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The Charm Of History

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'Cole, that's enough! I stayed with you because you were family, but I don't want any part of this madness anymore.'

'Madness? Madness? These...blasphemers make claims that they know nothing of. His holiness is the cornerstone of our faith and they try to undermine that with their lies.'

'What lies? I know for a fact Aidan knew Roger better than any of us, so do you...'

'YOU DO NOT SPEAK THAT NAME TO ME!'

'AIDAN KNEW ROGER. And she is the little sister he always spoke of. Maybe if you'd spent ten fucking minutes talking with the man about something besides how amazing you thought he was, you could have pulled your fucking head out of your ass. I'm done, Cole. I've listened to your bullshit for over a century and watched your mind rot because your ma asked me to watch out for you but I should have been beating you upside the fucking head for going nuts instead of letting it go this far. No more. You're no cousin of mine anymore. I am done, if you need to find me I'll be begging for her forgiveness.'

'You. Do. Not. Walk. Away. From. Me.'

'Try and stop me. You were never good enough to win against me. Christian and Daniel were never good enough to win against me. Aidan might be able to stand against me. And you know what, I think she may be better than I am. You should be scared, Cole.'

(Castle of Glass - Linkin Park)

He turned and walked out of the building and for the first time in forever, he didn't feel completely disgusted with himself.

-

'What the hell does she think she's doing now? Or did she forget about the whole, we're supposed to be in hiding, thing?'

'I don't know, all I know is what the runner told me. They rescheduled again, you now have an appointment with Amari the day after tomorrow and later that evening we're supposed to celebrate something. Whatever she's planning, it was something big, the kid said that Preston took off from Sanctuary with a team but was trying to stay all hush hush.'

'Your lady is planning on getting herself a castle.'

Deacon felt like ice was slithering down his spine as he turned slowly, pulling out his knife but wondered if there was any point in drawing his weapon if he was already that close. Watching as he stepped through the side door, Nick pulling his pistol but watching the two of them silently.

'Julian...'

'Aidan, you're looking well. You don't have to worry. I'm not here for you and I'm not after her...not anymore.'

He couldn't stop the eyebrow from cocking up, staring at the man in disbelief.

'Did you finally pull your head out of your ass and tell Cole to shove it?'

'He was family, once. I don't know what he is anymore...I figured I'd better tell you before I go begging for her forgiveness.'

'...Does he know where she is?'

'No, I was in charge of the scouts, I didn't tell him after I found...'

He didn't let the man finish, pocketing his blade and swinging with a roar. Julian had always been the stable one of those that went to the Circle and he should have known better. Deacon grimaced in satisfaction when his fist met the other man's jaw, throwing a few more punches before stopping, realising Julian wasn't fighting back. Gripping him by his shirt and shaking him as the man wiped the blood from the corner of his mouth.

'...I deserve that. Anymore?'

'You should have stopped him, why, why were you going after her? Sure, come after me, but leave her alone!'

'I should have stopped him. I'm not going to harass her, I was going to offer my services to make up for Cole. HANK! You might as well come out too, I know you've been following me since D.C.'

Deacon couldn't stop the snort that came out, stepping out of the shack into the open area and smirking when Hank stepped out with his hat low, Valentine mumbling in surprise.

'What the...the Stranger...'

'Nicky, this is Hank...the Mysterious Stranger and this idiot is Julian...Cole's lapdog.'

'That would be the other two, thank you very much. I never sent the scouts out to hurt her or you. I wanted intel, that's all, anything else they did was their own actions. I must say, your lil lady is one hell of a woman. Flying out of a fucking window buck ass naked and threatening me with a goddamn rotisserie skewer, she actually scared the shit out of me.'

'She WHAT?'

Both he and Nick turned to Julian, all four men jumping when a voice suddenly came from behind them, drawing their weapons. They spun around in time to see Charmer pull off her helmet, sitting on the edge of the antennae platform, Kellogg's gun sitting on her lap. He wondered how long she'd been there. The fact that none of them heard her was making his head spin and from the shocked looks on the others faces, they were just as flabbergasted.

'Well, maybe you shouldn't be lurking around after private moments.'

She holstered the gun and jumped from the edge to the workbench then ground below and it was almost surreal watching her because she dropped like it was nothing and there was no sound from her hitting the ground or her feet as she started slinking around them. Making them all jump again when she stuck her fingers in her mouth and let out an ear-splitting whistle.

'Mac, you can come down.'

'Hēi guǐ...that's how you kept slipping away...'

Audra just smirked at Julian and wandered over, pressing a kiss on Nick before sliding to his side. Instinctively he wrapped an arm around her waist and positioned himself slightly in front of her, glaring at the other man, watching as the two Hangdog's took in Audra up close and personal for the first time. He saw Mac start wandering over from the direction of the overpass above, dropping down and approaching slowly.

'Julian, hmmm...what happened that would make you turn?'

Her face went serious and Deacon stiffened slightly at her bluntness, she pulled away from him and went to stand in front of the other man. Audra gripped his chin and made him look at her and he didn't miss the way Julian flinched when she ran her thumb over his split lip. He really was afraid of her or of what he thought she could do. The man they had called Death was scared of his Chunk. They all tensed when he leaned in and whispered something in her ear and Deacon tried leaning forward to hear what the other man was saying. Whatever it was, Audra looked up at the man and nodded once, reaching down and giving his hand a squeeze and whispering something back before she turned to Hank.

'Hank, is it? My darling Nick over there has been trying to track you for a while now. You're quite adept at disappearing suddenly yourself...'

Deacon and Julian chuckled when Hank jumped, Audra motioning to his coat, pointing out the Stealth Boy with a frown. Hank raised an eyebrow at him than her but didn't say anything, he always was a man of few words.

'Those things are bad for your brain. Have you been experiencing any anxiety, memory loss...anything like that? Maybe both of you should go with Deacon to the doctor. A larger sampling of people whom have been awake and using those for extended periods of time would be useful to establish a slightly more accurate baseline. But, that's not why I'm here, I came to see if you felt like helping with a little pest problem I have.'

'Pest problem?'

Audra smiled at Hank as he spoke for the first time, looking back at Nick and Deacon. It didn't escape his notice that Mac stayed back slightly, still hanging onto his rifle or how Audra made sure not to present her back to either of the men.

'Yes, the Minutemen are reclaiming the Castle. I had been planning on meeting you guys afterwards and celebrating, but I missed you and wanted to invite you along. Mirelurks have taken up residence on the grounds, it is time to evict them. The legend states that some giant sea monster came out and wrecked the Castle, which leads me to believe there may be a queen. I've faced a queen before, this should be fun.'

'She has an odd idea of fun...'

Hank looked at them with a startled look on his face and Mac just shrugged.

'This is the woman who petted a Deathclaw the other day...a Mirelurk queen is right up her alley.'

'She WHAT?'

Deacon and Nick turned to stare at Bullseye this time and he rolled his eyes when Audra just shrugged and addressed the other two. He could feel his blood pressure rise and wondered if the vein at his temple was popping out yet, he didn't know how in the fucking world she always managed to get in trouble and drive him crazy.

'You two are welcome to join. If you're going to be tailing me anyways, you might as well be useful. Hank, you've been nothing but helpful thus far so, I welcome you. Julian...I understand, now prove it to me.'

Audra turned and went inside the shack and he must have had fight written all over his face because Nick motioned the others away as he stomped after her. Spinning her around to look up at him, she'd put her helmet in her bag and had her ridiculous goggles on her head, batting her eyelashes at him.

'Yes, dear? That went better than I was expecting, we came to an understanding and no one is dead.'

'What the hell is he talking about flying out of a window buck naked? A Deathclaw? And when the hell did you fight a Mirelurk queen??'

Audra smirked at him and pushed him back till he sat down at the table, frowning up at her.

'Mac and I had just finished having nookie and I heard a noise, so I went to confront said noise...kinda forgot I was nekkid, was more worried about being killed.'

'Jumping out of a window?'

'It was only like ten feet down, I'm fine, didn't even get a splinter or anything. And the Deathclaw was sweet...maybe it was related to your Casper. We returned its egg and it was grateful.'

'...Mirelurk queen?'

'I had to clear the island so that Virgil was safe.'

He started to talk again and Audra just held up a finger, silencing him, he was about to argue when she straddled his lap and just buried her face against his neck. Her voice was soft and it made him tighten his arms around her, holding her close.

'By the time I got dressed and ready, I'd lost Julian. I worried about you. I knew we were trying to hide, but I was getting more and more irritated. I told Mac. I got drunk the next day, I had been trying to save it so I could forget...we fought. He said that he would help distract me but that I shouldn't make myself forget...we'd heard some rumours, so we went to check out the Salem Museum of Witchcraft...those fucking idiots, Gunners stole an egg. There was a Deathclaw...we killed her. I wouldn't have...if I had realized she was just after her egg. We found the egg and went back to where they took it from. There was another Deathclaw, it was so happy to see the egg, it let me pet it. It just wanted its baby...'

Deacon sighed and rubbed a hand up and down her back, tensing when he realised what day it was.

'I figured if I was going to be distracted, it needed to be a good one. So we went and talked to Preston, he got a team together. Figured I'd see if you guys wanted to join, that's when I saw Julian coming. I almost killed him...if he had made a move for a weapon, I would have. I missed you. It's too quiet when you're not around.'

His words came out choked and he had to clear his throat before trying to speak again.

'Missed you too. So...the Castle hmmm? All right, I admit it. Kind of getting the chills here. Taking back Castle for the Minutemen would be pretty cool.'

She pulled back and smiled at him as she slid off his lap, her cheeks flushing slightly. It was that, that sweet pink blush that made her look her age, sweet and shy again that made his heart clench. Grabbing her hand and holding it tight, tilting his glasses back so he could really look at her.

'I'm sorry I wasn't there.'

'It was my fault, Aodh...it was my fault. I didn't know and all the stress. I thought I was broken when you died...'

'No, not your fault...I'm sorry...I'm so sorry.'

Her lips tightened into a thin line and he knew she wanted to protest, but if she did they would just keep going back and forth. Deacon leant forward tentatively and brushed a soft kiss on her before leaning down, arms wrapping around her waist and hiding his face against her stomach as the tears welled up. He could feel her shake as her own tears came but they kept quiet, clinging to each other as they let it out. Audra was rubbing his head and neck softly when he heard Nick clear his throat, looking up.

'Sorry, do you need anything? Hank pointed out that there was a raider that decided to hole up down the road a little, they went to take care of him. Mac's keeping watch.'

'I suppose we should get some rest if we're going to meet Preston at the Castle in the morning, so...are you two coming or will we see you in Goodneighbor? I tried hiding, it just made me angry, fuck Cole. He's not going to stop me from living my life.'

Deacon looked up at Nick and he nodded, blinking in surprise when he realised Nick was staring at him, pulling his glasses back down. Watching as Audra laced her fingers with Nick's but stayed pressed against him.

'Uh...going with you. Hey, what did you say to Julian?'

'His reasoning is his to share if he wishes...but he said something to me and I understood the feeling. I told him I would make him suffer if he were to hurt any of you, but I am going to give him a chance...if he really wants to make it up, then there is plenty to be done to change the world for the better. Is Hank always that quiet?'

'Yes, but don't let that fool you. Man's a poet when he wants to be. We called him Apollo.'

'Apollo? And what about Julian?'

'Julian was Thanatos...'

'And Aidan was Dolos. Cole was the one that came up with the idea for the names...called himself Kratos and Roger was Zeus...all of us had names from Greek mythology...should have known he was off his rocker back then. I doubt he'll be coming after you for a bit unless his mind has rotted away even more than I thought. He's not as good as I am, nor are his two cronies. He might try again later but you worry him and his first instinct is always to cover his own ass.'

They all turned to watch as Julian came in and made himself comfortable on the couch.

'I am at your service little General...perhaps we should come up with a name for you, that would piss off my cousin to no end. Though, from what I have gathered, you are many...not just one. Aphrodite, Athena, Chaos...'

'Ain't that the truth...'

His snort and mumble earned a smack on the shoulder from Audra and a snicker from Valentine.

'Nemesis...perhaps sometimes...Apete? Atropos? No...if I recall, Aidan said you were in law? You are Themis...our Lady Justice.'

'And what is your plan?'

'I shall be your bodyguard.'

Audra quirked an eyebrow at Julian but didn't say anything instead turning to look at him.

'Your call, boss. I don't trust him but we did call him Death for a reason. And my name is Deacon...'

He and Julian stared each other down and eventually the other man inclined his head before looking back to Audra.

'I swear on my life...'

'No, you know what I want you to swear on.'

'I swear on my son's soul that I will protect you from any harm directed your way...though matters of the heart are your own to deal with.'

Deacon blinked in surprise and looked up at Audra. He'd only ever heard him mention his family once when completely smashed out of his mind and he'd never said what happened to them. That was the last time he'd ever seen the man drink in the time they were together. Whatever it was that they had whispered to each other, Audra knew about his family and nodded with a straight face.

'And you Hank? I know you're standing outside the door, might as well come in and join us. Nicholas, would you get my other pack from Mac? I brought some Brahmin, carrots and tatos. Figured we could either grill or make a stew.'

'I'll cook. I'll follow you, ma'am. Might go away sometimes, but Julian is right. You are Justice and I think you will bring change to the wastes. We have tried over the years to shape things...perhaps the world needed a mother to care for it. Perhaps you are Gaia, as well.'

They all blinked in surprise at Hank before he turned and stepped back out, supposedly to get dinner going. Audra untangled herself from them and pulled her goggles off, stuffing them into her bag before peeling the stealth suit off. Nick moved to block her from Julian's view and Audra just chuckled.

'I'm relatively decent right now, I just need pants and he's already seen me completely naked Nick...it's just skin.'

'You do not have to worry about your lady's honour Detective...my tastes lie elsewhere. Now, General how do you plan on taking out a Mirelurk queen?'

'With a couple mini-nukes and a lot of bullets.'

'Subtle...'

'Hey, I snuck up on you. I don't need subtle to kill a queen, I need effective and I'm good but it took a lot of fucking ammo to kill the last one and I was all by myself that time. I don't intend for this to be a long battle.'

'How did you sneak up on us? I could not hear you.'

'Let's just say I made some tweaks to my suit.'

He and Nick were content to watch those two go back and forth, standing and digging into Nick's pocket for his pack. Grinning at the detective.

'Jesus, you and Audra really are the same.'

'Maybe we just like digging in your pockets and getting a rise out of you.'

Deacon watched Julian's face as Audra teased Nick, sliding her hands into his pockets and pulling him in for a kiss. Motioning for the man to step out and following him.

'That doesn't bother you? I thought you Brotherhood types and those in the Circle were against abominations?'

'Not everyone held the same beliefs. I stayed because it was familiar and Cole was family. I should have left a long time ago...no point in dwelling in the past, I am here now. I will do what I can to protect her.'

Deacon nodded and lit a cigarette, wandering over to speak with Mac as Julian went to speak with Hank. He was right, this was familiar, the growing buzz of anticipation as they thought of the battle to come, keeping an eye on the other men.

-

'I don't know if I can protect that woman from herself.'

'No shit. GENERAL! Get your ass down!'

Julian looked over at Deacon and snorted. The man had barely left his side since the night before, apparently taking it upon himself to make sure he did not turn and betray them. He understood but it stung slightly, there was a time when they would have trusted each other with their lives. Watching as the woman ignored them and loaded another mini nuke then fired and with a screech the creature fell. The Minutemen entered the courtyard did a quick run through and eliminated the remaining Mirelurks and nests and he and Deacon dropped down into the courtyard, watching a very handsome man spin the small General around.

'Wow! We really did it! I've been watching the Minutemen fall to pieces for so long, I just...this is really something. Do you have anything to say General? Radio Freedom is up, why don't you tell the Commonwealth where we're going from here?'

He could see the gears turning in her head, watching her think it out before stepping to the microphone.

'People of the Commonwealth, the Minutemen are back and the Castle is reclaimed. We have worked long and hard to reach this point and we couldn't do it alone. You, the people of the Commonwealth were there for us when we tried again and that second chance has brought us to this time and place. If you are out there and need help, we are there. If you wish to help, you know where to find us...and if you wish for your own second chance, you will be welcome. It is never too late to turn your life around. We can make the Commonwealth a wonderful place to live again. Food, shelter, family. You are the foundation, make it a strong one.'

She handed the mic back and reached for her pipboy, popping a holotape out and handing it to the Minuteman. Grabbing her bag and digging out another holotape and handing that one over, as well.

'I recorded my message, broadcast that every...I dunno, six hours and play this song afterwards. Preston, this is likely going to boost our numbers again. I want you to stay here for the time being and get things in order. Pick five of your most trusted men and make them our new Lieutenants, I would recommend putting Allen in charge of our runners. Sturges for the building crew, if he'll take a position, otherwise the one that helped him with Oberland...Martin? Ask Mac who he would recommend for security, he's worked with those teams the most. We'll also need a team for cleanup and one to get the water towers and crops going. Security will need to make sure the routes are safe. I'd like us to be clear all down the coast, offer to trade with the Atom Cats for suits/repairs, clear out University Point and retake it. Quincy...all the way down to Warwick. Those raiders in the one ship have kept to themselves...they were speaking in a different language, maybe try to find out what it was and see if we can come to a peaceful resolution. Once the south is clear start working north. We'll have to come to an agreement with the Brotherhood, currently, Arthur has some of his patrols watching that area. Anyone you can't take here, find a place at some of the newer settlements. I meant what I said about second chances, if a Raider or Gunner comes and wishes to join, then they need to show that they are sincere. Post guards at the front and back, Minutemen and supplies through the back, anyone wishing to join will need to leave their weapons at the diner and submit themselves for evaluation. Any offenders that were particularly violent will need to work for say a period of two years to prove that they are committed to change. Food and board, bonuses for hard work. Once the two years is up, then they would be eligible to move to a different team suited to their skills and the appropriate pay. I'd say we should go and clear out Breakheart Banks and Lynn Woods and use those as our rehabilitation settlements if Wiseman is okay with us being that close. Perhaps a labour exchange? He teaches them how to grow and maybe Arlen would be willing to teach those that are mechanically inclined? In return, we can give a boost to security at the Slog and extra seed and caps? Somerville could always use more bodies...'

(Lift Your Head Weary Sinner - Crowder)

'General...General, that was a great speech, we'll figure it out. How about you come and get a beer with me and we'll talk plans?'

He started forward to follow them when Deacon grabbed his arm.

'She's safe with Garvey. Let them have their moment and take care of their plans.'

'I can see what you meant when you used to talk about how much she was...you do not remember?'

He looked at the other man and frowned. This man was not the same man he knew when the Hangdogs formed since the time that they had split and he'd gone off on his own, Aidan...Deacon seemed to have forgotten much.

'This is why she wishes us to have our brains scanned?'

'Apparently, long term exposure to Stealth Boys is damaging to the brain...you never used them as much....but me...Hank...Cole...maybe that's why we're all a little strange. But yes, she is so much.'

'I can see why you all follow her, she is a force to be reckoned with. She...reminds me of Roger, what little I knew of the man.'

'Yes, we need to speak with her about keeping herself under cover though.'

Nick wandered over, speaking dryly, Hank following behind. The four pre-war men wandering up the wall and taking a seat at the edge looking over the courtyard while Nick went on, watching MacCready and the Minutemen clear the area.

'It healed already, but she took a hit from the Queen's acid before that last shot. I might have to get myself a new chest panel and I just got some of the backsplash. Mac is pissed at her right now, that's why he's throwing himself into work.'

'I can't tell if she just doesn't care or if she...wishes something would happen.'

'She is hurting, but I have not seen her take a hit that she would not recover from. I think she is trying to draw fire so that others do not get hurt, especially if it is something she feels she can take.'

They all turned to look at Hank, considering his words. Deacon and Nick were obviously concerned, but he could see her logic, as hard as it was going to make his job.

'Despite taking fire, it was a clean mission...minimal injuries and no loss of life. She is a good tactician...she understands weapons. How is her hand to hand Dolos?'

'Excellent. I would say that if she worked with Apollo on her shooting a little more and her hand to hand with you...she'd surpass us all, she's already better at stealth...and I dunno about you all but when she starts talking about amplitude and nanotubes and whatever the hell else she was going on about earlier, I am completely confused and oddly aroused.'

'That's just you Deacon. She will surpass us all. She'll be the saviour of the Commonwealth or the downfall.'

'Downfall...?'

Deacon frowned at Hank and they all looked at him once again, the quiet man cleaning his gun as they sat there gathering his words before speaking again.

'Marie Curie said - You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful. We all have been around for a very long time and we all have failed in that improvement. Maybe we just needed her to be an inspiration or the leader...but what happens if she loses her drive?'

They fell silent and Julian hoped that would not be the case. He'd felt something for the first time since he'd left for China and it was beginning to feel a lot like hope.

-

'My family...they were good people, but I just wanted to do more and after...'

(Simple Man - Shinedown)

'You're a good man, Preston. What happened to your family?

'Raiders...'

'Oh, Preston. I'm so sorry...'

Of everyone, he knew she would understand, she offered comfort but it didn't feel cloying. Sighing and leaning over on the couch, yanking her over for a hug. Audra was still the General but at some point, she'd become family too, just like Sturges and the others at Sanctuary. He'd had just enough to drink to feel warm and fuzzy and he wanted his little sister to feel better too. Preston didn't know what he would do without her, frowning because she still seemed so sober and serious.

'You've had more beer than I have, how are you still good?'

'Ugh...I forgot to tell you that part. My healing? It makes it hard to get drunk now...I don't even get a buzz off of a full bottle of whisky. But that's okay, we did it, you celebrate and I'll watch out for you luv.'

'But you always watch out, who watches out for you? Hey...I wanted to talk to you about something. I've been thinking back lately on how things were for me when we first met. It was the lowest point of my life. I mean... all my closest friends were dead. Everything I believed in had turned out to be a lie. I'd failed everyone who'd ever relied on me. I'd led them to Concord and we had no hope of getting out alive. The thing is...that was actually okay with me. I was ready to die. It was what I felt I deserved. It was what I wanted.'

'Oh, hon...You don't still feel that way, do you? You did your best, Preston. You can't blame yourself for what happened.'

'No. Not at all. That's what I wanted to talk about and I know it wasn't all on me. But, I made my share of bad decisions along the way. I've got to live with that. My point in all of this is that, well... you saved my life. And not just by saving us from those raiders in Concord. I mean, that you...made me want to keep living again. I guess that sounds pretty sappy, but it's true. If we hadn't met, or if you'd killed those raiders and then just taken off...I don't know if I'd still be around. I think I would have found some way to...you know...end it. Maybe not by shooting myself in the head or anything, but just by not caring about staying alive. So, I just wanted you to know that. How much our friendship has meant to me.'

'I'm glad you decided to stick around, Preston. The world needs more people like you.'

'Well, now you're making me embarrassed. I...I knew you would understand. Do you still feel that way?'

'...It depends on the day.'

(Everybody Hurts - The Corrs)

'I'm glad you decided to stick around, Audra. The world needs more people like you.'

'You're using my words.'

He gave her a look or thought he did, leaning back on the couch so she had to slump against his chest, making her have to look up at him. Smirking a little, making Audra snort and take his hat.

'You've been teaching me well.'

'You little shit...'

Preston laughed and relaxed back on the dusty cushions a little more before looking at her seriously.

'If you ever feel that way...just tell me. Please? And I will tell you...I'll be there for you, you know, someone who understands. I know it's confusing with everything and Deacon and the others...but there are so many of us that love you and need you in our lives too. Mama Murphy probably wouldn't be here if it weren't for your words...hell, I saw Marcy smile the other day.'

'Nuh-uhhhhh.'

'Uhhh-huhhhh. Cait kept going on and on about how hell froze over.'

'How is she?'

'It's...hard. She still fights it all the time, I think she's doing okay...then I find her high in a shed. The doctor says its one of the worst addictions he's seen, we just have to keep trying.'

'I think I need to go spend a few weeks back in Sanctuary if I can. I think teaching her how to properly fight might help focus her a bit.'

'Yeah, that would be nice to learn for me too. I am sure they would be happy to have you, I know Sturges would. He's been missing and worrying about you guys. I tried to convince him to come to Diamond City and wait for you, but he said he had something he had to finish working on. I...I, uh...met Miss Ellie while we were there.'

'Annnnnd?'

Preston blushed and ducked his head, he couldn't help it, he'd been feeling good since he'd talked with her. It had been a long time since he's felt like that about someone.

'She is a wonderful woman, she made sure we were all taken care of and well stocked before we left in the morning.'

'Ooohhhh, well how about this. Let's get this Castle in order and then you can see about setting up our office in Diamond City?'

(Sugar - Robin Schulz feat. Francesco Yates)

'That would be real nice. Thank you, Audra.'

'Thank you, Preston...family is important.'

'That it is, little sister.'

He couldn't help but smile as she curled against him like she had several times since they'd met. It had long since stopped being awkward and was a comfortable companionship now. Audra was family and it was good to have a family again.

He would probably never forget the pain or anger of losing them, but he could help make things better. Preston started to open his mouth but stopped figuring they could talk about it later if needed. Not really wanting to figure it out when he was tipsy. He hoped she was right about giving people second chances and he worried that if he were to see a Gunner that he might not be so understanding.

Sighing and figuring the could leave that for another night, looking down and chuckling softly when he realised Audra had gone silent and was lying still on his chest, flagging Mac down as he passed. Between the two of them, they were able to get her on the bed one of the guys had repaired earlier.

'Has she been sleeping?'

'Not well, she's been exhausted. Thank you for helping, she does so much better when everyone is around...family is home to her.'

'Anything for family.'

'Anything for family.'

He clapped a hand on MacCready's shoulder and went to join the other Minutemen and for the first time it a long time he really felt like he was home.

Chapter Text

'And here you are. My life's work on the verge of ruin all because of your efforts to find Stockton's supposed daughter. You do know she's most likely a synth, yes? If you are more than a hired gun, perhaps we can stop this before it's too late.'

'I'll give you a fair hearing.'

'How considerate.'

Deacon looked at Audra and the doctor and he could feel the rage simmering right below the surface, this...asshole, didn't deserve to call herself doctor (as much as anyone could be a doctor anymore) and he didn't really feel she deserved any chance, not after what he'd heard on those holotapes, not after what he'd seen.
Audra convinced the guards to take her and Honest Dan to the doctor while he followed in his suit with Julian trailing behind, if he happened to check out a few rooms along the way, what was the problem? But the more he saw, the angrier he got, sliding up behind Charmer and whispering in her ear.

'They've been torturing people, convinced their test can find synths...'

'What would you do if your family was destroyed by a synth, right in front of you, when you were but a child? Would you roll over and accept it? Or would you do something about it?'

The woman had to be blind or dumb not to see the way Audra stiffened then went still, a dark look flashing across her face before going blank.

'I've been there. But I haven't resorted to torturing innocents.'

'Casualties are inevitable. It may not look like it but we're at war. As long as the Institute walks invisibly amongst us, they strike without warning and control us from the shadows.'

'You can't seriously want to kill all the synths...'

'We most certainly do. But we have to find them first.'

They jumped when the doctor's head exploded, turning to see Julian holstering his weapon.

'Thanatos...'

Audra practically growled, stomping over and getting right up in his face.

'WHAT THE HELL? I did not like that bitch either but I said I was going to listen to her. You don't fucking get to make those choices for me. If I want someone dead, I will do it myself. Unless we are being directly fucking threatened then I will give people a chance.'

'Why? Do people actually change?'

'I don't know, why don't you tell me...or ask Dolos.'

(The Mission “M is for Milla Mix” - Puscifer)

Deacon winced at the mention of his name but Julian was smart enough not to say anything, flinching at her words, as well. They stung, even as he silently agreed that the world was probably better without the doctor, watching as she went to take care of Amelia. They got her some proper clothing and went to collect Hank from Covenant. It didn't escape his notice that the guards they had passed on the way in, were magically no longer living on the way out, hoping that was the last of the conflict for the day. Unfortunately, as soon as the townsfolk found out what had happened, they turned hostile. Between the four of them it only took a few moments to take care of the town, Audra cursing and getting increasingly frustrated. Putting a call out to Garvey to send a cleanup team.

Audra stayed pissed the entire way back to Bunker Hill, barely snapping more than two words to him and not speaking to Julian at all. She set Julian and Hank up with a room from Tony and they were unloading in her office when she slipped her suit on, giving him a look.

'Oh. Okay. Yeah, good idea.'

They activated their suits, her fingers lacing with his and they jumped out the window and down the side, she jumped down with such ease he wondered if she'd done it before. It didn't take them long to get to the back entrance, boosting her up and then jumping up into the building.
By the time he got inside she already had the cage open and was stripping down, setting her suit in the trunk and rifling through the extra clothes in there.

'Enjoying the view?'

Her tone was dry as he jumped and rejoined reality, realising he'd just been standing there staring at her in her undies as she pulled the clothing out. Flushing and bobbing his head before starting to pull his suit off, as well, back to her, hoping that might help calm himself down a little.

'Dez is going to be pissed that we're not going to stay.'

'I know, but I don't trust those two to stay put too long before they notice we're gone. I just want to update Dez, talk to Tom and Carrington, then maybe swing by the loft and take a shower before we go back.'

'Whatever you want, boss.'

Charmer was terse with Dez, cutting the woman off and outlining things before informing their fearless leader that they needed to leave before the others realised they were missing. Taking a few minutes to pull Tom to the side, watching her curiously when she pocketed something from the man with a slight smile and kiss on the cheek.
He joked around with Dez, trying to diffuse the pinched look on her face as Charmer went and spoke with Carrington, pulling him aside and speaking in hushed tones before handing him something.
Drummer Boy informed them Glory was off on a run and Audra couldn't hide the disappointed look on her face, quietly slipping out the back.

They changed in silence and grabbed hands as they quickly made for the loft. He went to say something and she just dropped his hand, leaving him standing in the living room as she grabbed a bottle of Bobrov's and went up to the bathroom, sighing when he heard the shower going.

-

The water was damn near blistering her skin but it felt like couldn't get hot enough, standing there with her head under the spray, letting it wash down her back with a soft whimper. She just wanted to wash away the things she'd seen today...she just wanted Deacon to hold her.

He was different again, now that Julian and Hank were with them, much more serious and it was starting to depress her. She missed his stupid jokes and his laugh. She didn't mind serious Dolos, but she wanted all parts of him.

Trying to think of what else they needed to do but her thoughts felt choppy, tired.

Back to Bunker Hill
Test out Tom's prototype
Check in with Cade and Neriah
Check in with Curie
Check in with Carrington

Turning the heat down a little and grabbing the bar of soap, starting to clean up, figuring she'd better leave some warm water for Deacon. She scrubbed down, taking a breath and bracing herself against the shower wall when the brush of her hand over her nipples made her weak in the knees.
She'd been excited in the tunnel, watching him watch her, seeing how she made him react but then he turned away.

(He Don't - Blaise Moore)

It had been months since the stairwell and taking care of Winlock and Barnes, she ached for him. Most of the time she could ignore it, but when he looked at her like he did in the tunnel, it was hard. Letting out a soft gasp as she pulled at her nipples, one hand skimming over her stomach before rubbing her palm over her mound softly.
She closed her eyes and slid her fingers over her slit, dipping in before sliding up to rub at the small nub. She needed to be quick, just to release some tension, to help forget the shitty parts of the day. She alternated rubbing against her palm and sliding her fingers in, biting her lip to try and muffle the gasps. Almost...

'Audra, are you o...kay?'

She couldn't stop the little groan as she opened her eyes and there he was, standing in the doorway, helmet and glasses still off with his suit pulled down around his hips and his t-shirt damp with sweat clinging to his chest. Deacon had gone still, eyes locked on her but she could see the way his knuckles went white, gripping the door frame tightly. Her voice was strained and almost pleading, shaking all over softly.

'Go or stay but I need...I'm going to finish...please...'

She whined softly and leant back against the tile, pausing a moment to give him a chance to retreat, blushing in embarrassment and excitement as she moved her hand back. She closed her eyes and heard him move, figuring he was leaving, nearly jumping when she opened her eyes and he was still there.

Oh, God...oh my Boff...come on...please.

Biting her lower lip and watching as he yanked his shirt off and pushed his suit and undergarments down, cupping himself. There were new scars on his chest...one from the mirelurk that had chased them a few days ago, some smaller ones from the buckshot he took chasing down a raider. They were considerably more healed then they probably should be and she wondered again what they hell they had turned into, but he made a noise and her mind went blank and all she could feel was desire.
Her hands moved on their own as she kept her eyes locked on him and saw how his eyes were locked on her. So tempted to just reach out to him, groaning a little as he rubbed his palm over the head and rubbed the moisture down his shaft. He needed to shave, she could see the red fuzz trailing down his abdomen. She licked her lips and he made a sound that went straight through her, hand moving faster.
He took a step forward and she held her breath, watching the inner battle and how fucking good he looked stroking himself. She LOVED him, so very very much and even now with a different face, she found him ridiculously handsome. Trying to pour all that affection and desire into her look, teasing herself and squirming, voice rough.

'Close...'

'Yes...come on...'

They kept mumbling to each other in broken stumbling words, moaning and gasping and whimpering and panting. He went first with a loud groan, spilling himself all over the floor. The sound of him calling out her name was enough to send her over the edge, calling out for him in return.
She wasn't sure when it happened, sometime during her orgasm but her eyes shut tight and the rushing of her blood was loud in her ears. Slowly opening her eyes with a blush, trying to muster up a smile or a joke or something.

Instead out came a little choked noise, slipping against the wall and sitting on the floor, staring at the empty doorway.

She sat there till the water went cold, wondering how she always managed to screw things up.

-

He didn't know where he was going, he just knew he had to leave before he did something...well, something more. He'd almost gone to her, he was about to go to her when she called for him...for Deacon. It startled him. That wasn't the name he was expecting her to call out.

He didn't know what he wanted.

Hell, he didn't know who he was anymore. Boff? Aidan? Dolos? John D? Deacon?

'Shit.'

He ran for Bunker Hill when he realised his pack was still in the office, wanting to grab it before she came back. He started making for Diamond City when he stopped suddenly and turned, heading for Goodneighbor instead.

It was time to talk to the doc. No more missed appointments, no more excuses.

Three hours later and he couldn't stop the little snort, opening his eyes and staring at the legs in front of him. How the hell did he know it was him just from his legs? Eyes drifting up and locking with Nick's amber gaze.

'Valentine...'

'Deacon, fancy running into you here. Here I thought we were going to have to eventually drag you in. What changed your mind?'

'I fucked up, Nick. I ran away from her. I can't...can't do this. I don't know who I am. She's gonna hate me.'

(Courage For Love - Jesper Munk)

Nick drug a chair next to the pod and giving his shoulder a squeeze, letting out a sigh. How does a synth sigh with such emotion?

'Is she okay or do I need to go find her?'

'...Probably need to go find her.'

'Are you going to be okay here? How long you keeping him, Doc?'

'I would like to run quite a few more tests...perhaps a few days so I can analyze the scans.'

'Okay...I'll go look for her, where was she last?'

'We were getting cleaned up...she said we would be back at Bunker Hill before Julian and Hank realised we were gone. That or...'

'Or?'

'If she's not at Bunker Hill, go to the Cabot House and ask Deegan to check for her.'

'Okay...'

When Nick realised he wasn't going to elaborate any further he stood, talking to the Doc for a moment before giving him one last squeeze on the shoulder and heading out. Deacon sighed and hoped she was okay, he shouldn't have run, scrubbing a hand over his face as he looked over at the Doc. Trying to explain what he needed without getting into it all was difficult and eventually, Amari got irritated and told him he would be getting a full range of scans.

'Okay, Deacon. Now I am going to do a scan of your medial temporal lobe, try to recall things from your past.'

Mac walked into the room and Deacon got a flash of Nate.

Anchorage. The stealth suit. Stabbing the solider. Nate kissing him that night...

Amari made a sound of excitement as her machines pinged and Mac stood in the doorway looking like a deer in headlights.

'Uhhh...Nick sent me to hang out and make sure you were okay. Still pretending to be anyone but yourself?'

'Mr. MacCready, I will not tolerate that kind of behaviour in my lab, if you cannot be civil...'

'It's okay Doc if it doesn't jingle like caps, he's usually not interested in it.'

Amari rolled her eyes and Deacon was surprised when Bullseye sat down in the chair Nick had been in, looking up at the sniper.

'You look weird without your glasses, almost human.'

'Aw, MacCready, you sweet talker...I never knew you cared.'

Mac flushed and looked awkward, which made him flush in turn, sighing softly.

'So, Deacon...where's Queenie? Nick didn't get into it...'

He looked down as he clenched his fists tight, sighing and looking back at the other man.

'I panicked and ran after we had a moment...I just...Nick is going to go after her. She deserves more than me.'

'You and me both, pal. You and me both.'

Bullseye was being nice-ish to him, he must have really fucked up because Mac sat there with him talking books until Amari declared him done for the night and sent him off to bed.

-

Nick stopped in the statehouse, where he knew MacCready was talking security with Hancock, asking the younger man to check in on Deacon while he went to find Audra.
Booking it to Bunker Hill, checking in with Julian and Hank. The men were particularly irritated to learn that Audra had given them the slip, following him to the Minutemen building and getting frustrated when they found it empty, pulling his radio out and switching to her private channel.

'Audra, where are you?'

He was beginning to wonder if it was going to be a repeat of last time when her voice came on, a bit quieter than normal.

'I'm okay. Can you do something for me, Nicky? Can you find Dee and make sure he's okay?'

'He's fine, doll. He sent me to look for you...and the two are wondering where you are, as well.'

It was a few minutes before she responded, sighing into the radio.

'I'm fine. Just...going to check something. I can meet you guys there tomorrow morning...'

Julian made a motion for the radio and Nick handed it over with a raised eyebrow.

'Themis, how am I supposed to honour my agreement if you run off?'

'I can take care of myself for one evening. I will see you in the morning, okay?'

Julian just huffed and handed the radio back to Nick, stomping back to their rented room. Hank sat there looking at him and Nick got the feeling that he wanted to say something, offering him the radio.

'Themis...do not be harsh on Dolos...I shall go and join him and see what can be done.'

'Thank you.'

It was Hank's turn to hand the radio back and Nick stared at it a moment before pushing the button.

'Doll...'

'I'll be careful Nicky. I just need to not think about things for a little bit.'

'Okay...I'll have the radio on if you need anything.'

'Thank you.'

Nick sighed and took a seat in her office settling down for a long night of waiting.

-

She watched as Julian stomped off and Nick settled in her chair, sighing softly and tailing after Hank. They got to Haymarket Mall and he cleared the raiders with quick precision when he suddenly stopped, looking around curiously.

'I can feel you, Themis...where are you?'

She moved around the corner and deactivated her suit before coming back around, looking at the man curiously.

'So far you've been the only one that has been able to sense me when I follow.'

'The others are out of practice but if they tried, they probably could. We've always been drawn together.'

'Why?'

'Who knows? No one has looked into it that I know of.'

'It might be some kind of low-level telepathy. There is a substance I've found that is similar, it came from an alien that could influence others telepathically. And one of the ladies in Sanctuary is a bit if a seer.'

'There are a great many things that we do not understand and that we never worked to understand. You are different, you strive to learn...Dolos used to be that way.'

'I always have. How can people look at something and not want to know how it works? He was the one who always pushed me to learn. He used to teach me but he doesn't remember.'

He just smiled at her and she cocked her head, staring at the man. Hank reminded her of her undergrad English teacher, quiet and sweet as can be that hid a sharp mind.

'Do you remember before, Hank?'

'Fragments...like trying to remember a dream. Thanatos and Dolos were the ones that remembered the most of everyone. Dolos clung to the memory of you, Thanatos clung to the memory of his son. But we remember each other...I could tell you every name of the Hangdogs, but I couldn't tell you my wife's name.'

They'd stopped and were hidden in the broken down part of the State House, sitting on the floor facing each other and speaking in hushed tones.

'How did you become the Mysterious Stranger?'

'After we all split...I needed...purpose, direction. There are some people...people who could make a change, sometimes they just need help. I have a feeling you will meet some of them. Our Devin. The one your sniper trusts, Charlie. You...you will be an instrument of change. Is that something you can handle?'

'I'll do what needs to be done. Speaking of which...I need to speak with Deacon, then you can take over and I'll go make sure Nick and Julian don't freak out.'

'Be gentle with him...'

They hopped out into the alley and disappeared into a shimmer, she tried not to frown at his stealth boy, but there wasn't time to get into it. Rushing over to the Rex and going up to the room Deacon usually reserved and peeking through the hole in the wall. He was there, they came out of stealth and Hank went to rent the other room while Audra took a few deep breaths and entered the room.

He sat up, knife in hand and looked worried as she entered and closed the door behind, leaning against it. He left his glasses on and it was like a brick in her stomach, heavy and rough. She had hoped they were beyond that but now she couldn't get a read on him, sitting in the chair across from the bed.

She didn't pull any punches, she just wanted to know what direction she needed to go concerning him.

'Why did you run? It hurt, you know?'

'You called for Deacon. I think that was the first time I'd heard someone call that name...'

'Who were you with Barbara?'

'John D...'

She couldn't stop the little chuckle...of course, the naming convention was a little clearer now. He looked a little miffed so she leant forward, elbows on knees, holding her hands out placatingly.

'Just realising how you picked your names, if you did it subconsciously that's even better.'

At his raised eyebrow she just snorted, humming the riff until it sunk in.

(Under Pressure - Queen)

He tried staying serious but soon they were laughing, she moved slowly like she didn't want to spook him, sitting at the end of the bed facing him. Smirking when he confessed.

'I didn't do it on purpose.'

'You are such a dork and I know you. I get that things are weird but I don't know what to do if you don't give me clues. I'm trying not to push, I just need to know where we stand...what do you want? What do you want from me?'

'I don't know, Chunk...Charmer...Audra. I don't know who I am. You called for Deacon but that wasn't the name my mind was expecting and it kinda freaked me out a little, I mean I'm all for pet names and stuff in bed, sugar buns but it's been so long...How do you deal with all the names?'

She picked at a hole in his bedroll, sighing softly and bringing her knees up, chin resting on them. Looking over at him, heart speeding up when he lowered his glasses a little. How did she deal with it?

'Poorly sometimes...but most of the time it's just me, Dee. I am all of the above. I'm not just Chunk or Queenie or Audra or Charmer or General or Blue...I can be all of them.'

'Sounds like it might get mighty crowded in your head if you have that many personalities. I should know.'

'I'm still the same person, just tailored to suit my counterparts. What about you...? Who do you WANT to be?'

'I don't know...I don't have answers for you and I know you may hate me for that, but I don't know...I worry. I don't know if I can do this again...I can't remember her eyes anymore. What happens when I start forgetting you?'

'Well, sorry to be a burden, darling but if you haven't forgotten me in over two centuries I don't think it's happening anytime soon. And since it seems like I'm essentially a vampire or immortal or something...I'm probably not going anywhere for a good long time and I'd kinda like to stick with you if it's possible. I like all of the yous.'

(Savior - Rise Against)

She could see that wasn't the answer he was expecting, sighing softly and just leaning forward and hugging him tightly, listening to his heart pounding like a marching band before pulling back and placing a kiss on his forehead, caressing his cheek gently before standing.

'I don't need you to find answers, love...I just want you by my side while I get them for myself. But I also want you to do what you need to do...I just want you to be okay. Like I said before, if that's without me...then I'll be gone for you, you just have to tell me.'

She left and wandered out, barely containing the tears until she found herself bumping into Hank's solid form. He sighed and wiped her face, pulling her into the room he rented, voice soft in her ear so Deacon wouldn't hear.

'Are you going to be okay to leave?'

'I'll go to the Statehouse for the night...I...I don't think I can face Mac right now, can you see if he would join you and distract Dee from driving himself insane? John or Fahrenheit will stay with me.'

'Very well but you should not avoid your sniper forever, he is still angry over the Castle.'

Audra sighed remembering how he'd yelled at her for being careless and stomped off to Goodneighbor the morning after they'd taken the Castle. She'd let him go, wanting to give him time to cool off.

'I know but I just need...fuck...later. Not now.'

'Go, I will take Dolos down to the bar and join the sniper.'

Audra left the Rex, wondering about how she'd already started to trust Hank, making for the Statehouse but deciding to swing by the Memory Den. Easily sneaking past Irma and heading downstairs, coming out of stealth and making just enough noise for Amari to realise she was there.

'General, what a surprise...it seems everyone would like to visit today, what can I do for you?'

'It's more about what I can do for you. It's about Deacon.'

'You know I am not at liberty...'

'Yes, I know but he's not going to tell you, so I am going to take the blame for telling you. Deacon is pre-war, like me. There is another gentlemen that will be coming, Hank, he is also pre-war. They both need scans to look for neural degeneration, especially in areas that deal with long-term memory. They have been awake a much much longer time then I have and I believe extended Stealth Boy usage has caused memory loss.'

Amari blinked at her and Audra briefly wondered if the doctor was going to believe her before she just nodded.

'I have heard of that happening in Super Mutants, it has also been seen in some synths, though it is rare. How do you know this?'

'Long story...just, keep that in mind when you're checking the guys over? I'm wondering if there is any way to repair the pathways so those memories are regained. After you are done scanning them, I'd like to swing back by and see what my scans are looking like. Thanks, doc...watch out for them for me, please.'

'Certainly.'

She went out and crawled back in the back way to the Statehouse, listening at the secret panel before opening it carefully, seeing her room empty and entering. She looked down the hall and Fahr saw her, nodding and telling Hancock to go to the other room. Audra smiled sadly when John strode in, closing the doors behind himself and pulling her into a tight hug.

'What's up, sunshine?'

'Just stay with me tonight...please?'

'Always. Catch me up on what's been going on? All I know is the kid came back a couple days ago and was pissed off about dogs and Mirelurks and you getting yourself hurt or something or another. Sounds like I missed a party, you look fine to me.'

'Yeah, well...when you can magically heal...'

'Wait, wha?'

Audra told him what had happened since the last time she'd been by, breaking down when she told him about Covenant. It was bad enough that when he offered her the Calmex she accepted, sighing softly when it hit, knowing it wouldn't last long enough.
Having to restrain John from stomping downstairs to give Deacon a piece of his mind after she told him what happened at the loft. Watching him soften a little when she told him about their conversation.

'How'd you feel about running around with me for a little bit? I have to warn you and I'll have to warn Nicky too...I have to swing by the Prydwen...I'll understand if you guys don't want to come with. Then I'd like to go see Sturges and Preston, they're working on the Castle right now.'

'And miss a chance to fuck with those assholes? No way, I'm in.'

He called Fahr in and after a hug for Audra, he let her know he'd be heading out in the morning.

'Okay, but when you get back, you need to give her the tour.'

Fahr closed the door behind herself and she looked at him curiously as they stripped down for bed, letting out a little sigh as she snuggled up against him, fingers playing over his bare chest lightly.

'Tour?'

'Been busy while you've been gone. I'll show you later, want it to be a surprise.'

'Okay.'

She was just starting to drift off when she whispered to him softly, not wanting him to feel like she took him for granted.

'Thank you, John, you know how much you mean to me, right? How am I going to do this?'

'I don't know, sunshine but you keep going. You know how much you mean to me too, right?'

-

He slipped out of the bed after she drifted off, sighing and stepping out to have a cigarette. He saw a man and MacCready hauling a drunk Deacon across the courtyard and he just shook his head. He didn't understand those boys and how they kept screwing things up. She was offering them her heart on a platter and they kept fucking with it, it made him mad for his friend. He'd stab the assholes, just a little bit but she'd been through enough.

He crawled back into bed and was surprised when Audra pressed against him, eyes opening with a soft sigh.

'What's up, sunshine?'

'Scared of dreams. It was bad, John...if we hadn't found her...'

'But you did and you got her back to where she needed to go.'

'Why can't you sleep?'

'Thinking those two are idiots for hurting you.'

'Yeah. We're all messed up and it doesn't seem to be meshing well. Am I making things worse coming to see you? Should I leave?'

'Don't you dare. I've accepted what we are to each other, sunshine and hey, if we happen to do anything else then I can be pleasantly surprised but I don't need it. I just like it more when you smile. You make this shithole a better place. Not just by being here but all your ideas and stuff too. I got lazy, sunshine...I was content to let it be as it was but then you come in and it's not enough anymore. I want to make it better, I want to be better for them.'

'I know you have the tough Mayor exterior but you are such a softy, John.'

The smile she gave him made him feel all fucking warm and fuzzy inside, smirking slightly and pulling her to his chest with a kiss on the forehead.

'Yeah, well, got a rep and all, no one would believe you. If anyone knew you were here, they'd just assume I was another one of your lovers and we were spending the night getting fucked.'

'Then why aren't we?'

'Uhhh...'

His brain stalled when he looked down at her, trying to remind himself why they weren't.

'Uhhh...because you had a shit day and have been all upset. I may be an ass but I don't take advantage of anyone like that.'

'Is it taking advantage when I'm offering? I want something nice instead of thinking about the day...Kiss it better, John?'

There it was that damn voice that haunted his fantasies, asking him to come to bed. He was instantly hard and pressing against her stomach with a little growl.

Goddamn, woman...no one should have a voice that sexy.

He briefly thought of how he was pretty sure he loved her voice more than Magnolia's. Mags was great but when Audra purred like that it brought sex on satin sheets to mind, he'd only ever had that once and it was an experience to remember. She shifted so that he was fully on his back and she was straddling him, groaning as she ground down on him, sighing softly and catching her hands before she pulled her shirt off. He groaned when she rocked against him again, kissing softly and making him shudder as she whispered.

'Please, John? I want to feel you...'

John sighed and cupped her face, kissing her softly and tugging her down to her chest. His rough hands ran up and down her back slowly, tracing the scar. How the hell could someone so little be so strong?

'Tell you what, sunshine...you want to do this in the morning then we will but you've still got that stuff in your system and I only do high sex if I got the yes before, ya dig?'

Audra sighed but gave him a little smile, pressing a soft kiss then trying to roll away, grabbing her hips and holding her in place.

'Hey, hey, where do you think you're going?'

'I was just shifting to lie down if I fall asleep that means we can get to the fun in the morning sooner.'

'You can lie down right here.'

'I might squash ya.'

'Pffft, you're not that heavy and I'm tougher than I look. Come 'ere, sunshine.'

'Compromise?'

He grinned as she settled against his side, resting her head in the crook of his shoulder, nuzzling at her neck softly.

'I suppose. Ya know I don't let just anyone get away with defying me...'

'And I don't trust just anyone to be there for me...'

'I know but what about that guy...Thanatos?'

'I believe him...I made him swear on something that means something.'

'What was that?'

'His dead son's soul...'

'Damn...'

She went silent after that, hugging him tight. He was still aching for her but that could wait till morning, drifting off to the smell of her hair and could have sworn he heard her humming softly.

-

Audra was only able to sleep maybe two hours before it was too much, lying there listening to John breathe as he slept. When she closed her eyes she just kept seeing Amelia, huddled at the back of the cell, so...resigned to the pain. She wondered what it would take to break her like that, she liked to think she'd fight.
Then she started thinking, wondering what would be there when she finally went to the institute. She should have asked Virgil more questions, she should probably head out there and get a floor plan and run down of the other scientists and everything.

'You're thinking so hard I can hear you in my sleep.'

'Sorry, hon...if you want to sleep a little more I'll move over to the couch.'

'MMmm too late, I'm up...come 'ere.'

She blushed when she realised he certainly was up, rolling so he was over her, kissing deeply.

'Good morning, sunshine heh heh.'

'Mmmmm good morning, John.'

Smirking at him, hooking her legs around his waist and rocking up, pulling a rumbling groan from his chest.

'Damn...yeah...uhh, damn.'

Audra chuckled as he blinked a few times, still waking up and obviously caught by surprise, nuzzling his rough cheek softly. She lay back against the pillows, reaching up, arms wrapping around his neck loosely.

(Kiss It Better - Rihanna)

'My offer still stands, want to kiss it better?'

John didn't hesitate this time, pressing down and grinding into her, catching her mouth and kissing passionately. She moaned into his mouth, tightening her legs around him, tongue teasing past his thinned lips. Whining when he broke the kiss.

'Need to grab the Rad-X and stuff.'

She gave him another lingering kiss before unwrapping her legs from around him and letting him slide off the bed, rolling onto her side as he hopped up to grab the stuff from his stash. Audra sat up, about to pull off her shirt when John grabbed her hand, raising an eyebrow questioningly.

'Let me.'

Audra laughed a little breathlessly as he yanked the shirt up but her arms were still all tangled up in it, stuck stretched out there.

'Open.'

He dropped a couple of the pills in her mouth and then gave her a sip of water, laughing when she yelped when a little splashed on her chest. Setting the water aside and leaning down, tongue teasing over her chest, keeping her pinned. Audra moaned as he lapped up the little droplets, squirming at his chuckle before he went a little serious.

'Have to say I kinda like you pinned down for me, you've done this before...this okay?'

'Oh, darling you have no idea...most recently I got our dear Mr Valentine to explore a bit.'

She deliberately made her words a soft purr, teasing him. She loved seeing how his eyes widened and his breath came short, leaning up trying to catch him in a kiss.

'My kinda freak, indeed. And if I wanted to flip you over, pin you down and take you hard...what would you say to that, sunshine?'

'Please, John.'

She gasped as he pulled back, letting go of her arms and rolling her over on the bed, lying down across her back. His breath was warm, tickling her ear as he ground down against her ass, groaning softly.

'Fuck, darling. So soft, I bet you're just dripping, aren't you?'

Audra just arched her back, legs spreading slightly as she felt his hand sliding up the inside of her thigh. She made an odd strangled noise when he pushed her panties to the side and slid two fingers in smoothly. He pulled his hand back and she looked over her shoulder to see him licking his fingers clean, grinning devilishly before reaching down. She felt something cold against her side and saw one of her knives as he cut the panties at the hips before yanking them off, watching her curiously, trailing just the tip of the blade over an ass cheek and up her back lightly.

'Sometime when we have more time, I'd love to do a lil knife play with you, how does that sound?'

Not waiting for an answer before he was yanking his drawers off and sliding a condom on, pressing her down into the bed and sliding deep into her. She was letting out little soft breathy moans as she arched her back and pressed her thighs together, squeezing around him as he started to thrust.

'Just like that, Audra.'

She wasn't sure she'd be able to explain the feel if she was asked, John pressed against her back, his skin rough and soft all at once. The ridges just adding an extra layer of sensation as they ground against each other. Calling out his name as she reached her first orgasm. The angle that he was driving her was causing her to grind down on the bed, clit rubbing against the sheets just this side of uncomfortable.

'MMMMmmm fuck John. More.'

'More?'

'More, please.'

He knelt over her closed legs, hands braced against her hips as he started to thrust hard. She screamed as she felt his teeth clamp down on her shoulder, biting and sucking as he chased his own orgasm. She might have worried that he had gone feral, teeth pressed hard and nothing but little grunts coming out, but his hips kept driving her at a punishing pace. She pressed her thighs tight and clenched around him as the next orgasm hit, whining at the back of her throat and gasping for air as she felt him swell and groan, hips stilling but for the small involuntary thrusts. She shivered, gooseflesh ripping her skin when he started pressing soft kisses all over her shoulders where he'd marked her.

'Mmm damn, sunshine...sure we can't stay in bed today?'

'I wish, but we need to get back to Nicky.'

John groaned a little, lifting himself off and flopping on his back on the bed and she couldn't help but chuckle a little, draping herself across his chest and kissing deeply.

'Thank you, darling.'

'Oh, anytime, sunshine. And I do mean anytime. Jesus, I get thinking about this later and we might have to duck down an alley.'

She flushed brightly but gave him a cheeky wink before sliding off the bed.

'Mmm you just let me know babe and we can tell Nick to be scarce for a moment or we could always try to invite him to join.'

Hancock looked thoughtful, making her chuckle as she grabbed some sweats and a t-shirt.

'Okay, I'm gonna go clean up and then I suppose we should get over to Bunker Hill, want to join?'

'Fuck yeah.'

Chapter Text

'Can everyone just chill the fuck out for a minute? Arthur and Danse, pull your heads out of your asses for a few minutes and just try to see beyond the fucking propaganda that's been shoved down your throats, please? Nick and John, tone down the fucking snarkiness. Jesus fucking Christ. You're grown fucking men and I know you're all fucking smarter than this. Arthur, if you trust me even slightly then there is someone I want you to meet...a couple someones actually, yes?'

Danse and Arthur were fuming but Arthur gave her a jerky nod, waving a hand at them before turning away.

'Wait here a moment and let me see if they're up for guests.'

'What are you thinking, doll?'

'If they agree, I'd like them to meet Wiseman, then the Peabody's.'

'Are you sure about that?'

'No, that's why I'm checking with Carol first.'

Audra turned away from Nick and Hancock and the four men stood around glaring at each other. It must have been the Calmex John had given her last night but she obviously wasn't in her right mind when she thought it was a good idea to bring Nick and John along to check in with Arthur.

-

Nick gave him the side-eye once they got to Bunker Hill and Hancock just grinned at the synth. It had been a fan-fucking-tastic morning and he wasn't about to let anything ruin it, goosing Audra as she ran over to give Nick a hug. He wandered around Bunker Hill, letting Audra and Nick talk, stopping to grab some more salve and ammo while he was there.
They came out of the Minutemen building a little bit later and Nick looked irritated but had sunshine's bag slung around him and stomped off to the other side, returning a few minutes later with the man he assumed was Julian. Looking the man up and down curiously.

'So you're the one they call Death, hmm?'

'You can call me Thanatos, ghoul.'

'Really, Julian?'

'I have nothing against ghouls, just the fact that this man exudes trouble, I can tell he is going to be a handful. If he hurts you, I will deal with it later.'

That made Nick snort and him grin, slinging an arm around the man as Audra rolled her eyes.

'I think we're going to get along just fine, smoothskin. So, you've appointed yourself our sunshine's babysitter? Good luck with that.'

'And I thought you said you were staying out of my love life.'

Thanatos shrugged at Audra and then gave him a deadpan stare but didn't shake his arm off and soon enough they were heading for the airport, teasing the man the whole way, trying to get a good read on him. Looking up when Nick spoke.

'You sure you want us to come along, Audra?'

'I need to gauge their reactions and formulate a plan from there, if they insist on being assholes after that, then I don't know if I want to try anymore.'

'Hey...'

He frowned at the frustration in her voice and watched Nick chase after her after she stomped away, turning to Thanatos. He knew she cared about the asshole Elder probably more than she should but she'd been fine when they'd left that morning.

'You know what the deal is there?'

'She has feelings for the young Elder but he was brought up believing in the Brotherhood, that can be a hard thing to shake. I think she is frustrated. She wants to save everyone and I didn't think that was possible before...but for her it might be, maybe not all but a majority. She seems to have this way of talking and people listen when she does, Roger Maxson was the same way.'

'But not hard for you to shake? And how do you know so much about her? You knew Maxson?'

'I was raised before...in the time of war, like she was. I stayed with the Circle because of blood but it was a mistake, I never held to their beliefs, I should have listened to the others. I know her because I listen and I have been through that. And yes, I met Roger, we were not close but he was very inspirational.'

'Was he the one that had something against super mutants and ghouls? Is that why ya'll hate us so much?'

'Once upon a time, a few of my closest friends turned ghoul. And no, I don't believe Roger would have tolerated that behaviour, it was Maxson the second that was not a fan of super mutants from what I understand and his son was worse.'

'Once upon a time? What, you whack them?'

It was the look that the man gave him that had John relaxing, the flash of complete outrage telling more than words could.

'Never. But I did not stand up for them, so we are no longer friends. I have no friends now.'

'And what would you call me? Deacon, Hank? The other Hangdogs?'

'Little Sisters and Brothers.'

They turned to face her as Audra stood in front of the man and impulsively wrapped her arms around his waist, giving him a hug before pulling back. Thanatos did not hug back but there was the tiniest smirk now in place.

John didn't miss the fact that she had her switchblade in hand when she hugged the man.

Looking him up and down a few times, the man was like a cookie cutter soldier, like all those posters they put up before the end of the world. Blonde, blue-eyed, built without being too intimidating. Maybe even a tiny bit shorter than he was. Not a damn hair out of place and like Audra seemed to prefer being clean at all times.
Standing next to each other, it was hard to imagine they were probably two of the deadliest people in the Commonwealth, according to Audra. Maybe that was part of it, no one would think the small, unremarkable looking ones could do some damage. Hell, if Audra dyed her hair (though he hoped she wouldn't) she'd probably blend a bit better...it would be hard to miss that attitude and amazing ass though.

She pulled back and dug around in her bag, pulling out the black stealth suit she'd taken to wearing lately.

'Here, Julian, put this on. I don't want them to know you are there if we can help it. I know Arthur and Danse are going to be pissy about me bringing Nick and John but I'm more worried about Kells.'

'He is the one...'

'I know about him and the others. Me bringing the guys and trying to get Arthur to see the light is probably going to piss him off, so just keep an eye on him, okay?'

'Yes, Themis.'

John sighed, maybe a quick Jet break was in order before dealing with those assholes.

-

'Quincy this is the General, come in. Whomever is manning the radio in Quincy, come in.'

'Uhhh...this is Quincy. General? What can we do for you?'

'Switch to the private channel.'

She gave it a moment before switching and taking a deep breath.

'Mark, is that you? I need a word with Carol or Matt, please send a runner to fetch someone available.'

'Got it, ma'am.'

She waved a hand at the men again and stepped out, making for the usually empty storage room, sitting on a crate and waiting.

'General?'

'Carol! Good to hear you, how are you doing?'

'Doing well, I've got a new recipe for you to test out. Are you going to be swinging by?'

'Well. That's what I need to talk with you about...I have two members of the Brotherhood of Steel that I have been trying to get them to realise what idiots they're being in the hopes that it might help things change. They've been kinda trying but I was wondering if I might bring them to meet Billy and talk with him briefly...'

The silence had her stomach in knots, staring at the floor, knowing what a precarious position she was putting the mother in. In the visits she'd had with the Peabody's since bringing Billy back, she'd eventually told them her first name and her story. Carol knew how much she cared about Billy and how she would do everything she could to protect him, after what happened with Shaun.

'Will you be there?'

'Yes, the entire time and if they are disrespectful at any point then they are going to realise very quickly that I am done with their shit.'

'Language, young lady.'

'Aww, come on Carol, you're only two years older than I am.'

'Still makes me your elder, Audra. Do you really think it might help?'

'I do. They're not bad men, they've just been misguided, I'd like to pull them back if I can.'

The silence drug on again and she wondered if she'd made a mistake, about to call it all off when Mrs Peabody spoke again.

'Okay...but we need to do it somewhere else, you need to watch your language and if they say anything towards Billy...'

'I'll make sure they don't. Can you put Mark back on? I'll see you this evening. Thank you, Carol.'

'Yes, General?'

'Is the warehouse to the north still clear?'

'Yes, ma'am, why?'

She looked down at her pipboy, it was just after noon, so that left plenty of time.

'We're going to have a meeting this evening. I am bringing two of the Brotherhood with me, maybe three, along with Detective Valentine and Mayor Hancock. Send a runner to ask Zeke if a couple of the Cats would be some muscle for a few hours, paid, of course and get four additional Minutemen to help keep Carol and Billy safe. Ring me when you guys are ready and we'll take a vertibird to the park and walk over. I'm going to see about making a stop before, so let's aim for six pm. Got it?'

'Yes, ma'am.'

Audra made a call to Wiseman and got confirmation before hopping down and starting back for the observation deck, taking a few deep breaths before heading back in, standing in front of Arthur.

'Ready for a field trip? I am okay with you bringing Danse...one more if you absolutely need to. If at all possible, it would be better if you and Danse could change into civvies. Weapons are fine as long as you do not threaten our hosts. You are under my protection and you have my word that we will take care of you and you will not be harmed as long as you don't do anything stupid and put yourself in danger, that's on you. If at any point you are an asshole or you are done, we'll return to the Prydwen. Do you accept these terms?'

She smiled softly when Arthur nodded, hoping that miracles were possible and they might see the light.

'I have something for the squires and I wanted to say hello to the others, may I?'

She left John and Nick on the observation deck with Danse while she brought the chalk she gathered to the squires and said hello to everyone, Julian was around somewhere, hopefully keeping an eye on Kells like she asked. Lightly knocking on Arthur's door when she was done and entering at his command. Audra couldn't stop the little intake of breath when she saw him standing there in a pair of jeans and nothing else. She closed the door behind herself and moved over, sitting on her bed that was still in his room, flushing as she looked up at him.

'Thank you for doing this. It means a lot to me.'

'Tell me something, General. If I were to come to your headquarters and start yelling at you, would you allow it?'

'If I was being and asshole and deserved it, yes, totally. I expect people to call me out on any bullshit. Just because we're in charge does make us any less human...any less faulty. I am beyond fucked up, you've heard me at night...if someone has something to say, why wouldn't I listen to them?'

He frowned, like that wasn't the answer he was expecting, momentarily lost in thought and that gave Audra a chance to look at him. It had been a little bit since the last time she'd been by and he looked like he'd been working out more, trying not to make it too obvious she was scoping out his arms and chest.
Shivering just a little and looking up, blushing when she found his eyes locked on hers and his cheeks darkened, obviously aware that she had been staring. She stood and was about to head for the door when she felt his fingers curl around her arm and tug her against him. His skin was so warm, palms coming up to his chest, trying to maintain her balance as she looked up.

'I don't think...we shouldn't, Arthur...'

'Why? What is different from before?'

'I enjoyed our kiss but I've been thinking again, I just don't know if we're ever going to share the same views on things. If it was something small I wouldn't worry about it but this isn't small. What would you say if I said Nick and John were my lovers?'

(Lunatics and Slaves - Sin Shake Sin)

He growled at the back of his throat, the irritated sound telling her much of what she needed to know. Sighing softly, eyes going wide as he leant down, pressing his lips on hers. It was a chaste kiss but it felt like it was the calm before the storm, she could feel him tense beneath her hands. It was just at that moment that the door opened, jerking away and looking up to see Danse, yanking herself free and slipping past the Paladin.
She practically ran back to the observation deck, getting strange looks from Nick and John. She sat down on one of the couches, Nick cleared his throat about to speak when Arthur and Danse came in. She kept her mouth shut for fear of making a fool of herself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid, foolish girl...holyyyyyyyy shit.

Audra had never seen either of them in anything but Brotherhood issued gear...and they were damn attractive. Danse was wearing a pair of black cargo pants and a Grognak muscle tee, a laser rifle on his back, eyes lingering on the tattoo on his forearm.

Jack of Clubs...fitting.

Arthur...Jesus Christ. He actually looked closer to his age, wearing jeans and a plain black t-shirt. A pistol strapped to his thigh and flannel shirt in hand. His hair was getting long on the top and it had gotten mussed while changing, hanging down over his forehead adorably. His eyes looked so much more blue next to the darkness of his hair.
She realised she'd made some kind of noise that shouldn't have been humanly possible when all of the men gave her an odd look and she just started heading for the vertibirds, doing her best to hide her bright red face. Standing on the gangway at the base of the stairs while she waited for the men to catch up, feeling an invisible hand wrap around her wrist, the soft voice coming from by her side.

'Here.'

Turning to face the others and moving so Thanatos was at her back, away from where anyone might potentially trip over him.

'Are we taking two or trying to squish on one?'

'Two, if your companions do not mind riding with Paladin Danse.'

Audra turned and Nick was frowning. John was too busy trying to flirt with one of the Knights to get a rise out of them to care, as high as he was at the moment. Holding a hand out and pulling Nick over, tip-toeing to whisper in his ear.

'I'll be okay and Thanatos will be with me.'

'You sure, doll?'

She nodded and placed a quick kiss on his lips, turning at the sound of disgust from one of the Knights at the door. About to stomp forward when one of Nick's arms wrapped around her waist, holding her back.

'It's fine, doll. Besides what are you going to do to him?'

'He's wearing power armour, he'd probably survive the drop. What?'

Audra grumbled at the men staring at her, giving her best death glare to the Knight.

'He's in power armour, how would you expect to get him over the edge, General?'

'I'd shove him over the railing, what do you think?'

'He's wearing power armour.'

Danse looked at her like she was deliberately being dense and Arthur was just frowning. Scowling at the men.

'You want to hop back in your armor and put it to the test, Danse? You really think I couldn't do it if I wanted to?'

'General.'

'Let's go. After you, Elder. See you guys at the Slog.'

She waited until Arthur was in and hopped up, waiting till she felt the invisible squeeze of a hand before buckling up, dropping the headset on and staring out over the Commonwealth. Arthur cleared his throat and she did the best she could to ignore him, still embarrassed about her juvenile reaction to seeing them. Sighing softly when she felt his hand on her shoulder.

'The Slog? Is that the ghoul settlement?'

'Yes.'

'Why there?'

'I'd like you to meet the people that live there and see the work they do. Wiseman and Arlen have been wonderful and helped with the two rehabilitation settlements.'

'Rehabilitation settlements?'

'I dunno if you've heard my radio message but the Minutemen have retaken the Castle and I've offered a place for people if they are willing to take it. If a Gunner or Raider was serious about leaving and changing their life...why would I stop that? We have two rehabilitation settlements right now. Breakheart Banks and Lynn Woods and I am hoping to convince a friend to let us clean up and repurpose the asylum in that area. The people submit themselves for review and if they're honest about their crimes, they can work it off and be trained for some of the different positions the Minutemen have available. The length of time depends on the severity of their crimes and after they have completed that period of time, they would be eligible to move to a different team. Wiseman teaches about agriculture, Arlen evaluates and trains some of those that are more mechanically inclined, and Paulie usually lives in Sanctuary but he's been spending more time at the Slog teaching about trade. John, Mayor Hancock, has offered to take in some of those that wish to be in more of a security position and have his Neighborhood Watch whip them in to shape or they can work with the clean up crews that the Minutemen and Goodneighbor have teamed up together on to start cleaning up the city...what?'

Arthur snorted and waved a hand at her.

'And you said I worked too much.'

She couldn't help but grin at him, which got him smiling and he had such a nice smile.

'I'd like to see these settlements...Do you actually think those miscreants can change?'

So much for having a touching fucking moment.

'Maybe not everyone...but yeah, I do. Do you think you can change?'

He frowned and looked very perturbed. Her stomach was flip-flopping at the silence and she was glad when they got there, landing in the road and waiting for the others before walking to the Slog. Introducing them to Wiseman and starting the tour of the different things they were doing. She couldn't help but roll her eyes as the two were practically silent as Wiseman explained some of the different things they were planning for the two rehabilitation settlements. Pulling them aside with a stern look.

'You can talk and ask questions, you know? That is one of the problems of the Brotherhood excluding others...How much knowledge has been lost because you couldn't be bothered to talk with a ghoul, despite the fact that most are pre-war and familiar with technology AND have centuries of experience?'

She couldn't help but smirk when she left them in Wiseman's capable hands, letting him act as the intermediary as they went to meet Arlen. Rolling up her pants and taking her shoes off, wading in the pool to help gather tarberries. Audra loved moments like this, she didn't think she'd be able to handle farming all the time, that wasn't where her skills lay but helping out was relaxing.

'FORGED!'

The shout came moments before the turrets started going off, cursing when she came out, shoeless and remembering that Julian was wearing her suit.

Well, I guess now is as good a time as any to give the bracelet a test. Incognito stealth device - test one.

She grabbed the bracelet Tinker Tom made and Deliverer from her bag by one of the patio tables and started running for the scuffle barefoot. She heard someone shout her name but she was down the road and activating the bracelet before the guys could get there. A couple of the settlers were already by the road, fighting the crazed raiders off. Pushing one out of the way of the flamethrower, crying out when she felt the burn and was hit with the scent of her own searing flesh. It hurt like hell then stopped as the nerves died, only to then make her hiss as it started to itch and tingle painfully, her healing rapidly growing them back. Blinking when the raider disappeared as she felt the smack of someone running into her before the raider came back into view, realising the stealth field must be too large. Dropping the man then darting from raider to raider, circling to their backs and popping them with a few rounds to the back of the head. She'd tried once to give the Forged a chance, when she went to help the Finch family. Jake was an idiot and deserved another chance but the vast majority of them were completely fucking nuts and beyond reason.

Maybe all the fumes from all the burning fried their brains.

She couldn't get her mind to fucking stop and shut up today and she was too busy listening to the voice in her head to realise she was blinking in and out of view until an invisible hand grabbed her and dragged her down into a bush.

'You draw unwanted attention to yourself, Themis.'

'If you wanted to get me in a bush, you just had to ask.'

'Pfft, rather have the tall one then your shrimpy little legs.'

'Hey, I resemble that remark. Have you seen Danse's ass yet, it deserves a fucking monument.'

Julian just snorted and was off in a puff of dust, leaving her to pocket the device. She'd have to talk results with Tinker later. Stumbling out of the bush, cursing and pouting when she realised her Nuka-cola shirt was burnt, giant holes up the side and across the chest. Luckily she wasn't wearing one of the good bras, sighing at the burnt spots speckling it. Her skin itched like holy hell but was more irritating than painful at this point, seeing the men rush over she plastered on an appropriately chagrined face.

'I guess my Stealth Boy was defective...'

'Quinn. Why the hell would you put yourself at risk like that? Why? Barefoot and charging into battle...ridiculous.'

Arthur glared at Nick, a slightly amused look on the synth's face.

'Do you not care that she just threw herself head first into danger? Are you even capable of worry as a synth?'

'Hey, kid. I do care and worry but you got a whole lot to learn if you think Au...Quinn can't take care of herself.'

'Take care of herself...take care of herself? Do you not see the bare feet and the holes in her shirt, are you hurt?'

This time she couldn't stop the eye roll, heading back to her bag as Wiseman coordinated the clean up, grabbing a fresh shirt and yanking the old one off. She couldn't help but smirk when Danse blushed. John leered, of course. Nick looked slightly irritated and Arthur was straight up pissed. Standing in front of him in her sports bra, lifting her arm so he could see her side.

'I'm fine, see? Come on. We can help clean up before we head to Breakheart Banks.'

Arthur grabbed her hand and made her stand there while he checked her side, frowning and turning her this way and that before letting her pull the shirt on.

'How did you not get burnt? There's nothing, not even a red mark.'

'Just lucky I guess.'

John smirked and Nick rolled his eyes and then men set out to help clear the bodies and gather ammo and weapons as she went to help rebuild the damaged turrets. She finished off fairly quickly, watching as they helped break down the unwanted weapons, smiling softly at the surprised looks on Arthur and Danse's faces when Holly brought them some water and started flirting with them. Chuckling and wandering over to rescue them.

'Holly, are you behaving?'

'Oh you know me, when I see something I like, I go after it. After all, we ghouls might live a long time compared to humans, but I won't be around forever and they're so cute.'

'That they are but I need to round them up so we can head to the next location, thank you, love.'

'Anytime, you know where to find me if you're ever interested in the goods, honey.'

'I figured we should probably head over if you're still up for heading to Lynn Woods, afterwards.'

They made their way to Breakheart Banks for a bit and then Lynn Woods when the chirp of her pipboy got her heart pounding, pulling out one of the signal grenades and calling for two vertibirds to pick them up. Before they boarded she went over the rules with them.

'Okay, before we go to the next location, some ground rules. One, need to watch our language. Two, if you are rude or anything of that nature then we're done. Shall we?'

-

Damn woman is going to get herself killed...then I'll be alone, like Sarah all over again.

His heart had yet to slow down. One, from the rush of fighting, it had been a while since he'd been in a scuffle. Two, from watching her rush into the fray in just her pants and t-shirt, not even wearing shoes, and disappearing before the soft pop pop sound of a silenced weapon. The way she had cried out...she should have been burnt, it was impossible that she was fine.

Arthur kept getting lost in his thoughts as they visited the other two settlements, scenarios of Quinn dying in front of him playing in his head. Having to step away for a moment to breathe.

He felt slightly guilty, being so distracted. The settlements were truly amazing. It was not really the settlements themselves, they were like most others, but the thought behind them. These were...criminals but here they were, working hard, happy to see the General. The training they were receiving was practical and well done. As much as he was loathe to admit it initially, the two ghouls - Wiseman and Arlen, were extremely knowledgeable and patient in their teaching, Ingram and Neriah could benefit from some of their knowledge.
After they went to the last settlement, Lynn Woods, he couldn't help but look at Quinn in a slightly different light. He knew she was intelligent, stubborn, strong, and capable but seeing her with her people showed them so much more. It truly did not matter to her, she cared for everyone...human, ghoul, even her synth...he could see it in her eyes. He had thought at first that maybe she had said that to get a rise out of him but no, she loved it...him.

He'd like to say he was above all that, his soul forged in Steel but the jealousy sat hard like a lump at the bottom of his stomach. By the time they went to leave for whatever next location she had planned, he was angry. At her, at himself, at the world...he didn't know.

(Words As Weapons - Seether)

'Arthur!'

He shook his head and turned to look at her as they made their way south again, unable to stop the scowl.

'Yes, General?'

'Are you done then? Do you wish to return to the Prydwen?'

'I am fine. Let us finish your tour.'

He almost apologized for his biting tone but then he remembered how she'd jerked away when he kissed her earlier, looking out over the Commonwealth, talking before his brain caught up.

'So, when you kissed me before and earlier. You were just playing with me?'

'No. I wanted...I want to kiss you, Arthur. Despite our differences, I genuinely like you.'

'Yet you have your synth and ghoul.'

'And Sturges and Shadow and MacCready.'

His head snapped up and he couldn't help but look at her in surprise. There was a name he had not heard in a long time, anger flaring when he remembered the last time he had seen the mouthy asshole.

'Ah, so you remember, you know I haven't gotten Robert to tell me what exactly happened between you two. I gathered that you were both slightly in love with Charlie, but that doesn't explain how you ended up in a fistfight.'

He flushed, remembering the fistfight and why they had started fighting, pushing it from his mind and latching on to the next thing. Lovers...plural and she kept pushing him away. He'd had several lovers since he'd become Elder but it had always been casual. He couldn't afford to care, the other Elders wanted him married and popping out heirs and he wasn't ready for that. He didn't know how to be in a relationship. He hadn't had a lover since coming to the Commonwealth...she had been on his mind all too much since her stay on the Prydwen. Ever since she'd left this last time, he'd started waking up earlier, working out before everyone was awake then taking a cold shower to get her off his mind.

The worst part was the way she said their names with such affection.

'So that's why you're not interested.'

'Did you not hear what I said before? I am interested, but unless we start to agree on some of the bigger things like the fact that ghouls are people too and don't deserve the shitty treatment the Brotherhood gives them, then we're never getting anywhere.'

'And what of your multiple lovers?'

He practically spat in her face, leaning in so they were eye to eye, unable to stop his voice from shaking a little.

'They all know about each other and understand that I care about each and every one of them. If I were to take another lover or if they were to take another lover or if someone was upset, I would expect them to talk with me about it like an adult. They already know how I feel about you and there's some stuff I haven't told you yet Arthur, I just...it is heavy stuff and I need to know you wouldn't freak out...shit. We'll finish this conversation later, okay? Can you tone down the anger please? You can be angry at me, just if you're going to be angry to our hosts then we should just go back.'

She sounded so worried that he just nodded, stepping out of the vertibird, Danse coming to stand next to him as he took a moment and counted his breaths out. Once he felt slightly calmer, he turned and motioned for her to lead them wherever it is she was taking them. Danse giving him a knowing look, making him feel awkward and irritated at the man for knowing him so well.
Mayor Hancock wandered off and Valentine hovered about the General like a mother hen. Arthur couldn't help but tense up slightly, hand hovering over his pistol as he saw the people in power armor guarding the warehouse she was leading them to. He'd like to say he trusted Quinn but he couldn't deny how suspicious this looked, Danse tensing up next to him.

'Relax. They're here for the protection of our hosts. Carol? Billy?'

'In here, Audra!'

Audra?

He stopped in shock as the kid came flying out, launching himself at the General as she scooped him up and hugged him tight, even though he was nearly as big as she was. A child, a ghoul child. He'd never known that was even possible. Another ghoul came out, watching them warily, his mother or caretaker possibly.

'Arthur, Danse...this is Billy and Billy's mother Carol. Where's Matt?'

'He's working with the team getting the garage by the station cleaned out. I think they wanted to talk to you about what the plan was for all the barrels.'

'Hi, Nick are we going to work on the car some more? Is Mr MacCready here? Dad said he was the best shot in the Commonwealth, I wonder if he would let me try shoot his big rifle? Audra...Audra...Audra...Audra!'

'Oh, hey...I'll talk with them later about the options we have...okay? Yes, Billy? Mac is not here today, I'm sorry. If you learn how to shoot, then maybe we can talk with them about trying one of the bigger guns.'

'Okay! Pop already started teaching me to shoot with the rifle, when I'm bigger can I join the Minutemen too?'

'You can do anything you want, honey. I know your parents will support you and I'll be there to help you too, okay? I want you to meet my friends. This is Arthur and this is Danse.'

He didn't missed the slightly pained look in her eyes and then he realised why. Billy wasn't going to get big, ghoulification halted the aging process. Blinking when the kid came up to them and actually offered him his hand to shake. Reaching out and giving the small rough hand a proper shake.

'Please to meet you, sir. Are you a Minuteman like General Audra?'

'No, son. I am...'

He hesitated and looked at Audra and Carol, continuing after Carol nodded at him.

'I am part of the Brotherhood of Steel, the General has been kind enough to bring us to some of the settlements and introduce us.'

He couldn't help but flinch slightly at the fear that crept into the child's eyes but Billy still offered his hand to Danse and shook it. Wanting to assure the child and nervous mother.

'We came here to try and help, we heard there were some bad people going after the people of the Commonwealth. So we came on our ship to see if we could stop the bad people.'

'The Prydwen...Miss Audra told me the story about it the last time she was here. So, what people say about you being the bad people...are they wrong?'

Ah...a child's bluntness, he looked at Quinn...Audra?...helplessly, not sure how to answer the child and not sure what to think about people calling them the bad ones.

'Arthur and Danse are nice, Billy and so are a bunch of the other people in the Brotherhood. But like we talked about before, there are some bad people no matter what.'

'And that's why you run the Minutemen, to help, right? Like the Gunner guys that ran everyone away before? And the one you helped when you brought me home, right? You really showed him!'

'Exactly. Now, we can't stay too late, but I was hoping that you might talk with Arthur and Danse a little bit. They were born after the war, so they don't know about some things, I wanted you to tell them about some of your favorite things, okay?'

The kid smiled and he couldn't help but smile back, he always enjoyed spending time with the squires because out of everyone, they were the most likely to treat him just like anyone else for the most part. It was hard to look at the child's rough skin and lack of nose and to think he was over ten times his own age but his enthusiasm was contagious, learning about ice cream and skateboards and the cinema. Watching the General out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the guards watched them like hawks and she never was more than arms reach from them. Jumping when she put a hand on his shoulder.

'Carol has invited us to dinner, would you guys like to join or get back to the Prydwen?'

'Kells is probably irritated we're not back yet but dinner would be lovely, ma'am.'

Nodding at the ghoul Carol respectfully. Brushing himself off as he stood, looking down when Billy grabbed his hand.

'Come on! I want to show them the car, please?'

'Okay, but someone has to go with you.'

'I'll go with them.'

'Thanks, Nicky. I'll come up after I round up Matt and talk with them about the plans for the barrels. Do you need any help with dinner Carol?'

The young man laced his other hand with Valentine's metal hand and started dragging them away before he could hear the end of the conversation. One of the people in the power armor and a few of the Minutemen following them. The house they went to was modest, but it was clean and well cared for and the smell of the food on the stove made his stomach grumble, realised they had forgotten to eat earlier in the chaos of the raiders. Danse getting roped into helping set the table as Billy brought them upstairs, grabbing a roughly carved wooden car from the floor.

'Mom makes really good squirrel stew and there's even tarberry tarts for dessert! She always makes the best treats when Audra comes because she says it helps because she remembers too. Does it help Mr Valentine?'

'Well, I can't speak for the General, but I know I enjoy talking with you and your folks when we come visit.'

He watched the interaction curiously, she'd said Valentine had the mind of someone pre-war, but this was the first time he'd met the synth and he was charming in an odd way. Scowling slightly, if the western Elders saw him, they would be greatly displeased.

'Yeah but dad would be proud of you, just like I am.'

'Hey, you okay kid?'

He realised the synth was speaking to him frowning and shaking off Sarah's voice.

'I am an Elder of the Brotherhood, not a kid, synth.'

'You're young enough that if I was still flesh and bone instead of plastic and bolts, you could almost be my kid. Thank god you're not. Come on, they're calling us down to dinner and don't take that tone with the Peabody's or you're going to get yourself kicked out.'

Arthur frowned again and realised Billy was no longer in the room, having slipped out at some point while he was hearing voices from the past, nodding once and striding downstairs. The food was incredible and after a few tense minutes, Mayor Hancock had everyone laughing, telling a story about the General running away screaming from a stingwing while she sat there with a red face but a good-natured smile. It was dark by the time they finished their tarberry tarts, chuckling slightly when he saw Quinn slip Billy an extra tart.

'Mr and Mrs Peabody, Billy, thank you for inviting us into your home and having us for dinner.'

'You're good boys, General, you can bring them back to visit sometime.'

'Yesss and next time can Mr Danse wear his power armour? I want to see what it looks like, I bet it looks so cool!'

'We'll see Billy, Arthur and Danse are busy men, so it might be a little while before they can visit again.'

'Next time we come by I'll wear the armour, okay, kid?'

Danse smiled awkwardly, he was never particularly comfortable around kids and Arthur nodded, kneeling down so he was Billy's height.

'And I'll talk to one of my men and see if we can get you some more books and comics.'

'Thank you, Mr Arthur! Audra, Audra, you hear that he's gonna bring me books like you do!'

'Yes, education is important, now come give me a hug.'

Quinn made her goodbyes and they made their way out of town slightly before tossing out the signal grenade. He wasn't sure about the other vertibird but they rode back in silence, unsure what to feel at the moment.

-

It only took a few minutes to get back, glowering when she saw the asshole lurking about, impatiently waiting for them.

'Kells.'

'General. Might I inquire as to what you are plotting now, keeping the Elder out for hours and hours?'

She kept walking, making sure he followed behind her, once they reached the entrance and started for the observation deck she spun around, looking up at him.

'Plotting...why would I be plotting anything, Sinon?'

The way his face went ashen was answer enough, startling everyone when she grabbed Kells arm and yanked him down so he was leant over at the waist, her other hand grabbing the back of his neck and keeping him still. The shouts growing louder as she spoke to the asshole. Danse had his gun drawn on Nick and John and John looked ready to jump at the Paladin.

'Keep struggling like that and you're going to break your own arm...what, scared Kratos is going to find out? You should be scared of me.'

Audra tossed him face first on the floor and stepped on the middle of his back, leaning so the man couldn't move, grinning at the men like the cat that caught the canary.

'GENERAL, WHAT IS THE MEANING OF THIS? ASSAULTING A MEMBER OF THE BROTHERHOOD...'

'Chill. You're seriously going to have an early heart attack if you don't learn how to calm the fuck down. I figured I'd give you a gift before we leave, Arthur. May I present to you Sinon...your leak. He and two other people are part of the Circle. When he goes down to the airport before lunch, he likes to slip off and give his report to one of the Circle scouts. Now Danse, get your weapon off of my men or I will be pinning your arm to the window with a knife.'

Danse looked shocked and Arthur just looked angry, looking at the man on the floor and her standing on his back. Kells tried to struggle, he really did, but she'd noticed lately that besides healing faster, she was getting stronger and the man didn't stand a chance.

'Those are serious accusations. What proof do you have of this?'

'Well, I can give you the names of the other two, I have a recorded conversation of Kells giving up information on the Brotherhood...and I have a former member of the Circle in my employ who can confirm your Lancer Captain's position in the Circle of Steel. Thanatos.'

Kells really started struggling then, smirking down at the rat of a man as Julian came out of stealth, making Danse jump and raise his weapon again. Arthur looking at the man in the stealth suit and then back down to the Lancer Captain on the floor.

'Is this true?'

'Yes, sir. Kells was recruited by the current Circle head back in D.C. He has been reporting to the Circle since shortly after your induction as Elder.'

'Kells.'

'Yes, yes...just don't let Thanatos take me, please. Throw me from the fucking bow but don't let him take me.'

Julian knelt down, so his face was right by the other mans, voice muffled by the helmet.

'You always were a coward, Sinon...why do you think I named you that? And you really should be scared of the General, not me.'

'GUARDS! Take this man and lock him up, keep two Knights posted on the cage 24/7. Who are the other two?'

'Knight Arnold and Knight Ford.'

She caught the movement in the corner of her eye, kicking Kells over to Julian as she ran for the retreating Knight, jumping on the back of his power armour and pulling him with a twist, so the Knight fell face first on the deck, unable to get up. Biting her tongue to keep from crying out as she tore the muscles in her arms from yanking the heavy armour.

Okay, not quite that strong yet.

Taking a moment for them to knit back together before yanking the Knight from his power armour, carrying him by his jumpsuit and tossing him on the floor next to Kells.

'Knight Ford, you know if you had just acted like you were going to fulfil the Elder's orders, you might have gotten further. But no, you had to immediately retreat like the guilty party you are. Are they all this dumb, Thanatos?'

'Some more than others. I was not familiar with this particular one, he was one of Kratos's picks.'

'Paladin. Get a couple men to stay here with Valentine, the ghoul, and the one in the suit. Then get a couple men and make sure the traitors are secure. Send Cade to us. General, if I might have a word with you in private, now.'

She rolled her eyes and assured the men that she would be okay, frowning until John put away his knives, following Arthur to his quarters.

'You know that if they wanted to hurt you, a couple men wouldn't stop them? I'm sorry you had to find out that way, I had been planning on being discrete but Kells was irritating the shit out of me.'

'Quinn! Audra...whatever the hell your name is. Stop, just stop. First, let Cade look at your arms, I saw that look of pain...you did something pulling the armour over.'

She glanced over at the Knight-Captain as he came rushing over, plastering a fake smile on.

'I'm fine, look, see?'

She flexed her arms and let Cade poke at her before the doc declared she was okay, Arthur narrowing his eyes at her and telling the Knight guarding his door to leave them alone unless it was an emergency. Slamming the door and closing it fully so he could light a cigarette, pouring a drink and downing it before pouring another, turning and glaring at her.

'How long have you known?'

'Since the last time I was here with Shadow.'

'Do you regularly have someone spying on us?'

'No, I spied on Kells once I began to suspect the truth. Thanatos was only in stealth in case you or Danse went off the deep end and tried to harm any of my friends. Here.'

She lifted her pipboy and started the playback for him, listening to what was very clearly Kells voice telling the other person about the Brotherhood's plans and how they needed to keep the witch General away from the Elder.

'They think I'm seducing you to the dark side or something by showing you that ghouls and synths are people too. That's why Kells has been so pissy at me. Plus, they think I am evil because I am prewar and I knew certain people.'

'Were you ever planning on telling me about this? It's been almost two months since you were last here, were you just going to let them continue to conspire under my nose?'

'Well, at the time they were trying to assassinate me and until I got Thanatos on my side, I wasn't sure I would be able to take them. But yes, I had been planning on telling you. In case you've already forgotten our conversation earlier, I do care.'

'Really? And how do I know anything coming out of your mouth is the truth? How? Quinn? Audra? Who the hell are you?'

(Break the Fall - Laura Welsh)

She watched him stub out the cigarette angrily and that was it, she was done hiding from him and she was pissed that what turned out to be a pretty good day was now being ruined. Walking towards him, equal parts desire and anger hitting her like a warm flash as she walked up to him, backing him against the cabinet. He was starting to learn that she was dangerous, good. He was smart and that would hopefully help keep him alive for a long time.

'You say that but if you didn't trust me, why would you risk locking yourself in here alone with me? You want to know who I am? My name is Audra, I also went by Quinn after I came out of the vault. Everything I've told you so far has been true...with some exclusions. You know...when I first saw your tattoo, I was confused, because I would have initially pegged you as a Club. Was the title of King of Diamonds passed down through the Maxson's or are titles still assigned by the traits?'

She smirked slightly at his look of surprise, pushing the flannel off his shoulders and trailing a fingernail down the tattoo on his forearm.

'The Suits survived centuries. There was no mention of them in your Codex or anything that I could find but there's your tattoo, right there...the exact same design.'

'How...how do you know about the Suits? Only the upper echelon of the Brotherhood is aware of the Suits.'

Audra couldn't help herself, pressing a soft kiss on his slack lips, taking a step back and letting the man breathe. She went to pour herself a drink and slugged it back before turning back to him.

'Did you ever wonder why I always wear an armband? I wasn't sure what you would do if you recognized the design.'

She took a moment to pull off her armband and showed him the tattoo, standing in front of him again, the placement mirrored. His was on his right forearm, where all the guys had gotten theirs and now hers was on her left, so that they faced each other when she stood in front of him. She watched the thoughts race across his face, standing there until he looked up from her arm into her eyes.

'You're an intelligent man, Arthur. I am fairly certain you can figure out who I am from what you know of me. Part of the reason I took you out today and part of the reason I have been so intent on changing your views is because Roger would have been heartbroken to see the racist fucking attitude so many of the Brotherhood have. He argued against that in the military, he was denied promotions and even demoted for fighting the exclusionary behavior. I felt I owed it to him to at least try and change your perspective. Then I met you and I actually liked you and Danse and Cade and Haylen and all the others but if you cannot stop this nonsense and stand up for everyone, ghouls and synths included, then I am just not going to try anymore.'

She could feel the tears coming on, hot and angry, turning away from him and wiping her eyes in frustration.

'Those are my friends and I put trust in you today, bringing you to meet them. Most of them were there, they understand, they remember the world before like I do and how much it fucking hurts sometimes! Everything, everything, Arthur! I lost Nate and they took Shaun, I had to bury my fucking neighbors bodies after getting out of the vault because they were just left there! Billy is going to be a child forever, his mind is preserved just like it was when he was stuffed in a fucking fridge to try and save his life from the assholes who killed the world. He and his family are some of the best people I have ever fucking met and if I ever find out that someone from the Brotherhood has harmed them just because they are ghouls then I will fucking annihilate the ship so that fire rains down from the fucking sky. We're leaving, so you can deal with your breach. If you choose to stay as you are, then don't bother contacting me anymore. You can reach the Minutemen through Colonel Garvey. If you actually pull your head out of your ass...then we'll talk more later. If you ever want to know more about Roger and the Suits, I have letters and pictures...I have the original drawings of the tattoo designs.'

Audra wanted to say more but she just stopped at the door, pulling her armband back on and looking over her shoulder at his shocked face. Looking up at Danse, standing there guarding the door when she stepped out.

'We need a vertibird back to the Castle, please.'

'Elder?'

Arthur just nodded and Audra closed the door, following Danse as they went back to the observation deck, frowning at the Paladin as he backed her into the corner before they entered the room.

'What did you do? He did not look well, what is your game? You kiss him and then walk all over him, tell him lies about who you are?'

'Oh, Jesus, Danse. If Arthur wants to tell you, that it is his choice. And I wasn't walking all over him, I was trying to bring him into fucking reality, something you could use a dose of too. Now, if we could go, you can stop babysitting us and go check on your Elder. I gave him a shock, he might have trouble processing it.'

Danse frowned and stomped them out and on to a vertibird, sighing softly and busting out crying when she looked up at Nick.

'Oh, doll. Come here. You tried. Now it's on them.'

Curling on his lap for the short ride, John holding one of her hands, unusually quiet. They set down outside of the Castle and John tugged her hand, pulling her away for a moment. Looking up at him, concerned.

'You okay, darling?'

'Are you okay, sunshine? You...you love him, don't you? The Elder? But you would stand up to them for hurting ghouls and synths?'

'Yes, I would. You guys heard that?'

'I think the whole ship heard that part of your argument, you were kinda loud, sunshine. They might retaliate for insulting the Elder like that...'

'If that is what it comes to, then that is what it comes to. I'm tired of hiding, now he knows who I am or he's gonna figure it out quick and...I really hope he comes around, John...'

'Whatever happens, I got your back, sunshine.'

'I know, thank you, John.'

-

He had to force himself to breathe, he couldn't remember how to talk after she pulled off her armband, trying to figure out how.

There had only ever been one Queen of Hearts, Roger Maxson's journal specifically said that the title was forever set aside. But she'd known and she had the tattoo, the exact design. He'd looked at the drawings many times, all the Suits. He'd found the journal among Elder Lyons private collection. Taking it and hiding it away, reading about his ancestor. Wondering what he would be when he was older, wondering about the Queen of Hearts, wondering why she was so important to have the title saved. Sarah had found him with it, taking it away but showing him her tattoo. He'd still sneak in from time to time and read the journal, Owyn had to have known.

Sarah...

(All I Want - Kodaline)

She had been the Ten of Clubs at that time but after she became Elder, her title changed to the Queen of Clubs. Wondering what she would say about Quinn, wondering what life would have been like if she'd lived. Would he have come to the Commonwealth and met her? His brain rapid firing as he took a seat at the table. Leaning forward with his head between his knees.

Quinn.
General Quinn Roberts.
Her husband, Nate...Nate. Nathan?
Nathan Roberts. First Sentinel Nathan Roberts. The King of Clubs.
Audra.
Audra Platner...only daughter of Sgt. Thomas Platner.
Head Paladin Thomas Platner. The Ace of Spades.
Audra Roberts, wife of Nathan Roberts.

Audra Roberts. The Queen of Hearts. The founder of The Suits.

The FUCKING Queen of Hearts.

He blinked and realised Danse was kneeling there in front of him, coming into focus as he blinked away tears, gasping for air. Danse's voice fading in and out like it was coming from far away on a radio with poor reception.

'Arthur...Arthur!...you okay...breath...panic attack...get Cade?'

'No, no, no...just stay a moment.'

He felt Danse gripping his shoulders, taking slow deliberate breaths, trying to help him calm down. Staring at his friend and trying to wrap his head around the day. Thoughts fractured, circling back to Sarah and Quinn...no, Audra, again and again.

And he hurt, he hurt like he had when he'd first moved to the Citadel, wondering why his mother didn't want him anymore. He hurt like when Owyn died, wondering what was going to happen to him now. He hurt like when they had come in, carrying Sarah's limp body, barely recognizable. He hurt like when he and Charlie had argued, watching her stomp out of the Citadel, never to return.

'...need to go, Arthur. Toughen you up.'

'The honour is all mine, Squire.'

'I know you were close, Initiate, I am sorry for your loss.'

'Come on, Arthur. I'm Elder now. I think we can get away with sneaking some snack cakes.'

'We found them in the street. Ambushed...'

'You need to stop this, Arthur, you're going down a dark path. Please?'

'...your soul was forged from eternal steel. We appoint you King of Diamonds, like your ancestor, the great Roger Maxson. You are now Elder of the East Coast Brotherhood...'

Chapter Text

The air tasted like a storm, the smell of ozone high but no storm had rolled through for a while. It was just building and building and Audra wasn't sure if it was the anticipation of the storm or from the last report she'd received but she was so keyed up she hadn't been able to sleep for two days now. It didn't help that she was still stressing over Arthur and now Sturges.
She wasn't sure if he had called them before leaving but just as Sturges was packing up to leave for the island, Mac and Hank showed up from Goodneighbor, which meant Deacon was probably about, as well.

Sturges had rushed off to the island to help Virgil with a problem with the startup sequence tests and though he had checked in since then, he didn't say how things were going with the teleporter. She knew they were getting close and she was getting nervous and short with everyone.

Sturges had continued working on the add-on while they were running about and it was amazing. They had their own little settlement there at Red Rocket now, self-sufficient with enough room for everyone but rather than sleeping in the bedroom, the last several nights they'd just congregated in the common room area. Mattresses piled on the floor, fans pointing on them trying to beat the heat. Cait slept on the rooftop patio. Codsworth and Curie manned the kitchen and clinic in Sanctuary at night so the others could sleep. Hank and Julian were always hanging out on the sidelines and in the evening the rest of them would fall onto the mattresses, Nick on one edge, with her curled at his side, Mac and John alternated curling at her other side, with the other at their side, Dogmeat at the foot of the bed. They'd read into the wee hours of the night and after Mac and John fell asleep, she'd lie there and just talk with Nick or rest against his chest, just listening to him. The one time she'd tried sneaking off, Hank had tailed her and just gave her a disapproving mother hen stare until she returned to the worried guys.

Mac had taken one look at her that morning and the circles under her eyes and just pulled her into a hug, chin resting on the top of her head. Audra promised to get some work done after getting cleaned up. Sighing softly and rubbing her arms, the hair standing on end giving her the shivers. Heading inside and to the bathroom, standing in front of the mirror, looking at her reflection critically.

(Scars - Boy Epic)

She'd burnt yesterday, all day out in the sun working on the new water tower but that had already peeled and returned her to her pale freckled skin, making the dark circles under her eyes look all the darker and even they weren't as bad as they used to be. If it weren't for the harsh environment and all the stress, she'd probably actually look her pre-cryogenic age, probably better. The regeneration was doing more than just healing injuries at this point, it was preserving her, much like she imaged how the Hangdogs remained preserved despite their years. Her old scars were still there but nothing new, everything since the Deathclaw cut had healed. Turning this way and that to see all sides, she had slimmed down a bit but she was never going to be tiny, not with her hips and ass. Pinching the bits of excess skin and making a face before opening her switchblade with a flick and drawing the sharp tip across her arm, watching the blood bead up and the flesh knit back together immediately. She'd told Nick once that she didn't want to do anything about the parts of her appearance that bothered her, worrying about losing herself but Nora the wife and mother was long gone and she wasn't sure what to expect at the Institute. Audra was seriously debating pulling a Deacon and changing completely but she knew it wouldn't help, sighing and taking a cool shower before slipping into the shorts and tank top she'd pulled out.

It was getting bloody hot and she already started feeling warm and sticky walking to the offices, moving Preston's work aside and making a note to just get him his own desk next to hers so they had more room. A few hours later her stomach growled loudly, reminding her that she hadn't eaten, hopping up and smoothing her bright yellow shorts before stepping out.

-

‘Do you ever wear anything else?’

‘Okay, that came out of left field. I used to, why?’

‘I just have never seen you wear anything else, even the times I saw you before, it was always a button down and tie. I was trying to imagine what you would look like.’

‘Well, since I don’t particularly get hot or cold, I don’t have to worry about that. A trench coat for all seasons, fashionable and functional. I just have never really branched out, I suppose. Before, I wore a lot of the same…but occasionally went a little more casual.’

Audra just nodded and took him at his word like she always did and he forgot all about the conversation until a week later. They were all back in Sanctuary for a few days and the days had started getting hotter again, He was tending to some tatos when he saw her step out in the tank top and shorts that were positively sinful on her glorious form. These weren’t the same shorts she wore before, when they’d first met (though those were quite wonderful, as well). No, this was a pre-war getup that would have had her looking at home at a barbecue by the pool. He stood there grinning like a fool when their previous conversation about his clothing popped in his head. He looked down at his outfit, currently dusty and well worn, patched holes and some coolant stains dotting the fabric. An idea forming in his mind.

Audra still wasn’t speaking with Deacon after their last encounter and he’d found the spy hiding out in the storage area one day when he went to put some stuff away. He’d gone back and hung out with the spy for a while, relaxing and reading from the last book they had been going through together. When he’d gone home for the evening, she’d come out, curling on his lap and asking if Deacon was okay. He wasn’t sure how she knew, but she just did, even though they weren’t talking, they were always watching out for each other.

Just like they all knew how worn down she was getting and how close to the edge she’d been teetering. It had been at least two days since the last time she’d slept and even though she put on a smiling front for the settlers, it wasn’t hard to see the dark circles under her eyes. He wanted to see her smile again.

Wandering to the storage room, huffing a little when Deacon looked at him curiously.

'Do you have anything in that bag of tricks that would fit me?’

'You…want a change of clothes? Am I missing something here?’

'She’s not sleeping, she’s stressing out and I thought I’d give her a laugh and change into a different outfit.’

'Does that mean I get to strip you?’

'Jesus, you two…’

If Nick had been capable of blushing he probably would have but instead he just set his hat on a shelf and started taking his coat off. Deacon looked almost comical, jaw dropping before digging through his bags and picking out a few things. He was loosening his tie, an eyebrow quirking as Deacon just watched him.

'Enjoying the show?’

'Yes.’

'Well…ahem…what do you have there for me?’

He looked at the outfits and selected the one, starting to unbutton his shirt as Deacon raised an eyebrow.

'You sure you want that one? I dunno what she’d feel about that right now.’

'I think she’ll find it amusing, besides she keeps talking about how we should form some kind of pre-war club, t-shirts and all.’

He felt a little self-conscious when he pulled his shirt off and dropped his trousers, jumping a little when he felt the hand on his back panel.

'Can you feel that?’

'Yes.’

Deacon flushed a bright red and stepped back, sitting on some boxes as Nick pulled on the clothes. Looking down and giving a little spin, a wry look on his face.

'Well, how do I look?’

'It just needs…something…’

He went back through his bags again, coming out with a slouchy beanie and adjusting it on Nick’s head, hemming and hawing a bit before pulling his glasses off and sliding them on Nick.

'There, time for Chunk to meet the newest member of the Deathbunnies.’

Nick clapped the man on the back, promising to be back down in a little bit, wandering out and looking around. He saw her sitting on the patio by the house, speaking with Mama Murphy and he could tell the moment her mind registered him standing there because her jaw dropped and she went silent. She wandered over to him and by the time she was standing in front of him, her smile was brilliant.

'Oh my, Valentine…what’s the occasion?’

'I have been told I am the newest member of the Deathbunnies, I figured I’d better dress the part.’

Her giggle made him grin and he sat down in one of the chairs, looking up at her.

'You are a giant dork, Deacon is a giant dork and I love you.’

That smile was worth the embarrassment he was feeling.

-

He had to laugh when he walked over and saw what Valentine was wearing, trailing off when he saw her, curled on his lap and completely passed out. Sighing softly and leaning down next to Valentine, gently brushing the hair off of her face.

'It's about time. Do you think you could get her in bed without waking her?'

'Possibly, I haven't worked up the nerve to try yet, figured I might as well let her sleep a little bit first.'

'There was word on the radio...they're requesting her presence at the Castle. And Fahr needs me back in Goodneighbor for a few days.'

Nick sighed and John had to agree with him, Sunshine never got a break and the last thing he wanted to do was to leave her but business called. Turning at the sound behind him, staring at Deacon intently. The Railroad agent wasn't looking much better, near as John could tell, it was kinda hard to see what was hiding behind this different pair of glasses but there was an aura of exhaustion about him. Standing and stepping back slightly as the man approached with a sigh that could only be described as wistful.

'Oh, Chunk...May I?'

The spy smiled faintly at Valentine and slid his arms under her, scooping her up and starting towards the house here in Sanctuary. The way he held her and the way she curled into him, burying her face against his neck as he nuzzled her hair...you could tell it was something that they had done a thousand times before. Valentine trailing in after them quietly. Lighting a cigarette and leaning against the garage wall, waiting for the man to come back out. He could hear Valentine and Deacon talking softly, flagging Deacon down as he walked out.

'I need a word with ya, brother.'

'Uhhh, what can I do for ya, Hancock?

He dragged the man around the corner out of the view of everybody and backed him against the wall, pulling out his knife and flipping it casually.

'So, with you seeing the Doc and all, you got your head on straight yet?'

'If you're asking if I remember, no...not everything. There's some damage there, Amari is brainstorming to try figure out if anything can be done. What's this all about?'

'Brainstorming, heh. In case ya hadn't noticed, Sunshine hasn't been doing so hot the last coupla days. She's stressed out over that dick, Maxson and about the thing they're building. Now I know you two have some things to figure out and all but you need to be here for her right now. She doesn't need to be stressing out over you on top of everything, ya dig?'

John punctuated his statement pointing his dagger, glaring at the taller man. Deacon's glasses dipped down slightly, allowing him to actually see the man's eyes and he was surprised. There was irritation there...pain...resignation...but there was a hardness that he would have never credited the spy as having. Good. Taking in the glare before nodding and stepping back, slipping his knife back into it's proper spot.

'Now, I gotta head back to Goodneighbor so it's you three idiots and the other two that need to keep an eye out and if you all can't behave then you can fuck right off. The busybody reporter can watch her or the lil Frenchie and butler bot.'

'We'll watch out for her, Hancock. Deacon, there was a call on the radio for a storm check in...'

John turned to see the kid walking up, nodding to Deacon and handing him a radio before turning to face him. Even the kid had shed his duster in the heat, wiping his face with a handkerchief and turning towards the patio.

'Come on, let's get out of this da...darn heat or take a seat or something. When are you heading out?'

'Soon, I want to get back tonight. Dunno why Fahr can't handle it but something's up.'

'I guess after she gets up, we'll tell her about the Castle and head out to see what's going on. Radio us if somethings up, man? I don't want her dealing with any other surprises. If Maxson can't get his shit together I was thinking I might swing by.'

'Why?'

'Because she cares for him.'

Mac shrugged and Hancock snorted softly, pulling out his smokes and staring the kid down as they took a seat under one of the umbrellas.

'Just for her?'

'...maybe I'm a little curious to see if he's changed at all. He was a brat that spouted their Codex constantly but if you got him away from the adults he was okay for a shrimp, bit of a scaredy-cat really.'

'Ha, well I can tell you he's no shrimp. Then he always has that crewcut with him...hey, Nicky, come 'ere.'

'Yes, Mayors?'

Mac snorted as Nick strolled over, still in Deacon's getup. Rolling up his sleeves before coming to stand in front of them, lighting a cigarette and looking at John expectantly.

'How would you describe the Elder?'

'Young. Jesus, he's young. Stubborn. Prideful. Decent enough fellow when he forgets to put on his front, I suppose...he was good with Billy and the Peabody's liked him and Paladin Danse well enough.'

Nick pulled off the sunglasses and took a seat, handing them to Deacon as he strolled back over and traded the ones he was wearing for his usual sunglasses, John's eyes darting between the two of them. There was something up there, the men holding each others gaze a moment too long, looking over at Mac curiously. Mac huffed a little laugh and shrugged, then Mac fucking blushed when Deacon raised an eyebrow at him, reaching out and snagging Nick's cigarettes and taking one for himself before turning to Deacon as he took a seat.

'All good?'

'Tinker has something for her next time we swing by and I have to check in with High Rise if possible.'

'That must be her stealth prototype.'

The four of them looked over at the creepy spy ninja assassin or whatever he was as he moved over, leaning against the picnic table nearby, frowning when his words sunk in.

'Her what?'

'Her prototype stealth unit. You were at the Slog, didn't you see it?'

'I may or may not have been really high at the time...'

Nick snorted and leant forward, looking at Thanatos curiously.

'She said her Stealth Boy malfunctioned.'

'Did you see a Stealth Boy? And you know she doesn't like to use them unless she had no choice.'

'Giving away my secrets, Julian?'

All the men jumped as she came shuffling out the door and Audra took a look around the table thoughtfully before sliding onto a surprised Mac's lap with a little yawn. Seeing her with him was always an interesting reminder in how much perception played into how they saw her. She was so much larger than life but when you actually saw her next to them, she was tiny.

Damn, Mentats making me all philosophical and shit.

Looking between sunshine and Thanatos, waving a hand.

'I'll ask again, her what?'

'I've been working with Tinker on a stealth device that uses the bodies own bio-electricity to allow the device to function, one that resonates in tune with the body instead of at a different frequency that can be damaging, like the Stealth Boys but this also a lot more discreet then something like the stealth suit that is somewhat conspicuous when not hidden.'

John nodded, Nick raised an eyebrow, Deacon frowned and squirmed in his chair, Mac looked surprised and Thanatos looked neutral (okay seriously, did the man have any other moods, he wasn't sure). Popping another Mentat as he sat back in the chair, opening his jacket and shrugging it off, tilting his head at Sunshine.

'And how do you know it's not gonna fuck with your brain like the others?'

'I'm going to have Amari monitor my neural activity as I run the tests and make sure there are no signs of degradation.'

'No, no, no. You're gonna give it to one of us and have us test it.'

Sunshine sighed and turned to Deacon, reaching across the table and grabbing one of his hands as his voice raised, Nick placing a hand on his shoulder when he flinched. Audra drawing her hand back with a hurt look on her face before Deacon grabbed it again, head tilting apologetically.

'I can't Dee...or rather you can't. You, Julian, Hank have already been affected over the years. Nick doesn't have the proper physiology, I could probably make a device for him right now that would work great for him, remind me when we go see Tinker and we'll see if he has enough materials to do that. John is out because I do not know enough about the changes ghouls have gone through before I could tune one for him. Robert is out because any effects likely won't be apparent on him and not having healing...I wouldn't risk it. I am a logical choice. I have the altered lifespan from the cryo and biogel that will allow me to study the long term effects and I haven't been using Stealth Boys long enough for it to really be detrimental. That and my healing seems to be much more accelerated than any of yours, for all we know if there is any damage I might just heal it. Amari will be monitoring me and I'm sure ya'll will let me know if things feel off.'

'And what happens when you start forgetting us? What happens when you forget before? What happens when you forget Nate? What happens when you forget Shaun?'

(Change - Lana Del Rey)

'Aodh...'

They watched Deacon storm off and you could see it break something in Audra and he went to stand, growling softly, sitting only after she waved him down. Standing and moving to Nick, it still hurt a little, watching the way she cupped his face and kissed him but they way they looked at each other...it was something special.

'I love you...watch out for him? We'll drop Hancock off at Goodneighbor, swing by and talk with Tom and then head to the Castle. I'll take Mac, Hank, and Julian. You guys can go talk to High Rise and then join us if he comes around. Take Dogmeat? He's looking antsy.'

'I love you too, doll. He's just worried about you...'

'I know. I'll be careful. Go...'

They watched Valentine stand and pull her into a deep kiss then chase after Deacon as she turned, plastering on one hell of a fake smile, making him scowl.

'I guess I'll go changed and get packed up so we can leave, get ready to roll out in about an hour?'

The three of them went to say something but she was running off for Red Rocket and he shouted after her, sighing and smacking a beer bottle off the table with a growl.

'Asshole always hurts her!'

'Yeah, but he had a point, what if that thing messes with her brain?'

'So you're taking his side? What about sunshine?'

'You weren't there at the Castle, Hancock. You didn't see how she throws herself in the path of danger.'

'She's doing it to protect you all.'

They turned to see Hank walk over, frowning at the older man and grabbing another cigarette. Mac jumping up waving his arms.

'How is her putting herself in danger protecting us?'

'She knows she can heal. You cannot. She wasn't hurting because of what Dolos did, she was hurting because he was hurting. I'm starting to think she is an empath. And do you not understand, how much she gives you all when she does that?'

'Gives what?'

The glare Hank fixed on the kid was enough that a smarter man would have probably fled but Mac was young and in love, glaring back but there was pain in his eyes and even John could tell that he was trying to genuinely understand. Hank must have realised that too because he relaxed slightly, gripping the younger man's shoulder and guiding him back to the chair, then sitting where Nick had been.

'Do you know what empathy is?'

When they both nodded he sighed softly, looking in the direction she had run before looking at Thanatos as he took the seat Deacon had been in. Rubbing a hand over his face and taking his hat off, surprising John. He'd never seen the man out of his hat and coat in the few times they'd been around each other, Hank was probably as attached to his hat and coat as he and Valentine were to theirs.

'She gives herself to you all. Constantly. I have seen her face when you all are upset and that upsets her more than any pain I have seen her take. And she does feel pain...do you understand that? She heals but she still feels each injury and I know that it is not pleasant as nerves grow back and she feels things again but after all she has been through, can you imagine what it would be like for her to see you all...the ones she loves, hurting? To feel your pain?'

'Unless you have lost a child then you will never understand pain. That...synth and the other man have left and the gate guard said the General is by her husband's grave crying. Someone needs to go get her, she's upsetting people.'

'Hey...'

'Do I look like I want to chitchat?'

The men stared in shock as Marcy Long walked away. From everything Audra had told John about her and from the way the lady had acted since they'd come to Sanctuary, she almost sounded like she cared despite her harsh words. Another miracle brought into this world by the tiny woman they all loved, a world where Marcy Long started caring again. Stubbing out his cigarette before grabbing his jacket.

'Get ready and I'll go get her.'

'No, I shall go get her. Go gather your stuff.'

'And why the hell do you think you should go after her?'

'Because I've lost a child and I understand.'

He started after Thanatos but stopped when Hank grabbed his arm, barely stopping himself from pulling his knife on the man. Only relaxing when Mac came to stand next to him, the three standing shoulder to shoulder watching the other man head down the street.

'Let Thanatos do this. It is good for both of them.'

'Why?'

'He is remembering how to care about someone again and she doesn't feel like she has to watch out for him.'

'Fine, let's go get ready, daylight is wasting.'

It was time to find out what the hell was happening in his town and he just had to trust that the kid would take care of her.

-

'Uhhh...I would announce yourself before approaching...she's a little worked up and working out her aggression with a sledge hammer.'

Sturges sighed and rubbed a hand over his face tiredly, clapping a hand on MacCready's shoulder.

'Thanks, man. I'll make sure she know it's me before I get too close. Hey, Mac?'

'Yeah?'

'Where're the others?'

'Hancock had to run back to Goodneighbor. Deacon got upset with her again and she sent Nick and Dogmeat after him. Julian and Hank are around somewhere. Preston is with Ronnie, I guess she's old Minutemen so she's gonna be taking over watching the Castle or something. Why?'

'It's done.'

The brief millisecond of shock on his face immediately turned to the same fear that was sitting heavy over Sturges. He'd had a moment of excitement, finishing the project with Virgil but then it sunk in...she was going to be going into that and they just had to hope they had everything right.
That had been done two days ago but Sturges had made Virgil go over it with him several times because they had to be sure it was all right, they had to be sure it would work for her. The super mutant finally got irritated with the checking and rechecking, sending Strong to guard the device and not allow Sturges back near it. Let me tell you, having a giant super mutant scold you for being a squishy human and to stop being a coward and go get the puny lady was not really something that Sturges thought he would ever have to deal with.

Mac was looking close to tears, so Sturges pulled him into a hug and made him sit and have a smoke with him, making sure the man was calmer before he built up the courage to go down the stairs. They had to be strong for her.

The scream nearly had him turning around and running right back up the stairs.

(The Beautiful People - Marilyn Manson)

She had some kinda crazy growly rhythmic music playing on her pipboy and he would hear the steady crash as the hammer made contact in time with the music, following the awful din towards the back of the chamber. There was a hell of a lot more to the Castle then they originally thought and he wondered how they'd found it, an eyebrow raising as he passed the beaten, sparking sentry bot.

'Sugar? Honey, it's me...you all right darlin'?'

He rounded the corner and felt his breath catch when he finally saw her. She looked...amazing in a kinda scary way. Watching her swing the sledgehammer like it was nothing and seeing her take down the metal shelving in one swing, he started to understand what she'd been talking about when she'd told him she was getting stronger.
Face splitting into a giant grin when she dropped the hammer and came flying at him. Cupping her face and kissing her hard as she held herself up with her legs around his waist.

'Damn, I've missed you.'

'I've missed you too, Sturges...Mmmm really really missed you...'

'Whoa...uhh...hey...mmmm love...wait.'

He groaned a little and peppered her face with kisses, sighing and taking a seat on a crate, brushing a thumb over her cheek gently.

'Before we get all distracted sugar, I have something to tell you. It's done...we got it working...it's ready whenever you're ready.'

He helped her down to the floor when she stiffened, gently tilting her face up to him, watching her shift from happy to blank...just blank and empty.

'No, no, no...tell me what's going on in that head of yours, don't shut down, darlin'.'

Sighing and pulling her between his legs and hugging her tight, rubbing a hand up and down her back slowly. Smiling softly when she looked up again, heartbreaking at the fear and sadness he saw there.

'It's really time...huh?'

'Yup, it's time for you to go and get Shaun. The sooner you get him, the sooner you'll be back...and afterwards...'

'And afterwards.'

That lil smile she gave him was...everything. She was so strong and amazing and beautiful and smart and afterwards...afterwards they were going to go home. Smiling back brightly.

'You can do this, love. You're gonna go get your boy and come back to us...come back to me.'

'Yes. Yes. I can do this. I want...I want to talk to everyone before. Let's go home and gather everyone and oh god, oh god, oh god...'

'Baby, breathe...Audra, come on honey you need to breathe...shit.'

'It's really happening Sturges...I'm gonna...Shaun..'

Her breath started coming in little gasps and soon she was sobbing. She was rapidly falling into one of her panic attacks, scooping her up and carrying her upstairs.

'MacCready! Get your skinny rear over here and help me!'

Mac came running over, helping him get Audra to her bunk and the two of them sat with her until she eventually tired herself out crying, sighing softly and carefully laying her down. They stepped out of the room but stayed close, looking through the window at the bustling courtyard.

'She hasn't had a panic attack like that in a while...'

'It's really done...she's gonna go to the Institute?'

'That's the plan. I checked the device over so many times...Virgil says it's set.'

'She's gonna be okay...right?'

'Yeah, she's gonna be okay RJ...she's so strong and smart...she's gonna be just fine.'

He slung his arm around the younger man and they stood there in companionable silence, waiting for her to get up and tell them what next.

She needs to be fine...

-

'Deacon, are you done here?'

'Just about, what's up Sir Nicholas?'

'Change of plans...we need to swing by HQ and pick up the thing from Tinker and then head back to Sanctuary.'

'Back...why?'

'The device...it's done. Audra wants everyone to meet back at Sanctuary before she leaves for the island.'

Deacon just nodded and Nick scowled, pulling off his sunglasses and looking at the complete and utter terror in the other man's eyes, sighing and slowly pulling him into an awkward hug. The spy clung to him and Nick did his best to comfort the other man, handing him his sunglasses when he pulled back.

'I'm scared too but there's nothing we can say or do that could change her mind. It's time for her to go get Shaun.'

'I've already lost her once Nick...I don't think I could handle it again.'

'Hey, we're not gonna lose her, ya hear? No one is losing anyone. Come on, let's go get her device and see if Tom has any other tricks up his sleeves, we need to make sure our girl stays safe.'

'Yeah...yeah, okay. We can do that.'

Nick watched the spy go tell High Rise they had to take off, stepping out onto the balcony to have a smoke, luckily for him it wasn't too hard to hide his worry. He didn't need to show Deacon how scared he was. He couldn't survive losing her either.

-

'Elder?'

'Come in Cade, please tell me you're not here to check on me again, I am fine.'

'Oh...no, no Sir. There was a call on the radio, the General invites you, Paladin Danse and Scribe Haylen to her settlement, Sanctuary, tomorrow.'

'Did she say why?'

'No, Sir, just that she wished to speak with everyone. She's been putting calls out all over the place. It sounds like something big is going down and from what I gathered, it has something to do with when she went into the Glowing Sea.'

'Very well, respond and let the General know we will join her.'

He shut the door behind his Knight-Captain and turned back to Danse, looking over the incriminating items they'd retrieved from Kells' room.

'Is that wise, Arthur? I am still not sure about everything she was saying, remember Rachel?'

'You are the only one that heard that part and that is why I have not told the others just yet, we need confirmation of her claims before we inform the others and send news to the other Elders. And this is nothing like Rachel, I was 15 then. After all of this...she gave us Kells. The Circle is back and they have infiltrated the ranks, we cannot deny that. She said that they were out to assassinate her...pick two of our best at stealth and infiltration, drop them off at the station and have them go and assess this Sanctuary, make sure it is not a trap.'

'Yes, Sir. I'll also inform Scribe Haylen to be ready. Ad victorium.'

'Ad victorium, Paladin. Dismissed.'

Arthur scowled as he looked through the pages of the journal they'd found hidden in the false bottom of Kells' footlocker. Danse might have his doubts and he had his own but Kells had certainly believed that the General was who she said she was and according to the Circle her and this other one, Aidan, were abominations that needed to be put down.

Fools. If she is who she claims to be, then she must be protected at all costs until the Elders can be informed.

-

'Hancock. Hancock. JOHN!'

'Fuck, what is it, Fahr?'

'I can finish mopping this shit up. You need to get your ass back to Sanctuary.'

'What happened?'

'Audra radioed, the device is done. They're meeting in Sanctuary before she goes.'

'Shit. Shit. Shit. FUCK!'

John swung his shotgun around and pressed it to the temple of asshole trying to crawl away and pulled the trigger, grabbing a rag and wiping the blood off his boots.

Of all the fucking times someone had to try take my town. They should have known better.

'Make an example of them Fahrenheit. I'll be back in three days and then I'm going to speak to the town, no one fucks with our town. And find Bobbi and put a fucking bullet in her head, that's the last fucking time I put up with her shit. Sic KL-E-0 on her if you have to, I'll pay whatever fee she wants.'

'Got it, boss. Hey, asshole...be careful, there might be more of them and give her a hug.'

He left the warehouse to the sound of one of the Triggerman screaming.

-

'Sir. The device has been completed and appears to be functioning. Shall we put a stop to this and retrieve Doctor Virgil?'

'No, X6-88. Allow them to proceed. She has worked hard to get to this moment, I think it is time that we allow her to see what the Institute really is. She shall be a useful asset.'

'Yes, Father.'

'And if she doesn't live up to expectations, at least we'll have her to study.'

Father looked over at the acting Head of the SRB and did his best not to scowl at the man.

What was it Doctor Li had called him? A weaselly wretch. Can't say I disagree there but the man is good at his job.

-

'Hi honey...I know it's only been a few days since I last visited but we got some news, so I wanted to come back and tell you and talk with everyone. It's done. The teleporter is done. I'm going to go get Shaun.'

Audra looked over her shoulder to the sound of the kids running down the street. Kids, in Sanctuary again...and soon Shaun was going to be one of them. Catching a glimpse of Nick and Deacon crossing the bridge and her heart pounded.

(So Far Away - Staind)

'Boff and I still fight like cats and dogs sometimes but I still love him, I love him so much. And the others...I don't know how I got so lucky. I think if you met them, you would love them too...we make some kinda crazy, wonderful, dysfunctional family. I finally told Arthur who I was...well, kinda. I gave him all the clues he needed to make an educated guess. I want him to come around but I just don't know.'

She sat down on the ground and placed the bundle of carrot flowers she'd picked, brushing some dirt off the headstone.

'I'm scared, babe. I'm so scared. I don't know if I can be a mom...what if I've turned into my mother? I invited everyone so we could have a dinner and just...just in case. You know, like how we always had a big dinner before you guys had to go? I'm gonna tell them everything, how it came to this. I'd say it was fate but if it was...she's a real fucking bitch for taking you away from me. I miss you, I miss you so much you big idiot.'

She turned her head at the sound of the footsteps and wiped her eyes when she saw Deacon coming over. Smiling sadly when he sat down on the ground next to her and pulled her over onto his lap.

'I love you.'

Audra wasn't sure who she was speaking to at that moment but it didn't matter, she loved them...her boys. It wasn't the same, it would never be the same and even though it felt like a horrible dream sometimes, here they were.
When she looked up and saw Nick, Sturges and Mac standing there waiting for them, it was okay. She had her family and she was going to go get Shaun and bring him home.

Chapter Text

Nick cocked his head, looking at the silent pair. They hadn't moved or spoken since Deacon first sat down with her, just clinging to each other in front of the grave.

Sturges roped Mac into helping him make sure there was enough bedding and such at Red Rocket for everyone as people started to arrive. He was surprised when Ellie showed up with Preston, smirking a little...Audra had called it and it looked like she was right, idly wondering if he should give Preston the talk just to see the look on the Minuteman's face. They were still missing Piper, Hancock, the Brotherhood contingent and whomever else Audra invited along.

Sighing softly and slowly approaching the two, gently gripping Deacon's shoulder.

'Come on you two, you need to eat something and Preston and Ellie just got here.'

Audra just smiled softly and held her hand out, reaching down and helping her up before helping Deacon up, as well. They started strolling for the bridge when her fingers laced with his, looking over and seeing her doing the same with Deacon on the other side.

(Dearly Beloved - Joe Chen/PurpleSchala)

He slowed down towards the end of the bridge, glancing over at Deacon and smiling slightly at the nod he received, pulling Audra into his arms as Deacon kept strolling on to Red Rocket.
She looked up at him curiously but slid her arms inside his coat, moulding herself against him. God, she was beautiful. Her hair was soft and angelic looking in the afternoon light and she looked much more rested after a bit of sleep, eyes so warm with a bit of their twinkle back, like staring into a piece of smoky quartz. Metal fingers carefully playing with the end of the braid she almost constantly wore anymore. Lifting his covered hand to cup her cheek, kissing softly. Pulling back with a little self-depreciating grin as he stirred a bit from the close contact, chuckling at her mock southern drawl.

'Why Mister Valentine, I do declare.'

'What can I say, doll. This old bot finds you mighty attractive. But that wasn't why I stopped here...do you remember that first time I came to Sanctuary?'

'Oh god, that night I broke the bottle...yeah, I remember.'

'Before I heard ya and came running, I was standing right here, thinking about you. That was when I finally admitted to myself that I was well and truly in love with you.'

'Oh, Nick...I love you. I can never tell you enough how much love you.'

'I know, doll and I'm sorry it took me a while to believe that but you...'

'Nicky...'

'Let me finish here, it took me a while to come around but I just need you see how much you have changed things for the better. Not just for me, for everyone, hell for the Commonwealth. I know it's hard sometimes and I know how bad your anxiety can get but just look at what you've helped make.'

He turned her so she could see Sanctuary and Red Rocket - a couple guards and one of the provisioners walking by and calling for her by name, giving a wave. Watching Dogmeat give a couple of the kids a playful chase over on the other side of the bridge. The soft strains of Diamond City Radio coming from the Minutemen office, a much more confident Travis dedicating a song to the Minutemen. The shouting and laughter coming from Red Rocket as they looked over to see Deacon running around wearing MacCready's hat.

'You've done so much and...and you...you just come back to us, understand? '

He was having a hard time forming words, he couldn't cry anymore but the emotions were heavy and he wasn't sure how to express them. Turning so he blocked the view from the road, grabbing a fist full of hair and tilting her head up, kissing Audra passionately. He wanted her to know and to understand how much they loved her, how much HE loved her. Nipping at her lower lip and pressing his forehead to hers, not even caring when his hat fell off, pretty sure he would be content to just be here with her forever.

'Mmmm think they would notice if we snuck away and found a private spot?'

'Heh, yeah...pretty sure they would notice...why, is there a place you have in mind?'

'There's a little trailer set up on the hill up by the vault...the only one that I know of that knows about it is Hank.'

'When did you get that set up?'

'Been working on it for a while...now that Red Rocket is all bustling, I figured I'd need a new escape hideaway if things got to be too much.'

'Let's go.'

He grabbed his hat off the ground and nearly groaned when someone called out to her. By the smirk on her face, Audra must have known what he was thinking, tiptoeing to press another kiss on him before she turned away and started down the road. Greeting other Ellie and Elijah with hugs, then there was Piper, then Glory, then Deegan.

It was a couple hours later when everyone had gathered around for dinner that she caught his eye.

'Gonna go grab some more of the canned mutfruit from the cellar for dessert. Nick, can you come help lift the boxes?'

'Sure thing, doll.'

Deacon smirked at him as they passed and Audra laced her fingers with his once they were outside, wandering across the bridge. Rather than turning towards the houses and going for the cellar, she drug him towards the little bridge and up the hill.
They stopped at the platform and looked over Sanctuary, pulling her into his arms and tucking her under his chin as she leant back against his chest. He could feel her heart pounding hard under his hand, breath hitching softly.

'You okay, love?'

'It just...it's nice to see so much life. When I came out...I thought everything might be dead and gone but here we are...come on, we can't be too long.'

He wanted to say something but she just gave his hand a tug and jogged over to the trailer set up down the old supply road just a little bit. Stepping inside, it was small and well done, he could see touches of her all over the place. He felt much too large in the space but decided that wasn't such a bad thing when Audra bent over, tugging her boots off. Nick couldn't stop himself, it felt like it had been much too long since the last time they'd had a bit of privacy, grabbing her hips and pressing himself tightly against her.

(Lips On You - Maroon 5)

Pulling away for a moment to pull off her bra and shirt in one fell swoop before grinding back into her. Nick leant down as best he could while trying to stay pressed together, hand wrapping up her braid and pulling her head to the side, lips trailing from ear to shoulder. The sound of her voice - breathy and trembling was going to drive him crazy.

'Gotta...stop being away...so long. Please, Nicholas. I need you.'

'Anything for you, doll.'

He let go of her just long enough to turn her around and push her back onto the mattress, climbing over her and kissing deeply. The feeling of her nails digging into the panels on his back through his shirt making him groan softly. Kissing her hard one more time before pulling back, kneeling up and tugging his suspenders down, shoving at his pants impatiently.
It was probably a good thing that he didn't have quite the same physical side effects of desire because his mind would never be on anything else; a million thoughts on how soft her skin was, how she tasted as he drug his tongue down and down, the soft smell of sweat and desire, the sounds of her soft murmurs encouraging him.

He wanted to stay, to worship her, to send her over the edge again and again until she was just an exhausted shivering mess, then he wanted to gather her in his arms and never let her go.

I am yours.

Somehow he ended up on his back with Audra above him, shuddering and writhing as she rolled her hips, looking down at their joined bodies and groaning. He never thought he could have this or love or the friendships she'd brought...but here they were and he never wanted to lose her.

'Come back to me, Audra.'

'I promise.'

If there was one thing he'd come to know, Audra would move the sun, moon, stars and this very Earth to keep her promises.

She lay there on his chest panting softly after they finished, his fingers trailing up and down her spine slowly, kissing softly again and again. Clinging to her as she tried to pull away, grinning at her soft chuckle.

'Come on, Valentine. We should get back. Oh! I almost forgot I have something for you.'

'Mmmm you come back here for a few more minutes and I'll be happy.'

Audra pulled her clothes back on but gave him a lingering kiss before turning around, digging through the lockers and handing him an envelope.

'What's this?'

'A gift but you can only open it after I've gone to get Shaun.'

'Okay, doll. I suppose I should get up.'

He gave himself a few more minutes, sitting there on the edge of the bed, watching her pull out a box of the jars from the kitchen. Chuckling and dressing, tucking the envelope into his jacket

'Had a backup plan to get us out here, hm?'

'Maybe...'

Deacon gave him a knowing look when they returned to Red Rocket with a box of the canned mutfruit, smirking at the spy and taking a seat next to him, thoroughly enjoying the shocked look on his face when he reached a hand over, digging in Deacon's pocket and pulling out a lighter. Audra came over, sitting on his lap and taking a drag before passing the cigarette to Deacon, standing and wandering off when someone called for her. Leaning shoulder to shoulder, passing the cigarette between them as they watched her flutter from person to person, making sure her guests were well taken care of.

Nick could worry tomorrow but at this very moment, he was pretty happy, surrounded by friends, watching the amazing whirlwind that was the woman he loved.

-

Audra sighed and leaned into him and he wrapped her up in his arms, pressing a kiss on the top of her head. They'd actually spent most of the evening after dinner working, discussing trade routes with Ellie and Elijah and the prospect of getting a second shop set up in Goodneighbor, which led him to accidentally disclose the attempted uprising and Audra to start to stress over him being there. Luckily wherever she'd disappeared to with Valentine earlier had left her slightly more relaxed and he was able to get her calmed down a bit.
Still, John didn't protest when she cuddled up to his side, everyone up on the rooftop patio having drinks and talking or listening to music. He nursed his own drink, some of the good whisky Audra like to keep hidden, rolling his eyes playfully when she piped up again.

'Are you sure you don't need to get back, I know Fahrenheit is good but you're kinda the face of Goodneighbor.'

'I told you, I'll deal with it later. Nothings going keep me from being here for you when you called, you understand? But, I do see a certain kid who has been staring over with some puppy eyes to rival Dogmeat's...go to him, he's worried about you.'

'Hey, Mr Mayor. Thank you. You going to be good? Love you.'

'Love you too, sunshine.'

He patted her ass after she gave him a kiss and turned away, pulling out his Jet and taking a couple good hits, watching her hips sway. As much as he loved seeing her go, he kept having to tell himself that he would be seeing her coming back soon enough, hopping up and suckering Elijah into a game of pool to distract himself.

-

Mac felt like his heart was pounding too hard in his chest as Queenie started walking over to him, trying his best to look light-hearted but he just couldn't stop worrying about what was going to happen. An eyebrow-raising when she held out her hand.

'Come on, Robert. Let's go for a walk.'

They stopped downstairs so Audra could tell Sturges that they'd be back in a bit and so she could grab some firepower, strapping Kellogg's pistol to her thigh and surprising him when she grabbed Reba, lacing her fingers with his and tugging him down the road. It was dark but clear and the moon was nearly full so it wasn't too bad as they wandered down the road, heading into Concord, trying to figure out where the heck she was leading him.
Concord had started getting busy, now that the Minutemen had started expanding here, slowly running out of room in Sanctuary for their growing numbers. She turned and smiled at him when she stopped, digging around and pulling out her giant keyring.

'The museum?'

'Yeah, I want to show you something, come on.'

He stepped in and his jaw dropped as he looked around, he knew they had been doing a lot of work here in Concord but this place was like brand-spanking-new looking. Audra was smiling and he trailed behind her as she led him to what was going to be the new Minutemen headquarters. They went up and she paused at one of the closed doors, looking up at him.

'I have a couple of ideas for after I bring Shaun home and for when you bring Duncan, I was kinda wondering what you would think about walking the boys down here...'

She opened the door and revealed the classroom, leaning against the door as he wandered around a giant goofy grin on his face. It's not like he hadn't thought about the future and wondered about things like teaching Duncan stuff but to actually see this, a step towards that better future she'd talked about, it really hit him.

'Yeah...yeah. That would be great, bringing the boys to school. I still want to teach them how to shoot.'

'You will, besides the class, I was kinda hoping we all could help teach now and then. We all have our skills and strong points. Come on, let's go see the other stuff.'

They kept wandering around till they came to a locked room, Audra popping the door and wandering in.

'And here's my office but this isn't what I was talking about, come on.'

That's when he noticed the door at the back of the room, following her as she unlocked it and went up the stairs, coming out on to the roof.

'Getting the vertibird down was a bitch, they had to break it down into pieces. But...look at that view.'

They walked towards the back of the building and from there they were able to see out over most the Commonwealth, it being as clear as it was. She moved to the ledge and swung Reba around, Audra had outfitted her with a long-range recon scope and sighted down.

'There's Kingsport Lighthouse, take a look.'

They went back and forth for about a half an hour, looking through the scope and picking out things to look at, laughing when they saw a couple raiders going at it on the roof of the Corvega factory. Leaning in as she bent over, nuzzling at the back of her neck.

'Not a bad idea, ya know. I don't know if I'd want to do it right here on the roof though, out in the open too long. I kind of feel like a target...'

'There is a fairly comfy couch in my office that just happens to pull out into a bed.'

He grabbed her hand and yanked her back towards the stairs, pausing on the stairs and turning around so they were face to face, remembering their first kiss. He didn't stop this time though, groaning into her mouth and moving one hand down to cup her rear, lifting a leg and wrapping it around his waist. Both hands cupping her bottom now as he picked her up and stumbled down the stairs, laughing and moaning as she did something amazing to his neck.

(Mad About You - Hooverphonic)

'Come on, Queenie...not fair.'

He was aching, pressing hard between their trapped bodies and set her down once they got to the couch, trying to figure out how the heck the thing pulled out. Giving up and sitting down, pulling her onto his lap and taking her mouth again. He couldn't focus on anything but how freaking good it felt, groaning when she stopped, yanking at her shirt and ducking his head down to capture a nipple in his mouth. He tugged at the little ring with his teeth and teased the other one with his fingertips, feeling a surge of satisfaction each time she whimpered his name. Letting go of her nipple and sliding his hand down over her soft stomach and into her pants, gasping a little when he felt how drenched she was.

'Robert, please? Please please please...'

He couldn't wait anymore standing her up and helping her yank down her pants, leaning back and just sliding his down so they were down around his ankles as she straddled him. Mac cupped her face and kissed her deeply, trying to put everything into the kiss. He still couldn't bring himself to say the words but he couldn't hide it from himself, he loved her and it was fucking terrifying. Mind going blank as she slid all the way down him and she was so warm.

'Fuckkkkk...'

'Mmmmm, language.'

They were laughing as he started thrusting up, groaning and driving deep. He tried, he really tried to watch his mouth because he promised Duncan but sometimes there were just no other words that worked as well.
Looking into her eyes, they were black in the dim room and he was sucked in. He loved his wife but they had fallen love after knowing each other most their lives. They were young and it was happy and comfortable. No one had ever looked at him the way Audra looked at him or the way she looked at the others like they were the most important things in the world.
He must have made some kind of face because she slowed down and leant up, cupping his face and kissing softly, asking a silent question. Mac kissed her back over and over, pressing his forehead against hers as he wrapped his fingers around her hips and started lifting her up and down, calling out her name in between kisses.

He didn't want her to go. He didn't want her to ever leave them.

But he understood, it was the same drive that led him to the Commonwealth to find a cure for Duncan. That was her son and as much as he wanted to wrap her up and keep her there, he knew nothing would stop her.

'Audra, I...'

He couldn't get the words out as she flew over the edge and pulled him with her, whimpering and clinging to each other desperately. Hiding his face in her hair and wrapping his arms tight around her. Protesting softly when she pulled back but her hand was warm, caressing his cheek softly. She'd been able to distract him for a little bit while they were out on the roof but all the worry was back and he choked up a little.

'Hey, hey...what's wrong Robert?'

'I can't lose you too. What if you don't come back?'

'Hey. I'm coming back. I am but if it would make you feel better...if for some reason I'm not back within say a month, you know what you're going to do? You're going to go and get Duncan and bring him home. You're going to stay with our crazy lil family because someone has to keep them in line. You can be one of the Captains or Lieutenants in charge of training the Minutemen up right. And you're going to walk Duncan to school in the mornings, so he gets an education with the help of everyone and he'll grow up to be better than all of us. Promise me that, Robert. Promise me if for some reason something happens, you're going to keep going.'

His face crumpled and all he could hear was Lucy yelling at him not to stop, to take Duncan and keep going, and then just the screams. Wrapping Audra tight in his arms, hiding his face against her chest, sobbing.
He could feel her petting his hair and lightly stroking his back, he wasn't sure how long they sat there like that but he was drained, throat raw and eyes scratchy. Looking up at Audra and kissing her softly.

'Promise.'

'One more thing, I want you to hang on to this, okay. That way I know it's safe and you know I'm coming back for it.'

He gave her a sad smile as she pulled out the soldier but held his hand out. They got dressed in silence and she held his hand as they locked up and walked back to Red Rocket, he could see Sturges in the garage, obviously worried and taking his stress out on whatever he was working on. Nodding towards the other man.

'Go, I'll be okay. Gonna lie down.'

'Okay, I love you, Robert. See you in the morning.'

They still had a pile of mattresses in the common room and Hancock was lying there, Nick sitting off to the side reading a book. The sad eyes the synth gave him almost set him off again, putting his crap away and stripping down to a t-shirt and finding a pair of clean boxers before flopping next to John. Looking up with wide eyes when Nick came and sat down on the edge.

'You okay, kid?'

'What if something happens?'

'I'm not gonna lie to you, RJ there's that possibility but they've worked hard on it and Audra promised. She promised she would come back.'

He could hear the strain in Nick's voice and logically Mac knew Nick had thoughts and feelings of his own and everything but hearing the fear in his voice, that really just made it sink in. Lying his head back, leaning into Nick as he started reading softly from the book, feeling John give him a sleepy half-pat on the back half-hug before the ghoul was out again.

-

He dropped the wrench with a clatter when he heard her say his name softly behind him, flushing and tucking the project away in a box before standing and facing her, wiping his hands on a rag. Audra hit the button for the shutter and closed the door behind herself, taking a seat on the workbench and looking at him, concerned. When she held her arms open, he stepped into them and wrapped her up tight.

'How you doing, sugar?'

'Meh...'

'...Audra.'

'I'm scared, Sturges.'

'Oh, darlin.'

He tilted her face up and he could see it now, now that she wasn't hiding behind her false confidence. He saw how she had tried to comfort Nick and Mac and he knew she was going to have to go find Deacon, he was probably most shaken of all of them but for now, for now, she was here and she was his. Wrapping her arms around his neck and legs around his waist, carrying her to their bathroom and setting her down to help her out of her clothing.

'Let me distract you for a moment, love.'

'I love you, Sturges.'

She gave him a sweet smile and was standing in front of him naked soon enough, grinning as she helped him out of his overalls before turning on the shower. The water was hot, she always liked the water just this side of too hot when things were bothering her. He'd asked about it once and the answer made his heart ache, how she would feel so cold and be reminded of being refrozen, the last image of her dead husband playing in her mind.
They stood under the hot water for a while, just holding on to each other before he scrubbed down quickly and grabbed her soap to wash her gently. The first time they'd done this, he wasn't sure if it would ever happen again but here they were and soon she was going through the machine and if anything went wrong it would be his and Virgil's fault. He realised he'd stopped when she turned around and looked up at him all concerned again.

'Hey, I'm going to be okay. I KNOW you did an amazing job and I'm going to find Shaun and after...'

'After. Yes.'

Leaning in and kissing her tenderly a hand drifting to her hip questioningly, when she turned into his touch, Sturges couldn't stop the soft growl as he pressed her back against the tiles. He wasn't sure how in the world circumstance had led them to be here but all he knew was he grateful for it. He had never been so madly in love and so content with the idea of tackling anything life threw at them, as long as they were together. Frowning and pulling back when she let out a hiss as he slid a finger into her, about to step back when she grabbed him.

'No, don't stop. It's okay, just warm me up, please?'

'You're sore, darlin, we don't have to right now.'

'I want to...I need you, please, Sturges?'

When she said his name like that, he had a hard time denying her anything, wrapping her up in a towel and swinging her up into his arms carrying her to the bedroom. Flushing brightly when they stepped out to a wide-eyed MacCready heading for the door, only realising then that he didn't wrap himself up in a towel, making Audra giggle sweetly as he dashed for the bedroom.
Audra was trying so hard to stifle the giggles that she started snorting, peeking up at him as he made a show of putting his hands on his hips and puffing his chest out indignantly before breaking down in red-faced laughter.

'Well then.'

'His eyes were so wide, you're gonna have to go make sure he's all right in the morning or drag him off to a closet or something.' She grinned as she teased him and trailed off, making him pause, seeing the heat in her eyes. 'You're so fucking amazing, Sturges.'

'And you, my sweet...beautiful...strong...amazing...'

He punctuated each word with a kiss, starting at her ankle and working his way up, eyebrow-raising when she placed a hand on his shoulder and stopped him, actually looking shy.

'Mac...I...we....uhhh...bare.'

'Ahhhh, well then, we can save that for some other time if we manage to convince him to join us.'

(Gimme Your Love - Morcheeba)

The lightbulb went off in his head and he slid a hand up instead, slowly working her clit with his fingertips...he wasn't opposed to the fact that Mac had cum in her but it would be better left for if and when they all got together. She was swollen and sensitive from earlier so he made sure to take his time and really get her worked up and ready.
By the time he felt like she was ready, Audra was panting and tugging at his shoulders. Sturges loved the noises she made, each little moan and whimper telling him exactly what she needed or how she was feeling. Gasping as he pulled her to the edge of the bed and slowly started pressing into her.

'FUCK...oh...fuck...Jesus, Audra.'

She was so damn swollen and tight, he didn't know how long he would be able to hang on, starting to roll his hips and groaning when she dug her heels into his ass. Leaning down and giving her kisses as he tried to fight it back.

'Let go, baby...please please...ohhhh...'

She came with a soft whimper and that was it, groaning and going still as he pulsed. He wasn't sure how long they just lay there like that, but his legs were going numb and his back hurting. He winced when she hissed in pain as he slid out, feeling guilty for the pain he was causing her.

'Oh, darlin...'

'I'm okay, love, really. Just a bit sore right now but it will be gone soon, we just uhhh went pretty quick after me and Mac and I didn't have time to recover fully.'

She was blushing and it was the most adorable thing ever and he felt slightly better, knowing she would heal up but went and got a warm rag, cleaning her gently. Tossing the rag in the dirty laundry before climbing into bed and gathering her to his chest.

'Just because ya heal doesn't mean you don't hurt, if you can avoid it, please do?'

He was just starting to doze, a hand lightly playing through her hair when he remembered it, the other thing he'd made for her. He hadn't been sure about giving it to her just yet but it felt...right. She gave him a questioning look as he started patting the headboard blindly, trying to find the box. He was just about to turn for it when his fingers brushed the box, grabbing hold of it and bringing it around, Audra's eyes going wide.

'Now, you don't have to take this right now, love but I would like you to if you are okay with that, so I know you have a lil part of me with you there. And I know ours isn't the conventional relationship and all but I'm yours, Audra. Have been for a while now and always want to be...then after...'

There were tears in her eyes and she was smiling and he let out a breath he didn't realise he was holding as she straddled his lap and kissed him deeply before making grabby hands at the box, making him laugh. It was nothing super fancy and truth be told, this was the thirteenth one he'd made, the other ones not up to snuff. He'd taken the washer and pounded it out into the proper shape and buffed it until there was a good shine on it, it was the little heart and crown punch on it that took the longest to get right. Taking her hand and turning the ring up so they were visible, thumb gently brushing the tears from her cheeks.

'After we're living here in our amazing home with our amazing family and Shaun and Duncan and...yeah. Yes. Yes. I love you, Sturges. And we may not be conventional but that's okay.'

He couldn't stop the chuckle at the way she held her hand out and admired it, making him puff his chest a bit with pride. Running his fingers through her long hair, wincing when he caught a little knot.

'Ah, sorry babe.'

'It's okay, I think it might be time for a trim.'

'Noooo, it's so beautiful.'

'Yeah but it's getting long enough to be dangerous, what if I got it caught on something?'

'True but what would your other husbands think?'

'Other husbands?'

'Well, it might not be official and all but what else would you consider us?' Chuckling and winking at her.

'I guess I never really thought about titles or anything, I just love you all. Besides how could I have multiple husbands, that wasn't exactly legal back in the day?'

'Well, near as I can tell darlin, you are the sole living expert on the legal system...so I would say that it is up to you to make those rules since there is a lot that goes on now that wasn't exactly legal back then. And speaking of husbands, if you're not able to sleep you might want to go looking for Dee. He's really worried.'

'Okay...hey...' She leant down and kissed him again, smiling when his fingers found the ring, rubbing it softly, 'I love you, Sturges.'

She dropped down and rifled through the little safe they kept there in the room, eyebrows shooting up when she pulled out the chain with her wedding bands, even more surprised when she slipped it over his head.

'I don't have a ring for you but if you would hang on to these and keep them safe, I'll make you one when I get back.'

'I love you, Audra. You don't have to do that but I'll keep these safe and happily put them back around your neck when you get back. I'm gonna snooze a bit and if that doesn't work, I'm gonna either go apologize to MacCready or see if I can get him to blush all cute like that again.'

Her laughter was the best sound, stealing another kiss as she got dressed before she wandered out the door, lying back just smiling softly. She was gonna come home and after...

-

He wasn't sure what woke him but he could feel the hair on his arms standing up, grabbing a pistol and his switchblade before cracking the door, surprised when he saw a lantern flickering in the darkness. It was late/early but it was still bloody warm, stepping out of the trailer and wandering over in just his shirt sleeves, taking the bottle that was held out as he approached. His breath caught in his throat and he nearly choked on the drink he took when he saw the glint of the ring on her hand, instinctively reaching for his pocket and feeling the shape of it still there.

'Sturges made it for me. So...did you know it was me in there when you were watching the vault?'

'No. I would have found a way to open it years ago if I had known. I was just watching it because there were reports that the Institute was interested in it.'

'Were you there that first day? How did you know it was going to open?'

Deacon sighed and motioned her up, sitting on the chair and pulling her back down on his lap. He knew this line of questioning would eventually come when he found the trailer she was putting together...the one that was so close to his hilltop spot. Lifting her hand and looking at the ring, the one he had for her had the moon and stars on it and this had a heart and crown...fitting. Playing with the ring with a sigh.

'Yes, I was there that first day. I was so startled I fell out of this very chair. I didn't know it was going to open, it was fate or luck or coincidence or whatever you want to call it...so are you going to marry him?'

'Heh, Sturges already calls all of you my husbands. I don't know. I don't know what is going to happen, Boff. I just am taking this one step at a time. I have to get in the machine first, then see what's waiting for me.'

'...don't go.'

'Aodh...'

'Please, please, don't go. I can't...I can't lose you AGAIN.'

He knew he was scum for asking but he couldn't...if she wasn't here that would be it.

'I have to. I have to get Shaun.'

'I know. But what if...'

'There's a lot of what-ifs. Deacon...I love you. Like I've told the others, I'm coming back. Do you trust me?'

'Yes.'

There was no hesitation when he answered, which honestly kind of surprised him but it was true. He trusted her more than anyone else in the whole fucking world.

'Then trust me when I say I'll always come back to you. You know after you left, I felt guilty for not having anything...'

There was a sinking feeling in his stomach, eyes going wide when she pulled his glasses off and kissed him softly. It felt like it had been forever since the last time they'd kissed, leaning into it. Pulling back curiously when she lifted his hand and slid the band on to his ring finger, eyes wide.

(Remains - Bastille feat Rag'n'Bone Man and Skunk Anansie)

'Apparently, it is a night for rings and great minds think alike or something. I had this made for you after you left and I never got the chance to give it to you. Since there was no body for a proper burial, I just kept it as a reminder of how much I loved you.'

He felt like he couldn't breathe, watching her lift his hand and look at it, the gold band with the little sun engraved on it and the next words out of her mouth broke him.

'It's a promise. I'll be back for you. I'll always come back to you, love and however long we live and whatever we go through, I want to be with you until the day I die.'

Audra wrapped herself around him and held him while he panicked, he couldn't stop the tears, eventually calming down slightly. They were still sitting there watching the sunrise when she kissed him again and there was something about it that was just so achingly familiar even though he was having a hard time remembering why. He didn't know how to feel as she leant back against his chest, looking at their hands and the rings on them, glancing over to see Julian wandering over.

'Themis, the Brotherhood said they would be here at 0900 hours.'

'Thank you, Thanatos...hey...wait. Would you spar with me this morning? Or I need to find Hank or you Dee...someone. I need to work some energy off before I face Arthur. He might still be full of piss and vinegar from last time.'

'Spar with you, shrimp?'

'Oh, fuck you, hobbit...though, with as hairy as you are, you're more like a dwarf.'

'Sorry, love you're not my type but I suppose I could teach you a few things, just name the time and place.'

'Down by the playground, that's level enough so that you shouldn't trip all over your feet...we'll be down soon, just give us a minute.'

Julian waved a hand to indicate that he heard her as he turned away from them, taking a few deep breaths only to be surprised by the soft nuzzle along his jaw and the soft sigh, looking at Chunk questioningly. Frowning and cupping her face when it crumpled and she couldn't stop the soft sniff.

'I'm scared...and I just...I have to do this, I have to find Shaun. I miss my baby, Aodh and I've already missed so much. I feel like such a horrible person for being scared and for wishing I could stay here with you. Am I a horrible person?'

It was like his thoughts were echoed and being played back for himself and it hurt, especially hearing it from her in that soft voice, rubbing the tears from her cheeks. She looked so bloody young, when was he ever that young? He couldn't remember but it didn't matter, pulling her forward and kissing her till they were breathless. His own voice was soft, forehead pressed to hers.

'No, you're not. Pinky promise me you'll come back. And just remember, instinct is a powerful tool in our business. Rely on it, train it up. It'll save your life. Promise.'

She pulled back raising her hand and he hooked his pinky with the one she offered, taking a few deep breaths. Audra slipped the glasses back on his face and slid off his lap, stretching with a little groan.

'Ugh. I guess I'll go change into something I can move in. This should be interesting.'

'He's good, especially since he doesn't broadcast his next move. You sure you want to do this?'

'Yeah, I want to get some of the fight out of my system. Might warm up with someone else first. Come on, love...let's go see how I fare against Death.'

He took the offered hand but couldn't stop the little shiver that went down his spine.

-

'Put us down near that structure.'

'Yes, Elder!'

The vertibird set down on the road near the former Red Rocket, Arthur hopping down followed by Danse and Haylen, watching as it too back off and started for the police station. An eyebrow raising as he heard a bark a moment before a furry blur was flying into his chest and knocking him down.

'ELDER MAXSON!'

'Ugh. I'm fine, Danse. He's just very affectionate.'

'DOGMEAT! Get your ass back here!'

The dog gave him another couple of licks before he jumped off his chest and trotted towards the open garage door, Danse scrambling to help him up to his feet, brushing the flannel he was wearing off. He'd decided it would probably be best if they dressed casually, much like their last trip. Turning to the voice and watching the muscular man exit the building and direct the dog to his doghouse.

'Come on you big idiot, get in your house and leave the guests alone. I swear...Sorry about that, you must be Elder Maxson. And if I remember correctly, you're Paladin Danse and Scribe Haylen, yes? It's a pleasure to meet ya, I'm Sturges. If you'll give me just a moment to wash my hands up, I'll take you over to Sanctuary. Everyone is currently over there, betting on the fight.'

'Fight? And did you say that dog's name was Dogmeat? I knew someone that had a Dogmeat, once.'

'Yeah, Audra and the guys are sparring. So far she's managed to win five of the five matches and she's about to go against Julian, who is the best of them supposedly. And that is the same Dogmeat that travelled with Charlie. Arthur...'

He had to work at keeping the surprise off his face as the lanky man came striding over. He'd certainly changed in the time since they'd last seen each other but there was still that smarmy little grin he would have recognized anywhere.

Damn, he got tall...

'MacCready...there is no way that is the same Dogmeat, he'd be ancient by now.'

'But somehow it is, just like there's a tiny 234-year-old crazy woman we're about to go see. Sturges, Audra is gonna need some clean clothes. Dee got her with his switchblade, nearly won that one. Turns out Hank is good with a gun but not as much with the hand to hand. Dee says Julian is better. Come on.'

The other man, Sturges grumbled to himself as he went back inside, coming back out a few moments later with some clothing and the five started across the little bridge for the settlement. He could tell where they were sparring by the sheer number of Minutemen and settlers milling about as MacCready and Sturges made their way through the crowd.

'Oooohhhhh...'

The hum of the crowd was accompanied by a loud slapping noise and a yelp from Audra he would recognize anywhere, rushing forward to see her rubbing her rear.

'Really, Julian?'

'If we were doing something other than warming up, you'd really be paying shrimp. That was just a warning.'

'If we were doing something other than warming up, you would have already been knocked out from that first hit.'

'So you ready then? Bring it on, shrimp.'

Arthur scowled at the man insulting the General, the voice...this was the one that had been in the Circle. He wasn't sure how wise it was to keep the man in her employ but Audra was just laughing and dancing around the man. Jesus, she was wearing an outfit just as bad as her suit that she favoured, the leggings and top fitted and her hair tied up.

You could tell the moment they both got serious, it was a shift in the air and the way they both went still. He wasn't sure how he ever thought this woman was incapable and undisciplined, he wondered how much she'd held back when she'd sparred with them, blinking as she rolled away to avoid a strike. It was like she was even quicker than before.

Danse also had a look of surprise on his face and Haylen was wide-eyed, catching sight of the synth and ghoul and following the others to stand with them and a man in sunglasses that looked vaguely familiar. There was another man, older, sitting to the side with a rag on his face and Arthur could only guess that this was the Hank MacCready mentioned. Inclining his head slightly.

'Valentine, Mayor Hancock.'

'Elder Maxson, Crewcut...nice of you to join us. Who's the cute little mouse there?'

'Little mouse, I...I am a Scribe in the Brotherhood...'

'Chill, sister. I meant no insult, you're just looking like someones gonna eat ya. We generally only bite if you ask us nicely...'

'John...'

Arthur scowled at the ghoul and the mayor just chuckled as Haylen blushed and Valentine tried to distract him, everyone turning their attention back to the fight. Audra used nearly the same move she did with Danse, knocking the man to his knees but not knocking him out completely. A man with an impressive hat waved an arm off to the side.

'Calling that one for the General. Take a moment and prepare for round two.'

'Thank you, Preston.'

'Hi, guys, Haylen. Thank you for coming, sorry I didn't realise the time. This shouldn't take long and then we can talk.'

She grabbed a tin of water that was passed over and took a couple deep swallows before handing it to the other man...Julian was what MacCready called him, trying not to flush when she turned to him and gave him a wink. Soon enough they were tied 2-2 and Arthur was seriously wondering how neither of them seemed to be seriously injured, they'd both taken hits that should have left marks but Audra looked fine and Julian only looked slightly worse for wear. Watching as she took a seat on the ground in front of them, kicking Julian's leg.

'Tiebreaker. Weapons this round?'

'Knives or blunt?'

'Your choice.'

'Knives.'

'General...is that wise?'

'We'll be okay, thank you for your concern, Arthur. Hey, babe, did you happen to grab any of my knives?'

He wasn't sure who she was speaking to but the one man, Sturges, motioned at the pile of clothing and she crawled over and pulled out a switchblade, giving a little nod.

'That'll do. You ready, Julian?'

'First blood?'

'You know it.'

He was in awe when they started really going at it, this wasn't an exhibition fight, this was a display of skill and power. These were two people who to the untrained eye might look like they were flailing, standing toe to toe with hands smacking rapidly but if one watched closely you could catch the moves and counter moves, the blades switching hands and being taken. Audra's blade was knocked from her hand and he thought that might be it as she flung herself backwards and bounced up onto her feet, ready to avoid the next attack but now she was unarmed. What happened next was something he wouldn't have believed if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes.

'John, knife!'

The ghoul reached around his back and pulled out a blade from somewhere...and threw it at Audra. One of the men jumped up but didn't get any further when Audra plucked the knife out of the air by the handle and went fucking flying. The kick knocked the knife out of the other man's hand and she was on him, knees pinning arms down and a knife to the throat and when she pulled back there was just the tiniest bit of red on the blade. They were both sweating and panting and she stuck the knife into the ground before rolling off with a huff, lying on her back on the ground as Julian started laughing and it exploded into a cacophony of people shouting.

'What the fuck, Chunk!'

'You trying to stop my processor, doll?'

'Shite, Audra. You need to teach me that trick.'

'General!'

Then the mayor was on the ground and the man with the sunglasses was rubbing his fist but the ghoul just laughed and licked the blood from the corner of his mouth. Audra rolling over and pulling the man away. He couldn't hear what she was saying but she cupped his face and soon enough the man had calmed, the pair turning back to the rest of them.

'Sorry to scare the crap out of everyone. John and I practised that trick one night and got pretty good at it. Dee, Hank, Julian, thank you, that was fun. Now, show's over folks! Let's get down to business. I need to shower first, really quick and then Arthur and I need to talk for a bit before I speak with everyone. What time is it now? Ten? Okay...let's aim for lunch and then talk. Preston, can you grab a couple guys and make sure there are enough chairs up on the rooftop patio? It's a beautiful day and I'd like to enjoy the sun. Okay, I'll be right back.'

'General...Audra...what...'

'Walk with me, Arthur? Sturges, can you take Danse and show him the shop? Dee, can you take Haylen and show her the library?'

He couldn't help but watch in amusement as she went around and gave several of them kisses and playfully punched Julian on the shoulder before turning and beckoning him, it just so...odd and bizarre and unlike anything he'd ever experienced.

'So...what's up?'

'Audra...it is Audra, correct? Audra Platner?'

'That's my maiden name but yes, that's me.'

'What are we doing here, Audra?'

'I thought that you might want to see some of my pictures and letters but mainly you are here for story time. I have a hell of a tale to tell before I go to the Institute.'

'Before you WHAT? Wait, what...ahhhhh, what are you doing?'

'I need to shower. You followed me in here, I figured you didn't care.'

Arthur looked around and flushed, he'd been so focused on her, he hadn't realised they were in a bathhouse.

'You've seen me naked before. There is a chair right there, we can either finish this conversation while I shower or you can wait out there till I'm done.'

He sat down on the chair but turned it slightly so he wasn't staring directly at her, already overly aware of the expanse of soft skin she was showing. Flushing when the water started and he could smell her soap.

'As I was saying, I wanted to show you some stuff and talk before I go to the Institute.'

He made the mistake of turning to look at her, he hadn't just imagined her saying that then, it was ludicrous but the sight of her naked and covered in soap made him achingly hard and stopped the words in his mouth. She looked much too amused at his discomfort and he frowned and turned back to the wall, reciting the Codex in his head, trying to get back in control of his traitorous body.

(Rage and Romance - Bressie)

'Aw, don't scowl, darling. I'm almost done, just rinsing off now. There, all done, just need to get dressed.'

Steel fucking preserve me from this crazy woman...

'Okay, it's safe to turn around now.'

She was dressed but even then he wanted to do nothing but rip it off and take her there against the wall, blinking when what she was wearing registered.

'Is that one of my shirts?'

'Uhh...yes? I may or may not have ended up with a couple of them when I left the Prydwen. It's so soft...I can change and give them back once we get to the house.'

He just blinked at her as she wrapped her hair up in a towel and nuzzled the shirt and something about that just made him inordinately pleased.

'It's fine. You can keep them. Now please tell me why you think you are going to do something as foolish as going into the Institute and just HOW you plan to make that happen.'

She tossed her wet towel into a bin and ran her fingers through her hair before gathering her clothes and heading for the door. Waiting for him and leaning in slightly as they walked.

'I have found a way to get in and I am going to go get my son. Simple.'

'Audra...'

'Here we are, this is my house here in Sanctuary but generally, we all live over at Red Rocket now. The Minutemen have been using Sanctuary as a base of operations but that is soon going to be moving to Concord and that will be the northern hub and the Castle will be the southern hub. I have a couple ideas for some other buildings, as well as some ideas where you guys can get set up...assuming you plan on staying in the Commonwealth.'

'We are staying until the Institute has been dealt with, after that I will evaluate...'

'Okay. So...take a seat, this might startle you.'

He sat down on the couch in the bedroom she led him to, watching her open the large safe and pull out a box, placing it down on the couch next to him.

'Now, please be careful with these, Arthur. They mean the world to me. If your Scribes or Proctor Quinlan have any methods of preserving or copying the documents, I would be forever indebted to you.'

Now, he liked to think that he was fairly in control of his reactions and emotions but damn this woman was sent to continually test him. Looking down at the photograph she handed him, jaw-dropping. There he was, Roger Maxson and there she was, young with dark hair but the same bright smile.

'That was before the guys left for Anchorage. Oh, here's one of Roger and Susan and the squirt after they got home.'

'Who's that?'

'That is my husband Nate...crazy, I know. The first time I saw Mac it threw me for a loop.'

'Did your husband give you that ring? You weren't wearing it before...'

'No, Sturges made this for me...something to remind me of what I have to come home to.'

'And are you certain you are going to? Do you even know what you will be facing?'

'I do not know what I will encounter when I get there but in case you didn't notice, I am capable of taking care myself and I'll be back. I promised.'

Somehow that was a comfort, there was something about her, The Queen of Hearts that inspired trust. They spent the next hour going through photos and letters with Audra introducing him to who the original members of the Suits really were.

The western Elders are going to be pissed.