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Cherish the Sweet Hope

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With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.

Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling children for me.

Ever yours

-- A. Hamilton

Days like these are days the world was meant to stand still. The skies are meant to turn grey as the heavens weep, and the birds are meant to stop singing, their voices caught in their tiny little throats. At least, that’s what all the old holovids say. Days like these, nothing else is supposed to matter, but it’s a romantic notion to think that the world in which he now finds himself gives a damn about what is meant to happen.

And he’d have to be a fool to think that the world would stop to mourn the passing of a single woman, no matter how great she might have been.

Perhaps then, he is a fool, because even though it’s been days now, he still can’t quite wrap his mind around it. Eleanor is dead. Eleanor is really, truly, actually dead, and she’s not coming back. Not this time.

He turns corners still expecting her to be standing there, perhaps talking with Danse about his next trip back to the Commonwealth. He wakes in the middle of the night, a thin sheen of sweat coating his skin as terror grips his heart, memories of battles that are so realistic he feels like he’s there again. Instinctively, years of habits too hard to break in just a week, he turns over, reaching for her hand, and all he finds are empty sheets, and a pillow that still smells of her lilac soap.

Twenty-one years. Twenty-one long, happy years, taken from him in the blink of an eye.

“Dad.” His daughter’s hand on his shoulder snaps him out of his reverie, and he wonders, for a brief moment, how long it will take for him to forget the sound of her laughter, or how she had looked, or even her voice. Months? Years? “Arthur.”

He turns around to look at his daughter, her eyes just like her mother’s, even if her hair is as black as his own. It’s strange to think about how old she’s gotten. He remembers the day Eleanor had told him that she was expecting, standing in the med-bay of the Prydwen with her arms wrapped around herself as Cade offered him his congratulations. She’d been irritated with him for giving the surprise away, he remembers, but she’d hidden it behind a smile, and said, “Guess the cat’s out of the bag now” like it wouldn’t change everything.

And nine months later, after a heart-stopping moment in the dining hall as Eleanor’s water had broke, they’d held Victoria in their arms for the first time.

She’s twenty now, and she does the Maxson name more justice than he ever had. Or perhaps she’s living up to the Ridley name. Maybe it’s both. She’s equal parts her mother and her father, unlike her siblings, and he knows that when she takes up his mantle, the Brotherhood will never have been in better hands.

“Have you eaten?” Ria holds a bowl of deathclaw stew, and before he can answer her, she presses it into his hands, brows furrowed. “Eat.” She sounds like her mother, stubborn, and refusing to accept no for an answer.

He looks at the murky brown stew for a long moment, before shaking his head, and letting it fall to the ground, spilling the stew across the grass.

A muscle twitches in her jaw as she clenches her teeth, a terrible habit she’d picked up from him, and one Eleanor had always tried to break lest she ruin her teeth. Her attempts had never worked, and now… Now there wouldn’t be any more attempts. “You could have just handed it back, and said no,” Ria mutters. “You need to eat sometime, you know. The Brotherhood needs its High Elder now more than ever.”

“The Brotherhood will live without me for a month or two,” he says, the first words he’d spoken since he had watched them bury the only thing in the entire damn Wasteland that had made him feel like this was a life worth living.

He sees her swallow out of the corner of his eye, her hands curling into fists by her side. “We need you now more than ever.”

“She was my wife,” he snarls, turning to look at her with a burning fury in his eyes that not even the flames of hell could match.

“She was my mother,” Ria says, voice choked. “You’re not the only one who lost someone you know, and I don’t know if it’s escaped your attention, but you’ve got a family who’s mourning for her just as much as you are, and they need you right now because some of us don’t get the luxury of sitting next to a dead woman’s grave, waiting for her to say that this was all some elaborate joke.”

He sees himself in the reflection of the cold stone, image warped by the engraved lettering that marks Eleanor’s final resting place. He will not allow the world to forget her name, forget all she had done before he’s lying alongside her, and both of their gravestones have long since crumbled to dust.

Here Lies

ELEANOR GUINEVERE RIDLEY-MAXSON

Died September 12th, 2309. Aged 46.

Third General of the Commonwealth Minutemen

Sentinel of the Brotherhood of Steel

Beloved wife and mother.

The world will little note,
Nor long remember

“She was the best of us,” Arthur says, holding back the tears that he does not know if he will be able to shed. Has he not wept enough as it is? He should not have tears left to cry. “I can’t go on without her.”

“She was,” Ria whispers, “and we must. We have no choice.”

“Everything I did, I did for her.”

“So maybe now you could do it for me,” she says, stepping over the bowl he had so carelessly discarded as takes his hand in her own smaller one. She holds onto him like he’s the only thing left in this world, her nails digging into his skin. “She’s gone, Dad. She’s not coming back. But we’re still here, and we still need you. Someone in particular needs you the most.”

“Don’t talk to me about her,” he snaps, pulling his hand out of hers.

“You can’t blame her,” she says. “It wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, and she’s still your daughter. She’s still part Mom. You can’t pretend like she doesn’t exist, because she does. I can’t do this alone, Dad. I still have so much to learn, do you think I can—”

“Do you think I can?” he returns. “She has her mother’s eyes.”

“So do I,” Ria says quietly. “So why can you look me in the eyes, and you can’t even be in the same room as her?”

“I don’t know.” Of all his children, Ria knows how to get beneath her father’s skin the best. She’s too clever for her own good, with the quick-wittedness of her mother that is both a lethal combination, and makes her a better leader than he ever was. Ava can tell what’s on his mind with just a glance in his direction, but Ria knows how to pick him apart to his very core like no one else can. Only one other person had ever known him better than Ria knows him, and she’s lying six feet under.

His daughter picks up the bowl and spoon from the ground, holding them close to her chest. “Well if you ever figure out an answer, or if you realise that nothing’s going to come from staring at a dead woman’s grave, you know where I’ll be.”

“Victoria—” he starts, but she’s already gone, marching off back towards the Citadel, furiously fighting back tears lest anyone see the Maxson heir as weak. She carries all the burdens he used to despise carrying, but at least she isn’t the only one with his father’s blood. He could chase after her. He could tell her that he’s done mourning, but he and Eleanor had always promised never to lie to their children, and that most certainly would be a lie if he’d ever heard one.

Instead, broken, and shattered, Arthur falls to his knees before the slab of granite. He can almost feel her here, standing beside him, and rolling her eyes at him for him to get up, and stop grieving. He should be the one in her stead now, not that the circumstances would have allowed for such a thing, but he thinks it regardless. She would be able to survive without him. She’d always been better than him. A better mother, a better leader, a better person. The people looked to her in a way they will never look to him. In him, they see the High Elder. They see a Maxson.

In her, they had seen hope.

They had seen salvation.

He had seen it too.

“Shit, Bristles, it’s hard to get some alone time with you hanging ‘round here.” The grating, raspy voice is something he has not heard in many years. It has been so long that it’s almost unfamiliar, but the weathered red coat and tricorn hat are something that he would struggle to forget. Hancock flashes his crooked teeth at him, but behind his all-black ghoul eyes, Arthur can tell that there’s a pain in his heart that’s all too similar to the one in his own. “Hey. Long time.”

“What are you doing here?” Arthur’s too tired to argue with the mayor—former mayor? He had not kept up with him over the years, the ghoul always having been Eleanor’s friend, and not his. He’s probably already aware that, even if the Brotherhood had become more relaxed over the years, ghouls still aren’t welcome in the heart of their operations.

“What do you think?” Hancock says, holding up a bouquet of lilacs. “Didn’t come all this way for fuckin’ nothin’. D’you know how hard it was to keep this shit from loosin’ it’s goddamn petals in the fuckin’ vertibird on the way here?”

“Vertibird?”

“Yeah, your Ria’s a real piece of work. Takes after her mother. Looks like her too, if not—”

“Not for the hair, yes,” Arthur finishes. “So everyone reminds me.”

Hancock ignores him, placing the bouquet of lilacs at the base of the headstone, tracing the engraved letters with a scarred finger. “The world will little note, nor long remember,” he reads aloud, and then: “what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” He purses his lips. “Shit, Bristles.”

“You know it.” It isn’t a question so much as it is a statement. He’d half expected the ghoul to be illiterate.

“It’s the fuckin’ Gettysburg Address. Of course I fuckin’ know it. Where the hell do you think Goodneighbour got its motto?” Hancock spits. “I didn’t pull ‘of the people, for the people’ out of my ass.” He lets out a long, exhausted sigh, removing his hat, and balancing it on the edge of the headstone. “Sorry. I know you’re goin’ through a lot right now. Ain’t worthy of me to go after a man in your position.”

“No, no, it’s… fine.” Truth be told, he’s too numb to be affected by Hancock’s vitriol right now. “You did threaten to kill me if anything ever happened to her.”

“Did I?”

“Said she was the best damn thing to ever happen to either of us, and if I ever hurt her, you’d kill me.”

Hancock’s face falls. “I ain’t gonna kill you for this, Maxson.” He’s too used to hearing Hancock’s stupid nickname for him that his name is almost jarring. “This weren’t your fault. This weren’t nobody’s fault. Victoria said you’d probably blame yourself.”

“I don’t blame myself.”

“You sure sound like you fuckin’ do,” Hancock says, taking a seat on the ground beside Arthur. He still has a few patches of coppery blonde hair, pulled back and tied at the base of his neck with a scrap of fabric. Arthur knows ghouls don’t age like humans do, but he can’t help but think that he looks older, somehow, like the years have taken a toll. “But I stick by what I said. She was the best damn thing that ever happened to either of us.”

“Yeah,” Arthur says, ripping blades of grass out of the ground. “She was.”

“You’re not gonna let this turn you bitter though, are you?”

“I’m sorry?”

“It’s easy to let grief consume you, trust me. Didn’t expect to be fuckin’ torn up over my brother, but even with the Institute two decades gone, I have no idea what they did with him before they fuckin’ replaced him with a synth. Fahrenheit suspects he’s dead, and I’m startin’ to think she’s right. It ain’t hard to lose a corpse, but to lose a corpse for two decades when you’re lookin’ for it? It fuckin’ hurts. Hated that fucker, but I still wanted something to bury. It’d give me something for me to throw tatos at when I’m having an off day.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Look, what I’m tryna say is that… Don’t turn into me, alrigh’? El would have fuckin’ killed me if I let you blame yourself for half of the shit that happens to you. She’d have killed you too, no doubt. The only thing she ever blamed herself for was Shaun. Not the ‘letting Kellogg take him’ part but the uh… Well, you know. You were there.”

“She talked to you about that?”

“She talked to me about a lot of fuckin’ things cause she didn’t want to trouble you.” Hancock reaches inside of his coat, and retrieves a stack of letters bound together in twine. “Kept everything she’d ever written to me. From the start when you two met, all the way until the one I got last week. It ain’t much, I know, but I… I hope it helps.”

The ghoul gets to his feet, retrieving his hat, and starts to leave. “Hancock,” says Arthur, the mayor of Goodneighbour hesitating. “You loved her.”

“Yeah,” Hancock says, hands in his pockets as he kicks at the ground. “I did. Told you that before, I think.”

But then, the harder question— “Do you still?”

A bitter laugh escapes Hancock, and if ghouls could cry, Arthur knows he would be. His growl is more choked up than it normally is, breath hitching in his throat. “You don’t stop loving a woman like El. Don’t matter if you move on. Don’t matter if you find someone else. The kind of love you have for a woman like her don’t just fade with the years. Loving her was like loving fire. You don’t walk away without a few burns and scars to match, and you love her so much that you don’t care if the smoke’s burnin’ your lungs as long as you get to spend another minute with her, but I think you know what that feels like, Bristles.”

“Does it get easier?”

“Why the fuck are you askin’ me, huh?” Hancock spits through gritted teeth as he whirls round on his heel and starts marching back towards Arthur. “You askin’ cause you know I’ve spent my entire life askin’ myself what if I had told her? Cause you know I’ve spent my entire life wonderin’ if she’d have been any better with me? You askin’ cause you know that this wouldn’t have fuckin’ happened if she’d been with me, and not with you? She’d be standin’ here right now, you know that, right? She’d be standin’ right here, in that goddamned Vault suit of hers, lips tasting of cherry cola and whiskey, and her hair as blonde as the hair on your goddamn son.”

What is he meant to say? He knows that Hancock has long since given his heart to another, but he’s right. You don’t stop loving a woman like Eleanor.

“Yes,” he says finally, still on his knees before the last remaining part of Eleanor. “That’s why I’m asking. Because you’ve said goodbye to her once already.”

Hancock’s anger flickers, and then fades, like a flame finally dying out. He looks down at the ground, cursing under his breath. “No,” he says quietly, a moment later. “It doesn’t get any easier, but it’s like a lot of things in life: you learn to live with it, and eventually, it stops hurtin’ as much.” A pause, then, “Anything else you wanna ask me, Bristles? Don’t think I can come back here again without gettin’ shot.”

Arthur shakes his head. “No.”

He furrows his brow, and goes to leave once more, only to hesitate just as he passes Arthur. “You did right by her, you know. I was worried for the longest time that you wouldn’t. That’d you’d be just as fucked up as her parents, but you weren’t. She loved you. She really loved you. Said once that it wasn’t an easy road, but for her, I’d walk it all over again. Romantic bullshit. I never had to walk that same path again, but you did. Over and over. Even when she hated you, she loved you. My ma always said marriage wasn’t something that ‘just happened’ and love wasn’t either. She said it was a choice. Didn’t believe her until I saw the two of you. You decided to love each other, and you did. Through thick and thin. For better and for worse. All that fuckin’ sappy marriage crap. You did right by her, Bristles. You should know that.”

Those are his final parting words as he hands himself over to a contingent of Knights that appear out of nowhere to escort him back to the vertibird and send him back on his merry way to the Commonwealth. Arthur waits until the ‘bird is the air before he looks back down at the letters in his hands. He almost doesn’t want to open them.

But he does.

August 2nd, 2288

Hancock,

I may or may not have made the worst mistake in my life, but it’s too late now. Guess you’re speaking (writing?) with an official Knight of the Brotherhood of Steel now. Hey, never said I was bad at making friends, right?

And, I have to say, I’ve heard a lot of things about Elder Maxson, not all of them good, but he’s not half as bad as I had expected him to be.

Yours,

 -- E. R.

August 14th, 2288

Hancock,

You know how in your last letter you warned me not to sleep with Maxson even if he was “real fucking pretty”?

I’ve got some bad news.

It wasn’t bad though. He’s… nice. That’s fucking lame, isn’t it? No happy story ever began with someone who was “nice.” But I’m serious. He’s kind. He’s got no sense of humour, and he smokes, but we can work on that, and he’s, I dunno, polite.

If only he didn’t remind me so much of Nate.

Yours,

 -- E. R.

August 22nd, 2288

Hancock,

You know I’m not afraid of many things. I’d punch a deathclaw in the face for a bottle of whiskey. I’d walk right into the Glowing Sea without a hazmat suit or Rad-Away, but I’m scared. I’m proper fucking scared. Like, can’t sleep scared.

I think I might be able to love this man.

I can’t. I shouldn’t.

I punched him in the face today, and then we— Well, I’ll spare you the details. But he called me Ellie, and… And I didn’t want to punch him again. He looks like Nate from the right angles. Even sounds like him sometimes. And he calls me Ellie too, but… Fuck, John.

I might actually be able to love him.

And I’m scared shitless.

Yours,

 -- E. R.

September 7th, 2288

Hancock,

This was a bad idea. He’s not the only person who looks like someone one of us used to know. I should have listened to you. You were right. This was a bad idea. This was a terrible idea.

Yours,

 -- E. R.

October 8th, 2288

Hancock,

I think I’m in love with him. I think I’m actually in love with him. I buried Nate, you know. I don’t know if Valentine told you. (He probably did. For a detective, he’s a right fucking snitch.) It hurt, but less than I expected it to. Shaun hurt more, but you know about that already, don’t you? Still though, he makes it better. It’s still terrible, but with him, it’s… easier. I’m still drowning, but he’s a lifeboat on the horizon—still far from saving me outright, but enough to give me something to hope for. I fucking hate the Commonwealth. I never even liked small bugs, and now there are radroaches the size of my arm. Mutant monster, constant radiation sickness, the lack of indoor plumbing…

I miss the Old World, John. Don’t miss all of it, but I miss the finer parts. If I could go back though, I don’t know if I would. I would sell a limb to have indoor plumbing in the Castle, but if going back meant leaving him here… I don’t think I could do it.

Shit.

I really am in love with him, aren’t I?

Yours,

 -- E. R.

December 24th, 2288

Hancock,

Happy Christmas, I suppose. Merry Christmas? Whichever you prefer. I’m sorry I haven’t written to you in… Well, a while, but in all fairness, what was I meant to say? You responded to my last letter with nothing but “yes” which is hardly a correspondence, and I cannot begin to put my thoughts on Shaun into words.

I know this is hard for you. Trust me, I know, but I’ve always appreciated how you have stuck by my side through thick and thin. I wonder what we could have been if we’d had a chance, but we both know it never would have worked out. We’re addicts, John. We’d have thrown each other away the instant we got bored of the high we gave each other. I don’t suppose we’ll ever get to find out now. Not just because we never finished our conversation that night, almost a year ago, when you told me that you had something to tell me. (Though I think I know what you wanted to say, but we both know it changes nothing now.)

I’m pregnant, John. It’s Arthur’s.

Yours  Regards,

 -- E. R.

February 22nd, 2289

John,

I think I know the answer, but I need to know? Did you love me? Do you still?

As always,

 -- Eleanor

March 1st, 2289

John,

Please. Write me back.

-- Eleanor

March 7th, 2289

Hancock,

We’re engaged. You haven’t replied to my last two letters, or to my emails (though you never check your damn terminal, so maybe you haven’t seen them, but I know you’ve read my letters even if you don’t write me back), and I don’t know if you’ll reply to this one either, but I thought you should now.

Yours,

 -- E.

March 23rd, 2289

John,

You’re probably still in the clinic (I doubt Fahrenheit would let you leave, even if I hadn’t threatened to shoot her if she did) so you have no excuse now. So I hope this letter fucking finds you because God knows the Brotherhood would totally “conveniently” misplace your mail, and moreover, I hope it finds you in good health. I just… I wanted to thank you. I hope, in time, you can see what I see in Arthur.

I’m not going to ask your forgiveness. I am not to blame for your affections, and we both know that, even if I feel like I should be apologising. (Apparently that’s a habit of mine I need to break.) Still, you’ve been a good friend. Perhaps my best friend. Maybe a close second to Danse. You two should arm-wrestle for first place, and I’m not just saying that because I think it would be entertaining.

But still, thank you. You fought by my side when no one else would, and you had my back even when it seemed like you couldn’t stand the sight of me. I love you, John. Perhaps not in the way that you want me to, but I hope that that will be enough, and I hope that one day someone will love you as you deserve to be loved.

As always,

-- Your El

September 1st, 2309

John,

It’s been a while, hasn’t it? You’ve been answering my emails semi-regularly, which is good, as it saves paper, but it also has me curious. You rarely use your terminal because it’s in your office, which means you need to be the acting mayor to access it. Letters, at least, I can send to Fahr, and have her make you read them. I digress. You using your terminal means you’ve been sticking around Goodneighbour long enough to be the mayor again. Any particular reason why?

(Come on, please tell me, do you know how hard it is being cooped up in the Citadel, constantly reminded that the Elder Council still wants us to move back to Lost Hills? Ha! Like Arthur would ever abandon this place. I daresay he loves this place more than he loves me.)

 You know that I’m expecting again. Sent that to you, what, like five emails ago? (You actually responded too, I was so proud!) Managed to get an ultrasound machine, and apparently, I’m having a girl. I need name suggestions, and ones that aren’t entirely stupid. Victoria was a mutual decision for Ria (but it was my idea), and James is well, named after Danse. Avalon was Arthur’s idea, and if I couldn’t fucking shorten it to Ava, I’d smack him upside the head. We need a nice, normal name for this one. It’d make Ava stick out, but she’s used to doing her own thing.

You’ve always been good with names (and even better with nicknames, but don’t tell Arthur). Come up and visit us. I’m just about bursting, and we’ll need to give our daughter a name soon, don’t you think? Besides, I miss you.

Oh! I’ve attached a picture of us. It’s a year old at this point, but ah, well, don’t really think I look nice enough for pictures right now. Keep it as a reminder for all that you’re missing out on if you don’t come visit us. I couldn’t be happier, John. Truthfully. Three kids, and one more on the way (how did I ever let Arthur talk me into that?), and it’s finally starting to feel like my life is coming together.

And Arthur… Arthur is everything I could have ever dreamed of.

Ever yours, and missing you something fierce,

-- Your Sunshine

It’s the last of the letters, and in the wrinkled envelope, he finds the photo she’d been talking about. It’s from her forty fifth birthday, when they’d managed to wrangle the entire family into a picture. Eleanor is in the middle, golden hair starting to grey, but her peridot eyes still sparkle with the same mischief she’d had when they’d first met. He’s on her right, staring right into the camera, and fighting back a smile as she’d threatened to kill them all if they didn’t sit still while she took the photo. Victoria’s on her left, hands resting on her mother’s shoulder, standing tall and proud like the warrior she is. James is just behind her, bouncing on his toes to keep his head above his sister’s, and a shit-eating grin on his face, Eleanor’s threat directed at him in particular. Avalon’s just next to him, quieter, and shyer than her two siblings. She’s seventeen in the picture, somehow both the youngest, and the best behaved.

They look… happy. Chaotic, and a bit out of control, and goddamn if both he and Eleanor don’t look exhausted, but they look happy. It’s the future they had envisioned for them when this had all begun. The only thing missing is the lighthouse Eleanor still has Garvey maintain back in the Commonwealth, awaiting the day Eleanor and Arthur can at last retire, and live a quiet, comfortable life.

But that’s a future that had never happened, and it’s one that will never come to pass. There are no late nights spent on the gallery of the lighthouse, listening to Eleanor talk about the stars even though he has no idea what any of what she’s saying means. There are no hot summer days spent on the beach, chasing a shrieking Eleanor through the waves. There are no nights spent falling asleep to the sound of waves lapping against the pier. There are no early mornings with them both waking early to the sound of gulls, with Eleanor refusing to get out of bed until Arthur returns back to the comfort of their duvet with buttered toast, eggs, bacon, and a hot cup of coffee. There are no shared glances as grandchildren tear their way through the lighthouse, both of them thinking that, thank God those days are behind them.

There is no future for him with her in it.

A choked sob escapes him, a tear landing on the photo, beading on the glossy surface. He should have done something to stop this. She could still be standing here, a sweater wrapped around her to fend off the biting chill of autumn, as she is dragged around the Citadel to tend to both Brotherhood and Minutemen business alike.

But she isn’t, and he’s alone.

He’s not the only one that’s alone though. Victoria’s right about that much. He had lost his wife, but his children had lost their mother, and if he continues staying here by the grave of the woman he’d loved, he’d join her too, and then his children would truly be alone. He can mourn, but he has responsibilities. One he needs to tend to, even if his grief is so all-consuming it feels like he’s suffocating in it.

Ria looks up as Arthur enters the room to the nursery, her dark hair tied in a knot at the back of her head. Danse is passed out in the chair next to her, formula spilled all over his right pant leg. Even James and Avalon are here, the two younger children quietly playing a game of cards in the corner to pass the time. And there, in Ria’s arms, is her.

His youngest daughter. Barely a week old, smaller than he can possible wrap his mind around. She has her face pressed up against Ria, fast asleep, but he has already memorised the planes of her face. She has her mother’s golden hair, and her eyes too. She’s the spitting image of the woman who had died bringing her into this world.

“She just fell asleep,” Ria whispers. “So did Danse. She was up all night crying, apparently. I don’t think she likes him much.”

He laughs quietly as Ria hands over her youngest sister to him. It’s been years since he’s held a babe in his arms, and even then, he had raised Avalon with Eleanor by his side. He’s alone now, with only his children, and, begrudgingly, Danse—who he supposes had done a fair enough job acting as the kids’ nanny when their parents had been preoccupied—to support him. He doesn’t know if he can do this without her, but he doesn’t have a choice.

Days like these, the world is meant to stop turning. Everything is meant to come to a standstill, but the world doesn’t care about the passing of one woman, even if it feels like the entire sky is going to come crashing down on him. He can plant his feet firmly in the past and refuse to move, or he can accept that time moves on, and will move on without him if it must.

“She doesn’t have a name,” Ria says after a moment’s pause. “Been calling her Blondie for now, but if we stuck with that, I think Mom would have killed me.”

He can’t help but smile as his daughter yawns, unimaginably small hand fisted and pressed up against her chin. “Guinevere,” he says. “It was your mother’s middle name.”

Danse stirs, groaning. “Gwen,” he mumbles, so quiet Arthur can barely hear him. “Guinevere is just as bad as Blondie.”

“Go to sleep,” Ria chastises, but her eyes are still on her father, waiting for him to say something.

Arthur looks back down at his sleeping daughter, his heart aching, and his soul longing for someone who cannot be by his side when he needs her the most. “Gwen,” he repeats affirmatively. “Welcome to the family.”