A scream tore from her throat, primal fear taking over as her mind came to grips with her current state; trapped with no way out. Claustrophobic from her earliest memories as a child, she became irrational and lost complete control.
Wild eyes frantically searched for a way out. Her vision was starting to grow dark at the edges and she knew it was only a matter of time before darkness overtook her and she surrendered to complete oblivion. Nothing else mattered at this exact moment but getting out of this tiny, cramped space where she could barely move, felt she couldn’t even breathe, and was starting to feel nauseous. Her body was shaking from the cold and now fear as well, causing an avalanche of emotions. Her heart pounded so loudly, she thought the people outside the window in front of her could hear it.
Wait. A window? She squinted through the ice crystals that partially covered the glass. There were people out there! She banged on the solid barrier as hard as she could, the movement sluggish, like a slow motion still in a movie. Suddenly, she realized how bitingly cold it was. Her fingertips and toes were numb to the point of pain.
Awareness came back to her all at once, slamming into her brain. The bombs, going to the vault with Nate and Shaun. A feeling of relief made her whole body go limp, held up only by the angle in which she was standing. Those people were across from her. It was okay. Closing her eyes, she took deep breaths to still her racing heart, just like Nate had taught her. His voice filled her mind. Breath, baby. Deep, slow breaths. In, then out. That’s it. Focus on my voice and calm your heartbeat. It was the deep tone of his soothing voice that had helped her many times before when she had been catatonic with fear.
Opening her eyes, she watched the hazy scene unfold across from her and quickly understood that those people weren’t here to help. They were trying to take Shaun away from Nate but he wasn’t letting their baby boy go. The voices were distorted through the thick door and she couldn’t quite make them out. Then Nate yelled, his voice loud and angry, passing clearly through the thick door, “I’m not giving you Shaun!”
There was a loud bang and suddenly, Shaun was whisked away from Nate, his arms falling slack. Her mind refused to acknowledge what it had seen, taking several agonizing moments to fully comprehend the events in succession. When it did, it hit her like a blow to the heart; they had killed Nate and now they were taking Shaun. She was all alone now.
Shaking her head, she refused to believe it was happening. She couldn’t catch her breath to scream but that didn’t stop the sound from erupting in her head, drowning out everything else. Darkness overwhelmed her, spiraling ever closer from the edge of her vision, a whirlpool of oblivion that she welcomed willingly. Her last image was a man with a balding head and a horrific scar on his face, words clear to her as he looked in her window, “At least we still have the backup….”
Eyes squeezed tightly closed, tears leaked through her lids like soldiers breaching a wall. Thankfully the nightmare faded away to a dream of her little family before the war. Nate was laughing at Shaun who was waving his arms and legs and cooing. She watched them, her heart so full of emotion. Nate turned to look at her and those eyes pierced her with the love that shown in them. As she lost herself in their depths, they turned a darker shade of grey, another emotion taking over; the one that shown in his eyes and traveled through his fingertips when he caressed her body.
Closing her eyes even tighter, she desperately tried to keep that dream of Nate with her forever. If she never opened her eyes again, he would stay….wouldn’t he? And Shaun would be there with them always. But as so often happens with what one desires the most, the icy fingers of reality pried them both from her once again. It was a war they fought, her and reality, every morning since she had escaped her frozen hell. Three months to the day.
Alice woke up as Nate slipped from her mind, like tendrils of fog in the warming sun. Sitting upright on the bed Codsworth had salvaged from who knew where, she swung her legs over the side and wiped away the tears that tracked down her cheeks with the backs of her hands. Would there ever be a morning where she would wake up ready to face the day instead of dreading it and all she had lost? She wondered how much more a person could take of that – and she wasn’t even strong to begin with. Nate had been the strong one.
One of the last memories she had of Nate was getting ready for his big speech at Concord.
Looking in the mirror, he was standing behind her waiting his turn. He was smirking at her because she spent more time looking at and admiring him then getting herself ready. He shouldn’t have been surprised, really.
Looking at their reflections staring back at them, she knew they made a very odd couple. He was exceptionally tall, dwarfing her by sheer size. He had dark, swarthy skin and hair such a dark black, the sun gave it bluish highlights. Add to that his full beard and Nate would have made a very sexy pirate in another era.
What drew her most though were those expressive steel grey eyes that watched her with such love that it made her swell.
Looking in the mirror now, only her image stared back. She was the ugly duckling in this story and in her heart, she knew she would never become a swan.
And just like the image of him in her head, in the mirror, Nate haunted her day and night -- always close by but never within reach. Deep down she knew it was more from her fragile state and inability to let go. She wasn’t equipped to live in a world like this. He had been her lifeline in another world, one at the time she'd thought was harsh and cruel.
A bitter laugh escaped from between pale, chapped lips. She hadn’t known what harsh and cruel meant. Fate must be laughing at her expense, showing her how little she had known about the meaning of those words.
Behind her, she could hear Codsworth hovering at the doorway, waiting to speak to her. If she closed her eyes again, she could almost imagine that none of this had happened. That she and Nate were entangled in the sheets and each other, lying on their bed, Codsworth outside their door ready to announce he had made fresh coffee and breakfast was ready.
As if conjured from her conscience, she could hear Nate speak clearly in her head. Hey, Sparrow. You got this okay? You’re stronger and tougher than you think. She could feel his lips move as he smiled, his mouth next to her ear. His warm, strong body was an anchor behind her as those muscular arms wrapped her in safety. Remember. I’ve got you -- always and forever. Whenever you need me, you just reach out and I’ll be here for you. Okay, Sparrow?
Her lips curled up in half a smile. Sparrow -- Nate’s pet name for her. She had thought he used it because she was so tiny and small. Then, she looked up the definition of Sparrow. A small, plump, brown-grey bird with a short tail and a stubby, powerful beak. She had been so annoyed with him, an unusual emotion for her. When she confronted him about it, he had smiled down at her, his eyes sparkling with laughter; laughter that had ended up being contagious.
In her opinion, she was more like the antithesis of a sparrow. Slight and tiny with pale blonde hair, pale skin and even lighter birthmarks scattered across her face, cheeks and forehead red from a skin condition, freak of nature would be a better way to describe her.
Her smile slowly slipped away, again remembering the pain of what she had lost. She knew she would never find that ever again. Nate had been so gentle with her, so patient, and always by her side. Instinctively, she knew the people who grew up in this world after the bombs fell were tougher and stronger. Here, only the strong survived.
That thought brought her back again to Nate. He would have survived here. He was the strong one. The resilient one. He had started to teach her with infinite patience how to overcome her crippling fears. He had been an incredibly gentle man for being so strong and fierce, and in the face of things that would cripple even a normal person. Those were words she would never label herself. Going to war, he had seen things that had haunted him and yet still, he never let them get in the way of his happiness.
“Mum, I found some tea!” Codsworth’s cheerful voice floated through air. He sounded so excited and she didn’t want to disappoint him again. She had done so much of that lately.
Sighing, she got up and followed him down the hallway.
Looking around her house, it wasn’t the same as before. Codsworth had helped her clear out the broken and useless furniture and clean up the debris scattered all over the floor. Not much remained after they were done. However, the ghosts still remained and refused to be laid to rest.
She supposed having any memories around her of the life she once had with Nate was probably not healthy but she didn’t really care. All she wanted was her old life back, to grow old with Nate, raise Shaun with joy and happiness and laughter – all the things she never had growing up. Shaun’s room now had a door that she kept closed. It was a reminder that she should be out there searching. She hated herself for failing him, for failing Nate.
Being the strong one was just not something she was capable of. Confronting this frightening world was beyond her scope of functioning for the moment.
Poor Codsworth, he tried so hard to help but all she wanted was Nate to hold her in his arms again.
She had always felt so tiny and insignificant beside him and yet so protected. For the first time in her life, she had felt needed and loved. Then it was gone in an intense, fatal explosion. What hurt the most was that he could have been here with her if not for the greed of a man with a gun.
Once again, Codsworth startled her out of her thoughts. “I thought we could go search the houses and look for anything else salvageable. Would that be acceptable, Mum?”
That was the last thing that Alice wanted to do. She had spent most of the last three months hiding out in this house while he had done his best to get her to live again. How was she supposed to make him understand that living was just too hard?
The panic attacks that had come so often after she left the vault had left her exhausted and just wanting to give up. In time they had come less and less but she was still weak and tired and there was just no energy to go on. What did she have to live for now? Shaun was probably better off wherever he was, thriving without a mother who couldn’t even care for herself.
Every time her memories touched on the vault and trying to kill those mutant roaches, she would just return to her memories of Nate and their former life instead. Reality was too hard here and she just wanted to run and hide and never be found.
She knew how ridiculous it was to think that way and Nate had shown her that she didn’t have to hide anymore but he was gone now, so what was the point? She hated venturing outside; there were too many dangers out there. Still, she often felt guilty as Codsworth hovered in and out, making his way around Sanctuary finding any items he thought she could use. Today, she had finally let him convince her to go outside again. The day was bright and sunny so she believed she should be safe from any storms and hopefully any other dangers.
They hadn’t been out for long but had covered a lot of ground, picking through piles as they went. In fact, they gone past the roundabout at the end of the street and ended up near the river that ran past Sanctuary. Standing up and stretching her back, Alice saw Codsworth about ten feet away pick up an item, look at it and toss it back down. A small smile appeared on her face. He did that a lot.
Turning her head back towards the river, she closed her eyes and breathed deeply as a cool breeze blew past her. A strange smell made her eyes snap open. It was sweet, yet pungent and for some reason, it made her anxious. She wasn’t sure why. Scanning the area, she didn’t see anything dangerous, although she was hardly a walking textbook for post war changes.
Keeping an eye on the area around here, she kneeled back down and began looking through another pile of junk. There was quite a lot of it littering the sides of the river and Codsworth had thought they might find something useful. So far, it had been a bust.
The breeze was getting stronger, fingers of air pulling strands of her hair from the bobby pins keeping it up. She had to stop several times to pull it back behind her ears. It was like a game between her and the wind; tug it out, tuck it back, over and over. Becoming increasingly frustrated, she stood up, putting her hands on her hips as if to warn a child she had had enough. Her frustration waned as a frisson of fear snaked its way down her back, her eyes widening slightly.
Thick grey clouds had moved across the sky in the distance, creeping closer to Concord and moving in the direction of Sanctuary. The clouds didn’t remind her of the Radstorm she had been through after leaving the vault. Then again, her memory was hazy at best, having experienced a panic attack. In any case, she had no desire to repeat that experience. She was beginning to think that maybe it would be a good idea to start heading back to the house.
Turning to make her way up the hill and back towards the house, Codsworth called to her from further along the river. Apparently, he had found something he thought she should see. Anxiously glancing back behind her, she walked swiftly towards him. As soon as she checked it out, she was heading straight for the house.
Approaching him, she heard the deep rumble of thunder in the distance, followed closely by a distant flash of light. The storm was coming closer. She knew it was a regular thunderstorm, no different from before the war. There was no green haze to suggest a Radstorm was on the way. However, her mind refused all logical explanations.
Instead, she could feel her muscles tense and her heart speed up. The clouds were still far enough away, yet she could feel occasional rain drops on her skin. Everywhere they hit, she twitched in response as if it was acid hitting her skin instead of rain. With a suddenness that gave her no time to react, she was overcome by a recent memory.