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Hard and Loud

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There's a part of Nick—way back in the silicate, so to speak—that recognizes the form. It's an unconventional place and time to find it, sure, but it's still a smooth kick to the back of the knee and blow to Dino's head with the butt of her pistol that speaks to academy training. Nick's never been within ten yards of a police academy that wasn't burnt to the ground or a converted raider fortress, but still, the thought drifts up from the dead man he's made out of: academy?  

"Hey, you. I don't know who you are, but we got three minutes before they realize muscles-for brains ain't coming back," he calls. "Get this door open." 

The pat down is all cop too. She's thorough but efficient, and turns up a holotape from Dino's pocket she plugs into the terminal by the door with no hesitation or confusion about how to use it. There's the hiss as the hydraulics kick in and then it slides open. The woman has her gun up. Not scared, or jumpy-looking, but firm in stance and focus as she makes a study of him. Scrutiny isn't new. Nick plays casual and ironic the way he prefers: lighting up a cigarette and sticking it between his plastic lips. He takes a drag that makes smoke pour out of the missing parts of his cheeks. Her eyes narrow at him. 

"Ain't seen nothing like you before," she says. The left corner of her mouth twitches, as if suppressing a laugh, before she adds, "Of course, I've been told I've been out of the game for a long while. All detectives robots now, Mr. Valentine?" 

"Only the good ones," Nick quips, and the corner of her mouth twitches up again. Nick waves his cigarette at her. "Gotta love the irony of the reverse damsel-in-distress scenario. Question is, why did our heroine risk life and limb for an old private eye?" 

While the woman mulls over how she wants to answer that, Nick makes his own study of her. It's... confusing. She's dressed in scavenged military fatigues and leather, not an unconventional look for the times, but the way they're worn is interesting. It's historically correct, down to the belt and the way the pant legs are bloused over the boots. She's a woman with dark brown skin and short-cropped hair tightly curled, with darker freckles or moles scattered across the upper part of her face. They don't look like keloids from radiation. Just little dots of concentrated color livening up her features. 

And then it hits him, the biggest reason why he's so confused. The clothes, armor, and gun are dirty. She is not. No ground-in grit or ash in the lines of her face, her eyelashes, around the base of her neck. She's impossibly clean. 

"We can talk about that later," she says. She leans back out the door to check their route is clear before jerking her head at him. "I've had to play tag with far too many submachine gun-wielding morons this morning to take a smoke break with you now. Let's go." 

"Hold up a minute," Nick cuts in, though he gets out his old pipe revolver anyway and naturally falls into step on her six. "You've got mine, but I didn't catch your name." 

"Eula Brand," she says. "But if it's urgent, or generally bullet related, I'll also answer to 'Duck!'" 

Nick chuckles. "I'll keep that in mind." 

That's where the most interesting case of his life so far begins. After a long, difficult conversation, the facts are these: 

Eula Brand emerged from Vault 111 on a frigid day in October. The light was a shock and she stood on the vault platform blinking, sucking in crisp, unfiltered air for a good minute before she thought to move. Her legs were still cramped from cold. She tripped over nothing until she tripped over the bones of somebody still wearing an army helmet and vomited straight coffee onto her own boots. Thankfully there wasn’t much to purge. Blessings of not getting to eat breakfast before the end of the world. She forced herself to straighten up, wipe her mouth, and look out at the vista in front of her again. 

Leafless deciduous trees swayed in the wind. Dead evergreens stood like jagged teeth aimed up at the sky. It was so blue. Eula didn’t think it was right for it to be so perfect and blue. 

She rolled Nate Brand's wedding ring against hers in the palm of her left hand. A grounding gesture, a tic, a comfort to feel the worn gold of his band if not his own hand squeezing back. She stood there staring at the view for a long time, trying to figure out where to start. Kidnap and homicide. Premeditated, from the work it took to get into the vault. Motive unknown. 

Eula turned to the ground around the vault platform. Hard-packed, cracked mud. No impressions. Any trail in the dust was blown away almost as soon as it was laid by the hard wind blowing up the hill without trees to buffer anymore. A lot of small details, facts, rattled around in her head, about the perp and his associates. A few facts about the unreliability of memory and witnesses too, which she doesn't like to think about. Not thinking about things wouldn't help her kid, though, so she pushed on past the skeletons and climbed in one of the Vault Tec trailers. No paper, but a few manila folders had held up alright, and a pencil turned up not far behind. 

She laid out the facts. Then she laid out her theories. She made a plan. 

Only then did Eula go home. 

"I was a cop for sixteen years," Eula explains, as they ride the lift down from the mayor's office, key ring to Kellogg's house hooked around her index finger, Geneva still, presumably, wrapped around her pinkie. "Then I got tired of doing all the leg work just to see a crack defense attorney have the case thrown out over sloppy paperwork. Went to school at night and came back a prosecuting attorney. I was looking for an in to the DA's office when... well. When." 

"You're gentler than I'd expect, that in mind," Nick says, steering the conversation away from the faux pas of mentioning total nuclear annihilation. He sways with the rocking of the big metal car while Eula tries to brace. "Definitely didn't expect you to pull a tearjerker on her." 

"Making a case is about finding the right angle," she says. "You know that. Could've stood there and explained all the investigative steps that took us up to the mayor's office, tried that transparency, but if she was actually invested in rules and hard work, she probably wouldn't be sleeping with McDonough." 

Nick laughs. "That's just a rumor Piper's ginning up. Don't tell me you've bought in." 

"I assume most people are sleeping with the wrong people, until proven otherwise." Eula flashes him a grin as the elevator judders to the ground. "It makes proof of love and fidelity thrilling." 

They step off and Nick makes his usual visual sweep of the Upper Stands while he's nearby. Eula watches him look and nods for his attention. 

"You get up there, much?" she asks. "I wandered up to get the full lay of the land and got sassed by a Mr. Handy missing his manners circuit." 

"Don't mind Wellingham. Used to be Takahashi's sous chef before somebody sanded the rust off, now he's got delusions of grandeur," Nick explains. He squints into the early morning sun and spies the Latimer boy, a man now, shooting him a nasty look. Interesting. "And not much, no. I'm not Diamond City Security. I come when I'm asked for, and in the Upper Stands, you don't ask for help. Still like to keep an eye out, though." 

Eula scans down from the balconies of the Stands to the city below. "Yeah. Best to. Shit runs downhill." 

They trudge back down into the city streets and wind towards the stair to the West Stands. There's something picking at Nick and he doesn't want to ask, but it feels important. 

"You sounded scared, talking to Geneva," he murmurs. "Talking to me, not so much. Are you... Suppose I'm trying to get a read on how you're actually feeling, Ms. Brand. About what's happened and the progress of this investigation." 

The West Stands don't have anything on the stair to make the climb worthwhile. That's what McDonough chalked the failure of the residential section up to, not his ridiculous new standards for who could and couldn't live in the Green Jewel. It's a long walk to think. Eula uses most of it. When they reach the landing again, she speaks. 

"I don't know," she says. "I feel different from one moment to the next. This... this gives me a rhythm. It's familiar. It could be any case, any beat. It's when an obstacle goes up and I have to face something in my way that I realize it's in  my  way. Then I lose my edge." 

Eula glances out at the city from their new vantage. "Shaun was an accident, you know." 

Nick looks over, startled. Finding out she was a cop was more private information than he'd gleaned about her since interviewing her to start the case, and he'd already half-guessed it. Eula was tight-lipped, even with people who wanted to help— he'd read her interview with Piper. She "stressed her time in the vault was normal." Then she walked into Nick's office and revealed, only after extended questioning, that what she meant was  we were frozen solid . Suddenly it seemed she'd thrown a window open onto her life and beckoned him to look in. 

"Yeah?" Nick ventures. He's hesitant to press in case that window slams shut on what’s left of his fingers. 

"We were both career-driven— obsessed, really," she says, walking slowly towards Kellogg's front door. "I couldn't stay outta precincts and courthouses, and after he came back from Anchorage, Nate threw himself into counselling and support group coordination. It was like we each had a crusade to look after, no time for kids. Then, there he was." 

"Yeah," Nick murmurs. He tugs his hat down a little lower over his eyes. "I, uh... I know a little something about crusades. Things get better for you, with a new focus?" 

Eula slots the key into the lock on the front door and gives him a wry smile over her shoulder. "We were in the process of finding out." 

Nick shuts his mouth after that and focuses on turning over the small house. It's spartan enough to make even Nick's own "room" above his office look decorated, though Eula pockets a few choice pieces of salvage and a pair of handcuffs that miraculously still have keys. She's just started turning out the drawers of the desk when she adds, like an after thought: 

"Is it sad or natural, you think, that Shaun's a crusade now, too?" 

Nick doesn't know what to say. He's saved by the wall behind him springing open. 

It seems funny that they wouldn't have met, both being cops (and then a prosecutor) operating around the same time. But they moved in much different circles. The facts were these: 

Nick was a legend, as it turns out, in the fullest sense of the word. He had dim,  dim  memories of running the Boston streets, busting perps, clashing with his captain, and even more dim memories about how much of a character that made him seem. He was a rogue, a loose canon, a man with a chip on his shoulder. Larger than life. Eula wasn't aware he was real, not the least of which because his name was "Nick Valentine," which read like pulp fiction then and now. She'd hear about him, from time to time. But in her precinct he was thought of as a running joke among the higher-ups— we're gonna catch Eddie Winter, as long as we can keep "Detective Valentine" on the case. 

The desk sergeant was convinced "Detective Valentine" was a code for a government project in conjunction with BPD. Some kind of giant robot or something, built to fight the commies on the home front. But that kind of theorizing was why he was still a desk sergeant after seven years. 

Nick doesn't remember Eula, either. He felt like he should, but there's no trigger. She won't talk about any high profile cases. It took her weeks just to mention Southie as a general concept. He had nothing to go on so he was left just picking at the thought of her name, hoping for an echo to float up from the depths where Dead Nick slept, like his little observation about academy training back when they first met. It came to him, after a while. Just a shard of a memory of an overheard conversation from a lifetime ago: "Firebrand in Southie's up Hurley's about evidence again." That was all. 

"You ever have a nickname, back when you were a cop?" he asked, still chewing on the dim memory. Eula was bent over a gun bench retooling the grip on her 10mm.  

"Not when I was a cop, no," she said. "But after I became an attorney, I had a couple—some nice, some not. Why'd you ask?" 

"Firebrand?" Nick ventured. Eula looked up slow, eyes a little wide. She stopped the drill press before she put a neat hole in the back of her hand. 

"That was a nice one," she said. "What are you always saying? 'Now that's a blast from the past'?" 

"Hurley was bad at maintaining the chain of evidence?" Nick added. He thought he might be pushing his luck on how sharp those memories really were, after all this time. Eula stood up completely then, threw her head back, and laughed. She laughed for a long time. It was the most joyful Nick had seen her yet. 

"Oof, oh God," she gasped, wiping at her eyes. "I'd forgotten about Hurley. He tried to play tough with his friends, said he liked to get the modded guns out and play around. Truth was, the man was broke... but not a crook." 

Nick cocked his head, waiting for her to finish her thought. "Meaning?" 

"He'd pull cash out of lockup and smell it," Eula said. She mimed holding a stack of bills under her nose and thumbing through them, then taking a big whiff. "It was usually fine, but every once in a while, he'd get a fingerprint on it. Nearly ended in a mistrial for me once." 

Nick couldn't help but laugh then. "He'd just smell it?" 

"Just smell it," Eula insisted. "God knows I counted after him more times than I care to remember. Shit, speaking of which..." 

Eula dug around in her pack until she found a stack of crumbling twenty dollars bills in a yellowed paper band. She stilled picked that kind of stuff up, out of habit, whenever they found a broken cash register or she sprung an abandoned safe. She tried just smelling the stack, nose wrinkling, freckles shifting with the expression. She pushed bills aside and forced it open further, to the middle where it was densest. She tried again. When she pulled the stack back she had a strange look on her face. 

"Soaked up too much fallout and mold over the years?" Nick asked. Eula shook her head. 

"On the outside, yeah, but the smell's still there in the middle. It's just..." 

Nick gestured for the stack of bills and engaged his olfactory sensors. They weren't very sensitive anymore, but if he buried his nose in the twenties he could just get a trace of that old, familiar smell— the unique cotton-paper, a trace of ink, the coppery tang that clung to the bills for some reason. It triggered a few flashes of memory, ancient and faded. Nothing consequential, though, nothing that made him feel anything.  

He nodded back at Eula. "Doesn't mean what it used to, huh?" 

"Nope." She turned back to the gun bench and turned the drill back on. The cast rubber and steel she was working on turned slowly under her hands as she piloted the next hole. "You know what  does  give me comfort in these wild and crazy times, Valentine?" 

"What's that?" Nick asked as he fished out his almost-empty pack of cigarettes. 

Eula shot him a grin. "The desk sergeant was vindicated. Detective Valentine is a robot. And if the raiders and supermutants share  anything , I can argue you fight commies on the home front." 

"Uh-huh. Alright, wise guy. There goes your one chance for me to use the nickname you like, after all the work I did to dig it out of the archives," Nick said. "You're 'Duck' forever, now." 

"Fair," she said. She hid a smile as she assembled the screws she'd need to put the grip on in a gouge on the work surface. "I earned that."