left, I nimbly flipped the lock mechanism and edged the glass open. I jumped to bridge the gap, having to hold my one hundred pounds plus gear on nothing but my fingertips; I hissed in a pained breath as the frame cut into the soft skin of my hands, not quite drawing blood but enough to make me acutely aware of the metal’s presence.

The door buckled, hinges on the verge of giving up as I hoisted myself through the opening. Half way through I twisted my body around so my back was facing the ground, grasping the top of the window frame for support as I yanked my legs through. My thigh screamed, white hot agony rocketing through my senses, reminding me that I still wasn’t fully healed. But right now, right now it didn’t matter. Right now, I had to breathe through the pain and get out.

I landed heavily on the other side, my balance almost lost as I tumbled a few paces until I regained my composure. A crash from the inside indicated that the raiders were finally through, their angered voices echoing out through the window.

“Where’d they go?”

“Up there! Though the window!”

“Holy f*cking hell, leave me alone,” I muttered, grasping a grenade from my belt. Guns… guns you had to aim and you had a narrow margin of accuracy if you sucked at using them, like I did. However, grenades? Grenades were wonderful devices. As long as you got it in the close vicinity of where you wanted it, the damage was massive. Perfect for sh*t soldiers like myself.

Pulling the pin free, I lobbed the grenade back through the opening… and took off running in the opposite direction. Their surprised shouts were audible just before the pint sized nuke detonated, the explosion blasting outwards. The force was enough to send me sprawling into the dirt, the wind forced from my lungs. My face bashed harshly against the earth. I coughed, sucked in air to allow oxygen to my brain, blinked a few times to clear the dust from my vision. As I moved to a crouching position, I ran a hand across my face… flinching when my head ached where it had contacted with the ground. That was going to leave a bruise.

But I at least was in the clear for a moment. Still… It wasn’t safe here… not anymore. Staying here meant others would likely follow. Sanctuary would be fine with all of their turrets and fire power but I was on my own. It was time to move.

Reassuring myself that my pack was securely in place, I stood fully, stretching out my sore muscles. Then sun was just beginning to peek out over the horizon, cascading an orange glow across the Commonwealth. The Red Rocket Station’s shadow reached out towards the sinking night sky and, with it, the crisp November air.

“Not how I wanted to start my morning,” I whispered to myself, peering down at my PipBoy, tapping the screen a few times to wake it up. “And too damn early.” The clock read 0630. I had only been asleep for a little over an hour.

With a heavy sigh I turned myself south towards Concord. My goal was to make it to Cambridge before I took a break. Even with my head pounding and leg nagging, I could manage a decent walking pace.

I had to.


Two hours later I was making my way into the northern edge of Cambridge. The post-nuka-hell air pressed down around me like a thick blanket, making my shirt plaster to my back. It was suffocating; the heat pounding and enduring, sinking into everything it touched. The humidity made it nearly impossible to get a good breath in, running was out of the question. The buildings provided little shade, and what was present wasn’t enough to drown out the sun’s wraith.

I paused then, leaning against the side of what used to be a post office. The lobby was empty, counters void of workers, files overturned and tossed haphazardly around the stained carpeted floor. A shadow of its former glory, like the rest of the city. Sometimes it felt like I was dreaming, like none of this was real – just figments of my memories contorted into a grotesque reality I didn’t want to believe in.

But, this wasn’t a dream, and I was already awake.

With a heavy sigh I pushed away from the building and started my trek once more.

I vaguely wondered if Preston had noticed my absence as of yet. Or if he found out that Sturges had known of it all along.

Sorry, man, hope you came up with a half-assed decent excuse as to why I wasn’t turning up for guard duty. If I wasn’t back by the end of the day, I was certain Garvey would send a search party after me. I doubted he would just shrug it off and move on. I wouldn’t be lucky enough for that sh*t.

The scoped rifle kept up a steady thump as it bounced against my leather armored back, the 10 mm pistol cozy at my thigh in its holster, and my grenades secured to my belt, resting against my hip. I felt safer with the gear even though I was less than adequate at using it. I thought of it was insurance – it was there if I needed it, even though it was complete and utter crap.

I crossed the uneven terrain with ease, muscles relaxing the more I walked. I did my best to ignore the throbbing pain in my left leg with each step. Sorry, honey, the apocalypse wasn't a world for sissies, best to just walk it off. But even I had to admit Preston was right about one thing: I should have brought more backup. The second I heard that I would be going up against the fire-loving Forged raiders, I should have turned tail and gone for help. Instead, me and my thick head went charging into the Ironworks like I owned the damn place.

FYI, Molotovs and cotton didn’t mesh well together, not unless your intention is to go up in flames… like my leg. It was on the mend now, sure, but, if I wasn’t careful, it could easily get infected…

And I was pretty f*cking certain that there wasn’t going to be a ready supply of antibiotics if that were to happen.

According to my mental GPS, I was nearing Main Street, and if my memory served me right (which it very well might not considering that the world can do a mighty lot of changing in a 200 year span of time), the subway tunnels and police station weren’t too far off. I hadn't traveled this far away from Sanctuary as of yet. This was bad because I was waltzing my gorgeous ass into unfamiliar territory but good because I may get a new lead as to what happened to my baby boy.

Unfortunately, I knew nothing of his kidnappers. Didn't think to glance at their clothing for any sort of insignia or sign that would give me a lead. At the time, I had only one thought on my mind: give me back my baby. Foolish on my part, idiotic.

I shook my head, sighing as I begrudgingly trudged past the towering buildings. I remembered Lexington being a crown jewel before the bombs destroyed it all. The once glistening buildings were a crumbled heap of cobblestone and brick, caved in roofs, and bent and broken sign posts. Shattered glass littered the ground, large cracks adorned most of the streets. If I listened carefully, I could hear the sound of molerats just below the surface. Best to tread lightly.

Faded gunshots in the distance, towards what I assumed to be the police station, brought me to a halt. I crouched behind an overturned car, peering out around the hood to get a glimpse of what I was walking into.

The open expanse ahead of me was shrouded in concrete. The subway station was off to the right with a few alley ways winding back into the larger structures that dwarfed the streetway. Sun glittered off of the window panes that remained, the air calm.

Too calm.

A low moan just ahead of me caught my attention as a feral ghoul oozed out from behind a downed mailbox. It wavered to its feet, steps uncoordinated and sloppy, arms limply swaying with each movement, jaws slack. Its head swiveled from side to side, golden eyes squinting, teeth chatting.

I could recall the first time I saw a ghoul – the way my heart raced and ached in unison. Both terrified but remorseful for what happened to these people. Unlucky enough to be without a vault for shelter, pounded with radiation when the bombs dropped… Their bodies mutated into little more than zombies, brains roasted beyond repair. They lived tragic lives… Their only desires were to kill and eat and sleep. It used to break my heart, knowing I would have to shoot them, these innocent people.

Now? Now they were little more than a f*cking obstacle between and my son and I had no qualms with blowing their brains out through the back of their skulls.

It sounded brutal but it was a dog eat dog world, kill or be killed. I learned that the hard way once and I wasn’t going to sit around on my ass and be fooled twice. No. I had a son to rescue, and nothing was going to get in my way.

I habitually bit my bottom lip as I gingerly edged around the corner of the parked car, keeping my right shoulder to the vehicle as I turned, raising my rifle and taking aim. On inhale, I ensured that my aim was perfect, on exhale I fired. The bullet pierced through the air, whistling as it zeroed in on the ghoul’s skull… and soared right past it. The beastie pivoted on its feet, gawking at me with a dumbfound expression plastering on its decaying face. It lurched towards me, arms outstretched and it ambled my way. I scampered out of cover, dancing to the right. The rifle felt uncomfortable in my hands, too big for me to hold properly.

But now wasn’t the time to quibble and come up with dumbass excuses.

Launching forward, I raced towards the ghoul. Using the momentum to swing the butt of my gun around, I pummeled the face of my opponent right as its fingers moved to grab ahold of my chest. "Sorry buddy, I don't sway for your type." If the weapon was useless to me as a gun, I was going to have to use it for melee. It wasn’t perfect but it would suffice.

Another feral sauntered into the street, exiting from an alleyway and what I assumed to be the source of the commotion that had originally forced me to slow down.

If I could get to the shooting, I could get help.

The ghoul made eye contact with me, saliva pooling out of the corner of his agape mouth, nose punched inwards, and skin peeling. My stomach twisted, bile rose in my throat. I had to get past him to get to the station.

I started forwards, zigzagging across the expanse rather than opting for a direct route towards my target, the gunshots in the distance grew louder the closer I got. Shrapnel and dirt plinked off the sides of buildings and cars, the echo of someone shouting orders to comrades. Not raiders but actual people. Just had to get there…

I was almost upon the ghoul, he stood a few mere feet from me. My muscles tensed as I began to raise my rifle, brandishing it above my head like a club, and-

Ping! Ping!

With a gasp I leapt backwards for cover, the ground lurching in response to the detonation as a frag mine exploded in a mass of smoke. My shoulder smashed into a concrete median, tender skin slicing on contact as ghoul guts splattered across the road.

I scurried to my feet, eyes wide at the pulverized feral corpse, taking the briefest of moments to thank whoever was listening that the mine had been there. My grip tightened on my rifle as I darted down the alleyway.

They alley was more or less deserted but the combat ahead was still heated. The ghouls must have been coming in from another opening. I leapt over a garbage can, squeezed through a chain-link fence, rounded the corner, entered a pair of gates… and instantly came face to face with a laser rifle barrel. I inhaled sharply, raising both my hands (my left still holding my own gun) in the air. "Don't shoot!" I bit out, knowing my face had gone a few shades paler. The owner of the rifle gave me a hard glare, his face the only thing visible amidst all of the power armor he wore.

"You nearly got yourself killed, civilian!" he barked in response, his grimace indication enough that I had grievously annoyed him. "We are dealing with a horde of ghouls, now is not the best time to be throwing around heroics."

Not the greeting I had expected.

"Excuse me?" I snipped back, arching a brow at the man. "I can take care of myself." Which was a huge f*cking lie on my part but this ass didn’t need to know that. Tiny details, unimportant.

"That remains to be seen, doesn't it?" he replied, grip tightening on his gun though he did lower it away from my face.

"Danse!" a woman from the crumbling steps called, "More are coming! Watch your six!"

"On it, Haylen! Rhys, watch the southeast gate!"

"Yes sir!" a man I could only assume was Rhys agreed… after he gave me a disgusted look as if I was little more than the gore he picked off his shoes at the end of a long day. Up yours too, buddy. Good to know that my ‘saviors’ were a bunch of bigots.

Power armor guy…. Danse… Gave me a once over, the corner of his lips turning down into a frown, likely not thrilled with my ragtag-barely-holding-together armor. "You don't seem well equipped, but as long as you are so sure of yourself, you can offer some assistance."

"You wanna make sure I know which way to point my gun before sending me out?" I heatedly commented.

I was rewarded with a cold scowl. Jeez, lighten up, man..

Feral ghouls raced into the fenced clearing, crazed and manic. The sound of gunshots behind me gave evidence that Rhys and Haylen had begun their own assault on the southeast gate, leaving Danse and I to man the southwest. Though his movements were sluggish gratis to all the power armor he wore, Danse was a capable fighter. His tactics were precise, quick, and without hesitation – proof that he had likely years of training to get in his current position. On the other hand, mine were slow, lacking any sort of strategy. I was aiming to be more of a distraction than anything else.

And to be of any worth, I knew I had to move up. Shooting and I? Not on speaking terms. But I was very intimate with melee. I wasn’t strong but my agility could at least work to my benefit. I lunged headstrong into a feral, swinging my rifle in a wide arc, the stock hurtling into the ghoul’s flank and sending him careening into the fence post.

“Civilian, you’re too far ahead!”


I slammed against the side of the wooden outpost with an agonized cry, twisted splinters dug into my exposed forearms and neck. Grimy fingers, coated in slime and pus clawed at my armor, arms flailing wildly as I desperately tried to push the ghoul off of me. My rifle dropped uselessly at my feet as I scrambled to get ahold on the feral before his teeth could sink into my shoulder or face. Fumbling for the pistol on my hip granted me with an explosion of pain to the side of my head as my opponent managed to crudely bash me with his free arm.

I struggled, kicking and pushing as his jaws neared my throat, grasping out blindly.

Metal hands appeared around the sides of the ghoul, yanking him from me before peppering his body full of holes. Danse gritted his teeth, staring down at me. "Stand down, your recklessness will get you killed." He hastily handed me my rifle and rejoined combat effortlessly.

I did as ordered and maneuvered back behind him, using his power armor as a means of cover, darting around him to make a few shots before retreating once more. It was safer but I felt powerless.

It was only a matter of minutes before the horde deceased, leaving the four of us winded and gasping for air… Okay, that was a lie. Three of us were winded and gasping for air, Danse was peachy keen, sunshine and rainbows.

"Good shooting, sir," Rhys complimented, looking little more than a child searching for praise from his adoring parents as he beamed up at Danse. Then his gaze fell to me, turning dark and bitter. "No thanks to you, what kind of tactics were those?" An ugly gash laced around his jawline, deepening as it traveled towards his collar bone. Though he held a chunk of gauze to it, blood continued to seep out around the edges.

"Uh…?" I offered, brows furrowing. "At least I did something. I could have just waltzed on by and ignored this place altogether."

"We would have been just fine without you here. You nearly got Danse injured because of your foolishness!" He had a few valid points though based on the injuries both he and Haylen carried, I knew for certain that they had been on the brink of failure before I showed up. I may not have landed a single shot but I was enough to turn the tides in their favor, even if it was just because I was a distraction for the ghouls to fling themselves a

"Oh, should I have skipped merrily on my way? You guys needed my help," I snarled back, sliding my rifle into its leather harness. My head swam from the blow and I was certain I had a good sized laceration running over my cheek bone, nothing a few stimpacks and bandages couldn't fix. Hopefully

"You should have f*cked off!" Rhys continued.

"Rhys," Haylen stepped in, gently shaking her head. "We should be thankful she showed up. We may have been able to handle it on our own but we should never look down on help."

Rhys waved a gloved hand dismissively and headed into the police station. Haylen let a slow sigh pass her lips, solemnly watching him retreat. "Sorry about him, he gets really… into… his work. The Brotherhood means everything to him."

I blinked up at her, confusion coloring my features. "Sorry, the what now?"

"The Brotherhood. Of Steel. Patrolling the wasteland and hunting down ghouls, super mutants, and synths in order to make sure that the good people are safe." Haylen was eyeing me as if I had just spoken another language. "Did you get hit a little too hard?"

Had I? Brotherhood of Steel? Were they part of the military? Their uniforms indicated that may be the case but I couldn’t be certain. Minutemen, Brotherhood of Steel… what was next?

"Haylen," Danse ordered, standing up from the ghouls he had been searching through. "Let's get this civilian into the station, get her wounds taken care of. Then we can talk more."

Yes, yes please. I was okay with this. Turns out they would help me. It was a start. And at least I was out of combat for the time bein

"Yes sir," Haylen replied briskly, motioning for me to follow so she could lead me inside. "You're going to like it here."

Funny, I wasn't so sure about that…

Chapter 3: First Aid

Chapter Text

The inside of Cambridge Police Station was dimly lit, a few lamps swung rather precariously in their spots offering just enough light to illuminate our surroundings. The floor boards were partially overturned, some sticking up out of the ground in a jutted fashion – perfect for tripping and impaling oneself on. The windows, or at least the ones that were not shattered, were coated in grime and dust, making them impossible to see out of. A desk lay across from the entrance, a busted terminal on it and a few bins of folders I assumed held documents on… the Brotherhood. Whoever they were.

A handful of sleeping bags dotted the ground, a medical kit or two next to them. Danse trudged through the door on the left, disappearing out of sight for the time being. Rhys huffed away in the corner, arms crossed and a pissed expression geared in my general direction. I was beginning to believe this was his permanent state of being unless gazing at his one true savior: Danse. Barf.

Haylen guided me over to one of the sleeping bags, the off orange color of the blanket making my stomach churn a little… I didn’t want to begin to fathom what all had used this. Though my time in the Commonwealth was limited to a mere thirty days, it was enough experience to warn me against investigating such questions. Some things were better left in the dark.

I knelt to a sitting position and raised a hand, fingers skimming along my forehead. My head throbbed, vision danced. Maybe I had gotten hit harder than I originally thought.

“You’re getting paler and paler. Rhys, can you grab some water from storage?” Haylen requested, working on undoing the leather straps to my armor, relieving my skull from the goggles and bandanna.

“If she’s so damn ‘helpful’, why don’t you have her go and get it?” he barked back in reply though a hard look from Haylen compelled him to his feet. He skulked over to the cabinet along the far corner of the room and dragged one of the doors open. After a grunt, he slammed the metal container closed and tossed Haylen a water carton and a roll of gauze. His gaze fell on me for the briefest of moments, irises swimming with distaste.

I get it bud, you hate me. The teenage drama could end any second now.

“Here,” Haylen pulled my attention away from the man as she handed me the carton. She and he were like polar opposites – one sugar sweet and the other bitter sour. Weird how they managed to make such a good team against the ghouls when their personalities differed so greatly.

Haylen focused on my injury; blood still trickled from the open gash, matting my hair. I wanted to ask for a mirror, to see how much damage I had taken, but I feared the result. Blood made me queasy. “You took a good hit to the head,” she began, turning my face sideways to get a better angle, “If Danse hadn’t been there-“

I sucked in an annoyed breath. “I know, I would have died. I’ll thank him later,” I muttered, rolling my eyes with little humor behind the action. I got it, I was a ticking time bomb. I needed proper training, I needed better gear and weapons, blah, blah, blah. Sheesh, Preston would love the f*ck out of these people; the man would probably tote it over my head how I should listen to his advice more often since he clearly knows what he is on about.

But… I had to be fair. Between the bum leg and the new laceration, not to mention all of the other times I had been within seconds of death during the past month, they had a point. “I’m sorry. You don’t deserve that. I shouldn’t have said anything. You’re right. If it wasn’t for Danse stepping up, I would likely be Human Surprise for the ferals tonight. I shouldn’t have been so reckless.” Without Dogmeat at my side, I felt vulnerable, but I had to leave him back in Sanctuary. He’s a good dog but his inability to remain stealthy would have gotten me caught. I’d give anything for him right now.

“No need to apologize. We just want you to be safe. Your help was much appreciated but.., having another death on our hands…” her voice trailed off, a hint of sadness edging into her tone.

“Another death?” I questioned, my old law school training kicking in like magic.

Haylen peeked over at Rhys, the man giving a sharp turn of his head. He didn’t want her to share. Whatever it was, it was bad. “Let’s just say, the Brotherhood doesn’t usually send three soldiers out to investigate whole sectors.” The topic was off the table… for now.

As she began to open a bottle of normal saline, I scanned the police station lobby once more. There were several sleeping bags, more than what three people would need unless they had some sort of possession issue. There were a variety of duffle bags, packs, and gear along the eastern wall too, seemingly untouched for the past few days based on the amount of dust that had collected on the fabric. No… There had been more of them here at one point. What had happened to them? Where were they now? And why were they here to begin with?

I cringed as she began to dab at my temple, the sodium in the saline searing my wound clean, washing the blood away. “You’ve done this before?”

“Kind of. Usually it’s the job of a medical officer, like Knight Captain Cade, but seeing as we don’t have one present, anyone can take up the position instead. I’ve received some education during my Scribe training, enough to not kill anyone, but I don’t know much more than the basics.” She lowered her hand to change out her rag before returning to her task.

I gave an innocent smile. “Sorry, Haylen, that all flew right over me.”

A bubbly laugh escaped past her lips, eyes twinkling with amusem*nt. “I thought it might. You really must have gotten hit hard though. Paladin Danse might want to do an evaluation before you leave. Nothing major – we just wouldn’t be in good conscious if we let you walk out of here with your brain missing a screw or two.”

“No argument here. Thanks for patching me back up.” I wasn’t sure how such a test would go. I was two hundred and sixty years ancient… but outwardly looked no older than my mid to late twenties. I had a pristine bill of health compared to anyone in the Commonwealth and my knowledge of any current data that would help me clear a neuro assessment was slim at best. But, I had the gut feeling that these weren’t the type of people that would let me wiggle my way out of a situation if they didn’t want me to. And I still needed their help. Perhaps they weren’t of any use to me directly, but there was a chance they could lead me to someone who could help with my missing person case.

“How bad is it?” Danse asked as he returned. I half expected to see him squeezing his power armored ass through the itty bitty doorway when I swiveled my gaze towards him but the bulky outerwear was gone. In its place was a pair of faded denim jeans and a dark green shirt with sleeves that ended just after the crook of his elbow. The faint outline of dogtags could be seen close to his collar. Was the Brotherhood of Steel some type of military group?

“She’s lost a fair amount of blood,” Haylen pointed to the cloths at her side. My eyes widened a fraction of an inch… was that all mine? There were at least four bloodied rags, soaked through with crimson. “And I can’t quite get a good enough look at her injury to stitch it up myself. You are better at this than me, care to give it a go?”

Danse squatted down next to her, gently turning my head to the left with a calloused hand on my chin, rotating my wounded scalp towards the light coming in from the windows. “Ghoul hit you pretty hard, civilian.”

“I have a name you know,” I countered, wincing in the slightest from the movement, world dizzying around the edges.

“Get her something to eat, Scribe,” Danse instructed Haylen who nodded obediently before scurrying behind the counter to rummage through an opened box. Moving the soiled rags out of the way and retrieving a fresh one, he glanced at me, the scowl as prominent as ever. “And what name would that be then?”

“Ash. Ashtyn Jones.”

“Hmm,” he replied, focusing his attention on Haylen as she returned. The Scribe handed me a can of Pork and Beans with a spoon that had likely seen some nasty sh*t in its time since what appeared to be the dinosaurs. “Let me see what I can do with this, help Rhys get back on his feet. We’ll need him to recon the area to make sure the ghoul threat is neutralized for the time being. I’ll send in a commission for more soldiers here once we get the radio working, hopefully the Elder will agree. You still think you can fix the radio, right?”

“Yes, sir. We have similar technology back on the Prdywen. It should only be a matter of rerouting a few wires, connecting any short circuits, and fine tuning the beacon transmission to reach HQ. As long as our target is in range, we should reach them just fine,” she replied as she moved to Rhys’s side, opening another medical kit and beginning work on his jaw and neck.

“Outstanding.” With a flick of his eyes to the can in my hand, he ordered, “Eat.”

I took a tentative bite of the beans, not one hundred and forty percent certain I wanted to consume something that had been made back in my time. With the blood loss, however, I had little option. I needed to replace my protein and iron. Health class taught me that much. As I chewed, Danse gave a grunt of approval, pleased I was at least able to follow the most simplistic of directions.

The Paladin pressed a dampened cloth to my head, forcing me to withdraw with a sharp inhale. I understood the point of wanting to flush out the wound but f*ck, did it hurt. He muttered an apology but did not cease his task. His fingers moved to brush loose strands of my hair behind my ear, a look of sheer concentration on his face as he cleansed my injury.

We settled into a somewhat awkward silence. Rhys and Haylen spoke to one another on the other side of the room, their voices too hushed for me to eavesdrop. Were they talking about me? About their mission? My mind was reeling with questions.

Danse broke the quiet after a few moments. “So, where are you from, Jones?”

“Jones?” Oh, right. Military talk, all professional. I snorted. “I’m from Sanctuary Hills… Formerly, before that, Vault 111.”

That caught his attention, he paused in what he was doing, leaning around so he could look me in the eye. “You’re from a Vault?”

I nodded. “Sure am.”

“Born and raised?”

“Uh… No. Not exactly.”

His thick brows furrowed, confusion deepening on his face. “So you were raised in the wasteland and then went to the Vault… and stayed there? And now you’re back out?”

“How’s about we agree not to talk about it? That works peachy keen for me, sound good?”

He gave a frown but didn’t press the topic. “It does explain your lack of combat expertise. Most vault dwellers aren’t given proper training on weapon use or maintenance.”

“Oh, gee, thanks,” I muttered under my breath.

“It’s only the truth, Jones. Unless you mean to tell me that you let that feral bash your face against the outer perimeter of our base on purpose.” He grabbed a spool of string and suture kit from the crate at his knees.

“I wouldn’t say that,” I answered, a defensive tone overlaying my words.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought. You’ll need some practice if you want to survive out there.”

I bit the inside of my cheek to refrain from digging myself a bigger hole.

“I’m going to begin stitching this up, it’s going to hurt.” I kept my eyes zeroed in on the emptying can of beans as he worked, wincing once or twice as the thread was cut and tied, the sound of the scissors snipping reached my ears. Just pretend you’re back at the doctor’s office with a degree carrying expert physician, and not in the middle of a post-nuka-sh*t-hole-pocalypse with a power armor wearing ‘Paladin’.

“That’s about it, I believe,” he finally concluded, tilting away from me to admire his work. “It’s going to leave a hellish scar but it should heal as long as you don’t do anything too careless to tear the stitches out.”

“So I’m going to live, Doc?” I quipped, dropping the spoon into my can and peeking up at the man.

“You’re going to be just fine, Jones,” Danse replied, tone implying that he clearly didn’t get the sarcasm. “You should stay here for a day or two, catch your breath. I can’t tell if you have a concussion or damage under the skull.”

“Is that your professional medical advice, soldier?”

He made a face but continued on speaking, “Actually, it is. When that time is up, we can discuss what you are going to do after.”

“Or, are we now?” I replied curtly. This was news to me. Haylen had made it appear as if I was going to get a pat on the back and moseyed out of here as soon as humanely possible. “I didn’t realize that what I do is a concern to you.”

“Seeing as you like to run around with a rifle, shooting anything that moves in such a reckless fashion, it kind of is a concern, yeah.” Danse proceeded to pack up the medical kit, leaving the scissors out for cleaning. “Perhaps we can gain something from each other, a trade so to speak. For patching you up.”

Oh, this I have to hear. “Do tell.”

“Well, I assume you’re all the way out here for a reason. I don’t know if you’re just lack forethought or if you’re searching for someone or something, but we can help. The Brotherhood is a noble group, aimed at ridding the wastes of ghouls, supermutants, synths, and beasts, while locating and preserving technology of old. We are widespread and have an outstanding network at our disposal with countless resources.” He snapped the medical kit shut and returned it to its home next to the sleeping bag. “We can assist you.”

My heart thudded a few extra beats. Was he offering to help find Shaun, my baby? Could he really do that? If he had the resources he said he had… I could have an increased chance of finding out information as to where my son may have been taken. I couldn’t pass down an offer like this but… “What’s the catch?”

“The catch? You assist us. Help us in our cause, and in return, we will help you.” Danse turned to me, providing me with his full attention.

“Are there any guidelines I should know about?”

“Aside from follow orders, which I know will likely be a challenge for you, and not shooting any of us? Not really. Oh, and of course, we’ll have to know what it is we are looking for or what your goal is.”

On one hand… I should return to Sanctuary, gather my belongings and discuss this with Preston and the rest of the Minutemen. Though I didn’t really owe them any loyalty, I did find them first and my allegiance was technically with them. However, doing so would damn me to a life of the same old sh*t I had been doing before I ran. On the other hand, the Brotherhood was offering me a lead, giving me a chance to find Shaun. Though I wasn’t sure I wanted to trust them with information about not only myself but also what happened to me, could I really turn down this opportunity?

No… No, I couldn’t.

Besides, no one said I had to tell them anything right now. With their radio down and poor excuse for manpower, they weren’t going to keep their end of the bargain for some time. I would have a few days to mull it over and change my mind if I really needed to.

“You have yourself a new soldier, Danse.”

“What? You’re letting her join?” Rhys’s voice flew up a few octaves.

“You have a problem with the new Initiate, Knight Rhys?” Paladin Danse stood, leveling a stern look.

Rhys, as if remembering his place, replied, “Sir, just wondering what skills Initiate Jones could possibly bring to our group, sir.”

Danse arched a brow at me, expectedly.

“I... Can pick locks? And I’m really good at sneaking?” Oh, sh*t. What was I good at? Certainly not being put on the spot. My combat skills were… nonexistent. I didn’t know how to shoot a gun aside from how to point it and pull a trigger. Aiming though? f*ck no. Terminals? Complete mystery. Hell, I had nothing.

“So, in other words, we are allowing delinquents in then?” Rhys again.

“She is new to the Commonwealth,” Haylen pipped up. I wasn’t sure why she was standing up for me but I appreciated the gesture. “Give her some time. We can teach her how to shoot a gun, use power armor, and fly in a vertibird. It’s nothing training can’t fix. Right, sir?”

“Correct, Scribe,” Danse gave her a proud smile. “Which will begin tomorrow as long as you are healed enough to do so. For now, Haylen, you and I will scout the perimeter. Rhys, take inventory on the equipment we still have left. And Jones, get yourself familiar with the Station. It’s going to be your home for the next few days, you may as well learn where everything is.”

“Sir!” Haylen and Rhys saluted.

Danse led the way out with Haylen at his heels after grabbing a few ammo cartons and gearing up. Once they were gone, Rhys got to his feet and moved to the counter and snatched up the clipboard and pencil that rested there. When he realized I was watching him he turned his cool, steely glare at me. “Find something to do.”

I co*cked my head to the side and got closer, propping my arms up on the desk, returning his expression. “What the hell did I do to you?”

“Nothing, Initiative. I just don’t trust rookies, especially ones who have nothing to offer to our cause.”

“What can I say to prove that I’m on your side?” If I had to be working with this guy, I didn’t want us to be at each other’s throats the whole time.

“You can’t say anything. Actually do something other than get in the way, and maybe we can go from there.” Ah, that cleared it right up. Clear as swamp water.

“Thanks, pal,” I retorted, ratcheting the sarcasm meter up several thousand degrees.

“Super. This conversation over then? Can I get back to work, some of us have a job to do.” Without waiting for an answer, the Knight put his back to me, shutting me out completely.

What a sweetie.

Realizing I wouldn’t get any further with him, I busied myself with exploring the Cambridge Police Station while listening to Diamond City Radio. I had been here on a few occasions when I was growing up. I had a younger brother who was adept at pissing off the wrong people: namely, law enforcement. Whether it was selling drugs on street corners or stealing sh*t from the local Red Rocket Station, he was always getting into something illegal. We tried to keep it from our mother as much as possible… With varying degrees of success.

He was part of the reason I wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer. Not that that matters any more.

Aside from the general post-apoc appearance, the building fit my memory perfectly. The left held a bunch of offices. Desks were overturned, computers bashed in, but otherwise recognizable.There was what looked to be a workbench in the back; a torn apart pipe pistol and several other pieces and parts scattered themselves across the space. Someone liked to tinker.

To the right of the lobby was a hallway. The right side consisted of the cell block and the left, a janitor’s closet filled to bursting with cleaning supplies that hadn’t been touched in centuries. Stairs wound their way up to the roof where a helipad rested.

A garage jutted out from the back. Danse’s power armor laid dormant here along with a mock shooting range of sorts – glass Nuka Cola bottles sat along a wooden two by four that was propped up by cinder blocks at one end. “I have a feeling I’ll get to know you pretty well,” I murmured to it, crossing my arms and staring defiantly at the bottle targets. I raised my left hand, grasped my wrist with my right, and pointed my index finger at them.

Who was I kidding? Could I really do this? Become a soldier? I knew next to nothing about this Brotherhood except that they rid the world of baddies and searched for technology of old. That wasn’t a whole lot to go off of… Though more than what the Minutemen had given me. And it sounded like it was enough to keep me more than busy. But, seriously? Wearing specialized armor, shooting fancy weaponry, taking orders, having a rank system? My gut twisted at the thought. This was Nate’s thing, not mine

But if it was what I had to do to find my son… I didn’t have a choice


“Try again, this time shoot a little lower.”

I cursed. I raised the pistol, clasped it with both hands, and stared down the sights. I placed my finger over the trigger, squinted at the Cola....

And whiffed again. This time too low.


I groaned. “This is pointless! We’ve been at it for hours.”

Danse pushed off from the wall he had been leaning against for the better part of our training session to come and stand beside me, scowl plastered on his face. “Failure isn’t an option, Initiate. And, we have only been here for thirty minutes.”

“Well, how do you propose I magically shoot the f*cking bottle then? Because, unless you have a miracle hidden away in your power armor, it’s never going to happen.” My arms hung worthless at my sides, frustration flaming my cheeks scarlet. “How the hell am I ever going to be able to do anything if I can’t shoot a damn stationary target?”

“There are several improvements you could be doing to increase your chances.”

I spun on him, seething, “What, were you waiting for the grass to grow before telling me that?” He had known how to help this entire time and had kept his mouth shut? What the f*cking hell?!

“I was waiting to see if you could figure it out on your own.” How could he be so calm? So in control? It wasn’t fair. Moving to stand behind me, he grasped my shoulders and faced me towards the makeshift range once more. With his booted foot, he edged my feet further apart, about even with my shoulders and my left foot ahead of the right. “Your stance was poor, leaving you off balance. If you aren’t centered, your aim will suffer. Furthermore, utilizing this position will reduce your threat and make you harder to hit. Raise your gun.” I obeyed. “Now close our eyes.”


“Close your eyes,” sterner this time. “Okay, now picture the range, picture your target. This won’t work on the field but it is good for practice and will help you visualize what you are doing when you are faced with an adversary. Picture its weak points.”

“It’s glass. It’s all weak”

He sighed, exasperated. “Hypothetically, Jones. Once you have it, line up your shot in your mind, watch the bullet fire from your gun and embed itself in your target. Got that?”

“Yes, can I shoot for real now or are we always going to play pretend?”

“Yeah, go ahead.”

I snapped my eyes open and fired twice.

Glass shattered.

My lips parted in surprise. Holy hell, had that actually worked?

“Good job,” Danse commended, patting me on the back. “One success out of twenty attempts isn’t a bad start. We will break and come back to this again later. In a few days we should see some improvement. Take a seat and let me check your head, make sure we didn’t overdo it.”

I followed him to the garage door and out onto the sidewalk. The sun was already high in the sky, my morning wasted away with training exercises and target practice. My muscles were sore and my heart tired from having to work overtime to compensate. I sat down in the shade and allowed Danse to give me a once over. “Your stitches are still holding. How’s the leg feel?”

“Hurts but I’ll live. Probably helping it by moving around.”

“Very true, Initiate.” He sat beside me, handing me a fresh Cola. It wasn’t cold but it felt good going down. “So, why are you all the way out here?”

I coughed, “Excuse me?” I ran the back of my hand across my lips, arching a brow at the man.

“What brought you to Cambridge? Or do you just make it a habit out of running into the middle of combat?”

Oh, he meant our deal. He meant Shaun. “I’m looking for something. It was taken from me and I want it back.” I was wary of giving away too many details. With having so little to go off of, I wasn’t sure who I could trust. For all I knew, Danse could be part of the group who kidnapped my son. I had no way of knowing.

“Can I get any more clarity as to what this ‘thing' is?” When I didn’t offer an answer he continued, “Listen, I understand secrecy and trust and all of that. But, I cannot help you if you don’t give me something to go off of.”

“For now, that’s all I got for you. Sides, your radio isn’t even working yet. No point in telling you the whole story if you can’t do anything about it. The less you know the better.”

“Speaking of the radio… Haylen tried fixing it last night when we got back but it turns out that it may not function properly. Rhys and she are going through our reports to see if we can locate our missing piece, a deep range transmitter. If we find it, would you be willing to join me on a mission to retrieve it?”

“Wouldn’t Rhys make a better choice?”

He chuckled and ran a hand through his dark brown hair, shaking out a few of the curls the humidity tried to form. “Under normal circ*mstances? Yes. Taking a new recruit out, especially one such as yourself, on such an important mission would be unheard of. The Elder would disapprove of my decision to do so. But Rhys’s injury is worse than yours and he will need to stay back to ensure that his condition doesn’t worsen. Haylen will remain as well – though she has more training than you, her combat expertise is not exemplary. Besides, it will do you good to get some fresh air. You’re crawling the walls in here.”

“Is it that obvious?” I peered up at him.

“Affirmative. Your constant pacing when you’re not in training is a dead giveaway. That and how, whenever you’re bored, you’ve taken up pestering Rhys. You’re quite the professional at that. Whatever you’re out here for, it must be important to you.” His expression turned serious as his gaze met mine.

“It means the world to me.”

“Then I will do all that is within my power to help you find it.”

“And I will help you get your thingy for your radio.”

“Excellent. Alright, finish up that drink and we are getting back in there. I’ll go set up the bottles.”

I watched his back as he disappeared back into the garage. How he was able to remain so patient with me, I would never understand. But… I was thankful.

I looked up at the sky, stared past the haze of dust that separated me and it.

I was closer… Closer than I was yesterday… and closer than the day before that. It was a start.

I’m coming Shaun… I promise.

Chapter 4: Call to Arms


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“What the f*ck?”

What a lovely way to start the morning.

“What the hell is a dog doing here?”

Commotion by the front entrance… I should probably wake up to see what the fuss is about. No reason why a mongrel mutt would cause this much of a problem. Unfortunately for Rhys, the culprit behind all of this early morning shouting, my eyelids just didn’t want to open. Ah well.

“sh*t, Danse!”

The sound of pawed footsteps raced towards me, a wet tongue dampened my face, a low whine in greeting. Dogmeat’s muzzle nudged against my shoulder, neck, chin, attempting to get my lazy ass out of bed.

I blinked lazily up at the mutt, his sparkly bronze eyes beaming down at me. Seems my ever faithful companion had returned to my side.

“Good morning to you too, boy. Bout time you showed up!” I cooed, propping myself up on my elbow to get a better look at him. “Should have known I couldn’t keep you away for long.” His fur coat was undamaged, lacking any obvious signs of injury.

Rhys stared poisoned daggers down at me from across the room, lips pursed into an almost sneer. If looks could kill…

I peered at him from over my shoulder, lips curling up into a smirk. “Might want to relax for a second there, pal. You look like you just bit down on a lemon. It’s entirely unattractive.” His mouth snapped back into place, his facial features contorting into a grimace.

“Danse won’t like this,” he sneered, gaze darkening further as he scrambled to his feet, jabbing an accusing finger at my dog.

I rolled my eyes, “I don’t report to Danse so I don’t see how his opinion on the matter is going to change jack sh*t.” Sure the guy was training me but I wasn’t a member of the Brotherhood; I was only here to help with a few missions and then peace out before I could get too attached.

Rhys sputtered at that, fists clenched at his sides. Real tough guy act.

I had attempted to make nice with him during my stay here so far. I didn’t speak to him unless he spoke to me directly, did everything in my power to not overstep my boundaries (at least when he wasn’t around to see me do so), and kept my personal belongings out of his way. It seemed like nothing I did would please this man. Haylen, on the other hand, was the polar opposite of Rhys, complete other end of the scale. She was kind, her company welcomed. Her main interaction with me was tending to my injury when Danse wasn’t teaching me how to shoot in the garage, assuring that it wasn’t becoming infected. So far, the wound was healing perfectly.

And, thanks to the Paladin’s tutelage, I was becoming stronger and stronger by the day. Even though I had only been at the Cambridge Police Station for a mere forty-eight hours, I could already feel the difference. My aim was improving, my reaction time was decreasing, and my ability to critically think in the heat of battle, developing. I still wore new bruises that I earned from making a mistake… But Danse always assured me that I was better than I was when the day started.

Danse strode into the room, combat rifle at the ready though he wore nothing other than his BOS uniform, the top half unzipped to reveal a black t-shirt underneath. “What’s going on?”

Rhys thrust his chin in my general direction. “Sir! Jones has allowed her mangy mutt into the premises. She is in direct violation of conduct!”

“You aren’t mangy,” I whispered to Dogmeat who gave me an innocent yip.

Danse glanced at me, his gaze zeroing in on my companion. The corners of his lips turned down in disapproval, not a real shocker there. He exhaled slowly and tilted his attention back to the Knight. “Technically, Rhys, she is no violation seeing as she is not formally a member of the Brotherhood. Her dog can stay…” his tone becoming more serious, if that was even possible, “If he behaves and doesn’t chew anything up. We have sensitive equipment and documents we cannot afford to be marred. Keep him under control.”

I chuckled, exaggerating a salute and replying, “Sir, yes, sir!” I hefted myself into a sitting position and pushed the off-orange sleeping bag cover off of my legs. My muscles ached but in that good way, the kind of way you get after a hard workout.

The Paladin rested his gun on the counter before approaching me. Dogmeat tensed slightly but I patted him on the top of his head, scratching behind his ears just the way he liked it. “He’s a big soldier guy, but he’s okay,” I promised him.

“Let me see your head,” he instructed, kneeling next to me and gently grasping my jaw to tilt my head to the side. “Haylen?” he questioned.

“She should be good to go. Her bandage doesn’t need changing and the laceration is already almost closed. A stimpack should be all she needs to get on her feet,” The Scribe answered from her spot by the window. She had done her latest inspection before we turned the lights out last night.

He gave a short nod at her response and released me. “Fit for some field work today, Jones?”

Seems it was to keep up my side of the bargain. “Ready as I’ll ever be, sure.”

“Good.” He stood then, heading to the cabinets on the far end of the room and rummaging a bit before pulling out what looked like an alloy metal helmet. “In case you were unaware, Jones. This,” he shook the helm, glancing up at me with… was that the tiniest hint of humor I saw in his eyes? “This is a helmet. It protects your head from several things – getting your brains chewed out, from the concussive force of bullets, and oh, the occasional feral ghoul from cracking your head open through the temporal lobe.” He tossed it at me, the helm landing at the foot of my sleeping bag. “I suggest you wear it when we go out today.”

I extended my hands, fingers clasping the helm and pulling it closer. The Brotherhood insignia was painted in white on the side – a sword speared through what appeared to be wings, offset by three gears behind it all. My eyebrows furrowed, a puzzled look crossing my face as I looked up to Danse. “We?”

“That’s correct, I’ll be joining you today.”

I arched a brow, moving to stand. My leg was protesting, still sore from my skirmish at Finch Farms but putting some exercise into the limb would do it good. I hoped. I had always assumed Knight Rhys would be the one to accompany me since he was more than healed enough.

“Sir?” Rhys interjected, worry spilling its way across his face. Seems I wasn’t the only one who was surprised by this.

“You will remain here with Haylen. Guard the perimeter. With the high amount of feral ghouls in the vicinity, I need your presence at the Station. Jones may be improving in her combat skills but I would feel safer with you here,” his tone implied that there was no wiggle room for discussion. “Jones and I can handle the mission.”

Rhys’s shoulders slumped, like a balloon being deflated with a pin. “Yes, sir,” he muttered before dragging himself to stand next to the Scribe, arms crossed and gazed trained on the floor in a pout.

I cleared my throat, wanting to break the somewhat awkward silence that had fallen over us. “And what is the mission?” I requested, trying to sound official, like I was taking this whole thing seriously. If this was the help they needed in order for me to get assistance locating my son, I was all for it. But I couldn’t take the whole ‘We Fight the Evil to Preserve Technology’ mantra with earnest. Everywhere in the Commonwealth was a dump, and hardly anyone seemed to care if you completed a good deed aside from the thanks I received from the Minutemen. As far as I was concerned, it was every man (or woman) for themselves.

“We are headed to ArcJet Systems. Scribe Haylen reports that there is a deep range transmitter there we could use to fix our radio. With the radio repaired, we can finally communicate to base for backup… and, more importantly for you, we can better locate whatever it is you are searching for. Suit up and meet me outside in 15. We’ll head for the facility.”

“Sir,” I agreed, watching his back as he headed out towards the garage where his power armor rested.

Dogmeat whined at my side, nose bumping into my calf. “Oh, I’m not leaving you here, buddy. You’re coming with me.” I squatted down to his level and ran my fingers through his fur. “I’m not leaving you, not after you came all this way to find me.” He lapped at my face, tail wagging wildly behind him. I was surprised at just how much I had missed having him with me.

Rhys gawked at me. “You’re taking him with you?”

“Don’t see why not,” I replied, plopping the helm Danse had given me onto my head and securing the strap under my chin.

“He isn’t properly trained!”

I shrugged one shoulder as I tugged on my boots, lacing the shoe strings tightly around my leg. “Neither am I.”

“He’ll be fine, Rhys,” Haylen piped up. “Ash told me that Dogmeat saved her from some raiders back at the Ironworks.”

I winked at the Scribe, thankful she had my back. “Exactly. He may not be trained by your standards, but he isn’t going to go running on front in my gun either.” I buckled the last bit of my leather armor in place and pulled a coat over me to protect me from the harsh rays of the heat. The last thing I needed was a sun burn.

“Paladin Danse-“ Rhys started, a rebuttal on the tip of his tongue.

“Has no sway over what I do. He can shove it.”

I met Danse outside the garage. He was completely encased with power armor, the metal glinting in the sun as he dragged the garage door closed behind us. “How do you move around in it?” I asked, eyeing the set. There was a moment back in Concord with the Minutemen that Preston had tried to urge me into a suit… but my fear of tight enclosed spaces made me shy away from it. We didn’t need a panic attack on our hands. The deathclaw had been enough to handle.

“It’s actually quite simple. It’s crafted to fit you perfectly to ensure that walking feels very natural. If you stick around long enough, you could get your own. Course, you would have to be an official member.”

“I’ll pass.” The thought of collecting remnants of old technology and being called a Knight sounded ridiculous to me. “But thanks.”

“It’s your choice.” He co*cked his head towards the alleyway that would lead out to the main road. “Move out.”

He took point as we moved through the streets of Cambridge. We stuck to the alleys as much as possible, not wanting to alert any ghouls of our presence. It wasn’t until we were out of the town that Danse’s demeanor relaxed in the slightest. “We will keep to the outer paths from here as to not to draw unwanted attention.”

We continued in silence then. Danse was focused on our surroundings.

It was sad, really. I guess deep down I had hoped that some shred of my time would remain but, even now, there was nothing. I could scarcely recognize once familiar landmarks or frequently visited locations. So much had changed.

I trailed behind Danse as we followed the road west. The street itself was cracked, shattered, and broken; the lines that separated left from right had long since faded and were little more than barely visible streaks bleached by the sun. The poles that once held lamps were withered and worn, some bent over as if the humidity in the air was just too much to bare.

Sweat trickled along my neck, matted the lose strands of hair that refused to remain tied back against my cheeks and jaw. The air felt stiff and muggy, breathing in it was difficult at best.

Danse seemed oblivious, however, thanks to his power armor. Though the suit was clunky and awkward, I had to admit that it had a few benefits that I did not have at my disposal. Like constant shade from the sun, higher protection from crazed raiders and ferals, and a clear picture of what his major vital signs were.

I peeked down at the Pipboy on my wrist, tapping the green screen a few times with my finger to wake it up. This thing was supposed to monitor my health as well but aside from the map function, I had little idea how it worked. Sturges had attempted to educate me on proper handling but my lack of tech savvy didn’t help the situation.

I dropped my arm to my side once more and scanned the horizon. Dogmeat had trotted off up ahead and was circling back, nose to the ground. If we had lived during pre-war times, I would have adopted him in a heartbeat. I could picture the pup lopping around a backyard, playing with Shaun…

I blinked hard. No, don’t think about. Stay focused on the present.

“So, Haylen mentioned something about there once being more of you?” I spoke up, wanting to get out of my own headspace for a breather.

“Affirmative,” Danse confirmed. “There were actually two squads before mine. One was very successful; they did a sweep of the Commonwealth and reported back to the Citadel with plenty of pre-war technology and information. They did so well that Elder Lyons agreed to allow another recon team to do a more thorough search. However, they have since gone dark. That’s why my squad is here now. Our mission is twofold.”

“To find out what happened to the missing recon team?” I hedged, picking up my pace to keep with him.

“Precisely. And to research more into an organization known as the Institute.”

I wrinkled my nose. Institute… Preston and Sturges had mentioned them once. Something like the Commonwealth boogeyman. They were rumored to steal children away in the night… but my information about them didn’t exceed past that. To be fair though, my information on anything in this time was pure sh*t. It was like starting at Ground Zero “I think I’ve heard about them, but what do you know?”

“Not much. We have been receiving strange readings that can only be traced on high frequencies on our sensors… We do know they have a close relation to synths. That alone should warrant concern.”


He turned to furrow his brows at me, scowl in full force. “Maybe Haylen was right, you did hit your head pretty hard.” He spun his attention front again before answering my question. “Synths are machines, like robots.”

I scoffed. “Aren’t robots and synths the same thing then? They don’t sound too different.”

“Maybe not in theory. But in practice, they are abominations. Synths aren’t like your average Mr. Handy or Assaultron. They are engineered to look like humans, act like humans.” His voice deepened, his tone taking on a more serious tone, an angrier tone. “But they are killing machines and have only one goal: annihilate humankind. They have no emotions and they are deadly. Thankfully, they are not all like that. The earlier generations of models look very much like the monsters they are. They are easily distinguishable from humans.”

I felt a chill run down my spine. “Does that mean anyone could be a synth?”


“How do you know if they aren’t? They could be anywhere.”

“Close observation, always be on your toes. Don’t trust anyone.”

I bit my bottom lip, nerves getting the better of me. Then what the Minutemen were saying was true.

“So what do you plan to do about it?”

“Get backup. If we can get the transmitter working, we can call in the Prydwen and get reinforcement. We have gathered enough information to warrant the Elder being involved. Then, I suppose we find this Institute and take the fight to them.”

“Can you really do that?”

He didn’t answer, his lips drawn tight into a line. “We have lost many good brothers and sisters… I don’t doubt the Brotherhood, my faith in our mission remains strong. But, I don’t want to see anyone else suffer or die for the cause either. Sometimes death is inevitable, but…” his voice trailed off.

The empty sleeping bags, the unused gear. There had been more people in Danse’s squad before now. Haylen had hinted at it, implied that three people were never sent out alone… And Danse had been the one leading them. Did he feel responsible? “Danse-“

“We are here,” he announced, cutting me off. I could take the hint.

I glanced up at the facility as we closed in. The walls were scarred with graffiti and spatters of blood. The equipment stood slumped over unused in two centuries. The name ‘ArcJet Systems’ was scrawled along the eastern fence as we passed through the gates.

“I don’t know what we are going to find inside,” Danse said as he halted just before the entryway. “But be on guard and make no brash decisions. Your combat skills are still weak. Make sure your pup stays back and only comes forward if it is safe for him to do so. We are not running and gunning, but I don’t want to stick around either. Understood?”


“Utilize cover, be smart.”

I rolled my eyes. “Yeah, I know.”

He gave a stern look but allowed my attitude. “Stay at my six, don’t run ahead.”

And then we entered.


Dogmeat whined ahead of me as we descended into the rocket engine test firing room. Danse was banging around somewhere, his power armor making a quiet approach all but impossible (I had tried a few times, only to hear him shout out, giving away my position, and encouraging enemy synths to swarm me – it was real great). With how pathetic of a gunner I was, I only had stealth to rely on when the going got rough… and he seemed determined to rid me of that ability.

Aside from some mild scrapes and bruises, I was holding together. We had encountered hostiles early on but, doing as Danse commanded, I stayed in cover and only leaned out of it when I knew I could get a shot. His drive to continue forward, insistent that we not slow down, made keeping pace challenging but not undoable. If I hadn’t had his training, I would be reduced to a puddle.

The hostiles we had run into? Synths… but earlier generations. They were fearsome to look at but killable. They were a mess of metal and wiring, electricity buzzing through their frames. Their actions were easy to guess after a few minutes, their programming being their greatest weakness.

However, we still didn’t have the transmitter, which meant we had to go deeper into the building.

We took the last step off of the metal stairwell, our boots planting themselves firmly on cement once more. Though the outside of the faculty had been in shambles, the inside was intact and structurally sound, even with all the gunfire.

The Paladin trudged over to a panel along one of the walls as I squatted next to Dogmeat, ruffling his fur behind his ears. The bottom of the room was barren aside from a few branching hallways. A window pane revealed a another area.

“Elevator is out,” Danse reported. “Must be a way to turn the power back on. Look around, I’ll man the perimeter.”

“Sure, make me do all the hard work,” I grumbled under my breath, motioning for Dogmeat to follow me down a side passage.

“What was that, Jones?” Danse called back, tilting his head towards me.

“Nothing… sir.”

With a slow exhale we rounded the corner, following an assortment of fraying wires that ran the length of the wall above my head. That room behind the glass panel seemed important. I wasn’t sure if it was a control room but it was worth a look. I just had to find it.

“Bingo,” I breathed, lips turning up into a small grin as I jogged over to the power station. “No power here either, huh?” My eyes surveyed the small room. There were plenty of random odds and ends, tools and nails, open crates and drawers. I snatched a few items, pocketing them for later. I still wasn’t sure what Sturges had used as an excuse for my absence… Might as well be prepared for anything..

Dogmeat’s excited bark caught my attention. “You find the switch?” I asked, knowing all too well he wouldn’t be able to actually respond. Sure enough, as I made my way towards the back, I was greeted with a rather obvious control panel, a bright green lit up terminal just waiting to be activated. “That should do the trick.”

Jabbing my fingers at the keyboard a few times rewarded me with the startup sounds of machines waking to life. They gave some ominous groans but eventually lights flickered on above my head and the crackling of electricity reached my ears. “Perfect.”

I returned to the power station, gently knocking on the glass to get Danse’s attention. I offered a thumbs up, pointing at the controls behind me. He gave a curt nod, indicating I could return to his side, that he was ready to board the elevator up to where we believed the transmitter to be located at.

“sh*t,” I heard Danse curse from outside the room as I began to make my way through the side corridor. Synths. Reaching for my rifle, I took aim as I exited the tunnel, Dogmeat racing past me on all fours to barrel into an enemy, effectively dragging the synth to the ground in one fell swoop. Take that, Preston, thinking that Dogmeat couldn’t protect me. Pfft.

A synth zeroed his sites on me, laser musket firing a few shots in my direction. I ducked, rolling to the right to narrowly avoid getting hit. I didn’t want to know what happened when one of those little beams of light touched me… I had seen Danse reduce foes to piles of ash. I wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of joining them.

I supported my gun up on my knee and aimed once more. My finger closed in on the trigger. The synth took a bullet to the shoulder, its body convulsing backwards before hunching forwards once more. Two more shots left it crippled, crawling on its hands, dragging its legs behind it. I gave a low whistle for Dogmeat to finish it off.

My heart beat in my ears but it wasn’t chaotic. This was tolerable. So far.

“Head to the elevator!” Danse instructed, backing his power armor suited ass towards our destination. Dogmeat loped ahead of him, snarling viciously at the synths that attempted to come closer. I launched out of the hall, ducking around Danse before settling into the lift. I prodded at the up button, the doors giving a satisfying thud as they closed, offering a metal shield between us and the Institute’s lackeys.

Danse’s breaths came easy and controlled. I often wondered if he did everything in his life that way – brushing his teeth just precisely, making sure every piece of hair lay just perfectly in order to allow for maximum aerodynamics when he walked. “The top floor is going to likely be infested with synths. We need to acquire the transmitter and escape quickly. Try not to make any hasty decisions.”

“Yeah, yeah, keep to the plan. Get the thing, leave. Cake. Got it. I heard you the first fifty times.”

“Jones, I’m serious.”

“No sh*t. Is there a time you aren’t?” I smirked up at the man only to receive a scowl in response. Did he have any other facial expressions or was that just his natural face?

The doors of the elevator whooshed open, the telltale sound of drones ahead, their robotic voices filtering into the air. We burst into the room, Danse already firing. I dove for cover against a decapitated office desk, watching as he took down the first round of enemies. I ripped open a few drawers, digging through the contents for anything I could use. A satisfied grin lit up my face as I located a fragment grenade, attaching the mini explosive to my belt for later use.

“Jones!” Danse barked.

Reloading my assault rifle, I propped my arms up on the top of the desk, steadying my aim and firing a few shots off at the back of a synth a few feet in front of me. It shuddered, wiring short circuited as sparks flickered out from the new hole I had created for it.

But my excitement was short-lived.

For every one we killed, two more seemed to take its place.

There were more of them up here then there had been downstairs. A lot more. Too many. They kept pouring in through an entryway on the other side of the room, guns at the ready and firing at a constant rate. Danse was doing a good job of keeping them at bay as Dogmeat and I stayed behind our protective barrier but…

My adrenaline was in full force now. Training hadn’t really prepared me for this.

Like I said, firing at stationary targets wasn’t exactly like targeting the real deal.

“I don’t see the transmitter!” I could hear Danse call from somewhere off to my right. “One of them must have it.”

Because, you know, the situation wasn’t already f*cking ugly to begin with.

I ducked behind my makeshift cover once more, just in time to see laser beams soar above my head. I peered at Dogmeat who gave me a reassuring nudge. Ever the optimistic. I blew out a breath, blinked a few times. Okay. Time to move forwards.

I scooted to the edge of cover, eased myself into a good position, and lunged to the next cart, flinching as a volley of gunfire followed my path.

Once again, I was jealous of Danse and his power armor. Having mobile cover must have been nice.

I repeated this action a few more times until I had circled around to higher ground, wanting to get a better vantage point. I peeked up over the top, scanned our adversaries. One of them had to have it… If I could find it, we could go.

“There!” I shouted, jamming my finger towards one of the synths making its way towards the elevator we had just come up. “sh*t… Danse, it’ll get away with it!”

If we did noting, the synth would ride that lift down to his buddies below… and likely be gone by the time we were able to get down there (if we could even do so with all of the other synths at our necks). If the transmitter was not retrieved, I would be further than ever from getting Shaun back, from having my life return to some kind of normalcy. Without it, I would continue to be lost…

Without hesitation I hurtled forwards, vaulting over the desk I had been bunkered behind. “Jones!” I could hear Danse holler but I paid him no heed, my eyes zeroed in on the synth and his ever closing position to the elevator.

I could hear Dogmeat’s alarmed bark.

A bullet whizzed past my head, the ricochet off my helmet making my head spin. My vision blurred, I blinked rapidly to clear it. An explosion of pain detonated from my back left shoulder verifying that I had indeed been hit. Still I kept forward. I wasn’t a pile of ash yet. My feet thudded heavily on the linoleum floor, papers flying haphazardly around me as I whirled past. I could feel the stickiness of blood oozing from my back, coating the shirt I wore underneath my armor. I didn’t think it was fatal… Hopefully.

At about three feet away I made a dive, tackling the synth just as his foot entered the elevator. I slammed the drone into the back wall, slicing my fingers against its metal frame but gritting my teeth against the sting. I heaved the drone away from the wall only to hurl it back against the lift with a strength I didn’t know I had. “Give.” Another slam. “Me.” And again. “The. f*cking. Transmitter!” I screamed with each bang, oblivious to the doors closing behind me, to Danse calling my name on the other side. I only wanted one thing and this damn synth was between me and it.

Finally the robot halted in its defense measures, body going limp in my now blood soaked hands. I snatched the transmitter from its fist, cradling the device against my chest. My breaths were rapid, uneven, crazed. My heart pound out an unsteady beat in my ears so loud I worried the people of Sanctuary could hear it from here. My lungs felt as if they were on fire, my throat burning from the all too quick flow of oxygen back and forth.

“Danse, I-“ Only then did I become acutely aware of the descending box I was located in. My eyes flicked up to the panel above my head… going down…

The doors would be open soon… and I would be covered in bullet holes. Working fast I pounded my fist against the ‘Up’ arrow on the dash, looping the transmitter into the harness at my waist for safe keeping. Reaching on tip toes I managed to unlock the hatch above my head, crawling on top of the lift through the hole it provided.

Below me the elevator doors pinged open, a torrent of gunfire welcoming the now Ash free space below.

“Intruder Alert”

“Heat scanners picking up life”

“Commencing search.”

They would enter soon, the elevator stalled for a few moments before registering my previous command.

Snatching the grenade I had pocketed minutes ago, I pulled the pin, and tossed the explosive into the room below me. With just seconds on my side, I hefted the hatch shut, and pressed my back against the cool cement walls.

I had two outcomes here available to me. One: the elevator would still be functional and would start its ascension after the grenade went off. Two: I would be a rather un-charming mound of mush and gore splattered against the outsides of the lift.

Oh, please be the first one.

An ear splitting rumble blasted out below my feet, the lift rocking violently but remaining in its tracks. Smoke hissed through the cracks of the hatch, the smell of burnt metal present. But, thankfully, I wasn’t dead and I could no longer hear my enemy shuffling around underneath.

With a quiet, yet now distorted, ping, the elevator moaned, sluggishly beginning its climb back towards the top floor. I slid to the floor, legs sprawled out in front of me as I gave a sigh of relief. “Holy sh*t, Danse is going to murder me.”

After a few seconds, the lift grinded to a halt one final time, the doors opening. I pried the hatch open, leaping through the gap and landing heavily in a mass of scattered arms and legs. Ah, and a gun to my face.

And a very, very angry Danse.

“We really need to stop meeting like this,” I quipped, raising a hand to lower his weapon. Behind him the room was cleared, the soldier himself appearing to be no worse for wear than he was when I left.

Dogmeat danced at my feet, licking at my hand as I lowered it in greeting only to pull back due to the iron taste of blood. “Yeah, it’s not great.

“I got it,” I said as I held out the transmitter to Danse, the Paladin turning scarlet with fury. He snatched it from me and attached to his suit. “You keep that up, smoke stacks are going to come out of your ears.” Still, he remained silent

He spun and headed for a secondary elevator that would take us to the surface. He said nothing as we waited for the lift to arrive and stayed that way as we went up.

Hell, even a half mile away, he still wasn’t talking.

I watched in silence as he got out of his power armor and stowed it in the garage, using the time to bandage my palms and fingertips with gauze and tape I had in m pack. They stung like a bitch but the cuts were all fairly superficial.

I followed as he trekked around to the front of the Station. Before he opened the door I finally spoke up, “Is this going to continue?”

He whirled on me then, jaw set, eyes filled with anger, muscles tense. “What? Is what going to continue?”

“Uh, this,” I replied, waving a hand between us. “What’s up your ass?”

“Up my ass?” he bit back, incredulous to my word choice. “What the f*ck were you thinking, Jones? Diving after that synth like that?”

“I was thinking about the mission and getting the stupid transmitter.” Which was a lie. At the time, I had only been thinking about my son and how that small hunk of metal and parts was my key to locating him.

“f*ck the mission! You put the mission, myself, and your own life in danger for what? You could have been killed! You should be dead right now! How you escaped I have no damn clue. We could have all perished because of your idiotic, irrational, thoughtless stunt!”

“But we didn’t,” I pointed out.

“That’s not the point! You directly disobeyed orders, went against my instructions, and risked everything! Why? Why do that? What is so god damn important to you that you decided that you can throw that all away?!” Danse’s hands balled into fists at his side.

My lips parted but no words fell out. I closed them again, eyes searching the ground. Aside from Preston and the Minutemen, no one truly knew me. And even then, those back in Sanctuary only knew so much. I told them I was from a Vault and that my son was kidnapped. I didn’t tell them which Vault or what happened to me while I was there. I figured the less people knew about me, the less likely the same people who took Shaun would know where I was. Secrecy was the only thing I had going for me.

Hell, ever since I left the Vault, I hadn’t stopped moving. Hadn’t stopped to think or absorb what actually happened. The death of my husband was buried inside, the emotions tied to it locked away in a small cabinet in the back of my head that I never wanted to open. The kidnapping of my son, raw still. I hadn’t faced it. And being asked direct questions about it? I could feel a tremble work its way up my spine.

“Answer me, Jones!"

“I have my own reasons,” I replied quietly.

Danse shook his head, scoffing at me, “You put MY life in danger. I deserve to know what is so important to you that you feel that everything around you is expendable, including you and me. I didn’t take time to train you for you to take everything I taught you and chuck it out the nearest window!” He reached forward, gripping my shoulders. Dogmeat gave a low growl behind me, warning for him to back off. I looked up at the man, eyes wide.

“Hey! What’s going on?”

“Preston?” I gasped, Danse’s hands loosening in the slightest.

Sure enough, the trench coat wearing, Minutemen leading man strode forwards, eye flickering between Danse and me. “Ash? What…?” His voice trailed off as he focused in on the Brotherhood of Steel emblem on my helmet. “Sturges said you were out gathering materials. I didn’t think I would find you this far South. When Dogmeat scampered off, I knew something was off but..?” I could hear the question in his voice. Preston directed his next line at Danse, “I suggest you release Ashtyn immediately.”

Danse’s eyes narrowed but he complied, not moving further away but at least his hands were gone from my shoulders.

“I ran into the Brotherhood,” I finally replied, blinking a few times to clear my head. “I did grab some supplies though,” I gestured to my pack. “I was just helping them gather a transmitter for a radio so they can contact base or whatever.”

“I see.” Preston kept his gaze focused on Danse, never truly relaxing his hold on the laser musket he carried. “Are you returning to Sanctuary now that you’ve helped them then?”

“Uh… Well, not yet. I still haven’t found enough supplies.”

“Ash, I told you that I didn’t want you to head out until your leg was completely healed.”

I sighed exasperatedly. “I get that, but I couldn’t just sit around and do nothing.” If I did nothing, I would be forced to realize what happened to my family, to relive it over and over again. I wasn’t ready for that. How could I ever be ready for that?

“I can escort you back to Sanctuary, if you like,” he offered, expression hopeful. He knew he had no actual control over me. Like with the Brotherhood, I wasn’t an official member of the Minutemen. It had been offered to me on several different occasions, but I always refused stating that I would prefer just to help in any way I could.

I shook my head. “I’ll return when I’m ready, promise.”

“Ash, I-“

I raised a hand to cut him off. “I get it, Preston. I do. But I’m safe.”

Preston’s face darkened. “Doesn’t look that way to me. Make sure you don’t find yourself with the wrong people.”

Danse spoke up for the first time in the transaction, “You trying to insinuate something, civilian?”

Preston sneered, “Other than the fact that I know a bad person when I see him? Nope. Not at all.”

“And what makes you so much better? Should I be an over-protective guardian like you?” Danse threw back.

“Stop it!” I demanded, putting my hands on the chest of either man, pushing them away. “Stop acting like children. Preston, go home. Danse, back off. Me? I’m going back to the station to have Haylen look at my shoulder which, in case you didn’t notice, is still trickling with blood. So thanks. Bye.”

I waved a hand dismissively, pressing past the pair of them and bee lining for the building ahead.

After a few seconds I heard Danse jog up beside me. “Our conversation isn’t over, Jones.”

“It is for now,” I replied, shoving the door open with both hands.

Haylen stood from her spot next to the window. “Ash! Danse?”

Danse dropped the transmitter onto the counter. “Tend to her wound.” His voice was flat, vacant of emotion, void of any feeling. He disappeared into the left room. I could hear him speaking to Rhys, likely giving report on the mission. I took comfort in knowing I wouldn’t have to answer his questions… at least, not today. But eventually he would ask again… I had to come up with a way to respond. Should I lie? Tell the truth? I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure about anything anymore.

Haylen hesitated before coming to my side and leading me to a spot with good lighting. “What happened?”

She unlatched the first aid kit as I unbuckled my armor and yanked my shirt off over my head, cringing as the muscles in my shoulder moved to comply. I kept my tank top on for privacy measures, just in case one of the men decided to waltz back into the room. “Seems the Paladin disagrees with my tactical decisions.”

“That doesn’t really clear anything up.”

“I blew up an elevator, after going against orders.”

“Oh.” I felt her dab at my back, washing away the blood before moving to bandaging me up.

“He’s pissed because I put my life at risk and blah, blah, blah. I don’t see how what I do should concern him. We got the transmitter. Mission success. And no one got too hurt. So what’s the big flipping deal?”

Haylen taped up the dressing after applying what appeared to be burn ointment to my skin. “Ash… There’s something you need to know about Danse.”

“If this is another ‘you should be grateful’ speech, I could do without that right now.”

“It’s not. But, he takes his position as leader very seriously. We’ve lost four people so far… and he takes the blame for most of it. Even though Rhys and I have told him several times that it isn’t his fault, he doesn’t listen. Watching you blatantly put your life at risk, it probably gave him a heart attack.” She patted my arm to indicate she was finished and handed me a fresh sweater to pull on. “Your life matters. And, for him, watching you throw it away when some of his men fought so hard to try to keep theirs… Just think about it, okay?” She gave a small smile, squeezing my hand.

“I will.”

“Good, that’s all I ask.” She stood then, brushing the dirt off of her suit before grabbing the transmitter. “I’m going to see what I can do with this. It may take a while to get it going but, better to start now then hold it off. If you need me, I’ll be on the roof.”

I gave a thumbs up as she walked out, leaving me alone with Dogmeat. He curled up on my sleeping bag, eyes lazily glancing around the room, sleep making his eyelids droop.

Kicking off my leg armor, I set the gear next to him in the small space provided. Pulling the helmet off my head, I paused, skimming my thumb across the emblem. Who wore this helmet before me? Was it someone Danse was in command of? Were they dead?

f*ck, she was right… in my blind anger I hadn’t considered how my actions could have affected him.

I hadn’t thought of anyone but myself.

We all had our hardships…

I placed the helm down gently and took a seat next to Dogmeat, hand patting his back.

Just like me, Danse had stuff he didn’t want to relive.

I made a silent vow that, as long as he didn’t push me to divulge in my memories, I would do the same for him.


Thanks to anyone who has given a kudos or bookmark so far! And thanks for the comment. <3

Chapter 5: A Way In


Sorry for the delay with this one. Had some personal family emergency stuff happen at the start of the week.

Chapter Text

“I’m the type of guy that likes to roam around,” I softly sang along to the lyrics blaring from my PipBoy, fingers digging through the crate on the counter below me. “I’m never in one place, I roam from town to town.” I picked up a soiled rag that wasn’t quite as raunchy as the others. “And when I find myself fallin’ for some girl.” Shimmy dancing to the left, I selected a pipe pistol that was coated in dirt and debris, and possibly some raider brains if I was attempting to be more descriptive. “I hop right into that car of mine and ride around the world.”

Shaking my hips from side to side and bopping my head I began to start cleaning off the unmentionables. “Because I’m the wanderer, yeah, I’m the wanderer. I roam around, around, ar-“


I squeaked, jumping a foot or two in the air, whipping my head around to gasp at none other than Paladin Danse who, even without his power armor on, could take up a whole doorway.

I flipped Diamond City Radio off, the gorgeous tune of Dion fading into nonexistence.

“What are you doing?”

I raised the hand that held the pipe pistol. “Cleaning guns? Rhys told me to.” It had been a week since Danse and I had our mission at ArcJet Systems. Since then, we had spoken little aside from when I reported in with whatever low-key mission I completed for Haylen or Rhys.

Don’t get me wrong, fighting ghouls and locating old pieces of long lost technology was fun, if not distracting, but I was itching to find more information out about Shaun. However, without joining the Brotherhood, my access to the transmitter and, by default, the radio was denied. Danse didn’t trust me. Haylen vouched for me but her vote wasn’t enough to sway the two way split between Rhys and Danse. I had to do something to prove my worth to one of them. I made a solemn oath to do whatever task they gave to me.

Today was a down day for us and I needed a task to occupy my time, less I start to crawl the walls. Thus, gun cleaning. And no, Rhys and I were not yet on better terms. I was fairly certain he sent me in here just to get me out of his face.

“And is dancing part of the protocol?” Danse arched a brow at me.

“Not all of us like to suck the fun out of everything,” I grumbled.

“I don’t-“

I snorted at him before he could continue. I was rewarded with a scowl in return.

Danse exhaled slowly, likely trying to control the urge to smack me upside the head. “Whatever. Finish what you are doing here and then turn in for the night.”

With that, he was gone.

I shrugged, returning to scrubbing the metal until it was shiny.

I jabbed my pointer finger against the play button to Diamond City Radio, just catching the tail end of ‘Wanderer’. A pout of a frown crossed my lips as I realized my song had ended and I was about to be forced to listen to Travis drone on and on in his whimper of a voice. Pass.

Just as I clicked the PipBoy off again, Haylen poked her head around the corner. “Oh, gross, cleaning duty?” she asked, trotting to my side and glancing over my work. “Wow, I actually didn’t know these could look this good. Maybe you should clean guns more often.”

I cringed, waving the rag in front of her face, showcasing the filth and grime that coated every square inch of the fabric. “I would really rather not, if that’s an option.”

She chuckled, picked up another cloth and began to help me. “Rhys wanted to get you out of his face?”

“That’s my guess, yeah.”

“Think you two will ever get along?”

I rolled my eyes. “No. Though not from a lack of trying; kind of hard when he has that giant pole stuck sideways up his ass.”

“Rhys is just really dedicated to what he does,” Haylen defended though her tone implied that she wasn’t fully convinced herself. “That doesn’t necessarily warrant his love of insulting everything that moves but he means well.”

“Like Danse?” I questioned, remembering what she had said the other day.

“Yeah… Like Danse.” She paused before continuing, “Has he forgiven you yet?”

“Based on his attitude as of five minutes ago? Probably not, no.”

Haylen flipped the gun in her hand over and began to meticulously pick at the other side, attempting to remove weeks’ worth of dirt. “Is he going to help you still?”

“At this rate? No clue. I think I have to get in his good graces for that to work.” I was beginning to feel hopeless, like I was stuck in the same rut I had been in with the Minutemen. The deal I had made was on thin ice because of how my lack of tactical thinking and my impulsive behavior led to an unsafe outcome. Danse didn’t trust me to have his back. And, if I was being perfectly honest, I couldn’t blame him. I was a loose cannon. So, I would have to get on his good side if I wanted access to the equipment that would help me find Shaun. The tricky bit was figuring out how to do that.

“Any ideas so far?”

I gave her a shrug, shaking my head. “I’ll let you know when I think of one. How’s your work on the radio coming?”

Her whole body noticeably sunk. “Nowhere. It’s a lot more complicated than I thought it would be. I’m missing stuff like copper and wire and connecters. I won’t bore you with the details but, it’s going to take longer than I originally thought.”

“Anything I can do to help?”

“Distract me? Want to grab a Nuka Cola on the roof for a bit? You can always come back to this when we’re done. I’ll tell Rhys I gave you a break,” she gave me such a hope-filled grin, I couldn’t refuse.

“Twist my arm, why don’t ya?” I joked, setting down my rag. “Lead the way.”


By the time I was finished with the dozen or so guns Rhys had ordered me to clean, the candles were all but melted and the world outside was completely and utterly dark. A storm was brewing off in the distance, lacing the air with a hint of moisture that the radiation would usually otherwise evaporate away. A low rumble trickled through the sky, indicating my assumptions were correct.

I tossed the now completely used rag in a bin below the counter, tagging it to be brought to the river to be cleaned tomorrow morning. Wiping off residual yuck on my jeans, I blew out the candles and walked out of the room.

The Station was quiet, everyone either asleep or close to it in the main room below. I wore nothing more than my jeans and a black tank, hair tied up in a ponytail. During my last visit to Vault 81, post molerat infection/infestation drama, I had Horatio trim the sides of my hair but not so much that I didn’t have enough to pull it back. The style gave me a harder look, and meant I had less to shove into that helmet Danse insisted I wear whenever I left Cambridge.

The tattoos I had received over 200 years ago were just visible along my back shoulder blades, and the partial sleeve I had done prominent on my left arm, the same arm that donned my PipBoy. You know, I was still trying to figure out what the hell that thing ran on. Batteries? Solar powered? Did I have to feed it something? I wasn’t sure. It always worked, no matter where I was or what I was doing – even underwater. The dwellers in the Vault 81 didn’t seem to be very forthcoming with information; their major concern simply being if I had stolen it.

Chuck it onto the pile of mysteries yet unsolved after the bombs fell.

I was half tempted to leave the thing with the rest of my abandoned gear and move on. It wasn’t doing me any good.

As I neared the stairwell I could just make out the sound of hushed voices somewhere around the corner. Sinking to my hands, I silently edged forward till I was at the first step, remaining crouched, bare toes just glancing against the wooden floor boards of the first level. I held my breath, as if doing so would somehow make me less detectable. Hey, it worked in the movies.

Danse’s voice filtered through to me first, “-went missing weeks ago. I don’t even know if we will find anything…”

Rhys’ followed, “Without a working terminal or portable device, we wouldn’t be able to pick up their waypoints any ways. But we have to do something. They went dark.” Were they talking about that recon team Danse had told me about? Had they discovered new information?

Danse sighed. “Where did you say you received your last notice from them?”

“Over by Malden Middle School, east of here.”

“When we get the radio working again, we can dispatch a team to look for them. Until then, we just don’t have the resources.”

“Of course, sir.”

Their footsteps drifted off further into the building, away from the stairs.

A light bulb flickered on above my head from my perched position. The radio function of my PipBoy doubled as a relay detector… If I tuned it to the right signal, I could probably pick up the distress beacon Rhys was referring to… which meant I could find the lost team. The Paladin and Knight couldn’t do it because they didn’t have the resources… but I did.

I stood, preparing myself to beeline for Danse’s sleeping bag but paused, eyes widening a fraction of an inch. If I told him, he wouldn’t let me go. He didn’t trust me with basic missions; there was no f*cking way he would allow me to handle this top secret sh*t…

The only way this would work is if I didn’t tell him.

Which would be treasonous if I was a member of the Brotherhood of Steel.

Thankfully, for me, I wasn’t. Not yet, at least.

I think I may have found my way in.

I pivoted on my heels and headed for my own spot along the floor, footsteps all but silent as I crept past Haylen’s sleeping form. Kneeling down to my pack, I hooked the straps around my shoulders and padded for the front door. I could put my equipment on once I was out of here. I peered over my shoulder, eyes finding Dogmeat in the darkness. With a sharp tilt of my head, I instructed him to follow me as I exited the Police Station.

“We have to be super stealthy, buddy,” I ordered as I slunk past the gate, gaze constantly returning to the windows of the station for fear that I would be spotted. But no, I was in the clear. I just had to make it down the alleyway.

The air outside was muggy and sticky, clinging to my skin. Lightning danced across the sky on the horizon, another rumble rolling through the city.

I wouldn’t have much time before the storm moved in… Best to get going.

I slid the helmet Danse had given me on over my head, nimble fingers clasping the latch below my chin. After donning the rest of my armor and reassuring myself that it was properly fastened and secure, I turned towards Dogmeat.

Was I doing the right thing? Was I making a mistake? I wasn’t sure. And as I looked over the ghost town that lay dormant before me, my stomach twisted with fear. Would I even find them? What if I came up empty handed? Or worse, dead? I inhaled a deep breath, allowing the oxygen to fill my lungs and calm my nerves.

I could turn around but…


“Let’s go, boy.”


Call it optimism… or ignorance… but I had assumed the second recon beacon would be as easy to claim as the first. The first had been tucked away in an abandoned shack, protected by nothing more than a few irradiated, mutated bugs. Sure, they were freakishly disgusting, but a few bullets from my pipe pistol rid me of the threat in a matter of seconds.

The second beacon? Not so much.

I was inside the National Training Yard, back pressed against the wall as I gingerly toed my away across the room, attempting to avoid the gaping hole in the center that would send me careening over the edge and to the level below. Dogmeat whined from his position by the door but a raised finger to my lips hushed him. We were surrounded by ghouls. Though they were all currently asleep, unaware of my presence, I knew that could change in a moment’s notice.

Oh, and it was still raining.

The building itself was crumbling, falling apart at the seams. The structural integrity was compromised, as evident by the caving in roof and insect infested walls. Every step showered me in fright, frantic that I would send the whole thing down on top of me. I would be buried alive, and no one would know I was even here.

I had opted for stealth, knowing that in doing so I would be harder to detect and also lighter on my feet. It allowed me to listen more carefully, be more aware of my surroundings.

So far, it was working in my favor.

I held my breath as I made my way to the other side of the room, flinching when one of the boards creaked underneath my booted feet.

Just stay put, keep holding me, please.

One more step… another… one foot at a time… I braced myself against the wall, not wanting to place too much of my weight on the floor. My PipBoy continued its paced beeps, speeding up in tempo as I neared my destination. The volume was turned down as low as I could twist the dial, just loud enough for me to hear.

Once on stable ground, I sighed in relief, heart rate slowing down to a healthier rhythm.

My gaze zeroed in on my goal, a slumped over figure. I had a shred of hope that he was alive, just sleeping…

But as I got closer, I knew I was wrong.

I was met with another dead soldier, another downed man of the Brotherhood of Steel. When I had found the first at the shack, I couldn’t help the wave of sorrow that fled through me… but now, I was feeling pity, remorse, grief.

Danse’s squad… they had placed their hopes in these people, but they were dead.

Whispering a brief farewell, I saluted in respect. I wasn’t a member… but these men and women deserved that much. It was the least I could do.

He had so little on his body. Aside from the BOS orange jumpsuit and armor, he had nothing more than a few ammo cartridges, a holotape, his dog tags, and the very thing I was looking for. I looped the dog tags around my neck, the metal clinking against the set that was already there. I would bring these back, return them to their rightful place.

I clasped the transmitter from the man’s vest pocket, cradled the device to my stomach. “Okay, time to find the next,” I breathed, voice inaudible.

But as I took a step backwards, the floor finally gave up on me. I plummeted through molded floor boards, the wood too weak to sustain my weight. I flung out a free hand, desperately trying to catch myself by my fingertips but failing miserably in the process, only managing to slice my index finger on a jarring piece of flooring as I fell.

The landing stole my breath away, made my head swim and pound, stars fluttering in front of me. Dogmeat barked in warning; I could hear the soft pad of his paws as he raced down the stairs to join me.

It was too late though… I had already woken the ghouls.

Their groans and moans filled my ears as I clumsily scrambled to my hands and feet. I blinked rapidly, clearing the fog that marred my vision, forcing myself to focus.

I could see three ferals crawling into a standing position but I knew there were more further in. I didn’t stand a chance against them… My training with Danse had improved my skills by leaps and bounds but not by enough to take on a pack of ghouls all by myself.

Which meant I needed a Plan B.

Think, think! There had to be another way…

I whistled, calling Dogmeat to my side as I clambered towards the door. Turrets… There had been turrets. I had managed to skirt around them but maybe I could use them to my advantage now.

“Follow me, ass holes!” I shouted back at the horde, shoving the large doors of the National Training Yard building open. I gasped, having to stretch out a hand to clasp the handle for support, just narrowly avoiding tumbling to the dirt below.

I could faintly make out the sound of the turrets spinning in their tracks. They would shred my armor to pieces, tear me apart. I couldn’t get hit by them.

Which meant I needed cover.

And, not too surprisingly, the yard was pretty vacant of said cover.

My eyes scanned wildly, trying to come up with an attack plan as the ghouls closed in from behind. I had mere seconds before they were on me, seconds before their claw-like hands dug into my flesh. Adrenaline fled up my spine.


Moving quickly I dove for a parked truck, sinking underneath the vehicle, stomach pressed against the ground. Dogmeat wedged himself underneath with me, eyes wide and alert. Rain water pelted off of the truck, plinking against the metal and creating puddles in the ground. My hands were encased with mud, hair plastered to my neck and face. My clothing was soaked, the damp chill sinking into my bones.

The ferals poured from the open doors, jaws slack and arms swaying lazily at their sides as the stumbled into target range of the turrets. Though their lifeless golden gaze fell on me, their reaction time was too sluggish… The turrets warmed up, letting lose a volley of precision shot bullets aimed at the small horde. I watched as some tried to back pedal, to slink back into the safety of the facility… but they weren’t quick enough.

Their guts and blood splattered against the exterior of the building, painting the walls in scarlet. Their howls of anguish echoed through the area and I couldn’t help but cringe away. I still wasn’t used to this… I would never get used to this.

Those were people once. They were once living, breathing, thinking, loving people. They once had families, and kids, and parents, and loved ones. And now? They were reduced to nothing more than lifeless husks. And I just helped annihilate about twenty of them. The more rationale part of my head told me it was for the better. That I had to do this to get to Shaun, that it was okay. But a small, weak, human part of me, cried. “This is for Shaun,” I reiterated to myself. “It’s for him. I had to do this.” But even I wasn’t too convinced.

While the turrets were preoccupied I inched out of my makeshift cover, making my way towards the gate. Dogmeat stayed low the ground, head bowed forwards as he mocked my actions.

Once clear of the Yard, I launched myself upwards and took off at full speed for the dead trees that outlined the perimeter. I knew we were out of firing range but I couldn’t help the fear that bubbled up in my gut. The more distance I put between me and that place, the better.

We came to a halt a few meters into the woods. I took in several gulps of air, hunched over with my hands on my knees. “Okay… Okay…”

When my heart slowed once more, I pulled the transmitter from my belt and connected it to my PipBoy. The ping was quiet, faded, and almost stagnant. “Two down…” I peered at Dogmeat, his tail wagging and head co*cked to the side.

I ran the back of my hand across my forehead, pulling back a few stray strands of hair, flicking the water from my fingers. Overhead, lighting flashed, a roar of thunder boomed across the sky.

“We better get going…”

I twisted the dial on my PipBoy, increasing the volume of the pings as I started east.


Twenty-four hours and a beaten, bruised body later, I was closing in on a bunker along the northern reaches of the Commonwealth. Three pairs of dog tags now hung around my neck, the pieces jingling against each other with every step. My body was sore beyond measure, my lungs burning from overexertion. I couldn’t rid myself of the chill that clung to my skin no matter how tightly I hugged my arms to myself. Dogmeat nuzzled my calf, giving me a worried look.

“I’m o-okay,” I chattered, jaws trembling. My fingertips were numb from the cold.

Turns out, the National Training Yard had been f*cking child’s play compared to the Satellite Relay Station (the place my PipBoy led me to). Ghouls were nothing in comparison to supermutants… especially the kamikaze, suicidal variant who thought it smart to charge you with unpinned grenades. I shivered at the memory.

My goggles were gone, broken and smashed somewhere at the Station. I had lost them when a mutant decided it would be fun to bash my skull against a support beam. Had it not been for the eye gear, I probably would be suffering from one hell of a concussion.

But I wasn’t.

Instead, I was alive and hurting… a lot.

But I had a glimmer of hope to hold onto. Though the third member of the squad was dead like the others, there was a chance a man named Brandis was still alive. If he was, he would be hold up in the bunker that stood before me. I wasn’t sure how long he could have survived on rations but…

It was something. More than what I had so far.

I typed in the password at the terminal that barred entry to the bunker. The door grumbled as it eased open, light flooding into the evening air.

And a gun to my face…

Was this part of their training? Or was I just that lucky?

“Easy there,” I said, raising my hands in the universal ‘I come in peace’ gesture.

“What the f*ck are you doing here? Who are you?! One more… One more step and I’ll blow your f*cking head off! Who sent you? How did you get in here?”

The man was disheveled, grey hair greasy and uncombed, clothing dirtied and ripped. Though his posture was perfect, his hands wavered indicating his weakness.

“Are you Paladin Brandis?” I asked, taking a tentative step forward into the bunker. Dogmeat growled at my side, hair beginning to stand up.

“No. No, no, nonono! Not me! You get out of here!”

But the orange jumpsuit… the insignia on his armor, the dog tags around his neck… He was lying.

“Sir, with all due respect, I’ve come through hell to get here, to find you. Please, hear me out.”

“Best be quick about it, or I’ll shoot you where you stand.”

No pressure then. “Sir, Paladin, I’m here because of the Brotherhood of Steel. They sent in another team to find you. I’m not necessarily part of that team but I am helping them. I’ve traveled halfway across the Commonwealth to locate you. I followed the distress beacons of your team, their holotapes led me here. Please, if you just come back with me I can-“

“I’m not going back nowhere! Especially not with a liar!”

“I’m not, I can prove it.” I raised my fingers to my neck, clasping the thin chains that hung there and pulled. Holding the holotags out for him to inspect, I continued, “I recovered these. From your other soldiers. They didn’t make it, sir. But you did.”

His gun lowered, his expression contorting into one of grief and absolute sadness. “I failed them…”


He waved a hand to cut me off, the threat he posed gone just as quickly as it had come. “No, I did. I was supposed to keep them all safe but instead, I’m the only one that remains. I tried going back for them but… there was nothing I could do, not on my own. I can’t go with you. Not like this. Not as a failure to the brothers and sisters I served.”

Brandis turned from me, shoulders slumped in defeat as he rested his musket against a barrel. “I thank you for finding their tags, for doing what I couldn’t. Take what you want, rest a bit, but then leave. Go back to wherever you came from.”

I bit my bottom lip. He was so… so broken… “You intend to, what, stay here? Forever?” By the looks of it, he had barely enough food to survive more than another week or so. He had a stack of cans on a coffee table and a few cartons of purified water but… that was it. What did he plan to do after that was gone?

“You got a problem with that?” he questioned as he sat down on an old couch, the cushions just as deflated as his pride.

I did. It was so wrong. How could he just give up? “The Brotherhood needs you, Paladin.”

He leveled a glare with me. “Didn’t you hear me, girl? There’s no going back for me. Not anymore. I wouldn’t be of any use, it’s been too long.”

I had to convince him otherwise, had to get him out of here. “No one knows the Commonwealth like you, sir. We need you.”

Is this what Danse was going through? Did he feel needed? Or did he feel like a failure? Like a man who did nothing but let his team down? Haylen’s words rang in my ears again. He takes the blame for most of it, for most of what happened to his team. I couldn’t imagine what that felt like for him. If Brandis was any indication…

“Are you not listening? I’ve been here too long, I’m not the man I used to be.” His tone was stern but I caught the hint of reconsideration, the hesitation that rested just behind it.

“You don’t honestly believe that, do you?” My own voice was gentle, timid, as I took a few more steps closer. “You’re more than that, Paladin.”

He lowered his face into his palms, a shudder visibly running through him. “Would they even want me back?” muffled with tears.

I sunk into a cushion beside him, placed a hand on his back. “You survived out here against all odds. You lived, sir. The Brotherhood will honor that, and the memory of your team. Shouldn’t you be the one to tell their story?”

A silent pause stretched out between us, the Paladin’s body unmoving as he thought through his options, considered what I said.

Eventually, Brandis pulled back, glossy eyes finding mine. “You’re right… If I don’t go back… they will be forgotten, the hardships they suffered and sacrifices they made would be meaningless. I didn’t think of that… I can’t let that happen.”


“I’ll go with you. I’ll do it. For them.” A hint of a smile played on the corners of his lips. “Thank you, for making me see that.”

I patted his shoulder, relieved. “Don’t mention it, sir. When do you want to head out?”

“Dawn… We’ll leave at dawn. Find yourself a change of clothes, get dried off before you catch a cold. I’ll get some food started and you can tell me about how you came to find me.” He gestured towards the back of the bunker, a certain liveliness to his actions that wasn’t there just moments before.

As I did as he instructed, I couldn’t help but compare the man to Danse… Was he just as broken inside? Was he better at hiding it? How close was Danse to Brandis emotional wise?

How much weight did he carry on his shoulders?

And how much did I add to it with my carelessness?

I made a silent promise to apologize when I returned. Hopefully, he would forgive me.


I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel nervous upon returning to Cambridge. I had gone against orders, been missing for who knows how long, and likely broke several rules in the process.

Paladin Brandis must have sensed this. The man placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. “Worried?”

Peering up at the Station, I gave a short nod.

“Don’t be. I got your back.”

I gave a slow exhale as I nudged open the door to the Police Station, “I’m back!” I called out, voice echoing in the slightest off of the walls.

Knight Rhys jumped from his position, jaw popping open so wide I was worried it would come unhinged and fall to the floor. “You’re back?” his voice was disbelieving.

“Ash!” Haylen replied in return, poking her head around the corner. “Where did you go?” She jogged to my side, pulling me close for a sisterly hug before continuing with her line of questions, “What happened? Are you safe? Wha-“

Then Danse showed up. “Where were you? You went missing days ago, haven’t reported in, and-“

Brandis took a position to the side of me, raising a hand to politely silence the soldier, “Paladin Danse. I believe I can explain the situation.” Danse’s eyes widened. That got his attention.

“You have any Nuka Cola first? My bunker was fresh out by the time Miss Ashtyn located me.”

“I’ll get you some, sir,” Haylen pipped up, disappearing for a brief moment. I could hear her rummaging around in the back.

Rhys brought a few chairs over just as Haylen returned, making a somewhat comfortable place for us all to sit.

Danse allowed Brandis to enjoy a few refreshing (albeit, radiated) cola before hedging for information, “So, you said that you are able to provide details as to what has occurred. I want to foremost apologize for any reckless behavior Jones displayed while she accompanied you. I ensure you that she is not a member of the Brotherhood and is merely aiding us with trivial tasks while we wait for backup to arrive. I was unaware that she left the premises ”

Brandis sputtered. “Not part of the Brotherhood? Why the bloody hell not? This young woman saved my life.” Danse blinked once, twice, his gaze flicking between the two of us. “With the gadget on her arm, she was able to track our beacons. Listening to the holotapes my men left behind, she managed to hack the terminal that led to my bunker. And to think, I was this close to shooting you when I saw you,” his final sentence directed towards me.

“How did you even know to-“ Danse paused, realization clicking in. “You overheard Rhys and I speaking about it. I had foolishly thought you were asleep. You went on a mission without an order and-“

“And had she not?” Brandis finished, “I would have died. If she hadn’t come looking for me, I would have run out of food and supplies. I only had a few days left. I realize that she has made mistakes in the past,” he eyed me with a knowing smirk, “She spoke of them on our return. But I believe she is a valuable asset and the Brotherhood could use her. You’ll have to work on that trigger finger of hers but… I believe she should join us.”

“She must have done a lot to impress you then.”

“She did. Her heart is in the right place. She cares a lot, enough to retrieve the holotags from my men and return them to me. She spoke highly of you and your team; it is part of why I agreed to come here instead of finding my way back to the Prydwen.”

Danse hesitated. I don’t believe he had really considered the idea of ever letting me join. I was too risky for his standards but apparently I came highly recommended from Paladin Brandis. He focused on me, raising a finger. “On one condition.”

I nodded obediently. Was this really happening?

“You allow me to train you as an Initiate.” I parted my lips to reply but his look darkened, quieting me once more, “And no more stunts like at ArcJet. None. I don’t care how dire the situation is. I don’t care what you want to risk for whatever this end goal of yours is,” the expression he gave me following that statement served as a reminder that we had not yet finished our earlier discussion. “Only then, will I agree to let you join.”

Haylen glanced to me, a large grin on her face. This was what I had been hoping for.

I saluted, genuinely this time. “Yes, sir!”

It was a start… and at least one step closer to finding Shaun.

“And, Jones?” I glanced up at Danse. “Thank you. For finding him.”


Three hours later I was clean, completely dried off, and warm. Dogmeat was snoring, body curled up, head on my pillow. The soft glow of the lantern illuminated his outline, silhouetting it in the darkness. Guess I wasn’t the only one who had a rough few days.

Haylen was up on the roof again, tinkering away with the radio. Brandis was with her, trying to aid her in whatever way he could. Though he did not have much in the way of technical expertise, his years of knowledge on how Brotherhood gadgets worked was working to her advantage. If everything went according to plan, they would have it done in a week or so. Rhys was scouting, his absence allowing me to relax completely.

And Danse, he was in the office portion of the Police Station.

I bit my bottom lip nervously. I still hadn’t talked to him.

I needed to fix that.

With a heavy pit in my stomach, I stood. He deserved my apology but… that didn’t make giving it any easier.

I made my way to the entryway and poked my head in. His back was to me but I could see his muscles tense as he sensed my presence. “You need something, Jones?”

“No… I mean, not exactly. Can I come in?” My voice sounded off, lacking the forced confidence I usually projected. I was shy, out of my element.

“Yeah, of course.”

I walked in, timidly closing the distance between us. “What are you working on?” He was positioned in front of the workbench I had found. Was he the gun nut?

His gaze found mine when I came to a stop beside him, chestnut eyes focusing on me. “One of my old laser rifles. I’ve modified it a lot. It shoots faster, farther, and reloads quicker.”

“I didn’t have you pegged as the gunsmith type of guy.”

He scowled but I could see a hint of humor in his expression. “Most of us are. I just do it to calm myself, to relax. It’s something I can do with my hands and ends up benefitting others at the same time.” Danse paused for a moment before continuing. “You didn’t come in here to talk about guns, Initiate.”

“No… I didn’t…” I clasped and unclasped my fingers in front of me, glancing down at the ground as if it would somehow help me out. It didn’t. “Listen… I wanted to apologize. I know I’m reckless, and stupid, and careless when it comes to combat and tactics. I know I put your life on the line. That wasn’t fair and I know you may never forgive me for that. And, I know I went against orders to find Paladin Brandis, and that was wrong. But… I just wanted… you know, to say that I’m really sorry. From here on out, I’ll do my best to abide by your orders and listen to your training.”

He was silent, studying my features. Was he going to say anything? Do anything? The quiet was killing me. When I was about to give up hope and slink back to the main room, he spoke up, “I forgive you.”

My face whipped upwards, lips parted in surprise. “What?” I hadn’t expected that. Not in a million years.

“Brandis was right about a lot of things. One of those was that your heart was in the right place.” He ran his hand across the back of his neck, gaze averting from mine. “You knew that transmitter was what we needed to contact HQ. And you knew without it, we couldn’t help you. Whatever it is you’re looking for, it’s important to you. So much so that you would risk your life. I’m not saying you’re allowed to do that ever again, but… If anything, it shows your determination and dedication to a cause. Some of our brothers and sisters could learn a thing or two from you about that.”

I was stunned. He wasn’t belittling me or telling me how awful of a shot I was, or how I had to shape up and abide by their rules. No, he was… complimenting me. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. And I haven’t forgotten about our deal. I know you probably thought it was off the table after what happened at ArcJet, but it never was. I keep my promises.” He offered a kind smile to me. “But, you should head to bed. Training will start tomorrow, and it’s going to be hell in comparison to what I was putting you through before.”

I rolled my eyes. “Looking forward to it, sir.”

He chuckled in reply.

As I turned to leave he called back, “Oh, Jones?”


“Take this,” he held the gun he had been working on towards me. “I want you to have it. Its name is Righteous Authority.”

I cradled the rifle between my hands, giving my head a shake. “I can’t accept this, Danse. It’s your gun.”

“Well, yours suck. They are falling apart. It’s no wonder you can’t shoot straight. Besides, I have plenty more. If you’re going to be a member of the Brotherhood, you may as well have a decent weapon at your side. I modified it with some lighter weight material so it’s easier for you to hold.”

I was floored. First he agreed to forgive me… and now he was giving me one of his guns? I had been so wrong about him. “Wow, thank you. Really. I’ll be careful with it, I promise.”

“Better be.”

Holding Righteous Authority in my left hand, I gave a mock salute with my right, a lop-sided grin on my face.

Danse waved me away and returned to his tinkering. I watched his form for a second before building the courage to say what I wanted to. “Sir?”

“Yes, Initiate?” he answered without looking at me.

“You’re doing the right thing… I hope you know that.”

And before I had to face the consequences for my lack of verbal filter, I ducked out of the room.

Chapter 6: Steel Down

Chapter Text

I rolled my eyes for the fourth time during this stupid, idiotic, poor-excuse for a f*cking meeting as Rhys paced back past me, waving one of the pistols I had cleaned a few days ago in front of my face casually ticking off everything I had done wrong. As far as I was concerned? The gun was fine. Better than fine. Even Haylen had been surprised by how f*cking perfect it look. And, hell, I didn’t even have any Mr. Clean to help me. All I had was a rag that was already dirty before I started using it. I was so growing tired of this bull sh*t.

Ever since Danse allowed me to join the Brotherhood, the pole that was eternally wedged up Rhys’s ass continued to twist, the discomfort of it causing him to find every reason in the book as to why I should be demoted out of here. Haylen paid him no attention and Danse didn’t take it too seriously but it still grated on my nerves. My jaw was clenched so tightly I was worried one or two of my teeth would fall out if I unhinged it. My knuckles were turning a rather gorgeous shade of white, my hands curled into fists at my sides.

It dawned on me that perhaps he was just jealous. Dance had been training me as he promised, almost always at my side. I was trying to come to terms with it, to taking orders. Thankfully, Danse’s attitude wasn’t so aggravating, his tone no longer sounding as patronizing when I screwed up. He was being patient with me, trying to turn me into a better, safer soldier.

Rhys, on the other hand, was becoming more and more annoying by the second. But maybe he wanted his leader’s attention and wasn’t receiving it. I dunno.

“They Brotherhood means everything to him,” Haylen had told me that morning. “So much so that there isn’t room for anything.”

“What do you mean?” I had asked.

“Well… for example, love. I told him a while ago that I had feelings for him but he pushed me aside, said I would ruin his focus if we were to…. My point is, he loves what he does. Almost to a fault.”

And here I was, thinking Danse was the intense one.

And how sad for Haylen. It must have taken ages for her to gain enough confidence to confess her feelings to him… to be let down in such a way… My heart went out to her. I had only ever felt romantic for Nate before the bombs nuked everything to hell and back. And that love had always been returned. I had no idea what it would feel like to be rejected.

Hell, I could still remember the first time I met him. It wasn’t love at first sight but there certainly had been some sort of firework there. The way my heart picked up a few beats, my breath caught in my throat… and that smile.

I blinked hard. Stop it. Don’t think about it.

“Rhys, seriously, I gotta go. Danse wanted me ready fifteen minutes ago for a recon mission.” I attempted to keep the utter disdain I felt for the man from my voice but I could tell by way he winced, I had failed in doing so. Well, oops.

But yes, today Danse and I were headed out on a mission to retrieve a set of power armor. It was rumored that some of the raider groups up north had it in their possession. It wasn’t much to go off of but it was enough to peak our interest. Haylen reported that she believed it to be a set of the T-60 series, much better than any raider modified power armor that we had yet seen. How they got it, we weren’t sure. But we knew we had to get it back. Danse insisted that I go with him as part of my training – it would let him see how much I had improved.

“He will understand the reason for your delay once I explain your incompetency at gun cleaning to him,” Rhys replied, as if he was being completely reasonable.

“Riiiiiiight,” I drew out the word, crossing my arms tightly over my chest, jaw set angrily.

Heavy footsteps reached my ears, moving closer from the right corridor. “Jones, I told you to-“

“Danse, dude, I know. Blame Rhys,” I jabbed an accusing finger in his general direction. Danse scowled, which I assumed to be his permanent facial expression when looking at me. “Sir,” I bit out.

“Sir, Initiate Jones requires training in proper weapon maintenance. I was educating her on such material.” Rhys’ eyes got all big and innocent. Oh, if only I was allowed to punch him.

Danse sighed, running a hand through his dark bronze hair and sending me an exasperated look. I guess I wasn’t the only one growing tired of this. “Rhys, stand down. Jones and I were supposed to be on our mission by now. We have a lot of ground to cover before dusk and I would rather not have to stop short in supermutant territory. You can resume your lesson when we return two days from now.”

Though he didn’t look too thrilled with the outcome and went to pout in the corner like a dog who was just told he couldn’t have a biscuit, Rhys agreed. Danse eyed me, “Armor up and meet me out back. We will head north once you are ready. Be quick about it.”

I nodded and watched his back as he stomped out of the room. Even without power armor on, his ability to sound remotely quiet was lacking entirely. Maybe that was something I could teach him.

Doing as ordered, I made my way to my off orange sleeping bag. Dogmeat wagged his tail on my arrival, bouncing back and forth, ready to go. “Not today, boy,” I said apologetically. He whined, ears going back. “Hey, take it up with the big guy. He wants this to be part of my training and blah, blah, blah. Says you can’t come with because you help me out too much. In other words, you’re just too awesome,” I ruffled the fur behind his ears, giving him a big smile. “But I’ll be back before ya know it. Kay?” He seemed to agree with that, his tongue lapping at my cheek in response.

“You heading out?” Haylen asked, kneeling down beside me as I gathered my gear. She wore her red and black Scribe uniform though she lacked the backpack. Her light brown hair tumbled around her shoulders freely, framing her face and emphasizing the color of her eyes.

“Yep. Heading out soon.”

“Think you’re ready for it?”

“I think so.” My training had been intense, though not quite the hell Danse had threatened me about. We went for a run early in the morning. When we got back, we would eat a light breakfast and start a hour long shooting practice. Righteous Authority handled better in my hands than any of my previous guns. Danse was right, my gear sucked. My aim was improving significantly and I rarely missed my stationary targets.

Brandis would take me in the late morning to teach me tactics and strategical thinking. Haylen and he would combine forces to come up with a variety of combat situations that would require my quick decision making skills. It was fun to try to find ways out of them… and sometimes, I even surprised the duo with my solution.

Danse would return in the afternoon along with Rhys, and the three of us would go on patrol. Cambridge was swimming with ferals, perfect for simple target practice. Though I wasn’t as precise there as I was in the garage, I was doing better than before.

After dinner, Haylen would educate me on Brotherhood morals, rules, and history. She presented the information in a way that wasn’t yawn-worthy, which I beyond appreciated.

“I think you’re ready too. You’ve come a long way in just a few short days,” she congratulated, giving my hand a reassuring squeeze. “I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks, Haylen. That means a lot.” But my gaze faltered. Was I impressing Danse? Rhys? Brandis? Or was Haylen just being nice?

As if able to read my mind, she added, “I’m not the only one that thinks that either. Brandis said so yesterday, remember?”

I smiled. “Yeah, you’re right. He did.” I pulled my hair up into a bun on the back of my head, frowning when some of the strands fell out when I released the elastic that held it in place. Some things would never change.

“Good. Now get out of here before Danse has an aneurysm from waiting too long.” She handed me my helmet as we both stood.

“Wish me luck!” I called as I started for the door.

“Ad Victoriam, Initiate!” she replied.


It was difficult to pinpoint something I actually liked about post-nuka-hell. Radiation made the foods I once previously enjoyed taste like acid and death, water was toxic if you stayed in it too long, the concept of hot water was nothing more than a joke, most of the people you ran into either wanted to kill you outright or wanted something from you, and dirt had a nasty habit of showing up everywhere. Literally, everywhere. Even in places you would never expect.

Oh, yeah, and pizza was gone completely.

And that was just the little things. Never mind the dead husband, kidnapped son, and the fact that I skipped over 200 years of history while I slept in a damn ice box.

I suppose you could add long awkward silences from traveling partners in there too, if I was being real precise. Danse may be freakishly amazing at combat (with or without power armor, mind you) but his conversationalist skills were down the toilet. Buried.

Aside from the training he was providing me, we spoke little. I knew next to nothing about him and him of me. I had an itching feeling it was only a matter of time before he brought up his previously dropped line of questioning concerning what exactly it was I was looking for. I still hadn’t worked out how I would respond if he did. Future Ashtyn could deal with that. Right now, I was going to keep my eyes on the horizon, looking for trouble.

It wasn’t like I disliked the guy. Danse was endearing, in his own way. But we didn’t really click. To be blatantly fair, I didn’t feel like I clicked with anyone here… except maybe Haylen. There was just so much difference between us all. I knew of a world they couldn’t even dream of… and they grew up in the kill or be killed vibe of this one. But I didn’t even know where to begin getting to know him… or if he would answer my questions if I asked.

Maybe the quiet was for the best.

Of course, the moment I was beginning to like the silence, Danse had to go and ruin it. “I have been wondering,” he started, adjusting the scope on his rifle. He chose to go without power armor today. He said that it was because once we retrieved the T-60 set from the raiders, he would wear it back to base. Instead he donned a set of simple boiled leather chest piece and grieves with a combat armor right arm that was painted black to help him remain stealthier when night fell. Seeing him wear regular armor was… different. Much more exposed than what I was used to seeing from him. I wonder if that made him feel vulnerable. The way he kept glancing over his shoulder made me feel that my assumptions were at least partly accurate.

“And what is that?” I responded, mentally preparing myself.

“Why were you so eager to join the Brotherhood? Your tactics and style do not exactly align with ours. You are brash, quick to act without thought or plan, and-“

“Yeah, I know. You aren’t thrilled with anything I do.”

He paused, giving me… was that an apologetic look? “I am sorry. I didn’t mean to offend. What I mean is, the way you operate is a completely different beast from how we operate. I don’t understand why you chose to join us or what interest you have in our goals and morals. As I said, our deal still stands regardless of your stance with the Brotherhood.”

“Making the Commonwealth a better place is something I could get behind,” I offered, shrugging one of my shoulders half-heartedly.

“But it wouldn’t cause you to dive down an elevator shaft with a synth who is intent on killing you just so you can grab a transmitter,” he argued.

“Well, no. You got me there.”

“So, I was right that it was the radio you were after then? Since, well,, doesn’t your PipBoy give you that?” Damn, he was smart. I should have known he would put the pieces together. I hadn’t been remotely interested in joining the Brotherhood until I learned of the transmitter and how it would give the Brotherhood access to several different frequencies.

“The PipBoy doesn’t let me broadcast anything out, only to take stations in. So, yes, I am partially in it for the radio.”

“I am assuming this ties into what you are searching for?”

“That’s right. Good guess, Soldier Boy. Better be careful though, you know what they say about assuming.”

He shook his head, face screwing up into one of confusion as he glanced at me.

“Right, never mind.” Old world sayings flew right over his head. I kept forgetting that.

There was silence for a few moments, the sun beginning to set to our flanks. Danse broke the quiet once more, “You don’t have to tell me yet, but I still want to know. I am trying to learn to trust you to have my back, but it’s challenging when I don’t know when you’ll pull another stunt. It would be easier if I knew what it was you were searching for, or what it is that would cause you to risk your own life and the lives of others. But, I won’t pry. Not right now.” Well, color me surprised. I didn’t expect Danse to reply in such a way.

“It’s appreciated. Thank you.” I hesitated before asking my own question, “So why did you join?”


I snorted. “No, Danse, the other person I am working with.”

“Ha-ha,” he muttered. “But, to answer your question: I joined because they gave me an opportunity to change my life for the better.”

I wrinkled my brow. “What was it like before?”

“Not good,” came his short reply.

“In what way?” I hedged.

He didn’t answer that question. “We will rest in that Red Rocket Station for the night.” Danse gestured towards a building just a bit down the road. “There should be supplies tucked away in a back room from when Rhys and Haylen patrolled last.”

I followed him into the building, ducking under a piece of metal roofing that had caved in. “Watch your step,” he ordered as he moved around broken chairs and bashed in cash registers. It was amazing how 200 years could change so much. Danse stopped in the middle of the room, gaze scanning the area. “You ever wonder what these places used to look like?”

“You have no idea,” I replied. Again he gave me a confused look but didn’t press the subject.

I knew what this place used to look like. I could picture the bright cherry red bar stools, the candy stripped waitresses, the milkshakes, the smell of a burger being made in the back while someone filled the gas in the car parked outside. Music would filter in through the functioning stereo system. There would always be that old couple sharing a batch of freshly made French fries, grinning at each other like they held the world’s biggest secret. Teenagers would do their homework at one of the booths or plan out what they would do that weekend. Younger children would tinker with the jukebox, trying to reach the dials to change the song.

Nate had taken me to one once… for a date. Specifically, our first date. I was skeptical. Who the hell takes their girl to a Red Rocket Station for a date? But, it turns out, he knew the chef there and he made a restaurant quality meal for the two of us at half the price. Then Nate convinced me to dance with him in front of everyone. It was embarrassing. But a lot of fun too.


I shook my head. “Sorry, yes?”

“You looked lost there for a minute,” Danse said. He already had his armor off and was standing in the entrance to the back room. How long had I fogged out for?

“Sorry. Just thinking. Need help with setting stuff up?”

“Affirmative,” he offered a kind smile and tilted his head towards the back to indicate for me to join him.

In a matter of minutes we had our room set up. Two sleeping bags rested on either side with our gear nestled next to them. Danse had a small gas stove started and was heating beans and pork over it. “It’s not amazing food but it’ll fill you up at least,” he commented, stirring the contents in the iron pot.

“I didn’t know you knew how to cook.”

“I don’t. I know how to heat things up,” he corrected, a grin tugging on the corners of his lips.

“Ever consider learning how?”

He frowned, dark eyes meeting mine. “No point. We have a Proctor that does that on the Prydwen.”

“It’s kind of enjoyable though.”

“Maybe… When I’m not so busy with everything, maybe I’ll give it a shot.” He got quiet then, as if lost in thought. It wasn’t until he had our food plated and he started to dig into his meal that he spoke up again. “What did you… What did you mean the other day?”

I paused, spoon full of beans jammed into my mouth. I chewed and swallowed before replying, “I say a lot things. You might have to be more specific.”

The tips of his ears turned red as he glanced away. “When you said I was doing the right thing. What did you mean by that?”

“Oh. I, uh, I meant that…” I rolled my eyes, why be nervous? I already said. I meant it. And he needed to hear it. “You’re a good leader, Danse. It can’t be easy sometimes, especially with the decisions you have to make. But, you’re doing a good job.”

His hand froze, spoon falling into his bowl. He cleared his throat. “You wouldn’t think that way if you were here a month or two ago when there were more of us.”

“Pretty sure I would.”

Danse’s jaw set. “No, you wouldn’t. People have died because of my decisions. I’m not a good leader. I’m just barely keeping Haylen and Rhys alive.”

So, Haylen was right. He was holding all the blame. “That’s not fair. Danse, you can’t hold yourself responsible for everything that happened.”

“Actually, Initiate, I can.” His eyes darkened further when he looked up at me. “I appreciate the sentiment but, with all due respect, you’re wrong.”

“No, I’m not. And I can-“

“The conversation is over, Jones.”


“Over. Drop it.”

Before I could reply he put his bowl down by his side and stood. Snatching his rifle he moved for the door, “I’m going to do a run of the perimeter. I’ll be back in a bit.”

And then he was gone. Leaving me alone with nothing but the faint glow of the lantern.


“I love you so much, honey,” I could hear Nate say from the kitchen as I walked out of the bathroom down the hall, a towel wrapped around my hair. The television was playing some news channel, Codsworth was brewing us coffee.

“Where did that come from?” I asked, a coy smile dancing across my full lips, eyes sparkling with affection.

My husband turned towards me, his expression holding nothing but his adoration for me. “Just wanted to remind you.”

“Well, I love you too. I always will.”

Nate walked around the corner of the bar, pulling me into a warm embrace. His lips played across my jaw, traveled down my neck, arms tightening around me. I swatted at him, a laugh bursting from my mouth. “Tease,” I chastised.

Shaun’s crying suddenly echoed from the back bedroom just as a knock came to the front door. “I’ll check on Shaun, will you get that?” Nate asked, placing one more kiss to my temple before disappearing down the hall.

I pulled the cream colored towel from my hair, running my fingers through it a few times, attempting to tame the mess. I tugged on the door handle…

And Nate stood before me, bullet wound to the head, blood pouring from the opening. His expression looked lifeless, once bright and vibrant green eyes were now glazed over. His mouth slack jawed, hanging open. Shaun was nestled in his arms, alive as he stared up at me.

“You did this,” Nate groaned, crimson starting to stain his Vault 111 jumpsuit. “This is your fault.”

“No-“ I breathed, backing away, putting my hands up in front of me, a defensive position.

“YOU DID THIS!” Nate shrieked, lunging for me.

I screamed, stumbling backwards into the living room… only to run into a barrier of sheer glass. I spun around, closing my eyes to Nate and Shaun, hands pressed against the glass.

A gunshot rang out, splitting through the air, so loud, so suffocating.

I opened my eyes, finding myself in the cryo tube once more. Shaun’s kidnapper was prying my baby from Nate’s corpse. I pounded on the window till my knuckles were raw, till they were bloodied and bruised. I cried Shaun’s name till my throat burned like sand paper and my lungs begged me to stop. But they were gone, out of my sight…

“Bring him back! Don’t take him! Take me instead! But please leave my son alone! Bring me back my baby!”


“Initiate! For f*cks sake, Jones, wake up!” Strong, confident hands were on my shoulders, shaking me.

I awoke with a start, body jerking, eyes wild and wide, breath coming labored and uneasy pants, my chest heaving from exertion. A cold sweat covered my body, made my hair stick to the back of my neck and forehead.

A very concerned Danse knelt before me, half on my sleeping bag in his quest to wake me. “Jones, it was just a dream.” I blinked rapidly, attempting to get my bearings. I was in the Red Rocket Station, north of Lexington and Cambridge. I was on a patrol with Paladin Danse. I was a member of the Brotherhood of Steel.

I wasn’t in a tube.

My son was gone.

Shouting for him wouldn’t bring him back.

I could feel the tears forming in the back of my eyes, their warmth unwanted. I closed my eyes tight, tucking my chin down slightly. Don’t do this now. Not in front of him. Don’t break. I chanted that repeatedly to myself, blocking out everything else.

“Jones?” concern thick in his voice, hands fluttering over me, not sure how to provide comfort. Comfort I needed but didn’t want and couldn’t accept.

When I reopened my eyes, the tears were gone completely, my moment of weakness passed. “I’m okay,” I whispered. I couldn’t make eye contact with him, couldn’t even offer a sideways glance in his general vicinity. Embarrassment darkened my cheeks and I was thankful for the lack of light. How could I f*ck up like that? Why did the nightmares have to return right when I didn’t need them?

“You kept shouting a na-“ he began, tone pitched into one of worry, almost as if he cared.

“It was just a dream, you said so yourself.” My own voice was gray, void of emotional quality. I wanted to be left alone, left to sink into my memories by myself. “If you’re thinking I’ll jeopardize this little recon thing, don’t.”

“Damn it, Jones, I don’t even care about that right now.”

“I’m. Fine.” I enunciated each word fully, hoping if I stubbornly barricaded myself from him enough, he would get the hint. I didn’t need his sympathy; didn’t need him doting over me as if I were some damsel in distress (even though you could sufficiently argue that I was at this point). “I just need more sleep. Thank you for waking me up.”

His mouth snapped shut, his trademark scowl returning. “Fine,” he quipped back, backing away from me and returning to his sleeping bag across the small room.

Or, at least, that was likely his intended trajectory before the explosion.

An eruption of smoke filtered in through the doorway, glass shattering out in the main room, and a cackle of laughter joined it. “Raiders,” Danse hissed, snatching the rifle he left by his bag. “Ready up, Jones.”

Still shaken from my nightmare, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, equipping myself the best I could with the little time we had. I must have caught their attention when I was screaming mid-nightmare. sh*t. This was all my fault.

Bullets ricocheted off of the metal threshold, plinking into our area. “Come on out, little bitch. We heard you!” one of the raiders snarled.

“We need to get into the hall and behind the counter,” Danse whispered to me, edging to the doorway, back against the wall for cover as he peaked around, squinting through the heavy smoke. “I can’t see anything out there but if we stay here, we are sitting ducks.” He reassured that his gun was fully loaded, offered me one glance to assess that I was ready, and darted through the door. Gunshots tore out but I knew in my gut he made it to the counter without even having to look.

I rushed after him, keeping my head low. Gunfire danced above my head, causing strands of my hair to fly haphazardly around me. I crouched next to Danse, adrenaline beginning to race through my veins, providing me with the kick start I so desperately needed.

“I count six, easily. There could be more present,” Danse explained. I could see it in his eyes: planning, calculating, deciding which tactics and movements would provide us with the best offensive but provide us with cover as well. Our enemy was well armed, more so than the average raider group. These f*ckers wore combat armor, toted a variety of high caliber rifles, and carried an assortment of grenades and mines on their chest harnesses. There was no telling what awaited us beyond the station.

And we were far from prepared.

“f*ck,” Danse cursed, attention focused on something around the corner I couldn’t make out.


“They have hostages…”

I craned my neck around to see, only to gag back bile. Children. They had children hostages. They were beaten and battered, purple bruises dotting their faces and arms where skin was visible. There were a few older ones but none of them could have been over the age of fifteen. This was gruesome. Beyond gruesome. It was twisted, monstrous, repulsing.

“The raiders must have intentions of selling them,” even Danse couldn’t hide the pure disgust he felt. When our eyes locked, it was clear we had the same thought in mind. Our original mission could wait a hot second.

“Better get outta there or we’ll blow you up!” one of them threatened, tossing a frag ‘nade back and forth between his meaty hands, his grin full of malice and hate.

“Or, better yet,” another suggested, snatching one of the children, this one a boy approximately the age of six. His hair was a dirty blonde, the same color Shaun had before… “We could just start killing them. We’ll count to three, and then this one dies… and we can keep that up till you show your sorry asses!”

My grip tightened on the gun at my side. “Jones,” Danse warned. I understood, he didn’t want me out there. We didn’t know what was outside the station. He wanted to save the children as much as I did but he wanted to wait for a strategic opening, one that would assure that we walked out of here alive and not in little bite sized chunks.

“ONE!” The thug started, pushing the child down to the dirtied cement, the boy cried out in pain.

“Danse-“ What if these f*ckers or similar f*ckers did this to Shaun?

“Jones, we can’t! Let me think.” His eyes flicked back and forth, trying to find an opening, any opening.

“TWO!” A swift kick to the boy’s rib cage sent him sprawling. The raider equipped a pipe pistol from its holster.

“Danse, we have to-“ What if slavers had my baby boy?

“We’ll get slaughtered!”


“NO!” I screamed, careening out of my position behind the counter.

I blindly rushed forward, lobbing a grenade from my belt in the direction of three of the raiders. I knew it wouldn’t kill them, if it hit at all. I hadn’t taken the time to aim, hadn’t even glanced at them. All I needed was a distraction.

“sh*t, duck!” I heard one of them yell but it was only background noise. In a muddled panic, I bee lined for the thug with the child. I couldn’t just sit by while innocent people, children no less, were murdered in cold blood. Somewhere behind me I could hear Danse shouting my name, cursing me to the moon and back.

If we survived, I hoped he could forgive me. Again.

“You bastard!” I cried, diving at the slaver, tackling him to the ground. I raised a fist, wildly punching downwards. Once… Twice…

Rough hands snatched me from behind, lifted me off of my foe and tossing me to the side. I landed with a muffled groan, my hip yelling in agony as I rolled to a stop. A raider towered over me, reaching for my t-shirt, lifting me slightly, only to cruelly slam me back into the pavement, my head making a sickening thud in the process. Another delivered a kick at my abdomen, his steel toed boot gouging into the soft skin there and digging into the muscle. An explosion of pain ripped out from my lower left leg. A glance down showed me that one of my attackers had embedded his bayonet into my thigh, the blade nearly disappearing. I watched helplessly as his gloved finger closed in on the trigger.

Hands appeared behind one of them, dragging the raider away from me, gunshots rang out, the sound of bullets meeting flesh reaching my ears. The children screamed, their panicked shouts echoing off of nearby buildings.

“sh*t! The car!” someone yelled, voice splattered with terror. “Get away, get away!”


“Get out of here!” Danse ordered the children, gesturing for them to get away. He roughly clasped my arms in a frantic attempt to drag me up with him but my legs didn’t want to cooperate, they folded uselessly underneath me, bright scarlet blood oozing sluggishly from the gaping wound left by the gun blade. “Dammit, Jones!” Danse grunted, his exertion evident as he tried to heft my dead weight off the round.

I could hear the sizzle of metal from the car that rested mere feet away, the heat from the flames warming my skin, the smoke causing me to sputter and cough. Danse swore, pressing me down to the ground, having moved me only a few inches away. He positioned his body over mine, my hands pressed to his chest. “What are you-“ I started, throat burning as I spoke the words.

“Close your eyes.”



The car exploded, the inferno finally reaching the engine.

My head snapped back one final time, pummeling into the pavement…

And everything went black.


It was difficult to breathe, difficult to inhale one measly little breath of radiated air. A heavy weight was on my chest, constricted my lungs. My heart fluttered, pulse thready and weak. Even the smallest movement of my pinkie finger resulted in immense amounts of pain.

“Is she alive?”

“I don’t know!”

Someone was crying, hard and heavy sobs.

“Don’t touch her!”

Gentle prodding at my neck, the sensation searing the skin there, making me groan.

“Back up!”

Shuffling of frenzied footsteps.

“She saved Jeremy.”

“She protected us from the bad men.”

“We have to get the man off of her.”

The weight lifted, pushed off to my side, landing next to me.

Slowly I opened my eyes. The sun was beginning to rise, its rays coloring the street in front of the Red Rocket Station in hues of gold and amber. I was surrounded by children, the slaves. Their faces were frightened, dirtied. Some were bloodied but most appeared unscathed.

“Water, please,” I managed to croak out.

A carton was thrust towards me. I braced my arms behind me, pushing, arms trembling from the effort. Little hands grasped my shoulders, helped to force me into an upward position. I took the carton, guzzling some of the radiated water, hydrating me in the slightest.

“What… happened?”

The child who spoke appeared to be one of the older ones, his expression not as terrified as the others. “When you threw the grenade, it lodged into the side of the car. Then… Your friend told us to get back so we hid behind the dumpsters. The car exploded… The bad men are all dead now.”

“One ran off, Tim,” a child from the back interjected.

“My friend?”

He pointed down to the body next to me.

Recognition hit, reality sunk in.

The body was badly burned, graying t-shirt frayed, exposing bright red scorched skin. But even then I could see the dog tags just visible hanging from his neck.

Oh god… “Danse!”

Instantly I was kneeling over him, fingers running over his body, searching for the worst injuries. His back had taken the brunt of the explosion, the flesh there charred around the edges. His heart rate was weaker than my own, breaths barely eligible.

“Danse!” I shouted, gently nudging his shoulder. He moaned but didn’t awaken. “sh*t! Wake up! You have to wake up!”

Another kid started to cry.

This was all my fault.

“Okay… Okay…” Think, Ash, think! I didn’t have the supplies to take care of him here, and there was no way I was going to get ahold of them if we stayed. I had to get him out of here.

I had to stay calm, collected. Focused. Like in training. Panicking would only put us in danger. And if I had to watch not only my own back but the backs of all of these children whilst carrying Danse, I was going to need all of the concentration I could muster.

“We’re going to Sanctuary. I’ll get you to Sanctuary.”

I didn’t even know if we were going to make it, if he would even get remotely close. But it was my only hope. His only hope.

Please, don’t die… Please make it.

Chapter 7: Sanctuary


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Everything hurt. Heat throbbed up and down his scorched back, the beginnings of blisters forming. His skin felt like it was blazing with fire, flames dancing and licking at his tender muscles and blackened flesh. His throat was raw from smoke inhalation and burn damage. But… he was alive. He could hear the hum of a generator, feel a padded mattress against his stomach, his back facing upwards where he could feel a light breeze, almost as if a ceiling fan was swirling lazily above him. Soft music played in the background, some song from Diamond City Radio that he was sure he had heard a thousand times over from Jones’ PipBoy but never truly listened to in order to peg a name to it. The only source of light came from the hallway indicating that the sun was long set.

Soft voices filtered into the room. One belonged to a male, mid-thirties, if he had to guess. The other, very obviously, belonging to Jones.

“I don’t f*cking care what your ‘professional opinion’ is on the matter. He’s staying.” Jones, as delicate as ever. There was an edge to her voice, a tone that implied that she was not in the mood for whatever discussion she was finding herself in. He had heard it directed at himself enough times to recognize it by now.

“You shouldn’t have brought him here, Ash,” the male replied.

“He was injured, what the hell did you want me to do?”

“He’s a Brotherhood of Steel soldier, I’m sure he could have survived.” Not fond of BOS, hmm?

“Oh, real great logic there, Preston.” Ah, it was the man from before, the one they had met after ArcJet Systems. Great. “I’m a Brotherhood soldier now too, so-“

“Yeah, and I still don’t get why you joined them. I thought you were with us.”

“I AM with you! sh*t, this isn’t even about you. And it isn’t even about me. Or even the factions. Is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Defensive, voice pitched into one of agitation. Seems Jones had stuck a nerve.

“You’re pissy because I brought Danse back with me simply because it’s Danse. Anyone else, and you wouldn’t bat an eyelash. What’s your deal with him? Is it your ego? Is it a little bruised? Get over it!”

“Ash, it’s not-, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Danse had a feeling that she most certainly did.

“Sure. Why don’t you kindly go f*ck yourself. I thought the Minutemen were supposed to help people.” Heavy footsteps pounded away, the slam of a door so loud he could swear it shook the foundation of the house.

Preston sighed. “If she keeps doing that, she’ll break the door we just put up.”

Another female’s voice entered the conversation. This one was elderly, raspy sounding and drawn out. “You should go easier on the kid. There ain’t no reason the soldier can’t stay here for a while.”

“I don’t like him, Mama Murphy.”

“Look inside yourself Preston, find the reason you feel that way. Maybe then, you’ll be able to see the real reason for all of your frustration.”

The house grew quiet after that save for the generator and the radio.

Danse breathed deeply, allowing oxygen to fill his lungs. He reached out for the dark abyss again, and welcomed sleep when it overcame him.


When Danse woke a second time, the sun was just beginning to edge over the horizon. Light beamed through the window and soaked the room in hues of gold. The sound of rain evident but faint, the ending of a morning shower. He stretched each muscle slowly, carefully, cautiously. A few ground back, protested, but he forced them to obey regardless. He didn’t know when he would be needed for duty again, he had to be prepared.

“Good morning, Danse.”

He winced, opening his eyes fully this time, co*cking his head to the left to greet his unexpected guest. “Preston.”

“Are you doing better? You were pretty beat up when you arrived.”

An arrival Preston clearly wasn’t too fond of, as made abundantly clear by his tone of voice. There was a sheer lack of sympathy, obvious that he was offering his muddled compassion as little more than a formality. “Yes. Thank you.” Danse used his hands to push himself up in bed, the room swimming and swaying haphazardly in the process, his head going light and his stomach uneasy. But, he did manage to get himself into an upright position, legs swinging off the bed until his bare feet touched the cool cement floor.

When his eyes finally reopened, he sent a hard gaze at Preston. The man’s lips were thinned to a near sneer of pure annoyance, irises constricted with anger. Danse had a sinking feeling that they were never going to play nice.

Preston spoke, “I don’t really see the point in dealing with catching up or whatever. So I’ll just cut to the chase: every time I see you, Ash is in worse and worse condition. I’m not a fan.”

Danse nodded, he could not really argue with that. Hell, when they left ArcJet systems, she had a gunshot wound from a laser pistol and a few other injuries she had sustained from her idiotic and irrational elevator stunt. Now? Now Danse was not even remotely sure what her status was.

“But…” Preston let out a slow exhale, irritation coloring his features, “She doesn’t seem to understand the amount of danger you put her in.”

Danse snorted at that, mimicking one of Jones’ all-time favorite actions that she used whenever she disagreed with a statement. “Jones places her own life at risk all by herself. I wish I could take the blame for most of it, trust me. If I could, at least I could limit it. But, she is hell-bent on placing herself right in the center of peril all by herself. She does not need any assistance on that front.”

Preston’s glare darkened. “Regardless. Once she deems you healthy enough, since she won’t let you leave before then no matter how many times I try to argue the necessity of it, I ask that you return to your base in Cambridge. Alone.”

Danse raised his eyebrows at that, offering Preston an incredulous look. “And you think you’re going to be able to stop her from going. You act as if I have any say in the matter.”

“Don’t you?” he bit back. “Isn’t that what you Brotherhood of Steel guys are about? Following orders?”

“If you think Jones will stay here simply because I instruct her to do so, you understand very little of her. If she wants to go, she will find a way to go. If she does not, then she will stay here all by herself. I have no control over what she does.” Danse paused for a moment, leaning forward. “And neither do you.”

Preston scoffed at this, shaking his head. “She said you were a handful. Fine. We do it your way, she chooses.”

Someone called out from the adjoining rooms, “Breakfast ready in ten minutes!” Another male, age undetermined.

“See you at breakfast… Danse.” Preston stood, brushing excess dust from his trousers before making his way for the door, disappearing around the threshold and into the hallway.

Danse rubbed a bruised hand across the back of his neck, hissing in a sharp breath as his fingers brushed against the burns that laced his back. Most of them appeared to be bandaged, as was a good portion of his right arm. He wore a pair of loose jeans and a long-sleeved dark red shirt with the Nuka Cola label in bright white letters across the front.

His gaze scanned the room, the perimeter, taking in whatever information he could swallow. There were a few shelves on the walls filled with random knickknacks – a model of a Mr. Gutsy and Mr. Handy, five bobble heads of the Vault-Tec Vault Boy, a baby’s rattle that had seen better days, and a book or two on law though the pages were barely eligible when he scanned through them. The dresser directly adjacent to the bed held an assortment of clothes – some of it was pre-war but most if it was created after the bombs, or found and patched up. A ceiling fan rested overhead, providing air circulation for which Danse was thankful for.

On the night stand rested Jones’ PipBoy, suggesting that she had been here recently. Danse had never seen her without it and found it odd that she leave it behind. He picked the device up, turning it back and forth in his hands. It buzzed to life, the screen showing a boot up system, a random jumble of words flitting across the front in ominous green letters.

It appeared to monitor her health status, linking directly to her vitals. She could type in all of her equipment and items, creating a rather efficient logbook of materials and supplies. A journal of sorts was available as well, paired with a map of every location she had managed to find thus far. Finally, there was a transmitter of sorts that allowed her to sync to nearby beacons. Interesting. Danse had no clue where she had found the thing but he knew he was thankful she had it. If it had not been for her, they never would have found Paladin Brandis.

His finger brushed against a button, the PipBoy providing a soft click and an activation noise. Danse’s eyes widened. “sh*t,” he whispered, but it was too late. The holotape that had been inserted began to play:

“Oopsie. Ha ha ha. No, no, no. Little fingers away. There we go. Just say it. Right there. Right there. Go ahead. *baby giggles* Ha ha! Yay! Hi honey! Listen...

I don't think Shaun and I need to tell you how great of a mother you are... but we're going to anyway. You are kind, and loving, (Shaun laughs)... and funny! Ha ha. That's right. And patient. So patient. Patience of a saint, as your mother used to say.

Look, with Shaun and us all being home together, it's been an amazing year but even so I know our best days are yet to come. There will be changes sure, things we'll need to adjust to. I'll rejoin the civilian workforce, you'll shake the dust off your law degree.

But everything we do, no matter how hard, we do it for our family.

Now say goodbye Shaun. Bye bye, say bye bye. *baby giggles*

Bye honey, we love you.”

The tape fizzed once more, the room falling to silence.

What was that? A man had been speaking during the holotope, his voice very evidently affectionate and caring. And Shaun… that name… She had been screaming it during her nightmare at the Red Rocket Station. Was that… her son? That baby? But how old was this tape?

He had so many questions and no way to retrieve answers.

“Breakfast in five!” the voice called again, nearly startling Danse as his muscles tensed.

Perhaps Jones could be persuaded to provide him with details later…

He exited the small house onto a patio of sorts. A fire pit nestled in the cement before him, a man stooped over the flames as he cooked a hunk of meat. An assortment of vegetables sizzled in an iron skillet that was directly placed on the fire, the smell making his stomach moan. How long had he been out?

“Have any jet?” a voice to his left cooed. He recognized it, he had heard it the night before.

“No, ma’am,” Danse replied shaking his head softly. Granted, he had literally nothing whatsoever in his pockets. Whatever gear and belongings he had had before coming to Sanctuary, they were gone now. Aside from his tags and personal effects, he did not mind though he would love knowing their location before he had to depart again.

“I can tell you the future if ya give me some,” she insisted.

Danse withheld the urge to roll his eyes. Tell the future? “With all due respect, ma’am, I don’t think it works that way.”

“Mama, you know better than to ask.” Jones came to stand next to Danse, hands on hips, a stern expression plastered onto that angular face of her. High cheekbones reddening with anger. “You know it’s not good for you. How many times do Preston and I have to tell you to knock it off?”

Mama Murphy pushed back into her chair, arms crossing delinquently in front of her, “I know yer percep’ion on my drug use.”

Jones sighed heavily, looking exhausted with this conversation. “Enjoy your breakfast,” she muttered, gently tugging on Danse’s elbow to turn him away from the elderly woman. “She has a nasty habit, real bad. We try not to enable her.”

Danse offered a brief, obedient nod. Her condition did not seem as severe as his own. Though she appeared a bit better with a few bruises dotting her jaw bone and left forearm, she seemed otherwise alright. Her leg was wrapped securely with gauze but no visible blood was present beyond the bandage. Her auburn hair was tucked up in a bun that was sloppily done, loose strands falling away from it, giving her a wild and chaotic look. He smiled inwardly at that; not like Jones needed any support there.

“-okay?” He had missed what she had been asking, her body turned towards him, face coloring with concern. “Helloooo? Base to Danse, over? Do you roger?” she waved a hand in front of his face, her trademark lop-sided grin forming.

“Sorry, what?”

“After everything that happened, are you feeling okay?”

He did a once over himself. Even compared to the day before he was doing eons better. The ebb of his muscles was dying down, only tender in a few places. His back no longer burned with the heat of a thousand suns. “Aside from being hungry and needing to stretch my legs, I am okay.”

“We could kill two birds with one stone, if you want?” she suggested.

What? What the hell did that mean? “Sorry?” he questioned, arching a brow at her.

She laughed, as if he had missed some sort of inside joke he had no idea existed. “Right, duh. Grab a skewer off the fire, and I will show you Sanctuary. You’ll get to eat and walk off some of that soreness in one go.”


Sanctuary was a lot bigger than he had thought it would be. There were several houses that were dilapidated with unfinished rooves and holes in the faded white and dirt encrusted walls. But, somehow, the settlers had managed to run power lines through most of them. Much like the one he had woken in, all of the homes were furnished – running water, working kitchens, and even a few stereos that blared Diamond City radio. Watch towers dotted the perimeter, guarded by both man and turret in combination, large flood lights swiveling diligently in their stands providing light no matter the time of day. A few caravan stands perched at street corners, providing a station for sellers and Brahmin to stop and sell their goods. There was even an assortment of trade stalls on the settlement, all placed on what looked to be a house foundation before the bombs fell. A medic was ready to treat the injured and sick. A recreation building held a juke box, pool table, basketball hoop, and a bar. Some of the settlers were already gathered there, laughing and joking.

Danse had heard that there were places in the Commonwealth that were not filled to the brim with hatred and disorder though, up until now, he had thought that was nothing more than a delusion, a myth built up by those who placed too much emphasis on hope.

“And, finally, that’s my house. But I’m hardly ever there.”

A Mr. Handy came floating out through the front door, idly coasting towards Jones. Danse tensed at her side, hands frantically searching for a weapon when-

“Miss Ashtyn, you appear to be doing remarkably better. I am glad to see that!”

“Thanks Codsworth,” she replied. “Still trying to clean the floors?” she gestured to the mop in one of his pincers.

“Yes, ma’am. But the stains just don’t want to come out.”

“You know you can stop whenever.”

“It would be statistically easier if your dog would stop chewing on my electronics. Ah, but where are my manners?” The robot rotated towards Danse, blinking at him. “Hello, good sir, I am Codsworth!”

Danse stared, dumb founded by what was going on. Jones answered for him, “This is Danse. I don’t think he’s used to robots who aren’t shooting at him.”

“Quite alright. Understandable in today’s day and age. Why, so much has changed over the past 200 years! Ah, but I must return to my duties. Good day, to both of you.” Codsworth re-entered the house, disappearing out of view. Danse merely glanced between the now empty doorway and back to Jones, incredulous on what to say.

“Not all robots are bad,” was all she offered. “Come on, I have more to show you.”

Danse and Jones spent the better part of the morning and afternoon touring Sanctuary and meeting her companions. Aside from Codsworth, they also met Curie – a medical robot that Jones had found during her adventures through Vault 81. Apparently, that Vault had been utilized as a sort of infection prevention and control center, its main goal aimed at producing a cure that would obliterate all illness. Curie was successful but only in creating a singular dose that could not be recreated. Jones had used this dose to save the life of a child who had been bitten by a molerat when he was exploring in restricted areas. Turns out, she suffered from the illness and could have been cured had she not used the cure on the child. But, he wasn’t surprised to learn that she put the child’s life before her own.

Curie seemed vastly interested in the world of science and technology – she peppered Danse with questions regarding power armor after identifying him mas a Brotherhood of Steel member. She also was curious about medicine options, seeing as Jones, for some reason, knew very little about what techniques were utilized in today’s world.

Then they met a man only known as D who stated he was a trader since birth and that he had been traveling the Commonwealth searching for purpose before stumbling across Sanctuary. Jones and the rest of the Minutemen had agreed to allow him to sell his wares here in exchange for some help around the settlement. The young man seemed wise beyond his years, having a bit of advice for everything from how to make radstagdoe taste edible to moral decisional making.

Cait was another matter entirely. Jones did not seem too fond of the woman but seemed to tolerate her enough. She was a junkie from the Combat Zone in the downtown area, east of Diamond City. There she had been contracted to fight people in the ring for bottle caps. Back then, their cliental primarily consisted of raiders and crime lords but, thanks to Jones shooting up the place when she thought Cait and her contract holder had been in danger, the place was barely anything more than a Ghost Town. In order to ensure that Cait still had income, Jones had bought out her contract and gave her a place in Sanctuary. Cait was happy enough, as long as she could get her next fix. Unlike Mama Murphy, Jones expressed that they had no control over Cait’s addiction and did not have the ability to slow it.

Dogmeat was easily his favorite. The mutt jumped around him when Jones whistled. His tongue licked happily at outstretched hands, his muzzle digging against Danse’s palm in search of a good head scratching. Turns out that he had chased down Jones’ scent when she didn’t return to the Police Station.

“How did you find him?” Danse asked, squatting down on the pavement to rub behind Dogmeat’s ears.

“I think it’s better to say he found me. I had been exploring just south of Sanctuary, at the Red Rocket Station just down the road. And, boom, he was there. He ran right up to me. It was so weird. But, he’s been my best buddy ever since, haven’t you boy?” He barked back, tail wagging so hard Danse feared it would fly off if he continued. “Up until I joined you, he was always with me.”

“You could always have him join us on patrol or recon,” Danse offered.

“I appreciate that but… he will probably safer here. I never liked him getting shot at any ways.” Dogmeat whined at that, clearly disagreeing with his master.

“Miss Ash! Miss Ash!”

Three children came barreling down the street, their bare feet slapping on the broken asphalt, their shouts filled with glee as they launched at Jones’ back, clinging to her.

“Wow, hey guys!” She knelt down to their level. “What have you been up to?”

“We climbed that big tree in the middle of town. You know? That real big one?” the smallest one spoke up, flapping his hands excitingly.

“Oh, that’s pretty cool, Jeremy. Color me impressed.” He blushed under her words, words that held the one of an endearing mother. “Go wash up now, dinner is going to be ready soon.” They obediently trotted off, making their way for the main building in the center of the settlement. She watched after them, a hint of a sad smile playing across her face.

Now say goodbye, Shaun? Bye bye? Say bye bye.

Had she been a mother? Was she a mother? He had pegged her age as late 20’s and he had never heard nor seen a child at her side. But that holotape indicated differently. The way she treated the children, patting their heads lovingly, brushed their hair out of the faces, straightened their clothes before they left… He couldn’t shake the feeling that she held so many secrets from him.

“Were those the kids we saved?” Danse questioned, watching the children as they scampered away, shaking his head clear of the tape and focusing on what was happening in the here and now. He hadn’t gotten a good look at them at the Station. It was dark when the raiders attacked and Danse hadn’t woken up until he was back in Sanctuary. He could remember there being a small group of them off to the side, and another that was being kicked by one of the raiders. His memory was so foggy. All he could recall was racing after Jones when he had seen her taken down, the way those men had beaten her…. His jaw set angrily.

And then the car… Gods, she was almost killed because of the damn car. If she had died…

Jones nodded, glancing down at the ground. “I… Danse, I’m really sorry about everything that happened there. I’ve been waiting all day for you to say something. And you’d be right. I was stupid and reckless and idiotic and irrational and, well, whatever else you want to call me. And that’s just with combat. I was rude and inconsiderate about your personal life… I shouldn’t have said what I said.” Her voice was quick, rapid, apologetic. “I was so wrong and I’ll take whatever punish you give me when we return back to the Police Station.”

Danse faltered, gazing at Jones with a surprised expression. He had not expected that – not that Jones was predictable by any stretch of the imagination, but he never predicted that she would offer an apology for what happened. To be fair, he wasn’t even sure if he could blame her for her actions. “There’s no need. You did the right thing… Though maybe the way you went about it could be refined, I am glad we saved the children. Had we done nothing, they would likely be dead, their blood on our hands. I could not think of a plan and I am glad that you did, even one that resulted in injury.” He offered a warm smile at her. “And thank you.”

She glanced up at him, confused “For what?”

“For taking me back here. I would have died had you left me behind.”

“You would have been fine,” she insisted, those bright blue eyes of her rolling in her head. “You’re Paladin Danse of the Brotherhood Steel, and all that jazz.”

“Just say ‘You’re welcome’, Jones.” He paused, debating his next words. “And thanks also, for what you said. I was harsh about it… Maybe I’m a little too hard on myself sometimes. But your words, about my leading skills… That was very kind of you to say. I don’t blame you for wanting to know more. I’m not very good at the whole talking and opening up thing. I just need practice. But thank you, truly.”

Her cheeks darkened and she bowed her head in the slightest. “You’re welcome.” She shifted her weight from foot to foot, glancing towards the main building. “We should head inside for dinner, right?”

Danse grinned. Though he wouldn’t admit it outwardly, he marginally enjoyed making her blush. Jones had always come off as the confident type, or at least that is what she appeared to project outward like a protective shield. Underneath it all, however, he was beginning to see she was anything but. She had a warm soul, she cared for those around her with a fever he had not recognized when they first met, and her reckless behavior was only the product of her sheer determination. Whatever her past or her reasoning, her heart was in the right place. And he could not deny that her wit and sarcasm brightened his day in the slightest, and that being able to make her blush was just an added bonus.

It was blatantly obvious that she had an impact on those around her. While her skill, or lack thereof, with a gun was rusty to nonexistent at best, her ability to sway people was outstanding. Though she clearly never grew up with a gun at her side, she was able to charm almost anyone, to encourage or persuade them to join her thought process. He had seen her encourage Haylen to have more confidence in herself, and, though it was very minimal, Rhys’ temperament had improved since her arrival to the Station.

Sturges pulled her into a side hug when they entered the house. There were roughly four people in the kitchen, opening containers, pouring the ingredients to make gravy into a sauce pan over the stove range, a roast sizzled away in the oven, filling the room with a spiced meat scent. The children were helping to set the tables (there were three of them lined up with chairs), one of them noting Jones and Danse as they entered and waving ardently.

Lamps and hanging lights bathed the dining area in a soothing glow as everyone began to take their seats. There was some fussing over which child got to sit by Jones that led to a rather intense game of rock-paper-scissors that ended in a two-way split. It was finally decided that Danse would sit across the table from her and the tie breakers would both get a spot near her.

“So you’re a member of the Brotherhood of Steel, right?” one of the settlers questioned, digging into the Brahmin steak roast.

Danse glanced up from his plate of corn, melon, mashed potatoes, and meat towards the man who spoke. “I am.”

Another cut in, “What is it like?”

A child joined, the one named Jeremy, “Do you fight any supermutants or deathclaws?”

“How heavy is your power armor?”

“Do you have to wear it all the time?”

“What kind of training is there?”

Jones laughed across the table from him but when he gave her a stern expression she feigned coughing though the sparkle in her eyes remained.

Danse paused for a moment, waiting of the questions to stall before finally answering, “It’s a lot of hard work. We strive to collect pre-war technology and to protect civilians against foul creatures.”

“How dreamy,” a young girl cooed, blinking up at him with a wistful look.

“We do fight supermutants and deathclaws but also raiders, ghouls, radroaches, bloatflies, and everything else. Power armor is not exceedingly heavy, as long as you have taken the proper training on how to equip and wear it. We do not have to wear it all the time though it is usually preferred due to its increased radiation, ballistic, and electrical damage protection. I can also carry a lot more when I have it on. As for training, there is your basic boot camp and military training. We are educated on the use and mechanics of power armor. There are several technical courses we must pass, and then there is field work with those of higher rank until you are deemed adequate to join the Brotherhood as a full member.”

“What made you want to join the Brotherhood?

So full of questions. Was this what Jones had to deal with when she first came here? “I thought it was better than selling junk and parts in Rivet City.” His mind flashed back Jones’ questions. She had asked similar things, wanting to know more about him though he couldn’t figure out what she found in him that was so interesting. Perhaps… perhaps he could answer a few of them now.

Jones’ head perked up at that, eyeing him from her seat as she slowly chewed on a piece of Brahmin. “What is Rivet City? I don’t think I’ve heard of it.”

“You likely wouldn’t around the Commonwealth. It’s a giant city on the Capital Wasteland in what used to be the D.C area. I guess technically, it’s less of a city and more of a ship that is harbored along the southeastern part of the map close to the Jefferson Memorial.”

Jeremey leaned forward in his chair, practically crawling onto the table in the process. “It’s a ship? The city is a ship?”

“That is correct,” Danse nodded. “Megaton is another town there but it pales in comparison and does not have the same regulations and law enforcement that Rivet City has. A friend and I used to trade odds and ends we would find in the Wasteland for caps in order to pay for room and food at the Weatherly Hotel. It was a difficult life, and not a very safe one. The D.C ruins are filled with all manner of creatures and traps…” There were times he could remember enjoying the thrill of it, the adrenaline rushes and close calls that made his heart race. The allure of making more money, of moving up in the world. His dreams and aspirations were so childish back then, so simplistic in nature. But then everything turned sour… The muggers, thieves, and raiders were the least of their problems back then. “Joining the Brotherhood of Steel seemed to be a good way out of that life and into a better one.” Though, had he known he would lose Cutler in the process…? Perhaps he wouldn’t have joined.

“What about your parents?” Jones questioned.

“I, uh… Well, I was orphaned. I don’t recall having parents I know I must have at one point, obviously, but they didn’t seem to care too much about what happened after they had me. I rode with the caravans for a time, that’s where I learned how to scavenge.” Unlike most orphans, he cared little his predicament. His parents did not seem to, so why should he? He made his own lot in life and it worked out for the better.

“Well, we can be your family now!” Jeremy spoke up, nodding vigorously, so hard Danse worried his head would pop off.

“That is very kind of you but-“ Danse started.

“He accepts,” Jones finished. Danse’s head snapped towards her, lips turning down in the slightest. All he was granted in return was a wink and smirk. Mysterious as ever.

The table fell into quiet chatter. He would only catch bits and pieces of it; some was related to the crops, others to the battlements, some on weather, and a little on what color was the best (mostly involving the children though D got tangled up in it somehow).

Dogmeat suddenly stood up straight, a low growl emitting from his clenched muzzle, teeth barred towards the closed door.

“What is it, boy?” Jones backed her chair up, muscles evidently tensing.

He barked, angrily and aggressively.

The sound of turret fire reached their ears, rapid fire in the direction of the bridge.

Preston stood from his position towards the head of the table, expression alert and laser musket at his side. “Everyone take cover. Those of you who can fight, come with me.”

Danse followed Jones out the door, grabbing a rifle on his way out. They, along with a handful of armed and armored settlers, made their way for the Sanctuary gates. Jones helped Preston heave them open, many of the civilians taking position on the higher up ramparts, guns pointing towards the threat that rested beyond the wall.

“Raiders!” one of them called.

“And a whole lot of them,” concluded another.

When the gates fully opened, Danse took quick stock of the situation. There were easily twenty or so raiders stationed along the bridge, with more possibly hiding in the bushes beyond. Most wore typical raider apparel – cage armor, metal bits and pieces sticking out wildly around a frame of barely held together rusted iron, leather pieces accompany the overall armor. Their guns were covered in rust and debris…

But two stood out in particular, likely because each of them sported what Danse immediately recognized as full sets of T-60 power armor.

“That’s her!” snarled one of the power armor clad individuals, pointing an accusing finger towards Jones. “That’s the bitch who blew up the Red Rocket, killed our men!”

“This can be real easy, fellas,” the other power armored raider offered, “Give us the kids, and we leave ya alone. Simple, right?”

“Pass!” Jones snarled back, virtually shaking with rage.

There must have been one lone survivor from the explosion, Danse thought. And that lone survivor must have followed Jones back to Sanctuary. It would not be all too challenging to follow an injured female, carrying an unconscious man, escorting a handful of children across the wastes. They probably had not moved too quickly, impossible to with all of the weight and gear she was loaded down with.

“Jones,” Danse warned, “That’s the power armor we were sent to retrieve. Quite a coincidence that the same group we met at the station would be the ones we were trying to track down.”

“Last chance!” the raider cawed, a sneer forming on his face, eyes darkened with blood lust.

What was it she called it earlier? Two birds, one stone? He still did not fully comprehend the saying but he had a feeling he was using it right.



I am not meaning to play Preston out as the bad guy whatsoever. He just cares deeply for Ashytn and doesn’t like seeing her get hurt. Jealousy can turn a person into something they aren’t, and that is precisely what I am playing up on. He’s afraid of not only losing a valuable asset to the Minutemen but also the woman he cares for and possibly loves. In later Chapters, when he returns, you’ll see the change. But for now, he’s going to look a little bit like a dick. Sorry for any super huge Preston Garvey fans out there.

Chapter 8: Let the Bullets Fly


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

Bullets whistled above my head. I ducked just in time, pressing my back against the makeshift wall crafted primarily out of what looked like blown out tires, partially rotted wooden planks, and… was that my old couch cushion?

“sh*t,” Danse cursed next to me, his shoulder gently nestled against my own, deep chocolate eyes wild with adrenaline. It was good to see him back on his feet. There had been a while there where we weren’t sure if he was going to survive, suffering from so much blood loss can do that to a person. With the help of Sturges, Preston, Mama, and myself, we somehow Harry Potter magic-ed our way into saving his glorious ass. Please don’t ask for details, I’m not even sure I would know how to give them. Danse turned the brunt of his attention to the Minutemen who were lined behind the gate, stances on the offensive. “They have power armor. We need to divide and conquer in order to stay alive. However, Preston, these are your men so I will respectfully hand over command of the situation to you.”

Preston’s expression morphed into one of surprise, shocked that the Paladin would relinquish control. “Uh, right. Okay guys, these raiders look mean and they want blood. They also want those kiddos we have but we aren’t gonna give them back. Danse was right with his idea, we will follow it. Let our BOS soldiers handle the armored men, we will focus on the rest.” Gravey looked towards Danse once, eye brows quirked upwards in question to which Danse offered a curt nod. He agreed to the plan.

“Alright. Sturges, you take a group along the eastern wall to the battlements there, take position at the turrets. Longs, head west. We will flank ‘em. I’ll take front with Ashtyn and the Paladin.” Preston raised a hand. “On my go….”

And bam, we were off.

I snapped into action, barreling around the corner and out of cover, Danse at my heels. No armor meant I had to judge my positioning ahead of time, make speedy decisions, run on instincts. The bridge provided minimal protection, just a few boards and boxes scattered along the western side… It would have to be enough.

I launched forward, combat booted feet slapping against the timber beams, thudding heavily. Breath came in short, controlled puffs, heart rate excelled to a gallop, drumming away in my ears. Gun fire split out from the barrels of raider’s guns, muzzle flashes lightening out. I could hear the Minutemen return fire as they reached their posts, the sky ablaze with their bullets and brimming with smoke.

I ducked behind a broken down turret, one of the few Sturges and I hadn’t gotten to. I used the bits of frayed metal platform to steady my rifle as I leaned over the edge, squeezing one eye shut to peer down the sights.

I wasn’t the best shot but I managed to graze the shoulder of one of the power armored raiders. He growled in response. He hefted the minigun in his hands, opening fire on the downed turret. I curled up behind the base, the jarring sound of bullets on metal making my ears scream in protest as I clenched my teeth tightly, eyes firmly shut, and arms raised to cover my face. I could feel bits of shrapnel embed into my forearms, the sting enough to spike my adrenaline further. The raider’s cruel cackle reached my ears, his tone jeering and demeaning. Bastard.

“We can’t blow the armor to bits, Jones,” Danse warned as he took position next to me. I could feel his breath tickle the back of my neck, the hair there standing on edge. “We’ll have to dismantle the fusion cores from behind.”

“Are you f*cking nuts?” Get behind them? Was he serious? This sounded like one of my plans.

“Maybe you’re rubbing off on me.” Danse peered over the railing towards the murky water below. The wind picked up, forcing waves to form as they lapped crazily against the shoreline and along jagged rocks. “Jump down there, swim around, get behind them.”

“I can’t-“

“You can. I know you can. You’re always the one going on and on about how we should use stealth. Well, go use it!”

“But what are you going to do?”

He hefted the laser rifle from his back. “Keep them preoccupied. Preston will pick off anyone who gets too close.” He winked at me, placing a hand on my hip and compelling us to switch places, leaving me against the side of the bridge.

Already the raiders were advancing forwards, nearly a quarter way across the bridge. If they made it to Danse, he was done for… if they made it to the gates, Sanctuary wouldn’t stand a chance. The Minutemen didn’t have enough resources or brute power to handle the attack from inside the barricades. That wall was the only reason they weren’t dying by the handful.

Worst yet, if the raiders got inside the wall… That meant that everything we had done at the Red Rocket Station, saving the kids, would have been for nothing. They would be returned to a life of slavery.

I glanced down at the roaring river below me, grimacing. I could hear Preston barking out orders somewhere along the wall. Okay, sure. Yeah. Whatever. If Danse thought I could do it, sure. Right. An involuntary shiver fled down my back. Just don’t miss… Just don’t slice your head open on a rock.

Placing one hand on the rail, I swiftly vaulted over, blindly plunging down to the depths below. I hit the water hard, the waves smacking me with full force, stealing my breath temporarily. Rancid water spilled into my mouth, making me want to gag. The pull of the river slammed me into a rock, carving me across the shoulder, coloring the water around me in red. My body sank along the side of the stone, dragging me downwards further. I felt my back hit the bottom, saw only a glimmer of gunfire in the sky far above me. Have to get up there… I pressed off the river bed with both feet, mud and debris floating up around me in the process. Ignore it, ignore it. My shoulder shrieked for me to stop.

I broke the surface, lungs aching for air. I sputtered, river water pouring from my parted lips as I sucked in much needed oxygen. My vision blurred around the edges, head swam from lack of air. Keep breathing, I had to remind myself. One gasp at a time.

When I finally regained myself, I spun around, treading water as silently as I could manage. With Sanctuary to my back, I begun the swim towards the opposing bank. The radiation in the water sizzled my skin, licked my open sores and wounds with a tongue of fire and heat. Ignore it. Focus on the task at hand. Just like in training. Focus.

My slender fingers dug in the loose gravel that littered the shoreline, fingers slipping on grime and algae buildup, bloodying the tips of them as they sliced against serrated stones and boulders. I scrambled up, knees scrapping along the bank, gritting my teeth in the process. By now most of the raiders had fled along the further edges of the river, matching up with the Minutemen who stood at the guard posts. Preston’s plan to divide and conquer was working so far.

When I glanced up, I could see the red beams of Danse’s laser rifle. Good, keep them distracted.

I flung myself forwards, propelling off of the pebbles as I flew towards the mudded levees, finger nails digging into the soft earth to climb my way up. The river water weighed me down, soaking me to the core. My hair clung to my forehead and neck.

I sprinted for the closest tree, water dripping from my body. I leaned around it, trying to get a grasp of the situation. The power armored raiders were closing in on the half way point. The bridge was disgustingly open, leaving me vulnerable to attacks… As long as the fire fight kept up, however, I may be able to make a break.

I didn’t have time to wait though, didn’t have time to decide if there was a better opening, a better opportunity. Didn’t have time to make sure I would be safe.

It was either act… or watch Sanctuary burn.

Without hesitation I hurtled forward. Danse saw me coming, doubling the amount of ammunition he was firing out in a desperate attempt to keep the raiders distracted. With all the bullets and gun fire, it was nearly impossible for them to hear me coming up from behind them until I was already there. My fingers dug into the fusion core bindings, grasping for any ridges to cling to. The blood that caked my skin and oozed from the varied cuts along my hands made the process more challenging, my grip becoming slippery and weak. “Come on, come on!” I hissed.

A small click was audible, the core releasing as I pried it loose. The power armor groaned, beginning to open. “What?” the raider gasped, startled.

I threw the core, hearing it plop into the river below us. We had more.

I backed up as the armor fully unfastened, dumping a very confused raider out from within his protective fortress. The minigun fell uselessly to the side. He twirled on me but I had the advantage, dipping low to avoid narrowly being upper decked by his punch.

Hand to hand combat? Not my forte. You needed actual muscle for that, and while I did have some, it wasn’t nearly enough to hold my own.

“Focus on the bridge, this bitch is mine!” ordered the raider to his companion.

I scuffled backwards, hands brushing against the railing of the bridge as I snatched a broken tree branch from the ground. I made a swipe at my foe, hearing him grunt as he dodged to the side, progressing towards me.

“Because of ya’ my men were slaugh’ered. You’ll pay!”

He dove at me, hands spread wide to grasp my neck. I started to escape but he was too fast. He pummeled into me, the full weight of his body pinning me to the wooden planks of the bridge. They moaned under our combined weight, threatening to toss us to the furious waterway below.

“They were my friends!” he continued, straddling me on either side, hands curling into my hair as he bashed my head backwards into the boards. Stars colored my vision, danced before my eyes. I blinked rapidly, trying to clear my vision.

“YOU KILLED ‘EM!” SLAM! Again my head was brought down with a sickening crack. Everything was going hazy.



NO! If I went out now, that meant no more Shaun. No more finding out what happened to him. No more getting revenge on his kidnappers. No more holding him in my arms again. No more watching him grow older. No, I wouldn’t allow it.

“Not if I kill you first,” I breathed, curling my legs up underneath him, using them to vault him off of the top of me, sending him careening against the railing of the bridge. I heard it crack, the flimsy bits of wood giving way in the slightest. I leapt to my feet, the world oscillating around me. My footing was unstable, feet unsure as they held me up, legs trembling. I snatched the branch I had dropped, the weight of it nearly forcing me to drop it once more, hurling it at the raider. He caught it, curling under the bulk, the extra burden causing the rail to crunch some more. His eyes widened with fear, staring over his shoulder at the waters beneath him.

I shoved him hard, pressing his back against the handrail. Crack…

“You’ll never sell another child again!” I snarled. Using whatever strength I could muster, I raised my boot up, kicking it forward against his chest. The barrier finally gave up on the fight, crippling underneath the raider. He plummeted into the dark abyss below.

My body quaked from exertion, my breath coming in quivering punts.

One down.

The other power armor clad raider hadn’t realized what befell to his companion, blissfully unaware of his demise.

And, ah, a lonely minigun, just waiting to be used.

Bolting for the lone gun, I hoisted it into fire position, grunting under the sheer weight of it. My hand curled around the primary trigger, the machine humming to life.

“Wait a- oh sh*t!” the other raider must have finally become aware of my presence.

Too bad it was too late for him.

I squeezed the secondary trigger, unloading round after round of 5 millimeter bullets into his torso. Sorry Danse, hopefully one set of power armor would be enough.

The minigun went limp in my arms, the barrel resting against the bridge at my feet. Danse raced for me as Preston led another group past me to finish off the raiders that remained.

“Come on, let go of the gun, Jones.” Danse’s hands were over my own, gently pulling my fingers from the controls. “There you go, easy now.” I glanced up at him, adrenaline finally starting to falter.

“I’m tired,” I barely managed to mumble out

“I know. But you did it. We are going to go inside now, alright?” His face was plastered with worry, concern, fear… for me?

I nodded weakly, allowing him to lead me past Sanctuary’s wall.

He snaked his arm around my waist, giving me extra support as he led me to my home. Once inside he deposited me on the couch before disappearing towards the back. I could hear him rummaging around but my head was too busy swimming for me to pay him too much attention.

I closed my eyes, leaned my head back on the cushions, felt the cool breeze of the fan twirl above my head.

“Keep your eyes open, Jones,” Danse instructed. I felt him shake my shoulder, forcing me awake.

“I’m… so tired…” I whispered.

“I know, I know. But you have to stay awake, okay? You’ve lost a lot of blood. So stay awake.”

I nodded obediently, coaxing my eyelids open. He was worried I was going unconscious, that I was going to pass out. Made sense.

I watched him as he bandaged my fingers, wrists, arm, feet… The list was endless. I was riddled with cuts and bruises, small lacerations, and larger injuries. I hadn’t truly understood the extent of my condition during the heat of battle, the adrenaline coursing through my veins preventing me from paying too much attention to it.

But now? The ache was in full force. I winced as he turned my hand over. “Sorry, Jones. It’s going to hurt.”

“I wish we had Tylenol.”


“Tylenol. You know, the pain killer? Anti-inflammatory….” I muttered.

“Jones, I have no idea what you’re talking about. We don’t have anything called Tylenol. If that’s some new kind of drug, you shouldn’t be using it.”

“Mmmm,” I hummed. My eyelids felt so heavy. I just needed to rest…

“Initiate! What did I say about sleeping?”

“You’re always so bossy,” I countered, peering at him from under my eye lashes.

He pursed his lips, breathing in slowly through his nose.

“Just let me take a little nap.”

“Can’t do that.”

“I don’t like you right now.”

He chuckled. “That’s alright, Jones. But listen, I have to cut your jeans to get to your thigh. That cut you got at the Red Rocket Station? It’s torn open, I need to re-stitch it.”

I waved a hand. “Sure, thing, do whatever.”

Danse gawked at me. “You must be out of it.”

I was. My head was spinning, my ears ringing, eyes heavy with exhaustion. I wasn’t in my right frame of mind. Far from it actually.

I heard the fabric of my jeans rip as he ran a switch blade up the length to about short level. I should be embarrassed, I should be flaming red. But instead, I lay there with my gaze trained on the ceiling fan above my head, watching it spin round and round and round and-

“That about sums it up,” Danse said. “You have any other clothes I can get for you?”

I nodded, jabbed a finger back towards the hallway. “Bedroom is on the left, past the bathroom.”

He began to stand but paused, “Just because I’m leaving doesn’t mean you can sleep. That’s an order, Initiate.”

“Yeah, yeah,” I muttered.

“I’m serious.”

I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to show that I understood just how ‘serious’ he was. “When are you ever not?” I replied, repeating what I had said at ArcJet.

He was gone but back as soon as he had left, not wanting to leave my side for more than the briefest of seconds. Danse handed me a pair of cotton shorts and a larger t-shirt. “Get changed, I’ll give you some privacy.”

I sat up, managing to tug my blood soaked shirt from my torso, slipping the fresh shirt on over top. Standing though… My legs buckled underneath me, my palms slammed against the coffee table, preventing my face from having a rather unflattering relationship with the floor. “I’m okay,” I groaned, trying to push myself back up.

His hands were on me again, hooking under my armpits to help holster me into a sitting position, back against the couch. “Do you need help?”

I had enough common sense to blush now. “N-no-“ I stammered.

“It’s just pants, Jones. It’s not that big of a deal. And I would rather get you changed than have you sit in those, I don’t want your leg to get infected.”

“Can I sleep after?” I bargained.

He sighed exasperatedly. “Yes. But I’m not leaving the room.”

I nodded in agreement, allowing him to gently tug my jeans off of my hips. He aided me to my feet, my body swaying as a wave of vertigo crashed against me. My fingers dug into the muscles on his shoulders as I grasped for some realm of balance. He reached down and pulled the cotton shorts up. The blush in my cheeks crept up to my ears, shading my entire face in red.

Holy sh*t sticks. Just pants? f*ck, that was awful… and it made my stomach squeeze, and a warmth spread through my body and, wow, I needed to rest.

“Can I sleep now?” I squeaked.


I nestled into the couch, resting my head against a throw pillow, trying to calm my racing heartbeat. “Thank you, Danse. For patching me up.”

“You’re welcome… but…” His voice trailed off.

“But?” My breath stilled.

“Jones, I can’t keep having you get hurt on my watch.”

“I’m fine.”

“You aren’t.”

“We can talk about this in the morning… After I sleep.”

I never heard his reply.


The following morning brought nothing but rain, the droplets cleaning away the left over blood that stained the bridge and river banks.

We had only one casualty from the night before. Several were wounded but nothing a few stimpacks couldn’t fix. Caravan traders and guards questioned the dead bodies that dotted the shore but bobbed their heads in understanding when we explained what happened.

Preston was occupied with tending to the injured, watching the repairs of the wall, and making sure everyone was accounted for. Sturges was aiding other mechanics and engineers in patching up the turrets and battlements that had been destroyed in the fight. The Longs helped hand out food. The children helped in whatever way they could.

And Danse… Danse appeared to be leaving without me. “What are you doing?” I asked, an accusation lacing its way into my voice and I leveled a glare with the man. An opened leather pack rested on his cot, his meager belongings stuffed into it.

“Heading out. I have to get back to the Station.”

“Uh, don’t you mean ‘we’ need to get back to the Station?” I jabbed a thumb at myself for better emphasis of the pleural word choice. “As in both of us, together?”

“Not this time, Jones,” he replied, refusing to make eye contact

What. The. f*cking. Hell. “What?” I could barely form the word, anger turning my cheeks red, curling my hands into fists.

“You heard me,” demanding, ordering. “Your place is here.”

“Like hell it is!” my voice flew up a few octaves but still managed to stay in perfect pitch.

He paused, finally glancing up to me. I couldn’t read his expression. It was guarded, tense, like some small part of him was begging me to listen. “You nearly died yesterday… and a few days before that. I… Can’t have you under my control with such a low survivability.” A small, very small, portion of my brain registered what was going on. It understood that he was worried about me, that he didn’t want another person to die under his command. He was frightened that he was failing.

But, like I said, it was small… and the ignorant, furious part of my brain stamped it out.

I scoffed at him, rolling my eyes. “If it wasn’t for me, your ass would still be back at the Red Rocket Station, and the raiders would have taken over Sanctuary by now.”

He shook his head. “I’m ordering you to stay.”

“And I’m refusing to take that order!” I countered, crossing my arms defiantly over my chest.

“For once in your damn life, would you just listen to me?” he barked.

“I can’t stay here!” a slight tremble worked its way into my voice. “I just can’t, Danse!”

“And why is that? What is so exciting out there?” he waved a hand dismissively towards the window. “Every time you’re with me, you’re in danger. Every time you take a mission, your life is at risk. Is that what you want? To be constantly living with your life on the line?”

“Anything is better than doing nothing!” I felt like I was dying here before, and he was prepared to damn back into that existence. To force me to live with my memories of the past… I just couldn’t do that anymore. I had to make him understand that. Staying here… I would rather be dead.

“You’re safer here. Preston will protect you,” he ground out, snapping his bag closed and hefting it onto his back. “Move.” He stood before me now, staring down at me.


“Jones, you need to move.”

“Not unless you’re taking me with you.”

He cursed under his breath. “Why? Why should I?”

I scrambled for an argument that would make him believe me. I could tell him about Shaun, but I wasn’t ready. Wasn’t ready to fall apart so completely. Preston had seen it once, seen me crumble, seen that barrier I placed up against everyone else come down. And now he coddled me, treated me like a fragile damsel in distress. I couldn’t stand if Danse looked on me that way.

“Remember when you said that there had to be more to life than selling scavenged sh*t you found?” I took in a slow inhale, calming my emotions. “There has to be something more than building houses and manning perimeters, of growing stupid tato plants. I’m tired of the peace. I’ve spent too much of my life doing nothing. And, after everything I’ve been through, I can’t just stop now. I want to protect people.” Like I couldn’t protect Shaun. “I want to fight for what’s right.” For saving children from slavery, for slaughtering the men who took my baby. “And I want to get justice.” On those ass holes who thought they could steal the most important thing in my life from me.

“But, the risks-“

“Damn the risks. I have a personal stake in this.” I straightened my spine, standing at my full height, trying to add some confidence to my tone. “I know what I signed up for, Danse. Please, let me keep my oath. I’ll do anything to prove it to you that I am ready for whatever you throw at me.”

His expression softened, that guarded look in his eyes vanishing. “You’re sure?”

I replied with a sharp nod. “I am.”

“I knew trying to talk you out of it was going to be a waste of time,” Danse grumbled. “Can’t say I didn’t try though. Make sure you let Preston know I, at the very least, gave it a shot.”

“I will,” a hint of a smile played against my lips.

Danse grinned down at me. “Alright, Jones. Pack up, we head out in ten.”


Bonus Chapter after this.
See Broken Steel One Shots - Chapter 3 (Saved by a Liar)

Chapter 9: Knighted


We have a bit of a skip in time here. Again, my reasoning for this is that I don't want to rehash what you can just do in game. I'm following Ash and Danse, not so much the main plot until the BOS gets involved. So I'm sorry if this quick summary of what happened wasn't enough. <3

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

So much has happened… This past month has felt like a blur, barely ever stopping to catch my breath as I literally sprinted from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. For days I never stopped, never paused, never halted in my pursuit. I ate only when my stomach begged for nourishment, drank only when my throat felt as dry as a desert. I’m sure I looked horrible, like I had been part of a full head on collision with a semi-truck going sixty down the highway. Granted, no one would ever get that reference here.

It felt like years since I had left Sanctuary with Danse… but it had only been thirty days.

And now I only had more questions than answers.

I'll keep it short and sweet, no need to bog anyone down with details.... Kellog? The man that kidnapped my child? Yeah, figured that out... and figured out where he was... and Now, now he's dead, so peppered full of lead you couldn't even recognize him.

But... now i was without a lead. The man told me Shaun was with the Institute, taken by them. But without any real wayto figure out where that was, I was lost again. I had been working with a synth named Nick Valentine. My instincts had told me not to trust me but he had been anything but helpful to me. He said he would work on some leads, but that, in the mean time, I may as well find something else to do.

Which, I suppose, leads me back to where I now stood, staring up at Cambridge Police Station.

I had been near town, unsure of what my next step should be when the sky was suddenly filled with giant flying…. Helicopters? See, the problem here is that they didn’t look like helicopters, they were formed incorrectly but looked very similar… but seeing as I didn’t have a better word for them, helicopters they were going to be. Accompanying them was a massive airship, its flight a bit lazier than its companions’. Not long after, Danse’s voice crackled to life over my PipBoy, calling all Brotherhood of Steel soldiers back.

I guess that included me.

If those ships meant reinforcements were here though, then maybe their radio beacon was up and running, maybe they had more resources… and maybe, just maybe, I would get closer to finding Shaun.

I took the steps two at a time, booted feet quietly thudding against the pavement. There were more people here than I was used to seeing. Most of them wore power armor of varying levels, laser rifles and pistols pointed outwards, a way over the top show of defense for Cambridge – the biggest threat we ever faced were a few feral ghouls looking for a late night snack. A handful of the soldiers bobbed their heads at me in greeting, others gave me wary expressions unsure as to what I was doing here.

Trying to be less suspicious, I gently nudged the doors of the Police Station open, the hinges crying on their rusty nails.

“Look who dragged herself back,” Rhys bit out from his position at the counter. Several large slightly damaged boxes rested before him, his body leaned partially over them. “Finally decided to actually do something?” Snarky, harsh, rude… Ah Rhys, never change.

“ASH!” Haylen lunged at me, her arms circling around my shoulders in a warm, heartfelt hug. If I had to be honest, Haylen reminded me a lot of my own sister. She had been older than me, protective, and nurturing. Course, I was older than her now…. By a lot. But that wasn’t the point. “It is SO good to see you again! Rhys missed you too, he won’t say so but he did. He had no one to pick on while you were gone.”

Rhys huffed, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. “Keep dreaming, Haylen.”

I smiled kindly at Haylen. “It’s good to be back.” And, surprising myself, I meant it. I wasn’t sure when it happened, but being with the Brotherhood felt like home, felt right. Nowhere else in the Commonwealth gave me quite the same feeling. I wasn’t sure what caused it but-

“Jones!” Danse’s shocked voice wavered into the room from the right corridor, his head poking through. Chestnut brown eyes blinked at me, widening by the second. He wore his faded jeans with a graying t-shirt, BOS orange under armor slung over his shoulder. “You’re back.” Was it just me or did he look relieved, as if a ginormous weight had just been lifted from his shoulders? And was that a hint of a grin? “It’s good to have you back.” He squinted at me in the slightest, gaze roaming over my body from head to toe, assessing for injuries, wounds, lacerations, bruises, and so on. “Report?” Ah, right, I had left on the premise that I would be doing recon.

“Cleared a few tunnels and back alleys, made some friends in Diamond City, and wiped out a synth patrol west of here. You know, the usual. Being a badass.” He didn’t need the details, didn’t need to know what had brought me to all of those locations. “Heard your orders over the radio and decided to head back.”

Danse beamed at that. “Reinforcements are finally here. And you, Jones, can come with me to meet them.” It wasn’t a demand, wasn’t an instruction. This was him asking me, requesting my company.

“And where would that be?”

“On the Prydwen.” I arched a brow at him. The what now? “It’s the Brotherhood of Steel headquarters. I am certain you saw it, the airship in the sky. She will be stationed at Boston’s airport southeast of here.”

“So are we just going to levitate our merry way up there?” I was a bit lost on how we would get up to the Pryd-whatever. I doubted it would land, compromising itself in such a way would be a ridiculously stupid tactic for the Brotherhood.

He chuckled. “Ah, I’ve missed your sarcasm. No, we will take a vertibird.”

“Sorry, what?” What the flying f*ck was a vertibird?

Danse eyed me as if I had grown a second head, oblivious as to why I was so confused on his terminology. “Swear you didn’t hit your head again?”

Haylen leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Those flying contraptions you saw with the Prydwen.”

Oh. Those things. The helicopters. Vertibirds. Sure, I could work with that.

“You and Rhys coming with?” I questioned.

“Not right now. We are going to help finish up here, make sure we have everything filed and documented, and then we will come out for a time. But even still, our main base is here. We want to have a good hold on the Commonwealth, everywhere. So, that means we have to man smaller stations like this one.”

I bit my bottom lip. She wouldn’t be joining me? “I’m going to miss you,” I whispered, mortified that I had become so attached to her this quickly.

She pulled me close again, our arms wrapped around each other. “You can come visit whenever you want. And I’ll come visit you if you want! You can use your PipBoy to contact me, okay?”

I gave a weak nod as I pulled away. Glancing at Rhys, I added, “I’d hug you, but I don’t want cooties.”

He flipped me off.

“Ready?” The Paladin asked.

“Yeah, sure. Let’s do this.”

Danse began leading me towards the stairs that would take us up to the roof. A few unfamiliar faces dotted the stairwells, offering their salutes to Paladin Danse as he passed. It was as we were going up that a realization dawned on me.

“Wait… You mean, I have to go up? In the air?” Even I couldn’t hide the terror leaking into my voice.

“That a problem, Jones?”

“Have I ever mentioned I’m deathly afraid of heights?” I squeaked out as the large metal door to the rooftop swung open, the Commonwealth’s hot sticky air hitting me in the face and whistling through my hair.

Danse spun around to gawk at me. “You chased a synth down an elevator, almost blew yourself up with a grenade, placed yourself in the middle of a bunch of raiders to save some children, dove into unknown waters, and manned a minigun to kill a power armored raider without hesitation…. But heights? That’s where you draw the line?”

“Well, yeah. All of those things let me keep my feet on the ground. It’s totally different.”

He placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder, giving a soft squeeze, a slow smile overcoming his lips, a glint of a twinkle in his eyes. “You’re going to be fine, Jones. I won’t let anything happen to you, trust me. Besides, flying is amazing.”

I gave an uneasy glance towards the vertibird before focusing back on Danse. “Okay, fine. But if we crash and I die, I’m coming back solely to haunt you.”


He led me to the chopper. Seriously, this thing didn’t have doors. It was wide open once you got in. No protection from bullets or missiles, and nothing for me to really hang onto. Yeah, Danse, this looked real safe. It was nothing more than some folded and wielded together metal pieces with some propellers on top. This was it… this was how I, Ashtyn Jones, was going to die.

“You grab here, and here,” Danse instructed, coaxing my hands to grasp some MacGyver looking handles. “It’s going to be alright,” he assured me in my ear, just loud enough that I could hear but quiet so no one else could. “I’ve ridden in these things several times and no one, I repeat NO ONE, has fallen out or gotten crushed or whatever horrible means of death you are visioning in that head of yours.”

I gritted my teeth, swallowing my reply. Grabbing the handles firmly, I hefted myself into the vertibird, stomach flattening against the metal floors, legs coming up to join so I could push myself up fully. Quickly I scrambled into one of the seats, hands groping around the sides for a seatbelt. “No harness, Jones.”

“What?!” I bit out, finger nails now digging into the semi-soft leather of the armrests, glaring poison daggers up at my commander.

He laughed, full out laughed at my expense. The pilot turned his head around to look, a big grin plastered on his face. Yeah, yuck it up the two of you.

“I’ll be right in front of you, okay?” Danse positioned himself, standing, directly ahead of me, arm raised to stable himself with a handlebar above his head. My lips parted, but he cut me off. “I’m not going to fall out.” I snapped my mouth shut.

“We ready for takeoff?” the pilot questioned from his seat in the itsy bitty co*ckpit.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Danse replied, waving a hand dismissively after the final Paladin entered the vertibird, operating the gun that sat on that side of the craft.

The vertibird groaned, shuddering violently as the pilot geared up the engines. I was sure I paled a few shades, looking more and more like alabaster white by the second. The craft heaved, the propellers starting to whirl away above our heads. Another rough quake… and we were off the roof.

I leaned over in my seat, eyeing the safety of the Police Station as we rose higher into the air. I snapped back into my seat, eyes squeezing shut, knuckles bleaching as my grip stiffened.

I could feel the heated air press past me, any of my hair that wasn’t tied back flew wildly around my face. The sun made my skin feel as if it were on fire, the dense smog filled air no longer providing a barrier between me and it. We lurched forward, halting our upwards progression. Faintly I could hear the pilot say something about landing within the hour.

sh*t, an hour of this?

A kind hand enclosed around my own. “You really should open your eyes, Jones. You’re missing a lot.”

I gradually opened one eye to glance up at him. His expression was caring, soft, unguarded. It wasn’t hard or demanding like I was used to seeing. It was the same one he had given me when he saw me for the first time in Sanctuary after the events of the Red Rocket Station, the one he had given me when he rushed up to me on the bridge. The one that made my heart flutter nervously and my stomach squeeze. He tilted his head, gesturing for me to look out past the vertibird.

Deliberately moving slowly, I did as he suggested. “You get a better look if you’re standing,” he added, lightly tugging on the hand he held. “I won’t let you fall to your death.”

My legs felt wobbly beneath me as I moved to a standing position. I was frightened, muscles tense and rigid with fear, my lips pulled into a thin line, eyes wide with terror. But Danse’s arm slid around my waist, holding me against him for support. He glided over in the slightest, placing one of my hands next to his on the handle. His fingers wrapped around the belt I wore, doubling the amount of stability I had.

“There you go. Now open your other eye, and look out there.”

The Commonwealth lay bare below us. Destroyed buildings of varying sizes and shapes littered the horizon. I could make out settlements, their lights giving them away from this height. The setting sun in the distance cast golden rays throughout downtown Boston. I could see the river from here, the water glistening and twinkling.

There was some gunfire below but I could see little more than the muzzle flash and hear the bullets as they screamed out of their barrels. From way up here, we were safe, immune almost.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Danse asked, co*cking his head at me.

I peeked up at him, unable to stop the smile from spreading across my face. “Okay, you got me. This is pretty cool. I’m still not a fan of heights though.”

He nodded. “That’s fair. We can work on that. You’ll have to get used to it after all, since the Prydwen will be your base of operations and she is not going to land any time in the foreseeable future.” He had a valid point there.

“What’s the Prydwen like?” I questioned, gaze moving back towards the Commonwealth.

“Loud. There are a bunch of people there, easily over a hundred. There are several rooms for soldiers, bunks for the squires. A mess hall is in the center of the ship with the bay hanger behind it for power armor. In the back there is a shop if you need any ammo or guns. Usually Proctor Teagan sells a few mods if you’re into that type of thing. Let’s see… Elder Maxson runs the fleet. You will be meeting him on your arrival. I vouched for your entrance, told him that you are looking for something and have requested our assistance. In trade, you are to fully join the Brotherhood – as was our original deal.” I bobbed my head in agreement, allowing him to continue. “In short, the Prydwen is a big metal ship full of men and women who are dedicated to fight for justice… its home.”

He sounded so…. So proud. Happy almost. Granted, he had grown up more or less alone, an orphan… Having a sense of purpose and a group of people to call family was probably the closest thing to happy he could get. I couldn’t blame him for his devotion to the Brotherhood.

“Can’t wait to get there,” I replied.

“Me too.”


We arrived roughly a half hour later, the sun now nearly fully set. The landing wasn’t what I had predicted – jarring, mostly petrifying, as we were literally magnetized to a landing zone. I slid out of the ship, legs trembling below me as my feet touched down on metal grating. Danse joined me, leading me across the catwalks and into the main entrance of the Prydwen.

Keeping his voice hushed he whispered towards me, “Please keep your witty remarks to a minimum when we meet the Elder. I know that goes against everything you stand for but you have to keep some realm of formality when in his present. Please.” I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up in response.

I followed him past a few latches and stairwells and into a large glass enclosed room. “Elder Maxson!” Danse greeted warmly, raising a hand in friendly greeting. The man at the end of the bridge turned to welcome us, mimicking Danse’s movements.

“Welcome aboard, Paladin Danse. And this must be the recruit you have told me so much about.” Maxson was younger than I thought he would be, his face not marred with wrinkles, nor holding that edge of wisdom I was expecting. But even without hearing him speak more than a few sentences, I knew he was firm, independent, a certified leader.

“Ashtyn Jones,” I offered, shaking his outstretched hand. “Pleased to meet you, sir.” Seriously though, can I get a hot shower and a comfy bed to sleep on?

Even Danse couldn’t hide his surprised expression at my ability to be official. Good to know I could still keep him on his toes.

“The pleasure is mine. Danse has made your views of the Brotherhood clear to us and, seeing as the Paladin is one of my most trusted men and respected field officers, I have decided to take him at his word. You couldn’t get a better recommendation if you tried.” Danse had recommended me? He really had that much confidence in my abilities? Color me shocked. “Therefore, from this moment forwards, I’m granting you rank of Knight. Of course, befitting the title, we are granting you a suit of power armor to protect you on the field of battle. Wear it with pride.”

Was I going to get a fancy jewel encrusted sword and shield too? “I am very grateful, sir. I will do my best to live up to the title.”

“I’m certain you will. In any event, once you are finished becoming familiar to the Prydwen, and after a night’s rest of sleep, report to the flight deck for your first order. Make us proud.”

Pretty sure I was going to f*ck up one way or another but, what the hell? “I will, sir,” I promised, saluting at him the way I had seen the Brotherhood soldiers do so earlier.

“Thank you, sir,” Danse intoned, tapping my wrist for me to follow as he exited the deck. Once we were out of ear shot he added, “Didn’t think you could sound so professional, Jones.”

I smirked. “I like to keep things unpredictable. You going to show me around?”

“I would love to.”

It took more or less an hour to tour the Prydwen fully. I charmed my way through a doctor’s examination, lying through my teeth about my age, vaccinations, and prewar perfect health profile. I agreed to search for technical documents on my travels and submitted myself to a rather dull history lesson about the Brotherhood of Steel. Haylen taught it better. I viewed the hanger bay and got to try on my own set of power armor, Brotherhood of Steel logo and all. Let’s just say I would be content if I never had to get in it again. Closed spaces? Me no like. I met up with Paladin Brandis and got myself a not completely gut churning but also not completely edible meal.

And finally, finally we got to my bunk room.

Which had two beds.

Danse gave me an innocent look, “My bunk is being used by a few other recruits. Until they have new placement, I have been instructed to share the room with you. If this is not to your liking, I can request new-“

“No, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” The room itself was bigger than the one back in Sanctuary though smaller than my home in Diamond City. There wasn’t much to it aside from two beds, footlockers, and a desk with a terminal on it. A lamp hung overhead, providing the room with as dim of light as possible. My belongings were already here, my bag placed upon what I assumed to be my bed. The room was certainly enough for two people and it would likely only be temporary. I could stomach it until then.

I busied myself with unpacking, trying not to become acutely aware of Danse’s presence whenever he skirted past me or accidently bumped into my elbow or hip. He put me on edge, but not in a way that made me feel like I was going to have to dive for cover. I still got an adrenaline rush, still became hyper aware of my surroundings, but not because I was in danger.

Nope, for completely different reasons.

Eventually he took a seat on his bed, back pressed against the headboard. He flipped open a book and made himself comfortable. I couldn’t read the cover from here but I was certain it was related to combat or how to be a leader or something along those lines. He didn’t strike me as a Mark Twain buff.

Most of my things were set out – clothes folded and placed in the footlocker at the end of my bed, a few books tucked away at the bed side table, gun and gear propped up by the door on a few hangers. I had long ago taken off my jacket, wearing nothing more than a pair of old cotton shorts and a loose fitting tank. Danse had pointed me towards the showers and I had used them to their fullest. Let me tell you, getting weeks’ worth of dirt and grime off of your body is hard work, and it also makes you sad when you realize that the tan you had built up after being in the sun wasn’t actually a tan and instead nothing more than dust. Bummer. Still, I was clean. And I smelled good

I knelt in front of my pack once more, glancing down at the final few belongings that remained inside. One was Nate’s marriage band paired with my own. I used to wear mine but was worried raiders would steal it if I was captured. My fingers gently caressed the still glossy finish, a tight lipped smile forming on my full lips. Never again would he wear it. The other object was a picture – the edges faded and torn, matted with debris. Codsworth had given it to me back in Sanctuary after the Minutemen arrived. It was of Shaun, wrapped up in his baby blanket, tucked in my arms. Nate had taken it a few days after we returned home from the hospital. I could still remember the first time Shaun looked up at me, his little baby hands reaching for my face. He looks just like you, Nate had said.

Did he still look like me? Did he still have Nate’s eyes and my nose? Was his hair still strawberry blonde? Did he still get dimples in his cheeks when he smiled? Did he still have that clean baby smell I used to love so much?

Was he still a fussy eater? Did he still snore softly in his sleep? Did he still mumble when he was on the verge of waking up?

I didn’t know.

I had no idea.

The son in that picture was likely long gone, the boy I remembered holding, loving, caring for so deeply... was probably a stranger now.

All because Kellog took him from me, because the vile man stole my baby. I clutched the picture between my hands, thumb caressing over Shaun’s face. I wasn’t able to save him back then. And now? Now he was somewhere I couldn’t reach, I still couldn’t save him. What kind of mother was I?

“Jones, you okay?” Danse’s voice ripped me from my own headspace, centering me in reality.

I cleared my throat. “Yep, I’m dandy.” I zipped the back shut, sliding it under my bed for safekeeping. I took a seat on the edge of the cot, sinking into the mattress. “Sorry, was lost in thought for a moment.”

Danse was quiet for a moment, shutting the book after a few seconds of silence and leaning forward. He moved to the side of his own bed, legs kicking off the side till his feet touched the cool ground. “I know I’m not the best person in the world to talk to, and I probably won’t even know how to respond but, if you ever need someone to listen, I’m good at that.” His tone was laced with concern, with care, with an endearment I didn’t know he could possess. I looked up at him. “I mean, you don’t have to but I… Uh, well, you know what I mean.” He was staring down at his hands, fingers knotting around themselves.

“Don’t say that too loudly or people will think you’re going soft,” I replied, a hint of sarcasm leaking into my voice.

He glanced up at me then, eyes sincere. “Jones, I’m serious. Really. I’m sure you have been through a lot and, unlike the others, you never talk about it. Having that kind of baggage can really weigh you down after a time… I just wanted you to know that if you ever need someone to talk to that… Uh, well that I would be available.”

I was speechless. In all my time in the Commonwealth, no one had been so open about wanting to help me. Most were looking for help themselves, they didn’t have time for others. After living through that for days, you begin to feel isolated, alone. The Minutemen had helped soothe that for a while but it hadn’t been lasting. I still felt like I was barely holding myself together, that if I let go of one of the strings I was holding, I would crumble apart at the seams. To have someone willingly listen to me, to care enough for me that I could unload all of my stress, doubts, and fears…

I wasn’t sure how to handle that… how to respond to it.

“Thank you,” I barely managed to whisper out.

“Of course. Okay, right. Well, uh, we should probably get some R&R. Maxson wants us at our best in the morning. Too early to sleep but I’m, uh, I’m going to read.” He tilted away from me, the air cooling from his lack of presence. Part of me wanted to lunge forward, to close the distance, for nothing more than to have someone close. It wasn’t intimacy I craved, it was something so much simpler than that – companionship. I wanted someone who cared for me, who made it so I didn’t feel so alone.

And Danse was willing to provide that.

“What are… What are you going to do?” he asked.

“Explore some more.” I was already pulling on an orange jumpsuit, letting the top half fall around my hips and tying the arms to secure it in place. My slender build made it difficult to wear the uniform properly; it felt baggy and clumsy with all the unnecessary fabric.

“Don’t get lost.”

“Will you find me if I do?”

The tips of his ears turned red. “Of course.”

I smiled and ducked out of the room.

I took turns at random, waving at soldiers that saluted on my way past. They all looked so serious though the younger ones managed to crack a smile. Hope I don’t turn as sour and boring if I move up the ranks.

Jogging down the steps that led to the lower levels I found myself in the squire quarters. Rows of neat and tidy beds with tucked in sheets lined both walls, a chest at the foot of each. Many of the children paid me no mind as I entered though two in particular swiveled their heads towards me.

“Miss Ash! Miss Ash!”

“Jeremy? Tim?” I stared, surprise coloring my features as the two children I had helped save at the Red Rocket Station ran up to me, small tiny arms wrapping around my waist. “What the heck are you doing here?” I knelt down to their level, doing a once over of each kid for injuries. They looked… good. Their bruises were all but healed, hair clean and combed, uniforms free of dirt and grime.

“We wanted to join! Sanctuary was fun and all but we didn’t want to stay there,” Tim answered first, the older of the two. His hazel eyes beamed up at me, bright and twinkling.

Jeremy continued, “You and Paladin Danse are so cool! We want to be just like you!”

“Well, if you ask Danse, maybe it’s not the best option to be just like me,” I replied around a laugh, ruffling Jeremy’s strawberry blonde hair with my fingers. “I’m a bit ‘unstable’. But what does he know?”

They both smiled.

“How long have you guys been here?” I asked as I sat down on the bed, both of them scrambling up to join me.

“Bout two weeks, haven’t started training yet,” Jeremy started.

“They needed more Knights to get here first. Then we get to do real missions!” Tim added.

I leaned forward as if I had a secret to tell, “I know a certain someone who just became a Knight.”

“Who?” they asked in unison.

I pointed a finger at my chest and gave a playful wink.

“You! Maybe you can teach us!” Jeremy clapped his hands together, cheeks reddening with happiness. “That would be the most greatest thing ever!” Tim nodded furiously in agreement.

“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to but, if so, I’ll certainly go for it.”

“You just gotta talk to Captain Kells. He runs all of the squire stuff.”

“Then, I’ll talk to him in the morning. How about that?”

Tim mocked punched the air. “Fighting side by side with Knight Ashtyn, killing ghouls and evil super mutants. We are going to be the best Squires ever! No one else is going to have as good as a trainer than us! Course, they won’t let us on the most dangerous missions right away but, if we train real good, then eventually we will! Maybe we can help take down the Institute!”

I frowned in the slightest, giving my head a stern shake. “Maybe not the best idea right away, bud. Those guys are pretty scary and they do some really bad things. I don’t want you guys going there.”

“But that’s what we do, isn’t it? Find tech… techan… techno… whatever, find stuff, and help others?” Jeremy questioned, tilting his head to the side, confusion enveloping his face. “The Institute is super bad, means we gotta take them out! Elder Maxson said they are a big threat to the whole wide world.”

“Yeah but…” My voice trailed off. Would the Brotherhood put kids on the frontlines? My gut twisted, stomach churned. I certainly hoped not. “You guys have a long way to go. Focus on being certified bad asses first, okay?”

They both saluted, nodding their little heads. “Yes, ma’am!”

Someone by the entrance cleared his throat.

“Elder Maxson,” I fumbled, raising my hand a second too late to offer a proper greeting.

“At ease, Knight,” the man replied, offering a kind smile to the two kids; both were looking up at him as if they were staring at their biggest idol. Hell, maybe they were. “Do you have a moment to speak?” he asked, attention focusing back on me.

“Yes, sir, of course.” I eased myself into a standing position, turning to Jeremy and Tim. “You guys be good, okay?”

“Yes, ma’am,” they replied.

“Good. I’m counting on the two of you.” I squeezed Jeremy’s shoulder affectionately before pivoting towards Maxson. “Lead on, sir.”

The Elder escorted me up the stairs and back onto the main level of the ship. The Prydwen’s halls were maze-like in their design, the signs only helpful if you were tall enough to read them (spoilers, I wasn’t), and within a matter of seconds I was hopelessly lost. But, at least, Maxson knew where he was going. “Ah, here we are,” he confirmed, holding open a door for me to step inside.

The room was large and spacious. A small kitchenette was in the right corner, a dining area in the center, and an open bedroom of sorts on the left. Everything was to code, no soft edges. Gray was the main color. A jacket hung over one of the chairs told me who the owner was.

Ah, this was Maxson’s personal bunk. Must be nice having so much space.

“I just wanted to steal a small moment of your time to discuss a few things,” he started, gesturing for me to take a seat on one of the couches that rested along the back wall. I did as ordered, folding my hands in my lap to prevent myself from fidgeting.

Be formal, I reminded myself.

“Like what, sir?” What did he want to discuss? Did he know something about me? Did Danse? Oh gosh what if-

“Nothing serious,” he chuckled, probably sensing the nerves that oozed off of me in droves. “Honest, this isn’t some sort of interrogation. I just like to get to know the men and women who serve the Brotherhood. We are all friends here.”

Like a big family… Just like Haylen had told me. I couldn’t hold back the sigh of relief that escaped past my lips. “Sorry, can’t help it. Feels like I’m in the Principal’s office or something.”

He smiled at that. “Many feel that way. I do my best to ease that tension but sometimes, it can’t be helped.” He offered me a bottle of Nuka Cola before sinking into the cushion besides me. He still reeked of leader, of higher-up, of Elder… but underneath that, he was calm, at ease, relaxed. How he managed to do both, I was certain I would never ever find out. “So, where are you from?”

“I’m from Sanctuary, up north.”

“Ah, Danse tells me the Minutemen have taken over that area.”

“Yeah, I met them back in Concord. Kind of helped out a bit, nothing major though.”

“That’s wonderful. We have been wanting to ally with them for some time, it would help our cause if we had a member that was affiliated with them. Wonderful job, Jones.”

I wasn’t too certain Preston would like the concept of a bunch of soldiers ‘allying’ with them… based off his reaction to Danse, I thought I had a pretty f*cking good idea of how he would react. Not well. I wasn’t sure what the Brotherhood of Steel had done that made others so hesitant towards them… “Right now they are focusing on helping settlers find a new home. But maybe in the future they wouldn’t mind.” Lies, all lies. Preston would question my sanity if I even hinted at it but Maxson didn’t need to know the gritty details.

“Excellent. So, have you been a settler too then? What did you do before Danse agreed to sponsor you?”

Oh, you know, went to law school, got my degree, found myself a man and settled down. Then my house was bombed and I was frozen like an ice cube for 200 years. “Yeah. I just kind of showed up at Cambridge when the Paladin was being attacked, offered my assistance. Though, not that I had much aid to give. I’m a terrible shot.”

Maxson shook his head. “Not from what I’ve heard. Danse says you have been improving a lot. Says you’re one of our faster recruits, quick at learning.”

I blinked in surprise. Again, I hadn’t expected that. “Sounds like you and Danse are close.”

Maxson grinned. “We are. He is one of my closest friends. I trust the man with my life. You’re lucky he’s training you. Usually he doesn’t give time towards teaching rookies. He must see something in you.”

I shrugged a shoulder, averting my gaze. “I can’t imagine what it is. I’m glad he speaks highly of me but I’m nothing special.”

“Ashtyn, every man and woman on this ship brings something unique to the team. You’re no exception to that. Don’t doubt yourself. You are just as worthy of a Knight as any other.” The way he said that, with such conviction, I almost believed him. Almost.

“Thank you, sir.”

“No need to thank me, Knight, I only speak the truth.” He paused for a moment, drinking a gulp of Cola before speaking once more, “Danse spoke of a deal the two of you made. My understanding is that we are to help you locate something?”

I tensed. “Yes, but really all I need is access to your radio system. I can do it on my own.”

“I’ll grant you access, it is the least I can do. You’ve done so much for the Brotherhood already – without you, I’m not certain the Paladin, Knight Rhys, or Scribe Haylen would still be with us. I will aid in whatever way I can.”

“That is appreciated.” Maybe… Maybe these people weren’t so bad. Maybe I could trust them… with time.

“Now, I won’t keep you. There is work to be done in the morning. They are still serving dinner in the mess if you’re hungry but then I suggest you get some sleep. You’re going to need it.”

I nodded and started for the door. “You have a good night, sir,” I said as I opened it.

“You as well, Miss Jones. If you have need of anything, simply ask.”

Once in the hall I felt my body visibly relax. Though it had only been a light-hearted meeting, I couldn’t help but feel on edge. But… The man had been so kind, so helpful… I had no reason to not trust him.

“Now I just have to get back…” my voice trailed off as I peered down the corridors that flanked me on the left and right. I knew we had come from the left, so I could get that far… but after that? Yeah, my memory was f*cking useless.

A bank of signs with directional arrows was secured to the wall far above my head when I arrived at the corner. No amount of squinting at them could make the signs legible. I stood on tip toe but still couldn’t get high enough. I craned my neck, pressed my fingertips against the wall to try and hoist myself up a few more inches.

Someone laughed behind me. “Need help?”

I sent an innocent grin over my shoulder. A woman with red hair stood, clad in power armor. At first glance, she looked usual enough – another carbon copy of every other soldier. But… on closer inspection… I realized the reason she wore her armor was because she was a bilateral amputee, her legs were missing below the knee. “I’m Proctor Ingram, I do a lot of the tech and engineer fixes on the Prydwen,” she greeted, extending a hand out to me.

“Ashtyn. Knight Jones, whatever you want to call me,” I said, taking her hand and giving it a firm shake. “Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise. So, where are you trying to go?”

“Back to my bunk. I know it’s in Wing B, second floor. But…”

“No clue how to get there?”

“Sums it up, yeah.” I bobbed my head in agreement, feeling foolish for my inability to remember my way around the Prydwen. Okay, mom, you were right. Maybe I should have taken a few classes of geography and mapping in college. I was wrong. You win.

She laughed again. “We’ve all been there. Come on, I’ll show you the way.”

I trailed after her as she pointed out a few landmarks for me to use next time I came by this way. Bathrooms there, sitting area here, bank of terminals for personal use. “It’ll get easier each time you have to go somewhere,” she assured, probably trying to ease my personal frustration.

Wanting to move the topic away from me, I asked, “So, what’s your story?”

“Wondering about my legs?”

“Well, no. Not necessarily. Just making conversation.” I flushed. Yes, yes that was what I was wondering about. To be honest, I had no idea the Brotherhood would let people with disabilities into their ranks. But what Maxson had said… everyone brings something unique.

“Don’t worry, everyone asks. It was a freak accident. Left my power armor station on a cliff back at the Capital Wasteland while we were there. The whole thing came down, me with it. Crushed my legs and my armor. But, Danse helped me make this spiffy modified set that lets me walk.” She tapped her thigh, proud of her invention. “Took us some time but it was worth it. Ah, here we are. Wwe are back at your bunk room,” she pointed to the door panel. “If you ever need me, I’m usually past the mess hall where all the bays of power armor are. Since you’re a Knight, you get your own set.”

I cringed. “Not sure I like the idea of going in there.”

“To each their own. Don’t blame ya for not liking it. Either way, you get a set. Come on by tomorrow after your mission and we can see about getting you fitted. I would give you a regulation set but, no offense, you’re a bit on the scrawny side. Don’t think you would be able to reach all the controls,” she offered an apologetic smile.

“Alright. I’ll see you then. And, thank you for showing me back. I think I would have ended up at the bottom of the ship if I was left on my own.”

She waved her hand as if to dismiss it. “Don’t worry. That’s what we are here for, helping each other. You know where to find me!”

Once she was out of sight I tiptoed back into my room. The lantern was hooded, the sound of Danse’s slow breaths reaching my ears. He was asleep, head resting against the wall, book splayed out on his chest as if he had passed out mid-read. I gingerly retrieved the novel from his grip, eyeing the cover in the process. ‘The Lord of the Rings’, another shocker to add to the list. “Don’t judge a book,” I whispered, marking his place with a paperclip and setting it down next to the lamp.

Danse looked… tense, even in sleep. His brow was furrowed, jaw set, muscles taut. “Do you ever get a break?” What did he dream about that made him so frantic, so unable to relax?

Perhaps I wasn’t the only one plagued with nightmares.

I pulled his blankets up and over him, wanting to do more but not sure how. There was a line I know I shouldn’t cross… but where that line was at, I didn’t know. One wrong move… and I would be back at square one.

Crossing to my side of the room, I tucked myself in. Reaching over, I capped the lantern, denying the flickering flame the oxygen it needed to continue. My gaze fell on Danse was more, his hands clenched into tight fists. What are you afraid of? What makes you so restless? You’re surrounded by such kind hearted people… But no one seems to know what goes on inside your head.

I rolled over, faced the wall, and closed my eyes.

One day, one day I planned to find out.


Bonus One-Shot Chapters (2) take place after this.
Chapter 1 of Broken Steel One-Shots (Truth or Dare)
Chapter 2 of Broken Steel One-Shots (Morning Training)

Chapter 10: Show No Mercy

Chapter Text

I cringed as Ingram ushered me towards the suit of power armor. The majority of the set was painted in a coat of fresh charcoal colored paint with an anti-reflective layer over the top. It was perfect for stealth ops color wise though I questioned how the shiny paint job would reduce the sound the armor would make with each step. Stealth was great when it was… well, quiet.

This was assuming I could even last in the suit for longer than three seconds without launching into a full on panic attack. Tight spaces and me? Let me reiterate: not a good combo.

“I’m not sure about this, Ingram.”

“Come on, Ash,” Jeremy groaned from behind me. “It’s not that scary. You can always come right back out.”

“Yeah but, I mean, it has to close, and have me in there, and…”

“Listen to the boy,” Ingram butted in, waving her hand at me once again, “Besides, we don’t have all morning. You have other things scheduled for today before your mission, I don’t have much time to see if my measurements were correct.”

I grumbled but stretched my hands towards the suit, fingers curling around the levers that rested just inside. Using the handholds to hoist myself up, I tucked my legs into the lower half before molding the rest of my body to the frame. This wasn’t so bad.

“Now push that little button by your right index finger, that should close the suit,” Ingram instructed.

Right… I was only half way in.

Doing as she ordered, I heard the armor groan, felt the back closing in on me. My heart rate spiked, breathing accelerated. A cool sweat swept over my skin, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. I felt like I couldn’t get enough air, like all the oxygen had just been stolen from my lungs.

That wasn’t a good sign.

“Take it easy, Jones,” Ingram warned, moving around into my field of vision. “You’re doing fine but your vitals are heading towards unsafe zones. You need to relax.”

Relax? Relax?! She wanted me to take a chill pill whilst standing inside a tomb of metal? What if it didn’t open again? What if I was trapped in here forever? Gods, I was going to die… “I feel like I can’t breathe,” I managed to squeak out, voice contorted by the helmet that covered my face.

“You can, just in and out, slow breaths.”

Jeremy poked his head around, smiling up at me but I could see the worry in his eyes. “You’re okay, Miss Ash. Proctor Ingram wouldn’t do anything that would put you in danger.”

His soft voice would usually calm me, if I was in the right frame of mind to allow it. But I wasn’t.

“How do I get out?”

“Jones, really. It isn’t so bad once you get used to it. Just try to-“

“What is she doing in there?”


“She doesn’t like tight places,” I heard him ground out as he strode towards the terminal that documented my heart rate and blood pressure. His gaze rotated towards me, chestnut eyes locking with mine through the visor. “Jones? Status report?”

I gave my head a hard shake, hands trembling. I wanted out. I wanted out right now!

“You can get out the same way you got in there,” Danse said, walking to me. “Right hand, pointer finger. Button. Push it.”

I fluttered my fingertips, all of them, bashing at any button I could manage to touch. I must have hit the right one since the suit complied and I could feel cool air brush against my damp back. The heart rate monitor pinged to a halt, no longer connected to my vitals.

Stumbling backwards, I lost balance, landing on my ass and limbs sprawled out on the bay floor. The Paladin squatted next to me, resting a hand on my shoulder. “We will go without the power armor today. Don’t forget to breathe.” I inhaled through my nose, trying to mentally encourage my body to relax. I was out of the death trap, I was free… I wasn’t going to get trapped in there…

“I don’t ever want to go back in there,” I whispered.

“Then you won’t,” Danse promised, grasping my forearm and helping me to my feet. “The armor is yours all the same, but you don’t have to use it.”

“I’m sorry, Ingram,” I apologized. “I know you put a lot of work into it.” My breaths were coming easier now, less labored, less erratic. I was thankful for the arm Danse offered, my balance piss-poor at best as my legs teetered underneath me.

Ingram shrugged. “I would rather have you cool and collected then panicked and frenzied. Power armor isn’t for everyone. Hell, Brandis doesn’t like using it and he’s something of a legend around here since you helped bring him home. But, Paladin Danse, I’ll leave her in your hands. Jeremy, let’s move onto the next suit. I’ll teach you how to clean it.” The pair trekked to the next hangar, leaving the Paladin and I alone near the entrance.

I glanced at Danse. “What are you doing here?”

“Came to find you. Figured we should get some training done before we head out for our mission in the afternoon.” He led me towards the mess hall and up a flight of stairs. You ready for it?”

“To be honest? I’m not sure. I still feel pretty shaken up.”

“That’ll pass before we get to the flight deck. Some adrenaline is all you need. You’ll feel better once you’re in the action.”

He was right… Of course, he was. It was strange how well he knew me. Sure, he didn’t know my motivations or my upbringing or the little tiny unimportant things… but he knew when I needed help, and what I needed to clear my head.

I only wished I knew the same about him.


I gotta admit – sometimes my eyes glazed over when Danse goes on one of his lectures about the rewards and detriments to tactical strategies, detailing the benefits and shortcomings of every little tiny bitty aspect. Oh god, it’s dull. I mean, kudos. I’m glad he had something he was interested in, so invested in. But sometimes? Like now? I would rather pluck out every single eye lash one by one than listen to him prattle on.

“Okay, brah, seriously, I get it,” I moaned as we descended into the basem*nt of Fort Strong. Arthur, Elder Maxson, had requested that Danse and I clear out the Fort just west of the Prydwen, arguing that that we would gain a hefty advantage if we were to ‘evict’ the supermutant tenants. That advantage came primarily in the form of mini-nukes and the tools to create even more. Like, a lot more. Shloads more. I needed more fingers and toes to count the ‘more’ of it all. Maxson promised me that I would access to the radio towers that evening if we returned successful. So, naturally, I was doing everything in my power to make that happen.

And maybe a little more than what was necessary.

“Perhaps leading the suicider supermutant towards the huge generator in the main room causing a massive explosion that almost led to the overall destruction of the building we were standing in, wasn’t my best idea. But, hear me out, the supermutants are all dead now, right?” Granted, based off of the magnitude of said explosion, I was awfully surprised we were still standing.

Danse ran a hand through his dark russet hair, tilting his head to glare at me over his armored shoulder. “Patience is a virtue,” he replied though even he couldn’t hide the hint of a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “I guess I forgot how reckless you can be.”

“Say what you want, Danse, you like my style.”

He snorted at that, shaking his head, but laughing all the same. Alright, it was more of a chuckle but it was the best damn thing I was going to get to a laugh from him.

The better part of the morning, after the fiasco that occurred in the hangar bay, had been spent in training – learning the ins and outs of hand-to-hand combat, of proper rifle handling, and so on. I vaguely wondered if this was the type of training Nate had gone through when he joined the army two centuries ago. In a way, it felt like I was channeling him. It was a refreshing change of pace. Danse and I worked as a team, one of us would attack the other who would defend, then the roles were reversed. Danse was a good teacher, educating me on how to handle a variety of situations with tact and poise. I was sure that detonating a supermutant’s grenade hadn’t been the outcome he had been desiring but ah well. Beggars can’t be choosers.

We took the final set of stairs to the basem*nt, feet scuffling along the cement steps, dust and debris flying up around us before settling back onto the grimy flooring below. “And, here we are. This must be what the Elder was looking for.”

The room was stocked floor to ceiling with nukes, packages with parts to make more nukes, and artillery we could use to fire said nukes. “Point one for the BOS, zero for the baddies,” I muttered under my breath, stifling a yawn. Soft, comfy mattress aside, I still wasn’t getting any sleep. Thankfully, this time I didn’t think I woke anyone with my nightmares.

I trudged into the room, holstering Righteous Authority onto my back in the process. My boots were covered in blood, guts, and other such supermutant bits that were indistinguishable – note to self: clean later.

The Paladin started to count, taking inventory on our loot. I watched him for a moment but then my mind started to wander.

Maybe it was the sheer lack of sleep but… I was beginning to question if I was doing the right thing. Joining the Brotherhood was rewarding, more so than any work I had done with the Minutemen. But, I couldn’t deny it… I was angry, furious. Not at the Institute, though they were certainly part of it. I was upset with myself. What kind of mother was I? Sure, maybe Shaun had come into our lives a little too early, too soon… But, I should have been able to protect him. Or, at the very least, be able to find him. I still hadn’t heard from Valentine.

Here I was, fighting muties so I could get f*cking nukes while my son remained in an unknown location.

What kind of sh*tty, disaster of a mother, was I?

Danse pressed a button on his radio, “Send in a team, we found what the Elder wanted, over.” And then there was him. I couldn’t figure out how I felt about the man. I thought he was a pompous, arrogant, thick headed, stubborn ass who couldn’t see anything beyond his military training. But, I was wrong. He was kind, like when he played hide and seek back at Sanctuary with the kids (he wouldn’t admit but I saw him, I knew). He was patient with me when I didn’t comprehend what he was trying to teach me. He was understanding, able to listen to reason or decide how to intervene when Rhys and I got in a fight. He was humble, handing over leadership to Preston when raiders attacked. He was strong, mentally fighting his own inner demons in his sleep. And he was caring, when he offered to be my shoulder… I just had to let him. I had to trust him. And I just wasn’t sure I could open myself up for that, to become so vulnerable again.

And if I did… what would he think of me? Of the person I was? A woman out of her time, out of her element? Would he think me a damsel of needing saving? Or a monster who abandoned her family?

Part of me… Parted me never wanted to know.

“Hello? Anyone there, over?” he repeated into the radio, pivoting on his heels to face me, a concerned expression flickering across his face.

Static sizzled through the device in response. Danse frowned in the slightest, pulling the radio from his shoulder harness and pressing the button once more, “Repeat? We did not receive your last message, over.”

“Palad-… unable to… -ack by synths… need assis-…”

Synths? Institute synths? I hadn’t run into any since my fight with Kellog… and after speaking to the bastard, discovering the fate of my son… whether or not it was real, it was time for some serious payback. I could feel everything snap into focus. Self-pitying could wait for later.

Right now, I wanted revenge. And this was the best damn thing I was going to get to it.

“f*ck,” Danse cursed, launching himself back at the stairs. “Jones, we’re headed back up. Safety off, let’s go.”

I gave a quick nod of understanding as I followed him back to the upper levels. Even from below ground we could hear gunfire up above our heads. Though, that could be thanks to the lack of structural integrity I had gifted the building just moments before.

Danse was calm and collected, controlled as always. Me? I was fuming, hands almost shaking with fury. Adrenaline fueled my every movement the second the elevator doors opened, emptying us into the fray. Laser lights blasted out through the air, the sound of shots blistering into the open field, grunts as BOS soldiers were hit, the telltale ticking as shrapnel and particles sailed off of synths.

“Keep your head in the game,” I could hear Danse warn just inside the elevator door, but his voice was nothing more than a whisper to me, it meant nothing to me.

My sanity was slipping.

My rifle acted as an extension of my being, the ebb and flow of combat erupting all around me. All I could see was red, white hot and flaming as I gunned down the first synth I laid eye on, my actions filled with nothing but crazed revenge, merciless and cold. I was oblivious to the fact that I had companions, that I was fighting alongside my own men. I didn’t care. All I wanted was the complete and utter annihilation of every last f*cking synth I could see.

I saw nothing but gun fire, my mind lost in a haze as I mowed down any target that had the misfortune of stepping in front of my sights. Somewhere in the distance, I could hear Danse ordering me to stand down, to cool it, to stop. But I was too far gone to truly receive his words.

All my nightmares, all of the time I had spent, every second I had used up searching for my son… wasted. Because they took him from me. Because some bastard behind it all, the one pulling the strings, wanted MY baby boy. And when I thought I had been close to finally catching him, more wasted effort. And here I was, wasting more.

I had no options, no leads, no alternatives, nothing. I was stuck. At a dead end. I couldn’t go anywhere from here. I was no further than I had been when I left Vault 111 months ago.

I used the butt of Righteous Authority to whip a synth across the face, the robot crumbling to the ground at my feet. An explosion ignited off to my right, the heat of it making the sweat on my body sizzle, scorching my back. I threw my gun to the side, straddling the hunk of metal as it attempted to reach up to stop me. No, nothing else was going to get in my way. I was tired of being cornered, of being helpless and hopeless. I wanted them to pay, I wanted the whole Institute to pay for what they had done to me. I had wasted so much… I had wasted everything… “And it’s all. Your. FAULT!” I screamed as I buried my gloved fists into the synth’s head, each word resulting in a corresponding punch. The metal crunched under my bloodied knuckles, sparks flew as I detached wires, electricity crackling at my fingers.

“STOP!” strong arms hooked under me, pulling me from the synth, its body now a lifeless husk. “Enough, Jones!” Danse tossed me to the ground. I hit hard with a pained grunt, rolling a few times before coming to a complete stop.

I glared up at him, eyes ablaze with animosity. My teeth were clenched tight, fingers curled into fists at my sides.

He knelt down in front of me, arms outstretched to keep me where I was, back against the brick wall of the Fort. “What the hell was that? Have you completely lost your mind?” he was practically shouting at me. Only then did I realize that the fighting around me had come to a stop, that the Brotherhood at won. The synths were dead. Some of the BOS men looked worse for wear but we hadn’t lost anyone. A vertibird was descending to our position, bringing assistance and aid.

“You could have been killed!” Danse continued, hands now on my shoulders, shaking me roughly. I had never seen him so furious, so livid. “You could have gotten someone else killed! Is this how it’s going to be with you?”

I stared blankly up at him, unsure of how to respond. I could feel my rage begin to cool, leaving my body weak with fatigue and exhaustion. I almost felt chilled, a shiver fleeing up my spine as I attempted to dodge Danse’s accusing gaze.

The vertibird landed, kicking up dust in the process. Danse kept a hand on my wrist as he hefted me up, pulling me towards the chopper. “This conversation isn’t over, Jones,” he promised under his breath as we boarded.

I had messed up.


The Prydwen was full of celebration from Paladins down to the cleaning crew – even a few of the squires were in on the festivities. Having such a nuclear asset on our side put the Brotherhood in good spirits. It was their first real foothold in the Commonwealth, as Maxson had phrased it when we returned. As another plus for the day, we were gaining information on how the synths were constructed and possibly how they operate thanks to the Institute’s attack on Fort Strong and our ability to keep some of the synths mostly intact after our fire fight.

So the mess hall and barracks were abuzz with noise. Some were playing cards, others reminiscing on previous missions, and a few were getting higher than the Prydwen. The smell of alcohol and cigar smoke made me wince as I edged my way to my own room.

Thanks to all of the commotion, I was able to avoid Danse. His anger was well deserved. I had gone off the deep end, went completely bonkers out there… I let my own personal emotions and goals get in the way of the mission. I had put everyone in danger. I should apologize. He deserved that much. But, here I was, slinking down the corridor to my bunk with my fingers snugly crossed behind my back, praying he wouldn’t be there when I arrived.

I stifled my curse when my prayers fell on deaf ears.

“Was wondering when you would show up,” Danse greeted from his position on his bed. His back was against the wall, one leg brought up and tucked under the other that was hanging off the edge lazily. ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ was propped open on his knee, arms crossed. Stern expression, aimed directly at yours truly.

“Heeeeeeey,” I drew out the word, taking a quick glance down the hall, only having partially entered the room.

“Don’t even think about it,” Danse warned, able to read my mind all too well. He knew I was debating, calculating my chances of being able to duck out. He would catch me without a problem though. The lower level soldiers would respectfully move out of the way of him… they would only slow me down.

He had me pinned down, figuratively speaking.

He tilted his head to the side, instructing me to sit. I dragged myself over to my bed, plopping down onto the mattress and glancing up at him. He had a bandage compressed against his left cheek. I hadn’t even noticed the injury earlier. What else was hurt? Did he sustain any serious wounds or lacerations? Had he been shot at? Did he get hit? I didn’t have answers.

“So?” he pressed, clearly wanting to start the conversation where we had left off earlier.

“So?” I delayed, clearly wanting nothing to do with said conversation.

“Jones,” he exhaled, exasperated with me. His eyes closed for a moment, eyebrows furrowing in frustration. After a few moments of silence where I tried to look extremely fascinated in my cuticle situation, he finally spoke again, “I can’t keep vouching for you if you continue to place not only yourself but everyone else in danger. I recommended you. I personally put your name forward to Elder Maxson. My reputation is on the line. I should be worthy of some kind of explanation.” I could tell by the pitch of his voice that he was attempting to remain calm, that he was trying to hold back his rage.

With all the uproar going on in the hall though, I doubt anyone would hear him if he were to get loud.

When I didn’t answer he leaned forward, leveling a cold look with me. “At least tell me why.” Short, clipped, curt. He was losing his temper.

“I don’t have to tell you everything,” I whispered back.

“No. You don’t. But that implies that you tell me anything,” he sounded bitter, offended.

“I didn’t know anything I did was a concern of yours,” I let acid poor into my tone. He never told me anything… Why did I have to share my sob story with him?

“Damn it, Ashtyn!” I blinked at him, surprised he used my first name. Danse was only a few inches from me now, both feet firmly planted on the ground, hands curled against his mattress so tightly his knuckles were white. “You. Nearly. Died. Today.” Each word was a staccato, brimming with vehemence. “You placed everyone at risk the way you ran into combat. You barely knew what was going on, did you?” My silence only strengthened his resolve. “You didn’t. Clearly!” scoffed, rolling his eyes. “Do you have a death sentence? Do you WANT to die?” He may have phrased it as sarcasm, a rhetorical question aimed at making me ponder my tactics…

But… “Would that be so awful?” Honestly? The idea didn’t scare me like it should, didn’t light a fire under my ass to make me want to keep up the fight. After everything that had happened up until now, I wanted nothing more than for someone to finish it. Make the suffering end, make the stress vanish, and the worry disappear.

If I couldn’t even find my son, what right did I have to continue living? I was worthless.

“You… You can’t be serious,” he retorted, eyes wider, expression colored with shock.

“And what if I am?” I stared blankly at my hands, as if they alone would bring about the answer to all of my questions.

“I….” he wasn’t sure how to reply to that. “I won’t let you do that.

“Last time I checked, you can’t stop me,” I bit back, snapping my gaze up to meet his. “And the last thing I want is your f*cking sympathy. I didn’t want Preston’s help. I didn’t want Sturges’ help. And I definitely don’t want your help. Nobody in this post nuka-hell gives two sh*ts about anyone else. No matter how much time goes by, nothing has changed. Everyone is out for their own skin, what does it matter if one more person gets added to the death counter? That’s all it is right? A number? How would it affect you any ways?!” I was virtually seething.

During my time we had gangs, organized crime, wars with bombs. We thought nukes would solve all of our problems. But here we were, making the same damn mistakes. Now we just didn’t have a government to tell us what to do. But we were still just as chaotic, still just as out of control.

His face darkened, his hand shooting forward to enclose around my arm just as I was about to stand, the two of us now on our feet, facing each other with heated expressions. “I give two sh*ts about you! And it would affect me.” He was shouting now, I tried to draw back but his grip only tightened. “But I am useless if you don’t tell me what’s going on. We are a team. We have to trust each other. And to do that, you have to be able to open up to me. Especially with sh*t like this!”

We were both breathing hard, both fuming, both wide eyed and angry.

He spoke first, voice calmer than it had been but only by a fraction of an inch. “Please. That’s all I ask. I don’t need to hear your life story, I don’t need to know everything. I want to, but I understand that you are not the type of person to trust easily. I understand. However, if I am to have your back in the field, out there where it matters, where I have to make sure you stay alive? I need to know something. Anything. What are you fighting for? What are you afraid of? What makes you think you should be dead?” Danse paused, closing his eyes once more, the hand around my bicep loosening till it fell, landing back at his side. He almost looked beaten, conquered, defeated.

He was right, he had a point. But even still… I couldn’t tell him everything. I wasn’t ready to open that little box. I had gone to great lengths to tuck it away, to swallow all of the emotions I had been holding back these past months. But I could open it… just a little tiny bit. “I’ve failed. At everything. I’m afraid of failing again. It’s inevitable. Ever since I woke up I just…” I couldn’t stop the soft sob that fled unwelcome past my parted lips. I squeezed my eyes tight, wishing the tears away. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t show weakness.

“You haven’t failed,” Danse responded back, voice barely audible. “At anything. You’re a bit crazy and reckless but every mission you have gone on, you were successful.”

I shook my head hard, raising a hand to brush at the damn tears. “I didn’t mean with the Brotherhood.”

“Then… what?” he tilted his head to the side, gaze full of warmth, a craving to understand. “Is it whatever you’re looking for?”

I nodded feebly.

His gaze flicked to my PipBoy before settling back on me. “Is that what makes you act so dangerously? What makes you put your life at risk? Is whatever you’re looking for that important?”

Again, I nodded.

“I’ll help you find it,” he sounded so sure, so confident, so prepared to do anything.

“I know – our deal, I help the Brotherhood. They help me.”

“No, Jones. I don’t mean that.” He placed his hands on my shoulders, giving them a warm and gentle squeeze. “The deal is off. I don’t care about it anymore. Help the Brotherhood if that is what you want to do, but I will do whatever I can for you. If what you are searching for is that important to you, so important that you would risk everything for it, then I will do the same.”

“I don’t-“ I started.

“I know, you don’t want my help. But that’s too damn bad because I’m giving it to you.”

I peeked up at him from under my eye lashes. “But what do you get out of it?”

Danse offered me a lop-sided grin, one that made my heart do this unhealthy flutter thing. “Satisfaction? A happy conscience? The knowledge that I’ve assisted you? All are great examples of what I would ‘get out of it’.”

I blinked a few times. Could I still count it a dead end if I had a new person helping me? I wasn’t any closer to finding Shaun but… I felt better.

He gently pulled me forward, wrapping his strong arms around my shoulders, tucking me underneath his chin. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t comfortable. I felt safe, secure, and, dare I say, happy. I felt cared for. It was good to know I had someone looking out for me. Someone other than Dogmeat, at least. “You don’t have to tell me what it is we are searching for… Someday you will. Just know, that no matter what, I have your six. Okay?”

I pressed my face into his chest, my lips moving against his faded shirt as I spoke, “Okay.”


The Prydwen was quiet, the hour late. Far above my head starts twinkled, and a crescent moon lit up the night sky.

I had opened a pack of fancy lad cakes, one of them resting on a plastic plate that was balanced on my knees. A baby blue candle was pressed into the top of it. I raised my hand, lighting the wick with a match, watching the little flame sway back and forth in the breeze.

I peered over at my PipBoy, the device unstrapped and nestled against my bare foot.

12:01 AM.

December 18th.

I had once pictured this day to be full of joy and laughter, of pictures that would go into a scrapbook that I could show to my mother whenever she visited. I had planned the day half a year in advance, wanting everything to be perfect. Balloons, streamers, friends, family, cake… Hell, I had been practicing my baking skills, wanting to make the best cake ever.

But… now I was spending it alone, and the one who I was celebrating for was far from me.

My throat constricted, my tongue felt thick in my mouth. My chest heaved, heart swelled.

“Happy birthday, Shaun,” I whispered, swallowing the sob that threatened to press past my lips. I didn’t want to alert the patrol that I was here, I didn’t want to be bothered.

Today… if everything would have gone the way it should have, Shaun would be one year old.

But fate was cruel.

Rather than cradling him in my arms, all I had was a picture. Instead of talking with him, telling him how happy I was to have him in my life, all I could do was hear his voice.

“Say bubye, Shaun. Say bye-bye.”

His squeal of laughter cooed out of the Pipboy’s speakers.

“We love you, honey.”

Oh Nate, if only you knew what I had done… what I had become.

I didn’t deserve that love.

At least, not right now. But I would work for it, I would earn it.

“I’ll find you, baby boy,” I promised the air. “I have help. I’ll come for you.”

Chapter 11: Gifts, Little Things

Chapter Text

Danse felt content as his boots landed on the metal walkways of the Prydwen. “Amazing job, Paladins,” the pilot congratulated. Danse and Paladin Brandis had cleared out a few of the remaining structures around the Prydwen, assuring that not only their base but the people and farmlands nearby, were safe and protected. In return, many settlers were more than willing to offer supplies and goods in trade. They were at war, the BOS would accept any help that was sent their way.

His power armor groaned softly as it released him, allowing Danse to step free from the fortified frame. Elder Maxson would likely enjoy a report, desiring exact details of the recon and what equipment they had been able to salvage. Thankfully, Danse was pardoned from having to deliver such a message, that duty falling on one Paladin Brandis since he was technically a higher ranking officer based on seniority when compared to Danse. Which meant that Danse had time to spare, an odd occurrence as of late. Ever since the Brotherhood arrived in the Commonwealth, there had been an endless stream of requests, deployment opportunities, and odd jobs. He was busier than ever before, filling much of his time with emptying abandoned locations of enemies, tracking down technological marvels, or helping in repairing the Prydwen in Proctor Ingram.

Ashtyn Jones preferred the Squire Escort missions and acquiring merchandise and foodstuff from local farms. She had a way with persuasion, earning her the nickname Silver Tongue from some of the officers on deck. While Danse preferred a more upfront and personal approach, guns blazing as she would call it; she sometimes thought of clever, stealthier, charismatic approaches that he had not even paused to consider. And she was wonderful with the children.

It was likely what made them such a good team on the field. Among other things.

Though, now that he was on the subject: where was Jones?

He had paused long enough to shower and throw on a change of clothes. He wore his orange BOS suit with the top half rolled down to his waist, the arms serving as a belt of sorts. This was accompanied with a faded gray t-shirt that Jones insisted had once been white though he wasn’t convinced. Regardless, she had not been present in neither the shower rooms nor the bunk room they shared.

Danse poked his head into the mess hall, the smell of something cooking hitting his senses. Jones turned her nose up at the food that was served there but he never minded it. Granted, he had grown up on partially uncooked radroach meat and Yum Yum Deviled Eggs that had gone well past their expiration date. Anything would be considered an improvement from that garbage. He snatched a bottle of Nuka Cola (Jones’ favored beverage of choice) and a pack of Fancy Lads Snack Cakes for himself.

Still no Ashtyn though…

“Afternoon, Captain Kells,” Danse greeted, patting the man on the back at his stool. “Have you seen Knight Jones by chance?” Kells was Jones’ typical go-to for work, and he usually had a decent general idea of her location.

“Ad Victoriam, Paladin Danse. Marvelous job on clearing out the Pier. Unfortunately, Knight Jones has not been by today. If you see her, tell her I have another recruit I would like for her to tour with. Jeremy is going to take a break, the kid has been excelling rapidly but everyone needs a breather now and then.”

“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Have a good day.” Danse saluted and took his leave, headed back up top.

He exited the Prydwen, finding himself once more on the flight deck, most of the Vertibirds currently dispatched or with other Brotherhood teams patrolling the Commonwealth.

It felt good. It felt more than good to be a part of something so grand, so spectacular. They were going to help so many people, save so many lives once the Institute was taken care of. He just hoped that the information he had given the Elder was enough to start tracking them down. They had to put a stop to the madness, obliterate every abomination. The world would never be safe unless they acted.

Danse did a once over scan of the perimeter, taking in the sights. This far up, it was difficult to make out much of below. The airport was alive with action, power armored men and women traversing back and forth in the hangar bays, trying to get a good count on their stock.

The deck itself was quieter, only a few guards on duty. He moved further away from the main door to the Prydwen, the breeze strong enough to ruffle his dark brown hair.

“There you are,” he breathed happily, noticing Jones’ slender figure leaning off the end of the ship, hands clasping the rail for support. Her head tilted in the slightest when she heard him speak, the smirk he had come so familiar with was absent, the normal spark in her eye missing completely.

“What’s wrong?” he couldn’t mask the hint of alarm that crept into his voice. She was always so quick with the quips. Something had to be bothering her.

She shook her head, sighing heavily. “It’s nothing. Stupid really.”

Clearly, it wasn’t. “Oh come on, you’re usually way happier to see me. I brought you a Nuka Cola,” he shook the bottle enthusiastically. A smile flitted across her full lips for the briefest of seconds before disappearing once more, her hand closing around the bottle of irradiated soda before popping the cap off with the assistance of the rail.

She took a few sips, savoring the flavor. “It’s just… Tomorrow is Christmas.”

He arched a brow. He had not pegged her as the type to enjoy holidays. Then again… His mind flashed back to the holotape recording he had listened to, the one with a little baby boy named Shaun and a man speaking. There was so much he didn’t know about her, so much she was keeping secret.

“Christmas?” he hedged, pressing his back to the rail so he could face her. Her hair was pulled up today though loose strands were falling haphazardly around her face. Elder Maxson insisted that she keep better control over her appearance but Danse knew she would do everything in her power to go against that ideal. She wore a pair of cargo pants, the pockets filled with odds and ends she probably collected while patrolling the Prydwen and Boston airport. A blank tank hugged her toned yet still muscular torso and chest. Ink colored her back, caressing her right shoulder in geometrical designs and wording in what he assumed to be Latin, the pattern itself detailing full bloom roses of varying colors and some buds that had still yet to open. When they had first met, he had been surprised to find out that she was covered in tattoos though, now that he knew her personality a bit better, he figured they suited her.

“You know? Deck the halls? Jingle bells? Sleigh rides to grandma’s house? All that sh*t?” She took another swing of her Cola, nose crinkling when the flavor of radiation hit her tongue.

“I know the traditions, sure,” Danse agreed, beginning to open the package of Snack Cakes.

Which she promptly snatched from his open hands. “I mean, what happened to Christmas cookies and candy canes and all of that? Like, what is this crap? Don’t you guys get any home baking around here?”

Danse scowled at his now empty fingers, devoid of delicious Fancy Cakes. “Not really, no. That’s why we are adequately supplied with rations and goods…. Such as the sweet treat you just stole from me.” He sent an accusing glance in her direction.

“But what about Christmas cookies? Like sugar cookies or chocolate chip? Or peanut butter? Any of that ring a bell?”

“Jones, I don’t know how to break it to you but, whatever fancy shmancy Vault you grew up in, people above ground don’t partake in baking. Hell, I don’t even think there are recipes around to make what you’re talking about.” He didn’t understand what she was talking about. Sure, he knew what cookies were but no one knew how to make them nor could they list off the ingredients if they even wanted to go about baking in the first place. f*ck, were the ingredients actually obtainable?

And what did cookies have to do with Christmas? Was he missing something? Maybe it was a strange Vault thing she was once part of. Diamond City put up lights for the holiday but, other than that, no one else really celebrated. He knew bits and pieces of older traditions – gift giving, a big meal, songs… but not much beyond the basics. The Brotherhood didn’t offer time for such things.

“What if I told you I know how to make them?”

He chuckled at that, shaking his head incredulously. “Okay, sure, I’ll bite. What if? You have the stuff to make them too?”

Jones dug down into her pockets with her free hand, pulling out a handful of small bags with some sort of powdered material inside. A coy smile danced across her face, that spark returning in her eyes. “I do indeed.”

Danse raised his brows, shock coloring his features. “So you’re going to what, bake some cookies then?”

“Well,” she paused, blinking up at him innocently. Oh no, he knew that face. She was going to rope him into something. “I was thinking maybe you could bake them with me?”

“Jones, I don’t know the first thing about baking. How the f*ck would I be of any assistance?”

“That’s what I’m for – I can teach you.”

“Teach me?” She sounded so hopeful, bordering on playful.

“Oh come on. You can kill supermutants and deathclaws, no problem. But cooking? Can’t do that? The big, powerful, all knowing Paladin Danse, meat head of the Brotherhood and overall protector of the Commonwealth, can’t bake cookies?”

He rolled his eyes, unable to stop his own grin from forming. Maybe it was something to do with the her silver tongue, or maybe it was the way her eyes twinkled whenever only he was around, or maybe it was how her smile brightened her whole face and made the sun shine. Or maybe it was just the complete ridiculousness of the situation…

But… “Fine. Teach me how to bake your damn cookies. But in the morning we are hitting the gym for a training session.”



An hour later he was scooping ‘batter’ out of a ‘mixing’ bowl and onto a baking sheet. If Danse was being one hundred percent honest, he had not the faintest idea as to what it was he was doing. But, if his assumptions were correct. Jones did.

She wore a makeshift apron that she had crafted from a torn table cloth she had found tucked away in a random cupboard. He, on the other hand, had batter caked onto the side of his face, matted into his stubble and tucked into the right eyebrow. According to Jones, he had shoved his finger into the cookie mix one too many times for her liking and, as punishment, he had been awarded with a wooden spoonful of flour, sugar, baking powder, and egg. He wasn’t aware that he had been placed on a quota.

“I hope it turns out alright. I’ve never used mirelurk eggs before… or reaaaaally old baking powder. Whatever, we’ll see.” Jones tucked the tray into the oven, huffing as she slammed the door shut. She glanced up at him, flour powdered her hairline and dotted her face in white. “Thanks for your help.”

“I wasn’t aware I had a choice in the matter,” Danse replied curtly.

“Oh, you didn’t. But I should thank you all the same,” she grinned up at him, bright blue eyes laughing at his expense. Oddly enough, he didn’t mind.

“What do we do now?” He took a seat across from her at the counter. The mess hall was emptying out, most of the lights switched off for the evening hours. The only illumination they had was provided by a few candles coupled with a singular lamp turned on in the corner of the kitchen.

“We wait.” Jones leaned over, propping her head up on her hands, elbow pressed against the top of counter.

“Alright, well, if you are supposedly the most knowledgeable on how to spend Christmas, what did you and your family do to celebrate?” Danse questioned. He was aching to learn something, anything about her. She was a mystery. Though he had spent much time with her these past few months, he knew very little. He knew her tells in combat, was able to guess when she was about to make a hasty decision… but anything personal? He was completely lost. He wanted to understand her, wanted to fathom what made her act the way she did. He wanted to know about the life she had before the Brotherhood. He wanted to know who Shaun was…

“We made gingerbread houses and decorated the house full of lights. My parents used to compete with our neighbors to see who could get the most ridiculous front porch display.” She grinned, her facial features animated, recalling what it looked like. “We made snowmen and had snowball fights. We used to sled down this big hill near the edge of town…” Her eyes glazed over in the slightest, the smile fading from her lips. What was she remembering? Whatever it was, it took her to a dark place. Danse began to reach forward, intending on shaking her from it but she managed to pull herself free, focus returning to the here and now. “But, I guess… that was a long time ago. I don’t do those things anymore.” She shook her head, as if clearing away that bad memory. “So, how did you celebrate Christmas in the Wasteland?”

“Rivet City was always busy that time of year. Parents were rushing to find gifts in the marketplace, trading what they could so their children could have something new for the holiday.” He snatched a damp towel rag from the wash basin to his left, dabbing it against his batter encased cheek. “They put lights up along the rails of the ship, even outside. A giant tree was set in the center of the market district, everyone could put ornaments on it. I remember one year, it was so full that there wasn’t any room left to hang anything else. Cutler and I made sure we were part of it every holiday. Well, until we joined the Brotherhood.”

“Why didn’t you continue?” she tilted her head to the side, eyes changing from interest to confusion.

“The BOS doesn’t really offer downtime for something like this. They consider the overall mission far too important to waste time on holidays or gatherings.”

She scoffed. “That’s stupid.”

“Are you saying baking cookies is more important than saving lives?”

“Why act as if everything is black and white?” Jones countered, expression turning serious. “If you can’t even find time for the little things, for traditions, for family and friends – what kind of world are you trying to build? Sure, getting rid of all the baddies is awesome and super, thumbs up and all that. But stuff like this is important. Okay, say you have a family-“

“But I don’t.”

“Not the point. Pretend. Use your imagination for one hot second. It won’t kill you. Okay, you have a family – a wife, a child, maybe a dog if that’s your thing.” She paused, glancing down at the countertop, her hands clasped together. “It was your child’s first Christmas. Would you miss it so you could go shoot up a raider camp or blow holes through synths?”

“In doing so I would better protect him,” Danse argued, not understanding where she was going with this topic.

“In doing so, you would create a child who doesn’t care for you, who doesn’t love you, who has no memories of you. In doing so you create a father that is never there and a husband who doesn’t care enough to be present for the important parts of life.”

Danse’s lips parted but no words came out. She… had a point. If he focused on nothing but conflict, on fighting, would the world he was trying to create be the same? Would that world have no room for nourishment or nurturing because all the people who would provide it were gone, shoveled off to war? Order and law had their place but…

Jones’ back was to him, her hand reaching into the oven to retrieve the baking sheet. The warm, sweet scent of melted chocolate hit him, his mouth practically watering.

“My point is,” she finished, nudging a plate with a single cookie on it towards him. “If you can’t make time for the little things… then what’s is it that you’re fighting for?”

They then spent the better part of the next hour, making rounds with the dozens of cookies they had. One went to each squire and each guard that manned their posts, one to Ingram, and another to Kells. One went to Brandis, and one went to Haylen. Rhys accepted one though he insisted he wouldn’t eat it. Teagon accepted, a big smile on his face. Quinlan took another. Even Elder Maxson agreed to take one, the final cookie.

As he sat at his bunk, watching Jones get ready for bed… it hit him.

Whatever Jones was fighting for, at least she was fighting for something. What was he fighting for? At one point, he had been fighting to make his own life better – to get away from Rivet City. Then Cutler died, and he had been fighting to avenge his death. After that, he was fighting simply because he had thought it was the right thing to do, because the Brotherhood told him to.

But she was right. If he couldn’t make time for the little things, for important things, like caring for others… what did that mean for the world the Brotherhood wished to create? Perhaps their ideals were not as noble and heroic as he had originally thought.

Such a thought was treasonous.

But would it truly be so horrendous to fight for the world Jones spoke off? He glanced up at her just as she looked towards him, her lips tugging up into a smile that warmed his heart.

Perhaps not.

“I have something for you,” she announced, hands tucked away behind her back.

The Paladin scowled. “What?”

“You know, a present? It is Christmas after all. You didn’t think I would force you to bake all day without giving you some type of reward, did you?” He tried to lean around her, gaze reaching to grab a glimpse of the object she held. But she twisted it out of eye sight.

“You didn’t have to get me anything.”

She peered at the floor. “It’s the least I can do. You’ve done so much for me, you know? Seems only fair.”

What? What had he done for her? Nothing extraordinary, certainly. Nothing that warranted a gift. “Really, you don’t-“

Ashtyn held out the small package before he could finish his sentence. He gingerly took it into his own hands, turning the gift from side to side. It was wrapped in a section of Public Occurrences and tied together with a bit of ribbon. “Jones-“ he tried again.

“Just open the damn thing before I change my mind.” He heard her bed creak as she sat down on it, the mattress sinking below her. She refused to look at him, eyes trained on the hem of her Giddyup Buttercup shirt as she idly pulled at a loose string. Was she… embarrassed? Anxious? Her face was awash with a variety of emotions.

But he complied, setting the package on his laps as he tugged at the ribbon to expose the item underneath. Books, two of them, nestled within the paper. Though the covers of both were faded from years of wear and tear, the title was still visible along the spine of each. ‘Lord of the Rings, Tale of Two Tours’ and ‘Return of the King’.

“I… Uh, I figured, maybe you would want the others in the series?” she phrased it as if it was a question. “I mean, I bet it gets tiring reading the first one and not knowing if Frodo makes it to Mount Doom.”

He peeked up at her. “Where did you find this?”

“Oh, there’s a bookstore I used to- I found while scouting the Boston downtown area. It was filled with books. Most of them were sh*t but I found a few that survived.”

“Wow… I… Don’t know what to say.”

Panic, panic was certainly the emotion he was seeing now. sh*t, no he had to fix that.

“In a good way,” he reassured. “No one has ever gotten me a gift before. I’m just surprised. Thank you.”

She visibly relaxed, letting out a sigh of relief. “Good! You had me terrified there for second, making me think that I made some sort of horrible mistake.”

Danse chuckled. “No, it’s wonderful. But… I’m afraid I didn’t get you anything.”

Ashtyn waved a hand dismissively. “You baked cookies with me, don’t worry about.”

He paused. Was that good enough, really? “There’s nothing you want in return?”

The Paladin was rewarded with the blush that rose in the Knight’s cheeks. “I didn’t say that. But, you don’t have to do anything for me.”

“Name your price. Honest.”

She bit her bottom lip, a nervous habit he had noticed she used whenever she was debating whether or not she wanted to speak her mind. “Well… I guess I do have a question. You don’t have to answer it though.” She tucked her legs up underneath her, folding her hands in her lap.

“Shoot.” How bad could it be?

“Okay…” she inhaled a soft breath, as if preparing herself mentally. “Danse… You get nightmares. Like me. But, I don’t know what yours are about… You’re always so tense when you sleep. It’s hard to watch.”

Oh… Oh, he hadn’t expected that. Out of all the things she would want to know, of course, it was so like her, to dive for the one thing that he struggled the most with discussing.

His hesitation made her back pedal. “Like I said, you don’t have to answer. I’m just curious.”

“No, it’s okay. I can tell you.” Danse leaned his back against the wall, eyes trailed towards the ceiling. When he spoke, it was with little intonation, as if he was relaying nothing more than report details. It was his way of distancing himself from the events that had happened in any way he could. “Remember when I mentioned I had a friend named Cutler? We joined the Brotherhood together back at Rivet City? Well… He’s not really around anymore. Uh... He, uh, he went missing once on a mission about a year after we joined. I personally spear-headed the search to find him… it took three weeks. By the time we did, however, he wasn’t really Cutler anymore.” He was an abomination, a creature of the Wastes, no longer the friend he once cherished. “We tracked them down to a super mutant hive… they had killed everyone, everyone but Cutler. He would have been so lucky. No, those bastards used the FEV virus on him. It was my duty… I didn’t have a choice. Like I said, he wasn’t Cutler anymore…. Sometimes, that memory haunts me in my dreams.” He could see Cutler’s face, green eyes focused on him, begging for death’s sweet release. Only fragments of his friend remained once he had mutated, contorting into the fleshy monstrosity that was a supermutant. If only he had been more vigilant, if only he had placed more guards along the perimeter…

He felt the mattress sink next to him. “Danse,” Ashtyn spoke, concern laced into her voice. “You aren’t to blame for that.”

“I am though. It’s my fault.”

Her head shook with such certainty, her petite hands closing around his own. “It’s not! You can’t keep blaming yourself for everything that happens. With Cutler, with your squad, with Rhys or Haylen, or me. Yes, those are tragic events. I’m so sorry you had to go through them. But… You can’t keep carrying that.”

She didn’t understand. How could she? “I was the leader. It was my decisions. My calls.”

“People make mistakes. No one is perfect. You’re no different.”

“Four men died because of me, that’s over half my squad. Not to mention Cutler and the brothers and sisters that fell before him. How can anyone have confidence in me anymore? f*ck, how can I have confidence in myself?”

I have confidence in you. The way the children played with you, the way Haylen and Rhys look up to you. Do you see the way your ‘brothers and sisters’ look at you? That all proves that the people around you care.”

How could she say that? With such conviction? He was a monster for what he had done. He deserved punishment, not her kind words. His throat tightened, heart pounded. He had been the cause of so many deaths. He could never repent for what he had done. No one would ever-

“You’re forgiven, Danse. No one is blaming you, except yourself. We all will follow your lead, no matter what. It doesn’t matter who we are facing, or what. We are with you. I want you to know that.”

“What?” Was she crazy? How could his crimes be forgiven? What he did, there was no way she could just say-

“You’re forgiven. Does that make it better? If I say it? Does it click then? I’ll repeat it over and over until you believe me.”

It… did. For some strange reason it did. It was as if she had personally lifted the weight from his shoulders and threw it away, far away. Yes, some remained. It would always… but at least he could breathe for a few moments.

“Yeah…” he exhaled, finally meeting her gaze. “Yeah…”

She beamed up at him, smile reaching up to her eyes as they sparkled in the lantern light, that little twinkle that was reserved just for him. “See? It’s not so awful talking about that stuff, huh?”

He scowled. “Maybe for you.”

“We all have our demons.”

“What are yours?” he tried. Shaun… Nate… who were they? She spoke their names often in her sleep, but still had had no answers. She held so many secrets… If he could just grasp at one.

She wagged a finger at him. “Sorry, that’s not included in the gift.” Ashtyn bounced off of his cot and moved to her own. He watched as she pulled the covers over herself and nestled into the mattress. “Still on for that training session in the morning?” Her words shined with a light airiness he hadn’t felt for years, a glee he couldn’t dream of holding... but was able to witness. Her carefree nature all but contagious.

“Affirmative. Sleep well, Knight.”

“Right back at ya. No nightmares, okay?”

“I’ll do my best.”

Danse reached over and capped the lantern, shrouding the room in darkness. He lay there in silence, listening to her breathing calm and slow till he was certain she was fast asleep.

Before her… he had been accustomed to being alone. It was normal, comforting, ordinary. But now? Trying to picture his life without her by his side? Terrifying. She was the breath of fresh air he needed, the light at the end of the tunnel. He would sink below the sands without her.

Realization hit then, a horrifying realization. Ever since Cutler had died, he had seen other soldiers come and go. Some were brave, some were honest. Hell, some were even downright heroic. But he had never considered any of them to be a good friend, a friend like Cutler once had been. Until now. It was a good feeling but… but it also frightened him. Having a bond with someone and then losing them… it changes a person. It changed him.

He couldn’t bear to go through that again.

Not with anyone… not with her.

But something told him that he wouldn’t be able to stay away. No matter how hard he tried to.

And that scared him even more.

Chapter 12: Opening the Box

Chapter Text

“This the place?” even Danse couldn’t mask the amount of disgust in his voice as he questioned me. Not that I could blame him, Goodnighbor wasn’t really a place for BOS soldiers so I guess the distaste for one another was mutual.

I glanced down at the note I held, my slender fingers grasping the edges of slightly burnt parchment, letters scrawled so poorly over the surface it had taken me a few hours to figure out what the hell it meant. Granted, perhaps synths just weren’t real good at writing… Or maybe it just wasn’t Nick’s forte. “Yep, said I should look into a place here.” I hadn’t told Danse the full details. He knew this would help me locate whatever it was I was after but… beyond that? His understanding of the situation was about as clear as feral infested, irradiated, nuclear waste filled water.

Which was to say, it wasn’t clear at all. In case you didn’t catch that.

I glanced towards Danse. His weight kept shifting from foot to foot, his gaze flickering at every individual that passed. His jaw was tight, his expression oozing with discomfort. Ah well, we wouldn’t be staying for long.

We stood under an overhang in the small little marketplace. The Mayor’s House was to our back with a few store fronts ahead of us. Rain drops spattered against the uneven and unkempt pavement. The pair of us decided to go in casual clothes, not wanting to stick out more than we already were. Granted, I could have given a stealthboy to Danse and he still would stick out like a blinking neon light. I don’t think ‘blend in’ was in his vocabulary or training.

“Just act normal for a few seconds,” I suggested, nudging Danse in the side. He grimaced down at me, lips pulled firmly into a frown.

“Normal? We are surrounded by…” his voice quieted a few degrees as he finished, “… criminals, and you want me to ‘act normal’. Seriously?”

“Yeah, I do. Chill the f*ck out. This means a lot to me and I don’t want you messing it all up because you can’t power down the ‘I’m a soldier and I fight against baddies’ hamster wheel that is on constant spin in your head.” I crossed my arms defiantly, the leather jacket I wore slick with rain water.

He exhaled slowly through his nose, eyes shut, fingers pinching the bridge of his nose. “Fine. Alright. Lead on.”

Danse begrudgingly followed me down the alley to our left. Rain pelted off of the roofs above our heads, tinkling away on metal overhangs and outcroppings. Many of the town’s delusional drug addicts were underneath doorways, poking their little heads out from hiding as we passed. Danse’s expression darkened with every step but a stern glare from me cooled his jets. I’m sure if I wasn’t his ‘pupil’ he would flip me off. Thankfully, Brotherhood of Steel decorum was working in my favor here. I mentally thanks whoever wrote the damn code book.

“This is it,” I gestured, vaguely pointing up to the blinking sign. Some of the lights were out and it could do with a good cleaning (okay, most of Goodnieghbor could use some real tender loving care but that’s beyond the point). “Memory Den.”

“Sounds super,” Danse muttered, wanting nothing more than to turn tail and run. “How about you go in, scope the place out, and I will stay right here, guarding the entrance.”

“Great. Just don’t kill anyone until I get back.” His lips parted to protest but I waved him off and entered the building.

The inside was dimly lit, wooden planks bordering up most of the walls. Incense was burning somewhere within and I could just make out the humming of equipment buzzing away in the next room. Nick’s letter gave me some detail as to what this place was but… I wasn’t prepared when I rounded the corner. Large pod-like chambers dotted the sides of the room, some open and some closed. Cords and electrical wiring was intricately looped and clamped, connecting these pods to a generator somewhere further in the building. Lights allowed some mild illumination though candles were the primary source of ambience.

“Welcome to the Memory Den, darling,” a woman seated on a red loveseat sofa near the center of the back of the room introduced. “My name is Irma. What can we do for you today?”

I tentatively walked forward, feeling out of place with my soaked hair and drenched attire, trekking water in with each step. “Uh, I have an acquaintance that told me about this place. I was, uh, just wondering what it is you do here?” I glanced warily at the machinery around me. I hadn’t seen anything like it before – and I grew up pre-war when this sh*t was common.

“Why, we allow people to get away from the daily life by providing them with an outlet: a way to relive a happier time in their life.” She smiled coyly, her blonde hair pulled backwards to give her an overly stylized appearance. Her makeup was heavy and her outfit a bit over the top – a large dress with a high reaching collar. I couldn’t imagine fighting in such clothes. Then again, I imagined this type of woman, Irma, didn’t really see much combat any ways.

“Relive?” I hedged, focusing on one of the pods that was occupied. It was like the person inside was asleep, napping away the rainy hours. A terminal next to the pod flickered with images, difficult to make out from this distance.

“Correct. We use a highly scientific process to delve into the memories of our clients, allowing them to revisit previously passed events.”

My eyes widened a fraction of an inch.

“You can revisit passed events? Any passed events?”

“It is easier if they are recent or if the client has a strong emotional connection to the event, but yes, darling, that is essentially what we provide.” Irma changed positions, dragging her long legs from the couch so they could rest before her, high heeled shoes propping her knees up.

My spine straightened, heart pounded, full lips parted in the slightest. “Could i…? Could I try it out?” Would I be able to see Shaun and Nate again? Even if it was just for the briefest of moments…. I would give anything for that.

Irma bit her bottom lip, gaze gliding to the side. “I’m not sure, darling. We usually don’t just let newcomers take a spin willy nilly. There is a protocol.”

“Please, Miss Irma. I just want a second. Please. I would give anything to see my son and husband again. Please.” I didn’t like begging, it didn’t fit my character. I wasn’t the type to drop to my knees, to plead. But if it meant one tiny glimpse at what I had lost? I would do anything she asked of me.

She paused, giving me a once over. Maybe my disheveled and mangy appearance would give me a one up in this situation. “Oh fine. A quick free trial. Dr. Amari?” A second woman wearing a sheer white lab coat with hair tucked up into a snug and orderly bun poked her head around from her terminal, one brow arched in question. “This young woman would like a session.”

Dr. Amari bobbed her head. “Hook her up to the pod on the right,” she used a pencil to gesture at the station of her choosing.

I obediently took a seat, hands clasped around the arm rests. Just one quick look and then I would get back to investigating. It shouldn’t take long. Irma reached up, gently tugging on the door to the pod, easing it down to shut over me. I could hear hushed voices, a screen in front of me blurring to life.

Please Stand By.

Well, I’m sitting… so I hope that would do.

Please let it be of Nate making breakfast… Or Shaun’s laugh, his real laugh, not just the recorded one I had. Or, maybe let it be one of our dates, our wedding day.

“Alright, darling. We found something.”

Let it be the picnic we had when Shaun was five months old and we decided it we wanted to go to the park. Oh, it rained so hard on us, soaked everything. But, I would do anything to relive that.

“Try to relax. We will connect in three… two… one…”


Everything was dark, I felt as if I were adrift at sea. I could feel something tugging at the back of my mind, pulling, shifting…

“We will be monitoring your vitals on this end, just relax. We found a memory for you.”

The world came into focus, my vision distorted around the edges but clear as long as I kept my head straight. I blinked rapidly, trying to gain an accurate sense of where I was. I had been here before but… not from this angle. It didn’t look quite right… But…

My heart sunk, my stomach tightened, my breath hitched. My skin raced with sudden adrenaline. No. Not here.

“Manual override initiated. Cryogenic stasis suspended,” a vault computer droned.

Pipes whined above my head, the sounds of the tubes hissing as gas and air was released. I heard quiet mumbles, sleep filled groans. I turned slowly, footsteps inaudible, my arms floating lazily at my sides.

One step… two…

And I came face to face with myself.

I looked so different. No scars marred my flawless skin, I was clean, no dirt under my nails. My hair was brushed back, like silk. I could see the sheen from my lip gloss, the makeup that colored my eyes when I opened them, my perfectly kept eye brows.

I was beautiful.

And terrified.

I raised a hand to press it against the glass as my other self began to awaken. Her liquid blue eyes groggily opened, flicking back and forth as she tried to get her bearings. A hand swept over her face, through her hair. I could remember the way it felt, the way my head pounded as if I was being run through by a semi-truck, my ears ringing like a flash bang grenade had just gone off next to me. The other me clasped the handles on either side of the chamber, steadying herself, her stability missing completely.

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I knew what was going to happen to her. I knew what she was going to see. “It should have been me,” I continued, voice catching as hot tears pricked the corners of my eyes. “Why didn’t they take me?”

Wait… If she was here, if I was here then…

I spun rapidly, voice catching in my throat. There he was…

“Nate…” the word flew past my parted lips like a chocked sob. My Nate, holding Shaun defensively in his arms. He began to awaken, gaze dropping to our baby to reassure him.

“Oh god, please. Nate… I can’t… I can’t watch this again.” I couldn’t. I didn’t know that it would choose a memory at random… I had been hoping it would go back further, to a happier time, to before the bombs dropped and before my world got twisted upside down. Why, gods, WHY did it have to choose THIS memory?

“Get me out of here!” I shouted towards the ceiling, panic coloring my tone, ratcheting it up a few octaves as fear set in. “Please, I don’t want to see this again!”

Mumbled voices, I couldn’t make them out. I don’t know if they heard me.

“-computers are still working. That’s good. Surprised these pre-war computers still work after all this time. Checking through the logs. Hopefully it’s all… “ a male’s voice filtered in from down the corridor, near the control panel.

And there he was… Kellog… Stern expression, dark eyes, nasty gash lacing across his bald forehead. “Just find it!” he snarled.

“How you can be a part of this?” I questioned, reaching forward to grab the man at the terminal. My fingers slid right through him, disappearing through the image.

“We found it,” he replied. “Pod C6. Just down the hall, near the end.”

“Who are you people?” I watched as the two men wearing white led the way past me, Kellog on their heels. I knew where they were going, I knew exactly what they were going to do. But I didn’t know why. Why did they need my baby boy? Why did the Institute specifically need MY baby?

I forced myself to follow them, my heart thudding louder and louder, harder and harder with each passing second. I wanted to turn my back, to close my eyes, to leave… but for some sick reason I couldn’t look away.

I watched, unable to intervene as one of the men began to fiddle with the controls outside of Nate’s tube. I couldn’t breathe as the door slid upwards. Nate coughed, gagged on the fresh air that filled his frozen lungs. “This is the one,” the second worker insisted, eyeing my husband and child as the door continued to rise.

“Why are you doing this?!” I shouted, terror and anger intertwining around my voice.

I received no answer… they couldn’t hear me.

Shaun’s crying hit me like a ton of bricks, made my heart shatter. High pitched, scared, frightened… “Leave him alone!” I lunged forward, trying to place myself between my family and the kidnappers but they reached right through me.

I was juggled backwards, the images snapping in front of me.

“Please, no. NO!”

“Is it over? Are we safe?” Nate’s voice sounded as if he was trying to speak through gravel, his throat raspy and sore from lack of use.

“Don’t trust them, Nate! Don’t listen to them!”

“Almost,” Kellog answered. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

“YOU LIAR!” I screamed, tears now flowing freely over my cheeks. “You f*cking liar!”

“Come here, come here baby,” one of the workers cooed, reaching for the child, MY child.

“No, it’s okay. I have him,” Nate protested, arms curling tighter around our son, desperately attempting to protect him.

“Just leave my family alone! We didn’t do anything to you.”

Shaun continued to wail, each and every shrill sound coming from his mouth stabbed my chest with a newly sharpened dagger. I wanted to comfort him, to hold him, to tell him that everything was okay, that his mother was here…

But I couldn’t. I was helpless. I could only stand there… and watch.

Kellog moved, withdrawing a pistol from his waist band, pointing the barrel at my husband. “Let the boy go,” he warned, dark, cruel.

“Leave them alone!” I begged. “Please just leave them alone! Take ME! I don’t care what you do to me. I don’t care what you force me to do! But PLEASE just take me!”

“I’m only going to tell you once,” Kellog growled, clicking the safety off.

“I’M NOT GIVING YOU SHAUN!” howled Nate, fighting full force with everything he had to keep our baby tucked against his chest.

“NO!” I screamed, voice echoing off of the Vault walls. My hand outstretched towards my husband, my eyes squeezing shut at the last second…


I didn’t have to open them to know what happened, didn’t have to open them to see the bullet wound in the side of Nate’s head, to see the blood dripping down the side of his face and caking into his red hair.

“Oh my god,” I could hear Dr. Amari’s voice entering the memory, barely above a whisper.

I sunk to my knees, Kellog moved through me as the white men took Shaun down the hallway. I bowed my head, hands curled tightly into fists on the ground in front of me, shoulders arched, body trembling. Tears drowned my words but I spoke them regardless, “I promise, I’ll find him. I promise I’ll get our son. Whatever I have to do…” But I wasn’t sure I meant it, didn’t know if I could continue any longer.

I wasn’t sure if I could survive seeing this full memory.

“At least we have a backup,” Kellog grunted, standing before the other me. Then he too departed, disappearing down the end of the hall.

But before he could vanish completely I shouted down towards him, “I’m glad I killed you, you bastard!” He deserved it, he deserved the bullet I put to his heart. I would do it again too, in a heartbeat. No hesitation. I would kill him a thousand times over…


I stood on shaky legs. I would gladly kill him again. The rational part of my brain turned off as I raced after the shadowy figures.

“Her vitals are unstable. We need to pull her out.”

Frantic, panicked voices.

But I didn’t care. I flew through the open door, rounding the corner.

“We’ve reached the end of the memory. She needs to be taken out NOW!”

No, not until I killed him again. Not until his head was severed from his shoulders!

“Ashtyn, try to calm down. Your blood pressure is spiking!”

The tugging sensation was back, like someone was digging around at the back of my head.

“I’ll have you out in three…”

No, not yet! I dove, arms outstretched for Kellog –

“Two…. One…”



I gasped, air slamming through my nose and mouth. My breaths came uneasily, my hands shaking uncontrollably at my sides, eyes wild, face pale.

Please Stand By.

The television disappeared, the pod moaning open. I stumbled forward, pushing myself from the chair only to land roughly on my hands and knees just outside of it.

“Easy, easy there sweetheart,” Irma calmed, her fingers fluttering around my shoulders.

I felt sick, hot, flustered. I felt like I was choking on my own heartbeat, like I just couldn’t get enough air. Gentle arms looped under me, slowly pulling me to my feet. I swayed, unsteady, head swimming, dizzy.

And when I opened my eyes to see whoever it was holding me up, the situation only got worse.

“Hey, it’s okay Ash. Everything is okay,” Danse breathed. His own eyes were wide, expression unsure. All I could think was how much had he seen, how much did he know?

I could faintly hear Irma apologizing, “-so sorry. If I had known what we would be putting you through, I would have said no.” Fingers were prodding at my wrist, checking my pulse. A stethoscope pressing against my chest to assess lung and heart sounds.

It was too much.

“Ash?” Danse tried to gain my attention, to pull me back to reality.

But I couldn’t handle it.

The box was open. The little tiny box I had tucked all of these emotions away in, the one I had shoved into a deep, recessed, and unvisited corner of my brain so I wouldn’t have to face them, the one I had wanted to stay closed forever... I f*cking duck tapped it shut. I had done everything in my power to leave the damn box alone… And now? Now it was wide open. And I couldn’t bear to have any of them see me like this.

Especially not him.

Finding my footing I pushed Danse away from me. He grunted, shocked. His arms outstretched, attempting to reach out for me but I stumbled to the side, hands splaying out to push off of a pod before I could collide with it. My shoulder jarred against the door frame when I passed through the threshold, my balance inadequate at best. My vision blurred with unwanted tears, my breath came out in tense pants. I swallowed down my cries as I leapt into the pouring rain. I wanted to flee, to never look back… However, I knew my legs wouldn’t be able to carry me far… I would suffice with making it out of Goodneighbor.

Anywhere but here.


Danse stared open mouthed, speechless at the door of the Memory Den as it banged close.

“It should have been me. Why didn’t they take me?”

He knew of the Den, knew what it did for people. It was commonly used by ghouls and drug addicts who had wasted away their life. Wanting to revisit the non-f*cked up moments, these individual could relive lost memories. Danse knew of some Brotherhood of Steel soldiers who had undergone the therapy, to see loved ones who had perished.

“Oh god, please. Nate… I can’t…”

He hadn’t known her past, didn’t know her childhood. He knew about there being a Vault but he had assumed it was like Vault 81. A safe Vault. Not…. Not this.

“Get me out of here! Please, I don’t want to see this again!”

Danse turned towards the two co-owners. “You couldn’t have found a different memory? Any memory?”

“You liar!”

Irma spoke first, “She knew that we can’t pick and choose. It doesn’t work that way. That was the clearest memory. It stood out.”

“How can you be a part of this? Why are you doing this?!”

She had been frozen for years, decades… Hell, centuries. She understood so little of the world, had been confused by so much… and he had written it off as Vault upbringing. A bashed head, a concussion. He had never once suspected that she grew up pre-war, pre-bombs.

“If we would have known,” Dr. Amari continued, “We never would have set her up.”


Shaun… The baby boy the man had been holding… the voice so familiar.

“Now say goodbye Shaun. Bye bye, say bye bye. Bye honey, we love you.”

“f*ck,” Danse hissed, pressing the back of his hand to his lips. This whole time… this whole f*cking time, she had been searching for Shaun, her child, her baby. He may have assumed it but he never truly played on the idea. She had woken up in a world she didn’t know but at the same time recognized. The amount of pain and anguish she must have felt…

And she did it alone.

He didn’t grasp he was running after her until the rain hit the top of his head. Panic had settled in. The realization that he could very possibly lose her if he didn’t find her was a very real possibility he didn’t want to face.

“Everyone is out for their own skin, what does it matter if one more person gets added to the death counter? That’s all it is right? A number? How would it affect you any ways?!”

Ashtyn had been so willing to die, so ready to give up and give in. This could have set her over the edge.

He didn’t know what he would do without her.

In just the short amount of time they had been together, the two or three months that had passed, he had grown fond of her, attached to her. This mysterious woman he knew hardly anything about with her sharp wit and complete uncaring attitude to the situation at hand… He loved waking up to see her smiling face, to hear her laughter when she was making fun of him or giggling at his inability to understand her inside joke.

She was so ready and willing to help others.

And here she had been, suffering the whole time.

The rain picked up, down pouring on the gates of Goodneighbor as he hurtled through them. Droplets pummeled off of wrecked cars, slapped the sides of dilapidated buildings. The clouds overhead rumbled angrily, the sky lashing out in flashes of brilliant white light.

And there she was, huddled underneath a bent and rusted car door, curled up, oblivious to the storm that raged above her.

“Ashtyn,” he dared not say more as he jogged up to her, his own heart galloping at an unsteady rhythm. He had found her…

Her head snapped up, eyes frantic as she glanced towards him, swollen and red from crying. Her bottom lip trembled, muscles tensing. She tilted her head away from him, not wanting to show him the weakness she had tried so diligently to hide.

Danse knelt down in front of her raising a hand to gently turn her face towards him but she broke free, raising a hand to shield herself. “It’s okay, Ashtyn. It’s okay to cry. You deserve it, more than anyone.”

She shook her head, whole body quivering. He wasn’t good at this, wasn’t sure how to comfort her. He only knew combat tactics, how to polish rifles, useless information. Nothing that would help him now. But damn it, he couldn’t just watch her. Not after she had done so much for him. Talking him down the week before, bringing him confidence he didn’t now he could feel. She had managed to provide him with the courage he needed… Now it was his turn to help her.

But words… How could words ever fix this?

How do you tell a mother that it wasn’t her fault that her child was kidnapped, stolen from her? How do you bring comfort to a wife who had to watch her husband die again and again? Her family was ripped away from her, destroyed. She was moved two hundred years forwards and forced to travel a world she didn’t understand…

Words wouldn’t do a damn bit of good.

He gradually reached forward, pulling her into his arms, embracing her as he leaned back against the parked vehicle. Her back went rigid at first, like steel. But she eased up, melting into him, burying her face into the crook of his neck, fingers digging into his shoulders. Sobs raked her body, tore themselves from her parted lips, leaving her breathless, near gagging. How long had she been holding this back? Did anyone know what she had been going through? Guilt bubbled up inside of him. He should have known.

“I never wanted this,” Ashtyn wept. “I don’t want any of this. I want it to be over, I want to wake up.”

Danse slid his hand up and down her spine, lightly squeezing her hip with his other. No, words were useless. They would get him no where.

“I worked so f*cking hard, for everything. I finally had what I wanted. I had a family, a son, a husband who loved me.” Her voice was strained, like she was forcing the words out. “Nate had come back from the army, he was going to join the civilian force… I had just finished my law degree… We had Shaun and… and it was the best thing to ever happen to me.” Her grip on his shoulder tightened, her nails clawing through the cloth material of his shirt.

“He should have grown up with me baking pies and taking him to school, with Nate playing catch with him in the backyard. We would have gotten a dog. And now? I don’t even know how old he is, he likely wouldn’t recognize me even if he saw me. I don’t even know if I would recognize him and he’s my son!” The longer she spoke, the harder her voice got, the angrier, the meaner. Colder. “No, the bombs destroyed any chance of that! My whole world destroyed, in a nano-second. I can still remember the heat from the explosion, the way it raced across the sky. I remember feeling so safe, so f*cking secure in that damn Vault! I played into their hands like the fool I was.”

“Ashtyn, there was no way you could have known,” Danse tried.

“It doesn’t matter, does it? Because they froze us. Those bastards put on ice like we were some kind of f*cked up scientific experiment so they could watch us and see how people reacted when they were treated like ice cubes!” She pushed back, eyes full of pure blistering hot hatred. “Instead of helping my son solve math problems, I got to wake up to this hell and spend every day fighting for my life. Instead of learning how to bake a pie that would beat that bitch of a cook next door to us, I got to learn how to shoot a shotgun and how to best clean feral ghoul brains from my equipment! I didn’t ask for this! I didn’t ask for any of this! I don’t want any of it!”

She breathed in and out slowly through her nose, head bowed forward, auburn hair slicked back from the rain. “I can’t tell you how many times… How many times I wish I would have died with everyone else. Why did I have to be the one other f*cking person to survive? If I could be totally serious for a second? I wish the bombs would have killed us. I wish we never went into that Vault in the first place.”

“Don’t say that. You don’t mean it.”

Her head snapped up, gaze meeting his, expression so cold and lifeless, so full of darkness. This look was foreign to him, so vastly different from the Ashtyn he had come to know. “Oh? Don’t I?” Her lips parted, a laugh pressing past them though it was one void of emotion, filled with emptiness. “I think it’s the most honest, truthful thing I have ever said since waking up. Had we died with the bombs, Nate wouldn’t have had to watch Shaun get kidnapped, and I wouldn’t have had to see those men kill him. I wouldn’t be here. Why? You think I want this? You think I want to live in this post-apocalypse sh*t hole? Chasing after my son who doesn’t even know I’m alive?!” She raised her hands, rubbing furiously at her cheeks where the tears had fallen, blinking away fresh ones.” If we would have waited a second longer, if the damn elevator would have gotten jammed, if the bombs landed a moment sooner I would be so much happier!”

Danse pulled her close to him, pressing her face into his shoulder once more. “Stop. Shut up. Don’t talk like your life is meaningless.”

“But it is,” she insisted, trying to push back against him but his hold on her remained the same. “Everything would be better if I would have died. I wouldn’t have to be doing this right now. It would be so much more humane, easier, it would have given me some God damn peace.”

“But I never would have been given the chance to meet you. You never would have stumbled upon the Cambridge Station. I never would have gone to Sanctuary or met the Minutemen. Never would experience what home baked cookies were,” Danse didn’t have the faintest idea if what he was saying was right or helpful. He just knew he had to say something, anything. Seeing her like this, so broken, so tortured… it killed him. It crushed him. If he did nothing to stop this line of thought, he may wake up the next day to nothing, to loneliness…. Because she would be gone. And he couldn’t bear that. He gazed up at the sky, the storm bellowing away, screeching at them as lighting laced the sky. “This may not be the world you wanted. Hell, none of us really want it. We have all lost so much here. We all have f*cked up pasts. It’s just how it is now.” Her struggles ceased against him, she simply lay still, breaths slowing to a normal pace.

Danse’s own arms relaxed, limply falling to land around her, enclosing her to him. When she didn’t move to argue, he continued, “But you’ve done so much good, you’ve brought so much light and happiness to others.” She often spoke of her time in the Commonwealth, the adventures she went on during her time away from the Brotherhood. Beyond that, the Prydwen often received reports, thanking Ashtyn for her hard work and dedication, requesting to hear from her. “You helped that Finch family when their son decided it would be a great idea to head to the Ironworks. You helped those robots on the U.S.S Constitution. Sure, they didn’t get very far but you still paused to assist. You saved that child’s life in Vault 81. You gave the Minutemen a new home. You have opened up Sanctuary to so many people…. The Commonwealth needs people like you.” I need you.

He paused, glancing down at the woman in his arms. Her sobs had subsided, she merely rested there, listening to his words, taking what he said in. “This is a sh*tty place,” he whispered. “You’re right, everyone is out for their own skin, most people don’t care what happens to others. But you question that, you make people think. You make people care. You may not want to be part of this, but you are. And we can’t change that. And, personally, I wouldn’t want to… because in doing so, you’d be gone.”

She flicked her eyes up to him, staring at him from under her eye lashes. He could just make out the corner of her lip turning up in a smirk. “Well, we can’t have that, can we?” There she was. He raised a tentative hand, skimming his thumb along her cheekbone, brushing away a stray tear that had escaped. “I didn’t peg you as the sentimental type.”

He scoffed, rolling his eyes and feigning offense. “Me? Sentimental? Nah.” Then his tone turned serious once more. “But, really, Ash, don’t talk like that, please. I’ll do whatever I can to help you find your son but I need your help to do that… and you can’t help if you go and off yourself.” He didn’t tell her that losing her would destroy him, leave him feeling hopeless. f*ck, he wasn’t even 100% certain of it himself. He was only beginning to grasp how important she was to him, he had no inkling of the true extent of which he cared for her.

“Okay, okay. Fine. Just no more mushy talk.” She gently pressed her palms against his chest, hefting herself up into a sitting position. “Sorry though. I, uh, didn’t mean for you to see any of that.” Her cheeks flared red with embarrassment.

“You don’t ever have to apologize for something like that. I can’t begin to tell you how relieved I am to understand what has been going on. I had been in the dark for so long,” relief colored his voice, a smile slowly forming on his lips. “But, fine. No more talk of it. Just, if you ever want to, I’m here. I promise. I won’t judge or sympathize for you, or whatever else you’re worried about.”

She needed time, more time than she already had. But when she was ready, he was going to make damn sure that he was available.

“But, I think you’ve earned yourself a drink, hmm?” he hummed, pulling the two of them up until they were standing, rain water kissing their skin once they were out of cover. “I heard the Third Rail has a pretty good selection.”

She arched a brow at him, eyes still puffy around the edges. “You drink?” she sounded incredulous, disbelieving that he even comprehended what alcohol was.

“Why, miss, I take that as quite an insult,” he jokingly replied.

Not missing a beat she continued, “Silly me, darling, I am deeply and humbly sorry for any ill favor I have sent in your general direction, please forgive me.” She was back, fully. Though he could see the hint of sorrow in her eyes, they sparkled once more, glittering even in the dimly lit street.

Danse raised his arm, her hands moving to loop around the crook of his elbow. “Shall we then?”

He hoped that in taking her out, she would be able to relax, let off some of that stress and anxiety she had been bottling in. A smaller part of him beamed at the opportunity to have some one on one time with her that didn’t involve gunning down hordes of supermutants and crazed drugged up raiders.

“Let’s,” she agreed, and the two of them headed back towards Goodneighbor.


Magnolia’s voice pooled out from the speakers as she sang, the bar alive with activity and people. Ghouls and humans alike danced to the music, swaying to the beat. It was mesmerizing to watch. Laughter bubbled up every now and then, the light air and happy.

Danse had his arm propped up on the back of the couch as Ashtyn leaned into one of the cushions, her own hands cradling a bottle of beer. His head was already feeling fuzzy.

“You a light weight?” she asked. “You’ve only had, what, one?”

“You’ve had half and already you’re slurring your words.”

“Give me a break, I’ve gone two hundred years without alcohol. I think I’m doin’ pretty good, if you think about it that way.” She smirked up at him, the beer making her cheeks red.

“Sure, whatever you say, Knight.”

Her eyes rolled but she relented. “Okay, we got my sob story out of the way. Let’s talk ‘you’ now.”

Danse scowled. “I hardly think that’s necessary.”

“Suuuure, it is. It’s only fair.”

“You know all there is to tell. Honestly, there’s nothing more to say.”

She twisted towards him, that playful look back in her eyes. “Ever hear of the game Twenty Questions?”

“No. That some pre-war thing?”

Ashtyn snorted, “It could be something non-Brotherhood related, for all you know. Always so serious. But okay, what we do is we take turns asking questions and the other person has to answer, no matter what.”

The Paladin frowned. “Not sure I like the sound of that game.”

“Then you need to drink more, here,” she reached down to the cement floor where a six pack of Gwinnett rested, thrusting an unopened one into his lap.

She wasn’t going to let up on this, was she? “Okay, okay, I’ll play. You go first.”

He uncapped his bottle as she pondered what to ask him. “Might as well get the big one out of the way, right?” she started. His heart skipped a beat or two. What? What the hell was she going to ask? Big one? “What… is your favorite animal?”

Oh, by SteelThis woman is going to give me a heart attack. “The Yao Guai. They are fiercely loyal and protective of their family and fight with a vigor unmatched by humankind.”

“So like you to pick something like that,” she chuckled

“Okay, if my choice is so typical, what is yours?” he scoffed.



“Sorry, radstag. That’s what you call them. During my time they were gentle creatures. Sometimes stupid but, gentle. And beautiful. People would stop in the middle of the road to pull over and take pictures with their cameras. They’re a bit ugly now. Radiation and all.” She took another swig of alcohol, wincing at the burn as it slid down her throat.

Radstags? Once beautiful creatures? All he could envision were the pus-filled pores that covered the patchy hide of the stags he would see on his recon missions. This brought up an interesting inquiry… what else had changed since the bombs? What else had been altered for the worse?

When he glanced back at her she was blinking at him, expectedly. Ah, it was his turn. “As long as we are going for the important questions, what’s your favorite color?”

“Easy one – green. Because I don’t get to see it anymore. Everything used to be green. The grass, the trees, the bushes. There was even moss. You guys don’t have moss, by the way. Super weird. Yours?”

More strange things. Now that he knew the truth about her… he wondered at how much he would learn. “Blue.” She arched a brow at that. Surprised? Good. “It’s the color of the sky, and I see that the best when flying.” It’s also the color of your eyes. The color of the jumpsuit I first say you in.

“Huh, well ‘color’ me surprised. Pffft.” She giggled at her own joke before clearing her throat and taking on a more serious tone. “Do you ever want a family?”

Danse nearly gagged on his beverage, having to cough a few times. Family? “I, uh, hadn’t really considered that. The Brotherhood is my family, the only one I’ve ever known.”

“Well, sure, but what about your own kids?”

His own kids… little Paladins running around for him to chase. His mind reeled backwards, picturing Ashtyn with Jeremy and Tim, playing games with them in the bowels of the Prydwen or scouting the Boston Airport for ‘treasures’. Maybe…? “Not sure if it’s in my cards. Not right now at least. But maybe someday.”

Ash seemed satisfied with that answer. “Off the record, sir, I think you would make a great father.” She winked but then waved her hand at him, “Go on, your turn.”

Well, if she was going to throw him for a loop… “What was it like?”

“Hmm?” she hummed, peeking at him out of the corner of her eyes.

“Before, I mean. What was the world like?”

“Ah.” He had expected to see her face awash with sadness but instead, he was surprised to see an expression of contentment. “I suppose you wouldn’t know, huh? All the pictures that show it are kind of destroyed. Uh… Where to start? It was so full of life. Birds that didn’t want to kill you, bugs that were only the size of your pinkie toe. Raiders weren’t a thing but we did have gangs – kind of interchangeable, I guess. You would get your food at a Superduper Mart but people still grew it sometimes too. There were parties and events like baseball and car shows.” She settled back into the couch, swiveling her head so she could look at him. “There wasn’t a Brotherhood of Steel but there was the army, and navy, and militia. You would have probably done really well in those.”

“What about you? What did you do?”

“That’s cheating, Danse. More than one question.”

“Please?” he asked, craving for the world she depicted, wanting to hear it all.

“Oh, alright. You asked so nicely. I would be lawyer. That was the plan, anyways. Before Shaun.”


“Yeah, you guys don’t really have laws so, you don’t have a need of a lawyer. But, my job was to help defend people against wrong doings or lies. So… say a man was pledged guilty of a crime he didn’t commit. It would be my job to help gather information and clues that would defend him in a court of law. Does that make sense?” The blank expression on his face was all she needed to as an answer. “Let’s see… Okay, say a Knight was wrongfully accused of stealing from the supply chest at the Boston Airport. My job would be to convince Elder Maxson that he didn’t actually do anything and that ferals took the food in the middle of the night.”

He bobbed his head. That example, he understood. “You sound like you miss it.”

“I do… sometimes. Life was easier. Didn’t have to shoot people to survive. But…” her voice trailed off, her focus returning to the stage, away from him.


“But then, you’re right. I wouldn’t have met you. And that would suck.”

His heart shuttered.

“I mean, you’re kind of cool so…”

“Just kind of?”

“Can’t having you get too co*cky.”

The music picked up, Magnolia moving away from the microphone to give her voice a rest and Diamond City Radio was switched on to compensate.

“I love this song!” Ashtyn said after a moment, bobbing her head to ‘Whole Lot of Shaking Going On’ by Big Maybelle. She placed her Gwinnett down next to the case and stood, stretching her arms above her head before extending a hand to him. “Let’s go dance.”

“I’m not sure that’s-“

“Screw your damn rule book. No one has to know.”

Against his better judgement he let her pull into the crowd and lost himself to the ebb and flow of the music.

Chapter 13: Hostage Situation


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

The evening sky swam with a putrid green color, the clouds rumbling and cracking, swirling continuously in their emerald mist. The last rays of the sun barely poked through the sheer density of the storm, only able to leave a mild haziness over the landscape. Rain dripped from above, pooling in the cracks and crevices that dotted the Commonwealth, drenching the civilians, and making my boots squeak when I rubbed them together. A spark of lighting sizzled through the sky, landing far off from us though I could still feel the tell-tale burn as radiation swept over my exposed wrists, forearms, face, and neck. I winced, biting the inside of my cheek.

Yeah, I was pretty damn certain I wasn’t ever going to get used to that.

Danse nudged me, the metal chair I was seated in giving a slight groan as I shifted my weight to eye him. “What do you think?”

Oh, sh*t… right… Questions. “I missed it, sorry, could you repeat?” I ran a gloved hand over my exhausted eyes, hoping I could rub the sleep from them. All I wanted was shelter, not to sit out here underneath an overhang answering some ridiculous questions that would determine if I was a synth or not. This was a waste of time. I was 110% certain I was not a synth. And neither was Danse. Pretty sure the Brotherhood would have figured that out by now if he was. Sides, he was lacking the necessary parts like a metal frame and wires and shock absorbers.

The man in front of me sighed heavily, clearly exasperated with my sheer inability to pay attention for longer than five seconds. “You decide it would be fun to play a prank on your father. You enter his private restroom when no one is looking, and....”

See? Like this. What the f*ck did this have to do with anything? “I would… loosen some bolts on the sink so the next time he turns it on, he’ll flood the bathroom. Are we good now?” Irritation oozed through my voice like honey, my expression darkening with the passing second. Danse’s hand on my shoulder was the only thing stopping me from upturning the table and starting a bitch fit about how much it sucked being literally soaked to the bone.

The man grumbled, glancing through the answers we had given to equally as ludicrous questions. “Well…” he paused, tapping his pencil against the pad of paper he held. “You don’t appear to be a synth… Alright, yes. We will open the gates to you. Hotel is down the street on the right, there is only one room available at this time.” He gave us another stern glare. “We will be watching you.”

“Sounds super, kay thanks. Bye.” I grasped Danse by the wrist, practically dragging him from the folding chairs and through the now open gate. “Next time, I’m picking the shelter spot,” I muttered as we passed through.

Welcome to Covenant, most suspicious and obnoxious place in the Commonwealth.

“How was I supposed to know?” Danse argued, stomping after me in the now muddied roadway, head turned over his shoulder to glance back at the gate. The man, Swanson, was still there, eyeing us.

“Oh, I dunno. Maybe the machine gun turrets and Synth Exam kinda indicated it?” I bit back, pressing my palm against the door to the inn, ducking inside where the rain and radiation could no longer pelt against my body.

Danse mumbled something behind me in response but I didn’t have the energy to ask him to repeat himself. All I wanted right now was some hot tea and a warm bed. “Room for two,” I requested from the lady behind the counter, shoving 100 caps forward. I didn’t care if that was too much, gave no sh*ts. I wanted was sleep and I wanted it now. Today sucked.

“First door on the left, fine day to stop by isn’t it? You two have a wonderful evening!” she replied, scooping the bottle caps up and setting them in a tin lunch box on a shelf behind her. “Oh, and silly me, how could I forget? Welcome to Covenant, best place in the Commonwealth!”

Danse’s brows furrowed together, trademark scowl melding into his face. “Okay, thanks, ma’am,” he grumbled. His hand on my back ushered me away from the counter.

I chuckled, my thoughts likely mirroring his. Everyone here was crazy. “Don’t drink the water.”

Once inside the room I dropped my pack carelessly next to a dresser. The room itself was a bit on the cramped side. A queen sized bed was shoved haphazardly into the corner, the comforter on it surprisingly free from debris and stains. A dresser rested to the right of the entry way, a lamp in the opposing junction. Candles were melted into the top of a cabinet next to the bed, all lit to provide lighting to the room. A fan twirled silently overhead allowing for some much needed airflow in the stuffy space.

I began unbuckling my armor, hefting the pieces of leather and metal from me, discarding them next to my bag. I tugged my soaked boots off, grimacing at the mud, guts, blood, and other unmentionables that were caked to the bottom and now, subsequently, my fingers. Gross.

Next I began unbuttoning the red (basically brown due to the amount of dirt embedded into the fibers) plaid shirt I wore, draping it over the bed post to dry. I rummaged through my belongings, finding a deep maroon shirt that was a size or two too big – but it was dry, good enough for me. I lifted the hem of the white t-shirt I wore, sliding an arm through and-

“What are you doing?” It was just now that I realized Danse hadn’t even begun to change.

I arched a brow at him. “Oh, sorry. Did you want to stay in your nasty ass wet clothes all night?”

“I… I just didn’t think you-“ he gestured at me, toned bare stomach with one arm sticking out of my shirt, bra and half my chest now visible, “would, uh, just start…. Changing.”

Oh. Oh, was he blushing? Danse? Blush? What? “Turn around if you don’t like it,” I quipped, beginning to yank my other arm free.

“That’s not it but…” He spun around so his back was facing me, head bowed in the slightest. Even in the dim light I could see the tips of his ears scorch red. Had he never seen a woman partially unclothed before? It wasn’t as if I was stripping completely… modesty was never anything my family had put in high regard, so it was something I never really learned. Living in a one room apartment for the majority of my childhood made ‘privacy’ impossible.

“Then what is it?” I hedged, now undoing my jeans and sliding my legs free from them. I used a towel provided by the owner to dry off as much excess water as I could. No point in getting new clothes on if I was still drenched.

“I, uh… right, never mind. Just, uh, let me know when you’re d-done.”

I rolled my eyes, wrenching the crimson top over my head. It fell to halfway over my thighs which I quickly covered with a pair of old cotton shorts. “Okay, pansy, I’m done.”

Danse peeked at me from over his shoulder, cheeks still flaming. He bit his bottom lip.

“Oh for Christ’s sake…” I turned, crossing my arms defiantly over my chest, tapping my foot impatiently on the floor boards. I could hear him moving around, the shuffling of clothes, and then a satisfied exhale when he was finished. “You good now?” I interjected, annoyance creeping in.

“Yeah. I’m good,” he sounding relieved.

“Peachy.” I flipped open the comforter and crawled my skinny ass under the blankets, a soft smile gliding across my lips as warmth began to sink into my sore muscles.

And there was Danse, giving me that look again.

“Whaaaaaat?” I dragged the word out to make it abundantly clear how frustrated I was.

“I can make do on the flo-“

“For the love of- shut up, get in bed. Now.” I jabbed a finger at the empty spot next to me, more than enough room for him.


“Pretend your rule book doesn’t exist for one night. It’s JUST sleeping. Sleeping. That thing I wanted to do a half hour ago. Please. Go to sleep.” I lowered myself against the pillow, pulling my damp hair over my left shoulder.

He moved hesitantly, eyeing me once or twice before giving in and doing as I instructed. His weight on the mattress made it sink, the blankets folding in around him once he was settled in. A tiny part of me grinned ear to ear at the fact that he was next to me, so close I could feel his body heat, virtually hear his heart beat… but the more rational part of my head took over and squished the smaller portion.

“Ash?” he questioned, his voice causing the bed to rumble.


“Does this place seem a little… off… to you?” he questioned hesitantly.

I turned to look at him, propping my head up with my hand, elbow firmly placed on my pillow. “In what way? Are we referring to the super crazy worry about synths? The exam we had to take? The spaz at the counter? Or something else?”

Danse stared up at the ceiling. “I may just be overanalyzing but… the people here, the man at the gate and the woman at the hotel, they both seem… strange, like their interactions with us are forced or trained. You know what I mean?” He had a point – Swanson seemed overly exhilarated to greet us when we neared Covenant but his mood changed drastically with each question we answered. Danse and I had taken turns to speed up the process. I remember seeing him grimace at a few responses. Then, at the front desk, the woman herself seemed a bit overly peppy given the circ*mstances.

“I can see what you mean, yeah. But I’m sure it’s nothing. Just don’t take anything they offer. We’ll be back to the Prydwen by tomorrow. Like I said, don’t drink the water.”

“I don’t think that’s it, Ashtyn.”

“It’s a joke, Danse. We’ll check it out in the morning, okay?” I patted his shoulder before relaxing back into the bed. “You worry too much.”

“Sometimes I think you don’t worry enough,” his gaze shifted to me, cheeks still pink.

“To each their own. Good night, Danse,” I muttered, turning on my side to face the wall.

“Night,” he replied.


It was his cry in the night that woke me, the way his fingers clawed at the blankets, his breath came in quick uneven and terrified pants.

“Danse?” My voice was laden with sleep, eyelids heavy as I dragged them open.

He jerked, body twisting, skin slick with a cold sweat.

Nightmare, another nightmare.

“Hey, it’s okay,” I tired, reaching out to grasp his shoulders as they trembled, as he shuddered against the mattress. “Wake up!” I wanted to keep my tone to a hushed whisper, afraid I would wake up the whole hotel if I wasn’t careful. “You’re only dreaming.”

His forehead creased with anxiety and fear, teeth clenched, muscles tensed. What was he seeing?

“Danse!” I gave him a hard shake that time, jolting him severely against the bed.

His eyes snapped open, he inhaled sharply. His chest heaved as he sucked in lungful after lungful of air. His gaze flew around the room, not able to focus on anything until it landed on my face.

“You’re okay,” I repeated, raising my hand to brush his sweat damp hair from his brow. “Just a dream. It’s not real.” Shaun used to have night terrors… It would take hours to rock him back to sleep, to comfort him. The way Danse’s eyes screamed with relief, when he realized that it was fake… it reminded me so much of my son’s.

“It… felt… so…” His speech was slow, slurred, weighed down with fright.

“I know. But it isn’t.” My fingers laced with his and gave them a warm squeeze, holding our conjoined hands in my lap.

I wasn’t sure how long we sat like that in complete silence. I listened to the sounds of his breath as they slowed, returned to normal. The radstorm outside was dying out by the time he spoke and when he did, I was only confused.

“Sorry…” he whispered, body losing its tension as he sunk back into the mattress.


Danse turned his face from me. Even in the dark I could see his lips curl into a grimace as he pulled his hand free. “You shouldn’t have to see me at my worst…”

I rolled my eyes. “Danse, were you not there a week ago? At Goodneighbor?” My mind flashed back to the moment in the downpour, when he found me curled up beside a car. The way he pulled me into his arms, assured me that everything would work out… gave me such hope. “It’s part of being companions. We will always see the best and worst of each other. I don’t mind.”

“I do… I’m your commander…”

“Oh no, the Paladin has human traits. How awful. Really, it is okay, Danse. I’m here for you.”

His gaze fell upon me once more. “That big heart of yours is going to catch up to you some day,” but he smiled. “Thank you. But, yeah… I’m alright now. Thanks for waking me up.”

“Think you’ll be good till the morning? Do you want to talk about?”

He shook his head. “No. It’s just more of the same. I appreciate your concern though. Go to back to sleep.”

I nodded obediently and lowered myself back under the covers, pulling them up to my chin. So stubborn, so thick headed…. So closed off by the wall he created between himself and the world. Sometimes I hated that he did that, hated that he shut me away.

Bu then... I guess, I did that too. So, even though I despised him for it, I understood.

This time…. This time I waited till he was fully asleep before closing my eyes.


I woke up to Danse gently poking my cheek. I groaned, yanking the blanket up to cover my head. “It’s too early,” I muttered, wanting nothing more than to stay curled up the rest of the day.

He scoffed. “I’ve already let you sleep an hour longer than me. Sides, we have an investigation to run, remember?” Ugh, right. His gut reaction and overall feeling of ‘offness’. Pretty sure the civilians of Covenant weren’t going to like us poking around their perfect little paradise. Still, if it made Danse feel better than I wasn’t going to argue against it.

“Fine, fine! I’m getting up.” I tossed the comforter off of me, sliding out of bed whilst rubbing the sleep from my eyes.

“You’re so slow in the morning,” Danse whined, chucking clothes at me. “We’re burning day light.”

“Uh, it’s still hella cloudy out,” I argued, jabbing a finger towards the window. It wasn’t raining, not yet at least. “And I’m not a morning person, you know that.”

“Too bad, come on. Up and at ‘em.” He laughed as he lifted me to my feet, pressing jeans and a sweatshirt into my open arms. “I’ll wait outside. I’ve already talked around a little bit while you were snoozing.”

Now it was my turn to flush.

Within a matter of minutes I was joining Danse outside. The sky above us rumbled, warning us that a storm was coming. “So where are we starting?” I prodded, rubbing my hands together.

“I say we split up. Place isn’t that big. You take down by the fields and I’ll talk to the owner of the hotel, see what information I can get from her.”

I bobbed my head in agreement and began my trek towards the front gate where the farmland was.

Covenant itself looked as if it had been taken out of the pre-war times. Sure you could still see dirt everywhere and there was evidence of nuclear fallout but… the grass was a lush greens, flowers of varying types and colors bloomed in boxes at window stills, the garden was verdant with tatos and corn, everyone dressed nicely… and they looked so clean. And not a single one of them reeked of body odor (a feat I never thought could be possible for any settlement). Even the workers looked clean shaven, as if their uniforms had been laundered. It was strange.

As I made my way to the fields, every single person I passed waved in greeting, shouted at me ‘Good Morning!’, as if they were all oblivious to the thundering overhead. It reminded me of Penny and her exceedingly bubbly attitude the night before despite the radiation storm and late evening hours.

“Welcome to Covenant, best and safest place in the Commonwealth!” a girl welcomed me, pulling my attention in her direction. Her hair was black, eyes a bit small, and she wore a dark green workers outfit.

“Thanks,” I replied, forcing an inviting smile across my face. “So, you like it here?”

“Oh, how could I not? We are the only town that can 100% argue that we are synth free thanks to the SAFE exam everyone takes! You took it too, right?”

“Yep, yep we did. My friend and I both did. What’s your name?”

“Me? I’m Talia. It’s so very wonderful to meet you!”

“Hi, Talia. I’m Ashtyn. How can you be so sure there are no synths? Is your test really that good?”

“It isn’t just the test, though it has been assessed for accuracy and found to be the best test available! We also… Well, it’s not important. Ha, silly me. I should get back to work!”

She moved to walk away but I put up a hand to stop her. “You also what?” I asked, instincts kicking in. Maybe Danse had been onto something.

“Nothing, slip of the tongue!” Talia insisted, eyes darting around behind me. “Listen, it isn’t good to poke around here, kay? You’ll end up like everyone else if you do.” Then she pulled free and returned to her work, leaving me to stare after her more confused than I had been when I started the conversation.

The rest of the day ended with about the same results. I spoke to Deezer (a talking robot who insisted that I try his newest beverage creation no matter how many times I insisted otherwise), Ted (another field worker with Talia), Fred (who turned out to be married to Penny, the owner of the hotel and local trader), Doc Patricia, and even Swanson (the man who had forced us to take part of their SAFE Exam). Everyone argued that there was nothing going on – that it would be better to not ask questions, that we should leave. Even the town cat hissed at me when I approached her. Every person I spoke to got shiftier when I asked questions pertaining to synths and the Institute. What was up with that?

“Please tell me you got something,” I quipped as Danse came to sit next to me in the lobby of the hotel.

He leaned back against the sofa, head resting on the wall behind it, eyes closed. “They are really nervous about synths. Can’t blame them really but this goes beyond normal. Not to mention the bogus SAFE exam. I realize that the Brotherhood isn’t the best as determining if someone is a synth but that test can’t tell you anything.” He ran a hand through his copper hair as he leaned forward. “I guess a caravan nearby was taken down by the people here, they thought that someone on it was a synth and they took her in for questioning.”

“Where? It’s not like they have a jail here.”

He grinned at me. “Oh? The Silver Tongued Ashtyn couldn’t get information from these people?”

I crossed my arms, lips forming into a pout.

“Oh, don’t make that face,” he chuckled. “I’m just joking. Okay, but seriously.” His expression darkened, the humor gone. “They take them to a place called the Compound. I couldn’t get more information than that but… they all spoke of it like it was some sort of horror story, like it was as bad as the Institute.”

What could be as bad as the Institute, the boogeyman of the Commonwealth? “Guess we’ll have to investigate that more to-“

“Ah! You two must be our graciously hailed newcomers!” a voice boomed through the door to the hotel. A man wearing a business suit and rather fine looking hat entered, arms outstretched in greeting. “Welcome to my little town, Covenant, the nicest and safest place in the Commonwealth!”

I groaned inwardly. Danse took the initiative, “You have us at a disadvantage. It’s a pleasure to meet you but, it seems you know us but we don’t know you.”

“Why of course!” the man continued, extending a hand to shake, “My name is Jacob Orden, Mayor of this illustrious settlement.” Danse reciprocated, clasping the man’s hand for a brief moment before letting go.

“What can we do for you, sir?”

“I heard you two were conducting quite the detective work in my town. As Mayor, I would be pleased to request that you halt any further investigation.” His smile tightened at the corners, eyes a faction of an inch too wide. He spoke with the same intonation almost everyone else used here, sweet like frosting, like honey on toast. Too kind, too forced.

“Afraid we can’t do that, sir,” Danse replied.

“I was afraid you were going to say something like that. Now, I don’t want to be a rude host but I will personally remove you from Covenant if I must. We do not tolerate spies in our midst.”

“We aren’t spies,” I cut in. “Just interested in your SAFE Exam.”

“It is truly none of your concern how we assess those who choose to live here,” He retorted, voice clipping around the edges, his good guy façade blurring. “Tell you what, how many caps can I give you to make this nonsense come to a close?”

Danse’s jaw hardened. “You can’t bribe us. We will leave when we determine that our investigation is finished.”

“Everyone has their price. I will find yours.” Jacob moved to the exit. “You have a fine evening.”

And then he was gone.

“Well, that certainly wasn’t totally creepy, was it?” I muttered, gaze flicking to Danse. “Again, I get to pick the resting stop next time”

He rolled his eyes. “Come on, let’s get some shut eye.” He stood, stretching his arms above his head before putting his hand out to escort me back to our room.


Soft sunlight glittered in through the open window, illuminating the off-white, mostly dust encrusted wallpaper of the room. I slowly stretched out my limbs, muscles grumbling in protest. I couldn’t remember the last time I had slept without nightmares, couldn’t remember the last time I had slept so deep. Maybe it was from all the investigating yesterday and the recon mission from the day before last – we had raided a few buildings in Concord and Lexington before making our way here. We had enough supplies, ammo, and reserves to last the Brotherhood a month just waiting to get picked up once Danse and I gave the locations.

Speaking of Danse; I rolled over, reaching out a hand to tentatively wake him up.

And hit an empty mattress.

My eyes snapped open, heart involuntarily cracking up a few notches in tempo. “What?” I whispered, glancing around the room. Void of Danse. Nothing. No note, no message… “Your stuff is still here…” I continued, zeroing in on his pack and armor, right where he had left it the night before. Even his boots were there, and his bomber jacket… What the hell?

My head wanted to tell me that he had woken up early again, that he was just outside speaking to another civilian… but my gut and heart disagreed. No, he wouldn’t have left the room without me.

I leapt out of bed, yanked a pair of jeans on over my cotton shorts and tucked my long-sleeve night shirt into the waistband carelessly. I shoved my feet into my own shoes and jerked on Danse’s jacket.

My hair was a tangled mess, or at least that’s the grasp of the situation I was able to attain when I glanced at my reflection in the dirty room mirror. I tied it back into a messy bun of sorts, not wanting to waste any time.

Danse would have woken me up…. Instinct told me that something wasn’t right.

I made my way to the front counter, approaching Penny. Today she wore a bright pink dress, hair tossed up into a tight and orderly bun at the top of her head. “Hey, have you seen the man I came in with?”

“No, sorry, honey, I haven’t.” She sounded so sincere, too sincere. Too honest, too innocent. The way the corner of her lips tightened when she spoke, the way her eyes shifted away from me as she finished the sentence. My own gaze narrowed.

“Do you know anyone who may know?” I replied, pitching my voice to match hers though my expression was deadly… If looks could kill.

She feigned uncertainty, tapping her chin as if she was seriously considering the answer. She wouldn’t help me. She knew something and she wasn’t going to tell me a f*cking thing. “Sorry, love, I’m just not sure. You think he stepped out for a bit? He’ll come back.”

“Right. Whatever.” I shoved away from the counter and burst through the hotel door, out into Covenant.

“Everyone has their price.”

Where the f*ck was he? Everyone seemed just as strangely happy as they had been the day before, most of them pausing to wave at me gleefully. The gardeners were at work again, the Mayor leaning against his homestead, and Brian speaking to the robot Deezer. No one seemed at all concerned or even aware that Danse had been stolen in the middle of the night – they continued their act of complete aloofness.

And I was over here panicking. This wasn’t right. No one in the Commonwealth was this freakishly chill with everything that was going on. No one. Not even Mama Murphy or Hanco*ck and they were the most chill you could ever possibly imagine achieving. What the hell was wrong with these people? Where was Danse?

What had the Mayor done with him?

I stomped away from the hotel. I needed answers. And I had a good feeling that none of the bastards here were going to provide them. Which meant I was going to have to get creative.

I started around to the back of the buildings. Maybe I could find a window to sneak through, get to a terminal… find information… I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Not really. But anything was better than nothing.

A hand closed in on my shoulder. I snapped into attention, adrenaline pumping through my veins. I snatched the hand by the wrist, spinning on my toes and twirling around to face my attacker whilst simultaneously twisting his arm around his back, pinning him in one swift move against the side of the hotel. “You have three seconds to talk before I blow your brains out,” I equipped the pistol that I had tucked in my back pocket, clicking the safety off. Guess I had no patience today.

“My name is Dan! I have been sent by a prestigious family to look into a missing person case. I heard you talking to Penny in there, knew you had been asking around town, and I figured we could work together seeing as you’re looking for someone too. I thought maybe they took your friend to the same place they took Amelia!” His speech was rushed (as it should be seeing my limited tolerance), spoken through a throat that sounded like it had been ravaged with chain smoking for the past four years. Knowing how most of the Commonwealth worked, that very well could have been the case. “I want a truce. I have information about this place! I know where they may be hiding them! I just need help!” This last bit was spoken in a hushed tone, said so quietly I had to lean forward to hear him.

On one hand, he could be telling the truth. Clearly there was something off about this place and it could take me hours to figure it out on my own – precious hours I didn’t have to dick about. And if everyone was as ‘helpful’ as Penny was, I wasn’t going to get anywhere no matter how hard I tried. Danse could be dead, or tortured, or…. f*ck, it would be better not to think about it.

However, on the other hand, Dan here could be lying. Not like I haven’t seen that before.

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”

“You don’t. But I have no reason to lie to you. I need your help too, just as much as you need mine.”

I glanced over him. He was well armored, had a freakishly awesome weapon at his disposal… “Why do you need my help? You look like you can take care of yourself and you already have all the info.”

“The place we are going is well guarded… and I don’t know what we are going to find inside. I figure if I have another person with me, that increases my odds of survival. And seeing the Brotherhood of Steel logo on your jacket makes me think that you would be a good person to have tag along.” Well, he had me there. “It’s called the Compound.”

Danse had mentioned that… said they took people there for questioning. He even said that they had taken a girl there recently… Maybe that was Amelia?

I loosened my grip, holstered my gun. “Okay, fine. I’m Ash.” Hesitantly I placed a hand out towards Dan. “Truce. For now.”


An hour and about a half a mile later, Dan and I were knelt down next to the entrance of what appeared to be a sewer. Swell, just where I wanted to go today. “This is it?”

“Yep,” Dan grunted, poking his head around the corner. “No one is patrolling right now. We should be able to sneak in.”

“Lead on.”

We had spoken some on the hike over. Turns out he was searching for the daughter of some super-duper awesome Lord type of person. She had gone missing, along with a caravan full of people and equipment, about a week ago. When he asked around Covenant for her, no one could give him a straight answer. The Mayor told him to leave. It took some snooping on his part but he was able to discover that there was a secret organization that ran out of the village. This organization took anyone they assumed could be a synth (as determined by their stupid SAFE Exam) and brought them to an underground facility. Here they were put under extreme testing and brainwashing until they acted ‘normal’. Though, if their normal was what the people back at Covenant acted like, I think it was time to reevaluate.

I slid past Dan through the door he held open, blinking a few times until my eyes adjusted to the lack of light. My nose was never going to adjust, however, not to this smell.

We stuck to the shadows as we darted forward, keeping away from the water as much as we could to lessen the amount of sound we made. Dan had no clue what the layout looked like from the inside… so we were running blind. And, because we were opting for stealth, weapons were out of the question. It would be better if we could sneak in, grab our people, and sneak back out.

But…. If I could find some way to cripple this organization, I was going to. The idea of putting possibly non-synth people through this torture process of a skill drill was grotesque and inhumane.

Dan took point. I may be good at stealth but I was not a professional. Sides, if he was in front of me, that meant he could be my proverbial meat shield until further notice. My slender build and all around tininess allowed me to conceal myself completely behind him.

“This way,” Dan breathed, edging his way along an opposing hall. Lights flickered ahead, indicating people. Soft voices were just barely audible but we couldn’t quite make out what was being said.

We started down the corridor but only made it a handful of feet before Dan came to a standstill, his body going rigid. “sh*t,” he whispered, putting out a hand to halt me. “Hide, hide, hide!”

The lights were getting closer, a voice calling out, “Someone down there?”

I seriously considered shouting ‘no’ back but decided against it.

“Down!” I ordered, voice hushed, jabbing my finger towards the railing. I wasn’t sure how far of a drop it would be, but anything was better than getting caught. If we were captured, Danse and Amelia would never get free. I launched forward, wrapped my fingers around the railing and vaulting over the edge, boots barely making a sound on the grated platform.

And then we were falling. Wind whistled past my face, hair flying out behind me, wind rustling my clothing. Danse had taught me what to do in this kind of situation. Curl legs, brace for impact, try to absorb the shock…. Roll… I could do that… Sure.

I hit hard, feet slamming heavily against concrete. A jolt of agony ripped up my legs even as I rolled, jarring me and stealing my breath. I stood, feet unsteady below me, hands grasping for something to hold onto and settling for a generator. Dan’s landing was about the same though, I had to admit, he was able to barrel roll a fair bit better than me. I glanced up towards where we had come from, easily a story or two away. Guards now stood where we once had, lights sweeping back and forth over the catwalk.

Don’t look down here… Don’t look down here!

I held my breath, pressed my body further into the shadows, terrified they would take a peek over the edge.

Don’t look!

“Clear!” one of them shouted. “Back to rounds!”

I sighed in relief, pushing off of the generator. “Okay, we have to be more careful.”

Dan gave a brief nod before starting forward.

We were in the belly of the beast. Our fall had disoriented us. I wasn’t sure how to get back up or if we were closer to our goal than we had been a few minutes ago. This area seemed to be less guarded, so at least that was in our favor.

Dan knelt down next to an air duct. “Let’s try this out. It won’t be running and there shouldn’t be anyone manning it.”

Together we unfastened the screws and propped the metal barrier to the duct next to the opening. He entered first with me on his heels. The vent itself was hot and stuffy, humid to a fault. Sweat crept down my neck and back, hair matted against my forehead.

A few turns later and we could see lights every few meters that allowed us to view the area below us. Most of the time the room it opened into was empty, sometimes we saw a guard or two. Once we saw a bunk room, beds and foot lockers dotting the space. We would pick up chatter at times though most of it was meaningless…

I was beginning to give up hope. We had been at this for an hour. We had no way out, no way to find Danse and Amelia…

“-know you’re a synth!” a harsh voice echoed in through the vents down a path to my right. Dan was ahead of me, head swiveling around to listen better.

“Tell me where the Institute is!” I leaned forward, trying to hear a response. “I WILL break you if you don’t cooperate!”

“I told you I don’t know!”

Danse. Oh god.

He cried out, pain evident. My gut twisted. What were they doing to him?!

I began to crawl in his direction but Dan put a hand on my leg to stay me, fingers closing around my calf. “We have to find the cells! If we go to your friend now, we’ll be captured too!”

“But-!” I couldn’t leave him…

“You’ll be no use to him if you’re dead!”

“I can’t-“

‘You HAVE TO!”

I glanced down the vent I knew would lead to Danse, to where his agonized screams originated from. They were hurting him, brutally so. Dan was right, of course he was, using logic. I would be able to help Danse but be at the mercy of his captors within a matter of seconds. And then we would both be shoved into cells…

“f*ck!” I cursed, rejoining Dan. “Find the cells. NOW.”

“We know where the torture rooms are, the cells can’t be too far off.” He was trying to seem encouraging, positive, upbeat. I’m sure he was picturing what it would be like if Amelia had been in Danse’s place instead, understanding how difficult it was for me to go with him.

It felt so wrong, went against all my morals to follow Dan, to leave Danse behind in enemy hands. I winced whenever his shouts reached my ears and was thankful when we moved far enough away that I couldn’t hear them. That, or Danse had passed out.

What did this place want with the Institute? Why were they so hell bent on locating and eradicating synths? Especially when their system for locating them was so sh*tty? They could be torturing their own, violently and viciously slaughtering humans… They had to be stopped.

We shuffled along and came to another bunk room. “Wait,” I hissed, touching Dan’s foot to grab his attention. “We’re screwed when we get to the cells. I’m sure they’ll be heavily guarded and it’s not like we would be able to just walk in but…” My gaze drifted downwards, “But what if we could?”

Dan pivoted, brows furrowing in confusion. “And how would we do that?”

I had noticed that all the guards wore a similar outfit. No one here had seen us, they wouldn’t recognize us on face value alone. “What if we steal a few guard issued uniforms and go in disguise?”

“And put ourselves right in the thick of it? Are you nuts?”

Danse would like this guy. “Of course I am. But do you have a better idea?”

“I don’t.” Dan reached for the grate and pried it off its hinges, allowing us to drop down.

And right next to three armed men. “HEY!” one of them cried, snatching hold of the baseball bat he carried and leveling it to swing at us. Well f*ck, they hadn’t been visible through the grating.

I ducked low, narrowly avoiding being pummeled in the face with raw metal. My footing wasn’t stable and I stumbled backwards, slamming into a cabinet. I grunted, twisting out of the way of another hit, the bat crashing into the shelving and knocking several items lose.

We had to be quick if we didn’t want to alert the rest of the unit.

Dan was a bit faster to react than I was, already locking himself into hand to hand combat with one of the guards… Leaving two with me.

I wasn’t fit for this type of fighting – I was too slender, didn’t have enough muscle to pack even a semi-decent half-assed punch. Danse had been working on hand-to-hand combat recently with me but his training wasn’t enough.

One snatched me from behind, roughly clinching my shoulders with a vice grip and holding me in place as his buddy revved up for another swing. I used that sturdy hold to vault my legs off the ground, shoving my boots forward to squarely kick the bastard in the chest. When my feet hit the floor once more, I took a step backwards, whipping my head back in the process, wincing when it came into contact with my target – the skull of my attacker. He groaned, hands loosening on my shoulders and giving me the freedom to pivot on my heels to face him. Guard number one was still trying to catch his breath.

Guard number two shook his head, attempting to clear it before rushing me. I didn’t have room to dodge, the bunk room being too cramped for true combat. We landed in a tangled heap of arms and limbs on the ground. His hand tightened in my hair, yanking my head back till it smacked painfully against the concrete, making my vision swim and causing me to see stars dance in front of my eyes. He lifted my head to do it again but I managed to get one of my feet under him, vaulting him up and off of me. He took a good mitt full of hair with him.

Number one had gotten up at the corner of my peripherals but I didn’t realize this until I felt a blow in the back of my head, sending me spiraling back to the ground, my flank hitting hard and causing me to yelp.

Before I could move to stand, the man was on me, pinning me to the floor with hands around my neck. They tightened around my windpipe, stealing the air from my lungs and causing me to gasp. I thrashed below him, madly trying to break free, kicking, slapping, clawing, nails embedding into the soft flesh of his wrists.

Everything was growing darker, dimmer, further away. The sound of a waterfall rushed away in my ears, my head pounded as if it was being hammered with an ice pick.


And the pressure was gone, hands removed from my throat. As my vision returned I could see Dan looming over me, twisting the neck of my attacker until we heard an audible CRACK.

When I hadn’t been paying attention, he had dispatched the other two assailants.

He leaned down, clasping my hands and slowly pulling me to my feet. “So close quarters isn’t your thing, noted. You okay?”

I sucked in breath after breath of greedy air. “Yep… I’m good… Just… give me a… second.”

Dan poked his head through the door. “I don’t think anyone knows what happened. Good. We can shove these guys into the closet over there and take their stuff.”

We started opening up foot lockers, rummaging through gear, guns, ammo, and other various types of armor until we were well suited to blend. We tucked our personal belongings into uniform sacks that we attached to our waists with leather cords. With helmets and scarves to cover our faces we were ready to go. “Stick together,” Dan instructed. “Don’t separate.” I pocketed as many grenades, along with a single detonator, as I could cram into my uniform before following

Moving at a slightly rushed but not yet suspiciously speedy walk we made our way out of the bunk room and into the catwalks once more. This far into the facility we were gifted with signs that led the way to the holding cells along with various other areas I couldn’t be bothered to give any sh*ts about. Not too surprisingly, this made things a hell of a lot easier.

“This way,” Dan pointed, making a sharp left.

As we entered the cells, I noticed a map of the facility hanging on the wall. “Don’t mind if I do,” I muttered, ripping the parchment from the wall. This would come in handy when it was time to leave. Turns out there were several tunnels much like the one we had entered through that could also get us out… one of which went off the back of the block we had just entered. Perfect.

“What are you doing here?” My head snapped up, gaze zeroing in on a sentinel. “Shift change isn’t for another half hour.”

I blinked. Once. Twice. sh*t, I hadn’t thought of this. And Dan was just standing like a deer in the headlights. No wonder he hadn’t gotten anywhere back at Covenant. Think…. Think, think, think! Lowering the pitch of my voice to sound slightly more official, I spoke, “Yes, you are quite right, sir. However, did you get your lunch break?”

The man paused at that. “No. Stan didn’t show so I wasn’t able to grab my thirty minutes as normal.”

“We were told to relieve you early, to remedy the situation and allow you some much needed rest.”

“Oh. Oh wow, hey thanks guys! I owe you!” The guard slapped us on the back and left his post, and granting us free reign of the block.

“Holy. sh*t. That f*cking worked,” I was completely astonished.

Dan gawked at me, eyes wide, mouth open. He was as surprised as I was.

Together we moved further into the room. Most of the cells were full. Few held live hostages… and most… most didn’t. The ones with dead people inside… oh god they were horrible to look at. Their bodies were disfigured, mutated, clearly battered and beaten. It made me sick. A couple of cells we passed contained people that would only whisper, “I am not a synth, I am not a synth.” I felt like I was going to hurl. This place was monstrous.

“Up here!” Dan called, waving me towards him. “I found Amelia.” I glanced into the cell he was gesturing at. She wore rags, her face and arms colored in various degrees of healed bruises, some fresh ones present as well. Her skin appeared scorched in some areas, as if they had zapped her with electricity.

Dan unlocked her cell, clasping her wrists in cuffs. She was exhausted, swaying on her feet.

“Don’t you dare take her again!” a voice snarled at us from the adjoining cell. “She already went twice!”

Oh f*ck, Danse. Trying to be the hero, as always. Even in his current state, he couldn’t help but stick his neck out for others. He looked horrific – eyes blood shot, body discolored from his ‘session’ earlier. A few burns laced his flesh as well, similar to those on Amelia.

“Everything okay over here?” another guard walked forward, glancing between Dan and I. “This one is the one we’ve been told to stay on alert for.”

“We have it under control,” Dan replied, voice steady. “We were told to take them on a walk before heading back for questioning.”

The guard nodded in approval before returning to his rounds.

“Grab him,” Dan instructed. Then, quieter, “We don’t have much time.”

I fumbled with the key to Danse’s cell, hands trembling. I couldn’t stand seeing him like this. He wore rags too, caked with dried blood. His hair was disheveled, face contorted into a grimace. “What, keys too difficult for you to manage?” he growled at me, but I could hear the fright in his voice.

He couldn’t recognize me, not on eyes alone… And I couldn’t tell him who I was without alerting the other men patrolling the area.

Finally getting the key to work, I swung the cell door open, cuffs in hand. “Hands out.”

Danse leveled a glare at me, eyes like daggers piercing at my heart. Even though I knew he didn’t recognize me, seeing me look at me with such white hot hatred was crippling. I never wanted to see this face again. Never. He held out his arms as commanded, allowing me to bind him. Then, with a hand on his shoulder, I followed Dan and Amelia towards the exit the map indicated for us.

When we were a few mere feet from the exit, I knew it was time to alert Dan of my plan. “We will need to run in a second or two.”

“What?” he hissed, glancing over his shoulder at me. “Why?”

I had been mentally counting in my head, ticking away each second downwards. Those grenades and detonator I took? Yeah, they were currently in use and we had a second left on the countdown.

An explosion ripped out from the bunk room we had started in. It would act as a chain reaction, hitting the few grenades I had placed in hiding spots down each hallway we had taken. Not only would this provide a distraction but it would also destroy some of this place, enough to suffice for now.

“GO!” I shouted, shoving Danse ahead of me. He and Amelia were confused, frazzled, unsure of what was going on, but they cooperated.

Dan pushed open the door to the exit, just as the grenade blasts reached the cell block. We all ran through, Dan thrusting the latch down from the outside once we were free. “Okay, I hadn’t thought of that. But I’m glad you did.”

Fire roared further in the building, smoke billowing up through what I assumed were ventilation shafts. I could hear alarms going off, frenzied shouts from another entrance to the Compound. We could feel the heat from here, the flames kissing my skin where it was exposed, warming the metal on my guard uniform.

“Right?” I was bent over, hands on my knees. Amelia was staring up at us, terror in her eyes.

“St-Stay away from me!” she ordered, voice weak and fragile, arms outstretched in front of her towards Dan and I. “I d-don’t know an-anything! Leave me alone!”

How long had she been down there? She was nothing more than skin and bone, looking as weak as a house of cards that would topple over if I poked her with my pinkie finger.

Dan approached her, knelt down so he was at her level. “it’s okay, Amelia. Everything is going to be okay from now on.” He reached up and removed his helmet, untying the bandana to reveal his concealed face. “Your father sent me. My name is Dan and I’m going to take you home. You’re free from those evil men. I’m just sorry we couldn’t get here fast enough to prevent you from being tortured in such a way.”

“My… my father sent you?”

“Yes, Lord Stockton.”

I smiled warmly, glad I could help Dan get to this girl. Dan continued his conversation, reassuring her that he was here to help her, digging through his bag to find her something more suitable to wear for the journey home.

Okay, now to untie Danse and-

Pain exploded in the back of my head. I lurched forward a few steps before regaining my footing, arms outstretched to balance myself. I spun rapidly, fingers gingerly touching where I had been hit, wincing as my head throbbed. Even with the helmet on, the blow had been enough to disorientate me.

Danse had his fists up, pure hatred contorting his face into a sneer. He had taken an offensive position, the restraints I had loosely closed around his wrists laid broken on the ground at his feet.

“Hey, okay, Danse. Easy there. It’s me, Ashtyn.” I raised my hands in the universal ‘we come in peace’ gesture, palms out to him, indicating that I didn’t hold any weapons. Something about him wasn’t right. His eyes were glazed over, as if he wasn’t seeing what was in front of him, like he was in a daze or a hallucination.

“I’m not listening to your lies anymore!” he snarled, lunging towards me, fingers extended. I danced to the side sending him shooting past me.

“I’m not lying!” I insisted, lifting the helmet from my head and chucking it to the side, lowering the bandana so it rested around my neck. “It’s me!”

“I don’t believe you!” he growled, arranging for another attack. Dan moved to intervene but I waved him off. I didn’t want to leave Amelia undefended, not when Danse wasn’t aware of his surroundings. Had they drugged him? Tortured him into obedience? I wasn’t certain.

He faltered towards me, footing uncoordinated, movements jerky and random, not like Danse at all. “Snap out of it!” I commanded, raising my voice even louder. I didn’t know what to do, felt helpless.

“You will PAY!” He blinked up at me with that foggy expression, not truly seeing me, not truly hearing me. Then he moved, this time with a speed I hadn’t been prepared for. I didn’t move out of the way, didn’t duck or dodge in time, simply took the full brunt of his attack, the two of us crumbling to the ground. I raised my arms to my face to protect it from the drop, hissing when I landed, rolling to the side in order to just scarcely miss his follow up. I used that moment to roll further away, stopping on my hands and feet, adrenaline starting to pump through my body.

I hadn’t wanted to fight back, didn’t want to harm him… not after everything he had been through. But it seems I didn’t have an option.

When he stirred to attack again, I was ready. I met him full on, blocking his cuff with the side of my arm, and landing one of my own. “I don’t want to fight you!” He screamed back, diving at my midsection and sending us both back to the dirt, dust and debris flying around us.

His fingers dug into my shoulders, legs straddling to effectively pin me down. “You will pay for everything you have done!” he bellowed, crazed and manic. He raised his arm back, prepping to slingshot it forward to pummel me in the jaw, but I reached up to block it, feeling the shockwaves reverberate down my arm to my chest, I gritted my teeth, sucking air through my pursed lips. I wiggled, giving my hips some room before releasing his fist. I pushed back, managing to slink out between his legs, curling my own below me. Without hesitation, without giving him time to react, I hurled myself forwards, careering into him.

My hands enclosed around his wrists, raising them until they rested on either side of his head. Using my legs, I pressed his lower limbs to the ground. He jack knifed below me, jerked his body from left to right, shaking and twisting and attempting to break free.

I continued to hold on.

“STOP!” I shouted.

He was gasping for air, face pale, exhausted, fatigued, spent. His breaths came in hungry puffs, his struggle subsiding. Still the glossy eyes remained.

Slowly, painstakingly so, I released his wrists. When he didn’t go to retaliate, I lowered my legs until they were on either side of his waist, my stance no longer a threatening one. Danse watched me warily, too tired to fight.

“It’s going to be okay, Danse You’re free now. They can’t hurt you anymore,” I gently wiped dirt from his cheek, trailing my fingers down and around his jaw line. “We’re going to go back to the Prydwen and talk to Elder Maxson. I’m sure Haylen will be happy to see you.” He blinked once, twice. I repeated my gesture to the other side of his face, clearing as much as I could as I spoke, “I mean, I’m happy to see you. When I woke up and you weren’t there...” I paused, biting my bottom lip. I had been frantic, frightened, more scared than I could have imagined. Not knowing if he was alive or dead… it hit me harder than I thought. “I’m going to make sure that never happens again. I promise. But you have to come back to me, okay? The Commonwealth needs people like you, with your spirit and drive, and determination. You’ve done so much good for everyone. The Brotherhood needs you…” I lowered my forehead till it was touching his chest, not caring about the grime that would lodge into my hair.

What if this wasn’t fixable? What if the Compound f*cked him up so badly that the damage was irreversible? I… couldn’t visualize what life would be like without Danse in it. I used to think he was the typical solider type: demanding, rude, loud, arrogant. I thought that he didn’t care about anything but the mission at hand, viewed those who helped him as nothing but tools. But I had been so completely and utterly wrong. In the last few months, everything had changed. Everything. Now? If I had to be without him? If I had to go through this hell hole of a wasteland on my own? I would rather die. I don’t know when it changed, I don’t know when I decided that he was so important to me. But spending the whole day, unsure of whether or not he was alive or dead… I couldn’t do that again. Without him, I had nothing. “I need you.”

Please come back to me.

Comforting arms wrapped around me, pressed me to him, muscles relaxed. I could feel his fingers lightly curl into the uniform I wore, feel his breath exhale through my hair. “Danse?” I whispered, pushing up just enough to see him.

And he was grinning at me, a drained grin but I could accept that. The daze gone, his light brown eyes clear once more. “Hey you.” My lips parted but no words came out though I knew relief was evident on my face. “I’m okay, everything is okay,” he assured, skimming his hand through my tangled hair. I nodded weakly. “Thank you.”

I shook my head. “I’m so sorry, Danse. I should have taken your instincts more seriously when we were back in town. I should have listened, should have been on guard. If I had been, they wouldn’t have taken you and-“

“Shh,” he hushed. “Don’t think that way. It doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that you got me out. I’m sorry that I attacked you. I wasn’t… I wasn’t right in the head.”

“It’s not your fault. Really. Do you know what they did to you?”

“Not to break up this little reunion,” Dan cut in. “But we aren’t out of the clear yet.” The shouts were getting louder, closer. “We could still get captured if we don’t get out of here.”

I glanced around my shoulder, staring back at the moderately destroyed Compound, senses on high alert, trying to track down how close our enemy was. “Do you know where we can go?” I questioned Dan, not having the slightest idea myself.

“I do. Follow me.”


I propped the can of beans on my knee, enjoying the heat of the fire as it roared away in front of us. Amelia was asleep on a bedroll off to the right, leaving Danse, Dan, and I to talk.

We had traveled a quarter of a mile south, finding refuge in an abandoned home on the edges of Cambridge. Dan said we would be safe here, that the people in Covenant likely wouldn’t travel this far to find us.

Danse and Amelia told us a little of their time at the Compound, detailing the horrors they had gone through. Amelia had been there for the better part of a week, subject to a variety of monstrous tests and examinations. They had insisted that she was a synth, using the data they had collected as proof. However, it was blatantly obvious that she wasn’t anything other than human. With Danse, they said they knew he was part of the Institute, argued that he knew where it was located. When Danse didn’t offer up the information they desired, they brutally tortured him into submission. He knew that they utilized drugs to knock him out, and he assumed that one of them had been the cause of his hallucinations. Dan and I kept an eye on him just in case he rebounded.

“So what’s your next step?” Danse asked Dan while I finished my dinner. Danse was all bandaged up now, we used supplies we stole from the corner store at the end of the street. Though… technically you couldn’t call it ‘stealing’ if the owner of said corner store had been dead for over two centuries.

“I’ll take the lass back home to her father. Should be able to get to him by midday tomorrow if we leave bright and early in the morning.” Dan glanced back over at Amelia, her sleeping form barely visible from our current location. “What about you two?”

“We have to report back to the Prydwen. Before we arrived at Covenant, we had been on a recon mission to search for equipment. We need to let them know we were successful, as well as inform them about what happened at Covenant. There could be valuable information inside the Compound that everyone could benefit from,” Danse responded.

Dan bobbed his head. “Sounds like a good plan. Glad someone can finish off those f*ckers.” He gaze focused on me, “But, I owe you, Ash, a big favor. I may not have been so successful without you.”

I blinked up at him. “Pretty sure the feeling is mutual. You don’t owe me anything.”

“Still,” he pulled out a pad of paper and a pen, jotting something down on it before passing it to me. “If you ever need anything, or just want someone to run around with, you can reach me on this radio frequency. I’ve seen Vault Dwellers before, I know your PipBoy can access it.” I took the paper, glancing down at the assortment of numbers and letters. I wasn’t sure when I would ever use it but I entered the channel into my PipBoy for safe keeping regardless. “Alright, I’m crashing for the night. You guys staying?”

Danse and I glanced at once another, both on the same page. We wanted to go home. We had been gone long enough from the Brotherhood, it was time to return. As I began to stand, Danse offered a reply, “We’re going to head out. Sometimes it’s easier to travel at night.”

Dan nodded, shaking our hands. “It was nice meeting both of you. Be safe out there.”

“Right back at ya,” I commented before Danse and I took our leave.

We traveled in silence for the first few moments, listening to nothing more than the sound of crickets chirping, of the roaring of the river ahead, and of the wind whistling through the trees. The stars twinkled above, the moon providing just enough light to see where we were going. It was almost relaxing. I forgot that the Commonwealth could be beautiful, that it was anything more than a game of survival.

“So,” Danse started, cheekily grinning at me. “You need me, huh?”

My cheeks flamed red and I was thankful for the darkness to hide within. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Sure sounded like it.”

“You were passed out, hallucinating.”

“You had your head down, you had no idea when I snapped out of it.”

“Pffft, liar. You aren’t remembering it clearly!”

“Oh? Aren’t I?” he leaned forward, nudging my shoulder with his own.

“No,” I bit out, staring defiantly away from him, ignoring his chuckle aimed at my expense.

After a minute or two he quietly countered, voice barely above a whisper, “I need you too though. So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I was right?”

I glanced at him, surprised by his openness. He needed me? That couldn’t be right. Danse didn’t really need anyone – and I didn’t mean that in the ‘he prefers to be alone’ way but more of the ‘he’s more than capable of handling himself’ way. But… remembering back to our time in Goodneighbor… he had stated that he didn’t want me gone. What was he getting at?

“But enough of that,” Danse continued, shaking his head, rubbing his hand over the back of his neck, a nervous habit of his. “Let’s go home.”


There is a bonus chapter after this.
Chapter 4 of Broken Steel One-Shots (Oddities)

Chapter 14: Internal Conflict


This is a bit of a jump in plot but, because of the overarching story I have planned for Ash and Danse, I didn’t want to dick around with too much of the in game stuff. I plan on adding more fluff pieces after this but I wanted to get some main story stuff done. A lot of my ideas occur after the main quest has been completed and I want to start those. Thanks to everyone who has followed, favorited, and reviewed (I love reviews, like a lot, by the way). Thanks!

Chapter Text

I couldn’t sleep. Not because of nightmares… no, those were over with. Now it was my personal thoughts that kept me up at night.

I thought that after solving the mystery behind it, getting to the Institute and locating the bastards who had stolen my son from my husband’s dead arms, I would feel some sort of peace, relief. f*ck, anything other than what I was feeling currently. But I only had more questions than answers.

The wind felt cool against my cheeks, the moon high in the sky though it was little more than a silver sliver in the darkened horizon. I leaned over the railway, bare toes curling on the chilly metal flooring of the flight deck. Only a few guards were on patrol at this hour though none of them paid me any attention. My fingers curled around the bar that held me steady on the Prydwen as I gazed down to the airport below.

I had contemplated death before… and I would likely be there again if it wasn’t for a promise I had made.

“I’ll be fine, Danse,” I insisted, staring up at the machine with mild fear. We weren’t even one hundred percent sure it would work, Ingram only assumed it would. Haylen was holding my hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. The Proctor was on my other side, fiddling with the levers and buttons until blue light emitted from the center pieces.

And Danse had a slightly panicked expression plastered onto his face. “I just worry,” he started. “What if something bad happens?”

“What if?” I quipped, releasing Haylen’s hand and turning to face him. “I may live, I may not.”

“No, that’s not good enough,” he hissed, voice tight as he closed the distance between us. “You aren’t allowed to die? Okay? That’s an order.” His hands were on my shoulders, eyes pleading with mine to listen to him, just this once.

Ever since Goodneighbor, the dynamic had changed between us. We were closer, warmer with each other, kinder, more honest and open. This only deepened after the events at Covenant when I thought I had lost Danse for good. The realization that being without him made me feel like nothing more than a worthless pile of skin and bones was… almost terrifying. I hadn’t expected someone to mean that much to me ever again, not after Nate.

“Promise,” he breathed, voice barely audible now over the hum of the device behind me.

I hesitated. I didn’t want to make a promise I couldn’t keep… but his face, the way he looked so scared for me, so distraught at the thought of losing me… “I promise.”

His arms enveloped me, pulled me against his chest. Had Elder Maxson seen this display of affection, I was certain Danse would never hear the end of it. “Thank you,” he whispered in my ear before pulling away, cheeks bright red with embarrassment. “Be safe.”

“I’ll do my best.” I smiled up at him, heart pounding heavily in my ears for reasons beyond fright.

“Don’t do anything irrational.”

“You know me.”

“I do. That’s why I’m saying it. Keep your grenades pinned.”

I strode away from him, winking at Haylen, and turned towards the beam. “Okay…” And then I stepped into the light.

Sighing heavily I turned my back to the banister, leaning against it as I gazed out over the deck. So much has happened in the past week and a half since our return to the Brotherhood. Nick and I had made our way to the Memory Den, using a chunk of Kellog’s brain (it was a metal chunk so no need for ‘ew’ faces here) to delve into his past memories. It had been a disturbing experience but I was thankful for the information we had obtained. It led us to the Glowing Sea, a massive radiated area in the southwest corner of the Commonwealth, densely populated with heavily mutated and terrifyingly strong foes and adversaries on a hunt to find a man named Vergil. Danse had accompanied me, not wanting me to go alone. The only way we could travel down there was via the use of power armor – the radiation so bad it would tear thorough us in a matter of seconds without the protection of the suit.

Vergil, turns out, actually was a member of the Institute but he had left after his experiments went wrong resulting in him turning into a partial super mutant via an FEV virus. I promised him that, if I was able to get to the Institute, I would obtain the cure to his disease from his office as long as he told me how I could get in.

I won’t bore you with the details but essentially we had to track down a Courser, the quite literal boogieman of the Commonwealth. With the chip ripped from his body, we began construction of a teleporter that would allow one person, myself, to travel to the secret underground facility.

I glanced down at my PipBoy, eyeing the new coordinate I had available. Before I had departed, I was given the ability to return whenever I wanted. Doing so would allow me to see my son… but would be considered treasonous by Elder Maxson.

Being teleported was the least emotional thing to happen to me in the past 24 hours.

I closed my eyes, thinking back to the moment everything changed….

The elevator doors silently whooshed open, tucking themselves into openings in the walls. Fresh air hit me, clean air. It felt like I was in a dream, back in time by 200 years, entering a hospital. The technology I had seen here was so advanced when compared to anything on the surface. Trees, flowers, and plants I couldn’t even name dotted the main area, clean water was readily available, and the air was filtered…

This place was truly a paradise.

Ahead of me was another sterile white room, a locked door with a chamber, glass walls separating me and whatever was inside. My heart was racing with anticipation. The voice over the intercom said my son was here, that I was going to be reunited with my child. Was this it?

Stepping gingerly into the room, I held my breath, leaning sideways just enough to see inside the chamber…

And there he was.

He appeared to be around the age of ten, red hair much like his father’s, finely combed back. He was playing with something, wasn’t aware I was there. I slid forward, breath caught in my throat as I raised a tentative hand to place it against the glass.

“Shaun?” I whispered, tears pricking at the corners of my eyes, having to gently bite on my bottom lip to prevent it from quivering.

The child stood, slowly turning to glance at me. “Yes? I’m Shaun.” His voice… Gods, it felt so good to hear it, to finally hear it after all this time. I couldn’t stop the gasp that fled past my lips, the sob that caught in my throat. This was real. This was happening. All the time and hardships I had to endure to get to this point, the people I’ve killed, the lives I’ve ended… they meant something now. They had purpose.

And I just couldn’t believe what was standing in front me. I mean, yes I believed it but… I never thought this day would come. “Shaun… is that really you?”

He was facing me now, freckles dotting his cheeks much like my own. The color of his eyes was somewhere between my bright blue and the dark grey of Nate’s. But he looked confused. He didn’t recognize me. “Who… who are you?” he questioned, head tilting to the side, gaze distrusting.

It didn’t surprise me that he wouldn’t know me by looks. He hadn’t been even a year old when Kellog kidnapped him. “It’s okay Shaun. It’s me, your mother.” I smiled, stepping as close to the glass as I could, voice trembling with emotion. He would identify my voice at least, right? All those times I had sung to him, or read him a story. They had to count for something.

But the words that he yelled next were not the ones I had expected. “Father! What’s going on? What’s happening?” he wasn’t addressing me... he was terrified of me.

“No no, I’m your mom. I’m here, everything is alright, Shaun! I’m going to get you out of there, okay?” I tried to explain, my other palm now on the glass, gaze slanting towards the door to his cell. I had to get him out. Obviously he was being detained here like a prisoner. I didn’t care if he recognized me, I wanted him out of this place, back home, with me, where he belonged.

“What’s going on?” he cried, louder this time. “Father? Father?!” Frantic, panicked, voice rushed. His head whipped side to side, trying to find someone to protect him, protect him from me.

I saw a control panel inside of the chamber. “Shaun, just open the door. I’ll get you out of here.” Maybe he was drugged similar to how Danse had been, maybe he couldn’t see me correctly, maybe my voice sounded off. That had to be it! Why else wouldn’t he recognize me? He had to know I was his mother. Gods, everything was so wrong!

“I don’t know you!” he screamed. “Go away!” He moved to an opposing wall of glass further from me, pressing against it anxiously. “Father! Help me! Someone is here to take me! Help!”

I couldn’t breathe, it felt like all the air had been stolen from my lungs. I was dumbfounded. I had assumed that this would be so easy, that I could just walk in and centuries of separation could be avoided. “Shaun, please, calm down. I’ll get you out of there.” It didn’t matter. I didn’t care if he knew who I was or not, I was going to free my baby boy.

“She’s trying to take me! Please!” Louder and louder he yelled, moving further and further away from me, scrambling to create additional distance.

I stifled a sob, pressing the back of my hand to my lips so hard that I almost drew blood. Looking back now, I should have recognized what was going on. I had seen synths before… I knew they were becoming more and more lifelike. I should have known. But I didn’t want to realize what was going on, I wanted to live in blissful unawareness. I didn’t want to acknowledge that the boy in front of me was a robot, a copy…

I had fallen to my knees in that white room, begged the boy to believe me… I had looked so pitiful.

The doors at the other end of the room opened, a man wearing a white lab coat entered. He was old, older than any of the other employees I had seen working here. He glanced at the boy. “Shaun… S9-23 Recall Code Cirrus.”

I snapped my attention to Shaun watching his body slump, head bow, movements cease. My heart sunk into my stomach, my gut clenching, my tears stilling. “No….” I breathed.

The man who had entered the room continued, as if my reaction was meaningless to him, “Fascinating. But, disappointing. The child’s responses were not at all like I had predicted.” Predicted? This was a set-up? This was a LIE? Regret and grief quickly turned to anger and fury, rage rushed through my veins as I glared up at the man. His gaze turned to me. “He’s a prototype, you understand? We’re only just now beginning to explore the effects of stress and extreme emotional stimuli.” f*ck you, f*ck you! “Try to keep an open mind. I recognize that you are emotional and that your journey here has been fraught with challenges.” You don’t know me at all, you bastard! I’m nothing more than a tool to you, something you brought here so you could do a sick and twisted experiment. You are no better than VaultTec.

The man reached down, a soft hand on my arm gently pulling me to my feet. “Let’s start anew. I’m Father, and welcome to the Institute.”

I yanked my arm free, practically seething at him as I snarled, “Give me Shaun! Give me my Shaun, the real Shaun, right now!” My fingers curled into a tight fist, knuckles flaring white.

And he was so f*cking calm, so surreal, so serine as he answered my demands. “I know… I know you’ve gone through such lengths to find him.” It was as if he actually understood, but he didn’t know anything about me.

And I was running out of patience. “I’ll make this very simple for you. Where. Is. My. Son?”

“He is here, in the Institute. Closer than you may think.” Oh, I wasn’t in the mood for word games. “But… I need you to realize that this… situation…. Is far more complicated than you could have imagined.” Again, with the assumptions. He had no CLUE what I was going through, what I had imagined. “You have traveled very far and suffered a great deal to find your son. Well, your tenacity and dedication have been rewarded.”

Rewarded? I almost laughed at him. Rewarded?! By showing me a fake Shaun, a synth Shaun? By toying with my emotions like I was some sort of lab rat?

“Finally… after all this time,” he pressed on. “It’s me. I’m Shaun. I’m your son.”

It felt like someone had punched me in the stomach. No… No, it couldn’t be. Not him. Anyone but him. I shook my head. “How… how is that even possible?” He was older than me, he had grey hair. And he was with them, the enemy, the Institute. There was no way my son would align himself with the like of these people.

“I am sure this is a lot to take in. In the Vault, you had no concept of the passing of time. You were released from your pod and you went searching for the son you thought you had lost. But then you learned that your son was no longer an infant, but a ten year old boy,” he gestured to the synth next to us as indication. “You probably believed that only ten years had passed. Is it really so hard to believe that it was not ten, but sixty years? That is the reality. And here I am, raised by the Institute, and now its leader.”

I stumbled back, having to grab the white table for support. Sixty years? SIXTY had passed since Nate had died and Shaun had been stolen? No… No way. But, even if he was telling the truth… I didn’t understand the reasoning behind it all. “But why? Why take a child? Why specifically you?”

“Ah, now that’s the question isn’t it? ‘Why me?’ At the time, year 2227, the Institute had made great strides in synth production. But it was never enough… Scientific curiosity, and the goal for perfection, drove them ever onward. See, what they wanted was the perfect machine. So they followed the example thus far – the human being. Walking, talking, fully articulate… capable of anything.” The way he spoke… like it was a lecture, like he had given this same speech countless times to others, and I was just another uneducated person to him. “The most logical start, of course, was human DNA. Plenty of that was available but it had all become corrupted. In this Wasteland, radiation had affected everyone. As a result, another source was necessary.”

“So… they found you.” I was beginning to put the pieces together, my anger subsiding in the slightest, still present just beyond a barrier of rigid control.

“Yes. Every synth you see today has been created from my DNA. I am their father, and through science we create a family. The synths, me… and you.’

“And… you’ve been down here? The whole time?”

“Yes I have…”

I was back in my bunk room, sprawled across my bed, eyes squeezed tightly closed. Danse was oblivious on the other bed, his quiet breathing indicating that he was sound asleep. I hadn’t told him yet, he wasn’t aware of what I had faced inside the walls of the Institute, at least not that Father was my Shaun. I had given a detailed report about what projects they were doing, I had inserted Ingram’s tape into a terminal and gathered what information I could… but no one, no one knew who was behind it all.

I wash ashamed to admit that my baby was the cause of so much destruction.

After I discovered who Shaun was, I spent the next few minutes peppering him with questions. What the Institute was, what I had missed, Kellog, anything I could think of. I so desperately wanted to fill the gaps in the timeline. I wanted to know something about the man who had grown up as my son, who was so alien to me I couldn’t even recognize him.

It ended with a proposal – that I join the Institute and help them.

What was I supposed to say? What was I supposed to do? He was my son… he was everything I had been looking for these past months. I had spent so much time and effort finding him… No, he wasn’t what I expected. Hell, I wasn’t even sure he was what I wanted. But he was my son.

But my allegiance was with the Brotherhood of Steel, with Elder Maxson and Haylen and Ingram… and Danse. Joining the Institute likely meant dooming them, sending them to an early grave… and I couldn’t do that either. I didn’t agree with all of their ideals, they were flawed, just like any organization. But… I couldn’t kill them.

I ended up telling Shaun that I wasn’t sure, that I would weigh my options.

But I already knew what I had decided.

And that was why I couldn’t sleep at night.

Danse stirred, rolling over on his side to face me, a hand sluggishly raising to rub his eyes. When it lowered he was looking at me, sleep heavy in his expression. “What are you doing up?” he questioned, concern thick in his voice.

“Can’t sleep,” I replied quietly, watching him out of the corner of my eye as he pushed himself up into a sitting position.

“You going to tell me what’s going on?” He always knew… always knew when I was trying to hide something. It was a ‘bonus’ that came with getting closer, he knew me so much better than anyone else. It was almost unfair how good he was getting at it.

But that didn’t make the information I had to share any easy to tell. I mothered the monster who ran the Institute… Though I didn’t raise him, I was the reason he was here, why the Commonwealth was at threat day and night from synth invasion, why the civilians couldn’t sleep safety, and parents constantly worried about their children. I may not have continued his upbringing, but I was the catalyst.

At the core of it all, I could pin the blame of the current situation on myself.

“You know,” Danse murmured. “You talk in your sleep. You’ve always done it. You used to say Shaun’s name, sometimes Nate’s. I didn’t know who they were… but I had an idea.” He stood for a brief second before sitting on the edge of my bed, forcing me to roll over to face the wall so he could swing his legs up. “You stopped saying their names for some time… but you’ve started with Shaun’s again. You haven’t mentioned him in your reports, Maxson let me read them. But Kellog said he could be at the Institute.” I remained silent, glaring at the bunk room wall. “What I’m saying is… that you can’t really hide these things form me. And, while I won’t make you tell me, I would appreciate that you trust me enough to tell me regardless.”

We stayed like that for several minutes, neither of us uttering a word. Danse was good at that, damn him for it. Conversation wasn’t his forte, so staying quiet was something that super f*cking easy for him to do…. And he knew damn well that it would wear me down since I couldn’t stand the silence. “I found Shaun.”

Again, the bastard didn’t speak, didn’t move.

“But he wasn’t what I thought he would be. Not at all.”

Nothing from the peanut gallery. Damn it, if he would just say something.

“Danse…” I rolled over to look up at him… only to see that he was watching me with worry, with care, with a warmth I didn’t know he had. He was right, he had a right to know. He deserved that much at the very least. And when my lips parted, it’s like a waterfall poured out. “Danse… Shaun is Father. My baby boy is the leader of the Institute. I gave birth to that. I let it happen. It’s my-“

“Stop.” Danse shook his head scooting down in bed so he was lying next to me, effectively taking up every square inch of available space on this tiny ass twin sized cot. “Don’t ever say this is your fault, Ashtyn. You had no idea this would happen. Hell, you didn’t even live in a world where this was possible until after the bombs fell. You had no way to stop it. And you are definitely not the cause.”

“It’s not even just that…” I closed my eyes, not wanting to watch his gentle expression. “I just don’t know if I can be part of the Brotherhood any more. I don’t know what I’m going to do! How am I supposed to fight against him?”

Danse wrapped his fingers around my own, his hand much larger than mine and able to engulf it all entirely. “Did he ask you to join him?”

I nodded weakly, I couldn’t lie to him.

“What did you say?”

“That I wasn’t sure, I didn’t know, that I wanted to weigh my options… but… I know. I know who I align with and it kills me.”

“Who do you align with?” apprehension, anxiety, a touch of fear.

Did he… did he honestly believe I could go against him? After everything we had been through together, everything I have done not only for myself but for the Brotherhood, did he truly believe I could turn my back on them? “With the Brotherhood. But in doing so means I will one day have to kill my son. Elder Maxson will eventually discover our relation and he will use me as a weapon, likely thinking that Shaun wouldn’t want to harm his own mother… and I just don’t know if I can be a part of that.”

He hesitated before replying, “Are you saying you don’t want to be with the Brotherhood anymore?”

“I don’t know! I don’t know what I want!” I was frustrated and angry and lost and confused. I didn’t know the answer to anything. Everything had been turned backwards in the span of a day. What I thought was right could now be wrong, and the wrong could be right. I had thought that I had received every curve ball the Commonwealth could possibly throw at me, little did I know that a twist as big as an atomic bomb had been waiting just around the corner. “I just hate this! I hate everything! I hate that I woke up and the world was like this! It’s not fair. How much am I supposed to take? Haven’t I lost enough already?”

Danse’s hand squeezed around mine, grounding me, centering my focus. Sometimes that’s all I needed. How he was able to figure that out, I’ll never know. But he knew there was nothing he could say that would make this situation better. After a pause he finally responded, “We can always take a break, you know? Take a week off from the fighting while Maxson and Ingram dig apart the data on the holotape you got them?”

I blinked up at him. “A break?”

“Sure, we could go explore Diamond City, you can show me all of the people you’ve met. Sounds like you could use some fresh air away from this all.”

“You mean… we go together? Don’t they need you here?”

He shrugged a shoulder. “I’ll make it work.”

“What if, when it’s over, what if I decide I don’t want to come back?” I asked quietly, timidly. It was a very real possibility that I wouldn’t want to be part of this anymore once I was given time away.

“Then… Then you don’t have to.” He didn’t say he would stay with me, that he too would leave the force. But I knew he couldn’t, and I wouldn’t dare ask him to. The Brotherhood meant everything to him, he had given up his life to join them. But he would let me leave if I chose it.

I nestled against him then, enjoying the feel of his arm around me, listening to his heart beat, feeling his chest rise and fall with each breath. It comforted me, relaxed me, made me feel at ease.

“But… if you leave? I’d miss you. I mean, everyone would miss you. Especially Haylen. And Brandis too. And of course Ingram, she loves what you did with your Power Armor by the way… And then there is the scribes, Jeremy and Tim, they adore you and love it when you take them out on one of ‘Ash’s Great Adventures’. But we would all miss you, that’s what I was trying to say.” I chuckled, Danse was never good with words. “I’d get real pissed if they gave me an annoying bunk buddy too. So, I guess, if you wanted to stay, just to prevent that from happening, I would be thankful.”

He always knew how to cheer me up. I laughed, smiling around my reply, “I’ll think about it.”

“Seriously though,” Danse argued given me a mock stern expression.

“I know. I’d miss you too. With me gone, who would irritate you to no end? Or make really irrational and crazy decisions last minute. Or teach you how to bake cookies?”

“See? Solid evidence as to why you have to stay.” But I could see the true worry behind his gaze. The thought of me leaving was uncomfortable for him, made him feel off balance. We had grown attached to each other, whether or not it was more than as friends, I wasn’t certain. This wasn’t the same as Nate and I had been… but it was sweet and I didn’t want it to end either.

“I promise Danse. I’ll really think about it.”

“Good. For now though? Get some sleep, alright? You’ll need it for tomorrow if we’re going to head to the big Green City.”

Danse began to sit up but I panicked, snapping my hands out to grasp onto his wrist. He arched a brow, glancing down at me. “You okay?”

“I…” I what? WHAT? Why did I stop him? Well no… I knew why, I just didn’t want to admit it.

“You want me to stay?”

I bit my bottom lip and lowered my eyes. That was exactly it. It went against his fancy rulebook but… Having him next to me made me feel safe, less vulnerable… happier.

The scraping of metal on the floor of the Prydwen made my attention rocket up. Danse was pushing his cot next to mine, erasing the distance between the two of them. “My ass was hanging off of your bed just now, figured this would be easier.” He grinned up at me, that spark in his eyes that was only reserved for me lighting my world up. “And now you don’t have to be friends with the wall.” He pushed his pillows closer to mine, crawling onto his cot and sinking below the covers.


“Yes.” But I was beaming red, yanking the blanket up around my nose to hide my burning cheeks.

“Good.” He reached up, turning off the lamp that lit up the room in a faint dim glow. “Good night, Ash.”

I smiled, swallowing my girlish giggle. “Good night, Danse.”

Chapter 15: Rest and Relaxation

Chapter Text

I fidgeted in the mirror, hands constantly busying themselves by tugging at the hem or readjusting the neckline for the fiftieth time in the last ten seconds. Oh, f*ck, I was a mess. I was more terrified than I had been when I woke up from the cryo tube, more than I had been when I saw what happened to my home, more than I had been when I realized who Shaun really was…

Okay, that was a hefty list of exaggeration but, the main point here: I was freaking out.

“Everything okay in there, darling?” a woman’s voice echoed into the changing room causing me to jolt and illicit a rather girlish squeak of a noise. Sheesh, calm the hell down.

“Yes, Ms. Fallon.”

“Then, come on, get out here. Let’s see. The lad’s been done for ages now, the way he’s been grumbling about how long you’re taking… driving us both insane, quite frankly.”

I flushed crimson, glancing up at myself in the reflective glass once more, for good measure. My hair was back, the long ends of my pony tail curled elegantly in long, lazy loops that tickled the nape of my neck whenever they brushed the sensitive skin there. Light makeup lit up my bright blue eyes and accentuated my high cheek bones and angular face. I wasn’t sure if it was the blush or my embarrassment that gave my cheeks their pink color, but I knew I didn’t mind the affect.

I looked completely different. Gone was the rough and rugged Brotherhood of Steel Knight… And here was the old Ashtyn. Beautiful and radiant. But… But my eyes were different, they had seen things that the past me couldn’t un-see, couldn’t forget or pretend never existed. My hands were changed, laced with callouses and scars that couldn’t be removed. My body was altered, slender and leaner, trained and molded into that of a perfect soldier, capable of defending itself against the onslaught of ghouls and raiders, of radiation and fire... This was the new Ashtyn, permanent. No, I couldn’t go back

But if I was being completely honest with myself? I didn’t want to either.

The dark maroon dress I wore hugged my breasts and toned abdomen, flaring around my hips just enough to make the fabric twirl around my legs when I moved. The sleeves cupped my shoulders, fragments of the flower tattoo that covered the majority of my back just visible around the edges. I had a leather jacket draped over my arm for when Diamond City cooled off in the late evening hours. It was challenging to remember that it was only early March; the sheer humidity and heat provided by the pounding sun were thanks to that.

“Ms. Jones?” Becky Fallon tsked, I could hear her foot tapping even from here.

“Sorry,” I muttered, shaking my head from my thoughts. Right, okay. I could do this.

I slid the curtain to the dressing stall open, poking my head out, biting gingerly at the inside of my cheek. I was nervous, beyond nervous. I was a ball of stress and anxiety.

I felt petrified, frozen in my place. It wasn’t her reaction I gave two sh*ts about. Nope. It was his… Danse’s. And by the way he was looking at my face alone, I felt like if I were to completely step out of the little room, he would have a heart attack.

Before I could protest, Becky was gently tugging on my hand, freeing me of my protective curtain and pulling me out into the center of her boutique. The heels I wore, they gave me an inch or two of height, clicked haphazardly on the hard ground, drumming to a halt when I gained my balance, peeking up at Danse from under my eye lashes.

He cleaned up good. Like holy f*ck. He wore tan dress pants and a white button down paired with a black vest and tie that matched the color of my dress. His hair was brushed back though I doubted it would stay that way for long before his messy style took back over.

His lips were parted in shock, eyes wide, gaze trailing my body up and down a few times. “You look… different,” he sounded breathless.

I was startled, “Different? Different how? Different bad?” sh*t, this wasn’t the reaction I wanted!

“No no!” he was stumbling to correct his mistake, shaking his head vigorously. “I just mean that I didn’t know you looked so amazing.” Wait, what? I frowned, brow knitting together. Was that an insult? Did I not look amazing on a normal basis?

Danse swore under his breath, running a hand through his hair, effectively undoing any work Becky had put into it in one fell swoop. “I just meant…” his gaze shifted to Becky, pleading her to fix his error, to build him a staircase out of the grave he was digging. But she shook her head, lips twisted into a mischievous grin. No help from her. “Ashtyn… what I mean is, you look beautiful. Not a bad different, a good one. I’m not saying you don’t usually look fantastic because you do, and I would tell you more often but I shouldn’t for obvious reasons. But right now, you took me off guard because I’m not used to seeing you in… well, in a dress. And it’s just shocking. And…” Now his cheeks were flaring red, head dipped down, hands shoved deep into his pockets.

Ah, seems I wasn’t the only one who was a tangled mess of apprehension.

“You two have fun tonight,” Becky Fallon laughed, pushing me further towards Danse as she moved to help another group that had just entered. “I’ll bill the Home Plate, as usual.”

Without another word, Danse led me up the stairs and out of Fallon’s Basem*nt.

Diamond City was abuzz with activity. There was a festival being held, run by the students of the Schoolhouse and a few other Diamond City members. The stores were open later, music was blaring through speakers, lights were glittering on every street pole, and stands were set up to hold special events such as apple bobbing, pin the tail on the Brahamin, and trivia. Laughter bubbled up and down every alley.

Danse and I had been at Diamond City for a few days now, taking full advantage of this leave of absence he had suggested. I had given him the grand tour of the city, introduced him to most of the locals, and showed him my own house.

Each day we ventured out into the City to enjoy the sights, learn about baseball (no matter how wrong and absurd the history of it was), helped paint the green wall, and did odd jobs. I could tell Danse was getting antsy, likely wanting to get back into the action with the Brotherhood but he remained by my side. Doing these tasks must have seemed trivial to him. Due to his current rank in the BOS, Paladin, he wasn’t accustomed to completing these sorts of assignments… but at the end of the day, he did mention how it felt good to help a community first hand, that he wanted others from the Prydwen to experience this some time.

When we had heard that a festival was going to occur later in the day, I jumped at the opportunity to spend time with him, without the allure of bottle caps or quest givers to muck it up.

But now that we were here? I was beginning to rethink my idea.

I wanted to know what this closeness between us meant, though. I wanted to know it we were just comrades in arms, friends, or something more than that. At least, I thought I wanted to know. Now that we were here? I was reconsidering my previous desires.

“You said you used to have parties?” Danse asked, pulling me from my thoughts.

“Hmm?” I hummed, having missed the introductory portion to that question.

“Two hundred years ago… You were telling me about everything that had changed. You said you used to go to parties and festivals and fairs. Is this kind of like that?”

Oh! “Yeah, actually. Though, it’s missing a few things. Fairs and festivals used to have rides too.”

He arched a brow at me, confused. “Rides?”

“Like…” Oh gosh, how do you explain roller coasters and Ferris wheels to someone who had never seen them before? “Okay… Like, bumper cars. Everyone would get into a little vehicle that was padded around the sides and we would take turns ramming into each other. And then there was a big wheel that had seats attached to it and you would ride it all the way up to the top and back down.”

Danse scowled. “What was the point of these things?”

I laughed at him, rolling my eyes. “To have fun, Danse. Not everything was so serious. A lot of things before the bombs… they weren’t stressful or dangerous, like they are now. We had free time to do things that we enjoyed.”

I loved how fascinated he was with my childhood, my upbringing, of the world I grew up in. I adored all of his questions, even when they only left him with more inquiries than he had to begin with.

“What else did you do for fun?”

“There were zoos – they had a lot of animals you could go and see.”

“Like, radroaches and bloodbugs?”

“No.” I shook my head, grinning ear to ear. Zoos probably wouldn’t have had as many visitors if that were the case. “Lions, tigers, bears, lizards, zebras, elephants. Animals like that.”

“You realize, I have no idea what you’re talking about, right?”

“I know. But we have time. I can explain it all to you.”

It was strange. Sometimes, the differences between the old world and this one seemed few. And sometimes, like right now, it was almost scary to think about how much had changed.

“What was one of your favorite things to do for fun?”

“Are we playing Twenty Questions, again?”

He gave me a sly wink. “Maybe.”

“Fine, but I get to ask after this.” Favorite thing to do? I had many. I used to love going to coffee shops and sipping a beverage while reading a book. I used to love walking to the dog park and playing with the puppies there. I used to love hiking through the woods… but, my most favorite? “I had a friend who owned a lake cabin. I used to go up there and visit a lot before law school. Playing in the water and sitting in the sand. That was my favorite. I don’t…. I don’t think you guys have any beaches here. I’ve been along the coast, I don’t remember seeing anything like it.”

“Think the cabin is still there?”

“Probably.” I hadn’t even though to go and look for it.

“We should see if we can find it sometime,” he offered.

I peeked up at him from under my eye lashes. “You would go with me?”

“Course I would. Just say when. But, it’s your turn.”

By the time we had come to a stop, we were near the stage that housed several speakers, each blaring music at full volume, ‘Atom Bomb Baby’. “What did you do for fun?”

He snorted. “Not sure it’s going to come close to beaches and zoos. But, I used to like to go onto the highest deck at Rivet City. Some of the guards would relax up there where their superiors couldn’t find them. They didn’t mind me as long as I didn’t tattle. You could see the whole Capital Wasteland from there. At sunset, it was beautiful.” Danse paused, as if lost in the moment. “But, uh,” he shook his head, pulling himself free. “But, that doesn’t really count as your turn.”

Fair enough. “Want to dance?” I co*cked my head towards the stage.

Danse’s smile contorted into a frown, his expression darkening with worry. “Uh, not a good idea.”

I arched a brow, released his elbow so I could stand in front of him, walking backwards as he trailed behind me. “And why’s that? You have four feet?”


“Are you bad at dancing, Danse?” I tried again. “You seemed just fine at it when we were at Goodneighbor.”

“Well, yes… It’s not part of basic training for the Brotherhood and it’s not like we’ve had time to learn it. And it’s not particularly useful on the battlefield… And, at the Third Rail, we had alcohol. It hampered my decision making skills and I made a bad call.”

“But what about when you were a kid in the Capital Wasteland?”

He rubbed his palms along the sides of his pants, tilting his head to the side. “Not then either. Dancing wouldn’t have kept me off the streets… at least, uh, well, I guess it would have helped some people stay off the streets but seeing as I am not that type of person…” He trailed off again, eyeing the dance floor ahead of him.

“It’s never too late to learn,” I quipped, a playful grin tugging my full lips upwards.

“I would really rather not embarrass myself further today…” he tried but I could see his resolve breaking.

“It would make me really happy if you would come and dance with me. I promise not to laugh.”

He groaned, rolling his eyes. “I hate it when you play that card. It’s not fair. You know it will always work on me.”

“Don’t be so easy then, Soldier Boy.”

His responding sigh made me chuckle as I led him towards the other dancers. “Alright. So, training session begin,” I started, loving the way he scoffed at me, likely thinking my actions absurd. “Dancing 101.” I softy lifted one of his hands, placing it against my hip. “So one hand here, and the other here.” I laced our fingers together as I rested my hand on his shoulder. “Now typically the man leads but since you’re kind of useless at that, I’ll lead instead.”

“Hey now-“ he started, a slight pout enveloping his face.

“I’m sorry, however, I believe the rule during training is to not interrupt?” I gave him the best stern look I could manage while fighting a grin. He had always hated my interjections back at the Prydwen, telling me it was rude to interrupt in the middle of one of our sessions.

Danse scowled at me but kept his mouth shut.

“Just follow my feet, it’s not too hard. Go with the flow. Feel the rhythm and all that.”

He sighed again, another eye roll. But I could see the happiness behind his actions, could tell that he was enjoying this whether he wanted to admit it or not.

By the end of the second song, he was getting the hang of the movements, was even smiling and taking the lead at times. He dipped me low, spun me out and around only to draw me back in, his forehead touching mine for the briefest of moments as he beamed down at me. He made my heart race, my breath hitch, my laughter sweet, my smile realer. I only wished I had the same reaction on him, even if it was just a fraction of this.

Before our leave of absence, I had never seen him so happy, so carefree. Sure he was itching to return to the field, but he needed this just as much as I did. He laughed more than I had ever heard, talked with more emotion and energy than he ever had back with the Brotherhood, and grinned with such honesty, I never knew he had it in him. It was like I was seeing a whole other person

And I knew I was falling for him.

I had tried denying it originally. Hell, I still was. I was only admiring him, I would tell myself. I only respected him, looked up to him. He had saved my life on countless occasions, and vice versa. We shared a bunk room, we were always paired up on missions. We had very little time apart from one another. Of course I would naturally feel close to him, I would argue. It wasn’t anything beyond that. How could it be? Besides, there was no way in nuka-hell he would ever have anything resembling feels in return, so holding them for him would be a precious waste of time.

But I was beginning to sound less and less convincing…

Eventually we pulled ourselves from the stage area, grabbed a few bowls of noodles from the local robot, and began to wander the bases as we ate. We joined in a few games, which Danse was horrible at (though, let’s be real honest here, I wasn’t any better), and gave a shot at the trivia booth. Danse surprised me there, knowing a lot more about the Commonwealth history than I originally thought. We even won something from that booth, a little Mr. Handy figurine.

Danse purchased a few bottles of wine as we made our way back to the Home Plate, holding the door open for me as we entered.

I took to the stairs, wanting out of the dress as soon as possible. I may have appreciated the way he looked at me when I wore it, but that didn’t change the fact that I felt exposed and vulnerable. It was unlikely for us to get attacked inside the city walls, but I wanted to be prepared if the worst should happen. Hell, there was one time where I didn’t think I would get back stabbed by Vault-Tec and forced to wake up two hundred years later in a post-apocalyptic world. But here we were. Might as well be prepared for literally anything.

After changing into pajamas I returned to the living room area to find Danse leaning back against the red beat up sofa, glass in hand. “Welcome back,” he greeted, tipping his head to me. He had lost the vest and tie, his button down unbuttoned most of the way though he wore a shirt underneath. I gave a warm smile as I poured myself my own wine and took a seat next to him. “Where did you learn how to dance?” he questioned, flipping on the radio on the stand. It buzzed quietly, static echoing lightly through the room until Diamond City Radio crackled to life.

“My mother put me in ballet classes when I was real little. I think she had dreams of me becoming a professional dancer, some occupation where she could doll me up in leotards all day long.” My mother had worked her ass off to get me into one class. I had begged her for months before she could save up enough cash… I hadn’t realized just how difficult life had been back then, not until I was older and I could better appreciate everything she had done for me. Ha, if she could only see me now… She would be surprised. Though I wondered if she would be happy for me…

“Wait, you had classes back then for that type of stuff? Classes that taught you how to dance? What about fighting supermutants or worrying about raiders? What about-“

I shook my head, a soft laughter slipping past my parted lips. “It wasn’t like that back then. At all. No mass killing of raiders, there weren’t any supermutants. Basically… take everything you know, and do the opposite of it.”

He moved closer, eyes widening in the slightest. “Tell me about it.”

I snorted. “Tell you what? All of it?” So far, it had only been bits and pieces. Not… all of it.

“Everything. Tell me what your house looked like, or what the city was like. Tell me about what people did, or what you did. What was your childhood like? What did you do when you grew up? What were your plans for the future?”

“Uh… well, okay.” I shifted, pulling my legs up so they were crossed underneath me. I took a good sip of wine before setting my glass on the coffee table. I wasn’t sure where to begin, how to even start. How do you describe a whole world to someone? A world that was so vastly different from the one they knew? So many of the concepts I was going to hurl at him would go over his head, he couldn’t possibly understand chunks. But… it was adoring to know that he wanted to learn what he could.

“The grass was green, super green. And there were flowers and bushes, and trees that had leaves. The sky was blue and there was no such thing as radstorms. Just normal thunderstorms. Those buildings downtown? They were stable, no glass missing from windows or bashed in doors. And… wow, Danse. I wish you could have seen it. There were a lot of people, more then there are now. None of them wanted to kill anyone else either. We didn’t have to. Everything we needed was provided, or at least obtainable.” So much easier back then… I should have valued it a lot more while I had the chance.

“What about government and school?”

“School was kind of the same as it is here. Diamond City’s Schoolhouse is similar though most adults went to classes as well.”

“Like you and your law school?” he hedged.

I nodded. “Exactly. College. Super expensive. Could take your whole life to pay off. Guess that’s one benefit to the nuka-pocaplypse. No student debt! But, you asked about government?” I brushed my bangs out of the way, trying to figure out the best way to explain it. “I know you guys had President Eden there for a while. Haylen told me about him… But back then, we had a democracy. New candidates would come together and campaign every four years. At the end, we would vote. That person would lead until the next one was elected. We also had a House and a Senate that severed as a checks and balance system so no President could have too much power.”

“And your childhood? You never talk about it.”

“No… I don’t.” My face fell, eyes trained onto my wine glass as I skimmed my index finger around the rim.

“Why? Is it painful to remember?”

“Not exactly. I grew up with two other siblings and my mother. My dad wasn’t in the picture – mom said he went to jail for something, she never specified. I had a feeling he wasn’t a good person. Since it was just my mom, life was hard. Not like how it is now… but close. There was never enough money so, when we were all old enough, we worked summer jobs and after school during the year to help pay for rent and groceries. I had a brother who liked to butt heads with the law a lot. And my sister took it upon herself to be the ‘mom’ when ours wasn’t around. Not fun.

“I was kind of a bad kid for a little bit too. I hung out with the wrong crowds, did drugs, drank. It was my way of rebelling against everything… but I snapped out of it. Moved away. You don’t really want to know about all of this, do you?”

Danse set his glass on the coffee table and had leaned forward, hanging on my every word. “I do. I promise. I’ve never met another person like you. The things you have seen, the knowledge you know… Outstanding.”

I smiled though it did not quite meet my eyes. “So, I’m interesting?” My heart fell. Not because he wanted to get to know me… simply because I had information.

“Yes. But it’s more than that.” He placed a soft hand on mine. “You know about my upbringing, you know all there is to know about me. But… I can’t say the same about you. You’ve always been this mysterious woman I couldn’t quite figure out. Now that you’ve freely given me the opportunity to fill in the gaps? I couldn’t be happier.”

I flushed at his words, relief flooding my system. “Okay, well, what else do you want to know?”

“Can I ask about your family? As in Nate and Shaun?” There was a subtle edge to his voice, the edge that screamed that he knew he was treading into possibly dangerous waters.

But I couldn’t fault him for asking. While the wound was still deep… “It’ll feel good to talk about them. Maybe take some of the weight off my shoulders.” I took another swig of wine before holding it out for Danse to fill it back up.

“And you have happy memories, right?”

“Plenty. Nate and I weren’t really ready for Shaun, at all. He was an accident. Sure, we were married and sh*t but not prepared for children. We wanted to travel some beforehand, wanted to see the world and just enjoy being together. But, still, he was the best damn thing to ever happen to us.” My little beacon of my light, my everything. “Parenting came with a lot of struggles. Stuff I didn’t even know I had to worry about. Like, what color poop should look like or how often they should have a wet diaper. It came with some rewards too though. Watching Shaun make faces at food he didn’t like. Teaching him how to talk even though we didn’t get far. I felt so accomplished, like everything in life had built up to that happy moment.

“But… then the bombs happened.”

“There’s talk about that day in the Brotherhood but all we have are theories, nothing concrete. Did you know it was going to happen?”

I shrugged one of my shoulders, rolling the stem of my wine glass between my fingers. “Kind of? We had been at war for a while… The Big Arms Race.” I scowled at the memory. What a pathetic waste of resources, all of it used to accomplish nothing. “Vault-Tec helped create a series of Vaults that would house the fortunate for when the bombs would fall. Sanctuary Hills had one. Vault 111. We only got in because Nate was in the army. So, while we didn’t know when it was going to happen, we feared it would. Always.”

“What happened? How did you get underground before it hit?”

“It was on the television. And the sirens. We ran to the Vault, the elevator was just going down when the shockwave hit us. It was…” my voice trailed off. I didn’t have words for how it felt. Amazing, terrifying, adrenaline pumping, scary… all at once. “Then, when I woke up… Everything was so different. If I hadn’t found Codsworth, I’m pretty sure I would have gone insane.”

“Codsworth… that’s the Mr. Handy robot we talked to at Sanctuary?” he clarified.

‘The very one, yep. We got him to help us with Shaun but… he quickly became another member of the family.”

“That’s very strange. Allowing a sentient robot into your home like that.”

I snorted, peering up at him. “Maybe to you, Mr. Brotherhood of Steel. Back then? We weren’t afraid of synths or robots. We didn’t have to be.”

“I wish…” he started, shifting his position so he could let one of his legs fall off the side of the couch. “I wish I could have seen it. I wish we could make the Commonwealth into that, before the bombs and war. The Brotherhood strives to do a lot… but in only wanting to preserve the technology of the past and to annihilate the unknown… we have forgotten a lot of why the old world was so good. What you describe isn’t anything like what we have now. It’s almost sad that we may not ever be able to get that back.”

“Careful now, if Maxson was here he would consider those words almost treasonous,” I playfully remarked.

“Elder Maxson isn’t right about everything,” Danse replied in a hushed tone. But then his expression brightened, a smile forming on his face as he glanced up at me, a roguish look in his eyes, mixed with confidence. “So I liked your dress.”

“Finally figured out how to say it without getting tongue-tied?” I shot back.

“You sometimes have that effect on me,” he countered, implying that I had an unfair advantage.

“It’s not my fault that you think I look ‘fantastic all the time’,” I mocked his previous statement to which he flared red at. He could give but he couldn’t take without turning crimson.

As I took another drink of alcohol he finally retorted, “I had a lot of fun today though. And yesterday, and the day before that. I never knew there was this much to do here… aside from Brotherhood missions and everything.” He paused, glancing away from me, “And I really appreciate you opening up to me.”

“It’s only fair. I know a sh*tloads about you. Might as well be on even footing. Sides, someone once told me that I needed to trust my partner, so I’m taking that advice to heart,” I recalled when he had spoken those words to me in anger outside of the Cambridge Police Station after I had almost committed suicide via grenade in an elevator shaft. We had come a long way since those days. I only used grenades in real bad situations now.

He chuckled, running his hand through his hair, disheveling it further. Why we even attempted to do his hair in the first place was beyond me. “Alright, come on. We should hit the hay before we get totally wasted.”

I whined, “But I was so close to being tipsy.” He was standing already though, moving over to the counter to put his glass down.

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” he answered. While his tone was coy and spirited, I sensed a hint of seriousness behind it.

“What’s there to be afraid of?” I stood, following after him, footing unsteady as the room danced around the edges. Perhaps I was a little further gone than I had originally intended. I stumbled forward, only to fall into Danse’s open arms. Oh, how cliché.

“Easy,” he chided, helping me regain my balance though his hands on my waist didn’t release, his gaze locking with mine. How could a single look steal my breath away? Make me feel so jittery? It wasn’t fair.

The warmth of the alcohol made my head swim, made my impulses stronger. The desire to act on them for once was tempting. I could test if he had feelings for me, easily. I pressed my hands against his chest, leaning forward just enough so I was closer but not quite yet revealing what I intended to do. My drunk brain grinned like a fool, thinking that it had come up with the cleverest plan in all of the Commonwealth.

But Danse had been one step ahead of me, and not in the direction I had wanted it to go. “This. I was afraid of this. Of wanting to…” He sighed, his hold on me gradually loosening until he took a pace backwards. I could see it in his eyes, as if he was fighting a battle with himself. The distance between us, though only a few mere feet, felt like I could park a vertibird in the space provided. I took a fragile step forward but he grimaced and retreated the same step away.

Why? What had I done? What was wrong with me? Had I read everything wrong? Had I been right this whole time? My gut twisted, heart thundered to a halt.

But I smiled, rolled my eyes at him. “Afraid of this? Me getting tipsy? Pffft, don’t worry about it,” I waved a hand dismissively. Play it off, act natural, pretend you don’t feel like a frag grenade hadn’t just exploded in your stomach. “I’m fine. I’ll even be able to walk up the stairs all by myself.”

“Ashtyn…” he tried, defeated, likely able to see right through what I was doing.

Or maybe I was wrong about that too.

“Don’t worry bout me,” I continued, backing up further and clasping the rail of the stairs to still my shaking hand. “You know where the extra blankets are for the guest bed. Make yourself comfy.” I pivoted, placing my back to him, starting up the stairs. His training counted for something, at least I was better at not showing the emotions I wanted to keep hidden. “Make yourself comfy. Wake me if you need anything.”

And then I was at the top of the stairs, entering the small room I had crafted, closing the door behind me.

I felt like I couldn’t breathe, like my chest had been crushed. I lowered myself to the floor, sunk into a pitiful pile of arms and legs, pulling my knees to my chest so I could bury my face in them. Fool, idiot, moron, dumbass. I had been so stupid, so f*ckING stupid.

Of course he would think nothing of me, nothing other than me being his insubordinate, the person he had to train. f*ck, WHY did I ever think things could be different? What was WRONG with me?

I listened to him rummage around downstairs… a glass broke… But then it quieted.

I glanced up at my bed, no longer feeling tired, no longer wishing to sleep.

But I didn’t have a choice.

I wasn’t going to go back downstairs.

I picked my sorry self up off the ground, shuffled over to the cot and buried myself under the covers. No tears came…

But even after knowing I didn’t stand a chance, I couldn’t let the feelings go, couldn’t banish them into nonexistence. Maybe they weren’t quite love, maybe they weren’t there yet… but damn, they wouldn’t go away either.

I squeezed my eyes shut. Mediate, calm, serene. Be at peace. But it was useless.

I felt nothing…

Nothing but broken.

Chapter 16: Taking Independence

Chapter Text

Gravel and dirt crunched under my boots as I led the way to the southeastern part of Boston. I had been finding more and more that the mental map I had in my head, the one I had created pre-nuka-f*cking-sh*t-hole-land was completely useless. My landmarks were all but destroyed and the street signs were gone. Thankfully, between my random adventures helping robotic ship captains and playing a Silver Hero paired with my PipBoy have aided in filling in the missing dots.

It had been two days since Danse and I… since the festival. I had been treating him more or less the same, trying to at least. I could tell he knew something was different though, the way he was acting more guarded and distanced. Even now he was trudging along behind me with a solemn expression plastered on his face, eyes glued to the ground or scanning the perimeter, anywhere but on me.

So, when Preston contacted me asking if I would have some free time to assist the Minutemen reclaim the Castle they had once lost? I jumped at the opportunity to get some fresh air.

“It should be right up here,” I gestured, extending my pointer finger out down the end of the street way. Parked cars with missing doors, blown out tires, rusted paint, and blood soaked seats littered the pavement. Many of the signs were bent sideways, painted over, or removed. The buildings sagged in on us, weighed down by the heavy heat and humidity that drenched the Commonwealth, scorched by the ever blistering rays of the sun that beat down on them overhead. Down here, even in the shade, it felt like I was suffocating. “Preston said to meet him in the gas station right before the Castle.”

“Roger that,” Danse replied. Short, clipped, to the point. But, that was two more words spoken in my general direction, two more than he had said in the past three hours… seeing as the counter was at a whopping zero.

“It used to be Fort Independence when I was growing up. My mother took my siblings and me out to tour it once. Before that it was called Castle William but it had been abandoned after some war and rebuilt later. It was used for harbor defense before the bombs.” The history lesson was more or less to fill the empty silence that kept stretching out between us. “I think you would have liked it there, would totally fit in with your whole military vibe,” I glanced back at him, a lop-sided grin lifting the corner of my lip up into a smirk.

He couldn’t help it, he grinned back, peeking up at me for a brief moment. God, I hated that. Even knowing that he didn’t share the feelings I held for him, I still got butterflies in my stomach. My heart still picked up a few beats, throbbing all fluttery behind my ribs and making my lungs work double time when my breath hitched.

It wasn’t fair.

We arrived at the appointed gas station just minutes later. Preston looked up from the plans he had stretched over the dust encrusted counter, a smile brightening his expression. “Ashtyn! It’s so good to see you!” He closed the distance between us, pulling me into a tight, not quite friendly but a little more than intimate hug. Ah, see that hasn’t passed yet.

“Nice to see you too, Preston,” I greeted back, awkwardly patting his arm to indicate I had enough contact.

“Ah, and welcome Paladin,” gruffer, not quite as happy, though respectful tone, “I wasn’t aware you were coming along too. Of course,” Preston’s gaze flicked between the two of us, “We always accept extra help.”

Danse nodded, his jaw setting. The two of them had a history. Something had happened at Sanctuary, I don’t know what. I’ve never asked but I knew all the same. “Ashtyn and I were in Diamond City when you sent your message.”

“I didn’t realize the Brotherhood of Steel had any operations within the city walls,” Preston hedged.

“We don’t.” Danse’s intonation indicated that this subject wasn’t open for discussion, that he wasn’t interested in providing details. Preston sent one last glance at me but I shrugged my shoulders in response. He didn’t need to know everything that happened to me.

“Alright…” Preston turned towards our other guests. “These Minutemen will be joining us today. We have been deciding on what strategy would be best to infiltrate the Castle.”

Danse peered over at the plans, likely memorizing the layout of the Fort we would soon be overrunning. “Do we know what we are up against?”

“Mirelurks. They have nested in several of the walls and courtyard as depicted by the recon team we sent out this morning. This is the worst infestation I have ever seen of them. We are debating on what approach we should take.”

“Is there a King or Queen involved?” Danse continued. I could see that he was rearing to go, aching to get into some sort of action. Maybe he needed this as much as I did.

“We haven’t noticed anything yet. But… you can never be too sure.”

“What are our options?” I cut in.

Instantly Preston’s attitude shifted to one of optimism, a smile returning to his face. I had secretly hoped that our time apart would alter the way he felt for me. But I see I was wrong about that. I felt honored that he cared for me but… I couldn’t return the gesture. Seems we were both stuck. “I am glad you asked, Ash. We can either use a stealth opt, your specialty. Divide and conquer by splitting up into a few groups and entering the Castle. Or we can go in guns blazing.”

I grimaced. Stealth didn’t work well on mirelurks, not in my experience any ways. Running in guns blazing would ensure that we all met a quick end. If the mirelurk presence was as strong as Preston was making it out to be, we wouldn’t survive a direct assault. Which left divide and conquer… which I still wasn’t a fan of.

When I turned to Danse, he was eyeing me, clearly on the same page. Tension aside, we made a great team. “What are you thinking?” he enquired, that light returning to his irises, making my insides liquefy to mush.

“Well… what if…” I stared at the plans again, locating a few entrances. “See how this makes a tunnel of sorts? Like how you could go in this door here, and run through, and leave here in one go?” I drew the line I saw on the map, finger nail leaving the tiniest of indentations. “What if someone, like myself, were to sprint in and grab the attention of as many lurks as possible. I could then lure them out to you guys and you would have a clear shot.”

“And put you in harm’s way? Absolutely not.” I wasn’t surprised by Preston’s objection. Aside from the scuffle with raiders and a solitary deathclaw in Concord, he has never joined me on a mission before, wasn’t made aware of my rather risky tactics, or how good I had gotten with a gun.

When Danse didn’t move to agree with his opposition, Preston continued, “Paladin, you aren’t seriously considering it? It’s a suicide run. We don’t know how bad it is in there. I don’t know about the Brotherhood but the Minutemen wouldn’t put a life on the line for the sake of an assignment. Every life counts.”

Danse curled his hands into fists at his side, grip so tight his knuckles turned white. But when he spoke, his voice lacked any of the insult he felt, “I appreciate the sentiment, Garvey, but the Brotherhood has never placed any of our people in danger either. We prefer to allow our soldiers to make their own decisions and to play off of their strengths. Ash and I don’t always see eye to eye on how to best handle a situation, however, I have learned that if she comes up with a plan such as this one, she doesn’t do it on a whim…” he winked at me then, “Most of the time.” Returning his attention back to Preston, he went on, “If she thinks she is adept enough to do this, I am not going to doubt her capabilities. She has improved much these past few months and I believe she is more than able to do her part to achieve victory here today.”

Preston glowered at Danse, gaze darkening but he gave a hard nod of understanding. “Are you sure, Ashtyn?”

“Sure, how hard could it be?” I waved a hand dismissively, focus twitching down to the map once more. I had to memorize how to get in and out. The route itself wasn’t complicated but I wasn’t aware of what structural damage could await me once inside. I needed other ways to get out if the worst should happen and I got trapped in a dead end.

“If you say so. Alright men, suit up and head out. Ashtyn, when you are ready, give the signal and make your pass. We will be waiting to offer you cover fire when you exit but will look for ways to assist you from the outside as well.” He hefted his laser musket off his back and into his arms, holding the gun close to his chest, assuring he had enough rounds for the fight ahead. The other Minutemen in the room began doing the same, stocking up and equipping themselves before slowly exiting the room. “Be safe out there.”

Sure, we could do this. Yeah. I couldn’t deny the nervousness I felt though.

I began to follow, pulling Righteous Authority from the strap on my pack when Danse’s gloved hand looped around the crook of my elbow.

“Are you sure you can do this?” he breathed.

“Oh, are you concerned for my safety now?” I rolled my eyes, smiling. “When comparing to everything else I’ve done: grenades in elevators, exploding parked cars to kill raiders, sneaking into the Compound…. THIS concerns you?

“While I can’t argue with that…” his voice trailed off. “What if you get walled in while in there? What then?”

“Then I find a way out.”

“But what if you can’t? What if there is a Queen or King inside that Fortress that we don’t know about?”

“I have grenades,” as if they were my solution to everything.

“Ashtyn, this isn’t funny.”

He was seriously worried about me, actually cared for my well-being. We were companions after all, brother and sister in arms or however the Brotherhood said it. Ad Vicotriam and all that. I turned towards him, gently removing his hand from my arm and giving it a reassuring squeeze. “I know. But I always get out of sticky situations. It’s like, my specialty. I’ll figure it out.”


“No buts. Trust me. Okay? You can do that much, right?”

Danse met my eyes, honesty pouring through them as he spoke, “I have always trusted you.”

“Then don’t worry. Now, come on.”

Though he hesitated, we joined the others outside. Everyone had taken their positions, guns at the ready and aimed at the exit I had planned on launching through just minutes from now.

“I’ll follow you through the windows,” Danse informed me, holding his own laser rifle. “Just in case.”

I gave an enthusiastic thumbs up and began moving towards the archway that marked my starting point. My nerves were on edge, mind racing, heart pounding. I hadn’t told Danse that his same fears were my own. Grenades would do more harm than good inside the walls – I would blow myself up along with any lurks if I even attempted using them. Blocked passages would likely result in my death, optional ways out were not going to be in heavy supply.

But I sure was loving this adrenaline rush.

Taking in a lungful of air to steady myself, I rocketed forwards, skimming along the ground to stay as quiet as possible. I didn’t want to alert too many of the beasties before I was in or else I would get surrounded. Once inside I took a sharp left, pausing only long enough to hurl a large sized rock into the open room to my right, whistling loudly to wake whatever was slumbering beyond the partition.

Something shuffled. The lurks were beginning to awaken.

I didn’t wait to see if I was being followed, only lurched down the hallway. Dirt and debris flew up around me, dusted the air in a peppery smoke that made it difficult to breathe. This place was old, barely holding together in some areas. I could hear the ticking of pincers tapping the cement, clicking along the walls as mirelurks began to pursue me.

How many of them were behind me? One? Two? Ten? I didn’t know…

And I prefer living so I wasn’t about to stop and do a head count.

Slight left around a corner, I used my hand to brace myself, providing my body with more momentum to hurtle down the adjoining corridor. I leapt over a pile of eggs, wincing when I heard them pop and sizzle as they released the miniature lurks from within the mottled shells. I knew the poison they spewed was highly toxic, capable of burning through fabric, harming the skin. I would be wise to avoid them. A few laser beams cut through the open windows, Danse was keeping true to his word, attempting to slow down my attackers.

But his attempts did little. I could hear them gaining on me, moving faster than I was. I may be small, but I was far from quick. It was my ability to hide and sneak that had kept me alive this long.

I dove past another opening…

I hadn’t seen what was waiting for me.

Hadn’t been fast enough to jump out of the way.

Hadn’t been capable of dodging to the side.

Hadn’t been prepared for a lurk to already be up and ready to fight.

I took the blow full blast, my body careening into one of the walls, the bricks loosening in the slightest, just enough to send a cascade of sh*t down on top of me. I coughed, blinking rapidly to clear my vision, wildly attempting to crawl away from my enemy. I shivered when one of the pincers grazed my calf, skimming along the soft flesh there as I squirmed out of the way just in time.

It back pedaled, gearing up to rush me again but I danced away, tumbling to the side and scooting back on my ass to narrowly avoid the attack. The shelled monster bashed into the column I had just been leaning against, giving an angry moan in the process.

Okay, time to go.

I scrambled to my feet, racing off. The shots from outside were growing louder and more numerous. Guess no one liked the idea of me going down.

As I dove down a connecting pathway, I had to duck once more as a claw viciously slashed the air above my head. The Fort groaned around me, shuddered, threatening to collapse with all the activity that was going on within.

My eyes madly scanned the area ahead of me, my legs wobbly as I continued the fight. Where to go, where to go?

My mental map was faltering, blurring around the edges. I shook my head to clear it, a throbbing sensation erupting from the back of my skull, making my vision blink in and out, darken. Nonono, I didn’t have time for this!

Cursing under my breath in a huff, a barreled left.


I stumbled, tripping over a pile of mirelurk eggs and toppling to the floor in a mangled heap of limbs. My shoulder screamed in protest, the lose fabric torn and ripped, leaving me more exposed. The eggs hissed and cracked. I tried to clamber away but wasn’t quick enough as acidic poison burst from the confines of the shells. I yelped as they oozed slime, spattering me with flecks of painful, eroding pus. With gloved hands I tried to wipe the liquid from me but was halted as the mirelurks crept into the room through the doorway.

And I was surrounded.

One wrong turn was all it took.

I rolled, landing on my hands and knees, crawling forward as fast as I could, trying to blatantly ignore the searing pain that exploded from my shoulder, head, and legs. Keep going, keep going! My gaze flicked around the room. There had to be another exit, there f*cking had to be!

Click, click, click… they scurried after me, clawing over their now destroyed eggs, endless in their pursuit.

A roar split through the air, the Castle trembling in awe, dust pouring out from the ceiling above me.

My heart leapt out of my chest, tried to break against my ribs to grant itself freedom. I knew that noise… God, I knew that noise. I could recognize it anywhere.

“QUEEN!” someone wailed from outside.

“GET ASH OUT OF THERE NOW!” another ordered, screamed.

More haphazard instructions, the sound of explosions, shots firing through the sky. They had their hands full. No one was going to be following me in for the time being.

I was on my own.

A shiver fled up my spine. I had to come up with a game plan if I wanted out of this place.

Digging my fingers into the brick walls, I pulled myself up into a standing position. The mirelurks were on me now, pincers at the ready and prepared to strike. We were too close for me to use my gun… f*ck, I wouldn’t even have it loaded in time.

Okay, think… time out your moves… just like training.

Focus, breathe, and react.

I inhaled deeply, crouching lower and taking on a defensive stance. A window, though narrow, was nestled into the wall just right of me. If I got to it, I could squirm my way out. Just had to get here. Just had to make it there.

Thankfully, mirelurks are bulky. Their shells may provide protection from ballista damage, but they have a hindrance: lurks could only battle one on one when their prey had a wall to their backs.

The one directly in front of me rocked forward, driving one of its claws at me. I easily evaded, feet pirouetting me sideways. It moved to attack again, each swipe sluggish enough for me to elude. I couldn’t land any blows of my own, none that would be useful. I continued creeping towards the window until it was to my back, weaving around the lethargic assaults the lurk attempted to deliver to me.

Reaching up I hoisted myself up onto the window ledge, hips just slim enough to wiggle into the space provided. I swung my legs out, a pincer slamming aggressively into the wall below the window. I could hear water lapping at the Fort foundation behind me, knew that dropping down to the ground wouldn’t be an option from here. My head would get split open on the jagged rocks below if I even considered it. No, I would have to climb up and onto the roof of the Castle.

As the mirelurk began to reel back for another onslaught, I wriggled myself through the window, launched myself through the opening, and forced my fingers to cling to the bricks as I stood, my feet pointed, barley touching the sill from the other side. But the lurks couldn’t reach me from here. I could hear their claws scrapping along the cement interior but nothing was getting through.

But I had dodged only one obstacle to face another entirely.

I took a dizzying breath, pressing my body to the fortification. Don’t look down, don’t look down.

Wind bombarded me, made my hair whip around me in a swirl of chaos. My clothes flapped heavily against my skin, threatening to pull me away from the safety of the wall. The sea growled below, challenging me. It took everything I had to open my eyes a fraction of centimeter, just enough to peer upwards.

f*ck, don’t look down.

My terror was getting the better of me, made my face feel clammy, my hands tremble even as I hugged the bricks to me. My adrenaline wore off, ebbing away to sheer panic. I hadn’t thought this through…

I could just make out the sounds of combat from the courtyard, another screech from the Queen as she fought. The Castle quaked once more. A few blocks fell lose from either side of me, cascading down to the sea below, crashing against the rocky shoreline.

I swallowed the lump in my throat.

I couldn’t stay here. I had to keep going. Had to make it up and to the other side.

I squinted up, holding my breath. With shaking hands, I slowly, achingly so, reached up to grasp another brick that was jutting out of the wall. I found another such ledge for my other hand and hesitantly pulled myself up higher, booted feet scrapping along the top frame of the window until they too found support. Okay, I could do this, I was doing this. I exhaled through pursed lips, keeping my attention trained on the roof above.

It took a few more minutes for me to finally touch the top, fingertips numb and arms sore from exertion. Pressing off of the foot holds I had found for myself, I heaved myself onto the roof, rolling until I was on my back with my limbs splayed around me.

Combat was still in full swing down below me. The Queen was endless in her slaughter. Gun fire refused to cease as the Minutemen and Danse showered the air with bullets and laser lights.

By now, I knew the mirelurks I had managed to alert would be heading out to the courtyard too. I needed to get down to them. I sat up, head spinning in the slightest as the world teetered around me. Was this what a concussion felt like? It was intense, awful, pounding…. Oh, I would do anything for it to stop.

I pulled my rifle free from my back, pushing off the ground and began to trek towards the courtyard side. Danse was closest to me, back facing my direction with his focus primarily on the Queen. Preston was on the opposite end, near the breached wall. One of the men he had brought with was downed in the corner, nursing a wounded arm. The ground below him was soaked in red.

Mirelurks began swarming the yard from both of the Castle entrances, joining their mother in the fray.

Propping my rifle up against my torso, I pulled a grenade from my belt. Lifting the explosive to my face, I pulled the pin out with my teeth and tossed the little device towards the Queen. Even the momentum from the throw alone made me unstable, I had to reach my arm out to catch my balance. The grenade detonated, causing the Queen to reel and screech in agony, her claws swinging riotously about her, her howl so loud I winced.

Ah, and now I had her attention. Great.

“ASHTYN!” Danse shouted, panic coloring his voice as he saw me, saw the new target the Queen had made.

I took off like a bullet, tearing right along the rampart. She was squealing behind me, poisons acid erupting from her parted mandibles as she kept up the chase. “f*ck, f*ck, f*ck!” I snarled, muscles begging for me to halt, that they had had enough for one day. But if I stopped, I was dead. And I was quickly running out of castle…

As I reached the end, the ground lowered, a damaged cannon nestled in a circular cement hole. It looked rusted, beat up, possibly broken… but it was the only chance I had.

I slid to a stop, dropping down next to the cannon. “Please work like you did in the movies,” I whispered, as I dropped a lead ball down the opening at the front of the cannon. I peeked up just long enough to watch the Queen close-in, her pincers clawing along the side of the walls, trying to get to me. The gunfire down below was twofold now, more explosives ratchetting out. As long as they could keep the smaller ones at bay…

But even then the lurks were making it up to me, climbing up the dilapidated portions of the fortification. I would be surrounded in a matter of minutes.

There was a pile of what I prayed to be gun powder surrounding the cannon and I shoveled that in as well with my hands. Fumbling with the lighter I retrieved from my pocket, I flicked the starter a few times and lit the fuse. “Go, go, go, GO!”

The battlements burst with energy as the cannon blasted, smoke engulfing the air around me. The Queen’s reply of sheer white hot anguish indicated that my idea had worked. Her shrieks grew quieter. I crawled around the cannon, gasping for air, face splattered with ash and debris. Where? Where was she? I could barely see beyond the smoke.

As it cleared, I could make out her crippled body, limp and dying on the dirt. “Holy sh*t,” I breathed, shaking my head, amazed. Wow. Just wow. Cannons were the way to be!

“Ash! Watch out!”

I cried as pain ripped out from my shoulder, my body crashing brutally against the heated metal cannon, my leather armor sizzling from the high temperature. I groaned, fingers closing around the new wound, drawing away only to be coated in crimson.

I blinked up at my attacker, a mirelurk, drawing back for another attack.

Grimacing, I just managed to dodge, leaning away, the lurk’s arm just scraping my flank before coming into contact with the cannon.

I lunged to the side, unable to fully stand as I collapsed once more, my legs too feeble to hold me.

“MOVE NOW!” Danse demanded, his voice hoarse.

I peered over the edge then left and right. It was a fifteen foot fall. I was guaranteed a broken bone or two if I jumped from this height. But my sides had a lesser chance of survival as mirelurks closed in. I guess they weren’t too thrilled with their mother being annihilated.

“Jump!” Danse was below me now, arms out. He wasn’t serious, he couldn’t be. Hell, I knew he was strong but… “Trust me!”

I didn’t have any other option.

Equipping another grenade from my belt, I tossed the pin to the side. I stood just long enough to take a leap of faith, lobbing the explosive towards the lurks in the process. I rotated in the air so I would land back first, having to trust Danse completely… If I landed like this… I would be dead.


Heat erupted through the air, my vision blinded briefly as the mirelurks met the same end as their mother. My breath caught in my throat as the strength of the explosion jolted my fall, pushing me further from the protection of the rampart

The air screamed past me. I crossed my arms over my chest and squeezed my eyes shut. Please, catch me… Please…

Danse’s arms found me even as he was brought to his knees in doing so. He grunted but his hold only tightened. “I am so f*cking glad that you’re as scrawny as you are,” he whispered at a few seconds of silence.

I pried one eye open to look up at him. He was on his knees, the majority of my body cradled in his arms though my feet rested on the solid ground. His figure was bent over me, as if he was better defending me, shielding me. Deep brown eyes found my bright blue ones, scanning my face for injuries, worry increasing as he began tallying them up.

“I’m okay,” I promised but he merely shook his head in response.

He freed one of his hands to gently raise his fingers to my cheek, brushing away the blackened soot. On instinct, I leaned into the warmth, inhaling his scent. It didn’t matter what happened… I needed this.

I needed him.

Preston appeared next to me breathing hard, tone frantic. “Ashtyn… Ash… are you okay?”

Danse’s gaze hardened. “Does she look okay?”

Preston was taken aback, focus shifting from me to the Paladin. “If I remember correctly, I was against this idea from the get-go. You’re the one who said we should go along with it.”

“Oh, so now it’s my fault?” Danse bit back, rolling his eyes, scoffing. Now wasn’t the time for the blame game.

“I’m just saying that maybe if you would have listened to me an hour ago, we wouldn’t be here right now,” Preston argued back, matching Danse’s attitude perfectly.

“Right, because your strategies were top of the line. There certainly would not have been any causalities if we followed any of those tactics!” dripping with sarcasm and anger. “This was a suicide mission no matter which way you try to dice it. The ONLY reason it was successful was because of Ashtyn. Without that cannon, I doubt we would have ever been able to topple the Queen. Dress it up however you want, typical Minutemen style, pretending to be the heroes.”

Preston seethed, malice adding to his voice as he replied, “At least we prioritize life, every single life.” He glanced down to me. “Get her to the infirmary back at the station. I’ve already radioed the other settlements we have had set up and they are bringing people and supplies. By night fall we should have a proper base of operations. There should be enough to get her patched up for now, get her back on her feet. Ashtyn, if you need anything, you let me know.” Then he pivoted on his heels and returned to the other Minutemen.

I knew things had been heated between the two of them but… to see Danse get so argumentative had been surprising. I parted my lips, intending to ask what his beef was but his stern glare told me to keep my thoughts to myself.

“Can you walk?” he questioned, a slight tinge to his voice though it was dying down.

“I think so,” I responded, gratefully taking his hand when he provided it so I could stand. My knees buckled under me, my fingers knotting into Danse’s shirt to keep myself upright. “Okay, maybe with assistance?” I grinned up at him innocently. I felt weak and pathetic. I didn’t want him seeing me like this but, seeing as I needed his help, I didn’t have much choice in the matter.

“I could just care carry you there,” he offered, sincere.

“Please no, I’m embarrassed enough as it is.”

“What is there to be embarrassed about?”

“Danse, I can’t walk. How freakishly lame is that?” I huffed as we began my hobble towards the gas station, wincing whenever I put too much weight on my right leg. “Elder Maxson would have a field day if he saw me right now.”

“What he doesn’t know, won’t hurt him,” Danse winked down at me, a smirk tugging on the corner of his mouth. After a few seconds of silence he tried to lighten the mood, “At least I can take comfort in knowing that it isn’t just Brotherhood of Steel missions that make you want to dance with death, but everything you do.”

I snorted. “It wasn’t that bad.”

“Ash, have you seen yourself?”

“I know this is going to surprise you, but there was a serious lack of mirrors inside the Castle and the mirelurks were just not that interest in letting me find one.”

“If you weren’t so injured right now,” he threatened, shaking his head. “But really, let me patch you up and we can return to the others. Preston wants to set up a larger radio beacon so he can broadcast to a wider area. I have a feeling you’d be perfect at helping him do that, and he won’t let you back out till you’re no longer bleeding all over the place.”

We made it to the station shortly thereafter. He helped me up onto the counter before surveying the area for medical equipment.

“You know, I can bandage myself up.”

He scowled at me, giving me a look that read ‘shut up or else’. I stuck my tongue out at him but didn’t complain further.

He found a first aid kid against one of the walls, flipping it open and snatching the gear form inside. Returning to my side, he laid down a roll of bandages, a few stimpacks, gauze, tape, and sterile saline next to me. With a pocket knife he began cutting away at my acid eroded jean. After untying my boots and chucking them to the floor, he cleansed both of my legs with the saline before winding the bandages around the worst of the burns, taping them off snugly.

I laid back against the counter, using Danse’s BOS jacket as a pillow as he worked. Every once in a while he would have me change positions or give him one of my arms. I knew he had injected a stimpack at some point, as indicated by the sudden rush of relief I felt.

With a dampened towel he finally moved to my face, lightly wiping away the majority of the grime and blood to reveal the damage underneath. “Maybe Preston was right…” he started, running a hand through his hair as he glanced back at the supplies he had left.

“What do you mean?”

“It was wrong to make you do what you did. I knew it was risky but I went along with it, going against my gut. I had a feeling you would run into trouble going in on your own… but I didn’t want to reject your strategy outright either.”

“You’re acting like I would have given you a choice. Aren’t you always going on and on about how stubborn I am?”

He chuckled quietly, pressing some gauze to my temple, securing it in place. “I suppose so, yes. But-“

“It’s not your fault, Danse. You can’t keep blaming yourself for everything.”

His eye brows furrowed together. “I don’t-“

“You do. Everything.” I sat up to be level with him “You don’t always have to take responsibility for the actions of others.”

“I’m your leader, your commanding officer…”

“Pffft, like that’s every stopped me before.”

He sighed. “Okay, fine. But next time you want to do something crazy like this, don’t be surprised if I say no.”

Together we put away the unused equipment and then returned outside with the others. We spent the majority of the evening creating a beacon, clearing away the mirelurk corpses, and finding a suitable place for all of us to sleep. Settlers began pouring in, aiding us even further. Water pumps were put up, fires started, and seeds planted. Scraps of cloth and metal were collected from the surrounding areas and were starting to get repurposed into other items. Danse helped out build defenses and guard the perimeter.

As night fell we had the beginnings of a proper settlement.

Within a three or four weeks, they would be flourishing with activity and life. This would be a true home from the Minutemen and the lost people of the Commonwealth. Preston should be proud for all the work he had accomplished.

Danse found me as everyone started to head to bed. I was leaning against one of the outside walls away from the main area, watching the stars begin to blink into existence. With the sun down, the air had a chill to it and I was thankful for the change of clothes one of the woman had provided for me. Though they were a size or two too big, I loved the warmth they provided. I had a half finished bottle of beer at my feet, I had been sipping on it for the better part of the last hour. What can I say, I’m a light weight and I knew it. No point in getting sh*t faced drunk.

We were nearing the end of our week of absence… and closing in on my final decision. I had been listing the pros and cons of both options for the past day. I knew what I wanted.

“So?” I greeted, glancing at him for a moment before returning to the stars.

He took a spot next to me, his arm gently nestled against my own. “I figured we could stay here for a few days, help make sure everything is in order and give you a chance to heal. Then, we can head back to the Prydwen. Elder Maxson won’t mind if we are gone for a day or two more.”

I hesitated, biting my bottom lip.

“Do you want more time? I’m sure I could message him if that’s what you want.”

I averted my gaze, focusing on the horizon as if it was suddenly extremely fascinating.

“Did you want to go back do Diamond City? Or to Sanctuary? Was there somewhere else we needed to go before returning?”

I shook my head, rubbing my hands together in front of me. “Danse… I don’t think I’ll be going back with you.” My voice was barely above a whisper as I spoke, barely audible.

He spun to face me fully, lips parted, eyes wide. “What?” spoken as if the air had been stolen from his lungs.

“I’m going to stay here. I’m not returning to the Prydwen.” I couldn’t look at him, wouldn’t dare.

“You mean, as in, you want me to go back first and then you’ll come later once you’ve helped the Minutemen some more?”

He didn’t get it, how could he? Never would he assume I would make this decision. Hell, I hadn’t either until this afternoon. “No, as in I’m not returning ever.”

Danse took a step back, as if I had physically pushed him. “Ever?”


“But…” he shook his head, switching his weight from foot to foot. “You said you would consider it.”

“And I did. My decision is to not go back.”

His disbelief twisted to anger, to frustration, to hurt. “You’re just abandoning the Brotherhood then?”

“Oh, cut the act. It doesn’t have to black and white!” I quipped.

“Black and white is exactly what this situation is. You’re abandoning the Brotherhood. Because… Because what? Because of what happened two nights ago?”

I inhaled sharply, teeth gritting together. “Nothing happened two nights ago,” acid pouring into my voice. “I personally have no interest in butchering my own son in order to overthrow the Institute because the Brotherhood is blinded by their flawed ideals!”

“Flawed ideals?” he laughed though it held no humor, only rage. “And the Minutemen have better ones then?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“But you’re choosing to stay with them!”

I turned towards him then. “Because of Shaun!”

I had never seen him this visibly furious. “You and I both know that’s not the only reason.”

He wasn’t wrong. Yes, what happened, or didn’t happen, two nights ago was part of it. What happened this afternoon was part of it. I needed him. I needed him like the air I breathed. And that need was what was causing all of this. That need was going to make me pick between Danse and Shaun. I would have to save one only to slate the other for death. I couldn’t do that. I just couldn’t f*cking stomach it. “What does it matter?”

“It matters to me!”

“That’s just too damn bad then isn’t it, Danse?”

“You’re going to throw away everything?”

“I’m not throwing away anything!”

“Yes, you are! Maxson and Haylen and Ingram, everyone depends on you! What about Jeremy and Tim? What am I going to say to them when you don’t return? You made an oath to us! If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” he snarled.

I blinked up at him. What? What?! “So, what… What in your head has deluded you into thinking that just because I’m not with you means that I am going to merrily skip my way over to the Institute?”

“Hell if I know. I clearly don’t know you!”

“I could say the same of you, couldn’t I?”

We glared each other down, fuming, breath coming fast and furious, jaws tight and eyes wide with anger.

“I think you better leave,” I finally bit out. I didn’t want him to leave, far from it. But I knew if he stayed, we would have this conversation again and again… and eventually I would give in. He belonged with the BOS, it was his home. And I was worried I would change my mind if he didn’t leave sooner rather than later.

He didn’t move, only continued to stare. “So, this is it then? You give up? You quit?”

“Yeah, I guess I’m a quitter. Happy you got rid of me early on then?”

Danse shook his head again, disbelief coloring his features. “Fine. Fine. Whatever. Be stubborn, see if I f*cking care.” He already had his rifle and the rest of his belongings were at the gas station, right where he had left them earlier in the day.

He took a tentative step forward, that added distance enough to make me want to lurch forward with him, to bury my face in his back, to plead him to stay regardless of what I had just said. Don’t go, I wanted to say. Danse paused looking back at me, his face hidden in darkness. “Your bunk will always be open if you want to return.”

“I won’t.” Don’t go. Don’t leave me.

“It’ll be open,” he repeated. Then he walked away, disappearing into the night.

Chapter 17: The Paladin's Side

Chapter Text

The air was thick with moisture, coating his skin in a layer of water and slicking his hair back. The pit reeked of mud and mildew, a stench so strong it penetrated through everything else. Thunder clouds overhead screamed down their protests to the world, pelting the wasteland’s dirt with heaves of rain and sleet. The droplets pelted off of his power armor, ticking against the metal.

With an uneasy breath, he descended into the hole.

The steps were familiar, he had walked them before… several times, countless times. How many nights had he been forced to relive this? Unable to walk away, unable to shield his eyes from the scene that he knew would lay ahead.

He knew the end result, he understood that the inevitable he would have to face.

But, Steel, that didn’t make it any easier.

His footsteps echoed through the miniature valley, his armor making a stealthy approach impossible. But then again, he didn’t care… he wanted this nightmare over as quickly as humanly possible.

Telltale growls and grunts reached his ears, reverberating off of the stonework and barren landscape. Supermutants… a hive of them, their nest. Their grotesque flesh glistened with rain, their forms malformed and mutated, gnarled fingers grasping weapons as he approached.

But they faded away as his feet touched the mouth of their home, bodies swirling lifelessly into the air before disappearing from existence… until one remained.

The abomination’s back was to the soldier as it spoke, words twisted around a misshapen jaw, “Why didn’t you come for me sooner?”

“I tried.”

“You did nothing. You were too frightened, too scared, wallowing too much in your own self-pity and grief.”

The monstrosity wasn’t wrong. Not entirely.

“Three weeks, it’s been, since you left me behind.”

“I didn’t mean to, Cutler.”

The beast turned on him, eyes pierced with a fierce hatred, puss-filled fingers snatching up the nail ridden club at his side. “You did nothing,” he repeated the accusation, words filled malice. “You did this to me!”

Danse raised Righteous Authority; his actions held little vigor. They were halfhearted, meek, feeble.

He knew what must be done.

Though he closed his eyes from the scene, he could hear the sound of his gun firing, as if of its own accord. He awaited Cutler’s screen of pure white hot agony as his bullets ripped through his flesh and bone.

But it never came.

What he heard instead made his blood run cold.

Her cry penetrated into his very being, ripped through his soul. He heard her body collapse to the floor, felt the air grow heavier. No….

His eyes flew open, his lips parted in horror.

The scene had changed. He stood not within the hive of the supermutants, but outside the Castle. The ramparts were void of soldiers though he could just make out the sound of the propeller of a vertibird somewhere off in the distance. Night had fallen, stars twinkling above his head. His power armor was gone, in its place he wore nothing more than his Brotherhood of Steel fatigues.

And ahead of him… laid Ashtyn.

She was grasping at the gaping hole in her chest, her skin sizzling and burning from his rifle. She desperately attempted to fill her lungs with air as her face paled.

His gun fell to his feet as he dove for her, pulling her fragile body into his arms.

But she firmly planted her palms against his chest and tried to escape. “You did this to me!” an echo of Cutler’s words. “You left me behind!”

“No…. No, no,” he whispered but his throat was thick with emotions he couldn’t describe, his voice came out muddled.

“You… did,” she wheezed, breath coming faster, eyes going glossy.

“Don’t leave,” he practically begged, clutching at her with his fingers even as she struggled to rid herself of him.

“Your… fault…” then her body went limp.


His boot slammed heavily onto the steel flooring of the bunk room he once shared. His fingers worked to tighten the faded laces, tying them neatly when he was finished.

It had been a week. Seven days. No contact, no note, no message, no nothing.

Nothing but the nightmares.

Danse glanced over to her bed, a frown turning the corners of his mouth downwards. It was obvious she wasn’t there – aside from the sheer lack of endless talking, her belongings were no longer spewed around the cot, the covers were tucked in, and everything looked neat and tidy. Completely to code.

Funny, he once scolded her for not taking her duties more seriously… and now he wanted nothing more than for her old habits to return, simply because it would mean she was back.

He could still hear the way he shouted at her, accused her of being the enemy, of siding against them. His gut twisted uncomfortably, a lump formed in his throat. He hadn’t meant it. f*ck, he hadn’t meant a single word. All that training, the years of composing himself and swallowing his emotions… and she somehow managed to rip through all of it. But he had been so lost, so confused, and though he didn’t want to openly admit it, hurt. He hadn’t been prepared for her to refuse returning to the Prydwen. Sure, there had been a tiny, miniscule, almost nonexistence percentage of a chance she would but…. For it to actually happen?

She was always so full of surprises.

He fought a yawn as it tore past his lips, eyes heavy from a sheer lack of sleep. Once, it had only been Cutler who frequented his dreams… but now Ashtyn’s face had joined his, tormenting him.

“You think staring at her bed will make her come back?” Haylen cut in, leaning in through the open door. She wore her scribe uniform, backpack already on her shoulders indicating that she intended on heading out shortly. “Where did you say she went again? The Elder told me but I can’t remember.”

“She is helping the Minutemen for a few more weeks and then will return to duty.” Lies… the first he had told in a long time.

“Right,” Haylen replied, slowly entering the room completely, moving to take a seat on the empty cot across from him. “And, just out of curiosity, what’s the real reason?”

Danse’s head snapped up, eyes widening a fraction of an inch. “Real reason?”

“Please, you can’t fool me. Lying was Ash’s forte, not yours.” Haylen rolled her eyes as if he was a complete imbecile for not being aware of such an apparent factoid. “Elder Maxson may believe you undoubtedly but I know you, Danse. Besides, she wouldn’t have done something like this without telling me. Where is she?”

Danse broke eye contact. He should have known Haylen would see right through it. Ash and she had been close friends, of course Haylen would call him out on his bluff. The two were practically inseparable whenever Ashtyn was back on the ship for longer than an hour or two. What they did to fill their time, he had no clue, just that Ash would be late to her training sessions and covered in either flour or paint more times than he could count. “Well, she is with the Minutemen… that part is true.”

“So, the bit about her coming back in a few weeks then? Is she going to be one longer? Or…?”

“It’s the ‘or’. She’s not coming back, Haylen.”

Haylen leaned back, face paling by a shade. “What?” she breathed, reaction so similar to his own when he had found out. God, it felt like an eternity ago.

“Yeah. Said it was about her son.” He hadn’t waited to get the full details, simply assumed that she hadn’t wanted to be part of the team that would go in to infiltrate the Institute. She had a valid point, Maxson would get her close to the action, use her relationship with Shaun to his advantage, hoping that her son wouldn’t shoot at his own mother. Given Ash’s report on ‘Father’, however, Danse wasn’t so sure that strategy would work.

“Wow…” She paused, peeking up at him. “So, what are you going to do without her?”

“What do you mean? Rhys and I can partner up on missions for the time being. In fact, we are headed out to Medford Memorial Hospital to retrieve a high-powered magnet for Ingram today.”

Haylen bit her bottom lip, shaking her head. “I didn’t mean on missions, sir.”

Danse arched a brow at her, confusion coloring his features. “Then what?”

“I… I may be wrong but I had the impression you two were close. Not like close-close, of course. But close. You know? With her gone… I just wanted to know if you were okay with that?”

f*ck. How many people thought this? Had it reached the Elder? He ran a hand through his already wild hair, tangling it further. “We aren’t ‘close’.”

Haylen pouted, angling her head to the side. “So you don’t like her? It looked like you liked her to me.”

“I didn’t… I didn’t say that. But… It’s more complicated than I care to explain.” His mind flashed back to the computer terminal he had seen Ingram working on. The words on the screen making his heart race… Did he even have the ability to have those types of feelings? Did he even deserve it?

What a rhetorical question… Given who he was, what he was, the answer was so blatantly obvious. No, he didn’t deserve a damn thing, nothing other than a swift execution.

Haylen’s lips parted, a continued quip on her tongue but it swallowed when Rhys poked his head in through the door. “Paladin Danse, sir, are you ready to depart? Gear is ready on the vertibird, pilot is waiting for you.”

Danse gave a curt nod, standing from his cot and pulling his pack out from under the bed. He could suit up in his painted combat armor on the way there. Hefting the bag onto his right shoulder and equipping his laser rifle to the other, he began to step towards the exit to the bunk room. He paused long enough to glance back at Haylen, her expression displaying a mix of emotions though one was more prominent than the others: despair. “Haylen?”

She peeked up at him. “Yes, sir?”

“To answer your question… I don’t know what I’ll do. And no, I’m not okay with it.”

He tore his gaze from hers and withdrew into the hallway, following Rhys to the upper decks where the vertibirds were stored.


Danse leaned around cover, eyeing the room ahead through the dust and filth that littered the air with tiny particles. Rhys was to his right, ducked behind an over-turned table, assorted medical supplies distributed around the ground in front of it.

Medford Memorial Hospital was teeming with supermutants. Gore bags hung from the rafters, blood soaked most of the tiles, mutilated body parts swayed back and forth in the windows and across doorways. At one time, Danse would have been terrified of such a display of gruesome behavior but now… now it was commonplace and a sign that he was doing the right thing.

Without Ashtyn at his side, the mission was going surprisingly according to plan. Aside from a few mild abrasions, neither Rhys nor Danse had sustained any injuries, they still were full on stimpacks, and they had even managed to find some other resources the Brotherhood may be interested in.

To be perfectly honest, it was incredibly dull and boring.

Never would Danse had guessed that he would miss her sarcasm and wit, her irrational behavior, her last minute gut reactions...

He co*cked his head backwards, motioning for Rhys to move up to the next line of cover with him. The theater room rested ahead, barricaded by a single supermutant, the only one remaining. The magnet Ingram wanted them to retrieve was somewhere inside according to their sources. It was child’s play really, killing this mutant would not only be to the benefit of all of the Commonwealth, but it would be simplistic.

Rhys raised his gun, targeting his enemy with what Danse assumed was precise accuracy. Danse raised his right hand, and gestured for him to execute the monstrosity.

“Good work, soldier,” Danse complimented as he stood from behind the terminal desk, holstering his rifle, beginning to scan the perimeter for any remaining threats or tripwires, stray grenades or traps.

“Thank you, sir. All in all, a successful mission, if I may be so bold.” Rhys beamed, eyes alight with his sense of accomplishment. “I was truly thrilled to work with you again, sir” he continued as he started to go through the drawers and containers, looting for spare ammo and supplies. “We haven’t teamed up much since… Since the Cambridge Police Station.”

Since Ashtyn. Rhys’ attempts to hide his disdain of the woman were sloppy; most of the Prydwen knew he wasn’t a fan. While the majority paid him no attention, his spouts of anger towards her had generated some reputation and had even managed to denote her to lower shelf work at times. It was an issue Danse had worked hard to rectify though Ash’s current actions were not making the situation any easier.

“It is good to work with you too, Rhys,” Danse replied. He had moved towards the back of the theater. He wasn’t quite sure what he was looking for, Ingram’s depiction had not been artist quality and her tone of voice had made it seem like he should be able to find it without ease.

There were opened cans of food, broken wires, shattered computer screens, shards of glass, long forgotten metal containers, files left open, and downed chairs.

Had Ashtyn been here, she would have been peppering him with information about the Hospital. She would tell him what this operating theater had been used for, what the people who worked here did, how the medical procedures were different, and so on. Ever since he found out about her past, she had been more open with her knowledge of Pre-War Commonwealth. Her face would light up, eyes would sparkle as she would recall memories from her childhood. He could still her laughter when he would ask a question she thought was silly or redundant, her chiding response spoken around a smile that made his heart race.


“Is this it, sir?” Rhys called form his position on the other side of the room, effectively pulling him from his trance. In Rhys’ gloved hand he held a circular bit of metal with color wires sticking out haphazardly around it. Danse was not one hundred percent certain this was the item Ingram was searching for but his gut told him it matched her description better than anything else here.

“Outstanding, Knight. We will do one more sweep of the building on our way out, and then we will make our way back to the Prydwen.”


“Sir, freedom to speak?” Rhys requested. They were in the docking bay, returning their equipment to its respective lockers. Ingram was busy installing the magnet with Doctor Li and had told Danse to return in a few hours to check on progress.

Danse unbuckled the armor piece from his left thigh, placing it in the open locker before replying. “You always have freedom to speak with me, soldier, you know that.” Ever since they had lost most of their patrol, Danse had informed Haylen and Rhys to keep all lines of communication open between them. They had to know each other’s weaknesses, strengths, and secrets in order to pull through what would otherwise be an impossible mission. Hell, it had been impossible before Ashtyn showed up.

“It’s about Knight Jones.”

The Paladin paused, arching a brow up at the Knight. ‘What about her?”

Rhys took a seat on the wooden plank that served as a bench, the board suspended in the air by a few cinder blocks stacked atop each other. “I… overheard your conversation with Haylen. I had no intentions on eavesdropping but I had information to give to you and… I apologize. But…” He trailed off, eyes glued on the space between them.

“Go ahead, Rhys.”

The Knight took an unsteady breath in, slowly exhaling before continuing. “I believe that it would be in the best interest of the Brotherhood for Knight Jones not to return.” When he finally raised his gaze to meet his superior’s, Rhys’ held nothing but confidence and determination. He truly believed what he was saying was the truth and nothing but the truth. While Danse wasn’t outwardly surprised by his partner’s statement, the malice behind it stung.

“And what is your reasoning behind this, solider?”

“Her ideals are not in alignment with our code, she is insubordinate and rebellious, she lacks the obedience and training to follow orders, and she has put you, me, and others in danger on countless occasions.” Ah, so Rhys had been staying up to date on Danse’s reports and mission summaries. “I have seen her conversing with synths and ghouls as well.” Likely referring to Nick Valentine, Curie, and Hanco*ck. Nick was a detective from Diamond City, the one she had used to locate Shaun. While Danse had not been thrilled with the prospect of working with a robot, he agreed to it. Valentine wasn’t a threat nor was he part of the Institution, he was nothing more than a man who wanted to help a grieving mother. Curie, on the other hand, had once been a scientific tool who wanted to experience human emotions in order to facilitate new ideas. Ashtyn gifted her that ability with the help of Doctor Amari at Memory Den. He couldn’t fault her for that either. Hanco*ck, while a bit of a crazed drug addict, was the mayor of Goodneighbor and a kind hearted man to the very end. It had taken Danse a few days to warm up to him… Had it not been for Ashtyn, he would still believe that every ghoul and synth he ran into was out to destroy him.

Or maybe this line of thought originated from his new knowledge of who he was.

“Her companions are no threat to us or the Brotherhood of Steel,” Danse countered, shaking off his conjecture. “And while her method of tact, or lack thereof from your point of view, is not necessarily what the Brotherhood advocates, she always manages to get the job done and has not suffered any loses.”

“Is that the Paladin speaking or is it your own personal bias?” Rhys bit back, expression darkening. “With all due respect, I know she used to be important to you but you have to realize that your fondness of her is causing you to have poor judgement.”

“My judgement is fine, soldier,” Danse’s tone made it blatantly clear that Rhys was beginning to overstep boundaries.

“I used to look up to you! You used to be the Paladin I wanted to be. Now you sit by and allow her to bend and break long standing rules and traditions. How can you do that? Why is she so goddamn special? What makes her better than the rest of us?”

“This conversation is over.” Danse stood, slamming the locker shut in the process. “When you’re done here, head to the bridge to report to Elder Maxson,” he ground out before exiting the bay.

He wasn’t sure what was worse… the fact that he couldn’t listen to Rhys insult Ashtyn, or that he knew Rhys was right but he didn’t want to do anything to change it.

Danse stood from his bench and slammed his locker door shut, scowl still plastered on his face as he exited the bay. He made a beeline for the upper decks, wanting to debrief with Maxson. He found the Elder perched along the flight deck, arms crossed behind his back as he stared out over the horizon.

Arthur was… complicated. More so than the Elders that had come before him. Though there had been some question as to how exactly he came into power, most people had come to respect him as a leader. Including Danse. Maxson was more than that to him though, more than a figure head, more than an Elder.

He was a close and treasured friend.

Danse clapped the man on his shoulder as he came to stand abreast with him. “Admiring the view?”

Arthur offered a partial smile in reply, bobbing his head. “More like worrying about the days to come.”

“What about? We have an excellent strategy, outstanding brothers and sisters, and Liberty Prime is almost complete. The Institute won’t know what hit them.”

“It’s more than that, Danse. Not just the Commonwealth and what we are doing here. But… It’s just, if we fail… we are failing so many people. Though Knight’s Jones reports on the Institute were detailed, I worry that there is something she missed, some sort of power or mechanism that they have planned to counteract our forces.”

Danse tried to sound reassuring, “Even so. They cannot have planned for Liberty, they cannot have planned for our numbers. They are nothing but scientists. They are not soldiers.”

Maxson blew out a steady breath. “Perhaps you’re right.”

“You worry too much.”

Arthur turned to him, grey eyes laden with the weight he carried. “Did you need something? I doubt you came up here to listen to my burdens.”

“As always, I’m here to share them. But, you are correct. I wanted to inform you that Rhys and I have returned with the parts of Ingram. The Knight is bringing them down to the airport as we speak. I was wondering what our next move was.” Without Ashtyn at his side, however, he couldn’t help but feel that, regardless of the plan they had set out before them, it held almost no purpose or meaning to him. He couldn’t pinpoint when taking down the Institute had switched from a quest of duty to one of a more personal type.

“Scribe Haylen and you will head to the Glowing Sea. Jones’ previous foray there proved that our power armored suits can withstand the radiation enough for us to make a decent trek. There is an abandoned facility there filled to bursting with nukes. Liberty Prime needs fire power, and we intend to use those nukes as our weapons.” The look that crossed Maxson’s face was one best described of that of a child playing with a new toy, excitement and awe. “Be careful out here though… The area is infested with deathclaws, radscorpians, and other such dangerous beasts. I want you and Haylen to both come back in one piece. Do I make myself clear?”

“Affirmative.” Danse raised his hand in salute.

“Make me proud, Danse.”

“I will, sir.”


“Holy sh*t, sir,” Haylen breathed, voice distorted from the power armor.

So far, their task for Maxson had gone by rather smoothly. The facility had been easy to locate with the help of some mapping equipment (typically he would rely on Ashtyn’s PipBoy but…). However, the building itself had been poorly managed. It wasn’t until they got to the lower floors did they begin to see some resemblance of Pre-War tech.

Ah, and they found the bombs too.

Haylen stared open mouthed at the rooms. “Proctor Ingram is going to be so pleased. I’m pleased! This is amazing. I didn’t know this was hiding down here! You think Ingram needs all of these?”

“Don’t get any ideas, Haylen,” Danse chuckled, knowing the woman was likely concocting a variety of uses for the nukes. Shooting them from the Prydwen would be interesting, but he wasn’t sure if Elder Maxson would be as agreeable.

The magnet Rhys and he had retrieved had been installed without complication. However, Liberty Prime lacked fire power… thus, nukes. Lots of nukes.

“Okay, fine. You win this one, Paladin,” she grinned back, elbowing him in her power armored suit. “But, I guess we should take stock and then return to Ingram, tell her that she was right. We could probably be back here with in a day or two, shouldn’t take too many Vertibirds to fly this cargo out of here.” She was crunching numbers, already attempting to figure out how many members from the shipment team they would need.

But this was where they were going to part ways. He had planned everything in advance, packed what he needed, and stored it away before heading out with Haylen in the first place. He knew where he was going to go, how he was going to get there. All that sneaking he had done with Ashtyn was going to pay off.

“-and then Prime should be good to go, right?”

“Right,” Danse had missed most of the conversation but, he supposed that in the end, it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to be there for it.

“Alright, so you ready to head out then?”

“Actually, I have orders to stay with the bombs. You’re to return and tell the Elder and I will remain here to assure that nothing happens to them.”

Haylen’s eyebrows furrowed, a crease forming between them to indicate her confusion. “What? Elder Maxson didn’t tell me that part.”

“My mistake. I should have informed you when we departed from the Prydwen but I must have been caught up in my enthusiasm. I forgot. I apologize, Scribe.”

“No offense taken but… are you sure you’re going to be okay here?”

He was thankful for the suit that covered his face, thankful she couldn’t see his face pale, his eyes squint, his jaw set… Thankful she couldn’t tell he was lying. “I brought rations to last me a week and enough ammo to suffice. I will be able to hold out sufficiently until you return.”

“Well…” she sighed, looking back at the lift that would take her to surface. “If you’re certain?”

“I am. And you won’t get lost on your way back?”

“Of course not! You worry too much!” Haylen started for the elevator, he could practically hear her eyes rolling in her head.

As she hit the bottom to call it down to her, Danse broke the silence, “Haylen? Know that you are an amazing soldier, I could not have asked for a better Scribe to serve me while we were held down at the Police Station. Don’t ever second guess yourself. You’ve made me proud.”

Haylen scoffed. “Why are you getting all sentimental on me? Does Ashtyn like this type of thing?”

Ashtyn would have thrown a rock at him. “Just think of it as a pep talk for the walk back, since you’re doing it alone.”

“Aww, well thank you, sir. It was an honor to work with you. I’ll see you in a few days, okay?” She stepped onto the lift, raised her hand in farewell. “Be safe down here, Paladin Danse. Ad Victoriam!”

“Ad Victoriam, Haylen,” he whispered in reply as she disappeared above.

And goodbye…

Chapter 18: The Survivor's Side

Chapter Text

Sunlight peeked in through the open window, the air already sticky with the humidity that hung heavily around me. My hair, drenched in a cold sweat, matted to the back of my neck. Every muscle groaned in protest, begging that I remain in bed just a little longer.

But I could already hear movement outside, voices whispering in.

I had helped Preston and the other Minutemen repair much of the Castle. We boarded up the breached wall, repaired a substantial portion of the foundation, and got electricity running throughout the fortress. We had plenty of water and the crops were already planted out in the courtyard. Turrets had been put up along the perimeter with a few guard posts dotted in between. It was fortified, well protected, and ready to go.

Random civilians found their way to us once we got the radio beacon functioning. Most of my other companions came to join me too – Cait, Codsworth, Curie, MacCready, and Deacon. Piper and Nick stayed in Diamond City, not wanting to leave their area of work. Same with Hanco*ck and Goodneighbor. I couldn’t blame them. It was just nice to have a few people here I cared about. And, surprisingly, they were all getting along for once.

The bed shifted behind me, a weight bearing down the other side of the cot. A body nuzzled against my back causing me to turn towards it, burying my face in his torso. I ran my finger up and down his spine, giggling when his tongue lapped against my cheek.

“Okay, okay, I’m getting up, mutt. Sheesh,” I laughed out, ruffling the top of Dogmeat’s head, the canine wiggled with glee to see that his best bud ever was awake. He yipped at me playfully, standing on all fours and leaping off of the bed. I had to admit, it was a nice way to start my morning. Even if it was a bit full of slobber. I ran the back of my hand along my face, brushing off the worst of it.

“I knew sending him in here would get your sorry ass out of bed, boss,” Deacon chuckled from the doorway, leaning against the frame with his left shoulder, arms crossed. Today he was sporting a blonde wig, black pants, and a blue flannel button down that was tucked in at the waist line. Oh, and his sun glasses, as always.

“Oh please, the sun isn’t even up all the way yet,” I grumbled, rolling my eyes at him.

“Well, I’m bored and Cait is too interested in her chems to do anything really exciting. Curie and Codsworth are bickering over what type of upgrades the turrets could benefit the most from, and I’m not all that into the whole techy-techy mumbo jumbo thing. Mac is busy helping Preston do adult things. You’re the only one who does anything fun,” he looked entirely exasperated.

I stretched my arms above my head, wincing in the slightest when none of the tension left my body, leaving me just as tight as ever. “Well, what do you want to do?”

“Garvey did give me a little job. Super easy.”

“Okay, what is it?” I stood, moving to the cupboard that held the majority of my clothes. I slung on a pair of ratty jeans riddled with holes and a brown t-shirt that hung loosely around my hips, a size too big for my frame. I would have to run my head through some running water before putting it up.

“He wants us to explore the basem*nt. That chick, Ronnie Whatever, said that we should be able to access the armory through the lower tunnels. Said he wanted me to check it out. Figured you would be interested.”

Ah, Ronnie Shaw. She was part of the Minutemen, higher up than Preston by the sounds of it. She had turned her nose up at us when she first arrived here a few days ago but was beginning to see that we weren’t totally useless. We had clashed a few times, our arguments weren’t pretty but I think we were beginning to see eye to eye. It sounded like she actually intended to help us now, not just offer snide feedback.

“Huh, well alright then. Meet you at the doorway in a few minutes then?”

“Sure thing, boss.” Deacon ducked out of the room and disappeared down the hallway to the left.

Dogmeat followed me to the water faucets along the southern wall. I twisted one on, hissing as ice cold water slammed against my open palms. “Better than the heat, I guess,” I muttered as I dunked my head in the frostbite worthy waterfall. I squeezed out the excess water before tying my hair up into a pony tail, the tip brushing against my shoulder blades. It was getting longer. Too long.

“Alright bud, you stay out here, okay?” I ordered Dogmeat, patting him on his back. He whined at me, tail drooping and face falling. “Oh, don’t give me that look. I just know you don’t like enclosed spaces. The basem*nt isn’t going to be fun anyways. Probably going to smell like mold and mildew. Icky.”

With a defeated expression he trotted off towards the ramparts, likely where Preston and MacCready were at.

I rejoined Deacon, waving at him as I closed the distance. “You’re right, boss, soaked is a much better look for you,” he commented.

“We can’t all pull off the ‘I’m a cheeky bastard’ ensemble, can we?” I played back. With a more serious tone I glanced at the door, “Any idea what’s down there?”

“Nope. It’s going to be one big surprise. We just cleared the rubble away yesterday evening. Could be anything.” He paused, shifting his weight from foot to foot. “Ten caps we find a feral ghoul who wants to learn how to love.”

“Oh, real cute, Deacon,” I quipped, shaking my head but unable to remove the smile from my face. It was refreshing to have him back, I missed his stupid jokes.

Together we trudged into the lower levels of the Castle. The place reeked of decay, the walls oozed with mold and radiated water, and the dirt below us caked our boots. I allowed Deacon to take the lead, not wanting to find the soft spots in the ground first for fear of sinking in.

Deacon was part of an organization known as the Railroad. They were a secret group that stowed away under one of the old churches in downtown Boston, allying with runaway synths who had escaped the Institute. They gave these synths a fresh chance at life, a clean slate, the ability to create a new life with a new face. I had stumbled upon them on sheer accident during one of my patrols for the Brotherhood. Though I did not agree with everything they did, I helped them whenever I could. Obviously, the Brotherhood of Steel knew little of my allegiance with the union – I wouldn’t dare put the Railroad in danger.

If the Brotherhood knew… A shiver fled down my spine, making my hair stand on end.

“Shoulda bet against me boss, no ghouls down here,” Deacon commented as we took another turn. The next hallway was flanked by large steel pipes that ran lengthwise down the corridor. They were inactive, covered in rust, and crumbling at the seams. Brain mushrooms dotted the remaining wall space. “Though, guess we have the ghoul bit covered any ways with Hanco*ck. Don’t really need another.”

“If Hanco*ck were here,” I threatened, a spirited tone indicating I wasn’t serious.

“He’d probably kill us by lighting up. There could be loose gas down here, we would go up in flames just so he could have some Jet.”

“Fair enough.”

He tripped over something, stumbling forwards a few steps before catching his balance. “It’s so god damn dark down here!”

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but that’s a common side effect of wearing sun glasses indoors.”

He swiveled around enough to give me a shake of his head and continued forwards.

When I had first met Deacon, I wasn’t sure about him. He was an oddity, abnormal in every way. He switched between disguises as frequently as the weather changed, wanting to throw off any of his pursuers (though I have was beginning to wonder if they even existed in the first place). Hell, some of my own clothes had gone missing. He was a habitual liar, spewing tall tales and fake replies like it was his job. Maybe it was. I truly wasn’t one hundred percent certain what Desdamona was paying him for. Currently, it felt like he was watching me more than anything else.

But with that all being said… he was a close friend and a treasured ally. He had saved my life more times than I could count though perhaps fewer than Danse. He was always there to make me smile, capable of brightening my mood no matter how down I was.

I yelped as I ran right into him, my head so full that I forgot to look where I was going. “Yeah, hi, right here. Thanks,” he chided, having stopped to listen to something I was only now becoming aware of. He raised a finger to his lips.

“Movement detected,” a drone voice echoed out.

“sh*t,” Deacon hissed next to me, reaching for his shotgun. I already had my own rifle out and ready.

“Sentry bot designation SARGE powering up!”

“Why can’t they ever power DOWN,” I groaned, trotting my way over to a slab of overturned cement across from Deacon, wanting to be able to flank the enemy. Sentry bots were no joke – they were huge, powerful, and had one hell of a nasty temper when agitated. Oh, and they blew up upon termination. They were JUST SUPER.

“Why don’t you ask it?” Deacon quipped back.

What was it even doing down here? The room up ahead was lit by a florescent red light positioned in the ceiling. There was a door in the far right corner of the room, metal by the looks of it. I assumed that would take us to the armory Ronnie mentioned to Deacon. However, we would have to get through metal bodyguard here in order to access it.

“Comparing intruders to known Minutemen roster.”

Well, f*ck. I wouldn’t happen to be on that list, would I?”

“Error. File corruption detected.”

Guess not.

Without hesitation the sentry bot roared forward, slamming headfirst into the brick pillar that separated the entrance of the room. Loose bricks flew haphazardly out, careening into the structures, forcing Deacon and I to cower behind our makeshift refuge in order to prevent being pummeled.

SARGE back peddled rapidly, the dual machine guns he used for hands beginning their rotation. While they heated up, I took a few shots at its fortified core but my bullets did nothing but ricochet off harmlessly. Deacon was pumping away with his shotty to no avail. Well, that was f*cking fantastic. Our guns were useless against these things.

The only time I had ever taken one down was when I had been in power armor.

Which I now didn’t have.

The whirling of the guns stalled…

They shifted slightly, their aim altering to zero in on my spot.


I dove back towards the hallway Deacon was in just in time, bullets rained down around me, flying through the air with such speed.

“Go! Go go gogoGOGO!” I urged, yanking Deacon along with me.

“You got a plan with this flee of yours?” he bit, voice breathless as he dashed after me, SARGE giving chase.

“Uh….” Nope, no I didn’t. No plan. I hadn’t thought to bring grenades down with me so I couldn’t swing for that team. sh*t, what did I do when my ‘go to’ wasn’t an option?

I reached a hand out to clasp the corner of the wall, using the momentum to boost me around the curve. SARGE unloaded another round of ammo, the pellets cascading off the wall and sending bits and pieces of shrapnel back at us. My heart leapt upwards into my throat, my breath coming out in uneasy, strained puffs. My adrenaline was kicking in, giving me one hell of a high. Everything was snapping into focus, beginning to slow down, giving me more precision.

Okay, alright. Think. Go back to Danse’s training. What did he tell you about sentry bots? Aside from the obvious. They were heavily reinforced, essentially impossible to take down with civilian based guns and ammunition. Rocket launchers and Fatmen were good alternatives but it wasn’t as if we had any of those lying around. There had to be another option…

Wait… that was it! “They have a cool down! We just have to keep going, it’ll have to shut off momentarily!”

Deacon sounded just as breathlessly as me as he replied, “Great, just one question?”


“We are running out of basem*nt. What next?”

Guess we were taking this into the courtyard then.

I lurched into the wooden oak doors that separated the lower levels from the main Fort. I was prepared to shout at anyone in the room, warn them on the impending danger, alert them of the threat that was on my heels.

But it was empty.

And gunfire was already present.

But not inside…

The alarm bell was ringing throughout the Castle.

We were under attack.

In my confusion, I had stopped dead in my tracks. Deacon raced past me, shouted something at me but his advice fell on deaf ears as a voice fizzled to life over the intercom. “The Institute is attacking! This is not a drill! Repeat: the Institute is attacking!”

No, I had thought I was safe from that here. I thought I had gotten away from it! Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t I just go on with my life? Why-

White hot agony detonated in my left flank, my body sent soaring, halting only when it came into brutal contact with the countertops. Glass plates shattered, cups tipped over and relinquished the liquid they had been holding, metal silverware fell to the ground. It felt as if the wind had been stolen from my lungs, the organs now desperately attempting to suck in oxygen through pursed lips and clenched teeth. Lights danced in front of my eyes, my head swam, my stomach squeezing as I was raked with nausea.

I gasped for air, wrapping an arm protectively over my stomach and side as each heart beat corresponded with a pain-induced scream of protest from my muscles. Blood coated my skin, soaked through the shirt I was wearing. “Oh, that’s mine… that’s a lot…” I managed to whimper out, cowering down lower.

As I grasped for some realm of complete consciousness, hands wrapped around my torso, dragged me towards the doorway. My feet were useless below me, chaotically attempting to find assurance from the floor with no actual progress being made. I slumped heavily in my savior’s arms.

My vision was blurred, darkened around the edges. I was just barely able to make out the hallway I was being led down. Though my ears rang, I could hear the sounds of rapid gunfire, the telltale pew of laser muskets and Institute pistols, the emotionless whine of the synths paired with the frenzied shouts from Minutemen.

“Stay… here…” a voice huffed, labored breathing evident. “Be right… back.”

The figure darted out through the exit in front of me, leaving me against the wall for support. The ground beneath me trembled as grenades exploded, the turrets fired.

I pulled my arm away from my side gingerly, inspecting the damage. My side was shredded, flesh and muscle visible through the torn fabric. Blood seeped from the wound, the jagged lines indicative of a sentry bot’s arm. I leaned my head back, parted lips begging for oxygen, eyes closed to stop the world from spinning out of control.

I pressed my palm against the lacerations, struggling to keep myself from bleeding out.

Footsteps… getting closer…


I squinted through my scarcely opened eyes, someone stood over me, cloaked in darkness. His gear… A Courser.

“Target acquired,” he intoned into a device he held. “Objective?”

There was a pause as my brain tried to piece together a plan. I had hardly managed the last time I had come into contact with a Courser… I wasn’t going to be so lucky this time. There was no f*cking way.


My breath caught in my throat.

The Courser freed the gun he carried from the holster at his hip, leveling the barrel with my forehead. “Seems Father doesn’t want any lose ends… doesn’t like the idea of his mommy playing with his enemies. Can’t say I blame him.” He reached a gloved hand out, clasping me around the neck as he lifted me from the ground with a strength I could only label as unhuman. My back scraped along the serrated wall causing me to wince.

“I’m glad it was me who got to take you out, the bitch who killed Z2-47.”

My bloodied fingers tried to pry his hands from my windpipe as I gagged, my feet kicking wildly below me, body wriggling, writhing. But my vision was fading, I was falling, failing, flailing. Resistance was futile.

“This is going to be a pleasure.”

“Get your f*cking hands off of her!”

Something slammed into the Courser, caused his grip to loosen on me. I slumped to the ground, head smacking back against the brickwork.

They were struggling… I had to help…

I tried to stand but my spine didn’t want to hold me, my legs like jelly underneath me. Hands grabbed me once more, I could feel my body being dragged down the corridor, away from the courtyard. No… Not that way… Please…

“I’m sorry, boss…”

And my world was set on fire.


Everything hurt. Beyond hurt. This was a new kind of pain, one I had never experienced before. It had felt as if some cruel ass hole had dumped a few canisters of gasoline on me and then set me ablaze with a lit match. Twitching my pinkie resulted in the blaze cranking up a few notches, heat making me whimper and shake.

Something cool was placed against my forehead, hands feathering over me, uncertain, uneasy.

“I know this was the only way to save her but…” someone said.

“I don’t like it any more than you but it was either this or let that bastard kill her.”

Preston? Deacon?

I wasn’t sure… I wasn’t sure of anything anymore. Nothing except the onslaught of agony I was being forced to endure.


“You have to choose!” Shaun snarled, thrusting the gun into my outstretched hands.

“I can’t!” I begged, tears brimming my eyes, fogging my vision, wetting my cheeks.

“It’s either HIM or ME!”

Shaun stepped back, a light in the distance flickering on to illuminate Danse.

“Family or HIM?” Shaun continued.

“Don’t make me choose!” I pleaded, trying to let go of the pistol but it refused, remaining stuck to my hand as if it were a permanent part of me.

“You can’t keep running from this!”

“I know!”



I jolted awake, inhaling sharply. The pain was at a low simmer now, the room dark, sun set.

My head pounded as I moved to sit, forcing me to lower myself back down onto the cot, the pillow cushioning the fall. A figure stirred by the doorway, his profile visible thanks to the lighting from the hallway. “Easy there, Ash, its okay.”

“Preston?” I croaked out, voice hoarse and throat dry.

“Yeah,” he settled next to me, kneeling to place himself at my height. “You scared us there for a bit.”

“What… what happened?” Talking was difficult, challenging. My lips were sluggish to form, tongue felt thick and heavy in my mouth. When he offered a cup of water I gulped it down. My memory was shattered, only fragments remained from the attack on the Castle. I remembered running from the Sentry bot… “We were under attack by the Institute?”

“Correct. You and Deacon had been patrolling in the basem*nt when it started. I’m not sure what all happened but… Deacon said he found you… and a Courser. He didn’t have a choice… In order to get him off of you, Deacon had to throw a Molotov to distract him. It landed on you, burned you pretty badly. Not to mention the gaping hole in your side where SARGE got you. You’ve been asleep for a few days.”

My eyes widened. A few days? As in… days? How much had I missed? How many people did we lose? Were there survivors? What about Curie and Codsworth? And Dogmeat? And- “I can see the panic in your eyes, everyone is fine. You need to focus on you now.”

“But-“ I pushed off from the mattress, gritting my teeth past a wave of queasiness.

But his hands gently pushed me back down. “Ashtyn, you’re badly injured. Your left arm and leg are burned, your side is shredded. f*cking sit down!”

This wasn’t the first time I had heard him worry about me… but it was the first time I saw it in his eyes, saw it in the tightness of his jaw, the tremor in his fingers. “Damn it, is this what Danse has to deal with all the time?” he was trying to lighten the mood… but the mere mention of the Paladin made my heart shatter a little more.

I missed him.

“Is she awake?” Another head poked its way around the door frame.

Wait… Was that… “Haylen?”

No way…

“Oh Ashtyn!” the young woman darted into the room, practically crawled onto the bed with me and wrapped her arms carefully around me, diligent so not to injure me further. “I’ve missed you so much! It took forever to find you! “

The Scribe wore her typical attire minus the vest. Her eyes were filled with tears as she leaned away from me, cheeks flushed.

I had frightened her, terrified her. “I’m sorry-“ I started but she shook her head to cut me off.

“I don’t care. I’m just happy you’re alive and breathing!” She held my hands in hers, beaming at me with a smile. I hadn’t realized just how much I had missed her as well.

Preston was giving her a stern look. “We agreed that you would stay out of the room until-“

“Until she was better, which she is. And I have information I have to give her,” Haylen finished haughtily, crossing her arms defiantly across her chest. She scowled at the Minuteman with a defiance I wasn’t aware she had held. Haylen was typically the type of person to follow orders, not give them.

“The information you have is not something Ash needs to hear right now,” Preston argued, a tone to his voice I couldn’t place.

“I think she would be the deciding factor in that, don’t you?” Haylen co*cked her head to the side, eyes flashing. She was winning this.

“I kind of agree with Haylen on this one,” I interjected, raising a hand for emphasis.


“It can’t wait anymore, Garvey!” Haylen raised her voice, a hardness overtaking it. “He’s already been missing for 48 hours. We don’t know what’s going on and Ashtyn may be the only one who can get a straight answer out of any of this. It is official Brotherhood of Steel business and, while I do not completely agree with how the Minutemen operate, I realize that Ashtyn has chosen to align herself with you. With that being said, I need her help. Badly. And I’m not going to have my mission delayed further because you’re making decisions for her!”

Preston’s mouth snapped shut with an audible pop. He let the silence stretch between them, likely hoping she would take back her statement. When she made it blatantly obvious that she had no intention to, he quietly replied, “Fine. But I’m not picking up the pieces when this goes to hell.” He stood, brushed himself off and started for the exit. He glanced back at me, “I’ll be in the kitchen if you need anything. Try not to do anything too heroic.”

And then he was gone.

I turned my attention towards Haylen. She was beginning to relax, her arms dropping to her sides once more as she settled into the bed next to me. What mission was she on? What did the Brotherhood want with me? Did Elder Maxson know of my traitorous actions? And, more importantly… “Who’s missing?”

Her muscles tightened once more, her expression altering to a guarded one. “Paladin Danse is.”

My eyes widened a fraction of an inch. “Danse is missing? What? But… Are you saying that he went on a mission and you guys, what, lost him?” This didn’t make sense. Danse always reported back to the Prydwen regardless of the situation. It wasn’t like he could have been misplaced. “Did raiders get him? The Institute?” What if the Compound somehow got itself up and running against? What if-

“No. He voluntarily chose to go MIA. We had set out to the Glowing Sea to obtain nuclear power for Liberty Prime. Once our objective was completed, Danse told me he had to stay with the bombs in order to ensure safe keeping.” She shook her head, a heavy sigh pressing past her parted lips. “I believed him and returned to the Prydwen alone. When I got back, Elder Maxson was enraged with me, accused me of plotting with Danse against the Brother.” Her speech became more and more rapid the longer she spoke. “But how was I supposed to know? I wasn’t ever told anything! And now everyone is uproar, sending out search parties to locate him at all costs. All other assignments are on hold…”

“Plotting against the Brotherhood? Danse? Haylen, you’re not making any sense.” I wasn’t understanding what she was saying, couldn’t comprehend a lick of it. Why was the Elder so furious? And why at Haylen? Why Danse? What was going on?

“Danse is a synth, Ashtyn.”


What did she just say?

A synth?


My Danse?

One… one of them?

No, that couldn’t be… he wasn’t… couldn’t

My reality spun, I had to grip the bed with white knuckled hands to keep myself upright.

“Did you hear me?” she asked. When I glanced back at her, the tears had returned in her eyes. “He’s a synth! He’s a damn synth!” Haylen pressed her face into her hands, crumbling forward onto the mattress. “And… and… Oh god, Ashtyn, Maxson…”

“What? What about Maxson?” My blood ran cold.

“Elder Maxson has ordered Danse’s execution.”

Chapter 19: Justice or Mercy

Chapter Text

As my feet touched the flight deck of the Prydwen, the ball that had been residing in my stomach since that morning tightened further. I felt sick, ill, feverish, like I was about to faint, keel over, or die. I kept repeating to myself ‘this isn’t possible, it’s some disgusting joke’. But given the permanent look that had plastered itself to Haylen’s face – one of complete and utter despair – I wasn’t convincing anyone, least of all myself.

Danse was a synth. He was an abomination, a creature of the Institute.

An enemy.

My enemy.

Given life thanks to my son’s DNA. My son… who wanted me dead, who had sent Coursers to eliminate me as a threat. My son, who had almost succeeded.

I think I was hitting a new low as far as f*cked up realities could go.

Gingerly I grazed my fingertips along my flank, hissing in a breath through clenched teeth as pain rocketed out from the slightest of touches. My torso, arm, and leg on that side of my body was also scorched, the tender seared skin hidden safely away underneath a protective gauze layer. A medicated ointment sped my process to recovery. While it worked and helped ease much of the agony, it reeked of rubbing alcohol and hospitals.

My injuries made combat nearly impossible. I couldn’t wear armor over my wounded side…

I exhaled slowly as I was led into the main command center for the Prydwen. We passed the stairs that would take me down to Captain Kells, past the ladder that would lead to the mess hall and bunks. No, we weren’t here to delay. I was being personally rushed to the Elder’s side. Haylen disappeared to the lower levels, leaving me.

On our trip back to the Brotherhood of Steel Headquarters, Haylen had brought me up to speed on the events that had occurred while I was away. Danse had lied to the Elder and everyone else on board, insisting that I was simply aiding the Minutemen for a time, not that I had chosen to quit the force. Haylen had seen through the deception and was thus informed of the truth. Everything was going exceedingly well with Liberty Prime… until the mission for the bombs. Upon her return, Haylen learned that Danse was actually a synth and had gone dark after her departure at the Glowing Sea. Believing I was somehow connected, Elder Maxson sent out patrols to locate not only Danse, but myself. Haylen had been fortunate enough to be placed on the latter of the two options and found me after a day of investigation.

But what I originally thought was going to be a peaceful meeting, was beginning to look more and more malicious.

The Elder’s back was to me when I entered the observation deck, his hands knotted tightly into fists at the base of his back. His shoulders were taut, tense. I could practically feel the waves of anger wash off of him, a threat even from this distance.

My lips parted, a formal greeting on my tongue, when his voice cut through it. “Is there something you want to tell me, Knight?” Cold, lifeless, void of emotion. He was enraged, so beyond furious. I had to be careful.

“I am not certain what you could be referring to, sir,” I replied, forcing proper conduct. As far as I understood, Maxson was unaware of my desire to leave the Brotherhood. I had nothing to hide from him.

“I find that very hard to believe. By this point, you are likely aware of Paladin’s Danse’s, originally known as M7-97, treason. I am sure Haylen has filled you in on the details. It was a mistake to send such a close companion of yours to find you though I knew she would be victorious in her assignment where others may fail.”

I cringed. Haylen had been used as a sympathy piece. Maxson knew she cared for me and that she would fight against all odds to locate me before anyone else… the same tactic I feared he would one day force on me to take down Shaun, my baby.

“See, the problem here, Knight, is that I struggle to see how you are innocent in all of this. Given your and Danse’s… relationship, I can’t accept that you were clueless of his true nature.” He turned towards me then, his gaze so full of hatred that I involuntarily shrunk from it, internally cringing from his glare. Maxson took a step forward, his disposition towards me growing increasingly aggressive. “How long have you known?” he growled. “Where is he hiding?”

I tiptoed a few inches backwards, fully aware of the power armored men that blockaded the door behind me. I raised my hands defensively before me, shaking my head. “I… I don’t know. I didn’t know. He didn’t tell me!” I insisted. Did he seriously think I was responsible for Danse’s disappearing act, that I was aware of this the whole time? Is that why he wanted me found so quickly?

“Right. Just like you know nothing of Father and what relation he has to you, correct?” Maxson jeered, snapping his hand forward to grasp the collar of my shirt, hauling me towards him so we were mere inches apart.

My heart sunk to my toes, pounded out an unsteady rhythm. He knew. Maxson knew… He know Father was Shaun, that Shaun was my son… Information he likely was able to deduce from the holotapes I retrieved for him. Which meant he also knew I lied to him, a realization that led him to believe I was nothing but a dishonest, untrustworthy Knight. “I know I lied, I’m sorry. I thought I was protecting my son but you have to believe me, sir! I didn’t know this!”

“Oh, I have to believe you? Or what, Knight? As if you even deserve that title.” His grip stiffened, his fingers digging into the burns that laced that half of my shoulder, causing me to whimper, my knees to buckle. But he held me up by my shirt, snarling at me, “STOP PROTECTING HIM!”

“I’m not!” I cried back, blinking rapidly to try and think through the pain he was obliging me to endure.

“And why should I believe you? He trusted you more than anyone else! You were constantly at his side! And it’s no secret the two of you were close!” He threw me then, sending my body careening through the air, colliding with the base of the couches that littered the deck. I chocked back a sob, vision clouding, head spinning.

“I didn’t know, I didn’t know,” I whispered, arm guarding my flank, trembling against the sofa, head bowed, hair limply resting around my face, falling just shy of my jawline.

“I. Don’t. Believe. You!” he barked out, brandishing the pistol from the holster that rested at his hip. “I’m giving you two options, Jones. Two. And you are fortunate that I am being so f*cking generous.” Maxson turned the pistol, pointing it towards me, his teeth gritted in a sneer, eyes flashing with rage. “Option number one: you can hunt down Danse yourself and put a bullet in his brain. Based on your bond with ‘it’, you’ll likely be able to find him faster than my other recruits.”

I peeked up at him, face paling. No… He couldn’t ask that of me… How… How could I ever…?

“Based on your reaction, I have a feeling you are finding that option to be disagreeable. Option number two is that I haul your traitorous ass to the brig where I will lock you up. My men will locate M7-97 and drag him back here where he will be publicly executed. Then, when we take down the Institute with Liberty Prime, you can watch as I personally slay Father.” His sneer morphed into that of a sh*t eating grin. Maxson knew what he was doing, he knew.

“You have to choose!”

“It’s either HIM or ME!”

“Family or HIM?”

“You can’t keep running from this!”

“Make your decision!” barked Maxson, clicking the safety on his gun off.

“I…” I couldn’t! How was I supposed to decide? My son, my baby? Or the man I….?

“Giving you to the count of three, Knight,” he spat the title as if it left a repulsive taste in his mouth.

I averted my eyes, staring at the steel floor as if it would provide me with the answers.


It held nothing, just grim emptiness.


I’m sorry…


“I’ll do it!” I breathed.


“I’ll do it… I’ll kill Danse.”

Maxson chuckled, a dark, vicious chuckle that made my skin crawl. “Excellent. I knew you would see reason.” I heard the sound of his pipe rifle pressing against leather, he unequipped his weapon. His heavy footfalls closed in on me, his muscled hands cruelly snatched my arm, dragged me upwards until my feet were below me once more. “You have 24 hours. If you haven’t completed the task by then, I’ll gladly chase you down and run you through with a bayonet.”

He pushed me for the door, my legs wobbling unsteadily below me for a few steps before I regained my balance. “Clock is ticking, Knight. Your time starts now.”


I was in our once shared bunk room, fingers knotting in my hair as my eyes darted frantically around me. How was I supposed to know where to go? How was I supposed to do this?

The voice in the back of my head insisted that I find Haylen and Rhys… to ask them, inform them, something. But I knew better. They were close to Danse, I couldn’t have them help me. Not when my task was to annihilate him.

But I didn’t even know where to start. How do you go about finding someone who doesn’t want to be found?

And if… when… I did find him? What would he do to me?

“f*ck,” I hissed, spinning once more to stare at his half of the room.

Most of his personal belongings were gone. His pack, gear, gun… missing. Likely with him. But a few things remained. His lantern was on, his bomber jacket was splayed out at the end of the bed…

And The Lord of the Rings trilogy lay stacked on the night stand.

I sat down on his bed, sunk into the mattress, and pulled The Two Towers into my lap. Placing the spine of the book against my thigh, I ran my thumb over the pages.

“Where did you find this?”

It hadn’t been too difficult, not really… When I had learned that he was an avid book reader, I couldn’t help but give him something more. It was the least I could do for him, the man who had done so much for me.

“No one has ever gotten me a gift before. I’m just surprised. Thank you.”

My throat felt as if a vice had been placed around it at it constricted. You’re welcome

I don’t want to kill you.

The book fell from my lap as I raised my hands to face, letting the tears hit them. Synth or no synth… How was I supposed to do this?

But I had to… for Shaun.

I peered through my hands, blinking rapidly to clear my vision.

I had to think this through. I had to do this. I didn’t have a choice.

Reaching down, I moved to grasp the book from where it lay. However, as I began to pull it off of the metal flooring, a piece of paper slid out from between the pages.


I unfolded the paper. Scrawled in neat script read, ‘Listening Post Bravo.’

I had my lead…


Six hours later I was trudging across the Wasteland towards the Post. I knew of its location, had been there on one of my scouting missions with Paladin Brandis. He had commented on how easy it would be to defend the place, how fortified it was. It was tucked along a ridgeline… Unless you knew what to look for, you wouldn’t ever find it amongst the fallout and debris. It was the perfect hideaway for a rogue soldier… a synth…

I still wasn’t sure how I was going to do it… how I was going to stomach it. But it was either kill him myself, or have him publicly executed and be forced to watch the slow torturous death of my son. God, this wasn’t fair. This wasn’t f*cking fair!

I wanted nothing more than to go back to my old life – where my biggest worry was whether or not my coffee was adequately strained, or if the weather was going to be sunny or rainy. Or whether or not I was able to get that awful ketchup stain out of my favorite white blouse so I would look good for Nate’s speech he never got to give.

Droplets poured down on me as I trekked onwards, mud caked my boots and pants, splashing up to my knees. I frantically wiped water from my eyes, clearing my vision the best I could. Thunder wailed overhead, causing the earth to shudder and quake. The leafless branches of the trees swayed wildly in the wind that whipped past me. I was thankful that the outpost was only just ahead, the outline of the building visible from here… but I dreaded it at the same time.

I ducked inside the post, pausing long enough to listen to the torrent of rain slap against the outer walls. A protectron laid lifeless by a ruined desk, the unmistakable burn marks left by a laser rifle prominently dotting its main torso.

“So you are here,” I muttered. Part of me had wanted my guess to be wrong, incorrect. It would give me the opportunity to flee, to run, to get as far away from the Commonwealth as I could go. It would allow me to go somewhere where the Brotherhood couldn’t find me, where I wouldn’t be forced to complete tasks I had no desire to uphold. But no… fate was especially cruel today.

Taking one last glance towards the darkening sky, I made my way towards the elevator that I knew would take me to the lower levels. I already knew the layout of the Post, knew where I would likely find Danse.

But that didn’t mean I was in a rush to get there.

As the elevator doors whooshed open, allowing me to enter the basem*nt, I felt that ball in my stomach give an uncomfortable twist. Could I actually do this? Could I even raise my gun against him?

I tried to convince myself that if it was for Shaun, I could do it.

I walked through the control room, the battered consoles bashed to pieces, computer monitors shattered, and sprinkled glass shards embedded into the carpet. In the space beyond I could hear someone shuffling past the doorway ahead, the sound of keys tapping, of a wheeled chair scooting across hardwood floors.

Just keep moving, this is for Shaun, you can do this. You have to do this.

And then there he was. Seated in a chair in front of a screen, back to me. He was working on something though I couldn’t depict what from this distance. He wore faded jeans tucked into a pair of boots, a grey t-shirt, and his holotags, just visible along the base of his neck.

It had been a week since I had seen him last. I had missed him so much. I didn’t know that being away from him would be so difficult, so agonizing. I had kept myself busy, occupied with any task I could locate to keep my mind off of him, off of the Brotherhood in general. I had tried running away from it all. And I had failed horribly.

“Out of everyone they could have sent…” Danse muttered. “They had to send you. Though I bet Maxson couldn’t resist watching me squirm one last time.” He shook his head, pushing his chair away from the desk a few inches. “How did they even find you?”

“Haylen… Uh, Haylen was sent to locate me. Seems, someone had told the Elder that I was on pause rather than gone completely.” I could barely breathe around the words, my inhale caught in my throat. How could I speak so easily when I knew what I had to do?

“I was hoping that by lying, I could protect you from all of this. Guess not…” He turned towards me then, looked me up and down. I was thankful for the long sleeved shirt and pants I wore, glad they covered the majority of my injuries. Though the shorter hair and burn marks on my neck were enough to make him pale with worry. “What happened to you?” Concern oozed into his voice, colored his tone with care.

No, don’t feel sympathy for me. Don’t make this harder on me. “Seems I can’t run from the Institute. Coursers were sent after me. If Deacon hadn’t stepped in with a Molotov when he did, I probably wouldn’t be here right now.”

Danse stood, closing the distance between us, eyes zeroing in on the burns, his fingers sliding through my hair, skimming against the skin on my cheek. It took everything I had not to lean into those hands, to not sigh in relief, to not reduce to a puddle. Though he had made his feelings very clear to me back in Diamond City, it seems mine had not dwindled whatsoever. His chestnut eyes locked with mine. “Is the bastard that did this dead?”

I nodded once, briskly, averting my gaze. I couldn’t risk looking at him, couldn’t test my resolve in such a way.

His hand dropped back to his side then, he took a singular step backwards to put some distance between us. “Right, you aren’t here for that, are you?”

I shook my head. “No.” The pistol in my hand felt like it weighed a thousand pounds.

“So, I’m guessing you know then? Everyone knows?”


Danse ran a hand through his hair, the nervous habit he had yet to get rid of. “It was only a matter of time, I guess. I should have done the right thing from the beginning. I’ve known for… for a while.” I peeked up at him through my eye lashes. He had the expression of a defeated man, but one that was accepting of his demise. Like he was prepared for what was to come regardless of what it meant for him. “But… I’m ready now.”

“You’re ready?”

“Right. I should have returned to the Prydwen with Haylen, faced my punishment. I’m an abomination, a machine, a tool of the Institute. I’m no better than the men who were sent to kill you – only that I didn’t know what my true purpose was until now. Man and machine were never meant to be joined… Hell, I don’t even know if anything I have done, seen, or remembered is real. I’m no better than the synths we shoot down on a regular basis. I should be the example, not the exception.” He looked up at me then. “I’m a monster. And I deserve no better than the treatment you would grant to any other enemy. So, I’m ready.”

Was it that easy for him? I watched as his eyes closed, as he turned to face me fully. All I had to do was raise my gun, point it at his head, and pull the trigger. One, two, three steps. That was it. Simplistic. I had done it a thousand times. What would one more mean?

Just another body to the pile, right?

For Shaun, I could do this.

Pretend it isn’t Danse, see him for the synth he is.

I raised my arm, clasping the pistol with both hands to steady my aim.


You have to do this.

I blinked hard, bit my bottom lip.

Tears clouded my vision, I sucked in a hiss of an inhale through clenched teeth, let my lip tremble. I shook my head hard. No! You have to! For Shaun!

But I couldn’t. Not him, not Danse.

“I’m not ready,” I whispered.

Just as I began to lower the gun, his hands curled around mine, forcing it back up, pressing the barrel squarely against his chest, right over his heart. “Do it!” he ordered.

My eyes snapped up to him, I shook my head. “N-“

“Do it!” again, demanding.

“I can’t!” I tried to pull my grip free but his own tightened, making my finger curl around the trigger. “Stop it!”

“I’m an atrocity. I deserve no better. For once in your goddamn life, follow an order!” he was practically shouting at me now, voice echoing off of the enclosed walls.

I tugged frantically, struggling to break his hold but he was so much stronger than me, he always had been. My cheeks were wet, a sob threatened to burst from my lungs. Stop it! Stop it!

Don’t do this to me.

I’m not ready to choose.

I can’t lose you.

“If you make me fire, I’ll spin the gun 180 and pull it again!” I warned.

“Why? Why would you do that? That’s ridiculous!” Danse bit back, not capable of understanding why I would commit such an act.

“Because….” I couldn’t lie to him anymore, couldn’t lie to myself. It didn’t matter what he thought of me… but it mattered what I thought of him. “Because I can’t do this without you. Because I can’t live without you. My life is meaningless if you aren’t there!” I cried, not concerned any more if my voice cracked, if I showed emotion. Remembering back to Diamond City, I knew he didn’t have feelings for me but… “I know it’s not what you want to hear, but I couldn’t care less what you thought. This last week has been awful without you. I can’t imagine what this world would be like if you weren’t here, and I don’t ever want to find out. So if you die, I die!” I bent my head down, unable to control the sobs that broke free. All the stress I had built up – from leaving the Vault, to fighting for my life, to learning how to defend myself, to surviving, to joining the Brotherhood, to killing Kellogg, to finding the Institute, to discovering what Shaun was, to being rejected by Danse, to leaving the force… everything. It all came crashing down around me. I couldn’t hold back the flood gates any longer. I had wept one other time, just outside of Goodneighbor… But that had been from embarrassment, from having to relive the worst part of my life. This… This was so much more than that.

“How could you ever…” but his voice trailed off, his question unfinished.

“I’ve lost so much,” I continued, voice barely audible. “I can’t lose you too. Please, please don’t make me.”

The silence stretched between us. For the longest time, Danse’s control on me didn’t weaken. We were like statues, neither of us pulling against the other. Each person afraid to move, terrified of what the other would do to retaliate.

What did this mean?

What was going to happen?

Please, make a decision for me.

Pull the trigger or push me away… but stop making me wait.

Because I….

I can’t make this choice on my own.

Suddenly, he jerked the gun free from my hand and threw it to the side. He tugged on my wrist, yanked me towards him… And then wrapped his arms around me, cradling me against his chest, embracing me. “I’m sorry,” he breathed. “I’m so sorry.”

I inhaled his scent of gun powder and spice, curled my fingers into the soft fabric of his shirt, balling my hands into fists, squeezed my eyes shut. Relief flooded my system, made a tremble of calm race up my spine. My hands felt lighter without the weight of the gun to pull them down. I could breathe again, lungs no longer laden with lead.

“I hadn’t even thought of that, of what you’ve gone through in such a short time. How could I be so selfish?” Danse pressed his nose to the top of my head. “But… I am still a synth. I’m still an abomination. I still…” His voice trailed off.

He was wrong though. I had to make him see that.

I shook my head, spoke against him, “Not to me you aren’t. You’re Danse. And nothing else.”

“But still-“ he tried.

But I cut him off again. “You saved me from ArcJet, let me join the Brotherhood of Steel, protected me from the raiders at the Red Rocket Station, took care of me when we were ambushed at Sanctuary, talked me down when we were at Fort Strong, ate my Christmas cookies, and caught me when I was literally falling. You’re more human than some humans claim to be. It doesn’t matter what you are, it matters what you’ve done.” I pulled away enough to glance up at him, his face a mix of emotions. “And you’ve done so much good, Danse. If Maxson can’t see that, he’s blind.”

“You really do believe that, don’t you?”

I nodded vigorously, enthusiastically, forcing a smile to my lips.

He closed his eyes, dipping his head down to rest his forehead on mine. “I don’t know what to do,” he confessed. “I can’t go back to the Prydwen now, they’ll kill me on sight. I doubt many others share your belief. And then there’s the matter of your mission. What are you going to tell Maxson? ‘Oh, sorry, couldn’t do it because Danse has a heart’? I don’t think he would buy that.”

“The original plan was for me to retrieve your holotags… I could bring those back, say I killed you.”

“And what, I just stay here?”

“You said yourself, you can’t go back.” He sighed heavily. I couldn’t imagine how hard that would be for him. The Brotherhood of Steel meant the world to him. They had been the ones who took him off the streets, ended his scavenging career. He had been with them so long that having to start anew would be challenging, maybe even terrifying. “But I’ll help in whatever way I can. We can make this place livable. And maybe we can find a way to have you rejoin. Just… not right now.”

“Okay… we will do it your way.” He pulled back then, slowly unwrapping his arms form me. His cheeks were ablaze with blush though a rip of thunder caused the bunker to shudder allowed him to quickly change the subject. “You… aren’t intending to head back out in that, are you?”

“Originally? Yep. I was given a 24 hour time frame.” Twenty-four hours… to kill him. But I guess I was really bad at doing as I was told.

“And how much time do you have left?”

I glanced at my PipBoy where I had started a counter so I could keep track. “Still 14 hours.”

“Well… if you leave here in the morning around 0600, you can still get back in time.”

“Are you asking me to stay the night?”

He averted his gaze, fixating it on a Mr. Handy model toy that was resting on the table. “You’re not the only one who struggled this past week. And… we have some stuff to talk about. And, you could probably use some new bandages for that burn of yours. And, uh… It would really mean a lot to me. I’m not a huge fan of being alone at the moment.”

Knowing Danse, that must have been hard for him to admit. He wasn’t the type of guy who could willingly confess that he was struggling. He usually preferred to bury his problems. To be so blatantly open… I hadn’t expected that.

And, he did have a point. Though he could only see a fraction of the injury, my wounds needed another round of treatment. I could also use the rest and a meal. I was wary about what this ‘stuff’ was but in all due time.

“Alright. I’ll stay.”

Chapter 20: Confessions

Chapter Text

Danse had done a fairly decent job at cleaning up the station since the last time I had seen it – at least in the areas he had deemed necessary. In contrast to the front, the back few rooms were void of litter and debris. The desk was cleaned off and the small kitchenette in the corner appeared to be functional. There was a double sized bed shoved into the corner, the covers tucked in neatly just as Code demanded back in the Prydwen. A small bathroom just big enough for a toilet and a walk in shower was nestled around the corner, if my memory served me correctly.

Danse had moved over to the kitchen, muttering something about finding me something to eat before I keeled over from exhaustion. I guess I looked worse than I thought. “You can use the sink if you want to wash up,” he suggested, bobbing his head towards the door.

Heading into the bathroom, I found myself a mirror. My once brilliantly pristine and smooth auburn hair was a tangled mass of uneven ends, rain water still clung to the strands. Funny, how I used to put some much time and effort into it. The Molotov had done wonders to singe off several inches, leaving the tips around the length of my jaw. My cheeks were caked with dust and mud from my travels, my eyes were glassy from tears. I had a scar running across the right side of my lips, given to me by a Mirelurk a few months ago.

Clothing wise, I was a mess. I had shoved on whatever I could grab before leaving the Prydwen hours ago, uncaring to how I looked. But now? Now I was becoming increasingly aware of my appearance. What was that old phrase? Something the cat dragged in? Whatever it was, it fit.

Running water over my face helped to bring out my sheer paleness. I shrugged off the leather coat I had donned, leaving it to dry on one of the hooks. I held my head under the faucet, allowing cool water to cleanse whatever it could. I grimaced at how murky the water became, the expression only relaxing once it cleared once more and I was convinced nothing would find my head a good place to nest.

I peeked at my reflection one final time. Whatever, it would have to work.

Upon exiting the smell of food cooking made my stomach twist, a growl threatening to escape. I wrapped my arms around my torso, eyeing the frying pan. He had an assortment of corn and carrots sizzling away, a few slices of onion thrown in.

“I thought you said you couldn’t cook?” I questioned, remembering back to when I showed him how to make holiday cookies.

“I said I didn’t know how to bake,” he emphasized, a grin tugging on the corner of his mouth as he glanced over at me. “However, cooking is another matter entirely. I used to help the Mess Sergeant in the kitchen before I gained the status of Knight years ago.”

“Well color me surprised then.” I took a seat on the edge of one of the chairs around a circular, wooden dining table. “What all are we eating?”

“Brahmin steak and veggies with some razorgrain bread the farmers east of here gave me when I passed through.”

“Anything I can help with?”

He turned to give me an exasperated look over his shoulder. “Yeah, you can sit your ass in that chair and stay still.” But the humor in his chestnut eyes showed he wasn’t upset with me. My injuries had him worried and he didn’t want me to overwork myself – typical Danse.

A plate was set in front of me a few minutes later. It looked better than anything they served back on the Prydwen or that I could get for cheap off of any traveling caravan or merchant.

Danse took a seat next to me, digging into his food. He appeared so calm, so collected… but that was only on the surface. Weeks of working with him allowed me to catch some key, subtle hints that he was anything but. The way his jaw tightened, the way he forced his gaze straight ahead, the way his right foot tapped below him – all obvious markers to his nervousness and discomfort.

What could be going through his head right now? The woman who had sworn to be done with the Brotherhood had returned to his side, but with the premise of killing him, putting down a synth, an enemy to the group he once cherished. How do you even go about dealing with something like that? I had so many questions.

“When did you find out that you were a… synth?” I blurted out suddenly. I internally whacked myself. What the f*ck? Could I at least have an ounce of tact?

Danse chuckled quietly. “I was wondering when you were going to bring that up.” A heavy sigh passed his parted lips as he leaned back in his chair, palms pressed against the table in front of him. “I found out shortly after you got back. Before we left for Diamond City. I had been digging around Proctor Quinlan’s terminal and ran across some of the files you had obtained. I thought it would be wise to glance through them in case we ran into anyone with their description while we were out… I hadn’t expected to find myself.”

He grew silent after that, gaze clouding over, deep in thought.

“Why did you stay so long then?” I couldn’t hold them back.

“I, uh… Well,” he turned his head away in the slightest, becoming increasingly fascinated with a small scratch on the table’s surface. “Truthfully, I didn’t know what to do. And… I, uh, I didn’t want to leave either.”

“Because the Brotherhood was your home?” I hedged, wanting more information.

“That… And other reasons.”

“Like what?”

“Shouldn’t you be eating?” Danse interjected, jabbing his fork at my partially touched food.

I rolled my eyes and ate a few mouthful in silence, thinking over what he had said. The Brotherhood was all he knew, it was possible that he didn’t want to leave for that reason alone. Venturing into the unknown was terrifying, I knew that from firsthand experience thanks to the f*ckers at VaultTec. But perhaps he didn’t want to leave his comrades either – Rhys and Haylen and Ingram, for example. They seemed to be a close knit bunch. Sure, they butt heads every once in a while but who didn’t?

When our meal was finished, Danse led me over to the sofa that rested along the further wall from the entrance. He held a medical kit in his hand, setting it down on the oak coffee table, gesturing for me to take a seat.

“You’ll have to take your shirt off in order for me to get to the bandages.”

I complied, again becoming intensely mindful of the situation. With the shirt gone, I had little more than a breast band to protect my modesty. Yeah, big surprise, bras weren’t in high stock around here. Once the one I had on when I entered Vault 111 started to smell so bad that washing it in irradiated water didn’t lessen the impact, I opted for thick strips of fabric that I sewed together, crafting a few clasps with left over plastic I found lying around. I actually felt pretty good about the invention.

Until Danse saw it.

Now I was blushing dark red and wanting to shield myself from his view.

But when I peered over at him, his eyes were glued to the bandages that laced across my stomach, shoulder, arm, and hip, ending somewhere below my waistline, concealed under the jeans I wore. He inhaled sharply once the fabric of my cotton shirt was removed, allowing him to see the extent of the damage. “A… Molotov did this?” his voice barely above a whisper, face a mask of shock.

I nodded. “Like I said, Deacon had to throw it because-“

“Because a Courser was sent after you.” He paused, only continuing to add a quieter, “I am so sorry I wasn’t there.” Danse raised his hands, fingers gingerly working to pull away the gauze and tape to reveal the burnt and marred skin underneath. It was going to leave one hell of a nasty scar, one that would coer the whole left side of my body.

The removal of the outer layer was excruciating. It felt like someone was pouring rubbing alcohol across my flesh, setting the burns ablaze with fire once more. Every time I winced, Danse would yank his hands back, eyes going wide with sympathy, though that expression was quickly replaced by one of guilt.

“It’s not your fault, Danse,” I tried, spoken through gritted teeth. My right hand’s fingers were curled into a tight fist around the edge of the couch, knuckles blanching white from the exertion as I attempted to ignore the majority of the pain.

“Yes it is. I acted childishly and left you unprotected so I could sulk back to the Prydwen alone,” his voice brimming with remorse.

“I should have returned with you,” I protested.

“I gave you so many reasons not to.” The finality in his tone broke my heart. How much of this did he blame himself for? Part? All? That wasn’t fair for him… though I had a feeling there was little I could say to change his mind. We shared that, that innate stubbornness that made us refuse to budge regardless of the logic thrown our way.

Soon the bandages were fully removed. I refused to look at the damage, not wanting to vomit the food I had just eaten. Seeing injuries on other people? Fine, peachy, no problem. But seeing them on myself? Oh god, I couldn’t do that.

“At least it is not infected,” Danse breathed, shoulders relaxing but only by a fraction of an inch.

If I thought the bandage bit was agonizing… Wow, was I f*cking wrong. Preston had told me that he had used a sedative and a topical anesthetic to make the process less painful previously. Without those two medications working for my benefit, I was forced to endure every unbearable second of my own personal torture. This was a new form of Hell.

I had to take my mind off of it. Had to. For both of our sakes. Though my voice was taut, I managed, “No offense but, I mean you cleaned up the place nice and all… but it still looks like sh*t in here. I know a chick that can help with that.”

He scowled, cleansing the wound as gently as he possibly could. “You don’t like my living situation?”

“It’s fine but... It’s a bit… dank.”

“Dank?” he scoffed, a hint of a smile darted across his mouth. He likely knew what I was doing and why, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to play along.

“It’s like a cave. You can’t even see outside.”

“Uh, yeah, that’s the point. Means no one can see in.”

“You’re going to turn into a ghoul if you stay down here. Or, at the very least, a vampire.”

He chuckled at it all the same, shaking his head. “What do you suggest then, seeing as I can’t go back to the Prydwen any time soon?”

I thought on that for a second. Sure, he could go to any one of the Minutemen Settlements but he wasn’t the type of person that beamed at the opportunity to emphasize his lack of outgoing nature. So, that severely limited his options. However… “There’s a boathouse I know of. It’s along the river, two stories, enough land to start a small farm to grow whatever you would need. And I have a caravan going through there that would bring supplies if you ever needed them.” I hadn’t been fond of the Taffington, or Taffy as I started calling it, when I had first come across it. The place was filled with bloodbugs – holy sh*t those things were nasty. But once they were removed and I worked to clean the majority of the debris out of the way, it wasn’t that bad of a settlement location. With some tender, loving care, it could be brought back into order.

“You’d just give me a boathouse. Isn’t that Minutemen property, or something? Would Garvey share it?”

“Preston doesn’t have to know. Hell, I haven’t even told him I cleared it out.”

Danse had begun rewrapping my left side, only stalling momentarily to glance up at me with another question. “And… what do you get in return for it?”

I grinned back at him, quoting him from after we cleared out Fort Strong, “Satisfaction? A happy conscience? The knowledge that I’ve assisted you? All are great examples of what I would ‘get in return for it.”

“I see what you did there,” he replied, eyes twinkling with amusem*nt. “Fine. I’ll move there tomorrow after you leave.” Danse quieted for a bit, focusing on his work. Soon he broke the silence with, “Would you… want to help me repair the place? I, uh, I mean, since I’m not very good at that stuff. Sure, armor and guns I can handle, but I’m not so good with carpentry or electrical wiring.”

“I figured that was a given.”

He smiled, tucking his chin to hide the redness that splayed across his cheekbones to the best of his ability, “I would like that. Thank you.” He finished tying off the gauze, taping it down to secure it in place.

This was happening… When I had headed out here, I never expected things to go this smoothly. Hell, I thought I was going to shoot him, kill him… not offer him a new place to stay and agree to help keep him alive. I couldn’t help the rush of relief I felt. Everything I had been worried about, stressed over, was gone… in part. Sure, there was still Shaun... Father… but Danse and I? We were good. More than good.

But then his hands dropped, the scarlet gone, expression darker. Whatever warmth we had built up, it was beginning to fade quickly. “What am I even saying?” he sounded bitter with himself, as if he was somehow being ridiculous.

I turned towards him, shrugging my long sleeved shirt back over my head, pulling my arms through. “What do you mean?” Don’t break this… We had such a good momentum going…

“What are we doing right now?”

I furrowed my brow at him. “Well, I’m getting dressed and then I’m going to help you clean up the dishes from our dinner and put away all this sh*t,” I emphasized by waving my hand at all the medical equipment that was dotted about the cushions. Stay positive, optimistic. Play dumb. You know what he’s getting at but pretend you don’t. Maybe he’ll change his mind.

“No, I mean… what we are doing?” he drew out the question. When my confused appearance didn’t morph into one of comprehension, he elaborated. “Acting like everything is normal? Like everything is fine and dandy? Like nothing has changed? How can you pretend that everything is sunshine and rainbows?”

I squinted at him, lips pursed. I understood what he meant… but he was also wrong.“Nothing has changed. And I’m not pretending anything. Those were some seriously realistic ‘ow’ faces back there.” Keep it up, I told myself. Don’t let him shut you out again. I couldn’t handle that, not now. Not after I had won myself such a victory moments before.

“This is not a f*cking joke, Ashtyn!” Anger now. Like a switch had turned on in his head. If only I could peer inside to see where this was coming from.

“I don’t get what you’re going on about,” I quipped back, folding my arms in front of me as he stood to pace away from the couch. I wanted his smile back, wanted that twinkle in his eyes to return. I craved it. The way he looked at me like I was the most precious thing in the world. Or was this just another delusion I had built up for myself? What if I was wrong one?

“I’m a SYNTH. I’m a monster. And you’re just sitting here like everything is fine! Like I’m not some sort of f*cking abomination. How can you act like that is okay?”

Not to me…. Everything is okay… Or, it was.

“Do you not get it? I’m a construct of the Institute. I am your enemy. I know you cannot kill me, and I am not asking you to. But for you to just… just-“ his voice cut out, he ran a hand through his hair, incredulous. “You shouldn’t be offering me a safe house. You shouldn’t be offering me anything! You should stay far the f*ck away from me.”

I flinched at that. “I don’t want to though.”

“And why the hell not? That is what any sane person would do. But instead you are sitting here on my couch and letting me tend to your wounds, and make dinner, and… and… we are not on the Prydwen anymore. This isn’t us baking cookies or laughing or going on missions together. f*ck, we can’t even do those things anymore and you shouldn’t want to.”

I remained silent, unsure of what to say. Did he want me gone?

“This… this companionship thing. This, can’t live in a world without you… what did you mean by that?”

“I meant what I said. That, if you weren’t there, I wouldn’t want to be either.”

“But what does that mean?”

What did it mean?

What was this feeling?

If I had to sit down, if I had to define it… What would I call it?

Was it a crush? Did I care for him? Or was it something so much more than that?

Was it something so much more than anything I had ever felt before?

And that’s when it hit me… When I realized what I had been trying to deny this whole time.

“It means that I love you.”

And suddenly it felt like I couldn’t breathe. Just like that, poof, no oxygen for Ashtyn. My heart leapt up into my esophagus and pounded out a shaky rhythm that was so loud I was nearly one hundred percent certain Danse could hear it. My own eyes went wide, face paled. Holy sh*t.

I hadn’t intended to say that out loud.

I hadn’t even come to terms with it myself.

But even so…

I meant it.

I don’t know when it happened… don’t know when it started, or when he became so damn important to me. When everything suddenly revolved around him, not just Shaun, but both of them. Maybe it was always there since the beginning, building slowly when I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe it blossomed up out of nowhere and suddenly simply was. Whatever the case, I couldn’t shake it. I tried, I tried so desperately to squish these feelings away, to make them extinguish, to dam the river… but they wouldn’t die. And now that I had admitted it out loud, it was like trying to box in a roaring waterfall.


“You don’t mean that.” Cold.

I stood defiantly before him, lowering my arms so they could rest at my sides. “I do actually. I mean it. I love you. I can’t help it.”

“But I’m a-“

“I don’t care what you are.”

“You should! I-“

“You’re Danse. That’s all you ever have been. Just because you’re part machine doesn’t mean that everything that has happened up to this point was meaningless or worthless. That was still you making decisions. Realizing you’re a synth doesn’t change the fact that you have been one the whole time. It’s not like you’re suddenly a different person. You haven’t changed. Just your understanding of what you are has. That’s it.” And I believed that. I believed every single word. “You’re still the same man that dragged my sorry ass out of ArcJet, who berated me for being stupid. Who took me flying in a vertibird and promised me I wouldn’t fall out. Who talked me down after Fort Strong when I was hell bent on ending my life. You’re still the man who I chased after when the Compound kidnapped you… You knew you were a synth when you caught me from the ramparts at the Castle, when you bandaged me up at the station just outside of the fort. Are you telling me that was a different Danse from the one before? From the one now?”

My rationale was valid, my reasoning irrefutable. There was nothing he could say to fight back. He had no ammunition against me.

“What about Nate?” he finally bit out.

But I could defend that point too. “Nate died over sixty years ago. Yes, I miss him. But he’s gone. And he would want me to be happy – not to cry like a baby or be alone forever.” I once refused to wear the wedding band my husband had given me for fear that bandits would steal it… Recently, however, I didn’t wear it because I didn’t want to, I had no reason to. I no longer looked at it with pain in my chest. Nate, like the ring, was nothing more than a fond memory of what was and never will be.

He lowered his heated gaze, dipped his head. “I don’t… I don’t even have a plan any more. I don’t know what my place in life is and I don’t even know where to start looking. I don’t know how much of my past is artificial or how much of it is real. I started out as nothing and I’ve ended up as nothing. And I don’t know what the hell to do about it. And to top it off… after everything the Brotherhood of Steel has taught you, after everything I have taught you… how… how can you be in love with a machine?”

When his gaze met mine, he wore an expression of defeat, of confusion, of loss of understanding. I was obliterating everything he knew, demolishing it. He couldn’t fathom how a human could fall for something he considered to be a monster.

“You’re not a machine, Danse.” I took a tentative step towards him, closing the distance between us by a handful of inches. “You’re more human than most people ever hope to be.” Another step, a few more inches gone. He had helped to pull me out of a dark place back at Goodneighbor. Now it was my turn to help him. I slowly raised my hand and pressed my palm against his chest. “You have a heart that beats.” I trailed my fingers up across his rib cage, “You breathe”, and along his clavicle. “You can feel.” Further I traced my fingertips, caressing a scar he had on his chin, one he had obtained from the Compound. “You bleed.” I cupped his cheek, ran my thumb along the dark circles under his eyes. “You need sleep, just like any human does.” He leaned into my hand, his eyes closing briefly, the same instinct reaction I had wanted to do just an hour ago. “You are human. Human enough.”

When he spoke, his voice was muffled, like he struggled to let the words escape without them breaking, “You have… no idea… what that means to me. How important it is to me, to hear you say that.”

Then he was pulling me to him, burying his face in my hair, wrapping his arms around me in a way that was somehow different than any time before, closer, more intimate. I felt his shoulders tremble, sensed the unsteady rise and fall of his chest. I knew if I were to pull away, I would see tears in his eyes… but I also knew that was something he didn’t want me to see.

“Thank you,” he whispered, fingers curling into the soft fabric of my shirt, careful not to harm my injured side.

I don’t know how long we stood like that, wasn’t aware if it was seconds or minutes. An hour could have gone by and I wouldn’t have known. All I cared about was that he finally understood… and that I no longer held a secret.

When he pulled away, he was smiling though he still carried uncertainty behind that grin. “I… I don’t know how easy this will be. Machine or not, I never thought I would ever find someone I cared for, or who would care for me. I don’t… I don’t know how to do the things you want. I don’t know ballet, I can’t plant a garden or mow the lawn, we don’t have bacon, and I can’t make coffee… But I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy. I’ll try my hardest to learn. I promise.”

I took a step back then, rubbing my hands on my arms. “I can be patient.”

He rolled his eyes at me.

“I can learn to be patient,” I amended.

“Better,” he laughed. Then, more seriously, “What does this mean now?”

I reached forward, entwining my fingers with his. “I guess it means that we stick together. Easy enough. We did that before.”

“I can do that,” he agreed, giving my hand a squeeze.

We set out to clear the rest of the station up after that. Cleaned dishes, put away the medical kit, cleared the table, and headed for bed. The tension in the air was gone completely, and in its place was a warmth I hadn’t expected. Everything felt easier, even the small tasks we were completing. He laughed when I threw a handful of soapy bubbles at him, played along without hesitation. We made the boring chores fun…

And I was happy.

For once, I felt completely and utterly happy.

Sure, I was going to lie through my teeth tomorrow to Elder Maxson. Yeah, I still had my son and the Institute to deal with. But in this moment, this second: I was at peace.

And I was still oozing this optimism as I curled up under the quilt, facing the man I loved. My heart still pounded with contentment as he reached for me. My skin still buzzed with bliss as he pressed his lips to mine, as I melded into him. My fingers tangled in his hair as my breath hitched in my throat, my toes curled and my stomach flew with butterflies. But it didn’t matter, nothing mattered, nothing other than the way it felt for him to kiss me.


The only reason I knew it was morning, was because the alarm went off. The basem*nt level of the outpost was still plunged in darkness aside for the small lamp we had left on in the corner of the room as I clicked the buzzing noise off. Danse was still out of it, arm flopped over my flank, legs jumbled with my own.

And no, we didn’t do anything aside from sleep. Sheesh. I was way too injured for that.

From the soft glow the light provided, I studied Danse’s face. He always looked so calm when he was asleep, eyes closed, the worry wrinkles missing form his forehead, lips slightly parted. His hair wisped around the edges of his face, curling. I didn’t want to leave… but I had to. I had to deliver the news that he was dead, that I had succeeded in my mission, before my time was up.

As I moved to carefully free myself form his limbs, he stirred awake, blinking lazily up at me. “Time?” he asked groggily, voice laden with sleep.

“Six, just as we planned.”

Apparently he wasn’t thrilled with this plan any more.

He groaned and rested back against the mattress, rubbing his eyes. I stood, stretching my arms above my head, rolling my shoulders to work out the muscles. I felt better, rested, more awake than I had in the past week.

I began to pack my things, tucking Danse’s holotags into my pocket for safekeeping. They were the only proof I had that I had done what Maxson asked of me. I couldn’t leave them behind but… it felt like I was taking something away from Danse, something much more than metal hanging on chains. Like, his identity was in my back pocket.

I hefted the bag onto the counter, assuring myself that everything was there before tugging my jacket back on, thankful it had dried while I slept.

Suddenly strong arms wrapped around my waist, a chin propped itself onto my shoulder, a beard tickled my skin. “You will be back ASAP, right?” Danse questioned, voice hesitant.

I turned in his arms, leaning against the countertop for support, his hands sliding to rest on my hips. “Meet you at Taffy?”

He pressed a kiss to my forehead, fingers curling in the belt loops on my pants to close the distance between us. “Meet you there,” he promised.

I tilted my head up, trapping his lips against my own one last time, loving the way he hummed his approval, the way he followed me when I attempted to escape only to capture me with another, this one deeper, desperate, saddened. He didn’t want me to go but knew it was necessary. “Hurry back to me,” he ordered.

“Yes, sir.”

“Damn straight. Have fun with the Elder.”

“Oh, oodles,” I replied, dripping with sarcasm as I made my way towards the elevator, hoisting my backpack onto my uninjured shoulder.

Time to spin my best lie ever.


“So it is done?” Maxson’s face was a mask of appreciation as he held Danse’s holotags up in the air to get a better look at them. He gave a curt nod as he recognized Danse’s name and ID number, handing the tags to another Paladin.

“Yes, sir. Paladin Danse, known as M7-97 is terminated, as requested.”

“Good. I am surprised, Knight. I didn’t think you had it in you. It just goes to show, every tool will do its job as long as it is provided with the right ‘force’ and ‘encouragement’.” He tucked his hands behind his back. “Seeing as we have a free Paladin spot available, thanks to you, I would like to offer you a promotion.”

What a seriously sick bastard. Hey, thanks for killing your mentor. But now that he is dead, how’s about you take his position? Sound peachy? Super!

“I would be honored, sir.”

“Ad. Victoriam, Paladin Jones, enjoy the promotion. Proctor Ingram will upgrade your power armor and you will be provided with new perks that we can discuss at a later time. As always, there are open jobs available if you want something to do with your free time but, come tomorrow, you will begin to work on Liberty Prime. Right now, you have earned some rest. Dismissed.”

I exited the main deck and took the ladder to the bunk rooms. I wanted to drop off my pack before hunting down Ingram and informing her of what actually happened.

I entered the room I once shared with Danse – all of his personal belongings gone now, cleared away by the Scribes. I wondered if he had taken anything of value with him, or if it had all been incinerated. I tucked my bag under the cot and began to slide my coat off when the door slammed shut behind me.

“How could you?”

“Haylen-“ I started, turning towards the Scribe, raising my hands in a ‘I come in peace’ gesture I wasn’t sure if she would react to.

“How. Could. YOU?’ she snarled again. What once was a sweet, caring face was contorted into one of rage and fury. I had never seen Haylen so upset, so angry before. Sure, she had gotten frustrated with Rhys on a few occasions, and even ranted on about how the Institute was filled with savage assholes… but never this.

“You don’t understand.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly!” she practically screamed at me, taking a few threatening steps in my general direction. “You slaughtered Danse in cold blood because the Elder told you to. Did you even pause long enough to consider what Danse meant to other people? Like, oh, I don’t know, me? I thought he meant something to you too but apparently I was wrong!”

“I didn’t-“

“Don’t you dare even try to rationalize this. You’re no better than the f*ckers at the Institute! You’re worse than a synth,” she spat the word at me. Her breaths came in rapid puffs, eyes wild with anger.

“Haylen. I didn’t kill Danse.”

“Yes. Yes you did! And don’t give me any of that ‘Oh, I didn’t kill Danse, I killed a synth who was pretending to be Danse’ bull either. I’m not buying it. He was the best damn thing that could have happened to the Brotherhood and you killed him!”

“I didn’t. Haylen, he’s alive.” I kept my voice low and quiet, worried that I would be overheard by the wrong person.

“You- what? But… but you told Maxson that…” It was as if the air from her balloon had blown out.

“I told him what he wanted to hear. But Danse is alive and heading to a safe place.”

“I… I…” she shook her head, shoulders slumping. “I’m so sorry, Ashtyn. I thought… I thought you had gone to the dark side… I didn’t know… Please forgive me.”

“I forgive you. I would have reacted the same way in your shoes.”

Haylen plopped down onto Danse’s old bed, rubbing the back of her neck. “So… so what do we do now? You’re not seriously going to go along with this are you?”

“I don’t have much of a choice. Maxson wants to use Shaun as leverage against me. If I try to disregard his orders, it’ll be bad news for both my son and me. So, for now? I’ll play it by ear. Helping Ingram is tolerable – I know she’s good but…”

“But you don’t like what’s going on?” Haylen finished, tilting her head to the side.

I nodded slowly. The Brotherhood of Steel was filled with flaws – the biggest being Elder Maxson, the puppet master. As long as he was leading the Brotherhood, we were geared for failure. But at the same time, since he held all the power, there was no way to take it from him. We didn’t have a choice. We would have to do what he told us to and wait for a break in his carefully laid armor. “Find people you know you can trust with your life, tell them the truth about Danse and Maxson.” If we spread word about how corrupt Maxson had become, there was a chance we could divide and conquer. But if the Elder was so set on this path… I feared for what the Commonwealth would become once all threats were removed.

“No problem. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking…” I paused, peeking up at her. “I’m thinking we are going to have to change a few things once the Institute is dealt with.”

Chapter 21: Short Lived Break

Chapter Text

Sunlight filtered in through the dust stained windows, warmed my skin with its golden rays as I nestled deeper into the pillow, burrowing my face and scrunching my brow. Okay, so I was never a morning person and, I guess, having the apocalypse doesn’t change that.

Dogmeat whined next to me, body already wriggling, begging for me to get out of bed and start my day even as he hopped down to scurry down the stairs on the other side of the room. But all my muscles pleaded otherwise. Danse and I had spent the better part of the past week remodeling the Taffington Boathouse. We repaired the stairs and the majority of the wooden plank floorboards, the windows were in the works of getting a good clean, and the front yard was picked clean of debris. Though neither of us were great at farming the land, we managed to plant a few seeds in a tiny ass field outback along the riverbed that we hoped would result in something a few months from now.

The Elder thought I was out on recon, scouting the area for synth movements, aiding in discovering what the Institute’s next attack plan was. But here I was, head buried against a plump, fluffy pillow, trying to squeeze in a few more minutes of shut eye before-

His lips pressed gingerly against my temple, his hands gently slid up my bare arms to my shoulders. The stubble of his beard made me chuckle, tucking my chin away as it scratched against the soft skin of my cheek. “I thought you were never going to wake up,” Danse hummed as he took a seat next to me, causing the mattress to bow in the slightest.

“I could be persuaded,” I coaxed in return, eyes opening just enough to peer up at the man from underneath my eyelashes, a smirk already playing across my lips.

“Is that so?” I could see the mischievous glint in his eyes, the way they sparkled with desire. We hadn’t truly gotten much time together with all the renovations aside from a few quiet words spoken before we succumbed to complete and utter fatigue and exhaustion. Then we would be up and at it the next morning, trying to make the boathouse livable. “And how might that be?”

“Now… if I told you, I would have to kill you.” Already his lips trailed down along my jaw, teeth nipped at my collar bone, grip on my shoulder tightening in a way that made my toes curl, in a good way.

“We can’t have that now, can we?” he murmured against my neck, breath tickling but I didn’t have the strength to laugh or swat him away. He trailed his fingertips down the length of my arm, enclosed around my wrists, and forced me to turn onto my back. I could see him so much better, could watch the sunlight beam off his chestnut hair, watch as his gaze fell over me, as his lips curled up into a smile. “You’re so beautiful.”

Then his mouth was on mine, devouring, consuming, heated, deep. My heart sped, my breath hitched. My fingers entwined into his hair, tangling it around my hands, nails digging against his scalp. He pushed against me, effectively pinning me to the mattress, looming over me in a way that made me shiver for all the right reasons.

But this closeness, the mere few inches that were between us… too far. Much too far.

I yanked at the hem of his shirt, a whine building behind my busied lips. We tore apart just long enough to discard the item, only to come crashing back together with a hunger I didn’t know I possessed. His tongue danced across my bottom lip as my palms splayed across his chest, brain attempting to memorize every facet of him, every scar that marred his torso, every hard edge of muscle.

His hands clung to my hips, curling my body towards him as he pressed against me. A growl rippled from his throat, a low groan of annoyance. Then he too was pulling on my Vault Boy tee, fingers desperately finding their way underneath the fabric. They glided up my stomach, sent chills down my spine. I arched my back, leaning into his touch…

Only for him to break our lips, for his eyes to locate mine, a question pooling inside of them. “Ash, we don’t have to-“

“But I want to.”

His gaze flicked to my healing burns.

“You worry too much.”

Danse hesitated, closing his eyes. “I… I just…. I don’t know if I can be the man you need.”

I cupped his face between my hands. “You’re everything I need.”

“I hope you’re right. I’ll try to be. I’ll do whatever I can to make you happy. I’ll make you coffee or whatever the hell waffles are, and I’ll let you bake pies even though you don’t have a neighbor to gloat about them to…” He rested his forehead to mine, my arms wrapped around him, embracing him to me, fingers skimming along his back. “I wasn’t built for this… but I will do everything in my power to be the human you see.”

My lips played reassuringly against his, his returning moan was all the confirmation I needed.

When his hands grazed against my stomach once more, there was no pause, no doubt, no trepidation as he brought them upwards, enclosing around my breasts. I hissed in a breath through clenched jaws, parting our hungry mouths just along enough to let him escape to my neck. His teeth nibbled at my ear, his lips left a track of kisses along the base of my throat. My heart beat out an uneven and dangerously fast rhythm, the speed of it vaguely making me concerned but his hands made me quickly forget.

His breaths were frantic against my skin, his kisses brash and maddening, my name whispered between them. My ability to think was gone and, with it, my sense of control.

How long had I wanted this?

How long had I craved this?

Too long.

I grasped his shoulders then, easily taking him by surprise, rolled us and placed myself in control. I found his mouth, molded my lips to his, his sharp inhale giving me warrant to explore, my tongue and teeth practically consuming him, tasting him. His hands no longer remained on my breasts but instead chose to caress down to my ass where they firmly planted, pushing me downwards against him. My legs rested on either side of him, straddling him as he rocked against me.

My own hands were glided over his chest, his arms, his face, anywhere I could reach.

My lips felt raw though I had no mind to stop now…

No, my mind was gone, blissfully so.

I was only made aware of the loss of my cotton shorts when he impatiently tugged on my thighs, encouraging me to comply. Even the removal of such a miniscule barrier was enough to make each touch that much more sensational, that much more real.

But he had had enough of being the obedient one. He flipped us, forcing his knee between my thighs. When his gaze met me this time, he no longer appeared concerned or worried. No… He looked wild, half crazed, filled with pleasure and want.

I swallowed a whimper when his mouth did not return for me but stilled a groan as he instead favored to place it against the center of my chest. There he started, leading a path down towards my navel, his palms once again on my breasts, massaging them in a way that made my breathing spike and my eyes close. He slid downwards in the bed, fingertips lovingly stroking my ribs, my torso, my waist, and hips before curling around the top of my panties, thumbs smoothing over the lace. The heat of his exhales on my stomach made my heart flutter, set my skin ablaze.

My fingers knotted in his hair, my head tilted backwards against the pillows, lips parted in anticipation.

Someone knocked on the door downstairs.

Someone spoke the words, “Is anyone home?”

Someone, this time though I could pinpoint the perpetrator being Danse, cursed loudly, breath hoarse “f*ck,” he hissed. “Maybe they’ll go away?” A plead, a beg, a hopeless request.

“I know you’re both here somewhere, don’t make me find you!” Deacon. It was f*cking Deacon.

I sighed bitterly and the tension, blissful as it was, left my body. Danse locked eyes with me for a split second but he already knew my answer. He had been effectively co*ck-blocked by a Railroad agent.

“I’ll greet him,” he muttered, amusem*nt lost from his face as a look of annoyance replaced it. “Best get dressed… and... maybe fix your hair.” He winked at me as he pulled his shirt back on and headed for the stairs.

As I clambered out of bed, heart still racing at an uncomfortable pace – one of which I was certain my late cardiologist would panic at – I made why way to the bathroom. I was flushed, cheeks rosy, eyes wide and bright. I looked… alive. More so than I had in a long time. I couldn’t remember the last time I had felt so… so much like how I used to be. A carefree woman, someone who was not stressed about her son and his henchmen, or questioned the Brotherhood Elder and his less than savory intentions, or worried about just how she was going to help put the Commonwealth back together.

Someone who wasn’t afraid.

Huh, I was beginning to like this new me.

I fidgeted with my tee, flattening out what I could and yanked on a pair of jeans. Raking my fingers through my short hair tamed the most unruly of curls and made me as presentable as I could get. It wasn’t perfect but, at the very least, I wouldn’t appear as if I was just about to… well…

As I descended down the stairs, I began to pick up pieces of conversation.

“- out in the back area, and then we want to see if we can catch any fish. Apparently Ash knows this recipe she thinks will work with them,” Danse was saying as I rounded the corner.

Deacon, sun glasses equipped as per usual, beamed at me. “There you are, the woman of the hour.” Today he sported a faded and tattered trench coat, a graying long sleeve shirt, a pair of worn green cargo pants, and a set of combat boots.

“Welcome, Deacon. I didn’t know you were stopping by,” my tone pitched with the question I didn’t want to directly ask. Though he was a cherished friend, he wasn’t one to make house visits.

“Desdamona was looking for you. Was wondering where you have been. I covered for ya but you know I can’t do that forever.” Deacon slid his hands into his pockets, casting a wary glance at Danse. “She’s worried you’ve gone and switched sides on her.”

I exhaled slowly. Sides… the tricky part of this all. When I first arrived here, I thought everyone was against the Institute and only the Institute. They were the bad guys after all, the boogieman in the shadows, blah, blah, blah. But, I learned that was only part of the truth. Everyone had their own agendas, own goals, and own outcomes they wanted for the Wastes. Sadly, they often clashed.

The Minutemen wanted peace everywhere and, while they didn’t directly enforce it, they held a lot of power and sway in the hearts of the citizens. If paired with an organization that could influence them to speak, the Men would be a force to be reckoned with. Thankfully, they were too interested in helping settlers to be of any real danger.

The Brotherhood wanted to restore direction to the Commonwealth and promote humanitarian beliefs. However, this idealism held little wiggle room for other races – supermutant, synth, or otherwise. Maxson had a tight grip and a wicked temper. Though he may be trying to achieve greatness, the way he was going about it made my skin crawl.

Then there was the Railroad. They acted high and mighty, convinced they were doing good by saving synths from the Institute. But this brash and ignorant hold to their ‘charity’ was risky – it would be so simple for a rogue agent to get mixed up in the mess… And their complete disregard for rules and obligations made maintaining any realm of order impossible.

Finally, the Institute. They had good intentions, wanting to bring back green life and clean water… but hiding themselves away for decades while keeping all of the wonders to themselves? It sickened me. People were up here, suffering, dying. While they remained below ground with their air conditioning and hot meals.

And here I sat, stuck in the middle of it.

“There aren’t sides, Deacon,” I countered, rehashing a conversation we had had on several different occasions. “I know Des doesn’t see it that way… My priorities have just been elsewhere.”

“Like killing synths?” Was he blaming me of something?

“Only those of the Institute,” I reassured, casting a quick glance to Danse who nodded.

“Not what I’ve heard.”

“What do you mean?”

Deacon readjusted his specs. “Rumors, mostly. But I hear some Brotherhood soldiers are poking around, asking questions, getting into things they shouldn’t.”

Danse cut in, “The Brotherhood of Steel aren’t interested in the Railroad no matter how careless the actions of your organization are.”

“Easy there, man,” Deacon raised a hand, a gesture of peace. “No foul play necessary here. Just saying what I’ve heard. Sides, I hear that you aren’t really with the bigshots at the Pryd-whatever anymore given your, uh, well…” He waved a hand dismissively at Danse. “Synth-ness.”

Danse gave me an accusatory glare. “How many people have you told?”

I shrugged my shoulders innocently. “Only Deacon and Preston.” His shoulders relaxed in relief just as I continued, “And Piper, and Cait, and Codsworth, and Curie. And Dogmeat, but it’s not like he can tell anyone. Nor will anyone else.”

Danse almost groaned with irritation. “What if word gets back to the Elder?”

“It won’t,” Deacon assured. “Listen man, I know we don’t always see eye to eye but your important to Ash. I’m not saying we gotta go and throw darts or golf or whatever, but if she trusts you, so do I. And so does everyone else. Your part of our little f*cked up family. Get used to it.” His attention returned to me. “What should I tell Des?”

“Tell her…” I paused, staring at the freshly mopped floorboards as if they would give me an answer. When they remained silent, I was forced to continue on my own, “Tell her I’ll return to my duties shortly. I have a few things I need to tie up back at the Prdywen and then I can report back to her. I have a few propositions she may be interested in that could gain you guys a foothold or two.”

“Swell. Now onto order of business number two,” Deacon rubbed his hands together. “And I’ve made her wait long enough. Told her there was a line.”

I arched a brow at him. “What?” As was typical with Deacon, he sometimes made little sense.

“Someone else is here to see you.” Deacon tilted his head towards the door…

And in walked-

“Haylen!” I squealed, jogging up to my favorite Scribe and hugging her tight to me. It had only been a handful of days but I missed her. She welcomed my embrace and returned it, waving lazily at Danse.

“It’s so good to see you both!” she welcomed. “Especially you, Danse. You are missed.”

“Not by all,” he replied somewhat bitterly.

She nodded sadly at that. “Yeah… Speaking of,” she pivoted towards me, “I was really careful, like you said, and spoke to some of the recruits. Paladin Brandis and Proctor Ingram are in agreement but only after the Institute is taken down. I also reached out to a few of your contacts. So far, a man named ‘Honest Dan’ has replied stating he is good to go whenever we give the word, said he owed you a favor.”

Danse had been clued into my scheming the day before. Though he was hesitant to go against his friend and Elder, he agreed that something had to be done. He hoped we could bring about a peaceful resolution to the Brotherhood of Steel… I did not tell him that I thought such an end would be impossible to reach. I couldn’t crush him like that… not after he had just gone through so much recently.

“It’s a decent start,” he commended.

“Someone want to clue me in?” Deacon requested, expression confused.

“I’ll tell you later,” Danse countered, waving the other man with him towards the back of the house. “Haylen? I’m sure you’re not just here for an update? You said you could give us a week… you coming to take her back from me?” he paused at the doorway he shooed Deacon through.

Haylen bobbed her head up and down. “Yes, sir. Apologies. Elder Maxson wants us to investigate a transmission coming from Trinity Tower by a man named Rex Goodman. He wanted Rhys and I to pick you up from your ‘patrolling’ and head there as soon as possible.” Ah, yes, the lie we had agreed to spin for Maxson. He believed I was scouting areas for synth activity. Last I heard, Haylen, Danse, and I were the only ones who knew the truth. I had a feeling Rhys was still in the dark.

“How long will she be gone for?”

“Couple of days. I’m sure you can handle it,” she grinned up at her superior, a bit of sarcasm oozing into her voice.

Danse rolled his eyes, hooking an arm around my waist before pulling me close to him. “You bring her back in one piece, soldier.”

She playfully saluted, “Sir, yes, sir!”

“Be safe,” he whispered into my ear, pressing a shy kiss to my temple.

“I will,” I promised, squeezing his hand reassuringly before pulling myself away. Turning to Haylen I asked, “Where is Rhys?”

“Didn’t want him to know we were lying so I had him wait at Bunker Hill. He’s getting us supplies and stimpacks while I retrieve you. Meet you outside in five?”

“Yes, ma’am!”


I wouldn’t admit it too loudly but… I missed being on duty. I missed trekking around, searching for usable items, and coming across abandoned buildings I had once visited 200 years ago. I missed the adrenaline rushes, the dizzying moments of combat, and the excitement of playing life as if it was a game. I missed the close calls, the sound of explosions, and the ever present gunfire.

My mother would roll in her grave if she knew what had become of her precious ballerina.

The air was bitter, the humidity making it taste of radiation and dust. The sun screamed down at us, scorching Haylen and I with its blazing red rays of fire. Within ten minutes, a layer of sweat began to form against my back where my pack rested, assault rifle swaying in its holster strap. I was thankful for my shorter hair, glad it no longer could stick to my forehead and neck, pleased it could no longer weigh me down. I guess Molotovs came in handy every once in a while.

“You know he cares for you, right?” Haylen broke through my thoughts, dragging me back to reality.

“Hmm?” I hedged, my sluggish brain not entirely comprehending what she was saying.

“Danse. I have never seen him so… happy. He’s so happy, Ash. So incredibly happy. He has never smiled so much before. He looks relaxed for once.” She smiled warmly over at me. “And it’s thanks to you.”

I blushed, shaking my head. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You’ve done everything. Including defying Maxson’s orders…” Haylen visibly shook, her dirt encrusted fingers raising to rub her arms. “I never thought he could turn so cold… We were supposed to be doing wonderful things, not killing each other.” Her voice darkened with each word, heavily weighed down by her grief. “What went wrong?”

“I don’t know. I believe that Maxson thinks he is doing the right thing. And, to be fair, he isn’t that far off. His method is just questionable.”

“Questionable?” Haylen frowned. “Immoral. Unjust. Wrong. We are supposed to build people up, not tear them down. We are supposed to search for relics of our past, technology, so we can share it with the world, not covet it like it is some prize to be kept by the few. We were meant to be so much better than this…” Her head dipped down, shoulders slumped with defeat.

I couldn’t imagine what she was going through. She had been with the Brotherhood of Steel for much longer than I had, and had come to cherish each and every single person in its ranks. She found her home on the Prydwen, her place with her fellow Scribes. To suddenly learn that the man leading your charge did not have the best intentions could be heart breaking, world shattering. How she even began to cope with this… I wasn’t sure. Then, to top it off, she was helping to build a retaliation effort against the man she once blindly followed. She was planning to overthrow him, to remove him from power. To guess how she felt…

“I’m sorry, Haylen,” I whispered.

“No… don’t be sorry. If it wasn’t for you, I may not have realized the obvious. Maxson’s cruelty, using your son as a bargaining chip was unacceptable. Demanding you take down your trainer and best friend, inexcusable. And it’s only the beginning…” She peeked up at me. “Some things have changed since you’ve been gone.”

“Like what?” What could he have accomplished in such little time? Were there no checks and balances in place for this type of thing?

“He’s doing routine bunk checks. Says he has intel that leads him to believe that there are more synths in our ranks, like Danse. If we protest, he threatens. He forced a squire to an extensive medical screening when he refused to part with one of his belongings. The boy hasn’t really spoken much to anyone since.”

My stomach twisted uncomfortably. What if Jeremy or Tim were forced to this testing? What had brought Maxson to such an extent? He wasn’t trusting those around him…

“I think learning that Danse was a synth hit him hard… harder than I thought,” Haylen continued. “The two of them were pretty close, friends for years. Maybe he felt betrayed…”

“It doesn’t justify his behavior,” I quipped, glancing around us. We were nearing on Bunker Hill, the monument could be seen in the distance, peeking up over the toppled outlying buildings and playgrounds. “Reacting in such a way is childish. Danse is still loyal to the Brotherhood. If Maxson would pull his head out of his ass, maybe he could see that.”

“I don’t think he’ll listen to reason…”

“No, neither do I.”

We walked then for a time, neither of us speaking. It felt surreal, returning to the edge of Boston. Every time I walked through the rundown streets, I couldn’t help but get flashbacks of the old world. Where now sat a mangled heap of metal rested, once stood a swing set, a burned down building once was owned by a mother and father, their children playing in the front yard. I could almost hear the ice cream truck, the laughter, almost smell the barbeque, a bonfire roaring in a pit.

Two centuries can change your memories… and destroy what is left of them.

As we closed in our destination, I broke our silence. “What does Rhys know?”

“Nothing. He remains loyal. I’m hoping he will change his mind.”

I wasn’t surprised. Rhys wasn’t one to bend easily. He owed so much to the Brotherhood; the mere idea of betraying them was treasonous. I doubted his ideals were on the same level of bat sh*t crazy as Maxson’s, but we needed him on our side. “Good to know.”

“He still isn’t a fan of you.”

Oooo, what a shocker! Pffft, not. “Double good to know.”

Bunker Hill was thriving with activity upon our arrival. Traders rested at their stalls, goods splayed out for customers to see. Caravan owners cared to their Brahmin, the large mutated cows nibbling on whatever dried out hunk of grass they could manage to find. The medical hut was busy though that was pretty normal given the proximity to the unsafe streets of downtown Boston and frequent raider attacks.

We found Rhys leaned up against one of the outer walls, more or less protected from the sun. He gave us a curt nod as we approached. “Anything to report, Paladin?” he addressed me, the title still sounding foreign to my ears.

“Nothing, Knight Rhys. Lexington is quiet, at least with Synth activity.”

“Confirmed. Did Scribe Haylen speak of our next mission together?”

“Yes, she gave me some of the details on our hike here.” A grin began to form on the corner of my lips. I couldn’t help it, maintaining such formal speech was hilarious, especially with how seriously Rhys took it.

“Are you comfortable with the parameters set out by our Elder? Do you agree to the mission?”

I chuckled. “Yes, Rhys. Sheesh. Calm down a bit. They can’t hear you from here, you can talk normal.”

“In the presence of civilians, it is best maintain a proper demeanor in order to best represent the Brotherhood of Steel.” Ah, then you best start threatening anyone that even glances at you funny.

“Whatever you say, Knight.”

Haylen giggled next to me though a stern look from Rhys encouraged her to politely cough.

“Did you get the ammo and med supplies?” Haylen inquired once recovered.

Again with a brief nod. “They are in my pack, we can sort them out when we are away from… onlookers.” He sent a wary glance towards the bulk of the settlement.

“Then should we depart?”

I couldn’t imagine how this mission was going to go. Haylen and Rhys were such polar opposites from each other in almost every way though they made a formidable team back at the Cambridge Police Station. However, with Rhys despising my every move, I wasn’t sure I wanted him at my back. On the other hand, Haylen wasn’t the best with a gun, she was more fit for a support role than anything else meaning that Rhys would likely be forced to have my back.

Could I trust him?

Could I dare to?

“Move out!” Rhys ordered, leading the way out of Bunker Hill.

I guess I was going to find out.

Chapter 22: It's The Climb

Chapter Text

We had walked in silence for the majority of our hike. Rhys was tense, shoulders back, posture rigid as he scanned our surroundings. He always shouted ‘Clear!’ afterwards, as if he wasn’t pointing out the f*cking obvious. By the fifteenth time of hearing his voice rocket off the sides of downtown Boston, I was this close to side swiping him with the barrel of my combat rifle. Shut. The. Hell. UP!

Gotta admit, wandering aimlessly? Not one of my favorite things to do. We had a general idea of where we were going based off of maps that Rhys and Haylen glanced at prior to leaving the Prydwen but they were not the most accurate of tools. If I had my PipBoy on me, we would have been there already. However, I had stupidly left it back in my bunk room when I left to help Danse at the Taffington Boathouse. I wasn’t sure if it could be used to track me and did not want the Brotherhood of Steel to come barging in with no notice.

But right now? I was really wishing I had it on me, even if I still wasn’t sure how everything on it worked.

As we neared the Tower, night was beginning to fall. Stars lazily dotted the sky above our heads, the moon casted murky shadows, peeked through the cracks of broken glass and demolished skyscrapers. The ever present heat began to fade, the humidity dipping away until it was almost nonexistent. The air was crisper and I was finally thankful for the jacket Danse convinced me to wear. It truly felt like April. Course, the weather did little to hinder the echoing gunshots in the distance, the muted shouting from raiders or Diamond City guards, or the scurrying of mole rats just under our booted feet… but I could enjoy the little things every once in a while.

Granted, Rhys wasn’t in the mood for allowing that.

His voice cut through the air like a machete. “Paladin Jones?”

I sighed heavily, mentally forcing myself not to roll my eyes or make a face. “Yes?”

He came to a standstill, slowly turning towards me, his face a mask of determination. “I understand that you are my superior in this endeavor but, given our strengths and weaknesses and our total amount of time on the field, I believe I should be the one leading this mission today.”

I blinked up at him, lips parted in the slightest. Haylen went white as a ghost next to me, eyebrows shooting upwards. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Regardless of what Elder Maxson sees in you, you were chosen simply due to convenience. M7-97 never would have selected you if we were not in the predicament we were in at the time. It was a foolish mistake to allow you into our ranks; I believed it then and I still do till this day. And I will not have your inexperience endanger us.” He spoke with such conviction, such certainty. He honestly considered his words to be nothing but the complete and utter truth.

But I still bristled. I took a defiant step forward, arms crossing across my chest, jaw setting. I’m not sure where my confidence came from or where my ‘law student/house-wife’ self went, but I kind of liked this bad ass new me. “Okay, pal. First: I am not a mistake. I have fought just as hard as some of the newer recruits to get here and, clearly, I am doing something right if Maxson is allowing me to stay.” Rhys didn’t know that the main reason for that was my connection to Father or how I was more or less being blackmailed. Those were the fine details and they could remain a secret. “Second, I realize that you think my strategies are chaotic, you’ve made that blatantly obvious more times than I can count. However, I always get the job done and with no casualties. And third: his name is Danse, not M7-97. Don’t you dare call him that.”

Was. His name was Danse. But then we found out that it was a traitorous synth who committed treason by allying against us. For all we know, it was a sleeper agent this whole time. It will forever be remembered as M7-97, and you would do well to understand that, Paladin,” words laced with battery acid, a sneer curled his lips down, eyes sparked with a hatred I didn’t know he possessed.

I felt Haylen’s hand on my arm, her gentle fingers giving a compassionate squeeze. “Perhaps we shouldn’t speak of such topics, Paladin Jones was the one who had to put him down. It’s not polite to bring it up, Rhys.” She was trying to broker peace, I knew that. But a lesser part of me wanted to fight against it, fight tooth and nail to show Rhys that he was wrong. How dare he slander Danse’s name like that? He knew so little.

And I knew so little of the man before me.

Rhys’s cold glare broke away from mine for a split second to offer a nod of comprehension to Haylen. “You’re right, Scribe, as always.” Then he was staring me down again, lips twitched into a permanent frown. “But, my belief still stands. I would like to take point on this mission. I will not have anyone’s life put at stake. If a decision has to be made, I want it to be made in favor of the Brotherhood and the morals we stand for… not on the whim of a woman who doesn’t know the first thing of service.”

I gritted my teeth. On one hand, I wanted to deny him of all power, wanted to strip him bare and remind him of our ranking. But… that was childish, and it wouldn’t gain me any favors. On the other hand, he was doing what he thought best for his brothers and sisters and I couldn’t really fault him for that. It was evident that I did not abide by their ‘code of conduct’. I couldn’t kill a synth when ordered. Regardless of the situation, I broke that vow. He had a point. But that didn’t necessarily mean I had to like it. “Be my guest, sir.”

In truth, I wondered if he was jealous of me. Haylen had mentioned it before during one of my training sessions. Rhys all but idolized Danse. So when his Paladin’s favor turned to me, he grew envious. Rhys disliked how his mentor and role model paid attention to me…. This was made even more prominent with each mistake I made, each correction I needed.

At the end of the day… I couldn’t place any blame on Rhys.

He seemed surprised at my release of authority. “Uh, yes. Right then!” His attention spun to the tower that loomed just head of us. “I’ll take the frontal charge, the pair of you remain back a few paces. Utilize your cover and do not stray from the group. Our scouts have told us that this area is swarming with supermutants and, according to Rex’s distress signal, they have a strong presence at Trinity Tower. We will have to be precise and deadly in order to achieve victory. Onwards!”

Our trek resumed then though at a quieter, slightly stealthier pace. With night falling around us, we were able to stay hidden in the shadows provided by rundown vehicles and overturned park benches. My feet barely made a sound as I skirted from cover to cover, ducking low behind whatever I could find to stay out of sight of any enemies that lay ahead. All that training was beginning to pay off… I worked like a well-oiled machine. Funny how such actions were foreign to me just a few months prior.

As we came up on the tower, our ‘commander’ signaled us to a halt.

Rhys waved us forward to his position by a cement median. I crouched down on his left, Haylen to his right. Peeking over the edge allowed us to visualize our playing field – three brutes and two hounds, patrolled the perimeter. One mutant was on the lower levels, the other two were up a few stories. “I see five,” Rhys breathed. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep myself from responding with a snide ‘no sh*t, Sherlock, good for you, you can count!’. Now wasn’t the time for my big mouth. “I suggest we split. I’ll take center, Haylen, you flank to that wall over there while I distract them, and Jones, you can head for the farther barrier. We will need that elevator up and running, I’m putting Haylen on that. Paladin, we will have to make sure she doesn’t draw attention, keep the fire on us. Understood?”

As far as plans go? This one was pretty solid. It played to our strengths and made sure our weaknesses were accounted for. I never once doubted Rhys’s capabilities, only his attitude. Which was sh*t, in case I hadn’t mentioned that before.

“Yes, sir,” we both whispered.

“On my signal,” Rhys raised a hand, eyes zeroing in on our enemy, waiting for the proper time to give us a higher chance of success. Just as the closest mutant turned his back to us, his hand snapped and we launched into action.

I felt a surge of adrenaline pump through my veins at the first surprised grunt from a supermutant, the vicious growl of their hounds. My heart rate accelerated, breaths became deeper, evenly spaced. Focus, concentrate. Just like training. A week of hauling timber and stone around wasn’t going to slow me down.

Rhys whistled loudly, drawing the majority of the attention away from Haylen and me as we sped to our flanking positions. I slid to a stop, kicking up dust and debris in the process, hand brushing the top of the barrier to still my momentum. I glanced towards Haylen, her eyes meeting mine for a split second before she moved onwards towards the elevator. She trusted us to have her back… and we were going to do just that.

The Knight was slowly being surrounded. The ground mutant had his sights on him, red laser light dancing along the median as the beast attempted to find a clear shot. The hounds were closing in, claws clicking against the cement and asphalt, jaws gaping and teeth glistening in the moonlight. Their mutilated forms raced towards Rhys, eyes wide with a blood thirst, a craze. If I didn’t react, Rhys would be ripped to shreds in a matter of seconds.

I propped my rifle on the shattered barrier that once stood as a railing for the stairs to my right. Planting my feet firmly, I spun the barrel towards one of the hounds, zeroed in on his hind leg.



And my index finger slammed back against the trigger, shooting out a volley or metallic bullets.

An agonized cry erupted from the hound, his leg giving out on him, and effectively careening him into the side of the median, head making a sickening crunch as it impacted. His body fell lifeless, motionless, dead.

And I gained a few points towards detection. Oops.

The other mutt continued the pursuit though the mutant spun madly towards me, teeth clenched into a tight snarl, eyes nearly bulging out of his skull. “YOU! DIE! NOW!” he roared.

A glance at Haylen told me she was still tinkering with the controls. A second glance upwards towards the steps told me that mutant reinforcement was on the way and we needed to take care of our current threats rapidly or risk being at a disadvantage.

And as I reloaded my gun, I came to the somewhat terrifying realization that I was going to have to get crafty. I only had enough ammo for two more rounds currently… Rhys had more but it wasn’t as if I was going to make my way back to him to ask for some, not in these conditions. I had my knife on my hip, the edge newly sharpened during our trek here…

Time to get up close and personal.

I really hope this vest is bullet-proof like the label says.

I vaulted over my makeshift cover and entered the fray. The supermutant howled in frustration, muttering some garbled slur at me though he words were lost in the pounding gunfire. I sped left only to break back right, keeping low to the ground and twirling my body behind whatever suitable protection II could find – a support beam, a ledge, a dilapidated dumpster, getting closer and closer with each pass. Bullets whistled by my head, screeching, causing a ringing in my ears.

Flashes of light near Rhys informed me that he had opened fire on the hound. One problem was going to be taken care of at least.

I was as close as I could get now, no cover ahead of me save the one I was cowering behind. The next charge was going to be void of defense. I was going to get hit, the sooner I came to terms with that the better. Please, hit the vest. Target the damn vest. I could take a few blows there, no problem. A shot to the arm, leg, or head though? I would be down for the count.

The footfalls of the other supermutants were growing louder by the second.

“f*ck,” I hissed to myself… and then lurched around the corner.

The first few bullets plummeted into my chest doing nothing more than applying pressure to my sternum. No biggy. I kept my head low, barreling towards my opponent. I could shake it off. However, one of the latter shells, when I was a mere foot or two away, sliced into my shoulder. I yelped, heat lacing through my flesh, the wound sizzling with inflammation, blood already trailing down my arm.

Ignore it!

I ground my teeth together as I hurled myself towards the mutant, fingers haphazardly finding holding in his bulky chain armor. Supermutants were easily a foot taller than the average human… and I’m easily a half foot shorter than the average human…

Needless to say, I wasn’t super thrilled with my location.

The mutant bucked and pitched, tossing his gun to the dirt in an attempt to grasp me, to throw me off. I clambered around to his back, booted feet digging into his belt, right hand clinging to his neck for dear life, swallowing the bile that rose in my throat. The putrid rank that oozed off of the mutant was enough to make my head spin, my stomach heave.

I peeked up as more gunfire split across the base of the tower. His pals had shown up.

And I was in the blast radius.

With a grunt of exertion, I used what little drive I had to twist the supermutant I was on towards their direction, to place his figure between me and them, like a shield of sorts. Though I weighed only a touch over one hundred pounds, it was enough to encourage the beast to do my bidding. His torso vibrated, body shuddering with each bullet that peppered into him.

He dropped like a load of bricks.

I fell away from him, rolling closer to the two foes.

“Get that elevator running, Haylen!” Rhys barked as he sprinted out of cover, aiming at the mutant to the left. “Jones, take out the right one!”

I brandished the blade from my hip, the metal glinting from the overhead flood lights. “PUNY HUMAN, THINKS STUPID KNIFE CAN KILL US! STUPID HUMAN!” the right one taunted, retrieving his beefy wooden club, the end impaled with nails. That would hurt… that would hurt a lot.

He took a swing at me, his moves on the sluggish end of the scale. I sidestepped, wincing as the brutish weapon hurtled into the ground, leaving a sizeable dent where I once stood. Holy f*cking cheesecake. Don’t get hit by that. “STAY STILL PUNY HUMAN!”

I stumbled backwards as he arched the club around. I could feel the power from it as he just barely missed, the spikes tearing at the clothing around my thighs but missing my skin.

I skipped right as he made to attack again, making a quick jab forward with my knife, grinning in satisfaction when it bit into his forearm, causing him to cry in pain. I had to dart backwards again, flinching as the mutant snatched at me with his bare hand when I got too close.

We continued this duet, weaving around each other – though I was much more agile than my counterpart, he was stronger and meatier. If I made one wrong move, I would be finished, pulverized into nothingness, pancaked against the pavement. My shoulder screamed in protest, each minute tug of the tender muscle torn from the gunshot sent searing white hot agony through my system. The arm was all but useless to me. I couldn’t even hold my dagger in that hand.

“FIST WILL LIKE YOU!” the beast shouted

Fist? Guessing that was their head honcho.

“It’s working! It’s working!” Haylen squealed from her position…

And drew the attention of my baddie.

I took the opportunity and sprung for his back. Clinging to the supermutant much like I had with his bud, I raised the knife above my head, and drove it down against the base of his skull, allowing the blade to wedge into the brain stem, destroying the neural impulse pathway to his spine. With the connection obliterated, the mutant sank to the ground.

Rhys’s foe went down with a heavy thud as well, it’s corpse littered with bullet holes.

Together we jogged to the open elevator doors, pressing our backs against the inside walls, and collectively breathing in relief as the machine began to ascend.

I cringed as I rolled my shoulders. “That looks rough,” Haylen commented, already poking in her pack for a stimpack for me. She managed to find a roll of gauze and medical tape. “I’ll bandage you up the best I can, the stim should take the worst of the sting away.” The injection made all of my senses feel more alive, removed the burn from my awareness. I still wasn’t sure how those things were made, or who stumbled upon the serum, but I was thankful in that moment for their existence.

“You wouldn’t have gotten injured had you stuck to your rifle,” Rhys bit out, hands busied with reloading his own gun.

“I would have run out of ammo. I wasn’t in any position to pop over to you and request more,” I quipped, hissing in a sharp breath as Haylen began to pack my wound.

“You should have checked before we started. Going into combat without being properly prepared is a death sentence. Any decent soldier would know that.” Cold, emotionless, lifeless. So much like the Danse I had first met.

“Rhys,” Haylen started but I waved a hand to silent her.

“Let him preach,” I replied bitterly. “Go on, Rhys, get it off your chest.” My tone was mocking, my patience wearing thing. I was growing tired with his brashness.

Rhys scowled at me, brows knitting together. “You’re beyond help. You received hours upon hours of training and still your tactics are defiant and irrational. It’s a wonder you have survived as long as you have so far. Perhaps, had it not been for M7-97, you would have perished long ago. This only confirms my previous statements.” The elevator pinged, we had hit the limit on this one and would have to find another to make it to the roof. “Again, I am leading this mission. Do not muck it up with your thoughtless actions and carelessness towards your own life.” Then he stalked out of the elevator and into the opening.

My fingers balled into tight fists at my side, teeth gritted. My lips parted to speak but Haylen touched my hand. “He’s been through a lot lately.”

I let out a dry laugh, eyeing Rhys as he climbed the staircase on the opposite end of the entry foyer, beckoning for us to join him once he realized the landing was ‘clear’. “He isn’t the only one, and that isn’t a good enough f*cking excuse. I don’t deserve his bat sh*t craziness.”

Haylen exhaled slowly, finishing up her tape job, my shoulder wrapped securely. “His whole world has been shaken. With Danse gone… he fell apart. I know he wouldn’t freely admit it to anyone, but… he’s a mess. Add that with some of Maxson’s questionable decisions and the whisper of dissatisfaction by the higher ranks… He’s been a bit short tempered with everyone. His ideals and norms are being flipped upside down. He’s lost. It’s not the best excuse but, for someone who has never had anything beyond the Brotherhood, he doesn’t know how to cope, so this is how he does it. Go easy on the guy.” She held out an ammo case for me.

Taking the package and pocketing it, I gave a short nod. “Okay, I will. But I’m going to have a heart to heart with him at some point. Soon. I get where he is coming from… but putting the brunt of it on me? Not cool. And not appreciated.”

“That’s fair,” she agreed.

“You guys coming?” Rhys called down to us, his head poking out over the railing for the next floor.

“Yes, sir!” Haylen returned, proceeding out past me and up the stairs, I was at her heels.

“Looks like this floor is more or less empty,” Rhys continued once we were next to him. Saying the area was ravaged would be an understatement. Doors were blown off, chairs were mangled and disassembled, glass was bashed in, carpets were stained with blood and gore, and files were scattered across the desks and exposed wooden planks. “I heard one of the abominations mention a mutant named Fist. I’m guessing he’s their leader. We need to find him and take him out, ending the life of every atrocity on our way. I think we should-“

That’s when I tuned him out. Something didn’t feel right. As he spoke, I scanned our surroundings. Why leave this floor void of resistance? I’m not implying that mutants had any sort of intelligence, but it didn’t seem like them either. Wires ran along the length of the walls. They were not frayed or damaged like the other equipment… but why were they there? Why repair the electricity system? It made no sense. When Rhys began to walk forward, my eyes widened.

That’s why.

Oh god.

“Stop!” I ordered.

But it was too late.

His foot passed through the trigger mechanism, the trap clicked into place. “MOVE!”

I shoved the pair of them through the doorway, rounded the corner and bolted down the adjacent hallway. The first explosion was sparked, the walls trembled with power as a chain reaction was set off. Keep running, keep running! Heat kissed my skin as the second fired out behind us causing the floor to hurl, buckling underneath my feet.

“This way!” Rhys instructed, climbing up a portion of the ceiling that had crumbled, providing us with a ramp to the next floor.

But the wires raced along here too.

“Don’t stop!” Haylen cried out, following Rhys as I took up the rear. Our world was erupt with activity, bursting at the seams. The whole building was going to crumble if we weren’t careful. Fire was already spreading.

But we couldn’t turn back now… we could only go forwards.

The two of them were on the next level ahead of me. They were almost around the next corner, gunfire starting up once more. We weren’t alone. They had found us. “Get ready for combat!” I vaguely heard Rhys demand through the blaze.

And the floor below me finally gave way.

I shrieked, hands splaying out, blindly groping the air for something to grab ahold of. But they found no refuge and I plummeted to the floor below. I landed heavily, shoulder jarring painfully, head whiplashing against the ground. I saw stars rave in front of my vision, I coughed up lungful after lungful of smoke.

“ASHTYN!” Haylen wailed but her voice too was lost to the chaos. The gunshots only got louder, they were going to be surrounded.

“I’m okay!” I tried to holler up to them, voice hoarse. “Keep going! I’ll find a way to you! Get to the roof if you can!” I hoped they heard me, I hoped they would move onwards without me. I wasn’t about to let them die because of me. I couldn’t live with that.

The back of my skull throbbed, but the stimpack from earlier was ebbing away the worst of it. I scrambled weakly to my hands and knees, eyes blinking away the bright colors and bringing my focus back to reality. I was too short to return through the hole I had fallen through. The way behind me was barricaded by piled furniture that I was in no condition to move. I could feel the warmth of the fire through the wall to my right, the orange flames visible through the cracks.

Which narrowed my choices down to one…

The window to my left.

I pried the lock mechanisms open and forced the panel upwards. The cool night air breeze fluttered in, cooling my face. But now wasn’t the time to enjoy the evening hour. Hoisting myself through the frame, I began to climb out the side of the building.

From the exterior, the skirmish between Rhys, Haylen, and the supermutants was clearer. I could hear Rhys bellow orders, the mutants gargling their reply. But at least they were alive and the grenade trap was finished. Now I just had to get to them.

I bit my bottom lip. The brickwork was somewhat brittle, not enough handholds for me to utilize. I couldn’t go from window to window either, my small stature wouldn’t span the distance between them. Down, f*ck; down was not an option. A simple glimpse verified that nugget of information, and made my stomach drop to my knees in one fell swoop. A drain pipe ran parallel to the window, traveling upwards to the floor prior to the roof. It wasn’t my best route but… A good shake indicated that it was sturdy, the nails still holding it to the brickwork.

Would it hold me?

Only one way to find out.

Have I mentioned how much I hate heights?

If I was going to monkey my ass magically up the side of the building though, my combat boots were going to have to go. I wouldn’t be able to get any good footings with them. I leaned back through the window opening to unlace my shoes and kicked them off, leaving my feet bare. With the fire quickly closing in on me, I squirmed out of the window and molded myself to the pipe, fingers fastening to the rounded metal portion that held the gutter to the foundation of the Tower.

“Move to the next floor!” Rhys shouted above the haze.

Good, if they were moving, so should I.

Without glancing down to the ground below me, which was at a dizzying distance, I kept my gaze glued to my objective: namely, the roof.

I extended my palm timidly to the next metal bar, hauling myself up to it, and my toes finding bracing. A cold sweat broke out across my forehead, my innate fear striving to get the better of me. I swallowed hard, hands trembling, muscles already pleading for me to stop. No, I had to keep going.

I repeated the process, inching my way further up the wall. Danse would kill me if he saw me now. He would berate me with how dangerous I was being... I smiled warily. There was a good chance that, if Danse was here, I wouldn’t be in this position.

I continued, another bar grasped, another few feet covered. I was nearing the end of the pipe though, the fighting within subsiding. Rhys’s voice relieved me, letting me know that they were the victors in that battle. “Jones?” he yelled out.

“I’m here!”

His head popped out of a window a floor above me, three or four yards away. “Rhys!”

His face paled, black ash and soot marring his cheek, a fresh gash leaking scarlet blood across his jaw. “Stay there! We will come to you.”

“Okay!” my voice was shaky, my nerves a mess. He disappeared back through the opening but it was only a matter of seconds before the window directly above me rattled, and his head was once visible again.

He reached for me, strong hands enclosing around my chest under my arms. “I got you,” he reassured, pulling me back through and into the hall with him. His breath came in uneven pants as he relaxed, his body limply sprawled out as he regained his energy.

“Where’s Haylen?” I asked, glad my pounding heart was beginning to quiet.

“She got hit hard. She’s unconscious but fine. Nothing Cade can’t fix when we get her back to the Prydwen.” He jerked his thumb to her slumped position nearby. Aside from some mild scrapes, she looked fine. But a good blow to the head can knock anyone out cold. Still, it was comforting to know she was alright. “We just have to get here there. When we were fighting our way up, I saw a lift system running the length of the exterior. It starts at the roof… If we get to that, we can get out of here. But we still have to go through Fist to get there. And find Rex.” When he sat up, he gave me a once over, assessing my injuries. “Report? How is the shoulder holding up?”

“Bashed my head but no LOC changes, shoulder unchanged. No boots.” I wiggled my toes for emphasis. As for my shoulder? I was becoming increasingly aware of just how much it did not enjoy climbing up a drain pipe. The mix of adrenaline, necessity, and determination must have numbed the ache but now that I was seated, it was returning in full force.

He shook his head. “I thought you were a goner.”

Before I could filter myself, I blurted, “Would that have been so awful?”

His head snapped up, brows furrowing. “What do you mean?”

I scoffed, “It’s no secret you hate my guts. Would have done you a favor if I had slipped, wouldn’t it?” I watched as his lips parted only to close again. The man at a loss for words. “I don’t know what I ever did to you.”

Slowly his gaze moved to the floor, his fingers idly tugging on the laces that held his boots in place. “You never did anything… Not really.” His voice was low, hushed. “I apologize. It’s just that…” Again he trailed off, as if finding the words he wanted was a challenge. “I’ve worked so hard to get where I am in the Brotherhood. Not as much as some of the others but certainly harder than the other recruits that joined at the same time. I’ve devoted my entire life to the Brotherhood. And then you walk in and you get promoted for helping with ONE mission because I was benched due to injuries.” His hands wound into fists then, knuckles almost blanching white from the strain. “I don’t get it.”

“So, you’re angry with me because of, what? Jealousy?” I rolled my eyes. “Trust me, you have nothing to be jealous of.”

“Oh? Don’t I?” Tone heavier now, but sharp, teetering on the edge. “You’ve been promoted how many times since joining? And, mind you, this is after you’ve put not only your own life on the line but others, going against our morals and vows.” He stood, brushing dirt from his military greaves. “But this is enough of a delay. We can’t make Rex wait on us.”

I wanted to press the topic, wanted to get to an end of this childish behavior. But... He was right. We were here on a mission. This could wait for another time. “I can take Haylen.”

“What about your injuries?” Expression stoic, he had returned to the soldier façade.

“I can barely hold my left arm up without the help of an adrenaline high, it would be better for you to handle combat.”

He bobbed his head in agreement, equipping his shotgun and pointing the barrel ahead of us. “Stay close.”

Holding Haylen up was not easy, by any stretch of the imagination. My good arm was looped around her waist, my legs and lower back supporting the majority of her weight. I was thankful in that moment that she was not built like Danse or Rhys but instead, more like myself. If I had to haul one of the guys around… f*ck, that would suck.

Rhys led the ‘charge’, if I could even call this meek little march that, as we headed up another ramp. He and Haylen must have cleared out this floor prior to locating me. Dead supermutants lay lifeless at random intervals, blood splattering the walls and desks of the Tower, weapons forgotten at their sides. Even in death, I found them terrifying. Their off colored skin, bulging eyes, misshapen jaws, scars… A shiver fled down my spine.

We took another elevator up as far as we could, the ride silent… awkwardly so. I was relieved when the doors pinged open, Rhys darting ahead. He handled the mutants we encountered with ease though we only found two. I was able to stay in cover, watching over Haylen.

“We should be near the top,” he informed me as we took a few minute pause. “That’s where Rex should be… and Fist. But with how disserted this floor is, I’m wondering if the boss isn’t here.”

“I wouldn’t get too co*cky,” I chided, repositioning Haylen.

“Supermutants don’t have tactics, Paladin. They are not intelligent enough for such things,” he snorted, shaking his head in disbelief, as if I was an imbecile for even thinking such.

“I don’t know Rhys… this whole place hasn’t been what we expected.”

“You’re too worried. Come on, just a bit more.” And then he was walking again, focused on the goal. I bit my lip, wanting to say more but daring not to. Haylen had said not to be too hard on him… maybe I was just overreacting. I’ll blame it on blood loss.

“Up here!” Rhys had gone around the curve ahead of me, his voice echoing off of the interior of the building. “I found-“ Suddenly his voice was cut off by a shattering howl.

“Rhys!” I gently lowered Haylen to the ground before bolting after him.

I scrambled up the ramp, the snarl of a mutant already evident before I made it to the top.

Fist was still here, his clenched hand pounding into the side of Rhys’s face, sending the Knight cascading into a pile of crates and boxes along the edge of the roof. The mutant raised his minigun, leveling the heavy weapon at Rhys’s body as he tried to gain proper footing. Our eyes met, both scared and questioning. Neither of us had an answer of what to do. Two of us against a crazed supermutant, the odds were not in our favor.

Rhys rocketed to the left just as Fist open fired on him, his bullets screeching off the roof, shells tumbling to the ground several feet below. The Knight could keep up cat and mouse for some time but not indefinitely.


My eyes frantically searched my surroundings, everything snapping into slow time around me. Fist and Rhys were on the back of my mind, along with the rapid fire minigun. I had to think fast, beyond fast, or Rhys was going to be nothing more than bits and pieces of skin and bone painted across the top of Trinity Tower.

The roof was littered with containers, random furniture, gore piles, and… a cage. Inside held what I assumed was Rex, a business suit desperate looking man… and another supermutant. “We can help!” Rex offered. “Just get us out of here! The terminal can be hacked!”

I didn’t have time to hack a f*cking terminal, I needed results now. But… My gaze flicked to the supermutant. What the holy hell was he going to do?

“Strong is on our side!” Rex spoke again, earnest coloring his voice.

sh*t, it didn’t matter. We needed help NOW. I yanked the gun off of my back, pivoted it around in my hands until the stock was aimed at the latch, and brought the rifle downwards, busting the padlock. Holy crap, that actually worked. Up until now I just assumed it was only functional in the movies. Rex yanked the cell door open… and the supermutant known as Strong barreled out past him, charging headlong at Fist.

The two mutants clashed together, both snarling incoherently… but at least Fist’s focal point had been taken off of Rhys. The Knight looped around to me, out of breath, face pale. “What did you DO?” he panted out, pointing an accusing finger at ‘Strong’.

“I’m helping,” I all but screamed back.

Strong and Fist were locked in combat, a mass of swinging arms and legs, of garbled words. It was challenging to see where one mutant ended and the other began. They tore at each other, both already wearing new gashes and cuts.

“He’s an abomination! He’ll turn on us when he’s done!”

Was that true though? Nick and Danse, they were synths but they weren’t programmed to murder us. Hanco*ck was a ghoul but he wasn’t feral. Maybe… Maybe that meant that Strong, even though he was a supermutant, wouldn’t kill on sight alone. Not everything the Brotherhood of Steel preached was true.

“No he won’t.” Rex cut in. “He saved my life, he won’t harm us!”

“You’re delusional!” Rhys snapped back. “He’s an atrocity, he only knows one thing: kill.” He spun on me. “Has the Brotherhood taught you NOTHING?”

It was like Danse all over again – angry, bitter, brainwashed, unknowing of just how wrong he was. “Is right now really the right time to have this argument?” I bit. “In case you haven’t noticed, we are on the top of a twenty floor building with two supermutants killing each other! Wake up, Rhys!”

“I’m more awake then you are! At least I know right and wrong. At least I-“


But Strong’s warning came too late as Fist collided with Rhys, the Knight soaring to the edge once more. His legs dangled off the side of the Tower, fingers gripped at the railing for dear life. The wind had been knocked out of him, his breaths coming in chocked coughs. “Help!” he managed to cry.

Strong lunged at Fist, distracting the brute. “GET OTHER PUNY HUMAN!” he hollered.

I dove after Rhys, sliding to a stop just before the roof ended, clasping Rhys’s hands with my own. But my left shoulder wailed in protest, the arm unable to hold anything as his legs failed to find footing. Rex knelt beside me, holding the arm I could not. Even with the two of us together…

“I’m slipping!” Rhys warned, his fingers slowly gliding through our hands.

And so were we, the roof offered no friction where we sat, Rhys’s weight pulled us towards the line. I squeezed my eyes shut and tugged with all my might to no avail.

Large arms wrapped round my stomach, pinned me backwards against what felt like a stone wall. Rex and I were practically lifted and dragged to the center of the roof, Rhys along with us. When we were finally let go, I spun around… and stared up at Strong.

Fist lay dead off to the side, his corpse immobile, a mangled heap of limbs as blood oozed from a fatal blow to the head.

Rhys sputtered, body hunched over as he fought to find equilibrium.

“You saved us,” I said in awe.


Maybe he wouldn’t kill us on sight alone.

A trade of sorts. I had saved his life, so he saved mine. “Thank you,” I breathed.’


“Stand… down… mutant…” Rhys warned, teetering to his feet though they trembled beneath him.

“Rhys,” I started.

“He’s… a mutant!” as if that was reasoning enough to condone someone to death.

“He saved us,” I countered. “He literally prevented you from splatting against Main Street like a bug.”

“KNOW WAY DOWN TOO,” Strong cut in.

“Yes, excellent!” Rex pointed towards a contraption, a lift. It would take us to ground level and effectively shutting Rhys down. “We can ride the elevator down and then you can continue this conversation. I would ever so love to be done with this place, if you don’t mind.”

“Couldn’t agree more,” I muttered. “Just let me grab Haylen.”

Rhys stared after me dumbstruck as I retrieved Haylen’s unconscious body from the ramp.

“HUMAN TOO WEAK. LET STRONG.” Strong held out his arms for me to hand Haylen to him.

“Don’t. You. Dare.” Rhys, charming as ever.

“Oh bite me, Rhys.” As gingerly as a supermutant could manage, Strong took Haylen, holding her tiny body protectively against him.


Rex and Strong led the way to the lift. Rhys opened his mouth to interject but a hard look from me made him rethink it. This was our only option down aside from leaping off the side. The lower floors were aflame and unsafe to traverse. It was the lift or nothing. Even in his stubbornness, he must have realized that.

Once we reached the street, Rex turned to us. “I humbly thank you for rescuing me from Fist. Terrible business that. But, onto more important things since I am certain you all have better things to be doing than escorting a Shakespearian around. I heard you mention something of the Brotherhood?”

Rhys gave a wary look at Strong before answering. “Yes, we were sent by Elder Maxson after we heard your distress signal. We humbly ask that you return to the Prydwen with us to assure that your health is in order. I can call down a vertibird to get us back to our headquarters.”

“Ah, that sounds lovely. I will agree to these terms though I would appreciate the ability to leave afterwards so I can return to my career in radio since this gig did not pan out as expected.”

“Out of curiosity?” I questioned, leaning around Rhys, “What were you doing up there?”

“Why, I was trying to civilize the supermutants, to give them some culture. I thought that if they experienced the majesty that is Shakespeare, it would change them forever. Seeing that I am one of the foremost actors in the world today, I made the perfect candidate to grant them such knowledge.” He… was serious. He was super serious. Has everyone in the wasteland gone completely bonkers? I was all for allowing a mutant to prove that they weren’t murderous machines, but to just assume that they could be civilized because they listened to some SHAKESPEARE was crazy beyond belief.

The Knight pulled a smoke grenade from his pocket and lobbed it towards the street. It sparked for a few moments before exploding in a jet of color. The plume lazily rose above our heads and beyond. “They should see our signal flare in a few moments. If you wouldn’t mind waiting near the landing zone…”

Rex blinked between the two of us and Strong. “How about I take the miss then,” he offered to Strong who obliged, lowering Haylen down to the man. Rex held her much like I had earlier as he made his way towards the street.

Rhys nodded his thanks, plastered a smile to his face until Rex was out of earshot. Then he gaze fell to me. “Paladin Jones made a good point,” he began, speaking to Strong. “You saved my life. While my code instructs that I end your existence… I won’t. A life for a life. However, I don’t ever want to see you again. My oath to this will only extend till the close of this meeting. Do you understand?” Well color me surprised. I never considered that he would let this slide… maybe he wasn’t the hard-ass I thought he was. I rolled my eyes. Yeah, and maybe pigs could actually fly. Pffft.


“Good.” Rhys glanced at me once more before moving to Rex’s side up ahead.

“So, Strong. What are your plans?” I asked, figuring I had time to burn while waiting for the Vertibird. The thought of having to wait next to Rhys made me ill.


“I’m sorry, the what now?” I arched a brow at him. What was he on about? Milk of human kindness?


“Errrrr…” Macbeth? I don’t think he was using the phrase right. “Soooo, how are you going to go about doing that?”


“Me?” I pointed at my chest, eyes widening a fraction of an inch.


Ah, so perhaps my releasing him from the cage wasn’t enough. “My schedule is a little tight right now, man.” Between fighting the Institute, figuring out how to best take down the Brotherhood with a four man squad, and dealing with my synth boyfriend… my plate was getting freakishly heavy.


That could work too, I guess. “Uh… Sure. Yeah. Do you know where Sanctuary is at?”


“Swell. Head there. Don’t kill anyone. Tell them I sent you. Kay?”


And he was off, ambling north. Oh, Mama Murphy was going to have a field day. At least it would give her something to do without chems to keep her busy. What was I thinking? Future Ash could deal with it.

In the distance I could just make out the sound of a vertibird approaching.

Time to go back.


Rex got a clean bill of health and was escorted off of the Prydwen just like he requested. Cade had taken one look at the guy, listened to him chatter on about Shakespeare, and got him out of there as quickly as possible. Couldn’t blame him – Rex had droned on and on about a multitude of plays on our ride back, so much so that even Rhys began to lose his grip on his stoic facial expression.

Haylen was another matter. “She needs rest and a few days off of field duty. I’ll confirm that with Elder Maxson in the morning. Scribe Haylen will recover excellently, she just requires some relaxation to do it,” Cade informed us.

“Thank you, sir,” Rhys replied, saluting. Always so proper with him.

“You two should head up to the main deck though. Maxson is delivering a speech about our next movement and you both should be present for it.”

Next move? What was our next move? Last I checked, we were move-less. I made certain I quadruple checked that before I left. Sure it had been a few days but without any new information coming in, I couldn’t fathom what our next goal would even be. Without Liberty Prime up and running at full capacity, it wasn’t as if we could attack the Institute. Hell, we didn’t even have a way into the Institute without Prime blasting a new entrance for us.

I followed Rhys up the ladder, crammed my way past a few of the lower ranked officials to get closer to the front. Squires and soldiers alike were cheering on, so loud I couldn’t make out what the Elder was saying until I moved to the front.

“- ext objective! No longer can they hide from us! No longer can they scheme against us!” Another round of cheering. “We finally have a means to take down-“ Maxson’s gaze fell on me. “Ah! The woman of the hour, the very hand that helped bring about this possibility.”

What have I done?

Someone, Proctor Teagan, pushed me forward. I stumbled to a stop next to Maxson.

“Welcome back!” he greeted, clapping a hand on my shoulder. “This woman here, Paladin Ashtyn Jones, is the reason we are able to do what we once thought was impossible! She has been a key piece to the puzzle during our campaign here so it should come to no surprise that she once again has aided us in our endeavors to cleanse the Commonwealth.”

What have I done?

I glanced around, everyone shouted ‘Ad Victoriam!’ What was going on? I peeked back at Maxson, a beam of a smile on his face as he looked out over the crowd, his other hand raised in the air to salute his brothers and sisters.

And my heart sank.

He held his hand higher to showcase my PipBoy, the map screen evident, and a small pin beeping away right over Old North Church. “It is because of this woman, we have finally been able to locate the Railroad! Because of her outstanding efforts in patrolling downtown Boston, the Railroad’s position is known to us!”

What. Have. I. Done?

“AD VICTORIAM!” they all cried.

“We will bring the fight to them. Put an end to their treacherous ploy! We will not wait for them to come to us. No!”

No… No, no, no.

Maxson grinned down at me, holding out my PipBoy which I took in numb hands. My world spun, my head swam, my ears rang. This can’t be happening… this can’t be happening!

“We strike at dawn!”

Chapter 23: Crosshairs

Chapter Text

My heart felt like it was in my chest.

“Elder Maxson?”

This couldn’t be happening…

“Sir, I just need a moment of your time.”

I had to be asleep, this had to be a nightmare.

“Sir, I-“

Soldiers pushed past me, geared up, headed for vertibirds. The propellers were already spinning, pilots prepared for takeoff within the next few hours when dawn would break. Paladins were barking orders, directing Knights and Initiates to their stations, making sure everything was in order.

In order for us to end the Railroad.

There was still time… I had to stop this.

“Sir.” I stretched out a tentative hand towards Maxson, attempting to catch his attention.

He gave a heavy sigh as he turned to address me, hands clasped behind his back. “What is it, Paladin Jones? Shouldn’t you be with the others?” His tone was accusing, gaze penetrating – as if he could see right through my nerves and fear, beyond the emotionless expression I was so desperately attempting to project outwards.

“Sir, I was just wondering as to why we are attacking the Railroad. They are not a threat to us.”

“On the contrary, Paladin, they are the very essence of deceit that we, as Brotherhood brothers and sisters, seek to abolish from the Commonwealth. Though they are not outright allied with the Institute, we have no way of knowing if they are in cohorts with rogue synths. We cannot trust them and must eliminate them before their vision can be persuaded towards evil doing.”

“There is no proof to these claims, sir. We could be attacking innocents.”

“Nonsense, Paladin. Anyone who aids a synth is not innocent. These people are playing with fire and it is about time that they learned their lesson.”

My brain scrambled, mind blank. I couldn’t think of anything, I couldn’t even think through the sheer amount of panic that clouded my thoughts, weighed them down, and pulverized any rationality. I had to switch tactics. “Sir, if I may make a strategic observation?”

“Speak freely, Jones.”

“Vertibirds are loud and obvious. They will see us coming from a mile away. Perhaps it would be wiser to send in a single agent to scramble their sensors? That way when the birds come in, they will remain unaware?”

He paused to consider this, gaze flicking between the planes and his power armored men. “You make an excellent observation. But none of our soldiers are trained in covert ops, stealth isn’t a skill in high demand for the Brotherhood.”

“I am certain you have seen in previous reports that I have such skill. I am capable of remaining undetected even in the most treacherous of situations. I could go ahead. I know the layout as well.”

His head bobbed in agreement, his hand clamping around my shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. “I must admit, I am surprised by your willingness to participate in such a direct fashion. But I am proud of you! I will give you permission to lead the charge. I’ll delay our flight by an extra hour to give you more time. Do not risk detection by utilizing your radio. Do what needs to be done and then meet us at the landing zone. Confirm.”

“Yes, sir.” I saluted, back rigid, action trained, face a mask of detachment.

My stomach tightened further.

Elder Maxson beamed at me, eyes sparkling with appreciation. “Good luck, Paladin. Move out!”

With his dismissal, I pivoted on my heel and raced for the gear I kept in the back building of Boston’s Airport. In a matter of seconds, I was suited up with leather armor, Righteous Authority nestled snugly into the strap along my spine. I swiftly tucked back my hair, pinning it in place with a few spare bobby pins I kept in my pocket. I stole a quick glance back towards the other soldiers, watching as they gathered their equipment. Rocket launchers, miniguns, heavy fire power… They would obliterate the Railroad. Easily.

With a shaky exhale I headed north, booted feet thudding against the asphalt at a rapid pace.

I couldn’t afford to waste time. I had to get to Des, I had to warn them.


Night still hung heavy in the air as I closed in on the old church. Its painted window laid in pieces along the torn up cobblestone, doors bashed open. The pews were collapsed in on themselves, wood eaten away by centuries of mold.

I could remember when I had first stumbled upon the building.

It was only months ago… I was being chased by raiders, completely unprepared at the time for the harshness of downtown Boston. Though I had been warned to travel if only absolutely necessary and to be geared to the teeth before putting my pinkie toe outside of Diamond City, my stubbornness for information on Shaun’s kidnappers had taken over. I thought I had everything under control… my training with the Brotherhood helped but was not near enough to keep me alive when I stumbled upon a band of raiders.

I was barely hanging on by a thread when I arrived at the church’s doorstep. The building was my refuge, my safe place, while I injected myself with several stimpacks and hid from the men who wanted my head on a plate. I had been so utterly terrified, so weak and feeble. I knew I couldn’t make it back to the Cambridge Police Station with my injuries; Danse would have peppered me with questions that I had no desire to answer. But I had been in too rough of shape to go about healing myself.

Deacon found me there, led me to the hidden pathways underneath the floorboards. I couldn’t remember how he convinced Desdamona that I was on their side, I didn’t care at the time. But he took care of me for the day that followed, made certain I drank and ate and got my wounds checked on. He told me about their cause, the purpose of the Railroad.

And I agreed to join because of his help.

I hid what I did from Danse for the longest time. I told him I was doing recon, I was scouting. But rather, I would help runaway synths find a new home. It felt good to know I was assisting people, freeing them from something akin to slavery.

As my training with the Brotherhood continued, my cooperation with the Railroad increased as well. I rose in both ranks, eventually winning myself the titles of Knight and my own codename. Granted, I had to pick my title for Des. When I refused, she grumbled, and eventually settled for ‘Wanderer’, arguing that I traveled so much that it suited me better than her other options.

I saved so many lives with these people.

And now… Now I was ‘leading the charge’ for their annihilation.

I slid past the doorway and into the building, nose wrinkling at the smell of dust and death that plummeted into me upon entry. I bee lined for the catacombs, sidestepped my way past the traps and grenades I knew stood waiting for any unlucky sap that thought they could waltz in and loot the place. I had helped craft most of these, knew their placement like the back of my hand.

The closer to HQ I got, the faster my heart beat, the quicker my breaths came, the louder the roaring in my head screamed, the tighter my stomach twisted.

I wasn’t sure how much time I had – minutes, hours, seconds? I couldn’t say. I just had to be quick... had to get them out of here.

Drummer Boy greeted me at the door with a gentle wave of his hand. “Welcome back. You looking for work?”

“No. I need Des. Where is she?”

“She’s near the map, talking with Glory about setting up a path through the subway tunnels. Your knowledge of how they connect might really help them.” He chattered, following after me as I pushed past him. “They want to see if we can create a passage for runaway synths to take so we don’t have to cart them across the Commonwealth above ground where it isn’t so safe.”

“That’s great, Drummer,” I muttered, not having the patience for his rambling. “Keep watch at the door.”

Des and Glory were bent over the map they had weighted down on a large oak table. Carrington wasn’t far away, his gaze glued onto a terminal.

“Des?” I called out as I reached them, fingers intertwining around each other as my nerves made my hands tremble at my sides. What if she didn’t believe me?

Her head bopped upwards, calculating eyes piercing through me. “Ah, Wanderer. What can I do for you?”

“I… I come with a message.”

Glory squinted at me through her silver white hair. The woman was a force to be reckoned with, a ‘heavy’ for the railroad. She took our most combat loaded missions. “What’s the message?”

I exhaled slowly, trying to calm myself. I wanted to scream, wanted to start shoving them out the back door… but I knew they wouldn’t be budged unless I spoke with reason. “The Brotherhood of Steel knows of your location. They are in route. You need to evacuate.”

Des pursed her lips, brows furrowing. “How did this happen?” She knew of my work with the BOS, she knew my information was reliable without needing resources… but that didn’t stop her from asking for more details.

“It’s my fault,” I admitted, bowing my head in shame, guilt rocketing through me. This was all my fault. “I left my PipBoy behind… Elder Maxson found it, went through my belongings without my permission. The Old Church is marked on my map… he made the deduction that this was where your hideout was. When I returned after a mission, he was giving a speech about how they are going to take you all out. I got here as fast as I could. They believe I am here to scramble your sensors but I came to warn you.”

“How do we know your allegiance hasn’t been turned?” Glory pipped in as other members of the Railroad began to edge closer to the three of us. We had gained their attention.

“I swear I’m not. I’m loyal.”

“You were quick to lie to this Elder Maxson. How do we know you aren’t lying now?”

My blood ran cold. “I’m not! You have to believe me.” Deacon wasn’t here, Deacon wouldn’t be able to vouch for me. He was probably still back at the boathouse, or near that location…

“Glory does bring up an interesting point. Though you have done much to help us these past few months, your involvement with the Brotherhood has always been a concern,” Desdamona added, arms crossing her chest. “You led them to us.”

“I know. I know… I am so sorry… I didn’t mean for this to happen. But it is. And I’m trying to fix it.”

“You can’t fix everything, Wanderer.”

“I understand what you’re saying. But you have to leave now. Before it’s too late.”

Glory rolled her eyes, scoffing at me, “We have more than enough ammo and supplies here to handle those tin cans. Not to mention the traps we have set. If they make it to HQ, we can stop them.”

I shook my head adamantly. “No, you don’t. They have so much more than you do. They are so much more powerful than you. Your only option is to flee while you can.”

“We will not back down from this threat,” Glory bit back, lips curling.

“Des, please,” I begged, placing as much emphasis into my tone as I could manage.

Des leveled a look with me. “We were contemplating when we would have to address the Brotherhood of Steel. We knew it was a hurtle we would have to overcome eventually. If fate has us doing it sooner rather than later, then we will oblige.” Then she turned her focus to the people that had gathered around us, their faces holding a variety of emotions from contentment to concern to fright. “Agents! A great threat is coming our way. Man your stations, prepare for combat. We will bottleneck them at the main entrance. Scouts, head upstairs and position yourself in the balcony. Kill anyone who enters. Glory, take point in the tunnels, slow them down if they get past our defenses.”

No… They weren’t listening… They were going to fight.


“Pick, Wanderer.” Her voice was cold as ice. “You can prove your loyalty to our cause. You either side with us or against us.”

An explosion ripped out from above our heads, dirt sprinkled down from the rafters. “They’re coming!” someone shouted.

My hands felt numb as I grabbed the pistol in my holster. I had to pick? How was I supposed to do that? My tongue felt thick in my mouth, my throat taut.

Gunfire echoed through the catacombs.

“Who is it going to be?”

I don’t know, I don’t know!

I hated Maxson, hated what he expected from me and how he blackmailed me. His ideals were skewed and misled, crafted over years of brainwashing that made him truly believe he was doing honest deeds. But the base of the Brotherhood, their vows and morals, were outstanding. They fought for the betterment of humankind… If I could just get some of my brothers and sisters to listen to me, get them to realize that not every ghoul, supermutant, and synth was out to slaughter them… the Brotherhood could be beyond amazing.

But for all the idiocy that Maxson sputtered… he had some valid points about the Railroad. They helped everyone blindly. It was only a matter of time before the Institute wised up and sent in some rogue synths to take over. They were scattered, unorganized, unchecked. If left to control the Commonwealth, I feared what would happen. And unlike the Brotherhood, I wasn’t certain they could be swayed to think otherwise. Still, they didn’t kill unless provoked, they didn’t attack innocents. They didn’t make demands of civilians or order their agents to attack the men they loved.

I didn’t want either of them to die. I wanted us to work together, to build off one another. Not this… I never wanted this!

I could tell that the fight was getting closer to us. Shouts of agony, the barking of orders, it all grew louder the longer we waited.

Railroad… Brotherhood?

“Fall back!” Glory instructed, her figure visible as she rounded the corner. Blood oozed from an injury at her flank, colored her clothing in crimson.

Railroad or Brotherhood?!

And then Elder Maxson entered through the doorway clad in power armor, gun pointed towards us.

“Paladin?” confusion, pause.

I have to pick….

“Wanderer!” furious, demanding.

I don’t have a choice anymore…

With a cry I rose my hand, squeezed my eyes shut, and fired at my chosen target.


Bullets slammed out around me, chaos ensued. Headquarters was alight with muzzle flashes.


I pried my eyes open, my fingers trembling around the stock, the pipe pistol feeling as if it weighed as much as a rocket launcher. “I’m sorry,” I whispered, tears pooling in the corner of my eyes.

Des held her gloved hand against her chest, inspecting the blood that leaked through her jacket, caked her palm. Her gaze was disbelieving… she had never assumed I would turn on her… which made doing so all the more heart wrenching. “I thought… I thought you were with us…”

“I was. I really was. I tried to warn you.”

The fight continued around us, as if we were in our own bubble of invincibility. Everyone else was too busy, too focused to hear us.

Des slumped to her knees, eyes beginning to roll back in her head. “Sam… I’m coming home,” she managed to choke out before she fell forwards, her final breath exhaling from her body.

I knelt next to her, extended my hand to close her eyes, and-

Pain split out from my jaw, my head bashed against the cement floor. My vision clouded, ears rang. “You BITCH!” Glory screeched as her closed fist connected with my cheek. I could taste blood, the strong bite of iron flooding into my mouth and dancing across my tongue. I gagged.

She clambered on top of me. I bucked my body, struggled and kicked to get the once synth off of me. Her nails dug into my hair, raised my head only to slam it back down once more. Her legs pinned me down on either side, her muscles tensed to keep me in place. I swung blindly, tried to shove her off of me but she remained. “You’ll die for what you’ve done!”

Again my head connected with the floor, again searing white hot agony shot out through my skull.

“You killed her!”

And again…

“You’ll pay for-“

Suddenly she was lifted from me, her body jerking wildly as one of the Brotherhood of Steel soldiers pulled her off. Though I couldn’t see it, I heard the gunshot… I knew she was dead.

“Paladin Jones!” Haylen’s voice filtered in as I blinked, attempting to clear my vision. Her gentle fingers prodded at the base of my skull making me flinch and hiss in a pained breath. “I need medical assistance!” I winced away from her voice. Too loud…

The fight had ended with Glory’s death, the ring of bullets soaring through the air finished. Soldiers were taking up posts along the perimeter, Scribes busy flicking through the terminal monitors, digging for information. Maxson stood in the center of it all, his voice audible as he gave out orders.

Someone else sat down next to me, the haze that clouded my sight too thick to see their face. “Her head got hit badly,” Haylen explained.

“I’ll take a look at it,” Cade replied, resting a concerned hand on my shoulder. “Jones, can you hear me? Squeeze my hand if that’s a yes.” He placed his hand in my own and I gave it a frail press with my thumb and index finger. “Good. I’m going to bandage up a laceration along your occipital lobe, understood?” Yes. “Excellent. Sit still for me.”

As he worked, my vision returned. I watched as my brothers and sisters tore apart HQ. They riffled through cabinets, shredded documents after filing them. They trashed Tinker Tom’s computer, broke his equipment. P.A.M was led out from the back only for Maxson to rip her driver from its place and put a bullet to her head.

It was awful to watch.

I settled for closing my eyes and focusing on Cade’s actions. He wound a roll of gauze around my head several times after suturing together the hole that Glory had embedded in my scalp. He put a dry dressing on my cheek and another along my jawline. His fingers gently slid along my arms and legs, searching for any broken bones or internal damage. “Drink this,” he ordered, pressing a canteen into my shaking hands. The liquid tasted like acid, heating my throat with lava, and it took me several gulps to realize it was whisky. “It will help the pain. You’re good to go, just don’t go running into combat for the next few days.”

“Yes, sir,” I croaked, watching the Knight Captain as he headed to the next downed soldier.

Elder Maxson came to my side, gently reaching down to help me to my feet. “Good work, Paladin. Excellent espionage. Able to down their sensors and convince them to trust you enough to get you right next to their leader. I have to admit, for a moment there, I thought you were on their side.”

“Never, sir.” My lips moved on their own, the words not belonging to me. I knew what I had to say to make him leave me alone. “My allegiance is with the Brotherhood.”

“Just as it should be. You have proven to be a most valuable soldier today. However, you took quite a beating. Take the next few days to collect yourself and return to the Prydwen. Proctor Ingram and Doctor Li can finish Liberty Prime without you present though it would be appreciated if you were available when we start our trek towards the Institute’s base of operations.” It sounded like a threat, thinly veiled in ‘appreciation’.

“Of course, sir. I’ll be there.”

“Perfect. Your work is finished here. You may excuse yourself when ready.”

I felt numb, I felt broken, shattered. These people… their bodies mangled and riddled with bullet holes… they had been my friends. I had worked side by side with some of them. And now? Now they were gone.

And it was my fault.

I turned my back to the bloodshed, kept my gaze trained on the space directly in front of me. Remember back to training: shut out what wasn’t necessary.

Get to somewhere safe.

Meaning, get out of here.


I don’t know how I got to the boathouse. I don’t remember if I ran into any enemies. I don’t recall if I ate or drank during the hike. The path I took? Unknown. It was all a blur.

When I arrived, it was early evening. The sun was beginning to set, shedding the world of its golden light and drowning it in darkness once more. A light on the main floor of the boathouse was on, I could just make out Danse’s figure through the window. What was he going to think? What was he going to do? Would he agree to the destruction of the Railroad? The iron ball in my stomach grew bigger. Or would he think me a monster?

I dragged myself up the few steps to the patio and turned the knob.

Danse sat up with a start when I pushed the front door open, concern plastered on his face as he stood. “Ash?” He hadn’t expected me back.

I looked to him, bottom lip quivering, the barely controlled turmoil bubbling just under the surface of my skin.

He moved to my side, hands outstretched towards me, gingerly touching my face. His eyes flickered over me, alarm coloring his features. “What happened?” voice a fraction of an inch above a whisper.

That’s all it took. I fell apart, crumbled into Danse’s arms as sobs raked through my body in heaves. My fingers knotted into the soft fabric of his long-sleeved shirt, my tears drenching the cloth on his shoulder. “I didn’t want to do it,” I cried.

He held me, rocked me back and forth, stroked my hair, hummed quietly. He did everything in his power to calm the wave of emotions that burst from my body. “They made me do it. I didn’t have a choice.”

“It’s going to be okay, everything is going to be okay,” he mumbled against my forehead.

I shook my head. “No, it isn’t. It never will be.”

Danse led me to the couch, lowered us onto the cushions, and cradled me against his chest, arms wrapped protectively around my torso.

Eventually I was left dry, the tears no longer falling, my sobs reduced to hushed whimpers.

“What happened?” he asked again, leaning away just enough to peer at my face but I averted my gaze. I couldn’t look him in the eye.

“When I got back with Haylen and Rhys, Maxson had found my PipBoy. I have every location I have ever been to on it. He used it to find the Railroad Headquarters, under the church… Oh god, Danse.” I squeezed my eyes shut, bowed my head. “I tried to warn them but Des wouldn’t listen to me, they didn’t believe me.”

“But…” Danse shook his head, confused. “The Railroad isn’t hostile towards the Brotherhood. They have their differences but they aren’t a threat.”

“That’s what I told Maxson. It didn’t matter to him. He said anyone who helps a synth is guilty and deserves punishment.” I raised a hand to wipe at the tears that had run down my cheeks.

“Ashtyn… I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine what that had to be like, killing the men and women you served with.”

“I can’t describe it.” I felt sick with myself, despised with how weak I was. I should have been more confident when I spoke with Maxson, should have done more to stop him. But no, instead, I did as he ordered. I helped kill people who had done nothing wrong. “I’m a monster.”

“No, no. Don’t say that.” He cupped my face and forced our eyes to meet. “You didn’t have a choice. What Elder Maxson had you do was wrong. He’s corrupt with power. He’s gone mad. You’re caught in his crosshairs. But that doesn’t make you a monster. Maxson is the one who issued the command. Not you.”

He had a point. He had an excellent point. If it wasn’t for Maxson, the Railroad would still be standing. No one would have had to die today. Danse could still be part of the Brotherhood, he would still be a Paladin. And I wouldn’t feel so disgusted with myself.

“He needs to pay. Maxson has to pay for what he’s done.”

“Ash…” he exhaled slowly, taking my hands in his. “I know you’re mad. And he does need to be stopped. But killing him won’t solve anything. Revenge isn’t the answer.”

“If he’s dead, he can’t hurt anyone else. He can’t make me shoot people I care for. What else does the Brotherhood have to do to me for you to realize that? If he had his way, you’d be dead!”

“I understand that, but you aren’t thinking clearly right now. Arthur was a good man at one point. He can be that man again. You’re building a force against him, that’s a good start. Maybe if enough people side with you, he will realize the error in his way. Everyone can see reason.”

No… I didn’t share his optimism. I was through with Maxson ordering me around, damning me to this existence of being his hitman. I wasn’t going to be his pawn any more. Once the Institute was taken care of, I was going to finish his pitiful excuse of a life. I was going to make it so he couldn’t bring harm to anyone ever again.

“There she is, the back stabbing, organization killing woman I was looking for,” a voice pitched in from the door.


His face was contorted with scarcely contained rage, eyes puffy and red. He was wearing the outfit of a caravan trader though his hat laid crumpled in his clenched fist. His sunglasses were off, blue eyes zeroed in on me like daggers. “So, that’s how it is? Fall for the tin can and suddenly your promise to the Railroad doesn’t matter?” His voice was like a razor: rigid, precise.

“Hey,” Danse tensed next to me. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I?” he laughed though there was no humor behind the action. It was lifeless. “The facts seem pretty damn clear to me. You slaughtered our people. You led the Brotherhood to our door!”

“I didn’t mean to,” I tried, but it was obvious he didn’t care to listen.

“Secrecy is a must. How many times have I told you that? I agreed to letting synth lover over here in on the big secret because I thought you had our back. But, clearly, you didn’t. You had their ideals in mind this entire f*cking time. Good to know that my number one rule is still intact: don’t trust anyone.”

“You can trust me.” This was all wrong. I didn’t want Deacon to find out on his own. I wanted to get the chance to talk to him, to explain things to him. I had to simmer this down before it got out of hand.

“No. I can’t.” It wasn’t until he moved forward that I noticed the gun in his free hand, the light glinting off the metal gave it away. “The Railroad was all I had. I’ve lost everything else. And now there’s nothing left for me. Because of you.” He raised the pistol, the barrel aimed in my general direction.

Oh no.

Danse stood, placing himself between Deacon and me. I leaned around his muscled frame to look at my friend. I had to say something, make him lower the gun before someone got injured. I had enough blood on my hands for one day. I couldn’t bear to have any more. “Deacon, this isn’t about you and me. It’s about the Railroad and the Brotherhood. I’m sorry for what happened. But I can help make it better. I have a plan to take down the Brotherhood. I-“

“It’s too late for that now, boss,” Deacon replied, hands shaking. “Des, Glory, Tom, Drummer Boy. Even Carrington. They’re all gone! What have you done?”

The tension in the air thickened to an almost suffocating level.

“Take it easy, Deacon,” Danse said, raising his palms outwards to show he didn’t want a fight.

“It’s all your fault,” he continued, voice knotted with tears.

“It isn’t anybody’s fault,” the Paladin countered.

The gun wobbled but remained locked on the two of us.

“IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!” louder, angrier, broken.


His finger closed in on the trigger.

“Deacon, no!” I shouted.

He clasped the pistol, spun the barrel towards his forehead…

And fired.

Chapter 24: Return


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Ash, I’m not sure I’m comfortable with this.”

I bit the inside of my cheek, holding my tongue. Of course, he wasn’t. “Preston, I get that you aren’t a fan. But, we don’t have another choice.”

Garvey crossed his arms defiantly in front of his chest, hard gaze locking to the doorway that led to Danse. Though the once Paladin was out of view, Preston still appeared to be on edge. Ever since he learned of what Danse truly was…. The distance between them had grown even further. Shocking, I hadn’t known that was possible. “I don’t want him in my ranks.”

“He isn’t going to be in your ranks, Preston. He’s going to be in mine. Along with Cait, Curie, Hanco*ck, and Mac. You offered them a safe place, what makes Danse different?” Everyone had been more than willing to accept Danse. Hell, even Hanco*ck and Nick forgave him for his previous harsh words.

Danse could be part of the Institute. Danse is a ticking time bomb. What if someone learns his recall code, what if he turns on us?”

My fingers curled into tight fists at my side. “Danse is half the reason you have this f*cking Castle. Or did you forget how he helped us defend against the Queen and mirelurks?”

“That was then. This is now. He seems fragile, like he could break at any second. I don’t want him here when that happens.” His voice grew harder, sterner, laced with a hidden anger and frustration. Whether it was geared at me, Danse, the situation, or all three, I didn’t know.

“Nothing has changed. Danse is still loyal. I know you guys have butt heads in the past but that’s all water under the bridge. Move on. Danse wants to help.”

“We don’t even know if your little plan is going to work. How are you going to convince Maxson to ally with us? If he doesn’t, then Danse’s presence here is meaningless.”

Yes, this all started because Danse wanted to be there when the Brotherhood put an end to the Institute. With the repairs on Liberty Prime coming to a close, we were finally reaching an end to this conflict. However, Danse wasn’t at the forefront like he originally had thought he was going to be. I understood… He had fought so hard to get to this point – having to watch from afar wasn’t something he could do. I thought that, in order to rectify the problem, I could convince Preston to allow Danse into the Minutemen – dress him up, give him another name, disguise him. Then, I would get Maxson to partner up with them and we could all fight together once more.

Course, nothing could ever go smoothly around here.

“It will. Maxson will see reason. You have more success with numbers, even he should be able to see that.”

“And if he doesn’t?”

“Then you can be super pissed at me and throw a party to tell me how wrong I was. Okay?”

Preston’s jaw set. “Fine. Fine! But if I think he is slipping, even a tiny bit, I’m calling it off. Understood?”

I bobbed my head in agreement. “Yeah, that’s fine by me. But he won’t. You won’t have any problems with him.”

“So you say. I have to meet up with Bonnie to go over our resources and recruitment rates. If we really are going to be partnering up with your esteemed Brotherhood, we need to be ready. Do you need anything else?”

“No. Thank you.”

Garvey took his leave, disappearing through a door in the back of the room that would lead to the ramparts above. I let out a heavy exhale, shoulders slumped forward. At least… At least I had been successful… Part one complete.

I spun on my heels and started for the hall that would empty out into the courtyard. The lawn was abuzz with activity, even in the late evening hour. Farmers tended to the crops – rows upon rows of tatos, melons, and carrots – repairs were being done to the turrets that manned the perimeter, and guards were visible along the wall, crewing their cannons and scanning for any threat. Some waved in greeting as I passed, others arched a brow, not sure who I was.

Had I never left Sanctuary so many months ago… I wonder how things would be different now.

Would I be General of the Minutemen instead of just part of the Calvary? Would Haylen have gotten their radio fixed? Would Brandis be part of the Brotherhood still? Would Maxson have arrived? Would I be a Paladin? Would I have fallen in love with a synth? Would I be on the verge of taking down a massive military power?

I don’t know… It’s amazing how one action can alter so much.

I ducked out of the heat and back into the Castle, welcoming the shade from the final rays of the sun. The bunk room Danse and I had been given was ahead, tucked away from the others. It gave us some privacy.

The room was sparsely furnished, holding two beds, two footlockers, and a few lanterns to provide lighting. Our equipment and packs were tucked into one of the corners, small personal items set out on a bedside table to make the area more like home. It was larger than our shared dorm on the Prydwen but felt cramped in comparison to the Taffington Boathouse. Though we had only had our new home for a few weeks, I already missed being away from it.

Danse was seated on the edge of his cot, fingers knotted together in his hair, head dipped forward so his elbows could rest on his knees. His back was rigid, muscles taut. Stressed, worried… Anxious. All the emotions he could only show when alone, or with me. The ones he tried so desperately to conceal from the world.

When he felt my presence, he peered up towards me, eyes full of uncertainty. “Well?” he asked, a slight tremble of hesitation coating his voice.

“He agreed.” I moved to sit beside him. “You can join them.”

“sh*t…” he breathed, relief coloring his features. “I never thought he would.”

“Why? I’m pretty convincing, when I want to be.”

His head shook. “No, that’s not it. Though, you do have a point. Just…” he bowed forward, face disappearing in the shadow cast by the lantern that hung on the wall behind us. “I’m a synth. I figured he would be too worried about… well, everything, to allow me to ally with him.”

I shrugged one of my shoulders. “He said some stupid sh*t about that, yeah. But it’s nothing to worry about.”

Danse grimaced. “Isn’t it though?”

My lips curled down as I shifted to face him fully. “What do you mean?”

He waved his hand between the two of us. “Don’t you see anything here to be worried about?”

“No?” I phrased my answer as a question, not seeing where he was going with this line of thought.

“Ashtyn…” he paused, choosing his words before continuing. “I’m a robot. I’m a creation of the Institute. And… I thought maybe… after some time… I don’t know, that that would click for you.”


“How can you still be here? With me?” Short, simple, to the point. Brunt beyond measure. So very Danse. But even so, it stung. Like I had just been slapped.

“Do you not want me here?”

“I didn’t say that. I’m just wondering when you’re going to wake up and realize that the man you love is a machine… Everyone else around you has. They get it. The Brotherhood wanted me dead for it, Garvey fears me for it. And you, you act like nothing has changed. I’ve never been able to understand that.” He refused to meet my eyes, kept his gaze focused on his feet below him. “You make me so happy… happier than I’ve been in a long time. I just… I don’t want it to end because you weren’t given ample opportunity to run while you still had the chance.”

“I’m never running, Danse. Ever. And I know what you are but I’m more interested in who you are. We’ve gone over this.”

“I don’t… I don’t even know if I know how to love. And you’re okay with that?”

“Yes. Always have been, always will be.”

He finally tore his attention from the ground to peek at me from under his thick brows. His eyes swam with unease and confusion, but I could see hope creeping back in, giving his copper irises that sparkle I loved so much. “What did I ever do to deserve you?” he whispered, looping an arm around my waist to pull me closer, planting a soft kiss to my forehead.

“Funny, I ask myself that same question all the time,” I replied, glancing up at him, crinkling my nose at the way his stubble of a beard tickled my skin.

Danse tucked me under his chin and leaned back against the wall, cradling my body against his own. Outside the sun slowly sunk below the horizon, clothing the world in darkness save for the flickering flames that lit our tiny room. I listened to the soft sound of Danse breath, the thrum of his heart as it beat behind his ribs. I took in the smell of him – smoke and metal, feeling more relaxed than I had in the past three days.

He eventually broke me from my peace, “So, what’s the plan?”

I skimmed my fingers over his chest, tracing the outline of his muscles under the fabric of his shirt. “Take on an alias, for now. Disguise yourself. I’ll head back to the Prydwen tomorrow and help gain supplies and food for the troops. Then I’ll speak to Maxson, get him to team up with the Minutemen. When the time is right, you’ll meet with us at the airport. Easy.” Least, that’s what I kept telling myself. In reality, I knew there were a variety of variables that could go wrong… My strategy could go south at a multitude of points. Still, I had to remain positive. For the both of us.

And while the thought of standing within one hundred yards of Maxson made my stomach churn and heart scream with fury…

“I appreciate you doing this for me.”

“I’ll do anything for you.” Danse was more important to me than revenge.

“Anything?” a playful tone danced into his voice, I could feel the rumble of his chest as he chuckled softly into the night.

“You have an idea, Paladin?” I quipped, leaning back enough to look at him.

Several,” Danse responded just before his lips found mine.


Two days later I was joining Haylen to Finch Farm on a supply run. The vertibird landed a safe distance from the small ranch house, blades twirling to a halt before we exited the chopper. It was getting easier to fly though I still felt queasy when my boots hit the ground.

Liberty Prime wasn’t quite ready yet – he was still missing a some key parts. Our Scribes were searching through our documents to see if they could locate the pieces we needed. In the meantime, I was busying myself with menial tasks, anything to keep me occupied and away from the Prydwen. I hadn’t had a chance to speak with the Elder but, I wasn’t in a rush. Prime wasn’t prepared for an attack and wouldn’t be for another few days.

“You didn’t turn totally green that time,” Haylen said, a bubble of a laugh threatening to pour past her lips at my expense.

I rolled my eyes at her. “Thanks, Haylen. Real encouraging.”

“What can I say, I’m a giver.”

Teagan and two of our newer Initiates hopped out from the vertibird behind us. The Proctor’s voice boomed out across the landing zone. “We are here for rations. Paladin Ash, I’ll allow you to do the talking this round seeing as you have had dealings with this family in the past.”

“Yes, sir,” I replied, giving a halfhearted salute in the process. Haylen snickered, nudging me with her elbow. She had always gotten a small kick out of my rebellious side, especially in front of new recruits.

I led the way towards the door to the farm. I hadn’t been here since I left Sanctuary, and even then it was only for a day at most. The son of the family had gotten the super fantastic idea to join the bandit group that resided at the Ironworks close by. Not too surprisingly, that didn’t go well. I had ended up with a nasty burn but I was successful in returning him to his family. Jake, the kid I saved, was now visible in the fields, hoe in hand as he tilled the land. He waved at us as we grew closer, jogging to meet us at the gate.

“Welcome back! It’s good to see you,” he greeted, taking my hand in his own to give it a firm shake. “Papa isn’t here right now, did you need to see him?” Jake sent a wary look to the power armored Initiates that dwarfed me on either side.

“It’s good to see you too, Jake. And in one piece still, huh?” I returned his friendly gesture before answering his question. “I can talk to you just fine, if that’s alright?”

“Yeah, yeah, of course. No problem. What can I do for you?” Again, another uncertain glance to the Brotherhood soldiers. “We aren’t used to having this much company out here.” A thinly veiled attempt at indicating his discomfort at the situation.

Couldn’t say I blamed him. Most people weren’t thrilled by the BOS, and they were even less entertained by having them at their doorstep. “I’m here with the Brotherhood of Steel, asking for supplies such as food. These rations would be used to help feed our men and women. In return, we plan on taking down the Institute.”

Jake shifted his weight from foot to foot, tilting his head towards the shed that stood on the edge of their property. “Afraid we can’t help out too much with that. I’m sorry, but our crops have been poor lately. We are having a bit of a situation – raiders are stealing tatos from our fields every night. That’s why Papa went to Diamond City, to see if we could find the parts to make a turret, like you showed us. Currently, we barely have enough food to feed ourselves, let alone give up.”

With the Ironworks so close… That made sense. Perhaps I could contact Preston to direct more Minutemen this way to help patrol the area. I made a mental note to send him a message when we returned to the Prydwen. “No problem, Jake. I appreciate your time, and-“

Proctor Teagan cut in, “We still need a portion of the crops you do have. You must understand, cleansing the Commonwealth of the Institute is taxing work. We need to be properly fed in order to complete our task.”

I furrowed my brow, glaring over my shoulder. What?

Jake stuttered, “S-sir, I understand your needs but we need food too. We can’t survive without it. I can’t give you anything.”

Haylen tried, “Sounds like we are done here then.”

But Teagan didn’t let it go as he pushed himself forward, edging past me to stand in the front. “We wouldn’t want there to be an accident, would we? I mean, we would be forced to use alternative methods to get rations if we were left to our own devices. Wouldn’t you rather keep things civil?”

“Teagan!” I jeered. Was he threatening the boy? What the hell was going on? Haylen’s gaze met my own, her thoughts mirroring mine.

“Return to the vertibird, Paladin. Make sure she is ready to depart. Jake, I believe it would be best for you to follow instructions, or raiders will be the least of your concern.”

“I-“ my voice was tight, anger spiking my pitch.

“Paladin, that was a direct order. Do not defy me.”

I hissed in a breath through clenched teeth but did as I was told and turned my back on the situation. I could hear Jake mutter his acceptance, listened to his feet drag across the dried out grass towards the shed that housed their crops. Teagan barked directions the entire time.

And I felt sick to my stomach.

Haylen scurried after me, hand grasping my shoulder. “What the f*cking hell was that?” her voice was hushed, not wanting to draw attention. “We aren’t supposed to force people to give up their food if they don’t have enough!”

“I know. Add it to the ever growing list of sh*t the Brotherhood of Steel is doing.” I hoisted myself into the vertibird and slammed back into one of the available seats. “I can get the Minutemen to bring supplies out here but… I don’t want to think about what is happening to the farms that Preston doesn’t have control over.” How many families had we stolen food from? How long had this been going on for?

“What are we going to do?” She sat down beside me, face pale as she watched the Initiates load up the back of the vertibird with crates of corn and potatoes.

“I’m going to have a chat with Maxson when we get back.”


“I’m sure there is a perfectly good reason as to why Proctor Teagan took those crops, Paladin,” Rhys chided as he poked his fork into a slice of ham. “He had some valid points – we can’t do what we have to do if we are starving.”

I fumed, cheeks flushed with anger. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” I seethed in return. “That family doesn’t have enough food to last the season. We could have gotten our own share some other way. A humane way. You know, a way that doesn’t involve stealing.”

We were in the mess hall, scarfing down our dinner. Maxson wasn’t on the Prydwen when I returned, too busy overlooking the repairs being done on Liberty Prime. I had been assured that he would come and find me once he boarded to address my concerns. The three hours of time that had passed since then had done little to quell my frustration. Rhys wasn’t helping the situation either.

I had this gut feeling that Maxson knew of what happened at the farm, that he somehow ordered Teagan to be so radical. After everything that had happened so far, I couldn’t find any other rationale. It made logical sense. Maxson was teetering on the edge of sanity, it wouldn’t be that drastically out of character for him to do such a thing. All the same, I wanted to address the issue. It was my duty as a human being to question this.

Haylen twirled her beans around in her plate, not touching her portion. “It was awful. You should have been there. I feel so bad for that family.”

“They are doing their duty as civilians of the Commonwealth. Everyone has to play their part,” he countered.

“Right, by dying because we took all of their food. Good call, Rhys,” sarcasm stained my voice.

“You have to be able to see that this isn’t right. Sure, we need help but we shouldn’t just take stuff from people. That’s not okay. What happened to protecting people and preserving and all of that?” Haylen argued, placing her fork down.

“You have to look at the bigger picture,” Rhys continued, showcasing just how brainwashed he was.

“I’m seeing it just fine. Maybe you’re the one who isn’t looking,” she snapped back, shoving away from the table. “I get that the Brotherhood is your life, but this is ridiculous. You’re better than this.” Her attention switched to me. “I’m going back to my bunk. I can’t stand this anymore.”

I watched her back as she departed down the corridor and around the corner. I didn’t know she had it in her to speak out against Rhys. I guess I had always thought that she would blindly defend him… I was wrong. Maybe my bad influence was rubbing off on her, or maybe she was beginning to find her voice. Whatever the case, I’m glad she done it.

Rhys fell into silence, a frown deepening his expression as his hand stilled above his dinner. Eventually I heard him whisper, “They can’t be wrong.”

I paused, swallowing the bite I had taken. “Yeah, they can be. People make mistakes sometimes. And those mistakes can hurt people. Not everything the Brotherhood does is right. You have to be your own person too, make those decisions.” I stood, taking my empty tray with me. “Ask yourself where your morals lie before protecting something without question.”

It was while I was dumping my dishes in one of the large sinks in the kitchen when Maxson found me. “Hello there, Paladin Jones,” he greeted, co*cking his head down the hall to indicate that I should follow him. “You wanted to speak to me?”

“Yes, sir. Perhaps we could go somewhere else though?”

“Of course, this way.”

I trailed behind him as he led the way to the flight deck. Only a few guards remained, stationed by the main entrance to the Prydwen. Two of the Vertibirds were gone, likely patrolling the Commonwealth for supplies. The rest lay dormant. Our boots were the only audible thing as they thudded against the metal of the catwalks.

When we were to the far end of the deck, Maxson halted. He leaned over the rail, arms crossed so he could clasp his forearms with his hands. “Heard you had a bit of a disagreement with Proctor Teagan today,” he started.

“I did.”

“Care to share what happened?”

I swallowed my barely kept anger. I had to stay focused to have this conversation. “Proctor Teagan blatantly stole crops from the Finch Farm. We were told they didn’t have enough for their family, but Teagan demanded that we have our rations regardless. Because of his actions, we have left a family without food. I believe that it is against the Brotherhood’s code to do such a thing.”

He turned towards me, concern laden on his face. “We what?” He was surprised, shocked… he had no idea. Color me amazed… in my hatred for the man, I had assumed that he was responsible for this in some way…

“Yes. When I tried to speak up against him, he dismissed me to the vertibird.”

“I’m sorry for what happened. I didn’t know Teagan had gotten so harsh. I had heard rumor that some of the supply runs were not going smoothly but I didn’t know he was actually stealing crops. You are correct in assuming that this isn’t the Brotherhood way. We are sworn to protect, not harass or threaten. I will address this in the morning. Hell, I’ll take Teagan off of the task if I have to. We were sent here to help the people of the Commonwealth. That is what we will do.”

I sighed in relief. “Thank you, sir. That was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be.”

He offered a dry laugh. “I know we haven’t always seen eye to eye, Jones. But, I do respect your viewpoint and opinion. And I don’t want to bring harm to others who do not deserve it.”

“Thanks… That’s appreciated.”

But… that still didn’t change anything. I was stunned to learn that he valued my input so much but… That didn’t change the fact that he had done so much damage to me and those around me in his mad race towards human domination. It didn’t change the f*cked up morals that he carried like a badge of honor. Respected opinion or not, that wouldn’t bring the Deacon back… it wouldn’t allow Danse to retake his position as Paladin. It wouldn’t prevent that inevitable: that I was going to have to kill my son by the time this campaign came to a close.

It didn’t fix jack sh*t.

Without warning my thirst for revenge against everything I had lost bubbled to the surface, flickering away just underneath my skin. My heartbeat sped up, breaths quickened, adrenaline tumbled into my veins. This man was the culprit of so much. Danse had said that he was once good, and maybe he was… but he was a monster now. No better than the abominations he so vehemently wanted dead.

It wouldn’t take much… all I had to do was give him a hard push. He wouldn’t suspect it. As far as he was concerned, I was nothing but a loyal soldier. I had killed Danse for him. I had ended the Railroad at his command. There was no way he could prepare himself for an attack, not from me.

f*ck respect.

“You know, I have a family.”

I blinked. “Huh?”

“I have a family back in the Capital Wasteland.” Maxson’s dark gaze scoped the horizon, sweeping over the expanse of land that rested far below us. “I had to leave them behind to come here. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

I felt like the wind had been stripped from my sails. Out of all the things that could have come out of his mouth, this was the least expected.

“My wife, she was killed by synths… It’s a major factor as to why I wanted to be part of the team that came here. But, God, it was awful having to leave my girls back there, especially without their mother.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I can’t imagine what that must have felt like.” I lost my family… That was different from knowing they were alive but that I couldn’t see them. But f*ck… this wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted him to tell me how much he hated everything, that he despised everything different. I wanted him to be the man I had painted him to be in my head – a murderous ass hole. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want him to seem like he was on my level.

“Do you have a family? I never asked that when I first called you into my office. I suppose… I know what happened to your son but… did you have other children? A husband?””

“Uh… Yes. I did, at least. But they’re dead now. The Institute took them from me.” Kellog shot my husband, and Shaun? He wasn’t really my baby boy, not any more. He was Father.

Maxson looked at me, compassion in his eyes. “I am so sorry for your loss. It’s terrifying to realize just how many lives have been affected by those horrendous people. But, it makes us tougher, strengthens our resolve. It’s why we fight, so no one else has to feel the pain we have gone through. For me, it’s also to protect my daughters. I want them to have a safe place to grow up in, and a father they can be proud of. I don’t want them to live in terror, not when I have the power to change that for them. I just wish I could have done something sooner, for everyone else.”

Don’t say that. I don’t want your sympathy, I don’t need it. Especially not from you, of all people.

“I’ve made some questionable decisions while here so far… Some of them I am not proud of.” Maxson gripped the rail in both of his hands. “For instance, how I handled M7-… Danse. He was a close friend. Learning that he was synth… It destroyed me in some small way. I felt betrayed, like I had been lied to for years. I knew you were close to him. I wrongly utilized that bond between the two of you to my advantage. The way I acted? Out of control. I apologize. I’m glad you understood the threat he possessed, however, regardless of my poor temperament towards the situation.”

Stop. Stop it. Already the fury I had felt moments ago was fading, quivering down to a simmer. Don’t apologize to me. I want to hate you, not feel sorry for you. “Danse had told he thought highly of you.”

“And I, him. We had been partners for several years before we came here. I trusted him with my life, I knew he would always have my back, no matter what.” His shoulder slumped, as if in defeat. “To find out how wrong I was…”

No, this was worse. I didn’t want to know this.

“It was devastating,” he finished. “But… enough about this. We don’t need such depressive topics to cloud our judgement.” Maxson pushed away from the rail and turned towards the bulk of the Prydwen. “Like I said, I will talk to Teagan about his current attitude and correct what has been done. I will also personally make sure that this Finch family gets a return on the crops we took from them. Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. It was a good reminder of why we do what we do.”

“You’re welcome, sir,” I replied, barely above a whisper.

A shout from below caught our attention. “Seems they are still struggling with random power surges,” Maxson commented as the lights blinked back to life after snuffing out. “We need more energy than the Prydwen and the surrounding buildings can supply.”

“Do you think Prime will be enough to stop the Institute?”

He hesitated, rubbing his hands together. “I’m not sure. I know Prime will get us into the Institute but… I’m not sure if we have enough sheer manpower to take them out once we get past that point.”

A light bulb flicked on above my head. Perfect timing. “I believe I have a way we can rectify that, sir.”

He arched a brow at me. “Do tell.”

“I am part of the Minutemen, as I’m sure you know by now. Preston Garvey, their leader, has offered a peace of sorts between the two of you. He has agreed that he will fight alongside you to end the Institute. The Minutemen have protected settlements from supermutants, ferals, and synths for years now. They have just as much of a right to be part of this than the Brotherhood.”

Maxson considered this, “What does he get in return for his assistance?”

“All he wants is a safe Commonwealth, same as you. For everyone,” I emphasized.

“I was not aware that the Minutemen were combat ready, or trained for that matter.”

“Gotta admit, they are a bit rusty. But, we could bring them here early and provide them with some training, if you prefer.”

“That is a wonderful idea. Have this Preston Garvey come to the Prydwen tomorrow or the day after to speak with me. We can discuss this arrangement further upon his arrival. I’m not outright agreeing to it but I am interested. I would like to hear what he has to say.”

“I’ll send out a message tonight, sir.” I mentally fist pumped. There we go, Danse had a way in.

“Great. Good tactical thinking, Paladin. Ah, but now we should turn in for the evening.” He took a few steps for the door but halted, pivoting back towards me. “I almost forgot to tell you. Are you available for a mission tomorrow?”

He was asking me? Not demanding? “Yeah. I’m free. I was supposed to head out with Squire Jeremy to help him with target practice but I can tell him that we need to do that another time.”

“Excellent. Proctor Ingram is going to accompany you to Mass Fusion. There is a beryllium agitator there that we need for Liberty Prime. I was speaking with Doctor Li this afternoon and she believes this is the key component we are missing. Proctor Ingram volunteered her services but I don’t want her going alone.”

“Understood. I’ll be ready in the morning to depart with her.”

“Wonderful. You have a good night, Paladin Jones. If you need anything from me, you know where I’ll be.” Then he trekked to the other side of the flight deck and disappeared beyond the door.

I glanced back to the airport below, more confused than ever.

I wanted to despise Maxson, wanted to damn him to the moon and back for what he had done… but to hear that he was just as human as everyone else, that he had a family, a life beyond the Brotherhood… to hear him apologize for what he had done, to know that he understood that what he did was wrong.

It crumbled my resolve, started to shatter the foundation of my anger towards him.

Maybe Danse had a point.

I peered at Liberty Prime, watched as the mechanics descended the stairs for the night. Everything was going to change in the next week or so… Everything. I would have to face the Institute, I would have to face Shaun.

And then I would have to deal with Maxson.

I may not exactly want him dead anymore but I knew he was corrupted. He had to be removed from power, and I doubted he would go peacefully. He may have had outstanding morals at one point but those days were gone. We needed an Elder who had a clear frame of mind and the ability to think beyond a small box.

But… one step at a time. I already had a way in for Danse and I had bolstered our numbers with the Minutemen.

Once the Institute was taken care of…

I could worry about what comes after that.


Thanks for all the kudos and comments. I LOVE THEM. Seriously, they make my day. I mostly write for fun I can't even begin to describe the happiness I feel when I realize that you guys actually like this stuff. Thank you!!

Chapter 25: Maxson

Chapter Text

“Everyone understand the task then?” Maxson asked, arms tucked behind his back, gloved fingers clasped together. They stood at Boston Airport, vertibird powered up and ready for takeoff. Paladin Jones and Proctor Ingram remained at attention before him, hands raised in respectful salute.

“Yes, sir,” they both intoned.

“Excellent. I expect your quick return from Mass Relay. Be safe.”

“Ad Victoriam!” Ingram cheered, a smile splitting out across her face. Weeks had passed since she had been given such an important field mission, her enthusiasm was expected.

The two women boarded the plane, Maxson watched from his position on the platform, hand raised in friendly farewell. He knew they would be successful in their endeavor; Ingram and Jones made an exemplary team, there was no logical way they could fail.

Once the bird was out of sight, disappearing amongst the buildings of what was formerly known as downtown Boston, one of the power armored soldiers that manned the perimeter to the landing pad cleared his throat to grab his Elder’s attention. “Sir, one Preston Garvey of the Minutemen has arrived. He is requesting you whenever it is to your convenience.”

“Ah, yes. Just on time. I will go to meet with him now. Where is he?”

“He was last seen with his men along the northwestern edge of the airport, near the entrance, sir.”

“Outstanding. As you were, soldier.”

Arthur stepped down from the zone and made his way into the Airport. Even at this early hour, Scribes and Initiates alike were bustling around. Liberty Prime’s shadow stretched out along the buildings of stone and cement, his presence an ever looming reminder of the battle that they fought. Just a few more days… Just a few more days until their fight would be over. Amity would reign out across the Commonwealth, the wasteland freed from the Institute and their synth lackeys.

Maxson’s heart swelled at the thought of it.

After so many months of strategical planning and endless violence, their campaign here would come to a close. The sense of pride and honor he felt was… beyond words. So many lives had been lost. Their sacrifice would now have purpose, meaning… they did not die in vain. No, not if they were victorious. All they needed was a few more pieces for Prime, just some last minute adjustments… and the Institute would be gone forever.

Doctor Li was poised along one of the higher ramparts, ice cold gaze glued onto the terminal she was working on, barking orders to the scientists below her. Though Arthur had been wary of her company upon her arrival, he had begun to see her usefulness. Her knowledge of Prime was immense, the amount of resources she brought the Brotherhood were countless. She was just as valuable as any of the brothers and sisters that took up arms on the field.

Preston Garvey stood with his back to Maxson as he approached. Though Arthur had not met the man personally, Jones spoke highly of him. Indeed, the Minutemen had become quite successful in the past month or two; their ability to keep the civilians of the settlements safe was commendable.

The concept of joining forces with them, as Paladin Jones had suggested, was wise. It gave them the advantage, providing more numbers and manpower to the cause. Had it not been for her, he may not have come to this conclusion on his own. It was not his forte to make friends with the unknown however, every rule had its loopholes.

“Hello there, Sir Garvey!” he greeted warmly, clapping a gentle hand onto the man’s right shoulder. “Welcome to Boston Airport. I apologize that we are not meeting on more peaceful terms but, perhaps, in the days to come, we can change that.”

Preston offered a small bow in return, a slow smile curling his lips upwards. “That is the hope, sir. I assume you are Arthur Maxson?”

“I am indeed. Paladin Jones informs me that you are interested in joining forces to take on the Institute. The Brotherhood of Steel would be more than happy to oblige. Though, you must understand, I have some questions for you prior to allowing you into my encampment.” Though Jones had nothing but kind words to share regarding the Minutemen, Maxson did not want to put his own troops in danger. That, and he wanted to know just what they brought to the table. Creating allies was all well and good but, if one of the allies had nothing to offer… the joining would be meaningless and futile.

The leader of the Minutemen cleared his throat and sent a wary glance towards his own men and women. They were a ragtag group of individuals ranging from young to old, weak to strong, properly equipped to far from it. Jones had mentioned that they may need some tactical training… Arthur grew exceedingly worried as to what extent of teaching they would require to be worthwhile. “Of course, sir. I will do my best to answer all of your concerns.”

“How many men are you offering?”

“Nearly one hundred.”

Maxson nodded. That was a fair amount, roughly half of what he had aboard the Prydwen and within the Airport. “What kind of combat discipline have they received?”

“Admittedly, not much. They could use with some education. Though, some of them are well trained. Examples are MacCready, Tate, and Cait.” Preston co*cked his head towards the three. They stood together, each different from the next in their own ways. MacCready had a sniper rifle strapped to his back, the hard glint in his eyes indicative of his ability to scope things from afar. He was the kind of man that could nail his enemy from several meters away… and he looked like he wouldn’t flinch a muscle at the mere thought of taking someone down. Probably not good with kids…

Cait, with her spiked scarlet hair and snarky grin, all but screamed rage hitter. She would go in hot, guns blazing, but with a precision that Maxson knew he did not want to be on the receiving end of. She was a wildcard and he was more than pleased to have her on his side.

Tate was another matter entirely. The man stood with his face concealed from view, a hat shadowing his expression. He wore simple clothes that bagged around his figure, a laser rifle positioned between his shoulder blades. Still, his muscles were prominently visible underneath all the fabric. Though he did well to hide it, he was likely the most seasoned of the trio, as if he had some sort of military training prior to joining the Minutemen. The way he stood highly implied this.

“Care to showcase their talents?”

Preston bobbed his head in agreement. “Sure, you have a target range?”

“Right this way,” Maxson offered with a tilt of his head. “Right around the building here is where my soldiers practice.”

“Tate?” The third of the trio’s gaze flicked to Garvey’s face. “This way.”

Tate trailed behind them as they rounded the Airport, coming to stop at a chalked in line across the dirt. Ahead of them rested a variety of targets at a multitude of heights and distances. “Tate is a newer member, he only joined a week ago. However, he is one of our most capable men,” Preston commented as Tate took position, pulling the rifle from his back. “He has been teaching some of our recruits back at the Castle.”

The new recruit took aim through his glowed sight and fired three consecutive shots. Each one embedded into the center of his targeted bullseyes. His chosen spots were the trickiest of the bunch, requiring precision and accuracy.

“Outstanding,” Maxson congratulated. “It is a decent start. Would you be against my Knights and Paladins offering some added training while you are here? I will grant you a portion of the Airport as your own, my soldiers will know not to intrude on you. We can discuss attack plans tomorrow aboard the Prydwen upon Paladin Jones and Proctor Ingram’s return.”

Preston and Tate exchanged a look. Interesting. “I was not aware that Ashtyn was on a mission,” Preston said.

“Yes, she has accompanied my mechanic to Mass Relay. There is a piece there we need. I assure you, they will return safely. I apologize that she is not present today to welcome you though I am sure she will be back come morning.” Preston relaxed, appearing comfortable with Maxson’s explanation. “Would you care for a tour while we have the time?”

“Sure, that would be appreciated. Thanks, Tate, you can return to the others.” Tate offered a mock salute as he departed, disappearing out of view as he made his way towards the other Minutemen. Preston turned his attention to Arthur, “Lead on.”


It was after three in the afternoon when Arthur was able to break away from his duties with the Minutemen to check on his own soldiers.

The Scribes, paired with Proctor Quinlan, were busy, noses buried in folders full of documents. They were scouring for any information they could use against the Institute – any recorded weakness, any known entrance to their facility. On report thus far, they had nothing. But Quinlan was optimistic, assuring the Elder that they would find something if given enough time.

Cade was content, not needing any supplies. He agreed to completing checkups on their newly acquainted allies but otherwise stated he was free if anything should arise. Paladin Brandis was with the good doctor at the time, and verified that he would be more than willing to aid leading some training exercises come morning. Though Maxson was once suspicious of Brandis’ abilities upon his return to service, the man had been nothing but loyal and committed since day one. He would be the perfect person to help educate the Men.

Teagan… Maxson bristled at the thought of seeing him. Their conversation had not gone smoothly the night before. Though Arthur had tried to address Jones’ concerns with the Proctor with tact and poise, Teagan had not wanted to hear a single word of it. Because of his sheer lack of veneration for the condition he had put the Brotherhood in, Maxson had no other choice but to ground him.

Maybe it would be best to come back later…

Maxson pivoted on his heels and made his way for the lower decks, ducking to avoid the lowing hanging tubes and wires that crisscrossed along the ceiling. As he approached his destination, he could hear the bubbled laughter of children bouncing off of the cold, metal walls of the Prydwen.

Squires… Even after so many years, his gut twisted uncomfortably. Children should never be forced to serve. He thought back to his own daughters, heart shuddering. If they had been conscripted, against his will, how would he feel? As parents of these children, what did they go through? Every day wondering if their child was safe or alive… Sure, sometimes they took children off the streets, children who had no home or family to speak of. In those cases, Arthur could argue that they bettered that child’s life, gave it purpose and meaning. But… not everyone fit into that mold.

As he entered onto the deck that housed the Squires, two in particular sped over to him. “Elder Maxson!” they cheered, bright eyes blinking, playful grins spreading out across their faces He had grown fond of this pair. They had followed Jones’ lead back at Sanctuary some months ago and had come to join the Brotherhood after she left. Jeremy and Tim, that was their names.

“Well hi to you too,” he greeted, squatting down to their level. “What can I do for the two of you today?”

Tim, the more confident of the two, spoke first, “Paladin Ashtyn isn’t here. She said she would take us down to the airport to practice shooting today.”

Jeremy nodded enthusiastically beside his friend, “But Captain Kells says she isn’t onboard.”

Ah, Jones had mentioned that when he offered her the mission. Seems she never got the chance to tell the kids. “Sorry guys, I stole her from you. She’s on a top secret assignment for me. Trying to get Prime up and running and we are missing some parts, she’s retrieving one as we speak.” Still, it was saddening how upset they had become about this. There had to be a way to rectify the situation.

“So cool,” Jeremy said with awe, eyes going wide.

Tim didn’t share the younger child’s demeanor. “But she was supposed to train with us,” he pouted.

The look of heartbreak on Tim’s face cemented Maxson’s resolve. “Tell you what. I know I’m not nearly as great as Jones is but, how’s about you two come with me and I can show you a thing or too?”

Both of their mouths dropped open. “YouYou would… shoot with us? But, but aren’t you busy with your Elder stuff?”

Maxson chuckled. “I can make time for it. Nothing could be more important than helping you guys.”


Night had fallen by the time Maxson found himself along the southern border of Boston Airport, alone at last. The stars twinkled far above his head, skewed from sight due to a dispersing of cloud coverage, tall looming peaks indicating that a storm was threatening the horizon. The air was heavy with moisture, the humidity high. Each breath felt thick.

But it didn’t matter. He couldn’t care less about the weather. Not in this moment.

A large stone was wedged into the ground before him, the front portion sanded down until it was smooth. Chiseled into the boulder’s surface was the words ‘Here Lies Paladin Danse; A True Soldier. Ad Victoriam, Brother’.

It was a grave, of sorts. One that held no person, no body underneath. No, it was purely for the soul – the one that Maxson had been so quick to pulverize.

What he had done… what he had condemned his most reliable advisor to… it was unforgiveable. He knew there was no atonement for his actions. But trust, it seems, could be so easily broken. All it had taken was a few documents found on a holotape for him to realize the deceit Danse had been concocting behind his back. Danse, M7-97 was an abomination, a synth, a monstrosity. He was a threat to every single man, woman, and child that resided within the Commonwealth. Sending Jones after him… It had to be done. Everyone needed to know that the Brotherhood of Steel was honest of their endeavors, that they would not cease until every last synth was put down. Though he knew what he did was right as far as the Code was concerned… Morally? He was uncertain.

Danse had been a friend, a treasured one. They had been through years of service together, countless missions and victories… and failures. While, yes, he was a machine, it was difficult to forget the friendship, the brotherhood they had once held.

And the look Jones had given him, the one that had so richly plastered itself onto her angular face, the one that screamed he was wrong… that face had haunted him.

No, there was no penance, not for his sins.

“I’m sorry, Danse. You deserved better,” Maxson whispered, kneeling before the grave with a closed fist placed over his heart. “You were a warrior, one of the best. I did not allow you to have a death of honor, of valor. I hope you can forgive me.”

‘I’m sure he will find a way to, sir,” a voice echoed from behind him.

Maxson’s back tightened, his jaw set as he stood to peer around his shoulder. “Apologies,” he replied gruffly, “I had thought I was alone.”

One of the Minutemen, Tate, stepped forward out of the shadows, head bowed in respect. His gaze was zeroed in on the makeshift gravestone, lips pulled into a tight line. “What happened to him?” he questioned.

“He…” Maxson let out a slow exhale, his own attention returning to the stone. How do you explain one of your greatest failures? Where do you even start? “He betrayed us. He was a traitor.”

“Yet you have a grave for him?” Tate hedged.

“He was also a friend, like a brother to me,” Maxson admitted.

They had been together in the D.C Wasteland, they had helped launch Project Purity alongside Elder Lyons. They had achieved the once considered impossible, hand in hand, brothers in arms. Clean, non-radiated water had been dispensed to the civilians for the first time in centuries. They had created a better place for everyone to live in.

So, when the situation at the Commonwealth was brought to their attention, it was only natural for Danse and Maxson to jump at the opportunity to be successful once more. If only…

“That sounds complicated. What did he do?”

Maxson rubbed his right hand over his left wrist, an unconscious habit of his that he had obtained whenever speaking of things he considered uncomfortable to discuss. “Typically I would keep such information to myself, but there should be no secrets between allies. Besides, what’s done is done. This man was a synth; he infiltrated our ranks and was granting the enemy an inside eye. Given the current stakes, I couldn’t risk keeping him alive.”

“That must have been challenging for you, issuing that order.”

Arthur inhaled sharply, eyes trailing towards the moon as it peered around the edge of a cloud. “You have no idea.”

“Is that why you seek forgiveness, sir?” Tate moved to stand beside him, mirroring his actions as he tugged the collar of his coat tighter around his muscled shoulders, the gun on his back swaying in its holster as he did so.

“Yes. Though, I question if I am worthy of it.” He watched idly as the cloud moved to cover the move, the brilliant white light fading and the world was drenched in black once more.

“Why do you say that?”

Maxson chuckled though it held no mirth, no glee, no happiness. “I had a friend killed. I ordered one of my soldiers to slaughter my brother. No matter the reasoning behind it, it was a monstrous act to commit.” He replayed that morning in his mind so many times, it was a constant reminder as he slept.

Rifling through the files Quinlan had prepared for him, the pit that grew in his stomach like a heaping pile of smoldering hot lead as he came to the same conclusion his Proctor had just moments beforehand. Knowing that he had been betrayed so deeply… The feeling was indescribable. Years of trust gone, undone within a spattering of seconds. Every last shred of it. And he knew, for that moment on… He could never let someone that close again.

“With all due respect, sir, you’re wrong.” Tate rubbed the palm of his hand along the back of his neck, dark copper eyes flicking to the stone. “You did what you thought was right. You refused to allow an exception to your rules and guidelines. If this Danse lived, you would prove weak in the minds of your enemies. Like you said, the stakes were too high. You couldn’t afford to have such a threat within your ranks.”

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do, soldier, but you can spare me the speech. I’ve made my own grave, allow me the decency to lay in it.” His words were spoken with such finality, with such conviction.

“I still think he would be able to forgive you.”

“If only dreams were real,” Maxson responded, a bitter bite lacing his tone.

“There’s no reason they can’t be,” Tate argued.

“Sounds like you’ve been speaking to Jones too much,” Maxson jested, desperately attempting to pour some humor into the conversation. “That’s the type of stubborn reply she would come up with.”

“She’s been a good influence on the Minutemen.” Quick, as if practiced. Interesting.

“That does not surprise me, she is one of my most liked recruits. She has been exemplary in her ability to rise in my ranks. It comes as no shock that she has done the same with your group.” Though Jones was sarcastic to a fault, thick skulled to the point of absurdity, and irrational in her decision making… no one could deny her capabilities on the field and her drive as a Brotherhood of Steel Paladin. Though he had questioned her beliefs before, even questioned her and doubted her standing… She had proven him wrong at every turn.

Bringing the Minutemen and BOS together… an outstanding idea.

As if mirroring her thoughts, Tate said, “I’m glad she was able to convince you to give us a shot.”

“As am I,” Maxson agreed. “Which, I’m sure is what you came to discuss, not to wallow in my own self-pity.”

Tate shrugged, eyes turning to meet Maxson’s. “Everyone, no matter who, needs a helping hand sometimes. We aren’t made of rock.”

“A helpful reminder, soldier. Thank you. Now, why don’t you lead me back to your miniature headquarters, and we can talk.” Maxson waved his hand towards the portion of the Airport that had been designated for the Minutemen.

“Yes, sir,” Tate replied, bobbing his head as he moved to take point, just as the moon freed itself from the cloud.


Three days later… they were ready.

Months of preparation, of work, of diligent effort… today was the day that all came to a close.

Today was the day the Institute was going to fall.

Overnight, Proctor Ingram and Doctor Li installed the final piece for Liberty Prime. He was almost ready. Just a few more tests to run and he would be fully operational, fully functioning. He had taken down the Enclave once… hopefully he was strong enough to offer his aid once more.

The past few days were filled from dawn to dusk with drills and combat training. Every afternoon the Airport would be alight with muzzle flashes and the ever-endless sound of gunfire. The Minutemen troops were shaping up, their aim improving by leaps and bounds. They learned tactical commands, how to strategize, and when to go for the kill or stay in cover. Evenings were spent with Preston, pouring over battle plans and attack maneuvers.

Today was the day.

The lower decks of the Prydwen were abuzz with activity as Squires helped the higher ranking officials, gathered equipment, and loaded up Vertibirds and trucks. Along one of the long abandoned runways at the Airport, a convoy was being created. Said convoy would follow behind Prime, leading an onslaught through downtown Boston as they carved a path towards the old CIT ruins.

Paladins and Knights alike were gearing up, making final repairs on their power armor and guns, and taking to the skies so they could join their fellow soldiers at the landing pad far below the Prydwen. They were prepared to risk life and limb for the sake of the Commonwealth.

And here he was, nerves a muddled wreck.

Maxson paced back and forth in his bunk room, right hand fingers knotted in his shortly cut hair, tangling in the chestnut locks as he gritted his teeth together.

Focus and concentrate.

Think of nothing but the goal.

He hadn’t been on the field in over a year. As Elder, his place was at the helm, controlling the strings behind the scenes as his brothers and sisters fought on the frontlines.

Today was the day.

Though he was current with his combat education, he couldn’t quell the trepidation and anxiety that laced his flesh. What if something went wrong? What if Prime didn’t fire? What if the damned machine broke down halfway to the ruins?

The whole mission was filled to bursting with ‘what if’s’, several of them ending with no conclusion or answer. So many things could go incredibly wrong…

Today had to be perfect, or the Commonwealth would suffer, its people would pay the price.

And Maxson couldn’t rest easy with that amount of pressure pounding on his shoulders.

They were either going to have a glorious victory today… or a devastating failure.

And people were going to die.


Maxson hands moved to grasp the sink he had, eyes snapping up to focus on his own reflection as it glared back at him in the mirror.

“You can do this,” he whispered.

His reflection looked less then convinced.

“You can do this,” he tried again, voice harder and carrying an ounce more of conviction.

Today was the day….

History was going to be made.

Chapter 26: Ad Victoriam

Chapter Text

Tomorrow was the day everything was going to change.

Danse rubbed his calloused hand along the back of his deck, copper gaze fixated to the spot in front of him as he moved through the cramped hallways of the Prydwen. Everything was coming to a head, everything was finally ready to be set into motion.

He exhaled slowly, a metered breath that was lacking any of the emotional turmoil he was feeling in his chest. He should be in power armor right now, he should be wielding a laser musket, standing side by side with his brothers and sisters in arms. He should be leading the charge, issuing commands to his Knights and Initiates as they stormed downtown Boston with Liberty Prime. But instead? Instead he found himself in league with the Minutemen, donning nothing more than some road leathers and simplistic armor.

This wasn’t where he wanted to be… but he knew that he had little say in the matter. He should appreciate that this opportunity was present.

If it had not been for Ashtyn… f*ck, he wouldn’t be here at all.

Had anyone else been given her same orders, he would be dead in that bunker.

But that didn’t make the blow of not being with his former colleagues any less devastating.

One of the Knights guarding the lower decks gave him a respectful bob of his head in greeting as Danse passed. They had been told to allow the Minutemen to roam throughout the bulk of the Prydwen, excluding restrictive areas and top secret locations, of course. The mess hall, bunk rooms, showers, and the like were all free space for Preston’s troops.

And while he may no longer be a Brotherhood of Steel member, he couldn’t deny how utterly amazing it felt to be back, to be at the place he once called home.

There was a general murmur that oozed around the ship, encasing it in gossip and excitement. Everyone was preparing themselves for the hours ahead, assuring that their gear and equipment were up to snuff. Scribes were busy with gathering the remaining intel they needed, Squires were aiding their higher officers ready-up, and the cook was loudly demanding that every single soldier get their dinner. The soft smell of honeyed stag meat and grilled corn penetrated through the oil and metal of the Prydwen, permeating his very soul. By Steel, if only he could stop and rest, just for a moment.

Though Danse would have given anything to chat with the Proctors and Captains, he didn’t have the time. No, right now he had one target and one target only: Ashtyn.

Her room had been empty, void of most of her personal belongings aside from the bare essentials she needed for her time here. They had agreed to travel light, pack only what the needed. They had no intentions on staying past today.

His side of the shared dorm was abandoned, nothing remained of his previous time there. What little possessions he had left behind were likely destroyed, burned or otherwise discarded. They belonged to a traitor, to a treacherous synth – they were of no use to the Brotherhood. Still, it pained him to see that he was so easily erased from their records, from their minds.

Regardless of what he was… he was still Danse. At least, that’s what Ash kept telling him.

“Speaking of,” he muttered to himself, and ducked out of the room.

If she wasn’t already in bed, she was probably in the showers.

He jogged down the few short steps that led to the bathing area that was southward from their once shared bunk. A sign positioned in the placard beside the door read ‘In Use – Do Not Disturb’, but he blatantly ignored it and stepped inside, smoothly tugging the deep mahogany painted door shut behind him and twisting the lock in place.

The air was heavy with humidity and heated from the temperature of the water that was running further within. Steam rose, misting Danse’s surroundings as he pulled his shirt over his head, discarding the item on the tile floor. The mirrors were fogged, impossible to see through as made evident when he turned to peer at his reflection, realizing he was nothing more than a blur. He reached down and unlaced his boots, stepping out of them.

Though it could be anyone beyond the curtain ahead… he knew it was her.

It was her smell, the sweet scent of pine and vanilla. While he was often cold and measured, she was kind and caring, nurturing. She was the one gentle thing the Commonwealth couldn’t take away from him.

Her voice was another giveaway, pitched perfectly as she sang along to Dion’s ‘Wanderer’ that played from her PipBoy that rested near the sink.

The song brought back memories.

It was one of the first times he truly saw her, saw her for something more than a crazed civilian with a death wish. She had been cleaning the guns back at the Cambridge Police Station, swaying her hips to the beat of the drum, dancing from one side of the dust encrusted counter to the other, her hair flowing around her angular face as she worked. She was so carefree, so resilient and full of life… so refreshing, a blast of color in the sea of gray and brown that made up the Wasteland. Her bright blue eyes flared with energy, with a sparkle he had never seen before.

She thrived. She flourished. She was extraordinary.

Oh, and the attitude she wielded.

A grin eased itself across his lips as he recalled their conversation.

“What are you doing?”

“Cleaning guns? Rhys told me to.”

“And is dancing part of the protocol?”

“Not all of us like to suck the fun out of everything.”

Her coy nature, her sarcastic tendencies; he used to despise them. Every time she would open her mouth, it took everything he had to keep his own jaw clamped shut. She would voluntarily go against Code and Conduct, slash everything he knew about respect of rank, and stomp on his once previously held beliefs.

But now?

Everything was so vastly different, he wasn’t sure he would even be able to recognize himself any more.

Now he craved her attention, no matter how miniscule it was. Whether it was just a quick flick of her eyes towards him, that lop-sided smirk that he knew was just for him to see, a welcoming touch of her hand on his shoulder, her lips on his neck, her laughter – steel, her laughter meant the world to him. Small things he didn’t think mattered whatsoever now had indescribable weight. Her happiness, Shaun, being the man she saw him to be, being someone she could be proud of.

“Hey, you just going to stand there like a deer in the headlights or are you going to join me?”

Danse blinked, dumb founded for a handful of seconds as he focused in on Ashtyn, her full lips curled into her trademark grin, nose crinkled with amusem*nt, auburn hair tickling her shoulders as she poked her head out from around the corner.

Deer in the headlights though… that bit went right over his head. Another of her phrases he hadn’t quite gotten the grasp of.

When he did not supply an answer, she arched a brow at him. “Do you need assistance?”

She stepped into view, slinking around the shower curtain as she moved to stand before him. Ifshe didn’t think he could reply before, he truly could not now.

To put it mildly, she was stunning. Always had been to him… even during their time at the Police Station. She was lean but muscular, her arms and legs toned and sun kissed. Her hair was slick with water, little beaded droplets clinging to the tips that rested against her slender shoulders. The ink that plastered her skin was just barely visible along her bicep and neck as she reached for him, fingers working to undo the button that clasped his jeans closed, lips already finding his.

But her kiss wasn’t her usual one – one filled with a devotion and love he couldn’t even begin to fathom. And, while that was still present, there was an urgency behind it, a fear, a terror, an uncertainty.

“Hey,” he whispered, brushing his thumb along her cheek. “What’s wrong?”

When her vivid blue eyes opened to meet his own gaze, they held the same trepidation that her actions did.

“You worried about tomorrow?”

A small nod as she peeked away.

He couldn’t blame her. If everything went according to plan, the Institute would be finished, destroyed, obliterated into pure nothingness. The whole of the Commonwealth would rejoice and the Wastes would feel safe again. That is, except to Ashtyn. With her son at the helm of the evil organization, she was likely frightened as to what his end would be. Would he be placed on trial? Killed outright? What would Maxson want done with the man?

And what would become of the Brotherhood when it was all said and done?

He looped his arms around her, pulled her close and tucked her under his chin. “Take everything one step at a time.”

“I’m trying. But it’s not like that’s easy to do.”

“I know.” He had been there, uncertain of what the future would hold. When he had read his name on the escaped synth list so many weeks ago, Danse had thought his life was over. But here he was, alive and breathing. Perhaps the world would hold a similar fate for Shaun.

“In the meantime, help me forget? Just for a little bit?” Her fingers curled around the waistline of his jeans, molding their bodies together.

“Ash…” This wasn’t a healthy way of coping, of dealing with her doubts.

Please, Danse,” the word was pained, drawn out. The look she gave him was one of anguish.



“Everyone counted and present for?” Preston asked.

Morning was arriving, the sun just beginning to peer over the horizon to set the world afire. Golden rays were already rippling along the dust covered wasteland, drenching the world in their warm glow. The smell of gasoline from the vertibirds that hovered just overhead hit Danse’s senses like a three hundred pound deathclaw. Paladins and Knights alike were barking orders, directing Squires and Scribes as to where to go and what to do. In the distance he could make out the voices a few of the technicians shouting near Liberty Prime, the monstrosity of a cyborg booted up and prepared to make the trek west.

Ashtyn was there as well, her form just barely visible from his current position. She had winked at him once from over her shoulder, a smile on her lips that didn’t quite meet her eyes.

Today was the day…

“Tate, you hearing me?” Garvey requested, snapping his fingers impatiently in front of Danse’s face.

He blinked a few times, shaking his head from side to side to clear his thoughts. “Yeah. Right, sorry. Everyone is counted for. The Elder wanted us to meet them in ten minutes.”

“Good.” Preston rubbed his hands together, his mouth a fine line as he moved to stand beside Danse. When he spoke again his voice was hushed and quiet, “You think we can actually pull this off?”

“I do. With our combined forces, there’s not much the Institute can do to stop us.”

“What about the coursers? Man, those guys are scary. You should have seen what they did to the Castle.”

He should have. He should have been there when they attacked. But instead, he had been too preoccupied with wallowing in his own self-pity. And Ashtyn got burned. No matter how many times she told him it wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t sure if he could ever forgive himself. “Ashtyn told me about it,” he replied. “Sounded brutal but this is different. We are bringing the fight to them, we are taking them by surprise. And we will be victorious.”

Preston hesitated, clearly not as hopeful as Danse. “I just don’t see how anything could be strong enough to defeat them… even with your Prime over there,” he gestured to the machine. It towered above the workers below it, arms moving to ensure that proper function was enabled before they set out.

“He is armed with nukes,” Danse said.

“We’re gonna need more than that to take out the Institute.”

“That’s why we’re here, Preston.”

Garvey sighed, a slow exhale as he readjusted his rifle on his back. Turning to his Minutemen he instructed, “Head towards the Western Gate to the Airport. Join with the Brotherhood, file into ranks just like we practiced. During this mission, I will not be your leader. You will look to Elder Arthur Maxson for your next move. We do not have unlimited ammo and we will not be coming back for more. The vertibirds will make drops when necessary but the goal is to not need them until we get to the CIT ruins. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, sir!” the Minutemen replied in unison.

“Make me proud today. Move out!”

As the Minutemen began their journey towards the Gate, Danse spoke up, “Thank you, Preston, for giving me this chance.”

“You’re very welcome. I hate to admit it, but we needed you. If it wasn’t for Ash, I may not have realized that.” His admittance was surprising. Preston and Danse had always been at odds, never capable of seeing eye to eye. But, it seems, that their forced time together was begging to change that. “I’m going to walk with my men. I assume you’re going to meet up with Ash?

“Correct. We will take up the back of the group.”

“Be safe out there.”

“Same goes to you.”

Preston turned to Danse once more before departing. “What’s that phrase you Brotherhood shout when charging into battle?”

“Ad Victoriam.”

“Ah. Then,” he clapped a hand on Danse’s shoulder, a friendly gesture. “Ad Victoriam, Paladin.”

Danse watched Preston’s back as he disappeared around the corner of one of the outlying buildings. He inhaled deeply, taking in the sights and smells of the airport for a moment. “Focus,” he told himself, closing his eyes for a brief second. Focus on the task, focus on nothing but the task. Don’t let anything cloud your judgement or abilities. We will see victory today.

When he opened them, he felt calmer, more at ease. It wasn’t going to be easy, but they could do it.

They had to.

Danse started for Ashtyn, his booted feet kicking up gravel and thudding against the pavement of the unused runway as he walked. When he was close she pivoted towards him, raising her hand in mock salute. “Hey there, Tate. Are the Minutemen in position?”

“Stand clear!” Ingram demanded as Prime began to move behind Ash.

“Yeah. Just as instructed.”

“Excellent. You ready then?”

He peeked up at Prime once more, the robot heading towards the Gate. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“I know the feeling. But, you know what?”

They started forward, trailing behind Prime. “What?”

“I was thinking about it this morning and, well, this isn’t the scariest thing we’ve ever done.”

“How do you figure?” Ahead of them, Danse could just make out Rhys and Haylen. They were joined by Ingram and Brandis, taking their positions as their makeshift army moved out of the Airport. Whatever speech Maxson was giving, they couldn’t hear it above the drone of Prime. And, if Danse was being perfectly honest, he didn’t care. Not anymore. At one point in time, he would have chided such thinking. But so much had changed since then. He was a completely different man.

And so was Arthur.

“Well, ArcJet was certainly scarier. I mean, I know you almost sh*t yourself watching me go down that elevator but, f*ck, I was in the elevator. That grenade could have killed me!”

“Don’t remind me,” Danse grumbled, pulling his laser rifle from his back to cradle in his arms.

She rolled her eyes and waved her hand at him dismissively. “Everyone is safe now, don’t get your panties all bunched up. Anyways, after that, when I went to go find Brandis? Right? You remember that?”

The sideways glare he offered as reply was answer enough that he clearly remembered it. She had gone missing for days, no one knew where she was or what she was doing. She disappeared. No note, no message, nothing. His stomach still pinched uncomfortably at the memory.

“I almost died, like, three times during that!”

“What?” this was news. “You said that the trip was uneventful.”

“Okay, so I may have lied a tiny bit. Because I knew you would make a face.”

“What face?”

“The one you’re making right now,” she answered pointedly, jabbing a finger in his general direction.

Danse scowled. “I’m not making a face.”

“That’s alright, I know, and that’s all that matters. But, the point is, that adventure was loads scarier than this is.”

“What about the time at the Red Rocket Station when you thought it would be a swell idea to throw a grenade into a parked car?” They were entering downtown Boston, the partially demolished buildings offering some form of protection from the morning sun as it began to cake the cement at their feet.

“We both know I wasn’t aiming, which is why we had a nice long lesson about proper grenade handling after that. But, that was still scarier.”

“And Sanctuary? When the raiders found us and we had that standoff at the bridge?”

“Scarier. What about when you were captured by the Covenant?”

“Terrifying. This is way easier.” He knew what they were doing, what Ashtyn was trying to do. This was her way or releasing stress, of talking herself up, of making what was to come manageable. He had once discarded her ramblings as nothing more than nonsense to fill the quiet. But he now knew they meant more than that. It was her way of finding peace. Where he could remain calm and focused, this was her way to get her mind clear.

“See? So we have been in way worse stuff. In fact, this isn’t even that b-“

A roar shuddered through the skyscrapers, rattling the glass that still remained stuck in window frames. Dust trickled down around them as the structures quaked and the earth buckled. Ashtyn yanked Righteous Authority from its holster, finger already curling around the trigger, ready to fire on the first sight of movement.

The makeshift army jerked to a stop as everyone took offensive stances, guns at the ready. Laser sights flicked back and forth across the street, dancing along the cobblestone and brickwork. “Someone get a visual!”

“I don’t see anything!”

Heavy footfalls echoed against the asphalt, a snarling sound, low and deep.

Louder, closer…

Danse’s muscles tensed in anticipation. It wasn’t a deathclaw, too big. And there were few things bigger than a deathclaw. None of them good.

A building ahead of them exploded, causing a shower of plaster and dry wall, of wood and debris as the creature barreled through the obstacle, to rain down on the soldiers.

“I retract my previous statement,” Ashtyn whispered besides him, face paling.

The monster turned to size the group up, its grotesque fingers curled around a streetlight.


The street lit up with muzzle flashes as the sound of rapid fire gunshots obliterated the air, Gun smoke wafted towards the building, fogging the area and making it difficult to get a proper view of their target. Frenzied shouts barked out orders.

“Flank it on the left and right!”

“Don’t lose sight of it!”

“Don’t let it get too close to you!”

But they had lost their window of opportunity, the behemoth was already charging forwards, knocking abandoned parked cars and broken down sign posts over in the process, sending them careening into parlor shops and bakeries. An explosion detonated as the behemoth stomped on a vehicle, crushing the engine into the less than sturdy frame. It howled but continued its pursuit.

Danse inhaled sharply, snapping his musket into position as he took aim down the sights. His finger cracked against the trigger, sending a volley of metallic bullets towards the monstrosity. Focus.

The beast reared its head backwards, curling its arms around to the right, clasping the streetlight with both of its solid, deformed hands.

“Retreat!” a commanding officer instructed.

But it was too late for those in the front row.

The behemoth swung wildly, the blow devastatingly strong as it bulldozed into the first line of men. Their screams of agony heaved through the roadway, their bodies sent crashing against the buildings that dwarfed them on either side. Lifeless, their corpses lulled to the dirt below, nothing more than mangled heaps of arms and legs, of broken helmets and torn apart armor.

“Head for CIT!” Maxson hollered above the chaos. “Prime can’t get a good angle in here! We need the open field!”

The group started for the alleys ways, boots slapping against the cement as they raced for their destination. The behemoth followed behind them, mindless of the objects in his path as he took down gas stations and pharmacies. Using the streetlight, he waved his arms back and forth in front of him, attempting to catch any stray soldiers who weren’t quite fast enough to avoid getting hit.

Danse’s heart felt like it had leapt into his throat, battering out an unsteady rhythm as fear overtook him. His breaths came in quick uneven puffs as he curled his fingers around Ash’s arm to pull her ahead of him, their fingers lacing together to anchor one another as they sped after their fellow brothers and sisters. Keep going, they had to keep going. If they stopped now, they would be pancaked, pulverized to a red pulp against the alley.

“This way!” a Paladin instructed ahead, waving the army to the left down a wider street. Danse could make out the shadow of the CIT ruins a block away.

Just have to get there.

Already he could hear gunfire – they had met resistance at the campus. Likely synths and Institute lackeys. If they weren’t careful, they would be surrounded on both sides, unable to find safe haven to launch a counterattack of their own. f*ck, what was the plan? They hadn’t accounted for this to happen. This hadn’t been in the training.

The sound of glass and brick shattering and dumping into the street urged them onwards. The behemoth’s roar threaded terror into each step.

“He’s right behind us!” Ashtyn cried.

“Keep going!” Danse replied, voice clipped. “Just keep running!” The air around them shook and shivered with tension. He could hear the behemoth moving behind them, readying his next attack. They just had to make it out of reach… a few more steps…

“Watch out!” she yelped, gripping his wrist with both hands and dragging him to the right behind a dilapidated median.

The streetlight makeshift weapon connected with the pavement, shattering the asphalt…. Right where they had stood just seconds before.

Danse looked up at the monster, watched as its meaty head swiveled towards them, beady bloodshot eyes blinked hazily in the sun. Its lips curled up into a toothless sneer, green skin glistening with oil and sweat.

It raised its arms once more, driving the streetlight into the ground once more, causing Danse and Ashtyn’s footing to falter as they crumbled.

“What do we do?” Ashtyn asked, hands trembling as she held Authority, sights trained onto their target.

But they both knew that the caliber of bullets they had at their disposal wouldn’t be enough.

“What do we do?” she repeated, panicked, shrill, anxious.

What could they do? What were their options? f*ck, think, dammit!

“Target acquired!”

The street blew up in yellow and orange as Liberty Prime zeroed in on the behemoth, releasing a few rounds of red hot lead into its back.

Danse ducked down, pulling Ashtyn into his chest, wrapping his arms protectively around her as metal shrapnel plummeted towards the ground below, pelleting off of the median and surrounding buildings. He could feel her nails digging into the soft flesh of his chest, piercing through his cotton shirt and battered armor. “I got you,” he whispered.

The behemoth screeched in pure agony, howling as Liberty Prime’s assault continued.

And when the gunfire ceased, the pile before them was barely recognizable.

Danse slowly eased himself away from Ash, gaze surveying the area beyond their cover. “We’re good,” he said, pulling Ashtyn up with him as he stood.

“Holy sh*t,” she replied, propping her hands on her knees, lips parted as she sucked in greedy breaths of air. “I thought… sh*t, I thought we were done for. I’ve never seen one of those before.”

“They are called behemoths. Type of supermutant gone horribly wrong.”

“As if the other supermutants are ‘right’,” she scoffed. “But it’s dead. Thanks to Prime.” She peeked up at the cyborg as it headed for the CIT ruins. “We need to join the others.”

Keeping low to the ground, wanting to maintain some realm of stealth, Danse and Ashtyn crept towards the college. As they grew closer, the sound of gunfire grew louder and louder. Laser lights ripped through the air, sizzling against the cement columns when they missed their intended targets.

“Institute,” Ash hissed beside him as they knelt next to a toppled telephone booth.

Several synths already laid destroyed on the front lawn, sparks flying from frayed wiring, electrical pulses relaying uselessly through the beaten mainframes. A few human bodies littered the grass as well – coursers. The fight here was almost over. Though some resistance remained, the Brotherhood and Minutemen had other plans.

“Take cover!” Ingram ordered. “Prime is here! Stay clear of the blast zone!”

Now that Liberty Prime was in position, there was no use for combat. No, not when they could merely tunnel in.

Everyone rushed to cower behind whatever suitable cover they could find as Liberty Prime rotated towards the base of the CIT main office. Raising its right arm it muttered, “Destroy all communists!”

Prime fired a nuke, the explosive barreling into the soft grass and dirt of the front lawn, boring a new entry into the Institute. Danse closed his eyes against the detonation, wincing as heat washed over him. Those enemies who remained in the blast radius were fried, incinerated on impact. When he opened his eyes, the fight was over.

For now.

Cheers resonated across the field as Minutemen and Brotherhood alike scrambled out of their cover corralling at the entryway. “Ad Victoriam!” they bellowed, raising their fists in the air, whistling and laughing as they moved. They circled around the still smoldering, smoking hole in the ground, bodies practically quivering with anticipation, adrenaline fueling their actions.

Elder Maxson took point, raising a hand to silence the crowd. “We have achieved one small victory this morning! But there are more to come. Below us is the Institute, bringers of evil and the sole source of every wrong doing that has marred our good Commonwealth. Today is the day we finally bring an end to it!”

Another round of triumphant cheering enveloped the crowd.

“Today is the day we execute the men and women responsible for the abominations known as synths! For the stealing of our food, water, and resources. For the kidnapping of our sons. Our daughters! Today we will be victorious!”

“Ad Victoriam!”

“Now, who’s with me?”

“We are!” they all cried in unison.

But as they descended into the bowels of the Institute, one lone soldier hesitated, her booted feet just barely gracing the tunnel.

“Ash?” Danse asked, raising a hand towards her.

Her face was a wash of emotions – happiness, worry, terror, guilt… shame… She held herself, wrapping her arms around her stomach, fingers curling into her shirt. “Are we doing the right thing?”

He didn’t have an answer.

“What happens after this?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

She reached for his outstretched hand. “Make me a promise,” she requested as he led her after the others.


“We have to find Shaun first. If we don’t…”

If they didn’t… Gods, if they didn’t…

“They’ll kill him.”

Chapter 27: The Nuclear Option


Okay soooo two notes for this one.
One: I took several, and boy do I mean SEVERAL, creative liberties. Aside from the beginning and a super duper tiny chunk in the middle somewhere, this bit does NOT follow cannon whatsoever. I changed it a TON.
Two: this is a really rough version. I'm sorry. It's long and took a ton of time to write and I really wanted it out for you guys to read. So, I'm posting it. I'll edit some stuff out tomorrow and shine it up a bit but I wanted you guys to be able to check it out as soon as possible. So, I'm really sorry if there's some sort of grammar or spelling error that seems out of place.

Chapter Text

An alarm was sounding somewhere deeper in the facility.

“I’ll make sure this teleporter is functioning before we need it, sir.”

A quake reverberated throughout the complex, the floor shuddered below my feet.

“Teams Alpha and Beta, memorize your routes and be prepared for heavy resistance.”

My heart beat wildly behind my ribs, threatening to pound past my lungs and escape.

“Minutemen, protect our engineers as they work on the teleportation device. We need it functioning before we arm the nuke.”

Men and women, brothers and sisters in arms rushed past me to follow orders.

“Our only exit is through the teleporter. Exiting through the tunnel Prime has created for us will not be an option; it will only serve as a means for suicide. The courtyard will be swarming with Coursers and synths.”

Some of the soldiers were muttering to themselves, to each other. Psyching themselves up.

I, on the other hand, felt numb.

Elder Maxson stood before us, minigun in his hands, ready to fire. “Our next goal is the reactor room. If anything, I repeat, anything tries to slow us down, I expect you to shoot it. Man or machine. Do I make myself clear?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” came a chorus of a reply.

Shaun… What if Shaun… My gut twisted, my grip on my rifle tightened. Danse’s hand on my shoulder was the only thing grounding me.

Maxson turned to me, Danse’s hold disappearing in the process. “Paladin Jones. When you reach your destination, you will need these.” He offered me a small package, kept secure within a pouch I tied to my belt. “It’s a fusion pulse charge. Attach it to the reactor and it can be detonated remotely from a safe location. It will be more than enough to annihilate the Institute in its entirety.” His attention turned to our head engineer. “Proctor Ingram, you are to remain here and get that teleporter up and running. Do whatever you have to do.”

“Don’t worry, Elder, we will get this machinery under control,” she replied.

Addressing the group as a whole, Maxson continued, “Today we are going to change lives. Ad Victoriam!”

“Ad Victoriam!”

“Move out!”

Preston stole a quick glance towards Danse and me before speaking to his own men, “Minutemen, follow me! You know the drill. Keep to the plan and we will all get out of here in one piece!”

As everyone began to head towards their destination, Danse grasped my hand one last time. “This is where we part ways.”

“I know.” My spine was rigid, my breaths too constricted.

“You need to get to your son if you can.”

“I know.” My voice trembled, my knees felt weak.

“Ashtyn, look at me.”

I forced my focus from the doors ahead of me to do as he asked, eyes finding him even as my head swam with uncertainty.

He trailed his thumb across my cheek, palm cupping my face. In that moment, I didn’t care who saw. I needed that. I needed him. I needed the calmness he could give me. “Everything is going to work out. You’re going to stay with the others, get to the reactor room, plant the bomb, find Shaun, and be back here before you know it. Keep your radio on our channel. Let me know when you get close.”

“I will.”

“Breathe. You have to breathe.”

I purposefully inhaled.

“Thank you.”

He pressed his lips to my forehead, his other hand curling into my hair, pulling me to his chest. “Be safe.”

“You too.”

“No. Promise me you’ll be safe.”

“When have I never not been?”

Danse pulled away, his expression stern. “Not good enough. You swear on it. Swear you will radio me. Swear you’ll be okay. Swear you won’t still be here when we have to hit that damn button.” Concern laced his voice, worry etched its way into his face, fear contorted his features. “Please.”

I placed my hand over my heart. “I swear.”

“Thank you. Now go.” He pushed me towards the door.

And into the Institute.

Maxson led the charge down a flight of stairs and into what looked to be a worker’s tunnel. I stood to his right as we descended, as concrete cemented us in on either side. Wires and electrical tape ran the lengths of the halls. Only a few Brotherhood of Steel soldiers were with us, the rest were busy causing a diversion in the main hub, allowing us to get closer undetected.

There was no turning back. Not now.

“This is the Institute?” the Elder muttered, a frown curling his lips downwards. “Disappointing. I was hoping for something bigger based on your report.”

“You’ll see,” I whispered.

“I’m sure I will. We just have to get there first.”

We rounded a corner into an adjacent corridor. There was a terminal at the end, just past a pane of glass. “Scribe Haylen, on that computer. If there are turrets ahead, I want them deactivated. We will have a large enough threat to deal with, we don’t need automated guns firing at us at the same time.”

“No problem, sir.” Haylen jogged to the terminal, fingers rapidly ticking away at the keyboard, eyes wavering from side to side on the screen as she began to crack through the Institute’s firewall.

“The rest of you,” Maxson addressed. “I have no idea what we are facing ahead but I know we can overcome it if we work together. Make sure your radios are turned on and tuned in.” My finger rose to flick the earpiece I had on, listening as other did as well. We could already hear Preston barking out commands to his own men and women. “Stay focused and we will be victorious!”

“Turrets are deactivated, Elder,” Haylen announced, pushing away from the computer to turn towards us.

“Great work, Haylen. Alright, soldiers. On me!”

The second we rounded that corner, gunshots split through the air like fireworks on the Fourth of July. Laser beams from Institute pistols scorched the metal framework of the room, smoke from the barrels of our guns thickened the air in a heavy smog that made breathing difficult.

My adrenaline spiked, my heart leapt into overdrive, my eyes widened… and my mind raced. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion but ungodly fast at the same time. It was dizzying.

“Keep low!” I heard Rhys snap, shoving a fellow Knight down below cover as I moved to flank the enemy on the right. The room was covered in electrical equipment – terminals and work stations I couldn’t even begin to figure out. Flashing lights, warning alarms, a siren blaring. My head pounded with the noise, my ears rung.

Synths were pouring through one of the many entryways into the room. Synths and Coursers alike. They fired at us with scary precision, their bullets flying off of the top of our makeshift shields and barriers.

I inched out of cover long enough to fire a few of my own shots, feeling a mix of satisfaction and despair when the little lead balls hit my desired targets. Every death met we were alive… yet that we were one step closer to taking down the Institute… and my son.

Funny how that even when saving the Commonwealth, I still felt like I was making the biggest f*cking mistake of my life. If fate could ever ease up on me, it would be hellishly appreciated.

“Move up!” Maxson demanded after we cleared the first wave.

We dove over the terminals and desks, the wirework and electrical equipment, quickly finding a new item to cower behind just as the room filled with more opposition.

I felt like a robot. My actions no longer my own. Follow orders, do as you’re told. Don’t overthink it. Because if you do, you’ll fall into the abyss… and you may never come up from that. Don’t think about this being the Institute. I fired again, targets sighted on a Courser as he advanced. Don’t think about your son sitting above it all. He convulsed as my bullets slammed into his torso, his footing unstable as he staggered backwards. Don’t think about having to put a gun to his head, of trying to convince him to stand down… of watching them execute him when he refuses. Because you know he will. He landed with a weighty thud against the cement, head careening into the floor with a sickening crunch. You know this won’t end well.

We moved up again.

Stop… Stop it!

I blinked, shook my head. This isn’t about you anymore. This is about the people of the Commonwealth. This is about doing the right thing, about saving all of those innocents. Grow the f*ck up.

Somewhere through the haze I heard someone scream a warning… I felt someone grab the back of my shirt and drag me down an adjacent hall, the movements too quick I couldn’t react. Someone shoved me to my knees, ordered me to cover my face….

And somewhere back inside the room, a grenade detonated.

Fire erupted through the opening as the computers burst into flames, as heat oozed from entryway. The shockwave shoved us backwards, sent us sprawling against the ground, stole my breath away.

“sh*t,” Elder Maxson hissed from behind me, his grip loosening on my shoulder. “Paladin, are you alright?”

I nodded weakly, coughing around the lungful of dust and dirt I had inhaled. What… had happened? Where were the others?

He helped me to my feet before we edged back towards the room. “Report?” he called.

Nothing…. Nothing…

Haylen? Rhys? Anyone?

Again he cursed, eyes squinting to see past the billowing smoke. “Report?” urgent, more worried, bordering on frantic.

f*ck… f*cking hell… They couldn’t…

Maxson paced back and forth across the opening as the silence continued, as nothing more than the crackling of the inferno greeted us. We couldn’t move into the room, the floor was gone. It crumbled below us, opening into the lower levels of the Institute. We couldn’t see more than a few feet, but that was enough to understand that we couldn’t return.

But not enough to allow us to see survivors.

“God damn it. I want a report!” Maxson shouted.

Something moved further in as rubble was repositioned. “Paladin Brandis… here…” a man choked out.

“Knight Rhys… here…” came another.

“Scribe… Haylen. And my other Scribes, accounted for…” spoken with evident pain.

I exhaled, not realizing I had been holding my breath. Relief flooded my system, let my muscles relax in the slightest. Others had lived… we weren’t alone. Perhaps they were worse for wear but… they were alive.

“Oh… thank God,” Maxson whispered. Then louder, “Is there a way through over there?”

More movements, masked behind the fog of smoke and ash.

“Yeah… Along the western wall… We can… get through,” Paladin Brandis replied

“It’s our… original path,” someone else pitched in.

“Good. Take whoever is able with you, Brandis. Haylen, have your Scribes help you take the injured back to Ingram. Make sure they get medical attention immediately.”

“Yes, sir,” Haylen agreed, joined by Brandis after a second of pause.

“Are you safe, sir? Where’s Jones?” Rhys questioned.

“She’s with me. We will continue ahead, find another way around.”

“What about getting the door to the Reactor Room open? Alpha and Beta teams are both here and it doesn’t look like we can get to you,” Brandis cut in.

“We’ll take care of that and meet you there. Stay on your radios. Call if you need assistance. Understood?”

“Yes, sir!” came a chorus of replies.

Maxson pivoted, eyes meeting mine. “Are you okay to walk, Paladin?”

I bobbed my head. “Yeah. Yeah, of course. Uh, we don’t have this part of the Institute mapped but I think we can get to the main elevator if we keep to the right and then swing left.” I was desperately trying to remember the map I had seen of this place the last time I was here, kicking myself for not having copied it down when I had the chance to.

“Excellent. If you start to feel lightheaded, dizzy, anything, let me know. You could have hit your head, suffered internal damage. I don’t want you to continue if your health or life is at stake.”

As far as I was aware, I had some burn marks, bumps, bruises, and lacerations. But nothing else. Not yet.

“I will, sir.”

“Good. Now, keep to the ground, and stay quiet. Stealth is your forte, correct? Anything could be around that corner and we are at a severe disadvantage without the others. Having the element of surprise is the only thing we have to lean on.”

“Crystal clear. I have your six.”

I couldn’t believe this was happening. Out of everyone, f*cking everyone, why Maxson?

I didn’t want be paired with him. I wanted to be on the other side of the whole facility from him. I wanted him dead. I wanted him to pay for what he had done… for Danse, for Deacon… for the entire f*cking Railroad.

But right now… we were allies. I would die without him, and he without me.

For now, I had to rely on him.

And that realization made me sick to my stomach.

I trailed behind him as we moved further into the Institute. The corridors were quiet, abandoned of resistance – likely too busy trying taking down the Minutemen and other Brotherhood of Steels soldiers to even know we were there.

We passed what looked to be office rooms, generators, and equipment. What it all did, I wasn’t certain, and I didn’t care. I was itching to join the others, trying not to dwell on the fact that I wanted nothing more than to rid myself of the man in front of me.

My grip tightened on Righteous Authority, my eyes scanning each room we passed for any threat. I had to stay on alert, concentrated.

Through the earpiece I could hear Brandis’ progress. They were working their way through a tunnel system that ran below. It was a safer route for them to take towards the Reactor Room. The Minutemen were holding out as well, indicated by Preston every few minutes. I wasn’t sure how Danse was doing and I dared not ask. I knew better.

“What… What the f*ck is this?” Maxson questioned from a few meters in front of me, pulling me from the radio coms. He had rounded the corner, eyes wide as he stared into a room I couldn’t view from my current position. “Jones… You need to see this.”

He stood, waving a hand towards me to sign that it was clear of enemies.

I stood, skirting forwards to meet him. And… what I saw? It made my heart drop to my toes.

Tubes… like the tubes I had been cryogenically frozen in but all clear instead of solid. They were filled with water, or some fluid, I wasn’t sure. Inside were people, wires and flexible pipes connected to the base of their skull at the back of the neck. They floated idly in their tanks, eyes closed, jaws slack. Expressionless.

“What…” I couldn’t find words. Not for this.

Maxson entered the room, body tense, gaze flicking from tank to tank. There were hundreds of them, thousands… The room went up several floors with a metal staircase winding around the whole thing. Each holding chamber was dimly lit with an overhead lamp. A terminal nestled between every other, the monitors offering vital signs and status updates on the people.

“What is this? Did you know this was here?” Maxson asked, hand raising to touch one of the tanks. His voice was heavy with emotion, with dread, with anguish.

“N-no, sir,” I stuttered, bile rising in my throat. “I d-didn’t… I had no idea.”

Maxson rubbed at the glass. “There’s something…” He leaned closer. “There’s something written here.”

I joined him, ducking my chin. I couldn’t look at the people, I couldn’t risk it. Nausea ate at me, made my head spin for reasons other than blood lose. What were these people for? What the meaning of housing them like this?

“It’s a name,” he finished. “Amelia Stockton.”

My blood ran cold. No… No way… Amelia… the girl Dan had been looking for, the woman we saved from the Compound.

I stepped to the next one. ‘Gloria Lynn Amell’. “Holy hell…” I peeked up at the woman, but I already knew what she would look like. Chocolate skin, bleached white hair… she was the spitting image of Glory.

“What is it, Paladin?” Maxson stood behind me, mirroring my pose.

The people stolen away in the night, the missing persons, all those case files Nick had been trying to close…

The next tank read ‘Gabriel Pentz’, the leader of a raider band I had helped dissolve.

The next ‘Roger Warwick’, a man who was a husband and father, who owned a settlement I had protected.

After that, ‘John McDonough’, the Mayor of Diamond City.

“These people… They are what the synths were made from. We thought… We thought they just killed the people the kidnapped but...” my voice trailed off.

“But they didn’t. They’re all here,” Maxson completed.

There were other names, ones I didn’t recognize. Chase, Cole, Miranda… Countless others.

All these people… They were here, they were still alive.

“What kind of sick f*ck does this?” Maxson growled, spinning on his heels to look around him.

I shook my head. I knew who… I knew who did this. Shaun did. My son. My baby boy. My child was the reason this people had been stolen from their loved ones, why they were being imprisoned inside of glass tanks, why their DNA had been copied into robotic replicas.

I couldn’t hold it in anymore.

I doubled over, hand splayed out across my abdomen as I hurled, as my gut heaved.

Danse had told me not to blame myself… but that was becoming increasingly challenging.

Maxson held me up, rubbed my back, tried to comfort me as my body trembled.

I caused this. I did this! I created the monster who masterminded this whole f*cking thing.

Tears pricked the corners of my eyes but I rubbed them away. I couldn’t do this, not here, not in front of Maxson. “I’m fine,” I whispered. “Thanks.” Anything to get him away from me.

He took the hint and stepped back. “I’m going to go to the exit. Meet me there when you’re ready.”

I gave a less than enthusiastic thumbs up as I ran the back of my hand across my lips. I wasn’t sure if I would be sick again, wasn’t one hundred percent certain my stomach was finished. This was so messed up. It was beyond inhumane to keep these people here, imprisoned in tanks like gold fish. They probably couldn’t be saved. Their muscles had been wasting away all this time, for who knows how many years. They weren’t even capable of talking, of seeing… It was so… Focus on something else, think about something other than the way your insides are churning.

As Maxson walked, he spoke over the radio, “Status report, Brandis.”

Brandis’ voice fizzled to life through the static, “Doing alright but beginning to meet substantial resistance. We can hold them off for some time but if this continues, we may need backup. No casualties so far but I sent Knights Jake and Peter back to Ingram. They each took a few bullets and I didn’t want to risk losing them.”

“Good call, Paladin. If Jones’ is correct about our position, we should be to the main elevator in a few minutes. I can meet up with you after that and send Jones to get the doors open.”

“Affirmative, sir. Anything else?”

“No, just keep-“ and his voice cut out.

I peered over to him, his body frozen in place, muscles taught, breath caught in his throat. “Sir?”

He blinked. “Uh, right. Just keep your radio on. Maxson, out.”

But he didn’t move, didn’t twitch, didn’t show any signs of continuing onwards.

“Sir?” I repeated.

When he didn’t supply an answer, I had no choice but to join him.

And once I did, I understood.

“Tatum O’Connell Danse,” he said, voice barely audible over the hum of the machines that littered the room we were in. “M7-97. Jesus…”

‘Danse’ floated ominously in the tank. His hair was an inch or two longer, face lacking the scars I had come to recognize. He wasn’t as bulky, body not crafted from years of BOS training. But it was unmistakably him. His facial structure was identical.

I couldn’t breathe. It was as if every ounce of available oxygen had been ripped from my lungs.

Guess fate hadn’t received my plea earlier… or it just didn’t care.

“I guess I was hoping… Hoping that our information had been wrong. I couldn’t stomach killing an innocent man but it was better than… better than actually believing that Danse was an abomination,” Maxson admitted. “Better than knowing that the man I had come to trust was nothing more than an Institute spy, a monstrosity. That my most cherished friend and brother was our enemy.” He inhaled a shaky breath, one packed to bursting with remorse, as if he was on the verge of crying. “But this confirms it.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” I managed.

“Don’t be. It isn’t your fault.” He cleared his throat, straightened his back. “We need to push forwards. We don’t have time for this.” His voice was pitched with such finality I knew better than to press the subject. He wouldn’t budge, he didn’t want my condolences. He wanted payback for what had happened.

We were equals on that front.

I followed him out of the room and into another hallway. This one was cleaner, whiter, more illuminated by the lights that swung above our heads. From here we could hear gunfire through the vents, the sound of small explosions as grenades were tossed back and forth across enemy lines. It ushered us to move faster, to get to our destination quicker.

Instead of office rooms we were met on either side with labs, experimental rooms, caged animals and lush green foliage. We could smell grass, the air was clean. We were in the heart of the Institute.

I heard Maxson gasp audibly when we passed a room with a large tree, with budding flowers of varying colors and sizes. This was the first time anyone from above aside from myself was seeing what the Institute was capable of. This beautiful reality, shut away from others, was a paradise of sorts. It was home to plants and animals that had long been extinct.

But it was also home to the tanks, to the synths, to the scientists who refused to share their wonders with the rest of the world.

“We need to take the next left, that should dump us into the main hub,” I advised, pace picking up to match Maxson’s.

He did as I suggested and we both launched ourselves through the sliding paneled doors.

And into the hub.

Waterfalls poured from every free available wall of the circular room, the sound of roaring water obliterating out the combat downstairs. Butterflies nestled against the petals of daisies, roses, tulips… the fragment smell of flowers filling my senses, reminding me of a time I had tried so hard to forget. Grass covered long stretches of floor, grouped into planters that were dispersed at regular intervals.

“This is… Amazing,” he said, awe playing into his speech as he spoke. We had come to a stop near the elevator.

“It is,” I agreed.

Brandis’ voice filtered in through the ear pieces, “Sir, we need assistance. We are near the Reactor Room but we can’t get to it. There are three Coursers and an army of synths between us and the doors.”

Preston’s concerned tone joined the Paladin’s. “We are beginning to have trouble here as well. Ingram has the teleporter working but it seems we have pissed off some people in doing so. Not sure how long we can keep it protected.”

“sh*t,” Maxson snarled. “Jones’, give me that detonator.” I unhooked the device from my belt and offered it to him. Once it was in hand he continued, “I’m heading for you. Jones can open the doors from the terminal in the Director’s Office. By the time she gets there, we should have a clear path. Ingram, you be ready for us. Think that teleporter of yours can reach the Reactor?”

Gunshots filled the headset for a second before the engineer replied.

“Yes. Jones will have to get to a lower level to be picked up by it, however. Its reach doesn’t go that far. If I had time, I could change the parameters but I can barely find enough seconds to reload, let alone tinker with something I don’t understand.”

“Understood.” Maxson ran a hand through his closely cropped hair before bashing the ‘Call Elevator’ button with his fist. “Jones, you will have fifteen minutes from activating those doors to get within range. This whole place is going to blow when we activate the bomb. You will die if you are left here. That is not an option.”

“Yes, sir,” I answered, rubbing my already sweaty palms against my pants to dry them. Fifteen minutes? That wasn’t much.

“The risks are high, but I firmly believe you can do this. You’re clever, you’re smart, you’re resourceful.” The elevator pinged, doors whooshing open. He gestured with his head for me to step inside as he worked on the controls. “The lift should take you directly to the Director’s Office. Once there, locate the terminal that will grant you access to the mainframe. Scribe Haylen can assist you if needed. Afterwards, ride this elevator back down to the base floor, that should put you at a close enough distance to get picked up. The teleporter is designated to drop us off at our chosen vantage point so be prepared for the elevation change.”

Part of my brain was listening… but the other part was already starting into sheer panic mode. The odds weren’t in my favor. Sure, if I was being blatantly honest with myself, they rarely were. But this time? This time was different. This time, thousands of lives depended on my success. f*ck, my own life depended on my success. I would be obliterated to a bunch of tiny miniscule pieces if I didn’t get this right. There wouldn’t be anything left of me if I f*cked up.

And fate was being especially unkind today.

Hopefully my luck would change.

“You get all that, Jones?”

I quickly nodded. “Yeah, yeah. I got it. I got this.”

“Good. Good luck.”

And the doors closed.

And the elevator jolted.

And I started upwards.

The ride didn’t take long.

And when the doors opened, I was let into a large pristine white room. A room I recognized. But it was different.

The glass chamber was still there, the door still locked… but my son… no, the synth version of him, wasn’t inside. The door ahead was open, allowing me to pass through unhindered. But each step felt like it took an eternity to take, my feel weighed down with anxiety, fear, tension. My stomach pinched, my heart galloped ahead, slamming so loudly in my ears I thought the whole Institute could hear it.

My hands shook as I raised one to curl a stray piece of hair behind my ear.

His voice hit me as I passed through the threshold. “Welcome back.”

“Father.” I couldn’t do this. I couldn’t even say his name.

He stood in front of a terminal, fingers curled around a cane so tightly his knuckles were blanched. His face was gaunt, almost skeletal. His skin was pale, eyes sunken. He was weak, unable to stand without the assistance of his cane. He looked like he would fall over if a breeze hit him a little too hard.

He was sick.

“Surprised?” he asked. “Didn’t know I was ill, did you? Then again, you never truly bothered to ask when you were here last.”

My tongue was thick in my mouth, lips parched suddenly, as if I had gone for days without water.

“I have cancer, in case you’re interested. Seeing as you’re my mother, I figured you would be.” He was angry, furious with me.

“I didn’t know,” I whispered, tentatively stepping fully into his office, tucking Righteous Authority into its holster. Guilt, blame, remorse… Sad, tearful, terrified… I couldn’t describe how I was feeling. Too many emotions were filling me at once, warring for attention.

“So, what can I do for you today? Come to kill me?”

I blinked back tears as they threatened to spill, blurring my vision. “No.”

“Funny, that’s now how I see it. You’ve quite literally cut a path through my men to get here, leaving nothing but annihilation in your wake. I know you have bomb. I know you plan to place it in my Reactor Room. If you think I have some sort of magical device crafted that would protect me from a nuclear blast, you’re wrong. So, obviously, I will die from it.”

“It… It doesn’t have to be that way. You can come with me.” Please come with me. Please.

He laughed but it lacked any humor. It was dry, cold, lifeless almost. “You seriously think those Brotherhood of Steel men will allow me to live if I leave this place with you?”

My silence only proved his point.

“Why are you doing this? Why are you damning society? The Institute could bring life back to the Commonwealth but, here you are, destroying it.”

I winced. “You’re the one who damned it.”

“Excuse me?”

Get a grip. You can’t waste time. “Your resources have been here for years, decades. And you have yet to share it. You act so righteous but you are far from it. You steal people from their homes, from their families. You replace them with synths. And… you keep the real versions in tanks downstairs like lab rats. You’re sick.” My fingers curled into fists at my sides. I was closing the distance between us, my voice rising in pitch and volume as I spoke.

I wouldn’t have raised him to be this way. I wouldn’t have raised this monster.

“Is that really what you think? Tell me, can you and your Brotherhood do any better? Last I heard, they are nothing more than ruthless thugs, organized raiders. They are racist. They will stop at nothing to reach their ends. We are not that different.”

Before I could respond, he continued. “Don’t even bother trying to come up with an answer. You know as well as I do that this was the best hope humanity had at surviving the next few centuries.” Father leaned back against his desk, propping his cane next to him. “It’s not enough that I stand here dying, but you also plan to demolish everything I have worked so hard to achieve. Under what pretense have you justified this atrocity? What right do you have to do this?”

“It’s for the greater good. The Commonwealth deserves the chance to determine its own fate, not play puppet to the whims of your organization.” I finally came to a stop, a few mere feet away from him. My voice was far from steady, but I believed what I said.

“Oh, spare me. You’ve spent time up there. You know as well as I that it is doomed. There are rapists and murderers. There is no government, no regulation, no laws. There is famine, people are dying every day. It’s hell on earth up there.” He shook his head in disgust, steel cold gaze falling to the floor. “Though, I suppose none of that matters now, does it? You’ll accomplish your task… and ruin humanity’s best hope for the future in one fell swoop. The only question left is why are you still standing here? I can’t stop you. My terminal is yours.”

I didn’t feel victorious in knowing that.

“Is it regret?” Father bit at me, venom laced into the question. “Or did you just come to gloat?”

“I… I was hoping there was something more I could do. I wanted to save you. I want you to come with me, away from this place.”

He scoffed. “This isn’t some fairytale, mother. There’s no saving me. I’m dying and you’re going to destroy the one thing I spent my whole life working on.” He pushed away from his desk, grasping his cane once more, strolling towards the door. He paused, tilting his head back to me. “And you are going to get to live with that for the rest of your life. No matter how short it is. Someday, I hope you realize what will be lost here.”

His footsteps faded… the door closed…

And I was alone.

I stumbled forward, finger nails digging into the countertop as my world swayed. Oh god… Oh god, oh god.

A sob ripped itself from my throat, my chest pitched. I grabbed the lamp perched on the corner of the desk and flung it with all my might across the room, watching as it shattered into several little pieces. Tears fled down my cheeks, I was unable to hold them back. What had I done? What had I just done? Please come back, please.

He was going to die here. My son was going to die…

All those months of searching for him, of failing, of running into so many dead ends. Of finally figuring out where he was… to breaking in and finding him.

Those lives I took, the people I killed to get here.

The Railroad, Deacon, what happened with Danse…

All of it meant nothing.


Because he was going to DIE!

I was hyperventilating, eyes squeezed tight against the harsh lighting, arm pressed against my mouth to quiet the sobs as they continually poured past my parted lips.

I was worthless. What kind of mother was I? I didn’t deserve to live. I only deserved-

“Jones? Jones are you there?” Preston’s voice rasped to life through my headset.

I gasped, eyes snapping open. “Yes?” I asked, surprised by the lack of emotion in my tone. I sounded dead.

“How’s it going up there?”

I rubbed my fingers across my cheeks, wiping away moisture that dampened my skin. I sniffled once, spinning towards the computer. I had to get them out of here… even if I didn’t deserve life, everyone else did. “Working on it. Just got to the terminal. Give me a second and I’ll have those doors open for you.”

It wasn’t complicated. I didn’t have to hack anything. Father… Shaun… had left it unlocked, no code needed entering to grant me access.

“That should do it.”

“We are clear to go forwards. Good work, Paladin,” Mason responded. “Get out of there. Fifteen minutes.”

“Understood, sir.”

Fifteen minutes… that’s all I had. I wasn’t sure if it would be enough.

I raced towards the secondary elevator I knew stood behind the doors to my left. It wasn’t the main one but it would get me where I needed to go.

Diving into it, I jabbed at the ‘Ground Level’ button repeatedly, as if doing so would make the lift move at an increased speed. Spoiler Alert: it didn’t. But it gave me something to do instead of dwelling on what had just occurred.

“I just have to ride you down and then get back to the main area. That shouldn’t be too difficult.”

Course, nothing was ever that easy. Not for me.

The lights around me flickered, the hum of the generators faltering… and the elevator slowed to a stop. “No!” I shouted, fist pounding against the control panel. “No way!” I had only made it two floors down… and now I was trapped. I was going to die in this glass tube.

“f*ck… f*cking sh*t cakes! What the hell do I do?” I screamed at no one in particular.

“Meeting some resistance but the bomb should be placed shortly,” Brandis informed over the cons.

“Okay… Okay… Just… Like the movies, pry the doors open. Every elevator has a failsafe,” I said to myself.

I dug my fingers into the crease between the doors and began to pull them apart. The lift moaned in response, the chamber shuddering as they inched apart. A sweat broke out across my forehead, coating my flesh in a thin layer. I grunted, crouching low and putting my whole body into it. “Come on, come on!” I ground out. f*ck, I couldn’t do this on my own. Even if I got it open, I wasn’t sure how I would squeeze myself through it without getting pancaked in half. It was hopeless. I was stuck. You win Fate. You are the victor. Congratulations. I-

Another pair of hands appeared on the other side.

I inhaled sharply, eyes zeroing in on my helper.

“Come on, mom! We have to get out of here!”

“Shaun?” It was the kid version, the synth version. The version that fled from me when I had first arrived a month back. I stood stunned.

“Yes! It’s me. We have to get this door open. Pull harder!”

“Right… Yeah, uh, sure.”

I doubled my efforts, able to yank the doors open just enough to fit myself through. Shaun slid in between them, placing a foot up to hold them open between his back and his boot. “I can keep it this way for a few seconds,” he said, blue eyes glancing up to me.

I had to trust him. I had to. This was my only way out and he wouldn’t be able to hold the doors forever while I debated my options.

I stepped through, half expecting the doors to snap shut, to shatter my spine and pop my lungs… but nothing happened. I was on the other side. Safe. I was squatted down, staring back at the lift.

The elevator gave one last moan as Shaun allowed the doors to close.

His little hands closed in on one of mine, tugging me forwards. “We have to go, mom!”

I didn’t budge. This wasn’t right. Why was he helping me? Why… “Why are you calling me that?”

Shaun’s face screwed up in confusion. “What? You’re my mother. Why else would I call you that?”

Had he been reprogrammed? Had Father messed with his system somehow? Why was he now recognizing me as his mother?

The floor lurched.

Right, now wasn’t the time.

“Okay. Yeah. I’m your mom.” I allowed him to help me to my feet. I could deal with this… later… if we both survived. Maybe this was my second chance. Maybe this was Fate throwing me a bone.

“For a second there, I thought you forgot who I was,” Shaun replied once I was standing. “I know a way we can escape. Someone has cut the power to a lot of the main areas so we can’t use them. But there is a back way almost no one knows about. It connects to the water system. We can swim out.”


“Bomb is in position. Ingram, teleport us out of here,” Maxson ordered.

My gut twisted, heart sped up several beats per second. We had minutes left. “Lead on.”

He bolted down the hall and around another corridor. I stayed on his heels, easily keeping up with him as we moved. Adrenaline spiked through my veins, my mind focusing on nothing more than getting the f*ck out of the Institute. I was mentally counting down, trying to keep track of how much time we had.

“Through here,” Shaun pointed to a grate along a far wall, speeding towards it and opening the narrow passageway. I could hear water within rushing through the tunnel system.

“This leads out to the river?”

“Yeah. The scientists purified the water for the plants here. It’s not far. Just a foot or two in and then it should drop us into the river. We can swim to the bank.”

“You go first.” It wasn’t trust that made me urge him in before me. No, if this place was going to blow, I wanted him to have the higher chance of survival. Maybe it was maternal instincts kicking in but… I couldn’t live with myself if I stole that ability from him. I had already failed the real Shaun… even if this was just a fake, I couldn’t fail him as well.

He squirmed into the gap ahead of me. His body was only visible for a second before he disappeared, dropping down. I heard a splash. “I’m okay. Your turn, mom!”

“Jones, where the f*ck are you?” Preston snapped through the coms.

“I had to go another way. I’ll be out soon.”

“You only have two minutes. Hurry up! Radio us when you’re at a safe distance.”

That’s when it dawned on me. “Actually, I’m going radio silent.” It wouldn’t work. The second I hit the water, the device would fizz out. Last I checked, these suckers weren’t water proof.

“Are you senile?” Maxson quipped. “You are under no circ*mstances allowed to turn off your radio.”

“It’s not that I want to, I-“

The building buckled, glass shattered from somewhere within. Were the animals lose? Had the grenades harmed the infrastructure? Or was this Fate pushing me along? Whatever it was, it was a sign that I was stalling. Hesitation would kill me. I couldn’t sit around and argue.


It was now or never.

“I’m coming, bud. I’ll be right there.”

I hefted myself into the opening, tucked my legs ahead of me and scooted forwards until my legs dangled out through the hole in the floor. My PipBoy lit up the space, allowed me to see Shaun’s face in the water.

“Sixty seconds,” Preston warned.

No time like the present.

I plunged into the depths, holding my breath at the last second. I surfaced just long enough to make sure Shaun was a safe before delving below once more, my hand holding his. We weren’t to be separated. Not ever again.

The radiation in the water ate at my skin, burned me everywhere my armor didn’t cover. Even underwater I could hear my Geiger counter spring to life, chittering out a beat that indicated I was soaking up loads of radiation every second. Please don’t have a third arm by the time I’m out of this river.

The headset sparked once before silencing. No static, no interference. Nothing but the sound of water rushing past my ears. We were alone down here.

And I wasn’t sure how long I could hold my breath… or how deep we were. Or how much time we had.

I shoved off the riverbed floor, pulling Shaun with me as we swam. I could barely make out the sunlight above our heads but I knew it was there, dancing across the surface of the water.

Keep swimming. Keep going. Don’t stop.

We just had to get a few feet higher before the bomb went off. Just had to break the surface… Just had to get to the shoreline on the other side.

We could do this. We were doing this.

I had Shaun. I had a version of Shaun I could live with, that I could love.

Fate wouldn’t be so cruel to steal him back from me. Not after gifting me such an opportunity.

But that’s where I was wrong.

The bomb detonated. I heard it before I felt it. A thunderous clap that pulverized the river, echoed through the water, and careened into us with full force. I acted on instincts, clutching Shaun to my chest and wrapping my arms and legs around him protectively.

The shockwave crushed us, thrashed us across the river, sent us spiraling out of control. I gagged on acid water as we spun, my hair swirling around us, my sweet oxygen sputtering out through my lips. Orange and red exploded from the building as chunks of foundation rained down into the water. We narrowly avoided a slab of concrete as it sunk towards the bottom a breath away from us.

I tried to reach a hand out towards the surface, tried to swim…. But the lack of oxygen, the lack of air, the lack of everything… I couldn’t move. My muscles refused to do what I ordered them to do. But I had Shaun. I had my baby boy. If I could just get him to the top. I could push him. His eyes met mine. Yes, that’s the new plan. Get him to safety. f*ck my life. It doesn’t matter. Only his does.

That’s when the second explosion split across the sky.

This time I lost Shaun, his body torn from my grip and pulled out of my reach. I swiped uselessly at the water but I too was being flung from the shockwave. No…. No, no no! Not again!

I tried. I tried so hard to grasp at his silhouette as he was shoved from me, even as I twisted further and further away. Water filled my nose and mouth, my head ached, my body begged for relief. Relief I couldn’t give it.

I wasn’t even sure which was up. Not anymore.

I’m so sorry…

That’s when it happened.

I didn’t see it… I don’t even know what it was.

I just know I hit it.

I just know that it hurt.

That I colored the water red with blood afterwards.

That pain ripped through my skull and back, causing me to scream, to lose the last of my air.

And there was no way to get it back. Not down here.

And I wasn’t swimming upwards any time soon.

My lungs felt like they were going to implode. I couldn’t…


My shoulders slumped, my struggles ceased.

I stopped altogether.

I failed.

Everything went black.

Chapter 28: Missing in Action


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Jones? Jones are you there?” Preston’s voice rasped to life through the headset.

Ashtyn gasped around the crackle of static. “Yes?” she asked.

“How’s it going up there?” The wind picked up, whistling through the buildings. The Minutemen had teleported out once Ashtyn ascended in the elevator. Maxson had promised them that he and the Brotherhood of Steel members could handle the Reactor Room and that it was better for them to depart beforehand for fear that the teleporter wouldn’t be able to handle all the troops at once.

While Danse felt a sense of relief for being out of the heat of battle… his anxiety wasn’t easing up.

It felt like his nerves were wound up in a constricted ball in the pit of his stomach, churning and twisting as each second sluggishly ticked by. It was agony, not knowing the status of Haylen, Rhys… Maxson… Ash. Anything could happen… and he was a quarter mile away, perched up on the top of a skyscraper, safe. It didn’t seem fair.

He should be down there with them, not bunkered down like a coward.

There was a pause on the receiving end before Ashtyn replied. “Working on it. Just got to the terminal. Give me a second and I’ll have those doors open for you.” Danse could barely make out the audible tick of keys as she punched them.

She is alive, she is alive – he had to keep chanting it to himself, whispering the words over and over in his head in hopes that in doing so, he would provide her with an indestructible shield to protect her for whatever was to come.

“That should do it.”

“We are clear to go forwards. Good work, Paladin,” Mason responded. “Get out of there. Fifteen minutes.”

“Understood, sir.”

Fifteen minutes, it wasn’t much. Granted, they had done some risky things in the past but… this was cutting it close. Too close for comfort.

There was not any room for error. Any misstep, any miscalculation, any wrong move or poor strategic plan could result in her death. The very realization of that brought him a sense of dread and the way it implanted into his being was beyond words. It frightened him to his core. She was smart, clever, resourceful… but her split second decision making was not always reliable.

Preston grasped his shoulder and gave him a reassuring pat. “She’s going to be okay.”

“Sure.” It felt like his back was stiff as steel, the way his muscles tensed, fingers clenching into tight fists at his sides. He hated this feeling. Hated feeling so utterly powerless, unable to help her.

“Meeting some resistance but the bomb should be placed shortly,” Brandis informed over the cons.

“See? We have some leeway,” Preston added, trying to sound encouraging.

But it wasn’t working. When Danse peeked up at the General, he saw nothing but the same fear echoing in his brown eyes. “You can’t promise that, Garvey.”

He nodded in agreement, staring down at his feet for a brief moment before glancing back towards the old CIT ruins. “No, I can’t. But if I have learned anything from that little miss is that we have to hope. She’s defied the odds before. Countless times. This won’t be any different.”

It was noble, heroic even, the way Preston held so firmly to his belief. Danse wished he could share in the man’s sheer certainty. But he could not, his conscious would not allow it, his racing mind and pattering heart would not gift him such luxury. Not when her life was on the line, not when he was not standing beside her, where he should have been this whole time.

“I should be with her,” he confessed, the guilt bubbling up in his chest, unwanted but deserved.

“She does better on her own, you know that,” Preston reasoned.

“But I could-“

Preston squeezed his shoulder. “Nah, man. Listen. You are where you need to be. She will need you if sh*t hits the fan, you gotta be there for her.”

“Partners stick together.”

“Partners work together, play off of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Right now? Right now, you have to stay focused, and be prepared for anything.”

The radio remained silent for a handful of minutes, leaving Danse with nothing but his thoughts. Keep yourself occupied, don’t dwell on it. Find something else, distraction is key. Behind him he heard Minutemen shuffling back and forth on top of the building, waving down the vertibirds, directing them where to land. They were to be prepared for when Maxson arrived, to get the wounded back to the Prydwen as soon as possible. There would be several requiring medical attention and the sooner they could be delivered, the better.

God, if you are real… Please, I will never ask for anything ever again… but, By Steel, please bring her back to me. Please. Don’t let her be among those who need to be transported back immediately. I beg you.

“Bomb is in position. Ingram, teleport us out of here,” Maxson said.

No reply from Jones. He could hear her moving, hear muffled voices but wasn’t able to make anything out. He and Preston exchanged a quick look. “Give her some time.”

“She’s going to be out of time,” Danse hissed, knuckles whitening. His armored feet thudded heavily against the metal as he paced back and forth, stopping only to grip the rail that prevented him from plummeting to his death below.

Preston raised his hand, tapping the ear piece. “Ingram? Has Paladin Ashtyn arrived at the teleporter?”

“Negative. The Reactor Room team is filtering in though.”

Danse’s heart crumbled, his lungs felt restricted in behind his ribs, unable to inflate enough to provide with him vital oxygen. “sh*t,” he whispered, raking his fingers through his hair before replacing his hat. He was thankful for the sun glasses and bandana he wore, they hid his facial expression… though they did little for his body posturing, which was all but bursting with trepidation.

“She still has three minutes,” Sturges tried, calling from his position by the vertibirds. He and the other mechanics were finishing any repairs that needed to be done on the choppers, assuring they would be in perfect condition for the flight back.

“Not good enough,” Danse growled, shoving away from the rail. “That’s not good enough!”

“She’s going to be fine,” Preston repeated.

“I swear to all that is good, if you say that one more time, Garvey, I’m going to make you regret it.”

Tate, we can’t do anything from up here.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” he bit, practically seething as he returned to his pacing.

“Well, what would you like me to do?” there was a lilt to his voice, a venom oozing around his words. He was on edge, he was just as stressed as Danse was.

But that only fueled the fire in Danse’s chest. “Figure out where the hell she is!”

“Jones, where the f*ck are you?” Preston snapped through the coms.

The sound of rushed footsteps, of quick breaths filtered in through the radio. “I had to go another way. I’ll be out soon.”

“You only have two minutes. Hurry up! Radio us when you’re at a safe distance.” Preston gave Danse a look that read ‘See, I told you she’ll be safe’.

The air around them sparked to life as BOS soldiers began to appear, Ingram completing her end of the task. Maxson was among them, a little worse for wear but still breathing, still alive. Ingram arrived as well. sh*t… sh*t… sh*t sh*t….

“Actually… I’m going radio silent.”

By Steel… What is she thinking?

“Are you senile?” Maxson quipped, moving to stand beside Danse and Preston at the rail, gaze trained on CIT. “You are under no circ*mstances allowed to turn off your radio.”

“It’s not that I want to, I-“

Danse heard the building through the earpiece he wore, heard it groan and buckle, quiver in its foundation. It was going to come down on top of her if she didn’t hurry.

“Mom?” A child. What? Who was with her? Who had she found?

“I’m coming, bud. I’ll be right there.”

Maxson glanced at Danse, arching a brow. But Danse only shook his head, he was clueless.

“Sixty seconds,” Preston warned.

“Jones?” Maxson inquired.

But she didn’t reply.

They heard the splash of water… heard the coms fizzle.

“Jones?” Preston tried, louder.



The radio was useless, pointless. She had gone underwater, submerged herself, rendered the device into nothing more than a hunk of wires and plastic. It was dead.

“Jones, answer me!”


“f*ck,” Preston spat. “Ashtyn, do you read me?”

But he knew, he had to…

She wasn’t going to answer.

They had lost her.

He had lost her.

It felt like the world crumbled away below him, depositing him into a black abyss, stealing the air from his lungs, and crushing his chest. His ears rang, his head spun. No… No, no, no. She can’t… She wouldn’t… He swallowed hard, struggled to keep his composure. Though his face was cold as steel, it felt like his heart had been torn from his body, stomped on repeatedly, and left to scorch in the blistering heat of the sun. Each breath brought nothing but agony. Each beat of his heart gifted him with anguish.

Please… no.

Not her.

“We don’t have a choice,” Maxson said, hand already hovering over the big red button that would put a very permanent end to the Institution and their plots.

“She could still be in there!” Sturges argued, jogging forward to join the group. Their voices sounded muffled, as if spoken through a filter… Danse barely heard them over the howl of wind in his ears. He felt sick, his stomach heaved, his mind blank.

“She knew the risks,” Maxson countered, palm closing in on the trigger mechanism.


“One life is not more important than the many that will be saved by our actions here today.”

And he hit the detonator.


He gripped her shoulders, pulled with all his might, teeth clenched, sweat dripped across his brow. His muscles strained from exertion, his breaths came in uneven jarred pants as the air slamming back and forth along his windpipe. Water clung to his strawberry blonde hair, beaded droplets distorting his vision even as night fell around them.

“Come on, we can make it,” he grunted, booted feet digging into the soft gravel and sand that colored the shoreline.

The river weighed them down, soaked their clothes, drenched them from head to toe. Every step was fueled with exhaustion, bringing him closer and closer to the brink of all out fatigue. He couldn’t keep this up….

But he had to.

When he was certain they had moved as far out of the water as he could, he stood fully, body aching with each pulse of his pattering heart. His gaze scanned his surroundings, only to find nothing of use. He couldn’t do this alone.

He knelt down beside her, small fingers pressing against her carotid artery. “Pulse weak, barely detectable,” he whispered. He couldn’t hear her breathe, her chest barely moved with each inhale… but she was alive. For now.

That could change all too quickly.

The sun was setting… How much time had they lost? How long had he been at this? How long ago had the Institute blown up? He raised his hand to rub the water from his gray blue eyes, freckles dotting his cheeks as he turned towards the smoldering ruins, smoke billowing from the gaping holes in the ground, fire still spreading across the buildings that dwarfed the once-CIT campus.

He wanted to grieve for those who were lost… but he didn’t have time for that.

No, right now… “Right now, I have to find a way to get us out of here.”

But how? He was in unfamiliar territory. He had no resources, no tools, and no knowledge to work with.


His gaze zeroed in on the Pipboy that adorned her left wrist. Maybe…

He clasped the device, unhooked the locking mechanism that kept it attached to her. If he could hack into the system, rewire the inner workings, perhaps he could create a broadcasting signal…

It was a long shot but, what other option was there?


A solemn air fell over the Minutemen when the Vertibird landed, the propellers whirling to a halt as it touched down on one of the runways that paved the way towards the Boston Airport. The injured were being delivered to the Prydwen directly, carried on stretchers towards the medical wing – Cade was already waiting, station prepped and ready to go. The rest of the troops were to help make repairs and prepare for any sort of counter attack… though they all doubted one would occur.

There was nothing left of the Institute. Any synths that remained were no longer under any mass control. They would be uncoordinated, unorganized, worthless… and easy to eliminate if they ever were to pose a threat.

Rain began to fall from the darkening skies, dotting the dust encrusted ground, splatting against the metal side of the vertibird, blessing his skin with its cool relief.

Relief he should not have been gifted.

As Danse’s feet landed on the asphalt, the pit in his stomach grew. This wasn’t right… This wasn’t fair. How could he be alive when Ashtyn was… When she was…

Cheers erupted through the crowd as he followed his once fellow Knights and Paladins towards the main structure that held Liberty Prime. Their fists were in the air, smiles plastered on their faces, eyes glistening with relief, with hope for tomorrow, with victory. They had succeeded in their endeavors, their goal had been met. They deserved their happiness.

But Danse couldn’t join them.

What should have felt like a much-deserved triumph, brought him nothing more than shame, guilt, and pain. Their win today felt hallow when he couldn’t share it with her, when….

He squeezed his eyes shut.

Stop. Stop thinking about it.

The group quieted as Maxson took to the ramparts above, hands raised towards the storm clouds that loomed overhead. “Thank you, thank you! Now, I know many of you expect a speech from me and I assure you, one is coming. However, right now is not the time. Though we have acquired ourselves a victory today, we have lost many in the process. Sisters, brothers, fellow Minutemen in arms. Now is the time for quiet celebration but it is also the time for us to recognize and respect those who have not made it. If you have any questions or concerns, my office is open. In the meanwhile, I ask that each and every single one of you, aid the medical team in any way you can. Join our scribes in the field to locate supplies, locate stragglers, defend our posts. We still have men and women who need our help. Thank you, that is all.”

“Ad Victoriam!” came a chorus of resounding cheers, soldiers clambering forwards to shake hands with their Elder as he descended from the makeshift stage.

But Danse turned his back towards it all, head bowed.

He needed to get out of here.


He knelt over her once more, securing the gauze around her head, lips molded into a thin line as scarlet blood began to tint the off-white of the bandage. It wouldn’t hold, it was only a temporary fix. But anything was better than watching her bleed out over the rocks. He couldn’t lose her…

Her skin was pale, and becoming more and more white with each minute that trickled by. Her eyes never opened, no words spilled from her mouth. A laceration slashed her brow and cheekbone of her right eye, the area bruising and swelling. She was a wreck.

She may be alive, but she was far from living.

Already he had injected her with the three stimpacks he had found on her body, used RadAway to obliterate the radiation that coursed through her veins. It had to suffice for the time being.

Gunshots in the distance caught his attention, the sound echoing off of the collapsed buildings of downtown Boston. Raiders… they flourished in the night air, using the element of surprise to ambush unsuspecting settlers and caravans. The Institute terminals had held plenty of information of the gangs that littered the Commonwealth.

He knew enough to know he wouldn’t stand a chance against them, even with her weapons at his disposal.

So he did the one thing he could do.

Returning to the Pipboy, he continued his work.

Radio Freedom was his goal – he knew the Minutemen ran it, knew it was secure enough of a channel to utilize without fear that he would have unwanted listeners.

“I’m almost there, mom. Hold on just a little longer.”


“I’m sure she’s alive somewhere.”

Danse blinked hard, hands quickly raising to brush the moisture that embedded against his eyelashes. He cleared his throat, eyes flicking to the woman standing at the entryway to his tent. He had been hoping he wouldn’t have any visitors here.

The storm outside was coming to life, wind picking up, rain slapping the pavement. A low rumble sounded off in the distance. Lighting flashed along the camp.

“I know it doesn’t look that way but, I mean, it’s Ashtyn. She’s gotten out of worse,” Haylen said, her tone encouraging though the feeling didn’t quite reach her eyes.

When he spoke, his voice sounded strained, hoarse. “I appreciate the sentiment, Scribe.”

Few knew of his true identity. Haylen was one of them. She moved to sit to his left, lowering herself onto the cot and wrapping her arm around him, giving him a sisterly embrace. “It’s more than that. You have to trust her, trust that she’ll be skipping down that runway in a hour or so.”

“Trust only goes so far.”

He stared at his clasped fingers, arms draped between his legs, elbows rested on his knees. His posture all but screamed his sense of defeat. His shoulders were slouched forwards, his chin was tucked inwards. His heart felt lifeless in his chest. Though it beat, he only felt dead inside. How was he supposed to continue on?

“You can’t talk like that. We have to stay positive.”

He scowled, brow knitting together. Anger flashed through his system, flaring and roaring to life, hot and violent. “What is the f*cking point of that? You all keep saying how we have to keep hope and optimistic going. She’s dead, Haylen. Okay? She’s dead. Just say it.”

Her head shook, eyes welling with tears. She had been close to Ashtyn, the two of them bonded as if family. “No. I can’t believe that,” her voice trembled, thick with emotion she tried, and failed, to conceal.

How? How could she say that? How could everyone say that? When were they going to realize that the little fairy tale land they were so ignorantly living in was nothing but a farce? It was infuriating. It was maddening. Ashtyn had meant the world to him, meant everything to him. And she was gone. Their constant lie did nothing but pour salt in his wounds. How many people was he going to lose?

Danse pushed away from the cot, a curse on his lips. “Wake up! Face the reality of the situation. She died back there. She’s not coming back. Stop living in your fantasy world.”


“Get out.”


“I said, get. Out.” He jabbed his finger towards the exit, jaw set. He couldn’t handle this, couldn’t handle her. The rationale part of his brain knew he was pushing away the only person who could bring him some sort of comfort… but the emotional side only snarled.

She stood, determination coloring her features. “She’s alive,” she protested one final time before doing as instructed and leaving, her silhouette disappearing into the night.

Danse swore, fingers curling around the closest item in reach, and throwing it across the space. The glass lantern shattered, flame sputtering before dying, leaving him in darkness.

The flap to the tent opened once more. Danse whirled on the intruder, malice in his voice as he spoke, “I told you to leave.”

Preston stood before him, hands raised. “It’s me.”

Danse exhaled slowly, running his hand through his hair. His head pounded, his heart ached. “Sorry… I didn’t realize it was you.”

“Understood.” Preston nodded. “I apologize for bothering you at such an hour, especially after everything that has happened… but… You need to come with me.”

Danse peered up at the General. “Why? If there is a breach in the perimeter, I’m sure the soldiers can handle it without me.”

His head shook. “No, it’s not that.” He hesitated, rubbing his palms together before his gaze returned to Danse. “Shaun has made contact with us. He says he has Ashtyn.”


“Hello? Are you still there?” he asked only loud enough to be audible over the device as he held the Pipboy between his chilled fingertips. He was shivering, his damp clothes sticking to his skin. Though the air was warm, the water that saturated him brought nothing but frigid wetness.

He had moved her under the bridge, the two of them now bunkered down, hidden underneath the cemented archway. The gunshots in the distance had long since finished… which brought him both relief and fear. At least when the raiders were firing at their prey, he knew where they were located. Now? Now they could be anywhere.

“Yeah, yes. Sorry, I went to grab another. I’m back,” Preston replied.

“Good.” He sighed heavily, savoring his small victory. They were heading in the right direction.

An unfamiliar voice joined the conversation. “I was told you have Ashtyn with you?” Phrased as a question, filled to bursting with unease and worry. This must be Danse, the man Preston had stated he had gone to find. Shaun knew Danse… at least partially… But not the version he spoke to now.

“I do… but mom doesn’t look good. I did what I could with the supplies she had but… she needs medical attention. Her heart rate is dipping below forty beats per minute, she’s barely breathing.”

“What happened?” Danse questioned.

Shaun shrugged. “I don’t know. She grabbed me when your bomb detonated. I thought we were fine but… We hadn’t expected the second one. She shoved me towards the surface and I lost her. It looks like her head bashed against something. She was under a long time. She’s still bleeding, it has slowed some but it won’t stop.”

Preston took over once more, “Where are you? What is your location?”

Shaun flicked to the map section on the PipBoy. His mother had spent a lot of time documenting the locations she had visited. “According to this we are near Backstreet Apparel. Do you know where that is?”

“Yeah. We will obtain a vertibird and head your way as soon as possible. Stay put. Understand, Shaun?”

“Yes. Please hurry.”

Shaun clicked the broadcasting unit off, dimming the light the device emitted.

Crawling towards his mom, he held her hand in his own. “They are coming. People are coming to help us.” But her skin was the temperature of a brick of ice. Her fingers were turning blue. If blood loss didn’t kill her, hypothermia would. She had maybe an hour left. Maybe. That was pushing it. Luck wasn’t on their side.

He couldn’t lose her… not after everything they had gone through to be together again. She had safeguarded him in the river, had done everything in her power to reach him before that, now it was his turn to do the same for her. Because that’s what family was supposed to do for one another.

He pulled her laser rifle into his lap, the inscription ‘Righteous Authority’ written along the steel casing. He didn’t know how to shoot, had never been trained in weaponry…

“I’ll protect you,” he insisted, pointing the barrel towards the opening of the bridge. “I’ll keep you safe.”


The ride was gut wrenching, lasting longer than he had ever wanted it to. Even at full speed, the vertibird wasn’t going fast enough for his liking. Ashtyn had minutes, maybe less… every second they used in the air, was one more she had pegged against her survival.

The storm was also working against them.

Visibility was low, forcing them to reduce their speed in order to stay safety aloft. Winds hammered the sides of the craft, careening them back and forth on air currents. Rain spat at them, lightning laced the sky.

Preston, Danse, and Haylen had departed from the Boston Airport fifteen minutes earlier, only pausing long enough to get permission from Proctor Ingram to use a vertibird to retrieve Paladin Jones. The engineer hadn’t needed much convincing. She informed them that she would make the Elder aware, that they couldn’t waste time traveling up to the Prydwen and back.

Danse gripped the hand bar above his head as the vertibird lowered towards the Commonwealth. Every nerve was roaring with fire, adrenaline pouring through his veins, eyes wide and alert. He would never forgive himself if she died… he couldn’t live without…

Please be alive, please.

“There’s the apparel shop,” Haylen commented, gesturing towards the building on their left as they descended towards the beach. “Ashtyn and Shaun should be over there.”

The bridge was almost invisible in the haze of the storm, but he could see it.

He launched himself out of the vertibird before it fully landed, feet slamming against the dirt as he crouched to absorb the shock. Using the momentum from the fall to his advantage, Danse raced towards the bridge. He vaguely heard the others do the same behind him.


He rounded a long forgotten sailboat, leapt over a rusted streetlight.

I beg you.

He ducked to narrowly avoid a low hanging beam from a marooned ship that had been skewered by the pier.

I can’t do this without you.

“Over here!” a small boy’s voice called, his figure darting up from behind a toppled newsstand, arms waving.

I’ll trade anything. I’ll give everything I have.

Danse slid to a stop, breath coming in heaves, heart thumping, skin tingling.

In one second his gaze found her, in the next he was pulling her into his arms, cradling her against his chest, burying his face in her hair, whispering her name over and over, begging for a forgiveness she couldn’t possibly give him.

She was bruised, battered, bloodied, soaked. He should have been there, he should have sheltered her. But she was alive, she was breathing, just barely. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry. I’m so, so very sorry.

I almost lost you.

He wasn’t aware of the sobs that raked through him until Haylen put her gentle hand on his back. “We have to get her to the Cade,” she suggested quietly.

“I’ll help you get her back to the vertibird,” Preston offered, kneeling down beside him, holding out his arms.

Danse nodded, feeling practically numb. She could still die if they didn’t act swiftly. Cade was her only hope now.

Shaun and Haylen led the way to the vertibird, helped to ease Ashtyn onto the floor.

“Get us back to the Prydwen, ASAP,” Preston ordered the pilot, then quieter to Danse, “We’re going to make it.”

But Danse couldn’t shake the feeling of dread that threatened to consume him.

Would they?

What guarantee did they have of their success?

His back pressed against the wall as he held her, eyes locked onto her. Her head was drooped over his arm, lips parted, face pale. Her body was unmoving, lifeless. Her heart beat was fading.

The odds were stacked against them. What hope could they cling to?

The answer was easy: They had none.


And boom. We have a chapter or two left to go before this arc is finished. It’s a little premature but I wanted to give a GIANT thanks to those of you who have been here since the beginning. Like wow. And to think, we still have a whole second arc to go. The only question is: who is going to be present for it? –insert evil laugh here-
I wrote Shaun with a bit of a more formal tone. He speaks with one in game so I felt the vocabulary choice I picked for him was appropriate. Even though he is ten, he doesn’t act like it. Second, I’m sorry not a whole lot is happening in this chapter. I know a lot of this arc is packed full of action – but I wanted a bit of a drawn out chapter filled with emotion and tension. I’m hoping this delivered.
Lastly, I am having an AMAZING artist sketch a character for me. The picture will be at the end of the ‘book’ along with the artist’s name and link to the rest of her work. I can’t wait to show it off. <3 I apologize for my FanFiction readers because I won’t be able to post it at the end of the arc. Instead, I will change the cover picture into the artwork when it is completed.

Chapter 29: Uncertainties

Chapter Text

Danse slowly puffed out his cheeks and exhaled, skimming his fingers through his dark chestnut hair and scrunching his eyebrows together in an exhausted scowl. He could hear Cade muttering under his breath, mumbling this or that about his work. Danse was doing his best to stay out of the way as the doctor did his job but… it was aggravating to be so utterly useless.

The air was thick with tension, the humidity from outside not helping the situation as it soaked through the metal barrier that was the Prydwen, drenching all within. Rain could faintly be heard plinking off the sides of the airship, a low rumble of thunder crumbling through the clouds that surrounded them.

But it was all background noise to Danse, barely noticeable. He had bigger concerns.

Ashtyn lay on the cot before them, her head lolled to the side, jaw slack. She was hooked up to several monitors that kept a running tally on her core vital signs, the alarms triggering every few seconds whenever she would dip below the programed thresholds. Each time caused his heart to lurch in his chest, his breath to hitch uncomfortably in his throat, and his pulse rate to spike to exceedingly high speeds. His palms felt damp with sweat, and no amount of rubbing them on his jeans was going to make it better.

It had been twenty-four hours. A whole day of intravenous antibiotics, of rehydration, of medical bandages and cleansing of wounds. Of frenzied terminals chirping out warnings as her blood pressure would plummet or her temperature would skyrocket. She had yet to open her eyes.

Danse hadn’t been aware of just how many people cared for Ashtyn. Haylen had visited on several occasions. Brandis and Ingram stopped by during their breaks. Quinlan would poke his head in to assess her progress to recovery. Maxson questioned Cade on her condition. Jeremy and Tim were constantly missing drill practice to check on their favorite crew member, often times totting along other squires. Even Rhys peered through the doorway when he thought no one noticed.

And Cade hadn’t stepped away from the Medbay for longer than an hour at a time.

Yet, there she lay. Motionless, lifeless aside from the obvious beating of her heart and the rise and fall of her chest. He couldn’t help but feel like there was more he could be doing.

Danse’s lips parted, “Is there anything I can d-“

Cade waved his hand. “Tate, I know you want to help but… Trust me. I know what I’m doing. You got her back in time, but I need quiet to concentrate or she won’t be with us too long.”

Right… you said that already. Three times now. Sorry, sir.

Little fingers grasped his pinkie, curling around it and giving a small squeeze. “I believe in Cade,” came a small voice.

Danse peeked down at Shaun, the young ten year old beaming up at him, though worry and fright were still evident in his bright blue eyes. Danse tried to give a reassuring nod. He felt that it didn’t hold the confidence he wanted it to. f*ck… He shouldn’t be seeing this, not right now. “Why don’t we let mom rest, okay? We can come back later.”

Shaun nodded obediently and allowed Danse to tug him into the corridor, following the once-soldier towards the Mess Hall where dinner was being served. With every step Danse took, however, the pit in his stomach grew larger and heavier. I’m not abandoning her… she’s in good hands…

At least, that’s what he kept telling himself.

As the duo neared the Hall, Danse paused, crouched down to Shaun’s level and met his gaze. “Okay, you remember what we talked about?”

Shaun blinked in understanding. “No one can know what we are.”

We. Not ‘me’. But ‘we’, ‘us’. Because we are the same. We are both abominations. But… Danse looked at the child once more, truly seeing him. Perhaps the Brotherhood isn’t right about everything.

“Outstanding. Alright, let’s go,” and he stood, taking Shaun’s hand in his own once more and entered the cafeteria.


Breathing… Breathing was harder than I remembered it being. It felt like I was working around a brick wall, as if an elephant was comfortably perched on my chest, too content to move. And when I worked to remove the pressure, the exertion left me used, spent, worn out. My heart rate would gallop into overdrive, my head would spin, my stomach would heave…

And then there would be nothing again… I would be left to float in the abyss once more.

The abyss was lonely, and exhausting for other reasons. I felt trapped… as if my life was hanging in the balance, teetering on the edge of ‘sure, you can wake up’ and ‘sh*t, nah, sleep forever’. And even though the elephant brought me nothing but tireless effort… I was beginning to think I preferred it over the darkness.

At least the effort made me aware that I was alive. That I had a chance.

The abyss… the abyss played cruel games.

Every once in a while, I could hear muffled voices, the hum of a generator. I could feel the breeze of a fan above me, gentle fingers prodding at my wrists and neck. Sometimes I would feel a sting, the sensation similar to if I had been bit by a particularity aggressive mosquito.

Funny, I didn’t think there are mosquitos underwater.

Am I still underwater?

Where am I?

I wasn’t sure… and last I checked, I wasn’t really in a position to ask any questions. I wasn’t even one hundred percent certain I could find my mouth, let alone use it.

All I was positive about was that I hurt. Something hurt beyond words. It would go away when the abyss took me, only to return when the elephant wanted to sit once more. I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was causing me so much agony, I was only acutely aware of its presence. Of the burning, scorching, pounding, excruciating pain I was in. And I couldn’t fix it. Not on my own.

I would just have to trust those around me, whoever they were. I didn’t have any options.

I was option-less. In every sense of the word.

Which also meant I was vulnerable.

Please, whoever you are… Please, don’t kill me.


“Can you tell me about her?”

Danse rubbed his eyes, hoping the action would remove the sheer fatigue from his conscious. It didn’t. “What do you want to know?”

It was early the next morning. Cade had stepped out of the Bay to catch some sleep, leaving Ashtyn in Danse’s… Tate’s… watch until he returned. Of course, Shaun wasn’t going to pass up an opportunity to see his mother, even if she couldn’t respond to anything he said. That also meant that Danse and Shaun were figuratively attached at the hip and had been since their return to the Prydwen.

Shaun fidgeted in his metal folding chair, leaning forward to peer at Ash’s body. Her color was returning, her cheeks pink, breaths more even. The monitors had yet to scream out an alert. “Do you… Do you think she looks like me?”

Danse arched a brow. “Why would you ask that? She’s your mother, she looks like you.”

Those blue eyes fixated onto him, the same hue of blue that Ashtyn’s held. “I just… Well… Because I’m a…” he whispered the next word, “synth…” before retuning back to his normal tone, “I was worried that maybe… maybe they changed me.” His voice broke near the end, his head bowed down to conceal his face, muffling his words.

Oh… Danse hadn’t considered that. Wow. For a child to wonder such a thing… He heart went out to the boy. No child should ever have to question whether or not they belong to their parents. Ever. “I don’t think they changed anything, Shaun. You have her eyes and her smile. And your nose does the same crinkly thing hers does when you laugh. And I’ve been told you have your dad’s hair and jaw. You may be a synth, but you are her son. And I’m sure she loves you.”

“She doesn’t know me… Not really.” Shaun continued, interlocking his fingers in his lap, cheeks dampening as a stray tear or two trickled from his eyes. “I… I don’t even know if she’ll be happy to see me when she wakes up… What if she doesn’t want me?” His shoulders shuddered, sobs threatening to overtake him.

How long have you been worried about this?

Danse stood, crossing the span of space between them to squat in front of the boy, taking both of his hands in his own. He wasn’t good at this. He had never been good at this. But he needed to be. Ashtyn wasn’t there to comfort her child. She couldn’t be. So he would for her. He wasn’t Shaun’s dad, he was so far from it. He couldn’t even begin to replace Nate… but he could be what Shaun needed in this moment. “Look at me.”

Shaun raised his head in the slightest, meeting Danse’s gaze under his thick eye lashes.

“Your mother loves you. I know it. She’s loved you this entire time. She wouldn’t have crossed the entire Commonwealth to find you if that wasn’t the case. What you are isn’t going to change that. I promise. You mean the whole wide world to her. She is going to be so excited to see you.”

Shaun slid out of his chair and latched onto Danse, curling his little arms around his neck, body trembling.

He’s only ten… and he’s been through more than most grown men have.

“It’s going to be okay.”

Danse wasn’t sure he entirely meant it but… he tried to, for Shaun’s sake.

“Thank you,” Shaun whispered. “For everything.”

“You’re welcome, bud. And thank you for saving her.”


As the time ticked by… I was beginning to realize that the most frustrating part about my current state of being wasn’t the elephant or the abyss. No… the worst part was something so much more gut wrenching.

See, the fog was dispersing a bit. I knew it was a stethoscope pressing against my chest and stomach, knew the tone of the heart monitor when it would flare angrily at whoever was watching, knew that I was feeling a needle bite into my skin, not a mosquito. I knew what Cade wanted me to do. “Squeeze my fingers, move your toes, take a deep breath, say something.” I knew he would open my eyes and shine a blinding light in them, offering me a brief glimpse of the world around me only to slam me back to my own personal hell hole once more when he was finished with his assessment.

And I could hear them.

I could hear every one of them.

I could hear Haylen when she would tinker with the machines positioned above my head. I could hear Maxson’s questions, hear Cade’s answers. I was improving, I was getting better, blah, blah, blah.

I heard Ingram tell me how she was going to beat me senseless if I didn’t wake up. Heard Jeremy and Tim go on and on about the little adventures they were having and how I was missing out, and how I should hurry and snap out of it so I could join them. I heard the quiver in their voices as they barely kept their emotions in check.

I heard Danse, felt his hand on my own, thumb skimming over my palm, heard the strain in his voice as he spoke, pitched so low only the two of us could hear. He took the blame for everything, pleaded for forgiveness.

I could hear my son, his voice childish and adorable. Hear his laughter when Cade would tell him a joke to try and lighten the mood. Heard him cry when I wouldn’t outright respond to the treatment, his sobs tearing at my heart strings, ripping whatever sanity I gingerly grasped into shreds.

And, the best part? The cherry on top?

I couldn’t reply to any of them.

I couldn’t say a single f*cking word or twitch a single f*cking finger to let them know I was listening.

All I could do was lie there.

I thought it had been hell waking up in this apoco-sh*t-tastic-f*ckfest. I thought it had been hell when I realized the Institute took my son. I thought it had been hell when I learned of Kellog and put a bullet in his god damn head. I thought it had been hell when I was ordered to shoot Danse, the man I loved with every fiber of my being even though I didn’t want to admit it. I thought it had been hell when I had to stare at my real son and tell him I couldn’t support his ideals…

But no… All of that paled in comparison to what I was feeling now.

Not being able to comfort the ones I loved, to let them know I could hear them.


This was so much worse.

I had to wake up…

I have to.

Did I have an on switch? Where was it? How could I flip it?



“Her white blood cell count is back to normal, her H&H numbers are in an acceptable range thanks to the blood transfusion from Haylen. Her wounds are healing surprisingly well. As far as general health goes… hell, she’s healthier than most of the people on this ship,” Cade admitted, gloved hands gripping the side of Ashtyn’s cart.

“So why hasn’t she woken up?” Danse hedged from his position against the perimeter wall of the bay, arms crossed.

“Well… She does have a head injury.” Cade gently rotated her head to the side to gesture to the gauzed bandage that covered the back of Ash’s skull. “I have no idea how much internal damage it has caused. As far as we know, she could be…” the doctor’s eyes flicked to Shaun for a brief second, choosing his words carefully. “Not doing so well. Mentally.”

Shaun’s gaze moved to Danse, a question in his irises.

“The good doctor means that he isn’t sure if she is aware of what’s going on,” Danse tried, kneeling down.

“So mom may never…?”

Cade’s features melted into alarm. “No, no. I didn’t…” He bit the inside of his cheek. “Your mother will wake up. It’s possible that she just needs some more time so her body can finish making repairs.”

“How much longer?” Shaun pivoted towards Cade. His shirt was a size too big, giving his already slender frame a tinier appearance. He looked weak, feeble… so helpless. Danse reached out to rest his hand on the child’s shoulder. It hadn’t been long, just a few short days… but this boy already meant so much to him. I’ll do what I can to protect you.

Cade’s attention moved to the monitors. “A day or two? Maybe three? It’s only been thirty-six hours since we started treatment. She’s come a long way and she’s tough. She’ll pull through.”

“Right,” Danse added. “Your mother has managed to survive a lot worse than this.”

“Like the mirelurk queen at the Castle?” Shaun asked, eyes brightening by a fraction as he peered up at him.

Danse smiled warmly. “Yes, like at the Castle.” To fill the time, and to keep Shaun’s mind busy, Danse had told him stories of Ash and his adventures across the Commonwealth. Course, he was careful of which he told… some only Danse would know, not Tate.

Shaun grinned. Good. That was the right reaction, that’s the face a ten year old should have.

“Why don’t you go play with Tim for a bit?” Danse suggested. “Come back later?”

Shaun hesitated but gave a slow nod. “Sure. Promise you’ll come find me if anything happens?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” Danse mock saluted.

The boy’s figure disappeared around the corner, footsteps echoing back at them.

“Were you lying?” Danse said when he knew Shaun was out of earshot.

Cade sighed. “Not exactly… She should wake up. I just don’t know when. She is improving every day. Now we are playing the waiting game. Hell, she could wake up any second… or hours…. I don’t know.” He removed his gloves and started for the other side of the room.

Danse stood beside her cot, clutching her hand in his, gaze trained on her face.

“You obviously care for her,” Cade started.

“I do.”

“Glad to see you finally admit it.”

Danse froze. “What?”

Cade’s back was to him as he washed his hands at the sink. “You were always smitten with her. Even when she first arrived.”

Swallowing hard, Danse looked over his shoulder at the doctor, pulse starting to bound, pounding out an unsteady beat in his ears. First arrived… That means… “You know.”

Cade met his gaze then. “Course I do, Danse. Never forget my patients.”

Danse scanned his surroundings. Did he need an escape plan? A weapon? Could he risk leaving Ash? Would she be punished? What if-

“Hey, calm down.” Cade raised his hands, palms up to show he didn’t have anything. “I’m not going to go and bust your secret. Paladin Jones and Haylen aren’t the only ones who didn’t agree with Maxson’s order. When I saw you with the Minutemen… I barely recognized you with the bandana, sunglasses, and hat. But I saw you here with Jones. I don’t think you knew I was there. But you took off your disguise… I recognized you instantly. Might want to be more careful about that.”

sh*t... had it been anyone else. “Guess I got lucky that it was you then.”

“You were. But, we can catch up another time.” Cade took off his white lab coat, resting it on a hook near the door. “You got her for a few hours? Ah, who am I kidding? You got her.” Just as matter of fact as always.

“Hey, wait. Cade?”

The Proctor stuck his head back through the threshold.

“Thank you.”

“Any time… Paladin.” And then he was gone, closing the door firmly shut behind him.

Danse turned to Ash once more, pulling a chair up to take a seat. How many hours had he spent in this room during the past two days? He had lost track…

His finger traced along her jawline, her skin losing the purplish tinge it had held the day before. Her wounds no longer bled, she was healing.

“I can’t lose you, I hope you know that,” he said, leaning forward until his head was resting against her side. She smelled of antiseptic and tape, lacking the spiced honey scent he had come to love so much. But still, being this close…. It was better than nothing. It was better than never being near her ever again.

“I’m still not sure what love is… or what it means to be in love with someone,” he confessed, gliding his fingertips down her arm to her hand. “But I do know that this world means nothing to me if you aren’t in it. And I know you love me. For whatever reason.” His voice was barely audible amidst the groan of the generators and machines. “I will do whatever I can to be the man you see. But I need you to open your eyes.”

His own closed for a brief moment, mind reeling back to the Taffington Boathouse. He remembered her curled up in the sheets, head nestled into the crook of his neck, her breath dancing across his skin. Her slender little fingers were clutching his shirt, anchoring him to her. She would sigh in contentment, drifting off to sleep in a matter of seconds. The soft sound of water lapping against the shore the only thing to listen to. It had been so relaxing… He would do anything to have that back.

Then Shaun flickered into focus. His boyish face grinning up at Danse as he told the child stories. The way he muttered in his sleep just like his mother. The sheer look of determination on his face when they returned to the Prydwen declaring that he would help in any way he could. “I’m not the only one who needs you. Shaun… Ash, he’s a smart kid. He did an outstanding job watching over you before we got there. And he adores you. I know he isn’t what you expected, but I know he will make you happy. I guess that also means we will have to renovate that second bedroom then, doesn’t it?”

He lifted his head from the cot, gaze focusing on her face once more. Her eye lids would flutter every now and then. She was trying. She had been all morning. Sometimes her finger would twitch, her breathing rate would change… little things but they were noticeable.

You’re so close… Just a little longer.

“You’ll wake up when you’re ready. I know it.”


“I know it.”

Well, I don’t.

If I could… why hadn’t I? If everyone was so freaking certain that I was going to snap out of this, then why was I still laying here like a lump?

I felt fine. I felt almost better than fine. This was the most sleep I had gotten in months. I felt rested, healthy, fan-f*cking-tastic. So why did it feel like my eye lids weighed three thousand pounds, that my fingers felt like they were welded to the cot?

Danse’s hand enclosed around mine, his lips pressed against my knuckles. His heard tickled but I couldn’t laugh like I wanted to. Couldn’t return the gesture.

f*ck this was infuriating.

“What color should we paint the walls for Shaun’s room?” he said, filling the silence for me. “I don’t know what his favorite color is, haven’t gotten around to asking.” I could hear his voice catch, the lump from in this throat.

Oh Danse, don’t cry… It’s going to be okay.

“Do you think he’ll like me? Ash, the kid is worried that you won’t be thrilled to see him when you wake up. But we both know you will be. But… It made me think. I’m not really his father. Nate is. Or… was.” He exhaled. “I don’t know the first thing about being a dad. And… it dawned on me too… Well, if you… if you don’t wake up, who is Shaun going to have? Me?” He scoffed sounding bitter with himself. “I’m just a machine who had fabricated memories of being an orphan, abandoned by my own parents. I don’t know if that was real or fake but, regardless, what do I know about being a father?”

He sounded so much like Nate when we learned that we were expecting Shaun. You’re going to make a wonderful father. I had told Nate that. And Danse needed to hear the words too. If only I could say them. If only my lips would do as my mind commanded them to. If only I could just wake up from this hell hole.

Danse sniffled, shifting his weight in the chair. “I can’t… Steel, please wake up.”

I’m trying.

If I could just…

I focused on my fingers, on the way it felt for his hand to be on mine. It was warm, caring, even as it trembled. I concentrated on that sensation, let it ground me.

How did his stupid training session go when we first met? Visualize what I wanted to happen? Some bull sh*t… but it had worked with the bottles, right? Picture the bullet pulverizing the glass into nothing but shards… Pretty easy concept.

So, could it work here too?

I could see my hand holding his, feel the heat of his palm against mine, the callouses on his hand scratching against my skin.

I remembered the way he smiled the first time I reached for his hand, the way his cheeks flushed, his eyes shimmered. The way he cleared his throat and tried not to look too overly embarrassed. The way he glanced down to reassure himself he wasn’t dreaming. The way he had gasped in the slightest, shocked by the touch and…

No wait… That… I had heard that. Just now.

“By Steel…” he whispered. His grip tightened, the shakiness banished. “Ash? Can you hear me?”

Yes. I gave a gentle squeeze with my point finger and thumb, all I could manage.

But it was enough. “Holy hell… sh*t. Okay… Uh… Can you feel?”

Another squeeze.

“Okay… What do I do? Cade… I have to get Cade. Ashtyn, I’ll be right back.”

And he was gone… footsteps slamming against the metal grating as he ducked out of the MedBay.

But he wasn’t gone long. Within a matter of minutes, there was a rush of commotion. Cade’s voice was the clearest, “Tate, get me that vial over there that reads Narcan. Shaun, son, you can stand on the left but I need space to work.”

I could hear little footsteps pattering around to the other side of my cot, clammy hands gripping at my wrist. “Mom? Mom can you squeeze my fingers too? Tate said you did it to him.”

I did and I heard his sharp intake of breath.

“She squeezed them! She squeezed them!”

“What is that going to do to her?” that was Haylen, located by the door.

“I was so foolish,” Cade muttered. I heard the cap of a needle being pulled off. “I’ve had her sedated so she wouldn’t be in pain. I thought I was doing a good thing but…”

“You were,” Danse reassured. “You let her body heal.”

“But what’s it going to do?” Ingram pestered, her heavily armored feet tapping against the flooring as she repositioned herself to get a better view.

“It’s going to wake her up.” His finger flicked against the side of the syringe, tapping the air bubbles out. “But it’s not going to be pleasant and I’m sorry about that Jones. This is going to hurt. This drug undoes all the sedatives, all the narcotics I have her on… which means she is going to be fully aware of just how much of a battering her body has taken.”

“But she’ll open her eyes?” Shaun hedged.

“Yes. She should.”

Something wet brushed against the skin on my bicep.

“Tate, Haylen? Grab her hands for me. She might try to jerk once the med hits her system.”

I felt them move to my sides as instructed.

I was going to wake up… I was finally going to wake up.

“This is going to sting.”

That’s okay.

I felt the needle prick, felt the rush of medicine being instilled into my arm.

And then… then I felt everything.

I gritted my teeth as every single one of my muscles tightened as if being pulled by a rubber band, as searing white hot pain seared my flesh. My head pounded, my heart raced.

“Hold her steady.”

“I’m so sorry Ash.”

It’s okay… It’s going to be okay.

A cold sweat broke out across my face, the monitors fired into overdrive.

“They will return to normal. Let it pass.”

My breath came out in jarred pants, my fingers gripped the hands that held them in a vice. My lips parted but no words came out. No, I was in too much agony for that.

“This will pass,” Cade said.

“We are here with you, mom.”

Thank you, honey. I’m so proud of you.

“How long?”

Please, not too much longer.

“Any moment now.”

As if on cue, the pain started to subside. It was still present but it wasn’t as raw. It washed over me, embedded itself into my core… but it wasn’t the only thing I was aware of.

I felt Danse’s strong hand, Haylen’s soft gloved one. I felt Shaun’s fingers on my wrist.

I heard Ingram as she walked closer to the cot.

Listened as the monitors quieted.

Then there was silence.

“Jones, open your eyes for us.”

And I did.

Chapter 30: A New Dawn


(See the end of the chapter for notes.)

Chapter Text

“Thank you! Thank you!” Maxson’s voice carried along the runway. Speakers were set up on either side, soldiers and Minutemen alike crowded together in the middle, eyes towards their leader, their Elder. Preston stood to Maxson’s right, hat in hand and an expression of pure victory warming his features. I stood on his left wearing my army fatigues, hair pulled back into a tight bun at the base of my neck. I was still peppered with purple bruises, bandages still wound their way around my bicep and hand… but I was here. I was put together. And I was alive.

There were others here as well, not just the men and women responsible for our triumph over the Institute. Members of Diamond City and Sanctuary were scattered among the combatants. My companions – Piper, Mac, Dogmeat, Curie, and Cait – were also present. Nick and Hanco*ck would have loved to be part of the celebrations but, for obvious reasons, they stayed home. In case those obvious reasons aren’t that obvious – synths and ghouls weren’t going to met with friendly open arms around here. Hope that cleared things up.

As the crowd quieted, my eyes searched for Shaun and Danse. They were along the outskirts, caroled with the other Minutemen on the eastern half of the paved road. Shaun gave me a big smile, beaming up at me and waving his arms wildly to grab my attention. Danse chuckled, inaudible from here though I saw his grin, saw the way his whole face lightened as he rustled Shaun’s mop of strawberry blonde curls before making eye contact with me.

‘You did good, I’m so proud of you,” he mouthed.

I’m proud of you too. But all I could managed in return was a timid smile, my nerves getting the better of me. I couldn’t help it. Even as we reveled in our win, I couldn’t rid myself of the sense of doom that loomed over us. Fate wasn’t done with me yet. Life would never be that easy.

“Now that we have fully recovered, I am finally able to give you all the speech you have deserved. We have defeated our enemy! We have brought order and concord to the Commonwealth!” A round of cheers echoed throughout the towering buildings that surrounded us. Maxson raised a gentle hand to silence them once more. “The synth and the Institute’s abominations have been eliminated.”

Shaun gave a glance of unease towards Danse… a feeling we both shared. Maxson’s ‘New World’ likely wouldn’t welcome synths, of any kind, regardless of their disposition or motive. We would have to be careful… we were treading on thin ice.

Maxson continued, oblivious to the way my gut tightened with worry. “For years we have lived in constant fear and anguish, terrified that the proverbial boogeymen would steal our loved ones, slaughter our family and friends, or otherwise torment the peaceful existence we held. But just last week, we have put an end to their tyranny. We have put an end to the terror that clutched at our chests. Had it not been to the hard work of the Minutemen and Brotherhood’s combined forces, we would not be standing here victorious today! I want to give a heartfelt and much appreciated thank you to one, Preston Garvey, for agreeing to aid us in our endeavors.” He pivoted on his feet and raised his right hand in respectful salute. “Thank you.”

Preston mirrored his actions. “Thank you, sir, for seeing the good the Minutemen could do, and how we can be part of the change for a better and safer Commonwealth.” Well done, Preston. You make a wonderful General.

Elder Maxson returned forward, facing the clapping crowd. “And thank you, all of you. Brother, sister, man and woman alike. Thank you for your service.” Another round of cheering spread throughout the masses. “But I have one other who deserves recognition.” He clasped my shoulder, giving a firm squeeze. “And that person is none other than Paladin Ashtyn Jones. Without her unwavering loyalty to the cause, this victory would never have been possible.” Applause erupted. If only they knew the amount of treason I had actually committed. But, I suppose, that could remain a secret. No one had to know.. “Because of this, we feel that it is only necessary to award you for your hard work.” Retrieving a badge and a set of holotags from his coat pocket, he turned towards me. “It is with great pleasure and utmost respect that you are hereby granted the rank of Sentinel. This is the highest honor and member of the Brotherhood of Steel can receive, but you have more than earned it.”

He looped the metal chain around my neck, pressing the badge into my palm before taking my hand and giving it a friendly, genuine shake. I should have felt something there… But I didn’t. How could I? This bastard was the cause of so much death – kind of hard to be all optimistic sunshine and rainbows when that little factoid was thrown into the mix.

“You the chick, Ash!” I heard Piper squeal from her position next to Danse.

“Is there anything you would like to say?” Maxson offered, taking a step back to allow me use of the microphone.

“There is,” I replied, taking his spot. There was so much I wanted to say. I wanted to tell them that I wanted peace, but that the peace I wanted was between all the races. I wanted to tell them that I felt blessed to have found friendship in so many forms. I wanted to tell them that I never thought this would have happened to me, that I could have possibly become part of something so importantly, so vastly outside the realm of possibility to me. But now wasn’t the time for any of that. And there was no way in this post-nuka-sh*t-hole that I was going to let any of them to know I was such a softie at heart. I had appearances to keep.

If I only had a handful of moments… There was only one thing I wanted to share with them.

The truth. The truth about me.

I cleared my throat, and took a steadying breath. Public speeches were never my forte. But f*ck it, neither was shooting a gun… and I was pretty fantastic at that now. “When I stepped out of that Vault all those months ago… I could feel it all. Heat, force, radiation… fear. It’s the end of the world, all over again. And when I close my eyes, I can still my life before all of this.” I hesitated. Only a few people knew the truth – Preston, Danse, Piper, Nick, and Mac knew a little. But everyone else? Rhys, Haylen, Ingram, even Curie and Cait; they only knew parts, pieces, the tid bits I had spoon fed them so they would understand just enough.

But it was time to reveal it all. “I can still see my life before the bombs. For those of you who don’t know, I was born before the nukes fell on the world, before all of this. I survived because I was tricked into entering Vault 111 where I, along with my family, was cryogenically frozen.” Maxson stiffened beside me, I could all but feel the shock oozing off of him in waves. A hushed gasp reverberated across the crowd. Guess no one surprised that to come out of my mouth. “I was put on ice for two hundred years and awoke to the world that you have all come to know as home. I hadn’t been ready for the change, I wasn’t prepared to enter the apocalypse when I was lowered into the Vault. And I sure as hell didn’t plan to lose my family in the process.” My voice grew thick with emotion, I had to swallow down the lump in my throat. Keep it together, for f*ck’s sake.

I glanced down at my fingers. Gone were the manicured nails that were trimmed to perfection, the smooth skin that smelled like vanilla lotion. My skin was now marred with scars, fresh cuts, bruises. My nails were brittle and cracked. “What I’m trying to say is: life can change in an instant and the future you plotted for yourself can shift whether or not you’re ready. At some point, it happens to all of us.” I peered at Danse who offered me a comforting smile, encouraging me to continue. “This isn’t the world I wanted but it was the one I found myself in. The Commonwealth. My home, ripped apart and put back together. I thought… I hoped that I could find my family, cheat time, and make us whole again. The way we were.”

My gaze shifted to Shaun, the way he held onto Danse’s hand with his little fingers. “But now I know, I know I can’t go back. I know the world has changed, that the road ahead will be hard.” A felt my own smile begin to tug on my lips. “But this time, I will be ready. We will all be ready. Together we are stronger. I’ve learned that now. Taking on challenges alone is dangerous, and often fatal. My companions, the Brotherhood of Steel, and Minutemen have all proven to me that when joined, we are unstoppable. And I am so honored to be here today. Thank you.”

As I stepped back from the microphone, an applause like none other exploded from the crowd, whistling and cheering sprinkled throughout. Maxson gave me an uncertain look before retaking his position. “What an uplifting story she has given us today. She speaks the truth, together we are indeed stronger. United, nothing can halt us. And, as we close this chapter, I want us to keep those ideals in mind as we start anew.”

Preston and I exited the stage as Maxson continued, joining our loved ones below. Danse looped his arm around my hips, grounded me, and gave me comfort. Shaun found my hand and leaned into my side. Arthur paused long enough for us to find our spots before starting again, “There are still threats present. We still have a long road ahead if we are to ensure safety to the Commonwealth and her people. We will never be fully and completely at peace until all non-human life forces are wiped clean from the face of the Earth.” My stomach pitched. All life forces? What about Strong? Or Hanco*ck? Or Curie and Nick? My gaze fell to the child at my side. What about Shaun? Or Danse?

“The Brotherhood plans to spearhead a Task Force of sorts. Any civilian of the Commonwealth is free to join as long as they agree to undergo some minor testing to guarantee that they are human. We will start small, of course. Establish order over the surrounding area before moving to Diamond City. I will make a personal promise to all of you, no stone will be left unturned, no corner left unchecked. We WILL establish peace!”

I didn’t like this. I didn’t like this at all. This wasn’t what I wanted. This sounded cruel, unnecessary, immoral. There were plenty of synths and supermutants and ghouls that didn’t deserve harsh punishment for simply living. The Slog and Good Neighbor were shining examples of that. Sure, Good Neighbor had its fair share of criminals but so did Diamond City, and several of them were human. This was… wrong.

This made my insides heave. And, to be perfectly honest, I was kind of over the stomach wrenching sh*t I kept having slung in my direction. When would it be someone else’s turn? I didn’t sign on for this full-time gig.

“But that is all for today! The real work will begin this coming week. Those of you interested in being part of the Revolution, simply need to talk to either myself or Captain Kells. We will be more than happy to answer any questions you may have.”

Danse led Shaun, my companions, and I to the side as the crowd dissipated. Minutemen returned to their camp headquarters to begin packing. They had a long walk back to the Castle tomorrow. All Brotherhood of Steel soldiers made their way to the vertibirds that would deposit them onto the Prydwen that hovered ominously overhead. All except Haylen, Ingram, Cade, and Brandis who bee lined for us.

We needed to talk. Hopefully they were on the same page we were.

Haylen’s face was grim, lowering her voice as she neared us. “I can’t… Did you hear him?”

“Sure did,” Piper replied, voice filled to bursting with disgust. “Sounds like he is hyped up on his super ego, wanting to go around and murder everybody who doesn’t comply to his little Code.” Her eyes rolled as she shifted her weight from foot to foot, clearly heated up. Good ol’ Piper.

“I thought you were all for killing synths,” MacCready countered. “Wasn’t that the whole point of your paper?”

Piper scoffed. “No. It wasn’t. The point was to make people aware of the bull sh*t that was going on. I didn’t like synths but… I mean,” she gestured to Danse and Shaun. “I love these guys. And what about Nick or Curie?”

MacCready nodded. “Doesn’t seem right taking aim at civilians… or children.”

Cait rubbed her palms together, bright green eyes wild. “You ‘ave a plan, right?”

“We do,” Ingram answered. “Or, at least the start of one.”

“I’m not a fan of… treason… but, this can’t continue,” Brandis agreed, glancing over his shoulder, focus trailed on Maxson as he joined the other Paladins near the vertibirds. “Putting innocents at gun point isn’t what we signed on for.”

“Or stealing food from farmers who are already starving,” Haylen added, mind likely flicking back to the mission we had taken on together.

“Or forcing Knights to kill their Commanding Officer,” Cade finished.

Curie fidgeted with the cuff of her jacket. “What do we do?”

Danse replied, “We start our own Task Force. But we aren’t going to go in guns blazing, we would only start another war.”

“So, what’s the big strategy then?” MacCready hedged. “I don’t know if talking pretty to the kind Elder is gonna fix jack shi-… uh, crap. He doesn’t seem to be the diplomatic type.”

“He isn’t,” I butt in. “But Danse has proven to me that revenge isn’t the answer. We will create a martyr if we kill him. We need to be tactful. Perhaps we can do something from the inside.”

“Oh, like go undercover and all?” Shaun pipped up.

“Kind of.” Having him here, part of this conversation, it didn’t sit right with me. But… if this was the world we lived in, he needed to hear it. All of it. Maybe that made me a bad parent, all of the self help books were burnt or rotted so I was running on autopilot. Not my fault.

“What do the rest of us do? I ain’t joining the Brotherhood. No offense,” Mac questioned.

“We each will have our own parts. We can go over it later but for now, the basics… Piper, you and Curie will work to gather people in Diamond City who disagree with Maxson.”

“Ooo, that sounds quite fun,” Curie responded. “I look forward to working with you, Miss Piper.”

“Right back at ya, Curie,” Piper commented, winding her arm around Curie’s shoulders. “Two beautiful women, no one can say no to us.”

I continued, jabbing a finger at my best sniper buddy. “Mac, you head to the DC Wasteland. You said you have some friends there, right?”

“Sure do… a real important one too. Not sure he’ll be a fan to see me again, it’s been a while. But he was once all warm and cozy with the Brotherhood, he may have a few ideas for us on how to get the big boss guy to chill the fu-… chill out,” Mac tightened the pack on his shoulders.

“Sounds peachy.” I turned, looking at Cait. “You still have ties with the raiders around here?”

“You be’ your military ass, I do.”

“Fantastic. Rile them up. We need a distraction and we need to keep the Brotherhood busy while we get everyone together.”

“I like this plan,” she replied, a devilish smirk taking on her features. I figured she would. Causing chaos was her specialty, might as well let her enjoy it. And hell, if it benefited us, even better. I couldn’t complain, that was for damn sure.

Haylen finished, knowing full well our part, “The rest of us will continue finding people in the Brotherhood who will join us. And do what we can to sabotage Maxson’s ‘Revolution’ from the inside. We will take on whatever missions we can, find the weak points, stop the bad stuff from happening before it’s too late.” Brandis, Ingram, and Cade gave curt nods of understanding.

“When do we start?” Ingram hedge, the look on her face implying she was raring to go.

“Give it a few days,” Danse offered. “Let everything cool down, give them their celebration. We have all deserved it. Then we can start. In the meantime, go home, be with your loved ones. This is far from over… cherish the quiet while we can.” He peered at me, that one gesture saying more than his words had.

“We will be returning to the Taffy. If you want to meet us there tomorrow to go over the plan in more detail, we can,” I said, glancing towards the vertibird that was designated to take me home. Maxson had voiced his concern for my mental and physical wellbeing after everything that had happened and argued that I needed a day or two to relax before returning.

“See you then, Blue. You be safe,” Piper gave me a hug.

Which was quickly followed by Haylen. “Don’t do anything too crazy,” she warned.

“I have Danse,” I argued.

“Right, because he’s been able to stop you before,” Mac grunted, fist bumping my knuckles.

“We’ll be fine,” Danse tried. “Sides, we got this little guy we have to keep an eye on,” he patted Shaun’s back who smirked up at him.

“It will be lovely to see you all tomorrow,” Curie said.

I waved as we started for our vertibird. “Bye everyone!”


Night had fallen by the time we arrived at our river side cottage. Shaun’s head was nestled against the crook in my neck as I carried him into the house, being careful not to wake him in the process. He was light for a ten year old… Did they not feed him? I rolled my eyes. They were asshole scientists and he was a synth. I wasn’t sure how any of it worked. Suppose I would have to learn.

“Do you want me to take him?” Danse asked, closing the door and locking it behind us.

“It’s okay, I’m just going to put him on the couch for now,” I replied, lowering Shaun onto the off-red cushions before draping a blanket over him. I knelt beside him, skimmed my fingers through his curls and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “I love you, baby boy. You have yourself some good dreams.”

I finally had him… I finally had my son. I could barely believe it. Months of hard work had paid off. And it was so worth it.

I felt Danse’s arms embrace me from behind as he pulled me into his lap. His back was pressed against the coffee table, our legs sprawled out ahead of us. He took my hands in his own, rubbing his thumbs against my palms. “We can rest easy… for now,” he assured, lips in my hair and breath tickling my neck. “I wish we didn’t have to leave this house.”

“I know the feeling,” I hummed as I closed my eyes, enjoying the way it felt to be here, safe. “But doing so means Maxson wins.”

“And we can’t have that.”

I hesitated, closing my fingers around his thumbs before asking, “Are you going to be okay… with going against him?”

He exhaled slowly, “The goal is to find a peaceful solution. I hope we can be civil. If not, I will be able to use force if necessary. He needs to be stopped, regardless of any past history we have had. He is a danger to everyone, not just nonhumans.” He spoke with such certainty, such conviction.

I wasn’t so certain I could do the same if our positions were swapped. I personally hated the man but Danse… they used to be friends, brothers in arms. Could I turn on someone that I was that close to? I wasn’t sure.

But that wasn’t the only thing I was insecure about.

When I spoke once more, my voice sounded timid, laced with the emotions that were slamming through me, “Do you actually think we stand a chance?” The odds weren’t exactly stacked in our favor. Hell, if anything they were kind of working against us. Maxson’s speech probably caught the attention of all the racist bigots… and he already had the Brotherhood of Steel to back him. With all that power armor and thick headedness, we looked pathetic in comparison. What could we do, a ragtag group of misfits, in comparison to the military monster force he had? It was like throwing paper balls at a brick wall. Except with a lot more blood and casualties.

Were we doing the right thing? Gathering all those people to essentially work towards an early grave? There was no way we could win. None.

Danse chuckled. “Are you seriously asking that?”

My eyes opened and I twisted to level a confused look at him, brows knitting together. “What do you mean?”

“After everything we have been through, you’re doubting yourself now? Of all times?” He brushed a strand of hair back behind my ear, cupping my cheek with his calloused hand. “Everything is going to work out.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“Because it’s you. You’ll stop at nothing to get what you want. And I’m never going to lose you again, ever. Which means I will do everything in my power to keep you alive, no matter what idiotic, irrational, thoughtless stunt you try to pull on me,” he tried to smile but I could hear the worry in his tone. He tried to joke, but I knew he was just as terrified as I was. He was never a good liar.

Padded feet rushed across the hardwood floor and Dogmeat bulldozed into us, taking a seat between our chests and nuzzled against Danse’s chin.

“We didn’t forget about you,” Danse said, scratching the tuff of fur behind Dogmeat’s ear. “You make an exemplary guard dog.” Dogmeat gave a playful yip, lapping at my face. Then he hopped up onto the couch next to Shaun, gingerly walking around him and plopped down.

“We have a strange family, don’t we?” I asked, leaning forward to place my head on Danse’s shoulder.

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” he clasped his hands behind my back, cradling me close.

I’m not sure how long we sat like that, saying nothing as the night darkened around us. A few flickering candles provided us with light to see, but dim enough that others couldn’t see us. I listened to the frogs croaking in the distance, to crickets chirping to one another, to the way the water danced against the shoreline. I felt Danse’s chest rise and fall with every breath, matching it with my own until I was one hundred percent calm. I took in the smell of gun powder and metal, of him.

Here we were safe.

Here we were at peace.

But it was fragile, tenuous… and soon it would break.

And we would have to be ready.

I was great at ruining the moment for myself.

“You know I love you, right?” I whispered.

His grip tightened. “I know.”

“I don’t ever want to lose you.”

“I know. Trust me, I know.”

“I’m sorry for making you worry about me.”

“Hush,” he soothed, trailing his fingertips up and down my spine. “You’re okay now. But don’t ever do that to me again.”

“Is that an order, sir?”

“Seeing as how poorly you follow orders, I’m going to say it’s a ‘strong suggestion’. Maybe then you’ll listen to it,” he chuckled.

I playfully swatted at him. “I’m not that bad.”

He snorted but otherwise didn’t reply, enjoying the comfort of just being together.

No, I had no clue how much time we had. But I was going to soak up every f*cking second of it. Every laugh, every kiss, every stupid joke, every smile that I knew was just for me… He didn’t have to say he loved me for me to know. Even if he wasn’t aware, I knew. And that realization made me the happiest woman alive.

Then there was Shaun and all of the firsts we were going to have together. I may not be winning the Best Mom Award any time soon, but that was okay, because I was going to be with him. Finally. I had him.

Even though I had a pile of uncertainties I was going to have to sort through, there were a few things I knew for sure. I loved my family. I loved this life. But fate could be cruel and unyielding. We would have to be prepared for everything. I had gotten f*cked up once and I wasn’t going to allow anything to catch me unware again. Not when I had so much on the line.

It was going to get a lot worse before it got better.

We were merely in the eye of the hurricane, a brief reprieve before sh*t hit the fan, before the ever changing scales of balance tipped out of our favor and sent us unsheltered into the storm once more.

Because war…

Well, war never changes.


A/N – Okay guys. That’s it. Totally and completely it. At least… for book one. Don’t worry, we are halfway there. Have a whole second chunk to come… and this time? It’s totally ‘me’ driven. Aside from a few plot points, I will have full control over this second story. It’s off cannon, almost 100%. And it’s gonna be fun. And sad. And a little crazy. So buckle up.
It will start fresh though – meaning the next chapter for the Ashtyn Jones series will NOT be posted here. Either keep an eye on the boards in the next few weeks or follow me personally to see it pop up. I will post a title here once I have one for you, in case you just want to search it.
All in all, I want to give a HUGE thank you to everyone who has followed, favorited, bookmarked, liked, or kudo-ed this story. And an extra special thank you to everyone who took the added time to leave a comment or review. You guys really fueled me through this and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you. It’s been a wild ride and I can’t wait to continue it.
Finally, I’m more than willing to chit chat with you guys. Find me on most sites by searching MangoBait (also my gamertag). Reddit, however, is NOT ME. Someone else got to my username before I was able to. Bummer.
Thank you! <3

Oh, also! For you lovely AO3 people, there is a bonus chapter for you. That artwork I told you about? It's going to be the next chapter, posted next week. There will also be a link to the amazing artist's page who took the time and effort to put Ash on paper. Thank you!

Chapter 31: Bonus Chapter - Thank You

Chapter Text

Broken Steel - MangoBait - Fallout 4 [Archive of Our Own] (1)

This version of Ashtyn Jones was drawn by PaladinGarrus (see link below for the rest of her beautifully crafted work). She took a few reference photos I gave her, and was able to create this pretty thing. I love it to bits and I really have to give her gratis for her hard work. I treasure her as one of my dearest friends and the fact that she took time out of her daily life to make this for me.... I feel so honored. But she does more than just draw and paint. She also writes her own fics and I 100% recommend you check them out in your free time.

As always, thank you guys for everything. Expect Chapter 1 of "Shattered Pieces" to be up later this week. Round two, here we go.

PaladinGarrus' Artwork

Broken Steel - MangoBait - Fallout 4 [Archive of Our Own] (2024)


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