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Walking Contradiction

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Deacon woke up to the sound of moaning, and not the good kind. He’d barely moved at all while he slept, but Nora had been all over the place, increasingly fretful the less drunk and more hungover she became over the course of the night. When he opened his eyes, he was greeted by her feet right in his face. He sat up and stared down at the foot of the bed. She was laying facedown, moaning like death itself.

“Morning, princess. How’d you sleep?” He didn’t try to hide the gleeful tone in his voice.

She moved her hands up by her ears, “God, stop. Why are you yelling?” Her voice was gravelly and she sounded, strangely enough, like Hancock almost.

“Nobody’s yelling. You’re just hungover.” He started to move off the bed and decided to slap her exposed ass, just once.

Nora yelped in surprise, then resumed moaning. “Fuck. I hope that was worth it because when I can move, I’m going to kill you for that.”

Deacon laughed and slipped his feet back into his sneakers. “Oh, it was worth it.”

She turned her head just enough to glare at him through squinty eyes. “I mean it. There’s no silly laws against murder anymore and this is Hancock’s town. I can totally get away with it.”

He just grinned at her. “You want some water? It’ll help.”

“What I want is aspirin and a quad-shot mocha latte. What the hell happened to all the damn aspirin anyway? Why’s it either nothing or Med-X?”

He rolled his eyes and went to the dresser. “You’ve got water in your pack, right? They told you not to drink the water here, didn’t they?”

Nora sighed heavily, “Yes, mother. And I come inside during radstorms, too. I’m a big girl.”

Deacon found a can of water near the bottom of her pack and opened it for her. “You’re being awfully bratty to the person who’s just trying to help you.”

She slowly righted herself and winced a little when she tried to turn her head toward him, “Well, I’m a brat from way back. Ask anyone. Oh, wait, you can’t. They’re all dead.” Her hand came up for the water and he made sure she had a good grip on it before he let go.

He sat on the bed next to her and watched her drink the water. She was definitely dehydrated, and it probably wasn’t just from the alcohol. She must have been crying for ages before he showed up; and he didn’t like the sardonic tone to her voice. It sounded far too much like his own.

“So...whatever happened last night to get you so upset...you wanna talk about it?”

Nora sighed and closed her eyes, giving up on trying to squint through the early morning light. “Nope. Already talked plenty. Besides…”, she tilted her head as though considering her words. “We shouldn’t muddy the waters here.”

Deacon frowned at that, “Muddy the waters?”

“Yeah, man. I don’t want you getting the wrong idea about what we are.”

Oh, this didn’t sound good. He cleared his throat. “And what are we?”

Another sigh, “Well...I didn’t really want to have this talk right now, but okay.” Her eyes opened and focused on him. “Look, we have fun and all. I like that. I’m...I know it’s technically been a long time but for me, Nate’s been gone for just a few months. He was... everything. The last good guy in the world.” She looked away and shook her head slowly. “I don’t want a relationship, or even for us to be friends or whatever. This is an escape for me, you know? That first time...I literally thought I was going to die going after that Kellogg guy. I figured, one last hurrah, right? But then I survived and you were actually there in Diamond City after so the fun continued, but...I dunno. Maybe it shouldn’t have. I shouldn’t have let you stay last night. I’m sorry if I’ve given you the wrong idea about us.”

Huh. Well...he’d never been on this side of this particular talk before. Kinda hurt. A lot. Pre-Deacon was almost inconsolable at this point, but not Deacon. Nope nope nope.

He smiled at her, “Hey, it’s cool, babycakes. I know what we’re about. Don’t sweat it.”

Her eyes skimmed over his face and body. She frowned a little, “Okay...well, you should probably go on then. I’m going to head on home after this headache fades and...I’ll probably be pretty busy after that.”

“Sure thing, dollface.” He stood and headed for the door. “Hey, I’ll see you around, alright?”

She smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes, “Sure, honey. See you.”

Deacon nodded in acknowledgement and slipped out of her room. He headed down the hallway and tried to not wonder why his chest felt so tight, or why he wanted so very much to burn down all of Goodneighbor.

Instead, he headed for HQ. He had a bombshell to deliver to Dez and it looked like it was going to get to be in person.

He headed out the gate and grabbed the rifle he kept buried under a bunch of junk just outside. Drifters never carried good weapons, so whenever he showed up, into the trash heap it went. He felt more settled with it in his hands and a part of him, a very old part, felt like that was probably pretty sad that a gun was his safety blanket.

He decided to take the hard way, straight through a bunch of mirelurks and raiders. He wasn’t even sure why, he just knew killing something, anything, would make him feel better. Every monster he put in the dirt, his load lightened a little more. By the time he reached the church, he was almost out of ammo, but he almost felt like good ol’ Deacon again.

Dez was, thankfully, asleep when he walked in, but Glory wasn’t. She took one look at him and immediately grabbed his arm, dragging him further back into the catacombs.

“Please tell me that look on your face doesn’t mean you fucked up with our new heavy. Please. Even if you’re lying, just tell me it’s not.” She had a death grip on him and he didn’t even try to shake her off.

“Nah, it’s going super swell, pal. No worries there at all.”

She narrowed her eyes at him and he just grinned back at her. He wasn’t sure why she was even being so suspicious when she’d just told him to lie to her. Shit.

Glory released his arm and sighed, “Dammit, Deacon. What’d you do?”

He blinked at her, “What’d I do? Who says I did anything?”

She grumbled and walked away, “I’m never getting a day off ever again. Ever.”

“Yeah, you should speak to someone in human resources about that, Glory.” He tried to put as much of a teasing, regular-cool-guy note in his voice as possible but it sounded flat even to his own ears. He really had fucked shit up. Somehow. He went with his gut, did everything he could think to do, and it still hadn’t gone like he wanted it.

That was life though, right? Some days you were the windshield and some days you’re the bug. Today, he was a bug.

He tried to shake off the sense of impending doom. Maybe she was just super pissy because of her hangover. Plus, she’d just had to relive seeing her husband get killed. That had to be hard. Especially when the guy you were fucking shows up right after. He winced a little at his own poor judgement. Maybe he should have sent Daisy to talk to her or something.

Well, what was done was done. Whatever damage he’d caused, he could surely undo, right? He’d sit tight, go over the new intel with Dez and Carrington (and probably be forced to suffer through another session with PAM), give her a few days. His web would keep their eyes peeled and he’d move to intercept if he thought she was headed too close to the Brotherhood.

Shit. The Brotherhood. Speaking of, he really needed to find out exactly what kind of manpower they had here in Boston. Word was slow getting back to him on that, especially after a few traders had reported them trying to force discounts. Assholes hadn’t realized Boston wasn’t their home turf yet, apparently.

Work, work, work. He looked around at all the agents and sighed internally. Their numbers were nowhere near where they needed to be. A lifetime ago, his father had once told him that any world worth saving couldn’t be saved by just a few individuals. That you needed large groups of people, working in tandem to accomplish anything. Cooperation was the key.

He thought that sounded a little naive, but it was true. They needed allies. Not just tourists, either, but real allies. People with firepower, with a positive reputation among the people of the Commonwealth. They had Goodneighbor, sort of, but nothing outside of it. That’s part of what had made Nora such a perfect pick.

Despite Deacon’s own misgivings about the Minutemen, under her leadership, they were fast becoming the new force for good in Boston. Their settlements grew almost daily and now there were even patrols and provisioners carving out routes between them. He had no doubt that if Nora gave the synths some kind of official refugee status, her men would fall in line, especially with Garvey backing her. Her charisma could make a world of difference in turning the tide of public opinion in their favor and then they’d have far fewer problems on their plates.

He was sitting at his desk, actually working for once, when Dez finally woke up around noon. He goodnaturedly endured her scolding and thoroughly enjoyed watching the shock on her face when he explained the Institute’s teleportation abilities. Especially when he got to truthfully say he’d seen it with his own eyes.

She and Carrington had a million questions, which he answered as vaguely as possible. He still wasn’t ready to reveal anything beyond what he had to, especially when it came to Nora. At least they left him in peace to go tell PAM all about it. He was in no mood to deal with her today.

Tinker Tom, however, was always good for a laugh.

The man sat, seemingly transfixed, staring at a monitor. Deacon didn’t even have to try to sneak up on him, but he did anyway. Old habits and all that.

“Yo, Tom! Whatcha watchin’? Soaps? What will that rascal Stephano do next?” He flopped onto a desk next to him and looked at the screen. “Hey, is that…”

“It’s the feed from the Freedom Trail, man. Somebody’s on it. On it and kicking ass the whole way.” He pointed at a tiny, fuzzy blip on the screen and Deacon leaned forward, squinting over his glasses.

They were fast, whoever they were. Kept slipping in and out of shadows like it was nothing. “Huh. How far along are they?”

“Just coming up on Faneuil Hall now.”

Deacon sucked in a breath. “Ah...that’s where we lose most of them, right?”

Tom nodded, “Yeah, it is. I dunno about this one though. They’re fast. Outran a bunch of ghouls earlier.” He shrugged, “If they survive, they’d make one hell of a runner.”

“Hmm…”, the tiny shape moved into sunlight for just a moment and there was an odd reflection on their clothing. He squinted a little harder, “Hey, is that…”

“Yeah, man. They’re in a vault suit. I haven’t caught the number. Bad angles.”

Deacon wasn’t sure if he should feel terrified or thrilled. She was coming. It had to be her. What were the odds of...no, it was her. He shook his head as he watched her slip into the shadows, skirting the Super Mutants who made the Hall their home and avoiding their notice entirely. She was fearless, swift and smooth in her movements. Now that he knew what to look for, he saw a smaller fuzzy shape moving behind her.

“She’s got a dog with her.” He pointed the shape out to Tom and the other man nodded.

“Yeah, he’s been with her the whole way. That’d be kinda nice, right? A dog in HQ. We should talk to Dez and see if we can get one, if she doesn’t make it, that is.” He paused, “Wait, how do you know they’re a she?”

Deacon shrugged, “She moves like a woman.” He straightened up and stretched a little. Looked like today was the day for his greatest performance to date. “Let me know if she reaches the church, alright?”

Tom nodded, “Yeah, man. Sure.” He reached over and grabbed a box of gumdrops, never taking his eyes off the screen.

He found a mattress by the wall and sat on it, closing his eyes and focusing as hard as he could on what was coming. He needed to be as smooth as possible, flattering even. Hopefully she wouldn’t want to rip him a new one until they were alone, but if she did, he’d have to mea culpa it up pretty hard. Dez wouldn’t like it if she found out just how involved he’d been with their newest agent-to-be, but he could work around that, surely.

A little over an hour later, Tom finally called out to him.

“Yo, D. She’s here, man.”

He opened his eyes and nodded in acknowledgement. She still had to get past the ghouls Glory insisted on in the tunnels, but if she’d made it this far, he was pretty sure it was a done deal.

Everyone in HQ heard the loud thump when the church door got kicked open and the stomping that followed after. Dez frowned up at it but Deacon had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing. Looked like somebody was still cranky from this morning.

“Alright everybody, look alive. Glory, Drummer, you’re with me.” Dez headed for what Deacon liked to think of as the foyer for their happy little home. Tom continued to watch Nora’s progress on the monitor and Deacon slid on over, watching from behind him like he was only mildly interested.

She was definitely still pissed. Aggravation poured off her as she stomped down the stairs, laser musket at the ready and her dog trotting in front of her with his hackles up. Every feral she came across, she attacked it like it had personally wronged her somehow. Deacon chuckled at that. Her style of fighting was completely inefficient. He’d have to work on it with her. The way she threw herself no holds barred at every enemy was a colossal waste of energy.

Then again, maybe this was just how she had fun. Who knew?

She finally made it to the seal and Tom was almost antsy he was so excited. He really loved their passcode design. Nora spun the ring around for a moment and was muttering to herself as she quickly input the code, the door sliding open after and revealing nothing but darkness.

For a second, he didn’t think she was actually going to go in. It looked like she was talking it out with the dog first. He entered the space cautiously, tail low and just barely wagging, and she seemed to take that as a good sign and followed slowly.

Showtime.

Deacon hurried along through the door and planted himself just beyond the corner, where he couldn’t be seen but he could hear everything. There was a small, almost unnoticeable mirror angled high up on the wall for just such an occasion and so he got to see how her face went from grumpy to heckin’ pissed when Drummer hit the lights.

Nora threw up an arm over her face and swore. “Sonofabitch. What the hell is wrong with you people?” She squinted hard and flipped a pair of sunglasses out of one of her pockets, putting them on before shouldering her rifle, her thumb hanging onto the strap. Relaxed, casual, radiating calm confidence. “Did it not occur to anyone here that some people might have hangovers? Really?”

He snickered quietly and admired how she stood there, so bold and audacious, even with their guns all up in her face.

Dez’s voice rang out, as sanctimonious as ever. “Stop right there. You went to a lot of effort to arrange this meeting. But before we go any further, answer my questions. Who the hell are you?”

She chuckled a little and Deacon had to join in. Who in the Commonwealth didn’t know about the vault dweller by this point? “Why don’t you tell me who you are first?”

“In a world full of suspicion, treachery and hunters, we’re the synths only friends. We’re the Railroad. So answer my question.”

“Good lord, twice as bad.” Nora shook her head a little, “I followed the Freedom Trail looking for the Railroad. I’m not your enemy”

“If that’s true, you have nothing to fear. Who told you how to contact us?”

“Are you serious? Let’s see, two strangers in Diamond City. Nick Valentine. Piper Wright. Doctor Amari. Hancock. About a thousand stupid holotapes I keep tripping over...you want more?”

Dez looked caught off guard a little. Deacon moved out of the shadows. “I see. I’m Desdemona, and I’m the leader of the Railroad...and you are?” Nora frowned at him and glared from over her glasses at the same moment Dez noticed him behind her. “Deacon, where've you been?”

He gave her that careless little boy smile. “You're having a party. What gives with my invitation?” Nora had moved a hand to her hip and was tapping the ground with her foot. Not a good sign.

“I need intel. Who is this?” Dez hadn’t noticed Nora’s growing irritation yet, for which Deacon was thankful.

“Wow. News flash, boss, this lady is kind of a big deal out there.” He gave Nora a winning smile and she huffed at him.

“Yeah, I've been pretty busy. I’m guessing you guys don’t get out much, except for Deacon here, huh?” There was the tiniest emphasis on his name that let him know he was in for a world of hurt later on, but at least she seemed willing to play along for now.

“Busy is an understatement. You know, you're practically famous. I heard Nick Valentine was in a jam, as usual. But word is you bailed him out. And talked your way past Skinny Malone, too.” He turned back to Dez, “Dez, seriously, you haven't heard of her? She's the leader of the Minutemen. It seems like the whole Commonwealth is flying her flag.” Even Glory blinked at that one and stared thoughtfully at Nora. “And as if that wasn't enough…” He looked back to her, noticing how she didn’t seem to look proud of any of these accomplishments, just annoyed he was bringing them up. “The Railroad owes you a crate, hell a truckload, of Nuka-Cola for what you did to Kellogg. He was our public enemy number one.”

“Yeah, sure. Don’t mention it.” She folded her arms across her chest and shrugged.

“Kellogg...Christ.” Dez glanced over at him, “So you're vouching for her?”

He nodded, “Yes. Trust me, she's someone we want on our side.” Nora had snickered a little at the ‘trust me’ part and Glory caught it, her thoughtful expression getting a little sharper.

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

Nora shrugged again, “You’re the only ones fighting the Institute, and I want to take them down.”

Dez nodded, “I’d like to say no one comes here out for blood, looking for revenge. That everyone’s here to help their fellow man. That would be a lie though.”

She smirked, “And we wouldn’t want to lie now, would we?” Even through her shades, Deacon felt her eyes on him.

“If we’re going to be dealing with you, I need to be sure we’re on the same page. You know what a synth is, right?”

“Yeah, I know all about them.”

“Good. The Institute treats synths as property. As tools.”

“That sounds like slavery.” She sighed a little and shook her head, “The more things change, right?”

“Exactly. We seek to free the synths from their bondage. Give them a chance at a real life.” Dez took a breath and Deacon sincerely hoped she was close to wrapping this up. “I have a question. The only question that matters. Would you risk your life for your fellow man, even if that man was a synth?”

Nora tilted her head back and forth a little, considering the question. “I guess that depends, right? If they’re a dick, like some raider or whatever, then no. If they’re just like a normal person, sure.”

Dez looked a little taken aback by such a candid response, but nodded anyway. “They are just like normal people. You were right about us. We’re the only ones in the Commonwealth brave enough, or stupid enough, to fight the Institute. And we could use more sisters in arms, but right now, we don’t have the time or resources to train you to be an agent. There are, however, other valuable ways you can help us, and, in turn, we can help you. See Deacon for details.”

Nora held up her hand and Dez paused, “Does it have to be him? Just between us girls, he seems kinda...skeevy to me.”

Glory snorted at that, “Man, she’s barely been here a hot minute and she’s already got your number, D.” Drummer had to turn away to keep from laughing in his face.

She laughed, “See? Her. Her, I like.” She gestured over at Glory and received a thumbs up in response.

Dez smiled, actually smiled, at her. “I’m afraid there’s no one else. I think you’ll fit in just fine here though. If he gives you any trouble, just come find me or Doctor Carrington and we’ll handle it.”

Nora gave her a smile back, “Sure thing. Love the name, by the way. Othello was one of my favorite plays back in the day.”

A flush creeped up Dez’s neck and Deacon’s eyes about popped out of his head. He hadn’t even known Dez was capable of blushing. “Thanks, friend. You’re free to go.”

Deacon parked himself halfway between Nora and Glory and waited for her to come to him. She just shifted her weight a little and pushed her glasses back up into her hair to glare at him properly. He sighed and walked over, painfully aware of Glory’s eyes on his back.

When he got right up on her, he whispered, “Just play along for right now, alright? You can kick my ass later.”

She narrowed her eyes but gave him the slightest of nods.

“Hope you didn’t mind the reception. When you tango with the Institute, you got to be careful when someone new gets on the dance floor.”

Nora shrugged like she got miniguns shoved in her face everyday. “It’s fine. Your leader was just being cautious.”

“Exactly. Kind of killed our chances at a friendly first impression though. But it's all good now. 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.”

“So, tell me, Deacon, why did you vouch for me?” Her voice sounded purely curious, almost flattered, but her eyes still said murder.

“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? You can’t be taking it all on faith, surely.” She’d noticed Glory and Drummer’s interest in their little tete-a-tete and had apparently decided to just try fucking with him just for the sake of fucking with him. Well, that was fine.

“I don’t know if we can trust you, 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 bottlecaps, we’d probably play a longer ‘getting to know you’ game. But we don’t have that luxury.”

Her eyebrow shot up at that. “I dunno, sure seems like you know me pretty well already.”

He almost laughed but covered it with a cough, “Anyway, 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.” He shook his head. “I’m just gonna come out and say it: the Railroad needs you.”

She sighed heavily, “Look, honey, I’m not really the crusading type, okay? I don’t actually care about anything beyond finding those Institute fucks and blowing them skyhigh. So...if that’s what the Railroad needs from me, then hell yes, I’m in like Flynn. If not, I’ll just see myself out.”

Deacon nodded, “Yeah, I get it. Don’t worry...look, I’ve got a job. Too big for me, just perfect for the two of us. You help me out, we turn a few heads, and Dez invites you into the fold. Then, if you get into a bind and need some help, your buddies in the Railroad have got your back.”

Her eyes narrowed, “And then we get to destroy the Institute?”

“Yes, that’s the long term goal.”

“Fuck yeah, let’s point her in the right direction and give her a target, D. Shit.”

Nora’s head whipped around and she stared at Glory, “You guys know where the Institute actually is?”

Glory’s smile faltered just a little, “Oh...oh, no. Not yet. But we’re close.”

Deacon sighed, “Yup. Thank you for that, Glory. So, you in?”

Nora looked back over at him, “What’s the job?”

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

She pointedly ignored his double meaning. The shrug was back. “Sign me up, then.”

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

She rolled her eyes, “Of course, because it makes way more sense to not go together. Sure. Right.” Her sharp whistle brought Dogmeat to heel, “Alright, well...later, nerds. Bye, Glory.” Nora walked out of the room, a wave tossed over her shoulder as she went.

As soon as she was out of sight, Glory was practically vibrating with excitement. “Holy shit. Holy shit, Deacon. Where the hell did you find her and can we order two?”

Drummer chuckled, “Yeah, I like her. I especially liked the part where she saw through his bullshit.”

Glory smirked, “Right? God, that was beautiful. Did you see Dez’s face when she complimented her name? I thought I’d die.”

Deacon rolled his eyes, “Alright, alright. Thank you, Lucy and Ethel. Enough with the hen session. Glory, don’t you have a security system to reset? And Drummer, when was the last time you checked the drops?”

Both the agents groaned a little.

“God, the only thing worse than lazy Deacon is working Deacon, am I right?”

“No shit.”

Deacon ignored their chatter and walked back into HQ. Dez was waiting, cigarette in hand already.

“So you seem oddly invested in this completely random person. Any special reason for that?”

He sighed, “Yeah, Dez. She’s been blazing a trail across the Commonwealth and she ended up at our door. If she hadn’t, I would have brought her in myself. Glory needs a break and she’s perfect as a swing agent.”

Her eyes narrowed, “So you think she can handle intel and being a heavy? That’s a lot to ask from someone who just wants to blow things up, Deacon. And training her would take...years at our current capabilities.”

That was the plan, dumb-dumb. “Yeah, if she were a normal person, but she’s not, boss. You read that article in the paper, right? The one about the pre-war vault dweller?”

Dez blinked at him, “That’s her? I didn’t think...Piper’s known to sometimes exaggerate. A two hundred year old original vault resident sounded too far-fetched to be real.”

“Well...sometimes fairy tales do come true and miracles happen. So...can we not waste this one? Who the hell knows when we’ll get another.”

She looked thoughtful, “Is this part of that thing you’ve been working on? Project Wanderer? That whole ‘the solution lies in the past’ bit?” He just grinned at her and she shook her head. “Alright. Alright, fine. We’ll see. Carrington is out right now, but I’ll talk it over with him when he gets back. That’s as good as I can give you right now.”

Deacon nodded, “Yeah, sure, boss.” Once Carrington had that prototype in his hands, he wouldn’t be able to say no to letting Nora stay. “I gotta head out, too, but I’ll be right back.”

She sighed heavily. “I’ve heard that before.”

“Ah, boss. Come on. You know I could never stay away from all this.” He gestured broadly at their crypt-turned-home and laughed as he headed out through the escape tunnel.

He had a vaultscicle to catch.