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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." 

Chapter Text

It's obvious Eula doesn't know how to act outside the city in the Wasteland at large. To be entirely fair Nick doesn't either, and they make quite a pair with their heads on a swivel, pistols held down and at the ready, like anything with this much space to grow is gonna be small enough for a pistol to kill it. Eula has a shotgun too, taken off some raider, but only about five shells for it. When the Yao Guai comes it's a fight for their lives— or her life, at least. Nick doubts a bear would have much interest in him once he hit the ground. It's about as comforting a thought as ever. 

"You think Kellogg had the decency to get this unlucky?" Eula grumbles, after, as she pours bourbon over a slash wound on her leg and the needle of a Stimpak before plunging it into the meat of her thigh. She groans through her teeth as the medicine works. She takes a swig of the bourbon for good measure, then gets a strange, blank look on her face, and has another. 

"I damn well hope so, or we're in even worse shape than before," Nick observes. Something is rattling in his pistol. He pulls the screwdriver out of his coat he uses to make adjustments to his hands and pokes at it a bit. Wouldn't pay to take it apart here and have it stop working completely, but Nick's half-convinced if it's not fixed there's a fifty-fifty chance on every shot it'll explode. "How many rounds you got left for your ten mil?" 

"Probably not enough," Eula admits. "Should've seen Arturo before I left." 

"That sounds too much like planning for you, Duck," Nick observes, getting a laugh for his trouble as Eula wipes blood away from the now-closed wound. 

"You know, you probably should have too," she points out. With the bloody rag, she gestures to his pistol. "I'm seeing these pipe weapons everywhere. Highly customizable, but ultimately trash. I'm surprised to see you using one." 

Nick doesn't know how to handle this topic. He doesn't know how Eula will read it. What he ends up saying is, "Guess I'm attached to the old thing now." 

"If you were gonna get attached to anything, I'd expect it to be a revolver," Eula says, cocking an eyebrow as she presses him. "A snub-nosed .44 or something. A real hard gun for a real hard detective. But here you are brandishing a toilet intake with a trigger." 

Nick doesn't say anything. He sets the pistol on his knee and pulls a cigarette from a pack he'd found when they went through the train station and lights it, thinking. He doesn't end up having to start the conversation on his own. Eula watches him puff his shirt up with smoke for a moment and then reaches over and takes the pistol. 

"There's a reason this is one of the more useless guns I've had the misfortune to hold since I woke up, isn't there, Valentine?" she asks. 

"They feel better," Nick says. "The, uh... Well, Myrna in particular, but most people. Diamond City Security didn't want me armed with anything to start, back after Broken Mask. But I'm no Courser. If you walk the Commonwealth, you can't walk it nude, so they cooked me up that and it does the job alright." 

"Except for when you got jumped by Malone's gang," Eula points out. She begins ticking points off on her fingers. "And when those ferals on the bridge swarmed. When the molerats attacked on the train tracks we were following. And the Yao Guai—" 

"You will notice, Ms. Brand, that it didn't trouble me much until I changed the company I keep," Nick points out, conjuring up a smile around the filter of his cigarette. "Don't worry about it. Worst comes to worst, I do still have the screwdriver." 

She doesn't say anything else, then. Just gives it back and, when things get dicey in Fort Hagen, wordlessly hands him her pistol and takes up a laser rifle and as much ammo as she can carry from a tangled heap of fallen synths. Then everything with Kellogg happens, Eula is sent reeling, and Nick thinks the issue is forgotten. As it should be. In relative terms, it's a speck next to finding out just how dislocated in time Eula is, how much she's already lost. 

Eula turns up at his office two days later with a gun wrapped in a dishtowel. 

"This gun killed my husband, Valentine," she says, with no preamble, after putting it on his desk and laying open the towel. "I watched Kellogg put a bullet in his brain with it. I can't use it. But it's one of the best weapons I've found yet and you need a better one. I've made a few modifications— rubber on the trigger and a better grip, so your skinless hand stays firm, and a silencer to keep things discrete. The scope may be a bit much, but I had it, so..." 

"I can't take it," Nick says, quietly. Ellie's gone for the evening and the only sound other than their hushed conversation is the dull whirring of an ancient fan pushing the air around. Eula nods and wraps it back up, sticks it deep in the pocket of the trench coat that's a twin to Nick's, the one Ellie gave her after they got back from Vault 114. She wears it on foggy nights and tonight is one of those, so bad just the blurred impressions of neon are visible in the street outside, and people find each other only by reaching out into the dark. 

"I know." She folds her arms and takes a seat in the chair across from him. "Security catches you with something like this, they'll run you outta town on a rail. Even with some of them having gotten sweet on you over the years. So I'll carry it for you, but you have to promise me you'll use it, when we go out together." 

There's a lot of things Nick could say, questions he could ask. But he's come to find Eula knows an interrogation just the way he does. It's better to let her talk if she feels like it. So he just says, "Why?" 

Eula leans back, nodding. She bites her lip. Her eyes lose focus as she stares at the painting of a moose hanging on the back wall of his office. It was a relic of the last occupant, nothing Nick chose, but he kept it because it was so ominous for a nature scene. The moose is a dark, almost black shape. It looms from the center of the frame—strange, massive, unknowable. 

"I used to understand how the world worked, even if I didn't like it," she says, slowly, picking her words with incredible consideration. "I... I was a cop. I became a lawyer. I  wanted  to know. I had to understand the systems working for and against people, how they were exploited, how they could be fixed. It gave me comfort." 

Eula drags her eyes away from the moose and looks at Nick. She looks as tired as he feels after all his years, the both of them showing centuries' worth of wear. 

"Nick, I don't understand any of this," she confesses. "I don't understand what's happened to me, or why, or what happened to you, or why. I don't understand why I'm spending bottlecaps as money or why the company that was supposed to keep my husband and I safe in honor of his service put us in iceboxes and then let most of us  die.

Eula's left hand works, and every few moments Nick sees a flash of gold. Worrying that ring again.  

"I understand you," she finally says. "I like to think, at least. I like to think we understand each other. I also understand now that you talk a good game about functional immortality, but I killed a lot of synths in Fort Hagen the way I'd kill a man, Valentine." 

She leans in and splays her hand out on the table as if slapping down the damning proof, a picture or a note, some evidence to convict him. But it's just her hand and her quiet, level voice as she asks, "Will you promise me to use it to protect yourself if you keep wading into this mess with me, Nick?" 

"Yeah. Yeah, I'll use it," he says. He tries to lighten the mood a little bit. "Just... no point in the silencer. I know the way you do things, Duck— hard and loud." 

It's a heavy gun. Nick can't feel most things— temperature, texture, movement on him unless it's big. But the body feels weight, probably as a feature to keep him from picking up too much and breaking the Institute's hard work under a big crate.  

It's a damn heavy gun, and it kicks. But Eula nods every time they leave Diamond City and she gets it out for him, grateful. And that matters more than he thought it would. 

It's nice, a little bit. To be worried about as much as he worries about everyone else. 

Eula Brand does not have a good mailing address. Nick asked, partially as a joke, and partially as serious inquiry about where to find her, where he should forward the non-existent thank you cards they'd get after she officially signed on as his partner. She seemed to be living night-to-night with the Bobrov's, in a room decorated only by the occasional bourbon bottle or pile of scratch paper she worked her thoughts out on. Vadim moved her from room to room at first, as they were rented while she was out. Then he asked point-blank if she wanted a weekly rate and she handed over the caps. She'd only been in that relatively permanent situation a week when Nick asked and then started asking other people about it. 

The facts were these: 

Codsworth worked very hard those first few weeks to get Sanctuary Hills habitable for her. She spent most of it in a bunker she found beneath hidden behind an old neighbor's house, eating truly ancient beans and drinking stale, flat beer. When she re-emerged, to scavenge for more food or make a modification to her gun, the robot would wave its saw-hand cheerily and invite her to come look. 

She did, once. Codsworth had done a remarkable job. The upholstery and wallpaper couldn't be saved, but the floor had been swept, furniture righted, bed made, and refrigerator stocked with Nuka Cola he'd found God-knows-where. The bathroom toilet worked and the water ran mostly clean in the sinks. The broken windows were boarded, Eula had no idea how with his hands the way they were, and the dead grass and bushes were actually trimmed into unnervingly clean shapes, now that Codsworth had been shaken out of his fugue and could accept the real state of them. 

Codsworth's chief pride was Shaun's room. Nate might've passed away, but Shaun was still due to come back. The robot had stacked his blocks, rehung his shelves, picked the wood shards out of his crib and lovingly reassembled the mobile. The  You're  S.P.E.C.I.A.L.!  book had been carefully positioned on top of the repaired changing table. 

Eula didn't have anything to say. It bothered him, she could tell, but she felt like an empty bowl looking at it all. The repaired and refreshed old life she'd led. Nate wasn't there to share it. Shaun might never come home. But she could sit on the sofa and stare at the useless television and pretend it was all going to be okay. Codsworth would help her. 

She left that night. Swung wide from the vault entrance after saying her last goodbye and struck out down to Wicked Shipping, then on towards Boston. She didn't stop until she hit that big green gate. 

Eula buys the key to Home Plate an hour after they wrap the Earl Sterling case. It's gruesome, and Nick could kick himself for not digging deeper into Crocker. You can't trust a surgeon that cheerful about the work. But doctors don't grow on trees, either, and Dr. Sun was at his wits' end before Crocker rolled into town. It doesn't seem like there are any easy answers as they help Diamond City Security take Crocker's body and the pieces of Earl out of the surgery basement for disposal. 

Nick catches her coming back down on the elevator from the mayor's office after he finishes consoling Dr. Sun. She's spinning the key on her finger with a resigned look. 

"Now there's a smile that really says, 'I'm proud to be a homeowner,'" he observes, trudging up to her through the muck of a recent rainstorm, hands buried deep in his trench coat pockets. "What's eating you, Duck?" 

"Ellie had to radio me," she says. It seems apropos to nothing until she keeps talking. "I was out in Medford, shooting supermutants, stripping the hospital down for RadX and RadAway. She had to radio me that, actually, yeah, there  was  a case I could look at, and could I come in next time I was  free ?" 

Her Ellie impression isn't very good, but it's not mocking either, just a little vicious on the word "free." It sounds personally targeted. Eula rubs at the bridge of her nose. 

"Dead for six days, and Crocker still hacking at him," she mutters. "If I was local..." 

Nick shakes his head and fixes her with an intense stare. "You're local enough at the Dugout, and with Virgil passing time in the Glowing Sea, that scavving's needed. What's really got you suddenly committing to the Jewel, Eula?" 

She looks back at him with the same intensity but her eyebrows take on an angry furrow. Eula hates being questioned about why she's doing things the way she is, Nick's theory being that somebody way back when did it one time too many. For a second he thinks they're about to have a fight, their first as partners, and he remembers all the inconsequential crap he and Marty used to scrap about and how well that turned out, the man still missing somewhere around Fanueil Hall. Then Eula opens her mouth to speak and shuts it again, and her look shifts a little. Her shoulders fall from where they'd hunched up defensively and he can almost track her stepping out of her anger. 

"It's been five months, Nick," she murmurs. "Suppose I'm looking for an excuse to sit down in my own chair." 

Nick is startled by the honesty, and how exhausted she looks as she makes the confession. 

"Nothing wrong with that," he assures her, falling into step by her side and subtly steering her towards the market. He thinks the doors to the empty place were off the market. He also has the grim thought that, thanks to Crocker, the real estate market in Diamond City is staying relatively stable. Somebody'll come by to clean the beer and cigarettes out of Sterling's shoebox and Geneva will be hawking that key within a week. 

"Doesn't feel right, though," Eula adds. She rubs at the back of her neck. "House shopping took us months, back when... I was... When we were looking, after I turned up pregnant and Nate..." 

"Diamond City isn't big on subdivisions," Nick cuts in. He has to say something before Eula spins herself into misery too far. "McDonough loves his bureaucracy, so there's still nothing happening in the South stands, though I've heard the Wall's sound enough to build on. We got one house. You bought one house. Now c'mon, let's see if you even got lights." 

She has lights. She also has junk, scavenged parts, and debris piled up everywhere, and no bed. Eula firms up a bit as she picks through it all, and they make a few lucky finds— the previous owner's ammo cache, some first aid supplies, an unopened bottle of Nuka Cherry that bursts up in a geyser the moment Eula tries to crack it, spraying them both with pungent red soda but making her laugh off the earlier grim mood. 

"No point in talking to Percy, I've got a spare bed and dresser at the office," Nick insists after they finish looking the place over. Eula raises her eyebrows at him. She's holding his trench coat under a pipe sticking out of the wall, because she swears cold water will get the dye from the Nuka Cherry out before the stain sets, which is a bit of pre-war trivia that tickles him. Stains and the setting of them. Lore from a simpler time, where blood splatter wasn't as likely as rain. 

"I know Ellie predates me for a fact, don't put the poor girl out of house and home on my account," she says. Nick laughs. 

"God no," he says, grinning as he ribs her, "Ellie's worth ten of you, Duck, and I promised her father she'd have a job as long as she wanted one, on account of... you know, I don't even remember any more? On account of  something , and she's more than earned her keep since. 

"No, no." He waves his hand and smiles as he tells the story. "Ellie decided I needed a bed when she first started, at fourteen years old. She didn't really... understand, exactly, how the whole synth thing worked. She told me I should have a bed in case I 'felt like trying to sleep.' And the dresser is about as useful. I only wear the one outfit. Don't wanna confuse people and get shot." 

"I think I'd probably get confused if I saw you in a different  tie ," Eula agrees. She stands and shakes the coat out, cold water speckling the concrete floor, and inspects her work. "Honestly, the trench coat being off is jarring." 

Nick sticks his arms out in front of him. "I don't know if you still have the stomach for our harsh line of work. Do these shirt sleeves upset you?" 

"They're a different color than your shirt  front , so yeah," she points out. Nick looks down at himself. Huh. She's right. Wear and sun-fading have turned the front of his white shirt yellowish and flecked with stains, but the sleeves, protected by the trench and untouched by sweat from a human body, are nearly pristine. He takes his now-clean coat back and puts it on so that problem's solved again. 

"I'm a detective, not a model. Now let's go get your mattress before you decide the whole thing's a bad plan and go sweet talk Geneva into a refund on this place. I think it's got potential." 

It starts with the mattress and the dresser, then Eula unearths a whole sofa in the back of the place, with a chair to match. Nick's happy to find she takes a week just to sort the place out, getting some time off from her preparation for the Glowing Sea and everything tied up in that. He knocks and comes in the second door, which now lets onto a kitchen and eating area she's cobbled together. An old, modified wood stove warms the space and heats a banged-up but otherwise perfectly good coffee pot. He takes a deep breath in. Hot coffee. Now there's a scent that hasn't lost its memories. 

“Think this one’s for keeps?” he asks, as Eula settles down into a chair. She's got it square in front of the door, which is odd, but tilted to face the other side of the front entry which she has set up as a gardening area of a kind. There's a hot, bright lamp presiding over a couple of pots of freshly turned soil. She's even managed to turn up a watering can. 

"Don't know," she says, "but it's better than playing musical bedrooms with Vadim, that's for sure. I might have the least-used bed in the Commonwealth, too. Nice not to roll over into a dip or a broken spring from hotel use." 

"Well there, I was obviously keeping it for you," Nick suggests with a smile. "Nice of you to finally collect." 

He expects Eula to join in on the joke, but she doesn't. She doesn't. She takes a deep breath, relaxes back into her chair, and musters a soft, sincere smile.  

"Thanks, Nick," she says, softly, with feeling. "For everything." 

Nick coughs and shuffles his feet, says something about giving himself the nickel tour, thanks very much, and wanders off with his head spinning. He learns two things puttering around, looking at how this pre-war woman makes herself a post-war home: first off, Eula's knowledge of stains and concern about his old shirt aren't just leftover notions from her stint as an almost-housewife. He could probably venture so far as to call her a clotheshorse. She's got six preserved and nearly pristine suits hanging on a clothes rack by the area she's rigged up as a bathroom, as well as three dresses and a jumble of shoes, all in colors he hasn't seen much of in recent years. Bright whites and soft pastels that hue intentionally, not just from sun bleaching. 

Secondly, it's a lot easier to see empty alcohol bottles build up when they're not being swept out by Vadim after she leaves for the day. 

Nick can't ask her directly, not when he first notices. He has to lean on his powers of observation, chaining together clues, refining his theory, until he's got enough substantive evidence to put the question before her. When he finally does, she doesn't put a polish or any spin on her answer. The facts are these: 

Eula Brand was unimaginative enough to be a cop with a drinking problem, back in the day. She became a prosecutor with a drinking problem after her then-partner took credit for a breakthrough lead in the case of the Nuka Killer that'd been her legwork and late hours. Her captain knew about the booze. He told her he couldn't pass a lead along handled by a cop with a flask of scotch in her vest pocket. That wasn't why, Eula knew, but it wasn't worth arguing with her classes finished and degree in hand. 

She was sober when she passed the Bar Exam because she was determined to be. Her celebration after getting the results back was legendary, and went on about six months. Then she got turned down for the position with the DA's office. Privately, she was told there were some bad rumors floating around about her and the way she conducted herself. She was hot-headed, argumentative with superiors, mouthy with peers, and, it was said, liked to nip in on the job. 

Eula went home from that meeting and mixed herself a damn angry martini. She wasn't any mouthier than the men she worked with, or more hot-headed, or more drunk. But she could be. Right then, she wanted to be. 

Then about a month after that, her doctor folded her hands on the desk in front of her and said, "Mrs. Brand, you're seven weeks pregnant, and I have to insist for the well-being of the child that you cease all alcohol consumption. There is a real possibility that the child might already be suffering adverse effects." 

Nate had been quiet about it. He was always quiet about it. The night she stood at the sink, making herself sick by pouring out twenty-five year old scotch, he defended himself for it. 

"I didn't know, Eula, how could I know?" He ran his hand back over his dreadlocks, which he kept painstakingly neat but was self-conscious of after decades of high-and-tights. "I'm sorry?" 

" God,  have I been killing our child?" Eula cried, dropping the empty scotch bottle in a box and wincing as she heard it break, then reaching for the gin. "How much booze is in this house, Nate? God,  fuck!  Why didn't you  say  something?" 

"It's not my job to be  your  counselor!" he said. "I told you that with all the shit you were getting at work, you ought to see somebody. You just told me you had it handled, and got another beer. You wouldn't stand for an intervention, baby, I know this about you. I just..." 

Eula's hands shook as the gin splashed in the sink. "You just  what , Nate?" 

Nate put his face in his hands. "I just thought things would get better, after you got your degree. I wanted to think things would get better." 

Eula dropped the gin bottle in the sink and that broke too. She couldn't bring herself to care. She sat down across from her husband at the kitchen table. He reached for her hands and she put them in his, let him stabilize the shaking. 

"That's why you made such a piss-poor soldier," she said. "You didn't have enough healthy nihilism to deal with the unrelenting bullshit of the military.” 

Nate huffed a sigh that seemed to concede the point but still looked wary, guarded, made her wonder how long he’d been worrying for her while she drank and drank and believed in the idea nothing was wrong.  

“But it makes you a great counselor, honey,” she whispered. God, but her voice was rough from the drinking. She squeezed his hands. “And you’re gonna be a great dad, alright?” 

He grinned and it was the grin she fell in love with, despite the pungent smell of mixed alcohol rolling out of the kitchen sink. And he was a great dad. For as long as it lasted, he was, and she was sober. 

It just didn’t last long, was all.