"And there she is. The most resilient woman in the Commonwealth."
She's gonna peel the smirk right off of Kellogg's face. She knows that if she's careful she can get it all in one piece, but she doesn't think she'll be careful. She didn't bring any sedatives, and she doesn't see anything she could tie him down with, so he'll probably squirm anyway.
That's all right.
She can improvise.
In another world, Alice would have gone to war.
She would have been good at it. She would have chewed up Alaska and spat it out at her country's feet, victorious, flush with murder and pleasure, a dangerous predator playing housecat for her own amusement. She would have smiled her way into communist bars, and walked out with new Red friends; taken them apart in the peace and quiet of her cellar, and delivered them in shivering, screaming pieces to her favourite officers. Oh, she would have been damn good at war.
"You don't even know who I am, do you?"
Smile. Let him see her teeth. Let the reality sink into his gut like a stone, like slow poison. She enjoys this part-- stretches like a cat with her hands raised to the ceiling, flicks the switchblade in her fingers until it makes a lazy, silver disc spinning above her head, angles her hips and hums pleasure. Her spinal column cracks and pops; she catches the edge of a repressed flinch somewhere around Kellogg's eyes.
That smirk sure didn't hold up long. These tissue-paper people, pretending they're made of steel.
(The synths don't even twitch. That's how she knows there's nothing behind the eyes.)
In this world, the war dragged her best friend north instead, and Alice was left behind to pace between the confining walls of her downtown apartment, snarling at the television as it announced troop movements and casualties.
The pace of life without Nate was... unlivable. Nate had been here-- had belonged to Alice-- since she was seven years old and found him, two years younger, crying alone in the alcove between the swing-set and the jungle gym, sand in his hair and tears all down his face and blood on his lip, and utterly unable to articulate his misery in a way she could understand. It took her all summer to learn his language-- to learn how to roll strange new syllables on her tongue and hold tones in her throat, to learn the secret name she held in trust, to learn how to hear plain English and Mandarin and Cantonese in the same word-- and when she finally did, she got three names and threw three punches and from then on, he was hers.
Her whole life, from that moment, had been about him.
He was hers when they were children, and she had to shimmy across a roof and make a three foot drop to the ground and then a six foot climb over a hedge to even get into his part of town, and then make the rounds around his neighborhood and remind all the worthless, petty little creatures he lived beside that touching Nate was a decision they would deeply, permanently regret.
He was hers into the confused and fumbling advances of young adulthood, when he had gone on a whole two dates with a bottle blonde and Alice had finally lost the fight with her own jealousy and dragged him behind a Red Rocket Station to illustrate all the reasons that redheads were preferable and also, while she was at it, cut off all of Jeannie's hair in the middle of the night.
He was hers when the price of food got so bad that she had to personally fill his shelves while he fretted in the doorway hissing at her in English as if that would erase the Chinese characters on all the packages, as if she would feed him trash like Fancy Lads when there was a perfectly serviceable (if mildly black market) Thai grocer who would sell to her at half price because she had smiled with slightly too many teeth.
Nate was hers.
No one touched what was hers.
She gave long, serious thought to how she would impress this law upon the upper echelons of the United States military.
She was planning to start with needles and work her way up.
"You fucked up real bad, honey. Give me his child, and I'll start with cutting your throat."
It is a bad decision.
He didn't want to go. She knew, because she could hear all the layers in his voice, because she knew his secret name. But he went willingly, or close enough to it that he gave her The Look when she suggested they could always defect.
("That's a dangerous joke, Alice." he said, one edge concerned and the other gently chiding. It might be, if she was given to humor.)
So she tried very hard to be good for him. To be calm. To be patient. He asked for very little-- good, kind, generous Nate-- and she gave him whatever she could. Most of the things she was inclined to give as gifts-- the eyes plucked out of a vile man's head; a street gone quiet with carefully cultivated anxiety; her own charms and pleasures-- were not what he asked for in the dark, prayers whispered into her hair in his mother-tongue, when he could imagine she was asleep and she could pretend that she knew all along.
"情. 安詳. 慎. 忍耐. 信. "
She listened. She tried. It was not in her nature, and she was regretting it now. She would have liked, very much, to illustrate her serenity on the news broadcaster's extremely punch-able mouth.
She could be at the station in twenty minutes. He'd be off the air by then, and she could invite him home--
She should never have let Nate leave.
Fort Hagen is the first time she's killed these "synths", and so far she's not keen on it. They crunch unpleasantly, and they don't flinch or shudder or scream when she does damage, so it's difficult to tell when she's really, properly hurting them. But they do, eventually, go down-- the lights go very literally out in their eyes, and she does enjoy that little fragment of irony.
She's killed a lot of people, and it wasn't until she slammed four inches of steel into a plastic head and twisted that she actually got to see what the old world's poets were always whining about.
She flicks something slick and dark and distinctively not blood-- oil, maybe; something that makes its little mechanical brain spin-- off her knife and swivels neatly to survey the room. There had only been a handful of synths left by the time she reached Kellogg, and they're all very messily disassembled now. Kellogg himself is swearing blue murder at the dog, trying to wrench his arm away from 80 pounds of snarling, biting fur.
The dog, she'll admit, is growing on her.
She slices through several inches of leather to puncture Kellogg's Achilles tendon before he can get a bead on the dog and watches his collapse with grim satisfaction.
Alice had never wanted children. She was a greedy girl, and she was a jealous woman, disinclined to share her limited affection. A child was just a tiny, vulnerable thing that wasn't Nate, and she had no interest in tiny, vulnerable things that weren't him. She could barely muster an interest in other adults, and when she did it was... not often to their advantage. She had no doubt that she would drown any child left in her care within a week.
Nate didn't push.
She straddles Kellogg's chest while the dog snarls, fur all bristled up, still worrying at the man's arm-- she wonders if it'll actually manage to get through the armor, given enough time. Kellogg brings his pistol up, but it's clear that even he knows it's pointless, and Alice doesn't bother to punish him for the rudeness, just wrenches the weapon out of his hand-- breaks a finger, probably-- and tosses it behind her to play with later.
"Let's chat." she says, flat, and slams her switchblade through Kellogg's hand, and then into a desk.
To his credit, he swallows the scream.
That's all right.
She can be patient.
When she was a girl, not long before she met Nate, Alice's father brought her a kitten.
It was tiny, and white, and graceless. It would stumble along in her shadow, mewing, tumbling over shoes, stones, shadows. Once, it was so startled to discover the existence of its own tail that it had gone puffy and alarmed, tiny back arched in a ridiculous curve, tiny claws thrashing helplessly at the air. She had no idea why it had been given to her.
Two weeks later, the neighbor's dog broke its leash and chased the tiny, useless thing into a storm drain.
Alice spent a week checking all the drains on their street, whispering into the dark. "Come out. Come out. I'll protect you better this time."
She never found it, although now she knows it probably drowned.
She fed the neighbor's dog to the feral cats downtown.
It occurs to her, after ten minutes, that Kellogg's not really feeling any of this. The dog is more alarmed than he is, hunched under a desk and gnawing fitfully on a teddy bear while she works.
Well. He's feeling it a little, if the grimace is telling her anything, but not the way he should be. She scowls at him, jabbing him gently in the ribs with the point of the combat knife she's been using since her switchblade is... occupied. He twitches slightly, which really just illustrates her point.
"Hey. Shit-for-brains. Did you Med-X up before the fight, you little sneak?"
Kellogg sneers at her without comment. She kind of hates his face. She twists the knife a little, considering her options, and then shoves it abruptly into his mouth-- clips his tongue, she's pretty sure-- and pulls it to one side, holding his jaw in place with her free hand.
"Tell you what. If you're not really getting into this, we can move straight to the permanent maiming category. How's that? Because I'm thinking, if you're not going to participate in our chit-chat, you don't really need your lower jaw." she says, angling the knife experimentally against his teeth.
She hasn't actually ripped someone's jaw off before. It might be interesting.
He makes an inarticulate noise, which is probably her fault, to be fair.
She started in Harvard.
Well, that's not true. She started when she was fifteen, when she climbed through Nate's window and found him hiding bruises, when he flinched from her fingers in the dark. He wouldn't tell her who had done it, but by then Alice knew how to talk to people so they'd talk more, and when she had cornered Robert in a bathroom stall with all the promise of her (sweet, red, sharp) mouth he was too stupid to lie. She left him in an alley with a stolen knife in his belly and all his pockets empty and licked her teeth clean before she was halfway home.
Nate made such a fuss about it, Cantonese too fast even for her, even when she assured him that she had been careful, nobody would know, he was safe now. She still didn't really understand why he was upset, at the end of the night, but she agreed not to do it again. She didn't like him to be distressed.
But he didn't know everyone in Boston, and he was away and she was bored, and there were plenty of people who might pose a threat to him, in an abstract way. So. She started in Harvard.
She got a lot of practice.
Alice squints at him for a minute, but pulls the knife out of his mouth just to see. If he's not any more agreeable, she'll can always get right back to business.
She definitely sliced up his tongue-- his mouth is bloody when he speaks. "What do you want?"
She stares at him for a long minute, then glances at the dog uncertainly. "The baby? Child? Whatever age he is now? Shaun." She's said this, she's pretty sure. She's made this clear.
Kellogg sighs like he is the oldest and most tired man on the planet. "I can't give you that. What do you want from me."
This is more comfortable footing. Alice bares her teeth, lets the hand on Kellogg's jaw slide down to his throat and squeeze. "You will give me that, if I have to pry it out of you with my teeth and fingernails. I will have him back. He's mine."
After a year in Alaska, they sent Nate home. She met him at the harbor, smiled barely-concealed hate at the officers who tried to slow her down, dragged him to her car and bundled him into it and took him home.
He was quiet on the ride to the new house she had bought in a flurry of panic when she got the call, flinched when she touched him, just like when she was fifteen and didn't know Robert's name yet. She didn't need to hear a name now, though. She knew what happened. She could trace it in the scars he didn't have when he left, wrapped around his back, creeping up his neck. She felt the familiar heat of rage; crushed it into the back of her throat until she could find something safe to spill it on. Even if she could have left him-- she would never leave him-- there wasn't anyone left to kill over it. Nate had handled that himself.
He stood in the doorway to the bedroom-- she'd only furnished one, but she could shove a bed into the empty room across the hall if he needed her to, if he couldn't-- and made a strangled, almost-silent sound in his throat. She scraped her teeth over the back of his neck, sighing, and he shivered, turned, wrapped himself around her and pressed his nose against her hair. She let him, breathed in the familiar smell of him-- oil and metal, from the Corvega factory before and the Power Armor now; skin and salt-- and traced his shuddering ribs with her fingertips, gentle, gentle.
"You're home, Ling." she said, and felt him jerk-- not unlike being stabbed-- a fraction of a second before the first sob shuddered out of him.
Kellogg wheezes a laugh. "Yeah, I got that. You're real mom-of-the-year-material. But I told you. I couldn't bring you to him if I wanted to."
She hisses wordless rage into his face, digs her fingers into his throat, into the open wounds she's made. None of it matters. She knows. She knows what liars look like, before and after she takes them apart, and he's not one.
"I hate you," she snarls, bites his bleeding mouth. That, if nothing else, startles him a little-- he jerks back and slams into the back of the desk. "God, fuck, I want to scoop out your heart and eat it, you pitiful trash, how fucking dare you, he's mine, he's mine and he's thawing and rotting and his baby is gone--"
Kellogg makes a strained, wounded noise and she's not even sure if it's something she did.
She worked, picking apart cases and witnesses and juries. Nate stayed home, the normal world too bright, too fast, too much for him to process. That was fine. She liked knowing where he was. She liked being sure he was safe, after a year without that surety, and she liked driving out to Sanctuary Hills with the promise that when she walked in he would be pacing the living room, waiting for her to open the door so he could swing her inside and kiss her like he wasn't compulsively checking her body for injuries.
As if she would let someone injure her.
She broke her stride, for a while, after Nate came home; too focused on putting him back together to take other people apart. It took her five corpses to get a rhythm back, and twelve for the news to realize something was happening. She couldn't blame them-- there wasn't much obvious reason to her rhyme. "Dangerous to Nate" wasn't the kind of thing detectives profiled. They might not have picked up on a pattern at all, if she hadn't gotten so particular about how she disassembled them.
That was all right.
She was careful.
Sometimes Nate would read the paper at night and go still, uneasy, glancing at her over the newsprint. She just smiled at him, guileless, and combed her fingers through his hair, laid kisses up his neck, until he put it away to put his hands on her, instead.
She was pretty sure Shaun was conceived on one of those nights, actually.
It takes a while for her to realize she's crying. She registers the dampness on her face dimly-- arterial blood gets everywhere, it's not a new experience-- but it isn't until she sees tears actually falling on Kellogg's face that she recognizes it.
She jerks back, stumbles off of him and scrubs the heel of her hand into her eye sockets, snarling around sobs. This is ridiculous. She's never done this before. What's the point of it, it just makes it hard to see and hard to catch her breath, this is stupid. The dog darts out from under the desk and presses hard against her leg, whining. She means to swat at it, but somehow she ends up half-collapsed on the floor, breathing open-mouthed against its dirty fur, clinging to the animal like it might stop this from happening.
When she opens her eyes, Kellogg hasn't moved. He's watching her with something dull and wounded in his expression, like the echo of sympathy, and she hates it.
"You," she says, and her voice is useless, reedy, shivery. She clears her throat, snarls, tries again. "You're mine now. This... this Institute threw you away for me to clean up and you're mine now. I own you, and I will use you until I get him back."
Kellogg doesn't say anything. She hates it.
"If you're very, very lucky," she says, crawling back over and ripping her switchblade out of his hand, "I'll kill you quickly when you're useless."
She stabs a stimpak into his neck before she can change her mind, and he finally flinches, his eyes skittering off of her. She stalks back to the dog, scrapes the remnants of tears off her face, rasps out "Fetch," and watches it bound joyfully across the room looking for scrap to bring her.
"Not sure this arrangement is really to my benefit." Kellogg says from the floor, dry.
"I can always cut you into little pieces, if you prefer." she snaps, shoving open desk drawers and rifling through them for useful trash. "I've got time."
He hums a little, amused.
She throws a half-empty pack of cigarettes at his face.
She had a greasy-haired mob hitman stretched out on the table when the nausea hit her.
There was a showerhead in one corner of the cellar, and she made it there in time to vomit directly over the drain, braced on the concrete wall.
"What's the matter, bitch? Lost the stomach for it? Huh?" the man snarled, voice rising, just a little bit hysterical.
She flicked the shower on without answering him-- he was restrained, she'd get back to him-- and filled her mouth with water, spat, waited for the sour tang to fade. Thought, while water plastered her clothes to her skin; kicked her shoes off into the corner when they started to fill with water. She traced her own abdomen with one hand, humming in the back of her throat.
Nate didn't push. But she knew what he wanted, in the secret corners of himself.
Nate didn't push. And he didn't keep track of her pills.
Alice spun, smiling manic, and glided to her latest playmate on her bare toes, picked a scalpel at random, leaned over him and made eye contact. Eye contact was an important component of any conversation. She'd read studies.
"Do you think it counts as baby's first murder if it's unborn?" she asked.
The hitman didn't seem interested.
She thought it counted.
"What did you do, before the War?" Kellogg asks around a cigarette. The stimpaks have stitched most of him back together, but he's still slumped against the desk where she left him, like the very idea of standing is too much energy.
Alice looks back over her shoulder, braced in the doorway, and smiles with, to be honest, a lot of teeth. Her hair is a wild red halo under the fluorescent lights, and there's still blood-- his blood-- splattered across the bridge of her nose. She spins the chamber on Kellogg's gun-- hers, now-- and twists just enough to sight him down the barrel. He grimaces at her.
"They called me the Boston Butcher. Look me up sometime."
When Alice told Nate that she was pregnant, that she was keeping it, that it was theirs, he had picked her up and spun her like a doll, radiant with startled delight, a confusion of English and Cantonese spilling out of him. Silly nonsense. Love.
It had chased some of the shadows of Anchorage away from him. For that, if nothing else, she would be careful with it.
It was tiny, and vulnerable, and not Nate-- but it was his, and he was hers.
When it was born, she wrote Shaun in careful, precise letters on the birth certificate.
When he was born, she whispered "Zheng" in his tiny ear.