Nate felt a strange combination of satisfaction and disgust as he blew off the Raider’s head with his shotgun. She had been the last person him and Dogmeat needed to take care of before the new settlement at Tenpines Bluff would be safe. At least for now. It disturbed him for a moment at how easy it had become to kill, even if he was doing it to help. However, he knew that it was more than just helping. He really wanted to say that he didn’t enjoy killing raiders, feral Ghouls, and all the other monsters of the Commonwealth, but there was something therapeutic about the strain of his muscles and the smell of gunpowder that clings to his skin after a long fight.
The inside of the raider den was dark and Nate clicked on the light of his pip-boy in order to see easier. During fights Nate had no trouble ignoring the viscera that surrounded him. It was easy to ignore the spray of blood across his face or the smell of death and decay when there was a raider with a spiked bat aiming for his head. Afterwards, however, as the adrenaline and fear dissipated it became very apparent that he was surrounded by quickly cooling bodies.
Nate pulled a bandana up and over his nose and mouth, trying to keep the smell from hitting him as hard. It didn’t help much, and as he rolled over one of the raiders bodies he gagged and had to take a moment to keep from being sick. He pushed through the uncomfortable feeling and began to search for supplies.
He refused to call it looting.
He spent the next couple of minutes digging through the pockets of the bodies, looking for anything that could be of use to him. He found a few caps, a couple .308s, and some chems, he stashed them in his pockets and then whistled for Dogmeat. The German Shepherd came bounding around the corner, a teddy bear in its mouth. “Hey buddy, you find a nice toy?” He reached down and patted at his head, Dogmeat just blinked in response.
He had been traveling with Dogmeat since he had left the vault. Codsworth and Preston had both offered early on, but they would ask questions he either didn’t have the answers to, or that he just wasn’t ready to answer. Not to mention that they had an aversion to picking locks and breaking into places he might not technically be welcome in. Dogmeat never judged him, he couldn’t say the same about the others.
Nate really was grateful to Dogmeat, not just for his companionship and his inability to ask him prying questions but the German Shepard was very adept at combat. Nate often spent time wondering what he had been through and sometimes he forgot how vicious the dog was. Often times Dogmeat whined for food and affection, and then a few minutes later he’d be ripping out the throat of a feral. Nate figured that that was just how the world was now, ready to fight in an instant and without thought.
It was hard, adjusting to this New World. It had been just over a month since he had stumbled out of the cryo pod and still sometimes he’d pass and old coffee shop or clothing store and be hit with nostalgia so strong he felt winded. Dogmeat never asked him why he was leaning against a wall for support when he had sustained no injuries.
Nate recalled the first time that he had seen Nora’s law office as he stuffed his recovered items into his backpack.
He had been out of the vault maybe a week when he recognized the crumbling green walls and pushed his way inside. He had stumbled through the door and looked at the crumbling ceiling and water-warped floor. Memories of moments spent with Nora, lunch dates and stolen kisses, had flooded his mind and a sob had escaped from him. His hysterics had drawn the attention of a group of radroaches and Dogmeat took all of them out before they could do any real damage. Nate had felt numb, the loss of his wife had been too recent, too fresh, and being reminded of happy times and better days sent him reeling. It took Nate weeks before he could walk down that street again.
Nate shook his head, pushing the memories aside. He gave one last glance at the raider body in front of him and then moved onto the next one.
Sometimes it was lonely, Dogmeat never talked he just gave the occasional bark or growl. Nate couldn’t count the number of times he had opened him mouth to ask a question or propose an idea before he remembered that he was, technically, alone. Instead of adopting a companion or trying to make friends he had turned to distracting himself with helping the Minutemen, it meant he didn’t have to focus on his dead wife, his kidnapped son, or his crushing loneliness. Nate reckoned that it wasn’t the smartest or healthiest coping method, but it was all he had. He refused to fall into the dark hole that were chems. Nate argued with himself that at least his unhealthy coping method was helping people.
In the last four weeks he had helped settle and protect Sanctuary, Abernathy Farm, Red Rocket, Starlight Drive-In and Sunshine Tiding Co-op. He had poured pretty much every waking moment into building up these settlements into something to be proud of, somewhere people could live without fear of being attacked and abused. He got to know each group of people, and spent more time than necessary trying to make their lives easier. He had set up supply-lines between them so that food and water was never a problem. They called him their General.
When he was in the actual Military he had only made it to the rank of Sergeant, he wasn’t even an Officer. He had done his four years and got out. Anchorage was hell and once they told him his service was no longer mandatory he had left. He had spent four years trying not to die and fearing for his life, and not even a year after getting out the bombs dropped. Now here he was back in the same situation. This time without Nora to help me get through it.
The funniest part of this whole thing was that Nate had gone four whole years trapped in a warzone and had managed not to kill anyone. That wasn’t his job back then.
It’s my only job now. He thought. I might be helping people, but I’m still a killer.
Dogmeat barked and brought him out of his thoughts. “C’mon boy, let’s get back to Tenpines, let them know that these Raiders won’t be a problem.” Dogmeat barked in agreement and followed him out the door.
The settlers at Tenpines were just as grateful to him as all the others, immediately offering up support for the Minutemen and any supplies that they could spare. Nate thanked them and pocketed the list of supplies they needed to fortify and build up their defenses. He would deliver it to Sturges who would travel out and start construction.
After stopping by Sanctuary and getting a new settlement name from Preston, Nate and Dogmeat set out for a town called Goodneighbor. One of the settlers had mentioned something about a place called the Memory Den, somewhere where you could go and relive memories of the past. Nate probably wouldn’t do something like that normally, but the longer he was out of the vault the more he seemed to lose himself. He just needed a reminder of who he was, and who he was fighting for.
Him and Dogmeat traveled for two days, eventually stumbling into Goodneighbor as the sun was setting. Immediately, Nate was approached by a mean looking man. He introduced himself as Finn.
“Walking around Goodneighbor, you’re gonna need some protection.” As he talked Finn twisted a knife in his hands. “Would hate to have an accident happen. A big bloody accident.” Nate gritted his teeth and raised his pistol to the man’s eye, Dogmeat growled down at his feet.
“Keep it up with this extortion racket and you’re the one that’s going to need protection.” Something akin to fear flashed behind Finn’s eyes and he raised his hands up.
“No need for that friend, go ahead and move along.” As Finn backed up a gnarled hand landed on his shoulder.
“Now, someone steps through the gate the first time they’re a guest. You lay off that extortion crap.” Finn turned towards a Ghoul, who seemed to be dressed in some form of colonial costume involving a bright red frock coat.
“What do you care, Hancock?” Finn didn’t seem to like this Hancock fellow and Nate watched, half amused, as they went back and forth. Finn accused the man of being soft and letting people walk all over him. Said one day there’d be a new man in charge if he didn’t stand up for Goodneighbor. Hancock walked up to Finn and reassuring words fell from his tongue. Finn seemed to relax, and in that moment Hancock reached out, producing a knife from behind his back, and quickly stabbed Finn in the gut twice.
As Finn lay on the ground dying Nate looked up at the Ghoul, the man had a wicked glint in his eyes but an easy smile. “I’m the Mayor of this here town. John Hancock. Don’t let this little incident taint your view of our community. Goodneighbor is of the people, for the people, and as long as you know who’s in charge, that’s all that matters. Understand, brother?” Nate nodded. “I can tell I’m gonna like you already. You look like you could be fun, come see me in the Old State House if you want a good time, friend.” With that Mayor Hancock turned away and sauntered back into the building he had come out of.
Nate glanced down at Dogmeat and sighed, “What is going on in this place? First the Minutemen and now I’ve met John Hancock. I thought I went forward in time.” Before he could get very far into the town a random Ghoul gave him a quick glance.
“You new here, sugar?” She asked, voice raspy from radiation. He nodded in affirmation and she smiled. “Always nice to see a new face. You need general supplies go see Daisy, you need weapons, go see KLEO, if you need a place to stay try the Rexford. If you need a drink, you can head down to the Third Rail-” Her voiced dropped low and sultry, “-or you can join me.” She gestured with her hand towards all the locations she pointed out but ended her tour with a wink.
Nate flushed red at her suggestion. “I, uh, well I don’t think I should. I mean, I’m not- Not that you don’t seem lovely I’m just-” At a loss of what to say next he lifted his left hand, the light bounced off the gold coloring of his wedding band and the woman’s face flashed with recognition.
“Ah, I see. Well I’m sure she’s a lovely woman. Very lucky.” Nate felt a ball of sadness well up in his throat.
“She is.” He said, emotion thick in his voice. The woman nodded in understanding and then turned away. Nate took that opportunity to make his exit.
He stopped at Daisy’s Discounts and bought him and Dogmeat some dinner, he listened to her sadness at the library being overrun and he felt her pain. He wondered how hard it would be to take out some Super Mutants, definitely not something he could do alone.
He wound up right outside the doors to the Memory Den not long after they finished eating. He had been standing there for almost ten minutes and the guard outside kept giving him strange looks. A man walked over to him. He had a cigarette between his fingers and the smoke seemed to constrict Nate’s lungs. The man wore a pair of reflective sunglasses, ones that hid his eyes from being seen.
“Buddy, either go inside or leave. You’re making the watchmen nervous and I’d hate to see them put a bullet in you because they thinks you’re a synth. You’re thinking of using the Memory Den, aren’t you? Take a trip down memory lane?” Nate nodded. “I’m not gonna tell you how to live your life, but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s not dangerous, not physically anyways. I went in there once and re-lived the time that I fought off a Deathclaw. Had nothing but a shitty pipe pistol and my boxer shorts. That embarrassment stuck with me for weeks. Could hardly look Irma in the eye.”
Nate would have laughed at the obviously fabricated story, but his heart was still pattering with nervousness, instead he gave a hesitant grin and shifted his weight to lean closer to the man. “Sounds like hell of a time, hey you seem to know this town, do you think you’d maybe want to stick around, show me the ropes?”
Nate didn’t know what it was about the man that made him want to stick around, his presence wasn’t off-putting like Preston’s or Codsworth’s. It might have been the story, something about its clear falseness made him think that the man was a bit larger than life. He had an easiness about him that Nate hadn’t seen before. Maybe it was the fact that this man didn’t have any expectations from him, he really was a stranger. It made Nate realize how long he had really been without company, without a friend.
I’m so desperate for connection that I’m looking for friends in the first person to talk to me. How pathetic.
The man seemed shocked at the question, but it was hard to tell when half of his face was obstructed by the dark glasses. Nate watched the man’s lips harden into a thin line as he frowned. “Sorry, buddy, no can do. But I wish you luck.” He flicked his cigarette ash towards Nate and then turned away, clearly indicating that the conversation was over.
The clear rejection stung, but he couldn’t focus on it. Nate wasn’t sure what to make of the helpful but confusing stranger and instead of bothering the man he turned to Dogmeat. “You stay here boy, I’ll try not to take too long.” And with that Nate pushed open the bright red doors and stepped inside.