When they finally make it back to Diamond City Nick lets them crash for a couple days without complaint. It’s been a long three day walk back from Quincy and they had dealt with an alarming number of gen 1 and 2 squads that had been roaming the Commonwealth for who knows how long.
(It was weird, it seemed like they were looking for something. Well, something other than more settlements to dismantle and destroy. It worries Ezra because it seemed like they had a tight search pattern and it’s driving him up the walls trying to figure out what they could possibly be looking for.)
“Eddie Winter’s been in the same place for over 200 years, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon,” he tells them as he tosses a couple of spare blankets to them. “Besides, I gotta listen to the tapes to get the code and that’ll take some time.”
Deacon and Ezra pass out on the bed upstairs while Dogmeat sits with Nick, resting his head on the synth’s thigh as he works through the night and most of the next day.
The icy winds of Alaska howl in his ears as he looks down his scope at what’s happening.
A group of soldiers in power armor tormenting a civilian (they’ve already broken an arm, he can tell by the way it hangs limply). They’re probably hopped up on Psycho if the look in their eyes is anything to go by. Ezra can feel his gut churning and an ache in his chest. The poor guy just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and the outcome doesn’t seem to be in his favor at all.
Either the civilian gets beaten to death by the incensed and drugged up soldiers, or he lives through it and gets shipped off to a Little Yangtze where he’ll remain until the end of his days.
Or, Ezra could stop him from experiencing either agonizing fate.
Ezra steadies himself and takes the shot. A quick and relatively painless death. A mercy killing. He tastes ashes in his mouth and it leaves his gut churning.
The civilian lies motionless on the ground as the snow is stained red. The soldiers look confused and agitated, but don’t bother to look for the source of the shot; they know they’re being watched and by who (not specifically, but it’s no secret that anyone who’s on Psycho is watched closely). Ezra fires a warning shot when one of them tries to mutilate the body. After that they move along, still amped up and ready to fight, but now more cautious, more wary about who and how.
Bile rises up his throat, eyes stinging with the buildup of tears, but he shoves it all down as gets up to follow them at a distance. Honestly, he’s disgusted with this, everything, having to keep an eye on other soldiers, especially those who enthusiastically take extra rations of Psycho. He knows he’s not the only one who has been tasked with this, but it still leaves a rotten taste in his mouth.
But if it’ll keep Moira – and her parents by extension – out of a Little Yangtze, he’ll fucking grin and bear it.
Moira’s a lawyer and very publically outspoken against the camps, against the witch hunt against Chinese-Americans, but she’s also married to him, someone who is in the military, so they can’t just spirit her away in the night, not without anyone kicking up a big enough fuss about it, but it’s always a possibility that it’ll happen anyway. She won’t be happy about this when she founds out, because he’s never been able to hide anything from her, about the blood on his hands that he’s essentially accepted willingly (doesn’t matter how sick it makes him feel, he still accepted the offer, the devil’s bargain).
That’s thing about war though; it never changes and no one comes out of it clean. There’s always blood on everyone’s hands.
Ezra doesn’t know how long he and Deacon have been sleeping, but he wakes to glowing yellow eyes in the darkness as he’s shaken out of his dreams.
“Nick?” Ezra whispers as he tries to rub the sleep out his eyes with the heel of his hand.
“I got the code to get into Eddie Winter’s bunker,” the detective says as he straightens back up and turns to head back downstairs. “Come down when you two are ready to go.”
He stares groggily after the synth for a few moments before reaching down to shake the arm Deacon has wrapped around Ezra’s middle.
“Five more minutes,” Deacon mumbles as he curls tighter around him as Ezra sits up.
“C’mon, up and at ‘em. We got work to do.”
He picks up the sunglasses from the bedside table and hands them over while still looking at the ladder that Nick descended only moments ago. Deacon takes them with a sigh, disentangling himself from Ezra and shuffling to the edge of the bed to get his shoes on.
“We better be getting overtime for this,” Deacon yawns as he stretches his arms, but there’s a half smile tugging at the corners of his mouth so Ezra knows he isn’t too upset about being woken up.
Ezra snorts as he gets up from the bed, the old springs groaning quietly from the movement.
“We’re not even getting paid.”
“This is an outrage, I’m calling the union.”
He’s sitting in a bar in one of the few still populated towns in Alaska on a rare night off.
Though the fact that he’s sitting there with Jameson from Requisitions, it isn’t really a night off.
See the thing is, is that Jameson is like Ezra; they’ve both been assigned to keep an eye on and evaluate the soldiers who are taking Psycho. He and Jameson aren’t officially a team, because Jameson works with the other Bloodhounds. Jameson keeps track of which soldiers get Psycho (almost all of them which is frightening to think about) and how much they’re taking and then he passes that information along to the other Bloodhounds.
Bloodhounds; that’s watch everyone else nicknamed them despite the fact that they have an official name. Ezra thinks the nickname is more fitting if he’s being honest.
“Miller and Jones have upped their Psycho intake,” Jameson tells Ezra as his eyes flick briefly to the man and woman at the bar, loudly ordering more rounds. Ezra can see the veins that protrude slightly in the crook of their elbows, the way they’re breathing a little too harshly like they’ve just run a marathon or are itching for a fight, the hint of something almost feral lurking in their eyes. “They haven’t gone too far round the bend yet, but if they keep up the pace they’re going at they will be.”
“How much has their dosage increased by?”
Jameson looks grim when he tells him it’s been tripled in less than a week which causes Ezra to choke on his beer.
“Triple? Are you fucking nuts letting them take triple?” Ezra hisses as he wipes away the drips of beer from his mouth.
Jameson shoots him a glare before answering.
“Look, it wasn’t my idea. I remember what happened in Ontario and believe me, if it were up to me I wouldn’t let anyone take the damn stuff, but it isn’t.”
Ezra swallows thickly at the mention of Ontario, about what happened there. Even if you weren’t there when it had happened you still hear about it. He remembers it, had seen the aftermath, he had seen the blood and viscera staining the snow like red watercolor paint on a white canvas as he and his team had swept through the burning streets of Toronto. He remembers wild eyes and teeth stained red with flecks of flesh caught in between and flakes of dried blood trapped underneath fingernails and he shudders at the memory.
Back then there wasn’t any limit on how much Psycho you could take, but after that incident there had been harsh enforcement.
But now it seems like they’ve forgotten why and are getting too lenient on distribution. Seem to be encouraging it really.
“So Miller and Jones are taking way too much and you need to keep an eye on them. If they get to the point of no return you know what to do.”
He nods and raises his beer up in a mock of a toast.
“War never changes,” Ezra says, voice just as hollow as his chest feels, then knocks his drink back.
“War never changes,” Jameson solemnly agrees.
Deacon and Ezra and Dogmeat are trailing after Nick as he leads them to Eddie Winter.
There’s no falter in the detective’s step and it’s like he knows the way like the back of his hand. Deacon wonders how many times Nick has made this trip only to be met with an impassable door, how much time he must’ve spent just glaring at a hunk of metal on hinges that kept him from bringing this Winter guy to justice.
Deacon’s eye catches on Ezra’s hands fidgeting a bit. He’s noticed that Spots has been acting a bit off ever since they left the detective agency. It might just be some more memories that came back or just weird dreams in general. Hell it must’ve been really bad because Ezra keeps spacing out, eyes glazing over before he snaps out of whatever daze he fell into.
“Looks like it might snow,” Ezra murmurs as they go.
Deacon looks up at the sky and yeah, it’s clouded over and grey.
“Yeah, it probably will,” he replies.
Ezra shudders and wraps his coat tighter around himself.
Ezra and Nick have matching hollow expressions, but for different reasons.
It’s unbearably quiet the rest of the way.
“The name’s Valentine. Nick Valentine. Remember me?”
“Valentine? The cop? Is that who you’re supposed to be? Sorry pal, but you ain’t Valentine. You’re just some kind of… machine,” Winter sneers at Nick.
Deacon grabs Ezra by the back of his coat when the taller man steps forward looking ready to start swinging. He shakes his head at Spots when he looks at him; as much as Deacon would love to clean this guy’s clock, this is about Nick and how Nick wants to go about this.
“You killed my fiancé, Jennifer Lands. There are some crimes even you can’t get away with, Winter.”
“Your fiancé?” Winter scoffs. “You mean Valentine’s fiancé? Pretty girl. A shame what happened to her. But hey you… or, you know… the real Valentine, he shoulda backed off when he had the chance.”
Winter grabs a cigar off his desk and lights it, taking a puff or two before continuing.
“But what gives, robot man? Why do you even care? Some girl gets whacked 200 years ago, and you come into my home, acting the hard guy?” The ghoul gestures to Nick with the hand holding his cigar and chuckles. “Christ, look at you. You’re not even alive.”
Nick huffs out a dry laugh.
“Then it looks like I’m in good company,” Nick sneers and draws his .44 pistol and shoots Eddie Winter twice in the heart.
The ghoul grasps at his chest, looking for the world completely shocked, as he manages to choke out “Not… yet,” and crashes into the desk, knocking everything on top of it onto the floor with him.
If anyone asked Deacon, it was pretty anticlimactic, but it’s not like a guy like Eddie Winter deserved to go out with a bang.
“We’re done here,” Nick says to them when he finally turns away from Winter’s corpse. “But there’s one more thing I’ve got to do. I… I wouldn’t mind the company, if you three wanted to tag along.”
Ezra nods and Deacon sees no reason to object.
“This won’t take long,” Nick assures them as he leads them out of the tunnels through a long abandoned speakeasy in the basement of a Joe Spuckie’s and out onto the street.
“This is it,” Nick says, stopping about a block away from the sandwich shop, looking down at the long ruined road.
When Ezra looks down at the piece of road that Nick seems to be fixated on, realization dawns on him. On the sidewalk are a few bullet holes.
“In this spot, 200 years ago, one of Eddie’s boys put a bullet in Jenny Lands’ back,” Nick tells them as he crouches next to the divot in the cement, his mouth drawn in a thin, hard line. “Now Eddie’s as dead as Jenny and Nick. And I… I’m at a loss.”
“Nick…” Ezra starts, but doesn’t really know what to say. What does someone say in a situation like this? Is there anything to say?
Nick looks at them both with a tight smile as Dogmeat goes and leans against the synth as the gulls of the bay screech overhead.
“All I know is that, without you, Eddie’d still be at large.”
“You doing alright?” Ezra asks and immediately wants to kick himself. Nick is probably the furthest from being alright at the moment, hell he’d even just said so moments ago.
Nick lets out a soft huff as he lights a cigarette and looks at Ezra with a small smile.
“Truthfully? Winter was it, the only reminder left of the original Nick Valentine. The last proof outside of some long lost Institute archive I was ever just a mechanical copy of some cop from a bygone era. I’m not sure how to feel.”
Ezra sees Deacon take Dogmeat down the street out of the corner of his eye, the other man apparently sensing that this was about to be a heart to heart moment.
“There is no “other Nick” anymore. Just you.”
“But I was Nick Valentine. I had his memories, his fears. All that poor bastard’s hope. I remember getting the call to head to some lab in Cambridge to get that neurotrans-whatever. And the next thing I know, I’m in a trash heap, my family, my home, my entire life, gone. Then I discover, all those things, they weren’t even mine,” Nick says, sounding like he’s boarding on a breakdown. “Everything I ever was belonged to Nick. I’d hoped with Winter gone, the last hint of that old world snuffed out, I could finally be free.”
Nick breathes harshly for a few moments, chest heaving with breath he doesn’t need, just trying to get a hold of himself.
“But being out here with you, what I finally realized after all this time was that taking down Winter, it wasn’t about Nick or Jenny or even you or me. It was about justice, about doing what’s right. And that act of goodness, that’s ours. All the good we’ve done. That’s ours and ours alone. And even if that’s the only thing in this world I can ever claim as mine – not Nick’s, not the Institute’s, but mine – then I can die happy. And none of it would’ve happened if it weren’t for you. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to thank you for that.”
Ezra chuckles as he accepts the half-finished cigarette from Nick.
“You don’t have to, Nick. We’re friends. This is what friends do. Be there for each other and help out when things get tough and all that.”
“You can’t stop being noble, now can you?” Nick says but he’s smiling. “You can come on back now, Deacon!”
“Good, ‘cause we should probably check in with HQ. It’s been a while. You can come too Nick, I know Glory’s been dyin’ to meet you,” Deacon says as he heads back over to them.
It begins snowing on their way back to Boston and Ezra can’t help but feel dread pooling in his gut.
When there’s a thin blanket of white snow he can’t shake the feeling that something bad was going to happen.
Ezra doesn’t notice the crows following them.
Desdemona doesn’t seem thrilled that they brought someone back to HQ with them, but she seems to relent and make an exception for Nick.
Ezra jumps a bit when he feels a hand touch his arm.
“Hey, Dez has something she wants to discuss, but you should go sack out. You’re not looking so good,” Deacon says, brow pinched slightly in concern.
Ezra sighs and rubs at his face. He knows he’s been out of it for most of the day, a strange feeling of being watched by nothing; Deacon’s paranoia must be rubbing off on him or something.
“Nah, I should go too. It’s probably important.”
“Nope,” Deacon says, shaking his head as he gives Ezra a light push towards the cluster of mattresses strewn about the floor. “You look like a weak wind could knock you over right now; besides, I think it’s just another package delivery to Stockton, so I’ll fill you in.”
“But Nick –”
“Is making friends with Glory and Drummer Boy. He’ll be fine. Now go. Sleep.”
Ezra raises his hands in mock surrender and watches Deacon leave before shuffling over to one of the unoccupied mattresses and flopping down onto it. He lays there with his eyes closed for a few minutes, trying to fall asleep, to no avail.
He opens his eyes when he hears someone approach; it’s a young woman with a blank look on her face. She kneels down next to him, owlish eyes unblinking.
“Hey… you, uh, need something?” Ezra asks her.
She nods. “Are you Ezra?”
“Yeah. And you are…?”
“I’m E5-89. I was told to give you a message.” E5-89 looks around to make sure that no one can hear them before she leans in, her large dark eyes looking like endless voids, and Ezra feels something like fear crawl up his spine.
“Move on out, captain.”
Ezra screams as he can feel himself slide away, no longer driving his own body.