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Walking Contradiction

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The first time he saw her, it was on a vacation disguised as simple recon. They’d gotten word about Institute activity in the area around the allegedly destroyed Vault 111 and he’d drawn the short straw. He’d rigged it that way, of course, but he still kicked up enough of a fuss that Dez snapped at him to take his time. Which had been the whole point. HQ was getting pretty stuffy, cool digs or not, and he needed a break. Everyone needed a break.

Deacon sometimes thought of himself as a cardboard box full of glass shards. Little bits and pieces that he kept covered up, usually. Sometimes though, those slivers scraped just a little too hard and slipped through. Whenever that happened, he tended to bug out for a few days, or weeks. However long it took to shake out all the sharp bits, stamp down who he’d once been and then reassemble himself back into Deacon.

Truth be told, it was a hard persona to wear most days. Hard to keep the act up, but a slip meant death, so he persevered. It was the least he could do.

So an abandoned vault on the ass-end of nowhere suited him just fine. He had his comfy chair, a few Nukas, even a radio. Who could ask for more, really?

And the fact that this particular vault had once come up in a partially corrupted file he’d found in a long abandoned Railroad HQ from sixty years ago? Icing on the cake.

He lasted a few days before the boredom started eating him alive. Their local tourist had sworn the whole place had been swarming with Institute. Gen 2s escorting a Courser and a few medics.

Thus far, the most exciting thing he’d seen was a far off explosion in the little hamlet below the vault. Some unlucky raider must have not gotten the memo on the surprising tenacity of that particular Mister Handy.

The Pipboy at the bottom of his bag was starting to get to him. Whispering things about how neat it would be to go explore; how useful to see firsthand what had the Institute so excited. Honestly, he wasn’t even sure why he kept the damn thing. He knew he had a tendency toward hoarding, but then again, it was pretty handy to have a portable holotape player.

On the night of his third day sitting watch, Deacon slapped on his Pipboy and headed for the Vault controls. There was no moon, no sound aside from the regular Wasteland background noise and he was pretty sure a radstorm was brewing. Maybe. Probably? That was a good reason to take this chance, right? Right.

He rode the elevator down down down and was surprised at how deep the damn thing actually went. Must have been a pain in the ass to excavate. He wondered if the people in the little town had been happy about that. All that noise and mess. Maybe it had been strangely comforting to know the Vault was there? Deacon tried to put himself in the shoes of a Sanctuary Hills resident and figured he’d have been pretty happy to have a Vault in his backyard.

Especially if he was some poor sap who still thought Vault-Tec were the good guys.

Deacon was about half convinced he’d reach the bottom and find himself faced with a wall of rubble. Or maybe he wouldn’t reach a bottom at all and this elevator would just fuck off into oblivion with him on it. Ah, possibilities!

He was therefore pleasantly surprised when the gate opened and there was light. Light and an insipid voice telling him how awesome Vault-Tec was. He gave the nearest speaker the bird and headed on up the ancient stairs.

This vault felt weird. Antiseptic. Cold. There were skeletons littered here and there, all wearing lab coats. Well, of course they were. Experiments needed scientists to run them on their little human guinea pigs, after all.

He wandered through, peeking through the internal windows and frowning in confusion. What was with all the weird pods? Growing pod people, maybe? That could be an Institute thing. Maybe they were looking for more efficient ways to manufacture their slaves.

The first room was full of nothing but the dead. Body after body, perfectly preserved on ice, all looking like they’d been in distress when they bit it.

Deacon shook his head at the waste of it all. Another experiment gone wrong.

He almost turned around before he found her. His usual disgust and anger at Vault-Tec was a living thing inside him that he didn’t like to be reminded of. One of those many shards. But he was nothing if not thorough, and he did have a Pipboy on, after all. So he checked each terminal, downloading information that he could go over later.

In the last room of pods, he noticed one on the right at the end had red on the window. That was different. Deacon moseyed on down and peered inside.

A man. Tall, rugged looking with a scar on his face that ran down his neck. Looked more Wastelander than pre-war softie. He had a big hole blown in the side of his head, frozen grey matter and little bits of blood and bone decorated the inside of his pod and tinted the light red.

Deacon checked his Pipboy and pulled up the dweller’s file. Sergeant First Class Nathaniel Madison, retired...and infant? He climbed up to get a better look inside the pod.

Nope. No infant.

Huh.

He was starting to get that tingly feeling like someone was watching him. That was impossible, right? Abandoned vault. Everyone was dead. His brain was probably just playing tricks on him. All vaults were creepy, after all, and this one was right up there by some of the greats.

Like Vault 108 back in the Capital Wasteland with all those clones. He was never going to get over that one.

He stepped back from the sargent’s pod and stared at it thoughtfully. Assuming no one had been here but him and the Institute, it looked like they were now in the business of baby snatching. Why? Why go to all this trouble for one kid?

Deacon turned to leave and the green light from the pod across the way caught his eye. Active. This pod was active still.

He checked his info again. This pod belonged to the sargent’s wife, apparently. A woman named Eleanor. Lawyer.

Deacon slipped his sunglasses off to get a better look at Vault 111’s sole resident.

The first thing he noticed were the tears. Ancient tears frozen in place. He put up his hand without thinking to wipe them away before he realized how stupid that was. She must have seen the whole thing. Her husband being murdered, her baby stolen. Christ.

She was pretty, he guessed, for a vaultscicle. Not really his type, but cute. She had gloves on. That was different. Not standard issue for Vault-Tec. Dark hair, heart-shaped face, freckles.

He did always have a thing for a woman with freckles, though.

Once upon a time, back when Deacon hadn’t been Deacon at all, his dad had read him an old book of fairytales. Damsels in distress, white knights saving the day, the whole shebang. He’d soaked it up, of course, like the sap he’d been. Ran around terrorizing everyone with a wooden sword for weeks after.

She reminded him of one of those damsels. Sleeping Beauty, maybe? Or Snow White in her glass coffin. A perfectly preserved pre-war housewife. The ultimate collectable.

“Who are you, princess? Why’d the evil witches keep you on ice and no one else?”

The year was 2283 and for the fifth time the trajectory of Deacon’s life had been suddenly altered by a beautiful woman.

He spent the next four years researching, planning, carefully collecting all the data he could on Vault 111 and the mysterious Eleanor. It all amounted to half a page in a notebook. Everytime he was in the area, everytime he got booted from HQ, he’d find himself back at the vault. Watching and waiting.

Dez had finally caught on that he was getting distracted by something, and ‘Project Wanderer’ had been born. He waved aside her concerns and made a few cryptic declarations and worked twice as hard as before to keep everything straight, all the lies and all his secrets neat and tidy. Just like he’d been taught.

Then Switchboard got hit in ‘86 and it felt like a bomb went off right in his chest. He felt the crushing guilt of every life lost, despite Dez and even Carrington telling him it wasn’t his fault, that he’d done everything he could to keep them all safe.

But had he? Or had he been so fixated and distracted that he’d somehow messed it all up? Again. Lord knew he was still the reigning fuck up champion of the world.

He threw himself back into his work. They relocated to the Old North Church, despite his protests, and he and Tom set up the Freedom Trail to try and drum up recruits. It was a risk, but they were way past just a skeleton crew at this point. Almost a ghost crew, really. They needed boots on the ground.

He tried to forget about Eleanor for a while. She’d been on ice for quite some time, after all. Probably wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon, right? There’d be plenty of time to catch up on his fruitless surveillance once things settled down a little.

Which is why he completely missed her debut.

He was absolutely, positively never going to forgive Carrington for that. He’d been on the whole opposite end of the Commonwealth on a bullshit scavenging mission for the doc when word reached him that Vault 111 had opened. - Opened!- and that his princess had wandered out, alone and helpless in a cruel new world. After all that time, all that work, he hadn’t been there.

Carrington completely deserved that modified bottlecap mine that someone had planted in his pillowcase. It shot out sticky Nuka-Cola instead of deadly shrapnel and was, in his opinion, the least he could do for the doc costing him a month of firsthand intel on his pet project. Because it took him a month to catch up to her.

She was fast for a vaultscicle.

Deacon had his tourist web keeping an eye on her, of course. Not that she was difficult to spot. Apparently no one had told her what a target a vaultsuit could be, so she was still prancing around the Commonwealth in one (albeit with some leather armor over it) when she finally made it to Diamond City in December of 2287. Had a dog with her and one of those silly laser muskets the Minutemen insisted on using. That irritated him a little. The Minutemen were supposed to be gone, destroyed from within. A lot of their former soldiers had ended up as a new breed of raider, better organized and more intelligent than the average. They’d cost the Railroad quite a few synths. He didn’t like the idea that she’d gotten involved with one of those idiots, but what could he do? It wasn’t like she knew who he even was. Not yet.

Once he’d seen that she was clearly headed for the gate, where Piper stood yelling at a speaker and drawing obscene amounts of attention to herself, he slipped through a long-forgotten entrance to the city, changed into his DC security uniform and casually strolled right on in. Danny, the security chief, had been so distracted with the Piper situation that he didn’t so much as look up when Deacon planted himself in a corner, lighting up a cigarette and blending seamlessly into the background.

He heard Piper lying her ass off through the speaker and rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses. Anyone who actually believed that tripe she was spewing was an idiot.

Lucky for him, Danny was not the brightest bulb. Nice guy though.

The gate opened and Deacon felt his heartbeat pick up a little. This was it. He was finally going to get to see her thawed out. In person. His plan was to listen for her to go on through and then shadow her from a distance, get a feel for her personality and then carefully construct a persona that would reel her into the Railroad. Easy.

He listened to her sweet talk info out of McDonough. Her voice was too soft to really catch at this distance, but the way the Mayor sputtered and stammered out info on Valentine was clear as a bell. That impressed him. Impressed Piper, too, apparently. Her invite for an interview had just a hint of a crush in it and he chuckled a little. So his princess was a charmer, just like he’d figured she would be. That could be useful. Nice, anyway, to have someone pleasant as a recruit for once. He’d done a lot of reading on lawyers in the past few years and the good ones were nearly always described as charismatic. Guess she’d been good.

Deacon was about to leave his shady corner when she surprised him by walking into the office, headed straight for Danny. He didn’t catch her face at first, but he did have a front row seat to a decent view of her ass. He made no secret of checking it out. Fit right in with the usual DC security attitude, after all. Danny caught his eye from over her head and he grinned at him, pantomiming her curves with his hands. The man actually blushed and Deacon had to work from laughing out loud.

She was tall for a woman. At least a modern woman. Her head came maybe up to his chin, and her vaultsuit did absolutely nothing to hide the fact that she was built in a way that most Wasteland women just weren’t. Kinda chubby, even. He wondered if maybe that was why she was still wearing the bright blue suit. Maybe she couldn’t find clothes her size anymore.

“You’re Sullivan, right?”

Damn, what a voice. Husky and soft and dripping with honey. Deacon could get pretty used to listening to a voice like that.

“So, you’re that trader Piper was talking about.” Danny sighed and shook his head ruefully, “Something tells me she’s pulled the wool over my eyes again. Am I right?”

She shifted her weight a little, her head tilted down. “I didn’t mean to lie, officer. It all just...happened so fast.” Oh, she was good. She was real good. That respectful little emphasis on ‘officer’, the hesitation in her words. Deacon would put a million caps on the fact that she probably had the most perfect contrite schoolgirl expression on her face, especially with how Danny’s eyes were softening. He was putty in her hands.

“Eh, you’re not the first person Piper’s pulled into a heap of trouble they weren’t ready for. Thanks for being honest. If it were up to me, I’d have just let the both of you in. But, the Mayor’s callin’ the shots and...well, you saw how mad he is.” Sullivan shrugged. “Anyway, welcome to Diamond City and all that. I gotta get back to work.”

She turned just as Deacon was looking down, pretending to check out his lighter. He snuck a peek at her over his shades and noticed her eyes were hazel. Pretty. They flitted to his and he quickly tipped his head back up, hiding behind his glasses once again.

“Welcome to uh, the Great Green Jewel. You’ll totally love it here.” He hadn’t meant for that little hitch to happen, but he’d finally noticed the front of her suit was partially unzipped. Not enough to really show anything, but enough to put ideas in a man’s head.

Her eyebrow went up by just a fraction and she smirked at him knowingly as she headed out. “Thanks, officer.”

He watched her go and turned to look at Danny. “Damn. You see that?”

Danny looked more wary than aroused. Coward. “Yeah, she’s gonna be trouble.”

“Aren’t they all, man?” Deacon grinned at him before wandering off.

He casually shadowed her from a pretty decent distance. Her charm seemed to work on everyone except old crazy Myrna, who went off on her usual spiel about how everyone was a synth. She disappeared into Fallon’s Basement and emerged almost a half hour later in road leathers and a jacket that looked almost painted on. The other, legit guards of DC were definitely taking notice, leering and signalling at each other. Deacon frowned at that.

It was one thing when he did it, it was quite another when they did it. He had dibs on Princess Eleanor, after all.

A man in a nondescript hat caught his eye by the noodle stand. Shit. A runner. Maybe Patriot had sent another synth to DC. He watched Eleanor walk off towards Valentine’s office and reluctantly let her go. Duty called and all that. He’d have to put the word out that they needed to look for the Pipboy and not just the suit from now on, but he wasn’t as worried as before. She wasn’t quite the hapless damsel he’d assumed she’d be. He’d catch her later.

 

Chapter Text

The second time Deacon encountered her was in Goodneighbor, of all places. He’d gotten word that she’d been seen heading into the gate and wasn’t that convenient since he suddenly had business with Amari?

Once in town and set up in front of Daisy’s as just another drifter, he let the murmurs and rumors wash over him. She’d strolled in almost two weeks ago, smarted off to some asshole and Hancock had stepped in and gutted the man. Wasn’t that interesting? According to the talk around town, he’d put on quite a little show for the ‘vaultie’, as they were calling her, and there were already bets on when she’d end up in his bed.

Deacon briefly thought of laying some money down himself but decided against it. Too many unknown variables. Hancock was charming as fuck and legendary for his seduction skills, but Eleanor was pre-war. She probably hadn’t even ever seen a ghoul before him. Would she see him as some kind of zombie or would she not care? Hard to say.

She slipped into K-LE-0’s and talked to the assaultron like they were old girlfriends, chatty and flattering. Talked down the price on a new pistol. He shook his head at that. He hadn’t even known you could charm an assaultron.

She walked past him on her way to Daisy’s and he couldn’t help himself.

“Hey.”

Her eyes narrowed a bit, considering him, before she blinked and smiled. “Hey yourself.” She stepped closer to him and he crossed his arms casually. Or he thought it was casual. For some reason it seemed to amuse her. “Haven’t we met somewhere before, honey?”

He gave her his best lascivious grin, “I don’t think so, sweetheart. I wouldn’t forget a figure like that.”

She chuckled at him, like she was in on the joke. “Hmm. You must have a twin out there then, because I know I’ve seen you before.”

He smirked at her, “Nope. One of a kind, baby. They broke the mold when they made me.”

“Oh, I bet they did.” She gave him a good once over and raised that eyebrow as she walked away.

Deacon was slightly mortified that he could feel himself getting flushed. What the hell? She was a pet project, not a prospect. He couldn’t even remember the last time somebody had gotten under his skin so fast like that. At least not since...he shook his head. Best to not think about her right now.

It had to be that pre-war charm. He’d just never encountered that before on someone who wasn’t a ghoul. Must take getting used to, right? Right.

He watched her leave Daisy’s and head for the gate, her dog in tow and...a book in her hand? What was that about?

He thought about following her but figured it was too risky. Besides, if she was already able to spot him through his disguises, he didn’t want to push his luck. Last thing he wanted was to get her spooked.

Anyway, now would be a perfect time to scope out her room. She’d been living here awhile according to the rumormill and she didn’t have a pack on her when she left, so it must be in the Rexford still.

Deacon casually wandered through Goodneighbor and into the Rex, nodding sociably at Fred Allen since he never remembered shit anyway, and avoiding Claire’s eye altogether, since she remembered everything. The door locks here were laughably easy to pick and he poked his head into quite a few rooms before he found the one he was sure was hers. It was hard to miss.

For one, it smelled better than any of the other rooms. There was a clothesline strung up in the attached half-bath with an actual working fan pointed towards it. Made the whole room smell a little like Abraxo. Nice. Clean. Deacon stared for a moment at the various lacy bits hanging from the line before jerking his eyes away. He wasn’t here on a pantyraid. He was here on business.

Her pack was next to a chair and seemed mostly empty when he nudged it with his foot. The bed had a bedroll opened on top of it so it covered the entire mattress. That made him chuckle a little. His princess probably wasn’t used to the pervasive filth of this world yet. Shit, he wasn’t used to it yet either come to think of it.

There was a small stash of food, purified water and Rad-X in a drawer in the dresser and when he pulled open another one, he noticed it had been scrubbed out recently and clothes were neatly folded in it. That was odd. He’d only ever heard of her traveling in her leathers or that vaultsuit. Deacon carefully unfolded the top garment. It was a men’s long-sleeve shirt. He looked through the rest of the stack and that’s all there was. Almost a whole week’s worth of shirts. Folded socks and multiple pairs of various types of gloves made up the rest of the drawer’s contents.

Odd but not very informative. He refolded the shirt and slipped it back in.

The bottom drawer had a bowl with a bar of soap in it, a pitcher, toothpaste, toothbrush and a hairbrush. There was a towel, too, old but clean. Must be how she stayed so nice and shiny. He liked that. Most people didn’t give two shits about being hygienic and it had always turned his stomach a little at how handwashing was such a foreign concept for your average Wastelander.

There was an old mentats box on the nightstand and he frowned a little before catching himself. Mentats weren’t so bad. Better than jet or psycho anyway, and they’d been available pre-war. Maybe she’d used them as a lawyer? Probably came in handy in the courtroom. He flipped the box open to see how many she’d gone through and was surprised to find it was empty of pills.

Instead there were trinkets. Old world trinkets.

He felt that old itch in his hands. He lived for this shit.

Deacon knew better than to touch anything. If he touched it, then he’d really want it. Plus, she’d probably notice if her prized possessions had been rifled through.

There were two wedding rings on a chain with dog tags...made sense. A driver’s license. Her license, looked like. That was fucking cool as shit. She’d actually driven cars. Goddamn. A gold locket on a sparkling chain. That was going to keep him up nights. What was in the locket? Had it belonged to her? Was there a picture inside or some other momento? Would she let him see once they were colleagues (he never once ever let himself think they wouldn’t be at some point)? Pearl earrings. He closed his eyes and willed the image of her in the pod to come to him and shook his head. No, her hair had been down then. If she’d been wearing them at the time, he couldn’t have seen.

He flipped the lid closed and finally made for her pack. If she had anything that indicated her intentions, it was there...or in her Pipboy and Deacon was good at sneaking, but he wasn’t that good. Probably. There was really only one scenario he could imagine getting access to that and he wasn’t sure if bedding her before her introduction to the Railroad would make things more or less difficult down the road, so that plan had to go on the back-burner for now.

There were a few random notes, a bunch of pencils and pens in an odd little pouch, and holotapes. Only one of them was labeled and it said ‘Hey, honey’ in a masculine kind of handwriting. From her husband, maybe? He briefly cursed that he’d left his own Pipboy back at HQ. There was no way he could lift this and get it back in time before she noticed it was gone.

There was a notebook, too. Leather bound. Looked old. He flipped it open and whistled softly in appreciation. Sketches. So the princess was a le artiste, too. Page after page of drawings, mostly portraits. The first in the book looked like her husband, sans hole to the head, of course. He was holding a young baby, cute but unremarkable. All babies looked like potatoes to him until they suddenly didn’t.

There was her dog in various poses, a guy in one of those goofy Minutemen hats, some old hag with too much jewelry shared a page with a Mister Handy in a bowler hat. She’d even drawn a righteously indignant Piper arguing with McDonough and he snickered at how she’d managed to capture the mayor’s asshole essense so perfectly. Nick had a page, looking quite debonair, a clearly lovestruck Ellie hovering in the background. Hancock, too, on his balcony. Looking roguish as usual. He regretfully put it back and set the pack exactly as he’d found it. She was talented. He wondered if maybe someday he’d get a portrait, too.

Deacon looked around her room once more, hands on his hips, thinking hard. If it were him, he’d have something secret hidden someplace. But she probably didn’t have any reason to do that kind of thing yet, did she?

He slunk back out her door and locked it behind him. Well, that was a bust. So far the only new information he’d managed to uncover was that her middle name was Rose and that she had an eye for faces. Not very useful.

Not that that would stop him from putting it in the notebook, but still. He was a little disappointed he hadn’t found out her intentions with the Minutemen, or if Valentine had found any leads for her after she’d rescued him from that vault. Especially since getting information on anything Valentine did was nearly impossible. The old detective took tight-lipped to a whole new extreme, and his secretary was annoyingly faithful to both him and his clients.

He’d stick close. Hang out in Goodneighbor for a while. Get a better feel for her, drop a few holotapes in her path. She had to have seen the marker outside about the Freedom Trail. Probably just needed a little nudge to get her following the right path.

He was comfortably hanging in the shadows when she came back through the gate. The book was gone but she was dragging a massive duffle behind her, her dog trotting happily by her side with a teddy bear in its mouth. She looked exhausted but excited? He heard her and Daisy talking about ‘clearing the library’ and his mouth about hit the floor. She’d cleared the library? Holy shit. Just her and the damn dog. Impressive. He mentally added ‘good in a fight’ to the list in his head. He’d known she’d be a valuable intel asset, he’d had no idea she might be a heavy to boot.

She left the duffle with Daisy and came out with a fairly hefty bag of caps. Must have stripped everything of value from the building before she left. Nice. Smart. She was still using that stupid laser musket though, along with the pistol from K-LE-0. That wasn’t so smart. Maybe she didn’t really know guns? He internally shrugged. That was okay. Everyone had to learn at some point and he was a pretty decent teacher for that kinda thing.

He heard Hancock catch her as she was walking past the State House. He must have had someone on lookout.

“Whoa there, Sunshine. You look all tuckered out, sister. Tough day at work?”

Deacon heard her laughter ring out and felt an odd flash of jealousy rip through him. He wanted to make her laugh.

“Something like that, honey.”

“Well, shit. Need something to take the edge off?”

He grumbled at that. Bastard was always trying to make more addicts. Deacon slipped a little closer to the corner so he could watch them, still unseen.

She had a hand on her hip, watching Hancock with an amused kind of expression while he smiled suggestively down at her from the steps.

“We’ve been over this before, Hancock. I’ve always been a straight-edge kinda girl.” Her tone was light, teasing. Like they’d had this conversation a million times.

The mayor swaggered on down the stairs and wrapped an arm around her waist. Deacon was a little pissed that she didn’t seem to mind. “I ain’t offering chems, love.”

She stared up at him with an almost comically innocent expression, “Drinks, then, Mister Mayor?”

Hancock chuckled at that and pressed a kiss to her temple. “Sure, Sunshine. We can start there.”

They sauntered off together towards the Third Rail. Deacon was pretty irritated by what he’d seen but also taken aback a bit by their combined charisma. Christ. If they ever teamed up for real, they’d have the whole Commonwealth on their knees...or their backs.

He briefly reconsidered his idea of hanging around Goodneighbor. Watching her flirt with people was supposed to be fun and amusing. Why wasn’t it fun and amusing?

Deacon shrugged off the weird, nagging feeling in the back of his head that he probably should just step back a little. Let his spider’s web of informants do the leg work on this one for him. Would probably be better for his peace of mind, right?

Then again, when had he ever in his life stopped to consider something so inconsequential as his mental health?

Which is why he eventually found himself camped out in a very dark corner of Goodneighbor’s very dark bar. He’d ordered a beer to pretend to nurse while he kept a careful eye on his princess. She hadn’t spotted him this time, but then again it probably was hard to notice an unremarkable drifter when you were caught in the spotlight of Hancock’s attention.

Deacon noticed the mayor seemed to have trouble keeping his hands to himself tonight. He kept a hand on Eleanor’s thigh almost the entire time, occasionally squeezing gently. It was making Deacon irrationally angry and he settled for peeling the label off his bottle instead of going over and punching Hancock in the face. That...probably wouldn’t end well for him anyway. He was tough, but this was Hancock’s town. One against dozens was never a good idea.

Anyway, Eleanor certainly didn’t seem to mind. She was flirting up a storm with him. Deacon noticed a few buttons on her shirt had somehow come undone and she was practically spilling out of her top at this point. He also noticed that Hancock had definitely noticed. The mayor often forgot that people could still tell where he was looking, despite the darkness of his eyes. Deacon sniffed at that. Sloppy. The man should make a five cap investment in shades if he wanted to ogle people so openly.

He watched the ghoul say something to her that had her laughing her ass off, head thrown back, throat exposed, that luscious hair cascading down her back. Deacon was honestly shocked the other man wasn’t actively drooling at this point. As it was, he leaned in and whispered something in her ear that actually caused a pretty flush to bloom in her cheeks. Deacon narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out if it was purposeful or not. He was impressed as fuck at one of them, he just didn’t know which yet. Either Hancock had found a way under that coquettish shell or she could blush on command.

Then she laid a gloved hand on Hancock’s cheek and gave him a sweet smile and a gentle shake of her head. Ouch. Rejected. Deacon would have felt bad for the guy if he wasn’t so gleeful. The mayor took it in stride, though. He shook his head ruefully, stood, kissed her hand and headed for the stairs. Two drifters were on him like radroaches on Fancy Lads before he even made it across the floor and he took them both under his arms.

Deacon rolled his eyes. Well, sure...rejection was easy to handle when you had your very own orgy-on-demand waiting in the wings.

His eyes went back to Eleanor. She was smiling an oddly cynical smile, watching the mayor and his attendants for the evening leave. It looked wrong on such a soft face, but seemed like one she wore often. Then her eyes met his and she sardonically raised her glass to him.

Shit. She had noticed him. How the hell was she doing that? Deacon hesitated for just a second before returning the salute. The smile softened into a something close to a playful smirk and she got up and headed right for him.

Well, fuck. Time for some more light banter.

She waltzed on over, jiggling in a manner most distracting, and gave him a saucy smile. “This seat taken, officer?” Her eyes dared him to deny it and that’s just what he did.

“It is now. I think you’ve got me confused with somebody else though, little sister. I’m no officer.” Not even technically a lie. Nice.

She sat down and studied his face carefully. “No...you really aren’t, are you? Do you just like to play pretend then?”

He felt an icy kind of panic run through his body and willed away any impending goosebumps. “I’ve got no idea what the hell you’re talking about, babycakes.”

The cynical smile was back, “Now that’s a lie.” She leaned forward towards him just a bit and he noticed how her breasts moved up and down with every breath she took. Damn she was distracting. “You’re very good at it. Lying, I mean. It’s an art, you know. I’d say you’re...almost a master? A professional, anyway. That’s very interesting. What use is a professional liar in a world like this, I wonder?”

She was close enough that he could smell the soap she used and the light trace of Abraxo from her room. Deacon found himself wondering, for just a second mind you, what she tasted like. If it was as good as she smelled. He shook his head to clear it a bit and she smirked at him like she could read his mind.

“Well, this has been real fun but I gotta go. Things to do, stuff to trade...you know how it is.”

She caught his arm as he made to get out of his seat and it caught him off guard enough that he immediately sat back down. The slightly pouty expression on her face was pulling in the old, pre-Deacon parts of him while the rest of his brain screamed that he should run, far and fast and now.

“Stay. Please. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to pry it’s just...I’m new around these parts and it’s been hard to make friends. I’m a bit out of practice when it comes to small talk.” She sounded so vulnerable, almost borderline forlorn. Shit. Powerful stuff. “Let’s start over, hmm?” She released his arm and sat back a little, out of his space enough to make him feel in control, but not enough to indicate she was going anywhere. “I’m Nora. It’s nice to meet you.” Her right hand opened and for a second he just stared blankly at it before realizing she actually wanted to shake hands with him.

He reciprocated before he even had a chance to think it out. “Uh...okay, yeah. I’m...Andy.”

There was a little twinkle in her eye that told him she knew it was a lie, but she smiled anyway and let it slide. “Andy. God, that’s such a great name.” The way she said it, all breathy and almost a purr, kinda made Deacon wish he’d used his real name just so he could hear her say it like that. “So what’s a handsome man like you doing in a dive like this, Andy?”

He laughed. He couldn’t help it. She said it so playfully, like she didn’t care that he was lying. “Ain’t that supposed to be my line, babycakes?”

Nora giggled at him and pushed his shoulder just a little. Nice. Establish a physical bond with the mark. Whoever had taught her this stuff sure knew what they were doing. “Well you weren’t using it and you only get so many chances to use a classic like that.”

Okay, this might actually become fun. He nodded to Charlie and the robot brought over another beer for him and another glass of...whatever it was she was drinking. It was brown, that’s all he knew.

“Ah, now there’s a topic. Classic pickup lines. You got a favorite, dollface?” He watched her eyes carefully. There was something there, deep, deep down. Something he couldn’t name and she couldn’t successfully hide. Maybe the only honest thing about her. What the hell was it?

“Oh, sure. Let’s see… ‘What’s your sign?’ is always a fun one.”

He smiled a practiced, movie hero smile at her, “So, what’s your sign?”

“Stop.” She said it completely deadpan and for a second he thought he’d somehow ruined the game, but then the giggling started and he joined in with a low chuckle.

“You got me. Walked right into that one, didn’t I?”

“Ran into it is more like...I’m also a fan of ‘That’s a nice outfit. It would look better on my floor.’”

He snorted, “Has that ever actually worked for anyone in the history of time and space?”

She smiled at him with a cheeky sort of charm, “I dunno, honey. Why don’t you try it and we’ll see?”

Deacon about choked on his beer and she giggled at him while sipping her drink. He shook his head and was surprised to find he didn’t have to fake the disappointment in his voice, “Can’t. Don’t have my own floor.”

Nora shrugged at that. “Well, in that case…”, her eyes moved over him slowly. It made him feel like a nervous kid. “That’s an awfully sexy outfit you’re wearing, Andy. I bet it would look better on my floor.”

Bad idea. Bad idea. Bad idea. “Oh yeah? Where’s this floor at?” Like he didn’t already know.

She smiled, took his hand and stood. “I’ll show you.”

Chapter Text

Deacon followed her obediently out of the Third Rail. He kept trying to tell the part of his brain that was screaming furiously at him about how this was the dumbest, worst possible idea he’d ever had that this was, in fact, a perfect opportunity for him to get access to that Pipboy and that’s all it was. He’d fucked all sorts of people in the neverending quest for intelligence, after all. It was just part of his job.

Alright, maybe it was a perk of his job, but still. This wasn’t out of the ordinary. He’d already been thinking about doing this very thing before the flirting had started, right? Just because it hadn’t been him who moved it from the back-burner to the front didn’t change the fact that it was a solid plan. Probably.

And in the long term, it had been ages since he had a fuckbuddy in the Railroad. Dez had always frowned on that kind of thing so hard and most people didn’t want to run the risk of going against her. Made things pretty damn dull in his opinion. His last ‘friend’ had been lost when Switchboard went down. Sex was a good way to relieve stress and who was more stressed than a fellow agent? As long as actual feelings weren’t involved, what did it matter?

They hit the lobby of the Rex and Claire gave him a frown. Shit. She always recognized him, too. He gave her a goofy, ‘can you believe my luck’ kind of smile and she rolled her eyes but didn’t say anything. Good. He didn’t want her ruining this...opportunity to gather intel. Yeah.

Nora led him to her room, unlocked it and dragged him inside. She hadn’t spoken since they’d left the Rail but now she turned to him as she released his hand, tossing her weapons and that bag of caps carelessly onto the couch like she totally trusted him, and started toeing out of her boots.

“I only have one rule, Andy.” She held up her hands. “These gloves stay on. The whole time.”

Weird. He was going to have to get to the bottom of what the deal with the gloves was at some point. He pointed at his shades, “These, too.” He grinned at her and she smiled back.

“God. Just when I thought you couldn’t get any more perfect.” She closed the distance between them, stood on her tiptoes and kissed him, her arms winding around his neck. Her lips were soft and full and she tasted like rum and Nuka. Deacon’s hands went to her ass and he pulled her against him. One of her hands slipped down between them and palmed him through his jeans, gently massaging him and the friction of it about drove him insane. When her thumb started to rub circles against the head of his cock, he moaned into her mouth and she made a satisfied little noise that he immediately wanted to hear a lot more of.

She stepped back and started taking her clothes off, his eyes eagerly following her hands as she exposed herself. Her cheeks were flushed and she seemed to enjoy watching him watching her. Wasn’t that lucky?

“Safe word is red, okay?”

He blinked behind his shades. Oh,  now it was getting fun. “Whatever you say, babe.”

“You’re clean, right?”

Clean? Ah, right. Clean. He nodded, “Yeah. You?”

Nora smirked a little, “Yeah.” She was down to her bra and panties. They were lacy and black and they matched and Deacon was surprised at how into that he was. He was honestly torn between wanting her to stay in them and wanting to rip them off her. He watched her unclip the Pipboy while he removed his shirt. She set it on the dresser before she turned back to him. Perfect.

Her eyes swept over him hungrily and he closed the distance between them, pulling her back into an embrace while he peppered her neck with biting kisses. She relaxed in his arms, almost submissive and he smiled against her. It was a trick, he knew, but it was a pretty good trick. Nora was a lot of things, but he was almost positive submissive wasn’t going to be one of them.

Her hands made quick work of his belt and his undid her bra clasp with the same skill. She shrugged out of it and he leaned back enough that he could watch her breasts fall free, his hands moving to cup them. She moaned and he caught her mouth with his, hungrily exploring her while his fingers rubbed and pinched her nipples. Her breasts more than filled his hands and he couldn’t get over how soft she was, almost pillowy...and ample. God, she was just so lush. Sinfully lush, even. He couldn’t believe there had been a time when he’d thought she wasn’t his type. She was clearly his type. Shit, she was probably everyone’s type.

She’d undone the fly on his jeans and her gloved hands swept over his hips, pushing his pants and underwear down. Deacon felt the cool air from the room hit him and instinctively stepped closer, seeking her warmth and grinding against her. She smiled against his mouth and broke away for a second.

“Bed?” It was just barely a whisper, husky and breathless and he couldn’t find his voice to answer so he just nodded, watching her hips sway as she walked to the bed. The look she threw him over her shoulder before she crawled onto the mattress was dangerous, almost predatory. He probably would have cared if he weren’t so mesmerized by her ass and how her figure had that same hourglass shape that he’d only ever seen in pre-war skin mags. He had no idea how women back then had accomplished that, but he wished someone had written that shit down because goddamn it was delicious.

Nora rolled over luxuriously onto her back, like she was laying on satin instead of a two-hundred year old sleeping bag and seemed amused that he hadn’t moved yet. She raised up on her elbows and watched his face, eyes glittering in the lamplight as she wiggled a bit like she was trying to get comfortable. Or maybe waving a red flag in front of a bull.

She grinned saucily at him. “You’re a big boy, honey, but I’m pretty sure you’re still gonna have to be a little closer than that.”

That got him moving.

He almost tripped over his own feet getting to her and she giggled at him in a delighted sort of way. Much better than the laugh she’d given to Hancock because this one sounded genuine. He should know. He faked that kind of shit often enough.

Then he was actually there. Laying right on top of her, his weight pushing her back down against the bed. Her hair spread out around her and he snuck a quick peek of it over his glasses. Dark brown. Chocolate almost. Little glints of red and gold in the light. Beautiful and lucious like the rest of her.

He braced himself with one arm and nibbled at her lips while his hand explored her body, gliding along over her soft stomach and squeezing her hip hard just to test the waters and see if she wanted a more gentle touch or not. From her moan, he was guessing not. His tongue found hers and he pushed her panties down just enough, cupping her for a second before pressing a finger into her. She was already slick and hot and the whine that escaped her throat when his thumb brushed her clit went right to his cock.

So did her hands. It was a little bit of a strange sensation, having her smooth gloves on him instead of skin, but he quickly got into it, pumping into her hand as she expertly squeezed and twisted. Almost too into it.

Shit. He needed to focus. He was letting her set the pace and that was going to fuck up his long game. He needed her so exhausted after that she wouldn’t ask him to leave before morning. She had to sleep deep enough for him to slip away, go through her Pipboy, and then slip back into bed before she noticed he was gone. As it stood now, she was going to use and abuse him and then probably send him on his way. Not that that wouldn’t be pretty fucking fantastic, but he couldn’t have that. He needed her wanting another ride in the morning enough to let her guard down.

As much as it killed him, he pulled away from her kiss and shifted his hips so she couldn’t reach him anymore. She pouted at him for a minute and he smiled a lover’s smile at her and tugged at her panties.

“May I?”

Nora seemed mildly surprised that he’d asked permission and smiled indulgently at him. “You may.” She lifted her hips a little and he worked them off her, tossing them aside and moving between her legs. His hands looked large and rough to him on her velvety thighs as he spread them wide, exposing her sex. Deacon leaned down and paused when he heard her sharp intake of breath.

He looked up at her and raised his eyebrow. “You want me to stop?”

She was watching him, biting her lip and her eyes went wide at his question before she shook her head quickly. He laughed at that. It was the most honest expression he’d seen on her face since that cynical smile in the bar.

Deacon felt a little more in control now. It had been a different game, before. Letting her work her wiles on him and being a willing victim so she’d feel like she was calling the shots. Now the tables had turned and he was pretty sure she hadn’t noticed yet. He’d finally managed to get under at least the topmost layer of her guard. He smiled against her thigh before setting his teeth into her hard enough for her to jump and squeak breathlessly. He wondered how many layers he could get through tonight.

He nuzzled against her core, breathing her in before pressing a wet kiss against her. She moaned and practically melted into the bed and he allowed himself a satisfied smirk before really settling down to work, nibbling and teasing until she was writhing against him, her hands pulling the back of his head closer and her hips wiggling, trying to get him to pay attention to that one special spot.

“God, baby, please? I can’t take it anymore. Please, baby?” She sounded desperate, hungry. Exactly like he wanted her.

Deacon released one of her thighs and worked two fingers into her easily, curling them up and rubbing back and forth. Her hips were trying to buck against him now, so he used his other hand to hold her down, ignoring her protests. His tongue finally, softly, brushed against her clit and her hands abruptly left his head to clutch at the fabric beneath her. He settled his mouth around it and gently suckled, just barely brushing it with his tongue in time with his fingers working her pussy. In no time at all, he could feel she was close. Her chest was heaving and she was begging in earnest now. Whispered, frenzied pleas that were slowly driving him wild.

On a hunch, he added a third finger. It was a tight fit but it worked. He felt her pussy clamp down on his hand almost immediately and she arched up off the bed despite his grip on her hip, gasping for air and crying out as the waves of pleasure washed over her. He kept working her until it passed and she fell back against the bed, boneless and giggling.

Deacon leaned back and sucked her come off his fingers, watching her and enjoying how flushed she was. He felt pretty satisfied with himself. A few more orgasms like that and surely he’d earn a place in her bed until daylight, at least.

“Shit, honey. You’re good at that. Ever think of turning pro?” She was still giggling like she couldn’t help herself. He liked it. Loved it, actually. The idea that he’d overridden her self-control was pretty fucking heady.

“Only every day of my life, sweetheart.” He smirked at her and she was lost in another fit of giggling, but she reached for him and he fell back into her arms, kissing and nibbling along her neck until the laughter turned back into moans. He tugged on her earlobe with his teeth and whispered against her, “Ready for round two?”

“God, fuck, yes.”

He huffed a bit of laughter against her neck before kissing her. Such an eager playmate. He could see them burning off a lot of stress together once she was an agent. Heck, maybe he’d even convince Des to let them partner up in the field. Then they could have all sorts of fun without having to worry about getting caught.

Nora surprised him by pushing him off her and onto his back. She was stronger than she looked. Fast, too. He barely had time to register what she was doing before those lips of hers wrapped around his cock and then all thinking became impossible. Her gloved hands slid up his legs and pinned his hips against the mattress, just as he’d done to her. Fuck. Maybe he wasn’t quite as in charge as he’d thought.

He felt her tongue swirl around his head before she slid him deep into her mouth, slowly shaking her head as she went. Deacon couldn’t keep his eyes off her and it occurred to him that she was trying to take him all at once. He chuckled a little at her obvious look of concentration and brushed a hand over her hair.

“Be careful, gorgeous. Don’t want to hurt yourself.”

Nora came back up and released his cock. Her lips were swollen and wet and he wanted to push her back down, but he was still trying to build her confidence up at being the boss here, so he held himself back. She rolled her eyes at him, “Wow. Humble, aren’t you? I’m not gonna hurt myself, baby.” He opened his mouth to argue but she slowly drug her tongue along his length and stared him down. By the time she got back to the tip, he’d completely forgotten what he’d been about to say.

Satisfied that he wasn’t going to try to stop her again, she went back to her efforts, taking him a little deeper each time her head bobbed down, her saliva slowly running down to his balls. He groaned and his hands both sunk into her hair, gripping handfuls of it and pushing down. He couldn’t help it. His body had switched to full auto-pilot. She moaned and it shot through him, hips jerking against her hold. He felt the tip of her nose touch against him and about lost it. No one had ever done that before and the sensation of his cock being halfway down her throat was amazing. He could feel her swallow around him and for a moment all he wanted was to fuck her mouth as hard as she’d let him.

Deacon’s hands tightened in her hair, holding her still there for a moment while he tried to regain some semblance of sanity. This wasn’t about him getting off. This was about her getting off. He needed to stop forgetting that. There would be plenty of time for other things later, once she was fully committed to his side.

He jerked her up by her hair, trying to not get too distracted by the drool that still connected her mouth to his cock and the way her eyes were so dark she almost looked drunk, and growled at her. “Appetizers are over, sweetheart. On your knees.”

Nora wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and grinned at him like she’d known exactly how close he’d been to losing it. She crawled up next to him while he got behind her, throwing her hair over her shoulder as she watched him. Deacon’s eyes met hers briefly and he shoved her head down to the mattress, causing her back to arch. There was no way he’d be able to maintain control with those eyes of hers staring at him. She didn’t seem to mind, laughing and wiggling her ass at him. On instinct, he smacked it, hard, and she jumped a little, squealing in delight.

So she did like it rough. “You been awfully naughty tonight, gorgeous. Need some discipline, do we?”

She giggled and pressed back against him, “Don’t we all?”

He chuckled at that and rubbed the head of his cock against her slit with his hand. She was dripping wet already and he wondered exactly when that had happened. He’d have to pay more attention next time. “You sure you want all this?”

Nora snickered at him, “There you go again. Being humble.”

Deacon decided to take that as a yes and pressed into her, trying to ignore just how good and hot and tight she felt, and the way she was moaning under him already. Her legs parted just a bit more, trying to accommodate him and he pushed down a little on the small of her back, getting her to arch more fully against him. It changed the angle enough that he was able to push through and he dug his fingers into her hips, pulling her onto him as he did until she whimpered. It had an edge of pain in it and he abruptly stopped moving.

“You alright, sweetheart?” He looked down at her for a moment, already panting a little. She just felt too damn good.

Nora nodded, her hands holding the bedroll beneath her in a death grip. “Yeah, keep going. I like it when it hurts a little.” She pushed back against him a bit more and sucked in a breath as he felt himself hit her cervix. “Don’t hold back, baby.”

He rolled his hips against her and she made a noise that was halfway between a whimper and a moan. “Your wish is my...strong recommendation.” That got her to giggle for just a second before he rocked back and then slammed into her. She cried out beautifully and it sounded like a choir of angels singing to him.

Deacon watched his cock slide in and out as he pumped into her, almost hypnotized for a moment at how the impact caused a little shockwave to roll across the flesh of her ass and hips. Shit. Now that was distracting. He forcibly closed his eyes and tilted his head back a little for good measure. He couldn’t afford to get distracted. Not tonight. Later, yes, but tonight he had ulterior motives.

He kept one hand on her hip, gripping hard enough to bruise since that’s what she seemed to want, and kept up a relentless pace, trying to block out the sounds she was making and the delicious wet slapping sound of their bodies meeting. He had a fleeting thought that it would have been nice if their first time hadn’t involved subterfuge on his part but it was kind of fitting, too, he guessed.

Deacon leaned over her back, still keeping his eyes closed, and reached around to find her clit. His hand was gentle on her, barely there and he knew the contrast of that and how hard he was fucking her would be enough to send her over the edge.

She was practically screaming into the mattress now, slamming back into him just as hard as he was into her. He felt her tighten up around him and he gritted his teeth, willing back his own orgasm. The tension in her suddenly exploded and he felt a hot, liquid warmth flooding around his cock as she almost sobbed in pleasure. Her thighs were shaking, had been shaking, and she collapsed under him, a sweaty, beautiful mess.

He sent up a brief thanks to whatever god was still listening that he’d been able to control himself, braced his body on his arms and started planting soft kisses along her back. She was shivering through her aftershocks now, her breath shuddering out of her and when he licked her behind her ear, just barely tasting the salt of her skin, she whimpered softly and he smiled against her. Almost there.

Deacon took his time now, indulging a little as he explored her skin. She was so smooth and soft and clean and he loved it. He loved that she’d smell like him after they parted; that he’d be able to smell the sweetness of her scent on him, too. Made him mildly annoyed that more people didn’t understand just how nice it was to be clean. He waited until her breathing had evened out before he slid off her and rolled her over, gathering her into his arms. She smiled sleepily at him and he kissed her slow and sweet so she wouldn’t see the look of triumph on his face.

Nora pulled back and frowned slightly at him when she felt his cock on her thigh, “You...you haven’t?”

He shrugged like it was no big deal, “Night’s still young, beautiful. We ain’t done yet.”

Her eyes went a little wide, “Oh, I don’t...I mean…”

Deacon smirked at her and rolled so she was under him again, this time on her back. Like he didn’t see the excited look in her eyes or feel the way she unconsciously pressed against him. She could protest all she wanted, but he knew better. He slid a leg between hers and idly nibbled on her neck, his hand just barely skimming along her breast before he replaced it with his mouth. She was already pebbled from rubbing against the bedroll and it didn’t take much pressure from him before she was moving weakly against his leg. Her head fell back against the mattress and he watched her eyes slide closed in surrender, biting her lip as he pressed against her core a little harder.

New favorite playmate. Definitely.

He situated himself back fully between her legs and pushed them apart with his hands. She kept her eyes closed, whimpering in a helpless sort of way and it actually made his cock twitch. He slid easily back into her swollen pussy and relaxed his weight onto her, rolling his hips leisurely against her as he moved her hands above her head, pinning them there with his own.

“See? It’s not so bad, is it, sweetheart?” He flexed against her especially hard and her eyes flew open when he ground against her oversensitive clit.

“Oh, God...please, baby, I can’t…”, she sounded desperate in a whole new way and the darkest parts of him relished in it.

He chuckled and bit her neck, harder this time than before and sucking until a bruise bloomed. “Yeah you can. You’re gonna come on my cock one more time like a good girl and then I’ll let you rest. I promise. Can you do that for me?” She’d already tightened around him and he hadn’t even done anything but use his words. He nipped at her lower lip and she nodded just a little.

Deacon released her mouth and her hands and grinned wickedly at her, leaning up and putting her legs over his shoulders so he could get nice and deep. Her eyes were glittering with something remarkably close to fear mixed with lust. Was fearful lust even a thing? If not, he’d discovered a whole new emotion to evoke in people.

He started moving, slow and deliberate until she started squirming beneath him, clearly wanting more. He gave it to her, watching her intently the entire time and taking in every detail of how she fell apart under him. The flush that spread up her neck, the way beads of sweat rolled down between her breasts, how her hands found the headboard and to give her leverage to push back against him. She was staring back at him like she couldn’t look away, even though he knew she couldn’t actually see his eyes. Maybe she was watching her own reflection? Fuck, that was pretty hot, too.

He felt the pressure building right at the base of his spine, felt his cock start to swell. Shit. He had to hold on, just a little longer.

“Where do you want me to finish, gorgeous?” It came out low and almost guttural and she squeezed down on him even more. Must be close.

“Inside me. Come inside me, baby.” It sounded almost like a sigh and Deacon suddenly had a new favorite sound.

He pressed against her clit with the palm of his hand, not rubbing, just putting pressure on the already overstimulated bud while he started plowing into her. It was risky, but the closer he got to completion, the less he was thinking about this particular mission.

Thankfully, she went before he did. Her pussy almost had a stranglehold on him and she actually sobbed when she came, her hands coming down to try and push him away. Deacon let the pressure off her clit but continued to slam into her. He shrugged her legs off and fell over her, pinning her arms down and using his teeth to hold her by her neck until he felt his balls constrict up against him and he exploded within her, pushing with his feet and pressing deep enough into her that it was just a little painful for him as his cock pumped into her, filling her with his warmth. Felt fucking amazing and the sounds of her crying and hiccuping beneath him somehow just made it better. That was probably a little fucked up, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He felt ruthless, powerful. He loved it.

Deacon collapsed against her and released her neck. One of his teeth had actually cut her and he licked the tiny spot of blood away before pressing a kiss against it. She was laying passive under him now, panting and watching him with dark, unreadable eyes. A few tears trailing down her cheeks into her hair. He kissed them away softly and internally chuckled to himself. Over four years later, he was finally able to dry her tears.

Deacon finally mustered up enough energy to move off of her, his cock leaving a trail of come as he slid out. There was a brief moment when he thought maybe he’d gone too far and fucked everything up, then she rolled towards him, snuggling up to his side. His arms went around her and he gently stroked her hair while he waited for his heartbeat to stop thundering in his ears.

He was about to ask her if she was alright when she spoke first.

“You have no idea how much I needed that, Andy. Thanks.” She sounded drowsy, satisfied, perfectly content and Deacon smiled against her hair.

“Oh, yeah?”

She nodded, “Yeah...what’s the expression? ‘Best way to get over someone is to get under someone else’, right?” That surprised him. Had she already found someone before him, or was she just trying to get over the grief of her husband’s death?

He scoffed a little, “Who on earth would be stupid enough to break your heart, darlin’?”

“A bastard who’s going to live just long enough to regret it.” There was an icy, sharp edge to her voice that kinda made him want to tuck his balls away somewhere she couldn’t rip them off. That was the thing in her eyes. Rage. She must be gunning for whoever had taken her family from her. That could be incredibly useful if he could figure out who did it first.

He pretended ignorance, “Well, babycakes, anytime you need somebody to get under, just come find me.”

Nora giggled a little at that, “You want some water or anything?” What a good hostess she was.

“Sure, if you’re offering.”

“Great. Top drawer on the left.” She pointed imperiously over at the dresser and raised her eyebrow at him when he looked down at her. Brat.

“Fine, fine, I can take a hint. One water coming up, princess.” Deacon stumbled out of bed and opened the drawer like he hadn’t totally pawed through it hours before. When he turned back, she was watching him, nibbling on her lower lip. He grinned at her expression. Fantastic. He was definitely staying the night.

She actually blushed a little when she realized he’d caught her staring. It caught him off guard. Real emotions had no place in the game. Surely she knew that. She was clearly a pro herself, after all. He opened the can before presenting it to her and slid back into bed beside her, watching her greedily drain half the can before she reluctantly handed it back to him.

Deacon sucked it down and then snuggled down with her for the night, with her comfortably tucked up under his chin, arms around her and their legs entwined. He hoped she'd go to sleep soon. He couldn’t sleep until after his reconnaissance was finished, and he was pretty fucking wore out by this point.

He was idly sliding his hands over her, soothing and gentle, when he brushed against a strange scar on her left wrist, just below the edge of her glove. The way she momentarily froze, he knew it was something important. He held it up so he could see it better and frowned. Looked almost like a burn mark?

“What happened here, sweetheart?”

She sighed and shook her head against him, “Nothing important. Happened a long time ago.”

He almost chuckled at that. He’d bet it had happened a real long time ago, but she couldn’t know he knew that. She seemed reluctant to actually talk about it, though, which of course meant he had to know. He released her wrist and pointed to a scar he’d had added to his face for approachability's sake. “See this? Fucking radroach got me. Came out of nowhere when I was a kid. Right in the damn face.” Best part of this lie was it wasn’t completely a lie. She might be sleepy enough to not notice it.

Nora lifted her head enough to study the tiny scar and surprised him by pressing a soft kiss to it. “Makes you look handsome, honey. Manly, even.”

That...wasn’t the reaction he’d expected and he felt an odd squeeze in his heart. “Thanks. Yours is pretty manly, too.” He grinned teasingly at her to cover for the odd emotions he was dealing with and she giggled and laid her head back down. Thank god. It wasn’t so hard to pretend if he didn’t have to constantly school his expression.

“Mine didn’t come from anything so exciting. I had a tattoo, I didn’t like the tattoo, I got the tattoo lasered off. As one does.” She held up her wrist so she could frown at the slightly shiny skin. “They said the scar would fade, but apparently not.”

A tattoo? On a conspicuous place on a pre-war woman? That was...different. “I doubt anyone ever notices it, babycakes. Especially if you wear your Pipboy.”

She nodded against him and yawned, actually covering her mouth with her hand. God he loved old world manners. “That’s probably true. Did you want to stay the night?”

Internal Deacon danced a victory dance through the theater of his mind. “Sure, I got nowhere else to be.”

“M’kay. Good night, Andy.”

He reached over and turned off the lamp, allowing himself to smile only once the room was dark. “Good night, Nora.”

Chapter Text

Nora dropped off to sleep surprisingly swiftly for someone who was sleeping next to a perfect stranger, in Deacon’s opinion. He worried a bit over her safety if she still lacked such basic Wasteland knowledge as ‘do not let strange men stay in your room overnight’. Not that she was in any real danger right now, of course. Deacon prided himself on being a gentleman whenever possible; and anyway, he wasn’t going to ruin his chances at mind blowing morning sex by doing something as reckless as trying to take her while she slept. (Honestly, they barely knew each other. It was far too early for those sorts of games.) But still, the point remained. She needed to sharpen up a little if she was going to survive.

He waited until he was absolutely, positively sure she was well and truly out and then raised his head up enough to just barely blow air across her hair. She frowned in her sleep and shook her head a little. He waited until she quieted back down before doing it again. It took a few times, but eventually she rubbed at her hair and rolled over, freeing his arm and curling up once she was settled.

Deacon sat up slowly and cautiously moved off the bed, slipping his glasses off and onto the nearby nightstand. He could see her clearly in the moonlight and her breathing never changed. So far so good.

He moved on silent feet to the dresser and picked up her Pipboy. It was nice. Nicer than his own, certainly. Looked almost new. He waited until the hotel’s decrepit heating system kicked on, noise rattling through the radiator, before he started clicking through tabs, keeping a sharp watch on her sleeping form as he scrolled through her notes.

So, she was helping the Minutemen after all. Garvey, the last surviving Minutemen out of Quincy, had declared her the new general. That was... nuts, is what it was. What the hell was he thinking?

Then he found the entry about the deathclaw and briefly stared at her, all soft skin and sweet curves. How the hell had she pulled that off? On her first day out, no less. He’d heard the rumors about what went down at Concord, of course, but he hadn’t thought they were true. Crap. If the others in the Railroad put two and two together, she’d wind up teamed together with Glory and where was the fun in that?

A few more things about helping various settlements and random idiots that he didn’t give two shits about then, ah! The Valentine stuff.

Apparently the synth detective did have a lead for her. Kellogg. Deacon closed his eyes for a moment and tried not to sigh too loud. Of course that asshole had to be involved somehow. Who else did the Institute’s dirty work?

Nora murmured in her sleep a little and he watched her carefully. Seemed like she was dreaming, one hand was petting the bedroll like she was trying to soothe someone, or something. Adorable. Pre-Deacon smiled fleetingly at her and hoped it was a good dream.

It looked like Valentine and her had broken into Kellogg’s old house in Diamond City after she sweet talked the Mayor’s secretary for the key. Nice. Her dog (He rolled his eyes at its uncreative name. Seemed every mutt you met nowadays went by Dogmeat.) had found the scent easily and then...nothing. She’d detoured to Goodneighbor. The entries after were filled with nothing but work she’d done for Hancock, and a few little notes on how sad his chem use made her.

Well, that explains why he struck out with her and Deacon was able to slide on home. She apparently didn’t want to tumble with a junkie. Seemed like she was cautious about some things. That was fortuitous for him, anyway.

He clicked it back to the map, where she’d left it, and set it down precisely as she had. Not even a centimeter out of place. She’d never know he’d even touched it. He slipped back across the room, silent as a shadow, and watched her sleeping for a bit. He wished there was more than just moonlight to illuminate her but figured the lamp would probably be too much. The whole room was frustratingly monochrome and he kind of ached to see the marks he’d left on her before they bloomed into full bruises and before he had to wear his shades again.

Deacon sighed regretfully, went to the bathroom to clean up a little and then got back into bed with her. He didn’t bother being too quiet since he could always truthfully say he’d just been to the bathroom. That was one of the first tips he’d ever picked up in this business. Be honest whenever possible. His glasses went back on and he felt blind for a second until his eyes adjusted.

Nora rolled over towards him, reaching out in her sleep and he gathered her close to him. It was just cool in the room, was all, and holding her was like holding a warm, squishy pillow. It was pleasant. That was it. He absolutely wasn’t catching feelings. Not real feelings, anyway. He just wanted to make sure she felt bonded enough to definitely want more playtime when the sun came up.

He winced a little. He never could lie to himself like he could to everyone else. He really needed to work on that. Well, whatever. Fine. It was just a crush, then. She was beautiful and talented. Smart to boot, and it’s not like he ever could resist old world shit, right? Right. He kissed the top of her head and breathed in the wonderfully clean scent of her hair...there was a slight salty tang under it now and he smiled, knowing he was responsible for it.

Yup. Totally just a crush. He’d get over it. Eventually.

When Deacon woke up, daylight was just barely seeping through the window. Everything beyond his shades was pink tinted and muted and his arms were empty. He frowned at that before he heard the water running in the bathroom. Ah. Okay then. He resumed feigning sleep and kept his ears open. He heard her quietly walk across the room (good but not as sneaky as he would teach her to be) and a drawer close. Then her weight and warmth settled back next to him and he felt her hands skimming along his skin. The gloves felt different. Softer, maybe? A new pair, probably.

Nora nibbled along his chest and huffed with laughter, “I know you’re awake, Andy. Stop pretending.”

His eyes snapped open and he looked down at her. How in the ever-living fuck was she doing that? “Morning, babycakes.”

“Good morning.” Her teeth skated along his nipple for a second. “How do you keep your glasses on while you sleep?”

“Glue.”

She snickered softly before she rolled over and snuggled back against him, pulling his arms around her.

He grumbled a little into her hair and she wiggled her ass against him. Goddamn tease. Well, two could play at that game. Deacon slid his hand down, cupping her and pulling her back harder against him before slipping two fingers inside her warmth. He held her there like that while he slowly rubbed his cock against her, enjoying the frustrated pouty sounds she was making too much to go any further for the time being.

“Got any plans for today, beautiful?” He kept his tone light, only mildly interested like he didn’t have a hand in her pussy at all.

She tried squirming against him but his grip was too tight. Instead, her hand reached around and found his cock, squeezing and working him like she totally wanted him to blow his load already. He chuckled and let himself get a little lost in the sensation. Joke was on her, he didn’t have to hold back shit this morning.

“Actually, I do have a previous engagement.” Her voice was only a little breathy. She was good at keeping in control of herself. He admired that about her. It made him want to break that control, but still it was impressive nonetheless.

Deacon curled his fingers just a bit, slowly, rhythmically rubbing inside her. Her breath hitched a little and it went right to his ego. This was a battle of wills she wasn’t going to win. Not with him. “Hmm...what kind of engagement?” His lips brushed against her ear and down her neck, licking and pressing gentle kisses along the bruises and bite marks from the night before.

Nora sighed and melted against him. It probably would have drove a lesser man to stop the game, but not Deacon. “I hired a boy to help me do some hunting. I’m supposed to meet him at ten.”

He frowned against her. Hired a boy? That could only mean one person in Goodneighbor. Goddammit. “You don’t mean MacCready, do you?” He let just a bit of disapproval slip into his voice and his fingers stopped working their magic, slipping back out of her and moving back to her hip.

Her head turned a little so she could see his face. She studied him for just a second before laughing, “I wouldn’t have figured you for the jealous type, honey.”

Shit. Well, if he wasn’t before, he was now. His whole mood darkened. “What the hell do I have to be jealous about? I’m the one about to get my dick wet.” Her laughter died instantly and her eyes iced over. Pre-Deacon cursed and berated him for saying something so crude.

Nora’s hand abruptly released him. “Oh, are you?” She made to get away but his arms tightened around her and wouldn’t let her go.

She twisted around a bit, irritated and huffy, before she tried elbowing him in the ribs. Deacon grunted but accepted the pain and just tightened his arms around her more until she squeaked breathlessly. He didn’t even know what he was doing at this point. The shards in his mind were all screaming at each other and there too many conflicting points of view for him to make sense of any of it. Shit shit shit. He took a deep breath, mentally willed them all to shut the fuck up, and pulled the persona of Andy, friendly drifter, back into place.

Nora had stopped trying to fight him and was staring at his face with something he couldn’t put his finger on. Whatever it was, he didn’t like it. He was totally blowing it here. He relaxed his arms and kissed her temple gently, then her cheek, then just the very edge of her lips. When she didn’t try to shove him away, he kissed her fully. His mouth had got him into this, maybe it could get him out.

She slowly returned his kiss, eventually opening her mouth under his and he felt relief flood through him. He allowed her to roll over in his arms and focused on gently petting her skin, soothing and careful and apologetic in a way that words weren’t letting him be at the moment.

Deacon pushed her a little until she was laying on her back and she let him. He nibbled his way down her neck and across her breasts. She was still watching him with a far greater amount of caution than he’d like, but at least she hadn’t thrown him out yet. There were bruises on her here, too, and for just a second he imagined that little asshole seeing them and knowing someone else had been here first. Had fucked her the way she needed it, better than he ever could. Shit, he really didn’t have anything to be jealous about. He knew that. There was nothing MacCready could do to her that he couldn’t do better.

“What’s wrong with MacCready, baby?” Her voice was soft, soothing almost. Like she was trying to coax information out of him. He smiled internally. She didn’t need to waste the effort on this particular subject.

He lifted his head and gave her a look of pure concern and protectiveness. “You can’t trust him, gorgeous. He sells himself to the highest bidder and he’ll sell you out, too, if the caps are right.”

She considered that, watching him in that way that made him feel more naked than he already was. “You’re worried about me.” It wasn’t a question but he answered anyway.

Deacon shrugged a little, “Somebody has to be, right?”

The frown was back like that was the wrong answer. “Why?”

“Hmm?” He’d gone back to pressing kisses along her belly. He liked how silvery the stretch marks were there. They reminded him of lightening gone to ground and he wondered how she’d looked when she’d been pregnant. Probably like some grecian fertility goddess or something. The idea was hot as fuck.

“Why are you worried about me? We hardly know each other.” There was a little suspicious edge to her voice that he did not like at all. Her being so clever was wonderful, but he couldn’t deny it was starting to get on his nerves just a little.

Crap. She was completely focused on his answer, too. No way he’d be able to lie his way out. He attempted cavalier, “I worry about all my girls, babycakes.” Technically true. Or true enough, anyway, right? Depending on how you defined ‘my girls’.

A tiny half-smile appeared on her face and he grinned back at her. “So I’m one of your girls, huh? Maybe I’m the one who should be jealous.” Ah, she was back to being flirty with him. It wasn’t the connection he’d established last night, but it was a half-step back to there anyway.

He chuckled against her and resumed his trail of kisses. He’d dreamed of how she’d taste this morning, still full of his come from the night before, and the whole idea had been driving him crazy at the back of his mind since he woke up.

By the time he’d reached her inner thigh, she’d relaxed enough to stop watching him so hard, her head falling back and her eyes closing peacefully, fingers idly brushing against his scalp. Last night had been devastatingly frenetic and explosive. This morning’s mood called for something a little slower, he thought.

It was always important to show a potential partner you were versatile, after all.

So he took his time taking his time. Carefully exploring her folds, his hands soft and soothing on her. She was still swollen from the night before and his tongue was all it took to satisfy her this time, her hips rolling gently. He moved with her, eagerly tasting her juices when they started to coat his lips and fuck, it was amazing. Her sweetness with his salt and he actually moaned against her, honest and raw. Her breathing picked up a little at the sound and he swirled his tongue around her swollen clit, not actually touching it but coming pretty close. She sighed contentedly but her legs were starting to get restless, a slight tremor moving through them. Deacon felt her tap his head and looked up, a little put out. Couldn’t she see he was trying to perform art here?

Nora chuckled at his expression and sat up, pulling him up with her. “Kiss me, baby.” It was whispered against his lips, her tongue just barely flicking out for a second to taste them.

Well, shit. How could he say no to that?

He sank into her kiss, loving the way she hungrily sucked at his bottom lip, like she couldn’t get enough of their combined taste either. She tried to pull him back down on top of her and he wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her onto his lap instead. Last night had been all about what she wanted. This morning was going to be about what he wanted, dammit. Alright, maybe he’d had his way a little last night, but still.

She settled against him easily, one arm going around his shoulders for balance and her other hand slipping down to help guide him into her. He broke off their kiss to watch her face as she slowly accepted his length and he immediately knew what he’d be seeing in his wet dreams for the foreseeable future. She was flushed, exquisitely so, and her eyes were tightly closed like she was focusing on nothing but how good it felt.

Deacon was having a little trouble focusing on anything else himself. She was even hotter this morning after their session the night before. It was like fucking a goddamn volcano in the best possible way. He felt the impulse to just throw her down and pound into her again rise up within him and beat it back. That’s not what this morning was going to be about. He’d already shown her he could be a powerhouse, now he had to wow her with finesse. Give her something extra special to daydream about while she was out cavorting with that man-child. Something tender and sweet that would linger in her subconscious. Make her wake up wet and wanting only him, needing him, even, while out on the road.

He rocked under her, both hands moving to her hips to guide her in a devastatingly effective and deliciously slow rhythm that he’d perfected over the years. She caught on quickly, and her head tipped back, eyes still closed while the pressure built within her. He felt something tickle his legs and realized it was her hair. Damn, it really was long. One of his hands snaked into it as his arm went back around her waist and he pulled her back further, causing her body to arch against him. She gasped as the angle changed and his cock was rubbing right against the perfect spot to drive her wild. When she tried to pick up speed, his arm tightened until she could barely move at all and was at the mercy of his whims.

Deacon watched her breasts bounce with them and left a few new love bites here and there, drinking in her gasps and slightly pained whimpers. Not enough damage to get in the way if she was in battle, of course, but enough that she’d feel a little discomfort under her armor when it rubbed against her.

Her legs were tightening around him and he smirked against the base of her throat. He wondered if she even realized how close she was already. He released her hair and she stayed put exactly like he thought she would. His fingers found her clit and rubbed little circles there, twice as fast as their rocking. He considered himself a composer of sorts when it came to orgasms and you never wanted to have just one melody in a symphony, after all.

She was hanging onto his shoulders with both hands now, leaning even further back as he worked, giving him a beautiful display for his efforts and pre-Deacon couldn’t help but indulge in a little make-believe. That they were lovers for real, open and honest in a way he hadn’t experienced since her. Able to share more than just a bed and that she’d say his name, his real name, when she came. He took it even further; that maybe he’d even been lucky enough to be born before the war, when the world wasn’t quite so scary, and their days could be filled with nothing but love making and domestic bliss.

God, that was pathetic. Deacon almost rolled his eyes at himself. Here he was, enjoying almost anonymous sex with the hottest new ticket in town and he was fantasizing about boring lovey shit. He really was fucked up.

He’d lost the rhythm while he’d been busy berating himself. Shit. Nora was making little frustrated noises and they weren’t the good kind. Deacon made a split-second decision that had him repositioning them both, him on his back and her riding. She seemed a little surprised by it, but smiled down at him anyway and then started giggling when he put his hands behind his head and grinned at her.

“Lazy.” She dropped a soft kiss on his lips before sitting up over him, rocking against him and refocusing on chasing her own pleasure.

He raised an eyebrow at her, “Appreciative. You put on one hell of a show, beautiful.” Pure truth. That rare blush creeped back into her cheeks and Deacon felt oddly satisfied. Provoking a real reaction out of her was almost as good as making her come.

Nora rolled her eyes at him like she didn’t totally love what he’d just said and her head fell back. She was still close. He could feel her tightening around him and it took a ridiculous amount of self-control to not put his hands on her, but watching was one of his favorite things in the whole wide world. Letting her use him as a masturbatory aid was pretty hot, all things considered, and a great way to reestablish her confidence in their relationship that he’d fucked up.

She fell forward, catching herself with her arms and bracing her body above his. Her hair cascaded around them like a waterfall and Deacon just for a second considered removing his glasses. He bet she was exquisite in true technicolor. Shit, he couldn’t help himself; he had to touch her. His hands slid into that gorgeous hair and pulled her down for a kiss as she ground her clit hard against him, her body shuddering around him and starting to gently milk his cock. She gasped against his mouth and he drank it in, just barely rocking his hips up to keep her going. It was softer this time. Light waves instead of the crushing storm of the night before. That stupid domestic fantasy flitted into his mind again. He wondered if this is what she’d typically feel like on any Sunday morning. He’d wake her up by sliding into her, they’d make love and…

Goddammit. No. Even in the best possible circumstances, that was never going to happen.

Deacon’s hands moved down to her hips and sank in. He felt her shiver and smiled a little. It was almost like she knew what was coming.

He planted his feet to get better leverage and released the stranglehold he had over himself, pounding up into her while his hands pulled her down. She broke off from their kiss and snuggled against him, leaving ridiculously soft, barely there kisses against his neck while he fucked her into oblivion, trying to work out at least a little of his frustration over their situation. It just made him so goddamn pissed. It wasn’t fair, had never been fair. Why’d he have to be the one walking around with a permanently broken heart anyway? Hadn’t he suffered enough? Done enough to make up for the mistakes of his youth? Shit.

One of his hands found their way back into her hair, gripping close to her scalp and holding her in place, not that she was trying to get away at the moment, but he did it anyway. His other had a death grip on a handful of her ass and some dark part of him wanted to hurt her, to transfer some of his own pain onto her somehow so he didn’t have such a heavy burden to carry.

Deacon settled for fucking her hard enough that she’d be sore for a few days at least. Her hands had skirted along between them and he could feel her futilely trying to push off from his chest. He growled at that and his thrusts became borderline vicious as his hold on her tightened further, drawing little cries and a breathless sort of mewl from her.

When he finally came, it was hard, rough. His hips arched off the bed, taking her with him as he spilled into her. It felt like it would go on forever and he could feel some leaking out around him. Physically, it was right up there with his top five. Emotionally though, he felt hollow and adrift as he collapsed back into the bed. What the fuck was he even doing with his life right now?

He relaxed his hold on her and waited for the inevitable withdrawal while they caught their breath. No one liked this side of him. Shit, he wasn’t too fond of the bastard himself. Even if Nora liked rough stuff, she wasn’t going to like the aftermath. The way his mood would sour and plummet, his usual natural charm becoming twisted and self-mocking.

So imagine his surprise when she started softly giggling, still snuggled against him like she was happy to camp out there forever.

“Damn, baby. That was...damn.” She sounded breathless, almost giddy.

Deacon’s eyes opened and he stared down at her, blinking in confusion. That...was not  the reaction he’d thought he’d get. He cleared his throat a little and hoped his voice would sound passably human. “Uh...you know, gotta send you off in style, sweetheart.” Oh, good. Nailed it.

Her head came up just enough to look at his face. Those hazel eyes were still so dark and there was a look of...fondness there? Holy shit, did she actually like him this way? Couldn’t she tell how broken and messed up he was?

“Yeah? Well, mission accomplished, honey.” She gave his shoulder a pat and collapsed back against him, still giggly.

He’d never been so damn confused in his whole life. This wasn’t what happened when he let the monster that lived within him come close to the surface. He’d fully expected to come down from his post-coitus high having to immediately engage in damage control, and yet somehow, he’d earned points with her? How? Why?

Deacon reluctantly slid out of her and she sighed when he did. Almost sounded disappointed? Like she’d wanted him to actually stay. He was starting to feel a little nervous. Buggy, almost. This wasn’t the script he was used to.

Nora finally got her breathing under control and raised up to study his face. Her gloved hand coming up to gently brush against his cheek. She smiled at him and there was more understanding and sweetness in it than he could handle. He closed his eyes behind his shades and she chuckled at him. “I don’t know why you lie and try to hide so much, baby. I’m sure you have your reasons and I’m not gonna ask, but...you are an amazingly honest fuck.”

His eyes opened in surprise and he stared at her, his eyebrows shooting up. He was a lot of things, but he’d never been accused of something as ridiculous as honest, in bed or out. He opened his mouth to argue with her and she put a her hand over his lips.

“Nope. We’re not talking about it. I just thought you’d want to know.” She replaced her hand with her mouth and kissed him gently, like she really cared.

He felt honest-to-God tears prick the edges of his eyes and had to fight to not throw her off of him. He didn’t know what kind of angle she was going for here, but she was able to slip under his skin fast and deep with alarming ease. It made him feel vulnerable, anxious...angry almost. Nora’s ability to read him had been interesting but was swiftly moving into dangerous territory. He needed to disengage and regroup. Now.

Deacon broke away from her kiss and pointedly looked at the window and how the light had shifted, “Don’t you have a little boy to babysit this morning, gorgeous?”

She watched his retreat with slightly narrowed eyes, but let it go. Thank god for that. She sighed and rolled off of him, sitting on the bed and stretching a little. “I suppose I do.”

He sat up, too, shaking off the residual dizziness. “How long’s this hunting trip of yours supposed to last anyway?” With just a few inches of distance between them, he was already able to scramble for cover under a few layers of shards. He sounded only casually interested to his own ears. Awesome.

She shrugged and leaned against the wall, seemingly not in a hurry to get ready. “I don’t know. A while, I guess...I’m not coming back here after. Not for a bit, anyway.”

Deacon decided to ignore how she seemed to know what he really wanted to ask and slipped off the bed, gathering his clothes, “Oh yeah? Goodneighbor getting a little boring for you?”

Nora’s eyes followed him and she chuckled, “Hardly. I just have business in Diamond City to attend to.”

Ah, yes, business. Like the business of tracking down Kellogg with Valentine. He shook his head internally. Dangerous business, that. He really wanted her safely tucked within the Railroad before that went down. Kellogg was brutal, unfeeling. Her charms wouldn’t work on a man like that and Deacon honestly wasn’t sure what he would do if that asshole laid hands on his princess.

“Guess this is goodbye then, huh?” Ha. Hardly.

Her eyebrow went up, “Is it?” She shrugged carelessly but her smirk let him know she knew the game. Knew she’d see him next time she was in DC.

He slipped on his pants and shirt, not bothering to button either before he paused to kneel on the bed for one last kiss. “If we meet again, I guess we’ll know it’s fate.”

She smiled softly against his lips, “No such thing, I’m afraid.”

“Luck, then.” Deacon grinned at her. Turned out playing games was a lot more fun when your partner knew it was happening.

“Maybe…”, she watched him as he moved back away from her, picking up his shoes and heading for the door. “If I don’t see you again, it was real nice getting to...know you, Andy.” There was a slightly mocking undertone to it that he kind of loved.

“Same here, babycakes. I’ll catch you later.”

He was already halfway out the door when he caught her soft, “I bet you will.” Deacon chuckled a bit, closing the door behind him and leaning against it for just a moment. He took a deep breath and immediately regretted it. The stale air of the hallway smelled even more heinous after spending a night in Nora’s room. He pulled his shirt collar up a little and sniffed it. She was still there, lingering on him. Fan-fucking-tastic.

He sighed as he slipped on his shoes and walked down into the lobby. MacCready was already sitting there. Waiting and trying to not look nervous while he read a comic. Deacon snorted a little at that. He’d never seen the kid read anything that didn’t have pictures. Their eyes met for a split second and Mac fixed him with that piercing stare that always unnerved him just a bit. He knew there was no way the kid could recognize him. He’d had...shit, at least a half dozen faces between here and there, but the boy had always been perceptive. He always stared at Deacon like he knew he knew him but couldn’t quite place him. That was alright, he guessed, so long as he never figured it all the way out.

Deacon gave him a casual, friendly nod. The same any random drifter in Goodneighbor would do and Mac’s eyes went back to his comic. Good. Cover intact once again. He headed on out, ready to leave Goodneighbor behind for a bit. He had quite a few drops to see to plus he should really check in with HQ at some point. Dez was going to think he’d jumped ship again. He paused just before turning the corner and looked back at the Rex regretfully. Sometimes having such a demanding job really did suck. Adulting was the worst.

Chapter Text

Deacon had been back at HQ for a week. His tourist web was running like a champ and new intel poured in everyday. His princess and her...pssh, not a knight, maybe a squire? His princess and her squire had crossed the whole Commonwealth, making little stops here and there, mostly helping out the Minutemen from what he was hearing. They seemed to have a particular hard-on for going against Gunners, too. He didn’t mind. Gave him one less thing to do himself.

One of the caravan guards in the web even passed along a detailed description of her first time firing Mac’s sniper rifle. Thing had completely knocked her on her ass and he’d chortled at that. So fucking cute. She’d be better off sticking to pistols.

No one had reported any hanky-panky between the two, not that he had asked...or cared, of course. From all reports, she treated him like the kid Deacon would always see him as. A little brother type. He didn’t care to examine why he was so relieved at that. Introspection rarely led to good things in his experience anyway.

Dez and Glory had both noticed his improved mood. Dez was immediately suspicious and asked entirely too many questions about his time away from HQ. Glory had looked him over with narrowed eyes, caught a glimpse of a hickey on him (he’d ‘accidentally’ left the top few buttons on his shirt undone) and smirked knowingly at him. He’d grinned at her, waggling his eyebrows and she’d actually laughed and asked him how many caps he’d had to pay to find a girl willing to put up with him for the night.

Good. Let her think he was just out with some whore. Made things easier for him anyway. Plus, he didn’t want her being extra snoopy when Nora finally showed up on their doorstep. He was going to have to tap dance like a bitch to keep shit from blowing up on that day already, he didn’t need her intuition all fired up, too.

He kept kicking around the idea of somehow personally telling Nora about the Railroad. He knew she’d picked up at least one holotape at this point, but she still hadn’t followed the trail. Why? Just too busy, maybe? Or did she not realize yet how useful they could be for her? She clearly needed a nudge, he just wasn’t sure what kind of nudge.

Deacon was scribbling little coded notes about her in his book when a figure slid into his peripheral.

“Hey, D. Bottle came in for you.” Drummer Boy set an old Cherry Nuka-Cola bottle in front of him and wandered off.

His hands twitched imperceptibly. He had a dozen ways messages came to him, but Nuka bottles were always top tier. Easiest, slickest code he’d come up with so far. No one paid any heed to a discarded bottle, after all.

Quantum meant new, basic info. Regular Nuka was high priority new info. Cherry, however, meant new game changing info. Only his top tourists knew the system. Like the one he’d had shadowing Mac. That was another little stroke of genius. He didn’t trust anyone to know just how interested in Nora he was, so he sicced them on the kid instead. Brilliant, if he did say so himself.

He set his notebook in the secret drawer within a drawer and locked it before uncorking the bottle. A scroll slid out onto his hand and he opened it.

Big K checkmate. Ft H.Tiny dancer and co still in play.

Fury rocked through him and he shot up. There was a bang behind him and he heard Glory yelling suddenly. He looked at her for a moment, confused before he realized the bang had been his chair falling backward and onto her foot.

Goddammit. He hated this HQ. Everybody was right on top of everybody else all the damn time.

“Son of a bitch! Deacon, what the hell!” She was hopping over to a desk, rubbing her foot and looking at him with murder in her eyes.

“Yeah, sorry...sorry, Glory. I gotta go.” He abruptly turned away from her and headed for the tunnel, the note still crushed in one fist and the bottle in the other. Glory continued to yell at him and Dez, looking concerned, moved to intercept but she seemed to catch on to what a terrible idea that was and backed off as he stormed past. Good.

He headed out the escape tunnel and slammed the door behind him, chucking the bottle as far as he could and feeling a small sliver of satisfaction when he heard it shatter.

‘Hunting’, she’d called it. How could he have been so fucking stupid? He’d thought she’d hired that brat to show her how to shoot, maybe learn a little Wasteland survival and when he’d gotten info about the kid doing just that, he’d only seen what he’d wanted.

It made perfect sense. Hire a merc to take down a merc. Sonofabitch. He’d assumed. What had the old man once said? Never assume, it just makes an ass out of ‘u’ and me. That was rule number two, right after tell the truth whenever possible. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. He was screwing up again.

Deacon could have lost her. After all this work, after actually getting to...meet her, it all could have been lost. He stared at his shaking hands, the note still crushed in one and closed his eyes, willing the idea of her laying lifeless in a pool of her own blood away. He breathed deep and focused his mind. She was alive. She’d somehow taken down that bastard. Mac was still with her so she was reasonably safe.

He needed to move. She’d said she would head to Diamond City after her ‘hunting’, but he needed someone in Fort Hagen to investigate the scene. He popped his neck and opened his eyes, feeling slightly more settled and in control.

First, the message had to go. He flipped out his lighter and burned it right there in the tunnel, letting the ashes drop into the filth below. He’d have to at least put out the word that Kellogg had bit it, but he’d hold back who’d done it for now. That could be Nora’s golden ticket in with Dez.

He headed for the exit, already composing a message to his web in his head. Someone had to go check out Kellogg’s body for evidence. He needed to know exactly how and where he’d died and if there was any Institute intel that could be gleaned from his corpse, if Nora had left a corpse. Remembering the rage in her eyes, she may very well have blown him to Kingdom Come for all Deacon knew.

Plant the message in a drop, get to Diamond City and set up camp. He’d have to alternate between security and visitor for a bit, depending on how long it took her to get there. DC officers were dumb, but they weren’t blind. Eventually one of them would notice an addition to their roster.

“Hey, Deac! Wait!” He had a hand on the ladder when he heard Drummer Boy yelling. Shit.

He sighed and turned. Great. More news. “What’s up, pal?”

Drummer held out a bottle. Another cherry. “There was a second bottle. My bad, man.”

Deacon felt a little touch of panic skitter up his spine. Two cherries. That was never good. He gave him a careless kind of smile and accepted it. “No problem, bud. Thanks.”

He watched the other man while he walked back up the tunnel and didn’t drop the smile until he was out of sight. He stared down at the bottle. Something was telling him he really, really didn’t want to open this one, but he did anyway. That was his job, right?

The scroll slid out and he frowned. Same handwriting, same runner. What the hell? Why hadn’t he just added it to the first?

Floating fascists on the move. Incoming.

Deacon suddenly found himself sitting. His knees had given out. Brotherhood. On the Prydwen. Heading east. He shook his head at the note, trying to will the words to change. He’d been hearing rumors from agents in the Capital Wasteland that Maxson was mobilizing but he’d thought for sure he would go West. Rejoin the assholes in California who were so eager to jump on his dick.

If the Prydwen was here, he was here. Why? He rolled his eyes. There was only one reason why. Synths. The Institute and their tech. There was no way the Brotherhood would ever be okay with not being the technological masters of the universe, right? Right.

Shit. Shit fuck shit. Maxon’s merry band of holier-than-thou not-raiders had already made life impossible in the Capital Wasteland and now that asshole was here. He was going to fuck up everything they were trying to accomplish with his typical heavy-handed buffoonery.

A terrible, awful thought flitted through his head. Nora. What if those assholes got their hooks into her? They were organized, powerful...it would be easy to see how she’d be drawn to that, especially if she was still looking for help getting her kid back. Plus, they were soldiers. She’d been a soldier’s wife. It would probably feel familiar, almost comforting, to be in that kind of environment again, right?

Deacon stood and dusted the back of his jeans off, thinking. Okay, he still needed to head to DC, but he also needed to put the word out that everyone was to watch out for the Brotherhood. So...three messages? One, someone still had to check on Kellogg’s body. Two, everybody needed to go full Defcon-2 regarding the Brotherhood. Three, he needed his top infiltrators cosying up to them. Traders would probably be the way to go there. The Brotherhood was forever running out of shit. Their resource management skills had always been wanting.

Ugh, this also meant he was going to have to pilfer some new disguises. Brotherhood fatigues. Great. He hated those stupid jumpsuits.

He still headed straight for DC after making his drops. Deacon felt unsettled, mildly out of control, and seeing his princess alive and well in person would surely calm his nerves a bit, right? Right.

His first night in the city, he was just another well-dressed visitor to the Upper Stands. Fit right in with all the other fakers and the atmosphere in the Colonial Taphouse was far more quiet and lowkey than the Dugout. He wasn’t sure he could deal with Vadim’s booming voice right now.

Anyway, he still got the same rumors. The snobs here might think they were above all that, but man did they run their mouths.

Ann Codman, in particular, was a veritable fount of information. She was ranting up a storm at the next table over about some mess that had appeared for a few days down in the market. Claimed it had ruined her time there. Deacon hid his smirk behind his glass and nodded sympathetically. He was pretty sure she’d ruined everyone else’s time there, but okay.

“...and I told Abbot, it was completely unacceptable! All that filth just lying about! Honestly, what do we pay him for anyway?”

Mrs. Hawthorne, a sweetheart if there’d ever been one born, chuckled. “Now, now, Ann. Abbot’s practically an institution. Anyway, wasn’t he hired by that new girl to clear out Home Plate? I heard it’s previous tenant left it a complete wreck.”

Deacon’s ears perked up a bit. New girl? His new girl?

Ann sniffed, “That’s hardly my problem and I don’t appreciate it being made such. How on earth am I supposed to get all that greasy dirt out of my new dress, Eustance?”

His eyes rolled behind his glasses. Gee, I dunno, you harpy. Maybe try some soap. Fuck. He cleared his throat in a genteel kind of way, “Excuse me, ladies, but did you say something about a new girl in Diamond City?” He gave Mrs. Hawthorne a charming, cheeky kind of smile and she chuckled indulgently at him.

“Always the tomcat, aren’t you, George?”

Deacon grinned. She always recognized him in this disguise, but always only as George. Made things a lot easier. “Yes, ma’am.”

Even Codman’s usual sour face looked amused and she huffed, “Her name’s Nora. Some little vault dweller according to that rag Piper puts out. I doubt she’s your type. She was quite rude to me.” Internal Deacon was screaming with laughter and he hoped none of it showed on his face. Nora was definitely his type and he was dying to know what she’d said to Ann now.

Mrs. Hawthorne frowned a bit at her, “The way I heard it was you were rude to her first, dear.”

Oh ho ho. Caught. Ann’s ears went a bit red and she decided her drink was suddenly delicious. She pointedly ignored them both and Mrs. Hawthorne and Deacon shared a smile.

“She’s a pretty thing. Came by a while back and said hello. My boy talked to her, too. She’s a right charmer.” Her eyes were soft at the memory and Deacon felt oddly proud of Nora, that she had a good sense of who to befriend and who to piss off. “Avery might have given you some competition if he wasn’t already courting the Abernathy girl.”

Deacon didn’t like the idea of her tall, dark and handsome grandson sniffing around his princess, but he let it slide. Kid was over the moon for Lucy Abernathy anyway and she was just as nuts for him from what he’d heard. That particular union was just a matter of time.

“So, she’s available then?” He leaned in close, like they were real confidants.

She smiled at him like he was one of her own, “So far as I know, George. You’d better move quick though. A girl like that won’t stay on the market for long.”

Ann had finally recovered enough to rejoin the conversation, “If she even comes to market. She hasn’t been seen in ages.”

Mrs. Hawthorne waved it off. “She’ll be back. She’s friends with the Wright girls and Mister Valentine. Besides, who wouldn’t want to live here?”

Deacon’s eyes about rolled out of his head but he held up his glass anyway. “Who, indeed?”

 

 

 

Three weeks. He’d been camped in Diamond City for three fucking weeks before she finally showed up, kid still in tow...behind her dog. He snorted at that. Mac was staring at her with something akin to worship by this point and it would have pissed Deacon off in a huge way if she hadn’t seemed to be deliberately ignoring it. She looked tense. Kinda irritated. Not necessarily at the kid, but at something. Huh. He’d have thought she’d be elated still after knocking off Kellogg.

No one else would have noticed, of course. Outwardly, she was vivacious as ever. Charming to a fault, purring her way into lower prices all around the market (in a pretty pink skirt with a badass new jacket over it, no less) while the boy fell all over himself behind her to carry her purchases. Deacon watched from his post, security outfit rendering him all but invisible, and trying to not chuckle.

He wasn’t sure what she’d done to make Mac so besotted, but he was ninety-nine percent sure it hadn’t involved sexual favors. He was trailing after her like some love-struck fool but there was a strong unrequited vibe coming from him that had pre-Deacon grinning. He remembered that feeling. He’d followed her for ages before she finally noticed he was looking to be a whole lot more than just her friend.

Tough nuts for Mac, but Deacon was pretty sure Nora had already noticed and immediately decided to pay no heed. She’d called him ‘a boy’ that morning and it looked like he was going to remain a boy forever as far as she was concerned. Awesome.

They headed into Home Plate for a moment. He frowned at that until they came back out not fifteen minutes later, Mac’s arms empty. Hmm. Just dropping some things off. Good. He watched them head to Valentine’s and wished, for the billionth time, that he’d found some way to bug the detective’s office. They stayed there for quite some time, then Deacon saw all three of them walk out together. Interesting.

They parted ways at Takahashi’s and Valentine headed up the ramp to the gate, her dog going with him. Deacon followed him with his eyes for a moment. The web would need to watch him now, too. Nora said something to Mac that had him nodding eagerly and they trotted off towards the Dugout Inn together. Ah. Drinks. Mac drank like a fish these days. Almost made him sad to see all that potential wasted, but the kid was going through a lot lately. Anyway, drunk MacCready was a lot easier to slip around than sober.

Deacon let about five minutes go by and then trotted up to the gate himself. There was a drop not too far off and he needed to get eyes on Nick before he missed something big happening again.

By the time he got back into the city, it was almost dark. He casually walked around to Nora’s door and knocked quietly but there was no answer. She was probably still at the Dugout. Mac should be nice and properly sauced by now.

He slipped into the bar and slid along the perimeter. Nora and Mac were on a couch a little further back and Deacon easily found a prime spot to camp in for the time being. Yefim looked a little worried at one of DC’s finest being there, but he just nodded at him with an authoritative kind of calm and got a slight nod back. All good so far.

Mac was making an ass out of himself, as per usual. He was telling some tall tale, all big sweeping gestures and ridiculous faces, and Nora was watching him with that cynical kind of smirk she’d given Hancock, only maybe a little softer? Like she liked the kid in spite of himself. Heh. That sounded right.

She seemed a little more relaxed now. She’d taken her hair down from it’s bun and it still held a hint of a curl. Leaning back comfortably against the couch, ankles crossed, skirt just brushing the tops of primly closed knees, a practically untouched beer in her hands. Bored, almost. Her eyes kept scanning the room like she was waiting for someone and he smiled. Him. She was waiting for him. Hoping he’d somehow be here. It had worked. That one night and morning in Goodneighbor had her hooked.

Alright, maybe it had him hooked, too, but that’s how most hooks worked, right? Sure.

Mac was easily on his...jeez, tenth beer of the evening and it wasn’t even hardly night yet. Kid was going to burn his liver out before he was thirty if he kept this shit up.

Deacon strode over, completely committed to the role and moving silently until his shadow loomed over her. Nora blinked at his uniform for just a moment before her eyes widened. Perfect. She knew it was him and she was happy to see him.

He pitched his voice low and assertive. “Ma’am, I’m gonna need you to stand up.”

A tiny ghost of a smile crossed her face before she set her beer down and stood, looking to all the world like a confused, concerned citizen. “Is there something wrong, officer?”

“Just got a few questions. Need you to come with me,” his hand came down on her shoulder and he turned her around. Her hesitation and obvious distress was played to perfection.

Maybe even a little too perfect, since Mac decided to get involved.

“Hey, don’t you know who she is, bozo? Get your da-dang hands off her.” He had a hand on his pistol and was working on getting off of the ancient, sagging furniture.

Deacon scowled, not having to pretend to be annoyed one bit. “Simmer down, son. You don’t want to do something stupid here.”

Mac frowned hard at him, like he could still recognize him just a little and was trying to place his face. Shit. He turned away and focused on cuffing Nora, keeping up the act.

She seemed to sense Mac was close to ruining their fun. “Bobby, honey, it’s fine. I’m sure this is just some silly misunderstanding. Why don’t you get a room here tonight? Just tell Yefim to add it to my tab. I’ll see you in the… ow!” She’d been about to say ‘in the morning’ when Deacon pinched her arm hard. She glared at him over her shoulder for a second before picking up what he was putting down. “Ah...at lunch. I’ll see you here for lunch and then we can head on out, okay?”

Mac was still frowning, still had a hand on his pistol, but he didn’t seem to know how to overrule a command given by his boss. He nodded reluctantly, clearly unhappy. “Fine. Sure. But if you aren’t back by noon, I’m gonna go get Nick and then we’re gonna come get you. You got that, rent-a-cop? She’s got friends.”

Deacon almost snorted. Kid had no idea the kinds of friends she had, but he guessed it was kinda cute how protective he was over her. “Whatever, my shift will be over then anyway.” He jerked Nora’s arm and pushed her ahead of him as they made their way out the bar, her protesting her innocence and him occasionally growling at her to be quiet.

He frog-marched her all the way into the security office. A confused guard looked up at them for a moment and Deacon scowled at him like doing this job was such a pain in the ass.

“Mayor wants this one interrogated. Thinks she’s a synth-lover.” He sneered as he said it and the ignorant slob soaked it up.

The other guard glared at Nora and shook his head in disgust. “Room 2 is open.”

Deacon nodded and dragged her along, impressed at how she kept trying to dig in her heels and her indignant squawking about her rights as a taxpayer. He almost laughed at how well she could play this part and wondered if she’d ever been arrested before...or maybe she’d handled clients that had been? Either way, she was quite the thespian.

He threw open the door and shoved her inside hard enough that she almost fell. As he locked the door and lowered the blinds, she hopped up on the hard stainless steel table, legs swinging free and her head tilted a bit. Calm and cool as a cucumber.

Deacon leaned back against the door and just stared at her for a minute. She was more relaxed wearing a pair of handcuffs than anyone he’d ever seen. Just a trifle thinner than before, too, or maybe she’d traded some of her softness for muscle? He wasn’t sure if he liked that. That twerp had better make sure she ate while they were out and about.

She grinned at him, eyes sparkling. “I like you in uniform. You should wear one all the time.”

He returned the grin for just a second before resuming the game. “You won’t sweettalk your way out of this one, girlie. We’ve got you dead to rights.”

Her grin grew for a second before disappearing under an innocent pout. “But I haven’t done anything, officer! Really!”

Deacon jerked her off the table, turned her over and pushed her flat against it. “Shut up. We have multiple witnesses that say you’ve been seen associating with all manner of undesirables.” He patted her down and ran his hands up her legs and under her skirt, pinching her ass a little when she giggled.

Nora squirmed beautifully on the table, her sneakers unable to find traction on the slick floor, and he held her in place by her cuffs. She tried to blow the hair out of her face. “Define ‘undesirable’, officer.”

He snorted and was glad she couldn’t see his grin. Shit, this was too damn fun by half. He pushed her skirt up over her hips, exposing her pretty pink panties (matched her outfit, how fucking cute was that?) and smacked her ass.

She yelped and glared at him from over her shoulder. “Hey! That’s police brutality! And those are real Calais lace, you know! Just how many pairs of Lise Charmel panties do you think are still in existence, you troglodyte!”

He glared back, “Name calling now, are we? Not too smart, are you?”

Nora arched back a little and wiggled her ass at him. “Smarter than you.”

Deacon rolled his eyes. “Schoolyard taunts? Really?” He made quick work of pulling her panties off and stuffed him in his pocket.

“Hey! Those are mine! That’s theft, you jerk.” She sounded like she might actually be irritated at him.

“That’s evidence, little girl.” He squeezed and kneaded her ass and she huffed a little at him but quit arguing for the time being. God, he’d missed her ass. Missed all of her, sure, but fuck that ass. Huh...speaking of…no. No, dang it. He didn’t have any lube on him at all. Goddammit. Later then. “Maybe you need a little incentive to talk, hmm?” He just barely grazed his finger along her pussy and she shivered under him.

“What...what do you want me to talk about?” Nora was already a little breathless and he loved that. He loved how she seemed to enjoy this little game as much as he did.

He took his hand away and started undoing the straps to the stupid armor these idiot guards wore. Shit got in the way like crazy. She raised her head a little, clearly confused as to why he’d stopped before giggling a little and dropping it back down, occasionally wiggling just a little like she was totally not thrilled to be in this position.

“Well, for one, our sources tell us you took up with a particularly nasty character in Goodneighbor.”

Nora snorted in a dismissive sort of way. “You’re going to have to be a little more descriptive, officer. There’s a lot of nasty characters there.”

He finally got the damn thing unsnapped and tossed it aside before he went to work on his belt. Why’d he worn a belt in the first fucking place anyway? Shit. “This one’s been on our radar quite some time. Sunglasses, tall, handsome…”

She chortled, “Humble?”

He paused to slap her ass for that one and she just giggled harder and for a second he almost broke character and joined in.

“So you do know him?” His pants dropped and he knew she knew from the way she tensed up for just a second.

Nora shook her head, “Not at all. He’s very mysterious, officer.”

Deacon pushed two fingers into her and kicked her feet further part. “Keep ‘em spread, citizen. What else can you tell us about this guy?” God, she felt as amazing as he remembered. Fiery hot and soaking wet just for him. He withdrew his fingers and rubbed her clit.

“He...um...he’s very talented. Sexy. Fucks like a dream…”, she broke off with a moan and panted against the table for a moment. Deacon smirked at the way her hands flexed in their gloves like she was dying to touch him. “I think maybe he...he did something to me.”

His eyes narrowed at that and he removed his fingers to rub his cock against her. “So you’re the victim here is what you’re saying?”

She whimpered and kept trying to scoot back, despite his other hand still holding her down. Her head nodded and she had a perfect pout of the unjustly accused on her face. “Yes, exactly.”

He just barely pushed the head of his cock in just to torture her and moved his hands back to her ass. Thing was magnetic or some shit the way it kept calling his name. He could play with it all day. “So what’d he do to you then?”

Nora was working on hooking a foot around his calf to force him forward. It wasn’t going to happen, but Deacon appreciated the effort. “He’s made it impossible for me to want anyone else.”

His eyes flitted to her face. Not a lie. He felt his ego grow exponentially until it wouldn’t have fit in the building. “Got it that bad, huh?”

She laughed softly and he was surprised that at the self-deprecating edge of it. She really did have it bad and she didn’t want to. Pre-Deacon was throwing a goddamn ticker tape parade in his mind. He’d gotten all the way down to the center of her, somehow. “I can’t help it, officer. He’s all I think about. I look for him everywhere. I even...miss him.”

Shit. That rang true, too. Far too close to real feelings. The game was turning dangerous on him. Ladies and gentlemen, the talking portion of tonight’s show has ended. Deacon leaned up over her, hands on her shoulders gripping hard, and slammed into her pussy as deep as he could go.

Nora cried out at the sudden invasion and one of his hands wrapped around her face to cover her mouth.

His mouth was right by her ear now and he hissed in it, “Shhh. If they hear you, the game stops. Understand, princess?” He felt her nod a little but kept his hand over her mouth. He really, really needed her to not talk for the next few minutes. “Good. Now shut up and take it like the dirty girl you are.” She moaned against his hand and he felt her go limp under him. He ignored the bite of her cuffs and Pipboy in his stomach and started fucking her in earnest, wrapping his other arm around her and roughly groping her breast as he did.

She felt amazing under him, all that soft warmth on the icy cold table. He felt her nibbling at his hand and he slid two fingers deep into her mouth. Gave her something to do other than talking, anyway, and the way she was sucking them was forcibly reminding him of how good her mouth had felt sucking other things. Just made him fuck her even harder.

If he was going to be honest with himself, not that he ever really was, he didn’t even care if she came this time. In fact, part of him almost hoped she wouldn’t. It would just make her that much more hungry later tonight. He rested his forehead on her shoulder as he pounded into her, focusing on nothing but his own quickly approaching orgasm and was pleasantly surprised when she beat him there, gushing out around his cock and bucking under him. Damn. She must really have thought about this a lot while they were apart. He let it carry him over the edge, too, coming deep within her and grunting with the effort to keep silent while he did.

Where was the helpful hand to keep him quiet, hmm?

He slid his fingers back out of her mouth and she kissed his fingertips lightly as he did. Fuck. Too sweet. She was too sweet on him already. No one was supposed to catch feelings, dammit. Deacon braced his weight off her a little so she could regain her breath and his heartbeat would chill out. His cock was still in her but she was still pulsing around it, so that was okay, right? Sure.

He waited until he was sure he’d sound at least passably normal before he spoke, “You alright down there, beautiful?”

Nora’s eyes slid back open and she raised her head just enough to glance at him for a second. “Peachy keen, jelly bean. How are you?”

Deacon chuckled and finally backed up off her. “Pretty good, pretty good. Can’t complain.” He pulled up his pants, buckling them and watching her watch him...and maybe watching the come sliding down her thighs. It was pretty, the way it caught the light. Made her sparkle like the jewel she was.

She smiled at him, “Been a while.”

He smirked back, “Maybe for you.”

Nora huffed with laughter and rolled her eyes. “Oh, right. Your harem of girls. I almost forgot.” She pulled herself back up off the table and stood.

“Jealous, babycakes?”

She shrugged, “Depends.”

He blinked, “On what?”

“If I’m the queen of the harem or not.” He chuckled at her and watched her wiggle a bit, thighs rubbing together. “I’m all squishy... somebody made a mess.” She bounced a little and her skirt finally fell back down over her ass.

“Somebody will clean it up later.” Deacon started buckling the stupid armor back on. Really, it’s not like this shit would even slow a bullet. He had no idea why the hell they wore this crap.

Nora hopped back up on the table, watching him. “Somebody better.”

He grinned at her. Even cuffed, without panties and completely defenseless she was still sassy as hell. He loomed over her, loving that she didn’t so much as flinch. “That almost sounded like a threat, girlie. It’s a bad idea to threaten a Diamond City security officer.”

She chuckled, “Oh, no. I’m so scared!” Her eyelashes fluttered, “So are you taking these  cuffs off me or what?”

Deacon brushed the hair off her face and leaned down to kiss her, “Nah, I think I like you at my mercy like this.” His lips just barely brushed hers and she practically purred under him, melting into the kiss and sliding her tongue into his mouth. His hands anchored themselves in her hair and he stepped between her legs. He wanted to envelope her, keep her safe and sound and attached to him all the time...because she’d be a great agent, right? That’s all this was. The fact that pre-Deacon was already wanting to pick out china patterns that no longer existed wasn’t a big deal. Just a crush. They were always intense. He vaguely remembered his first still. His best friend. He’d been head over heels for her and look how that had turned out. No, this was…

There was a sudden click and he blinked and broke away from their kiss. Nora smirked at him like he was some green mark and brought her hands around, one side of the cuffs undone. Her hands flexed a bit in the gloves.

“God, that’s so much better. My pinkies were going numb.”

Deacon caught the glint of a bobby pin in her hand. How in the hell had she hidden that? “You cheater.”

She laughed, “I’m not a cheater. I’m an alleged criminal, remember? I’m supposed to be shady.” Not to be outdone, he took her bobby pin and undid the lock on the other cuff. She raised an eyebrow at him and looked mildly impressed. Her arms went around his neck and she smiled at him like they were far more than just two ships passing in the night. “Will you be home for dinner, honey bunny?”

Deacon smiled. A new game was already starting. Fantastic. “Yup. Right after my shift ends, sweetheart.”

Nora kissed his cheek, “I’ll be waiting.” She hopped off the table and let herself out of the interrogation room, blowing him a kiss as she left.

It occurred to him a split second later that she hadn’t even bothered to ask how he knew where she lived.

Chapter Text

Deacon decided giving her an hour to wait was a nice touch. He took his time setting the room to rights and cleaning up a bit. Couldn’t have the other oafs who skulked around here getting ideas about things they might get away with doing to Nora, or any other woman in Diamond City, for that matter. He also decided it would probably not be a good idea to actually show up at her door as security. People would notice that. A costume change was required.

He slipped off the persona of officer and slipped on George, galavanting tomcat and professional charmer and strutted across the market towards her door, almost more peacock than man. He paused outside Diamond City Surplus, staring at Percy thoughtfully. A true gentleman wouldn’t show up empty-handed, right? And George was nothing if not a consummate gentleman.

Percy just happened to have a few mutated fern flowers in stock. They’d look pretty in a vase. Deacon tossed him a few caps and bought three. Made for a sweet little bouquet and he just bet an old school kinda girl like Nora would have a vase...or something close to it, anyway.

He politely knocked on her door, flowers in hand and his best, most charming and debonair smile firmly in place.

“Who is it?” Her voice floated through the door. She hadn’t unlocked it yet. Smart girl.

For a second he almost didn’t know how to answer. Such a simple question and he had nothing but complicated answers for her. He decided to wing it and cleared his throat, “It’s me, darling.”

The door unlocked, opened just a bit and she peeked at him. “Oh, honey! You’re home!” She backed away and he pushed the door open, shutting it behind him before looking at her.

Holy hell.

Nora stood in nothing but a bib apron, those gloves and a smile. He glanced down at her feet. And heels. Of course. Her eyes were sparkling and she pressed a chaste kiss to his cheek like she wasn’t basically naked.

“How was your day?”

Deacon blinked behind his glasses and willed his brain to focus a little. “Uh...well, had a bit of trouble with a resident, but I handled it.”

She pouted at him, “Oh, baby. That’s just awful. Let me fix you a drink.” She turned to go over to her little kitchenette but Deacon grabbed her hand, stopping her.

“Wait, I um...I picked these up for you, princess.” He held up the flowers and the delighted surprise on her face was so genuine it almost broke his heart.

Nora accepted them and smiled up at him like the sun shined out his ass. “You’re always spoiling me, honey. Thank you.” He let her hand go and she headed to the kitchen, bending over once she got there so he got an amazing eyeful and finding a vase under the counter for her flowers.

He smirked a little at that and shook his head as he looked around her home.

It had that same clean Abraxo smell her room at the Rexford had. The walls had been whitewashed and the floor, while still a patchwork of materials, had been scrubbed to within an inch of its life. There was a small kitchen she was currently puttering around in and a comfortable looking set of living room furniture. A sofa and two chairs around a coffee table. Soft lamplight filled the space and he wondered where the bed was. Upstairs maybe? Or down the dark hallway to his left?

She looked over and noticed he was still standing and huffed at him, “Honey, sit down. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. You’ve been working hard all day, you should get off your feet.”

Deacon removed his bowler hat and tossed it on a small nearby table. He flopped on the couch and watched Nora at work. She was mixing something in a glass for him like she’d done it every day of their lives. He wondered if she’d done this kind of thing with her husband. Not as a game, but real. The American dream come true. Shit, if the sargent had had this to come home to, no wonder he’d survived the war.

She finally finished and brought his drink over. “Here you go. One mutfruit martini. Just the thing for a tough day at work.”

He accepted it and took a careful taste. He trusted her, mostly, but it never hurt to be cautious. It was powerful, but he was reasonably sure the only thing in it was alcohol and he smiled at her. “It’s perfect, kitten.” He tossed it back and set the glass on the table, grabbing her hand and tugging her down onto his lap.

She giggled and snuggled up against him. His arms went around her and he played with her hair idly instead of sliding his hands along her skin like he wanted. He was still pretty committed to pretending like he hadn’t noticed she was naked yet.

Nora sighed and relaxed under his touch. “I really did miss you.” That ring of truth in her voice made his heartbeat speed up and he hoped she wouldn’t notice.

“Sorry, babycakes. You know I hate leaving you alone, but somebody’s gotta go out and bring home the bacon.” Deacon tried to keep his tone light, teasing. He wanted them to get back to the game and away from whatever else was lurking around them.

She chuckled a bit, “I know. You’ve always been such a good...provider.” He smirked against her hair. She was pretty good with double entendre. Her fingers tightened on his shirt a little. “Did you miss me, too?” She sounded oddly vulnerable and he honestly wasn’t sure if it was part of the game or not.

Still, telling the truth here was fine. No harm in it, right? “Of course I did, sweetheart. You know I think about you every second we’re apart.”

The way her breath hitched, he knew she’d heard it. Well, that was alright. It was technically true. He had thought about her every day since the day he saw her down in the vault all those years ago. Didn’t actually mean anything...probably.

Her head came up off his shoulder and she gazed at him like she was trying to read his mind again. “Are you ever going to take these off?” She tapped his glasses with a single finger and he caught her hand before she tried something really stupid.

“Are you?” He squeezed and rubbed her glove pointedly and she looked away.

What the hell was the deal with them anyway?

“I...you don’t want me to.” She looked uncomfortable and he realized this was the first time he’d ever seen her fumble to answer him. She’d pulled her hand out of his and was holding it protectively against her chest, like he was just going to rip those stupid gloves off.

Not that he hadn’t considered it...

“Maybe I do.” He lifted her chin with his finger and was surprised that there were actual tears in her eyes. Real ones, too. Fuck. Time out. “Nora, what’s wrong?”

She shook her head and blinked the tears away. “Nothing. Nothing, I’m sorry. I’m ruining it.” The unhappy look on her face was killing him and he kissed her forehead so he didn’t have to see it.

“You aren’t ruining anything. You’re perfect.”

Nora laughed at that. “Hardly. I…”, she seemed poised to tell him something and he waited patiently like the predator he was. She shook her head and abruptly stood. He had a full second of pure panic before she looked down at him and smiled, “I want to show you something.” She held out her hand and he took it, standing and following her passively deeper into the darkness of her home.

Down the hallway was a whole other house almost. Big, roomy. She released his hand after they got to a curtain and paused to light a candle before she pushed it aside and stepped in. He followed and paused just inside, watching as she moved around the place, lighting candles along the way. Her bedroom. He liked it.

The floor felt a little softer beneath his shoes and he looked down. Multiple rugs had been thrown everywhere, some on top of each other even. It reminded him of an illustration he’d once seen about an actual harem and he chuckled a little. She’d hung up random curtains all along the walls and it lent a bohemian, artsy feel to the space. The bed was, frankly, ridiculously huge and he wondered where on earth Abbot had found it for her. It had real pillows on it, too. A whole fuckton of them. Blankets and sheets even.

This was a genuine boudoir if he’d ever seen one.

The candles she lit were all white, and he loved how her hair and eyes caught the shimmering light from them. He could see himself spending the rest of his natural life quite happily in a room like this and gave her a genuinely impressed smile when she finally turned to look at him.

“Damn, gorgeous. This is some set up you’ve got here.”

She grinned at him and blushed a little. “Thanks. It cost an obscene amount of caps but I’m moving here permanently, so I figured it was worth it.”

He raised an eyebrow. Moving here? That was interesting. He thought she just wandered around freely from place to place. “Moving from where?”

“Sanctuary Hills...er, Sanctuary. It’s a little settlement up north. Nice, but...there’s too many people there now.”

Oh, right. He’d heard about Sanctuary on the radio. That little hamlet. Her old, old home. He could definitely see why she’d want to leave that place. Too many memories. “There’s a lot of people here in Diamond City, too.” He couldn’t decide if he liked the idea of her being so centrally located and reasonably safe or if he didn’t like her being smack in the middle of a suspected Institute stronghold.

She shrugged, “I know, but they’re city people. They mind their own business. Mostly. Besides, I never really liked the suburbs anyway.” She gave him a cheeky kind of grin like there was a joke he wasn’t in on yet. “Take your shoes off and sit down on the bed.”

Fuck. Nice. Finally. He grinned back at her and shucked his shoes off, almost skipping to the bed and bouncing onto it. Thing felt amazing. Almost new. He raised up on one elbow, posing like some old pin-up to her delighted laughter.

“I said sit, silly. I still want to show you something.” She turned away from him and opened a drawer in her dresser. He pouted a bit and sat up, grumbling, but appreciating the view of her backside and the way that bow made it seem like a present just for him made him feel a little better at least.

She turned back around and his eyes widened imperceptibly behind his glasses. Her sketchbook was cradled in her arms. She was going to show him her drawings. Holy shit.

Nora stepped out of her own shoes, sat on the bed, and scooted close to him. Her eyes sparkled in the candlelight and Deacon briefly cursed that he still wasn’t sure exactly what color they really were. He knew they were hazel, but where they more green? Blue? Brown or gold, maybe? It drove him crazy.

“Okay, so...well...a long time ago, I used to draw. It’s how…”, she paused and shook her head. “No, I’m getting ahead of myself.” He watched her take a deep breath and realized she was excited. She was actually excited to share this with him. Him. What the hell? How could someone so sharp have such a ridiculous blindspot?

“Take your time, gorgeous.” Please, take your time. He needed a minute to convince himself he shouldn’t bolt away from this weird new feeling fluttering around in his chest.

She smiled at him, “Yeah...okay. I um...I don’t think I ever told you, but I was married once.”

He shrugged like he had no interest in this particular area of her life at all. “Hey, it happens. So long as no avenging husband’s gonna be coming after me, I don’t care.”

She snorted a little and he felt himself relax. So long as he could keep the jokes up, they were fine. “No, he...passed. If there’s a wronged man out there looking to kick your ass, it won’t be my fault.” He grinned at her like the tomcat he pretended to be and she rolled her eyes at him. “Anyway, before I met him, I...oh, wait.” She blinked and looked at him, “You’ve figured out I’m pre-war, right? Piper wrote that article about it.”

He mimicked shock, “What? That was you, babycakes? Wow.”

She smirked a little at him, “Okay, smartypants. Well, back before I met my husband, I was working through college doing caricatures of tourists. Boston used to be full of them, bumbling around in hideous outfits looking at all the historical junk, and you could pretty much charge them whatever you wanted.” She shrugged, “It was a pretty decent scene. I was able to save enough money during the summer season to cover most of the expenses my scholarship didn’t.” Her eyes softened in a way Deacon had never seen and his heart did a strange little flip-flop in his chest for some reason. “That’s how I met Nate. He was just another soldier on leave. Wanted a sketch of him and his buddies on the boardwalk.” She smiled at the memory. “I over-charged them like crazy. They were too drunk to notice and I needed the cash, no matter how cute he was...but, I left my phone number on the back.”

He chuckled a little. Her running a scam but still trying to get a date anyway. Sounded like something he’d pull.

“I didn’t think he’d call...I mean, they were really drunk. I wasn’t even sure he’d remember I’d been a woman, but he did. He called me the next day...late, after his hangover had passed, and we went out that night. Straight to the passion pit.” She grinned at him in a wicked sort of way that had the blood rushing out of his head.

“Uh...passion pit?”

She laughed and nodded, “Yeah, it’s what the kids used to call drive-ins. With good reason, too. I knew exactly what was up when he parked way in the back.”

That was different. Everything he’d ever read from back then said most girls moved slow. There were bases and you had to go on at least three dates or something before anything good happened.

“I thought people...you know, took their time with that kind of shit back then.”

Nora shrugged, “Some people did. Soldiers and sailors, in my personal experience, did not.” She winked at him and he chuckled. “Anyway, the point is, I can draw people pretty well...and I drew you.” She looked a little embarrassed. It was cute as fuck. “Do you want to see it?”

Pre-Deacon was going to have a stroke if he dared to say anything but yes, so Deacon nodded and watched her carefully flip through her drawings until she got to his page. She was still clutching the book to her chest a little, like she was almost scared to show him.

“Okay...just...well, I hope you like it.” She held the book out to him and he took it, carefully turning it in his hands like the treasure it was and stared down at the portrait she’d done of him.

His eyes about popped out of his head. It was him as a drifter in Goodneighbor. Propped up against that wall between K-LE-0 and Daisy’s. She’d captured him perfectly. He looked shady, kind of twitchy almost. How long had he spent perfecting those little movements to mimic an addict thinking about his next hit? And she’d completely nailed it. From memory. Holy fuck.

He almost touched it with his fingers and caught himself. That would damage it, right? You weren’t supposed to touch art like this. He looked up at Nora. She looked nervous, like it was actually possible that there would even be a tiny chance he wouldn’t love it.

“Wow...Nora...just, wow. This is amazing. You’re really talented.” Behold, folks, the understatement of the century.

Now she really blushed. She suddenly dropped her head so he wouldn’t see just how pleased he was, but he’d caught her smile anyway. She wiggled just a little like she couldn’t completely contain herself and murmured a thanks.

When she didn’t immediately take it back, he took it as an invitation to look through the other pictures. Ooh’ing and aah’ing like he’d never seen them before.

Then he got to the one just after him. MacCready...and his boy? The merc was pictured tossing him up in the air like he didn’t have a care in the world. Deacon looked up at Nora and frowned a little. How in the hell did she know what the kid’s kid looked like?

She caught his stare and misinterpreted it for once, “Oh, that’s...oh, right, you know Bobby. He has a little boy named Duncan. A real sweetheart. Poor baby’s been sick lately. We detoured a little after...well, it doesn’t matter.” She waved her hand like killing Kellogg was no big deal, or maybe like she didn’t feel like dwelling on it. “What’s important is, we found a cure for him. He’ll be alright now once Daisy’s friends get it to him.”

Deacon mulled over that for a bit. Her finding a cure for Duncan would definitely be a good reason for Mac to be so worshipful of her. He liked that her maternal instincts must have allowed her to set aside her desire to track down Kellogg’s boss long enough to help someone else’s child. He didn’t like how fondly she called him ‘Bobby’, like they were so super close extra special friends but maybe they kind of were? No one else in the Commonwealth even knew Mac was a father as far as Deacon knew, besides him...and Daisy, of course. She somehow always knew everyone’s business.

He turned his gaze back down to the picture. It had been a long, long time since he’d seen Duncan in person and back then he’d still looked quite potato-ish, but the kid she’d drawn resembled Lucy too much for the sketch to be inaccurate. Could she draw people that well from just a description? There was no hesitation in the lines that he could see. She’d drawn it like she was there.

“It’s uh...it’s good. So you got to meet him already?” Deacon rolled the bait in front of her, hoping she’d pounce and she almost fell for it.

“Oh, no, he’s…”, she paused as though she realized she was about to fuck up. “He’s um...back home. In the Capital Wasteland.” Her eyes darted away and he could see her trying to come up with a plausible lie. Interesting. “I um...Bobby showed... told me what he looked like.”

Deacon’s eyebrows about shot up into the stratosphere, not that she noticed since she was refusing to look at him. She’d tried a half-truth. The first part, ‘Bobby showed’, that was true. The rest was not. Somehow she’d seen Duncan. Mac had shown him to her. How? A photograph? Memory lounger, maybe? But if that were the case, why the hesitation? Memory loungers and pictures were rare but not a secret.

Her body language was shifting. Going from relaxed and happy to cagey and nervous. Deacon didn’t like that. He didn’t need to know this shit bad enough to ruin their night. Not right this second, anyway.

He turned the wattage on his best smile way, way up and attempted a Hail Mary, “So, you wanna draw me like one of your French girls or what?”

Nora blinked at him for just a second before dissolving into giggles. His smile became something a little closer to real and he passed the notebook back to her without being asked, an olive branch. She slipped off the bed to put it back in its drawer.

“I didn’t think anyone still knew that movie, honey.”

Deacon scooted over to the edge of her ridiculous bed and grabbed the bow on her apron, pulling her back to him until he could wrap his arms around her. “Maybe I’m a time traveler, too.” He whispered it in her ear like it was some big secret and she shivered.

“You might want to ask your travel agent for a refund then, because you picked a pretty bad time to visit.”

He hauled her back into bed and rolled them both so they were laying on their sides. Big spoon and little spoon. “Nope. You’re here so it’s the best time.”

She giggled and shook her head, “Slick. Might have to add that to the list of pickup lines. It’s a classic in the making.”

He smiled against the back of her neck a little. She still wasn’t as relaxed as she should be. Like she was waiting for something else, for him to pry a little more. He needed to give her something. She’d shared her book with him, after all. And that story about her husband. That was pretty big.

Deacon nibbled her ear for just a second, thinking...it would be a risk, but what wasn’t, right? And her home had no windows, so it should be fine, really. Daylight wouldn’t catch him out. He rolled his shoulders a little, preparing for the added vulnerability he was about to feel.

“It’s so bright in here...you know, if all these candles weren’t lit, I wouldn’t need these shades.” It was barely above a whisper when he said it, but still seemed very loud to him. Almost terrifyingly loud.

Nora’s breathing did that little hitch that always revealed too much, “I...I don’t want you to feel uncomfortable...and I still can’t take the gloves off.”

Wasn’t that sweet? She thought this was about an equal exchange of sorts. Tit for tat. Like he didn’t have so much more to lose if their relationship went south than she did.

“Not asking you to, sweetheart.” He sat up, hopped off the bed, and started extinguishing candles while she watched in the growing darkness. She untied her apron and tossed it aside before he got to the last one and he held the image of her on the bed in his mind as he fumbled back over. He felt the edge of her dresser with his hand and set his glasses carefully on it. Right within arm’s reach from his side (his side, wasn’t it all her side?) of the bed.

The darkness was absolute. Felt like a cave, almost. Just them and the slightly acrid smell of the candles. Silence reigned for just a moment and it felt heavy and oppressive to him without his glasses to hide behind.

“Well, shit. It’s dark in here.” She sounded almost absurdly surprised and he burst out laughing.

“Kinda the point, babycakes.” He moved forward cautiously until his legs bumped against the bed and carefully climbed in beside her.

Nora was giggling in the dark, “This isn’t going to mess up your flow, is it? I know how much you like to watch.”

Deacon snorted and reached a hand out. He found warm skin and palmed it. Ah, her shoulder. Helpful. “You’re still you, dark or not, right? Don’t worry about my flow, darlin’.”

He felt her hand skirt up his arm, then his shoulder, neck and finally she touched his face. Lightly, carefully. Almost like she was trying to see it without seeing it. Shit, was that possible? Would she be able to reproduce his face by feel alone?

He stamped down the panic and caught one of her fingers with his teeth. She squeaked in surprise and he chuckled at her before releasing it. Her hand went back to tracing along his shoulder instead and he smiled in the dark. Lesson learned.

Deacon carefully lowered his head until his lips touched skin. He explored around with his hands a bit and realized he must be right on her tummy. Fantastic. Her hands had moved along as well, and she was rubbing the back of his neck gently, like she knew this was kind of stressing him out. How the hell was she still able to read him even in the dark?

“So what should I call you tonight, baby? I assume you have a different name in Diamond City?”, her voice was softer, huskier than normal but he got it. The darkness seemed to amplify everything. There was no reason to be any louder than a whisper when they were already so focused on each other.

He smiled against her and nibbled his way up to her breasts. He’d missed those, too. So fucking soft and warm and perfect. Deacon nuzzled against her, the scruff of his carefully maintained, near permanent five o’clock shadow scratching her skin. “Sweetheart, you can call me anything you like.” He’d almost told her George, but that was hardly a name fit for right now. Too stuffy for proper playtime.

She huffed out a bit of laughter, “How about ‘mine’?”

Deacon froze for just a fraction of a second and mentally willed pre-Deacon to settle the fuck down. It was still a game. She was teasing. Her tone said so. Nothing to get hot and bothered about. The crisis came and went in the blink of an eye. He smiled against her again, “Now who’s slick?”

“Oh, me. It’s been me for a while now.” Her hand found his and guided it to the apex of her thighs and he laughed.

He lived for wordplay, after all.

Her hand trailed along his arm while his fingers slipped inside her, her happy sigh was like music to his ears and he took his time exploring her, slow and methodical. They had more than twelve hours until she had to go back to the runt, after all. They could do this all night and then some.

“You still have an awful lot of clothes on, honey. What’s that about?” He felt her fingers tug at his collar and he flexed his hand nice and deep inside her. He almost laughed at her soft cry, a little desperate whine like no one had touched her in ages. Like he hadn’t just fucked her silly a while ago. Greedy girl.

“I could stop and strip if that’s what you want.” He knew she couldn’t see his smirk, but she could sure as shit hear it.

Nora huffed a little and he could totally picture the petulant look on her face. It made him chuckle against her skin before he captured her nipple and tugged at it with his teeth. She squeaked in surprise and her hands found the buttons on his shirt, quickly undoing them. Ah. Loophole.

Deacon shrugged out of his shirt, laughing at her pouty sound when his fingers left her warmth, and carefully maneuvered his body between her legs. He was still kind of afraid at some point he was going to accidentally crush her so he kept his movements slow and deliberate.

She wiggled happily under him and he grinned at that. He knew she thought things were picking up but au contraire. He’d already fucked his edge off, thank you very much, he was more than happy to tease her into a frenzy tonight.

His started at her lips, nibbling just a little on the bottom one before settling his mouth on her’s. Their first proper kiss in her new home. A momentous occasion, surely.

Soft, sweet, just a hint of mutfruit. She tasted divine and Deacon kind of loved that a little too much. There was something about how she tasted everywhere that just got to him. How many times had he spaced out the month since their first night daydreaming about sampling her again? Thank God for his shades or people would’ve started thinking he was daft with the unfocused, spacey look he knew his face wore whenever thoughts of Nora danced through his head.

Her hands were almost unreasonably soft and gentle on him, sliding up his arms and running over his shoulders. Just a ghost of a touch and it was still enough to make him crazy. She had to know what she was doing to him, right? That she was rendering the one of the Commonwealth’s best and brightest into little more a panting beast. She read people too well to not know. He decided to tell her anyway, just in case.

Deacon ended their kiss and nibbled his way down her throat, pausing here and then to leave a few love bites. He knew there was nothing between her and the kid, of course, but that didn’t stop him from wanting to mark her as his so the shrimp knew it.

“You drive me crazy, sweetheart. You know that?” He whispered against her breastbone and was kind of surprised at the adoring tone in his voice. When had that crept in there?

He felt rather than heard the gentle laughter in her. “Good. Then we can be crazy together.” Her hand just barely brushed over his head in a comforting kind of gesture and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. He felt like maybe the darkness was making them a little too honest with each other.

They needed a joke. Something. Anything. All the shards of people in his brain collectively shrugged and pre-Deacon took his chance to be the schmuck he’d always been. “What color are your eyes, princess?” Fuck.

“Hazel.” Nora sounded a little smug, like she knew it wouldn’t be enough. It wasn’t. It absolutely wasn’t. Pre-Deacon was about to pitch a bitch-fit if he didn’t get a better answer and so he pinched her, hard for tonight anyway, right on the soft underside of her breast. She jumped and one of her hands slapped his shoulder in retaliation while she giggled. “Ow! What’s with you and pinching today?” He smiled against her and kissed the skin he’d just bruised, a wordless apology, and she huffed. “Fine, they’re green-gold hazel. Happy now, Captain Crab-hands?”

He laughed against her, “As a clam, sweetheart.”

She laughed with him for a moment and then stopped and paused. He knew exactly what she was going to ask before she asked it. “What color are yours?”

Yup. He knew it. “What color do you want them to be?” He was almost at her belly button, his hands still staying neatly out of play, his thumbs just barely touching her sides.

“You can’t see it, but I just rolled my eyes so hard they fell out of my head.”

He nibbled along the little silvery lines he knew where there. “Well, that’s a real shame. They sounded so pretty, too.”

She snorted with laughter and he grinned against her right up until he found it. On his way to her left hip bone. Something new. Something wrong. She froze when his lips brushed it and when she started to move like she was going to sit up his hand was there, suddenly, on her chest just below her throat, holding her down.

Deacon felt her breath shudder but she didn’t try to stop him. His carefully brought his other hand up to explore her skin, trying to picture it in his mind, tracing the little raised lines where once there’d only been smooth perfection.

“Nora, what happened?” He didn’t mean for the dark tone of anger to come through, not on such a mellow night, but the sudden fury within him was a living, breathing thing that would not be denied.

She was breathing shallowly beneath him. “Um…” Her voice was soft but her hesitation was screaming at him in the dark.

His hand skirted up a bit more, fingers wrapping around her throat. Not squeezing, just as a warning. “Don’t you dare try to lie to me right now.” Pre-Deacon stopped freaking out about her new scar to switch gears and berate him for being such a hypocrite. He mentally shrugged it off and kept his focus on her and her answer.

One of her hands found his near her hip and settled over it, thumb rubbing in a reassuring kind of way. Her voice was soft and soothing when she spoke, “That man...the one I told you about in Goodneighbor? The bastard? Well...he didn’t exactly go quietly. Men like that rarely do, right?”

Kellogg. Of course. Shit. Of course she wouldn’t get away clean from a fight like that. Her scar felt enormous under his hand and he thought hard, trying to remember what kind of gun the merc had preferred.

Once again, she read his mind. “It was a revolver. Big. Loud. I’ll never forget how it sounded. It was the same gun...the same one he broke my heart with.” She hiccuped just a bit at the end and his hand left her throat to carefully brush against her face. Tears. Shit. “My armor slowed the bullet down too much and it...didn’t go through, so Bobby had to…”

Deacon pressed a kiss to her scar and slipped both arms under her, wrapping her in a tight embrace and nuzzling against her, waiting for her silent sobs to stop. Mac would have had to dig the bullet out of her before using a stimpak. Goddammit. He should have been there.

He wasn’t sure if she was crying for herself or Nate and he didn’t feel like it was his place to get in the way of her grief. He settled for letting pre-Deacon loose internally so he could saberrattle a bit in his mind and torture him like he deserved.

Eventually she sniffled a little and her hands rubbed his shoulders like he was the one who needed comforting. She’d been the one who got shot. By a professional. With a motherfucking hand cannon. While he’d been sitting on his ass at HQ doing fuck-all. He could practically smell the hot, metallic scent of her spilled blood. See the way she would have gone pale, hear her cries once the shock wore off and the pain set in...

“Baby? It’s okay. I’m okay.” There was concern in her voice, almost a hint of alarm and Deacon raised his head, confused for a second before the cool air in the room hit his face and he realized it was wet. He was crying. Actually crying. Real tears. Shit. Too real. Everything was too real, suddenly. This darkness crap had been a terrible idea.

What the hell was he supposed to do? If he bugged out now, he’d do irreparable damage to their relationship. She’d never forgive him. He had to tough it out, right? Get them past this and onto funtime where talking and feelings were optional but not required.

Fuck. There was only one thing to do. Escape without escaping. Deacon took a deep breath and let the shards fall away back into the nothingness from whence they’d came. Pre-Deacon was all too eager to come out and play.

Chapter Text

The man Deacon had once been slid over into the driver’s seat of his mind and he felt a sense of calm settle over him. This was fine. This was beautiful, actually. She was here, soft and warm and wonderfully alive and his. All his. Every inch of her belonged to him. He knew it, she knew it, someday everyone would know it. It was just a matter of time.

Had Nora been able to actually see him, she’d have been shocked at the changes on his face. This self smiled easily, honestly. His eyes almost as soft as his heart, the blue in them like a bright, endless sky. It was all wrong on the face he currently wore, of course. It belonged on a face that hadn’t existed since he was twenty years old, but it was him. The original him.

As it was, he knew she felt a difference in how he moved. He was a little less fluid, more earnest as he moved off her and carefully gathered her into his arms, his hands skating along her body like he’d never touched her before. And he hadn’t. Not really. The shell he usually wore was ridiculously jealous of her and hardly ever let him peek through and get a taste. Wasn’t very nice, to his way of thinking. There was more than enough of her to go around. Lots of facets to explore and be shared. His other self had always been a selfish prick, really. Clearly out of his depth with a girl like this.

He brushed his lips against her hair and pressed the softest of kisses against her temple. She was a treasure. His treasure. He’d found her buried away like some ancient relic from an almost forgotten time, hadn’t he? Right down in that vault like it was goddamn fate. X marks the spot.

“I’m just so glad you’re alright, princess.” Truth. He made zero effort to hide it because what the hell was the point of all that shit anyway? Fuck it.

Her breath hitched in her chest a little at the sound of his voice. It was different, too. Still deep and rumbly and soothing, but the edge was gone. The little bits of self-hatred his shell decorated himself with had fallen away. All that was left was him, the fool in love.

“I…”, her hands came up, gently brushed his face like she couldn’t believe it was him. He grinned in the inky darkness and kissed her gloved fingertips when they found his lips. “Baby, you...are you sure you’re alright?” She sounded uncertain, nervous to find a stranger in her bed so suddenly.

He chuckled. “David. My name is David.” It felt good to say it again after so long. He knew Deacon would be pissed but too bad. The old man had tapped out.

“David.” She breathed it out and he breathed it in. God, it sounded amazing coming from her. He was going to hold onto that forever, no matter what.

His lips found hers and he kissed her, relishing in the honey there. She melted against him and he loved that. One of his hands slipped into her hair, not to grab or control, just to be there, cradling her head like she was made from spun glass. She felt so good to hold. So easy to love. He had no idea why Deacon kept fighting it so damn hard. Everything they could possibly want in the whole world was right here wrapped up in an exquisite package that, for whatever reason, had chosen them. Man was a damn fool.

One of her hands slid down to his pants and she tugged a little. He smiled into their kiss and took the hint, his hand leaving her hair to make quick work of his fly. Whatever the lady wanted, she was damn well gonna get under his watch. That teasing shit was overrated anyway.

He carelessly kicked off his pants and then rolled so she was back under him and wished futilely he could have just one candle lit. There was no way in hell Deacon would allow that, but still. Picturing her in his mind’s eye was fine and all, but he ached to see how she looked right now. Probably flushed, eyes all sparkly, her dark hair a perfect backdrop for all that creamy skin she had. David sighed. Maybe someday.

His slowly rolled his hips against hers, his cock sliding along her slit and holy shit that felt good. Damn. No wonder Deacon never wanted to share. She made happy little sounds and he dropped soft kisses along her jawline. God, she was perfection.

“You’re so beautiful, Nora. So sweet and soft.” He nuzzled against her neck and felt a shiver go through her as her hands slid along his back, tracing the tight muscles there and just so fucking soothing.

“You aren’t so bad yourself, David.” She sounded so excited, breathless and waiting. For him. His heart was fit to burst; and she’d said his name again. Like she loved it. Loved him! God, this was amazing and they hadn’t even hardly done anything yet.

He wanted to pour his heart out to her, somehow, someway. Deacon would never, ever let him actually say the words he wanted, though. He’d come back, muck up everything like the life ruiner he’d always been and their playtime would be over. Fuck that. This was David’s night, dammit. Deacon could have his place by her side back in the morning.

Still...yeah, that could work. It might squeak by the old asshole.

“Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the young women…”, David murmured softly into her ear, his eyes closed even in the dark. He had to really focus here. Hadn’t thought about this stuff in years. He pressed a light kiss to her temple. “How beautiful you are, my darling. Oh, how beautiful.”

Nora had almost stopped breathing she was so focused on his words. He moved over to her lips and found that they were waiting for him, already parted and addictive like he imagined ambrosia must be. He kissed her and it was a kind of worship. “Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely.”

He just barely licked her tongue with his, the slightest of touches. Like he knew he wasn’t worthy but had to have a taste anyway...which was true. Everything about this was the truth. She moaned softly into his mouth and for a second he was lost. The sound filled his mind until there was room for almost nothing else.

But he still had so much more to say, so he pressed on, abandoning her lips and skirting down to her breasts, one of his hands adding to his careful exaltation of her body. “Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.” His lips just barely brushed against her skin, leaving little goosebumps in its wake, his hand mimicking the feather light touch.

She was cradling his head now, as gentle as he’d been before with her, like he was every bit as precious as she was and wasn’t that something; the way she didn’t seem to care how hardened and broken he was. How she somehow saw everything that was in him and embraced it like it was something good, something pure like she was. Not this shattered, tainted husk of a man he saw himself as. She was extraordinary in her mercy.

“I know this...this is...Song of Songs, right?” Her voice was soft, hesitant, like she was worried she’d interrupted his prayer.

David smiled against her breast. Of course she’d know it. She was brilliant; curious and bright. Gifted, even. Educated to boot. Flawless. Everything he’d ever wanted and so much more than he’d ever dared to hope for.

He moved back up her body, his lips brushing hers softly as he spoke, “Until the day breaks, and the shadows flee, I will go to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of incense. You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” He felt her smile under him and knew she understood. She knew precisely what he was trying to say to her.

“I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.” She whispered it just before their lips met and he wondered if Moses had felt the same sense of awe when he spoke to the Burning Bush.

He couldn’t take it anymore. David carefully guided his cock into her, gently rocking back and forth until she adjusted around him. She felt like heaven and her hips matched his rhythm joyfully, like a dance, her legs wrapping around him and keeping him close. As if he’d ever dream of going anywhere.

This was exactly where he belonged; where they belonged. Tucked into bed together, making love like they were the only two people in the world. Let the world burn around them, so long as she was in his arms. They were Adam and Eve. Odysseus and Penelope. Darcy and Elizabeth. Perfect. Perfect perfect perfect. David swore to God, right there and then, that if Deacon somehow let this get fucked up, he’d destroy him from the inside out, no matter how long it took.

It was almost too much. All these wonderful sensations, amplified by the comforting darkness around them. He had to break away from her lips, precious though they were, and buried his face against her neck. Tears were sliding down his face, but they were from happiness this time. Just the fact that this glorious creature would deign to consort with someone like him was giving him renewed faith in all of humanity in general. She was so full of love and kindness and warmth and so generous to share it someone as unworthy as him.

It was hard, maintaining control of himself like this. He wanted to make her happy. So happy that even when Deacon was abusing her body like he liked, she’d be dreaming of him and how he’d made her feel instead. But she just felt so good. The way she moved beneath him, the sounds she made, how her hands had slid down to his ass to pull him even deeper within her. He knew one of them was about to lose it. At this point he was just desperately hoping it was her first.

Nora started whispering in his ear and he could actually hear the smile in it. “ Come slowly, Eden! lips unused to thee, Bashful, sip thy jasmines, As the fainting bee, Reaching late his flower, Round her chamber hums, Counts his nectars --enters, And is lost in balms...” Poetry. Dickinson. Of course it was. One of her hands slid up, cradling his head against her and he felt her body start to gently convulse around his cock, her whole body shivering beneath his, whimpering soft, melodic cries in his ear.

David tumbled right after, coming deep inside her with a gasp, his arms wrapping around her and holding on like he never wanted to let go. Which, honestly, he didn’t. He could die right here and now and be perfectly happy to do so.

He snuggled against her, breathing her in, trying to memorize every tiny detail of this moment. Deacon wasn’t going to be able to keep him from her, not after tonight, but it might be a long, long time before he was allowed so much freedom again. The thunder in his ears finally subsided and he carefully slid out of her when her legs finally let him go. God, he wished he could see her face right now.

Instead, David settled for gathering her up and slipping them both under the covers. She needed rest and he wasn’t greedy unlike some people.

He gently combed through her hair with his fingers, relishing in the cool, silky feel of it. He was already starting to tire, the familiar pain in his head creeping up on him. It had been ages, years even, since he’d been out so long. Still, he fought it. Once he fell asleep, he’d be gone, back down into another kind of endless dark. She’d go to bed with David, but wake up with Deacon. There was nothing he could do about that and he kind of hated it.

Nora’s hands still had just a bit of a tremble to them when she found his face, touching him softly like she knew he was no more substantial than a soap bubble. Her voice was gentle when she spoke, like she really, truly cared. “You’re so different tonight, baby.”

He smiled at that. Good. He never, ever wanted her to mistake him for that snake. “Good different or bad different?”

She giggled quietly like it was a silly question, “Just different. I like you this way, too...I didn’t know you could be so...reverent.” Her fingertips traced along his lips and he shivered at her touch. “You know I’m just a regular, mortal woman and not some unknowable goddess, right?”

He chuckled. He liked it when she teased him. “That sounds exactly like something an unknowable goddess would say.”

Her soft laughter filled his heart. It drifted into silence but it wasn’t uncomfortable to David. On the contrary, in fact. Silence was an old friend of his, as welcome as any other. He didn’t know what it made Deacon so twitchy for.

“Do...do you still want to know about the gloves?”

David blinked in the dark. Her voice was so unsure, so honest. She trusted him. He knew what he had to do. He’d never, ever betray that trust. “No, princess. It’s not important tonight.” Pain shot through his head and he squeezed his eyes shut against it, willing his body to remain relaxed so she wouldn’t notice. Deacon was furious with him, he could feel it. The waves of anger and dark rage rolling through his head like a storm on the ocean.

“Are you sure?” She sounded surprised but relieved.

He smiled, even though she couldn’t see it; and even though the pain was a writhing, hateful thing within him now. He’d clearly made the right choice, old man be damned. “M’hmm.” Deacon was trying to reassert his authority already. It was so hard to hold on to who he was.

Nora nestled against his chest, happy and content and having no idea of the battle royale happening in the man next to her. “Okay...thank you, David. Thank you for understanding.” She pressed a kiss against his chest and his smile grew, even as the tears poured down his face.

He was going to be punished for this one. Severely. David might not clearly see Nora again for ages after tonight. He didn’t care. He was spitefully glad that he’d been able to be true to her. That he still had enough of himself left that he could manage that, at least. Let the wolf howl all he wanted. What’d he know of true love anyway?

David focused hard on staying awake, keeping himself in place while she drifted off. Deacon was scraping along the edges of his control, desperate to take over, take the words back and demand answers in that slick way of his. He didn’t want that. If he could just stall him long enough, make them both sleep until the morning, those words would solidify in such a way that Deacon wouldn’t be able to take them back. Not without damaging the relationship between him and Nora. He deliberately walked back through his memories, forcing the old man with him. The ones he knew Deacon shied away from. Especially about her.

She’d been a goddess, too. A true force of nature. Their love could have really made a difference in the world if it had ever been allowed to bloom fully. If he focused hard enough, he could clearly see the brightness of her smile; the agile way she always moved, so quick and light on her feet. Even further back, his first friend; his first love. She’d been a leader, even back then, and he would have followed her forever. So amazingly smart. Brilliant, really. A crackerjack of a girl. She’d been his whole world until that last horrible day when everything had so suddenly gone to shit. Further, farther back, to something even almost less than a memory. Just a warm idea of someone who’d once loved him, wanted him.

Nora was asleep, safe in her dreams, when David finally let himself fall. The pressure was just too much. He was positive though that Deacon would stay gone until morning at least. He smiled in a fierce sort of way that had once terrified countless enemies. He’d done all he could to protect her. The sad irony of his final act tonight being one of sacrifice, acting as a shield against corrupting forces, wasn’t lost on him.

Being a meat shield for others was what he did best, after all. Always had been. At least this time he’d successfully saved the woman he loved, for a few more precious hours, anyway.

 

Deacon’s eyes snapped open in the dark. He could hear the faint sounds of the market and Diamond City waking up. Had to be around seven. Nora was still sleeping, of course, wrapped in his arms and snuggled under the covers like they were some sappy married couple.

He slid away from her in the dark, slipping a pillow in his place when she murmured a bit at the disruption. His hands easily found the glasses in the dark, and he held them tightly as he made his way to the partially hidden door he’d noticed earlier. Had to be a bathroom. A pre-war princess like her wouldn’t live in a home without one, after all.

He felt along with his hands carefully, methodically, until he found a door knob and let himself in, only searching for the light when the door was firmly closed behind him.

His fingers finally found it. A tiny chain in the dark. He pulled it and immediately blinded himself.

He squinted until his eyes adjusted. There was a working toilet, a small shower and a sink. Even a mirror. Perfect.

Deacon looked into the mirror and stared at David’s eyes, defiant and troublesome and self-destructively noble as ever. The fool.

He whispered quietly so there’d be no chance Nora would hear him essentially talking to himself in her bathroom like a crazy person. “I hope you enjoyed your little adventure last night, bucko, because that’s the last taste of her you’re getting for a long ass time.”

David said nothing. Just flooded Deacon’s mind with a smug sense of pride and a shocking lack of remorse for his actions. Silent treatment. Like the child he was.

Deacon shoved his glasses back on his face, hiding the look of almost pity that had started showing through. Fuck. Even when pre-Deacon hated him, he still felt sorry for him, too. That was the kid’s whole damn problem. His fucking out of control empathy. And he wondered why Deacon kept him on such a short leash. Idiot.

He took his time, swishing water from the sink around in his mouth before using the bathroom. He was pretty sure it was all in his head, but he always felt like pre-Deacon left a bad taste in his mouth. Saccharine and self-righteous...if self-righteous had a flavor, anyway. He stretched, neck popping a little when he twisted his head, and by the time he glanced back at his reflection, it was all Deacon. Large and in charge just like he liked it. He grinned at himself and waltzed out, grabbing a handy little bottle that caught his attention on the way. He left the light on so it spilled out and softly illuminated her room.

Nora was laying right where he’d left her, curled up around her pillow like the sweet little cutie-pie she was. Deacon looked over his glasses at her so he could see properly and snorted. Kid hadn’t left a single mark on her. What a pansy.

That scar was peeking over the edge of her hip a bit. Damn. Red, angry lines that had no place on a body like hers. He felt irrationally angry at Mac for just a second before logic tossed it aside. The kid was a lot of things, but sloppy field medic? No. He knew what he was doing out there. Whatever the damage had originally been must have been horrific if even Mac’s careful hands and stimpaks had left this behind. As upset as Deacon still was that he hadn’t been there to protect her, part of him was very, very glad he hadn’t actually witnessed her getting hurt like that. He wasn’t at all sure how he would have reacted, and a known unknown was always best avoided.

Fuck, she looked delicious laying there. All defenseless like that. Like there totally wasn’t a dangerous monster in the room with her. He chuckled quietly and moved like a ghost back to her bed. Such an innocent still for all her worldly knowledge. Something about the whole idea actually made his balls feel heavy and hot while he stared at her.

Deacon set the bottle aside for now and slipped behind her, tugging the blanket down and smirking a little when she hugged the pillow tighter. The air in her room was cool, but she’d be warm soon enough. He’d make sure of that.

He put a hand on her shoulder, firm but gentle, and pushed until she rolled over onto her belly, her pillow going under her and propping her hips up just a little. That made him smile. Perfect as always. She yawned and stretched a little, her eyes just barely opening. That child’s name almost came out of her mouth, but Deacon’s hand was there, keeping it back.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Last night was just a dream, gorgeous, and it’s not time to get up yet. Go back to sleep for me.”

Nora’s eyes focused just long enough to take him in, catching the change in him even if she didn’t understand it; and she gave him a sweet, sleepy smile when he removed his hand. “Okay, baby…”, it came out softly mumbled, like she really was going back to sleep. He grinned wickedly at her as her eyes slid shut again. She knew this was another game.

Deacon was all about fun little games.

He straddled her, his almost painfully hard cock resting against her ass as he pressed kisses down her back. She shivered but remained obediently pliant and relaxed. This was one of his favorite games by far and he was so glad she wanted to play it. He wondered how far he could go before she dropped the act of innocently sleeping victim, grinning against her skin.

His fingers found her already wet for him and he shoved two inside her roughly, not bothering to prepare her first. The best part of this game was he got to be as depraved and as cruel as he wanted. That was the whole point, after all.

He fucked her with his hand hard enough to actually scoot her body up the bed a little, the muscles in his forearm bulging, so he grabbed her hair roughly to help hold her in place. He heard the cry that almost escaped her throat before she caught it, like she was shocked at his violence.

Deacon chuckled at her naivete. What a silly, trusting princess she really was deep down.

“Such a good little slut for me, aren’t you, kitten? Look how wet you are already and I’ve barely even touched you.” He pushed his hand against her especially hard and spread his fingers deep within her. Her breath hissed out, but otherwise she gave no indication that she was awake at all. Fucking amazing.

His hand left her pussy and he wiped it off on her ass before he slapped it hard enough to leave a handprint, the loud crack close to echoing in her quiet house. She jumped a little when he did, but still didn’t make any noise. He almost laughed. She was so damn stubborn and he loved it. He paused to slap the other cheek, too, just for good measure. A bit harder than the first but not enough to bruise...probably. He mentally shrugged. It didn’t really matter, so long as she didn’t end the game.

Deacon kept a restraining hand in her hair and grabbed the bottle from before. Some kind of clear oil she no doubt used to keep that skin of hers obscenely smooth and delicious. He flipped it open with his thumb and drizzled it over her ass.

Nora went unnaturally still under him for a moment and he paused, too, watching her face with an eyebrow raised. She was thinking about stopping him, he could tell. That wouldn’t do.

He snapped the bottle shut, tossed it aside, and soothingly rubbed the oil across her skin until she relaxed back into her languid, helpless pose. It made him smirk wickedly, and he sent a silent, mocking sort of thanks to pre-Deacon for instilling this level of trust in her for him.

His hand left her ass just long enough to pump his cock a few times, coating it in the oil before he leaned back just a little and pressed it into her pussy. She tried to sneakily open her legs a bit under him, and he clamped them shut with his own. This particular position was incredibly tight and satisfying for him, but did almost nothing for her so long as he kept his thrusts shallow. That was the whole damn idea. He needed her aching to be filled before he attempted the next step.

He settled behind her, everything exactly as he wanted it, and he let her hair go so he could hold onto her hips with both hands. She shivered when he did and he couldn’t help it, he laughed. She really thought she was going to get a proper fucking like she wanted.

Silly kitten.

Deacon slowly pumped in and out of her, his cock maybe only ever going a few trifling inches inside her pussy, the friction caused by her closed thighs making him groan. God this felt fucking divine and he was getting to torture someone to boot. Transcendent.

Nora was surely pouting by now, at least on the inside. He could tell by how tense her shoulders were. Like she was having to press herself down into the bed deliberately so she wouldn’t break yet.

He tipped his head back a little, happy to have nothing but the feel of his skin on hers to focus on for a moment. It was tempting, so very tempting, to just let go. Maybe let himself come all over her back or that ass. He indulged in the fantasy for just a minute. The way she’d pout, how he’d make her finish herself off while he watched, of course. He’d leave right after. Maybe he’d even fuck her mouth before he went, his hands never even thinking of touching her where she needed it most or bringing any kind of relief. The cruelty of it, even just imagined, was mouthwatering.

Not that he’d ever be so mean to his precious girl. No, he wanted her happy, addicted to him, even. Physically, anyway.

“Damn, you feel so good, princess.” His hand slid back over her ass and he teasingly rubbed her hole with his thumb. “I bet this feels good, too, doesn’t it?” She was trembling beneath him but made no attempt to stop him. He smiled at her tenacity and shook his head. Her obstinate streak was going to benefit him immensely, he already could tell. Once engaged in a battle of wills, she didn’t back down for anything. He loved that.

His thumb sank into her, slowly. Her breathing had changed, becoming shallow, her lips barely parted so she could pant beneath him while still pretending to be asleep. His impeccable little actress. What a good girl she was.

Deacon was honestly happy to have the distraction of monitoring her like this. It made keeping his own orgasm at bay a million times easier when his mind had to be actively engaged while they fucked. Once his thumb was fully inside her, he waited patiently until her body relaxed around it before withdrawing it slowly. He replaced it with his forefinger and went deeper this time, being careful to wait until she accepted it before wiggling a second finger into her.

Nora actually gasped when he did, and his eyes snapped up to her face. There was a tiny frown of concentration there and he applauded her fortitude in his mind since his hand was busy and all.

He kept his voice low and soft, gently encouraging, “There you go, kitten. Nice and slow. It’s okay. Just stay asleep and let me take care of you.” It sounded so sincere to his own ears that he had to really work to keep the mocking smirk off his face.

She had to be hungry by now, surely. He was fucking starving and he was actually kind of getting off already.

Deacon slid his cock out from between her thighs and rested it against her ass, letting her feel the weight and heft of it. It was generous, he knew, to give her this last chance to stop the game, but he was a generous kind of guy, after all. It was the gentlemanly thing to do, really, when you were about to destroy someone’s ass.

When her only response was to sigh softly, and snuggle a little further onto the bed, Deacon shook his head, chuckling. She was so...fuck, wonderful, really. Pre-Deacon was definitely right about that. He let him flicker through, for just a second, so he could take in the scene and Deacon snickered at his distress. Just the idea that she might be hurt, even if she liked it, was killing him.

That was the whole point behind this game. He wasn’t looking to dominate Nora. No. He liked her feisty and sassy and unafraid. Pre-Deacon, on the other hand, clearly needed a lesson on who was actually the boss in their relationship. That child had cost him big with that noble crap about the gloves...and who’d he think he was kidding with that ancient bullshit he had spouted at her, anyway. Like Deacon wouldn’t recognize Song of Songs? Please.

Pre-Deacon thought he’d really accomplished something for himself last night. He’d truly started to believe Nora would actually prefer him over Deacon. Kid was getting too big for his britches. She might like that lovey-dovey shit, but she loved this. Loved being used by him, loved how he pushed her, loved letting him hurt her. If pre-Deacon had somehow not gotten the memo on that yet, he was damn well gonna today.

Deacon held him there against the backs of his eyes for just a second. ‘You understand, boy? Whatever I do to her this morning, it’s on you. All of it.’ Pre-Deacon’s distress grew until he turned tail and fled, like the weakling he’d always been. He let him scurry off, soaking up his terror and shame. There was only room for big boys in Nora’s bed. This was no place for children.

He turned his full attention back to her and slowly slid his length back and forth against her ass, just to see how nervous she really was. His princess was pretty skilled at controlling the little signals that the typical human body gave off instinctually and he wondered idly where that ability had come from. Especially in a soft pre-war girl. Was it something all lawyers were taught? Maybe for performances in front of wary juries? Or something else?

She finally shivered, almost imperceptibly, and he saw the goosebumps finally form on her arms. Deacon grinned at that. So she was a little edgy. Nice. He could tell she’d done this before, but the first time with a new partner was always exciting, almost dangerous. Especially when that new partner was a man like him.

Part of him, the part that didn’t really care who she was, so long as he got to use her body, wanted to take her now. Rough and hard. Make her cry a little, maybe a lot. Deacon frowned at that. It always bothered him that there were a few slivers in the box that lacked any kind of subtlety or forethought.

He grabbed that handy little bottle of oil again and liberally poured it over his cock and her ass, almost in defiance of the sadist within him. This was about having fun, not about terrorizing their princess, for fuck’s sake. Deacon shook his head in annoyance. You let pre-Deacon out for one night and suddenly everyone thinks they can get away with whatever fool thing they want to do. Unbelievable.

Deacon pressed the head of his cock against her hole and leaned into it until he breached her body. She made a tiny, tiny sound, almost like an actual kitten mewl, and turned her face into the bed. He smirked at that. Little cheater.

Christ, she felt so good. Not as good as her pussy or mouth, but pretty fucking fantastic anyway. So tight and hot and smooth. He positioned his knees a bit further up and worked his cock deep within her, slowly and carefully, until he was as deep as he could get, his balls up against her pussy and his mouth right by her ear. Her breath was shuddering in and out of her now, hands clutching the blankets, and he indulged just for a moment, swiveling his hips around to stretch her more fully and drinking in the way she shivered.

He brought his hands up and reassuringly rubbed her shoulders, kneading the tense muscles there. She was working so hard to play the game, after all. Helping her along was the least he could do. When she finally relaxed, he pressed a soft kiss against her ear.

“Here’s what’s going to happen, princess. You’re going to let Daddy indulge a little, and then, if you’re really good, I’ll spend the rest of the morning making you come until you can’t stand it. How’s that sound?” She gave zero indication that she’d even heard him, except his felt her ass tighten around his cock a little. He chuckled. He’d never had a playmate more committed to staying in character than he was.

His hips pressed against her and he put enough of his weight behind it that it pushed her body up a little. He was pretty sure she was determined enough to keep feigning sleep that he could fuck her right off the bed and she’d let him. Internal Deacon was briefly smitten by the whole idea before snorting at the ridiculousness of it.

He slid his arms under her, one hand finding an impossibly hard nipple and rolling it between his fingers, pinching and twisting cruelly. If he hadn’t been pressed so close against her, he probably would have missed the little distressed sound that resonated for a split second in her throat. As it was, that sweetly helpless noise was enough to break a few of the chains he kept on his own self-control.

He released her nipple and wrapped his arms around her waist, anchoring himself to her so she wouldn’t accidentally slide away, before he started really moving. Slowly pumping in and out of her, almost in awe of how limp and unresistant she was able to keep herself. If he’d been anyone else, he’d have been worried she’d passed out or something.

Since it was him, though, he focused on marking her back while he fucked her, biting and sucking so her pretty skin would become a rainbow of bruises. Teeny, tiny, almost not-even-there whimpers kept occasionally escaping her and he thrust a little harder into her whenever they did. He wasn’t sure if it was a reward or a punishment at this point but the way his impending orgasm was coming at him like a freight train, he didn’t really care.

Finally satisfied that she’d wear his colors for quite some time, he positioned his arms, hands wrapping around her shoulders, pushing her down into the bed with his weight and securing leverage for the grand finale. Deacon waited for Nora to involuntarily brace herself and was impressed when she didn’t. If anything, she went even deeper into her role, more puddle than woman at this point.

Then again, submission before a larger predator was sometimes an effective survival strategy. Smart little cookie, his princess.

Deacon’s smile became unhinged as he finally let the monster within slip the leash, his thrusts going from mildly punishing to harsh and brutal. It was glorious, how quiet and peaceful his own mind went while he slammed into her, embracing the endless rage, thinking of nothing but getting off and his own pleasure. He didn’t last long but he didn’t need to. Her turn would come later, anyway. When he came, it was hard, deep within her; an almost inhuman, beastial sound tearing out of his throat when he did.

When it was finally over, he lay heavily on her, panting and letting his sweat soak into her skin. Pre-Deacon was nudging him, actually trying to timidly suggest they move. That maybe she needed to catch her breath, too, and just for a second, he let just how fucking satisfying it really felt to brutalize her like this reach him. He smiled as the boy shrank away, immediately making a panicked dive back down into the darkness. Chickenshit.

Deacon finally caught his breath and slid out of her. He braced his weight on his arms and lightly nuzzled against her hair.

“Wake up, sleeping beauty.” There was zero trace of the violence of the last half hour in his voice at all.

Nora’s head turned slightly. Her cheeks were bright and rosy when he gently moved her hair out of the way and her eyes, when they opened, sparkled with something close to satisfied mischief at having won the game.

Fuck. Deacon could totally see himself loving her someday, if he’d actually been capable of that kind of emotion.

“Good morning, baby.” She licked her lips a little and Deacon pressed a quick kiss to the corner of her mouth, making her smile. “Did you...have any good dreams?” The lightly teasing tone in her voice made him chuckle.

“Yeah. Yeah, I did. You?”

“M’hmm. A couple, actually.”

He pressed a few gentle kisses against the bite marks that had started to turn deep purple already. “You want the first shower?” Ideally, they’d shower together, but her bathroom was too small for that kind of fun. Plus, this gave them both a little breather.

She chuckled under him, “I think I need a minute to...uh, wake up, baby. Go on ahead.”

Deacon snickered at that and rolled off her, “Alright, princess. I’ll try to not use up all the hot water.”

Nora raised up on her elbows and gave him an almost serious glare, “You better not.”

He laughed and stuck his tongue out at her as he sashayed away.

Chapter Text

Deacon left her home with just fifteen minutes to spare, the lothario George a little easier to portray since their morning of fun. He felt relaxed and calm for the first time in a long time, and the adorable way she’d finally shooed him out the door while simultaneously demanding neverending goodbye kisses was giving his strut a little extra sass as he casually left Diamond City.

He wondered if she’d actually be able to make it to the Dugout before the clock struck noon and Mac turned into some kind of a deranged pumpkin. Ha.

They’d be in Goodneighbor today, but HQ was calling his name. He’d been getting pointed messages about that for the past couple of weeks. Despite the fact that he could quite literally do his job from anywhere, Dez’s anxiety grew the longer he stayed away. He wasn’t sure if it was because she secretly lacked confidence in herself or if she just liked the idea of being directly in charge of him, but it was kind of a pain in the ass.

Still, it was part of his job to occasionally show up and play the part of good boy, right? Right.

By the time he got there, George was forgotten, tossed aside casually in an alley where Deacon reemerged from after a quick costume change. He strolled into HQ, making his footsteps deliberate and noticeable so no one would bitch about him sneaking up on them and winked at Dez’s scowl before flopping down at his desk. Carrington shook his head disapprovingly at him while Glory rolled her eyes. Tom and Drummer were taking a nap. Must have had the night shift.

Home sweet home.

“Where have you been?” Dez hovered over him, hands on hips.

Deacon gave her that little boy smile that sometimes got her off his back. “Aw, Mom, were you worried about me?”

Dez rolled her eyes, “Don’t you think it’s a little inappropriate for our spymaster to jump ship when we’ve got...extra problems to deal with?” Hmm. She must not have shared the Brotherhood’s arrival with everyone yet. Probably didn’t want to panic the troops.

“Come on, boss, you know me better than that. I didn’t jump anything. I’ve been sticking close to DC, soaking up intel. By the way, that last synth Patriot sent? I convinced Arturo to talk some caravan friends of his into hiring him as a guard. He’s well on his way north by now. You’re welcome.” He raised an eyebrow at her and waited for the thanks he already knew wasn’t coming.

She huffed at him, “Not the point, Deacon. We need you here. It’s good for morale if people sometimes actually get to see you working.”

Glory's laughter rang out from behind him, “I dunno, boss, my morale was pretty high this last month not having to hear any lame puns or stupid jokes.”

Deacon smiled brightly at Dez, “Speaking of! What’s a vegetarian zombie eat?” He gave her just a half second to look confused. “Graaaaaaaains!”

Glory groaned and Dez sighed defeatedly. Perfect.

She fixed him with that maternal stare for just a moment longer and then walked back to her post. Deacon grinned at her retreat and tipped his head back at Glory.

“Anything fun happen while I was gone?”

She smirked at him, “Oh, yeah, we had this awesome dance party. Carrington got so drunk he stripped down and streaked naked through the tunnel.”

“Damn. Sorry I missed it.” He spun his chair around so he didn’t throw out his neck talking to her.

“So where were you really? Off shacking up with your lady friend?” She was teasing, of course, but it cut a little close for his liking.

“I really was in Diamond City, pal. Honest.”

Glory’s eyes narrowed at him like they did whenever she was trying to figure out if he was lying or not. “And your lady friend?”

Shit, she was like a dog with a bone this afternoon. “What lady friend?” He shrugged.

“Deacon, you know you smell like sex, right?”

Whoops. “Maybe that’s just your upper lip. Been to see Magnolia lately?” His grin was wicked and only a little mocking.

She blushed furiously, “No, actually. I’ve been here, working. Unlike some assholes. It’s a little hard to get any time off when you’re one of the last remaining heavies, you know.”

Ah, right. That actually made him feel a little bad. “Things are tough all over, Glory. But hey, between you and me…”, he leaned forward and whispered. “Your life is going to get a lot easier soon. That’s a promise from me to you.” Deacon looked over his glasses at her just long enough to wink.

Glory rolled her eyes, “Yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it.” She set her chin in her hand and sighed. “I wish we knew who took out Kellogg. That’s the kind of person we really need. Your source really didn’t hear anything about who actually did it?”

He grinned at her, “Darling, has anyone ever asked you if you were psychic?”

She blinked, “What? Wait, what? Seriously? Is that what you’ve been working on?” She looked cautiously optimistic for once.

He shrugged and leaned back in his chair, “I don’t wanna ruin the surprise, but...”

Her eyes were huge, “Shit. Shit, Deacon, that would be...I mean, shit.” For a second he honestly thought she was going to get up and hug him. “So you do know who they are? What are they like? Are they fucking awesome? I mean, they’d have to be, right? To take down a sonofabitch like that.”

He chuckled. Glory was one of the few people in the Railroad he actually liked and it felt pretty great to make her happy like this. “Let’s just say, I think when they show up, it’s gonna be the start of a beautiful friendship for you, pal.”

A rare, genuine smile bloomed on her face. “Goddamn.”

“Thing is though...I know Dez wants me to camp here for a bit, but the situation with your future BFF is ah, delicate right now. I gotta slip back outta here, you dig?”

She nodded, “Yeah. Yeah, I dig. You ready?”

Deacon smirked, “Born that way, friend.”

Glory rolled her eyes one last time at him and got up, moving to the shelves behind Dez like she was just getting a bowl of noodles, when she suddenly stumbled over her own feet and knocked an entire side of shelving to the floor, yelling bloody murder the whole way down.

He snorted and tried to not laugh while he activated a stealth boy. Glory never had been one for subtlety, but damn if she wasn’t effective. While Carrington and Dez and the rest of the gang ran to her aid, Deacon slipped back out of HQ like a ghost and made a beeline for Goodneighbor.

The first thing he noticed when he stepped back through the gate was how the whole mood of the town was different. Daisy had a sunny, bright kind of smile on her face and the Watch looked...happy? Actually happy. Weird.

Maybe more people had known about Mac’s kid than he’d realized.

The streets were oddly bereft of drifters though. Deacon thought for a second before it dawned on him.

Party. Of course.

He could hear the noise as soon as he stepped through the door of the Third Rail. Somebody had turned the jukebox way, way up and still the merry sounds of a swinging soiree nearly eclipsed it. Ham was nodding along to the music and barely spared a glance for Deacon as he wandered past.

The place was packed; Hancock holding court in the VIP room, of course. He spotted an inebriated Mac at a table near the center of the room, a near constant stream of people coming up to thump the kid on the back and offer congratulations.

He found himself smiling. It was nice, really. This sense of community and camaraderie was rare nowadays. He wondered if Hancock was aware of just how much he’d accomplished in Goodneighbor.

Nora was off in a corner with Magnolia, the two women whispering in a clearly conspiratorial kind of way. He saw her grin widely at the other girl. There was almost a mercenary quality to it and Mags responded in kind. Huh. What was that about?

Deacon leaned against the wall and watched as the songbird crossed over to Mac, drifters parting before her like she was a queen. He shrugged internally. She probably was, here anyway. Queen of the Third Rail. What an auspicious title.

He couldn’t hear what was said over the din, but Mac’s eyes about popped clean out of his head and he shot up so fast his chair fell over. Magnolia smiled at him in a genuinely flattered kind of way, took his hand and lead him out of the bar, the crowd hooting and cheering as she did.

Ah. Private party. Nice. Good for Mac.

His eyes flitted back to where Nora was giggling happily, drink in hand, seemingly content to sit at the edges of this celebration and observe. He was just about to go join her when Hancock popped out and beat him to it.

“This round’s on me, friends! Let’s hear it for Sunshine and Mac! Saving the world one kid at a time!” The crowd cheered and their mayor soaked in the attention and adulation of his people for a minute before he motioned for Nora to come join him at a nearby table.

Deacon watched her shrug and wander on over and casually slipped into a dark corner behind them. Far enough that he wouldn’t be noticed but close enough to hear whatever was said. He’d long let go of his jealousy of Hancock as far as his princess went, but still. It never hurt to be careful, right? Sure.

“That ain’t still your first drink, is it, sister?” Hancock was eyeballing her glass carefully like it had offended him somehow.

Nora laughed, “Yes, it is. I have to go meet Nick after this, you know. I can’t get blitzed yet.”

“Ah, that’s a shame, Sunshine. I like you loose and giggly.” The mayor grinned at her and Deacon wondered if you could break a nose that no longer properly existed.

She just laughed though, “I know you do, honey.”

Hancock lit a cigarette, “Where’s Mac anyway?”

Nora blinked at him, “Are you...are you serious right now? He just left with Magnolia. The whole bar went bananas.”

“Oh, that’s what that was. Well, good on Mac!” He seemed mildly impressed and Nora snorted.

“Good on me, you mean.” She winked at him and he laughed.

“Damn. Hell of a wingman, ain’t ya? Remind me to take you with me if I ever hit up New Reno.”

Nora shrugged, “Seemed like the least I could do. Bobby has an itch I can’t scratch so...I found someone else to do the scratching.”

Hancock considered this, “Heh...so he’s a friend, too, now.”

She nodded, “Yup. The friendliest.”

He sighed, “And you don’t fuck your friends.” He almost sounded forlorn and Deacon smirked. Poor little gigolo.

“That’s right.” Nora sipped her drink and observed the party for a moment. “Anyway, he reminds me too much of Alex for that stuff.”

Deacon’s ears perked up. Alex?

“Who’s Alex, love?” Hancock had his eyes on a particularly juicy little ticket who kept making eyes at him from across the room. Nora’s gazed followed his for a moment before that cynical smirk appeared on her face.

“He was my little brother. Mac reminds me of him the same way you remind me of Jimmy, actually.”

Hancock frowned a little and turned his attention back to Nora, “Jimmy?”

She smiled, “My big brother.”

“Ah, shit. I’m never gonna get in those pants, am I?”

Nora chuckled, “You might have, if you’d pounced before I got to know you.”

“Hmm...I was trying to be a gentleman.”

“Yeah, next time you should just be yourself.”

Hancock glared at her for a moment and she stuck her tongue out at him, very sister-like. “Little brat.”

A kind of smile bloomed on her face that Deacon had never seen before. He heard Hancock suck in a breath for a moment and knew he’d never seen it either. Sweet, worshipful, pure.

Nora, the little sister.

“See? That’s exactly what Jimmy always called me.” Deacon watched Hancock soak up the familial love in her eyes and could literally see the shift in him from predator to protector.

“Well...I guess being a big brother ain’t so bad. So he was a badass, then, right? Your Jimmy?”

She nodded, “Yeah, he was. Badass, charming, and altogether wonderful. You would have loved him.”

Hancock looked pretty flattered by the description, “I bet I would’ve. What was the other one like?”

“Oh, Alex was different. He was...softer than Jimmy and me. Just a good kid in a hopelessly shitty situation.” She looked thoughtful for a minute before turning serious, “Hey, can I ask you a favor?”

“Anything, Sunshine. Name it.” The hot ticket from before was easing ever closer and Hancock was pretending to not notice.

“Bobby said he’s going to stick around here for a while until he gets the word on Duncan. I want you to keep an eye on him for me.”

Hancock’s full attention went back to Nora. “That’s...I kinda got this policy about that kinda shit, little sister. Personal freedom reigns supreme in Goodneighbor.”

She sighed, “Yes, I know. That’s why I’m not asking you to do anything, just...if it seems like his drinking is getting worse, or...if he starts using chems like you do, let me know, okay? That’s all.”

The ghoul’s gaze turned thoughtful and a little sad, “You lost him, huh? Alex?”

Nora didn’t speak but looked down and nodded once.

The hot ticket was almost within arm’s reach. Hancock gave her a suggestive grin and stood. “Alright, Sunshine. I’ll watch your boy for you.”

She allowed a genuine flash of relief to cross her face for just a moment before hiding it under a cheeky grin, “Watch yourself, too, tiger. Some day you’re going to meet someone who goes through you like you go through everybody else and then you’ll really be in trouble.”

Hancock glanced down at her one last time, slipping an arm around the waist of his companion for the evening. “Nah. What’re the chances of that happening twice in one lifetime, love?” He said it with a wink but Deacon still caught the lingering trace of regret in his voice.

Nora snorted at that and watched them go back to the VIP room before her face fell into something a little lonely and melancholy. “Hardly any chance at all.” She checked the time on her Pipboy, abandoned the rest of her drink and headed off towards the stairs.

Gone to meet Nick, Deacon guessed. He slipped into her recently vacated seat and took a sip out of her glass like it was his. Straight Nuka. Not a drop of alcohol in it.

He counted to sixty before following her. He still wasn’t sure why she was meeting Nick here, of all places. It made him a little nervous, actually. If they were tracking down Kellogg’s boss, that meant Institute, and an Institute presence in Goodneighbor meant bad, bad things for the Railroad.

Deacon made it out the door just in time to see her slip into the Memory Den. Huh. That was...odd. Maybe Nick wanted to actually see the fight between her and Kellogg? Probably thought there was some clue she’d missed.

He could go in, slip into a pod and wait it out, or he could wait out here and get the info from Amari later. A sudden crackling sound in the air made up his mind for him. Radstorm. Fuck. He made his way into the Den and heard Nick making awkward introductions. He smirked a little at that. Valentine used to spend ungodly amounts of time here before he got frustrated at the lack of answers his memories provided him. He knew Irma had really...missed the synth once he’d left and enjoyed her giving him the business a little before he slipped into the ancient coat check room and changed into his Den disguise.

He let himself into his regular pod after acknowledging Irma’s eyeroll and settled down to wait. Whatever business Nora and Nick had here wouldn’t take that long, and then he could pop down to Amari and she’d give him the lowdown. Any Institute information went straight to the Railroad, if not straight to him personally, after all.

Memory loungers were ridiculously comfortable and Deacon had about fallen asleep when movement caught his eye almost an hour later.

Nick was walking past him, looking out of it and shuddering slightly. Irma called out to him but he ignored her and sat on a couch to Deacon’s left, head in his hands.

Well, that was...different.

A few minutes later, Nora followed. If Nick had looked shaken, she looked positively shook. Her gaze never left the detective and she went straight to him, eyes dark and concerned and tear-filled.

“Hey, Valentine…”

The voice that came from the synth was rough and mocking. “Hope you got what you were looking for inside my head. Heh. I was right. I should’ve killed you when you were on ice.”

Deacon watched her entire being shift from sorrowful to furious, “You want to try for round two? Let’s go.”

Valentine just blinked at her, “What? What are you talking about?”

“You...feeling alright, Nick?” She didn’t look quite so eager to kick ass anymore, but still wary. “You sounded like Kellogg just then.”

Deacon blinked himself behind his shades. Holy shit. How? Why? What on earth had those two been up to?

“Did I? Amari said there might be some ‘mnemonic impressions’ left over...anyway, I feel fine, so let’s get going.” He stood and shook his head a little, like he was trying to shake the cobwebs out of his head.

“Actually...I think I need a minute. Maybe even a few minutes. Why don’t you head on back to Diamond City. I’m going to get a room here and rest. I don’t think I’m quite fit to travel just yet.”

Nick nodded, “That’s probably a good idea, sweetheart. You sure you’re gonna be okay?”

Nora brushed his concerns aside, “Sure, I’ll be fine. Just got a lot of thinking to do, you know?”

“Yeah, me, too.” The detective adjusted his hat a little. “See you around, doll.”

“See you, Nick.” She watched him go. Deacon saw the way her stance relaxed into a defeatist sort of pose and it infuriated him. Whatever they’d been doing had hit her hard. Too hard. Couldn’t Nick see that? And he was just going to leave her here? What the hell, man?

Pre-Deacon wanted to run and wrap his arms around her, could sense she was about to crumble and break. Deacon pushed him back with an annoyed sort of shove. When she broke, he could be the one to put her back together again. That was loads better than trying to prevent the inevitable.

He watched her rub the back of her hand across her eyes and then walk out before he released the hatch on his pod and headed on downstairs. Amari had some explaining to do.

Chapter Text

Teleportation. Son of a bitch.

It was like something out of a scifi movie. The Railroad had never been able to find an entrance to the Institute because an entrance didn’t exist. It was brilliant, and terrifying. That kind of technology could have made life so much better topside, and instead they wasted it manufacturing slaves to do...god knows what.

He and pre-Deacon shared a rare moment of perfect synchronicity, united in their shared loathing of a group of people so privileged and intelligent, yet so cruel and destructive.

Deacon had watched the recording of Nora and Nick’s little adventure through Kellogg’s fucked up mind. He’d seen that moment in the vault, heard Nora’s screaming at the loss of her husband and child.

What had surprised him was the begging, honestly. He’d almost not recognized her voice when it started. So genuinely helpless and...young. She’d sounded ages younger than she actually was.

He had also been shocked that her kid was still alive. Deacon would have thought him long dissected by those assholes by now; but there he’d sat, reading comics and listening to DCR while the bastard who’d murdered his father and caused his mother unspeakable agony sat there calm as you please cleaning that fucking gun. The goddamn murder weapon. What kind of a monster could do that? Playing house with the kid you stole was just sick.

Amari said Nora would be heading into the Glowing Sea next. That she was after the rogue scientist who was hiding there. Deacon had been momentarily furious at the doc that she hadn’t talked his princess out of something so suicidal, but that wasn’t fair. He knew deep down no one would be able to talk her out of that. Not with her kid on the line and revenge so close at hand. Arguing with her over it was a surefire way to make sure she ran straight into the arms of an irradiated death.

Would she be taking Nick with her? Maybe Hancock? She’d need help, and they were radiation proof. He’d once heard Hancock even say he liked the radiation. That it made his balls feel tingly.

Deacon scoffed. Yeah, because that’s just what he wanted. Hancock with tingly balls escorting his princess. Nah. Not happening.

He needed to get her into the Railroad now. Time was up for her finding them on her own. Especially with the Brotherhood in town. Power armor could get her in and out of the Glowing Sea with no problems at all, and those assholes were neck deep in that shit. Hell, Maxson would probably carry her in there himself if it meant getting closer to breaching the Institute.

That’s why he found himself staring at her door in the Rex instead of headed for HQ first. Yes, letting everyone know they’d finally cracked the code on how the Institute got in and out was important. Cherry important. But securing Nora’s entry into their group was...at least as important? Wasn’t it? Or was it?

He’d been arguing with himself for almost five minutes over this very point. Was his desire to get her into his organization solely based on the fact that she was clearly some big, key player to the Institute’s plans or was it for more personal reasons?

Pre-Deacon cautiously offered up the idea that maybe it was both; and maybe both wasn’t so bad.

Deacon shrugged. Fuck it. This is what felt right, and rule number three was to always go with your gut. His gut said knock, so that’s what he did.

His knuckles quietly tapped on the door, “Knock knock. Any babycakes in there?” Like he totally hadn’t heard her softly sobbing.

It abruptly stopped. Her voice sounded almost fine. A little bit of anger under the words, maybe. “Go. Away.” There was no room for arguing there, but he tried anyway.

“Nora, what’s wrong? Come on, sweetheart, open the door.” He went for light concern. Pre-Deacon thought he’d nailed it.

“Honey, I...I don’t want to play with you right now, okay? Please leave.” She sounded weary, heartsick. Shit. Maybe he should have listened to the boy earlier and caught her before she fell after all.

He backed away from her door. “Okay. Okay, I’m leaving. Are you sure you want me to go?”

Nothing but silence. Okay then.

Deacon headed back for the lobby, ready to head out and at least put a drop in but that felt...wrong? The further he got from her, the more wrong it felt.

She might not want him right now, but he was pretty sure she needed him. Someone, anyway.

He wondered if there was any alcohol left in this town and headed for Daisy’s.

Ten minutes later, bottle of rum in hand, Deacon once again knocked on her door. This time there was no response, just the sounds of Diamond City Radio drifting out into the hallway. He shook his head at her stubborn streak and took out a bobby pin, making quick work of the lock.

When he swung the door open, she was sitting on the bed, wearing one of those odd men’s shirts, a pair of socks, and a disgruntled frown. Oh, that’s what they were for. Nightshirts. Well that was charming as fuck.

He walked in, shut the door behind him and raised an eyebrow at her expression.

She sighed, a resigned look on her face. “You are loud as shit when you’re committing a B & E, you know? You should work on that.”

Deacon studied her. Something was different but he couldn’t figure out what yet. “Excuse you. I’m as quiet as a mouse farting in church when I wanna be.”

Nora shrugged, “Whatever. What do you want?” She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and his eyes widened. Gloves. Her gloves were off.

He pretended like he hadn’t noticed, “You sounded upset. I thought...well, I brought you a present.” The rum sloshed around as he waved it at her and she stared blankly at it. He frowned a bit, every inch the protective devotee. “Big party in town tonight. Nobody uh...upset you at it, did they?”

She rolled her eyes, “Yeah, some big idiot with sunglasses. He’s been stalking me and now he’s trying to eavesdrop on my private conversations.”

Shit. Caught. He shrugged and gave her the same little boy smile that sometimes worked on Dez.

It did not, sadly, work on Nora. She just frowned harder at him. “You can go now. Leave the bottle.”

He sighed and held the bottle out to her. If she took it, he could brush his hand against hers during the transfer and...

She smirked, “Nice try. Leave it on the dresser.”

He grinned at her. “So close. I almost got you.”

“Yeah, you keep thinking that.” Her eyes followed him as he set it down but made no move to actually leave. “Trust me when I say, you don’t want to catch these hands, bud.”

He put his own in his pockets to seem less threatening and smiled at her, “Maybe I do. I bet they’re crazy soft.”

Nora snorted, “Yeah...you aren’t leaving unless I throw you out, are you?”

Deacon shrugged, “Maybe.”

“I’m not fucking you tonight.” The glare she fixed him with could have shriveled the steeliest of balls into raisins.

“Not asking you to. Anyway, this fine piece of ass in Diamond City rocked my world pretty hard this morning. I’m still in recovery.” He smiled at her and was rewarded with a tiny huff of laughter.

“Fine. You can stay.” He stepped toward her and she shook her head, “On the couch. You can stay on the couch.”

“Jeez. Watch out for the ice queen over here, folks.” He grumbled but flopped on the couch, a cloud of dust rising up around him to Nora’s amusement.

“God, this world sucks. The future sucks. I’m so tired of everything being so fucking dirty.” She got up, pulled a new pair of gloves from her pack on and grabbed the bottle before retreating back to the bed.

Deacon watched her take a drink before he spoke, “Yeah, I bet it's hard to go from pre-war to...all this.” He waved his hand around. “Sorry, princess. No fairytale fantasies here.”

Nora frowned at that and tilted her head, “Is that...is that what everyone thinks life was like before the bombs?”

He shrugged, “Wasn’t it?”

She was studying him closely, “Is that why you call me ‘princess’ all the time? Because you think I’m...what? Just some spoiled, pre-war softie?”

Deacon heard a tiny bit of actual anger behind the words. Interesting. “Well, aren’t you?”

She laughed, “You people. See, this is why I like it here in Goodneighbor...and out at the Slog. Pre-war ghouls know better than to buy into that bullshit.” She shook her head, “I might not have had deathclaws and crap to worry about, but that doesn’t mean my life was perfect, or even nice. Shit.”

He watched her take another drink and wondered how tipsy she would need to be before he could convince her to head for the Railroad.

“Yeah, I’m sure it was real tough living in a world with schools and grocery stores and laws and stuff. Poor princess.”

Her eyes got icy for just a second and Deacon thought maybe he’d pushed too far, but she took another drink and leaned forward a little, bottle held out. “Here, you’re gonna want this.”

He got up, accepted the bottle and sat back down. A little confused but willing to play along if it meant she’d get drunk faster. She watched him take a drink before speaking.

“Once upon a time, there was a little princess named Rosie. She had two brothers, but her father, the good king, had vanished. Her mother, the queen, wouldn’t speak of it, so the princess never knew if the king had died or run off on a quest or what.” She shrugged like it was no big deal but Deacon could already see the hurt in her eyes. “It didn’t matter anyway, because she soon met another king and married him. The new king liked to drink liquor like most people drank water. And the queen and king spent most of their days happily soused while the eldest prince worked to care for his little brother and sister. He was only six, so, it was hard.”

Deacon went to take a drink but paused when her eyes followed the bottle. She gave him a half-smile and he drank anyway.

“One day, the king returned from a weekend bender. The queen had spent the entire time in bed, under the powerful sleep spell of her enchanted pills. Princess Rosie was busy in the kitchen preparing a feast for lunch. Ketchup sandwiches. It wasn’t much, but it was all their small kingdom had. When she saw that the king had returned, she felt a great joy in her heart, because she was first and foremost, a trusting idiot with a soft heart. ‘Papa!’, she cried, and she ran for the door.”

He was starting to feel like he wasn’t going to like this story much.

“The little princess was so relieved to see him that she didn’t even notice the storm clouds in his eyes or the way he reeked of whiskey sweat. His hand reached out for her, but not to hold. He backhanded the princess and she spun across the room like a top until a helpful wall stopped her. When she awoke, her brothers were there, holding her tight. The queen was there, too, and she once again reached out for comfort and aid, but the queen smacked her hands away and told her that she’d been disrespectful to the king. A bad, stupid girl. And that from now on she was to call him ‘Mister Mike’.” Her eyes met his. “And that’s the tale of how Princess Rosie learned that people are assholes. The end.” Nora held out her hand for the bottle and he silently passed it back to her.

She drank until she had to stop to take a breath and gave him that cynical smile he was starting to understand a whole lot better. “How’s that for a fairytale?”

Another moment of synchronicity. Both Deacon and pre-Deacon wanted to go back in time, murder her parents slowly and somehow erase the pain from her eyes. He shook his head, “Pretty bleak, sweetheart. How old was Princess Rosie when all that went down?”

“Four. She was four.” Nora looked at her hands for a minute. “It just got worse after that. Eventually they just stopped buying food at all. Jimmy and I...we had to start stealing to feed Alex. Later it turned into pickpocketing for me. Once I hit an age where wealthy businessmen didn’t mind me bumping into them, anyway. Jimmy was able to get work pretty early though...he was always tall for his age, and the kind of people he worked for didn’t ask questions so long as he kept his mouth shut and did what he was told.”

Deacon thought about her performance in the DC security office. “Did you ever get busted?”

She smiled at him like she was remembering it, too. “Yeah, a few times. Never got more than a slap on the wrist, really. I’d get my ass beat when I got home though, for ‘embarrassing’ them.” She shook her head, “I never understood that. Drinking like a fish and letting your kids starve and turn into sneak thieves wasn’t embarrassing, but them getting caught was? Made no sense.”

“Assholes rarely make sense, princess.”

Her eyes rolled briefly before she took another drink, “I thought we just cleared that up. I’m no princess.”

He shrugged, “You’re always gonna be a princess to me, beautiful.”

She gave him a small smile, “Slick.”

He smiled back, “You turned out alright though, right? Got out, went to college, married your dreamboat and all.”

“Yup...and then some supreme asshole somewhere hit the fucking button. That was swell.”

“Supreme grand high poobah asshole.”

She snickered, “No shit.”

He sighed, “Alright. I’m sorry for assuming your life was awesome before the war.”

Nora snorted, “Everyone always says ‘before the war’. There was no ‘before the war’. We were America. We were always at war. Why don’t people say ‘before the bombs’ instead? That’s more accurate.”

Deacon shrugged, “Pre-bomb doesn’t sound as good as pre-war, maybe? I dunno.”

She swirled the rum around in its bottle. Already down to half. “You’re so fucking weird.”

He blinked. Abrupt subject change much? “I’m so weird? Says the lady who was a literal popsicle.”

That got her giggling a little. “Exactly, so you know it's bad.” Her speech was starting to slur just a trifle. Time to start the show.

Deacon pretended to just now notice the small box of holotapes that were on her dresser and rifled through them casually. “Don’t suppose you have any cool music from back in the day, do you? Travis plays the same stupid shit over and over. Drives me nuts.”

She nodded enthusiastically, “Yeah, honey. Yeah. Shit. I have all kinds of stuff. Chuck Berry, Ella Fitzgerald, Rosemary Clooney, Elvis. Take your pick. My Pipboy’s just mono, but it's better than nothing.” Nora reached over and set the bottle down on her bedside table and traded it for her Pipboy.

God. New music. That did sound tempting and there were so many artists here that Deacon had never even heard of, but he was working. Stupid fucking work. He let the Railroad holotape he’d had in his hand fall into the box before taking it out.

“What’s this one?” He tossed it to her and she almost caught it. Rum was starting to catch up with her.

She picked it up off the bed and frowned at it, “Ugh, how the fuck did this get in there? I dunno how many of these stupid things I’ve picked up.”

He grumped a bit in his mind. She sounded...annoyed. Decidedly unimpressed. Rude. “So what is it, anyway?”

Her eyes rolled and she shook her head, “Some squares called the Railroad. You haven’t found one of their tapes before?”

Deacon almost laughed. “I can honestly say I have not.”

“Pfft. Lucky. They leave them everywhere. Fucking litterbugs. Here.” She slapped the tape into her Pipboy and pressed play. Dez’s voice filled the room.

“Wake up, Commonwealth. Synths are not your enemy. They are victims in this war, as well. True, they were created by the Institute; but they were created as slaves. Thinking, feeling, and dreaming beings utterly oppressed by their tyrannical masters. So join with us in fighting the real enemy: The Institute. Join the Railroad. When you’re ready for that next step, don’t worry, we’ll find you.”

The tape ended and Nora blew a raspberry into the silence that followed.

“You think they’re half that self-righteous in person or twice as bad?” She snorted with laughter and Deacon joined in, but for different reasons.

He’d told Dez to tone it down a little when she made those tapes.

Nora ejected the tape and tossed it in the room’s wastebasket, or at it, anyway. “Sound like a bunch of nerds to me. Bet they’re super fun at parties.” She held out her hand for another tape and he tossed one over, not bothering to check it first. She was further off with this one and frowned as she picked it up. “I have had...a lot to drink. Reliving trauma is thirsty work, I guess.” She popped it in and a rocking kind of beat filled the room, her head bobbing along with it. “‘A Little Less Conversation’. Good choice.”

They sat listening to the song, her occasionally singing along in an off-key kind of way. Deacon liked the music but was focused on bringing her around to join the nerds she apparently believed the Railroad to be. He frowned a bit. Come to think of it, he had no idea how she felt about synths, other than Valentine. Huh. Whoops.

When the song ended, she flopped back on the bed. Deacon noticed she didn’t sleep in panties, apparently.

“I’m still not fucking you tonight.”

He actually jumped a little. It was starting to get creepy how she could read his mind at times. “I know.”

“I don’t care how drunk I get. It’s not happening.”

Deacon rolled his eyes. Okay. Good. Not actually caught, just on the same wavelength...or maybe parallel wavelengths. “Nobody wants to fuck you right now. Now who’s humble?”

She snorted and flipped him the bird. “Don’t give me that bullshit. You know I know you want to. You always want to.”

He harrumphed, “Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

“Oh, my god.” Nora sat up and glared at him. “It goes: ‘The lady protests too much, methinks.’ If you’re going to quote Hamlet, do it right, you pleb.”

Ouch. “Get a little mouthy when you’re drunk, huh?”

Her eyes narrowed, “No, I get a little mouthy when someone smart says something stupid.”

Deacon blinked, “You think I’m smart?”

She huffed at him and flopped back onto the bed. “You know you’re smart. I don’t know why you pretend so much…”

He watched her for a moment and tried to get pre-Deacon to stop preening so damn hard over one drunken compliment. “Hey, so I was thinking…”

“Andy...or David or officer or whoever, why are you here?”

Deacon narrowed his eyes a little. She sounded almost sleepy, but was it genuine or was she trying something? Hard to say. “What do you mean, sweetheart?”

Her head tilted to the side enough to look at him, “I mean, we aren’t playing tonight. I told you that. So why are you here?”

He shrugged, “Can’t a man just spend some time with his favorite girl?”

She laughed, “So I am queen of the harem. Nice.”

“Heh, yeah. You’re the queen, princess. By a lot.” Nora wiggled a little and he laughed. “Anyway, I wanted to ask you something.”

“Oh, yeah? Ask away.”

“Well...I went and read that article Piper wrote about you again, you know. Do you really think the Institute took your kid?”

She went almost unnaturally still and he thought for a moment she’d fallen asleep until she spoke. “Yeah, they took him.”

He nodded a little and paused to make it seem like he was really thinking this over. “So, don’t those Railroad people fight the Institute? Maybe they could help you.”

Nora laughed, “You sound like Nick and Amari. They both suggested the Railroad after...tonight.” Well points to them. Deacon felt a little gratified that someone had thought of them at least. “I almost went to them right from the start, actually. There were these people in Diamond City talking about them back before I met Nick and I was like ‘Oh, wow, follow the Freedom Trail? That leads to that old tourist trap church. Easy.’ but nope.”

Nope. Nope, she said. Deacon was about to have a fucking aneurysm. “Why nope?”

She shrugged on the bed, “I found one of their tapes. It says they come to you, not the other way around. I figured if they were interested in me, they’d show up eventually but they didn’t. Not even after I did that interview.” She sat up just enough to take another drink of rum. “Guess they only care about rescuing synths from the Institute and not babies. Jerks.”

Great. Just...fucking great. Not only had they missed having Nora in their ranks for months because of Dez’s compulsive need for grandstanding, but now she had imagined beef with them to boot. She thought the Railroad didn’t care that her baby had been stolen.

Shit. Well, that last part was probably true. Almost true, anyway. He cared, certainly, but they did solely focus on liberating synths. It was one of the things he argued with Dez about at least once a month. Just a few missions to help humans would go a long ass way in smoothing over their public relations nightmares.

He should tell her who he was. That he’d been scouting her this whole time. Pre-Deacon was especially enamoured with the whole idea of being honest with her, but at this point it just felt...weird. He wasn’t even sure if she’d believe him if he did tell her.

“Hey, Nora?”

“Yeah, baby?” Her eyes were bleary and she had to blink a few times to focus on his face.

“You...you should follow the Freedom Trail.”

She went to set the bottle on the table by the bed and missed a few times. “I should go to sleep is what I should do. That’s the ticket. Sleep.” Once the bottle was secure, she promptly flopped over onto her side and waved at him in a vague sort of way. “You can sleep there. Or sleep here. Or leave. I don’t care.”

He grinned a little at her cranky tone, “But no fucking, right?”

Her sigh went on forever, “You know what? Fine. Knock yourself out, champ. Just don’t wake me.”

Deacon chuckled at that, removed his shoes and got into bed behind her, snuggling up to her back. “Well it’s no fun if you aren’t at least a little awake. Guess I can wait.”

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

Following her was almost laughably easy. Her dog couldn’t seem to stop pissing on every corner of every building they’d passed. She was clearly headed back to Diamond City. Deacon frowned a little at that. Had she decided to just blow him and the Railroad off? Or did she just want to properly sleep off the rest of her hangover before heading cross-country? He hadn’t given her a timeframe for meeting him...that had been a mistake he was glad Drummer and Glory hadn’t caught. They’d been far too busy soaking up the newest recruit’s awesomeness.

Nora wasn’t even an agent yet and she was already making things a little easier for him by just being her usual sparkling self. It was pretty fantastic. The shadows she could cast would be enormous and perfect for him to hide in.

If he could get her to agree to actually join, that is.

It was full dark when he got to the gate. He almost stopped to change into his officer’s uniform. It kind of seemed wrong not to, but time was of the essence he felt and she probably wouldn’t be in the sort of mood to appreciate a costume change.

The market was winding down already. Just a few stragglers haggling for all they were worth. He easily avoided their eyes and found himself almost knocking on her door before shaking his head. That was stupid. She wasn’t going to open it for him. He wouldn’t open it for him at this point. He slipped a bobby pin into the lock and a few seconds later, slipped inside.

The first thing he saw was her dog. It was lying comfortably on the couch and it barely gave him a glance before it flopped its head back down. Deacon let out a breath and vowed silently to get him a treat at his first opportunity. Apparently they were already friends...or maybe he just still smelled like one of their pack.

The lights were all on, but he couldn’t see or hear Nora. He cautiously moved down the hall and saw the curtain was pulled back and more lamplight spilled out from her bedroom.

Deacon looked down at his feet and swore internally. Too quiet. He was being too quiet. She was liable to assume he was some kind of nefarious type and shoot him. He cleared his throat a little and called out, “Hey, Nora? You home?” He listened but there was nothing, so he moved closer to the curtain. Finally he heard it. Her shower was on. Ah. Just the thing for the residual hangover she was still nursing. Okay then.

He walked back to her living room and flopped down on the couch next to Dogmeat. The dog immediately flipped around and set his head in Deacon’s lap.

He resisted petting it for all of two seconds. “Hey, pup. How’s it hangin’?” His fingers slipped through the dog’s thick fur and he felt himself relax a little. He loved dogs, had always loved dogs. He’d spent his whole childhood wishing for one and when he’d finally gotten it, it had been love at first sight. He would have died for that damn mutt.

Sometimes he still wished he had died for it.

This was kinda nice, though. Getting to pet someone else’s dog was almost as good as having your own. Almost.

Deacon was giving Dogmeat an enthusiastic tummy rub when he heard Nora muttering down the hall. Apparently talking to herself was a habit of hers.

“I dunno, boy, did they smell like squares to you? Because they sure looked it. And that password...what idiot thought that up? Railroad for the Railroad at the location of the original Underground Railroad. Ridiculous.” She came around the corner in another of her nightshirts, a new pair of socks on and a towel over her head. “So whatcha want for dinner, hmm? Because I’m thinking steak for me and squirrel bits for you.”

“Yeah, squirrel sounds good.” Deacon cracked a genuine smile at the way she suddenly froze. He could actually see her body fill up with irritation. It was amazing.

Nora turned and glared at him from under her towel. “You’re going to be the reason I install chains on all my doors.” Her glare flickered over to Dogmeat, “And some guard dog you are.” The dog’s ears drooped just a little and he moved away from Deacon like he didn’t want to be associated with him anymore.

“Aw, come on, princess. He knows a good guy when he sees one.” He felt a little bad getting the pooch in trouble.

“Apparently not.” She folded her arms, “What do you want, Deacon? Or should I call you something else now? How about Francis? I’ve always liked that name.”

He winced a little. Yeah, she was pissed. “Deacon’s my name, don’t wear it out.”

Now she looked confused, “That’s...true. Huh…”, That mildly terrifying thoughtful look was on her face. The one that made him feel so naked. “Well, Deacon, what do you want? If you haven’t noticed, this isn’t Lexington.”

He shrugged, “Well, it just seemed to me like it made more sense to escort you there. So here I am.”

“Hmm. Okay...so, how long?” She tossed the towel on a chair and ran her fingers through her hair. No gloves again.

“How long what?”

She sighed, “How long have you been stalking me on behalf of the Railroad?”

“Oh, that.” He waved a hand like it was no big deal, “Since the beginning. Almost the beginning. Diamond City. I didn’t see you come out of the vault, but I heard about it.”

Nora flopped down in the chair, “Of course. I gotta hand it to you, I never would have thought ‘intelligence officer’ when I looked at you. I thought you were just a thief or something normal. You definitely got me.”

It didn’t sound like a compliment but Deacon decided to take it as one anyway, “We don’t really have officers in the Railroad, but, I am the best at what I do, babycakes.”

“Maybe at some things.” She crossed her legs before he could figure out if she was sans panties or not. “It’s hard to bullshit a bullshitter though, so I’ll give you credit for that. Do you physically and mentally fuck everyone who joins the Railroad or what?”

Ow. “No...not physically, anyway. You were...are, an exception.”

She gave him a shark’s smile, “Past tense was correct. Never dip your quill in the company ink, right? I don’t fuck coworkers.”

He nodded at her, “Or friends.”

“You won’t ever have to worry about that rule.” Her tone was downright icy at this point.

Damn. Pre-Deacon was almost as pissed as she was and busy plotting revenge already for Deacon screwing shit up. “Come on, princess. You’re just mad someone actually got one over on you. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We’ve got a pretty good thing going here, right? And now everything can be nice and above board to boot. Besides, who else are you going to have fun with? Hancock and Bobby are friends, right? I bet Garvey is, too.”

She just laughed, “Yeah, they’re friends. Good friends, actually. Pretty stupid to mess with a girl who has a mercenary, a soldier and a...whatever Hancock is supposed to be, in her pocket, isn’t it?”

He shrugged, “I can take ‘em.”

“Pretty hard to take a bullet to the head from a thousand yards.”

They glared at each other. Deacon looked away first.

“Alright. Alright, I’m sorry, okay?”

Nora shook her head, “You could have just told me you were Railroad, you know. I was...I was literally waiting for you guys to show up. I really could have used the help going up against Kellogg.”  Now she looked away and got up, moving into the kitchen.

He nodded, “I know. I mean...I didn’t know. I didn’t think you were going up against Kellogg so soon and I didn’t know you were waiting for us.”

She stared at him for a moment before opening the fridge, “Coulda shoulda woulda, huh?” Out came cold steak and a bowl with squirrel bits in it. Dogmeat moved off the couch and slunk over to Nora with his tail between his legs. He sat politely and stared up at Nora with huge eyes when she turned to him. She sighed and put a hand on his head. “It’s okay, pup-n-stuff. I’m not mad at you.” Immediately Dogmeat went back to a happy, wiggly whirl of fur and she set the bowl in front of him.

Hmm. Too bad he couldn’t employ puppy dog eyes himself.

“Yeah, Dogmeat, it’s cool. Your mama just hates me right now. No worries.” He’d meant it as a joke but Nora’s head whipped around like he’d slapped her.

“You asshole. You went through my Pipboy.”

Deacon blinked, “What?”

“My Pipboy. I never call him that name. He doesn’t like it. But I write it in my Pipboy entries…” The murder was back in her eyes. “When?”

He thought about lying for a second, feigning ignorance, maybe coming up a plausible deniability kinda story, but that look on her face had pre-Deacon shrieking at him to be honest for once. “Uh...that first night.”

Actual hurt flickered across her face for a split second before it was buried under irritation. “That first night.” She shook her head, “Damn. Suburban life made me softer than I thought. Whatever trap you set, I waltzed right into it, huh?” She picked at her steak for a minute and Deacon felt something uncomfortably close to guilt settle in his chest.

“Hey, no. No, it wasn’t like that, Nora. I...that night I honestly couldn’t believe you’d even think about bringing a guy like me to your room. It was...I mean, I’d thought about it happening, eventually, but…” Damn, being honest was surprisingly difficult.

She gave up on her steak and tossed it to the dog. “So not just an intelligence officer, but PSYOP to boot. You fuckers always were smooth.”

“Nora, PSYOP doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Apparently they do. ‘Persuade, Change, Influence’, right? That was the old motto. That’s what you do, isn’t it?”

He had no answer for that so he just shrugged.

She shook her head, “Well, secret agent man, did you ever figure out these?” Her hands came up and she wiggled her fingers.

“No, actually. I haven’t...yet.”

“Hmm. Well, do me a favor and keep it to yourself when you do, alright? It’s bad enough Maya and Bobby know.”

Maya and… “Bobby? MacCready knows?” Well wasn’t that a kick in the fucking nuts.

The smirk on her face told him she could clearly see how pissed he was, “Oh, yeah. He’s known since Kellogg.” Deacon sat fuming in stunned silence and Nora took the opportunity to let Dogmeat out. She hesitated before closing the door, “Can I trust you to sleep on the couch or should I ask you to leave?”

Fuck. This wasn’t going very well at all. She was about a half-step away from hating him at this point. He stood and came over to the door, pushing it closed with a hand planted above her head. He relaxed a little into her space and she actually stepped back instinctively, bumping into the door and staring up at him with an infuriatingly wary kind of look in her eyes instead of the lust he was used to seeing.

Deacon brought a hand up to her cheek and noticed her hands immediately went behind her back, like she didn’t even want to touch him on accident. Interesting.

“Weren’t you the one who told me I was an ‘amazingly honest fuck’, princess? This might be the only truth between us we ever have, right?” His voice was soft, persuasive and when his lips just barely brushed against hers, she didn’t try to get away. He decided to take that as a green light and kissed her in earnest, dragging pre-Deacon forward so he could pour all those insipid emotions into it. They left him a little dazzled, if he was being perfectly honest. All that adoration and hope and desire combined with a desperate need to comfort her.

When he finally pulled back from their kiss, she swayed in place ever so slightly and kept her eyes closed. He rested his forehead on hers and smiled at her even if she couldn’t see it.

“Just say the word, gorgeous, and I’ll go.”

She swallowed and shook her head a little, “If I were smart, that’s just what I’d do.”

He chuckled a little, “If you were really smart, you’d have shot me by now.”

She smiled at that, “I still might.” Her eyes opened and she stared at him. “So I guess my original plan of just avoiding you and pretending like you didn’t exist probably isn’t going to work if we’re, you know, colleagues and all.”

“Yeah, probably not.” His arm snaked around her waist and her hands immediately dropped to her sides. He admired her resolve to not let him touch them, but he hadn’t even been thinking of it in that moment. He just liked how she felt pressed up against him.

"So I guess that makes us...not lovers, and not friends with benefits since you have to be friends for that. I guess...coworkers with benefits?”

Deacon smirked at her, “I thought you said you don’t sleep with your coworkers.”

“Well, I didn’t , but...none of them were ever quite like you so...I guess you’re my exception, too.” She nibbled on her lower lip for a second. “You know, your boss didn’t exactly strike me as the type to be cool with office romances though…”

“Oh, no, Dez hates fraternizing. Says it's too dangerous.”

“Uh-huh. So, how exactly is this going to work?”

He grinned at her, “We’ll have to be sneaky. Real sneaky.”

“Shit. That’s... goddamnit that’s sexy.” She almost sounded annoyed at herself for giving in and he chuckled. “Alright, fine. I’m in...but this isn’t a relationship. I’m not your girl or whatever.”

He nodded, “Of course not. You’re an independent operator. Same as me.”

“Right.” She slid out of his arms and headed down the hall.

“Hey, where are you going?”

“To go get gloves, idiot. It’s not fair you can touch me but I can’t touch you.”

Deacon snorted at that and followed along after. He stopped just outside her bedroom and watched her slip on a pair. “You know, I have some theories about your weird hand thing.”

“I bet you do.” She walked back out and past him to the living room, eventually settling on one end of the couch.

Dang. He’d kind of hoped they could work this out in her bed without words, but alright. A little torture was probably deserved. He sat on the far end, trying to look as nonthreatening and casual as possible. “Yeah, see, at first I thought it was a germ thing.”

Nora nodded, “That’s what most people think. It’s what I tell them if they ask.” She shrugged, “It’s an easy out.”

“Yeah, but it’s a lie. You don’t care about germs.”

She turned on the couch and sat with her legs crossed. His eyes flicked down involuntarily and he noticed she was, in fact, wearing panties. White. Still lacy. Probably be real easy to take off with his teeth. “I care about germs.”

He blinked, lost for just a second. “Yeah, but not enough to wear gloves all the time.”

She grinned, “So what is it then?”

Deacon shrugged, “I dunno...I’ve noticed you don’t wear them if you’re alone, or expect to be alone...you won’t touch me without them so I’m guessing that probably extends to all people, but you touched your dog. Some people know, but it was probably on accident, right? You don’t seem happy that anyone knows. For a little while I thought maybe you had some kind of scarring or something that you didn’t want people to see, but they look perfect to me, so that can’t be it, either.”

Nora nodded, “Nice observations.”

“Thanks.” He smiled crookedly at her, “Don’t suppose you’d ever give me a hint, huh?”

She smiled back, “Don’t suppose I would. I offered to tell you once, if you recall, but you didn’t take me up on it.”

He grumbled, “Yeah, that was...a mistake…”

“Yes, it was.”

“Well, if I ever do figure it out, will you let me know?”

She considered this, “Maybe...but if I do, you have to take your glasses off whenever it's just us after.”

He sucked in a breath, “That...that’s a lot to ask, princess.”

Her hands came up, “And this isn’t?” She shook her head at him, “Anyway, to be perfectly honest, you wouldn’t believe me even if I told you. No one ever does.”

His eyes narrowed, “But Maya and Bobby do.”

“Yup, they do.”

“Who’s Maya anyway?”

She laughed, “Now that’s a good question. I don’t even know how to begin to describe her...but if you want, I can take you to meet her.”

“Would she tell me your secret?”

“Maybe, but you probably wouldn’t understand even if she did.”

That was...weird. “Where is this mysterious Maya?”

Nora smiled, “Back in Sanctuary. I have to go back there soon to get my stuff. You’re welcome to join me on the trip if you aren’t busy.”

Deacon’s eyebrows went up. He’d gone from hated almost-enemy to invited on a road trip. Awesome. “Yeah, sure...that sounds good.” He thought for a second, “Can you set things on fire with your hands?”

She snorted, “No, and if I could, I would have used that ability on you when you broke into my house.”

“Hmm...I’ll figure it out.”

“You keep telling yourself that, buddy.” She smiled at him and he felt the knot in his stomach finally relax. She’d at least mostly forgiven him at this point, surely. “So, can I ask you something?”

“Sure, babycakes. Ask away.”

She crawled up the couch and snuggled against him, her head on his chest. He draped an arm around her and acted like he had no idea she was doing it to listen to his heartbeat. Whatever questions she had, she wanted to make sure his answers were the truth. Shit.

“I’m assuming you know all about Kellogg and the Institute and their weird teleportation stuff, right?”

His hand skirted along the curve of her hip, “Yup.”

“And that scientist in the Glowing Sea, too?”

Deacon traced along the edge of her panties, “Yeah. Virgil. Picked a brilliant place to hide.”

“Don’t suppose you have any idea how I’m supposed to actually get to him, do you?”

He sighed, “Power armor could get you there. So could a hazmat suit and a boatload of Rad-X and Radaway.” Please don’t ask about the Brotherhood. Please please please.

“Hmm...I’m not a fan of power armor. It feels claustrophobic. I have a suit of it back in Sanctuary but I only wore it once. The hazmat suit wouldn’t be too bad, probably, but they’re rare, aren’t they?”

He nodded, “Yeah. Pristine ones in working condition, anyway. Plus, you can’t wear armor over them and there’s some nasty critters wandering in the Glowing Sea.”

“Damn. It’s a big place, too, right? How on earth am I supposed to find one man in all that?”

He shook his head, “I dunno, princess. I’ve been thinking about that myself.”

She laughed a little, “Maybe I should just bite the bullet and let Hancock turn me into a ghoul.”

Deacon chuckled, “No, that’s...that’s a bad idea.”

“I know. I was just kidding...what am I supposed to do?” She sounded a little lost and Deacon had a strange sensation rush through his veins when he realized she considered him an expert on this shit. Close to pride, maybe?

He planted a kiss on her head, “Don’t worry about it, Nora. We’ll figure it out. We’re going to get your boy back, alright? I promise.” Pre-Deacon was almost as shocked as he was that he actually meant it.

Nora went unnaturally quiet for a moment and then he felt a few tears hit his shirt. He didn’t say anything, just reassuringly rubbed her back.

“Do you have any kids, Deacon?”

“Nope. Wanted ‘em, but...it never happened.” He hated talking about this shit.

She laughed a little, “I had the opposite problem. I never wanted a kid, but it happened anyway...I didn’t think a person like me should be anyone’s mother, you know?” She sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “It was...a surprise. We were taking precautions. Nate was fine with it just being us and Alex. We traveled a lot; flew out to Vegas every other month and had a ton of fun...then I thought I caught this stomach bug I couldn’t shake.”

“A stomach bug named Shaun?”

“Yeah, he went by ‘Peanut’ until we knew he was a boy though.”

Deacon smiled at that. Peanut was a cute name for a baby. “Alex...that was your little brother, right? He lived with you guys?”

She nodded against him, “Yeah, for a while. He had been living with me when Nate and I met. I was...well, I was trying to keep him clean. He started using after my parents kicked me out and he was left there alone. Alex wouldn’t talk about it, but whatever they did to him was awful. He showed up at my dorm one day just after he’d turned eighteen and I almost didn’t recognize him...he was pretty deep into Med-X by then. I got us a little apartment and sent him to every rehab program I could find trying to save him.”

He shook his head, “That’s awful, princess. Did any of the programs work?”

She shrugged, “I thought they did. I dunno though...maybe if Jimmy had been alive it would have worked…”

Pre-Deacon’s heart was about to break for her but he had to ask anyway, “What happened to Jimmy?”

“He’d joined the Navy after he graduated high school. Served for a little over three years stationed on an aircraft carrier on the other side of the world. It’s reactor red-lined. All aboard were lost. We didn’t even get a body, just a flag in a box and a letter.” She shook her head, “He’d named me as his beneficiary and not our parents. Our mom...she accused me of all sorts of disgusting things after. I wouldn’t speak to her after that. I put the money that was left over after his memorial service into a savings account. It felt wrong to use it, you know? But then Alex showed up and I figured Jimmy would want me to use it to take care of him, so that’s what I did.”

He was starting to wonder if that whole American dream stuff had ever come true for anyone. “Was Alex excited to be an uncle?”

She nodded, “Yeah, he was. He really was. We were already living in Sanctuary Hills by then...Nate thought it would be good for Alex to not live in the city. Less temptation in the suburbs.” She laughed, “I found out after I got out of the vault that one of my neighbors had been a drug dealer. Can you believe that? We went to all that trouble to move and it was already there waiting. We just couldn’t catch a break.” She sighed, “Anyway, he promised this time he was going to get clean for real. He’d be the best uncle in the whole world. Nate and him planned to enclose our carport so the baby could have his room since it was closer to ours. I really thought maybe stuff was all going to work out. That I’d finally have the family I’d always wanted, you know? Just me and my boys.”

Deacon smiled at the idea. Nora might not think she was meant to be a mother, but it seemed pretty clear to him that she had been born for it. “So what happened?”

“One day...I was maybe six months along, I guess? I was doing laundry. I’d always done Alex’s laundry, too, and he...well, he was messy. Always had stuff in his pockets. Bottlecaps, gum wrappers, phone numbers...and since I’d gotten him a job at the Red Rocket up the way, he’d been coming home with these disgusting oily handkerchieves, too. He was driving me nuts with those.” She shook her head, “But one day, I put my hand in one of his pockets and there was a syringe. It jabbed me and I panicked. I had no idea what was in it or who he’d been using with. I was worried it would hurt the baby, so I bolted to the hospital. Told them someone had thrown it in our yard and I’d found it while gardening. I didn’t want him to get in trouble, even then.” She sighed, “Maybe that was part of the problem. I was always covering for him.”

“Hey, you were his big sister. That was basically your job, right?”

“Yeah...I guess. Anyway, they called Nate. He’d been at a lodge meeting. He came and I tried the story on him, but he knew I was lying. He always knew by that point. He went home and...I dunno what happened. They kept me overnight for observation and to run tests and I kept calling but no one would pick up the phone. When he brought me home, Alex was gone and there was a patched hole in the wall. Nate wouldn’t talk about it.”

Deacon thought about the man he’d seen in that pod all those years ago and felt a little bad for Alex for just a second. Nate looked tough even by Wasteland standards. At least two hundred and fifty pounds of enraged military-trained muscle coming at you would be terrifying. “Did you ever see him again?”

“Once. He snuck into the hospital after I had Shaun. He...God, he looked awful. Emaciated. His hands were shaking and his eyes...there was no trace of my Alex in those eyes. He gave me the same stupid ‘best uncle in the world’ speech. The same promises. I lost it. Cried and screamed at him...my emotions were kind of all over the place anyway and him showing up just...I said awful, horrible things to him. I even threw my Jello cup at him.” A few more tears fell on his shirt. “He ran away. That was the last time I saw him.”

“Damn, princess...I’m sorry.” It was completely inadequate but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“I haven’t even told you the worst part yet.”

He laughed a little in disbelief, “There’s a ‘worst part’?”

“Yeah...see, I gave up on him after that. Nate and I talked about it and we decided we couldn’t keep trying to save someone who didn’t want to be saved. We tried to just move on and forget about him. Be our own little family of three...but we were wrong. He survived. He survived it all.”

“Wh...shit, really? He survived the bombs?”

She nodded, “Yup. I found...evidence. He survived and thrived by all accounts. I called him worthless and a piece of trash and worse, and I was wrong. I’ll never get to tell him that. Or say I’m sorry or that I’m proud of him for making it. That’s the worst part.”

Deacon sighed, “Nora...the bombs dropping was probably a transformative experience for a lot of people. You couldn’t have predicted all that. If it hadn’t happened, he probably would have ended up in the gutter just like you all thought he would.”

She sat up and looked at him properly, “You don’t know that.”

“And you don’t know either.” He wiped the last few tears off her face. “Hell, maybe you losing it on him actually helped. Maybe you gave him something to prove. Maybe...he made it because he thought you didn’t.”

Nora rolled her eyes a little but he caught the relief on her face. “Well...that would be like Alex. He was stubborn...always did whatever you told him not to.”

He snorted, “Must be a family trait.”

“Hey, I am not…”, she caught herself and poked him in the side. “Fine. Maybe I am. Like you aren’t?”

“Me? How am I stubborn?”

“How are you not?”

He glared at her, “I’ll have you know I am the least stubborn person on the planet.”

She grinned, “That’s a lie. You’re stubborn and you know it.”

Shit. Caught again. “How do you do that?”

“Do what?”

“Read people the way you do. That’s been driving me nuts.”

“Oh, that.” She waved her hand. “Well...first, I had to pick it up to survive, you know? I learned real quick how to spot anger and resentment and that kinda thing. Second...I took kinesiology in college. It wasn’t required or anything, but I figured knowing how the human body worked and moved would be good for a lawyer to know, right? It was interesting. Like, when you cross your arms, it means you’re feeling protective of something...and most people’s eyes will slide to the left if they’re lying or unsure. That kind of thing. Third...well...that’s classified.”

Deacon frowned. She’d said it sassily, but it wasn’t a lie. “Classified?”

She nodded, “Yup. Classified Top Secret 1.4ACE. Spells ‘ace’, which is pretty cool.”

“I have no idea what any of that means.” And didn’t that suck a butt?

Nora grinned, “I know. That’s why I told you.”

“You...Hancock was right, you know. You are a brat.”

She snickered at him, “Yeah, and you love it. You know you do.”

He knew better than to answer that one, so he followed his baser instincts and pounced her instead, pinning her to the couch while she giggled.

“Hey, I’m still mad at you, mister.” She tried to glare at him through the giggling and Deacon smirked.

“Yeah, I can totally tell.” He managed to secure her hands over her head in one of his own and nibbled on her lower lip until she gave in and kissed him while he rubbed against her. He’d been primed for liftoff since noticing her panties earlier and now that she was beneath him he was rock hard, aching to be in her. He tried to not think about how very relieved he felt that she still wanted him, even if he’d bruised her ego with his lies and machinations.

Just a crush. Just a crush. Just a crush.

She moaned into his mouth and moved deliciously with him. The friction of it was a sharp kind of torture and it reminded pre-Deacon of a far more innocent time, when he’d been all fumbling hands and hormones. Back before he’d mastered the ability to talk a person right out of their clothes. When every time had still been an exciting adventure and not just part of a job.

Deacon leaned just a little off of her, bracing most of his weight on his knees, and used his free hand to tear her shirt open. Buttons went flying and she bit his lower lip hard enough that he tasted blood. He jerked his head back and growled at her.

The murder was back in her eyes as she snarled at him, “Are you trying to make me more upset with you right now? Really?”

He huffed at her, “I’m trying to make up with you, dammit. Just shut up for once and let me.” His hand found her breast and he kneaded it, rolling the nipple between his fingers as he did. Nora still looked ready to kill him, or bite him again anyway, so he avoided her mouth altogether and instead feasted on her breast, nipping lightly before suckling hard until he heard her soft whimper. His eyes swept up over her face and he was amused to see she was now biting her own lip, as nature intended.

Deacon released her breast and murmured against her skin, “Now are you going to let me taste you properly or are you going to try to smother me with your thighs?” He was only half joking. Angry Nora was a fearsome, unpredictable creature to try and seduce. He almost felt like he was trying to bed a valkyrie.

She sniffed at him, “I dunno. I guess it depends on how weak your lip-service is this time.”

Now those were fighting words. “I didn’t hear you bitching about it last time. In fact, I distinctly remember you begging me for more at one point.” He sat back on his heels for a minute and roughly pulled her panties off before tossing them carelessly behind him. She had him so damn riled he couldn’t even enjoy how daintily old-world they were.

Her exasperation was palpable. “I wasn’t talking about that. I was talking about that ridiculous performance of yours in front of your Railroad buddies. You sounded like a goddamn game show host. That better not be how you are around them all the time or I’m going to have to seriously reconsider this whole arrangement.”

Deacon wrapped his hands around her hips and shoved her up the couch a bit to give himself room to work. “That’s an act, genius.”

She snorted, “And this isn’t?”

That made him pause. Was this an act? Hadn’t it started off that way? But now this, who he was when he was with her, felt more real than anything, regardless of if they were playing a game or not. Reality had always been a slippery thing for him but he almost felt like she’d swept his feet out from under him with her question.

Pre-Deacon stepped into the temporary void and spoke for them all, “The man I am when I’m with you is the man I want to be, princess.”

Her sudden, sharp inhale had Deacon forcefully pushing him back. She was already far too aware of the difference between them. It had been bad enough in the dark, when he could just shrug it off later as another game. But there was nowhere to hide in her bright living room except behind his glasses, and she was too perceptive for them to be effective.

He mentally shook off the moment of instability and noticed the keen way she was watching him, like she was able to see the fragments that danced in his mind. Yeah, the time for talking was over now.

Deacon pushed her legs up and over his shoulders and buried his face in her, nuzzling his way to her center and murmuring happily when his tongue found her delicious as ever. True, it had only been a day and a half since he’d savored her, but it had felt like forever.

He could feel the stress melt out of himself as he worked; every tiny sound and movement she made acting as a balm for his nerves. There was probably a very bad, very dangerous reason she had this kind of effect on him, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to care. Two of his fingers pressed into her and he smiled against her when she immediately tightened around them. Her hands found his head and she pulled him closer, grinding against his face. He slowly licked her clit before settling his mouth over it, swirling his tongue and gently sucking.

She moaned and tried to wiggle closer, “Oh, God, Deacon, right there.” There was a desperate urgency to her voice that made his cock twitch.

His fingers pushed deeper within her, pressing upward while he used his hand to fuck her roughly like she liked. She was writhing under him, the pressure building within her quickly. He could see little tremors in her thighs now and the way her breathing seemed to be stalling out. Deacon hummed against her and she whimpered as her pussy squeezed hard around his fingers before the tension in her broke in waves and little flutters. Her hands were trembling as they released their hold on his head, and he moved up her body to press a kiss against her lips.

Nora smiled at him as he pulled back and helpfully wiped his chin with her sleeve. “Someday you’re going to have to tell me how you got so good at that.”

He grinned back, “Would you believe I’m just naturally gifted?”

She shook her head, “No.”

“No?” He feigned outrage. “How dare you. I’ll have you know I was a prodigy.”

She snickered, “If that were true, you really would have a harem.”

He drank in the way her eyes sparkled for just a minute. “So, ready for bed, princess?”

A mischievous kind of smirk appeared on her face. “Yeah, I think bed sounds good.”

Deacon rolled gracefully to his feet and held down a hand to help her up. She seemed a little surprised he was being courteous and pre-Deacon grumbled about it. The idea that she viewed them as less than gentlemanly didn’t sit well with him. Nora stood and checked her shirt over. Only two buttons had survived his assault and she huffed irritably at him.

“You owe me a shirt.”

He shrugged, “I can definitely replace it. I think I actually have that exact same one hidden in...somewhere.” It was hard to remember all his hidey-holes when his brain was only operating on twenty percent of the blood it was used to.

She glared at him for a second before tugging on the shirt he was wearing. “I want this one.”

Pre-Deacon was already taking it off before he even registered what was happening. “Okay, fine.” He pulled it up over his head and shivered a little in the cold air. “Here. Don’t say I never gave you anything.”

Nora shed her ruined shirt and slipped his on. It was no different than any of her other shirts but the fact that it had been his made it a million times sexier to him for some reason. She fluffed her hair a little with one hand and looked around, “Where’d you toss my panties, anyway?”

“Uh…”

She sighed, “You still owe me a pair of panties from last time, you know...and I don’t want a pair you’ve worn.”

Oh, right. The panties from her interrogation. The ones she was absolutely never getting back. “Noted.”

She gave him a saucy smile, “Stay here, baby. I’ve got something that’ll make your night.”

His eyes went wide behind his glasses and he watched her saunter around the corner, lingering on the way her hips swayed. Maybe she’d found a new stash of pre-war lingerie. Or maybe she had a new game for them, some sexy little costume for him to tear off. Or maybe…

Nora reappeared carrying a blanket and a pillow, which she tossed on the couch. “There you go!”

He blinked at her in confusion, “Uh...are we building a pillow fort?”

She laughed, “No, silly. It’s for you. For sleeping. It’s a little chilly in here tonight.” She gave him a bright, helpful hostess kind of smile.

Deacon grimaced, “Still not forgiven, huh?”

The smile got brighter, even as an edge appeared in it. “Oh, not even a little bit, honey.”

“I thought...we just…”, it hadn’t even entered his mind that he wouldn’t be welcome in her bed tonight and he felt pretty stupid for not seeing this coming.

“Yeah, we just.” She nodded, “Why should I have to suffer just because you’re an idiot?” Her arms folded across her chest and the look she gave him was equal parts scoldy and scornful. “You want back in my bed, you’re gonna have to earn it, slick.”

He flopped down on the couch and grumbled, “I thought I had earned it.”

Her eyebrow went up at his petulant expression, “You’ll find I cannot be bought with orgasms...or anything else.”

He stared up at her, “Then how…”

Nora shrugged, “You’re smart. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”

Deacon’s gaze dropped to the floor. “I’m sorry for...everything, Nora. I really am.” He tried to put as much sincerity as he could muster into his voice to cover the fact that he wasn’t completely sure exactly what she wanted him to apologize for.

“That’s a start. Good night, Deacon.”

He watched her walk back to her room and listened to pre-Deacon’s scathing lecture that grew louder as she went. “Good night, princess.”

Chapter Text

Deacon didn’t get a lot of sleep that night. Of course, it was difficult to sleep when the voices in your own head wouldn’t shut the hell up and kept talking in circles. It always came back to the same message: fix this or else. Like he needed extra incentive to salvage their relationship with Nora. Please.

He hadn’t invested a half decade in her for nothing, after all.

Since sleep wasn’t really an option anyway, he instead snuck out a few hours before dawn and hit up Wellingham at the Taphouse for his finest provisions. His princess had been too upset with him to eat dinner the night before (a fact pre-Deacon had squawked about approximately fifty billion times) so she’d be sure to wake up hungry, right? Curves like hers weren’t built on sass and temper alone, after all.

By the time Nora woke up, the little clock on her kitchen wall read 7:05 and Deacon had already been through three cups of coffee and had a pretty decent breakfast hash in the works. He listened to the soft footsteps coming up behind him and pretended like he didn’t hear.

“I didn’t know you knew how to cook.”

He glanced over his shoulder and almost wished he hadn’t. She was adorably rumpled, hair all over the place, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and still wearing his shirt. A perfect morning sex fantasy brought to life.

Deacon turned back to the stove, cleared his throat a little, and shrugged nonchalantly, “I’m a man of many talents.”

“Oh, of course...and deep humility.” He couldn’t see Nora’s face, but he could hear the smirk in her voice. “Anything I can help with?”

That surprised him. Was she just trying to be a good hostess or did this mean she was less angry with him this morning? He decided to not press his luck. “Not a thing. Grab some coffee. This is almost done.”

He watched her from the corner of his eye and pretended to really focus on stirring the hash. He liked the way she carelessly pushed the tangled mess of hair back out of her face as she leaned into the fridge to grab some milk, liked how her lips looked beestung and her cheeks rosy from whatever dreams she’d had. He even liked the unknown song she was distractedly humming, still off-key. She couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but it was still nice. This felt...domestic. Cozy.

Weird.

Pre-Deacon might have been soaking this moment up, but it was making Deacon downright antsy. He powered through it though and managed to get their food onto plates without incident. She was sitting cross-legged on the couch, cradling her mug like it was made of gold and watching him with those mindful eyes of hers. He set her plate on the coffee table within reach and retreated to the other side of the room, choosing to sit in the chair instead of anywhere near her space.

Nora’s eyebrow went up a little at that but it seemed like the right move when a tiny smile appeared on her face. Deacon’s goal for the day was to show her just how nonthreatening and attentive he could really be. So far, so good.

She took a sip of her coffee but didn’t touch her plate until he’d eaten a forkful off his own. Pre-Deacon stomped around in his mind, hands on his hips, railing at him over how far her trust for them had fallen. That she’d actually think he would put something nefarious in her food was giving the kid fits. Deacon ignored him and just smiled politely at her, solely focused on Nora’s reaction.

She took quite possibly the smallest bite he’d ever seen anyone ever take and immediately frowned at him. “It’s good.” The surprise in her voice was somehow both complementary and infuriating.

Deacon rolled his eyes behind his glasses, “You’re welcome.”

Nora’s gaze dropped to her plate and she shook her head, “No, I mean...thank you. It really is good.” She gave him a sincere smile for once and he almost forgot to chew before swallowing his own bite.

“It’s just hash. Anybody can make it.”

She laughed, “I can’t. I can’t cook to save my life.”

“I thought all housewives back in your day could cook.”

“I wasn’t a housewife. I was a lawyer. I could manage a pretty good sandwich...and I was really good at ordering takeout, but other than that, no.”

He chuckled, “I could teach you. It’s not hard.”

“Yeah, that’s what Nate said. It only took two fires before he gave up. That’s why we bought Codsworth.” She poked around her plate for a minute, looking thoughtful. “Who taught you how to cook?”

Thank god. An inane, mostly safe subject. “It was just me and my dad when I was a kid...he couldn’t cook, either, but my babysitter could. She taught me.”

“Was she nice?”

Deacon couldn’t even remember what the woman had looked like, but pre-Deacon still had a place in his heart for her. “I guess. Nice but kinda crazy. She was super into my dad but he never noticed.”

“But you noticed.”

He nodded, “I’m pretty sure everyone else noticed. She wasn’t exactly subtle.”

“Hmm...you know, that’s maybe the fifth or sixth true thing you’ve ever told me.”

Ah. So that was the game. “Well, things were different before. We’re...allies of a sort, now. I try to be as honest as I can with my allies.”

Her head tilted, “So if I wasn’t considering joining the Railroad…”

He grimaced a bit, “Let’s not talk hypotheticals. They’ll just get you mad and me in trouble.”

“Oh, that’s reassuring.” She switched the empty plate for her mug and gave him a mildly disapproving stare. Probably the same one she’d given to her less trustworthy clients. “I still don’t really understand all the need for secrecy. Especially with me. I mean, I know the Institute replaces people, but I’m pre-war. I’ve been hermetically sealed for two hundred years and you yourself said you’ve had eyes on me since I was thawed out. I feel like of anybody in the Commonwealth, I’d be the least likely to be some Institute spy or whatever.”

Deacon shook his head, “It’s not about not trusting you, it’s more about not trusting anyone, Nora. You don’t have to be a replacement or a spy to do the Institute’s work. They’ve got eyes everywhere...hell, we’ve even had runners within the Railroad who’ve gotten tricked into reporting to an Institute plant.”

Nora’s eyes narrowed a bit, “That sounds a lot like paranoia, Deacon.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I know. But paranoia is the only thing that’s kept the Railroad and me going all these years. Don't ever let your guard down in this world. When you do, inevitably that's when everything goes to hell.”

“So it's like we’re still living within the Red Scare then?”

He smiled a bit at her reference. The paranoia swirling around communism in the old world was nothing compared to what the Institute could inspire. “Pretty much. Loose lips sink ships, princess, and get innocent people killed.”

“Your job must be lonely then...if you’re head of intel and all.”

“Hey, one man’s lonely is another man’s paradise. Some of us prefer to work alone, thank you very much.”

She blinked at him, “So...if I join the Railroad, we won’t be working together? I’ll get partnered up with someone else?”

Jealousy immediately bubbled up within him and he squashed it down as best he could. “No, we’ll be working together. That’s...non-negotiable.”

The careful look was back, “Even if we aren’t having sex?”

“I…”, Deacon was momentarily stunned. The idea that they’d never get back to where they’d been hadn’t really been an option as far as he was concerned, but here she was saying it like it could really be a thing. That wasn’t good.

Or wait, was this another test? Did she want more from him than just sex? Maybe she did want to be friends, despite all her protestations to the contrary. Was that the way to earn her forgiveness? Treat her like a friend? Shit. He hadn’t had a friend-friend since...forever, really.

If sex really were off the table, could he deal with not having her in his life? Would it be better to cut all ties or to try to stick it out? Pre-Deacon and Nora waited for him to answer and he finally nodded. “Yes, even if we aren’t having sex.”

Her smile told him it was the right answer and he smiled back.

Friends. Okay. He could totally do this. Yeah.

They headed out just past eight. Nora went straight for the gate, but Deacon grabbed her hand and lead her over to Commonwealth Weaponry. That ridiculous rifle had to go.

The smile Arturo gave Nora all but died when his eyes landed on Deacon. Crap. Bad news. “Hey, Geiger counter, bud?”

Deacon glanced at Nora before answering. She was watching with keen interest, as always. “Mine is in the shop.”

“You the guy about the article?”

He gave him a slick smile, “The one and only.”

Arturo’s eyes flicked up to the Mayor’s office for a split second, “I’d be careful around here. The target keeps late hours with strange visitors.”

“That’s not proof.”

“Hey, not even Piper’s dug up anything more yet.”

Deacon sighed, “Yeah...got it. Keep your head down and no heroics.”

“Sure, sure. Now, I’ve got some great stuff if you’re interested.” Arturo leaned on his counter a bit and gave Nora a flirtatious smile, “We can talk guns, or maybe you wanna consider something more up close and personal?”

“Oh, Mister Rodriguez, you always tease me so.” She giggled like a girl half her age and Deacon wanted to punch...someone. Surely not Arturo, no. Not one of their best informants. But someone.

Why was MacCready never around when you really needed him?

Arturo laughed, “I’m pretty sure I’m not the tease here, bonita.”

When Nora batted her eyelashes at him, Deacon about lost it. Instead, he grabbed the rifle off her shoulder and shoved it at Arturo. “We need to trade this piece of crap in for something worth a damn.”

“Hey! No, we do not! That’s my rifle!” Nora immediately snatched it back from a very confused looking Arturo.

Deacon sighed, “Calling it a rifle is an insult to guns everywhere, Nora. It doesn’t even shoot straight.”

She huffed at him, “Says you.”

“Says anyone who looks at it. Arturo, help me out here.”

“Sorry, bonita. He’s right. The sight is all wrong, the lenses are out of alignment...plus you have to hand crank it and that’s dangerous in combat. Not to mention it’s loud when it fires and literally glows in the dark. It’s just not the right gun for you, muñeca.”

“You sound like Bobby.” Nora’s hands had tightened protectively on her piece of crap rifle and Deacon had a lightbulb moment.

“It’s your first, isn’t it? Your first gun.” That would be the only explanation for MacCready allowing her to continue to use the damn thing. Kid was soft for shit like that. He probably still had that old R91 from Lamplight stashed away somewhere.

“It’s not the first one I used but...Preston gave it to me. It’s just special, is all.” She stared down at the musket, lost in a rare moment of sentimentality and Arturo nodded sympathetically at her.

“You never forget your first.”

Nora’s head came up at that and she chuckled, “That’s true...I guess maybe it is time for an upgrade...but I’m not trading this one.”

Deacon shook his head but didn’t try to argue. If she wanted to waste caps then that was her business. “So what’ve you got for the little lady, pal.”

Arturo was already digging under the counter. “Just got a new pistol put together the other day. Top of the line.” He set a laser pistol on the counter proudly. “I call it Old Faithful.”

Deacon whistled as Nora hesitantly picked it up. “Nice, friend. She’s a beaut.” And about a million times better than the piece of crap she was currently carrying.

“It’s a pistol though...doesn’t that mean less range? I don’t like stuff to get too close.”

The gunsmith nodded, “Generally speaking, a pistol will have less range than a rifle, but this one has the same range as your musket and it’s more accurate. Weighs less and is quieter, too, so you’ll be more effective with it. See how the housing is solid? No one’s going to see where you’re shooting from. That will help with staying hidden, yes?”

“Same ammo though?”

He nodded, “Same ammo. Just more efficient so you’ll get more bang for your buck. Plus you won’t have to reload as much.”

“And you can always upgrade this to a rifle later. It’s not hard to do. I can swap out the stock for you sometime, if you want.”

Nora smiled a little at his offer and he ignored the funny way it made his chest feel. “Well...if you both think it’s the right call, then I guess it is. How much?”

Arturo smiled, “Normally, I’d sell a piece like that for over nine hundred caps, but for you...seven-fifty.”

“Shit, man, that’s highway robbery.” Deacon gave him a hard frown which went completely ignored.

“You must think I’m rolling in it, Mister Rodriguez. How about...six hundred and three new books?” She grinned cheekily and he laughed.

“They better be in mint condition to be worth fifty caps each.”

“Mint condition classics. She’s guaranteed to love them.” They stared at each other for a moment, Arturo considering her offer carefully while her eyes somehow got softer and more appealing. Deacon wasn’t sure exactly how she was doing that but it was working on both men. He was about ready to pay for the damn thing himself when Arturo finally nodded.

“Deal. Go get them.”

Nora hooted triumphantly and trotted back to her house while Deacon made his own purchases. Never could have enough ammo in your life, after all.

“Didn’t know you were a reader, Arturo.”

He shrugged, “They’re for my girl. You have kids? My daughter's shy, but oh lord, she goes through books like mad.”

Right. Little Nina. “Nah, never had the pleasure. It’s nice that you’re encouraging her to read. Not a lot of parents do that.”

“I've been dealing guns all my life. So did my dad. One day, my daughter's gonna pick up the mantle...but she’s gotta do it her own way. She takes after her mother. Has a quick mind. Clever, you know? Already smarter than me. I promised I’d keep her in school, keep her learning for as long as I could.”

Deacon noticed the infinitesimal way Arturo’s jaw tightened when he mentioned his lost wife. Another victim of the Institute’s seemingly endless kidnappings. It’s what had drawn him to working with the Railroad. He’d never forget how the man had pleaded with them to find her, save her before it was too late. The way the hope in his eyes had died when they’d had to gently explain that it was already too late; no one ever came back, and if they did, it wasn’t really them.

“I’m sure Adelita would be proud of how you’re raising her.”

Arturo just nodded and started wiping down Nora’s new, already clean gun. They stood in mildly awkward silence until she reappeared. She’d left her musket behind but had a sack of caps and a small stack of books tucked up in her arms.

“Okay! First, here’s your caps. All six hundred.” She handed them over and Deacon chuckled a little at how Arturo didn’t seem interested in counting them. He’d never seen a vendor who actually trusted a customer. “And Nina’s books! First, ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Easily the greatest love story ever told. Second, ‘Black Beauty’. The greatest love story about a horse ever told. I know there aren’t horses around now, but there are illustrations on some of the pages, so she can imagine. I read a million horse books when I was a kid. All girls love them. And finally, the pièce de résistance! ‘The Mark of Zorro’! It’s the best! Have you ever heard of Zorro?” She paused just long enough for both men to shake their heads. “Oh, man. He’s so great! Playboy Don Diego by day, the masked crusader for justice Zorro by night! There were comics and movies...if I ever find one, we’ll have a movie night at my house. I promise.” She set one last book down on top of the stack, “Also, you’d mentioned before how Mister Zwicky kept saying Nina doodles in class. So I found her a proper sketch book.”

Arturo blinked at the stack, “That’s...thank you, bonita. She’ll be over the moon.”

Nora smiled, “Good...you know I was going to give these to you for free though, right?”

He laughed, “Ah, you got me again!”

“M’hmm.” She shook her head at him, “You have to stop letting me take advantage of you, Mister Rodriguez. You have a little girl to take care of.” Nora picked up her new pistol and winked at him as they walked away.

“Hey, you take all the advantage you want, chita!”

She laughed and waved in acknowledgement and followed a mildly grumpy Deacon out of Diamond City.

He couldn’t say why he was grumpy. They’d gotten the new gun, after all. She hadn’t spent too much. His informant was happy.

Must be the weather. Too damn sunny.

They took a right out of Diamond City, Dogmeat joining them at the gate like they’d planned it that way, and headed for Lexington. The most direct path would take them through a few messy places, but Deacon was curious to see how she handled herself in the field. From all his reports, she did alright. Seeming to prefer sneaking to confrontation and decently capable in a firefight. Suited him perfectly, but there was only so much written reports could tell you.

“So he works for you guys, too, huh?”

Deacon grinned at her, “Figured that out, did you?”

Nora gave him a considering look, “He wasn’t one of the people you had tailing me, was he?”

“Nah. He just keeps tabs on...certain things in Diamond City. Why? Would it have bothered you?”

She frowned at him like he was an idiot, “Yes, it would have bothered me. I like him. I like his little girl. It would have been..upsetting to find out he was just nice to me because it was his job.”

Oh. Ooooh. “That’s...you know that’s not why I’m nice to you, right?” Not the only reason, anyway.

She shrugged, “Does it even matter at this point?”

Pre-Deacon was sharpening the edges on his knife-point lectures and Deacon winced, “Yeah, it matters. I like you for you. That’s not pretend. You’re...I dunno, fun. Smart. Interesting. If you were some kind of obnoxious birdbrain or something, Goodneighbor wouldn’t have happened. We wouldn’t have happened. I’d have passed you off to some unfortunate soul and been glad to be rid of you. But I’m here. I know you don’t know how big of a deal that is, but it’s a pretty big deal.”

“Oh, it’s a pretty big deal? So...because Deacon the almighty has graced me with his continuing presence, I should...what? Be grateful? Feel flattered?” There was a surprising amount of anger and heat behind her words.

He sighed, “No. Of course not. If anyone here should be flattered, its me, because you keep giving me a chance even though I keep fucking them up, apparently.” They were coming up on one of his little hidey holes. He couldn’t very well go walking through Boston in the same clothes he’d worn in Diamond City. “I just don’t really work well with others. Never have...and honestly, I’ve spent more time with you than with anybody in years and we only met a couple of months ago. This thing we have, whatever you want to call it, it’s...intense, for me. Makes me feel a little buggy sometimes, to be honest.”

“Buggy? Hmm.” She looked thoughtful as they passed the last of the DC patrolmen and nodded at the man absentmindedly. “You know...paranoia, antisocialism...you should really get checked out somewhere, Deacon. No man is an island entire of itself.”

“John Donne...and this man is. A happy little island with palm trees and coconuts.”

Nora glanced at him before slipping on her shades. He wasn’t sure if the look she’d given him was full of amusement or pity. Maybe both. “Well, you’ve got the nuts part right. If you’re an island then what does that make me?”

He grinned at her, “A mermaid, obviously. Or maybe Tinkerbell.”

She stopped in her tracks. “What?”

Deacon stopped, too, confused. “What what?”

“Why would I be Tinkerbell?” Her hands tightened on her gun sling and her stance was changing. Guarded. She looked ready to flee or fight him.

“I...because Neverland was an island? Wasn’t it?” He wasn’t sure where he’d gone wrong, but something had definitely gone wrong.

“Oh...yes. That’s right. Neverland was an island.” She started walking again and he followed, a million questions in his head.

Tinkerbell. Had Nate called her that maybe? She’d clearly thought he knew something he didn’t. It made him wonder just how many secrets she actually kept in that head of hers. This wasn’t a day for digging though. It was a day for wooing her back with mostly-authentic interactions and easy conversation.

But he was putting it in the notebook for later.

He decided to play it light. “Didn’t sleep well last night, huh?”

The last of the tension drained out of her as she shrugged, “I slept fine, thanks. What about you? Couch comfy?” The smile she shot him was sharply biting.

“Oh, yeah, super comfy. The comfiest night of my life. I might never use a bed again.” His sarcasm could have been heard from space.

She just laughed though, “Glad to hear it.”

“Hey, wait up just a sec. I’ll be right back.” He dipped into the alley they’d just passed and smirked a little at her annoyed huff and muttering. She might want to traipse around the Commonwealth with a target on her back, but he definitely did not.

“Oh, sure, I’ll just wait out here in the open with my new gun I’ve never fired and my dog. That’s cool.” She sounded annoyed in a resigned kind of way. “What do you think, boy? Anything good around here?”

The dog sneezed loudly and Deacon guessed that meant yes since Nora immediately gave him the command to seek.

“You know, if you had to use the bathroom, you could have just done it at my house. I mean, you did make me breakfast. I wouldn’t have said no.” She’d poked her head into the alley. He could tell from how her voice echoed off the walls. “Deacon?” Too bad he was already gone.

Deacon studied her stance a bit as he silently moved behind her. Completely wrong and totally defenseless. She didn’t even have her gun at the ready and she’d just sent her dog off. Fuck. Mac must have had his hands full keeping her safe out in the Wastes. The way her hair hung down her back in that braid...it was perfect for grabbing and dragging her down to her knees. The only actual armor she wore was a chest piece under her coat and an oversized army helmet, and that had only been at his insistence. Her jeans and sneakers would do nothing to deter a raider’s bullet, or their hands, for that matter.

It was a miracle she was still alive.

He slapped his hand on her shoulder, fully prepared to give her the scare of her life, when she became a blur and the world abruptly flipped around him before the air whooshed out of his lungs. Deacon lay on the ground, trying to catch his breath and blinking at her from behind his glasses. She’d flipped him. His hand hurt. Really hurt. Nerve pain. He couldn’t force it into a fist.

“Deacon! What the fuck are you doing?” Nora frowned down at him for a moment before extending a hand to him. His eyes left her face just long enough to notice it was still gloved.

He accepted it and let her help him up. It took a few tries but he finally found his voice. “Wha...what the fuck am I doing? What are you doing? What the hell was that?”

“That was Judo.” Her face had that closed look to it again.

“Judo, huh?” He flexed his right hand. Feeling was finally making its way back into his fingers. “I didn’t know Judo involved pressure points.”

Her head tilted a little. “I...it does. I’m sorry. Is your hand alright?” She took it in her left and rubbed the area between his thumb and forefinger soothingly.

Whatever annoyance he’d been feeling was quickly evaporating in the face of her touching him of her own volition for the first time since the night before. That probably wasn’t very island-like. “Yeah...yeah, it's fine. I didn’t know you knew martial arts.”

She immediately dropped his hand and shoved both of hers into her coat pockets. “Oh...yeah, well...you know, you pick stuff up.”

Back to cagey already. Their morning constitutional wasn’t going so hot.

“That’s cool. I’ve got a few moves myself.” He did a few hokey ninja chops and she chuckled at him.

“I bet you do.” She took a half step back and took in his new outfit. “That’s...a different look for you.”

Deacon grinned and did a half-turn for her. His ass always did look nice in road leathers. “I keep a few choice outfits stashed all over. SOP. Makes it harder for the Institute to track me.” She was clearly checking him out behind her shades and he pretended like he totally didn’t notice.

“Uh-huh. Is that SOP for everyone in the Railroad, or just you?”

“Well, I recommend they do it, but no one ever does. They aren’t as good at being a secret agent spy guy as I am.”

“Because you’re the best.”

“That’s right, sweetheart.”

She shook her head and they resumed walking. “Well...I like this outfit. It might even be better than the officer one.”

He strutted along a few paces behind, “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. You’ve got great shoulders. You’re like Marlon Brando with James Dean’s hips.”

Damn. That was some high praise. Wait… “Young, Streetcar Named Desire Brando, or old Godfather Brando?”

“I was thinking more Guys and Dolls Brando...still young, but not as muscly as he was as Stanley.”

Oh, yeah. High praise indeed. “Thanks. Like the hair?”

She snickered a little, “I do, but I always thought it was rude to comment on a man’s hair piece so…”

“Nah, it’s cool. You already know I’m bald. This just completes this look. I like to wear a wig with a few other outfits, too.”

“Do all the wigs look like Elvis’ hair?”

“Heh, I guess they do. Were there other kinds of wigs back in your time?”

“Yeah. They must have been made of more biodegradable stuff though.”

He sighed, “That’s a shame. I bet I would’ve looked great as a blonde.”

“They do have more fun. What’s your actual hair color?”

She’d asked it like it wasn’t a big deal but it was. He tried for cheeky. “Clear.”

Her sigh told him that he’d failed. “Come on, Deacon. Your head is shaved. You aren’t naturally bald...and your body hair is kinda brown…”

His hand came up to run over his head but stopped when he remembered the wig, “Fine, fine. If you must know, I’m...a ginger.”

Nora snorted, “Well, now I can see why you’d want to keep that a secret.”

“Oh, ha ha.”

“Do people still have stupid superstitions about redheads? Is that why you don’t want people to know?”

He shrugged, “No, not really. It’s just...a very distinctive red. Easy to spot.”

“Oh...I get it.” She glanced at him over her shoulder. “That’s a shame. I bet it’s lovely.”

Deacon hoped the heat in his face wasn’t translating into a noticeable flush. “Thanks.” She went back to watching the road ahead of them and he took a deep breath. He needed to work on schooling his body to not respond to her like that, or their secret office not-a-romance was going to end up going public.

“Think you’ll ever grow it back out?”

“Sure. Someday. When the Institute’s gone and I can finally retire...course, by then, I probably really will be bald.” They’d come up on the bridge that the USS Riptide had managed to run into. Deacon whistled once, sharp and low and Nora automatically stopped. Good instincts on his princess. “This is the USS Riptide bridge. Some boat transporting war shit that got stuck. It’s always full of raiders.”

Nora slipped her sunglasses back off and squinted at the boat in the distance. “Looks like they were carrying infantry supplies. Nate hated those IFVs.”

“Yeah?”

She nodded, “Yeah. He said they felt like coffins without the fancy pillows.”

Deacon snorted a little at that and gestured at the boat, “So...how do you want to proceed?”

“Me? I thought you were the expert here.”

He nodded, “I am, but you aren’t. You’re learning. So, student, how do you think we should get past them?”

Her eyes narrowed, “I’m not calling you Master, you know. Now or ever.”

Well, shit. He hadn’t even thought about that one, but it would’ve been pretty hot. Dammit. He smirked at her, “It’s cool. I like it when you call me ‘Daddy’ better anyway.”

“Excuse me? You called yourself ‘Daddy’, mister man. That wasn’t me.”

“Oh, it wasn’t? Huh. Must have been a dream I had then.”

She rolled her eyes but he noticed she didn’t swear off the name. Heh. “If it were me, I’d probably just find a way around them. Go over a different crossing.”

Smart. Wasted time, but still smart. “Normally I’d say that was a good choice, but there’s super mutants to the left of us and even more raiders to the right.”

“Okay, so...stealth. We sneak over.”

“It’s a pretty open space though. Not a lot of cover, and you’ve got to cross over their makeshift bridge. Probably be near impossible to do it without them noticing.”

She was starting to look annoyed with him, “Maybe for you.”

Deacon smelled a wager on the horizon. “Are you saying you’re better at sneaking than I am? Moi? The master of stealth? The ninja of the Railroad?” Nora just glared flatly at him and he grinned. “Bet on it?”

“Sure.”

“Alright. If you can get over the bridge without a single shot being fired, I’ll give you...twenty caps. I’ll even let you go first.”

She slipped her glasses into her pocket. “Okay. If you can get over without being detected, I’ll give you...five minutes.”

“Five minutes? Five minutes of what?”

Nora grinned at him like she’d already won, “Of whatever you wanna do, baby.”

Deacon mentally scrambled around for some kind of response when Dogmeat trotted up to them, a large roll of duct tape in his mouth. Nora took it and stuffed it in her pack.

“What a good boy!” She bent down and whispered something in the dog’s ear and he took off like a shot, crossing the bridge like a shadow. The men on the boat below didn’t even look up. “Well, he can do it. Guess he gets the steak tonight.” Nora gave him a little wave, “See you on the other side, honey.”

He watched her softly jog along the bridge until she was maybe thirty yards from the boat. She crouched down and slipped along the edge, keeping a careful watch on the raiders. Deacon kept watch, too, through his scope. This might be a fun game right now, but one wrong move and she’d be in danger and he wasn't having that. Especially not with five minutes of paradise on the line.

Nora paused at the raiders’ improvised bridge and he watched her gently push on the ancient wooden boards. Testing them for stability, no doubt. She poked and prodded them a bit until, seemingly satisfied, she placed one cautious foot on the first step and leaned her weight onto it. From the way she froze, he knew it had made a creak, even if he couldn’t hear it from his vantagepoint. He quickly scanned the boat, but all aboard were still oblivious to the shenanigans happening right above their heads. He watched her reposition her foot and ease on up the wobbly slats.

He appreciated how her ass looked before it disappeared over the other side while Pre-Deacon applauded her skill. Soon she appeared on the other side, her dog running to join her at the midway point. He waited until they were both safely across before he started his own run.

He almost made it over. His head had popped over the ramp and he could see Nora looking around for something on the ground, then he watched her wind up and chuck a large piece of pavement as hard as she could at the wreck. It slammed into a metal shipping container and the resulting clang reverberated through the air, the homicidal screams of doped up raiders following close behind.

That little cheater.

Deacon bolted and got maybe twenty paces before he heard a raider yell the alarm. They’d spotted him. He cursed and kept his eyes on Nora, barbarous fantasies of retribution cycling through his mind like the rotor on a Vertibird. She was partially hidden behind the abutment, safe from the bullets and laughing at him. Oh, she was going to regret that. He managed to avoid their bullets, and they didn’t give chase once they saw how fast he actually was, but still. It was the fucking principle of the thing.

He slid to a stop once he was across and stepped toward her, gulping air. He had no plan of attack, he just needed to get his hands on her. He’d figure it out from there.

If the look on his face and the obvious threat in the way he was storming over had any effect on her whatsoever, she didn’t show it. Instead, she gave him a sassy smile and held her hand out.

“I’ll take those twenty caps, if you please.”

He forced himself to stop a few feet away from her. It was as close as he could get without spontaneously exploding into violence. “You. Cheated.”

She just laughed, “Well, of course I did! Why wouldn’t I?”

“Why would you?”

“Because I didn’t want you to win, obviously. Come on, weren’t you the one telling me to never let my guard down? I can’t believe you didn’t see that coming. You’re awfully naive for a spy.”

Yelling would be too dangerous, so he settled for angrily hissing at her instead. “Naive? Naive? Are you fucking kidding me right now? You could have gotten me killed, Nora!”

She waved her hand, “Nah. I wouldn’t have let them actually kill you.”

“You...you are crazy. You know that? Crazy!”

“Never said I wasn’t. Maybe I’ve been crazy the whole time.” Nora leaned towards him a little and whispered, “It would explain a lot, wouldn’t it?” She said it with such sincerity that Deacon was completely thrown off his stride.

Did she really think she was crazy? Had someone in her past called her that once? Or maybe had her committed? That rough childhood and the weird...whatever it was with her hands...that unexplained, removed tattoo…

“Nora, you aren’t crazy. I didn’t mean it like that.” The anger was completely drained from him. The possibility that his princess might ever question her own sanity was too awful for any of him to contemplate.

She shrugged, “I know.”

He wasn’t convinced, “You really aren’t. You’re...probably the sanest person I know.” Not that that was saying much.

A sad smile crossed her face for just a second, “That’s sweet, honey. Thanks for saying so...I’m sorry I almost got you shot and all. My aim was a little off. I thought it was going to hit the water and they’d all go to the side of the boat.”

Deacon turned a little and eyeballed the distance, “Hell of a throw. You play baseball or something?”

“As a kid...it was something to do and it kept my brothers and I out of the house during the summer. The library always closed at five, but pickup games went on until dark, so we’d read most of the day and then go play.”

Yeah, he couldn’t see any kid dying to spend quality time with Mister Mike or the Missus. “Sounds fun.”

She nodded, “It was...haven’t thrown a pitch in years though. So...yeah. Sorry. It was a stupid thing to do. Won’t happen again.” Her contrition seemed genuine. Either that or she was getting a lot better at playing him.

“Apology accepted. Now let’s get moving before something decides to eat us.”

Chapter Text

Deacon and Nora had managed to make it a whole two miles without incident when her Pipboy made that little chirp noise they all did when a new radio signal got picked up. Nora promptly hopped up on an old, rusted out Chryslus Cherry Bomb and fiddled with the knobs while Deacon kept a lookout. When she finally got the signal to come in, Deacon’s heart almost stopped. Brotherhood.

“This is Scribe Haylen of Reconnaissance Squad Gladius to any unit in transmission range. Authorization Arx. Ferrum. Nine. Five. Our unit has sustained casualties and we're running low on supplies. We're requesting support or evac from our position at Cambridge Police Station. Automated message repeating…”

Nora let it repeat once before flipping over to her map. “Cambridge. That’s right on the way. We can help them.”

“No.”

She finally looked up at him and frowned, “No?”

Deacon fought against the icy panic in his stomach, the way the shards in his mind were all screaming at him to grab her and bolt far, far away, and remained as outwardly calm as he could. “Not our fight. We shouldn’t stop until we hit Lexington.”

“Oh, come on. It’s some poor little girl on the radio calling for help.” She hopped off the car and brushed the seat of her pants off.

“No, it’s a scribe. That means Brotherhood. They’ll be fine. You saw their big airship come in, didn’t you? It’s probably already sent reinforcements. You don’t want to fuck with the Brotherhood.” That sounded perfectly reasonable, right?

Nora looked thoughtful, “Brotherhood, huh? I haven’t talked about them to Preston yet, but wouldn’t they be good allies for the Minutemen to have? Bobby says they’re in charge of the Capital Wasteland...and they do have a lot of firepower. Helping them now could make relations smoother down the line.”

Shit. That was reasonable, too. “Yeah, but...just...the Brotherhood. In the Capital Wasteland, they really weren't bad. But now...with Elder Maxson... Let's just say, not a fan.” Probably the nicest way to possibly say he wanted the kid’s head on a pike.

“Huh. Bobby wasn’t that taken with him himself...what’s your beef with him?”

Interesting. He wasn’t aware Mac had a problem with Maxson. That could be helpful. “What’s MacCready’s?”

She shrugged, “Something about stealing fusion cores from some town? Bobby said they’re little better than raiders. That if you aren’t Brotherhood, they view you as less than human almost...and they hate ghouls. He doesn’t stand for anyone being bigoted like that. I don’t either, just for the record.”

God, she was great. “Yeah, well, there’s all that, but there’s a lot of other stuff. They hate synths, too. All synths. I met them on an op in the Capital Wasteland a few years back. At the time, they had a few good people in their ranks still, and a hell of an Elder, but that’s over now.” He could see she was still undecided so he pushed a little. It was a hard tale to tell, but if it could save her… “Let me tell you a story about the Brotherhood.”

Nora plopped back onto the ancient fender and nodded, giving him her full attention. “Okay, shoot.”

He lit a cigarette and took a deep drag to settle his nerves. This one always hurt. “A long time ago, there was this kid. Vault-dweller like you. Smart. Naive. Young. He was one of those do-gooder types...also like you.” She rolled her eyes at that and he smiled at her. “You probably would have thought he was a soft mark, and you would’ve been right. He was. He always believed the best of people, and he was always trying to make the world a better, brighter place.” The voices in his head were eerily silent. They all hated this story. The reminder of their failures and the crushing guilt...but it had to be told.

“Sounds like someone the Railroad would have been interested in.”

Deacon chuckled darkly, “Yeah, we were. Anyway, at the time, the biggest problem in the Capital Wasteland was a lack of potable water. There was this big contraption in the Jefferson Memorial. Project Purity. A massive, technologically advanced filter designed to bring clean water to everyone up and down the Potomac. The kid’s parents had helped build it, along with a bunch of other scientists.”

“Wow...did they ever get it going?”

He nodded, “Yeah. They did. The kid teamed up with the Brotherhood to fight off some assholes who were going to use it to turn the river into a giant anti-rad serum. They wanted to rid the Wastes of all mutations. It would have killed all the ghouls and pretty much everything else, too. It was a tough fight...a lot of casualties, but the Brotherhood runs it now.”

“Oh….oh! I get it. They’re doing something messed up with the water, right? Like, selling it or something? That’s fucked up.”

“Nah, nothing like that. If you’re human, they’ll give you the water...after their own water needs are met, of course.” She scowled a little at that. “See, afterward, shit got messy and the kid...he really felt like he belonged in the Brotherhood, you know? He believed in them and saw them as family. They even made him a Knight...and then…” Fuck, he hated this part. Parts of him would mourn that kid until the day he died.

Nora reached out and took his hand. He hadn’t realized it was shaking until she held it steady in her own. “And then?”

He sighed and tossed the rest of his cigarette. “They betrayed him. Betrayed him and everything he’d stood for. Used him to cover up their own internal, fucked up shit. Said he’d turned traitor and killed their Elder. Declared him rogue and put a price on his head. It destroyed him. He didn’t have a chance after that.”

“Oh, Deacon...that’s awful.”

He nodded, “Yeah. Yeah, it was.”

“So he...died, then?”

His eyes closed uselessly against the old memories rolling through his mind, “Yeah, he died.”

She squeezed his hand and he squeezed back. He’d almost gotten his breathing back under control when she spoke, “It was the Lone Wanderer, right?”

His eyes snapped open and he stared at her, “What? How do you know that name?”

Nora smiled at him and shook her head a little, “More like how don’t I know it. Bobby talked about him like he was the second coming of Grognak or something. He told me he met him a few times as a kid but...honestly, I didn’t believe him. The way he talked about the man, he was like Paul Bunyan or something. A folk hero or a myth. I mean, he told me he tore a car in half with his bare hands.”

Deacon smiled a little, “Nah, no myth. He was as real as you or me...the car thing is just a story though.”

She looked impressed, “And you knew him? Like, actually knew him?”

“Yup. Spent a lot of time in the Capital Wasteland. Met a lot of crazy people. I’ll tell you the tale sometime.”

She tugged him over until he stood between her legs and wrapped her arms around his neck, “I’m gonna hold you to that. You can’t trust a word that comes out of Bobby’s mouth when he starts with his stories.” She pulled him down until their lips just barely met and kissed him soft and sweet. Chaste, even. He barely had time to get his arms around her before she gently broke it off.

He resisted the urge to lick his lips and gave her a half-smile. “Not that I’m complaining or anything but, what was that for?”

“That’s for being honest... and for caring.”

“Ah, trying for positive reinforcement, huh? I dunno...it’ll take a lot of smooches to make an honest man out of me.” Probably fewer than it should though.

Nora’s eyes sparkled a little, “I’m not looking to make an honest man out of you. Just...not so much of a liar is all. I don’t really care if you lie to the whole damn world, Deacon, I just don’t want there to be lies between us. Big ones, anyway.”

His eyebrows shot up, “But little ones are okay?”

She shrugged, “Sure. If I say ‘honey, do these pants make my butt look big?’, you say…”

“Fuck yes and I love it big.” Her laughter chased the last of the bad memories away and Deacon smiled. She could be so good for him if he could just stop screwing shit up. “What? That’s the god’s honest truth right there!”

She fought to get the giggles under control, “Anyway ...what I mean is, little white lies don’t bother me. Lies that protect the innocent and are tied to your job? Also don’t bother me. What bothers me is how betrayed I felt when I found out you were...you. It made me feel like I...like the fun we had was just part of a job for you.”

Pre-Deacon showed back up just in time to kick him in the pants a little over that. “No. You aren’t...I mean, it started off as…”

Her hand covered his mouth, “I get it. Stop trying to explain or you’re going to say something that will piss me off again.” He smiled against her glove at that. “Just...let me be mad for a little while, okay? And give me time to adjust to the new us. You said before that this is intense for you, right? Well, it’s intense for me, too. I wasn’t really dealing very well with it before I knew who you actually were, so...it’s just going to take a minute, okay?”

The muscles in his lower back finally started to relax and he nodded, “Okay. Yeah. I get it.”

Nora slid back off the car and out of his arms. “Good. Now let’s get going. Lexington is going to take a little longer to get to if we have to completely avoid the Brotherhood.” She headed northwest, hopping off the road and headed towards the wastes, Dogmeat scouting ahead like the good boy he was.

Deacon watched her go for a moment, stamping down the opposing feelings of triumph and guilt. He hadn’t told her the Lone Wanderer’s story to manipulate her. Not really. He truly believed the Brotherhood was bad news for her and the entire Commonwealth; and he saw way too much of the kid in her already. She might have a tart candy coating, but inside she was all sweetness and good intentions. Just like 101 had been. He hadn’t been able to save the boy, but he had a chance to redeem himself with her. He had to protect her from all the assholes who would be drawn to her like bloodbugs to a flame.

Her moving closer to forgiving him and him getting rewarded with a kiss wasn’t planned. He shouldn’t feel anything but relief. Still, he could feel a few of the shards in his head poking at him. Why? They’d gotten what they all wanted.

He shook his head and decided to ignore them. There was a reason he was in charge and that reason was because he could prioritize and make shit happen. Let the others have their complicated emotions. He was the captain of this ship, and the captain had decided to focus on nothing but getting back into Nora’s pants and getting those pants into the Railroad. The end. Full stop.

A few straggling ferals out of College Square served as target practice for Nora and her new pistol. Deacon liked the way she really focused hard and stilled her breathing before pulling the trigger. Probably something Mac had taught her. She was clearly not comfortable with killing still, but she was willing to. That’s what was important.

“You know, you're really good at this. Too good.” He watched a bloatfly explode into goop fifty yards away and gave her a polite golf clap.

“Years of practice. Nobody on the boardwalk could beat me at the shooting gallery...skeeball, either, for that matter.”

He could see it in his head. Nora in a pretty pre-war dress, carefree and happy. Heading to the pier after a long day of scamming tourists. Probably on the arm of some lucky guy, or an unlucky mark. He could practically smell the popcorn and hotdogs.

“We should hit up Nuka World someday. You could win me a teddy bear.”

“That place is still around?”

“Yeah...I heard raiders took it a while back, but yeah. Probably wouldn’t be too hard to clear out.”

“M’hmm.” She gave him a sassy grin, “So is that what passes for a date nowadays? Going to a known raider stronghold, razing the place and then the girl wins the guy a teddy bear?”

He grinned back, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”

“That’s a lot of effort for one date.”

“You know I’m worth it, sweetheart.”

She was about to retort when the Geiger counter on her Pipboy started going nuts. Deacon’s head came up and he bit back a curse. Big, green clouds were rolling in and the sky was going brown and static. Radstorm.

“Ah, man. This again.” Nora dug around in one of her inside pockets and pulled out a brown bottle, wordlessly handing him a dose of Rad-X before dry swallowing her own pill. “How long has this been happening? Do you know?”

He shook his head, “Radstorms come in off the Glowing Sea. Probably started sometime after the fallout started raining down. Come on, we need to find someplace to hide for a while. This is gonna be a big one.”

She checked her map and grabbed his hand, heading for the outskirts of Lexington, “There’s a little apartment building. Bobby and I cleared it last time. It should be good.”

“Oh, well, if Bobby cleared it…”, he rolled his eyes but let her pull him along. Their contact was clean on the other side of the town. There was no way to reach him before the main body of the storm hit. He hoped the guy had a place to bunker down in.

Nora lead him to the backdoor of a rundown little building directly under the overpass they were supposed to meet their guy on. Handy. They wrestled the door open and Deacon pressed his weight into it when shutting it, just in case. The thing looked to be made of steel. Wouldn’t keep out all the radiation, but surely some. The stairwell was dirty and smelled faintly of carrion. Dogmeat ran on ahead and they waited until a happy bark from the top let them know it was clear.

“That mutt of yours is really handy dandy, babycakes.”

She paused on the stairs to glare at him, “Excuse you. He’s a German Shepherd, not a mutt...and he’s wonderful.”

“A German Shepherd? Who the fuck is still breeding German Shepherds?”

“I dunno...they were used by the police and the military though. There’s probably some of them left around somewhere, right?”

Phantom Enclave soldiers passed them on the stairs and Deacon shivered. “Yeah. Probably.”

The apartment at the top of the staircase probably hadn’t been anything to write home about even before the war. One large room, oddly shaped, with an alcove that had been turned into a living room, a tiny kitchen and a bed pushed up against the far wall.

Cute. Snug. Charming. Only a half-step below a hovel.

He ran a finger across a counter and sighed. He missed Nora’s house. “Where does all this dust even come from? The dust faeries?”

She shook her head at him, “Oh, come on. It’s not that bad. I’ve stayed in worse. Pre-war, even.”

That surprised him. “You did?”

“Well, sure. I turned eighteen right when I graduated high school. You think my parents let me stay home? Nah, man. I got kicked out. Lived on the streets until I could move into my dorm.”

He watched her drop her pack on the floor and stretch. Dogmeat immediately curled up next to it. Nora homeless was something he couldn’t see. Someone so beautiful and smart and good just tossed out into an uncaring city was… “Terrible. That’s... terrible. I can’t believe they did that to you.”

Off went the army helmet and chest plate. She undid the leather tie on the end of her braid and loosened her hair with her fingers. “Much better. My head’s been itchy since this morning.” Finally comfortable, she flopped on the couch. It looked like it had fairly recently had most of the dust beaten out of it. He wondered if she’d made Mac do it or if the kid had offered. “And don’t worry about it, honey. It was a long time ago and they’re very, very dead.”

Deacon set his rifle on the counter and leaned against it, “I don’t get it, princess. If I had a daughter like you, there’s no way I’d just abandon her like that.” No fucking way.

She gave him a lopsided grin, “You have no idea what kind of daughter I was, silly. Maybe I deserved it.”

He frowned at her, “No. There is no way in hell you could have deserved the shit they put you through.” The rage he felt at her abusive parents was an oddly unifying thing. All of him was starting to wish her parents had become ghouls just so he could go shoot them himself.

“I dunno, I was pretty rambunctious with my reading and drawing and hiding in closets.”

Oh, teasing. She was teasing him. How the hell had he missed that? “Quite a handful, huh?”

“Yup. I keep telling people, I’m a brat from way back.”

He watched her kick off her sneakers and relax into the ancient upholstery. She looked out of place here to him. She should be somewhere nice and safe and clean, surrounded by warmth and comfort. That tiny bit of guilt from before was back. Maybe it really was selfish to drag her into the Railroad. Maybe...no. She was chasing her son and she would do it with or without his help. Maybe after everything, if he was still standing, he could get her out of here. Someplace different. Someplace good. He sighed internally at his own folly. There was no place on Earth that was good enough for her now. Not anymore.

“How’d you survive?”

Her head was resting against the back of the couch now and she opened one eye to look at him. “Survive what?”

“Getting kicked out like that.”

“Oh. That.” She waved her hand like it was no big deal. “It was pretty bad at first. I didn’t have any of my money. See, you had to be eighteen to get a bank account...or you had to have a parent come in and open one for you, which was never going to happen for me, so all my money was hidden away in my mattress.”

He smiled a little at that, “How very hillbilly of you.”

She just smirked back, “Yeah, laugh it up. They never found it, you know. Once I was able to sneak contact with Alex, I told him where it was so he could buy food and it was all still there.” He nodded in acknowledgement of her ingenuity. “Anyway, it was early summer, so I mostly slept in parks or subway stations at night, went to the library during the day. I sent Jimmy a telegram COD and he wired me some money after I opened my own account. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get me a hotel to stay in for a couple of days and some art supplies so I could go back to work. It got easier after that.”

“What’s COD?”

“Cash on delivery. Usually you had to pay postage before you sent a letter or a telegram, but you could also have someone else pay for it so long as you could prove they were good for it. My telegram was headed for a military base, so, they knew it was okay.”

“How long were you on the streets for?” He loved that she’d been able to get out of it through sheer determination and that glorious talent of hers, but it was still infuriating that she’d been put in that situation to begin with.

“Um...maybe two months total before I started staying at fleabag hotels? I didn’t want to bother Jimmy with what was going on and kept trying to sneak back into the house, but Mike had lost yet another job so he was home all the time. Man could sleep through a war but my feet on the living room carpet and he’d be up in a flash.”

Yeah, he really wished Tom could get that whole time travel thing figured out already. “You were a tough kid, Nora.”

She smiled at him, “I guess. I bet you were, too, though, right? You’d have to be in this world.”

“Yeah.”

Her eyes went to the thick windows high up on the wall and watched the storm for a minute. “Do you...do you think they’re treating him alright?”

The way her voice wavered ever-so-slightly told him exactly who she was talking about. “Yeah...yeah, I’m sure they are.” Deacon came over and sat on the coffee table across from her. “Listen, usually when the Institute takes people, they’re never seen again. Ever. If they do come back, it’s as a monster or a replacement.” He cleared his throat a little, “Now, I don’t want you to get pissed, but...Amari is one of ours. She showed me the holo of what you guys pulled from Kellogg’s brain.” Nora’s head came up enough to watch him carefully but her face was blank and unreadable. “Shaun looked good. Great, even. Well-fed, well-clothed. He had comic books and seemed polite and well-spoken…”

The poker face broke. Her eyes narrowed, “Yeah, polite on a kid isn’t always a good thing. I was polite.”

He nodded, “I know. I know it’s not, but he didn’t seem fearful of either of them, right? I mean, that was a fucking courser who came to get him. They’re like the Institute’s private gestapo. I’ve seen grown men shit their pants when they see one in person, and your kid didn’t flinch. It was like he had no idea how violent either of those men are...or were, in Kellogg’s case.” He grinned at her and she grinned back. He liked the slightly savage look of her smile a little too much. “Your kid, whatever they’re doing with him, is okay. He seems like they’re treating him well.”

“You really think so?”

“I really do.”

“Do you have any idea of why they would have taken him? He was so little...who’d want a baby?” Her eyes were swimming with tears and he took her hand since he couldn’t blow up the Institute right this second.

“I dunno, princess, but we’re gonna find out, okay? We’re getting your boy out of there. Whatever it takes.”

Her smile was wobbly but grateful. “Thanks, Deacon.” She tugged on his hand and he followed like always, sitting next to her on the couch. Her head rested against his shoulder like it belonged there. “By the way, I lied before.”

“Color me shocked.” He chuckled and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “What’d you lie about?”

She sighed, “I did not sleep fine last night.”

He grunted in agreement, “Me, either. Bad dreams?”

“Some...you know, that first night, at the Rex? That was my first full night’s sleep since the Vault. I dunno what it is about you, but...you keep the nightmares away.”

Pre-Deacon’s pride was puffing up at that. Deacon just smirked though, “Maybe I just tire you out too much for nightmares.”

Nora giggled, “Maybe.”

Her head felt a little heavier on him and he nudged her with his elbow a little, “Hey, if you want to catch some sleep, go for it. We’ll be here a while, and I prefer traveling at night anyway.”

“Night owl, huh?”

“Something like that. Night time is the only time I feel I can breathe easy.”

She yawned and snuggled against him a little, “Yeah, I get that. Sunshine’s alright, but moonlight’s where its at.”

He found himself yawning, too, and shook his head against the drowsy feeling she was creating in him. “Hey, go lay down, sleepy head. I’ll keep watch.”

She sat up and frowned at him, “You should get some sleep, too.”

Deacon shrugged, “Somebody’s gotta guard the castle gates, princess.”

“Yeah, him.” She pointed over to where Dogmeat lay and Deacon noticed for the first time that although the dog seemed relaxed, his head was turned toward the hallway and his ears were still up. He was already on lookout.

“Huh...well, alright then. I’ll take the couch.” That would put him between her and anyone who somehow managed to get past her furry death machine.

“‘Kay.” She got up and trudged off towards the bed. “Night, Deacon.”

He wasted no time in getting comfortable. It was barely past noon and it had already been a long ass day. “Night, sweetheart. Good Sir Pup, I leave the portcullis to you.” Dogmeat’s eyes flicked over to him for the briefest of seconds before returning to the stairwell. Nora’s quiet chuckle just barely reached him through the rumbling outside, but it went all the way down and soothed every shard in a wonderfully dangerous kind of way. He let it carry him off and his last conscious thought was that somehow he almost felt as relaxed as he typically did after their playtime. Weird, but...kinda nice, too.



 

 

The knife was in his hand and at her throat before he even knew what was happening. Deacon woke up only when the person he had a death grip on didn’t fight back or try to pull away. Nora.

Nora had tried to wake him. Fuck.

He released her wrist and put the knife away. Her face was still in shadow but he had to assume she was pissed. “Shit. Sweetheart, I’m sorry. You just…”

“You were a soldier.”

Deacon shook his head, trying to clear the last remnants of sleep from his mind. “What?”

“Nate used to wake up that way. Always on high alert. Once he heard a car backfire on our street and he stuffed me under the bed before either of us were even awake. He had this look on his face...same as yours.”

He sighed, “I’m no war hero like your dreamboat was, Nora. I’m just a guy who grew up surrounded by...this.” He waved his hand around. “Pretty sure everybody’s like that now.”

“Oh.” She shifted a little and the pale light from the windows finally found her face. She looked...embarrassed?

“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” She wasn’t acting like she’d been injured, but he also couldn’t see her neck.

“No, I’m okay.” She absentmindedly rubbed the place on her wrist where he’d grabbed her and he noticed she’d taken off the Pipboy. Things were impossible to sleep in.

“Okay...is something wrong?” Because if something wasn’t wrong, he was about to be really fucking annoyed. It was just cruel to tell a man he could have a rare nap and then wake him up for no good reason.

Nora shifted again and he finally realized she wasn’t wearing pants or her coat. “I’m cold.”

He rubbed his forehead and wondered if maybe she’d somehow hit her pretty head on something between here and the bed. “Yeah, it’s winter in Boston. It tends to get cold. Put some clothes on, Einstein.”

She huffed at him like he was the one being stupid. Again. “Well, I was kinda hoping maybe you wanted to keep me warm instead, but okay then…”

His body reacted before his brain and he caught her arm again, jerking her off balance. She stumbled a little and ended up straddling his lap while he grinned at her. “I thought you said you needed time to adjust?”

She scooted back a little and smirked at him, “Oh, come on. Don’t tell me you actually believe in the idea of linear time. The me of right now is an entirely different me than the person who said that.”

The corners of his mouth turned up just a little. Man, Tom was going to love talking to her. “So what’s the game this time, princess? Raider and helpless settler? Or we could go for a B movie kinda thing...serial killer versus a hot girl in her underwear? I’ve got the knife if you have the panties.”

“Who says I’m wearing panties?” His head immediately started to drop down and she caught his face in her hands. “Hey, eyes up here, buddy. We’re going to play a little baseball.”

Deacon’s eyebrow and interest went up at that, “Baseball, huh? I’m really not dressed for that.”

“Well, if you don’t want to play…”, she started to move like she was thinking of getting off his lap and his hands went to her hips to keep her in place.

“I never said that. How do we play?”

“It’s pretty simple. There are four bases.” She paused, “You know about bases, right? You seem like you’re really into Old World stuff.”

“Yeah, sure. First, second, third, home.”

“And what they meant to kids in my time?”

Ooooh, okay. “Yeah. A kiss, petting, heavy petting...home.”

She chuckled at that, “Yeah. Okay, so, I’m going to ask you four questions. You’re going to answer them. For every true answer, you get a base. For every lie, you earn a strike. Three strikes and you’re out.”

Ah, shit. “Then you won’t get warm, princess.”

“Then I’ll get myself warm and you can sit here all by your lonesome thinking about your life choices while I do it.”

He made a sound somewhere between a whine and a laugh, “That’s cruel, Nora.”

She shrugged, “Take it or leave it.”

Fuck. The tiny sane sliver of his brain said this was a terrible idea, but the whole rest of him was ready to riot if he took his hands off her hips. Que sera, sera. “Okay, let’s play.”

That predatory smile was back. The one he remembered from their first time. “First question...why did you first start following me?”

“That...that comes dangerously close to violating opsec, princess.”

“So you’re taking the strike?”

He wrestled with himself for a minute, “No...no, I’m not. Alright, I first started following you because I got intel that the Institute was messing around with your vault, which was weird, since it was supposed to have been destroyed a long time ago. So...when you popped out, it just seemed natural to follow you. You were the sole survivor. They seemed interested in you specifically, which made me interested.” He’d given her the absolute bare bones of the story, but it was all truth. That counted, right?

She stared at him thoughtfully, “I don’t think that’s the whole truth, but its not a lie, either. Hmm...base granted. Barely.”

Deacon grinned at her and snaked a hand into her hair, cradling the back of her head and pulling her mouth down to his. He’d been wanting to kiss her properly since that little peck earlier, but this was just first base. Good pre-war girls didn’t like boys taking things too far, right? So he went for slow and gentle. It still make the blood in his veins race, especially when she hummed happily and slid her tongue into his mouth.

He hadn’t known French kissing was allowed at first base, but okay then.

The hand on her hip flexed a little. He was dying to really touch her but that wasn’t allowed...was it? Did it count if you were just overwhelmed with passion and your hands just sort of...moved themselves? Isn’t that how things used to be when he was a kid? Things always started one place and then went somewhere else, right?

His hand slid up a little, his thumb curling around to just brush the underside of her breast and for a second, he almost thought he got away with it. Then she was smacking his hand away and suddenly the warmth of her mouth was gone from his. Crap.

“Fresh. That’s not first base and you know it.” Her tone said he was in trouble but her eyes were sparkling. Still part of the game, then.

“So ask me another question then. This is almost taking as long as actual baseball.” He pressed a soft kiss to her lips again and then moved along her jawline, nuzzling against her neck and nibbling at the pulse he found there, drinking in the way she shivered and giggled a little.

“You must have been one hell of a skirt chaser back in the day with how you move, baby. Especially if you think anything we’ve ever done has been slow.” Her hands were still primly on his shoulders, but he could feel her fingertips digging in a little. She was already starting to break, too.

“Would you believe I was the quiet kid in the corner who could barely look a girl in the eye?” He murmured in her ear before going back to leaving an impressive hickey on her neck.

She shifted just a bit on his lap and shuddered, “Making up for lost time then, are we?”

Deacon scraped his teeth along her neck, “Are you gonna ask me another question or not?”

“Okay, okay...what’s your real problem with Bobby?”

He froze and the boner in his pants started deflating just thinking about that twerp. Goddammit. “That’s...why does it matter?”

Nora sat back and tilted her head at him, “Because I like him and he doesn’t seem to know you, but you know him.”

Oh. He rolled his eyes, “I had the...pleasure of making his acquaintance in the Capital Wasteland. He doesn’t remember because he was just a little hooligan and I had a different face at the time. He was a punk then and he’s a punk now.”

“Seriously? That’s it? He was rude to you as a child?”

He scowled at her, “It was more than rudeness. He shot at me.”

“Well, what were you doing that he had to shoot at you?” She crossed her arms and was giving him that same obnoxious maternal stare Dez had perfected.

“I wasn’t doing anything! He shot at me because I was a mungo.”

“A mungo?”

“Yes, a mungo. The incredibly mature word Lamplighters called anyone who’s balls had dropped. I went to their stupid little cave, barely said two words and he shot at me, okay? He was a natural even back then. Little asshole would have blown a hole through my leg if I hadn’t had armor on.”

Nora pouted at him and patted his cheek. “Aw, poor baby. Did the wittle boy hurt your wittle leg? Want me to kiss it and make it better?” He glared at her and she just giggled at him. “So it’s not that he’s some secretly nefarious bad guy then?”

He sighed, “No, he’s...I mean, he was a Gunner. That makes him a raider…”

“Reformed. He left of his own accord because he didn’t like how they operated...and he only joined in the first place to earn money to save his son, Deacon.” The stare was back.

Deacon wondered if she’d be this forgiving with him is she ever knew the whole truth of who he was. “Yeah...I guess. It’s stupid. I know it’s stupid.”

She nibbled on her bottom lip thoughtfully, “I wouldn’t care except...I love him. He’s a permanent feature of my life now. I don’t want you two going for each other's throats all the time if there’s no real reason to.”

He blinked at her in shock, “You love him?”

“Well, yeah...how many adopted little brothers do you think I have, Deacon?”

Oh. Oh, right. The brothers thing. He relaxed his jaw and chose to not wonder why it was clenched in the first place. “So what do you want from me? I can promise I won’t shoot him, but that’s about it, princess.”

“Can’t you just tell him what happened? He’s so suspicious of you now, you know. He kept saying he knew your voice.”

Fuck. “That...would definitely violate opsec. I don’t get face swaps for funsies, Nora. I have to get them because I’m pretty high up on the Institute’s Most Wanted.” Among other lists.

“Oh.”

Pre-Deacon flooded his mind with remorse and contrition. The disappointment she could pour into such a tiny word should be against the law in Deacon’s opinion.

“Look...if you want, I can lie to him. I’ll tell him I just have one of those faces, or that we played poker sometime when he was drunk off his ass.” He could spin a lie so tight around that kid he’d have no choice but to believe it.

“The poker thing might work,“ she looked thoughtful for a moment. “Wait, you do face swaps? So this isn’t actually your face?”

This was quickly becoming twenty questions. That wasn’t the game. “Do I get the base or not, Nora?”

She rolled her eyes but scooted a little closer to him and pressed her lips to his. This time, when his hands moved over her breasts, she leaned into it, moaning into his mouth. He kneaded gently and felt her nipples harden. She must have taken her bra off for her nap. Helpful. One of her hands curled around his shoulder while the other reached between them to the bulge in his pants, squeezing gently and rubbing until he groaned at the friction of it.

One of his arms wrapped around her, pulling her tight against him while he ground against her. He could feel the heat rolling off of her through his pants and the way her hips were moving against his was driving him crazy.

He leaned away just enough to break off from their kiss. He was starting to get pretty desperate for her to ask another question, but her lips chased his hungrily and she leaned against him, grinding hard on his lap.

This was some second base.

Deacon finally had to pull her away with a hand in her hair. She was panting, eyes dark and cheeks flushed. Those delicious little frustrated sounds she sometimes made were back. He was having enough trouble keeping himself under control in this game. It didn’t seem fair that he was having to be in control of her, too.

“Ask another question.”

Her smile was almost absurdly feline, “Maybe I don’t want to yet. Maybe I like this base.”

“Ask another question.” The hand in her hair tightened for just a moment, “Now.”

She couldn’t seem to care less that he was about to explode. “Bossy.”

“Brat.” It came out as a growl and her smile grew just a bit.

“Fine...why are we in Lexington?”

Goddammit. She was going to make him spoil the surprise and everything. “We’re going to our old HQ to pick something up.” That was a crap answer but she was still moving against him, snuggled up on his chest, making little happy noises right in his ear and that wasn’t helping him think any. His hands found her hips and pushed her harder down on his now painful erection. Traitors.

She smiled against his ear and whispered, “That isn’t getting you third base, baby.”

Of course not. He took a deep breath and tried again. “We’re getting a prototype that Carrington had to leave behind. He’s a dick but he’s technically Dez’s second and we need a bargaining chip to get him on our side if we’re getting you that agent status you so rightfully deserve.”

Nora shifted a little on his lap and his head fell back onto the couch. She’d found the perfect angle to both torture and arouse him at. Goddamn fucking cheater. “Seems simple enough. Base granted.”

“Hallelujah.” Deacon’s hand immediately went between her legs. She was wearing panties and he wasn’t sure if he was happy about that or not. Felt kind of like some kind of cotton. Soft, smooth...wet. He used three fingers to cup and define her lips and enjoyed the way her happy noises started to have that needy whine he was so addicted to. “I thought you said you were cold. You feel pretty warm to me.”

She squirmed against his hand and nipped at his earlobe. “Please...”

He chuckled, “Oh, now you can be polite.” His middle finger pressed into her core through her panties just a bit and she moaned as the wet fabric rubbed her clit. “Is that what you want, sweetheart?”

“M’hmm.” She nodded against his neck.

He pushed her panties aside and teased her folds with two fingers, coating them in her slickness. “You’re so wet already, princess. I didn’t think nice girls got this wet at third base.” She whimpered and tried to wiggle her hips down, but he pulled his hand away. “And so greedy, too. Good girls definitely don’t get so greedy.” He leisurely started undoing the buttons on her shirt, pulling down her tank top until her breasts spilled out into his hands. Warm, heavy, perfect. He’d never held breasts he couldn’t completely get his hands around before her.

Nora had given up whining against his neck and was watching him instead with hungry, impatient eyes. Deacon ignored the petulant look on her face and instead took his time playing, dropping soft kisses along the tops of her breasts while his fingers squeezed and massaged. He liked the pink flush that illuminated her skin, how her chest heaved with every breath. He caught a nipple with his teeth and the way she breathlessly squeaked made a wicked smile cross his face. She was so beautifully sensitive and responsive. His tongue swirled around the bud and she trembled in his arms. He wondered if she had any idea how powerful she made him feel. That he could control and play her body like the exquisite instrument it was.

She took a shuddering breath and whispered, “Please, Daddy.”

Suddenly he could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears as the blood rushed from his head and into his pants. His eyes met hers and there was a tiny smirk hidden deep under her innocent pout.

Maybe he wasn’t the only musician in this concert.

He slipped one hand back into her panties and pressed a single finger into her, laughing softly when her hips immediately started moving. “Look at that. No self control at all. What a naughty little girl you are, princess.” His thumb found her swollen clit and started rubbing in slow, feather-soft circles. She bucked against him and his other arm went around her waist to hold her in place. He kept his movements slow and, if the noises she was making were any indication, incredibly frustrating. “Shhh, it’s alright, sweetheart. Daddy will take care of you.”

She writhed in his arms, unable to break free of his restraint. “I need...please…”

He tutted at her like his own body wasn’t screaming at him to just fuck her already. “What do you need, princess?”

“More. I need more. Please?”

Deacon smiled gently at her, “Please what?”

“Please...please, Daddy. Pretty please?” The desperation in her voice was delicious, almost irresistible. He’d have to work on building a resistance to it later.

“Good girl.” Deacon pushed another finger deep inside and relaxed his hold on her just a little. She rocked faster against his hand and her hands dug into his shoulders.

“Oh, god. Thank you, Daddy. Thank you.”

He felt like he was going to explode through his pants any second now. The sun had shifted since they began and a few errant rays of light were shining through the windows. One of them hit her in a perfect spotlight and caused a reflection on the ancient TV screen across from them. Deacon watched it over her shoulder, mesmerized at the glowing figure writhing against the darkness. What a perfect metaphor for their entire relationship. Her in the light and him in the shadows, just as it should be.

Her breath was coming faster now and his hand was dripping wet. He could feel her tightening around him. Sneaky cheater.

“That feels good, doesn’t it, princess?” He waited for her to open her eyes and nod at him. He smiled, all patience and indulgence. “Tell Daddy when you’re about to come, sweetheart.”

She blushed a little but nodded. His lips found hers and he carefully nibbled her lower lip like it was the first time they’d ever kissed before sweeping over it with his tongue and kissing her in earnest. His hand abandoned her waist and returned to her breast, rolling the nipple between his fingers and occasionally pinching roughly. She moaned into his mouth and ground faster and harder against his hand, almost frantic in her movements. Her thighs were starting to tremble when she finally whispered against his lips.

“I’m...I’m gonna come, Daddy.” She sounded so sweetly helpless. He almost felt bad.

Almost.

He’d just felt the tension in her start to build when he took his hand away. She cried out as her impending orgasm stuttered to a halt and he shoved his fingers into her mouth, grinning cruelly when she instinctively sucked the creamy liquid off them.

Her eyes opened slowly and she stared at him, too aroused to do anything but suckle at his fingers and whine softly.

Deacon slid his fingers from between her lips and gently cradled her cheek, chuckling when she leaned into it. “Ask me the last question, princess.”

Confusion overtook her face. “What?”

Oh, for fuck’s sake. “The last question. Ask it.”

Nora bit her lip, her brow furrowing a bit, “I...I can’t think of one.”

Goddammit. “You didn’t have all four questions planned out before we started?”

Her eyes were growing wide, “No, I did, but...I forgot the last one…”

His heart was pounding in his chest and he could feel every beat in his cock. The sadist in him had had enough of this ridiculousness. “Nora, if you don’t ask me a question right fucking now, I’m going to spank you silly. Then I’m gonna fuck your ass harder than it’s ever been fucked before as punishment for not being properly prepared. Do you understand?” Her eyes were huge as she nodded. “Good. Now. Ask me the last goddamn question.”

“Um.” Her eyes darted around like she was trying to find something to ask about, then settled back on his glasses. “What...what color are your eyes?”

“Blue.” He smirked and planted a gentle kiss to her lips, “They’re blue. Now unbuckle Daddy’s pants like a good girl.” She grinned at him and her hands flew through undoing his pants. Deacon moaned in relief as his cock finally sprang free and her hands wrapped around it, squeezing and pulling in that expert way of hers. “Fuck, you’re good at that.”

Nora giggled, “Would you believe I was a prodigy?”

Deacon snorted softly, “Yeah, I would.” His hands went to her hips as she settled over him. He let her tease the head of his cock against her slit until he was thoroughly coated before he pulled her down, nice and easy until he was engulfed in her heat. She shivered as he stretched her, nuzzling against his neck and sighing happily when their hips met. He was never going to get tired of how all her curves and warmth wrapped around him like she’d been special ordered just for him.

She ground against him as he slowly pumped in and out of her. The way she gasped every time he filled her to the hilt was pushing him close to the edge of his self-control. His hands roved over her body, squeezing and caressing, being careful of the lingering bruises that still marked her from their last glorious playdate before his hubris had almost cost him everything. Again.

What was it pre-Deacon had called her? A treasure. Precious and perfect and his...well, maybe not his, but close enough, right? He had her for now anyway. No one else could say that. Deacon had never done jealous before. Those kinds of emotions were always left for lesser beings, but she drove him close to it. The way she melted at his touch, the way she happily played with the monster that lived in his soul, it made her practically irresistible. Add that to her unique status as a truly singular entity in existence, the very last pre-war non-ghoul woman on Earth...well, who could blame him for losing his head a bit?

His hands tightened on her for a moment while unwelcome thoughts of someone else having this right, this privilege, of being with her invaded his mind. Sure it hadn’t happened with Hancock or Mac, but the Wasteland was rife with unicorn-chasers who would cheerfully murder someone to be with her. It infuriated him and that strange rush of possessiveness she kept inspiring in him wasn’t helping. She was supposed to be his, right? All that fate crap pre-Deacon kept waxing on about was bullshit, but he’d logged the man-hours, hadn’t he? He’d known about her before anyone else. He’d called dibs, dammit. Any way you looked at it, she belonged to him...or at least with him maybe?

Who else in the Commonwealth was going to get all her pre-war sensibilities and jokes anyway?

Deacon wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her down further on his cock and grinding hard into her. She shuddered in his arms and he felt her pussy start to tense around him. One of his arms slid up her back, his fingers curling around her shoulder and pulling her ever tighter against him until she made a small sound of protest. That did it. The monster slipped the leash.

He snarled against her ear, “You are mine, princess. This sweet little pussy belongs to me. You got that?” She whimpered and nodded and all it did was piss him off. Not even close to good enough. He abruptly stopped moving, leaving her teetering right on the brink. “Say it. Fucking say it.”

“Deacon, please…”, she sounded desperate. It made his cock twitch a little.

“Say it. Who do you belong to?” He needed to hear it. Even if it was just this once and even if it was just make-believe.

“You. I belong to you.” It came out just shy of a sob and sounded so beautiful he didn’t care if it was a lie or not.

He bared his teeth in something too savage and feral to be called a smile before he growled in her ear, “Fuck yeah, you do.” Then his mouth was on hers, soaking up her cries and wails as he pounded up into her, viciously driving her past the point of no return. Her entire body shivered violently and she clamped down on his cock hard before shuddering waves cascaded over him. Deacon kept pumping in time with her orgasm until it carried him to his own. He came hard and deep within her, filling her to overflowing while her aftershocks milked him gently and she made weak little muted noises that flooded his brain with thoughts of doing this and only this for the rest of his life.

There was blood in his mouth and he wasn’t sure if it was his or hers but couldn’t bring himself to care. When he finally convinced his arms to relax around her, she broke off from their kiss first, panting and watching him with wide, almost wary eyes.

Shit. Too far. This particular game might have gotten away from him a bit. Deacon waited until his breathing had slowed enough for bullshitting and gave her a goofy, satisfied grin. “Warm yet, gorgeous?”

Nora stared at him just a moment too long and he winced internally. She almost certainly knew he was bullshitting; trying to pretend that this had all just been for shits and giggles. Then she gave him a half-smile and nodded, “Yeah...warm.”

He ran a hand through her hair, pushing the tangles away from her face in a helpful, almost platonic way. “We still have about an hour before sundown. Want to eat or would you rather finish your nap?” He kept his tone light, friendly. Like she was any other agent and not this strangely terrifying creature slowly carving out a home in his soul.

She shifted on his lap and he slid out of her, the cold air in the room immediately making him miss being inside her. “Um...I guess we should eat, right?”

Deacon smiled his patent-pending trademark Railroad HQ smile at her and pretended he didn’t notice the uncomfortable vibe around them. “Awesome! You get dressed and I’ll see what’s on the menu tonight, okay?” The tension was building inside him now, pieces of him screaming to do a runner on her. He needed distance. Now.

She nodded and wouldn’t meet his eyes, “Sure.” Her retreat from his lap was hasty and graceless.

Deacon pretended to not notice that, too.

He kept his back to her as he dug through his small pack. He’d had this idea for a picnic lunch kind of thing halfway between his second and third cup of coffee this morning. There was mirelurk salad sandwiches on razor grain bread, a mutfruit each and two cans of water stashed in a sturdy little box at the bottom. Wellingham hadn’t been thrilled to give it up and had charged him more for it than the food itself, but it was worth it. Everything was still cold and, most importantly, not squished.

Dogmeat clearly felt the weirdness in the room, but he also clearly smelled the mirelurk. His post at the doorway was forgotten and he came to sit next to Deacon, tail wagging cordially.

“I didn’t forget you, pup. Here you go.” He tossed him a handful of brahmin jerky and smiled a little as the shepherd immediately returned to the doorway, laying down and working on the tough meat. “Well, it's not steak, but he seems happy anyway.”

“He’s always happy. You could have given him an old shoe or some unfortunate raider’s arm or something and he would have just as thrilled.”

Nora was coming up behind him and he tried to keep his body relaxed. He caught her in his peripherals and watched her watching the dog. She seemed a little nervous. Maybe even uneasy. Her hair had been twisted up into a severe bun; no more casual braid. She felt his eyes on her and gave him a small smile. Skittish. That’s what she was.

Maybe the game had gone too far.

“So, it’s not much, but I hope you like it. I know mirelurk is closer to crab than tuna, but the concept is the same, right? It’s all fish.” He pushed a sandwich towards her and took a bite from his own.

She stared at the food for a second and finally chuckled, “Not really, but I’m sure it’s fine. Thank you.”

Deacon shrugged and kept eating. If his mouth was full, she wouldn’t expect him to talk, right? Right.

He was on his third bite when she spoke again.

“You know...I was thinking...you don’t have to come to Sanctuary with me. I mean, I’d planned on going there from here and you’re going to be busy with that prototype thing and all. It’s four hours out of the way and I’m sure you want to get back to...whatever it is you do at HQ.” Her eyes never left the dog, so she didn’t see the panic that flickered across his face for a second.

Yup. The game had gone way too far.

Deacon cleared his throat a little, “No, I want to. I keep hearing about it on the radio and all...I want to see it.” He kept his face carefully schooled, his best ‘polite interest’ expression firmly on to hide the panic he was starting to feel.

“Oh.” Her face, on the other hand, was unreadable. A perfect living doll mask. He’d put big caps on her favorite card game being poker. Bet she’d been a real high roller back in the day with all her trips to Vegas with a face like that.

Shit. Hail Mary time. “Nora,” he spoke softly, like he was trying to approach a wild animal. Her head slowly came up and pre-Deacon’s heart was breaking at how closed off her eyes were. When she was relaxed, when things were easy between them like they so often were, she was so expressive and open. Inviting people in like she wanted to be friends with the world. He hated seeing her so guarded. Neither of them were interested in catching feelings. She knew that. He knew that.

He was starting to resent the lengths she was willing to go to make sure it didn’t happen.

“Nora, if I went too far...I’m sorry.” He rubbed the back of his neck and only had to fake some of the embarrassment he was affecting. “I kinda took over a bit, huh? It was your game and I changed it on you without so much as a by your leave. That wasn’t cool.” He shook his head and let some of his self-loathing seep through, “I told you before, I’m not great at playing with others...I don’t share well, either, come to think of it. Guess that’s what happens when you skip kindergarten, huh?” He gave her that contrite little boy smile that sometimes let him get away with actual murder.

She watched him thoughtfully for a moment before her eyebrow went up, “You skipped kindergarten?”

“Yup. Missed out on a lot of life lessons because of it. That’s the price you pay for being a genius prodigy.” He grinned at her and it turned real when she started to smile back.

“So do I need to watch you around glue? Make sure you don’t eat the paste and all that?”

“What? You don’t eat the paste? Why’d they make it taste so good then?!” She laughed outright at that and took a bite of her sandwich. The strangeness around them evaporated like it had never been there and he sighed happily. Once again, he’d pulled himself out of the fire. “Seriously, though...thanks for sticking with me so far. I’m excited for you to be a full agent. Last partner I had wound up going... well, a little insane. I think it was all my show tune medleys. So as long as you don't go clawing your eyes out, I think we're good.”

She coughed and covered her mouth with her hand to speak with her mouth still mostly full, “Shit, is that...are you serious?”

He waggled his eyebrows at her in response and she rolled her eyes at him.

Perfect.

Chapter Text

“I don’t like this outfit. You look like a hobo.”

“What? This is one of my best disguises! Wastelander camo.” Deacon scowled at her and pitched his voice extra low and harsh. “This is my pile of garbage, asshole. Back off.” She gave him a dirty look and he grinned. “Good, right? Just wait ‘til I do one of my face swaps. I’m gonna scare the crap out of you.”

Nora shook her head, “You must really enjoy getting your ass kicked, huh?”

He chuckled and headed up the overpass, “So, I'm looking for Railsigns. Symbols we use to send messages to each other.”

“M’hmm.”

“If you like that, we got signs and countersigns, dead drops, and even a secret handshake. Alright, maybe the handshake never caught on…”

“The Minutemen have a secret handshake.”

He looked back at her, trying to tell if she was serious or not. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. I borrowed it from Nate’s old platoon. Preston loves it.”

His eyes narrowed. He still wasn’t sure if she was messing with him. “Anyway, the tourist should have a trail left for us...ah, here we go. Railsign.” He pointed at the chalk symbol. “The arrow in the center indicates a direction.” He glanced back at her to make sure she saw it.

“No way! The arrow indicates a direction? Thank god you’re here to explain all this to me or my little girl brain just wouldn’t be able to make heads or tails of it.”

Deacon snickered, “Okay, okay. Sorry. I’m not used to training people who have more than two neurons to rub together, alright?”

“Yeah, I can tell. Do do you guys only use chalk?”

He nodded, “Yup.”

“What happens if it rains?”

He shrugged, “We just hope it doesn’t. Or you have to go out and remark shit.”

“Hmm.” She stared thoughtfully at the railsign for a moment. “So tell me more about these face swaps of yours.”

“I put myself under the knife every year or two. New face, new body - you know, the full makeover. It keeps our enemies guessing.” He squinted in the moonlight. There was movement by one of the old cars.

“New face and body?” She sounded surprised. “That kind of surgery takes a while to recover from, doesn’t it? Even with stimpacks. What does the Railroad do while you’re out of commission?”

“Oh, we’ve got back ups on top of back ups, babycakes. Don’t worry about it.” That wasn’t completely true anymore, but Drummer Boy was still coming along nicely. So what if most of the intel corps had been demolished at Switchboard? He could rebuild it. Again. No problemo.

“Do you have implants, too? Like Kellogg did?”

He shrugged, “Maybe a few.”

“Doctor Amari said he was old...like really old. She said maybe even over one hundred and he didn’t look a day over fifty to me.”

“Yup, he was a well-preserved old bastard.”

“Are you?”

Deacon smiled, “Nah, my parents were married.”

“Deacon…”

Yeah, there was definitely something moving. He flicked the safety off his rifle. “I’m not as old as Kellogg was, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Nora sighed, “Are you seriously not going to tell me how old you are?”

“You haven’t told me how old you are.”

“You haven’t asked. Ferals. Two o’clock.”

Her pistol and his rifle made quick work of the creatures. He noticed she only aimed for their heads. A holdover from too many zombie movies or something else?

“I haven’t asked because I do have some manners.”

She rolled her eyes, “I’m two hundred and thirty nine years old. There. Now how old are you?”

“Damn. Those pre-war beauty creams really worked, huh? You don’t look a day over one fifty.” He winked at her flirtatiously and ignored her frustrated sigh. “So, about why we’re here...the Railroad's only recently been using the Old North Church. Our old base was underneath a Slocum's Joe. We had a pretty sweet setup until the Institute found us.”

“They found you? How?”

“Infiltration. It...was a disaster with a capital D.” All those bodies, all that blood.

“Shit...I’m sorry. That sounds terrifying.”

“Yeah...we got a tourist nearby. He, or she, has intel on the base. So let's pump them for information before we dive in.”

“How long ago did all this happen?”

“About a year.”

“How many people did you lose?”

He sighed, “I’d say three fourths of our organization was taken out.”

Now she looked irritated, “Why the hell were so many agents in one place? That’s just...arrogant.”

“Hey, you’re preaching to the choir here, sister.” He’d had this same argument with Dez more times than he could count. Just because a place felt safe didn’t mean it was.

“You guys should be working in small, mostly independent cells with your HQ a complete unknown. Five agents per cell tops. Keep everything completely separate and locked down at all times.”

He nodded, “Yeah, that’s about what I said, but no one ever listens to me.”

“So...wait, how many people are in HQ right now?”

“Too many.”

“And how many outside agents know the location of HQ?”

“Far too many.”

“You know they’re going to find you again.”

Deacon sighed heavily, “Yeah, I know. One day the Railroad's number will be up. I thought that day had come at the Switchboard. Now I can't shake the feeling we're living on borrowed time.”

Nora was watching him carefully. “Why don’t they listen to you about this?”

“Oh, you know. ‘Deacon, you’re just paranoid.’ ‘Deacon, it would be too complicated.’ ‘Deacon, we don’t have the resources to retrain everyone.’” She didn’t know it yet, but his Carrington impersonation was dead on.

“Ah. Well...maybe you need a different approach. Come at them from a new angle.”

He’d forgotten how nice it was to have someone on his side for once. “And what would madame suggest? A puppet show? Maybe interpretive dance?”

She chuckled, “Now that would be something to see. I bet you’d look amazing in a catsuit...but no. I was thinking maybe a little passive encouragement. Make them think they came up with the idea, you know? If it were me, I’d leave a few books lying around. Stuff on the French Resistance and the original Underground Railroad. Desdemona seems like the intellectual type and I assume this Doctor Carrington is, too. People like that love to be seen reading things that make them look studious.”

Well, that was...brilliant. Shit. “Hey, you aren’t gunning for my job, are you? I’m the Railroad’s master manipulator, missy, and don’t you forget it.”

“Nah, I’ve got enough on my plate already, thanks. I’m happy being the power behind the throne.” She gave him a sunny, far-too-innocent to be real smile and he laughed.

“Was Nate intel or were you just a born strategist?”

She shook her head, “Nate wasn’t intel. He could’ve been. He was really smart. People always assumed he wasn’t because he was this big, hulking kinda guy, but...he was brilliant. He was 13 Foxtrot. A joint fire support specialist.”

Even in the moonlight Deacon could see the way her eyes went all soft and misty. It was stupid to be jealous of a dead man, right? Right. “That sounds fancy.”

“I guess.”

“What’s it mean?”

“Um...basically, he was in charge of where the artillery fired. He had to keep track of where all the friendlies were and stuff.”

“How is that not intel?”

She shrugged, “It just wasn’t. They had a really cool motto, though. Wanna hear it?”

“Hells yeah. You know I love that old world shit.”

Destroyer stands upon the hill. Can't be stopped, kills at will. Raining bloodshed, death and pain. In the sun or in the rain. 13 Foxtrot's rough and ready. King of Battle, Rock Steady.”

Fuck that was cool. “That’s so much better than the Railroad’s motto.”

Her eyebrow went up, “Which is?”

“Ars Gratia Artis.”

“Deacon?”

“Yes?”

“Everyone in the free world had seen Animal House back in my day.”

He chuckled, “Alright, maybe we don’t have one...but we should. I’m gonna work on it.”

“You do that...hey, there’s a guy.” She gestured with her chin towards the end of the overpass. A jittery looking man was pacing back and forth in the darkness. They were fifty yards out and Deacon could clearly see his hands shaking. Good old Ricky.

“Yeah, he looks like fun. You take point on the conversation. No matter what he says just say, ‘Mine is in the shop.’ Trust me.”

“Never.” She holstered her pistol and walked over to the man, gait casual and loose. She was still twenty yards when she called out, “Hey, there, friend.”

Ricky about jumped out of his skin, “Oh, thank god. Do you have a geiger counter? Do you have a goddamn geiger counter?”

“Mine is in the shop.”

He glared at Deacon over her shoulder, “Who the hell is he? HQ said they were sending one agent. Not two.”

“Sorry. I'm new. She's just showing me the ropes.” For someone so observant, Ricky sure was bad with faces.

His glare turned to Nora, “All right. The Wall is my witness, I thought I was dead. It's about goddamn time you headquarters bastards got here.”

“Are you going to tell me what’s going on or are you going to continue wasting my time with histrionics?” Her tone was all business.

“Hey, I just signed on for some light recon. But that little Slocum's Joe of yours is crawling with goddamn chrome-dome synth sons of bitches. The front's fortified to hell and back. They've placed mines all over the goddamn place.”

“And? That’s all you’ve got? Sounds like some extremely light recon to me.” She shook her head in disappointment and crossed her arms. “Have you seen anything else? The tiniest detail could save our lives.”

His bluster was no match for her icy stare. “Well...chrome-domes have been going in and out for days. They keep taking things out. Crates and the like. I got no idea what's in the crates, but there sure are a lot of them. I can't think of nothing else.”

“Hmm. Alright. Well, thank you. The Railroad values your service. You should wait until we leave and then get out of here before you get hurt.”

“Yes, sir...I mean, ma’am. Sorry.”

She was already briskly walking away from the sputtering tourist and Deacon trotted happily behind her. They didn’t speak until they reached the base of the overpass.

“Well, isn't Ricky just a ray of sunshine.”

“He’s about as shiny as a rock.”

He snickered. “You’re pretty sexy when you take charge, princess.”

“I know. Is he typical of your tourists?”

Deacon shrugged, “I guess. Why?”

“Because I’m trying to figure out how insulted I should feel that Dez thought I would make a good one.”

He chuckled at that, “So, you think he’s telling the truth?”

Nora scratched Dogmeat’s head absentmindedly, “Yeah, he didn’t strike me as the dishonest type. Dramatic, maybe.”

“We’ll have to keep him in mind next time the Railroad puts on a production of Hamlet. So if we take him at his word...The front door has mines, synths, and probably other fun and exciting prizes. So we’re going in through the escape tunnel.”

She nodded, “The tunnel has got to be easier than a frontal assault.”

“That’s what we’re hoping anyway. The tunnel’s over past those train cars. You lead, I’ll cover you, pal.”

“Why don’t you lead, since you know where it is?”

“Cause I can’t watch your ass if I’m ahead of you, silly.”

Their trip over was uneventful. There was a suit of power armor in a locked cage that Nora briefly seemed interested in, but she just marked the spot on her Pipboy and moved on. The tunnel was unguarded and dry, and they slipped into it easily after she gave Dogmeat the command to stay. His teeth wouldn’t be much use against metal anyway.

Deacon paused just inside. “Alright, we’re in. The back entrance is safer, but be ready for Gen 1s and 2s.”

“What’re those?”

“The synths didn't start off as nigh perfect copies of human beings. The Institute had to work up to that level of hubris. Gen 1s and 2s were stepping stones along the way. The Railroad's not fully united on how we feel about them.”

“What gen is Valentine?”

“Now that is a very interesting question. He first appeared just before the Broken Mask incident, so we’re pretty sure he’s somewhere between the 2s and 3s. Some kind of experiment before they worked out all the kinks.”

“Broken Mask incident?”

“Yeah, that’s a history lesson for a later date.”

“Okay...so why isn’t the Railroad united on saving all the synths? I thought that was your guys whole deal. ‘Save the robots’ or whatever.”

“Everyone wants to liberate the Gen 3s. The human looking synths. Some of the synths in the Railroad, like Glory, think we should help earlier models, too.” He waited for some kind of reaction to Glory being a synth, but Nora just nodded. “But Gen 1s are basically the same as, well, a Protectron. So the line gets muddy. Do we defend AI rights? Terminals? Hell, turrets?” He shrugged, “Any time it gets brought up: fireworks. All the old arguments flare up. The upshot is Glory and some others won't run missions like this.”

“That makes sense...I mean, it’s like an evolutionary thing, right? Like how most humans love monkeys or whatever?”

He lifted an eyebrow, “I guess...how do you feel about monkeys?”

“They’re adorable little monsters.”

He wasn’t sure what to do with that. “Moving on…”, they went deeper inside and he walked up to the security terminal. “Well, the terminal's on at least. I'm going to feed it some passwords.”

Nora leaned against the wall and watched him fiddle with the keyboard, “So what’s this prototype do anyway?”

His fingers paused, “Uh...well, I'll be straight with you, although you're not going to like it. I have no idea what the prototype does.”

She rolled her eyes, “Seriously? You don’t know something? I thought you were head of intel.”

“I am, I just...don’t really pay much attention to Carrington unless I have to.”

“That’s a good way to get a Rasputin situation on your hands, isn’t it?”

His nose wrinkled at the whole idea, “Please. If Carrington had even a quarter of Rasputin’s charisma or intelligence, he’d be the head of intel.”

“Yeah, instead of his lowly place as second in command.”

“Are you going to be quiet anytime soon? I kinda need to concentrate here.” She waved him along and he went back to plugging in passwords. “No, no... no…” There was a sudden beep and the security door swung open. “Aha, missed one, you cocky bastards. The prototype is deeper inside.”

They headed down the crumbling tunnel, Nora close on his heels. He couldn’t hear her footsteps unless he concentrated. That was impressive. A glance down revealed that she was stepping carefully, rolling her feet along their outside edge. Deacon narrowed his eyes a little at that. Skills like that weren’t usually something people just picked up. Someone must have taught her. Maybe her big brother back in their petty larceny days? She’d hinted that he worked for bad guys, maybe even the mob given Boston’s old criminal climate. It would make sense.

A chalky outline caught his eye. “Someone left a railsign here. This one means danger.” He looked down at the body and sighed, “Yeah, we know, you poor dead bastard, we know.”

Nora put a hand on his back and he stopped walking. “What was his name?”

He looked past the decaying corpse. “Roger. His name was Roger.”

“Hang on a minute.” She started digging around in her pack.

Deacon scowled at her, “Whatever you’re doing can wait until we’re past.”

She huffed at him, “No, it can’t...just give me a second. Ah ha.” She finally pulled out a small stack of clean white handkerchiefs. “Codsworth pressed these for me last time I was in Sanctuary...I used to have allergies. They’re not much, but…”, she carefully laid one out on top of Roger’s face. “Rest in peace, Roger.”

He stared blankly at the white square for a moment before it hit him. Burial shroud. She was trying to bury the dead, to pay them respect in some small way. It would have been funny if his throat didn’t feel so tight. “That’s...yeah. Rest in peace, Roger.” He started a bit when she squeezed his hand in hers briefly, but managed a small smile. “You don’t have to do that, you know. People don’t expect funerals or anything anymore. Most of us are lucky if we get dumped in a trash heap.”

Nora shrugged, “They were your comrades, right? This is the least we can do.”

That tightness in his throat was threatening to get worse, so he just nodded and moved on. Further down the causeway was a synth seemingly guarding another body. She sucked in a breath and he paused to look back at her.

“What the hell is that?” Her whisper was barely audible and he responded in kind.

“That’s a Gen 1.”

“Shit. It looks like something out of a horror movie.”

Deacon nodded, “You wanna take this one?”

Her eyes were wide but she nodded, “Okay...what’s their weak point?”

“Processors are in their heads. Cooling system is in its chest. If you want to slow it down, knee joints are the way to go.”

“So just like a person then?”

“You got it, boss.”

She took a breath and stepped around him, hugging the wall until she got close enough to fire. One to the head and two to the chest and the synth was down, sparking for a moment in the water before finally going dark.

“Nice shootin’, partner.” He gave her a thumbs up but she didn’t seem to be in the mood for levity.

“Who’s that?” Her eyes were dark and serious.

He looked down at the agent laying next to the offline synth. “That’s Maven.” They hurried down the stairs and another railsign caught his eye. It seemed to shine softly in the low light to him and he pointed it out to Nora. “See the box in the center of that Railsign -- that means there's a cache nearby. Looks like she managed to hide something before...well, you know. Look around.”

“In a minute.” Out came another handkerchief. “Rest in peace, Maven. I’m sorry we can’t get you out of this awful water.”

Deacon stared at the white square while Nora poked around for the cache. Maven had always been prickly with him, but she was good with the new recruits. Had a special talent for knowing exactly where people needed to be. He wondered what she would think of him commandeering Nora for his own selfish purposes when HQ was down to a heavy and a half.

“Got it! Looks like some weapons and ammo. You want any of it?”

He walked over and glanced at the 10mm Maven had given her life to hide. “Not really but I don’t want anyone else to have it, either. We’ll pack it back to HQ.”

Nora shrugged and stuffed it into her pack. “Alright. Waste not, want not.”

They skulked along in silence until slipping around a corner.

“Another one...what was her name?” She was already gently setting the cloth over her face by the time Deacon could bring himself to look directly at her.

He didn’t need to see the face. He knew that body. His last ‘friend’ in the Railroad. He cleared his throat softly, “That’s Ms. Boom. Ordnance specialist. She liked big guns.” And backrubs, Dandy Boy apples and fucking in the boxcars they’d passed on their way in.

Nora looked up at him and, as usual, saw far too much. “You liked her.”

His mouth twitched a little but he couldn’t get anything to come out.

“Ah...I see. Your last office romance?” She waited for him to nod stiffly before standing and patting his arm. “I’m sorry for your loss, honey. What was her real name?”

“Linda. The one time I called her that, she punched me.”

She chuckled, “Sounds like my kind of woman. Was she nice?”

He shrugged one shoulder, “Nice enough to put up with me occasionally.” There were a few odd splashes ahead of them and Deacon readied his rifle. “Tinker managed to turn on the defenses. Barely slowed the Coursers down, but hey, it probably saved some lives. I don't think you've ever seen a courser in the flesh, but they're top-of-the-line in Institute ‘let's fuck up your day’ tech. There shouldn't be any in here, but if there are just run.” He waited for her to nod in agreement before moving on. “We’ve got funtime incoming. Come on.”

They crept along down some stairs into more fetid water where a small squad of Gen 1s came into view. This time he didn’t hesitate to ask if she wanted to shoot them or not. One or more of those fuckers had probably participated in the massacre of a kind woman whose only crime was having terrible tastes in underground organizations and men. They all met a swift end and neither he or Nora spoke until they were surrounded by twisted metal bodies and acrid smoke.

“That’s Sly. Sly Nicholas. He was one of mine.” Deacon pointed to the bloated corpse. “Fuck. I’d...well, it was naive, but I’d hoped he’d just noped the fuck out.” He shook his head, “Man had a family. I dunno where, but he talked about them all the time. I told him a thousand times he should leave all this bullshit behind. Go home to Maria and the kids. He never would though.”

Nora let him ramble on while putting the white square over the fallen agent’s face and stood next to him respectfully until he stopped. “Rest in peace, Sly.”

Deacon felt almost unreasonably angry with her for some reason he couldn’t place. He felt her take his hand but didn’t squeeze back. “Yeah. Rest in peace.”

She looked around the cavernous space, “Were all these turrets yours?”

“Yeah...why?”

“Just curious. How many turrets does your current HQ have?”

He snorted, “You don’t wanna know. Come on.” He ignored her concerned look and walked past her into the next area, almost stumbling over another body.

“Who’s…”

“It’s Francis. Francis O’Dell. Man was a coward but he was good at managing tourists and pushing paperwork. I’m shocked he got this far.”

“Deacon, stop it.” Her voice held a hint of reprimand in it as she laid another white square down and carefully smoothed the edges.

He laughed, “You’re going to run out of those before we run out of bodies, you know.”

“Then I’ll shred a shirt.”

He gave her a condescending smirk and watched her stand and brush the dirt off her gloves. “This isn’t the old days, princess. We don’t waste resources on the dead here in the real world.”

Her eyes were infuriatingly calm, “Are you finished?”

“Are you?”

She sighed, “Deacon...I realize this is hard for you...”

“Oh, do you?”

“Yeah, I do, actually.” She crossed her arms and a little irritation peeked through the calm, “Do you know what I would give to know where my best friend’s body is? Or any of my neighbors? There was a sweet little boy who lived two houses down from me. I used to watch him sometimes when his mom went to the store. Do you think he got a proper burial? Or do you think he was vaporized into a charred skeleton in his mother’s arms?” Her eyes were sparkling oddly in the light and he realized she was trying not to cry.

Fuck. “Nora, I…”

She shook her head, “It’s fine. We all grieve differently. If ignoring their bodies and pretending like they aren’t there helps you along, then fine. Keep walking past them. I don’t need their names to pay them respect.”

They stared at everything but each other for a moment before Deacon pulled her in for a hug.

“I’m sorry. I’m being a dick and I’m sorry. You do your thing. It’s fine.” He wasn’t entirely sure why he felt the need to apologize but he did.

Her hands slipped around his waist, “You aren’t being a dick. You’re in mourning, Deacon. It’s alright.” She mumbled the last bit against his shirt and he dropped a kiss on the top of her head.

“Mourning or not, we’ve got a job to do, right?” He rubbed her back before pulling away. “Let’s get it done so we can get the fuck out of here.”

“Sounds good to me.” She gave him a tiny smile, “I gotta get to Sanctuary and pick up new handkerchiefs anyway.”

He smiled back and they headed along the corridor and down another set of stairs.

“Jeez, how deep does this place go?”

“It’s pretty impressive, right? Just wait until you see the actual base. It’s amazing.”

“I just don’t understand how they built all this under a coffee shop and no one noticed.”

Deacon shrugged, “Maybe they built it first. The coffee shop came after.”

Nora nodded, “That...yeah, that’s probably right. Slocum Joe’s popped up all over the place all the time. No one would have paid any attention to another one being built.”

There was another body at the bottom of the stairs. He glanced over at her but she seemed to not want to ask for names anymore, so he offered it up instead. “This was Mr. Mathers. He loved scouting places. Usually from miles away with this high-powered set of binoculars Tom made him.” He waited for her to complete her funeral service and then gestured to the terminal, “Another active terminal. We didn't have time to trip the defenses up ahead. Power them up and we can give our friends a little surprise.”

She grinned at him and moved to the terminal, fingers flying on the keyboard. There was a beep and a brief pause, then the sounds of mayhem and destruction came from around the corner.

“Fantastic. I didn’t know you knew computers, princess.”

“I don’t know computers. I just used them at work. I can type almost eighty words per minute.”

She sounded proud of that so he had to ask, “Is that...good?”

“Good enough to get put on my resume.”

“Why would you ever need to type that fast?”

She shrugged, “Lots of reasons. Memos, depositions, witness statements. In college sometimes I’d have a ton of papers all due at once. It came in handy then, too.”

“Huh.” They moved along and Deacon watched the last synth standing stumble around for a moment before putting it out of its misery. He glanced at the agent on the ground. “Kelly K. She was a former caravan guard...they were attacked by synths and she was the only survivor. She couldn’t handle field work after that but she was great at logistics...and pancakes. Made a hell of a pancake.”

Nora smiled gently at him and went through her little ritual before they moved along. She nudged a fallen synth with her foot. “I don’t get it. Don’t these synths already do anything you would need a servant to do? Why’d they go further?”

“Oh, come on, you know this already. Why do men of science do anything? Because they can.”

“You would think after two hundred years, they’d have learned better.”

“Two hundred years or two thousand, some people are always going to want to push the envelope. It’s a tragedy we’re doomed to repeat, I’m afraid.”

“Ah… ‘Hubris is one of the great renewable resources.’”

He frowned, “I don’t know that one.”

“O'Rourke. He was a comedian. Don’t worry about it.”

They moved into a rusted tunnel and Deacon winced a bit as their footsteps echoed. There was nothing to be done about it. Some surfaces you just couldn’t sneak well on. There was a locked terminal ahead controlling a security door and he moved over to it.

“This will be it. Switchboard is just ahead. Get ready.” He waited until she crouched low and gave him a nod and then input the command to open the door, letting them both into the base’s foyer.

They cautiously moved through and Nora peeked through one of the broken windows. His hand had just brushed the doorknob to the main area when she gasped loudly out of nowhere and a synth turned.

“Movement detected. Possible enemy detected.”

Deacon cursed under his breath and jerked her down out of the abomination’s line of sight. He kept a hand over her mouth and his own breathing shallow and soft until the synth finally lost interest and wandered away, muttering about sensor recalibrations.

“Nora! What the hell?” He whispered in her ear and she just shook her head, eyes wide. Then he noticed how pale she’d become and relaxed his hold a little. “What’s wrong with you?”

She blinked a few times and even before she spoke he knew she was about to lie. “Nothing. Nothing, I’m sorry...I’m...it’s nothing. Let’s go. I can do this.”

He watched her closely. Any other time he’d try to get to the bottom of it, but this was no place for an interrogation. “You sure you’re alright?”

Her eyes cleared a little and the poker face was back. She’d shut him out again. “Yup. One hundred percent copacetic, Daddy-O. Let’s move.”

Deacon ignored the face and watched the rest of her. She looked relaxed. Oddly so since he had her squashed up against the corner of the wall. She couldn’t possibly be comfortable but she looked like she could be sunbathing on the Riviera. Lie lie lie. He’d bet all the chems in Goodneighbor that she was puffed up like a cat on the inside. If she followed him now, they’d probably both wind up dead.

“Listen, those Gen 1s are in standard patrol mode. They don't know we're here.” He snuck a quick peek over the window ledge and saw that they’d all returned to their regular loops. “There's the command terminal over there. Its unguarded. You hold tight. I'm going to have some fun.” He flipped the safety off the Stealth Boy in his pocket and hit the button, rippling out of sight before heading for the door.

Nora’s eyes went wide for a moment before she hissed in his general direction. “You fucking cheater.”

Deacon tried not to chuckle and crept through the door, staying low just in case and making a beeline for the terminal. All their turrets were still there, just puttering along inactive. He paused for just a second at Songbird’s body and shook his head. A few more seconds and she could have flipped the switch and taken all these bastards out herself.

He quickly input the command to reactivate and then dove under the desk as the bullets whizzed everywhere. He waited until the small explosions and the synth’s flat exclamations stopped before he carefully looked around.

They were all down and two turrets still survived. Bonus.

“Bye, bye, Gen 1s.” He saw Nora stick her head through the door and waved her on in. “Gotta love Stealth Boys.”

She wrinkled her nose at him, “Not me. They make me feel seasick. I trip over my own feet with those things.”

“Hmm...well, welcome to the Switchboard. A lot of... memories here.” Her laughter startled him and he gave her an unsure smile. “What’s funny?”

Her hand clapped over her mouth. “Nothing. Nothing, I’m sorry. It’s...inappropriate reactions to uncomfortable situations. What do you call that?”

His eyebrow went up. “Fucking weird?” This was fucking weird. She was acting...off. This strange, rattled woman was nothing like the Nora he usually dealt with. Maybe claustrophobia from being underground? Whatever it was, he hoped she’d get a handle on it soon. “Anyway, we're entering a secret Defense Intelligence Agency research lab. A place that never officially existed. The DIA eggheads spent their precious brain cells here trying to outwit the Red Menace.” He pointed up the stairs, “The prototype is locked up in the heart of the facility.”

She nodded, “Yeah...okay…” She finally seemed to realize her hands were still shaking a bit and stuffed them in her pockets. “Uh...so, what’s her name?” Her head tilted towards the body.

Deacon frowned a little but let her change the subject, “That’s Songbird. Lead interrogator. She could get anyone to talk about anything. Looks like she was on her way to arm the turrets when they got her.”

“Could she actually sing?” Nora shook out a handkerchief and draped it on her face.

He laughed, “Her voice was worse than yours.”

She glared up at him, “We can’t all have your dulcet tones, Deacon.”

That was better. That sweet-tart snap was still there. Whatever had her acting weird had to be a temporary thing. “It’s true. My golden voice is a gift.”

“M’hmm. So what did you guys find in this place? What were my tax dollars actually paying for?”

He moved across the floor and she followed closely. “Robots.”

“Robots?” She sounded like she didn’t believe him and he smiled.

“Yeah. Robots that predicted the future.” There was no response so he glanced over his shoulder. She looked curiously thoughtful, almost spaced out.

“That...yeah, that makes sense. I guess that would be a natural progression…”, her eyes went to his face and she blinked like she’d forgotten he was there. “Um...so that was it? Just fancy robots?”

Deacon stopped and turned to face her properly, “Nora.”

Her hands went back in her pockets and she had that cagey look about her, “Yeah?”

“Did you work here?” That would explain so, so much.

She frowned, “What? No. I’m not a scientist.” All truth.

“Have you been here before?”

Her eyes narrowed. She’d clearly caught on to his little fishing expedition. “Nope.” Also truth.

Goddamn this woman was frustrating. “Then what’s the deal? Why are you so spooked?”

“Place is creepy. Gen 1s are creepy. You’re creepy. Whole deal gives me the heebie-jeebies.” She shivered and it wasn’t just for show.

He watched the pulse in her neck dance. So...close to the truth but also not. “You know I’m gonna know all your secrets someday, right?”

The smile she gave him was equal parts savage and sassy. “Not if I know all yours first, handsome.”

Well that was terrifying. “You know, I still haven’t decided if you’re worth all this trouble.”

The smile relaxed a little into an almost-fond smirk, “Same.”

He smirked back, “Wanna fuck on Carrington’s old desk? You don’t know this yet, but you’re definitely going to be sad if you don’t once you meet him.”

She rolled her eyes and headed up the stairs to the old supervisor’s station. “Yeah, let’s put a pin in that idea since there’s a dead body in the room and all.”

“Pfft, so fussy. You’re going to miss out on a lot of high-caliber fun if you’re going to worry about silly stuff like dead bodies.”

Nora waited for him at the top, “How about if Carrington is really as awful as you think he is, I’ll fuck you on his current desk.”

“As amazing as that would be, our current HQ isn’t quite so spacious as this place. There’s always assholes everywhere so...unfortunately, that would be impossible.”

“Impossible?” She grinned, “Deacon, you’re gonna miss out on a lot of high-caliber fun if you’re going to worry about silly stuff like live bodies.”

He stared at her in disbelief, “Is this a challenge or are you just fucking with me?”

She shrugged, “What do you want it to be?”

God, she was so worth the trouble. “I want...to get this prototype.”

She chuckled, “Alright. Lead the way, secret agent man.”

It took them thirty minutes total to clear the upstairs offices and make their way to the massive safe door in the R&D department. Then another ten minutes for Deacon to get the holo of Carrington’s stupid voice passcode to work.

“Carrington. Stanley. Salus aegroti suprema lex.”

“Finally”, he grumbled and shoved the holo back in his pocket. “Open says me.” They watched the door swing open on rusty hinges and stepped inside.

Nora’s hand immediately went over her nose, “Oh, God. Someone was trapped in here?”

Deacon shook his head, “So Tommy Whispers didn't make it out. He died protecting our secrets.” He held out a hand and she wordlessly handed him the piece of cloth.

“Was he one of yours?”

He nodded and crouched down next to the agent. “Yeah. If Carrington is Dez’s second, then Tommy was mine. He’d been with us a long time. Hell of a scout. Hell of a heavy, too.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“Our loss. He was important to a lot of people. He’ll be missed. Rest in peace, you old rascal.”

Nora nodded solemnly, “Rest in peace, Tommy.”

The dull shine of gunmetal grey caught his eye and he carefully reached over the body, “Lemme see... there.” He held up his old friend’s gun by its barrel and tapped her thigh with it. “Here. Tommy would want you to have his handcannon. Don't let its size fool you. It’s small but powerful.”

She hesitantly took it. “If this was important to him, you should keep it. You were his friend.”

He stood and stared at the gun for a moment. Memories of all the times he and Tommy had tried to show each other up in the field flitted through his head. The easy camaraderie he’d been able to find with someone who didn’t care about his past so long as he didn’t ask about theirs, either. Deliverer was smaller than her current pistol but still looked huge in her hands.

“Nah...it’s good that you have it, I think. Tommy would’ve loved you. Besides, Tinker restored it himself...you'll meet him later. It's cutting edge old world tech. It's powerful and more importantly quiet. You'll never find another weapon like it.”

She smiled one of those rare, real smiles at him. “Okay. Thanks, then. I’ll try to do him proud.”

He blinked away the tears that had started to gather and cleared his throat. “Grab Carrington's prototype. You turn that over to Desdemona and she'll have to let you into our merry band.”

Nora carefully stepped around Tommy’s body, “You make it sound like you guys are playing Robin Hood.”

“Aren’t we? We steal synths from the all-powerful Institute and give them to the world as regular citizens. That’s kinda like Robin Hood, right?”

“I guess.” She picked up the prototype and turned it this way and that, “This just looks like a regular Stealth Boy someone has been messing with to me. See?” She held it out for inspection and he just shrugged.

“I dunno. Like I said earlier, I have no idea what it does. Just that it was important and Carrington hasn’t stopped bitching about it.”

“Hmm.” She frowned down at the contraception but stuffed it into her pack anyway. “If we find out this was some wild goose chase for a piece of useless crap, I’m definitely going to be anti-Carrington.”

He grinned, “So it’s a win-win then. Nice. Now we just need to get out.” They left the vault and walked through the silent corridors.

Nora shivered again, “This place might be even creepier when it’s cleared out.”

“You read my mind. I was just thinking how I used to hate how loud shit got when everyone was around...but yeah, this is worse.” They jogged up the stairs and he pushed open the door to the electrical room. A lone synth chittered into active mode and Deacon barely managed to get half a curse out and the safety off his rifle when it fell to the floor. He looked over at Nora and she was staring at Deliverer in her hand.

“Wow. Okay. Yeah, I get it. This thing is amazing. Hardly any recoil at all and did you see how fast it took down that robot?” She smiled brightly at him, “I love this gun. This is my new favorite gun.”

She was just so damn chipper about it he had to laugh, “Pretty good, right? Tinker knows what’s up.” He motioned vaguely at the monitor on the wall. “This is the end of the line. Just power up the elevator…”, he plugged in a few commands and the elevator dinged. “After you, ma’am.”

“This will take us to the surface?” She waited for him to enter and then pushed the up button.

“Sorta. The basement of the coffee shop. Then we’ll be out. Should just have mines and a handful of those synths Ricky was screeching about.”

“Okay...so, this Tinker...does he just do weapons?”

Deacon shook his head, “Nah, he’s like...our own personal mad scientist. He does all sorts of things.”

The elevator finally stuttered to a stop and the doors opened. Deacon pushed the bookcase that hid everything out of the way and they stepped out into the darkness.

“So...if I had something I couldn’t fix, do you think he could?”

His eyes had adjusted enough to see where he was going, but he couldn’t see her face clearly. Of course. “Depends. What is it?”

“Just a...thing. It’s something I couldn’t get fixed even before the war, but your Tinker seems to be some kind of genius so I thought maybe he could take a look at it.” Her voice was calm and even in the dark like this wasn’t a huge deal.

“So what is it?”

She huffed, “It’s a medical device, Deacon, and none of your business.”

He took her hand and led her up the stairs, fingertips brushing her wrist. Her pulse was racing like she was terrified...or excited. “If you tell me what it is, or at least what’s wrong with it, I might be able to give you a better idea of if he can fix it or not, sweetheart.” He mirrored her calm tone and added a huge dollop of soothing persuasion to it. There was a defeated kind of sigh from behind him and he smiled in the dark.

“Fine. It has a unique power source. I took it to a shop where I had Nate’s pocket watch repaired once but they said they’d never seen anything like it. That’s all.”

“Hmm...maybe then. He’s pretty good with batteries,” and lucky for him Tom took crazy extensive notes on every new project he started. His other hand found the doorknob to the actual shop. “Ready up...and don’t forget the mines. I don’t think we have enough stimpaks to grow you a new leg.”

Her hand slipped out of his and there was a sharp pain in his arm when she punched him, “Shut up and open the damn door already.”

Deacon chuckled and swung the door open silently, keeping low and carefully placing his feet. He’d gone about ten paces when he saw the first synth skeleton laying in a heap. Then another, and another after that. He stood slowly and looked around.

“Was...was this Ricky?”

He shook his head, “No. No, this wasn’t Ricky.” Dollars to donuts Ricky was halfway to Diamond City by now. He nudged a fallen synth with is foot and squinted in the pre-dawn light. “This looks like...I dunno, but it wasn’t Ricky. Guess we’ve got a friend out here after all.”

“Or someone really hates synths.”

He nodded, “Or that.” He led her around the counter of the decrepit shop and stepped outside. Silence reigned but it seemed unnatural. He could feel eyes on him. He glanced at the buildings around them but there were far too many possibilities for a tail to be hiding in. No way to be sure if it was a friend or a foe. Nora went to step around him and he grabbed her arm, “Stop. The mines.”

She rolled her eyes, “They’ve been deactivated.” Her Pipboy light came on and she swept her arm around, “See, Sargent Sunglasses?” True to her word, all the landmines that’d had Ricky so freaked out were sitting quietly on the ground, inactive and relatively harmless.

Deacon frowned down at their positioning, “Hey...am I crazy or are these arranged?”

A little secret smile crept over her face and immediately pissed him off. “I dunno. Are they?”

He narrowed his eyes at her and then went back to studying the mines. If he didn’t know any better, he’d almost say they were in the outline of a heart. The Institute would never be so...whimsical. “It’s a heart.” He said it outloud just to see her reaction and didn’t miss how her smile went from secretive to pleased.

“You think?” She sounded so perfectly innocent and nonchalant he knew it had to be pretense.

“Did you have something to do with this?”

“Of course not, I’ve been with you this whole time.”

He scowled at her. What she’d said was true, but it certainly wasn’t the whole story by a long shot. She just grinned cheekily at him and picked up the mine that made the bottom point of the heart. There was a small card underneath it and she chuckled warmly before sliding it carefully in the band of her army helmet.

Deacon scowled harder. It made a perfect bright target against the dark army green. Then he noticed the smeared heart drawn on it and about lost his damn mind.

Seemed his princess had another suitor he hadn’t known about.

“So who’s the secret admirer?”

She flashed him a wicked smile before shrugging, “Oh, no one you know, I’m sure.”

Pre-Deacon was freaking out and for once he was right there with him. “You fucking him, too?”

Her smile died and just like that all the progress they’d made with her died with it. She walked past him in the direction of Sanctuary, “I’m not going to dignify that with a response.”

He stalked after her and pointedly did not watch the way her hips swayed or how the jeans she had on hugged her ass. Instead he kept his eyes on the windows they passed. Asshole was surely up there somewhere, watching and...doing something gross probably. Who knew? He wasn’t even sure if he was angrier at himself or her or this unknown fucker for messing with what he’d claimed as his...on a purely superficial level, of course. How had he missed this? How long had it been going on? Since before they met? But she hadn’t slept with anyone in the wastes until him. After, then? Maybe he’d made her miss him a little too much and she’d sought comfort where available?

But who? Who the fuck was it? No one out there was good enough for her, himself included. She’d turned down Hancock, of all people, but not this person? Why? Why why why?

Chapter Text

Thirty frosty, silent minutes later, Dogmeat rejoined the pair, shooting out of the underbrush and startling Deacon enough that he had a bead on him before he even realized it was Nora’s dog. He lowered his rifle but not fast enough to not get caught. The reproachful look she shot him just added fuel to the steadily growing temper tantrum pre-Deacon was pitching in his mind and he waited until her attention was back on the dancing dog before childishly shooting her the bird.

What kind of ungrateful asshole gets pissed at you for not shooting their dog? Honestly.

He watched Dogmeat prance around her and even his antics and her delighted laughter couldn’t wipe the sullen look off his face. Somewhere, deep down inside where logic and rational thought reigned supreme, he knew he was being ridiculous. She’d said they weren’t in a relationship; that she wasn’t his girl. He had no right to expect or even ask for exclusivity, right? And as much as he wanted to feel like she’d been underhanded and dishonest about this whole thing, she hadn’t. He’d just never asked if she’d been with anyone else because the possibility hadn’t even occurred to him.

Maybe that’s what really stung. It hadn’t occurred to him because he couldn’t imagine being with anyone else while he was with her. He’d assumed, despite having zero evidence, that she felt the same way. That...hurt, for some reason?

That was stupid. He was being stupid. He’d never cared before. Ms. Boom had had other lovers when he wasn’t around, and sometimes even when he was. It wasn’t a big deal. Monogamy wasn’t expected unless you were married and even then it was rare. He and Nora weren’t even dating. They were less than friends-with-benefits according to her, and he had contacts in nearly every settlement across the Commonwealth who would be happy to drop to their knees at the snap of his fingers.

Why was this such a big deal for him?

“Are you going to pout the whole way to Sanctuary?”

He blinked and suddenly realized she was staring at him over her shoulder. He had no idea how long she’d been watching and scrambled to school his face. “I’m not pouting.”

She rolled her eyes and looked back to the road, “Right. Of course not.”

Dogmeat’s head swiveled between them like he understood what they were saying and he came to trot next to Deacon, staring up at him with those ridiculous soulful eyes.

He tried to frown at him but it wasn’t possible. “At least your dog still likes me.”

“He’s not my dog. He owns himself...and I like you just fine when you aren’t being a jackass.”

His eyes flitted back to her and for the first time since Lexington, he studied her gait. She was clearly pissed, stomping along in a way that she was going to be sorry for later. But there was a tension in her that wasn’t coming from anger. He couldn’t place it, but maybe he could talk the source out of her.

“So ten minutes total?”

She glanced back at him, “What?”

“You said you like me when I’m not being a jackass. That’s about ten minutes total since we met, right?”

Nora chuckled and some of the frost melted, “Sounds a little generous to me, but alright.”

Deacon grinned at her and kept grinning even when she turned back around. They walked along in slightly more comfortable silence for a few minutes before she spoke again.

“Independent operators.”

Now it was his turn to be confused. “What?”

“That’s what you called us. Independent operators.”

Oh. Right. “Yeah...I did.” Would there ever come a day when he didn’t regret opening his mouth? Ever?

“I didn’t think you cared if I had other relationships or not.”

He shook his head even though she couldn’t see, “Don’t have a right to care.”

She finally stopped walking but didn’t turn to face him. “But you do care.”

He stopped, too. Almost ten feet between them and it still felt too close. He didn’t know how to answer her so he just stared down at Dogmeat in silence.

Nora sighed heavily, “He isn’t a lover. It’s...he’s different. He gets me, and I get him. He leaves me little presents sometimes. An occasional kiss. That’s all.” She started walking again, quieter this time. Some of the tension had left her shoulders.

Deacon followed and thought about what she’d said carefully. Someone who got her but didn’t want her? Could such a man exist? Maybe the guy was gay? Or just not into sex.

Shit. If that were the case then he’d really fucked up here.

“So, this guy...is he just not into chicks or…?”

She stopped suddenly and turned, hands on her hips, “That’s none of your business and I don’t appreciate the implication.”

He blinked in surprise. The anger was suddenly back like it had never left. “What implication?”

“That a person would only like me if they could get in my pants. Not everyone is like you, Deacon. Some of us are more evolved.”

“Hey, I...that’s not what I meant.” She had that same pissed look she’d had when he’d accused her of being a pre-war softie. He must have picked at an old wound somehow.

“Yes, it is. Just because you’re a man who can’t imagine having a relationship with me that doesn’t revolve around your dick doesn’t mean every man is like that.”

“I don’t….I mean, I’m not…”, he wanted to say something, anything to deny what she’d said but he couldn’t think of a damn thing. Anyone who looked at her and didn’t see a shoregasboard of carnal delights just waiting to be plundered was blind, as far as he was concerned...wait, shit. Was he really that guy? Even pre-Deacon had no idea how to dig them out of this hole. Some random shard seized hold for just long enough to say something stupid, “We don’t have a relationship. That’s what you said.”

She sighed and rubbed her forehead like he was giving her a headache, “I know what I said. Just like you know what I mean. I’m allowed to have friends, Deacon.”

His eyes went wide, “I never said you weren’t.”

“And I’m allowed to even have friends that you don’t like.”

“I know.”

“So stop acting like you own me just because we’re fucking. I didn’t put up with that kinda crap before the bombs and I’m definitely not putting up with it now.”

Yup. A very old wound. “I’m sorry. I...I know I don’t own you. You’re your own person. You can do whatever you want.”

“Damn straight.”

They stared at each other. She was clearly still pissed and he just felt...awful. Awful and awkward. Like pre-Deacon had never grown up or something.

He was pretty sure he wasn’t the original source of all this anger she felt though, and that was good, right? Mostly good. Maybe. He cleared his throat, “Did...did Nate try to…”

Her ire went from pissed to smouldering rage, “Don’t you dare say a bad word about Nate. You hear me? I don’t ever want to hear his name come out of your mouth again. Are we clear?”

He almost took a step back but caught himself, “Crystal.” Swing and a miss. Whoever had inflicted this pain on her was definitely not the dreamboat. That had been another stupid assumption. She’d never marry a guy who tried to cage her like that. “I’m sorry. I meant no disrespect.”

She stared at him through narrowed eyes a moment longer before stomping off again. “Whatever.”

Dogmeat whined softly at him for a second before returning to her side. He wasn’t sure if the animal was trying to offer some kind of support or just wanted him to make his mistress happy again, but he appreciated it nonetheless.

They moved along quickly. Not speaking to each other and only occasionally offering a word to the dog. Deacon was hyper-focused on her, but Nora seemed determined to completely ignore his existence. He couldn’t blame her for that, especially when he wished he could do the same.

So when she suddenly rocked backward and hit the pavement just inside of Concord, Deacon was treated to a terrifying moment of heart-wrenching panic as her eyes stared blankly at the sky before finally blinking in confusion. She was in his arms and being rushed into the nearest building still standing before the report from the rifle even reached them.

Blood. There was blood everywhere. His hands, her clothes, her blood. He set her down just inside the door and frantically tore at her jacket. There was a huge hole blown out of it, but the armor beneath was intact. Dented but intact. He allowed himself a half second of relief before he moved on, desperately trying to find the source of the bleeding and ignoring her hands weakly batting at him.

“I’m fine. It’s fine, Deacon.” Her voice was quiet and wobbly. Eyes were starting to dilate from blood loss and she finally gave up trying to push him away.

Terror and alarm was screaming through all the shards within him, even as they split into opposing sides; those who immediately wanted vengeance and those who wanted to save her at all costs. His hands were starting to shake. Keeping himself under control was becoming increasingly difficult the quieter she got.

Finally he noticed the puddle forming under one of her legs. Of course. Shrapnel. Her jeans met a swift end at the end of his combat knife and he sucked in a breath as he surveyed the damage. Her right thigh was completely shredded. The bullet must have shattered against her armor, ricocheted and torn through her skin and muscle like it was nothing more than wet paper. Blood kept pulsing out from the wounds and he grabbed her hands and pushed them against her leg.

“Press down here. Press down, Nora.” He waited until she nodded before he started digging in his bag for stimpaks. She was mumbling something but he couldn’t catch it and a part of him was almost afraid to.

“Femoral...femoral artery. Fourteen seconds…”

He finally found one and jabbed into the topmost wound. “What?” If she was still talking, she probably wasn’t sliding into shock yet. That was good.

“Fourteen seconds before blood loss is…”

The skin was starting to knit together but it was sluggish to his eyes. Deacon grabbed a second one and jabbed it directly in the middle of the biggest gash. “Shut up. It’s fine. You’re gonna be fine.” Veins and capillaries reached out for each other and met. The bleeding stopped but she still looked a half step from death’s door.

Her hands fell away and he finally looked at her face. Her eyes had closed and she was so pale that it reminded him of when she’d still been frozen, but her lips were parted slightly and she was still breathing.

Good enough for now.

Dogmeat whined at him from the open door.

Deacon stood, took a deep breath and willed everyone in his head to shut the fuck up before pointing at Nora’s prone form. “Dogmeat, stay. Guard.” The shepherd immediately trotted over and stood between her and the door. Good, that was good. Nothing was getting to her with the mutt on duty. He looked around for a second, trying to get his bearings. The room they were in was huge and he finally realized it was the church. They were in the church next to the old museum. Well, that was handy. It would be easy to find again.

A bullet splintered the doorframe about a hand above where Dogmeat’s head had been only seconds before and Deacon stared idly at it, letting the rage inside completely consume him. It filled him with glorious unifying purpose and he smiled. Whoever was shooting at them was being awfully arrogant. They’d just completely given away their position before he even went looking for them.

Sloppy.

Five minutes later, he was scaling the side of an ancient building, rifle on his back and his knife between his teeth. He could taste her blood on it and kept him just past the edge of sanity. Right where he needed to be.

Then he was silently, swiftly moving up behind an asshole wearing Gunner green. Deacon had to hand it to him, he’d set up pretty well. Tripod out for stability, almost completely hidden by the building’s decorative parapet. Might have gotten away with it if he’d had a partner, or if he hadn’t gotten greedy and tried to shoot the dog, too.

The man had a hand on his rifle, still staring at the churchdoor through the scope. Probably watching for his target’s companion. What a fool. His other hand was just laying there casually on a piece of paper next to him. Looked like a bounty notice.

Guess Nora and Mac’s little two person Gunner hunting party had attracted some attention.

The man still had no idea he was even there until the second Deacon slammed his knife into his hand and pinned him to the roof.

“Surprise!” He grinned at the man’s terrified, enraged shrieking. “Oh, hey, you’ve got a knife in your hand, friend. Here, lemme help you with that.” He casually put a boot on his wrist, grabbed the knife, twisted and yanked it out, along with a few tendons. He chuckled when the shrieking rose a few octaves. “Man, you’re pretty loud for a sniper.” He abruptly flopped down on the man’s back, sitting hard enough to hear a few ribs pop and took out a cigarette. “You mind if I smoke? I’ve had a stressful day.” When he got no answer but sobbing, he just nodded. “Thanks, pal.” He lit it and took a long drag, slowly breathing out. “Oh, hey, you want one? You seem like you’re having a hard day, too. Work, am I right?”

“Get off me, you fucking psycho!” The man beneath him struggled ineffectively for a second until Deacon slid his knife along his ear.

“Now, now, no need to be rude.” He increased the pressure just enough to see a small bead of blood form on the man’s earlobe and waited until he went still again. “We’re gonna parlay a little, you and me. Who gave you the bounty on the girl?” The Gunner gave him a sullen look and went completely silent. That wouldn’t do. Deacon rolled his eyes, took one last puff of his cigarette and then put it out on his neck. The screaming started again and he huffed. “So dramatic. Come on, it’s just a little pain. I thought you assholes were supposed to be tough.” He had to raise his voice a little to be heard over the din, “Now, again, who put the bounty on her?”

“Wes! It was Wes!”

Shit. The leader of the Gunners himself. Maybe they’d attracted a lot of attention. “Why?”

Nothing but sullen silence. Again. Guy sure was a slow learner.

Deacon sighed and ground his heel into the man’s ruined hand until he was sobbing once more, “I’m not gonna ask you twice.”

“For Quincy. She’s the bitch who took back Quincy with that fucking traitor.”

Ah...well, wasn’t that...hypocritical of them. “She’s the Minutemen general, dumbass. It was hers to begin with.”

The man was shaking his head, nearly delirious from the pain, “That’s the plan. Take her out, teach them a lesson…”

Make it that much harder for anyone else to stand up to them. Deacon shook his head. As much as he didn’t like the Minutemen, the Gunners were a million times worse. At least the Minutemen had good intentions. If the Gunners managed to take out their general, it could set Boston’s slow resurrection back years...especially since he would personally turn the entire Commonwealth to ash if he lost her.

“How many know about the bounty?”

The man was covered in a cold sweat now, “Everybody. Word went out to everybody.”

Shit. “And the traitor? MacCready?” He might hate the kid, but he wasn’t letting her heart be broken by his loss.

“Him, too.”

He sighed, “Well, that complicates things, doesn’t it?” He lit another cigarette, “You guys just made my life about a million times harder...I don’t appreciate that, pal. I really don’t, but you’ve been a real mensch.” He patted his head like he would a dog. “I do appreciate that.”

He turned hopeful eyes on Deacon, “So...you’re gonna let me go?”

Deacon stood and smiled down at the man, “Of course not.” One .308 round later and his head was splattered all over the roof. “But I’ll make it quick.” Silence reigned in his head for a moment and he nudged pre-Deacon.

“You still with me, kiddo?”

He didn’t suffer enough.

“Yeah, I know. No time.”

Yeah...we should get back to her.

“Yup.”

Going down was always easier than going up and Deacon slid back into the church three minutes later. Dogmeat was still standing in exactly the same spot and his hackles dropped only when Deacon spoke.

“It’s me, mutt. Simmer down.”

The tail wagged a few times and then he turned, forgetting him entirely and nudging Nora while whining. She hadn’t woken back up.

He crouched by her side and carefully slid his hand along her thigh. She was still covered in blood, but the wound was gone. Light pink lines were all that was left, and those would fade over time. She was cold to the touch though and her pulse was racing along when he checked it. She’d lost too much blood. She needed rest.

He mulled over his options for a moment. He could carry her the rest of the way to Sanctuary, but he had no idea if they even had a doctor there. Plus it was a few miles...all that jostling might hurt her. It was early in the day, still. He could move them into the museum next door and set up a proper camp until she recovered.

“What do you think, pup? Stay here or push on?”

Dogmeat blinked at him for a moment and then laid down next to Nora. Deacon chuckled. Decision made.

“Alright. We’ll camp here. I need you to check the museum next door for me real quick, alright? Come on.”

Deacon stayed put outside, keeping a watchful eye on the church door while Dogmeat scouted the building. He heard that happy bark just a few seconds before he came bounding back out, clearly expecting head scratches for his efforts.

Man, he’d missed having a dog.

They quickly moved Nora into the secure building and Dogmeat stayed with her while Deacon checked around for a good place to set up. There was an office on the second floor with a comfortable looking couch and a few chairs. Seemed like it had been recently occupied. Maybe where Garvey and his Quincy stragglers had holed up until she’d come riding to their rescue.

He carried her up the stairs and ignored how limp and cold she felt in his arms. The blood had dried finally and looked almost profane on her skin to him. He kept his eyes firmly on the path ahead and gently laid her on the ancient leather couch before looking around for something to clean her off. Her clothing was a complete loss. He’d have to do something about that, too.

There was a clean rag in her bag and together they had five cans of water. One should be enough for scrubbing the blood off her body. He’d have one, she could have the other three. He paused only to let everyone rattling around in his head to collectively agree that this was a good plan before getting to work.

He was careful and methodical in his movements. He couldn’t even count the number of times he’d had to do this for another person, but this was the first time he worried about being disrespectful about it. She was still mad at him, after all. Probably wouldn’t be very happy if she woke up to find him stripping her down.

There were goosebumps all over her body and she’d started shivering. That was worrisome. Was she just cold or was she sliding into shock? Hard to say. Her pulse was still skittering along, too. He didn’t like that.

She had a change of clothes in her bag, thankfully. He recognized it as her regular nightwear and chuckled a little. He wasn’t even sure why but it was just so...Nora. Only she would pack pajamas to go on a mission.

New, clean panties went on first, then the knee high socks. He hesitated when it came to the shirt though. She still had gloves on and those gloves were soaked through with her blood. He was at a loss at what to do for that. She’d be furious with him for touching her hands. He knew that...what he didn’t know was if it would actually hurt him. Whatever ability she had, if she even had one, wasn’t something she seemed to want to use on anyone.

His eyes fell on the dog sleeping in front of the door. Dogmeat. She had touched the dog with her bare hands and nothing bad had happened. He’d seen her do it in Diamond City. He dug around in her bag a little more and pulled out a new pair of gloves. That settled it. He could totally do this.

He unclipped her Pipboy and set it aside before slowly peeling the gloves off her hands. Most of the blood came away with them, leaving just a reddish-brown residue behind that he carefully wiped away. He did his best to not touch her hands directly. He really did.

But they were just... there. He could do it and she would never have to know he did it. It felt like a violation, sure, but sometimes violations were a necessary evil in his world, right?

He ignored pre-Deacon’s screeching and gently skimmed his finger along the palm of her hand. It twitched a little but he didn’t feel any different. Nothing weird happened. Her hands were crazy soft though, just like he’d thought they would be, and now that he’d touched them once, he couldn’t help himself. He slid his palm along hers and threaded their fingers together, smiling softly. This was nice. It felt right holding her hand. Even pre-Deacon had gone quiet, almost holding his breath at this stolen moment.

Then Deacon turned his head and blinked and the whole world changed.

He stared in disbelief at the room around them. Golden dust shimmered on every surface. His eyes went to Dogmeat and when the dog yawned and shook out his fur, an explosion of shimmering light followed his movements.

It had to be a hallucination of some kind. He didn’t feel any different, but clearly something was happening. He turned to stare at Nora and was momentarily awestruck by how beautiful she looked. Incandescent was the only word he could think of to describe it. His other hand reached out to brush the hair from her face and he watched as the light danced on the tiny sparkling particles in it.

He’d seen this before. Somewhere...a long time ago. In a movie, maybe?

“Faith, trust...and pixie dust.” Pre-Deacon supplied the words but they came from his mouth. Peter Pan. Peter Pan and… “Tinkerbell.” It made sense. Or at least, he’d made two pieces of the puzzle make sense. He still had no idea what the hell was going on, or who had given her the name, but at least he knew why she’d been given the name.

He shook his head and was momentarily blinded by the swirls of bright light. He needed to stop indulging himself before he got caught. The gloves were quickly slid on and by the time he got her shirt on and buttoned, the dust had vanished back into the ether.

Deacon sat back for a moment and stared at Nora, trying to puzzle everything out. She was clearly some kind of psyker, right? Whatever she could do, it had an effect on the human mind. He’d heard of people being able to communicate with animals and tell the future sometimes. According to some of the old files they’d originally found at Switchboard, you could be born that way or, sometimes, made that way through experimentation.

So was she a natural or had her ability been inflicted on her?

What was the ability, anyway? Dogmeat followed her like she was his actual mother, Mac had undying loyalty to her now, too. Was that it? She could force people to go along with what she wanted? He shook his head. No. She wouldn’t have done that to Mac.

Then again, maybe if it happened by accident…

He stared at his own hands and tried to imagine leaving her here. Just walking away. It would hurt, and he would hate himself after, but he could see himself doing it still.

So it wasn’t some kind of compulsion to love her then.

She whimpered in her sleep and started shivering harder. Deacon’s head snapped up and watched her lips move. She was murmuring something but he couldn’t catch it. The shaking was getting worse.

He quickly got their sleeping bags out and zipped together before laying her in them. He almost joined her but remembered she still currently hated him. He snapped his fingers at Dogmeat and silently pointed at Nora, waiting until the dog settled in beside her before zipping the bag back up.

There. If she was going to wake up pissed at someone for slobbering all over her, let it be the damn dog.

Deacon flopped on the couch and let his head fall back. It couldn’t be past mid-afternoon yet and he was already so tired he was starting to get a headache. He still had to clean himself up and find her new clothes and food. They had plenty of water and a can of Cram, but she needed actual food. Nutrients, not just salt. Heat would be good, too. Especially if they were going to be stuck here overnight.

He really was getting too old for this kind of crap.

There was a soft crinkle from his pants pocket when he shifted. Right. The bounty. He dug it out and squinted at the blood-soaked paper. Dead or alive. Five thousand caps and an automatic rank promotion. He rolled his eyes. Trust these idiots to care about a made-up reward. There was a short description of each of them. Mac’s couldn’t be helped. Short, skinny, blue eyes. Nora’s gave him a bit of wiggle room to work with. They’d described her as having brown hair and eyes, which was wrong, and that she wore a Pipboy and was usually seen in the company of a german shepherd.

Removing the Pipboy was an easy fix, but telling her she was going to have to set aside Dogmeat for a while wasn’t going to go well.

He sighed and dragged himself upright. “Alright, pup. I’m leaving you in charge. Keep her safe. I’ll be back.” Dogmeat stared at him for a moment and then laid his head back down on Nora’s chest, his eyes resolutely on the door.

An hour later, Deacon was at the Drumlin Diner. Last time he’d been there, he’d had a different face. Trudy still looked the same though, even if her kid looked like shit on toast. He gave an almost aggressive nod to the two assholes who stood outside the place and walked in.

“Hey, I’m looking for food and clothes.”

The woman shrugged, “Sure, I got a little bit of everything, and it’s all worth every cap I’m charging.”

“Let’s see what you’ve got.”

Turned out she really did have a little bit of everything. He managed to pick up some carrots, tatoes, silt beans, relatively fresh salted brahmin meat and even a nice pot to cook it all in. The clothing was a little more difficult. He hadn’t thought to actually check Nora’s clothing for its size, so he had to guesstimate a little. He hated that. The baggy sweater and jeans should be okay for their trip to Sanctuary, though, and she surely had clothes there.

He also bought every beer Trudy had in stock. He needed a drink in the worst way.

Wolfgang, one of the assholes outside the diner, turned out to be a chems dealer, so Deacon grabbed a couple more stimpaks and a few med-x syringes, plus a bottle of Buffout. The med-x would help Nora if she woke up in pain and as much as he hated chems, the Buffout could be helpful if he had to grab her and make a run for it.

He wasn’t the spry young man he’d once been, after all. His back and shoulders were already screaming at him after the events of the afternoon.

Dogmeat was growling as he opened the door to their little camp. He’d stayed in exactly the same spot Deacon had left him.

“Shhh, Dogmeat, it’s just me. You’re gonna wake her.”

A tiny voice reached him, “Already...awake…”

He dropped his pack and hurried over, settling on his knees next to her. “Hey, there she is. How you feeling, sweetheart?”

Her eyes were still dark and bleary, “Thirsty.”

“Yeah, I bet. Hang on.” He grabbed a can of water and braced her so she could sit up a little. “Nice and slow, alright?” She nodded and he poured a little of the water in her mouth. She was still so pale and felt like nothing in his arms, but the water was staying down, so that was good. Not in shock, at least. He let her have half the can and then helped her lay back down.

“Did you get ‘em?”

He chuckled, “Yeah, I got ‘em. We’ll talk about it when you feel better, okay?”

Her eyes closed, “Okay.” She frowned a little, “Hair.”

“What?”

“Can you...my hair?”

Oh, right. That bun. “Sure, sweetheart.” He carefully turned her head and pulled the pins from her hair, running his fingers through it to loosen it and trying to not get lost in the feeling. “Better?”

“M’hmm.” Her forehead had smoothed back out and her breathing was slow and deep. Back down to dreamland.

He laid a hand on her forehead. Still cool, but not as cold as before, and definitely no fever. That was a bonus.

“Alright, pup. Let’s see what we’ve got to work with around here.”

Deacon and Dogmeat meticulously searched the museum and between them they found an ancient space heater, a makeshift battery someone had recently left behind, multiple blankets and an aluminum trash can lid that would make a perfect fire pit. He shook his head a little at the waste of it all. You’d think someone would have stripped this place for all it was worth ages ago.

There was a small balcony in the office they were occupying and he set up the fire there. After a thorough cleaning, his knife was tearing through the meat and vegetables and he tossed them all in the pot along with a bottle of beer and a can of water. In a few hours, he’d have stew for him and broth for her. He’d pulled down a piece of drywall from deeper inside the museum during his fuel scavenging and used it to block the light from the fire from the street below. It wouldn’t do to set up camp and then invite trouble. They’d already had more than enough for one day.

He set up the space heater between Nora and the door so she wouldn’t catch a chill. He had no way of knowing how long the battery would last, but a little heat was better than none. The smell of burning dust filled his nostrils for a moment but then the room was filling with glorious warmth, so he figured it was worth it.

Nothing to do now but wait.

Deacon checked her Pipboy for the time and sighed. Almost exactly twenty four hours had passed since she’d woken him complaining of cold in that hovel in Lexington. He was exhausted but wired, too. It had been a long time since he’d gotten his hands dirty. There was a not-so-small delegation within him that was whispering about how long exactly it would take to get from Sanctuary to the old Galaxy News Network studio, where the Gunner’s home base was. He could drop Nora off where she’d be safe and then hightail it down there. Blow the whole place to kingdom come in one fell swoop.

Not that it would be nice and quick for any of those fuckers. Especially their leader, who clearly needed a good...talking to.

He shook his head. No. Place was on the whole other end of the Commonwealth. It would take at least a week round trip and by then, she’d have gone to who knows where? Nora was a restless sort, after all. She never seemed to stay in one place for more than a few days.

Still, voices in his head screamed for vengeance...maybe he’d have to put out a few bounties of his own. Get Wes to come to him. That’d save him a lot of effort and let him stay close to her.

The decision, once made, was unanimous.

He carefully cleaned his rifle and Deliverer just to give his hands something to do. Then packed and repacked their bags. Another time check showed he still had a little over an hour before the soup would be finished. He dug out an old copy of Swann's Way and settled down on the couch to wait. He needed to at least get a bit of the broth into Nora before he could sleep. Might as well get in some reading.

His eyes were starting to get fuzzy by the time he finally pulled the pot off the fire. Everything was cooked and it tasted...passable. Better than a can of Cram, anyway. He used an old coffee mug to dole out a portion for him and the dog on chipped but serviceable bowls and then filled it with the broth, adding a little water to cool it down.

Dogmeat happily scarfed down his and didn’t seem to notice it was blazing hot. Deacon chuckled and carefully blew on his before eating. He was starving, too, but he wasn’t so far gone he was willing to burn all his taste buds off.

Did dogs even have taste buds? It would certainly explain a lot about canine behavior if they didn’t.

He gave his empty bowl to the pup to clean and carefully maneuvered Nora into his lap. She was so far gone that he didn’t even have to attempt to be quiet and that worried him a little. Maybe he should just let her sleep? She needed fuel to make more blood though, right? If her body had to break down its own resources first, it would take longer, wouldn’t it? And as much as he loved having her all to himself, he wanted to get her to Sanctuary, where other people could assume part of the responsibility of keeping her alive because the weight of it was threatening to drag him under, if he was being perfectly honest.

Deacon shook his head to clear it and let the shards all settle. Food. She needed food. He needed to focus.

He held her in one arm like she was a child and shook her gently, “Come on, sweetheart. Dinner.” When all she did was murmur a little and turn towards his chest, he shook her a little harder. “Wake up, sleeping beauty.”

Her eyes slowly opened and focused on his face. “Deacon?”

He grinned at her, “The one and only. I need you to drink this, okay?” He held the mug up so she didn’t have to turn her head to see it.

“Whassit?”

“Broth. Made it myself. The dog liked it.”

A little line appeared between her brows, “You’re...taking care of me.”

He pretended to not be offended at her surprise, “Somebody has to, right?” He held the mug against her lips, “Now drink.”

Her eyes never left his face but she obediently opened her mouth and let him pour the broth down her throat. He didn’t like this passivity. Ragdoll Nora was not a fun playmate. Not even a little. He wanted his feisty little princess back. Once he got all the lukewarm liquid into her, he rocked her a little and rubbed her arm. She was still far too cold for his liking.

She snuggled into his chest and sighed. “Dreams.”

“What?”

“Bad dreams,” she mumbled.

“Ah...well, that’s pretty normal after being shot, princess.”

“Dumb.”

He wasn’t sure if she thought being shot was dumb or having nightmares after was, so he just nodded. “Yup, I know...let’s get you back in your sleeping bag, okay? You gotta rest.”

Her hand came up just enough to hook into his shirt, “Stay.”

Pre-Deacon answered before he even got a chance, “Sure.” He scooted her back in the bag first, then pulled off his boots. The dog was still laying with his back against the door. They’d be safe here. He slid in next to her and zipped the bag up around them. It was far too warm for him, but he wrapped himself around her anyway.

Deacon knew this meant nothing. They were still in the middle of a fight. Their arguing had just been put on pause. When she finally came out of this, she’d still be spitting fire at him and he’d still be in the doghouse. She might even just decide to tell him to get lost and go on her merry way. Pre-Deacon couldn’t care about that right now. After almost losing her in more than one way today, he was going to have a breakdown if he couldn’t touch her, hold her. Feel her breathing in his arms. Even if this turned out to be the last time.

She nuzzled against his chest and sighed happily. “Thank you.”

He blinked away tears he refused to acknowledge, “You’re welcome, princess.”

Chapter Text

Deacon wasn’t entirely sure if he was awake or dreaming still. He clearly remembered drifting off counting the freckles on Nora’s face...purely for identification purposes, of course, (twenty-three on her right cheek, eighteen on the left and exactly ten on her nose) and then came dreams of blood and fire. Pretty standard fare for him.

Now, however, gold-green eyes were watching him with open fascination and...affection? That couldn’t be right.

“Morning.”

He blinked hard a few times, but it didn’t go away. This was real? “Morning.”

“You stayed.” It came out soft, unbelieving. Like she was the one unsure if she was dreaming or not.

“I did.” He cleared his throat a little, “How do you feel?”

“Tired and thirsty but...alive.” She smiled, “Thanks.”

He gave her a lopsided smile back, “Anytime, dollface. Let’s not make a habit out of this though, alright? I’m an old man. You might give me a heart attack or something.”

She studied his face, “You don’t seem that old.”

“Might be I have my own private stash of pre-war beauty creams. Don’t tell anybody. I don’t want them getting jealous.”

“Your secret’s safe with me.”

“Thanks.”

Her eyes dropped to her hands, “Speaking of secrets...you changed my gloves.”

Shit. Moment of truth. “They had blood all over them, I...”

She looked back up at him, “Did you touch them?”

Shit shit shit. She was tired still, dark circles under her eyes. He could probably get away with lying if he used a joke, but...that felt like the wrong move here. He took a deep breath, “Yeah. Kinda had to.”

Surprise flickered over her face for a moment but she didn’t seem angry. “Anything...weird happen?”

His eyebrow went up, “Define weird.”

She frowned, “Deacon…”

He chuckled, “Well...let’s just say I understand the Tinkerbell thing now.”

“Ah.” Her eyes narrowed, “Anything else?”

There was something else? “Nope.”

“Huh...so, what color did you see?”

“Gold. Everything was...gold. Just like in Peter Pan.”

Her eyes sparkled with...something, he wasn’t sure what. “Gold? That’s interesting... very interesting.”

“What…”

She interrupted him before he could ask what seeing gold meant. “Can I have something to drink?”

He let it go, for now. “Sure. Sure thing, princess.” Deacon untangled his limbs from hers carefully and climbed out of the sleeping bag. “I’ve got some water over here, but it would probably be a good idea for you to have a bowl of this soup before we try to head out. You lost a lot of blood.”

Her eyes followed him across the room, “Okay...never thought I’d be back here again. This is where I met Preston.”

He nodded, “I kinda figured. It’s not a bad place to lay low for a while.”

“I guess.”

“Can you sit up or do you need help?” He dug through their stash of food for a pack of Fancy Lads. She’d probably need a sugar boost.

“That...is a good question.” She put her hand up in the air and made a face as it shook above her. “I’m going to go with...I might need some help.”

He set the provisions on a small table by the couch. “Not a problem. Just call me Nurse Deacon.” He scooped her up, sleeping bags and all, and carefully deposited her on the couch. “How’s that?”

She pitched forward just a bit and he caught her shoulder, “Yeah, sorry. I’m...dizzy, but I think it’ll be okay once I’ve eaten something.”

He kept a hand on her shoulder for support and passed her the snack cakes and water, “Bam.”

Nora chuckled, “Are you a nurse or a genie?”

Deacon grinned, “I dunno, ask for something crazy and we’ll see what happens.”

“Okay, lemme think.” She struggled valiantly to open the cellophane and he watched for a minute with growing exasperation before helping.

Her damn stubborn streak would be the death of him at some point. The shy smile he was rewarded with was pretty worth it, though.

“Take your time. What’s a few minutes in the face of eternity?” He let Dogmeat out of the room to take care of his own business and then flopped down on the floor next to the couch and watched her eat. He really should be heating up the soup, but for some reason it just made him feel better to see her moving. She’d been completely still the whole night and there were times he’d woken up in a panic because it felt like he was cuddling a corpse. The soup could wait. Right now, his eyes needed to feast on this.

Nora finished one of the cakes and took a long drink before looking at him, “Alright, genie. I know what my next wish is.”

He nodded very solemnly, “What is your wish, o’ fair one?”

“I wish...for you to forgive me.” Her gaze dropped to her lap. “I’ve been unfair to you. Projecting and stuff and that was wrong. I’m sorry.”

Deacon was suddenly very glad he was sitting on the floor or he might have fallen over. “Hey, hey, no. You don’t have anything to apologize for, Nora. I was the one being a neanderthal.”

Her eyes met his for a moment and she smirked, “Yes, you were, but...I was mad at you for the wrong reasons, and for that, I’m sorry.”

“Ah.”

“I’m still mad that you think every man I’m friends with wants to have sex with me.”

He gave up and sprawled out on the floor, “I don’t think that. It’s just the truth.”

“Oh, it is not.”

“It is, too!” He propped himself up on an elbow. “Are you really gonna sit there and try to tell me if you didn’t prance into Goodneighbor right this second and tell Hancock to drop his shorts, he wouldn’t?”

She waved him off, “That’s just Hancock. That’s who he is.”

He smirked at her, “And Bobby? Is that just who he is, too?”

“Bobby’s just a confused kid…”

“Arturo, then.”

She huffed at him, “Arturo doesn’t want to have sex with me. He’s just being a good salesman.”

He laughed, “I hate to break this to you, gorgeous, but if you asked him to marry you today, he’d have you in that stupid chapel faster than you can say ‘I do’.”

She glared at him, “There are others, you know. Abbot doesn’t want to have sex with me.”

“Abbot’s like...a million years old.”

“Preston isn’t and he doesn’t want to.”

He shrugged, “I haven’t seen him yet but I’m pretty sure you’re wrong.”

“You don’t even know him!” She was puffed up like an angry kitten.

“I know men, princess. That’s all I need.” He caught her unsure look before she turned her head away and sighed, “Look...I’m not saying every guy in the world is some kind of slobbering sex maniac, Nora. It’s just...you’re different. Special. Women like you don’t exist anymore and you’re...you’re very…”, he sputtered to a halt. He couldn’t think of a word that encapsulated her or would make her understand how she drew people in. She was like an old world oasis in this desert of a wasteland.

She sighed, “I’m very what, Deacon?”

“You’re...paradise.” It was all his brain could manage.

Nora stared at him like he had a dick growing out of his forehead, “Paradise? What on earth are you talking about?”

He shook his head, “I dunno. I dunno what I’m trying to say, I’m just...are we good? You and me? You don’t hate me or anything?”

She gave him a thoughtful once over before nodding, “Yeah...we’re good.” A mischievous smile broke over her face, “How could I stay mad at someone who saw gold?”

“Yeah, what does that…”

“Am I ever getting some of that soup or what?” She stuffed the other snack cake into her mouth and smiled around it at him before chewing obnoxiously.

“Ugh, gross. Don’t be fucking gross.” He got up and dusted his pants off. “I’ll get you the damn soup, just don’t do that again.”

Her hand went over her mouth before she spoke, thankfully, “Sorry. I keep telling you, I’m a brat. I don’t know why you keep forgetting.”

He stirred the cold soup and harrumphed irritably, “It’s because you don’t look like a brat. You’re a brat with the face of an angel. It messes with your head.”

“And what is a brat supposed to look like?”

“MacCready.”

She giggled and snorted a little and he found himself laughing, too.

Two hours later, they’d broken camp and Deacon found himself going toe to toe with the brat within her again.

“Nora, just put the damn thing on. It’s cold out.” Shit, it was cold in, too. They stood just inside the doors to the museum and he could see her shivering slightly in the chilly air. He shook the new sweater at her. “You’ll freeze before we get outta Concord.”

She turned her nose up at the offer, “I am not wearing that... burlap sack you probably took off some dead body somewhere. It’s disgusting.”

“I did not get it off a dead body, alright? I bought it.”

“You paid actual caps for that? I thought you were smart.”

“Nora, put the sweater on. You’re being ridiculous.”

“I’m being ridiculous? You’re the one who wants me to put that on my body. It’s probably got lice or fleas or something.”

“Nora…”

“If you love the damn thing so much, why don’t you wear it?”

He rubbed his forehead, “Because it won’t fit me. Please just put the fucking sweater on so we can move on with our lives, okay?” He was starting to think maybe it would be a great idea to just drop her off at Sanctuary and then run off on that Gunner killing spree.

She sighed and took it from him gingerly, “It’s so ugly though…”

He watched her stare at the perfectly serviceable sweater. She looked beyond pitiful. Despondent, maybe? Part of him was tempted to give her his jacket and freeze the whole way just to get that look off her face. Could she really be this vain? “Aw, come on. It’s a great color for you.”

“It’s...mud puddle brown. How is that a good color for me?”

“Brings out your eyes.” He grinned at her and she sighed again. “Come on, it’s not so bad, and it’ll keep you nice and toasty until Sanctuary, right?”

“I guess…”, she pulled the offensive garment over her head and tried to smooth it down. “How does it look?”

Deacon frowned a little and stared at her. He wanted to lie and tell her she looked like a queen, but really she looked like some poor lost waif. He couldn’t think of a single slick line so he went with the truth. “Warm. It looks warm.”

She made a face and shrugged a little, “It is. Fine. Let’s go...but you’re the one getting fussed at by Codsworth, not me.”

He held the door open for her and let her step out into the sunshine ahead of him. “Your robot cares about what you wear? Sounds like a malfunction to me.”

“It’s not. He was programmed to care, actually.”

They headed down the main drag and Deacon kept his eyes on the roof-lines, just in case. “Oh, yeah? Was that a standard thing for Mister Handys back then?”

Nora kept her steps slow and small. She wouldn’t be back at full strength for a couple of days yet. “Yes, and no. You could have them programmed for whatever you needed. Codsworth is a master chef, gardener, nanny and knows a lot about fashion. We used to read Vogue together every month. Vanity Fair, too.”

“And those were?”

“Fashion magazines. Had all the latest styles from all the fashion capitals. Paris, Milan, New York, Los Angeles…”

“Okay, but...why?” Seemed like a colossal waste of time and energy for something as simple as clothing.

“Because I have no taste, of course. I grew up wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs and the occasional dress from the church donation bin. Even when Jimmy got older and could afford to buy me something nice, my mother would destroy it first chance she got.”

His hands involuntarily tightened on his rifle. God, he hated her parents; hated the way her shoulders would come up ever so slightly whenever she talked about them, like she was waiting to deflect a blow. “I bet you were still cute, though.”

She shook her head, “Nah. I might’ve been, but she also kept my hair cut real close. I’m pretty sure the kids at school didn’t even notice I was a girl.”

“Is that why its so long now?”

“Yup. Soon as I got out, I decided no one was ever going to make me cut it again...I mean, I got it trimmed, of course, while it grew out. I didn’t want to look shaggy, but, yeah.”

“Audrey Hepburn.”

She looked back at him in confusion, “What?”

“I bet you looked like Audrey Hepburn once it started to grow out, right? Like when she did Roman Holiday or Sabrina.”

She smiled and unexpected warmth flooded through him, “That’s sweet of you to say, Deacon...it’s wrong, but sweet.”

He found himself grinning like a fool at her, “So the robot helped you look like a proper lady, is that it?”

“He did indeed. It started when I passed the bar and started having interviews, you know? The ladies at Fallon's were nice and all, but they all worked on commission, so I kept coming home with things that were expensive but wrong.”

“Wrong how?”

“Oh, just...wrong color, wrong cut. They kept trying to dress me like a bombshell when I was trying to go for something a little more serious. You were supposed to dress like the job you wanted, you know? And I didn’t want to be someone’s office pet. With Codsworth’s help, I was able to land a super sweet gig working at Cardinal and Carney. Criminal defense.”

“Ah, so you were a defense attorney. Like one of those public defenders or whatever?”

She scoffed, “Hardly. I defended people of means and wealth. The worst of the worst. I made enough to pay off Codsworth within two months.”

He frowned at the back of her head. That didn’t sound like the savior of the Commonwealth he’d been following. “You didn’t mind defending people like that?”

“Not really, so long as they paid. Nate hated it, though. He was always pushing for me to work in the DA’s office or something.”

“But you didn’t want to?”

“Nope. I didn’t bust my ass in college to work a thankless job and make peanuts. If I’d wanted to do that, I’d have stuck with my art.” She took a deep breath. “I don’t think I can make it up that hill, honey.”

Deacon glanced at the slight incline that seemingly went on forever. “Okay.” He took his pack off and put it on backwards before crouching in front of her, “Hop on. I can carry you.” Her weight hit him suddenly and he stumbled forward a few steps before catching himself.

“Sorry! Sorry, I slipped.” She patted the top of his head.

He hitched her up a little and started up the hill, “It’s fine.” He felt mildly disgruntled. Almost disappointed in her. He’d never imagined she’d be defending the bad guys.

She chuckled in his ear, “You’re mad at me.”

He fought back a shiver, “What? No, I’m not.”

“Yeah, you are. You’re mad at me for being a shark. You can admit it. It won’t hurt my feelings.”

“It was two hundred years ago, it doesn’t matter,” he grumbled and wished that were true. This was a giant, glaring character flaw in her he hadn’t seen coming. Could she even be trusted? Or was she like MacCready, selling her services to the highest bidder?

She snuggled against him, “You’re so nice and warm. You should carry me all the time.”

“Yeah, no, this is a one time thing.”

“I figured...Deacon, how do you determine right from wrong?”

He shook his head, “I’m the wrong person to ask about that, babycakes.”

“Okay...then, what made you stay?”

“When you got shot?”

“Yeah.”

“I dunno...I didn’t think about it. I just...did what needed to be done.”

There was a contemplative pause, “But you could have left. I think most people would have left.”

He shrugged, “Maybe, but I’m invested in you, so I stayed.”

“Hmm...so if you weren’t invested in me, you would have left?”

“No. Probably not.”

“Okay, so why?”

“I don’t know.”

“I know why. It’s because you have a compass that tells you when something is right or wrong.”

“You mean like a conscience?”

“Yup.”

“That’s up for debate.”

She chuckled, “It’s really not. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, you’re a good person deep down.”

Deacon walked a few yards in thoughtful silence, “Do you think you’re not a good person?”

“No, not naturally, but I can fake it pretty well.”

He glanced back at her, “That’s bullshit. You’re a good person. Look at all the stuff you’ve done for others.”

“I do that stuff because it’s what Nate would have done. Not because I want to.”

“Nora…”

“If I just did what I wanted to do, I’d have already murdered my way into the Institute somehow.”

“I don’t think that’s gonna…”

“You know what I thought when I killed that first raider in Concord?”

He was almost afraid to ask, “What?”

“I bashed his brains in with a rock and thought, ‘Fuck this feels better than sex’.”

He was starting to feel a little nervous, like he was carrying a baby Deathclaw instead of the woman he’d spent the night cuddled up with. “Well, to be fair, that’s before we hooked up, right?”

She laughed, “True.”

They were almost at the top of the hill. There was a Red Rocket nearby and in the distance he could just make out Sanctuary. “So...you think you don’t have a compass? Is that it?” He let her slide off once they came over the crest and pretended to not be winded.

She watched him put his pack back on and shrugged, “I had one, once...probably. I’m pretty sure it broke though.”

Yeah, next chance he got, he was going to beat someone to death and pretend it was her stepdad. “Nora, the fact that you even think about it kinda proves you still have one.”

“I only think about it because it seems to bother other people. You should have seen Piper’s face when I offered to fix her problem with that awful man.”

“Awful man?”

“Mayor McDonough.”

“You offered to...fix him?”

“Yes. It wouldn’t be hard. The locks in Diamond City are easy to pick and it’s not difficult to kill a sleeping man. Hell, I could probably do it without even touching him. Just pour a bunch of rat poison in his drink or something.”

Shit. She’d really thought this out. “Why’d you offer to kill him for her?”

She huffed at him, “Because he was threatening her sister! The man’s a petty little tyrant.”

Deacon smiled, “Nora, you were willing to kill a powerful man to save one child. You’re a good person...and I’ve seen you in action, remember? You hesitate before every shot.”

She folded her arms, “Yeah, because I like it a little too much.”

“If you were a bad person, you wouldn’t care about that. Trust me. I’m speaking from experience here.”

“You’re a good person, Deacon.”

He shrugged, “Sometimes.”

Her eyes narrowed at him, “You’re still disappointed in me though, right? That I wasn’t some noble square defending the downtrodden or whatever.”

He thought about all the puzzle pieces he had of her past for a moment before answering. “I think...you always have a reason for what you do. I think you were a survivor. You are a survivor. I’m not in any position to judge you, Nora. You’re a tough cookie...I need to stop assuming you aren’t.”

She turned her gaze down to Dogmeat and muttered, “It’s not like I want to be.”

“Hey, it’s good to be a tough cookie, babycakes. Otherwise you might not have made it, right?”

“I guess.”

The needed to get off this topic before shit got maudlin. “Hey, is that Sanctuary over there?” He pointed up the road and her head turned.

“Yeah.” She didn’t seem terribly excited about returning to her pre-war home, but that was understandable.

Deacon, on the other hand, was very excited to watch her interact with her first friends in the Commonwealth. After all, if he was going to try to argue for her soul with her, he needed evidence to build a proper defense. He took the lead and watched Dogmeat peel away from their group and head for the Red Rocket.

“Hey, where’re you goin’, mutt?”

Nora answered for him, “That’s his house.” She caught up with him and they walked side by side.

“He gets a whole Red Rocket? That’s some doghouse.”

She shrugged, “It’s where I found him. He lets me stay whenever I’m up this way. Got a guest room and everything.”

“Oh, yeah?” He looked over his shoulder at the building and for the first time noticed the generator and water pump. “Think he’ll let me stay, too?”

“You’ll have to ask him, it’s his house.” The corner of her mouth turned up, “I’d bring a bribe.”

Deacon smiled down at her for a moment before turning his head back to the road. There was a little bridge ahead and a small, hunched figure stood at the end of it. “Uh, oh. Bridge troll.”

Nora punched his arm. “Hush, you. That’s Mama Murphy. She could put you in the dirt.”

He snorted, “Maybe a thousand years ago, sure.”

“Maybe today. She once killed a Deathclaw with a single bullet... and she took out a whole raider gang. By herself. With her bare hands.”

He chuckled, “Weren’t you supposed to be good at spotting liars?”

She puffed up a little, “It’s not a lie!”

“M’hmm.” He squinted against the sunlight a little. The woman now waving to them looked like she wasn’t a day younger than ninety and was maybe sixty pounds soaking wet. “She looks like a real scrapper.”

Nora chose to ignore him and waved back, “Hey, Maya! I brought you some company!”

Holy shit. The famous Maya. Maybe now he could finally get some real answers. He put on his best movie star smile and gave her a cheery wave as they crossed the bridge.

“I knew you’d be here, child. Saw you comin’.” Her voice was shaky and soft.

“Saw me? You didn’t use the Sight, did you?” Nora hugged her before carefully studying her face.

“Nah, sometimes it just uses me.” Cloudy eyes went to Deacon, “I saw this one coming, too. He’s a little harder to get a read on though.”

Nora rolled her eyes, “Yeah, tell me about it.” Her eyes went past the old woman to a man dragging an odd assortment of tubing behind him. “Sturges!” She took off at a slightly faster walk and Deacon made to follow until a surprisingly strong grip on his arm stopped him.

He looked down at the tiny woman and then watched Nora catch up to Sturges. Well, he’d wanted answers, right? “So you’re Maya. I’ve heard a lot about you. I uh...I like your hat.”

Those strange eyes stared into him. She had that same piercing look Nora sometimes got, like she could see him right down to the bones. Then she smiled in a vague sort of way and was back to being a harmless little old lady, “Hello, David.”

He froze and willed back a shiver, “I’m Deacon.”

She shrugged, “Okay, kid. Whatever you say. A spade’s a spade, no matter what you call it.”

He stamped down the impulse to chuck her into the river below them and tried again, “So, you’re friends with Nora?”

“Nope. We’re family.” She shuffled along the road and he got dragged along with her. “You’ve got a lot of questions for someone who never gives an answer.”

There were goosebumps threatening to run up his arm and he was glad for his jacket, “You mind answering some anyway?”

“Sure, sure. You might not like what I’ve got to say though, but that’s your responsibility, not mine.”

“Uh...okay...what can you tell me about Nora’s ability?”

She shook her head, “Not much more than you already know. It was a gift, but it got all twisted up, abused by people who never understood. She’s afraid of its shine now. Afraid of what it reveals.” She glanced up at him and squinted, “But it can help you. If you let her, if you’re worthy of it, she can help you.”

He frowned, “With the Railroad?”

A sly smile crossed her face, “You weren’t always so obtuse. It must chafe somethin’ fierce to wear a fox’s coat when you’re a wolf.”

“What?”

“The kaleidoscope can’t go on forever. Always a different picture but always the same old shards banging against each other. You think the lanterns in the dark illuminate you and keep you on the path someone else chose, but they can only last so long. Time’s still marching on, and some day...someday soon, you’re going to have to chose.”

Deacon was starting to regret asking this woman anything. “Chose what?”

The death grip on his arm relaxed a little and she toddled off towards a boarded up pre-war house, “Between following a new star or the same old fading lantern.” She disappeared into the little house and closed the door firmly behind her.

Well, that was...a colossal waste of time. He sighed and looked around for Nora. There were a few settlers here and there and that infamous Mister Handy was puttering around an old house. Her Mister Handy. It seemed a lot less terrifying nowadays.

He crossed the street, hands in his pockets, and wandered up to it, watching as it tidied long dead bushes for a moment before clearing his throat.

The robot turned and raised an eyestalk towards him, “Oh! Hello there! Are you new to Sanctuary, sir?”

He smiled politely, “Sort of. I’m just here visiting with Nora.”

“Ah! A new friend! I’m very pleased to make your acquaintance, sir! You may call me Codsworth. If there’s anything you need, please let me know!”

“Thanks...and it’s Deacon. It’s nice to meet you.”

“Oh! Manners! So refreshing!” It drifted a little closer and lowered it’s volume a bit, “Between you and me, the last young man mum brought here was so uncouth I thought he’d been raised in a barn, if you get my meaning.”

Deacon chuckled. Had to be MacCready. “Well, you know Nora. Always trying to elevate those around her.”

Codsworth bobbed excitedly, “Oh, she does! She does indeed, Mister Deacon! Isn’t mum just wonderful?”

Finally. Someone mostly sane who was happy to talk about her. “She really is.”

“Such a darling, really. She went all the way to Diamond City just to get me a new hat. Isn’t that sweet? How many mistresses would do such a thing for a silly old robot like me?”

“Uh...not many, probably.”

“She’s always thinking of others. Selfless, really.” He sighed like he actually needed to breathe, “Between us, sir, it's a bit worrisome for yours truly.”

“Worrisome how, Codsworth?”

“Well, sir...and really, I don’t mean anything bad by it, of course, but she does so much for so many. It wears on her, I think. Master Nate always said she needed looking after, you know. She’s one of those people who finds trouble easily...or it finds her, anyway. I do hope you’ll do your utmost to be mindful and keep her safe out in the wilderness, Mister Deacon.”

He felt a little like he was talking to her protective uncle instead of her robot, “Yeah, of course, Codsworth. I’m always mindful. That's one thing you can count on.”

“Oh, wonderful! You don’t know how much comfort that brings me, sir. Truly.” His middle eyestalk swiveled around, “Ah! There’s the mistress now! Miss Nora!” He raised an appendage to wave at her and Deacon turned to wave, too.

She was coming out of a small building with the man from before. Sturges. He wasn’t sure how much he liked that. When she saw he was talking with Codsworth, though, her face lit up in one of those rare, genuine smiles. That he liked.

“Oh! Oh, Miss Nora! What are you wearing?” Codsworth took off across the street and hovered anxiously around her while Sturges rather pointedly headed in the other direction.

“Now, Codsworth, don’t fuss.” Nora was trying to wave him off but it wasn’t working.

“This is...it’s absolutely unacceptable! A travesty of fashion, mum! We must burn this straight away! You should be in blues and greens and blushing pinks! Mustard, maybe, but not brown!”

She gave Deacon a dirty, ‘I told you so’ kind of look, “It’s not like I picked it out, Codsworth. Jeez.”

“I’ll fetch you a proper coat straight away, mum!” He buzzed off into the house and could be heard muttering and banging around inside.

Nora sighed, “Now I’ll never hear the end of this. From now until the end of time, he’ll be harping on about this stupid sweater. It’s the penny loafers all over again.”

Deacon joined her on the sidewalk and nudged her with his shoulder, “Sorry, princess. I didn’t realize he was so...him.”

Codsworth reappeared with a dark navy peacoat and zipped over to them. “Here you are, mum. Just the thing. This will keep you nice and warm and no one will think you’re a dirty vagabond, will they?”

She shucked off the sweater and slipped the coat on, “Thanks, Codsworth. Did you get everything packed?”

The robot was busily hovering around her, the abhorrent sweater draped over one arm. “Of course, mum. The larger items have been sent along one of Miss Carla’s trade routes to Diamond City, care of Ms. Wright, just as you instructed. Miss Nora, if I may...your core body temperature is down and you look rather tired. Is anything wrong?”

“Just a little problem with some local riff-raff.” She finished buttoning the coat and gave him a good stare. “Are you scanning me again?”

Codsworth froze in mid-hover, “Mum?”

“Didn’t I ask you to stop doing that?”

“Yes, mum. I’m very sorry...I’ll just run along and draw your bath, shall I?”

“M’hmm.” She watched him take off and shook her head, “He’s gotten awfully sassy in the last two hundred years.”

Deacon chuckled, “At least he’s not cooking up people en flambe left and right like most Mister Handys.”

She put her hands in her pockets and shrugged, “That’s true. I suppose it could be worse.”

He looked her over now that they were alone, “I gotta admit, you look better in that than in the sweater, princess.”

“Thanks. This coat was new. I’d just purchased it the week before the bombs fell. Never even got to wear it...Codsworth traded his skills for space in one of our neighbor’s backyard fallout shelters. He packed a lot of stuff away for us. He was absolutely convinced we’d all just pop out of the Vault one day and life would pick up right where we left off.” Her eyes drifted to the hill overlooking Sanctuary and he followed her gaze.

“He’s a good robot. Loyal. Talks about you like you’re the Virgin Mary, you know.”

She chuckled, “Yeah, he always did. I was...a lot different back then. Softer, I guess...at home, anyway. I was able to be who I wanted here. It was nice.”

“It’s hard to imagine you any softer than you already are.” He waggled his eyebrows at her suggestively and she rolled her eyes.

“Anyway, I should hunt down Preston. I’m sure he’s gonna give me an earful over something…”, she started walking and he fell in step next to her.

“Yeah...you might need to give him a heads up about the bounty thing, too.”

She stopped suddenly and turned, “What bounty thing?”

“Did I forget to mention the guy who shot you was doing it to get a bounty?” He went for scatterbrained but helpful.

Her eyes narrowed, “Yeah, you did.”

“Ah...well, yup. You and the kid. Gunners want you guys dead or alive.”

She groaned and actually stamped her foot in frustration, “I don’t have time for those assholes right now!”

Deacon laughed and ran a hand over her hair in a soothing gesture, “Want me to take this one?”

“What? You would do that?”

He shrugged like he wasn’t chomping at the bit to murder those fuckers. “Sure. The Railroad takes care of its own.”

“So...it’s like a Musketeers thing? All for one and one for all?”

He smiled, “Pretty much.”

Her head tilted, “What’s the catch?”

“No catch.” He shrugged carelessly, “However…”

“Oh, here it comes.”

“If you wanted to do something nice for the cause, I wouldn’t hold it against you.”

“Nice like what?”

“Well...you’re the Minutemen general, right? If you publicly came out in favor of liberated synths, that could really help us out.”

She blinked at him, “That’s it?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“I thought you were going to ask for something...more personal.”

He chuckled, “Contrary to what you might believe, I’m not always thinking with my lizard brain. It’s more like a forty-sixty split.”

“Now who did you bring here?” A biting voice cut through the air.

They turned and stared at the clearly agitated woman. “Marcy! There you are. How are you and Jun doing?”

Marcy put her hands on her hips, “Hmph. We’re fine. Who’s he? Looks suspicious.”

Nora put on a patient, polite smile, “This is Deacon. He’s going to help me carry my things to Diamond City.”

She gave him a good once over, “Looks like a raider to me.”

Deacon put his hands up, “No, ma’am. Just escorting the general.”

Her eyes narrowed and he felt like he was dealing with Myrna 2.0, “I’ll be watching you, stranger. Don’t get any funny ideas while you’re here.”

“No, ma’am. Just serious ones.” He grinned and a small giggle escaped Nora. She turned away while she got it under control.

Marcy made a disgusted sound before stomping off, grumbling the whole way.

Deacon turned to Nora, “Well, she’s charming. Quite the welcoming committee you’ve got going on here, princess.”

“She’s alright once you get to know her...and her husband’s a sweetheart.”

He snorted, “More like a saint.”

“General!” A handsome man with a ridiculous hat and a laser musket trotted out from behind one of the houses and jogged over.

She smiled warmly at him, “Hello, Preston.”

His eyes quickly flicked over Deacon before they settled on her, “Hello. How have you been?”

“Well, I got shot in Concord. That was unpleasant.” She shrugged and made a face.

“Shot in Concord? So close? What happened?” His hand hovered over her shoulder for a moment before he finally, carefully, patted it.

Deacon smirked a little. This one might not want to bed her, but he was clearly smitten.

“Gunners. Or a Gunner, I guess. Deacon here took care of it.” She gestured over at him and he held out his hand for the Minuteman.

Preston grabbed his hand and enthusiastically shook it, “Thank you, friend. You have no idea how much she means to us.”

He pulled back before his arm got torn off, “I’ve got a pretty good idea.”

Nora scowled at him for a moment before smiling at Preston again, “Anything that needs tending to while I’m here?”

“Well...now that you mention it...we do need to have a little talk. In private.” He looked pointedly at Deacon.

Subtlety was clearly not one of Preston’s strong suits. He nodded sociably though, “Hey, don’t worry about me. I’m gonna uh...do a quick perimeter check, okay, boss?”

She nodded, “Okay, that sounds fine. I’ll meet you at the Red Rocket in a bit.”

“Sure.” He tipped his non-existent hat at Preston and sauntered off. Minutemen business held zero interest for him and he wanted a chance to poke around Sanctuary.

It must have been a cute little place back before the bombs dropped. A tiny island of happiness hugged by a babbling brook. Idyllic, really. There was a massive elm tree in the middle of a cul-du-sac. Deacon stared up at it and tried to imagine what it would have looked like covered in leaves, the way the sunlight would have been softened and dappled below. He wondered what color it would have turned in the fall and if the people who lived around it had appreciated the miracle of nature in front of them or if they’d just complained about cleaning up after it.

There was a playground, too, right in the middle of the tiny community. That made his heart hurt for just a moment. He could imagine Nora out there with her boy, playing in the bright sunshine and laughing. He ached inside for what she’d lost. Teaching the kid how to ride a bike on the safe street, fishing in the summer, backyard barbecues and neighborhood block parties. He couldn’t imagine the pain she had to feel whenever she came back here to the twisted shell of her former life. It was no wonder she couldn’t sleep here.

He puttered along aimlessly, watching settlers tending their winter crops and making notes of the community’s weaknesses. Not enough turrets to survive an all out attack yet, but there was evidence of a sturdy wall being built. That would help.

Give it a few years and this place might really be something.

He kept an eye on Nora, too. Whatever she and Preston had to talk about could apparently be done in the open air and he watched the man get more and more animated as he went. Whatever it was about, he was excited. She chuckled and nodded before they exchanged a complicated fist-bump of sorts.

So they did have a secret handshake.

Nora watched the Minuteman resume his patrol with a soft smile on her face. It made Deacon feel...not jealous, of course, but just mildly irritated. Had to be the idea of someone of her caliber wasting her talents with such a scruffy group of rubes. She was meant for bigger, better things, clearly. Preston must have crazy luck to have convinced her to embrace this ridiculous role of Minutemen general.

Her head turned towards the little blue house across the street and she stood facing it for a few minutes. Deacon’s first impulse was to go to her now that she was alone again, but instead he hid behind the electrical shed and watched her square her shoulders defiantly and stomp across the street, hesitating only at the front door before grabbing the doorknob and almost violently wrenching it open before stomping inside.

That was different.

Deacon slipped behind the houses and kept a low profile until he got behind the home she’d gone into. He could hear the soft murmur of her voice but couldn’t make anything out. It sounded like she was still in the living room, maybe. He peeked over a windowsill and froze as he took in the blue crib, the once cheerful art on the walls and the teddy bear on the floor. Shaun’s room. This had been her house.

Footsteps were coming down the hallway and he ducked back down, sitting with his back against the house and listening carefully. Pre-Deacon was uncomfortable with this whole situation. This was clearly some private thing for her. There was no way to sneak off now though without her noticing. The holes in the walls and the broken glass of the windows would offer no cover in this oddly quiet moment. He heard her step into the room and then the squeak of ancient springs as she sat in the rotted chair next to the crib.

She sighed and there was the sound of a holotape going into her Pipboy.

A squeal of audio feedback cut through the air before a man’s rumbling baritone filled the room, accompanied by the coos of a happy baby. “Oopsie. Ha ha ha. No, no, no. Little fingers away. There we go. Just say it. Right there. Right there. Go ahead.” There was a pause and the baby laughed before the man continued, “Ah, yay! Hi, honey, listen... I don't think Shaun and I need to tell you how great of a mother you are. But, we're going to anyway. You are kind, and loving, and funny, that's right, and patient. So patient, patience of a saint as my mother used to say. Look, with Shaun and us all being home together it's been an amazing year but even so I know our best days are yet to come. There will be changes sure, things we'll need to adjust to. I'll rejoin the civilian workforce, you'll shake the dust off your law degree. But everything we do no matter how hard, we do it for our family. Now, say goodbye, Shaun. Bye bye, say bye bye.” The man waited for another round of cooing before he chuckled warmly, “Bye honey, we love you.”

The tape clicked off and a moment of silence filled the room before Nora’s voice broke it, “I love you, too.” Deacon couldn’t see but he knew she was crying anyway. “Nate...I don’t know if you can hear me, but, I figured if you can, you’d hear me better here than in the vault...I’m moving to the city...or, what people consider a city nowadays. It’s Fenway. Can you believe that? They turned Fenway into a city.” She laughed softly, “You’re probably pitching a fit over that, huh? Remember the last time we went? I was so big I could barely squeeze into a seat and you almost got into a fight with that guy who kept interrupting the hot dog man.”

She sighed heavily, “Look, I’m not going because I hated it here or anything. I know we fought about staying in this...Penny Lane purgatory, but it wasn’t really that bad...I just can’t stay here, sugar. I really can’t. There’s just too many memories and...fuck, you know I do better the closer to civilization I am. Nate, I hate this world. I really do. It should have been you who survived. You’d probably already have Shaun back by now...he’s older, you know. I saw him, angel. He’s maybe ten or so...he looks just like you. He’s even got that little suspicious squint you always got whenever you heard something ridiculous on the radio and...he’s beautiful, Nate. Just beautiful.”

She broke down in sobs for a few minutes before continuing. “I’m getting him back though. I swear I will. I already got the guy who took him and...and shot you.” She noisily blew her nose and sniffled a bit, “The thing is though...I can’t be who you loved in this world. It’s...there’s no room for it here, you know? And I hate that, too. I hate who I have to be here. I miss you so much. I miss how strong you were and how you let me be weak...that came out wrong, but you know what I mean.” She took a deep breath, “What happens when I get him back though? I already didn’t know how to be a mother and I definitely don’t know how to be a mother now. I mean...Jesus. It’s just so awful here. I can teach him how to survive and whatever, but how am I supposed to teach him how to be good, sugar? That was always supposed to be your job.”

There was a soft thud and Deacon realized she must have set her head back against the wall. “I guess...Preston could teach him, maybe. He’s a good man. You’d like him, I think. He kinda reminds me of Jackson, only without the pranks.” Another sigh, “Oh...speaking of men, I mean, I guess you already know, but I’m sleeping with someone...you definitely would not like him.” She chuckled a little, “I suppose that was part of the appeal at first. I didn’t want to be around someone who reminded me of you. Or maybe I’m just reverting to type? I always did have terrible taste in men until you came along. It’s not like...an actual relationship or anything. It’s just...I dunno. I dunno what it is. I just get so angry sometimes and it swells up in me and it’s either kill something or fuck somebody...that probably isn’t very healthy, but it’s not like there are shrinks anymore, right? Anyway...he’s not really the boyfriend-type, you know? Honestly, every time I wake up and he’s still there, I’m shocked.”

A thoughtful pause, “But he did stay. He could have left, but he didn’t...I dunno. I can’t get a good read on him. I mean, I could but I kinda don’t want to...anyway, he’s going to help me get Shaun back. Or he says he is, at least. I almost believe him when he says it but...I dunno. I dunno what I’m doing here, Nate. I wish you were here to tell me what to do. I keep trying to do what I think you would do, and it kinda works, but sometimes I just don’t know...it’s so easy to be a monster in this world, sugar. It's like I’ve lost my north star and now I’m just...adrift. I keep having these moments. Little moments where I just want to destroy everything around me...and it scares me how comforting the whole idea is. I mean, I could. I could just...lay waste to the world and burn it all down. Kill until I’m killed...they don’t even have laws here, Nate. How the hell am I supposed to stay good if there are no laws to follow? I mean, Diamond City has rules, sure, but no actual laws. You can kill someone and you get like...a weekend in jail and a fine. That’s it. And it’s not like I can follow our old laws since I have to kill someone almost every damn day just to survive.”

There was a heavy sigh and then the squeak of the chair’s springs as she stood. “This world is filthy, Nate. I’m gonna try really hard to stay clean but...I hope you can still love me even if I don’t. I just...I gotta do what I’ve gotta do to get Shaun...and I hope you understand that.” There was one last sniffle, “Goodbye, sugar. I love you.”

Deacon listened to her soft footsteps as she left the room before he got up and headed for the Red Rocket. She was still moving slow, so he’d beat her there easy peasy. The solitary jog there gave him time to go over what he’d learned anyway.

She clearly thought she needed someone else to keep a rein on her. He knew exactly how that felt. Dez and his responsibility to the Railroad kept his darker selves in check, most of the time. What did Nora have, though? The Minutemen, maybe? Her friends? Not that Hancock or Mac would do much to keep her from going off the deep end.

Was all her talk of burning down the world just hyperbole, or was it actually possible? Something to do with her psyker ability maybe? Mama Murphy had said she was afraid of it and that bad people had twisted it, right? Who, though? Her parents? Jimmy’s criminal friends? Or someone worse?

What bothered him the most though was her belief that he wasn’t trustworthy and that he could bug out at any moment. It wasn’t entirely incorrect, but it bothered him that he hadn’t been able to sell her a different truth. Maybe he had, but then fucked it up? Was her distrust all because of finding out he’d been with her for less-than-honest purposes, or something deeper? He might have to get the kid involved and see if they could finagle some more good boy points.

In any case, he needed to get a better idea of who, and what, Nora actually was. He’d let himself be blinded by the entire notion of a pre-war princess right from the jump. It could very well be that he’d been dancing with a dragon this whole time instead.

Chapter Text

Deacon slipped in the sidedoor of the Red Rocket and casually flopped down on the nearest couch. There was a newly-built wooden wall where the back office typically was and he figured that had to be Nora’s ‘guestroom’. Codsworth was busy tinkering with something inside and Dogmeat was stretched out on a well-worn rug.

Place was cozy. Well-stocked shelves, decent defenses. There was still that faint smell of oil and hot metal all Red Rockets seemed to have, but it was clean...the kind of clean you only got with a Mister Handy at the helm. Warm, too. Someone must have fixed the old heating system.

Nora finally came into view ten minutes later, walking slowly and clearly muttering. He frowned a bit and watched her. He’d written off her little habit of talking to herself as something born out of loneliness or maybe her difficult childhood. Now he was a little worried it was a sign of mental instability. She’d as much as told him she was crazy back in the city, after all, and after hearing her talk with the dearly departed, he was starting to have doubts.

It would make sense, actually. It’s not like sane people ever joined the Railroad.

“This is easily the fanciest dog house I’ve ever been in, princess.”

She smiled a little as she closed the door behind her and hung up her coat, “I know, right? Codsworth and Sturges really did it up big over here.”

“Mum! Your bath is all ready!”, her Mister Handy whizzed out of the bedroom (a suite, apparently) and hovered anxiously around her. “I do wish you’d reconsider moving so far away, Miss Nora. I know it’s not much, but surely we can provide every comfort you’ll find in Diamond City.”

Nora sighed like they’d had this talk a million times. Maybe they had. “Codsworth, it’s not a question of comfort. There’s just too many memories in Sanctuary and they spill out over here, too. I’m sorry.”

“Oh, mum, you don’t have to apologize to me! I completely understand! It’s just…”

“You aren’t happy unless you’re watching over me.”

His middle eye bobbed in agreement, “Exactly, mum! Master Nate was quite clear as to my duties.”

A ghost of a smile crossed her face, “I know. I know he was...listen, I was going to tell you later, before I left, but I’m adding another user to your family profile, okay?”

His processors whirred, “Mum...officially?”

“Yeah. Yeah, uh...okay, administrator login Sunflower.” Her eyes flitted to Deacon and a faint blush tinted her cheeks.

“Voice key correct. It has been two-hundred and eleven years since your last login. Please provide secondary authentication.”

The blush grew. “Ah! sunflower, weary of time, who countest the steps of the sun, seeking after that sweet golden clime where the traveller’s journey is done.”

Codsworth focused all three eyes onto her and answered, “Where the youth pined away with desire, and the pale virgin shrouded in snow, arise from their graves and aspire; where my sunflower wishes to go. Greetings, Administrator Sunflower. What changes do you wish you make?”

Deacon watched the exchange with mild confusion and a lot of amusement. He’d never actually seen someone access a Mister Handy’s controls the proper way. Most people just hacked their way in. Using poetry to authenticate a user was an eccentric touch. Typical or just a Nora thing?

“Yes, hello, I wish to add Miss Maya Murphy, alias Mama Murphy, as a secondary user.”

The processors whirred, “Miss Maya added to current household registry. Does the user have any special needs that this unit should know?”

She nodded, “Yes, please make sure she is kept warm and well-fed…and if you believe she has ingested chems of any kind, please alert me or Marcy Long if I am unavailable.”

A small chime noise came from the robot, “Provide basic care and run addict protocols. Marcy Long added to file as temporarily authorized user in extenuating circumstances. Is this correct?”

“Yes.”

“Please provide final authorization.”

“I, Administrator Sunflower, approve these changes.”

“Thank you. One moment please.” Codsworth abruptly dropped to the floor and powered down.

Deacon leaned over a bit and watched him, “Way to go, Sunflower. You broke him.”

Nora chuckled, “No, he just has to reboot. It’s how his OS works.”

“Hmm...I thought you said you didn’t know computers.”

“I don’t. Codsworth is a robot, not a computer.” She flashed him a sassy grin, “It’s different.”

“Semantics.”

She shrugged, “Hey, sometimes it's all a girl has.”

Codsworth came back online and floated back up to eye level. “Mum! If you don’t need anything else, I shall return to Sanctuary and see to Miss Maya.”

“Yeah, I’m good. Go have fun.”

He bobbed in the air one last time and whizzed out of the building, heading quickly towards the little town.

Nora smirked, “There. Let someone else deal with the mother hen for a while.”

Deacon laughed, “Didn’t you once tell me you liked Maya? Why sic the robot on her?”

She flopped down next to him and put her feet in his lap, “Because I told her last time I was here that if she didn’t start eating regularly, I was going to be upset. Sturges said he’s having to constantly chase her around to make sure she shows up to meals. That’s not fair to him; he already has a job.”

“Hence the babysitter.”

“Yup.” She toed off the sneakers and laid back on the couch.

He ached to touch her but he wasn’t sure they were back there yet, so he kept his hands to himself. “Hey, don’t you have a bath waiting?”

A big sigh, “Yes, but Codsworth and Sturges built my hot water heater out of a filter, an old barrel and a fusion core. The water comes out hot like magma.”

“Good to know.” Touching her shin would be fine, right? Platonic. It was totally a platonic thing to do. He rested his hand on her leg and waited for an outburst, but it didn’t happen. “You sleepy?”

“Yes, I feel like all I’ve been doing lately is sleep and I’m still tired.”

“Blood loss will do that to you.”

“Yeah...I am not a fan of getting shot.”

He snorted, “Who is? You need to armor up a little more. If you’d worn something on your legs, you’d have a bruise instead of a scar.”

“I know,” she grumbled. “You don’t wear armor.”

“Yeah, but that’s because I have a death wish.”

Her eyes met his, “You don’t mean that.”

He shrugged, “Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. The point is, you should wear armor because you do not.”

“I will if you will.” She grinned, “You’re the agent of rank, right? You’re supposed to set a good example.”

“Silly princess. No one expects me to set a good example. Trust.”

She scoffed, “Then they’re fools. Don’t they know you’re the best at what you do? We should ditch the nerds and start our own Railroad.”

“Yeah, with a way cooler name. Like Red Orchard? Or... Code Violet? Or... the Death Bunnies. That'll confuse them.”

“I like it! Death Bunnies it is! Are we referencing Watership Down or the fact that we fuck like rabbits?”

He blinked behind his shades. Maybe things were already headed back to normal. “Both?”

She giggled, “Both sounds good to me...so what are the Death Bunnies fighting for?”

“Well...synth liberation, of course.”

“And blowing up the Institute.”

He nodded, “That, too...how about we campaign to get more people to use soap?”

“Yes! Soap and like...own more than one set of clothes! I never would have thought all the people in the future would be so...crusty.” She shuddered dramatically. “Gross.”

He covered his heart with his hand, “Hey, now, we aren’t all bad about personal hygiene.”

“Alright, alright...present company excluded.” She stretched and he forcibly willed his body to not react to her shifting feet in his lap. “I guess I’ll go take that bath now. Help me up?” She raised a hand up and he grasped it, pulling her upright.

“Do you need help getting in the bath?”

“Do you actually want to help or do you just want to see me naked?”

He shrugged, “A little of one, a lot of the other.”

Her head tilted, “You’ve been...surprisingly honest as of late. Are you making some kind of effort or am I imagining things?”

“Definitely imagining things.”

“Hmm...I figured.” She smiled at him a moment longer before going serious. “Deacon, I really am sorry for before. For how I acted and blowing up at you like that. You didn’t deserve it.”

He watched the mirth in her eyes get swallowed up by sadness and regret and frowned. “So who did?”

“What?”

There was a feeling building in his stomach. The same kind he felt when he found a target in the field. “Who deserved it?”

Her eyes went glossy before she could hide it and she lowered her gaze, “That...that’s a story I need at least half a bottle of whiskey to tell. Minimum. Ask me next time I’m blitzed.”

Yeah, he definitely had a new target for his wrath. “Nora…”

She shrugged and gave him a blatantly fake smile, “The last person who got one over on me, as you so charmingly put it... wasn’t a good person. He was my first husband and...and I don’t like to talk about it.”

His eyes went wide behind his glasses, “First husband?”

She sighed and looked away, “Yeah.”

Shit. Now there was something for the notebook. The old Boston Globe would probably have records about marriages and divorces, right? “Okay.”

“Just...okay?” She seemed surprised he wasn’t going to press further.

“Yeah, I mean...we all have secrets, Nora. Mistakes in our past we’d like to forget. I mean, I...I was married once...it didn’t work out.” He tried to not wince at the flash of memory that flew through his brain as the words tumbled out. Even thinking about that time in his life was enough to make the shards tremble.

The concerned look on her face told him he’d failed to stay expressionless. “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.”

He shrugged, “Yeah, well...it's not like anyone could survive being married to someone like me, right?”

The concern deepened, “Deacon, you…” Her hand reached out to touch him in some way but she seemed to think better of it at the last second. “You want to take a bath with me?”

Her abrupt subject changes were going to give him whiplash someday. “What?”

“Well...you and I have had a hard time lately. We’ll be here two nights and then we have to hoof it, what? Eight hours to Goodneighbor? I have to warn Hancock and Bobby about the Gunners, and then we have to go to your HQ and then who knows where we’ll be. So, let’s relax. It’s our weekend. Let’s live it up while we can.”

He raised an eyebrow, “Nora, it’s Tuesday.”

“Okay, pretend its the weekend.” She chuckled and got up, “I can’t believe I’m having to argue with you about this.” Her hands started unbuttoning her shirt as she walked past him, “You do what you want, slick. I’m gonna have a soak.”

There were a million things he should do. Pump Preston and Sturges for information. Sneak into the vault and see if anyone had been down since Nora’s emergence. Check in with local runners and tourists. Put in a drop to let Dez know they’d cleared Switchboard.

On the other hand, there were the delicious sounds of Nora easing into her bath. Little moans and sighs that made his mind race ahead to things that might happen after the bath...

He was on his feet, moving toward the bathroom before he even finished the thought, when the refrigerator caught his eye. Fuck. The possibility of cold beer was a pretty good thought, too.

“Hey, Nora?” His hands never stopped shucking off his clothes as he called out to her.

“Yeah?”

“This fridge work?”

There was a pause, “Well, yeah.” He could hear the eyeroll in her voice.

“Mind if I stash some beer in it?”

“Are you planning on sharing?”

“Of course.”

“Then go for it.”

He grinned and quickly dug the beer out of his pack. Only eight bottles. Hardly enough for a proper weekend bender, but probably enough to relax, even if he did have to share. He set them inside and made note of the rest of the contents. It looked like Codsworth was keeping it stocked with Nuka Cherry, random veggies and fruit and even a few pies.

Had he ever had as luxurious a vacation as this one in his life? Probably not.

By the time he got to the bathroom, Nora was laying back in the steaming water, eyes closed and a serene smile on her face. He watched her for a minute, trying to sear the image into his brain.

Her eyes opened and the smile changed into that knowing smirk, “You just gonna stand there all day or are you going to join me?”

He grinned, “You know me; I like to watch.”

She shifted forward in the bath, hands on the rim and just barely peeking at him over the edge, “And is that what you want? To watch?”

He was sorely tempted to say yes, but his glasses were already fogging up, her shape becoming misty and ethereal. She looked more like a naiad than a real life woman. “I didn’t get naked just to watch. So uh...how exactly does this work?”

She flowed back to the other side of the tub and laughed, “Well, see, the water stays in the tub, so you have to put your body into it. It won’t come to you.”

He rolled his eyes and stepped in, “Yeah, I figured that part out. I’ve just never had a bath with another person in it before.” He put his hands on his hips and tried to figure out exactly how two people were supposed to fit in one small space.

“Oh, I see.” She tucked her legs up close, “Here, sit down.”

Deacon sat in the hot water and groaned a little as the hot water rushed around his aching lower back. He wondered what it would take to convince Dez that HQ needed a set up like this.

“Okay, now, stretch your legs out around me.” She waited until he obeyed and then turned and snuggled against his chest and put her hands on the rim of the tub. “See? Isn’t this nice?”

He carefully placed his own hands just above hers and let himself relax, “Yeah, this is pretty great, princess.”

“Just remember, don’t touch my hands.”

His head rested back on the edge of the tub and it was surprisingly comfy, “M’hmm. Your whole hand or just the palms?”

“Palms.”

“Okay.” He covered her hands with his own and gently stroked the silky skin. It was like touching forbidden fruit. “They’re so soft. Just like I thought they’d be.”

She shivered a little, “Thanks...it’s a side-effect of constant glove wearing, I guess.”

“Hmm.” He traced along her fingers and grinned a little when she shivered again. “Sensitive, too.”

She giggled softly, “Well, there are a lot of nerve endings in the hands, you know.”

“Are you ever going to tell me what seeing gold means?”

The giggling grew louder, “Nothing.”

His head came up and he frowned down at the top of hers nestled so sweetly against him, “What?”

“Everyone sees gold. It’s what happens when sigma waves crash over your visual cortex. I just wanted to mess with you a little.”

He stamped down the sudden urge to shove her bratty little head under the water and focused on fact finding instead, “Sigma waves? What are those?”

“Oh, a kind of brain wave.”

“A psyker kind of brain wave?”

She looked up at him and smiled, “Yup.”

“So what else do they do? It can’t just be a pretty hallucination.”

Her eyes sparkled a little, “Why not?”

He smirked, “Because then you wouldn’t care if you touched people or not.”

“Hmm...maybe so. Any new guesses?”

He sighed heavily, “Can’t you just tell me?”

“Now where would the fun in that be?” She wiggled a little and grinned impishly, “Besides, I keep telling you, you don’t want to know.”

Asking directly wasn’t getting him anywhere, so he shifted gears. “You looked beautiful, you know. All golden and sparkling.” Pure truth and he didn’t even have to fake the emotion behind his tender smile. He might not be capable of love anymore, but he was definitely capable of affection and possessiveness, and at the end of the day, one could easily be mistaken for the other two. Her eyes widened a bit and her breath hitched ever-so-slightly and he almost felt a twinge of guilt at how easily his words could manipulate her.

“I...thank you.” Her cheeks flushed a little and she lowered her eyes.

He pressed a soft kiss to her temple and nuzzled against her ear, “Can’t I just get a little hint?” His cock had finally noticed there was a warm female body in the water with them and he moved it against her enough to get her attention.

She pushed back toward him and murmured, “What do I get in exchange?”

He smiled and slipped his hands under the water to cup her breasts, rolling the hardened nipples gently between his fingers, “Whatever you want, princess.”

Her body shuddered and a small mewl escaped her, “I want you, without the glasses, for an hour.”

His hands flexed and he winced, “That’s too much.”

“Even if I show instead of tell?” She rubbed against his cock and arched against his hands.

God that was tempting. He’d had a rough time of it lately though; and there were serious doubts within the collective that the architecture of his mind could handle even an hour of forced intimacy and vulnerability.

Nora seemed to sense his hesitation and looked up at him, “You don’t have to do the whole hour if you can’t...just try.”

He pulled her closer and one of his hands slid along her stomach until his fingers traced along the scar on her hip. “Just trying would be enough?”

“Of course it would.”

Voices were shrieking that this was a terrible idea. Pre-Deacon, however, was almost grimly determined to help him do this. That would help. They were always stronger when they were united.

The kid was desperate to see her as she was, after all, instead of the half-shadow he’d cobbled together from the tiny moments Deacon let him have.

He took a deep breath, “Okay...just...give me a minute.” He waited until she turned her head away and settled back against him before removing the hand from her breast and slowly taking his glasses off. It felt like peeling away a layer of skin and he was actually proud that he wasn’t shaking as it set them down on a nearby cabinet. This was a huge leap of trust for him and things would get ugly fast if it went wrong. He still wasn’t ready to actually look her in the eye, so he decided to stall as much as he could.

Her head turned slightly and she stared at the glasses, “Wow. I can’t believe you actually did that.”

He huffed, “Yeah, me, either.” He took the opportunity to bury his head against her neck and breathe her in, his hands returning to their exploration of her breasts while he tried to settle his nerves. “Your turn.”

Her hands flexed just a bit on the rim of the tub, “Not yet.” He growled and set his teeth in her shoulder while she squealed and laughed, “Not yet. Trust me.” She turned to look at him when he finally let her go and their eyes met properly for the first time. “Holy moly, baby. You have Sinatra’s eyes.”

He was lost in hers. When she’d said gold-green, he’d assumed she meant a sort of muddled army fatigue color, but oh, how wrong he’d been. Vibrant, spring-grass green with sparkling flecks of gold. It was like staring up at a tree canopy with sunlight streaming through it...or so he imagined. “Yours are...beautiful. Like Robert Frost.”

She blinked and the spell was temporarily broken, “What?”

“Uh...I mean, that poem. Goes like…’Nature’s first green is gold’...something something.” He felt like some tongue-tied simpleton and wondered if she’d mind if he drowned himself in her bathtub.

“Oh...that’s...that’s sweet. Thank you.” She smiled and the gold shimmered.

At least she seemed to enjoy him being an idiot. That was something. He caught her lips with his before he further embarrassed himself and let pre-Deacon have this moment. Emotions flooded through him and he felt them rush on by. Admiration, longing, idolization, love. His hands wandered along her body, enjoying the slick feel of her wet skin against his as she moaned into his mouth. He’d just reached the soft curls at the apex of her thighs when she pulled back from their kiss and laughed.

“We’re supposed to be getting clean, you know. That’s the whole point of a bath.”

“And then we get dirty?”

“Sure.”

He sighed, “Seems kinda backward to me, but you’re the expert here…” He grabbed the soap from its dish nearby. “Want me to wash your back?”

“M’hmm.” She quickly twisted her hair on top of her head and held it there with both hands, scooting forward a little in the tub.

He felt a little grumbly about the six inches of space now between them, but running soap-slick hands over her was pretty great. The little sounds she made when he dug his fingers into the tight muscles of her shoulders were even better. “Somebody’s tense.” His hand moved to rub her neck and she leaned into it, almost purring.

“Yeah...I guess almost dying will do that.”

“So will being back in a place you don’t want to think about.” She hummed in agreement and he used his hands to rinse off the soap before nibbling along her skin for a moment. “All clean.”

She laughed and let her hair fall, “Hardly. You only did my back.”

He blew a few tendrils out of his face and groaned, “Come on. You’re clean enough. Let’s go get dirty already.”

“Why are you so impatient today?” She plucked the soap up from its dish and washed her arms before soaping her breasts.

Deacon and pre-Deacon watched enraptured from over her shoulder. Her movements were perfunctory, purely utilitarian and not at all meant to be enticing or mesmerizing. Still, neither of them could look away. The soft glow of her skin, the soap bubbles sliding down her chest into the steaming water, the way her nipples hardened, barely visible just under the water. He wasn’t even sure whose hands slid around to cup and caress her before she could rinse, but it was definitely pre-Deacon who found his voice first.

“It’s not my fault you’re so damn irresistible. What mortal man can resist a mermaid?” Deacon’s eyes rolled at the hokey line, but he appreciated the way it made her melt against him. Maybe she really did have a thing for that mushy crap after all. Her skin was warm and slick and he felt like he was going to go insane if they didn’t get out of this stupid tub and into bed soon. His teeth found her earlobe and he tugged gently, “Nora, please.”

She shivered at the urgency in his voice, “Okay.”

Jackpot. He playfully snarled against her neck while she squealed and giggled, abruptly hefting his body up and out of the water. The giggling changed into a startled kind of squawk when she nearly slipped under the surface.

“Jesus, Deacon! Watch it!” Water sloshed in the tub and threatened to spill onto the floor. “We can’t play if I drown first.” She rubbed the soapy water out of her eyes and glared up at him.

He couldn’t stop grinning. She was just so cute when riled up. “Drama queen. Like I’d really let you drown before we had sex.”

She huffed, “Well, thank god for your priorities, I guess.” She frowned and started searching around in the water. “I dropped the soap.”

He chuckled and grabbed a towel, “I think I saw that once in a movie…”

“I’m sure you did,” she grumbled as she searched. “Aha!” She plunked the soap back on its dish and pulled the chain before standing and squeezing the water from her hair. “Towel, please.”

His eyes swept over her body. He liked the little goosebumps that were springing up in the chilly air. “Oh, this towel?” He held it just out of reach and smirked a little when she practically growled at him.

“You are a mean man and I hate you,” she was shivering now and had wrapped her arms around herself.

“Okay, okay. Calm down, kitten. Jeez.” He draped it around her shoulders and rubbed warmth back into her, “You know I’d never let my favorite girl freeze.”

Her head tilted, “Do you have a favorite boy?”

“Sure. Guy by the name of Harkness. Back in the Capital Wasteland. He’s the security chief of a place called Rivet City. Synth. Very handsome if you’re into authoritative types. You think I have pretty blue eyes? He’s got me beat by a mile.”

“Are all synths pretty?”

He thought about all the synths he’d known for a moment, “Mostly. They tend to get face changes after they leave the Institute though.”

“Oh...that makes sense. Did you meet Harkness through the Railroad?”

He shrugged, “Yeah, sorta. I mean, I knew there was a synth in Rivet City but I didn’t know he was the one until later. It was a ‘need to know’ kind of thing.” The water had receded enough that he could now dry her legs. “You’re awfully cool with this. I’m kinda surprised.”

She frowned a little, “What? Why?”

“I dunno...I always thought, you know, uh, non-traditional relationships were frowned upon in your day? Taboo or whatever.”

The frown deepened, “I’m not some kind of bigot, Deacon.”

“Of course you aren’t.” He straightened back up and kissed her softly, “I didn’t mean to imply you were.”

“I figured you were a touch lavender anyway.”

He blinked. There was one he’d never heard. “A touch lavender?”

“Yeah...I’ve seen how you look at Hancock and me.” She grinned a little, “You weren’t just checking me out that first night.”

“Hey, everybody checks out Hancock. Lavender or any other color.”

The grin grew, “I bet you were thinking all sorts of naughty things about us, weren’t you?” She stepped out of the tub and wrapped her arms around his neck, careful to not graze him with her hands. “You like to watch, right? Did you think about watching us?” Her lips brushed his throat and she pressed against him. “Or maybe about me watching the two of you?”

He wanted to deny it, but his cock twitched against her belly and she giggled. His hands settled on her hips, towel forgotten on the floor, and he pulled her closer. “Now look who’s being mean.”

“I could probably arrange it, you know. I’m betting you’re a top, right?” Her eyes held a wicked gleam and he honestly couldn’t tell if she was fucking with him or not.

He took the surest path to shutting her up and picked her up, heading out the door, “Bed. Now.”

Her legs wrapped around his waist and she laughed, “You aren’t going to be able to fuck the idea out of me, silly. I’m gonna tell Hancock...” It came out tauntingly, almost in a singsong kind of way and he paused just long enough to pinch the hell out of her ass. “Ow!”

“You tattle to the Mayor and I’ll make you say a lot more than ‘ow’.”

“Oh, promises, promises.”

They got to the bed and he practically fell onto it with her under him, “That was a threat, not a promise, and you know it.”

She stretched out and let her arms fall onto the bed, temptingly defenseless. “Oh, come on. I bet he could do things to you that would blow your mind. You’re clearly curious, so why not?”

He narrowed his eyes at her all-too-innocent, helpful expression. “You’re awfully...supportive of this for someone who sees Hancock as a brother.”

She shrugged, “Not really. I used to birddog for Jimmy all the time back in the day. That’s how he met his best girl.”

“Uh-huh. I bet you did.” He gathered her wrists and held them in place with one hand. “And this is just you being altruistic, hmm? Just a good little sister doing what she can?”

Her face practically glowed with selfless purity. If a halo had appeared above her head in that moment, he wouldn’t have been surprised. “Of course.”

His other hand slid down her torso and lightly caressed her inner thigh, “So then there’s no reason you should be dripping wet right now, right?”

A tiny, mischievous twinkle showed through, “I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Hmm.” He slipped a finger inside her easily and pressed deep. “Well, look at that. Positively drenched.” His teeth caught her now pouting lower lip for a moment before he chuckled at her expression. “You are a dirty little liar, princess.”

She squirmed and her cheeks went a little pink, “Pot meet kettle.”

“Yeah, that’s us. Two of a kind.” He brushed her clit with his thumb and pressed soft kisses down her neck, nipping at the pulse in her throat while she whimpered. “So what’s the game this time?”

Nora tugged at his hold on her wrists and he reluctantly let her go. She immediately shoved them under the pillow and out came two gloves. “No games.”

He watched her slip them on and closed his eyes when she gently pulled his face down to hers until their foreheads touched. Soft. Satin, maybe? Where on earth was she finding all these gloves anyway? “No games, huh?”

“No games. No glasses. Just you and me. It’s never been just us before.” They were close enough that her lips brushed his when she spoke. It was almost too much.

The panic was already rising within him. “There’s a reason for that.”

“I know. There’s lots of reasons for it...but don’t you want to try? Just once?” Her voice was soft and far more vulnerable sounding than he was used to. She sounded a lot closer to the girl trapped in that cryotube than the one he was used to cavorting with.

Maybe he wasn’t the only one who tried to hide behind disguises. Hers were different, lying just under the surface, almost undetectable, but he was pretty sure that this was as close to the real her as he’d ever gotten; and he did want to try. Desperately. They all did. It was terrifying and dangerous, but so very enticing.

He took a deep breath and tried to shut out as much of the dissonance as he possibly could. “I...I don’t know if its a good idea.” His hand slipped from her warmth and rested on her thigh, fingertips brushing the new scar there. The memory of watching her blood pooling under her made a bolt of remembered terror run through him. Every shard trembled at the idea of getting any closer to her. If they didn’t pump the brakes a little, when his karma inevitably caught up with them and ripped her away, recovery wouldn’t be possible. The absence of her in his life would become an event horizon of sorts. He would never be able to be Deacon again if he let her life tangle together with his like parts of him really wanted.

Her hands moved and settled on his shoulders, “I know I’m asking a lot, and if you can’t do it, that’s okay. I’ll play whatever game you want, but...I don’t want just sex right now. I want you to make love to me. Here, in the light. I just want to feel alive for a little while. Please? Even if its just pretend?”

Their time in that seedy little apartment flashed through his mind. Wasn’t he always the one wanting to pretend things were different and more between them? A self-deprecating smile crossed his face and was gone in a flash, “Princess, no one could pretend to make love to you.” He finally dared to look at her found himself staring right into her tear-filled eyes. There was soul-deep loneliness and fear there. He’d seen that look in mirrors before and his heart ached in sympathy with hers.

A few tears managed to escape and she screwed her eyes shut. “Sorry! I’m sorry. That was...wrong and unfair. I shouldn’t have asked you to do that.”

His thumb brushed away one of the errant tears and he kissed her gently, “It’s alright. You don’t have to be sorry. You deserve someone who can make love to you, princess.” He sighed, “I haven’t...uh...you know, done that for a long time…”, he coughed to cover when his voice threatened to break. “I’m a little rusty, so…” Holy fuck this was a terrible idea.

Her eyes opened and she looked confused, “But we...you did it once before. In Diamond City. I know it was part of a game, but...”

Pre-Deacon all but jumped for joy. That was me! She wants me!

Deacon frowned a little and shoved him back, “That was...different.”

“Oh.” She looked thoughtful, “Did the darkness make it...easier?”

She wants me. She needs me. Shove over, old man.

Kid, if you don’t shut the fuck up…

You can’t give her what she needs and you know it. You’re going to blow this.

Listen here, you little shit...

“Deacon?”

He shook his head a little, “Yeah, sorry...it...it was just different.” Stubborn ass. Together then? “Yeah.” His vision briefly went double and he blinked, settling into the odd sensation of actively being two people in charge of one body. They could do this. One to handle the mental logistics and one to make sure she was physically satisfied. This could totally work.

She was watching him with that cautious, almost wary expression again. Like she could hear everything that went on in his head. He hated that look.

His hand slipped from her cheek into her hair, carefully cradling her head, “Nora, you know I love being with you, right?”

Her eyes flitted across his face, taking in the little changes he couldn’t control. “You do?”

He bristled a little under her scrutiny, but pre-Deacon was there to smooth everything back down. “Yeah...I do. It’s practically all I think about.”

That earned him a half smile, “Well, I knew that part.”

Deacon chuckled and brushed his lips lightly against hers, “I don’t know if I can give you what you want, but I’ll give you everything I’ve got...is that alright?”

She nodded slightly, “Yes.”

When he kissed her it was soft and sweet with none of the aggressive possessiveness he usually felt. She seemed to like it though, her tongue slipped into his mouth and their kiss deepened while her hands skimmed down to his waist to pull him closer. He smiled into it and rolled, taking her with him so she was lying on top. Her legs parted and his cock rested against her center. He couldn’t decide if he should plunge into her or indulge himself first, so pre-Deacon made the decision for them and broke off from the kiss.

“I want to taste you, sweetheart.” His hands found her hips and he tugged her up his torso a little until she got the idea.

Her cheeks went a deep shade of pink and she actually looked bashful for a moment before moving. He was momentarily stunned at how charming it was and he wondered, not for the first time in his life, at the differences between pre-war and post-war sexual practices.

“Um…”, she was sitting lightly on his chest and looking adorably lost. “I’m not really sure...how…”

He grinned, “Never tried this before?” It was oddly gratifying seeing her so far off her game.

Nora shook her head, “I’ve seen it in magazines but...no.”

Deacon’s eyebrow went up. He was amazed they’d found something so simple she’d never done. “It’s easy. Here.” He moved his arms under her legs and helped her ease up over his face. “There. See? You’re already a pro.”

She giggled and he loved the nervous edge to it, “So...I just…hover?”

He rubbed his cheek against her silky inner thigh and mentally eased over just enough so pre-Deacon could get a good look at the bountiful feast they were about to devour. The apple bright flush of her cheeks, the way her eyes practically glowed at them, that improbably long hair drying into soft waves all around her. The kid thought she looked like a nymph from a Bouguereau painting...which would make them the satyr, right? Deacon chuckled a little. How appropriate.

His fingers sank into the ample flesh of her thighs a little, “No, princess. You don’t hover. You sit.”

She looked down at him like he was crazy, “I...that can’t possibly be…”

He jerked her forward and down, burrowing his face against her and ignoring her breathless squeak. His hands pulled her thighs further apart and he lapped eagerly at her juices, enjoying how her scent was quickly changing from warm and excited to hot and eager.

Her hands found the headboard and she steadied herself, moaning softly as his practiced mouth worked its magic. It took a few minutes, but eventually she couldn’t help it and rolled her hips against his face a little before freezing abruptly.

“Oh, baby, I’m sorry...can you breathe?”

Deacon’s eyes flicked up to hers briefly and a chuckle rumbled deep in his chest. Here he was, feeling almost punch-drunk by how delicious she was, and she was as anxious as a little bunny, worrying about silly things like breathing. His hands rubbed her hips reassuringly and encouraged her to move against him.

She still looked unsure but obediently followed his lead, rocking slowly against him, nervously nibbling on her lower lip until his tongue found her clit and swirled over it before his lips sealed around the sensitive little pearl, suckling gently and humming in satisfaction when she instinctively ground against him. Her head fell back and he closed his eyes, content to focus on nothing but the way she moved and felt and tasted. Every little noise he coaxed out of her had his cock jerking in anticipation of burying deep inside her, but he kind of wanted this moment to last forever, too.

It was really too bad there weren’t two of her. Then he wouldn’t ever have to choose between his two favorite things.

Her thighs had started quivering under his hands and he could hear the change in her breathing. Close, so so close.

“Deacon? Deacon...I’m dizzy…”, her voice was barely a whisper.

His eyes snapped open and he focused on her face. Pale, save for the high flush of her cheeks. Her pupils large and dark, which was good, but her gaze was unfocused. That wasn’t good. She had a deathgrip on the headboard and it wasn’t just her thighs shaking, it was all of her.

He scrambled out from under her as fast as he could and pulled her back against him before laying them both down. His hand settled between her breasts and he counted her heartbeats skipping along. Fast. Way too fast.

“I’m sorry.” Her voice was still soft, almost lost in her panting.

He shook his head and pressed a kiss to the pulse fluttering in her neck, “No, I’m sorry. I should have known better. You’re probably still short a few pints, at least. That was...stupid. It was stupid of me.”

Nora turned in his arms and nuzzled against him, “I still want to.”

He huffed, “Well, that just goes to show you’re stupid, too. You should rest.”

She kissed him along his throat and made a sulky little sound, “I’m not dizzy so long as I’m laying down.”

“Nora…”, he tried to go for stern but it was hard when her cool, nimble hand was wrapping around his cock, which had apparently not gotten the memo on their sudden time out.

She was staring at him with an almost absurdly innocent expression for someone who was slowly pumping him past the point of no return. “Pretty please? I was so close before.”

He held her gaze and pretended he totally wasn’t phased by her insidious attempts to turn him into an insatiable beast. “It’s almost like you want to pass out.”

That wicked gleam from before resurfaced, “I’d bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you? Having me totally at your mercy.”

“No, we talked about this. It's no fun if you aren’t at least a little awake, remember?”

She grinned, “I’m a lot awake right now.” Her lips just barely brushed his and she whispered, “Don’t you want me?”

He groaned and rolled so she was under him, bracing himself carefully above her. “I always want you. You know that.”

Her hand finally released him and she wrapped her arms around his neck, “So show me.”

Deacon studied her face, searching for any sign that she was still light-headed but all he saw was lust and...maybe something more? Pre-Deacon was pretty sure there was something more in her enigmatic eyes, but even he couldn’t pin it down exactly. Even with the two of them working in tandem, the intimacy growing between them and her was swiftly becoming overwhelming. He buried his face against her neck and let out a frustrated growl as his hand guided his cock inside her.

“You drive me fucking crazy. Every goddamn time.” He pushed himself to the hilt and rocked his hips against her when she arched up, gasping as her body adjusted to his sudden intrusion.

Her legs wrapped around him, keeping him pressed against her while her hands skimmed down and pulled his hips even tighter against her, whimpering as he pushed deeper inside her trembling body. “You drive me crazy, too. You think I like being like this?” She nuzzled against his neck and sighed when his teeth scraped along hers. “I’m a grown woman with a schoolgirl crush. It’s embarrassing.”

That got their attention. Deacon leaned back enough to get a good look at her face, “You have a crush on me?” It seemed like a silly thing to ask someone you were balls deep in, but they’d done this entire thing assbackwards from the jump, so why not?

A mortified expression swept over her face, “Oh, fuck. I thought you already knew.”

He smirked triumphantly down at her. It was all they could manage. He knew with complete certainty that if she were anywhere but trapped under him, she’d have bolted. Hell, she still might make an attempt. The longer he stared at her, the more flustered she looked until she finally shut her eyes tightly and he chuckled. “Hiding won’t work, princess. I can still see your blushy little face.”

She went a whole deeper shade of red and covered her cheeks with her hands. “Shut up. God, I want to die. Right now. Please, please, please let me die.”

His laughter only grew and he kissed the end of her nose. “Nora, stop being a baby.” She shook her head, eyes still screwed shut. He finally managed to stamp the laughter down and sighed happily. “Can you keep a secret?”

One eye cautiously opened, just a little, and peeked up at him. “What?”

“I have a crush on you, too.”

Both eyes finally opened and blinked up at him, “You do?”

He nodded, “For a while now.”

“Since when?”

“Since always,” and far, far longer than she would ever know.

“Oh.”

He grinned, “I thought you were supposed to be good at reading people.”

She gave him a dirty look, “I thought you were supposed to be the best in the business.”

He grin turned wolfish, “Oh, I am, babycakes. Don’t try to tell me I haven’t ruined you for other men yet.”

She snorted, “Okay, that did it. I’m over it. Crush over.”

“Liar.”

“Nobody likes a braggart, Deacon.”

“Nobody but you, apparently.” He kissed her before she could argue with him and slowly pulled almost all the way out before easing back in, shuddering at the way her body pulsed around him. When his lips left hers, she was satisfyingly quiet, squirming against him with nothing but desperate want in her eyes. He moved deep and slow within her and nibbled along her neck, chuckling a little at the way she clawed at his back. “Feel good, sweetheart?”

“Yes. Harder...please.” She gasped when he threw his weight behind the next thrust. “Why does it always feel so good with you?”

He murmured against her ear, “Cause we’re a matched set, Nora. We might not belong to each other, but we belong together.” Deacon was surprised the sentiment came from his mouth. Maybe the kid was rubbing off on him more than he realized.

She laughed, “I thought for a second you were going to say something cheesy about fate.”

“So did I.” He braced himself with one arm and slipped his other hand between them, pressing firm little circles over her clit and groaning as she tightened around him.

Her giggling became breathless and dissolved into a whine of sorts, “Oh, right there. Don’t stop, baby. Don’t stop.” Her face pressed against his neck and her legs pulled him closer.

He took the hint and pushed as deep as he could. The pressure building within her was delicious and overwhelming. It finally broke in powerful little rippling waves along his cock, her happy cries filling his ears and giving him a smug sense of satisfaction as he continued to move with her. He smiled against her ear and murmured, “Good girl. Good, good girl.”

She whimpered and clung to him while the aftershocks shuddered through her. Eventually her arms slid back down his shoulders and fell back against the bed. Deacon raised up enough to check her face, worried it had been too much and relieved to find her staring up at him with gleaming, contented eyes. She smiled shyly at him and he kissed her tenderly before slipping his two fingers, still glazed with her juices, into her mouth. He loved the way her eyes went wide before closing blissfully while her hot little tongue licked his hand clean.

He grinned at her when her eyes opened and refocused on him, “There she is.” His hand left her mouth and he twined her fingers with his, not pinning her down exactly, but just needing to keep a connection. “Happy?”

Her mouth curved into a feline smile, “Very.” She pulled him down for another soft kiss and nibbled at his lips, “Keep going, baby. I want to feel you come inside me.”

Deacon snickered softly, “That was the plan, gorgeous. Can’t let you have all the fun.” He took her other hand in his and held it against the bed, using her body for leverage as he plunged into her, moving harder and faster as his own orgasm built at the base of his spine. Her legs parted and she planted her feet on either side of him, rocking up to meet his thrusts and shuddering when his teeth set in her neck.

“That’s it, baby. Harder. Fuck me harder. I need it. Please? Oh, God, please?”

Her begging pushed him over the edge. His cock swelled within her and then erupted, coating her walls and causing another round of pulsating undulations milking him for all he was worth. He grunted and involuntarily tightened his grip on her, crushing her hands with his own and biting until he tasted blood and she squeaked breathlessly beneath him. Pre-Deacon managed to wrestle control back long enough to ease them off her throat and press an apologetic kiss against the small wounds his incisors had left.

Nora giggled quietly and pulled her hands from his, pulling his body down until he lay limp against her, panting heavily and occasionally licking at the little beads of blood on her neck.

“See? This is why it's important to not skip kindergarten. That’s where they teach you it's not nice to bite people.” She didn’t sound too put out by it, but he still felt the need to apologize.

“Sorry...it’s...I can’t help it.” His mind wasn’t quite functioning yet, and pre-Deacon had disappeared back down into his hidey hole. Words, poetic and charming, swirled around just out of reach of his two active brain cells.

She kissed his temple and snuggled against him, twining her legs with his. “It’s okay. I like it. I like when you lose control.”

He finally caught his breath enough to brace the bulk of his weight off her and studied her face, “Oh, yeah?”

She nodded, “Yeah.” Her hand cupped his cheek and she gave him the same searching look, “I like it when you leave little bruises on me because later I’ll see it and I’m like ‘oh, yeah, that felt amazing’. They’re like a temporary momento.”

“Hmm...well that’s handy.” He rolled them so he didn’t crush her and reluctantly slid from her pussy, smirking a little when she grumbled about it.

“Why do you like to do it?” She let him arrange them as he liked and then nestled against his chest.

Deacon idly ran a hand through her hair thoughtfully, carefully finger combing the tangles out, “I like marking my territory.”

She huffed and smacked his arm lightly, “Rude...I guess I should be grateful you haven’t peed on me yet then.”

He snorted, “I can if you’re into that kinda thing.”

“No, thank you.”

His hand seized a handful of hair at the base of her neck and tilted her face up, “Or we could always go for more permanent marks, if you want.” There were two perfect ruby drops on her neck and he released her hair to gather one on his thumb before smearing the blood across her lower lip. “You are awfully delicious, after all.” Her lips parted, in surprise or desire, he couldn’t say, and he kissed her hard, his tongue sweeping the warm, metallic taste into her mouth. His hand swept possessively down her curves and pulled her tight against him. He continued the relentless assault of her mouth until the taste faded and when he finally released her, she looked up at him, temptation clearly written in her eyes.

“What...what kind of marks?”

Pre-Deacon roused himself enough to give Deacon a good poke. Common sense cleared his mind and he pulled back from her a little and gave her a half-smile, “The kind we should probably talk about later, when you’re back at full strength.”

She scrunched up her nose and sighed, relaxing back into his arms. “That’s probably a good idea. I’m still a little shaky.” She held up a hand and he frowned at the way it trembled.

“We both really need to work on our self-control.”

The hand fell back down and she snorted, “It’s only ever a problem when we’re together. I vote we don’t worry about it.”

He went back to combing the tangles from her hair, “We kinda have to if we’re going to work together, Nora. Can’t be too...obvious while we’re at HQ.”

“Oh, I already figured that out.”

“Do tell.”

“Well, I’m going to be mean to you. All the time.”

Deacon blinked, “I...you don’t have to go that far.” Even if it was just a game, he didn’t like the idea of a mean Nora.

She laughed, “No, no, no. Not actually mean. Just...office mean. Lots of borderline insubordination, rolling my eyes behind your back, acting like working under you is the worst thing in the world. That sort of thing.”

“Ah, I see.”

“It’s not like I’ll mean any of it.”

“M’hmm.”

“I mean, working under you is only the best part of the apocalypse, after all. Maybe even the only good part.”

He glanced down at her and had to laugh at her sassy smile, “Flattery will get you everywhere, princess.”

She winked, “I know.”

He watched while she took her gloves off and wiggled her fingers. Her eyes met his and she gave him a half-grin.

“Deacon...you’re big into old world stuff, right?”

He rested his hand on her thigh and squeezed playfully, “Obviously.”

“If you could go back in time and see something from back then, what would you want to see?”

“Oh, man. What wouldn’t I have wanted to see? Cars, planes, a mostly clean ocean, green plants, people who smiled when you walked past them instead of shooting at you, the libraries before they were destroyed…”

Nora laughed, “Okay, okay. Pick one thing. One specific thing.”

He studied her face, “Are you trying to say you have time traveling...hands? Are you going to send me back in time?”

She snorted, “Hardly. If I had that ability, I’d send myself back and dropkick whoever pressed the button. Now think of something.”

“Okay, okay, gimme a sec…”, his mind raced along. There was Fenway, of course. He’d always liked baseball. The Library of Congress must have been something in its day, too. Hell, even a pre-war grocery store would be impressive. A stray memory from long ago flitted into his mind suddenly and took center stage. “The Botanic Garden.”

Her eyebrows went up, “The one in Washington?”

He nodded, “Yeah, back when I was there, I saw it...or what’s left of it, anyway. The glass is pretty much all gone, but most of the building is still there. It must have been amazing back in the day.”

“Ah, you mean the Conservatory. Yeah, that was a beautiful place.”

“You went there?”

“Yeah. The firm had an office in D.C. and I went there a lot to assist on cases. Took the train. The Conservatory was one of my favorite places.” Her eyes went misty like they always did when she thought of the past. “I must have filled dozens of sketchbooks there. All those flowers and the butterflies and the tropical birds. It was an artist’s nirvana.”

He tried to picture it and sighed. All he’d ever seen of it besides the ruin was a few old black and white photos he’d managed to scrounge up. “Maybe we stood on the same spot.”

She chuckled, “Yeah, only two hundred years apart. You just missed me.” She turned on her side and faced him. “Close your eyes.”

His nose wrinkled, “Do I have to?”

“Yes, you have to.” She huffed, “I’m not gonna...I dunno, shank you while your guard is down or something. Jeez.”

“That sounds exactly like what someone who was gonna shank me would say.”

“Deacon.”

“Alright, fine.” He reluctantly closed his eyes.

“Good. Now, I want you to try to clear your mind. Picture a calm, blue sky.” Her voice was soothing and quiet. He could imagine her talking to her baby this way.

“Right...blue sky…”, he tried to hold the image in his mind and almost laughed when he realized it was tinted dark, like he was wearing his sunglasses even in his imagination. Pre-Deacon grumbled a bit and replaced it with a proper robin’s egg blue.

“Okay. Now...take a deep breath and relax.”

He breathed deeply and let himself go limp. An impossibly soft hand gently rested against his chest and golden sparkles filled the blue sky in his mind’s eye before vanishing.

“Look down, Deacon.” Nora’s voice came from someplace far, far away.

He looked down from the bright sky and his eyes went wide as he looked around. There were people. Hundreds of people. More people than he’d ever seen before. Every one of them spit-shined clean and smiling pleasantly.

It was warm, borderline hot with a humid, sickly sweet breeze that offered no relief from the oppressive heat. He could feel beads of sweat threatening to run down his back and his calves hurt a little like he’d been walking for ages. He glanced at his feet and frowned in confusion. Apparently he was wearing a breezy pink skirt and sensible heels. Dark brown hair fell over his eyes and he instinctively shook it back, drawing the eye of a passing gentleman who gave him an appreciative wink.

He was headed for a huge building. Metal and glass. It shone in the sunlight like a diamond. The Conservatory as it had been before the war. Carefully tended bushes and fountains accentuated it and created a serene ambiance that he’d never before encountered. He felt relaxed. Confident, even. There was no room for danger here, only beauty.

It took a good twenty paces before he realized he was in Nora’s memory. He had no control and was just along for the ride, but he could feel everything she’d felt and see everything she’d seen on a long lost summer day in the nation’s capital.

He walked through the massive double doors and took a deep breath. The air was slightly crisper here and a few degrees cooler. Must be the pre-war climate control. It smelled amazing. Deacon barely had time to wonder at it before the words filled his mind: orchid, rose, lollipop flower, hibiscus, magnolia, gardenia...and underneath it all the clean, green smell of fertile soil and healthy plantlife.

A kindly looking old woman with a small spray bottle and a ridiculous hat walked over. Gardener.

“Hello, dear, and welcome to the Garden. Would you like some sugar water for the butterflies?”

Nora’s voice, soft and without the slight edge he was used to hearing, answered for him, “Yes, please.” An arm came up and he felt the silky feel of the other woman’s touch on the back of his wrist for a moment. Like soft, crumpled paper. She smelled nice, too. Talcum powder, lilac and eucalyptus. He didn’t even know what the words meant, but it’s how she smelled. Cool, sticky mist hit his arm and he felt himself smile. “Thank you, ma’am.”

The gardener smiled again, “You’re most welcome. Please enjoy your visit.”

He walked deeper into the garden, marveling at the explosions of color all around him. Colors he’d never even dreamed of. Magenta, scarlet, canary yellow, royal purple, mermaid green. Nora’s mind had a name for every one of them and he wondered if that was just an artist thing or if everyone had once known the difference between salmon and tangerine.

Rainbows thrown off by the glass shimmered everywhere, outshone only by the tiny jewel-like birds. Hummingbirds. Drinking the nectar the flowers produced. He stared in wonder as one zipped past. It’s bright green wings moved so fast they were a blur and he could have held an entire flock in his hands. There were others, too, all in dazzling colors. They seemed to make a shrill peep-peep noise along with the humming created by their wings. Such tiny, fragile things. He felt terrible grief at their loss. At the world’s loss.

He sat on a stone bench by pale white irises and opened a bag he hadn’t realized he was carrying. Out came a sketchbook and a box of soft colorful sticks. Oil pastels. Nora’s hands quickly seized a bright purple one and in no time there was the outline of a particularly sassy little bird. She switched to another color and Deacon watched in fascination as her skilled hands brought a glorious red dahlia to life on the page with a cheery bank of sunshine yellow chrysanthemums in the background.

There was a tickle on his left arm and he heard her soft giggle. An insect was poking along Nora’s skin, using it’s strange curly tongue to suck up the sugar water. A butterfly. Blue morpho. It’s wings, surprisingly dull on the underside, fanned slowly and the cerulean blue shot through with cobalt inspired Nora to add it to the drawing, another quick outline that slowly filled in until it sprung to life.

Other butterflies had apparently heard the sugar’s siren song and were now vying for position. Tiger swallowtail, emerald peacock, ismenius longwing, cattleheart, green birdwing. The names popped into his head as soon as his eyes landed on them. To think the planet had once boasted such beautiful and harmless little creatures. It was breathtaking.

He could have stayed there forever. Soaking in this peaceful place until it washed away all the broken pieces in his soul. It was comforting in a way he’d never felt in the wasteland. There were tiny glints of gold dancing at his peripherals though. It was time to go.

“Take a deep breath, Deacon, and close your eyes.” The faraway voice was comforting, too. Nora. The real one. He took one last look around, trying hard to memorize everything, and closed his eyes, following her voice back to reality. Her hand moved off his chest and the pixie dust behind his eyelids started to fade. It made him want to weep, but she was there waiting for him when he finally managed to open his eyes.

Hazel eyes that held infinite sadness and compassion smiled at him, “Hey.” Her now-gloved hand brushed against his cheek.

He covered it with his own, “Hey.” How on earth could he convey to her what a gift she’d given him? He couldn’t even find words for everything he’d seen. “That’s...that’s some party trick, princess.”

She chuckled, “Yeah, I know. Gives me an awful headache, but...it’s worth it.”

He didn’t like that, “It doesn’t...hurt you, does it?”

“Nah. It’s kind of like a muscle I rarely use. The headache will be gone in an hour or so. It’s not even as bad as a hangover.”

“Oh.” That wasn’t so bad, probably. “So...you can share memories with people?”

“It’s called empathic imprinting. It’s my primary ability. I can share my memories with others and see theirs, too.”

An icy chill went down his spine, “You...you saw my memories?”

Her eyes went wide, “No! Oh, no. No, no, no. I don’t...I don’t like to do that. For several reasons, but one of which is it takes a lot more effort to be in someone else’s head. I don’t have control there like I do in my own and that can be...uncomfortable for me.” She winced a bit, “The last mind I was in was Bobby’s and that wasn’t my idea. It just happened.”

“Mac’s mind? At least there was a lot of room, right?” He grinned at her sour expression.

“He’s actually quite intelligent, I’ll have you know. They had encyclopedias in Lamplight when he was growing up. Educational holos, too.” She sighed, “Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see any of that. When he was patching me up after Kellogg, he had to dose me with Med-X. It interfered with my control...then he took my gloves off, for the same reason you did, actually. I was covered in blood. I guess my hands were cold because he was rubbing them. I kept trying to tell him no but I was too doped up to get it out properly.” She shook her head, “Some people are hard to see. They’re closed off. You’re probably like that. But Bobby is wide open. Practically a drive-in theater. Me getting hurt brought up memories of when he lost his wife, so that’s what I saw...then I saw his son getting sick. That’s how I found out about Duncan.”

“Didn’t his wife get torn apart by ferals or something?”

She nodded, “Yeah. In a subway tunnel. Duncan was crying, Lucy was screaming...Bobby could barely see with all the blood and tears in his eyes, stumbling around in the dark, hoping they’d make it. It was awful. His terror and grief have saturated the memory to the limit. It was overwhelming. He’s been through so much.”

“Haven’t we all?” He pushed the hair back from her face before gathering her against him, “Thank you for sharing that with me. It was...I can’t even say. Just, thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She snuggled against him and sighed sleepily, “Remind me to show you the old boardwalk sometime. You won’t even recognize it.”

“Sounds good. Never smelled a Polish sausage before. I bet they were delicious.”

“Oh, god. Don’t talk about food I’ll never have again. That’s just mean.”

He chuckled, “Sorry, princess...so, the imprinting, that’s your primary ability?”

“M’hmm.”

“Huh.” Just that ability alone made her dangerous and terrifying. She was like a walking memory lounger. He wondered if it would work on wiped synths. Just the idea that it might meant that her gift could never, ever become public knowledge. He wasn’t even going to write it down in the notebook, and that thing was coded to Timbuktu and back. If this was the part of her ability she was comfortable with sharing, what were the others like?

And what was there to stop her from looking into his mind whenever she pleased? Would he even notice if he were asleep and it happened? Or would it just feel like dreaming?

Or had she already done it and was just feigning ignorance?

No. If she’d seen his mind, she wouldn’t let herself be vulnerable with him. No one would.

Unless her other abilities were more offensive in nature. Is that why she’d been so blase about him staying that first night? If she could maim or kill him with just a finger then of course she wouldn’t care if a complete stranger slept next to her or not.

Nora yawned and nuzzled against his chest, “Stop freaking out. I’m not going to hurt you.”

Deacon and the voices in his head all froze. “What? I’m not freaking out. Who’s freaking out?”

She sighed, “Your heart is racing and you’re all twitchy, Deacon. Lying when we’re this close is a fool’s errand, you know.” She glanced at his face and smiled sadly before rolling over and facing the wall. “I kept telling you, you didn’t want to know...if you need to leave, that’s okay...I’d leave.”

He took a few breaths and tried to calm his heart rate. She was giving him an out. He could bolt and then...and then what? He was pretty sure if he walked out the door, there’d be no way he could ever get back here.

Oh, he might still get to work with her and maybe she’d let the Railroad help with getting her son back, but this moment, and being somewhere in that weird no-man’s-land between casual lovers and something much more, would be gone forever.

Her breathing was calm. Strangely still. Her turning away from him wasn’t just to give him space, it was so she didn’t have to watch him walk out of her life. She’d said it was okay, that its what she would have done, but...it would hurt her. If he left now, it would hurt her.

That settled it.

He rolled out of her bed and headed back into the bathroom. His glasses were still sitting exactly where he’d left them and he eagerly slipped them back on before taking a moment to let a deeper sense of self-control settle over him. It was probably silly, but he felt far less naked than he had just a few seconds ago.

Amazing what a good pair of sunglasses could do.

Deacon stood in the doorway and watched her. Once he’d left her bed, his footsteps had been silent as ever. She had no way of knowing he was still there. She’d curled in on herself a bit, like a child. Every third breath or so she’d tremble slightly. Crying. Not a single sound escaped her, but she was definitely crying.

He felt like shit. She was still so sure he was going to drop her any second. It had probably never once entered her mind that he’d actually stick around after she revealed what she could do to him. She knew how important his privacy was, how close he played things to his vest. Had this been an unconscious effort to push him away? They were two peas in a pod when it came to emotions, after all. He’d self-sabotaged enough relationships to recognize an attempt in someone else.

She was all alone in this world. Sure, she had the Minutemen and her friends, but they didn’t really know her. Hell, he knew her best and he barely knew anything. He definitely knew how crushing that kind of loneliness could be though. Yet, here she was, a thousand times braver than any version of him. Still trying to reach out and find someone, anyone to connect with.

Getting back into her bed wasn’t even a question. This is exactly where he’d always wanted to be; in her bed and somehow, despite everything he’d done and everyone he’d been, in her heart. He grabbed the edge of the blanket before he laid back down and pulled it up over them both before wrapping his arms around her in one fluid motion, surprising a squeak out of her. A few seconds passed before she finally peeked back at him and he grinned and shrugged carelessly.

“Your hour was up. Had to grab my glasses.” He ignored how spiky her eyelashes were from her tears and the fact that her face was a little splotchy. He’d already been the cause of her distress; the least he could do was pretend like none of it had happened.

“Oh.” She quickly turned back to the wall and he pretended to not notice when she hastily scrubbed the tears out of her eyes with the back of her hand. Just like he definitely did not feel how her breath shuddered slightly before she spoke. “You could have done something useful and got us both a beer.”

He smiled against her hair and pulled her tighter against him, “Nah, they’re not cold enough yet. Nap first. Then beer.”

Chapter Text

“Okay, okay, I’ve got one. Jayne Mansfield or Kim Novak?”

Deacon grimaced, “Battle of the bombshells, huh? Might as well ask me to choose between my left leg and right leg, princess.”

Nora laughed, “Come on! You gotta pick.”

“I dunno...Mansfield, I guess. She’s got that tragic death angle going for her.”

“That’s a very odd way to choose.”

He drank the last of his beer before answering. “What do you want from me? They’re both blonde, gorgeous, same eye color even.”

“Same eye color? Really? I thought Kim had green eyes.”

“No, no, no, don’t you remember all those closeups in Vertigo? They’re totally brown.”

She shrugged, “Okay, I’ll take your word for it. You’ve got a mind like a steel trap, huh?”

“The steeliest.”

They’d woken from their nap starving and, after Deacon had insisted she wear two layers of clothes to stay properly warm, had grabbed beers and slices of Codsworth’s mutfruit pie while something Nora called a ‘shepherd's pie’ heated up in her oven. Deacon had hesitated at eating it until she explained no actual Shepherds were harmed in the making of said pie, just brahmin.

The actual garage aspect of the Red Rocket had been converted into a strange room with a wide variety of purposes. Laundry, weapons maintenance, even a working TV and a ratty old couch. Nora referred to it as ‘the den’ and he vaguely remembered reading about them once in Picket Fences. A room for living, as opposed to living rooms, which were mostly for show, it seemed.

Pre-war America had been a strange place.

They shared the couch, Nora with her feet in his lap again, eating pie out of her hands like some kind of real Wastelander. Deacon had started the “This or That” game in an attempt to distract himself from her licking jellied mutfruit off her fingers. It wasn’t helping much.

She nudged him with a foot, “Hey, space cadet, it's your turn.”

He hastily averted his eyes and they landed on the TV, “Lassie or Rin Tin Tin?”

“Ah, that’s a tough one.” She sucked the jelly off her finger with a thoughtful expression on her face. “I guess...Lassie. I want to say Rin Tin Tin because of the pupper, but I can’t get behind a police dog. Lassie all the way.”

He laughed, “Yeah, no snitches.”

“Didn’t Lassie snitch? Always tattling on little Timmy.”

“Nah, that’s different. She was just trying to keep that kid alive.”

“True, true. Alright, Casablanca or The Maltese Falcon.”

“Casablanca. ‘Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.’”

She clapped, “Your Bogie is spot on.”

He grinned at her, “Thanks.”

“You know, I’ve always thought Nick Valentine sounds a little like him.”

“Yeah, same.”

“Which is weird since Humphrey Bogart was from New York and original Nick is from Chicago.”

“That is weird....maybe Nick was just way into Bogie back in the day.”

“Maybe.” She sighed a little, “I need to think of a way to thank him for everything. There’s no way I’d have a lead on Shaun if he hadn’t helped.”

Deacon’s eyebrow went up, “Isn’t that what his fee is for?”

“Probably, but he’s been working for me free of charge since I helped him with Skinny Malone.”

“Ah.”

“I mean, what do you get the synth who has everything, right? He’s existed for ages. If he’d wanted something, he’d have gotten it himself by now.” She made a face, “It’s just like every Christmas after I married Nate. Picking out presents for his dad was the worst.”

He cracked open another beer. “Hard to please?”

She shook her head, “No, just the opposite. You could give the man a wet tissue and he’d think you were the greatest person ever.”

He noticed the tension she usually held whenever discussing her parents wasn’t present when talking about her father-in-law. Interesting. “Was he nice?”

“Oh, God, yes. The nicest man alive. He was a farmer out in Kansas.”

“Where Dorothy was from?”

Nora chuckled, “Yeah. They lived in this itty-bitty town called Manhattan. ‘The Little Apple’.”

“What’d they grow?”

“Same thing everyone in Kansas grows. Wheat. Miles and miles of wheat.” She shivered a little, “Have you ever seen wheat fields? I mean, proper ones? You feel like you’re in the middle of the ocean. It’s actually driven people insane. They called it ‘Prairie Madness’.”

“Like space madness?”

She nodded, “Yeah. They’re basically the same thing.”

“So how’d the Madisons stop themselves from going cracked?”

“Sunflowers.”

Deacon smiled, “Ah...that’s why --.”

“Yeah...it’s what Nate always called me. He said I kept the madness at bay. You know, the PTSD and stuff from the war.”

“Yeah.”

“Anyway, his mom planted like...a moat of sunflowers all around their house. A whole field’s worth. They were gorgeous. The first time I visited, I actually got lost in them. Nate had to send the dog after me.” She laughed at the memory and he smiled with her.

“Yeah, you don’t wanna get lost out there in the rural wilderness. Haven’t you seen ‘Children of the Corn’?”

She nodded, “Exactly! Thank goodness for Boomer or I’d probably still be out there.”

“Luring men to their death, no doubt.”

“A lady in white. Spooky!”

“Now there’s a job to aspire to.”

Her head rested back against the couch, “I want this stupid pie to be done so we can watch a movie while we eat.”

His ears perked up at that, “A movie? You have movies?”

She giggled, “You should hear yourself whenever you find out I have pre-war junk. You sound like some kid at Christmas.”

He huffed, “Hey, now, entertainment is in short supply around these parts, you know.”

“Funnily enough, I had noticed that. What do people do for fun out here anyway?”

“Fuck, mostly.”

She rolled her eyes, “Okay, but what else?”

He shrugged, “Some people read, listen to the radio...tinker, I guess. I dunno.”

“God, that’s bleak. I said it before and I’ll say it again, the future sucks.”

Deacon drained the last of his beer and the bottle joined its friends on the floor. “The present. The future is whatever you want it to be.”

“Huh.” She frowned thoughtfully, “Actually...we have an old drive-in as a settlement. Starlight. I wonder if there’s any way to convert a holo-player into a projector for a screen that size?”

“You’re planning on bringing back passion pits?”

“Maybe. Maybe I will. I mean, why not, right? It’s my Commonwealth...or its going to be, anyway.”

“Got plans of world domination, do we?”

“You know it. I can’t raise Shaun in this...cultural and literal wasteland.” She gestured around, “People have had two hundred years to rise above this crap and failed, so I guess I’ll take a whack at it.”

He made a face, “I’m not sure if I should be insulted at that or not.”

“Why would you feel insulted?”

“Um, because I am a Wastelander?”

“Oh...right.” She smiled apologetically, “Sorry. I keep forgetting.”

Deacon laughed, “How?”

“I dunno...because you seem very...Old World?”

“Thanks. That I’m definitely taking as a compliment.”

There was a ding from the kitchen area and Nora clapped, “Yay! Dinner!”

Deacon stood, “I’ll get it. You’re supposed to be resting.”

“I can get it.”

He shook his head, “Nope. I’m already up.”

“Fine, but take your bottles with you.”

“Aye, aye, general.” He scooped up his three and took hers, too. He could smell the pie by the time he hit the door and his mouth watered. The bottles got tossed in an old box full of broken glass and he pulled the bubbling concoction from the oven. It didn’t look like any pie he’d ever had, but if it tasted half as good as it smelled, it was his new favorite food. He set it on top of the oven and narrowed his eyes a little. How exactly were you supposed to eat a Shepherd's pie?

“Hey, Nora?”

“Bowls. Scoop it into bowls and grab some spoons.”

“Right.” Sensible...and not at all weird that she knew exactly what he was going to ask her. He portioned out a third for them each and set the pie plate on the floor for Dogmeat.

“So what’s a shepherd's pie, exactly?” He walked back into the den and almost laughed at Nora’s eager face and grabby hands. Guess he wasn’t the only one still starving even after having dessert first.

She took her bowl and dug in while he got comfortable back on the couch, “It’s just like any other pot pie, but it's got cheesy mashed potatoes for the top crust...I think Codsworth used to use lamb to make them, but brahmin’s just as good.”

It was warm and hearty and felt like a hug in his mouth. “Oh, damn. Damn. Yeah, this is good. Any chance I can buy Codsworth off you?”

She chuckled, “Nope. If you think this is good, just wait until he figures out how to make lobster rolls out of mirelurks. It’s gonna knock your socks off.”

“This pie’s already doing that.” His tongue found a piece of oddly textured brahmin and he pulled it out of his mouth and studied it. “What’d he do to the meat?”

“Ground it. You use ground meat in a shepherd's pie.”

“Oh, like a salisbury steak?”

“Yeah, but loose.” She took another bite and then set her bowl aside on the coffee table and pulled a box of holos into her lap. “Okay, let’s pick a movie. Any requests?”

“Something funny, maybe?”

Nora nodded, “Yeah, definitely. We need something light. Lesse.” She pawed through the tapes and held up one. “‘Some Like it Hot’?”

“Seen it.”

“Hmm...alright.” Another tape came out, “What about ‘Singin’ in the Rain’?”

“Seen it.”

Her eyes flicked up at him and she chuckled, “Okay...clearly dealing with a connoisseur here…ah! This one! It’s older but probably one of the funniest movies of all time. ‘Bringing up Baby’.”

He made a face, “Boo. No movies about kids.”

“Baby is a leopard.”

“Oh.”

She smiled, “So you haven’t seen this one?”

“No, what’s it about?”

“Cary Grant is a paleontologist with a lot of problems, mostly in the form of Katherine Hepburn and, of course, the leopard. Think comedy of errors meets slapstick.”

“So a screwball comedy?”

“Wow. Yes. See, this is what I’m talking about? You’re almost more Old World than I am. Wanna watch it?”

He shoveled the last of his dinner in his mouth and nodded.

“Fantastic. I love this movie. It’s super silly.” She flipped a switch on the old and waited for a moment. “Gotta let the vacuum tubes warm up. You probably knew that though.”

Deacon chuckled and got comfy on the couch, stretching out one leg on it. “Yup. So you think I would’ve fit in back in your time?”

Nora popped the holo in and pressed play, “Sure. Probably far better than I do in yours.” She turned and abruptly stopped, taking stock of his position before rolling her eyes. “Am I sitting on the floor?”

“Of course not. Isn’t this part of movie watching? Cuddling on the couch while you do it?”

She narrowed her eyes at him in mock suspicion, “That time traveler stuff was a joke, right?”

“Probably.” He opened his arms, “Now, come to Daddy.”

“I should have never called you that.” She sat down in a huff, primly staying upright and set the holoplayer on the coffee table. She finished her dinner while keeping her eyes resolutely glued on the TV.

He dropped his arms and pouted a little, “Aw, come on. You don’t think I’d make a good daddy?”

She set the bowl aside and fixed him with a particularly sassy look before shoving his foot out of the way and snuggling against the far end of the couch, “Shh. The movie’s starting.”

“Aw, you’re no fun.”

There wasn’t a single part of the damn movie that made any sense to Deacon, but that didn’t stop it from being hilarious. He was surprised at just how much the actors actually interacted with the leopard. Must have cost a heap to insure everything on set with an animal like that running around.

Hepburn and Cary were hopelessly lost in the woods, trying to find the illusive intercostal clavicle (which Deacon was about ninety-nine percent sure wasn’t a real thing) when a soft snore from the far end of the couch caught his attention.

Nora was still balled up in the corner and despite how uncomfortable the position looked, she’d managed to drift off. It made him smile a little but a part of him wondered if she was able to sleep like that only because her body desperately needed rest still, or if it went back further to her time sleeping on park benches and in dirty subways.

He eased off the couch and lifted her just enough to slide her into a more comfortable position. She stretched out as soon as he did and he grabbed a pillow to sit on the floor. Her recovery was more important than his comfort right now.

The movie finally ended, happily of course, and Deacon carefully put the precious holo back into its box. She had a wide range of stuff for such a small collection, even a few Westerns, which surprised him. She hadn’t seemed like the cowboy type.

There was a second tray under the first. Not completely full, but each holo was carefully labeled in that same handwriting from the tape he’d found in her pack at the Rex. Her husband’s writing.

Home movies?

Deacon had heard of the concept, of course. Some people weren’t happy with just capturing every moment in pictures, they wanted proper holos, too. He was struck with a momentary flash of insanity and part of him wanted to hoard these like he had so many others, but no. These were hers.

Surely she wouldn’t mind sharing though, right?

With an almost guilty look back at her sleeping form, Deacon turned the TV down low and popped in the first tape. It was simply labeled “Graduation 2074”. He sat down on edge of the coffee table, unwilling to risk disturbing Nora in the slightest, and peered closely at the screen.

It was still all in black and white, of course, but he’d never get tired of seeing pre-war America. He recognized Nora’s house in Sanctuary, but it was still pristine in the video. All shiny and new. The camera wobbled a bit as it moved down the hallway and he held his breath as it turned the corner and entered the bedroom.

“There she is folks, the woman of the hour!” Nate’s voice, boisterous and with a hint of midwestern twang rang out as a woman with long, curly hair sat with her back to the door.

“Nathaniel Theodore Madison, you had better not have that infernal contraption in your hands right now! I don’t even have my face on!”

The camera moved just enough to see her face in the mirror. She had some kind of strange device in her hand and had it pressed against her closed eye for some mysterious reason.

“Aw, come on, Sunflower. You’re pretty as a picture already. You don’t need all that goop.”

Before she could reply, another voice, this one pure Boston, rang out from behind Nate. “Yeah, it’s not like it’ll do any good anyway. You can still see your face, chipmunk cheeks.”

Nora unclamped the device and whipped around on her stool, “Shut up, Alex! Today is not the day!”

The camera turned and showed a slender, tall man leaning against the doorway. He had Nora’s eyes and a devil-may-care kind of smile that little brothers everywhere used whenever they were nettling an older sister. He made a face at the camera, “Honestly, Nate, I dunno what a guy like you sees in a potato like her.”

“Alex, I swear to God!”

The camera dropped a little and Nate replied, “That’s my wife you’re talking about, buddy.”

Alex rolled his eyes, clearly unphased by the unspoken threat, “For like, five minutes. When you’ve put up with her for twenty-four years like I have, you’ll change your tune.” He sauntered back down the hallway, ignoring his sister’s indignant sputtering.

Nate chuckled quietly and turned the camera back to Nora, who’d gone back to the mirror, muttering angrily to herself. “I like it when you curl your hair.”

She abruptly stopped muttering and smiled at him, “I know you do, angel. That’s why I did it.”

“I like calling you my wife, too.”

Deacon watched in amazement as her cheeks went dark. A blush deep enough for the camera to catch it. “I still can’t believe we did that.”

Nate laughed, “Yeah, me, either. It only took, what...five years? And how many proposals?”

“Seventeen.”

“Seventeen. And to think, all I really needed was one good night at the casino and an Elvis impersonator.”

“The martinis helped a bit, too.” She grinned at him cheekily, “Well, you’ve caught me. So now what?”

“Now I keep you forever.”

The cheek disappeared entirely, swallowed up by the softest expression Deacon had ever seen on her while her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, no, no, no. Don’t cry! You’ll mess up your pretty face!”

She laughed and quickly dabbed at her eyes with a tissue that popped out of a little box. “Stop saying things that make me cry then!”

Now it was Nate’s turn to grumble, “Sorry.” He sighed and watched her carefully pin up the front of her hair in silence for a moment. “So are you going to give me a twirl, or what?”

She held the pins in her mouth as she worked and muttered, “In a minute.” Finally, the last one went in and she eyeballed it in the mirror. “How’d I do?”

“Beautiful.”

Nora sighed and made a face, “Really look, Nate. This is important.”

“I did really look and it looks beautiful.”

She turned her head this way and that in the mirror. Deacon agreed with Nate that she looked beautiful but she was still clearly unsure. “I dunno...I still think we should get that Mister Handy we looked at.”

“Expensive.”

“We could get it on credit. The store has a very good finance rate.”

A deep sigh, “Nora, we talked about this. We just got the house and we’re going to need a second vehicle...”

“I know, I know. ‘Pa never bought anything on credit.’ But we aren’t in Kansas, Nate, and we aren’t farmers.” She turned and faced him properly, eyes big and pouting comically. “Pretty please with sugar on top?”

“I’d rather have you on top.”

She giggled, “That can also be arranged.”

“Alright, alright. Stop with the face. We can go look. Again.”

“Yay!” She clapped and stood.

“I said look, not buy.”

The face returned and Nate sighed.

Nora ignored the sigh. “How do I look?” She twirled so the skirt of her dress flared out and Deacon wished to God he knew what color it actually was.

“Gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.”

She stopped twirling and smiled at him, “And competent?”

“Sure, that, too.”

She walked to the tall mirror in the corner and turned sideways, a critical eye on her waist, “I think Alex is right. I’m slowly becoming a potato.”

Nate set the camera down on the dresser and walked over to her. He towered over her and nearly eclipsed her entirely from view when he wrapped his arms around her. “If you were a potato, we wouldn’t have gotten kicked out of the library last weekend.”

She giggled, “Or maybe you’re just sexually attracted to root vegetables.”

“You look beautiful, Nora. Beautiful and smart and like the best new lawyer in the world.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.” He moved in to kiss her, which Deacon wasn’t sure he could take watching, when Nora suddenly put a hand on his mouth.

“Nate, is that camera still recording?”

“Uh…” He walked over and picked it up, mumbling an apology.

Suddenly they were outside. There was a huge crowd of people dressed in strange black clothes sitting in chairs facing a stage, and someone was droning on and on. A commencement ceremony? Nate and Alex were making fun of whoever was speaking under their breaths.

“And blah blah blah lawyer stuff lawyer stuff lawyer stuff.”

“Today is the first day of your tomorrow.”

“You’ll change the world, one frivolous lawsuit at a time.”

“You’ll be an ambulance chaser, and you’ll be an ambulance chaser…and you? An ambulance chaser.”

Finally the man stopped speaking and everyone clapped politely. Graduates had to be called up individually, in alphabetical order, and Nate managed to get through the D’s before he sighed and turned off the camera.

Suddenly the picture was shaking all over the place.

“It’s her! She’s next!”

“I know, Alex, shut up!”

The scene stabilized and zoomed in as Nora walked up the stage in those same black robes. She had some kind of colorful ropes draped over hers and had to shake three different people’s hands before they finally announced her name.

“Eleanor Rose Murphy, summa cum laude.”

“Woo! That’s my girl!” Alex was going nuts cheering and Nate was right there with him.

“That’s my wife! I love you, Nora!”

Nora clearly heard their booming voices, and the giggling from the crowd after. Her cheeks went dark again but she smiled graciously at the dean and walked calmly off the stage, her law degree clutched tightly in her hand.

Deacon would bet a million caps she kicked both their asses later that night.

Another cut, and suddenly the dean was speaking.

“Family and friends, I now present to you, the graduating class of 2074. Lux, Veritas, Virtus!”

“Lux, Veritas, Virtus!” The graduates rose as one and hats flew through the air as the crowd cheered.

“Okay, let’s go get her!”

“I thought the plan was we were supposed to wait here for her.”

Alex scoffed, “Look at that crowd! She’s going to get trampled to death before she ever gets up here.”

“Alright, alright.”

Static and then suddenly they were back at home, in the living room this time. Nate had set up the camera on the kitchen bar and Alex was doing a faux interview with a hairbrush for a microphone while wearing Nora’s tasseled hat.

“Coming at you live from our living room, it’s Sanctuary Tonight! And we’re back with our graduate, Ms Murphy.” Nate coughed and Alex grinned. “Sorry, Mrs. Madison. Our sources tell us you’re the first in your family to get a college degree.”

Nora was clearly on at least her third rum and coke and giggled, “Well, Alex, when you come from the gutter, the only way out is up.”

Alex smirked at her, “Ain’t that the truth. From the slums of Boston to the suburban paradise that is Sanctuary Hills. Tell us, Mrs. Madison, what do you credit your success to?”

She made a serious face and leaned forward a little, “Hard work, determination and spite.”

They all laughed. Deacon wasn’t sure who she was quoting, but clearly it was a good impersonation.

“And now that you’ve achieved this big dream, what are you going to do?”

Nora turned at the camera and gave a big, fake smile, “I’m going to fuck right off to Nuka World!”

Alex started laughing so hard he fell out of his chair and Nate harrumphed in the background.

“Nora, we’re going to show this to our kids someday.”

“You mean the dog?”

“Yes, so watch your mouth, please.”

“Why? My mouth is at least half of why you wanted to marry me in the first place!”

Alex made a horrified face, “Gross. That’s gross. Ugh, you guys are wicked gross.” He got up off the floor and tossed the brush in his chair. “I’m gonna go pick up Chinese.”

Nora pouted, “Aw, Alex! Come back!” She watched him go and then looked at Nate as the door closed, behind the camera. “Too far?”

“A bit.”

“Well, he lives with newlyweds. What’d he expect?” The pout shifted into something a little more promising, “Now turn that silly thing off so we can celebrate in style before he gets back.”

Nate picked up the camera and turned it so it showed his face. The scar wasn’t present yet and Deacon had to admit, the guy made Superman look second string. “I apologize to any future offspring, canine or otherwise, who watch this. Your mama is a saucy little thing.”

“Nate!”

He glanced over and his eyes widened at whatever she was doing before he grinned. “Happy graduation! The end!” The tape abruptly went dark and popped out of the player.

Deacon stared at the static for a moment before turning to look at Nora.

She was still asleep, curled up on her side like she always seemed to prefer. Even so, her face wasn’t as soft as the girl on the holo’s was. She almost sounded like a kid back then, too. The husky quality he was so into was completely absent. When he’d heard her begging and screaming in Kellogg’s memory, he’d assumed trauma had caused her voice to go high and clear. Now he realized she must have screamed until she’d damaged her throat, maybe permanently. Only time would tell.

He liked her hair curly, too. Liked seeing her squeaky clean in heels and makeup and in pretty dresses. Liked how she moved back then, so carefree and silly.

The thing that was really bothering him though was she hadn’t worn gloves for the ceremony. He’d watched as she shook people’s hands and nothing. No reaction of any kind.

Had she had better control back then? Maybe.

He carefully put the holo back in its little slot and looked at the other titles. Nate seemed to not have an imaginative bone in his body. Everything was labeled with simple events and the year. Neighborhood Party 2074. Nora’s First Day at Work 2074. Seemed like that must have been a banner year for the Madisons.

Speaking of, they’d announced her name as Murphy. She must have gone by her maiden name when…

Sonofabitch. Maya. Mama Murphy. When she’d said she and Nora were family, he’d just shrugged it off, but she had to be. She was the proof Alex had survived. Jesus. That would make Nora her...at least great-ten-times aunt. No wonder the old bat was so important to her.

The next year was also pretty great. Boodle Arrives 2075 (dog, maybe?), Vegas 2075, Nora’s Corvega Coupe 2075, Alex’s Play 2075, Nora’s Art Show, on and on.

One from the next year caught his eye. Peanut 2076. Had to be Nora’s pregnancy. Every shard in him wanted to see that holo, but he shook his head and resolutely replaced the top set of holos back in the box.

These were her memories. All she had left of her life before everything had been blown to shit. If he was going to watch them, he needed to earn the privilege first...and he wanted her to be awake when he saw them so she could explain all the little things that were lost on him.

Like what the hell had she been doing to her eyelashes with that metal thing? What did the ropes she wore at graduation mean? What color had that dress been?

He had a million questions and he couldn’t even ask them without admitting he’d violated her privacy, again.

Deacon sighed heavily at his own foolishness. What if she’d woken up and seen him watching her private movies? How many chances could he possibly have left before she finally got rid of him for good? He turned off the TV and gathered their dishes, taking them to the kitchen to be washed. He needed to watch himself better. Show a little discipline. He couldn’t afford to cut corners with her now, especially now that he knew she was at least as into him as he was into her.

Well...probably not that much.

Dishes washed and dried, he returned to the makeshift den and scooped her up. She barely woke enough to open her eyes and blink blearily at him and he kissed her forehead.

“Go back to sleep, princess. We’re just going to bed.”

She sighed and snuggled against him, “Is the movie over?”

“Yup.”

“M’kay.”

He smiled to himself as he put her on the bed. She almost sounded like her old self when she was sleepy. He stripped her down and got another nightshirt on her, then stripped himself down and settled into bed next to her, enveloping her in his warmth. She should be good to go in another day or so, and for now, he was content to savor this ‘weekend’ that wasn’t.

After all, when life offers you a temporary respite, you should take it. You never know when or if there’ll be another.

As it turned out though, his brain had other ideas. After an hour of trying to not try to go to sleep, he gave up. Insomnia had plagued him off and on as long as he could remember. It actually hadn’t been an issue lately, what with Nora’s ability to wear him out, but an evening of lounging around had revitalized him enough that his body was fighting sleep.

He kept an arm around Nora, just so she’d stay warm, of course, and stretched until he could flip on the lamp by the bed. Dogmeat woke up just long enough to decide there was nothing to worry about and promptly passed back out on his rug.

Show off.

Deacon reached under the bed and pulled out his book that he’d stashed for just such an occasion. Always be prepared, as the Boy Scouts used to say. He was busy pondering the mysteries of madeleine cakes when Nora finally stirred almost two hours later.

“Swann’s Way? Trying to earn extra credit?”

He moved the book enough to meet her eyes through his shades, “Maybe. The light didn’t wake you, did it?”

“No.” She yawned and snuggled against him and he felt his heartbeat jump a little. “Have you read them all?”

“Nah. Haven’t been able to track down the third or seventh volumes.”

“That’s a shame. I read it for a philosophy class. Not what I usually read but it was alright.”

“Do you know what a madeleine cake is?”

She blinked at him, “Yes?”

“Tell me.”

“It’s like...the size of a cookie? Shaped like a seashell. They were buttery and tasted like almonds. I think it was sponge cake or something? Codsworth could probably tell you about them better than I could.”

“You actually ate one?”

“Sure. Almost every bakery had them.”

“Damn. Maybe after we beat the Institute we can open a bakery.”

She laughed, “With Codsworth as the baker, right? I can barely make toast.”

“Well, of course.” He pretended to go back to reading so he didn’t have to hold her gaze. There was only so much domesticity he could take at once, after all.

Her hand traced along his chest, “Have you ever wondered what you would have been if you’d been born in my time?”

“Oh, sure. A teacher, probably. It’s what I used to be, you know.”

The hand paused briefly, “Really?”

“Yup. I went teacher, then farmer, then vigilante for synth justice.”

“Interesting path.”

“Not as interesting as yours.”

She chuckled at that. “True. I can’t imagine you as a farmer.”

“I was probably as good at farming as you are at cooking.”

“Burn your crops down, did you?”

“Something like that. I liked teaching better.”

“So why’d you switch?”

His vision filled with fire and blood before he blinked and shook it away. “Just wanted to try something new.”

“Hmm.” Her lips followed the path of her fingertips and he looked around the book at her.

“Whatcha doin’ there, princess?”

She smiled sweetly, “Nothing. So what do you think of his writing?”

He narrowed his eyes at her a little but all she did was look politely interested, so he went back to his pretending. “I think he definitely paints a picture, which was his intention. He’s a little hard on the narrator though.”

Nora pressed soft kisses down his stomach. “Oh?”

“Yeah, the whole thing with missing his mother’s goodnight kisses and that being the source for his later manipulations...I mean, come on, separation anxiety is normal in a little kid, right? And wanting attention and acting out to get it isn’t necessarily manipulative.”

She moved down further and turned her body so she was curled up against him, “Isn’t it?”

His free hand found her foot and absentmindedly rubbed it. “Of course not.” Her lips covered the head of his hardening cock and he had to work to keep his voice steady. “Manipulation suggests some kind of ill will. The narrator clearly loves his mother. I think it’s more like...a child with a need they can’t convey well. It’s not manipulative, it’s just badly communicated.”

Her tongue swirled around him for a second and then the warmth of her mouth was gone, “But what about when the child grows to a man? Isn’t that kind of behavior considered manipulative then?” The wet warmth settled over him again and her hand wrapped around the base of his cock, squeezing and pumping in an agonizingly slow kind of way.

His eyes slid over her body. If he stretched just a bit, he could sink his fingers into her and then they could see how well she really played this game. “I don’t think so. I think intent has everything to do with it.” His hand slid up along her leg and he really thought he was going to make it when she wiggled just a bit to the side and put herself out of reach. Nice parry. He returned to rubbing her foot.

Her mouth left his member and she nuzzled against his balls, lipping at the sensitive skin, “So you’re saying manipulation is defined solely by the ill intent behind it? That’s a pretty generous interpretation.” His cock was suddenly buried deep in her mouth and she made a little happy noise when it involuntarily pulsed in her grip.

The hand still holding the book was starting to shake. He pretended like he didn’t notice that, either. “No, no, I’m not. I think it depends on a number of factors.” When he paused, the gentle suckling stopped, so he quickly continued on. “I think first you have to look at if his actions hurt the people he...sought to influence.” She was slowly increasing her speed and the strength of her grasp. Her mouth was still achingly soft around him, that clever little tongue flitting along the underside of his glans to a particularly sensitive spot that had his vision tunneling. “And true, the argument could be...could be made that his mother missing out on dinner was certainly harmful, but he had no way of knowing his father would...would insist on it.” The words were tumbling out now and he wasn’t even sure if he was making any kind of sense at all. “And of course, later in his life, it was certainly at least unethical for him to use affection to...to get what he wanted but...ah, fuck.”

Her other hand had joined the party, gently rubbing his balls like she was encouraging him to come. He dropped the book and gave up. This was a game he was happy to let her win anyway. Deacon watched her head bob up and down over him and for a moment his world narrowed to this place, this moment. The sounds of her sucking him off, the vibrations from her soft moans were all driving him closer to the edge, but it was her eyes that did it. When her eyes opened and saw that he was watching her and not the book, they crinkled up at the corners and she smiled around his cock at him.

He came suddenly, erupting in her mouth with a strangled kind of grunt. Her attention went back to his member, eagerly swallowing his come like she needed it to live and his head fell back against the bed frame while he caught his breath.

Nora slid back around and snuggled back against his chest like it had never happened, yawning in a contented sort of way and, for once, not gloating over her victory. He appreciated that.

His arm went back around her and he kissed the top of her head. “Best goddamn book club ever.”

She giggled, “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah. That...shit. I’ll have to read in bed more often.” He ruffled her hair, “If you don’t mind me asking, what exactly did I do to deserve that? Because I want to do it a lot more.”

“I dunno...you’ve just been really nice lately.” She shrugged, “I can tell you’re really making an effort to make stuff right and...I appreciate it. That’s all.”

“Oh.” Guilt from his earlier transgressions with the holo ripped through him but he stamped it down as best he could. “Well...thanks for noticing, I guess.”

“M’hmm.” She yawned again. “What time is it, anyway?”

“Around midnight.”

“M’kay. I have to have a meeting tomorrow with Preston around ten.”

He tossed the book aside and switched off the lamp. “Say no more, general. I read you loud and clear.” He made a show of struggling to get back under the covers and she giggled at him before they both settled down to finally sleep.

Chapter Text

Deacon woke up and immediately realized something felt off. Really off.

On any typical day, waking up was like walking into a busy business; lots of chattering and discussions which he, as the Big Boss, pointedly ignored until after he’d had his first cup of coffee. This morning though, he felt like he’d shown up to an empty office with how quiet everyone was being. Even pre-Deacon was silent.

He blinked in the darkness and waited for someone, anyone to step up and fill the void, but no one came forward.

Being reminded of just how hollow this outside shell that called itself Deacon was left him feeling strangely bereft. Like an actor all alone without an audience. Panic that felt a lot like stage fright shot through him, followed swiftly by it’s long-term companion, anger.

This wasn’t how it worked. This wasn’t how they worked. He was the face, they were the foundation. He couldn’t function without all the little people working in the background.

His arms tightened around a still sleeping Nora and he used the sensation to ground himself back to reality. His hands slid along her warm flannel shirt, then along her hair. Focusing on the differences between the two textures kept him sane while his mind slowly filled with selves. Still nowhere near as many as he was used to, but it was something anyway.

Pre-Deacon was definitely there, centered and calm and irritatingly serene in a way Deacon hadn’t felt in years.

Isn’t she angelic when she sleeps?

What the hell’s going on? Where is everyone?

Calm down, old man. They’re in the Conservatory.

What?

Some of the shards liked it there, so they stayed.

Deacon allowed this idea to percolate for a moment. Are you saying they’re inside Nora now?

Pre-Deacon huffed, Of course not. It was a beautiful place and now it exists here, just like it exists there. Whatever magic she worked, it’s burned into our brain like its our own memory. It’s soothing, you know? Quiet. I think it’s helping.

Well, waking up alone is not helping. Let’s not do that again.

It could help you, too.

He sighed irritably, No. My job is to function in the real world. Not run away and hide in a memory that isn’t even ours.

There was a long, thoughtful pause. Why are you afraid?

I’m not. Why are you such an ass?

Mature, Deacon. Real mature. I thought I was supposed to be the kid.

We can’t function if I’m empty.

Can’t we?

Deacon shook his head and broke away, back to the surface where he liked it. Was this part of some master plan by pre-Deacon? To assume control by bolstering the others and...what, gaining their support somehow?

That was not an option.They were not a democracy. This was Deacon Land. He let his anger sweep through the collective and felt a wave of exasperation from pre-Deacon answer him.

So, the kid wasn't looking for revenge. Just actual healing...as if that mattered. The end result would be the same. His reclamation of their body and Deacon’s final death.

Nope. Not gonna happen.

Nora moved in his arms, trying to nestle even closer to him. It snapped him out of his reverie and he pulled her tighter against his chest, burying his face in her hair to breathe her in.

Let the shards have their silly reproduction of a place that hadn’t existed in ages. He had real life and that was a thousand times better.

She nuzzled against him and finally woke, yawning and smiling sleepily up at him in ways that had him planning all sorts of fun things for the last day of their vacation.

“What time is it?”

“That is a good question.” He kept her tucked against him and turned his head as far as he could to see the Wakemaster on the nightstand. “It is...eight-thirtyish. Plenty of time.” He grinned at her and slipped his hands under her nightshirt; or tried to, anyway.

Nora bolted up and out of his arms, “Eight thirty?” She grabbed the clock and stared at it like that would make it somehow earlier. “Shit. It’s almost eight forty-five. Shit, shit, shit.”

Deacon felt all the air rush out of his lungs when she planted a hand on his stomach and practically vaulted over him. “Oof. Unnecessary. What the hell is wrong with you?”

She was already in the bathroom, “I’m supposed to meet Preston at ten!”

He rolled his eyes and flopped back on the bed, petulant over their abbreviated snuggling session. “Yeah, I remember, and you still have almost an hour and a half. Come back to bed.”

“I had something else I wanted to do before the meeting!”

“Well, no shit, Sherlock. So did I.”

Her head poked out the bathroom door and she seemed torn between amusement and aggravation. “Get up, Deacon. We’ve gotta book it if we’re gonna make it to Sanctuary before the meeting.”

He groaned and kicked his legs in a tantrum for a moment under the covers, but obediently got up and shuffled into the bathroom as she bolted back out. “This better be fucking worth it. I’m on vacation, you know.”

She laughed as she rummaged through a dresser, “I know. I know you are. I’m sorry. This is just really important.”

Perfunctory grooming done, he came back into the bedroom and watched her scurry around getting dressed, openly leering until she threw his pants at him.

“Put your clothes on, pervert. I’m leaving with or without you in a minute.”

“What about coffee?”

“Grab a Nuka.”

He grumbled about the audacity to believe Nuka was a substitute in any way, shape or form for coffee and quickly got dressed. She was already at the door when he grabbed a Cola for himself and a box of Dandy Boy Apples for them to split on the way.

He wasn’t letting her get away with skipping breakfast.

She took off across the wilds, Dogmeat scampering about happily like they were on some fun adventure.

Deacon caught up with her and shoved some of the freeze dried apples in her hands, “Here. Eat. You need the carbohydrates.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s just what I need.” She rolled her eyes but popped a couple in her mouth anyway.

“So what’s so damn important anyway?”

She swallowed the ancient fruit and smiled at him, “Deacon, do you believe in true love?”

He laughed and almost snorted Nuka right up his nose. “Are you serious?”

“As a heart attack.”

He shook his head, “No, I don’t. It’s all hormones and brain chemicals.”

She stuck her tongue out at him, “Okay, nerd. Well, I do and I’m helping out two kids in love.” Her hand went into her pocket and out came a slightly crumpled envelope. “See this? It’s a love letter, and I get to deliver it.”

Deacon frowned at the envelope and then at her fiercely proud expression. “This is what was so important I had to give up morning sex?”

“Morning sex? Who were you going to have morning sex with?” She grinned at him and he had to chuckle.

“Myself, I guess.” They walked along for a few minutes before curiosity finally got the better of him. “So who’re the lovebirds?”

“Do you know Hawthorne? In Diamond City?”

“Avery. Mrs. Hawthorne’s grandson.”

She laughed, “I dunno why I even asked. Turns out he’s got a thing for Lucy Abernathy. I guess they met at market a while back? He asked me to deliver this to her.”

“And you said yes because....?”

“Because it’s sweet. Do you know how many people ask me or the Minutemen for help? It’s always save this idiot, kill this, build that.” She held up the letter, “This is the first errand I’ve taken that I was actually happy to take, okay? Let me have this, dammit.”

He held up his hands in surrender, “Alright, alright. You think they’ll actually pan out?” He certainly did, but he was apparently not as up-to-date on this particular piece of Wasteland gossip as she was.

She stuffed the letter back into her pocket and shrugged, “Sure, if Blake can simmer down a little. Ever since Mary passed, he’s been all papa bear about Lucy. She wanted to join the Minutemen but he said no. She wants to take over going to market, but he said no to that, too. Keeps saying they need her at the farm.”

“I didn’t know Mary had died.”

Nora looked surprised for a half second before it was eclipsed by a rueful sigh, “Of course you know the Abernathys. You probably know what’s in the damn letter, too.”

He wasn’t sure if that was intended as an insult or not. “I don’t know them, I just know of them. They’re the main supplier of produce for Diamond City. They’d make a perfect target for infiltration if the Institute wanted another claw in DC...what happened to Mary?”

“It wasn’t the Institute, if that’s what you’re worried about. Raiders got her. They were robbing the farm and she tried to stand up to them, so they shot her.” She shook her head in disgust, “Preston and I tracked them down. They’d stolen her locket when they did it, and Connie wanted it back.”

“So you got it back for them?”

“Yup. They joined the Minutemen as soon as I put it in Blake’s hand.”

“Is that why you went to get it? To get them to join?”

She shook her head, “Not really, I just didn’t want those raiders to do that to anyone else.”

He smiled, “See? You’re a good person.”

“Yeah, I murdered a bunch of people for a piece of dime store jewelry. Woman of the year, right here.”

He grumbled but let it go. There was a small swarm of bloatflies ahead of them, but Dogmeat was taking them down like it was some kind of game, so he kept his safety on and settled for halfheartedly chucking his empty bottle at one. In no time, they came over the crest and the Abernathy farm spread out before them.

There were signs of a wall being erected and more settlers than he remembered ever seeing in these parts milled around in the fields, tending all manner of fruits and vegetables. Turrets chittered along and armed Minutemen stood ready to defend the farmstead.

Nora raised her arm and waved, “Ahoy, Abernathy Farm!”

The Minuteman at what looked to be the main entrance waved back, “Ahoy, General!”

A murmur swept across the fields and a few of the settlers waved cheerfully at them. Blake Abernathy came out of the main house and met them halfway.

“Good to see you again, General. What brings you out this way?”

Nora was all smiles, “Just in the area and thought I’d stop by. How’s every little thing?”

“Good, good. Can’t complain. Got a few new crops in thanks to the extra hands. Silt beans and mutfruit.”

“That’s great! Many hands make work light, as they say.”

“Who says?”

“Oh...um, I think it’s just a proverb?”

“A what now?”

Deacon rolled his eyes behind his glasses and wandered off, casually drifting along and taking stock of the defenses and resources. This could be a good way station for synths on the way out of the Commonwealth. If Nora came through with that refugee thing, he might be able to convince Dez to use all Minutemen settlements as pitstops. It would certainly help them avoid detection to be spread out, and being able to depend on the Minutemen for protection should all else fail would certainly be a boon for them.

Of course, that would require Dez actually listening to him for once, but hey, stranger things had happened.

A pretty girl with short auburn hair was arguing with what looked to be her mother on the porch. He drifted a little further away out of habit but found himself drifting back when he heard the woman call the girl Lucy.

The girl was clearly angry, fists clenched and her feet wide like she was going to physically fight someone. Her voice was still soft and respectful but every inch of her screamed ‘fuck you ’ to Deacon. “No, Mom, I haven't got around to it yet. I'm too busy doing the other fifty things you keep telling me to do!”

Her mother frowned at her, “You watch your mouth, or you're staying home the next time your father goes to Diamond City.”

Deacon watched as Lucy’s eyes widened ever so slightly before she stared hard down at the ground, “Well, I'm trying to get everything done, but the wash takes forever.”

Connie’s tone was no nonsense, but her eyes were full of fear. “Enough griping. Just get on with your work.” She looked like she wanted to say something else to the girl, but turned away instead and went inside.

Lucy sighed and her shoulders slumped, “Yes, Mom.” She sat on a bench by a scruffy little farm cat and scratched its head while staring off at the horizon.

He knew that look. He’d worn it for most of his adolescence. Deacon moseyed over and cleared his throat, “Excuse me, miss?”

She blinked and her eyes darted over his face in that wary way most Wasteland women mastered before they were ten. “Yeah?”

“You’re Lucy, right? I think the General was looking for you.”

The wariness was gone in a blink, replaced by happiness and excitement so potent it made him take a half step back. The girl looked like she was going to hug him and he didn’t do hugs.

Not vertical ones, anyway.

She dumped the cat from her lap and ignored the indignant meowing. “Thanks, mister! Thank you! Where uh...do you know where she is?”

He kept his face passive and only mildly interested, “Sure, she’s over by the brahmin.”

Lucy looked around him and saw her father and Nora conversing and frowned. “Oh, dammit. Okay...thanks.” She darted off in the whole other direction, probably planning on sweeping around the house to avoid her mother’s overprotective gaze.

He was surprised to find himself grinning as he watched her go. Love in the Wasteland was a pipe dream at best, but he guessed it was pretty cute. In a completely doomed and pointless kind of way, of course.

Since there was nothing else of interest, he sat on Lucy’s bench and watched the workers in the field. There really was something about farming that just called to a man. Almost made him wish he’d chosen a different path. Almost.

By the time Nora found him, he’d become best friends with the Abernathy’s cat. She smiled at him and flopped down on the bench.

“I see Maisie has yet another admirer.”

“Maisie? What kinda name is that for a cat?”

“You’ll have to ask Mrs. Hawthorne when we’re back in Diamond City. She named her.”

“Ah, I see. A cuddly love token, huh?”

“Yup. Avery gave her to Lucy last time she was in town.”

He scratched the cat under the chin and smiled at it when it’s eyes closed happily, “That’s pretty fucking smooth. No wonder she’s into the guy.”

“Yeah, he’s a sweetheart. Handsome, too.” She reached over and hand a hand over Maisie’s back.

“But I’m handsomer, right?”

“Is that even a word?”

“Of course it’s a word!”

Nora chuckled, “M’hmm. Sure it is.” She gave the cat a final pat and sat back, “And yes, you are...to me, anyway.”

He grinned in triumph, “Good. Thought I was gonna have to go get a whole new face.”

“You should go for something classic next. Like Bing Crosby. It would go well with your eyes.”

“Nah, I don’t have the pipes to pull off a face like that.”

“That’s a shame. I always had a thing for Bing Crosby.”

“Wasn’t he some kind of abusive asshole?”

She shrugged, “Probably. It is well documented that I have terrible taste in men.”

He waited for a few seconds before giving her a peevish stare, “Ahem, present company excluded, ahem.”

Her eyes met his for a second before she slipped on her own sunglasses, “I stand by my statement.”

Deacon huffed, “Rude. I am...I am quite the catch, thank you very much.”

“Sure, sure. Keep telling yourself that.”

He fumed in silence and had pouted himself into quite a huffy mood indeed when Lucy suddenly appeared before them.

“Here.” She looked around and then slipped Nora another letter. “I don’t even know how to begin to thank you, General Nora. What you’re doing for us is just --”

She waved her off, “Don’t mention it, sweetie. It’s my pleasure. You get good news?”

The girl was practically glowing as she nodded, “Yeah, yeah, it was good.”

Nora looked over her glasses at her and winked, “Oh, so it was that kinda letter.”

Any redder and Lucy could pass for a tato. “No! Miss Nora!” She giggled and collected Maisie from Deacon’s lap. “You are terrible!”

She chuckled, “Yeah, I am. I’ll be in Diamond City in about a week. Want me to uh, pick anything up for you? Catnip, maybe?”

Lucy’s giggling grew, “No, thank you. Just the letter.”

Nora stood and Deacon followed suit. He was giving her the silent treatment, she just hadn’t noticed yet. “Alrighty. Get back to work before your ma catches you mooning about.”

She made a face, “You don’t have to tell me twice. Safe travels!”

“See you when I see you.”

They headed back out, moving towards Sanctuary. Nora paused briefly at a fresh grave with a wooden cross and smiled down at it.

“Don’t worry, Mary. I’m gonna Fairy Godmother this shit.”

Deacon stared at the patch for a minute before following Nora. What was her deal with the dead anyway? So she’d lost people. Big deal. He’d lost people; enough to fill a whole damn town at this point, and he was able to do the proper thing and ignore death like everybody else did. Talking to graves and corpses was just weird.

The idea of ghosts crossed his mind and was quickly dismissed. He’d never heard of a psyker being able to communicate with them.

Which made sense since they weren’t real to begin with, right? Right.

Nora still hadn’t noticed he wasn’t talking to her. She was humming in that off-key way of hers. He recognized it as a horribly butchered version of Magnolia’s ‘Good Neighbor’ and snickered quietly to himself. It must be hard to love music so much and be so terrible at it.

Sanctuary was visible in the distance when she suddenly tripped and cried out. His body moved on autopilot and caught her before she fell and really hurt herself.

“Are you okay?” He kept a steadying hand on her shoulder and the other tilted her face up towards him so he could see if her eyes were fuzzy. They were clear as a bell and he frowned slightly, confused at her smug expression.

“Ha! Got you to talk to me.” She batted his hands away and kept walking.

So she had noticed. He’d wanted her to, but now he wasn’t sure if he liked that or not. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure you don’t. You totally weren’t just trying to give me the silent treatment or anything. No, surely not.”

He glared as hard as he could at the back of her head, “Why would I be giving you the silent treatment?”

“Because you’re pouting. You’ve been pouting since you woke up.”

“Have not.”

“Have, too.”

“Have not!”

“It’s childish, you know? The silent treatment. Completely juvenile.”

“I know that. I wasn’t giving you the silent treatment.”

“Okay. Sure.”

So now she was calling him juvenile to boot. He was a terrible man who was also juvenile. Fantastic. “Calling people names is juvenile.”

“I didn’t call you a name. I said giving someone the silent treatment was childish.” She smirked at him from over her shoulder. “So you’re admitting you were doing it then?”

“What? No, I’m not. I wasn’t!”

“If you weren’t giving me the silent treatment, there’s no reason for you to be mad at me for calling it childish, is there?”

Shit. Well, she had him there. He chose to not answer. Arguing with a lawyer wasn’t fair. It was like bringing a knife to a gunfight.

The walked across the rickety old bridge, Nora strutting like she’d really won something big instead of just a tiny, completely insignificant tiff and Deacon stomping along in disgruntled silence.

“This is the famous Old North Bridge you’re stomping on. From the Revolutionary War.”

Normally this kinda stuff was his jam, but right now all he could focus on was how satisfying it would be to drop her in the river below and resisting the urge. “Uh-huh.”

“They came three thousand miles and died, to keep the past upon its throne: Unheard, beyond the ocean tide, their English Mother made her moan.”

He frowned at that and had to ask, “What?”

“It’s the inscription on the marker for all the British soldiers who died here during the Battle of Concord.” She flashed him an impish grin like aggravating him was her sole joy in life. “I thought you were into Old World stuff? This is grade school level junk. Or do you expect me to believe you skipped more than just kindergarten?”

So now he was a terrible man, childish and juvenile and she was insulting his intelligence just because he didn’t know some useless bit of trivia from a million years ago. Irritation swelled up in him and a million pithy comments filled his brain. There was only so much abuse a man could take, after all.

Luckily for her (or maybe for him), Sturges had noticed their arrival.

“Hey, there, General! Was just coming to get you.”

“Oh, no. How late am I?”

He waved her concern aside, “Just fifteen minutes. Preston managed to last five until he started to worry.”

She chuckled, “A new record. I’m sorry. I had an errand at Abernathy.”

“No skin off my nose. We’re all ready in the meeting house.”

“Fantastic.”

They followed him into the house across the street from her old home and Deacon flopped down on a couch in the corner, pointedly ignoring the curious looks from the residents present.

Nora sat at the head of an old dining room table and smiled apologetically at Preston, removing her sunglasses. “Sorry I’m late.”

Garvey devoured every detail of her face with his eyes as if searching for any sign she’d been injured in the slightest and then coughed awkwardly, feigning nonchalance. “Quite alright, General. You weren’t late, we were all early is all.”

She patted his arm, “Well, thank you for worrying about me anyway.”

The lieutenant's cheeks went red and he nodded. Deacon snorted in amusement and Nora’s eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly at him. “And please excuse my escort. He woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”

Everyone sitting at the table turned and stared at him for a moment. It would have been uncomfortable if he cared what a bunch of hicks thought. As it was, they were lucky he didn’t flip them all off and tell them to go to hell.

Nora smiled cordially at the group, “Now then, shall we begin?”

Marcy sat a small odd piece of wood in front of her. One end was painted blue and Deacon frowned at it. What the hell was that for? Nora picked it up and tapped the table three times like she was some legit politician. He rolled his eyes and stuffed his hands in his pockets, resolute in ignoring the entire process.

“This meeting of the Sanctuary town council will now come to order. Does anyone have any old business to discuss?”

Jun raised his hand, “Yes, we still need better water filters. The ones we have now do okay on ground water and the rain, but the water in the river has higher rads and we’re having to cycle it two, sometimes three times before its safe.”

Nora nodded, “Okay, yeah, I know. Misty Lake was bad even before the war. I put out the word in Diamond City about finding a new filtration system but haven’t heard anything back yet. Are our needs still being met?”

“Barely. We’ve had four new families move here since our last meeting, one who arrived with a whole herd of brahmin. Right now it’s the rainy season so we can make do, but once summer comes, we’re going to be hurting for clean water.”

She frowned thoughtfully, “There has to be some solution we haven’t thought of yet.”

“Well, actually, Sturges came with the idea of maybe using the stuff from the Vault.” Preston looked like he’d rather jump on a live grenade than speak right then and the entire table went eerily silent as they waited for Nora’s response.

She went perfectly still for a moment and Deacon realized it was that same tell from back at the Rexford when he’d asked her if the Institute had taken Shaun. His head tilted a little as he studied her face and realized she was fighting with some aspect of herself before answering. Interesting.

“Excuse me?” Her gaze finally settled on Sturges and the handyman squirmed a little in his chair, clearly uncomfortable.

“Well...I mean, I just thought...Vault-Tec was supposed to be top of the line for that kinda stuff, and --”

“No one goes into the Vault.”

Everyone seemed to suddenly have something terribly interesting to look at in their laps and the corners of the room. Silence reigned again until finally Sturges cleared his throat a little and spoke again.

“Yes, ma’am. We know that. I just thought maybe...maybe Codsworth and I could go. Just the two of us. Keep it real quiet.”

“The penalty of going into the Vault is expulsion from Sanctuary.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Everyone knows that.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Her icy stare finally broke away from him and flitted over everyone else at the table. “Is this really the only way?”

The group looked at each other uncomfortably and nodded, still not looking directly at her. Deacon’s interest sharpened a bit. What the hell had she done to make them all so terrified of upsetting her?

Nora sighed heavily, “The Vault is a sacred place. A mausoleum for everyone who didn’t make it out.” They all nodded solemnly in agreement. She shook her head and addressed Sturges again. “So I expect you to conduct yourself accordingly when you go down there.”

He blinked in surprise, “Ma’am?”

“I’ll grant you a one time exemption. Codsworth can do the heavy lifting. Get everything you need on the platform in one trip, Sturges. Once you’re out, you’re out, you understand?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And no exploring. Just get in and get out. I don’t want to encourage looki-loos.”

“I understand. You can count on me.”

“I certainly hope so. Alright, does that do it for old business?” The group nodded and she flipped the piece of wood over. “Then it’s time to discuss new business. Who wants to go first?”

A ghoul at the other end of the table raised her hand, “I do! We now have five children in Sanctuary. They’re all getting two hours of education a day, but we’re close to not needing them in the fields at all. Just a handful of adults would do it...or some new robots.”

Nora grinned at her, “I was just thinking the same thing, Gertie. I wonder if there’s still any salvageable Mister Handys at the Galleria. I’ll check next time I’m over that way. Any orphans?”

“Two. They’re living with me now. They don’t seem to mind that I’m...well, you know.”

“Well, that makes them smarter than all of Diamond City, doesn’t it? Gertie, you won teacher of the year three years straight back in the day. I remember seeing it in the paper and telling Nate that I hoped you were still teaching when Shaun was old enough to attend school. You being a ghoul has nothing to do with anything. Don’t let those assholes keep you down.”

Gertie nodded, “I know. I’m getting there.”

“Good. Now that I’m moving there, I’m going to get to work on making some changes, but until then, why don’t you set up a proper school in my old house across the way? It’s got plenty of room and the bathroom works. You and the kids could stay in the bedrooms.”

“That would be wonderful! Thank you.”

“No problem. Anyone else?” Everyone shrugged and she nodded, “Okay, then it’s my turn.” She took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter, “I found, and killed, the man who murdered Nate and took Shaun.”

Applause broke out and Preston grinned like an idiot. “That’s fantastic, General! Did you get him back?”

“No...Shaun had been in Diamond City with Kellogg, but he was gone by the time I got there.” Everyone made sympathetic noises and Jun in particular looked upset.

“That’s awful. You were so close!”

Nora nodded, “I know. It...was hard to be that close and then lose him again, but I do have a lead, and at least I know he’s still alive and who has him.”

Marcy leaned forward, “Who is it?”

“It’s as we feared. The Institute.”

Jun’s eyes looked wet, “You’re sure?”

“Yes, I’m quite sure.”

“I’m so sorry, General.”

“I know...it’s...well, it’s not okay, but at least I know he’s alive.”

Sturges spoke up, “You said you had a lead?”

“Yeah, apparently Kellogg was sent after a scientist who defected. He’s somewhere in the Glowing Sea. He’s our best bet for getting to Shaun.”

“You can defect from the Institute?”

Marcy rolled her eyes, “Obviously not if they’re hunting him.”

Preston looked confused, “How can he be in the Glowing Sea?”

Nora shook her head, “I dunno. No one does. Advanced tech, maybe?”

“So how do you find him?”

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Anyone have any ideas?”

“Oh! Power armor! I’ve been working on that T-45 from the museum. It’s comin’ along real nice!”

Jun shook his head, “But I’ve heard there’s radscorpions in the Glowing Sea. A lot of them. Running around in power armor will draw them to you, won’t it?”

Sturges frowned a bit at that, “What’s it matter if you’re in the armor?”

Nora chuckled, “Sturges, I know how you feel about it, but not everyone is as into power armor as you are.”

“What about a hazmat suit or something?” Marcy frowned at her own suggestion, “Of course, you’d have to find one first.”

“And you can’t equip them with armor. It compromises the suit.” Preston sighed. “I dunno, it might be power armor or nothing.”

Gertie raised her hand, “Could you maybe just fly over the radiation somehow? It can’t possibly go beyond a hundred feet by this point, surely.”

“Oh, sure, we’ll just fly right in. Anybody here got an extra vertibird laying around?”

“Marcy, that tone isn’t helpful.” Preston stared her down until she muttered something that almost sounded like an apology.

Nora sighed, “So nobody has any clue?”

“We should ask Mama Murphy.”

Abrupt silence reigned again and Deacon’s eyes went to Nora. She was glaring at Jun like she was trying to make his head explode.

“No.”

“But --”

“I said no. That’s not an option. Maya is an addict. She needs our help and support, not to be spoon fed more chems anytime we run into difficulties.”

“But your son--”

“Jun, drop it. That’s the last time I’m going to tell you.”

He huffed angrily and left the table. Impressed the hell out of Deacon. He’d figured the guy had a wet noodle for a spine.

Nora watched him go and turned back to the group, “I need more than just a way in. I need to figure out where on earth a person would hide in all that mess. Any ideas?”

Preston shrugged, “I’ve heard there’s some old military installation in there. I don’t know where it is exactly though.”

“It’s southwest of here, right?” Nora closed her eyes, thinking. “Maybe it’s the Sentinel Safeguard Complex? I think they were somewhere down there.”

“That’s too obvious, though, isn’t it? I mean, if the Institute was hunting you, you wouldn’t go someplace that existed on maps. I wouldn’t.”

“Gertie raises an excellent point. He’s going to be hard to find on purpose. I wouldn’t count on finding him any place that stands out.”

Nora leaned back in her chair, “Crap. Maybe this lead really is a dead end.”

Mama Murphy was suddenly in the doorway, swaying and staring with wide eyes at something they couldn’t see. “You're walking into a sea, but it's not water you're afraid of drownin' in. It's something... invisible... but... radiant…”

Nora bolted from her chair, “Maya! No! What’d you take?” She grabbed the woman and started searching her pockets.

“It burns everything in it, but... no... I can feel them. There's people. Calling out to something. Chanting.” Her head tilted like she could hear it. “They can show you the way... but... they're so hard to read. Be careful around them, kid.” She blinked and stumbled a bit, into Preston’s waiting arms. “I need to lie down somewhere.”

“Are you alright, Mama Murphy?”

“Quit fussin’, Preston, I’m fine. Just tired.”

Nora finally found a used canister of Jet and shook it. “Empty. You didn’t take all of this, did you?”

The old woman just smiled at her, “Now, don’t you start.”

“Goddammit, Maya, we’ve talked and talked about this! What am I supposed to do if I lose you, too?”

“You’ll be alright. I’ve seen it, too. I see you surrounded by outstretched hands. Everyone needs your help, kid. Everyone wants you to see things their way....”

She held up a hand, “Not another word. Preston, get her to her room, please.”

“Right. Up you go.” He scooped her up like she weighed nothing and left the room, her protests following them both.

Nora was frozen again, staring at the inhaler. Her eyes finally came up and landed on Marcy. “Get Jun. Now.”

Deacon didn’t have a dog in this fight, and common sense said he should stay out of it, but it seemed awfully unfair for a wildcat to fight a paper bag to him.“Nora, maybe you should calm down a little first.”

“Maybe you should fuck off.”

He opened his mouth to respond but the ice in her eyes was starting to burn, so he just gave her a tight-lipped smile and averted his gaze. It seemed to be the only response that didn’t draw her ire when she got like this.

“Nobody has to get me. I’m right here.” Jun’s soft voice came from around the corner and he slunked back into the house.

Nora promptly threw the inhaler at his feet. “Explain yourself.”

“You have to find your son. Whatever it takes.”

“You could have killed her, Jun.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

She took a step toward him and Deacon could see her hands flex like she wanted to touch him. Whether it was with a punch or with her bare hands, he couldn’t say. “How can you say that?”

“Because you still have a chance! You can still save Shaun! I...I would kill for another chance to save Kyle, Nora.” Tears were pouring down his face but he was finally able to meet her eyes. “You have to get him back. You just have to!”

The ice melted and her eyes welled up. “Goddammit, Jun.” She finally closed the difference between them and wrapped him in a hug. “Stop crying. Of course I’m going to get him back.” The two stayed together, incoherent words tumbling out of Jun while Nora shushed and soothed him.

Gertie and Sturges took the opportunity to slip out of the house. Lucky bastards. Deacon wished he had the same option. Emotional crap like this was only fun when he heard about it, not when he had to actually watch it unfold right in front of him.

Marcy finally stood and took over consoling Jun for Nora. “Come on, Jun. Let’s go take a walk.” She pried him gently off their general and led him out of the house.

Nora watched them go, a resigned look on her face before irritation took over. “And where the fuck is Codsworth!” She went stomping out and Deacon scrambled off the couch to follow.

Codsworth, as it turned out, was busy fussing over Mama Murphy. Nora glared at them both for a moment before throwing her hands up and walking away without saying anything.

Seemed all of Sanctuary was bound and determined to spite her this morning.

Deacon followed like a shadow, quiet as a mouse. Dogmeat trotted along behind him. Apparently even the dog wanted a meat shield between him and her fury.

She finally came to the edge of the bridge and stopped. Anger rolled off her and she suddenly turned and glared at him. “Well?”

He put his hands in his pockets and tried to keep his stance nice and relaxed, “Well what?”

“Oh, now you don’t have an opinion. Everything I fucking do, you have an opinion on, but now you magically don’t?”

He shrugged, “Just...trying to keep my balls intact, boss.”

Nora stared at him in disbelief for a minute before looking away, a tiny huff of laughter escaping her. Her eyes closed and she looked exhausted. “I want to hit him.”

“I know.”

“I wanted to hurt him.”

“Yup.”

“And now I fucking can’t because he brought Kyle into it and started crying. He fucking...goddammit.” Her fisted hands clenched and unclenched.

Deacon finally realized it wasn’t just the settlers who feared her anger, it was her, too. He wondered what would happen when her control actually snapped, but decided he wasn’t suicidal enough to find out. Today, anyway. “You can hit me, if you want.”

“Don’t be stupid. I’m not using you as a whipping boy.” She walked away from him and sat at the top of the bridge, legs dangling over the side. “Do you have a cigarette?”

He sat next to her and patted his pockets, “I think so. Usually do.” He finally found a loosie and handed it and his lighter to her. “Didn’t know you smoked.”

Nora lit it with shaking hands and took a long drag before blowing the smoke out in a sigh, “I don’t. It’s a filthy habit.” She handed the lighter back and rested her head against the rickety railing. “Haven’t touched one in years. Nate hated it.”

He laughed and she turned just enough to look at him with a raised eyebrow. “Sorry, I just can’t imagine you changing for anybody.”

She gave him a wry smile, “Well, that shows how little you know about me. I used to be quite the chameleon.” Her eyes closed and she went back to resting against the rail. “But Nate never asked me to stop. He never said a word about it one way or the other, but I could tell he didn’t like it.”

“A man of few vices, I’m guessing.”

“A man of no vices.”

“Ah. Rare.”

“Yeah.” She chuckled a little and took another drag, “Felt like I’d landed a unicorn once I got to know him.”

“I bet.”

She stared at the cigarette for a moment and then passed it over to him, “You can have the rest; I’m good.”

He stuck it in his mouth and tasted cinnamon and apples for a second. “So how’d you end up with a choir boy anyway?”

“I already told you. We met on the boardwalk.”

“No, I mean, how’d it go from a casual fling to the real deal?”

Her eyes swept over him and she grinned, “Why? You looking for a proven strategy?”

“Now you know better than that. I’m not looking to lock all this down. Just curious.” Pre-Deacon’s scornful laughter reached him and he tore his eyes off Nora and went back to staring at the water. Little pissant didn’t get to mock him and soak her in, too.

She leaned back and laid down on the bridge, staring up at the blue. “I kept pushing him away. Acting like a brat. We’d make a date and I’d cancel at the last minute or if I did show, I’d goad him into an argument five minutes in. He felt too good to be real, you know? And I’d been tricked too many times to fall for that shit again.” She sighed, “I was dumb as a kid. Real dumb. Kept making the same mistakes, kept handing my heart to the wrong person. Over and over. By the time I met Nate, I’d finally learned my lesson. I wasn’t gonna get burned again.”

“He must have really been into you to put up with all that.”

“Yeah...he told me years later that he knew I was the one the minute he laid eyes on me. That he’d actually thought he’d dreamed meeting me at the boardwalk. Can you believe that? He said when I showed up as pretty as he remembered, he couldn’t believe it.” She laughed, “Like he was the lucky one in our relationship.”

“Alright, so, he was head over heels and you were pushing him away --”

“More like kicking.”

“Kicking him away. So what changed?”

She frowned thoughtfully, “I dunno...when I met his parents he told them he’d gentled me.”

“Gentled you?”

“It’s a farm thing. You gentle wild animals, like horses.” She made a face, “I guess that was pretty accurate. I was practically feral when it came to dealing with men. I remember this one time, I’d thrown him out of my apartment. I can’t even recall why, and he just stood there in the rain like some kicked puppy. I got so angry. Nothing I did could ever get him to raise his voice or...he just never showed his temper, and that was weird to me, you know? I’d never encountered a man who...he was just a different kind of man than I was used to.” She shook her head at the memory, “I started throwing things at him from the window. Everything he’d ever given to me. He must have thought I’d lost my damn mind, but he just stood there. So goddamn stoic. Shit was bouncing off his chest and it was like it wasn’t phasing him in the slightest.”

Deacon marveled a little at the man’s self restraint. “Maybe you just had a weak arm.”

Nora snorted, “Yeah, that must’ve been it...anyway, I finally ran out of stuff to throw and he still stood there. So I went stomping downstairs and he was just quietly picking everything up. I started yelling at him again, demanding to know what his problem was and what was wrong with him. I was completely soaked, practically freezing, hollering at him about how he needed to just drop the act already and…”

“And?”

“And he just smiled. Smiled and put his coat around me. He said he didn’t know who’d hurt me, but if I’d just point him in the right direction, he’d make them regret ever being born. It was the first time I ever heard actual anger in his voice and it wasn’t directed at me. I couldn’t believe it. I just stopped yelling and stared at him. Next thing I knew I was in his arms and that was it. We were always together after that.” She sighed and sat up, rubbing at her eyes.

“So it wasn’t an act?”

“Nope. He really was just that good. God knows I gave him plenty of reasons to leave, even after that, but he never did. He never left and he never took the halo off.”

“A white knight showed up to save Princess Rosie after all.”

She huffed, “Yeah. Took him long enough.” She took a deep breath, “I need to go find Jun and apologize...and then apologize to everyone else, too. Going off like that was very...unprofessional.”

He nodded along thoughtfully, “Yeah, but not completely unwarranted. I’m guessing one of the rules for living here is ‘Don’t give Mama Murphy chems’, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, there you go. Jun knew the rules. He’s lucky you didn’t kick him out or shoot him.”

“But --”

“What would Hancock have done?”

She tilted her head a little, “What?”

“If someone broke one of his rules for living in Goodneighbor, what would he have done?”

Nora grimaced a little, “Stabbed them, probably.”

“Exactly. Look, it’s hard to be the leader because sometimes you have to be the bad guy. Today, Jun made a choice and made you look like the bad guy, and that’s okay. You responded, you reinforced the boundary and showed him mercy to boot. Don’t second guess yourself, princess. You did fine.”

She frowned thoughtfully at him, “Spoken like someone who’s been there.”

He laughed, “Nah, no one’s ever been stupid enough to put me in charge of anything. But I’ve been around the block a few times, seen a lot of mayors and whatever come and go. You’re one of the good ones. I can tell.”

The shy smile she gave him before hiding her face reminded pre-Deacon of the old days. Another time, another place, another woman doubting herself while he tried to get them to see they hung the moon.

She mumbled a thanks and it took her a minute to peek out from behind the curtain of hair, “I’m sorry for before. Telling you to fuck off and all.”

He shook his head, “Don’t worry about it. It’s not the first time.”

She chuckled, “I don’t doubt it.” Her hand moved over and covered his, “I’m sorry for teasing you this morning, too.”

It took his body a second to remember to breathe properly. “Not a big deal. Don’t worry about that, either.” He slid his hand out from under hers and patted it awkwardly.

“Are you sure? You seemed like you were really in a snit over it.”

He rolled his eyes, “I wasn’t in a snit.”

“Okay, then.”

They sat quietly, both contemplating the river running beneath their feet. He couldn’t say what Nora was thinking but Deacon indulged in a bit of daydreaming. It must have been immensely satisfying for Nate to beat the shit out of Nora’s stepfather and first husband. He actually felt a little jealous of the guy. He got the girl, got to live the dream (even if it was just for a few years), and got to put hands on the assholes who’d put Nora through so much.

Luckiest sonofabitch he’d ever heard of.

“Well, I should still at least say goodbye. We’re heading out first thing tomorrow and I...I need to get away from Sanctuary. I’m about at my limit.”

Deacon watched her get up and laughed, “We’ve only been here an hour.”

“Exactly. I spent a lifetime wrestling my temper into submission and a few minutes here and it all goes to shit.”

“Want me to come with?”

She shook her head, “Nah. I’ll take the pup. You can go on to the garage if you want.”

“Sure.” He stood up and brushed his pants off a bit. “I can go get lunch started.”

Nora rolled her eyes, “Why are you always trying to feed me?”

“Because you never seem to want to eat.”

“That’s because one of the many perks of being starved as a kid is I have the metabolism of a turnip. My body hoards calories like Bobby hoards comics.”

He shrugged, “Still gotta eat.”

She headed back for Sanctuary, Dogmeat trotting at her heels, and waved over her shoulder at him, “Whatever. Just don’t go crazy.”

Deacon was suddenly overcome with the need for mischief. He grinned puckishly at her even if she couldn’t see, “Of course not, boss. It’s just lunch.”

Chapter Text

It had once been said that the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach. In Deacon’s experience, however, this was universal among all living creatures.

On the flipside of that trite sentiment, teasing someone with food, letting them anticipate tasting said food and then denying them, was a pretty good way to get someone back for being a raging brat all fucking morning.

He hit the door of the Red Rocket at a run and tossed his rifle and coat on the couch, immediately making a bee line for the kitchen. Nora had explained to him how the pre-war stove had worked and that 350 seemed to be the universal temperature for warming leftovers the night before. He cranked the dial up and went to wash his hands while it preheated.

Everything had to be perfect for this particular performance.

After raiding the fridge, he tossed two meat pies into the oven. Finding a skillet was a bit of a challenge until he tried thinking like a Mister Handy (he guessed storing cooking utensils on the tool rack inside the garage kind of made sense). Two steaks in tangy brahmin butter (and just a hint of Nuka Cherry for flavor) were sizzling in no time and he set to work making a fruit salad of sorts with the random offerings from the fridge.

He was counting on Nora taking her time with the goodbyes. He knew Codsworth and Preston at the very least would talk her to death before finally letting her go, and he had a sneaking suspicion she wouldn’t leave the Longs alone until she was completely certain all was forgiven. He figured he had maybe a half hour, forty-five minutes tops. More than enough time to prepare a Wasteland feast.

By the time he heard Dogmeat’s happy bark coming up the road, the table was set and overflowing with offerings. Two warm and bubbly meat pies, a plate of steak, a fruit pie, the salad, two Nukas (with tea set to steep for later). He’d even arranged a plate of razorgrain hard tack around a quick dip he made by combining minced, seared CRAM with the soft cheese he’d found in the bottom drawer of the fridge.

Nora finally walked through the door almost an hour after they’d parted on the bridge and immediately stopped, sniffing the air. He could practically see her salivating.

“Oh, did you make steak? I love steak.”

Deacon shrugged nonchalantly, “I made a couple things.”

She came around the corner enough to see the table and started laughing, “What’s all this? Are we doing Thanksgiving early this year?”

“Nah, just lunch.”

“I thought we agreed you weren’t going to go crazy?”

He watched the last bit boil on the stove and motioned for her to sit. “This isn’t crazy. You are entirely too easy to impress, princess.”

She shrugged out of her coat and sat in front of an empty bowl. “Comes from a lifetime of having little to no expectations.”

He brought the pot over and poured its contents into her bowl, “There you go! Bon appetit!”

Nora stared at the steaming noodles, “Ramen, too?”

“Is that what they’re actually called?” He sat at his own place and speared a piece of steak with his fork, cutting it into bite-sized bits and making a show of moaning over how delicious it was.

“It was.” She smiled at him, “They always make me kinda nostalgic, you know? I practically lived off them in the dorms.”

He politely swallowed before answering, “Oh, yeah?”

“You know it. At two packs for a dollar? Couldn’t be beat.” She twirled the noodles on her fork. “Could you pass the steak, please?”

Deacon just tilted his head, “What?”

She set the bite back into the broth. “The steak. Ramen’s great and all but steak is...well, steak.”

He ate another piece then smiled at her, “Nope. This is my lunch.”

Nora blinked at him and then stared at the banquet spread before her. “The entire table?”

“Uh-huh.” He took a sip of Nuka and wondered at her ability to go from relaxed to furious in the blink of an eye.

“That -- you. This was my food! It was in my fridge!”

“Dogmeat’s fridge, isn’t it? He doesn’t mind, do you, boy?” He tossed a piece of delicious fat to the pup and smiled placidly at her. “You said you didn’t want anything big for lunch. I did. So I prepared it accordingly.” He had her. He totally had her and the way her face went from furious to slightly bewildered told him so.

“I...oh.” Nora looked down at the sad bowl of soggy, stale noodles in front of her. “Oh, right. Thanks, I guess.” She looked almost ashamed of herself for her ungrateful outburst and took a small bite.

He’d never seen her pout for real. Outside of bed, at least. It wasn’t as much fun as he’d thought it would be. Pre-Deacon unhelpfully pointed out that maybe teasing with food wasn’t the right tactic for someone who’d grown up never knowing where their next meal was coming from. Deacon watched her eat for a moment, thoughts of ketchup sandwiches dancing in his head. He took in the way her eyes never left her bowl, how she kept her elbows close like she didn’t want to take up too much room at the table or be noticed. A rare pang of regret zinged through him and he sighed heavily.

“Here.” He held up a bite on his fork and tried to ignore how much he wanted to kick his own ass when she just stared at him with wide, confused eyes. “Open up.”

“What --”

He shoved the bite in before she could finish and cut another bite for himself while she blinked at him and chewed slowly, clearly savoring the tiny piece.

She finally swallowed and gave him the same shy smile from the bridge. The one that had made him feel so antsy. “Thank you. It was delicious.”

Deacon held up another bite and raised an eyebrow. She leaned over a little and carefully ate it. The happy wiggle she did after swallowing totally made it worth it, in his opinion. “You’re welcome.” He pushed her ramen to the side and pulled her chair closer to his side. “We can share. I suppose.”

There was a shocked little girl staring at him before Nora blinked and hid her away again. “Thanks. I guess I was hungrier than I thought.”

He shrugged and popped another bite into her mouth. It was kinda fun feeding her like this. “Must be all this fresh air.” Nora nodded in agreement. “Or...maybe its because you tried to skip breakfast.”

She wrinkled her nose, “That, too. It’s hard to remember to eat sometimes.”

“Must be a family trait.” He held up another bite but she just frowned at him.

“Why would you say that?”

“Well, you said Sturges was having a hard time getting Maya to eat and…”, and he wasn’t supposed to know they were related yet. Shit.

The frown deepened, “I never said Maya was family.”

“You didn’t? I was sure you had.” Shit shit shit.

“No, I didn’t.”

He was too mortified by his slip of the tongue to be useful, so pre-Deacon slid forward, “Oh, that’s right. She told me.” Truth. Sweet, relationship-saving truth.

“She did?” There was still wariness in her eyes, but it was quickly fading.

“Yup. When I met her. Said a bunch of other stuff, too, about lanterns and kaleidoscopes and stars. I dunno what any of it means though.” Come on, kitty, chase the string.

Nora rolled her eyes, exasperated, “Of course she did. I bet it sounded super ominous, too, right?”

Deacon recovered and took back over, grinning, “Oh, yeah. Quite the act. Almost felt like being at the circus, except a million times weirder.” She laughed at that and he almost went light headed he was so relieved.

“Speaking of weird, what the hell was she even talking about at the meeting? People chanting in the Glowing Sea? It makes no sense.” She stole a piece of steak off his plate and nibbled it thoughtfully. “Ghouls, maybe?”

“Maybe but I doubt it. Extended exposure to radiation turns regular ghouls feral.” He popped a piece of melon into his mouth and waited for her to ask.

“So not even ghouls wanna go there...then who is it?”

“Well, if she’s right and if there’s people there, it’s probably the Children of Atom. Pretty big ifs though.”

“Children of Adam? Like...from the bible?”

He chuckled, “You wish they were that normal. No, not Adam. A- tom. Like molecules and whatever.”

“Oh. Oh. I get it. Who’re they supposed to be?”

“Religious kooks who worship radiation.”

“Oh! That explains it!”

“Explains what?” He grabbed one of the meat pies and stuck his fork right into it. Smelled like yao guai and tatoes and tasted like a million caps. He seriously needed to find a non-psychotic Mister Handy.

“I was in an old junkyard with Preston once and found this weird little...shrine thing. He told me to get away from it so I didn’t get to look at the nearby terminal, but I guess it was one of their places. Everybody was already dead though.”

“Figure out why?”

She shrugged, “Molerats, but the way my Pipboy was clicking they couldn’t have been long for the world anyway. There were old nuclear waste barrels everywhere.”

“You’d be surprised. Some of the Children have a genetic predisposition to being almost immune to radiation.”

“Really? That’s amazing. I guess evolution is soldiering on after all.”

“Not exactly since they’re busy frying their fishing tackle all the time. I’ve never seen a kid who was born into their group.”

“Oh.” She downed half a bottle of Nuka before continuing. “Okay, so, they’ve set up shop in the Glowing Sea. Any idea where?”

“Yeah, I’m guessing Ground Zero.”

She closed her eyes, shuddering, and he wondered if she’d actually seen the big one hit. “Jeez, seriously?”

“What can I say? They like it hot.”

“I’m gonna have to wear the damn power armor again, aren’t I?”

“Honestly? I’m not sure yet.” He chewed thoughtfully for a minute. He really wasn’t sure what the best plan of action was yet, and had zero interest in making a move before they were 100% ready. “But don’t worry, Nora. If this guy’s alive, we’re gonna find him. I’ve got some questions for him myself.”

She gave him a patronizing kind of look, “Oh, I know that tone.”

“What tone?”

“Just let me sweet talk the answers I need out of him before you Hulk out and go all alpha male, alright?”

“What are you...I wasn’t using a tone.”

“M’hmm. You remember I was married twice, right? I know a tone when I hear one.”

Her ability to bounce from vulnerable woman-child you wanted to cuddle to queen of sass town was amazing. “I bet he’s a huge nerd. How about I hold him down and you steal his lunch money?”

Nora laughed, “Sure, and we’ll pants him before we leave.”

“What’s that?”

Her eyes twinkled as she smiled and he almost felt worried. “I’ll show you someday.” She chuckled a little to herself and Deacon could see her making a mental note for future mischief. “So is that what you were in school? Some meathead jock?”

“Do you listen at all when we’re in bed, or does all the blood rush from your brain? No. I already told you. I was the quiet kid in the corner.”

“Sure you were.”

He laughed, “I really was, princess. Truly.”

“No, I was the quiet kid in the corner. I dunno what you were, but I doubt it was that.”

“Alright...you got me. I was actually the class clown.”

She nodded, “That sounds closer to the truth.”

“I highly doubt you were the quiet kid in the corner, though.”

“Why?”

He looked her up and down, “Body like that with your face and smart mouth? Come on, boss. Pull the other one.”

She got up and started moving dishes to the sink. “Oh, sure. That was totally me. Miss teenage sexpot. I was a regular Ann Margret, hoo, boy.” The sarcasm was so thick you could cut it with a knife.

Deacon watched her tidying up and tried to imagine her as a kid. All legs and eyes. Walking trouble incarnate. “Yeah, I’m sorry I missed that.”

Nora watched the sink fill up with steaming water with an absurdly sentimental expression on her face. Like she was lost in another memory from long ago. She finally turned the water off and turned to him. “We’ll leave these to soak. Codsworth’s heart would be broken if I don’t at least let him clean up after me tomorrow.” Her hand brushed his shoulder and tugged at his shirt before she walked back into the garage/den. “Come on, I wanna show you something.”

Deacon pouted to himself and looked over his glasses through the bedroom door at the still unmade bed. So much for his plans for a post-lunch romp. He got up with a sigh and drifted along after her. “Is it gonna take long? I thought maybe we could...take a nap.”

The look she gave him said she knew exactly what a ‘nap’ meant. “No, it won’t. I just want to correct this erroneous impression you seem to have of me.”

He plopped down on the couch. “Erroneous impression? Princess, I almost know you better than you know yourself at this point.”

She dug through her pack and laughed, “Sure you do, Tiger.” Out came the ancient sketchbook and she came over with it, sitting cross legged next to him. He watched her open the back cover and run her finger along the inner binding. It peeled up and he realized it was some kind of hidden pocket.

Sonofabitch. How had he missed that?

Nora caught him frowning at it and smiled, “Isn’t it neat? There’s this nifty little pocket back here to keep stuff in. Nate got it for me when I was put on bed rest with Shaun.” She laughed, “He was a huge baby and there at the end, I felt like he was crushing my lungs...and my will to live.” She flipped through a series of things he couldn’t see and it was slowly driving him insane. “Anyway, Nate knew I was bored so he went out and bought me this...but it was so pretty I never even used it. I’d just open it and stare, intimidated by how nice the paper was.” She shook her head and pulled out a long strip. “Here we are. Now, be careful with this. I don’t have a lot of pictures from my childhood. Shocking, I know.”

He carefully accepted the strip and stared down at it. Two young men, one in what he recognized as Navy dress whites, the other in taped up glasses and what were clearly hand-me-downs, were wedged into a photobooth, making increasingly ridiculous faces at the camera. “Your...brothers?”

Nora looked up from her own trip down memory lane and blinked at him before dissolving into a fit of giggles. “Oh, God, are you serious right now? Because if you are, that’s hilarious.”

Deacon frowned at her and took off his sunglasses to get a proper look at the pictures. “No, that’s clearly Jimmy, right? In the hat?”

She was still chortling, “Yeah. Wasn’t he handsome?”

“Yeah, kinda has a Burt Lancaster thing happening...that’s not Alex?” Sure as shit looked like Alex.

She tried, and failed, to school her expression. “Nope. Not Alex.”

He squinted as hard as he could and still couldn’t shake the idea that it was Alex. “This is supposed to be you?”

The look she gave him was almost pitying. “Yes, genius. That’s me and Jimmy just before he shipped out. I’m a week away from turning sixteen in that picture.”

The kid in the picture was entirely too thin. The collar bones too prominent and cheekbones too sharp. Like they’d just hit their first growth spurt of puberty. The hair was short, shorter than he’d used to wear his when he still had hair, and scruffy-looking. There was absolutely nothing of the voluptuous, alluring Nora he was used to, save maybe the eyes; massive and magnified to a cartoonish degree behind scratched lenses, but he knew Alex shared his sister’s eyes. He’d seen it in the holo. He looked up at her and her obnoxiously condescending expression. Clearly she had to be fucking with him.

Deacon put his shades back on passed the photostrip back to her, “Nah, not buying it.”

“What?”

“Not buying it. Come on, I know a boy when I see one. I’m not an idiot.”

Her mouth hung open and her gaze broke away from his. She stared off into space like she was having an internal conversation with someone. Finally, she blinked and went back to staring at him like he was an idiot. “Seriously?”

“Come on, Nora. I wasn’t born yesterday. Girls back then didn’t wear boy’s clothes.”

“They did if they had been forbidden from wearing dresses!”

“And look how skinny he is! You really want me to believe you went from that to this?” He gestured broadly at her curves. “If you’re gonna try to get one over on me, you’re gonna have to try better than that.”

“Deacon, that’s really me.”

“Nope.”

She sighed, “Okay, fine, I bet you...fifty caps that its me.”

He snickered. Amateur play to try and double down. “Make it fifty million, you big liar.”

Her eyebrow went up. “Are you even worth that much?”

“Baby, you know I’m worth every cap.”

“Okay, Rockefeller. Prepare to pay up.” She pulled out another photo, this one a proper snapshot. “This is me and Jimmy the last time he was home. I was eighteen and had just started college.” She handed it over.

Deacon shook his head at her perseverance in this ruse and looked down at the picture. First glance said it was the same two boys. Jimmy had put on a bit of muscle and a lot of responsibility it looked like with all the little extra fancy bits that were now pinned to the dress whites.

The kid who stood next to him must have never hit that second growth spurt. They were still a full head shorter than their big brother. Same ridiculous glasses, almost the same hair...maybe a trifle longer.

He frowned and took his shades back off. The kid was wearing a skirt.

It was hideous, even in black and white, but it was unmistakably a skirt. Hit them right at their knobby little knees. They had on a cardigan with a prissy little buttoned up shirt under it, but, if he squinted real hard, he could almost make out two teeny, tiny buds that only someone incredibly kind and generous would think to call breasts. He brought the picture almost up to his nose and could just make out a dark headband in the hair and those freckles he’d counted himself.

This was Nora.

He held the picture up to eye level and tried to merge the image with the woman in front of him. There was a lot of dissonance there, but the little things stuck out. The freckles and that beestung mouth. She suddenly grinned wide and the facial expressions were a dead match.

Shit.

Deacon lowered the picture and cleared his throat, “Do you uh...want actual caps or will an IOU work?”

She smirked and took the picture back, “It’s cool. Your face just now was worth it. We’re square.”

He watched her and the wonderfully sweet expression she wore as she stared at her brother in silence for a minute, cataloging it for future daydreams. “I’m...jeez, I’m sorry, Nora. I knew you’d had a rough childhood but…”

“Nah, no need to apologize. You wouldn’t believe how bad it was even if I told you.” Nora shook her head, “No one believed it back then, either.”

“No one...no one ever reported your parents or anything? They just accepted you being so…” He couldn’t even think of a word that could possibly encapsulate how obviously neglected she’d been.

She chuckled and carefully slid the pictures back in their little pocket. “Don’t be silly. No one accepted me.” Her eyes finally met his and she gave him a brittle kind of smile. “I was just Jimmy’s crazy little sister and my parents disgrace. They had me pegged as a problem child by the whole neighborhood by the time I was six. Any time I managed to tell another adult about what was going on at home, my mother would lament about how I was this terrible liar and wail about how she didn’t know where she’d gone wrong...then I’d get beat real good when I got home.” She laughed but there was no joy in the sound. “Only took me a few years to learn my lesson on that one.”

Deacon couldn’t think of anything else to say, so he went with the only truth he knew. “You were still beautiful back then.”

“You literally just called me a boy. Several times.”

He shrugged, “Still, a cute boy.” That got a small, but genuine, laugh out of her and he grinned. “So how’d you go from that to this, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Well...once I left home, I stopped seeing my ribs and hipbones pretty quick. I mean, it was all diner food or whatever I could heat up on a hot plate, but at least it was food, you know? I guess my body didn’t know what to do with the concept of ‘readily available’ and I just kept...plumping up.”

He waggled his eyebrows at her, “I’m glad you did.”

She rolled her eyes, “Thanks. My first husband wasn't. He put locks on the cabinets so I couldn’t eat unless he was home.”

Fury so potent it almost overwhelmed him shot through his head. Every single piece of him was immediately incensed. “Bastard.” It was the nicest thing he could think to say.

Nora just shrugged, “It wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been locked in the house, too...and if he’d, you know, actually come home every night.”

Dear God, please let Tinker Tom build that time machine. Please please please. “I’m glad you got away from that asshole. You definitely deserve somebody who treats you better than that. I bet you railed his ass in divorce court, huh?”

Her eyes slid away from him in that way that always let him know he wasn’t getting the whole truth. “Yeah….except no. Not really.”

“Not really?” His mind scrambled around for an explanation and when it finally dawned on him, his eyes went wide. “He didn’t divorce you, did he? Oh, God, what a jerk!”

She winced a little, “No...I...I told you, I don’t like to talk about it.”

Oh, there was something here. Something big. He could tell. The secret agent in him immediately wanted to wheedle answers out of her until he had the entire story, top to bottom and sideways even.

The rest of him, however, had a lot of newly acquired, volatile energy simmering just under the surface. So he went with his gut over his head.

“Good. I don’t wanna talk about any of those assholes either.” He took the sketchbook out of her hands and set it on the table before pouncing and pinning her down against the couch. “You’re lucky I wasn’t around back then,” he practically growled it against her neck.

She squirmed and giggled, “Oh, yeah? The quiet class clown was gonna swoop in and...what? Rescue me? Ravish me? You don’t exactly seem like the type, honey.”

He paused in his nibbling just long enough to grin, “You’d be surprised.”

“Well, you do surprise me quite a bit.” Her arms encircled him and she pulled his hips closer to hers.

That was certainly news to him. He ground against her, chuckling when her gasp let him know he’d hit just the right spot. “I do?” HIs lips found hers and he kissed her softly, just a tease before he went back to his thorough exploration of her neck.

“You’ve always been hard to read, but...the more we’re together, the harder it gets. I dunno why.”

Pre-Deacon knew why. Knew exactly why and he grinned against her neck. “It’s that crush you’ve got. It’s messing with your objectivity.”

She thought that over for a few seconds. “Shit...it is, isn’t it? That’s not fair.”

When his eyes glanced up at her, she was clearly grumpy about it and he laughed. “What’s not fair?”

“It’s not effecting you like that!”

Deacon started on her shirt buttons. “Who says?”

“What?”

“Who says its not effecting me like that?”

She studied his face for a moment. “So...you’re having trouble reading me, too?”

He pulled her shirt open and nuzzled the soft skin between her breasts. “Everywhere but here.”

“Really?” There was a kind of wonder in her voice that made him nervous and pre-Deacon thrilled.

“Yes. Come on, you don’t think I’m this clueless with everyone, do you? I keep telling you, I’m the best in the business.”

“Oh...I kind of thought that was just bragging.”

“Just...oh, you are such a brat today.” He tweaked her nipple with his fingers and she squealed.

“Ow! Mean!”

“Brats get what they get.” He relaxed his weight onto her to keep her pinned and lazily brought the abused bud into his mouth, sucking gently and almost purring in satisfaction when she gasped.

“Deacon...stop.”

He frowned but released her with an audible pop. “What?”

“We...I can’t…” She pushed him up off her and sat up herself, panting.

He looked to the others for answers, but no one had a clue as to what had just happened. “What’s wrong? What’d I do?”

She frowned and closed her eyes, a hand over her stomach. “You fed me too much. I feel like a tick that’s about to pop.”

“What?”

“You...when you squished me, I almost threw up on you.”

“Oh. Oh! Shit. I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t even think about it.” He really hadn’t. Fucking crush was making it impossible to think at all.

She shook her head. “No, it’s okay...I didn’t think about it, either. Maybe we really should take a nap first.” Her eyes finally opened and she smiled sheepishly at him. “Sorry.”

He slipped his glasses back on, stood and offered her a hand up. “What the hell are you sorry for? I was the one being an idiot.”

Nora stood and stepped closer to him, wrapping him in a hug and burying her face against his neck. “I dunno...I feel like I got you all excited and…”

Deacon ran a hand over her hair and shook his head. “I got myself excited. Don’t worry about it. Let’s go sleep for a bit, hmm? That sounds pretty nice, too.” The parts of him that dealt with shuffling around the near constant pain he was in so he could function definitely agreed. His back was still not recovered from the stress and sudden activity of their super fun time in Concord. The less time spent on his feet, the better.

“That does sound nice...maybe another bath after? Or a shower?”

“Mmm, now you’re really speaking my language, babycakes. Come on.” He led her back around the corner, through the kitchen and into the bedroom.

“What’s wrong with your back?”

He’d been fluffing the pillow and paused, “What?”

“You’re moving like you’re in pain. What’s wrong?” His eyebrow went up in a silent question and she shrugged. “Physiology classes, remember? I think your left knee is bothering you, too, but I’m not sure on that.”

His left leg had been the one he’d landed on after scaling the building with the sniper. He poked down through the shards a bit and found a particularly stoic one who was pressed to the limit dealing with the slowly growing pain around his patella. Huh. He sighed, “I told you, I’m an old man.”

Nora laughed, “I’m still pretty sure you’re not, but you’ve clearly been through some shit. You aren’t secretly a brahmin bull buster, too, are you?”

He straightened up and stretched his lower back a bit, “What?”

“A cowboy. Nate’s cousin was one and he moved about the same.”

Deacon snickered at the entire idea and mentally added another potential disguise to the ever-growing list. “No, I’m not.”

She narrowed her eyes like she didn’t believe him and shrugged. “Okay, well...I think maybe I should take a nap while you take a hot bath. It’ll help relax your muscles and we’ve got a long walk ahead of us tomorrow.”

He frowned, “I thought we were both taking a bath later?”

“Nah, I’d rather sleep. I need sleep, you need a soak.”

The idea of her trying to take care of him for once made him almost irrationally grumpy. “I don’t need you to play nurse, you know. I take care of myself just fine.” And liked it that way, thankyouverymuch.

“Oh, God, you aren’t one of those, are you?” She walked away and started filling the bathtub, apparently unperturbed by the fact that he hadn’t actually agreed to take a bath in the first place.

He followed and glared at her from the doorway. “One of those?”

Nora rummaged through a cabinet next to the tub and nodded. “Yeah, one of those idiots who can’t admit when they need help.”

“I am not an idiot.”

“Great.” She dumped a bag of something that smelled powerfully like the gardener from her memory into the water. “Then prove it by being reasonable and taking a bath.”

His frown deepened into a scowl. She had him in a proverbial painted corner. If he said no, he was proving he was an idiot. If he went along with her plans, he was admitting he needed help. “What’d you put in the water?”

“Epsom salt. Codsworth found it in the Concord pharmacy. It’s got eucalyptus in it.” She said the last part in an enticing way, like he’d actually want to smell like a little old lady.

“And that’s...good?”

“It’s a natural pain reliever and muscle relaxant. You’ll feel better in no time.”

He leaned over the water and sniffed cautiously. Stuff was going to make him reek. “I didn’t know people did anything natural in your time.”

Nora fixed him with a maternal stare. “Stop stalling and strip down already. I’m not going to sleep until you get in this bath.”

“It’s too hot.”

“I added cold water, too. It’s perfect. Now strip.”

He grumbled and started unbuttoning his shirt. “Fine. How do I know when it’s finished working?”

“When the water gets cold or you start to drift off.”

“And it really works?”

“It really does. I promise.” The tub was nearly three quarters full and she turned the water off.

“Alright, I’ll give it a shot.” Only because he was about an hour away from needing to dose himself with Med-X or risk his back completely seizing like it sometimes did...not that he would ever admit that to her.

“Good.” She yawned behind her hand. “Alright, well, I’m going to sleep.”

He stepped into the hot water and laughed, “You’re like a baby. Eat a big meal and then pass right out.”

Nora just rolled her eyes at him and left to take her nap.

Deacon cautiously lowered himself into the water, savoring the feel of the water rushing around his aching muscles again and especially loving how weightless his knee suddenly felt. He set his glasses aside, lay back and took a deep breath, trying to relax as best he could. It might stink to high heaven, but within ten minutes, the knotted muscles had started to unwind and he was able to comfortably bend his knees and slip a little further under the water. There really might be something to this eucalyptus crap.

He just wished he’d brought a book or something. Nora hadn’t even switched the radio on, so it was just him and his thoughts against the silence. He hated that.

The antsy feeling finally got too much and he poked pre-Deacon.

What? The kid sounded drowsy and relaxed and more than a little irritated at being bothered.

Stuff stinks, right?

I guess? Who cares so long as it works?

We’re going to be easier to spot in the field if we smell.

He sighed, Okay.

What’s with the attitude?

Why can’t you ever just admit what’s actually bothering you?

Oh, this should be good. And what’s actually bothering me?

That Nora’s taking care of us like she really cares.

The sat in the silence for a minute before Deacon answered, She only cares because she doesn’t actually know us.

Resignation flavored with a subtle hint of shame flooded through them. I know that.

This is all going to go away if and when she finds out.

Yeah. Probably.

No probably to it.

She’s...different. She might be able to see past what we did.

What you did. I wasn’t around back then.

The shame grew, I know.

He sighed and sank all the way into the water. Or we could just drown ourselves now and save everyone the trouble.

Don’t joke about that. She wouldn’t like it.

Deacon popped back up and took a deep breath, Yeah.

As long as we can get her to her son, I don’t care.

He chuckled, I thought I was the liar here.

Silence reigned again as pre-Deacon pulled away from the conversation, back down to wherever he usually hid.

He leaned back against the edge of the tub and tried to run scenarios about how to control the damage if and when their secret was out. They’d almost certainly lose this level of trust from her in a way that could never be fixed, but maybe they’d get to stay in her life a little? Nora was different than most of the people they’d encountered. She’d been through more shit in her lifetime than anyone he’d ever known and seemed to still, somehow, have a naturally forgiving nature.

Deacon wondered just how soft she would have stayed if all the bullshit her parents had put her through hadn’t happened. Would she still be able to retreat into that impenetrable shell, or would she have the emotional strength of a cream puff? Hard to say. Some people were just born survivors and some weren’t.

He was pulled from his increasingly depressing thoughts by the water finally slipping from lukewarm to cool. He sighed, pulled the plug and stood, carefully twisting his back this way and that, trying to get a baseline on how fucked he really was. To his surprise, the bath seemed to have gotten him back to almost normal. Another night in a proper bed would probably take him the rest of the way. His knee wasn’t quite as good, but so long as they could avoid scenarios where he was having to carry twice his own body weight, he should be fine.

Amazing what a little pre-war knowledge could do for a body.

He toweled off quickly and slipped his shirt and shorts back on. Nora was snuggled under the covers, clearly deep down in dreamland, and he took a minute to watch her without having to worry about getting caught for once.

Rare feelings of guilt kept trying to bubble up. It was incredibly selfish of him to allow this to continue, but he was at a loss of how to disengage without hurting her at this point. She knew and accepted the monster he sometimes was in the bedroom, sure, but what about the rest of it? The parts of him that had allowed the last woman he truly cared about to meet a grisly end? Or the parts of him that had allowed rage and pain overwhelm him until he hurt the one before that?

If he closed his eyes, he could still see their faces plain as day. Staring at him in varying degrees of shock and pain. Would her face someday join them? Another specter to haunt him until the end of his days?

Or would she do what they should have done, and put him in the ground before he managed to get her killed?

A better man would walk away now. Accept whatever the consequences were and remain secure in the knowledge that she’d thank him in the long run.

The fact that he couldn’t make his feet move out the door was just further proof of the terrible, selfish soul he really was.

Instead, full of self-loathing and hate, he slipped under the covers with her, smiling a bit when her nose briefly wrinkled at the medicinal smell of his skin after she snuggled against him. His arms wrapped around her, even as the few surviving selfless bits of him fought this self-indulgent nonsense.

Their relationship had an expiration date. He knew that. He didn’t know when it was coming, if it would be tomorrow or months from now, and it may be wrong for him to soak it up while it lasted, but it was all he could do.

The only thing he dared to hope was that, in the end, he’d be able to save her from himself, or at least die in the attempt.

Because pre-Deacon was right. She was different. This was different...and a life living in a world where she didn’t exist wasn’t a life worth living at all.

Chapter Text

“It is.”

“Isn’t.”

“Is!”

“I can’t believe we’re even having this conversation. Do your taste buds still have freezer burn or what?”

“How are you more fussy about food than I am? I thought you were a real Wastelander!”

“I am, but I still have standards, Nora. I can’t believe you actually eat that shit.”

She smirked, “I’ve put worse things in my mouth.”

Deacon narrowed his eyes, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means what it means.”

“You’re awfully obnoxious today.”

“I am not obnoxious!”

“She said obnoxiously!”

They’d been arguing since hitting the outskirts of Boston on whether Takahashi or Whitechapel Charlie was the superior robot chef. His argument, which he felt was fairly solid, was that Takahashi had been specifically built to cook the noodles for which he was so famous. Nora’s argument was that Chuck, as she affectionately called him, was more experimental and therefore a true culinary artist.

And to think, the day had started off so nice, with Nora specifically waking him up for early morning sex and everything.

“Chuck’s Radroach Surprise is a million times better than Takahashi’s ramen. It just is. Those little fried crumbly bits on top? Fantastic. A real taste sensation.”

“Do you even know what the bits are?”

“Why do I need to know something like that?”

He groaned, “Ugh, and to think, I’ve kissed that mouth.”

She huffed at him, “Well no one’s asking you to. If you don’t want to kiss me, then don’t.”

The gate to Goodneighbor was just around the corner, but unfortunately, so was a Gunner squad guarding the Mass Fusion building. Deacon grabbed her arm, “Hey, walk behind me for a minute, alright? And try to be quiet for once.”

Nora gave him the stink eye but slipped back in his shadow. They’d already tucked her hair into a cowl and put the Pipboy in her pack. Dogmeat had been sent on ahead to Diamond City to see “Uncle” Nick and “Auntie” Piper. It was the best they could do without altering her face.

They walked silently along, hugging the side of the street and sliding up to the gate without attracting so much as a glance. Deacon pushed her on through and let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

Goodneighbor was Hancock’s turf, and she was his adopted little sister. Here, responsibility for keeping her alive fell to him and Deacon couldn’t be happier for a break at this point.

Nora immediately took the cowl off and shook out her hair. “Damn thing is hot. Maybe I should just dye my hair or something.”

And ruin a perfect work of art? No. “Nah, there’s no color more common than brown, right? It’s fine.”

She rolled her eyes, “Thanks. That’s just what every woman wants to be. Common.”

He rubbed his forehead. All this stress and bickering was giving him a headache. “Well, I dunno about you, but I’m all funned out. Why don’t you go play with your brothers for a while?”

Her head tilted, “And where exactly will you be?” She seemed surprised he’d suggest they split up.

Deacon grinned, “Aw, kitten. You gonna miss me?”

“Hardly, I just don’t want you causing trouble in Goodneighbor.” She headed for the State House and threw him a casual wave over her shoulder. “Do whatever you want. I’ll see you when I see you.”

He chuckled at her attempt at nonchalance and went to Daisy’s for provisions. Even a two hundred year old pack of Fancy Lads were better than that crap the Third Rail optimistically called food. An hour later, he’d settled on a couch at the Rex for a nap. Traveling all day with Nora made him feel even older than he already did. He hadn’t known that was possible.

Claire kicked him out around dinner for allegedly filling her lobby with farts. He scoffed at the accusation, but went along anyway. He was supposed to be on his best behavior here, after all.

The three boxes of snack cakes he’d consumed had produced a powerful thirst and he headed down into the Third Rail. If Hancock and Mac were going to hang out with Nora, surely they’d all wind up there eventually, right? Right.

He set up in his favorite dark corner, pretending to watch Mags sing and wondering if he could find a dress like hers that would fit Nora. A bottle of beer chased away the cottony feel of his mouth and whiskey followed for the lingering traces of pain in his head.

Part of him thought he should maybe go get checked out by Amari. The headaches had been growing steadily worse since meeting Nora, but could the added strain of keeping her alive and (sometimes) happy with him really cause the throbbing migraines he was suddenly experiencing? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe it was just a blood pressure thing.

Or maybe there was a worse reason he was suddenly having to deal with the kind of ache pre-Deacon usually handled.

He frowned at his whiskey and decided not knowing was better than knowing in this particular case. If Amari couldn’t find a physical problem, she was liable to slap him in a memory lounger and God only knew what that would show. No, clearly the solution here was to suck it up and maybe try to take it easy whenever possible.

He hadn’t successfully taken it easy in years, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?

Mac finally came tromping down the stairs around ten, looking mildly pissed and very frustrated. Hancock and Nora must have forbidden any retaliatory action towards the Gunners on his part. Deacon almost laughed at that. Kid was a father, for christsake, and he was still letting people tell him what to do.

Deacon watched him approach the bar, order his own bottle of whiskey and place an  outrageously huge order for food with Charlie. He frowned a bit at that. When had the kid ever eaten more than your average molerat?

He kept an eye on Charlie’s prep and tried not to gag at the smell that soon permeated he bar. Grilled mirelurk wasn’t so bad on its own, but when it was basted in...whatever he’d used? Pretty awful.

A watchman eventually showed up, took the huge tray of food from Charlie, and headed back up the stairs with it.

His frown bloomed into a full scowl. Oh, he did not like that. Nora and Hancock having a private dinner upstairs? That...well, that was probably fine, but the whiskey in his system wanted to insist that no, it was absolutely not fine. Especially since that order had included several bottles of wine from the Mayor’s own private selection and even rum, Nora’s favorite poison.

Anyway, what was he supposed to do about it? She kept insisting that Hancock was her precious big brother. It wasn’t like he could bust in there and rescue her from something like that...even if there weren’t guards posted all over the damn place.

The whiskey argued back that he’d faced, and overcome, worse odds in his day.

He countered that his day was long past and Nora could handle herself just fine. Nothing was going to happen that she didn’t want to happen.

But the now empty bottle kept whispering that maybe she did secretly want something to happen. That silly exchange from the Red Rocket kept playing over and over in his mind, especially the part where she’d suggested he’d wanted to watch them...do stuff.

Deacon carefully set his glass upside down over the top of his bottle just to shut it up and slid out of his chair. Nothing nefarious was happening upstairs. They’d spent a perfectly dandy romantic ‘weekend’ together, hadn’t they? She’d left her bedroom grinning like an idiot this morning, didn’t she? What’d he have to worry about?

For some reason, though, his feet didn’t seem to agree and he found himself headed upstairs. He thought he was doing pretty good for having a few bushels worth of fermented corn juice in his system, but Ham bumped into him anyway. Jerk. Must be trying to keep him from getting to Nora.

Everybody in this damn town was so subservient to Hancock. It was sickening, when you got right down to it. All that talk of democracy and freedom from a tyrant in a fancy coat. The hypocrite.

Deacon, a little disheveled since his swiftly forgotten encounter with Ham, threw the door to the State House open and tried to not get dizzy looking at the stairs. Who the hell had decided spiral staircases should be a thing anyway?

He moved slowly up the stairs and blinked hard a few times when he got to the second floor. Nora’s laughter and Hancock’s soft, seductively smokey voice could be heard through the closed door of his office and he glared at it for a moment. If things were so damn innocent, why’d they have to close the doors, huh? Hancock was known for fucking drifters with an audience on his damn balcony, so why the sudden need for privacy?

It was a good thing he’d come up here to save his princess from these unseemly shenanigans.

He took a step towards the door, only to be met with another watchmen...or the same watchmen? He didn’t want to say all ghouls looked alike to him, but Hancock’s lackeys certainly did.

“Sorry, pal. Boss ain’t seein’ anybody. He’s entertainin’.”

Deacon opened his mouth to argue, but the ghoul’s grip on his gun shifted a bit and he changed his mind. There was more than one way to skin a goose. “Alright, buddy. Alright.” His voice sounded oddly slurred to him and he patted himself on the back for his excellent acting skills.

He continued to trudge up the stairs to the attic, where all the actual drunks and addicts liked to pass out. There was an open mattress near a wall that looked remarkably enticing for a lumpy piece of shit, but he could hear Nora’s voice again; coming from the right. He shuffled over into the alcove that was directly above Hancock’s office and grinned to himself. He could hear them clear as a bell from here.

His body decided they should lay down and he agreed. The closer he was to the floor, the better he could hear, right? He was so smart.

And if he turned his head just a bit, he could even see between the ancient wooden slats. He squinted a little before pushing his glasses up enough to almost press an eyeball against the splintered wood and focused hard on what little he could see.

Nora and Hancock were on the couch, her with her feet in his lap while he carefully did...something. Deacon frowned. He’d thought that was their special thing, but okay then.

Hancock held up her foot, “How’d I do, Sunshine?”

She looked over the top of the magazine she’d been reading, “Fabulous, honey. I can’t believe you found nail polish for me.”

“Can’t have my girl running around with bare tootsies, now can I?” He blew on her toes and she giggled while Deacon fumed.

Oh, so Hancock could call her his girl, but he couldn’t? That was some grade A bullshit right there.

“It's a great color, too. I always liked red.”

“Color of passion.”

“M’hmm.”

His hand skirted up her leg and Deacon finally realized she wasn’t wearing pants. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there for...that, Sunshine.”

She shrugged, “It’s not a big deal, John. Barely even hurt...and it’ll fade.”

“Shouldn’t be there in the first place.”

“That’s just life, I guess.”

“Every time I let you outta my sight, you come back with a new scar. I don’t like it.”

“Well, what’s to like?”, Nora laughed.

Hancock shook his head, “You sure it's a good idea for you to run around with that Deacon fella? He’s always been pretty suspect.”

“I gotta do what I gotta do to get to Shaun, honey. Even if it means running with a...whatever he is.”

“You know the expression, ‘lay down with dogs, get up with fleas’, right?”

“John...”

He raised both his hands in mock surrender, “I’m just sayin’.”

“I thought you didn’t mind the Railroad. You were one of the people who told me to seek them out, weren’t you?”

“Yeah, I was...I just…”

She tossed the magazine on the table and gave him her full attention. “Just what?”

“You’re sleepin’ with him, ain’t ya?”

“That’s none of your business.” Deacon couldn’t see her face, but he could clearly hear the reprimand in her voice.

“Isn’t it?” They sat in uncomfortable silence for a moment. “Why him, Sunshine?”

Nora sighed heavily, “John, come on.”

“No, you come on. You said you weren’t ready and I respected that. You told me you saw me as a brother, and I respected that, too. So what’s so fucking special about this asshole?”

“Are you asking because you really want an answer or because your pride is wounded?”

“You know better than that. I ain’t got pride when it comes to you.”

She seemed to take a second to collect her thoughts and took a deep breath, “Look, I know he’s bad news, okay? If anyone can spot a jerk from a hundred paces, it’s me. Right now, I’m not good for anybody. Anybody, John. I will do whatever it takes to get to Shaun and that makes me...dangerous to be in a relationship with. I picked him because it won’t go anywhere. I’m pretty sure even he knows it won’t.” She shook her head, “No, I’m sure he knows...anyway, I love you, and yeah, it’s different than what I feel towards Bobby, but...if I ever did something that ended up breaking your heart, I couldn’t live with myself after.”

There was the sound of a jet canister being used and then a cloud surrounded Hancock’s head. “I’m a big boy, Sunshine. I can take care of my own heart.”

“Liar.”

He chuckled sadly, “So it ain’t the chems?”

“No, it’s not. I wish you wouldn’t use them, but...I know its different for ghouls.”

“Yeah...what about...what about after you find your boy?”

Nora shook her head, “Not even then, honey. I can’t raise Shaun in Goodneighbor, and you are Goodneighbor.”

“Almost sounds like we’re star-crossed.”

She laughed softly, “Doesn’t it?”

“If he hurts you, I’ll kill him.”

“Thanks.”

“You sure he ain’t gonna get his hooks into you?”

“Nah. I’m solid teflon, honey. You know that.”

“M’hmm.” He didn’t sound entirely convinced. “Well...if you ever find yourself stuck on that asshole, I can uh...unstick you, if you want.”

She giggled and snorted a bit at the end, “That’s very...thoughtful? In a weird kinda way, I guess.”

“What, you don’t think I can?”

“I’m not sure emotions actually work that way. In my experience, only time heals wounds left by...hooks.”

“Hey, give me one night and you won’t even remember his name.” He turned towards her on the couch and grinned. “I’ve got references for that shit.”

“Oh, I’m sure you do.”

Hancock leaned across the couch and pulled her against him, “Gimme a week and you won’t even remember your own name, Sunshine.” His voice was low and deliciously rough, even to Deacon’s incensed ears.

Nora laughed, “John--”

Whatever she was going to say was lost as Hancock pressed his lips to hers. The sudden silence between the amplified the small sounds Deacon could pick up. The rustle of ancient fabric as he pulled her tighter against him, the quiet, satisfied groan that came from the mayor when his hand carefully caressed her breast. He could also hear the heartbeat roaring in his own ears and, far off in the distance, the sound of pre-Deacon’s miserable wailing.

When he finally let her pull back, she was panting, staring at him with wide, shocked eyes. “Holy hell, John.” Her hand came up to touch her own lips. “That’s...that’s some kiss, honey.”

He grinned at her and scooted back to his side of the couch, “See?”

Nora nodded, “Yeah...yeah, I get it. Wow.” She looked almost shell-shocked and shivered. “My whole damn body is tingling. How the hell did you do that?”

Hancock grinned wider and shrugged, “Trade secret, love. Sorry.”

Deacon swore under his breath and swore vengeance in his head. Every shard was with him, ready to make war with Goodneighbor.

A strong hand on the back of his shirt had him yelping and suddenly he was standing, more or less, and staring into the pissed off eyes of Hancock’s daughter and favorite bodyguard.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here? A little Railroad rat.”

He tried a devil-may-care smile, “Miss Fahrenheit! There you are! I was just looking for you.”

She was clearly unmoved, “Were you?”

“Um...yes. I…”, he couldn't think up a reason and just kept smiling. “You’re very pretty for a bodyguard, you know. Have you ever thought of modeling?”

She frowned at him and then he was back on the floor, up close and personal with the wood-grain. “Toss him in the tank.”

He watched her boots stomp away and then his arms were being gathered up between two strong ghouls who drug him all the way down the sickeningly spiral staircase and then tossed him carelessly into Goodneighbor’s drunk tank.

He slammed into the concrete and winced as he skidded along a couple of feet. It took him a few minutes, but he finally found his feet thanks to some helpful jail bars and swayed gently as he stood. “You could at least buy a guy dinner if you’re gonna fuck me over, assholes. Shit.” Outrage successfully expressed, he slid back down onto the comforting floor and tried to make sense of where exactly the night had taken a left turn.

A familiar, irritated sigh had him opening his eyes. Nora.

She was wearing Hancock’s coat, buttoned up for modesty’s sake and glared down at him. “What are you doing, idiot?”

The man himself stood right behind her, smirking up a storm. “Looks like somebody’s got the hots for you, Sunshine.” He lit a cigarette, “It’ll make a man stupid, you know.”

Deacon smirked right back, or tried to, anyhow. “She’s got a crush on me, too, Mayor Foot-penis. So there!”

A nonexistent eyebrow went up, “That so?”

Nora looked at Hancock and shrugged, “You know my taste in men.”

“Yeah. I don’t get it, but yeah.”

“How long are you going to keep him?”

He scoffed, “Like this kiddie lock can keep me here. I go where I want.”

Hancock chuckled, “At least until morning. Guy clearly needs to sleep it off.”

“Good. Can I stay with you tonight?”

“Course, love.”

Nora’s foot nudged his head, “Would you mind keeping him until nine? Give me a couple of hours to lose him?”

“You wanna lose him?”

“Yeah, I think this is about done. He’s getting a little too attached for a fling.”

The casually fatal way she said it sent a terrible pain shooting through him as the entire collective mourned the loss of their treasure. “Nora…” Deacon tried to get more out, to cut through the fog, but unconsciousness was swiftly rolling over him.

“Sure, Sunshine. Whatever you say.”

The last thing he saw before the world turned black was Hancock’s gentle hand on the small of her back as they went back upstairs.



Wake up!

Deacon! Wake up, dammit!

He opened his eyes, squinting hard behind his sunglasses as even they weren’t enough to keep the harsh light at bay. “What?”

“Oh, good. You’re up.”

Deacon turned his head and winced at the tight, uncomfortable pain in his neck and wondered why his mouth tasted like ass. Goodneighbor’s mayor sat comfortably just outside the bars, smoking. “Hancock?”

He chuckled, “Never thought I’d see the day when you’d end up in my jail, Deacon. You’ve always seemed a little...prissy for a bender.”

Bits and pieces of the night were slowly coming to him, fed through the sieve of the others’ perspectives. Pre-Deacon’s big contribution was the disdainful way Nora had looked down at them on the floor and he moaned. “Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.”

“Yeah, that about sums it up.” Hancock tutted in mock sympathy. “Turns out you’ve got one hell of a self-destructive streak, don’t ya?”

He finally managed to sit all the way up and rested against the wall. “Where’s Nora?”

“Gone. Left a few hours ago. You’re free to leave, too. It’s a little past ten.” He gestured magnanimously at the open cell door.

His eyes flew all the way open and he struggled to get to his feet. “You just let her go?  By herself?” The floor rolled under his feet and he held onto the bars, trying to establish proper balance and convince his stomach to keep whatever contents it still had.

Hancock rolled his eyes, “Man, you just don’t get it, do you? Nobody lets her do anything. She just does it.” He held up a water. “Here, sit down a minute before you run out there and get yourself killed. We need to have a little talk, mano a mano.”

He frowned. Talks with Hancock ended up with someone getting stabbed more often than not from his personal observations. There was no arguing with him though, and the water did sound pretty good right now, so he flopped down on the chair and busied himself with getting his hands to cooperate enough to open the damn thing.

Satisfied, the mayor nodded at him. “There. See? I knew you could be reasonable.” He lit a cigarette and slid the pack over towards Deacon. “You’ve really got it bad for her, huh?”

Deacon’s face lost all expression and he shrugged.

“M’hmm. Alright, well, I can’t blame you there. She’s pretty fuckin’ great.” He shook his head, “Awfully pissed at you right now, though.”

He finished off the can and set it down carefully before taking out a cigarette for himself. “Yeah.”

“You remember, then?”

“Yeah. Some of it.”

Hancock nodded, “I gotta ask, brother, what the hell were you thinkin’?”

“Pretty sure the whiskey was doing most of the thinking.”

He chuckled, “That’s unfortunate. Last night was probably the most I’ve ever liked you.”

The stale smoke cleared the awful taste from his mouth and he sighed, “Why are you being so nice to me? We’re not friends.”

The mayor reached in his coat pocket and pulled out Carrington’s prototype. He handed it over to Deacon, a rare serious expression on his face. “She left this for you. Said you should tell your friends ‘thanks but no thanks’.” He scowled a bit, true irritation showing through for the first time. “I need you to fix this shit and get her back on track to joining up with your little band of freedom fighters.”

He took the device and stared at it. “That’s kinda...contrary to your philosophy, isn’t it?”

“Look, Sunshine’s gotta live her own life, but you and I both know the Railroad is the best option for her getting her boy out of the Institute’s clutches alive. She’s pissed right now, and she can get a little...reckless when she’s riled.” He fixed him with a hard stare. “I’m countin’ on you caring enough about her to wanna do something about this.”

“You want her in the Railroad.”

“Ain’t that what I just said?”

Deacon shook his head, “I’m the wrong person for this. She probably can’t even stand the sight of me by now.” Maybe he could just send Glory to find her. They could braid each other’s hair and bond over what a dumbass he was.

“Nah, I think you’re just the man for the job. You’re charming when you wanna be. Seen you wiggle out of tighter spots than this.” He shrugged, “And anyway, she’s soft hearted underneath it all, you know. If you go to her on your knees, she’s liable to forgive you.”

This entire conversation required far greater brain power than he was capable of right now. “Wait, are you...do you want us together? I thought you wanted her for yourself.”

He smiled sadly, “That ship has sailed, brother. Maybe in our next life.”

“So...you’re telling me to go woo her back and get her into the Railroad, then? I just wanna be sure I’m getting all this straight.”

“I’m sayin’ I want her to stay alive. I want her happy.”

“And you really think I can accomplish all that?”

“Sure, if you pull your head outta your ass a little.” He put his hat back on and stood, “I just need you to promise me one thing.”

“Okay. What?”

“Keep her safe out there, alright? If you gotta bleed everyone around you dry to do it, do it, but keep her alive, you feel me?”

Deacon nodded, “I feel you.”

“Good.” Hancock straightened the tricorn a little. “Now, I can’t tell you exactly where she went, of course. That wouldn’t be cool...but on a completely unrelated topic, has she ever told you about her little artist friend?”

He frowned, “Artist friend?”

“Yeah...very avant garde, according to her. Hangs out around Pickman Gallery. You know where that is, right?”

He did. Everyone who was anyone knew you avoided Pickman Gallery if you wanted to keep breathing. “Yeah.”

“Alright then.” He headed out the door, “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some shit to do. Hands to shake, babes to kiss. You know how it is. I’ll see ya around, Deacon.”

“See you, Hancock.”

It took less than an hour to reach Pickman Gallery at a jog. The area around the place was still as eerily serene as he remembered. It had been at least five years since any raiders had dared to set up shop in the North Boston neighborhood, and he himself had even claimed a little place nearby, drawn by the quiet solitude. It was handy, having a little hidey hole so close to HQ.

He let himself in the bright red door and immediately began breathing through his mouth. The stench of rotting carrion filled the entire first floor and he was actually glad he hadn’t had the stomach for anything before leaving Goodneighbor, or he would have lost it all over the place.

This is some particularly high-calibre disgusting shit here.

Why would she come to such an awful place? Are we really that bad that she’d prefer to be here rather than with us?

He shook his head. Kid shouldn’t ask questions he didn’t want to hear the answer to.

Murmuring voices could be heard from higher up. Deacon recognized Nora’s, even if he couldn’t make out the words exactly. A softer, deeper voice answered her. It finally dawned on him that there was really only one person it could possibly be.

Her ‘artist friend’ was the infamous serial killer; Pickman himself.

Fantastic.

He slunk up the stairs, staying close to the side and creeping along as slowly as possible, eyes and ears open for any traps. The murmuring was coming from the third floor, if he wasn’t mistaken, and became clearer the further he went.

“...sure you’re comfortable, Killer?”

“M’hmm. The couch is very comfy. Where’d you find it?”

“Oh, just around.”

“Well, do me a favor, okay? Don’t decorate this one with heads. Please? It's nice to have a place to sit when I visit.”

A soft sigh, “I really thought you’d like that chair. It was velvet.”

Nora laughed, “Yes, I’m sure it was lovely until some silly person got blood all over it. I love your art, darling, but maybe stick with one medium, hmm? Not everyone is meant to get into upholstery.”

“I am a textile artist...it seemed a natural progression.”

“I’m sure it did at the time.”

“Relax your forehead.”

“Sorry.”

“That’s better. You seem distracted today.”

“That’s a good word for it.”

“Boy trouble?”

“How’d you guess?”

He chuckled, “What else could it possibly be? Any other problem and you would have already destroyed it.”

She snorted, “Don’t think I haven’t thought about it.”

“Is it the man from the coffee shop?”

“Yes.”

“Hmm. I liked the look of that one. He’s got a body that would be delightful to play with.”

“M’hmm.”

“What’s his problem then? Something I can fix?”

“No, no, nothing like that. He’s just...it’s complicated.”

“Relax, poppet. Relax.”

“Sorry.”

“Goodness, just thinking about him gets you all hot and bothered, doesn’t it? So what’d he do?”

“He just...doesn’t know what he wants, I think. He says he wants, you know, just a casual affair.”

“Sure.”

“But, I think deep down he actually wants more. He gets...frustrated with the silliest things and overreacts...” She sighed, “I thought...I thought things were different now. Bobby and Hancock both said they were.”

“Ah, times may change, but men rarely do.”

“Yeah, that’s probably true…and I’m probably not helping matters much.”

“How so?”

“Well...I told him, repeatedly, that I didn’t want a relationship. I’ve got a lot going on, you know? That stuff just gets distracting after a while and I can’t afford to be distracted.”

“But?”

“But...I dunno, there’s something about him that kinda pulls me in, you know?” There was a pause and then laughter. “What? What’s that face for?”

Pickman chuckled, “What’s that face for? You should see your eyes when you talk about him. I think I’m going to add it to the painting.”

“Oh, don’t! That’s so mean.”

“It’s not mean, poppet, it’s beautiful.”

She grumbled a bit, “So...any advice?”

“What did your ghoul friend say?”

“He said life is short and brutal and I should grab happiness with both hands whenever it comes along, no matter what its packaged in.”

“Wise words.”

“He certainly thought so.”

“You don’t?”

“I have...experience with living fast and loose like that. I’m not very good at it.”

“Don’t be sad now. You know I can’t stand to see you sad.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright.” He raised his voice suddenly, “And it’s alright to you, too. I know you’re there, you might as well come on out.”

Deacon’s heart about exploded out of his chest. He’d been standing around the corner from the open doorway, barely breathing, listening to their exchange, and still somehow that monster had detected him. Of course, it was his lair, after all. Maybe all monsters had that ability.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and came into view, real casual like. “Quite the talent you’ve found, princess.”

Pickman looked between them and chuckled, “Oh, that electricity. Can’t you just feel it?”

Nora was less amused, “I certainly feel something.” She sat up on the couch and pulled the blanket draped across her shoulders a little tighter. “What are you doing here, Deacon?”

“Ah, Deacon. What a perfect name.” Pickman ignored them both and placed a new canvas on his easel.

He frowned at the ‘artist’ before facing Nora properly. “We should go. You shouldn’t be here.”

Her eyebrow went up, “Why not? Upton and I are old friends. I’m safer than all the gold in Fort Knox here.”

“Nora, you know why. He’s...not right.”

Pickman looked over his easel, “Rude.”

“That was rude. Apologize.”

Deacon laughed in disbelief, “No, absolutely not.”

She sighed and looked at Pickman, “See what I’m dealing with?”

He shrugged, “He’s a bit unrefined, sure, but...with that body he can get away with it.”

Nora rolled her eyes and turned back to Deacon. “Why are you here?”

“Because we...we need to talk.”

She groaned and fell back against the couch, “Must we?”

“Yeah, we must.” He glared pointedly at the artist. “Can I get a minute, buddy?”

The cold, almost inhuman, grey eyes flicked over to Nora, who just nodded. “Fine. I’ll just run along and make some tea, shall I?” He carefully set down his palette and drifted out the door, silent and unnerving.

Deacon watched him go and shuddered, “How does he not give you the creeps?”

“Why would he?”

“He’s a serial killer, for one.”

She laughed, “And how many people have you killed, Deacon? How many have I?”

“We don’t decorate a house with the people we kill, princess. That’s a pretty critical difference.” He sat on the couch next to her and pretended to not notice how she immediately scooted away. “Anyway, your questionable taste in friends aside, we do need to talk.”

Her eyes went flat and expressionless. Back to hiding in plain sight. “No, I really don’t think we do.”

“Nora…”

“You were an ass last night, Deacon. An absolute ass. Spying on us? Really?” She shook her head, “We talked about this before. I’m allowed to have friends you don’t like.”

“I know.”

“And what’s worse is, you embarrassed me. Hancock knows we’re...that we’ve...and then you go act like some... jackass.” There were angry twin circles of red in her cheeks and she looked away from him, her hair falling like a curtain to hide her face.

He sighed, “I know, I know. I...I dunno what happened. I haven’t drank like that in years, I just…” He tried to collect everyone’s thoughts in a way that would make sense to someone on the outside. “I don’t know why I got like that. I really don’t. I’m...I don’t do jealousy.”

She snorted, “Well, you do a damn fine impersonation of it then.”

“Yeah...I’m sorry, princess. I really am.”

“Sorry doesn’t mean anything unless it’s a verb.”

He frowned, “What does that mean?”

“It means you have to show you’re sorry, not just keep saying it.”

A few shards perked up just a bit. There may be hope after all. “And how would I go about showing how sorry I am?”

“By not doing any of that ever again.”

“Right...but like...let’s just pretend I’m an idiot and don’t know exactly what all I shouldn’t do again.”

She glared at him, “Seriously?”

Deacon winced, “I’m pretty sure most of my brain is still pickled at this point.”

“Fine.” She sighed, “Rule number one: No more getting jealous of Bobby or Hancock.”

He sat in disgruntled silence for a minute. “Hancock kissed you...and you didn’t have pants on.”

Her eyebrow went up, “And?”

“I didn’t like it.” Even thinking about it caused the edges of his vision to go a little red.

“And yet, here you are, talking to me like an adult about it instead of...whatever the hell you were doing in his attic last night.”

“I should have talked to you then.”

“Or gone to bed, sobered up, and then talked to me.”

“Right.”

“Yeah. Rule number two: If you want more from me than a fun romp here and there, you need to ask for it. Use your fucking words like a big boy and stop pitching fits when you don’t get your way.”

Pre-Deacon had to step in behind the scenes and smooth down all the panic or he would have bolted from the room. “I...no, it’s fine. Our...whatever this is is fine.” Fine fine fine.

“Honey, come on. At least be honest with yourself.”

He stared really hard at his shoes and tried to find the right words. “But if I ask for more, this ends, right? You said you didn’t want more.” His voice was barely above a whisper and it still seemed far too loud to his ears.

“That’s just the risk you’re going to have to take, I guess.” She shrugged, “Because whatever this is, it clearly isn’t sustainable. For either of us. And after last night’s little fiasco, it’s already over. So take a minute or a week or whatever, but figure it out.”

“No, I...I don’t need a minute.”

“Okay...so, what do you want, Deacon?”

What he really wanted was to steal her blanket to hide under. “I want you. I want...I want you to be my girl. For real, not just pretend.” She didn’t answer and he slowly turned his eyes on her. “That ruins everything though, right? You don’t want that.”

Nora sighed, “Even if I did, it wouldn’t end well.”

He gave her a half smile, “What does?”

“You’d hate me eventually.”

“You’ll hate me before that.”

“Do people even do that sort of thing anymore? Go on dates or whatever?”

“Sure they do. Probably. Somewhere.”

“I couldn’t even date properly in my own time, how am I supposed to do it now?”

Pre-Deacon and a few of the softer shards under his direct supervision started tentatively brainstorming dates that could impress a pre-war girl in a post-bomb world. “We’ll convince Vadim to throw a sock hop.”

“I’m sure that would go over like the Hindenburg.”

He chuckled and relaxed a little for the first time in almost two days. “So you don’t hate the idea?”

She rubbed her arms, “It makes me feel itchy as hell, but...no. I don’t hate it.”

“Hey, me, too...or maybe it’s this creepy, creepy house.”

“I’m guessing your big desire here is exclusively, right?”

“It's one of the perks of dating, yes.”

“Well, bully for you. What the hell do I get out of it, then?”

He frowned thoughtfully. It hadn’t really occurred to him that she wouldn’t be as thrilled with having him all to herself as he was having her. “Whatever you want. Name it.” The words popped out and he wasn’t entirely sure who’d said them.

“I want honesty. Trust. I want to know that if I ask you a question, you aren’t going to give me an answer that’s a...creative truth. I want to know that you’re going to be there.” She shook her head, “And I dunno if you’re even capable of that, so...there you go. I’ve already ruined it. Shocker.”

“I can’t...volunteer information, Nora. You know that.”

“Yeah, I do.”

“But...I think maybe I could manage to stay...mostly honest when I’m with you, at least.” He stared at the ceiling for a minute, trying to get a hold on exactly what the hell was happening. “Would that be enough?”

There was complete silence for almost thirty seconds before she finally answered. “It’s enough.” Nora tucked her hair behind her ears and gave him a small, savage smile. “You know I’ll kill you if you fuck me over, right? I really will.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I kinda figured.”

“You still think it’s worth the risk?”

“I do.”

A line appeared between her brows, “You really are crazy, you know that?”

“I had noticed.” He grinned and felt pure delirium swell up in him when she smiled back. “So, princess...wanna be my steady?”

“God help me, I kinda do.”

Deacon chuckled, “Well this is terrifying.”

“Yeah, it is. You wanna go somewhere and...not talk for a while?”

“Not talking sounds fucking fantastic right now.” He stood and pulled her up and into his arms. “Your pet maniac isn’t going to get pissed we’re bouncing, is he?”

An aggravated sigh came from the doorway, “Well, he did just waste perfectly good tea, but no. How could I ever be mad at my muse?”

“Oh, Upton! There you are...are we finished here?”

He sat the tea tray down with an audible thud, “I suppose so. Who am I to stand in the way of true love?”

A horrified expression crossed both their faces but Nora answered first. “It’s...it’s definitely not that, darling. Jesus.”

“Yeah, that’s...yeah.” He couldn’t even articulate how ridiculous the notion was.

Pickman just stared at them like they were both idiots. “M’hmm. Of course it’s not.” He set the original canvas back on its easel and picked up the palette. “I’ll have this finished and sent along to your home in Diamond City, Killer. Shouldn’t be more than a few weeks.”

Nora shed her blanket and picked up her jacket. “That sounds wonderful. What’s it called, again?”

“The Transcendence of Calamity.”

She smiled, “Perfect.” Her hand slid into Deacon’s and she nudged him along with her shoulder. “We’ll be seeing you.”

Pickman gave her a sweet smile that turned only a little psychotic when his eyes shifted to Deacon. “Not if I see you first, poppet.”

He quickly lead them down the stairs and out the front door, taking a deep breath and for once enjoying the smell of stale urine and garbage. Anything was better than the rotting, coppery smell of Pickman’s. “Guy needs some serious air fresheners. I’m talking an entire boatload of those little pine trees.”

Nora donned the offensively itchy cowl and just laughed, “Aren’t we close to your HQ?”

“Yup.” Deacon took her hand again and lead her around the corner and up a fire escape.

“So...where are we going instead?”

“I’ve got a little pad around here.”

“Really?” She sounded pleasantly surprised and he smiled.

“Yeah, you’re with a man of means now, babycakes. I’ve got property all over this city.”

“Cool. I always wanted my own sugar daddy.”

They crossed a few roofs and came to an unremarkable wooden door. “Here we are.” He checked along the top and pulled the tape with the long, unbroken strand of hair off. “Wonderful. No one’s been here.”

Nora frowned at him, “Who’s hair is that?”

He grinned, “You don’t wanna know.” He opened the door with a flourish and stepped inside. “Behold. Casa del Deacon, crazy old lady edition.”

She stepped inside and took in the endless boxes of files and the softly glowing fungus. “Looks like somebody liked hoarding...stuff. What on earth is all this?”

He closed and locked the door behind them. “I found a holo a while back. Something about the Ladies Auxiliary. That sound familiar?”

“Oh, Lord, not those kooks. Bunch of bored housewives cooking up crackpot conspiracy theories and drinking their weight in gin fizzes. The military all but deputized them. Thought they would be good at being informants and keeping an eye on their neighbors.”

“Government sanctioned snitches, huh?”

“Yup.” She dropped her pack. “I love what you’ve done with the place.”

He tossed his own next to hers and chuckled, “It’s got a few hidden surprises...the sofa’s a pull-out.”

“Nice.”

Then they were all over each other, tearing at bothersome clothes and pausing only when the overwhelming need to kiss became too much. Deacon’s hands were faster this time and he managed to get her shirt open and her pants down before picking her up and pressing her back against the door, grinding against her while she clung to his shoulders and squirmed in his hands.

She broke away from their kiss and laughed, “There’s a couch right there, honey.”

Deacon shook his head, “Too far. Shut up and finish undoing my belt.” He pressed his lips against hers again, kissing her fiercely while her hands wiggled between them and she fumbled around with his belt. He knew the moment she started to really concentrate by how distracted her mouth suddenly was and took the opportunity to move down her jaw and pepper her neck with love bites.

Nora laughed in a breathless kind of way and finally managed to get the buckle undone. She helpfully undid his pants and with her pushing and his wiggling, they were off in no time. Her arms immediately went back around his shoulders and she lifted some of her weight off his arms.

He was able to take a hand off her thigh and guided his cock into her, groaning at how tight and wet she was and slowly pushing as far as he could get.

She relaxed her hold on him and slid down the last couple of inches, giggling a little at the tortured sounds he kept making. Her head fell back against the door and she grinned, “Fucking finally. Thank God.”

He shifted her weight in his arms a little and widened his own stance. “Told you the couch was too far.”

Her legs tightened around his waist and she moved against him, “You should’ve just taken me in the alley outside Upton’s.”

“Nah...I like watching, I don’t wanna be watched.” Not by him anyway.

She laughed at that and nuzzled against his neck, “I really thought our last time was the last time.”

His hands tightened on her, “Me, too.” He could already feel the orgasm coiling within him and began pumping harder into her welcoming body. “Rub your clit, sweetheart. I can’t wait this time.”

Nora used her teeth to remove a glove and stared at her fingers for a second before grinning mischievously. “I always wanted to try something. You game?”

He liked the way the hair that had fallen in her face moved in time with his thrusts and the dangerous way her eyes glittered and grinned back. “Yeah.”

She bit her lip a little, nervous but still excited, and removed her other glove; immediately curling her hand into a fist so she wouldn’t accidentally touch him. “Okay, hang on.” Her hand moved between them and he could feel how she immediately tightened around him as her fingers pressed little circles over her clit. She whimpered a little and pressed her face back against his neck. “Harder, baby. Please...it’s right there.”

“I know. I know it is.” He wrapped an arm around her waist to keep her steady and braced himself with the other against the door, letting the last of his self-control fall away while he furiously drove into her. The pressure was unbearable now and he was right at the precipice of his own orgasm when she gasped and he felt her hand wrap around the back of his neck. His vision immediately filled with golden sparkles and suddenly he could feel it. Right at the bottom of his stomach. A delicious twisting tension that went up and up and up until it exploded like a star. Powerful waves of pure ecstasy flooded his system, followed by a warm, hazy satisfaction he could feel right down to his toes.

Somewhere, distantly, he was aware of his own orgasm going off and the overwhelming feeling of filling another body while simultaneously feeling filled was almost too much. His knees were shaking and he pressed his forehead against the door, needing another point to anchor both of their bodies. He felt the warmth from his own emission spread through her and he groaned at the primal, satisfying feeling that poured through him. Like this was the only purpose they needed in life.

Eventually the sparkles faded and there was nothing left but the hot, sticky feel of their bodies pressed against each other and their panting in the dark apartment. He forced his hands to release her and her feet finally touched the floor.

Deacon stepped back a little so they could both put themselves back together and found himself unable to stop laughing as he redid his belt. His hands were shaking and his legs felt like jelly. Nora held out for a good ten seconds before joining in.

“That...yeah, next time we do that, let’s do it somewhere horizontal, okay?”

She seemed almost loopy and giggled at him, “You almost fell down.”

“We almost fell down.”

“Yeah.”

He finally caught his breath and shook off the last of the unsteady feeling in his knees. “What the hell was that, by the way?”

“Syncing. Secondary ability...I never used it like that though.”

Her fingers were still too shaky to do her shirt buttons properly, so he helped out. They may have gotten hot together, but the room was still chilly. “How’s it work?”

“I sync the signals my nervous system sends to my brain with someone else.” She shrugged, “Never had much of a reason to use it, but it's there. It’s easier to use than the imprinting. I don’t have to concentrate so hard.”

“So no headache?”

Nora shook her head, “Nope. No headache.”

“Good...cause that was pretty fucking amazing and we should do that all the time.”

“Well, maybe not all the time, but okay.” She laughed, “I had no idea coming was so... violent for men. Shit. I almost got stuck in a feedback loop there.”

“I had no idea it was like a supernova for women.” He shook his head, “No wonder I was so popular in high school.”

She snorted and started giggling again, “I just love how humble you are, honey. Truly. You’re an inspiration.”

He chuckled and pulled her in for a hug, “I do my best.”

“Uh-huh...there isn’t any food in this joint, is there?”

“You’re actually hungry?”

She nodded, “Yeah.”

“Well…”, he picked up his discarded pack and headed for the tiny ramshackle kitchen. “I don’t keep food here, but I happened to hit up Daisy’s before I left Goodneighbor.” He dumped out the provisions on the counter and started organizing them.

Nora came over and stared at all the boxes and cartons of water. “You must’ve bought her out.”

He shrugged, “Yeah...I uh...figured if things didn’t work out, I’d go on one of my little walkabouts.” Way down south, to where a certain asshole named Wes still had a blind date with death.

She took a box of Dandy Boy Apples and retreated to the couch. “A walkabout?”

“Yeah, they’re kinda my thing. Drives Dez nuts. Shit gets to be too much sometimes, you know? So I just...take off for a while.”

“That sounds familiar.” He glanced at her over his shoulder and she shrugged, “I like to ramble myself. Rode the subways as a kid...used to get in my car and just drive when I grew up. Just...pick a direction and go.” She smiled ruefully, “Always came back home though. Like a pigeon. Never was strong enough to just keep going.”

“What’s the furthest you ever went?”

“By car?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s see...once I went down the coast. Made it all the way down to Virginia. Took the whole night and most of the next day.” She smiled, “Got to see the ponies swim.”

“The what now?”

“There used to be these ponies that swam across the ocean from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. They did it every year. I’d read a book about it when I was a kid and always wanted to see it in person.”

“What was the book?”

“Misty of Chincoteague...it was a whole series.”

“You ever get to ride a horse?”

Nora sighed, “No, I wanted to, but...they were really big up close. Closest I ever got was the carousel.” She shivered a little, “I don’t suppose you have some magical way to heat this place, do you? It’s cold.”

“Oh, yeah, actually, I do.” He abandoned the food for a moment and opened one of the cabinets, pulling out one of Tinker Tom’s more brilliant inventions. “Check it out! It’s a variable voltage adapter!”

She stared at it and frowned a little, “A what now?”

“Tinker made it.” Deacon pulled out a fusion core from it’s hidden spot in the ancient freezer. “See, you just plug a core into it.” He shoved the core in and waited for the indicator light to flash over from blinking red to green. “And voila! Instant battery! The little dial on the side lets you control how much wattage it puts out at a time so you don’t overload small appliances.”

“That’s brilliant.”

“Yeah, he’s pretty smart...you know, most of the time.” He rolled the apartment’s portable heater over closer to the couch and plugged it into the adapter. “Alrighty, prepare to get roasty toasty.”

“Thanks.” Her eyes followed him back into the kitchen. “So...why are we here, exactly?”

“Did you already forget the sex? Jeez, I really need to up my game.”

She giggled, “No...I mean, haven’t you been stalking me for months to get me into the Railroad? Now we’re a hop, skip, and a jump away and suddenly you detour. Why?”

His first instinct was to make a flippant joke, but pre-Deacon quietly reminded him her continuing presence depended on his honesty. He sighed and fiddled awkwardly with the salsbury steak while he waited for the hot plate to heat up. “You know me, princess. I’m not good at sharing.” When she didn’t respond, he slowly peeked over his shoulder, surprised at her fond expression. “What? Did I do something good?”

Nora smiled, “Yeah, you did...so you don’t want to share me with your friends? That’s almost cute in a Neanderthal kinda way.”

He shook his head, “They aren’t my friends. They’re…”

“Comrades.”

“Right. That.”

“Afraid one of them will steal me away?”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just...I like having you all to myself, and once you’re officially in, I won’t be able to control how often that happens anymore.”

The room was downright cozy at this point and she took her jacket off. “I can, though.”

His head tilted. He hadn’t actually considered that. “You’d do that?”

“Sure. Why wouldn’t I?”

He poked the ancient jellied meat a little, “I dunno...why would you?”

She didn’t answer for a minute. “Tell me about your first relationship.”

The salty steak got transferred into two reasonably clean bowls and he brought it over. “My first relationship?”

“Yeah. First girlfriend, boyfriend, whatever.” She took hers and did that involuntary happy wiggle she did whenever food was involved.

He sat next to her and laughed. It sounded bleak to his ears. “Nah, you don’t wanna hear that sad tale.”

Nora blew on her first bite, “I do. Don’t need details. Just gimme the basics.”

Deacon sighed, “Alright…” Those weren’t his memories. Sure, he’d viewed them, pointed out every mistake the kid had made, but it wasn’t really his story to tell. Pre-Deacon had all but vanished though, so there was no one else to do it justice. “Well...we were best friends. Had been for years. She just got me. Got all my jokes, never thought I was odd like everyone else did. We used to find quiet places and read together for hours and hours.”

She nodded, “That sounds sweet.”

“Yeah...thing was...well, people in modern times have their kids early. Ambient radiation renders most people infertile by their early twenties even in the best of circumstances, so...if you aren’t a parent by twenty, you probably aren’t going to be.”

Her head tilted, “So you can’t have kids?”

“Uh...maybe? I guess.” He frowned a little, “I thought you knew that part.”

“Nope. This is the first I’m hearing of it. Makes sense though.”

“But...you...we…” He stared at her, somewhere close to shock and she just blinked unhelpfully at him. “You let me come in you all the time.”

“Oh. Oh, that.” She laughed and set aside her empty bowl. “I have an implant.” She rolled up her sleeve and poked at a place near the crease of her elbow. “See the little square?”

He squinted hard in the dim light. “Maybe?”

“It’s long term birth control. Part of the rationing effort. They wouldn’t let me leave the hospital with Shaun until I consented to it.”

“Well, that’s...mildly horrifying.”

She shrugged, “I was going to ask for it anyway. It’s good for a year.”

“Hasn’t it been a bit longer than that?”

“Technically, yes, but I’m still not having my period, so clearly it's functional. It must’ve been preserved by the cryostasis, too.”

“Oh...oh, that’s...okay.”

She giggled, “You should see your face. Fatherhood scares you that much, huh?”

“No, on the contrary, it’s just...I thought you were…” There was an argument there, lying under the surface and ready to strike. “I’m sorry, what were we talking about?”

“Your first girlfriend.”

He nodded. Still a terrible topic, but far less dangerous. “Right, right. So, yeah, anyway, we were all expected to pair up young. Our parents encouraged it. Lots of unsupervised alone time and the like.”

“Lucky.”

“Heh...yeah.” Bits and pieces of passionate, if clumsy, moments flitted through his head. “But see, she uh...she was never into that stuff.” He shook his head. “With anybody. Never felt attracted to anyone that way, never got...frisky. Nothing.”

She shrugged, “It happens.”

“Sure, but it’s not really acceptable in most communities. Even women and men who are same-sex oriented are expected to crank out at least one kid...or try to, anyway. She was worried that if she didn’t start showing interest in somebody, the adults in charge would...do something.”

“Do something? Like what?”

He sighed, “Like arrange for her to have an...encounter.”

Nora stared at him in horror, “Deacon, you don’t mean…”

“Yeah. Yeah, it wasn’t ever talked about but we all knew somebody who knew somebody it had happened to.”

“Jesus.”

“Exactly. Obviously, she didn’t want that and neither did I. She was...everything to me at the time. I thought she was the best girl in the world.”

Nora smiled, “Sounds like you really cared about her.”

He smiled crookedly, “Sure, as much as any confused teenage horndog can really care. Anyway, one day, she asked me if I’d...you know, help her out. She said if she didn’t feel anything with me, then she knew for sure she’d never feel anything with anybody. So, we did. We were each other’s firsts.”

She watched his face carefully, “And she didn’t feel anything.”

“No, she didn’t.” He shook his head. “I felt awful. Like I’d failed her. We tried for...I dunno, maybe a couple of weeks? For me it was amazing, but for her it was just...messy.”

“Hmm. Were you able to get her to orgasm? Even once?”

“Oh, yeah, no, yeah. I mean, I’d read up on stuff in a huge way. We may have also spied a little on some of the older kids, but, yeah, I got her there.”

“And she still didn’t want to keep doing it?”

He shook his head again, “Nope. She said it was nice, but she didn’t see what all the fuss was about...it got the heat off her, though. Once the grownups realized we were ‘canoodling’, as one of them called it, they backed off. She was safe.”

“Well, that’s something, anyway.”

“Yeah.”

“What happened after?”

He shrugged, “After, we went back to being besties. It was like it hadn’t even happened for her.”

She winced a little, “That had to have been rough.”

“I guess...she did me a solid, at least. Told all the other girls in our class how gifted and talented I was. Really played it up.” He chuckled at the dusty memory of secret notes and furtive glances that had immediately followed those two weeks of discovery. “I wasn’t exactly hurting for playmates after.”

“Holy shit. You really were a prodigy with a harem and everything after all.”

Deacon smirked, “Yup. I really was.” He set his own bowl aside. “Anyway, that’s how it went down.”

“You got your heart broken though, didn’t you?”

He scoffed, “Didn’t you hear the story? I was living the teenage dream. Practically drowning in it.”

Nora rolled her eyes and crawled over, snuggling up against him. “Okay, Romeo. Whatever you say.”

He relaxed into the ancient couch and wrapped his arms around her, “So why’d you want to know anyway?”

She pressed her face against his chest for a minute like she wanted to hide and then glanced up at him before quickly going back to studying the plaid pattern of his shirt. “I want to spend time with you as much as you want to spend time with me. I thought that was pretty clear, but it wasn’t to you. I just wanted to know where the idea had come from, and stuff like that usually goes way back, so...I asked.”

His ribs refused to let him breathe for a moment, but loosened as his arms tightened around her. “Oh...well...aren’t you clever?”

“I have my moments.”

Chapter Text

“And the new girl patched me up, put me on her shoulder, and blasted her way through the rest of the complex. Synths everywhere!”

Dez was staring at him like he was insane as he spun the tale detailing (with just a few embellishments here and there, naturally) how their newest agent-to-be had cleared Switchboard and secured Carrington’s precious toy. Her disbelief finally faded into a long-suffering kind of expression.

“I thought she just wanted to blow stuff up. Wasn’t that what she said?”

“Hello, words, I'm actions and I'm speaking awfully loud.”

“That’s one word for it.” There was the sound of gravel being deliberately scuffed around behind him and her eyes moved over his shoulder. “Deacon told me you single-handedly secured Carrington's prototype, disabled a minefield, and wiped out a hundred Gen 1s. So, is any of that true?”

Nora laughed, “Mostly true? But...there wasn't a hundred of them and Deacon was with me the whole way.”

Dez sighed, “Embellishing the truth again, are we?”

He scowled at Nora, “She would've fallen for it, you know?”

“Don’t flatter yourself.” She shook her head at him before turning to Nora, “Still, I was expecting Deacon to grab a full team, including Glory, to secure that prototype. But instead just the two of you cleared out the entire Switchboard.”

“You'd be insane not to sign her up, Dez.”

Nora shrugged, “Just trying to do my part.”

“After what you did at Switchboard, you have a place in the Railroad if you want it.”

“Thanks. Glad to be aboard.”

“It seems we're very lucky to have you...so, you're in. Now we need to know what to call you. Secrecy keeps us alive. Codenames are a part of that. So what's yours?”

She frowned, “What?”

“A codename. You need to pick one.”

Her eyes went to Deacon for a second before returning to Dez’s face. “That’s...not how codenames work.”

Dez crossed her arms, “What do you mean?”

“Well...codenames are given, not chosen. If you choose your own, you inevitably reveal something about yourself, which kind of violates the whole idea of them, right?” Her head tilted to Deacon, “Take Deacon, for example. Deacons are church officials, yeah? Not quite a priest, so they’re not beholden to the same rules or code, but they do a lot of the spiritual grunt work so church Elders or whatever can focus on bigger stuff...it’s a little on the nose for his job, isn’t it?”

“I suppose…”

“And your own name, Desdemona. It’s from a famously tragic play...if I had to guess...I’d say, maybe the Institute replaced your husband? And then that replacement tried to kill you? That’s what lead you to the Railroad, right?”

Dez had gone silent and Deacon winced. No one was supposed to know about Dez’s own tragic past, and if they knew, they definitely weren’t supposed to talk about it.

She took a deep breath, “I don’t know what your experience with codenames has been, but in the Railroad, they’re a personal choice for a reason. Your life, your name, your choice.”

“Alright...I mean, it’s your Railroad. Let me think…”

“It’s a big decision. Take your time.”

Nora stared thoughtfully at the floor, “Lesse...Nate’s was...no, that won’t work.” She sighed, “This is surprisingly difficult.”

“What about Rabbit? Or Charmer?” He grinned at her irritated look.

“No, what about...Whisper? That’s pretty good, right? Yeah. Call me Whisper.”

He gave her a thumbs up behind Dez’s back and felt something akin to pride swell up in him. She’d picked a name that didn’t describe her at all, but would ingratiate her to the entire Railroad. Perfect.

“After Tommy? Or...well, either way, that's very fitting.” Dez smiled and shook her hand. “Hello, Agent Whisper. Your first official order is to deliver Doctor Carrington his prototype and see if he can use another pair of hands. But first, it's time to meet the rest of the gang.” She turned away and motioned for Nora to follow.

Deacon fell in behind her and resisted the urge to pinch her ass. Damn Tinker’s stupid cameras.

Dez pushed through the door and kept talking, “Things are chaotic right now, so there's plenty for you to do.” She paused at the bottom of the stairs and clapped her hands like she was addressing a room full of schoolchildren. “Listen up, everyone. This is Whisper. She did the Switchboard op with Deacon. She's a full agent effective immediately. I'm counting on each of you to show her the ropes. Feel free to welcome her aboard. That is all.” She nodded to them and wandered off to her usual post by the mess of maps that Deacon mentally referred to as ‘central command’.

He wandered past Nora and casually bumped his shoulder against hers before flopping down at his own desk. Showtime.

She gave everyone a slightly embarrassed kind of smile and waved cheerfully. Her eyes immediately went to Carrington and he wasn’t sure exactly how she managed to look both excited and contrite at the same time, but she did when the doc just frowned at her arrival.

Deacon pulled out a random notebook and began scribbling fake notes in it. He was very interested in seeing how she chose to play this opening volley in the campaign to get Carrington on her side. They’d talked strategy a little back at his place, when their clothes had still been mostly on, but she’d claimed to be a fan of ‘winging it’.

Sounded terrifying to him, but hey, this was her debut.

Nora made her way over to Carrington, smiling nervously and staring at him with dark, worshipful eyes. “Excuse me, but are you Doctor Carrington? I believe this belongs to you.”

He took the prototype from her and scowled down at it, “Without a lick of training and us knowing hardly anything about you, Dez has invited you to join HQ. It would've been nice if she had consulted with her second-in-command, but what's done is done.”

Her eyes were so glossy they almost looked tear-filled. “Oh, I...I’m sorry. I just did what the tapes said to do and followed the Freedom Trail. Was that wrong?”

Carrington sighed and shook his head, “No. No, you didn’t do anything wrong. Typically, before anyone joins HQ they've usually spent years in the field. But you, you're dangerously ignorant of our procedures. Our protocols. That’s risky for everyone. Since you're one of us now, might as well try to keep you alive. If you need patching up, see me.”

She nodded, “Of course. Actually...there was a little something I was wondering if you could look at? I was going to ask Doctor Sun in Diamond City, but I already feel much more comfortable with you.” Her hand rested over her heart and drew the eye like a magnet.

He rolled his eyes, “Of course. You show up and you’re already injured. Perfect. Let me just find a new file.” He rummaged around in his desk and then sat down, pen in hand. “Alright, before we get started, some basic information. When was your last examination?”

Nora hopped on on the examination table and took off her coat. “Officially? October 4th, 2077. It was my three-month gynecological exam after I had my son. Doctor North’s office.” She laughed, “I suppose you don’t actually need his name though, right? It’s not like you can call his secretary for records.”

He blinked at her, “2077? So it’s actually true? You’re pre-war?”

She nodded, “Yup. Vault-Tec, you know. One of their experiments.”

“Hmm...well, knowing that, it’s safe to say you’re probably the healthiest person here just by default. So what’s the problem?”

“Well, two things, actually...the first is my voice.”

He stood and felt the lymph nodes in her neck, “And what’s wrong with your voice?”

“It’s not...right.” She sighed and pouted at him, “I used to sing mezzo-soprano in the church choir and now I can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Also, sometimes it hurts if I use it a lot.”

Carrington actually chuckled at her, “Well, then my professional opinion is for you to not use it quite so much.”

She giggled like he was the most charming man she’d ever met. “That joke was old back in my day, Doctor Carrington...and anyway, it's hard to not use it when I’m constantly having to yell at Deacon for being an idiot.”

He turned to stare at him for a moment, before returning to his examination. “You’ve had to yell at him?”

Nora nodded, eyes wide and very serious, “Oh, yes. He makes me yell quite a little bit.”

Deacon almost snorted at that, but kept his face carefully blank.

“Once, just after Switchboard, he mistook a whole field of deactivated mines for live ones.” She shook her head, “It’s those silly sunglasses, sir. He can’t see a thing in the dark and yet he will insist on traveling after sundown. It’s ridiculous. I’m surprised you even let him out in the field.”

The doc smirked, “Yes, it’s often remarkable what he’s allowed to get away with.” He opened a drawer at his desk and pulled out a small mirror on a flexible little stick. “Alright, let’s see what we can see, hmm? This may trigger your gag reflex just a bit...I’ll try to be careful.”

She smiled brightly at him, “Oh, that’s no problem. I don’t have a gag reflex.”

He paused for a moment like he wanted to ask something, then shook his head and continued. “Alright, open wide and say ‘ahh’, please.” She obediently followed his directions and sat perfectly still while he looked down her throat. “Hmm...yes, I can see where you’ve damaged your vocal chords.” He removed his mirror and tapped her chin to close her mouth. “You’ve had stimpacks since this occurred, I assume?” She nodded and he continued, “Well, the good news is, they did heal. The bad news is it was done incorrectly. You’d have to have proper surgery to fix it at this point.”

Her hand went protectively to her neck, “And that’s...dangerous, right?”

“Nowadays, yes, very. I, unfortunately, do not have the expertise or the sterile environment to do it. Of course, you may find someone during your travels who can help you more, but the most I can do is recommend you drink plenty of warm liquids and try to rest your voice whenever it becomes painful.”

She nodded, “Alright. Thank you, doctor.”

“No problem. Now, what was the other bit?” He sat back down and scribbled a few notes in her file.

“Oh...well.” Nora hopped off the table and dropped her pants. By the time Carrington looked up, he was face to face with a particularly divine pair of baby blue lace panties that Deacon hadn’t seen before. Glory hooted quietly from behind him and he pressed his pen a little harder into the paper of his notebook since he couldn’t stab anyone with it like he wanted.

Nora clearly knew perfectly well what she was doing, but was still playing the part of mildly befuddled patient to a tee. “See this scar on my thigh? It’s itchy.”

Carrington’s hand came up like he was going to touch her but hovered about an inch over it instead. “Ah...itchy?”

She nodded, “M’hmm. Deacon did it.” She glared at him and narrowed her eyes like she was completely fed up with his very existence and pre-Deacon had to quietly remind him that her acting this way was all part of the master plan.

“Deacon? You’re lucky you aren’t dead, then.” Carrington scoffed and finally did press his hand against the fading scar. “It doesn’t feel hot. Does it itch anywhere in particular, or is it just an all-over feeling?”

She pouted down at him, “All over. It’s very distracting.”

He smiled sympathetically at her, “Gunshot?”

“Shrapnel from one, yes.”

“I assume you didn’t have a lot of these back in the old days, but it’s quite common for large scars like this to itch a bit. All part of the healing process.”

“So it will heal? Deacon said it would but...well, like I believe anything that comes out of his mouth.”

Carrington laughed, “Yes, it will heal. I have some hydrocortisone cream if you’d like. It should help with the itching.”

“Oh, that would be wonderful! I didn’t even know that still existed.” She wiggled back into her jeans and accepted the tube of lotion like it was a gift from the gods. “Thank you so, so much, Doctor Carrington. Truly. The Railroad is very lucky to have you as their in-house physician.”

He puffed up a bit at the praise, “Well, my counsel is not always heeded around here, unfortunately. It’s a refreshing change of pace to meet someone who appreciates quality medical care.”

She sniffed indignantly, “You're obviously one of the smartest people here. People should learn to take their doctor's advice.”

“Yes...well, thank you...take care of yourself out there.”

Nora smiled, “I will. Thank you, Doctor Carrington.” She pocketed the lotion and walked towards Deacon, sticking her tongue out at him a little before winking.

He ducked his head down and smirked to himself. So she thought the doc was an old windbag, too. Nice.

She wandered through HQ until she came to Tinker Tom’s station. He was busy staring into one of his monitors and she quietly cleared her throat.

His head came up and he stared at her with wide eyes for a moment before recognition hit him. “Freedom Trail!”

“Yup.”

“Where’s your dog?”

She smiled, “He’s at home. In Diamond City. I’ll try to bring him next time.”

“Yeah, do that. You should do that. The sensor sweep says you're clean. Hurray, we're bug free.”

“I’m relieved, actually.”

“Woah, woah, woah. Not so fast. Okay, have you eaten anything out there? Because if you have they got you!”

Her head tilted, “Yeah, I've eaten food.”

He threw his hands up, “Oh, oh, oh. I knew it.” He leaned close to her and lowered his voice, “The Institute has these tiny microscopic robots in the food, man. And they report back.”

Carrington’s unnatural batlike hearing caught him anyway, “Tom, that's rubbish.”

He glared at the doctor from across the room, “You just don't get it, Carrington. The Institute is in your blood!”

Nora watched the exchange with wide eyes, “If that’s true, that's terrifying.”

“If he had a shred of evidence for any of it, agreed. Quite terrifying.”

Tinker waved him off, “Okay, okay. If you want to really be safe, let me give you a little shot. Dez - Desdemona - says no one has to, but it will kill those little robots.”

Carrington’s outrage was palpable, “There's battery acid in that serum of yours.” He shook his head sternly at Nora and went back to filing.

He huffed, “You can't nuke an omelet without irradiating some eggs. You ready to shoot up?”

“Uh...well, actually.” She abruptly sat down next to him, leaned in close and dropped her voice to a stage whisper, “See, Deacon’s been giving me injections...sometimes multiple times a day even. I think I’m okay.”

Tinker blinked at her for a moment and then turned to stare at Deacon, who gave him a grin and a thumbs up. “My man! I didn’t know you were down with my serum!”

“You know me, Tinker. I’m down with anything that makes life harder for the Institute.”

He smiled fondly at Nora and patted her hand, “You, you get it, man. I make things around here. You go and do - do whatever - and come back and I will set you up.”

She smiled gently at him, “I'd appreciate the help...and, well, Deacon said you might be able to solve a little problem I’ve been having.”

He’d already gone back to his projects and nodded absentmindedly, “Uh-huh.”

Nora dug through her pack and brought out the old Mentats box. “See...I have this little...thing, and it’s battery died. It’s pre-war, so…”

His attention was immediately recaptured. “Pre-war, huh?” He held out his hand and the locket that had driven Deacon crazy for so long was casually placed in it like it wasn’t an invaluable treasure. Tinker turned it over carefully and rubbed his thumb across the two sparkling stones on its front. “What is it?”

Her eyes darted to Deacon’s for a moment and she scooted a little closer to Tinker. “Well...it’s a very special necklace. It um...it helps me not have headaches.”

Tinker flipped down his magnification goggles and stared at it, “How do you open it? Oh, no, nevermind. There’s a little screw.”

She nodded, “Yeah, you need a special screwdriver for it.” He’d already pulled one out from his desk and she smiled, “Just like that one...nice.”

He unscrewed the tiny golden screw and frowned at it in his hand. “This feels...wrong. Too light.”

“Yeah, it’s titanium overlaid with gold.”

“Hmm...fancy.”

“Yup.”

The little pendant popped open and it was filled with microtech. Tinker’s eyes widened. “Whoa, now. What’s all this?”

“I told you, it’s the thing that keeps my headaches away.”

He frowned, “How’s it work?”

Nora sighed, “It...I dunno. It just works.”

“Who made it?”

“Um, well…”

“Oh, wait, there’s words.” He flipped down a second magnification lense and squinted. “Property of the D-O-D….D-O-D? That’s the Department of Defense, isn’t it?”

“Yes.”

He squinted again, “Intellectual Property of General Atomic International? What’s that mean?”

She rubbed her forehead, “I’m sure I don’t know, Tinker. Can you fix it or not?”

He shrugged, “I dunno, what’s wrong with it?”

“I told you, the battery died.”

“I don’t see a battery.”

Nora took the locket back and pointed at a grayish mass behind the electronics, “See? That disc back there? That’s the battery. When it’s on, it glows through the little diamonds on the front.”

“Huh. Very fancy.”

“Yeah, it’s...super duper.” She handed it back, “Look, I took it to a watch shop back before the war and they couldn’t fix it. Do you think you can?”

“Hmm...well...I’ve never seen a battery like this before.” He stared at her through the ridiculous lenses still on his face. “Does it all have to fit back in this little locket when I’m done?”

“Yes. That’s...kinda the whole point.”

“Huh. Alright, well...I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thanks...oh, and, if you could...well, it had a remote once. You know, to turn it off? I don’t have the remote, but, if there’s some way you can install a switch or something…”

He nodded and waved her away, “Sure, sure. Fix the battery, install a kill-switch. I’m on it. Gimme a week.”

Nora blinked at him, “A week? That’s all?”

Tinker shrugged, “Either I can do it in a week, or it can’t be done.”

She laughed, “Alright. Fantastic! Thanks, Tom.” She stood and planted a kiss on top of his absurd hat.

“Uh-huh.”

Her eyes landed back on Deacon and she narrowed them threateningly. He just shrugged and went back to his fake note taking. If she really thought he wasn’t going to get to the very bottom of that particular little mystery, she was daft.

Glory couldn’t contain herself any longer and rose to meet her. “Hey! Whisper! Good to finally officially meet you. Saw some of your work along the trail. Not bad. For a human, that is.”

Nora grinned, “The Trail was easy. Just another walk in the park.”

“So, you’re the new heavy, huh?”

“In the flesh. Nice to meet another agent.”

“Likewise. Anyone crazy enough to join us, is okay in my book. So the Switchboard was crawling with bad guys. Mines and shit, too. Any of that true? Or was Deacon bullshitting me again?”

“Every word. Why don't you believe his story?”

She rolled her eyes, “You mean besides the fact that it came from Deacon? Saving synths ain't easy. So when we score a win, sometimes the propaganda gets laid on thick. So...how'd you take down the old HQ? Please tell me you didn't go along with Deacon's ‘in and out like a ghost’ crap.”

Nora shrugged, “It doesn't matter how we did it. Only the results matter.”

Glory nodded, “Yeah, man. That’s what the Railroad’s all about. Results. Well, welcome to the party. After what happened to Tommy Whispers, we need another tough son-of-a-bitch that can get shit done.”

“Thanks for inviting me.”

“We, should, I don't know. Bake a cake. That's what you do, right? Anyway, they call me Glory. The angel of death. The ass-kicking poster child of a liberated synth.”

“I like it.”

“What’s not to like?”

“You um...well, I’m sure you get this all the time, but...do you remember what it was like? The Institute?”

Glory sighed heavily, “Every rook comes in here and wants to interrogate me. Wants to know everything about everything. I don't got the answers you want, okay? I don't know where the Institute is, how to get there...I know barely anything about them.”

“Oh, oh, no, I...I don’t care about that stuff. I’m going to figure all that out on my own. I just...my son is trapped there and, I guess what I really wanted to know was...is it nice? Would a little boy think it was nice?” There were tears in her eyes and Deacon was pretty sure these weren’t fake.

“Oh...well, I know a whole lot less than you'd think. Mainly, I did surface detail. Combing over ruins and shit for salvage. The few times I was in the Institute proper all I was to them was their thinking, feeling hammer.”

Terrible rage filled her eyes and was hidden in a blink. “They sound like real bastards.”

She shrugged, “They weren't really mean about it. They just treated me like a coffee maker. Or a terminal...I helped those assholes make more synths. ‘Synth Development’ is what they called it. I never really saw any...you know, kids or whatever. There were kids, though. I know that. Sometimes you’d hear the scientists talking about stupid domestic shit...so, at least he’s not alone, I guess?”

“Yeah...yeah, that’s something.” She smiled a little, “Thanks, Glory. I’m sorry for asking you that crap. I’m sure it gets...tiresome, talking about that stuff.”

The heavy ran a hand through her hair, “Nah...well, I mean, yeah, but at least you had a good reason for asking.”

“We cool?” Nora held out her fist and Glory nudged it with her own.

“Yeah, we’re cool. So long as you get me my days off, we’re fucking fantastic.”

She laughed, “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Some free advice? Kiss up to Tinker Tom. He's bat-shit crazy, but he's got all the good stuff.”

“Sounds like a good plan.”

“You know it. Take care out there.”

Nora wandered off to talk with Drummer Boy and Deacon grinned at Glory. “Well?”

She nodded, “Yeah, I like her. She’s cool.”

“Do I deliver or do I deliver?”

“Sometimes.”

“Uh, all the time. You see her schmooze Carrington?”

Glory snorted, “I definitely saw her show him her panties. Probably the closest he’s gotten to getting laid in years. Don’t suppose you know if she’s a friend of Sappho, do you?”

He honestly didn’t, but the last thing he needed was the one potential romantic threat in HQ sniping his newly acquired girl. “I doubt it...she’s pre-war, you know? Had a husband and whatever.”

“Damn. All the hot ones are either taken or otherwise unavailable.”

“I thought you were still with Magnolia?”

“I am. Mags is happy to share, though. Especially if I showed up with a doll like that.”

“M’hmm.”

“So, you’ve been out and about with her this whole time, huh?”

He nodded, “Yeah, we got a little detoured by some trouble in Concord. Wasn’t a big deal.”

“Been a while since you’ve been in Diamond City then.”

Nora was slowly making her way back and he stopped watching her to fully focus on Glory. “So?”

“Well, I thought you were all hot and heavy with your friend there, weren’t you? How are you going to explain away having Whisper with you all the time?”

He frowned, “Why would I have to explain anything?”

Glory gave him an exasperated look, “Come on, D. Even the chillest girl in the world would be miffed at you running with that. You’re gonna be in trouble with your lady friend. Mark my words.”

Nora flopped down in the chair at the desk across from Deacon and smiled, “Lady friend? What lady friend?”

Glory grinned, “Deacon has some supposedly hot piece of action in Diamond City.”

She grinned back, “Oh, la la! Do tell!”

Deacon went back to his notebook and waved them both off, “A gentleman doesn’t kiss and tell.”

“Square.” Nora scoffed at him and turned to Glory, “Alright, what’s the word, hummingbird?”

“Well, it started a little over a month ago, maybe? Maybe longer, who knows with him, right? Anyway, he shows up here, late as always, and Dez about lost her mind on him. He’s got hickeys all over and actually tried to play it off like he’d been working, if you can believe it!”

She laughed, “That does sound like him.”

“Yeah, so I confronted him, of course. I mean, he smelled like a whorehouse. And he tells me about some chick in Diamond City.”

“Hmm, interesting. Very interesting.” Nora turned back to him. “Is it anybody I know?” She smiled at Glory, “I just moved there, you know. I bet I’ve seen her.”

“Oh, snap! Your new partner and your lover in the same place! It’s like a soap opera!”

Deacon sighed irritably, “It’s not a soap opera...and no, you don’t know her. She’s an Upper Stands kinda girl.”

Nora snorted, “Oh, now I know you’re lying. The only women in the Upper Stands are Mrs. Hawthorne, who’s too old and smart to get with someone like you, and snooty old Ann Codman…”. Her eyes went comically wide, “Oh, Lord, is it Ann Codman? Do you have a thing for older women, Deacon? A mommy fetish, maybe?”

Glory was laughing her ass off and Deacon really hoped they were both enjoying themselves because he was going to get them both back for this at a date to-be-determined. “No, it’s not Ann Codman. I have standards, you know.”

“Could’ve fooled me.” Glory snickered and turned back to Nora, “We’ve got an office pool going on it. Want in?”

This was news to him. “Excuse me?”

“I’m totally in. What’re the options?”

“Excuse me? Hello?”

“Okay, well, some people are betting that this girl doesn’t actually exist. That she’s actually a series of prostitutes.”

Nora nodded thoughtfully, “Good theory.”

He waved his arms, “Hello! Sitting right here!”

“Another one is she does exist, but she’s bought some silly line where he’s playing a character like he always does. He’s always trying to be slick, you know.”

She snorted, “Yeah, I’ve noticed that.”

“Fucking rude ass sons of bitches.”

“My personal favorite though is that it's actually one prostitute that he’s set up somewhere.”

“Oh, a kept woman, hmm? That’s a good one, too. Expensive, though.”

“I do not have to pay for sex, you know! Not that there’s anything wrong with that...”

“Right? But who knows with him. He could be richer than Old Man Stockton and you’d never know.”

“Hmm…”, Nora leaned back in her chair and chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully. “I’m gonna put down twenty caps on...it’s a series of prostitutes.” She laughed, “I mean, who could stand him for more than one night?”

Glory snorted, “Right? Jesus.”

“You’re both on my shit list. Just so everyone is clear.”

“Think he keeps his shades on when they’re fucking?” Nora smirked at him.

“Oh, God, I hadn’t even thought of that! I bet he does! God, what a dork.”

“I hope she’s charging him extra for that kinda crap.”

“There aren’t enough caps in the world to make putting up with him worth it.”

Nora grinned, “Maybe he makes up for it with some secret talent...like cooking.”

“Oh, now that’s just sad. Poor girl must be starving if she’s letting him pay with food.”

“Maybe we should scrap the pool altogether and instead take donations for her.”

“Yeah, I bet she’d be grateful for a break.”

It’s a game. It’s a game. It’s a game. “I’m goin’ for a smoke. Excuse me, ladies.” There was only so much a man’s ego could take, game or not. He trudged off towards the main entrance, their giggles following him, and made his way to the steeple.

They were already a few days into March. Spring wasn’t too far away, but the way the icy wind was whipping, you’d never know it. He leaned against the railing and let it blow away the silly, irrational anger from Nora’s performance and focused on what really mattered. So far, she’d managed to charm Carrington, catch Tinker’s interest and was quickly on her way to being besties with Glory. All in all, not bad for her first day.

He was on his third cigarette and wishing he’d thought to grab some gloves when Nora came bouncing up the stairs, giving the door a perfunctory knock before stepping out into the wind.

“Glory said this is where you go to pout...shit, it’s cold!” She wrapped her arms around herself and glared at him. “You can’t find a warmer place to sulk? Jeez.”

Deacon chuckled at her and tossed his cig, “There’s no cameras that cover the spire. Just a few on the roof.”

“Oh, good.” She stepped over and snuggled against him while he wrapped his arms around her. She felt deliciously warm to him. “That’s better...it is freezing, though. We should get inside.”

“I dunno, I’m not sure I’m done pouting yet.”

She giggled, “You aren’t mad at me, are you? You know I didn’t mean all that stuff.”

“Yeah, I know...got your first assignment?”

“Yup. Carrington wants me to pick up a drop someplace and Pam needs me to go find some pre-war cache thing. Got an RFID and everything.”

“Neat.”

“M’hmm. Gotta go to Medford Memorial...which is going to be very weird.”

“Why’s that?”

She laughed, “Last time I was there, I had Shaun.”

He winced, “It’s gone downhill a bit since you saw the maternity ward...mostly staffed by super mutants now.”

“Hmm...good thing I asked Dez if you could accompany me out there then, huh?”

“Now, that is a good thing.” He slipped his hands under her shirt and laughed while she hissed at him. “Shush, you. It’s revenge for being so mean during the game.”

“Your hands are like ice, Deacon! I wasn’t that mean!”

“Were, too.”

She grumbled but let his hands stay where they were. “Does spring come at the same time as it used to?”

“I dunno...when did it use to?”

“It would usually start to get warm around the end of April.”

“Then no, actually. It usually warms up around the end of March.”

“Oh, thank God.”

“Summer’s are brutal though.”

She sighed, “Of course they are...you want to get some sleep and then head out in the morning? I still need to stop by Diamond City and make sure the pup got home okay.”

“And all your stuff, right?”

She shrugged, “Yeah, that, too.”

His hands had warmed up enough that he could finally enjoy the soft feel of her skin. “If we sleep here, we gotta sleep in the crypt.”

Nora leaned back a little so she could look at him properly, “Are you serious?”

“Didn’t you see all the mattresses?”

“Well...yes, but I didn’t think they were for actual sleeping, I thought...I dunno, maybe it was extra bedding for synths or whatever. You guys just sleep there? In an ancient tomb? Right next to the coffins?”

He chuckled at her horrified expression. “Ayup.”

“Boo. No, thank you.”

“It’s not so bad once you get used to it.”

“But I bet it's cold, right?”

“A little.”

“And it’s not like we can cuddle if we’re supposed to borderline hate each other…”

“Dez doesn’t really allow cuddling anyway, regardless of feelings.”

She huffed, “That sucks...I guess we could just head on out, but I’m beat. Somebody wore me out earlier today.”

Deacon pulled her closer and laughed, “Somebody was asking for it, if you’ll remember. A lot. If anybody should be worn out, it’s me. By the way, how’d I miss you putting those panties on? They aren’t the ones you started off in.”

“Well, of course they aren’t. Those are...messy. I put them on before we left. I think you were busy hiding all your stuff.”

“Dang. I can’t believe that jerk saw them before I did.”

“Hmm, well, how about we stay the night back at your little bungalow and you can be the first man to take them off? How’s that sound?”

“It sounds like you’re trying to kill me.”

“You complain an awful lot for someone who gets as much sex as you do.”

He laughed, “Come on. You gotta sleep in HQ at least once. Think of it as initiation.”

“Are there blankets?”

“What do you think?”

She sighed irritably against his chest, “Probably not.”

“Good guess. So...mezzo-soprano, huh? Was that true?”

“Yup.”

“You were in a church choir?”

“Yup, I was.”

“You. Nora. In a church choir?”

“Yes, I was in the choir. I could sing, once upon a time.”

“It’s not so much the singing as the whole idea of you being a church-goer that’s unbelievable.”

She finally backed away from him and smirked, “Well, I was. There's a lot about me you wouldn’t believe.”

“I don’t doubt it. How you feel about the man upstairs nowadays?”

Nora shrugged, “I’m pretty sure if there ever was a God, he’s dead by now.”

“So you were Catholic, then.”

She rolled her eyes and laughed, “Presbyterian, actually. Nate went every Sunday, so I went, too.”

“Ah. Like a good little lamb.”

“I guess.” She shivered and headed for the stairs, “I’m going back inside. Any tips on the warmest place to find a mattress?”

“Anywhere near Tinker’s station. His computers run constantly, so it’s a few degrees warmer there.”

“Alright. Don’t turn into a popsicle. It’s not as fun as you’d think.”

“You’re the expert.” He watched her go and then turned back to staring at the stars and slowly counted to six hundred to give her a good ten minutes headstart.

Him and a church girl. Who’d have thought? His parents probably would have been thrilled.

By the time he got back downstairs, Nora was already asleep. Or doing a fabulous job of faking it. She’d kept her coat on, he noticed. He honestly didn’t think HQ was that chilly, but maybe she was more sensitive to the cold than most since the vault.

Glory was occupying the mattress next to her, which was...well, that was probably fine. Better than Carrington, surely.

Dez had already written her name on the board and he felt oddly giddy seeing it. He still couldn’t believe he’d actually managed to finally get her here. Three and a half months would seem fast on any other agent, but add those four years of observation while she’d been on ice and the timeline seemed a little more reasonable, he guessed.

Deacon sat back down at his desk, unlocked the drawer with its hidden compartment and took out his real notebook. He had a ton of new info on Nora to jot down.

That locket was driving him even crazier now. How on earth had she gotten mixed up with the DoD? And how had General Atomics figured into it? Tinker hadn’t moved an inch from his workspace and was staring down at the intricate circuitry through at least five different magnification lenses, carefully poking at things with a tiny pair of tweezers. Chances were he hadn’t actually started notes on it, so there was nothing for him to swipe yet.

What he really didn’t like was the idea of the device, whatever it was for, once having a remote control but not one she could access. That was...disturbing. The fact that it glowed when active was odd, too.

The easiest explanation, of course, was it was something to control her psyker abilities. Or maybe negate them entirely? She kept telling Tinker it ‘helped with headaches’, and he knew she only really got headaches if she used her powers.

If that were the case, then it being remotely activated and having a built-in visual warning system for when it was active or not probably meant she’d been part of some horrible government program where she’d just been a tool for the war effort. Just like Glory had been for the Institute.

He could see the benefit her abilities would bring to the military. Having someone who could instantly access someone’s memories would be handy in a world where subterfuge and paranoia ruled. Maybe she really didn’t like going into people’s heads if she’d been forced to at some point.

Of course, that opened a whole new Pandora’s box of questions. From everything he’d seen, no one could force Nora to do anything she didn’t want to. How on earth did they convince her to go along with something like that? Did it have something to do with her idea that her conscience was a broken compass now? Had they broken it somehow to get her to do their dirty work? How?

Did he even want to know how?

Mama Murphy’s line about Nora being used by people who’s abused and twisted her abilities until she was scared of them made a hell of a lot more sense now, if all this conjecturing was correct. He’d know more once Tinker took the thing apart.

The easiest way to get all the info he wanted...needed, really, was to just ask her directly. That felt wrong, though. That almost hateful glare she’d given him after talking to Tinker was enough to let him know this was forbidden territory as far as she was concerned.

He shook his head a little at his own sentimentality. Not even a week ago he’d have been scheming and coming up with slick ways to trick her into revealing more than she was comfortable with. Strange how one incredibly uncomfortable conversation could change a person’s mindset.

Notes dutifully jotted down, he locked everything back up nice and tight. He peeked at Nora through his shades, but she was still in the same position as before. Actually asleep, then. There was just one more little thing he needed to do before he went to sleep himself and he didn’t want her seeing him doing it.

Feeling more than a modicum of guilt and ignoring pre-Deacon’s unhappy murmuring, he made his way over to Pam’s alcove.

It was warmer here, too. All the machines and Pam’s constant computing made for a snuggly kind of environment. Even so, he hated talking to Pam. Always had. She creeped him out, if he was being completely honest.

It wasn’t the robot thing, and it wasn’t even the assaultron thing. He got along great with KL-E-0 in Goodneighbor, after all.

No, his problem with Pam was, for all her acting the part of unfeeling, unthinking computron, he’d always gotten the vibe that she did feel and think and care. The way she spoke to Dez and Carrington was completely different than the way she addressed him. Even if no one else believed it or heard it, he did.

It’s part of why he’d been pushing Dez to shut her down for over five years now. Why would a robot hide the fact that it had developed proper emotions unless it didn’t trust the organization it was working for? And if she didn’t trust them at this point, could they trust her?

The other part, of course, was that he felt Dez and Carrington both were relying far too heavily on what even Pam herself admitted was an inexact science. No matter how good an idea was, no matter how solid his info, if Pam said it didn’t have a chance, they vetoed it.

He hated that.

She was wandering aimlessly, pacing around like she always did while computing. He stood just out of her loop and waited for her to finally turn back toward him before speaking.

“Pam, I need some answers.”

The machine paused for only a moment before returning to her pacing. “Running ‘Ignoring Agent Deacon’ sub-routine.”

“Cute.”

“Currently adjusting probability matrix for rogue variable’s inclusion into Railroad. Systems locked due to recalibrations.”

“So unlock them.” He sighed, “Knock it off, Pam. I have questions about the rogue variable.”

Her loop abruptly halted and she turned to face him. “Setting human/machine interface to one hundred percent. Input query.”

He narrowed his eyes. It was interactions like this that had him convinced that this whole clunky robot bit was straight up bullshit. “When she spoke to you, what did she say, exactly?”

The eyeless face tilted in an oddly human sort of way. “Interactions between Pam and Railroad agents are not recorded, as requested by Railroad-Alpha.”

“Give me the gist then.”

“Unable to process verbal response.”

He rubbed the back of his neck and tried to think in binary. “Alright, did Agent Whisper have any questions that were not related to her mission?”

Pam’s processors whirred quietly, “Yes.”

“And those were?”

“Classified Top Secret as per DoD code 1.4ACE.”

“You are no longer bound by DoD codes.”

The whirring increased. He was pretty sure she was searching for a way to not answer. Wasn’t that special? Unthinking calculator his ass.

“Agent Deacon is correct.”

He grinned, “So, what’d she ask?”

“Agent Whisper made several inquiries about Specialist Timothy Vice.”

Deacon waited for her to offer more information and sighed irritably when it didn't happen. “And he was?”

“Specialist Timothy Vice, deceased. Switchboard operative from 2053 until reassignment to the DC...error: redacted...until his death in 2064.”

He folded his arms and thought hard. If Nora had been born in 2048, she would have just been a child while this guy worked at Switchboard. A family member, maybe? Possibly even her missing father?

“What’d he die from?”

“Specialist Vice was discovered...error: redacted...deceased, March 12th 2064.”

Well that was completely unhelpful. “Why do you still have his file on record? I thought most of your data had been flushed already.”

“Railroad-Alpha restored all official DoD files pertaining to Boston upon discovery of DIA caches in local area.”

“Hmm...alright, what did Specialist Vice do, exactly? Before his death.”

“That information has been redacted on all electronic records.”

“Yeah, I figured.” He tapped his foot, thinking. “Okay, what does 1.4ACE mean?”

“1.4A is the DoD classification code for military plans, weapons systems or operations. 1.4C is the DoD classification code for intelligence activities, sources, methods or cryptology. 1.4E is the DoD classification code for scientific, technological or economic matters relating to national security.”

“And all that means...what?”

“Unable to process verbal response.”

He resisted the urge to stomp his feet and took a deep breath. “Alright...so, Specialist Vice was working on something classified 1.4ACE.”

“Correct.”

“Did the something have a name?”

“Unable to--”

“Was he working on any specific project?”

“Specialist Vice worked on several DoD classified projects.”

“Did Agent Whisper ask about a specific project?”

“Yes.”

“And the name of that project?”

“Project: Pixie.”

Now they were getting somewhere. “Do you have any information regarding Project: Pixie?”

“Yes. Project: Pixie was a sub-project under the umbrella of the Extraordinary Americans Initiative.”

Oh, that didn’t sound good. “What was the Extraordinary Americans Initiative?”

“Unknown.”

He threw his hands up in frustration. “How can you not know?”

“Files from any locality outside the Commonwealth are missing.”

“So...the orders were coming from higher than Switchboard. Washington, maybe? Hmm...alright, what do you have on file for Project: Pixie?”

“Project: Pixie began on January 3rd, 2058 under the direct supervision of Specialist Vice and his team. Assets from Project: Hades were absorbed and renamed under DIA order 839-2. Project’s objective was...error: redacted...and ran successfully until subject Tinkerbell was terminated from program on September 15th, 2062. Assets Wendy and Peter reassigned to previous project and relocated to...error: data corrupted.”

“Anything on why they turfed Tinkerbell?”

“That information has been redacted on all electronic records.”

“Of course. Any hard copy records exist?”

“All hard copies were moved to deep storage as per DIA order 3415.”

“Do you have the location?”

“Classified Document Storage, sub-basement 15B, Pentagon...presently called Citadel by Brotherhood of Steel.”

Sonofabitch. He’d been there before. Years ago, back when he’d still done runs to the Capital Wasteland. He’d stood...well, fifteen floors above it, apparently, but he’d been there. Bit out of reach right now though.

“Alright. Thanks, Pam. Do you have any other information at all regarding Specialist Vice or Project: Pixie?”

The processors whirred back to life briefly and then died down again. “No files found.”

“Okay. Sorry to interrupt your...calibrations. Please continue.”

“Acknowledged. Query. Is Agent Whisper a former DoD asset?”

He paused on the stairs and frowned down at her, “That’s need to know.”

“Increased data will ensure more accurate predictive models regarding Agent Whisper.”

“Okay. Then no, she wasn’t.”

“Acknowledged. Conversation terminated.”

Pam returned to her standard loops and Deacon watched her in silence for a moment. You’d think lying to a robot would be a snap, but there were no tells to let you know if you were actually successful or not. Yet another thing he hated about Pam.

By the time he’d returned to the pocket of warmth surrounding Tinker Tom, Nora had turned over in her sleep and was actually holding Glory’s hand. He smiled at that and wished he had a camera. Purely for humiliation purposes, naturally. He still had to figure out how to get them both back for their teasing earlier.

He settled down on a mattress that let him keep Nora in sight, even if it was further away than he’d like. He watched her quiet breathing and tried to imagine a ten year old her in the nefarious clutches of the American government. Almost made him wish it had been Jimmy’s mobster friends instead. At least with mob goons there was a chance she’d been seen as a child and not just a means to an end.

Was that how she ended up in the Vault to begin with? Had they kept an eye on her despite kicking her out of whatever the hell the Extraordinary Americans Initiative had been? He’d never uncovered anything on Vault 111 that hinted at a government tie-in, aside from the oddly high number of military veterans, but all experiments had been supervised from afar by them, right? Or where they?

He honestly wasn’t sure on that. He’d heard conflicting things in his travels about just how involved the American government really had been in the Vaults. Some things pointed to Vault-Tec pulling the wool over their eyes, as well as the general public’s, and others indicated that everything, from the design to the implementation of the experiments, had been carefully curated by the military. Who knew, really?

He fell into a fitful sleep, questions swimming through his mind like sharks in the ocean. The more he knew, the more he wanted to know. Maybe that was the heart of this strange attraction to begin with. That she was a never-ending riddle that he’d never, ever be able to properly solve to his satisfaction.

Morning, or the Railroad approximation to it, came when some asshole turned on Diamond City radio entirely too loudly. Deacon sat up, rubbed at his eyes from under his glasses and blearily stared at Nora’s empty mattress for nearly three whole seconds before panic set in.

He stood as casually as possible and stretched this way and that, looking to the world like any other middle aged man groaning about terrible mattresses on icy floors, while his eyes scanned the room for any sign of her.

“Hey, D!”

Normally Drummer would never get the drop on him, but he was awfully distracted at present. He smiled through the adrenaline surge and tried to shrug off the sense of doom that was swiftly swirling around him. “Yeah, Drummer?”

“Whisper left this for you.” He held up a folded note and passed it over.

So she was gone. Shit shit shit. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Deacon counted to fifteen and took a few deep breaths before opening it. He stared at the simple sentence for almost a full minute before laughing. ‘Catch me if you can!’ was all she’d written. Unbelievable. Woman had a goddamn bounty on her head, and this was her idea of being ‘careful’.

He stuffed the paper in his pocket and tapped Drummer on the shoulder on his way out. “Hey, any chance you remember about what time Whisper left?”

“Uh…”, he checked his watch and frowned thoughtfully. “Maybe twenty minutes ago?”

Well, at least he had a chance at catching her. “Alright. Thanks, brother.”

He skipped breakfast altogether and headed out the back tunnel, pausing only to grab his go-pack and current favorite rifle. The morning sun was just barely peeking over the horizon and he stood staring at how the pink light made the frost from the night before sparkle all around before heading southwest.

It was three hours to get from their HQ to Diamond City...if you didn’t know any shortcuts. Given how fast she could move when properly motivated, her head start, and her familiarity with the backstreets of Boston, he figured he had about two hours to catch her before she made it there.

But did he want to catch her? Or would it be better just to beat her there? Surprise the hell out of her, maybe hide in plain sight in his uniform...or was that what she wanted?

She was the sentimental sort, after all. Maybe this was her way of asking for another playtime in the Diamond City lockup.

All that sounded delicious to him, but there was that worrisome bounty on her head...and she was out there all alone, without her dog or Pipboy.

He jogged along and frowned to himself. Hancock had said she could get ‘reckless when riled’, but she didn’t even have that excuse this time. She was just being unreasonably irresponsible for no good reason at all.

Deacon made it to Goodneighbor in record time and slunk around the corner, hoping to avoid the Gunner guard party stationed outside Mass Electric altogether. Except the Gunners weren’t there. No one was.

That was...different.

He slipped on over, hugging the shadows until he finally got close enough to see what had happened to this particular group of mercenaries.

Looked like someone (or several someones) very angry had used a very large gun to snuff them out of existence. They’d already been looted down to their underwear and if he’d had any doubts whatsoever about exactly who had done this, the cleverly crude positions the bodies had been left in wiped them away.

Guess Hancock wanted to send a message about what happens to people who mess with his family.

Finding nothing of value after admiring the Mayor’s handiwork, he moved on, kicking up the pace a bit. He was almost certain that ignoring this little chaotic outburst of Nora’s was probably the right way to go. Dragging her into a holding cell and having his way with her was just rewarding bad behavior, right? If he let it slide once, she’d just keep doing it.

Approaching the library, he felt the hairs on his neck raise up. Someone, or something, was ghosting him, despite his stealthy movements. He slid to a stop and backed up until his back was against the wall of the massive building, listening carefully for any movement around him. He hated moving during the day and this was exactly why. Even if it ended up just being some fucking bumpkin wandering around, he still hated getting spotted.

There was a quiet scrape to his left, then the telltale sound of a heavy metal door closing. Someone had gone into the library.

Or maybe someone had already been in the library waiting for him.

He stared at the door with narrowed eyes. Was this Nora fucking with him or something else? His thumb absentmindedly tapped on his rifle’s safety as he puzzled it out. Even if it wasn’t her, he still had to investigate it, right? All part of the job.

Deacon grumbled to himself and silently entered the library, from a door a little further down. The place still smelled like a super mutant’s den, but it was eerily silent aside from the random Protectrons patrolling. He stepped carefully around piles of burned and ruined books, trying not to get bogged down by the idea of how much knowledge had been lost here, and kept his ears open.

There was movement from above. A shadow in the window of an ancient study room was there and then gone.

It had to be her, right? Who else would deliberately fuck with him on this scale?

“Whisper? That you?” He’d tried to keep his voice down, but even so, it echoed in the cold, empty space. “This shit isn’t funny. Come on.”

No answer but a Protectron declaring it’s undying duty to ‘protect and serve’.

At this point, Nora had better hope it wasn’t her fucking with him.

He jogged up the stairs and quietly cleared all the rooms until he finally reached the one with the shadow. A thorough inspection revealed it, too, was empty, aside from a robot with a strategically placed blanket wrapped around it. There was a note on the table, though.

Deacon picked it up, and unfolded it. ‘So close!’ was all it read.

He shoved it in his pocket and chuckled, floating somewhere in that strange place between disbelief and outright rage. He was going to catch her, alright. He’d catch her and make her regret ever playing this silly game with him.

There was no way he’d get to DC before her. She’d used this as a distraction from the jump to gain more time. Well, that was fine. That was just fine.

He’d turn her game of tag into something a little more intense. Since they were apparently having fun and all today.

By the time he made Diamond City, and entered its gates as just another guard, Nora and Piper had already begun moving boxes to her home. He watched from the shadows while they schlepped back and forth, Dogmeat prancing around them but otherwise being an unhelpful pain in the ass. He shook his head. If she’d just waited for him, or woken him up before she left, he’d have been happy to help.

Oh, well. Less work for him.

He waited until they were just past Takahashi’s before slipping around to the backside of her home and listening quietly as they chatted and shoved boxes around, closing the door behind them on their way to get another load. He grinned, shucked off the uniform, and shimmied up the building before the legit guard who patrolled the little back alley even noticed he’d ever been there.

They’d returned by the time he’d gotten to her roof, and he flattened himself against the cold metal of her little patio...or veranda, maybe? He never was sure on the difference.

A few minutes later, out they went again, and this time he moved up into the travel trailer that hid the roof access panel. He’d never actually been through it, and she’d certainly never invited him to this part of her apartment, but he’d long scoped this place out from top to bottom, same as the other homes in Diamond City. You never knew when such information could become invaluable, after all.

Like today, for example.

Deacon slowly went down the ladder, cautiously moving along the slatted floor. If they came in suddenly, they’d surely notice the hulking, moving shadow above their heads. There was a small landing with steps that lead down to what she’d clearly set up as another bedroom. The dresser by the bed was covered in small toys, model robots and a few comics. It took him a second to realize this space was intended to be her son’s room and he felt a sudden wave of discomfort flood his mind. Trespassing on her territory was one thing, trespassing on a child’s was something he’d never been comfortable with.

He backed up to the landing just for his own piece of mind and settled in to wait. A few minutes later, they were back, huffing and puffing under the weight of a particularly heavy box.

“Jeez, did Codsworth pack the kitchen sink, too?”

Nora laughed, “No, this is just all the pots and pans and dishes. Careful with it. I think some of Nate’s mother’s china is in this one, too.”

“Okay, okay.”

They set the box down in the kitchenette and Piper groaned as she stood. “I am definitely not made for manual labor.”

“I know, honey. Sorry. I’ll make it up to you.”

The reporter all but collapsed on a chair, “Oh, yeah, how?”

Nora opened the refrigerator door and never once noticed Deacon ten feet above her. “How about a cold beer to start?”

“Yes! Gimmie!” Piper drank half the beer in one go and sighed. “That is so much better.”

“How about a scoop for the Publick, too?” She pulled a Nuka Cherry for herself and sat at the kitchen table with Piper.

“So long as it's more spicy than your last bit of so-called news. Nobody gave two shits about MacCready saving his son, you know.”

“Seriously? I thought people were always bitching at you for not having any happy news in your paper.”

Piper scoffed, “Apparently they bitch about shit regardless.”

“People suck.”

“Yeah, they do. So, whatcha got for me?”

“The Minutemen are officially supporting synth liberation.”

There was a long minute of silence before Piper spoke, “Blue, I can’t print that.”

“What? Sure you can. ‘Minutemen General Declares Synths a Protected Species’, there’s your headline.”

“No, I mean...people won’t support the Minutemen anymore if you go public with something like that.”

“Well, if their support is conditional, then maybe I don’t want it.”

“Blue--”

“No, Piper. Look, I’ve met at least one fully liberated synth, okay? And they’re great! You’d love them, honest! Hell, you’d probably want to date them, actually.”

“Seriously, Blue--”

“Piper, I made a promise, okay? I promised the Minutemen would come out in support of freed synths. I know it’s divisive. I know...but it has to be done.”

She sighed, “I just dunno...it's going to give the mayor more ammunition against you. And he’s never exactly been friendly with the Minutemen.”

“Fuck him, then. If he’s actually got the balls to try and take me on, let him. It’s about time Diamond City got a new mayor anyway.”

“What happens if I print it and suddenly communities stop reaching out? The Commonwealth’s too fragile to get broken apart again.”

Now Nora sighed, “So you won’t run it?”

“I mean...let’s give it a couple of weeks, at least. I think you need to think this over.”

“That sounds oddly cautious coming from you.”

“Yeah, well, Kyle getting his brains blown out all over the marketplace has kinda put some things into perspective.”

“That wasn’t your fault, Piper. Kyle was going to kill his brother.”

“Yeah, for being a synth. Everyone’s paranoid, Blue, and I contributed to that paranoia. I just...I worry what will happen to you if I print something like that.”

Nora shook her head and stared at the Nuka Cherry in her hand. “The mind, once enlightened, cannot again become dark...do you know who said that?”

“Not a clue.”

“Thomas Paine. Wrote a book called ‘Common Sense’ a long time ago. If more people had listened to his words, we wouldn’t be here at all.” She finished her cola and tossed the bottle. “Fine. Don’t worry about it. I’ll figure something out.”

Piper frowned, “What’re you going to do?”

“Oh, what am I gonna do... you sound like Hancock right now, just so you know.”

She snorted, “Now there’s something I’ve never been accused of. If Boston’s second worst mayor and I sound the same, maybe you should listen.”

“If I listened to the two of you, all I’d ever do is stay home and knit.”

“That’s not a bad idea. I could use a new scarf.”

“Ha ha ha. Funny.”

Piper grinned at her, “So any other news?”

Nora grinned back, “Yeah, I got a new boyfriend.”

“Blue, for the last time, pets do not count as boyfriends.”

“No, this one’s real. He’s human and everything.”

“No shit?”

“No shit.”

“Well, don’t leave me hanging! Who is he?”

“Deacon.”

“What?”

“I said his name is Deacon. He works with the --”

“I know who he is! Why the hell are you with that asshole?”

Nora gave her scoldy kind of look, “Hey, now, that’s my man you’re talking about.”

“Your man...Jesus Christ, Blue. That dude is bad news, capital B and N.”

“Oh, piffle. He’s a sweetheart.”

Deacon paused plotting his retribution on Piper and puffed up a little at that.

“He’s the biggest liar on the Eastern Seaboard!”

“So?”

“So? So? Doesn’t that bother you?”

“Not really. I almost always know when he’s lying, and he knows that I know, so...it's kind of like a game.”

“A game? For fuck’s sake…”, she rubbed her forehead. “Why? How did this happen?”

“Well, he stalked me for...I dunno, a while, and then I fucked him at the Rexford. This was before Kellogg.”

“Before Kellogg? So it’s been that long?”

“Well, yeah, but we weren’t actually a thing until a couple of days ago.”

“And you don’t see red flags in any of that? Even a few?”

Nora laughed, “Red flags...it’s more like ticker tape at this point, Piper. A whole parade’s worth.”

“So why?”

She shrugged, “I dunno. I really don’t.”

“You know, Deacon isn’t his real name.”

Nora chuckled, “Yeah, I had caught on to that.”

“Nobody knows what it is...and he’s old, you know. Super old.”

“So? I’m old, too.”

“There are rumors he was alive for Broken Mask, even.”

She frowned, “I’ve heard of that before. Just what is Broken Mask?”

“You never read my article, The Synthetic Truth, did you? Fuck, Blue.” She sighed heavily, “I heard about it from Mrs. Hawthorne, who saw the whole thing herself. Some guy shows up one day, right? Calls himself Carter. He goes up to Power Noodles, which at the time, you know, had a proper bartender and not just Takahashi. Everything is totally fine and normal, he’s telling jokes and stories, people are buying him drinks and whatever, and then, out of fucking nowhere, he shoots the bartender! Pew pew! Two to the head! People are screaming, security shows up, and he takes down like, at least four people before they drop his ass. They check his body and he’s a synth.”

Nora’s head tilted, “And how long ago was all that?”

“Sixty years.”

She snorted, “There is no way Deacon is that old, Piper. Good lord.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I just know.”

“Yeah, but how do you know?”

Nora sighed, “Because sixty year old men don’t fuck like he does, okay? Trust me.”

“Ew.”

She laughed, “Hey, sixty today isn’t like it was in my time, alright? Silver foxes used to be...well, delicious, actually.”

“Silver foxes?”

“Yeah, older men, you know? Girls used to chase them like crazy.”

“That still sounds gross...and having sex with Deacon is definitely gross.”

“Anyway, he is not sixty. Just...trust me on that.”

Piper crossed her arms and grumped a bit, “Is he nice to you, at least? I mean, he’s usually a jerk whenever I see him, but he treats you right, right?”

Nora smiled, “Yeah, he does.”

“If that ever changes, I’ll kill him.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s a line forming for that, darling.”

“Hmph. So long as I get one or two hits in.”

“I doubt it will come to that. He’s actually...well, very nice, really.”

She didn’t look convinced, but shrugged, “Yeah, alright. I guess it's fine so long as you’re fine with it.”

“M’hmm.” Nora gestured at the clock on the wall. “Isn’t it about time for Nat to get home for lunch?”

Piper’s head swiveled around. “Shit. It is. Gotta go.”

“Yup.”

“Don’t think we’re finished talking about this Deacon business though.”

“Alrighty. Say hi to Nat for me!”

Nora showed her out, and let Dogmeat in. “Okay, babydoll...somewhere in all this is a tin of biscuits just for you from Uncle Codsworth. We just have to find them.”

She started opening boxes while Deacon watched from his perch above her. He couldn’t wipe the goofy smile off his face. Not only had she defended him, she’d called him nice to boot. A sweetheart. Plus there was that whole Thomas Paine business. He’d read ‘Common Sense’ until his own copy fell apart. He’d never met anyone else who’d even ever heard of it.

She didn’t seem particularly interested in actually putting anything up, just kept opening and then closing boxes at random, checking the contents for Dogmeat's precious treats. Finally, on the third to the last of the kitchen boxes, she triumphantly pulled out an ancient coffee tin.

“Aha! Got ‘em!” She popped the lid off and an odd smell filled the air. Almost like jerkied brahmin liver. “Oooh, what a lucky puppy you are! He used to make these for Boodle back in the day.” Dogmeat danced around her and then sat, very polite. “Aw, my handsome boy. Here you go, precious.” She tossed the treat and he caught it easily. Nora clapped and cheered. “Yay! Okay, woofer, now go lay down. Mama has to take a shower because I feel gross. Sleeping in a tomb will do that, I guess.”

The dog flopped down on the couch and Nora headed back for her room. Deacon grinned mischievously to himself and slipped down the stairs, shushing Dogmeat when his tail started thumping happily against the cushions.

Pretty compliments and dazzling intellect aside, she still deserved to get the bejesus scared out of her for running off this morning.

He moved on silent feet down the long hallway, pausing just outside the curtain to make sure he could hear the shower running. Her room was still mostly dark, just the light from the bathroom illuminating it, and he slipped from shadow to shadow until he got right to the door.

Infinite plays flitted through his head. He could just wait out here until she finished, scare the shit out of her when she came out all relaxed and warm from her shower. Or he could strip down, and be waiting casually on the bed like it was no big deal. Or he could slip behind one of the curtains and wait until she was getting dressed and catch her while she was compromised.

Another fun one was dumping a cup of icy water on her and he briefly cursed himself for not thinking of it sooner.

In the end, he decided the direct approach would work best.

Deacon looked into her bathroom and saw that her head was under the water. She’d apparently taken this opportunity to wash her hair.

How very fortuitous for him.

He slunk over on silent feet and waited until she’d just started to turn her head up to the spray before grabbing her around the waist with one arm, his other hand pressing a finger sharply against her temple while she shrieked in surprise.

“Bang! You’re dead.”

She stopped trying to squirm away and turned to stare up at him through her wet hair. “Deacon?”

He took her face in his hands and glowered at her, “Do not run off like that again. It’s dangerous.”

Nora shouldered him out of the way and stepped out of the shower, wrapping a towel around herself. “Boston’s always been dangerous. I can handle myself.” She frowned at him and narrowed her eyes. “Where you spying on me again?”

He turned the water off and turned to face her. He’d thought she’d at least be a little repentant. “I dunno, was I?”

“You know I don’t like that. We just talked about it.” She sounded mad and it made him furious. Didn’t she know how quickly it could all end for her? Hadn’t he just shown her that?

“Well, I don’t like you running off like an idiot and getting yourself killed, so we’re even.”

She scoffed, “I’m not an idiot, Deacon, I--” His hand was wrapped around her throat before she even realized he was moving and her eyes went wide as she abruptly fell silent.

“See? Your guard was down. Again. You trust too easily. I could crush your windpipe right now and no one could save you; no one would even know what had happened.” His hand tightened just enough to make breathing difficult. “How are you going to rescue Shaun if you’re dead?” Tears had started to fill her eyes and he let her go before he did real damage and pulled her against him in a fierce embrace. “How are you going to be my girl if you’re dead?”

She took a shaky breath and shook her head against his shoulder. “I can’t live like that, Deacon. I can’t always be on guard. Not again.”

“You don’t have to be.” He leaned back enough to see her face. “I can be on guard for both of us, but that only works if you stay close, princess.”

Wariness was finally in her eyes. “That sounds like something a manipulative asshole would say.”

He gave her a half-smile, “Well, your poor taste in men is well-documented.” He reluctantly let her go and took a step back for good measure. “If you don’t want me around, that’s fine. I’ll go get Piper or Nick to stay with you and fuck off like you want. But you can’t go out alone. At least not until the Gunner stuff is dealt with, alright?”

Nora held the towel a little tighter and frowned thoughtfully. “You were really worried.”

“I really was.”

Her hand went to her throat. “That hurt, you know. I didn’t like it.”

He nodded, “I know, I’m sorry, I just...I want you to take this shit seriously. I need you to take it seriously. You know I like games as much as, if not more than, the next person, but playing hide-and-seek through the Commonwealth isn’t a good idea right now. All it takes is one asshole, Nora. One bullet...and you’re gone forever.”

She stared at him until he looked away. “I scared you.”

He stared at his shoes and shrugged, “I guess.”

“I told you I wasn’t good at the girlfriend thing.” She sighed, “But...I guess you’re right. That was dumb. I’m sorry for running off without you.”

“I’m sorry, too. I shouldn’t have done more than scare you. I’m sorry I hurt you.”

She laughed softly, “You could have just talked to me to begin with. The scaring part also wasn’t necessary.”

“Well...maybe I’m not good at the boyfriend thing, either.” He was still staring at his feet and was surprised when her feet suddenly entered his field of vision.

“Can you try to remember to use your words first next time?”

His nose wrinkled. This honesty shit was already starting to get to him. “Sure. Can you try using your brain for five minutes when the impulse for shenanigans strikes you?”

She sighed and walked past him, “Sure...although that’s what started our whole relationship in the first place, so…”

He chuckled and followed her, “Is that what that first night was? Impulsive shenanigans?”

Nora slipped on a pair of gloves from her dresser, “What else would you call it?”

“Kismet.”

“Nah, that first night was pure happenstance.” She dropped her towel and smiled at him. “There’s a bed behind me, you’re right there and I’m right here. That’s kismet.”

He just barely caught himself from pouncing her. “You...I thought you wanted me to leave now.”

She rolled her eyes, “What I wanted is for the game to end the way I originally thought it would.”

Deacon stepped out of his shoes and casually leaned against her dresser with his arms folded. “And how exactly did you see this game playing out?”

She shrugged, “Well, first I was hoping you’d catch me in the library and we could have a little fun back in the stacks.”

He nodded, “That’s a good way for a game to end.”

“But that didn’t happen because you’re so slow and pokey.” She grinned sassily at him. “I mean, I’ve seen little old ladies cross the street faster than you cover ground.”

He narrowed his eyes, “Hey, I was using stealth. Slow and pokey is the way to go.”

“M’hmm. Then I thought maybe you’d get here before me, and we could go have some fun in jail again.”

Deacon laughed, “I knew it.”

“Yeah, but that didn’t happen, either.” She pouted, “It’s a shame, too, because I do like you in uniform.”

“Oh, really? I hadn’t noticed. What’s your favorite part?”

“The handcuffs.”

“Well, I don’t have to wear the uniform to use handcuffs, babycakes.”

“Yeah, but I bet you don’t just carry them around with you, do you?”

“Not in my civvies, no.”

“See? That’s no good.”

“So what was your end game then?”

Her head tilted and she looked thoughtful, “Remember the apartment in Lexington?”

“Yes.” Like he was ever going to forget that.

“And you said something about playing raider versus settler? What was it you said, exactly?”

“I’ve got the knife if you’ve got the panties.”

She grinned, “Yeah, that was it.”

“Too bad. Me without my knife and you without your panties.”

“Yup. Too bad.” She walked past him and started digging around in her dresser. “That’s what you get for being a jerk and turning the game into something educational.”

He pouted and watched her slip on a ratty old t-shirt and a boring old plain white pair of panties. “Mean.”

She tied her hair back loosely and pouted right back at him. “Yup. Wanna help me unpack some stuff? I’ve got cool illegal music you can listen to.”

His eyebrow went up, “Illegal music?”

“Sure. Bootleg stuff. Mostly from California, some from Motown...that was in Detroit.”

“I’ve never heard of illegal music.”

“The government banned anything they considered salacious or un-American, whatever that meant. You had to have underground connections to get the good stuff.”

“And you had connections?”

Nora grinned, “Oh, yeah. The best. So, wanna help or not?”

He shoved his feet back into his shoes. “What kinda music is it?”

“Deacon, have you ever heard of the Beach Boys?”

Chapter Text

“Hey, Nora!” Deacon gave up trying to find anything in her hopelessly messy workshop, and walked down the hall towards her bedroom.

“Yeah?”

“Where’s uh…” He’d opened the curtain to find her topless, arms over her head, plaiting her hair into a tidy braid. The way she stood kind of reminded him of an old pinup he’d once seen and he came over, setting his hands on her waist and staring down at her breasts. “Yeah, nevermind. I found it.”

She laughed at him and stepped back, covering her chest so he could think straight. Thoughtful. “What were you actually looking for?”

He pouted at having his eye candy taken away for a moment before focusing. “Oh, right. Hammer. One of the shelves is loose on your bookcase.”

“Oh.” She turned and slipped on a long sleeve shirt and grabbed a pair of jeans. “Under the kitchen sink. There’s a little toolbox.”

“Okay...goin’ somewhere?”

“Just to Polly’s. I’m starving.”

He made a face at her, “You skipped breakfast and lunch, didn’t you?”

She made a face back, “I plead the fifth.”

They headed back down the hallway and she took a jacket off a little hook by the door. “Any requests?”

He rummaged around in her toolbox and finally pulled out a hammer and two serviceable nails to boot. “Yeah, you remembering meal times better.”

“Radroach it is!”

“No! That’s gross. If the options are radroach and death, you should choose death.”

“Fussy.”

“Get us some steaks and I’ll make them just like you like.”

“But I’m hungry now.”

“So grab an appetizer, too.”

“Ugh, fine.” She grabbed her shopping basket on her way out. “Those steaks better be worth it.”

He grinned as she left and went to work fixing her bookshelves. He’d seen at least two boxes worth of pre-war books and another that was labeled ‘family photo albums’ in Codsworth’s tidy script. He was dying to look through them, and maybe even borrow a few new books, and was pretty sure the key to getting those boxes unpacked was spiffing up her shelves for her.

Had nothing to do with the way her eyes had lit up a little when he’d started fixing things here and there, or how she’d teased him about being ‘handy’. Nope nope nope.

Deacon glanced at the clock in the kitchen before steadying the wobbly shelf and hammering in the two nails. Wasn’t even close to dinner time, unless they were suddenly geriatric early birds. Still, he’d skipped eating today, too (a fact that he did not intend to share). A mid-afternoon snack probably was in order.

Maybe if he kept it light enough, he could convince her to go on a real dinner date with him. The Dugout wouldn’t have been his first choice, of course, but it was better than nothing.

Certainly better than the Third Rail and it’s slop. He wasn’t sure he could stomach actually having to watch her eat that shit.

By the time she returned, he’d set the table and started chopping carrots. She had that sly look on her face like she’d just gotten away with something and he paused and watched her while she unpacked her groceries, a half eaten shishkabob of questionable origin dangling from her mouth.

“Whatcha so happy about there, boss?”

She grinned, “Just excited. You know I love your cooking, honey.”

Lie. “You know, if I’m supposed to be honest all the time with you, shouldn’t you be honest with me? What’s good for the goose and all that.”

Nora rolled her eyes, “I’m not lying. I really am excited and I really do love your cooking. You should really talk to Codsworth about that restaurant idea.”

“Bakery.”

“Right.” She tore off the last piece of mystery meat and tossed the skewer.

He watched her put beer in the fridge and his eyes narrowed at the way she couldn’t seem to stop chuckling to herself. “Alright, what’d you do?”

She looked up, all innocent eyes and pouted at him. “Who says I did anything?”

His head tilted, “M’hmm.” He was pretty sure she’d pulled some prank somewhere that was slowly maturing to fruition as they spoke, but let it go. “So did she have any brahmin?”

“No, just yao guai. Is that okay?” She passed two neatly wrapped steaks over.

“Yeah, that’s fine. Yao guai’s actually better than brahmin. Meat’s richer.”

“Okay. If you say so.” She hopped up on a stool and watched him work. “So you said your babysitter taught you to cook or whatever, right?”

“Yup.”

“How old were you?”

He shrugged, “I dunno...ten or eleven. Old enough to mind myself most days. By then she only stopped by to make sure I got my homework started after school while my dad was at work.”

“Oh.” She swiveled back and forth on the stool for a second. “Can I ask you something?”

“Shoot.” The pan had finally heated to sizzling temperature and he tossed two very large dollops of butter in before pressing the steaks down to get a good sear.

“If...if you’re, you know, still around and all when I get Shaun back, do you think you could teach him how to cook?”

The spatula he’d been using slipped right out of his hand, hitting the wall behind the stove before clattering to the counter while he fumbled after it. He managed to catch it before it fell to the floor and stared over his shoulder at her.

She’d clearly seen the whole thing, that old cynical smile on her face before she looked away. “It’s cool. Don’t worry about it.”

Pre-Deacon was in full panic mode and his words tumbled out before Deacon could stop them. “No, I’d love that. I’d love teaching Shaun to cook. That would be--”, he finally managed to clamp his flapping mouth shut and turned back to the steaks and cleared his throat. “I wouldn’t mind.” He frowned to himself. His control hadn’t been outright usurped like that in ages.

Silence stretched on long enough for him to flip the steaks and feel mildly uncomfortable before she spoke.

“Okay. Thanks.”

Relief swept through him and he mentally stared pre-Deacon down until he slunk back into his hidey hole. Kid was going to ruin shit if he panicked every time she seemed disappointed in them.

“No problem.” He shrugged like teaching her son to cook wasn’t the greatest honor he’d ever been given and changed the subject. “So what’s in the big fancy crate over there?” He gestured towards the corner of the living room where a large, wooden box sat.

“Oh, that’s my new TV. Abbot brought it in from someplace.”

“Neat. Wanna have a movie night?” He slid the skillet into the oven to finish the steaks and went back to chopping vegetables.

“Maybe. I don’t even know if it works yet. It’s color, you know. Nate always said color sets weren’t worth it. Too fragile for the money.”

“Color?”

“Yup.”

“Fancy.”

She grinned, “Not as fancy as my new bathroom’s gonna be.”

Deacon laughed, “Don’t you already have a bathroom?”

“Oh, that shoebox barely counts. No, he’s going to put in a real one, with a tub and everything.”

He looked around her house, “Where?”

“Right there.” She pointed at the far wall of the living room. “Right by the door. That way Shaun will have his own space, and guests can use it, too...cause, you know, you don’t really want people traipsing through the bedroom all the time.”

“Smart.”

“There’s also going to be a washer and dryer installed. I’m so tired of hand washing everything.”

“Damn, princess. Gonna be like Shangri-la in here.”

“Yup, that’s what I’m going for...so is there anything I can help with?”

“Grab us two beers. This is about done.”

“Okay.” She hopped off the stool and pulled out cold beer from the back, setting them and herself at the table. “What’s your favorite thing to eat?”

“Mirelurk steaks with salsa...but if I just want comfort food, Blamco mac-n-cheese all the way.”

“Nice.”

He came over and forked salad onto her plate. “What’s yours?”

“Pre-bomb or post?”

“Both.” The steaks came out and he tested them with a fork. Medium rare. Perfect.

Nora popped a carrot into her mouth and crunched on it thoughtfully. “I guess, back in the day, a cheeseburger fresh off the grill. Big old pickle and french fries with Old Bay seasoning. I used to count the days until Memorial Day weekend when grilling season really got going.”

“You know you could have that now, right? It’s not hard to make most of that stuff.”

She scrunched up her nose, “Yeah, but it won’t be the same. There’s no iceberg lettuce, no red onions, no real ketchup or mustard. It would just make me sad.”

Deacon laughed and set her steak on her plate, drizzling a little of the hot butter from the pan over it. “Okay then...what’s your favorite thing to eat now?”

“Whatever you cook.”

He rolled his eyes, “Flatterer. Come on, seriously.”

“I am being serious!”

“You literally have your own robot chef.”

“Yeah, and he’s still trying to recreate old world recipes with ingredients that will never be proper substitutes.” She smiled at him as he sat across the table. “Seriously, honey, your food is hands down the best I’ve had since I left the vault.”

“Oh...well…” He didn’t know what to do with an honest compliment like that and smiled, suddenly a little nervous. “Thanks.”

“M’hmm.” She’d already stuffed at least two bites of steak in her mouth and was spacing out, making ridiculous faces as she chewed. “S’good.”

He snorted and cut a bite for himself. It was fine, but whatever she tasted in it, he did not. Just tasted like yao guai to him.

After eating, Deacon helped her carefully push all the living room furniture ten feet towards the kitchen. Abbot would cover everything with tarps, of course, and would have been happy to move it, probably, but Nora insisted. Then they crowbarred open the TV crate and she whistled at the shiny chrome and spiffy mahogany paneling on it.

“It’s a goddamn Westinghouse. Would you look at that screen? Gotta be at least twenty-one inches.” Her hand reverently pet the top of the TV.

“And that’s...good?”

“It’s great! Westinghouse was top of the line!” She jumped a little in place. “Let’s get it set up! I wanna see if it actually works!”

He chuckled at her excited dancing around and rolled it over close to the wall. “Should I go ahead and plug it in?”

She was digging out the holoplayer from her pack and nodded, “Yeah, yeah, it’s gotta warm up.”

Deacon pushed the plug into a socket and grinned to himself as the telltale hum of vacuum tubes warming up filled the air. “Looks like we’ve got a winner here, boss.”

Nora made a shrill excited noise and bounced over, “Okay, let’s get this set up. I am so excited!”

“Yeah, I noticed.” He sat on the couch and watched her hover around the TV, plugging in cords and clicking the dials in ways that were beyond him. “So, everything hook up alright?”

She grinned and pulled a holo from her pocket, “We’ll see!”

He crossed his fingers and watched as the screen went from static to glorious color. Painfully bright blue and gold filled the screen as the Twentieth Century Fox logo appeared and music blared from the tiny speakers.

“It works! Deacon, it works!”

“Yeah! What’re we watching?”

“Cleopatra! Those costumes! I haven’t seen it in color since I saw it in a theater.”

He frowned a bit as she came over and flopped next to him. “Isn’t that movie kinda...long?”

“Five and a half hours.”

Yeah, no. That wouldn’t give them much time for their date. “Why don’t we finish unpacking while it’s on?”

She pouted at him, “Since when are you a responsible adult?”

“Since now.” He nudged her, “Come on. It’ll always be here.”

“So will the boxes.”

“Not if we unpack them. And hey, if we get it mostly done...I’ll give you a surprise.”

“Is that what you’re calling your penis now?”

“No, that’s Sir Edgar Pennyfarthing and you better respect it.” She glared at him and he laughed, “Seriously, it’ll be a good surprise.”

“What is it?”

“A date.”

She blinked, “A date?”

“Yeah, we’re...together now. We should go on dates, right?”

Her eyes slid away from his, back to the TV, but he didn’t think she was really watching anything. “I...guess. Where’s this date gonna be at?”

“The Dugout. I wanted to do something...bigger, but Diamond City only has so many options, so…”, he shrugged.

“Why not the Taphouse?”

“The Taphouse?” Deacon frowned, “If we go there, I gotta be George.”

Her eyes returned to his face and she laughed, “Who’s George?”

“My Upper Stands disguise.”

“Who do I get to be?”

He sighed, “They already know you, so you’d just be you.”

“That hardly seems fair.”

“That’s what comes from being famous.”

“Oh, yeah, that’s me. Just so famous over here.”

“You are. Travis talks about you on the radio all the time, and he broadcasts from here to the Glowing Sea, princess. You’re the closest thing Diamond City’s had to a real celebrity since...ever, maybe. Let’s just hit the Dugout.”

“Hmm.” She considered the offer and shook her head, “Nope. Taphouse or nothing.”

“Now who’s fussy? Fine. Taphouse it is. You have anything appropriate to wear?”

She grinned, “I just might.”

“Then let’s get unpacking.”

Nora was surprisingly generous with her book collection and let Deacon borrow every one he held up and showed her. He stopped himself at three, before the old world trinket hoarder in him went bonkers and tried to swipe an entire box worth. Besides, it wasn’t like Les Misérables was a light read. Three should keep him busy for a couple of weeks, anyway.

He didn’t even have to ask about the photo albums. She’d actually flipped open the first one to show him a picture of her posing on the fender of a pristine, bright red Corvega Coupe, bragging about its 800 horsepower fusion engine and how it could go from ‘zero to sixty’ in less than a second. He’d been a little more interested in the cherry-print dress she’d had on and how delicious her lips had looked wearing lipstick that matched the paint, but he managed to make the appropriate noises and she’d passed him the album to peruse while she shelved the rest.

Vehicles had clearly been a big deal for her family. Alex had a good looking bike, also red. Nate had a beat-up, but clearly beloved, old truck. It had probably been green...or maybe white, before the rust and dirt had taken over. Lots of pictures of picnics and trips to the drive-in. One from a camping trip to a lake he’d never seen before was one of his favorites, with Nora looking adorably lost, fishing in a pair of comically oversized waders.

Parts of him had always lamented the life he’d had to leave behind, but this had to be so much harder for her; to go from a world of wonder to a Wasteland. He tried to put himself in her place and figured if it had happened to him, he’d probably have already started the carnage and mass murder spree. The anger he felt at those who’d destroyed everything was almost overwhelming at times and he’d never even experienced most of the shit he was mourning. Actually knowing what everyone was missing would be a thousand times worse.

She refused to let him help unpack the three boxes of pre-war clothes Codsworth had managed to save, however. No matter how much he pouted about it.

“If I let you help, you’ll ruin the surprise!”

He watched her shove the last box behind the curtain to her bedroom and scowled. “What surprise?”

“The one for our date tonight.” Nora grinned at him and he huffed.

“You don’t have to get that fancy. It’s only the Taphouse…”

“Which is the fanciest place in the entire Commonwealth, right?”

He sighed, “I guess.”

She nodded, “And as fucking sad as that is, I haven’t got to play dress up in over two hundred years.”

“Fine...it had better be worth it, though.”

“So what’s this George like, anyway?”

Deacon shrugged, “You met him once before. After the cop, before the…” Shit. How was he supposed to describe pre-Deacon?

“The poet?”

He mentally rolled his eyes at pre-Deacon’s smug prancing. “Yeah, him.”

“So, the guy with the flowers...seemed like quite the gentleman.”

“Oh, yeah. George is always a gentleman. Vapid, conniving, and a born liar, but definitely a gentleman.”

“So, how is that a character exactly? He sounds just like you.”

“Hey! I am not vapid.”

“Whatever you say, hot stuff. What do you usually use him for?”

“Listening to gossip, mostly. The occasional distraction seduction. Lots of traders come through Diamond City, and unfortunately that includes slave traders. Synths sell for a lot of caps on the open market. Especially if they haven’t been wiped yet.”

“That’s terrible.”

“Yeah, well...we’ve got a guy on the inside of the Institute. Dez named him Patriot. He communicates with Tinker sometimes and tries to let us know when someone’s about to get emancipated. Sends synths out with an old world map of Boston so they can try to get here. Those who are teleported nearby do alright, but some get sent way, way out in the Wastes. They usually run into assholes before they meet someone willing to help them.”

“Does the Railroad try to get to them first?”

“If we’re able to find their location, sure. Glory gets sent out to deal with slavers a lot. She likes it. Drops the packages off at Bunker Hill after.”

“The monument?”

“Yeah. It's a settlement that’s sympathetic to us nowadays. Kind of our hub for getting synths outta the Commonwealth.”

“Hmm.” She turned him around and started pushing him towards the door. “So, should I expect George around nine?”

“He doesn’t really pick up women at their doors. He’s more a bar trawler.”

“Even better then! Nine at the Taphouse.”

“Uh...sure.” The door shut behind him and shook his head. Used for a meal and hard labor and then kicked out. Typical.

Deacon had a couple of hours until nine and absolutely nothing of interest to do in Diamond City for that amount of time. Did all pre-war women really need that long to get ready, or was this another odd Nora thing?

Arturo was busy wiping down his counter. Maybe he had some news for him...probably not, but slapping George together took all of fifteen minutes at best, so anything to kill some time.

He casually wandered over and leaned back against the counter, eyes taking in the market. “Hey, pal. Got a geiger counter?”

“Mine’s in the shop, friend...did you need something?”

“Update on our mutual friend would be good.”

“Which one?”

The slightly disgruntled tone caught his attention and Deacon turned to properly face him. “What do you mean?”

The arms dealer scrubbed the counter a little harder, “I saw you. Snuck right into her house. What’s that about?”

He shrugged, “I dunno. Why do you care?”

“I care…” He stopped. It had clearly come out louder than intended. He cleared his throat and tried again, “I care because she’s a friend. And not just to me. If something...something were to happen to her, Nina would be... upset.”

Yeah, he was betting it wouldn’t just be little Nina who would be upset. “You d