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Wildfire

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I've got a cold heart and cold hands,

I'll make you wanna be where I am,

If you only knew my plans,

Oh, if you only knew who I am.

 

- Let Me Touch Your Fire

 

 

Bunker Hill was supposed to be safe.

As she fumbles for some rad-away, Uri hacks up the radioactive smoke clogging her lungs. The battle had been intense… and surprising. Soldiers of all kinds surround her; pieces of synths and brotherhood power armour are strewn across the ground, twisting together, contrasting oddly against the makeshift walls of the caravaner-based settlement. Well, at least some good scavenge can come of this. A lot of the settlers are still taking cover, but Uri has always known better than to wait around - especially in a place full of scavvers.

The fight is still ongoing, and Arthur’s heart is beginning to sink. He’s not used to failure. It’s a tough pill to swallow - but the Institute seem to be more dangerous than they had first anticipated. His soldiers have come across the synthetic humanoids those meddling scientists created before. But with how many are here, still shooting at his people… It’s worse than they imagined. It makes him wonder how fast they can pump these monstrosities out, and how long they’ve been pumping them out in the first place.

He regrets coming here without his power armour as a lucky robot gets a shot in. It hits him on his lower torso, tearing the air from his lungs and singeing his uniform. The skin underneath stings hotly, and he deals with the abomination with a quick shot to the head. The only gunfire he can hear is that outside the walls, so he proceeds.

That's when the grenade goes off.

The Brotherhood Elder isn’t close enough to lose a limb, but the shockwaves throw him off his feet. His left side takes the brunt of it. He hits the crumbling monument just feet away, and with a sickening lurch he realises his dominant arm has been dislocated.

Yes, he regrets leaving his power armour.

If it was just the arm, it might have been ok. He can shoot with his right hand - and well, at that. But his ears are ringing from the explosion, and his head is clouded with a mix of sickness and pain. Arthur grinds his teeth, determined that he will not vomit.

Uri had been reaching to steal a dead synth’s laser rifle when the grenade exploded. She had been a little further from the blast, but had watched as the man not that further ahead of her was knocked off his feet. She winces as she watches his body smash into Bunker Hill’s tower, and then he’s still. He’s clearly Brotherhood - the side that seems to be done for, as synths pick off the rest of the lot. Watching him fight the pain as he tries to stand touches some long-dormant part of her pre-war self… She lets out a low growl and, against her better instincts, runs over to the downed soldier.

Then, as she reaches him, more fighters appear. She has seen enough of the Commonwealth to recognise these ones - they belong to the Railroad, and they’re taking out synthetics and Brotherhood soldiers alike. She starts to assess the damage. Wound to the torso, dislocated shoulder… As she slips his right arm around her shoulders, she wonders why he’s not in any power armour.

He lets out a pained huff as he regains some sort of bearings. His pride feels bruised as he lets the stranger help him. 

“Come on, soldier boy,” she hisses, “We need to get inside. You’re a goner if they find you.”

He lets her guide him into the monument. Climbing the narrow, spiral staircase is challenging - they make it about halfway when she lets him collapse. Arthur presses his forehead against the cool stone beneath him. He can taste blood - he must be grinding his teeth too hard.

Arthur’s not sure how long he stays there, but he hates himself for it. His soldiers are dead - defeated by the Institute’s filth. He must get back to the Prydwen… But they won’t send out a search party. In his overconfident state, he had explicitly told them not to. For the first time in as long as he can remember, he feels a spark of fear. He must make his way back…

And he has no idea how to get there, having been too reliant on the technology and officers at his disposal.

 Eventually, the woman returns. She quickly sets down a bag and begins searching through the contents, and he takes this moment to study her. His sight is still blurred by the pain, but he can see she is young - must be around his age. She has olive skin and deep, black hair that’s pulled into a tight braid at the nape of her neck. Her features are doll-like; If she were better fed and hydrated, she’d be beautiful. Alas, America’s wasteland has never been so kind. Her eyes are a hazel colour, and when she meets his gaze he’s reminded of his favourite whiskey.

“How you feeling?” She asks.

“Pain,” he rasps. Arthur watches as she preps a stimpack and offers him a couple of rad-aways. He takes them with thanks, and hisses as she injects the stim into his abdomen. 

“I have some training in medical care,” she explains, “Never finished it, like. But I know enough to know that we should reset that arm of yours - here,” she hands him a dirty rag, and he grimaces. A scoff escapes her, “c’mon, don’t tell me you’re scared of getting a little dirty. Big soldier like yourself…” 

Irritated, he snatches the cloth and puts it between his teeth. The scavver is still chuckling as she wraps her small frame around his arm, getting a firm grip on it. His breath becomes laboured as he braces for the pain…

He hates complaining, especially about injuries. But he can’t help the horrendous groan that escapes him as she pops his joint back into place.

“Hey, hey,” she says, in a tone he thinks is meant to be soothing - his head is fogging up again, and he clasps at whatever slab of rock he can get a grip on to keep himself grounded. She’s soon stabbing a stimpack into his arm, and then she’s holding purified water to his lips. He drinks fully, surprised at the fact that she let him finish it all off. 

“Thank you, civilian” he breathes, still panting. When he looks up at her, sympathy is etched across her face.

“The name’s Uri. Never much cared for generalised addresses.”

“Uri,” he corrects himself, “I’m Elder Maxson. Leader of the Brotherhood.”

From the way her eyes become saucers, he wonders if telling her this was such a good idea after all… 

--

“So - let me get this straight,” she says, pacing the short space of their camp with a bewildered frown on her face. “You - you are in charge of that blimp, and the Institute just handed your ass to you?”

“I wouldn’t put it so crudely,” he glowers, “But yes - I oversee the Prydwen. I oversee all the Brotherhood soldiers in the Commonwealth.”

“But all your friends are dead, and now you need to get back to the - the Prit… the Preedwe--”

Prydwen.

“Yeah, that.”

“Yes.”

Uri has stopped her pacing, now. But she’s still staring him as though he’s got an extra head.

“You’re crazy,” she decides, laughing mirthlessly, “Absolutely crazy.”

“What for?” He asks, unable to keep the annoyance out of his tone.

“You want to travel from here to your airship. On your own. With no weapons, multiple injuries, and wearing a huge target on your back?”

He assesses her words, and hates to admit that she is right. He’d lost his gun in the blast, and his clothing is not exactly discreet. If he were anyone else, he’d be at a loss - but he is Elder Maxson, and he must get back to his ship.

“What’s that?”

He knows what it is, but he’ll play dumb. She looks down at the device on her arm and offers him a wry smile. And he knows she has cut straight through his act of innocence. 

“A Pip-Boy. You’ll have to kill me to get a hold of this, sunshine.”

“Where’d you find one of those, scavver?”

“I’m not from a vault,” she lies, adding a roll of her eyes at the implication. He's good. “Atom above knows I’d’ve stayed there, if I was so lucky.”

“Then where did you get it?”

“Dead vaultie. Someone from eighty-one who’d been stupid enough to think they had a shot at surviving out here. Would’ve taken the suit, too. But that felt a little invasive… Basically: I got lucky. The dogs I had to put down had already killed ‘em, otherwise I wouldn’t have it in the first place.”

So, she saves people and refuses to kill for her own gain.

Interesting.

Uri can’t decide if this is bad luck or her way to upper stands riches. She is tired of scavenging. The Brotherhood must have an array of weapons up on that airship of theirs… They might even know how to survive in the Glowing Sea. But she doesn’t trust them, so she feeds him the familiar lies and makes a mental note to keep a firm eye on him.

“Alright, Sherlock. I’ll make you a deal,” she says, and he raises an expectant brow. “Travel with me a while. I’ve got errands to run. When we’ve finished, got you a gun and both of us some more ammo, I’ll help you get back to your precious ship… And I want payment when we get there.”

“What kind of payment?”

She grins delightedly, “I’d ask for a suit of that pretty power armour of yours, but I’d settle for initiation into the Brotherhood itself - for now.”

“You - you want to join us?” He blinks, surprise morphing into amusement, “Huh. Good joke.”

“Oh, I’m not joking,” She quips, “I help you back to the ship, and you let me into the fold… I’m more than capable. And if you think I’m not, you can always kick me out.” 

“You know what? Fine,” He chuckles, “You put that pip-boy of yours to good use and get me back to the Prydwen, I might even consider giving you that power armour…" 

He’s joking, of course. But it feels nice to be able to joke at all.

-- 

Their first stop is going to be Diamond City - the great, green jewel of the Commonwealth. Uri maps out the best way to travel… Sadly, ‘best’ equates to ‘fastest.’ There’s a place marked as Swan’s Pond, which is meant to be inhabited by super mutants - and a behemoth. She is confident they can out-sneak them if they go for it at night. Maxson won’t admit how uneasy this makes him. Instead, he agrees.

“And now - that coat,” She hums, bringing her finger to her chin as though deep in thought. Maxson narrows his brows.

“What about it?”

“Your logo is plastered all over it, you arrogant shit. It’s gotta go." 

“No,” he snaps, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Don’t be dramatic, Maxy boy. I know a place. We’ll store it there and pick it up when we pass back through.” 

“Why do you insist on these awful nicknames?” He grumbles, shrugging out of his beloved battle coat nonetheless. He hears her chuckle as he glowers at the leather armour she has supplied him with - which offers barely any protection at all. He straps and fastens it nonetheless. Anything’s better than nothing.

“How do I look?” She asks, and when he turns around he offers her a pointed glare - for Uri has helped herself to his coat, and slid on some shades for good measure.

“Like a synth,” he says, and a huge smile graces her lips.

“Aww, shucks - you’ll make me blush, dearest.”

He wants to be annoyed - really, he does - but he’s never met someone quite like her before. It makes him wonder whether she’s just careless, or if more people across the wastelands of the Americas are this relaxed. He turns away, battling the half-smile threatening his lips. Uri stashes his coat in a nearby safe and hands him the key… He’s not sure if this means she trusts him, but he will be careful to remain vigilant.

It’s one of those days where the buildup of bad weather hangs like tension in the air. The sky continues to darken as they progress, but it’s as though the Commonwealth skies refuse to rain. Arthur has not had chance to see much of this strange, new place. As they travel through the ruins of a once great city, he appreciates the remnants of colour that the Capital wastes had lacked. He soon discovers that Uri prefers to utilise stealth - something he hasn’t attempted for years, considering his power armour. It’s mostly raiders they avoid, which Arthur doesn’t mind… He’s not sure it’ll end well if they run into ferals, though. 

The weather worsens, but there’s still no sign of rain. The air feels clogged with that familiar pre-storm heat, and he finds himself grateful for his new, loose-fitting clothing. By this point, he imagines he’d be exhausted wearing his brotherhood uniform. The added darkness is a welcome bonus for stealth work, but as day morphs into night it becomes difficult to watch their step.

“Damnit,” Uri grumbles, “I miss street lights…”

“What?” He frowns, and she seems to break from some deep train of thought.

“I - uh, never mind,” She shakes her head, though her expression is a sad sort of wistful as she continues. “So, the pond is around that street there. The aim is to walk around rather than through - I know you brotherhood types like a good mutie kill, but there’s two of us and a whole lot of them.” 

“I may be keen to cleanse the Commonwealth, Uri. But I am no fool.”

“Says the brotherhood leader who walked into battle without power armour,” she chuckles, and he turns to hide the disgruntled colour in his face.

Silence is the only option as they move forward. They can hear faint stirrings of movement from the street to the right. From the sound of their conversation, the mutants are excitedly roasting human flesh. Arthur feels the familiar burn of hatred swell in his throat. All he has is a busted-up laser pistol borrowed from Uri, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting the filth dead.

They have almost passed into safer territory, which only has Uri tensing up further. She keeps throwing furtive glances his way; worried that he’s going to attack. Brotherhood folk can’t stand other races, and it irks her in a way that is all too familiar to her past life. She can maybe understand it for the super mutants and ferals, considering that they pose an actual threat… But ghouls? Synths?

A low, thunderous growl stirs the air, and Uri is pulled out of her straying thoughts. There, in the alleyway they now have to pass, is the enormous, gristly-textured silhouette of a mutated hound. Uri’s heart begins to thud with that familiar rush of terror, but Maxson is frozen in place.

He’s never seen one of these before.

The hound lets out a great, distorted howl, and the super mutants can be heard fumbling for their weapons. Uri grabs his hand and yanks him with all her strength.

Run!”

She is fast and agile, which compliments his intense training and stamina as they manage to keep pace with one another. The mutant is huge, but its legs are too small and fat to carry it quickly. They twist through a series of old restaurants, stores, apartments - the old mass fusion building - until they reach the harbour.

“We have to jump!” He pants. Nothing in the wasteland is stupid enough to jump into irradiated water. The mute won’t follow them.

“I can’t!” she yells, but the mutant is getting closer. She is terrified, feels completely helpless, and hates that she has to trust someone else with her life as she adds: “I can’t swim!”

“You’re fucking kidding me!” He growls, but it doesn’t matter now. He pulls her into him as the hound rounds the last corner, spitting venomously as it howls. Then he’s tossing them over the edge, and the water is freezing.

Uri has been an aquaphobe since she was six years old. Her father decided a vacation was in order, and so he flew them out to California. When she had fallen into the swimming pool, the water felt as though it was filling every crevice of her being. Her lungs had been on fire as she coughed and spluttered against suffocation, but no amount of kicking and screaming was going to save her. In the end, a complete stranger was the one to do it - and she’d refused to step foot in the water ever since.

Panic sets in as soon as she’s submerged - she screams, releasing Maxson to kick and flail against the dirty lake water. He feels his stomach drop as he loses her, and begins reaching out. He breaks the surface, gasping in a mix of breathlessness and horror. And she’s already there, sobbing and battling against the water underneath her. His relief is surmountable.

“Uri,” He pants, slowly reaching for her arm. She responds in kind, recognising that he is a form of safety at this point. She wraps herself around him; clasping her arms around his shoulders and legs around his waist. He feels a pang of sympathy for her fear as he guides them to safety. She makes it difficult with how she clings to him, but Arthur eventually manoeuvres them back to shore. Thankfully, the mutated dog has disappeared.

“Here you go,” he soothes, setting her down at the water’s edge. Tears have pooled in her eyes, and her body is shaking so violently he can’t decide if she’s cold or that terrified. It’s dangerous, but he has no other option but to start a fire. There’s an overabundance of dried, old papers in a nearby store, so he piles them together and sets them alight.

They’d left their packs on the harbour’s ledge, so he heads to them now. Once he’s settled a sleeping bag on the ground, Arthur takes one of their cans of purified water and sets it on the fire to heat, adding bloodleaves when it begins to boil.

“Uri?” he turns back to her, feeling relieved to see she has stopped shaking so violently. She raises her gaze in response - the tears have passed. “Uri, we have to get dry and warm. I’m going to find something that we can use to hang our clothes by the fire.”

“Okay,” she whispers, offering him a nod. He returns a few minutes later with a rusted ironing board frame. Uri watches as he settles it down by the makeshift fire, and then as he begins to unfasten his armour and peel off his t-shirt.

She’s not a subtle character, but seeing him like this brings unwanted colour to her cheeks. It’s something she’s come to realise wastelanders don’t bat an eye at - all forms of undress are pretty normal, here. It’s still something she’s trying to get used to. Thankfully he leaves his underwear on - some people don’t even have qualms about that - and then he hangs it all on the old board, leaving enough room for her.

She takes the rad-aways he hands her with thanks, but she knows her system is going to need more than that. Once she’s down to her underwear and hung her clothes to dry, she settles beside him on the sleeping bag and thanks him as he drapes the second over her.

They share the bloodleaf tea as she sets up an IV of rad-x. He watches curiously, but doesn’t question it until he notices a little more colour come back to her face. Arthur hadn’t realised how laboured her breath was until she relaxes, her chest rising and falling naturally instead of heaving heavily. 

“You’re quite sensitive to the radiation,” he notes. She looks at him with tired eyes, and nods.

“Guess I didn’t get those lucky evolutionary genes everyone else did,” she shrugs, “It’s always been like this. Sucks when you’re living in a radioactive wasteland.”

“Hmm,” he agrees, handing her some cooked roach meat. “We will have to share body heat for the night, I’m concerned about our temperature levels.”

“Aww,” she grins, “If you wanna spoon, all you had to do was ask.”

“I have no idea what that means, but if you’re joking around you’re clearly feeling a little better.”

“I am -” She pauses, and sincerity fills her eyes as she pats him on the shoulder, “Thanks. If it hadn’t been for you, I’d probably be dead by now.”

“Eh,” he shrugs, “I would have died in battle, without you. It’s an honorable way to go, but I still have business to attend to before I get to that.”

“You sound like an old man,” she laughs, “How old are you, anyway?”

“Twenty-two,” he says. She blinks in surprise.

“Huh. Me too. Anyone ever told you that you look thirty?”

“Only those who were not afraid of the punch to the face that would follow,” he smirks, and her laughter turns into a hacking cough. Arthur pats her back as she expels the water, and offers her more tea to clear her throat. When she’s stopped, she’s shivering again.

“Sleep,” he murmurs, gesturing for her to join him. She slides into the sleeping bag and he settles the second over them. She knows, for him, the way his arms come to wrap around her is nothing more than survival. For Uri, however, she’s reminded of a life long gone - and she sleeps better than she has in months.

Chapter Text

Uri wakes feeling a lot better. The sun is only just beginning to rise, and Maxson is still fast asleep. The sleeping bag is barely big enough for the pair of them - he turned onto his back at some stage in the night, which brought her to lay face-flat against his chest. She manoeuvres her arms to prop herself up against him, and admires the way his muscles flex underneath. He’s buff, alright. She’s always been into that kind of thing…

“Mornin’” he says, his prim-and-proper accent out the window in his dazed state. She finds she likes him when he's tired. He actually looks his age.

“Oh, a good morning it is,” She sighs wistfully, and he frowns in confusion - until she starts tracing patterns on his chest. He rolls his eyes.

“Has anyone ever told you that you are a flirtatious little thing?”

“Hmm - I guess so,” she beams, “Can’t really help it when I’ve got the oh-so-attractive Elder of the Brotherhood underneath me.”

“You’re terrible,” he chortles, reaching to unzip the bag. She muffles an irritated groan into his chest and tightens her arms.

“Don’t be mean. I’m warm here.”

“Child,” he chides, slipping out from under her. She snuggles into it with a huff. The fire is long dead, but their clothes are merely damp around the edges. He tosses her things at the sleeping bag, and by the time she’s turned around he’s clipping his armour into place.

“Are you all so uptight?” She asks as she pulls her shirt over her head. Maxson disguises his embarrassment for checking the perimeter.

“It’s not uptightness. It’s part of duty.”

“So… What? You’ve all got blue balls?”

“God,” He says, turning to her with a look of utter disbelief. She’s finishing fastening her jeans, face completely nonchalant… She’s saying it because she’s curious. And it completely throws him off - because he’s never spoken to someone so crassly. He thinks back to the Citadel, and what they’d have done if he’d even dared think the way she speaks…

“I’ll take that as a yeah,” Uri chuckles.

“No - no, I mean. There are rules within the Brotherhood. We are not allowed to fraternise with our brothers or sisters in arms. It also goes without saying that you shouldn’t go around having sexual relations with ghouls, synths, or any other non-human species-”

“Okay…” She places a hand on his chest, forcing him to look her in the eye, “I’m not a Brotherhood soldier yet. I’m certainly not a ghoul, and as far as I’m aware I’m no synth.”

“Uri,” he shakes his head, “For any other soldier, that would be acceptable… But I’m a Maxson.”

“Soooo… Everyone can get their rocks off, except for you?”

“It’s expected of me to marry, to have children - children who will carry on the family name. Who will continue to lead us to victory.”

“Well, that’s shit,” She rolls her eyes and draws away. Where her hand touched burns, but she’s smiling again, “There’s no point waiting for all that when you could die within five minutes out here… Well, Maxy. Someday you’ll get down to it. I’ll pray for you - maybe it’ll help you relax.”

“I appreciate that,” he says, the words coming out as a resigned sigh. “And I was not joking about those nicknames. They’re ridiculous.”

“I’m not calling you Elder,” she scoffs, “stupidest name I’ve ever heard.”

“It’s a title.”

“I know, but you never told me your name.”

He’s aware of that. It was purposefully kept from her… But he feels she has proved herself enough for him to give her that much.

“Arthur.”

“Huh,” she pauses, “I expected something a little more boring. Like Jonathan, or David.”

“I will try not to be too insulted,” Arthur chuckles. They pack up their things, bidding farewell to the ironing board and ashen papers. The sky cleared up during the night. Today, it’s as blue as ever, and the sun beats down on them. This strikes new problems...

“How much farther?” he asks. The mutants must either be asleep or avoiding the harsh rays, for they are nowhere to be seen as they make their way through the torn down site of Boston Commons. Some buildings offer relief through shade, but as it reaches midday he’s aware that he’s going to burn.

“An hour or so - why?”

“Well, Uri, my skin is a lot lighter than yours.”

“Oh, shit! I suppose there’s no sun screen around anymore… Damn you white folk.”

“I didn’t choose this colour,” he mumbles, which earns a quick eye roll. As they continue on, she speaks lowly.

“I’m Mexican. Was born there, but my parents moved up soon after… Best decision they ever made, but it had drawbacks.”

“Well - that seems to be the case for most places,” Arthur grimaces, “Like those mutated hounds, yesterday. I have never come across one of those back home.”

“Yeah…” She agrees, but quickly loses herself in thought. He wonders if it was something he said - if he said something wrong. But, when they reach Diamond City’s gates, that familiar smile is back on her face.

“Danny!” She beams, “How’s it going?”

“Not bad - stocks a little low, though. Got anything good?”

“Not much,” She grimaces, “I was hoping for a better haul - but all I got was this guy.”

“Welcome to Diamond City, sir.”

“Arnie Stockton - pleasure to meet you.”

Diamond City is a damn near paradise, in comparison to most settlements. Protected by the old walls of some long-dead baseball stadium - and illuminated by the sport arena’s lighting - it may be the second safest place to be. Behind the Prydwen, of course. Although Arthur is beginning to miss the soft thrum of the battleship’s engines, he would be lying if he said he wasn’t enjoying their explorations. For months, all he has learnt about the Commonwealth was from the debriefing of others. Now, he finally gets to experience it for himself.

Arnie?” She scoffs - she does that a lot, as far as he is concerned. He leans down, and speaks low enough that only she can hear.

“I can’t have people knowing who I am. Please, Uri - humour me.”

“Moron,” she mutters, but she introduces him by the pseudonym as they reach a stall titled Commonwealth Weaponry.

“Pleasure to see you again!” The man calls. He speaks too loudly, and his arms flail in a way that has Arthur taking an immediate dislike to him. Uri seems to enjoy him, though. She plants down the weapons she has been carrying - Arthur watches as her smile widens at the look of surprise on his face.

“Got some trading to do,” She announces, and Arturo begins assessing each weapon - three laser pistols, one revolver and a laser rifle.

“What would you like to trade them for, exactly? Caps, or other weapons…?”

“Other weapons, I think,” Uri nods, “though I am loath to give up Buster.”

The way Uri strokes the rifle fondly has Arthur battling a smirk. He has often seen soldiers treat their weapons like children - it usually means they are dangerous, but nothing he has seen from her thus far relates to those people whatsoever. Arturo does laugh - too loud and high pitched, sending an annoyed shiver down Arthur’s spine. Instead of taking her beloved Buster, Arturo agrees to patch ‘him’ up whilst letting ‘Arnie’ take the pick of the litter. He decides on a laser pistol of Arturo’s and combat knife - much preferring close combat to sniping. With whatever remnants of the trade they have left they buy fusion cells. The pair of them feel much more comfortable with functional guns and a whole lot of ammo.

“Right - time for noodles!” Uri announces, rubbing her hands together in excitement. She’s gazing over at a worn-down automaton stirring some horrendous-looking mixture in a cooking pot. Arthur wants to refuse, but they have not eaten today - he is starving.

“Nan-shi shimasho-ka?”

“Yes,” Uri replies, loud and slow. The robot proceeds to dish out some noodles and place them in front of her. The bot says the same, strange words to Arthur.

“Just say yes,” she whispers, “It’s a malfunction - yes is all he understands.”

“Yes,” He says, and receives the same slush-like noodles that Uri is eating rather ravenously. Once again, he resigns himself to looking like a savage as he lifts the chipped bowl to his lips.

He’s surprised by how delicious it is.

“Wow,” He breathes, gazing at the vile-looking sludge in his bowl. Uri gulps down her latest mouthful and laughs.

“Good, huh? Tastes better with these,” she pulls out two Nuka Colas and hands one to him. He has only ever had soda once - but he is already eating noodles made by a broken robot in an unfamiliar city, so he doesn’t think too much about the rules of his well-kept diet as he pops the lid and pockets it.

She is right. Something about the bubbles tickling his tongue does make the noodles seem better. He finishes soon after her, wishing he could order more - but he doesn’t want to seem too eager. Uri has enough to prod at him about, it seems. He pushes the empty bowl back to the robot and downs the rest of his cola.

“So - if I give you ten caps, do I get a guided tour?”

“Throw in another five and I’ll give you anything, handsome. Or don’t. I’d give you it for free.”

“Sorry, wildfire - I’m a gentleman.”

Her cheeks are flush with colour as she gestures for him to follow. The Elder feels slightly sheepish for the sudden nickname - it just sort of slipped out… But it suits her. She’s a force to be reckoned with - unruly and unpredictable, always taking him by surprise, but still managing to wear her thoughts on her sleeve.

Throughout the tour, Arthur is introduced to every trader in the market place - and he begins to get the feeling that Uri’s behaviour may be more commonplace than he had thought. Even so, they don’t seem to be quite as open as her - even the chem dealer, Solomon, plays his cards close to his chest. But she always brings a smile to their faces - even Myrna gives her a slight twitch of the lips, and the stern-faced doctor looks a little less malevolent when he sees it’s her hopping onto his stall.

“See him?” Uri mutters, pointing to some self-important man in a worn, beige suit. Arthur nods, “That’s Mayor McDonough. A while back, the papers outed him as a synth. You’d get on well with him - he kicked all the ghouls out when he got into power, but the synth controversy has everyone on edge.”

“We would never have such scandal in the Brotherhood,” he snaps. Uri just rolls her eyes and leads him on - past the ‘tato farm and brahmin field to the caravan from which Diamond City Radio is broadcast.

“You’ve never listened?” She gapes, shaking her head, “What kind of army are you leading?”

“One that listens to boring and repetitive radio broadcasts for me.”

“You’re a real dick sometimes,” she grimaces. Again, he is struck by her language. Mainly because, if she knew what his name meant (and respected it, at that) she would not dare speak to him this way. He does suspect she would not care, however. Uri begins flicking through her pip-boy until the tinny sound of Rocket 69 is blaring from the speakers.

“This is some of the best pre-war music around!” She explains, “all part and parcel of the tour, dear newbie. Sure, Travis is a little rough around the edges-” right on cue the DJ lets out an anxious squeak, at which a few settlers cringe “-but the guys got heart, and he saved some great anthems.”

“You should hear the radio back home - Three Dog is fantastic. He even has Brotherhood soldiers stationed as bodyguards.”

“Stop trying to sell the Capital wasteland to me, honey. We’re in my neck of the woods, now.”

This is one of those moments where he has no idea what her strange phrase means, so he chuckles and follows on. She looks down a side street and sighs - he picks up on her sadness.

“Everything alright?”

“Yeah - It’s just, I’d like to go see a friend, but…” She shakes her head, “Never mind. C’mon, we best get to Vadim before all the rooms are taken.”

The Dugout Inn is a dingy bar, full of a mix between the richer folk in the upper stands, the farmers of the lower stands and drifters wanting a safe bed for the night. Vadim is worse than Arturo - full of dark humour and obnoxious stories that Arthur sees through immediately. He seems as fond of Uri as anyone, though. But he doesn’t let up on his prices. Almost fifty caps later, they’ve got a room for the night and a decent supply of food and drinks for their journey.

As the sun begins to set, they lock their bags in their rented room and take a couple of bottles of moonshine outside. The air is beginning to cool as day shifts to night, but it’s still warm enough for her to comfortably shrug off her jacket.

“So,” she takes a swig of the offensive-looking drink, and pauses to make a face of distaste, “how do you like the big city?”

“It’s amazing - everything that these people have been able to achieve. That civilians have managed this alone… These are the people I brought my soldiers here for. It’s a sight to behold-” he takes a shot of his own bottle and hisses “-but this is the worst alcohol I’ve tasted. And I’ve had some pretty disgusting drinks in my day.”

“Ah, c’mon - no one buys from the Bobrovs for the taste! It’s another rite of passage. Drink up, lightweight.”

“Lightweight?” He cocks a brow, “I am more than certain I could drink you under the table.”

“Wanna bet?” She asks. The mischievous glint in those whiskey-like eyes almost has him saying yes.

“Maybe some other time,” he says, tapping his bottle to hers in a toast. She rolls her eyes - again - and downs a third of the bottle. It may be the alcohol, but as he watches Uri set down her bottle, his curiosity is peaked.

“So, Uri… I have come to realise I don’t know all that much about you.”

“Is that you asking for my life story?”

“Yes.”

“Questions are okay, Maxy. Use your words.”

Arnie,” he reminds her.

“Right,” another eye roll, “okay - what do you want to know?”

“Where did you grow up?”

“Here, in Boston,” she pauses to take a drink, “I lived with my mom and dad, but she died when I was really young. Then, dad followed her. So, I stayed with my uncle.”

“I’m sorry,” he says, stormy eyes full of a sincerity that twists her gut, “I lost my father, too. And then my mother shipped me off to be raised by the Lyons family. They were in charge, at the time.”

“Pretty shitty of any parent to do,” Uri mutters. When he looks at her, he notices that she's clenching her bottle in anger. He seems to have hit a moot point.

“It wasn’t the worst, but not exactly ideal. I learnt a lot. Even took on a deathclaw at thirteen.”

“Bullshit,” she laughs, her grip relaxing, “your humour is improving, thought.”

“I’m serious! Look,” he points to the scar on his right cheek. It’s a deep crevice carved into his face, with the stitches still in as though holding it all together. She reaches over to touch it - again, when she draws back his skin burns.

“I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt,” She teases.

“What did your uncle do?”

“I want to make it all sound idyllic and wonderful, but Uncle ‘Thorn was a chem dealer. He spent a lot of time holed up in his lab, and I was left to do whatever I wanted. We were well off, but I missed my dad a lot.”

“And where is he now? Your uncle?”

“Where mom and dad are,” she shrugs, “dealing chems in the wrong place at the wrong time, then bang-” she mimes an explosion with her hands.

“You’ve lost a lot,” he notes - and sadness finally seems to reach her eyes.

“Yeah…”

She falls quiet, deep in one of her wistful moods. He tries to think of something to say - to change the subject.

“I had my own terminal, at the Citadel - it was in my bedroom. I used to write, when I got the chance.”

“That’s adorable,” she crows, and he sheepishly glances down at his drink. He’s never told anyone about this, before.

“Believe it or not, my ability to abide by the rules of the Brotherhood did not always come so naturally. I often ended up landing myself in trouble, as a boy. That changed after the deathclaw incident. I proved myself from an early age.”

“Yeah, yeah - but what did you write, though?”

“Oh - ah, sometimes poetry. Sometimes short stories. It depends.”

“Is that where you got that deathclaw story from, then?”

He lets out a frustrated sigh, and Uri laughs. The alcohol must have helped her relax more than he realised she needed to, for the sound of it reminds him of wind chimes; bell-like, wild, free…

“You’re so easy to annoy,” she chortles.

“Oh, this is nothing. I let you get away with murder.”

“I can imagine,” she scoffs, “I bet you’re a real sight up on that airship. All one-worded orders. Barked like a dog. A very cute-but-angry dog.”

He rolls his eyes and takes a drink, realising saying nothing is better than anything to the daring woman in front of him. She’s finished hers, now. The empty bottle has been pushed aside, and she’s resting her chin on the back of her clasped hands - her elbows taking her weight as they sit on the tabletop.

Uri feels bad for telling Arthur half-truths, especially when he seems as though he is being open with her. But she can’t bring herself to tell him. Not yet. She needs to get into the Brotherhood before she can explain the whole story. She has to gain faith and trust - God only knows she wouldn’t believe anyone who told her they were pre-war, put on ice for two-hundred years and then released seemingly out of nowhere. It’s less believable than his deathclaw tale, and that’s pretty bad at least.

“I think you should write me something,” she murmurs, grinning as he raises his brows.

“I’ll need paper. And a pen.”

“Wait--” she gapes, “I was joking! But - you’d actually do that?”

“Why not,” he shrugs, “I’m rusty, but I’ll do my best.”

Uri ends up returning with a pen and some sheets of plain, print paper that Piper was happy to give her. She calls it payment for the interview she’d given - her best-selling paper since the beginning of Publick Occurrences. Arthur has opened another bottle of moonshine, and he slides it her way as she hands him his writing tools.

If I am the storm, then she is the fire.

One resides in clouds; a threat to the skies.

The other, an uncontrollable pyre.

And yet, they have found such similar ties.

The fire burns hot, while the storm runs cold.

And yet, somehow, despite all of the tales,

Her flames are not something that ever scald,

And he hopes the wind does not turn to hail.

When Atom formed unforgiving weathers,

He did not account for the two ever,

To sing both their battle songs together.

For fire and rain can only bring chaos,

And yet, here they are, shared moonshine in hand.

Sticking together to brave wastelands.

It feels more personal than anything he has shared with her yet. With a jolt, he worries that she will begin to laugh… But she doesn’t. Her eyes skim the eloquent words written in messy handwriting, and she can’t think of a gift she’s found as touching as his confession.

And it terrifies her.

It is like, this whole time, she has been driving full-speed to a cliff edge. But it was okay. It was fun. She enjoyed the danger; she knew nothing would ever come of it. She was still grieving… Still searching… Chasing highs to overthrow the lows on rusted bed frames; the taste of strangers bittersweet on her lips. Days can feel like weeks in the wasteland. Time doesn’t seem to move in that too-fast-to-keep-up-with way that it did before the war. She hasn’t stuck with someone for more than a few hours since getting out of the vault, so this is dangerous territory.

“I love it,” she says, offering him a sincere half-smile. Her eyes are full of emotions - so much so that he can’t make out one from another. He shrugs and tosses the pen on the table.

“Consider it a thank you, for saving my life.”

“Along with a spot in your minion army?”

“Yes,” he chuckles, “I’ll happily let you become one of my minions.”

“I’ll remember that,” she laughs, masking the way her heart hammers in her chest with ease.

They are both exhausted. Combined with the promise of safety behind a locked door in a guarded city with tall, impenetrable walls, they are soon heading to their rented room in a drunken haze. He goes to settle on the couch for the night, but she’s already watching him with nervous eyes.

“Hey… Would you, uh, mind sleeping up here? I won’t try anything… It was just nice, y’know? I slept really well, last night.”

Her face is flushed red, and she wants to punch herself in the face for being so desperate - but a touch that isn’t trying to kill you is hard to find, in the Commonwealth. Arthur slides from the couch to the bed and arranges both their sleeping bags into blankets, and when he wraps his arms around her it feels as close to home as she’s felt in a long, long time…

And, again, that terrifies her. But she sleeps soundly nonetheless.

Chapter Text

“Why does the town titled Goodneighbor sound like it is neither good nor neighbourly?”

 

“When the ghouls were kicked out of the city, most went there. Most criminals who’re thrown out use Goodneighbor as an alternative. Now, I already know you’re throwing some sort of outraged fit at the concept of being nice to people with a bit of radiation poisoning, but I’m teaching you a lesson.”

 

“A bit?” Arthur’s tone is full of skepticism, “Uri, their skin has melted, and two-thirds of them run around trying to kill us.”

 

“Details, details,” she waves her hand, “I want you to just meet them, though. I want you to see for yourself - ‘cause I won’t believe you for a second if you tell me you’ve ever stopped to talk to a ghoul before raising your gun at them.”

 

“These are built into the very foundations of our organisation,” he sighs, “I give you my word I will not fire unless threatened, though.”

 

“That’s good enough for now.”

 

She leaves him to get organised, with her idea of an explanation being: “errands to run!”

 

Nick is in his office when she arrives, rooting through some old case files with a familiar name spread across them - Eddie Winters. When Ellie lets Uri in, he looks up and smiles.

 

“Long time no see!” He says, as dry-yet-cheerful as ever. “How’re you doing, kiddo?”

 

“As good as can be, considering…” she sighs, “Sorry, Nick. This is more a business call-in than social meeting. I’m heading back out soon.”

 

“Takes more than that to offend me,” he chuckles, “You’re here about the boy?”

 

“Yeah…” she sighs, “The whole time I was out there, I didn’t see or hear anything about the Institute. How am I supposed to track down a courser when I don’t even know where to start…?”

 

“Have you reconsidered--?”

 

“No. Nick, I just - I can’t, okay. But I might have a way. I might be able to do it. For now, though, I’m just hoping I’m lucky enough to run into one.”

 

“Said no one ever,” He sighs, rubbing at his forehead. When he looks up at her, his yellow eyes are as full as sympathy as a prototype synth can manage. “I’ll keep an eye out. But for now - stay safe.”

 

Arthur is waiting outside the Inn as she leaves that same side street from yesterday. The door she walks away from has a neon sign looming overhead - Valentine’s Detective Agency. She looks downhearted, but quickly replaces that with a bright smile as she spots him.

 

“All ready to go?” he asks.

 

“Yep,” she nods, “to Goodneighbor.”

 

Diamond City security patrol most of the perimeter, so their journey to the misfit down isn’t fraught with too many obstacles. There’s a pack of dogs and a handful of ferals, but their improved weaponry takes them down with ease. By the time they reach Goodneighbor, it’s not even midday.

 

“Hey, Bill,” Uri calls, waving at the ghoul guarding the gate. Arthur’s stomach turns at the ghastly sight of the humanoid figure consisting of mottled, waxen flesh and a hole where its nose once was.

 

“Uri! How ya doin’, sister?” He opens up the gate and steps aside.

 

“Great thanks! How’s Sandra?”

 

Arthur can think of at least seventy-six things he would rather do than step foot in this place, but as Uri heads in without hesitation - he follows. As she finishes off her conversation with it, he takes in their surroundings. The place stinks of urine, along with the pungent smell of what he thinks is folk who have not washed in at least a year. The entrance is a square - to the left is an old museum, and straight ahead is a small seating area set in front of two unkempt stores… One ran by an assaultron, another by a ghoul.

 

Oh, boy…

 

“So,” she begins as she waves the thing off, “Welcome to Goodneighbor. Of the people, for the people. A safe haven for you no matter who you are - as long as you respect their rules, and God help you if you don’t…”

 

“Message received,” He mutters, and she flashes him a pleased grin before heading to Daisy’s Discounts.

 

“You again!” the old ghoul rasps, and the remnants of her lips turn up. Arthur thinks it is supposed to be a smile, but every expression under the sun looks menacing on these monsters.

 

“Hey, Daisy - how’s business?”

 

“Good, actually! Been doing a lot of trading with the Capital caravaners… Haven’t see you in a while,” its hollowed eyes turn to him, and he thinks it’s expression changes, “Finally got yourself a man, hmm?”

 

“No - no! This is Arnie, he’s just the help.”

 

Arthur nods, and it seems to get the hint.

 

“Might wanna choose help that’s a little politer, in future…”

 

“Sorry, he’s not really used to all this,” She apologises, “You know what they’re like, the upper stands lot…”

 

His blood boils at how she speaks. It’s as though he is not there at all, and so disrespectful it’s untrue. The ghoul laughs, and his hand twitches as he stops himself for reaching for his gun. God, he hates these things. It’s scum like these monsters that have continued to wipe out humanity even after the bombs…

 

And here Uri is, laughing with it - humiliating him with it.

 

He goes to stand outside, willing himself to calm down. He’s the Elder, damnit. He can keep a little bit of anger to himself… But he’s become more comfortable being so open, lately. He doesn’t have to hide how he really feels, with her. It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth to imagine bottling this up.

 

The hotel she leads him to has a huge, faded sign arching above its double doors - Hotel Rexford. She hasn’t said anything to him since introducing him to Daisy. For the time in days, he is quite pleased about that. Thankfully, it’s a human working behind the bar - the woman wants fifteen caps for a room, and that’s fine by Uri. She is friendly as ever to the elderly woman, but lugs her bags upstairs in tense silence that has Maxson biting the inside of his cheek.

 

They finally reach their floor and, as they do, she’s almost knocked out by a ghoul exiting a room.

 

“Watch it,” Arthur barks without thinking, and the ghoul peers round in shock.

 

“God - terribly sorry, I…” he trails off, jaw dropping open as he gets a good look at the woman he nearly took out. “Why… It’s you…?”

 

Wait,” she gasps, recognising that faded tan trench coat and fedora anywhere, “Aren’t you the vault-tec rep!?”

 

“You… You survived, all these years? And your skin… Why, you don’t look a day over two-hundred and ten! How?”

 

“That damn vault!” she crows, whacking him on the arm, “You! You put us in there! It was a fucking cryogenic facility, they put us on ice and then had the audacity to die.”

 

“Wow - well, I had no idea! And… and everyone else? Where are they?” He turns to Arthur as though expecting to recognise him, but soon looks away at the expression on his face.

 

“They… They didn’t make it.”

 

“Oh… I’m sorry.”

 

For a moment there is silence, and then.

 

“You’re the first person I’ve met, from before… God, you don’t know how lonely it is out here. And no one wants a ghoul in their settlement. I can’t get work, either. No one seems to care about hiring a gun who’s only got two-hundred years of vault-tec experience on their resume.”

 

“Hey - you should head back to Sanctuary!” She beams, “the Minutemen are rebuilding, there. And ghouls are always welcome. You’d love it - and I’ll come visit.”

 

“You… You mean it?” His face lights up, and for all the fury burning within him, Arthur cannot help but think of it as a he when he smiles in unadulterated joy. “Thank you!”

 

His arms wrap around Uri’s shoulders so fast that she drops her bags. But she doesn’t care, she’s laughing along with him and hugging him back.

 

God,” she breathes, “I’m so glad I found somebody…”

 

“Even if that somebody is that shady vault-rep,” He adds with a chuckle, “Alright - well, I’ll head off. To Sanctuary!”

 

“Ask for Preston Garvey when you get there,” she instructs, “Tell him the General sent you.”

 

He almost runs off in his haste, thanking her again as he goes. Uri turns to wave him off - but when she meets Arthur’s eyes, the smile falls from her lips.

 

“Shit.”

 

“Room - now.”

 

He wills himself not to shake as he nudges the door open. It’s as dark and dingy as everywhere else in this vile town - he misses Diamond City, and the ignorant bliss of the day before. If those people were why he came to the Commonwealth, this lot are the reason he wanted to come here. They shouldn’t have what the humans have had to fight to keep and achieve…

 

“Arthur--” she starts, but he holds up his palm. She is staring at him with wide eyes, her small hands balled into tense fists. She hasn’t seen him so angry, before.

 

“You lied to me?” He seethes, pacing with his hands clasped behind his back, in full-set Elder mode. “You told me that you were not from a vault - that you found your pip-boy, that you were born here… Had a life here…”

 

“It wasn’t all lies, I swear,” she murmurs, face flushed with guilt, “I am from here. I was born in Mexico, and in two-thousand and fifty-seven my parents moved to Boston, where I grew up. My mother died of cancer, and my father died in the resource war… He was in the army.”

 

“But - but this doesn’t make any sense! You… That would make you pre-war!?”

 

“I am pre-war,” she breathes, lower lip wobbling, “I swear - I wanted to tell you. I really, truly did… but would you have believed me?”

 

He knows he wouldn’t have, but he is too angry to care at this moment in time.

 

“I can’t believe I was so open with you,” he laughs mirthlessly, returning to his pacing, “How foolish can I get?”

 

“Arthur p-please,” she says, her voice cracking as she fights the urge to cry, “I’m so, so sorry. I never wanted to lie--”

 

“Then tell me!” He demands, “You can start with yesterday - when you snuck off to that detective agency. What was that for?”

 

“I can’t,” she whispers, shoulders quaking as she finally begins to sob, “Not yet - I can’t.”

 

He’s angry, but worst of all - he’s hurt. He’s never made rational decisions when he’s hurt, and he’s Elder because the number of people who have been able to get under his skin can be listed on one hand.

 

“I can’t believe you.”

 

Me?” She snaps, because she hates this guilt and she’s on the defensive, so she needs something to defend herself with. “What about you? You were so rude to Daisy and Bill! I gave you the benefit of the doubt - but you couldn’t even try to be nice! Why are you Brotherhood lot so scared of anything but yourselves? How was I meant to trust you when you’re so self-obsessed? I need people who will help me regardless of prejudice!”

 

“Don’t try and turn this around on me!” He barks, “You - you’re a General, too? You’re leading the Minutemen? Why, then, did you keep that from me?”

 

“It’s not common knowledge, for God’s sake! Stop acting like I’m meant to have told you every detail about my life, I’ve known you three days!”

 

Leave.”

 

“What?”

 

“You heard me,” he hisses, turning to her with a look of pure hatred, “Get. Out.”

 

She storms off, tears blurring her vision as she slams the door behind her. When she’s finally out on the street, she leans against the worn brick wall of the hotel and muffles her sobbing with her hand. It’s too bright to hide. People see her, but the folk of Goodneighbor tend to let these things fly. They are too used to addicts going cold turkey to let a little crying phase them.

 

She feels a mixture of anger and guilt as she sits there. She can’t decide which one is worse. She hadn’t expected Arthur to find out yet - so soon, hearing nothing but snippets of information from a conversation 210 years too-old for him to properly comprehend.

 

As the tears stream from her eyes, she buries her face into the crease of her elbow and thinks of Shaun. Uri had a great social life, full of parties and friends that distracted her from all the shit in the world. But nothing seemed to compare with the time she spent with the Jones’. Nathaniel and Eleanora were two of the loveliest people she had ever met. They were a refuge, of sorts. When her Uncle’s drunken stupors became too much to handle, they would welcome her in with open arms. One of the best days of her life was meeting Shaun for the first time. Three days after Nora had given birth, they returned home. Uri was already waiting on the doorstep - and when she was settled on their sofa, and they introduced Shaun to his ‘bestest aunt’, she felt her heart soar. In that moment, she was truly happy - and she loved them with all her heart.

 

And then the bombs dropped.

 

Her uncle was out dealing when it happened, but they had waited for her. She held Nora’s hand as Nate carried Shaun. Together, they ran to the vault. They hadn’t known Uri had a place - they were willing to beg the soldiers, if they had to. They were not entering that vault without their Uri.

 

She had been in pod C1. But when she woke, she was in C7 - right across from Nate and little Shaun. She has never been as cold as she was in that moment - when she was forced to watch as that bastard, Kellogg, shot the man who had become a second father to her right between the eyes. She screamed as she fought against the pod door, watching in horror as Shaun was carried away by some monster in a hazmat suit. The detached amusement in Kellogg’s eyes was enough for her to plant a bullet between his eyes, when the time came. She is yet to regret it.

 

He’s out there, somewhere. Kellogg’s hippocampus proved that. Picking through his brain matter was worth it, in the end. Nick had been concerned about her, but Uri lost whatever reservations about killing she had as soon as he was gone. Never would she harm someone who didn’t deserve it - but never would she regret putting down any of the fuckers who killed her second family.

 

Eventually, she finds herself in the Third Rail - she orders the strongest vodka they have and heads into the VIP section, hoping MacCready is still willing to take her up on that offer…

 

She needs a break.

 

-

 

It’s 0500 when Uri knocks at the door, jarring Arthur from an anxiety-filled, uneasy sleep. He was still too angry to go search for her himself, but she must have been gone for thirteen hours at least before he started to get worried.

 

“Lemme in,” she slurs before breaking into giggles. When he opens the door, she crashes into his chest. The air surrounding her reeks of alcohol and cigarettes.

 

“You’re a pain in my ass,” he hisses, locking the door behind her. She’s already collapsed on the bed when he turns around, a serene smile and pink flush on her face.

 

“Mm, don’t care. Mac is goooood in the bedroom, so I’m happy,” she giggles as she sits herself up, “Maybe you should pay him a visit.”

 

He ignores the sting in his chest as he flicks through their belongings, searching for some purified water. She realises what he’s doing and stumbles to the nearby couch. Half of it ends up down her clothes, but she grateful for the coolness of the drink. When it’s empty, she presses the can to her burning forehead.

 

“You should wash up,” he says.

 

“Why - do you think imma whore, now? Gross, dirty whore?” She asks, narrowing her eyes. She’s pointing at him, “A lying, dirty, pathetic whore…”

 

She’s crying again, and Arthur doesn’t have the patience for this. He is still furious - he doesn’t need her using him as a human snotrag right now. He guides her to the bed despite her tears and helps her remove her shirt. She begins to unfasten her pants herself, sniffling softly as he soaps up a damp rag. She is far too gone to wash herself - he takes care to be gentle, wiping at any dirt on her skin until the olive tone shines through. She grabs the rag when he’s done everywhere decent, and he turns away.

 

“Done,” she sniffs, tossing the rag into a bucket in the corner. He hands her a clean t-shirt and wipes down her clothes - she nibbles at some snack cakes and watches him, swiping her tear-streaked cheeks on the back of her arm.

 

“I’m sorry,” she murmurs, finally looking over at him. She seems to have sobered up slightly - he swears it’s something about those horrendously outdated cakes.

 

“I’m not talking about this right now,” he snaps, grinding his teeth as her expression shifts to one of annoyance. She stands, folding her arms over her chest.

 

“You know - maybe if you weren’t so stubborn, I would have trusted you enough to tell you!”

 

“Bullshit, Uri!” He seethes, “You had ample opportunity to say something - and you didn’t! How am I supposed to trust you after this?”

 

“Fine, why don’t you g-go find someone e-else to get y-you home? I will go a-ask MacCready to t-travel with me i-instead.”

 

“Don’t be such a child,” he growls.

 

“If I wanna be a child I w-will be!” She huffs, “L-like him better, anyway.”

 

Really?” He says, his voice much darker than before. Suddenly he’s there; hand on her waist as he pushes her back against the wall. The action isn’t rough, but the manhandling knocks the air from her lungs in a delicious way. Arthur’s heart is in his throat as he leans down, brushing his lips by her ear as he purrs his words, “So, while he was touching you, you didn’t think of me once…” His hand falls lower, coming to rest just too far down the inside of her thigh. His stomach twists nervously, but he refuses to back down. Her breath falls out in shallow pants, hot air hitting his neck as she clutches his shoulders.

 

“Arthur,” she whispers, so velvety that he gulps against the dryness in his throat.

 

“Tell me you weren’t picturing me,” He whispers back, lips ghosting against her neck. Her head falls back invitingly, body completely rigid under his touch.

 

“I won’t lie again,” she breathes, shaking her head.

 

“So you thought of me?”

 

Yes.”

 

At the admission, he draws back. She almost whimpers at the loss, but the surprise of his sudden seduction-of-sorts has sobered her further. He’s clearly still angry, but when he settles back on the bed he holds their sleeping bags up in an invitation. She crawls in after him, and when he turns away from her she is the one to wrap her arms around his waist.

 

Hopefully, she won’t remember this in the morning. Arthur internally curses himself for letting something as petty as jealousy almost get the better of his oath.

 

He sleeps much better this time; with her by his side.

Chapter Text

Because of her little stunt, they don’t get out of Goodneighbor until mid-afternoon. He hates going to a ghoul for help, but he has no choice considering they have no chems for hangovers. Daisy is short with him, but she sells him some x-cell and addictol for 150 caps… He isn’t certain that she is telling the truth when she says she has nothing cheaper that can help, but at this point he will take what he can get.

 

If Uri remembers what happened last night, she doesn’t say anything. The atmosphere is still tense, but neither of them are yelling at each other. He still hasn’t forgiven her, but as they reach the gate he gently clasps her elbow.

 

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, “the way I spoke to you - it was inexcusable. I won’t pretend I’m not upset, but I don’t want to argue. It’s pointless. And, quite frankly, your life is none of my business.”

 

“Arthur--”

 

“You don’t need to say anything,” He says, offering her a lazy smile, “I apologise wholeheartedly.”

 

Uri distracts herself by checking their route on her pip-boy. They need to get to Bunker Hill - preferably before sunset… She’s not sure that’s possible, in her current state. The x-cell has helped tremendously, but it has also added to her sense of nausea. They walk in silence. Uri hates every second. She wants to say something that will fix this bridge between them, but she’s not capable of articulating what it is. The frustration makes her jumpy - she even squeaks when a radroach scurries out of an old pile of trash, and flushes when he chuckles.

 

She doesn’t get it - how can he be so calm? She wants to crawl out of her damn skin. She regrets the sex with MacCready, now. He’s a great guy, and it was fun, but they both knew why she went ahead with it… She feels ashamed. And she’s not sure if she dreamt his response. But the feeling of his lips fluttering above her neck felt too real, and it had sent her body into a frenzy.

 

The sky darkens much earlier than they had anticipated as the strange, new thunder of their irradiated world begins to crash around them. Arthur curses gently, and Uri hunts through her map to find the safest place to hold out. It’s the Cabot house - she groans gently.

 

“What is it?”

 

“The safest place for us is going to be somewhere you probably won’t like,” She mumbles, but leads them on anyway. Half an hour later, she is beginning to feel painfully sick - she’s not sure if it’s because of the hangover or the radstorm.

 

“Are we almost there?” He asks. Arthur has been glancing over at her frequently - and has noticed how the colour has slowly drained from her cheeks. She nods weakly.

 

“Just around this corner.”

 

The house they gravitate towards is the cleanest that Arthur has ever seen, as far as civilians are concerned. It reaches a grand four stories, and is guarded by both a Mr Handy and a Sentry Bot. He admires the war machine as they reach the front door; a familiar sense of excitement bubbles in his stomach as he finds himself reminiscing. He had always loved robots as a child - even got in trouble for trying to befriend one, once. He doesn’t know how the Lyons put up with him… Strangely enough, Uri has a key. Watching her fumble with the lock pulls him from his thoughts.

 

“Do you know everyone in the Commonwealth?”

 

“I worked for these guys, way back when…” He pulls a face, and she gives him a pointed look, “I told you that you wouldn’t like it.”

 

“Sanchez!” an egg-headed sort of guy calls, popping his head around a doorway leading to a grand living area. Arthur is busy trying to prevent his jaw from dropping… This place looks like something out of one of his childhood history books. The outside looked good from where he had been standing, but it has nothing on this. It’s all as good as new - from their carpets to their mahogany dining table, everything is pristine.

 

“Cabot! How’s it going?”

 

“Ah, as good as you may imagine,” He shrugs, then turns to Arthur, “I don’t think we have met.”

 

“Arnie,” Arthur nods, holding out his hand. The dark-haired man shakes it with a smile.

 

“You don’t find many handshakers, anymore. It’s a pleasure, Arnie. I’m Jack Cabot. Any friend of Uri’s is a friend of ours. Please, make yourself at home.”

 

“Always so willing to hand everything away,” A stern, older-looking woman says, glowering at her son. He shrugs and climbs the stairs, leaving them alone with the woman.

 

“Hey, Mrs Cabot. How are you?”

 

“I’m perfectly fine, thank you. But you look awful, child. Get yourself washed and changed, we have plenty of rad-x. I’ll get you an IV set up.”

 

“Thanks,” She sighs gratefully, then turns to Arthur, “C’mon.”

 

“What is this place?” He asks, following her to the staircase they passed before.

 

“This is Cabot House. Long story short, Mr Cabot found some weird artefact way way back when - like, I’m talking the sixteenth century - that makes some sort of eternal life elixir. I was a cleaner for the Cabot’s in high school. The work paid well, and it beat getting a mouthful from my uncle for stealing his cash.”

 

“So, it seems you’re not the only woman out of time,” He chuckles, and she flashes him a grin.

 

“No - definitely the most attractive, though.”

 

The bedroom they come to a stop to is fairly bare, in comparison to some they passed, but still far more luxurious than anything Arthur has ever seen. The bed has sheets - actual sheets, a fancy yellow colour that clashes with the red paper coating the walls. It looks as though it’s been pressed - there isn’t a wrinkle in sight - and adjacent to the room is a small bathroom.

 

“The water’s hot,” she says, beaming excitedly, “I can’t wait to shower!”

 

Arthur hasn’t had a hot shower since the Citadel, so he feels just as grateful. As she washes herself properly for the first time in too long, he snoops around. Nothing in here would give away that this is her bedroom, so he assumes it isn’t. There are male and female clothes in the chest of drawers against the far wall - he selects the largest t-shirt he can find along with a pair of fatigues. There’s also a bookcase on the wall by the bathroom door which he gravitates towards soon after. He picks up one titled Shakespeare’s Sonnets - and is still flicking through them when she is done.

 

“You’re such a nerd,” she snorts. He looks up as she opens the drawers herself, rooting through until she finds a rose dress. He turns the other way to give her privacy. Arthur doesn’t look up again until she’s settled on the other side of the bed.

 

“You can shower now, y’know?”

 

“Yes. I - this book. I got carried away. I’ll do that, now.”

 

She’s smirking as she watches him leave; he picks up some clean clothes as he goes, and then there’s silence until the water begins running once more. She picks up the dreaded book as she thinks back to her times in English class. She had loved sonnet 130, but as she flicks through the pages it is sonnet 23 that Arthur has dog-eared.

 

“As an unperfect actor on the stage
Who with his fear is put besides his part,
Or some fierce thing replete with too much rage,
Whose strength's abundance weakens his own heart.
So I, for fear of trust, forget to say
The perfect ceremony of love's rite,
And in mine own love's strength seem to decay,
O'ercharged with burden of mine own love's might.
O, let my books be then the eloquence
And dumb presagers of my speaking breast,
Who plead for love and look for recompense
More than that tongue that more hath more express'd.
O, learn to read what silent love hath writ:
To hear with eyes belongs to love's fine wit.”


She smiles down at the page, tears pooling in her eyes. Uri never imagined she would miss Shakespeare - but her heart swells with joy at the fact that this has been saved. She hopes there are more copies elsewhere - that in schoolhouses, kids will have to suffer through the horrors of old English as she did. Every drop of culture spared from the unforgiving bombs is a small success.

 

Arthur never wants to leave the clean, warm water of the shower, but he is disciplined enough to appreciate luxuries without letting them own him. He steps out of the tub and rubs a towel over his wet hair, then wipes at the condensation on the mirror hanging over the old, ceramic sink.

 

He sees why Uri has joked about him looking thirty. He can’t remember the last time he shaved - his beard is growing out of control, looking scraggly and unwelcome. He opens up a medicine cabinet, happy to find shaving utensils. He doesn’t completely remove it - but he leaves it shorter than usual. A shadow of stubble across his lower face. He hates being clean-shaven, and the beard does help when issuing orders to soldiers older than he is; but he figures if he leaves it shorter it means he has more time between whenever his next shave will be.

 

He exits the bathroom, and this time it is her lying on the bed with the book of sonnets in hand. She looks up at him with a grin and holds it out to him, open on some page he hadn’t reached. He takes it curiously, and begins to read.

 

“Weary with toil, I haste me to my bed,
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head,
To work my mind, when body's work's expired:
For then my thoughts, from far where I abide,
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see
Save that my soul's imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view,
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee and for myself no quiet find.”

 

“Nerd,” he teases, dog-earing the page and tossing the book back to her.

 

“Ever thought you could be the next Shakespeare?” She asks.

 

“Really, Uri. Your belief in my abilities is awe-inspiring,” he mutters, rolling his eyes. The playful banter is easy. Effortless. She hopes this means their argument has been forgiven or forgotten.

 

“Arthur…” He pauses, turning to her as she sighs. Her eyes are full of sadness as he meets her gaze, “I know you said I don’t have to say anything - but I do want to apologise. For everything. I don’t want to make excuses for myself. You were open with me, and I didn’t give you the same back.”

 

“Uri,” He smiles tightly, “If it’s all the same, I wouldn’t have believed you. If it wasn’t for the genuinity in your conversation with that ghoul, I would have thought you mad.”

 

“I know - but it was still wrong. I should have at least told you about the vault.”

 

“Yeah,” he smirks, “lying about that wasn’t really necessary.”

 

“I am from vault one-eleven,” she says, eyes downcast as her arms come up to hold herself, “when the bombs fell… My uncle didn’t make it. I was with my neighbours. Nate and Nora. And their son - Shaun. My uncle was a dick. He never mistreated me or anything - it was more the neglect of his duty as carer. But when the Jones’ moved a few doors up, they became like a second family to me. Another chance.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, sitting beside her. She gazes up at him, tears building in her eyes. But she smiles.

 

“Shaun was beautiful. An absolute angel. I’d always wanted a sibling, and there he was. He was with Nate when we were sealed in the cryo pods… They told us it was a decontamination chamber, the bastards.”

 

Arthur doesn’t know what to say to that. He is certain that everyone knows of the horrors carried out by vault tec. He has tried to forget about some of the things he witnessed hunting through lifeless bunkers back home. Skeletons strewn across the ground, old terminals packed with callous examinations and experimentations. It had made him sick.

 

“I woke up at some point,” she looks up at him, “It must have been around ten years ago. Some people had broken into the vault. They opened the pod Nate and Shaun were in… They wanted to take the baby, but Nate refused to let go. This guy… He put a bullet right between the eyes of the soldier who’d become a second father to me. All that time fighting in war, just to be killed in the place he thought he was going to be safe,” she sniffs, and her expression twists into something he’s never seen in her before, “Kellogg - that’s the name of the murderer. I found him. That’s why I was at the detective agency - there’s a synth there, Nick Valentine. He helped me track the bastard down…” She smiles fondly, “I’ll never regret planting a bullet between his eyes. Fitting revenge, for the life Nate never got to live.”

 

“And Nora?” he asks, “you said to the ghoul that the others were all gone…”

 

“Yeah,” she laughs - the sound has no trace of humour, “When I got out, I read the nearest terminal. Something must’ve happened to the pods - a malfunction, or something. They mixed me up for Nora, so I was put back in her place…” her voice drops to a whisper, “the terminal pronounced me dead from asphyxiation. It was Nora, they wanted alive. I’m here today because of some stupid mistake by the Vault Tec engineers…” Uri meets his eyes, and it’s like a mask has been removed… She is completely and utterly broken as she adds: “Nora should be here, not me. Shaun’s ten now, Arthur. He needs his mom - not some pathetic girl playing big sister.”

 

“Hey,” he growls, “I don’t want to hear you talk like that - ok? You can’t even think that way. If this child is in danger, and you are the only one left, then we - the Brotherhood can help you.”

 

“It’s not that simple…” Her gaze shifts to her hands as she picks at her nail beds. “Kellogg was… well, he was something you’d have hated. Man mixed with machine. It’d killed his humanity. I had to travel through his memories using some mechanically-preserved part of his brain. Nick helped - he’s a prototype synth, so it’s easier for eggheads to hack into his system. Anyway, we found out he was working for the Institute. He did their dirty work, they fucked with his biology.”

 

“So… Are you saying the Institute have your brother?”

 

She gnaws at her lower lip and nods, afraid that if she speaks - she will cry. This makes their mission that much more difficult; but it makes him determined to get back to the Prydwen.

 

The Cabots seem completely unfazed by their presence, which suits Arthur just fine. He’s not sure he has ever been in the mood for small talk throughout his life - and now is no exception. He overhears Jack and Uri catching up - he mentions two other people, stating that they have gone up to some old Asylum, and Uri tells him about the mutant hound and jumping into irradiated waters. When Jack excuses himself, Uri leads Arthur down to an old kitchen.

 

“Radstag?” She asks whilst perusing an old ice cooler-turned-freezer’s contents. He grabs some ‘tatos as she drops a great lump of steak in a frying pan. She instructs him to peel the vegetables, and he almost cuts himself a number of times whilst watching her season the meat. She seems to be highly skilled at cooking.

 

“What was food like before the war?” He finds himself asking. A smile graces her features.

 

“Damn, it was good… Cheeseburgers, pizza, in-date Salisbury steaks. In-date Fancy Lads Snack Cakes. Oh, and doughnuts! Nuka Cola whenever you wanted it, all minus the radiation poisoning. Coffee, too. God, I miss coffee.”

 

“Was it better, back then…? All of it?”

 

Her smile becomes sad, “That’s a loaded question, really. I grew up in a time where riots were frequent. War broke out left, right and centre. Canadians were getting sick of our soldiers hogging their land, and the propaganda… Well, you’ll have seen remnants of that. The Red Menace, anti-communist posters. Hell, even kids TV shows were teaching us to hate the satanic red demons they called the Chinese.” She finishes with the stag steak and begins chopping carrots, so he resumes the ‘tato peeling. “I mean, for the everyday civvy, it was a much safer time. I got to go to school and have parties without worrying about ghouls trying to rip my face off. I miss that. But it wasn’t a happy time. I won’t pretend it wasn’t preferable… But better?” She shakes her head, “there was this old saying Nate droned on about in his speeches. ‘War never changes…’ I made fun of it, in the past. He’d answer the door and I’d say it in this ominous voice, and he’s roll his eyes,” she laughs fondly, “I think that summarises it, best. I never understood it, back then. But I do now. He was right. Same shit, different era.”

 

“With a few more monsters?”

 

“Yeah - just a few.”

 

She flicks on her pip-boy’s radio - ending the conversation - and begins singing along to each song as they play. Her rendition of I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire is beautiful, if not immensely melodramatic. She prances around the kitchen, aiming every word at him as she holds his face and sings with an expression so falsely pained that he bursts into laughter.

 

And then he’s dancing with her, swaying awkwardly to the beat of each song. She hops onto a counter whilst Civilisation plays - and he has always been a sucker for the Wanderer, much to Uri’s delight. Just before she parts to check on their steak, he takes her in his arms and spins her around, horribly singing along to Whole Lotta Shaking Going On.

 

The vault dweller pulls away eventually to flip the steak. He leans against the countertop, breathless and amused, watching her sway to the beat as she works. The air feels calmer between them, now. He finds himself merely curious when he thinks about her past. There he was, so ready to attack - and yet she carries so much knowledge of a time they only get a glimpse of. The Brotherhood cannot exactly approach pre-war ghouls on the matter - but here Uri is. A woman out of time, so willing to talk about her fascinating life.

 

“Is there any technology you miss from the past?”

 

“Coffee machines,” She says, not even having to think about it. “Fridge-freezers. Street lights. Cars. Hot, running water everywhere you go. Stuff like that didn’t used to be such a luxury... You’d think it’d be TV or films, huh?” She smirks, “But it’s the little things. The things you only get a peek at, here.”

 

“I have watched films using projectors, before. Maybe if we find one, you can get that luxury back.”

 

“Maybe,” She shrugs.

 

Uri is soon hooked up to the IV, and they eat their radstag steak, carrots and something she calls fries in the Cabot dining area. They are a bizarre family, he decides, as they ghost from room-to-room to collect strange objects or an occasional drink, barely uttering a word. But the food is delicious, so he won’t voice his observations for now.

 

“What d’you think?”

 

“S’good,” He nods. He had found it odd, how she fried the ‘tatos in a pool of oil. But the end result truly was worth it - he can’t get enough. “Hey, instead of being a soldier, d’you wanna be our cook?”

 

“I can’t think of anything more boring,” She chuckles.

 

They finish up, and Arthur gestures for her to pass her plate over. He washes up whilst she heads upstairs - and when he finishes, he splashes his face with cold water. He needs to get back to the Prydwen. This woman… She’s a wildfire, alright. Burning at his mind. Destroying his walls, pushing through boundaries he’d spent so long constructing. And he’s completely helpless to it - unable to put any distance between them. Mainly because he needs her, right now. But also because he’s not sure he wants to.

 

He recollects himself and heads up. She’s huddled under the sheets when he enters the room, a book in hand and her radio turned on low. He doesn’t realise he’s frozen in the doorway, but he leans against it as his eyes drift over her. She’s a sight to behold in a place like this. She fits right in amongst the pristine walls and pressed sheets. He wishes he could tell her to stay - that he will find the child for her. He doesn’t want her to have to leave a place she is so familiar with.

 

“See something you like, sweetheart?” She flutters her lashes at him, and he rolls his eyes.

 

“You look happy, is all. I always think I’ve seen you happy - but you have these moments…” He closes the door, shaking his head. He needs to stop. His chest is beginning to constrict at the look she’s giving him… Full of something he doesn’t want to name.

 

“We should sleep,” Uri murmurs, setting her book on the nightstand, “there’s an actual functioning alarm clock, here. If we set it for five a.m, we should have plenty of time to grab your things and made some trades at Bunker Hill.”

 

He nods and shuts the door. As he heads over to the bed she dims the room’s oil lamp; waiting until he is settled before shutting it off completely. They reach for each other at the same time, small arms wrapping around his hard chest as he brings her head to rest on the crook of his neck. It feels like the most natural thing in the world - but, suddenly, it doesn’t feel so innocent anymore.

 

They have been travelling together for four days, now. But Uri has never felt herself connect with someone so quickly. Back in school, Sara had always been into all that fate and paranormal bullshit. She remembers one time, at a sleepover, when Sara was going into extreme detail about soulmates. You just feel like you’ve known them all your life, she had said, and you can’t imagine life without them. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known each other - until they’re through teaching you the lesson you need to know, you’ll gravitate towards them.

 

She still doesn’t believe it, but she understands why her idealistic friend had. It’s not that she feels like she’s known him forever - but they’ve been through a lot in a short space of time, and she’d be lying if she said the spark wasn’t instant. It’s obvious he feels it, too. She thinks of that poem in her pocket - the one he’d written on day two. But then she thinks of his title, and how things will presumably have to change when they get back to the Prydwen.

 

She doesn’t want to fuck this up now. Not when she’s so close to the help she needs to find Shaun.

 

“Uri?” He whispers, his voice quiet and wary.

 

“Hmm?”

 

“I…” He swallows, and she feels it against the top of her head. In the dim lighting from under the door, he can see her tilting her head to face him. He’s a silhouette in the darkness, warm and comfortable under her cold hands.

 

“Arthur?”

 

“Do you think we will reach the Prydwen, tomorrow...? From what I’ve seen on your map, it looks fairly close.”

 

“Probably. Well, maybe. I don’t want to promise anything - the wasteland is many things, but predictable isn’t one of them.”

 

“Very true,” He laughs, quiet and breathless. She picks up on his nervous energy.

 

“Why… Everything okay?”

 

“Yes. Yes, I just… I want to tell you that - the rejections. To your advances. Well, joking or not - I didn’t say no because I didn’t want to. That’s all.”

 

Her breath catches, stomach filling with butterflies as she stares down at him. Uri’s eyes have adjusted, now. She sees the way his cheeks flush ever-so-slightly, and finds it adorable that he glances away uneasily - keeping his voice all even and controlled, like he’s giving a speech to soldiers rather than admitting his feelings for her.

 

She knows, if she were to try now, he would give into temptation. But something holds her back… And she doesn’t want to think too much into what that is. Instead of heading south, her hand comes to cup his scarred cheek. As their eyes meet, she feels her stomach flip like it did before her very first kiss. She wonders if he has even kissed anyone before… But she doesn’t want to embarrass him by asking. She assumes that killing deathclaws and making his way up the Brotherhood ranks so young left little time for teen explorations, on that front.

 

“Would you be against the idea of me kissing you, Arthur? Just a kiss… Just one?”

 

“I would like to say yes,” he breathes, “but you have been honest with me, and I don’t want to turn myself into a hypocrite now.”

 

Uri leans down and, initially, her lips are feather-light against his own. She doesn’t want to scare him off with something too full on, and she can already feel his heart hammering in his chest. She slowly draws her hand from his face to his neck, when he doesn’t pull away, gesturing for him to tilt his head back farther. She maneuvers herself so she straddles his abdomen - as opposed to his waist - and softly strokes her tongue against the closed space between his lips.

 

He opens up for her, and she places his awkward hands at her waist. His confidence is slow to grow - but she’s got all night for him. Eventually, he is mimicking her actions, and his hands clutch at her waist as though she is the only thing he knows to be real. As he begins to lose control, she slows it down. She draws back to replace the passion with chaste, soft pecks. Eventually, his breathing slows and heart settles. She rests her head against his chest and hugs him tightly.

 

“Thank you,” He whispers, and she’s unsure if he meant to or if he is talking in his sleep.

Chapter Text

They arrive at Bunker Hill within an hour, and they trade the caps the Cabots provided them with for more ammo. Arthur is hopeful that they may bump into patrolling soldiers before they reach the airport, but it is best to be on the safe side by ensuring they have plenty of fusion cells. They agree they will not stop today - the only thing that will bring them to a halt is extreme injury or situations too dangerous to get into.

 

“Don’t act all high-and-fearless,” Uri scoffs, “I saw how you froze up when you saw that mute-hound.”

 

“I had never seen one before,” He snaps defensively, “I took down a mutant brute at fifteen, I’ll have you know. I think I can handle overgrown dogs.”

 

“More of those fairytales you wrote?” She teases, laughing at the glare he sends her way.

 

He’s more than a little relieved to slip his flight suit back on. And, when she hands him his greatcoat, he feels himself relax into the all-too-familiar textures he missed so much.

 

Their first extermination involves a pack of ferals living in an abandoned diner. Next, a gang of raiders at some sort of vile-looking drug den. Uri acts like she’s hit the jackpot as she stacks her bags with all the jet, psycho and mentats she can carry.

 

“Don’t look at me like that. We can’t all be born into well-to-do families. Especially when we’re two-hundred years out of time.”

 

He rolls his eyes but lets her continue, perusing the perimeter as she goes. She doesn’t take too long - and, soon, they are crossing the first of two bridges to get them to the airport.

 

They may make this trip in good time. And, with this knowledge, Uri’s heart begins to sink. She watches him whenever she gets the chance, now. Trying to commit every detail to memory. She feels the beginning of a panic attack coming on whenever she thinks that this could be it, and hates herself for it. She got through months exploring the Commonwealth on her own. Her slight frame, stealth and sniping kept her safe enough to go at it by herself. She didn’t favour it, or anything - she just knew that, if she were to travel with someone, she’d end up caring for them too much. What had been her greatest strength in the past has become her greatest weakness, it seems.

 

Down,” he hisses suddenly, and she instantly ducks behind a rusted car. She holds her breath, heart thudding in her ears as she catches onto the tail ends of a supermutant conversation.

 

Ok. She can feel sorry for herself later. For now, she needs to focus on staying alive.

 

She uses her scope to scan the area. There’s three of them, overall. No mute-hounds in sight, but she doesn’t trust one to not fly out of nowhere when the gunfire starts. The nearest is alone - they seem to be securing the perimeter, whilst the other two battle with rocks twice the size of Uri’s head to start a campfire.

 

“How are we playing this?” Uri asks once she’s safely back behind the car. Arthur already has his pistol in hand and a vicious grin on his face.

 

I, my dear, am going to prove to you that my stories are not fairy tales.”

 

And then, he leaps over the car for the nearest mutant.

 

He is on its back before it has time to register his presence, and with a gurgling howl it drops to the ground - throat slit with his combat knife. The others notice him and ready their weapons.

 

With a look of horror, Uri notices the bomb bleeping in one of their hands.

 

She aims as Arthur curses. He had been too keen to show off, and now he has placed himself in danger. The second mutant is picked off with a little more difficulty - he eventually blasts its brains out. And then there was one - but it’s taken out with a headshot before he has time to plan his next move.

 

“Elder Maxson - run!”

 

For the first time in a while, he takes orders from an inferior officer. A nearby patrol must have heard the suicider. He gets behind the car with Uri just before the nuke explodes - creating a mini mushroom cloud that sends her pip-boy’s geiger counter into a frenzy.

 

“Looks like I’ll be joining you on the IV, this time.”

 

She looks furious. But, whilst looking like she wants to punch him, she clutches his coat collar and pulls him into a searing kiss. His stomach jolts as he remembers the soldier, and so he subtracts himself as soon as the intensity of her grip lessens..

 

“Never do that to me again!” She hisses, and his chest suddenly feels warmer.

 

“Elder? Sir? Are you still…?”

 

“Not to worry, knight! I’m fine” He calls, jumping up to squint through the dust around them. All of their possessions are going to need radiation cleansing - great.

 

“Sir,” he salutes - so well trained that he doesn’t flinch as Uri pulls herself to her feet, “Lancer-Captain Kells was worried… We all were. Permission to speak freely?”

 

“Permission granted.”

 

“We thought you had died, Sir. The soldiers’ remains we found at that bunker… You were not amongst them, but they were hesitant to send a search party. We know of your strength and wisdom, Sir. We knew you would find your way back to us.”

 

“Thank you,” he nods, “The Lancer-Captain did right to wait for my return. It’s going to take more than synths to take me out.”

 

Uri coughs from beside him, full of a sarcasm that the soldier does not pick up on.

 

“Are you alright, ma’am?”

 

“Yeah. I mean, no praise was necessary. I’ll survive.”

 

“I owe my life to this one,” Arthur tells the knight, resting a hand on Uri’s shoulder as he speaks, “If it were not for her, I would have been gone with the rest of them. This civilian has proven herself worthy of joining our ranks - I would like a vertibird arranged to take us to the Prydwen.”

 

“Yes, sir!” He salutes again, “ad victoriam!”

 

“Ad victoriam.”

 

When the knight is out of earshot, Uri bursts into giggles that she tries to stifle with her hand.

 

Initiate,” Arthur growls, but she laughs even harder

 

“Oh wow - oh - I’m so sorry, I am but - what the fuck?” She falls breathless, face flushed as she looks up at him - and then laughs even harder. When the knight returns he does not question her laughing fit, but he notices the disgruntled way the Elder holds his head in his palm.

 

“What’s ad victorium mean?” she asks, low enough to avoid the knight’s prying ears. Her laughter has stopped, but her chest heaves as she fights to regain her breath.

 

To victory,” he tells her. She bites the inside of her cheek to fight further laugher, and he releases a sigh.

 

“Alright - out with it.”

 

“Nothing to say,” she shrugs, then snorts as her amusement betrays her.

 

Uri.”

 

“It’s just - something I’ll have to get used to,” she giggles again, “I’ll calm down. I’m sorry.”

 

Truth be told, this kind of reaction is something that he had expected. But he wasn’t lying to the knight - Uri has proven herself, and with determination like hers they may have a chance at finding the Institute sooner rather than later. Other knights join them in due course, receiving word that they are returning to the Prydwen early. Arthur has never liked pulling them off-duty too soon, but resources are limited in their lifeless world.

 

The vertibird that arrives is just as she remembers them from the war - just a little more rustic. Uri had always thought they looked horrific to actually fly in. As she hoists herself on board, Arthur recognises her trepidation.

 

“Don’t worry,” he murmurs, “it’s perfectly safe.”

 

“Never liked water or flying,” She says, “I like my feet on stable ground.”

 

The propellers pull them up with a lurch, and she clings to his coat in the least-suspicious way possible. The knights are too busy to notice, anyway - manning the minigun and keeping an eye out for hostiles, occasionally barking orders to the pilot as they spot areas where salvage may be promising. Arthur wraps an arm around her waist, and fights a smile as she relaxes under his touch.

 

“I’m sorry - about earlier,” She murmurs, “I shouldn’t have kissed you again. I said only one. I wasn’t thinking straight.”

 

“Stop laughing at me everytime I open my mouth, and all can be forgiven,” He smirks down at her, “at least I know you care - whether you think I’m an ass or not.”

 

Knights instruct Uri on how to depart the great, metallic bird as it settles into the Prydwen’s hangar - but she misses all of it as she catches a glimpse of the Commonwealth below. They’re all wearing power armour, aside from Arthur and herself. But she doesn’t wait for them as they instructed - she bounds off the vertibird as soon as space is free and throws herself to the barricade, only faintly registering Arthur’s angry, barked orders.

 

Uri stares down at her home, eyes wide and head spinning. She hates heights, but this doesn’t feel like a great height at all. It’s like a huge, nightmarish painting has been placed underneath her feet. Decaying buildings, rusted factories, crumbling apartment blocks, abandoned power plants, reinhabited breweries… And the occasional dot of a settlement. She wishes she could see sanctuary, from here, but figures that not being able to is for the best.

 

“Initiate!” Arthur crows, feet thudding against the metallic walkway as he paces towards her. She turns from the view, and watches the anger in his features falter at the tears in her eyes.

 

“Sorry, Elder… It distracted me. I’ve never seen it from up here, before…” She speaks in a quieter voice as she adds: “not like this.”

 

“I will pardon you, this time. In future, ensure you follow all commands given to you. We are a rigorous organisation, built off of a solid structure of rules that we expect to be enforced. Not only to remain united - but to remain safe.”

 

“Ok,” She nods, and for a moment he closes his eyes; composing himself. He wants to offer comfort - she can see that - but they can’t be Arthur and Uri, anymore. They are Elder Maxson and Initiate Sanchez. And that is how it has to stay if she wants help finding Shaun.

 

“Knight Anderson - please ensure the Lancer-Captain receives word of my return. I would like a meeting with him as soon as he is able.”

 

“Yes, Elder.”

 

“Scribe Haylen? Please, send word to Paladin Danse. I have a new mission for him - he must return to the Prydwen as soon as possible.”

 

“Yes, Elder.”

 

“And, initiate,” Maxson turns to Uri, “Welcome to the Prydwen. Initiate Friar - would you show our newest member around?”

 

“Of course, Elder, s-sir,” the girl salutes, cheeks reddening at her stammer. The first thing that strikes Uri is how young she looks… She can’t be older than sixteen. Arthur nods at the girl, tells Uri to behave and heads into the ship. Once he’s gone, the initiate turns to her.

 

“Welcome aboard,” she salutes, “I am Initiate Friar.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Uri holds out her hand, “I’m Initiate Sanchez, I guess. But I prefer Uri.”

 

“We aren’t supposed to use first names, ma’am.”

 

“What they don’t know won’t hurt ‘em,” Uri smirks.

 

“Oh- okay. My first name is Alice.”

 

“Pretty,” Uri comments - and the girl blushes again. Uri supposes she best get used to that. With her fair skin and orange hair, it’s difficult for her to hide any colour entering her cheeks. Seems she isn’t used to compliments.

 

“Would you like me to show you around?”

 

“That’d be great,” She beams, “Can we start with the nearest place I can store my stuff?”

 

The Prydwen is like a maze, in terms of its layout. The main deck includes a medical bay, mess hall, power armour station, crafting equipment and a store. Their sleeping quarters are located up a set of stairs; the bunk she is provided with is communal - and the storage nothing more than a small chest. Uri feels lucky to have such little belongings as she stores everything aside from the clothes on her back and her pip-boy. There’s nothing but storage and a control room on the flight deck, so they don’t bother heading down there.

 

Finally, there’s the command deck. This has three levels - one includes the bridge, on which Alice nervously introduces Uri to the disgruntled Lancer-Captain Kells. The second is mostly storage - again. And, lastly, the observation deck… Where Arthur is stood.

 

“Uri?”

 

She didn’t realise she was staring, until Alice whispered her name. Seems Arthur heard. He turns away from large windows overlooking the Commonwealth and, upon meeting Uri’s eyes, he nods.

 

“Initiates. How’s the tour?”

 

“Great!” Uri says, decidedly taking the lead in terms of conversation - to which Alice seems grateful, “Friar has shown me where everything is, and I met the Lancer-Captain. My bunk could be a little better, though.”

 

Oh?

 

“A little too communal, for my taste.”

 

“Initiates don’t get their own quarters,” He chuckles. Alice’s face is turning a deep shade of red as she stares, wide eyed, at Uri.

 

“Oh, I guessed. Don’t expect me to be sleeping in there very much, though.”

 

“And where, might I ask, will you be planning to stay?”

 

The playful banter is too much to resist. Alice seems to think that her commander has grown an extra head. Uri just shrugs.

 

“I’ll figure something out.”

 

“Suit yourself,” He snorts. “Anyway, now that you know your way around - you must report to Knight-Captain Cade for your medical exam.”

 

“Sounds… ominous,” She murmurs, “Never really liked doctors.”

 

“You have medical training, yet you don’t like doctors?”

 

Elder, clearly I lied so you’d let me treat you without complaint. If you fell for that, shame on you.”

 

“Your insolence needs work,” He tuts, but there’s a smile playing at the edge of his lips.

 

“Where’s my flight suit, anyway? I wanna look all fancy and important.”

 

“Report to Proctor Quinlan, after speaking with Cade. He will provide you with your suit, and answer any other questions you may have. Dismissed, initiates.”

 

“Ad victorium,” Alice squeaks, saluting her Elder. Uri’s breathing hitches in amusement as she forces herself to salute too.

 

“Ad victorium.”

 

When they’re out of earshot, Alice hits Uri on the arm.

 

“What were you doing?” She gasps, “You can’t talk to him like that, you know! I’m surprised he didn’t give you cleaning duty!”

 

“Hey, it’s fine. You forget, I just spent a good few days helping him back here. Feels weird, calling him by his title. And that catchphrase is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

 

They head down to the main deck, and Alice remains silent until they finish climbing down the ladder.

 

“So… What is he like? When he’s not on the ship - if you don’t mind me asking, that is,” She blushes.

 

A dozen pictures rush through Uri’s mind at once. Instead of putting any into words, she reaches for the folded-up poem in her back pocket. Alice watches curiously as she unfolds it and hands it over to her.

 

“If I am the storm, then she is the fire.

One resides in clouds; a threat to the skies.

The other, an uncontrollable pyre.

And yet, they have found such similar ties.

The fire burns hot, while the storm runs cold.

And yet, somehow, despite all of the tales,

Her flames are not something that ever scald,

And he hopes the wind does not turn to hail.

When Atom formed unforgiving weathers,

He did not account for the two ever,

To sing both their battle songs together.

For fire and rain can only bring chaos,

And yet, here they are, shared moonshine in hand.

Sticking together to brave wastelands.”

 

“Wait…” Alice smiles up at her, “Did he write this?”

 

“In Diamond City,” Uri nods, feeling her stomach flip as she re-reads it herself.

 

“That’s lovely,” She coos, cupping her hands in her cheeks. “As if my crush on him wasn’t already obvious… Now I’m gonna think of poetry everytime he’s around.”

 

“Oh, God,” Uri snorts, “I wouldn’t be surprised if almost everyone on the ship had a crush on him.”

 

“I’m fairly certain they do - I mean, he is our commander, and his history is admirable… And he’s a Maxson, of course. They are royalty, to us.”

 

“Don’t let him hear you say that,” She chuckles - putting the conversation on hold as they enter the small medical bay. There, a balding man stands analysing a set of records. He glances up at them - then does a double-take. The crows feet at the corners of his eyes become more prominent as he watches Uri warily.

 

“Ah, so you must be the new soldier? Are you ready for your medical exam?”

 

“Sure, I guess,” Uri mumbles, finding his abruptness rather discomforting. He gestures for her to take a seat, and Alice offers her a supportive smile.

 

“Alright,” he picks up a pen and clipboard, “I’m going to ask you a series of medical-related questions, and I’d like you to answer me to the best of your ability… First question: as a child, were you ever exposed to radiation for an extended period of time?”

 

“No,” She shakes her head, thinking back to the time before the war. She’s probably the healthiest person on the ship - but her sensitivity to radiation is a definite drawback.

 

“Second question - have you ever had or come into contact with a person confirmed to be carrying a communicable disease?”

 

“Not as far as I know,” she grimaces, “I mean, if any of my past partners didn’t tell me beforehand - i’d kill them myself.”

 

“Third question,” He huffs, “And please - answer honestly: have you ever had sexual relations with any species considered non-human?”

 

“Damn, that’s a bit personal,” She snaps, feeling her anger flare at the ridiculousness of what he’s asking.

 

“It happens more often than you would think - please, answer yes or no.”

 

“No - but I wish I had, now.”

 

“Last question - would you have any trouble pulling a trigger on an enemy of the Brotherhood? Whether they’re human, formerly human or machine.”

 

“Ah - a morals question.”

 

“I consider the mental health of our soldiers to be as important as the physical.”

 

“No - no problem.”

 

Her throat burns as the lie leaves her lips, but there’s no way she is arguing with this douche anymore.

 

“Excellent,” He smiles tightly, “You’ll fit in quite well around here… I have all the information I need, and see no reason to prevent you from beginning your duties immediately. If you do ever need medical assistance - let me know.”

 

Her meeting with Proctor Quinlan doesn’t go much better. He mistakes her for one of his scribes, which puts her in a sour mood. He doesn’t take to her calling him ‘Pops’ lightly. Luckily, he’s too far behind on setting up his research to give her whatever the usual, full orientation of his department may be. He instructs her to keep an eye out for important technical documents and dismisses the pair, but Uri doesn’t leave until she’s given his pet cat a good scratch under the chin. She wasn’t sure cats were still around.

 

“Uri,” Alice snaps, “You’re going to get us both in trouble, if you carry on like this. You can’t be rude to those in charge.”

 

“I’ll learn.” Uri shrugs her off, pretending to read the receipt for her uniform until Alice excuses herself. When she does, the new initiate heads up to meet Proctor Teagan.

 

-

 

Arthur is in the midst of typing up the report on his recent venture when a clanging knock at the door echoes through his quarters. He stands, shrugging out of the heavy weight of his battle coat with a sigh.

 

“Enter,” He calls, and in comes Paladin Danse.

 

“Elder,” He greets, his voice full of enthusiasm, “it’s a pleasure to see you alive and well.”

 

“The feeling is mutual,” He smiles wryly, “Sadly, this is not a social meeting. I have a great favour to ask of you.”

 

The Paladin is the perfect vision of what a Brotherhood soldier should be. Obedient, strong, courageous, compassionate and tactical - he has seen Danse train the unruliest of soldiers and watched them thrive. He trusts him more than any other in the Brotherhood.

 

“Whilst I was gone, a civilian saved my life.”

 

“So I have heard,” He nods, “If I may say, sir - gossip is running amok.”

 

“I would like to call this surprising, but it does not surprise me at all,” He pinches the bridge of his nose, “I’ll ensure all staff are reminded of their duties in due course. For now, however - this civilian. She is very capable, but has a sharp tongue and stubborn manner. I feel that, under your supervision, she may flourish into a fine knight. She is an outstanding fighter, but her technique is sloppy. Can I trust you and your team to effectively and efficiently train her, Paladin?”

 

“It would be an honour, sir,” Danse nods, “we can always use more recruits, especially down at the station.”

 

“Excellent,” Arthur says, clapping the older man on his shoulder, “You’ve produced some fine work. I have no doubt that this will continue. Please, ensure I receive daily reports on her progress. I am interested to see how she gets on amongst our ranks.”

 

“Of course, Elder.”

 

“Thank you for your time, Paladin. Dismissed.”

 

It’s for the best he thinks to himself, watching the vertibird dispatch from the bay. It was all well and good depending on her whilst on the ground, but now he is back on the Prydwen - he has too much to tend to, and so little in the way of time. Initiate Sanchez is a threat to his focus; as much as it pains him to admit this. He had seen it in her eyes as he saw them off - she didn’t want to go.

 

And that is why she had to.

 

According to the Lancer-Captain, work on Liberty Prime is on target - but there is still much to be done. It had surprised Arthur to hear Kells express how badly he would like to join their scribes to hunt for parts. However, after what happened at Bunker Hill, he has ordered the most authoritative of their ranks to remain on-board unless he orders them to leave. Proctor Ingram had been outraged - but, until they truly know what they are up against, he can’t take any more risks.

 

Uri has decided that she doesn’t like vertibirds. Seeing the broken Commonwealth’s state from so high up is too much for her grieving heart to bear; and it’s so damn cold. It’s alright for the Paladin in his power armour and scribe Haylen in her thick, red coat. All she has is her leather jacket which, sadly, doesn’t offer much protection in the ways of a propeller-induced windstorm.

 

She’s not sure how long she has sat shivering, but eventually they come to land aboard a helipad atop the old police station in Cambridge. There, Danse introduces her to the fourth member of their team - Knight Rhys, who she instantly dislikes.


When she’s thrown into a cell after breaking his nose, she wonders if there are many people in the Brotherhood she will ever not dislike.