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A Rock that Bends to No Wind

Chapter Text

Ronnie Shaw and Preston Garvey met Murphy on the tarmac of Boston Airport, flanked by the two Knights which had accompanied Elder Maxson during his visit to the Castle. Ronnie looked alert and judgmental, which she usually was when surrounded by people in uniform, while Preston had an expression on his face that could only be described as grim.

Murphy had been cleared for travel by Knight-Captain Cade four days after the surgery to remove bits of assaultron shrapnel from her ribs and pelvis, though the chief medical officer and Senior Scribe Neriah were reluctant to see her go. Neriah in particular had taken Murphy’s bedridden state as an opportunity to request blood samples from her, which Neriah asserted were purely for research purposes.

“Just think,” the Senior Scribe had said, holding aloft a ruby vial which Murphy had begrudgingly given after being promised a cup of noodles. “Your genes could hold the secret to vitality, longevity, pathogenic immunities… or, at the very least, the best comparison between the mutated human race that exists today and the human race of yesteryear.”

Cade nodded in agreement as he checked Murphy’s temperature for what felt like the umpteenth time. “Or at least the answer to why you respond so well to stimpaks compared to the people of today,” he added. “I swear, I’ve never seen bone repair itself the way yours did. It’s remarkable.”

“It takes talent,” Murphy mumbled around the thermometer.

By the time she was allowed to pull on her boots and strap her plasma pistol holsters around her waist again, Murphy was more than ready to get back on solid ground and away from anyone who wanted to stick her with needles.

Maxson’s planned installation of the beryllium agitator in Liberty Prime was scheduled for the same day she was released from Cade’s care, and the Elder had invited the Minutemen leadership to attend the event as a gesture of goodwill. Preston and Ronnie agreed to visit the airport while the rest politely declined, as they were busy assembling the beginnings of the shared Minutemen-Brotherhood agricultural base on Spectacle Island. MacCready was also invited, but he claimed he was helping Scribe Haylen replicate the anti-mirelurk sonic speaker system for use at the Castle.

More likely he took one look at the vertibird and threw up, Murphy thought to herself as she crossed the crowded airport to greet her fellow Minutemen leaders.

“General,” Ronnie said when she caught sight of her leader. She gave the Brotherhood officer’s flight suit that Murphy was wearing a judgmental glance. “Did that security system at Mass Fusion finally knock some sense into that thistle-down-dillied head of yours?”

“No such luck, Ronnie,” Murphy said. “Though I am sorry about all that.”

“You didn’t die before we got a chance to tell you how idiotic that idea was, that’s apology enough,” Ronnie retorted. “Next time, bring someone other than a goddamn Brotherhood greenhorn along, will ya? I don’t care if he’s King of the Eastern Seaboard, he doesn’t know Boston like we do.”

“Sure thing,” Murphy said with a smile. Preston’s expression lightened by a fraction, but he said nothing.

Murphy led the two of them over to an open spot on the pavement next to the elevated gantry control station, and the Knights followed. There, she took her leave and headed up the scaffolding to meet with Proctor Ingram, as she had been instructed to do by an invitational memo from Maxson.

“Glad to see you’re still in one piece,” Ingram said appreciatively when Murphy reached the top of the control center stairs. The head of engineering was making last-minute checks of Liberty Prime’s systems on an array of consoles, the beryllium agitator safely tucked in the crook of her elbow.

“It takes more than a couple of angry robots to do me and the Elder in,” Murphy said with a smile, before gesturing at Liberty Prime’s gantry across the pavement. “Though this one might give us a run for our money.”

Ingram laughed. “You’re good, Murphy, and Elder Maxson is a combat prodigy, but you’re not that good.”

She sighed and cast a proud look over the curious crowd below. “Well, this is it. The moment of truth.”

“For what, exactly?” Murphy asked. “I know you’re planning on doing a systems check, but then what? You’ll just pack him away?”

“Yep, Maxson’s orders,” Ingram replied. “Prime’s valuable, but that beryllium agitator we’re using to jump start him is even more so. Technology like that could be used again and again in the future to start fusion reactors and power up just about anything that needs a big kick in the pants to get going. Getting it back to the Citadel is key to replicating it and using it for good.”

Murphy nodded. “So the giant, walking death machine is just a perk,” she said.

“Precisely.” Ingram turned back from the control center railing. “I’ve checked every wire and every bolt on the big guy. All we need to do is plug in the agitator, start Prime’s reactor, and cross our fingers.”

“Did you fill up his tank and check the tire pressure too?” Murphy joked.

Ingram chuckled. “You’re a real comedian, anyone ever tell you that?”

A murmur grew among the assembled Brotherhood ranks. Murphy spotted Elder Maxson making his way through the crowd toward the control center, followed by Lancer-Captain Kells, Proctor Quinlan, Paladin Brandis, and four Knights in power armor. Maxson was back in a battlecoat, probably a spare: Murphy doubted the one he had worn in Mass Fusion had survived the ordeal. The young man made his way up the stairs with the three other officers, and the Knights moved to flank either staircase.

“Paladin Murphy,” he said with a curt nod. “Proctor Ingram. Are we ready to proceed with activation?”

“Affirmative, Elder,” Ingram said. “As we discussed?”

Maxson nodded, and Ingram turned to Murphy. “We think you should have the honor of starting Liberty Prime,” she said, handing over the agitator.

Murphy accepted the heavy cylinder and stared at it. “I couldn’t,” she said, bewildered.

“Come on, Murphy,” Ingram said with a smile. “Nobody else could have done more to deserve it.”

Murphy was ready to argue, but the earnest look of admiration on Ingram’s face was enough to kill the thought. “Okay,” she agreed.

“Just plug the beryllium agitator into his reactor port, then head back down here,” Ingram explained, pointing at the gantry walkways around the towering robot. “Elder Maxson will press the transfer button. Then, just stay out of Prime’s way.”

She took a step back and pulled into the Brotherhood salute, her right hand making a fist over her heart. “Ad victoriam, Paladin,” she said.

Maxson and the rest of the Brotherhood leadership followed suit, and the crowd took their cue. The Brotherhood troops, one by one, saluted Murphy as she made her way down the stairs, crossed the tarmac to the gantry and climbed it to the reactor port in Liberty Prime’s back panel. She slid the agitator into the slot and twisted it into a locked position, shut the metal port door and made her way back down to the ground to stand by Preston and Ronnie.

Above her, Maxson pressed the power transfer button. The giant robot in the gantry came to life with a jolt, energy humming through its frame and emanating through the grounds of the airport.

“Fusion core: Re-initialized,” it said in its deep, mechanical voice that echoed over the crowd and around the buildings of the Brotherhood base. “Liberty Prime full system analysis.”

Several members of the Brotherhood crowd gasped, and one of the nearby Knights tilted his laser rifle up ever so slightly. Murphy couldn’t blame them. The voice had been manufactured to strike fear into the hearts of the Chinese, and the effect was not lost on the people assembled to witness its reawakening.

“All systems: Nominal,” the robot went on, bending its elbows up and pulling its metal hands into fists. “Weapons: Hot.”

“Son of a super mutant,” Ronnie muttered under her breath next to Murphy. Preston grimaced.

“Mission: The destruction of any and all Chinese communists,” Liberty Prime boomed. It reached up and tore away the gantry walkway that curved in front of its chest, as easily as breaking through the finish line ribbon at the end of a marathon. Most of the Brotherhood crowd had already moved back significantly, but a few Scribes scattered as the metal pieces clanged against the pavement.

“Was it supposed to do that?” asked Preston, his voice unsteady.

“Probably not,” Murphy said, putting a hand on her holster. “Then again, Maxson did drop a bunch of Knights out of a vertibird just to impress us last week.”

“Probability of a Chinese victory: Impossible!” the robot declared, tearing itself loose from the coolant tubes it was connected to. It took a confident step forward, then turned to its left and stomped toward the outskirts of the airport. The Brotherhood whooped, cheered and saluted in its wake, and Murphy, Preston and Ronnie followed the ground-shaking giant with uncertainty.

“Where is it going?” Ronnie asked, her voice loud over the rumble of the robot’s advance.

“Not far,” Murphy replied.

“Freedom is the sovereign right of every American,” Liberty Prime said to no one in particular. “Democracy is non-negotiable.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Murphy grumbled.

The Brotherhood leadership descended from the control center and followed the robot as well. Ingram caught up with Murphy, beaming at the walking nuclear arsenal she had helped to unleash.

“Beautiful, isn’t he?” she asked loudly.

“He’s something, alright,” Murphy agreed.

Liberty Prime passed the abandoned airport parking ramp and followed the road northwest, skirting around the collapsed on-ramp to what used to be I-90 until it came to a halt outside the East Boston Preparatory School.

“Engaging sentry protocols,” it announced. The robot turned slightly farther west and set its sights on a ramshackle diner at the end of the street. “Communist target acquired.”

It reached a metal arm around to the weapons storage on its back and grabbed a Mark 28 warhead. Everyone within viewing distance clapped their hands over their ears.

With perfect pitching form, Liberty Prime launched the tactical nuke at the diner, and the small building was engulfed in a flaming mushroom cloud. The rusted-out cars around the building caught fire as well, and the resulting explosion obliterated the entire structure.

Murphy, Preston and Ronnie were silent. Maxson looked more than pleased with the display, and the rest of the Brotherhood were flat-out celebrating.

“Democracy is truth. Communism is death. Anchorage will be liberated,” the robot thundered, surveying its handiwork.

“Dear god,” Murphy said, shaking her head. “Of all the things they could have spent my tax money on…”

She turned and made her way between cheering Scribes, Knights and Initiates toward the back of the Brotherhood assembly, leaving Ronnie and Preston in awe of Liberty Prime’s display. Maxson caught her eye as she passed by, a triumphant look on his face, but it faded when he saw her sober look. She melted away into the crowd before he could say anything to her.

 


 

Murphy had realized where on the Prydwen she was a day after her fever broke. The small, metal room that played host to her recovery had originally belonged to Paladin Danse. Everywhere she looked in the room, she could imagine him: Writing up detailed reports at that desk, storing his favorite weapons in those lockers, tinkering with pieces of his prized power armor at the tool cabinet, sleeping in the bed after long missions. As soon as she could stand without too much pain, Murphy had gotten out of bed and paced, thinking about the man the Brotherhood had turned on so easily. Sleep evaded her until the early hours of the morning, and she woke much later in the day than everyone else aboard the airship.

It was during her last night of pacing that she overheard angry voices from Elder Maxson’s room next door. Murphy cracked the door of the Paladin’s quarters after a particularly loud outburst piqued her curiosity. The Knights on watch had passed by on rounds already, and the rest of the ship slept.

“Her recovery has been swift,” Maxson was saying. His door was cracked open as well, a rare oversight for the Elder. Murphy saw his flight suit and tank top-clad back as he crossed the room to his red couch and sank into it. “She’ll be gone the minute we release her, I have no doubt. I’m not sure what else you would have me do here, Kells.”

Lancer-Captain Kells was not visible, but his voice drifted through the door, loud and irritated. “I would hope you hold her accountable for her actions, Elder,” he replied. “Abandoning her post, failing to inform any of us about her plans or intel, putting another faction’s interests ahead of ours, insubordination, blatant misconduct, endangering the Elder… should I make a list?”

Maxson pinched the bridge of his nose and closed his eyes. “Kells, she destroyed the Institute, facilitated peace terms and an alliance with one of the most powerful groups in the Commonwealth and was instrumental in the retrieval of the beryllium agitator. You want me to punish her for this?”

“If I might speak freely, Elder?”

“Please.”

Kells moved into Murphy’s line of vision, his back obscuring Maxson’s face. “If you won’t demote or reprimand her, at the very least, discharge her from Brotherhood service. I don’t trust this woman. She serves her own needs before the needs of others, her loyalties change with the direction of the wind and she’s at the head of the second-most powerful force in the Commonwealth. She could bring this airship down with a snap of her fingers, if what they told you about their heavy artillery is true.”

“That won’t happen, and it’s thanks to Paladin Murphy that it won’t,” Maxson replied, his voice sharp. “We’re in an excellent diplomatic position with the Minutemen now. The Brotherhood stands to benefit from the partnership immensely.”

“Yes, but not on our terms, on hers,” Kells snapped. “Supplies and technological partnership are all well and good, but she’s playing us like a fiddle on the matter of synths. Living and letting live when it comes to dangerous technologies is not the Brotherhood way.”

“I’m not going to argue with you about what is or isn’t the Brotherhood way, Kells. I think I’ve read the Codex at least as many times as you have,” Maxson said coldly. “For now, the remaining synth presence in the Commonwealth is a minor threat at best. Again, because of the Paladin, lest you forget.”

“And how long do we keep writing off her actions and their consequences because she destroyed the Institute?” Kells asked. Murphy ducked as he turned and paced around Maxson’s room. “Yes, all well and good, they’re gone. Now we have to pick up the pieces, provided Paladin Murphy isn’t standing in the way.”

“She saved my goddamn life, Kells,” Maxson growled. “I would think you, of all people, would want to instill that kind of initiative and selflessness into all recruits. If anything, I should be giving her a promotion.”

Murphy’s breath caught in her throat. It was the first time she had heard the Elder swear in earnest.

“Initiative and selflessness, yes,” Kells replied. “Paladin Murphy’s actions lean more toward delinquency and recklessness, and if we aren’t careful, we’re going to pay for allowing her to run wild.”

“I’ve heard enough,” Maxson said, rising from the couch. “Lancer-Captain, while I appreciate your insight, it’s late. I will take your advice into consideration.”

“Of course, Elder,” Kells said. The dissatisfaction in his voice was palpable.

Murphy hid behind the door until the echoes of Kells’ boots were swallowed by the night sounds of the ship. Across the hall, Maxson’s door latched shut. She stood there for a while, listening to the sounds of her own breathing, before returning to her bed and staring at the ceiling until she fell asleep.

 


 

Preston and Ronnie rejoined Murphy on the helipad above the departures terminal, where she was watching Liberty Prime stomp the length of a nearby runway.

“Well, that was certainly enlightening,” Ronnie said, climbing into the vertibird on the helipad. “But I think I’m ready to go home now.”

“Agreed,” Murphy said, rising from where she had been sitting. Preston put a hand out to stop her before she could join Ronnie.

“Elder Maxson would like a word,” he said, jerking his head toward the terminal entrance. “He’s down below.”

Ronnie grinned. “Don’t worry, we’ll wait for you,” she said.

Murphy sighed and headed for the stairs. She spotted the familiar battlecoat and made her way down to it, treading the worn concrete steps lightly.

Maxson caught sight of her and dismissed the Scribes he had been talking to. “Paladin Murphy,” he said hesitantly.

“Elder,” Murphy replied with a nod. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” Maxson ran a hand over his head, tousling his sleek undercut. “You seemed unimpressed.”

“Well, to a certain degree, I’m impressed,” Murphy admitted, leaning her head to the side and planting a hand on her hip. “The beryllium agitator is a valuable piece of tech. I just don’t think it was necessary to wake up a war machine just to test it out and house it.”

Maxson shrugged. “Perhaps not,” he said. “But Prime won’t be awake for long. Proctor Ingram should have diagnostics done before the day is out.”

Murphy raised her eyebrows. “So that’s a guarantee the big guy won’t be shuffling around the next time I come by?”

“It is,” Maxson replied. He looked at the floor, then back up at her in curiosity. “And when do you expect that will be?”

Murphy smiled. “I don’t know,” she said. “Provided you don’t need me for any more missions, I may not return to the Prydwen until your departure.”

Maxson looked disappointed. “And the Castle?”

“Planning on dropping by for another sleepover?” Murphy smirked. “The last one was a bit of a mess.”

“I had planned to visit Spectacle Island periodically to assess our shared agricultural settlement’s progress and needs,” Maxson said. “Your presence would be appreciated, though I suppose not necessary. Your officers seem more than capable of operating in your absence.”

Murphy laughed. “I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or an insult,” she said.

He smiled. “The former.”

“I’m flattered.” Murphy flipped on the radio on her Pip-Boy and tuned it to Radio Freedom. Soft violin strains came over the tiny speakers, and she held it out to show Maxson.

“Radio Freedom broadcasts reach all over the Commonwealth,” she explained. “If you want to get a message to me, relay it to the operators at the Castle and they’ll put it out on the airwaves. I might not be able to respond immediately, but at least I’ll hear it.”

Maxson nodded. “Understood.”

Murphy switched the radio off again. “Let them know when you’re planning on visiting the Minutemen, and if I’m in the area I’ll drop by," she said with a smile. “You still owe me a story about trained deathclaws and the woman you named my guns for, anyway.”

Maxson laughed. “Of course, Paladin.”

Murphy waved her hand at him. “I told you, after Mass Fusion and everything, you can just call me Murphy.”

“Until we meet again, then, Murphy,” Maxson said.

“Until we meet again,” Murphy agreed. She held out her hand to shake, but Maxson surprised her by taking it and bowing slightly to press a kiss to her knuckles. His lips left a touch of warmth on her skin before disappearing, and he gently released her hand.

Murphy stiffened and looked rapidly between her hand and his eyes. Maxson was immediately apologetic.

“I’m sorry,” he said hastily. “I was informed it was a pre-war custom for formal greetings and farewells between…”

“No, no, it’s alright,” Murphy said quickly. “You just startled me, is all. I don’t think anyone’s done anything like that since… well, since.”

Maxson nodded. “Have a safe flight,” he said, and stalked off into the terminal.

Murphy climbed the stairs back up to the helipad by herself. She said nothing to Preston or Ronnie as she boarded the vertibird, but the expression on her face must have told them something all the same. Ronnie shot an eyebrow up in a silent question and Preston frowned and looked back at the terminal, looking for the source of her confusion.

As the vertibird climbed into the sky, Murphy caught herself searching the buildings and pavement below for the man wearing a leather battlecoat with sheepskin lapels.

Chapter Text

Murphy and Ronnie Shaw chatted over the headsets on the vertibird ride back to the Castle, but Preston said nothing, watching the ocean waves crash against each other stories below them. When they set down in the northwest field, the three of them silently disembarked and made their way up the hill to the fort.

“I’m going to go see how Sturges is doing on those laser turrets,” Ronnie said. “It’s obvious you two have a lot to talk about.”

She strode off across the courtyard, leaving the two top Minutemen to their own devices. Murphy looked sideways at Preston, but he just turned and led her to the General’s quarters, maintaining the stern facade. He didn’t speak until Murphy had shut the door behind her, leaving the two of them alone in the dimly-lit stone room.

“Well, I guess this is the point of no return,” he said, shaking his head. He took off his hat and set it down on the meeting table.

Murphy pulled out a chair and took a seat. “Do tell,” she said.

Preston sighed and scratched his short, curly hair. “Where do I even start?” he said, exasperated. “You snuck off in the middle of the night, without telling anyone, with the Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel, stole a boat, and nearly got him and yourself killed! Anyone else would have been kicked out of these walls and made to walk home alone to whatever patch of irradiated dirt they were born on. What were you thinking?”

He was livid, more angry than Murphy had ever seen him before. She leaned back and crossed her arms defensively.

“And now, that… that thing is operational,” Preston said, jabbing a hand at the northern wall. “You gave them the power source for a weapon that could kill us all with a few bombs and a well-placed kick.”

“And what, they were just going to let it sit in Mass Fusion until the end of time just because I wouldn’t go fetch it for them?” Murphy retorted. “Maxson would have sent someone after it eventually. I tried to go by myself, but I made the mistake of telling him where I was going and he decided to tag along.”

“And you let him?” Preston asked incredulously.

“Well he wasn’t… isn’t exactly useless.”

Preston pressed his fingertips to his temples. “I don’t care how good he is in a fight, it was a decision that put all of us- you, me, the Minutemen, our friends- at risk. What if he’d died? What if the Brotherhood of Steel Elder had died because of you, mere hours after we negotiated an alliance? What if you’d brought everything we worked for down because you can’t help running off in the middle of the night to solve problems instead of thinking them out like a rational person?”

“You can’t blame me for Maxson’s decision, I told him it was a terrible idea and he insisted on coming with me because of his goddamn code of honor,” Murphy snapped. “And it’s a good thing too, otherwise we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Preston sank into a chair across from her and looked at her forlornly. “Murphy, what if you’d died?”

Murphy was taken aback by the question. “I expect you’d get on without me,” she said, finally.

Preston reached across the table and put out a hand, palm up in invitation. Murphy took it hesitantly.

“I know you’re going through an awful lot,” Preston said, giving her fingers a squeeze. “I can’t even imagine it. But putting yourself in harm’s way over and over again… I’m worried.”

“I…” Murphy trailed off and bowed her head. “I’m sorry.”

“Just… don’t do something like that again,” Preston replied. “You scared all of us.”

He patted her hand and released it. “I’m sorry I got carried away. Maxson’s important, but you’re winning that popularity contest by a mile. You just need to understand that your actions… they have consequences.”

“I know,” Murphy said, tangling a hand in her white hair. “I honestly thought Mass Fusion was emptied out. You’ve been there, you’ve seen it- with the Gunners gone and a host of hacked protectrons running around.”

“You of all people should know by now to expect the unexpected,” Preston said pointedly. “But I see your point. Thank god Maxson was there to get you out, even if you shouldn’t have brought him to begin with.”

“Yeah.”

Preston looked at her curiously. “Did he say something to you before we left? You looked a little shell-shocked.”

“It’s nothing,” Murphy said, straightening up. “But I know he’s looking forward to overseeing the work on Spectacle Island. How are we doing on the new base’s beginnings?”

Preston studied her for a beat before turning to grab a nearby stack of reports.

“We have a team working on repairing the boathouse and pier for our purposes, and the shed is being used as the base headquarters,” he said, sifting through the pile of papers and extracting a penciled map. He laid it out for Murphy to see. “I drew this up while you were gone. We’re planning on attaching a heavy-duty water purifier to the dock, and we’ve been disassembling the house to repurpose what wood and building materials we can.”

Murphy nodded and swept her hand over some plots marked out with what looked like pH level readings. “I assume these are for the crops.”

“Right.”

“What are we doing about the crates and the barge?”

Preston smiled. “Sturges got a good look at them and he thinks we can salvage a number of them for roofing materials,” he said. “The contents we want to keep, we’ve been storing in the shed or moving to the Castle, but we aren’t sure what to do with the junk.”

Murphy waved her hand dismissively. “I’ll have a look at it sometime in the future, it’s not a priority,” she said. “It’s not like the barge is in our way for the time being. What about the power supply?”

He pointed at the tugboat which was powering the sonic speaker system. “This old girl’s got plenty of juice, so Scribe Haylen and Knight Rhys have been working to wire up the rest of the island. Haylen said it wouldn’t be too much of a strain on the engine if we get lighting installed, we just have to make sure we keep the brush at a minimum so it’s not draining away the current.”

“What is the Brotherhood contributing to this master plan?” Murphy asked.

“Quite a bit, actually,” Preston said, pointing to a cluster of trees at the center of the island. “Some Scribes and a Knight from their Logistics division came and staked out campsites here. They’ve been testing the soil, helping us clear trees and stumps and dig plots. The Knight came with a list of crops they would like to try planting, but with the winter growing season coming on we’re going to be a little limited, and Trader Rylee said there were a few on the list that she had never heard of before.”

He shrugged. “I guess their Senior Scribe has a few things she wants to try out at Graygarden before she puts them in the ground here, but she sent over several trays of seedlings for immediate transplanting.”

Murphy nodded. “When you’ve got the dock all squared away, maybe we can get going on some more permanent shelters for the workers.”

“Oh, I almost forgot.” Preston pointed at the barge. “They’ve given us a vertibird for helping to move the crates around. Once we get the barge cleared off, they want to turn it into a helipad.”

Murphy smiled. “Smart. If you don’t mind, I’d like to go over security details and see the list of plants Neriah wants us to-”

She was interrupted by loud knocking on the doors behind her.

“Preston!” a child’s voice called out frantically. “Preston, I think it’s happening!”

Murphy opened the door to reveal Shaun with a mixture of panic and excitement on his face. He looked at her in surprise, then threw his arms around her waist.

“Mom!” he said happily. “You’re back!”

Murphy picked him up and hugged him back. “Easy on the ribs, kiddo. What’s going on?”

Preston put his hat back on and came around the table. “It’s Madison,” he explained. “She’s been due for a little bit now.”

“Puppies!” Shaun cried excitedly.

 


 

Madison gave birth to six healthy puppies by the light of a lantern Murphy held over the scene, while Shaun scratched the dog’s ears and Bethany monitored her well-being. Preston, Curie and the other four dogs stood by, watching the new mother bring life into the Castle kennels.

Curie teared up as she watched the dog clean off the little ones. “Le début de la vie,” she said happily. “It’s so beautiful.”

Bethany cleaned her hands off with a rag and put an arm around her. “Four boys and two girls,” she said with a smile. “We should give her some space.”

The puppies’ father, Monroe, brushed past Murphy’s leg and began licking his mate affectionately. Shaun shooed the other dogs and spectators out and shut their kennel up behind him.

“Will she be okay?” he asked, taking Murphy’s hand.

Murphy turned and watched the little family with the synth boy. “I think so,” she answered. “Just promise me something, okay?”

“What, mom?”

“Promise me you won’t name any of them for at least two weeks,” Murphy said, crouching down to look her surrogate son in the eye. “Things happen, and I know I can’t stop you from getting attached right away, but just wait, okay?”

Shaun nodded solemnly. “Okay, mom,” he said. “I’ll just give them numeric designations for now. Like the synths had.”

Murphy pursed her lips together. “How about you just call them One, Two, Three, Four, Five and Six,” she suggested. “Keep it simple.”

“Well, if it’s a true sequence, then they’d be Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten and Eleven,” Shaun said, counting on his fingers. “Since Washington would be One, Adams would be Two…”

“Whatever you want, Shaun,” Murphy said, straightening up as he finished counting off the dogs. “Come on, let’s leave them be.”

The two of them left the kennels and made their way to Shaun’s bunk. Murphy tucked him in with a kiss on the forehead and then made her way up to the battlements, where she pulled out a cigarette and lit it, savoring the silence. In the distance, she could make out the Prydwen’s lights hovering above the airport, the smoke from the tiny torch in her fingertips drifting up to wreathe it in fog.

“Got another?”

Murphy turned. A Minutemen guard approached her leisurely, laser musket on his shoulder. She raised her eyebrows and smiled slightly at the mirrored sunglasses beneath his wide-brimmed hat.

“Sure,” she said, pulling out her pack and offering it to the man with her lighter. He lowered his gun to the ground and accepted the gift.

“So, what brings you here, Deacon?” Murphy asked after the man lit up a cigarette and took a drag on it.

The Railroad operative coughed in mock surprise. “Deacon? Never heard of him,” he said with a smile. “Just your regular Minuteman Joe, that’s me. But this Deacon guy sounds handsome and funny.”

“Did Desdemona put you up to this?”

“The one and only.”

Murphy sighed. “I’m guessing you guys heard about the summit terms.”

“Yep,” Deacon replied brightly, handing back her lighter and cigarettes. “So I’m here to assassinate you. There’s nothing else for it, now that you threw your lot in with Maxson and the Brotherhood of Bastards.”

Murphy sat down on the edge of the battlement, dangling her legs over the stones. “Well, get it over with,” she said. “We might have made peace with them but I think at least a few people in their ranks would still prefer I disappeared.”

“Nah,” Deacon said, laying his musket down and moving to join her. “Your little truce is protecting you now. If word got out we’d done you in, Maxson would have that giant robot of his pushing buildings over downtown on its way to destroy us. We don’t need to give him another reason to hunt us down.”

“If you know he knows where you are, then I take it you’re in the market for a new home,” Murphy said. “If you haven’t already moved.”

“Well, if you dropped in more often to visit, you would know that.”

Murphy gave him a skeptical look. “I haven’t done heavy work for you guys in ages,” she said. “After Danse… DiMA… I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Deacon nodded. “I’m not saying you made a mistake fading into the background a bit, but this?”

He gestured at the Prydwen and the Castle. “This can’t end well. I mean, I know it looks pretty great now- hell, I could smell the smugness a mile away- but you’re in the honeymoon stage. Before you know it, you’ll be sneaking in late, reeking of bourbon, at least two of the kids look like the mailman and you’ll wind up screaming at each other over who gets to keep the dog.”

Murphy gave him an unimpressed sideways glance. “I had to do something,” she said. “At least we aren’t wiping minds and peppering the landscape with people who don’t know who or what they are.”

“And I’m sure everyone in the Brotherhood is on board with that whole not-really-transparency thing,” Deacon replied with a grin. “Let’s skip the foreplay. I can go all night, baby.”

“Fine. What do you want?”

His grin disappeared. “I came here to warn you,” he said, glancing around furtively. “Diamond City. The mayor. We know.”

Murphy’s mind flashed back to the synth that had disappeared from the scene of Mayor McDonough’s last stand, a day after the Institute and its molecular relay had supposedly been destroyed. Her blood ran cold.

“What is the Railroad doing about it?” she asked.

“Right now we’re focused on relocation efforts from the influx of synths after the fall of the Institute, but we may or may not have a lead,” Deacon said. “I can’t tell you any more than that. But Dez mainly just wanted you to know that if you get a bit too loquacious about us and our operations, well…”

He threw his hands up in the air and made explosion noises. “Boom! Your alliance with the metalheads goes up in flames.”

Murphy furrowed her brow. “So you’re blackmailing the Minutemen.”

Deacon snapped his fingers and pointed at her. “Bingo,” he said. “But you just passed up a perfect opportunity to use the term ‘railroading,’ just so you know.”

Murphy pressed a hand to her forehead. “Deacon, telling the Brotherhood that the Institute could still be out there would be catastrophic for everyone, not just the Minutemen,” she said.

He clapped her on the shoulder. “That’s how I know you won’t say anything to them about us. But hey, they’ll probably figure it out sooner or later, and I’ll get to watch from the sidelines when it blows up in your face.”

“I’m hoping to have that situation handled before they ever find out,” Murphy said, standing up. “Can you at least let me know if your lead pans out? I know we’re not officially working with you anymore, but, well…”

She trailed off and gave him a meaningful look. Deacon stood up and ground his cigarette beneath his boot heel.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, putting an arm around her shoulders and giving her a friendly squeeze. “You’re the master of balancing loyalties. I’ll come around again when I know more, for old times’ sake.”

He picked up his musket and looked out over the ocean below. “You know, not many people get to be here, living history as it’s written,” he said. “It’s kind of fun.”

Murphy smiled. “Give everyone at HQ my regards. Especially Glory.”

“Oh, yeah, almost forgot,” Deacon said, digging around in his pockets. He extracted a folded piece of paper and handed it to her. “She wanted me to give you this. Said if you want to respond, leave a note in one of the dead-drops.”

Murphy took the note and nodded. “Thanks.”

Deacon tipped his hat and wandered off toward the stairs. Murphy watched him go, before turning back toward the ocean and unfolding the note.

Charmer, she read, Not exactly pleased with you at the moment but to each their own. Have a few packages for possible Castle delivery, but would like a second location optional for alternative storage. Please advise. Glory.

She flipped it over. P.S., Glory went on, If you need an extraction for the boy or the Dismal Dancer, we’re happy to help. Talk to Roderick.

Murphy frowned and lit the paper with her cigarette. She watched it burn down into nothingness, the ashes floating away into the dark.

Chapter Text

Murphy dropped the news from the Railroad on Preston the next day, after they finished going over the plans for Spectacle Island. As she expected, her Colonel was less than thrilled.

“So, basically, they’ve got us by the balls,” he said, rubbing his temples and staring down at the maps and charts that littered the meeting table in Murphy’s quarters.

“Mmm, not exactly,” Murphy said, leaning back to put her feet up on the chair next to her. “I’m sure Desdemona thinks the news about the Institute would devastate our alliance, because the Brotherhood would see us as holding out information in order to leverage our position in the Commonwealth. And maybe she’s right.”

Preston looked pointedly at Murphy’s boots, so she begrudgingly put her feet back on the floor. “But I’m still not sure whether or not to tell the Brotherhood about the Institute’s survival eventually, anyway,” she added.

“Why would we?” Preston asked, glancing at the closed door behind Murphy. “And if that’s the case, why haven’t we yet?”

Murphy frowned. “Because, as of right now, the Institute hasn’t done anything to warrant our pursuit,” she said. “Obviously we want to find them and find out what they are doing, but after the explosion, they’ve been silent except for the one synth appearance in Diamond City. A synth which, I might add, was simply releasing another synth from the Institute’s service. They could be cutting ties with the surface world completely, in which case they’re not a threat until they reveal themselves to be again.”

“General, this is the Institute we’re talking about,” Preston said, lifting his hat to scratch his hair. “They might be silent now, but their track record speaks for themselves. They’ve kidnapped, killed and replaced god knows how many Commonwealth citizens, littered our countryside with super mutants and Gen 1s and 2s, and done it all for some cracked concept about ‘redefining mankind.’ Not to mention we blew them up, which I doubt they’re happy about.”

“I know,” Murphy said. “But until they make a move, we don’t know what their goal is. Maybe they just want to rebuild somewhere secret and be left alone.”

“Maybe they want to obliterate us all.”

“In which case, we would want to tell the Brotherhood about their survival,” Murphy replied, leaning forward in her chair. “We’re spent on soldiers. We can’t ask our forces to fight again so soon, and the Brotherhood has the largest trained military force anyone could ever ask for in post-apocalyptic America.”

Preston furrowed his brow. “I’m not sure that’s true, General,” he said. “There’s quite a bit of talk from traders and Scribes about some pretty big factions out west that could even put the Brotherhood to shame.”

Murphy chuckled. “I guess I’m not up to date on recent history,” she said. “Anyway, if the Institute resurfaces as a threat, I say we talk to Maxson and leverage that relationship. We don’t necessarily need to tell him we knew about it before it became an issue.”

“And in the meantime?” Preston asked.

“In the meantime, we wait until they reveal themselves,” Murphy said. “We keep working with the Brotherhood on Spectacle Island and at Graygarden, we stay open to Gen 3 synths that want to join us, and we rebuild as much of our own military force as we can in case things go south.”

She smiled. “Which brings us to Danse.”

“Right,” Preston said with a grimace. “Murphy, are you sure you want to risk that? I know we said we would welcome any synths into our ranks that wanted to join, but Danse… well, let’s just say if the Brotherhood found out he was working with us, it might threaten the alliance.”

“I know,” Murphy said. “To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure he would want to join us. He was always super critical of the Minutemen and their policies… he kept saying we were stretching ourselves too thin, trying to help everyone. Ironically, I think he might be more willing to join if he knows we’re on good terms with the Brotherhood.”

“Yes, it would be great to have another combat instructor for our troops, but I don’t want one that’s going to get shot as soon as he runs into a Brotherhood patrol,” Preston said, shifting in his seat. “Which is likely to happen if he makes his way down here.”

“I’m working on that,” Murphy said. “But I don’t want to make any promises until I talk to him and see if he’s up to the challenge.”

She stood and crossed to the room’s wardrobe, from which she pulled a bottle of wine. “Which is why I’m going to go with the contingent you’ve selected for the Diamond City outpost,” she said, uncorking the bottle and sniffing the contents experimentally.

Preston looked surprised. “You’re leaving again?”

“Yeah,” Murphy said, before taking a swig of wine. “I think Desdemona will be less threatened if I make myself scarce during the start of the Brotherhood partnerships. I know she probably has informants among the Minutemen and even the Brotherhood, and if I sneeze the wrong way she’ll probably interpret it as a threat to the Railroad, so I’ll just make myself useful elsewhere.”

Preston nodded. “Well, I do have a team all set to go. They’re a little green, but I trust them to fulfill the city’s needs. Security details should give them a little more experience along the way, too.”

“Great. I’ll accompany them and see how the whole mayoral race is going up there before I pay Danse a visit.”

“I guess I can’t stop you from leaving,” Preston said with a sigh. He stood from his chair but declined the bottle Murphy offered him. “Just make sure you report in when you can, and I’ll make sure the DJs for Radio Freedom let you know what’s going on.”

He looked at her pointedly. “And don’t leave me to deal with Maxson alone.”

“Relax, Preston,” Murphy said with a smile. “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You hardly need me to keep this place running. I’m basically just a figurehead.”

He smiled at that. “Thanks, General, but you’re not fooling anyone.”

 


 

MacCready jumped happily when Murphy told him to pack his things for the road again. While he said he was content to follow Scribe Haylen around and assist her with her ongoing projects, she could tell he was growing restless within the stone walls of the Castle.

“I was made for the road,” he said with a shrug when she pointed it out. “Haylen’s great, but absence makes the heart grow fonder, you know?”

“Sure, kid,” Murphy said, rolling her eyes.

Murphy’s chest seized a little at the thought of leaving Shaun again, so soon, but she was reassured by Preston and Curie that he would be safe and kept busy until she returned. Curie swore up and down that she wouldn’t let any Brotherhood soldiers so much as look at him sideways.

“Do not worry, Mademoiselle,” she said warmly as she hugged Murphy goodbye. “Ta petite ombre will be waiting for you here, in one piece, with an armful of puppies.”

Shaun himself was moody and petulant about Murphy’s departure, as she had expected, but his demeanor lightened a bit when she presented him with an old telephone that one of the Minutemen had scrounged up from the barge on Spectacle Island.

“I promise I’ll do something cool with it,” he said, turning the beaten-up phone set around in his hands. He set it aside on his bed. “When will you be back?”

“I don’t know yet, Shaun,” Murphy said gently. “I need to make sure the Minutemen are settled down in Diamond City, then I’m going north for a bit to visit an old friend.”

“Who?”

“Someone I hope you’ll get to meet one day,” Murphy replied. “But don’t worry about me. I’ll have MacCready along the whole way, so I’ll be alright.”

“I know,” he said reluctantly. “I can feel it.”

“Feel what?” Murphy asked.

“It’s like everyone has… hope,” Shaun said, rubbing his little, dimpled cheek. “Like, everything’s just going to be… okay.”

Murphy nearly gasped at the tiny movement. It was something Nate used to do, when he was trying to think of what to say. Something no one could have possibly programmed, not even her real son.

Shaun must have seen the pain in her face, and he stepped forward to throw his arms around her.

“I love you, mom,” he said, muffled against her shoulder.

“I love you too, Shaun.”

Just before Murphy and MacCready set out with the eight other Minutemen bound for Diamond City, Scribe Haylen flagged them down in the courtyard. She pulled them over by the wall and glanced around suspiciously before throwing her arms around Murphy in a goodbye hug.

“Ouch,” Murphy grunted.

“Sorry,” Haylen whispered. “But my radio equipment picked up something. Energy readings way up the coast.”

“Where?”

“All over the place,” Haylen replied. “It’s hard to tell, really, but they’re small and infrequent. I’ve only been seeing them in the earliest hours of the morning, and they disappear around dawn.”

She released Murphy and held her at arm’s length. “Salem,” she mouthed.

Murphy nodded and Haylen turned, wrapping MacCready up in a passionate embrace. Murphy left them to their farewell, shouldering her pack and moving to the front of the column of Minutemen.

“Wait!” Haylen called, rushing over to Murphy before she could lead them out of the Castle. “Tell… tell Danse I said hi. And tell him that if he’s looking to regain some honor, then he could do a lot worse than the Minutemen.”

Murphy smiled. “I will.”

 


 

Murphy, MacCready and the eight Minutemen made their way through the gate of Diamond City and out into the stands overlooking the field just as the stars began to wink out of the blue and violet expanse above them. Murphy smiled at the familiar thunk as the field lights powered up, bathing the town in a fluorescent glow.

“It’s good to be back,” she said with a sigh.

She led the Minutemen through the town square, watching as they stared in wonder at the neon lights, the Power Noodles stand and the vendors closing up shop for the day. It was another reminder that she was a bit of a relic, her head filled with memories of a bustling Boston with thousands upon thousands of people going about their daily routines- but to most of the Minutemen recruits, this was the largest city they had ever visited.

MacCready dropped out of line to go get some noodles, so Murphy took the eight up to the old mercenary’s house in the west stands. She unlocked the door and showed them in.

“It’s not much,” she said, turning on the light switch to illuminate the main level. Some bits and pieces of debris still littered the floor from the last time she had been here, swinging a sledgehammer at the secret door Kellogg had installed to hide his weapons and supplies. “But it’s ours, and we can make it whatever we want. I have some tools and supplies at Home Plate, and we can get started on some real beds tomorrow. For now, make use of your bed rolls.”

The recruits, wide-eyed, began moving around to explore the empty house. Their squad leader, a young man by the name of Theo, eased his traveling pack to the floor and gave her a nod of thanks.

“So, tomorrow, you’ll introduce us to the head of security?” he asked.

Murphy nodded. “His name’s Danny,” she said. “Nice guy. But you guys are free to relax tonight. Get some sleep, explore the town, maybe go get to know Vadim and Yefim at the Dugout Inn.”

Theo accepted the key to the house from her and turned to unpack his bed roll. Murphy left them to it, and went back down to the Power Noodles stand to join MacCready.

True to form, Piper Wright had already gotten wind of the Minutemen’s arrival and was chatting MacCready up while he sucked down a bowl of rad chicken broth, noodles and carrots. When she caught sight of Murphy, she leaped from her stool and hugged her enthusiastically.

“Aw, Blue!” she said excitedly. “I can’t believe what I’ve been hearing about you guys. The Brotherhood and the Minutemen? Mass Fusion? You’ve got to give me the exclusive, and not just because Travis has been bribing guards to try to shuffle you his way first.”

Murphy laughed. “We’ve been here all of ten minutes, Piper,” she said, squeezing the reporter back. “Can we breathe, please?”

“You’ve had two whole weeks to breathe,” Piper whined. “And I still haven’t gotten the whole story about the Institute explosion out of you. Throw me a bone, Murphy.”

“Later,” Murphy said firmly, taking a seat next to MacCready. “I’ll have what he’s having, Takahashi.”

The protectron presented her with a bowl of food, and she picked at it while Piper chattered away about the state of the city. The Diamond City security forces had finally started looking into some disappearances that may have been connected to the Institute, most of which yielded dead ends to no one’s surprise. Ann Codman had submitted her papers to run for mayor the day Murphy had left for Cambridge, and Malcolm Latimer’s son, Nelson, had submitted his yesterday. Danny was recovering nicely from his fall, Publick Occurrences sales were up and Nat had just barely passed her exams in school.

“How’s Nick doing?” MacCready asked, pushing his empty bowl forward and signaling Takahashi for a refill.

Piper waved her hand dismissively. “He set off about a week ago to go track down some runaway teen,” she said. “Ellie said it was pretty cut-and-dry, they just needed confirmation about where the girl went.”

“It can’t have been that cut-and-dry if he’s been gone a week,” Murphy said, frowning. “Did he say when he’d be back?”

“I don’t know, I was busy writing up an announcement article regarding the Minutemen’s decision to ally themselves with the Brotherhood of Steel,” Piper said. “It had a few gaps in it, but maybe you could help me fill them in?”

“Piper…”

“Relax, Blue, Nick can take care of himself,” Piper said with a yawn. “He’ll turn up.”

“Has Ellie pushed him to run for mayor yet?” Murphy asked.

Piper laughed. “That girl was leaning on him so hard, you’d think he’d blow a gasket from the pressure,” she replied. “Part of me wonders if that’s why he jumped on a road assignment. But no, as far as I know, he’s undecided.”

She shrugged. “Plenty of people want him to run, I just don’t think he’s up for it.”

“Well, he’d be miles better than Ann or Nelson,” Murphy said, lighting up a cigarette. “But I suppose the only one who can make that decision is Nick.”

 


 

Piper, MacCready and Murphy talked until Piper excused herself to go work on her latest Publick Perspectives submissions. Murphy and MacCready retired to Home Plate, their bellies full and their feet sore from the long walk through the ruins of Boston. MacCready immediately began shedding pieces of gear and clothing, tossing his boots across the floor and his traveling pack on the coffee table.

“Try to keep your one-man whirlwind contained,” Murphy said with a smile. “We’re supposed to have Minutemen coming by tomorrow to grab supplies.”

“Right,” MacCready said, throwing himself down on the couch with a heavy sigh. He whipped off his hat and scratched at his tawny hair, which stuck up in all directions. “You need me to do anything while we’re in town, boss?”

“I don’t know,” Murphy said, sinking into a chair to wriggle out of her own boots. “Keep Piper occupied?”

MacCready chuckled. “She’s just going to keep bugging you until you talk to her,” he said.

“I know, but sitting down for an interview isn’t on the top of my priorities list,” Murphy replied. “Maybe you can talk to Danny, see if any of his guards need a refresher in target practice?”

MacCready nodded, then leaned back with his hands laced behind his head. “By the way, I’ve forgiven you,” he said, smirking at her from across the room.

“Forgiven me? For what?”

“For sneaking off in the middle of the night without me to go beat up some robots,” MacCready replied. “Can’t say I blame you, though. If I had Maxson nipping at my heels, I’d want to get out and show him who’s boss.”

“I…” Murphy trailed off and gave him a dubious look. “He came with me on his own accord, I didn’t invite him.”

MacCready cocked an eyebrow at her. “So Haylen’s theory was right.”

“What theory?”

“Nothing.”

Murphy leaned forward and crossed her arms over her knees. “What theory, Bobby?”

He snickered and stood up to take off his duster. “She thought maybe you spun him a damsel-in-distress story to coax him out,” he said, laying the worn coat over the arm of the couch. “If there’s one thing you can’t resist doing, it’s creating situations that nudge people toward the outcome you want. And Haylen said Maxson can’t resist dramatic entrances and gestures, so…”

He shrugged. “Perfect storm.”

“Well, you and Haylen are clearly overthinking it,” Murphy said, sweeping her silver-white hair over her shoulder and turning her chin up in mock offense. “Obviously we planned the whole thing in order to run away from our responsibilities as leaders and start a new life in the wilderness as brahmin ranchers.”

MacCready laughed at that. “Didn’t get far, did ya?”

Murphy sighed. “I mean it though, I didn’t plan it. It just sort of happened.”

He studied her with a mischievous smile. “The trip to Mass Fusion or something else?”

“The trip,” Murphy said, giving him the evil eye. “Trust me, running off with a vault dweller is the last thing on Maxson’s mind.”

“Alright, whatever you say, boss,” MacCready said, rummaging through his pack before extracting the bottle of rum Murphy had gifted him after the fight in Boston Common. It was still at least three-quarters full, she noted. MacCready had always taken his time with what he considered good liquor.

“Drink before we turn in?” he asked, offering it to her.

“No thanks,” she replied, waving it off. “I think I’d rather just get to bed. Big day tomorrow, and all that.”

“Suit yourself,” MacCready said, stowing the rum away in his pack again. “I’ll take the couch this time.”

Murphy climbed the stairs to the second level, leaving the mercenary to his own devices. She undressed quickly and collapsed on her bed, staring at the ceiling until MacCready turned the lights out downstairs. Eventually, she slept, and her dreams were full of lions with fiery eyes and the voice of Nate in the darkness, calling out to her in words she couldn’t understand.

Chapter Text

Over the next week, Murphy and the Minutemen earned their keep in Diamond City several times over. With the supplies Murphy had squirreled away at Home Plate and a few purchases from Diamond City Surplus, the eight residents of the new outpost soon had the old house in the west stands fixed up with beds, basic furniture and even a few windows. Murphy caught squad leader Theo staring out the one that overlooked the city a few times, transfixed by the bustle of activity in the marketplace below.

“It’s beautiful,” he said one night when Murphy raised an eyebrow at him on her way out the door.

She had to agree that it was, but the Minutemen didn’t have much time to sit around and admire it. Danny Sullivan put the squad to work on security matters right away, working the eight into patrol schedules as soon as they proved their worth at the firing range. Pretty soon, it became commonplace to see a Minutemen member or two making the rounds with a city guard partner, and Piper even wrote a glowing review of their integration into city security in Publick Occurrences.

“Though Diamond City has a long way to go on the road to feeling truly safe again, the partnership with the Minutemen is, in this writer’s opinion, a huge step in the right direction,”'  Murphy read out loud at breakfast with MacCready and a few Minutemen one morning. “Other Commonwealth organizations would do well to take heed of the Minutemen’s example.”

“That’s great,” MacCready said, mumbling around a mouthful of Sugar Bombs.

Murphy smirked and folded up the paper. “I wonder if Maxson reads this,” she said. “Maybe we can start some sort of competition over who can donate the most time and energy into making Diamond City safe again.”

The Brotherhood of Steel Elder had been popping into her head a lot lately, though her days were filled with work from dawn to dusk. She brushed up on her long-range aim with MacCready and the Minutemen at the firing range, helped assemble chairs and tables, picked ripe tatos, mutfruit and corn from the fields next to Sheng Kawolski’s pond and took the odd patrol job here and there, but her mind wandered every now and then beyond the walls of the baseball field and back to the airship floating over the Boston Airport. She started working on her busted-up power armor in the free moments she had, watching the soothing ebb and flow of visitors around the marketplace while she loosened bolts and refitted metal panels to the frame.

The extra work seemed to ease the demons in her head as well, and though she still caught a glimpse of Nate’s back in the middle of crowds or his shadow around a corner, visions of her late husband began to appear less in the waking world.

Her dreams, however, were another story entirely. More often than not, she found herself in a murky landscape, forced to watch the mistakes she had made and the lives she had snuffed out on her road to vengeance. The cracked asphalt behind her was littered with corpses and the fog of Far Harbor swirled around silent figures in the distance with faces, names, uniforms she recognized and feared. Nate was at her side, cold and still, and when she reached for him, he aged instantly, his features shifting until it was her son, her real son regarding her with pity and disgust.

Look at you, his voice rang out in her head. Look at what you’ve become.

“I had to change,” she replied. “I became what I am to find you. To save you.”

And he shook his head and faded into the mist and the figures closed in around her and she fell to the ground and-

“Murphy!”

She sat up in bed with a start, her hand clenched around one of her plasma pistols. MacCready was staring down at her, concern evident on his sharp features.

“Again?” she asked, releasing her grip on the gun slowly. MacCready took it and set it back on the nightstand.

“Third time this week you’ve woken me up with screaming,” he said gloomily. “One of these nights, you’re going to shoot me.”

Murphy shook her head emphatically. “I’ll start keeping all of my weapons downstairs before that happens.”

“Can’t do that on the road.”

He was right, and Murphy knew it. The walls of Diamond City could afford her the luxury of restless slumber, but the Commonwealth outside the stadium was less forgiving to those with nightmares and dark circles under their eyes.

Murphy started staying up later to stave off the dreams, though her excuse was keeping Ellie Perkins company at the Dugout Inn’s bar. The young woman had dark circles of her own, but for different reasons: Nick Valentine was still missing, and there was no indication of where he had gotten off to.

“He hasn’t been gone this long since you fished him out of Park Street Station,” Ellie said between Gwinnett pales. “Really, he just nipped off to check with the Atom Cats that the girl was okay. Even her parents thought she might have gotten enamoured with some slick guy in a suit of power armor.”

“If he’s stuck in another vault, I’ll go rescue him again,” Murphy said, catching and squeezing the secretary’s hand in comfort. “Maybe he just got sidetracked by something?”

“How would we know?” Ellie said with a sniff. “We haven’t had a trader from up that way in weeks, and the Atom Cats keep to themselves.”

“If he’s not back within another week, I’ll head down there myself and track him down,” Murphy reassured her.

She needn’t have offered, however. Valentine strode back into town nearly two weeks after the Minutemen arrived, with a six-pack of Nuka-Cola Dark, a new hole in his hat, and, of all things, a squirt gun.

Murphy took this all in from her seat on the crate outside Publick Occurrences, which she had promised to man while Nat served another Saturday detention at the schoolhouse. “And just where the hell have you been?” she called out to the synth detective as he descended the stairs from the stands down to field level.

“My own little patch of hell,” Valentine replied gruffly, smiling when he caught sight of Murphy. She stood and pulled him into a hug before he could empty his hands and fend her off.

“Easy on the duds, kid,” he half-complained, but he hugged her back as best he could.

Murphy straightened his hat when they pulled apart. “You missed a city council meeting. Ellie thought you were dead for sure this time.”

“I almost was,” he replied. “After the last couple of weeks, I could use a stiff drink and a whole lotta mediocrity to offset the excitement.”

“Did you find the girl you were looking for?”

Nick rolled his glowing eyes. “Did I ever,” he said. “A girl like that might put even Darla and her baseball bat to shame.”

Murphy clapped him on the shoulder. “Tell me all about it later,” she suggested. “Ellie’s been worried sick. You should go renew her faith in your survival abilities.”

 


 

“So let me get this straight,” MacCready said between Nuka-Cola Darks on the roof of Home Plate that evening. “You tracked this girl down to the Atom Cats’ garage, found out she’d left with a group of raiders for some place out west, followed them to an abandoned park and somehow became leader of the raiders?”

“That’s about the long and short of it,” Valentine said with a nod. “But I didn’t just ‘become’ the leader. They ran me through some murderous obstacle course called ‘the Gauntlet’ and I shorted out the original leader’s power armor suit with a water pistol, so they named me ‘Overboss.’”

“Oh my god,” MacCready chuckled.

“Nuka-World,” Murphy said, shaking her head in wonder. “I had no idea that place was still standing.”

“Still standing, maybe, but it’s really gone downhill since the war,” Valentine replied. “The place could give a mutant nightmares. You should go pay it a visit sometime, spread some of your characteristic, no-nonsense karma.”

“If not for that, I might check it out just to bring back more of these,” Murphy said, holding up her bottle of Nuka-Cola Dark appreciatively. “I forgot how good this stuff was.”

“So, were the raiders okay with you leaving?” MacCready asked. “Or did you have to sneak out in the dead of night?”

Valentine shrugged. “I got the sense they were okay with me doing whatever I wanted after I did in the previous Overboss,” he replied. “Their second in command, some washed-up raider named Gage, took me on a tour of the three raider groups there. Swore up and down they were all properly intimidated by my actions and would fall in line. Well, as soon as I was done meeting the local lunatics, I got on their radio station- run by some jokester called Red Eye- and said I was looking for a girl named Celia and, as new Overboss, I ‘demanded’ she report to me.”

“Where was she?” Murphy asked.

“She took up with some group called the Operators,” Valentine said. “Real nasty bunch. Great personal image, compared to the other two groups, but just as bloodthirsty and doubly obsessed with caps. Not a great gang to get mixed up in, but there she was- metal plating over a fancy suit, 7.62 rounds wrapped around her waist and a high-rise hairdo that would have had John asking where she got it done.”

“Another case of a farmer’s daughter running off to find adventure, then?” MacCready asked, taking a sip of his Nuka-Cola Dark.

“Basically,” Valentine said. “Seem to be a few more of those around lately.”

MacCready gave Murphy a pointed look. “Can’t imagine why that would be.”

Murphy waved her hand in the air dismissively. “You can’t blame me for every little girl that gets bored with harvesting mutfruit and decides to go seek her fortune,” she said. “So did Celia decide to come back with you?”

“Well, I tried my best to convince her to leave, but that girl hadn’t seen her fill of mayhem and murder quite yet,” Valentine replied. “Told me to give her parents some money on her behalf, but she wouldn’t be coming home. I didn’t stick around long enough to try to make her change her mind.”

“What are you going to tell her parents?”

“That their daughter took up with a bunch of raiders,” Valentine said with a shrug. “They didn’t seem all that concerned with getting her back to begin with, just curious about where she went.”

He pulled out his lighter and pack of cigarettes, offering one each to Murphy and MacCready. The three sat, smoking silently for a bit in the evening air.

Eventually, MacCready pushed himself up out of the spare armchair. “Welp, I’d better turn in,” he said. “Sullivan put me on the morning shift above the gate tomorrow before target practice. Wake me up if you need me, boss.”

He gave her and Valentine a casual salute before climbing down the ladder into Home Plate, the trap door thudding shut behind him. Murphy opened her mouth and blew out a thin stream of smoke, watching it curl into the air above the lawn chairs.

“I’m glad you’re back, Nick,” she said. “Diamond City’s not the same without you.”

He chuckled at that. “It figures that the first time you decide to come by for an extended stay, I’m out of town.”

Murphy shrugged. “Don’t let my schedule get in the way of you living your life.”

“So how did things go with the Brotherhood?”

Murphy filled him in on everything: Cade’s diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, her treatment decision that tied her fate to the Prydwen’s departure, the meeting between the Minutemen and the Brotherhood and the fledgling alliance. She told him about the Minutemen’s decision regarding Gen 3 synths, about Maxson and Mass Fusion and about the assaultron that nearly did her in, about Liberty Prime and Deacon and Danse. Valentine listened attentively, nodding occasionally and tipping ash into the tray on the arm of his lawn chair.

When she was done, he smiled. “Sounds like you’ve got a full plate,” he said. “Maybe I’ll hold off on inviting you to help me crack any open cases.”

“Some days, I’d rather I was doing that,” Murphy said with a sigh. “I’ve still got the biggest mystery to crack, though. The fate of the Institute.”

She lowered her voice. “Scribe Haylen from Recon Squad Gladius picked up some energy readings near Salem that could be relay activity. I think I’ll go check them out after I visit Danse.”

Valentine nodded. “You think you’ll need back-up?”

Murphy shook her head. “I’ll take MacCready, but for now I think we’ll stick to observation,” she replied. “I just want to know what they’re doing.”

He gave her a look of concern. “In my experience, the Institute isn’t all that fond of being observed.”

“Well, they lost their privacy privileges a long time ago,” Murphy said, leaning back in her chair. She put her head back and stared up into the darkening sky. “What are you going to do, now that you’ve closed your current case?”

Valentine rubbed the back of his neck with his metal hand. “I guess I’m not really sure,” he replied. “Part of me wants to hang up my hat before I get myself stuck in another death trap. I’m really getting too old for that kind of stuff.”

Murphy smiled. “Well, there’s plenty you could do around here.”

Valentine looked at her sideways, his yellow eyes skeptical. “Don’t you start, too.”

She raised her eyebrows and put a hand to her chest in mock vexation. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Nick.”

“I told you the last time you were here, I’m not sure I want to dive into politics,” Valentine said. “Not that I’m particularly fond of who’s applied for the job, so far.”

“Oh?”

“Ellie filled me in,” he said, stamping out his cigarette in the ashtray. “Ann Codman and Nelson Latimer? Madame ‘holier-than-thou’ and the son of a mob boss? Not my top picks.”

“Mine either, but I can’t say I’m surprised,” Murphy replied. “Either one would probably cut the Minutemen out of the picture as soon as possible. Although, who knows. I hear Sheffield may run.”

He laughed at that and relaxed a bit. “Well that’s reassuring.”

“Very.”

They sat in silence until Murphy had finished her cigarette.

“Should I let you get some rest?” Valentine asked.

“I’m alright,” Murphy replied. “I’ve been turning into a bit of a night owl, thanks to some truly horrific dreams.”

He nodded. “Nate?”

“Sometimes,” Murphy said with a sigh. “And sometimes Shaun.”

Valentine offered her another cigarette, but she declined. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t imagine.”

“You probably could better than most,” she said. “But thanks.”

“How’s the kid?”

Murphy smiled. “He’s good,” she said. “For now, anyway. But long-term… I don’t know.”

She hung her head. “I want to be what he needs me to be. I want him to have something resembling a normal life, but someday soon he’s going to realize that the world is growing and changing around him and he’s… the same. Still 10 years old, still a kid. Forever. How do you… how do you tell a child something like that?”

“Well, the way I see it, you have a few options to explore,” Valentine said. “There’s the Railroad.”

Murphy shook her head emphatically. “Out of the question,” she said bitterly. “Their usual method of wiping minds and hustling synths out of town wouldn’t work with Shaun. He’s a child that doesn’t age. They’d probably keep him around their headquarters as a pet. Hell, I could see Desdemona or Deacon trying to turn him into an operative. Who would ever suspect a kid of working with the Railroad?”

“On the other end of the spectrum, there’s DiMA,” Valentine suggested. “Shaun would probably be safe at Acadia.”

“You look me in the eye and tell me that anyone is safe around DiMA,” Murphy said. “I don’t trust your brother as far as I can throw him.”

She crossed her arms around herself. “You’re not wrong, though. The synths up there would love Shaun. But what kind of a parent would that make me? Just dumping my kid on an island with a bunch of synths I barely know because I can’t be bothered to deal with him.”

“Well, if you want to be Shaun’s parent, then it’s not the right option,” Valentine said. “But sooner or later, you’re going to have to confront the fact that he’s a synth, and he’s not yet aware of it. Who do you want him to be able to fall back on when you tell him the truth?”

“Someone I trust.”

“Then that rules out DiMA.”

“That rules out almost everyone.”

Valentine shrugged. “You know I’d be happy to take him on, but maybe Diamond City isn’t the best place for a kid to have an existential crisis about being a synth. Folks are still on edge about synths thanks to McDonough.”

“Thanks Nick,” Murphy said with a sad smile. “It’s a shame. He’d probably like you.”

He grinned. “Maybe after you break the news, when he’s ready, he can come stay with me for a bit.”

“I’ll cross that bridge when I get there,” Murphy replied. “It’s a moot point, though, if Ann gets her way.”

Valentine frowned. “I suppose. Even if Nelson does his best to turn this town into Goodneighbor, he probably wouldn’t crack down on synths as hard as her.”

He sighed and scratched his chin. “What we need is another Henry Roberts,” he said. “Now there was a man who was willing to give anyone a chance to live here, as long as there was some good in them.”

“The mayor before McDonough?” Murphy asked. “The one whose daughter you rescued?”

“The very same,” Valentine replied. “I owe that man my whole livelihood, really. Plenty of folks complained when I moved into town after I brought that girl home, and he wouldn’t hear it. But I suppose wishing for a candidate with that kind of acceptance nowadays is a long shot.”

“Well, if you get kicked out of town by Ann, you can always relocate your agency to Sanctuary,” Murphy offered. “Or Goodneighbor. I’m sure Hancock would love to have you move in with him.”

Valentine snorted. “That’ll be the day. Ellie would strangle me if I ever suggested she move back to Goodneighbor.”

“The way Piper tells it, she might just strangle you if you don’t run for mayor,” Murphy said with a chuckle. “But don’t let her pressure you into it. If you want to stick to detective work and the council, that’s just fine by me.”

She stood up and stretched. “But please don’t go running off on any cross-country cases in the near future, okay? I want you within shouting distance in case my lead in Salem pans out.”

Valentine stood and straightened his hat. “Can do,” he replied with a wink.

Murphy ushered him down the ladder and out into the night before trudging back up the Home Plate stairs to collapse in her bed. After tossing and turning a bit, she dreamed of Valentine’s synthetic brother in Maine, holding communion in his electronic sanctum while lightning forked around him. Shaun sat at his feet, his hands folded and his little face turned up toward DiMA in fear and awe. Murphy tried to approach the two, but their heads snapped toward her as soon as she took a step forward, and she felt as though she was melting away under their eyes.

She awoke to MacCready shaking her.

“Boss,” he said gently.

“Did I…. did I scream again?” she asked.

“Not this time,” he replied, biting his lower lip. “You were… you were crying.”

Murphy touched a hand to her face. Her fingertips came away wet with tears.

“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping them away. “You can’t be getting much sleep with me around. I can put you up at the Dugout if you want some peace and quiet.”

“It’s tempting, but I have a better idea,” he said. “If you’re okay with it.”

“What?”

MacCready sat down on the edge of the bed and swung his legs up. He turned to face her and propped his fist under his chin, his elbow digging into the extra pillow Murphy never used.

Murphy blinked rapidly and sat up in bed. “Bobby.”

“Come here,” he offered, patting the space on the mattress between them. “I used to do this for Lucy. Sometimes she had bad dreams about things in her past, and it helped.”

“Bobby, that was your wife,” Murphy replied. “We’re not on that level.”

“Just get over here, Murphy,” MacCready said. “It’s just sleeping. Nothing else.”

“What about Haylen?”

He rolled his eyes. “Haylen doesn’t want us to get eaten by a yao guai because you have nightmares. don’t want us to get eaten by a yao guai because you have nightmares. Just try it. If it doesn’t work, I won’t offer again.”

Murphy looked at him suspiciously, but she shifted in the bed until she was lying down with her back to him. MacCready put his arm around her shoulder and pulled her in a bit closer, then relaxed and put his head down on the pillow. After a few minutes, his breathing slowed and his arm twitched a little in slumber.

A shudder ran through Murphy as she let out a breath she hadn’t known she was holding in. Somehow, MacCready’s gesture felt more intimate than when she had thrown herself at Hancock back in Goodneighbor. It was an offer built on care and trust, things she knew he didn’t invite into his life very often. She measured her breaths so as not to wake the sleeping mercenary behind her, and in time she slept, too.

 


 

When Murphy awoke, MacCready was already gone. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and wracked her brains, but try as she might, she couldn’t remember any dreams after he had joined her in bed.

She had barely had time to dress herself before there was a frantic knocking on her door. She threw it open to reveal Piper, who breezed in with the force of a hurricane and turned to confront her eagerly.

“How did you do it?” the reporter demanded.

“Do what?”

“How did you talk Nick into running for mayor?”

“What?”

“He submitted his papers this morning,” Piper said impatiently. “I caught him leaving the mayor’s office. He said something about ‘staying within shouting distance’ of you.”

Murphy smiled and smoothed down her mussed hair. “Haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on,” she replied. “But buy me breakfast and we can chat about whatever you want, Piper.”

Chapter Text

Two days after Nick Valentine submitted his mayoral candidacy papers, Murphy and MacCready packed their things and set out into the ruined city once more.

They had said their goodbyes to Piper and Valentine the night before, and Murphy had told the Minutemen squad leader, Theo, that he could talk to Travis Miles about getting a message out to her if anything went terribly amiss while she was gone. Theo and the other Minutemen doffed their hats and waved as she and MacCready made their way out of the stadium and into the morning. Murphy grabbed a copy of Publick Occurrences from Nat on the way out, pausing to read the headline, “The Synth You Know: City Detective Throws Hat in the Ring,” before stuffing it in her pack and pushing on.

She and MacCready stuck to the southern bank of the Charles, keeping a sharp eye out for raiders or ferals while they wound through the shadows of high rises and rusted-out cars. Their walk along the waterfront proved quiet after a while, so Murphy fiddled with the radio dial on her Pip-Boy and brought up Diamond City Radio. Travis was in the middle of a newscast, and MacCready fell in step next to her to listen.

“Well, folks, unfortunately we must wave goodbye to our very own vault dweller, Murphy, again this week,” Travis was saying over the air. “That little gal sure keeps herself busy, but we were happy to have her back in town, if just for a little while. Her Minutemen friends are, of course, sticking around to help us keep our streets safe.”

MacCready laughed at that. “You’re never going to be able to sneak off anywhere again,” he said. “Travis would just announce your current whereabouts and blow your cover.”

“In other news, Nick Valentine is back in town after his latest disappearance, and I’m happy to report that the old detective is still in one piece,” Travis went on. “In fact, he stopped by the other day to formally announce that he’s planning on running for mayor. Now I’m not advocating for one candidate over another, but it sure is a fine day when we have a healthy number of individuals taking an interest in our great city’s future. And don’t worry, folks, we’ll keep you up to date on the election news as it comes along.”

“God, I hope nobody takes out radio ads for their campaign,” Murphy muttered.

“In the meantime, Nick’s taken a leaf out of Murphy’s book, and dropped off a new holotape for us during his visit. Here it is, folks, the Andrews Sisters’ cover of ‘Rum and Nuka-Cola,’ straight from the old Nuka-World park out west. Let’s give it a listen.”

A calypso rhythm filtered through the Pip-Boy’s speakers, and Murphy shook her hips and shoulders a bit and stepped in time with the beat. MacCready laughed and snapped his fingers along with the maracas. They made their way down the street like that, a pair of dancing fools in the late morning sun.

 

          “Drinkin’ rum and Nuka-Cola,

          Go down Point Koomahna,

          Both mother and daughter

          Workin’ for the Yankee dollar.”

 

When the song faded out and was replaced by Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, Murphy tuned the dial to Radio Freedom and waited for a news bulletin to interrupt the violin music. Eventually the DJ’s voice came through.

“This is Radio Freedom, the voice of the Minutemen,” the man said. “It is now 11:13 a.m., and all quiet, which is how we like it. Brotherhood of Steel vertibirds are cleared for landing this afternoon on Spectacle Island and at Graygarden, and crews are standing by to assist with unloading. Oberland Station is requesting assistance from any in the area regarding harvest protection, though the situation is not classified as urgent. Travelers are encouraged to avoid the road through Lexington, as Brotherhood squads are hard at work clearing out raiders from the Corvega assembly plant and a series of local apartments. The squads are currently staging their mission out of Starlight Drive-In, and have made it clear that trading caravans are more than welcome, provided they follow a secure route. Stay safe out there.”

Murphy smiled. “I’ll be damned,” she said over the returning violin music. “Maxson actually listened to Carla when she was complaining about the 95.”

“It’s about time someone cleaned that place up,” MacCready agreed. “Maybe they’ll get rid of the ferals in the Super Duper Mart, too.”

When the river began to curve north, Murphy shut off her Pip-Boy radio and the two cut straight east into the city to avoid a nest of raiders that had taken up residence on Longfellow Bridge. They moved silently through shadowed alleys and an eerie, abandoned park until they popped back out on the riverbank above Nashua Street. From there, they made their way north across the Charlestown Bridge in the shadow of the 93 overpass, the granite obelisk that marked Bunker Hill growing taller and taller ahead of them until they found themselves at the trading post’s gates.

“This one’s a joke compared to the one in downtown D.C.,” MacCready said, shielding his eyes to look up at the monument.

“Yeah, that one’s certainly the tallest, but this one came first,” Murphy said, fondly gazing up at the pockmarked tower. “And even this one was just copying a bunch of others, in Rome and Egypt.”

“That so?” MacCready asked as they climbed the steps up the hill. “Did you ever see them?”

“No,” Murphy admitted. “I didn’t really get out of the commonwealths, ever. I kind of regret it, but traveling back then was expensive as hell. It took all that I had to move from the Midwest to New England for school. Then I met Nate, and I didn’t really want to go anywhere else.”

MacCready frowned. “You were from somewhere else before you were from Boston?”

They were interrupted by Bunker Hill’s ever-vigilant leader Kessler, who greeted them at the top of the stairs.

“More freelancers,” she said, ushering them in with the end of her rifle. “Good to see you two again.”

“Likewise,” Murphy said. “Just looking to get some trading done. Is Cricket in?”

Kessler jerked her head back toward the marketplace inside the decrepit lodge. “Not yet, but I think Doc Weathers just rolled up,” she said. “I’d like a word, though, before you split.”

Murphy rummaged around in her pack and tossed a bag of caps at MacCready. “Go get us some stimpaks,” she ordered, and he trudged off.

Kessler smiled at his back as he left. “Glad he’s still on the straight and narrow,” she commented. “Anyway, we’ve been hearing plenty on the radio and from the caravans about what you’ve been up to, and we don’t want any trouble.”

“Trouble?”

“You have some seriously powerful friends,” Kessler said, unhooking a string of caps from her belt and holding them out to Murphy. “If it’ll keep us on their good side, consider yourself to have the run of the place.”

Murphy’s eyes widened. “Kessler…”

“And the next time you need something, just ask, alright?”

“Kessler,” Murphy said firmly, waving the caps off. “I’m not a raider. You don’t have to pay me off.”

The older woman shrugged. “Doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a bunch of spikes and leather, a cowboy hat or power armor,” she said. “You take a step around here, the ground shakes. I’m just covering the asses of everyone here.”

She thrust the caps into Murphy’s hands and shooed her away before she could argue more, then took up her usual post next to the statue by the gates.

Murphy found MacCready haggling over medical supplies in the market and went over to check out what Deb had to offer instead. She picked up a three-pack of duct tape, a half-empty bottle of Wonderglue, a handful of bobby pins and a few packs of energy cells and stowed them away before sauntering over to see what MacCready had collected.

He held up a pair of stimpaks and a handful of .308s. “Doc says Cricket’s due in later, but not until this evening.”

Murphy sighed impatiently. “Guess we’ll wait.”

 


 

Cricket and her caravan made their way into the marketplace just as the sun was setting. Murphy and MacCready were first in line to greet the jumpy little woman and replenish their packs with plasma cartridges and .308s, plus energy cells for Danse, in exchange for a small fortune in caps. They retired with their purchases to the little bar in the back of the market, trading jokes and stories with Joe Savoldi while he mopped up puddles of liquor and packed them a bag full of nonperishables.

“What’re you two string beans gonna do with all this Cram?” Joe said with a grunt, stuffing a few cans into the bag while Murphy counted out caps.

“We’re gonna chum the bay and see if we can’t catch us a live porpoise,” MacCready replied.

“Nah, we’re gonna throw ourselves a luau,” Murphy said. “We just need some pineapple. You sell any?”

“What’s a luau?” MacCready asked.

“What’s a pineapple?” Joe added.

“Never mind,” Murphy said. “Just fill the bag, Joe, it’s for a friend.”

Joe obliged. While he topped the bag off with InstaMash, his son Tony poked his head out of their shack.

“You two gonna need rooms tonight?” he asked.

Murphy and MacCready looked at each other. “Just one,” Murphy replied.

“That-a boy, MacCready,” Joe said with a broad grin. MacCready blushed and buried his face in his cup. Murphy opened her mouth, thought better of it, and instead graciously accepted the bag of food from Joe.

“The one on the end is yours,” Tony said, tossing a key down on the counter in front of her. “Don’t wake us up unless it’s an emergency.”

Murphy tugged MacCready away from the bar, and the two made their way up the wooden stairs to the second level of the shack. “Eager one, she is,” she heard Joe mutter down below.

“Why didn’t you get two rooms?” MacCready hissed.

“You’ve been sleeping in my bed for the past few days, we don’t need another,” Murphy replied. She unlocked the door to their room and swung it open.

“Well, sure, but just for appearance’s sake,” MacCready said, leaning in the door frame while Murphy stowed her things away under the bed. “I don’t want word getting around that we’re… you’re…”

“What’s the matter, Bobby?” Murphy said, turning to give him a mischievous grin. “Embarrassed?”

“No,” he said quickly. “Yes. Maybe.”

Murphy sighed. “I can go get another room,” she said, moving as if to push past him, but he blocked her with his arm and muttered something about a “waste of caps.” She shrugged and sat down on the bed to tug off her boots.

“Go drink with Joe a bit if you want,” she offered. “I’m going to bed now so we can leave earlier.”

He shut the door and sat down on the bed next to her instead. “Tell me what a luau is.”

Murphy smiled and rubbed her ankles a bit after freeing them from the worn leather. “Do you know what Hawaii… is? Was?”

She frowned. “I’m not sure if it made it through the bombs or not.”

“I think so,” MacCready replied. “An island, right? Way out west?”

“Right.” Murphy swung her legs up onto the bed and propped a pillow up between her back and the wall. “But it wasn’t just an island. It was a paradise. Palm trees, beaches, warm water, the works. And a luau was basically a Hawaiian party. Lots of flowers, music, dancing… and the food, the food.”

She closed her eyes and leaned her head back, imagining it. “More fruits than you ever knew existed, drinks full of rum, fish caught only hours beforehand and a giant, roast pig in the middle of everything. They cooked it in an underground oven and then carried it out on sticks during the meal.”

“Well, I know what a pig is,” MacCready said, scratching the hair under his hat. “There was a picture of one in an old textbook back in Little Lamplight. Joseph said they used to raise them on farms, like brahmin, to make Cram.”

Murphy nodded. “They’re probably out there in the wilderness somewhere,” she said wistfully. “There were plenty of wild ones running around, especially down south.”

“Think they’ve got two heads now, too?”

“Who knows.” Murphy slid down the wall until she was facing the ceiling. She tucked her arms behind her head. “Maybe I’ll see one again someday. Or whatever version of them is still alive out there.”

MacCready shrugged his duster off and laid down next to her. “Did you ever go to a luau?”

“No,” Murphy admitted. “I just read about them in books and saw them on television. Trying to hold your own luau in your suburban backyard was a huge trend, for a while. Plastic palm leaves, fabric flower wreaths, canned ham and pineapple upside-down cakes.”

She shifted and unstuck her hair from behind her shoulders. “I doubt the Hawaiians had many luaus, toward the end. Not much to celebrate, really.”

"Huh." 

Murphy turned her head to smile at him. “That’s probably where all the rum is hidden,” she said. “They hoarded it all to make piña coladas.”

“Not all of it,” MacCready said, reaching for his pack. He unearthed the bottle of rum Murphy had gifted him and unscrewed the top. “I don’t know what a piña colada is, but here’s half of one, I suppose.”

Murphy giggled and accepted the bottle, sitting up to take a sip. “You need coconut milk and pineapple juice to mix with it. Oh, and ice. But this’ll do.”

They shared the bottle until they were drowsy, then shed their traveling clothes and settled into bed. Murphy was asleep within minutes, and her dreams were serene, if it could be said she had any at all.

 


 

In the morning, Murphy and MacCready crossed the bridge into Chelsea and took the road north, past County Crossing and away from the ruins of Boston and its satellite communities. The trees grew taller and the brush grew denser around them, and oftentimes their footsteps on the asphalt were all that could be heard in the quiet countryside.

Aside from some radstags and a small swarm of bloodbugs, the two managed to avoid attracting the attention of any local wildlife. They passed the ruins of Malden and Medford in the distance a little before noon, and Murphy led them off the road just before they reached Greentop Nursery. After some ducking around brambles and vines, they came out on the edge of the helipad and made their way down the steps toward the bunker that Danse called home.

The two laser turrets guarding the entrance to Listening Post Bravo registered their arrival immediately, but did not shoot. To Murphy’s surprise, a black-and-brown ball of fur shot out of the bunker’s entrance and barreled toward them, launching itself at her face in a frantic greeting.

“Dogmeat!” she cried happily, sinking to her knees as the German Shepherd did his best to cover her face in slobber. “What on earth are you doing here? I thought I left you with Mama Murphy and Codsworth.”

“He showed up a few weeks ago,” a voice called from the doorway into the bunker. “He’s a smart dog. He goes where he’s needed.”

Murphy stood, and there he was: Her former comrade in arms and commanding officer in the Brotherhood of Steel.

Danse smiled and lowered his laser rifle. He pulled down the hood on his orange flight suit and ruffled his dark hair, sweeping it back into its characteristic wavy mess.

“Paladin Murphy,” he said, nodding respectfully.

Murphy cocked her head to the side with a smile. “Paladin Danse.”

He walked out into the sunlight, shaking his head. “Not anymore, I’m afraid.”

“Always,” Murphy said firmly, closing the distance between the two of them with Dogmeat on her heels. “I don’t care what Maxson said.”

“If what I’m hearing on the radio is true, you care a great deal more than I thought you did about what Elder Maxson says,” Danse replied.

The two regarded each other. To Murphy’s surprise, he didn’t seem to have lost any weight since she’d left him to his own devices. His shoulders were still as broad as a mountain range, his jaw chiseled and set with stubborn determination. Under her gaze, though, his expression softened, and he hesitantly opened his arms. Murphy threw herself into them and hugged him with all the strength she had.

“Scribe Haylen sent me a message on an encrypted frequency,” Danse said when they finally broke apart. “She told me you were planning on coming by. Why did you decide to visit?”

“To offer you a job,” Murphy said, turning to motion MacCready over. “Come on, let’s eat something. There’s a lot I need to fill you in on and I’m starving.”

Chapter Text

The vault dweller, the mercenary and the exiled Paladin sat in folding chairs and grilled bits of Cram and tato over a little campfire, turning their sticks to brown the preserved meat and tossing the burnt pieces to Dogmeat, who gobbled them up with gusto.

Murphy explained the past several months’ events, going into detail only for the last few weeks. Danse nodded occasionally and he looked downright proud when she told him about the summit between the Minutemen and the Brotherhood of Steel.

“Outstanding,” he said when she listed off the terms they had come to.

MacCready shook his head and snickered. Murphy elbowed him before turning back to Danse. “What is?”

“It’s a solid foundation for both factions,” Danse replied. “Obviously, you have a number of issues that still need to be worked out, but the alliance is beneficial for the Minutemen as well as the Brotherhood. You’re a fine diplomat, Paladin Murphy.”

“I’ll pick your brain about those unresolved issues later, but don’t sing my praises just yet,” Murphy said, before launching into her story about Maxson’s stay at the Castle and subsequent field trip to Mass Fusion. Danse’s smile disappeared quickly, and by the time she’d relayed the entirety of the fight, he was scowling.

MacCready, on the other hand, looked impressed. “You took out two assaultrons and a sentry bot? Just the two of you? Man, I thought you were just busting up a couple of protectrons or something.”

“Forgoing proper gear, proper back-up, proper foresight,” Danse said flatly, counting Murphy’s offenses off on his fingers. “You and the Elder could have been killed, easily. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“I agree,” Murphy said. “And I have Maxson to thank for that. He got me back to the Prydwen in one piece, and Cade worked his magic.”

“It was reckless, but I’m glad you both made it out safely with the agitator,” Danse admitted. “Was it installed in Prime?”

“Yep,” Murphy said sullenly. “The ridiculous giant robot works. Hurray.”

“I wish I could have seen him activated again,” Danse said, a touch of yearning in his voice. “I bet it was magnificent.”

“There was certainly a lot of fanfare,” Murphy replied. “But Maxson assured me that the agitator was the real prize and Prime would be deactivated and loaded on the Prydwen for the return trip to the Capital Wasteland.”

“Along with you two,” Danse said, eyeing them both with a little jealousy. “When will that happen?”

Murphy shrugged. “No idea. But according to Maxson, soon.”

Danse nodded thoughtfully. “And… your… condition?”

“Subsiding a little,” Murphy admitted. “I’ve found some methods of dealing with it.”

“Really?” Danse asked. “Such as?”

MacCready shifted in his seat uncomfortably. “Meditation,” Murphy said quickly.

“Hmm,” Danse said, scratching his chin. “I can see how that might help. It was one of the methods we were encouraged to pursue if one of our soldiers chose acceptance and commitment therapy or behavioral activation.”

“Maybe you can give me some pointers,” Murphy said. “Anyway, that’s not why I’m here.”

She leaned forward a little in the folding chair, warming her hands over the campfire. “I want you to become a combat instructor for the Minutemen.”

Danse blinked in surprise. “A combat instructor?”

Murphy nodded. “During the Institute attack, we lost so many of our trained soldiers. We’re swamped with recruits because we won, but right now we only have Ronnie to teach them how to hold a gun properly and form ranks, and Preston when he’s not doing paperwork. We could use someone with your experience to toughen them up and give them some real training.”

Danse hung his head. “Paladin, I’m honored you thought of me for the position, but I can’t accept. You know I would never work with the Minutemen.”

“No, Danse, I don’t,” Murphy said, furrowing her brow. “But please, tell me more about why you won’t work with us.”

“I…” Danse looked taken aback. “I didn’t say- That’s not what- That came out wrong.”

“I don’t think there’s a way that could come out right,” MacCready muttered, poking at the fire with his stick. Dogmeat whined beside him.

Murphy sighed. “Look, Danse, I know you think the Minutemen are disorganized and are trying to do too many things at once to function properly. Hell, I’m pretty sure you gave me that lecture about their resemblance to the Brotherhood under Elder Lyons at least six times. But you also told me once that you thought their cause was noble, and one of the first times I caught you smiling was when I told those two sisters at Oberland Station that they wouldn’t be bothered by the raiders in that clothing store anymore. Remember? The older one, she started crying about how she thought her SOS message was a long shot, and her sister swore up and down they would be there if the Minutemen ever called? I know you were trying to look stoic and busy with your rifle, but you were definitely smiling.”

She threw her stick into the fire. “And like I said, we’re all buddy-buddy with the Brotherhood now. Maxson’s willing to work with us.”

“Elder Maxson is precisely why I cannot work with the Minutemen,” Danse replied. “You heard what he said that day. I’m… I’m dead.”

“I know what he said,” Murphy replied bitterly. “But you’re not. You’re alive, and you don’t deserve to spend the rest of your life in a bunker just because the Brotherhood exiled you. The Minutemen… no. I’m willing to give you a second chance.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Danse said, shaking his head. “My brothers and sisters all think I’m dead. If I suddenly start training soldiers at the Castle, they won’t just see it as a threat and an insult from the Minutemen: It would undermine every decision Elder Maxson has made, including the alliance. I can’t do that to him and I can’t do that to you.”

Murphy nodded. “I’ve thought about that. The way I see it, we have a couple of options.”

“Here we go,” MacCready said, rising from his chair. “I’m gonna go scout the perimeter.”

He and Dogmeat took off down the ravine toward the helipad, and Murphy scooted her chair a bit closer to Danse’s.

“You’re not going to like my first idea,” she said. “Surgery.”

Danse squinted at her, then widened his eyes in comprehension and shook his head emphatically. “Absolutely not.”

“Deacon could probably give us a great referral.”

“Paladin, I’m more than comfortable with the way I look.”

“Sure, but if you looked a little less like someone the Brotherhood wants dead…”

“No.”

“Okay, that just means you’ll be more receptive to my other idea,” Murphy said. “Plan B: We set up a Minutemen base dedicated to training our troops, somewhere the Brotherhood aren’t likely to be. You move in, use a fake name, we set someone we trust on watch, they come let you know if they spot any vertibirds headed your direction. In the meantime, you get to dole out your considerable combat expertise to some wide-eyed trainees.”

Danse looked at her skeptically. “I can see why this was Plan B.”

“Well, I was thinking of doing it even if you turned down the job entirely,” Murphy said, scratching her head. “See, since we’ve decided to start accepting Gen 3s into our ranks, we kind of need somewhere to put them where the Brotherhood isn’t tempted to blow them to hell. And since we agreed to let them use all of our current settlements as mission staging areas, it stands to reason we should make a new base for the synths among us.”

She took a deep breath. “Plus, there are a few things I haven’t told you that might play a role in our needing more troops and synth insight.”

He fixed her with the judgmental look she had received so often when he was her sponsor, and Murphy tried not to stumble over her words as she explained the situation with the Institute’s emissary to McDonough, the energy readings around Salem and the Railroad’s warning. Danse stared into the fire when she was done and didn’t say anything for a while.

“It’s not over,” he said finally, after what felt like years to Murphy.

“It’s not,” she replied quietly. “But then, for you, it was never really going to be.”

Danse picked up his folding chair and threw it violently against the concrete wall of the bunker. The metal clanged loudly on the masonry, startling a flock of birds from a nearby tree into flight. Murphy watched silently as Danse stood, breathing heavily over the crumpled piece of furniture.

“You need to tell the Brotherhood,” he said. “You need to tell Elder Maxson.”

“I can’t,” Murphy replied, trying to keep her voice level. “Not yet. If I tell them now, they won’t pack up Prime. They won’t honor their agreements with the Minutemen. They’ll hunt down every synth, exterminate the Railroad, tear apart every building and hole in the ground looking for the Institute and mow down anyone who gets in their way. It would be chaos.”

“It would be justified,” Danse said angrily. “The Institute has taken everything, everything, from…”

He trailed off and looked down at his hands helplessly. Murphy stood slowly and put an arm on his shoulder.

“I know,” she said.

They looked at each other, the synth and the mother of the Institute’s most frightening creations. Eventually, Danse smiled sadly.

“Forgive me,” he said, putting a hand over Murphy’s on his shoulder. “What I’ve lost… it’s nothing, compared to what you gave up.”

“It’s not nothing,” Murphy said, returning the sad smile with one of her own.

“You guys okay?” a voice asked hesitantly from above them. They looked up to see MacCready and Dogmeat peering over the top of the bunker curiously.

“We’re fine,” Murphy replied, dropping her hand from Danse’s shoulder. MacCready nodded and ducked out of view again.

Danse picked up his chair and straightened it out. “If you don’t plan to tell the Brotherhood about the Institute, what is your plan?” he asked, sitting down carefully.

“Observation,” Murphy said, taking a seat. “MacCready and I are going to do some recon around Salem. Maybe we can figure out what the Institute is up to, and from there we can try to find their hideout.”

He nodded. “And then?”

“Then we’ll see about getting the Brotherhood involved.”

 


 

That night, Murphy stayed up in the bunker with MacCready for a little while after Danse retired to his subterranean home. The two shared a cigarette and watched the moon rise over the trees.

“So, this is where it happened,” MacCready said.

“Yep.”

MacCready crossed his legs on top of the old, metal desk they were using as a seat. “Tell me.”

Murphy sighed. “I’d rather not.”

“Maybe it’ll help me understand what he’s going through. What you’re going through.”

After a long silence, Murphy thrust the cigarette into his hands and stalked outside into the moonlight. She came to a halt in the ravine, halfway between the bunker and the helipad.

“We were going to go to Bunker Hill,” she said softly. “To buy him passage with a caravan and get him out of the Commonwealth altogether. But when we came outside… the vertibird was already here.”

 


 

Elder Maxson was waiting in the ravine, his arms crossed behind his back and his shiny boots planted in the dirt. The vertibird behind him was still, and much too far away. There was no getting to it without going through the Brotherhood leader.

Murphy put a hand on Danse’s chest and stepped protectively in front of him, her hand on her holster. Maxson regarded her coldly.

“How dare you,” he said.

“Don’t do this,” Murphy replied. Pleading.

“It’s not her fault,” Danse said quickly. “It’s mine.”

Maxson held a hand up to silence him. “I’ll deal with you in a moment,” he said, keeping his blue eyes fixed on Murphy. “Knight. Why has this… this thing not been destroyed?”

“He’s not a thing, he’s one of your best men,” Murphy said adamantly, putting her chin forward. “And he has a name.”

Maxson looked as though he was struggling to bring the name to his lips. “Danse… isn’t a man. It’s a machine. Created by the Institute.”

He took a step forward, and Murphy drew her plasma pistol. She pointed it at the ground, but made sure Maxson saw her flip off the safety. He stopped, and Danse drew in a sharp breath behind her.

“It wasn’t born from the womb of a loving mother, it was grown,” Maxson went on. “Within the cold confines of a laboratory.”

“If a loving mother is a prerequisite for humanity, then I’d wager half the men under your command don’t meet the requirements,” Murphy said breathlessly. “Stay back, Elder.”

“Flesh is flesh,” he replied, punctuating his angry words with his right hand. “Machine is machine. The two were never meant to intertwine. By attempting to play god, the Institute has taken the sanctity of human life and corrupted it beyond measure.”

Danse pushed forward against Murphy’s hand indignantly, but she held him back. “After all I’ve done for the Brotherhood,” he said. “All the blood I’ve spilled in our name… how can you say that about me?”

“You’re the physical embodiment of what we hate most!” Maxson shouted, his hands clenched into fists. “Technology that’s gone too far!”

He threw an arm out at the landscape behind him. “Look around you, Danse. Look at the scorched earth and the bones that litter the wasteland. Millions… perhaps even billions, died because science outpaced man’s restraint. They called it a ‘new frontier’ and ‘pushing the envelope,’ completely disregarding the repercussions. Can’t you see the same thing is happening again?”

“Elder, with all due respect, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Murphy said evenly.

He ignored her and pointed an accusatory finger at Danse. “You’re a single bomb in an arsenal of thousands, preparing to lay waste to what’s left of mankind,” he said poisonously.

Murphy stared at him incredulously. “You’re comparing Danse to a nuclear bomb?”

“He might not be a bomb, but the goal is the same,” Maxson replied. “Place it where you want the damage done, and when you least expect it, it delivers a lethal blow without warning and without mercy.”

He rubbed his forehead wearily. “A precision strike right to the heart of the enemy.”

“You don’t know that,” Murphy retorted. “You couldn’t possibly know that.”

“It’s what I would do,” Maxson replied quietly.

Murphy shook her head. “He wouldn’t. The Brotherhood is everything to him.”

“And how could you possibly trust the word of a machine that thinks it’s alive?” Maxson said, counting off on his fingers. “A machine that’s had its mind erased, its thoughts programmed, its very soul manufactured.”

He gestured at Danse. “Those ethics that it’s striving to champion aren’t even its own. They were artificially inserted in an attempt to have it blend into society.”

“It’s true,” Danse said, moving up to stand next to Murphy. “I was built within the confines of a laboratory, and some of my memories aren’t my own. But when I saw my brothers dying at my feet, I felt sorrow. When I defeated an enemy of the Brotherhood, I felt pride. And when I heard your speech about saving the Commonwealth… I felt hope.”

He took another step toward Maxson, and the Elder pulled a gun out of his battlecoat and pointed it at Danse’s chest. Murphy whipped her plasma pistol up and put Maxson in her sights.

“Don’t you understand?” Danse said, putting a hand to his forehead. “I thought I was human, Arthur.”

Maxson’s eyes widened at the use of his first name, and for an instant Murphy saw the pain of the perceived betrayal on his face. The corner of his mouth twitched and the moment of weakness vanished, replaced by a snarl.

“From the moment I was taken in by the Brotherhood, I’ve done absolutely nothing to betray your trust,” Danse went on, lowering his arms into a stance of surrender. “And I never will.”

“It’s too late for that now,” Maxson spat. “The Institute has foolishly chosen to grant you life. You simply should not exist.”

His eyes moved back to Murphy. “I don’t intend to debate this any longer, Knight.”

Murphy looked frantically between the two of them, then slowly lowered her gun.

“After all the sacrifices I’ve made and all the battles I’ve fought for the Brotherhood, you need to listen to me,” she said in a low voice. “You owe me that much, Elder.”

“Very well,” Maxson replied after a beat of silence, but his gun remained pointed at Danse’s chest. “I’m listening.”

Murphy took a deep breath. “If Danse dies, then you lose me as well. I can’t stay in good conscience if his life means that little to you.”

Maxson considered her words. Something in his eyes faded, and he slowly lowered his gun.

“You’re a stubborn woman,” he said. “You’d be willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of a machine?”

Murphy nodded, and Maxson sighed.

“Then it appears we’ve arrived at an impasse,” he said, fixing Danse in his gaze. “Allowing you to live undermines everything the Brotherhood stands for, yet she insists you remain alive.”

Danse said nothing and stared at his boots. Murphy moved up beside him and took his hand in hers, squeezing it hard.

Maxson noticed the gesture and his expression hardened. “Which leaves me with only a single alternative,” he said, turning his back on them. “Danse. As far as I’m concerned, you’re dead.”

Danse stiffened and he squeezed Murphy’s hand back.

“You were pursued and slain by this Brotherhood Knight, and your remains were incinerated,” Maxson went on. “From this day forward, you are forbidden to set foot on the Prydwen or speak to anyone from the Brotherhood of Steel. Should you choose to ignore me, you will be fired upon immediately. Do we understand each other?”

“I do,” Danse said, his voice breaking. “Thank you… thank you for believing in me, Arthur.”

Maxson turned his head back to look over his shoulder. “Don’t mistake my mercy for acceptance,” he said. “The only reason you’re still alive… is because of her.”

The Elder walked away, and Danse had waited until the vertibird had taken off before he let any tears run down his cheeks.

 


 

“Damn,” MacCready said, staring at the helipad. Murphy hung her head and turned to face the bunker instead.

“He lost everything,” she said. “Because of me. If I hadn’t given a copy of the network scanner holotape to Proctor Ingram…”

“Hey,” MacCready said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You didn’t know. And it’s not like that would’ve stopped him from being a synth.”

“But overall, I’m still at fault,” Murphy said sadly. “Synths came from Shaun, and Shaun… Shaun came from me.”

“Stop,” MacCready said, grabbing her by the shoulders and fixing her with an irritated look. “Stop blaming yourself for everything. You didn’t make synths. You didn’t make the Institute what it was. They did that all on their own.”

“No me, no Shaun, no Gen 3s,” Murphy said.

“If you get shot, do you blame the bullet, the gun or the person holding it?”

“There used to be quite a bit of debate about that before the bombs fell.”

MacCready let go of her and sighed. “I just don’t understand you pre-war women,” he said, shaking his head.

Murphy grinned. “And yet you can’t stay away.”

He put his hands up. “I’m getting paid to be here.”

A realization crossed his face, and he lowered his arms. “Why didn’t you just shoot him?” he asked. “You could’ve taken the vertibird, gotten the hell out of dodge, left this whole Institute mess behind and started a new life somewhere.”

“The thought crossed my mind,” Murphy admitted. “Right before I realized that the Brotherhood would never rest until they hunted down the man and woman who killed their Elder. But more than that… I knew what he was feeling.”

She hugged her arms close to her torso. “When I met Shaun… the real Shaun. This ancient, distant son I never saw grow up. All I wanted to do was scream at him, about how he wound up like this, about how much death he had caused, about…”

“Hey,” MacCready cut her off. “We don’t need to talk about it.”

She nodded gratefully. “Thanks.”

They made their way back into the bunker and MacCready leaned on the wall while Murphy typed the password into the elevator’s control terminal. “Tell you what, though,” he said. “Haylen’s theory is still holding up.”

“Oh?”

“About you being a master manipulator and Maxson being a sucker for the dramatic,” MacCready said. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open.

“Great,” Murphy said as they stepped in. She pressed the button for the basement and the doors closed again.

“But I’m starting to think he’s a bit of a mastermind, too,” MacCready said as elevator shuddered during its descent. “Think about it: Everything he’s done, even the business with Danse, he’s done to keep you around.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m serious,” MacCready said with a smile. “I think the leader of the Brotherhood of Steel might have a thing for you.”

Murphy refused to dignify that with a response, and she purposefully set her bedroll up across the room from him when they reached the underground listening post. It wasn’t until she woke hours later, drenched in sweat, that she tugged it closer and laid awake pondering his theory.

Chapter Text

Murphy woke up to the sounds of Diamond City radio and MacCready disassembling his rifle. The sniper handled the pieces of the gun with care, wiping each bit clean with the end of his scarf before laying it out on his sleeping mat next to him. Dogmeat lay at his feet, whuffing softly as he watched each piece travel from MacCready’s hands to the bedroll.

“Where’s Danse?” Murphy mumbled, wiping sleep from her eyes.

“Up top,” he replied. “Exercising.”

‘Exercising’ proved to be a series of squat thrusts, push-ups and knee strokes on the helipad, which Murphy watched with interest while sipping on some purified water. Danse had kept up his combat-ready physique well, and the muscles of his arms shone with sweat in the morning sunlight.

“Mind if I join you?” Murphy asked, setting down her canteen.

“I’d be honored, Paladin,” Danse said, wiping his face with the front side of the tank top he was wearing.

Murphy padded barefoot onto the helipad, to the area Danse had swept off for his workout. She matched his moves until she, too, was breathing heavily and her muscles twinged.

“I miss this,” she said softly when they stopped for water.

Danse nodded. “I do too.”

“You could have this again,” Murphy said with a smile. “Just with different people. And no hovering airship.”

He sighed. “You shouldn’t risk destroying everything you and Maxson have built on my account.”

“Forget Maxson,” Murphy said forcefully. “He’s the reason you’re out here in a bunker instead of with your brothers and sisters.”

“He did what he had to do,” Danse replied firmly. “He knew the promises the Brotherhood was built upon, the words written in the Codex by the first of his name. He knew there was no way I could remain there, and he showed me mercy in the end.”

“The Minutemen aren’t beholden to the beliefs of the Brotherhood, and neither are you anymore,” Murphy said. “You may be dead to them, but to me and the people of the Commonwealth, that doesn’t matter. You have so much to offer the world, and we’re going to need it if we have to face the Institute again.”

She searched his face for something beneath the resolute expression. “What do you want to do, Danse? Spend the rest of your days here? You were never the type to hide out underground while others did the fighting.”

“No, I’m not,” Danse conceded. “But my decision is final.”

Murphy took in a deep breath and let it out, scowling at her former sponsor. “You’re as stubborn as I am.”

He smiled. “Imagine what it was like to train you.”

“Would you at least consider helping us out with finding the new base?” Murphy asked.

“What did you have in mind?”

 


 

Murphy pulled up her map of the Boston area on her Pip-Boy while she and the two men munched on dried slices of mutfruit in the bunker. Danse shook his head at the little screen and went off to his room, returning with a fabric map of the Commonwealth. He spread it out on a nearby desk.

“Nice,” Murphy said, running her fingers over the lines and symbols. “Did you nick this when you made a run for it?”

“I wasn’t sure how to get to the listening post from the Prydwen,” Danse admitted. “I figured Proctor Quinlan had copies.”

“Okay, let’s see,” Murphy said, comparing the green markers on her Pip-Boy map to the one on the desk. “So, Haylen said the energy readings were popping up around here, in Salem and the surrounding area. She didn’t give me specific points of appearance, just a general idea.”

She pointed at the Slog. “The ghouls who live here are already on board with the Minutemen, but they’re on the list of places the Brotherhood would like to stage missions out of. I don’t know that we’ve had requests from them to use the place, but the possibility is still there.”

“What about these guys?” MacCready asked, pointing at the nearby Greentop Nursery.

“They haven’t decided to support the Minutemen yet,” Murphy replied. “Plus, they’re not really equipped for an influx of people. Their stead is basically just one house and a giant greenhouse.”

She tapped her finger at a spot on the coast. “There’s a lighthouse here full of Children of Atom that would probably move out if I asked nicely.”

Danse wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Be that as it may, moving in so close to Salem might attract the attention of Institute survivors or synths,” he said. “You don’t want to arouse suspicions.”

“No, you’re right,” Murphy agreed, pointing to another spot along the coast. “It would also be easier to find someplace that’s abandoned or full of things we don’t mind clearing out. There’s a wrecked house here that I emptied of mirelurks ages ago. But…”

She squinted at Danse’s map, at a factory marked nearby the potential spot. “Mahkra Fishpacking? Why does that sound familiar to me?”

“It was one of the Brotherhood’s places of interest for synth activity,” Danse said.

Murphy snapped her fingers. “That’s it. One of Maxson’s reports said a team had cleared it out and recovered a bunch of Institute tech. So maybe too close to Brotherhood operations for comfort.”

MacCready tapped a spot north of Greentop Nursery. “There used to be a farm here. The Gunners scoped it out once, when I was still with them.”

“What happened to it?”

“Not sure,” MacCready said with a shrug. “We never went back.”

Murphy looked at Danse with a smile. “If you’re looking to do some recon, there’s your chance.”

“No need for recon,” Danse replied. “The settlers at Greentop told me the last time I came out to trade to watch out for super mutants to the north.”

“Excellent,” Murphy said. “Gentlemen, we just made plans for the afternoon. Let’s get going.”

 


 

The three were greeted on the road to the super mutants’ lair by a pair of mutant hounds, easy targets on the relatively clear path north. MacCready shot one through the eye while the other exploded in a mess of melted flesh and ash after meeting the business end of Danse’s laser rifle and Murphy’s plasma pistols. Dogmeat growled at the corpses, but no others emerged from the trees to challenge them.

Danse led the way up the road, at ease in power armor once again. Every time she caught sight of the giant grin on his face, Murphy smiled too.

There were three super mutants in the shack above the pre-war park bathroom, and Danse tore through them with his fists and laser rifle like a tornado. As she fired plasma blasts at the roaring mutants, stumbling over each other to get a hit in on the ‘buckethead,’ Murphy was reminded of the first time she had seen the Brotherhood soldier: Twisting ferociously in a mess of ghouls in front of the Cambridge Police Station, his teeth gritted in concentration as the emaciated creatures threw themselves at the shining figure.

MacCready, who had hung back outside with Dogmeat, breathlessly saluted when they re-emerged and pointed out a super mutant that was howling and clutching at its kneecaps near a shack at the top of the hill. Dogmeat was barking and snapping at it, dodging swipes from its big, green fists.

“All yours,” MacCready said, and Danse stomped off to finish the job. Murphy lowered her pistols and looked around the abandoned farm. Stalks of corn were growing wild in the field below the shack, and rotten meat hung from spiked poles around its perimeter. Several rusted-out cookpots and cages hung from a particularly elaborate pole system to the north, and she wandered over to inspect it.

“What do you think?” MacCready asked, joining her.

Murphy frowned. “It’s a good location,” she admitted. “But all this arable land… I’d hate to just let it go to waste. We need a lot of room if we’re going to be running drills and preparing for combat readiness, and we could be using this spot to feed people instead.”

MacCready raised his hat to wipe some sweat from his brow. “After all the effort I went to?” he asked facetiously.

“I know,” Murphy said. She stared off, beyond the poles, and pointed to a hulking, brick building across the Saugus River. “That’s Parsons. Used to be an insane asylum.”

He shivered. “I know. There are some creepy stories about it floating around. Even the Gunners wouldn’t tangle with it.”

Danse strolled over, the lower parts of his power armor splattered with blood and super mutant brains. “This place will be far more useful without those revolting monstrosities roaming around,” he said. “Admiring the view, you two?”

“Just checking out the creepy asylum,” Murphy replied.

Danse pointed to a far distant tower, poking up out of the trees to the northwest. “What’s that over there?”

Murphy squinted in its direction. “No idea,” she said, fiddling with her Pip-Boy to bring up her map again.

“Lynn Woods Reservation,” MacCready read, leaning over to have a look at the screen. “What were they reserving?”

“Forest land,” Murphy said, rubbing a smudge off the glass. “But I can’t say I’ve ever been. I don’t know why there would be a tower out there.”

“It might be an investigation for another day,” Danse said with a frown. “It’s too late to find a way around the river, and I don’t want to leave my power armor behind.”

“We accomplished what we set out to do,” Murphy said with a nod. “Maybe we can check it out tomorrow.”

The three of them set about piling the bodies of the super mutants together and burning them. The smell it generated was horrendous, and it was starting to get dark by the time they felt comfortable leaving the blaze to burn itself out.

In the twilight walk back to the listening post, Murphy turned her Pip-Boy radio on, waiting for a news bulletin.

“Welcome, listeners,” the Minutemen DJ said after a lively fiddle piece. “Good news today from Lexington, as Brotherhood troops were able to root out a group of raiders from the Corvega assembly plant with minimal casualties. Knights are still at work in the town, so 95 is not yet safe for travelers. We also have a repeat message for our general, urging her to return to the Castle as soon as possible to meet with Brotherhood officials on Monday for continued discussions regarding the Spectacle Island settlement. The time is 7:42 p.m., and you’re listening to Radio Freedom, voice of the Minutemen.”

“Shit,” Murphy said.

“What is it?” MacCready asked.

“No exploring tomorrow,” Murphy replied. “That’s the signal that Maxson’s coming to town. I need to go back.”

“What about scouting out Salem?” Danse asked.

“It’ll have to wait,” Murphy grumbled. “And don’t you get any ideas about going out there yourself. I don’t want to risk you getting caught by a courser with a reset code at the ready.”

Danse looked taken aback, as if he hadn’t considered the possibility. “Then I suppose I’ll clean up the super mutant debris from the farm we just cleared,” he offered instead. “Maybe check out the tower at Lynn Woods.”

“Just be careful,” Murphy warned him. “You’re not used to operating by yourself. Don’t take unnecessary risks.”

“The irony of you lecturing someone about taking unnecessary risks is not lost on me,” he replied, straight-faced.

 


 

After helping Danse clean up his docked power armor, Murphy headed to the surface again and climbed up between the laser turrets to dangle her feet over the roof of the bunker. Danse joined her after a while, and the two of them sat and pointed out constellations in the stars above their heads while MacCready played fetch with Dogmeat on the helipad.

“Well, I know that’s Orion,” Murphy said, tracing the belt and shoulders with her fingers. “And over there is the Big Dipper. See how those two stars in it point to that one? The north star? Way back before the war, before a lot of wars, actually, slaves used to follow that to freedom.”

Danse furrowed his brow. “Why were they going north?”

“Slavery was legal in the southern United States, but they could be free in the north,” Murphy explained. “So they ran at night, and they followed the north star as a guide.”

She smiled. “Along the way, they had help from the very first Railroad, the Underground Railroad. They did it before Desdemona and Deacon and all the others.”

“Wouldn’t the slaves’ collars explode if they got too far north?” Danse asked.

“Collars?”

He nodded. “Explosive collars. Slave traders in the Capital Wasteland outfit their stock with them in case they try to run.”

Murphy stared at him. “There are slave traders in the Capital Wasteland?”

“Not so many as there used to be,” Danse replied. “But it used to be rather lucrative, before the Brotherhood’s influence began to spread. There was a whole town dedicated to slave trading, for a while.”

“I… what, did the Brotherhood stamp them out?”

“No, their practices caught up with them. A group of escapees and settlers overran the town and burned it to the ground.”

“Good,” Murphy said, shaking her head. “People like that deserve what’s coming to them.”

Danse smiled. “Cutler used to say the same thing. Ever since the day I met him, he was an avid supporter of the downtrodden. He used to tell me about how he would spread his message of freedom across the Capital Wasteland, and when we joined the Brotherhood he would always make sure to talk to the civilians we were rescuing and ensure they were going to survive beyond the day we packed up and left them.”

“When did you meet him again?” Murphy asked.

“About 10 years ago, now,” Danse replied. “We went into business together, not long after I scraped enough money together to open…”

He trailed off, and Murphy turned to see a look of sad confusion on his face. “What is it?”

“I don’t know how much of that is real,” he confessed. “My life before Rivet City and the junk stand.”

“Well, Cutler was real,” Murphy said. “So as long as you’ve known him, your memories are yours and yours alone.”

“I met him the first day I moved into Rivet City permanently,” Danse said with a sigh. “I’d be willing to bet that’s where the cut-off is, between the real and the implanted.”

Murphy nodded. “It makes sense. New guy moves to town with a pocketful of caps, a pile of junk and a bunch of memories about being a kid in D.C.”

She put her arm around him and gave him a squeeze. “If it makes you feel better, I’m kind of happy you didn’t grow up an orphan in the ruins of our… my nation’s capital.”

He gently shrugged her arm off. “From what I remember… or what someone put in my head, it wasn’t a pleasant experience.”

“And as far as being an orphan goes, here’s some good news,” Murphy said. “Technically, you and I are kind of related.”

Danse gave her a skeptical look. “That’s a bit of a stretch, Paladin.”

“Maybe so, but it’s a stretch I’m happy to make.”

They sat in silence for a bit. Over on the helipad, MacCready sat down on the concrete and let Dogmeat jump all over his torso and cover his face in dog kisses.

“Danse, there’s something I need to tell you,” Murphy said finally, drawing her knees up to her chest and hugging her arms around them. “When we were leaving the Institute, before we blew it up, I… I took something.”

“What did you take?”

“The…” she swallowed. “The director… my son… he had been working on a synth version of himself. But… a child version. And when I tried to leave, he…”

Danse was staring at her, wide-eyed in disbelief. “Shaun reprogrammed the child synth to think I was his mother. And I couldn’t… I couldn’t leave him there,” she went on, rocking back and forward. “So I had Sturges send him to the Castle with some of the other troops and he’s been there since.”

She turned and met his gaze. “Danse, he doesn’t know he’s a synth. He’s just a 10-year-old kid that thinks he’s just like everyone else, and that he’s my son. And I… I don’t know what to do.”

Danse furrowed his brow and opened his mouth as if he was going to lecture her, but thought better of it and closed it. He turned, and the two watched MacCready laughing on the helipad as he wrestled with Dogmeat.

“He’s not my son,” Murphy said, tears welling up in her eyes. “He shouldn’t be forced into that life because… because he was programmed that way. But part of me wants to believe he’s mine, and that part of me wants to protect him from the truth of what he is until… until I can’t anymore.”

“If you truly care about him, he needs to know,” Danse said simply. “You should tell him.”

“What if he hates me?” Murphy asked, nearly a whisper.

“Then he hates you,” Danse said. “But he still deserves the truth, painful as it is. Even if it cost me my place in the Brotherhood, I would still rather know what I am than continue to live on in the dark.”

Murphy nodded, tears welling up in her eyes, then laughed sharply. “Why don’t you hate me?”

He looked at her in surprise. “You’ve never given me reason to hate you.”

“I’m the reason you’re here. The scanner… the synths…”

“Paladin Murphy,” Danse said gently. “You did your duty as a Brotherhood soldier when you delivered that scanner to Proctor Ingram. You did your duty to me as a friend when you convinced Elder Maxson to spare my life. And you cannot be held responsible for the mistakes of the Institute, or your son.”  

“Yeah, everyone keeps saying that,” Murphy said. “But it’s a hard pattern of thinking for me to break.”

Danse nodded. “I understand. It took me a long time to stop blaming myself for Cutler’s death. I used to think, maybe if we had never enlisted, he might still be alive.”

He smiled, and a faraway look crept into his eye. “It wasn’t until someone pointed out to me that our decision to join the Brotherhood of Steel empowered us to become the fine soldiers we were and save the lives of so many, rather than spend the rest of our lives selling scrap in Rivet City, that I pulled myself up and began to move on. It was what Cutler would have wanted.”

Murphy bumped him with her shoulder. “Who pointed that out to you?”

“Arthur Maxson,” Danse said. “Ironically, he was the one seeking advice from me when he gave me his wisdom.”

Murphy blinked profusely and wiped the tears from her eyes. “Maxson said that? Wait, what advice was he looking for?”

“It’s not my place to say,” Danse replied with a shake of his head. “Ask him yourself.”

“I’ll put it on my to-do list,” Murphy muttered. “Right after finding the Institute and figuring out what to do with my synth kid.”

“You could submit-”

“No, Danse, I am not going to submit him to the Brotherhood for study,” Murphy snapped. “I’ve had enough poking and prodding from Neriah myself to know that nobody deserves that fate. He might not be my biological child, but for all intents and purposes, I’m his mother.”

Danse looked thoughtful. “Does he have any synth peers? Has anyone in the Minutemen come forward yet and announced their synth identity?”

“Not yet,” Murphy said, sighing. “Unless you count Curie, but she’s not exactly a true synth. He’s really attached himself to her and Preston, though, and MacCready gets along with him just fine, too.”

“Do you think he’d get along with me?”

Murphy studied him. “I don’t know,” she said. “Do you think you’d get along with him?”

He shrugged. “We have at least one thing in common. If you’re looking to give him a support system after you tell him the truth, I may be able to relate with him better than anyone.”

“That’s sweet of you, Danse,” Murphy replied. “But bringing him to a remote location just to tell him he’s a synth, then dumping him on you, alone? I couldn’t.”

“Then perhaps your new, synth-friendly settlement may be an option,” Danse suggested. “I can sponsor him and other adult synths can assist and act as his support network.”

Murphy raised her eyebrows. “Are you accepting my job offer?”

He furrowed his brow. “I’m offering to mentor your… your son. No promises beyond that.”

The tears returned to Murphy’s eyes, and she threw her arms around him. Danse patted her awkwardly.

“Paladin, control yourself,” he said. “This is all merely hyperbole, at the moment.”

“I know,” Murphy mumbled into his orange flight suit. “But this is still the nicest thing you’ve ever offered to do for me.”

He smiled. “Nicer than taking you under my wing and training you to become a Knight?”

“Immeasurably.”

“Don’t let Elder Maxson hear you say that.”

“Elder Maxson can go fuck himself.”

“Uncalled-for, Paladin.”

Chapter Text

Murphy and MacCready struck out for the Castle the next morning, and to Murphy’s surprise, Dogmeat trotted next to them as they departed the bunker. Danse said nothing, but the look on his face was enough to tell her that he would miss the canine’s presence.

“Maybe it’ll convince him to rejoin society,” Murphy mused while the three made their way south.

MacCready chuckled. “If anyone can do it, it’s you two,” he said. “Murphy and Dogmeat. The dream team.”

A stray ghoul attempted to slow their progress near the National Guard training yard, and some bloatflies chased them across the bridge from Chelsea, but they made good time and arrived back at Bunker Hill by noon. After sharing a drink with the Savoldis again, the two continued down the worn pavement and across the Charlestown Bridge. MacCready turned to follow the riverbank, but stopped when he noticed Murphy hadn’t altered her route and was headed into the heart of Boston instead.

“Boss?”

Murphy turned and brushed some white hair out of her face. “I need to make a pit stop,” she said. “Come on. If we keep quiet, we should be just fine.”

“Whatever you say,” MacCready said with a shrug. “But if it takes too long, you’re paying for the rooms at the Rexford this time.”

 


 

One night in Goodneighbor, a few super mutants and some sore arms later, Murphy and MacCready made their way up the hill to the Castle, Dogmeat scampering ahead of them to go greet the residents of the fort. Ronnie Shaw met them in the newly-constructed archway that had been built in the northwestern wall. Murphy and MacCready staggered through it and eased their cargo to the ground, taking a moment to catch their breath and admire the stonework that had appeared since their departure.

“I don’t know how he does it,” MacCready said, wheezing.

“Me neither,” Murphy said, between heavy breaths. “Can you believe he carried that thing the whole time we were walking around together?”

Ronnie poked the Gatling laser on the ground with her foot. “Final Judgment, eh? And who’s supposed to be doing the judging here?”

MacCready pointed at Murphy, who waved the question off. “Good job on the masonry, Ronnie,” she said instead. “Just got to install some doors and this place will be perfect.”

Ronnie smiled. “Maybe then we can keep riffraff like you two out.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Murphy said, straightening up. “So when are the Brotherhood top brass coming by?”

“It’s just the Elder, as far as I know,” Ronnie replied. “He’s due in around noon, but I believe he’s heading straight to the island. Might want to get cleaned up and respectable.”

Murphy groaned. “I am not putting on that outfit again.”

“Suit yourself,” Ronnie said, jerking a thumb over her shoulder. “Showers are running lukewarm, at any rate.”

She leaned forward and picked up the Gatling laser, shifting her hips to adjust for the weight. “I bet this baby has some kick to her.”

“Didn’t try it out,” Murphy said. “But if you don’t mind, can you go stick it in the armory for now?”

Ronnie nodded and waddled off, her arm muscles taut from the strain of holding the enormous gun. MacCready stared after her, then reached a hand back to feel his rifle as if to reassure himself.

“Rethinking your choice in weapon?” Murphy asked.

“Never again.”

 


 

Once she had showered, Murphy braided her hair into one long plait over her left shoulder and slipped on a clean, rose-colored dress she kept around the Castle for casual wear. She passed over the cream-colored heels she had found in Back Street Apparel and pulled on clean socks and a pair of cavalier boots, then buckled her belt and holsters around her waist and settled the General’s tricorn hat on her head. She rummaged around in her nightstand and retrieved a compact mirror, which she held up at various angles to make sure she looked somewhat presentable.

Slightly like a pirate, but I’ll take it, she thought, snapping the compact lid shut.

She stowed her traveling pack under the bed and set out for the boats, veering off course only to grab a fresh mutfruit from a bushel basket on Trader Rylee’s stand. She munched on the sour fruit and made her way down to the boats, where Scribe Haylen, Rylee and Ronnie were waiting for her.

“Sturges and Preston are already over there,” Ronnie said, tossing some paddles into a small skiff with an outboard motor attached. “Come on, we’re gonna be late.”

“Fashionably so,” Rylee said, taking in Murphy’s outfit with a smile. “Who are you trying to impress?”

“Oh, I didn’t tell you? I’m planning on stealing Sturges right out from under you,” Murphy ribbed, hitching her skirt up to climb into the boat.

Rylee guffawed. “Girl, you can try.”

The four of them puttered their way over to the island, and Murphy’s boots sank into the wet sand of Spectacle Island when she jumped out to help pull the boat ashore. She kicked as much of it off as she could and peered up the hill toward the shed serving as the island’s headquarters, holding the tricorn hat to her head while the breeze twisted up her dress and braid. A couple of Scribes and a familiar, female Knight were standing at its crest, watching their progress.

Murphy left the other three to unpack the supplies they had ferried over and trudged up the hill until she was close enough to make out the Knight’s face.

“Well, well, well,” she said, taking her hat off and waving it around. “If it isn’t my old target practice buddy.”

Knight Lucia smirked. “If it isn’t the woman who got my best friend imprisoned.”

Murphy shrugged and settled her hat back on her head. “Kells’ orders.”

Lucia crossed her arms and sighed. “I can’t say I blame you for what you did. After what happened to Knight Rylan…”

She shook her head. “It's been a little hard for me to take. But... thank you for finding the truth. It had to be done. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be,” Murphy said, moving to put a hand on the Knight’s shoulder. “You didn’t know what he was up to. And Clarke meant well, he just… well, he presumed ferals could be something beyond what they’ve turned into.”

Lucia nodded. “I heard they carted him off to Cambridge. Have you seen him?”

“Yeah,” Murphy replied. “He’s doing okay. Still doing crazy amounts of push-ups.”

“Sounds about right,” Lucia said with a chuckle. She looked out over the island, at the felled trees and tilled fields, the scattered shipping containers and the power lines creeping their way around the coast. “It’s too bad he never got to see this, or be a part of it. He would have loved it.”

Rylee, Ronnie and Haylen made their way up the hill and greeted Lucia and the Scribes. The seven of them stood around chatting until a vertibird crossed the sky and eased down onto the nearby grass, offering up Elder Maxson in his battlecoat and two more Knights, both in power armor.

Maxson looked his usual, put-together self, but Murphy spotted dark circles under his eyes and his set jaw told her he was troubled by something. He made his way over to them with the Knights in tow and nodded curtly to each of the assembled Minutemen and Brotherhood soldiers, his eyes on the ground. He paused, though, when he caught sight of Murphy’s boots, and his eyes traveled upward until they met hers.

Murphy raised her eyebrows. Maxson cleared his throat, as if embarrassed. “Palad- General Murphy,” he said in a tone of surprise. “I wasn’t aware you were going to be present for today’s walkthrough.”

“Sorry about that,” Murphy replied coolly. “I wasn’t able to respond to your summons, but I came as fast as I could.”

“Less a summons and more of an invitation,” Maxson said. “Regardless, I’m pleased you were able to make it. Shall we proceed?”

Lucia and Rylee took the lead, and Murphy and Maxson fell in step behind them. The rest trailed behind, and the group made their way down to the fields where a number of Brotherhood Scribes and Minutemen were working.

“The island is sandy, but we expected that,” Rylee said as they made their way through the rows of tilled soil marked off with pieces of wood and strung twine. “Since most of the Commonwealth is in summer harvest mode, we started off with traditional winter crops, and we plan to rotate and expand as necessary to give the soil a break.”

“Over there we put in razorgrain, and that field over there is going to be silt beans,” Lucia added, pointing as she went. “We want to put down mutfruit closer to the sonic speaker system, maybe start a more permanent orchard, but we’re still mapping that out. It might help with erosion, in the long run, if we get something with a defined root system in there.”

Rylee nodded, and paused next to a field where little, tangled sprouts were making their way into the sunlight. “The gourds are doing great, as you can see,” she said. “We have the domestic variety and a wild one, and that Senior Scribe of yours is hoping they’ll cross-polli-whatever to make something hardier.”

“How is the coordination with Graygarden?” Maxson asked. “I understand Senior Scribe Neriah had a few… hiccups with her seedlings.”

Rylee made a face. “As far as I know, those robots out there are having a field day with everything except the thistles she sent over,” she replied. “The girl robot is not a fan of the way they explode. And we can’t plant them here without running the risk of getting all of our workforce full of prickers.”

Lucia pursed her lips. “We need protective gear if we’re going to grow anything like that here,” she agreed. “Plus, there are a few things I don’t think are going to work. The water-based plants, the bloodleaf and tarberries, won’t grow well in the saltwater, and for some reason the hubflower seeds won’t take. Could be the acidity of the mirelurk scat.”

Murphy nodded and knelt down next to a gourd plant to feel the tiny vines. The stalk was prickly and fibrous between her fingers, and little tendrils along its length reached for anything nearby they could wrap around and anchor themselves to.

Maxson crouched down next to her, the edge of his coat brushing the ground. She transferred the little vine to his hand, and he felt its length tenderly, his fingers brushing briefly against hers. Something inside her chest turned over and shivered, and she straightened up quickly and moved on.

They continued with their tour, talking about yields and division of labor and the base’s needs, and Sturges and eventually Preston joined them to give an update on the structural and technological installations under way on the island. Maxson asked the occasional question, but he kept quiet for the most part, matching Murphy’s pace and taking in the progress around him.

When they crested the hill where the vertibird had landed, he turned to Murphy and straightened out his uniform. “I have to commend you, General,” he said. “This settlement has truly begun to take shape under your suggestion and leadership.”

“I appreciate it, Elder, but you should thank them,” Murphy said, gesturing at the assembled Minutemen and Brotherhood workers. “They make everything happen. I just make speeches and lead battle charges.”

Maxson smiled, then turned to the group. “Minutemen, you have a modest leader,” he said. “But she’s right. Thanks are due to all involved in this endeavour, and I am proud of the work you have all put in to make the idea a reality. Together, the Brotherhood of Steel and the Minutemen will ensure that the people of the Commonwealth are safe from threats, both foreign and familiar.”

The Brotherhood troops on hand saluted and called out “Ad Victoriam!” The Minutemen whooped and gave up some scattered applause.

One of the Knights who had accompanied Elder Maxson put an arm out as if to steer the leader back to the vertibird, but Murphy put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him away before he could climb back on board.

“I have something for you, back at the Castle,” she said as the crowd broke up and went back to their duties around the island. “Do you have time to come back for another visit? There’s been some significant progress at the fort, too. I’m sure Ronnie would be happy to show you the work that’s been done.”

His eyes lit up for an instant, but a look of realization clouded them just as quickly and he turned his gaze away from her. “I’m expected back at the Prydwen,” he said. “I have work to do. Forgive me.”

“Oh,” Murphy said, letting her hand fall from his shoulder. “Then don’t let me keep you.”

“I-” he started to say, then cast a look over his shoulder at the two Knights with him. “Tonight.”

“What?”

“Until we meet again, General,” he said loudly, then turned and made his way over to the vertibird and his entourage without so much as a glance behind him. Murphy watched them go, and Scribe Haylen sidled up beside her with a look of interest.

“That’s a peculiar look on your face,” she commented. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m not sure,” Murphy said with a frown.

 


 

MacCready pointed out that she was restless at supper in the Shot Heard Round the World, picking at her fried stingwing meat and twirling her utensils between her fingers.

“Something on your mind?” he asked, between bites of carrot and stingwing.

Murphy sighed. “It’s Maxson,” she said. “I think he’s about to do something stupid.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” MacCready said with a shrug. On his other side, Haylen elbowed him, and he laughed.

“Be nice,” Haylen said reproachfully. “Like what, Paladin?”

“I think he’s going to try to escape his handlers to come see me.”

Haylen and MacCready looked at each other, then back at her. “And… how do you feel about that?” Haylen asked.

Murphy squinted at them. “Why does it matter how I feel about it?” she asked. “He’s his own person. He can do whatever he wants.”

“Yeah, but what do you want?” MacCready prodded, lowering his voice and peering around at those nearby. “You seemed a little less-than inclined to have to deal with him after we paid Danse a visit.”

“I was,” Murphy admitted. “But something feels off. He looked tired today. More tired than usual, at any rate.”

Haylen leaned in closer to the other two. “One of the Scribes at Spectacle Island said he hasn’t been sleeping well,” she said conspiratorially. “Not since Mass Fusion. He just stays up and paces around the Prydwen.”

“Well, he can join the club,” Murphy said, spearing a hunk of stingwing with her fork and inspecting the gray meat. “That doesn’t mean he has to come visit me in the dead of night. He can wait until daylight like everyone else.”

“Who else is he going to bother?” MacCready shrugged and resumed eating. “It’s not like the Commonwealth is full of crazy-powerful authority figures he can relate to. There’s him, you, maybe Desdemona if he didn’t want to rip her head off, the Silver Shroud…”

“The Silver Shroud isn’t real,” Haylen said skeptically.

“Yes, she is,” MacCready said indignantly. “Somebody killed Sinjin and all his lackeys, and it wasn’t me.”

Haylen rolled her eyes. “It was obviously Hancock.”

“Hancock swore up and down he didn’t do it.”

“And since when have you ever been able to trust what Hancock says?” Murphy asked with a smile.

“Agree to disagree,” MacCready said firmly. “My point is, you have more in common with him than anyone else here. And you invited him.”

“Let’s just see if I regret it,” Murphy grumbled.

 


 

When the vertibird touched down that night in the northwestern field, Murphy was waiting in the Castle’s newest archway with Dogmeat and the Final Judgment. After the machine powered down, Maxson climbed out of the cockpit alone. Murphy noted with some surprise that he had donned an orange flight suit rather than his black officer’s uniform, and the leather bomber jacket he had worn the day he visited her in hospital.

“Masquerading as a Lancer?” she asked as he approached. “Add that to the list of reasons Kells won’t be happy with you.”

“What Lancer-Captain Kells doesn’t know won’t hurt him,” Maxson replied, offering his hand to Dogmeat for inspection. “This is hardly the first time I’ve borrowed a vertibird and a uniform.”

“Oh, so you do this often? Sneak out, I mean.”

“It’s not sneaking out if no one can technically order you not to do it.” Maxson knelt down and ran his hands over the dark fur along Dogmeat’s back. Dogmeat sniffed the bomber jacket and the buckles on the Elder’s chest, panting happily from the attention.

“He likes you,” Murphy said with a grin.

“He’s a good-looking dog,” Maxson replied, scratching Dogmeat’s ears. “I’ve never seen a mutt with this coloration before.”

“Well, he’s not a mutt,” Murphy said. “As far as I can tell, he’s a purebred German Shepherd, which is a miracle in today’s day and age.”

Maxson looked up at her curiously. “Purebred?”

She nodded. “Before the war, people used to breed dogs to look certain ways. Different breeds had particular names and looks to them, to help distinguish them from other dogs. Dogmeat here is probably one of the last of his kind.”

Maxson looked back into Dogmeat’s brown eyes. “Are you sure he isn’t an Institute creation?”

Murphy laughed. “I’m not,” she admitted. “But at this point, I don’t think it matters. He’s been a faithful companion ever since I crawled out of the vault.”

“Then I suppose we can be friends,” Maxson said, straightening up. He caught sight of the Gatling laser at Murphy’s side and a smile grew on his face. “Is that what I think it is, Paladin?”

Murphy patted the metal frame of the weapon. “She’s heavier than she looks, which is saying something. And I told you to call me Murphy.”

“My apologies. Murphy.” He moved up beside her and swung the enormous gun up alongside him, adjusting his grip to turn it and check its condition. Murphy pulled a partially-spent fusion core from her pocket and handed it over.

“I just wanted to make sure it didn’t accidentally go off and blow a hole in our armory,” she explained. “Or Ronnie. She looked like she might want to run off with it and give it a test run.”

Maxson chuckled. “Thank you for bringing it back. Though I haven’t had cause to use it, I’ll admit it’s a favorite of mine.”

“After what you did to those robots in Mass Fusion, I can see why.”

He slipped the fusion core inside his coat and met her eyes. “Was this all you wanted to show me?”

Murphy nodded. “I’d give you another tour, but I don’t want to cause a stir. Almost everyone has gone to bed already.”

She looked at him curiously. “What do you normally do when you sneak out?”

Maxson shrugged. “I don’t do it that often,” he said. “Sometimes I borrow a Knight’s power armor and go join a patrol team for the night. Occasionally I clear out a mutant hive or an overrun building.”

“Do you ever just hang out?”

He looked puzzled. “Hang out?”

“Yeah, like go to a bar or a trading post,” Murphy said. “Mingle with the common folk. Make friends. That sort of thing.”

His face hardened. “Forming friendships with people you are expected to lead or protect is… difficult.”

Murphy raised her eyebrows. “Especially if you’re stuck in an airship surrounded by kiss-asses all day, I suppose.”

Maxson looked as if he wanted to agree, but said nothing.

“Do you want to?” Murphy asked.

“Do I want to what?”

“Hang out.”

He looked bewildered. “I don’t have all night. Sooner or later, someone from the Prydwen or an air patrol will spot the aircraft I borrowed and report its presence here to their superior officer.”

Murphy shrugged. “Then let’s get it off the grid. I know somewhere we can go.”

Maxson gave her a look of mild distrust, but slowly he nodded. Murphy smiled and made her way down the hill toward the vertibird, with her dog and the Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel close behind.

Chapter Text

Elder Maxson set the vertibird down in the open field next to the little chapel west of the city at Murphy’s behest, and the two of them discarded their headsets and disembarked. Dogmeat jumped out and took off into the tall grass, his ears alert and his tongue lolling in the night air.

“I guess he has somewhere to be,” Murphy said with laugh. “Welcome to my secret spot.”

Maxson straightened his jacket and looked up at the round, stone building, taking in its ornate windows, the ivy covering its walls and the hubflowers shining in the moonlight around the faded red door. “A church?” he asked. “I didn’t realize you held spiritual beliefs.”

“I don’t, really,” Murphy said, trudging up the stairs and swinging the door wide. “But this one… it reminded me of some things I needed to survive this world. Plus the locals think it’s haunted, so they don’t bother it.”

The two entered the chapel in silence, their footsteps muffled by the heavy dust and debris on the floorboards. The pews inside had been ravaged by time and rain, as not a single window had retained a pane of glass.

“How did you find this place?” Maxson asked, running his hand over the ruined varnish of a nearby pew.

“Scribe Haylen sent me here,” Murphy said, shifting a pile of boards on the far side of the building. “Well, not here, exactly. There was a haptic drive she wanted in the federal ration stockpile nearby, and there’s a hidden entrance to it, right over…”

She pulled the last of the boards away and brushed off the trapdoor she had uncovered. “Here.”

Maxson strode over and helped her lift the heavy door open, the hinges creaking from lack of use. “Is it safe?” he asked, peering into the darkness below.

Murphy smirked and started down the rusted ladder that clung to the lip of the opening. “Worried about robots? Stay here, I’ll pass some things up to you.”

One by one, she collected some cans of Potato Crisps, a crate of Nuka-Cola, a box of Fancy Lads snack cakes and a couple bottles of whiskey from the stash at the bottom and passed them up the ladder. As an afterthought, she grabbed two bottles of Nuka-Cola Quantum from the potato sack she had used ages ago to cover their tell-tale glow, and she made her way back up the ladder with them under her arm.

Maxson pulled her up and shut the trap door behind her. “This is enough to keep at least four Knights happy for an evening,” he commented, eyeing her pile of supplies.

“Yeah, well, sometimes it’s good to indulge,” Murphy said, scratching the back of her neck where her braid was fast unraveling. “Come on, let’s take it outside.”

The two of them carried the food and drinks out to the vertibird, and Murphy set about gathering twigs and branches to start a fire. Maxson shifted a pair of fallen logs so that their ends nearly touched. Murphy wrapped a fistful of dead grass into a tiny tumbleweed, which she lit with her cigarette lighter and nestled inside the bundle of sticks she had formed between the logs.

As the flames took hold of the tinder, Maxson popped open a bottle of whiskey, sniffed the contents and took a swig before handing it off to Murphy. She took a gulp and raised the bottle to him. “Cheers.”

Maxson nodded and settled down in front of the fire, hunched over with his elbows on his knees and one hand lazily turning to feel the heat radiating outward. His undercut was a little windswept from the flight, and the circles under his eyes were more pronounced in the shadows thrown by the flames. Murphy studied him, and when his eyes flickered back toward her, she held his gaze.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Something’s bothering you.”

He shifted in his seat and crossed his arms, closing up. “It’s nothing.”

Murphy slid to the ground and leaned back against the log, smoothing her dress out over her legs. “If it was nothing, you would be sleeping better,” she said nonchalantly.

Maxson scowled. “It’s none of your business.”

“Fine.” Murphy passed him back the bottle, which he accepted and tilted around in the firelight, examining the label.

“What did this place remind you of?” he asked eventually, after taking another drink. “To help you survive?”

“Well you can hardly expect me to answer your questions if you won’t answer mine,” Murphy replied coyly.

Maxson furrowed his brow. “I’m merely being curious.”

“As am I.”

“You need not tell me if you don’t wish to.”

“Same to you,” Murphy said, crossing her arms and giving him a winning smile. “But if you don’t answer, then you have to drink.”

Maxson looked from her to the whiskey and back, and for a moment she didn’t think he would take the bait. Then, slowly, his expression relaxed and he gave her a slight nod. He tried to hand her the bottle, but Murphy waved it off and turned to look at the chapel behind her.

“To answer your question, when I poked my head out of that trap door and found myself inside that room, it hadn’t been opened in centuries,” she said, staring at the arched windows and the worn stones. “The pews were still there in rows, save a few near the back that had been moved to make way for some sandbag walls. I’m not sure what was going on in this area before the bombs fell, so maybe the army was using it as a temporary base.”

She turned her back on the chapel again and held her hands over the fire. “But the pews… they were full. Still full, after all that time. Dozens of people, all together and all alone in the dust, holding hands and leaning on each other and waiting for the end.”

“They must have been terrified,” Maxson said softly.

Murphy nodded. “That’s what I thought at first, too, after I got over the initial shock. But we had almost no warning when the bombs fell. Nate and I… we barely got to the vault in time. So all of the people in there must have come after the fallout began.”

She smiled sadly. “They came to face their fate together. I’m sure they were scared, but more than that, they were prepared to look death in the eye and meet it on their own terms. In the end, it was less about despair and more about courage and acceptance.”

Maxson was staring at her, a peculiar expression on his face. Pity? Admiration? Something in between? She couldn’t tell.

“What happened to their remains?” he asked.

Murphy stared into the fire. “I spent two days gathering them and carrying them to a burial site on the shore of a lake south of here. They were baptized in fire once, I just wanted to make sure they were baptized in water too.”

She threw another stick into the flames and turned to meet his eyes defiantly. “Your turn.”

He nodded. “Ask away.”

“Let’s start off easy, then,” Murphy said, crossing her legs under her skirt. “Tell me about the deathclaw.”

The request earned her a look of surprise from Maxson. He ran his fingertips over the deep scar that ran diagonally across his right cheek, the tail end of it disappearing into his dark beard. “I’m sure you’ve heard the stories,” he said.

“I have,” Murphy replied. “I want to hear it from you. The way it really happened.”

He smiled and ran a hand through his hair. “I was 13,” he said. “The recon squad I was assigned to at the time was tasked with pursuit and retrieval of an individual believed to be in possession of valuable intel. Information about surviving pockets of Enclave personnel in and around the Capital Wasteland.”

Murphy shook her head. “People keep mentioning the Enclave around me, but no one will ever explain who or what they were. They clam up when I ask.”

“They’re trying to spare you pain,” Maxson replied. “The Enclave consisted of the remnants of the United States government. They fled to an oil rig before the Great War broke out and claimed superiority over the land due to their genetic purity and technological advancement. FEV, the vaults, the bombs… they were behind them all, and they reveled in their experimentation and isolation from the rest of the world.”

Murphy’s eyes widened. “The government survived?”

Maxson nodded. “Until they ran afoul of some vault dwellers and tribals who destroyed their oil rig, forcing them to come east. They had been at odds with the Brotherhood of Steel for decades in the west, and their last-ditch effort to re-settle in their crumbled nation’s capital was their final downfall.”

“Jesus,” Murphy breathed. “I might have a few more questions about that. Anyway, go on.”

“We had reason to believe that the individual we were tracking was hiding out with a group of raiders on a nearby farm, so we camped for the night to observe the situation,” Maxson continued. “I was on watch when I saw him make a run for it, toward the old suburb of Old Olney.”

“Never heard of it,” Murphy said, shaking her head.

Maxson smiled. “You would do well to remember the name. It’s infamous in the Capital Wasteland as a breeding ground for deathclaws.”

Murphy grinned. “You didn’t.”

He chuckled. “I certainly did. I abandoned my post and pursued, without power armor, without back-up. Just a laser rifle and a combat knife.”

“Oh my god,” Murphy said, laughing uncontrollably. “And Preston thinks I’m the one who needs lecturing about taking risks.”

“It was a painful lesson, but I learned it,” Maxson said. “One of the weaker males spotted my target first, so I took it by surprise when it was pulling its claws out of his body. It knocked the gun out of my hands immediately and practically had me in pieces, but I managed to sever the tendons in one of its hind legs and took the opening to jam my knife into its throat. My squad heard the noise and had me back to the Citadel before I could bleed out. I’d never seen Paladin Gunny so angry.”

He took a drink and handed the whiskey over to Murphy, who accepted it graciously. “It’s a good story, but it’s not as good as the one Knight Rhys likes to share,” she said, taking a sip. “To hear him tell it, you tore apart a matriarch during mating season by shoving your knife down her throat and saved the lives of your whole squad.”

“My apologies if I disappointed you.”

“Hardly,” Murphy said with a smile. “Ask your question.”

Maxson indicated the chapel behind her with a flick of his blue eyes. “Do you miss it? Life before you woke up?”

“Too easy, Elder,” Murphy said. “I get that one a lot. Yes and no.”

“Explain.”

“No, I don’t miss the endless war, the distrust, the politicism of everything and the fear that any day it might all end, regardless of what I do,” Murphy replied, tracing a finger around the whiskey bottle opening. “I don’t miss the mess Boston was turning into. The mess all of our cities were turning into, really. Food shortages, fuel shortages, scared, angry people in the streets and the never-ending debate about who was to blame for the situation. I especially don’t miss television.”

She sighed. “But I miss autumn. Real autumn, not just the cooler weather and rainstorms we get now, when the leaves would change from green to reds and oranges and yellows and cover the sidewalks. I miss coffee, and imported tea, and being able to walk into a store and try on new clothes for the season. I miss winter, too, even though I always said it was one of my least favorite seasons because it made getting around difficult. Snow on the ground, Thanksgiving, Christmas, hot chocolate and cookies and visiting my relatives to exchange gifts, back where I grew up. I miss my family. I miss not having to defend myself whenever I walk outside, not having to catch, kill, skin and cook my own meals. I miss pizza. I miss Nate.”

Maxson looked puzzled. “You didn’t grow up in Boston?”

“No, I did not,” Murphy said. “But that’s a different question, Elder. One at a time.”

She took a swig of whiskey, then stood up to hand it over to him and grab a Nuka-Cola from the crate. “Your turn. What did you think of me when we first met?”

Maxson turned his head to watch her movement, and Murphy handed him a Nuka-Cola as well before sitting back down by the fire.

“I didn’t know you beyond the reports I received from Recon Squad Gladius,” Maxson said. “I knew you were due to attend my speech and promotion ceremony on the Prydwen, but when you came through the door in a vault suit, I confess I wasn’t prepared to take you seriously. I thought you’d be dead within the month.”

“Oof,” Murphy said, clutching her chest in mock pain. “My pride.”

He shook his head with a smile. “You didn’t help things when you opened your mouth for the first time. Every mission I assigned you, every decision I made for the good of the Brotherhood, you were there to question it.”

“What can I say,” Murphy said with a wink. “I’ve got trust issues when it comes to authority figures.”

“It took me longer than I’d care to admit to realize that,” Maxson confessed. “And longer still before I realized it could be a good thing. It wasn’t until I dug up Knight-Captain Cade’s medical file on you and discovered your true age that the pieces began to fall into place.”

“You have to admit that being a living fossil is a pretty good excuse for not fitting in with the Brotherhood,” Murphy said. “Among others.”

Maxson passed the whiskey back. “If you’re not from Boston, where are you originally from?”

“Ah,” Murphy replied. “I’m from the northern part of the Midwest commonwealth. It used to be a state called Minnesota, before the country did away with statehoods.”

Maxson nodded. “I’ve heard of it. Next to the Canadian annexation?”

“Yep. Growing up, people used to say we were practically Canadian, we were so close to the border,” Murphy said, then narrowed her eyes at him. “How do you know about Minnesota? That’s not exactly common knowledge nowadays.”

“I had the best education the Brotherhood could offer,” Maxson said with a shrug. “History, military tactics, geography. Growing up in the Capital Wasteland affords certain opportunities for the study of America’s past that other locations do not.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Murphy said. She washed down a swallow of whiskey with Nuka-Cola and set the bottle down on the ground between them. “You’re more forthcoming than I expected, Elder.”

“I’m not often gifted the chance to be,” he replied, looking at her meaningfully. “Ask your question.”

And Murphy did, taking the rare opportunity to prod the Brotherhood Elder about his past, present and future. He refused to answer any questions regarding current Brotherhood intel or operations, but he told her about his childhood in the west and at the Citadel, about his training to become a soldier and a leader and about his close calls and triumphs over the years. In return, Murphy offered up her own past, recounting how she became a law student, her favorite pastimes before she was sealed in the vault and how she survived the Commonwealth before she joined the Brotherhood. Maxson listened attentively to her answers, and between the two of them, most of the bottle of whiskey and several Nuka-Colas disappeared.

It became very apparent, after the alcohol began to loosen their formalities, that beneath Maxson’s intimidating exterior was an academic and strategic enthusiast. Murphy watched, fascinated, as his hands made decisive motions in the air during an explanation of the East Coast Brotherhood chapter’s struggle against the Enclave, breaking down the battles, the mistakes, the inevitable downfall of the military faction’s remnants and the Brotherhood’s acquisition of Adams Air Force Base.

“So that’s how you got all of those vertibirds,” she said in wonder when he had finished.

“Indeed.” Maxson finished his Nuka-Cola and set the bottle next to their collection of empties. “Now, answer me this, Paladin: How did you arrive at the conclusion that synths should be afforded the same rights as the human race?”

Murphy laughed. “I didn’t realize we were opening up the floor to philosophical debate. I’m not prepared, otherwise I would have written you a speech.”

“In your own words, then.”

Murphy took a deep drink of whiskey and swallowed. “Well, first of all, I don’t view Gen 1s and 2s as deserving the same rights, because they’re basically glorified robots,” she said. “But Gen 3s… they might have been mass-produced, but they’re flesh and blood. They have personalities, dreams, morals, desires like anyone else. And sure, maybe you can reprogram them and wipe their memories and control their actions, but to a certain extent, you can do that with regular humans too. I don’t condone what the Institute did with them, but I see no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to live their lives like anyone else.”

She gave him a pointed look. “But you already know how I feel about synths. Looking to pick a fight or something?”

“Not at all,” Maxson said, his eyes sparking with interest. “I find the debate stimulating. We can choose a different topic, if you wish.”

Murphy shook her head. “Can you at least wait until the third date before you start picking apart my personal beliefs?”

Maxson stiffened. “This is a date?”

“Sorry,” Murphy said quickly. “It’s an expression. I didn’t mean…”

He grinned and relaxed. “I’m joking.”

Murphy smacked his leg with the back of her hand. “Asshole. Just for that, I’m going the personal route.”

“The personal route?”

Murphy bobbed her eyebrows up and down and smirked at him. “Who was your first love?”

Maxson’s grin froze in place, then slid into an expression of panic. Murphy giggled at the sight, and when he reached for the bottle of whiskey, she held it out of his reach and wagged her finger at him.

“You’re not getting out of this,” she teased. “Tell me.”

Maxson sighed heavily and slumped forward in defeat. “Her name was Sarah,” he grumbled. “Sarah Lyons.”

“Any relative of Elder Lyons?”

“His daughter,” Maxson admitted, with a faraway smile. “Though she was briefly Elder, too, in her own right. She was… fearless. The last Sentinel our chapter had the honor to witness.”

Murphy screwed her face up, doing the math. “If she was Elder Owyn Lyons’ daughter, then she would have been quite a bit older than you. So more of a crush than a first love.”

Maxson nodded. “She was a grown woman when I first came to the Citadel, but I was smitten nevertheless. Her father entrusted my earliest combat training to her, when she wasn’t clearing super mutants out of the city ruins with her personal unit of elite soldiers, the Lyons’ Pride.”

Murphy sat up suddenly. “Wait a minute. Your tattoo.”

“My tattoo?”

“On your shoulder. The lion. Is it for her?”

Maxson bobbed his head noncommittally. “Less for the childhood affection I had and more for what she and her father represented. The two of them raised me for less than two years of my life, and yet they left such a lasting impact that I felt I needed to honor them.”

“Can I see it?” Murphy asked, moving to sit on his left side.

Maxson shrugged off his bomber jacket and unzipped his orange flight suit, revealing a tank top underneath. He bared his left shoulder to her, and she tentatively reached out her hand to trace the outline of the snarling, stylized beast she had first seen that night they snuck out of the Castle.

As she ran her fingers along the length of the rampant lion’s back, Maxson shivered beneath her touch. Their eyes met, and Murphy took in a sharp breath, letting her hand linger a beat too long before pulling back and letting him zip up again. He offered her his jacket when he saw a shiver run through her, but she declined and held her arms out to the fire instead.

“Who was your last love?” he asked softly as she turned her hands over in the warmth.

“You know the answer to that,” Murphy replied, staring into the flames.

“I’m not asking for a name, I’m asking for the man it belonged to.”

Murphy swept her braid over her shoulder and undid the tie at the end of it, slowly unraveling the plait to run her fingers through her white hair. “How much do you want to know?”

“As much as you’re willing to give me.”

So she told him. She told him about how her law student internship with Mass Fusion had led her to an after-work party at the Shamrock Taphouse, where a rowdy group of welders from Irish Pride Industries were swapping stories. She told him about the one in the middle, the one with the scarred hands and cinnamon-colored beard, who raised his pint to her when she caught his eye across the room, and how everyone else had faded away and left them the only two in the world in that moment.

She told him about the soldier beneath the welder, who had taken his plasma-cutting and arc-welding skills and gone north to Alaska to join the fight, returning a changed man long before the two of them had met. She told him about how he snuck her into the shipyard and showed her his tools, his workspace, his techniques, how he had welded their initials into a piece of scrap metal but had “accidentally” put his last initial on the end of hers. She told him about getting married in April, getting pregnant in August, and getting to meet their son for the first time in May.

And finally, she told him about that fateful day in October, which sometimes felt like it had never ended. By the time she had finished, she was leaning on Maxson for support, and there were several trails from tears across her face. She took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.

“Thank you,” Maxson said quietly.

“For what?”

He looked at her, his expression hesitant. “For trusting me enough to tell me about him.”

Murphy smiled and brushed some tears from her chin. “I seem to trust people more often than you. You’re not the first person I’ve told about Nate and you won’t be the last.”

“Maybe not, but that does not make it any less meaningful to me.”

She could see that he meant it, and he slowly turned the palm of his left hand up. After a moment of hesitation, she gently laid her own hand in it and squeezed. Her skin was cool against his, a veritable furnace of heat coming from somewhere within him, and his palm was rough where hers was soft.

“He sounds like he was a man worthy of loving you,” Maxson said in the silence.

“Worthy of loving me?” Murphy asked in disbelief. “Who are you, my father?”

“Absolutely not,” Maxson said, shaking his head emphatically. “Any daughter of mine would never be so willful and wild.”

Murphy laughed at that. “If she’s willful, she gets it from you, not whichever Knight or Paladin you plan to settle down with.”

She pointed at him, whiskey in hand. “That’s a question. Are you expected to marry someone advantageous and further the Maxson line? Or can you run off with any old wastelander?”

He gave her a hard look, as if he wasn’t sure whether or not to answer. “I have little say in the matter,” he said finally. “I believe the Council of Elders must weigh in on any woman I wish to wed.”

Murphy’s eyes widened. “You mean you have to send a report off for approval before you can pick a wife? That’s…”

“Archaic?”

“I was going to go with ‘bullshit,’ but yeah, why not.”

“Either one works,” Maxson said, rubbing the closely-cropped hair behind his ear as if he regretted saying anything. “I’m the last of the Maxsons. When anyone from the Brotherhood looks at me, they have the unique experience of seeing their past and their future, culminated in one, perfect human being.”

He chuckled. “At least, that’s what the Council of Elders said when they made me provisional Elder at 15.”

“The ladies must be swarming,” Murphy said flatly. “For all your flaws, I suppose you could have turned out a lot worse. What kind of person says that to a teenager and expects it not to go to their head?”

“I don’t believe there’s a single member of the Council younger than 60 years of age,” Maxson replied. “And not a single one has set foot on the east coast in their entire lives.”

Murphy shook her head. “Amazing.”

She fiddled with her Pip-Boy while Maxson finished the bottle of whiskey and tuned her radio to the Diamond City frequency.

“If you’re still awake, then I sincerely hope it’s for a good reason,”  Travis was saying. “And if you’re winding down and plan to sleep in, we’ve got a slow one for you to relax to and think about what’s to come. Here’s ‘One More Tomorrow.’”

The gentle piano rolled in over the speakers, and Murphy swayed in time with it, her eyes closed and her head light from the alcohol.

“Would you care to dance, Paladin?”

Her eyes snapped open and she turned to face Maxson. “Dance?”

He stood up from the log they were sharing and put his foot forward and his hand out in invitation. “Dance,” he said, half an order, half a request. “With me.”

Murphy smiled. “Instead of asking me a question?”

“If you like.”

“Then sure.” She took his hand and he lifted her up and pulled her a little ways away from the fire. She put her left hand on his broad shoulder and her right hand in the air, and Maxson entwined his fingers in hers and placed his right hand gently on her waist. They began to sway, slowly, and the horns and woodwinds built up to Marjorie Hughes’ entrance.

 

          “One more tomorrow

          To hold you in my embrace

          And thrill with rapture

          Each time I look at your face.

 

          One more tomorrow

          To see heaven in your eyes

          To have your hand cling to mine

          And wander through paradise.”

 

Maxson was silent, but he smiled as they wove around the grassy knoll, and Murphy giggled when he pulled her in close to twirl them around hidden rocks and stumps. Before long, the song ended, and Murphy pulled away with the best curtsy she could manage, a tipsy girl in cavalier boots. Maxson returned it with a stately bow, only stumbling slightly from the effort.

“We should stop drinking,” Murphy suggested. “Or you’ll be in terrible shape for flying us back.”

Maxson nodded and took in a deep breath. “Give me a moment or two and I can return you to the Castle.”

Murphy pulled herself up to sit on the lip of the vertibird’s cabin, and Maxson had a seat next to her. “We should do this more often,” she suggested. “Or at least you should.”

“I should?”

“Yeah. I think it’s good for you.” Murphy laid back to stare at the ceiling of the vertibird, but Maxson remained upright and smiled down at her. “You can be yourself, not just who your followers want- or need- you to be.”

“I would like to see more of the Commonwealth,” Maxson admitted. “But I’d need a guide.”

Murphy grinned. “I happen to know one.”

Chapter Text

When they had come down from the delicious high of whiskey and Nuka-Cola, Murphy and Elder Maxson put out their campfire and made sure the chapel was closed up again before powering up the vertibird.

“What about your dog?” Maxson asked over the headset as the rotors gained speed.

“He’s smart,” Murphy said. “I’ve learned not to question his choices. He can take care of himself.”

As if on cue, Dogmeat jumped into the cabin, his claws skidding on the metal floor. He stuck his head into the cockpit and licked Murphy’s elbow as the vertibird rose off the ground. She giggled and ruffled the fur on his neck, and the three of them vaulted into the Commonwealth sky.

Dawn was beginning to creep over the wasteland, and it was all Murphy could do to keep her eyes open on the ride back to the Castle. By the time Maxson set the vertibird down, her limbs were heavy in her chair, and she gladly accepted the hand he offered her to steady her exit.

As her boots hit the ground next to his, she looked up into his eyes and smiled. “When’s the next time you can sneak out?”

He sighed. “I’m uncertain. There are projects I need to oversee, plans I need to approve, reports I need to hear. I’m not due for another walkthrough on Spectacle Island for some time.”

“And I guess there’s no way I can get you a message that I’m free to raise some hell on any particular evening,” Murphy said, frowning in thought.

Maxson dug around in the pockets of his bomber jacket and pulled out a vertibird signal grenade, which he handed to her. Murphy held it up between them, puzzled.

“Won’t this just call a patrol or idle pilot to where I am?” she asked.

He nodded. “Which you can then direct to take you to the Prydwen. I can give you more, upon your arrival.”

Murphy tucked it into her belt. “And then abscond?”

“And then abscond.”

“Well then, Elder,” she said, curling a fist over her heart. “Ad Victoriam.”

He offered her his hand, and when she took it, he bent over it and kissed it the way he had at the airport. “Until we meet again, General.”

Murphy sighed. “I told you to call me by my name.”

“Then call me by mine.”

Her eyes widened. “Arthur?”

He nodded. “Murphy.”

She took in a deep breath at the sound of the name on his lips. “Fly safely, Arthur.”

Maxson smiled. “Roam wisely, Murphy.”

She stood on the hillside and watched him take off, the rising sun gleaming on the sides of the vertibird as it rode the breeze back to the far-off airship. Dogmeat nuzzled her hand, and she scratched his ears absent-mindedly, but she didn’t turn to go back into the fort until she was certain the aircraft had docked safely aboard the Prydwen.

 


 

Murphy didn’t leave her quarters until noon, her hair disheveled and her eyes full of sleep. Curie caught sight of her in the corridor and put a hand to her mouth.

“Mademoiselle Murphy!” she exclaimed. “Are you quite well? You look as if you had fought a deathclaw in your sleep.”

“I’m not entirely sure I didn’t,” Murphy grunted. “Have you seen MacCready around?”

Curie pointed toward the entrance to the courtyard. “I believe he was helping Mademoiselle Haylen with her radio frequency experiments,” she said. “Surely, you do not mean to head out into the Commonwealth in this condition?”

“I’ve hit the road on worse mornings,” Murphy replied, making her way toward the glow of daylight outside.

MacCready and Haylen were indeed in the courtyard, MacCready steadying a ladder next to the Radio Freedom tower while Haylen screwed a new speaker in place, its wires trailing down to the control panel and DJ seat below.

“This is Radio Freedom, the voice of the Minutemen,” the DJ was saying, eyeing the precarious situation going on above his head. “This just in, folks, we are testing some new equipment here at the Castle which may be available to any settlements dealing with a mirelurk infestation in the near future. Stay tuned for updates, and stay safe out there.”

“I need another screw,” Haylen called down to MacCready. Murphy picked up the box of screws on the ground next to him and handed one up.

“No offense, boss, but you look like you spent the night partying with raiders,” he said, taking in her appearance. “What happened?”

“Let’s just say I can match drinks with Maxson,” Murphy replied. “I’ll tell you all about it later. Do you and Haylen have a minute?”

“Just a sec,” Haylen said, her face twisted from the effort of driving the screw into the wood. “There. Now all we need is a mirelurk.”

“I’ll put it on my to-do list,” MacCready said with a chuckle, and he playfully swung Haylen off the ladder as soon as she was back within grabbing distance. The Scribe giggled and poked his nose.

“Careful, you,” she said.

Murphy cleared her throat and they sprang apart, embarrassed.

“What was it you needed, boss?” MacCready asked, grinning sheepishly.

“In private,” Murphy said, glancing over her shoulder at the DJ.

The three made their way back to the general’s quarters, and Murphy latched the doors behind them. She pulled a map of Salem out of a nearby stack of papers and spread it out on the meeting table.

“Where were you seeing the energy readings?” she asked.

Haylen bent over the paper and tapped a spot along the coast. “Right here,” she said. “There’s no discernible pattern on the days it happens, as far as I can tell, but it’s usually three or four short bursts at once in the middle of the night. I assume they’re showing up in groups, collecting what they need, then leaving.”

Murphy nodded. “MacCready and I can set out tomorrow and see if we can’t find out what they’re up to.”

“How was Danse?” Haylen asked eagerly. “Did he seem okay? I hope he’s not getting too bored up there in that bunker.”

“Same old Danse,” Murphy replied with a smile. “He helped us clear some super mutants out of a nearby farm we might be able to use. Cleaning up after them should keep him busy for a little bit.”

Haylen sighed and shook her head. “If there’s one thing he can’t resist, it’s having a go at the big, green guys. And the job?”

“Still working on it,” Murphy said. “I think he’ll come around, though. He was practically singing when he took his power armor out for a spin. He misses it.”

“Good.” Haylen nudged MacCready’s arm. “That means you have a whole day to capture me a mirelurk and test out that sonic signal transmitter.”

He snorted. “Sure, I’ll just go wake one up and see if it’s up for having its ears or whatever blown out.”

“Well, you don’t need a big one,” Murphy said with a chuckle.

 


 

Murphy, MacCready and Haylen spent the rest of their Tuesday searching for a mirelurk nest along the coast. When they finally discovered a clutch of eggs in the sand, MacCready tossed a rock into the middle of it. Each of them pounced on a soft-shelled crustacean that exploded from their shells in response, and carried them, squirming, back to the Castle.

“God, these are ugly,” Murphy remarked as hers squeaked and clicked angrily, struggling to free itself from her grip.

“I think they’re kind of cute,” Haylen said fondly. “I’m calling mine Archibald.”

Archibald and his two siblings were released in the Castle’s courtyard once the sonic signal was turned on, and the three mirelurk hatchlings scuttled away from the radio tower as fast as their little legs could carry them. When they encountered stone walls, they threw themselves against the fortifications repeatedly. Ronnie Shaw ended their suffering with the butt of her laser musket.

“Mirelurk cakes for dinner tonight,” she said happily, ignoring Haylen’s pout.

Murphy patted the Scribe on the shoulder. “At least you know the signal works. Make as many duplicates as you can, I say.”

Though she suspected Haylen was not altogether that bothered by the crustaceans’ sacrifice, MacCready still retired early to go “console” her. Murphy went to bed alone, making sure her doors were shut tight before climbing into bed.

She slept restlessly, and before long she was standing on the road in Far Harbor again, Nate silent beside her. She reached for him, but he was just out of reach.

Choose, he said, his voice echoing around her head. As she stared at him, he raised an arm, pointing forward along the road.

Murphy followed the line of his arm, and at the end of it was Maxson, the mist swirling around his battlecoat, his blue eyes blank and unseeing. His dark hair and limbs waved lazily, as if caught in an invisible ocean current, and slowly his mouth opened and the fire of the sun poured out of it.

She jolted awake, her guns in hand, pointed at the Castle’s stone ceiling. They dropped with a clatter to the floor, and she swung her legs over the side of her bed and held her head in her hands, the image emblazoned on her eyelids.

“Choose what?” she whispered to the darkness.

Nate’s voice swirled out of her head and into the room itself. He must choose.

Murphy jumped to her feet and stood, breathing heavily in the black room. She fumbled along her nightstand until she found her lighter, which she ignited to reveal her dead husband standing in front of her.

“Maxson must choose what?” she demanded.

Nate smiled sadly. Or you will choose for him.

She blinked and he was gone.

 


 

MacCready raised his eyebrows at the darkened circles under Murphy’s eyes the next morning, but said nothing until they had boarded a boat with their gear and taken off into the bay.

“Did Maxson kidnap you again last night?” he yelled over the noise of the engine and the waves. “Or vice versa?”

“Neither,” Murphy yelled back. “I’m afraid today’s look is thanks to a certain dead spouse of mine.”

His eyes widened. “You saw Nate again?”

Murphy nodded. “This time was different, though. I think… I think he tried to warn me about something.”

“Warn you? What about?”

“I don’t know,” Murphy replied. “But it has something to do with Maxson. I’ll tell you when we get to Salem, it’s getting pretty choppy.”

She steered the boat through the restless sea as best she could, and before long they pulled into what used to be the municipal docks. MacCready leapt onto the floating platform and pulled the boat in, wrapping its mooring tie securely around a concrete pillar. Murphy clambered onto the docks after him, unholstering one plasma pistol and surveying the surrounding area.

Salem had always been a bit of a tourist town, and the ruined marina held evidence of this as far as they could see. Rows of parked cars, a tipped-over tour bus, wrecked yachts and wharf debris littered the landscape. The two of them made their way through the silent streets, clapboard houses sagging from centuries of neglect. Murphy checked her Pip-Boy periodically, and eventually they came to a stop in front of a newer-age two-story complex.

“Sandy Coves Convalescent Home,” Murphy read from a peeling welcome sign in the front, cross-checking their location with the building in front of them. “This is it, apparently.”

“What does ‘convalescent’ mean?” MacCready asked.

“I think it’s like a rehab or nursing home,” Murphy replied. “People came here to get better. Or they were old and came here to die.”

MacCready unshouldered his rifle. “Should we check it out?”

Murphy nodded, and the two approached the front door cautiously. MacCready swung it open, and Murphy leveled her two pistols on the dusty interior.

“Welcome to Sandy Coves Convalescent Home!” a chipper voice called from within.

The source was a Mister Handy robot positioned behind a pristine wooden desk, its metal frame floating idly above the cracked tile floor. Murphy entered hesitantly, MacCready behind her.

“How may I help you?” the robot inquired.

“This place is still in business?” MacCready asked.

“But of course!” the robot attendant replied. “Sandy Coves Convalescent Home runs in continuous operation due to the dedication and attentiveness of our robot staff.”

“Oh boy,” Murphy said under her breath.

“Was there anything else?” the Mister Handy asked.

“Just, um, just… visiting our grandma,” Murphy lied.

“Oh, how nice for her!” the robot cried, waving its arms about excitedly. It tapped a nearby clipboard and produced a pencil from beneath the desk. “Don’t forget to sign in, please.”

MacCready shrugged and used the pencil to scribble “RJ” onto the sheet of paper. Murphy just put a dash through the next box, and they moved past the attendant into the building, MacCready casting a leery glance at the wall of safes behind the desk.

Slowly, the two made their way through the halls of the facility, stepping gingerly over collapsed walls and tiling. Here and there were wheelchairs bearing the skeletons of the previous residents, and when they paused in the sunlit cafeteria, MacCready knelt down next to the remains of two gentlemen who appeared to be locked in an eternal game of checkers.

“Wonder if these folks died of old age, or baked when the rads hit,” he muttered.

Murphy crouched down next to him. “I don’t know, but the guy on the left is winning,” she said, pointing at the board. “Ever played?”

MacCready grinned. “Can’t say I have.”

“I’ll teach you sometime,” Murphy said, straightening up.

They continued on, poking their heads into rooms on both floors as they went. MacCready came away with a few keys he found lying about the rooms, the disappearance of which the gliding robot attendants did not seem to notice. Murphy shivered as one passed by her, its nuclear engine whirring softly in the silence.

When they came to a room full of cat stencils and posters, Murphy put an arm out to stop MacCready from stepping on the corpse of a cat on the floor.

“Disgusting,” MacCready said, wrinkling up his nose.

Murphy crouched down by it, taking in the rotting remains. “This is freshly dead,” she said. “Can’t be more than a week old.”

“Maybe it wandered in and the robots killed it?”

“Maybe.” Murphy turned it over with her boot, revealing some charring on the ragged fur. “Whatever did it had an energy weapon.”

In the windows of the upstairs lounge area, Murphy peered out at the town of Salem below them. She could make out a lighthouse far in the distance, and even beyond that, she thought she could see the outline of the Prydwen in the southern sky.

MacCready joined her, and indicated the sun sinking low on the western horizon. “We’d better get settled in,” he suggested. She nodded, and they made their way back down to the front desk.

“Hello again!” the robot attendant piped up upon their arrival. MacCready made his way around to the safes and began trying out keys in locks, which the Mister Handy completely ignored.

Murphy tapped the top of a dusty terminal tucked behind the desk. “Do you mind if I use this to leave a reminder note for my grandma?” she asked.

“Of course, mum,” the robot replied, and it swiftly typed in the password for her. Murphy leaned over and ran through the files, but all she could find were security notices, patient information records and an unlocking prompt for the medication locker next to the safes, which popped open when she initiated it. She wandered over and sorted through the rows of expired medicines, coming away with a few stimpaks and a faded edition of the Massachusetts Surgical Journal.

“Come up with anything?” MacCready asked, stuffing things into his pack.

“Chems,” Murphy replied. “You?”

“Chems,” he agreed, waving a few doses of Med-X and Radaway in the air before stowing them away.

They walked out into the sunset, circling the building to look for a vantage point with a good view of the front doors. They settled on the second level of a house across the street, a few houses down. The front door was boarded shut, so MacCready picked the lock on the back door to gain entry to the residence and Murphy pointed her plasma pistols around corners until they were certain the building was empty.

Murphy surveyed the inside of the home mournfully, taking in the rusted appliances, the haphazardly-placed boards nailed over the lower windows and an array of children’s magnets still clinging to the side of the long-dead refrigerator. The stairs to the second level creaked under her feet, and when she found one of the bedroom doors locked, she left it that way.

MacCready poked what was left of the glass out of the bedroom window overlooking the nursing home, jagged pieces sliding down the porch shingles to lodge inside the clogged gutters. Murphy pulled a pair of chairs over to the window and settled in, the binoculars she had packed at the ready.

“And now we wait,” she said with a sigh. “Cross your fingers that they show up tonight, otherwise we could be here a while.”

“Did you bring any cards?” MacCready asked, wiping the lens of his rifle scope clean. “I could teach you this game I learned off a former NCR ranger.”

“NCR?”

“New California Republic,” MacCready replied, adding some spit to the glass and rubbing it fiercely. “Way out west. Ever heard of Shady Sands, or the Hub?”

She shook her head. “I have a hard enough time keeping track of the new names and borders on the east coast, let alone the ones across the continent.”

“That’s just as well, I don’t know much about it beyond what the ranger told me,” MacCready said. “Another coast up to its waist in problems, from what he said.”

He cast a sideways glance at her. “There’s a state out there named after your new drinking buddy.”

Murphy snorted. “Maxson? I doubt it’s named after him, specifically.”

“Nah, one of his ancestors, most like,” MacCready agreed. “Figures.”

“What?”

“Figures you’d take up with someone like him.”

Murphy crossed her arms. “What do you mean, someone like him?”

MacCready set down his gun and made some vague gestures in the air. “You know. Big, deadly, an army at his back.”

“Robert Joseph MacCready, I’m not sure I know what you’re insinuating,” Murphy said, raising her eyebrows. “You and Haylen were the ones who said I should give the middle-of-the-night visit a shot.”

“And you were the one who tried to get him to come back to the fort just to look at some new archways,” MacCready retorted.

“And to give him back his Gatling laser,” Murphy pointed out. “I owed him one. You of all people should know why I felt like clearing the debt.”

“You’ve never been too worried about balancing the books,” MacCready said, settling into his chair, his eyes on the street below them. “Why now?”

Murphy shrugged. “Now it matters. I keep Maxson happy, he’s less likely to turn on the Minutemen and drop a giant robot on us.”

MacCready gave her a skeptical look. “And how exactly did you go about keeping him happy, the night before last?”

A grin slowly grew on his face as she related the events of her evening with the Brotherhood Elder, and he chuckled when she had finished.

“I can’t believe this,” he said. “I owe Haylen 15 caps.”

“For what?”

“Erm… well, we had differences in opinions on what you two would get up to that night.”

“Wait, let me guess,” Murphy said, putting a hand to her forehead. “You bet Haylen that I would use my feminine wiles on him, and she disagreed.”

He shrugged sheepishly, and she kicked his leg.

“If it makes you feel better, I was hoping I’d lose,” MacCready said, massaging the point her boot had made contact with. “But yeah, she was convinced Maxson was more of a romantic than a womanizer.”

“Great,” Murphy grumbled. “But what does that say about your view of me, exactly?”

“That you’re an opportunist? I don’t know, I think Hancock might agree.”

He dodged another kick from her and laughed. “Sorry, boss. I’ll stop.”

“You’d better, or we’re in for an even longer night than we already are,” Murphy said, staring out at the darkened sky. “Want to take shifts? I’ll let you catch some shut-eye.”

MacCready shook his head. “Maybe later. Tell me about your Nate vision.”

He studied her face while she described her dream, her awakening and the apparition’s warning, nodding slowly. When she was done, he let out a long breath he had been holding.

“Gee whiz, boss,” he said. “This sounds less like a hallucination and more like… well, I don’t know what.”

“Maybe it was just a dream,” Murphy replied. “Everyone has them once in a while, right?”

“I guess we won’t know until it comes true or not,” MacCready said. “I had a dream that I saved up enough caps to buy Rivet City. Think that’s in my future?”

Murphy giggled, and the two of them spent the next hour or so swapping dreams and stories. The moon rose over the empty town below them, and the odd bat flew past in pursuit of insects. MacCready was in the middle of a story about an encounter with some guy named Parker Quinn in south Boston when three flashes of blue light illuminated the street below them.

The two ceased talking immediately, and slowly they peeked out the window in time to see three Gen 2 synths enter Sandy Coves Convalescent Home, rifles drawn. MacCready knelt by the window and aimed his rifle at the front doors, while Murphy trained her binoculars on the same spot and waited for movement.

There were sounds of a scuffle inside, and after some time and the unmistakable sound of energy blasts, the three synths emerged with the Mister Handy attendant, its three arms bound together with some sort of rope. The robot was struggling, but appeared unable to free itself.

“By god, if I had hands, I would strangle the life out of you!” it exclaimed, whizzing about in the air. The synths held it in place, their plastic hands clutching the ropes that tethered its movement.

“Asset secure,” one of the synths said. “Request-”

It was cut off by another flash of light, this one a brilliant violet color. The column of energy deposited another figure in the street, quite different from the three synths. It was clearly a woman, curves visible from the skin-tight, white uniform with mesh detailing and layered black armor, but her hair and face were obscured by a white cowl.

Each of the Gen 2s raised their weapons and pointed them at the newcomer. “Scanning unknown identity,” they said in unison.

The woman looked as if she was considering the situation. “F3-86, initialize factory reset. Authorization Zeta-2-6-Opus.”

The Gen 2 nearest the woman slumped forward, and she seized its arm and raised something into the air. Murphy was able to make out a red light at the end of whatever she was holding before the two were swallowed by violet light, vanishing into the night.

The two remaining synths appeared confused, but they held onto the floating robot.

“Deactivation of fellow synth verified,” one said, its voice flat.

“Asset secure,” the other said, turning to survey the street. “Requesting relay. Standing by.”

With another blue flash of light, the street was empty, and Murphy and MacCready were left in deafening silence.

Chapter Text

“Just give me a second,” Murphy said, pulling the boat onto the sand near Nordhagen Beach. She trudged through the surf up to the cracked, asphalt road, leading to Fort Strong in one direction and Easy City Downs in the other. The object of her interest, a faded, blue mailbox with white paint splashed on the side in the shape of a teardrop with eight lines radiating outward, stood lonely under a darkened street lamp.

Murphy pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil from her pack and scribbled furiously.

Glory, the note read. Please send packages to secondary location by way of the Dismal Dancer. Some assembly required. No extraction necessary at present, but will keep posted. Tell Deacon to get his ass in gear on that lead, may have lead of my own. Charmer.

She dropped it in and sprinted back to the boat, shoving off and motoring back out into the bay. She and MacCready were silent for the ride back to the Castle, and after they had pulled the boat up on shore and bid each other good night, Murphy found herself padding silently toward Shaun’s bunk.

It was empty, and every muscle in her body tensed. She made her way down the rows of beds in the barracks, quietly but frantically searching for the boy synth. On a hunch, she stole away into the kennels, and breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of him sleeping in the middle of the Castle dogs and puppies.

Murphy knelt down and gently squeezed the boy’s shoulder. “Shaun,” she whispered.

He stirred slowly, then sat up rubbing his eyes. “Mom?”

“Why aren’t you in your bed?” she asked.

“Sometimes I have bad dreams,” he replied, yawning. “They don’t come as often if I sleep in here.”

Murphy smiled. “I’ll tell you a secret,” she said. “I have bad dreams too.”

Shaun’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Really,” she said with a nod. “And it also helps if I have someone to sleep next to.”

He looked thoughtful. “Can I come sleep next to you, Mom?”

“I’d love that, kiddo.”

 


 

Murphy called the Minutemen leadership into her quarters the next morning and relayed the events of the night before to them. Color drained from the faces around the meeting table, and Ronnie Shaw slammed her palm against the wooden surface.

“God dammit!” she hissed. “Those Institute bastards are up to something and we have no way of knowing what it is. This is exactly what we don’t need right now.”

Murphy nodded solemnly. “Yes, but the fact that someone else is out there, with another relay, snatching up Institute synths for their own purposes is what concerns me the most. We don’t even know who they are, or could be.”

“I think it’s safe to assume it’s another Institute group,” Preston said, rubbing his head in thought. “They’re the only ones with the tech to pull something like that off. But why would they be working separately from the rest of the Institute? Why would they steal a Gen 2?”

“And why is the Institute stealing Mister Handys?” Bethany asked.

Trader Rylee shook her head. “Murphy, how much longer can we keep this in the dark? There are already rumors going around the trade caravans about things like tech going missing and Gen 1 and 2 sightings. The Brotherhood is doing their best to destroy the roaming synth bands, they have to know something is off by now.”

“I’m working on a lead,” Murphy replied. “I still have contacts in the Railroad that might be able to help us figure it out.”

“Oh, no you don’t,” Ronnie said, pointing an accusatory finger at her. “You swore on behalf of the Minutemen that we would denounce that group of mind-wipers. You can’t be running around with them and putting us all at risk.”

“I’m not putting all of us at risk, I’m limiting this to just myself,” Murphy said. “Right now, all we can do is wait, but if they have something that could help us figure out what the Institute is up to, I want to know what it is. Isn’t that more important than pissing off the Brotherhood?”

“You tell me,” Ronnie replied, leaning back in her chair. “We could stand to lose quite a bit if they sic that robot on us.”

“Ronnie, Liberty Prime isn’t going to be doing anything after being packed in a bunch of crates.”

Ronnie feigned examining her nails. “Last our scouts checked, that thing was still docked in that airport gantry, very much in one piece.”

“What?” Murphy looked at her in surprise. “They haven’t started disassembling it yet?”

Preston shook his head. “We had the report come in yesterday.”

Damn you, Maxson, Murphy thought. You promised.

“I’ll see what I can do about that,” she said. “In the meantime, have our scouts keep an eye out for anyone fitting the description of the woman MacCready and I saw, and start asking around about Mister Handys. Maybe we can pretend we’re looking to buy some more for Graygarden and see if any have gone missing from anywhere else in the Commonwealth.”

Ronnie raised her eyebrows. “And the Railroad?”

“If I find out anything, you’ll be the first to know,” Murphy promised. “But I won’t use anyone else or any Minutemen resources to help them out. If we get caught, I’ll take the fall.”

She relaxed a bit in her chair. “On a brighter note, I might have a new settlement for us to use for any interested Gen 3 synth members to inhabit. MacCready and I paid a visit to Danse and he helped us clear out Breakheart Banks for our purposes. With a bit of work, it could be a nice farm.”

“Well, we could always use more of those,” Bethany said.

“And how did Monsieur Danse feel about your other proposal?” Curie asked.

Murphy shrugged her shoulders. “He’s not on board yet, but he’ll come around,” she said. “I don’t think he’ll have a problem helping any synth Minutemen members get started out there. He needs things to do in his free time.”

Rylee nodded. “We’ve got a couple who came forward while you were in Diamond City. We can send them his way.”

“Great,” Murphy said with a smile. “Let me know who they are after this and I’ll have Scribe Haylen send him a message in advance. If there’s anything else any of you need, let me know- I think I need to go pay the Brotherhood a visit this afternoon.”

 


 

It wasn’t long before a vertibird responded to Murphy’s signal grenade smoke and she found herself walking up the flight deck to the metal door into the airship. She stole a glance at the airport below, confirming Ronnie’s report. Liberty Prime was indeed in one piece, standing at attention on the tarmac while a few small figures wove around its legs and the gantry it was docked in.

Murphy took in a deep breath and drew herself up to her full height before entering the command deck, fully expecting to find Elder Maxson pacing around his observation deck. To her surprise, the room was empty, save the ever-present Knights in power armor that guarded its entrance.

“Paladin Murphy,” a voice called from the level below her.

She made her way down to the bridge, where Lancer-Captain Kells stepped away from a cluster of instruments and beckoned her over to the ship’s steering wheel. The Lancers and Scribes assisting him scurried away.

“Lancer-Captain,” Murphy said with a nod. “I’m looking for the Elder. We have business to discuss.”

“You can discuss it with me,” Kells said, his voice even and full of disdain. “I can’t imagine whatever business you have is worth bothering him about.”

Murphy sighed. “I’m here on behalf of the Minutemen, today,” she said. “Unless there’s been a shake-up in the chain of command, I’m pretty sure I need to speak with him.”

“Elder Maxson is not receiving visitors today,” Kells maintained. “Now unless you wish to tell me what your business here is, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Murphy narrowed her eyes. “Leave? Don’t I outrank you?”

“Not on this ship,” Kells replied.

“Fine,” Murphy said, shaking her head. “I… I just needed to have a word with him about Liberty Prime.”

Kells raised an eyebrow at her. “What about Liberty Prime?”

“I was told the robot would be disassembled by now,” Murphy replied. “I was just curious why it wasn’t.”

“I’m afraid that’s none of your concern,” Kells said with a sniff. “The Minutemen have no jurisdiction over what the Brotherhood of Steel does with its technology, just as we don’t concern ourselves with whatever it is you get up to in your outdated fort.”

“You could’ve fooled me,” Murphy said coolly. “You had a different viewpoint on our operations at the summit, if I recall correctly.”

Kells waved his hand impatiently. “It is not in my nature to question our Elder’s decisions, unlike yourself. You would do well to follow my lead and trust that Liberty Prime is still active for a good reason.”

“Whatever you say,” Murphy said, turning away so he wouldn’t see her rolling her eyes. “Can you at least let Elder Maxson know I came by?”

“I can assure you, I will,” Kells replied. “But I won’t have you going up to the main deck looking for him. Good day, Paladin.”

Murphy made her way back up the stairs, briefly considering making a run for the ladder up to the main deck. She decided against it and made her way back out onto the flight deck, instead taking a vertibird down to the airport. After a bit of searching in the supply depot, she came upon the man she was looking for.

“Knight Sergeant Gavil,” she said cordially, extending a hand in greeting. “Long time, no see.”

He set down the clipboard of supply lists he had been reviewing and shook her hand firmly. “Paladin Murphy. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“Likewise.”

“I understand you’re working with Knight Lucia on Spectacle Island, now,” he said. “I hope she’s making the Logistics division proud.”

“And the biological research division,” Murphy said with a smile. “It was good to see her again.”

Gavil nodded. “How can I help you today, Paladin?”

“Well, I was just passing through and saw that Liberty Prime was still functional,” Murphy said, casually leaning on a shelf full of combat armor and helmets. “I was just curious about that. I heard they were going to take him apart.”

Gavil chuckled. “You heard right, but they sure are taking their time about it,” he said. “I’ve had the shipping crates ready to go for weeks now, but the Scribes keep saying they need to run more tests before they take him down from that gantry.”

“Did they say what kind of tests?”

He shook his head. “That stuff is beyond me. Some of them were talking about ‘remote activation’ the other day, but god knows what that means. More delays, I expect.”

Murphy nodded. “Is Proctor Ingram around?”

Gavil jerked his head upward. “On the Prydwen,” he said. “Something about power armor inspections.”

Murphy sighed. “Of course. Thanks, Gavil.”

She made her way back up to the flight pad on the roof and directed the vertibird to take her back to the Castle, resolving to take a nap in anticipation of another late night.

 


 

A rainstorm swept over Boston that evening, so Murphy threw on her Marine wetsuit and Atom Cats jacket and tied her hair back. She grabbed a spare lantern from the Shot Heard Round the World, where Curie and Bethany were sharing late drinks and playing chess.

“Pratique et à la mode,” Curie said with a smile. “Headed into la nuit once again?”

“With luck,” Murphy replied, checking the oil supply in the lamp. “If the Brotherhood isn’t giving me a warm welcome onto the Prydwen anymore, my best bet is luring their leader out to talk.”

“Just don’t do anything you regret,” Bethany said, sweeping a bishop across the chessboard with her leathery hand. “Check.”

“Not for long, mon cher,” Curie said playfully, examining the board.

Murphy left them and waded out into the downpour, carefully making her way down the slippery hill to the old Sullivan’s, pausing only to admire the Chryslus Cherry Bomb that had smashed into the side of the diner. She ducked inside, dusted off a stool at the diner’s counter and settled in to wait.

Her patience was rewarded just over an hour later, when a vertibird touched down in the field next to the little restaurant. Murphy emerged as it powered down, holding her lantern high in the torrential rain.

Elder Maxson exited the cockpit and shielded his eyes from the rain, peering at her through the sheets of water coming down. “General?” he called.

“Elder,” Murphy yelled over the rain, holding the diner’s door open. “Get in here.”

Maxson obliged, pulling the collar of his battlecoat up as he splashed through puddles toward her. He pulled the coat off and shook it out once inside the shelter, scattering droplets of water everywhere.

“Forgive me,” he said. “If it soaks up too much water, it takes an age to dry it out again.”

“It’s okay,” Murphy said, reclaiming her seat at the counter. “I wasn’t sure you would show, with the weather the way it is.”

“I felt I should come, seeing as I missed your arrival at the Prydwen earlier today,” Maxson replied, trying in vain to fix his wet hair. Parts of it were completely slicked down, sticking to his scalp, while the ends had begun to curl up in an endearing, bedraggled sort of way. Murphy noticed that the dark circles under his eyes had deepened.

“Your Secret Service director was very adamant that I leave you alone,” Murphy said.

“My what?”

“Lancer-Captain Kells.”

“Ah,” Maxson said, his expression hardening. “He needn’t have forbidden you seeing me. I was merely catching up on a few things.”

“Like sleep?”

Maxson ignored her. “I understand you were asking about Liberty Prime’s current state.”

Murphy nodded. “I was. I was under the impression you were going to stow the robot and the beryllium agitator away.”

“That is still our intention,” Maxson replied, taking a seat on a cracked stool next to her. “However, recent… developments in Prime’s operating systems necessitated a closer look at his functioning capacity and another series of diagnostics.”

“What changed?” Murphy asked, furrowing her brow.

“I’m afraid that information is classified,” Maxson said. “Proctor Ingram assured me the tests would be completed soon. Perhaps I can offer you more in the way of assurances then.”

“I don’t need assurances,” Murphy said, idly tapping the glass of the lantern on the counter. “Assurances created the world we’re living in. ‘Mutually assured destruction,’ they called it.”

“I’m familiar with the phrase,” Maxson said with a nod. “But I can’t say I see how it applies in this situation.”

“It doesn’t, exactly,” Murphy admitted. “Destruction if Prime was set loose in the Commonwealth would not be mutual, even if it was assured.”

“That won’t happen,” Maxson said firmly. “I have no intentions of ordering Prime to attack anything unless the Brotherhood deems a particular threat worth deploying-”

“But that’s just the thing,” Murphy said, gesturing angrily. “You and the Brotherhood have very different opinions from the Minutemen, or anyone else, on what constitutes a threat that needs solving from a machine of war.”

“Is there a particular threat you had in mind, General?”

“No,” Murphy said quickly. “I mean, in theory.”

Maxson sighed. “You fear us. You fear me.”

“No,” Murphy said adamantly. “I’m not afraid of you. I’d be stupid not to be afraid of Liberty Prime, though.”

“You have nothing to fear from the Brotherhood, or our military assets,” Maxson said, meeting her eyes. “I swear it.”

Murphy could see he meant it. His blue eyes were full of resolve and reassurance. She gave him a half-hearted smile.

“I suppose there’s nothing I can do but take your word for it,” she said. “Is that all you came here for tonight? To tell me you’ll take your robot down soon?”

Maxson raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Did you have something else in mind?”

Chapter Text

Elder Maxson and Murphy made a run for the vertibird when the rain slowed somewhat, shaking off water droplets as they climbed inside the cockpit.

“Are you sure you should be flying tonight?” Murphy asked.

Maxson shrugged, discarding his battlecoat on the floor between them. “I’ve flown in worse.”

Murphy grabbed the passenger-side headset and began fiddling with the radio, tuning it to a frequency she hadn’t used for some time.

“Ohm’s Law, come in,” she called out. “This is the Captain, location Beantown. Requesting permission to pay you folks a visit. Over.”

“Beantown?” Maxson asked.

“Used to be the callsign for Boston,” Murphy explained. “I want you to meet someone. A friend of mine. She lives with her parents, way up north on the edge of the Commonwealth, and she’s a bit of a radio nut.”

The speaker on the vertibird crackled to life. “10-4, Captain,” Kasumi replied. “You’re wall-to-wall, what kind of transmitter are you using? Over.”

“You’ll just have to wait and see,” Murphy replied. “Okay if I bring a friend? Over.”

“Yes! Yes,” Kasumi responded. “Dad’s off on a trip in the boat and I’ve been stuck here with mom for almost a week now. Which friend? Is it Nick? Over.”

“Um, the Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel, actually. Over.”

There was a bit of silence. Maxson raised his eyebrows.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Kasumi finally asked. “Over.”

“I’ll vouch for him,” Murphy replied, with a glance at Maxson. “No need for concern. Over.”

“Copy that, Captain,” Kasumi said. “3s and 8s to the two of you, it’s nasty out there tonight. Over.”

“Thanks. Over and out.” Murphy switched off the radio and wrung some water out of her ponytail, which appeared more platinum blonde than white when wet. “Whenever you’re ready, Arthur.”

Maxson nodded and powered up the vertibird. They rose over the lights of the Castle and began to follow the coast, skirting around the airport and the Prydwen and over the silent Fort Strong. Murphy pointed out the window at the empty military base.

“Is that when you started taking me seriously?” she asked. “After I cleared the super mutants out of there?”

Maxson glanced down. “Negative,” he replied. “The Fort Strong mission merely confirmed your proficiency in combat. I don’t believe I began taking you seriously until you volunteered to journey into the Glowing Sea in search of the Mark 28s.”

“Really?” Murphy said with a grin. “I suppose most of the others weren’t jumping at the idea of going in there.”

“Why did you volunteer?” Maxson asked. “You’ve made your disapproval of Liberty Prime’s activation quite clear. Why choose to risk your life to arm him?”

“At the time, I was still looking for any way I could to get back inside the Institute,” Murphy explained. “Believe it or not, Prime seemed like a viable option.”

“What changed?”

“You already know what changed,” Murphy replied.

Maxson’s face hardened. “Paladin Danse.”

Murphy cast a sideways glance at him. It was the first time Maxson had spoken the name since she had stood before him on the command deck and tossed Danse’s holotags at his feet. She could tell the pain and feelings of betrayal were still there, evident in his icy eyes and set jaw.

“What happened with Danse…” Murphy shook her head. “I’d had enough. I didn’t like the direction the Brotherhood was headed in. So I left.”

“What would you have had me do?” Maxson asked gruffly.

“Do you really want to know?”

“I do.”

Murphy looked out at the ocean below them, at the haphazard lights of Libertalia and the steeple of the church at Nahant wharf rising above the trees. “I wish you would’ve judged him for his actions rather than what you believed him to be.”

“What we knew him to be,” Maxson corrected.

“No, what you believed him to be,” Murphy said, turning back to fix him in a glare. “Danse might be a synth, but he was always a Brotherhood soldier first. I know you were afraid he was an Institute plant, some sort of ticking time bomb they could activate and set to explode, but Christ, wouldn’t they have done that already? Years of Brotherhood membership, leadership, and not a shred of evidence to prove he wasn’t who he believed himself to be… but no, none of that mattered in the end.”

She leaned back in her seat. “You were friends. And even that didn’t matter.”

“Do you not think I mourned him?” Maxson asked quietly. “Years of service, cut short by a terrible truth… there was nothing else I could do. Our laws are clear.”

“Mourned him?” Murphy said in disbelief. “Forgive me for choosing not to mourn a man who isn’t dead. I was too busy trying to make sure he didn’t carry out your initial orders himself as soon as I left the bunker.”

Maxson opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it. “I’m… you didn’t deserve that.”

“Danse didn’t deserve that,” Murphy said angrily. “What I deserved doesn’t matter.”

“It does,” Maxson replied. “He was your mentor, your sponsor. I should’ve sent someone, anyone else, but in my anger I chose to test your loyalties. I wish… I wish I had spared you that pain.”

“You could have spared me more pain if you had left that man alone,” Murphy retorted. “What you chose to do instead…”

She shook her head. “It broke him.”

“The Brotherhood cannot accept the possibility of synths within our ranks, especially in the position of leadership that Paladin Danse held,” Maxson said. “They should not exist, yet they do. It’s the Brotherhood’s job to prevent such technology from consuming humanity again, at all costs.”

“And yet you relax these rules when it comes to the Minutemen,” Murphy replied. “Why? Why don’t you hold us to the same standards? You have the military might to back your demands up, the justification of your own morals… why didn’t you listen to Kells and squash us?”

“What kind of a leader would that make me?” Maxson said angrily. “To enforce authoritarian rule over the people of the Commonwealth was not my goal. I merely wished to protect the people from the Institute’s influence. Danse, however unfortunate his situation may have been, was an extension of that influence.”

“And what about the synths under Minutemen protection? How long before you decide they’re an ‘extension of Institute influence,’ and you break down our walls with a host of Knights in the name of the Brotherhood?”

“Are you trying to provoke me, General?” Maxson asked, his voice low and deadly.

Murphy threw her hands up in the air. “If it gets me a straight answer out of you, then yes. Where does it end?”

Maxson took in a deep breath. “It ends when the Institute’s creations are no longer a threat.”

“So that’s it, then?” Murphy asked. “The synths with the Minutemen… you don’t see them as a threat?”

“Certainly not an immediate one, or one the Brotherhood is incapable of handling, should the need arise,” Maxson replied. “Should your policy backfire, though, I have no doubt the Brotherhood of Steel will be left picking up the pieces.”

“I’ll pick up my own pieces, thank you very much,” Murphy said, putting her wet boots up on the dash. Maxson glanced at them and shot her a look of annoyance.

“Murphy, please,” he said, indicating she move her feet.

“Fine,” Murphy replied with a huff. “But only because you called me Murphy.”

Maxson smiled, the kind of smile you can’t contain in spite of an attempt to be angry with someone. He didn’t say anything else for the rest of the flight, and Murphy was more than happy to stare out at the coast below them in stony silence.

Finally, the two of them passed over the red roof of the little house by the sea, and Maxson set the vertibird down on a patch of beach grass, just west of the Nakano residence. A slim figure left the back door, pausing to open an umbrella before running out to meet them.

“Murphy!” Kasumi Nakano cried, putting her arms out wide in greeting. Murphy happily squashed the girl in a hug before pulling back to admire the umbrella.

“Where did you pick this up?” she asked, feeling the inside of the water-resistant fabric and the metal frame.

Kasumi smiled and twirled the handle, making water spin off around them in all directions. “Dad bought it for me last time he was in Far Harbor, for my 20th birthday,” she said. “He’s coming around to the idea of taking me out with him occasionally, but he’s still a little hesitant to bring me back to the island.”

“Well, who can blame him?” Murphy said with a smile.

Maxson came around the vertibird, his collar pulled up against the rain. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance,” he said, extending a hand.

Kasumi shook it. “Likewise,” she said nervously. “I’m Kasumi Nakano. Murphy and I have some… history.”

“Elder Arthur Maxson, Brotherhood of Steel, East Coast chapter,” Maxson replied. “I suppose the same can be said of her and I.”

“Is that your vertibird?” Kasumi asked, admiring the machine behind them.

“One of them.”

Kasumi sighed longingly. “What I wouldn’t give to have a look under the hood,” she said.

“Mechanically-minded?” Maxson asked, the hint of a smile on his lips.

“You could say that,” Kasumi said, pulling a screwdriver from the pocket of her forest green jumpsuit. “Got any circuits or gears you want me to tinker with?”

“We should get out of the rain,” Murphy suggested.

“Come on, Mom’s got some leftover stew we can heat up,” Kasumi said, beckoning them to follow her back to the house. “I’ve been out in the shed all day, and I may have forgotten to come in for meals.”

The three made their way into the little seaside house, stomping wet sand off their boots on the porch and hanging their coats on a rack inside the door. Kasumi went into the kitchen, switched the stove on and moved a large pot over to the burner, while Murphy sank onto the couch and rifled through her pack. Maxson peered out the window overlooking the family’s dock, taking in the colored buoys and fishing nets strewn about in the rain.

“What exactly does your family do, Kasumi?” he asked.

“My dad runs a transportation and shipping business with his boat,” Kasumi replied. “On and off he’s a fisherman, but he hasn’t been doing much of that lately because he started selling the bits of tech I fix up. Mom does some fishing net weaving and repair on the side, too.”

“Where is your mom?” Murphy asked, pulling out a first aid kit, a notebook and a few caps, which she set on the arm of the couch.

“Upstairs, asleep,” Kasumi indicated with a jerk of her head. “You guys want something to drink?”

Maxson declined, but Murphy accepted a can of purified water and sipped at it. Kasumi sank onto the couch next to her and cracked open a can of her own.

“So,” she asked. “What brings you up here on such a dark and stormy night? Not that I don’t appreciate the visit.”

Murphy extracted what she had been searching for- a very battered Pip-Boy- and handed it over. Kasumi squealed in delight, nearly spilling her water.

“Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, where did you find this?” she asked, turning the miniature computer over in her hands. “It’s not yours, I hope.”

Murphy held her left wrist up, showing off her intact Pip-Boy. “Still kicking,” she said. “RobCo holds up really well in apocalyptic situations. That one was Trader Rylee’s, from when she was a resident of Vault 81. She threw it away years ago, she said, and then there it was in Trashcan Carla’s junk pile one day.”

“It must’ve cost you a fortune,” Kasumi said in wonder. “Please, let me pay you back.”

Murphy waved her off. “I got it for a song, it hasn’t worked in ages. Besides, I need to ask you and your dad a favor, so this is kind of a goodwill payment in advance.”

Kasumi looked at her curiously. “What did you need?”

“Some more boat motors,” Murphy explained. “The Brotherhood and the Minutemen, we have an agricultural partnership starting up on Spectacle Island. Most of the food we grow is going to feed our troops, but we might need some more maritime transportation in order to get it to our settlements and camps. The boats we rigged with the few motors I brought back from Far Harbor are working fine, but we might need bigger boats and motors for the additional personnel and their supplies. We can’t rely on vertibirds forever.”

“I can let Dad know, when he gets back,” Kasumi said, nodding. “And there’s an old motor in the shed I’ve been trying to get working for a little while, now. I keep putting off working on it for other projects, but I can get back to it. How many did you need?”

“Five, if you can find them, but I’ll settle for three,” Murphy said. “I know they’re hard to find anywhere south of Maine nowadays.”

“We can manage three for sure.” Kasumi leaned back into the couch, fiddling with the dials on the inactive Pip-Boy. “So how’s Nick doing? Is it true he’s running for mayor?”

“Yep,” Murphy said with a smile. “Ellie and Piper are thrilled, of course.”

“Good. It might do him some good to slow down a bit, after…” Kasumi cast a suspicious glance at Maxson. “After everything that happened.”

Murphy nodded. “I agree. But hey, what are you working on lately?”

Kasumi jumped up and indicated the beaten-up Radiation King television set in front of the couch, showing it off like a proud parent. “Check this out,” she said, and flipped the power switch on the side. The screen blinked a couple of times, then stabilized on an image of an emergency notice: PLEASE STAND BY.

“Oh my gosh,” Murphy said, sinking to her knees in front of the television to touch the screen with her fingertips. “I had no idea the network broadcast antennae were still intact after all these years.”

“Yeah, but I’m afraid it doesn’t get much more interesting than that,” Kasumi said mournfully. “There’s a built-in holotape reader that I think still works, but I don’t have any video holotapes to try in it.”

Maxson leaned down to have a look at the display. “We have a collection going on the Prydwen,” he said. “Perhaps I could offer you one or two to test it out?”

Kasumi’s face lit up. “Really? Which ones do you have?”

“Most of them are instructional videos for pre-war businesses and classified military footage, but there are a few recreational holotapes,” Maxson replied. “Half a copy of Love Sets Sail, the first season of a children’s show about the Nuka-Cola mascots, a news highlights reel or two. I’m sure they wouldn’t be missed.”

“You have a holotape of Love Sets Sail and you didn’t tell me?” Murphy asked playfully. “Where in god’s name did you find it? That movie never even came out in theaters, we were all buried in bombs before it could.”

“You would have to ask Proctor Quinlan,” Maxson said with a smile. “There are infinitely more holotapes available back at the Citadel. We retrieved several from the National Archives some time ago, and a whole shelf of them was discovered in an undamaged wing of the Library of Congress.”

“The National Archives and the Library of Congress,” Murphy said in awe. “Washington D.C. must be a treasure trove for that kind of stuff.”

Maxson nodded. “I would be honored to show you the collection on our return trip.”

“You’re leaving the Commonwealth?” Kasumi said in surprise. “Why? When?”

“Because I promised the Brotherhood that I would, and I’m not sure,” Murphy said, standing up again. “Don’t worry about me. I’ve survived more dangerous locales before.”

Kasumi smiled. “Don’t I know it. You guys want some stew?”

Maxson and Murphy accepted a small bowl each of the thick mixture of radstag meat, gourd pieces and silt beans. Kasumi leaned on the wall and smiled as the other two wolfed the food down.

“My compliments to your mom,” Murphy said around a mouthful of vegetables. “This is great.”

“The secret ingredient is vodka,” Kasumi said with a giggle. “Don’t tell her I told you.”

Maxson looked down at his empty bowl in surprise. “Interesting. Perhaps we could try to recreate this in our mess hall.”

“Never pegged you as a cook,” Murphy said, elbowing him.

“There are quite a few things about me you don’t know,” Maxson said, elbowing her back.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure Quinlan has your whole life story written down somewhere,” Murphy said with a laugh. “Complete with a list of hobbies, phobias and most embarrassing moments.”

“If such lists exist, I guarantee they will turn up missing during the next records inspection.”

Murphy snorted into her stew, and Kasumi looked back and forth between the two of them with an unsure smile on her face.

“So, has your dad taken you anywhere interesting lately?” Murphy asked her.

Kasumi shook her head. “He brings me along on trips along the Commonwealth coast, but he won’t take me any further yet. We did have a visitor not that long ago, though.”  

“Really? Who?”

“A woman with an honest-to-god steamboat,” Kasumi said. “Redhead by the name of Nadine, came by a week and a half ago with a bunch of scrap metal she was selling. Said she came from somewhere down south of the Capital Wasteland, Point something-or-other? Anyway, she had so many stories about her adventures, it was a real treat to pick her brain.”

Maxson stiffened suddenly. “You said her name was Nadine?”

“That’s what she said it was.”

“In any of her stories, did she mention anyone by the name of Elizabeth?”

“I don’t think so,” Kasumi replied, furrowing her brow.

“Where was Nadine heading next?” Maxson asked, his voice wavering a little bit. Murphy looked at him and was startled to see a look of desperation on his face.

“North,” Kasumi said cautiously. “I think she meant to just keep stopping at ports all along the coastline. Why do you ask?”

Maxson set his bowl down on a nearby table and shook his head. “Excuse me,” he said, moving to grab his coat from the rack. Murphy and Kasumi watched in confusion as he pulled it on and stepped back out into the rain.

“What’s with him?” Kasumi asked.

Murphy shrugged. “Beats me. We should probably head back anyway, I didn’t intend to stay too long and keep you up.”

“No worries,” Kasumi replied with a smile. “Like I said, it’s nice just to talk to somebody other than my mom. Did you need anything for the road? Er, flight?”

“I think we’ll be okay,” Murphy said, setting her bowl aside to pull Kasumi into another hug. “Take care of yourself, Ohm’s Law.”

“You too, Captain,” Kasumi said. She followed Murphy to the door and waved goodbye as she ran across the sand to the vertibird.

Murphy found Maxson inside, his head in his hands, elbows resting on the console. She slid into the seat next to him.

“Are you going to tell me who Elizabeth is?” she asked.

He turned his head slightly to look at her over the crook of his elbow. “She is… was… the Alpha and the Omega.”

Murphy’s hand went to the plasma pistol at her side. “The woman you promised to tell me about.”

Maxson nodded. “Paladin Elizabeth Titus. More commonly known as the Lone Wanderer.”

“The Lone Wanderer?” Murphy asked. “Isn’t that a motorcycle model?”

“Indeed it was,” Maxson said with a smile. “She used to say she spent a month living under a billboard advertising them, and the name stuck to her.”

“Who was she?”

Maxson leaned back in his chair and slid a hand over his face, down into his beard. “Where do I begin? Paladin Titus was the daughter of scientists in the Capital Wasteland, who were working with the Brotherhood of Steel to purify the water in the Potomac River. Her mother died giving birth to her, and her father managed to gain entry to a vault in order to raise her in safety. He left the vault to finish Project Purity when she had grown, and 19-year-old Elizabeth followed him.”

“Brave girl,” Murphy remarked.

“You don’t know the half of it,” Maxson replied. “She navigated the wasteland as if she had been born to it, yet she exhibited none of the hardness that comes from the burden of survival. She was full of compassion, selflessness, exceptional valor… To this day, people in the Citadel and the Capital Wasteland speak of her with reverence.”

“So she did it, then,” Murphy said. “She and her father purified the river.”

“The Enclave killed her father before he could finish the project,” Maxson said. “She and Sentinel Sarah Lyons risked their lives to complete it, and Paladin Titus went on to destroy the Enclave and their crawler at Adams Air Force Base for good measure. Her glory in battle earned her the rank of Knight, then Paladin, something unheard of at the time from a mere wasteland recruit.”

“So what happened to her?” Murphy asked.

Maxson sighed. “No one knows. After the battle at Adams, she began to roam farther and farther afield, in search of threats to eliminate and communities to aid. While the Brotherhood continued to root out the remaining pockets of Enclave soldiers, there were rumors of her from all over the east, freeing slaves, fighting mutants, rescuing towns.”

He tapped his fingers on his leg in thought. “One of the last reports we ever received about her whereabouts was from a passenger who claimed he shared a ride with her on a steamboat to Point Lookout. A steamboat owned by a woman named Nadine.”

Murphy took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Wow.”

Maxson met her eyes. “Indeed.”

“Did you know her?”

He nodded slowly. “She was everything I wanted to be and more. A woman who climbed the ladder on her own accord, led charges without fear, inspired countless others to do the same. When Sarah Lyons died in battle, there were some who called for her to be promoted to Elder, but she returned to the Citadel to personally decline the offer before disappearing again.”

Maxson smiled, a faraway look in his eyes. “And she was kind to me. I was somewhat of an outsider in the Citadel like her, and she recognized it.”

“You loved her,” Murphy said softly in realization.

“I…” Maxson frowned and looked at her. “I was just a child, then. I loved the idea of her, more than anything.”

Murphy nodded. “Well, why not try to track Nadine down? Maybe she knows where she disappeared to.”

“Part of me would like to,” Maxson replied. “But another part of me wonders if she would rather be left to wander alone.”

“Why, just because she’s the ‘Lone Wanderer?’ Come on,” Murphy said with a chuckle. “At the very least, you have to be curious about where she wound up.”

Maxson shook his head. “I was there,” he said. “When she came to decline the promotion to Elder. She looked each of the Scribes, Paladins and Proctors in the eye and said, ‘The Brotherhood of Steel needs a leader, not a broken war hero,’ before collecting her suit of power armor and leaving. I was given the impression she did not wish to be followed.”

“Jesus,” Murphy said, widening her eyes. “Message received, I guess.”

“Perhaps it was for the best,” Maxson said, running a hand through his wet hair. “She was a woman of legend. Maybe she wanted to remain so and live out her days in peace.”

“I thought you weren’t allowed to do that in the Brotherhood,” Murphy replied.

“Not if you have taken the Oath of Fraternity,” Maxson said. “Which Elizabeth Titus never took.”

“So, a similar situation to my own.”

Maxson looked at her, and the tangle of emotions on his face twisted something inside her. “Arthur?” she asked.

“I told you once that you remind me of her,” he said. “I stand by that statement.”

Murphy fell silent, and Maxson brought the vertibird to life. As the ground fell away beneath them, Murphy watched his face, but he showed no further trace of his inner turmoil during the flight back to the Castle.

When the machine touched down next to the fort, Murphy shouldered her bag and hopped out. She started up the hill, but stopped when she heard the sound of boots hitting the mud behind her.

“Murphy,” he said, his voice low, but loud enough to be heard over the storm.

She turned her head to look over her shoulder. “Yes?”

Maxson approached her cautiously, until he was less than a foot away from her and she could feel the heat of his body on her back. Slowly, she turned around and looked up at him.

Standing there, in the dark of the night with rain running down his face and clothes, he looked less like the commander of a military power and more like a lost soul in need of a warm bed. The thought of her own bed, safe and dry within the walls of the Castle, crossed her mind. She quickly stamped it out.

Maxson dug around inside his coat and handed her another vertibird signal grenade. “Just in case,” he said quietly.

Murphy nodded and tucked it inside her leather jacket. “Until we meet again, Arthur.”

He took her hand and kissed it, water droplets caught up in his beard brushing onto her skin. She curled her fingers around his, welcoming the familiarity of the gesture.

“Until we meet again,” he agreed, and turned back toward the vertibird. He didn’t let go of her hand until she had extended her arm to its full length, and she didn’t take her eyes off the aircraft until it had disappeared into the rain.

Chapter Text

To Murphy’s surprise, Knight Rhys was waiting for her under the northwestern arch into the Castle, his eyes fixed on the spot in the sky where Maxson’s vertibird had disappeared.

“Paladin,” he said as she stepped into the stone alcove.

“Knight,” Murphy said with a nod.

“What business do you have with the Elder?” he asked testily.

“Acquisitions,” Murphy said. “Don’t worry about it.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, but stepped out of her way as she made to move past him.

“Be careful,” he warned her as she breezed by.

Murphy stopped and turned. “Aren’t I always?”

“You’re not,” Rhys said flatly. “And Elder Maxson can’t afford not to be.”

She cocked her head to the side. “How long have you been with the Brotherhood, Rhys?”

“Five years,” he replied, crossing his arms over his orange flight suit. “I was one of the first recruits from the Capital Wasteland under the relaxed recruitment policies.”

“Are you happy?”

Rhys looked confused by the question. “Serving with the Brotherhood of Steel has been the greatest honor of my life.”

“Yes, but are you happy?” Murphy prodded.

He glanced at the muddy ground, then back up at her. “I know what you’re doing.”

“What am I doing?”

“When a Brotherhood soldier takes the Oath of Fraternity, superficial feelings and allegiances fall away,” Rhys replied. “Everything you do, you do for the good of your brothers and sisters. You breathe, sleep and eat for the Brotherhood, live and die for the Brotherhood. It’s greater than anything any one of us could accomplish by ourselves. Elder Maxson knows this.”

“And you’re implying that I don’t,” Murphy said coolly.

He glared at her. “I’m saying that there will always be a limit to what he can give you, as you are. A line that he will not cross.”

Murphy didn’t respond, choosing instead to leave him in the archway and make her way through the wet courtyard to her quarters. She hung up her Atom Cats jacket, kicked off her boots and wriggled out of the Marine wetsuit before collapsing into her bed, only to find that sleep eluded her.

 


 

The feel of Maxson’s presence at her back that night haunted Murphy into the daylight, the heat of him reaching around her sides and along her spine when she was alone in the corridors of the fort or walking along the beach in search of driftwood. No matter how many times she turned around, he never appeared, and eventually the weight of Rhys’s words began to sink in. He’s right, she thought to herself as she poured sand out of her boots or stacked cans of Pork ‘n’ Beans or practiced swordplay with a straw training dummy. Even if there’s something there, it wouldn’t last. Couldn’t last.

Still, more than a few nights found her on the Castle battlements, staring off toward the Prydwen and rolling the vertibird signal grenade between her fingers. Each time, she pocketed it again and retired to her quarters, only to be awakened a few hours later in cold sweats by another horrific dream.

Despite weeks of waiting, Murphy received no response from the Railroad about the Institute lead. She and MacCready eventually took a boat and went back to the dead drop she had left her note in, which they found to be empty. The fact that the Railroad agents may have received her letter renewed Murphy’s optimism, but another visit to the Sandy Coves Convalescent Home left her apprehensive, as not a single Mister Handy could be found on the premises.

While she waited for something, anything, she filled her days with busy work, particularly the plans for the new settlement at Breakheart Banks. A letter came for her one day by way of Lucas Miller’s caravan, unsigned but clearly in Danse’s handwriting. He had received the transmission from Scribe Haylen, and had finished clearing the “super mutant garbage” out of the little farm.

“While I am hesitant to take any leadership roles, I admit I can’t possibly fix the location up entirely by myself,” Murphy read to Preston in her quarters. “If you have settlers, of any background, willing to help out, I would welcome the assistance and the conversation.”

“Perfect,” Preston said, nodding and making a note on a nearby map. “Maybe it can give us a foothold in the area and get a few other settlements interested in joining our cause.”

“And the two synth Minutemen?” Murphy asked, folding Danse’s letter up. “Are they still interested in making a go of it out there?”

Preston smiled. “Do you want to meet them? They’re a little nervous, but they’re ready to go whenever.”

The two synths introduced themselves to her later that evening, a heavily-scarred man with a thick beard named Jules and a timid, dark-skinned woman named Marina. Murphy invited them back to her quarters and poured drinks, and eventually they relaxed a bit.

“I’m just so grateful you decided to take the stance on this that you did,” Jules said. “I made the mistake of going to the Railroad after the last group of settlers I lived with found me out, but they just wanted me to forget everything that happened and start somewhere completely new. I wasn’t ready for that.”

Murphy nodded. “That’s a shame, but I know what you mean. Sometimes I felt like they were trying to protect themselves more than the ones they were trying to rescue.”

Marina grimaced. “I don’t want to speak ill of them. They got me out, after all. But I don’t know why I would want to forget what I went through, either.”

“How did you wind up with the Minutemen?” Murphy asked.

“Well, I signed up with a recruitment group in Goodneighbor,” Jules replied. “Marina…”

“Glory sent me here,” Marina said. “It was before you officially announced your acceptance of synths, but she said she had a hunch.”

“How many people have you told?” Murphy asked, pouring out some more wine.

“Just our friends,” Marina admitted. “And Curie, of course. They were okay with it, and I don’t think they’ll say anything to anyone unless they talk to us first.”

“And about Breakheart?”

“I understand it’s a bit of a secret,” Jules said. “Preston told us about Danse.”

Murphy nodded. “He’s still a bit prickly about the situation, but he’ll come around. Just give him some compliments about his power armor and he’ll warm up to you pretty quick.”

“Ex-Brotherhood?” Jules asked.

“It’s been very tough on him,” Murphy said, casting her eyes downward.

“I’ll bet,” Marina said quietly. “Maybe… maybe there are some questions we can answer for him.”

The meeting left Murphy determined to make the synths’ transition to settlement life as painless and fruitful as possible. She filled out orders for supplies, dug into her personal funds and fixed up weapons in anticipation of their departure. When the day came for them to set out on the road north, she was heartened to see Dogmeat fall into step next to them as they left with full packs and a newly-purchased brahmin loaded with supplies.

“He goes where he’s needed,” MacCready said with a smile, waving goodbye with his hat.

“I owe that dog so much,” Murphy said with a sigh.

Dogmeat’s departure didn’t exactly leave a hole in her life, though. Murphy had gotten used to bringing Shaun everywhere she went, and by extension, the Castle’s dog pack. Madison had weaned all six of her puppies, and Shaun had officially begun christening them. In keeping with the presidential names of the first five dogs, the four boys were called Jackson, Van Buren, Harrison and Tyler, and while Shaun didn’t have a problem with calling one of the girls Quincy, he was at a loss for what to call the other.

“It should be Polk, next,” he explained to Murphy one day as she took stock of the armory and made a list of ammunition requests for Trader Rylee. “But Polk isn’t a girl’s name. And we can’t just keep calling her Nine forever, you know.”

“What was President Polk’s first name?” Murphy asked.

“James,” he replied. “But that doesn’t work either, Mom.”

“You could call her Jamie.”

Shaun shook his head. “That’s not dignified enough.”

Murphy paused her tally of energy cells and glanced at the pile of puppies rolling around at the boy’s feet. The female puppy in question, a little white blob with black patches around her eyes and hindquarters, did not seem particularly interested in the discussion about nomenclature. She was nipping experimentally at Harrison’s tail, while her sister Quincy chewed casually on Shaun’s shoelaces and the other three engaged in a playful wrestling match.

“Well, why don’t you try a few out on her?” Murphy suggested. “See which one sticks.”

“Patricia!” Shaun cried. The puppy ignored him and leaped on Harrison instead.

Murphy giggled. “Patricia?”

“I like Patricia,” Shaun said defensively. “But I guess she doesn’t. Maya? Victoria? Cleopatra?”

Murphy turned back to her task, smiling uncontrollably at the stream of names Shaun pulled out of his imagination. Not a single one elicited a response from the puppy, and eventually he gave up.

“You’re too stubborn, Nine,” he said, scratching her ear while she licked his face.

“You’ll figure it out someday,” Murphy reassured him.

 


 

Murphy set out for Diamond City a few days later, accompanied by Preston Garvey, Scribe Haylen and MacCready. The four talked excitedly on their way through the ruins of Boston, MacCready filling the air with descriptions of the stadium and its residents for the enraptured Haylen.

“I can’t wait to see it,” she said enthusiastically. “Is it really bigger than Rivet City?”

“By a long shot,” MacCready assured her.

“You two can be tourists,” Preston said with a smile. “I want to check up on our troops there and have a look at their new base.”

“Preston, do you ever stop working?” Murphy teased. “I bet you won’t even come out to the mayoral debate. I’ll have to sit by myself.”

“Better get there early,” he replied. “I’m guessing those benches in front of the stage are going to be filled. It’s not every day Diamond City gets to ask their potential mayors questions.”

“So Piper and Travis are running the debate?” MacCready asked.

“That’s what Travis said on the radio,” Haylen piped up. “It’s the first of two, and this one’s theme is security.”

Murphy sighed. “Of course it is. Everyone’s still terrified of synths.”

“Do you get to vote?” Haylen asked curiously.

“I think so,” Murphy replied. “I own a house there, after all. But I don’t know if they’ll let the new Minutemen vote. They haven’t been in town long enough.”

Preston nodded. “Maybe it’s for the best. Ann Codman might accuse us of trying to swing the vote if they did.”

The great, green gate of Diamond City had been decorated for the occasion, the four discovered upon their arrival. Red, white and blue pennants had been hung from the stadium columns, and a hand-painted sign hung above the entrance archway.

“WELCOME VOTERS AND VISITORS,” MacCready read. “They’re really trying to capitalize on this, huh?”

The rest of the town was similarly decorated, with faded pennants, rosettes and bunting hanging from nearly every building. The Minutemen and Diamond City security guards greeted them as they passed, and Murphy snagged a copy of Publick Occurrences from Nat’s empty soapbox.

“Democracy, Down and Dirty: Candidates to Face Off in Saturday Free-For-All,” she read. “God, I bet Piper’s having the time of her life.”

A stop at the Dugout Inn yielded the article’s author, who was going over details for the debate with Diamond City Radio DJ Travis Miles. Piper paused her lecture about fact-checking to greet them all with a round of drinks.

“Oh, Blue, I’m in heaven,” she admitted, sipping on her beer. “This election is the best thing to happen to the paper since I wrote that exposé on Mayor McDonough. Only, fewer people are trying to break my windows with bricks, and I haven’t been locked out of the city yet.”

“Definitely a step up,” Murphy agreed. “Is it more crowded in here than usual?”

The little bar was packed with people, so much so that Yefim had been forced to join his brother at the bar to help serve drinks. Over by the kitchen entrance, Scarlett tripped over a chair leg, and Travis launched himself across the room to help her up.

“This is the event of the century!” Piper said excitedly, ignoring the commotion. “I mean, aside from you waking up and blowing up the Institute. Everyone who's anyone is in town for this. I saw Kessler from Bunker Hill come in yesterday, that overseer lady from Vault 81 is here with a bunch of security guards, they even let Hancock and Fahrenheit in.”

“Hancock’s here?” Murphy said, startled.

“Well, not here here,” Piper replied. “I think he went up to the Colonial Taphouse, probably to piss off as many upper stands residents as they’ll let him.”

“What about the Brotherhood?” Haylen asked curiously.

“Eh, I think there’s a Scribe around here somewhere,” Piper said, waving her hand dismissively. “They don’t seem particularly interested in all this.”

“Shame,” Haylen said, crossing her arms. “This is real history, what’s happening right here.”

“I know!” Piper agreed. “Blue, I approve of this one. Not like the other uniform types.”

“Other uniform types?” Haylen asked.

“Boss, they’re out of rooms,” MacCready interrupted. “Yefim said they’re all full up, have been since last night.”

“I own a house, remember?” Murphy replied.

“Yeah, with one bed.”

Preston put his drink down and wiped his mouth. “I was planning on staying at our new base. I understand there’s an extra bunk.”

“There, see?” Murphy said. “You and Haylen can take the bed, and I’ll sleep on the couch.”

Haylen giggled and shot MacCready a look. Murphy finished her drink and pointed a finger at the two of them. “Don’t you dare,” she warned.

“Welp, I’m uh, going to go have a cigarette,” MacCready said, his face turning red. “Haylen, care to join me?”

Haylen looped her arm through his and they waltzed toward the door. Piper shook her head at their retreating backs.

“How can you stand it?” she asked.

“They’re not so bad,” Murphy said, taking Travis’s vacated stool. “How’s Nick doing? Is he nervous?”

“He must be, I haven’t seen him or Ellie in a couple of days,” Piper replied. “Though they’re probably just hiding from me. Ann and Nelson have been doing the same thing.”

“The burden of being a reporter, I suppose,” Murphy said, examining the notepad Piper had left on the bar. “No more hiding tomorrow, though.”

“Nope,” Piper said smugly. “It’s going to be amazing.”

“It’s going to be something, alright,” Preston agreed.

 


 

Murphy left Piper and Travis to their planning after another drink, bidding Preston goodbye at the Dugout Inn’s door before making her way over to the Valentine Detective Agency. She knocked a few times before Nick Valentine’s voice filtered through the door.

“Go away, Piper!” he said in an annoyed tone. “I already told you, I’m not giving Publick Occurrences another interview until after the debate!”

“What about a competing news outlet?” Murphy called back.

Chair legs scraped against old floorboards, and the door swung open to reveal Valentine’s glowing eyes and his worn fedora. “Murphy,” he said in surprise. “Wasn’t sure you were coming.”

“Come on, you think I’d miss this?” Murphy said with a smile. “I know you’re probably busy, studying or wallowing in despair or whatever, but I figured I’d offer you a cigarette.”

“God, yes,” Valentine said, stepping aside to let her in. “But for the record, I am not wallowing in despair. Not yet, anyway.”

“Well that’s a plus,” Murphy said, pulling a squashed pack of Grey Tortoises from her back pocket. “I bet Ann thinks she’s got this in the bag, huh?”

Valentine accepted a cigarette from her and lit it deftly, the orange glow highlighting the scratches and dents in his face from a lifetime of Commonwealth adventures. “She said as much in her interview with Piper,” he replied. “It didn’t go over well, but there are still a fair number who will vote for her, just because she’s old money.”

“The aristocrat, the gangster and the synth,” Murphy said, shaking her head. “Sounds like the beginning of one of MacCready’s jokes.”

Valentine nodded. “If only we knew how it ends.”

Murphy patted him on the arm. “You’ll be just fine. Where’s Ellie?”

He jerked his metal hand upward. “In bed already. Don’t worry, we won’t wake her up. She’s been writing down possible questions and quizzing me for three days straight, now. I’m not sure if she slept at all during that time.”

“Sounds like quite the campaign manager,” Murphy said, glancing at the ceiling. “Give her my regards, if I don’t see you before the debate.”

“I will,” Valentine said with a smile. “How’ve you been? Word around town is you and the Brotherhood are getting along splendidly.”

Maxson’s face drifted across Murphy’s mind, but she pushed it aside. “Things are going well,” she replied.

Valentine gestured at her head with his cigarette. “And the moving picture feature playing out in your head?”

“I’ve been coping,” Murphy admitted. “But it’s more internalized now. You know, dreams. Dreams I’m not altogether sure are good news.”

She gave him an abridged version of her most recent dream of Nate, leaving out Maxson’s role in it. Valentine nodded along, a concerned look growing on his face.

“And you don’t know what it could mean?” he asked when she had finished. “Or what might have caused it?”

Murphy shrugged. “No idea.”

Valentine didn’t look as if he entirely believed her, but he sighed and put out his cigarette butt in the ashtray on his desk. “The best advice I can give you is to document them, see if there’s some sort of pattern,” he said. “It’s where I’d start, if I were you.”

“Thanks, doc,” Murphy said, leaning back against Ellie’s desk and crossing her arms. “And call you in the morning?”

He chuckled. “If I haven’t decided to run away by then.”

Chapter Text

The day of the debate dawned bright and chilly, and Murphy threw on a plaid button-up over her tank top and jeans before venturing out of Home Plate into the marketplace. The square was the busiest she had ever seen it, full of people from across the Commonwealth who had come to watch Diamond City determine its fate. Each of the town’s merchants seemed determined to squeeze in as much business as they could before the main attraction at noon, and the sound of caps clicking on countertops filled the air.

True to Preston’s prediction, the bleachers in front of the stage were already beginning to fill. City residents were staking out seats, and a jumble of extra chairs was cropping up in the open spaces on the stadium field.

The Bobrov brothers appeared to have moved their business outside for the occasion, and even had a makeshift bar set up in the back under one of the lean-tos. To Murphy’s amusement, the brothers appeared to have also gotten their hands on a stash of patriotic apparel and decor. Vadim had donned the unmistakable top hat and white beard of Uncle Sam, Hawthorne was sporting a tattered American flag as a poncho, and a number of regulars were inexplicably wearing vintage “I LIKE IKE” buttons.

“Do you even know who Ike is? Er, was?” she asked Vadim, waving off the beer he offered her.

“What does this matter?” Vadim asked with a hearty laugh. “As long as it is red, white or blue, the customer will buy, tovarisch. Along with nectar of the gods!”

Murphy chuckled and scanned the forming crowd, watching the people pour in. She spotted MacCready and Haylen on the roof of the water tower, MacCready pointing at various attendees while Haylen nodded enthusiastically. Preston and the other Minutemen had claimed a picnic table over by the edge of the mutfruit orchard, where they were laughing and sharing a few bottles of Bobrov’s Best.

Piper and Travis eventually made their way over to set up the stage, Travis toting an amplifier and one of his best microphones, while Piper opted for her beloved megaphone. They began circulating stacks of paper and bundles of pencils throughout the gathering audience, and the children of Diamond City ran among the benches and chairs collecting the questions that were jotted down. Murphy declined to fill out a sheet of paper, deciding instead to let the regular residents and other Commonwealth leaders steer the direction of the debate.

And the leaders were there, alright. Hancock and Fahrenheit were indeed present, leaning against the chain link fence near the left side of the stage, chatting up Eustace Hawthorne and Malcolm Latimer. Hancock caught sight of Murphy and tipped his tricorn hat to her with a wicked smile. Murphy blushed and moved as soon as he went back to his conversation, settling in some standing room back by the water tower.

Kessler was standing with a group of caravan hands over by the Minutemen picnic table, her face hard and her arms crossed. Gwen McNamara, overseer of Vault 81, had taken a seat on the end of a rear bench, flanked by a Vault 81 security guard on either side and two more behind her. Most surprising was Zeke of the Atom Cats, with Roxy on one arm and Rowdy on the other, talking with Sheffield about the right paint mixes to use on power armor.

More familiar faces filed in- residents from nearby settlements, from Goodneighbor, Bunker Hill, even a couple of shifty-looking Gunners. Murphy’s hand went to the plasma pistol on her hip instinctively, but the pair settled down between Hancock and some Diamond City security guards and she relaxed.

“Attention, everyone, we’re going to get started here,” Piper said, tapping the microphone Travis had set up on the stage. “Can everyone hear me okay?”

The crowd gave a few shouts of excitement and agreeable mumbles.

“Great,” Piper said with a wide grin. “Please welcome our interim mayor, Geneva, to kick off the first Diamond City mayoral debate of 2288.”

There was scattered applause, and Geneva made her way up to the stage, her chin held high and her slacks freshly pressed.

“Thank you,” she said primly, wrapping her long-nailed fingers around the microphone stand. “Now, the mayor’s office has received three applications from qualified candidates since opening the race in August. These candidates are as follows: Ann Codman, member of our City Council and owner of Choice Chops.”

Ann made her way up to the stage, smiling and waving as she went. A handful of Diamond City residents clapped in response, and her husband, Clarence, gave a loud whistle. Murphy rolled her eyes.

“Nelson Latimer, son of longtime resident and City Council member Malcolm Latimer,” Geneva continued.

Nelson stood up from the seat he had taken next to his father, straightened his tie and made his way to the stage as well.

“And Diamond City’s own private detective and one of our newest City Council members, Nick Valentine.”

About half the crowd erupted in cheers, and Valentine moved up through the mass of people, smiling politely as he shook hands and accepted pats on the back along the way.

“Yeah, yeah, quiet down,” Piper said, aiming her megaphone at the Bobrov brothers’ patrons. “The sooner we can get started, the sooner you can all get completely plastered.”

Geneva wrinkled her nose in distaste. “By now we should have received all of the questions for the candidates, which our very own Travis Miles will be reading,” she said, gesturing at the DJ. “We will alternate between candidates for who answers first, and each candidate will be given a chance to respond to the question and their fellow candidates’ responses.”

“Get on with it, sister!” Hancock called, eliciting some laughter from the crowd. Geneva glared at him and stomped off the stage in a huff.

“With all due respect, Hancock, shut your trap,” Piper said, taking back the microphone. “Not every town in the Commonwealth picks its mayor based on the number of people they’ve stabbed.”

That drew a few laughs, and Hancock took a bow. Piper rifled through the stack of questions and selected one, which she handed to Travis.

“We’ll start with Nick Valentine,” Travis said, “Nick, this question is from our head of security, Danny Sullivan…. He asks, what is your plan to address the shortage of security guards the city is currently facing?”

Piper and Travis stepped aside, and Valentine strode up to the microphone, tugging on the lapels of his trench coat.

“Great question,” the detective said, scanning the crowd with his golden eyes. “Danny’s right. Diamond City is a big place, and trying to keep all of its walls, entrances and residents safe is a task that takes a lot of time, and a lot of men. And women.”

He took a deep breath, and for an instant, his eyes found Murphy’s. She smiled and gave a slight nod, and Valentine visibly relaxed.

“But I think Diamond City has already begun taking steps in the right direction,” he went on. “We recently began a partnership with the Commonwealth Minutemen, which I believe has significantly strengthened our security force. Now, at first glance, it might not seem like something we want to rely on forever, but having the Minutemen in Diamond City has all the makings of a long-term relationship. We want to be able to live here safely, the Minutemen want to ensure we live here safely, and the safer we are, the more folks there are who want to live here and do business here.”

“Now, it was a little before I set up shop here,” he said with a smile, “But the Minutemen first gained their widespread recognition defending this city from super mutants in 2180. I’m not saying I want another horde of super mutants to attack the city, but I sure as heck want the Minutemen with us if they do.”

Preston and the Minutemen erupted in cheers. Murphy whooped and clapped as hard as she could, looking around to see the reaction from other Commonwealth leaders. Hancock and Fahrenheit were nodding in thought, Kessler sniffed and re-crossed her arms, and Gwen leaned over to whisper something in the ear of one of her security guards. Zeke was still engrossed in his conversation with Sheffield.

“Well, that’s good news for us,” a familiar voice said next to her. Murphy glanced over to see a bald Diamond City security guard, clad in the usual umpire padding and baseball uniform, with the addition of a pair of sunglasses.

“Deacon,” she said suspiciously.

“Sshh,” he said with a sideways smile. “Let’s see what Ann pulls out of her ass, first.”

Ann did, indeed, knock Nelson out of the way in her haste to take the microphone from Valentine.

“My opponent offers a solution that looks good from the outset, but comes with a price for the people of Diamond City that, frankly, I’m not willing to pay,” she said, wagging her finger in the air like a scolding school teacher. “Yes, the Commonwealth owes the Minutemen a great deal for their role in the destruction of our greatest enemy, but the policies they have adopted since the Institute’s demise- particularly the ones regarding synths- go against everything Diamond City stands for. Detective Valentine might say we’ll be safer with the Minutemen patrolling our streets and guarding our walls, but how safe would you feel if those same Minutemen guards were Institute creations and could turn on us at any second?”

“Yes!” Myrna called from her seat in the crowd, and a few heads were nodding along with Ann’s words.

“Diamond City has had guard shortages before, and Diamond City has always been able to solve them the old-fashioned way,” Ann went on. “Through recruitment, pay raises and benefits fit for the most noble among us.”

A few of the security guards cheered at that, and Ann smugly handed off the microphone to Nelson. Murphy shook her head.

“She was singing a different song in that City Council meeting I went to after Mayor McDonough died,” she said. “How is she going to authorize pay raises for guards if she’s also whining about raising taxes?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Deacon said with a grin. “No one knows the promises are empty until after she’s elected.”

“I hope Nick calls her out on it,” Murphy grumbled, turning away from the debate. “Deacon, why are you here?”

“We got your message, Death Bunny,” Deacon replied. “That ‘second location’ stuff? A-plus work, Charmer. Glory did a jig and everything. But, officially speaking, I’m not supposed to be here.”

“So you’re here about the lead,” Murphy murmured. “Took you long enough.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Deacon said, glancing around conspiratorially. “Keep your voice down. Diamond City isn’t exactly-”

He stopped mid-sentence and peered at the benches in front of the stage. His eyes widened and the grin slid off his face. “We need to go. Right now.”

“Deacon, I kind of want to-”

“Right. Now.” He put an arm around her and spun her around, steering them toward the back of the crowd. His way was blocked by a group of settlers and guards, some of whom took notice of his hand digging into her shoulder.

“Hey mate, she didn’t do nothing wrong,” one of the settlers said, crossing her arms and blocking their way.

“Official security business, let us through,” Deacon said, puffing his chest up.

“This guy bothering you, General?” a security guard asked.

“You look kind of familiar,” one of the other guards said, squinting at Deacon. “Have I seen you around here before?”

“Man, we work together,” Deacon replied, panic rising in his voice. “Just let us through, okay?”

“Oh yeah? What’s my name, then?”

“It’s okay,” Murphy said. “Guys, I’m fine.”

“You sure? ‘Cause you just say the word and we’ll-”

A gunshot rang out behind them from within the crowd, and the security guard’s head exploded in a mess of blood and brain matter. The hum of an energy weapon filled the following breath of silence, and Murphy turned her head just in time to see a woman in a leather traveling coat and green hood fire a blast of blue energy straight at her.

There was no time to react, no time to move, and Murphy saw death rush up in a spark of light before a figure pushed her over and snuffed it out. Deacon fell beside her, energy still crackling over the hole in his chest.

The crowd erupted around them, screams, shrieks, gunshots, but the world slowed for Murphy. She threw an arm over Deacon, shielding him from the chaos, willing time to reverse, reality to unmake itself. Deacon’s breaths came shallow, fast, and she pressed a hand down over his chest but the blood, the blood…

“I uh… I need a little…” he gasped, and she could barely hear him, just barely…

“Deacon,” she whispered, reaching to her side, but she’d left her pack, she’d left it, “Deacon, stay with me, stay with me please…

“Murphy, the… the church…”

“Deacon, goddammit, don’t you fucking dare…”

“Ahh… hell…”

“Murphy!”

Someone else was calling her.

“Murphy!”

Deacon wasn’t breathing.

“Murphy!”

Deacon wasn’t breathing. Wasn’t breathing. Wasn’t. Wasn’t. Wasn’t.

Chapter Text

It took all three of them, Preston, MacCready and Hancock, to pull her off of Deacon’s still body and drag her away from the scene. Murphy fought them the whole way, screaming in anguish, clawing at the air that dared to fill her lungs instead of his. As soon as they had gotten her back to Home Plate, she collapsed in the middle of her living room, sobbing into her bloodstained hands.

“Christ,” Hancock said, rubbing his forehead.

“General,” Preston said, putting a hand out to touch her shoulder. Murphy shrugged it off violently.

“My fault,” she breathed between her fingers.

MacCready sank down to the floor next to her and put a hand out to touch hers, but hesitated.

“She’s dead,” he said quietly.

“She was a Courser,” Preston said gravely. “Institute pistol and tech, uniform underneath her traveling clothes.”

“Rogue holding a grudge?” Hancock asked.

Murphy shook her head. Preston grimaced, and MacCready stared at the wall.

“Okay, I’m missing something here,” Hancock said, crossing his arms and leaning in the door frame. “Spill it.”

The silence was broken by the door opening, and Scribe Haylen barged in past Hancock’s lanky form. She took one look at the scene and shook her head.

“Out,” she demanded, pointing at the door.

The three men looked at each other but didn’t question her. Preston and Hancock shuffled toward the exit, and MacCready made an attempt to stand up, but Haylen stopped him.

“Not you,” she said. “I might need you to help me find some things.”

“Brotherhood sure likes bossing folks around,” Hancock grumbled on his way out. Haylen waited until the door latched shut behind him before taking a seat, cross-legged, in front of Murphy.

“You don’t have to talk, Paladin, you can just nod or shake your head,” she said gently. “Okay?”

Murphy nodded and tried to wipe some tears away, but succeeded only in spreading some blood onto her face. She cried helplessly, looking at her hands.

“Can you get me a rag and some water?” Haylen asked. MacCready jumped up and found a dish towel, a bowl and a can of water, which Haylen used to dab the blood off of Murphy’s hands and cheeks.

“It’s my fault,” Murphy said hoarsely, when Haylen had rinsed the rag and MacCready had thrown the water out. “She was after me. She’s the reason Deacon’s…”

“Who was he?” Haylen asked, her face full of sympathy.

“I…” Murphy bowed her head. “I don’t know. Fuck, I don’t… I don’t even know if I knew his real name.”

MacCready bit his lip and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s a little complicated, Haylen. Deacon was…”

He trailed off, and Haylen looked between the two of them.

“That’s okay,” she said. “You don’t have to tell me. I just came to give you guys an update on… everything.”

Murphy sniffed and wiped her face on her sleeve. “What… what’s happening? What… happened?”

MacCready took in a deep breath and let it out. “After… after the Courser started shooting, everyone who had a weapon pulled one out and tried to get a clean shot at her. She tried to relay away, but some people tackled her, and it was over. They put her body in the Mega Surgery Center, I think. With the others.”

Haylen nodded. “Your friend’s, too. But Murphy, it’s all over town now. Everyone knows she was a synth. They’re terrified. The guards are on high alert. And…”

She glanced up at MacCready. “The other Scribe that was here on behalf of the Brotherhood, he… he sent word back to the Prydwen.”

Murphy’s heart stopped for an instant.

“How long?” she asked, nearly a whisper.

Haylen shook her head. “I don’t know. Hours, if we’re lucky.”

“Hours before what?” MacCready asked.

“If the Brotherhood knows the Institute has resurfaced, they’re coming for me,” Murphy said, gulping back hiccups. “They’ll want to know what the Minutemen know. What I know. Why there’s a… a Railroad agent among the dead. Why a Courser tried to kill me.”

Haylen nodded. “What do we do, Paladin?”

Murphy sniffed and rocked, back and forth, staring at the wooden floor. “I need to see the bodies,” she said finally.

Haylen and MacCready glanced at each other.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, boss?” MacCready asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Murphy said. “If the Brotherhood is coming, they’re coming for me and the Courser and whatever else they think could be useful in finding the Institute. I’m going to the Mega Surgery Center, and you two are coming with me.”

She stood and checked both of her plasma pistols were loaded, before grabbing her pack and a handful of other necessities from around the base while MacCready and Haylen waited. She was stuffing a handful of bobby pins in her jeans pockets when she realized there was blood on her tank top and plaid button-up. Deacon’s blood.

Fighting back more tears, Murphy climbed the stairs to the second level of her base and rifled through her dresser. She shucked off the bloodied shirts and pulled on a white t-shirt, and was about to close the drawer when she caught sight of a red garment poking through the pile of fabrics.

Murphy pulled it out and stared at it. It was a varsity jacket, heavy and crisp with a large letter “R” embroidered on it. She felt the lining, and realized it was one of the armored pieces of clothing Deacon had pressed on her when she had still been working as a heavy for the Railroad.

Some extra oomph, he called it.

She held the fabric up to her face and took a deep breath, and for a brief moment, she imagined she could smell those campfires they had shared in the ruins, the wet stones of the catacombs below the church, sulfur from Tinker Tom’s latest experiment…

But the memory of the scents faded, and the jacket was nothing more than a musty piece of clothing she had shoved in a drawer and forgotten. She pulled it on and made her way back downstairs.

“Ready?” Haylen asked.

Murphy nodded. “Ready.”

 


 

True to Murphy’s prediction, the Brotherhood of Steel landed three vertibirds outside Diamond City within hours of the attack. A group of Scribes and Knights in power armor made their way down from the main gate to the field, where Murphy was waiting for them in her own repaired suit.

“Paladin Murphy?” one of the Knights asked when they reached her.

“Affirmative,” she replied, her voice flat through the helmet speaker.

“We received a report of Institute activity at a civilian gathering,” the Knight said. “We’ve come to collect evidence of the attack and transport it to the Prydwen for analysis.”

Murphy pointed them toward the surgery. “The Courser’s remains are below, with the bodies of the victims,” she said. “Scribe Haylen of Recon Squad Gladius is overseeing the Courser’s transportation, but I would advise against removal of the victims.”

“Thank you, Paladin, but we have orders to recover all of the dead for examination,” the Knight replied. “You have also been ordered to accompany us and make a full report of the incident.”

Murphy nodded, and the Scribes disappeared through the surgery’s trapdoor. They emerged not long after, toting body bags between them while Haylen brought up the rear, carrying the Courser’s personal effects. She gave Murphy a slight nod, and Murphy let out a breath she had been holding.

 


 

She had pounded on the back door to Arturo Rodriguez’s house until the shopkeeper had answered, leveling a hunting rifle in her face.

“Murphy,” he said in surprise. His daughter, Nina, peeked around him, wide-eyed.

“Do you have a Geiger counter?” she asked breathlessly.

“Murphy-”

“Do. You have. A Geiger counter.”

He sighed and lowered his pistol. “Mine is in the shop.”

“It’s Deacon.”

“I know.”

“Arturo, we need-”

“Murphy,” he said, shushing her with a suspicious look around the alley. “I know. It’s handled. Okay?”

“What do you mean, it’s handled?” she demanded, but Arturo shut the door in her face. She pounded on it again, but the door did not reopen.

Muttering curses, Murphy rejoined Haylen and MacCready by the Mega Surgery Center, where they had been keeping a lookout after bribing Doctor Sun to lock himself in his home for the rest of the day.

“No help there,” she grumbled. “Come on, we need to get him out of here before the Brotherhood arrives. If there's one thing Deacon didn't deserve, it's getting dissected by Neriah.”

MacCready nodded and held the trapdoor open. Haylen and Murphy descended, and Murphy turned the light of her Pip-Boy on to see in the dark cellar.

Three bodies covered in sheets lay on the floor, and Haylen pulled the coverings back to look at each of them. A look of confusion spread over her face.

“He’s not here,” she said.

“What?”

“At least I don’t think so,” Haylen replied. “You’d better come see.”

Murphy moved over to her side. Haylen was right: Deacon’s body wasn’t among those on the floor. Against her better judgment, Murphy’s heart leapt.

“You don’t think…” she trailed off, afraid to breathe life into the hope.

“Boss,” MacCready hissed from up top. “Guards.”

Haylen reached a hand out to take Murphy’s. “No,” she said sadly. “But someone else didn’t want the Brotherhood to get their hands on him.”

Murphy nodded, tears in her eyes, and the two women made their way back up into the afternoon sunlight.

The Diamond City guards muttered as they passed the three in the street, but said nothing as they made their way to the Valentine Detective Agency. Murphy had barely knocked when the door flew open and they were pulled inside.

“Oh, Blue!” Piper cried, wrapping Murphy in a rib-crushing embrace. “I’m so sorry. I can’t believe…”

Murphy returned the hug, but shook the reporter off to survey the room. Piper’s little sister, Nat, was sitting on Nick Valentine’s desk, swinging her legs in the air and staring at the newcomers. Valentine was in his chair smoking a cigarette, his hat and trench coat hung haphazardly on a nearby coat rack, and Hancock had taken over Ellie’s usual seat and put his boots up on her desk. Fahrenheit was lurking in the corner, eyeing Haylen suspiciously, and Preston was awkwardly holding Ellie, who had silent tears streaming down her face.

“Well, well, the gang’s all here,” Hancock said, removing his boots from the desk and straightening his hat. “Long time, no see, sunshine.”

Murphy shook her head. “We can catch up later, Hancock. I trust everyone here is up to speed on the situation with the Institute.”

Heads around the room nodded.

“Good,” Murphy went on. “Because we’re about to be paid a visit by the Brotherhood, and there are a lot of things that need to happen before they get here.”

“Like what?” Preston asked.

“First of all, you need to get out of town,” Murphy replied. “I think I can spare the Minutemen any blame the Brotherhood might try to pin on us about Institute intel and Railroad involvement, but not if you’re here. The Minutemen need you. Take MacCready and go back to the Castle.”

“General,” Preston protested. “I can’t just let you-”

“Go,” Murphy ordered. “Now, before they land a vertibird in the middle of town and try to stuff you on it, too.”

“Boss,” MacCready said, shaking his head. “I’m not leaving you alone here. You don’t know what those Brotherhood clowns will do to you.”

“I won’t be alone,” Murphy replied. “Scribe Haylen will be coming with me.”

Haylen nodded. “The other Scribe knows I’m here. I can’t leave, it’d look suspicious. It’s my job to monitor situations like this one.”

“No,” MacCready said angrily. “What if they throw you in a cell? Put you against a wall for committing treason? I’m not leaving you. Either of you.”

“Ah, suck it up, MacCready,” Hancock said with a smile. “She’s made up her mind. No use fighting it.”

Murphy moved across the room to the mercenary and put her hands on his shoulders. “Bobby,” she said, meeting his eyes. “Please. I won’t let anything happen to Haylen, and I won’t let anything happen to me.”

He stared back at her, and the fear in his eyes nearly broke her heart. He pulled her into a hug, and she held him until she felt his thin frame loosen with resignation.

“Come on, Preston,” he muttered, and he pressed a kiss to Haylen’s forehead before stalking out the door, the Minutemen colonel in his wake.

Murphy waited until the door closed before turning back to Hancock. “You and Fahrenheit might want to clear out before the Brotherhood gets here, too,” she suggested.

“What, think I can’t kick cans with the best of them?” Hancock replied.

“You’ve got a town to check for synths,” she said. “And I’d like to know if Doctor Amari knows where the Railroad is hiding.”

“She’s long gone,” Fahrenheit said sullenly in the corner. “Left Irma brokenhearted and all.”

“Real shame,” Hancock said, shaking his head.

“Fuck,” Murphy said. “Either way, I’d hate to see either of you get mowed down by a minigun. Even the Diamond City guards are jumpy now. Hancock, I know you don’t owe me anything, but I’d owe you one if you could find out something, anything, about where Amari might have gone.”

“After the last evening we shared, I’ll be indebted to you for a while, sunshine,” Hancock said with a wink. He stood leisurely, stretched, and stalked out the door with Fahrenheit in tow.

Valentine shook his head and put out his cigarette in the ashtray on his desk. “I should get up to the mayor’s office after the Brotherhood clear out,” he said. “Officially withdraw.”

“W-what?” Ellie sniffled.

Piper nodded. “Might be nothing for it, now. No one’s going to vote for a synth after one of them orchestrated a massacre in the middle of town. Again.”

“Nick, I can’t tell you what or what not to do, but that might be best,” Murphy said, taking the seat Hancock had just vacated. “I care too much about you to see this town cast you out because of something… something I caused.”

“You can’t be serious,” Valentine replied, flicking his golden eyes up to meet hers. “Something you caused?”

“The Courser was after me,” Murphy said softly. “And now people are dead.”

Valentine looked as if he wanted to slap some sense into her and give her a lecture on blame versus guilt, but instead he sighed and sank deeper into his chair. “Not a healthy pattern of thinking, kid,” he muttered.

Murphy wasn’t hearing it. Not today. “I’ll worry about my pattern of thinking when there’s no one killing my friends in attempts to kill me,” she said, giving him a hard look. “Piper, take Nat home. Write whatever you’re going to write. Just… be kind. If you can.”

Piper nodded and swallowed whatever questions she might have had. “Come on, Nat,” she said, and ushered her little sister out the door.

Murphy gave Haylen a nod, and the Scribe locked the door behind them. Murphy filled Valentine and Ellie in on the happenings at Sandy Coves Convalescent Home: The robot kidnappings, the synth-snatching woman, the different-colored relays and the note she had left for the unresponsive Railroad. The weariness fell away from Valentine’s face as she went along, and by the time she had finished, she could see the puzzle pieces swirling around in his mechanical brain.

“An Institute schism, eh?” he said, rubbing his chin.

Murphy nodded. “I’m sorry about… everything. Running for mayor was one of the nicest things you ever did for Diamond City. But I don’t need a mayor right now. I need a detective.”

Valentine fixed her in his gaze, and slowly, he nodded. “I’ll take the case,” he said, the ghost of a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.

Ellie sank against the wall and covered her face in her hands. “How is Diamond City going to recover from this? The Commonwealth?” she asked, her voice muffled. “It’s like the Broken Mask incident all over again.”

“Well, we’ve got one thing Diamond City didn’t have back then,” Valentine said, rising from his chair and donning his coat and hat once again.

“What’s that?” Haylen asked.

“Me, doll,” he said with a wink.

Murphy stood up from Ellie’s chair. “Where will you start?” she asked.

“Goodneighbor,” Valentine replied, stowing a pack of cigarettes in his coat pocket. “You’re right. Might be a trail left from when Amari cleared out. I’ll see if I can’t pick it up.”

Murphy nodded. “Ellie, can you keep us connected on your agency frequency? I can tune in on my Pip-Boy, provided the Brotherhood doesn’t wrestle it away from me.”

Ellie nodded. “Just be safe,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Valentine wrapped the secretary in a brief embrace before heading for the door. Murphy and Haylen brought up the rear, and the two of them made sure he got safely to the gate before turning back toward the marketplace, and an uncertain Brotherhood welcome.

 


 

Haylen stuck close to Murphy’s side for the flight, and when the two of them stepped off the vertibird onto the flight deck of the Prydwen, they found themselves immediately boxed in by four Knights. They were marched into the command deck, where Murphy caught a brief glimpse of Elder Maxson in conversation with Lancer-Captain Kells, Proctor Quinlan, Senior Scribe Neriah and Knight-Captain Cade before they were hustled up to the main deck.

The Knights escorted the two of them to the power armor bay, where they directed Murphy to leave her power armor in a vacant bay. She obliged, but took her pack from the suit’s storage container and made sure all four of the Knights got a good look at Alpha and Omega on her hips before following them back through the mess hall to the quarters that had once belonged to Paladin Danse.

The Knights came to a halt. One opened the door and pointed inside. “The Scribe will wait here,” he said.

Haylen looked to Murphy for approval. She gave her a reassuring nod, and Haylen tiptoed inside. The Knight shut the door behind her and took up a sentry position next to it.

The other Knights ushered Murphy into Maxson’s quarters. She was not surprised to hear a lock click shut behind her.

Murphy prowled the length of the room for a bit, disappointed in the lack of files and folders for her to go through while she waited. It seemed Maxson had cleared his room of anything she might turn into an advantage. Gone were the ammunition cases, the duffel bags of weapons. There was a lock on the metal box at the foot of his bed, something she was sure hadn’t been there the last time she was in this room. Out of curiosity, she tried his terminal, but even that was password-protected.

She settled down to wait, taking a seat on the table in the middle of the room facing the door. She’d be damned if she was going to have to stand up to meet his judgmental eyes when he came in.

The sound of the lock mechanism sliding back came after some time had passed, and Maxson entered the room alone. He stopped as soon as he saw her sitting on his table, and slowly shut the door behind him. It clicked shut softly, but his knuckles were white where he gripped the door handle.

Murphy crossed her arms, but said nothing. Maxson stared at her angrily for a few seconds before crossing the room to her.

“Which is it today?” he asked.

“I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean,” Murphy replied.

“General, Paladin, known Railroad associate,” he growled. “Which is it?”

“I expect you’ll make your judgment of me no matter which title I adopt,” Murphy said quietly. She glared back at him, her jaw set and her eyes stormy.

There was a veritable hurricane staring back at her, and the Brotherhood leader turned away and began to pace. “Or perhaps you’d prefer traitor. The term was certainly quick to make its way into Lancer-Captain Kells’ vocabulary regarding your situation.”

“And what do you think?” Murphy asked, staring angrily at the door, avoiding those eyes.

“Considering the facts, I’m inclined to agree with him,” Maxson said sharply. “Insubordination, misconduct, desertion… all of the accusations pale next to what this attack suggests. What it suggests you have been concealing from us.”

He stopped pacing and looked up at her. “From me.”

“And what does it suggest?” Murphy asked stubbornly. “Make your case, Elder.”

“Very well, Paladin,” Maxson said, resuming his pacing. “According to preliminary reports, an Institute Courser infiltrated the crowd at a civilian election event just after noon today and made an attempt on your life, killing three individuals before being overwhelmed by the crowd. One of the dead is a known Railroad agent, whom eyewitnesses say laid down his life to save yours before succumbing to his injuries, and whom you openly wept over before being removed from the scene of the attack. The body of this Railroad agent, however, is missing, and not a single person questioned about the incident can say where it has disappeared to.”

His pace increased, and his battlecoat began swishing violently from the turns he was taking in his track around the table. “But this pales in comparison to the discovery of the Courser, who appears to have premeditated the attack and carefully planned her assassination of you, based on evidence discovered on her remains. Most interestingly, the Courser appears to have been in possession of a deep range transmitter, which witnesses say she attempted to use to flee the scene.”

Maxson came to a halt in front of Murphy and locked eyes with her. “This technology suggests the existence of a molecular relay, something that cannot possibly exist if the Institute was completely destroyed months ago. An existence that I am inclined to think you were aware of, given your continued association with a misguided group of synth-harboring spies.”

“Sounds like the long and short of it,” Murphy replied.

“How long have you known?”

Murphy narrowed her eyes. “Before I answer that, I want some assurances from you.”

“You are not in any position to bargain, Paladin,” Maxson snarled.

Murphy pushed herself off the table and drew herself up to her full height. “Maybe not, but you’re going to listen to me all the same,” she snapped. “You owe me that, at the very least.”

She could feel the heat coming off of him again, he was so close to her, but the inferno in her own chest matched it, overwhelmed it. She plunged her fist into the fire within her soul, felt the anger, the grief, the loss, the desire to burn another crater in the earth if it meant she could undo the events of the day.

“Yes, Arthur, I knew the Institute survived in some fashion,” she said, the words heavy on her lips. “I’ve known for some time now. But whatever punishment that garners, whatever demotion, prison, bullet that earns me, I’ll take it. God knows I’ve earned it, a thousand times over, a million. But for the love of all creation, don’t take this out on anyone else. The people I told, anyone else I trusted, they held that secret because I asked them to, not because they wanted to keep you in the dark. I’ll tell you everything I know, but I’m the only one responsible for this.”

There were tears in her eyes, but she left her hands at her sides, her fingers digging into her palms as she searched Maxson’s face for a reaction. To his credit, he didn’t recoil at the sight of her, and Murphy found herself wondering what she looked like in that moment.

And then he did the unthinkable. He took a step toward her.

Murphy tried to back up, but the table blocked her retreat. She felt the edge dig into the back of her upper thigh, and she looked up into his blue eyes in alarm.

“Arthur,” she said anxiously.

He seemed to realize his error and immediately backed away. “I… my apologies,” he said quietly.

“Today’s not the day to crowd me,” Murphy murmured, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Please,” Maxson said, gesturing at the red couch along the wall. Murphy nodded and crossed the room to sink into the worn cushions.

Maxson joined her hesitantly, and Murphy buried her face in her hands, elbows resting heavily on her knees. She let the tears flow again, streaming through her fingers, while Maxson shrugged off his battlecoat and hung it over a nearby chair.

“I’m not going to apologize,” she said finally, wiping the tears off onto her varsity jacket’s sleeves. “From your point of view, it was super shitty of me to hide everything, but from mine, I was just trying to protect everyone.”

“Murphy, concealing such a thing from the Brotherhood was beyond foolish,” Maxson said, his voice a low rumble. “If you had been honest from the beginning, I could have…”

“Could have what?” Murphy asked indignantly. “Locked me in my room? Sent Liberty Prime on a search and destroy mission?”

“Murphy,” Maxson said firmly. “I cannot possibly impress upon you how serious this transgression is. It calls into question every decision you’ve made, every soldier you command, every person you associate with. Our laws are clear.”

“I said I would take the blame,” Murphy said, turning her head to look at him. “I meant it. Every piece of it.”

“Every piece of blame piled on your back would result in your exile or death,” Maxson said, shaking his head. “Punishments the Brotherhood cannot ignore, but at the same time, cannot endorse with the present state of things. Other disciplinary actions will have to suffice. It seems we have need of you.”

“Saved by my indispensability,” Murphy said sullenly.

“For now,” Maxson replied.

They fell silent. Murphy wiped her face and hands as clean as she could.

“What were you trying to do?” she asked, gesturing at the table.

Maxson put his palm face-up, the same way he had that night at the chapel when she’d told him about Nate. “You looked as if you might burst into flames,” he said quietly.

Murphy put her hand in his. “Did I?”

He nodded, intertwining his fingers in hers. The feel of his hand against hers anchored her, gave her a sensation to focus on. She closed her eyes and collected her thoughts, pulling herself back from the brink of pain and despair.

“You could’ve died,” Maxson said.

“If I had, what would you have done?”

He didn’t answer, but his thumb began to rub against her index finger, tracing letters from a language she had forgotten into her skin.

Chapter Text

Disciplinary actions began as soon as Murphy had stood with Scribe Haylen and recounted the evidence they had gathered over the past few months of the Institute’s survival- first for Elder Maxson, then again for Proctor Quinlan to transcribe, and once more for the Brotherhood officers. Haylen shook uncontrollably during the review from the leadership, so much so that Murphy took her hand and laced their fingers together, squeezing every time she felt the Scribe begin to falter in her words.

Maxson and Quinlan had listened and asked for clarification on a few details, but for the most part left the two women to tell their story freely. The briefing for the officers was not as forgiving.

“Without a doubt, Recon Squad Gladius has been a complete and utter disaster,” Lancer-Captain Kells said fiercely after Haylen described her continued monitoring of energy readings while stationed at the Castle. “From the moment the squad entered the Commonwealth, it’s given the Brotherhood nothing but incompetence, betrayal and outright treason. At what point, Scribe, did you stop and think that maybe you ought to question the path your superior officer was taking you down? Or did that thought even dare to cross your mind?”

Haylen gulped. “Lancer-Captain, I…”

“No, Haylen, let me,” Murphy said, squeezing her hand. “Lancer-Captain, after everything this woman has done in the name of the Brotherhood of Steel, the question of why she didn’t turn on her Paladins- either of them- is irrelevant. On the first day I set foot on this ship, the Elder was giving a speech about how impressed he was that the Brotherhood had flown north without questioning why they were doing so. And now you ask her why she didn’t question her orders? What kind of mixed message is that?”

“Hold your tongue, Paladin,” Kells bellowed. “When the orders of a superior officer are obviously against the interests of the Brotherhood itself, it is the duty of the lower ranks to report it to another officer. Scribe Haylen, in failing to do so, has shamed the very Order of the Quill.”

Proctor Quinlan sighed and hung his head over the clipboard he was filling with quotes and figures. “I have to say, I agree with Lancer-Captain Kells,” he said. “The reports on your activities from Knight Rhys were very clear. Scribe Haylen, I cannot convey the depth of my disappointment in you.”

“Rhys?” Haylen asked weakly.

Elder Maxson nodded. “Knight Rhys was ordered to report back to the Prydwen and give us a briefing on the recent activities of Recon Squad Gladius. He made it evident that he believes Scribe Haylen no longer holds the best interests of the Brotherhood at heart under Paladin Murphy’s supervision.”

“Fucking hell,” Murphy muttered. She squeezed Haylen’s hand again, and the Scribe responded with a surprisingly strong death grip.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself, Scribe?” Kells asked, glowering at the two of them.

Haylen took a deep breath, pulled her holotags out from her red sweater and tore them from her neck. They fell to the floor and clattered in the silence. Murphy and the officers stared at them in shock.

“I’ve given four years of my life to the Brotherhood,” Haylen said, her frame shaking and voice swelling with emotion. “Four years of following orders, hunting down pieces of tech, watching good men and women die, and I am tired. I am tired of trading my humanity away in order to serve some greater good, some idealistic and noble future that isn’t coming. I may not have followed the Brotherhood way when I decided to trust Paladin Murphy and stay silent, but she has never once made me do something I didn’t want to do, or didn’t agree with. She trusted me, she showed me that there are more ways than the Brotherhood knows to go about saving the people of the wasteland, and I won’t be lectured by… by… by a bunch of misguided autocrats about my decision to develop some moral fiber!”

Murphy bit her lower lip and studied the faces of the leadership. Kells was livid, Quinlan looked embarrassed, and Proctor Teagan and Paladin Brandis were shaking their heads disapprovingly. Proctor Ingram had an expression that suggested she had just been struck in the face, and Maxson… Maxson wore an interesting mix of emotions. Anger. Regret. And… sympathy?

“Get her out of my sight,” Kells spat, and the Knights that were guarding the observation deck entrance stepped forward. Before Murphy could protest, Ingram raised a hand to halt their advance.

“I’ll handle this,” she said, stepping forward from the line of officers. “Scribe, follow me.”

Haylen gave Murphy’s hand one last squeeze, and the two women disappeared from the deck. Murphy was left alone, and she met each of the five men’s eyes before stooping down and picking up Haylen’s holotags.

“It would appear that the tolerance of one traitor inspires treason in others,” Kells said poisonously.

“You have no one to blame for her departure but yourselves,” Murphy replied quietly. She stepped forward and handed the holotags to Quinlan, who pocketed them wordlessly.

“The question of what to do with Paladin Murphy remains,” Teagan said, shifting from foot to foot uncomfortably. “It would appear she is still of use to the Brotherhood, though I’d personally rather see her in a cell than out in the field.”

“Elder, she needs to be made an example of,” Kells spat. “If we allow this sort of behavior to continue, there’s no telling what sort of damage her actions will cause.”

“In terms of where to move forward from here, there are still quite a few unknowns involved,” Quinlan said. “Like it or not, Paladin Murphy may possess unique knowledge that we do not when it comes to dealing with the Institute and the Railroad.”

He eyed her suspiciously. “Whether or not she can be trusted to dispense this information remains to be seen.”

“We know for a fact that she can’t be trusted,” Kells argued. “We shouldn’t even be discussing this. She needs to be imprisoned, tried, and sentenced for her treachery.”

“If I may, Elder,” Brandis said gravely. “Now is not the time for trials. Like it or not, the Institute has survived to live another day, and it has a head start in concealing itself and rebuilding its forces. We cannot afford to throw away any asset, however problematic, in our search for these survivors. In addition, Paladin Murphy sits at the head of a powerful Commonwealth force, one which we’ve spent time, resources and energy building a partnership and rapport with.”

Maxson nodded. “What course of action would you suggest, Paladin Brandis?”

“Imprisonment aboard the Prydwen, for the time being,” Brandis replied. “If I’m not mistaken, she has promised to cooperate, provided we don’t retaliate and terminate our agreements with the Minutemen. I’m willing to give her the benefit of the doubt about her honesty, and any lies she tries to feed us can easily be rooted out if we have her in custody.”

Murphy took in a deep breath, but said nothing. Maxson’s eyes flickered toward her, and she gave him a look of defiance.

Kells crossed his arms. “I would advise against this, Elder. Cooperative or not, her methods have made a mockery of everyone in this room, and we cannot afford to let this behavior stand.”

“No, Lancer-Captain, we cannot,” Maxson said, crossing his arms behind his back. “But neither can we ignore the immediate actions that are required of us. Paladin Brandis is right.”

“Then I request this woman be stripped of her rank,” Kells replied.

“Agreed,” Teagan said.

Maxson nodded. “You’ve been demoted to the rank of Aspirant, soldier. Dismissed.”

 


 

As Murphy and the Knights assigned to guard her made their way onto the main deck, they could hear shouting coming from the direction of the mess hall. Knight Rhys and Proctor Ingram appeared to be in the middle of a confrontation on the catwalk, and as soon as Rhys caught sight of Murphy coming up the ladder behind one of the Knights, he started toward her.

“What did you do?” he yelled, his face red with exertion. Ingram moved to grab his arm, but he dodged the motion and stalked forward.

“Hi, Rhys,” Murphy grumbled.

“Scribe Haylen wouldn’t just quit,” Rhys growled. “What did you say to her? Did you promise her something? You and that son-of-a-bitch mercenary she’s hanging on?”

“Back up,” one of the Knights guarding Murphy warned, tilting his laser rifle up defensively.

“What are you going to do, shoot me?” Rhys asked angrily. “Shoot her. She’s the traitor. She deserves it.”

“We’re under orders to see Aspirant Murphy detained safely,” the Knight replied.

Rhys’s face twisted into a look of morbid pleasure. “Aspirant? How far the mighty have fallen.”

“I’m still a fucking General,” Murphy snapped as a Knight pulled her back toward Danse’s old quarters.

“Not if you’re stuck on the Prydwen,” Rhys sneered.

“That’s enough, Knight,” Ingram shouted, grabbing Rhys’s shoulder and pulling him back from the scene. “Control yourself, or I’ll have you scrubbing rust off every piece of T-60b we have in storage.”

Rhys shook free and marched off toward the bunks, while the Knights searched Murphy and stripped her of her weapons, pack and Pip-Boy. When they were satisfied she had nothing dangerous left on her person, they shoved her into the quarters and locked the door behind her.

Murphy paced restlessly, rifling through the lockers and drawers of the room as she went. Like Maxson’s quarters, the room had been emptied of anything she could use to fight back or escape. There were a number of Brotherhood flight suits and boots in the lockers, a pad of paper and a pencil in the desk and sheets on the bed, but the tool cabinet, filing cabinet and ammunition containers were gone.

Eventually, she collapsed on the bed, staring at the ceiling until sleep overcame her.

 


 

Murphy awoke some time later to the sound of a knock at the door. She sat up in bed and drew her knees up to her chest.

“Come in,” she called. “I’d open the door, but… you know.”

The lock clicked open, and Maxson stepped into the room. He shut the door behind himself and leaned against it, his head bowed.

Murphy hugged her legs. She didn’t meet his eyes. “Haylen?” she asked quietly.

“Proctor Ingram saw her Brotherhood equipment confiscated and had a vertibird take her where she wished to go,” Maxson replied. “I’m told she chose to return to the fort.”

Murphy nodded and stared at her knees. Maxson moved slowly across the room, until he was standing next to the bed.

“Have they fed you?” he asked.

Murphy shook her head. “I’ve been asleep.”

He nodded. “Are you hungry?”

“A little.”

“If you would like, I could send one of the guards for food. The mess hall has closed for the night, but I am sure they can find something for you.”

Murphy looked up at him. He was studying her cautiously, as if he half-expected her to explode or shatter.

“What time is it?” she asked.

“Nearly midnight.”

She shook her head again. “I can wait for morning. Proctor Quinlan will probably wake me up early to ask me as many questions as he can about the Institute.”

Maxson nodded. “If you wish to rest, I can leave you in peace.”

He turned to leave, and something about the way he carried himself, something about the shape of his shoulders and the light shining off his smoky brown hair, made Murphy’s breath hitch in her throat.

“What if I asked you to stay?” she said, nearly a whisper.

Maxson paused. He sighed and half-turned to look over his shoulder, but wouldn’t meet her eyes.

“That would be unwise, Aspirant.”

He crossed the room to the door and shut the light off on his way out, leaving Murphy alone in the dark.

 


 

Quinlan did indeed question Murphy over the next few days, prodding her for every bit of information she could recall about the Institute. He pressed her for descriptions of their computer systems, the molecular relay, the Synth Retention Bureau, the scientists themselves. Murphy told him everything she could remember, but became rather skeptical about the relevance of the information as soon as he started asking her about what they served in their cafeteria.

Ingram questioned her as well, but in a much friendlier tone than Quinlan had. She seemed more sympathetic about Murphy’s incarceration, and brought her Potato Crisps to share during their talks. The two women ran over the details from the first time Murphy had managed to kill a Courser, the fight in Greenetech Genetics and the little chip Murphy had pried from his skull.

Murphy was fairly certain the Brotherhood was stumped about the chip, with how often Ingram returned to her looking for details on how the Railroad had gone about cracking the encryption. Murphy told her what she knew, as she had promised, but the truth of the matter was that she had no idea how Tinker Tom had gotten the little piece of hardware to talk. She doubted Tinker Tom could even explain it.

Ingram informed her during her third full day of imprisonment that the bodies of the two Diamond City victims had been autopsied and released back to their families. Senior Scribe Neriah was still processing the Courser, she added, and would likely have a report on the synth’s physiology within the week.

The idea of the Courser under Neriah’s knife stoked something ferocious in Murphy’s heart, and more than a few nights found her pondering the details of the attack. Why the Institute would choose to plant a Courser in the crowd to kill her and only her, when so many other wasteland leaders were present. Why they would choose to do it in a public space, rather than in some dark alley or among the ruins of Boston. What Deacon was trying to tell her with his last words. What she could have done, should have done to save him.

The church.

Murphy was convinced he had meant the Old North Church, the site of Railroad HQ. But from her last conversation with him at the Castle, she was just as certain the Railroad had sensed their sanctuary was in peril and had fled the premises. So what was there that Deacon had wanted her to see?

It wasn’t as if she could leave to investigate it herself. When she wasn’t reporting to some officer, Murphy was locked in her quarters, left to pace or draw on the notepad or sleep. Alone in the cot, her nightmares returned, pulling her from rest with figures in the fog, flames in the dark and Nate pointing, always pointing at the Elder in the distance.

Though he conducted his business in the room adjacent to hers, Maxson appeared to be avoiding Murphy at all costs. She never caught more than the hem of his battlecoat, the back of his head or the sound of his boots- incomplete bits and pieces of the man that left her feeling isolated and resentful of her lonely existence. The rumors Haylen had told her appeared to be true, however. When she awoke in terror from yet another horrific dream, she could hear him pacing in his quarters, his erratic cadence and the muffled music of Diamond City radio coming through their shared wall.

The Knights returned Murphy’s pack and Pip-Boy on the fourth day, and she nearly cried with happiness as she flipped through the radio stations, catching up on what she had missed. Late that night, she lay on her bed, rummaging through her bag and listening to Travis Miles’s news reports in between Bing Crosby and Roy Brown songs.

“Well, folks, as I’m sure you’ve all heard by now, Diamond City held a funeral this afternoon for its fallen citizens,” the DJ said. “The race for mayor, the ongoing investigation and the debate about city security came to a halt for residents to gather and remember the two victims of Saturday’s attack. Tears were shed, stories were told and candles were burned in memory of Cal Rooney, a devoted Diamond City security guard, and May Talbot, an up-and-coming caravan leader and mother of two. Rooney and Talbot were laid to rest in the city orchard, where their memory will be incorporated into the very lifeblood of Diamond City itself. A third victim was recorded in the attack, but nothing is known about the individual’s identity or final resting place.”

At the bottom of her bag, Murphy’s fingers found a crumpled piece of paper. She pulled it from the pack and smoothed it out, allowing each of the 38 names upon it to stand out like a flare in the dark.

“In other news, Detective Nick Valentine has disappeared again, leaving no word on whether or not he plans to continue his campaign to become mayor,” Travis went on. “Fellow candidate Ann Codman called for his withdrawal from the race again today, despite a strongly-worded opinion piece by Piper Wright in Publick Occurrences that decried Codman’s attempts to, quote, ‘overshadow the real possibility that the Institute is alive and well.’”

Murphy slid off the bed and grabbed the pencil from the desk. Beneath the 38th name on the list, she wrote three more. Cal Rooney. May Talbot. Deacon.

“Finally, there is also no word on where everyone’s favorite vault dweller has disappeared to. Last seen in the company of Brotherhood of Steel soldiers, General Murphy of the Commonwealth Minutemen has been silent regarding the attempt on her life and whether or not she plans to retaliate. Murphy, if you’re out there, we hope you’re alright, and we want you to know that we’re rooting for you. This next song is for you, vault dweller. I’m your host, Travis ‘Lonely’ Miles, and you’re listening to Diamond City Radio.”

Murphy sat back down on the bed, mouthing each of the names on the list, trying to commit them to memory. The soft guitar intro to “Moon River” began playing over the Pip-Boy speakers.

Halfway through the instrumental middle verse of the song, there was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Murphy said, unable to keep her voice from cracking.

Maxson eased into the room, latching the door softly behind him. He had left his battlecoat behind, and his black flight suit was tied at his waist in his usual dressed-down style, his holotags hanging over a black tank top. His hair was mussed, and as Murphy watched him he ran a hand through it nervously, tangling it between his fingers.

She set the list of names down and gave him a defensive glare. “Did you need something?”

“I… I came to give you this,” he said, holding up a folded piece of newsprint. She recognized it as the latest issue of Publick Occurrences.

Murphy stood and accepted the paper. “Recovering from Unpredictable Horror: How a City Heals,” she read out loud.

Maxson nodded. “Your reporter friend has a talent for writing, even if she struggles when it comes to remaining unbiased.”

He gestured at the Pip-Boy on the bed. “Though I’m sure you heard the highlights from the radio.”

“I did,” Murphy said, flipping through the pages and scanning the headlines. “How did you get this? I didn’t think Nat delivered this far out.”

The corner of Maxson’s mouth twitched in amusement. “A Knight acquired a copy for me after returning the victims’ remains to the city,” he replied. “She said the little girl charged her double the usual rate.”

“Sounds like Nat,” Murphy said with a smirk. She wandered over toward the desk chair, and Maxson followed her, examining the items strewn across her bed. He picked up the list she had abandoned and smoothed it out again, his face sobering in recognition.

“The Minutemen dead,” he said.

Murphy nodded.

His eyes went to the three names she had just added. “The two victims and the Railroad agent?”

“Deacon,” Murphy said, taking a seat in the desk chair and crossing her arms. “He was Deacon, to me.”

Maxson set the list down gently. “What are you keeping track of?”

“Everyone who’s dead because of me,” Murphy replied.

He raised his eyebrows at that. “This list…”

“Isn’t long enough?” Murphy said sharply. “I know.”

Maxson dropped his gaze. “I didn’t mean to offend.”

Murphy sighed. “I’m not. I’m… those are the people who have died because of, and since, the attack on the Institute. Everyone before… I told myself… it was all for Shaun. Everyone I killed, everyone who died because of my actions, I could explain away by saying I was doing it to get my son back. But not them. Not the people on that list. I can’t… can’t blame their deaths on anything but my own faults. All the ones who came before… there are too many to count. I don’t know all of their names, and I never will. But these ones, I’ll know.”

She gave him a sad smile. “I’m still working on how to atone for them.”

Maxson considered her forlorn face. “I told you once before that what happened with the Institute was not your fault. But I understand. After six years as Elder, I’m still trying to answer that question myself.”

Murphy lowered her eyes. “Your list is probably comparable to mine, then.”

He turned to stare at the varsity jacket she had hung over the door of the lockers. “443.”

“You keep count?” Murphy asked, her eyes widening in surprise.

Maxson nodded. “From Initiates to Star Paladins. As of the end of last month, 443 Brotherhood soldiers and personnel have died during my complete tenure and have been recorded in the Scrolls.”

He bowed his head. “Come morning, that number may have increased. The best answer I have for you is to do your utmost to see that it does not, and find the wisdom to know when the sacrifice is necessary.”

“I’m trying.”

Maxson smiled faintly. “I know. But you still have much to learn.”

“So do you,” Murphy replied.

He looked at her then, the pain of his losses mixed with something gentler in his eyes. “Yes. You’ve shown me that.”

“Imagine, thinking you could learn something from the way I stumble through this world,” Murphy said with a weak chuckle. “I would have thought you’d hate me by now. For all the trouble I’ve caused you and the Brotherhood.”

Maxson shook his head. “My feelings toward you could not be summarized so simply.”

There it was. As good of an opening as she would ever get. Murphy hardly dared to breathe. “Then how would you summarize them?”

Maxson’s expression hardened, and the hint of warmth in his eyes lessened. He turned, walked to the end of the bed, stopped abruptly and faced her again, his hands clasped behind his back.

“You used to be a lawyer,” he said.

“I did.”

“Then you tell me how I feel about you. Give me your summation.”

Murphy frowned. “I’m not a lawyer anymore, Arthur. And you can’t be both the accused and the judge.”

“Humor me,” he replied.

She sighed and stood up, keeping her arms crossed as she walked to face him at the foot of the bed.

“You’re… angry with me,” she said. “You’re frustrated with the paths I’ve taken, tired of my lack of commitment to your cause and my inability to adhere to your laws and customs. You’re especially irritated because operating in the Commonwealth means you have to go through me to make a decision, or risk angering the local populace, and for the time being our futures are knotted together because you yourself made me promise to accompany you when this ship leaves for the Capital Wasteland. And you’re furious that I concealed the things I did because you fear what it might mean for the Brotherhood, what dangers you might now face because of that decision.”

Maxson nodded. “A few oversimplifications, but more or less accurate. Go on.”

“At the same time, you’re struggling with that anger,” Murphy said, cocking her head to the side, studying his reaction to her words. “Because, despite my shortcomings as a Brotherhood soldier, I’ve more than compensated for them with my relationships with outside groups. I fled the Prydwen and built up a completely different brotherhood, and that force took down the Institute. My methods and message resonate with the people of the Commonwealth- and even some of your own soldiers- and that’s something you can’t ignore and can’t help admiring.”

He smiled at that. “This isn’t meant to be an opportunity to stroke your own ego.”

She shrugged. “Might as well take what I can get.”

“Proceed.”

Murphy took a deep breath. “But even more than that… you envy me that freedom. That’s something you’ve never had, never will have, as you are. At the end of the day, you’re the Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel, and I’m… just some wastelander.”

Maxson had dropped all pretenses of neutrality and was staring at her wide-eyed, as if he wasn’t sure whether to argue or flee. She stared him down. Even if they hadn’t given her back her plasma guns, she could still deliver a scathing remark or two at the very least.

“You’re not just some wastelander,” he said finally, his voice mildly strangled.

“Maybe not in name, but I am in my ability to choose my own fate.” Murphy gestured at the walls around them. “Present situation excluded, of course. But I think the thing that bothers you the most is that I gave you a taste of that freedom, and now you can’t help but want more of it.”

She took a tentative step toward him, but he didn’t move. “And I think that’s why you didn’t stay, that night that I asked you to. Why you waited four days before you came to see me again. Because you’re still wrestling with that feeling, and what giving in to that feeling means, and I’m a living, breathing reminder of what you’re missing out on, what you can’t help wanting.”

One more step and she could feel the fire within him, filling the space between them and bringing something in her chest, her stomach, her fingers out of hibernation. “That, and I think there might be another thing you want.”

“You do.”

“But that’s just speculation.”

“You forget yourself, Aspirant.”

“I’m trying very hard not to.”

Slowly, ever so slowly, Murphy reached across the divide. She curled her fingers familiarly around his, and when she felt no resistance, she brought his hand up between them and pressed a kiss to his knuckles.

Maxson closed his eyes and let out a shuddering sigh, before reopening them to look at her in wonder. “You knew.”

She smiled up at him. “You’re not very good at hiding it. How much did I get right?”

“Enough,” he breathed, and drew her quickly in to him, pressing a hand to the back of her neck and his forehead on hers. Murphy closed what distance was left, her hands on his shoulders, his neck, his waist. She traced patterns over his skin to match the nameless rhythms inside her ribs, and when he put his lips to hers she saw flames dancing inside her eyelids.

She pressed Maxson backward until he came up against the workbench cabinet. He lifted her and set her on its surface in one swift movement, his teeth gently grazing her neck before he tangled a hand in her hair and reclaimed her mouth. They sank into the kiss, spilling out the tensions they had been holding in, their secrets, their responsibilities, their fears, and when they pulled apart, Murphy saw an endless, swirling storm in his eyes.

“This is doomed,” she whispered. “I can’t give you what you’re looking for.”

“You said it yourself,” he replied, the low rumble of his voice wrapping around her, as rough and warm as his touch had been. “I can’t have what I’m looking for.”

Murphy laid his hands down on the cabinet on either side of her, covering them with her own. “You know that as soon as you release me from your service, I’ll be gone.”

“Would you have kissed me like that if you were free to leave?”

“I don’t know.”

He picked one of her hands up and pressed his lips to it. “Then I’ll consider it a privilege to share in whatever you are willing to give me.”

Murphy ached to pull him in, strip away the surface and lay his soul and body bare, but the thought of the Knights at the door, the walls around her and the uncertain future ahead of her bent her forward in resignation. “I can’t,” she said. “Not now. Not here.”

Maxson kissed her fingers again. “What would you have me do?” he asked quietly.

She slid off the cabinet top and disentangled herself from him. “Drop me off at the nearest settlement and wait for a signal grenade?”

He chuckled. “No.”

Murphy smoothed down her hair and crossed her arms. “Then… I would ask you to wait.”

He nodded and straightened up. “As you wish.”

She took in the sight of him, there under the fluorescent lights. The curve of his lip and the set of his jaw suggested he was content to stand in the shadow of her grace, her mercy. No questions of time. No conditions. No demands. The muscles of his arms, shoulders and chest lay in wait, in wait for her, for her, their hills and valleys spread out for discovery under her fingertips, and it was all she could do to keep from pulling him in until he collapsed against her and surrendered to whatever mysteries the two of them were seeking to solve.

“Why me?” she asked. “With all the grief I’ve caused you… all the things we disagree on…”

“As you said,” he replied. “You’re everything I cannot be, was taught not to be.”

He held his hand out. She took it, and he punctuated every word with a circle of his thumb against her skin, drawing her back to his chest.

“Wild. Indecisive. Challenging.” Each word was slow, sweet, deliberate.

“Treasonous?”

“Treasonous.”

She looked up at him. “You’re in trouble, Arthur. So much trouble.”

He smiled back at her. “Then so be it.”

Chapter Text

In the days that followed, Elder Maxson kept his distance from Murphy during the Prydwen’s working hours. She saw no trace of him while Proctor Quinlan was asking her about the history of the Commonwealth Institute of Technology, or while Proctor Ingram pressed her yet again for a description of the Railroad’s chip-cracking equipment.

Maxson did acknowledge her restlessness, however, and the night after his evening visit, one of Murphy’s guards informed her that she would be allowed to roam the main deck with an escort.

While she wasn’t quite ready to sit through a meal in the mess hall amid a sea of whispers and stares, Murphy welcomed the opportunity to check out the latest stock at the supply depot. She spent nearly all of her remaining caps on some equipment to improve the hydraulics on her suit’s arm pieces, which she worked on installing in her free time. The Scribes and Knights in the power armor bay avoided her for the most part, and she took her time on the task, watching the activity around her and trying to piece together what the Brotherhood was up to out in the Commonwealth.

For the most part, it appeared to be business as usual. Knights came in to trade out pieces of T-60 or have their armor frames bent back into shape, Scribes tightened bolts and touched up paint jobs, and Ingram strode through occasionally, barking orders and trading jokes with Proctor Teagan.

Murphy’s old suit of T-45 stood out among the shining rows of T-60, for its color just as much as its outdatedness. The slate blue paint Sturges had applied to the armor before her slog through the cooling water tunnels to the Institute’s underground fortress had held up well, and if she squinted hard enough, the creeping patches of rust around the joints almost looked like copper accents.

“Why blue?” she had asked him when he presented her with the suit in Sanctuary, holding his arms out like a proud parent.

“Well, uh, Jun dug it out of a pile of junk next to that vault you crawled out of,” Sturges said, slapping one of the suit’s shoulders affectionately. “It was dried all to hell, but it came back to life with a little elbow grease and, you know, actual grease.”

She had smiled at that. “Coming full circle, aren’t we?”

“Yep. Seems like only yesterday you were hiding on that balcony taking potshots at that deathclaw what did in all the raiders.”

Murphy smirked at the memory, scuffing some of the particularly rusty parts of the suit with a wire brush. The power armor had saved her life on countless occasions, including the occasion that had started it all. She wasn’t going to give up on it now.

As she worked, she began to feel as if someone was watching her. Sure enough, when she wiped her brow and looked up in a moment of rest, a familiar pair of boots and the hem of a long coat stepped back from the railing above her and continued down the catwalk.

He came to visit her that night, bearing gifts in the form of Nuka-Colas, a holotape and a chessboard. Murphy turned on her Pip-Boy radio and left it by the door to mask their conversation, and she sat on the bed examining the holotape while Maxson took the desk chair and set up the chessboard between them.

“Andrew Levine’s production of Love Sets Sail! Part 1 of 2,” she read from the label as he lined up a neat row of pawns. “Do Not Show Before October 27th, 2077. Do you think the executives at OEI were upset or happy that it never went to a wider release?”

“Wider release?” Maxson asked, eyeing her curiously.

“It was still touring America as a road show when the bombs dropped,” she replied. “Kind of like, an exclusive event you had to pay extra to get into, and they gave you souvenirs and the bragging rights to say you’d seen it before anyone else. The wider release was when it came out in theaters everywhere and anyone could go see it.”

“Why would they be happy about the outbreak of war?”

“Well, I’m sure nobody was really happy about the war,” Murphy admitted, turning the holotape over in her fingers. “It’s just that this movie was absolutely hated by critics. Some of the nastiest reviews I’ve ever seen, even though the road show audiences loved it.”

She smirked at him. “And yes, before you ask, there were people once upon a time whose entire careers consisted of watching movies and writing reviews about them. We were young and reckless, back then.”

“Yours was a culture of indulgence,” Maxson said, nudging a bishop onto its square. “The idea that industries sprang up because of this is not surprising in the least.”

Murphy shrugged, careful not to move the bed too much and upset the chess pieces. “As long as there are people, they’ll want entertainment. And as long as there’s entertainment, there will be people to praise it or complain about it, and then capitalize on their ability to do so. I mean, look at Piper. She writes reviews of the musicians that come through Diamond City, and it’s been 200-some years since the bombs fell.”

“True,” Maxson said, sliding the last two rooks into their spaces. “But the citizens of Diamond City pay her for the news within her publication, not necessarily for what entertainment content she adds to it.”

“But isn’t the news in and of itself a form of entertainment?”

He looked at her skeptically. “The news in today’s day and age can mean the difference between life and death.”

“Fair enough.”

Maxson gestured at the board. “Light or dark?”

“Arthur, do you actually want to play chess?” Murphy asked.

“Consider it my method of getting to know you better,” he replied.

“Why can’t we just add some whiskey to the Nuka-Colas and trade life stories again?”

He sighed. “As tempting as that sounds, lowered inhibitions and raised voices are not luxuries either of us can afford at the moment. The Knights still stand watch, and Lancer-Captain Kells still retires in the quarters across the hall.”

Murphy leaned forward with a coy smile on her face. “It’s a very wide hall.”

Maxson put a hand up to caress her cheek. “And you’re a very distracting opponent,” he said. “Choose.”

“Dark, then.”

He rotated the board, shaking his head. “Never pass up the opportunity to make the first move.”

“Oh, I do that all the time,” Murphy said, leaning back and crossing her arms.

Maxson raised an eyebrow and moved the pawn in front of one of his bishops two spaces forward. “Explain.”

“It’s easier to try to figure out a person’s intent through their actions than to try to anticipate them,” she went on, pushing the pawn in front of her queen forward one space. “It’s why I didn’t immediately attack the Institute when they showed up in Diamond City and Salem. I waited, and it paid off.”

He glanced up from the board at her. “Did it?”

Murphy’s gut twisted. “Well… yes. But it had a cost.”

“There is always a cost,” Maxson said. “Anticipation and immediate action in accordance to what is expected usually results in a lighter toll.”

“Short-term, sure. Long-term, depends.” Murphy sighed. “Look, I don’t disagree with you entirely, but charging in on the few synths we observed would have done nothing but tell the Institute that we knew they were still out there. Observation told us they are not in as stable a situation as they are used to, and what at least some of them are after.”

“You.”

“And robots. But yeah, me.”

“Had it occurred to you that we might have laid a trap for the three synths and the woman you observed in Salem and captured them alive?” Maxson asked. “Thereby procuring active Institute technology, rather than piecing together the remnants of one dead Courser?”

“Hindsight is 20-20, Arthur.” She sighed and turned her focus back to the game. Maxson was methodical in his decisions, several steps ahead of her while she chased his pieces around the board with her knights and queen. When Murphy captured the first of his pawns, she held it up between them.

“I’ll trade you,” she offered, rolling the pawn between her fingers. “An honest answer for each piece you take of mine. And vice versa. Consider it my method of getting to know you better.”

He smiled at that. “What do you wish to ask me?”

“How long am I going to be stuck on this ship?”

Maxson’s smile disappeared. “At least as long as it takes to find the Institute’s secondary facilities. After that point, it will be up to myself and the leadership to decide your fate.”

“Perfect,” Murphy muttered. “So, forever, basically.”

“You doubt our capabilities in the field?” he asked, sliding a bishop across the board to place her queen in jeopardy.

“Well, I certainly don’t doubt your military might,” she replied, pushing her queen back a space. “But your intel-gathering skills can be lacking, sometimes.”

“As opposed to yours?”

“Actually, yes,” Murphy said, studying him. “The fact that I’m willing to trust people more often than you are gives me a little bit of an edge.”

Maxson settled for taking one of her pawns instead. He held it up, the dark piece shining in the light. “Do you trust me?”

“Is that your question?”

“It is.”

Murphy chuckled. “I… I do. Maybe against my better judgment. We might have different views on things, but you’ve never given me reason not to trust you.”

He held the pawn out to her, and she took it delicately, her fingers lingering on his. Their eyes met.

“Kiss me,” she whispered.

Maxson leaned over the board and pressed his lips to hers, softly, then insistently, and a few chess pieces tipped over in his wake. Murphy smiled and set them up again, fumbling at the wooden soldiers while Maxson sat back in his chair looking pleased with himself.

They kept playing, and Murphy found herself making progressively riskier moves in order to capture his pieces. Maxson took full advantage of the openings this left, and the pile of wooden casualties steadily grew. He revealed to her his favorite song, “Love Me As Though There Were No Tomorrow” by Nat King Cole, apparently a favorite of the western Brotherhood chapters. She told him about each of the scars on her body, showing him the burn on her arm, the laser scarring on her leg, and describing the trail a Glowing Sea deathclaw had raked into her back. He ran his fingers over the burn, tracing the mottled red-and-white patch on her right forearm, and his touch sent a shiver up her spine.

Another pawn earned her a description of his parents, Paladins Jonathan and Jessica Maxson. His father had died in combat the year he had been born, and though he didn’t know much about the man himself, Maxson was more than familiar with his prowess in battle from his entry in the Scrolls. A photo his mother had kept showed him he was nearly the spitting image of his father, though his dark hair and blue eyes had come from her.

“What was she like?” Murphy asked.

“They said she was once fearless,” Maxson replied quietly. “But the loss of her husband broke something in her. She rarely left my side as a child, and eventually the Elder of our chapter had to intervene in order to see my training begin appropriately. He convinced her to send me east, to squire under Elder Lyons, and two years later, she died.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It was illness,” he said, shaking his head. “A sudden plague, sweeping through the bunker. She was one of the many taken by it. I was… inconsolable.”

Maxson sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “Not two weeks later, Elder Sarah Lyons was killed in an ambush by super mutants, and the Citadel was thrown into complete disarray. Paladin Elizabeth Titus gave her speech to the officers, saying she would never accept the seat of Elder, and I could barely contain my grief and anger over the injustice of my situation. I began to instigate fights in the training yard, and Paladin Gunny had to pull me away from several encounters I had no hope of finishing.”

“You were 12,” Murphy said gently. “Picking fights is easier than processing grief, especially at that age.”

He nodded. “Paladin Gunny assigned me to a training patrol squad to get me out of the Citadel. I think he meant to put my excess energy into something useful, but the patrol members were hardly pleased. I had not been allowed to accompany a patrol squad since an unfortunate incident with Sarah when I was 10.”

Murphy opened her mouth and tried to ask, but he cut her off. “I will tell you about my most embarrassing moments some other time, Aspirant.”

“Boo. Go on.”

“We were instructed to patrol around the Library of Congress, and a group of raiders that had taken up residence in the nearby Alexandria Arms surprised us. Our squad leader killed two before a sniper downed him, and the rest of the trainees fired too wildly to finish the rest off.”

Maxson leaned forward on his knees and rubbed his forehead, sorrowful in his recollection. “They were terrified, doing their best to cover the squad leader’s position and take shots from behind the rubble, but I was furious. Some piece of me was concerned I could die, that I could take a bullet and put an end to the Brotherhood’s founding family, but every other aspect of my soul was screaming at me to destroy the raiders, take out my frustrations on the worst of humanity and save the squad. So I charged them.”

Murphy chuckled. “I bet they weren’t expecting that.”

He nodded and smiled faintly. “I have to wonder if they even kept shooting at me as I ran toward their base. All I remember is snagging one of their perimeter frag mines and tossing it through the window they were shooting through, and the resulting explosion blowing out my eardrums.”

“Well, if that’s the way your first battle charge went, no wonder you decided to chase that guy into deathclaw territory,” Murphy said with a grin.

“My recklessness earned me a sound lecture from Paladin Gunny, a week-long sentence of janitorial duties and the respect of my squad members,” Maxson said. “Over time, the recklessness disappeared, to be replaced by something more careful. When it was just myself that I had to worry about, I took more risks.”

Murphy nodded. “I get that. I’m a different opponent in solo or small-team missions than I am for large-scale attacks.”

“For your sake and mine, I hope that I never have to face you, in either capacity.”

She raised her eyebrows at that. “Afraid you would lose?”

“No,” he replied. “Afraid that I would win.”

 


 

Maxson visited her every night after that. Sometimes they played chess, trading questions and answers, learning the ins and outs of each other's’ minds and decisions. Often they laid on her bed, limbs tangled, whispering about the songs on the radio, the freckles on Murphy’s skin, the weather outside the airship. Nothing and everything.

She fit perfectly inside the crook of his arm, she discovered, and it was a wonder to watch his chest rise and fall under her hand, her fingers tracing the seams of his clothes, the buckles on his uniform. He seemed similarly mesmerized by her hair, endlessly running his hands over her scalp, the silvery strands slipping through his fingers like whitewater rapids over rocks.

“What color was it before?” he asked, one night while they were twisted up like amorous teenagers.

Murphy giggled. “I used to be a ginger,” she replied, twisting a strand of her hair up around her index finger. “I thought the freckles gave that away.”

She pushed herself up and swung a leg over his torso, straddling him playfully. Maxson tried to sit up, but she pushed him back down again, and he sank into the mattress with a look on his face that suggested he was enjoying the view.

“It’s about the only part of me that knows I’m nearly 238,” she said, pushing her hair up as if she was posing for a Mary May cosmetics advertisement.

“You look spectacular for your age,” Maxson murmured, running a hand over her hip, up toward her waist. She pulled him up to her, then, and any other words she might have had were lost in the feel of his lips on hers.

Soon she had dark circles under her eyes to match his. Not that it mattered. The Brotherhood appeared to be on the brink of something huge, and no one was paying close attention to her appearance anymore. Knights filled the power armor bay, getting their suits checked, weapons tuned up, outfitted with new gear, and Quinlan and Ingram had stopped coming to her for information about the chip. The evening after a particularly busy day, Maxson did not appear, and Murphy spent the night alone, wondering what on earth was going on down on the ground that would draw his complete attention.

She found out the next morning, when she was awoken by Kells throwing her door open with a bang.

“Where are they?” he snarled, stalking over to her bed. Murphy sat up in bed, rubbing her bleary eyes in disbelief.

“Where are who?” she asked.

“The Railroad,” Kells boomed, seizing the metal footboard of her cot in anger. “I know you know something. An entire headquarters doesn’t just disappear.”

Murphy drew the covers up around herself. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“I doubt that very much, vault dweller.”

“Lancer-Captain Kells, would you care to explain what you are doing?”

Maxson had appeared in the doorway, his broad frame filling the entrance. Kells withered under his gaze, snapping to attention. Paladin Brandis peered curiously at the scene from behind Maxson.

“Elder Maxson,” Kells said. “I was merely questioning the Aspirant in regards to the recent assault on the assumed headquarters of the Railroad.”

“You began questioning her, even though I, myself, have yet to receive a briefing on the results of the mission?”

“Assault?” Murphy said, looking between the three officers. “Mission? What is going on?”

“Get dressed,” Maxson ordered her, not taking his eyes off of Kells. “We have much to discuss, after the Paladin gives me his report.”

He stepped aside, and Kells gave her one last disparaging look before striding out, the door slamming shut behind him. Murphy crawled out of bed, pulled on an orange flight suit and tied her hair up in a ponytail before falling to pacing again. She tried to listen to what Maxson and Brandis were discussing through the wall, but she couldn’t make out anything beyond Brandis saying something about “wasted time and resources” and “crawling with ferals.”

Eventually her door opened, and she was ushered across the hall to the Elder’s quarters, where Brandis and Maxson were sitting at the table in the center of the room.

She took a seat, and Maxson gestured at Brandis. “Tell her what you told me.”

“Are you sure, Elder?” Brandis said, eyeing her suspiciously.

“I am.”

Brandis nodded. “Last night, a team of Brotherhood recon squads descended upon the Old North Church in Boston in search of the Railroad headquarters that our intelligence told us would be there. However, we found the catacombs beneath the church empty, save for a host of ferals.”

Murphy looked between the two men, but said nothing. Brandis pushed a piece of paper toward her. “The only thing left behind to indicate anyone had been there was this note.”

Murphy picked up the paper and read it out loud.

 

          "Railroad Network
          Status: ONLINE

          Main Menu
                    - DELETED
                    - DELETED
                    - DELETED

          For your safety, this headquarters is now property of the Brotherhood of Steel.
          - Ad victoriam”

 

“Sounds familiar,” she remarked, with a pointed look at Maxson.

“It’s a play on the standard database wipe message our recon squads leave,” Maxson said in annoyance. “They’re mocking us.”

“Definitely,” Murphy agreed. “So why am I here?”

“Because you’re the only individual on this ship who might have a clue as to where they have gone,” Brandis said sternly. “All of our intelligence pointed to the Railroad headquarters still being located in the catacombs.”

Murphy pressed her lips together and took a deep breath. “I think it’s pretty clear that they don’t want to be found. Even if I did know where they were, I don’t know that I’d be eager to give you that information.”

“Aspirant, the Railroad and its tech are our best bet for decoding the Courser chip we obtained from the Diamond City attack,” Maxson said roughly. “Finding the Railroad is our top priority, if for no other reason than to pry the secrets out of the chip.”

“So you sent in a few armed, armored squads just to… talk?”

“Historically-speaking, our relations with the Railroad have been less-than cordial.”

Brandis nodded. “Our orders were to capture and detain any and all Railroad operatives we encountered.”

“I suppose that’s a step up,” Murphy grumbled. “Sorry, boys. I don’t know how they slipped past you and I don’t know where they might have gone.”

Maxson studied her carefully, his blue eyes narrowed. She gave him her best innocent look, and he sighed. “Dismissed, Aspirant. I will consult you later if any new information arises.”

Murphy stood. “Can I keep this for now?” she asked, holding up the note. “Maybe something will come to me.”

Maxson’s gaze flickered between the note and her eyes. “If you wish.”

She nodded and left the room, returning to her quarters. When the door was shut behind her, she sank against it, sliding down until she hit the floor. She ran her fingertips over the words on the paper, the familiar handwriting tightening her chest with every letter.

Deacon wrote this.

Murphy shook her head and pressed the paper to her heart. There was no way he had gotten up from that energy blast. She put the thought out of her mind and studied the note, trying to make sense of the lines he had left behind.

Railroad Network, Status: ONLINE. That part was pretty clear. But the rest of it? Murphy furrowed her brow and tried to sort out the significance of the words. Slowly, an idea began forming in her head.

Chapter Text

Maxson came to her troubled that night, the stress and disappointment evident in his shoulders and expression. Murphy put down the pad of paper she had been doodling a fog crawler on and rose from the desk chair, her arms going to his neck and waist.

“What is it?” she asked when he sighed at her touch, releasing what sounded like a lifetime’s worth of pent-up energy.

“Quite literally, nothing,” he said, seating himself on the bed. “Days of planning, cases of ammunition and several fusion cores spent, an injured Scribe, and our mission to overtake the Railroad’s headquarters turns up nothing.”

He shot her a look. “Nothing except that note.”

Murphy nodded. “I can’t say I approve of your methods to approach them, but some of the Railroad operatives have a wicked sense of humor.”

“How would you have gone about it, General?”

She laughed at that. “If I’m still General by the time I get out of here, I’m firing my entire officer team. They know when to cut their losses, and unfortunately, I’m one of them.”

Maxson looked surprised. “You expect them to cast you out?”

“Not cast me out, exactly,” Murphy replied. “But the Minutemen need a leader who can be, you know, around.”

She smiled. “Even when I’m not voluntarily incarcerated by another military force, I’m not always present to make the decisions that need to be made. I was thinking about stepping down, right after the Institute fell. Turning things over to Preston.”

Maxson nodded. “Your Colonel. He seems a capable leader.”

“Well, he didn’t really think he was when I first met him,” Murphy said, rising to sit next to him on the bed. “Couldn’t wait to push the title of ‘General’ on me after I saved him and his friends in Concord. ‘I can get through a firefight, I can defend a perimeter, but that’s not enough to bring the Minutemen back,’ he said. It was a little overwhelming, really, for someone fresh out of cryogenic sleep. But when I stepped up, so did he.”

She frowned. “What day is it, today?”

“Thursday,” Maxson replied. “The 31st of October.”

Murphy laid back on the bed and clasped her hands behind her head. “It’s been a year, a week and a day since I left Vault 111. So, about a year since I saved him and the Sanctuary folks.”

She grinned up at him. “Also, it’s Halloween. You guys still celebrate that?”

Maxson looked thoughtful. “The holiday your generation was preparing for when the Great War began? The one with plastic gourd buckets and paper cats?”

“That’s the one. Fell out of style, huh?”

“I believe some civilians still celebrate it, but whether its meaning and traditions have changed, I’m afraid I couldn’t say,” Maxson admitted. “I confess I know little about American holidays. The Brotherhood celebrates different milestones.”

“And here we are, rolling into the American holiday season,” Murphy said mournfully. “It’s okay. Halloween was just an excuse for everyone to dress up in costumes and get free candy from your neighbors. It used to be a harvest celebration and a way of warding off evil spirits or something, but when America got a hold of it, the day turned into something more commercial. Nothing too deep about it.”

Maxson laid back on the bed and rolled over to prop himself up above her. “What sort of evil spirits?”

Murphy grabbed the buckle on his black flight suit and pulled him down on top of her. “Now why would you think I know anything about evil spirits?” she asked playfully.

“Because I’m fairly convinced you are one,” Maxson growled, dropping his head to nibble at her neck. The feel of his breath and voice against her skin brought goosebumps to Murphy’s arms, and she squirmed, giggling, beneath the Elder’s broad frame.

“All day,” he went on, running his hands up and down her sides, pinning her hands down and releasing them again to twist his fingers in her hair, run a thumb around the rim of her ear. “All day, you slip in and out of my mind, Aspirant. If I ordered you to stop doing it, would you lift your spell?”

“As distractions go, I think you could find worse than me,” Murphy purred. “Besides, if things are going the way you say they are, isn’t a little vision of me better than another report of the Railroad’s disappearance?”

Maxson sighed heavily and rolled off to her side. “I cannot understand it. They must have known we were coming, somehow.”

He looked at her sideways. “Did you have something to do with this?”

Murphy shrugged. “Indirectly. I think they got antsy when we started working together, and I can’t say I blame them.”

“Lancer-Captain Kells is convinced you somehow informed them of our plans.”

She gave him an innocent smile. “And what do you think?”

He studied her, suddenly serious. “I think you know more than you’re letting on, but you refuse to tell us out of fear for the comrades you have within the Railroad.”

Murphy dropped her smile. “Assuming you’re right, can you blame me? You ran in, guns drawn, intending to capture a group of people I used to call my friends. Some of whom I still call friends. That could never end in anything but bloodshed, Arthur. The Brotherhood’s reputation precedes it.”

“Then again, I ask, how would you have gone about it?”

She propped herself up on her elbow and furrowed her brow. “I would have gone in alone. Tried to talk to Desdemona, see if we couldn’t work something out. She hates the Institute as much as you do, just for different reasons, and that’s common ground we could use to negotiate. Maybe figure out a ceasefire, at least until we find the Institute’s location.”

Maxson shook his head. “You risk too much. As a leader, you have resources at your disposal, troops to send in in case of resistance. Utilize them.”

“Well I don’t do that if I don’t have to,” Murphy replied. “I risk a lot by going in alone or with minimal back-up, but it sends a message that I am willing to talk and compromise, rather than busting in with an army and a list of demands.”

“And if the Railroad was not receptive to your diplomacy?”

“Then I’d find another way.”

“For us, there is no other way,” Maxson grumbled. “While the Minutemen may not directly tread on the Railroad’s beliefs and practices, and vice versa, there is much the Brotherhood disagrees with the Railroad on.”

“Like synths?” Murphy said bluntly.

“Like synths,” Maxson said, his expression hardening.

“Well, Arthur, which one is more important?” Murphy asked. “Finding the Institute, or squashing the relatively few escaped synths the Railroad manages to ferry to safety?”

“The Railroad is a vast network of spies and operatives that are actively trying to wipe the memories of glorified machines and plant them among the general populace,” Maxson said. “Their practices threaten the ideals of humanity, the sanctity of life and the safety of the Commonwealth.”

“Okay,” Murphy said, swinging herself up into a cross-legged position to face him. “Yes, the Railroad is actively wiping minds and putting synths in positions where they don’t know who or what they are. Agreed, that’s a bit of a terrible thing to do. That’s why the Minutemen decided to offer an alternative, and we can argue about that decision from now until the cows come home. But Arthur, I don’t know who is feeding you this nonsense about a ‘vast network of spies.’ At most, it’s like a dozen people in HQ, a dozen more out in the Commonwealth, and everyone else is just your average Joe that’s being paid to hide some people or look the other way. I don’t even know how many synths they’ve managed to help escape, but the numbers are not high.”

Maxson looked perplexed by this information. “Our intel about their operations suggests a much larger force than that.”

“You might want to crack some skulls, then,” she replied. “The Railroad talk a big game on those holotapes they leave lying around, but they’re good at vanishing in the wind for a reason.”

He sat up and regarded her sternly, and she put a hand out in reassurance. “I promise I’m not lying about this.”

“I have my doubts you would tell me if you were,” Maxson said skeptically, taking her hand and massaging her knuckles gently.

“Now, that’s a risk you’ll have to take, oh great and mighty Elder.”

Maxson laughed. “So, Murphy, how do you wish to celebrate this Halloween? I am not sure we have any candy on board.”

Murphy leaned back and thought a bit. “I’d kill for a cigarette. Whoever went through my pack took my last few, and my lighter.”

He smiled and rose from the bed, bowing over her hand to kiss it. “Then by all means, to the forecastle.”

 


 

Maxson retrieved his coat, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from his quarters, and the two of them made their way down the ladder well to the command deck and out to the extended balcony, a sheer drop to the beach and the ocean below. The Knights stayed just inside the door, and Maxson lit Murphy a cigarette before lighting a cigar he pulled from his battlecoat.

They smoked in silence, blowing their breaths into the breeze, watching the winking lights and fires of the ruins of Boston across the bay.

“Am I your first?” Murphy asked, her voice caught up in the wind.

“First what, exactly?”

She shrugged. “Not first love, I think. But first to share something potent, maybe. I’m just trying to figure you out.”

Maxson smiled. “Are you asking for my romantic history?”

“Only if you’re willing to share it,” Murphy said, turning to lean her back against the railing. “But I can tell you right now, I’m not going to give you the entirety of mine in return.”

He chuckled and leaned over the metal bars, tipping some ash into the void below them. “I suppose you are a first,” he said. “There were girls, then women, in the Brotherhood who never made it a secret they were interested in becoming something more than a fellow soldier or a friend. Some of them I entertained, even courted, but in the end I always turned them away before things became… serious.”

“Why?” Murphy asked, looking at the young leader curiously.

“All of them treated me as though I were on a pedestal,” he replied. “A common occurrence for an Elder. A few were trying to climb the ranks, which is not something I wanted to encourage.”

“Ah, yes, the old sleep-with-the-boss, get-promoted trick,” Murphy said with a laugh. “Don’t tell me you weren’t tempted to, though.”

Maxson smiled. “Temptation is a familiar demon of mine,” he said. “I’ve become quite good at resisting it, over the years.”

“Have I ruined your streak?”

“Indeed,” Maxson said, stroking his beard with a grin. “Ruined. Absolutely devastated.”

“I’m guessing your officers and soldiers have noticed you’ve been visiting me more than is probably necessary,” Murphy said, nudging his shoulder with hers.

“Most likely,” he said. “Though many know your knowledge extends into several areas the Brotherhood is interested in. Most could be convinced that I am merely interrogating you for informational purposes.”

“Interrogating, sure,” Murphy said with a suggestive look. “Were you wanting to escalate your interrogation into something more physical, at some point?”

Maxson looked at her in confusion, his eyes widening as he caught her meaning. “I… we… you…”

“Would that be another first?”

He was practically writhing under her gaze, and the sight of the Brotherhood Elder at a loss for words brought a smile to her face. She took a final drag on her cigarette before tossing it into the wind, then turned to lean over the railing with him, her eyebrows raised in curiosity.

“You asked me to wait,” he said finally.

Murphy nodded. “I did. I still want you to, since I’m technically a prisoner.”

She threw her arm out and gestured at the Commonwealth, laid out below them in the clear night. “Out there, though, who knows.”

Maxson let out a breath he had been holding in. Murphy laughed.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” she said. “I’m not asking you for commitment, or anything like that. You and I… we might have something, but you have the Brotherhood, and I have my own life.”

She smoothed her hair over her shoulder and looked at him. “I’m just saying, provided I’m not incarcerated for the rest of my days, I’d… maybe… like something more than midnight visits and whispers.”

Maxson met her eyes, and the look in them echoed around the caverns of her body. Like he couldn’t believe she existed, and was reaching out for him. The feel of it resonated in her bones, and she had to stop herself from pulling him into her, showing him with her hands, her lips, her skin, how much that look meant to her.

He said nothing, but straightened up and took off his battlecoat. Murphy held still as he settled the coat over her shoulders, and the two of them leaned over the railing, sharing cigarettes and staring up at the stars until it was well past midnight.

 


 

When Maxson returned her to her room and bade her good night, Murphy stood, staring at the door for a moment before crossing the room to her pack and pulling Deacon’s note from it. She knew what she had to do. It was time.

Murphy was fairly certain that the Railroad didn’t know about Deacon’s note. Knowing Desdemona, she had probably packed the entire HQ in the dead of night and moved without a trace. No Freedom Trail this time, no combination lock attached to a false wall.

There was also the fact that Deacon had been going behind HQ’s back to tell her about his lead on the Institute’s whereabouts in the first place. He had recognized the woman in the crowd, he had known she meant death, had gone so far as to leave a note in the crypts in case of the worst. To the Brotherhood, it was nothing more than an insult, a middle finger, but to Murphy, it was a clue.

At first, she had thought the message was in code. She had tried every cipher she could think of to crack it, but nothing had made sense. But then Maxson’s words had wormed their way into her head: A play on the standard database wipe message. Suddenly everything had clicked.

Murphy smiled and folded up the note, stuffing it into her pack along with the clothes she had arrived on the Prydwen with. The clue wasn’t in the text. It was the text.

Throughout her travels in the Commonwealth, she had come across a computer every now and then that held the database wipe message, inserted by a recon squad Scribe. It was a sign that the Brotherhood had been there already, seen everything there was to see, cleared the place of mutants and particularly useful bits of technology. A sign that they weren’t coming back.

“Clever,” she whispered to herself, opening the locker next to the bed and rifling through its contents. Orange flight suits, boots, and underneath…

She pulled on the gray uniform hood over her Brotherhood flight suit, carefully tucking her white hair inside until not a strand was peeping out. A dig through her pack yielded a pair of reading glasses, which she put on, and her compact mirror, which she used to carefully check her appearance.

The look reminded her of Danse’s usual get-up, and she stuck her tongue out at her reflection before snapping the compact shut and stowing it away again. It would have to do.

Murphy zipped up the pack and dropped to the floor, pulling back the rug in front of the lockers until the entirety of one of the metal floor panels was exposed. She had discovered the panel during one of her first days of imprisonment, when all she could do was pace. One of the screws that held it to the Prydwen’s frame had been sticking up in the rug and tripped her up, and she had worked at it in her alone time until all of the screws holding it in place were loose. She unwound them now, slipping them one by one into her pockets until the entire panel sat free atop the floor frame.

Slowly, ever so slowly, she inched it back over the rug, peering at the hole she had made. The floor below was mostly dark, with hints of red safety lighting glowing off of the edges and corners of crates and boxes, within touching distance. Storage. Good.

Murphy took a deep breath and eased herself down through the opening, reaching out with her boots until she found footing. She pulled her pack down after her, then slid the panel back down into its spot until the floor closed over her. Silently, she clambered down behind the boxes and surveyed her surroundings.

She knew the bottom floor of the Prydwen held mostly supplies and a recreational area where the Scribes and Knights played cards and snuck cigarettes. The floor was silent in the late hour, and she cautiously padded across the catwalk, listening to the movement of the Knights on duty above her and the creaking of the ship in the wind outside.

Once underneath the supply depot, Murphy waited in the shadows while a power armored Knight climbed to the third level above her, before she ascended the stairs to the power armor bay. Again, she waited in the darkness, watching a Scribe walk down toward the mess hall and a Knight carrying a minigun pass by on the catwalk above. The Courser’s chip was likely up there among Senior Scribe Neriah’s collection of autopsy projects, but she couldn’t be sure. She would have to do without, and trust that the Railroad’s lead would be enough to point her in the right direction.

When she thought the coast was clear, she walked confidently down the line of power armor suits, doing her best to look like she belonged. She stopped just behind her slate blue suit of T-45 and sighed, before opening up the neighboring suit of T-60c with a red Knight’s shield painted on the left arm.

Murphy stowed her pack in the storage space and climbed inside, getting a feel for the suit as it closed around her. There was no way she could leave the ship in her own suit of armor, but the thought of it being left behind tugged at her heartstrings.

She made her way through the bay to the mess hall with confidence, safe in her camouflage. When she reached the door to Proctor Quinlan’s office, she was relieved to find it empty, and she ducked inside and shut the door before exiting the power armor again.

Swiftly, she selected a holotape from the basket of blank ones next to Quinlan’s computer terminal and jammed it into the slot. She scrolled through his files until she found the archive she was looking for, downloaded its contents onto the tape, and stuck it into her Pip-Boy before climbing back into her armor.

Murphy opened the door to the office again and her heart stopped at the sight of Proctor Quinlan with his hand outstretched toward the handle. The head of Brotherhood research and development slowly lowered his arm, staring up at her suspiciously.

“What were you doing in the archives department with the door shut, Knight?” he asked quietly.

Murphy’s stomach flipped over. “I… nothing, Proctor.”

Quinlan’s eyes narrowed. He pushed past her into the room and scanned it, turning back to her when he found nothing obviously amiss.

“Well at least you didn’t go through my filing cabinets,” he said in an exasperated tone. “You can tell Knight Mattison for the last time, the Brotherhood of Steel does not store any sort of pornographic materials in the archives department. Now get out, before I have you and your friends demoted.”

Murphy nodded, bewildered, and fled the room. She made her way to the ladder well outside Maxson’s room, pausing at the sight of his door across the railing.

She had wrestled with the idea of telling him everything. Trusting that he would do the right thing, that he would approach the Railroad diplomatically instead of defensively and hand over the Courser chip for decoding, put at least a temporary end to the feud between the two factions and work together to find the greater threat. But even if she trusted him, the man who swept her up in his blue eyes and made her whole body ache with longing, the man who listened to her stories and shared precious pieces of himself in return, she still didn’t trust the title he wielded or the responsibilities he held. Even more than that, she didn’t trust the men and women beneath him, the ones who answered to him, and, ultimately, the ones he had to answer to.

Murphy nodded to the Knights guarding the door of her now-empty quarters and descended the ladder, holding her breath the whole way down.

Chapter Text

Murphy ditched the power armor as soon as she had gotten safely away from the airport, leaving it tucked inside the loading bay of an empty box store. Sooner or later the Brotherhood would realize the suit was missing, and she wouldn’t put it past them to have installed some sort of tracking device in their suits after the disaster that was Recon Squad Artemis.

She sat down on the loading dock and scrolled through the archive she had downloaded from Proctor Quinlan’s computer, a list of all recon squad missions conducted in the Commonwealth since the Brotherhood’s arrival. One by one, she picked through the list, taking notes on the pad of paper she had swiped from the desk in her quarters.

When she had reached the end of the archive, she studied the list of locations that had formed.

 

          Boston Mayoral Shelter

          Corvega Assembly Plant

          Galaxy News Network Broadcasting

          Military operations checkpoint, South Boston

          Poseidon Reservoir

          USAF Satellite Station Olivia

 

Murphy shook her head and crossed off the Corvega plant and the satellite station. She had cleared those two locations herself while helping out settlements for the Minutemen, and she even remembered finding the wipe messages. Neither location seemed inconspicuous enough for Desdemona’s tastes. After consulting her map, she crossed off the GNN broadcasting hub, too. It was deep in Gunners territory, a risk the Railroad would be unlikely to take.

That left the military checkpoint, the reservoir and the mayoral shelter. Murphy crossed off the checkpoint after some thought. Generally speaking, the roadblocks and guard stations she remembered from before the war were hardly big enough to house a handful of army soldiers, let alone an entire headquarters of Railroad personnel.

Murphy shouldered her pack and stood up. She needed some more input. But first, she needed a weapon. And to get out of the orange flight suit.

 


 

It had been several months since Murphy had snuck into East Boston Preparatory School for Kessler to help the caravan crew prisoners fight their way out, and the smell of death inside the building nearly knocked her over. She picked her way among the debris and bodies, covering her nose and mouth with the sleeve of the armored varsity jacket. The heavy fabric did next to nothing to abate the smell.

Eventually she found what she was looking for. A dessicated raider lay sprawled in the school’s hallway, a fallen combat rifle a little ways away. Murphy picked it up and checked the chamber: 15 of 20 rounds left. Not too bad.

A little glimmer of light from beneath the body caught her eye, and she pushed the corpse aside with her boot to reveal a combat knife. She picked it up and slipped it through the belt loop of her jeans.

The first floor of the school yielded a handful of caps, a box of .45s and a gray, knit cap. Murphy twisted her hair into a bun and pulled the cap over it, then stashed the Brotherhood flight suit and hood in a locker before fleeing the premises.

She stuck to the shadows of the buildings of East Boston and Eagle Hill, and she darted across the bridge to Chelsea as fast as she could, praying that a vertibird wouldn’t choose that exact moment to fly over. From there, she hugged the riverbank until she reached the bridge from Admirals Hill to Charlestown, and she crept among the silent cars on its length until she was once again under cover of the city’s ruins.

The monument at Bunker Hill guided her way, and she breathed a sigh of relief when she stepped through the trading hub’s gates. She sank against the bleached stones of the obelisk, straightening up only when Kessler approached her.

“Murphy,” the middle-aged woman said in surprise when she drew close.

Murphy shook her head. “Before you say anything, you never saw me. Okay?”

Kessler gave her a suspicious look, but nodded. “What do you need?”

Murphy pulled the list of locations from her pocket. “Information,” she replied. “Think any of the caravan hands or merchants would know about whether or not anyone is squatting in a particular location?”

“Depends on the location,” Kessler said. “Your best bet is Carla. Every piece of garbage patch gossip winds up making its way to her, sooner or later. They don’t call her ‘Trashcan’ just because she sells junk.”

Murphy nodded. “Is she in?”

Kessler jerked her head at the marketplace. “She’s bothering Deb about fiberglass prices. Don’t go involving Deb in whatever it is you’re up to, though. Kay would have my head.”

“Sure thing.” She made her way over to the market, where Carla was indeed haggling over the price of supplies shipments with Deb. Murphy leaned on an empty counter, rummaging through her pack for anything she could possibly turn into caps. She came up with the Med-X she had found at Sandy Coves Convalescent Home, a pack of bubblegum and the screws she had pulled out of the Prydwen’s floor panel.

Across the market, she caught sight of Old Man Stockton making check marks on a clipboard. For a moment, Murphy considered giving him the Railroad pass phrase and asking what he knew, but she decided against it. Desdemona had always been careful not to reveal HQ’s whereabouts, even to safehouse caretakers, unless absolutely necessary. If Stockton was still running his safehouse in Bunker Hill, then he probably couldn’t offer her any more information than she already had.

When Carla and Deb had finished, Murphy flagged the junk merchant down and pulled her into a quieter corner of the marketplace. The weathered caravan leader took a drag on her cigarette and smiled, taking in Murphy’s get-up.

“Flying under the radar, today, huh?” she remarked. “Who’s after you?”

“No one I can’t avoid,” Murphy murmured, glancing around to make sure they weren’t overheard. “Carla, I’m trying to find someone. I think they’re in one of two places, but I don’t want to go walking into the wrong one and getting a faceful of bullets. Can you help a girl out?”

“Depends,” Carla replied, blowing a puff of smoke into the air above their heads. “You got anything to pay for what I know?”

Murphy held up a dose of Med-X. “That do it? I’m short on caps right now.”

Carla pocketed the syringe. “Good enough. Where you looking?”

Murphy showed her the two names left on her list. Carla nodded knowingly.

“That old Poseidon place north of Natick? Full of ferals,” she said, dropping her cigarette butt to the floor and grinding it under the heel of her boot. “Cricket said she went through a week back on her way to Roadside Pines, and they were biting at her heels then. I doubt anyone’s wasted them, especially since someone wiped out those Gunners that were holding the interchange.”

“Great,” Murphy said. “What about the shelter?”

Carla shook her head. “That place is bad news. Met a scavenger once, said he picked through some of it before he ran into a deathclaw. Had to hide in a sewage pipe for a day and a half before he could get out.”

“How long ago was that?”

“Year, maybe a year and a half gone,” Carla said, scratching her head. “Could be it’s dead now, though. I hear some high-falutin’ raider group moved into that satellite array up the hill from there.”

“Over by Fort Hagen?”

“Yep.”

Murphy furrowed her brow. Would Desdemona risk moving into a bomb shelter with raiders so close? she wondered. Either one of the options could be HQ, given some effort. Yet neither seemed particularly inconspicuous or hidden.

“Thanks, Carla,” she said, putting the note away. She held up the rest of the Med-X, the bubblegum and the screws. “Interested in any of these?”

 


 

Murphy counted her caps in her room above the Savoldis’ bar that night, trying to figure out what to do next.

The Brotherhood was bound to have noticed her disappearance by now, and sooner or later they would be on her trail. Spending even one night in Bunker Hill was a risk, but she was exhausted. Even if she didn’t know where she was headed, she needed to be able to keep her eyes open if she was going to avoid recapture.

Still, the less time she spent in Bunker Hill, the better. Murphy shuddered to think about what would happen if the Brotherhood discovered the Railroad safehouse beneath the monument. She would leave in the morning, with or without a destination.

She plugged the archive holotape into her Pip-Boy again and scrolled through the list of recon squad missions. The reports went all the way up to the end of October. Quinlan had always been a meticulous recordkeeper.

With a sigh, she began scrolling backward through the list, stopping in surprise when reports from Recon Squad Gladius began to fill the screen. She smiled as she read through the familiar names, her own among the later entries, and names of the Knights she had never had the chance to meet in the earlier ones.

Reconstructed reports of what happened to Recon Squad Artemis preceded the exploits of Paladin Danse, Knight Rhys and Scribe Haylen, pieced together from the interviews of Paladin Brandis. The ghouls, the super mutants, Recon Bunker Theta… it was all there. To Murphy’s surprise, however, Recon Squad Artemis’s story was not the earliest entry in the archives. Reports from an even earlier group, Recon Squad Sanctus, began to fill the Pip-Boy’s screen. The entries were dated between 2280 and 2281, and included lists of the technology recovered from a variety of sites around the Commonwealth.

She stopped on an entry dated December 21, 2280.

“Federal surveillance center K-21B,” she murmured to herself. “Squad embarked for pre-war bunker just inside Glowing Sea perimeter as soon as conditions allowed. Sweep revealed possible Institute activity, surveillance and communications technology, pre-war technical documents. Database recovered and wiped.”

Murphy’s eyes widened as she read the description of the facility. A set of coordinates was listed with the entry. Murphy switched to her navigational system and punched them in, and her Pip-Boy blipped before popping up a map marker west of Boston.

“Gotcha, Dez,” Murphy said with a smile.

 


 

After paying Deb a visit to purchase a hazmat suit, Murphy struck out the next morning, her white hair tucked inside the cap and her combat rifle at the ready. The gun was bulky in her hands, much heavier than Alpha and Omega, but it packed an undeniable kick. She started to appreciate it more after an immature mirelurk chased her across the Charlestown bridge and she dropped it with just a few rounds to its ugly face.

She hugged the southern riverbank, Diamond City radio music playing softly from her Pip-Boy as she followed the murky water and ducked around raider dens, in and out of the shadows. Occasionally she heard a vertibird powering by overhead, and she would stop to watch it pass through the sky before continuing.

When she had first emerged from Vault 111, she had lived like this for about a week, sneaking around the buildings of Sanctuary Hills, trying to scrounge up food, supplies, water. She had left Codsworth at home more often than not, afraid the whirring of his gears and engine would give her away in the silence of the post-apocalyptic neighborhood. A few run-ins with mangy dogs and mole rats taught her that dealing with the threats of the wasteland was a lot easier with a companion, and that her scent gave her away just as often as Codsworth’s mechanical noises.

She smiled, wondering what the robot was up to without her around. Probably serving Mama Murphy whatever passed for tea, nowadays.

The sun climbed in the sky, and Murphy’s shadow shortened, then grew again as it passed overhead. She had just gone by the Chestnut Hillock Reservoir when she became aware of the sensation of being followed.

Clicking the safety off of the rifle, Murphy turned and aimed at the road behind her. No one was there. She studied the scrubby trees on the side of the asphalt, the rusted-out cars, but nothing provided enough cover for any assailants. The hair on the back of her neck rose, and she lowered the rifle in the silence.

When she turned back to her path, Nate was standing in her way. She shrieked and jumped back a step.

Strawberry. His voice filled her head, and he gave her a cocky smile.

“Keep that up, I’m going to get killed out here,” she muttered, and walked around the vision.

Nate disappeared, but his voice remained. Choose.

“Maxson has to choose, I know,” she said. “But choose what? If you’re trying to warn me about something, can you at least give me some more details?”

No response.

“Or you can vanish,” she muttered, kicking a rock in her path. “Get out of my head.”

Murphy continued in silence until she crossed the bridge into Forest Grove, her rifle at the ready in case of ferals. The marsh was silent in the afternoon sun, and she stuck to the dry side of the road as she passed the town, turning south when she walked under the concrete behemoth that used to be Yankee Division Highway. The sun was low by the time she came upon the Mass Pike Interchange, and as the Gunners’ elevator carried her to the top of the overpasses, she had a great view of it setting across the western wastes.

She paused to admire the sight before following the concrete south until she ran out of overpass. A few little trees had taken root in a freight truck and delivery van at the edge of the dropoff, and someone, long ago, had tried to make a go of it up there. A couple of tarps and a very battered patio umbrella still covered a series of planters and pots, the vegetation inside them long-dead and dried. Murphy curled up in a rusty lawn chair under one of the tarps and tried to appease her growling stomach with a few bites of mirelurk jerky from her pack.

As the light faded, Murphy briefly considered trying to light a fire, but decided against it after she remembered that Waypoint Echo wasn’t that far away. The last thing she needed was a curious Knight deciding to call in a vertibird to investigate the overpass. In time, she slept, waking intermittently at the sound of the wind in the grass below her and the distant bellows of a rutting radstag.

She was up before dawn, putting on the hazmat suit over her t-shirt and jeans, and stowing the suit’s helmet and her varsity jacket away before making her way back to the Gunners’ lift. The cold morning warmed up fast as she walked around Lake Cochituate to the outskirts of Natick Banks, and when the air grew thick on the road south, she jammed the helmet over her head and continued into the fog of the Glowing Sea.

Visibility was poor in the barren landscape to begin with, but it was even worse inside the astronaut bubble helmet of the hazmat suit. The eerie silence around her was broken only by the crunch of brittle twigs and gravel under her feet. Poisonous green mist obscured the horizon, and every direction looked the same.

Murphy cursed Desdemona under her breath and consulted her Pip-Boy before changing direction slightly. She had to admit, it was somewhat ingenious. Most of the heavy operatives and couriers for the Railroad were synths, and therefore not as bothered by the radiation that permeated the blast crater. The humans of HQ rarely left the premises, so they could afford to set up shop if the air filtration system was intact and they didn’t get claustrophobic. But the best part of the location was its natural defense against intruders. Unless you knew exactly where you were going, and unless you had the right gear, there was no chance you were going to just stumble upon a bunker in the Glowing Sea. It was the perfect hideout.

That is, unless her theory was wrong, which meant she was probably walking into certain death. The possibility was there and Murphy couldn’t deny it, but she bit her lower lip and kept going. Deacon had never led her astray before, and the fact that he was dead wasn’t going to diminish her trust in him.

Murphy.

She stopped in her tracks and turned to look behind her. Nate was there, in the swirl of yellows and greens, unobscured by the noxious air around them. A figure out of his time, like her.

“Nate,” she said softly. “What do you want from me?”

He smiled and held his hand out to her. Murphy studied him before taking a step, then another, toward the impossible figure. She stretched her gloved hand out to touch him, hardly daring to breathe.

The ground heaved suddenly, and a shower of rocks and soil exploded between her and the vision of Nate. An angry chittering filled the air, and six beady eyes and a set of claws bore down on her.

Murphy threw herself to the side just in time to dodge the stinger jab that followed, and she scrambled to her feet again as the radscorpion rushed her, clicking its pincers in anticipation. She stood her ground until the last second, bullets tearing through the creature’s exoskeleton across its back, but as she dove to the side a claw lashed out and knocked the gun from her hands.

The combat rifle flew in one direction, Murphy sprawled in the other, and the radscorpion shrieked and dove for her. She barely got her knife out of her boot before it was on top of her, and she dug the blade into one of its shiny eyes as hard as she could. There was a thump against her right shoulder and a searing pain followed, but she pulled the knife out and sunk it into the radscorpion’s head, again and again, until its life leaked out onto her chest and the creature fell still.

Murphy didn’t stop to process what had happened. She pushed the corpse off of her and ran, stooping down to snatch up the rifle and her pack before pounding off into the mist. It didn’t matter which direction she picked. Where there was one radscorpion, there were always more.

She ran until she couldn’t anymore, and when she stopped to take stock of herself, Murphy found what she had suspected. A hole had been torn in the shoulder of her hazmat suit, blood and radscorpion venom running freely from the opening. Her right arm was stiffening as the poison worked its way into her system, aided by the exertion of the fight and her escape. A search through her pack produced a stimpak, which she jammed into her arm immediately, but she had no antivenom, no patch for the suit.

Murphy tried to steady her breath and slow her heart rate, keep the venom from working its way further into her, but the creeping numb spread across her chest, down her whole right side, and soon she could barely work her fingers, let alone hold onto the knife or the combat rifle. She tried to check her progress on the Pip-Boy’s map, but her vision was hazy, the green map marker dancing across the screen like a firefly.

Keep moving, she thought, and she struggled to her feet to walk tight circles, willing the venom’s effects to fade. Everything around her looked the same, a barren landscape stretching into the green fog. Nothing.

She stumbled, shook her head, stumbled again. Take another stimpak? No, save it. The radiation was inside her suit now, rendering it useless, and she tore off the helmet, gasping in the cold mist around her. The tang in the air tasted of finality.

Murphy.

That voice.

“No,” she said. “You're not here.”

Strawberry.

“No, Nate, I am done with this bullshit,” Murphy said angrily, her eyes unable to focus on anything around her. “You're not real. Whatever dreams, visions, fucking prophecies you send me are just in my head.”

Trust me.

“Give me a reason,” she whispered, finally locating the figure in the sickly, swirling mists. “You won't leave me alone. You haven't let me sleep in peace for months now. You nearly killed me in Mass Fusion, and I’m probably going to die out here because of you. I trust you about as much as I would trust a deathclaw.”

You know me, Murphy.

“You're not my husband. You are barely a shadow of the man I loved,” Murphy cried out in the silence. “I knew Nate better than anyone, anyone, and even I could never hope to imagine the depth of his soul, his complexities, his… his love. No part of you is him. You're just… me.”

Her voice, her grief, was swallowed by the fog around her. She sank to the ground, the world spinning. “And I'm not enough to save whatever is left of him. You're a shadow without a source.”

You are enough for me. The voice changed, and the figure in the mist changed with it, its edges warping, mutating, growing broader in some places and softer in others. Nate disappeared, and Maxson took his place, his blue eyes burning through the irradiated veil.

He reached out a hand to her, and Murphy shrank away from it. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “Don't do that to him, too. Don't corrupt him like you did Nate.”

I’m not doing this, Maxson replied, his lips unmoving, his face stern. You are.

Another shimmer and it was her son reaching out to her, still clad in the hospital gown she had found him in when the Minutemen had stormed the Institute. You are more than familiar with corruption, mother, are you not?

“Stop,” she sobbed, bowing her head in shame. “I didn't make you what you were. I just made you.”

And that was enough, the figure said, gesturing broadly at the wasteland around them. This land, this hell, this man. Your fault.

Murphy let the sand and dust of the Glowing Sea run through her fingers. Slowly, she rose, picked up her gun unsteadily and faced the beast that terrorized her mind.

“Yes,” she whispered. “I played a part in this. All of this. Nate did, too. We all did. I'm the only one left standing to pay the price, make up for those wrongs, and goddammit, I'm trying. I don't need a lecture from my murdered husband, a Brotherhood Elder or my dead son to tell me I've made mistakes, none of whom you actually are. You're just me.”

She took a step toward the figure. “Just. Me.”

Shaun stood his ground, and Murphy leveled her gun at his chest, unable to feel the trigger under her finger. “And even if you were my son… I already killed you once.”

In an instant, the figure reformed itself, and her little boy was looking down the barrel of her gun.

Mom?

“I'm not your mother,” Murphy whispered, and fired.

The blast ripped through the figure like smoke, and the vision faded. Murphy fell to her knees again, shaking as the sound echoed, and the yellow mist rushed in to consume her.

 


 

“Charmer.”

Murphy groaned and turned over onto her side. Her skin felt like it was on fire, and her mouth was devoid of moisture. She coughed and squinted at the dark figure bending over her, feeding an IV bag of RadAway into her arm.

“Charmer, you’re an idiot.”

Slowly, the figure came into focus, revealing itself to be a woman with an exasperated expression and a shock of hair as white as hers. Murphy smiled.

“Glory,” she said, holding up a weak hand. “Fancy… fancy meeting you way out here.”

The Railroad heavy grasped it, squeezing it tightly with a bewildered grin. “Ah, Charmer, didn’t anyone tell you that dandelions don’t grow all the way out here in the Glowing Sea?”

Murphy coughed. “And yet here we are.”

“Here we are,” Glory agreed. She pulled Murphy’s arm and steadied her back, propping her up into a sitting position on the bedroll. “Welcome to the new HQ.”

Chapter Text

Murphy looked around the room curiously as Glory pulled off the pieces of the ruined hazmat suit and patched up her radscorpion wound. The rusty metal and concrete interior was thrown into eerie relief by a red safety light on the wall, just opposite a reception desk where Drummer Boy was sitting, poring over what looked like a mail delivery of dead drop missives. He nodded at her before returning to his work, pulling a typewriter out from under the desk to tap out a response.

She must have looked stunned at the mundane task, and Glory gave her a grin. “That’s right, we’re super civilized now,” the Railroad heavy said. “It only took a move to the middle of nowhere.”

She frowned suddenly. “Speaking of which, how did you find us?”

Murphy reached for her pack and rummaged around in it before pulling out Deacon’s note. Glory’s eyes widened in recognition, and she smiled as she read through it.

“That dumbass,” she said, folding the piece of paper up. “Dez would have thrown him out if she knew about this. We were supposed to disappear, not leave a treasure trail like last time.”

“I figured,” Murphy said, shivering as the RadAway spread through her system. “He… I’m trying to find them. The ones who…”

Glory nodded solemnly. “Dez is down below with the others. Can you walk?”

Murphy willed her knees to be less wobbly and pushed herself up off the bed roll. She grabbed her pack and gun from the floor and flung an arm around Glory, who supported her weight as they headed deeper into the bunker.

The narrow tunnel opened into a dimly-lit atrium, and Glory paused to let Murphy take in the sight. A few heavies were leaning on a balcony a floor below them, smoking cigarettes and trading gossip. An office with a window into it across the way revealed Dr. Stanley Carrington, who was mixing chemicals with his back to them. P.A.M. was pacing around the bottom level three stories below them next to a bank of computers and screens.

As they descended the stairs, Tinker Tom burst out of one of the office spaces, holding a vicious-looking probe in one hand and a bottle of Wonderglue in the other. “Glory, are you crazy?!” he cried out. “She hasn’t been through the sweep! We’ve gotta do a full-body scan, biological scrubber test, cavity search-”

“Tom, I swear to god if you bring that thing near us I will toss you off the balcony,” Glory threatened. “You can check her stuff, but she’s going to talk to the boss before you do anything else.”

Murphy nodded and dropped her pack and combat rifle. She held out her arm so Tinker Tom could pry off her Pip-Boy, and with some reluctance she handed over her punctured varsity jacket. He stalked back into his lab with her belongings, muttering under his breath about “Institute plants” and something that sounded like “alien shapeshifters.”

“I see he hasn’t changed a bit,” Murphy said with a smile.

“I’m still holding out hope,” Glory grumbled. “You know, he tried to convince Desdemona we should blend all of our food up before we eat it, just to make sure we ‘scramble the tiny robots’ the pre-war food companies and the Institute were trying to put into our systems. Desdemona compromised and decided to let him start a garden.”

She gestured at another office they passed, which was brightly lit with a number of planters and greenery inside. “The baby carrots are pretty good, even if we have to eat them with a side of Rad-X. I think he misses farming, sometimes.”

Down another set of stairs, and their path was blocked by the Railroad’s mysterious leader, Desdemona, who looked as severe as the last time Murphy had seen her in the catacombs beneath the Old North Church. She had her fingers laced around a cigarette and a judgmental look on her face as she took in Murphy’s wound.

“Well, if it isn’t the General of the Minutemen,” she said sternly, hand on her hip. “The destroyer of the Institute. Liberator of the synths.”

“Yeah, yeah, you can cut the bullshit,” Murphy said, waving the insincere titles aside. “We both know the Institute is still out there.”

“Good, then we can get down to business,” the Railroad leader replied. “Namely, why you decided to ally yourself with the greatest threat to our existence.”

“I’ll leave you to it,” Glory said sharply, and ducked out from under Murphy’s arm.

“Get back up top,” Desdemona ordered. “In case we get any more unwelcome visitors.”

Glory gave the two women a little salute and headed back up the stairs. Desdemona guided Murphy into one of the offshooting offices, where a map of the Commonwealth was tacked on the wall and a blackboard displayed the names of active agents and safehouses. Murphy smiled at the familiar sight.

“I’m disappointed in you, Charmer,” Desdemona said, sweeping up a piece of chalk and marking a series of slash marks under Mercer. “I thought you knew better than to throw your lot in with the Brotherhood of Steel.”

“I was trying to make sure the Minutemen would survive,” Murphy said as evenly as she could. “I didn’t want to denounce the Railroad, but in order to have any hope of keeping our own people safe, our own synths safe, we had to. We didn’t have a choice.”

“You could have come to us, first,” Desdemona replied harshly. “I know we’re small, ill-equipped compared to the Brotherhood, but we could have offered you freedom, rather than the threat of military force breathing down your neck, waiting for one misstep. We want what’s best for the Commonwealth, too, despite popular belief.”

“I’m not here on behalf of the Minutemen or the Brotherhood today,” Murphy said bitterly. “Can we not do this?”

Desdemona took a drag on her cigarette and looked Murphy up and down. “Some of our numbers would want me to have you taken outside and shot, for what you’ve cost us.”

Murphy stiffened. Desdemona blew the smoke out of her mouth in a thin stream. “Luckily for you, I believe that you’re still of more use to us alive than dead.”

“Naturally,” Murphy said, letting out the breath she was holding. “Yet another faction who wants to pump me for information. Perfect.”

Desdemona cocked an eyebrow at that. “The Railroad thrives on information. You happen to possess a lot of it that the survival of our organization could depend upon.”

“I do,” Murphy said with a nod. “But I’m looking for information in my own right. A lead. And I’m not planning on sticking around to do heavy work. The Institute’s still out there, and I need to find them.”

“Then perhaps we can work something out,” Desdemona said with a calculated smile. “But first, I suppose I should thank you for attempting to destroy the Institute, even if you ultimately failed.”

“Did any of the synths make it out okay?” Murphy asked.

“Yes… and no,” Desdemona said, her voice heavy. “Thanks to the evacuation order you gave, most of the synths got out of the Institute, but hate runs deep in the Commonwealth. A hatred of everything to do with the Institute. A hatred of synths. When people realized what was happening…”

She shook her head. “We mobilized quickly and rescued most of the synths. But there were… casualties.”

“They hated the synths enough to just… murder them?” Murphy asked, aghast.

“Only a few hated synths enough to murder them while they were defenseless,” Desdemona replied. “But a hell of a lot of the Commonwealth despised them enough to let it happen. Most of the synths are safe… for now, of course.”

Her face darkened. “But who can tell, after the stunt that Courser pulled in Diamond City. It may not be your fault you were attacked, but pulling back the veil on the Institute’s survival has cost us dearly. Our entire structure has been upended, even as our safehouses are bursting, and we have been forced into hiding in the most remote corners of the Commonwealth.”

“It cost me dearly, too,” Murphy said quietly.

Desdemona turned sideways, putting a hand to her forehead. “Yes. The loss of Deacon was… unfortunate.”

“He’s really gone, then?” Murphy asked, looking down at her boots.

“He is. I’m told he was laid to rest with Barbara.”

Tears welled up in Murphy’s eyes. She wiped them away. “Good,” she said with a sniff.

“Even after the Brotherhood-Minutemen alliance was announced, Deacon never lost hope in you,” Desdemona said quietly. “The arguments we had… I suppose that was why he was there, that day, in Diamond City.”

Murphy nodded. Desdemona pulled out her pack of cigarettes to offer her one, but Murphy declined.

“As you’ve probably guessed, the synths who managed to escape during your attack on the Institute are in the dark about any secondary location,” Desdemona went on. “Likely another feature of the failsafe built into their synth components. But our first tip-off that something was amiss came just as we were finally beginning to get a handle on the influx of escaped synths. We received word of observed relay activity in the Commonwealth and the arrival of a handful of synths, well after the Institute had fallen.”

“Where?” Murphy asked.

“Salem,” Desdemona said. “One of our newest recruits witnessed their arrival. The encoded holotape they had with them claimed they would likely be one of the last deliveries for some time. Patriot’s gone off the grid.”

“Makes sense,” Murphy muttered, scratching her head. “They probably lost their mass synth production capabilities when we blew up their labs. Any more that go missing now would probably look suspicious.”

“Precisely,” Desdemona said, lighting up another cigarette. “So since then, our focus has been on smuggling out the synths we are currently harboring and avoiding the attention of the Brotherhood of Steel.”

“Which brought you here.” Murphy gestured at the facility around them.

Desdemona gave her a hard look. “It would seem, however, that you’ve reignited their interest in our activities.”

“It’s the chip,” Murphy said with a sigh. “From the Courser. They can’t decode it, and they know you can.”

“And what are they hoping to accomplish with it?” Desdemona asked. “We have no radio signal to tie the relay activity to, no idea where our enemy is hiding, and no guarantee that they haven’t changed their access technology since the last time you cracked their code and arrived unannounced. For all we know, attempting to build another teleporter would result in nothing more than the disassembly of the test subject’s molecules.”

She took a drag on her cigarette and looked thoughtful. “Though I have to say, I would be curious to see what Tom could pry off of it, if only to ascertain whether it possesses unique qualities like its previous owner.”

“Unique qualities?”

Desdemona nodded. “The Courser. She was a woman, wasn’t she?”

“Yes,” Murphy said hesitantly.

“Which makes her unique.”

Murphy opened her mouth, confused, but she was cut off by a knock at the door. She turned and gasped.

“Mind if we join?” said Nick Valentine, tipping his hat to Murphy in greeting.

“Yeah, it’s not like we came all this way for nothing,” said MacCready, peeking over the synth detective’s shoulder. “Took you long enough, boss.”

Desdemona’s steely facade cracked, just a little. “Your friends were rather insistent they remain here until you arrived,” she said, the hint of a smile on her lips. “It’s been a terrible inconvenience.”

 


 

“So there I am, consoling Irma while Hancock’s revisiting his greatest hits in a memory lounger next to us, when who bursts in the door but this upstart,” Valentine said, leaning on the railing of the surveillance center control sector while P.A.M. trundled around them running probabilities equations. He pointed his cigarette at MacCready, who gave Murphy a sheepish grin.

“Didn’t I tell you to take Preston back to the Castle?” Murphy asked, giving him an accusatory look.

“I swear, I did,” MacCready said with a grin. “Well, I at least got him past Andrew Station. He said he was good for the rest of the trip, so I backtracked and took the exit for Goodneighbor to team up with Hancock and see if we couldn’t find Doctor Amari.”

“And Fahrenheit pointed him our way,” Valentine agreed with a nod. “The Memory Den was a dead end, though, so MacCready and I did the next best thing.”

“Which was?”

MacCready flipped his cap up to scratch his head. “Followed the Freedom Trail?”

Murphy stared at them. “You did what?”

“Well, it wasn’t like we had any other leads on where the Railroad was hiding,” Valentine said with a shrug.

“But all those super mutants,” Murphy said, shaking her head. “The ferals, the raiders…”

“It was a picnic compared to the Glowing Sea,” Valentine grumbled. “We nearly gave up after we found that note under the church.”

“You found Deacon’s note?”

“Deacon wrote that?” MacCready said in surprise. Murphy nodded.

“I figured it was meant for you, or at least for the Brotherhood, so I copied it down and left it,” Valentine said. “Took it back to the Castle and had Scribe- excuse me, Haylen, look it over. She knew what it was almost immediately. Smart gal, there.”

“How’s she doing?” Murphy asked, looking at the floor.

“She’s been better,” MacCready admitted. “But I think she’ll be happier now that she’s not tethered to the Brotherhood. In the long run, anyway.”

“I should thank her,” Murphy said, rubbing a hand against the back of her neck. “What she said to the Brotherhood leadership… it needed to be said, but it wouldn’t have had the same effect, coming from me.”

MacCready nodded. “She told me what happened. She was convinced they wouldn’t hurt you, otherwise we would have tried to break you out.”

“Thanks,” Murphy said with a smile. “They treated me well. I just wasn’t ready to spend the rest of my life in Brotherhood custody.”

“We figured you would spring yourself, sooner or later,” Valentine said with a grin and a flash of his golden eyes. “So MacCready and I stocked up on Rad-X and RadAway and headed out here. Ran into some radscorpions and bloodbugs, but it sounds like we had better luck than you.”

Murphy shook her head and laughed. “Jesus. Sounds like I owe both of you a drink and some caps.”

“Save the festivities for later,” Desdemona said, striding over to the three of them from the stairwell with Murphy’s supplies. “Here, Tom cleared these for you. He’s still tearing apart your Pip-Boy because his scanners caught something, but he’s pretty sure it’s just dirt.”

“Well, tell him to put it back together like new when he’s done,” Murphy said, accepting the varsity jacket, combat rifle and supplies pack from the Railroad leader.

“You can tell him yourself, later,” Desdemona replied. “Now, tell me everything you know about the Institute’s current operations.”

Murphy, MacCready and Valentine gave her a rundown on the situation from the beginning, and P.A.M. stopped clanking around and listened in the background, the new information setting her inner mechanics awhir. Desdemona nodded occasionally, and when they had finished with their different viewpoints of the attack in Diamond City, she crossed her arms and leaned back on the railing next to Valentine.

“It’s just as I suspected,” she said. “The Institute has survived, but not intact.”

Murphy nodded. “That’s what I figured. But how is that possible?”

“For all of our intelligence reports, technology and gathered knowledge over the years, the Railroad is woefully uninformed about the location of Institute facilities,” Desdemona said matter-of-factly. “Until you burst onto the scene a year ago, we still didn’t know where their main facility was located. If Kellogg hadn’t been planted on the surface for you to find, we likely never would have known until it was too late.”

Valentine nodded. “You managed to crack one of the biggest mysteries of the Commonwealth, kid, but you have to admit it was mostly due to your son throwing you a big, mercenary-shaped clue.”

“That aside, there must be something to go on,” Murphy said with a grimace. “Old records from CIT? That network scanner holotape I gave to Sturges? If they had escape plans in place and a secondary location- or more- ready to go, then there should be records of it.”

“Well, think about it from the Institute’s point of view,” Valentine replied. “They thought they were omnipotent, untraceable and uncrackable. Even if they had evacuation plans, they probably didn’t update them because they grew too comfortable in their underground lair.”

“Bottom line, whatever plan they had was likely outdated and may not have even been on their computer systems,” Desdemona said, nodding. “An attack like the one the Minutemen orchestrated would have thrown everyone into chaos. In whatever time they had to grab their dearest possessions and get out, there would have been confusion, emotions running high, disagreements over where to go if there were multiple options.”

She pointed her forked fingers at Murphy and MacCready. “Which we know for sure there were, thanks to our last set of synth escapees and what you two witnessed in Salem at the retirement home with the robots.”

“Lay it out for me,” Murphy said.

“The Gen 3 synths which escaped with Patriot’s help and the Gen 2 synths you witnessed abducting a robot came via a short-range relay,” Desdemona explained. “The Courser who attacked you. She had a deep range transmitter on her person, correct?”

“She did.”

“As did the one who abducted one of the Gen 2s?”

“I’m not sure she was a Courser, but whoever it was had a beacon of some sort,” Murphy said, her face hardening in thought.

Desdemona nodded. “As did the woman Deacon heard rumors about from some of our safehouses just after the Institute fell, and the Courser who attacked Ticonderoga three days before the Diamond City debate and left no one alive.”

Murphy took in a sharp breath. “What? Ticonderoga fell?”

“They were in the process of packing up to leave,” Desdemona said, her voice hinting at the anguish and rage beneath her neutral expression. “Because of your alliance with the Brotherhood, we chose to move every safehouse you had ever operated with to hedge our bets. Ticonderoga was nearly empty, and she cut through the ones who were left like she took pleasure in the deed.”

“High Rise,” Murphy said, putting a hand to her mouth. “Jenny…”

Desdemona nodded. “They’re gone.”

Murphy curled her fingers into fists. “How did she know?”

“That part is still unclear,” Desdemona replied. “I’m inclined to think the SRB knew of Ticonderoga’s existence before the Institute was scattered, otherwise it doesn’t make any sense.”

“Speaking of the SRB, what were you saying before about-”

Murphy was interrupted by the arrival of Drummer Boy and Tinker Tom, who had dashed to the railing two floors above them and called out to the group below.

“Dez,” Drummer Boy said, panic in his voice and on his face. “We’ve got incoming.”

“Incoming?”

He bit his lip and nodded. “Brotherhood vertibird. One of our runners spotted it coming in from the northeast. Headed straight for us.”

Murphy’s eyes widened. “How…”

Tinker Tom held up something in his fingers, small, silvery and blinking. “Sensor sweep turned up this little beauty in Charmer’s Pip-Boy.”

“How long do we have?” Desdemona asked, her voice steady and low.

Drummer Boy shook his head. “Minutes, probably.”

“God damn it,” Desdemona said, throwing her cigarette down and grinding it beneath the toe of her boot. She pointed an accusatory finger at Murphy. “I knew taking you in was a risk, but I let sentimentality get the better of me.”

“Easy, doll,” Valentine said, stepping between the two women. “Now isn’t the time to point fingers.”

“Desdemona, I swear, I didn’t know,” Murphy pleaded. “Maybe I can-”

“Drummer Boy, alert the others. Get P.A.M. out,” Desdemona ordered, knocking Valentine aside to grab Murphy by the arm and drag her toward the stairs. “Tom, I want you to back everything up and wipe it. Do it now, then wait for a signal from up top to torch and retreat.”

“Get your hands off of her,” MacCready said, swinging his rifle off of his back and setting Desdemona in his sights. Valentine similarly pulled out his pipe revolver and pointed it at the Railroad leader.

Murphy shook herself loose and stepped in front of the guns. “I appreciate the gesture, but now’s not the time,” she said firmly. “Desdemona, what’s your plan?”

“What are you gonna do, Dez?” Tinker Tom echoed above them.

Desdemona looked Murphy, MacCready and Valentine over, then turned back to the stairs, gesturing at them to follow. “We’re going out. Seal the door behind us and don’t wait up.”

 


 

Glory was waiting for them inside the little shack that concealed the surveillance center’s entrance, her armored coat buckled on and her minigun at her side. She tossed Desdemona a bulky-looking railway rifle as they emerged from the trap door.

“Charmer, you with us or against us?” she asked, eyeing Murphy questioningly.

“She’s going to buy us some time,” Desdemona said. “Stay in the shack and follow her lead.”

Murphy nodded and shouldered her combat rifle. She led the way out of the shack’s front door, coughing as the radiation began to seep into her lungs. The air was thick with green and yellow mist, the barren landscape around the structure broken only by a number of ghostly tree trunks and limbs scattered in the dust. There was a hum in the air, growing louder by the second. MacCready stayed on the porch and trained his rifle on the sky, his eyes darting around for the source of the noise, while Valentine moved up beside her and holstered his gun again to hold onto his hat.

Slowly, the silhouette of the vertibird grew in the northeastern fog, and the machine soared over their heads and set down just south of the shack. Murphy rubbed her eyes, trying to count the shadowy figures within. One pilot, obviously. Two more hulking shapes, probably in power armor. Was that it?

The vertibird powered down, its rotors slowing even as the Glowing Sea mist blew back in their wake. The pilot remained in the cockpit, but the two figures in power armor hoisted heavy guns by their sides and climbed out, their footsteps heavy and jarring in the silence.

Murphy stepped forward and raised a fist over her heart. “Ad Victoriam,” she called out.

“Really?” Valentine said in amusement, shooting her a sideways glance.

“Just go with it,” Murphy hissed. “Maybe they’ll think we were just exploring or something and they’ll arrest me and leave.”

“Sure, sure,” Valentine said with a chuckle. “I might be immune to the weather here, but you and our sniper definitely aren’t dressed for exploring in it.”

“Well, maybe they’re stupid.”

The power armored figures stomped closer, and Murphy could see that the marks on their armor denoted them as Knights. The guns at their sides were Gatling lasers. She drew herself up to her full height and held her breath until they came to a stop in front of her.

“Report, soldier,” said the Knight on the right. A woman’s voice.

“Aspirant Murphy, registration MY-517P… 517 A, conducting a routine sweep of federal surveillance center K21-B with… associates,” Murphy said, gesturing at Valentine and MacCready. “Sweep discovered nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Then why is your mercenary pointing a gun at us?” asked the Knight on the left skeptically.

Murphy narrowed her eyes at the man’s voice. “Can’t be too careful in the Glowing Sea,” she said hesitantly. “Sorry, what are your registration numbers?”

“How about we tell you that when the rest of your friends come out of the house,” the woman said, shifting her Gatling laser up toward the porch.

“Hey, hey,” Valentine said, putting his hands up. “Easy.”

“Murphy,” MacCready called out, excitement in his voice. Murphy glanced back at him, and he pointed emphatically at the soldier on the left. “The gun.”

She turned to look at the Gatling laser and her eyes widened. “Dez, Glory, come on out,” she called. “It’s okay, I swear.”

Slowly, Glory and Desdemona emerged and made their way off the porch with MacCready in tow, who was grinning like a kid in a candy store.

“What’s going on?” Desdemona asked, her railway rifle still up in a defensive position. Glory had her minigun trained on the female Knight, who mirrored her stance with the Gatling laser.

Murphy turned to the man and raised her eyebrows. “Well go on, then, you can introduce yourself.”

He nodded, set the familiar Gatling laser down gently in the dirt and pulled off his helmet to reveal a tousled undercut and a pair of piercing blue eyes. “Arthur Maxson, Elder of the East Coast Chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel.”

The groups stared at each other in silence for a beat.

Valentine whistled. “Well I’ll be damned,” he said.

“This is… unexpected,” Desdemona said, lowering her gun.

“I’ll say,” Glory said, snickering. She lowered her minigun and the other Knight lowered her own weapon.

“I’d have known that laser anywhere,” MacCready said, elbowing Murphy in the arm. “After we dragged it halfway across Boston so you could get in his-”

“Well, we should take this inside before my lungs give up entirely,” Murphy said, cutting him off. “Arthur, Desdemona and Glory. Desdemona, Arthur and… friend. Shall we?”

“He is not coming inside,” Desdemona said harshly. “The last thing we need is a Brotherhood Elder-”

“Civilian, the Brotherhood is well aware of the contents of this facility,” Maxson interjected. “As I am sure you are already aware-”

“-sticking his nose into our business and mentally planning how he’s going to kill us all-”

“-no interest in anything at the moment other than negotiating terms-”

“-completely out of line-”

“-act of trust-”

MacCready leaned on Murphy’s shoulder and shook his head, watching the two faction leaders snapping in each others’ faces. “This is fun,” he said. “But I’m starting to feel like I could take a side job as a Christmas tree.”

Murphy nodded, put her fingers in her mouth and whistled. The sound stopped Desdemona and Maxson mid-sentence, and they looked at her in fury.

“Inside?” Murphy said with a weak smile. “Please?”

Chapter Text

Murphy leaned against the wall of the reception area and breathed the filtered air of the bunker in heavily, while Maxson stepped out of his power armor and relinquished Final Judgment to Glory. Desdemona breezed through and headed deeper into the underground facility, Drummer Boy in tow, and MacCready sank into the abandoned desk chair and propped his boots up next to the typewriter.

“You okay, doll?” Valentine murmured, putting his mechanical hand on her shoulder.

“Fine,” she replied, then winced in pain as her stinger wound twinged. Her sharp intake of breath was enough to whip Maxson’s head around.

“You’re injured,” the Brotherhood of Steel Elder said, his voice full of concern.

“I’m fine,” Murphy reassured him. “Radscorpion got in a lucky jab. Glory fixed me up, and Doctor Carrington can have a look at me later if it keeps bothering me. There are bigger fish to fry, right now.”

He took a step toward her, then considered their surroundings and nodded. Valentine kept his hand on her shoulder, and MacCready shot Maxson a suspicious look behind his back.

Murphy jerked her head at the power armor-clad woman and the pilot in the hazmat suit next to Glory. “Who did you bring with you?”

The woman popped off her helmet, and Murphy grinned at the familiar red hair and skeptical expression.

“Sorry about the tracker in your Pip-Boy,” Proctor Ingram said, tucking the helmet under her arm. “The Elder insisted I install it, on account of you being a flight risk.”

“How many people know?” Murphy asked.

“Just us,” Ingram said, gesturing at the people in the room. “Though whether that will change remains to be seen.”

The pilot took off his helmet as well, revealing a mess of sandy brown hair and a warm pair of eyes. Murphy recognized the young man as a Lancer she had seen aboard the Prydwen and manning the vertibird shuttle to the airport, and she gave him a smile.

Across the room, MacCready fell out of the desk chair. Before anyone could move to help him, he righted himself and peered at the Lancer in disbelief.

“Zip?” he asked.

The Lancer’s eyes narrowed, before widening in recognition. “RJ?”

Ingram looked between the two of them. “You know this wastelander, Ricky?”

“Ricky?” MacCready laughed. “Finally kicked the Nuka habit and enlisted with the mungos, did you?”

“Oh my god, RJ, it is you,” Ricky said excitedly. He crossed the room, and the two men embraced like old friends.

“Am I missing something here?” Valentine asked Murphy.

She shook her head. “I’m on the same page as you.”

“Hey, could we postpone this reunion until after we decide the fate of the free world?” Glory cut in. “Dez is probably waiting for us.”

Maxson shook out his battlecoat and nodded. “Lead the way… civilian.”

Glory shot him a look of mistrust, but headed toward the narrow hallway that led down into the bunker. Maxson followed her, then Ingram, Murphy and Valentine, and MacCready and Ricky brought up the rear.

Maxson paused at the balcony overlooking the atrium, much like Murphy had, and took in the sight. The harsh fluorescent lights above threw the four-story bunker into stark relief, shadows long where the bulbs were broken and dark. Anxious faces peered at them from the shadows. Fear, resentment and anger were evident in the features of the Railroad operatives- many of whom Murphy knew to be synths- at the sight of the Brotherhood Elder looking down on them.

Glory tried to move them along toward the stairs, but Murphy stepped up to the railing beside Maxson and put her hand out next to his, palm up. He took a deep breath, then laid his hand in hers, squeezing her fingers tightly before turning away from the balcony. Glory led the group down a level and ushered them into an office, where Desdemona and Carrington were waiting with a set of chairs around a metal table.

“Please,” Desdemona said, gesturing at the seats. Maxson and Murphy sat, while Ingram elected to stay in her power armor and stand. Carrington and Desdemona took chairs opposite them, and Glory and Valentine leaned against a nearby desk. MacCready and Ricky stayed on the balcony outside, clearly more interested in catching up than listening in on the proceedings.

“Where do I even begin?” Desdemona said fiercely, leaning forward in her chair, arms crossed. “Maybe with the amount of atrocities your soldiers have committed against the ones we vow to protect, synths who only desire to lead a peaceful existence in this world, free from bondage or prejudice? Or how about the fact that you flew an airship into the heart of the Commonwealth, unbidden, to start a war that you had no good reason to begin and no idea how to finish?”

Maxson shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “The Brotherhood of Steel-”

“And now you have the audacity to turn up on our doorstep, ostensibly to discuss terms, even though you stormed our previous headquarters less than a week ago in some misguided attempt to force us to collaborate with you,” Desdemona went on. “You have no right to be here, in this facility, and frankly, you have no right to be in the Commonwealth. The only reason you made it past our door in one piece is because Charmer trusts you.”

She indicated Murphy, and Maxson looked at her sideways.

“Charmer?” he asked, a touch of amusement in his voice.

Murphy shrugged. “Deacon picked it.”

Maxson leaned forward and placed his palms on the table in an open stance. “I understand your hesitation. There have been mistakes on the Brotherhood’s part, without question, but the Railroad is far from innocent in its dealings in the Commonwealth. I did not come here to trade insults or measure the efficacy of either faction.”

“Then what did you come here seeking?” Carrington asked.

“A truce,” Maxson said. “As I am sure you are aware, there is another threat still alive in this land that neither the Brotherhood or the Railroad can hope to stamp out unless we put aside our differences, if only for a short time.”

Glory laughed. “You’re joking.”

“I am not,” Maxson said, raising his chin in defiance. “The Brotherhood has need of the Railroad’s resources, and in time, the Railroad will be in need of the Brotherhood’s.”

“We have no need for a militaristic cult of technology,” Desdemona said coldly. “Especially one who so easily rejects said technology when it becomes impossible for you to control.”

“Elder, how is this in any way constructive?” Ingram asked, annoyed. “This is a waste of time.”

“I agree,” said Carrington. “And a foolish one, on your part.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” said Murphy, rubbing her forehead in exasperation. “Desdemona, at least hear him out. If you guys blow this, I doubt there will be another opportunity to talk things over.”

“Last I checked, the Railroad was under my command, not yours,” Desdemona replied, glaring at Murphy. “Kindly save your assessments for someone who cares.”

“Dez, don’t be stupid,” Glory said with a smirk. “Charmer’s right. This might be a shot at something good. We can’t just keep running from everything.”

“You just moved to No Man’s Land,” Valentine pointed out. “Be a shame if you had to pack up again, so soon.”

Desdemona gave the synths a look of vexation, then sighed and sat back in her chair. “Very well. Lay out your conditions, Elder.”

Maxson nodded. “First and foremost, a complete ceasefire between our troops until the Institute remnants are located and dealt with. It may be too much to ask for collaboration in the matter, but it may prove necessary, depending on what we find in the future.”

“What sort of collaboration?” Carrington asked.

“Intelligence, primarily. I would have considered the situation an opportunity for in-the-field military cooperation as well, however…” Maxson trailed off, his eyes flickering toward the door.

“You noticed we’re not exactly packing an army nowadays,” Glory said with a smile. “Sure. I get it.”

Maxson nodded. “Along with intelligence cooperation, we would insist on full disclosure of relevant pre-war and Institute technological finds and records.”

“Are you saying you want access to our facilities?” Desdemona asked. “Out of the question. Even if this becomes a reality, the Railroad will maintain its secrecy. We cannot afford to operate in the open.”

“Access to Railroad-controlled sites is not a necessity,” Maxson said. “Though we would prefer it, if only to make sure any records or technology disclosures are accurate.”

Desdemona shook her head. “You could have a liaison. Anything beyond that puts our operations in jeopardy.”

“That’ll be a hard sell for Quinlan,” Ingram said with a grimace. “Routing relations with the Railroad through one person will drive him crazy.”

Maxson put a hand inside his coat, and the Railroad members in the room jumped and reached for their weapons. He put a hand up, then slowly withdrew the Courser chip from an inside pocket, placing it gently on the table.

Carrington smiled. “I take it you have been unable to crack the encryption.”

“It’s a tough little nut,” Ingram said affectionately. “But word on the street is you have a man who specializes in nut cracking.”

“Is that it?” Desdemona asked, picking up the chip and rolling it between her fingers.

Ingram snorted. “Hardly.”

“What more do you want?”

Maxson took a deep breath. “The Predictive Analytic Machine.”

Desdemona froze. “No. Out of the question.”

“A machine with the abilities it possesses is dangerous in the wrong hands,” Maxson insisted. “Technology like that belongs with the Brotherhood, where it can be safely studied and utilized. The tenets we swear to uphold prevent us from letting just anyone possess it.”

“No,” Desdemona repeated. “P.A.M. is responsible for the Railroad’s survival, the rescue of so many synths. We cannot give her up.”

Glory nodded. “P.A.M.’s family.”

“Pam?” Maxson looked bewildered, but he shook it off. “What would it take to part with the machine?”

Desdemona looked thoughtful. “Your word that the Brotherhood would stop killing synths.”

Maxson shook his head. “Gen 3 synths, possibly. Gen 1 and 2 synths, unlikely.”

“What difference does it make?” Glory asked. “They’re all slaves to the Institute, even if some of them aren’t pretty like you and I. Get your troops to go after ferals or super mutants instead.”

“Glory, please,” Desdemona said, waving the heavy’s comments aside. “Is that a legitimate possibility? The Brotherhood leaving Gen 3 synths alone?”

“We have the beginnings of a similar agreement with the Minutemen already in place,” Maxson replied with a shrug. “Expanding the policy to include all Gen 3s would not be too much of a stretch, I think. Especially if the Institute is stopped and its synth creation capabilities rendered unusable.”

“I…” Desdemona looked as if she was at a loss for words. “I was unaware you had changed your mind, regarding synths.”

Maxson’s face hardened. “I haven’t,” he said sharply. “The Institute’s decision…”

Murphy elbowed him, and he changed his tack. “The amount of synths in the world is finite. Focusing on rooting out the synths in the general populace is a waste of Brotherhood resources and time, which could be better spent on far more important projects and missions.”

Desdemona looked as if she didn’t trust him, but she nodded slowly. “If you can guarantee the safety of Gen 3 synths from Brotherhood attacks, perhaps we can discuss the future of P.A.M. after the Institute is located and brought down for good.”

“Very well.”

“Was there anything else?”

Maxson shook his head and sat back. Desdemona and Carrington shared a look, before Desdemona leaned forward in her chair again.

“In response, the Railroad would request that any and all information indicating the location of this headquarters be destroyed,” she said. “The tracker in Charmer’s Pip-Boy, the log information of the vertibird, power armor, whatever is out there that could point to this bunker. I want it gone.”

Ingram nodded. “Easy. No one knows we’re here, as far as I know. I can wipe the chips and you can disappear again.”

“Good,” Desdemona replied. “We can decode the Courser chip and order our operatives to stand down if we encounter Brotherhood soldiers in the open for the time being, but it will take some time before we can assign an operative to be a liaison regarding the sharing of information and tech. Consider it a trial period.”

“Of course,” Maxson said. “It will likely take some time to relay the information to our troops as well.”

“L&L,” Carrington reminded Desdemona, folding his hands.

She nodded. “We would also like assistance dealing with a threat to our operations, as well as the general populace’s safety. We can give you the details once we know more, but while we search for information about the Institute’s whereabouts, your boys in power armor can make themselves useful.”

“As long as this threat isn’t merely a Railroad errand, done,” Maxson said. “Proceed.”

Desdemona smiled. “As I said before, the Railroad will maintain its secrecy, but we would like the Brotherhood and the Minutemen to make an announcement that they have entered into a ceasefire with us. We would also like the Brotherhood to release the Minutemen from their agreement to denounce the Railroad, and for the Minutemen to make a statement to that effect.”

Murphy sat up straight. “What?”

“You heard me,” Desdemona replied. “Own up to your agreements. Let the Commonwealth know what you plan to do.”

“That’s… Desdemona, that’s crazy,” Murphy said. “Even if the Railroad is in the right, the Commonwealth still views you negatively, for the most part. You’d be putting a target on the back of every Minuteman.”

“So you’ll happily ask us to risk our men and women to find you information and go up against the Institute, but you won’t own up to the partnership?” Desdemona shook her head. “Charmer, I didn’t expect you, of all people, would be so concerned with your public image.”

“This isn’t about my public image,” Murphy said angrily. “People could die because of that decision, Desdemona. You’re asking us to take all of the risk of public outcry while you hide out in the shadows. No deal.”

“Then we walk,” Desdemona said, standing up from the table fiercely. “The Railroad cannot ever hope to emerge from those shadows unless we have the backing of at least one other faction.”

“Publicly defending the Railroad won’t fix that problem,” Murphy argued, standing up as well. “The reason the people of the Commonwealth fear you is the same reason they feared the Institute.”

“Murphy,” Valentine said uneasily.

“No, Nick, it’s about time somebody said it,” Murphy snapped. “You take synths at their most vulnerable, convince them life would be easier if they forget who and what they are, and then hide them among the population, delaying the inevitable discovery that will tear apart their lives and the lives of those they grow close to. Your goals might be different, but your methods are the same as… as my son’s.”

“How dare you,” Desdemona hissed. “They come to us afraid, wanting to forget what they are, what they went through, wanting a fresh start after a lifetime of slavery, and you would condemn us for giving that freedom to them?”

“Freedom from knowledge isn’t freedom,” Murphy said quietly. “I’ve learned that lesson too many times to forget, Desdemona. Better than anyone else in this room, I think.”

“The operation provides the synths with their best chance at survival and a life outside of the Institute,” Carrington replied. “No other option works quite as well.”

“Sorry to cut in,” Glory said, raising her hand tentatively. “But that’s not entirely true.”

“Stay out of this, Glory,” Desdemona said threateningly.

“Dez, I’m the poster child for synths who know their background,” Glory went on. “Charmer has a point.”

Desdemona sighed. “Every attempt we have made in the past to push unwiped synths into civilian life has ended in tragedy. We’re not trying this again.”

“Did your past attempts have a conduit organization willing to help transition your synths into an open existence?” Murphy asked.

“If you’re talking about the Minutemen, you can hardly call your little experiment anything beyond that: An experiment,” Desdemona said, her eyes narrowing. “Three open synths does not a successful transition program make.”

“Five,” Glory corrected.

“Five?” Murphy asked. She and the others stared at Glory, who shrugged.

“I sent two more out to Dismal Dancer’s when Ticonderoga was moving,” she said. “As far as I know, they’re doing okay.”

“You what?” Carrington asked, incredulous.

“Out where?” Maxson asked.

Murphy threw an arm out toward Glory. “You see? You have other options.”

Desdemona looked skeptical. “It’s too risky.”

“Okay,” Murphy said, placing her hands on the table and leaning forward. “I know why you’re hesitant. I don’t doubt that synths would rather just forget the traumas they’ve suffered and start anew. God knows I wish that for myself, sometimes. But forgetting does nothing to disprove the average wastelander’s fears. Forgetting just reinforces the idea that the Railroad doesn’t care about anybody but synths. Most importantly, forgetting gives no one the opportunity to learn from the mistakes of the Institute, to prevent injustices and misuse of technology and whatnot in the future from happening.”

“Forgetting keeps them safe,” Desdemona maintained.

“That depends entirely on what the synth gets up to once they figure out their new personality,” Murphy replied. “What about Libertalia? What about Danse? Jesus, what about Barbara? Did forgetting keep any of them safe?”

Desdemona opened her mouth to argue, then shut it. Carrington’s eyes widened, and Glory looked impressed.

“If you want the Minutemen to own up to this, then you need to stop the mind wipes,” Murphy went on. “Doctor Amari can make herself useful in some other way. Give this a shot.”

Desdemona looked around the room before taking a seat again. “Carrington, get P.A.M. up here. Everyone except Glory, out. We need a moment.”

Chapter Text

MacCready and the Lancer were laughing on the balcony when Doctor Carrington, Elder Maxson, Nick Valentine, Proctor Ingram and Murphy stepped out, the door clicking shut behind them. Carrington hustled off toward the stairs in search of P.A.M., his lab coat flapping from the effort. Maxson and Ingram stepped aside to speak in hushed tones, and MacCready waved Murphy and Valentine over.

“Zip, I’d like you to meet my boss, Murphy,” he said, beaming and placing a proud hand on her shoulder. “The most sought-after woman in the Commonwealth. And probably on the eastern seaboard.”

Zip grinned. “The vault dweller, eh? Seems like there’s always one or two who just can’t stay in their holes in the ground, gotta go poking around in other holes, too.”

“Well, my hole was too cold,” Murphy said with a smile. “Pleased to meet you, Zip.”

“Likewise,” Zip said, extending a hand to shake hers. “And…”

“Nick Valentine, private detective and part-time diplomat.” Valentine opted for a formal nod and pretended he didn’t notice Zip staring at his metal hand and the jagged edges around his face.

“Zip and I grew up together,” MacCready said fondly, crossing his arms.

Murphy looked between the two in surprise. “You mean…”

“Yep,” Zip said. “We’re both Little Lamplight alums. Well, RJ is, anyway.”

“Don’t tell me they changed the rules after I left,” MacCready said with a chuckle.

“Nah,” Zip replied, scratching the back of his neck. “I was just about to leave myself, but the Brotherhood took us all in right before they bombed the place to hell.”

“What?” MacCready’s eyes widened. “What happened?”

“You didn’t know?” Zip took a deep breath. “Oh, man. Okay, so you know how we were right back up against that vault, yeah? Where all the super mutants were living? After you left, they started organizing, trying to build up into something bigger with the help of this one mutie who was a bit smarter than the others, Shephard. He figured the Brotherhood was falling apart, the Enclave was gone, the time was right, you know?”

“Wait a minute,” Murphy said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “In all the times you told me about this cave you grew up in, you never mentioned you were next to a vault. Let alone a vault full of super mutants.”

MacCready shrugged. “We were good shots. They left us alone.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Zip said with a nod, his voice speeding up in excitement. “RJ shot one of them right through the eye once. I saw it.”

“Sounds like things haven’t changed much since then,” Valentine said with a smirk.

MacCready blushed at the compliments. “So, what did this… Shephard… do?”

“So he gets all these muties together, hundreds of them, and they march west, killing everything they run into. Blow through Fort Bannister, flatten Evergreen Mills, and they’re coming up on Megaton when the Brotherhood comes out to stop them. They flew the Prydwen into the Capital Wasteland for the first time, man, it must have been a sight. Wish I’d been there.”

Zip put his hands up and paused. “Now, since I wasn’t there, I don’t have the straight facts, but the Elder over there led the charge and most of the stories I’ve heard say he went toe-to-toe with the muties’ leader. Shephard didn’t survive that meeting and the mutie army fell apart. No one to tell them what to do, see? The Brotherhood chased them down for the next few years, and after they found out some of their squads were being captured and turned into muties, they tracked them back to the vault in Little Lamplight’s basement. Pulled every kid still in the caves out and turned that whole area into a crater.”

“Damn,” Murphy said softly. She glanced over at Maxson, who was still engrossed in his conversation with Ingram. “So all of you were brought up as squires?”

Zip shrugged. “More or less. When we turned 16, they gave us the choice to stay or go. Billy’s a Scribe at the Citadel now, and Sammy’s a Knight at Adams. Bumble left, though.”

MacCready leaned heavily against the balcony railing in shock. “Oh man. I had no idea.”

Murphy put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “You okay, Bobby?”

He bit his lip, then nodded slowly. “Little Lamplight was… home. But I guess it wasn’t right, really. All those kids on their own.”

“Hey,” Zip said crossing his arms and grinning. “We weren’t on our own. We had each other.”

MacCready smiled sadly at the memory. “We did, didn’t we?”

Carrington breezed back through with P.A.M. close on his heels, and the door to the office slammed shut again. Murphy watched the four figures inside the office in animated debate, but the thick glass and reinforced door prevented any noise from filtering through. Desdemona was tapping a finger on the table as if listing something off, Glory was shaking her head, and P.A.M.’ s mechanical pincers rotated in interest.

Across the balcony, Maxson met her eyes. She glanced at the stairwell questioningly.

Valentine caught the movement and raised an eyebrow at her. “Don’t make any decisions that wind up with all of us dead,” he cautioned as she moved toward the stairs.

Murphy turned and smiled. “When have I ever led you astray, Nick? Have a cigarette. We might be here a while.”

He shook his head and pulled out his flip lighter and pack, offering it to MacCready and Zip. They accepted gratefully, and Murphy stalked off to the shadowy floor below.

She didn’t have to wait long before Maxson joined her, descending the stairs with some hesitation. Murphy could tell he was on edge, the setting unfamiliar to him, the hostile looks and words cutting through his battlecoat to that altruistic core he had devoted to his people. She wondered what it would cost him, to make the decision to meet with Desdemona and the Railroad on his own. She wondered if even he knew.

“Elder,” she said as he drew close to her.

“Aspirant.”

“You knew I would run.”

He nodded. “It was only a matter of time. You said once you were a magnet for trouble, and I disagreed.”

“Because you thought trouble was a magnet for me,” Murphy said with a half-hearted smile. “You weren’t wrong. Smart of you, really.”

Maxson clasped his hands behind his back and cast his eyes downward. “Was all of it an act?”

Murphy’s eyes widened.

“Logic told me you would run, but some part of me…” He bowed his head. “You said you trusted me.”

The sound of his voice, a layer of vulnerability running beneath the usual confident tones, felt like a match being struck against her ribs.

“I didn’t run from you,” she said, keeping her voice low. “I ran from your responsibilities. I ran from what I thought you would do.”

Maxson shook his head. “Who I am and the title I hold are one, Murphy. You cannot lay your trust in one without trusting the other.”

“You didn’t trust me enough to stay,” Murphy said, rubbing her wrist where her Pip-Boy usually sat. “But you trusted me enough to take my advice and confront Desdemona alone. I’m… I’m sorry.”

He nodded. “As am I. Meeting with the Railroad in person was the best course of action, but resorting to subterfuge to find them… using you… I am not proud of it.”

“As long as you don’t expose them without a good reason, I’ll forgive you,” Murphy murmured. “I’m proud of them. And you. Neither of you started shooting each other on sight, which is a step up.”

Maxson frowned. “There may still be bullets flying before the night is over. Do not praise me just yet.”

Murphy leaned against the wall and crossed her arms. “Don’t you dare. I’m packing a rifle right now, close quarters combat would be a bad idea for everyone involved if I have to use it.”

He smiled at that. “Your plasma pistols are in the storage compartment of the power armor I borrowed. Should you need them.”

“I can’t seem to hold onto them,” Murphy said with a grin. “Thank you.”

Their eyes met, and the hesitancy and hope in his gaze was enough for Murphy to hold out a hand. Maxson studied it for a second before stepping forward to take it.

“You asked if it was an act,” she said, her voice nearly a whisper. “Would it be easier if I said yes?”

“Not if it’s a lie.”

“I’m giving you an out, Arthur. I don’t know what’s going to happen here tonight, and even if we all walk out unscathed, I’m not going back to the Prydwen,” Murphy said, wrapping his fingers up in hers. “I’m going to find the Institute, and I can’t do that if I’m in a cell.”

He nodded. “I know. I would expect nothing less of you.”

“And unless you’re free to abandon your duties as Elder and chase me around the Commonwealth…” Murphy trailed off and looked up at him.

Maxson sighed. “Would that I had that option. Chasing you would be a privilege.”

“Provided you could catch me,” Murphy said with a smirk.

Maxson tilted his head toward their interlaced fingers. “Haven’t I?”

The sound of a door opening interrupted their conversation, and Glory’s voice echoed from the office at the top of the stairs. “We’re ready.”

Murphy and Maxson dropped their hands and made their way back up a level, rejoining Ingram at the table where Glory, Desdemona and Carrington sat. The three were shadowed by the robot which determined so many of the Railroad’s moves.

“Hi, P.A.M.,” Murphy said hesitantly.

“Introductory token recognized,” the modified assaultron replied. “Hello.”

At the sound of the robot’s voice, Maxson tensed next to her. Murphy glanced at him, remembering the last time the two of them had encountered an assaultron, but she resisted the urge to reach out and take his hand.

“Tell them what you told us first, P.A.M.,” Desdemona said evenly.

“Posit: The capability of any given Brotherhood of Steel actor is superior to the mean Commonwealth actor,” P.A.M. responded. “Consequence: Brotherhood actors capable of tremendous ingenuity and disruption possibilities to organization Railroad's desired outcomes. Solution: Remove Brotherhood variables.”

“She’s been telling us that for nearly a year, now,” Desdemona said. “We ran with it. But until today, no one could have imagined that we would have the Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel at the same table as us, under any circumstances. Not even P.A.M.”

“Operation complete,” P.A.M. said, turning her red eye toward Maxson. “You are a rogue variable. Current or previous prediction models insufficient.”

Murphy smiled. “That’s what she said when she met me.”

“Is that good?” Ingram asked.

“Hard to say,” Desdemona replied. “P.A.M., summarize your latest probability matrix including the new rogue variable.”

“New directive accepted,” P.A.M. droned. “Posit: The capability of any given Brotherhood of Steel actor is superior to the mean Commonwealth actor. Consequence: Brotherhood actors capable of tremendous ingenuity and collaboration kssssh disruption possibilities with organization Railroad’s desired outcomes. Caution. Biological life forms behave erratically. Unpredictably. All output subject to an extremely high margin of error. Error. Experiencing a cascade failure due to anomalous data. Error.”

Desdemona sighed. “Margin of error percentages?”

“Clarifying. The margin of error of all former predictions are on average 11.2 times more accurate than any model predicting the behavior of the latest rogue variable.”

“Thank you, P.A.M.,” Desdemona said. “So you see, we have a dilemma.”

“You broke P.A.M.,” Glory said with a grin.

“Hardly,” Carrington said with a sniff. “P.A.M.’s predictive matrices are far less stable when confronted with the possibility of the Brotherhood and the Railroad cooperating because she lacks so much basic information regarding Brotherhood operations. Her calculations will be less accurate overall, unless she gains access…”

“I see where this is going,” Ingram said suspiciously. “You want us to hand over our records so the machine can give you a better prediction.”

Desdemona shook her head. “It’s clear to me that none of us are leaving this room unless we come to some sort of an agreement. P.A.M.’s inability to advise about which direction to move in is unfortunate, but not something we can wait for, given the current situation. And so we have a final offer for you.”

She glanced at Glory and Carrington, who both nodded in agreement. “We will agree to the terms discussed previously, save the public announcement of the ceasefire and the Brotherhood’s acquisition of P.A.M.”

Murphy nodded, but Maxson crossed his arms. “Unacceptable.”

“I’m not done,” Desdemona said sharply. “Instead, once the Institute is defeated and its synth-manufacturing capabilities are destroyed, the Railroad will release P.A.M. into the care of the Minutemen, where she will assist us- as a unified organization- in the relocation of synths according to their new policies of transparency. Until this point in time, the Railroad will continue its operations as it always has, but will offer the option to join the Minutemen cause to any synths in its care as an alternative to a memory wipe.”

She leaned forward. “We’re not stupid. If the Institute meets its downfall and no more synths are made, the Railroad will eventually cease to exist. You could say it’s our organization’s ultimate goal, to no longer be necessary in the world. When that day comes, our people, the synths we serve, will look to be part of something larger. Whether that’s the Minutemen, the Brotherhood, or the Commonwealth as a whole will be up to them to decide, individually. But until the Railroad closes up shop, our main goal will be to assist synths in need of help, and a new life. P.A.M. will do the same, and our best option to do so lies with the Minutemen.”

“And after?” Maxson asked, his brow furrowed. “When the Gen 3s have been… assimilated or dispersed?”

“Then it will be up to the Minutemen to decide what to do with her.”

Murphy bit her lip and looked at the Brotherhood leaders. Maxson was staring at the table, working out the situation in his head, while Ingram met her eyes and grimaced.

“What say you, General?” Desdemona asked.

“I can’t speak for the Minutemen,” Murphy replied, confused.

Desdemona raised her eyebrows. “According to my latest intel, you still do.”

Murphy shook her head. “I couldn’t. This is too big of a decision for me to make alone.”

“Elder?” Desdemona’s eyes flickered to Maxson.

He nodded slowly. “If the General is willing, the Brotherhood of Steel will agree to these terms.”

All eyes in the room turned to Murphy. She crossed her arms. “P.A.M., what are your projected fatality rate percentages for synths and personnel, should the Minutemen and the Railroad join forces?”

“Insufficient data,” P.A.M. replied.

“Well, it was worth a shot,” Murphy sighed. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I wish Preston was here.”

“We don’t have time to wait for all of your traveling companions to converge on our headquarters in order to make this decision,” Desdemona warned her. “Choose.”

Choose. Murphy shook her head, dispelling the voice of Nate, then nodded. “The Minutemen will accept.”

Desdemona smiled and stood up from the table. “Then on behalf of the Railroad, welcome. There is a lot of work that needs to be done if we’re going to locate our adversary, and it’s about time we got started.”

 


 

The group hovered around Tinker Tom as he tapped away on his lab terminal, muttering under his breath as he ran through the lines of code feeding through from the Courser chip. Ingram watched his movements with interest, enthusiastically tracking the green text on the screen and offering pointers.

“She’s gonna crash if we poke her too much,” Tom said, shaking his head. “Those Institute bastards know better than to use the same logarithm twice, now.”

“What if we just hook her up to the circuit analyzer and let it run through options?” Ingram asked.

“You want results, right? We let that do its thing, this baby won’t be singing for a month, at least.”

Desdemona shook her head. “Tom, can you crack the encryption or not?”

“Not without pouring oil on every file on it and lighting a match,” the Railroad quartermaster said. He flipped down his magnifying lenses and peered at the chip. “Kinda brilliant, she is. Going along erasing herself like that.”

“Then we hook it up and wait a month,” Desdemona said, straightening up from the counter she had been leaning on. “P.A.M., Carrington, Glory, back to work. General, Elder, a word.”

Murphy and Maxson followed her out to the railing overlooking the atrium, Valentine, Zip and MacCready trailing behind. Desdemona crossed her arms and faced them.

“Assuming this ceasefire doesn’t fall apart, I’d like to get an idea of what you two are going to be doing while we figure out how to pry the information out of that chip,” she said. “Elder, I assume you will most likely spend the next month convincing the other Brotherhood officers that you haven’t lost your mind and bringing your troops to heel. Murphy, will you be staking out Salem again?”

“I don’t know why I would, now that all the robots are gone,” Murphy replied. “But there might be something else. That thing you said earlier… about the Courser? You said she was different because she was a woman?”

Desdemona nodded. “Coursers are male. The Railroad has never encountered a female, in all its years of operation.”

“Neither has the Brotherhood,” Maxson agreed. “What of it?”

Murphy glanced at Valentine. He nodded, his golden eyes glowing with an intensity she recognized. She had seen it before, whenever a case’s trail had yielded a particularly large clue.

“I know a female Courser,” she said. “An Institute escapee.”

Desdemona’s eyes widened. “You’re positive?”

Murphy nodded. “She’s… not from around here. But if you’re going to be working on the chip anyway, I can pay her a visit and see if she knows anything.”

“By all means,” Desdemona said, nodding. “I’ll send an agent with you, if you’re agreeable. Where would you like to rendezvous?”

“The Castle,” Murphy replied. “Someone has to break the news to the Minutemen that we’re all playing nicely now.”

Maxson nodded. “I can transport you back to the fort, once Proctor Ingram is finished.”

MacCready’s face turned white behind him, and Murphy resisted the urge to smile. “We’d appreciate it. The Glowing Sea looks nicer from the air, anyway.”

“Good,” Desdemona said. “Elder, we’ll establish a point of contact for you once things settle down on your end. We’ll be in touch.”

The Railroad leader strode off toward the stairs, passing by Ingram on her way up. The Proctor held out Murphy’s Pip-Boy, which she accepted gratefully and buckled back onto her arm.

“Took the tracker out and stepped on it a few times,” Ingram said with a grin. “Ought to do the trick. I’ll erase the flight information and locators in the vertibird and the suits when we get back to the Prydwen.”

“Thank you,” Murphy said. “We should go.”

The group began making its way up the narrow hallway toward the hatch in the abandoned shack, but Maxson caught Murphy’s arm and held her back.

“You’re leaving the Commonwealth?” he asked.

Murphy nodded. “Heading north. Far north.”

Concern filled his face. “I should send a recon squad with you.”

“Arthur, I’m a fugitive,” Murphy said gently. “I don’t think you’re getting around that fact, even if you’re Elder. Besides, the last thing I want to do is roll up to the door of a former Courser with a couple of Brotherhood soldiers. It might send the wrong message.”

Maxson slid his hand down to take hers. “When will I see you again?”

“Arthur…” Murphy dropped her gaze. When would she see him again? She couldn’t just flag down a vertibird with a signal grenade anymore, or march into the airport. Not even the Minutemen could safely harbor her without risking more than she was willing to let them.

“I don’t know,” she said finally. “Maybe… maybe that’s best. For everyone.”

“Do you really believe that?”

She smiled and looked up at him. “No. But what choice do we have?”

Choose.

Maxson took a deep breath, then let it out, all the while circling the bumps of her knuckles with his thumb. The touch sent a shiver down Murphy’s spine, and she moved closer to him, longing to run her hands inside his coat and wrap herself up in the familiarity of his chest, his arms, his shoulders.

“Give me one day,” Maxson said, bringing her hand up and pressing it to his heart. She could feel it beating through his black flight suit, fast at her touch, strong under her fingers.

“To do what?” she asked.

“Whatever you like.”

Murphy smiled. “You don’t have a day to spare, Elder.”

“I’ve given you nothing but nights,” he replied. “Let me give you one day. Even if the Prydwen should fall out of the sky, it will be worth it to share your company in the sun.”

The storm was there in his eyes again, and Murphy got the feeling she was standing at the very center of it, looking up into its beautiful ferocity. This force of nature that was the man across from her, pausing in his path at her touch. The expression on his face suggested he was experiencing the same phenomenon.

When she nodded, he kissed her, and the world around them faded away.

Chapter Text

When the vertibird cleared the sickly swirl of the Glowing Sea, Murphy hung out the side of the machine as far as she dared, breathing in the night air. The stars were winking into the twilight above, and the fires and lights across the Commonwealth were following suit.

Next to her, MacCready clutched his rifle with a grip that suggested he was trying to keep from losing the contents of his stomach. Murphy looked down at the mercenary on the floor and grinned, and he gave her a weak smile in return before pulling his hat down and resuming his usual airborne scowl.

Nick Valentine seemed to be enjoying the flight. He was seated next to Proctor Ingram, who kept tossing questions the synth’s way about how he had kept himself functional over the years. Valentine was clearly a little wary of the Proctor’s interest, but the two were in a spirited debate about replacement parts and joint lubrication mixes now, and Murphy’s smile deepened as their initial misgivings were buried under common technical ground.

Elder Maxson had opted to join Zip in the cockpit, his suit of power armor anchored next to the other open door of the vertibird. If she leaned out far enough, Murphy could make out the back of his head and the collar of his battlecoat in the front seat, his arm gesturing at landmarks their flight would take them over.

Murphy looked to where he was pointing. Diamond City had powered up its field lights for the night, and the stadium’s glow was visible even from this far away. An idea struck her, and she swung back inside the vertibird and approached the pilot’s seat.

“Zip,” she said, tapping the Lancer on the shoulder. “Can you put us down as close to Diamond City as possible?”

Zip glanced at her in confusion. “Orders are to approach the Minutemen fort for landing.”

“I know,” Murphy said over her headset. “But there's some business I'd like to wrap up in town before I leave the Commonwealth.”

She pointed over her shoulder. “Plus, Nick would probably appreciate it if he could check in and let his office know where he's going.”

“The synth has an office?”

“The synth has a name,” Murphy replied firmly. “Elder?”

Maxson nodded. “Follow the General’s orders, Lancer.”

Zip shrugged and adjusted the vertibird’s trajectory slightly. Before long, they set down at the intersection of Brookline, Boylston and Park, just up the street from Hardware Town.

MacCready vaulted from the aircraft as fast as his legs could carry him, steadying himself on a nearby Pulowski Preservation tube. Valentine tipped his hat to Ingram and stepped out gracefully, clearly pleased to be back in the streets of Boston. Murphy retrieved Alpha and Omega from the storage container of Maxson’s power armor and buckled the holster belt around her waist. The familiar weight of the plasma pistols felt reassuring, and she breathed a happy sigh.

“Glad to have them back?” Ingram asked.

Murphy nodded. “They’re basically family, at this point.”

Maxson freed himself from the cockpit seat belt and stood. Murphy looked at him curiously.

“Proctor, see that you and the Lancer make it back to the airport in one piece,” he said, nodding slightly at Murphy’s expression. “I’m going to accompany the General from here.”

Ingram looked taken aback. “Elder?”

“You heard me. Send a vertibird with a Knight escort to the Castle at 1700 hours tomorrow. I will return to the Prydwen then. In the meantime, see that the location tracker information is erased from the power armor and vertibird for the last 24 hours.”

“Elder, this is a bad idea,” Ingram protested. “We’ve been gone too long already. Sooner or later, someone will notice you’re gone.”

Maxson picked up Final Judgment and checked the chamber. “I have no doubt in my mind you can cover for me, Julia. Just tell Lancer-Captain Kells I’m battling insomnia again.”

Ingram narrowed her eyes at him. “You haven’t called me Julia in months. What are you up to?”

“Something I should have done weeks ago,” Maxson replied. He looked at Murphy and smiled. “Shall we?”

Murphy grinned and nodded, and Ingram looked between the two of them, realization dawning on her face.

“Oh, hell,” she said in exasperation. “Knight Garcia wasn’t kidding.”

Maxson and Murphy exited the vertibird and backed up against the brick walls of a nearby apartment to watch it take off again. When the aircraft had cleared the buildings and motored off into the east, Murphy led the way up Brookline Avenue until the four of them came to the courtyard overshadowed by the rusty, green gate with a white diamond painted on it.

MacCready leaned on the bronze statue of Ted Williams and threw his arm out at the wall. “Welcome to the Great Green Jewel,” he said to Maxson.

The sound of their arrival drew the attention of two guards, who made their way over to the four.

“Nicky, ain’t you a sight for sore eyes,” one of them said to Valentine. “People been worried sick. Ellie’s been tearing her hair out.”

“I’m not surprised,” Valentine said with a smile. “Did Ann get me kicked off the council yet?”

“Nope,” the guard replied. “Not for lack of trying, though.”

The other guard gestured at Maxson with his baseball bat. “Who the heck is this?”

“He’s with me,” Murphy said, putting her hand on her hip.

The guard shook his head. “Murph, you can’t just go dragging every stray you meet in through the gates. We got a synth problem, ya know. No offense, Nicky.”

“None taken,” Valentine said with a smirk. “I’ll vouch for him, too, gentlemen. Man’s as human as either of you two.”

“Even so, we ain’t just letting people in willy-nilly no more,” the first guard said. “Danny’s got us keeping records now. We got Nicky, Murphy, MacCready the merc, fine. S’your name, stranger?”

“Arthur Maxson, Elder of the East Coast chapter of the Brotherhood of Steel,” Maxson replied.

The guards looked at each other and burst out laughing.

“Where the heck you digging these guys up, Murphy?” the second guard asked, leaning on his bat for support. “Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel. Ya gotta be kidding me.”

“You should take that sense of humor over to the Dugout,” the other guard suggested, removing his helmet to wipe tears from his eyes. “Been a while since we had a comedian through. But seriously, what’s your name?”

Maxson looked at the bricks of the courtyard beneath his feet and smiled. “Max.”

“Okay, Max, where you from?”

“Capital Wasteland,” MacCready answered. “Old friend of mine from way back.”

“That so?” The guard shouldered his baseball bat again and studied Maxson with interest. “Must be a tough son of a bitch, making it all the way up to the Commonwealth in one piece. Okay, if they’re vouching for you, we’ll open the gate.”

“But we’re gonna need to take that laser cannon you’re totin’ around,” the other cut in. “Can’t be too careful.”

Maxson clutched the Gatling laser tightly. “That would be unwise.”

“Boys, boys,” Murphy cut in. “Relax. I’ll just stow it in my house and you won’t see it again until Max and I leave. Okay?”

The guards studied the group. The one with the baseball bat nodded. “Fine. But I hear one energy blast in town and you’re out on your ass. Max here looks like he could do some serious damage to the place.”

MacCready grinned. “Fellas, you have no idea.”

 


 

Valentine bid the other three goodbye with the promise that they would reconvene at Home Plate at noon the next day to head for the Castle. He walked off toward the agency, whistling as he went in the darkening streets of the city.

Murphy unlocked the door to Home Plate and held it open for Maxson, flipping the lights on. “There’s extra clothes in the dresser upstairs, if you want to change into something more… civilian,” she offered. “You can keep the coat, but I’d suggest losing the flight suit, at least. The guards don’t get out much, but there are people around here who can recognize a Brotherhood officer’s uniform.”

Maxson nodded and ducked inside. Murphy shut the door and leaned on it, letting out a breath she didn’t know she had been holding.

MacCready raised an eyebrow at her suggestively. “Should I leave you alone tonight?”

“I… probably,” Murphy admitted, and started digging around in her bag. “I’ve got some caps here somewhere, I can put you up at the Dugout…”

“It’s okay, boss,” MacCready said, crossing his arms and chuckling. “I got it. You two have fun.”

He turned to leave, but Murphy caught his arm in a moment of panic. “Wait, Bobby. Is this… do you think that’s a mistake? Christ, he’s… well, him.”

“He’s something, alright,” MacCready said, shaking his head. “Do you think it’s a mistake?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know.”

MacCready chuckled again at that. “Good, you’re in the right mindset to be making decisions. Perfect.”

His expression softened a bit at Murphy’s pleading look, and he pulled her into a hug. “He’s got it bad for you,” he murmured into her hair, eyeing Polly suspiciously as she made her way around the Power Noodles stand to Percy at Diamond City Surplus. “I could tell the minute he stepped out of his power armor in that bunker.”

Murphy smiled into his shoulder. “Yeah?”

“How do you feel about him?”

Murphy pulled away from him and sighed. “I’m not sure. And I think that’s okay… for now, anyway. I don’t expect anything definitive from him, and he made it pretty clear that he’s not moving forward unless it’s at my pace and say-so. Besides, it’s not like I’m going to run away from all of my responsibilities to become Queen of the Brotherhood or something.”

She laughed, high and hollow. “Plus, I’m a criminal now. They probably have ‘wanted’ posters with my face on them printed up already.”

“Sure,” MacCready agreed. “But how does he make you feel?”

She considered the question again. “Young. Bit like a teenager, really. Mostly he makes me feel like… I don’t know how to describe it. Like everything I’ve done to be here is understandable, even if it’s not forgivable.”

“Does he make you happy?”

Murphy looked up at him and smiled. “Yeah. He does.”

MacCready pulled her into another hug. “Then that’s all you need to worry about right now. Also, if he hurts you in any way, he’s dead.”

She laughed again at that. “Thanks, Bobby, but there’s no way you’d beat him in combat.”

“One of the advantages of being a sniper is your enemies don’t see you coming.” He pulled away from her and gave her a little salute, before making his way toward the market’s exit. Murphy watched him round the corner before slipping inside the door of Home Plate, her heart in her throat.

The wooden floor above her creaked from Maxson’s movement around her bedroom, so she threw her pack down on the coffee table and took a seat on the couch next to Maxson’s discarded battlecoat. “Need any help?” she called out.

In response, Maxson descended the stairs, pulling on a shirt over his head. Murphy caught a glimpse of holotags and a trail of dark hair reaching over the defined muscles of his waist and chest before he straightened out the black t-shirt with the “Starlight Theaters” logo on it. He had found a pair of faded jeans she kept in the back of the dresser, which she had picked up in case Danse would ever come to his senses and get out of his power armor. They were stiff and perhaps a half-size too large, but didn’t look bad on Maxson.

Murphy rose from the couch and handed the heavy battlecoat to him. “So, ‘Max,’ what do you want to do during your day away from home?”

Maxson accepted the coat and pulled it on again. “I’m not sure,” he admitted.

“You hungry?”

He nodded, and glanced over at Murphy’s little kitchenette she had assembled some time ago. Murphy strolled over to it and opened the cabinets.

“Let’s see here… good old BlamCo, of course, and a few boxes of InstaMash,” she mused, picking through the cupboards. “If you want something fresher, we can always head over to the Dugout and see what’s on the menu there… I don’t think I have enough caps for the Taphouse, unless you’re hiding any in that coat of yours.”

Maxson moved up behind her and rubbed his chin, examining the boxes and cans over her shoulder. “I don’t suppose you retrieved any eggs from that radscorpion that attacked you.”

“What?” Murphy glanced over her shoulder at him. “Eggs?”

He nodded. “They make surprisingly good omelets.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I am not.”

“Huh.” Murphy turned back to study the cupboard again, rubbing her right shoulder at the memory of the radscorpion’s stinger. “I’ll remember that for next time.”

She felt Maxson’s fingers cover her own. “How is it?”

“Sore,” she admitted. “But mostly healed. I’ll survive the week, I think.”

In response, his other hand curled around her waist and pulled her back against his chest. She sank into the embrace with a sigh, her eyes closing at the familiar warmth and the feel of his arms around her.

“You scared me,” he said softly. “When you dove into the Glowing Sea… I wanted to go after you immediately.”

“Mmm.” Murphy turned her head and pressed her ear against him, listening to his heartbeat. “Proctor Ingram talked you out of it?”

“She agreed to retrieve you if your locator point held still for more than half an hour in a location we were unfamiliar with,” he answered, then planted a kiss into her hair. “When she saw you had made it to the surveillance bunker, she set about making preparations to follow.”

“Thank her for me, when you get back to the Prydwen,” Murphy murmured. “She risked a lot.”

She turned and looked up at him. “So did you.”

Maxson smiled at her. “I imagine the other officers will not see it immediately, but the risks were worth it.”

Murphy tucked some white strands of hair behind her ear, then reached up to undo the messy remains of her ponytail. “Well, Elder, what are we having for dinner? Make your pick, I’m starving. And I’d kind of like a shower.”

Maxson studied the contents of the cupboard again. “You said you had caps?”

“I did,” Murphy said suspiciously. “There’s a few in my pack, and a coffee can behind the couch with my secret stash.”

He nodded. “I’ll handle dinner. Take your shower, Aspirant.”

Murphy shrugged and went over to the stairs, tossing her keyring on the coffee table for him along the way. She climbed up and rifled through her drawers in search of a clean outfit. The front door closed below her, but she ignored it, suddenly self-conscious about every piece of clothing she owned. All of her jeans had scuffs and holes in them; every t-shirt was faded and a few sizes too large or a size too small; even her underwear were looking worse for wear, patched in places with knotted bra straps and stretched-out bands.

Murphy held up a sequin dress she had hidden away for a special occasion, and realized with a jolt that Maxson had probably gone through the drawers anyway in search of clothes for himself. “Shit,” she said under her breath, digging down to the very bottom, past a set of road leathers Piper had pressed on her the first time she visited Diamond City and the trench coat Valentine had gifted her after she helped him track down his old partner.

Her fingers came up against a softer fabric, and she extracted the source from the pile and shook it out. It was a dress, green as spring grass with copper buttons down the front and short sleeves. She smiled in recognition, remembering its discovery in a forgotten trunk at the back of some apartments in Lexington. Codsworth had found it, and even though she knew he was incapable of crying, she caught the catch in his nonexistent throat as he had remarked about how untouched the dress was, by moths or the sun or curious raiders.

“Oh, mum,” he had exclaimed, folding the garment carefully and pressing it on her. “You must. This dress has been waiting for you.”

Murphy folded it up and pulled out the only matching pair of undergarments she could find, a peach-colored bra and panties. She set the pile of clothes on top of the dresser. They would have to do.

She made her way back down the stairs to the little bathroom she had slaved over months ago, teaching herself the basics of plumbing in order to hook up a bare bones shower stall, sink and toilet. She pulled off her dirty t-shirt and jeans and stepped into the shower, wincing as the cold water hit her.

The door reopened as she lathered up with the bar of brahmin milk soap she had traded two mole rat hides for, and cooking noises began issuing from the kitchenette. When Murphy was certain her hair was clean and she no longer smelled like a carrion bird, she shut the water off and reached around for a towel. She fluffed her hair with it before tucking it under her arms and carefully venturing forth.

Maxson had abandoned his battlecoat on the couch again and was elbow-deep in razorgrain flour, tossing and rolling around a ball of dough. Murphy watched him for a bit, his fingers folding and kneading with the ease of someone practiced at the task.

“I thought you were kidding, when you said you could cook,” she said finally.

Maxson nearly dropped the dough. He recovered his grip on it and took in the sight of her, towel tucked around her midsection, arms crossed over her chest, and his face reddened. “What?”

“At Kasumi’s,” Murphy said, crossing over to leaning on the counter next to him. “When you were talking about recreating her mom’s stew. I thought you were kidding.”

“Ah.” Maxson put the dough in a mixing bowl next to him and poured a little cooking oil over it before covering it with a plate. “I do not often have the opportunity to practice, these days.”

“And here I was thinking you had a personal chef or something,” Murphy replied with a smirk. “I’m honored you decided to practice for me.”

She glanced across the counter at the covered bowl, salt shaker, a bag of vegetables and a few skewers of crispy squirrel bits. “What are you making?”

“A surprise.”

Murphy uncrossed her arms and pulled her hair over her left shoulder, wringing some of the moisture in it out onto the towel. “Should I stop distracting you?”

“Only if you wish to.”

“How much distracting can I get away with?”

Maxson glanced at the bowl of dough. “About 10 minutes. Possibly longer.”

She stepped forward and grabbed the front of his t-shirt, pulling him into her kiss, pressing her body against his. When she came away again, there were spots of water along his clothes from her wet towel.

He held up his floured hands in defeat. “You have me at a disadvantage.”

Murphy chuckled and jerked her head toward the bathroom sink. “There’s soap and water. Only trace amounts of radiation, or so Sheng Kawolski tells me.”

He nodded and headed for the bathroom. Murphy hitched the towel up around herself and took a seat on the coffee table, her legs crossed and her heart pounding.

When Maxson returned with clean hands and an expression of resignation, she frowned. “What’s wrong?”

He sighed. “Murphy, I have never done this.”

She rose from the table. “What do you mean?”

“I have never… the occasion has never arisen… in all my past trysts…”

Murphy stopped him. “You’ve never had sex.”

“Well.” The Brotherhood leader shrugged. “Not in the traditional sense.”

“The traditional sense?”

He grimaced. “I would not say I have completely abstained, either.”

“Only half a virgin?” Murphy asked with a grin.

“Murphy.”

“Right. Sorry.” She sat down on the stairs and patted the space next to her. “Tell me.”

Maxson eased himself down next to her. “I believe I told you that I cut off past relationships before things became serious.”

“You did.”

“Mainly, this was due to my own misgivings about entering into something intimate with a woman I was unsure of having a future with,” he explained. “But a few times, things… progressed to the point of intimacy, though I still held back. A former partner of mine showed me how to go about eliciting pleasure without the fear of causing… complications.”

Murphy nodded. “Like pregnancy.”

“Precisely.”

“I get it,” she said with a nod. “So what are you worried about?”

Maxson took a deep breath. “Some women I have been with did not respond well to that sort of arrangement. For many in the Brotherhood, the belief that couplings should bring forth children is a deep-rooted one.”

“Yeah, Scr- Haylen told me about that,” Murphy replied.

“You have discussed this with Haylen?” he said in surprise.

“Well, not us,” Murphy clarified. “But the Brotherhood’s views on relationships and marriage and membership, yes.”

She nudged his arm gently. “It makes sense for you to be cautious though, since you’re supposed to be making magic super-babies that will lead the Brotherhood into the next age of heroes.”

“There are some who I am sure would rather I make as many genetic heirs to my name as possible,” Maxson grumbled. “But the decision of whether or not to reproduce is mine alone.”

“Way to take charge of your sexual destiny,” Murphy said with a chuckle. “Arthur, if you’re not ready for traditional sex, that’s fine. I’m not looking to have kids right now, either.”

Maxson said nothing and Murphy didn’t elaborate, but the unspoken words hung between them nevertheless. Not after what happened to the last one.

“What do you want?” he asked finally.

Murphy stood up and gathered the towel around herself again. “Right now? I want to walk up these stairs, dry myself off and lie down in my own bed for a little bit. Eventually, I want to get dressed and eat. But mostly I want you to follow me up and show me exactly what you know about eliciting pleasure from your partner.”

He tried to get up, but Murphy put a hand out to stop him. “Before you do, though, you should think about what you want. And I mean, really think about it. Because I can tell you right now that I don’t think I’m going to be anything beyond what you’ve already had.”

“You are already far beyond what I’ve had,” Maxson said, his voice low and heavy with desire.

“Just give it a minute,” she insisted, and made her way up the stairs.

The bedroom landing was cozy in the light of the bedside lamp, and Murphy swept the towel off and pressed her hair into it, drying the silvery strands as much as she could. She ran the fabric up and down her arms, then her legs, and stretched it out behind her to snag the water droplets clinging to her back.

Just as she finished pushing hair back to dry the edges of her face, Murphy heard steps on the stairs behind her. She half-turned to watch Maxson ascend, smoothing down the flyaways and knots she knew were beginning to form, but made no attempt to cover herself.

“So, Arthur,” she said, balling up the towel and tossing it at the foot of her dresser. “What do you want?”

Maxson took in her freckled shoulders, her soft arms, scars and stretch marks and toughened legs. He approached her slowly, as if enjoying the space between them, the sight of her a prelude to their touch, their movement.

“There is absolutely no way you can stand there in all your glory and expect my answer to be something other than ‘you,’” he said hoarsely.

Murphy put a hand on her hip and cocked her head to the side. “Show me.”

He picked her up, his hands rough on her waist, her ass, and she wrapped her legs around him. Their lips met, and Murphy was unwilling to let him go, even as he set her down on the bed, as he pressed against her hips and drew a moan from somewhere deep inside her. She gasped at the feeling of his fingers on her thigh, points of pressure that set her skin on fire, awakened every nerve along her surface, and his teeth were on her chin and neck and that damnable storm was in his eyes.

She pulled at the hem of his t-shirt, ran her hands up his waist, felt the trail of hair she had seen earlier and marveled at the feel of it between her fingers, the muscles of a fighter beneath. Maxson paused to tug the shirt off, and his shoulders blotted out the bedside light, blotted out the sun, blotted out any thoughts from Murphy’s mind but fuck.

Her fingers worked their way along his arms, his chest, but his went lower, even as his mouth moved south. Those lips, those teeth were on her breast now, and she shuddered as he teased her nipple. The breath on her skin was accompanied by a firm cupping of her ass, and she arched her back and giggled at the touch.

Maxson paused his descent and grinned at her. “Woman, I have been wanting to do that to you since I saw you in that vault suit.”

“That long?”

“Indeed.”

“Sorry to keep you waiting, Elder.”

He growled and resumed his worship of her body, his tongue working to wet the sensitive skin around her nipples while a hand eased its way between her legs. Fingertips massaged the curls he found there, and Murphy’s hips rocked forward at the pressure, the ache in her stomach rising higher and higher.

She tried to undo the button on his jeans, but quicker than she could anticipate it, Maxson ducked down and propped one of her legs over his shoulder. Murphy squeaked as his tongue slid up her folds, pressing experimentally at the bud of her clit.

“Fuck,” she said breathlessly.

Maxson smiled up at her and did it again, and the feel of his mouth against her threw Murphy’s head back involuntarily. She groaned and he shifted, his fingers prying her legs further apart and his beard rubbing against the skin of her inner thigh. Murphy clutched the sheets around her, seeking purchase, something to hang onto while this man devoured her and left her shaking.

He nipped at her thigh and squeezed her ass and drove her closer to the edge, and Murphy hissed when he pulled back just shy of her orgasm, once, twice, three times.

“Arthur,” she said after the third time, writhing unhappily beneath him as he pinned her limbs down and kissed her neck again. “You had better not be thinking of leaving me here like this.”

“Like what?” he asked innocently, moving to nibble on her ear. Murphy pulled her head away and fixed him in a glare.

“Very well,” he said, repositioning himself between her legs. “What the vault dweller wants, she gets.”

“Vault dweller, my…” Maxson cut her off with a particularly teasing stroke of his tongue, and the words fled her mind, replaced by the climb. Higher and higher she spun, and when he ground his fingers into her thighs and pressed her clit in earnest, she cried out and shuddered at the feeling of bursting through the clouds.

Maxson rode out the wave, easing her back down to earth, and he wiped moisture from his beard before lying down next her, one hand tangled in her hair and the other cradling the curve of her waist. He looked rather pleased with himself, and Murphy chuckled between deep breaths at the sight.

“Whichever women were angry at you about not wanting kids are missing out,” she said with a grin.

He laughed and ran his hand over her ribs to her breast, his thumb rubbing circles around her nipple. “They were not wrong to want something more. I was not the right person to give it to them.”

Murphy propped herself up to face him. “Ever the pragmatic leader, I see.”

“Always,” he said with a nod. “Or as often as I can be.”

She glanced at the stairs. “Can dinner wait a little longer?”

“If you wish it to.”

“Good.” Murphy vacated the bed and retrieved the towel from where she had thrown it. “On your feet, Elder.”

Maxson obliged, and she dropped the towel at his feet and popped the button on his jeans loose. He looked startled by the motion, and caught her wrists before she went further.

“I do not expect you to,” he said, glancing downward.

Murphy made a face at him. “Did your former partners not reciprocate?”

“Rarely.”

“Rude.” Murphy shook his hands loose and unzipped his jeans, revealing a pair of dark gray briefs. Maxson pulled away from her to sit down on the bed and kick his boots off, and Murphy pulled the jeans and briefs off to leave him as naked as she was.

He stood again, and Murphy paused to admire him in the soft light of her bedside lamp. It wasn’t a sight she had ever expected to see: The Brotherhood Elder, bared to her fully in her own bedroom, dark hair curling up his stomach and chest and down his legs. Hard at the sight of her, from the touch of her.

She knelt on the towel and took him in her mouth, wetting his tip before circling her tongue down the length of him. He gasped as she applied a little suction, tangling his fingers up in her hair again, nudging her forward ever so slightly. Murphy let him set the rhythm, tracing the creases of his hips with one hand while the other helped her manage his shaft, applying pressure to him fully until his legs shook and his balls tightened.

Maxson let out a strangled cry with his release, and his head fell back in ecstasy. She watched him above her, making sure he was finished before she pulled away and spat into the bedside wastebasket.

As she wiped her mouth, Maxson sank back onto her bed, stretching out along its length in the throes of bliss. Murphy joined him, and the two settled into the positions they had grown used to on the nights they shared aboard the Prydwen.

“Was that on your list of what you wanted to do during our day together?” she asked him.

Maxson rested his chin on the top of her head. “I would not have dared to dream it.”

Murphy smiled. “Carpe diem, I suppose.”

“Carpe noctem.”

She looked up at him. “So what are you making for dinner?”

He smiled down at her. “Pizza.”

Chapter Text

Maxson’s version of pizza was more akin to pizza margherita without the cheese, and bits of crisped squirrel crumbled on top. Murphy bit into it with relish, and moaned happily, her eyes closed in ecstasy.

“Do you know how long it’s been since I had something like this?” she said in between bites.

Maxson studied his slice. “Going on 200 years, I would imagine,” he replied, before carefully nibbling on his creation.

“What gave you the idea to make this?” Murphy asked.

“You did,” Maxson said with a smile. “That night when I asked you what you missed about the pre-war world. I was not familiar with the term, ‘pizza,’ so when I returned to the Prydwen, I searched for it in our archives.”

He shook his head. “Of all the things you could have said, you picked a food item. I assumed it was a delicacy of some renown, to be held so clearly in your mind, so I unearthed a recipe and memorized it.”

Murphy leaned back into her couch and grinned. “You did that for me?”

“For culinary research purposes.”

“For me.”

“For you, Aspirant.”

“I’m starting to think you just call me by that title to get under my skin,” Murphy said, holding her slice up. “What do you think?”

Maxson considered his slice. “I would deem this an acceptable recipe.”

“Yeah, pizza was never anything too fancy,” Murphy agreed. “But it was popular with everyone. When war rationing was at its peak, its quality suffered, and nationwide complaints usually wound up turning into a discussion about how the crusts were like cardboard and the cheese was like rubber. There were bigger things to complain about, but pizza was up there.”

“Cheese is a delicacy in today’s age,” Maxson said, chewing thoughtfully.

“Cheese is still around?”

“Here and there.” Maxson waved his hand dismissively. “Out west. The brahmin barons make it occasionally, but never in large quantities.”

“Maybe I should try to get Curie to make some cheese, next time she’s free,” Murphy said with a reminiscent sigh. “She likes playing with bacteria.”

“The synth doctor with the Minutemen?”

“The very same,” Murphy replied with a nod. “You know, she’s pre-war too. In a fashion. She was installed in Vault 81 as part of an experiment that didn’t pan out. Before I helped her shed her robotic past. Ask her sometime.”

The very idea seemed to take Maxson aback, and Murphy giggled at his expression. “So you’ll make a deal with the Railroad, but you won’t talk to a synth? Arthur, keep an open mind.”

“Synths are unnatural,” Maxson said huffily. “Dealing with the Railroad was a necessity, not a pleasure.”

“Boo,” Murphy said, standing up to get another slice. “You know, you’ve spoken with… at least three, possibly four, synths while you’ve been in my company. Five if you count Danse. I have to commend you for being civil, but then, you couldn’t tell which ones were synths, could you?”

“The detective,” Maxson said, counting on his fingers. “The doctor.”

“Valentine and Curie,” Murphy said firmly. “They have names, Arthur.”

“They’re machines, Aspirant.”

“They’re people too, Elder.”

“Danse,” Maxson said, ticking off another finger. “Who are the other two?”

“That’s right, who,” Murphy said, smirking. “I think I’ll just let you ponder that. Maybe after we go to the Dugout, you can give me your guesses.”

Maxson looked puzzled. “Go to the Dugout?”

“Yep,” Murphy said, sinking back into the couch. “I should pay the Bobrovs a visit and have a drink or two, see who’s around. I left Diamond City in… a bit of a state, last time. The least I can do is poke my head in the local watering hole and let everyone know I’m okay, see how everyone else is holding up.”

Maxson nodded. “I shall accompany you.”

Murphy raised her eyebrows. “You sure? You can stay here, if you want. I wouldn’t hold it against you, you’ve already done a lot tonight that I wasn’t expecting of you.”

He gave her a wry smile. “Then by all means, I shall continue to defy your expectations.”

“Oh, is that how it is?” Murphy set her plate down and put a hand on his chin, turning his head until she captured his lips in a kiss. “I could get used to that.”

 


 

The Dugout Inn was crowded, more so than Murphy had expected. The streets had been quiet already when she had arrived with Maxson, Valentine and MacCready, but she had chalked it up to fears of another Institute attack keeping the populace indoors at night.

Instead, it looked as if almost everyone was at the little bar. There were a few guards just inside the doors, who looked Murphy and Maxson up and down before letting them through. The crowd had their backs to them, focused on a pair of musicians who had set up in front of the ancient espresso machine and collection of pictures that divided the main bar area from the private tables.

Through a round of applause for whatever song the duo had just finished, Murphy scanned the room. MacCready was over by the bar, chatting up Vadim, and Piper was leaning against the Port-A-Diner, scribbling on her ever-present notepad.

“Thank you, thank you very much, folks,” one of the musicians said. He was a middle-aged man, with a kind smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes and a dusty pin-striped suit. His guitar was spotless, and the tambourine that his younger female companion wielded shone in the muted lights of the bar. The woman bore a faint resemblance to the man. Daughter, maybe.

“Piper,” Murphy whispered, taking Maxson’s hand and pulling him over to stand by the Port-A-Diner. The reporter glanced at the two of them, then froze before turning slowly to give them a double take.

“Now, this one is a bit of a favorite of mine,” the man with the guitar went on. “First heard it at a casino in New Vegas, some years back. Gives me those warm, fuzzy feelings about where I’ve come from, where I’ve been. Let’s hit it, Trish.”

Trish obliged, setting a slow, steady beat on the tambourine. The man plucked on his guitar lovingly, and Murphy couldn’t help but smile as she recognized the tune.

“Murphy,” Piper hissed at her. “Murphy, do you know who that is?”

“Yes, I am well aware,” Murphy replied in a whisper. “Piper, this is Ar- Max. Max, Piper Wright, owner, operator, editor and reporter for Publick Occurrences.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Maxson murmured. “I’m a fan of your work.”

“I- fan of my work? Well, I- technically Nat’s the operator, she knows the press machine better than I do, but-” Piper shook her head. “Max? Murphy, he’s the goddamn Elder of the Brotherhood and he’s going by Max?”

“Just for today,” Murphy assured her. “Now shush, I want to hear this.”

The three of them turned back to the performing duo, and Murphy was tickled to hear the lyrics to the song had changed over time.

 

          “Home, home on the wastes

          Where the mole rats and the fire gecko play,

          Where seldom is heard

          A discouraging word

          And my skin is not glowing all day.”

 

“Fire geckos?” she whispered to Maxson.

He wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Target practice.”

“Uh-huh.”

Piper tugged on the sleeve of Murphy’s dress. “Is… Max up for an interview?”

“Ask him,” Murphy said with a chuckle, swaying in time with the music. When the duo finished, she cheered loudly, attracting the attention of some of the crowd, who began whispering among themselves. Murphy ignored them and led Maxson and Piper over to the bar, where Vadim and MacCready greeted them with smiles.

“You staying out of trouble?” she asked Vadim, patting MacCready on the shoulder. MacCready smirked at the sight of Maxson trailing behind her.

“Ahaha, you are checking up on me?” the jovial Slav replied. “I love it. Do not worry, I have cut ties with anyone who might try to kill me over debts.”

He fixed Maxson in a curious gaze. “And who is this bear of a man?”

“Vadim, this is Max,” Murphy replied, taking Maxson’s arm in hers. “He’s a friend.”

“Oh ho, I see, I see,” Vadim said with a rumbling chuckle. “Friends, yes. Come, you two look like you need drinks.”

“What would you recommend?” Maxson asked.

Vadim pulled up a bottle of his moonshine and a pair of shot glasses in response. “Bobrov’s Best, always,” he said, pouring some out into each glass. “Just let my brother Yefim know if you need somewhere to collapse after.”

Maxson threw his shot back, grinned, and grabbed the bottle. “I shall.”

“Whoa,” Piper said in surprise. “Easy there, Max. That stuff will have you under the table in no time. Spilling all kinds of secrets?”

MacCready chuckled and took the remaining shot. “Don’t worry, Piper, Murphy and I will keep an eye on him.”

Vadim laughed heartily and counted Murphy’s caps before turning to make her usual Nuka-Rye. “On the house,” he said, sliding it to her with a wink. “I like your ‘friend.’”

“Me too, Vadim,” Murphy said, taking a sip of the Nuka-Cola and whiskey. “Me too.”

The four leaned against the bar and watched the musicians as they made their way through “This Land is Your Land.”

“Appropriate song choice,” Piper murmured, glancing at Maxson. “Given present company. What happened, exactly, after the Brotherhood swept you up and flew you off to their big balloon?”

“Oh, Piper, have I got a story for you,” Murphy said with a smirk. “Though maybe I should hold off on giving you the lowdown before the Minutemen sign off on everything. The ink isn’t even dry on the contract, yet.”

“What contract? The Minutemen? How are they involved in this?”

“I promise we’ll give you the exclusive as soon as it’s all finished,” Murphy assured her. “Preston will probably want to make an announcement on Radio Freedom. Or something. I’m not sure, really.”

“This had better be good, if you’re making me wait for it,” Piper grumbled.

“You don’t know the half of it,” MacCready chimed in.

Piper threw her hands up in mock offense. “The mercenary knows but I don’t? What is this world coming to?”

Maxson smiled at her in between sips of moonshine. “Perhaps once the dust has settled, we can set up some form of an interview,” he offered. “I would be more than happy to receive you at the Prydwen, or the Castle, at the appropriate time.”

“You- really?” Piper’s jaw dropped. “That’s… awfully nice of you.”

He nodded. “The only way the Commonwealth will unearth the Institute’s latest hiding place is if we share our information. Your publication plays a vital role in informing the public and spreading news that could reach individuals willing to help us in our mission.”

“Heh… wow,” Piper said with an uneasy smile. “Thanks.” She leaned behind his back and caught Murphy’s eye, then pointed at him with a quizzical look. Murphy smiled and shrugged.

A pair of Diamond City guards made their way over to the bar next to them. One of them paused by Murphy and shot her a glare.

“You got some nerve,” he said under his breath.

Murphy took a gulp of her drink and set it down. “Excuse me?”

“I said, you got a lot of nerve, showing your face here,” the young man said.

The other guard, an older fellow, smacked him on the arm. “Carl, cut it out. It ain’t worth it.”

“Yeah, buddy, it ain’t worth it,” MacCready echoed, his face hard and his lanky form tense. Murphy put her hand on his shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

“Cal’s dead, Eric,” Carl said angrily. “That Talbot woman, too. Cuz o’ her.”

Eric tried to say something but Murphy cut him off. “He’s right. They are.”

“Murphy,” Maxson rumbled next to her.

“Right,” Carl said in surprise. “So… you got some nerve, comin’ back here.”

Murphy nodded. “I do. You have every right to be angry, Carl. I’m angry too. I lost a friend to that Courser.”

“The one what disappeared?” Eric asked.

“Deacon,” Murphy said. “His name was Deacon. That Courser paid for what she did, and the Institute will, too. I promise.”

Carl and Eric stared at her. MacCready crossed his arms, and Maxson loomed behind Murphy menacingly.

“But I’m not going to go into hiding while I hunt them down,” Murphy continued. “So get your drinks and spread the word. The vault dweller will not be forced into the shadows, and she will see the Institute rooted out again.”

“Come on, Carl,” Eric muttered, hustling the younger guard away. They cast a glance over their shoulders as they stalked off, and Murphy stuck her chin out decisively as they disappeared into the tunnel that led out to the night.

Piper let out the breath she was holding. “That went better than I expected. Some of the guards in town are really beat up about that whole… situation.”

Murphy nodded and picked up her drink again, relaxing back against the bar. “They get to be angry, but so do I. And when I’m angry, things get done.”

The song ended, and she leaned comfortably on Maxson as she sipped, alcohol making its way into her system with threads of caramel and sugar.

“Now, this next one is a bit faster,” the guitar player said with a smile as the crowd clapped. “Clear some space, give us a bit of room for those who want to dance.”

The spectators obliged, pulling back furniture and forming a wide semi-circle around the duo. Murphy squealed when they struck up their tune.

“I love this song!” she exclaimed, shoving her drink into Maxson’s hand and looping her arm through MacCready’s. “Come on, it’s been ages since I heard it, we’ve got to dance.”

“Boss-”

“Please?”

MacCready sighed and relented, allowing her to drag him through the crowd to the open floor. Murphy took his hands in hers and twisted happily, laughing as he twirled her and spun around the space with a few other couples. When the chorus came, she sang along as loudly as she could.

 

          “Do you remember when

          We used to sing

          Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da

          Sha la la la la la la la la la la te da?”

 

The rest of the crowd picked it up and clapped along, and more couples joined the dance floor. MacCready and Murphy were whirling around in the center, her green dress spinning and her white hair loose, him trying to hold onto his hat and her at the same time. Out of the corner of her eye, Murphy caught sight of Maxson offering his hand to Piper, and Piper turning as red as her coat.

Before she know it, the song was over, and she curtseyed unsteadily to MacCready, who laughed and doffed his hat to her before heading back to the bar.

“What a show, folks, what a show,” the guitar player said, beaming from ear to ear. “Now let’s slow it down for a minute. Here’s another favorite from out west, see if you recognize it.”

Murphy caught Maxson’s eyes across the room, and he was next to her in an instant, his hand out in invitation. She took it with a smile, and the feel of his hand on her waist and fingers entwined in hers touched something inside her that swelled with the sound of the music.

 

          “When an irresistible force such as you

          Meets an old immovable object like me,

          You can bet just as sure as you live

          Something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give, something’s gotta give.”

 

When she kissed him, Hawthorne and a bunch of the other regulars cheered. Murphy wrapped her arms around his shoulders and giggled.

“How much of that bottle did you get through?” she asked.

“Enough,” Maxson replied. “Were you in need of another drink?”

“Nah,” she replied. “Though I might be in need of some more of you.”

He pulled her in closer to him and growled softly in her ear. “Say the word, Aspirant, and I’ll take you home.”

 


 

Murphy fumbled with the keys to Home Plate as Maxson pressed her against the door. When the latch gave way, the two of them fell through the frame in a tangle of limbs and laughter.

“Arthur,” Murphy gasped as she struggled to shut the door and turn the lights on, his lips planting little sparks along her neck and shoulders. “You’re worse than a teenager.”

“Am I?”

She slapped the palm of her hand against the leather of his battlecoat and extracted herself from his embrace. “You can’t just pick me up in the middle of a bar and carry me out. I have a reputation to uphold, you know.”

“Maybe so,” Maxson said, putting an arm out to casually block her advance into the living room. “But Max does not.”

Murphy rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah, get it out of your system while you can. We need to walk to the Castle tomorrow, so we should probably get some sleep. At some point.”

He grinned. “At some point?”

She curled her arm around his and pulled him down into another kiss. “If you can sleep, that is. Don’t think I didn’t hear you pacing around in your quarters when I was incarcerated next door.”

Maxson sighed and ruffled his hair. “An Elder’s duties require late nights of decision-making.”

“I’m sure.” Murphy gave him a wicked smile, ducked under his arm and dashed for the stairs. He caught her easily, pressed her against the corrugated metal wall and kissed her deeply. There was a wall stud digging into her shoulder blade, but Murphy ignored it.

When they pulled apart again, Murphy shook her head. “Enough. I need sleep. I got stung by a radscorpion this morning, helped negotiate a ceasefire between the deadliest groups in the Commonwealth this afternoon and wrapped it all up with a lovely evening of pizza, dancing and you.”

She held her hand out. “Come to bed.”

Maxson took it and followed her up, shedding his coat and jeans. Murphy shucked off her dress and wriggled under the covers with him, tucking herself into the crook of his arm with a sigh.

“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

“About what?”

“About how this can’t last. Won’t last.”

She looked up and found him staring pensively off into the distance.

“What is there to discuss?” he asked finally. “You made it clear you wanted nothing more than companionship on your terms. I can abide by the boundaries you have set.”

“I know,” Murphy replied, twisting her fingers up in his t-shirt. “But I never really asked you what you wanted. Not that… not that what I’ve done, escaping the Prydwen and everything, really lends itself to giving you leeway in what you want.”

He sighed. “Murphy, I am well accustomed to setting aside what I want in favor of what is necessary. For myself and for the Brotherhood. You… you have already told me that you cannot give me what I seek.”

His fingers drifted up to stroke her head, gently running through her hair. “But I still consider it a privilege to share in this. Whatever you feel this is.”

“You called me wild,” Murphy said, remembering their first kiss on the Prydwen with a smile. “Challenging.”

“That you are.”

“Then tell me why you can’t sleep. Why even your Scribes have noticed you can’t sleep.”

“It does not matter.”

“It matters to me.” Murphy propped herself up on her elbow. “Tell me, or I’ll just start guessing.”

“Guess away.”

Murphy took a deep breath. “Oh, Arthur. You’ve gone and fallen for me, haven’t you?”

He smiled at her sheepishly. “Is that so surprising to you?”

She sat up and hugged her legs. “Me. The human popsicle. ‘The woman out of time.’ Yes, it’s surprising.”

“The century you were born in has no bearing on my feelings for you,” Maxson replied. “I… everything you have done, are doing, will do in your new lifetime, astounds me, but you… you are more than the sum of your parts, the atoms that make up the blue in your eyes, the shine of your hair in the sun, the curves of your smile and your fingers. You are youthful and ancient, all at once, deadly and nurturing. You expect the best of those you care for, and you help them and protect them through the worst.”

He looked down at the patched bedspread. “And when you looked at me, you saw an equal. I cannot thank you enough for that kindness.”

“Arthur,” Murphy said tenderly. “You’re sweet. But to speak of love… I don’t think I’m there yet, with you.”

“I know,” he said solemnly. “Hence my reluctance to voice my feelings.”

“I’m sorry I pressed you.”

“I could never be less than honest with you.” He looked up at her. “You are often the reason I could not sleep, Murphy. Nights spent pacing, debating, telling myself to put my feelings aside and treat you as I would any other Brotherhood soldier.”

Murphy chuckled. “Really?”

“Really.” He pulled her into his embrace again, and they sat in silence for a minute, their breathing loud in the small, warm loft.

“I think I could love you,” Murphy said after sorting out her thoughts. “But there are so many things I need to figure out before I even try to think about that. There’s the Institute, the Minutemen, my own mental problems…”

She looked up at him again. “I had visions again, in the Glowing Sea. Of Nate, Shaun…”

She trailed off, and he caressed her hair. “Our agreement to bring you back to the Citadel still stands. Though…”

“I’m a fugitive now,” Murphy said forlornly. “Guess I’ll have to fix that, somehow, if I want treatment.”

He nodded. “Perhaps if you can locate the Institute, the other officers can be persuaded to overlook your indiscretions.”

“Tall order, there, Arthur.”

“I have confidence in you.”

In time, they slept.

Chapter Text

Murphy awoke before Maxson did, and she went up to the roof of Home Plate for a cigarette in the late morning air. The market was already busy, so she stayed inside the little camper that housed the trap door, leaning out one of the windows to blow smoke and contemplate the previous day.

The Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel was in her bed downstairs. Try as she might, she found it hard to wrap her head around that idea. Murphy smiled to herself and considered shimmying back down the ladder to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, trace the tattoo on his shoulder and smooth that smoky brown hair out between her fingers.

Instead, she tipped some ash out into the breeze and hitched up a fallen bra strap. Maxson was in her bed, yes, but more than that, he had said he loved her. The thought put an odd feeling in her stomach, like a missed step at the bottom of a staircase. It wasn’t an unpleasant feeling, though. More unpleasant was the fact that Murphy didn’t know where to go from here with the information.

Though Nate had been dead for years and years, and his ghost haunted her in ways that increasingly left her confused about his memory, the loss was still somewhat fresh for her. She had waited nearly a year before trying to reach out and touch someone again, finding solace with Hancock for one night, yes, but not seeking or expecting any emotional connection there. The move she made in Goodneighbor had been about banishing visions of Nate and meeting a need, and it hadn’t worked. And now here she was, with another man between her sheets and herself no closer to erasing that face.

Murphy shook her head at that. She didn’t want to forget Nate. Never Nate. More so, she wanted to forget the figure in the mist that plagued her and twisted her mind up with prophecies that didn’t mean anything. She wasn’t Mama Murphy.

And Arthur isn’t just some other man, she thought, letting the smoke drift from her mouth gently. No, her feelings for him were new and familiar, all at once. Not as strong and clear as the bond she had built with Nate, but colored with the same hues, strung from the same fibers. It unnerved her, that something like that could grow so quickly in the relatively short period of time she had known Maxson, in a world as volatile as this.

She leaned back against the wall of the camper and crossed her arms, suddenly chilled. The fact remained that there was only so far she could go with this man. Even if she stamped out the Institute, won back the Brotherhood’s favor and attended to the mess inside her head, she still didn’t want to pledge her life to the Brotherhood and take their oath. There were causes Murphy was willing to tie herself to, but the Brotherhood of Steel still wasn’t one of them. Not even if it meant she could explore a love, maybe even a life, with Maxson.

Murphy glanced at the trap door and smiled sadly. Stealing away for a day with her was one thing, but she knew that given the choice, Maxson would pick his duty as Elder over love. Every time.

Choose. Or you will choose for him.

“Is that what you meant?” Murphy murmured to herself. She dropped her cigarette butt on the floor of the camper and ground it up with her boot heel before moving to the trap door to descend.

Maxson stirred at the sound of her steps on the wooden slats, and he raised his head sleepily to admire her.

“Smallclothes and boots,” he rumbled. “Unconventional, but flattering.”

“Morning, sleepyhead,” Murphy said in greeting, sitting down on the edge of the bed to pull the boots off again. “You should shower, if you’re going to. Or get dressed, at least. Valentine and MacCready will be here by midday, and then we’re moving out. Hop to.”

Maxson’s arm snaked around her waist and flattened her out against him and the mattress. He kissed her on the forehead and grinned. “Attempting to give me orders, Aspirant? For shame.”

Murphy stuck her tongue out at him. “That’s General Aspirant to you, Max. Today, I outrank you.”

He yawned. “As you wish, General. Breakfast before or after?”

“I’ll handle breakfast,” Murphy said with a wave of her hand. “Clean yourself up. You smell like moonshine and me.”

“The fragrance of the gods.” He released her and rolled to the edge of the bed, stretching leisurely before making his way toward the stairs. The sight of his muscles under the t-shirt she had let him borrow, the dark hairs of his arms and legs and the set of his shoulders weakened her, and the questions she had raised earlier almost faded away. Almost.

 


 

Freshly showered and dressed in their traveling clothes, Maxson pored over the tiny book and magazine collection Murphy had managed to rescue from pockets in the ruins of Boston. It was an odd mix, mostly gathered from a sense of nostalgia rather than preference, but Maxson thumbed through the pages and smiled familiarly at some of the titles. The two of them munched on Sugar Bombs and swapped reading lists, waiting for their traveling companions to wander in one by one.

MacCready, hat askew and eyes bleary, was first to arrive. He sank into the nearest chair, clutched his rifle between his knees and dozed off immediately.

Ellie and Valentine were next, Ellie stubbornly straightening the detective’s tie and lapels in the doorway. She paused when she saw Maxson on the couch behind Murphy, reading his favorite passages in The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

“It’s a rare day in the Commonwealth when Murphy brings a man home,” she said with a curious smile. “You never said anything about any company, Nick.”

“Well, ahem, Max here is trying to fly under the radar, as it were,” Valentine explained, his glowing eyes searching for something besides Murphy, Maxson or Ellie to look at. They settled on MacCready in the nearby armchair. “What, did this kid have too much to drink last night?”

“Enough, at any rate,” Murphy said, smiling back at Ellie. “We missed you, Nick. What have you been up to?”

Ellie furrowed her brow somewhat disapprovingly. “I should get going. Until next time, everyone. Be careful and say hi to the Nakanos for me.”

She turned away toward the market, and Murphy shut the door behind her. “Something up between you two?”

Valentine looked at the floor sheepishly. “She’s… mildly upset that I spoke with Piper this morning about the mayor’s race.”

Murphy’s eyes widened. “Did you withdraw?”

He nodded. “It was for the best. But she’s a little torn up about it. Said I should’ve persevered, seen things through. ‘Better the synth you know,’ and all that.”

Maxson snapped the book he was holding shut. “Diamond City residents trusted th-”

Murphy shot him a look and he changed his tone. “Trusted… you … enough to vote for you?”

Valentine glanced at Murphy, then nodded. “It wasn’t my idea to run, originally, but enough of the folks around town put in their two cents about my candidacy and I felt like I’d be letting them down if I didn’t.”

“If that’s how you felt about it, Nick, you should’ve just told me to go to hell and stuck to detective work,” Murphy said apologetically, putting a hand on the synth’s shoulder. “I can’t imagine…”

“Hey, doll, it’s fine,” Valentine said, patting her hand. “Wouldn’t have ever thought myself capable of the task, if it weren’t for you. This town, myself included, owes you a lot.”

Murphy laughed. “You kill one ghoul mob boss in a subway station and suddenly you think you owe me something? Nah, Nick. After Kellogg, and Kasumi, we’re square, and we always will be.”

MacCready muttered something in his sleep and wiggled deeper into his nest. Valentine kicked the foot of the chair and the mercenary snorted awake, his hands scrambling for his weapon and his eyes wild.

“Who- Nicky,” he said in relief. “Thought I was toast.”

Murphy grabbed her pack and holsters. “So, you talked to Piper,” she said to Valentine, buckling the belts on over her jeans. “How did it go?”

“Well enough,” Valentine admitted. “Hit the main points, gave a neat little speech about my commitment to the town and its citizens. I think she’ll paint me in a positive light. But there’s something else, Murphy.”

As if on cue, there was a knock on the door. Murphy looked at him curiously and opened it to find Piper on her doorstep, backpack over her shoulders and a notepad in hand.

“So, when does this show get on the road?” the reporter asked, striding in confidently to join the group.

Murphy sighed. “Piper, no. This is not a train that you want to hop on.”

“Of course it is,” Piper said, dismissing Murphy’s comment with a wave of her hand. “I typed up Nick’s withdrawal from the race after he left, and tomorrow’s issue is all set to go with that as the headline. After that, it’ll just be an endless stream of opinion letters and rebuttals, which Nat can handle. The real story is happening in this room, right now.”

She pointed her pen at each of the people in the living room. “And I’ll be damned if I miss this one. Having to write a story about how the Institute was destroyed the first time, using only second hand sources, was torture. I’m not doing that again, and I’m not missing whatever this merry band of misfits is up to now.”

“Piper, this is going to be dangerous,” Murphy said, burying her face in her hand. “I know, I know you can take care of yourself, and you’re used to covering things in the field, yadda yadda, but this time… well, where we’re going is different. There is shit there you have never seen before, shit that may very well be the last thing you see if you say the wrong thing, step in the wrong place. And on top of that…”

She glanced at Valentine. “There are secrets there that should stay hidden. And try as you might, you’re not the secretive type.”

Piper put her hands on her hips. “Oh no you don’t. I’m not getting left behind again, even…”

She gritted her teeth. “Even if it means some details don’t make the final story cut. I’ll let you proof it before I print it, and you know that’s not something I do for anyone.”

Murphy shook her head, but Maxson rose from the couch and crossed his arms. “Yes.”

“I- wha- we- see?” Piper said, motioning wildly at Maxson in surprise. “The shorter-than-expected Brotherhood Elder agrees with me.”

“Shorter than expected?” Maxson asked, puzzled.

“Arthur, this isn’t one of your mission assignments,” Murphy said, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You can’t overrule me here.”

“I am not trying to overrule you,” Maxson assured her. “I am merely suggesting that the more companions you bring with you on this quest to find the Courser woman, the more likely you are to return unharmed with the information we need.”

He gestured at Piper. “This woman seems capable, if a little overeager and ill-equipped.”

“Ill-equipped?” Piper shot back. “I have enough RadAway in this bag to spontaneously combust a pack of ferals.”

Valentine chuckled. “He’s got a point, Murphy. We could always use more guns, and Piper’s got a way of extracting information from people that even I haven’t perfected, in all my years on this planet.”

“I can’t believe you three,” Murphy said, sagging back against the stairs. “You want to weigh in, MacCready?”

MacCready yawned. “Not particularly. More guns, more bullets, but more bodies, more noise.”

Murphy checked her Pip-Boy. “We don’t have time for this. Piper, if you’re going to follow us, we can argue it out on the way to the Castle. If you still want to tag along by the time we get there, or we aren’t all full of holes because a roving band of super mutants heard us coming a mile away, then I won’t stop you.”

“Perfect,” Piper said, pumping her fist in the air. “Let’s hit the pavement. I can’t wait to ask Preston what his thoughts are on his general and the Elder as an item.”

“Don’t you dare,” Murphy warned her, holding the door open for the group to file out into the sunlight. “Head for the gates. I need to make a pit stop at the radio station.”

 


 

“I’m Travis ‘Lonely’ Miles, and this just in, folks,” the radio on Murphy’s Pip-Boy crackled as the five travelers made their way south, out of the Fens toward the Massachusetts Turnpike tunnel. “A rare treat in-studio today, as everyone’s favorite vault dweller, Little Miss Murphy, dropped by with a message for the Minutemen, the Institute survivors and the Commonwealth as a whole. I’ll play it back for you again, before we cue up another song.”

Murphy grimaced as her own voice came over the air, hesitant at first. “Um, hi everyone. Murphy here. You’ve probably heard a lot about me over the past year, through the radio, Publick Occurrences and the rumors that the caravans like to spread.”

MacCready snorted as Travis cut back in. “Can you at least tell our listeners, Murphy, if you really managed to tame a deathclaw that reportedly charged you and Detective Nick Valentine in the northern hills?”

“No, Travis, that one’s all Carla.”

“Alright, alright. So what brings you to the studio today, Murphy? You’re a busy woman: General of the Minutemen, Paladin for the Brotherhood of Steel, destroyer of the Institute and a host of other rumored connections. Why the unplanned visit?”

“Actually, I was demoted by the Brotherhood recently,” Murphy’s voice replied with a chuckle. “But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here today to let everyone know that I’m going to do what I can to do right by the citizens of the Commonwealth.”

Maxson paused next to Murphy and eased the barrel of his Gatling laser down. He put a hand on her shoulder and listened.

“I’ve made a lot of mistakes since I crawled out of Vault 111, and some of them still haunt me,” the Pip-Boy speaker echoed in the silent alley. “I’ve also made a lot of friends, most of whom showed me kindness after kindness, despite my shortcomings, my ignorance of this world and my fears. Thank you to the Minutemen soldiers and settlers who cheered me on and encouraged me to grab a laser musket, climb a balcony and take the fight back to the raiders on the streets of Concord. Thank you to the Brotherhood soldiers who made sure to patch me up after wave after wave of ferals attacked us in Cambridge, even before they tended to their own wounds. Thank you to the Railroad agents who taught me when to fight, when to run, and where to hide when a behemoth wanders by. Thank you to the man in Diamond City who sold me my first plasma pistol at half price when he saw me crying over it because it reminded me of my husband. Thank you to the ghouls in Goodneighbor who reminded me that some pre-war knowledge, ideals, even entertainment, is worth remembering, preserving, worth fighting for, even. Thank you to the man- the synth - who helped me track down my husband’s killer, to the woman who told my story in print, the man who shot a yao guai over my shoulder at a hundred paces…”

“That’s me!” MacCready said excitedly. “I’m on the radio!”

“Ssh,” Piper replied. “It’s very good, Blue.”

“... the men, women, children, even some creatures of the Commonwealth have given me reason to live a life beyond anything I could have imagined,” the radio went on. “So I’ve tried to give back. I’ve rolled over train cars to help the settlers of Starlight build homes. I’ve hammered new walls onto the homes of my former neighbors to protect my new neighbors from the elements. I’ve tracked down missing loved ones, rooted out mole rat and raider dens, even fought a mirelurk queen or two to give old factions and new alliances a chance.”

“Don’t we know it,” Travis mused. “I don’t think anyone is questioning your dedication to the idea of making this world a better place, Murphy.”

“Right. And I’m not here to brag about what a good citizen I am,” Murphy went on. “I just wanted to give some context so that when I say I’m invested in the Commonwealth and its well-being, you know I’m telling the truth.”

“So tell our listeners, Murphy, what are you going to do next?”

“I’m going back to the Castle this afternoon to meet with the Minutemen leadership, and I’m going to resign as General of the Minutemen, effective immediately. I’m leaving of my own volition, with a clear next step in my path, and a team of capable leaders who I trust completely to take on the responsibilities of the Minutemen in the Commonwealth. I am not abandoning the work we’re doing out there: Far from it. I feel that the Minutemen can now operate without my help, and the work I need to do going forward requires me to have some freedom of movement across faction lines and across the wasteland.”

Travis cut back in, a little flustered. “That’s… that’s huge news, Murphy.”

“It is, I suppose, but it’s not the end of my story yet. Travis, I am appalled, disgusted, enraged by what the Institute has done to threaten the well-being of the Commonwealth, and I intend to do something about it.”

Maxson nodded.

“Unfortunately, that threat of the Institute wasn’t just contained to their actions before the explosion on the Charles and the triumph of the Minutemen. The attack in Diamond City almost two weeks ago was an act of terrorism. The men and woman who died, died needlessly, in an attempt to get to me, and for my role in it, I am in mourning. But also for my role in it, and I’d like to address this directly to the group who carried out the attack, I am going to end this once and for all. To the Institute, I say this: Maybe this act of hatred, of spite, wasn’t endorsed by all of you. I highly doubt it was. But to the individuals who made the final call, ordered a Courser to wreak havoc on a people who were just starting to trust each other again, know that I am coming for you, and I am not alone. I have worked hard to ensure that not a single one of us in the Commonwealth is alone in their fight to survive. Especially me. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s surviving.”

“And now you want to ensure that the Commonwealth’s survival isn’t threatened by the Institute’s?”

“You know, Travis, somebody very wise once told me that one of the hardest things to do in the Commonwealth is to figure out how to go back to living after you’ve spent so long just surviving. I didn’t understand him then, but I do now. It’s - bleep -ing hard, but you know what’s equally hard? Being knocked back down to just surviving after you’ve spent so long living. It was, and sometimes still is, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That’s something I don’t think the people who until recently lived in the Institute can grasp. They were living down there. Not surviving, living. Blissfully unaware or unfeeling about the struggle above them. And now, because of me, the shoe’s on the other foot, and they’re the ones who are surviving, not living, and maybe decisions are being made desperately instead of rationally. I want to make it clear that I want everybody in the Commonwealth- the Brotherhood, the Railroad, the Minutemen and everyone in between- to have the chance to live. To not just survive. And if any group, especially the Institute, is in the way of that, even after everything they should have learned, they’re going to be sorry they parked themselves there.”

“Well said,” Valentine murmured, casting a pointed look at Maxson.

“There you have it, folks, the latest from our very own vault dweller,” Travis cut in live. “A free agent in search of a better life for everyone out there. Now let’s continue in the spirit of living, not just surviving, with this little ditty by the Ink Spots.”

The guitar intro to “This is Worth Fighting For” began to play, but Murphy switched it off. “Come on, guys. We’ve still got a lot of ground to cover, and I haven’t been by the east tunnel in a while. Some more raiders have probably set up shop.”

The five fell in line again, Maxson in front with Final Judgment at the ready, Piper just behind, humming a meandering tune, followed by Valentine, Murphy and MacCready bringing up the rear. Murphy nudged the mercenary occasionally until he perked up enough to take in his surroundings, shaking off the effects of the hangover.

Up ahead, Maxson paused to stare at the skyscraper leaning precariously against the Dartmouth Professional Building. The others passed him up one by one, but Murphy stopped next to him and looked up at the gutted steel frames in silence.

“I envy you the memories of this place, this world, when it was whole,” he said finally, hitching up his laser for a better grip before falling back in step along the concrete.

“Don’t,” Murphy said, running a hand over the strap of her pack to loosen it. “Maybe the buildings were, once, but this world has never been whole. Not in this lifetime, or my previous one.”

“Which do you prefer?”

Murphy looked at him. “What good is my opinion on that when there’s no way of going back? I’m here now.”

“Surviving? Or living?”

“Oh.” Murphy grinned. “I don’t think anyone would question which one is easier to do, day-to-day. But in the Commonwealth, in the world of today, I don’t think you can truly understand the people unless you’re doing a bit of both.”

Maxson nodded. “So you would say the Brotherhood and I have been doing too much living and not enough surviving.”

He tilted his laser at Valentine, who was some distance ahead. “The sy- the detective implied as much.”

“Well, Nick’s a little peeved by some of your outward attitudes and policies,” Murphy said, kicking a chunk of cement out of her way. “The Brotherhood was born out of the desire to allow the human race to survive, if I understand your history well enough. But the technology you have at your disposal, it gives you the freedom to do more than just survive. That’s why a lot of wastelanders join your ranks, for the security and safety your weapons and power armor and strongholds provide. Only with that comes isolationism, and the belief that the average wastelander out there is somehow less than you because they don’t have what you have. When they were never afforded the opportunities you or your soldiers were.”

“They have that opportunity,” Maxson replied. “It was one of the first policies I enacted when I was named Elder. To open our doors and accept the willing.”

“A selective group of the willing, who you then reshaped into soldiers,” Murphy pointed out. “You reworked them in your image, and not everyone can do that or wants to do that.”

She gestured at herself. “Case in point.”

Maxson shook his head. “You are unique. There has only been one other Brotherhood recruit like you, in my lifetime.”

Murphy laughed. “I’m not unique, Arthur. Sure, maybe my exploits are being publicized more often, like your friend’s were, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a million other people out there with stories like mine, reasons of their own for remaining untethered by oaths or allegiances. Hell, there are people out there with reasons for not joining the Minutemen, and I’m not going to begrudge them for it or turn up my nose at them unless they join. They’re just trying to survive and live their own lives. They don’t need input from me on how to do it.”

They walked in silence for a bit, lagging behind the other three. Far in the distance, water dripped down the beams of a once-proud apartment tower complex. A wild dog scuttled through the rubble, pausing to assess the travelers before deciding they were too much effort and slinking off into the ruins.

The arching tunnel over the Massachusetts Turnpike was silent, but showed signs of a recent firefight. A number of bodies were littered over the concrete, crude tattoos on their skin and raider leathers on their motionless limbs. Their pockets were turned out, and MacCready pointed to a pile of brahmin dung over by a rickety ramp down to street level.

“Caravan,” Piper said, picking up a spent casing. “Probably Cricket, judging by the amount of shells.”

Murphy nodded, examining a few burn marks on the wall of a nearby shack. “Someone had a flamethrower.”

“Not here now,” Valentine said with a shrug after looking around for the weapon.

Maxson peered at the entrance to the tunnel suspiciously. “This would be the perfect spot for an ambush.”

“Then let’s go,” Murphy said, motioning to the group. As one, they turned east, and this time Murphy and Maxson took the lead.

“So you seek your freedom,” Maxson said after a while.

Murphy nodded but said nothing.

“I suppose it would have been foolish of me not to expect it. More foolish still to expect you to stay.”

“Arthur, I’m not going to disappear,” Murphy said firmly. “There are things here that I need to do before I let the wind pick me up like it did Paladin Titus.”

“And in order to accomplish these things, you must distance yourself?” Maxson asked grimly.

“From the Brotherhood, the Minutemen, the Railroad, yes. For now.”

“And from me.”

“Are you afraid for me?” Murphy asked. “Afraid that I won’t come back?”

“I fear more for those who stand in your way,” he admitted. “But yes. I fear that.”

She brushed her fingers against the leather of his battlecoat, the worn leather warm in the afternoon sun. “If you’re planning to hold onto those feelings you have for me, then that’s a risk you’ll have to take. Among others.”

“Such as?”

Murphy shook her head. “You’ll see when we get to the Castle.”

He fell silent, and Murphy let a few city blocks go by before she spoke up again, her voice low in the breeze. “I don’t want to lose you either, Arthur.”

Maxson glanced at her for an instant, before facing the road ahead and pulling Final Judgment a little higher into the air, the hint of a smile on his face.

Chapter Text

There were welcoming calls to greet the five when they arrived at the Castle, Minutemen guards calling out from the battlements to MacCready, Valentine, even Piper as they made their way up the hill to the new gate. They fell silent when they caught sight of Murphy and Maxson bringing up the rear, where they had lagged behind to avoid Piper’s incessant questioning during the last leg of the journey.

The two of them passed through the courtyard, silence following them as they made their way to the door in the fort by the Shot Heard Round the World where Preston Garvey was waiting to greet them. He swept off his hat and pressed it to his heart when they came to a halt.

“General,” he said, bowing his head deferentially. “Elder.”

Murphy smiled and holstered Alpha at her side. “General.”

Preston looked up and smirked. “Not yet. First you have to explain to some very upset officers why you’ve decided to resign.”

Murphy looked around the courtyard, then sighed heavily. “They’re waiting for us?”

Preston nodded and put his hat back on before ushering them into the stone corridor that led to the general’s quarters. Their steps echoed along the silent hallway, and Murphy hugged her torso at the sudden chill from the cold shadows of the fort.

“We weren’t expecting a visit from you, Elder,” Preston said over his shoulder.

“It was an unplanned excursion,” Maxson replied. “One which could be beneficial for the entirety of the Commonwealth, in time. Your general and I can explain.”

Preston glanced at Murphy curiously and held the door to the quarters open. True to his word, the Minutemen officers were lounging around inside: Major Ronnie Shaw, disassembling her laser musket on the meeting table, Sturges and Trader Rylee laughing with the ghoul doctor Bethany over some joke Sturges had just finished telling, and Curie scribbling away on a clipboard, comparing notes with a stack of papers next to her. Their eyes all went to the door, and the smiles faded at the sight of Murphy and Maxson.

Ronnie took her military cap off and threw it on the table next to her musket. “I knew it. We’re in trouble, aren’t we? Where’s the fire?”

“Mademoiselle Murphy, Elder Maxson,” Curie said smoothly, rising from her seat and approaching them in one fluid motion. “Is this news on the radio true? Have you come to- how you say- throw in the towel?”

Murphy took Curie’s hands in hers and smiled. “There’s more to it than that. You should probably all sit down, so Arth- the Elder and I can explain.”

Sturges shrugged and pulled out a chair at the table. “Hop to it, then. I’ve got to tighten a few screws on Sarge and run a check on those engines that just came in from Kenji.”

The rest of the officers followed suit. Maxson set Final Judgment down by the wall and joined Murphy to stand at the head of the table.

“Let me just start by telling you that I don’t want there to be any ill will toward the Brotherhood of Steel for taking me into custody,” Murphy said, gesturing at Maxson. “When the Courser attacked me in Diamond City, they had every right to ask me what I knew that they didn’t. The Elder here and his officers are up to speed on the situation with the Institute, and they’re going to do their level best to work with the Minutemen and find them.”

She leaned back. “But, due to my own stubbornness, I’m no longer on good terms with the Brotherhood as a whole. So going forward, the Elder here will be your main point of contact with the Brotherhood officers. Their alliance with the Minutemen will stand, but if I stay here, that will likely be seen as… well, harboring a fugitive.”

Preston looked between her and Maxson. “And… the Elder is… accommodating you at the moment.”

Murphy nodded. “It’s a long story. But more importantly, the Elder put aside his misgivings and decided to meet with the Railroad.”

Eyes around the table widened. Sturges’s jaw dropped.

“And?” Rylee asked.

Maxson cleared his throat and outlined the agreements that he and Murphy had made with Desdemona. The officers nodded at the explanation of the ceasefire between the factions, the sharing of intelligence through Railroad liaisons and the cracking of the Courser chip, and Curie began to grin ecstatically when he mentioned the Brotherhood’s agreement to stop hunting down Gen 3 synths altogether for the time being. Ronnie scowled a bit at the decision to keep the Railroad’s current whereabouts a secret, but Murphy was fairly certain that information would soon be outdated: Desdemona was nothing if not overly cautious.

The questions came when Murphy explained the last-minute partnership she had agreed to on behalf of the Minutemen, wherein the Railroad would eventually merge with the Minutemen to integrate synths into the Commonwealth. Preston’s gaze hardened as she laid out the rough details, and when she had finished he shook his head wearily.

“You couldn’t have consulted with any of us before you agreed to these terms?” he asked.

“Well, there were a few decisions which needed to be made on the spot,” Murphy said, shrugging sheepishly. “I’m sorry, there was no time to bring you into the process. Desdemona insisted we come to an agreement.”

“This analytic machine, she is willing to work with us?” Curie asked.

“Yes,” Murphy replied. “P.A.M. goes where the Railroad goes. For what it’s worth, the Brotherhood requested her for themselves, but Elder Maxson was willing to part with her- at least until the Railroad has accomplished its goal to rescue and protect any and all Institute fugitives.”

“Who cares what the robot wants?” Ronnie said. “This machine can predict the future? Sign her, or it, or whatever you call it, up. That’s an advantage that you don’t turn down.”

“Major Shaw, show a little tact,” Bethany cautioned, patting Curie on the shoulder.

“And in the meantime, the Railroad is going to keep sending synths our way,” Rylee said, crossing her arms. “Sounds like we might be able to shore up our ranks if they’re willing to train and fight, and the rest we can send to…”

She looked at Maxson as if just remembering he was there and trailed off. Maxson looked at Murphy curiously, but she shook her head slightly.

“Still, all of this is highly dependent upon whether or not we can find the Institute during this ceasefire,” Preston said. “Which, I take it, will be your primary mission upon your departure.”

Murphy nodded. “I’m taking a team and I’m going to follow up on a lead. The Railroad is working to crack the Courser chip and see if we can’t figure out, at the very least, what signal their teleportation tech is using to lock onto. I’m not sure how long I’ll be gone, but I’ll report back to all factions when I find out anything concrete.”

She took a deep breath and let it out. “As of this meeting, I am resigning my generalship and placing Colonel Preston Garvey in command of the Minutemen. May he lead them into a bright and prosperous future, across the Commonwealth.”

Preston dipped his head in recognition with a smile. Ronnie, Bethany and Rylee nodded approvingly, Sturges shrugged and Curie clasped her hands together, overwhelmed with emotion.

“Mademoiselle, you have done so much for this cause and the people,” she said with a sad smile. “Vive l’esprit. Your work shall not be forgotten.”

“Thank you, Curie, and thank you all for your support and leadership over the past year,” Murphy replied. “Just make sure you do right by the people.”

Maxson bowed his head and put a fist across his heart in the Brotherhood salute. “Ad victoriam, general.”

One by one, the Minutemen officers stood and raised their hands to their foreheads in a salute. Murphy saluted back, and the full weight of her decision settled on her shoulders. Each face at the table was one she owed her life and livelihood to, and the mere ability to place trust in each of them welled up tears in her eyes.

“Okay,” she sniffed, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. “I need to say my goodbyes and clean out my belongings so Preston can have a bedroom upgrade. My plan is to leave tonight, if you don’t mind me borrowing a couple of boats and men to get us to the Nakanos without doing a hell of a lot of walking.”

Preston nodded. “Of course. The Minutemen are at your disposal… Captain Murphy.”

Murphy chuckled. “Given where I’m headed, you have no idea how appropriate that title is.”

 


 

Maxson trailed Murphy around the fort as she sought out friends to thank and supplies for her trip, keeping an eye on the sun dipping lower in the sky. Murphy checked her Pip-Boy every so often, watching as the digits flipped closer and closer to the vertibird’s scheduled arrival. When the clock on the screen read 4:03 p.m., she stowed her packs away in one of the boats outside the walls and pulled the Elder aside.

“Arthur, there’s someone I think you should meet,” she said. “Before I go.”

“Tell me this person is hidden in some darkened corner of your armory,” he replied, his voice low and suggestive.

Murphy shook her head. “There’s no time for that, and this is… important.”

The solemnity in her tone stilled his levity, and he nodded. She took him by the hand and led him back inside the Castle’s walls, to the nearest set of stone stairs and up onto the battlements facing west, where the sun was setting. There on the edge, as Murphy had suspected, sat a ginger-haired boy dangling his legs over the wall in the company of a handful of dogs and puppies.

The Castle canines whuffed curiously and moved to inspect the two intruders, and Murphy crouched down to extend a hand and let them recognize her scent. The leader of the pack, Washington, accepted some chin scratches from her and eyed Maxson suspiciously. Jefferson and the puppies Quincy and Jackson similarly held back from the new figure in the broad battlecoat, but the white girl pup with black patches on her ears and hindquarters trotted right up to Maxson and sniffed his boots over. Slowly, Maxson crouched and extended a hand to the puppy, and was rewarded with a few licks and sniffles.

“She likes you.”

Murphy turned to see Shaun examining them warily. She straightened up and waded through the dogs to the synth boy, struck once again by Nate’s features and her own looking back at her.

“Did you ever name her?” she asked, taking a seat next to the boy.

Shaun kicked his legs against the ancient stones and stared off into the west. “No. She just goes by Nine. Nothing I tried would stick.”

“Maybe she likes ‘Nine’ too much to let it go,” Murphy said, clasping her hands and stretching out her legs to soak in the fading rays of sun. “They’ve gotten bigger since I saw them last.”

“They’re two months old today,” he said sullenly, looking down at his worn shoes. “Preston says that once they get big enough, they’ll go off with the Minutemen. To protect settlements and go on missions.”

Murphy nodded. “In the Minutemen, everyone does their share. Even the puppies. They’ll grow big and strong and friendly thanks to you.”

“And then they’ll leave.” Shaun pulled up a tuft of grass next to him and shredded the drying blades between his fingers. “Everyone leaves.”

Murphy bit her lip. “They leave because they need to, Shaun.”

He shook his head emphatically. “Not you. Maybe you’re leaving today because you need to, but last time you left, you didn’t need to.”

“I did need to,” Murphy said firmly. “I needed to go see the Brotherhood and let them know what was going on.”

“You didn’t need to see them, they took you,” Shaun insisted, twisting around to point at Maxson. “He took you. Preston told me.”

Murphy sighed and put her hand out to ease Shaun’s accusatory finger down. Goddammit, Preston. “Shaun, nobody took me. I gave myself up, and when the time was right, I left. I’m not going to let anybody take me away again.”

She turned and smiled apologetically at Maxson. “Shaun, this is Arthur. He’s a friend. He’s been helping me, these past few days.”

Maxson said nothing. His face was hard, and he stayed where he was, the black-and-white puppy sniffing around his feet.

Shaun looked between Maxson and Murphy, unsure. “Hi,” he said finally, his voice almost a whisper.

Maxson let out a breath, managing to make even the rush of air sound judgmental. “Hello.”

Murphy shot him a look of disapproval and turned back to the ruined city across the water. “Yes, Shaun, I’m leaving again. I don’t know how long I’ll be gone this time, but I promise I’ll come back. And you know what else?”

“What?”

“When I get back, you and I are going on a trip together.”

Shaun’s eyes widened. “Really?”

“Really.” Murphy smiled down at the boy and held out her hand between them. “And I bet if you asked nicely, Preston would let you keep one of the puppies for yourself. You’ve certainly earned the right to keep one, and a boy growing up in the Commonwealth needs a dog of his own.”

Shaun took her hand and beamed up at her, then looked thoughtful. “I don’t know how I could pick just one.”

“Well, you’ve got time to think about it.”

Murphy pulled the boy into a hug, ruffling his ginger hair lovingly. She snuck a peek at her Pip-Boy. It read 4:22 p.m.

When Shaun released his grip on her ribcage, Murphy planted a kiss on his freckled forehead. “I need to grab a few more things for the road. If you want, you can say goodbye to me and MacCready and everyone else down by the docks tonight.”

He nodded. “I’ll be there.”

 


 

Maxson’s eyes bore into her back as Murphy made her way down the stairs and toward the general’s quarters for her final sweep. MacCready and Valentine were sharing cigarettes with Rylee outside her trading stand, and Piper was buzzing around the courtyard to press the Minutemen veterans and officers for questions about their operations. Preston appeared to be hiding from the reporter and was nowhere in sight.

“4:27 p.m. here at the Castle, and all is quiet. Just the way we like it,” the Radio Freedom DJ’s voice echoed as Murphy ducked into the stone hallway. Her footsteps echoed in the darkening corridor, but Maxson’s were louder, and suddenly she wished she had had the sense to see him safely onto a vertibird before visiting Shaun on the wall.

The two of them ducked inside the vacated meeting room that had doubled as her bedroom, and Murphy crossed it to yank open the top drawer of the dresser. “Go on,” she sighed. “Say it.”

“The child. You kept it.”

Murphy rifled through the stack of shirts that had never fit her. “I did.”

“Why?”

“Because he needed me,” Murphy said, shutting the drawer again with more force than necessary. “And I… I needed him.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

Murphy placed her palms on top of the dresser and leaned on it heavily, the edge of scorn in his voice cutting her deeper than she thought possible.

“You couldn’t possibly know what it felt like,” she said, low and even. “To give up everything I am, everything I could ever be. The truths I thought I knew, the possibilities I thought I had, gone.”

She heard Maxson take a step toward her, but she threw a hand out to stop his advance. “My son… my real son… did me three favors, in the end. He gave me the man who killed my husband and who gave me a way into the Institute. He gave me a child in place of the child I would never know him as.”

Murphy looked up and met Maxson’s eyes. “And he died.”

Maxson was helpless and powerful all at once, as if he couldn’t decide what he needed to be for her in that moment. The pity in his expression was familiar to her, but Murphy didn’t want it. She had had enough of it to last a lifetime.

“A replacement for the son you lost is not a favor,” he said.

“You think I don’t know that?” Murphy cried. “God, the very idea of him has tied me up in knots for the past few months. I look at him, and I can’t help but wonder how he’ll ever survive in this world, how long it’ll take before he realizes that he’s frozen in time while life goes on around him, and still I can’t help but love him. He’s… he’s my son.”

She sank against the dresser, suddenly weary. “They all are. Every single one of them, Arthur. And if you mean to love me, you need to know that’s how I feel.”

“Your genetic contribution has no-”

“Oh, fuck my genetic contribution,” Murphy said with a harsh laugh. “We’re past that. But go on, use your Brotherhood logic. If you had the chance to go back in time, prevent the Institute from creating what they did, what’s the easiest way to do it, huh? Go on, tell me.”

Maxson didn’t reply, but the answer was there on his face.

“Put a bullet in my head, my husband’s head and my son’s,” Murphy said miserably. “Destroy the vault I fell out of. It’s the truth, and you know it.”

“The Brotherhood would never-”

“Murder innocents for the sake of what they might be, what they might become? You’ve done it. You’re doing it now, Arthur.”

He closed his eyes and shook his head. “Murphy, what’s done is done. You cannot undo the work of your son and I cannot undo the past work of the Brotherhood. This child… its continued existence, its belief in the life it lives, is a cruelty, for itself and for you.”

“Existence at all in this wasteland is cruel,” Murphy muttered. “Far be it from anyone to be exempt.”

“So you would extend your suffering to prove a point?” Maxson thundered. He shoved a chair out of his way and stalked over to her. “Or the suffering of those around you? I would never expect you to be so callous, Aspirant.”

“You don’t care about his suffering, you only care about mine,” Murphy snapped, drawing herself up to her full height. “Pain is hardly ever about what somebody deserves, Elder. No matter what I do, Shaun will wind up getting hurt. Would you rather I gun him down, spare us all the moral quandaries he represents?”

“If this is a question of morals, then your course of action should be to tell him the truth,” Maxson replied angrily. “Tell him what he is. Let him decide for himself what his fate is.”

“He’s 10,” Murphy hissed. “How many existential questions and decisions were you being posed at that age?”

“Plenty.”

They stared each other down, and Murphy had never seen such a tempest in Maxson’s gaze. His eyes were wild, full of fury and resolve, and a lock of his hair had sprung from its sleek path to curl across his forehead. Even in anger, his proximity tightened something in her chest.

“Is this your method of distancing yourself from me?” Maxson asked quietly.

The question caught Murphy off guard. “What?”

“To present me with an ultimatum that I cannot accept?”

“It’s not an ultimatum and this isn’t about us, Arthur,” Murphy said firmly. “But if that’s how you see it, the door’s over there.”

The response pained him, she could see, and he shifted uneasily under her gaze. “You told me you did not wish to lose me.”

“I did,” Murphy replied. “But I won’t give up on Shaun for your sake. Someday I’ll tell him the truth, but Christ, let him live, first. Let him be a child for a little while longer.”

“He’s not a child, Murphy,” Maxson said quietly. “He’s a synth.”

Murphy opened her mouth to refute him, to tell him to leave, get on his vertibird and come back when he had gained some empathy, but a voice from over by the door stopped her heart.

“Mom?”

Maxson froze with a look of horror on his face. All thoughts of argument flew from Murphy’s head, and she pushed past the Elder to see Shaun in the doorway, a small box in his hands and his eyes welling up with tears.

“Shaun,” Murphy breathed. “Shaun, it’s okay.”

“He said I’m… I’m a synth,” Shaun said, his little voice cracking in the silence. “Is it true?”

“Shaun, I didn’t mean for…”

“Is it true, Mom?”

Murphy rounded the table but stopped short when Shaun took a step back. “Shaun, please.”

He nodded and sniffed, wiping tears from his eyes. “I knew it,” he said, his shoulders shaking. “I didn’t want… want to believe it. I thought… I thought you would have told me…”

Murphy sank to her knees on the stone floor. “Shaun, I was trying to keep you safe, I was trying to protect-”

Shaun’s eyes snapped up to meet hers. “Protect me? Mom, you’re never here. You c-can’t… you don’t…”

He gulped repeatedly and wiped his nose. “People… people talk around here. And they try not to let me hear, but they-they say my name and yours and I can’t help listening, Mom, and they said things like how you’re not my r-real mom, and I don’t have a real mom, and how I’m not even real, and Preston said to ignore them, and Curie said to ask you if I had questions but you’re not here to ask them to, and… and when you are here no one talks like that, it’s only after you leave and M-Mom, Mom… are you even my mom?”

“Yes,” Murphy said helplessly. “Shaun, you’re… you’re mine. You’re my son.”

“You’re lying,” Shaun cried suddenly, hugging the box he held close to his chest. “If I’m a synth, I don’t have a mom. I don’t have a mom, and if I did, she would have told me. She… she would have told me!”

There were voices in the corridor outside now, and Shaun looked wildly between Murphy and the door. She could see the fear in his eyes, the confusion, and it broke her, piece by piece in the space between seconds until she buried her face in her hands.

“I’m sorry,” she said, tears streaming between her fingers. “Shaun, I thought you were safer if you didn’t know. I should have told you. I was wrong to keep it from you. Shaun, I’m sorry.”

She swept some white hair from where it was sticking to her cheeks and wiped her hands on her shirt. “Shaun, I’m still your mom. I want to be. I want to be your mom.”

Someone in the corridor was calling her name. Murphy ignored it and smiled shakily at Shaun through the tears. “And if you don’t want me to be your mom, that’s… that’s okay. It’s going to be okay, Shaun. I promise.”

The boy shook his head, tears running freely down his cheeks. “I’m not real. I’m not… you’re not my mom.”

Murphy scrambled to her feet, but Shaun pulled the heavy door open and bolted. She and Maxson rushed to the doorway just in time to see Shaun run smack into MacCready and Preston on their way toward the general’s quarters. MacCready took in the look on Murphy’s face and the tears on Shaun’s and grabbed the child’s arm, stopping his flight with a sudden swing around.

“Shaun,” the mercenary said. “Let’s get out of here. Okay?”

Shaun nodded, and MacCready trotted off with the sniffling boy toward the light of the courtyard. Preston looked Murphy and Maxson up and down and an expression of regret crossed his face.

“You told him,” he guessed.

Tears obscured Murphy’s vision. She shook her head and slammed the palm of her hand against the wooden door. “It was an accident,” she said.

“Aw, hell,” Preston muttered. “I suppose it was just a matter of time. Do you want me to go after them?”

Maxson shook his head. “Give them space. The… boy will need it, I think.”

Preston nodded. “Probably for the best. Elder, your vertibird is on its way. The Prydwen radioed to request a landing.”

“Thank you.”

Preston looked to Murphy, but she shook her head. He shrugged and made his way back down the hall, casting one last, apologetic glance over his shoulder before ducking inside the barracks.

“Murphy,” Maxson murmured. “I… I am sorry.”

Murphy wiped her eyes and put her other palm against the wooden door. She pressed her cheek into the grain, wishing for a splinter to distract her from the gut-wrenching feeling of failure that permeated her body.

“Stupid,” she mumbled. “You can’t keep something like that a secret. I should’ve known.”

She raised her head to glare at Maxson. “You should go. You have a lot of explaining to do for your officers.”

Maxson looked away. “To leave you like this does not feel right.”

“I’ll survive.” Murphy sighed. “Unless a fog crawler eats me. Honestly, I think I’d rather the fog crawler right now.”

“Fog crawler,” Maxson replied, concern on his face. “Maine?”

“Far Harbor,” Murphy admitted. “But don’t go telling everyone in the Brotherhood where we’re headed. The woman I’m looking for and her friends wouldn’t appreciate a visit from you.”

He nodded and fell silent. Murphy dried her face and led the way out to the courtyard again after Maxson had retrieved Final Judgment from the general’s quarters. The sun had sunk past the Castle’s walls. MacCready and Shaun were nowhere to be seen, but the rest of the Minutemen had gathered on the battlements to watch the vertibird approaching from the north.

Murphy paused in the archway under the Castle wall overlooking the northwestern field. “That was a shit thing you did, and I’m going to be angry about it for a while. I don’t think you understand the damage you might have done.”

Maxson bowed his head. Murphy looked him over carefully and crossed her arms. “But… don’t die while I’m gone.”

He glanced up at her. “I shall do my best.”

“Good.” Murphy nodded curtly and held her arm out toward the landing vertibird. “Fly safely, Arthur.”

Maxson took a step toward her. She took in a sharp breath, and he stopped. “Roam wisely, Murphy.”

She watched him go, his smoky hair whipping in the wind kicked up by the vertibird’s descent. He carried the Gatling laser at his side with ease, and as the aircraft lifted off into the sunset, the ache in her heart grew and drowned out the sound of its rotors.

Chapter Text

Haylen found Murphy on the battlements overlooking the ocean and the collection of boats on the shore. The former Scribe approached cautiously and sat down next to her, saying nothing as the night closed in around the Castle.

“Give him time,” Haylen said finally.

Murphy nodded, though she wasn’t sure if Haylen meant Shaun or Maxson. She tilted her face up to the emerging stars and wiped away the trails of tears that had fallen over the past hour.

“MacCready?” she asked, her voice hoarse.

“He took Shaun and the dogs down the coast, like they used to,” Haylen replied. “He’ll bring him back before you leave, don’t worry.”

Murphy looked over and gave her a half-hearted smile. “Not like I’d leave without him,” she said with a sigh. “God, I owe that man so much. Honestly, I don’t know why he’s still around. I technically haven’t paid him in weeks, I probably just blew any shot we had of getting a ride for him back to the Capital Wasteland, and little Duncan is still living with his friends.”

She leaned forward and pressed a hand to her aching forehead. “I hope he’s not still hung up on settling that debt he used to talk about owing me.”

Haylen shrugged and stared out at the horizon. “Well, we all owe you a debt.”

“Don’t you start, too.”

“I’m not, I’m not,” Haylen promised. “But RJ… he’s funny about that. Loyalty is hard to come by out here, and he’s so used to people turning on him just to make a few caps. But then you come along and show him nothing but kindness and support and understanding. You opened a world of it to him.”

Murphy knocked her knees together and hugged her torso. “He shouldn’t be running around the Commonwealth when he has a son at home.”

Haylen’s eyes flickered to her, and Murphy realized what she had just said. She buried her face in her hands again, then laughed, hollow in the night air.

“On Mass Fusion, after… after the explosion,” she said. “I told Bobby I failed as a mother. He said I never got the chance to be, and now look at me. Given the chance, and I still blow it.”

“You’re oversimplifying,” Haylen replied, shaking her head. “But… he wasn’t wrong, and neither are you.”

“Thanks.”

“Hey. There’s still time to become a good parent. For both of you.”

Murphy peered at her between her fingers. Haylen had wrapped herself up in that red turtleneck she had been so fond of when she was a Scribe, but now it was over jeans instead of heavy cargo pants. Her auburn hair was tied back in a ponytail, and her ever-present cap and goggles were pushed back on the top of her head. She looked well, even through the concern on her face.

“You should talk to RJ about it, if you want him to go home,” Haylen said quietly. “But I don’t think he will. He cares an awful lot about you, Murphy, and Duncan… Duncan is a challenge that I don’t know if he thinks he can handle on his own. As long as he knows he’s safe, he’ll keep putting off being a parent and running away to far-flung adventures with you and your squadron.”

“Right,” Murphy said, rubbing the back of her neck. “About that… I got demoted. I’m an Aspirant now.”

Haylen smiled. “I’m nothing, now. I have you beat.”

“You’re not nothing,” Murphy assured her. “And anyway, I’d be surprised if I still have a rank. I stole a suit of power armor and broke out of the Prydwen to go see the Railroad.”

“RJ told me,” Haylen said with a nod. “He was rather proud of you. He said he was hoping he wouldn’t wind up traveling for a week with Detective Valentine for nothing, and you delivered.”

Murphy shook her head and smiled. “Those two are going to have to get used to each other, if we’re going to be sharing a boat for the next few days.”

Her smile faded, and she smoothed her hair over her shoulder and began working the knots out of it with her fingers. “But I don’t want him to make the same mistakes that I’ve made. That I’m making. If I told him to stay… if I made it clear he wasn’t coming along on this trip, that his contract with me was up and he was free to go, could you see that he gets back to DC in one piece?”

“Oh.” Haylen looked back out over the ocean and kicked her legs idly against the stones. “I don’t think I’m going back to the Capital Wasteland.”

Murphy’s eyes widened. “Why not?”

“Well, when the vertibird dropped me off at the Castle after our hearing, I was really angry,” Haylen confessed. “I had half a mind to run off and join the Railroad, if it meant I would get the chance to someday aim a missile launcher at Lancer-Captain Kells and see the look on his face when I did.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“So I started talking to some of the Minutemen officers. Rylee was all for me taking some time off for myself and traveling the wasteland, like she did when she left the vault. Sturges suggested I pick a project and focus on it, then pick another and another until I’m too busy to be angry anymore.”

Murphy chuckled at that. “Let me guess: Preston wanted you to devote your energy, talents and knowledge to the Minutemen cause and start up a new settlement somewhere?”

“Something like that,” Haylen giggled. “You couldn’t have picked a better man to succeed you, Pala- Murphy.”

“Thank you.”

Haylen sighed. “And then I wound up spending all of my free time helping Bethany and Curie in the clinic, and I realized I wasn’t angry anymore. In fact, I was downright happy, and I even had time on the side to help Curie with experiments and have long conversations in the bar about things like biology, and bacteria, and the effects of radiation on wounds and bone breaks and viral infections.”

She shook her head with a smile. “Curie… she’s so bright. And there’s so much she wants to do to help the world. She told me all about her time in the hidden part of the vault, looking for panaceas with no one to talk to but mole rats, and how the idea that her work could be used to help the people of the future kept her going. I realized that I want to do something similar with my life. Just, minus the part about being locked in a vault.”

Murphy put a hand out and squeezed Haylen’s shoulder. “That sounds like a great job transition for an ex-Brotherhood Scribe to me.”

Haylen nodded. “Being a part of something bigger, like the Brotherhood, was good for me, and I don’t want to give that feeling of support up. With the Minutemen here in the Commonwealth, I don’t have to. Besides, there’s nothing left for me at the Citadel, or Adams. What friends I had… they’re gone, or they were just friends of circumstance.”

She put her hand over Murphy’s and squeezed back. “I think, when I’m confident enough in my own medical abilities, I’ll go to Breakheart Banks and work with the Danse and the other synths. There’s so much we still don’t know about how their bodies work, and maybe I can help shed some light on things Curie has already been observing in her own immune system and metabolism. Plus, last I checked, they still need a doctor up there.”

Murphy smiled. “I’m so proud of you, Haylen.”

Haylen blushed. “Thank you, Murphy. Coming from you, that means a lot.”

The two women hugged, and Murphy laughed when Haylen playfully squashed her ribs.

“But, unfortunately, that means I won’t be seeing RJ safe home on a trek back to Canterbury Commons,” Haylen said regretfully.

“What does it mean for you two?” Murphy asked hesitantly.

Haylen shrugged. “I get the feeling that if we’re meant to make it work, we will. And if not, well, we’ll move on.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-”

“No, no no, don’t be,” Haylen said warmly. “RJ… he’s fun. What we have is good, but… fleeting. And limited. Maybe he needs that for now, and I know I’m okay with that current arrangement, but in the end… who knows?”

They leaned on each other as the stars winked into the sky overhead, silent while the sounds of the Castle shifted and quieted around them. Murphy pondered Haylen’s words and her acceptance of her situation, and as they breathed in the salted sea air, she wondered if maybe Haylen had guessed at the other matter tugging on her heartstrings.

 


 

 

Murphy was still on the battlements when MacCready and Shaun made their way across the narrow strip of land to the Castle’s southern gate. MacCready had his sniper rifle slung over his shoulder and a string of little fish at his side. Shaun carried an oil lantern, and three of the Minutemen dogs trailed behind him.

Her breath caught in her throat, and she shrank back from the edge into the shadows. Even her heartbeat felt loud over the gentle waves on the beach.

“I don’t want to,” Shaun was saying.

“Then what do you want to do?” MacCready asked.

“I want to talk to Curie,” Shaun replied firmly. “Maybe she can fix me.”

Murphy drew her legs up to her chest and buried her face in her knees. She heard MacCready’s footsteps stop.

“Hey,” the mercenary said. “We talked about this. What did I say?”

Shaun muttered something, but MacCready wasn’t having it. “Like you mean it, kid.”

“I don’t need fixing.”

“Right. And Curie will tell you the same thing. But if you’ve got questions, she can probably answer them, okay?”

“Okay.”

The two passed under the arch, and Murphy let out the breath she was holding. She waited for a few more minutes, then rose and made her way to the stairs and the blazing bonfire at the center of the courtyard.

They were waiting for her there, her friends and chosen travel companions. MacCready was stringing his fish along a drying rack with Trader Rylee’s help, the silvery scales glistening in the firelight. Piper was rocking forward and back as she listened with rapt attention to Ronnie Shaw’s description of the Minutemen’s working relationship with the Brotherhood of Steel. Sturges was tightening a screw in Nick Valentine’s wrist while Haylen kneeled before him, testing the synth’s reflexes with interest. Curie and Bethany were holding hands, Curie’s head resting gently on the old ghoul’s shoulder, eyes closed. Preston Garvey had his hand on the head of the Castle pack leader Washington, scratching the dog’s ears absentmindedly while he munched on some dried mutfruit.

Murphy paused in her advance and sighed, taking in the sight of all of them gratefully. One by one, they turned to look at her. Smiling. Curious. Worried. Their expressions were thrown into shadow and relief by the flames, heightened and distorted.

Preston rose first. “Captain,” he said. “Are you ready?”

She nodded. “We should go. The sea’s quiet right now, and the sooner we leave, the sooner we can get back. Hopefully with some answers.”

The new general nodded in kind, then turned to the others. “So it’s you, Piper, Nick, MacCready. Any volunteers for taking these four up the coast and bringing the boats back?”

Sturges raised his hand with a grin. “Count me in.”

Haylen put hers up as well. “Been a while since I drove a boat. Might as well shake the rust off.”

“Then it’s settled.” Preston stepped forward and put his hands on Murphy’s shoulders. “On behalf of everyone in the Castle, the Minutemen and the entire Commonwealth, thank you, Captain. Your services to the people of the wasteland will not be forgotten, and we wish you luck on your latest excursion.”

“Amen,” said Ronnie with a smirk. “Now let’s get your gear in the boats and get out of here before the Prydwen sends a team of Knights to lock you up again.”

Bethany, Curie and Rylee descended upon Murphy and hugged her tightly. “Be careful, mademoiselle,” Curie advised.

Murphy nodded and swallowed. “Take… take care of Shaun for me. Okay?”

“Bien sûr. Of course.”

Murphy led the way down to the boats south of the fort. Sturges steadied one while Piper and Valentine threw their packs aboard and climbed in, and Preston shoved them off. They floated in the surf, waiting, and MacCready was about to climb into the other boat when Murphy pulled him back.

“Bobby, wait,” she said, biting her lip. She led him over to a nearby dead tree and crossed her arms. “Are you sure you want to go?”

He looked at her, confused. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Murphy looked back at the group and met Haylen’s eyes. The other woman nodded, and Murphy steeled herself.

“You need to go home,” she said firmly.

MacCready frowned. “Murphy.”

She put a hand up and lowered her gaze. “Just… let me get it out, okay? Before I give up and regret never saying anything.”

He screwed his face up defensively. “Okay.”

Murphy looked back up at him, and all the words she had thought through fell by the wayside. She sighed, and instead said only one.

“Duncan.”

The name sent a ripple of emotions across MacCready’s face, but the one that settled was resignation. “I know,” he said quietly. “Don’t think I haven’t thought about him.”

“You should do more than think about him,” Murphy urged him. “He’s your son. Don’t… don’t let him go, for my sake.”

MacCready rubbed his forehead. “Murphy… I don’t travel with you just because I need the caps-”

“Bobby, I haven’t paid you in so long-”

“-or because it means I can actually fall back and pick things off from a distance while you kick your way through a deathclaw-”

“-probably less of that in the Capital Wasteland, if the Brotherhood’s-”

“-or because I’m running away from my problems-”

“But you are!” Murphy hissed. “You said it when we blew up the Institute, you said you ran away from Duncan when he needed you most, and even if it worked out, it was wrong. And then that night with the fireworks here, you told me you were moving on with your life and you were going to take care of your son.”

“I am taking care of my son,” MacCready retorted. “Following you around and pointing my gun at the people who get in your way is the only way this world is going to be safe enough for him.”

“And how long will that take? A year? Five? The rest of your life?” Murphy pinched the bridge of her nose. “He’s alive now, Bobby, he’s healthy, and he misses you. He needs you. Stop making excuses about saving the world to get out of parenting.”

“You mean like you do?”

She had expected the question, but it still hit her like a lightning bolt in a radstorm. Murphy stared at him, and the mercenary quickly put his hands up, regret plain on his face. “I didn’t mean it like that. That’s not what I think, Murphy. Murphy, I’m sorry. I just-”

“Yes,” she said, staring him down. “Like I do.”

Cowed, MacCready closed his mouth. Tears returned to Murphy’s eyes instantly, and she surprised even herself when she threw her arms around him and hugged him close.

“It’s okay,” she whispered. “I know you’re scared. I am too. But you have to be the better person and put that fear aside, because kids… Bobby, kids don’t care about who’s off saving the world or making caps or trying to figure themselves out on the road. Kids only care about who’s there. So you need to be there.”

She squeezed him harder. “If you get on that boat, I’m kicking you overboard.”

MacCready hugged her back and shook his head. “Guess I’m going swimming.”

“Bobby.”

“Can we hurry this up?” Valentine called from the other boat.

The two of them giggled, and MacCready held her away from him. When he saw Murphy’s tears, he untucked the end of his scarf and wiped her face with it.

“Murphy, I’m not letting you go to Far Harbor with only those two for company,” he said, jerking his chin at Valentine and Piper. “For all you know, the Institute’s lurking up there and this Courser you’re going to see is in on the whole thing.”

Murphy shook her head. “I doubt that. I said I’d kick you overboard and I meant it.”

MacCready considered her. “How long of a trip is it to Far Harbor?”

“A day, one-way.”

“And you’re borrowing this boat from the Nakanos indefinitely?”

“Yeah.” Murphy shrugged. “Since I brought Kasumi back, Kenji said I could use it whenever.”

MacCready smiled. “So we go to Far Harbor, get some answers about the Institute, and then when we come back, we take the boat to D.C. Bring Duncan back here.”

“You…” Murphy frowned. “Is that safe? The Potomac?”

“It should be,” MacCready replied thoughtfully. “The trip upriver might be a little rough, but if we can get to Rivet City, we can dock the boat and go on foot to the Commons.”

“I’d… have to check with Kenji first,” Murphy said doubtfully. “But what if we get delayed in Maine? What if something goes wrong?”

“Then you’ll be happy to have a sniper along.”

Murphy sighed. “You’re not taking ‘no’ for an answer, are you?”

MacCready’s smile widened. “Nope.”

Murphy turned back toward the boat and groaned at the night sky. “Fine. Get your gear and get in.”

They joined Haylen in the boat and Preston shoved them away from the shore. Haylen tested the motor as they bobbed over the surf, puttering slowly as they moved through the shallows toward Sturges, Piper and Valentine.

“Did you guys work it out?” Haylen asked with a supportive smile.

MacCready nodded, and Murphy opened her mouth to agree, but a voice from shore cut in before she could.

“Wait!”

The three of them looked back to the beach, where a little figure was running down to join the adults clustered around the remaining Minutemen boats.

“Come back!” Shaun called out to them. “Mom, wait!”

Haylen stilled the motor, and Murphy looked at MacCready, unsure.

He smiled at her and nodded. “Go on,” he said, his voice nearly breaking with compassion.

Murphy tossed her pack aside, pulled off her boots and took a deep breath before plunging into the seawater. It chilled her to the core, soaking into her hair with the icy fingers of the autumn currents, but she swam, then waded through it until she was splashing in the shallows.

Shaun met her on the sand and wrapped himself around her waist. Murphy sank down to her knees and ran her fingers through his hair, pulling him into her despite the saltwater and seaweed clinging to her clothes.

“I’m sorry,” Shaun whispered. “Don’t go because of me.”

“I’m not going because of you,” Murphy said, breathing in the scents of fire and dogs and straw on his clothes. “I’m going because the Commonwealth needs me to. And after, I promise I’m coming back, and I won’t leave again unless you want me to. Okay?”

He nodded against her shoulder. The stars wheeled overhead, and Murphy swore she could feel the shift of the earth beneath the two of them, but it didn’t matter. He held her, and she was centered again.

Chapter Text

It was going on midnight by the time Haylen and Sturges docked the boats at the Nakano residence, where Kasumi was waiting with a lantern in the emerging fog. Kenji’s self-navigating trawler was already idling, and it puttered contentedly as the group of four said their goodbyes and climbed aboard. Murphy, MacCready, Piper and Valentine waved at the other three as the boat eased its way out to sea, until they could no longer see the figures on the end of the dock.

Piper peered inside the cabin suspiciously. “So this thing drives itself, huh?”

“Yep,” Valentine replied, slapping the wall next to her affectionately. “Good old Bessie.”

Murphy snickered. “I thought we decided to name her ‘The Impulse.’”

Valentine shook his head. “On account of you barging into my office last winter and demanding we go on a case, any case, to take your mind off things?”

“Well, when you find out your son is the one running the Institute and wants you to consider joining him in his insane, holier-than-thou regime, you kind of realize that maybe you need to take some time off and try a new career,” Murphy replied, crossing her arms defensively. “Detective work fit the bill.”

“So you two have been to Far Harbor together already?” Piper asked. She gestured at MacCready. “Mind filling us in on the details?”

Murphy and Valentine glanced at each other. “It’s… complicated,” Murphy said hesitantly.

Valentine sighed. “You see, Piper, the island that Far Harbor is built on is a little bit of a mess. And not in the way the Commonwealth is.”

“There are three somewhat civilized groups on it vying for space, resources and respect,” Murphy said, counting them off on her fingers. “There are the Children of Atom, who worship the irradiated fog that covers the island. They claim it’s coming from Atom himself and his saint, the Mother of the Fog, and they’re holed up in a nuclear submarine base on the west side of the island.”

“Naturally, they’re at odds with the people of Far Harbor, who are just trying to get by and keep the fog at bay,” Valentine added with a grimace. “The harbormen are rough, tough and raised to wrestle gulpers from infancy.”

“Gulpers?” MacCready asked.

“Think big, slimy deathclaws, but with bad eyesight,” Murphy explained. “And they hide in swamps and hang from trees and they like to jump out at you.”

Piper made a face of disgust. “What kind of place is this? Any other special breeds of horror we should know about?”

“Well, there’s your usual super mutants, radstags, deathclaws, mirelurks, yao guai and a ton of ferals because of the fog, but there are also gulpers, wolves, hermit crabs, anglers and fog crawlers,” Valentine replied. “Some nasty stuff.”

“Anglers and fog crawlers?” Piper asked faintly.

“Big, angry fish with arms and legs and a stalk on their head that looks like a bioluminescent pond weed, and giant, walking nightmares that I think used to be shrimp,” Murphy clarified.

“Hermit crabs don’t sound too bad,” MacCready said with a shrug.

Valentine grinned. “Sure, they don’t. But have you ever run into one the size of a car?”

“Not to mention the raider group that calls the island home, the trappers,” Murphy cut in. “It’s kind of sad, really. Most of them were just harbormen or actual trappers who were driven insane by spending too much time in the fog. A lot of them are cannibals, too.”

“Kind of sad?” Piper said incredulously. “What will be kind of sad will be my body washing up on shore after getting eaten by an island critter because I thought we were going on a mission to find information, not the world’s biggest lobster.”

“Relax, Piper,” Murphy assured her, taking a seat on a nearby barrel of water. “We’re not going to be traipsing through the swamp, we’re just taking a trip up to see the third group of people living there. We haven’t even told you the best part.”

“Which is?”

Murphy grinned. “The fact that Nick here has a brother.”

 


 

Once they had gotten all of Piper’s questions out of the way, the four drifted to various parts of the boat as it rocked speedily over the dark waves. MacCready had pulled down his cap and retired to the cabin to sleep. Valentine had muttered something about “needing space to run a diagnostic” and seated himself on a crate near the stern, where he tugged idly at his coat lapels and smoked a cigarette in the ocean spray. Piper and Murphy leaned together on the railing on the starboard side, staring out at the sea rushing past them.

“So what’s the story with the kid?” Piper asked. “Did your son have such a big ego that he needed to recreate himself in kid synth form?”

Murphy sighed. “Something like that.”

Piper whistled. “Yikes. So that leaves you all twisted up about who he is and who you should be to him then, I bet.”

“You’re not going to print this,” Murphy said, looking at the reporter suspiciously.

“And depress all of my readers?” Piper laughed and motioned that her lips were locked. “Not sure they’d care to hear about all of your inner struggles at the moment, Blue.”

“The main debate is whether or not I should be his mom,” Murphy admitted. “I’m human, and I’m broken and selfish, and looking at him gives me this gut feeling that he’s mine. But he’s not. If you accept that synths should have the right to be their own person, then Shaun is no exception.”

She sighed. “But right now, he’s a kid who’s programmed to love me, and god help me, I wanted that. And I wanted to protect him. Trying to tell him that, or trying to change how he feels about me… I couldn’t do it.”

Piper nodded. “So you kept running away from that decision until it bit you in the ass.”

“Bingo,” Murphy replied. “Now he blames me for running away from him, and he knows he’s a synth.”

“Sounds like you’ll have a kid full of questions waiting for you when you get back,” Piper said, rummaging around in her pockets. She pulled out a pack of bubblegum and offered Murphy a stick, which she accepted.

“So,” the reporter said, chewing loudly on her piece of gum. “Are you ready to answer them?”

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe you should let the kid decide what he wants to do,” Piper suggested.

“That’s what Arthur said, too,” Murphy replied sullenly.

Piper shrugged. “Remember when you and I had that talk about Nat?”

“Yeah?”

“About how I was on the road because I was worried she was turning into me?”

“That’s not what I’m worried about, Piper,” Murphy replied, shaking her head.

“Hear me out, hear me out,” Piper said quickly. “I asked you what I should do to keep her from becoming a cynical, radroach-fighting reporter, and you gave me a long, hard look and basically called me an idiot.”

Murphy laughed at that. “I did not.”

“Okay, maybe not in so many words.” Piper chuckled and tucked some flyaway hair back under her cap. “But you did tell me that I didn’t get to decide who Nat was going to be. And that the only thing I did get to decide was whether or not I was going to be a part of her life. Maybe that’s how you should approach things with Shaun.”

“But how can he make any decision like that when he’s pre-programmed to do things a certain way?” Murphy asked. “And even if he wasn’t, how could any 10-year-old make a decision like that anyway?”

“I’m not saying it’s a perfect solution,” Piper said. “It’s just a place to start.”

She patted Murphy on the shoulder. “If it helps, today’s 10-year-olds are probably a little more self-sufficient than the ones from way back in your time. We all mature a little earlier, nowadays.”

Murphy glanced at Piper. There was a grin widening on the reporter’s face.

“What?” Murphy asked.

“Nothing.”

Murphy straightened up and put a hand on her hip. “Come on.”

“It’s just, I thought you might have figured that out,” Piper said slyly. “What with the whole ‘Max’ situation.”

Murphy tried to punch her shoulder, but Piper ducked out of the way, giggling wildly.

“What’s the age difference?” she asked, dodging Murphy’s continued attempts to smack her on the arm. “Seven years? Or are we counting all those years you spent on ice, too?”

“Don’t. Think. I haven’t. Thought. Of that,” Murphy said, gritting her teeth and punctuating each word with a jab. “It is what it is, and we’re not looking to ride off into the sunset together.”

“Stirrup to stirrup, side by siiiiiiiiide,” Piper sang, slightly off key. “How’s he taking the whole synth step-son thing?”

“Said ‘step-son’ has Arthur to thank for confirming his… synthetic state.”

Piper winced. “Ouch. So you two are on the outs, I bet.”

“I’m not sure we’ll ever get the chance to be on the ‘ins,’ Murphy said in a huff. “One of us is an icicle on the run from the other’s faction, and the other is a kid who’s been groomed to be his people’s messiah from birth.”

“Sounds like a match made in heaven,” Piper said with a sigh. She blew a bubble with her gum and popped it noisily. “You’ll figure it out. Or it’ll dry up and blow away in the wind like the rest of the wasteland debris.”

“Charming, Piper.”

 


 

MacCready was breathing heavily in time with the rocking of the boat, his back against the control console that was steering the watercraft. Murphy settled down next to him, moving slowly so as not to wake him. Piper had dozed off during their conversation under the stars, and Nick didn’t seem like he was in the mood to talk.

Probably dreading seeing DiMA again, Murphy thought to herself as she shifted under the rough blanket she had found in a box next to the control console. To tell the truth, she wasn’t sure how the prototype synth would take the news that the Institute, his birthplace and the source of his gifts and fears, was on the run, its underground stronghold destroyed.

She shivered and pulled the blanket up around herself and MacCready. The mercenary stirred and blinked blearily at her, then smiled.

“Hey,” he said. “Thanks for not pitching me off the boat.”

Murphy chuckled. “You’re welcome. Make my decision worth it.”

MacCready tucked the blanket in around them and yawned. “You want to talk about him?”

“Shaun?” Murphy shook her head. “I think if I try to reason out any more scenarios tonight about how to give him what he needs, I’ll explode.”

“No, not Shaun,” MacCready said, shaking his head. “Maxson.”

“Oh.” Murphy pulled her legs up and hugged them. The Marine wetsuit under her clothes had kept her from getting completely soaked by her jump into the surf at the Castle, but the chill had seeped on into her bones. “What is there to talk about? He made a mistake, but it showed me… maybe his mind is beyond changing.”

“You know that’s not true,” MacCready said with a grimace. “As much as I’d like to write him off as an- as a bigot, the guy’s done a lot of changing in the past few months. For you.”

Murphy shook her head. “Not just for me, I hope.”

MacCready gave her a skeptical look. “Mostly for you. But what’s the saying? Don’t look a gift brahmin in the mouth?”

“Or fake it until you make it?” Murphy smiled faintly. “Honestly, I think… I think Shaun’s outburst might have shaken him. More than… well, not more than it shook me. But for different reasons.”

“Good,” MacCready replied. “He deserved it.”

“Let’s just hope he can convince the Brotherhood officers that our agreement with the Railroad is in everyone’s best interests,” Murphy said. “At least until we can find Chase and the Institute remnants.”

They were silent for a bit, listening to the waves outside.

“Do you think it’ll ever work?” Murphy asked finally.

“What?”

“Everyone playing nice in the sandbox,” Murphy clarified. “The Minutemen cleaning up the Commonwealth, the Railroad dissolving when the synths are saved, the Brotherhood easing up on its harsher views and exclusions.”

“Depends on what happens with the Institute, I suppose,” MacCready said thoughtfully. “I can’t see them ever fitting in, you know, above ground. They’re too…”

He trailed off, and Murphy nodded. Naive? Ruthless? Unyielding? Idealistic? There wasn’t a good word for it, but she knew what he meant.

“And if they really have split, and some of them want revenge, we might have to go back underground and… you know,” she said.

“Outstanding,” MacCready grumbled, in his best impression of Danse. Despite herself, Murphy giggled, but she cut it short as the weight of what could be required settled on her.

MacCready nudged her. “Maybe it won’t come to that.”

Murphy shook her head. “By some miracle, we got the Railroad and the Brotherhood around the same table, so maybe. But after Diamond City, and Deacon… they might have sealed their fate.”

She pulled the blanket up under her chin and stared at the floor. MacCready put an arm around her and squeezed her shoulder gently.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“For what?”

He took his hat off and put it gently on her head. “It seems like every time the fate of the Commonwealth is at stake, you’re in the middle of it. Usually making huge sacrifices to find answers to our problems, and putting off your own issues, too.”

Murphy sighed heavily. “Thanks, but that’s on me, not you guys.”

“Eh,” MacCready shrugged. “We expect you to put yourself there, just as often as you volunteer to be there. It’s not fair to you. You should try telling the Commonwealth to fix its own problems, once in a while.”

She smiled at that. “Yeah? Should I tell Maxson and Desdemona and Preston to fuck off and work things out themselves?”

“Maybe not to their faces. Though Maxson might be a little more agreeable after you soften him up a bit. Come to think of it, Desdemona might be, too.”

Murphy jabbed him in the side and he laughed. “I kid, boss, I kid.”

“Yeah, yeah. Let’s just hope DiMA and Chase have the answers we’re looking for, then maybe I can focus on myself for a bit.”

The two of them snuggled up together under the blanket, and MacCready dozed off again almost immediately. Thoughts of Shaun’s arms around her waist, flour on Maxson’s hands and a woman disappearing in a flash of violet light kept Murphy up a while longer, but eventually she, too, slipped away into sleep with the gentle rocking of the boat.

 


 

The sunshine on Murphy’s face woke her, and she sat up from where she had been lying on the sofa. The television across from her was on, playing a commercial for Sugar Bombs with that catchy jingle she hadn’t heard in centuries.

“You okay, strawberry?”

Nate’s voice drifted to her from their kitchenette. The room around her shimmered, at once familiar and alien.

“I’m dreaming,” she mumbled, rubbing her eyes.

Nate laughed. “Well I certainly don’t blame you. Shaun was an absolute terror last night.”

“No.” Murphy shook her head and tried to stand, but her legs were wobbly and the floor crackled like it was electrified. “No, this… this is a dream. You’re a dream.”

Nate turned from the stove, where a bottle of milk was warming in a small pot of water. “You’re a little out of it. Need some help?”

Murphy looked at him suspiciously, but she nodded. Nate came to the side of the couch and helped her stand. His hands, his arm behind her back, felt warm and firm enough.

She found her footing and wandered to the window. The town of Sanctuary Hills glowed around their little house, with the same shimmer of fiction running along the neighbors’ window panes and mail boxes. The sight saddened her, and she hugged her arms around herself and bowed her head.

“What’s wrong?” Nate asked.

“I miss you,” Murphy replied. “The real you. And I don’t think I’ll ever stop, or even want to stop, but things like this make it hard to move on.”

He moved up next to her and looked out the window with her, a faraway smile on his face. “He loves you.”

In the house across the street, a figure appeared in the window. Murphy squinted, then stared. It was Maxson, in a business suit, busily knotting his tie and packing things into a briefcase.

“Do you love him?” Nate asked.

“I… I don’t know.”

“You fucked him.”

Murphy turned at the suddenly harsh tone, and recoiled in shock. Nate’s hair was whipping up around his head, as if caught in a hurricane, and his normally-blue eyes were full of a green fog.

“You fucked him,” Nate continued, his voice multiplying into a chorus with every word. “I’m dead barely a year, and you’re crawling into the bed of someone else. Two someone elses.”

Across the road, Hancock appeared in the same window as Maxson, also wearing a suit and tie. He handed some papers to Maxson, who snapped his briefcase shut, kissed Hancock on the cheek, and disappeared briefly before exiting the front door and walking around to the car in the garage.

Murphy dug her fingernails into her palms. “I want to wake up. This isn’t real, you’re not real, and I want to wake up.”

The electric crackling of the floor was in her ears now, emanating from the figure next to her that was not her husband. Nate’s features shifted, hardened, plasticized, and electrodes sprouted from his back and head.

“You’ve buried us,” he said, this time in DiMA’s voice.

He reached for her, and Murphy screamed.

 


 

“Murphy!”

She awoke with a start and shrank back with a shriek. DiMA’s face was still staring down at her.

“Whoa, kid, it’s just me,” Valentine said, putting his hands up to reassure her.

“Murphy.” MacCready leaned down over her and grabbed her shoulders. “You with us again?”

“I…” She blinked rapidly and looked at the three concerned faces over her. “What was I doing?”

Piper grimaced. “MacCready and Nick said you were talking in your sleep, but I didn’t wake up until you started screaming bloody murder.”

“Shit.” Murphy put a hand to her forehead. “I’m sorry guys.”

“Murphy, you’re… that was worse than before,” MacCready said hesitantly. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

“No, I’m not,” Murphy admitted. She threw off the blanket and struggled to her feet, noting that the Pip-Boy radiation indicator on her wrist was crackling loudly. “But there’s nothing we can do about it on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic.”

She held up her left arm. “Why is this going off?”

MacCready shrugged. “Not sure. It’s been doing that since before you started…”

“Having night terrors?” Piper cut in. “Jeez, Blue, you really need a vacation.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing?” Murphy grumbled. “A boat, friends, the open sea, a murder mystery… sounds like the perfect getaway.”

She tapped the Pip-Boy experimentally. “Whatever it is, the radiation levels are super low. I don’t think we’re in danger, unless it’s the boat reactor getting ready to blow up.”

Valentine shook his head. “It’s not the boat. I gave it a once-over before we got underway. She’s sound.”

“Huh.” Murphy made her way past them onto the deck and looked out over the ocean. “Weird.”

“Well, if we’re not about to drown or turn into ghouls, then excuse me,” Piper said with a stretch and a yawn. “I’ll take that blanket, if you’re not using it anymore, Blue.”

Murphy waved her hand noncommittally, and Piper wrapped herself up and laid down against the console to sleep. Valentine and MacCready joined Murphy at the rail.

MacCready eyed her crackling Pip-Boy curiously. “Maybe it’s broken?”

“I can take a look at it,” Valentine offered. Murphy slipped it off and handed it over, and the synth detective began fiddling with the knobs and buttons.

“So your nightmares are getting worse,” MacCready pressed. “When did that start?”

Murphy pulled a pack of cigarettes from her pocket and lit one up. “After the Prydwen, I… when I was trekking to the Railroad’s bunker, Nate… appeared. He was following me, and I tried to ignore him, and then when I stopped walking and tried to listen to him, the radscorpion attacked me, and after that I’m not sure how much was venom and how much was my own imagination.”

She blew smoke out over the water and looked up at the stars. “I shot him,” she said quietly. “And he went away. But I guess he didn’t, really, because it’s not real. It’s not Nate. It’s me. I’m losing… I think I’m losing my grip.”

MacCready took the cigarette from her fingers and took a drag on it. “Man.”

“Murphy, you need a shrink,” Valentine said, wiggling a loose screw on the Pip-Boy’s face panel. “Piper’s right, you need time to figure things out. The Brotherhood said they could help you?”

“Yeah,” Murphy said sullenly. “A lot of good that does me now.”

“Then, I hate to say it, but you’ve got to find a way to patch things up with them,” Valentine replied, shaking his head. “Waking visions… pretty soon you’re not going to know what’s real and what’s not. How are you going to help anybody if you can’t help yourself?”

MacCready nodded and handed the cigarette back. “Exactly.”

“I’ll figure it out,” Murphy said, holding the glowing ember out against the night sky. “Or I’ll die in the process, and it won’t matter.”

Valentine stopped fiddling with the Pip-Boy and looked at her, his eyes shining in the dark. “It’ll matter.”

A sense of shame swept over Murphy, and she buckled over the boat’s railing, staring at the dark water below them. “I know. I don’t know why I said that.”

MacCready put a hand on her shoulder. She put her fingers over his and looked back at Valentine. “I’ll figure it out, period.”

Something in the waves behind him caught her eyes, and she straightened up again. “Speaking of waking visions… can you guys see that, too?”

MacCready and Valentine leaned out over the railing and looked where she was pointing. Some distance away, a green glow pulsed beneath the water, meandering in the wake of the boat.

“That’s real, alright,” Valentine said.

Murphy’s hand went to her holster. She stalked toward the back of the boat, the other two trailing behind. MacCready pulled his rifle from his back and lined the glow up with his scope.

“Wait,” Murphy said, putting a hand out to keep him from doing anything else. “Is that…”

As if in answer, a glowing, mottled back broke the surface of the water and blew a puff of spray into the air.

Valentine chuckled and put away his pistol. “Well I’ll be.”

MacCready lowered his own weapon. “A whale,” he breathed.

“Oh.” Murphy’s throat tightened with sadness, and she leaned out over the stern. “Oh, you big, beautiful creature.”

The whale kept pace with the boat, and the three of them took in its figure in silence. It was enormous, easily twice, three times the length of the watercraft, and all along its back and fins were cracks and scars betraying the radiation that had seeped into its body. It called out to them, long and low, vibrating the hull of the boat and echoing into the night.

“It’s Ol’ Peg,” Valentine said in wonder. “It’s got to be.”

MacCready shook his head. “I always thought that woman at Bunker Hill was spinning me a yarn.”

“Do you think…” Murphy bit her lip. “Do you think she’s all alone?”

The question hung in the air unanswered, and tears sprang up in Murphy’s eyes. She turned away from the railing, but Valentine caught her before she could leave.

“She’s not,” he said firmly.

Murphy nodded but wouldn’t meet his eyes. “We should… Piper should see this.”

He let her go, and she roused the reporter and led her to the stern. The four stood together and watched the whale bob up and down, keening over the sound of the engine and the waves.

Just as it became too much for Murphy to bear, another call came out from far to the east. It was higher-pitched and faint, but unmistakably another whale. A chorus followed, and before long, the boat was surrounded by a pod of whales. Some showed the signs of ghoulification, some didn’t, but the glowing matriarch led them all the same. Murphy could make out oddly-shaped fins and tails, and none of them were exactly like the pictures she had seen of blue whales, but they drifted peacefully and puffed up spray as if recognizing the boat, welcoming it back into waters that seldom saw the touch of humanity anymore.

By the time the whales split off and went their own way again, their path was lit by a brilliant sunrise over the water. As they departed, the crackling on Murphy’s Pip-Boy subsided.

“Wow,” Piper said finally.

Valentine nodded. “You don’t see things like that if you’re in the Diamond City mayor’s office.”

MacCready smiled and sat down on a nearby crate. “I need a nap.”

Murphy laughed. “Agreed.”