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if destiny's kind [old version]

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“The body is no good. The cryogenic systems really did a number on him.”

“Honestly, I’m not that surprised. 200 years with absolutely no maintenance, only to be thawed out and then almost immediately refrozen? I am shocked that the damage wasn’t worse.”

“Okay, well when you put it like that, yeah it’s practically a miracle that most of his brain is still usable, but I wasn’t expecting… I don’t know. A human popsicle?”

“That’s certainly one way of describing him.”

“I’m serious! If we dropped him or accidentally knocked him over he’d shatter into pieces! What would we tell the Director then?”

“We’d buy him a bouquet and a ‘Sorry for smashing your popsicle-dad’ card and hope for the best.”

“I feel like you’re not taking this very real concern seriously.”

“Really? What gave it away? I can give it another go, inject some believable sincerity into it this time.”

“… You’re a real jerk, you know that?”

“Yes, yes, I’m a bastard, blah blah. Let’s get on with this. I’ve got a date in an hour and I’m not going to miss it because we took too long popping open the human ice cube’s skull.”

---

He wakes with a groan; the flickering lights do nothing to help the piercing pain in his head and the hard ground does nothing for his sore body which pulls another groan out of him. The whirring sound of machinery isn’t helping much either, makes him feel nauseous, and the unnatural chill in the air has him shuddering and trying to curl up for warmth.

Wherever he is isn’t a good place to be with what he assumes to be a hangover. He slowly sits himself up and he realizes that he’s in what looks like a set from those old sci-fi horror movies that come on late at night. “The Gruesome Lair of Dr. Freeze,” he thinks idly as he cautiously stretches out his sore muscles.

He’s stretching his left arm when he feels his arm sting. With a small hiss he moves his arm away, turning it so he can see the underside of it. E Z R A is carved into his forearm. Ezra? Is that his name? It sounds familiar at least.

Ezra lurches up onto his feet and takes stock of himself; pristine blue jumpsuit with the sleeves tied around his waist, white t-shirt, and sturdy boots. There’s also the letters carved into his forearm that has dried blood flaking off.

He must have been down here awhile then if the letters have healed up and scarred.

Looking around at the people – well, corpses – in the pods, none of them seem familiar in the slightest, other than the fact that they’re in the same blue jumpsuits. Then he sees her and she seems… he knows her. He doesn’t remember how he knows her but he does.

Dark hair and brown almond shaped eyes, the scar that crossed over her nose and trailed down her right cheek, the feeling of recognizing her itching at his mind. Ezra sees the glint of light coming from her left hand; a wedding ring. He looks at his own hand; no ring. So they’re not married.

Friends maybe?

That’s when he also noticed the gunshot wound; the entry wound was on her right temple. Just looking at the wound he could practically hear a woman yelling, a baby wailing, and a gun going off. Ezra pressed a hand against the glass of her pod, absolutely freezing to the touch, trying to remember more, but that’s all there was.

Ezra closed his eyes, a brief moment to mourn this woman he’s forgotten. When his eyes open, he steps back and weakly smiles as he says, “I’m sorry.”

---

When he emerges from the underground facility (it’s a vault, his mind supplies) the world looks old yet new, like seeing double, grainy memories flickering over what he’s currently seeing, but then they’re gone and Ezra can’t call them back. His head stings when he tries.

Everything looks dead and gray, except for the vivid orange and red leaves on the trees and the bright clear blue sky. It is a breathtaking sight to say the least. He’s so fixated on the scenery that he nearly misses seeing something moving and light reflecting off of something off to his right.

Ezra’s head whips to the side, eyes scanning the trees, his posture tenses. Goosebumps prickle on his arms and the hairs stand on end; someone is watching him. He shouldn’t go looking, especially not by himself, but he does it anyway.

When he gets to the top of the hill overlooking the vault there is nothing there except for a small lookout with some half melted candles, a couple of water bottles, and an odd looking symbol painted in white.

---

Ezra and the dog he found at the Red Rocket stop in Concord, mostly to help a group of people being attacked by raiders. He figures he’ll help them out, say hello, and then be on his way. However Preston and Sturges ask for his help (which he readily agreed to after he heard about what they had gone through, how many people they lost along the way) and Mama Murphey seems intent on talking to him.

Now Ezra isn’t sure if he really believes in the Sight, but Mama Murphey seems to know more about him than he did about himself.

“The Sight tells me it’s important that you find the child that was stolen from your friend in the vault, kid.”

“How? Where should I go?”

“Hell, I don’t know. The Sight isn’t always detailed about these things. Try Diamond City and Goodneighbor. If nothin’ else they’re good places to start.”

She marks the locations on his Pipboy map. They’re not too far, but quite a walk from here.

“If you get lost just follow Dogmeat, he knows the way.”

“He does, does he?” Ezra asks with a small smile looking down at Dogmeat wagging his tail at the sound of his name. Mama Murphey chuckles.

“Of course he does, kid. Dogmeat knows the Commonwealth like no other,” she says before her face takes on a more serious look. “There’s something else you should know; a phrase. The Sight tells me that the road ahead for you is gonna get tricky, real dangerous. Someone’s gonna make you lose yourself, so remember this, show it only to people you know you can trust because it is the only thing that will lead you back to yourself.”

Mama Murphey pulls out a scrap of paper and jots something down, before folding it up and handing it over to Ezra. He attempts to open it before she grasps his wrist and shakes her head.

“Not here, kid. Don’t get me wrong, these are good people here, but you shouldn’t show that to anyone unless you absolutely trust them with your life. Because what’s written there? It very well could mean life or death for you. Keep it close. Keep it safe, ya hear me?”

Ezra can only nod his head as he tucks the paper away. He doesn’t know if he believes in the Sight, but he knows he believes Mama Murphey when she says it’s important.

---

When he and Dogmeat are on the roof with the power armor he allows himself to pull out the paper scrap and read the phrase.

He reads it. Then reads it again. He thought maybe it might mean something to him, might jog his memories, but it doesn’t. It’s not important now, but according to Mama Murphey it will be later, so he folds it back up and stashes it away.

Instead he focuses on the task at hand and gets in the power armor.

---

He sends the settlers off on their way to Sanctuary (the abandoned neighborhood he had just come from). Ezra doesn’t warn Preston about the possibility of the person who had been watching him being there because he knows the person is following him (he felt the sensation of being watched while he had been fighting the Deathclaw). So whoever it is won’t pose a threat to these people because whoever it is has taken an interest in Ezra.

Instead he promises Preston that he’ll be back to help them out when he can.

Ezra decides to go to Diamond City first and sets off down the road with Dogmeat trotting alongside him and the feeling of being watched comes back.

---

“So who do you think is following us, boy? Some sort of creepy stalker, or maybe a Deathclaw looking for a meal? Ooh, wait, better yet? I think it’s definitely a guy with puppets and a giant ant.”

Dogmeat barks at him.

“Yeah, Deathclaw looking for a meal does seem a bit far-fetched; it would’ve tried eating us by now.”

---

The feeling of being watched isn’t consistent. It’ll last for maybe a day or two then it’ll be gone for just as long before coming back.

Ezra doesn’t see what could be so interesting about following him around. He’s just a guy traveling with a dog looking for a child he doesn’t remember for a person he also doesn’t remember. All in all, not really worth following across the wasteland.

Mostly he just ignores whoever, or whatever, is following him. They’ll either reveal themselves when they’re ready or they won’t. It’s a risk having an unidentified thing following him around, but they haven’t tried to kill him yet so they’re probably harmless.

Honestly though, he’s more worried about the fact that he sees her, his friend from the vault, out of the corner of his eye. He is hallucinating a dead woman and something roils in his gut and he doesn’t know why.

Maybe what he’s feeling is guilt. Guilt for what though? For not remembering who she is? For not saving her from the jaws of death and a smoking gun barrel? For not knowing what the hell he’s doing?

When he and Dogmeat stop for the night and build a small campfire, there she is again. She sits on the other side of the fire, flames dancing in her dead eyed thousand yard stare. Her mouth opens, but instead of speaking it’s the sound of machines, like an assembly line and it hurts to hear it. Ezra puts out the fire and lays down to sleep, hands covering his ears to drown out the noise.

He falls asleep to the muffled sound of gears and motors and to the sensation of being watched.

---

He dreams of the strings of a guitar and a gravelly voice coming in over a radio.

He’s walking around a nursery, holding a fussy infant. Golden rays of early morning light stream in through the window. The baby won’t calm with the careful bouncing motions, so he sings along to the radio.

The other night dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms

He wakes in a room with white walls that are too bright, chest heaving in panic. The last thing he remembers is seeing a bomb drop in the distance and the resulting mushroom shaped cloud, the shockwaves rushing to meet them as they were being lowered into a vault. But this… this doesn’t look like a vault.

Where is he? Where’s Moira? Where’s Shaun?

There are wires coming out of him, attached to machines, all beeping and whirring quietly. He struggles to sit up but he is able to manage it. Though when he looks down he wishes he hadn’t.

But when I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I hung my head and I cried.

Oh god, where are his legs? They cut off at the knees, circuitry jutting out of them, exposed metal rods sticking out like bones. Hot tears are pouring down his face as his breaths come out in short, harsh gasps.

How did this happen? What the hell happened to him and why can’t he remember anything?

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are gray

He’s crying as he starts tearing out the wires that have him hooked up to the machines. The noise of the machines is frantic now that he’s no longer hooked up to them.

This is wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong-

He’s turned his attention to start ripping out the exposed circuitry from his legs when the sound of a door sliding open distracts him.

You’ll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don’t take my sunshine away

“Shit, he’s awake!”

“Put him back under!”

“Don’t you dare fucking touch me! Where’s Moira? Where’s Shaun? What have you done to me?”

I've always loved you and made you happy
And nothing else could come between

Everyone’s screaming, himself included, as he thrashes about. He ends up falling off the table, causing several of the machines he’s still hooked up to, to crash down with him.

The strangers are scrambling over each other trying to get to him, getting tripped up in wires and cords. He starts crawling towards the door they came in through.

But now you've left me to love another
You have shattered all of my dreams

One of the strangers manages to grab him be his right thigh, dragging him across the tiled floor back towards them.

“God damn it, you need to calm down!”

They struggle for a bit, rolling around on the floor, each of them trying to come out on top. He manages to get on top and punches the stranger in the throat once before the other one restrains him.

They’re distracted from their screaming and flailing when another enters the room.

“Ezra, what are you doing?”

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine
You make me happy when skies are grey

“Who are you? How do you know my name?”

The newcomer pauses, looking at him with familiar almond shaped eyes, thoughtfully before responding.

“You don’t remember me, do you? Must be something not firing right in the memory components. It might sort itself out given time though.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Hmm? Oh, never you mind, Ezra. Go back to sleep.”

“Fuck you, I’m not going-”

“Initiate sleep. Code: Sunshine.”

He immediately goes slack, everything going dark.

You'll never know, dear, how much I love you
Please don't take my sunshine away

The infant sleepily coos and babbles at him. Grinning at the baby he presses a kiss to its chubby cheek as it yawns and finally settles.

“Sleep tight, Shaun.”

---

Ezra wakes with a jolt, gasping for air and skin clammy with sweat in the cold morning air.

What the fuck was that?

He ends up with an armful of Dogmeat as the dog climbs into his lap, licking at his face in an attempt to calm Ezra. After taking a few moments to collect himself he gets up and they continue to Diamond City.

Ezra is glad that whoever has been following him hadn’t seen him having that weird dream.

---

When he passes through the gate into the city proper he’s overcome with a weird sense of vertigo and déjà vu.

Has he… has he been here before?

Ezra is distracted from his unease when a child, a girl, comes up to him and hands him a newspaper.

“Here’s your free copy of your interview with Piper,” she says before she returns to her small soapbox. Interview? About what? Who is Piper? Ezra tucks the newspaper away; he’ll look at it later.

As he continues into the market more and more people call out greetings to him and he politely returns them. Ezra has no idea what’s going on and no idea of where he should go until a man, a gun trader, tells him that someone called Nick Valentine was looking for him.

“Oh, uh, do you know where he is?”

“He’s probably at his agency. Just follow the signs.”

It doesn’t take Ezra long to find the neon pink signs that lead to Nick Valentine.

---

The door to the agency swings shut behind him and he glances around, taking everything in, before calling out “Hello?”

“That you, Ezra?” a voice calls from somewhere further in the building.

“Yes?” His unsure tone seems to get a chuckle out of whoever it is. The sound of footsteps gets closer and closer until a man – well robot, no, synthetic man? – appears, lit cigarette hanging from his mouth.

“That a question or an answer? Good to see you again. You were gone so long I thought maybe a swarm of Bloodbugs got to ya. So you ready to go after Kellogg?”

“Who’s Kellogg? And who’re you?”

The synth is quiet for a moment, smoke curling in the air around him as he puts out his cigarette in an ashtray before he says anything.

“You lost time again, didn’t you? More memory problems?”

Ezra looks at him warily as he responds. “Yeah, how did you-”

“Because you told me, after you busted me out of Skinny Malone’s place. When you told me about what happened down in 111 to Moira and Shaun. Said you had a lot of holes in your memory, that you occasionally just forgot things, usually entire days. ‘s why it took you so long to get to Diamond City the first time, couldn’t remember things for more than maybe a few hours at a time, could barely remember your own name. I’m Nick by the way, since you forgot.”

Ezra inhales sharply at that and tugs his left sleeve up, revealing his scarred up arm. Nick curses at the sight, grabbing at his forearm to look at it.

“Christ, Ezra, I know you don’t have all your marbles but ya didn’t have to carve up your arm. Could’ve just written it down on paper.”

Ezra shakes his head, a strange buzzing sensation building in the back of his mind, mumbling out a “Couldn’t risk it, had to be sure.”

“Well it doesn’t look like it’s infected,” Nick says as he leads Ezra to a chair. “Tell me what you remember.”

“Not much. Just waking up on the floor in the vault,” he says, his head beginning to hurt. “What happened? Before that. You said something about Kellogg.”

Nick sighs before pulling up a chair and recounting what he knew.

---

Ezra had apparently woken up in Vault 111 weeks ago, memory spotty and blurred together. How he had managed to make it to Diamond City by himself neither he nor Nick knew. He had gotten Nick out of Skinny Malone’s hideout, then they met back up at Nick’s agency where Ezra had recounted the murder of Moira and Shaun’s kidnapping. It was at that point that Nick mentioned he noticed Ezra had looked a little green around the gills, but before he could say anything about it Ezra had decided to go get some air to clear his head and left.

Ezra had been gone for about two weeks.

What Ezra had done during those two weeks between leaving the detective agency and waking up again in 111 is a mystery.

“Maybe we should go take you to see Doc Amari,” Nick offers. “She might be able to figure out what’s going on with your mind.”

Ezra nods in agreement. Whoever this Doc Amari is she’s his best option right now.

---

They get delayed, however, when Nick’s assistant, Ellie, is heading in the door just as they’re about to head out. She says that Nick has a case that he really can’t put off any longer. The look on her face says he’ll catch all hell if he doesn’t get it done soon.

“Looks like you’ll have to go by yourself. Anyone asks why you’re at the Memory Den just tell ‘em I sent you.”

---

Deacon could hear Desdemona questioning their new guest the closer he got to the entrance. He hadn’t expected Spots to find the Railroad this soon, but from the weeks spent following the vaultie Deacon should’ve known better than to expect Spots to be anything close to predictable.

He thought he’d had him pegged pretty well the first time Spots emerged from 111; confused and easily sidetracked, but somehow skilled enough to rescue Nick Valentine. Then for whatever reason he’d returned to 111 and when he left for the second time he seemed completely different, like he finally woke up from some dreaming haze.

But here he is, pointed in the Railroad’s direction by Amari for some reason.

Deacon wonders what she said to Spots. He’ll find out sooner or later.

“I’m Desdemona, and I’m the leader of the Railroad. And you… Deacon, where’ve you been?”

Ah, there’s his cue.

“You’re having a party. What gives with my invitation?”

Desdemona narrows her eyes at him, face slightly scrunched up in irritation.

“I need intel. Who is this?”

Deacon would be surprised but he’d worked very hard to keep everyone else off of Spots’ trail.

“Wow,” Deacon says with faux surprise, “News flash, boss, this guy is kind of a big deal out there.”

“You’ve heard of me?” Spots asks, surprise evident on his face and in his voice. Definitely going to have to work on masking his emotions. Spots has a pretty face and that goes a long way in their line of work, but it takes more than that to stay alive.

“You know you’re practically famous. No one knows your name but you’ve got a really recognizable face. Nick Valentine was in a jam, as usual. But word is you bailed him out. And talked your way past Skinny Malone, too. And as if that wasn’t enough… You’ve left a trail of destruction in your wake. Gone places no sane person would go alone.”

“So you’re vouching for him?” Desdemona asks with a pointed look on her face.

“Yes. Trust me, he’s someone we want on our side.”

“That changes things. So, stranger why did you want to meet with us, anyway?”

“My… nephew was kidnapped,” Spots says, “I’m looking for help to find him.”

“Someone stole your nephew? That’s terrible. Do you know who did it? For your sake, I hope the Institute isn’t involved.”

“Why would the Institute be involved?”

“Many kidnappings in the Commonwealth are perpetrated by the Institute. Why? Who knows. But I’ve never heard of them taking children. So hopefully they’re not involved,” Desdemona says. “I’ll have Deacon look into this. If anyone can find a lead on your nephew, he can. If we’re going to be dealing with you, I need to make sure we’re on the same page. You know what a synth is, right?”

“I’ve heard rumors. What are they really?”

“The Institute created them. Synthetic humans. They’re mostly organic, part machine. Somewhere along the line they become more than just constructs. They think, they feel, and act just like you and me. The Institute treats synths as property. As tools.”

A look of something passes on Spots’ face, but it’s gone before anyone other than Deacon notices; he may be quiet right now but he’s definitely observing the vaultie.

“That sounds like slavery.”

“Exactly. So we seek to free the synths from their bondage. Give them a chance at a real life. I have a question. The only question that matters. Would you risk your life for your fellow man? Even if that man is a synth?”

Spots seems to be taking a moment to think it over before answering, his face firm.

“Yes. Makes no difference to me if it’s a human or a synth.”

Deacon smiles at the answer, glad that betting on Spots is turning out to be the right choice.

“Well said. We’ll do what we can to look into your missing nephew. Normally, you’re exactly the kind of person we try and recruit-”

Deacon can feel the smile slip from his face. Oh come on, Dez, don’t be like this please.

“But right now we don’t have the time to train up a new agent. There are, however, other valuable ways you can contribute-”

He quietly sighs and hangs his head slightly. Dez why? We need all the help we can get and you make him a tourist.

“And in turn we can help you. See Deacon for details. You’re free to go,” she says before leaving, Glory and Drummer Boy right behind her. Deacon turns to Spots when he approaches.

“Hope you didn’t mind the reception,” Deacon says as he puts his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “When you tango with the Institute you got to be careful when someone new gets on the dance floor.”

Spots shrugs as he responds with, “Your leader was just being cautious.”

“Exactly. Kind of killed our chance at a friendly first impression, though. But it’s all good now,” he says as he heads to the catacombs, nodding for Spots to follow him. “I vouched for you. Nobody got shot. Still, I would consider it a close personal favor if you didn’t sell us out to the Institute. Thanks.”

Deacon nearly trips over a dog when he passes through the secret door. He looks back at Spots, smiling in question of their furry companion.

“Dogmeat was keeping an eye out for more ghouls. You might want to call pest control next time, you had a bad infestation of ferals,” Spots says with a charming smile and wow if Deacon thought he was pretty before the man was downright gorgeous now. “So tell me, why did you vouch for me?”

“In our little outfit, it’s my job to know things. And with everything you’ve done it’s clear you’re capable. A dangerous enemy. And, I’m betting, a valuable ally.”

“But why the trust,” he pushes. “You can’t be taking it all on faith.”

Man, Spots is persistent as he is charismatic.

“I don’t know if we can trust you,” Deacon admits as they climb up the stairs into the old church proper. “But I hope we can. We just survived a hell of a crisis. So we may be just a teeny, weeny bit desperate for new members. If everything was sunshine and bottle caps, we’d probably play a longer ‘getting to know you’ game. But we don’t have that luxury.”

“Really? Is that all?”

“You just don’t give up? All right, I have a short list of people I think would be a good fit for our family. You piqued my interest, so maybe I asked around. Did my homework. If you hadn’t found us, there’s a chance I would’ve found you, instead. Thanks for saving me the trip.”

They continue through the dilapidated church until they make it outside.

“So Dez wants me to make you a ‘tourist.’ That’s what we call someone who helps out with the odd job here and there. What a waste. I’m just going to come out and say this: the Railroad needs you.”

Spots looks at him, slight smirk on his face, as if he knows what Deacon’s about to suggest.

“So what’s the plan, Deacon?”

“I got a job. Too big for me. Just perfect for the two of us. You help me out, we turn a few heads, and then Dez invites you into the fold. Then if you get into a bind and need help, your buddies in the Railroad got your back.”

“So what is it?”

“So up front, the only thing I’ll say is it’s going to be a wild and dangerous ride. But probably nothing new to someone like you.”

“Sign me up,” Spots says, smirk changing into a lopsided grin.

“Perfecto. Let’s meet up at the old freeway outside Lexington. I’ll fill you in once you get there.”

---

The sun is setting when Ezra makes it to the meeting spot and Deacon is nowhere to be seen. Dogmeat’s barking alerts him to a scruffy stranger’s arrival.

“Spots! Glad you could make it.”

Once he gets a good look he recognizes the man as Deacon. The sunglasses give him away.

“Deacon? Why are you dressed like that? And Spots?”

“Disguises are a part of my job. Makes it easier to get around unnoticed. And yeah, ‘Spots’. It’s what I call you on account of those spots you got,” Deacon says making a gesture towards his face.

Oh, he’s talking about Ezra’s vitiligo.

“C’mon, we’re meeting a tourist and I’m going to be teaching you the basics so pay attention, Spots.”

---

After they clear out the Switchboard and head back to the headquarters, after Deacon embellishes the truth and Ezra goes along with it, he’s officially part of the Railroad. Ezra, or Charmer as he’s now known to them, decides it’s time to head back to Nick, finally go after Kellogg.

He remembers what Amari told him, that the Railroad would be the best way for him to find out about what’s going on with his head, but he doesn’t know if he trusts them yet. Ezra remembers what Deacon said about how he hoped that they could learn to trust him; he hopes that he’ll be able to trust them too.

“So after comparing these scans of your brain to the ones we took when you arrived, I’ve noticed that there’s some unusual… activity. If you look here, you can see a foreign object attached to your brain. I would say that this means you’re a synth, but the technology doesn’t look right for that.”

“What do you mean, doc?”

“Well the Institute has a standardized neural implant that they use in all of their synths, but yours is different. At first I was puzzled as to what function it served, since it didn’t appear to do anything, but I think that it has multiple purposes. One of them is repairing the damage done to your mind.”

“What are the others?”

“Honestly? I have no clue. It seems to be running at half capacity. Trauma of some sort seems to have shorted out the other functions. Whether that’s temporarily or permanently, I cannot say. I don’t know much else about this without having to actually dig around in your skull, but I’d rather not do that. Although there might be someone else who might have an idea of what this is.”

“Who?”

“Tell me, Ezra, have you heard of the Railroad?”

Ezra is snapped out of his memory when his eyes finally focus on the movement of a hand waving in front of his face and the sound of Deacon trying to get his attention.

“Hello? Anybody home in there?”

He bats Deacon’s hand away but the man just grins at him.

“Sorry about that, mind kinda wandered away for a moment,” Ezra says.

“No problem-o. So what’s next, partner?”

Ezra rubs at the back of his neck thinking over his options. He really should get back to Nick, considering how worried he’d been the last time Ezra had dropped off the map. But should he bring Deacon? Ezra has already begun to trust the man, however tentatively, but he hasn’t told him about the memory problems, hasn’t told him about Moira in the tomb that was 111 or about Shaun, his missing nephew.

Well, if they were ever going to really work and trust each other like a team should, they were going to have to open up and learn about one another.

“Diamond City. Got to check in with someone and there’s something that needs to be taken care of.”

“Ooh, keeping it vague and mysterious, huh? I do like surprises. Well, most surprises. As long as it’s not a Deathclaw jumping out of a cake.”

Ezra can’t help the laughter that spills out at the image the words bring forth in his mind. Deacon quirks a smile at him.

“Hey you laugh now, but that actually happened once. I was undercover in the capital at a party for the Lone Wanderer and his husband and somebody rolled out this giant cake and bam! Deathclaw jumps out of it. Needless to say it’s in my top ten favorite parties.”

---

“Made a new friend, Ezra?” Nick asks when he and Deacon enter the detective’s agency, door swinging shut behind them. Dogmeat trots over to where Nick is seated behind his desk and the dog rests his head on the synth’s thigh, tail thumping against the floor.

“Something like that,” Ezra says as he sits opposite of Nick, Deacon opting to lean against the wall and observe the way Ezra and Nick interact. “How’d your case go?”

Nick grunts, puffing away at the cigarette in his mouth, and obliging Dogmeat and scratching behind his ear.

“Went well enough. Turns out the missing persons ran away to elope. What about you? What’d Doc Amari have to say about,” Nick’s eyes flick up to Deacon before resting his gaze on Ezra, “well...?”

Ezra can feel Deacon’s eyes on him as well and it feels oddly familiar… oh, he has an idea now about why that is. He’s definitely going to have a few words with Deacon about that later though. Ezra sighs heavily before accepting a cigarette and lighter from Nick.

“Doc says she doesn’t really know much about it other than the fact there’s some kind of trauma that caused it. She says that it might improve over time or it might not. Also said that there was something weird in the scans but unless she went rooting around in my skull physically there’s not much more she can learn about it.”

Nick nods as he stands up, putting on his coat.

“Well, you ready to go after Kellogg then?”

“We’re going after Kellogg?” It’s the first thing Deacon has said since they passed the city gates and the way he sounds so incredulous about the notion of it makes Ezra laugh.

---

Discovering Spots’ real name hadn’t really surprised him. Spots is popular with people so it was only a matter of time (even though the Railroad forbids using real names, he’s kind of glad that he knows it), but he was… not ‘disappointed’, that’s not the right word for it, but he hadn’t really been expecting Spots’ name to be Ezra. Not that there’s anything wrong with the name and it does fit Spots, but he was expecting it to be… well he doesn’t really know what he expected. (He still has no idea why Spots went to Amari other than what little information he had gotten from the conversation with Valentine. Head injury maybe?)

Maybe something a bit more, more? Something that said “oh yeah this is definitely the name of a guy who goes chasing after Kellogg for kicks and also revenge.”

Speaking of the Commonwealth’s boogeyman.

Finding Kellogg was easier than Deacon thought it would be; the guy literally left a cigar trail right to his doorstep. Fighting off Gen 2’s and turrets was bog standard in a place like Fort Hagen, but the big confrontation with Kellogg had been really underwhelming.

The entire time Spots, Nick, and him were going through the Fort, Kellogg had been taunting them over the PA system, talking up a big game all the way up to Spots asking him where Shaun was. Deacon had been anticipating a difficult fight, but within moments Spots had managed to cave Kellogg’s head in with a baseball bat.

Deacon had let out a low whistle of appreciation at that. Only two hits and the man the Commonwealth lived in fear of for years went down like a sack of bricks.

When the dust had finally settled he noticed a particular look – one that was nothing but despair – on Ezra’s face.

“The Institute has Shaun.”

Well, shit.

---

They went back to Diamond City after that, out of any ideas on how to further track down Shaun. They all piled into Piper’s office, trying to figure something out. The Memory Den was brought up and luckily Ezra had already grabbed Kellogg’s neural implant before they left Fort Hagen (he had noticed the weird piece of tech sticking out of Kellogg’s no longer intact head).

Piper and Nick went on ahead, while Ezra, Deacon, and Dogmeat went to clear out some troublesome raiders that had been ambushing caravans.

---

“Hey, got a minute?”

Ezra looks up from the turret he’s scavenging ammo from.

“Sure. What’s up?”

“I’m used to flying solo, but I gotta admit, working with you makes me think I’ve been missing out. Having someone watching your back… is refreshing. Especially since you never know when the Institute is watching.”

He can feel a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.

“Don’t get all mushy on me, especially when I’ve still got raider blood all over me.”

“Aww. I was just about to open up about my first pet mole rat, Bessie, and the time we had to put her down,” Deacon says, smiling right back at him. “Some people at HQ are jealous. You took the Big Nap and everyone you knew is long gone. Wait, hear me out on the silver lining.”

Ezra gives him a look, waiting for Deacon to elaborate.

“If a human in the Railroad slips up then they expose friends and loved ones to danger. You’re safe from that.”

“You do remember that my nephew was taken by the Institute, right?”

“Oh, Jesus, I didn’t mean that. If the Church gets compromised and the Coursers are on our trail at least you’re not putting more people in harm’s way. That’s all.”

He stands up from where he had been kneeling next to the turret, having gotten as much ammo out of it as he could, and lightly knocks their shoulders together before moving onto the next turret.

“S’okay, I know.”

“Well, putting loved ones in harm’s way doesn’t really matter much to me. I’m a synth.”

Ezra stops dead in his tracks, turns to look Deacon in the eye, well look him in the sunglasses.

“You’re a synth?”

“At least that’s what they tell me. So I don’t really have anything to lose. For Glory and me, and the others, it’s easier to dedicate ourselves to the cause.”

“Why didn’t you tell me before?”

“I don’t like talking about it. I was one of the first synths they did the whole cranium reboot on. So it was a bit of a botch job. Most synths have fun fake memories. A happy home, a family. Me, I got nothing. And that… well, it does something to you. Since we’re traveling together I want you to take this. It’s my recall code,” Deacon says as he hands over a folded scrap of paper. “If you ever need to know something about the Institute, read it to me.”

Ezra can feel his heart twist in sympathy. Yeah, he knows exactly what not having memories can do to a person. He must not be doing a good job of keeping a lid on his emotions because Deacon ducks his head slightly, looking away from Ezra’s face, breaking eye contact even though there’s sunglasses in the way.

Something… isn’t right.

“If you expect me to believe you I want proof.”

“Alright, you got me. No fooling you, huh? Don’t take it personally, I lie to everyone. Maybe I’m just another human that has people back home he wants to protect. Then again, maybe not.”

He doesn’t know what to say to that and it must show on his face.

“I want… If you believe anything, believe this. I’m in your corner. Always have been. That code I gave you is a hard truth. You can’t trust everyone. Even if someone sounds sincere they could be a synth replacement working for the Institute. The bitch of the problem is recognizing the 90% of the time someone’s on the up and up and the 10% of the time you’re being played.”

---

Okay, so maybe playing the “I’m a synth, no wait not really, or maybe yes really?” card wasn’t the best idea, but he still feels that it was the best way to really drive home the point of “be careful who you trust.” Deacon doesn’t feel guilty about it though since he lies to everyone. It’s as natural to him as breathing.

They catch up with Nick and Piper at the Memory Den not too long after his impromptu imparting of hard learned wisdom. Deacon can tell that Ezra isn’t really sure how to take the fact that he lied right to his face, the furrowed brows says it all as he gets into the memory lounger. Hopefully Ezra will take the lesson and the intentions behind it to heart instead of the lying, because yes, they’re supposed to be building trust with each other and he’d actually kind of hate it if he ruined that with his inability to be truthful.

Okay so maybe he does feel at least a teeny-tiny bit guilty and might want to make it up to Spots.

He hopes he’ll get a chance to do so before Ezra decides to get a new partner, one who doesn’t lie about anything and everything under the sun.

One who actually remembers how to be able to tell the truth.

---

“They’re making you a sniper, huh?”

“Yeah. I just thought I’d be another infantryman, but I guess I got what it takes. Must’ve impressed someone.”

“Oh please, you’re always impressive.”

He grins at the smile he can hear in her voice over the phone.

“So how’re things with Satya?”

Silence over the line.

“Moira? You still there?”

“Yeah, I am. Things… didn’t work out with Satya.”

“Oh, well that’s a bummer.”

A heavy sigh over the line now and a sad chuckle that follows it.

“Yeah, well… Most of my relationships never last long. Hell my longest relationship is our friendship.”

“I’m in the same boat. If we weren’t both gay –”

“Or if you were a lady.”

“– we’d probably work out.”

“At this rate we should just get married to each other. At least that way we’d get tax benefits.”

This time he laughs.

“You proposing to me, Moira?”

“You know what, why not? We live together already, might as well. Besides, I’m probably the only one at this point who can stand your obnoxious shower singing.”

“Hey, I’ll have you know that I have a beautiful voice.”

“Sure, if your definition of a ‘beautiful voice’ is ‘off key and sounding like a dying lounge singer’ then yes you do.”

“Wow, I can’t believe I’m engaged to a jerk.”

---

“Hundred points,” Deacon says from where he’s resting his cheek in his hand, binoculars raised to see the raider camp in the distance, as Ezra picks off another raider with his suppressed sniper rifle. “Where’d you learn to shoot this well?”

Ezra is quiet as he reloads, brows drawn together in a way that says he’s thinking too hard.

“Army. I was a sniper,” he says as he lets off another shot and another raider drops. If Deacon didn’t know better, he’d say that from the serious look Ezra is angry about being lied to, but he does know better, so he knows that Spots is just very focused on sniping (that and he had told Deacon after what happened in the Memory Den that he wasn’t angry just kind of confused).

“Yeah? Should I be calling you ‘soldier boy’ instead of Spots then?”

Ezra snorts as he digs himself down a little deeper into the ground where he’s laid out.

“Technically you’re supposed to be calling me ‘Charmer.’”

“Well you certainly are one.”

Ezra laughs at that, having to pull away from the gun’s scope, turning his head to look at Deacon, smile tugging at the corners of his mouth.

“Flattery will get you everywhere.”

“Certainly gets the job done. So. The army. What was that like?”

Ezra bites his bottom lip and looks back through his scope, seems to be debating something in his head.

“Don’t really remember. Don’t remember much of anything really. The cryo units in the vault did a serious number on my head far as I can tell.”

“Huh. That explains a lot, actually.”

“Speaking of explaining, are you ever gonna tell me why you were following me when I left the vault?”

Deacon tilts his head and makes a see-sawing motion with his freehand. “Hmm… Maybe. I’m kind of on the fence about it right now.”

“Trying to find a way to spin it so it doesn’t sound like you were stalking me?”

“Stalking is definitely not what I was doing. Gathering information while lurking in the shadows? Yes.”

“You’re lucky you’re cute.”

---

He’s having difficulty sleeping.

No more sailin’

At first his hallucination of Moira would only happen maybe once every two weeks, but she’s been appearing more and more, always with the same dead eyed thousand yard stare. The mechanical sounds, the metal grinding against metal like two cars meeting at high speed, she emits grows louder and louder to the point Ezra starts getting headaches. As if that wasn’t bad enough when he is able to rest his dreams are plagued by old songs.

So long sailin’

Sometimes it’s You Are My Sunshine but now Somewhere Beyond the Sea has joined the mix and it keeps running around and around in his mind.

Bye bye, sailin’

Now usually – ever since he left the vault – Ezra doesn’t need much sleep. Maybe only an hour or two and he’s good to go, but those damn songs and fake Moira barely let him sleep for more than maybe half an hour.

Move on out, captain

That last line. Something is off about it, makes the back of his mind itch in an unpleasant way, makes his skin so sensitive and tight that it’s painful. Makes his mouth taste of iron and his lungs stutter. And that’s just when he thinks about it; he doesn’t want to know how he’ll react if he ever hears that phrase said aloud.

Ezra knows Deacon has noticed. The man never outright asks him if he’s alright, but he makes sure to reassure him just as subtle as he asks.

They’re looking through an old, mostly dilapidated, office building when Deacon tosses Ezra something with a quick, “Heads up, Spots!” When he catches it he sees “Mixtape Vol. 1” written on a holotape.

“You got me a mixtape?” Ezra asks, smirking at Deacon from across the room. He can’t see it, but he can tell Deacon is rolling his eyes behind his shades.

“Not me specifically. Whoever worked here must’ve left it,” he says as he turns back to rifling through desks for anything useful. “No clue what’s on it, but it’s got to be better than the two songs you’re always humming. No offense, but you can’t carry a tune.”

Ezra is glad that Deacon has his back to him because of the way his hands are trembling. He had no idea he’d been humming anything at all, but he has a good feeling he knows which two songs he has been.

---

Finding that mixtape had been a blessing. Sure, Ezra’s voice was off key when he sang along to it, but his mood had lifted, no longer looking like death warmed over. (That and Spots stopped humming those two same songs like a man possessed. He hadn’t done it constantly but often enough for Deacon to get the tunes of both stuck in his own head.)

Spots’ singing has drawn the attention of the settlement kids who’re now flitting around him while he’s working on a turret in need of repair and trying to sing with him, not quite getting all the words. It’s honestly way more endearing than it should be.

---

Working a room for info is an important part of the job, but it can also be pretty damn dangerous. Ask the wrong person the wrong thing and before you know it you’re at the wrong end of a gun, especially if they cotton on to the fact you’re part of the railroad. Goodneighbor is relaxed compared to most of the Commonwealth, mostly because Hancock turns a blind eye to most of the Railroad’s activities. Won’t go out of his way to help, but that’s better than him leading witch hunts like certain people do.

Anyway, he’s getting sidetracked.

Goodneighbor is a good a place as any to practice that particular skill, getting people to tell you anything and everything, so he gave Spots the basic rundown of it and let him try out the Third Rail while Deacon sits at one of the tables listening to Magnolia sing.

It’s all about technique and not looking shifty. Deacon personally goes for disguises and just generally blending into the crowd and being easily forgotten by most (the dim lights of the bar help obscure his face), but that’s not Ezra’s style, not that he ever thought it would be. Ezra’s face is too distinctive to try for a disguise (he thinks about seeing if Ezra would be open to getting his face changed but Deacon throws that idea out the window immediately; it’d be a waste of such a pretty face. Maybe he should teach him how to use costuming makeup? Couldn’t hurt to try), but he’s not as well known in Goodneighbor as he is in Diamond City so it doesn’t really matter.

Nah, Ezra doesn’t even try to blend into background, he makes himself known and has all eyes on him without stealing the spotlight from Magnolia; that would draw too much attention, the bad kind. Easy going, lopsided smile and pale grey eyes seem to get most of the bar’s patrons to open up to him, others require a little more.

Luckily Spots is as perceptive as he is charming so it isn’t all that difficult for him; it’s as easy as breathing.

Deacon has been sitting on the sidelines to keep an eye on Ezra, help get him out of a sticky situation if needed, since as far as he knows this is Ezra’s first time doing this kind of thing. Then again, with how quickly the other man has taken to this it makes Deacon wonder if Spots had been more than just a sniper way back when.

He looks back to Spots, who is currently leaning against the bar and talking to a traveling merchant, and when he takes a drink from his beer Deacon gets another look at the armguard Spots is wearing on his left arm. Ever since Spots hung up his vault suit in exchange for road leathers he’s taken to wearing the armguard whenever he isn’t wearing his jacket.

Curiosity itches at Deacon’s mind as to what Ezra could possibly be hiding under there. Scars? Ugly birthmark? Embarrassing tattoo?

He’s thinking about it too much, and also staring a lot if the way Ezra looks at him from across the room and quirks an eyebrow in question at him is anything to go by. Deacon quirks a brow back at him as he tips back slightly in his chair and taking a swig of his own beer. Spots just smirks and winks at him before turning back to his conversation.

Deacon’s glad that Spots didn’t notice the way he choked on his drink when Spots winked at him. He knows he wouldn’t live it down.

---

There’s something strange about Covenant.

It’s a relatively new settlement that attracts a lot of travelers due to its location which happens to be along a main trade route. Ezra honestly probably wouldn’t have even stopped by the place, but a trader in Goodneighbor had mentioned the place, which lead to Deacon saying how he hadn’t had the chance to check the place out yet, so here they are just outside of its walls, taking something called a SAFE test.

Swanson – the man administering the test – says it’s been “scientifically designed to weed out undesirables” but to Ezra it just sounds like a bunch of nonsense strung together. He’s been answering the questions at random, not really putting much thought into it, but Swanson seems to be really reading into it (Ezra just wants to tell him that his answers really aren’t that deep, but he still has to get into the place so…) and makes comments here and there about how “interesting” his answers are and seems to tense up when Ezra answers with “Catcher” to the baseball question.

All in all, the test is boring and a waste of time, but Swanson lets him, Deacon, and Dogmeat in anyway.

The town is small but well-kept Ezra notes as a Mr. Handy hands him and Deacon some lemonade as they pass. Looks like a decent place, but the townspeople, something isn’t right about them.

Too nice, too polite, too cheerful.

Their behavior, it’s not normal and Ezra can tell it’s doing a number on Deacon’s ever present paranoia. The only person here who seems even remotely normal is a guy – who introduces himself as Honest Dan – asking around about a missing girl named Amelia Stockton.

Honest Dan asks them to check out the caravan’s remains and to look around town for any clues as to what happened to Amelia while he continues to ask around and observe Covenant’s townsfolk. What’s left of the caravan isn’t even that far away from the town, barely a stone throw’s away and there’s a bottle of lemonade that the Mr. Handy had been handing out and a blood trail leading back towards Covenant.

---

Covenant has been sending people suspected of being synths to a place called the Compound, a repurposed sewage system across the small lake. Ezra manages to get all four of them (him, Deacon, Dogmeat, and Honest Dan) into the place by convincing Manny, who appears to be head of security or something close enough to it, to escort them to the woman in charge. All throughout their walk through the complex something about it makes his skin itch and he feels uncomfortable so he sticks close to Deacon.

They’re introduced to Dr. Roslyn Chambers who explains the purpose of Covenant and its test, how she became hell bent on wiping out every synth in the Commonwealth after her parents deaths in the Broken Mask incident and that she will stop at nothing to achieve her goal. She even has the gall to ask Ezra to kill Honest Dan and allow them to continue kidnapping and torturing innocents.

“Absolutely not, no deal. I’d rather jump off a bridge than help some sort of Institute knock off.”

“How dare you compare us to the Institute! The work we do here is for the greater good, we are nothing like the Institute.”

“Right, because stealing people and then doing God knows what to them is totally nothing like the Institute. You’re so damn blind to what you’ve become, but the ends don’t justify the means.”

“Then you’ll just have to kill me.”

After that things end in violence, as they tend to in the wasteland.

---

After fighting their way out of the Compound, Honest Dan and Amelia part ways with them. Deacon and Ezra sit atop the platform above the complex’s entrance, looking out across the lake towards Covenant; they’ll have to go there soon to deal with the townspeople, but that can wait for a little while.

The stars are beginning to peek out in the darkening sky and Deacon decides it’s time to tell Ezra the truth – well, as close as he can get to it because even now he can’t bring himself to say her real name aloud – about his past, about how he joined the Railroad. He looks over at Ezra, who is now gazing up at the bright stars, and feels a little guilty that he’s going to basically ruin this quiet little moment of respite, might ruin this friendship that borders on something more.

“Hey, I got something important to say,” he says and he almost doesn’t recognize his own voice; it sounds too dry and almost cracking with barely concealed emotion. When Ezra looks at him he almost backs out of it right then and there because he’s selfish and doesn’t want Spots to ever stop smiling at him like that. “I really appreciate you putting up with my bullshit. Truth is it’s been a long time since I’ve had a… friend.”

Ezra remains quiet, still giving him that soft smile; Deacon knows Ezra can read him like an open book (well, he can read him better than almost anyone, which says a lot about how close he’s let Ezra get), so Ezra must see his need for him to listen and stays quiet because he’s not sure he can get all of it out if Ezra says too much before he’s finished. He knows he’ll chicken out.

“I’m a liar,” Deacon continues, voice gaining some strength. “Everyone knows it, I make no secret of it because the truth is: I’m a fraud. To my core. When I was young, a hell of a long time ago, I was… well, scum. I was a bigot.”

He has to pause, his throat has gone too tight and he feels too vulnerable, too exposed admitting this to Ezra.

“A very violent bigot,” Deacon’s voice wavers and cracks a bit as he says this while his heart is doing a panicked staccato in his ribs.

“Go on,” Ezra says and Deacon’s a little envious at how even keel his voice is right now, but there’s no tone of judgement in there and that surprises him a bit.

“I ran with a gang in University Point. We called ourselves the UP Deathclaws. For kicks we’d terrorize anyone that we thought was a synth.” The gang part is true, the location and gang’s name are both wrong, and he knows he should be telling the whole truth, but it’s been so long since he’s done that that omitting or altering certain details, no matter how small, is the closest he can get to it. “We kept egging each other on. Started with some property damage graduated to some beat downs. Then, inevitably, a lynching.”

Fuck, his hands are starting to shake as the memory of that night begins to resurface; those green eyes, large and bulging, begging for mercy, for help, and he did nothing. Just let it happen, was a part of it. That blood on his hands will never wash away. It haunts him still.

“The Claw’s leader was convinced we’d finally found and killed a synth. Looking back, I’m not so sure.”

“I’ll withhold judgement until you’re done.” And just like that he feels relief, however small, at Ezra’s words, yet he also feels a bit of dread beginning to build back up. It’s like a stay of execution; a moment of hope yet the final nail in the coffin is still waiting.

“Thank you,” he says, barely above a whisper. “So I turned my back on my ‘brothers’ – broke all contact. Time passed, I became a farmer, if you can believe that. Then one day I found someone. She saw something in me I didn’t know was there. Barbara, well, she was… she just was.”

Her name wasn’t Barbara, not even remotely close to Barbara, but that’s why he refers to her with that name, makes it sting less.

“What was she like?”

Deacon can feel a smile grow on his lips as he remembers her, how she looked when they first met; curly black hair and big brown eyes and that green dress she always liked to wear.

“She had a smile like on those old magazine covers. Her eyes…” he trails off. Words can’t do her justice. “We were trying for kids, ekeing out a living. Then one day… It turns out my Barbara… She was a synth. She didn’t know that. I certainly didn’t. I don’t know how the Deathclaws found out, but… there was blood.”

His stomach twists as the memories cross his mind. The sound of Ezra talking keeps him grounded in the present instead of being swept away by the current of memories and old hurts.

“So they killed her?”

Deacon nods.

“Yes. I don’t remember much clearly after that. I know I killed most of the Claws. I must’ve made a big impression. The Railroad contacted me, figuring I’d be sympathetic. Seeing that I lost my wife and, well, what I did afterwards.”

“The Railroad let you in? Even though you used to be in the Deathclaws?” There’s no malice behind it just genuine curiosity and he’s at a loss for a moment because he keeps expecting condemnation.

“So many years had passed that I don’t think anyone, well except the Claws, knew that. All they knew was that someone fought back.” Deacon takes a breath before continuing. “I don’t even know why I lie anymore, but I can’t tell the truth. Everyone – Tom, Dez, you, even that asshole Carrington – they deserve to be in the Railroad. I don’t. I’m everything wrong with this whole fucking Commonwealth. You’re the only friend I got. I don’t deserve you being okay with this. Hell, I’m not even asking for it, but I figured you should know.”

He looks away, turns his face up towards the night sky, because he doesn’t want to see if Ezra looks at him differently now that he knows.

“Everyone’s got a past. The important thing is you’re trying to make up for it. I’m still on your side.”

Deacon freezes. That… was not what he had been expecting to hear. He lets out a quiet bark of laughter (it was that or shedding tears of relief and while he’s comfortable with and trusts Ezra, crying is not an option. Ever).

“I’m not the hugging type. So, yeah. Good talk.”

They sit in comfortable silence for a few moments before Ezra speaks up.

“If we’re doing this whole confession thing, then I got something I should probably say now.”

---

“I’m not the hugging type. So, yeah. Good talk.”

Ezra is surprised and honestly touched that Deacon actually told him about his past, as vague as he went about it, and the amount of honesty he was able to give… He figures now is a good a time as any to come completely clean about what’s wrong with his memory and all that. He should definitely tell him about what Amari found in his head. Maybe even show him the note Mama Murphey had given him all those weeks ago.

Taking a deep breath he looks back up to the twinkling stars, trying to get his thoughts together.

“If we’re doing this whole confession thing, then I got something I should probably say now.”

This time it’s Deacon who remains quiet, but turns his face towards Ezra, waiting for him to continue.

“So in the interest of full disclosure, Doc Amari found something… attached to my brain in her scans. She told me it doesn’t look like Institute hardware, but she can’t be sure unless she goes digging in my skull. What she does know is that whatever it is, it isn’t working at full capacity. Something about head trauma messing it up, but it’s been repairing my head for a while now. It’s been fixing my memory problems. Well, it’s been keeping me from losing time. I still don’t remember much. Had so much trouble remembering my own name I apparently decided it would be a good idea to carve it into my arm.”

Ezra shrugs his left arm out of his jacket, revealing the scars that spell out his own name. Deacon lets out a low whistle as he takes in the sight of it.

“So if it isn’t Institute then what is it?”

“I don’t know. For all I know it was put in before I took the long sleep. Maybe I signed up for some military experiment or something. Like I said, I don’t remember much before waking up in the vault for the second time.”

Deacon is quiet again, seems to be letting the information sink in before shrugging.

“So you got some machine in your noggin. You’re still you.”

“Well, that’s not all.” Ezra takes Mama Murphey’s note out from where he’s kept it in his jacket. It’s barely crumpled or wrinkled; he’s taken good care of it because if it is as important as she said it will be, he doesn’t want it to be illegible from neglect. He hands it over to Deacon before continuing. “Mama Murphey gave that to me after I left the vault. Said it’d be important, that it would help me find my way back to myself. Told me that ‘someone is gonna make me lose myself’ and that phrase is the only thing that will bring me back.”

“Christ on a pogo stick, Ezra. This a trigger phrase.”

“I know. Which is why I’m giving it to you. I trust you to have my back, Deacon. So when whatever happens ends up happening I need you to say this.”

“You don’t know it’ll even happen for sure though. Just because Mama Murphey said it’d happen doesn’t make it so.”

Ezra laughs quietly before meeting Deacon’s gaze that always seems to be hidden behind those god damn sunglasses, even at night.

“True. I’m still not completely sold on the Sight, but I know she’s right about the trigger phrase. In fact I have a pretty good idea as to what the phrase that will be used against me will be. But even if it doesn’t happen, I’d rather be prepared for the possibility of it happening anyway.”

This time it’s Deacon who laughs as he lifts himself to his feet.

“Fuck, what is it about tonight and heavy confessions?”

He holds out a hand to Ezra, which he takes, but doesn’t let go when they’re both standing mere inches apart. Deacon squeezes Ezra’s hand before letting go and stepping away.

“Don’t worry I got your back, Spots. C’mon, we got some heads to knock together over at Covenant.”

Aw hell, if he wasn’t already pretty taken with Deacon he sure as shit is now.

Chapter Text

“Again.”

He gasps wetly for air, lungs rattling and burning desperate. He can’t keep doing this, he’s done, he’s too tired. He spits out a glob of blood before speaking.

“Fuck you, I’m done.”

“You’re done when I say you’re done. Again!”

A sharp jab to his sore, and probably broken, ribs with that damn stick again has him seeing red and before the other man can even blink Ezra has yanked the stick from his hands and is advancing on him. However, before he himself can do anything the Director calls out to them.

“What is going on here?”

“Nothing,” he replies automatically, but the bastard who’s been whacking him with the stick for the past few hours answers with “Yes.”

He shoots a glare at the man before returning his attention to the Director, standing up straighter. He hates being here, obeying these fucking maniacs, but if he wants answers to what happened to Moira and Shaun he has to play along.

For now at least.

Stick-man is saying something to the Director, but he’s no longer paying any mind, just clenching his jaw and looking away, fists curled so tight his nails are biting crescent shapes into his palms. He’s brought back to the moment when someone starts snapping their fingers at him.

“Are you alright, Ezra? You shouldn’t be feeling this tired, we modified you so that you wouldn’t need rest.”

He can feel his skin crawl with that comment. ‘We modified you.’ Fuck this is something straight out of one of those late night sci-fi horror films Moira always watches.

“Director, I know he’s your pet project, but you shouldn’t be giving him a name. He certainly hasn’t earned it, what with his rebellious behavior and stubborn nature.”

The Director gives the man a glare of his own, and it looks so damn familiar. Everything about the Director feels familiar, but Ezra can’t place him and it’s driving him nuts.

“Hush, Jones. You are supposed to be helping him learn to withstand pain and his regeneration abilities, but if you can’t even do that then I’ll just have to find someone who is actually capable of the job.”

The man – Jones – visibly pales at the Director’s suggestion and begins to back pedal; Ezra takes a little vindictive joy in watching the man squirm after the shit he’s put him through. He’s less thrilled at the idea of having to continue this ‘training’ as the man in charge calls it.

“Sir, please-”

Raising a hand, stopping Jones from begging, the Director silences him.

“I don’t want to hear it. I’ve obviously placed my faith in the wrong person. Pack your things and go back to your department, your services are no longer required. Come, Ezra,” he says before turning to Ezra, placing a hand on his shoulder and leading him out of the room, “We have work to do. Tell me, what are your thoughts on the song ‘Somewhere Beyond the Sea’? I myself am quite fond of it.”

---

They got married at Boston’s City Hall when Ezra was on leave. They didn’t make it into a huge deal, just them and a couple of friends who could make it (Moira’s parents were busy with work and Ezra’s family lived far to the south in Aquinnah, so they wouldn’t have been able to make it on time) and afterwards went out drinking.

They’re in the dance hall, Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of ‘Blue Skies’ playing, Ezra and Moira dancing along to the song, smiling as they joke and catch up some more (there’s only so much they can talk about over the phone before Ezra’s allotted time is up).

“Oh, I haven’t been here in months,” Moira laughs as they spin around the dance floor, their footwork smooth and flawless. “Last time I was, I danced with a Sargent. Tallest man I’ve ever seen with a nice shade of red hair and the prettiest blue eyes. I think you would’ve been pretty taken with him, I know how much of a sucker you are for red heads and blue eyes.”

“That so?” Ezra grins when he spins her out then back in. “You playin’ match maker for me now, Moira? Sick of being married to me already? Hasn’t even been a day yet and you’re already tryin’ to kick me to the curb. Where shall I go? What shall I do?”

Moira’s matching grin is just as bright as she suddenly takes the lead and dips Ezra back, barely keeping herself from dropping him when they both shake with drunken laughter.

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” she says with her best Clarke Gable impression, trying to keep a straight face, but ends up spluttering into another bout of laughter. Moira lifts him back out of the dip and lets him lead the dance again.

They’re all goofy smiles for the rest of the song. Man, Ezra has missed Moira; she’s been his best friend ever since he came to Boston for high school. He hadn’t realized just how much he’s missed her until now. It was like missing a limb and it’s going to suck when he gets shipped out to the frontlines. Ezra pushes those sad thoughts away. Now’s a time for celebrating, not being down.

“Blue days, all of them gone. Nothin' but blue skies from now on,” Ezra croons, off key and slurring slightly.

“No,” Moira groans as she hangs her head backwards in exasperation. “No singing. You’re so bad at it.”

Ezra gasps in mock hurt.

“Excuse you, with pipes this good I could very well be the next Dean Domino.”

Moira snorts.

“Yeah, if Dean Domino couldn’t carry a tune.”

---

He hates being here, in this facility. There’s no way to tell the time of day, all there is, is fluorescent lighting and those damn songs the Director keeps playing. Says it’s supposed to reinforce whatever it is they did to his mind, but it hurts, it fucking hurts, and makes it difficult to think clearly.

He’s laying down on the cot in his “room” (it’s a glorified cell, the walls are all glass) trying to tune out the songs, hating how he becomes a backseat driver in his own damn mind whenever the phrase “Move on out, captain” plays, and is only able to have control again when another phrase in a different song plays. He grinds his teeth as he pulls against the restraints that tie him down to the cot. They’re tighter than usual because he tried breaking out again.

Ezra is so out of it he almost doesn’t hear the whispers of someone trying to get his attention until the music suddenly cuts out. He weakly rolls his head to the side and sees a blond young man on the other side of the glass, looking around nervously.

“We don’t have much time, but I can help you leave.”

“Who are you?”

“You can call me Patriot. Now let’s you get you out of here.”

---

There’s so much yelling and screaming and the thundering sounds of boots against tiled flooring as Ezra hits the button Patriot told him about as he rushes past to get onto the teleporter. The camera blackout hadn’t lasted as long as it should’ve; he knows because sirens started to go off and suddenly there were jackboots chasing him down hallways, all of them suddenly crawling out of the woodwork, and they are fast, inhumanly fast, but he is faster.

But just barely.

Of course there was a limit to his luck and one of them managed to grab him by the scruff of his jumpsuit and haul him backwards, cracking his head hard against one of the consoles (it’s bad. He knows it is because the sound of his head meeting metal is so loud the noise bounces off the walls). Ears ringing and disoriented, Ezra somehow managed to shake them off and starts running again, the hum of the teleporter starting up as some kind of timer.

He jumps into the beam of light and his vision blanks out.

At first he thinks it didn’t work, the hum of machinery making him think he’s still in the facility, but when vision returns to him he sees that he’s somewhere else; metallic and cold, strange pods line the room.

Well, wherever he is it’s better than where he was. The pain from where his head was hit radiates throughout him. Fuck, he hopes it wasn’t too bad. Gently lifting his fingers to the source of his pain, he presses them to his head, checking for how bad the damage is, but as soon as he touches it his head erupts like a nuke and he lets out a silent scream before he passes out.

Ezra has a dreamless sleep and when he wakes he barely even remembers his name, much less how he got here.

---

“Man, that’s rough, buddy. The more you remember the more you become a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

Ezra snorts at him as they continue their way down the cracked and ruined asphalt towards Salem. Ever since that night at Covenant Ezra has been more open with Deacon, sharing what bits of memory come back to him. At first it didn’t seem like there’d been any rhyme or reason to what Spots got back, but the pattern became clear pretty quick. The bigger chunks, the important bits, usually had something to do with music.

Deacon’s not really sure what to do with that information, (neither is Ezra to be honest. Deacon can see it in the way his face scrunches slightly and the knot that forms in between his eyebrows which is actually kind of cute. Not that he would say that last part aloud. Maybe.) but at least there’s a pattern that’s established. At least, that’s what he’s telling himself.

Like he said, they’ve got no idea what to do with that information other than that they know it’s there.

“Says the man of mystery himself,” Ezra replies, a lopsided grin on his face, which just makes him look even prettier, especially with the way the sunlight catches in his eyes, making him think of a sunrise over a stormy sea and wow, reel it back in there Deacon. ‘Kinda not the place or time to be internally waxing poetic about your partner’s eyes or his pretty face,’ he thinks to himself.

“Man of mystery, huh? I like it.”

---

They stumble upon Salem’s retirement home before the Museum of Witchcraft. The place is quiet save for mechanical hum of the Mr. Handy robots.

“Welcome to Sandy Coves Convalescent Home,” the Mr. Handy at the front desk greets them. “How may I help you?”

“I’m checking in,” Ezra says without skipping a beat. “My family filled out the paperwork.”

“Our filing system seems to be on the fritz,” the attendant replies apologetically as it hands over a key, “but in the meantime you can use Gladys’ old room.”

Once they begin moving down the hallway, Deacon speaks up.

“Something must be wrong with that Mr. Handy’s sight, because there’s no way anyone would mistake you for a retiree.”

Ezra laughs as he looks back over his shoulder.

“Technically I’m 246, so in a way I kinda belong in a place like this.”

“Please, out of the two of us I’m more likely to end up in here before you, get to compete against the other geezers on bingo nights, do some wheelchair racing. Y’know, the fun stuff.”

---

The front doors to the Museum of Witchcraft are chained from the inside, so they have to go in through the basement. The fact that there’s a mutilated corpse only mere feet away from the cellar door doesn’t make this place any less spooky.

“Kinda reminds me of Halloween nights back before the bombs dropped. Some friends and I would go someplace spooky and tell ghost stories,” Ezra says as he hauls the metal door open. “Do people still tell ghost stories? Like the hook hand caught on the car door?”

“Now is not the time to tell ghost stories,” Deacon says as he props the door open as Ezra descends the stairs first into the dark. “This place is already gonna give me nightmares, I don’t need to have a heart attack while I’m here.”

“This isn’t that bad,” Ezra says idly at the bottom of the staircase, “Almost kind of cozy.”

Deacon snorts as he finally follows him down the stairs and further into the basement.

“Yeah, cozy isn’t the word I’d use to describe this place.”

---

To the west of Salem they come across what looks like a small panic room, maybe a bomb shelter, and it’s heavily trapped.

The holodisk they find mentions a quarry before it ends with a gunshot.

Ezra’s got that knot between his brows again as he looks at Deacon.

“Wanna go check it out?”

---

There’s something about Dunwich Borers that’s just… rotten. And it’s not just because of the festering corpses of kidnapped settlers and merchants in the cages above the smoldering fire pits.

Something isn’t right about this place.

Dogmeat’s ears are flat and his tail is curled between his legs as he whines, refusing to follow them into the depths of the quarry. Ezra pats the dog’s head and just tells him to wait for them there.

Deacon thinks they should take a page out of Dogmeat’s book and not go in, but Ezra argues that there are more than likely more raiders down below and they might have some settlers or merchants who are still alive. He can’t really argue against checking at least.

---

If Deacon thought they should’ve left before he definitely thinks they should turn around immediately and never come within a 500 foot radius of this place ever again.

All they’ve found were more raiders and a weird rhythmic vibration and a terminal with an ominous entry of “I’m safe in the light” repeated over and over again.

The further they get the more they see strange hallucinations, only to be attacked by ferals.

There’s something rotten in Dunwich Borers, something that’s been festering for years.

When they reach the bottom, where the vibrations are the most pronounced, there’s nothing there except three bloated looking ferals and a pool of water so deep that Deacon can’t see the bottom of it.

And Ezra wants to go diving into it.

Hell no.

“Are you out of your mind? We don’t know how deep it goes or if there’s anything down there. My vote is that we don’t go splashing around in a creepy well. Seriously, this place looks like the set of a horror film, this is downright nightmare fuel.”

Ezra sighs, dragging his hands down his face.

“I know, this place freaks me out too, but we’re already here, might as well check it out.”

“That literally sounds like something someone in a slasher flick would say,” Deacon grimaces. “Next thing you know we got some machete wielding killer chasing us around.”

Letting out a huff of laughter, Ezra pulls his pack off and sets it down at their feet.

“I’m gonna check it out, you can stay here. If a guy with a machete does come by and try to do us in you can tell me ‘I-told-you-so’ and we won’t ever have to check out another creepy place unless we’re sure there’s hostages or something.”

“That’s a damn lie and you know it. You’re still going to drag me into creepy places just to poke around,” Deacon says, but there’s no heat to it, just a quiet acceptance, because he’ll probably kick up a fuss but he’s the one following Ezra into these situations anyway. He pulls out a combat knife from his belt and hands it over. “At least take this with you. Railroad tip #113: don’t go diving in creepy swimming holes. At least, not without a knife. That is all.”

Ezra grins before diving in.

Deacon stands there waiting, gun at the ready in case there’s any more ferals waiting to pop out of the cavern walls.

---

The vibrations are still going strong and there haven’t been any new ferals, so the place is practically quiet as an empty house.

Until Ezra breaks the surface of the water, gasping and heaving for air as he coughs up black water and shaking like a leaf. Deacon has to haul him out himself, grabbing onto Ezra’s jacket and pulling with all he’s got until they’re both completely on the rocky ground.

Once Ezra has spat up all the water from his lungs he grabs the sides of Deacon’s face, eyes wide with terror as he asks, “Are you real?”

“What are you–?”

“Are you real?” There’s something desperate in his eyes as he repeats this. What the fuck did he see down there?

“Of course I’m real, Spots.”

This seems to appease Ezra since his grip relaxes and he nods, moments passing where the only sound of their breathing breaks the complete silence before Ezra jerks back, as if he’s finally realizing what happened.

“Shit, I’m sorry. I don’t what the fuck I was thinking grabbing you like that.”

Spots starts shaking again after he’s broken contact with him, and shit, Deacon isn’t a touchy feely guy normally but whatever was down there really has Spots messed up, so he reaches out and takes one of his hands and rubs his thumb in circular motions against the back of it.

“It’s alright. What’d you even see down there? You looked like you’d seen a ghost or something. Came tearing up out of the water like a bat out of hell.”

“Nothing good.”

---

They leave the quarry behind, heading south towards Bunker Hill. Spots keeps looking over his shoulder, like he’s afraid of something followed them out of Dunwich.

Maybe like he’s afraid he’s still in that watery void and that all of this is another hallucination.

Whenever he gets too distracted Deacon takes his hand in his to help ground him, remind him that this is real and that whatever he saw down there wasn’t. They sleep with their backs pressed against one another during the nights. When they finally reach Bunker Hill Ezra stops checking over his shoulder like they’re being hunted, loses the lurking terror in his eyes.

They still sleep with backs pressed together though.

---

“Work, huh? Hmm…” Hancock taps at his chin as he sits on a couch that has seen better days, a couple empty canisters of jet on the coffee table he has his feet propped up on. “I’ll tell you what, I got reconnaissance needs. There’s a lot of weird talk coming in about a place called the Pickman Gallery. It’s raider territory up there, but they’ve been quiet. Like, uncomfortable post-coitus quiet? Snoop it out, and give me the word.”

“Scout out Pickman Gallery. On it.”

“Cool. Be thorough, okay? I’m not paying for a look-see. Find out what’s really going on there,” Hancock calls out after them as they descend the spiral staircase.

“Well, we’ve been working hard lately. What’re you saving up caps for? Christmas presents?” Deacon asks as they step out into the cold December air of Goodneighbor.

“If you mean ‘three radiation suits for you, me, and Piper to get through the Glowing Sea since Nick doesn’t need one’ then yeah, I’m saving up Christmas presents,” Ezra answers without looking up from his Pipboy map.

“Aw, and here I was thinking you were gonna get me a Grognak action figure. One of those 2068 special editions.”

“Well, we gotta head out to Hubris Comics after this for Kent, so I can probably find you Grognak something there.”

---

As soon as he steps over the gallery’s threshold Ezra’s hit with the overpowering stench of blood, the smell of copper and rotten flesh so strong it stings. The first room on the left is filled with paintings that are mostly red with accents of yellow and black and a weird effigy made of desks and heads on pikes in the center.

“Look at the brushwork. And the bold use of color. Oh, and how bat shit crazy the painter was. Don’t forget that,” Deacon critiques in a flat voice as he follows Ezra in.

“Well, the painter’s no Picasso, that’s for sure.”

They’re interrupted by creaking floorboards and a sudden swarm of raiders.

---

The old tunnels beneath the gallery are winding and maze-like, many branching pathways cut off by collapses, probably from the shockwaves when the bombs first dropped or in the aftereffects by weakened and unmaintained supports.

Ezra moves through it with ease, jumping down from ledge to ledge without stopping at one point.

“That’s impressive and all, but could you slow down for those who don’t have Adamantium kneecaps? I swear, if I tried to move as fast as you I’d probably break my neck.”

---

Ezra acts before he could really take the situation in, all he had seen was an unarmed man in a well-kept suit surrounded by three raiders and jumped onto the back of the nearest one, digging his knees into the raider as he lands. He and Deacon take out two of the raiders while the unarmed man takes out the third by himself.

“That was close, thank you,” the man says as he approaches Ezra and Deacon, nudging the raider corpses with the tip of his shoe with a disgusted look at touching them. “Those people deserved worse than death.”

“I’m sorry, but who are you? Why did they want you so badly?” Ezra asks, looking at the man and his bloodied knuckles warily.

The man, who has still yet to introduce himself, lets out an amused huff and fixes Ezra with an… oddly fond look. Immediately Ezra feels uneasy and his skin crawls with how uncomfortable he feels. Something about this guy isn’t right. Out of the corner of his eye he can see Deacon is uncomfortable too by the way he tenses up.

“A small disagreement. They objected to my hobby of collecting their heads. Let me repay you.”

Oh. Oh god, this is the guy who made those paintings out of blood, who left mutilated bodies in old wooden caskets with withered flowers and a fucking calling card. This is Pickman, the man who takes joy in carving people up. Sure most of those people were raiders, but still. Ezra just saved a fucking serial killer. His gut churns at the vivid memory of what lies in the gallery above them. He’s going to be sick, he shouldn’t have jumped in like this, should’ve let the raiders finish Pickman off first.

“Uh, you really don’t have to,” Ezra manages to force out trying not to get sick all over the place.

“Nonsense. All I’m offering is a gift, nothing more. If you visit my house again, look deep within my painting ‘Picnic for Stanley’ and you will find my gratitude. You’ll need this,” Pickman says, handing over a key attached to a Pipboy chain before leaving through a hatch.

“This is fucked up,” he whispers, not really directing it to anyone in particular.

“It sure is, Spots,” Deacon answers anyway.

---

The Hubris Comics building is actually in pretty decent shape, compared to some other buildings in the area anyway, Ezra thinks. Sure, its got ferals and some recently deceased scavers inside, but that’s not anything new or surprising.

What is surprising is that a lot of the merchandise for the big name comics are still here after all these years; the Silver Shroud’s costume and props, a couple of unburned comics and an intact script from an unaired episode.

The real kicker though is that there’s a Grognak costume and an axe that goes with it. Like an actual, honest-to-God axe, not some cheap plastic toy or dulled edges. He stows them away in his pack as best he can when Deacon isn’t paying attention. Deacon might’ve been joking earlier about Christmas gifts, but Ezra sure as hell isn’t passing up the opportunity now that he’s found this stuff.

If nothing else they’ll both get a kick out of this.

---

After handing over the Silver Shroud costume (and the memorabilia they’d managed to find) Ezra hadn’t been expecting Kent to ask him to become the Silver Shroud. He was flattered, but he wasn’t so sure he’d be able to do it justice. That is, until Kent gave him that wide-eyed hopeful look and he caved and agreed to being the Shroud.

(He’s not ashamed to admit it. You try saying “No” to someone who’s looking at you like you’re some kind of hero just because you didn’t laugh at them.)

“Aw shucks, now I feel a little left out,” Deacon jokes from where he’s sprawled out on a couch.

Ezra pulls out the costume he’d grabbed from Hubris comics and tosses it at Deacon with a smirk.

“Looks like Christmas came early. Time to gear up, Grognak.”

“Oh hell yes.”

---

Once they’ve been running around Goodneighbor for a few solid hours, Ezra remembers that it’s literally the middle of December and that Deacon is probably freezing in that Grognak costume. Deacon just laughs and waves it off.

“Buddy, I’m living the dream, seven year old me is incredibly jealous right now. A little cold weather isn’t going to stop me.”

Ezra huffs in fond amusement as he shrugs out of his jacket and hands it over to the other man.

“Yeah well I’m cold just looking at you and I’m the one who’s fully clothed right now.”

“We can always fix that,” Deacon says as he tries to waggle his eyebrows, but the sunglasses kind of obscure it.

Ezra laughs.

“Maybe later, we’re on the clock right now.”

Chapter Text

Everything is blurry when he opens his eyes. A face comes into view, weathered with age and familiar almond shaped eyes. Those are Moira’s eyes, but not her face. No, the face is much like his own save for a few differences and the wrinkles.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” the old man says, a smile softening his features. There’s something so familiar about this old man; Ezra knows him yet he doesn’t. He tries to reach out, maybe test if the man is real, but his hands won’t cooperate. Something underneath him rattles.

“Careful now,” the man says as he steadies something beneath Ezra. “Don’t want you falling off, there’s nothing to break your fall seeing as how there’s only your head right now.”

“What?” Ezra tries to ask, but instead of his voice there’s a loud feedback sound and he winces as pain lances through his head.

The old man grabs a strange looking tool off of the table and brings it to Ezra’s neck and does… something, talking as he does it. “Hold on a moment. I haven’t had the chance to start working on your vocal chords yet. You’re nowhere near ready to come online, but I figured I should at least check to make sure your brain and the neural implant have synced up correctly. There, that should do the trick for now. Go ahead, try it out.”

“Who are you?” Ezra asks in a barely audible voice. “I feel like I should know, like I do, but I haven’t the slightest idea who you could be.”

This seems to surprise the old man, at least a little, and he goes quiet, apparently thinking of how to answer. He responds with a song, one that Ezra knows by heart and would only ever sing to Shaun and it brings back memories of rocking his and Moira’s son to sleep, singing along to Johnny Cash’s rendition of ‘You are my Sunshine.’

He finds himself joining in, a morbid duet between an elderly man and a disembodied head, voices sounding too loud and echoing in the silent room. They both sing off key and can’t carry a damn note and Ezra can feel his throat tighten and tears stinging his eyes. The old man sings like him, has his same inability to sound good singing.

Moira’s dark, almond shaped eyes and Ezra’s jawline.

When they reach the end they are quiet for a long time, just staring at one another, before Ezra lets out a wet huff of laughter.

“You really grew up on us, didn’t you, kiddo? How’d that happen?” He can feel his smile trembling, trying to keep from outright sobbing. Not that anyone could blame him if he did; his son was old and wrinkled and Ezra was just a head on a workshop table.

“Time makes old men of us all, but not you” Shaun replies, a barely there smile on his own face. “No, I’m making it so you’ll never have to know death. It’s the least I can do after everything that’s happened.”

Ezra sighs quietly. It’s too late for that, Ezra has already known death. Maybe not personally, but he’s been to war and death always lurks on the battlefield, waiting, watching. No one can escape its grasp forever.

“You’ll live for a very long time with the new body I’m building for you. There’s things that will have to be done, plans I’ve been making for years now, but in the end, I know you’ll do something great with it all when I’m gone.”

“What do you mean when you’re gone? You’re not planning on going somewhere are you?”

Shaun chuckles as he gathers some more tools from the table and puts them back in their proper places, the quiet sound of metal clinking against metal starts to lull Ezra to sleep, eyelids growing heavy.

“I’m not going anywhere, but you should go to sleep.”

Ezra yawns wide, jaw popping. “Goodnight, Shaun.”

“Goodnight, dad.”

---

Ezra wakes up with tears staining his cheeks. Deacon asks him if he had a nightmare.

He can’t remember what he dreamed about.

---

They end up back in Diamond City to check in with Nick, who seems to be deep in thought when they enter the detective agency, along with Piper who is sitting across from him, notepad and pen in hand.

“Long time no see, Blue,” Piper greets them with a bright grin.

“Good to see the two of you are still alive and kicking,” Nick says with a wry smile that slightly fades as his mechanical eyes seem to dim in brightness for a moment, as if his eyes were clouding over as he slips back into thought, absentmindedly rubbing his mouth.

Piper just rolls her eyes at the detective. “Nick’s got something he wants to ask you, if he’ll quit overthinking things for more than two seconds.”

Nick shoots her an unimpressed look, as well as lobbing a crumpled piece of paper in her direction, before turning to Ezra again who gestures for Nick to go ahead while Piper vacates her seat, grabs Deacon by his arm and drags him from the agency and out into Diamond City, something about “being her arm candy down at Bobrov’s while the fossils hash out the details.”

“I wouldn’t normally bother you with this sort of thing, but… well, I know I can trust you with this, especially considering you trusted me with your memory predicament. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been getting these… flashes. Memories of places I’ve never been. Things I’ve never seen. Memories of Nick’s. They’re not bad. They’re just…” Nick trails off, face pulling into a grimace. “They’re just this inescapable reminder that I’m not the person I think I am. That I’m not a person at all. I’m just a machine pretending to be human.”

Ezra’s brows furrow at that last part. Sure, Nick might not be made of flesh and bone, but Nick is just as much a person as himself, as much as Deacon, as much as Piper. You don’t need to have a heartbeat to be human.

“Nick, you’re a hell of a lot more human than most of the people I’ve met. Your memories might not be entirely your own, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person than anyone else.”

The earnestness in Ezra’s voice and his words seems to stun Nick, whose eyes seem to glow a bit brighter for a moment before he reins himself back in. Once he does he continues with saying his piece, how he’s grateful for the other Nick’s memories, how he owes his life to Nick Valentine.

“Everything that makes me who I am – my judgement, my speech, hell, even my name – they’re his. And I can’t do a damn thing about it because without them… without them I’m nothing. A shell. All I want is a life where I have something I can call my own,” he says around the lit cigarette hanging from his lips.

“You’ve already built a life for yourself, Nick. You’ve got the agency. A home. Friends.”

Nick snorts. “I mean, you’re not wrong… I appreciate you hearing me out, Ezra. You’re a real good friend. I could use a hand about this Nick Valentine business, if you’re willing to take a crack at it.”

“Of course. What’s the case?”

---

Looking for all of Eddie Winter’s holotapes takes them on a tour of the ruins of pre-War police stations all over the Commonwealth.

It’s strange, seeing Boston and the surrounding towns in ruins, especially when for a lot of the places they go he sees pre-War versions of them superimposed over their present state.

“On a scale of one to ten, how weird is all this sightseeing for you?” Deacon asks they turn Nahant’s Sheriff’s Department upside down in their search.

“Twenty seven and a half,” Ezra deadpans without missing a beat. A bark of laughter comes from Deacon as he steps over to where Ezra is searching.

“No, honestly. If I were in your shoes I imagine I’d be feeling like I was going nuts.”

Ezra is quiet for a moment before looking at Deacon’s face, kind of wishing he could actually look the man in the eyes instead of being met with sunglasses.

“Honestly?”

“Honestly.”

“I feel like I should miss the way things were, but I don’t, which makes me feel weird and guilty. It was probably easier for me to adjust to how things are now since I pretty much woke up in 111 a blank slate. I still don’t remember a whole lot to compare now to then. But…” Ezra trails off, teeth worrying at his bottom lip as he looks away.

“But?” Deacon prompts.

“But being with you makes me feel less weird and guilty about not missing the past,” he answers.

The other man hums in response as he comes close enough to bump their shoulders together, getting Ezra to look at him again.

“Truthfully, you make me feel less guilty about the past too.”

---

“Aw man, I think I’m gonna need some new shoes when we get back to Diamond City. I feel like I’m wearing in some holes in these bad boys from how much walking we’ve been doing,” Deacon says when they stop to rest for a bit.

“Well, considering they’re two centuries old it was bound to happen sooner or later,” Ezra replies when he stops next to the large rock Deacon is sitting on so he can inspect the soles of his shoes. Ezra tilts his head in thought before continuing. “We should get you something sturdier than sneakers though.”

“I dunno, Spots. You can pull of the leather biker look, but I don’t think it’d look good on me. I’m more of a ‘just dived into a thrift store bargain bin’ kinda guy.”

“Thrift store bargain bin, huh? I was wondering where you got that awful looking sweater.”

Deacon gasps and clutches the right side of his chest in mock indignation. “I’ll have you know that this sweater, this beautiful knitted masterpiece, came from a thrift store rack.”

---

The sun has long since set as they look through Natick’s Police Department. Well, the half of it that is still standing. The other half has fallen into Lake Cochituate.

“We might have to call this one a bust,” Deacon says as he tosses away a mostly rotted away cardboard box with paperwork that lost any importance a very long time ago. “Because if the holotape isn’t up here then there’s a pretty good chance it fell into the lake.”

“Maybe,” Ezra agrees, sighing as finishes checking the desks. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. If it did fall into the lake with the other half of the building there’s a chance it could still be in working condition if he manages to fish it out.

“You’re not swimming around in all that toxic water, Spots,” Deacon tells him, as if reading Ezra’s mind. He looks at Ezra over his shoulder with an unimpressed look. “No, seriously. You’re not. Doesn’t matter how many Rad-X’s you pop, you’ll still end up with an extra limb or something.”

“Oh come on, it can’t be that bad.”

“You’re right. It’s worse. There’s – what in the hell is that?”

There’s the sound of something large hurtling through the sky at high speeds (Ezra’s mind thinks “jets” but it’s not that, not quite right) as they both look up at the night sky as a bright light streaks across it. They rush out of the building and onto the cracked street pavement, watching as a weird giant metal disk that’s on fire crashes in the distance.

“Holy shit,” Deacon breathes out. He grabs Ezra’s wrist and starts jogging in the direction of the crash, pulling Ezra along behind him, and Dogmeat following after them. “We got to get to that crash site. Even if it means Tinker gets to say, ‘I told you so.’”

“Oh man, we’re gonna regret this, I can feel it. This is already way too “The War of the Worlds” for me.”

---

He’s not sure how long he’s been down in what he assumes are the lower levels of the facility they keep him in. There are no windows or calendars or clocks. At least, not anywhere he can see.

Usually he can tell the passage of time by what he does and doesn’t remember. At a certain point during the day his mind sort of… resets. Some days he remembers a lot, others nothing at all. Today he remembers a bit, but not as much as he’d like too. His muscle memory doesn’t seem to change at all, however, since he can assemble, fire, and then disassemble the sniper rifle they allow him to practice with as easy as breathing.

Another thing he’s noticed is that he can do all the calculations required of sniping accurately faster than he thinks he used to. All he needs to do is look at the target, and regardless of whatever simulated weather conditions they give him, he already knows what adjustments he needs to make without even focusing too hard on it.Other times they have him practice hand to hand combat with these weird looking robots with glowing yellow eyes. Synths, he’s heard the people in lab coats call them. Sometimes they have him go up against people who have blank looks on their faces, eyes looking dead, but they move swift and efficiently. Coursers if he remembers right.

Ezra doesn’t like fighting the Coursers. They don’t cry out when struck, don’t make any sound at all save for when one of the lab coats speak to them directly. At least with the metallic Synths he sort of expects them to be emotionless, unfeeling, but honestly they seem more alive and human than the Coursers do and they’re the ones with human faces.

(He’d rather not fight the Synths or the Coursers. They don’t fight of their own volition, none of them do, including him, only doing as ordered.)

He lowers the rifle when he hears the range’s door whoosh open behind him. His eyes slip closed as he listens to the approaching footsteps. With the relaxed pace and short gait he can tell it’s Campbell, one of the… scientists? Researchers? He’s not entirely sure what these people are, other than they all seem to work for the Director.

(Ezra’s pretty sure they’re not entirely sure what they are doing either, that none of them have the full picture of what the Director is planning for Ezra except for the man himself.)

“Time’s up,” Campbell says as she stands a few feet away from Ezra. None of them get to close to him after... he can’t quite recall what happened, but it must’ve been something bad, probably violent. They fear him, what he’s capable of doing. To be honest, he’s afraid too, of what he can do. There’s a sudden flash of memory, a bloodied and broken Courser, looking up at him with impassive eyes and refusing to call it quits. (“Tell me to stop,” Ezra whispers to the Courser. They say nothing, just continue to stare at him though this time there’s a spark of something. Something fiery and rebellious, and he’s relieved to see something, he just wishes it wasn’t like this. “Tell me to stop,” Ezra begs, voice wavering as tears start rolling down his cheeks. “Please.” He chokes on his sobs as the Director speaks the words, those dreadful words, and then Ezra’s in the backseat of his own body.) “Disassemble your weapon and return it to the armory.”

“What’s happening now?” Ezra asks as he does as he’s told. It’s easier to just comply than to endure the rod.

“New training regiment,” is all Campbell offers as she leads the way out of the shooting range.

Dread pools in the pit of Ezra’s stomach as he reluctantly follows.

---

They’re on the outskirts of Jamaica Plain, keeping a distance from the ghoul infested town as they head down to Quincy to get the last Eddie Winter holotape, when Dogmeat takes off, barking and howling, into the ruined town.

Which, of course, means Ezra takes off after the dog, more than likely leading them into another creepy and spooky situation however unintentional. Deacon sighs as he jogs after them, drawing his pistol and muttering under his breath. He’s heard stories about this place, heard that it’s cursed, which he totally doesn’t believe. Maybe.

Okay, so he kinda believes it. At least a little. The place has a higher death rate than most other ruined towns in the Commonwealth, it’s totally normal to have a healthy fear of this place. Most people do. There’s a reason why there’s empty casket funerals for the people who come here.

Deacon turns the corner to see Dogmeat mauling a rather crispy looking ghoul while Ezra is swinging his nail covered baseball bat. He takes note of the dead body propped against a concrete barrier, probably someone after the treasure rumored to be hidden somewhere in the long abandoned town.

“Jamaica Plain. Treasure hunters, corpses, and hard luck stories. Isn’t the Commonwealth grand?” Deacon says as he makes his way over to Ezra and Dogmeat, firing at as many ferals as possible along the way.

---

“You ready to find out what the treasure is?” Ezra asks, a bright grin on his face that makes Deacon’s mouth go dry and his heart beat fast (they’ve basically been attached at the hip for months and Deacon still reacts this way whenever Spots looks at him like this), as he uses the somehow still functioning computer to open up the doors.

“I’m always ready for treasure and adventure, Spots. Pop that sucker open and let’s see what’s inside.”

The doors swing open with a hiss and the lights inside the no longer sealed room switch on automatically. When they step inside, Deacon can feel laughter bubbling up his throat. Well shit, if this isn’t the plot twist of the year. Some kind of joke’s punchline two hundred years in the making.

“All right, you got me. You Jamaica Plain bastards you got me,” he manages to get out as he starts cracking up with laughter.

The treasure is nothing more than a time capsule. Nothing but mostly rotted books, old vases and photographs, and some knickknacks in busted up glass cases.

“A tragically hilarious miscommunication,” Ezra quips with a smirk as he moves through the room, taking a closer look at the various items. “Jamaica Plain thought these things would be valuable to the future and the future probably thought it’d be guns or power armor or something.”

“Kinda reminds me of a story someone once told me about New Vegas.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. See, out in the Mojave there was another place that also had some mysterious treasure hidden in it, except it was guarded by a guy named Festus since way back when, before the bombs dropped, and the only way to get the treasure was if you gave him a lot of bottle caps that had blue stars on them,” Deacon says as he leans on the case that Ezra is standing in front of. “There were a few people who went off the deep end for it. Eventually someone, the guy who actually runs New Vegas now if I’m remembering this right, found enough caps to get past Festus. Turns out the treasure was just a bunch of fake sheriff badges for kids.”

Deacon watches as Ezra’s brow furrows for a moment before he ducks his head, shoulders shaking with repressed laughter, as he rests his forehead against Deacon’s collarbone.

“Christ, I actually remember that. It was part of a contest that started from an urban legend, kinda like the Tootsie Pop wrappers? Send in 100 wrappers and get a free Tootsie Pop, except it was 'send in 50 star caps and get a sheriff badge.'"

This time it’s Deacon who frowns slightly, even though Ezra can’t see his face. “You know, I’m beginning to think you Pre-War guys are all jerks. Pulling a fast one on us young, ignorant apocalypse kids.”

“How else were we gonna get our kicks?” Ezra asks as he lifts his head up, smiling even in his eyes and oh no, when did they get this close to each other? Not close as in terms of how well they know each other (although now he’s wondering about that too, because he never gets this attached to anyone, not since Barbara), but as in physical proximity, because all Deacon would have to do is lean forward a bit and they’d be kissing and he’s been thinking about kissing Ezra for longer than he should probably admit to, even to himself.

Before he can decide, kiss him or not, Ezra steps back.

“We should probably get going before it gets too dark out,” Ezra says quietly and he’s still smiling. Well color Deacon embarrassed because Ezra probably saw everything Deacon was thinking written on his face. There’s a pleasant warmth that settles in his bones and fuck, he’s been doing a decent job so far trying to ignore it, but now it’s probably gonna be more difficult to push those feelings down.

Without further comment he follows Ezra out of the town hall’s basement.

---

They find Billy Peabody trapped in a fridge just outside of Jamaica Plain. Ezra’s surprised that the kid’s muscles haven’t atrophied completely, but then ghoul biology isn’t something he’s familiar with at all. Billy can still walk and talk but his legs are shaky and weak from being cramped up into a fridge for 210 years. Hell, he’s just glad Billy didn’t go blind immediately from seeing daylight again.

It’s also lucky, and kinda unlucky, that Billy wants to go to Quincy to look for his parents. Lucky because that’s where he and Deacon were headed anyway (though if that hadn’t been the case Ezra still would’ve helped the kid look for his parents), but also unlucky because Ezra remembers Preston warning him and Deacon about Quincy, that it was still probably filled with raiders.

They barely get a few steps away from the old fridge before Billy’s legs start to give out on him. Too long in the dark and cramped space for sure. Ezra picks him up and carries Billy. It’s a long way to Quincy from here and it’ll be easier on all of them if he and Deacon take turns carrying the boy. (Hell, he could probably carry Billy the entire way. The boy is too light and that really worries Ezra. Too light, too weak, too underfed. 210 years will do that though.)

“Cindy’s dad always told her to stay away from old refrigerators. Told her they were dangerous. Boy was he right,” Billy tells them.

Deacon looks like he’s about to say something in return (he’s been talking with Billy most of the time while Ezra keeps an eye out as they walk) when Dogmeat starts snarling and snapping at the approach of blond man in combat armor.

“Cute kid. Is he for sale?”

No. Hell no. Ezra hands Billy off to Deacon, careful to make sure he doesn’t fall from their grasp, before moving to stand next to Dogmeat.

“Excuse me?”

“The ghoul kid. Is he for sale? Ghouls make good workers, can work ‘em real hard. Don’t age, don’t need to eat, immune to radiation.”

Dogmeat is still snarling next to him and Ezra briefly wonders if he’s having a stroke or something because who just asks that sort of thing? Without even really thinking about it Ezra draws his pistol and hits the man in the jaw with handle.

“The hell was that for?” The man hisses, carefully touching his now stinging jaw.

“That was for trying to buy a child. Now get out of here before I do something worse to you.” He’s already seeing red, if this guy doesn’t get out of here then Ezra really will do something worse and he’d rather not do that in front of Billy. The kid doesn’t need to see that.

“Better watch your back,” the blond man spits at them before leaving.

---

This is probably the worst day of his life. He’d followed Campbell and she led him to a room and left him there alone. The room was small and there was another door on the other side of it. He stayed in there for long minutes, dragging on for an eternity before the other door whooshed open and a panel in the wall popped open, revealing only a combat knife. Not knowing what else to do, he’d picked up the knife and passed through the open door.

On the other side was an even larger room (an arena?) filled with plants. Looking up at the walls revealed large panel windows. An observation deck? What were they observing though? Him, obviously, but what else?

There’s rustling in the underbrush right as an intercom clicks on.

“Objective: eliminate the deathclaw.”

Deathclaw? What’s a deathclaw?

He gets an answer when a large reptile with the face of death itself emerges from the plants. There’s a loud, ear piercing roar and then there’s nothing but pain ripping through him.

---

Billy Peabody is finally home with his parents. Ezra can feel his face pull into a grin as the small family holds one another close, finally together again after all this time.

“Oh man, I think I might be tearing up,” Deacon whispers to him. Ezra pushes him lightly, rolling his eyes at the man.

The moment is ruined, however, when someone outside the house starts shouting.

---

It’s been a long 12 hours, the both of them bloody and battered, but they’ve finally got it, the last Eddie Winter tape.

“Think the Peabody’s will let us sleep at their place?” Ezra asks, bone tired with his eyelids threatening to close on him and not open until well into tomorrow.

“Nah. We may have taken out the raiders, but they’re probably afraid we bring bad luck or something.”

Ezra snorts as he leads them out of the ruins of Quincy’s police station. “We better find somewhere to sleep then, because I’m about to crash.”

“There’s that one apartment building,” Deacon says, tugging on Ezra’s sleeve to get him to follow, Dogmeat trotting along behind them. “It’s high up so we don’t have to worry about radscorpions or any other unwanted foot traffic.”

Ezra hums in response, already half asleep as they climb the stairs in the old diner to the apartment above.

There’s a rickety old bed frame and a mattress that has seen better days and has some questionable stains on it, but to Ezra it looks like the best thing he’s seen in days. Without another thought he heads for it and immediately slumps down onto it. (He should probably shake it out, check for any unwanted bed guests like knives, or needles, or bugs, but he’s too exhausted to care.)

“Man, you’re really out of it aren’t you?” Deacon asks from somewhere in the room. Ezra just grunts in response which causes the other man to laugh. “C’mon, at least take your bag off first.”

He sighs and fumbles with the backpack’s straps until he’s free of it and the bag slips ungracefully to the floor.

Ezra is dropping off into sleep when the other side of the mattress dips and then there’s Deacon next to him and a blanket with a few small holes is over them and then he’s out like a light.

---

He comes to with a wet gasp, blood staining his lips. Ezra looks down at himself and chokes on a sob, or is it blood? His torso is ripped to shreds and he can’t watch as strands of skin and muscle slowly knit themselves back together, but he can’t look away from it either. God, he feels like crying, eyes prickling with tears.

No time for crying, Ezra thinks to himself, they won’t let you out until you kill that thing.

Sniffling, he lurches to his feet with the combat knife still clutched tightly in hand as he disappears into the plants looking for his target.

---

Ezra wakes up when the first rays of light from the sunrise hit his face and there’s a heavy weight on his back pinning him down. He tenses up when his mind immediately goes Deathclaw and a brief phantom pain in his abdomen but then there’s a hand rubbing circles over his hip and someone murmuring in their sleep.

He relaxes and lets out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in. It was just Deacon, not a deathclaw ready to rip out his insides for fun. The other man lets out a hum and presses his face against the back of Ezra’s neck and… no sunglasses. He would’ve figured Deacon slept with the sunglasses still on, but he’s not and Ezra’s got a sudden wave of curiosity.

He could finally see what Deacon looks like without the sunglasses, but… but looking at him while he’s sleeping kinda feels like cheating, in a way. Because he wouldn’t be showing Ezra because he chose to, it’d be Ezra seeing when he wasn’t allowed to. It’d be like a betrayal of trust and Ezra won’t do that.

So instead of taking a peek like he desperately wants to Ezra just buries his face into the mattress under him and tries to go back to sleep. He lets himself grin when Deacon presses closer to him, his chest against Ezra’s back, and drifts in a half awake, half sleep doze for another hour.

Ezra can wait to see what’s always hidden behind sunglasses, can wait until Deacon’s ready to trust Ezra with that kind of vulnerability.

Chapter Text

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.