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Unwanted

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The first time she had felt the jolt of connection that only a mate could cause was in a crowded marketplace down in College Square.

Nate wasn’t her mate and she wasn’t his but they had accepted each other in an unbonded relationship. Nate’s other half had died during the war, the reason he was allowed to be discharged. And she, well, she just never got lucky enough to come across her other half. It was often a fucked up situation of chance. Either you found your mate or you settled for less, like she did with Nate.

So, there she was, five months pregnant in a college flea market looking around frantically for the reason why her chest clenched and mind narrowed. It was a confusing feeling, her mind narrowed down to just wanting to find her mate and her chest beat erratically as if desperate to be whole. Nate had blended into the crowd and Josie was close to collapsing. All she remembered about that day was the flash of blue eyes and a fedora before she had doubled over in pain.

The doctor later had said that the contact of her mate had caused complications with her pregnancy. The body seemed to recognize that the baby wasn’t her mate’s and that caused problems. The doctor had actually had the audacity to suggest she have an abortion and search for her mate. At least she knew they were in the Boston area but Josie had adamantly refused. She wasn’t going to go on some wild goose chase to look for her mate. Whoever it was had the time and the means to find her in the market and they didn’t. This to her meant that they didn’t want her. And why should she want them? She had Nate and she loved him. That was all she needed. Right?

Josie had often questioned her decision months afterwards. Periodically she would have light pains in her chest and her abdomen. It was common among unbonded mates. They had unintentionally made contact and stayed unbonded, there was going to be pain. She hid it from Nate. He hadn’t taken the idea well of her giving up her mate for him. He knew what it felt like to be bonded and he wanted that for her. It was in a fit of tears that Josie pointed out that her mate didn’t want her either otherwise they would have approached her. Nate had gone quiet after that but Josie could see the pity in his face when he looked at her.

Josie often dreamed of blue eyes. When she did she woke up having soaked through her underwear and an almost unbearable itch lurking beneath her skin. She hated them. She hated her mate. Why didn’t they want her? They were born to be together and they didn’t want her. It was a blow to her self-esteem. Wasn’t she supposed to be enough?

Josie tried to push the feelings away especially after Shaun was born. But she would look down at their son and couldn’t feel anything. It was frustrating not being able to connect to the child she grew in her womb but the doctor had said it was normal in their kind of relationship. There was a great chance that she would never be able to connect with their child because of her mate. She hated them even more for that. Why did she ever go to that market?

When the bombs fell Josie had felt the severed pain. She hadn’t thought about her mate when they ran to the vault not until she watched the bomb drop and she had doubled over in excruciating pain. It was like someone had lashed at her chest and she knew that her mate was dead. It left a hollow feeling that ached with every move she made. She didn’t speak to Nate. She didn’t even flinch when she willingly climbed into the cryopod. She just stared, numbly, at the glass until she felt nothing.

There was something about his voice that made her chest tense. It was a fluttering feeling deep in her stomach when he looked at her. She didn’t know what was wrong with her.

“Hey, are you feeling alright? You don’t look so good there, doll.” Nick was looking at her with concern in his voice. She held onto her wrist starting to feel a faint buzzing under her skin that made her want to scratch at it. She didn’t know why it was happening. She was fine back in Vault 114. But the moment they had stepped out onto the street it started. It started almost immediately when Nick had touched her hand to help her out.

“I feel strange. I don’t...I don’t know what’s happening.” She wavered and Nick reached out to hold her up right when she collapsed. She had looked up at his face, his yellow eyes bore into her with confusion. His rough and broken neck exposed wires that seemed to glow with an odd light and a look of realization came upon his face. A flash of blue passed her mind and the touch of his synthetic hand on her bare arm where her vault suit had torn jolted her into understanding.

She pushed away from him roughly. She stood, rigidly, with her back to him and breathing hard. Anger was rising through her faster than she could process. Fuck the universe for doing this to her, she had thought. The feeling was there, undeniable, a connection that only happened between mates. He had touched her and now they were a step closer to being bonded. She huffed in irritation, how was it possible? He wasn’t human.

“I...I didn’t think that was possible,” he voiced out her own thought and she glanced at him to see that he looked truly bewildered. He wasn’t looking at her but at the torn part of her vault suit. He moved forward and she roughly moved away from him. He flinched at the anger he now saw on her face. Josie pushed back a whine that threatened to fall past her lips.

“I…” she tried to find something to say but her body was telling her to run to him. And all she really wanted to do was run far away from the detective. “I can’t do this.” She started walking briskly down the alley away from him. It was a painful process, her body was desperate to go back but she couldn’t. Because everyone only had one mate and if he was her mate then he didn’t want her. He didn’t want her before the bombs and she was sure he didn’t want her now.

Even if he did, she couldn’t bring herself to give in. He had hurt her. She wouldn’t give in.

She was sure that he had died. Had felt the moment when it happened but it was there. She wondered how it was possible for someone like him. He wasn’t human. Had he always been a robot? How was that possible?

Questions swarmed her mind as she walked. She didn’t want to be anywhere and so her feet led her back to Sanctuary. It was the only place she felt she could clear her mind. Her mate was inconsequential, what mattered was finding Shaun. She didn’t need a detective to do it. She just needed to focus and find another way.

When Nick first saw her he couldn’t help but find something familiar about her. The overwhelming sense of déjà vu had overtaken him when she walked into the room. It was her eyes that had him feeling strange. They were a deep hazel that shone brightly at him. He had hurried them along afraid of what else might pop up on his old sensors. She needed help, that much was obvious, why else would she look for him?

He had unconsciously reached for her climbing out of the subway tunnel and that moment had his body jolting. His fans and motors kicked up and he wondered what was wrong with him. His processors were acting erratically and all he could do was focus on her. She didn’t look too well.

She was flushed and a sick almost confused look came over her. He wondered if she was dying and then she had almost fallen. He instinctively caught her but it was a mistake. He knew it the moment she met his eyes. The feeling was there an almost deep gut feeling that told him she was his mate. And for a moment he wasn’t a beat up old synth but someone whole.

Then she had pushed away from him.

“I...I didn’t think it was possible.” He was too in awe to notice that she was upset and it wasn’t until he moved towards her that he realized she was angry.

Everyone only had one mate. A lost memory pulled up abruptly and he remembered long curly black hair and the desperation of hazel eyes. The tug of his hand brought him to look at the beautiful woman on his arm, Jenny. Then he remembered walking away because he was already in love. Jenny was his everything.

“I...I can’t do this.” His mate started walking away from him at a brisk pace but he didn’t follow her. His synthetic body was telling him to move, to follow the source of comfort but he refused to. A part of him knew that she didn’t want him because over 200 years ago he didn’t want her.

The stab of pain he felt in his chest was foreign, it was like a ghost feeling and he realized that it must be from her. He had touched her and so part of their bond had taken. He cursed the night air and stared where she had disappeared.

It shouldn’t be possible. He wasn’t human. The old Nick Valentine was dead. He wasn’t him. He had his memories and his voice but he wasn’t Nick Valentine. He looked at his metal hand devoid of synthetic flesh and cursed the Institute for finding a way to bring the bond over. It wasn’t fair, not for him and not for her.

Nick started walking toward Diamond City. Ellie would want to know he was still alive. She had sent the woman after him after all. His mate had saved him, had killed for him. And he had fucked her over.

He could feel pain, anger and confusion warring in his chest. Should he go after her? Would she do something stupid? But Nick doubted it, she wanted his help to find something and he doubted she would just give up. Or was she looking for him, for her mate? Nick could see the possibility but a part of him didn’t think so. It had to be something else. He tried to remember that day at the market. What did he remember about her?

But all he could remember was seeing her face and then turning to Jenny.

Jenny. The old Nick Valentine had loved her and so did he. He wasn’t Nick Valentine but he was and all of it was damn confusing. He never questioned the choice he made. He didn’t pursue his mate and didn’t even think of what that meant. What it meant for her? The way his chest ached told him that it hurt her. And he could only imagine what she thought about it all. He tried to explore the small piece of their bond that had taken hold but when he reached out towards her she had yanked almost violently away from him and the bond went quiet. Nick wondered how she was able to do that.

He wondered if the bond worked differently for him since he was a synth. It was a feeling, yes, sensations he could feel in parts of him he hadn’t truly felt since before. But it wasn’t much more than that. Some part of him that was his integrated personality felt the longing and the need to mate. But the mechanical part was...confused. His mechanics seemed at a lost to how to process what he was “feeling” and that enabled him to resist the pull.

But surely it was different for her? She had looked conflicted. Like she wanted to both stay and not stay. Nick couldn’t imagine how that felt.

He was nearing Diamond City when he took a moment to allow his thoughts to wander. She was pretty, his mate. Her eyes were what pleased him the most, he supposed. Her dark hair had been in disarray and his stripped hand twitched at the thought of running his fingers through it. She had been a bit thin but that was normal in the Commonwealth. Her skin had been soft and almost unmarked. She was no Jenny but he supposed anyone else would have been filled with satisfaction to have her as a mate. The brief and sudden feeling of desire burst through his senses before it disappeared. Where had that come from?

Josie reached Sanctuary without much incident besides putting down a few ferals and bloatflies. She had waved off Preston’s questions and hauled herself into her home and into her bed.

She dreamed of him. His blue eyes turned yellow and she could feel the weird texture of his skin all along her body. He teased her and brought her close to the edge over and over again before he finally spoke.

Mine.”

Josie jolted awake and noted the faint light emanating from behind her black curtains. She rubbed her eyes and flopped over onto a solid body. She yelped and jumped up. The rough sound of Hancock’s chuckle rang through the room and relaxed her. She got back into the bed and cuddled up to the mayor.

“Miss me?” He asked in amusement. His rough hand moved through her hair and lightly massaged her scalp. She sighed in pleasure and moved into his side more. She brought her leg over his, content to feel him.

“Yes,” She sighed happily. She could almost feel his grin against her head and looked up at him. He wrapped his arm around her and brought her closer so he could kiss her.

Josie lost herself in the sensation. She always enjoyed being with Hancock. There was a way about him that always calmed her and made her eager for his attention. Hancock was all too willing to provide.

She moved her hips and groaned at the way her center rubbed up against his leg. John pulled away from her lips to look into her eyes. He rubbed his thumb against her cheek and smiled at her. She smiled back at him. She continued to move her hips, hoping that he would go back to kissing her.

“Did you find Valentine?” The question had her stopping and the frown that took over her face worried Hancock. She pulled away from him.

Josie had forgotten about what happened until the mayor had asked. Then she felt it. It was a distant feeling wiggling too far away to notice. She focused on that feeling wondering why it was making her chest clench. The sudden onslaught of quiet anger and...possession had her yanking away and nearly falling on the floor in her haste.

Nick Valentine had no right.

Nick had told Ellie to rest after telling her about Skinny Malone and the woman who had saved his life. He hadn’t told her about the bond but she seemed to just be glad he was back. She had dark circles under her eyes and he felt bad for worrying her.

He had been sifting through paperwork and notes when he felt it. It was a small feeling at first but then it had gotten bigger and almost louder after several minutes. His mate was happy and aroused.

The rational part of the synth told him to ignore it that he didn’t want her and she didn’t want him so it was none of his business. But the human part of him, the part of him that somehow allowed this bond to exist was angry. Angry because that was his mate and she was obviously with someone who wasn’t him. That anger and feeling of possessiveness had overwhelmed him before he could push it away. He had pushed the folders on his desk off and brought his synthetic fists down on the metal desk.

It was the feeling of an anger that wasn’t his own that brought him back to his senses. She was angry and it seemed to be directed at him through the faint bond. Nick was embarrassed that he let his own emotions get out of hand. That he had unknowingly made her feel it. He looked down and realized that he had destroyed his desk. The top metal was dented and mangled where his fists had collided. All his papers and folders were on the floor in a mess that was going to take forever to sort through.

He tried to see what he could feel through the bond but it was closed off again. She had pulled away. Nick sat back down with a groan. It was a mess. All of it was just a big mess and he didn’t know what to do.

He had never felt more human. He should be happy about that but he wasn’t. It was the first time he ever wished to just be a synth.

Nick wondered who she was with. He couldn’t help it. Was she already in a relationship? Or had she taken the first opportunity to fuck some random person just to get back at him. He couldn’t really blame her but anger still swelled in his chest just thinking about it.

He groaned, leaned back in his chair, and let his thoughts shut down. Maybe everything would be better in a couple of hours.

...

Josie tried to forget about what happened and focused on trying to figure out another plan. Hancock hadn’t pushed her for more information after she had acted oddly when he mentioned the old detective and for that she was grateful. She knew she had to tell him at some point but she was putting it off until she could get her thoughts in order.

When she wasn’t discussing with Preston, Sturges, and Hancock about other options for how she could find Shaun, she was helping with the work on Sanctuary. Codsworth seemed to be doing most of the heavy work and he seemed happy to finally be of use so Josie didn’t comment on it. She helped set up some turrets and even helped pitch up a makeshift shed for some brahmin that Preston had managed to buy off of a passing caravan.

She didn’t like to be idle. If she didn’t constantly move and work her mind drifted off to Valentine. The old synth was falling apart, that much was obvious from what she could see. But she couldn’t help but remember the burning of his yellow eyes and the way his touch had made her breath hitch. She didn’t like these thoughts and so she pushed herself to work.

It had been two weeks since she had gone looking for Nick Valentine and John was losing his patience. She could see it in the way his eyes lingered on her like he knew she was keeping something from him. They often sat in tense silences as if prompting her to finally talk to him but Josie would just climb into his lap and shower him in kisses until he took her fast and hard.

Josie had loved the way he seemed to lose himself in her but now whenever she reached climax she saw yellow eyes and that unnerved her. She took to getting Hancock to fuck her every chance they had so she wouldn’t feel Valentine through the bond. It was getting harder to shut him out and she was getting desperate.

“Stop,” John said roughly into her ear. She had him pinned on the couch trying to get his jeans down so she could get to his cock. He gently pushed her hands away and kept dodging her desperate kisses. “You need to talk to me, sweetheart. You’ve been desperate ever since you came back and you won’t tell me what happened. I know Nick’s out and alive. My sources tell me he’s back in Diamond City like he didn’t go missing. So what happened? I’m tired of waiting for you to tell me.” He was piercing her with his black eyes and Josie couldn’t hide, not from him.

She sighed, climbed off his lap and sat back against the sofa. He sat up and continued to watch her. She met his gaze and fought the urge to cry. What if she told him and he decided to leave? What if he decided that he didn’t want her too?

“I love you,” she whispered it before she could organize her thoughts. His expression softened and he brought his hand to her cheek so he could caress her.

“I know, and I love you too,” he said it so matter-of-factly that some tears escaped her eyes. Then she told him what happened. She told him everything and when she was done she was staring at her hands and waiting for him to leave. But he didn’t. He was silent but he was still beside her. She couldn’t manage the silence so she looked up at him. Hancock wasn’t looking at her but towards the door. His jaw was clenched and his body was tense.

“Okay. Well, an old synth and a cocky ghoul, you don’t seem to have good taste in men, sweetheart.” She couldn’t help but laugh. He was smiling at her but it didn’t reach his eyes. “I’ve known Nick for awhile now. Can’t imagine he’d be stupid to not want you but he ain’t here and that’s perfect for me.” Josie was the one pinned. John was kissing her fiercely, a clash of tongue and teeth. And his hands were grabbing at her waist and thighs as if he wanted her as close as possible. And she couldn’t believe she had worried that he didn’t want her.

She didn’t need her mate not when she had John.

. . .

Nick was trying hard to listen to their newest client but he couldn’t focus. His mate had been sad and then the burst of arousal he felt from her end had him unintentionally clenching up. He couldn’t stand it. Her emotions were coming in clearer every day and every time it was an effort to try and block it out.

Ellie seemed to have sensed his agitation and promptly took over the questioning. He rose from his place and moved to his room. He paced the small space trying to get his body under control. Everything was telling him to leave and go to her but he couldn’t. They weren’t meant to be together, biology be damned. He wasn’t even human anymore; he was an old synth with an integrated personality that wasn’t his. He had no business having a mate and he definitely had no business being with her.

His assistant came into his room an hour later to fill him in on what he missed.

“She thinks her husband was going to some new settlement called Sanctuary to try and get some kind of trade going but he hasn’t been back in two weeks and she’s worried. I think Sanctuary is where Joseline said she was from. Maybe you can head up there and ask her if she knows anything?” Nick stared at her. He had no business talking to Joseline and he had no business going to Sanctuary but what was he going to do? Ellie didn’t do field work, she wasn’t trained for it.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Ellie looked at him like he was acting weird before she sighed and handed him the file.

“Well, it’s the only lead. Unless, you’d like to go tell her that you won’t take the case.” Nick cursed. He never turned anyone away. He sighed and nodded.

“Alright, I’ll head out in the morning.”

. . .

Chapter Text

Nick didn’t know what to expect once he reached Sanctuary. He was slightly taken aback when he was stopped at an old Red Rocket. The people there seemed to be setting up some kind of small settlement when they asked him where he was going and why.

Apparently, the extra security measures were put in place by the “General”. They wouldn’t tell him who that was exactly except to say that they were in charge. So it was with confusion and caution that Nick approached the fortified settlement.

He walked past the ruin sign of Sanctuary Hills and wondered how it was that such a fortification had been built from old suburbia. But he supposed the rumors of the Minutemen being built back up was true if the men clad in old-timey hats with laser muskets walking the walls were anything to go by.

“Name!” He had approached the gate, several lights shone on him and the turrets focused on him as if ready to shoot him if need be. He eyed them warily.

“Nick Valentine.” His voice didn’t do any favors. It was always gravely and easy to pick out and he hoped his mate wasn’t home. Maybe she would have the turrets have a go at him if her previous anger was anything to go by.

The gates slowly opened and the turrets resumed their back and forth motion. The lights were turned off and the men nearby relaxed and continued their rounds.

A man in a full Minutemen getup approached him and tipped his hat. Nick approached cautiously.

“Welcome to Sanctuary. My name is Preston Garvey. You must be here for Joseline, right?” The mention of his mate had his hand twitching and his body shuddering.

“Uh...no, I’m on a case. A woman came to me about a missing husband. Said he was heading here to set up a trade route.” Preston’s eyes furrowed, he opened his mouth as if to speak but the motion of another person walking up to them had him stopping and turning.

“You shouldn’t be here, Nicky.” John Hancock, mayor of Goodneighbor, walked up to him with an air of someone who wasn’t happy to see him. Nick was even more confused. What was Hancock doing in a place like Sanctuary?

“Hancock, I didn’t expect to see you here.” He didn’t offer a greeting since they weren’t that kind of friends but he thought they were at least somewhat close. John looked back to an old house before he turned to Preston. He whispered something to the Minuteman that had him looking confused and slightly worried. Preston moved to talk again but then they heard a weird whirring sound that reminded Nick of a Mr. Handy. And under that sound was the hard footsteps of boots and the soft padding of a dog.

Hancock groaned and Preston straightened his spine reminding the synth of a soldier at command.

“Fuck,” John muttered. Nick looked at Hancock and both men moved to make way for his mate. She was in dark torn jeans, an oversized white shirt that was stained with grease, and she was wearing a leather harness with a serious looking 10mm and a combat knife sticking out of it. Her boots were leather and worn. Her hair was in a messy bun and she didn’t look happy.

The Mr. Handy next to her looked at him curiously and the clean looking dog just wagged his tail and looked at him as if examining whether or not he was a threat. Nick suddenly didn’t feel like he could speak. The sight of her brought up weird reactions that he wasn’t familiar with. His mechanical body strained to keep up with the processes but he could feel himself straining. His inner fans worked over time and he wondered if his synth body could actually manage to keep up with this bond. Nick hoped he wasn’t giving his discomfort away. He wanted to seem indifferent but something about the way she glared at him told him he was failing. He wanted to be anywhere but there.

From the looks of things, she was the one in charge. And John Hancock knew about their bond.

“General.” Preston Garvey confirmed his suspicions and Nick felt very unsafe.

“What are you doing here?” Her voice held no warmth and Nick could feel annoyance bleeding through the bond. He cleared his throat.

“I’m on a case. Woman by the name of Sarah says her husband has been missing and the last place he was heading was here to establish some kind of trade route.” She continued to look at him as if trying to determine whether or not he was telling the truth.

“His name is Mike,” Nick added hoping that they would just tell him what he wanted to know so he could leave. She gave him one last withering look before she whispered to Garvey and walked away. Hancock followed after her saying something that he couldn’t hear. The dog followed them but the robot stayed behind.

“Come on. Mike is in the infirmary.” Preston offered him a kind smile and Nick followed after him. The Handy followed them as well and Nick was unsettled at its presence. Other robots always made him nervous. They reminded him of what he was.

“That’s Codsworth. He’s sort of in charge here at Sanctuary. Joseline isn’t always here and Codsworth’s been living here for over 200 years so he’s sort of the pseudo mayor,” he supplied.

“It is nice to meet you Detective. We weren’t expecting you. Ms. Joseline has absolutely refused to speak about her foray into looking for you that I just assumed she didn’t find you. But here you are now!” The Mr. Handy was chipper and it annoyed him. So Joseline wouldn’t talk about him? Did any of them know that they were mates? He had a feeling that Hancock knew which got Nick thinking. Was he the one his mate was sleeping with? They definitely looked close.

Nick tensed thinking about John Hancock with his mate. He sighed and pushed the feeling back. It was none of his business.

“So what happened with Mike?” Nick forced himself to ask. He had other questions.

“Poor man was ambushed my super mutants down near the Red Rocket Station. We were still working on expanding the perimeter when we heard gunshots. He took a few hits but we were able to help before it got worse. The General added security measures after that. The Red Rocket acts as a sort of security gate for anyone wanting to come into Sanctuary that way we can keep the area around the settlement clean and secure. If we had our defenses up and running maybe he wouldn’t have been attacked. That being said our resident doctor was able to patch him up and he’s been resting. We sent someone out this morning to get word to his wife but it seems she got to you first. She can come and see him. But he won’t be able to leave for awhile.” Garvey had a grim look on his face like he didn’t like the idea of super mutants attacking so close to Sanctuary and Nick couldn’t blame him. Even Diamond City security patrolled outside the walls.

The infirmary was decent and clean. It was set up in an old house. A few people were in bed but it was the presence of a white Ms. Nanny that had him impressed. She was administering treatment in a calming French voice and he wondered where they managed to find these bots. Codsworth left his side and whirred over to her. Her eyes spun to look at them as they approached.

“Detective! It is nice to meet you! My name is Curie and this here is my infirmary. No stressful questions and serious movement. Monsieur Mike needs to rest.” She left without waiting for a reply. Codsworth followed after her, both of them were engaged in a hushed conversation. Preston took a seat at the foot of the makeshift hospital bed and started to tinker with his own laser musket. Nick figured this was their way of letting him speak to the patient so he took the seat on the left side and cleared his throat.

The man was ordinary looking and looked quite beat. He had bandages that covered his whole chest and his breathing was labored. There was tech and machines by the bed and Nick wondered where they got their stuff. At the sound of his cough, the man opened his eyes and turned his head to look at Valentine. He stiffened slightly and looked to Garvey. But since the Minuteman looked unconcerned, he relaxed and continued his labored breathing.

“Mike Zuso?” Nick asked. The man slowly nodded. “My name is Nick Valentine. I run a detective agency in Diamond City. Your wife, Sarah, came to me saying that you were missing. I’m just here to confirm what Mr. Garvey here has already told me and to make sure you’re okay. They said they sent word to your wife this morning about your condition.” The man nodded and slowly started to talk about what happened.

. . .

“All I’m saying sweetheart is that you need help figuring out the next step. We’ve gone over and over it. We don’t have all the facts. Now, you went looking for Nick because you needed help. Now he’s here.” Hancock was leaning against one of the workshop walls. He was trying to get Josie to listen to reason but she wasn’t having any of it. She was working on her set of power armor. It was something she only did when she was frustrated or angry. John didn’t want to get anywhere near her and her tools.

When he saw Nick at the gates he couldn’t help but feel a bout of jealousy. There was someone who had a mate and their mate was his sweetheart. It left a pain in his chest he didn’t know he could still feel. John was used to riding the high of chems and not feeling much of anything at all but Josie was her own kind of chem. And he could ride her all night long. He steered his thoughts out of the gutter and tried to focus on what he was doing.

“Look you don’t gotta like him. You don’t gotta touch him or even talk about the bond. I’m sure he’ll let you ask some questions and maybe he knows something that we don’t. Maybe this is the only way to find Shaun.” She dropped her blowtorch with a clatter and pushed off her welding mask and threw it at the wall. She stood in a fit of anger and paced back and forth. Hancock stayed out of her way and let her throw his words around her head. She let out a frustrated growl that had his pants tightening and suddenly she was pulling him into a devouring kiss. John was just happy to touch her. It was something only he could do.

. . .

Joseline hated Nick Valentine. He had no idea how his presence was making everything worse. John was talking her into circles, trying to get her to see reason. She knew everything he was saying to her was true but she refused to accept it. She wanted nothing to do with the synth. Every day was a reminder of how much she was unwanted. He was a reminder of how much she had always been unwanted.

She supposed she loved Nate in some way but she knew that he never truly loved her. Everyone only had one mate and his had died. She and Nate had always been friends. Their relationship seemed natural at first but as time wore on the more she felt like she was chosen to try and fill a hole she just couldn’t fit into.

It was different with Hancock. She knew he wanted her. Their relationship just worked because there was no illusion. He wanted her and she wanted him. She loved him. She knew it the moment he had bucked up and kissed her. He was her guiding force in a world she no longer recognized. He helped navigate her around the Commonwealth so she could get to where she needed. Goodneighbor was her second home and she never felt comfortable unless John was by her side.

Joseline knew that Nick’s presence was putting tension on John. He had seemed reluctant to touch her. She hated when he kept his distance so it was with frustration and anger that she pulled him into a hungry kiss. She never wanted John to feel the way she did. The last thing she would ever want to do was choose Nick over John not after what the synth had put her through.

. . .

All Hancock wanted to do was pin her against the wall and take her. Her touches always made him hungry for more. The fact that Nick was there, her mate, just made his desperation worse. He would probably go feral if the old synth ever tried to touch her.

He growled into her mouth and easily maneuvered her around and up against the wall. She groaned and grabbed at his pants. He pawed at her chest and lightly bit at her bottom lip. She hurriedly untied the flag around his waist and pulled on his pants so they pooled around his knees. His hands were under her shirt and kneading at her breasts. He pulled on one nipple and nipped at her neck. She moaned and pulled on her own jeans.

Before John could even help her jeans were off and she was hiking one leg up around his waist. She wasn’t wearing any underwear and Hancock was desperate to feel her around him. He grabbed her other leg so that she was completely wrapped around him and up against the wall. She reached down for him and guided the head of his cock into her warm center. He pushed into her in a rough thrust and groaned against her neck. Home was between her legs. She gripped him tightly and he continued to thrust into her hard and slow. He wanted it to last but the way the heel of her foot dug into his ass and the way she pulled on his back had him speeding up.

. . .

Nick clenched his teeth and nearly broke his pen in two. He was writing out all the information gathered on his notepad when he felt the unmistakable lust through the bond. Joseline and Hancock disappeared and it seemed it was crystal clear what they were up to. Nick knew it was none of his business. He had no say but it still left a bitter taste in his mouth. Couldn’t they have waited till he left?

Preston Garvey eyed him curiously and the synth tried to act normal. He finished his notes and pocketed the small notepad. He really should get a move on. He didn’t want to stick around when it was obvious he wasn’t wanted.

“I’ll follow up with his wife when I get back, everything seems to be okay and Mike’s in good hands.” Nick glanced back at the makeshift infirmary. “I should start heading back to Diamond City.” He started walking towards the gates.

“Whoa, whoa, wait! You’re leaving?” The Minuteman caught up with him and matched his brisk pace towards the gates. Nick just wanted to leave.

“I have no other reason to be here.” Nick thought it was obvious there was no point in him staying but Preston seemed to have something to say.

“I’m sure the General wouldn’t mind if you stayed the night. I think she might have some questions for you.” Nick sighed.

“I doubt that. As much as I wouldn’t mind helping out, your General made it very clear to me the last time I saw her that she wants nothing to do with me. Now I have an agency to run.” Nick hurried toward the gates before he could be stopped again. The lust that had bled through the bond was gone and something like annoyance was back in place.

“Hey! Nicky! Where you going?” Valentine stopped in his tracks and turned around only to see a relaxed looking John Hancock tying the flag around his jeans. His whole body went tense at the implications. He could feel his motors whirring and something akin to adrenaline was coursing through him. He really should keep walking before he did something stupid.

“Back to Diamond City, John.” His voice came out rougher than he wanted. He turned back around and continued walking. The gates opened for him but then abruptly closed. Nick frowned and turned to Hancock. “What’s going on?” He narrowed his yellow eyes at the ghoul and waited for an explanation. John merely smiled and got closer.

“Look, you and I go way back. Now, we need your help. And I know things are tense between you and Josie right now but the fact of the matter is you need each other. And after everything you’ve done to her, you owe her. She needs help finding someone. She needs a detective. So, what do you say Nick?” John gave him a tense smile. Valentine knew this was all for her. The ghoul was in love with her, with his mate. He was doing this because he knew something Nick didn’t. Nick thought of desperate eyes and the painful way Joseline had pulled away from his touch. He really had no business being around her but if she needed help…

Nick leaned in close so that only Hancock could hear him. “Does she even want me here?” He hoped he didn’t sound needy. He wasn’t even sure if he wanted to be wanted by her. All he knew was that he wasn’t going to force his presence on her more than necessary.

“No. But she doesn’t have a choice right now. We’ve hit a dead end and you’re our last shot.” He clapped Nick on the shoulder and chuckled as he steered the synth back towards the settlement. Nick thought this was all a very bad idea.

. . .

Hancock thought the tension in their group was so intense it could have been sliced with a knife. Josie was leaning over a detailed map of the Commonwealth and various papers strewn around it. Her body was rigid and she just glared at the old synth leaning against a metal beam. It was a makeshift tent that Garvey had built; it was where they had their Minutemen meetings and where they went over construction in other settlements. Garvey was on the left side of Josie, leaning on his laser musket and waiting for one of them to speak.

John wondered if Preston knew anything about Nick and Joseline. Or if he just knew to mind his own business. Nick looked uncomfortable and just continued to look down at the concrete. It wasn’t going well.

“So...Josie? Want to get the ball rolling?” She turned her glare on him but he just shot her a feral grin. She sighed and John noted the way her fist clenched.

“We don’t need him.” John sighed and pushed off the beam he was leaning on.

“You know that isn’t true. Just tell him everything and see what happens, huh?” He approached her and leaned on the table. He could see the subtle huff she made and the way she was breathing heavily. She was doing a good job of hiding it but John could see it. “Either you tell him and he doesn’t have anything to help us, he leaves and never comes back. Or you tell him and he does know something and we’ll be closer to finding Shaun,” he lowered his voice at the end but knowing the synth he probably heard it anyway. Josie met his eyes and he knew she was going to give in.

“When the bombs fell we managed to get to Vault 111, just up the hill there,” she pointed weakly towards the location of the vault. “They put us in these pods said it was to depressurize us for going deeper into the vault but they lied. Vault 111 was used to experiment cryogenics on unsuspecting live subjects. They froze us. Sometime during the last 200 years or so we were woken up. My pod was directly across from my husband’s. A woman in a hazmat-like suit and a man with some makeshift armor walked up and opened my husband’s pod. I was disoriented and I could barely move but I could see everything.” Her eyes focused on the map and John knew she was remembering everything. Preston averted his eyes and looked down at the concrete; he had heard the story already and knew the specifics. John looked at Valentine. The synth was listening intently and looking at Josie with an unreadable expression.

“My husband and I had a newborn son. Nate took him in his pod. I watched Nate wake up and Shaun...started to cry. They told Nate to give them Shaun but he refused. The guy took out a gun and shot him. The woman grabbed Shaun and she left. The man walked up to me and looked right at me. He called me “the backup” and then they put me back under. I woke up again later but I was the only one who survived. The people that took Shaun were long gone.” Joseline took a steadying breath and John reached out to hold her hand. She took it and straightened up.

“What did the man look like?” Nick’s voice rang out loudly among them and John could sense the way Josie had tensed up. She looked at him.

“He had a gravely and deep voice. He was bald and had a scar over his left eye.” Hancock looked at Nick and noticed the way he seemed in deep thought.

“This was obviously a difficult task. No ordinary raider or even gunner could have pulled this off. These people went into a pre-war vault to retrieve a pre-war newborn. The reasons are vast and none of them are good. But the fact that they left you alive is strange.” Valentine started to pace the small space. “The guy matches a profile I have in my cases back at the agency. A guy named Kellogg. He used to live in Diamond City with a young boy but they both disappeared. He’s featured in several cases I’ve gotten over the years. He’s a mercenary who gets the job done. No one knows who he works for but we have some suspicions. Mostly my gut is telling me that this has something to do with the Institute.” John sucked in a breath. Just what they needed, the big bad boogeyman of the Commonwealth.

“Can you help us find him?” Nick stopped pacing and looked at her. He looked surprised that she was asking him for help and John couldn’t blame him. Josie had been reluctant the whole time and now she was asking her mate for help when she had made it clear she wanted nothing to do with him. Something unspoken seemed to pass between them and then Nick looked at John.

“I can try.” Joseline stood tall and then started to gather the papers together.

“We can head towards Diamond City before we lose daylight. If we have to rest we can stop in Cambridge. I’m sure Danse will be more than happy to put us up. We can see what we can get in Diamond City and go from there.”

“Yeah, Danse will be more than happy to let a ghoul and a synth into his little police station.” John couldn’t hide the bitterness in his voice if he tried. He understood the urgency but really they could wait until the next day to head out.

“Well, Danse owes me,” Josie countered but she looked at Nick and his exposed neck. She sighed. “We’ll head out in the morning. Think you can handle Minuteman duties for a bit, Preston?” Preston stood and gave her a crooked smile.

“Sure thing, General.” He walked off and an enthusiastic Codsworth whirred up.

“Codsworth, think you can find a place for the detective to stay for the night?” The Mr. Handy looked intently at the synth and nodded.

“Sure, we have some extra beds!”

“No need. I’ll just find somewhere to sit and I’ll be set up for the night.” Nick tipped his hat and walked off without a word. John noted how Josie watched him leave. Her hands were trembling and she clutched the papers to her chest.

“I’m sorry. This must be difficult for you.” He tried to get her to look at him but she just started walking back to her house.

“Anything for Shaun.” Hancock sighed and followed her into the reinforced house.

. . .

Chapter Text

Nick wondered if anyone knew his mate was Joseline. He noted the way Garvey lightly touched the handyman named Sturges’ elbow. He noticed the way they gently smiled at each other. He wondered what it was like to have that connection.

Then Nick saw the Longs. He saw the way they were hurting, something about losing someone. He noted the way Marcy couldn’t stand to be around Jun and the way Jun seemed desperate for her. He also noted the brief moments when they would touch and surrender to something Nick didn’t understand.

Nick didn’t think his body could process the bond on a biological level but his programming definitely worked over time to try. He felt the draw, it was almost like a pull in his processes telling him to go to her but he could resist it.

He had also noticed the way Joseline had been shaking. He didn’t know much about mates since he never had the interest in one. Nick shook his head and let out a breath. How different would their lives had been if they had found each other earlier? If he had stumbled across Joseline before he met Jenny, would they have fallen in love?

She was hurting because she was real, she was human. Her biology was punishing her for resisting him and he hated it. The way John had been understanding and pushing them together. Nick had the feeling in the end the ghoul might try to set them up together. Some sort of “she deserves her mate” spiel but it was obvious the mayor didn’t want to give her up either. He seemed to be warring with loving her and wanting her to be with her mate. Nick didn’t know how to feel.

Valentine didn’t really think he had a say or a choice. Even if he was attracted to her or wanted to be with her, he still loved a woman he never met. Maybe that was the point. He wasn’t Nick Valentine. He was a synth given the memories and personality of a dead detective that didn’t want his mate. What did he want?

He pulled out a cigarette and lit it. He listened and watched as everyone went to sleep and the watch changed shifts. Codsworth went in and out of every building and makeshift tent as if ensuring everything was alright. The Mr. Handy approached Nick after he made his rounds.

“Those things aren’t particularly healthy, you know?” Codsworth settled next to him.

“Yeah, well I haven’t died yet,” Nick said dryly. The robot looked at him and then back at the settlement. Nick was leaning against one of the outer walls looking over the whole settlement.

“You know Mr. Nate constantly urged Ms. Joseline to look for her mate?” Nick froze briefly before composing himself. Did Codsworth know?

“Did he?” He tapped his finger against his cigarette and watched the build up of ash fall to the ground.

“The doctors told Miss to give up young Shaun. There were complications, you see. They bought me to help her around the house. But mum was adamant about keeping Shaun.” There was a brief silence. Nick thought there was something the Mr. Handy was trying to say.

“Mum, was five months pregnant when she came across her mate.” Nick wanted to groan. They had come across each other when she was already pregnant? He supposed thinking back that he should have realized it earlier but his sense of time was off, memories missing. He didn’t remember much beyond getting a glimpse of her.

“Her body recognized that the baby wasn’t her mate’s and that was why there was complications. Ms. Joseline pointed out one day that if her mate wanted her he would have found her. Mr. Nate said no more on the matter after that.” Codsworth went quiet. Valentine dropped his cigarette and put it out with his shoe. He put his hands in the pockets of his trench coat.

So, he was right. He had caused her pain. Codsworth’s words rang through his head. He knew what pre-war doctors thought of babies born to unbonded couples especially if a mate was found. The doctors would have urged her to abort. And her husband, telling her to look for him. He understood why she didn’t want him around.

“Ms. Joseline is my family. She is happy with Mr. Hancock. She is happier than I’ve ever seen her but when she looks at you it reminds me of how much pain she was in before the bombs dropped. I do hope you can help her find Shaun, Mr. Valentine. And I do hope you can keep your hands to yourself.” Nick didn’t have a chance to respond before the Mr. Handy whirred off.

Okay, so the robot definitely knew about the bond. Nick sighed and sank to sit on the ground.

. . .

John had one arm planted firmly around the woman he loved but he didn’t think he was providing much comfort. Joseline was shaking something fierce and every few moments her body spasmed. He had tried to talk to her about what was happening but she had been desperate just to have him close.

His cock was still wet from their fucking and was lodged right against her backside. He had tried to pull away to clean them up but she had simply held onto his arm and fallen into a fitful sleep. He knew part of what was happening.

Josie and Nick had touched, they hadn’t meant to, but they did and now the bond was making its presence known. John knew several people who had resisted their own bonds as well. He knew how it could torture and screw the person over until they were desperate enough to give in.

John thought of Fahrenheit. She had been mate to a nasty piece of raider who wanted nothing more than to break her open and then some. She had resisted too. He had watched as his most trusted bodyguard fell prey to the fucked up biology. She had been full of rage too. She spent nights taking anyone she wanted to bed and then the shaking. The damn shaking started and she had a harder time functioning.

He remembered how raiders and junkies alike took one look at her shaking hand and tried to take her down. John had to confine her to the State House just so assholes would stop trying to kill his second in command. The shaking had dissolved into full blown withdrawal , all the symptoms reminded him of those moments when he thought kicking the chems away was a good idea.

If Joseline didn’t complete the bond then the shaking wasn’t the worst of the side effects. John could already feel the clamminess on her skin. How long before she dissolved into full blown body shakes, cold sweats, fever, and the goddamned slick ?

She had been so wet when he had taken her. She had been clawing at his back and demanding more until John was fucking her into the mattress and at risk of pulling a hip or some shit.

He remembered how Fahr had grabbed his arm and asked him to put her mate down. Her voice had been steady, said through clenched teeth, but the desperation in her eyes were clear as day. In that moment, John would have done anything to get her to stop hurting. So he took some of his men, made a quick trip down Haymarket Mall and a couple of hours later the raider was dead.

When John came back, Fahr was on the mend and she refused to talk about it. He had wanted to know what it was like. The woman was as strong and as stoic as they come. But even she had fallen to pieces because of this fucked up part of biology. Fahrenheit had returned to normal like she hadn’t just lost her mate.

John wondered if he would kill Nick. If Joseline asked him to, could he kill the synth? He liked to think she wouldn’t ask that of him but the way she shook under his embrace…

He pulled her closer and tried to sleep. They had a long walk tomorrow.

. . .

The trek towards Diamond City was blissfully quiet. Joseline did her best to mask her shaking but she had a feeling that John and the Detective already noticed. They occasionally spoke around her about random subjects careful not to include her. She was thankful for it but it didn’t help with the unease she still felt. They were passing Cambridge when John decided that enough was enough.

“So… did you two know each other way back when?” The question hung in the air cutting through the almost amiable silence they had been walking in. Joseline almost flinched at the question but managed to catch herself. Nick took a long drag of the cigarette he had been smoking and pretended like he didn’t hear anything. John looked between the both of them. “So we’re just going to spend this entire time pretending like you two aren’t mates?”

Joseline couldn’t hold back the shaky breath she let out. Both men looked at her then and she couldn’t stand it. Why couldn’t John just keep his mouth shut?

“No, John, we didn’t know each other. We happened to run into each other once and then that was it. I was married and had a son. Then the bombs fell and I thought he died. I felt him die. And then I went into that damned vault…” Josie took a shaky breath and then started walking faster. “We didn’t know each other.”

John watched the retreating back of Josie and then to the stoic Detective beside him. Nick was watching her walk ahead of them with an unreadable look on his face. Being a synth had its perks. Nick put out his cigarette.

“I don’t remember much from before. There’s only so much memory I can retain and a lot of it gets murky as time wears on. All I remember from that time…” Nick went silent and John waited for him to continue. He noted the way the synth’s hands clenched and the faint clicking in his jaw. “We ran into each other once but that was it.”

John knew there was something that Nick wasn’t telling him but didn’t think he could get more out of him on the subject. They continued walking.

Once they crossed the bridge outside of Diamond City, Joseline stopped walking. She turned to them and sighed.

“We need to figure out how we’re going to do this. They won’t let John in. We can either stop at Hangman’s Alley, maybe get a disguise on you or you can stay there and I can go in with Detective Valentine.” She had a frown on her face and John could tell that she didn’t want to go in alone with the synth. John pulled out his pack and dug around in it. He pulled out a beat up gas mask that would cover his head and some road leathers.

“Just let me change real quick.” John moved off into a nearby alley and changed.

. . .

Nick shouldn’t have been surprised that Hancock could pick a lock but he was still impressed. It saved them time and didn’t mean Joseline had to go persuade the mayor. The synth had a feeling John didn’t want her anywhere near his dear brother.

They entered the house that once belonged to Kellogg.

“It’s pretty bare,” Joseline commented and Nick had to agree. It was a very generic space with the bare minimum of possessions.

“Look around, maybe there’s something we’re missing,” he said. The three of them looked over every inch of the the small space.

Joseline leaned against the wall she had been looking at. Nick glanced at her and noticed that she was looking rather pale. Her skin looked clammy and her cheeks were red but the rest of her was almost white. He noted the way her shaking seemed more apparent and that she leaned heavily on the wall for support. Their rustling had masked her breathing but he could hear how labored it was. He looked to John who was looking around upstairs. Their eyes met and John hurried down the stairs to the woman struggling to stand upright.

“Josie, you should rest.” Hancock supported her and led her to sit on the dusty couch. She didn’t protest and went where the ghoul led her. She dropped on the couch. She waved off the ghoul and John slightly backed up.

“Keep looking. I just need a moment.” John and Nick looked at each other. The Detective continued his search and moved onto the desk near the staircase. John didn’t leave Josie’s side.

. . .

Joseline forced herself to stand. Kellogg was gone but the secret room he left behind was full of gear. It was full of everything someone like him would need. She leaned on the side of the entryway and watched as Nick searched the room.

She felt sick just seeing it all there. But she supposed she felt sick for another reason. John had voiced his concerns about how the bond was affecting her. She didn’t want to believe him but it was undeniable now. The bond was burning her up but she felt cold. The shaking had only increased as they approached Diamond City and her body ached something fierce like she had run a marathon.

Her underwear felt wet against her skin and she didn’t even want to think about what that meant. John stayed close to her and she was grateful for it but his touches were making her skin itch, uncomfortable. She found herself looking more and more at the synth in front of her. Detective Valentine wasn’t in any way attractive but the way he carried himself  was oddly appealing. His voice seemed to affect a part of her that had previously only responded to Hancock. She flinched at the realization and pushed away from the room.

“Maybe there’s something here that will give us a clue to where he went. Are you guys going to help me look?” Nick asked and then glanced up at them. Josie wasn’t sure what he saw but he stopped what he was doing and then slowly approached them. John was lightly holding onto her arm as if afraid she might fall. “Maybe we should take a break, doll.” She hated that the synth called her that. She scrunched up her face and shook her head.

“I’m fine!” But her voice sounded small and there was a ringing in her ears. She could hear the frantic beat of her heart and her vision narrowed. She swayed on her feet and held onto John. He was saying something to her but she couldn’t process his words, she mumbled, “need to find Shaun.” And John caught her before she hit the ground.

. . .

“She needs a doctor.” Nick hovered in the doorway of his own bedroom and watched as Hancock placed his mate on his unused bed. She had collapsed at Kellogg’s and Nick’s place was closer than the Dugout. Nick was grateful it was dark out because John didn’t have time to put his mask back on before they were rushing out. He tried to avoid Diamond City security as much as possible and he doubted he could have gotten away with sneaking a ghoul in.

 

John sighed heavily and put the back of his hand to Josie’s forehead. She was burning up and it was only going to get worse.

“The best chance she has is with Amari.” He stood and approached Nick. The synth was holding the mask he forgot to put back on and he took it. “I can get there faster on my own and bring her here. I need you to stay and keep an eye on Josie.”

 

Nick’s jaw clenched and he shook his head.

“I shouldn’t be anywhere near her,” Nick said. He hated how he sounded. Hancock looked at him in a way Valentine only ever saw him look when he was sober.

“I know what the bond does to people who fight it. I’ve seen it myself. She’s only going to get worse. Amari can try and figure out how to stop it but there’s a chance that there’s nothing she can do. While I’m gone if Joseline goes into a seizure…” John looked away from him and Nick grimaced at the agony that was plain on the ghoul’s face. “You need to touch her. Hold her hand, something. At that point, only contact will keep the hurt at bay. Either that or I kill you.”

There was a dark look in his eyes and Nick cursed his bad luck. None of this should be happening. The bond shouldn’t be possible. He shouldn’t be possible but he was there. He was a robot with the mechanics of a human and the personality of a dead detective. And somehow, as a synth, he was mate to this beautiful woman who just wanted to be with a chem-addicted ghoul and wanted to find her son. He had no right or reason to be a part of her. She deserved better. She deserved happiness but he was bringing her nothing but pain. It made him ache thinking about how unlucky the both of them were.

“I can’t. Not without her permission, John.” Hancock looked like he wanted to argue but he simply nodded.

“Well then, I should hurry.” He put his mask back on and hurried out of the agency.

Nick turned back to Josie lying unconscious on his bed and grimaced at the way she was shaking. He grabbed a ratty blanket that was sitting on a chair next to his bed and unfurled it to cover her. He made sure to not touch her. He sat in the chair and waited.

. . .

Sometimes, Nick dreamed of before the bombs fell. He didn’t have memories of when Nick Valentine got his mind scanned but he had bits and pieces of everything before that.

He dreamt of Jennifer Lands, Nick Valentine’s fiancé that died at the hands of Eddie Winter. As a synth, he didn’t know what love felt like but he remembered how much the human Detective Valentine loved that woman. He loved her enough to choose her over his mate, Joseline Moreno.

Nick only ever allowed himself to dream when things in life got...overwhelming. He watched Joseline shake and moan in her sleep. He saw her pain written clearly on her fevered face and he couldn’t stand it. He tried to force himself to watch as some form of punishment. His existence was causing her pain and Nick hadn’t felt such self-loathing since he woke up and realized he wasn’t human. But in the end, he opted out and let his body shut down.

The dream was one he hadn’t seen before. Was it really a dream or a lost memory? He was hand in hand with Jenny in a market in College Square and he kept looking behind him as if expecting someone to come out and grab him.

“Oh look! I see a friend of mine from college! Oh, she’s pregnant! I hope she found her mate! I’d never met anyone so pessimistic about mates!” Jenny tried to steer them towards a beautiful woman with long curly black hair and the most stunning hazel eyes. She was aglow in the heat and Nick’s breath momentarily caught at the sight of her. She was smiling widely and stood next to a tall man who looked as if he had a dark cloud following him everywhere he went. In comparison, the woman on his arm was radiant. Everything in the market seemed to narrow and all he focused on was her. His fingers itched to touch her and he wanted nothing more than to have her smile at him.

Reality came crashing down when Jenny tugged on his arm.

“Nick? Is something wrong?” She was looking up at him with concern clear in her eyes. He forced himself to look at her, at their entwined hands and he realized what had just happened. He looked once more at the woman and then gently steered them in the opposite direction.

“I don’t feel too well. Must be this damned heat. What do you say we head somewhere to eat?” Jenny didn’t question him and started suggesting places to eat. He allowed himself to look back only to see that the woman was looking in his direction, a look of confusion written all over her face. He quickly turned away and reminded himself that he loved Jennifer Lands.

He woke abruptly, his hands grasped the arms of the chair he was sitting in. His body jolted at the abruptness and he settled into the chair. He looked around at his surroundings and noted that he was still in his bedroom. The agency was quiet and he silently wondered where Ellie was. His eyes moved to his occupied bed and startled at the hazel eyes watching him.

“Were you dreaming?” Joseline asked. She still looked awful and her voice was small. Her hair was damp with sweat but she was still shaking and shivering. She clutched the raggedy blanket to her chest and continued to look at him.

“Yes,” he answered her. He didn’t want to elaborate more on that. He couldn’t determine whether the dream had really been a dream or some stored memory he hadn’t seen before.

“Is your last name Moreno?” he couldn’t help but ask her. She had never mentioned her last name and he wondered how he knew. Her eyes widened and then she looked down at the bed. She was lying on her side.

“My maiden name. How did you know?” Nick didn’t know how to answer her. Should he tell her that he had dreamed about her? Did the real Nick Valentine know who his mate was?

“I don’t know.” It was the best he could say and he hated it. He wanted answers, not just for him but for her.

“Where’s John?” she asked. Nick sighed and moved uncomfortably.

“When you passed out he went to go get Doctor Amari. He said she might be able to help you.” Nick stood and went over to his desk in the corner. He had placed a wooden board on top to cover the mangled metal underneath. He opened a can of purified water and brought it over to her. “Here, drink some. Don’t suppose you’re hungry?” She took the can from him and struggled to sit up. She took small sips and watched him as he settled in the chair at his desk. He wondered how he couldn’t feel anything she was feeling. Days had passed where he could feel everything she was feeling but the connection was quiet. He didn’t know what to say or do. She shook her head.

“I don’t think I’d be able to keep anything down.” She frowned and picked at the can in her hand. Something was on her mind and Nick waited for her to speak. “When you were sleeping, you were saying something. It woke me up. Who’s Jenny?” Nick froze at the question and turned to glare at the wall. He could hear the clicking in his jaw at the way he clenched. He supposed she deserved to know but talking about Jenny was always hard.

“I’m a synth created and built by the Institute. I suspect I was some discarded prototype because I woke up in the middle of nowhere in a yard of a bunch of scrap. But my personality, the memories I have are all from a man who lived before the bombs fell by the name of Nick Valentine. He was a Detective with the Boston PD and he was in love with a woman by the name of Jennifer Lands.” He moved to look at her. She had made a small noise and she was staring determinedly at the water. She shaking was getting worse and Nick moved to the other chair in case something happened. Where the hell was Hancock?

“Jenny.” Joseline let out a little laugh and then a brief smile. “She was a classmate of mine in college.” Nick frowned at the implication. So his dream had been real. He debated whether or not he should tell her that Nick knew who she was, that he had chosen Jenny over her but before he could say anything she suddenly dropped the water in her hands. Her body twisted horribly and he realized she was going into a seizure.

Nick dropped to his knees at the side of the bed and struggled with himself. She was gasping and her body was shaking something bad. Nick wanted to grab her, to pull her onto her side so she wouldn’t choke but he didn’t want to touch her. Touching Joseline meant that their bond would get stronger and that at the most they wouldn’t be able to separate until they completed the bond.

He could feel the water soaking into his pants where he was kneeling and everything seemed to slow. He watched Joseline writhe in agony and he reached over. He pulled her onto her side and quickly grabbed her hand. Her skin was soft and the same awe feeling he had felt before came back. Joseline immediately stopped shaking and she breathed a loud sigh of relief. Their eyes met and Nick noted how beautiful she really was. He could lose himself in those eyes.

“Joseline, I’m sorry,” he whispered it. She held onto his hand and closed her eyes. Tears escaped her and Nick hated himself.

. . .

Chapter Text

John hurried back to Diamond City. He cursed his legs for not being able to run faster. He had reached Goodneighbor in good time and Amari was more than willing to help but one of his men got word to him that he needed to head to Greygarden.

Apparently, Codsworth had commissioned Curie to work with the notable bots of Greygarden to create ‘medicine’ for Miss Joseline. That was all the message had been and John had debated whether he could really risk going so far out of his way.

In the end, Hancock had sent a guard along with Amari to get her safely to Diamond City and John had cut across to Greygarden. Curie had been waiting with a case full of what she called ‘suppressants’. She had claimed to have perfected the medication and that it should help with most symptoms in regard to the bond. She had bashfully noted that it wouldn’t work on bonded mates and that had John hurrying back.

He had implored Nick to touch her if the situation became dire enough but the synth had looked at him almost pleadingly not to ask it of him. Hancock had firmly believed it might be necessary but the thought of it left a bitter taste in his mouth. A swirl of jealousy reigned in his chest without his permission and John nearly snarled into the morning air. The sun was rising slowly over the city and John couldn’t help the prickly feeling in his stomach that he was too late.

He hoped Amari had made it.

. . .

Josie stared blankly at the ceiling. Her hand was limp in Valentine’s hand. He had his hand palm up on the edge of the bed. He didn’t grip her, he just let her hand lay in his. She was lying on her back with her other arm across her forehead. She had hoped that she could have avoided ever touching the detective but life never seemed to work out for her. He was staring pointedly at his own shoes. They didn’t know how long they’d been that way. Where was John?

They both flinched at the sound of knocking. Nick glanced at her and then stood. She clutched her hand to her chest and watched him leave the room. She was on the verge of tears again. She thought of John and what would happen when he found out that they had touched. The sudden anger that coursed through her was toxic. Was she being punished? Why couldn’t she just be happy?

“Joseline.” She looked to the door and smiled weakly at Doctor Amari. She was carrying a bag and looking at Josie with a calculating look on her face. “Doing better, I see.” She approached the bed and noticed the way Joseline clenched.

“Where’s John?” She asked.

“He should be here soon. He had to make a detour.” Josie frowned. Why?

Amari pulled out various instruments and proceeded to examine her. Josie didn’t know what to say. She didn’t how she could explain everything that happened. So, instead, she watched the doctor work and waited for her to speak again.

Nick approached his room and sighed heavily. He didn’t know what to say to Joseline. He never wanted this for either of them and now they were compromised. Sex, ultimately, would complete the bond. He knew it. It was the whole point of the biology. They were biologically perfect for each other, to mate, to produce offspring. The bond would only be complete with coitus but until then it was only going to torture them.  Nick didn’t have much hope that they could even properly bond.

He looked down at the part of him that supposedly could fix all of their problems but he wasn’t even sure if it worked. He suspected that the whole reason he had a dick was because of this bond the Institute had somehow transferred over. But his entire life, since he woke up, he had never actually used it. The only time he felt something down there was when he touched Joseline and he hated that even more. The Institute could go to hell for all he cared.

“Everything looks okay right now. I would recommend getting some sleep and eating something but otherwise, everything looks good. I suspect the bond put your body under some strain and for that all you can do is rest and have contact.” Doctor Amari looked pointedly at Nick. He slightly turned away, not wanting to meet Josie’s gaze, and strode across the room to sit in the chair. “A synth capable of bonding is extraordinary. I’ve only met a couple who had managed to find their mate. It’s never easy,” Amari sighed. Joseline looked at her with a hard expression and Nick couldn’t believe what the doctor had said.

“You mean there’s more?” Joseline suddenly asked. The rise in her voice indicated panic and Nick was just trying to figure out what use synths could possibly have for being able to bond. What was the Institute thinking?

“More synths who have bonded? Yes.” Amari was checking her pulse and all Josie could do was gape at her like a fish.

“But how?” Joseline voiced the question they had all been wondering for days. Nick didn’t know how it was possible. Or why. But he wanted to know how it was possible when he was made and not born. Amari frowned at the question.

“I still haven’t been able to figure that out. Obviously the Institute seems to have found the source of that particular biology. It was something that scientists before the bombs couldn’t figure out but I guess over 200 years of research is bound to produce results. They’ve been able to create synths with the ability to bond for years now. Who knows why exactly they do it. Maybe it helps the synths seem more human this way but in my experience, it just causes a lot of unnecessary grief.” Amari shook her head and turned to look at the both of them. “I wish I had better news but I don’t think there’s much I can do. I was under the impression that this was a regular bonding but you’re not exactly human Mr. Valentine. Nice to see you again by the way.” Nick nodded.

“I…” Joseline shuddered and then looked at Nick. Her hands were trembling. Nick stood and settled into the chair next to the bed and simply put his hand out for her. She took it and they sat like that. “I had a seizure and Nick touched me. I was trying to fight it but everything hurt.” Nick just stared at the bedspread and was surprised when she gripped his hand. He looked up at her and she gave him a small smile. It did things to him, that smile. He smiled back at her.

. . .

John watched them smile at each other. It was one thing to see them touching but that smile… John huffed and Joseline pulled away from the synth. Her eyes were wide and looking at him standing in the doorway. He wanted to kiss the panic off her face and assure her that he wasn’t mad. He wasn’t. Hancock ignored the sadness sweeping over him and handed the case he was holding to Doctor Amari.

“You have one loyal Mr. Handy. Codsworth had Curie working on these.” Amari opened the case and gasped. “Suppressants.”

“Suppressants were rare even before the bombs dropped.” Amari gingerly took one of the vials out of the case. She examined it with a look of awe on her face. “This should help with the side effects of the bond. It’ll help you hold out longer, if that’s what you wish.” She turned back to the woman sitting on the bed and the detective who seemed to close off all emotion from his synthetic face. Amari felt for them, there was obviously friction between the three of them. She knew Joseline was with Hancock and she somehow ended up with a synth as a mate. She could only imagine the drama between them.

Joseline looked to Nick but he didn’t seem to have much to say. He looked entirely closed off and something in her chest clenched. She looked to John who had a similar indifferent look on his face but she could see the tension in his jaw. She cursed whoever was in charge of this disaster and sighed.

“Can I just rest for a little bit first?” she asked. They all nodded with mixed versions of “check on you later”. They all thankfully exited the room, leaving her to her thoughts.

Joseline settled into the bed, bringing the blanket over her and gripping the pillow under her. She gazed at the opposite wall and tried to get her feelings in order.

She loved John Hancock. There was no doubt in her whatsoever. He made her happy and made her feel things she hadn’t before. He loved her and that was enough. She never wanted to do anything that could possibly hurt him, not when he had done so much for her. When Joseline was lost he had taken her in. He was everything she didn’t know she needed. She loved him.

Jennifer Lands had been one of her classmates in college. They were friends who did projects together and studied but beyond that they didn’t have much in common. She liked Jennifer but had naturally grown apart from her after finishing college. Joseline remembered that she had mentioned once that she was dating some big shot detective but Joseline hadn’t really been interested. She was too worried about Nate around that time.

Nate…

Joseline couldn’t hold back the tears. Nate and Nora, she had never met two people more in love or complete complements of each other before. She had basked in their love and light. They were her bestest friends. She remembered how proud she had been when they both decided to join the military. She had gone to see them off. They wrote to her constantly while she went to school. They were stationed together, as mates it was mandatory.

Joseline remembered when she got word that Nora had died. It was like a part of her had died. Nora had been her confidante, she had been the one to encourage her to go to law school. She had been the one to make her see the bright side of things when Josie often couldn’t.

She had been there for Nate when he got back. His parents were worried because he wasn’t eating or talking for that matter. Josie remembered how haggard he had looked. She could practically feel Nora urging her to help him get better and she did. She had been the one to get Nate to eat more, had roped him into going places with her, and made him laugh. Slowly and surely they had grown closer. Joseline was practically living with him and taking care of him when he suggested that they should just get married.

Joseline had looked at him like he was crazy but he had been serious. They had been that way for over a year by then and they were so comfortable with each other they were practically holding hands in public. But Joseline had been reluctant. It felt too much like betraying Nora. She had actually gone and left him to his own devices for several weeks before she realized that Nate really couldn’t function without her. She had gone back to the apartment they shared and agreed that they should get married.

It was a marriage of convenience and ease. She never believed much in mates. She knew it was a real thing but she never believed in the magic everyone seemed to make it out to be. She didn’t think she had a mate. And Nate was safe. Nate was everything everyone expected her to settle for and she had been content with that. And then everything had gone down hill in College Square.

Joseline had read about Jennifer’s death in the paper. She didn’t know how to feel about it. She knew it was related to the man she had been dating but the paper never released any real personal details and she never could remember what his name was. But now she knew, Nick Valentine.

She hated him. She did. But she didn’t. She had desperately wanted to. But Nick wasn’t who she thought he was. He was going out of his way to help her and she supposed he owed it to her but she couldn’t fault him. Not for this. He didn’t have any control over the bond anymore than she did. He was a victim in this just as much as her. She felt for him. He didn’t seem to be over the death of Jenny and didn’t seem to really know who he was at the same time. She couldn’t imagine waking up and finding out that she wasn’t really herself.

She wondered if the reason he never went looking for her was because of Jenny. They had been engaged, hadn’t they? He had been tied down like she had. What were they supposed to do? Joseline couldn’t see herself leaving Nate. Not after everything he had been through. And Jenny had been beautiful and a bright soul much like Nora. Maybe Nick couldn’t imagine leaving her either.

Joseline cried into the pillow.

She closed her eyes and let her mind wander. An image of herself with Nick popped into her head. What would it have been like if they had been able to be together? She imagined him whole and all dressed up for work. She imagined him smiling at her like he had moments ago and her heart ached. It would have been wonderful . Joseline saw herself with her long curls, bright smile, and the look of absolute adoration on her face. She couldn’t remember the last time she looked so bright . And Nick brought his arm around her and gently kissed her.

It was everything she never let herself wish to have. She clenched her fists and let her nails dig into her palms. It wasn’t real and it never could be. That wasn't the life she led and she had always known it was a life she would never have no matter how much she tried. She hated herself for even imagining it.

She opened her eyes. The feel of Nick’s hand still lingered and she wanted it back. She huffed in irritation.

She loved John but she needed Nick Valentine. Joseline had never felt so unfortunate .

. . .

“What happened?” John hated the edge in his voice but he was having trouble keeping everything in check. He had the sense to keep his voice low but the way Amari arched an eyebrow at them told him he could still be heard. Nick’s jaw clenched and he reached for his pack of cigarettes.

“She went into a seizure. I couldn’t just let her...she was in pain and you told me to do what was necessary,” Nick hissed back at him. The tension in the room heightened and it took every ounce of self-control John had to keep his anger in check. He turned away from the synth and tried to think through his emotions. He had told Nicky to touch her if something bad happened. He was blaming the synth for something he had implored him to do.

He took a deep breath and sat down on an old rickety chair. His gaze was pinned on the door to the room where Josie was.  It wasn’t going to help anything if he allowed his anger to manifest. She deserved better and he was determined to be better.

“I know. I just…” He sighed deeply. “I thought I could deal with it. That if you two ever got together, I would be able to accept it but…” He couldn’t finish his train of thought and just continued to stare at the worn door. Amari made herself busy on the other side of the room and Hancock was grateful for it. It was one thing for Nick to see him this way but for Amari, one of his own, it was something he had tried to avoid ever since he became mayor. Weakness meant you could be controlled, put down, and he couldn’t afford that shit. At least he slightly trusted the doctor.

“For what it’s worth, I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Nick exhaled and leaned against the wall close to him. John looked at him with exasperation.

“Have you seen her? How could you be so stupid to want to give her up? She’s your mate! I would die for her and you act like she’s just some dame who crawled out of some settlement here to ruin your day!” John’s anger was rising again but Nick just looked at him calmly and flicked the ash off his lit cigarette.

“In case you haven’t noticed, John , I’m a synth. Not even a proper Gen 3 but some discarded prototype. There’s no guarantee that even if we bonded that it would work. I don’t know what the Institute was thinking but I have the distinct feeling that somehow this is a part of something bigger. She needs to find her son but I can’t help but feel like it’s just one goddamn coincidence that she was the only survivor of her vault and that there seems to be a damned convenient trail for her to follow so far. If the Institute is capable of creating these bonds then maybe they have a way of undoing it.” John’s mind was whirling. Everything Nick said was starting to make sense and he couldn’t help the shivers that went up his spine thinking about it. Was this some grand scheme of the Institute? And if so, why? What could they possibly gain from orchestrating all this. Hancock frowned and looked back to the door.

“It doesn’t matter what I want. You love each other, anyone looking at the two of you can see it. I was never meant to have her. The dead Nick Valentine made the decision long time ago. He... I loved someone else. She was my everything and I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her. She’s dead now. Joseline was never meant to be bonded to me.” He put out his cigarette in a nearby ashtray and John couldn’t help but grimace at the confession. Did Josie know all this? Did she know that the reason her mate didn’t want her was because by the time they found each other he was already in love with someone else?

Hancock frowned at the thought. He never believed he would be blessed with a mate. He didn’t think he’d ever be so lucky to find someone and then he had found Josie. He tried to imagine it. He tried to imagine that Josie was his mate and that she had spurned him for someone else. The imaginable pain was too real and John weakly pulled at his shirt as if it would somehow relieve the slight ache in his chest.

“These suppressants should be able to hold the symptoms off in Ms. Joseline. Whoever made these did great work. You two won’t have to have contact in order to keep the bond at bay now. These should do all the work and you’d be free to get back to whatever it was that you three were doing,” Doctor Amari’s voice cut through their thoughts. She was looking longingly at the case of suppressants. “If you guys are ever open to possibly sharing the formula for these I’d be happy to help. These could do a lot of good for folks. Now, I want one last look at Joseline and then I really should get back to Goodneighbor.”

. . .

Joseline was grateful that when she decided to take the suppressants both John and Nick didn’t comment. They both tried to watch on blankly but she could sense the tension in the room. The suppressants left an uncomfortable feeling in her stomach and her skin felt itchy. Doctor Amari said that it was probably normal but that the person to ask was the one who made them. Joseline made a note to talk at length with both Codsworth and Curie. A lot could have been avoided if they had been forthcoming in the first place but she supposed she shouldn’t be so hard on them. They were, after all, the reason she was now able to make her way through Fort Hagen.

Nick and John followed her without much conversation and she was grateful for it, not that they had much time to talk. Dogmeat had taken off at breakneck speed after catching the almost cold trail of Kellogg. She was tired but she couldn’t stop now, not when she was so close. They had fought through molerats, a yao guai, several super mutants, and ferals before they had finally reached Fort Hagen. It was obvious from the outside that someone was fortified within.

The main entrance was boarded up and turrets lined the roof. They were able to remain unseen by not straying too far from the outside walls. Joseline had tried to make quick work of destroying the synths inside but they seemed to be more aggressive than the ones she had encountered before. They rushed at her and tried to grab onto her often taking bits of her clothes and one managing to leave deep cuts into her forearm.

John had pulled her down behind some lockers to give her a stimpack while Nick shot at two synths trying to reach their little spot. They were grabbing at him too but seemed to be fine with just shooting at John. Joseline didn’t have much time to contemplate why before they were back to shooting and trying to make their way to Kellogg.

The moment she heard his voice she had collapsed against the men behind her. A flashback so palpable and almost tangible had overtaken her. The echo of a gunshot rang in her ears and the piercing cries of her son had her struggling in someone’s hold. Her vision returned and all she saw was John talking to her and the frustration of Nick as he shot at the speaker on the wall. He looked down at her with concern but didn’t move near her.

John helped her to stand upright. She sat on a nearby chair and shakily tried to get her breathing under control. Hancock and Nick stood close to her. They were watching her with concern etched onto their faces. Nick could only show a certain amount of emotion on his synthetic face but she could tell in the tension in his jaw and the way his eyes seemed to soften around the edges.

“I’m fine. I just...remembered.” They gave her a few minutes and then they were back to working their way down. Joseline fought with a renewed energy and determination. Kellogg’s monologues just made her more desperate to get to him so she could shut him up.

They passed a room that seemed to be where he was sleeping but he wasn’t there. Joseline hurried on and panicked as the door she passed through closed. Nick was right behind her but John was trapped on the other side. The lights flickered on and revealed the man they had been hunting.

Hancock was banging on the door now, trying to get through but it was no use. Joseline looked at him and tried to tell him that it was fine. She was fine. She could do this. He was safer on the other side. Kellogg had a hand full of synths with him and she tried not to think about the odds. Nick followed her as she approached the man who killed her husband, the father of her child, her best friend .

The anger coursing through her was palpable. She could almost feel it in her veins, in every step she took forward. They were face to face and it reminded Joseline of when he had approached her in the crypod. Nate…

“And there she is. The most resilient woman in the Commonwealth.” Joseline itched to grab at her shotgun but fought the urge. Kellogg gave her a slight smile that looked forced. “So here we are. Funny, huh?” Joseline didn’t want to look away from him but she couldn’t help the way her eyes darted around looking for Shaun. She looked back to him but he had seen her looking around.

“Where’s Shaun?” She gritted out the question. Kellogg gave a dramatic sigh.

“He’s not here. He’s with the people pulling the strings.” He looked almost expectantly at her like it was her turn in this odd verbal battle. But Joseline was done. Shaun wasn’t there and she wasn't going to continue to play his games.

She grabbed her shotgun before he could react and aimed it at his chest. The synths in the room moved forward with their laser rifles raised. Joseline glared at the mercenary but he just gave out a surprised chuckle. “I heard you were good but…” He whistled and moved closer to her barrel. She slightly trembled at the move but managed to steady herself.

“Tell me where the Institute is.” She was surprised at how clear her voice was. She was trying so hard not to tremble and to focus. The barrel of her shotgun was still hot and burning a hole in Kellogg’s shirt but he didn’t seem to mind. He just continued to look at her like a gun pressed against his chest was fun.

“Tsk. Haven’t you been paying attention? You don’t just go to the Institute. The Institute comes for you.” It was a frustrating answer. Joseline was trying to weigh her options. She could just pull the trigger and see what she can find in his stuff but there was still five synths aimed at her. Even if she pulled the trigger there was a great chance that the synths would immediately fire on her and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to take the hits. Her armor offered some protection but this close up…

Nick lightly tugged at her sleeve and she had forgotten he was there. She turned to look at him but that just allowed Kellogg to reach for his own gun. As quick as her, and a .44 pistol was aimed at her chest. Nick tried to step forward but she bumped back against him to keep him behind her. His own gun was in his hands but he seemed to be more focused on her and the gun pointed at her. The rising anxiety in her and panic allowed for her guards to be brought down. The feeling of dread and overwhelming fear flooded her chest. Was it her own feelings or was it Nick?

“What will you do now? There’s no way I can let you out of here alive. We both know how this has to end. Are you ready?” Joseline moved to pull the trigger but in that instant one of the synths moved forward. She turned to look but it was only a second. The synth grabbed at the wires of Nick’s exposed neck and held them in a tight grip. A gunshot rang in her ears but she didn’t know from who. She swung around and shot the synth before it could yank the delicate wires of  her mate’s neck.

Nick rushed forward. He crouched over her and that was when Joseline realized she was lying on the floor. Her ears were ringing and her vision was becoming hazy. Nick was shooting and trying to shield her at the same time. He was yelling but she couldn’t hear. His wires were loose in his throat from being grabbed but they still pulsed with a faint light. She reached and gingerly touched the rough edges of his throat. He really was quite handsome. Nick looked down at her but she couldn’t stay awake any longer.

Joseline’s vision went dark.

. . .

Chapter Text

Nick held onto Joseline tightly as they ran. She was unconscious in his arms and the bleeding wouldn’t stop. He gritted his teeth and ignored the creaking in his joints. He was strong as a synth but he was also old. He just hoped he didn’t fall apart while trying to get her home.

Nick silently berated himself. It was his fault she was dying. He had watched her aim her shotgun at Kellogg and all he could think about was the other synths in the room. He knew their odds weren’t on their side and he had been trying to find an out that didn’t get one of them killed. Then he had seen Hancock. He had somehow made his way back around, Nick applauded how fast he must have moved back through the halls and stairs.

John had Josie’s sniper rifle aimed at Kellogg. Nick had wanted her to see the ghoul , to get her to understand that she didn’t have to pull the trigger, that they could head for cover before the synths could fire. But Joseline only saw Kellogg. In an act of stupidity and desperation, Nick had tugged on her. But he knew his mistake the moment he did it, for all he did was distract her and allow Kellogg to bring his own gun up.

A Institute mercenary was then locked in a fucked up Russian roulette with his mate. Something in him had reared up then. Some primal instinct had him moving forward to protect. His mate was in danger and all he had to do was get in front of her. But Josie had pushed him back. Nick had watched in what felt like utter helplessness because Kellogg had his gun aimed at her chest and he couldn’t do anything to shield her.

Then that synth had taken note of his distress and a metal hand, much like his own, was wrapped around the wires in his neck. Nick had thought that was the end. He thought everything was going to finally go right, and Joseline wouldn’t have to be stuck with him anymore. He had a second of believing that she would make it because she was the strongest person he’d ever met and John would be there. He had been ready to die.

But no, the synth had fallen and Nick realized that Joseline had gunned it down. Kellogg was already dead on the floor, a puddle of blood under him and Nick vaguely thought that John must have shot him. But he had heard three gunshots…

Joseline was on the floor before he could move and the chaos was overwhelming.

Nick had crouched to shield her from the other synths as they shot at them. His knees were damp and Nick had briefly looked down to see blood. She was bleeding out. Somehow he had managed to keep shooting through it all and he could hear the growls and angry yells as Hancock shot at the synths.

Nick looked down at her.

“You need to stay with me, Joseline!” He reached into the pockets of his trench coat trying to find a spare stimpack. His hand curved around one when his body suddenly jolted. She was touching the edges of his exposed neck. There was a ghost of a smile on her lips before her head fell back on the floor and her eyes closed. “Joseline!” He hurriedly hit the stimpack into her exposed chest where the gunshot was and nearly tore off his coat to try and stop the bleeding.

His coat was drenched in seconds but she was still breathing. The stimpack must have been keeping her alive but the bleeding…

There were only two synths left and they were busy shooting at Hancock who had made quick work of their compatriots.

“John! The bleeding won’t stop!” Nick reached for his gun and hurriedly shot at the synths. Hancock was making noises of frustration before Nick managed to flip the switch that would open the doors. Both ghoul and synth rushed to Joseline. The last two synths were unmoving on the floor.

Nick watched as John gently lifted his coat to assess the damage. The mayor had a grim look on his face but hurried to cover the wound. His jaw was tense and there was anger clear in his eyes but with an eerie calmness he looked to Nick.

“The stimpack is slowly trying to heal the skin but it won’t fully close around the wound. The bullet is lodged in her chest. The stimpack will keep her alive but we need to get her to Curie... now.” John had stood and started dropping his pack. He bundled it up and put it under a desk. He reached for Nick’s. “You’re stronger and faster. You’ll have to carry her. We’re gonna have to run back and we can’t be weighed down.”

Nick relived the moments in his mind as they ran towards Sanctuary. He couldn’t stop even as Hancock dropped behind every now and then to take down some ferals and bugs trying to attack them. His only goal was to get her home so they could save her. Hancock hadn’t said anything but Nick knew that if she didn’t get to a doctor before the stimpack wore off, she was going to die.

He desperately hoped, in that moment, that their bond was real and not some artificial piece of biology made by the Institute. He remembered reading about moments, before the war, of mates being able to heal in the presence of their mate. It was rare and unexplained but Nick didn’t care as long as she lived .

He couldn’t hold back the feeling of dread invading his chest. She was dying because she saved him. Between getting her revenge and saving his life she had chosen him. Nick didn’t think he could live with himself if she didn’t make it.

He growled in frustration and forced his body to move faster.

. . .

“I’m sorry, sir, but I must voice my concerns on this matter,” a man said. Joseline could see two figures standing in front of her pod. What was going on? Where was John and Nick? Was Kellogg dead? Was she? She tried to move but she couldn’t. Her body felt numb and the only thing she could do was move her eyes.

She was back in the cryopod. The scene before her was eerily familiar but it wasn’t Kellogg in front of her or even the woman in the hazmat suit but two men. One was in a hazmat suit but the other was just in a lab coat. He wore black lined eyeglasses and was holding a metal instrument of some sort. The other man held what looked like a some sort of electronic clipboard. He looked nervous and constantly glanced around at the other crypods. But the man in glasses just smiled and started to do something with the control panel on her pod.

“We have clearance from the Director to conduct these experiments. From what I’ve gathered from the old C.I.T. files this woman was mate to one of the brain scans we have on hand. It was a fascinating read and the interview holotapes were boring except for the end. The man they scanned began to talk about his mate. He even knew her name. I managed to match that name to the files found here and well, when exactly are we going to get another opportunity like this? The last mates we had in the Institute died five years ago. If we had perfected this procedure before we wouldn’t have to do this but well, she’s the only subject we have. The new prototype will be done for the board’s review. This could be the second step on our path to the Gen 3 synths. Imagine it,” the man spoke with such excitement that Josie shivered. What were they going to use her for? What were they talking about?

There was a mechanical clicking and then her pod opened. She still couldn’t move but she could see and she could hear. The man in glasses took the metal instrument and then harshly pushed it into her arm. She watched as the device took several vials of her blood and then he stepped away. The pod was closing.

“But this is a living human being. We shouldn’t even be in this vault. The Gen 3 synths are a long way off, until we find a way to synthesize human organs and tissue this isn’t necessary. Is it?” The man in the hazmat suit clutched his clipboard and looked imploringly at the other man but the man just smirked. He glanced at the pod across from hers and then back at the man.

“Some of our scientists in the Bio lab have some ideas about that. Besides, this is the main component to make our synths really human. Come on, I don’t want to stay on the surface longer than needed.” The men moved out of sight. Joseline looked to Nate’s pod and her eyes widened. Nate lied there with Shaun still in his arms, alive. Joseline couldn’t believe it.

“Miss Joseline!” A burst of sudden pain slashed through her chest and her vision went black. The sounds of people around her started to cut through her haze and she managed to open her eyes in increments only to look into the startled eyes of Curie. She could see her working away while also keeping one eye on her face. Joseline groaned in pain and tried to move but couldn’t.

. . .

Hancock paced on the other end of the Infirmary. Curie and Codsworth had demanded space and so they were forced to wait by the entrance. Nick sat in the chair off to his side and never looked away from where the bots were working on Joseline. He could hear the synths machinery from where he was pacing and silently wondered if Nick had been pushed too hard. They had ran all the way from Fort Hagen. Nick had carried her the entire way and now Hancock was worried he was going to fall apart.

John had watched as that piece of shit Kellogg had shot his girl. He wanted to blame Nick but knew he couldn’t. He had seen the way Nick had saw him and the way he had seemed to will Joseline to see too. But her gaze never wavered away from Kellogg. It was only Nick’s last ditch effort to get her to consider all their options that the mercenary had managed to raise his gun on Joseline. Hancock thought she would look then but she didn’t.

Then, in Nick’s distress, that stupid synth had grabbed at Nick’s neck and John knew there was no good ending to it all. He had seen the way Joseline panicked, the way Nick had panicked. The momentary distraction had allowed Kellogg to pull his trigger, John to pull his and Joseline to turn and shoot the synth by Nick. John couldn’t stop and worry about Joseline even as he watched her go down. He had to destroy the other synths in that fucking room so they could go to her. Nick was on the ground with his girl trying to shield her from the other synths. All John had been able to do was shoot them so Nick could open the doors and they could heal her.

He had despaired when he finally reached her. There was so much blood and she was barely breathing. He had moved Nick’s coat to look at the wound. He knew there was no way she was going to survive if they stayed there. She needed help, serious help, the kind of miracles only Curie seemed to achieve. He had pushed everything away and tried to focus on getting her home .

Now, she was home and they were working on her but he couldn’t fight the tension in his chest. His mind kept telling him that this was his due. He was never meant to be happy for long, it never lasted. His mind told him that this is what he deserved. Joseline was going to die and he was going to be empty, again. He fought himself over and over again. Joseline was many things and strong was one of them. She was going to make it because she had to. She still needed to find Shaun. If there was one thing he knew, it was that she couldn’t die. She couldn’t.

. . .

“We managed to fix her up but Curie is going to keep her under for a couple of days. The pain shouldn’t be as restricting by then and well, you know Miss Joseline. If she wakes up now there’ll be no getting her to rest.” Codsworth whirred back to Joseline’s bed and situated himself near her feet. Nick couldn’t push away the overwhelming feeling of guilt in his chest.

He heard Hancock sigh and pull out his gun. Nick looked up at him, watched him reload his gun, and then motioned for him to get up.

“We mind as well head back to Fort Hagen, pick up our gear, and see what we can find. Joseline’s going to kill me if she finds out I left her rifle behind.” John walked out of the infirmary Nick took one last look at Joseline and then followed the ghoul.

They walked in silence.

“I’m sorry,” the words were out of Nick’s mouth before he could think about it. He looked at Hancock. The mayor’s jaw tensed and he kept his eyes on the road.

“It wasn’t your fault. Joseline had been waiting for that moment. To put down the man who killed her husband and took her son. There was nothing you could have done. The odds were against us from the beginning. I should have seen the doors. Should have been faster or something,” John gritted out. Nick grimaced at his words. They had both messed up and Joseline was paying for it.

“I’m sorry for everything. I never thought this would happen. I didn’t think it was possible. Then, she showed up and it happened. I know how hard things have been for you. The last thing I want to do is mess things up between you two.” They walked on in silence. Nick didn’t know what else he could say or how he could explain what he was feeling and thinking. He and John had known each other for awhile but these types of familiar conversations weren’t their forte. Usually when the spoke Hancock was high on some drug or other and Nick was on a case.

Nick looked at the ghoul again and realized that he hadn’t seen him take anything their entire journey. Even as they waited anxiously for the update on Joseline, John hadn’t reached for his usual dose of mentats.

“Are you...sober right now?” Nick couldn’t help but ask. Hancock threw him a glare but Nick could see his slight smirk as he turned away.

“It might be a surprise but I can usually go several days without anything,” John smiled. “As long as I’m with Josie.” The ghoul walked ahead and Nick kept quiet. He really did love her. Nick never knew John Hancock to ever function without some drug.

They had passed Abernathy Farm when John finally stopped and turned to Nick.

“Do you love her?” It was a loaded question and the synth didn’t know how to respond. He sighed heavily and dropped down onto a nearby car. He pulled out his cigarettes and tried to figure out what he felt. He thought of Joseline. He thought of the fear he felt when she had fallen. He thought of how her touch created sensations he hadn’t felt in centuries. He thought of how bright her smile was and how he found himself wishing she could smile at him all the time.

Nick looked at Hancock and then thought of she looked at the mayor. The way she seemed to gravitate towards the ghoul naturally. He thought of how sometimes their hands met and it looked as if they were an extension of each other. He thought of the way Joseline looked at John Hancock and he couldn’t admit to this man how he felt. It didn’t matter. Joseline may be his mate but she was in love with the mayor of Goodneighbor, had been before she even came into the vault for him.

“I care for her. It was inevitable. You know her. You’ve seen her. I don’t know if what I feel is love. The part of me that was human is still in love with a woman who died long before I became this. And the part of me that is Nick, Nick Valentine, the synth detective doesn’t really know if it’s possible to love someone. She’s my mate because of the Institute. No other reason that that. She loves you. She chose you before she even found me. I care for her but is it love? I don’t know.” He threw his cigarette and put it out with his shoe. He stood and continued walking. After several moments, John followed him.

. . .

They gathered their gear and rummaged through the various supplies lying around. They found some spare fusion cell ammo on the synths and a myriad of medication in the bedroom adjacent to the room where Kellogg was dead. Nick looked through various files and papers on the newer desks and then started to go through the terminal.

“Looks like the Institute gave Kellogg a new target. Some kind of scientist escaped to the Glowing Sea.” Nick and John exchanged looks. The Glowing Sea was dangerous. No one ventured there unless they were the Children of Atom or they wanted to die. Joseline would have to either wear a hazmat suit or a set of Power Armor. Even then, the rads would be bad. Nick could go with, the rads wouldn’t affect him but he knew that even that much rads would affect John.

“The Glowing Sea? That’s not good,” John sighed. Hancock would last a couple of hours but then the radiation would start to get to him. Nick wrote down as much information as he could and bagged several files lying around. They exited Fort Hagen and nearly ducked back inside. A giant airship was flying overhead and someone was speaking from it. They claimed to be the Brotherhood of Steel. Nick noticed the way Hancock’s eyes narrowed and his fists clenched.

Nick thought their arrival couldn’t have been at a worst time. Why were they there? Would they get in their way? What would Joseline do when she found out that they were there? His synthetic stomach was in knots. John pulled on Josie’s rifle to strap it onto his back and started walking.

. . .

Joseline’s dreams were a series of nightmares that she couldn’t decide were actually dreams or some form of memory. Most of them appeared while she was still in cryostasis and others were before the bombs dropped.

After what felt like forever, her eyes opened and Codsworth peered down at her. There was a faint pain still in her chest but now she could move. She pushed herself to sit up while Codsworth kept one of his arms safely at her back.

“Careful, Miss Joseline. You went through a horrible injury and Curie has declared that you should take things easy.” Josie flinched as she scooted to lean back against the pillow at her back. She looked around the infirmary but John and Nick were nowhere to be seen. Curie was several beds away with another patient and was keeping one eyes swiveled on her.

“Where’s John? How long have I been out?” She asked. Codsworth gently shushed her and brought her a can of purified water.

“Mr. Hancock and Detective Valentine headed back to Fort Hagen. Something about retrieving gear and information. They rushed you here as quickly as they could and left the majority of their gear behind. They’ve been resting since they came back. Would you like me to get them?” Codsworth brought her a small bowl of what looked like broth and helped her drink some of it. She smiled warmly at her Mr. Handy.

“Thank you, Codsworth,” she said. She looked out one of the open windows and realized it was dark. “What time is it?” Codsworth placed the bowl next to her water on a side table.

“It is just after midnight.” She shook her head.

“Let them sleep.” Codsworth nodded and continued to help her. After thirty minutes, she could tell there was something bothering him.

“What’s wrong?” She asked the robot. He looked at her in slight surprise and then settled. He sighed in the way that he did and gently touched the edge of her blanket.

“You could have died, Miss.” His voice sounded sadder than when she first found him after she woke up. She smiled sadly at him and put her hand over his pincer.

“I’m here, Codsworth. I made a promise not only to you but to Shaun as well. I’m sorry you had to see me like this but thank you Codsworth. I know you look after me, you’re part of my family. You know that. I love you and I’m still here.” She smiled brightly at him and he nodded solemnly.

“Mr. Hancock has been worried and so has Detective Valentine.” He said it in a questioning way and she looked away. Nick was worried about her? She tried to force herself to think about what had happened in Fort Hagen. Fear and panic seized her again as she remembered the synth that had almost pulled the wires out of Nick’s neck. The feeling of dread had been palpable. Something deep within her had fought to surface and all she could think about in that moment was that her mate was in danger.

She had forgotten Kellogg and she almost died as a result. She remembered she had looked up at him and touched him. She had felt content then. The pain in her chest had faded as their skin touched. Her cheeks slightly flamed as she remembered that her last thought was that the synth was handsome.

“You’re awake.” Joseline slightly startled at the familiar voice. John was leaning against the doorway and smirking in her direction. She gave him a wide smile and he walked towards her. “How are you feeling?” Codsworth faded into the background, giving them some room.

“There’s some pain but I think I feel better. The last thing I remember was before I passed out. Is Kellogg…?” Her voice quivered. John nodded.

“I shot him. He was dead before you hit the ground.” Joseline’s fingers clenched her blanket and John gently held one of her hands. “We got some information and we took a quick detour to Goodneighbor. We got back earlier today.” There was something he was holding back. She could tell.

“Why?” She asked.

“Kellogg was filled with cybernetics, Institute technology. Nick thought Doctor Amari could maybe get some of the memories from Kellogg’s tech. He was right.” John sighed heavily and then launched into everything that had happened while she was out.

“So the Glowing Sea? That’s our next stop?” She grimaced at the implications. It was a place she had avoided because everyone told her to but if that’s where they needed to go to find Shaun…

“There was something else,” John said lowly. His eyes fell to the blanket she held onto. He looked like he didn’t want to tell her.

“What?” She tried to catch his eyes but he continued to glare at her blanket.

“There were several memories that implied that the reason the Institute managed to successfully create bonds in synths was because they used you.” Joseline remembered the dream she had and let out a shaky breath. The men who had taken her blood flashed in her mind. “And there was a memory of a scientist talking about Nick Valentine, the human Nick. He knew who you were Joseline. He knew you were his mate. After Jennifer Lands died, he was going to look for you. The C.I.T. had asked him questions about the bond and about you. Somehow, they connected the dots and found the vault. You and Nick being mates was done on purpose. Nick was a prototype meant to mate with you but they never got that far. Somehow, Nick had disappeared and Kellogg was sent out to find him. But by the time he did the Institute had already moved on. But using your blood they had been able to somehow figure out where the biological bonds came from.” Joseline took in the information and didn’t know what to think. Their whole situation was possible because the Institute had access to her.

If they had been visiting her this entire time, did they let her out? Did the Institute wake her up on purpose? Why?

“I love you, you know that. None of that matters. We need to find Shaun and then maybe we can fix this. If the Institute can do this then maybe they can reverse it too.” John looked at her and smiled. He seemed happier than he did a moment ago and she wondered what he thought her reaction was going to be. She heard a light scuffling. She slightly turned her head towards the sound only to catch a familiar fedora ducking out of the infirmary. John didn’t seem to notice and just held her hand. She turned back to him and smiled but her chest clenched. She didn’t think it was because of her wound.

. . .

Chapter Text

“I don’t like it, Joseline,” Hancock growled under his breath. Josie sighed and continued to pack her gear. Nick was waiting outside. The ghoul followed her through the house. They had been arguing about it over and over again. John was talking in circles but she wouldn’t change her mind. He didn’t want her to go to the Glowing Sea with Nick. It wasn’t that he didn’t trust them it was that after everything that happened, he was afraid. He was terrified of leaving her alone because any moment could really be their last. He had almost lost her and she was going to wade into the most dangerous part of the Commonwealth without him.

He wanted to go but there were things going on in Goodneighbor. Fahrenheit had demanded he come back and deal with it. He had tried to stall, to get more time so he could go with Joseline but there was talk of an attack. Joseline had put her foot down. She had insisted that he go home. He was mayor. He had responsibilities but he was scared. He didn’t want to lose her.

“You need to get back. If Fahr is demanding you come back then that means it’s serious. Nick and I can handle going to the Glowing Sea. We’ll find this Virgil and we’ll be back in no time. Don’t worry. Curie gave me the go ahead and I’m feeling fine. I’ll come back,” she said in a reassuring voice. John frowned. There was nothing he could do. She had made up her mind. She was leaving. She closed her bag and hauled it over her shoulder. She gave him a sad smile. “I love you.”

“I love you.” He stepped closer to her and gently grabbed her waist. He brought his hand up to her neck and brought her in for a kiss. They kissed softly and pulled away reluctantly. “Just come back.” She smiled, gave him another kiss, and then walked out the door.

. . .

Preston had guaranteed that when she reached Somerville Place there would be a set of power armor waiting for her. Nick gazed around at the fortified settlement in brief surprise. The last time he had stumbled across the small settlement there had been no real protection, just a family trying to make it by. The place now had walls, turrets, and more people.

A small room had been constructed and put to the side. It had a blue door and seemed to not be in use. Next to it was a full set of power armor. Joseline headed straight for the small structure and briefly looked over the armor. One of the settlers was at her side and speaking to her in hushed tones. Nick watched her nod and smile. He noticed the way everyone looked at her like they were both in awe and very grateful. They rarely looked at him and he was happy about it. He had spent his fair sure of moments dealing with synth discrimination.

Joseline waved him over as the settler walked off. She opened the blue door and walked inside. Nick followed after her and was slightly surprised to find a room built just for her. There was a bed, various containers, and a second bed on the other side. He glanced at it appreciatively. It had been a long journey from Sanctuary to Somerville. Josie dropped her pack and flopped onto her own bed with a sigh.

“We can stay here for the night and head out in the morning. I need to look over the power armor to make sure everything is in order and they’ve offered to cook for us tonight,” Joseline said. Nick stood in the middle of the room and nodded.

“Sounds fine.” Joseline looked at him. Their eyes met and she looked away.

“You can rest if you want. The extra bed is usually for whoever I’m traveling with. It was put in after Piper complained. That woman could drive anyone crazy.” Joseline smiled fondly. Nick smirked at the comment. He sat on the bed and leaned back. He was feeling oddly fatigued. Curie had done her best to look him over but he had been reluctant to have her looking at his insides.

Hancock had been worried. He had watched and listened when Nick carried Joseline back. Nick couldn’t deny how his fans had worked overtime. He could actually hear it. He had been slightly concerned that maybe he was going to fall apart but at the time it hadn’t seemed to matter. But now he was paying for it. He never really got tired but right now he actually wanted to turn his systems off and dream. He couldn’t help the scowl that appeared over his face.

He didn’t want to do that. His dreams lately consisted mostly of the woman in the other bed. The dreams were incredibly vivid and often woke up parts of him he didn’t want to wake up. He certainly couldn’t have that happen while she was in the same room. He changed his position on the bed and closed his eyes. He listened while she got up and left her room.

. . .

Joseline couldn’t stand being so close to him. She knew that their bond affected her more than it affected him. Curie had surmised as much. He wasn’t human and so his mechanics probably couldn’t properly work out the specifics of the bond on a biological level. But she was human and everything about the bond affected her more. The suppressants helped with a lot of it but there was still a pull. It was like they were tethered together, able to feel where exactly the other was. His presence was overwhelming when they were so close together.

She could hear every sound he made. She wanted to touch him. She was able to resist the impulse but it was there. Everytime she closed her eyes she saw his yellow ones. She dreamed about Fort Hagen and the moment when the synth had nearly died. She found herself staring at his neck wanting to make sure that it was fine. That everything was still there. She remembered what it had felt like when she had ran her fingers across his neck.

It was difficult to sort her feelings. She loved John. She couldn’t decide whether her feelings for Nick were real or just a manifestation of their bond. She had refused to know him but the more time they spent in each other’s company the more she couldn’t help it. She tried to remember her remedial lessons on bonds and mates but she couldn’t grasp onto those memories.

She supposed she could just pick up a book about the subject but she wasn't sure she wanted anyone to find out that she was interested in learning about her bond. She knew John understood but that didn’t mean he no longer had worries. She walked the wall of the settlement, deep in thought, and turned her mind towards Shaun.

Things couldn’t possibly get more complicated. Shaun was with the Institute, who knew what they were doing to him. She was going to waltz into the Glowing Sea to find some rogue scientist and get him to tell her where to find the shady organization. It sounded simple in her mind but she knew it was anything but. She could see the green haze of the Sea in the distance. It seemed to loom menacingly to this one area and she wondered what she was going to face in there.

Everyone had warned her to stay away from the area. Only a few actually knew why. Somewhere in that green haze, 210 years ago, a nuclear bomb dropped devastating Boston and the surrounding area. It was unnerving to know where the bomb had dropped. She remembered seeing it. She remembered the blinding flash of light and the immediate onslaught as they were lowered into the vault. Her steps faltered and she clutched at her suit.

She put one hand on the wall next to her and slightly leaned over to steady her breathing. She hated these moments. The moments when something would make her remember and then she was vulnerable. She would clutch at anything in reach to steady herself. It was stupid and weak.

She straightened and looked around. She was at an area of the outer wall where no one could really see her. She noted the blind spot and continued her walk. She remembered when she had first ventured out here. She traveled a lot because she wanted to know the Commonwealth like the back of her hand. John had helped her in the beginning. He warned her of areas to avoid and picked things up here and there from other people but she wanted to know what was where. She had told Preston that in order to defend their settlements that they had to know what to defend them from and he hadn’t questioned her. Josie knew the real reason was because she had been looking for Shaun.

Every building she had entered, she thought, this could be it. This could be where those assholes were holed up and she was finally going to get her son back. But no, it was always raiders or super mutants or some other monster. Joseline sighed and made her way over to where she could smell cooking food. The settlers greeted her warmly and smiled widely at her.

“It smells good,” she commented. She took a seat next to one of the children. The child looked at her expectantly and she pretended to be exasperated as she pulled a Nuka-Cola out of her pack. She hated going anywhere without her pouch. It was slung across her torso. The child exclaimed in glee and quickly grabbed the soda. The child yelled a “thank you” as she went to join her brother. Josie smiled.

“It should be ready soon, if you want to tell your friend…” The settler trailed off uncomfortably. “Does he...does he eat?” She asked. Josie gave her a small smile and shook her head.

“No, he doesn’t. It’s fine but I’ll let him know. His name is Nick. He’s a detective from Diamond City. He’s been helping me find what I’ve been looking for. He might want to join the dinner regardless,” Josie said. She tried to say it with reassurance while also trying to gauge their feelings about having a synth in their home. Josie wasn’t going to stand Nick being ridiculed but she also didn’t want to force his presence on them. This was their home and while she had been responsible for fixing it up and insuring that they were safe, it was theirs.

“I hope you find what you’re looking for.” The woman had a soft sad smile on her face as she looked at Joseline. She looked in the direction of the Glowing Sea and frowned. “You’ve done so much, for all of us, we don’t want to see you gone. No one else is going to say it but please come back. Don’t die out there.” The woman looked at her earnestly and Joseline was slightly taken aback. She knew that the people under the Minutemen’s protection generally liked her but she didn’t think they really cared about her wellbeing. She wanted to point out that Preston could easily take things over but the way the woman was looking at her made her just smile and nod.

. . .

Nick had decided not to join the festivities. He powered down and let himself drift.

Nick Valentine always thought that the end goal was to make the world a better place. It was this singular ideal that got him through the academy and well on his way to becoming a detective. He didn’t want to lie but old world detective novels were his obsession as a child. They were what inspired him to want to be a detective in the first place. He had grown up in a mid-level apartment in the back alleys of Boston. He knew the the world could be a dirty place and crime never stopped. It was a cheesy sentiment but he knew it to be true.

He never bothered to picture himself in suburbia. That wasn’t his goal. He never bothered to pay attention in school when they talked about mates or bonds. He didn’t believe the life he wanted to lead would work well with children or a wife for that matter. The world was dangerous and having loved ones meant having a weakness. Then he had met Jenny.

So, Nick was surprised when he found himself in the street of a suburban neighborhood. The layout reminded him of Sanctuary Hills but the houses were different. He looked down at himself and noticed that he was wearing his old detective outfit, pristine and unwrinkled. He held a bouquet of flowers in one hand. He stared at his hands. They were human hands and not synthetic. He looked around him again. A man was watering his lawn and a couple were getting into their car. He stood directly in front of a house.

Over the sounds around him he could hear tinkling laughter and muffled voices. He looked at the house and noticed that the front windows were open. Through the window he could see two children playing together. They were smiling, laughing, and talking over each other excitedly.  Nick couldn’t fight the natural smile that overtook him.

He was just about to walk away and figure out what exactly this dream was for when he heard a familiar voice. His eyes widened as he watched through the window.

“Your father is going to be home any minute! You two need to pick up your toys, you know better!” Joseline was standing there wearing a plain powder blue apron. She had flour smudged on her cheek and she was looking adoringly down at the two children. Nick could feel his heart beat faster, his palms started to sweat, and he couldn’t look away.

Joseline glanced about the living room as the children moved to pick up their toys. Nick shuffled his feet wanting to walk forward and through the door but afraid it would disappear. This was a dream after all.

Josie must have seen him from the corner of her eye because she turned towards the open window and gave him the brightest smile he’d ever seen. Nick’s lips moved without thought and they stood there smiling at each other.

Slowly, the dream faded away and Nick woke up. He blinked at the ceiling while his systems booted up.

“...You’re listening to Radio Freedom, the voice of the Minutemen…” Nick looked to his side where the radio was on.

“What’s Radio Freedom?” Nick asked. Joseline was sitting at a desk tinkering with her personal laser rifle. Her movements faltered but she resumed what she was doing.

“Preston and I worked tirelessly to help settlements all around the Commonwealth. Our caravans were doing a decent job at keeping communication but it wasn’t really efficient. That’s when Preston suggested the Castle.” Nick watched her work with a worn screwdriver.

“That place is a ruin.” The corner of her lips twitched. Nick couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

“It was and still kind of is but we took it back and the Minutemen used to use it to communicate so that is Radio Freedom.” She continued to work. Nick looked to the window and noticed it was night time. Joseline had a small desk lamp on and what looked like a head light while she worked.

“Did you eat?” She glanced at him and nodded.

“Yep.” The room lapsed into awkward silence as the radio started to play old timey music. Nick moved his gaze back to the ceiling. His dreams really were going to kill him one day. There was a weird ache in his chest that wouldn’t go away. He wanted her, that much was obvious. It was becoming steadily harder to be around her. He had never considered or been tempted to be with someone. After he woke up a synth it didn’t seem like something that was possible for him.

“Do you ever...wish things had been different?” The question left him unbidden. Joseline’s tools slightly clattered and Nick couldn’t bring himself to look at her. What was he doing?

“Thinking about that will drive someone insane,” she responded. Her voice was soft and low. There was a click in Nick’s jaw.

“I remember people used to say that being with one’s mate was like coming home. Like everything in the world suddenly made sense.” Nick didn’t know why he was saying this. Memories of old police colleagues gathered together and talking about bonding showed up. He had always stayed away from those conversations. No distractions.

“Some people in college used to say that mates were nothing but a biological response.” Her reply was terse like she was trying to get him to stop talking about it.

“That’s what I used to say too,” Nick said softly. He heard more clattering and her moving.

“Used to?” Nick didn’t respond to the question. He had no answer. His dreams clouded him and he didn’t know what he believed anymore. The quiet was overwhelming. The radio was still on but it was background noise. Nick could hear her breathing and his own fans working. What was she doing?

Nick was working his way up to looking at her when he heard a flurry of movement. Before he could blink she was straddling him. He gasped at how close they were. She was bearing down on him and staring intently into his face. He didn’t move. It was an overwhelming feeling, having her so near. His body immediately began to respond the moment she was on him. He could see her shallow breathing and the way her cheeks were flushed. They stared at each other.

Nick’s hands twitched. He desperately wanted to paw at her hips. He wanted to feel her besides their point of contact. He wanted to know what it was like to touch her not because he had to but because he wanted to. But he willed himself to stay still. Codsworth’s words about keeping his hands to himself rang through his head. This shouldn’t be happening. This was something they shouldn’t be doing. They should never be this close but the couldn’t will himself to say anything or to push her off.

She continued to stare at him almost as if searching for something. Like the answer to what was unspoken was somehow on his face. It was the slow feather soft touch of her hand on his chest that had him tensing. Her hand drifted up his button up shirt to his neck. Her eyes were no longer on his face but gazing tensely at his roughened neck. Her fingertips grazed his broken edges and his body unwilling jolted forward. She was moved slightly off balance but then she pushed down on his chest and his back met the bed.

He was breathing roughly now. Her touches affecting a part of him he had hoped she wouldn’t notice. As she settled back on him she sat right on his rigid cock. Her eyes widened at the realization and they both stopped moving. Her eyebrows were scrunched up in confusion and then her features flattened out. Nick was suddenly afraid. She didn’t want this, she didn’t want him. This was something they were both going to regret later. What were they doing?

She leaned down on him, they were chest to chest, and their lips met in a brief peck. Energy surged through him from that brief touch. He lightly gasped. This was...this was the bond. Joseline seemed to be considering something and then she was kissing him. Nick couldn’t help the groan that left him. Something primal blossomed from their kiss and suddenly Nick’s hands were gripping her hips. His synthetic hand dragged up her back to hold her closer.

They kissed with a clash of lips and teeth. It was consuming. Nick didn’t want it to ever stop. Joseline was moving against him now. Her core was dragging against the part of his anatomy he never bothered to touch. The sensations were too much. He was feeling everything like his whole body was suddenly oversensitive. Joseline was moaning into the kiss. Nick pulled away to start kissing down her neck. Her skin was soft and warm. He bit lightly and his hand moved to help her grind harder onto his cock. Nick couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so human .

Both of their breathing was ragged. They constantly pulled and pawed at each other wanting to be closer, needing to be closer. Nick’s only thoughts were that she was beautiful. Everything about her was beautiful and perfect. She woke him up and Nick never felt more alive. Is this what it was like to be with mates? Their bond seemed to heighten everything. Their touches felt like more. There was fire burning just beneath the skin and if they didn’t continue to touch it would go out. Nick was desperate for her, kissing her was like tasting the sweetest dish and wanting more.

She molded into him perfectly and Nick wondered if she was made just for him. The thought had him bucking up against her urgently. She was his, that was the way this worked, right? She was his and they were made for each other. This is what everyone talked about when they talked about mates. He couldn’t leave her now. He couldn’t lose her. She was everything. If he was parted from her it would be taking his soul. He needed her.

He was pulling at her shirt, grasping her side when suddenly Joseline went rigid. A pained sigh escaped her and she pulled away from him. Nick struggled to emerge from his high and then he looked at where she was touching. She had a small cut on her side, blood beaded across it. Nick realized his hand, stripped of synthetic flesh, must have accidentally cut her. The harsh fall to reality hit harder than a bullet. Nick gently untangled from her grasp and pushed her off of his lap. He stood on shaky legs and shook his head. What was he thinking?

Of course he couldn’t touch her. This wasn’t what she wanted. Nick stared at his hand and then moved towards the door. He needed air. He needed space. He needed to get out of there before they did something even more stupid.

“Nick…” Her voice was breathless, unsure. He stopped briefly but he wrenched open the door anyways and walked out.

. . .

Joseline gripped the blanket on the bed and tried to calm down. It was stupid and reckless. She shouldn’t have done that. She had hoped working on something would distract her but then he had woken up. Their conversation had been mindless almost natural but then he had asked that stupid question. Of course she wished things had been different but that didn’t change anything. Wishing about what might have been wasn’t going to make it happen but then something in his voice had made her stop.

He sounded wistful almost sad. She had watched him and the way he stared at the ceiling, unseeing. She wondered what he wished for. Was it Jennifer Lands? For some reason that thought had made her angry. After everything that had happened, did he still want Jenny? After everything, did he still see her as some kind of burden? He never wanted a mate, that much had been clear, but after everything did he feel nothing for her? She shouldn’t have cared. She shouldn’t have thought about it but she did and it left a bitter taste in her mouth.

She needed him to look at her. She needed to know if he felt nothing. So she had done the most idiotic thing she could have. Joseline pushed back tears as she thought about it. It had felt so... right. It had felt like she had found what she’d always been looking for. The relief had been devastating. John was home but Nick had been...heaven.

She punched the bed and stood abruptly. She put her hands on either side of her head and tried to find reason. This wasn’t what she wanted. From the get go she had told herself this wasn’t what she wanted. Nick was someone insignificant . She was going to love John, find Shaun, and then they were going to be a family. Nick was irrelevant . The pain that laced through her at the thought had her bending over in frustration. She let out a sound of irritation and anger.

But, no, Nick was so much more now. The clenching pain in her chest blossomed and she realized it wasn’t just her own pain she was feeling but his as well. It mingled together and intensified. It was unfair, all of it.

She dropped onto her bed and pulled the covers over her. Tears fell against her pillow and she let the pain wash over her. For once, she didn’t push the bond away but allowed herself to feel everything.

. . .