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Freedom Trail

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Sanctuary’s bird population hasn’t mutated beyond the habit of waking way too early and starting up a pre-dawn chorus. The sky is just barely starting to lighten when he opens his eyes. Blinking in the near darkness. The bed is warm, though he seems to have lost most of the covers, and one of his arms is cramping up from hours spent cradled against his chest. The other is draped across Deacon’s ribcage.

Still here? he thinks blearily, flexing his fingers with a wince. He can feel Deacon’s ribs rise and fall with every breath; deep and even, untroubled sleep.

It’s tempting to just stay where he is. But he’s an early riser, and most of Sanctuary’s people know that. Codsworth will come looking if he doesn’t at least trek down to the communal kitchen for tea. And he’s still not too sure where Deacon’s at inside his own head, but getting woken up by a flamethrower-wielding robot probably isn’t going to help matters any.

He eases out from under the covers. Deacon barely twitches. His breathing stays steady, eyes closed, and he looks impossibly vulnerable without the sunglasses.

“Be right back,” he mouths at the sleeping man, and goes to dig a pair of pants out of a storage chest.

Thankfully, Codsworth is pottering around on the ground floor, wiping a bench that no amount of wiping can ever really clean. The robot looks up at the creak of the staircase; he doesn’t have a face to smile with, but his eye stalks visibly perk up.

“Good morning, sir! You’re up early, and looking rather cheerful, if you don’t mind my saying so. How did you sleep?”

He lifts a finger to his lips. “Hey, Codsworth. Keep it down a little, yeah? I, uh…” he trails off, glancing up at the ceiling, and when he looks back, Codsworth’s three eyes have widened to full capacity. It’s actually almost funny.

Someone fetch the robot a fainting couch, he imagines Deacon saying, and has to hold in a laugh.

“Sir?” Codsworth asks tentatively. “Do you mean to say you had company for the night?” The way he says company reveals an inner war between curiosity and pre-programmed discretion.

“I did, yeah. He’s still asleep, I don’t want to wake him up if I don’t have to. He’s had a rough time of it recently.”

“This wouldn’t happen to be the personage you asked Mister Valentine to look for, would it?”

Looks like everyone knows. He’s not sure why he’s surprised; no doubt Nick was suitably tactful in spreading the news, and it saves him a lot of explaining.

“That’s the one. He’s alive,” and his voice cracks slightly as it really hits him. “A lot of people died, but he made it out, and then he came home.”

“I see,” Codsworth says gently. “Well, let me be the first to express my heartfelt relief, if I may. We’ve all been terribly worried about both of you. Now, you stay right here, sir, and I’ll see if I can’t rustle up some tea. No, no, it’s no trouble at all!” He heads for the door, before pausing and swiveling back. “Do tell Master Deacon that I am so terribly pleased to see him again, and I hope he plans to make his stay a long one.” He ducks out the door with a haste that almost looks embarrassed.

Seem like there’s nobody Deacon can’t win over.

He settles down on the bottom step, leaning back. Closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them, Codsworth is hovering tactfully a few feet away, clearing a throat he doesn’t actually have.

“Your tea, sir,” he says, offering a thermos and two cups. “Might I suggest you refrain from pouring it until Master Deacon is awake? Saves having to reheat. Also, breakfast will be ready in an hour or so, at the usual time. I’ll bring some up, shall I? I dare say you both deserve a bit of a lie-in.”

“Thanks, Codsworth.” He stands, wincing as his spine protests. “I’ll go see if Sleeping Beauty’s decided to rejoin the land of the living.”

He finds Deacon still asleep, most of the covers wrapped tight around him. Outside, the sky is getting just light enough to reveal details; crow’s feet at the corners of his eyes, stubble shadowing his chin. It’s impossible to know how old he is, and pointless to ask something he’d just lie about. Still, he could well be in his forties. Which…depending on how you look at it, makes them both the older man. Seems like something Deacon will appreciate hearing, when he wakes up.

The tea gets set aside on his rickety, much-repaired desk; with a sigh, he pulls a pile of Minutemen reports towards himself instead. They’ve started stacking up. He hasn’t been able to deal with them just recently. Now, with the sun rising behind him, he gets to reading.

Half an hour later, Deacon finally wakes.

He does it without warning, like he does everything else. One minute he’s passed out, blankets drawn up to his chin, and the next-

“The light. It burns.”

“Sure does, if you’ve been asleep for about ten hours.” He lays the Minutemen reports aside and reaches for the thermos. “Morning, sweetheart. You want tea?”

Under the blankets, Deacon throws him a baleful look. “I freaking knew it. You absolutely don’t respect me anymore. Like, at all. All the mystery is gone.”

“Nah. I still think you’re plenty mysterious.” He brings a chipped cup of tea over to the bed, waiting for Deacon to sit up before handing it over. “Handsome, too. Did I mention that you have amazing eyes?”

“Figures,” Deacon says. “You’re a sap. I might have known. So, wait, what’s this about ten hours? No way. I’m physically incapable of sleeping that long, it never happens.”

“It did this time. But you were kind of a mess.”

“That I was.” Deacon sips the tea, closing his eyes briefly. “Thanks.”

“Codsworth made it.”

“Not what I was referring to, wiseass.”

He brings his own tea over to the bed, sitting cross-legged on the covers at Deacon’s side. They toast each other with their mugs; he sees the humour in Deacon’s eyes, and relaxes. “You don’t have anything to thank me for. I’m just glad you’re alive.”

“Yeah, well. You and me both. I’m pretty attached to my own skin, however often I get it changed.”

“You and me both.” He pats Deacon’s knee through the covers. Lets his hand linger. It’s not that things are…tense, exactly, because they never are. He’s just not too sure of where the new boundaries are. If they even have any.

“You’ve got your thinky face on,” Deacon tells him. “Please tell me we’re not about to do the awkward morning after dance, because that’s not in my job description and I’m totally unqualified to handle it.”

He looks up. “No, uh-“

“Great. Awesome. C’mere and kiss me good morning, I hate feeling all weird around you. We’re better than that. Right?”

“Right.” He leans over and surrenders. Deacon’s lips are warm, taste of weak tea, and they meld with his like this is something they’ve been doing for years. He can’t help but sigh. Feels Deacon smile in response.

“That’s nice. Could really get used to that. Which is a terrible idea and a giant safety risk and we’d probably better keep it on the down low to keep us both from getting Institute-napped, but…yeah. We could work something out. Just make sure Dez never hears about it. Or Carrington, that son-of-a.”

He sits back, getting comfortable against Deacon’s legs. “That won’t be a problem, seeing as I’ve never met either of them.”

“About that,” Deacon says, abruptly serious. “Think it’s long past time you did.”

“Seriously?”

“Yeah. I’m not saying it’ll be the easiest thing in the world, and you’ll have to do the actual finding yourself, though I’m totally prepared to come with you all the way up to Diamond City and then draw you a map or something. Better bring Dogmeat, thar be sea monsters. By which I mean lots and lots of ghouls.”

“My favourite thing.” He sips his tea and smiles. It’s good to have a mission. A direction. A secret Deacon’s finally ready to share.

“Nothing you can’t handle,” Deacon says. “Most of the problem’s finding us in the first place. Ever heard of the Freedom Trail?”

“Can’t say I have.”

“Better for us, then. The less people know, the safer we are.” Deacon finishes his tea, holding the mug loosely in his lap. His eyes are soft; it’s a shock, still, to actually see them. An intimacy that threatens to take his breath away. “It’s pretty freakin cool, actually. You have to blindly follow a red line on the ground, past a bunch of interesting and educational historical structures- and you’d better stop and read those goddamn plaques. I polished every single one of them, and they’re just super. Totally factual. You’ll learn so much.”

“Follow red line, read plaques, learn history, subdue sea monsters. Got it.” In the distance, Sanctuary’s bell starts to toll; the morning call for communal breakfast. They’ll move past that someday, in a year or two, when households are able to cook their own meals. It’ll be a sign of independence. But it’ll also be a loss of sorts. Them’s the breaks, he supposes. The cost of progress after the apocalypse. “This doesn’t sound too tricky.”

Downstairs, he can hear Codsworth moving about, calling up a greeting. Coming up with breakfast. Unasked, he reaches for Deacon’s sunglasses where they lie on the bedside table. Hands them over.

“Thanks,” Deacon says. And the sunglasses are back in place, but the sense of companionship lingers, and they don’t go back to being strangers. “You, you won’t have any issues walking the Freedom Trail.” He grins, sudden and bright. “You’ve been walking it for a long time now.”