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Unfrozen

Chapter Text

Bonnie walked into the bathroom. Nate was hogging the mirror again. She poked him in the ribs. “You look fine,” she said. He looked more than fine, actually. Tall and lean, with sandy blond hair and hazel eyes, Nate turned a lot of heads. Bonnie pushed him aside, and he ruffled her hair before leaving the bathroom. She looked wryly at herself in the mirror. Bonnie didn’t think she’d ever turned a head in her entire life.

Her hair could best be described as “beige.” She was medium height, and more than medium build, with a round face covered in too many freckles to be cute. Her only good feature were her whiskey brown eyes, flecked with green. The same as her twin brother. But nobody ever saw them because of her glasses. She sighed. At best, she would describe herself as plain. She always faded into the background beside her handsome and charismatic brother.

Bonnie was just finishing brushing her teeth when she heard Shaun cry. She walked out of the bathroom and looked down the hall towards the kitchen. Nate tipped his head down and kissed Taylor. Bonnie shook her head. “Get a room!” she shouted, before turning into Shaun’s room to pick up her nephew.

The chubby nine month old was standing in his crib and shaking it desperately, and his face was starting to turn red. She picked him up. He immediately stopped crying. “Shh-shh. Auntie’s here.” she said.

She carried the baby out into the living room and handed him to Taylor. “Your son made a stinky, sir.” she said, before pouring herself a cup of coffee.

Taylor laughed, and took the boy back to his room to change him.

Nate turned to his twin sister. “What do you have on the agenda today?” he asked.

“I have an appointment to look at an apartment.” she replied.

“You don’t have to leave,” Nate said. “We like having you here.”

“It’s been almost two years, Nate. I think it’s time I moved on with my life.”

Nate smiled down at his twin. “After what you did for us, carrying Shaun, helping us here with him, I don’t think we can ever repay you.”

“Thanks for giving me a place to stay after I broke up with Steve.”

Nate’s eyes hardened at the mention of Steve. Bonnie had shown up on their doorstep one night. Steve had been cheating on her, and when she found out, he told her it was because she’d turned into a “chubster.” She’d stayed with them for a few months while she finished school, and then when Nate and Taylor had decided to find a surrogate, Bonnie had volunteered.

Having a baby hasn’t really helped with the chub situation, thought Bonnie.

Taylor came back out of the baby’s room and set the boy on the floor. He immediately crawled to the couch, where he pulled himself up and began walking around it, pulling the cushions off and throwing them on the floor. Taylor poured himself a coffee and looked at the papers stuck to the fridge with a magnet. “I can’t believe you signed us up for a Vault,” he said.

Nate shrugged. “It’s peace of mind, in case of ‘Total nuclear annihilation’” he said, quoting the salesman who’d been there last week. “Besides, they take the whole household.”

Taylor rolled his eyes, and strolled over to the tv to turn it on.

Every channel had news. It wasn’t good.

“Grab the baby!” Nate told Taylor. “We’re going to the Vault!”

***

215 YEARS LATER

The Prydwen soared into the Commonwealth on Arthur Maxson’s twenty-fifth birthday. He stood in the Command Deck, peering through the windows at the ruined landscape that was once Boston.

Recon missions had indicated that the organization known as the Institute was the source of the increasing number of synths being found in the Capital Wasteland, and so after a great deal of debate, he had decided to bring a large force to the Commonwealth to cut them out of the earth like the cancer they were.

Maxson gritted his teeth. As if super mutants and ghouls weren’t enough to deal with, now there were sentient robots. And rumours were starting to spread that some of them were indistinguishable from humans. But there was no definitive proof of that. Until there was, Maxson made sure to nip those rumours in the bud, in order to prevent hysteria and paranoia amongst the ranks.

He was looking forward to reconnecting with his advisor and right hand man, Senior Paladin Danse, who had been sent ahead to scout out the region. With luck, he would have him retrieved today. But first, they needed to park this behemoth at the airport.

***

They’d been anchored at the airport for over an hour, and Arthur had been pacing like a caged animal, when he finally got the report that Danse had made radio contact and was ready to be retrieved from the Cambridge police station. He hadn’t seen Danse in several months, and he was really the only person Arthur could more or less be himself with. Danse had been his mentor growing up, and was his second in command now, and really the only person he considered to be a friend.

When the Paladin stepped aboard the airship, the two men greeted each other like brothers. Maxson immediately invited him up to his quarters for an informal debriefing and report. “You can give your official report later,” he said.

When they arrived, the Elder retrieved two glasses from his cabinet, a bottle of whiskey from his desk, and poured them each a glass.

“So how’s the Commonwealth? Do we have any leads on this Institute?”

“Not as of yet. We’ve seen some interesting energy readings in the neighborhood around Cambridge, but nothing we can pin down. We managed to find a list of local vaults, however, and we’re looking forward to sending some teams to recon them. Particularly Vault 111, in the northwest. Apparently it’s the only one in the region that’s never been breached.”

“Sounds good. We’ll send you and Haylen to scout out the area tomorrow, see if you can get inside, and then we can send a team if there’s anything worth retrieving. In the meantime, I haven’t seen you in a long time, and it’s time we had a drink.”

***

Danse was still sporting a mild headache the next morning when he boarded the vertibird with Scribe Haylen. They dropped them off in an abandoned subdivision, and left them to scout the area. It didn’t take long to find the vault, oddly placed with a door that opened vertically instead of horizontally. Luckily, the scribe was able to find and hack a nearby terminal to open the door, and the two of them went inside, weapons drawn.

The weapons turned out to be unnecessary, however. The vault contained nothing more dangerous than a few radroaches. The vault dwellers, however, were a different matter.

Danse left Haylen in the vault to keep watch so he could go above and radio to the Prydwen, after which he meant to scout the immediate area for threats while he waited for a team to arrive. He blinked in the bright sun, and then activated his radio.

“Senior Paladin Danse, reporting from Vault 111. We’ve discovered the location of the vault; apparently it’s a cryo facility, and all vault dwellers have been cryogenically frozen. According to on site monitoring terminals, about half of the residents have perished, but the other half seem to be alive at this time. Requesting a full team, including medics, to evacuate the vault. Over.”

It was several seconds before he received a response. “That’s... astounding, Paladin. We’ll have a team sent out immediately. Over.”

Further arrangements were made, and then the Paladin began sweeping the area, weapon charged. Unfortunately for him, the loud power armour he was wearing covered the sounds of the stealthy shape that was stalking him, and he had no chance to defend himself when he was struck sharply on the head and everything went black.

Chapter Text

When the door to her decontamination chamber opened, Bonnie fell out. There was, luckily, someone there to catch her. However, it wasn’t a Vault-tec employee or doctor like she was expecting. It was some kind of… scout?

“Shhh… easy now,” said the scout. “You’ll be ok in a minute. We just need to check your vitals.”

Bonnie sat down on the edge of the chamber, her head already clearing. She looked around while the scout pressed a stethoscope to her chest. Her eyes widened. About a third of the pods had been opened, but it was clear that not all of them had living people inside. And the closed pods...her neighbors...were they…?

“What’s going on?” she asked the scout. “Who are you? What happened?”

“You were in cryosleep. You’ve been frozen. I’m Scribe Haylen. We’re the Brotherhood of Steel, and we’re here to help.”

Bonnie sat for a moment, trying to take it all in. Suddenly she jumped to her feet. “Nate! Shaun! Where is my brother and his family?” She looked to the pod across from hers. Nate was still frozen, Shaun clenched in his arms, but another Brotherhood scribe was opening it up. She turned to the next pod, the one containing Taylor. “What about him,” she pointed. “You have to get him out, too.”

“That one didn’t make it, I’m sorry,” said Haylen.

Nate’s pod was opening now, and Bonnie stepped forward to collect Shaun from his arms as he fell. The baby began to cry hysterically, and Bonnie sat down again with him in her arms, watching as the scribes checked Nate. Haylen draped a blanket over her shoulders and checked the baby.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“I’m Bonnie Peterson, that’s my brother, Nate Peterson, and this is his son Shaun. And that...Oh god, Taylor…”

Nate looked up when he heard her, and turned to the sealed pod. “Taylor?” he cried. “You gotta get him out! Taylor!”

The scribe checking Nate held him down, as Nate became agitated and upset, Bonnie looked at Shaun and knew she’d have to be there for her brother right now. She handed the baby to Haylen and went to her brother and wrapped him in her arms.

***

When Arthur Maxson heard about what was in Vault 111, he knew he had to see it for himself. He missed the first vertibird that was headed there, but caught the second. When it landed near the vault entrance, he hopped down and was greeted by Danse.

“Most of the survivors have been awoken, sir, and we are setting up a camp for them in the neighborhood just down below. We are going to start moving them down there shortly.”

Maxson nodded. “Good, Paladin. I’m curious to meet some of these survivors.” He turned and headed inside.

A scribe directed him down the hallway to where the cryochambers were. He saw Haylen sitting with a young family with a baby. The man was rocking the baby and crying, and the woman was rubbing the man’s back and soothing him. He headed to the scribe. When she saw him, she jumped to her feet. “Sir! I didn’t expect to see you here.”

“This situation is unprecedented. I didn’t want to wait for a report. What’s the situation, Scribe?”

“It seems the survival rate is at about forty-six percent. Most of the pods failed over time, and the occupants…” she paused, looking at the family behind her. She lowered her voice. “They asphyxiated, sir. There are twenty-seven survivors.”

“How long have they been down here?” Maxson asked.

“They’re pre-war,” she replied.

“Are you telling me they’ve been down here for over two hundred years?”

The young woman Haylan had been sitting with was clearly listening to their conversation, because she suddenly jumped to her feet, still wrapped in her blanket. She strode over to where they stood. “Two hundred years? What year is it?”

Haylen replied, “2292. It’s June. The fourth.”

“We need to get to a hospital. My brother, the baby…”

Haylen looked at Elder Maxson, a slightly panicked look in her eye. He decided to take over.

He took the woman by the elbow and led her aside slightly. “Listen,” he said. “We don’t want to alarm everyone. We’re planning on looking everyone over here, and helping you get settled and learn your way around, find new homes. From what we can tell, everyone who survived is well and has recovered immediately. But there are no hospitals any more. What’s your name?”

“I’m Bonnie Peterson. What do you mean, there are no hospitals?”

“All right, Mrs. Peterson. I’m Elder Arthur Maxson, and I’m the head of the Brotherhood of Steel in this region. We’re here to help.” Maxson tried to give her the briefest possible outline of the last two hundred years of history; basically that the world was destroyed and there wasn’t anything left but danger and hardship.

Bonnie looked at her neighbors and her brother. She turned to Maxson. “I’m just a law student, but I also volunteer as event first aid, I have some training in dealing with this kind of traumatic group event. Why don’t I talk to my neighbors, try to tell them what’s going on. I know them anyways.”

Maxson regarded the mousy looking woman. She didn’t look capable of much, but she spoke calmly and seemed to be able to accept this situation and be of assistance. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have her assistance. He nodded. “All right. I’ll assign you to be the civilian liaison for this group. I’m going to assign Senior Scribe Haylen and Senior Paladin Danse to be in charge of the Brotherhood contingent for this project, until your community is on your feet. Come with me, I will introduce you to the Paladin.”

“Just give me a moment, please.”

Bonnie went back to her brother. “That man is the leader here. I’m going to go speak with him for a moment, and I will be right back.” Nate nodded, clutching his baby. Bonnie turned to follow Elder Maxson out the door.

She swallowed hard as she followed Elder Maxson down the corridor. Fake it til you make it, she told herself, repeating her favourite saying like a mantra. She held her head up, trying to look more confident than she was.

The truth was, she was very easily intimidated by most people. Even a coffee shop employee sounding a bit irritated was enough to set her heart beating in fear. Bluffing her way through things was the only way she managed most social interactions. And this Elder, Maxson, he was just the worst type of person. Physically he was tall and muscular, his imposing build only enhanced by the heavy leather coat he wore. His heavy brows, thick beard and dangerous looking scar only finished off the image. He looked like a large, angry bear. A large, angry, attractive bear. And somehow his good looks made him even more intimidating. Bonnie was quaking in fear, desperate to run in the other direction, but she swallowed it down and kept walking.

When they got outside, Maxson introduced her to the Paladin he was talking about. Apparently that was some kind of rank. The Paladin was wearing power armour, a different type than the kind Nate had been trained to use when he was in the army.

“Paladin Danse,” said Maxson. “This is Mrs. Bonnie Peterson.” She’s going to be the civilian liaison for these survivors. Please speak with her first when dealing with them. I’m going to leave you in charge, with Haylen in charge of the scribes.”

Bonnie corrected him. “It’s not Mrs. Nate is my brother, not my husband.” She didn’t know why she suddenly had the need to make sure that was clear. Maxson nodded and left the two of them so he could speak with some of the other Brotherhood members nearby.

Bonnie turned to the Paladin and spoke with him for a moment. He agreed that he, Haylen, and Bonnie should have a serious meeting as soon as they found a way to get the survivors fed and settled for the night. Once they came to an agreement, Bonnie said she should get back to her brother for the time being. The Paladin agreed and turned to leave.

She stopped him. “Paladin, are you injured?” she asked.

“No, why do you ask?”

“There’s blood on the back of your power armour.”

His eyes narrowed at her slightly, but he dismissed her, saying something about a mole rat the other day. Bonnie shrugged. If he wasn’t injured, it wasn’t any of her concern. She turned and headed back into the vault.

Chapter Text

The fourth of July came and went like any other day. The Brotherhood seemed unaware it had ever been a holiday, and the Sanctuary survivors were still quite traumatized by this new world they had found themselves in.

Bonnie had stepped up on the first day, choking down her nervousness as she faced her neighbours. She’d helped the Brotherhood organize and situate everybody back in the neighbourhood that used to be Sanctuary. Several of the homes were ruined, but some were at least partially liveable, at least with the assistance of the Brotherhood.

In a lot of ways, the Vault 111 survivors were like children, unaware of the world they lived in. Some took to it better than others, scavenging or helping with construction or defence. A few were in complete denial, needing to be cared for by others. The gruff Paladin simply commented that they would not survive like that, but Haylen shushed him, and advised him to be more tactful.

She’d worked with Haylen to improve her medic skills, and with Danse to organize a bare level of defence capabilities, and soon a trader with a horrific two-headed bovine creature had made her way there, offering to trade with the survivors. That’s how they discovered that the currency of the day was caps. Bottlecaps. Insane.

By the middle of August, Nate seemed to be dealing well with the loss of Taylor, and had begun to participate actively in the defence of the small village. The Brotherhood contingent had decreased to one Knight who swapped out every few days, as well as Haylen and Danse, who visited on the exchange days. They had assisted with the burial of the non-surviving inhabitants of the Vault, before stripping the Vault and removing much of its contents.

Elder Maxson had visited twice, and both times she had paced anxiously as she waited, wrapping herself tightly in the bulky sweater she wore despite the summer heat, twining the end of her braid nervously, and then forcing herself to meet his eyes when he stepped out of the vertibird. They walked around the settlement with Danse and Haylen, and he had asked questions, and she answered when they were directed at her, but mostly she tried to fade into the background.

She didn't know what it was about him, but he was one of the most terrifying people she’d ever met. She hadn't taken her eyes off him the last two times he came, and her heart pounded when his eyes glanced over her. The nervousness twined in her belly and then lower when she looked at him, making her want to rub her thighs together.

Today was an exchange day, so she expected the vertibird around noon. She did not expect the Elder to come today, as they had told her to expect him the other times and nobody had mentioned anything to her for this visit.

It was just past eleven when Nate came up to her as she filled two pails with water from the purifier, intending to bring them to the house to give Shaun his bath. He handed her the baby and took the pails, carrying them back for her.

“I'm going to ask to join the Brotherhood, Bonnie.” he said.

“What? Why?”

“Because. I was in the army, Bon. It’s what I was meant to do. And this is the closest thing I have. Besides. Everywhere I look in this neighbourhood, I see Taylor. I need to get away.”

“But what about Shaun?” asked Bonnie.

“You’re here,” he replied. “You’re already taking care of him. And you know Susan and Cindy love taking him when we’re busy. Besides, I was talking with Danse, and he says when Shaun is older he can come be a squire. He’ll get an education, Bonnie. Training, equipment. It’s a future for him. And Danse has seen me out on the field during scavenging missions. He said he’s willing to sponsor me.”

Bonnie just looked at her brother. He was right. It would be a future. But she had never intended to raise a child. She sighed. She had never intended on leading a community of survivors two hundred years in the future, either. And yet here she was.

They headed to the house where the metal tub was sitting out in the sunshine. Nate dumped one bucket of cold water into it, setting the other aside, while Bonnie retrieved the kettle of water heating on the cookfire and added it. Bonnie checked the temperature while Nate undressed Shaun and they plopped him in the water.

“I got this,” said Bonnie.

She spent the next half an hour playing with Shaun in the soapy water, and was just finishing up washing him when the vertibird landed. She paid it no heed, but rushed to finish bathing the baby, knowing Haylen and Danse would know where to find her.

To her surprise, when she looked up, it was Elder Maxson who had approached her.

***

Arthur Maxson had become rather invested in the small group from the vault. He’d met vault dwellers before, but they had all been aware of the world they were living in, even if soft and sheltered from it in many cases.

He felt responsible for this group as well. He felt a small twinge of guilt in the back of his mind when he thought of all the tech they had pillaged from the vault, the residents seemingly unaware of its value. In return, he vowed to make sure they were defended and supplied until he was confident they could sustain themselves.

And with no real leads on the institute as of yet, the Brotherhood had the time and resources to lend to the group.

In truth, the settlers were adjusting more quickly than he would have expected. Haylen had reported that it was due in large part to Bonnie Peterson’s efforts. He didn't understand how that was the case. She was a quiet, mousy kind of woman, the sort of person your eyes sort of slid over without noticing her.

Her brother seemed more the leadership type. Danse had advised him that the man was interested in becoming an initiate. Apparently he had pre-war military experience and had been part of a special infiltration squad that had special training in stealth, close quarters combat, and electronic infiltration. If this was all true, the man was likely to be an asset in their current mission. He wanted to interview the man himself before accepting him, but as far as he could tell, there wouldn't be any issues.

He stepped off of the vertibird and headed up the street. He stopped in surprise when he saw a woman laughing and rinsing a soapy baby, before pulling him out of the water and drying him off. She handed the baby to a young girl nearby before turning to face him.

He took in her appearance with no small amount of shock. Every time he’d seen her in the past, she’d been wrapped in a blanket or bulky sweater over her suit, her hair in a knot, her eyes glaring at him nervously from behind her glasses. Today, her suit was off, the arms tied around her waist and the t-shirt she wore was wet with soapy water, clinging to her very generous curves. Her hair was loose and shining around her shoulders, the dark gold strands shining in the summer sunshine, and she was smiling.

He’d never seen her smile before.

As soon as she saw him, the smile faded and the tight expression she normally wore returned. She turned her back to him, and slipped her arms into her vault suit sleeves and zipped it up. She even had her hair back up before he arrived. Except for the sweater, the same mousy woman he’d seen every time he’d been there was back.

He almost wondered if he’d imagined it.

***

Bonnie managed to compose herself before turning to face Maxson as he approached. She wished she had known he was coming; she would have gotten Cindy or Nate to bathe the baby. Now she was unprepared to deal with him, and she felt flustered and exposed. To make things worse, he was staring at her intensely, his brows lowered and a frown on his face. She looked around nervously, trying to decipher what had angered him. Spying nothing, she pursed her lips.

Fake it til you make it.

She tilted her chin up and met his gaze. She missed her warm, protective sweater. His eyes raked her from top to bottom and she fought the urge to cross her arms over her chest. His eyes narrowed slightly.

She was suddenly irritated. She had no idea what he was annoyed about, but she decide she wasn’t going to let it spoil her day. She gritted her teeth and forced herself to say, confidently, “Good morning, Elder Maxson.”

“Good morning, Miss Peterson. I’m here to see your brother. I understand he wishes to join our order.”

“He’s inside,” she replied, indicating the door to her house.

He stepped away from her and went inside without another word, Danse following at his heels.

She stood there, wondering what just happened.

***

A half an hour later, Maxson exited the house, satisfied that the new recruit would be successful. He was going to pack his few belongings and come with them to the Prydwen right away. Maxson had told him he had fifteen minutes to get ready, which Nate had assured him would be plenty.

He looked around. The bathwater was cleaned up, and Bonnie Peterson was nowhere to be found. He decided to go look for her. He suddenly had the thought that if he managed to catch her off guard again, he might be able to catch a glimpse of that smiling golden woman again. He had the most insane urge to try and find out if he’d just imagined her somehow.

He found her up the street, speaking with some other settlers. Her sweater was back. “Miss Peterson,” he greeted her.

She turned around. He searched her face for some hint of what he had seen earlier. She frowned at his perusal, so he took a deep breath.

“Your brother will be coming with us to the Prydwen immediately. We will be providing him with his uniform and basic kit, and he will begin training with Paladin Danse on field operations as soon as possible.”

Bonnie nodded.

Maxson stared at her. Suddenly, without warning, his mouth said, “You should come.”

He didn’t know where that came from. He coughed and looked away. “I mean, you should come view the airship. See how we operate. Where your brother will be based out of.”

What the hell is wrong with me? he thought.

“I mean, next time the vertibird comes. I can give you a tour. It’s a really big airship…” he trailed off.

He scowled, embarrassed by his sudden and unplanned outburst.

“Ok,” she said, to his surprise.

He nodded brusquely then turned on his heel and headed to the vertibird to wait, Danse at his heels. He climbed aboard. He sat down and looked out the door. He could just imagine Danse’s face, he was bound to be smirking at him. “Shut up” he said, before his friend could mock him.

“I didn’t say anything.”

Arthur looked at Danse. His face was blank, slightly quizzical, but not mocking. He looked away again. He must be imagining things. Normally that was the kind of behavior that got endless ribbing from the Paladin, when they were alone.

Soon Nate Peterson boarded the vertibird and they departed.

Chapter Text

What the hell was I thinking? Bonnie asked herself three days later as she got ready for the vertibird from the Prydwen. Only Haylen was aboard today, as Danse was busy with his new initiate. Bonnie and Haylen went over the usual business and then prepared to disembark.

“Is that all you’re bringing?” asked Haylen.

Bonnie was confused.

“The vertibird doesn’t come back for three days,” the scribe said.

Bonnie reddened in embarrassment. Of course. So she went back into her house and rounded up what little she had for personal items, and then went to see Cindy Cofran and her mother, to see if they could keep Shaun until Bonnie returned. That wasn’t a problem, so Bonnie and Haylen boarded the craft and departed.

When the airship first appeared, Bonnie was struck with how much it looked like a large submarine floating in the sky.

Don’t say the submarine joke, she told herself firmly.

They arrived on the Prydwen around four, and Haylen showed Bonnie to the guest quarters, where she could freshen up. Elder Maxson would be there in a half an hour to give her a tour of the airship.

Bonnie looked at her sad wardrobe. In addition to her large sweater, it consisted of jeans, a white t-shirt, a ratty flannel shirt, and her Vault Suit. The blue jumpsuit was probably the best item she had, and even it was stained from months of wear. In the end she decided to wear the jeans and the flannel shirt. She pulled her sweater on overtop.

When Elder Maxson knocked on her door, she was nearly in a panic, and was considering jumping off the side of the airship to escape. But she repeated her mantra, and patting her bun, opened the door.

He was without the coat for once, but no less intimidating as he towered over her in a black jumpsuit that appeared moulded to every muscle on his body. He looked like he could crush her without a second thought

Bonnie bit her lip but she looked him in the eye and greeted him.

“Would you like to see the Prydwen?” he asked. When Bonnie nodded, he actually held his arm out to her. She hesitated, but then she tucked her hand into his elbow and let him lead her down the hall.

As he toured around the living quarters and the working areas of the airship, he told her all about its construction as well as some history.

“We began construction on this ship nine years ago. It was meant to be ready in four, but the increasing number of synth attacks in the Capital slowed our progress. Our original plan for the Commonwealth would have had us here five years ago. Sadly, it seems this region has deteriorated a lot in the last five years, as some things we have learned indicate there used to be a group of people known as Minutemen who enforced a small amount of peace on the region.”

By the time Arthur was done talking, Bonnie had seen the living and working spaces, the command deck, flight deck, and the bridge, and had been introduced to several crew members. They now stood on the forecastle walkway as he discussed his plans for the Commonwealth.

“We’ve been trying to work with settlements in this region to assist them in their defense and sustainability, in the hopes of a positive relationship with the locals to maintain order, and also to encourage recruitment. Your brother will be accompanying Danse’s team as they travel the Commonwealth to assist settlements and eliminate as much danger from creatures and raiders and the like.

“Ultimately our goal is the elimination of the Institute, as their synths are just as much of a danger as the monsters.”

Bonnie had gradually adjusted her opinion of him from a terrifying tyrant to an intimidating leader who genuinely cared for the people under his command and the ones in the ruined city below as well. She felt slightly less nervous about him as a result.

Don’t say the submarine joke, she reminded herself.

Bonnie anxiously peered over the railing, and wrapped her sweater more tightly around herself.

Maxson noticed, and said, “It’s almost time for dinner. I had them send a meal to my quarters, so would you like to join me?”

All of a sudden, Bonnie’s anxiety returned, coiled like a snake in the pit of her stomach. A meal? Alone? With him? She swallowed hard, but forced herself to act casually.

Bonnie nodded, and slipped her hand back into his elbow so he could lead her back inside.

***

They arrived in his quarters in short order. He opened the door and ushered her inside, using a piece of wood to wedge the door open. That action actually went a long way towards alleviating her apprehension. Maxson offered to take her sweater, and she handed it to him, and then sat down. A moment later, a man entered carrying the food, and set it down in front of them.

Maxson opened a bottle of wine and offered her some. She accepted. She felt really strange. This felt suspiciously like a date.

She mostly sat quietly and listened during the meal, taking several sips of wine, and Maxson continued to keep her wine glass topped up as they ate. He continued talking, telling her more about his airship.

“The Prydwen is named after King Arthur’s ship in the legend.” Here Elder Maxson rubbed his neck and reddened a little. “I named it that because I was sixteen when we started building it, and nobody stopped me. I cringe a little now every time someone says it, it’s so pretentious. But I try to use it as a reminder that the things we’re so sure of when we’re young don’t always turn out to be as easy or clear cut as we get older.”

“How old are you,” Bonnie asked.

“I’m twenty-five,” he replied.

“Oh! So am I,” she said.

They smiled at each other, a genuine smile.

They were interrupted by the man who brought the food, who cleared the plates and left behind some kind of tarts and a second bottle of wine. Maxson opened it and topped up her glass. Bonnie took a sip. She was beginning to feel a warm tingle throughout her body.

Too much wine, she thought. But it felt good, so she took another sip.

“So now that you’ve seen my airship, what do you think?” he asked her, filling her glass again.

Bonnie looked at him over her wine glass. Her nervousness was dissipating rapidly with each sip of wine she took. Don’t say the submarine joke, she told herself.

“It’s great!” she said.

Too loud, she thought. shhhhh

“It reminds me of a submarine!”

Elder Maxson looked at her.

Stop it. Don’t say it.

“Do you know the joke about the submarine?” she asked. Shut up, Bonnie.

Maxson shook his head.

Don’t say it.

“It’s long, hard and full of seamen.”

The silence filled the room for a long moment, until Maxson let out a barking laugh.

Bonnie turned beet red.

“I should go,” she said, rising unsteadily to her feet.

Arthur stood too, and taking her elbow, led her back to the guest quarters. He ushered her inside, and returned to his own room.

As soon as he was inside, he shut the door behind him and leaned on it. His mind raced, reviewing the whole evening. He put his hand on his face in embarrassment. He hadn’t shut up the whole time, all he did was brag about his airship. He wasn’t sure why he had tried so hard to impress her. And telling her that part about naming it.

Ugh.

And then she had kept drinking wine, and her face was flushed, and he hadn’t been able to stop staring at her. He’d wanted to reach forward to pull her hair out of its tight knot. So instead he kept pouring her more wine.

He undressed to get ready for bed, and noticed her sweater still hanging on the hook by the door. He pulled it off and lifted it to his face for a moment. It smelled like sunshine and earth. He wondered if that was what she smelled like. He hung it back up reluctantly.

He laid down and closed his eyes. He thought of her surprising off-colour joke. He liked it. She seemed so serious all the time; the little hint of personality intrigued him. Between the glimpse of the smiling golden woman the other day, and the mischievous joke, he wanted to know more. He wanted to see what other secrets she was keeping, what other layers he could uncover.

The memory of her hand on his arm was the last thing he thought of as he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

When Bonnie woke up in the morning and got dressed, she was nursing a mild headache and a major case of embarrassment. To make things worse, she was cold, and her sweater was still in the Elder’s room.

There was no way she was going to go ask for it.

She pulled on her vault suit and then peeked out of the door, and not spying anyone, headed towards the mess hall. She spotted her brother immediately, to her relief. He was seated with Paladin Danse, who was out of his armour for once.

Nate smiled in welcome, but Danse merely nodded at her politely. “Here, let me get you something to eat,” said Nate when she approached. He knew she wouldn’t like standing in the line for food, but she wouldn’t ask either. Bonnie was left sitting with Danse.

Despite working with Danse for months now, she still wasn’t sure quite what to make of him. Tall and imposing, and unfailingly formal and polite, he was very intimidating, and not the type of person one easily got to know. Even if they weren’t as shy as Bonnie. Nate seemed to admire him, though. Nate had gravitated towards Danse almost since the moment they met.

Bonnie wasn’t sure she approved of that. After all, Nate had just lost Taylor a few short months ago. She didn’t think it was healthy to take an interest in someone so soon. It couldn’t be healthy or genuine.

She sighed. Maybe her brother just needed to forget. And he was a grown man, he didn’t need her advice. She certainly wasn’t qualified to give it anyways, given her single, failed past relationship.

As Bonnie pondered her Brother’s love life, the awkward silence between her and Danse grew, and she peeked up at him to find him looking at her through narrowed eyes. She wasn’t entirely sure why he was so suspicious of her, but every once in a while, she got that impression.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Nate, who returned with her breakfast. She smiled her thanks at her brother and began to eat, but they were interrupted again a moment later when the Elder appeared beside their table.

“Miss Peterson,” he greeted her. “I believe you left your sweater in my quarters.”

He handed it to her. A brief look of disappointment passed over his features when she immediately donned it and wrapped it tightly around her body. Danse lifted an eyebrow. Nate lifted two. Maxson nodded to them all before departing.

Nate leaned over to Bonnie. “Oooh, Bon. His quarters.

Bonnie scowled at him. “It was just supper. the door was open the whole time.”

“Riiiight.” He winked at her.

“I’m not talking to you any more,” she retorted, and then took her tray and stood, carrying it off to her room.

Nate smirked after her, and then looked at Danse when he spoke. “Elder Maxson would not treat your sister with anything other than decorum and respect.”

Nate sighed. Sometimes the Paladin had a hard time understanding teasing.

Maybe that’s why he enjoyed teasing him so much.

***

Later that morning, Nate followed a power armoured Danse as he boarded a vertibird. They were to spend the next two days patrolling various settlements in the area, clearing dangers and establishing relationships between the locals and the Brotherhood. Nate was a good choice for this mission, as his previous military experience meant he required little combat training, and his naturally charismatic personality drew people to him and eased relations with the wary people of the Commonwealth. The Paladin advised Nate that he was certain that Nate would be promoted to Knight before much time had passed.

Everywhere they went, rumours of synths replacing humans was rampant, although as of yet there was no evidence that such an act was even possible. The only synths they had encountered were the same as the ones they had encountered in the Capital Wasteland. Metal skeletons, either bare, or covered in a kind of leathery skin. Disturbing, but clearly not human. Nate didn’t understand how they could even make a synth look passably human.

But then, they went to Greentop Nursery.

The settlement had been growing, in no small part due to the large greenhouse located therein. Nate shouted, “Ho, House!” as they approached, as was customary in the area when approaching an unfamiliar settlement, in order to not be mistaken for raiders or other hostiles. Danse kept back, as settlers oftentimes found his large, armoured bulk to be intimidating.

A man came out and greeted them, saying “Ho, Traveller,” as was the normal response.

The man’s name was Logan Riley, and he’d been in charge there for two years. When Nate explained the Brotherhood’s mission, to trade with settlements, contain dangers, and seek out information on the Institute, Riley nodded, and invited them inside.

It turned out that the Nursery had quite a surplus of food, but were light on defences. Nate looked at Danse to confirm the authorization of some material to aid in building defences, but Danse’s eyes were drawn elsewhere, to where a young woman was busy picking tatos.

Nate followed Danse’s gaze, and finding nothing unusual or remarkable about the woman, looked curiously at Danse. But before he could ask him anything, there was a bright, blinding flash of blue-white light, and then without warning, there was a man standing there that hadn’t been there before.

He was tall, though not as tall as Danse, with olive skin and dark hair, and was dressed in a long leather coat. He disregarded all of the people in the settlement, and made a beeline towards the woman Danse had been staring at.

As soon as she saw the leather-clad man, the woman reacted. She backed up so fast she tripped on a tato plant and fell on her bottom, where she tried to scramble backwards on her backside. She started screaming, “Help! Help! I don’t want to go back!”

One of the other settlers ran up to the intruder, but was knocked aside with a swipe of a leather covered hand.

Nate jumped to his feet, shouting at Danse. “We have to help her!”

Without waiting for the Paladin’s approval, he pulled out his weapon and aimed it at the intruder.

Nate was a good shot. He’d been well trained in the Army, and had been to the range with his father before that. So when he took a deep breath and lined up his shot, it had little chance of missing. He hit the intruder directly in the head.

Somehow, the shot did not kill him. But it did draw his attention away from the woman he’d been stalking, and he turned towards the two Brotherhood soldiers. Nate didn’t panic, he didn’t hesitate. He fired a second shot, and then a third and fourth, all in rapid succession. The fourth one was the killshot, and the intruder went down like a ragdoll.

Nate approached him cautiously. The man had been impossibly durable. But it was clear when he got closer that he wasn’t going to get up again. Slowly, a crowd began to gather, and the woman who’d been his target crept up last of all.

“Is he dead?” she asked.

“I think so,” he replied, crouching next to the body. All of a sudden, something caught his eye. He reached into the mess of skull and brain matter and pulled out a strange item made of metal and black plastic.

“Huh,” he said, turning to Danse. “Do you have any idea what this could be?”

Chapter Text

“So this confirms it. This man was a synth and he was after this other woman, who also claims to be a synth?” asked Elder Maxson.

“Claimed, sir. I captured her for study but I was forced to kill her when she attempted to escape.”

Nate frowned slightly at Danse’s response. He had suggested they simply talk to the woman, but Danse had insisted she be captured, and Nate had deferred to his CO. Danse had taken the first watch, and when Nate awoke, the woman had already been killed.

“I removed this component from her head as well, sir. It isn’t the same as the other one, it’s smaller than the one I recovered from the male.” Nate handed the two components over to the Elder.

Maxson turned them over in his hands before handing them over to the Paladin. “Take these to Proctor Quinlan and Proctor Ingram. Have them work together to see if they can glean anything useful from them”

“Yes, Sir.”

After they were dismissed, Nate went looking for his sister. He was going to go with her on the vertibird back to Sanctuary, so he could visit Shaun.

Bonnie smiled when she saw him, and stood to give him a hug. “How was your mission?”

Nate filled her in. “She would still be alive if we had just tried to talk her into coming here instead of capturing her. I’m sure of it. I think we would get more out of her if we talked to her.” He sighed. “Too late now, I guess. Anyways, how was your visit on the Prydwen? Spend any more time in the Elder’s quarters?”

Bonnie smacked him. “No, I hardly saw him. I spent most of my time telling Proctor Quinlan things about pre-war Boston. Some of the scribes found me some more clothes. And, I had a shower. I swear, Nate, it was lukewarm and sputtery, but it was the best shower of my entire life.”

Nate laughed at his sister, and they headed back to her quarters. “Do you have all of your stuff ready? I have leave to come along on the ride to Sanctuary so I can visit Shaun for an hour or so.”

Bonnie was ready, so they collected her things and headed to the vertibird.

***

His chat with Bonnie on the way home was productive, as she suggested asking around in the various settlements in the Commonwealth. Maybe they could uncover another human-like synth, or maybe just some more solid rumours, but they were bound to find out something useful at some point.

So Nate and Danse spent the next few weeks trudging the Commonwealth and asking about the Institute and its synths. Eventually they learned something interesting.

“Back about, oh, five, six years ago,” the old woman began, “there was a rumour about an underground organization called the Railroad that was helping synths escape from the Institute. Never put much stock into it myself, I don’t know why a robot would want to escape. I don’t know why a robot would want anything. But then one day a whole crew of synths, the regular kind, all busted into a church somewhere, or so the story goes. Cleaned them out. And they said that was the end of the Railroad.”

Danse was outside the hut, as usual. He intimidated people, and so Nate did most of the talking. He was waiting outside when Nate emerged. Danse lifted an eyebrow at him in question. Nate swallowed. Jesus, the Paladin’s eyebrows were distracting. As was the rest of him.

He shook his head. “According to the old woman, some underground group used to operate around here helping escaped synths. They are long gone, but apparently there’s a woman in Goodneighbor who runs something called the Memory Den. Apparently she used to help them out from time to time.

Danse nodded. “I’ve heard of the Memory Den. Some of the Brotherhood have been going there already. They have pods to let you relive memories.”

“We had those before the war. We used them for training simulations. Maybe she has a way to analyze one of the chips we retrieved from those synths.”

***

It was several days before they were able to follow up. They finished their task, headed back to the Prydwen, and then had to convince Proctor Quinlan to relinquish the two chips before they were able to go to Goodneighbor. Once inside, Danse’s power armour and glare caused the residents to eye them with suspicion and hostility, and it took all of Nate’s charismatic power to convince them to let them in.

They made their way to the Memory Den, and were instructed to wait in the lobby for the Doctor. When she came out she looked irritated.

“If you need a memory lounger, Irma can help you,” she said.

“We don’t need the memory lounger,” replied Nate. “We’re here to see you. Is there somewhere we can talk privately?”

“What is this about?” Amari asked, frowning.

Nate leaned in closer. “This is about the Railroad.”

“Come with me.”

They followed her into a side room. Once the door was closed, she turned to them angrily. “The Railroad is dead. They’ve been dead for years.”

“I know,” said Nate. “We were hoping you could help us with these.” He handed over the two chips.

“This is a synth component,” she said, pointing to the smaller one, the one from the woman. “This is a courser chip. Where did you get this? Coursers are very difficult to kill.”

“It was after the synth. I shot it. A lot. What is a courser?”

“The coursers are specially trained synths who are sent to retrieve escaped synths. I can’t help you with these chips. I can only access the information on them when they are still in a live synth. But I know someone who can.”

She went on to explain about an Institute scientist who had escaped some years ago and was suspected to be hiding in the Glowing Sea, where the institute teleporter couldn’t go.

“Teleport?” Nate asked. This visit had turned out to be extremely informative.

“That’s how the Institute travels. They relay in and out of places instantaneously. It’s why they are so hard to catch.”

Nate recalled the flash of light which had heralded the courser’s appearance. Maybe this scientist would be able to help them hack into it.

“Do you have any idea where exactly this scientist would be?” He asked.

Chapter Text

The first day of trudging through the Glowing Sea was brought to a halt by a dust storm that reduced their visibility to about two meters in front of them. The second brought them to some kind of unspeakably foul pool of liquid which was swarming with insects. The insects attacked and followed them for close to half a kilometer before they stumbled into a nest of feral ghouls. They managed to escape because the insects and ghouls distracted each other.

The third day found them fighting a pair of radscorpions who buried themselves in the sandy mud and then burst back out of the ground. They managed to climb a rocky outcropping to escape, and when they went down the other side, they discovered a small cult of humans who were seemingly immune to radiation. This turned out to be a fortuitous piece of luck, as the Children of the Atom had been trading with the very scientist they were seeking for several years. With directions and a set goal, they set out through the rough terrain in search of a cave.

According to the HUD inside Nate’s power armour, they were getting close. He tapped his com button and spoke to Danse. “Any sign of a cave?”

“Not yet,” replied the Paladin. Nate shrugged in his power armour. He didn’t try to initiate any further discussion. Paladin Danse was not much of a conversationalist in the best of times but the discomfort of spending three days in Power Armour, only leaving to quickly eat, eliminate waste, and pop some Rad-x, had clammed him up to the point of near unresponsiveness. Nate was surprised he’d gotten a response at all.

He was debating asking another question in hopes of hearing a human voice, when without warning the sky and earth switched places. His visibility was limited in the power armour, so he frantically tried to twist around to see what was going on, when a wrenching pain in his armpit and left arm made him scream in agony. The ground and sky flipped again and he was slammed down onto the ground on his back.

He barely had time to register that the arm had been torn from his power armour when his vision was filled with the largest, most horrific thing he’d ever seen. At least ten feet tall, with razor sharp teeth filling its gaping mouth, and leathery, reptilian skin, Nate could barely even comprehend what he was seeing. He managed to get his other arm up in front of his face as it went for him again.

It didn’t manage to get its mouth around him again. Red laser fire came from somewhere to Nate’s left, and the beast turned in that direction, stepping on Nate’s injured arm in the process, and the sickening wave of pain became waves of blackness that overtook him.

***

He awoke in a cave, but clearly one that had been lived in. His mouth was dry and tasted like shit, his eyes were scratchy, his head pounded, and he was nauseous. The pain in his right arm, at least, had subsided, and was simply a dull throb.

He tried to say something but only managed to croak. A sound came from behind him, and he tried to turn his head but before he could, Danse’s face filled his vision. “Don’t move,” he said.

“What happened?” Nate asked.

“Deathclaw. It came up behind us and attacked without warning. I managed to kill it, but your power armour’s arm is irreparably damaged and your arm was dislocated. I managed to reset it and I applied stimpacks, but the bruising will still be there for a while.”

“Where are we?”

“The cave was nearby so I managed to drag you inside, it was occupied by the scientist, Virgil. It seemed he was a supermutant. I had to leave you in the doorway for a while while I dealt with him. I managed to restrain him and persuade him to outline the schematics for the molecular relay device, but after that, he broke out of his restraints and attacked, so I was forced to exterminate him.”

Nate looked over to see a hunched mountain of green and red, but his vision blurred when he tried to focus, so he laid back down.

“I’m going to sit you up to see if you can eat a little, but you need your rest if you are going to heal enough to head back out.” Nate nodded, but the world began to spin and then everything was black again.

***

He felt much better the next time he woke up. Danse helped him sit up, and then handed him a can of water. He drank it slowly, and then began nibbling at the field rations Danse handed him. He felt significantly better after that, but with a pressing need to urinate. He tried to get to his feet but Danse stopped him. “You can’t get up yet,” he said.

“I need to…” he looked at Danse’s face, still attractive even under several days of grime, and he felt his own face redden as he looked away.

“Oh. I see,” replied Danse. He stood and helped Nate to his feet, and then helped him to a bucket that stood in the back of the cave. He helped hold Nate up, but kept his eyes averted. Nate appreciated it, and gratefully allowed Danse to help him back to the mattress after he finished.

He looked around the room. They were in a cave. There were computers and scientific equipment everywhere. The hulking dead supermutant was gone. “How long have we been here?” he asked Danse.

“Two days. We can stay two more before we are going to be forced to leave. You should get your rest so we can walk back.”

Nate nodded and laid back down again, falling asleep almost immediately.

***

When they left two days later, Nate was feeling better, although by no means great. His arm was exposed in the power armour, which provided some rad resistance but with the arm gone it was significantly reduced.

By the first day he was already feeling the effects, and he doubled the amount of Rad-x he was taking. By the second day he was weak and nauseated, and Danse made them swap suits, muttering that he should have done so sooner.

Danse was nearly dragging Nate by the time he saw the blue sky that indicated he could call for a signal grenade. And when the vertibird arrived, he was unconscious.

***

The vertibird was not expected in Sanctuary until the next day, so the sound of it approaching drew Bonnie out of her house. When it landed, the knight who emerged was unfamiliar to her. “Miss Peterson?” he asked?

Bonnie nodded, tightening her sweater around herself.

“Your brother is ill. It’s requested that you and his son accompany us back to the Prydwen

Chapter Text

Bonnie was in a state of near panic when the vertibird docked at the Prydwen. Haylen greeted her and took Shaun from her as she headed quickly into the sickbay. She found her brother unconscious and connected to two IV’s. Paladin Danse was sitting up in the next bed, clearly nowhere near as injured or ill.

Bonnie was angry. She frowned but didn’t say anything. Her chest tightened at the thought of misunderstanding and angering him. Maybe after she knew more about what had happened on their mission. She sat down beside Nate on the edge of his bed and took his hand in hers. It was burning hot.

She looked up when Cade came in. He smiled at her reassuringly.

“Is… is he going to be ok?” Bonnie asked nervously.

“He’s recovering from a dislocated arm and a few infected cuts, and severe radiation poisoning. But after a few days he should wake up and he should be back to normal within a few weeks.”

Bonnie let out a sigh of relief and turned back to her brother, trying hard to ignore Danse.

***

Haylen came to get her a few hours later. She had taken the baby around the ship and introduced him to the crew. Apparently he was quite popular with everyone, his chubby cheeks and four-toothed grin winning hearts and souls throughout the ship. Some of the scribes had cobbled together a sturdy crib for him, and it had been placed in the same guest quarters she had used previously.

Bonnie changed the toddler and dressed him in some little pajamas, and then changed into the shorts and shirt she used for sleeping. Shaun toddled around the room until he found Bonnie’s bag, where he sat methodically pulling every item out one by one.

She finished dressing and snatched the baby up and lifted him for a kiss, then tossed him gently on the bed where she began making sookie sounds and tickling him, his giggles lightening her own mood considerably. She grabbed the blanket and pulled it over her head, hiding from Shaun and then revealing herself again.

Suddenly they were interrupted by a knock at the door. Bonnie wrapped herself up in the blanket and opened the door to find Arthur Maxson standing outside, as imposing as ever in his large coat. Bonnie stepped back nervously and swallowed. She forced herself to look him in the eye.

“Hello, Elder Maxson,” she said. “Is there anything I can help you with?”

“No I…” he cleared his throat. “I just wanted to make sure you have everything you need here.”

“Yes, thank you. Your crew has been very helpful.”

“I understand your brother will recover quickly.”

“That’s what Doctor Cade says.”

“The data he and Danse brought back was invaluable. Initiate Peterson will be highly commended when he wakes up.”

“Thank you, Elder,” Bonnie said. She glanced up at him and was suddenly engrossed in his eyes. She had never noticed how blue they were before. They were a dark ice blue, the colour of late afternoon shadows on the snow in winter. A cold colour but for some reason it was making her feel warm.

Her breath caught in her throat for a moment, and her heart felt like it was in her throat. She felt a heat begin to rise in her chest, spreading up her face and down into her belly, hot tendrils that twined in her abdomen and up her spine. Without realizing it she swayed towards him slightly, and the slight aroma of leather twined into her nose and intensified everything to an unbearable level.

Arthur looked down at Bonnie as she looked up at him. Her hair was loose around her face, its golden tones muted in the dim light, but he wanted to twine his fingers in it just to see if it was as silky as it looked. Her ragged breath drew his attention to her mouth, and his fingers twitched for a moment with the urge to press his thumb against her full lower lip.

The urge to just caress her just once was overwhelming, her hair, her mouth, her cheek. His hand came up, tentatively, but just before he touched her face a small cry drew their attention. He looked behind her to see a small infant stagger to his feet and toddle unsteadily towards Bonnie. Turning, she scooped the child into her arms and enveloped him in the blanket with her.

Suddenly, he remembered himself. This was a guest, and he was the Elder. He straightened his back and smiled. “If there’s anything you need, let one of the scribes know.” He hesitated a moment, unsure. He took a deep breath. “I was also wondering if you would have dinner with me. Again. I… enjoyed myself the last time.”

She seemed taken aback for a moment, but she nodded and said with a faint smile, “Ok, that would be nice,” he let out the breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. He smiled back. “Will eight be alright? I’m sure Haylen won’t mind watching the child for you.”

“That sounds good, Elder. I’ll see you then.”

Arthur nodded and stepped back, and she smiled at him again, a tiny smile, before she closed the door. He looked at it a moment before heading back to his room, wondering to himself the whole way what it was about her that he found so intriguing.

***

The next morning, Haylen came to get Bonnie. She told her that Nate had woken up, and wanted to see her. She offered to take Shaun for a visit around the airship and let Bonnie visit her brother. Bonnie was relieved, as she didn’t know how the baby would react to seeing his daddy sick.

Nate blinked at her and smiled weakly when she came in the room, but she frowned at him. “Why is Danse perfectly healthy and you almost died?” she asked.

“Don’t be angry, Bon. He saved my life. There was a deathclaw, it damaged my armour. I got sick from the radiation that leaked into my suit.”

Bonnie was not mollified by that but she didn’t want to argue either. He was going to get better and that was all that mattered. She pulled up a chair and sat by his bedside, and listened as he told her about what had happened. Something about what Nate was telling her seemed off somehow, but she couldn’t quite pinpoint what the problem was. She didn’t have any time to ponder it, however, because Nate interrupted her thoughts to ask where Shaun was.

“I wasn’t sure how bad you were going to look, so Haylen has him. But you look better than I thought you would, so I can go get him if you like.”

Nate nodded, so she stood and left the room in search of her nephew.

Her quarters were empty, so she headed to the mess hall. Haylen was not there, so she turned back down the hallway to Quinlan’s office, somewhat at a loss. She ran into the Proctor just outside his office, and he said she’d gone to the Command Deck, so Bonnie nodded and headed that way.

She found Haylen just outside the Command Deck, and Bonnie frowned when she saw that Haylen did not have the baby. “I had to go to the bathroom,” the scribe apologized. “He’s just in there with Elder Maxson.”

Bonnie let out a sigh of relief and then turned and entered the brightly lit room, which had benches along the side and a bank of windows along the front. Maxson stood with his back to her at the windows, and she stopped for a moment to stare. He was holding Shaun up on the railing and talking to him as he pointed to the ruined city below.

“Someday soon we’ll destroy the Institute, and then you’ll be safe, soldier. And so will all those people out there. Well, safer, anyways. Are you going to be a Brotherhood knight someday?” Arthur asked, ducking back just a little too late as Shaun’s fist tangled in his beard and yanked. “Ouch!” he said, extricating the little fingers.

Bonnie stifled a giggle at this great big soldier brought low by a barely ambulant toddler.

Maxson turned at the sound and smiled at her, and she came forward to collect the child. “His Dad wants to see him,” she explained, and the Elder nodded.

“Please allow me to accompany you,” he said.

They headed to the infirmary together, and when they arrived, Nate smiled at the sight of Shaun and tried to sit up.

“Stay there,” Bonnie said. She brought him the toddler and Nate reached for him. “Is your arm ok?” she said.

“Yeah, it feels fine, it’s just the rad sickness now” he replied. Bonnie handed him the baby and he immediately snuggled down onto Nate’s chest and stuck his thumb in his mouth. Bonnie smiled. As much time as she spent with the boy, Nate was the one who had rocked him, fed him, and got up nights with him after he was born.

Bonnie stepped back and sat in the chair in the corner, wrapping her sweater around herself tightly, giving Nate a chance to talk to the Elder. Bonnie watched him surreptitiously under her lashes. His profile was turned to her so she looked over the shape of him in his leather coat, wide shouldered and strong, and then his profile, admiring his slightly aristocratic looking features, his intimidating scar, and his thick beard. She wondered briefly if it was as coarse as it looked, or rather softer and luxuriant.

“Your mission was a success, Initiate Peterson. And so to recognize your contribution to the Brotherhood, I am promoting you to Knight. Congratulations.” With that, the Elder saluted Nate, and Nate shuffled Shaun to the side and followed suit, The baby sat up and copied their movement, slapping his little hand on his chest and earning a snicker from Bonnie in the corner.

Maxson turned to look at her when she laughed, and she blushed and looked away, until he finally straightened and took his leave.

“Bonnie,” Nate said when the door was shut and they were alone. “I know I was teasing you about it before but is there something going on between you and Elder Maxson?”

“No! No. I just…no, Nate.”

“Because I keep seeing you looking at each other when you think the other one isn’t looking.”

“It’s nothing like that. He’s just a good host. I’m a guest and he’s making sure I’m treated well.”

“Hmmm... “ Nate said, skeptically. “I'm not really sure he’d be good for you, Bonnie. He’d just walk all over you.”

“Well it’s good that I’m not seeing him then. Besides. He’s the Elder, with all these people to look after, and I’m… well. There’s no reason he’d want anything to do with me anyways. He’s just being polite.”

“Whatever you say, Bon.”

Chapter Text

At 7:45, Haylen showed up at Bonnie’s quarters. Bonnie let her in, and then sat down on the bed, her heart pounding. Haylen had known Bonnie long enough by this point to know when her friend was especially nervous, so when she came and sat next to her on the low couch and put her arm around her, Bonnie was grateful.

“Do you want me to walk over there with you?” Haylen asked. Bonnie nodded. Shaun was already asleep and she was sure he would be fine. The Elder’s quarters were just a short way down the hall. She checked her hair, which she had just put in a ponytail instead of its usual tight bun, and straightened the pink flannel shirt she had recently acquired.

They walked there together, and Bonnie was relieved to see the door propped open again. It made her feel better to know that he was giving her an escape route if she needed it.

He greeted her at the door, and then nodded to Haylen, who nodded back and squeezed Bonnie’s hand before departing.

Bonnie walked in and sat down when he invited her. He poured her a glass of wine and she sipped carefully at it, mindful of how much she had drank the last time. She sat down in the chair he pulled out for her and folded her hands in her lap. She took a breath and smiled at him as he sat down across from her. They sat silently for a moment.

The steward came in a moment later with their food, a welcome distraction. Bonnie smiled gratefully and began to eat.

Arthur took a bite, and then said, “I’m glad your brother is going to be fine.”

“Thank you,” she replied.

“How are your supplies set for fall?” he asked. It was almost mid September, and they had had no time to plant or anything, so Sanctuary was relying entirely on trade to keep them alive.

“We are actually doing well. Nate had scavenged a lot of scrap metal from the Corvega factory in July, and we made a deal with Abernathy Farm to build a plow and give them Codsworth in exchange for a great deal of food. I think Blake Abernathy was just happy to not have to make the trek to Diamond City this year.”

Arthur nodded. “What about shelter? Clothing?”

Bonnie was starting to realize he must have asked her here to discuss business instead of… well, she didn’t know what she thought. She ought to be relieved. But somehow she just felt disappointed.

“Thanks to the Brotherhood, we have just recently recieved a shipment of clothing and blankets that should be more than sufficient, and we managed to tear down two of the houses in the neighborhood and use the material to repair the remaining structures. We are modifying one of the houses to be a communal cookhouse, and we are hoping to add a second purifier and a larger generator before winter.”

“Good!” Arthur replied. He took another bite. He looked at her. She was staring at her food, so he took a moment to just gaze at the dark gold strands of her hair caught up behind her head. She had a ponytail instead of her usual tight bun, and he liked the way it sort of fell down straight and then curled at the ends. Her eyes behind her glasses were an intriguing shade of golden brown, flecked with bits of green that reminded him of the way new grass poked up from the brown earth in spring. Her eyes widened slightly and he realized he’d been staring at her, and looked away.

Arthur was becoming a bit confused. He didn’t know what to make of Bonnie Peterson. She was so… unobtrusive and plain, and yet he found himself thinking about her constantly, wondering what she would think of the things he was doing, and what she might be doing at any given time. He would sit sometimes with his paperwork in front of him and just… imagine that she was there with him.

He’d never met anyone else he just wanted to be around all the time, quietly sitting nearby. He really didn’t know what to make of it. And then here she was in front of him, and he couldn’t think of anything to say except chitchat about Sanctuary. He suddenly let out a frustrated sigh and pushed his hands through his hair.

She jumped a little at his sudden movement. She was a little nervous sometimes, he’d noticed. It seemed like he noticed everything about her. How she had a tendency to wrap her arms around herself sometimes when people talked to her, and chew on her hair when nobody was looking, and how sometimes she stood on the sides of her feet, leaving the outside edge of her boots worn looking. He didn’t know how he’d managed to see all these things when he hadn’t actually spent that much time with her, but he had, and he felt like everything he found out about her just made her more… special… somehow.

He smiled at her, hoping to relieve her jumpiness a little, and then put out a hand to her. “Do you want to come up to the Forecastle? I believe the moon is full tonight.”

Bonnie felt her face redden a little, but he’d been staring at her so intently and it was making her feel hot and sort of… throbby… so she thought maybe some fresh air would help her cool off a little. So she agreed, and put her hand into his, and let him pull her to his feet.

He didn’t let go of her hand as they made their way up to the Forecastle, and by the time they arrived and he held the door open for her, her heart was pounding painfully in her chest. He led her to the end of the narrow walkway, and they looked out at the dark city, lit up only by the moonlight and the faint shine of lamplight at the few visible settlements. The wind gusted from the southwest and faint clouds drifted briskly across the moon.

Arthur’s hand was still wrapped around hers, and she looked down at it, admiring his slightly darker coloured skin against hers, and enjoying his warm hand enveloping hers. A gust of wind caught her hair and blew it onto her neck and she looked at the horizon, noticing dark clouds forming and blocking out the stars. There was a metallic tang in the air.

The wind gusted again, and Bonnie closed her eyes briefly and leaned into it. She loved storms. She had ever since she was little, pressing her face the window, watching the lightning with wide eyes and thrilling at the bang of thunder. Her parents had always had to keep her from running outside in the rain.

Arthur frowned. This wasn’t a normal storm brewing, and they wouldn’t be able to stand outside here for long in a radstorm. But he was fascinated by her face as she turned into the wind. Her hair whipped in front of her cheek and he reached up to brush it out of the way. She looked so free and unrestrained. He’d never seen her quite this way before. He brushed his thumb over her cheek and she opened up her eyes and looked at him, and he found himself enraptured in her eyes.

Bonnie’s whole body was throbbing in anticipation, of the storm, or something else, she wasn’t sure. She looked up into Arthur’s eyes, caught up in the stormy blue shade that reminded her of the Atlantic in the winter and tilted her face slightly into his hand. She brought her free hand up to his chest, and she could feel the heavy thud of his heart under her palm. Her belly tightened with a feeling she’d never really experienced before as he leaned even closer to her.

A sudden crack of thunder drew their attention away and broke the spell. Arthur stepped back and said, “We’d better get inside before we start taking radiation.”

Bonnie nodded reluctantly and stepped back as well, breaking contact with him and then following as he headed back inside the Prydwen.

When the door slammed shut behind them, Arthur clenched his fists, fighting the urge to grab Bonnie and pull her to him. “I’d better get to bed,” she said, quietly. Come to bed with me, he thought, slightly shocking himself. But he only nodded, ushering her in front of him as she headed back towards the living quarters.

When they got to her door, Bonnie turned to Arthur and looked up at him. “I guess this is me,” she said, quietly. Arthur nodded at her. She was suddenly nervous again, more than she had been since she’d first shown up at his quarters earlier. She wrapped her arms around her waist, suddenly missing her sweater and its warm protectiveness. All these sudden feelings were just too much. She put her hand on the door and said quickly, “Goodnight,” and then she went inside and shut it behind her, leaning heavily on it, and trying to calm her pounding heart.

Haylen had dozed off on the bed with a book on her chest, and she didn’t budge when Bonnie came in, which was a relief. She needed a moment to compose herself. She wasn’t sure how but she realized she was developing a serious case of attraction to the Elder, and she didn’t know quite what to do with it. She’d never known anyone like him before, and she had no idea what to do. The only thing she could think of was to hide in her room and hope she could figure it out.

***

Outside, Arthur was left staring at the door and wondering what had just happened. He was caught off guard by the sudden intensity of the feelings he had developed for Bonnie Peterson. He rubbed his hands over his face for a moment, and then turned to his own quarters. He needed to go before Haylen came out and saw him like this.

All he could think about once he was back in the privacy of his own room was Bonnie, and how much he just wanted to be with her. Hold her, touch her, get to know her. And yes, he admitted to himself, make love to her. He groaned, slightly frustrated. He didn’t know what she thought of him. She had certainly run away fast enough when they got to her door. But outside, in the wind….

Maybe there was something there.

Chapter Text

“Here,” Danse said with finality. “The Starlight Drive In.”

“That’s a long way from the Airport, Paladin,” replied Proctor Ingram.

“Precisely. If the Institute or anyone decides to attack us, the device won’t be in close proximity to the Prydwen and the Airport. We can set it up like a base, wall it off and defend it, and use it as a jumping off spot for patrols in the area. We can show a strong presence to the communities in the northwest of the Commonwealth, including Sanctuary, and help defend them at short notice. There’s plenty of space for building, some intact structures, and room for a vertibird to land without any difficulty.”

“That’s not going to help me decipher these plans any faster,” muttered Ingram. Although it seemed to be a correct set of plans, some of the math seemed wrong. Just a bit. And there was the additional problem of the carrier wave. There were dozens of signals in the area, and no way to know which one the device needed to be tuned to in order to pick up the signal.

Arthur frowned. “You’ve had the plans for what? Three days? You’re not giving up on it already, are you? Besides, we need to clear the area and make sure it’s ready before we can start construction. You have plenty of time.”

The Proctor looked skeptical, but nodded.

“I think you are right about patrols, Paladin. It will help it look like just a standard encampment that way, and help endear us to the locals. I suggest we put Paladin Skinner in charge-”

“I’d like to head the team from there, Sir,” Paladin Danse interrupted. “Knight Peterson and I are already known to the settlers in the area, and I believe Skinner would be better suited to the Police Station.”

Arthur frowned at the Paladin’s unusual interruption. Although they were informal in private, in front of others, Danse was usually the model of decorum. He had a good point, however.

Arthur nodded curtly, and dismissed the meeting.

***

Nate was pulling on his shoes as Bonnie entered his room in the infirmary, carrying Shaun. “They’re letting you out already?” she asked.

Nate nodded, taking Shaun from her and snuggling him close. “I’ve got a couple days rest still, and then light duty for a few more after that, but at least I’m out of sickbay.”

He stood up and waited while Bonnie collected his bag for him. They headed together to the guest quarters.

“Are you sure you can’t stay another day?” Nate asked. He didn’t get to see his family as often since he’d joined the Brotherhood, and he missed Shaun terribly.

Bonnie sighed. “No. We have a lot of work to do to get ready for winter. The houses we’re living in need more weatherproofing, we’re trying to finish the cookhouse and maybe even a bath house, and I’m still dealing with Mrs. Whitfield’s complete inability to understand that we have to live a little more communally these days.”

The twins arrived at Bonnie’s room and went inside. Nate sat on the bed and handed Shaun a toy car. “I’m proud of you, Bon. You never would have stood up to her before. You’ve really stepped up.” He smiled at her. She really had. He had spent most of his life running interference for his sister, being her voice and the shadow at her back. He sometimes wondered if his decision to join the army had left her vulnerable and made her an easy target for that jackass she had dated.

He knew she was terrified half the time when she had to open her mouth, but when they came out of the vault and Nate was in shock for the first few weeks, she really stepped up. She had taken control in a way he’d never really expected from her. And she seemed to have developed a bit of a rapport with the various Brotherhood members who came through Sanctuary as well. The net result was that everyone had a tendency to come to Bonnie for everything from illness to disputes, to general logistical questions.

“I’m thinking of inviting the Cofrans to stay with me. They’re in my house half the time with Shaun, and the single house will be easier to maintain. Especially with you gone.”

Nate nodded. “That’s a good idea.” He was about to say something else when there was a knock at the door. Nate looked up when Bonnie opened the door and saw Elder Maxson standing there, rubbing the back of his neck. He smiled at Bonnie when he saw her.

Nate watched curiously as the two just looked at each other for a moment. She could deny it all she wanted, but there was definitely something going on there. Nate’s first instinct was to jump up between them and protect his sister. He just couldn’t see someone as intimidating as Elder Maxson being a good fit for Bonnie. Nate was even a little intimidated by the man, who had somehow managed to become essentially an absolute ruler by the same age Nate himself was.

In a world with no government or laws, Maxson had nobody above him to check or control his decisions. He was the judge, jury, and executioner. But Nate had never seen him be anything other than fair and reasonable. The Sanctuary settlers had no recourse had the Brotherhood decided to take everything and abandon them to their fates. The other settlements in the region would have been easy pickings for the well armed soldiers. But instead Maxson had ensured the safety and sustainability of Sanctuary, and worked with other communities to develop a positive rapport with the local people.

And here he was looking at Bonnie like she was the most amazing thing he’d ever seen. As far as Nate was aware, nobody had ever looked at her that way.

Nate thought back to school when Bonnie had shaken nervously when the teacher called on her, and then remembered how she had hung her head in shame and acceptance when she’d turned up on his doorstep after that asshole dumped her.

And then he remembered her climbing up on a rusted out car in Sanctuary and shouting for everyone to listen to her as she began organizing the frightened vault refugees to shelter and food and jobs. And how she’d stopped having to take a deep breath before she spoke to her neighbors and the Brotherhood knights who rotated through town.

He looked at his sister, her head tipped up as she looked right back at the Elder, square in the eye, and realized maybe she could hold her own with him after all, even if she didn’t realize it herself.

Nate was distracted by a sharp pain in the side of his head as Shaun whacked him hard with the toy car he was holding. “Ouch, give me that, you monkey,” he said.

Maxson straightened at the distraction. “Good morning, Knight. It’s good to see you’re feeling better. I…wanted to thank you again for your service recently with regards to the Institute, and also let you know we will be building a new base near Sanctuary, and will be setting up regular patrols in the area. When you are well, you and Paladin Danse will be assigned to the base to assist with construction and security. Hopefully this will give you a chance to spend more time with your family.”

Nate stood up, holding Shaun, and saluted. “Thank you, sir.”

Maxson turned to Bonnie. “I also wanted to ask. Would it be…would you mind if… um. May I visit you? In Sanctuary. From time to time.”

Nate raised an eyebrow as the Elder’s face slowly reddened. He stepped up beside his sister. “I’m sure that would be perfectly fine.”

Bonnie glared at him. Nate shrugged. “Old habits. Sorry. Uh, maybe I should go.”

“No, I’ll go,” replied Maxson. “You visit with your sister. Maybe I will come in a few days?”

Bonnie nodded and smiled.

Maxson smiled back for a moment and then straightened up. “I look forward to seeing you then. Have a safe trip back to Sanctuary.”

Nate watched as the Elder nodded to them both and took his leave.

As soon as the door shut, Bonnie turned to him and smacked him in the arm. Nate just grinned. Yeah, she’d be just fine.

Chapter Text

Three weeks after Bonnie returned to Sanctuary, she had begun to wonder if Arthur Maxson had changed his mind about visiting her. The vertibird from the Prydwen had been to Sanctuary five times during that period, and she had looked up each time in anticipation, only to be disappointed when Haylen and some random knight disembarked each time.

She wasn’t sure why she was so eager to see him. He made her so nervous. More so than anyone else she knew. But it was a different kind of nervousness. It was almost… not fear at all, but rather a kind of anxious tingling. An ache in her belly that sprang to life when he touched her, or talked to her. Or when she saw him. Or thought about him.

She felt her face go red and she looked around to make sure nobody saw her. She was flustered all of a sudden and sure she would be unable to deal with a conversation right now. She let out a sigh of relief when it appeared that nobody was looking at her.

She resumed her work, pulling clean clothes off the line. They were whipping in the stiff autumn breeze, but they were dry. She didn’t know what she was going to do when the weather turned freezing. She missed the modern appliances that she’d taken for granted her whole life just a little more each day.

She pulled the last item off the line and folded it, putting it in the basket with the rest when she heard the vertibird coming. She smiled a bit, then frowned, trying not to get her hopes up again. She carried the basket into the house and set it on the counter and then checked her hair in the tiny shard of mirror remaining in the bathroom.

She frowned. She could only see about half her face at a time. Just enough to fix her hair neatly, and see that her freckles had gotten entirely out of control.

She could hear the vertibird landing outside and straightened, trying to look casual as she walked to the front door and went outside, watching to see who emerged. When she saw a familiar large shape in a heavy, leather coat hop down, she ducked back inside, her heart suddenly pounding. Should she go out there? Maybe she should wait here.

She was still leaning on the door, panicking, when the knock came. Fake it till you make it, she thought, and whipped open the door before she lost her nerve.

“Hi,” she managed.

“Hi,” he replied. He stood there a moment, shifting from foot to foot, until she remembered herself and opened the door wider to let him in.

He seemed to fill the entire room with his presence. “So this is your house. Did you live here before too?”

“Yes. Well, it wasn’t my house. Nate and Taylor and Shaun lived here. I was staying with them. Um… do you want some tea? I can make tea -”

She was interrupted by the front door opening, and they both turned to see Cindy Cofran walk in, carrying Shaun. She stopped, looking from Arthur to Bonnie and back again. “I didn’t know you had company,” she said. “I was… I’m gonna just put Shaun down for his nap…”

“It’s ok, Cindy. I think we’re going to go for a walk. Do you want to go for a walk?” she asked.

“That sounds nice,” he said, smiling down at her. Bonnie suddenly forgot herself, looking up into his blue eyes, but a squack from Shaun brought her back to her senses.

Arthur waited while she retrieved her sweater and kissed Shaun on the forehead, and then he held the door for her as she walked out. “Do you want to walk along the creek?” she asked.

Arthur nodded and followed her down the street and across the partially ruined bridge. He nodded to the settler manning the guard post that had been constructed, and then they turned left and headed down the bank of the creek. As soon as they were out of sight, Arthur reached down and took her hand in his, his big fingers winding in between hers. Bonnie thought her heart was going to explode right out of her chest.

They headed along the creek in silence. The area was relatively safe, the only danger was from oversized insects. But they tended to congregate around dead things, and the Sanctuary settlers were good about clearing out anything like that in the area.

A few minutes passed, and they came to a small dock, still intact, jutting out into the creek. The water was low as there hadn’t been much rain lately, and they walked to the end and sat down, their feet dangling over the dried mud of the creek bed.

Bonnie looked up at the sky. It was cool and breezy out, but not cold, and the sun was shining halfheartedly between thin, drifty clouds. It was definitely autumn. She missed the brilliant colours of the autumns before the war, but the colour was still there. The hubflowers bloomed a brilliant blue, and there were low shrubs that blazed red and gold.

“So you lived with your brother and his… uhh.. partner? Before the war? Were you there before Shaun was born? You’re really good with him.”

“I was a surrogate, actually.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, Nate and Taylor were married, and they wanted to start a family. I had been staying with them for a few months already. They gave me a place to stay after… well. When I needed it. And so I offered to carry the baby for them.”

“Wait. How? Uh…” Arthur sounded confused. Bonnie laughed a little and looked at their hands, fingers still twined together.

“Well, we went to a doctor, and they took eggs from me and sperm from Taylor… I was the egg donor too. We figured that it would be more Nate’s baby if they were actually related. They basically mixed it together in a dish, and when they got an embryo, they implanted it. We were lucky, it worked on the first try. Anyways, nine months later, out came Shaun.”

“So you’re actually his mother?”

Bonnie thought for a moment. “I guess, technically, I am. But I wasn’t even there half the time when he was little. I was in school. Nate and Taylor were his parents, they started a college fund and bought his clothes and got up in the night. I could have left any time.”

“You didn’t, though.”

“Well, school was expensive, and I didn’t really have anywhere to go.” Bonnie shrugged. “I was looking at a place the day the bombs fell, though. I guess I should be grateful I hadn’t already moved out. I probably wouldn't be here in that case. My bones would be out there somewhere like all the rest.”

Bonnie shook her head. “Sorry I’m gloomy, that’s not what happened. I’m glad to be here, anyways.”

“I am too.” He squeezed her hand briefly. “That’s such a huge sacrifice to make for your brother.”

“It never really seemed that way. I mean, he’s always been there for me. It didn’t seem like such a big deal.”

“It seems like a big deal to me. And you take care of him all the time when your brother’s gone. That is a huge deal. And you’re leading this community on top of it. That’s a huge job in and of itself. You seem to give a lot of yourself to the people around you.”

Bonnie shrugged and looked away, embarrassed by the things he was saying. It didn’t seem like she did quite that much. She just did what she needed to do.

“Do you ever do anything for yourself?” he asked, his voice lowered.

She looked back at him, thinking of his ship full of soldiers and scribes and squires he was responsible for. The fortress in Washington he still commanded from a distance. The settlements he was slowly uniting here in the Commonwealth.

“Do you?” she replied.

“I’m here right now, aren’t I?” he said, and without waiting for a reply, he pressed his lips gently to hers.

Bonnie was in shock for a moment that this was even happening, and she didn’t move for a moment. But his lips were warm and soft on hers, and his hand came up to cup her face gently, so after a moment, without even realizing it, she was kissing him back. Tentatively at first, gently sucking at his lip, but when he traced her mouth with his tongue, she opened her mouth and let him in.

She didn’t even notice her hands creeping up his chest and clinging onto the lapels of his coat, but he did, smiling slightly to himself when she pulled him closer, making a quiet humming sound in her throat that he was sure she didn’t know she was making. He slid his own hand to the back of her neck, tracing along the hair that had escaped it’s knot on her head. It was just as silky soft as he had imagined it would be.

He leaned back for a moment, looking at her face. Her eyes were closed, but she opened them when he pushed her glasses up and off, setting them behind him, and he looked into them intently, memorizing the colour. Soft, whiskey brown, with hints of green that reminded him of the flashes of her real self he saw buried under her quiet exterior. He bent to kiss her again, sure in this moment that kissing her was the most important thing he’d ever done in his life.

They continued kissing each other for a long time, taking breaks occasionally to whisper together. Bonnie ran her fingers through his beard experimentally at one point, and another time Arthur traced his fingers along the back of her hand to her wrist, hidden inside her sweater. After a while, he wrapped his arm around her and tucked her into the crook of his arm, pressing his nose to her hair and inhaling. She smelled like sunshine and earth, like he had expected when he’d smelled her sweater weeks ago. He tried to imprint the smell of her, the taste of her on his tongue into his memory, something to recall until he could see her again.

The sun was dipping low. They were past the equinox and it was setting earlier every day, and it was going to be dark soon. He needed to go, and he told her so as he regretfully stood and pulled her to her feet, finding her glasses and handing them back to her. They walked back slowly, reluctant to return and part ways.

Arthur avoided looking at the vertibird pilot as they passed him, impatiently leaning on the craft, and walked her to her door. The sun was almost gone, the last golden shards of sunlight angled across the ground when they arrived. He kissed her cheek one last time in goodbye, and then said, “I’ll be back again as soon as I can.” She nodded up at him and smiled, and he dropped her hand reluctantly and left, walking purposefully towards the vertibird. He climbed aboard and looked out. She was still standing on the step, and as the craft rose and turned, she waved.

Chapter Text

Nate sat at the top of the screen at the Starlight base and looked at the sky. It was dark and grey, and he was reasonably certain it was going to snow. He wondered bitterly if the snow was radioactive now too. Probably. Shitty fucking postapocalyptic hellhole.

He took a drag off his dusty old cigarette, grimacing at the stale taste. He didn’t know why he’d started smoking again. He hadn’t done it since he was a teenager. Bonnie would lose her mind if she found out. But as crappy as the smoke was, it really was one of the few pleasures left in this world.

Nate’s generally sunny attitude had gone downhill in the few months since he’d been posted to Starlight. It had been great at first, patrols through Sanctuary and the surrounding communities that had him home with Shaun one or two nights a week, and he’d begun to develop a bit of a camaraderie with his fellow soldiers.

But then word had gotten out that his sister was seeing Elder Maxson, and everyone’s attitude changed. To top it off, he’d begun to suspect that someone was sabotaging the molecular relay.

He could tell because he’d seen the plans, back when they retrieved them from the Glowing Sea. He’d had an aptitude for engineering in the Army, and had been upgrading his education towards earning a degree and a commission. His knowledge and talent for machines and computers as well as his intelligence and charm had gotten him far, and he had been recruited for special infiltration training early on in his career.

He could understand the plans Virgil had drawn up, and when the device was being built, he’d watched the assembly of the device with interest. He had even managed to point out some bad math he had noticed on the plans, and construction had sped up considerably after that.

But then he’d begun to notice parts changed and swapped, often in the night when nobody was working on the device. He’d come out at night, then back by in the morning, and subtle things were changed.

The changes weren’t obvious. Whoever was sabotaging the relay knew what they were doing. The alterations didn’t even stop the machine from seeming to run correctly. But Nate could tell that it was wrong somehow by the hum.

When he’d gone to Ingram with his concerns it had resulted in reports to the Elder, followed by meetings and briefings and reports to every department in the Brotherhood. They wanted to know how he had noticed the discrepancies, and put him in charge of security on the project in hopes of uncovering the traitor.

Nate had gone from being popular with his fellow soldiers to a pariah, a brownnoser and a snitch. And to top it off, he still hadn’t uncovered the traitor.

The traitor who seemed to be mocking him at every turn.

The sabotages occurred only when Nate was in Starlight. He would be gone to Sanctuary for a few days, and when he came back, all was as he left it. But the next day, changes would occur again. Either the saboteur was on his own patrol squad, or they were trying to make it look like they were. And to make matters worse, he couldn’t even talk about it with anyone without getting the cold shoulder.

The only person who spoke to him in any more than monosyllables was Paladin Danse. And he wasn’t the best conversationalist. But he was something at least. And he was aware of the saboteur problem as well, having the highest clearance besides the Elder himself.

Nate had enlisted his help on the case. Nate had been trying to stay awake to watch the relay during the night, but he couldn’t do it. There was other security, but they’d never seen anything yet. Either they were lying or the saboteur was really good. So Nate had asked Danse to stand guard overnight a few times.

It was no use. There was no sabotage on any of those nights.

At least the device was almost ready. Despite the saboteur’s best efforts, Nate had caught all the damage to the device, and it was only days away from completion. He took a final drag off the cigarette and tossed it over the side, trying to decide if he was reckless or stupid for what he was about to do.

***

Arthur Maxson was grateful for his warm coat today as he stepped off the vertibird at Starlight. He was here to check on the progress of the relay, which was nearing completion.

It was an impressive looking device, towering in the centre of the paved area in front of the screen. It was connected to several generators, but they were silent right now as it was in shutdown for an inspection. He looked up to see Nate Peterson scurry down the side of the movie screen. Arthur shook his head. The man seemed to have no fear at all.

He waited as the other man approached. He noted for the hundredth time the similarity between the knight and his twin sister. But where Bonnie was soft and appealingly rounded, Nate was hard and lean, and he tended to stand out in a crowd rather than blending in.

Arthur’s mind began to drift back to Bonnie for a moment, but he shook his head to clear it when Nate arrived in front of him and saluted.

“Hello, Elder.”

“Knight. Any news on the investigation?”

The two men turned and headed together towards the old projector house where Ingram had set up a command centre.

“Not since you were here last, sir.” There was a pause, and Arthur waited. Knight Peterson seemed to be winding himself up to say something.

“Sir, I’d like to make a request.”

“Go on,” the Elder replied.

“I’d like to volunteer for the mission to infiltrate the Institute.”

Arthur frowned. His first thought was Bonnie’s reaction if he put her brother into any excessive danger. But his job wasn’t to protect soldiers for personal reasons, so he resisted the urge to reject the Knight’s request out of hand. He waited for the knight to continue.

“I have experience and training in computer hacking as well as infiltration. I’m skilled in stealth tactics and hand-to-hand combat. And I’m already familiar with the mission, sir.”

“I don’t doubt that, Knight. But Paladin Danse has already requested this mission. He’s one of my most respected field officers.”

“I know that sir, but he’s not qualified. In the stealth department if nowhere else. He moves like a herd of rhinos.”

“Rhinos?”

“A large, lumbering, thick skinned beast that’s probably extinct now.”

Arthur laughed at the apt description of the Paladin.

“You have a point, there, Knight. I’ll talk to Ingram and see what she thinks, but I agree you will make a great candidate for this mission.”

“Thank you sir,” Nate replied. He saluted the Elder, who then entered the command centre, leaving Nate outside. He turned and headed back towards the screen, heading to the catwalk that had been constructed along the front and moved to his usual spot observing the construction below.

He removed a cigarette from his pocket and lit it, taking a long drag He wondered if he had done the right thing just now, volunteering for this mission. It was stupid and dangerous, but, he knew, also necessary. And Nate knew he was the most qualified person in the Brotherhood.

***

Nate was still standing there when the Elder and Proctor Ingram emerged from the command centre. He looked up, and when he realized they were headed towards him. He came down from the catwalk and greeted them.

“We agreed that you are the best person to send on this mission, Knight,” Maxson said. “Ingram agreed that your assistance with the relay has been invaluable and shown you to be more than capable of the task. The mission is scheduled for three days from now.”

“Thank you, Sir,” said Nate.

Maxson hesitated a moment before speaking again. “I’m aware of the hazardous nature of this mission, Knight. Since you have a family, it seems only fair to make sure you have a chance to see them before you go, so I’m granting you two days leave to go to Sanctuary.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Nate said again.

“If you would like, we can bring you there right now. It’s not too much trouble for the vertibird to drop you off in Sanctuary before it brings me back to the Prydwen.”

Nate regarded the Elder for a moment. He wondered if he perhaps had ulterior motives in suggesting unplanned visit to the settlement.

“Yes, sir, thank you. I just need a moment to gather my things.”

Maxson nodded, and they agreed to meet at the craft in ten minutes. Nate headed to the barracks to gather his belongings.

He ignored the scowls of his fellow soldiers as he collected his things, tried not to notice how they pointedly turned their backs on him and refused to acknowledge his greetings, and it was with no small amount of relief that he retreated from the room and joined Maxson on the waiting vertibird.

***

Bonnie was in the storehouse taking stock when she heard the vertibird approach. She frowned, slightly concerned. This wasn’t the regular day for the Brotherhood visit. Her changed to a smile, however, when she went outside to see her brother and Arthur both disembarking from the craft. She tried not run as she headed to greet them.

Nate got to her first and dragged her into a big bear hug, which she allowed for a moment before poking him in the ribs and telling him to let her go. “I’ve got a few days leave,” he said. Where’s Shaun?”

“I think he’s in the cookhouse begging for treats,” Bonnie replied. Nate thanked her, then headed in that direction, leaving Bonnie and Arthur together.

“Hi,” she said, looking up at him.

“Hello,” he replied. He didn’t reach for her. He was very professional in public.

“Do you have to go right away? Maybe you can stay to supper. It’s almost ready. Her too,” Bonnie added, indicating the pilot.

“I suppose I can spare a few hours.” he said, smiling at her in a way that turned her insides to liquid.

In the two months since their first walk along the creek, Arthur had only managed to visit half a dozen times. His duties on the Prydwen kept him too busy to spare a day to go to Sanctuary. When he could make it, it seemed there were always people around, and so they had not had much more than a minute or two of private time together since that day in autumn.

A minute was enough for Arthur to pull her behind a corner and kiss her senseless, though. The brief moments were always over too soon and left her wanting more. She was starting to develop a slight resentment towards the Cofrans and the other denizens of Sanctuary, and their constant need for her attention.

Maybe Nate’s presence would distract everyone today, she thought.

Bonnie, Arthur, and the pilot walked to the cookhouse. It had been constructed from the ruins of one of the houses, and it actually served as a community dining facility. There were a few settlers who rotated out the cooking and cleaning duties, and the entire community met up at set mealtimes. It was the only building in town with its own generator and running water, and mealtimes, especially supper, had become a loud, boisterous event each night where the entire community bonded.

When they entered the cookhouse, the pilot headed to the food lineup right away, and Bonnie and Arthur stood a moment and watched as Nate stood with Shaun on his hip and greeted the settlers. Nate was popular, and they were all clearly pleased to see him. Bonnie’s eyes narrowed as she took in the look of relief that passed over his face as he spoke with each of them. She would have to talk to him later.

But now it was time to eat. She smiled shyly at Arthur and they lined up together and grabbed plates, and then sat at one of the long tables to eat.

They managed to finish their meal in relative peace, as most of the settlers were busy listening to Nate as he told some fabricated tale of his adventures with the Brotherhood. It probably didn’t help that Arthur looked as imposing as ever.

When the meal finished, they sat and watched for a few minutes longer. Shaun had fallen asleep, safe in his dad’s arms, and nobody seemed to be paying Bonnie and Arthur any attention, so she turned to him and said, “Do you want to get out of here?”

The look in his eyes at her words made her shiver. He nodded curtly and they got up together and slipped out, unnoticed. As soon as they were outside they were hit by a cold breeze laced with a few fluffy flakes of snow. Bonnie wrapped herself tightly in her sweater. Arthur looked down at her, and then with wordless agreement, they headed to her empty house.

Once inside, Arthur took her hand and pulled her close, placing his hands on the sides of her face as he brought his mouth down onto hers for a kiss. Bonnie kissed him back, tentatively slipping her hands around his waist underneath his coat, savouring the firmness of his body as her hands crept towards his back.

He leaned back for a moment and looked into her eyes. “I missed you,” he said, simply.

Bonnie’s heart thumped in her chest at his words. She still couldn’t quite believe he was at all interested in her, and she couldn’t quite figure out why, but right now, with how he was looking down at her with that heated look in his eyes, she decided not to question it. “I missed you too,” she said.

He kissed her again, harder this time, and with an urgency that left her feeling weak in the knees. He must have sensed it because he began steering her towards the couch, where he sat and pulled her down into his lap, not breaking the kiss at all.

Bonnie felt heat flood her body as his hands began to roam up and down her back, finally settling in her hair where he worked it loose from its braid and combed his fingers through it. She let her own hands roam as well, resting on the back of his neck for a moment before tracing along his collar to his cheeks. His beard was coarse but soft, and her sudden need to feel it rub against her skin had her tilting her head to the side so he could press soft kisses along her cheek and down her throat, eventually finding his way to her collarbone.

A quiet sound escaped her as he unbuttoned the top button of her shirt, followed by a second and then a third. His mouth was hot on her throat and her heart pounded so loudly in her chest that she almost didn’t hear the footsteps on the porch or the door opening.

Luckily, the sound entered her consciousness with enough time for her to jump up from Arthur’s lap, so when Nate entered, carrying a sleeping Shaun, she was standing across the room, her face looking guilty and red.

Nate narrowed his eyes at her, but just muttered something about putting Shaun to bed before disappearing down the hallway. Bonnie took the moment to rebutton her shirt and press her hands to her hot cheeks, and Arthur stood and straightened his own somewhat rumpled clothing. By the time Nate returned, the pair stood, not speaking, with bland expressions on their faces.

Nate looked from one to the other for a moment, and then said, “The Cofrans are right behind me. Uhh…. also, the pilot is looking for you, Sir. She says you have to leave soon because of the weather.”

Arthur nodded. “Thank you, Knight.” He turned to Bonnie. “I don’t know when I will be able to visit again.” He glanced at Nate, who suddenly seemed very interested in the front of the refrigerator. “I’ll come as soon as I can,” he said. He pressed a lingering kiss to the corner of her mouth, and then departed.

Bonnie shut the door behind him to keep out the cold air, and then watched as the vertibird lifted off, the heavy snow swirling beneath the blades and obscuring her vision. Nate came up behind her and stood with her for a moment, looking out the window.

“So,” he said. “When’s the wedding?”

Chapter Text

“I think you’re making a big mistake.”

Arthur looked up when the Paladin entered the command centre at Starlight. He frowned. Danse had always felt like he could be up front with Arthur, and he often gave him his honest opinion when they were in private. But he was usually much more polite about it.

“I’m well aware of your opinion on this matter, Danse. But my decision stands.”

“I think you are letting your feelings for Knight Peterson’s sister cloud your judgement.”

“I’m sending him because of his skills. It has nothing to do with any personal feelings.”

“I think sending in someone with more experience would be wiser. He hasn’t been with the Brotherhood for long. How can you be sure you can even trust him? For all we know, he’s the one who has been sabotaging this project.”

“You sponsored him, Danse. And his background is no secret. He’s not the saboteur. I told you my decision is final.” Arthur sighed. He wasn’t sure why Danse was so insistent on doing this mission. They needed to have a conversation. Preferably later when Danse wasn’t so agitated.

“Listen. I know it’s been crazy around here lately. Why don’t you come by tomorrow night, to the Prydwen, and we’ll have a drink. I got some of that moonshine from Diamond City, and I heard it’s pretty good.”

“No, thank you. I have too much work to do.”

Before Arthur could say anything further, Danse turned on his heel and stalked out.

Arthur rubbed his hands over his face in frustration. Maybe Danse was right. Maybe his feelings were clouding his judgement. This was exactly the sort of decision he usually discussed with Danse in private.

Danse had always been Arthur’s best friend and most trusted advisor. He had been ever since Arthur was a child, and Danse had trained him as he gradually rose through the ranks. Their friendship hadn’t ended when Arthur became the Elder, either. He had always been the one person he could talk with openly on any subject.

They had discussed everything from duty rosters to the decision to come to the Commonwealth. They shared books and holotapes and bottles of whiskey. Arthur had been there for Danse when he had lost his partner, Cutler, to Supermutants, and Danse had walked Arthur through his various teenage crushes and their eventual failures.

But he hadn’t had a serious talk with Danse in months, not since they had first arrived in the Commonwealth. And for the first time in his life, Arthur didn’t really know where his friend stood. Not with the mission to the Institute, and not with his relationship with Bonnie.

Arthur sighed. Maybe once the Institute had been dealt with they would have some time to talk. Until then, he was on his own.

He tidied up the papers and headed out to the relay which sat humming in the moonlight. Knight Peterson was due to attempt a teleport within the hour, and Arthur wanted to be there.

***

Nate sat on his bed, his pack beside him, and clenched his fists in his lap. He was second guessing his decision to volunteer for the Institute mission more and more with each minute that passed.

But at least he had had a chance to say goodbye to his son. In case he didn’t make it back.

Bonnie had been less than pleased with him when he had told her. She’d gone from anger, to tears, then back to anger before she finally accepted that he needed to go. He needed to be the one to go in, to find a way to defeat the Institute in order to make the world safer for his son.

He didn’t tell her he also needed to regain acceptance among his peers.

It wasn’t just that he needed to be friends with them, although it was a factor. But he also felt a need to find the traitor bastard who had been thwarting him. The Brotherhood had helped him, had helped his family, and he wasn’t going to let anyone harm them. Even if it meant risking his life.

With that thought firmly in his mind, he stood, back straight, and strode out to where the relay waited.

***

“What’s this?” Nate asked when Proctor Ingram thumped up to him, a strange device in her hand.

“It’s a Pip-Boy. We recovered it from your vault. We have synced it to our computer. It will monitor your location and vital signs, and allow us to communicate via short, text based messages. You can attach the stealth boy, here, and use this to activate and deactivate the stealth mode. It should allow you to scan the area for people and synths in order to avoid detection. And finally, you can use this cable to link to the Institute computer in order to download their data. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to sync that data directly, but you will be able to store it on the holotape in this device, and then bring it back to us.

“The other thing is that it is connected to our relay here, so when it’s time to bug out, you can activate the map and teleport straight back here.”

Nate nodded as he took the device and strapped it to his arm. It immediately began scanning his vitals, registering his radiation level and overall health. It even registered that he was slightly dehydrated. He mentioned it, and Ingram sent a squire to fetch water.

“Remember the priorities when you’re downloading their data. We need the location and layout of their facilities, first and foremost. We need to know what they have in terms of forces and defense. And we need to find out more about their synths’ activities on the surface. Everything after that is gravy, understood?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” Nathan replied. He took the water the scribe brought him and drank it, watching the alert on the device disappear. He noted the time. 20:45.

Ingram was watching a monitor on a terminal that had been set next to the relay console. She nodded. “Your vitals look good. The Pip-Boy is working. Are you ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be,” said Nate. He handed the empty can back to the scribe and stepped up onto the platform.

Elder Maxson stepped up to the relay and saluted him. “Good luck, Knight. We’re all counting on you,” he said.

“Thank you, Sir.” He connected the stealth boy to the Pip-Boy, and activated it, before crouching down.

“Knight Peterson?” asked Ingram.

“Do it.” said Nate.

***

Nate blinked at the bright blue flash of light, and when he reopened them, he was in a quiet, clean room, crouched in the centre of what was obviously a relay pad. The smell of ozone hung in the air. He held his hand up to his face to verify he was still in stealth. It was with relief that he saw nothing but a slight shimmer as he moved his arm.

That didn’t mean he was safe. He had no idea how closely they were monitoring their relay system. The enemy could be upon him at any time. He headed immediately to the terminal and activated it.

An alert had indeed been issued. They would be here in a moment. He headed to the shadows to wait.

Once hidden, he glanced curiously around the room. It was the cleanest place he’d been since waking up in the Vault. The relay room had white floors and walls, and was dimly lit with recessed lighting. Letters painted over the door stated that this was Relay Room E, indicating that there were at least four other relay rooms in the facility.

The door opened a moment later, and two of the leathery synths entered. They were cleaner than the ones Nate had seen on the surface. He waited as they approached the terminal.

“The door has not been opened,” the first synth said, looking at the screen.

“The intruder must still be here,” replied the second synth.

They pulled out laser pistols and scanned the room. Nate held his breath as he sat in the shadow, holding as still as possible lest any movement cause a shimmer that would give him away.

“There’s nobody here,” the first synth said after a moment. “It is likely a glitch in the relay alert. Reset the system.”

The two synths crouched over the terminal, and Nate took the opportunity to creep quietly from the room.

He made his way down the hallway, ducking into the first door he saw. It was Relay Room F, according to the stenciled letters over the door. He made his way to the terminal and activated it.

The terminal did not access the main Institute systems, unfortunately. However, it did contain data on the relays and their monitoring and alert systems, so he connected his Pip-Boy and downloaded that data. It seemed he would have to find another location in order to get the rest of the data he required.

He made his way into the hallway again, and crept past it, ignoring the other relay rooms as he passed. He noted that there were four in this corridor. Presumably a second hallway held the other four.

He left the section and found himself in another passage, and he crept down it until he found a door. The door was locked, but the terminal next to it was easily hacked. When he opened it, he found himself in another short hallway. It led to a wide atrium, with a large glass elevator running up the centre, and well marked departments around the outside. He looked up behind him. He had just come out of Relay B, and he could see Relay A across the way.

He made a note of the other departments, and decided Facilities would be his next stop.

***
The trek around the atrium had taken nearly an hour. He was still in stealth and had crept around the edge of the room as silently as he was able. It was nearly deserted, as it was nearly midnight, but there were a few people and synths about. He watched them for any indication that they noticed him as he made his way carefully towards his destination.

Eventually, he found himself in the Facilities department. He made his way to the department head’s office, picking the lock easily, and heading inside. The terminal inside was laughably easy to hack, and it wasn’t long before he was downloading facility schematics as well as the data on defensive capabilities.

While he waited for the data to transfer, he reviewed the map, taking particular note of the fusion generator and the relays. He also noticed the large Robotics section. That must be where the synths were constructed. There were several rooms off of the main Robotics room. They were labeled Synth Orientation, Reprog/Storage, and Host Holding.

The first two seemed to make sense. Orientation for new synths in the first, and reprogramming and storage of synths in the second. But he couldn’t figure out the third.

He was interrupted by the quiet beep of his Pip-Boy as the download completed. He had what he needed, but he wanted to know more about the synths. He tried to access the Robotics computer from the Facilities terminal, but the systems were only linked through the Director’s terminal, which was in the Director’s quarters.

Which meant he was either going to have to break into Robotics or the Director’s quarters.

Given that it was the early morning hours, he felt safer sneaking into the unmanned department, so after locking up the office, he began the trek to Robotics.

***

He found the layout similar to Facilities, except the main room was occupied by a large vat in the centre, and several unidentifiable stations around the side. None of the machinery was active right now, and it was quiet as he made his way to the office and the terminal inside.

What he found was appalling.

Contained on the terminal were records of all synths created. He knew he didn’t have room for all that data, so he began searching through the other files to see what might be relevant. Apparently the majority of synths were created as general labour. But there were several series created to be coursers… stronger, faster, and more durable synths designed for “target acquisition,” which included the recapture of runaway synths. Nate pondered this revelation for a moment. Suddenly the situation at Greentop became a lot clearer. The female synth had been a runaway and the courser had been retrieving her.

Nate read further. Apparently “target acquisition” also included the capture of wastelanders for replacement with synth copies for infiltration purposes. It seemed that the entire M line of synths were custom created for the sole purpose of replacing specific individuals. As he read, Nate became more and more nauseated .

The process was diabolical. Scouts were sent to retrieve a sample of the target’s DNA. The synth was created to be a perfect match. The target was then acquired, and was then sedated and placed directly into the Host Holding facility where they were linked to a computer. Their consciousness was then synced directly to the replacement synth which allowed it to access the original’s memories and thoughts in order to be a more perfect replacement.

Nate leaned back in his chair. According to the records, they were holding nearly a dozen host humans in the Host Holding facility. He rubbed his hands over his face. There were people in there. People who needed to be rescued.

He leaned forward again. He needed to know who the infiltrators were.

He nearly punched the screen in frustration when he found nothing but a list of synth designations and a matching numerical record of the human original which included only a copy of the dna sample and note indicating the purpose of the infiltration. He scanned the list. They were chronological, dating back dozens of years. Diamond City was listed several times. Railroad was listed too, frequently, until about five years ago. Diamond City again. Goodneighbor. Covenant. More and more. Until the very bottom.

Less than a year ago. Brotherhood of Steel.

He wasn’t surprised. He knew there was a saboteur. But he still didn’t know who it was. All he knew was the synth designation. M7-97.

***

He downloaded as much data as he could, and by the time he was finished, it was nearly six in the morning. He was frantic for the last few minutes, knowing it was likely getting close to the time people would be getting up and moving around. He had to get the data and get out. But he had one final thing he wanted to do.

He disconnected the Pip-Boy, and began to type.

***

Arthur Maxson was pacing the Starlight command centre impatiently. He had been doing so for nearly seven hours, ever since Knight Peterson had left. Ingram had reassured him that the knight’s vitals remained good, although there had been several alarming spikes in his heart rate throughout the night.

So when she started yelling, “He’s coming! Elder Maxson, he’s coming!” Arthur raced to the relay, relieved as much for the knight’s sake as for his own, knowing he wasn’t going to have to go back to Bonnie today and bring her bad news.

Arthur wasn’t the only one who came running. Danse came striding out of the barracks as well. Arthur looked at him curiously. He was rubbing his temple as though he was in pain, and shaking his head the way one does when one gets water in their ear. Quinlan was right behind him and several scribes and soldiers crowded around as well.

The machine began its revving hum, and then there was a sudden flashing blue light, before the machine stopped and went silent, the same way it had before.

“Where’s the Knight?” Arthur shouted.

A voice came from the relay. “Sorry! Sorry! I forgot to turn the stealth boy off.”

Nate Peterson shimmered into view.

He looked fine. A little tired and a lot angry, but fine. Maxson walked up to him. “How are you feeling, Knight?”

“Well, sir. Can we speak in the command centre?”

They headed to the old projector room. Peterson sat in the chair. Maxson handed him some water which he drank greedily. Ingram stood nearby, her arms crossed. Danse was waiting by the door, and Quinlan stood close to Peterson, twisting his hands nervously.

“Was your mission a success?” asked Maxson.

“Yes sir. I have the layout and location of the facility, data on their weapons and defensive capabilities, and furthermore, I have data that will help us identify a synth that has infiltrated the ranks. Additionally, I planted a virus that will disconnect all infiltration synths from their human hosts, so it should be easier to identify them should they suddenly start acting strangely. But it’s only a matter of time before the problem is corrected”

He removed the Pip-Boy and handed it to Quinlan. “All the data is on that, sir. But we need to find the synth quickly, sir. It’s been sabotaging us for months, and likely has been relaying information back to the Institute the whole time.”

Maxson nodded. “Make that your priority, Proctor. We can’t plan an attack until the spy is found. Otherwise the Institute will know every move we make.

Maxson turned to Ingram and Peterson. “Get some rest. Tomorrow we need to start working on finding a way to use the relay for a large scale invasion. I’m going to head with Quinlan to the Prydwen.”

The Proctor and Knight saluted him, and he saluted them back, before heading to the waiting vertibird.

Nobody noticed that Paladin Danse had already left.

***

It was shortly after lunch when Bonnie handed Shaun to Cindy Cofran and watched them for a moment as they walked across the street to the house. Cindy would be happy to hang out in the house for a bit while Shaun napped.

Bonnie rolled up her sleeves and began clearing dirty dishes, when she heard the door open and looked up. She smiled politely at Paladin Danse when she saw him standing in the doorway.

“Hello, Paladin. I didn’t hear the vertibird. Are you hungry? We have some leftovers if you like.”

“No thank you, miss Peterson. I’ve come to retrieve you. Elder Maxson has an issue he needs to discuss.

Chapter Text

Maxson tried to sleep but the news that there was a synth somewhere in the ranks kept him awake, tossing and turning in his rack until he finally gave in and began pacing the command deck. He had spent most of the morning hovering in Quinlan’s office until the Proctor politely informed him that he would be able to work much faster without distractions. He had decided to try to nap instead, having been up most of the night waiting for Peterson to return. The attempt failed.

He had nothing. No information to go on, no clue about what to do next. All he could do was wait. So he paced, and swore, and waited. By noon he was still in the dark.

It was nearly two when Quinlan came down to the deck, ashen faced, and handed a slip of paper to the Elder. Arthur read it, staring at it for almost a minute, before crumpling it in his hand. “Where is he? Find him.”

“We’ve already sent for him, sir, but…. It seems he’s gone AWOL.”

Just then a scribe came running in. “We’ve received a radio message from Sanctuary. They want to know when Miss Peterson will be returning.”

Arthur stared for a minute. “Returning? Where has she gone?”

The scribe’s eyes widened. “Apparently she was seen leaving the community with Paladin Danse last night and she hasn’t returned.”

Maxson and Quinlan stared at each other in dismay. “Have a vertibird readied,” Maxson said. The scribe nodded but didn’t move. “NOW!” Maxson roared, and the scribe ran off, clasping his clipboard to his chest.

***

When they arrived at Sanctuary, the whole community was in an uproar. Maxson ignored everyone and headed directly to the Peterson house. He opened the door without knocking, startling the Cofran girl who was inside with Shaun. The boy’s eyes lit up when he saw Maxson, but he ignored the child and turned to the girl.

“What happened?!” he asked. Cindy cowered a little. Maxson was large and intimidating under the best of circumstances, but when he was aggravated he was terrifying.

“S-someone saw the P-paladin walking out of t-t-town with her. Last night. I…. I f-f-found this.”

The girl handed Arthur a holotape and then stepped back quickly.

“There’s a w-working terminal in a house down the street,” she said.

***

Less than an hour later, Nate Peterson found himself being shaken awake by no less than the Elder himself.

He rubbed his eyes blearily, trying to make sense of what was going on.

“We’ve found the traitor, and he’s kidnapped your sister. I have the co-ordinates. You and I are to go there alone to retrieve her.”

Nate sat up, suddenly awake.

“Who is it?” he asked.

When Maxson told him, Nate swore loudly.

***

The first thing Bonnie registered was a dripping sound.

The second thing was pain.

The deep throbbing agony in her head made her afraid to open her eyes, but curiosity and fear soon overcame her pain and she cracked open one eye carefully.

She was in a dank room, and it seemed to be underground. Dead, prewar equipment lined the walls, and brown liquid oozed from cracks in the wall and ceiling. She turned her head, trying to see more of the room.

Her eye caught on Paladin Danse sitting in the corner, rubbing his temples with the palms of his hands, and it all came rushing back. The way he had led her past where the vertibird usually landed, his excuse about Arthur being nearby.

The sudden blow to her head before everything went black.

“You… you… kidnapped me!” she croaked out.

The Paladin looked up at her when she spoke. He stood and walked over to stand in front of her. He stood between her and the single bare bulb on the ceiling that was lighting the room, causing her eyes to water from the light. She couldn’t see his face clearly.

“Why? Why would you do this?”

“I didn’t have a choice. When the signal shut off, I knew I had failed at my mission. And when… when... Nate returned from the Institute I knew it was only a matter of time. I needed leverage. So I took you.” Bonnie was taken aback at the way Danse spat her brother’s name.

“Why me? I’m nobody?”

“You’re not nobody. You’re my ticket out of here.”

Bonnie closed her eyes. The light was hurting them anyway. “I don’t understand, Danse”

“Don’t call me that. Don’t! I’m M7-97.”

“M-? You have to explain. Please.”

He crouched down in front of her. “I am a synth. I was created to replace Danse and infiltrate the Brotherhood. My mind has been synced with the Paladin in order to better replicate his responses. But when… your brother entered the Institute, he did something to disconnect me. It’s only a matter of time before the Brotherhood finds me, or the Institute decides I have failed and executes me. But you are my ticket.”

 

The synth walked around her once, looking at her from every angle. He grabbed her roughly by the face and tipped it from side to side, examining it in the light. “Hmph. I don’t know what he sees in you.” He released her face. She tried to bring her hand up to rub her jaw but discovered her hands were bound behind her back with rough rope or twine.

“I left clues,” M7-97 continued. “They should be here sometime in the next day or so. And then I will trade you for Maxson, and with the Elder of the Brotherhood in hand, the Institute will bring me home.”

“I thought you said you were created to replace Danse. Do you even remember the Institute?”

M7-97 stood and began pacing. “I do remember. I remember when I lived there, and I was me. And then they sent me to the surface and put the signal in my head. And I wasn’t me any more. I was. And I wasn’t. I knew everything Danse was thinking. He couldn’t control me but I could search his mind, find his memories and thoughts.”

The synth stopped dead, grabbing his hair with both hands and clenching his face tightly. “I knew the moment he knew. He started talking, then he started yelling. I could hear his voice in my head. Night and day. Always. Relentless. Duty. Honour. Ammo. Brotherhood. Arthur. Haylen. Arthur. Recon. Armour. Haylen. Sanctuary Initiate Peterson. Arthur. Peterson. Peterson. Nate. Nate. Nate. NATE. NATE. NATE! NATE! NATENATENATENATE! Screaming. Always screaming. I tried to leave him in the Glowing Sea but Danse wouldn’t let me. Screaming every minute.”

M7-97 stopped. He looked at Bonnie, who was cringing away from him. “But now he’s gone,” he continued, cold. Deadly. “And I am going to end Nate and bring Maxson to the Institute and finally go home.”

Bonnie didn’t know what to say, how to react. All she knew was she was terrified. He stared at her, breathing heavily. Then gunshots outside broke the deadly silence.

“They’re here,” he said.

***

M7-97 pushed Bonnie ahead of him out the front door of the bunker. Her hands were still tied behind her back. She blinked in the bright afternoon sun, the glare causing pain to flare up in her head. When her vision cleared, she took in the smoking turrets above the door, and Nate and Arthur standing in front of the door, their weapons drawn.

“Let her go!” shouted Nate.

“You’re not in control here,” M7-97 replied, calmly. “I am. I suggest you remember that.”

“What happened to Danse? Is he dead?” asked Arthur.

“As far as I know, he’s still alive. Unless they killed him when he disconnected us.”

“What is it you want. Why kidnap her?”

“I’m willing to give her back to her brother, Maxson. As long as you give yourself up to me.”

“Don’t do it, Arthur!” Bonnie screamed, but she was cut off by the synth’s hand over her mouth and the cold barrel of a gun pressed to her temple.

“Drop. Your. Weapons.” M7-97’s voice was cold and devoid of humanity. Nate and Arthur threw their weapons to the ground.

“Now. I will release your sister once I have Maxson.”

Arthur raised his hands into the air and approached Bonnie and the synth slowly, keeping eye contact with M7-97 the whole time. He stopped short about six feet away. “Cut her hands free, synth,” Arthur spat. “Or I go no further.”

“Any moves and I cut her throat,” the synth warned. He holstered his gun and pulled out a combat knife, sawing at the ropes around Bonnie’s wrist until her hands were freed. He didn’t release her, however. He kept his arm tight around her shoulders and held the knife to her throat.

Arthur began approaching again, and when he was within reach, M7-97 threw Bonnie aside and snatched Arthur around the neck in one swift movement. The synth was faster and stronger, and Arthur didn’t stand a chance.

“Now. Take your sister and go, and your Elder might survive,” M7-97 told Nate. Bonnie saw him replace his knife in its sheath. She looked at his face, the way he glowered at Nate, the hatred on his face, and she knew without a shadow of a doubt that this was his only chance. This was her only chance.

She didn’t hesitate. She couldn’t. She did the only thing she could.

She jumped to her feet and rushed at Arthur and the synth, grabbing the pistol from the holster on his hip and pulling it out.

***

Arthur knew he couldn’t have done it. He’d spent too many years with Danse to ever be able to pull the trigger on him. He looked from the body, identical in every way to his closest friend and mentor, to Bonnie as she stood, shaking, the gun still smoking in her hand.

Somehow she had saved him. She’d saved them all.

Her eyes were bleary and bloodshot, and blood was caked in her hair. Arthur wrapped his arms around her for a moment, then removed his coat and draped it over her.

“We’re going to the Prydwen, he said, and pulled her towards the vertibird, leaving the corpse of the synth bleeding into the snow from the bullet hole in his head.

Chapter Text

When they arrived on the Prydwen, Arthur insisted they go directly to Knight-Captain Cade’s office to have Bonnie looked at. She was swaying on her feet. Nate followed behind as Arthur half-carried her to the medical bay.

Cade was working at his terminal when Arthur came in with Bonnie, and he immediately directed her to the exam cot. “What happened?”

“The traitor kidnapped her in an attempt to capture me. Miss Peterson managed to kill him.”

Cade raised an eyebrow. He knew her well enough from her visits to doubt that she had shot anyone, and would not have believed it if both Elder Maxson and Knight Peterson weren’t standing there telling him.

He examined her quickly, discovering that despite the large amount of blood crusted in her hair and splattered on her clothing, she only had a mild concussion. “Nothing a stimpack, a shower, and a good night’s rest won’t cure.” Arthur let out a sigh of relief.

Cade applied the stimpack and then turned to Arthur. “When was the last time you slept, sir?”

Arthur pressed his fingertips to his forehead and tried to recall. It had been close to two days. “I have to call a meeting to debrief-”

Cade interrupted. “Knight Peterson can tell the senior crew what happened. I’m using my medical authority to override yours, and ordering you to bed rest for at least twelve hours.”

Arthur didn’t have it in him to argue. He watched as Cade checked Bonnie’s eyes. The doctor nodded and patted her on the shoulder before helping her to her feet. “Make sure you eat something before you go to sleep,” he told her.

Arthur turned to Nate. “Knight, please go see Proctor Quinlan, tell him everything that happened, and tell him to call the appropriate people for a meeting. We’ll meet again in the morning.” When Nate saluted, Arthur dismissed him, and he hugged and kissed Bonnie on the cheek before departing. Arthur turned to Cade. “Can you have a steward bring some food to my quarters, and the guest quarters as well?”

“Yes, sir. Do you need someone to escort Miss Peterson to the guest quarters?”

“No, I can do it,” he replied.

***

Bonnie felt significantly better after the stimpack and was able to walk unassisted to the living quarters with Arthur. When they arrived outside the guest quarters they stopped. Both of them seemed to be waiting for something.

Arthur took her hand, lifting it and turning it palm up. He rubbed his thumb across it for a moment then looked Bonnie in the eyes. “I was never so afraid as when I found out you were missing,” he whispered.

Bonnie looked up at him, noticing the dark circles under his eyes, the furrowed brow. She stepped up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest. She sighed as his arms came around her and held her tightly. She didn’t want to ever let go.

They stood that way for a long time until footsteps drove them apart. It was a steward carrying two trays. He looked from one to the other uncertainly. “Sir…?”

Arthur looked at Bonnie. “Do you want to come eat with me?” he asked.

When she nodded, Arthur directed the steward to bring both trays to his quarters.

After the steward had left, Arthur closed the door and set out the food while Bonnie washed her hands. They sat to eat. They were both ravenous and ate quickly without talking. Bonnie looked at him as she finished to find he was watching her too, already done. He reached across the table and took her hand. He squeezed her fingers gently.

“Stay with me?” he said quietly.

Bonnie felt a low, twisting heat in her belly when he spoke. “Yes,” she said, without hesitation.

He directed her to use the shower, handing her some of his clothing along with a towel before sending her into the bathroom. Bonnie showered, scrubbing her hair twice to get the dried blood out, then dressed herself in the t-shirt and shorts he had given her. They hung loosely on her body, and she felt her skin tingle at the idea that she was wearing clothes that had last sat next to Arthur’s skin.

When she was done, Arthur went to shower after her, and she stood for a moment in the centre of the room, chewing on her hair nervously. She wasn’t sure where to wait. Her stomach was flipping around and her heart was pounding. She stepped up to the bed and looked at it for a moment, then looked at the desk and table, trying to decide if she should sit somewhere.

She looked back at his bed. Impulsively, she picked up one of his pillows and brought it to her face. It carried his smell, faintly, a kind of leathery metal tang she had come to associate with him, and she closed her eyes for a moment, and her nervousness melted. She lay down, burying her face in his pillow, and closed her eyes.

When Arthur emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, dressed in sweatpants and a t-shirt, he found Bonnie fast asleep on his bed.

He looked at her for a moment, then his face cracked with an unexpected yawn. He stepped over to the bed and eased the blanket gently out from underneath her. After shutting off the light he crawled in beside her and gathered her in his arms. His holotags glowed blue between them, highlighting the contours of her face. He trailed his finger along the soft curve of her cheek, before kissing it lightly and closing his eyes. Within minutes he was asleep.

***

Bonnie awoke warm, rested, and wrapped in Arthur’s arms. His arm was under her head and the other was draped over her waist. She tipped her head back to look at him. The dark circles under his eyes had faded somewhat, and the creases in his brow were eased as he rested. He looked younger asleep than he ever did awake, and her eyes drank in the sight of him, glowing blue in the light of his holotags, skimming over his scarred cheek and strong nose, and full lips, parted slightly as he slept.

When she looked back up at his eyes, she saw they were open and looking right at her. “Hello,” he said.

“Hello,” she replied.

His eyes searched hers in the dim light, roaming over her face. “Bonnie. You’re so beautiful.” His hand came up to push the hair back from her face. She opened her mouth to protest but before she could say anything he was kissing her, swallowing her words and taking them inside himself to be dissolved.

His kisses moved along her jaw, behind her ear and down her neck. “You are so beautiful. You don’t know how long I’ve wanted to be with you like this.”

Bonnie wanted to believe him. Everything in her was saying no, no, it can’t be real. She pulled back for a moment, worried. She didn’t believe him, but she wanted to believe him, even if only for a moment.

The words popped into her head unbidden, a habit that she no longer even thought about.

Fake it til you make it.

Maybe she didn’t believe him. But she could certainly pretend to for a little while.

She put her hand behind his head and pulled him closer, kissing him hungrily.

Arthur let out a soft groan and pulled her flush against him, his hand on her back sliding down to cup her backside as he pressed her to him. They were touching along the whole length of their bodies, her toes brushing his shins, chest to chest, and she could feel him stiffening against her thigh. It sent an answering heat between her legs.

His roaming hand went everywhere, and she shuddered with pleasure when it slid underneath her t-shirt and up her bare back. Bonnie echoed his movements with her own, savouring the feel of his skin under her fingertips, the firmness of his muscled back.

When he began tugging at her shirt, she sat up to make it easier. But finding herself suddenly bare made the awkwardness return and she crossed her arms over her chest, feeling the need to hide, even in this dim light. Arthur sensed her discomfort and sat up. He kissed her gently before removing his own shirt. He kissed her again and took her by the wrists, placing her hands on his chest. “You have nothing to hide,” he said.

His chest was firm, covered in thick, soft hair, and she clenched her fingers in it for a moment. She reminded herself to trust him. She allowed her hands to relax.

When Arthur felt her hands unclench and slide up around his neck, he smiled against her lips and lowered her gently to the bed. He let his hands roam her body as he kissed his way down her neck to her collarbone. She gasped when one hand came up to cup her breast. It was large and soft, and he felt her nipple stiffen when he brushed it with his thumb.

When he closed his mouth over her nipple, she let out a soft moan that made him smile. It reminded him of the breathy sounds she had made the first time they had kissed, the way her hair shone in the sun that day in Sanctuary, the first time he had really noticed her. He felt absurdly proud to have pulled such sounds from her, and sucked her nipple into his mouth in hopes of achieving more.

Her hands in his hair combined with the sounds she made served to urge him on, and he continued, licking at one breast and then the other until he had her thrumming. When he skimmed his hand over her belly, she arched up into his hand

“Bonnie,” he whispered. “I want to touch you. You’re so soft.”

“Please, Arthur,” she managed to gasp, arching into his hand again. He obliged, slipping his hand into her shorts. He trailed his finger lightly downward. She was slick, he found, his fingers slipping easily through her folds. When he found her hard nub and brushed it lightly, she cried out, a new sound he’d never heard from her before.

Bonnie wasn’t a virgin, she’d lived with someone for over a year. But he’d never taken the time with her, never touched her this way, pulling these feelings from her body that she didn’t know were possible. Every touch of his hand on her made her go higher, the pressure slowly building in her, a coiling twining heat. He brought his mouth back down to her breast, his tongue on her nipple sending more flames to her core.

She was past the point of caring when he pulled her shorts off and tossed them aside. He nudged her thighs apart to give him better access, slipping a finger inside her while he continued to circle that sensitive bud with his thumb. She felt tight and empty at the same time as he brought her higher, the feeling in her body almost unbearable as she came closer and closer to the edge of something….

She barely registered the second finger he pushed inside alongside the first, deeply, but when he curled his fingers and dragged them along her insides, she came apart. She went over the edge as the wave of heat within her crested and broke, pulling a cry from her lips that Arthur swallowed as he kissed her, holding her as she rode his hand, her legs splayed open as she came.

He saw her shed her last layer for him as she came apart in his hands, and the smiling golden woman he’d glimpsed before so many times revealed herself in the soft blue light of his holotags. “Bonnie, you’re so beautiful,” he said again, feeling the pulse of her body slow down as she gradually came back to herself, her skin shimmering with a thin sheen of sweat.

She opened her eyes and looked at him, smiling in a way that made his chest tighten. “Arthur…” she said in a low, quiet voice. He groaned. He couldn’t wait any longer for her. He kissed her and moved on top of her, watching her face carefully for any sign of discomfort, but he saw nothing as he adjusted himself and slowly sank into her.

He buried himself in her welcoming heat, giving her a moment to adjust to his presence within her. When he felt her relax, opening her thighs further and curling one hand behind his head, he began to move, rocking into her with slow, gentle thrusts.

He found her hand in the dark, then she removed her other hand from his neck and entwined her fingers with his. He pulled both of her hands up over her head, their fingers locked together, and kissed her as they moved in unison. Everything about her body was softness and comfort and home.

He could sense the urgency within her building as it was in him. He bit his lip, trying to slow down, but she moved ever faster, locking one leg around his hip and urging him on. He gave in with a groan and sped up, sliding into her harder with every stroke.

He felt it when she came, clamping down on him, and the tight pressure was enough to send him over the edge. He came inside her with a low groan, feeling like he was giving her his soul.

***

Bonnie was regarding herself in the mirror with a frown a few minutes later. She had fallen asleep with her hair wet and it had dried in a tangled mess around her head. Her freckles had faded somewhat since the summer had ended, but they had not gone away. She had lost some weight in the last few months, the hardness of life in the wasteland leaving its mark, but she was still soft and lined from her pregnancy, her breasts a bit too big and a bit too soft.

She was still scowling when he came in and wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder and catching her eye in the mirror.

“I can’t believe you said I was beautiful,” she said, half to herself.

He stared at her in disbelief. “You are beautiful. Smiling and golden and perfect. You’re like a goddess.”

Bonnie snickered. “I’m no Aphrodite,” she said.

“No, you’re not,” he replied. He sounded serious as he continued. “Venus is the goddess of love and spring and the promise of bounty. You’re not her. You are Ceres, the golden goddess of autumn, the promise fulfilled, and I love you.”

She turned around in his arms and searched his face for some sign he was joking or lying, but she found nothing but sincerity in his eyes.

“You… you love me?” she said, her voice shaking.

“I think I did since the day I saw you standing in the sun, laughing and wet, before you saw me and hid yourself in your shell. You had sunbeams in your hair.” He kissed her on the lips and straightened up. “Come back to bed soon,” he said, and left.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Sunbeams. She shook her head.

She shut off the light and climbed back into bed with Arthur, still naked. He wrapped his arms around her and she slipped her hand around his waist. They seemed to fit together easily, and she was warm and comfortable.

“Arthur?” she whispered.

“Hm?”

“I think I love you too.” She smiled as his arms tightened around her and he pressed a kiss to her hair.

Chapter Text

Arthur slammed his hands down onto the table. “I don’t think you understand the urgency here. We don’t have time to debate the merits of one attack over the other. Paladin Danse is in there and every hour we wait to attack decreases our chances of pulling him out alive. So stop postulating on bringing weapons and nukes and giant robots here and work with what we’ve got.

Nate sat off to the side. As the lowest ranked person in the room, he hadn’t felt comfortable speaking up. While the proctors and Maxson and the rest argued, he’d been staring at the printed out map of the Institute. No matter how they approached it, it was clear that a frontal attack on the facility would be unsuccessful. But Nate was trained in infiltration and stealth, and he was the only person who had been inside. He knew there was another way.

He continued examining the blueprint as the argument raged on around him, until suddenly he saw it. He stood up and said loudly, “There.”

The others stopped their bickering and looked. “This drainage pipe. A small team could infiltrate the Institute and access the relays. We transport in several squads of power armour. They make their way to the reactor here, and set some explosives. Meanwhile, the original infiltration team goes to Host Holding and retrieves Danse and anyone else they find. We leave a third team behind to guard the relay and when everyone is back, we leave and blow the place sky high.”

Maxson and the rest just looked at him for a moment, then each other. Then Ingram spoke up. “We’re going to need a remuster point, with med teams waiting. And we need to decide on team leads… Paladin Scott has a lot of demolitions expertise…”

Nate sat down in relief as the conversation carried on around him. It seemed his suggestion had been accepted without question, and they were just working out the details. He smiled when the Elder caught his eye and nodded slightly.

***

The meeting broke up a few hours later, with the details worked out. There was little time to waste as the attack would begin at midnight. Arthur asked around for a few minutes until he located Bonnie, who was speaking with Scribe Haylen in the mess hall. He pulled her aside with a smiled apology to the Scribe, and they walked quickly towards the guest quarters.

They ducked inside quickly and Arthur pulled her into his arms and kissed her, sliding his hands around behind her to cup her rear. He pulled her tight against him as he kissed her thoroughly for several minutes, before taking her face in his hands and kissing both her cheeks and her forehead.

He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against hers for a moment, until Bonnie leaned back and looked at him. “What was that for?” she asked.

“I just want you to know I love you.” He hesitated a moment, but he didn’t believe in softening hard realities. “We’re going into the Institute tonight. I’m leading the reactor team, and Knight Peterson -Nate- is leading the infiltration team. We might not make it out and I just wanted...I needed… I need you to know I love you in case I don’t come back.”

“Oh…”

It was just one word, one sound that Bonnie uttered, but somehow it said it all. She pulled his face down to hers and kissed him, trying to let him know how much she loved him too, how much she needed him, and how much she would miss him if he didn’t return.

She pulled him to the bed and they pulled quickly at each other’s clothing, falling down and into each other urgently, both knowing it could be the last time. It was quick, but Arthur made sure not to leave Bonnie unsatisfied. Afterward she lay across his chest, sweating and flushed, and he pulled her tight and kissed her hard.

Bonnie rested her chin on his chest and looked up into his face. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

Arthur thought for a moment. “Yeah, actually. If you want to join the medical team at Starlight, working with Cade and Haylen, an extra pair of hands would be more than welcome. We still don’t know what we are going to find in there.” He tried not to think of Danse in the Institute for the last several months while his replacement lived his life unmolested and undiscovered.

Bonnie seemed to sense his distress. She squeezed his hand, then said, “I can do that. They radioed back last night to say I was retrieved, and Shaun is safe. I’d rather be here helping.”

He pulled her close and kissed the side of her head.

***

At eight that evening, she was stepping off a Vertibird at Starlight, dressed in borrowed scribe’s clothing, and listening as Cade briefed everyone on what they were to expect. Arthur was assembling the demolition team, and Nate was leading his team of himself and three other infiltrators through the drainage tunnel and into the Institute.

They were dressed in black uniforms, and each was equipped with a silenced pistol, a knife, and a stealth boy. Nate had been briefing them along the way on their part of the mission. He was confident in their abilities.

They made their way to the entrance of the tunnel, splashing their way through the water that came pouring out. It was icy cold and half-frozen, but it warmed as they neared their goal.

They took out the few ferals they found with ease. The creatures were were sluggish in the cold and simple to eliminate. The greater danger came from the laser turrets. The burnt ghoul corpses were the first indication there was any kind of defense down here, and so the team managed to spot them and take them out without triggering any of them.

It was still a long, slow hike slogging through the mess, and by the time they made their way into the Institute proper they were chilled to the bone, but dry at least due to the waterproof black flight suits.

The plan was for them to split up, and two of them were to head to the relay section, while the other two were to head to Host Holding. Maxson had made it clear that the relay was Nate’s priority. That getting the rest of the Brotherhood in was more important than rescuing Danse and the others, regardless of everyone’s personal feelings on the issue.

Nate chose to ignore that order. He may not have ever technically met the man but based on what Bonnie had told him earlier this afternoon, Danse knew him. He was his Brother, and Nate was not going to allow him to suffer a moment longer than necessary, especially when he had full confidence in knights Jones and Noble to operate the relay as planned.

He handed Jones the pip-boy, and sent them on their way, reminding them it was more important to go slowly and not get caught than it was to hurry.

He then turned to the third infiltrator, Knight Tyler. “I hope you’re ready,” he whispered to her. “I don’t know what we’re going to find in there, but I expect it won’t be pretty. We need to get Danse out, that’s our top priority. Anyone else is a bonus but if we have to leave them, we will.”

Knight Tyler nodded, and the pair headed together in the direction of Host Holding.

It took nearly an hour for them to make their way through the quiet facility towards the Synth Retention department, despite the lateness of the hour and the lack of people in the atrium. Tyler kept a watch out while Nate hacked his way through three separate security terminals until finally they crept into the Host Holding facility.

A man at a terminal spun in his chair when the door opened. Nate and Tyler held still, camouflaged by their stealth-boys, and when the man approached, curious, Nate grabbed him around the neck and covered his mouth with his hand. The man struggled but Nate was well trained. He whispered into the man’s ear, and when he nodded frantically, Nate removed an invisible hand from his mouth.

“What’s your name there, guy?”

“Mi- Mike,” he replied. “Please don’t kill me, I have a little boy, he’s only two.”

Nate swore to himself. He should have realized there were families down here. His soldier side was shouting “Enemy families!” It was the side of him that went through basic training in the army, when all Chinese were the enemy, civilian or not. But he’d never been faced with that choice before, and the part of him that had stood with Taylor in the hospital when Shaun had been placed in their arms, that had rocked him in the night and sang to him, that had changed his diapers and fretted over fevers and watched as he took his first tentative steps around the furniture was the part that said “I’m not gonna kill you, Mike. You help me and you’ll live. You and your family both.”

Mike nodded, and Nate released him, frowning to himself. He had no idea how he was going to get this guy and his family out. He would have to worry about that after he freed Danse. He turned off his stealth boy and looked around.

The room was lined with twelve pods, somewhat similar to the pods at the Memory Den, but the occupants were vertical and held with straps. Each person was connected to their pods with a variety of tubes and electrodes, and each pod had its own terminal. Nate checked each one, looking for Danse.

He sucked in a breath when he found him. He recognized the man immediately, but several months in the pod on life support had not been kind to him. He was wasted and thin, his skin pale and blotched with red rashes and sores, and his hair was coming out in clumps. He felt a white hot rage burn through him and he rounded on Mike and grabbed him by the shirt collar.

“What have you done to him?” he shouted, shaking the smaller man roughly.

“I-- he-- they all go like that... “ Mike stammered. Nate threw him to the ground and stalked back to the pod, looking for the opening.

“You can’t open it that way,” Mike said. “You’ll kill him. We need to disconnect the life systems and reactivate his neurological functions one at a time.”

“How long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know. My system’s been malfunctioning for a few days now, and the connection with the agents has been broken. I’m not sure if they even can be reactivated.”

Nate let out a frustrated growl. Mike just stared at him for a moment, until Nate shouted, “Do it, then!”

Nate spent the next three quarters of an hour pacing the room while Mike typed on the terminal, muttering under his breath. He tried not to glance at the corner where Tyler sat, still hidden by her stealth boy. Mke didn’t know she was there and Nate wanted to keep that ace up his sleeve.

He figured the other team should be getting close to activating the relay soon. He knew how long it would take to get there and to hack the system. He just didn’t know how the relay would sync up with the one at Starlight to transport in the armoured troops. Between the situation in the Host Holding department and the uncertainty with regards to the other teams, Nate’s was becoming increasingly agitated.

Finally, the pods opened with a hiss and Nate rushed over, ignoring the other six occupied pods. “You can remove the wires and stuff now,” said Mike. “If he’s going to wake up it will be in the next minute or two.”

Nate unstrapped Danse and caught him as he fell, lowering him to the ground and shaking him gently to awaken him. Finally, he came awake, and Nate found himself looking into familiar dark brown eyes.

“Nate,” Danse croaked, a faint smile pulling at the corner of his mouth. His hand came up to brush against Nate’s cheek, briefly, before falling away. Nate didn’t even have a chance to say anything before Danse’s eyes closed again and the alarms began.

Nate looked around briefly, then turned his attention back to the man in his arms.

That was when he noticed that Danse wasn’t breathing.

Chapter Text

Nothing ever changed. Nothing ever would.

Trapped in bright white walls, he watched his life through another’s eyes, while someone rifled through his thoughts and memories like a basket of rags.

He thought he was dreaming at first, then he realized he was trapped, linked somehow to this person who was living his life.

He tried to reason with him, tried to convince the imposter to let him go, but he was ignored. He wasn’t even sure he was heard. So he had waited and watched. And learned.

The first time he realized the impostor could indeed hear him was when he killed a synth woman. He did it because the woman, a simple working synth, knew enough about the Institute just by merit of having lived there to put the entire organization at risk. When the imposter killed her, Danse yelled for an hour straight until finally the synth version of himself put his hands over his head and said aloud, “Shut up!”

Danse was so surprised that he did.

But not for long. He watched as M7 allowed the deathclaw to attack Nate, then used the younger man’s injury to gain Virgil’s trust. But when M7 tried to leave with the plans, abandoning Nate to certain death, Danse fought back, screaming at him and threatening to drive him mad unless he got Nate out. And M7 had complied.

That’s how Danse had learned he had some measure of control.

He watched as Nate healed, and watched as the outgoing, friendly man was ostracised from his peers, spending more and more time chatting with M7/Danse as he had fewer people to talk to. He ached to talk back, to reassure him, but M7 stayed stubbornly silent.

He couldn’t stop M7 from sabotaging the relay, but he did manage to keep the synth from reporting into the Institute. When M7 crept away to make his reports, Danse flooded his mind with conversations and orders, leaving him with the memory of having reported in without having actually done it.

Danse’s constant harassment had an effect, subtly wearing away at the synth until he was teetering on the edge of madness, barely able to function, snapping at everyone who spoke with him.

And then Nate went into the relay and the link went dark.

Through all this, Danse had been semi-aware of his own surroundings, aware of the Holding team as they worked around him. He could feel his body deteriorating, and chose to spend as much time as he could in his head, in M7’s reality. In the world with his Brothers and Sisters, his friends Arthur and Haylen. And Nate.

But once the link had been severed and he lost that connection, he declined rapidly and lost all hope that he would be found. With no connection, the Institute would have no reason to keep him. He deteriorated quickly with no other world to distract him from his reality, and he began to hallucinate, images of people he knew and people who were gone blending together in a jumble.

He barely registered it when he fell from the pod, but he knew he was dying, and he was grateful that the last image his mind produced before death was Nate.

***

Death was funny, though.

It was blackness and pain, but not silence, as he could still hear Nate screaming about stimpacks.

***

Nate’s voice again. “We can’t help them… ...Mike and go evacuate… ...deal with Maxson later”

***

Pain again, the world shifted, he was being carried… Nate arguing with Maxson… a white light followed by blackness

***

Danse’s eyes opened slowly. They were dry and crusted over, but he could see. He was confused as to where he was at first, but the familiar hum of the Prydwen’s engines slowly clued him in.

He looked around. He was in sickbay. Good. I feel pretty fucking sick.

Nate was asleep in a chair nearby. Nate. Real, actual Nate. Danse came to the dawning realization that Nate had gotten him out, had brought him home to the Prydwen. Had sat here for who knows how long waiting for him to wake up.

He tried to speak but his mouth and throat were blocked, and the effort caused a wave of pain to wash over him and he lost consciousness once again.

***

He was wavering in a place between unconscious and awake when they pulled the tube from his throat, and he came fully alert. He tried to sit up, coughing, but Cade’s hand on his shoulder forced him back down.

“You aren’t going to be ready to get up for quite some time, son,” Cade said, so Danse relaxed back onto the pillow. He looked in the corner, but the chair was empty. He looked at Cade again.

“Knight Peterson has stepped out, but I can call him back if you like. Elder Maxson has been waiting for you to wake up too, if you want me to call him?”

Danse nodded, and Cade left the room.

He returned several minutes later with Nate, letting them know the Elder would be along shortly, then left the two alone

Danse looked at Nate, who was standing just inside the doorway looking uncomfortable. Danse was curious, since Nate had always seemed to be the outgoing, personable type, and not one to be awkward around people. But Danse couldn’t speak yet, so he just watched Nate.

Nate rubbed the back of his neck, then finally spoke up. “So I guess you want to know what happened? In the Institute?”

Danse nodded, then listened as Nate explained. After applying nearly a dozen stimpacks to Danse, Nate had carried him to the relay on his shoulders. The soldiers had entered and the entire facility had been alerted, but he was unmolested as he carried Danse back to the relay.

Meanwhile, Knight Tyler and the Host Holding technician, Mike, had begun evacuating Institute civilians through the tunnel the infiltration team had entered by. Mike’s wife and son had escaped, but Mike had gone back inside to help evacuate the other hosts in stasis, and had not made it out. Nor had any of the other synced humans in Host Holding.

Nate had encountered Maxson and the demolition team on the way, and Maxson had argued with him for several minutes about Nate disobeying orders, but he decided it needed to wait, and so Nate continued on his way to the relay. Danse was put on life support the moment they arrived at Starlight.

The remaining Brotherhood soldiers had begun relaying back within an hour. Maxson was the last to arrive, and it was only a moment later that the explosion shook the base. Nate had learned later that it had rocked the Prydwen on its moorings and broken windows in Sanctuary.

A team was dispatched to retrieve refugees from the Institute, and Danse had been airlifted back to the Prydwen, where he had been unconscious for the last six weeks.

When Nate finished talking , Danse had a million questions. But he was unable to speak so he just took a deep breath, trying to think of some way he could gesture his queries. But they both turned when the door opened and Arthur Maxson came in, followed closely by Bonnie Peterson.

Arthur showed no surprise at Danse’s appearance. Instead he strode over to the bed and gave him a firm hug. Danse could see the relief and joy in the eyes of his best friend, and he smiled back at the Elder, then glanced curiously between him and Bonnie.

Danse was aware that Arthur had been seeing her, but he wasn’t sure how serious it was. The woman was quiet and plain, and she seemed a poor match for Arthur Maxson. But then he smiled down at her and she smiled back up at him, and her face suddenly seemed to glow with an internal light of its own. Arthur seemed to light up in return, and the happiness shining between the two was so blatant that Danse couldn’t help but smile at them.

“Bonnie and I are going to get married,” Arthur announced, turning back to Danse. “Once you’re well enough. Meanwhile, I’m going to send you to Sanctuary to recuperate once Cade releases you from sickbay. It’s peaceful and safe there, and it will be a good place for you to recover. He says you will need several months of food and physical therapy until you are ready to rejoin the forces. In the meantime, I’m not leaving you undefended. I will be assigning Knight Peterson to defend Sanctuary full time until such time as you are ready to return to active duty.”

Danse smiled and closed his eyes, already exhausted from the last half hour. He opened them again as Arthur steered Bonnie out the door. “Rest, My friend. I’ll be back soon. Things are looking up for us all.”

Nate hesitated a moment at the door, and Danse beckoned him closer. When he approached the bed, Danse took his hand in his and squeezed it. Nate smiled and pulled the chair closer. Danse fell asleep with Nate’s hand in his.

Arthur was right. Things were looking up.

THE END