“I fail to see how this direction aids you in accomplishing your objective,” Danse mumbled, his voice sounding metallic through the speaker of his T-51 armor.
Anthony shook his head, his recently re-painted T-60 helmet moving with him. He wished he hadn’t been forced to repaint it at all-a promotion to Paladin was all well and good, but it had come at his companion’s expense.
“It’s… well… not an objective-related thing,” Anthony admitted. “Just… it’s a pain I have. My son is a threat and now Maxson more or less wants me to take down the Institute by myself… I just need to go home.”
“I assumed you would still maintain a bunk aboard the Prydwen.”
“I will. I’m referring to my childhood home. I lived here before… well, before everything. Before the war. Before the army. I grew up here.”
“Aren’t there things you’re supposed to be doing?” Danse wondered, though his tone wasn’t judgmental or annoyed. Actually, he sounded concerned. “Anthony… we found the lead to the synth colony and then simply returned to the Commonwealth without investigating. I’m beginning to suspect your thoughts are askew.”
Anthony sighed, slowing his pace and pulling his helmet from his head to carry it under his arm. He knew he was leaving himself vulnerable, but at the moment he didn’t really care. In the corner of his eye, he could see his new boyfriend mimicking him, exposing his grimy but still handsome features. Glancing over, Anthony could see worry written across his face and forced a smile.
“I’m just a little nostalgic,” he shrugged, knowing Danse could probably tell that he was understating it. In reality the loneliness he had for his family was an almost tangible ache. “Passing Parsons on the way to Bar Harbor reminded me… I don’t know. My little brother used to live there. I can’t help but wonder how that ended up.”
“You had siblings?”
“Two,” Anthony nodded. “Both younger, Anna and Alex. Alex had some… well, he wasn’t right, even when he was little. So when he was about eight and couldn’t function in school… they suggested that he get sent there for an assessment. And he never left. He was fourteen when I joined the army, twenty-six when the bombs dropped… God. I hope it wasn’t too bad for him.”
“Why was your brother admitted to a psychiatric care facility simply for a learning difference?” Danse wondered.
“It wasn’t a learning difference. I mean, it was, but it was at home, too… he couldn’t live the way we could. Everything sent him into a fit, if my mother tried to dress him in certain clothes or if his food was touching on his plate. He was so hard to understand for the doctors that he got placed in solitary confinement at Parsons just because he couldn’t handle it in minimum security with other patients.”
“And your sister?”
“God, she was a brat… but… I don’t know. She was my sister. I took care of her.”
“Is it always in your instincts to care for others?” Danse wondered thoughtfully.
“I guess so, yeah,” Anthony shrugged. “My mother was a nurse. I think I got it from her.” Danse was quiet for a long time, and Anthony could feel him dwelling on something. “What are you thinking about?”
“Given the current situation and the fact that you have at least one relative who was mentally unsound… I’m concerned for your psychological well being. Anton…” The ex-Paladin stopped him, resting a titanium-armored hand on his thick shoulder plate. “...you’ve suffered some horrible things lately. The discovery regarding Shaun after you lost the world you knew… and… well, this recent business with my… origins.”
“Jake, I’m fine,” Anthony insisted even though he didn’t believe it. If anything, there were only a few things they’d been in stronger agreement on. This thought struck him and he shook his head. “Fuck. Look at me, lying to your face… I’m sorry. You’re right, I’m completely nuts… I don’t even know what I could gain from this. Maybe find my parents’ skeletons or something.”
Danse didn’t let go as they began walking forward slowly again, but instead moved over so that he was pulling Anthony to his side. Instantly, the soldier felt comforted, even unable to feel the warmth through the thick layers of ballistic shielding.
“You used to be better at lying,” Danse chuckled, “but that’s alright. I don’t know how this must feel for you. But even though in all likelihood I won’t usually comprehend everything you’re going through, you don’t need to hide it from me. I can handle it. I want to help you handle it. You’ve shown me I don’t have to shoulder my burdens alone, and you shouldn’t have to either.”
They stopped before a crumbling house in Jamaica Plain, and instantly a flood of memories bombarded him. The green paint was stripped away now, the windows long gone. His father’s pickup truck and his mother’s Cryslus had apparently rusted into nothing, because they were nowhere to be seen. The house itself was barely even standing anymore.
“This was your former place of residence?”
Anthony nodded: “Yeah. I grew up in this town. My mom worked at Milton, my dad did salvage. My sister was a cheerleader.”
“A what?” Danse questioned.
“Just something she did after school.”
They went into the crumbling house, their clomping metal boots loud in the otherwise silent scene. Anthony pulled off his helmet, breathing in the cool spring air laden with two centuries of dust. He closed his eyes and tried to remember everything… the tea kettle on the stove jumped into his mind first, of all things. His mom always had a cup of tea when she’d gotten home from work, before she went to bed, and with her breakfast every morning. It was this dinged-up old tea kettle that his grandmother had given her, and she’d always wash it after using it and then set it right back onto its corner of the stove. And his mom had always said she wished she had a real samovar like her grandmother had owned, but Anthony knew she loved that damn kettle…
It could never be said that Anthony Markovich Kostin didn’t like school.
Nobody else seemed to, but he really, truly did. All his friends were there every day (except for Dan, who went to Shaw High like most of the kids in Jamaica Plain), he was a bright student and most of his teachers liked him, and of course he loved to play sports. And school dances! Anthony loved dancing, he’d never been taught but seemed to be good at it anyway. He was tall and thin and handsome, so girls were always running after him to go dancing with them in the school auditorium. Somehow, though, he’d never gone steady with a girl. There’d been a few kisses, of course, but nothing really compelling. The fellows all said he was a ladies’ man and wished they had so many girls chasing them like he did.
This made it extremely annoying every morning at breakfast when Anna complained about school, because she hated it. The only thing she enjoyed was being a cheerleader like her friends, but of course even though it meant she was at his games she told Anthony she was cheering for everyone but him.
“Are you working at the diner after school today?” Mama asked, passing over a plate of buckwheat pancakes to Anthony’s spot and then a glass of milk.
“No, Dick said I could have today free because it’s the first day of school and all,” he answered before digging in. Anthony was looking forward to it, unlike Anna; he felt grand in his blue shirt and brand-new slacks. He’d gone to the barber the week before and gotten his hair freshly cut, and he had it combed neatly to the side like he was supposed to. He was a handsome guy and he knew it. “It’ll give me and Dominic time to finish with our Eagle Scout project, too.”
“You’re such a square, Anton,” Anna scoffed, making a face at him. “How do you even have friends?”
“I’m a swell guy,” he grinned, not bothered by her antics. Then he noticed that the head of the table wasn’t set. “Is Pop out for a fire?”
“Yes, he said they were being called to the military checkpoint south from Boston.”
Mama was ready for work as she sat down with them, her crisp white uniform pressed neatly and her hair all fixed. She was a nurse because babushka had been a nurse, and going back her family’s women had been nurses. She was strict with them about meals and schoolwork (and for Anthony, his after-school job at Dick’s diner in town and his school sports), but he liked that. He always knew where he stood with his mother.
After breakfast, Mama left in the Cryslus to go to work at Milton General while Anthony and Anna got a ride to school from Dan’s mother. Thelma dropped Dan off first at Shaw, then drove them into Boston since she was a housewife and had time to help them.
As soon as they got to D. B. Tech, Anna broke away from him to find Peggy and Louise, while Anthony cheerfully went to his first class whistling Maybe by the Ink Spots. (They weren’t as popular as they had been when he was a little kid, but they were his favorite band by far. Right now, for some reason, everyone was in a craze about Roy Brown, who he absolutely couldn’t stand.) Better still, his friend Frankie was in physics during first period with him.
“Tony!” his pal grinned, dropping into the chair next to him even though given their last names it was unlikely they’d actually get to sit together. “Hey, I heard Missy has English during second period with Ms. Taylor, too. She really likes you, you know. How do you get so many girls? And you’ve never even tried going steady with any of them! What’s your secret? I gotta know! I can’t even get Becky Frost to go out for milkshakes with me!”
“I don’t know, Frankie, it just happens,” Anthony boasted.
They didn’t have time to keep talking about girls because the bell rang, and from there the day went predictably. Physics, then English, then study hall (which his friend Dominic was also in), and then the dreaded accelerated calculus. But if he wanted to get into Mass Bay U, he had to suffer through things like accelerated calculus no matter how much it made him think his brain was going to melt out through his ears from the pressure.
Lunch was grilled cram & cheese sandwiches, which Anthony liked, and as always a bunch of girls he didn’t know very well (including Missy, like Frankie had predicted) sat at his table. Of course, he lived up to his reputation as the slick basketball player for all the chicks, but he was also still a friendly guy. Maybe that was part of why they liked him so much and it wasn’t just because he was athletic and handsome.
Electronics theory was after lunch, not because he needed more electives but just because he found it interesting and fun. Bud Garrett was in that class with him, and even though he was a year younger, Anthony liked him well enough. Bud was a forward on the basketball team, so they usually got along. American History for sixth period, and his luck was really good this year because most of his classes had one of his friends in them - for history, that friend was Vincent, one of the nerdiest guys Anthony knew. Vincent was also in Junior ROTC with him for the next period, too.
And then his favorite class: eighth period, the accelerated class for Russian Language. Ms. Sverdevskaya taught all the Russian Language classes, and she was his favorite teacher just like he was her favorite student. She was also probably the only teacher in the school who knew Anthony was Russian.
In fact, it wasn’t just the teachers; even his friends didn’t know. Because his parents only called him Anton at home, and while their names were actually Marko and Elena, Mama and Pop were known to the world as Mark and Ellen instead. Because the Soviet Union was still a communist country, even if it wasn’t as evil as China. So Anthony only spoke Russian at home or in class, and his gang of fellows all called him Tony instead of Anton, and he was a Junior ROTC cadet and almost an Eagle Scout for Troup 9136.
Of course, given that D. B. Tech was actually a Catholic high school (he and Anna were there on full scholarships instead of going to Shaw like their neighbors) a lot of the other students were Italian and so he didn’t have to worry about standing out with his dark hair and eyes; even acting the part of All-American Boy Scout, he didn’t have to look like it by being blonde and blue-eyed.
After school, since he didn’t have to go to work at Dick’s and basketball season hadn’t started yet, Anthony and the gang all went to Frankie’s family’s apartment in South Boston. (Bud and Dan, though also his friends, weren’t there because Dan went to a different school and Bud was younger so the guys didn’t respect him as much.) Anthony and Dominic were working on their Eagle Scout project, while Vincent and Frankie were clowning around with Frankie’s dog named - of all things - Snack Cake (Snack for short). There was a reason why Frankie was rounder than the rest of them.
“So we’re set for the whole thing?” Dominic questioned, tapping the end of his pencil against the notepad.
“Uh-huh,” Anthony replied confidently. “We can turn in our project proposal on Thursday. I’ve been putting aside money for the supplies, too, so we won’t have to worry about that.”
“Excellent,” Dominic grinned back, flipping to a clean page in his notepad and reaching for one of his textbooks.
Danse pulled him back into the real world, and he realized he’d been standing there gazing out-of-focus at the stove for a long time.
“Sorry, I was just remembering,” he explained, turning to his boyfriend.
“I assumed. Are they… good memories?”
There was obvious pain in the question; not only were most of Danse’s memories unhappy, but now he knew they weren’t even real.
“Mainly,” Anthony nodded. “I was usually pretty fortunate growing up. Both my parents had jobs, I was a good student, I had a lot of friends. Actually… it’s weird thinking back on it, because even with all that, I just… mostly I pretended to be happy. But I wasn’t.”
“I’m not sure,” he admitted, shifting his weight slightly onto the other foot in discomfort. Actually, if he really went looking, he knew he’d figure out what the reason had been, but he still wasn’t ready for that. He didn’t think he’d like the answer. “I was just sad sometimes for no reason.”
“Does that still happen?”
“No, these days I do have reasons to feel sad,” Anthony smiled, trying to turn it into a joke.
Danse clearly wasn’t having that. “How can I help make it better?”
“Well, you’re here with me, aren’t you?”
That got the other man to smile a little, though he seemed slightly embarrassed to hear something so sappy. “Of course. I enjoy being where you are.”
They climbed out of their power armor for the time being, sitting carefully in the rubble with their backs to the wall and their fingers entwined. Anthony felt odd about that, the sensation of holding another man’s hand in his parents’ house even though they were long gone. He didn’t think they would’ve approved.
Anthony was scribbling out his calculations like normal, but he was only paying half as much attention to his math homework as he should’ve been. Pop had gotten home from the salvage yard and was in the kitchen with Mama, who was also home from work and cooking up potato stew with beef for dinner. The smell was making his mouth water, but that wasn’t why he was distracted. It was the conversation.
“So, we kicked Pete from the station today,” Pop was grumbling.
“Why? I thought there’s a shortage of volunteer firemen.”
“There is.” A pause, probably to take a drag from his cigarette. “But we still don’t make exceptions for sexual deviants. His wife called everyone he knew this morning, friends, coworkers, all of us... because last night she caught him taking it up the ass from another man. Fucking disgusting, we didn’t want him around us anymore. He’s a disgrace to the whole department. We just sent him off as quick as we could.”
Something in Anthony was tensing up listening to Pop talk about this, but he wasn’t really sure why. Taking it up the ass? He didn’t even really know what that meant, but his father made it sound terrible.
Of course, he couldn’t get the thought out of his head, and that weekend Anthony tried to figure it out because the curiosity was undoing him. Pop was picking up an extra shift at Big John’s for vacation money, Mama was out shopping, Anna was off with her friends. The house was empty except for him.
Anthony was bothered by the entire idea, despite the fact that he was now trying to work it out for himself. It was such a dirty idea. And the way it was worded confused him further - taking “it” up the ass? What was the “it” in question? Some kind of object, presumably, but what object? And what object could anyone possibly want shoved up their butt?
Well, given that this was a dirty idea, Anthony checked once again to make sure he was still alone before locking himself in the bathroom. Sometimes when he couldn’t stand the pressure he would touch himself in the shower (no matter how many times he’d been told by other people that it had made the boys who did that sort of thing go blind) and his parents hadn’t seemed to find out.
Having no idea how to go about this, Anthony figured the least he could do was make it less filthy by using soap. He rubbed the bar between his hands to build up the suds, then thoroughly lathered between his cheeks. The ends of his fingers found his hole as he washed, and that should probably get cleaned, too. So he stuck the end of one digit in, sliding a little from the suds. It was a very strange sensation, like he was in the midst of using the toilet except not because he knew different.
A little further in… this was such a strange feeling! Why would people do things like this? He couldn’t help but clench up around the end of his finger, which only intensified the feeling of intrusion. It was a struggle to relax the muscles down there, but he was determined to unravel this mystery and so rinsed all the soap out of his butt in order to apply more suds, ensuring a cleaner experience.
The soap helped for more than just that, though. Anthony very quickly drew the conclusion that this would be extremely difficult without the slippery lather, especially since he couldn’t stop himself from repeatedly tightening up on his digit. Eventually he’d gotten his whole index finger in, and there seemed to be an odd bump in there. Upon his experimental prodding, an excited jolt went straight through to his privates and made him immediately stiffen up, which he hadn’t expected. It felt so odd but also so good, so Anthony did it again, a little harder, and almost fell down because of the overwhelming sensation. He got on his knees to make sure that wouldn’t happen, then gave the lump a very hard poke - and was rewarded with his fluids exploding out of him instantly. He cried out from it, unable to stay quiet, and later would be thankful he’d been so careful to wait until everyone else was out for the day.
*Babushka* - Grandma.
*Samovar* - A two-compartment kettle that Russians traditionally use to brew tea, often decorative and pretty.
I fucking hate those Roy Brown songs on Diamond City Radio. He's an annoying singer and his lyrics are annoying, too.
“You have so many things that you left here,” Danse observed.
“What do you mean? I moved out of my parents’ house twelve years before the Great War even happened,” Anthony questioned, confused.
“Your memories,” the former Paladin clarified. “So much of your life took place in this location.”
“I hope you’re not jealous,” he replied, feeling a little worried about the direction this might be going. “Knowing my entire life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you know.”
“I’m not.” Danse looked away briefly, then let go of his hand to pull him closer. He was still a little bit of an awkward bastard when it came to displaying affection, but he was getting better by the day. “I’m glad you have those memories.”
“I’m not sure that I am,” Anthony admitted. “Some of them aren’t so great. And now with the Institute… I wish I could forget and just be how I’m supposed to be in the present. I don’t need the past dragging me down more than it already has. I think it would be easier if I could just be a soldier again, the way I was back then. Just wear my armor and follow Maxson’s orders and never have to think about it. I’m so tired of thinking.”
“But you know who you are.” His boyfriend’s voice was a little louder, a little rougher, very bitter. It was the way he sounded when he was upset, but Anthony sensed Danse wasn’t directly upset at him, just in general. “My entire life was a lie. I may have stolen a real man’s memories. His life. Everything he was and would’ve been. I don’t know who I am. I thought I was a scrap trader, and then a recruit. And then I thought I was my friend’s executioner. And I thought I belonged with the Brotherhood. I thought I would stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them until the very end. But… none of it was real. I feel like… there’s a hole in me, somewhere. And something used to be there, but now it’s gone, and I don’t know how to fill it back in again.”
There were slow tears rolling down, now, and Danse had pulled his holotags off his neck to grip them in his free hand. They weren’t like the old dog-tags from the army that Anthony had been issued, metal tabs with his basic info stamped in. These were chipped for electronic scanning, and bore only a bar code, no writing.
“That doesn’t matter,” he decided.
“It doesn’t matter to me. Whoever you were, or thought you were, isn’t important. I never met that guy. I don’t know him. I know and care about the man you are now, Jake. He’s the only one I’ve ever known or been interested in. So maybe we both need to just let go of who we used to be.”
Danse huffed a bitter laugh through his silent crying. “You make it sound so easy, Anton.”
“I know.” He let the sadness roll through him, briefly, and then got a grip on himself again to lightly wipe the other man’s tears away with his fingers. “Sometimes I fool myself into thinking things are easy, too. Hell, look at this thing going on with the Institute… I would leave the vault and find my baby boy. Then I thought I could get my ten-year-old back from Kellogg. And then from the Institute. But… he’s not there, anymore. I can’t think that the director of the Institute is who I held in my arms and fed from a bottle so long ago. I can’t think like that, just like how we can’t think about how feral ghouls used to be ordinary human beings. Because if we thought like that, threats to our lives would’ve destroyed us ten times by now.”
“I’m confused. You have to deny yourself thoughts of Shaun as your offspring, but outwardly acknowledge that you think he’s a monster.”
“I never said that,” Anthony gently argued. “He’s a human being who’s done monstrous things. It makes it worse, almost.”
They were both crying, now. Apparently he hadn’t had as good of a hold on his emotions as he’d thought. They were gripping each other, the devastated father and the exiled soldier, because that was really all they could do, anymore. It had been in different ways, for sure, but they’d both lost everything. Anthony still had the Brotherhood to fall back on to a degree, but Danse didn’t even have that. For all intents and purposes in the majority of their lives, they were alone.
Why did they do this to you? Anthony wondered, brushing clear the tracks of moisture from his boyfriend’s cheeks even as they rolled down his own. Why would they make you vulnerable to mental illness? Why would they set you up to have so much pain?
His throat was choked and he couldn’t voice the words in his head. Instead he pulled them closer together, Danse clinging to him and crying silently into his orange flight suit. Anthony just hugged tighter, burrowing the fingers of his right hand into the other man’s dark hair. He wondered if it would always have to be like this, both of them bleeding endlessly from their emotional wounds and unable to comfort each other. And that thought in turn made him think that if he could just comfort Danse, then he’d take both of their suffering onto himself until the next time the world decided to end.
Despite knowing (at least in the sense of the practical) that it was irresponsible of them both to try and sleep with no security measures, it still bothered Anthony when he woke up the next morning and discovered Danse sitting a short distance away, lighting a fresh cigarette with the butt of his previous one and clearly having been up for some time. The circles under his eyes were so dark it almost looked like he’d been punched.
“Did you get any rest?” he questioned instead of saying “good morning” like other people did.
“Not really.” Danse shrugged limply, his medium-brown eyes dull with exhaustion and thin smoke trailing from his nose and mouth. “It doesn’t matter. Machines don’t sleep, anyway.”
Anthony shook his head. “When I was inside the Institute, I got to see them making the gen-3’s, you know. They’re all flesh and blood except for one chip in the brain… You’re still a human being, just with an extra part.”
The look on the other man’s face rejected his every word, instead declaring I hate myself and I think I’m disgusting and I wish I was fucking dead. Anthony despaired at that, wondering what he could say that wouldn’t just make everything worse. His boyfriend was a walking disaster right now, probably still at least vaguely suicidal and this was on top of his previous mental health issues from being a soldier for so long. Anthony had seen this before, too, before the war; one of his friends back when he’d been a sergeant in EOD had been given a medical discharge for shell-shock and offed himself before the ink on the forms was dry. Losing his career had essentially ended his life, and now the same thing was happening to Jacob Danse as had happened to Leon Norris.
The ironic thing was that just yesterday, Danse had been worried about him when Anthony knew he wasn’t the one in trouble. He wasn’t being crushed under the weight of his own thoughts, or at least not to such a huge degree as his boyfriend.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Anthony insisted, though his words stayed quiet and gentle. “You’re going to come over here and get some sleep. I promise, it’ll help.”
“Please, just trust me. You need it.”
With an endearingly martyred look, like he was only doing this because he thought it would make Anthony feel better, Danse complied, shucking his recently-acquired military tunic from before the war and crawling into his bedroll after barely remembering to stop and take off his combat boots. Anthony laid down as well, cuddling up to the other man with the intent to provide comfort.
“Will you… talk for a bit, please?” Danse whispered, obviously still forcing his eyes to stay open.
“Sure. About what?”
“I don’t know. I like your voice. Just talk about anything.”
Chuckling a little, Anthony agreed. He told Danse about how his father had been a volunteer firefighter (“Like the Protectron models with the cryo-weapons?” “Yes, like them, but this was before the Protectrons were widely available for that job.”) and how his mother was always complaining about implementing the new Mr. Handy robots at Milton General because sometimes it creeped out the patients. He recalled chocolate cake for his birthday every year, made by Mama and a thousand times more delicious than anything Fancy Lad’s had ever churned out in their pink plastic boxes.
Anthony went on after that to say that he’d never liked the chocolate Sugar Bombs as a kid, he was the only one who’d always eaten the vanilla flavor on the days when Mama hadn’t had time to cook breakfast. He remembered Saturday morning cartoons as a kid, and how Pop would always yell at him for leaving his roller skates near the stairs because clearly Anthony was trying to make him break his neck, and how one of his friends had kidnapped two of Anna’s dolls so that he could destroy them with a magnifying glass out on the sidewalk.
After that story, Anthony looked at Danse again and saw that he’d drifted off. His mouth was a little slack and the right half of his face was jammed against Anthony’s shoulder, and he had no right to look so damn adorable while he was sleeping.
“You should try them, I’m serious,” Dan insisted over the phone.
“No, alright? Not so loud, my sister’s in the living room,” Anthony shushed his friend. “I don’t need those things to get good test scores.”
“Hey, you’re the one who was being all sore about your calculus.”
“Yeah, well, that’s because calculus sucks. I still don’t need any of your damn Mentats, alright? You shouldn’t use that stuff, Danny. It’ll make you crazy someday.”
“You’re such a square, Tony,” Dan huffed, clearly frustrated.
Anthony thought about his little adventure in the shower yesterday and felt his face heat up; that wasn’t the sort of thing a square did and he knew it.
“I am not! Come on, what made you start being this way, huh? You shouldn’t be…” Anthony glanced through the doorway into the living room and lowered his voice to a whisper that would probably be hard to pick up on the other end of the line, but he couldn’t risk Anna hearing and making a fuss. “...taking chems!”
“You’re such a girl sometimes, Tony, you know that?” Dan grumped back. “No wonder you’re a damn Boy Scout, you’re so square that you’re scared’a chewable berry tablets.”
Anthony tried to protest, but for some reason his friend had actually gotten mad enough about this that the phone was slammed down on the other side before he could finish the first word. Confused and suddenly anxious, Anthony slowly replaced the receiver and wrung his hands because he didn’t want to start shaking.
It had been his birthday last week, actually, and now as an eighteen-year-old he was no longer a Scout. He’d gotten his Eagle Scout badge just before that, and so had Dominic. The only difference was that Dominic didn’t turn eighteen until February, so he was still a Scout and Anthony wasn’t. It gave him more time for school and his job and Junior ROTC events, but he missed wearing the uniform and showing off all his merit badges and feeling respectable. It just made him gloomier, because he’d done something depraved yesterday and now on top of both those things his best friend since nursery school was angry at him and he wasn’t completely sure why.
At school, Anthony was slick and charming and funny, and most everyone thought he was a pretty swell guy. Home with his family was a different story. He had no facade to wear that would hide himself from them, so he didn’t even bother trying anymore. That night saw him poking at the pork cutlets and rice with his fork, rarely taking a genuine bite or a sip of his cranberry juice.
“Chto sluchilas, sinok?” Mama finally asked him, frowning. “You don’t normally go hungry.”
“Hmph, yeah, that’s Anichka’s job,” Pop snorted, shooting a teasing look to his sister and getting an eye-roll back from her.
“Nothing much,” Anthony lied, shrugging and not meeting anyone’s gaze. “I’m just not feeling so swell today, that’s all. I think I’ll go to bed early tonight so that I feel better for school tomorrow.”
His mother reached over and felt his forehead with a vaguely concerned expression, but just frowned again. “You’re not warm… ah, well, just finish your juice and you can head up. If you start feeling worse, tell me and I’ll take a better look at you.”
Anthony reluctantly downed his cranberry juice and sulked all the way upstairs to his room, climbing onto his bed without covering up or even taking his shoes off. He laid there in the dark for what seemed like the rest of time, staring at the ceiling and mulling over everything in his head.
The uncertainty wasn’t just about the way Dan had been acting this afternoon, but around himself and his life in general. Anthony didn’t understand why he’d liked what he did yesterday, and now he felt ashamed of himself for liking it, too, because Pop would be disgusted if he did it again and was caught. And his father had talked about how that other fireman had apparently done that thing with… with another man! That meant there were men who got together and put their fingers into each other’s butts, and… and why would people do that?!
And all of a sudden Anthony was imagining someone doing that to him, and even though there was nobody to witness it he still flushed with embarrassment and a fresh wash of shame because that thought had made his privates get stiff.
For once in his life, Anthony found himself wishing that Dan and Anna were right and that he was a total square, because a total square wouldn’t be undoing his pants right now to do bad things like he was about to and thinking about someone else’s fingers in them.
After his body had started cramping up, Anthony gently extricated himself from Danse’s grasp and stood up to pace quietly throughout the mostly-collapsed house. It was a bittersweet thought for him, that as a teenager he’d never imagined he could go through the turmoil he’d experienced and come out alive. His troubles hadn’t been real troubles, or at least they weren’t anymore by his current standards even if they had been back then.
Yes, he’d applied for Mass Bay U and hadn’t been accepted, but he’d had an interesting and largely satisfactory career in the army instead. Yes, during senior year Dan had become addicted to Mentats in attempt to boost his academic standing and ultimately suffered a nervous breakdown midway through second term, but he’d still had his other friends and then made more during boot camp and being part of EOD.
It made Anthony smile sadly to himself as he finally admitted that, yes, he was still uncomfortable with the way he went about sex. God, he was an idiot in denial, and just thinking that in the privacy of his own head almost made him shudder. Maybe it was because everyone he’d known and grew up with was gone, now, but he really didn’t have the strength to keep lying to himself.
He could just imagine Pop’s disapproving glower, like when he’d snuck the Cryslus out for a joyride and gotten into an accident. Or Mama just staring at him with the wide-eyed disbelief she’d worn when he’d come home with Anna after a school dance where he’d had to stop one of his classmates from raping her. Or worst of all, Nora, with tears welling up and asking him why the same as the first time he’d told her he was re-enlisting. God, oh God, they would be so disgusted with him now…
Closing his eyes and scrubbing his palm across his face, Anthony tried to reason with the memories of his loved ones: I care about him so much. I know he cares about me, too. Please understand. The way things are now, we’re all we’ve got. We love each other. We help each other, we’re good for each other. Please understand. Please understand why I am this way. I didn’t choose this, I didn’t ask for this, I didn’t want… this. I never meant to disappoint anyone. I tried so hard, I really did, I tried so damn hard not to be this way and you know it… but… I just love him, so much. I’m sorry… Please understand.
He didn’t think they would’ve. His mother and his wife would’ve cried, probably, while his father would’ve just glared at him and made all kinds of comments about how depraved he was and that he couldn’t believe he’d raised his oldest son to be a God damn faggot, and just look, now he’d made his mother cry, what the hell was wrong with him?
Like there was really an answer to that question. Anthony had no idea what had made him this way, because given the option, he wouldn’t be. He didn’t want to be a sexual deviant. Even though his parents were long dead (and so was Nora, for that matter, because apparently it had actually been over six decades since her murder) Anthony couldn’t stop from hanging his head in shame. He was standing here, in the remains of their house, insulting their memory by bringing his boyfriend here with him.
Looking over, though, Anthony immediately felt the uncertainty of his teenage years spring back up again from a forgotten corner of his mind - because Danse was curled up asleep in his bedroll, oblivious to the world for now, and God help him because he loved that gorgeous, broken man. Even the things that were kind of annoying, Anthony loved, like how Danse would bitch him out for recovering scrap even though said scrap went to their armor maintenance and weapon repairs at a later point.
Why did he think about how wrong it was, everything he’d done to nurture this relationship, but feel so safe and comfortable and complete when they were wrapped in each other’s arms? He’d never gotten that from anyone, not even Nora. Danse made him feel whole, like Anthony had been waiting for the awkward and emotionally scarred warrior from the beginning.
Anthony had recovered Nora’s wedding ring once he’d gotten free of the cryo-pod, and it now lived on the chain around his neck where his Brotherhood tags jangled under his shirt. He’d never let himself think it before, of course, but he knew that this wasn’t the first time the little golden band felt like an anchor holding him down.
*Chto sluchilas sinok?* - What happened, sonny?
*Anichka* - Diminutive of Anna.
It took him until the evening to figure out why he’d come here, and the reason wasn’t what he’d initially expected, after all.
“Are you going to inform the Brotherhood of the synth refuge in Far Harbor?” Danse asked conversationally over bowls of vegetable soup for dinner, as if synths and the Brotherhood of Steel weren’t sore spots for both of them at the moment.
“No.” Anthony shook his head. “They’re not hurting anyone and they’re very isolated up there. Maxson doesn’t need to know and it’s unlikely he’d find out without my interference.”
Anthony could just see the words but they’re synths dying to jump out of his boyfriend’s mouth, but apparently Danse remembered at the last second because he didn’t protest beyond a slight frown.
“Well, if there’s nothing you came here to recover and you have no intentions of speaking with Elder Maxson about Acadia, then why are we here?”
There was the slightest accusatory note in Danse’s voice, which Anthony guessed was because he didn’t like wandering around aimlessly. He needed direction, orders. Anything to focus on that could save him from his own thoughts.
“I think I came here to let go,” he answered after thinking for a long, solemn moment. “My family probably wouldn’t have approved of my current life choices, you know. But they’re gone and I need to accept that. I need to let go of them and their expectations of me.”
“What expectations?” Danse wondered before drinking the remaining broth and spooning himself a second helping from the pot over their little campfire.
“God, there were so many. Shaun, for one. Doing something intelligent for a living. A living back then meant you worked for a good company and had a nice home. A living nowadays, though… it’s a lot more literal. I run tech to the scribes and clear out Ghoul nests because it helps other people live easier. But that’s not what my mother and father had in mind when they raised me.”
“I see… but wouldn’t they still be proud of you? Your aspirations remain noble and they’re why I took an interest in you at the beginning,” his boyfriend pointed out with a very small smile.
“Well… yes and no. I think it would bother them most that I’m not… you know. Normal. They thought I was, because of Nora and Shaun, but I’m not.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Back then, this-” He waved his hand between them. “-wasn’t okay. Obviously most people have much bigger issues to deal with these days, but… before the war, you couldn’t get away with this out in the open like we are.”
Danse’s dark eyebrows drew together, and his warm brown eyes lit with confusion. “Get away with what? Your words are too ambiguous, Anton. I can’t grasp your meaning.”
“They would’ve called me… called me a…” Anthony choked on the word and couldn’t get it out, even though it rang loudly in his ears like someone was screaming it at him. Faggot. I’m a fucking faggot and if they were still here, my parents would disown me. “I wouldn’t have been able to be with you, you see? No, not because you’re a synth, because… because you’re another man. That wasn’t acceptable. It wasn’t done and it wasn’t talked about. You couldn’t even think about it because it might get you into trouble. Men pursued romantic relationships with women, and that was it. Nothing else was allowed.”
“That’s irrational and pointless,” Danse scoffed, rolling his eyes. “And not talking or thinking about it doesn’t mean it wasn’t still done. It just meant it was being done behind closed doors.”
“Well, I know that now,” Anthony chuckled, feeling a little relieved despite everything. “But eighteen-year-old Tony Kostin who’d just arrived at boot camp and had to try very hard not to stare at other recruits in the showers didn’t.”
Danse made a face. “Tell me that wasn’t your given nickname back then. It sounds terrible on you.”
Now, he had to laugh. “Yeah, I know, but it was extremely American and at the time I needed to be extremely American. I hated it, too.”
“And your family was alright with that arrangement? You’ve said in the past that they instructed you to take pride in your heritage.”
“Pride doesn’t overrule the need for security,” he answered dryly. “The United States were extremely nationalist back then. We needed to blend in because communists and suspected communists were almost literally being burned at the stake. Being Russian meant you were a communist whether you had those ideals or not. My family was generally pretty apolitical, but even so, we had to be careful. Extremist propaganda and emotions were everywhere.”
“That’s unfortunate. One of my closest friends is a Russian, apparently, and he’s one of the best people I’ve ever known,” Danse offered.
Anthony felt his ears turn a little pink at the other’s affectionate tone, and he couldn’t help grinning back. “Don’t you think your opinion is a little biassed?” he joked. “I mean, I am dating you, after all.”
“It’s possible, but-”
“God, Jake, I was kidding,” Anthony laughed, stopping him. “I’m going to have to teach you to tell the difference someday.”
“I pick up on it… sometimes,” Danse countered. “I just find it hard to know the difference. Most of my social encounters with others are serious in nature.”
“That’s okay,” he answered. “You’ll learn just by being around me, I bet.”
“You do have an unusually strong sense of humor,” his boyfriend observed, raising an eyebrow, “in spite of your circumstances. From what I know of your life, you’ve had it more difficult than most, but you’re still able to smile and joke. How is that?”
“Well, I think it’s a defense mechanism,” Anthony shrugged. Now it was his turn to refill his bowl with starchy broth and diced tatos - it wasn’t easy to keep leftovers out here in the wastes, so usually when you made food it needed to be eaten on the spot. (Of course this was also to prevent curious Yao Guai or Ghouls from investigating the smell.) “There was a saying we had before the war: ‘You can either laugh about it or cry about it, so choose to laugh instead.’ And things were fucked up back then enough as it was… now things are even more fucked up. So I’m already used to laughing because my only other choice is crying. And if I’m laughing at it instead, it means I’m not letting it break me.”
“That’s certainly an interesting way of looking at it,” Danse mused, nodding. “But were things really so bad in your youth?”
“I mean… yes and no,” he frowned, struggling to come up with an explanation that wouldn’t be too over-complicated. “There were resource crises going on all over the world for some time before the Great War. Even our food was affected - my dad would tell me about how a passionfruit shortage changed the flavor of Nuka-Cola for awhile and the whole country was in an uproar.”
“Over soda?” Danse scoffed.
“You’d be surprised what people found to complain about,” Anthony chuckled. “Keep in mind, too, generally speaking Nuka-Cola was much better back then. It wasn’t two centuries old at that point.”
“Well, I always liked Vim! better,” he admitted with a grin. “I went to Nuka-World a few times as a kid and always secretly wished there was a Vim!-World I could go to. And whenever we went camping in Bar Harbor, we’d hit a grocery market on the way back and buy cases of it to bring home with us.”
“You always call it that,” Danse remarked. “The location has been renamed for over a century, you know.”
“Old habits,” Anthony shrugged, smirking wistfully. “For me, it’s only been a few months, after all. I’ve been thirty for two hundred and ten years.”
“That’s alright. Even before I was exiled I’ve been uncertain of my true age.”
“You look like you’re a few years older than me,” he offered, frowning slightly. “Of course, stress ages you, and you’ve been a commanding officer for some time… if I had to guess, I’d say thirty two or thirty three. But it doesn’t really matter anyway, because for the record, you’re one of the most handsome guys I’ve ever seen.”
“I…” Danse put on that endearingly confused expression he always had when Anthony said something unexpected, his whole face opening up and his eyes widening. “That may be subject to debate. I’ve never considered myself particularly attractive.”
“That’s because you have as much social sense as a deathclaw,” Anthony chuckled. “You’re gorgeous, Jake. Whenever we were doing power armor maintenance together on the Pryd, I had to force myself not to look because it would’ve given me a hard-on.”
“It certainly would’ve made for an awkward social encounter,” Danse acknowledged. “Especially after some of the lewd comments you’d made toward me at the time.”
“Those were jokes,” Anthony shrugged.
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Okay, they were almost jokes,” he grinned. “I think I was trying to put the idea into your head. Or maybe I was just being an idiot.”
This is just what I need, Anthony smiled to himself as he adjusted his tie in the mirror. No Dan, no… me, no nothing. Just a normal school dance like a normal guy.
“Hurry up!” Anna screamed through his bedroom door.
“Jeez, I’m coming,” he yelled back, finally prying himself away from the glass. He tied up his shoes and went downstairs with his sister.
“Hold it right there!” Mama commanded them. They both groaned - Anna’s was real but Anthony’s was good-natured - and stood against the living room wall while their mother snapped pictures of them all dolled up for the school dance. “Alright… Anton, you are not to take the car for a joyride again. Just straight to school and straight back. Anichka, you will let your brother drive you home and not one of your friends. Both of you are to be back here by 9:30 sharp. Do we understand each other?”
“Yes,” Anna grumbled.
“Da, Mamka,” Anthony nodded before taking the keys from her.
Soon he was settled onto the red leather seat and feeling the engine hum to life. His sister had the sun flap down so she could re-check her makeup in the mirror, which he snorted at because she’d been annoyed at him doing something similar. Really, though, he was just relieved to escape his daily life drama and go have fun. Plus, with it being the St. Valentine’s Dance, his friends had gotten dates and were all happy. And them being happy made Anthony happy.
Anthony himself didn’t have a date, so of course girls were flocking to him asking if he wanted to dance with them. The dance was a combined gathering between D. B. Tech and East Boston Prep, so there were tons of students he didn’t know, and yet somehow even the girls from that school were after him, too. Some of them he politely declined, and some he would dance with for a bit and then let another one have a turn.
A brown-haired girl with green eyes - she very sweetly asked for a dance with him, so Anthony agreed and tried not to tense up when the next song was a romantic and slow one.
“My friend Penny goes to school here,” she offered, smiling. “I didn’t have a date, but she told me to come anyway because she knew about a very cute guy who might want to dance with me.”
“You’re pretty, though, and you’re really nice,” he frowned, confused. “Why didn’t anyone want to go with you?”
Her cheeks turned a little pink at that. “Well, I did have a date… Jeremy Renn. He’s a Greaser, but when he’s not with his gang he’s fine. Unfortunately, Principal Ford caught Jeremy slashing his tires because said gang dared him to do it after their leader got suspended. Now Jeremy’s suspended, too, so I had nobody to go with.”
“Well, that wasn’t very smart of him,” Anthony grinned. “And it sounds like you probably deserve someone better, anyway.”
“Well, like I said, Penny told me about this really cute guy…”
“Did you get to dance with him yet?” Anthony queried.
“That depends. You are Tony Kostin, right?”
“Um… yes. Wait, she brought you here just to dance with me? Why?”
“Wow, she said you didn’t have an ego, either. I didn’t believe her because she also said you’re a jock, but I guess she was right.”
Now Anthony felt himself blushing. “So… you really came here, to a different school… just to dance with me? I… I mean, I don’t really…” He stopped stammering and took a breath, then conjured up his brightest smile. “Well, you know my name already. What’s yours?”
“Hi, Nora. It’s nice meeting you.”
Unlike the other females pining for his attention, Nora boldly wrote down her phone number for him and asked him if he’d call her sometime once the song was over. Surprised, all he could do was grin and promise her that he would. It was probably about time for him to find a girlfriend anyway, Anthony reasoned, and she was obviously a very sweet girl that he could probably be friends with if he knew her better.
He took a break after that, going to the table for some punch because suits were nice-looking but boy, oh boy, his deodorant was being put to the test after dancing in the auditorium surrounded by more than a hundred other kids. After a couple of minutes, his friend Bud came to join him.
“Hey,” he grinned, offering his teammate a similar cup of fruit punch.
“You’re a really good dancer,” the other boy commented, accepting the plastic cup. “No wonder the girls are all over you. Even the ones from East Boston Prep, huh?”
“Yeah, I guess my reputation precedes me.” Bud nodded, then his face got nervous very suddenly. Anthony frowned with concern. “Is something wrong?”
“Not… not really, Tony, just… um… can we go someplace quieter for a minute?”
They half-snuck out of the auditorium, and Anthony got the idea this was more serious than he’d thought because Bud was clearly trying to avoid the eyes of the chaperones. Once in a darkened hallway, they stopped.
“So what’s going on? You’ve got me worried,” he prompted.
“Just… um… look, I don’t know how to say this, really, but… it seems like you kind of look at the guys funny in the lockers after practice and games,” Bud stammered, not meeting his eyes.
Anthony balked - he’d been trying so hard not to do that, and now one of his friends had caught him at it. His stomach dropped into his knees and he couldn’t say anything, feeling his face burn and looking anywhere but at the other boy.
“No, no, it’s okay,” Bud offered at his panicked reaction. “I’m not gonna say anything, I promise. I just… um… why do you do it?”
“I don’t know!” Anthony tried to keep himself from howling, but something in him broke right then. “I try not to! I know I’m not supposed to do things like that, and I try so hard to be normal, but I just can’t help it!”
“Hey, hey, stop, okay? I get it,” Bud interrupted, grabbing Anthony’s shoulders. “I just wanted to know because… I saw you doing it last week for a second and I wanted to make sure. I… I, um… sometimes I do it, too. I thought I was the only one.”
“Wait, what?” was all he could come up with - his usual smoothness seemed to have abandoned him.
“I thought I was the only one,” his teammate repeated, almost whispering and back to staring at his feet. “So I wanted to know why you do it because then maybe I’d know why I do it, too.”
A long, uncomfortable silence followed. Anthony just couldn’t come up with any response to this situation, he’d never dealt with anything like it before and had been thrown completely for a loop. He didn’t know why he looked at his teammates in the locker room; in fact, not only did he try very hard not to do it, but when he did by accident he also refused to think about it after the fact.
“We just need to try harder,” Anthony mumbled finally. “Eventually we’ll go back to normal.”
He didn’t believe that, of course. It kind of felt as if he’d always been like this, really, and just not really noticed until the last year or so. Anthony wasn’t sure he could ever be normal, and maybe he’d just have to pretend he was for the rest of his life. It wasn’t an encouraging thought, and apparently Bud agreed.
“It won’t work… Tony, can you just… I… I gotta know…”
And then, too fast for him to realize in time so he could try to stop it, Anthony’s friend and teammate had grabbed him by his clothes and was kissing him. The worst part was realizing that he liked it.
That made him shove the other boy away from him as hard as he could, nearly pushing Bud onto his rear. “Don’t do that again. Please. You can’t do that again, ever. I don’t kiss boys.”
Anthony couldn’t help but run at full speed back for the auditorium. He wasn’t sure how that had just happened, all he knew was that it made him feel guilty because he’d liked it. He liked to kiss other boys and that wasn’t normal.
As he turned the hall corner, though, he stopped abruptly and ducked back around it before he could be seen - Anna was sneaking around, too, with a guy he didn’t know. She’d ditched him before and gotten in trouble for coming home way past curfew, so he gratefully took this to distract himself by trailing the pair so that he could reel Anna back in if need be. Annoyingly, they were heading out of the school, so that meant she was probably going to try it again.
Away from the source of the music, though, Anthony started realizing something was off about the situation because he could hear their voices if not the actual words, and Anna was gradually sounding more uncertain. At a certain point, the boy she was with yanked hard on her wrist and tried to drag her off into his car.
He stopped thinking after that. The only thing in his head was that this guy was going to hurt his sister, and it needed to be stopped. Anthony ran on instinct and adrenaline, but thanks to his Junior ROTC training he’d gotten pretty strong by this point. He dragged the guy away from Anna, threw him onto the sidewalk and kicked him in the stomach and then the face.
“Anton?” Anna whispered, breaking him out of it before he could hurt the boy worse.
“Let’s go home,” Anthony decided, not leaving room for debate.
Surprisingly, she didn’t even try to protest, and they got home almost forty five minutes before curfew. As Anthony stood shaking in front of his mother and explained why his nice dress shoes were tracking blood across the carpet, everything from tonight as well as the past few months seemed to crash down on his head, and he despaired - this was supposed to help him feel normal again, and it had gotten the exact opposite effect.
As he got undressed in his bedroom after that, Anthony found Nora’s phone number in his pocket and decided he would call her tomorrow. If nothing else, having a girlfriend would make him normal. Because then people wouldn’t figure out that he liked to kiss boys.
*Da, Mamka* - Yes, Mom
Chapter 4: Epilogue
The next morning saw them getting ready to leave and head back to Far Harbor so that Anthony could continue his investigation of Acadia, but as he dressed he felt somewhat hesitant to depart his parents’ former home. The crippling weight that was Nora’s ring seemed to be dragging him down at the neck more than ever.
So, finally, he undid the ball-chain and took it off.
Anthony knew Danse had noticed and was watching his actions, but he didn’t mind. It seemed sort of inappropriate now, anyway, given their relationship - he shouldn’t keep wearing his own wedding band. So that was also slid free of his hand. He just cradled them in his palm for a very long moment, not totally sure what he should do with them now. In a way, he had loved Nora… but not the way he’d claimed. Anthony had loved her as his best friend, and he hadn’t known better because he’d never really found romantic love before then. Now, though, he did have it, and he just knew one day he’d end up back at her grave begging forgiveness.
It wouldn’t be today, however. Nora’s forgiveness aside, the rings themselves were more symbolic of society’s expectations of him rather than their relationship, so when Anthony could finally make his body obey him again he carefully scooped a fistful of dirt from where the floor had crumbled away and buried them there.
As he stood while brushing his hands off, Danse’s thick form wrapped around him from behind and he relaxed into it. There was so much love and even understanding in the gesture, making him feel secure and looked after - even though, again, he knew he wasn’t the one who was really in trouble. But that was alright. Anthony got that Danse felt better in helping those close to him, so really this would benefit them both.
“If you want to talk… I’m here for you,” Danse murmured against the back of his neck.
Anthony smiled - he loved the poor awkward bastard.
“Later,” he decided, folding his arms over the pair across his ribs. “Let’s move out, it’s a long trip.”
They gathered up the rest of their equipment and climbed into their suits of power armor. Feeling lighter than he had in weeks, Anthony took point and the pair began making their way north out of Jamaica Plain.