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Guinea Pig

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Early 2288, Prydwen


He rapped on the door with as much patience as he could muster. “Cade,” he called out before the doctor had time to respond to the knock, “I heard that Knight Reyes was injured in the field. I came as soon -”

With a pneumatic hiss the door to the clinic opened. Just as impatiently irritated, Cade glared up at Danse, clipboard tapping on his crossed arms. “Paladin Danse, I don’t appreciate this ruckus while I’m trying to treat a patient. You’re just going to have to wait until I give him a clean bill of health. God knows you both could use some downtime.”

“As his sponsor, it’s my right to be aware of his status,” Danse reminded him, the admonition coming out reflexively, almost absently, as he tried to look over Cade’s shoulder.

“Yes, well, I don’t care what the codex says - right now,” he added quickly when he saw Danse’s frown deepen. “Knight Reyes is my patient and I’m his doctor, and really, Danse, this exam won’t take long. Wouldn’t take long,” he corrected himself, scowling, “if I weren’t interrupted.”

“It’s fine, Cade," Goose said from inside. "Nothing he hasn’t seen before.”

The usual tone of mild amusement - At least Goose sounded normal and Danse felt some of the tension leave his shoulders. He ignored the annoyed glance that Cade threw him and followed the doctor in. Stripped down to his underwear, Goose was sitting on the examination table, arms locked as he leaned back. Fortunately Cade immediately went back to his barrage of questions - relief had left Danse weak. And awkward. Knight Reyes was fine and in more than capable hands. Nothing that should have upset him, not after all his years of seeing what the battlefield could do a soldier. It was his fault for lending any credence to the ridiculous DJ on Diamond City Radio and then for trying to get confirmation out of recruit gossip. He really hadn’t needed to barge in, accost the doctor and insult his reputation. It set a bad example. And where was his usual patience? And what the hell was he supposed to do for the rest of the exam? And why was he even worrying about half that nonsense?

“No affect on my movement,” Goose said. He stretched out a leg and rotated his ankle experimentally.

“And other than the localized discoloration…”

“Nothing else. Just the aching. Hasn’t gotten worse. Hasn’t improved either, but I can ignore it.” The knight caught Danse’s stare and motioned down at his lap. “Bite from a mole rat infected with some strain of something.”

“You’ve lost five pounds since your initial check-up,” Cade noted. “Probably from having to adjust to a wasteland diet. Still, keep an eye on that. Now, extend your leg again.”

The discolored wound on his thigh would have stood out even if the rest of his leg - and the rest of him - hadn’t been unmarred. But unlike everyone else in the Brotherhood, and hell, the whole wasteland, Goose’s body was nearly flawless. Physical proof how different he was from the rest. Unbroken by it all. Just long muscle under his brown skin, all the way down his legs. And back up, too - Smooth skin under curls of chest hair. The few scars he did have had to be post-vault. Danse’s frown deepened: his duty as the Knight’s CO was to protect him as much a possible. If he failed him as he had the other members of his squad -

He focused his thoughts on the present. “How did it happen?”

“Vault 81. Infestation there. The vault dwellers didn’t have any combat experience, so I went in. Turns out the vault was built for experimentation. On its own people.” He paused to rub at his leg, pressing the heel of his hand against the wound. But if Danse had to guess, he’d wager that it was the idea of the experimentation that bothered him more than the injury. Sheltered in his own vault, Goose was still learning about the extreme abuses of technology that had lead to the world’s current state. “Anyway, the doctors there said they didn’t have any more of the cure and I’d just have to live with it. I figured it was worth a second opinion. And I thought the Brotherhood would be interested - Biology is sort of on our radar.”

“I’ll dose you with our typical cocktail of antibiotics,” Cade told Goose, who nodded. “But if it’s a virus, all bets are off.”

“What if the infection spreads?” Danse exclaimed.

“Obviously I’m concerned about that, Paladin. Similarly: what if it’s contagious?” Cade added and Goose groaned.

“I came here for good news, Cade.” He stretched his leg again. “I’m too busy to deal with a quarantine. Or death.”

“We’ll do our best, Reyes. Lord knows that this isn’t the Capital. The Prydwen could only fit so much of my equipment onboard.”

Danse spun back to his knight. “Next time take back-up.”

The worry was one sided, apparently; Goose’s expression shifted back to geniality, like he was only indulging the land and its disasters. “Yes, sir.”

“That’s an order, soldier,” Danse snapped. “We can’t afford to lose you.”

“It’s just a mole-rat bite, ” Goose said with a laugh.

“There’s a plethora of risks out here. You need to remember where - and when - you are. Your instincts and training haven’t lead you astray yet; however if you continue to saunter through the Commonwealth, you’ll only fall prey to more, bigger dangers.”

His knight narrowed his eyes but otherwise had no reaction to Danse’s warning. But then he nodded. “Didn’t think it’d worry you, Paladin.”

Immediately Danse regretted his outburst - Knight Reyes had been nothing but a valuable member of the Brotherhood since he’d joined. Danse had never had to pull rank on him before. In fact, he’d quickly come to view them as equals. It wasn’t that Goose didn’t know about the hazards - it was more like he didn’t care. Like he welcomed it. Delving into a vault was just one example of the litany of mayhem in his reports that he got himself into. Danse wanted to grasp him by the shoulders and shake him: be careful out there; be smart; your survival means more than you appreciate.

Cade cleared his throat. “Thank you, Paladin, for your input. Now if you’ll excuse me, I still have work to do. Reyes, you can get dressed. Then I want a blood sample.”

Goose slid down from the table and reached for his uniform. His back was smooth, too, nothing marring the lean muscles that flexed as he stepped into the BoS fatigues. Despite the capitulation Goose had shown, Danse wasn’t placated - The irritated energy continued to roil. He needed to join the recruits in their physical training. A run. Push-ups. A cold shower. Goose looked at him curiously as he zipped up his suit and pulled his hair into a neater ponytail, and Danse tried to read Cade’s notes on his clipboard just to look at something else. Which didn’t help mend his rapport with the doctor, who was even more insulted at Danse’s overstep.

Finally it was all over. Once Cade had his blood sample, Goose shrugged into his jacket. He looked like the archetype Brotherhood soldier and again Danse had to grind down the urge to grab him.

“All right, you’re free to go. I’ll contact you when I get results from the blood test.”

“I’ll send you a copy of my report, Doctor,” he said before following Danse out. “Thanks.”

“Stay safe out there.”

“Knight Reyes,” Danse began once the door was closed. Fortunately the hall was mostly quiet - the majority of the crew was in the mess hall - and they had some privacy. It was infinitely easier to talk outside Cade’s office, without the antiseptic smell invading everything. And somehow Goose being dressed also helped. “I apologize for my tone. I understand that you’re looking for answers. Next time you’re on a mission, let me know. I’ll have your back.”

His grin came easily and again Danse nearly sagged with relief. Nearly - but obviously didn’t. Goose clapped him on the shoulder. “Thanks, Danse. I promise - I’ll save all my exciting misadventures for you.”

“I remember you telling Haylen about a vault you’d explored.”

“Yeah, by the Commons. 114. But that one was different: it didn’t have vault dwellers in it. I guess I thought that people left the vaults once it was safe outside. Vault 81’s inhabitants were almost like prisoners in there. And it seemed like it was designed like that - To specifically trap people.” A frown was all it took to turn his narrow face hawkish but with a shake of his head, his expression cleared. “I’m overreacting. Been months and I’m still adjusting.”

“I doubt you can overestimate the threats,” Danse argued. “Our understanding is that the purpose of the vaults was for experimentation as much as protection. Perhaps moreso. If you’re interested, I can direct you to tech documents on the subject.”

“Some light reading before bed, huh.”

He knew he was relying too heavily on rectitude and with a sigh relaxed a bit. “Well, it’s interesting, even if it’s not pleasant. Besides, I always thought that forewarned is forearmed.”

“You sound like Piper.”

“Piper Wright? The civilian reporter?”

“That’s her. You’re a lot alike.”

“Don’t insult your CO, soldier. I’ll write you up for insubordination.”

Danse had said it dryly and Goose laughed, white teeth flashing. He looked as though he were about to answer but then he shifted his weight and again rubbed at his thigh. A long stroke, practically down to his knee.

“You’re sure it doesn’t hurt?” Danse asked. Dryly didn’t begin to describe the way these words came out - they stuck in his throat despite a hard swallow.

“I’ll get over it,” he deflected instead of answering the question. “I was going to say that you two would probably get along. Might take a few drinks, but hell, I think we deserve some R&R. Next time we’re in Diamond City, we should all go to the Dugout.”

“Maybe,” Danse replied, just as evasive.

“She’s a good friend, Danse. You are, too. I need all the help I can get these days.”

Friend. Outstanding. And spending R&R with Wright was even better. “Maybe,” he said again and followed him into noisy crowd in the mess hall.