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“Paladin, there is still one other matter to discuss.” Evelyn froze at the Elder’s words, a chill running down her spine. Had he decided to go back on his promise already? He was a young man and Evelyn knew that young men with power tended to be impulsive.

“Sir?”

“As far as I’m concerned, you owe me personally for my decision today,” he informed her, tilting his head in just such an arrogant way that made her blood boil in her veins. “Follow me so that we can discuss it privately in my quarters.” He started walking without even waiting for her acknowledgement, brushing by her in the same way she used to brush by the other lawyers after she had just won a court case.

But that time was two hundred years gone and time could only move forwards.

For a second, Evelyn wanted nothing more than to run passed him and back to the bunker Danse was hiding out in, but she knew it wasn’t a good idea to cross Maxson. Well, more than once in the same day, at any rate. Her joints feeling stiffer than boards, she obediently followed after him, holding her head high and ignoring the looks of everyone the passed by. Luckily for her, Maxson’s quarters were nearby and the halls were nearly abandoned.

“Take your clothes off and fold them on that chair,” he ordered harshly the second the door shut behind her, gesturing to the table at the center of the room as he moved to his desk, grabbing one of the glasses as he went.

“Excuse me?” She asked, hating the way that her voice cracked and her face turned a vibrant shade of red.

“Were the instructions unclear, Paladin?” He asked, pouring himself a drink with a raised eyebrow and harsh look on his face. She started to argue with him, but he cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Just how much is that thing’s life worth to you?” Slowly, Evelyn shook her head in defeat and tried to look away from him, but his eyes were too captivating. Even as her fingers nervously undid the clasps and zippers of her jumpsuit, his eyes were locked on hers. She wasn’t sure whether to be thankful or to hate him for the way his eyes didn’t once stray down to her body.

She, as much as the year she’d spent in the wastes, fighting for her life, still had the body of a mother. Although they’d faded to an eerie white, she had stretch marks across her stomach from carrying Shaun to term. Her breasts were no longer the perky things of a young woman, but sagged from the milk she once produced for her baby. Nate had loved her post-baby body and had demonstrated it time after time as soon as they were given the okay by their doctor. But Maxson… Maxson had the tremendous ego of a young ruler, even if he was only biologically a few years her junior. He could have easily had any member of the Prydwen’s crew on a nightly basis, and possibly did. He had the pick of the litter and still chose to see her nude.

It’s probably some weird dominance thing men are into, she thought to herself, trying to square her shoulders as she stepped out of her muddy boots and picked the clothes from the ground. Risking a glance at him from under her eyelashes, Evelyn was surprised to see the press of his erection through his clothing and the way that his stormy eyes seemed to follow her every move like a hawk.

She felt powerful.

Even with him in absolute control of the situation, of the Prydwen, and of a hundred other things, Evelyn felt like she was the one with the strange sense of power right then and there. He wanted her, stretch marks and all. It made her sick with betrayal, but she didn't hate the feeling of power over the young ruler.

“Sir?” She asked, biting her lip and gently holding her hands in front of her, doing her best to cover her mound from his intense gaze.

“Get over here and get on your knees, Paladin.” His voice frustrated her immediately. How could it be so cool and even sounding when hers sounded so light and breathless? She wanted to hear him talk forever, about anything.

Maxson leaned against his desk as she approached him, taking a gulp of whatever alcohol he’d poured himself as he examined her. When she was on her knees in front of him, he reached out and roughly grabbed one of her nipples, twisting and pulling on the sensitive nub without a care. Silently, Evelyn bit her lip, squeezing her nails into the palms of her hands to prevent herself from moaning deeply at his treatment of her. While they’d always been sensitive, Evelyn’s nipples had just grown even more so after breast feeding. There were plenty of times Nate had gotten her to come just from playing with her nipples.

“How many partners have you had in your lifetime?” He asked clinically, pausing to take another gulp as he spoke.

“Just one, sir. My husband,” she told him around a moan as he switched to her other nipple.

“You haven’t fucked that thing?” From his tone of shock, Evelyn flushed and nodded her head, too ashamed to meet his gaze. She was well aware of the rumors surrounding herself and Pala- Danse. They were truthfully part of the reason why she’d even begun thinking of him as a potential partner. “Say it out loud, Paladin.”

“I haven’t been with him, sir.”

It. You haven’t fucked it,” he hissed, settling his glass aside so that he could grip both of her nipples like vices. She couldn’t help the moan that escaped her lips or the whimper that followed as he pulled relentlessly.

“I… I haven’t fucked it, sir,” Evelyn flushed, shame drowning her heart at her own words. Whatever power she had felt moments ago, washed down the drain as mortification flooded her thoughts. Just hours ago, she’d been promising Danse that she would never consider him anything less than a human man and here she was now, letting Maxson make a liar out of her.

“You’ll keep it that way,” he ordered, releasing his nipples and moving to undo his own uniform zipper. “As far as you’re concerned, from this day onwards, your cunt belongs to me.” His words should have angered her, should have made the modern woman in her furious, but they just aroused her even more. As inch after inch of his broad chest peaked out at her from his uniform, Evelyn felt her mouth water and the junction between her thighs grow wetter. “Do you understand, pet? It belongs to me. Not your dead husband, not the fucking machine, not even you.”

Even despite her murmured ‘yes, sir’, her eyes were locked on his hands as he pulled his erection free from the jumpsuit, far too distracted to really register his words. With her eyes locked on the bobbing penis in front of her, Evelyn couldn’t help but mentally compare him to Nate. Although it was completely average in length, it was far thicker than Nate’s had been. The words suddenly clicked in her fogged mind and she blinked, looking up at him curiously. Seeing his face blotchy with red and how his mouth was slack, Evelyn realized that in that instant, as much as he thought he owned her pussy, she owned his cock just as much.

She’d only have to tie him up and teach him that another time.

“Suck it,” he commanded firmly, rubbing the leaking tip of his penis against her soft lips. Immediately, Evelyn opened her mouth and took as much of him in as she could, moaning around the slide of his foreskin against her tongue. “I should use your mouth as a reward for good service,” he moaned, yanking on her hair as he buried himself in her throat.

Only managing a hum in response, Evelyn felt her cheeks flush as she tried to focus on his cock, laying her hands gently on his powerful thighs as he bucked against her face. As much as she hated to admit it, she’d missed the feeling of having a man use her mouth like that. In those cold and lonely nights since she’d woken up, when she did let her fingers wander and touch herself, she’d always pictured herself sucking on a dick like it was a candy cane. At first, it had only been Nate’s slender and cut penis in her mind’s eye, but lately, she’d begun to picture Danse’s, even though she had no idea what he had to work with.

But now, she knew she would be imagining Maxson’s thick tool weeping precum rubbing on her face whenever she pulled back for air. Above her, words poured out from Maxson’s lips as he praised her mouth, her tongue, and even her parents for making her and Vault-Tec for preserving her for him, but she tuned him out, trying to focus more on the task at hand.

There was a loud, firm knock on the door and Evelyn immediately tried to pull away from Maxson, panic flooding her mind, causing her to choke on his length. But his tight grip in her hair stopped her, jerking her back down to the base so that her nose was pressed firmly in his public hair. “Enter,” he called out, his tone betraying nothing. Evelyn couldn’t see who it was, but she felt tears of shame burn in her eyes, wishing that the Elder had at least let her keep her clothes on for the blow job.

“Er, Elder Maxson, sir,” the voice stumbled out, obviously thrown for a loop and Evelyn couldn’t help the wince as she recognized Quinlan’s voice. “You called for me, sir?”

“I did, yes. I wanted to let you know to make record of Danse’s disposal. He was put down by Paladin McManus today.” He stroked her hair affectionately as he said her name and Evelyn obediently flicked her tongue with a hum, just wanting to get the entire thing done and over with as soon as she could. As soon as he let her go, she would have her own arousal to deal with in her new, private quarters.

“That is excellent news, sir. I will record it immediately. Is there anything else you need from me?” He asked and Evelyn couldn’t help but suck harder, trying to focus more on the job in front of her than anything else. If she let her mind wander, it would go right to Danse and how difficult it would be for her to look him in the eye after all this was over and she knew exactly the message Maxson was trying to convey to her by forcing an audience, but she tried to ignore the feeling of the thin man’s eyes locked on her exposed body. She was just glad he couldn’t see the stretch marks on her stomach from where he stood.

“No, that will be all,” he dismissed, waving his hand as if he was a king and turning his full attention back on her. Lacing his fingers back in her hair, Maxson pulled her off of his cock with a wet pop, gently pushing her back so that she was resting on her feet instead of her sore, bruised knees. “Pet, arrange yourself on your hands and knees on my bed, facing the door. I have business to attend to before we continue.”

Evelyn did precisely as he commanded, arranging herself perfectly in the center of his bed. The mattress was surprisingly firm under her hands and knees, something she hadn’t felt from a bed in over two hundred years. When his footsteps didn’t immediately follow after her, she fought the urge to look behind her, determined to show him that she could at least occasionally follow his orders.

What she wasn’t expecting was to hear the sound of typing as he messed around with his terminal, doing who knows what, and leaving her aching for him. Half of her was tempted to let her hands wander and play with herself as she waited, but Evelyn knew from experience that she was just too aroused to keep quiet at this point. While she waited, she took advantage of the opportunity and tried to move her jaw around and work in feeling to the aching muscles. She really was out of practice for it to be that sore already.

After what felt like hours, she heard the sound of him pushing himself away from her terminal and shedding the layers of his clothing as he approached the short distance. “I’m glad I didn’t keep you waiting too long, pet,” he murmured, running his broad, rough fingers along her painfully wet slit. All she could do was moan as his fingers explored her nether lips, occasionally spreading or gently pulling on them as he spread her arousal around. “Look at these pretty little lips. I should have you shave so that I can see them better.” His lips brushed against her hip as he spoke, letting the rough hair of his beard scrape against the sensitive skin there.

She wanted to respond, to tell him that before the world had ended she’d kept herself bare and perfect, but she just didn’t have the opportunity to groom herself anymore. She was embarrassed of the hair that had grown on her body in the year she’d been awake, but he didn’t seem bothered by what grew on her legs or under her arms. It was only her pussy that concerned him. And she knew that he didn’t want to have that conversation with her right then, if ever.

The feel of his tongue on her was really the last thing Evelyn was expecting and she couldn’t help but jerk away in surprise. “Elder Maxson?” She asked, looking back at him from over her shoulder only to want to squirm away from him at the smug expression on his face.

“Something wrong, pet?” As he spoke, he sunk two fingers into her, not stopping until they were fully seated in her body. She couldn’t help the drawn out groan that escaped her from the slight burn of the stretch. Was there any part of that man that wasn’t thick? From the way that his fingers curled inside of her, it was clear he was no stranger to a woman’s body, something Evelyn could deeply appreciate. “Usually I expect an answer when I ask a question, pet.”

“N-no, sir. You just surprised me,” she moaned, her eyes slipping closed as he thumbed her clit and pressed his lips against the flesh of her ass. For a second, she thought for sure that he would continue with his mouth, but he didn’t. Instead, he pulled back, withdrawing his hands completely from her and climbed up on the mattress behind her.

“You should trust me more. But you’ll learn to soon enough.” That was all the warning she got as he grabbed her hips and slid into her, going all the way to the root of him before he stopped. Thankfully, he gave her a minute to adjust to the size of his girth and she couldn’t help the appreciative moan. Damn, was she ever grateful that his cock wasn’t any longer. There would be no way he’d fit comfortably in her small vagina if he was even an inch longer. She’d always had that issue with Nate and they had to be careful not to hurt her when they had sex.

He must have felt her inner muscles relax because he soon began thrusting. The movements were gentle rolls of his hips at first, but it didn’t take him long to speed up, a groan or curse slipping from his lips at every slap of his hips against her ass. “How would you like to suck my cock as someone fucks you from behind, hmm?” He grunted as he slammed into her, reaching around to yank at her nipples as he thrust as savagely as he could. “You’d love that, wouldn’t you? Me letting whoever I want use that pretty little cunt.”

She tried to respond to him, she really honestly did. But words sounded like the most difficult thing to think about right then and yelps were so much easier as Evelyn struggled to support herself, her attention slipping to just focus on the way his balls felt slapping against her thighs, his coarse public hair rubbing against her ass, the curl of his fingers around her hips… It was all too much for her to take as she came with a drawn out scream, her muscles savagely clamping down on his cock.

If she’d been more conscious of the Prydwen around her, she would have been dead of embarrassment already, terrified about who could have heard her through the metal walls. But all Evelyn could think about was how his movements both seemed to speed up and become much more wild. He seemed like a feral creature from the way he snarled to the sharp pang of his short nails in her skin.

He came soon after, quick jerks of his hips finally sending her down and pressing her face into the bare mattress as he emptied himself in her. Her mind was immediately cleared from the panicked adrenaline that raced through her. She hadn’t been on birth control in who knows how long, what with her concerns breastfeeding Shaun, the time she spent on ice, and the solid year of having no gynecological care. “Arthur!” she gasped, his name slipping from her mouth like a curse as she tried to scramble away from him, but he trapped her against him with muscled arms.

“So that’s what it takes to get you to say my name,” he mused, his voice sounding half asleep as he rolled them onto their sides and pressed his sweaty chest against her back. She squirmed more, trying even harder to break away from him and he eventually let her go when he saw her distress.

“That’s not funny, Maxson.”

“I wasn’t trying to be, Paladin,” he switched over to her official title at the cold tone of her voice, propping himself up on an elbow as he watched her scramble to dress herself. “If you find me truly that repulsive, Knight Captain Cade will take care of any side effect that might pop up.”

She froze at his words, understanding immediately what he was getting at. “As long as we’re clear on it. I will not have another child while my baby is still lost,” she swore, crossing her arms over her chest and making a point to stare him in the eye. When he finally nodded his agreement with her, Evelyn finished dressing in hurried silence and got so far as the door to his quarters when he spoke to her again.

“Evelyn,” his voice rang out, shocking her into freezing in place. He never used her given name. “I want you to know that you paid for that thing’s life with your body. So long as it lives, you will be mine. I want it to know that. If you ever see it again, I want it to know the price you pay just for its existence. Is that understood?”

With a heavy heart and shame surging through her mind, all Evelyn could do was nod before slipping out of the Elder’s room. It wouldn’t do her any good to let him see her cry

Chapter Text

“I hear you’ve been serving directly under Elder Maxson lately,” Ingram’s voice rang out, the amusement heavy on her tone. “Rumor has it, you’re a very hands-on worker.”

“Hilarious, Ingram. There a point to this?” Evelyn snapped, doing her best to ignore the other redhead and focus her attention on the power armor frame in front of her. She was still trying her hardest at getting better at modifying or even repairing the useful suits, but she honestly hadn’t been devoting as much time to it ever since Danse was… Well, ever since Danse went into hiding.

“Just curious. And cautious, I guess. See, Maxson usually just kicks people out of his quarters after he’s had them once, but he just keeps going back to you. Not that he goes to a new person every night, but the rare times that he does.”

“So, what? You’re worried because he’s gotten more ass in the past week than he has in the past month?” She turned, giving Ingram her full attention after casting a glance around to see who was possibly listening in. No, there were no secrets in the Brotherhood, but it wasn’t like there wasn’t any gossip, either.

“More like the past year,” the older woman mused with a chuckle. “He stopped fraternizing after you came aboard. In fact, he canceled the date he was supposed to have when he met you.” She didn’t respond at first, too busy absorbing what the Proctor was saying to really try to think of something witty to say back. It certainly made sense with how his appetite for her never seemed satisfied, how hungrily he kissed her.

“Just out of curiosity, but do you remember their name? Who he was supposed to see that night, I mean?”

“One of the Knights in Logistics. Lucia, I think? A lot of people want the opportunity to help continue on the Maxson Dynasty.”

“I’ll be sure to give her a shining recommendation when he’s done with me, then.” Evelyn shook her head, finding herself wondering what the world had come to. Back before the world ended, young men like Maxson would be more focused on getting drunk at college parties or wondering if their number would be up next in drafts. He was what? Nearly 21 now? “I have to go,” she excused herself after checking the time on her pip-boy. “I have people to meet up with and don’t want to be late.”

Ingram merely nodded and went back to trying to get ahead of the mounting repairs that needed taking care of, from armor to weapons to the Prydwen herself. Work never seemed to end for the older woman and Evelyn could easily see Elder Maxson’s logic in denying her return to the field. Brushing the knees of her jumpsuit off, Evelyn shrugged to herself and grabbed her pack. The suit of power armor could easily wait until she was in a better mood.

She really did have to finally go and seek out Danse, after all.

It was hard to avoid eye contact with Paladin Brandis because out of everyone stationed with the Prydwen, she felt like the elderly man might be the only one to empathize with her struggle to ‘put Danse down’. She did her best to ignore whenever someone praised her for the choice they were told she made, but it hurt every time, like little pinpricks against her heart.

If she had to hear another child congratulate her on putting a ‘monster’ down, she was going to scream.

Smiling and nodding as she walked by people she knew, Evelyn made a point to not slow down. If she paused, then someone might interpret that as an invitation to have a conversation. That was pretty close to the last thing she wanted to have happen. She was nearly to the stairs that would take her to her grand escape, but as luck would have it, Proctor Quinlan was just coming out of his quarters as she was passing by.

“Ah, Paladin McManus,” he greeted her and Evelyn had to force herself to smile politely. She hated how this man had seen her nude and on her knees. She hated that he was a first-hand witness to her debt to Maxson for his generosity. “Are you heading out on another mission?”

“‘Fraid so, Proctor. Was there something you needed?”

“Other than to remind you to keep an eye out for any technical documents you may come across, no. I was on my way to the mess since it is the normal dinner time. Ad victoriam, Paladin,” he nodded kindly to her and stepped by, thankfully not making any off hand comments like she’d been paranoid that he would. Evelyn would have to make him a fruit basket or something for his common decency.

With no one else in her way, she was finally able to get down the ladder with only one hurdle left. “Paladin McManus,” Maxson’s voice summoned her, unknowingly echoing Proctor Quinlan’s greeting just a minute ago and earning a soft sigh from her as she tried not to side-eye the people milling around outside of the Command Room. “I’d like a word before you leave on your next mission.”

Hurdle, fumbled.

“What can I do for you, Elder Maxson?” Evelyn made a point to keep her head held high and meet his eyes as she entered the room, stopping when she was an arm’s length away from her. She would be damned if she let him break her.

“I merely wanted to remind you of our agreement,” he smirked, his eyes narrowing at the challenging look on her face. “I want it to know the terms of its continued existence. I want you to record proof of yourself telling it, or I will go there myself and make it eat the come I fill you with.” The last bit was a harsh whisper against her ear that seemed to steal the very breath out of her lungs. She’d been hoping beyond hope that he would have forgotten having said that.

Beyond any of that, she was ashamed to feel a hint of wetness spread between her thighs at the idea of Danse eating her out after fucking Maxson. In her mind’s eye, Maxson still saw Danse as the person that he was and Danse still wore the Paladin armor with pride, of course. Her cheeks heated up with shame and she could only whimper out a soft ‘yes, sir’. Danse deserved so much better than her in his life.

He pressed a firm kiss to her temple, the hair on his beard rubbing against her face and irritating her skin, but she stood and allowed it to happen. He stayed there for a minute, a hand at the base of her spine, holding her body against his, before he took a step away, his fingers trailing softly along her side as he moved.

“Elder Maxson? When are you going to let him live out his days in peace?” Evelyn asked softly, making sure to keep her voice down and half afraid that one of the guards had microphones or something built into their helmet and could hear everything that was said.

“You are to check in regularly and keep an eye out for any patrol that may need assistance. I expect you to return in no more than two weeks, barring any unforeseen circumstances. Is that understood, Paladin McManus?” Unsurprisingly, he completely ignored her question with a sneer.

“I understand, sir,” she saluted him, making a point to get the movements perfect. Maxson had spent a lot of time in the past week making sure that she knew how to properly pay respects to him. The second he nodded and turned back to the massive windows, Evelyn was out the door and on her way to the waiting vertibird.

It was raining lightly outside and it felt perfect. Even with the chill and high winds at their altitude, she felt refreshed, the smell of the harbor wafting up and even the distant sounds of gunshots across the Commonwealth. As much as she wanted to stop and just stare out into the mists, Evelyn couldn’t. She was on a mission and desperately needed to see Danse.

She had the vertibird pilot, a delightful young woman by the name of Knight Tate, drop her off at the Med-Tek Research hospital on their way to Malden Middle School to investigate the ruins of a vault in the school’s basement. Evelyn made a point of going east for an hour before doubling back south and sneaking back towards where Danse was hidden at the listening outpost. The journey was difficult under good conditions with the hills and a constant threat of deathclaws, but the mud and puddles just made everything worse and the sound of rainfall, no matter how soft, could easily mask the softer sounds before a predator attack.

If she was smarter, she would have at least brought Dogmeat along with her, but her beloved canine buddy was safe and sound at the Red Rocket.

In the end, it took her another two difficult hours to get to the bunker, the welcome sight of the helipad finally appearing out of the darkness. Knowing that the surrounding area was covered in trash, Evelyn had to try to watch her step carefully, even though she was frozen to the bone from the rain and just wanted to rush inside. It really would be just her luck if she managed to slip on some two hundred-year-old wrapper and attract a mirelurk queen with her pained yelp. Shaking her head at the mental image, Evelyn scoffed and pushed open the door, already relieved to be out of the pouring rain. Too bad she and Nate hadn’t chosen to make their new life together in Las Vegas or some other place where it never rained.

Pausing for a second, Evelyn had to wonder if Las Vegas was even still standing. She hadn’t heard anything about any of the major cities, aside from DC, New York, San Francisco, and a handful of others. She would have to try to remember to ask one of the Brotherhood members about other cities when she got back to the Prydwen.

“You made it back,” Danse called out to her as soon as the elevator doors dinged open, his warm eyes shining with delight as he looked up at her. “I didn’t think you’d come back so soon.” Evelyn couldn’t help but grin at him as he stood up, wiping his hands on a dirty rag to attempt to get rid of some of the greases. Naturally, he had been busy working on his new suit of power armor.

“I would have been back sooner, but Maxson’s been a pain in my ass,” she tried to joke with him but realized she unintentionally told him a truth with a wince. Maxson had tried his hardest to get her to agree to anal sex, but there were some hard no’s she wouldn’t cross.

“Are you injured?” Of fucking course Danse would pick up on her wince, even from across the room. He stood in a flash, making his way over to her so that he could see her up close and examine her for injuries himself.

“It’s okay,” she soothed, holding up her hands and refusing to meet his eyes. Did he have to be so concerned about her right before she broke his heart into a million little pieces? “I’m just a little sore.”

“McManus, how many times have I told you how important it is to limber up?” He was trying to make a joke out of it, something he never did before, but his smile didn’t reach his eyes as he realized something was very much wrong. “Evelyn?”

“Danse, you’d better sit down. I’m so sorry, but I have to do this,” she cried, tears welling up in her eyes as she flipped through the menu on her pip-boy. Hitting record, she tried to take a shaky breath, but the air suddenly seemed impossibly thin. “Danse, in return for keeping you alive, I’ve been sleeping with Elder Maxson.”

“What?” It was only one word, but she had never heard his voice so hollow, so deadened. She never wanted to hear him sound like that ever again.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you like this, please believe me.” Evelyn had to be careful choosing her words, as difficult as it was. She was recording herself for Maxson’s proof and she didn’t want to give him any reason to go back on his deal… Like admitting to Danse that she loved him and wanted him. That she wanted both of them. If she had designed the world, she would have the two of them, Shaun, and Nate all alive and happy together, but it was impossible. Nate had been murdered, Shaun was taken, and Maxson was an ass.

“Why? Why put yourself through that just to keep me alive?” To be fair, it was a perfectly valid question, but it still upset her to hear.

“Because you’re human to me.” With that, she stopped her pip-boy from recording further, not wanting to let Maxson hear what else she had to say to him.

“I should just kill myself,” Danse moaned, covering his face with his hands. “This isn’t right.”

“Don’t you dare say that, do you hear me?” Evelyn snarled, digging her fingers into his short hair and pulling his face so she could look him in the eye. “I am not about to lose another person I love. This is nothing compared to everything else I’ve been through. He’s… He’s gentle with me.” It was an outright lie and the bruises on her breasts, ass, and thighs were proof of it, but Danse didn’t need to know that. He didn’t need to know how much she loved Maxson’s hands on her. How wet he made her.

“If I were a real man, I could fight for you. I could take you away from all this.”

“Danse, I don’t need a man fighting for me,” she told him, pressing a soft kiss on the crease between his eyebrows. “I have a plan.”

“What plan?” He seemed to instantly perk up at her words, the soldier in him jerking to attention at the idea of having an attack strategy.

“The second I take care of The Institute, I’m grabbing you, Dogmeat, and Codsworth. The four of us will flee north. We’ll go to Maine. To Canada. Anywhere that’s away from the Brotherhood.”

“You’d abandon your post, soldier?” Danse asked, his thick brows coming together in concern. Of all the things he was worried about in a time like this…

“You know from experience what I’m willing to do for my family, Danse. For people I love. I’ll bring Codsworth and Dogmeat here. You can gather what we need to run.”

“Okay. Let’s do it.” He nodded after a minute of thinking it over, finally standing up and cupping her face in his hands. “I love you. So, so much, Evelyn.”

“I love you more, you grumpy bear. I’m sorry for everything. For having to tell you like that, for you having to hide in some hole in the ground. I promise we’ll find a house on a hill so you can see the sun and trees and everything else.”

“That doesn’t seem strategically sound,” Danse pointed out absently, running a calloused finger along her jaw. “It makes more sense to live somewhere we could easily defend, especially if it’s just the two of us... Plus a dog and a robot.” Evelyn couldn’t help the laugh at spilled from her lips as she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him.

The laughter soon turned to sobs and Danse held her tightly, letting her ruin the rough shirt she’d found for him with her tears as he gently rubbed her back. He said nothing and just let her cry, the same way he had for Scribe Haylen forever ago. It seemed to go on endlessly, but Evelyn didn’t care. She hadn’t allowed herself to be anything that was less than strong in so long, she refused to keep it bottled up any longer. Not when she felt so utterly safe in Danse’s massive arms. They had time to plan, talk, and everything else later.

Right now, she just wanted to be held by someone who loved her.

“Danse? It really doesn’t bother you? My sleeping with Elder Maxson?” She hated the way that her voice cracked like a fearful child, but there was nothing she could do about it.

“No,” he admitted after thinking it over for a minute. “I figured he would want you the moment he saw you. Even before I fell in love with you, I figured he would at least try to have a night with you. I guess I was right.”

“You make it sound like he’s some feudal ruler, taking advantage of the first night or something,” Evelyn scoffed, finally pulling back from him. Danse looked confused for a second before his brows relaxed, going back to their normal, relaxed state.

“No, not at all. You’re just an impressive soldier who has survived the impossible and happens to be a beautiful, courageous woman. It’s hard not to want you.” She felt a little better, thanks to his words, but something still wasn’t sitting right in the back of her mind.

“Proctor Ingram told me that he never slept with the same woman twice and has been through a lot of them,” she told him, moving her arms from where they had ended up around his neck and pulling back to get a better look at his face.

“Once in a blue moon, sure,” Danse shrugged, raising an eyebrow. “Is this bothering you? I doubt Arthur has been with ten women, including you.” Evelyn wanted to grunt in frustration and ask why he would think she’d sleep with him, then, but she gave up. She was smart enough to spot what would become a circular argument when she saw them.

Anyways,” Evelyn sighed, resting her forehead against his collarbone in frustration. “I was thinking. It might be better if we moved you closer to Sanctuary. There should be some place in the woods surrounding there that you could hide. It’d be easier to get supplies there.”

“And to run from there,” Danse nodded slowly, his hands unconsciously going back to making small soothing motions against her spine. “Arthur would know in a heartbeat if you came anywhere close to here after the final battle, but he might not suspect it if you visited your old home and most infamous settlement.”

“I don’t have to return to the Prydwen for two weeks. Let’s move you now,” Evelyn grinned, meeting his eyes again out of excitement, but frowning slightly as he slowly shook his head.

“It’s only been a week, Evelyn,” Danse pointed out gently, his fingers stopping in their gentle movements. “He might be keeping an eye on me somehow, just waiting for an excuse. After you leave tonight, I’ll leave here a few days later and jump from place to place. When it’s safe enough, I’ll go to where we agree on.”

They spent the rest of the night pouring over a map that Danse had been drawing up, raising points and concerns about each location they knew about, from escape routes to how close they’d seen deathclaws from the spot. While discussing everything, it did give Evelyn a chance to realize how bad it would have been to have Danse stay in the outpost. Directly north, there was the listening outpost that Paladin Brandis had hidden in for years, which was now firmly under Brotherhood control, and the northeast was directly into well-known deathclaw territory.

“What about with the people at Abernathy Farm?” Evelyn asked, leaning against a desk opposite of the former paladin and trying to work a kink out of her neck.

“It wouldn’t work. All it would take was a few questions by any Brotherhood member and they would give us away, purposefully or not. Even if they didn’t know who I was, it’s worth noting when a woman who is talked about on the radio stops by, picks up a stranger, and they vanish. How about this cabin to the east of that?”

Evelyn paused, trying her hardest to remember a cabin east of Abernathy, but nothing was popping into her mind. If Danse knew about it enough to include it on his rough map, they had probably only seen it in the distance as they passed by and never went to investigate. “Sure, but it might have some bugs infesting it or something. How close is it to Sanctuary? Could I find it in the middle of the night, if I had to?”

“If you had Dogmeat with you?” Danse asked, rubbing the short hair that grew on his chin absently. “Pretty easily, I imagine. It’s not too far from it, maybe ten minutes if you’re sneaking. Evelyn…” Danse paused, looking at her sadly. “Once we part ways, we should stay apart except in an emergency. You don’t want to give anyone even a hint of where I am if we’re gonna pull this off. That means we need to have all our backup plans in place before you leave.”

“Well,” Evelyn smiled over at him just as sadly as he looked at her. “I guess you won’t be kicking me out tonight after all.”

Chapter Text

Sanctuary Hills had changed in the two weeks it had been since she last saw it and Evelyn couldn’t hold back the grin of excitement. It felt oddly fantastic to see her old neighborhood thriving with life again. It had probably been two hundred years since the cul-de-sac had last rang with the occasional laughter of children. Next to her, Dogmeat panted happily, glad to be back with her and traveling again, judging by the way that he wagged his tail.

Seeing that they were in a safe place, he took off from her side, zooming off in search of someone gullible enough to feed him scraps as she walked up the broken pathway to her old house. The very house she and Nate had bought just a month before Shaun was born. Every time she walked up that pathway, it burned a hole in her heart, the exact same way it had when she was fresh from the vault and busy blinking dumbly into the irradiated sky. Thinking back on it now, she was incredibly lucky there wasn’t anything worse than radroaches lurking there.

Doing her best to not think about anything else but what she needed to do right then and there, Evelyn dropped her pack off in her old bedroom and grabbed a shovel from the old laundry room, now converted to a random junk storage. For once, nothing seemed terribly out of place in her room, from the quick glance she cast around and she chuckled, making a mental note to thank Preston for finally listening and keeping people out of her house. She left her leather traveling jacket on the warped counter, grabbing a purified water out of the broken down fridge as she made her way to her backyard, trying to decide if she should just take down the picket fence or battle with repairs.

Evelyn had already known what spot she would build her shrine. She thought about it every night before she went to sleep and collected the supplies that she would be needing over the months she’d been alive again. Standing in the center of the backyard, right where it got the most sun at all times of the day, Evelyn began to dig. When the hole was seven feet long and four feet deep, the sun had dropped well below the horizon and she could barely see. All the lights in the settlement were closer to the street, bathing her and the soon-to-be-shrine in the shadows of night.

Nate deserved to be in the light. She’d have to put something there, even if it was just candles for other people to light.

As badly as she wanted to finish it tonight, there was no way she’d be able to see what she was doing and frankly, she was exhausted. She hadn’t slept the night before and left Danse before the sun even rose. Flinching at the memory, Evelyn stood from where she sat on the edge of the hole and brushed her hands off on her pants. Danse would do nothing but hold her, moving his head to the side the few times she tried to kiss him. That was fine, she could respect that. He had a lot on his plate.

But it was his reasoning that really made her grit her teeth. He didn’t want to kiss her because he didn’t want Maxson finding out as if she would waltz right up to the young Elder and tell him everything. Sure, she could see why he wasn’t comfortable, but it was frustrating. In the end, she’d tossed and turned, wondering if he even honestly wanted to run away with her. The Brotherhood was in his veins and running would be a bigger betrayal than being a synth.

And to think, just two hundred years ago, her biggest concern was what to dress Shaun up as for his first Halloween.

Everything from her back to her legs and arms ached mercilessly and she felt like she could sleep for another two hundred years without the aid of Vault-Tec this time around. Despite that and her exhaustion, Evelyn laid awake in the bed she’d built for herself and stared at the ceiling. Was she doing the right thing? Should she just leave now? Brotherhood, Institute, and Commonwealth be damned? If she stayed and helped the Brotherhood, it would directly lead to her son’s death, but helping the Institute just wasn’t an option.

You just can’t reason with people that divorced from reality.

Sleep eventually took her and with it came nightmares of battles she’d faced since waking up. She dreamt of Nate’s voice, blaming her for not rescuing their little boy and letting him die. When she woke up, tears stained her face, carving little rivers in the dirt on her cheeks. Ignoring it, she swung her legs over the bed and stretched. The little pops that sounded from her back were both gratifying and concerning, but after the day she had and the day that was laid out ahead of her, Evelyn would take any little pleasure she could. She felt like she needed to if only to stay sane.

“Codsworth?” Evelyn called out, keeping an ear out for the hum of his repulsor lifts as she pulled on her boots. “Are you here?”

“How can I be of service, Miss Evelyn?” He asked as soon as he sprang into view from the hallway, the sound of his motor seeming softer than it usually did. Maybe she was just losing her hearing after constantly being exposed to gunfire.

“I need you to do something for me,” she sighed, pushing herself up and walking towards her loyal friend. “You’re not going to like it, but I need you to do it.”

“Mum?” He asked, sounding worried. It was rare when he broke from his normally chipper self and it honestly hurt to hear his worry. She’d been counting on him on being overly optimistic to help her get through it herself.

“There’s a ranger station just southeast of here. Do you remember Paladin Danse? He will be there within a week. I need you… I need you to take Dogmeat and go there a day after I leave Sanctuary and wait for him there. You’re going to need to do what he says, the same way you did for Nate and me. Can you do that, Codsworth?”

“Is there something the matter, mum?” He still sounded worried, but it was different, somehow. Like he was afraid for his own well being on top of her own.

“Yes. But I can’t tell you more than that. It’s too dangerous and I don’t want to make you a target. Danse can explain everything to you when he arrives. I’m sorry, Codsworth. I can’t leave you behind. Not ever again.”

“Will you be there, mum?” He asked, his voice coming out slightly more confident, much to her immediate relief.

“It might take me a while, but yes. I’ll be there as soon as I can. I don’t know how long it will take, but it is important that the three of you stay there and hidden until I show up. We’re… Leaving the Commonwealth.”

“Wherever we go, know that I will be glad to follow you, Miss Evelyn. You… You’re my family.” If he had a body, she would have hugged him tightly in that moment. Instead, she had to settle for just putting a hand on the warm metal of his chassis and affectionately grinning at him.

“And you’re mine. That’s why you’re coming too. I need to go finish making Nate’s resting place, Codsworth. Please get together any supplies you want to bring with you, we can never come back once we head out.”

The sun was just starting to shine over the hills to the west and Evelyn took a minute to stand and look at the hole she’d dug. It had honestly looked better in the darkness than it did right then, but it would have to do. She’d be covering up most of the imperfections, anyways. It took hours and a rubber mallet, but she managed to line the bottom of the hole and sides with bricks she’d collected from around the Commonwealth, turning it into a sort of tomb. It looked pretty good, all things considering. She only needed to find Preston and get his help and then she would be able to know that she laid Nate to rest.

Two hundred years ago, he had wanted to plant a Japanese maple tree in that very spot, but now in the deadened world, his memorial would be the only thing there.

It’s what he would have wanted. But a part of her screamed against that idea, reminding her that he would have wanted to die of old age, surrounded by loved ones and be buried next to her, not in the backyard of his own home like some murder victim. A pang of anger hit her as the memories of Kellogg crept up in her mind. She had killed him far too quickly. Shaking her head to try to rid herself of the sadness, she set about trying to find her friend. “Preston? Can I talk to you for a bit?” Evelyn called out as soon as she spotted him, wiping her dirty hands on her equally dirty pants as she jogged up to the young man.

“General! It’s great to see you again! The Brotherhood keeping you busy? Listen, I hate to mention this, but one of the settlements is in need of Minutemen help…”

“I’m sorry, I can’t right now. I need to take care of some things and I really need your help with them,” she sighed, shaking her head softly. “One of the other Minutemen are going to have to handle it. This is life and death important.” Instantly, Preston’s face became grim and he nodded, motioning for her to lead the way. Evelyn asked him light questions about the health of the settlement as they made their way towards Vault 111, only pausing to grab the large rug she had dropped off at her old home.

“What’s this about, General?” Preston asked her, holding his arms out in a silent offer to carry the rug for her.

“I’m going to give Nate the burial he… The burial I should have given him a long time ago. I’m not strong enough, Preston,” she admitted softly, handing over the heavy, moth-eaten rug. “I can’t do it on my own.”

“Okay,” he nodded softly, his young face grim as he looked her in the eye. “Alright. Lead the way and I will follow you, no matter what, General.” Evelyn nodded and started to say her thanks, but they both stopped, looking when they heard the clatter of someone falling into a steel wall. “Mama Murphy?”

The hairs on the back of Evelyn’s neck stood straight up the second she saw the look on the elderly woman’s face. She looked like death was staring her in the eye and had a hold on her heart. Who had given that poor woman more drugs? Hadn’t she swore that she would give them up?

“Nothing but death lurks in the east,” she groaned, staring at Evelyn in the eye, but somehow seeing straight through her. “The Burned Man still walks and he’s… He’s angry. He’s depraved.”

“Who the hell is the Burned Man?” Preston asked beside her, but Evelyn could hardly hear him.

“Don’t let him be doubted just because of his age,” Mama Murphy continued, her milky eyes finally focusing on Evelyn’s clear ones. “Your children…The prince will need saving.”

“My children?” Evelyn found herself asking, panic racing through her mind. “I only have one. There’s only Shaun.” But Mama Murphy only shook her head, whatever horrors her sight brought her finally letting her go as she collapsed to the ground. “Mama Murphy!”

They both rushed forwards and Evelyn checked the woman’s neck for a pulse and sighed in relief when she felt it. It was faint, but there. She had a chance. “I’ll go get Sturges, you stay here with her, General.” Before she could so much as nod her head, Preston had taken off. After what felt like an eternity of Evelyn being sure that Mama Murphy would just stop breathing, Struges and Preston appeared with moist towels and bottles of purified water.

“What the hell, Sturges?” She heard herself snapping, barely even aware of what she was saying. “I thought she gave up the chems!”

“She did! I’ve been keeping an eye on her and everything!” He snapped back, glaring at her as he pressed the damp cloth to her brow. “I’ve never heard of her having visions or anything without the chems.”

“Have you ever heard of anyone called the Burned Man?” Preston spoke up, trying his best to give them space and not hover. “She said something about him being angry, like when she saw the deathclaw coming to Concord.” That sent shivers right down Evelyn’s spine. She’d forgotten how Murphy’s voice had sounded when she made that prediction, how terrified she’d been. If this guy was worse than that, she never wanted to meet him.

“Nope, never,” Sturges shrugged, turning his attention back to the elderly woman. “Here, let’s move her to a bed. Not much we can do but keep an eye on her. You heading out soon, General?”

“Not yet,” Evelyn shook her head, stepping back so that Sturges had more room to pick up the fragile looking woman. “There’s something I have to take care of before I have to head back out.” The younger man nodded absently, his focus more on Murphy than her words, not that she blamed him.

They made their way to the bunkhouse Murphy called her home, doing their best to reassure everyone they passed and soothe any concerns. When they did lay her down on the soft mattress, she looked a hundred times better than when she was suffering from the vision, much to everyone’s relief. With any luck, the woman would bounce back better than normal. Sitting next to the bed in case she woke up and needed anything, Sturges sent Preston and Evelyn on their way, promising to come and find them if her health took a dive.

“Well, that’s certainly not how I saw this day going,” she tried to joke as they stepped outside, eager to escape from the chill that had seeped into her bones at Mama Murphy’s words.

“Yeah, no, that was weird. Why would you even go out east?” Preston asked, following her when she started walking back towards the vault. He grabbed the rug as they walked by it, heaving it over his shoulder before she could.

“That, uh… That’s something I’ll talk to you about later. Right now, I just want to attend to Nate, okay?” He only nodded, adjusting the weight over his shoulder as he followed her up the hill. Closing her eyes against the memories that flooded her vision, Evelyn breathed in heavily through her nose and pressed on. Stepping around the rusted chain link fence, she pointed towards the massive platform on the ground and told Preston to wait for her near it.

Wandering to the control room, Evelyn checked the first aid kit on the wall and grinned at the stim-pak inside. When she first woke up, she hadn’t known to pry open literally anything she could to search for items, but that was something she’d learned really quickly, much to Danse’s annoyance. He’d have to learn to get back to his scrap finding days if they wanted to be able to survive their journey. Slapping a hand on the big red button to activate it, Evelyn quickly hurried out and pulled Preston with her to the center of the elevator just as it jerked into life, taking them down to the freezing hallways she’d spent too much time slumbering in.

The halls were exactly as she remembered them, flashes from the first time she walked them with Nate and Shaun ringing through her mind and bringing hot tears to her eyes. Luckily, Preston said nothing as he looked around, taking in the old world technology with a slack jaw and wondering eyes. “Is this…?” Preston started to ask when they finally got to Nate’s pod but stopped himself short. “Oh. I’m really sorry, General. Take all the time you need.”

“Thank you,” she choked out, letting her eyes slide closed and bracing herself on the frame of the cryo-pod. Even after the past year, it still seemed like just yesterday when she met Nate. When they went on their first date, when he asked her to marry him, when they found out she was pregnant… They had so much life left in them and here he was, cold and dead. After everything he went through in his difficult life, it was gone in the instant Kellogg pulled the trigger and put a bullet in his skull.

He was cold and dead and here she was, alive and struggling to stay that way.

“There’s something you’re not telling me, isn’t there?” Preston asked, his voice heavy in a way it should not be, considering how utterly young he was. “What’s going on?”

“Paladin Danse was discovered to be a synth. I was ordered to terminate him,” she told him softly, unable to look away from Nate. The shocked silence hung around the gentle humming noise of failing cryogenic pods as he struggled to think of something to say.

“If The Institute can infiltrate the Brotherhood of Steel, then nobody is safe.” Evelyn could do nothing but nod in agreement, half afraid that he would tell her that she should have put him down with his next words. But he didn't say anything. Preston merely shook his head and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Danse is in hiding right now,” she told him, struggling to find the right words to use. The last thing she wanted was to put someone who had been such a fantastic friend to her since she’d met him in danger. If Maxson was mad enough and if he felt Preston knew something… Well, she might be paranoid and didn’t exactly know what Maxson would do, but she was cautious nonetheless. “I’m… I’m going to run as soon as The Institute is dealt with. We’re going to go north and hide in Maine.”

“How can I help?” Just like that, his only voiced concern was about her. He didn’t ask about her duty to the Brotherhood, to the Minutemen, or any number of things. All he wanted to know was how he could help her.

And he somehow thought he didn’t deserve to be the leader of the Minutemen.

Chapter Text

It felt strange returning to the Prydwen after the two weeks she’d spent away. Unlike the nauseous feelings when she had still struggled with coming to terms with her new reality, it felt like a solid weight in her gut as she stepped off the vertibird and onto the airship. Unease churned in her gut, almost like she was about to make a mistake that there was no turning back from. Trying to shake the feeling off, Evelyn paused to look at the eerie, green glow on the horizon. It looked like there was another radiation storm brewing and with any luck, she wouldn’t have to immediately leave the Prydwen and have to travel through it.

She was a woman on a mission as she walked towards the door leading to the interior of the airship, mentally preparing for what she knew would be one of the more difficult things she’s had to do lately, burying Nate aside. Trying to distract herself by thinking about various legal terms she still remembered, Evelyn wasn’t surprised to see Elder Maxson standing in the command room, his hands clasped behind his back as he observed the coming storm. Resisting the urge to wander the Prydwen and buy herself some time, Evelyn strode into the room, keeping her eyes on the toxic looking clouds instead of the broad expanse of Maxson’s back.

“Elder Maxson, sir,” Evelyn greeted with a salute, even though his back was turned to her. Holding her position, she waited a moment for him to finally turn and acknowledge her presence with a nod. “I have the holotape you requested, sir.” He silently motioned for her to play it on her Pip-Boy and after a glance towards the door, she did after setting the volume much lower so that only they could hear it. She wished she never had to hear it again, but she didn’t usually get her way when Maxson was involved.

Danse, in return for keeping you alive, I’ve been sleeping with Elder Maxson.” Evelyn’s eyes slid closed at the metallic recording of herself, already feeling the tears start to prick at her eyes. She knew the recording was thankfully short, but she honestly didn’t know how she was going to find the strength to listen to it all.

What?” At the heartbreak in Danse’s voice, Maxson groaned deep in his throat next to her and Evelyn could hear him move before the warmth of his body appeared flush against her back. She tried her hardest to ignore him.

The voices on the recording paused, but the static let Maxson know that there was still more to come and Evelyn couldn’t help but whimper softly when his nose pressed against the skin behind her ear. His hands found their way to her hips, the fabric of his fingerless gloves catching slightly on the edges of her simple road leathers, and he squeezed gently when her voice appeared on the holotape again. “I’m sorry to have to tell you like this, please believe me.

Why? Why put yourself through that just to keep me alive?” The anguish in Danse’s voice made her want to pull herself away from Maxson’s grip, to scream at him, to slap him, to just do something to cause him the same pain that he’d caused them, but she couldn’t. She just stood there, trying to remember how to breathe as his fingers inched up to the zipper at the front of her leather jacket and oh so slowly pulled it down, exposing more and more of her flannel shirt.

Because you’re human to me.” Evelyn sighed in relief as the holotape clicked, assuring her that she really had stopped recording before they started discussing their planned exodus. The last thing she needed was to show Maxson herself that they planned to flee the second they got the chance to.

“You’re wrong about it being human,” Maxson murmured into her neck, softly trailing his lips along the column of her throat. “But it’s nice to know that you can follow orders at least most of the time.” As he spoke, his hands drifted up her front, cupping the heavy mounds of her breasts and earning a small, broken gasp from her.

Before she could even think to respond, Maxson’s fingers found her nipples and tugged sharply, muddling her train of thought and making it nearly impossible to focus. As his mouth attacked her neck, his hands steadily and rhythmically pulled on her breasts. Cursing him softly, a part of her wished that he never discovered how to work her body so well or that he was as ashamed of sex as people were before the bombs dropped.

Fingers leaving her nipples alone, Evelyn nearly sighed in relief before he began unbuttoning the flannel. “I should throw you on one of the couches behind us. Eat that pretty pussy of yours out until you remember nothing but my name,” he moaned, pressing against her and jamming her hips against the safety bars in front of the windows until the feel of his erection was firm against her backside. As his hands returned to her breasts, his leg parted hers, grinding his thigh against her core.

“Maxson,” Evelyn hissed, trying to turn her head to get him to leave her neck alone. She could really do without having to walk around with a massive hickey on her neck because of him. When she felt his grin against the side of her neck, she really wanted to punch him.

“Would you rather I turn you around to face me?” He asked, chuckling as she tried to hold back a groan when he rolled her nipples roughly. “Or I could always press you against the window. I bet you would love that, pet.” Evelyn tried to ignore him as best she could, focusing on trying to get as much friction from his thigh as she could, but it just never seemed to be enough. “You’ve been a good soldier, but you know what I want to hear.”

She had fully planned on resisting and stubbornly refusing to give into his demands, but when his fingers stopped moving entirely and he started to pull his leg back, Evelyn’s hands shot up to his wrists and she dug her fingers in. If he hadn’t been wearing gloves, she was pretty certain that she would have drawn blood. “Arthur, please,” she whispered, still somehow worried about the half dozen people milling about just behind them, the occasional sound of their footsteps ringing through her ears.

Just like that, his thigh jerked up against her sharply, earning a surprised squeak from her and his hand dropped from her breast, sliding instead down the front of her leather pants. He chuckled, grinding his hips into her ass as he mouthed at her earlobe, his teeth sharp and tongue soothing as he teased the sensitive skin there. His name became a chant on her lips as his fingers parted her folds and teased her clit while the other returned to toying with her nipples. Giving up on bracing herself against the railing, Evelyn bit into the heel of one of her hands, desperate to muffle the sounds she couldn’t seem to stop and twisted her neglected nipple with the other.

For once, Maxson didn’t babble filthy things into her ear as he brought her to orgasm, instead just pressed his face into her neck and breathed heavily through his nose. Everything slid from her mind as her body coiled almost painfully, the only thing that seemed important was finally spilling over that elusive edge. As much as it was annoying her earlier, the feeling of Maxson biting down on her neck and lavishing the skin under his teeth with his tongue was what finally pushed her over.

Evelyn felt like she couldn’t breathe as her body clamped down, shaking against his powerful frame as her head fell back to rest on his shoulder, and thankful that his thigh was holding her up. Her mouth dropped open in a silent scream and if her eyes had been open, she was pretty sure that her vision would be black. Dimly, she became aware of his hand retreating from her pants, careful not to touch any of her clothes as he brought it up to his mouth and sucked her juices from his fingers. As she absently watched him, she slowly adjusted the worn cups of her bra so that her breasts were covered and redid the buttons of the flannel shirt with shaking hands.

The more the strength returned to her limbs, the more the crushing weight of shame sank in, bringing a sour feeling to her gut. She was rewarded for doing something truly terrible to someone she loved. Evelyn really didn’t blame Danse for not wanting to kiss her, let alone sleep with her. When he was done with his hand, Maxson gently pressed his forehead against hers and let his vivid eyes slide closed in content. Judging by the lack of erection pressing up against her, she was willing to bet that he would have a delightful time cleaning his officer’s jumpsuit that night.

“If you’re still here tonight, I would like you to spend the night in my quarters, Evelyn,” he murmured, his arms wrapped around her middle in a semblance of a loving embrace. “But Lancer Captain Kells needs to speak with you.” Evelyn nodded, ignoring his request as she tested the muscles in her legs before pulling away from him and zipping up her jacket. Absently, she thought of all the stories of one-night stands that her friends had had back when they were younger, the men leaving shortly after they were done with them and vanishing into the night with barely a ‘thank you, ma’am’ for their temporary partner’s benefit. They were well beyond one-night stands, but Evelyn couldn’t help but think of herself that way in that moment.

She’d gotten what she needed from Maxson and could really do without looking at him, let alone being held by him.

Saluting to him sharply, Evelyn turned and left the room, not even bothering to glance at the soldiers stationed just outside the entry. With any luck, Maxson was broad enough to block most of what had happened. But even if he wasn’t and they got an eyeful… Well, the Brotherhood had no secrets.

Lancer Captain Kells was where he always was, keeping careful watch over the systems and crew alike. He glanced up when he saw her and nodded, signaling that he would just be another minute as he listened to some report readout that was being given. Evelyn didn’t understand half of it and didn’t bother trying to. It was only a matter of time before she parted ways with the Brotherhood and hopefully even sooner until she never had to give thought to the Prydwen again. When the Lancer Captain turned his attention to her finally, telling her the plan they had devised to eradicate The Railroad, Evelyn could have sworn she felt the world shift beneath her feet.

It wasn’t the normal sway of the Prydwen or lightheadedness as an after effect of Elder Maxson’s skills. It was the realization that she had been right earlier. The gut feeling that nothing would ever be the same again rushed through her again and she could barely listen to the man’s words. There was no putting the mission off, avoiding the consequences, or anything else. By now, The Railroad probably already knew their plans. P.A.M. had undoubtedly long since calculated the Brotherhood’s actions and there was nothing she could do about it. I should have run with Danse when I had the chance. Evelyn regretted not having gone to the organization while she had the opportunity, but she had foolishly been under the assumption that she would be able to use them as a resource for her grand escape with Danse.

But all that would be impossible now.

As he continued to speak, Evelyn couldn’t help but wonder if they’d been the ones to help Danse escape The Institute in the first place or if he had been a plant all along. Was he entirely their creation with artificial thoughts or did he have someone else’s memories the same way Nick Valentine did? If she asked him, would he even know? Would he be upset or support the Brotherhood’s decision to annihilate the Railroad?

Snapping out of her thoughts, she realized that Kells was staring at her, waiting for her answer. Dumbly, she did the only thing she could do. Evelyn McManus agreed to go to the HQ she’d been trusted with the location of and murder everyone inside.

Dismissed and in a daze, Evelyn lumbered up the stairs and looked behind her towards the command center. Maxson was absent from the large space and from the darkness in the radiation clouds, she could tell that he had probably retired for the night. She didn’t want to have to be alone with her thoughts in the dead of the night. Making up her mind, she walked to the ladder and climbed it in record time. Knocking on Elder Maxson’s room before she could change her mind, Evelyn ignored the complicated look on his face when he opened the door for her.

Instead, she kissed him, pouring everything she had into it and wrapping her arms around his neck. He immediately responded in kind, pulling her into his quarters and then backing her up against the door as he slid the lock into place. Evelyn closed her eyes and kissed him the way she yearned to kiss Danse, all raw emotion and longing. His hands were massive and warm on her sides, gently squeezing her and making her feel loved as he followed her lead and kept their pace slow. It was so unlike any of the other times they had ended up in his quarters together, both knowing full well how their night would be ending, that Evelyn almost felt bad for using him like this. But she needed to feel like she was actually wanted by someone, like she was more than a glorified hired killer.

“Arthur,” she murmured, pulling back from him and opening her eyes as she ran her nails gently along the closely cropped hair on the back of his head. “Make love to me tonight.”

“As you wish,” he promised just as softly, kissing her again and gently unzipping her leather jacket for the second time in what was maybe only an hour. Part of her was thankful that Maxson was so young- if he was older, then her demands might be an issue with stamina. As he undressed her, she returned the favor for him, her fingers having long since learned all of the clasps and zippers to peel his jumpsuit off in record time. Some time before she had arrived, he’d removed both his massive coat and his boots, making her job all the easier.

He picked her up when he got her bare-chested, wrapping his heavily muscled arms around her waist and hoisting her up for the short walk to his bed. Gently setting her down, he crouched and began unlacing her boots. Looking down at him, Evelyn couldn’t resist running a hand through his hair and thinking about her thoughts of owning him all those weeks ago. He looked up to her and she knew that she had been right and the thought terrified her. He kept eye contact with her as he set her boots aside and leaned over her to hook his fingers in the edge of her undone pants and gently pulled them down her legs, pausing to kiss the insides of her thighs and knees as he went.

When she was laid out bare before him, she didn’t doubt herself this time. She didn’t once think about her numerous imperfections because Arthur was too busy looking at her as if she was some great work of art. One depicting a goddess or something just as fantastic. While she was musing it over, Maxson stood and slipped his jumpsuit over his shoulders, peeling himself out of the tight, black fabric before joining her on the much too small bed. After a quick rearrangement of limbs, her head was on his pillow and her legs spread wide to make room for him between them. There was something so utterly reassuring about his weight on her as he settled himself between her legs, his fingers gently probing her damp core, gathering the leftover moisture from her earlier arousal to ease their lovemaking. He’d never taken the care before, always leaving it up to her, so his touches were sending wildfire through her veins and creating a warm pressure in her loins.

“Arthur, I want you so badly.” The young ruler above her moaned, resting his forehead against her collarbone as he stroked himself a few times, rubbing her wetness against the head of his cock. Before she had to ask him again, Arthur shifted himself and slid in almost painfully slow. But his lips on hers prevented her from voicing any complaints, his tongue dancing with her own as he bottomed out and made the little quick jerk he knew drove her wild.

They kept their movements slow and tender, their mouths never straying too far from the other’s as they gently moved against each other. At some point, Arthur had wrapped an arm around her, supporting the back of her neck with his thick forearm and making it easier to meet her for kisses. Evelyn didn’t bother trying to muffle the soft gasps and sighs he dragged from her, too busy enjoying how warm the flush on her face and chest was or how his chest hair tickled her nipples in the best possible way or how his holotags felt sliding between them. With how steadily they were moving against one another, Evelyn’s orgasm took her by surprise, the clench of her inner muscles around him shocking her as much as it shocked him, but neither of them complained.

Arthur paused, waiting for her to relax a little bit before he raised her hips a fraction and thrust into her again, harder than he had all night but still nowhere near as rough as he’d gotten in the past with her. “Arthur,” she moaned, doing her best not to picture Danse or even Nate above her as her back arched off the mattress and hips jerked to meet his on their own volition.

“It’s okay, I have you, Evie,” He groaned back, kissing her neck and rubbing his beard and the raised flesh around his scar on her jaw. It was an oddly erotic feeling and she couldn’t be to blame if it just seemed to make her wetter as she dug her nails into his back. He bucked into her, his own orgasm quickly approaching him, if the flush that was spreading across his own face was any indicator, and it was all Evelyn could do to not grab his ass and force him to grind against her some even harder. She was so blissfully close to having a second orgasm, but he just couldn’t hold out.

There was a wetness as he spilled inside her and a pause while Arthur tried to catch his breath. Just as Evelyn was about to dismiss the idea of coming again, his fingers found her clit and rubbed. It had been the last thing she was expecting from him and a surprised scream poured from her, quickly turning into a moan. Laughing deeply, Arthur ducked down to suckle on her breasts, thrusting his hips and softening penis in time to the quick little movements his fingers made. It’s almost too much as she came undone, a scream ripping through her the same way it had earlier in the Command Center.

Before she realized it, Arthur was pressing soft kisses against her brow and she blinked questioningly up at him. “Did I black out or something?”

“For a second or two there, yes. Was it as you wished?” He asked, a boyishly cocky grin taking over his features, surprising her. She had never seen him look so young. She’d forgotten all the struggles he had gone through, the wastes had aged him so much.

“It was better,” she promised, leaning forwards and kissing him warmly. They slowly moved their tired bodies around on the bed with Arthur laying on his back and Evelyn with her back pressed to his chest. The man was like a furnace and almost too hot to be next to sometimes, so it would be interesting to try to sleep next to him for once. There was a time in her life when she would never consider going to bed without at least cleaning herself and Nate up after sex, but there was something strangely appealing about knowing that he was just as covered with her as she was with him. She couldn’t help but wonder if Danse would be more of a clean freak like Nate or half barbaric like Arthur.

“Evelyn,” Maxson spoke up after a few minutes of silence, absently playing with her hair. “Was McManus your husband’s name?” She’d been half afraid that he would ask her that or something similar. Turning to face him while still using his bicep as a pillow, she considered how to answer his question. For once, his tone hadn’t been its usual arrogance. He almost sounded younger than he was, more curious and innocent.

“It was mine. It… It hurt too badly to think of myself by my married name when I first woke up. After that, switching back would be too hard to explain to people.” She heard his pillow shift as if he was nodding and Evelyn settled closer against him, gently laying a hand against his barrel of a chest. In the darkness, she almost didn’t want to leave. It was like he was someone else, just a normal guy in the wastes.

But that wasn’t what reality was.

“What was his name?” He asked after a few minutes of silence and Evelyn found herself wondering if she should answer him honestly or not. She’d briefly thought of using Nate’s name to help her and Danse hide better, but she hadn’t decided on if he’d be insulted or not by it.

“His name was Nathan Ellis,” she whispered softly, finally deciding on the truth. The only other people that she’d told were Danse and Preston. She ignored the tears that welled up in her eyes and blinked, not caring that they spilled down her face and onto his chest. Maxson didn’t say anything, but his fingers gently wound through her hair, comforting her as she silently cried on him.

“I know it isn’t the same, but my parents died when I was young. After my father died, my mother sent me to the East Coast to protect me from the in-fighting. She was killed in battle soon afterward, but at least I got to say my farewells to her.” Evelyn blinked in the darkness, slowly taking in his words and feeling her heart sink over the pain he went through at such a young age.

“What were their names?”

“Jonathan and Jessica Maxson,” he answered after a moment, clearing his throat before the words came out. “I... don’t remember what they looked like anymore.” The admission hung heavily in the dark room and Evelyn could only nod, not knowing what to say. There was no making it better, nothing she could say to lessen the blow of being an orphan. Maxson grew up into a strong leader, even if he was arrogant at times and overly steadfast in his beliefs.

She wanted to tell him that they would be proud of him, but she found herself unable to form the words. She had never met them, so who was she to say how they would feel? Hell, she wasn’t even sure how she felt about her own son’s success. There was nothing easy about being a parent, but at least… At least his parents had gotten at least a few years with him before they were killed. That’s more than she and Nate ever got.

“Do you ever think about having more children?” He asked suddenly, ripping her from her musings.

“I’ve thought about it,” she admitted softly, feeling her heart sink. Too bad Danse was as sterile as a mule, thanks to being a synth and everything. Although it would be nice to have another child and get a chance to raise it, she would always anguish over what happened with Shaun. “Nate and I wanted Shaun to have siblings. But it will be a long time before I feel comfortable enough to even think about more children now. The world is a very different place than how it used to be.”

“It was a lot better back then,” he agreed, dropping his hand down to cup her shoulder and draw her closer to him.

“Actually, it really wasn’t. There were a lot of food riots, dwindling resources, and a thousand other things. The only reason we lived so well off was because I busted my ass in law school. Nate didn’t have much of anything, with the way veterans were treated.”

“When this is all over, I hope that you will be willing to speak with one of the scribes and allow them to record your Pre-War experiences. You’re a wealth of information and would be a welcome addition to the histories, I’m sure.” He kissed the top of her head and squeezed her shoulder gently, letting his head fall back against his pillow. Evelyn waited a few minutes and was rewarded with the gentle, deep sounds of the almost-snores he made in his sleep before she shifted oh so gently, ever cautious of how light of a sleeper he was and pressed her lips softly against his chest, ignoring the thick hair that was over his heart.

When this is all over, you’re going to hate me more than you hate The Institute, Arthur.

Chapter Text

Head slamming against the brick wall in front of her, Evelyn saw stars. To think, that day had started out so nicely, with her waking up to Maxson between her legs, his tongue doing wonders. It had certainly felt a hundred times better than the wet crunch her nose made as it broke against the wall. With blood already pouring a river down her face, Evelyn threw her elbow back, hoping to catch the master of disguise by surprise, but Deacon was already out of arm’s length from her.

She wished that she could tell the elusive man to just run and hide, to find somewhere to hold out at until everything blew over, but at the same time, she knew the kind of man Deacon was. She knew that he would single-handedly destroy the Prydwen and as much of the Brotherhood as he could if given half the chance. Deacon would make sure that there would be hell to pay and he would be that debt collector if he had to be.

Using the momentum of her elbow swing to spring the rest of her body around, Evelyn grabbed her shotgun and raised it, only to have the wind knocked clean out of her by the impact of Deacon’s shot to her stomach. Fortunately, her armor was strong enough where she’d only have a bruise and possibly a welt, but it wouldn’t hold up under shots like that forever. Struggling to breathe and keep her life, Evelyn forced off a shot. Tagging him in the shoulder with a buckshot, Deacon was knocked backward from the force.

“Judas bitch,” he hissed, rolling to his good side and giving her time to rush behind a counter. “I should have known better when you started traveling with that walking garbage can. Cept you took care of him the second you found out he was a Synth, didn’t you?”

“Shut the fuck up,” Evelyn yelled, her hands shaking wildly as she tried to reload. With as much adrenaline was pumping through her system, the pain wasn’t overwhelming her, yet, but she knew that if she survived the encounter, it would catch up to her with a vengeance. She was over two hundred years old. She was too old for this shit. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You murdered your friend and swooped in to take his rank,” Deacon accused, his voice sounding much closer than it had before. She must not have hit him as well as she thought she had. Or his claims of being a Synth were true after all. “It’s not that difficult to infiltrate the Brotherhood, or to hear your screams with our dear, young Elder Maxson.”

As he spoke, Evelyn focused on sneaking around the corner of the counter, desperate to try to out sneak the spy. As luck would have it, right before she was about to pop out from around the corner, she heard his foot hit some loose bricks, letting her know that she had chosen the right side. Shooting up like a rocket with her shotgun raised, Evelyn howled like a feral beast as his knife stabbed right in the small crease between the front plate and back plate of her armor, the blade catching on her heavy armor and preventing it from going to the hilt. Out of pure reflex alone, with one hand she grabbed his wrist, stopping him from jumping back and out of her reach again, and with the other, leveled the shotgun to just under his jaw.

Without even giving it a second thought, she pulled the trigger and didn’t even blink as his life was snuffed out in front of her.

Even with a slippery as Deacon was known to be, there was no doubt in her mind that he wasn’t going to be escaping from this. Part of her wished that she had some final word to say, some final insult to get back at him for his comments, but she didn’t. Her mind was blank as she slumped against the counter and let the shotgun drop to her side. Numbly, she reached up and gingerly felt at the knife still lodged in her side and hoped that it wasn’t dug into her kidney or something.

Looking around the abandoned storefront she found herself in, Evelyn looked for something she could at least bite down on while pulling the blade from her. She really regretted not being dropped off right at the Old North church with the rest of the Brotherhood members, but she thought for sure that making up excuses and going to Goodneighbor would both buy her time and help settle her thoughts. Instead, it had just given Deacon the perfect opportunity to ambush her when she was by herself and more vulnerable.

Fuck,” she whispered to herself, wiping the cold sweat from her forehead with the back of her dirty sleeve. Glancing down at the mess of Deacon’s head on the floor, she couldn’t help a soft snort. No synth component. “Guess you were human after all, you son of a bitch.” Staggering over to a backless chair, Evelyn let herself tumble into it, gasping when her wounds were jarred. Pausing to spit out a mouthful of blood, she tried to mentally prepare herself for taking Deacon’s knife out of her side. This was by far her second least favorite part of waking up after the apocalypse, right after the whole ‘her son was kidnapped and is now a slaving asshole’ thing.

Gritting her teeth, Evelyn decided to bite the bullet and just pull it out, no matter how badly it hurt, and slap a stim-pak on it. Even though it wouldn’t be the best fix in the world, it would keep until she managed to return to the Prydwen and had a chance to get Lancer-Knight Cade to take care of it for her. She much as she tried to stifle the sounds to prevent raiders or super mutants from coming to see what was going on, Evelyn just couldn’t stop the hisses and gasps as she tried to pull the blood-slicked knife from her side.

When it was finally out, she debated on stabbing Deacon’s corpse with it. The only thing that stopped her was knowing that she wouldn’t have the strength to do it, not if she wanted to take on the entire Railroad HQ in a short while. Shrugging, she wiped her own blood on her flannel undershirt and tucked the knife into her boot before digging a stim-pak out of her bag and carefully administering it where it would do the most good.

Allowing herself a minute to just breathe and let the stim-pak do its job, Evelyn leaned back against the cracked wall and sighed heavily. She was alive. When she first realized it was Deacon behind her, hand on her head, she honestly didn’t know if she would come out the victor. But she had. And she was one step closer to freedom with Danse.

While the tingling of the stim-pak let her know that her stomach would be fine for now, she carefully wet a scrap of fabric from a shirt she’d looted and gingerly held it up to her face. Luckily, the bleeding had mostly stemmed off, but the entirety of her front was absolutely covered in her own blood. Hissing at the pain over the swelling and throb of having a broken nose, Evelyn debated on using a stim-pak on her face. Would it even work? Maybe. She remembered seeing Scribe Haylen use one on Knight Rhys when the latter cracked his head open, but it might not be a good idea if she couldn’t even see her nose to set it.

As the tingling sensation wore off and her face was as clean as it was gonna get, Evelyn forced herself to stand, wincing at the residual pain in her side. It was a shame she couldn’t be like others in the wasteland and dabble in chems every once in awhile. A little med-x would go a long way in situations like this. Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Evelyn spared one last glance at Deacon’s body before leaving the store, keeping an eye out for anything that might be lurking around after the noise they had made.

Seeing nothing, Evelyn resumed her walk to the Old North Church and hoped desperately that she wouldn’t be ambushed by any other Railroad agents on her way. With how her day was going now, she would be willing to spend the rest of her life on her knees in front of Elder Maxson if it meant she could take a hot shower again. One with actual water pressure and not just a haphazard trickle. If Proctor Ingram kept up her snide comments, she would just have to consider mentioning it to the younger man, because Evelyn had a feeling that he would immediately order the already run ragged woman to make it happen, if only for his quarters.

Managing to not run into anything else while she met up with the Brotherhood squad, she tried her best to hide the pain she was still feeling from her injuries, although there was no ignoring the blood still covering her and smeared across her face. It felt odd being saluted by people as she approved the rendezvous point, but she tried to suppress the feelings. Nate had always been the soldier among the family. He was the one who deserved to be saluted, not her. She was just a housewife who hadn’t gotten a chance to dust off her law degree yet.

“Do you have any orders, Paladin?” A Knight whose name escaped her asked as she finally stopped.

“I imagine they’re the same as yours, soldier. Wipe out the Railroad and if at all possible, locate the Predictive Analytic Machine, also known as P.A.M. If any of you see any sort of robot you think might fit that description, leave he- it to me,” Evelyn spoke, clenching her jaw at the way she forced herself to refer to P.A.M. When she finished speaking, the soldiers around her all saluted again and began heading towards the church, eager to hunt down any perceived enemies of their cause.

She felt like she was running on auto-pilot as they stormed the church, gunfire and the sharp sound of laser fire whirling through the stuffy air. Maybe she was just too emotionally drained from the fight with Deacon or any number of things. Spotting Doc Carrington peaking out from behind a decrepit pew, Evelyn lobbed a grenade towards him, trying to ignore the sense of triumph she felt when it went off right behind him, sending his body - and limbs - flying in different directions. This was Elder Maxson’s victory, not hers. She didn’t want any of this to happen.

As soon as the room was clear, she stood and jogged to the opening to the catacombs, eager to just get it all over with and to sleep for a solid week. On reflex alone, she ducked to avoid being shot, snapped around corners, and did everything else she had only seen in action movies before she woke up to this nightmare. When the detonator went off, the Brotherhood flooded into the headquarters, vaguely reminding Evelyn of swarming insects. Glory, Tinker Tom… One by one, Evelyn spotted the people Kells specifically told her to take out and one by one they fell and the Brotherhood pressed onwards.

She counted herself lucky that some Scribe had made a one-in-a-million headshot and took Glory out before the woman had a chance to truly level their forces with her minigun.

Knowing that the Railroad’s forces were all but dried up and that P.A.M. was just around the corner, Evelyn felt herself getting sloppy. As far as she knew, everyone had been taken out and the various Brotherhood members were starting to comb over all of the information that was strewn about the headquarters. Rounding the bend, Evelyn paid a price for her sloppiness as a slug buried itself deep into the muscle of her thigh.

Fucking Desdemona.

Crying out, Evelyn threw herself back and under cover, letting out a stream of curses. Of fucking course she would forget about the leader of the Railroad. Why wouldn’t she? Her day was already going so perfectly. She was glad that the bullet hadn’t hit a few inches lower where her kneepad had slid down and exposed her knee. She could ignore a thigh wound until Desdemona was taken care of, though she quickly jerked the kneepad back into place before trying to take the older woman on again.

Quickly swapping her combat shotgun out for the gun Kellogg had used to kill her husband, Evelyn took a steadying breath and tried again, cautiously peeking out to see where the other woman had gone. Seeing her messing with something on P.A.M.’s terminal, Evelyn felt a wave of panic overtake her, causing her to lunge forwards and fire a shot off. It missed wildly, but Desdemona paused what she was doing long enough to try to fire a round back towards her and force Evelyn into hiding again. But by now, another Paladin had joined Evelyn and Desdemona’s bullet impacted uselessly against the soldier’s shoulder. It bought Evelyn enough time to properly aim the large pistol and shoot Desdemona in the chest, dropping the woman.

“Is that the robot you’re looking for?” The Paladin, Jordan, Evelyn thought her name was, asked, gesturing towards P.A.M. with her laser rifle.

“Sure is,” she sighed, limping over to the computer that Desdemona had been messing with. Hopefully, she hadn’t destroyed any programming to prevent them from taking P.A.M. for themselves.

“Do you need assistance, Paladin McManus?” Jordan asked, quickly walking with the shorter woman and holding on an arm in case she needed to catch the other woman. Evelyn nodded, and braced herself against the soldier's power suit, too used to the shit in the world to try to do everything on her own. Her body had been put through the wringer today and it would be asking too much of it to try to walk everywhere on by herself.

“After I get this uploaded to P.A.M.’s computer, I’m going to have to go back to the Prydwen and see Knight-Captain Cade. There’s no way I’m putting a stim-pak on this wound with the bullet still lodged in it.” Next to her, Paladin Jordan helped her walk as much as she was able to with the bulky power armor on, but it was better than nothing. As they got closer to P.A.M., Evelyn stopped, cocking her head to the side to listen better.

There was a wet wheezing sound that let her know that Desdemona was still alive, although not for very long. It sounded like the woman’s lungs were filled with blood and like she was choking to death. Evelyn let go of Jordan’s arm and motioned for the woman to stay where she was as Evelyn cautiously approached, hoping that the leader of the Railroad wouldn’t have her pistol raised and ready to blow her brains out the same way she’d done to Deacon just hours ago.

But she wasn’t. Instead, Evelyn found her lying in a pool of her own blood with a glazed, faint look over her eyes as her mouth opened and closed like a fish. From what she’d come to learn about death in the past year, she knew that the other woman was drowning in her own blood. She wouldn’t last another five minutes and was probably in incredible pain. For a second, a large part of her wanted to just ignore the other woman and not waste the bullet on a mercy killing. The second she realized where her thoughts were going, Evelyn forcefully shook her head, banishing them from her mind.

If she did that, then she would be no better than Kellogg.

Raising Kellogg’s gun again, Evelyn took a moment to line the sights up perfectly so that it would end the other woman’s suffering instantly. As soon as it was lined up, she fired, probably surprising the other Brotherhood members who had assumed the firefight was over. “Paladin Jordan, would you mind helping me walk out to the vertibird as soon as I finish with P.A.M.?”

“Of course,” the other paladin nodded, rushing back to her side in case she needed any help. Together, they made their way to the terminal and quickly uploaded everything they needed to and behind them, Evelyn heard P.A.M. shutdown to reboot herself with the newly updated data. “Was there anything else you needed to take care of while here?”

“Not that I’m aware of. Unless anyone finds a threatening letter addressed to me, of course. I always like keeping those. Sometimes I read them when I can’t get to sleep at night. Makes me feel real nice,” Evelyn snorted, ripping up the shirt she’d had high expectations for, but already ruined with her nose blood. She did her best to tie it around the leg wound and stem the bleeding, but the fabric really wasn’t made with wound binding in mind, so it ripped a little too easily. But pressure was pressure and anything helped at this point.

“That’s… Oddly positive. Okay. I’ll make sure that anything we find like that is delivered to your quarters on the Prydwen. Are you ready to go, then?” Evelyn nodded and Paladin Jordan carefully picked her up, unknowingly reminding the redhead of the times when Danse had to do the same for her after she’d gotten herself in too sticky of a situation and needed to be dragged out of it.

After she was safely in the vertibird, the next few hours were a painful blur for her. She got poked and prodded by Cade while Kells grilled her on the success of her mission. Evelyn was only thankful that she’d managed to avoid the sight of the young Elder. She honestly didn’t know how he would react to the sight of her absolutely covered in her own blood. Cade requested that she spend the night in the infirmary, but Evelyn kept arguing that she only needed a good night’s sleep in her own bed and that it was amazing how well that could heal a person. He eventually agreed but made her promise to not wake up dead the next morning. He didn’t want to do the paperwork if that happened.

Crawling into what was once Danse’s bed, Evelyn allowed herself to not think about anything for a minute. She didn’t have to think about how to traipse around Maxson without raising any suspicion, she didn’t have to worry about Danse, or Dogmeat, or Codsworth, or any number of things. She was just a tired woman who had been through hell. With that, the tears came, pouring out of her eyes like broken spigots.

She cried for Danse’s destroyed life, for the lives she destroyed that night, for the life she lost, for Nate, and just because she was afraid. The more she cried, the more she thought of everything she’d lost and the harder the sobs came out. Evelyn tried muffling the sounds of her sobbing in the pillow, but it only made things worse. The pillow, however faintly, still smelled like Danse and that just made her cry even harder.

“Paladin McManus?” A muffled voice sounded through the door as a knock rang out against the metal. It was Maxson. Evelyn’s tears froze in her throat and she clenched her eyes shut, hoping that he would just walk away. Shit, why had she let herself cry so loudly? It was stupid to think that he and others would be able to hear her. At the lack of reply, she heard the handle to the door jiggle and she counted herself lucky that in her haste, she had still remembered to lock it behind her. “Paladin, I’m giving you one last opportunity to open this door.”

Evelyn still ignored him, choosing instead to roll on her side and face the wall. What was he going to do? Court martial her in the morning when she eventually came out of hiding? Laughing at that thought, Evelyn nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard the unmistakable sound of a key turning in a lock. She threw herself out of bed right as Maxson barged into the room. “Elder Maxson!”

“Paladin, your inability to follow orders is really starting to get under my skin,” he growled, stalking further into the room and glaring at her. “If you were in better health, I would put you over my knee and teach you a lesson.”

“What are you doing in my quarters, Elder Maxson?” Evelyn huffed, ignoring the way her face flushed at his words. It had been too long since she’d been spanked and she could do without Maxson finding out she enjoyed it as much as she enjoyed her breasts being played with.

“Your quarters on my ship, Paladin,” he pointed out, stopping just in front of her. “You give your mission report to Lancer-Captain Kells from the medbay and I have to hear about it through the grapevine, only to hear you sobbing in your room as well? What is going on, Evelyn?”

“I’m fine, really I am,” Evelyn swore to him, resting her hands on his chest to try to convince him. “Sometimes you just have to let the stress out, especially if you wake up two hundred years into the future.” Maxson’s eyes wandered around the room, looking for anything out of place when his eyes lingered on her bed. Slowly, his eyes moved back towards hers and his hands drifted up to grab her wrists, holding her hands to his chest. No. Not on Danse’s bed, you son of a bitch. I’d rather you fuck me on the ground like a dog than have you soil his bed.

“I don’t think you should be alone tonight. Come stay in my quarters.” Evelyn wanted to dismiss his concern, to tell him that it was nothing and she’d feel better on her own, but as she opened her mouth, she really looked at him. The dark shadows under his eyes seemed worse than they usually did and his beard was definitely even more unkempt. She hadn’t worried him that much, had she?

“Arthur, I really don’t think I’ll be good company tonight.” Even as she spoke, Maxson shook his head slowly, his eyes sliding closed with a deep sigh. “I’m beyond exhausted.”

“Evelyn, please. I need to know that you’re alright. And I’d be a liar if I tried saying that this wasn’t for entirely selfless reasons. Last night was the best sleep I’d had since I was a child and it’s thanks to you.”

“I don’t know,” she told him, trying to pull her hands back, but he wouldn’t let go. It’s because I fucked you twice in an hour. “I was stabbed, shot, and my nose is ruined. I just want to sleep. Please, Arthur.” He finally seemed to accept her choice and nodded slowly. Giving her wrists a gentle squeeze, he leaned down to place a gentle kiss on her forehead and gingerly under both of her eyes. Arthur paused for a second before meeting her lips, taking care to not brush their noses together - something that was no easy feat with a nose like his - and tenderly caressed her mouth with his own.

“My door is always open to you, Evelyn. Sleep well,” he murmured against her lips, giving her wrists one last squeeze before he stepped back, casting another glance around the room and leaving. As soon as the door was closed behind him, Evelyn slumped onto the bed, burying her hands in her face and groaning. It was times like that that made her mourn the tender person Arthur Maxson could have grown up to become.

Chapter Text

Waking up was a gradual process and for once, Evelyn allowed herself the luxury of basking in it. As far as she knew, there were no pressing issues that needed her attention, no missions to go on, no people that needed their head caved in. Well, there probably was, but so long as she didn’t get up and open her door, she didn’t have to hear about them. Idly, she felt the raised, angry skin around the stab wound and sighed. Back before the bombs fell, she’d always wished that she could better relate to Nate and to the horrors he’d seen in his time with the Army. She’d wished that she could have better understood the times when he woke up screaming in the night, the memories blurring with reality and with no clue where he was.

But now she understood it and hated it.

She knew that she should get up and at least get something to eat, that she had more important things to take care of than lying in bed all day, but Evelyn just couldn’t muster up the effort. All she wanted to do was sleep and play games on her Pip-Boy. Sure, the knowledge that Maxson had a key to her quarters and thus access to her at all times soured the idea, but not by much. If their worlds were different, she might want to drag him into bed and just be cuddled by him all day.

Frowning, she rolled over and stared at the ceiling. Here she was, in Danse’s bed, thinking about the man who destroyed his life while he was probably sleeping on a broken bed if there even was one in the ranger station at all. She’d tried not to worry about their little rebellion, but the thoughts still crept up in her mind from time to time. Were they far enough away from Abernathy where they weren’t seen? Had anyone noticed a dog, a flying robot, and a tin can of a man wandering around the woods? Should they have tried harder to find a better place to hold up in? Evelyn squeezed her eyes shut, wishing that she could just walk near it, to just see them from a distance to make sure they were okay.

Eventually, Evelyn forced herself out of bed, but only to explore Danse’s quarters. She’d never gone through his old things before, despite having new ownership of the room for over a month now, but she didn’t want him to leave anything behind. She didn’t know if there were letters or even pictures from his time in Rivet City or wherever else he stayed before the Brotherhood recruited him. One of the first things she found was a surprising amount of alcohol scattered around the room. How in the world had she missed that before? Oh, right. She tried to avoid coming to the room as much as possible. Ignoring the dog food because that was something she honestly didn’t want to ask about, she focused on the lockers and drawers, searching for anything.

She found a silver locket and slipped it over her neck, determined not to lose it or accidentally use it for parts the next time she had to fix some settlement’s generator, and kept looking. Pausing long enough to crack open one of the bourbon bottles he had left lying around, Evelyn took a swig straight from the heavy bottle, wincing at the sharp burn of the alcohol as it slid down her throat. It hurt, but there wasn’t much in the world that didn’t nowadays. Taking another long swig and trying to ignore the way it warmed her empty stomach, she moved on to the filing cabinet that looked like it was covered in a thin layer of dust.

Evelyn flipped through the various papers within, not really taking the time to read them until she stumbled across a worn and creased one at the bottom of a stack. It looked like it’d been kept in a pocket for a while before being thrown in the drawer to fade into nothingness. Carefully picking it up, she looked at it and was surprised to see that it was Danse’s copy of his recruitment paperwork with the Brotherhood.

Name: Danse, Lee
Born: 2258
Date of Recruitment: December 14th, 2277
Recruited from: Rivet City, DC

There were other things written on it, like his height and weight at the time and other technical information, but she stared at it with unseeing eyes. It hurt her heart to think of him at nineteen, or however old he was made to be when the Institute created him, the artificial memories burning in his mind and the excitement he must have felt to join a cause he believed in.

He deserved better than just being taken behind the shed and dealt with, as Maxson wanted to have happen.

Carefully folding it back up, Evelyn hid it among the pages of a comic book in her rucksack. She didn’t know if it would bring up painful memories for him, but she didn’t think it was something that should be left behind. She’d spent countless nights crying over Nate’s enlistment paperwork when she was bitter about his deployment. Their family could have been even more than just the three of them if he hadn’t been sent away for so many years. The Institute might have left them alone if Shaun had been even a little bit older. Maybe quietly dying in the failing cryogenic pods would have been better than the hell she had been through or the shot to the head that unfairly ended Nate’s life.

But then, if it was, then she wouldn’t be here now. She wouldn’t know Danse, or Preston, or Dogmeat, or even Maxson. She’d met a hundred people she cared about since waking up, and in a funny way, it was thanks to war never changing. Snorting at her own private joke, Evelyn chugged from the bottle and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand when she pulled it away from her mouth.

Evelyn continued her search, drinking steadily as she went, desperate to not think too hard about how uncomfortable Danse must be. Did the cabin even have a solid roof? It couldn’t have that much protection against radiation storms. Sure, he could just put on a helmet and let his power suit deal with the brunt of the radiation, but what about Dogmeat? Did they make canine power armors? She didn’t remember seeing any before the bombs dropped, but maybe in some secret military facility.

Blinking, she realized just how tipsy she was getting if her thoughts had wandered to that of all things.

Deciding to leave Danse’s remaining privacy to him, Evelyn dug around in her bag for something to munch on so she could keep drinking and hide in her room, if only for a little while longer. Finding an opened box of Fancy Lad snack cakes, she grinned and climbed onto the bed like she had as a little girl, with her back leaning against the headboard, eating the snack cakes. “Too bad dad isn’t here to read me a bedtime story, too,” she muttered, doing her best not to think about her parents. They had been on their anniversary in Utah when the bombs fell.

She needed to drink more if memories like that kept popping in her mind’s eye. It was still too painful to think about everyone she lost. She had just barely come to terms with Nate and Shaun, Evelyn didn’t have it in herself to think of the friends, cousins, co-workers, acquaintances, and everyone else under the sun. With a shrug, Evelyn finished off the bottle of bourbon and placed it to the side. She didn’t quite feel like getting up and grabbing the next, nearest bottle, so she leaned her head back and closed her eyes.

Fingers tapping out an old rhythm on her bare thighs, she thought of how nice it would be to finally shave again, to luxuriate in a hot bath. Maybe she should adjust her joke of an offer to spend a lifetime on her knees in front of Maxson for a shower to include a bath large enough to fully lay down in. There had to be some kind of department store or something with a box of unused bath oils, right? And conditioner for her hair?

An angry protest from her stomach interrupted her from her musings and she sighed, resting a hand on her stomach. The snack cakes hadn’t been nearly as filling as she’d hoped they would be, so it looked like she had no choice but to get actual food. Forcing herself up from the bed, she took a second to balance herself before heading to the door and throwing it open, only to nearly smack Elder Maxson directly in the face. “Shit! I’m sorry!”

“What in the world has gotten into you, Paladin?” The Elder snarled, grabbing the door and stopping it from moving further as he stared down at her.

“I was just going to get something to eat,” Evelyn complained, trying to ignore the way her voice sounded. “I didn’t know you’d be lurking there.”

“McManus, you’re not even wearing pants,” Maxson sighed, blocking her way with a heavy arm braced against the doorframe. She started to argue with him, but looked down and saw that he was right. When had she taken off her pants? Oh, that’s right. She’d never put them on after waking up that morning.

“Who cares? Everyone’s heard me get fucked by you anyways,” she slurred, wanting to pick a fight with him. If she did, then maybe she’d feel something. Anything. It seemed to work, at least if the way his pale eyes burned was anything to go by, but the look vanished from his face as quickly as it appeared and he shook his head.

“You’re drunk and I will not have you parading around, making fools out of both of us,” he sighed quietly, shifting his weight so that more of his bulk blocked her way.

You will not have? What are you? My father?” Evelyn scoffed, debating her chances of success if she just rushed him. Maybe there was a vertibird on stand by that would be willing to take her to Diamond City or even Goodneighbor. Anywhere that wasn’t the Prydwen and with decent food. He seemed to recognize the look on her face because he forced her back into her quarters with a firm grip on her upper arm and stepped in after her. He closed the door firmly behind himself and Evelyn resisted the urge to smack him. Compared to everything else that he’d done, this was hardly a slap worthy offense. “Maxson, just let me eat, I’m starving.”

“Either you put pants on and sober up enough to walk there without stumbling or I will have food brought to you. Do I need to have the alcohol removed from the room?” He sneered, eying the various bottles strewn about. She wanted to protest and tell her that she’d only finished off one of them and that Danse had taken care of the rest, but she knew he would react poorly to the other man’s name being mentioned.

“I don’t know. Do I need to remove the ones in your room?” She sneered back, curling her lip. When he didn’t respond the way she was hoping he would, with anger and a raised voice, Evelyn decided to take a different approach. “The only way I’ll let you take alcohol from Da- my room is if you help me drink it.”

“You want me to drink with you?” The young Elder asked, raising an eyebrow and crossing his arms. “And why would I do that? You’ve been nothing but insubordinate turn after turn.” Her knee jerk reaction was to yell at him and point out that she’s done everything he’s asked of her and more, but Evelyn stopped herself. She didn’t want to be alone anymore and he was the closest thing she had. Nate was gone and Danse was in hiding. Even her friends were miles away, far out of her reach.

“Because you want to.” She didn’t honestly know if that was the right answer, but they stared at each other for what felt like an hour before Maxson finally sighed and shook his head slowly. “You were worried about me last night, at least a little bit. That’s why you were coming to check up on me just now.”

“Is it actually me you want to drink with or is it that damn machine?” Maxson asked after a minute of silence between them. Evelyn didn’t want to have to answer him. She honestly didn’t know which man she would prefer drinking with in that particular moment. On one hand, she wanted to do everything with Danse and to have a life with him, but on the other, Arthur was here with her right then and there. He was less than an arm’s length away and he had come to learn her body like the back of his hand. Sure, she looked forward to teaching Danse the same, but in her stupor, there was nothing like Mister Right Now.

Taking a step forward and standing on her tip-toes, Evelyn laid her hands on his broad shoulders and pressed a kiss to his lips. Arthur didn’t respond at first, calmly waiting for her to verbalize her decision first. “I want you,” she whispered against his lips and just like that, his arms were powerful coils around her waist, dragging her harder against his torso as his mouth devoured hers. Her nose throbbed as it brushed against his, even with the alcohol numbing her face, but she didn’t care. All she wanted to do was drag Maxson down to the ground and ride him like a wild animal.

Evelyn was debating hopping up and wrapping her legs around him when her stomach growled viciously, reminding both of them that she hadn’t eaten anything but the snack cakes. If it were up to her, she would have ignored it and continued kissing him, but Arthur pulled back just enough to separate their lips. “You are going to get dressed and meet me in my quarters, McManus. I will go to the mess and get food for us both. There’s plenty there for us to drink, as you so delicately pointed out earlier.”

“Fine,” she agreed, kissing him one last time before pulling away. She knew she had nothing to worry about with people milling about and seeing her walk to Maxson’s quarters. In the week they first started their arrangement for Danse’s life, she had tried to be subtle and only sneak around after most people had gone to bed, but according to what Deacon had told her, it had all been pointless and everyone knew. She could probably ride him on a table and people would only avert their eyes.

As he left the room, Evelyn forced herself to try to focus on getting dressed, eager to get some actual food in her stomach and at the promise of more alcohol. The biggest issue was that her leather pants looked like they would be impossible for her to get into, considering how the world seemed to refuse to stay still. Quickly making up her mind, she grabbed the edges of her shirt and pulled the soft fabric up over her head and tossed it blindly into a corner. She would deal with trying to find it in the morning.

Instead of wasting time and digging through everything in her bag, she dumped the heavy sack on the bed, creating another thing she’d deal with when she sobered up. Luckily, she just didn’t care at that moment and spotted the dress she had in mind instantly, the sequins sparkling dully in the dim light of Danse’s room. It didn’t fit her perfectly, but it did manage to make her chest look as impressive as an Old Hollywood starlet on the red carpet. She’d grabbed it in the first place just for Maxson.

Of course, her reasoning at the time had been completely different than just not wanting to wear pants. In her mind when she looted the dress, she had been concerned about Maxson losing interest in her and thus going back on his promise to not have Danse hunted down and killed like an animal. She didn’t know if she would still have to face that issue in the future, but she would resolve to get to Danse as soon as humanly possible. No more days spent lounging in bed. She could do that with Danse when they reached Maine and everything was safe.

Hiccuping, she put her hand to her chest and closed her eyes, willing off the heartburn that always came hand in hand with drinking for her. As she stood there for a moment, collecting herself and shaking her hair out from its usual bun, Evelyn decided to walk the short distance barefoot and use the heels to her advantage at a later date. Men of her time always seemed to have a thing for heels, including Nate, so she was willing to bet that Maxson might as well.

By the time that Evelyn actually made it to Maxson’s quarters, he had a makeshift tray covered with an assortment of foods from fruit she couldn’t identify to small portions of cooked meats, and what she thought might be sweet rolls. She hadn’t even known that the mess on the Prydwen carried half of the items on the plate, but Evelyn guessed that being Elder had its perks. Maxson certainly didn’t look like he’d skipped any meals in the last ten years.

“This looks more amazing than I thought it would,” Evelyn admitted as she shut the door behind her and sat down next to him at the table. “What is that? A mutfruit?”

Maxson chuckled and reached for the tray of food, selecting a ripe and delicious looking fruit before holding it up on display for her. “You would be impressed if you knew everything you could do with a mutfruit, Evelyn.”

“You mean besides eating it?” Evelyn raised an eyebrow at the unassuming fruit and frowned at him. On second thought, she wasn’t sure if she was drunk enough to be having this discussion with Maxson. With a snort, she decided to rectify that and take a large swig of the vodka that was set out on the table. “I don’t know if I’m up for food in the bedroom, but I’m sure you could persuade me if you wanted to.”

“No? Even if I licked the juice off your nipples?” He asked with a wiggle of the fruit and the smile of an egotistical young man. When he smiled he looked younger, but when he grinned like that, he almost looked his age, if you ignored the scars and the unkempt beard. Looking back on it later, Evelyn would fully blame the vodka for giving her liquid courage, but she said nothing as she carefully leaned towards him, bracing herself on his thigh as she carefully took a bite out of the fruit, ignoring the way the juice ran down her chin.

The grin quickly faded into a look Evelyn was all too familiar with seeing on his face. Mouth slightly opened and pupils blown wide, Arthur looked like he was about to grab her and ravish her right there on the table. He looked like he suddenly had a better idea of what kind of meat to feed her. Evelyn felt her face flush at that last thought and started to pull away from him, but his free hand snuck around to the back of her head, lacing his fingers into her long hair and holding her right where he wanted her to be. After a second of silence, he pulled her closer to himself and up towards his mouth where he licked the sticky trail from her chin up to her mouth.

Arthur’s tongue wasn’t as sweet as the mutfruit had been, but he still tasted faintly of it. Or maybe that was her own mouth. Either way, Evelyn moaned into the kiss when his mouth invaded hers, her short nails digging into the fabric covering his thigh. “You’ve convinced me,” she groaned against his lips when they pulled apart, reaching for the mutfruit with her free hand, but he pulled it away from her.

“Take off your dress. I would hate to see it ruined and stained,” Arthur commanded, but by his tone of voice, Evelyn had a feeling that he actually would like to see the dress torn in a heap on the floor. Preferably after he ripped it off of her himself, she was sure. Evelyn stood and did as he commanded, taking the initiative and removing her underthings while she was at it. As she was busy undressing, Maxson had removed his coat, carefully setting it aside to avoid staining it, and undid the top fastenings of his uniform. “Good, now sit on the table.” He patted the table in front of him firmly, his eyes locked on her body.

Evelyn honestly wasn’t sure if the table was sturdy enough to hold her weight, but she was tipsy enough to not really care too much about it. If it broke, it wasn’t like she hadn’t been injured enough yesterday. Hopping up on the table, she made sure that the tray of food was far enough away that it wouldn’t get knocked over thanks to them and spread her legs to rest on either side of his thighs when she was ready.

Watching her like a hawk, Maxson raised the mutfruit to her chest and gently teased one of her nipples with it, making sure to rub the side she’d taken a bite out of so that the juice dripped everywhere. She couldn’t help but moan, her eyes locked on his, at the feeling of it. Part of her resented that he was right, but damn if she didn’t love the feeling of it. As if reading her thoughts, he slowly dragged it to her other nipple and gave it the same treatment its twin received.

By the time he was done, the mutfruit was a pulpy mess in his fingers and little rivers of purple juice flowed over her torso. Arthur popped the squashed fruit in her mouth, making good on his promise to feed her and kept his fingers near her mouth for her to suck clean as he licked the juice trails from her body. It was by far the most erotic thing she’d ever done in her life and she loved it. All she wanted to do was slip forward and sink down onto his cock, but from the look on his face, he had something else in mind.

“It’s a shame you’re so covered in hair,” she joked softly, moaning as he reached for another fruit and gently teased her nether lips with it. “I can’t return the favor.”

“You could,” he pointed out with another grin before licking her juices off of the mutated fruit. “I’d be worried about hurting your nose even more, though. I tend to bury your nose without meaning to.” She wanted to bite back that she knew damn well that he did it on purpose and that he should at least trim his body hair if he wanted to keep doing it, but he cut her off by licking a broad swipe from the bottom of her slit up to her clit, followed closely by the fruit running up as well. She swore softly, reaching forward to bury her fingers in the longer part of his hair and tried to force him to tongue her more forcefully.

For once, he actually did what she wanted him to do and sucked harshly on her clit, gently teasing it with his teeth as he rubbed the bumpy surface of the fruit against her opening, not quite going inside of her, but certainly hard enough to spread her lips. Evelyn cried out softly, falling back to brace herself with her free hand as she dug her nails into Maxson’s scalp and tried not to buck her hips or think about the wicked yeast infection the mutfruit could give her if she wasn’t careful. She chanted a mixture of curses and his name, desperate for release as her head lolled around on her shoulders.

Right before she could fall over the edge of release, Maxson pulled back, ignoring the pull of her fingers still laced in his hair as he stood up and kissed her sharply. His mouth definitely tasted more like the fruit than it had before, the sweetness of it contrasting sharply with the tang of her own juices. She couldn’t help but moan into his mouth, wishing that he was wearing less as he pulled back and forced the second mutfruit up to her lips for her to eat. When it was finished, Maxson grabbed her up her hips and lifted her, carrying her over to his bed.

As he set her down and began fully undressing, Evelyn couldn’t resist rubbing her legs together with a drawn out moan. Her pussy still tingled from the texture of the fruit rubbing against it and she wondered idly if the surface had enzymes like pineapples did to create the tingling sensation. So lost in her thoughts and the feeling of it all, Evelyn didn’t notice when he was undressed until he flipped her over and raised her hips up. By the time her mind caught up to everything, Arthur was buried to the root in her.

She could barely keep up with the quick jerk of his hips, but she loved the feeling of it and never wanted it to stop. When she had been intimate with Nate, she always hated this position and thought it was degrading, but with Arthur, it felt amazing. She thought she might have told him that, if the way he pulled her up so that her back was against his chest and the loud moan he gave was anything to go by, but everything she said was a blur as she lost herself in him.

Feeling herself start to come undone, she bit the heel of her palm, determined to muffle her shouts. There might not have been any secrets in the Brotherhood, but she could use some more privacy among the ranks. If she wants careful, she was pretty sure the entire Commonwealth would know what they got up to. Like he had before, Maxson bit the side of her neck sharply, drawing her from her thoughts and shoving her over the edge. She gasped, releasing her hold on her palm and didn’t have time to bite down on her hand again as she came, her body clamping up and a strangled moan pouring out of her lips.

Collapsing against the mattress in a huff, Evelyn’s bones felt like jelly as the pace of Arthur’s hips sped up and the sound of flesh smacking against flesh filled the room. His release followed soon afterward and he slumped down on top of her, the weight of his chest pressing her even further into the mattress.

“Tomorrow, you are to go back to the Glowing Sea,” Maxson murmured breathlessly against the bare skin of her shoulder, letting his lips caress her as he spoke. “You are going to put that mutant out of its misery. It is no longer useful to our cause and must be destroyed.” No. No, no, no, no. She couldn’t do that to Virgil.

“He was working on a cure for the FEV,” Evelyn protested, trying to roll around so that she could look her younger lover in the eye. His words had the benefit of being sobering if nothing else.

“It doesn’t matter. It’s a monster and needs to be destroyed.” His arms and the weight of his chest kept her pressed against the mattress and Evelyn could have kicked herself for falling back into the trap of him. He always seemed to be the most manipulative while between her legs and she really should have learned that by now. Knowing that she could do little to argue with him and convince him otherwise, Evelyn felt herself just nodding and laying her head on his pillow.

She would go to the Glowing Sea, as ordered, but with any luck, Virgil’s serum would have been a success and he would be back to being human. Surely the technology obsessed Brotherhood would be interested in a potential, proven-to-work cure for the FEV, right?

Chapter Text

The very second that her Geiger counter stopped cracking out its warning, Evelyn all but ripped off the helmet to her radiation suit, just barely resisting the urge to throw the offending object. She’d had sweat pouring into her eyes for the last few hours as she made her way back to the Commonwealth from Virgil’s cave. As tempted as she had been to find one of the various semi-safe havens dotted around the Glowing Sea to take a short break, she pushed herself on, the promise she’d made to herself the night before burning heavily at the back of her mind.
She would never get to freedom with Danse if she spent half of her time lollygagging around.

Leaning against a half broken rock, Evelyn sighed and took a swig of too warm water. She missed working fridges being commonplace. Looking around slowly as she tried to lower her sweltering body temperature, Evelyn frowned when she spotted what looked like a lone wanderer on the highway with a dog trailing after him, making his way towards her. There was no way a raider could be that painfully stupid.

For curiosity’s sake and because she was feeling a little sick with dehydration, Evelyn decided to see what this guy’s deal was. As she waited for him to approach, she kept an eye out for potential enemies or a member of the Brotherhood. She knew that she was close to Waypoint Echo, but she didn’t know if Scribe Haylen was still stationed there or if they had moved the young woman back to the Cambridge Police Department.

Either way, she hadn’t seen the other woman since the truth about Danse’s origin had come to light. Evelyn knew that he had managed to get a message to her, letting her know that he was still alive, but she hadn’t heard anything of it.

By then, the man with the dog was near enough to start a conversation with, so she wasn’t locked into the thought process of starting to worry about Danse. He was a grown man with a dog and a Mister Handy, not to mention a suit of power armor. He could take care of himself.

“Hey there, you wanna buy a dog?” The man asked when he was a little bit closer, stopping as to not crowd the heavily armed woman.

“What’s wrong with it that you wanna sell it over?” Evelyn asked, glancing around to look at the scarred but happy looking dog wagging its tail behind him. She briefly thought of the dog her and Nate had gotten in celebration of buying their first house and couldn’t help but feel sorrow. She hoped Brando had a long life, even after the world ended. The strange man, Gene, went on to tell her that selling dogs was how he made his living and she found herself spending the next ten minutes explaining to him that yes, she was sure she wanted to buy his dog, and no, she wouldn’t eat her. “I’ll give you an extra hundred caps if you bring her to Sanctuary in the north for me. I live there and there’s a man named Preston Garvey. If you let him know that I bought the dog and that I’d appreciate it if he didn’t chase her off, I’d be much obliged, Gene.”

Gene seemed genuinely happy to not only have made a sale but also that he would be able to spend some time with the dog before he had to say goodbye to the sweet girl. As the former lawyer watched them turn around and walk back north, she slowly shook her head and hoped that she hadn’t just thrown 350 caps away over nothing. It would be a cold day in hell before she chased some dude all over the Commonwealth for not delivering a dog she’d bought off of him. “Well, fuck it,” she murmured to herself as she pushed herself off of the rock and started walking again, pausing just long enough to slip out of the rest of the radiation suit and pop her gauntlets back on for some extra protection, no matter how minor. Keeping an eye on her pip-boy as she walked, she debated on which of her notes she should be following. On one hand, she didn’t really have anything pressing with the Brotherhood, now that she’d seen Virgil and saw that he was fully human again… She would lie through her teeth about him if she had to, even if it enraged Elder Maxson into violence against her. Something told her that it would be a ‘fool me once, shame on you’ situation if he found out that she’d spared yet another “undesirable” that he’d pegged for death.

The roar of a vertibird’s engines tore her out of her musings and Evelyn glanced around, wondering if the unit was on a mission to skirmish with some raiders or something. Evelyn sighed when she noticed that the vertibird seemed to be making a bee-line towards her when she finally spotted it in the distance, rather than just harassing the locals that they decided to target. She couldn’t help but hope that the Elder hadn’t already found out about her sparing Virgil somehow. She hadn’t actually come up with an excuse for him yet, other than him being human again. The news of the possible cure probably wouldn’t go over as well as it should have with the Brotherhood.

The fact that Virgil was once a monster meant that to them, he would always be a monster.

The vertibird kicked up as hell of a dust storm as it set down a few paces in front of her and a Scribe jumped out, hastily making their way towards her. “Paladin McManus,” the greeted with a shout over the sound of the engines. “You’re needed on The Prydwen, it’s an emergency.”

“An emergency?” she found herself asking, making no move to follow the anxious Scribe, to the other’s obvious discomfort.

“Yes, ma’am,” they nodded quickly, trying to hurry her along. “Knight Captain Kells requests your presence immediately. You’re needed on an urgent mission.” Kells? Not Maxson? It must either be a serious request or some sort of clever ruse on Maxson’s part if he knew about Virgil’s continued lease on life. It would be a ruse he was fully cunning enough to pull off. Maybe he had found out her plans, the same way he had found Danse’s hiding spot months ago.

Noting the way that the nameless Scribe kept looking from her to the vertibird, Evelyn shrugged and finally followed her. If she was walking to her death for high treason or something, then so be it. Maybe she would finally see Nate again. The thought brought a faint smile to her face, one that surely confused the Scribe as they mounted the metal beast and took off into the air, soaring back towards The Prydwen. “So, what’s this ultra urgent mission?”

“It’s classified, ma’am,” the Scribe told her, anxiously strapping herself in as far from either of the open sides as she could. “We were only told by Elder Maxson that you would be in this area and we needed to do a grid search to retrieve you.” The second that Maxson’s name was brought up, there seemed to be a pause in the nearly overwhelming noise of the vertibird and Evelyn felt everyone’s eyes lock on her. Everyone there knew about her carnal relationship with their renowned leader. There were no secrets in the Brotherhood, after all.

“Elder Maxson? I thought Knight Captain Kells summoned me,” Evelyn pointed out, debating on if she could survive the fall if she threw herself from the ship.

“Elder Maxson said that Knight Captain Kells had a vital mission for you, involving The Institute,” the Scribe clarified, a flush appearing on the woman’s dusky features as she must have realized how it sounded. Half the crew of The Prydwen probably thought Maxson summoning her like this most be some sort of booty call. He either knew exactly how it would look or he just didn’t care enough to think of it and knowing him, it was probably the former.

When Evelyn only nodded in response, the crew fell into an awkward silence, Evelyn’s mind too busy racing to really bother trying to keep a conversation going. “You did the right thing, you know,” the nameless pilot spoke up, glancing back at them from where he sat up front before turning his attention back to the landscape. “Danse was an abomination and the Elder was right to reward you so highly for putting it down. Extraordinary people like you and Elder Maxson always seem to find each other.” The others nodded in agreement and Evelyn felt like she was going to be sick. Being forced to service him on her hands and knees in front of other people was a reward? Sure, she’d gone to him willingly a dozen times since that first time, but it still felt like her world was at a tilt when she stopped to think about it. The brothers and sisters of the organization really did think that him manhandling her in return for her holotape of her breaking her new lover’s heart was some grand reward.

Evelyn really did pity the Brotherhood of Steel and their future, if this was the road they were on.

“I’ve… heard a little bit of what the Elder has been through,” she started cautiously, not sure if she even wanted to find out more about his history. “Who were the Brotherhood Outcasts, exactly?”

“They were the ones who kept with the true ideals of the Brotherhood of Steel when Elder Lyons went native and stopped being concerned with the search for technology,” the paladin accompanying the mission proudly explained to her, the tone of his voice alone cluing Evelyn in on his stance of the previous Elder. She had yet to actually meet anyone aboard The Prydwen who had approved of the old man’s ways. Maybe they’d all been left behind in what everyone called The Capital Wasteland?

“Lyons was too concerned with being nice. You don’t rescue technology by being nice,” the pilot added unhelpfully from up front, causing Evelyn to frown. She had desperately wanted to turn a blind eye to how… aggressive some of the Brotherhood’s methods were, such as Proctor Teagan requesting that she use force to get the locals to agree to give them their hard earned food crops, but hearing that other members of the Brotherhood praised behavior like that left a sour taste in her mouth. She didn’t think it was right to expect the farmers to just give away their crops, like some sort of a dirty Communist.

“Sowhat exactly did Maxson do to reunite the Outcasts?” Evelyn asked, honestly half afraid of what the answer would be. It made her afraid for how Danse would have acted, if he was around during the whole fiasco. Would he have supported Elder Lyons or whoever was the leader of the Outcasts?

“Proctor Rockfowl sat down and met with Elder Maxson after Proctor Casdin was killed in battle,” the Scribe said matter of factly, almost as if it was common knowledge that she should have known. “Maxson agreed to mostly return things to how they were before Lyons decided to go native. There’s been some change to how the West Coast does things, but things are mostly back to how they should be.” The small group continued to talk among themselves, but Evelyn didn’t bother keeping up with the conversation. Her mind was too busy trying to process all that had happened in the past ten years of her cryogenic sleep.

It raised the hairs on the back of her neck to know that yet another ‘power player’ of the Brotherhood of Steel had died at seemingly convenient times. She remembered reading that someone named Sarah Lyons had been killed shortly after her father died and not even a year after taking up the mantle of being the East Coast’s Elder. The terminals had also made mention of a string of Elders being sub-par at best before Maxson’s rise to power and development into adulthood.

It made her honestly worry about Arthur.

If those deaths weren’t just accidents, then who was pulling the strings to ensure his rise to power? Who wanted a resurgence of Maxsons so badly? But then, Arthur had said that his parents were killed around the same time that he was sent Eastwards. Had someone arranged for their downfalls as well? Had someone been inflating and ever so slightly been altering the truth to make him seem larger than life?

A shudder raced its way up her spine and she forced herself to focus on other things. Maxson’s issues weren’t her problem. She had enough on her plate and she honestly didn’t need to be chasing the shadows out of that man’s life, no matter how intimately they knew each other. This was the same man who was responsible for Danse’s banishment. He was a major driving force in front of a quasi-religious and xenophobic organization. Evelyn had better things to worry about, like what she was about to face, now that she could see The Prydwen in the distance. It would only be a short while before she had to deal with whatever she’d been summoned to do this time.

Hopefully, she was just being paranoid and he hadn’t found out about her inevitable betrayal yet.

It had been a short, uneventful flight, minus her warring thoughts, and if anything, it made her all the more anxious to step foot on the massive airship. There hadn’t even been any gunfire aimed at them as they zoomed across the Commonwealth. A small voice in the back of her head warned her that it was nothing but the calm before the storm and that it had just been a regular morning back on the twenty-second of October over two hundred years previously. Evelyn was starting to believe that the worst things in life were preceded by routine and calm moments.

The second that her boots hit the flight deck, she was ushered off to see not Elder Maxson or Knight Captain Kells, but to Proctor Ingram, with just hurried excuses of it being of the utmost urgency whenever she bothered to ask anyone what was going on. “Ah, there you are, Paladin,” Ingram greeted her with a grin as soon as she saw the other woman. “What took you so long?”

“I was busy in the Glowing Sea,” Evelyn deadpanned, giving a shrug at the power suit donning woman’s uncharacteristic enthusiasm. She’d never actually seen Ingram smile before and if anything, it only made her more paranoid about what was to come.

“Right. Well, I managed to do it. I finally managed to locate the missing component that will get Liberty Prime fully operational.” At her words, Evelyn felt like she’d been smacked across the face with a brick. She definitely hadn’t been expecting that news, although it wasn’t even remotely bad news. “There is an issue, though. We need a Beryllium agitator and the only place I’ve been able to find it is in the Mass Fusion building. And unfortunately for us, it seems as if The Institute is starting to get an idea of what we’ve been up to.”

“So you need me to go and fetch it for you, right?” Evelyn asked, placing a hand on her hip and raising an annoyed eyebrow. It would have been so much easier for her to just go straight to the Mass Fusion building, but she did understand the need for secrecy on this.

“I’m going to be coming with you.” The way that Ingram said that with a firm look on her face and a steely tone made Evelyn stop, cocking her head to look up at the taller woman. “You need me with you to safely locate and extract the right thing, not to mention the heavy Synth resistance you’ll most likely be facing.”

“Okay, fine. But out in the field, you listen to my orders, got it?” From the look on Ingram’s face, it was obvious that the other woman was expecting resistance to her presence or for Evelyn to bring up how she was an amputee, but none of that mattered to her. She’d read through the mail files discussing Ingram’s return to service and had no qualms about bringing the other woman along. She could fully understand why Elder Maxson didn’t want to repair genius to be wasted in the field, but she was still in a mood to be as defiant as humanly possible to Maxson while she still could.

Within the hour, they’d had their plan of attack all set and were on their way out of The Prydwen when Ingram paused on the stairs, glancing back towards the Command Room where Maxson usually lurked. As much as she didn’t want to, Evelyn found herself looking back towards him as well and couldn’t help but flinch at the thunderous look on his face. She had a feeling it wasn’t just because she was taking Proctor Ingram out on a dangerous mission with her, from the way his eyes seemed to drill into her alone. “I’ll meet you by the vertibird,” Ingram offered softly, far kinder than Evelyn had ever heard her sound before.

“Thanks, I’ll try to make this quick.” She was either walking to her death or at least to a verbal beat down and there was no escaping it. If she’d pretended to not notice Ingram’s hesitation and just kept going, she would have gotten in trouble even worse for it as his temper stewed for several more hours. Realistically, she should have come to see him before she ever went to find Ingram, but in her defense, she honestly hadn’t wanted to. “Elder Maxson, sir?”

“Is there a reason that you not only failed to report to me after your mission’s completion but are also about to take someone who isn’t cleared for field duty out, right in front of my very eyes?” He asked after a pause that had been long enough that it made Evelyn doubt if he’d even wanted to speak with her. Under the thick crop of his facial hair, his jaw seemed to spasm with anger and absently, Evelyn wondered if he had grown the beard just to cover the angry tick. It was always harder to win arguments with you had facial tells like that, after all.

“I was informed that I had to meet with Proctor Ingram urgently,” she pointed out, making an effort to keep her voice low and even. “You’re as aware of the time sensitivity as I am, Elder.”

“Do not use that tone with me, Paladin McManus,” Maxson snarled, his hands in white-knuckled fists by his sides. “You’re well aware of what this is about.” She wanted to snark back at him, but she wisely kept her mouth shut, noting the way that the veins in his neck popped in rage. “I had a team follow you at a distance in the Glowing Sea to ensure that you followed at least one order from me.”

No,” Evelyn gasped, suddenly feeling the air knocked from her lungs. “Arthur, please,

“You will address me as Elder Maxson,” he hissed, taking a step towards her and crowding into her personal space. “If you weren’t already out the door on your next mission, I would court martial you right now, McManus. It’s obvious that I have given you far too much freedom, even after your first betrayal. You are nothing but a housewife playing at being a soldier.”

“Oh, really?” She snapped back, still making sure to keep her voice low because of the people milling about behind them in the hallways. “A housewife cleared out Fort Strong, traveled through the Glowing Sea several times for your order, hunted down the man who stole my baby, and over a hundred other things? I was a lawyer before the war, Maxson. Do you know what kind of law I specialized in? Have you ever bothered to even wonder that about me?”

“That is not what is important right now.” He insisted, shaking his head as if to push her words aside.

“But it is. You keep wondering why I refuse to do your dirty work assassinations but have never bothered to ask me. I was a civil lawyer. I had dreams to work with war refugees and civil rights cases. I wanted to make a difference defending people who couldn’t defend themselves and yet you constantly wonder why I don’t have an issue with the people you take issue with?”

“It doesn’t matter,” he insisted, the rage still burning in his voice, but was now dimmer. He wasn’t about to give up the fight or his anger, but he did know how pressed for time they were or if they even had any hope of actually beating the Institute. “You are a soldier and you are to follow orders. Especially direct ones, McManus. We will discuss it further as soon as you return with Proctor Ingram. Dismissed.” With that, he turned his back on her and returned to his usual place by the windows.

Now more than ever, she needed to escape with Danse. She had a feeling that if Maxson was angry enough and got his way, she wouldn’t see the light of day for a very long time.

Pushing the new fear down, Evelyn turned and did her best to keep her head held high as she walked out and joined Ingram by the vertibird. The other woman looked down at her with sympathetic eyes, but Evelyn didn’t want to hear any of it right then. It wasn’t the place, let alone the time, and Ingram wasn’t her friend. “Let’s get on with it.”

“You should be more careful,” Ingram told her in an uncharacteristically soft manner when they were finally on their way, the Mass Fusion building in sight and the anxiety of the mission burning the back of Evelyn’s throat. “Even if Elder Maxson is young and favors you, he is still the Elder and deserves that respect. He has been through a lot and has always come out on top. You’re not the first he’s allowed a looser rein on in the past. It only lasts for so long.”

A part of her wanted to tell Ingram that it will never get to that point because she’ll be gone long before it reaches there, but instead she says nothing, checking her ammo and making sure that her combat shotgun is as loaded as physically possible as the pilot calls out that there appeared to be Synths on the roof of the skyscraper. Her world became a blur of reflexes as she automatically aimed and fired at the Synths as soon as they were close enough. She heard Ingram and the pilot shout but didn’t process their words as she dropped down onto the tarred roof, lifting the shotgun and blowing a mechanical head clean off.

Evelyn couldn’t help but wonder if they would have beaten the Institute there if Maxson hadn’t stopped her to threaten her, but she knew well enough that it was useless to think about. What’s done was done and all she could do was ensure that they weren’t beaten to the actual agitator.

It was seemingly non-stop, wave after wave of opposition as they fought their way into the depths of the building, checking terminals along the way to ensure that they were still on the right track and that they could try to find out if there were even more gems of technology hidden away that they could grab while they were there. A large part of her was glad that it was just lower generation Synths that they were going against, but in overwhelming numbers, that didn’t make them any less deadly and efficient. “Ingram, how much further do we have to go?” Evelyn yelled over the sound of laser fire, pausing to check her rapidly depleting ammo cache. “I don’t really want to get up close and person with these things!” Her side and nose still ached, even if she had been fully cleared for duty, and she really had no intention of fighting them off with a baseball bat.

“It should be on the next floor down in the labs!” Ingram yelled back after a pause. A sense of surrealness struck Evelyn and she had to take a moment to breathe. She was this close to destroying the Institute and her son. Shaun, who she had brought into this world after a labor that lasted for nineteen hours and a birth that nearly killed her. Shaun, who had grown into such a dangerously intelligent man who stared defiantly back at her with Nate’s father’s face and her own eyes. He had been her entire world from the moment he had been born and she was so close to destroying his life’s work.

She didn’t know if she could really do this. She wasn’t strong enough.

“McManus, let’s go!” Ingram’s voice screamed at her, ripping her from her spiral of doubt. Jerking up to see where Ingram had disappeared to, Evelyn saw that the other woman had taken care of what was left of the latest wave of Synths and vaulted over the barrier she’d been hiding behind to catch up to the taller woman. “What were you doing?”

“Don’t worry about it,” she snapped back, slapping her hand on Ingram’s armored shoulder to get her to continue moving forward. “We’re almost done, let’s just get it and fuck off.” Together, the two women tore off to where Evelyn’s Pip-Boy told them to go, shooting anything that popped up along the way. Her heart hammered in her chest when she rounded the corner into the decrepit labs and saw the reactor room. It was nothing like what she’d expected, but then again, she’d never seen one in person before. Following Ingram’s instructions in a daze, Evelyn let her reflexes take over. It all felt like some television show like this mission wasn’t actually happening and that it was just… Just an exercise or something.

She just had to keep telling herself that it was all for her freedom with Danse. Soon, everything would be over and she would be busy building him a house on a hill so that he could see the sky whenever he wanted to.

For the second time that day, Evelyn found herself donning a radiation suit and popping back a handful of Rad-X pills as she readied herself to go into the chamber and retrieve the agitator. She just really hoped that this time turned out much better than it had that morning. With a soft huff, she placed the heavy helmet over her head and walked towards the lead door, wishing that she could just blink and be safely a hundred miles away with Danse. She was so tired.

It was a battle to get to the agitator itself and a battle to get back to the elevator with Ingram, but she honestly hadn’t been expecting anything else. That was just sorta how her luck had been for the past year and she was used to it at this point. What she wasn’t expecting, however, was to see back up from the Brotherhood of Steel waiting for them in the lobby, firing into innumerable Synths and yelling for her to hurry up and get back to The Prydwen. “McManus, just go! I can hold things off from here!” Ingram yelled at her, swatting at a Synth with the butt of her power rifle when it got too close to her.

“There’s no way in hell I’m doing that!” She yelled back, quickly grabbing up one of the fallen laser rifles and squeezing the trigger as soon as it was vaguely raised. From the corner of her eye, she could see Proctor Ingram give her a quick, shocked double take as she refused to abandon them, fighting shoulder to shoulder with the rest of them and disproving the other woman’s assumptions about her. In a way, it felt good to prove at least one person wrong about her.

Even with herself and the Proctor joining in on the final battle, two of the Scribes were killed, their bodies slumped on the ground among the wreckage and broken parts of the mechanical lives they’d taken. Over everything, Evelyn looked up and made eye contact with the equally exhausted other woman and slowly nodded back when Ingram nodded her approval. With any luck, Ingram might try to talk Maxson out of chasing her and Danse down like dogs out of respect for her. Maybe Cade and Teagan would show her the same respect. Quinlan might if it was for her, but with his knowledge of Danse being a Synth, Evelyn had a feeling that the strange Scribe turned Proctor would only encourage Maxson to finish the job himself.

“C’mon, let’s get this back to the airport as soon as possible,” Ingram offered, finally taking her eyes away from Evelyn’s battle stained face. “I have a robot to fix.” As it always seemed to be, the journey back to The Prydwen seemed little more than a blur to her, the sound of the engines muffling out the world around her as she wondered about Nate. Had he felt this way whenever he was out on deployment? Was this what she could never seem to understand about him and why he got so distant from her at times?

As soon as her boots hit the metal flight deck, she was given instructions to report to Elder Maxson and Evelyn felt like there was a brick in her stomach. Sure, she knew that she probably was just going to get a stern talking to and that she’d been chewed out by a lot of people in her past, but this just wasn’t a conversation she was ready to deal with. She wasn’t ready to deal with Virgil’s assassination despite her best efforts to spare his life. Unlike every other time she came up on the young Elder, he was facing her and watching her as she walked closer to him, the veins in his forehead seeming to throb in anticipation of yelling at her.

“Elder Maxson, sir,” she greeted softly with a salute, forcing herself to stare at the floor and not look him in the eye.

“I have half a mind to strip you of your rank and throw you over the side of The Prydwen, McManus,” Maxson growled as he took his customary step towards her. “Disobedience is unbecoming of a member of the Brotherhood. I expect you to follow orders when given them.” Although he’d left out the situation with Danse, she knew that the words hung heavily between them, adding all the more venom to his tone.

“Historically, only following orders hasn’t held up as a defense against murder,” she found herself muttering and could have kicked herself. Out of all the things to say, that might very well have been among the worst possible ones.

“It isn’t murder to put a monster out of its misery. That thing was no more human than that dog that follows you around, but not nearly as useful.” He looked at her for a second before scoffing and shaking his head slowly in disgust. "Do you feel like a hero yet? Is that it?"

“Brian Virgil was human,” she insisted, planning on going into as much of a rant as she was able to, but the words were cut from her mouth by the back of his hand. The smack of his hand making contact with Evelyn’s mouth was an odd feeling. She hadn’t even seen him raise his arm, much less arc it towards her face. From the hush that erupted from behind them, she had a feeling that those milling about, waiting for scraps of gossip were just as shocked as she was.

At least they would have more to talk about.

“I am not going to tell you again. That thing might have started off as human, but it was nothing more than a monster and a hindrance on humanity.”

“You know, it’s funny,” Evelyn commented dryly, gingerly wiping the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand and ignoring his words. “This morning, you were laughing that I made it look like you’d spent the night wrestling a baby deathclaw again. Now, you just look like a spoiled child.”

“This isn’t the time, Paladin,” he hissed, looking like he was debating on smacking her again. “The next time you go against my orders, it will be treason.” If only he knew how right he was by that.

“I understand, sir,” she finally agreed, not wanting to risk breaking her nose by being hit again.

“Go clean up. You look terrible,” he sneered coldly down at her, scowling at the blood that dripped from her mouth because of him. Without another word, Evelyn saluted him and took a step back, doing her best to avoid eye contact as she scurried back to Danse’s old quarters, feeling like a dog with its tail between its legs. Nate would never in a thousand years have hit her and she was willing to stake her life on Danse being the same. Even as the tears burned at her eyes, she refused to let them spill over the actions of some egotistical jackass with a god-complex. Evelyn McManus-Ellis was better than that.

But if she looked as bad as she felt, then she was a sight to behold, Evelyn was sure. But she didn’t bother trying to clean off her face, choosing instead to drop her heavy pack, kick off her boots, and fall onto the lumpy bed. She was beyond exhausted and emotionally drained. All she wanted to do was sleep and she was tired of feeling that way. She was tired of feeling like a shadow of her former shadow. Falling into a deep, dreamless sleep, Evelyn wasn’t sure how long she had been out for when a loud pounding rang through the room and jerked her awake.

Unhurriedly, she made her way to the door and opened it, blinking in confusion before she looked down and made eye contact with a horrified looking squire. I’m sorry you have to get an eyeful of your Elder’s actions, kiddo. “What is it?” She asked around a swollen mouth, barely containing a wince at the throb in her nose.

“Paladin McManus, ma’am,” the squire quickly saluted her, snapping himself out of his shock. “Liberty Prime is fully functional and you are needed in the airport. Elder Maxson says that it is time to bring the fight to the Institute.”

Chapter Text

Just like the first time she’d been in the overly clean halls of the Institute, Evelyn felt like her skin was crawling. Even in the days before the world ended, she had never been in a place so clean, not even a hospital. It was the least natural thing she had seen, and yes, that was counting the method that they used to make Gen 3 models of Synths. A thick, artificial lemon scent hung heavily in the air, pungent as if someone had sprayed an aerosol can directly into her face. She could just taste it in the back of your throat.

Next to her, Maxson looked around in a horrified wonder, his earlier rage at her seemingly all but forgotten as he took in the strange world they found themselves in. If it was any other time, she might have found it funny how uncomfortable he looked, but she didn’t have the time to. She didn’t even have the time to bleed as she anxiously brushed the back of her forearm against her mouth, trying to brush the blood out of the way. Her nose really needed to stop getting busted up, it was not a new trend she was particularly fond of.

Behind them, Paladin Brandis stepped into the light of the main portion of The Institute and took in the wonder with a harsh scoff, breaking them out of their thoughts. “No wonder they make monsters. There isn’t a damn thing natural about this place.”

Even if she had wanted to, Evelyn couldn’t have thought of a snappy comeback to Brandis’ remark in time because as the trio stepped forwards into the central chamber of the Institute, Synths of various generations seemed to pour out of the cracks in an effort to overwhelm them. In her mind, Evelyn almost seemed to go on autopilot as she lined up shots, aiming for various limbs without even really feeling like she put too much thought into it. Time seemed to slow as she snapped in and out of cover, waiting until she had what she thought was the best shot lined up before squeezing the trigger, ever paranoid that she would run out of ammo.

That had happened to her once when she had first woken up, but luckily, Danse had been there, looking out for her as they searched for a deep space transmitter together so that he could get a message out to the main body of the Brotherhood.

Ignoring the painful pang of longing for Danse’s company, Evelyn took aim and fired at a Courser, managing to hit the Synth man in the throat, quickly ending his life. The quicker she got through all of this, the quicker she could be with him again, she reminded herself sharply, sparing a glance to where Maxson stood, firing shot after shot from his Gatling laser. For a second there, she allowed herself to admire the view that he made, his powerful form seeming to heave the massive weapon effortlessly. Seeing him in the midst of combat like that instead of just standing around on the Command Deck, Evelyn really could believe all of the tales she’d heard about his military exploits and could easily see him taking down a deathclaw by himself… Maybe not at thirteen, but certainly at twenty.

“McManus!” Maxson barked out, jerking her from her thoughts. “Now’s your chance! Go and finish your mission, we’ll hold them off here!” Even as she yelled the affirmative, she felt her stomach drop. It was time for what she was dreading most. It was time to finally say goodbye to Shaun. A cowardly part of her hoped that she wouldn’t have to look him in the eye, but that thought was gone as soon as it appeared, self-loathing quickly replacing it.

If nothing else, Evelyn owed her son a final goodbye.

Taking off in a run, Evelyn headed towards the elevator and wished desperately that she had spent more time memorizing the labyrinth of hallways instead of being awestruck at what she discovered. If she had just remembered where everything was, then they would have more of a chance to survive the battle. She hoped that Maxson and Brandis would be able to hold their own until reinforcements arrived.

As the elevator doors closed behind her and the sounds of combat became muffled, Evelyn allowed herself to just stand and breathe for a second. She didn’t have the time to think about how much of what had become her life was about to end. She couldn’t spare a thought to how badly ultimately losing Shaun was going to hurt her.

Luckily, the halls at this level were nearly empty, with most of the defensive forces in the atrium with Maxson and the rest of the Brotherhood, but Evelyn could still hear the echoes of combat rising up. The twists and turns were more familiar up here, but she did still have to backtrack a time or two. Barging into yet another unmarked doorway, she was about to turn around and try a different door when she noticed that she was finally in the right place. In her son’s quarters. Her Pip-Boy beeped softly at her side with the confirmation as she stepped fully into the room, ignoring the gentle sound and her eyes locking on the strange bed occupying one side of the room.

Shaun was lying in it, his green eyes locked on her own as he silently watched her like she was the grim reaper herself. In a way, she supposed she was.

“You’re here to destroy everything, aren’t you.” Even though it was phrased like a question, from the tone of his voice and from the expression on his face, Evelyn could tell that it was meant as a statement as she stepped closer to him. She winced, wishing that she had been able to get the first words in, but even as she wished that, she realized she wouldn’t even know what to say in the first place. “I had a feeling you would when you left, but I… I supposed I willed myself to believe that you would help me anyways. I needed to believe that.”

“I have to,” she confirmed, coming to a stop next to him. Her baby boy looked frail, even more so than when he had been a newborn, wailing in her arms. “Shaun, are you… Are you in any pain?”

“I can handle it, mother,” he brushed off her concern, his eyebrows creasing in a shadow of a scowl. “This isn’t a scraped knee where you can just kiss the pain away.” He looked away from her in a stubborn anger and Evelyn couldn’t stop herself from gently reaching out and laying her hand on his own, age spot covered one. She couldn’t stop herself from noticing how utterly soft they were. It felt wrong. Nate’s hands had been rough and worn from years of hard work, but his son had the hands of an office administrator. Not for the first time, she found herself wondering about how he would have grown up if the world had never ended. Would he have been more like Nate? Would they have built things together, the same way Nate had built things with his own father, the original Shaun Ellis?

“Shaun, after you were born,” Evelyn paused, squeezing her son’s hand and willing him to just look at her as the words froze in her throat. “After you were born, your father, Nate… He was afraid to hold you for the first month. He was convinced that he would hurt you by just holding you. In the war, the one leading up to the bombs, I mean, he did terrible things and he was afraid that it would taint you somehow.” She wanted to tell him more, to tell him about how sick she had been after giving birth to him, how excited they’d been when they had found out she was pregnant, and a thousand other things that a mother would tell their son over a lifetime, but it was just too late.

Shaun was an old man and he was dying without having ever heard any of that from her.

“And if he had just let me go, he might still be alive right now,” Shaun commented dryly, finally looking over at her with a blank look. “I'm on my deathbed and you're ruining my life's work. What do you think telling me this will accomplish?”

“I don't want to leave you to die alone,” Evelyn admitted after a moment, reaching up to roughly wipe her tears away. “I never wanted any of this to happen. Shaun, please, help me.” The words felt like molasses in her mouth, thick and difficult. “Help me try to rescue some of your people, to get them out and give them a fighting chance in the Commonwealth.”

“If you're not even safe in the Commonwealth, how can you expect soft scientists to be?” For as harsh as his tone was, she could see her son’s livid eyes soften.

“I had help,” she pointed out, wincing as the ringing sounds of laser fire in the distance grew sharper. “I had a chance, which is what I want to give to your people. That’s all I want, Shaun.”

“Even after everything? Even after they destroyed your life?”

“Vault-Tec did that, The Institute just helped.” He made a face at her words but remained silent for what felt like eons.

“I regret how things turned out between us, mother,” Shaun told her, nodding softly to himself as if he had come to a decision. “I wish you knew how dangerous your bedfellows are.”

“I know,” she conceded, feeling tears burn in her eyes like acid. “I know, baby.” She didn’t need her son to tell her how singled-minded and focused Arthur Maxson could be, how bloodthirsty his ambition could seem to someone who didn’t know his reasonings. Even if they were morally wrong to her Pre-War standards, in his own eyes, Evelyn knew that Arthur considered himself a hero.

“Then how? How could you do this?” Shaun demanded, a fresh wave of anger washing over his voice. “I hate you.”

“I’m sorry, but I love you. I always will and I always have, Shaun.”

“You need to leave,” he snapped, all teeth and venom. It reminded her of Nate and how spitting mad he could get at the news and at how veterans were being treated. “I lived my life without you and I will die without you. You don’t get to be here at my end. You gave me hope that you could be what I always thought you were, but you’re not. You’re nothing like what I’d hoped for in a mother.”

“Shaun, please,” Evelyn felt herself begging, wishing he wasn’t so stubborn. “I’ll… I’ll leave you to your peace if you just tell me the password so that I can save your people.” With a scoff, he finally told it to her and turned from her as best as he could from the bed he was confided in. Even without him having to say anything to her, she knew that he was done talking with her and would refuse to respond if she tried again. With a sigh, she pressed a kiss to her fingers and gently tapped his temple with the fingers, just as she had every day when she laid him down to sleep.

Desperately, she tried to not think about how this would be the last time in her life she would ever get to do that.

Diligently typing on his terminal, Evelyn scanned the options that his password allowed her and finally laid eyes on the emergency alert notice. Taking a second to close her eyes and take a deep breath, she selected it and tried to focus on how many lives she would be saving. Just as she was about to turn away and leave her son to his peace, she noticed another option. Without giving it a second thought, Evelyn immediately selected it, feeling hope well in her gut. Now, she’d be able to save Brotherhood lives as well, thanks to Shaun’s begrudged generosity.

Stepping away from the terminal and walking back towards the door, Evelyn allowed herself the luxury of stopping and looking back, taking one last look at her son. She told herself that his words had just been a tantrum, eager to make her hurt just as she unintentionally hurt him. But at the end of the day, Evelyn knew that she would never really know. She had been robbed of the chance of really knowing her son and she honestly couldn’t be sure if the bitter, angry words had been who he really was, peeking up at her from the cracks in the gentle veneer he’d shown to her.

“Goodbye, Shaun.” As the door slid shut behind her, Evelyn thought she’d heard her son say goodbye as well, but she wasn’t sure over the now louder sounds of the battle going on. She’d have to live with never knowing for sure.

But she couldn’t waste time crying over it now, there was still a firefight going on and there was still a lot of work she needed to do. Absently, she thought of a poem she’d read years ago, back when she was still in high school with the world ahead of her and couldn’t help the feeling of affinity for it. Evelyn had promises to keep and miles to go before she slept. Shaking the sadness from the forefront of her mind, Evelyn raised up her shotgun and jogged back towards the elevator, wincing slightly at the announcement that rang over the loudspeakers. Now Maxson would know about her warning the scientists. She could only hope that he would be too distracted by his victory to remember to be angry at her.

She just had to make sure to be gone by the time he remembered, if he ever did.

The doors to the elevator opened up to the ruined atrium, the careful cultivation over generations ruined by the stomping boots of power armor and littered with corpses both human and manmade. Maxson was easy to spot among the chaos and standing back to back with Brandis as they fired almost mindlessly. “McManus!” Maxson hollered as soon as he spotted her, drawing unwanted attention towards her. It was almost a reflex as she raised the shotgun again and blowing off the top of the Gen 2 Synth’s head. “Did you complete your mission?” Maxson roared without missing a beat over the din.

Yelling her confirmation, Evelyn bolted to the relative safety of the man with the massive gun and the man in towering power armor, eager to just leave so that she could break down in peace. Within a few heartbeats, she had them all teleporting to safety, using the Institute’s own technology against them one final time. Well, minus the fact that the Brotherhood would be using their own reactor against them and blowing them up with it. “Our work here is done,” Maxson declared as soon as the blinding light faded and they landed safely. “Proctor Ingram, it’s time to teleport us out.”

“Sorry, Elder… I would, but…” Ingram stammered, clearly uncomfortable with a turn of events Evelyn wasn’t entirely sure of yet. “Well, this child showed up. He claims to be the Paladin’s son, sir.” Immediately, Evelyn felt her heart leap into her throat as Elder Maxson turned to face her fully, his pale eyes widening almost comically large as he stared at her.

“Please, Mom! Don’t leave me here! I want to go with you.” A voice that had haunted Evelyn’s dreams since the first time she’d seen him in Kellogg’s memories rang out, spurring her to shove past the young Elder in an effort to get to him sooner. As far as she cared, her baby was scared and needed her.

“Shaun?” She asked, deaf to how broken and weak her own voice sounded in the nearly shocking silence of the room. Evelyn felt like she and this small boy, this echo of her son that she’d followed across the Commonwealth and fought tooth and nail to find were the only two in the whole world as his tear filled eyes looked up to her. Just like the real Shaun’s had been, this boy’s eyes were mirrors of her own.

“Please take me with you, I’m scared,” he sobbed, half reaching out towards her, but stopping himself out of fear. Without even thinking about it, Evelyn’s arms shot out and she pulled the boy’s frail body towards her, wrapping her arms tightly around his shoulders to try to comfort the terror away.

“Paladin?” Maxson asked from behind her, nearly causing her heart to stop beating. What if Maxson knew that the boy in her arms was a Synth? What if it had been included in the data she had blindly handed over to them, the same way that the information about Danse had been?

“This is my son,” she declared with a burning conviction, a desire to save this boy from the destruction she hadn’t been able to save her actual boy from. “This is Shaun, Elder.”

He didn’t say anything for a long moment and Evelyn glanced behind herself to see if he was miming orders to tear her away from her son and to shoot him like a rabid dog. But he wasn’t. Instead, he was staring directly at her, his pale eyes burning an icy hole in her head with the intensity in them. Evelyn had never seen him look at anything the way he was looking at her and it scared her. Feeling the hairs on the back of her neck stand straight up, she gently shifted her feet shoulder width apart and braced herself. She’d learned the hard way not to take his moods lightly.

“I can take your son back to the Prydwen and out of harm’s way,” Ingram spoke up, softly defusing the situation. “You can finish the mission, Paladin.” Her calm words seemed to snap Maxson out of whatever focused daze he’d been in, his eyes jerking sharply away from her and towards the woman at the control panel.

“Your son will be safe with Proctor Ingram,” he confirmed hollowly, his pale eyes seemed to look everywhere in the room but on the Shaun nestled in her arms. “You and I have unfinished work that needs to be taken care of, Paladin McManus.”

“Shaun, I’ll be back as soon as I can, okay? Don’t worry, everything’s going to be okay.” Even though she knew that she would rip Maxson’s throat open with her teeth if she had to, the words felt awkward and wrong on her tongue. Like she was making a promise that she didn’t know if she could keep and as she watched the imitation that had replaced her son nod without any sort of hesitation, Evelyn realized that she really didn’t know if she would make it back to him. For all she knew, she would turn a corner and Maxson would put a single round in the back of her head. Hell, with all the times she had gone against his direct orders and the betrayals she’d been a part of, he would have every right to do so.

“Please come back soon,” Shaun begged as he hugged her one last time, his head bumping into the solid metal of her haphazard armor. Evelyn could only nod numbly as she stepped away from him, her heart breaking all over again as his small hands gripped desperately to the coarse fabric of her shirt.

Looking at Maxson and nodding stiffly, he reached over to her and nearly dragged her back to the teleportation pad by her forearm, doing his best to avoid even looking in Shaun’s general direction. In another lingering flash, Evelyn found herself standing on the roof of a skyscraper, overlooking the Commonwealth. On a table before her, there was a box with a large, ominous red button, just waiting to be pressed. Her head snapped around, looking at Maxson in shock and taking in the pleased look on his face.

“I thought you should be the one to do the honors, after everything they’ve done to you, Evie,” he spoke softly, the pleased smile on his lips spreading. He honestly thought that he was doing her a favor, giving her some sort of closure, maybe. Dimly, Evelyn realized that Arthur thought he was giving her the greatest gift he could ever give her.

He was asking her to murder her son by her own hand.

But she couldn’t protest it because as far as he could ever know, her son was being taken to the Prydwen for safety. As far as he knew, her son was the ten-year-old boy who had been clinging to her minutes ago. “Thank you,” she spoke just as softly, ignoring the presence of power armor clad Paladins behind them as best she could. She didn’t want anyone to see her at her weakest. The only person in the world she trusted to see her at the absolute worst had been murdered, determined to keep their baby boy safe.

As she turned to face the button, Evelyn realized that she couldn’t do this. She just wasn’t strong enough as a person. “We should press it together,” she suggested, anxious that he would hear the strain in her voice and figure out the largest lie she’d ever told. Even as she spoke, she hoped desperately that Shaun had been lucky enough to slip into death’s arms in the time it took her to leave. She couldn’t bear the thought of her son being killed in an atomic blast.

“I think that’s a wonderful idea.”

Powerful arms wrapped around her from behind and Evelyn couldn't resist leaning back against Maxson’s solid form and borrowing some of his strength. She couldn't even give her baby boy the decency of a burial. She couldn't lay him to rest next to his father in the house they brought him home from the hospital in.

She couldn't even mourn her son. Not without raising suspicions about the Synth boy Shaun had gifted to her. Evelyn didn't even want to think of the surprise that would be in Danse’s whiskey colored eyes when she showed up on the doorstep of the ranger station with her replacement son in tow.

For everything that he had put her through over the months and for all the pain she was bound to cause him in the coming days, Evelyn was glad that Arthur was there with her now, easily supporting her. He didn’t say a word about how badly her hand shook as she laid it on half of the button, merely placing his massive hand on the other half and brushing the back of her hand with his thumb.

And just like that, they were pushing the button together, triggering the explosives, and ending hundreds of years of sorrow and technical advancement rolled into one.

Just as it had two hundred years previously, the shockwave of heat and light washed over Evelyn, only this time, a large part of her wished that it was consuming her, too.

“We did it,” Maxson breathed against the side of her head, his fingers digging into her sides as he squeezed her harder. As much as she wanted to block everything out, she couldn’t. There was too much going on all at once and she just didn’t have it in her to turn a blind eye towards it, as she had to the various crises happening before the bombs dropped. Granted, this was much worse than gas shortages, plagues, and inflation.

In just a few more hours, she would be free. She would have her son, her dog, her robot butler, and the man she’d grown to love.

But right then, emotions raw from everything that had unfolded in the past 24 hours, all the joints in her body screaming from exhaustion, and the solid warmth of Arthur wrapped around her, Evelyn felt a seed of weakness grow in her gut. If she just let herself fall backward, she could have a comfortable life. The new Shaun would be sure to have an impressive standing in life, being guided by both her and the entire crew of the Prydwen. Even if Arthur’s attention didn’t rest on her forever, she was sure Shaun would benefit.

All she had to do was to stop swimming against the current.

“Arthur, I’m tired,” she murmured, turning her head slightly to press her forehead against his. If she closed her eyes, she could fool herself into believing that she was in Nate’s arms again. She wished that Danse hadn’t been found out, that Shaun hadn’t given her such an awful ultimatum, that she had woken up earlier and been able to actually save her baby, and a thousand other things in that moment as Arthur gently pressed his lips against hers. His mouth was tender against hers and she could tell that he was just as exhausted as she was, although in a different way.

Without a word, he pulled away from her and Evelyn watched as he turned and congratulated the small crowd that had gathered behind them and reminded them that they still had a lot of work to do before they could return to the Capital Wasteland. With a wince, Evelyn remembered that Arthur had left his kingdom behind for this victory.

The next hour was a fuzzy blur as she was guided onto a vertibird and shuffled off to the Prydwen, where dozens of people were lined up to offer their congratulations and praise. Each word stung and Evelyn felt like she was losing a battle to keep from crying. They were celebrating the death of her son and she had to just silently accept it. Only Maxson’s firm hand at her elbow kept her grounded in reality as he walked beside her to the Command Deck. Even though there were no secrets in the Brotherhood, it was an odd sensation to be seen as an equal to the Elder himself, being able to walk next to him in a quasi-victory march as they strode across the deck.

She felt eyes burning into her back as Maxson spoke to the crowd, praising her hard work and dedication to the cause they all fought for. Even though she knew everything that she’d done, every drop of blood spilled for them, every drop of sweat or bone broken, Evelyn couldn’t help but wonder how many of the people behind her assumed that a large deal of this praise was earned while on her back. From all Maxson had told her, it was normal day occurrence for Brotherhood members to marry and produce children, but most Elders already had children or a spouse by the time they were elected.

When he announced to them all her new rank of Sentinel, she wondered if it was to put their ranks together and make them closer to being perceived as equals.

Finally, it was all over. Hanging back with the assembled Proctors, Evelyn did her best to avoid walking with the crowd and escaping having to be told what joy the people around her got in the death of her son. “Sentinel,” Ingram spoke up, placing a power armored hand on her shoulder to make sure she had the other woman’s attention. “Your son, Squire McManus, should be waiting for you in your quarters.” It felt like there was a war in her soul as she struggled to smile at the taller woman, confliction over the boy she’d rescued already being enveloped into the cult of personality, relief over the news, the weight of how utterly exhausted she was, and a thousand other things swirling around her mind as she thanked the Proctor.

“Excellent,” Maxson spoke up before she had the chance to, shouldering his way into the conversation. “I would like to discuss something with you in private and this will afford you the opportunity to check in on the boy, Sentinel.” If the sudden silence in the room was anything to go by, every adult in the room knew exactly what Maxson wanted to discuss with her. With polite nods to everyone left in the room, Evelyn followed Maxson down the ladder, grunting when she almost bumped into him but froze when she saw what had stopped him short.

Shaun was standing between Maxson’s room and the quarter’s she’d been gifted, rolling what looked like a piece of chalk between his small hands as he waited, flinching at every creak or groan that the Prydwen made. That was until he looked up and spotted her. Instantly, a smile brighter than an atomic flash lit up his face. As heavy as her heart was and as tired as she felt, there was nothing in the world like seeing her son’s excited face or the way her heart swelled as he rushed forward to wrap his arms around her. Meeting him halfway, for a second she could almost forget that this boy was a pale shadow of - no. This was Shaun. It may not have been the Shaun that she had given birth to, but it was the Shaun that she had been given. He was her son.

Behind her, she could tell that Maxson was anxious to speak with her by the sounds he made as he shifted his weight from foot to foot and the soft huffs of annoyance. He could suck it up and deal with it. “Sentinel McManus,” he started to say, but Evelyn glared at him over her shoulder as she clung to her son.

“Elder Maxson, I need a moment to be with my son before our meeting,” she gave him a pointed look at the word, hoping that he understood her meaning. The last thing Evelyn wanted was for Shaun to find out the awful truth of her relationship with Maxson. “Perhaps you should wait for me in your quarters?” He started to protest, but decided against it, choosing instead to eye what he could see of her son from around her frame. With a stiff nod, he stepped around them and into his quarters, closing the door sharply behind him.

“Mom, I don’t think that the Elder likes me very much,” Shaun whispered against the cool metal of her armor, afraid to voice his concerns to her.

“Don’t let that bother you, baby,” she told him, feeling anger well in her gut. How dare that jacked up manchild with great hair make her baby boy feel that way? “I promise I will take care of it. Are you okay, though? Do you need anything before I have to go into my… meeting?”

“No, thank you,” he said softly, finally pulling away from her and looking at the ground. “Father did give me something to give to you, though. I didn’t listen to it, because it’s for you, but here.” He dug around in his pocket for a moment before handing her a holotape, the orange plastic brighter and cleaner than any of the other holotapes she’d come across since waking up. It looked brand new.

Feeling her heart in her throat, she accepted it and immediately put it in her pocket. She would have to listen to it later, when she could manage to and when she was alone. Evelyn knew that her emotions were still too raw to be able to hear her deceased son’s voice right then and there. Besides, she didn’t want to listen to something that could potentially out Shaun as a Synth. With a cool press of her lips against his forehead, Evelyn sent him to wait for her in Danse’s old quarters and took a deep breath, trying to put more steel in her spine.

She knew that whatever Maxson wanted would probably be a battle, while all she wanted to do was lay on the floor and cry with her son wrapped in her arms. With a sigh, she knocked on the door and waited for him to acknowledge her. The moment dragged on and Evelyn felt her frustration grow as she realized he was probably making her wait out of a childish spite. Finally, he opened the door, without his battle coat and with his uniform bunched around his waist. It looked like he’d been busy bathing himself if the smears of soot were anything to go by.

“Sentinel,” he greeted, stepping aside to let her through. As soon as the door was closed behind her, his hands were on her, just as Evelyn had been expecting they would. “God, I need you so badly,” he groaned against her neck, jerking her hips back towards his and grinding his half-hard erection against her ass.

“Maxson,” she started, but was cut off by his fingers jamming into her mouth to wet them. Resisting the urge to bite down as hard as she could, she obediently licked them until he was satisfied. “Arthur, you need to stop,” the former told him as soon as his hands were away from her mouth. Instantly, Maxson jerked away from her as if he’d been burned and stepped into her view, eying her critically.

“Why?”

“I can’t do this right now. I shouldn’t be here.”

“Is it because of the boy?” He asked harshly, crossing his arms over his hairy chest and raising an eyebrow at her. The look on his face was almost mocking, but she willed herself to ignore it, needing to just get away from him.

“I want to… No, I need to spend some time with my son,” Evelyn insisted, turning her head away from Maxson and staring at the wall instead of looking him in the eye. “I want to get to know him.”

“I… I understand,” he sighed, drawing her eyes back towards him in surprise. She’d honestly been half expecting him to get even angrier and demand that she spend the night with him. “I knew that you were ultimately searching for your son, I just… I just lost sight of your goals in comparison to my own and those of the Brotherhood. I thought we had the same goals with how much they’ve taken from you.”

“My family has always been my main goal,” she declared, thinking of how nice it would be to start her life over with Shaun- albeit not the Shaun she had been expecting. He sighed and stepped closer to her, gently wrapping his arms loosely around her waist and hugging her to him. She imagined he thought it was a reassuring gesture, but she only felt panic well up and fear race up her spine.

“I want us to be family.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Evelyn closed her eyes, trying to force the now overwhelming feeling of fear down. Her mind raced to think of some sort of answer to give him as she tried not to focus on how long the pause was growing between their words. “Is there something wrong, Evie?”

“Arthur, I… I just got Shaun back. I need some time.”

“Okay,” he breathed, the air huffing warmly against her neck as he spoke. Arthur’s arms tightened around Evelyn for one last time before letting her go, taking a step back so that he wouldn’t get in her way as she left him. “We’ll talk about it when you’re ready.”

“Thank you,” Evelyn murmured, glancing at the closed door of his quarters and yearning for her freedom. It was hours away. By this time tomorrow, she and the boy Shaun had given her would be on their way to freedom. She would have a new start to having a family again. “I’m taking him to see his father tomorrow. To Sanctuary.” Across from her, Maxson nodded slowly and absently reached up to smooth down the wayward hairs of his beard in concentration.

“Will you be leaving him at your home settlement?”

“I need some time to think,” Evelyn insisted again, avoiding the question with a shake of her head. “I have to go. Shaun needs me, Arthur.” She didn’t give him a chance to protest any further, immediately turning towards the door of his quarters and bolting out, barely able to keep her gait calm as she walked the short distance to what had once been Danse’s quarters where Shaun was waiting for her.

She really needed to figure out how she was going to introduce the two of them.

Chapter Text

Staring up at the metal ceiling, Evelyn laid in bed for the longest time. Her back ached from the angle she was laid in and her arm felt like it was on fire from the pressure of Shaun’s head resting on it. Even after all those minor aches and pains, she wouldn’t move or give any of it up for the world. She finally had her boy in her arms, listening to his quiet snores and smiling whenever he murmured nonsense in his sleep. This is exactly what she had been fighting for and with the hectic and stressful day that was ahead of them, she could afford to allow herself this luxury. If she closed her eyes and pretended, she could fool herself into thinking it was just a normal day, laying in bed and helping her son chase his nightmares away.

All that was missing was the solid warmth of Nate at her back, but that would never happen again. Instead, she just had to wait a few more hours until she was safe and in Danse’s arms.

That is, if he accepts Shaun. Evelyn frowned, peering down at the crown of Shaun’s head, where his dark hair fell over her bare arm. Danse had known about Shaun since the day she met him and had always been supportive and nothing less than encouraging about her ultimate goal. There was no logical reason for him to suddenly turn around and refuse Shaun in his life, too. There was no reason for him to ever find out that the boy was a Synth, too… Unless Shaun never aged, just like that other child Synth she encountered in the Institute.

Eventually, the sounds of the Prydwen around them lured Shaun from his sleep and Evelyn knew that they had no choice but to face the day. There wasn’t much in the way of supplies scattered around Danse’s old room, but she made a point of taking whatever she could grab and put it in a backpack for Shaun to carry. “Hey mom?” he asked, owlishly watching her from his perch on the old bed. “We’re just visiting our old home, right? We’ll be coming back?”

His question gave her pause and as she looked over at her son, she realized she had no idea how to talk to him. She’d never had much experience with children before Shaun’s birth and had been hoping to learn as she went. But suddenly finding herself staring at a ten-year-old who was full of questions? She hadn’t been this far out of her element since she had seen the nuclear wasteland for the first time. “Sure, honey,” she lied, calling on her experience as a lawyer. “We will be gone for a while, though. I think we should spend some time together. Would… Would you like that, Shaun?”

“Yeah!” He grinned, standing from the bed and accepting the offered backpack from her. He slid it on over his shoulders and tested the weight, making sure it wasn’t too much for his thin shoulders to carry. “Do you think I could ever join the Brotherhood of Steel one day?”

“Why would you want to?” Evelyn asked, unable to stop the words from spilling from her lips. Catching herself, she forced out a smile and knelt down to his level. “You’re officially a Scribe already, silly.”

“I can’t wait until I get to begin training,” Shaun gushed, seeming to not notice his mother’s slip up. “They helped you find me. They’re the good guys.”

“Of course, Shaun. But let’s just focus on getting home and spending some time together, okay? I’ve missed you so much.” Shaun nodded after a moment of thought and smiled up at her as if she knew the answer to everything. It didn’t take much longer for them to be packed and ready to go, with Evelyn taking a final look around the room she would never see again to make sure she wasn’t forgetting anything. Beside her, Shaun was rocking on the balls of his feet, eager to get out and see more of the Commonwealth and the new world around him.

Glancing over to Maxson’s quarters, Evelyn saw that the door was wide open and Maxson was nowhere to be seen. Frowning slightly, she had been hoping to avoid seeing the Elder before they were able to make their grand escape, but now, she wasn’t so sure. It was hard to keep away from someone when you had no idea where they were. “Mom? I’m hungry, can we get something to eat first?” Shaun asked, tugging on her sleeve and looking down towards the mess hall.

“We could do that if you wanted some cold Cram,” she told him, stalling for time as she tried to think of a better way to tell her son ‘no’. “Or, if you can wait a little bit longer, I have a box of Sugar Bombs with your name on them back home.” From the way that his eyes lit up, Evelyn could tell that he had inherited her sweet tooth. Briefly, she wondered how the real Shaun had dealt with that or if he’d ever thought to crave something other than the nutrient paste they had favored at the Institute.

“The whole box? Shaun asked, raising an eyebrow and getting a curious look on his face. “What if I don’t eat it all at once? Is it still mine?”

“The whole box,” Evelyn promised with a smile, trying to gently nudge him towards the ladder and silently wished he’d be even just a little bit quieter. He was bound to draw attention they desperately didn’t need on them by being a typical child instead of the hollow shells of the child warriors around them. “Everyone there is so excited to meet you, we don’t want to leave them waiting.”

At the top of the ladder, Evelyn didn’t quite catch what Shaun’s response was, too distracted by the sight of the empty Command Deck to really process the young boy’s words. Where in the hell could Maxson be? Swallowing thickly, Evelyn tried to shoot her son a reassuring smile, but from the look on his face, she could tell she failed pretty miserably at it. “Mom? What’s wrong?”

“It’s nothing, baby,” she tried to reassure him, wincing at the hoarse sound of her own voice. She’d faced down two massive nuclear blasts in her lifetime and she was scared of some twenty-year-old man now? A twenty-year-old man with a fervent army behind him, her mind unhelpfully supplied as she shook her head gently. “I’m just nervous about taking you home, Shaun. It’s… Been a really long time.”

“It’s okay, Mom. I understand,” Shaun smiled up at her, the hesitation on his face vanishing. “I’m nervous about it, too.” With a shaky nod, Evelyn put her hand on her son’s shoulder and guided him out to the flight deck of the Prydwen, trying to ignore the way her stomach twisted itself into knots. As much as she wanted to believe that it was nothing and that she was thinking too hard about things, Evelyn knew that she was right to be suspicious over Maxson’s absence so far. He’d been too eager to spend the night with her, just for him to be absent the day he knew she’d be gone. Even if he didn’t know she’d be fleeing with a man he condemned to death and the rest of her ragtag group, Evelyn just couldn’t see him being alright with her going away for an unknown amount of time.

It all made sense as the bulkhead door was shoved open and Evelyn’s eyes were immediately drawn to Maxson, his hands clasped behind his back as he looked out over the Commonwealth and the handful of guards surrounding him. Evelyn felt like her heart stopped as she took in the sight, her fingers unintentionally digging into her son’s shoulders and earning a sharp sound of protest from the boy’s lips. It was that noise that shook her from her fears and she blinked quickly, looking down at her son and shooting him a quick apology. With any luck, Maxson would spare Shaun from whatever fate he had in mind for her. With her heart now thundering against her ribs, Evelyn held her son’s hand as they walked down the steps and approached the Elder, holding her head as high as she could and willing her hands not to shake.

“Sentinel,” Maxson greeted with as close to a smile as he got while in public as he heard their footsteps. Evelyn wasn’t sure if she was just willing herself to see things that weren’t there, but she noticed how he didn’t once glance at Shaun as he turned around to face them.

“Elder Maxson,” Evelyn replied, squeezing her son’s hand. Whether it was to comfort him or to comfort herself, she honestly didn’t know. She just hoped that the small action worked. “Is there something wrong?”

“Not at all,” he shook his head, taking a step towards her. “Quite the opposite, in fact. With a sort of peace on the Commonwealth now that the Institute has been defeated, I have decided to step away from the Prydwen for a few days and visit Sanctuary with you.”

“What.”

“I thought it would be good to tour the newest, most successful settlement that my very own Sentinel founded,” Maxson explained further, seemingly not noticing the deadened tone of her voice. “I’m curious to see your skills as a leader first hand.” As much as she wanted to protest and tell him that she was no leader, that she barely even spent any time in Sanctuary, Evelyn could do nothing but nod numbly. “Kells will be in charge of the Prydwen for the few days that we are gone and it is only a quick vertibird ride away, should there be any emergencies.”

“I… It makes sense,” Evelyn agreed, glancing down at her son. “I suppose I could give you and Shaun a tour at the same time.” At her words, Maxson finally looked down at Shaun, begrudgingly acknowledging his presence. The glance only lasted for a second before he was looking at her again, but his silence was response enough for her. He spared the much younger boy one last glance before turning on his heel and making his way towards the waiting vertibird. Shoving down her anxiety and the urge to throw up, Evelyn held her hand out for her son to take and lead him forwards, doing her best to ignore the stares of the paladins and scribes around them.

Before long, the vertibird was in the air and they were on their way to Evelyn’s home. With every passing second, the dread in her gut seemed to grow and the only thing that kept her calm was seeing the wonder on her son’s face as the Commonwealth passed below them. If she wasn’t so anxious, Evelyn would find it a little funny. She still might, looking back on it years from now, but she was too busy trying to not throw up. It was strange, the way Maxson both seemed to completely ignore Shaun’s mere presence and the way he seemed to never take his eyes off of the younger boy at the same time. Like he was trying to pull apart his face and figure out what features were hers and which ones were Nate’s or something. He hadn’t said a word to the boy, not even the one time that Shaun had asked him something during the tense ride.

As he paced in the small space of the vertibird and stared at Shaun, Evelyn was instantly reminded of an old nature documentary that she had watched with Nate eons ago. In it, the narrator had talked about how when a new lion took over the pride, they always killed the young cubs of the previous male’s, doing their best that only their seed would succeed in the world and doing their part in ensuring the lionesses would bear their cubs as quickly as possible.

In a flash of paranoia, Evelyn realized that she had to get Shaun away from the Brotherhood as soon as possible, for his own safety.

Did she think that Maxson would outright kill her son? No. Well, not if he never found out that the young boy was secretly a Synth. Evelyn honestly didn’t even know if he would age and there was nothing in the world that would be a bigger indicator of his less-than-human nature than failing to grow.

Evelyn had a feeling that in Maxson’s eyes, Shaun was the only thing standing between him and the celebration that he’d obviously had in mind for the two of them.

“Mom!” Shaun’s excited voice rang out, jerking her from her horrified thoughts. “Is that it?” She looked to see where he was pointing, her eyes immediately being drawn first to the shock of color at the Red Rocket Truck Stop before wandering to the solid walls of junk she’d thrown herself into constructing soon after being freed from the vault. Before she could answer him, he darted from his seat next to her and squeezed next to the paladin near the opening.

“Shaun!” Evelyn hissed, standing up in a flash to drag him back towards her, but stopped short when the paladin wrapped a protective arm around the boy and pushed him back from the edge.

“Easy there, Scribe McManus,” the paladin scolded lightly while still keeping his arm around Shaun. “Vertibirds aren’t something you can just run around on.” Evelyn felt numb as she watched over the exchange, mentally scolding herself the entire time. She should have known that no one would actually let anything bad happen to him. As far as they were aware, he was the son of their Sentinel and her quest to find him was well known to everyone in the Brotherhood.

Stiffly, Evelyn let herself drop back to the hard seat, dimly realizing how tired she was, even though it was barely midday. Out of the corner of her eye, she watched how Maxson coolly took in the sight of her son interacting with his soldiers and she couldn’t help but wonder if he’d hoped that the paladin had just let the boy fall out of the vertibird. Realizing her thoughts, Evelyn shook her head. She would never actually put any money on Elder Maxson letting anything that terrible happen to her son right in front of her, provided he never found out the truth. He had told her just hours ago that he’d wanted to be a family with her. He needed her to not hate him for that to happen if nothing else.

Before she realized it, the vertibird was touching down near the massive, dead tree in her cul-de-sac. She’d finally brought her little boy home. Evelyn could hardly believe it, after everything she had been through, after all of the blood spilled, the heartbreak, and everything else. Shaun was where he belonged and she’d been taking him away from everything in a matter of hours if everything went their way for once.

As they landed, the paladin shooed Shaun back towards her before dismounting along with the other three guards that Maxson had brought along, quickly snapping into a formation. Sensing her cue, Evelyn lead Shaun out of the Vertibird and stood near one of the other Brotherhood members, waiting for their Elder to dismount as well. To her surprise, she heard the vertibird power down behind her as a set of heavy boots plopped onto the broken up pavement, signaling Maxson’s dismount.

A crowd had formed around them at this point, all curious about the Brotherhood’s presence, but also for her arrival. It had been months since she last showed her face in Sanctuary and from the atomic blast yesterday, she was sure everyone was burning with questions and fears. Sensing Maxson beside her, she glanced up at him and felt a smile threaten to spread across her face at the wonder in his gaze as he looked around. He looked like he was proud of her and the things she’d managed to accomplish.

There was a slight stirring in the crowd as someone made their way through and Evelyn wasn’t surprised in the least when Preston appeared, his laser musket held seemingly lazily in his hands. She knew the instant that their eyes met that he’d remembered everything that she’d confessed to him, all her plans and her fears. For a second, she wished that she’d fallen in love with her friend, but she knew that he would never have returned her feelings. She was pretty positive that he was in love with Sturges, but they’d never discussed it. The moment Preston laid eyes on Shaun, he blinked quickly and his eyes shot back to Evelyn. After a split second, a grin broke out on the young man’s face and he crouched down to the younger boy’s level. “You must be Shaun. I’ve heard so much about you from the General.”

“General? But my mom’s the Sentinel.” Shaun looked back at her, raising a dark eyebrow as he pondered things over. “Are you with the Minutemen, too? I didn’t know you could be both.”

“I was with the Minutemen first, honey,” Evelyn confirmed, pointedly ignoring the snort Maxson made from beside her. “Preston here is the one who should really be in charge, though.” As she spoke, Evelyn watched as Preston eyed Maxson from under the brim of his wide hat, her friend’s disapproval of the other man as plain as the nose on his face. “Say, Shaun, why don’t you go with Mister Preston and meet some of the folks who live here now? I’m sure Mama’ll love you.”

“Your mom survived the war, too?” Shaun asked, his excited smile dimming when he spotted the look on Elder Maxson’s face. Evelyn gave him a vicious look over Shaun’s head, angry that he could be so callous as to roll his eyes over a child’s enthusiastic question. The world was just as new to him as it had been to her. There was no reason to be an ass to a child’s enthusiasm and Evelyn couldn’t help but picture how differently things would have gone, had Maxson met her when she was fresh out of her cryogenic slumber.

“No, sweetheart. Your grandparents had been on skiing in Utah when the bombs fell. They died a long time ago.” Shaun looked as sad as she felt and not for the first time, Evelyn deeply wished that she could just pick up a phone and call her mother. She hadn’t been close to the woman while growing up, but it changed the minute she’d gone off to college. Now, she just hoped that her parents hadn’t suffered in their final moments. “They loved you very much, though.”

“C’mon, Shaun,” Preston spoke up while reaching a hand out to the boy. “If you like building things, you’ll love seeing what Sturges’ working on.” At how her son’s face lit up, it was clear that her friend had said the magic words. With a nod to her, Preston lead Shaun away through the dissipating crowd.

“I realize that this is a change for everyone, but you could at least try to be more courteous,” Evelyn murmured softly, not even bothering to look at Maxson as she spoke.

“That is something I wish to speak to you about in private,” Maxson drawled dispassionately, turning away from her so that he could give orders to the paladins around them. With one guarding the vertibird with the pilot and two more to patrol the borders of Sanctuary, the paladin who had stopped Shaun was to stay near the Elder’s side. “If you’d lead the way to your home, now is a perfect time for that discussion, Sentinel.”

Nodding stiffly, Evelyn had to force herself not to watch as Preston lead Shaun away, reminding herself that he was safe and no one would be taking him away from her ever again.

Her house was exactly as she’d left it, even without Codsworth around to handle to upkeep and Evelyn glanced towards the pathway leading towards the backyard. She would have to wait until Maxson left her alone before she could take Shaun to visit Nate’s gravesite. It wasn’t the exact son that he’d fathered, but… But Evelyn knew that he would appreciate seeing the boy regardless. She only wished that he’d survived to find the synth child himself. None of this would ever have happened if they’d both just lived through everything.

Leaving the unnamed paladin on the front stoop, Evelyn held the door open for Maxson. There had been a time when Evelyn would have made a point to learn the name of everyone she would potentially fight beside, but she’d decided that she could do without knowing the name of someone who could very realistically be shooting her down in a few hours for treason. It just wasn’t worth knowing their name. Instead, she focused on watching Maxson as he slowly walked around her home, taking in everything that had been left over the past two hundred years and the things that she had slowly added to it over the past year. She watched as he stopped and examined the trifold flag that Nate had been awarded on his retirement from active duty before moving on to more interesting things. He’d probably lost interest the second he realized that it had been Nate’s.

As he wandered around, Evelyn decided that she didn’t want to be uncomfortable in her own home and shrugged off her stuffy jacket, laying the worn leather across the kitchen island as she pulled a stool over to herself and sat down. Maxson glanced at her before going back to looking out into the backyard, probably scowling at the shrine she’d built months ago. “You wanted to speak with me, Elder?”

“Your boy,” Arthur started softly but with a sort of conviction laced in his words. “I think he would benefit from being sent away to grow stronger, just like I had. There’s a Chapter of the Brotherhood in the Mojave who could help him.”

“What?” Evelyn hissed, digging her nails into the leather of the coat on the counter. She couldn’t believe her ears. “Am I to believe that you’d send any child we had away, too? For their benefit?

“Elder Hardin would help the boy grow into a fine man the same way Elder Lyons helped me,” he insisted, completely ignoring her question with a slight narrowing of his eyes.

“You can’t be serious, Arthur,” Evelyn ground out, trying to keep her voice even and calm. It wouldn’t help anything to become hysterical at a time like this. Taking a second to take a deep breath, she had to force herself to remember that it would never happen. She and gone would be gone as soon as they could get away and he would never have the chance to send her baby away from her.

“When I was a boy, I grew up being told that my soul was forged from eternal steel,” he admitted softly, his eyes coming to rest on her own. “The boy will never have to experience that, but it would be safer for him to grow into a man away from all this. Let him become his own man, Evie.”

“He’s a ten-year-old boy.”

“I was younger than that when my mother sent me away.” She had known that about him, of course. He’d mentioned it a few times when they’d laid wrapped in each other’s arms, trying to get their heart rates to calm down after he’d finished trying to fuck her into the mattress. She had known about his friendship to Liberty Prime, about the stories he had written about his teddy bear because he had been so painfully alone… And here he was, telling her that he wanted the same for her son. Her son whose name he wouldn’t even say out loud, even when backed into a corner.

“I’ll… I’ll think about it. I’m not ready to lose him, Arthur. I just got him back.” Her plea seemed to work on him if the way he sighed was anything to go off of, but as the silence drew on, Evelyn realized how utterly wrong she was.

“I don’t actually need your permission,” he told her after the pause, his eyes seeming to get even colder as he spoke. “I could have him sent away tonight. I would, too, if I thought it was in his best interest. And honestly? I do believe that.”

“Arthur, please,” she begged, panic welling up in her heart. If this kept up, Evelyn was pretty sure she’d suffer a heart attack by the time she was biologically thirty, if she wasn’t already. “Don’t do this.”

“He’s already drawn you away from me, how am I supposed to be assured that he won’t pull you away from your duties as my Sentinel as well?” He asked bluntly as he crossed his arms over his massive chest, coldly looking down his nose at her. “How do I know you’ll stick to your oaths as a sister of the Brotherhood of Steel?”

Evelyn knew exactly what he was getting at. With a sense of resignation settling like a rock in her gut, she gently stood up, releasing her white-knuckled grip on the leather jacket as she moved to stand before the much taller and bulkier man. “What do I have to do, Arthur?”

“Get on your knees.” Everything from the look on his face to the tone of his voice let Evelyn know that there wasn’t a single part of him that was joking around. With no other options in sight, she dropped down to her knees and waited for him to undo his jumpsuit. As his hands undid the clasps and buckles, Evelyn tried her hardest to just let her mind go blank. She’d done this for him a hundred times now. It would be the last time she ever had to. If she could just lie back and think about her future, so to speak, it would be over in no time at all. This would be the last humiliation Arthur ever made her endure.

As soon as he was exposed, Evelyn reached for his soft cock and wrapped her slender fingers around it, staring straight ahead and refusing to look up at him, even when he laced his fingers in her hair. If she didn’t look up, she could just fool herself into believing that it’s Nate or Danse before her. That she actually wants to do this. Luckily, his youth was on her side and it doesn’t take long for his cock to harden and as she leaned forward to envelop him in her lips, she felt relief at his sigh. He only made that sort of deep sound when he was close to finishing.

If luck was on her side for once, Arthur would finish almost embarrassingly quickly.

She’d barely gotten started when he shoved his length down her throat, pushing her forward so that her nose was buried in his pubic hair, holding her in place until her eyes started to water from the lack of air. Blinking up at him from around his cock, Evelyn tried to tell him that she was reading him loud and clear. He was the Elder and his will would be done. A dozen more thrusts like that and he pulled her off of him, shoving her to the ground by her hair before stepping away and lazily running his hand up and down his dick.

“Get yourself up and brace yourself against the counter,” he demanded, sneering down at her indifferently. Coughing roughly and fighting back tears, Evelyn looked at the broken ground and tried to get her breathing back under control. She refused to let him see her cry. At least Proctor Quinlan wasn’t here to see her at her worst again. “That wasn’t a suggestion, Sentinel McManus.”

Taking in a final, deep breath, Evelyn pushed herself off the ground and did exactly as he ordered her to. She even took initiative and stood with her feet shoulder width apart as she braced herself on the cracked, warped surface. Staring straight ahead, she tried not to flinch at the sound of his heavy footsteps approaching her. She tried to go over any and all of the obscure laws that she’d shown to Nate while she was in school, all the strange legal tidbits she’d uncovered as a student, and every other thing she could think of as her eyes wandered to Nate’s flag. When his hands bunched in both sides of her shirt, carefully avoiding actually grasping her breasts, Evelyn’s eyes slid closed. When his hands jerked, ripping her worn flannel open and sending the mismatched buttons flying off in all directions, she felt herself flinch and bite down on her lip to keep from making any sort of sound.

It would all be over soon and Shaun would be safe and sound this time tomorrow. Evelyn just had to keep that in mind.

“I’m tired of fighting with you, Evie,” Maxson muttered against the back of her neck, running his nose against the column of her throat as he spoke. “You need to stop forcing my hand. I want to show you how much I care.” His hands undid her belt buckle, roughly jerking the button and zipper undone as Evelyn did everything in her power to not cry out. If she yelled and fought back, then everyone in the settlement would come running. Everyone she cared about would be hurt by either the paladin standing guard a handful of feet away or the ones wandering around the haphazard town.

If there was one thing Evelyn had learned after all of their times together, it was that the angrier Maxson was, the rougher he was with her. Breathing harshly through her nose, her eyes squeezed shut as she tried to bite back a yelp of pain, wishing that he had at least been generous enough to take it slowly at first. She felt like he was scalping her as he yanked on her hair, painfully drawing her head back so that he could bite the side of her neck. Evelyn could taste blood as she bit her cheeks in an effort to keep quiet, her eyes burning with tears as she struggled to force her mind elsewhere.

This wasn’t happening. Not in the house she’d bought with Nate, not in the home she’d brought Shaun to, not when she was hours away from freedom with her family.

But as much as she would have liked to try to deny it and repress the feelings, it was. Evelyn had been a damn fool to ever in her life think that Maxson, the human embodiment of a caged, pacing lion, could be trusted. She should never have gone willingly to him, let alone have trusted him. “Oh god, Evie,” he groaned into her ear, rubbing salt into the wound as he thrust sharply against her, his hips snapping against her ass painfully. “It feels like you were made for me.”

“Please, Arthur,” Evelyn sobbed, wishing that she had been able to fight him better. Wishing that the unspoken threat to her synthetic son’s life hadn’t hung heavily over her head. She would have given nearly anything in that moment to be at the ranger station with Danse, curled into his arms and ready to begin their new lives together.

But she wasn’t. She was trapped against the island counter in her own home, being assaulted as her son played next door and an armed guard stood watch outside the front door.

As she looked up and out of the bay windows of what had once been her nice living room, she made eye contact with Preston as he passed by and couldn’t help the cry of pure sorrow that escaped her lips. Evelyn never wanted to let anyone see her suffer, let alone the one person who seemed almost otherworldly pure. He didn’t deserve to be forced to watch his friend suffer in the worst way. From what she could make out of her friend’s face, his skin looked ashen from shock as he raised a hand to cover his mouth in horror. He looked like he was considering trying to save her, to take on the guard that stood watch over her broken home, to just try to do anything.

But that would mean his death.

Shaking her head, she did her best to mouth her son’s name to him, trying to tell him what was on the line. Maxson’s mouth brushed up against her ear as he felt her shake her head and he groaned lowly, digging his blunt nails into the soft flesh of her hips as he bucked against her harshly. “It’s about time he learned how powerless the Minutemen really are.”

“Don’t you dare hurt him,” she hissed, her nails scraping against the cracked linoleum as she struggled to find something better to brace herself against. Evelyn hated the way he laughed at that, his chest pressed close enough to her back to let her feel the vibrations of the noise.

“The only way you could ensure that is if you never stepped foot off of The Prydwen again.”

“My son-”

“Would get your quarters on the ship and continue to be a squire,” he groaned, turning his head to nibble on the shell of her ear. You’d ensure he was dead within a year, bastard. Or taken from me, just like the original Shaun.

“The Mojave Chapter?” She managed to bite out, wincing as he sunk his teeth into her shoulder. Evelyn gasped and thrashed back against him as she felt his canines tear into her skin, drawing blood.

“Not until he’s fifteen,” Arthur promised, soothing the wound he inflicted with gentle kisses. “He would be welcomed back, but only after he makes a name for himself.” Evelyn didn’t say anything in response, choosing to just close her eyes to the sight of Preston hurriedly walking away, doing her best to ignore the sounds of the community she’d built from the ground up all around them, and trying with everything in her being to ignore the feeling of Arthur inside her.

It would all be over soon.

"Okay," Evelyn agreed, squeezing her eyes shut. It was hardly the first lie she'd ever told, but it was by far one of the most important ones. "I'll do whatever you want if you just give me those years with him. Please." Behind her, Arthur groaned, pressing his hips as hard as he could against the curve of her ass. She tuned out his murmured praises for her as the thrusts just jerkier and quicker, his climax quickly approaching.

Evelyn honestly couldn't think of a time she'd been happier to have a man finish so relatively quickly, but even as his seed spurted inside of her, relief flooded her veins. One less hardship to endure before she was free. But even with the light feeling of knowing she was one step closer, shame welled up in her at the same rate. She was so tired of selling her body for the lives of people she loved. The worst part of it was, with what the world had turned into, Evelyn couldn’t honestly swear to herself that it would be the last time she would ever need to lower herself to that.

She would do anything to keep Danse and Shaun safe.

As Maxson fixed his clothing behind her, she pressed her face against the broken counter and Evelyn didn’t even try to stop the tears from pouring down her face. It felt wrong. The fact that all around them, birds chirped, children played, and life went on despite what had just occurred felt so utterly wrong. She wanted nothing more than to crawl in her shower and burn away the feeling of his short nails on her hips, his beard scratching her shoulders, his manhood thrusting inside of her. But she just didn’t have that luxury anymore. Not only was the shower long since broken, but Evelyn had no choice but to pick herself up and continue moving forwards.

She didn’t want Shaun to ever know what happened to her.

“Evie, do you want me to bring you a new shirt?” Maxson finally spoke up, laying a careful arm on her bruised shoulder when she failed to move herself. She wanted to scream and hit him, to make him bleed. She wanted to rip his tongue out so that he could never speak her name or give any sort of order ever again. Instead, she just shook her head and carefully lifted herself up, wincing at the bruises on her hips that he had left behind.

“I can do it,” she insisted, ignoring the hand he offered her when she pushed herself away from the counter with a stiff limp. “I need to.” She didn’t tell him that she needed to be able to move on her own if she had any hope of escaping with her life that night. She needed to be able to run, to jump, to possibly even carry her ten-year-old son, plus both of their supply packs if he stumbled in the dark and twisted his ankle. She needed to be strong.

Every step she took sent a shock of pain from the junction between her legs and she could barely keep the noises of pain to herself. She hadn't been this sore since she'd given birth. Wehn she got to the archway where her bedroom door had once hung, Evelyn braced herself against the frame and blinked back tears. If walking just a few feet had brought her that much pain, how was she ever supposed to escape in just a few hours? As the doubts plagued her mind, her eyes drifted around her bedroom and finally landed on a false panel.

That was it. She'd spent her married life pretending not to know that Nate had installed it, but she had known about it since before he'd actually done it. He was ashamed of what he hid in the wall and with any luck, no one had been able to find it and loot the small treasures behind the fake wood in the last two hundred years. Biting her already swollen lips, Evelyn limped towards the wall and softly felt around, searching for the tiny crease. With a firm press, the panel popped open and Evelyn glanced behind herself, making sure that Maxson hadn't followed her.

Inside, under a thick layer of dust, sat the unmarked syringes that Nate used to self-medicate and deal with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Med-X. They never spoke about it, but Evelyn had never once blamed her love for turning to the pain medication to deal with his side effects. He, along with countless other veterans, had received little to no aid after they were deemed unfit for the front lines. They used him up and spit him out into the gutter, but Evelyn would never have left him. She would have never given up on him, even if he had given up on himself.

As the grabbed the nearest one and carefully looked it over, Evelyn felt less and less sure. Yeah, she'd known all her life about the wonders of Med-X and how great it was at managing pain, but she also knew about how easily addictions to it formed and how vicious the side effects could be. But what choice did she have? She might never get another chance to get her family to freedom. It was hardly a choice at all as she tested the needle, making sure that she wouldn't accidentally kill herself with it and pressed it into the tender skin of her side, wincing at the stabbing sensation.

Almost instantly, the drug had an effect on her. A sweet, almost cool sensation rushed through her veins, washing away all of the tenderness and sharp pains as it did its job. Even the burning bite marks littering her shoulders stopped hurting. She could definitely understand why Nate had chosen it to comfort him in ways that she would never have been able to. Evelyn felt like she'd be able to not only compete in a triathlon, but she'd be able to win it without breaking a sweat. Looking at the rest of Nate's leftover stash, Evelyn bit her lip again, not even noticing the sharp pain as she chewed the aggravated flesh. She knew that Nate would have wanted her to take it and keep it in her bag, on the off chance that anyone needed it. And it was a legitimate medical supply, even if it had a tendency to be overused.

Making up her mind, she grabbed the other four syringes and carefully walked them over to the side of the bed, slipping them under the mattress where it was unlikely she would forget about them. Pausing to listen for any sound of Maxson making his way down the hall to look for her, Evelyn quickly grabbed another shirt from the broken down dresser that she'd looted from the Whitfield's home months back. Quickly doing up the buttons, Evelyn made sure that the faux panel was back in its usual place in the wall before making her way back down to hallway to see Maxson seated on the couch as if he was a king and her living room was his throne room.

Ignoring the burn of hatred in her heart, she managed a soft smile at him when he turned to face her. "You seem to be walking better," he commented, examining her with a slight frown marring his full lips.

"I just needed to sit down and breathe for a minute," she lied smoothly, mildly surprised at how quickly the words sprang to her mind. "Are you finally ready for the tour around the settlement?" Maxson paused for a moment, looking her over even more carefully before nodding slowly, finally rising up from her sofa. Evelyn couldn't help the grin that she made back at him.

There was no point trying to stab a man in the back if he saw the knife coming.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t the rays of sunshine pouring in from her broken windows or the various noises from an active settlement that woke Arthur Maxson from the first truly restful slumber he had had in months. It was the empty space next to him, seeming to call him from his dreams. Moaning softly as he stretched lazily in Evelyn’s bed, he couldn’t help the slight disappointment from welling up in his chest. He’d been looking forward to waking up with his lover in his arms and celebrating their victory together until late in the day. Although with her son around, that just wouldn’t be realistic. Arthur would have to find something for the boy to do, just as his parents had done to him before their deaths.

A part of him bitterly wondered what his mother would have said about his latest victory, but Arthur shook his head, sending the thoughts away, just as she had sent him away nearly thirteen years ago. Shaking his head again, Arthur turned his focus towards the future and how the Brotherhood could move forward. It was likely that they would stay in the Commonwealth for at least a year before returning to the Capital Wasteland in order to try to prevent a massive power vacuum from appearing and sending the locals into turmoil. He wondered if Evelyn had ever visited the Nation’s Capital before the bombs fell and what she would think of how he’d shaped it in his time as the Elder. And speaking of Elders, he would surely have to think of who to leave behind as the Elder of the Chapter they were sure to establish in the Commonwealth. Perhaps he would have Proctor Quinlan…

With a jerk, Arthur sat up in Evelyn’s bed her soft sheets pooling around his bare waist as realization struck him. Out of all of the sounds springing up from the settlement, Evelyn’s voice wasn’t among them, nor could he hear the sounds a ten-year-old typically made on a bright and clear morning. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed and marching out of the room, Arthur paid no mind to his nudity as he made his way into the boy’s empty room to where he knew he could see the shrine Evelyn had built for the boy’s father. He felt a boiling, acidic feeling well up from his gut as he looked at the lonely shrine and Arthur dimly recognized it as jealously.

No.

He refused to be jealous of a boy - a ten-year-old one or a 210-year-old one who had been frozen in time. So what if the boy’s father had died protecting him. Arthur didn’t know what Jonathan Maxson had died for, but he knew it hadn’t been for him. While Jessica Maxson had sent him across the country, Evelyn McManus had crossed centuries in search of her son. Wincing at the uncomfortable comparison that his mind had provided, Arthur stomped across the ruined floors to get dressed, feeling calmer at the familiar sensation of rage coiling in his chest.

He was going to find Evelyn.

Barging out of the front door, Arthur nodded to the Paladins, Kurtz and Ambrose, who stood guard and gazed around the settlement, his eyes searching for the man who was in charge whenever Evie was nowhere to be found. “Have either of you seen Garvey?” He demanded, trying to keep the anger out of his tone. As far as he knew, neither of the Knights had seen Evelyn or her boy.

“Yes, sir,” one of the Paladins blurted as he approached, anxiously shifting his weight from one foot to the other. “He passed on the message that Sentinel McManus took Scribe McManus to see the vault, sit.”

“Scribe Ellis,” Arthur corrected automatically, feeling his irritation build.

“Sir?”

“McManus was Sentinel McManus’ maiden name. The boy was born an Ellis.” He spoke as plainly as he could, doing his best to resist the frown that tugged at his mouth. Some part of him felt wrong about referring to the boy with Evie’s name, the association feeling somehow off-putting. Evelyn was his, but that boy wasn’t. “How long ago did Garvey say Sentinel McManus took Scribe Ellis on this little field trip?” From the position of the sun, it couldn’t possibly have been midday yet. Even though Arthur didn’t know exactly where the vault was, he knew that it couldn’t have been very far from Sanctuary, if Evelyn had been able to escape to it before the nuclear annihilation struck.

“Just after sunrise, Elder Maxson,” Paladin Ambrose told him, suddenly nervous. Arthur saw the look the two men exchanged and made an effort to bring back the calm rationality he tried to project at all times, but it was a struggle. All he wanted to do in that minute was to run and try to find the vault for himself. Logically, he knew that it would be perfectly reasonable to spend hours inside a vault, but something still burned in his gut. Evie hated that cold, hellish tomb. It still gave her nightmares and probably would for the rest of her life. Besides, he knew that she had taken the only thing of importance to her and buried it in her backyard.

“Contact the Prydwen and notify Lancer-Captain Kells that Sentinel McManus is missing. I want her found ASAP,” he ordered as soon as he felt his blood pressure return to a decently reasonable level, trying to remind himself to breathe in slowly through his nose. “And bring Colonel Garvey to me.”

“The Colonel?” Paladin Kurtz asked, blinking dully at him for a moment. “O-of course, Elder Maxson.” He quickly saluted and scurried off in search of the infamous Minuteman.

“Elder Maxson, if I may,” the other Paladin, Ambrose, stepped forward, drawing all of Arthur’s focus. Dimly and unhelpfully, his mind reminded him that he was distantly related to Ambrose on his mother’s side. He was pretty positive that the older man was his first or second cousin once removed… Or was it twice removed? Either way, it didn’t truly matter. The man had never been family.

“Go ahead, Paladin,” he allowed, mildly regretting that he even brought the man along. Some men were too comfortable with the idea of nepotism and Arthur was all too aware of the pressure he felt from it.

“I don’t think I need to remind you of all people of the words in the Codex,” he began and Arthur instantly felt his blood pressure rise again. “Shield yourself from those not bound to you by steel-

Give way your suspicions to the wisdom of thine Elder,” Arthur interrupted, his irritation only growing as he realized the source of the other man’s problem. He had been one of the Outcasts. “Is your issue with your sworn sister and Sentinel, Paladin Ambrose?”

“Arthur,” the man started, but quickly cut himself off from the look on Arthur’s face.

“Kin or not,” Arthur hissed, stepping closer so that he didn’t have to raise his voice. “You will show me the respect I am due. Is that understood, Paladin?” There was an awful moment where Arthur almost wished that the man would disagree, would just do something to warrant his rage, but the other man merely nodded and saluted him before sulking off to do his assigned duty. Glancing around Sanctuary, he scoffed at the way the settlers just went about their business, ignoring the world around them. Evie had allowed these people to use her home, but they barely thanked her for it.

He froze as something popped up in his mind. Didn’t Evelyn have a Mister Handy? He hadn’t seen it the day before and it hadn’t even occurred to him to mention the machine to her. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen the scared dog that had followed closely behind her while she gave him the tour yesterday, either. His gut feeling had been right. She ran away from him and had planned it. With a rush of sorrow welling up in his heart, Arthur felt his eyes burn as he turned away from the booming settlement and stomped to the backyard.

He could only think of one way to make her hurt as badly as he was hurting at that moment.

The monument was right in the middle of the lawn, almost mocking him with the care Evelyn had put into building it. An uneasiness rose up in his gut, but he shoved it down as he walked around it, carefully reading the words she had carved into the cinder blocks making up her dead spouse’s headstone.

Nathan Floyd Ellis
Hero, Father, Husband
2047-2277

Arthur wanted nothing more than to have a sledgehammer in his hands. He clenched his hands as the inaction made them itch and he stared at the writing, the simple words burning into his mind. Breaking his gaze away from the offending stones, he looked around the yard in a desperate search for something that would help him channel his anger. The yard was bare, having been stripped of anything useful for supplies, but there was a shovel leaning against the back wall of the house, probably left there from when Evelyn dug the grave.

The weak, rusted steel would break before the rocks did, but at least it would do some damage. He tried to push the knee-jerk comparison to Evelyn his mind gave him away as he strode towards the shovel, grabbing the rough wood and wincing at the sharp splinters it gave him. He didn’t care how badly it hurt, he wanted that memorial destroyed.

The shovel was surprisingly solid as he smashed it into the upper stone, knocking it off of the other two that were arranged in a makeshift base. The candles that someone had set out were satisfyingly easy to destroy, the wax crumbling like buildings under a barrage of missiles. Blow by blow, Arthur managed to chip away at the dead man’s name and with every letter gone, he felt a little bit better. Every jab with the shovel released some of the tension in his shoulders, every chunk that fell to the wayside relieved some of his seemingly unending fury.

Arthur knew that at one point, Evelyn’s husband had served under his ancestor out in California. If he hadn’t retired, it was very likely that he would have been with Roger Maxson as the world ended and in turn would have been one of the founding members of the Brotherhood of Steel. Chipping the name off of the memorial felt as good as striking the man’s name from the codex would have felt and Arthur releveled in the pettiness of it all. It wouldn’t bring his lover back, but he didn’t care. He wanted her to hurt.

Just as he’d been expecting, the shovel eventually broke under the onslaught, the handle snapping under his firm grip and the blade cracking under the pressure, though it happened much sooner than he’d hoped. Luckily, the stone broke just as easily under the heel of his heavy boots.

By the time Arthur was as satisfied as he was going to get from the needless destruction, he had gained a small crowd. Both Paladins stood at the edge, keeping any of the settlers from rushing forward and trying to stop him. Among the faces in the crowd, he saw some of the people Evelyn had introduced him to the day before, their expressions ranging from shock to sorrow to plain disgust as they looked on and talked amongst themselves. Their words were lost to him as the blood and fury rushed through his ears, the sound of his own pounding heart drowning out most of the world around him. He made eye contact with a frail, almost to the point of being decrepit woman who only shook her head and looked away as the thunder of vertibird wings broke through the rush in his ears and overcame the din of the crowd.

It must be reinforcements from the Cambridge Police Station since he couldn’t have taken more than a half hour to properly destroy the small monument. “Paladin Kurtz,” Arthur called out, calmly meeting the gaze of any settler who dared make eye contact with him as he waited for the Paladin to jog up to him. “Where is Colonel Garvey?”

“I left him locked in a shack near the center of town, sir. I think it’s a storage shed, but it’s completely secure.”

“Go and stand guard. No one but myself is to enter for any reason. Is that understood?” Kurtz quickly nodded and vanished from sight as the crowd started to break up and the vertibird got louder. Paying no attention to his splintered and bloody hands, Arthur made his way to the settlement’s makeshift landing zone, eager to see who had been sent to assist in the search for Evelyn. Right as he approached, the vertibird made its landing, kicking up a cloud of dust as it settled into place and Arthur felt pride well up in his heart. The Brotherhood had always been impressive, but it had only grown stronger under his leadership and from the dedication of his Brothers and Sisters.

“Elder Maxson,” one of the reinforcements greeted as he jumped from the craft. The man wasn’t as tall as he was, but he was as solid as any other soldier worth his salt and had the confident stride of someone who had shown valor in his career. “Knight Oliver Rhys reporting, sir. I served under the traitor on Recon Squad Gladius. I figured that I would be a help, since I knew Sentinel McManus, even if it was only a short while.”

“Knight,” Arthur greeted, nodding at the other man’s salute. “You’ve been in this region years longer than the rest of us have been. Any suggestions you may have are more than welcome and greatly appreciated.”

“Of course, Elder. I may not know Sentinel McManus as you do, but I knew her when she was nothing but a wastelander still.” Arthur didn't even blink at the other man’s heavy-handed reference to his relationship with Evie. There were no secrets in the Brotherhood and he knew that their relationship was one of the most popular topics of scuttlebutt among the East Coast chapter. Possibly in the other chapters as well. He was a Maxson, afterall. If this Knight Rhys ended up being as helpful as Arthur hoped he would be, he would have to look into and consider promoting the other man for his service and dedication to him, even if only for his willingness to help him during his overblown lover’s spat.

In no time at all, his Brothers and Sisters had a decent command center set up, complete with a radio and detailed map of the area, with markers showing various settlements and places that Evelyn had been known to frequent or otherwise have ties to. There was a list of people she had become close to, from a mercenary from the Capital Wasteland to an abomination posing as a detective in Diamond City. If it took long enough, they would all be questioned on any knowledge of where she could have disappeared off to. Glancing at the position of the sun in the sky, Arthur decided that the Colonel had had enough time to stew in his thoughts and in the heat of the summer.

Besides, the longer he waited, the further away Evelyn could be getting.

With curt nods to the officers around him, Arthur left them to pour over the maps and everything else they’d assembled as he stalked towards the shack Paladin Kurtz dutifully stood guard over. As he approached, he glanced at the sky again and wished halfheartedly that his battlecoat was even a little bit lighter. They definitely didn’t have the unforgiving sun of summer in mind while they designed it, but he wasn’t willing to wander around a potentially hostile settlement without any sort of armor on. “Has he said anything?”

“No, sir,” Kurtz reported, unlocking the thick door before stepping aside to let his Elder pass. “Although a few settlers have wandered by. I assume they were trying to find any hint of the Colonel’s condition.”

“Affirmative. Knock on the door if they start wandering by in numbers, but other than that, ensure that I am not disturbed by anything short of Sentinel McManus’ return.” He waited a moment, making sure that the Paladin understood how serious his orders were before opening the shack and stepping inside. “Garvey,” Arthur greeted as he finally entered the ramshackle building that the Minutemen Colonel had been stewing in for hours in the blazing heat, ultimately giving in to the heat and shrugging off the heavy coat. As hellish as it was outside in the summer sun, it was ten times worse in the stifling shack. “I know she told you where she was going. I just want my lover back.” As he spoke, Arthur laid the various tools he'd scrounged up from Evelyn's home neatly in front of him. Trying to project a show of calmness, he tried to focus on breathing through his nose. He was nervous and his stomach felt like it would never not be queasy ever again in his life. Arthur had never hurt someone like this before. Tortured them, if he was being honest with himself.

Pushing down all of his memories of the Lyons and of the first Vault Dweller he had ever met, Arthur clenched his hand around a large, half rusted screwdriver. He was hurting as badly as he had when Sarah died and there was only so much he could do about it. But right then and there, he wanted to make someone else feel how badly he hurt and Garvey was the perfect candidate. He wasn't a fool. He knew damn well that Evelyn had to have been planning whatever tantrum this was for months and had probably confided in Garvey.

He would make sure that the older man knew the price he was paying for the trust Evelyn had in him. Arthur was comforted by the knowledge that if he walked away from this, Garvey would never make that same choice again. Shrugging his shoulders to release the tension in them, Arthur slowly made his way to the beat up radio sitting near Garvey and flipped it on, the radio host’s voice confidently crooning into the room as the Minutemen commander eyed him carefully and Arthur considered his words. “You’re loyal to your friends and I can respect that. Admire it, even. But you have to realize that there’s a time and a place and bravery can quickly turn into foolishness.”

“Is that what you honestly think? That I’m trying to be brave?” Garvey finally spoke up, bitterness laced thickly through his words. “You know, I’m honestly not sure if you can even know how wrong you are.”

“Excuse me?” Arthur asked, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Back before he died, my dad told me that everyone is the hero of their own story. I thought I knew what he meant, but it never really clicked until I met you,” the bound man chuckled, almost making Arthur wish he had gagged the man. “You really do think you’re the hero.” The actions barely registered in Arthur’s mind as his fist shot out and connected with Garvey’s temple, knocking the other man’s head to the side and splitting the skin under the force of the blow. Years ago, his actions might have shocked him, what with hitting an unarmed and defenseless person, but now he barely even blinked.

“Tell me something, Garvey. Do you consider yourself to be a hero or to be a martyr?” If it was any other situation, Arthur would have admired the look the Colonel gave him, ignoring the blood that streamed down his face and the way it pooled in his unfocused eye. But right then and there, Arthur didn’t have the time to admire someone so insistent on being his enemy. The more time that passed, the lower his chances of finding the wayward Sentinel became. “Martyr it is.” He allowed Garvey the courtesy of mentally bracing himself as gentle music played over the radio before Arthur’s fists rained down on him, over and over again.

The sound of meat slamming into meat with a wet crunch eventually drowned the music out as Arthur lost himself to the violence. After what felt like hours, Arthur tore himself away from the savage beating he rained down on the defenseless man and found himself stalking back towards the tools he had laid out before. Looking so at the assortment of tools carefully laid out on the table and then back up at Garvey's hunched over and bloodied figure, Arthur's heart seized in his chest. This wasn't who is was. He wasn't raised to hurt others like this. His fists had done enough damage to the Colonel, even if the other man still refused to give up where Evelyn had gone.

He had to have been asking the wrong questions. That was the only thing that made sense anymore. Why would she leave? He’d given her everything and had granted her more freedom than even he had. Was it because of that abomination that had brought them together in the first place?

Arthur paused as the idea occurred to him and he watched the ragged rise and fall of the other man’s chest as the thoughts raced through his mind. He knew that she hadn’t been to see him since the last time he’d ordered her to. The trail he’d put on her confirmed that. But that thing had vanished from the outpost months ago, Paladin Brandis had reported it personally. There had been no sightings of that monster anywhere in the Commonwealth since. That only left one question to be asked.

“Where is Lee Danse?”

Chapter Text

Night couldn’t come soon enough as Evelyn laid in bed, stiff as a board and terrified of every little sound. Every little movement or shift in the bed sent a sharp stab of pain racing up from what felt like everywhere on her body. She knew that even if she hadn’t been minutes away from her great escape, she wouldn’t have been able to sleep. Anything could have woken Maxson up as he snored away beside her, naked as the day he was born and seemingly without a care in the world. She, on the other hand, ached in places she had forgotten about. She would need to take another small dose of Med-X if she wanted any real hope of escaping with her son.

After the… incident in the kitchen, she had taken the young Elder on a tour of the settlement and he had roughly taken her twice more - once against a largely abandoned shed, just barely out of sight, and again in the room she’d shared with her husband. All she could think about was how thankful she was that the actual bed she had shared with Nate had long since been destroyed. If she thought she’d been in pain after the first time, it was nothing compared to the bone-deep ache she felt now. Even her very soul seemed to throb in agony with every beat of her heart.

Eventually, the hustle and bustle of the settlement died down, just as she had known it would, and the time to act came upon her. Slowly easing out of bed, Evelyn couldn’t help but be reminded of a time eons ago when she had been a little girl, sneaking out of bed for a midnight snack. Back then, her father had always caught her and rather than punish her, he had joined in on the snacking before sending her back to bed. She just hoped that Maxson, light sleeper that he was, would be too worn out from his own sex drive to wake up from the slightest sounds. While they were on the Prydwen, every little noise seemed to wake him, but out here in what was considered the boonies of the Commonwealth, he slept like a rock. Maybe because he wasn’t on a constantly busy and creaking airship. Either way, she paused when she was fully out of the bed, waiting a full minute to make sure he was still fully asleep.

Finally confident that he was out like a light, Evelyn carefully opened her floor safe, determined to not leave anything of importance behind. She’d been making lists of everything she wanted over and over again as the months passed, choosing to focus on that instead of everything that she’d been through. The safe opened with a click and a creak as the old hinges worked, revealing the various things she’d gathered in her new life. Shoving aside a small stack of overdue books, she grabbed up Danse’s holotags, quickly running a finger over the engraved metal before draping the chain over her head. Danse might not have wanted to keep them, but they were just too important to who he was as a person to leave them behind. At the bottom of the safe, she found the three things she would never in her life part with. Her and Nate’s wedding rings sat on top of the recording Nate and Shaun had made for her before the world ended.

If it had been a year ago, or even just a month before, Evelyn was pretty sure that she would have broken down crying, but now there was just a hollow pang in her chest. She wasn’t sure if she was finally healing, what with Shaun truly being dead, or if the wasteland had just managed to kill that part of her. But right then, she didn’t have the time to think about it. If she wanted a future, she had to keep moving. On the bed, Maxson shifted, snorting softly before his gentle snores started up again. It was the kick in the ass she’d needed.

Quickly grabbing up the holotape and rings, Evelyn rolled onto her feet and grabbed an empty canvas pack that was waiting for her in her old closet. Slipping spare shirts out of her dresser took almost no time at all, but she kept an eye locked on the bed regardless. All it would take was a bad dream or having to piss in the middle of the night and her goose was cooked. Before she left the room to gather things from the bathroom, she stopped herself.

She still had Deacon’s knife.

With no effort at all, she could end Maxson’s life. She would only be hunted for so long for regicide, but it wouldn’t be anything like the tenacity that she knew that Maxson would hunt her with. He wouldn’t even know to fight her back if she cut his throat. Shrugging softly, she carefully pried the false panel off the wall and scooped the last of Nate’s Med-X from the bottom. Evelyn would decide Arthur’s fate after she was all packed and before she woke Shaun up. He didn’t need any blood on his small hands and she would do her best to ensure that his hands would remain that way for as many years as possible. Even if that was unrealistic in the world they found themselves in, Evelyn would do anything in her power to let him be a child for as long as possible… Provided that he could actually age and not be stuck that age forever.

Stepping over the space she knew always creaked, she padded her way down the hall. She found herself missing the gentle fwoosh that Codsworth’s engines made. Her house didn’t feel like a home without it, especially after what Maxson did to her in the kitchen. The robot butler surely would have lost his life trying to protect her from the young leader. She would be with her old friend within the hour and he would have Shaun back, too. She allowed herself the luxury of feeling excited over the idea of reintroducing Shaun to Codsworth, knowing how much he had loved their small family.

Evelyn was glad that she had kept a spare set of clothes in the bathroom, seeing as she had been too nervous to dress in the same room Maxson slept in and how she wasn’t entirely too keen on waking Shaun up while in the nude. Even from a room away, she could hear the young tyrant’s soft snores and she was forcefully reminded that the walls hadn’t been the most sound-proofed, even before there were massive holes in them. Waking up a ten-year-old boy as quietly as possible was going to be hell and she was starting to feel like Sisyphus. Life just seemed bound and determined to roll right down hill no matter how hard she tried.

Stepping into Shaun’s room, she had to pause as the sight of him peacefully sleeping made her heart clench. Evelyn wished, not for the first time, that the war had never happened, that this had been a typical sight for her and Nate both. She wished that she could let the boy have a full night’s sleep after all the excitement that he’d had during the day, but she knew it just wasn’t an option. For all she knew, Maxson had already contacted the other Elder and had already put his fostering into motion. Besides, their family was waiting for them, just down the river. Looking down at him as he slept, Evelyn wanted to cry. He looked so much like Nate, that it was almost painful. It wasn’t fair. She already knew what he would look like as a fully grown adult, but there was just so much she had been forced to miss.

Shaking herself out of it, Evelyn gently placed a hand on his bony shoulder and tried to shake him awake as softly as possible. When he didn’t react, she tried a little harder, but he only grunted and frowned in his sleep. “Shaun, honey,” she tried whispering, glancing towards the gaps in the walls. “It’s time to get up now.”

In seconds, her son went from being peacefully asleep to being as alert as a fresh sentry, his pale eyes quickly darting around the room as he searched for whatever threat there may have been. He had only been in the wasteland for a few days and he was already adapting to the need for hypervigilance. Evelyn did her best to hide her concerned frown from Shaun when his eyes finally met hers, but he must have seen something on her face. “Mom? What’s the matter? Are we… Are we under attack?”

“No,” she spoke, shushing him softly and doing her best to soothe his nerves. “We’re just going to go on a little adventure, but we can’t wake anyone else up, okay?”

“An adventure? Why?” Shaun asked, raising a dark eyebrow at her and frowning. In the dark, he looked so much like a younger version of his father, it made Evelyn’s heart clench. If she kept this up, she was sure that she’d develop some kind of heart condition at this rate. “Where are we going?

“Because… Because sometimes in life, we have to make difficult decisions. I had to make one, and now we have to leave. I’m sorry, baby, but that’s all I can say right now. We need to leave, Shaun.” Evelyn wasn’t sure if Shaun fully understood the situation, but a strange sort of acceptance settled over his features as if some part of him realized that the rest of his life would be filled with endless struggles and fleeing whatever threat hung over their heads, but he couldn’t quite grasp what that meant for him yet. Evelyn hoped that it wouldn’t be the case and that they would find peace in Maine, or at least to the north.

“Okay,” was all the boy managed to say, carefully swinging his legs over the side of the bed and slipping his shoes on with a look of childlike determination. She knew that her son was scared and she knew that it was her fault, but she absolutely refused to allow Maxson to use him as a bargaining chip and hold his life over her head. Evelyn had to believe that Danse would accept the Synth child as a son he would never father and would care for him the way Nate never truly got the chance to.

When he was as ready to go as he would ever be, Evelyn lifted the backpack up for him and helped him secure it to himself, making sure that the pack wasn’t too heavy and that nothing dug into his back. Blinking wearily up at her, Shaun waited for her next instructions, but Evelyn paused. She knew that it was time to decide if she should end Maxson’s life for what he did to her. “Shaun, I need you to wait outside and stay very quiet, no matter what you hear. Can you do that for me?” When he nodded, Evelyn helped him climb out of the ruined window and watched as he hid in the shadows of their backyard, waiting for her to finish the remaining unpleasantness.

Every step she took seemed certain to wake the young man from his deep sleep, with creaking floorboards and feeble linoleum cracking under the heavy weight of her boots. Just like when she left the room, Maxson’s sleep seemed undisturbed and she briefly wondered if he was only pretending to be asleep and had listened in on her conversation with her son. A shot of fear raced down her spine as she thought over the likelihood of that, but when she got closer to the bed, she saw the faint glimmer of drool reflecting in the moonlight on his cheek, letting her know that he had been asleep the whole time.

The bed groaned under her weight as she settled next to him, wincing at the soft pops her knee made as she crouched on the bed. Almost instinctively, Maxson shifted himself closer to her, turning his head to seemingly nuzzle into the comfort she brought him. Evelyn scowled at the sight and slipped Deacon’s combat knife from where it was strapped to the inside of her boot. It was all going to be over soon.

The last of the Maxson legacy was beating softly but strongly beneath her fingertips as she rested her hand against the strong column of his throat. Instead of making her feel powerful and in control of her own future, the realization just made Evelyn feel almost overwhelmingly tired. Killing Arthur Maxson wouldn’t suddenly cure the Brotherhood of Steel of their xenophobia, it wouldn’t undo all the damage they’d done to the Commonwealth with their hamfisted policies, and at the end of the day, it wouldn’t help her feel better about what happened.

With everything that she had been through since waking up, from the culture shock to finally hunting Kellogg down, to helping a common mercenary like MacCready find a cure for his son’s illness, to finding out her best and truest friend was secretly a Synth and being ordered to murder him. Every little moment seemed to flash through her mind as she sat on her bed, leaning over a man who knew her body as well as she knew his, and Evelyn came to the realization that she just didn’t have it in her.

She didn’t have it in her to snuff out another life, no matter the vast amounts of motivation she had to do so. She knew that she would be letting down the countless lives that he had hurt- including her own, but Evelyn just couldn’t seem to stop her hand from shaking whenever she tried to raise Deacon’s knife. Maybe she was just a coward, too weak to end the life of a tormentor. In this world of injustices, she had the power to rectify one of them and all it would take was a clean cut from a sharp knife.

A clean cut from hands far steadier than hers were.

Standing up from the bed and keeping an eye on Maxson’s sleeping face, Evelyn decided that mercy was the only real option she had. If she killed Arthur, she would be killing that last part of her that Nate had loved. He’d always told her that she could see the best in people, no matter what, after all the senseless violence she’d administered over the last while, she realized that this was a turning point. Evelyn didn’t know if she believed in souls anymore, but she did know that this would taint hers just as badly as killing her own son had.

Mouthing a silent goodbye to the young ruler, Evelyn vanished from the room as silent as a ghost, refusing to look back and give herself the option of second guessing herself. The more time she spent hovering over a decision, the larger the possibility of discovery grew.

Shaun was exactly where she had left him, only now he had an unexpected visitor. The junkyard dog she had bought from the traveling salesman months before hand was lying on the cool ground next to her son, lazily looking around the yard as the boy did. Evelyn sighed, hoping that the dog wouldn’t do anything as stupid as bark as her as she heaved herself out of the broken window or follow them, adding in another potential for failure. They already had Dogmeat waiting for them at the cabin with Danse, they didn’t need another canine adding to the mouths to feed.

“Mom!” Shaun stage whispered when he spotted her, a sleepy grin spreading across his face. “Can I take my dog? Please?” Evelyn knew that she couldn’t deny him this, not after ripping him away from everything he’s known twice in less than a week. She knew that he needed something to cling to and a world outside of her.

“You have to take care of her,” Evelyn sighed, wishing that damn dog had just stayed in its house outside of Preston’s home. “You have to make sure she’s trained, too. There’s going to be another dog waiting for us and if they don’t get along, you’re leaving her behind, understood?” Shaun nodded enthusiastically and stood up, keeping a hand over the dog’s worn collar as he followed his mother’s lead and crept towards the edge of the settlement.

As the moved, Evelyn reached out and grabbed a hold of Shaun’s free hand to make sure that he stayed close to her as she listened for anything that could potentially give them away. It was laughably easy to avoid patrols and detection when you were the one who organized them in the first place, but Evelyn moved slowly, keeping a firm grip on Shaun's hand and an eye out for the Brotherhood Paladins. She might have known her own people's movements, but Maxson hadn't mentioned if he'd assigned guard duty to the soldier. She supposed he had been too busy.

She tried to ignore the sense of deja vu she got when she cautiously lead Shaun towards the river, trying to push the knowledge of the vault resting inside of the hill in front of them out of her mind. There was nothing more for her in there, with Nate laid to rest in the yard he’d loved so much. She had to do her best to do right by him, and that meant keeping Shaun safe. Even if it was a copy of their boy, she had to protect him in ways she’d failed to do for the real Shaun. Evelyn had to help Shaun down into the shallow creek, wary of the loose looking rocks that lined the edges and waited to see if the dog would jump down and join them or return to the settlement.

As much as Evelyn had hoped that it would turn tail and disappear into the night, she couldn’t help the soft snort when the beast jumped into the cold water at the slightest motion from her son’s hands, encouraging it to follow him. Shaun must have spent the majority of the previous day feeding the dog scraps of food to foster that kind of loyalty in the mutt. Evelyn didn’t have much time to reflect as she spotted a slowly moving light of a passing patrol and dragged her son away, careful to move slowly through the water. It was difficult to resist the urge to run to the Ranger’s Station, with every step through the weak stream causing echoing splashes as she yanked Shaun along. To his credit, the boy only made a peep when she pulled too harshly on his arm. Following after them, the junkyard dog panted happily, eager for the adventure they were going on. All it would take was the dog letting out a single, happy bark and it would all be over. She regretted every buying the damn dog from that wishy-washy bastard and she already regretted letting Shaun take it with them.

“Mom, I’m scared. Where are we going?” Shaun gasped out, his short strides stumbling over the slick river rocks.

“We’re almost there, I promise,” she swore, glancing back at Sanctuary over her shoulder. There were no new lights shining in the darkness, so that was promising. “I’ll carry you after we get there if you’re tired.”

“I’m not tired,” Shaun insisted, trying to be strong, but from the sound of his voice, he was as scared as he was exhausted. “I can make it.” For all the education she had gotten in the old world and for all the time she’d spent arguing the law, Evelyn honestly had no idea what she could even begin to say to her son.

What a horrible world this had become.

As soon as they passed by a broken down shack, there was a horrid buzzing sound as two bloodbugs took flights from around a bloated brahmin corpse. Swearing, Evelyn wished she’d had the foresight to at least have a pistol in hand as they ran. She had been so utterly focused on the threat of Arthur Maxson’s ire that she had forgotten that the world around them was just as deadly. Quickly dropping Shaun’s hand while at the same time trying to shove him behind her, Evelyn only succeeded in knocking him over and into the cold water. She was all too aware of his sharp cry as he landed, but she just couldn’t afford to focus on him as the bloodbugs rushed towards them.

Whipping Deacon’s knife from where it was tucked in her boot, she stabbed viciously at the closest one to her. Unfortunately, although it sunk directly in the overgrown insect’s eye, the second one flew right by her and towards her fallen son. With the first bug still alive and still trying to impale her with its brahmin blood covered proboscis, Evelyn couldn’t exactly lunge at the one flying towards Shaun. Clenching her jaws together, she couldn’t stop the muffled scream of rage and frustration as she jerked the knife back out and jammed it forwards again, wishing that she had the strength to rip the thing to pieces with her bare hands.

Evelyn McManus-Ellis would be damned if she had gone through all of that, only to be killed by some mutated bugs just a little ways from her home.

She could have almost cried at the sound of the junkyard dog’s vicious snarls behind her and the wet impact of a body slamming into something roughly the same size. Grabbing the proboscis with one hand to force it away from her face, Evelyn glanced behind her and allowed herself to feel excited over the sight of the mutt with its jaws locked around as much of the bug’s head as she could get a grip on while she shook her head from side to side. Shaun, on the other hand, was pale and sitting up in the water while cradling his right arm closely to his chest. With a jolt, Evelyn’s attention was instantly back on the bloodbug she was fighting with as it placed its muddy forelegs on her shoulders in an attempt to gain enough leverage to wrestle its proboscis away from her. Deacon’s knife was slick with the insect’s blood and difficult to grip as she tried to hack at the struggling monster, wincing in pain whenever the thing’s hooked feet dug into her. The crunching sound of the overgrown mosquito’s exoskeleton breaking at its joint wasn’t nearly as gratifying as it should have been as Evelyn grit her teeth and finally shoved it away from her.

Risking another hasty glance behind her, Evelyn couldn’t stop the wince from the sight of the dog covered it long, vicious looking scratches that she was sure covered her as well as it struggled to keep the insect down. She wished that she had someone, anyone else with her to help keep the bugs away from them and off of Shaun, but she didn’t even have a gun drawn and the bug in front of her… Was flying away frantically, clearly having given up any hope of defeating her. The loss of an eye and a broken limb must have driven that point home enough for the thing. Evelyn took the opportunity as soon as she saw it and lunged at the remaining bloodbug, slamming into the thing’s side with a sickening crunch. She could only hope that the crunches came from its exoskeleton shattering and not from the weight of her pack slamming into her back and rib cage.

Cracked ribs were one of the last things she wanted to deal with, but the adrenaline pumping through her veins distracted her from any real pain and she stabbed the thing’s eyes as often as she could, not even noticing them it stopped struggling under her. Trying to stand up after the exertion and from the previous aches all rushing back on her, Evelyn gasped out in sheer agony as she rolled herself off of the carcass and tried to stand. Her son was hurt and she needed to get to him, even if every little movement felt like a fresh injury. Pushing all thoughts of the Med-X in her pack out of her mind, Evelyn finally managed to stand up and looked over to her son.

Shaun was largely where he fell, gently rocking himself back and forth as tears streamed down his face and the dog stood protectively over him, constantly looking back and forth and keeping an eye out for any other threats.

“Come on, baby, show me your hand,” Evelyn cooed, trying her hardest to keep the panic out of her voice as she glanced at the lights glowing in the distance. If luck was on their side, then they would be far enough away to avoid a curious patrol, but she knew damn well how far sound could travel at night. Sniffing, Shaun hesitantly released his grip on his arm, shaking the entire time as shock set in and Evelyn had to resist the urge to vomit. She wasn’t a doctor, but she was pretty well certain that when a wrist was a bent as her son’s was that it was broken. She really hoped that Danse’s knowledge of first aid extended to broken bones because she really wasn’t comfortable with the idea of using a stimpak on her son without the bones being set back into place. “Oh, Shaun, it’s… It’s going to be okay.”

“It hurts,” he sobbed, reaching back up to cradle the arm to his chest. Beside him, the junkyard dog cautiously sniffed his face before gently licking at the tears running down his cheeks.

“Baby, I can’t do anything to help it, but we’re almost to someone who can. He’ll take care of both of us, we just need to get to him.” She felt bad for potentially lying to her son, but she knew that Danse would never refuse to help her child… Provided that he wasn’t aware of the boy’s Synth nature. “I promise we’re almost there now.” Shaun nodded hesitantly as if he didn’t quite believe her, and Evelyn couldn’t really blame him. She wasn’t doing the best job of keeping her kid safe, and she had only been a mother to him for roughly three days. “Do you need me to carry you there? It’s okay if you do, my love.”

Shaun could only manage a stiff nod, his voice cracking too much from the pain whenever he tried to talk, so Evelyn thought for a second before carefully trying to scoop him up. Even if the Ranger Station was just a little ways away, she knew that she would have to be hiking uphill and she knew that the ground with be rocky and covered in debris. When they had measured out how much he could carry in his pack, Evelyn had kept in mind the fact that she might have to end up carrying his supplies on top of her own and adjusted the weights so that she could easily do so. She just hadn’t been expecting to have to carry an additional eighty some odd pounds on top of that.

If anyone had heard the commotion they’d just made, she hoped it was Danse and he would be coming to investigate, however unlikely that was.

As if summoned by her very thoughts, there was a rustling noise from the crest of the hill before Dogmeat appeared and let out a happy yip at the sight of her. Evelyn had never been happier to see a dog in her entire life. A feral sounding snarl from next to her made her hiss in frustration, hoping that the dog who had just saved her son’s life wouldn’t do something as stupid as trying to attack Dogmeat. “Junk, no,” Shaun ordered with a broken sob, clinging to Evelyn’s side to try to distract himself from his pain. Instantly, the dog’s hackles lowered and she looked up at Shaun with a tilt of her head, waiting for his next commands for her.

On the hill before them, Dogmeat sprung into action and quickly leaped down the embankment towards her, his tail wagging a mile a minute and making high pitched whines. Evelyn couldn’t help but wince at the sounds, glancing back towards Sanctuary and hoping that if the patrol did happen to hear something, they would write it off as some mongrel dog in the night. But Dogmeat being here now was a great sign. If nothing else, Danse and Codsworth would know she was near and be getting ready to leave as soon as she showed up. Besides, she’d taught Dogmeat how to wear backpacks since first meeting him and she now had help carrying Shaun’s pack. She knew from experience that it wouldn’t be too much weight for the shepherd. Briefly, the dogs paused by one another and sniffed, trying to get a good judgment of the other dog, before Dogmeat stopped in front of her, sitting in the cold water without a care in the world.

“Shaun, this is Dogmeat,” Evelyn introduced with a grin, hoping that the new dog would bring her son some relief to the horrible pain of a broken limb. Shaun, to his credit, managed a watery smile but didn’t try to pet the dog, too busy cradling his injured wrist to his chest. “Dogmeat’s going to help us get to the cabin. Here, give me your backpack. Dogmeat can carry it for us while I carry you, okay?”

Being careful of his injury, Evelyn helped Shaun shrug off the pack and carefully secured it on her canine friend’s back, keeping an eye on how the two dogs interacted with each other. The last thing she needed was a dogfight. The noise would surely draw unwanted attention and frankly, it wasn’t something she wanted her son to ever have to see. As she expected, Dogmeat was able to carry the weight without any problems while Evelyn had to strain to pick up her son. It wasn’t that he was heavy, it was more that she had to struggle with not jarring or banging into his injury as she adjusted her grip on him and carried him bridal style. With her center of balance thrown off, it was difficult to walk up the hill, unable to reach out for a root or something when she felt herself stumbling or sliding in the damp, uneven earth below her feet.

Evelyn felt a sad sort of pride well up in her heart whenever Shaun only let out a quiet whimper whenever she stumbled and fumbled his injury, gritting his teeth with concentration and tears leaking out of his eyes and running down his tawny nose. She didn’t even know the soft murmurs she whispered to him, only hoping that they helped soothe his pain and fear. Nate would have known exactly what to say to him, exactly what to do to make everything better again. Her calves and thighs burned with the strain and her hips felt like gelatin when she forced one foot in front of the other. It hurt and she wasn’t sure if she had it in her to be able to continue struggling for the rest of the night. She needed the Med-X that was hidden in her bag.

Spotting the glow of Codsworth’s jet in the night, Evelyn let out a soft huff of relief, nearly tripping over a fallen log that was half buried in leaves. She barely noticed it, though. The rest of her family was less than a hundred feet away and waiting for her. When he spotted her, Codsworth whirled around and flew into the cabin and before she knew it, Danse was standing on the porch with Codsworth appearing directly behind him. While Codsworth rushed towards them, Evelyn felt her heart clench as Danse stayed on the porch, leaning forward to grip the decrepit railings in front of him.

He had spotted Shaun in her arms.

“Mum?” Codsworth asked the moment he was in range, stopping himself just short of reaching her. “Is that… Is that Shaun?” The heartbreak in his voice ripped at her own heart and the tears erupted in her eyes as she nodded to him, her words failing her. Immediately, the robotic butler’s eyestalks all focused on the injured boy in her arms and he made a noise of alarm. “Master Shaun, are you alright? It appears as though your wrist is broken!”

“Mom?” Shaun stuttered, looking up at her in concern for some sort of hint on how to react to this robot. All other Synthetic life he’d been exposed to were much more human looking that Codsworth was. A part of her wondered how he would react to seeing an Eyebot or a Protectron, but it wouldn’t matter if they were caught.

“Shaun, this is Codsworth. He was… He was with us before the war. Your dad bought him right before you were born and he helped me find you.” As she spoke, she pressed onwards, glad to have Codsworth with her again, even as the dogs roamed around them, looking for threats. Glancing down, she saw the corpse of the bloodbug that had tangled with her and was reminded of the sharp, stinging pain her own cuts throbbed with. They would need a good while to rest before they could actually set out on their exodus… If Danse hadn’t changed his mind.

She reached the edge of the faint light pouring out of the broken down cabin and Evelyn could see the shadow of Danse’s power armor standing inside the cramped space. Looking up at the man himself, Evelyn felt like she couldn’t breathe as her heart hammered against her ribs. “Lee,” was all she could manage before the tall man was jerked out of his thoughts and he swung himself down from the porch, jogging over to them with his whiskey colored eyes locked on the boy in her arms.

“You found Shaun?” Even with the light behind him, Evelyn could still see the way his throat worked as he swallowed thickly and finally met her eyes. He was absolutely terrified in a way she’d never seen him before. Evelyn had hoped that he would interact with Shaun the way she had seen him interact with squires, but he looked at her like she was presenting him with a baby Deathclaw instead of her son.

Like he’d never actually expected her to be able to find her son alive.

Chapter Text

Escaping the Commonwealth had ended up being one of the most difficult things she’d managed, everything from the past year and a half included. Keeping the noise level down while running with a robot, two dogs, a massive man in equally massive armor, a hurt child, and her own injuries had seemed impossible. But she’d somehow managed it and now, two weeks later, she actually had no real idea how far they’d managed to go, even with the aid of her Pip-Boy. From what she could tell, though, she figured they were somewhere near Portsmouth. They’d decided to limit themselves to traveling at night, fearing the vertibirds and random patrols they had seen and heard. Even after two weeks, she knew that both she and Danse were frustrated with how little progress they had made in putting distance between themselves and Boston.

It didn't need to be pointed out that they would have been much further if they didn't have Shaun with them.

Shaun lay on the bedroll spread across the floor of their broken down trailer home and Evelyn laced her fingers through his curly hair, trying to soothe him as Danse gently prodded his healing wrist. As he worked, he avoided her gaze and spoke only when he had to. He wasn’t mad, exactly, but he was certainly thinking over the situation he found himself in. Evelyn tried her hardest to not let the foundation of her love for Lee Danse crumble at its very core. She’d known that it would be a difficult surprise for the burly man to face and it was asking a lot from him. “How does it look?” She found herself asking, breaking the weighed silence with a cracking voice.

Finally looking up and meeting her gaze, Danse pursed his lips slightly and gave a slight shrug. “It doesn’t feel like that bad of a break and it seems to be healing alright, but we’re going to have to keep it set it for a while. It’s always risky using Stimpacks on children.” It was a bland explanation, but to Evelyn, it was better than nothing.

“Well, that’s good news!” Codsworth blurted out from where he had been floating around outside, looking at them through the broken window. “You’re nearly halfway healed, Master Shaun! Human bones usually take six weeks to heal on their own and we’re taking the best care of you!” Shaun sat up with a watery smile for Codsworth and a few, quiet words of thanks for Danse.

The older man moved away from him with barely a nod of acknowledgement and left Evelyn with the chore of re-wrapping her son’s wrist. Biting down irritation, she smiled at her son and pressed a kiss to his brow. “You’re doing so good, honey. I proud of how brave you’ve been.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Shaun flushed, embarrassed by her praise. “And you, Mister Danse.” As soon as Shaun was up, he ventured outside where Evelyn knew he would be surrounded and guarded by both dogs and Codsworth so she wasn’t too concerned.

“Danse?” She asked after she heard the sounds of Shaun and the dogs fade slightly and give them a sort of quasi privacy. “How are you doing?” Across from her where he was rifling through his pack for their breakfast of the day, Danse sighed and shook his head slowly, and gave up his efforts.

“I’m not sure what you want me to say, Evelyn. It’s difficult and not in the ways I was expecting it to be.”

“I’m not sorry that I found my son,” she snapped, feeling herself losing her temper. She was as tired from travel, just as he was, but she was more sore than he probably ever would be. Even with occasional doses of Nate’s Med-X, Evelyn struggled with cramping and muscle soreness holding her back. She was the one to suggest they stop on the outskirts of the beginning of a settlement so that she could give herself a chance to heal.

“It’s not that,” Danse insisted, rubbing his hands over his face in frustration. “I’m glad you found Shaun. He’s your son and he’s a great kid. It’s hard being an outsider with the two of you. I am not his father and well… I don’t know how to act.” Evelyn could only nod in understanding. She knew what it was like to feel like an outsider, she’d felt it when she first joined up with the Brotherhood and she knew that Danse had felt the same when he’d joined them.

“So, how can we fix this? How do we make this work for everyone?” She knew it was a desperate thing to ask and they should give it more time, but Evelyn refused to just stand by while everything fell apart around her, not if she could do anything to prevent it from happening.

“Evelyn,” Danse started, clenching his fists and glancing over at the power armor that stood at the end of the small trailer. “I… I have to ask. I’ve noticed how you’ve been limping these last few weeks and I’ve noticed the Med-X. Don’t give me that look, it’s a hard thing to miss, but I can’t judge you for that. Not anymore, not when I’m… When I’m how I am now.”

“What about it, Lee? You're changing the subject.” Evelyn snapped, crossing her arms over her armored chest and wishing the conversation had never been brought up in the first place.

“What did Maxson do to you? I saw the explosion from The Institute and I expected you sooner. I thought that you’d changed your mind when you didn’t show up.” She felt her heart seize up and panic flood her mind, struggling to come up with some sort of excuse. Did she tell him the truth? How would he even react? Lee Danse’s world had already crumbled once, did she really want to tear it apart further by telling him how awful the man he’d admired for so long was? It was bad enough to have him knowing about the forced relationship in the first place. “I know that look, Eve. I can handle the truth.”

“We had an argument and he settled it with brute force,” she found herself shrugging, deciding to never tell him exactly what had happened. He didn’t need that hurt in his life and neither did Shaun. She could carry that weight herself. “I’m fine, Lee. Being with you and protecting Shaun are the only things that matter anymore.” He still looked wholly unsure of the situation, but he still nodded slowly, eyes drifting down her body as though he could see the injuries through her armor and clothing.

“Alright,” he said, his oddly dull eyes finally drifting up to meet hers. She could see as plain as day that he didn't honestly believe her, but Evelyn knew him. Lee Danse would accept the lie as truth and live with it. “I guess it is a good idea for us to stop here for a little while, then.” All Evelyn could bring herself to do was nod slightly as he stepped away from her and out of the trailer.

Gazing at her bag, Evelyn bit her lip in an effort to suppress the sudden longing for Med-X that welled up in her chest. As if in protest to her steadfast resolution not to turn to it, her numerous wounds seemed to throb as if to remind her that they were still there. Is this what Nate had felt when he returned home from war, a wounded and broken feeling veteran? Had… had she unknowingly made it even harder on him by being an enabler? Did he resent her for it?

All she could do was close her eyes and will the thoughts away. They wouldn't do her any good now and she had enough hurts to deal with in that moment to last a lifetime.

Unwilling to deal with her thoughts, Evelyn forced herself out of the trailer, making a weak excuse of searching for supplies as she brushed past Lee. She could hear Shaun trudging through the edge of the woods and decided to go the opposite direction, waving Codsworth’s offer to accompany her off. The only thing she needed right then and there was to be alone to lick her wounds in peace.

The early August sun was just barely over the horizon, the semi cool of the night still lingering before the day turned unbearably humid and the temperature hit the high 90’s. A part of her was glad that her Pip-Boy didn't bother to tell the user the temperature, since knowing always made it seem even hotter, but Evelyn felt strangely cold, as if she was walking over her own grave. With everything that had happened, it felt so utterly unreal, like it had happened to someone else and she had just watched it like a movie. Evelyn let herself get lost in the quiet, dead forest and tried to feel the warmth of the sun on her upturned face. She didn’t know what she could do to make her life even some semblance of ‘right’ ever again and she was almost too tired to even try. Her real son was dead, her Synth son would probably never age, her relationship with Lee would never be the same, she’d killed a friend of hers and more than likely sentenced another to die.

She wished she was as lost in the woods as she was in life, but the little voice in the back of her mind wouldn’t stop reminding her of the dangers of just sitting down and falling asleep in the middle of nowhere. It wasn’t just the Mole Rats or the Bloatflies or even the Deathclaws, but also the rest of humanity. It didn’t feel like there was anyone decent left in the world, even though Evelyn knew that wasn’t true. She had left a settlement full of decent people she had personally helped behind. She had personally left them to the wolves. A bunch of angry, rabid wolves.

The cry of anguish that escaped from her lips surprised her. She didn’t think that any living being could make a sound like that and absently, Evelyn wondered at the fact that she had been the one to make it. In that second, she truly understood what the word anguish meant as her own cry sent shivers down her spine. She never in her life wanted to hear that sound, let alone make it, ever again.

Collapsing on the ground, Evelyn dug her nails into the dry, barren earth and sobbed, allowing herself to feel pity and to mourn the abuse she had put herself through. It would have been an easy thing to tell herself small comforts, like that she was free and that everything was behind her, but she had seen enough cases go through the courthouses to know that it would take years of healing to truly put it behind her. Pressing her face into the ground even harder, Evelyn tried to muffle her own sounds as the tears stung her eyes and the sobs felt like they burned her throat. She wasn’t stronger than this and that might have been the hardest thing to acknowledge. She hurt all over, even weeks later, and she was scared to imagine hurting like this for the rest of her life.

Evelyn McManus felt dirty, damaged, and dead.

Shaun would never grow up. Or rather, he had grown up, without knowing his father or his mother, and had made this machine that wore a face that was ultimately a stranger to her. Lee would be free to move on from her and to find his own, hidden place in the world where he could make himself safe. Codsworth would have the son she had come to accept as a runner-up prize to tend to until one of them eventually broke down and would be happy with that. He would still be able to service his family, just as he had been programmed to. They didn’t need her. They would be fine, better than fine, in fact, without her. All she was was a burden to their lives and some Old World token of bad luck.

She wouldn’t be hurting anymore, on top of everything else.

Carefully sitting up on the ground to avoid jarring her still bruised hips, Evelyn steadied herself with shaking hands as she stared unseeing in front of herself. Tears dripped down her face in rivers as she felt around her belt for Kellogg’s pistol and breathed a sigh of relief when she unclasped it. She was going to be with Nate again. Shifting herself into a more comfortable position to die in, Evelyn brushed her hand on a stone she hadn’t noticed before. One that was entirely too smooth to be natural, minus the small engravings on the surface of it. Looking down at it, Evelyn frowned as she raised Kellogg’s gun to her temple.

Jessie and Sprog Rockatansky

There was nothing else written on the rock and for a brief second, Evelyn allowed herself the hope that it had been written by a young, newly married couple as a marker of their existence in this cruel world, rather than a gravemarker. But the world wasn’t kind to the soft-hearted sort of person who would announce their love for another in such a way and Evelyn knew better than to allow herself to be hopeful. Besides, her arm was starting to get tired from holding up the heavy pistol in such a way. If she wanted to make this clean, she needed to hurry up.

Closing her eyes, Evelyn McManus-Ellis tilted her face up towards the sun and tightened her finger on the trigger. She was going home to her family and she was at peace with that. Nothing, not even the rustling of the trees behind her or the screeching of startled birds would stop her.

Chapter Text

“Codsworth, I'm fine,” Evelyn insisted with a soft grunt, leaning her hip against the filthy counter next to her. She glanced at the shattered window, concerned that either Shaun or Danse could hear her conversation, but it seemed that neither of them were paying them any attention.

“Mum, you didn't look find when I found you the other week. I worry for you and the young Mister Shaun. You're… you're the only family that I have left.” His voice was quieter than she had ever heard it before, one of his eye stalks seeming focused on the door for any sign of approach. “We need you… I need you.”

“Codsworth, I'm sorry.” The words felt hollow and dead to her own ears, as empty as she felt. Evelyn couldn't bring herself to look at her companion and it was as if she couldn't even breathe around the shame of it. “I don't know what I was thinking.” That was a lie and they both knew it. Codsworth might not have known exactly what she was thinking, but she knew the robot well enough that he had an understanding of what it would take for her to reach that level.

“Neither do I, mum. I just hope that if you think those thoughts again, that you would find me. Find your family, as it were.” And with that, his thrusters let out a soft floosh as he propelled himself to the door and away from her, giving her time to collect herself as he investigated what the boy he knew as Shaun was up to.

Evelyn didn't move except to close her eyes and focus on the gentle sound of life around her, the dogs wandering around, her son talking to Codsworth about a gear he had found. When she didn't hear Danse, she opened her eyes again, only to jerk in surprise at the sight of him leaning against the door, his arms crossed over his chest and an unreadable look on his face. “Lee?”

“Are you doing okay, Evelyn? You've been off the last couple of days,” as he spoke, he stepped up into the trailer slowly, as if he were approaching a skittish deer.

“I'm,” Evelyn stopped herself from saying ‘fine’ suddenly, the words like rocks in her mouth as she looked at the man she loved, his thick eyebrow raised in concern and his eyes just as tired looking as she felt. “I'm scared.” She finally allowed herself to admit, hoping that the heavy feeling would lift from her shoulders and that Danse would embrace her the way Nate always had, telling her not to worry and that everything would be alright.

But that didn't happen.

The words felt just as heavy as the excuse she didn't give and the weight on her shoulders seemed to grow, clamping around her heart in cold fear as she watched him think about what to say to her. Did Codsworth tell him about what he had seen? Did he know about Maxson?

“I am, too,” he finally sighed, moving away from her and towards a hastily boarded up window. “I don't know what lies ahead of us. I don't know if I'm… man enough to be there for you.” Evelyn squeezed her eyes shut, wishing that it was the ever confident Nate in front of her instead of Danse for a split second before the guilt of her thoughts washed over her.

Nate Ellis was long dead and free from all the shit of the world. He was the lucky one.

“Listen to me, Lee Danse,” Evelyn snapped, perhaps a little harsher than she should. “You are the man that I love and there is nothing that is going to change that for me. You matter to me, not your past,” she insisted, moving herself to stare him in the eyes to make sure he heard her. “I love you.”

“And I love you,” he told her with a soft smile. She wanted to cry and shake him, yelling at him about all she had put herself through for him, but she knew it wouldn't help anything. He would love her less if he ever saw the gross marks that still hadn't faded from her body if he knew what the scared over bite mark on her shoulder was really from, and any number of things.

“So, what now?” She asked, wrapping her arms around herself in the way she wished Danse would. Her own arms felt cold and she yearned for the warmth she knew he would provide, but didn't know how to ask him for. She waited in silence for his answer, for some hope for their future, but none came. All he could offer her was a sad shrug of his shoulders as he looked helplessly back at her. Evelyn tried to remind herself that she wasn’t the only one who’d had her entire life shaken to the core and then some over the past year, but it was hard to reason with the anger and frustration she felt bubbling up. She knew it wasn’t fair to Danse, but she just couldn’t seem to stop herself. “Any suggestions?”

He frowned at the biting edge of her tone and Evelyn knew that a year ago, he would have lectured her on speaking to a commanding officer like that, but now he had nothing. “We move forward,” he finally suggested, his own tone just as harsh as hers had been. “I don’t know what else you want me to say, Evelyn. This is a whole new world to me, too. I went from having the strength of the Brotherhood behind me to… To becoming a family man overnight.”

“You knew I was looking for Shaun this whole time,” she found herself arguing, letting the anger skew her judgment. “This shouldn’t be some huge surprise to you that I actually found him.” Danse looked at her as if she was turning into a ghoul before his eyes and shook his head quickly in defeat.

“I know that. Trust me, I do, Evelyn. Look, I don’t want this to be an argument that we have over and over again for the rest of our lives together. That’s the last thing I want.” He took a step towards her and laid a massive hand on her shoulder, gently rubbing her collarbone with his thumb as he spoke softly to her. “I’m trying me best here, I’m just going in blind. It… It would have been easier if he was still an infant, so I could learn as he grew, but he’s not. I just have to learn how to act with him and where I fit in his life. Do… Do I treat him like he’s my own son, Evelyn? Would that insult the memory of Nate? I don’t know what to do.”

“Me neither,” she admitted with a watery smile, relieved at the contact and finally feeling a spark of hope, no matter how dull, for their future. “I don’t know how to be the parent of a ten-year-old, either, but I’m willing to learn with you.”

“I’m glad to hear that, partner,” he grinned down at her, leaning forwards to press a chaste kiss against her brow and Evelyn couldn’t help but smile up at him. “There’s something else I wanted to discuss with you, though.”

“Don’t tell me someone else is hurt,” she sighed, leaning her head against his shoulder. A part of her felt disappointed that the anger she felt didn't magically evaporate at his words, but she knew it was pointless to chastise herself about that. “I don’t think I could handle that right now.”

“No, nothing like that,” he assured her, finally wrapping his arms loosely around her. “It’s… More sensitive. I found some evidence of patrols getting closer to us. I’m not positive that they’re Brotherhood, but whoever it is, they are getting closer. We need to move.” It was probably the last thing she wanted to hear in that moment, but Evelyn had been expecting it for a while. All she could do was squeeze her eyes shut and nod against him. Trying to ignore the wave of nausea that washed over her, panic seeping into her thoughts.

“Alright,” she murmured, exhaustion weighing her tired bones down. “I’ll get Shaun ready and we’ll leave tonight.” Danse sighed and squeezed her tighter for a second, gently rubbing his hands up and down her back for a moment before pulling away from her.

“Someday, this is all going to be okay, Evelyn. We’ll find a home far away from everyone and no one will come looking for us. I promise.” Evelyn looked him in the eyes and nodded, even though she didn’t believe him. It seemed too unreal to try to imagine a world where they weren’t being hunted down by anyone like dogs. Even if Maxson gave up his search, she knew that they would always be looking over their shoulders over Danse and Shaun being synths.

“I believe you,” she lied, ignoring the sense of dread that came with her words. “There’s something I’ve been meaning to bring up, though. I help us blend in, I mean.”

“Blend in?” Danse asked, raising his eyebrow in concern.

“In settlements and towns,” she clarified, pulling away from him and reaching for the twine necklace she had made to hold Nate’s wedding ring close to her heart. “I want you to wear Nate’s ring. I don’t know if people still have this practice, but it will help people think we’re married and a family, I’m sure of it.”

“Especially if we let people believe we’re both from vaults,” Danse nodded slowly, his eyes locked on the simple gold band dangling from her neck. “If you trust me with it, I would be glad to wear it, Evelyn. Anything to help keep you and Shaun safe, no matter how simple.”

“I know, Lee. It’s one of the reasons I love you and always will,” she smiled at him, an actual smile that reached her eyes as she untied the knot holding the string up and carefully handed the ring to him, biting her lip as she watched him slip it on his finger as if it was the most important and delicate thing in the entire world. They both let out the breath neither of them knew they’d been holding as the ring slid perfectly on his finger, shining against the cracked, tanned skin of his hands.

“I wasn’t sure it’d fit me,” Danse confessed, still staring at how the ring looked on his finger, twisting his hand this way and that to see it at different angles. “It looks nice, though.” He finally looked at her, the unsure look he’d grown so used to wearing since he found out the truth about himself plastered on his face as he debated whatever it was he wanted to say.

“Lee, it’s fine, I promise,” she assured him, gently laying her hand against his cheek as if she was trying to calm down a scared animal. It hurt to see someone else wearing Nate’s ring, but she was confident in her decision. It was the best thing to do for them and she knew it.

“If you’re sure, then I’m sure,” he suddenly smiled at her, finally looking as confident as he always had when she first met him. When she first started falling in love with him. “We should start planning where we’re going from here.” Evelyn nodded and lifted up her Pip-Boy so that they could both clearly see the screen, zooming out so that they could see as much of the area around them without losing sight of where they actually were.

There planning took well into the day, the sun passing its zenith as they spoke and thought out as many worst-case scenarios as they could as the sounds of Shaun and the dogs playing. It reminded Evelyn of the time they had spent months ago, sitting in the dark and cold bunker, planning out their escape from the Commonwealth. As a shiver ran up her spine at the memory, Evelyn silently prayed to whatever god still survived that their new plans would turn out better than their previous ones had.

The cover of nightfall was something that everyone, including Shaun, had gotten used to over the past few weeks. Evelyn was ashamed that it was something her son had to know, but she refused to let her guilt get in the way of her survival instinct. She was sure that there were plenty of other children around the ruined world who were used to the same, if not worse things, no matter how much that thought sickened her. The world would never be the same as it was when she was growing up and she knew that she would probably struggle with that knowledge for the rest of her life. It was impossible to even come close to giving her son the loving, simple childhood that she had had and it was pointless to yearn for it anymore.

“Mom, are the bad men coming?” Shaun whispered beside her, looking out into the dark and dead woods around them as if Maxson himself would erupt from the dried out branches and accuse him of being a filthy Synth. “Why does the Brotherhood hate us so much?”

“That’s a long story, Shaun,” Evelyn sighed, glancing at the woods over her son’s head and frowning. She still hadn’t figured out a good way of explaining things to her young son. “I did some bad, bad things and I’m not proud of them. We had to leave so that I could focus on being your mother again, baby.”

“So this all is because of me?” Shaun frowned, looking up at her with an expression that made her heart shatter.

“Absolutely not,” she swore, mentally kicking herself for even giving him an idea like that. “I love you and Lee too much to have to be away from you both. Elder Maxson wasn’t going to let you stay with me, it wouldn’t have been fair to the other squ- children of the Brotherhood, right, Lee?”

“That’s right,” Danse nodded uneasily, casting an unsure look her way. “It’s not often that kids get to stay with their mothers and fathers in the Brotherhood, especially when it’s a time of war. It just isn’t safe, even if it’s a bit different in other chapters.” Shaun nodded slowly as if he was finally understanding the logic behind their exodus.

“Okay.” Evelyn wanted to tell him that their future as a family was much brighter without the Brotherhood of the Commonwealth in it, but that just wasn’t something she was sure of. Next to Shaun, the junkyard dog whimpered slightly and leaned her head against her son’s hip, seeming to lend the young boy some of her strength. Evelyn watched as her son scratched the dog behind its ears and was glad that she had allowed the dog to come along. Not only had it saved Shaun’s life, but he and the canine had bonded closely together in the weeks since. She tried not to think about how one day, that dog might be the only friend that her son ever has in his lifetime.

They traveled as quietly as they could manage to, Danse constantly tense and scanning the forest around them for any sight or sound of danger while Evelyn anxiously kept a close eye on the screen of her Pip-Boy in case the device warned them of any looming threat before Danse, the dogs, or Codsworth became aware of it.

As the first cold rays of dawn began to break through the night sky, they came across a settlement that had been built into the hallowed remains of what looked like a small town. Just as she was about to step out of the woods and to it, Danse reached out an arm and stopped her dead in her tracks. “Lee?” She whispered without taking her eyes off of the settlement, ever aware of how far even the smallest sounds traveled at night.

“Something about that place doesn’t feel right,” he murmured, shifting further back into the woods. “There should be more movement this early, especially with crops that ready to be harvested.” Evelyn looked to where he was pointing and immediately saw his concern. Even from hundreds of feet away, Evelyn could see how overripe the fruit was and smell ever so faintly the sweet smell of nearly rotten watermelon on the soft sea breeze. There was no way that any farmer would let their crop get to that point and still remain in town. With how difficult it was to get sure sources of food, not even Raiders would leave fruit on the vine for that long.

“What should we do?” She found herself asking, even as she slowly readied her shotgun by her side and shifted her weight so that she was a meat shield for her son. “Do you think we can ago around it or should we go see what happened?”

“We could always look for more supplies,” Codsworth helpfully supplied, even as he took a cue from his mistress and floated to be in front of Shaun as well. “Goodness knows Young Shaun here could use another comic book to tide him over, if there’s one to be found.”

“Do you think it’s safe enough?” Shaun asked, curiosity burning in his bright green eyes as he attempted to look around them and see the ominous settlement for himself. “I can help if things get bad.”

“Son, your focus should be on getting that arm healed up so you really can help,” Danse spoke up, gently chastising the boy, but smiling at him to lessen the blow. “Your mother and I are good at this sort of thing, y’know.”

Evelyn felt her breath hitch in her throat as she watched Shaun look up at Danse in surprise before smiling warmly at the older man, happier than he had been in weeks. The happiest she had seen her son since she had found him again. “You’re gonna teach me how to use laser pistols one day, right, Lee?”

“No,” Danse playfully frowned at the boy, glancing quickly at the strangely still settlement to ensure nothing had changed since he first looked away from it. “I’m going to teach you how to use laser rifles. They’re much more efficient.” Evelyn glanced over at Codsworth, sending her robotic friend a quick smile over their interaction before nudging Danse on his power armor clad arm.

“We should probably get going, in case something decides to come out and say ‘hello’ and we lose any element of surprise we might have.” Evelyn forced herself not to look her son in the eye, telling herself that it would only make it that much more difficult to continuously put herself in dangerous situations, regardless of if they were for Shaun’s sake or not. As they stepped away and out into the open, Evelyn couldn’t help but wince at the impossibly loud creaks and groans that every little movement seemed to coax out of Danse’s power armor, immediately erasing any chance they had at being stealthy. She would have to try to remember to talk to him about that later when they had the chance to.

“You called Shaun ‘son’ up there,” Evelyn pointed out as she walked, carefully keeping her eyes locked on the town and not allowing herself to tease Danse too badly about it.

“Is… Is that alright with you, Evelyn? Do you think Shaun is upset about it?” He asked, turning a bright shade of pink at having been caught in his slip up.

“No, no,” she shook her head, frowning when she thought she saw movement in an upper window but wasn’t entirely sure if her eyes were playing tricks on her or not. “I’m kinda glad about it. Makes things a lot easier for everyone, I think. If you’re comfortable with it, I mean.”

Danse didn’t say anything to her and when she looked over at him, he looked as if he was too busy thinking it over and all possible outcomes to be able to reply right away. She smiled at him, trying to reassure him that she really was okay with it and turned back to the now much closer settlement. With less than ten feet between her and the first building, Evelyn could better see the destruction that had fallen on the settlement. The smell was unmistakable.

Ghouls. And from the sounds of the shuffling and groans, they were feral ones at that. Casting a quick glance at Danse to make sure he’d reached the same conclusion that she had, Evelyn carefully readied her shotgun, triple checking that it was fully loaded and she leveled it and prepared to fire at anything that might pop out at her.

“You folks might wanna go ahead and lower those weapons,” a raspy voice called out from a darkened building, the barrel of a rifle just barely glinting off of the meek light of the morning sun. Evelyn immediately complied and from the sound of it, Danse did as well. The risk didn’t even come close to outweighing any potential reward. In the building nearest to them, Evelyn spied a fully feral ghoul just standing and staring at them, slightly swaying in a breeze only it seemed to feel as they stood in the middle of the street. “That’s it. Just keep those lowered and we won’t have ourselves any problems.”

“Danse,” Evelyn hissed between her teeth, keeping her eyes locked on the feral in the building as the hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up, the worst sense of unease seeming to swallow her up since she watched the atomic blast that destroyed everything she had known. “This is really bad.”

From the buildings around them, more ghouls appeared, all with various weapons aimed directly at them and harsh looks on their ruined faces. “What are you doing here?” One demanded, taking a step towards them and focusing his own shotgun directly at Danse’s head.

“We were just passing through,” Evelyn quickly reasoned, making a point to keep her hands in clear view and her weapon holstered with the leather strap she had rigged up for it. “We’re on our way to Maine and wanted to try to get some supplies. My son-”

“I don’t give a fuck about your son,” the ghoul interrupted, jerking his shotgun violently towards Danse. “Why does this fucker have Brotherhood of Steel markings on his power armor? Last I checked, the Brotherhood wasn’t too keen on ghouls, feral or not.”

Before Evelyn could even begin to think of something to say, to even rationalize to herself a valid reason why they would have the armor if they were Brotherhood, Danse spoke up, his voice ringing through the cold morning air and seeming to echo off of the broken bricks of the buildings. “Fuck the Brotherhood,” he snarled, nothing but sheer rage on his face as he spat on the ground as if he were spitting on the Codex itself. “Those no good xenophobes deserve to be wiped out, treating everyone else like scum.”

There was a tense moment before the ghoul that seemed to be in charge chuckled but kept his gun aimed perfectly at Danse’s unprotected head. “I see that we have similar viewpoints in regards to the would-be overlords, but that doesn’t exactly answer my question, stranger. Why are you wearing a rather nicely maintained set of Brotherhood power armor?”

“We found it,” Evelyn quickly spoke up, drawing a majority of the attention to herself. “Found it on a dead soldier and figured hell, might be good to keep Raiders away from us if they think he’s with the Brotherhood, right?”

“Might be a good way to get yourselves shot, more like it,” the ghoul argued back, barely even glancing at her with his milky eyes. “Seems awfully intact to have been on a dead person.”

“I like fixing things,” Danse told him, not bothering to look away from the man with a gun pointed right between his eyes. “It’d be a shame to let it go to ruin when it does a perfectly good job protecting our family, y’know.”

“Fair enough,” the ghoul nodded finally, lowering his weapon slowly. “What brings you to our lovely town, though? For real. We’re far enough from the main trading routes and everyone around here knows better than to come poking around. We don’t take kindly to smoothskins around these parts if you hadn’t noticed.”

“We’re from the Commonwealth,” Evelyn repeated, already sick of the man’s attitude and how he seemed determined to ignore her. “There weren’t exactly signs up to let us know that we’re not welcome and-”

“So you come with guns drawn at the crack of dawn?” Another ghoul called out, encouraging others in the group to agree with her. Danse finally glanced at her, his face grim in the dim light and Evelyn knew that their chances weren’t good.

“We thought the settlement was deserted, forcefully so,” she tried to argue, wishing that they had just given this hellhole of a settlement a wide berth and stayed the hell away from it. She hoped that Shaun wasn’t watching. She didn’t want her son to have to watch as his mother and Danse were mowed down by gunfire or eaten by a bunch of feral ghouls or any number of the terrible things that her mind unhelpfully supplied her within the few seconds it took for what seemed like the leader of the settlement regained order and pinned them down with his attention again.

“Smoothskins, always looking out for yourselves,” the leader snorted, shaking his hairless head in an exaggerated motion. It dawned on Evelyn that he was showboating for the crowd around them. This was something that they had done before and probably more than once, judging by how eager the crowd was for whatever outcome was bound to happen.

“Look, no harm, no foul. We’re sorry that we trespassed on your land, we’ll just be going on our way to make up for it, okay? We’re sorry,” Evelyn babbled, too panicked and focused on the shotgun was instantly aiming at her instead, the seconds seeming to tick by for years as her own breathing bellowed in her ears and the world around them seemed to slow down.

Her own shotgun was still holstered at her side and there was no way that she could draw it and fire on a crowd of at least ten fully armed individuals without getting both herself and Danse shot to pieces Next to her, she dimly registered Danse’s movement as he rushed towards her, his unintelligible screams sounding miles away as she tried to figure out how to get out of there alive.

That’s when she felt it.

Sharp and yet somehow strangely blunt teeth sunk into her shoulder, the worn leather of her coat doing little to stop the intensity of the bite. Evelyn didn’t even realize she was getting bitten until the smell of the feral ghoul washed over her senses as its jaw ground back and forth, trying to use its teeth to cut away her jacket and rip a healthy chunk out of her. She wasn’t sure if she screamed or not in the chaos that flooded her brain as she tried to break out of the impossibly strong grasp of the feral ghoul and fight her way back to her son, but nothing she tried seemed to help any.

Deacon’s knife Deacon’s knife Deacon’s knife Deacon’s knife her mind screamed at her, but Evelyn gasped, his fingers feeling like wood as she scratched and tried tearing at the face that was trying to eat her alive. Where was Danse? Why weren’t they getting shot? Was she pissing herself? Oh, it was in her boot. She had decided to keep Deacon’s knife in her boot in case of emergencies, only she couldn’t reach her boot without making the wound even worse.

Suddenly, the feral attempting to take a chunk out of her shoulder let go and dropped like a sack of rocks behind her and Evelyn nearly threw up at the feeling of her own blood gushing out of the wound with every beat of her heart. Falling to her knees, she saw that she hadn’t lost control of her bladder, but the warmth she had felt was blood splatter hitting the front of her jeans. Was that from her? Probably not. Looking up while trying to put as much pressure on her shoulder wound as she could, Evelyn was surprised to see not just Codsworth, the dogs, and Danse ripping through the crowd of ghouls, but also a handful of other people among those fighting.

Evelyn had no idea how she actually managed to do this, but she somehow raised her shotgun and fired, her finger slipping pathetically on the trigger, and just barely managed to hit a feral ghoul in the leg, blowing its kneecap off in the process before it stumbled and fell, still trying to crawl its way towards its target. Trying to take aim again, she cursed as her shot went wide and unhelpfully splattered pelts into the already destroyed brick of a building just beyond the ghoul. The next shot was a little bit easier, this time nailing the ghoul in its side and finally putting an end to its mission to rip chunks out of people.

The world started to get foggy for Evelyn at that point, the roar of Danse’s laser rifle and the screams of people around them seemed to overpower her senses. All she seemed to be able to focus on was how badly her shoulder hurt and how sticky her blood felt against the palm of her hand. She hated it. No matter how hard she fought against it, Evelyn could feel herself slumping forwards and the edges of her vision darkened. Even as her cheek connected painfully with the filthy concrete, Evelyn could hardly focus on anything besides the nearly overwhelming pain in her shoulder. Had that thing gotten an artery or something? Was she dying?

Was she finally joining Nate and the real Shaun?

When she woke up next, it was with a sharp gasp and squeal as the pain all seemed to rush in at once. The overhead lamp blinded her already hazy vision and Evelyn coughed and struggled to breathe, the anxiety of not knowing where she was or what had happened to her family all but slapping her in the face as she struggled to sit up.

“Easy, easy!” A woman’s voice called out from the haze, soft but firm hands gently pressing down on her uninjured shoulder to try to force her back onto the bed. “You were hurt and lost a lot of blood. You shouldn’t even be awake right now!” Evelyn finally focused on the doctor and frowned. How was someone who barely even looked fifteen years old qualified to be a medical professional?

“My family,” she started the ask around the gravel feeling in her throat, gratefully accepting the offer of purified water from the doctor.

“They’re perfectly fine. They weren’t even injured in the fight,” the doctor beamed at her, accepting the water back after Evelyn was done with it and setting it on the bedside table again. “I haven’t finished bandaging up your shoulder, but it’s all cleaned out and sewed back up.”

“How old are you?” Evelyn found herself asking dumbly, relief for her family’s safety flooding her overworked mind.

“I’m thirty, I just look really young for my age because I grew up in a vault.” Oh. Had Evelyn finally become one of the wastelanders who could spot a vault dweller from a mile away? Probably not.

“Thank you.”

“You’re very welcome, ma’am. You know, it was sure lucky that today’s the day we all voted on takin’ out that Ghoul Town,” the doctor mused as she carefully bandaged Evelyn’s shoulder as best as she could. “Things would have turned out a lot worse for you folks and your boy.”

“What do I owe you for all this?” Evelyn asked, wincing out the throaty sound of her own voice as she spoke and carefully watched as the doctor finished with her and checked the readings on the Auto-Doc. She refused to even think about the doctor’s words, all too well aware of how poorly things would have gone for them if even their rescuers had shown up five minutes later.

“Owe? Oh, your husband already traded his power armor to make up for your treatment and some more supplies,” the doctor shrugged with a smile, finally shifting her attention back on Evelyn. “Now, like I said, I cleaned the bite out as well as anyone is able to and the stitches are neater than anything else anyone can do, but just in case you get an infection or something else nasty from the bite, take this peroxide to clean it out as thoroughly as you can. Your Mister Handy should be a lot of help with that, if not your husband.”

Evelyn accepted the faded brown bottle with a half-hearted thanks and a quiet wonder about expiration dates, but grateful nonetheless for the generosity. She knew first hand how difficult it was to find medical supplies at times and power armor or not, it would hurt somewhere down the line to be without peroxide. Evelyn started to stand from the tattered examination table, but she hesitated, knowing that her opportunities would be limited.

“Was there something else I can help you with?” The doctor asked, noticing Evelyn’s severe expression.

“I…” Evelyn tried to say but found the words to be too difficult to actually say out loud, much less to another living being. “A few weeks ago, I was… Well, something happened and,” she coughed, trying to force the words, but from the soft look on the doctor’s face, Evelyn knew she didn’t have to finish them.

“It’s okay,” the doctor told her, laying a soft and warm hand against her wrist. “I’m so sorry that happened.”

When Evelyn finally stepped out into the sunlight, she was only mildly surprised to see the sun making its way down the horizon, casting the world in a warm, orange glow. The world seemed much more peaceful than she knew it to be and for just a second, Evelyn allowed herself a moment to just close her eyes and pretend that nothing bad had happened and that she could just call her mother after putting Shaun to bed and tell her about how her day had gone.

The ache in her shoulder pulled her from her fantasy and Evelyn found herself aching for a dose of Med-X.

“Evelyn?” Danse called out to her, standing from the noodle shack he and Shaun had been eating at when he saw her appear from the doctor’s house. Smiling, Evelyn gladly jogged to reach her family, instantly wrapping her arms around Shaun and pulling him into a tight hug as Danse wrapped his own arms around the both of them. “I’m so glad to see you’re okay. We both are.”

“Lee, we need to get out of here as soon as we can,” Evelyn whispered, even as she pulled her son closer to her despite the ache in her shoulder. “If a Brotherhood patrol comes by and finds out about the fight,”

“I know. It won’t be hard to figure out that it was us,” Danse murmured against her hair, turning his head to press his cheek against the top of her head. “We’re endangering them by just being here.”

“Should… Should we warn them?” Shaun asked softly and Evelyn could have kicked herself. They needed to be more careful about what they talked about in front of him.

“No, Shaun,” Danse spoke up, pulling away from the family and gently resting his hand on the boy’s head. “They only know our first names and other than the armor, they don’t know anything about us.” Evelyn felt herself nodding along, even if she wasn’t entirely sure that Danse was right.

“It would only make our own lives more difficult,” she explained as gently as she could. It was a cruel world around them and she wished that there were better ways of teaching Shaun that it was kill or be killed most of the time. “As soon as we get Codsworth and the dogs, we should go.”

“Evelyn, you’re still weak,” Danse started to protest with widened eyes, but Evelyn brushed him off.

“And Shaun has a broken arm. We can do this. As a family, we can pull each other along,” she vowed, staring Danse down as she spoke. He finally nodded, backing down from the argument with her and leading the way to the room they rented where Codsworth and the dogs waited for them.

Within an hour, they had made their way far enough from the town where the lights were only a glimmer in the distance, but they still pressed on. Light could travel for miles and miles in the darkness and Evelyn and Danse both agreed that if they could see the light from the small town, then they were still too close. When Shaun was barely able to stand up on his own, Danse carried the boy, cradling him against his chest as if he had been doing it all of his lifetime and Evelyn couldn’t help but reach out and squeeze Danse’s free hand. She wouldn’t have ever been able to carry Shaun on her own with an injured shoulder and found herself incredibly grateful for Danse.

Without his power armor, they moved a lot quieter through the night, barely disturbing what life remained around them as they carefully but urgently made their ways by. But even with Danse carrying Shaun, but eventually the exhaustion of the day forced them to stop. Even the dogs had slowed in their progress and hung back from them, determined to follow, but too tired to truly keep up with their pace, no matter how slow. As soon as they stopped in a suitable clearing, both of the dogs laid down and soon fell asleep as Codsworth quietly patrolled the perimeter, allowing them to go about setting up camp uninterrupted.

Danse carefully laid Shaun down after Evelyn set out the boy’s bedroll for him and focused on making a small fire as she set up their own bedrolls and dug out a small can of food for them to quickly eat. As they settled down and ate their food, Evelyn couldn’t help but look at Lee from across the fire, watching as the light danced across his features and how utterly exhausted he looked. “Lee,” Evelyn all but whispered, fear seeming to freeze her heart as she stared at Danse across the fire, the soft sounds of the night around them overshadowed by the crisp popping of the long dead wood. “I think I might be pregnant.” He didn’t immediately respond to her, his dark eyes barely even widened as he heard her news.

“Did the doctor…?”

“I told her not to check. It’s safer that way. For her and everyone involved, I mean.”

“This isn’t right,” Danse sighed, burying his face in his hands. Evelyn blinked numbly, staring at him and trying to resist the urge to raise her voice. Shaun was sleeping less than five feet away from them and she wanted the boy to get as much rest as possible. The past month had been rough on him.

“Excuse me?”

“You should go back. Take Shaun with you. Maxson will forgive you for disappearing, I’m sure he would.”

“Why would I do that?” She asked, digging her short, broken nails into her palms to try to keep her rising anger in check. “Why would I just up and leave you over this? Lee Danse, I’m sorry. If you don’t want to be a father, I’ll end it. I know you struggle with Shaun, as it is.”

“It’s not that,” he protested his complexion paling slightly underneath the perpetual layer of dirt he always seemed to have. “This is Maxson’s child. The heir to the Maxson Dynasty. I’m just a synth.”

“Maxson will have others. And this one isn’t his. It’s mine. Just like Shaun is mine. They’re yours, too, if you want to step up and not abandon us. That’s not what families do, Lee.” As she spoke, Danse just stared into the fire, shaking his head slowly. She could see Codsworth turn to face them as they spoke, but the robot didn’t interrupt, wisely keeping to himself and doing his part to ensure they weren’t interrupted by Shaun or the dogs.

“I don’t know if a machine can be a father,” he confessed, sounding as pitiful as he looked. She knew she should argue with him, to somehow convince him of how utterly wrong he was, but she couldn’t. She was so completely tired, she knew she didn’t have it in her to face yet another heartbreak like this.

“You’re wrong, Danse. You’re so wrong.” It was all she could manage to say and it just wasn’t enough. Across from her, Danse slowly shook his head and sighed again, not bothering to look away from the flames.

“I know, but I,” Danse interrupted himself, shaking himself out of his thoughts. “I need time to think. Try to get some sleep, we can talk about it in the morning, Evelyn. It’s late and we’ve had one hell of a long day.”

“I guess you’re right about that,” Evelyn tried to smile, but she knew that even if she had, it wouldn’t have come close to reaching her eyes. She wanted to ask him if he would still be there when she woke up, or at least offer to take the first shift keeping watch, but she stopped herself short, watching as he seemed to collapse back onto his bedroll and covered his face with his hands, letting out a deep groan. Evelyn glanced at Shaun, taking care to make sure that the boy was still sleeping, before she settled back against her own bedroll, looking over at Codsworth as she did so. The robot dipped one of his eyestalks as he hovered closer to the center of their little campsite, setting himself down on the dry ground as he settled in for keeping watch.

As much as she wanted to fight sleep and stay awake for the entire night, Evelyn felt it darkening the edges of her consciousness, despite the heavy, ill feeling that settled in her gut. She trusted that Codsworth would do his best to wake her, should anything happen in the night and with that last, comforting thought, Evelyn gave in to the embrace of sleep.

“Mom?” Shaun’s tiny voice immediately snapped her awake, panic flooding her mind as she looked around and searched for the problem. “Danse is gone.”

“I… I know, baby. Sometimes people do that,” Evelyn told him, sitting up slowly and opening her arms so that he could cuddle with her and leech off of her body heat.

“But why? He told me that he loved you.”

“Sometimes love isn’t enough, Shaun.” A glint of something shiny in the place where Danse’s bedroll usually sat caught her eye and the second she realized what it was, she felt her throat constrict.

He’d left Nate’s wedding ring behind for her.

Chapter Text

Of course it was just her luck that a goddamn feral had bitten and ripped apart the opposite shoulder than that son of a bitch Maxson had. A large part of Evelyn wished that the feral’s bite had erased the scar that Maxson had left behind. With her back pressed against the rough bark of a long dead tree, Evelyn bit her lip in shame as she injected herself with another dose of Med-X, eager to soothe the incredible pain in her shoulders with every step she took. The weight of her backpack dug insistently into her wounds, the pressure nearly unbearable. But she was out of options. Shaun would never have been able to carry both of their backpacks, the weight was just too much for either of the dogs to bare, and Codsworth’s storage compartment was too small to even shove most of the things weighing her pack down with into.

“Mom?” Shaun called out from the small clearing he waited for her in. No matter what, Evelyn refused to lower herself to shooting up in front of her young son. “Are you almost done?”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” she insisted with a sigh, hastily tucking her shirt back in from where she had raised it up to inject herself in her side. “One of these days, I’m going to have to teach you to be more patient, Shaun.”

“You’re the one who always tells me how important it is that we keep moving,” he complained, kicking a rock with the toe of his worn out shoes. Evelyn only grunted, knowing that he was right and that she would also have to try to find him new shoes as they traveled, especially if he hit a growth spurt.

Evelyn hoped that he did, but with Danse gone now, it was much less vital for him to. Evelyn found herself sighing again as the Med-X finally fully kicked in and the pain in her shoulders got a little less overwhelming. It used to completely numb her to the pain in her hips, but now she must have been getting too used to the drug. She would either have to up her dosage or stop using it.

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Evelyn took a moment to look at the woods around them. The air was getting heavier with the unmistakable scent of the ocean breeze, so she knew without even looking at her Pip-Boy that she had to have been traveling southeast, closer to the ocean. Finally giving in and checking her Pip-Boy, Evelyn zoomed far enough out to be able to see the city names, or at least how they were known in her time. Portsmouth.

Within a day or two, she would officially be in Maine. The next day would see pretty much all of her major goals of the past few months accomplished. But it just didn't feel right. Maybe because Danse had left them, but something just seemed to sit heavily in her stomach, silently but insistently urging her away from Maine.

She shrugged it off when she caught her son's questioning look and forced herself to push the feeling towards the back of her mind. It was probably just the stress of the last few weeks taking a toll on her and making her suspicious of everything. “Do you want to see the ocean, Shaun?”

“I saw it from the Prydwyn,” he pointed out as he raised a dark eyebrow. Evelyn couldn't help but smile at how much he looked like Nate when he made that face and laughed more than she had in what felt like eons.

“That doesn't count. I mean actually see it. Actually stand in it. Back before the war, people would spend thousands of dollars to travel to oceans just to visit them.”

“Oh,” he frowned, looking at his torn up shoes. “I don't know how to swim. Father never taught me at the Instit-”

“Shaun,” Evelyn cut in, the mirth gone from her soul as she frantically glancing again at the woods around them. He knew better than to talk about that while they were still so close to the ruins of Boston. The mention of the real Shaun still made her heart ache with sorrow, but with everything else that had happened, Evelyn was getting to be an expert at suppressing her feelings.

“Sorry, mom.” The sound of the quiet acceptance in her son’s voice both broke her heart and made her furious like she never thought he could make her. No, Evelyn wasn’t mad at the boy in front of her, but her actual flesh and blood son who was the cause of so much hardship in the region. If it hadn’t been for him, then hundreds or more would still be alive. Through kidnappings or through anxiety induced murder, Shaun had been at the root of it. Shaun Ellis might not have founded the Institute and started the ball rolling, but he hadn’t ever bothered to lift a finger to stop anything.

She couldn’t even find comfort in the fact that she hadn’t raised him.

“One day, this will all be okay. I’m sorry that it isn’t right now, baby.” Shaun didn’t say anything to her after that, merely smiling the sort of strained smile that only adults should be familiar with and quietly offering to take more of the weight off of her shoulders.

The haphazard family wandered through the woods, doing their best to avoid tripping over fallen tree limbs or into traps that had been abandoned decades before. The silence weighed heavily on them, even despite the dogs playing around them and Codsworth’s occasional attempts to pry Shaun out of his shell and into a conversation. Eventually, even the robotic butler threw in the towel as the sun made its way across the sky and their stomachs started growling. “Mum, you and young Shaun must stop to eat something,” he pleaded with her, hovering protectively near Shaun.

“You’re right,” she forced herself to smile, doubting if she would be able to stand up again after they sat down. “Even Junkyard and Dogmeat need to eat something.” Even with the overabundance of dead trees around them, it wasn’t too difficult to find a clearing large enough for them to settle down and make a small fire. Since it was daylight, Evelyn didn’t feel as cautious about having the fire, even if the back of her mind insisted on reminding her about the smoke it would make and how easy it would be to spot from a vertibird. They all deserved to have some warm food, with all they had put up with and how little they had complained.

Shaun picked out the canned food he wanted to eat, carefully checking it for any outward dents under his mother’s direction. He carefully mimicked the actions he had seen her take over the weeks they’d been reunited, glancing up at her from time to time to make sure he was still cooking their food correctly. She grinned down at him, infinitely proud of how quickly he was picking up survival skills and how eager he was to help. “Thank you for cooking, Shaun.”

“And a very good job done, too!” Codsworth spoke up from where he had been slowly patrolling the little campsite, a task he had bestowed upon himself since they began their exodus. “Why, I will have to teach you how to cook lobster thermidor when we reach Maine!”

“What’s that?” Shaun asked, scrunching his nose up in a way that only children could, hesitant to eat strange sounding things. Evelyn couldn’t help the snort of laughter that erupted from that, thrilled that he was just like any other ten-year-old.

“Something that is probably unrealistic in this day and age, my love,” she laughed, turning her grin towards Codsworth as she carefully spooned out enough cooked meat chunks for the dogs to eat. “Sorry, Codsworth, but I don’t think lobsters are really lobsters anymore. You might have to settle for a simple chili con carne.”

“Oh, I have to disagree,” he teased back, whirling one of his arms towards her in an admonishing gesture. “I believe that a single lobster would be able to feed an entire settlement now. ‘Lobster thermidor for all’ should be our new motto.” Even Shaun laughed at that, despite not really knowing what they were talking about.

As they dug into their food, Evelyn became more and more aware of what looked like the side of a building, just barely peeking through the trees. She stared at it, feeling an urge welling up inside her gut, yearning to explore the hopefully abandoned whatever it was. If it had been just a year ago, she would have been up and already inside the building when she first spotted it, but now she had more concerns, more responsibility. Even still, something in her gut seemed to want to pull her towards the wall. “Do you want to do some quick exploring before we head out again?” Evelyn asked, aware that she wasn’t specifically asking anyone.

Across from her, Dogmeat seemed to perk up when he heard the word ‘exploring’ and Junkyard followed suit, seemingly eager to figure out what the excitement was. Shaun looked over at her with a slight frown before casting the same look towards the robotic butler, curious but concerned. “Ma’am, do you think that is such a good idea?” Codsworth asked, floating around to face her.

“Codsworth, life isn’t just about running away. We need to take a break from it every once in awhile, for our own sanity.” Something in the back of her mind insisted that there was something important in the cabin. It had to be a cabin, right? This far out in the woods, it would be strange if it was anything else. Evelyn decided that as soon as they finished their meal and packing up their things, they would go investigate the cabin.

Dogmeat raced towards the building, disappearing into the brush in search of items, while Junkyard stayed so close to Shaun that she was nearly underfoot. Evelyn appreciated the dog for being so eager to protect her son and made a mental note that she would need to keep rewarding the behavior if she wanted it to continue. She knew that there would be times when she just wouldn’t be able to protect her son, no matter how hard she tried. That was just the nature of the wastes around them. Not everyone could be saved, but with Junkyard around him, he had a better chance of avoiding post-apocalyptic rabies or something just as vile from a molerat.

 

Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, Evelyn glanced back at Codsworth to make sure he was still following after them. He sulked behind, closer to Shaun than to her, but he was there with one of his eyestalks seemingly focused on her. She decided to ignore it, turning back around to take in as much as the cabin as she could as more and more of it was revealed from the lifeless woods around them. She didn't know what it was, but something about the desolate cabin in front of them made the hairs on the back of Evelyn's neck stand straight up. From the outside, she knew she was being irrational. She had seen dozens or more that looked just like it or in even worse shape. Next to her, Dogmeat whined low in his throat and looked up at her for guidance.

A part of her had been expecting to find some special, unique weapon that was forgotten by however was there last, but realistically, she knew that it was foolish of her. Instead, what she found was much more macabre. In the middle of the floor, there was a perfectly preserved skeleton, complete with mummified chunks of skin still hanging off of it in places. Evelyn couldn’t tell if it had been male or female, but it didn’t make a difference. Scattered around it as if they had been carefully arranged around it where hands. The bones were bleached by the unforgiving sun and even from a glance, she could see that they had been crudely broken and severed at the wrist with some sort of blunt object. Glancing up at the wall only confirmed her suspicions.

Painted in what could only have been blood, what remained looked as surreal as his later ‘pieces’ had when she encountered him in Boston. Pickman had lived here. The chill that had been constantly dancing along her spine suddenly made sense and in that, Evelyn found a bit of comfort. Even if Pickman showed up suddenly for whatever reason, she knew that he wasn’t likely to hurt her. If anything, he actually owed her for having saved him once.

Looking away from the long dead body before her, Evelyn looked around the small house for anything that might be useful. She kept an eye on Shaun as she carefully pushed dust-covered junk around with the toe of her boot, worried that he might hurt himself on something long rusted over and get sick from it. The last thing either of them needed was suffering from a nice case of tetanus. When she spotted a book with the cover ripped off and the pages nearly unreadable from time, Evelyn couldn’t resist picking up the book and seeing if she recognized it.

“...This matter has befallen me unexpectedly and destroyed my spirit. I am finished. Having lost the joy of life, I want to die. I know now so well that my husband, on whom I depended for everything, has turned out to be the basest of men,” she read aloud, squinting to see the faded words more clearly in the shade that the dilapidated roof provided.

“What’s that?”

“I’m not sure,” she sighed, setting the book down on a low table. “I’ve never read it before.” A part of her wanted to keep the slim book to read more but decided against it. Danse’s abandonment was too fresh of a wound for her to be able to fully appreciate the centuries-old text.

“Were all books like that back before the war? I mean like besides science and stuff like that.”

“Maybe,” she shrugged with a soft smile. “I mostly read law books. Your dad was the reader of the family. He liked to escape into the stories they told. C’mon, Shaun. There’s nothing here for us.”

As much as he looked like he wanted to argue with her and explore the desolate house further, Shaun eventually just nodded and followed after her, just like the dogs trailed after them. When they were a safe enough distance away from the long since abandoned home, Evelyn stopped Shaun so that she could check his arm. If it had healed already, then she would consider giving him more weight to carry or more responsibility. She shook her head as she dropped her pack to the ground, the lifted weight feeling like the sweetest relief in the entire world as her son dropped his own backpack and found a rock large enough to sit on.

“Do you think it looks okay?” He asked, tilting his head this way and that as Junkyard wandered over to investigate what they were doing.

“It’s hard to say,” she reasoned, kneeling before him and gently grasping his bundled wrist. “I’m still not the best with how things heal nowadays. It was so much easier back then,” she sighed, trying to suppress her homesickness for a different time.

“Hey, mom? Can I ask you something?”

“Anything, honey,” she replied, only half listening as she tenderly prodded his tanned skin.

“Did you have any brothers or sisters growing up?” His voice was small as if he was afraid of asking the wrong question. Immediately as if sensing his distress, Junkyard laid her head firmly in the young boy’s lap and Evelyn couldn’t stop the slight smile from crossing her face at the sight.

“No, I was the only one. Your father had two sisters and a brother, but… One of your aunts died before you were born and your uncle died in the war.” It was hard to talk about their family, but Evelyn wanted him to know. The real Shaun never got a chance to meet his extended family, she had been so concerned with his still developing immune system and was afraid to travel long distances with him. There had been plans for family gatherings, but it had seemed like something always came up. “They loved you dearly, though. They couldn’t wait to meet you, neither could your cousins.”

“I wish I wasn’t so alone,” he murmured quietly, blinking away tears at the idea of his long lost potential childhood companions. Evelyn didn’t protest, knowing that she couldn’t be the friend and confident that her son needed in his youth. She was his mother before all else and some things you just didn’t confess to your parents.

“I know,” she whispered as she pressed her forehead against his, reaching up to rub her thumb against his cheek to wipe away the tears. “It isn’t fair.” Her thoughts drifted back to the house they’d left and a chill ran up her spine. All Pickman had had in the world was his mother and with her gone, he had undoubtedly gone down a dark and seemingly endless path. The only way Pickman’s story could end was in tragedy. She didn’t want the same to happen to her son. She couldn’t let the Wasteland do that to her boy. To Nate’s boy.

For a split second, she considered telling her son about her pregnancy, but almost as soon as the thought across her mind, she decided against it. Evelyn didn’t want it. She didn’t even want to acknowledge that it was happening against her will. Had it been before the bombs dropped, she would have quietly made an appointment with her doctor and had it taken care of. Now, she was sure the Wasteland would take care of that for her. Evelyn was positive that it wouldn’t come to term.

“Mom? Are you okay?” Shaun’s voice broke her from her thoughts and she shook her head softly with a smile.

“Sorry, honey, just thinking about how it was before the war.” She stood and offered him a hand up, barely containing the wince at the pressure on her injured arm. Evelyn couldn’t help the silent damnation of Arthur Maxson that rang through her mind and she found that she didn’t really want to stop it. The young man had been behind most of her hardships over the last year.

“I wish we could have stayed home for at least a little bit longer,” Shaun confessed, trailing after her as she walked back to her backpack. “I know the Brotherhood is bad and everything, but it was such a nice place. I miss Preston.”

“I know,” she murmured, only half listening as she did her best to swing her pack back on without biting clean through her bottom lip from the pain. “I’m sorry.”

“Do you think we’ll ever see them again? Preston and Da- everyone else?” She caught his slip up, but she stopped herself from reacting to it, not wanting him to feel even worse about the situation than he already did.

“Anything’s possible, I guess.” Codsworth’s eyestalks were focused on her as she shifted her weight, avoiding eye contact with her son. Evelyn knew that the Mister Handy most likely wanted to comment on it, but she was thankful that he decided against it. She couldn’t handle it right then.

“We should get going, shouldn’t we?” Shaun asked meekly in front of her, looking up at his mother through his dark eyelashes. She forced a soft smile at him and nodded, wincing at the sound of her joints cracking as she shifted her weight in an attempt to make wearing the heavy pack more comfortable. The redheaded woman wasn’t sure if it was from all the injuries she had gotten over the months, because she was getting old, or a combination of the two.

She watched as Shaun stood and swung his own pack on, looking on as he carefully and quickly glanced over the area, making sure they weren’t accidentally leaving behind any much-needed supplies. Evelyn couldn’t help but wonder if her actual son had been such a quick and observant learning. It wouldn’t surprise her if he had been, how else would he have been able to rise up ranks to become the Father of the Institute if he hadn’t been? The Shaun in front of her was learning how to survive in the wasteland much quicker than she had when she first emerged from the vault and she wasn’t sure if she should be proud of him or depressed that he even needed to be a quick learner.

When he was ready, he looked up at her with his eerily pale eyes. If it weren’t for their color, they would have reminded her of his father’s eyes. Evelyn smiled down at her son, reaching out to playfully ruffle his hair. “Okay, ramblers. Let’s get ramblin’.”

As they wandered further from Pickman’s cabin, Evelyn glanced at her Pip-Boy from time to time, making sure they were still on the same path that would take them to the ocean with hopefully as little contact with other humans as possible. The pain in her shoulders felt like a sharp throb that would never go away. Evelyn grit her teeth as she shooed Junkyard dog away from in front of her with her foot, trying her best to not trip over the scrawny dog. That would just be her luck if she somehow managed to trip over the dog while she wasn’t looking and she wasn’t sure she would be able to fall without hurting herself even more.

She needed more Med-X.

Frowning over at Shaun, she debated on if she would be able to get away for long enough without endangering him. Deciding that they would be fine, she muttered a half-hearted excuse about needing to find a tree to pee behind and left her son in the care of Codsworth and their dogs. Evelyn could hear Shaun talking softly to Dogmeat, cooing gently over the dog’s enthusiasm to find whatever treats he could find as they wandered. She bit her lip, trying to ignore the wave of guilt that rushed over her as she allowed her backpack to fall to the ground with a dull thud. It would be a bitch to pick it back up again, but she knew that at least the pain in her joints would be soothed by the cool tingle of Med-X.

There was only one problem.

In the carefully constructed space she had created to keep the precious drugs safe, there was nothing to be found. She was sure she had at least something left in there the last time she had taken a dose. Her heart thundered against her rib cage as she shifted things around in her bag, anxious about the noise she was making, but Evelyn wasn’t able to stop herself. It should be there. “Codsworth?”

“Yes, mum?” He floated around the tree, his eye stalks zooming in on her as he appeared. Evelyn had to clench her hands as tightly as she could at his jovial tone, just knowing that he had something to do with her missing supply.

“I seem to be missing something from my backpack. Do you have any idea what could have happened to it?” The only time she had removed her backpack today, other than when she took her first dosage, was for a brief minute when she didn’t want the weight from distracting her from checking on Shaun’s still injured arm.

“How dreadful. What item would that be? Perhaps if we all look together, it will turn up.” She could have killed that fucking robot. He knew goddamn well what she was looking for.

“Codsworth, it hurts,” she hissed, wishing her glare could bore holes in his metal chassis.

“Mum, it hurt Master Nate, too,” his artificial voice sounded small as if he was afraid to admit this to her. “He was ashamed of it and hid it in the middle of the night while you were asleep. He told me that he didn’t think he was strong enough to ever stop. Do you want the same to happen to you, Miss Evelyn? Do you want your son to see that when you can’t hide it in the night anymore?”

“Fuck you,” was all she could manage to whisper. He was right. She hadn’t had to face the reality of her husband’s addiction when he had been alive and she didn’t want to force that on her son. “I’m sorry, Codsworth. You deserve better than that.”

“It won't be easy,” Codsworth agreed with her unvoiced worries. “I believe in you, though, Miss Evelyn.” The problem was, she wasn’t sure if she believed in herself. Evelyn wasn’t even sure that she had an addiction, but she held her tongue and just nodded stiffly. Through law school and marriage, she had learned long ago that not everything had to be a debate. She would give up the Med-X if only to bring her friend peace of mind.

By the time the sun was setting, Evelyn felt as if the day had taken weeks to get through. She was tired, but that was her constant state of being now. Even when she had been in law school, cramming for the bar exam, she had the time to sit and relax every once in awhile, even if it was just to treat herself to an overly expensive cup of coffee on her way to a lecture. She missed those days. But still, she pressed on, encouraged by the increasingly heavy scent of the ocean in the wind. With every breeze, she felt more alive, even as her muscles protested every movement she made. The ocean wind on her face made Evelyn truly believe that everything was going to be okay. Like the gut feeling that had drawn her to Pickman’s cabin, she knew that she would find some sort of peace on the shores of the Atlantic.

“Mom, I’m tired,” Shaun complained, lagging behind her as his short legs struggled to keep up. She hadn’t even realized that she had been walking faster.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, knowing that she was being cruel to the young boy. She also knew how inherently foolish it would be to camp on the shores for the night. There was no telling what sort of creatures would come for them in the middle of the night. “We’ll find somewhere safe to stop soon, I promise.”

“Mum, would you like me to scout ahead and see if I can find anything?” Codsworth spoke up, pushing himself forwards and closer to her. The heat from his jet warmed her legs, reminding her of how cold the nights were becoming. She hadn’t honestly thought about how winters in Maine used to be when she originally made the plans with Danse, but she had just assumed that the nuclear devastation had ruined the weather patterns. The winter she’d spent in the Commonwealth when she first emerged hadn’t been that bad.

“That would be wonderful,” Evelyn agreed, looking more closely at her son and the bags under his mint eyes. “Shaun and I will follow behind and take our time, but we’ll get there.” Codsworth was off, darting through the trees as if he had been designed the race, rather than tend to a home. “I’m sorry for pushing you so hard, Shaun.”

“It’s okay,” he shrugged, looking away from her. “It’s what we need to do to survive, right?” His words shot a hollow feeling through her heart, chipping more away at the crack that seemed to be in her soul. She was doing this to her own son. Even if it meant their survival, she was pushing his small body to its breaking point, whether or not she meant to.

Without saying anything else to him, she reached out and offering him her hand, silently asking for his forgiveness and trying to lend him her strength. Shaun smiled at her as he grabbed her hand and reached out to pet Junkyard with the other. Looking forwards, Evelyn’s eyes searched for the bright flame of Codsworth’s thruster in the twilight, but couldn’t see it.

Their new pace through the forest was much slower, the slowest they had gone since they started their journey and Evelyn appreciated it. She felt like her skin was beginning to crawl and her stomach felt like it had been empty for days, even though they had just eaten a few hours ago. Shaun’s small hand in her own grounded her, helping her focus on putting one foot in front of the other as they tried to figure out which path Codsworth would have taken as the dogs slowly circled them. The trees began to thin out as they moved further along the path, the hard packed earth eventually and slowly softening into sand. As nice as it might have been in the daylight, in the dim light of the night, it was even more treacherous to try to find good footing, their boots slipping this way and that on the loose ground.

When they caught up to Codsworth after nearly a half hour of slowly wandering through the overgrown pathways, he was waiting for them outside of a small shack, torn nets hanging loosely from the side of the painted building. Despite everything, it looked like it still had a decent roof and like it would be warm inside of it. The lack of an emergency exit worried Evelyn, but she figured between Codsworth, herself, and the dogs, they would be able to keep a good enough watch over the place throughout the night.

With how utterly exhausted they both were, it didn’t take a lot of convincing on Codsworth’s part to try to get Evelyn to take a later shift on watch. She was more than eager to settle down into a makeshift bed of cardboard placed over piles of nets. It wasn’t the best smelling bed she had ever used in her life, but it was definitely not the least comfortable, either. With their sleeping bags under them, it was actually pretty cozy as Shaun snuggled up against her, pressing his face into her bicep and falling asleep within seconds.

Evelyn didn’t know when she had fallen asleep herself, but she woke up with a start sometime later, almost too warm with Junkyard snuggled up over their feet and Dogmeat laying against Shaun’s back, providing the young boy with even more warmth. She itched and she wasn’t sure if it was because of some sort of parasite hidden away in the netting under them. Dimly, she wondered if Nate had ever gone through the discomfort but quickly shook her head, not wanting to think of her long dead husband when she was already still exhausted from everything else.

With her suicide attempt unhelpfully rising up in the back of her mind, Evelyn all but tore herself from the makeshift bed, still careful not to wake her son, but eager to leave the shack. Maybe she would find peace outside by the waves. Codsworth flew towards her the instant he spotted her stumble out of the shack, but she silently waved the butler away, not wanting to speak while her mouth felt like it had been filled with cotton for years. As soon as her eyes found the sight of the waves crashing against the shore in the moonlight, she felt a sense of peace wash over her, just as the water moved against the sand. She had been so tired and focused earlier, that she hadn’t even stopped to look at the ocean.

It was the most beautiful thing she had seen since waking up and she didn’t even try to stop the tears from springing to her eyes. Despite everything that had happened in the world, all of the heartache and destruction, the ocean remained the same, as unphased by the passage of time as it had been for millennia. Planting herself as close to the water as she safely could this late at night, Evelyn dimly wished she’d had the foresight to bring a blanket out with her as the sharp breeze teased at her tangled hair, whipping small flurries of sand against whatever skin was exposed and numbing her fingers.

At some point, Shaun wandered out of the shack, wrapped up in his sleeping bag with hers bundled in his arms and the dogs trailing after him. Moving her arms, she let him settle against her side after wrapping her blanket around her. Dogmeat pressed himself to her side, laying his head in her lap as Shaun followed suit and Junkyard snuggled against him. If she had been a stranger looking in on them, Evelyn was pretty sure that they would look like a Rockwell painting, if remnants of his work even still existed.

The nearly overwhelming stench of brine and salt washed over Evelyn as she sat huddled on the shore, the sound of the waves crashing rhythmically against the shore a small comfort as her mind raced. The first wisps of daylight was beginning to brighten the horizon before her, but she barely noticed it. What options did she really have? There were only a handful of people who knew that she was going to Maine, or even further north, and Danse was one of them. As much as she hated to admit it, she honestly didn’t know if her secret was safe with Preston. When she had confessed to him, she had been certain that he would have been able to carry it to the grave if he had to, but after her final days with Maxson, she wasn’t so sure that Preston’s resolve would hold.

He was a good and loyal person, but he’d been through so much grief in the past few years, he deserved better than having to endure just for her. Evelyn knew that she had asked for too much from her friend and that she would never be able to make it up to him.

But could she trust Danse? Lee Danse was a fiercely loyal man, maybe even more so than Preston was, but was he more loyal to the Brotherhood, despite everything? When he found out, he had been so adamant that she return to the Brotherhood and seek forgiveness. Would he face whatever death was surely waiting for him, just to let Maxson know the ugly truth that she was carrying his child? She had been so ready and willing to throw caution to the wind because of her love for him, but it was glaringly obvious that he didn’t share those thoughts.

Beside her, Shaun snorted in his sleep, almost seeming to agree with her thoughts as he nestled closer to her side, his skin cool from the cold ocean air, despite being wrapped in both of their ratty blankets. It was obvious to her now that Maine and further north wasn’t the right idea. Even if Maxson didn’t lock her away in some cold, damp brigg until she gave birth, he would definitely send Shaun away and she would never see him again. Shaun, Codsworth, and even the dogs lying on either side of the little family would all be casualties of Maxson’s retribution.

With the sun finally making its peak over the edge of the horizon, Evelyn’s thoughts turned to how no matter what, she could at least count on the sun rising and falling with the day. Even after everything that had ever happened on Earth, the sun would always just rise and fall, unconcerned with the life it supported. Like the sun would creep across the face of the planet, Evelyn decided that the only option that she really had was to journey westward. It would be incredibly difficult to maneuver by all the patrols that would surely be looking for any sign of her, but no one in the world would know to look for them in the west. The south wasn’t an option, she knew that Maxson ruled over the Capital Wasteland with an iron grip and she had no real idea how far his reach extended.

She doubted that she could reach Florida, much less Cuba with her family fully intact, and besides that, she honestly could do without ever knowing what radiation did to alligators. Deathclaws were quite enough for her. But there were hundreds, if not thousands of possibilities if she were to head west. She could easily lose herself in the Rocky Mountains, not to mention the Badlands. But if she could at least make it to the East Central of even Midwest Commonwealths, she’d probably be in the clear.

“Codsworth?” Evelyn called out softly, finally looking away from the rising sun to smile at her robot butler. “This ocean view is nice, but how about we go see if the Pacific looks any nicer?”

“Would we be looking for Mum’s parents on the way?” Codsworth sounded hopeful as he floated towards her, angling his eyestalks to focus entirely on her. Evelyn blinked in surprise as she felt a wave of shame wash over her. Her parents had been vacationing at a ski resort in Utah when she bomb had fallen and in all of the excitement of the last few months, she’d barely given any thought to her surely deceased parents. Evelyn knew that Codsworth would probably be optimistic, just as he had been when she told him that Nate had been murdered and Shaun had been taken from them.

Evelyn glanced over at the robot, smiling through the lie she was about to tell him. “We’ll find them, honey.”

Chapter Text

With their backs pressed against the side of a building, Evelyn kept her hand firmly wrapped around her son’s mouth to stifle any sound he might make, keeping her eyes locked on the door and her ears perked for any sign that the Deathclaw they were currently hiding from was coming closer or giving up hope of an easy meal. There had been a time when she would have almost gladly faced down the mutated reptile, but even with the help of Codsworth and two dogs, that wasn't something she was willing to risk. Not with her son so freshly healed and while she was still weak from the infection that had taken root in her shoulder wound.

She was tired from pushing herself on little food or sleep. Evelyn knew it was bad when if it hadn’t been for the dogs low growls and Shaun spotting the fresh Deathclaw tracks in the mud, she likely would have walked straight into the sleeping monster. Even then, it had been up to Codsworth to quickly spot a safe shelter for them as the Deathclaw woke and began to search for food. Even if it hadn’t been able to smell where they were exactly, she knew from experience that it could smell that they were still there on the wind. A part of her began to regret insisting on making sure that Shaun and both of the dogs got plenty of food before she would even begin to think of taking rations for herself, but at the same time, Evelyn couldn’t bring herself to really care.

It had been weeks since she’d made the decision to move her family to the west, but she was frustrated that they still weren’t out from under the iron fist of the Brotherhood of Steel yet. Evelyn knew that she was slowing the group down, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it. Short of hunkering down and hoping that no one discovered them before she gave birth or miscarried, their only option was trying to run as fast as they could.

A sharp snuffling around the flimsy door tore Evelyn from her thoughts, her green eyes shooting over to where Codsworth floated, his arms at the ready. Beside her, she felt both of the dogs press even closer to them, Junkyard nearly on top of Shaun in a desperate effort to keep him safe. The snuffling seemed to grow even louder and the door seemed to vibrate from the force of the Deathclaw’s snout so close to it. She hated how the gun in her hand seemed to shake in tune with the half rotted door, but gripping it tighter only made the shaking worse.

In the distance, a series of shots sounded and in an instant, the door stopped shaking as the commotion drew the giant lizard’s attention away from them. Evelyn looked to Codsworth again, wondering silently if he had noticed anyone near them on his sensors, but knowing better than to ask aloud just yet. The shots continued and Evelyn could hear at least two different types of guns as the ground began to shake with the Deathclaw’s thunderous footsteps as it bolted away from them and towards the firefight.

It wasn’t until Shaun softly reached up and lightly tapped her wrist that Evelyn remembered to remove her hand from her son’s mouth. Muttering a quick apology, she turned her attention back to their faithful robotic friend. “Codsworth, what the hell just happened?”

“It appears that we found a bit of luck,” he offered, lowering his arms as he floated towards a boarded over window, checking to make sure that they really were safe. “I hadn’t seen anything on my sensors,” he offered, answering her unvoiced question. “Perhaps I am overdue for a recalibration.”

“We'll find someone who can do it soon, I promise,” Evelyn signed, leaning heavily against the wall she had just been flattened to and pressed a hand against her swelling stomach. What a time to be lousy with electronics.

“Mom, I think I can do it,” Shaun offered, speaking up with a tone more confident than she had ever heard him before.

“Why, I think that's an excellent idea, Master Shaun!” Codsworth excitedly praised as Evelyn slowly slid down to the floor. Next to her, Dogmeat took notice of her discomfort and pressed his cold muzzle against the side of her face. Codsworth kept one of his eyestalks locked on her as he spoke to her son, keeping the young boy's attention away from his sickly mother as she struggled to find the strength to stand again.

Evelyn knew that they needed to get a move on, especially since they now knew that violently inclined people were nearby if they somehow survived their encounter with the Deathclaw. The problem was that she just couldn't find the strength to even speak up. Deciding to make the most of her time on the floor, she scratched Dogmeat behind the ears and checked where exactly they were on her Pip-Boy.

Williamsport. Evelyn would have to readjust their course more northbound if she wanted to completely avoid the pit she was sure became of Washington, DC. Neither she nor Codsworth had been able to figure out a way to safely skirt around the Capital Wastelands without risking too much discovery by The Brotherhood of Steel. And the Pocono Mountains had been bad enough, so she would ideally like to try to avoid as much of the rest of Appalachia as possible. Evelyn didn’t even want to imagine what crossing the Rocky Mountains was going to be like.

The shots in the distance seemed to burst with activity, a sure sign that the Deathclaw had reached whoever had been firing at each other before silence settled over the area again. If she was a lucky sort of woman, Evelyn would bother to hope that they had taken each other out, but seeing as how she hadn’t caught a break in decades, it was the motivation she needed to force herself up.

“Shaun, we'll have to help Codsworth later. We gotta go, honey,” even as she spoke, Evelyn regretted it. She knew how much Shaun loved to tinker with things, no matter how much it scared her, and she wished she could give him more time to experiment and make new things for himself. All she could think of when she saw him examining a rusty fan was that his interest in electronics might somehow, some way give him away as being a Synth. Thinking back on it, nearly all of the Synths she had ever met enjoyed tinkering with things.

Peeking out from around the edges of the door as best as she could, Evelyn waited for what felt like hours as her eyes scanned for any movement. Seeing nothing so much as blow in the gentle breeze, she cautiously lead her family out of the building, wincing slightly as the dogs barrelled by her and joyfully trotted around the street, each of them sniffing at various piles of trash. “Mom, if Dogmeat and Junkyard seem fine, I think it’s safe for the rest of us,” Shaun spoke up, trailing behind her next to Codsworth. As much as she wanted to scold him for making assumptions, especially when their safety was on the line, Evelyn bit her tongue and just smiled tightly at him.

Even if the dogs’ noses couldn’t detect something right away or if Codsworth’s sensors malfunctioned, she was still determined to let Shaun be a kid for as long as she could manage.

“You’re right, honey,” she forced herself to relax her smile as she spoke with the young boy. “We have to get going, though, in case it doesn’t stay that way for much longer.” Shaun paused, looking up at her with a look that reminded her so much of Nate, before smiling slightly and agreeing with her. He rubbed at his recently cast-free arm, a newly developed habit of his, and smiled even brighter.

As they walked side by side, Shaun reached up to entwine his hand in hers, gently swinging their arms back and forth as he hummed some sort of melody Evelyn couldn’t quite make out. Dogmeat ran ahead of them as he always did, sniffing at random piles of debris as he went along, snapping his jaws at flies as they flew too close to his muzzle. And just as Dogmeat always ran ahead, Junkyard stayed close to Shaun’s side, occasionally brushing up against the boy as she walked, looking for ear scratches or just to remind him that she was still there. The sounds of Codsworth’s jets comforted Evelyn as he brought up the rear of their little family, almost uncharacteristically quiet.

Risking a glance back at the robot behind her, Evelyn took her eyes off of the ruins surrounding them, but Codsworth seemed fine, albeit focused on the path behind them. She decided against saying anything to her friend, instead promising herself that she would try to take a look at his sensors when they made camp for the night or at least letting Shaun get the chance to look over them. She shook her head to clear it as soon as the reminder that her son was actually a robot himself snuck up from the back of her mind. Thinking like that wouldn’t do her any good, it would just make her feel worse about everything.

Checking her Pip-Boy as soon as they were safely away from the ruins, Evelyn chewed on her lip as she considered their options. Staring at the glowing screen, she blinked as hard as she could, trying to force herself to focus. They needed supplies. That’s what had drawn them into the Deathclaw’s territory in the first place, like a siren’s call of safety. Williamsport was still highlighted on the map, but she couldn’t bring herself to focus enough to plan out the path they’d need to take. Her head pounded and she felt like she was going to be sick if she’d had anything to throw up in the first place. She had gotten awful migraines while pregnant with Shaun, but so far, she had either managed to avoid them or not notice them with the help of Med-X.

“Mum? Is there something the matter?” The heat from Codsworth’s jet brushed up against her legs, warming them in the cold November air and reminding her that she needed to find better supplies to be able to survive the New England winter with a ten-year-old.

“It’s just a headache, honey,” she forced herself to open her eyes and smile at her friend’s concern as she spoke. From the way that all three of his eyestalks were focused on her, she knew that she must look awful. “Remember when I got them before the bombs fell?” Evelyn knew that Codsworth would know what she was talking about without her having to say it in front of Shaun. The gentle robot had spent much of his initial time with the Ellis family nursing her through the worst of her side effects.

“Perhaps we should make a stop before we go to our destination?” He suggested gently, swinging one of the eye stalks over to look at where Shaun was quietly crouched in the tall grass with Junkyard. “I think we could all use some good rest after that scare we all had! I certainly wouldn’t object to looking through a market for more supplies sooner rather than later.”

“What do you think, Shaun? Should we look for a hotel somewhere?” Evelyn asked her son, wanting to let the boy feel included on the group’s decision-making process. She had always regretted not feeling included as a child whenever her parents had made important decisions for the McManus family, such as moving school districts midway through the year just because her mother hadn’t liked what their neighbors had done with their topiary. Had her mother ever regretted making her seemingly rash decisions? Evelyn supposed it didn’t matter what the long dead woman had thought, even if it hurt to think about.

“Are you sure, Mom? Wouldn’t that put us at risk?” Shaun was reasonable and quiet with his questions, his small fingers busy lacing themselves through Junkyard’s coarse fur as he avoided looking up at his mother. So much for giving the young boy as much of a childhood as she could manage, if he was asking questions like that when offered up the chance at a soft bed and warm food they didn’t have to scavenge for.

“Baby, it’s okay. We don’t have to be hunted like animals all the time. Besides, you need a chance to find yourself a toy. It’s been a bit, but I can’t not buy my only son a birthday gift, can I? Codsworth, what kind of mother would I be if I did that?”

“Why, I imagine that there’s at least something young Mister Ellis would like for his birthday.” Shaun looked up at them with a frown marring his soft face, but he didn’t object as he thought their words over. Finally, he nodded and pushed himself off of the ground to wander over to Evelyn and look up at the map on her Pip-Boy.

“I guess I could think of something I want, then.” Letting Shaun help, Evelyn found the best route to what looked like a promising potential trading hub. Even just a settlement with a small general store and as little as four families would be enough for them if everything went perfectly. Which it rarely did.

The small family began their journey once more, with Evelyn allowing Shaun to check her Pip-Boy whenever he wanted to and smiled at him when he zoomed in and out of the little map, full of wonder at the world around them. The mother in her wished that Shaun had been able to go to school or get some sort of education before the bombs dropped. She just knew he would have loved all sorts of subjects she wasn’t sure the Institute ever offered the original Shaun. She tried not to focus on how her heart ached in her chest as they finally stumbled upon the old road they were looking for.

As they walked along the road, it became more and more congested, letting the family know that they were definitely going in the right direction to reach a settlement. The old road leading up to the town actually seemed like it was in good condition, or at least in much better shape than half of the roads Evelyn had wandered over in the time since she woke up. Shaun squeezed her hand and for a second, she thought it was from excitement.

But then she saw what he had spotted.

With how crowded the road was, Evelyn should have known better. She should have been more cautious.

A few hundred feet ahead of them, Evelyn finally managed to spot the battered orange of a Brotherhood of Steel flag. It was draped over a waist high barricade as the various traders and travelers were herded to a chokehold point as the members of the order examined each and every person attempting to enter the town. It was impossible to try to lie to herself about exactly why the barricade was there. She had known full well that they would be traveling through at least some Brotherhood territory on their way westwards, but she didn’t think it would happen like this. She had fooled herself into believing that they would be perfectly fine with just hiding as Brotherhood patrols passed them by in the deadened forests.

If they left the line now, then the only thing that they would accomplish was drawing attention to themselves. “Shaun, Codsworth, I need both of you to just follow my lead when the time comes, okay?” She hoped that they would be able to hear her soft murmur, but the chance of someone overhearing them was just not one she could afford to take. Not with everything else on the line.

With every step they took towards the front of the line, Evelyn could have sworn that her heart beat twice as fast as it had been just moments ago. She hadn’t even been this worried while fighting with Deacon, battling with the bald man for her life and hating him for not understanding her circumstances. By the time they actually checked the Brotherhood checkpoint and Evelyn could see every freckle and scar on the face of the woman before her, she hoped that she’d managed to calm herself down enough to not have sweat running down her forehead, despite the coldness of the day.

The Knight before Evelyn looked critically at her, a sharp frown marring her scarred lips as her dark eyes roved over her face. A deep ache washed over her stomach as what little food she had allowed herself threatened to come back up. “You look familiar,” the Knight started, slowly lowering their hand to the laser pistol strapped to her thigh.

“Just one of those faces, you know? I swear I walked by someone who looked like me just this morning. It was scary, what with all that Institute stuff,” Evelyn rambled quickly, glancing around as if she was terrified of just having to name the Institute out loud. “Swear I’d of killed her if she didn't have brown eyes instead.”

Before the Knight could comment one way or another, there was a panicked shout from somewhere behind them. Immediately, Evelyn’s eyes locked on Codsworth, trying to silently communicate with the robotic butler without having to turn around and see for herself. “Oh, hell, just get through. If I hear you cause any trouble, I'll kill you myself,” the Knight snarled, grabbing Shaun by the shoulder and her pistol at the same time. She brought up the weapon right as she shoved the boy into the city limits, too busy barking orders at those around her to pay any more mind to the Synth she had just had in her hands.

Not needing to be told a second time, Evelyn wrapped her arms around the boy and heaved him up, barely even registering his weight in her mind as she bolted forward, the dogs and Codsworth all on her heels as she took full advantage of the distraction. She had to lose herself in the city, just in case the guards gave them a second thought and came looking for their ragtag bunch. While there was clear room near enough to the entrance to the city, it didn’t take long for them to be stuck in a crowd with annoyed looks thrown their way as Evelyn shouldered through. A part of her had expected there to have been at least some sort of panic, what with the commotion at the gate, but hardly anyone around them seemed phased.

Just like in Diamond City, the market was an overload of sights, sounds, and even smells as various vendors hawked their goods and criers called out this or that. “Shaun, if you get lost, go to the front gate. Immediately,” she instructed, her eyes locked on all the sights before them. Not even Diamond City had been this densely populated and active. It reminded her of New York City or even San Francisco, but on a much smaller scale. By the looks of it, she could guess that there were shops open at all hours of the day and at least two different bars per section of the city. “And keep Junkyard with you at all times.”

“Yes, Mom,” Shaun obeyed, his slim fingers wrapping around the leather band he had found to act as the mutt’s collar.

“Codsworth, you too, honey. Stay with Shaun, but if you lose him, go to the front gate and wait, okay?” She glanced at the robot and forced another smile, her veins itching. She knew she could find more Med-X in a heartbeat if she really wanted to.

They walked by children on every street corner with bruises on most of their faces and each of them yelling at the top of their little lungs each trying to make their prospective employer sound like the best place to shop in town. There was a time in her life when she would have stopped and asked the children about the people who were beating them, but now she only glanced at them before ushering her own son forward. Evelyn knew that it could have been anyone from their parents to their employers or even another child, squabbling for the best spot to yell from. Shaun eyed the other children curiously, but they largely ignored him in favor of trying to get Evelyn’s full attention. They knew how unlikely it was that he would buy anything from their stores, so why waste the effort on him?

Exploring the city seemed to bring a new life into her son and Evelyn loved it. She desperately wished that they could always live in a city as bustling as this one seemed to be, but with The Brotherhood roaming the streets, it was just too dangerous to linger more than a night or two. Hell, even walking around the dying light of the day was dangerous enough for her nerves. Codsworth’s as well if the way his eye stalks jerked this way and that way were any indication.

In the first loop they had made of what seemed to be the city center, Evelyn had spotted at least four different possible hotels, quietly pointing them out to Codsworth for his opinion without any possible crier for the establishment overhearing her and trying to sway them into patronizing. “What do you think, Codsworth? Think we’ve seen everything there is to offer or should we make another loop?”

“I believe I’d like to take another look around, if I say so myself. How about you, Master Shaun?” Codsworth adjusted one of his eye stalks to be on level with the young boy, focusing in on his tired and dirty face.

“I don’t even know what you guys are looking for,” he complained, looking away from Codsworth and staring at a meat vendor on the corner with longing. “Can we just find someplace to eat already?”

“I think we should go for the one towards the back,” Evelyn offered, reaching over to squeeze her son’s shoulders and knowing that Codsworth would understand what she was telling him. There had been a noticeable lack of Brotherhood presence the further back into the city they wandered. “I could use the peace and quiet.”

“I think you’re quite right on that. And they had a good and affordable looking store right by it!” Evelyn knew he was talking about the Staggering Stallion, a relatively sleek looking building that seemed in better repair than those around it. Either it was run by secret cannibals who cared way too much about appearances or it was a genuinely nice place with a strong enough customer base where they could afford the upkeep. Shaun looked up at her with an annoyed eyebrow raised and a frown pressing on his lips, but she only smiled down at him, gently poking him on the nose as she agreed with Codsworth.

They would explain what they were really discussing when they were in the privacy and safety of their own room if the Staggering Stallion had any available for rent. The second walk around the city, the criers seemed to recognize them and spent even less effort trying to get them to visit this place or that. If they had really been interested, then they would have gone during their first trip around the city.

By the time they had actually managed to get back to the Staggering Stallion, the sun was just beginning to set in the cold November sky. Evelyn really hoped that they had a room for them because her joints hadn’t hurt this badly since… Well, since yesterday when she really thought about it. Entering through the sturdy, wooden entrance, Evelyn was actually impressed that the lobby was clean and surprisingly absent of any bums loitering around in the comfortable looking chairs.

“Welcome, strangers,” the smiling man behind the desk called out as soon as they were near enough. He wore thin, golden glasses that balanced perfectly on his button nose and his bright, white teeth flashed at them behind umber lips. “Are you interesting in renting a room tonight?”

“Yes, please,” Evelyn sighed with a smile of her own. “This place seemed like the best in the neighborhood and well, we’re used to the best.” The man chuckled at her playful wink and handed her a crisp note card, letting her know of the costs of the various rooms and the amenities that they offered based on how long a guest would be staying. Evelyn quickly selected the room that promised two beds and a small cooking space and gladly paid the man behind the counter.

With instructions on how to get to their room, Evelyn lead their ragtag group through the clean halls, impressed that the man hadn’t seemed too upset at the sight of the dogs with how clean the place looked. Unlocking the door and actually sinking into a comfortable bed had been a bigger pleasure than she was expecting it to be, smiling as she watched Shaun do the same to the bed beside hers. Codsworth waited patiently for the dogs to enter the room and shut the door behind them, quietly scolding the canines for bringing dirt in with them. Without needing to be asked, he floated over towards the small kitchen area and sighed loudly at the sight of the small hot plate instead of a full stove like he claimed he had been hoping for.

Shaun shot up off of his bed to help Codsworth with their dinner, begging the flying robot to be able to try to help him with his sensors after they had eaten. Evelyn noticed that while Codsworth praised the wonderful idea, he never actually agreed to the boy’s bargains.

Her shoulder ached and Evelyn couldn’t help but glance towards where Codsworth was tending to their food, cooking as best as he could for their small family on a hot plate. She yearned for some Med-X to ease the seemingly never ending pain. Evelyn knew that it had been a long time since the wounds were more than just half healed scabs, but the bone deep ache seemed to not want to ever ease. That small voice in the back of her mind promised that just a little dose of Med-X would chase the aches away, but she shook her head violently, knowing that she had long since used up the last of Nate’s Med-X and Codsworth had gotten rid of the rest. It had done its job and she didn’t need it anymore, no matter how much her shoulders still seemed to hurt.

“Codsworth, can you watch Shaun? I’m going to go out and see what kind of information and supplies I can get for us.” Immediately, her son and Codsworth both looked over at her, a dismayed expression on Shaun’s face as Codsworth didn’t say anything for a long pause.

“Mom,” he started to protest, pushing himself off of the dirty floor where he’d been tinkering with an old telescope he had found in one of the drawers. Evelyn hadn’t had the heart to tell him to leave it alone and that it might be stealing, even if they were renting the hotel room fair and square.

“Shaun, sweetheart. How am I supposed to get a birthday surprise for you if you come with me?” Evelyn knew she should feel guilty for the condescending frown she gave her son, and on some level she did, but right then, she just needed to get away and be by herself for a little bit. It had been months since she had last been alone and she missed it.

She locked the hotel room door behind her as she left, taking a moment to press her burning forehead against the cool wood before sighing and standing up straight again. Evelyn felt like she was shrinking from the constant weight of their backpacks, but she knew from her year of exploring that traveling with a pack brahmin was just asking for trouble and all sorts of other unwanted attention. As she walked through the lobby again, the man behind the counter exchanged polite nods with her and Evelyn was off, grimacing at the bitter night air as it rushed at her face the moment she opened the door.

She had to find some sort of bar. Evelyn knew that she would be able to find some sort of dealer if she found a bar. It didn’t even have to be a nice bar. Evelyn was relieved that the streets were planned out and straightforward in their design as the city was a tenfold easier to navigate than Diamond City ever had been, no matter how many times she’d visited the settlement. Remembering the path to take to a bar she’d seen had been no effort at all and she was quietly ecstatic to see someone leaned up against the side of it, looking up as she approached.

“Hey lady, you interested in a little ride tonight?”

“I don’t know, what kind of ride do you have?” She made a point to carefully look over his selection, pretending like she knew perfectly well what she was looking for and as if she knew a good product when she saw one before Evelyn finally traded a few caps for a small hit of Med-X. She knew she was breaking several promises, but Codsworth surely wouldn’t notice if she only took a little bit, right?

Within moments, Evelyn had a whiskey sitting in front of her and the Med-X swimming happily through her veins, warming and comfort like an old quilt at a grandmother’s house. “Buy you a drink?” Evelyn looked over at the voice and kept looking up in order to look into the tall man’s eyes. He was taller than Nate and Maxson, but shorter than Danse with corn silk blond hair contrasting with a dark beard. In the dim lighting of the bar, Evelyn couldn't make out his eye color, but she found that she didn't really care.

“Awfully friendly, there. You sure you want to buy a strange woman a drink?” As she spoke, the man grinned and sat himself down in the seat next to her, bringing himself down to her level. Evelyn could see faded tattoos on his neck and on one of his ears, but she had no idea what they were supposed to be. She had a feeling that neither did he. An ex-raider, maybe.

“I'm touched that you're worried for me, but I've got a feeling I have nothing to be afraid of from a sweet thing like you.” He spoke directly to her chest, but she grinned anyway. For a moment, if she ignored the shabbiness of the bar around her, she was sure that she could pretend she was back in college and that nothing bad had ever crossed her path. “I'm Wedge Hockstetter. How ‘bout you, strange woman?”

“Ripley. Van Winkle.” The man in front of her didn't even blink at her reference, but Evelyn didn't want to give anyone their real names until they were safely in the Midwest, at the very least. Fuck it, Codsworth would have thought she was funny.

“Well, hello, Ripley. Buy you a drink?” Evelyn considered him for a moment, knowing full well that the man before her was offering much more than a drink, but what was the worst that could happen? It wasn’t like he could knock her up when she was already pregnant and Evelyn was confident that she would be able to take him in a fight, even given her current inebriated state if he decided to try to rob or murder her.

“Sure, I’d love one.” The bartender had been signaled before she even knew it and Evelyn found herself taking a sharp of something the burned from the moment it touched her lips to the instant it met her stomach. With Wedge’s encouragement, Evelyn allowed herself to be talked into taking a few more shots, the liquor just as rough going down as the first one had been. She didn’t care. Evelyn hated doing shots. They were never her thing, but all she could think about was her father joking with his friends about having something called a ‘spring loaded elbow’. She missed her father, her parents, the life that was stolen from her.

“What brings you to this city, Wedge?” Evelyn found herself asking, despite not really caring what the man’s answer was. Anything to get her hazy mind off of her long gone family.

“Well, I was born here, for starters,” the blond man grinned, arching a dark eyebrow at her. “I left to go experience the best the wasteland had to offer and eventually found my way back home. Nothing too exciting about me. How ‘bout you?”

“Boston,” she shrugged as if it explained everything. From the look on his face, he sobered up a little, no doubt thinking of the horrors inflicted even this far away from The Institute.

“Shit, I’m sorry, sugar. Here, what’s your poison tonight?”

“My poison?”

“Yeah. I saw your pupils walkin’ up tonight. What’re you having aside from the booze? Let me treat you real nice tonight.” She knew better. She had definitely known better since she was a little girl, being warned about the dangers inherent with strangers by her overly concerned parents. Back then, it hadn’t seemed like it would ever be that big of a deal, not with the constant thread of Communism and the destruction of the American Way of Life hanging over everyone’s heads.

“Med-X.” She was such an idiot, the back of her mind was quick to remind her. This was exactly how most of her problems over the past year had started. She had been looking for a way to avoid feeling, if only for just a few blissful moments and that was what lead to her wandering back into Arthur Maxson’s bed on her own free will. Look at how that had ended up for her, the voice sounded up, even as she smiled and accepted the needled Wedge slid to her under the bar.

“You’re my kinda girl, Ripley. Damn. You can hold your liquor and we got the same taste in rides.” Wedge seemed like the sort of guy who liked to hear himself speak, but Evelyn didn’t have a problem with it. She liked how deep his voice was and she liked the warmth that seemed to spill off of him, even from a barstool over.

“You’re my kinda guy, Wedge. Big and dumb.” Evelyn glanced around the bar, making a mental note of the few people who were even vaguely looking in their direction before quickly uncapping the hypodermic needle and gently stabbing herself in the stomach with it. The hit she had taken before hadn’t nearly been this strong, hadn’t nearly felt this good. Evelyn moaned, leaning over to softly rest her head against Wedge’s shoulder, wishing that the feeling of floating would never go away.

Wedge continued to speak to her, his soft murmurs drifting into one ear and out the other as Evelyn sighed, imagining she was sailing on a boat down the Hudson River with her father, just as she had as a little girl. “Hey, sugar,” he seemed to whisper, pressing a husky kiss against her ear. “What’s say we go on out back and have some alone time, just you and me?”

She had known exactly what she was getting herself into when she allowed Wedge to sit down next to her. Evelyn pulled away from the blond and smiled, her head feeling more clear than it had minutes ago. How long had she been laying against the strange man? She lost track of time and couldn’t even hope to get her bleary eyes to focus on the neon glow of her Pip-Boy. “Lead the way, big guy.”

Without needing to be told twice, Wedge grinned like a wolf as he coaxed her from her chair, quickly settling the tab with the bartender and leading her out of a back door she hadn’t noticed when she first entered the bar. How lazy of her. Evelyn was going to get herself killed, one of these days. With his large hand on her thin wrist, Evelyn wished that it was Nate leading her out of the bar, wishing that it was Danse pressing his chapped lips against hers, slipping his tongue into her warm mouth.

Evelyn let Wedge back her up against the cold, steel wall and moaned loudly at the feeling of his firm chest pressing against her sensitive breasts. His rough hands jerked at her belts, frantically trying to push her pants to the ground as if she were a source of water and he was drowning in the desert somewhere. With her own hands, she attacked his own belt just as furiously, imagining that she was someone else enjoying a night out with a strange man. That she was as lighthearted and free as a bird. His rough fingers pushing up inside of her to the knuckle ripped a scream from her throat, babbling gibberish that she didn’t even pay attention to as she wrapped her slim fingers around his cock and jerked him shakily.

Before she knew it, the collar of her shirt was ripped downwards, the worn fabric tearing easily under the ex-raider’s hands. Evelyn tried not to think about how much practice he must have had as he shoved the cups of her filthy bra over her aching nipples and clasped his mouth over them. She squeezed his cock with a squeal as he sucked viciously at her breasts, almost as if he wanted to bite her nipples off.

“You gonna do more than paw at my cock?” Wedge sneered against her neck as he bit his way up her body, his cock leaking in her hand. There was a time when Evelyn would have found a sense of power in bringing a man to his knees with just her mouth, but she didn’t want that. She didn’t think she’d want that for a long, long time if she ever did again. There were too many dark memories to enjoy it anymore.

“Dunno, I’m still waiting for you to do something other than stick your finger in me a little bit.” The tall man snarled at her, all but ripping his hand from the juncture between her thighs as he lifted her up, her back scraping painfully against the rusted wall and making her grateful that they hadn’t fully undressed. Evelyn had a feeling that tetanus shots were probably lacking, even at the best hospitals in the area. His cockhead teased against her slit, coaxing her from her own wandering thoughts as he used his penis to toy with her clit. “You gonna tease all night?”

“Keep talkin’ like that, and this’ll go up your ass instead, gorgeous.” As he spoke, Wedge slowly slid himself into Evelyn’s snatch, not stopping until they were pressed flush against each other. “Damn, woman, you feel as good as some vault-bitch.”

“I’ve had better,” Evelyn laughed, leaning forward to nip at his neck and biting at his lips as he growled at her. She hadn’t had laughed this much during sex since that day in the park with Nate all those years ago. The day they had conceived Shaun.

“Hey, so long as I’m not the worst, sugar.” Wedge jerked roughly in her, the visceral sound of their coupling echoing in the dingy alleyway seeming even louder to Evelyn’s booze and drug soaked mind. Hancock would have been so proud of her if the ghoul could just see her now. Well, if he could ever forgive her for betraying the Railroad and abandoning the Commonwealth.

“Keep talking and you’ll go down on the list, I’m sure.” Even though she had meant it as a joke, Wedge did not seem to take the banter as well as he had just moments ago as his face darkened like a storm. Evelyn yelped when he pulled out sharply, smacking her ass before setting her booted feet on the ground.

“Goddamn, Ripley,” Wedge groaned as he caressed her breasts again, tugging at her nipples and licking up the column of her throat. Ripley? Oh, right. She would have to remember to tell Codsworth about that one. She felt light headed and smiled at Wedge, reaching up to wrap her arms around his neck to better support herself, but the blond man wrapped his large hands around her wrists and twisted her so that she was facing the wall of the alleyway instead. “You really are one fine piece of ass. How ‘bout I shove my thumb up there while I fuck you? Would you like that, sugar?”

Evelyn felt her heart seize in her chest as the man behind her flipped her, pulling her hips into an uncomfortable bend as he roughly adjusted her body, but her head was too cloudy from the cocktail of Med-X and liquor she has dosed herself with. No. No no no no She tried to push herself up off of the wall, fighting him more than she had fought Maxson, but her limbs didn't seem to want to agree with her.

The man behind her moaned as his member slipped back inside of her, but Evelyn wasn't having fun anymore. Wedge’s hips slammed against her, pushing himself deeper than he had managed before, but all Evelyn could picture was the look on Preston’s face as he witnessed her debasement at Maxson’s hands. Even when the ex-raider’s hand snaked down to toy at her clit, Evelyn just couldn’t get her mind back in the mood, despite how eagerly her body responded to the thick man’s ministrations. She hated the way that her head swam with memories and desperately wished that her nails were digging into the metal wall from pleasure instead of fear.

As sweat poured from her hands, Evelyn’s hand slipped and caught on a broken, jagged bolt pushing through the metal. The sharp pain of the cut grounded her from her thoughts, ripping her from the painful memories. Gasping at the smear of blood left behind and the throbbing ache, Evelyn snapped herself up, managing to connect the back of her skull to Wedge’s chin.

“What the fuck,” Wedge yelped, releasing her hips and quickly covering his now bleeding chin with both hands. Evelyn pushed away from the taller man, frantically trying to pull her pants back up around her waist and grimaces in the blossoming tenderness at the back of her own head. “You crazy bitch, I could have bitten my tongue off!”

“Shut the fuck up.” She ignored half of her belts, only reaching down to make sure that she still had her gun strapped to her thigh before fleeing from the alley way, stumbling into boxes as she tried to shake her head clear. Evelyn was pretty sure she had given herself a concussion in her efforts to get away from Wedge, but she didn’t care. She just needed to get back to safety in the hotel room with her family. She should never have left them.

Evelyn was slowly making her way back towards where her Pip-Boy helpfully reminded her of where her hotel room was, sticking to the shadows of the brightly light town as best as she could to try to nurse her wounded heart. Codsworth would know what had happened by just looking at her and even if he didn’t vocalize anything, Evelyn just couldn’t take the robotic butler’s judgment. Not right now. Not after what she had allowed to happen to herself.

“Evelyn, we need to talk.”

Chapter Text

“Lee Danse, get the hell away from me,” Evelyn sobbed, collapsing against a crate next to her. She couldn’t deal with him reappearing in her life again and a large part of her wished that he was just a hallucination brought on by the combination of Med-X and alcohol coursing through her veins.

“Evelyn, we need to talk,” the darkly haired man repeated himself, taking a slow step towards her as if he was approaching a wounded deer.

“Fuck you, you don’t deserve to talk to me. You don’t deserve to come back, not after you abandoned us. Abandoned me after everything I did for you. For us.” She wasn’t sure if he could make out the exact words she was yelling at him between her shuddering sobs, but right then and there, Evelyn McManus did not give a single fuck. “You don’t get to do this.”

“What happened to your hand?” He asked carefully, taking a cautious step before crouching down next to her.

“It got cut.”

“Oh, is that it? I was worried that I didn’t know what happened for a second there.” She didn’t rise to his bait, no matter how badly she wanted to. Evelyn wanted to hurt him as badly as she had been hurting for entirely too long. She didn’t want to love him anymore, to cry herself to sleep when she was sure that Shaun was asleep, to raise a family on her own with memories of him haunting the back of her mind. Evelyn wished she was dead. “Can we go somewhere to talk? In private?”

“Why did you leave?”

“Evelyn, please.”

“Fuck you, Lee. What in the hell makes you think I want to go anywhere private with you?” She asked, only dimly aware of the various faces turned towards them in the night. Evelyn knew that for every face she spotted, she was positive that there were at least two others watching that she couldn’t see. Just like alligators. What happened to alligators? She hoped they’d died off and not been changed horribly with the radiation like so many other creatures had.

“Evelyn, this is a Brotherhood city,” Lee leaned in close to her, the words soft hisses in her ears. He knew probably better than she could imagine how things would go if a Brotherhood patrol was summoned to checkout their disturbance. While the overhanging threat of being fired and charges filed against them might have once made a police officer hesitate from shooting an unarmed civilian, Evelyn knew that there was nothing holding anyone back nowadays.

Jerking her head to the side, Danse wordlessly followed her as she acted as if she knew the layout of the city she had realistically just arrived in. She knew where the motel Shaun, Codsworth, and the dogs were currently held at. All she had to do was find some other motel, rent it for an hour, and verbally rip Danse’s head off. Evelyn would rather not have to pay for it, but she knew Danse still wasn’t in the habit of carrying caps around after his service as a Paladin for years. It had always been someone else’s problem as far as he was concerned.

“I have a room if you’re looking for a place,” Lee offered from behind her and Evelyn could almost hear how badly he wanted to reach out to place a large, supposedly comforting hand on her shoulder. With the mood she was in, she could almost bet that he knew better than to try and touch her. But he had what she needed in more ways than one and Evelyn knew, deep in the cloudiness of her mind, that she needed all of the help that she could get.

“Lead the way, Danse,” she quietly confirmed, clenching her hands in the soft leather of her jacket. Soon, it would be warm enough or even large enough to cover her in the winter months and she knew it was yet another thing she needed to find a solution for. As much as she loved her family, Evelyn knew that she needed another adult to be able to rely on. Codsworth and the dogs were great, but they were incapable of as just much as they were capable of. She hated the thought of forgiving him, but Evelyn knew with every step she took behind him that she ultimately would for her own sake of survival. The world was too unforgiving to be any sort of lone wanderer.

The walk to Danse’s rented room was tense with Evelyn’s paranoid mind absolutely convinced that Arthur Maxson himself was lurking around every corner. Naturally, he wasn’t. They only saw one Brotherhood patrol on the entire walk back and even then they didn’t seem to pay them any attention. To his credit, Danse didn’t look back at her to see if she was still following him once in the entire walk. Evelyn wasn’t surprised when she saw that the rundown motel he had chosen was near enough to the one she’d selected for her family. The clerk behind the desk eyed them curiously, leaning forward to get a better look at her and seeming to blanch at the sight of her bloody hand.

Evelyn tried to ignore the man as she followed closely behind Danse, keeping her eyes locked on the dark hairs covering his head. She tried not to remember all those nights she wished he would just notice her like that, would want her the same way she wanted him. It had all been so easy before they found out what he really was. Before Maxson knew exactly how to get what he wanted from her. Before she had to kill her son. Evelyn blinked away the tears that threatened as she waited for Lee to unlock his door, biting her lip and trying to clear her mind from the drugs that still lingered. He looked at her when he pushed the door open, his dark eyes wide and hopeful as he gestured for her to go first.

“So, what did you want to say?” Evelyn asked the moment the door was closed behind them. She tried not to even glance around the room, telling herself that she didn’t care about how he had been living since he abandoned them. “Hurry up and tell me so I can go back to my family.”

“You know what really hurts me, Evie?” Lee asked with a sigh as he paced the small room.

Don't you ever fucking call me that,” she snarled, feeling her teeth grind in a blind rage. Memories of Maxson’s cruel touch and unspoken threats flooded her mind and Evelyn felt herself struggling to resist the nausea that churned in her gut.

“See, that's exactly it,” Danse snapped, rubbing his hands over his face. “You were hurt. Maxson did something and you won't tell me what, so I can only assume the worst. But you don't seem to care that it happened. That it happens every day to countless people. You're not the only one hurting Evelyn. You just don't want to see it.”

“Is that it, Lee? You assume to know what it was like for all those months you hid away from everything? What it was like to see some of the closest friends turn away from me? You think you know what it was like to have to live with the fact that I didn’t always hate it?” Evelyn just barely stopped herself from spouting her anger over having to murder her own son. She couldn’t ever let Danse know that the son she traveled with now wasn’t the original Shaun. She could see the hulking figure across the room from her seemingly deflate and it brought her a twisted sense of satisfaction. In her raw, wounded state, it didn’t make it feel any better but it helped to see that she wasn’t the only one hurting. “You ran away the second things got difficult and I’m supposed to trust that you have the best intentions now that you’ve decided to appear again?”

“Evelyn, I thought it was the right thing to do and I will gladly spend my entire life trying to make it up for you. I thought that…”

“What? What did you think, Lee?” Falling in love with him had been a mistake. She should have just kept her head down and focused on finding her son. If she hadn’t trusted the Brotherhood, none of the last year would have happened the way it had.

“I thought it would make your decision easier. I thought it would be better if you went back to the most powerful man this side of the world and I was an idiot. I didn’t want to see what had happened.” In her addled mind, things suddenly made sense to her. The gunshots in the distance, the feeling of eyes trained on them late at night after Shaun had already fallen asleep, the distraction at the gates.

“You followed us.”

“Yes.”

“I want you to leave, Danse. You weren’t there for me when I needed you and you left me when I needed you even more. I can’t trust you, I can’t even count on you to keep watch without leaving again. I don’t give a shit where you go, as long as it’s far away from me.”

“You have to believe me when I say that it’s the last thing I want to do, Evelyn. I don’t even know the words to say how sorry I am for leaving you and Shaun. I thought I was doing the right thing.” Evelyn shook her head, knowing that the tall man was telling her the truth, but she didn’t know what to do. She was well aware of how hot her face was, how foggy her thoughts still were. Hell, the juncture between her legs still ached with the bad alley sex she had just partaken in. She couldn’t handle dealing with this right now.

“I think…” She stopped herself, not knowing what she really thought. “We should talk about this tomorrow. See if you’re even there still when Shaun and I wake up. Go from there.”

“I’d like that,” he agreed, taking a step towards her and reaching out for her wounded hand. Not ready to let him touch her just yet, Evelyn jerked her hand away and refused to meet his gaze. “Goddamnit, Evelyn. There's never any catharsis for us. Not anymore. You're just gonna have to either learn to handle your shit on your own or let it rot away at you. That's just how the world works now.”

“I’m not ready to trust you, Lee. I don’t know if I ever will be again, not really. If you’re so dead set on it, then you can travel with us again if Shaun is okay with it. Just… Just don’t expect me to love you anymore.”

“I’ll never stop loving you, Evelyn. You saw me as a person when I couldn’t even do that for myself and I will never forget that. I made a mistake…” Lee trailed off, shaking his head to try and gather his thoughts again. “All I can do is to try to prove to you how much I love you and how sorry I am. I don’t expect you to let me be a father to Shaun or to,” he gestured to her still mostly flat stomach, a flush staining his cheeks even in the dim lighting of the room, “or to the baby. All I can do is my best.”

His best didn’t seem to be good enough the last time he tried, but Evelyn was so tired of being bitter. She was exhausted and she just wanted to be able to lay her head down to sleep for another two hundred years. That would certainly solve a great deal of her problems. Evelyn also knew enough of this cruel wasteland to know that it was next to impossible to truly be some sort of lone wanderer. She couldn’t keep doing it by herself, no matter how much help Codsworth, the dogs, or even Shaun were. She needed another adult to be able to handle things for her when she was less than strong and to make decisions. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“I don’t expect the world from you, but I do expect you to stick around at least for a few years. After that, I don’t give a fuck about what you do.” If the kid survived childbirth, infancy, and learned how to walk, then Evelyn figured that she would be able to make it on her own pretty well. Shaun would be older then and hopefully… Fuck. What if he just didn’t grow? How would she explain that to the kid, let alone to other people?

“Okay. Should… Should I stay with you in your room? It’d be easier to leave in the morning if I do.” Fuck, how was she going to explain this to Shaun? Should she make Lee do it himself?

“No. I don’t want my son waking up to you in the room without any explanation and I will not have you waking him up this late. I’ll come to find you tomorrow when I’m… When I’m ready to deal with you.” Danse just nodded and for a second, Evelyn swore that she was going to punch him if he just said ‘okay’ one more time.

They stared at each other for a long moment, Danse clenching his hands as if he itched to reach out for her, to hold her against him and never let her go again, but he only nodded again, his dark eyes darting around the room. Refusing to look at him one last time, Evelyn walked out of the room and carefully made her way out of the motel, trying to keep an eye out for anyone who might have been listening into their conversation. She couldn’t wait until they got out west where people didn’t even know of Arthur Maxson and his egomaniacal rule. The clerk at the front desk blinked at her in surprise as she left, clearly not expecting to see her leave so soon. She didn’t look like a prostitute, but why else wander into someone else’s room with them so late at night?

The walk back to her own hotel was uneventful and barren, with only a few people skittering around her at the late hour. She didn’t even want to look at her Pip-Boy and acknowledge how little sleep she was about to get. The clerk behind her own front desk was fast asleep and drooling on whatever records they kept, clearly not giving a shit about the guy pissing in the corner of the lobby. Evelyn ignored both of them as she walked the rest of the way, almost in a daze as the events of the night settled over her.

“Mum?” Codsworth softly called out the moment the door was open. Inside, Junkyard growled softly from where she was curled protectively around Shaun until she leaned over and let the ruined looking dog smell her hand. Evelyn couldn’t help but smile at the protectiveness, again thankful that the canine loved her son so much. Dogmeat, in the meantime, was sprawled out on her bed, managing to take up the entire space with a happy wag of his tail. “Are you alright, Mum?”

“I will be,” she sighed, sitting carefully on her bed and looking down at Shaun’s sleeping features. “I… I ran into Danse tonight.” Codsworth didn’t say anything as he floated towards her, waiting for her to say more if she needed to. “I did something bad, Codsworth. Something I should have known better than to do and then he found me.” She looked at her son’s face and wished that he didn’t look so much like Nate. If he got older, if he actually aged, how could she look at him without her heart breaking all over again?

“Do you need medical attention?” Codsworth finally asked, focusing one of his eyestalks on her as if he wished he could run a scan over her or something to get the answer for himself. For all she knew, maybe he did wish that. Maybe he hated her for constantly doing shitty things to herself. Hell, maybe he dreamed.

“No, Codsworth,” she muttered, leaning down and unlacing her boots. Everything was sore and her hand throbbed from where she’d cut it. She knew that she should probably get a tetanus shot or something, but she shrugged the thought away the same way she toed off her boots. Uncaring and numb to wherever they ended up. “I just… I have a lot to think about.”

“Do you need me for anything, Mum?” If she didn’t know better, she would have thought he sounded like a dog that had been kicked too many times but still wanted nothing less than love and affection from its owner.

“You know what? I could use an ear to talk to.” She smiled at the robot, reaching out to flick at some of the rust starting to appear on him with a fingernail. “I can’t think of anyone who knows me better than you, old friend.”

“I would be glad to be of service!” Codsworth chirped, swinging an eyestalk around to make sure he hadn’t woken Shaun up with his enthusiasm. She laid back on her bed, not even bothering to shove Dogmeat aside as she whispered every secret to her robotic companion, telling him things she hadn’t even been brave enough to admit to herself. All the while, he floated next to her, zooming in and out as her story continued, making humming noises whenever she paused to take a shuddering breath or to just sit in silence for a few heartbeats.

“So… That’s how things are, I guess,” she summed up weakly, eying the rising sun slithering in through the cracks in the boarded up window. “I don’t know what we should do. I don’t know how to really keep us together. Keep us a family.”

“I think,” Codsworth paused, floating towards their backpacks and starting to rummage around for whatever he planned to make Shaun for breakfast. “I think that I don’t envy you that decisions you’ve had to make, Ms. Evelyn. I did not know that things had been that bad. I… I wish that I had been there with you, fighting alongside you and saving you from the people you had to endure.” She smiled weakly at him, even though she knew in the back of her mind that he would have been destroyed if he had tried coming between Maxson and his goal.

“I know,” she acknowledged softly, sitting up on the bed and looking over at her son. “I couldn’t put you in danger.”

“Hush,” he snapped at her, the closest to angry she had ever heard him before. Even after the time he showed up when she was considering suicide, he hadn’t sounded that upset with her. “I am here for you. I am here to protect you and Shaun. I already failed to do so when Master Nate was... When he was taken from us. I would be honored to give my life for our family, Missus Evelyn.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Evelyn blinked at the robot, realizing that she had never asked him what things had been like for him in the more than two hundred years that he’d been sitting there, waiting for the family that never came back for him. He had always seemed to love Nate the most back before things went south, always tending to the yard with the anxious man, helping him with the grill and always with a happy story to tell. Codsworth had lost his best friend and had had to make due with her only occasionally appearing, too busy to ask him how he had been. Evelyn sighed, knowing that she would just use the newfound knowledge to guilt trip herself later. She really needed new hobbies if that was all she’d really been doing lately.

“Missus, I think that it would be good for him to come back. Not just for you, but for all of us. I think it’d be nice not being the only robot around anymore,” he sniffled delicately, whirling an eye around to try and catch her reaction to his bad joke. She laughed, trying not to cast a glance over at the still sleeping Shaun in guilt. If it wasn’t for the dogs, she would be outnumbered by robots.

“Well, I still want to ask Shaun first,” she reminded, reaching over and brushing the young boy’s curls out of his eyes. “I don’t want to have a parade of men in and out of his life, no matter how awful the world is now.”

“Ask me what?” Shaun’s sleepy voice spoke up, reaching up and pushing her hand away from his face. He sat up with a soft huff, petting the molted skin of Junkyard’s head affectionately before blinking up at them. Evelyn wondered if the real Shaun had woken up that quickly or if it was just something that Synths did. She knew that Danse had always been pretty alert the second his eyes were open again.

“Honey,” she started, glancing over at Codsworth for support. “I ran into someone last night after you went to bed and we need to have a conversation about it.”

“But not before breakfast!” Codsworth interrupted, floating towards Shaun and handing him a plate filled with heated Cram and what was possibly crackers. “Ms. Evelyn, please remember that we should stock up supplies at the market before we leave. I would hate to feed a growing boy processed meats every day.”

“It’s okay, Mom. I don’t mind Cram,” Shaun shrugged, taking a healthy bite out of the little sandwich he made for himself. Evelyn shuddered and tried not to look at the strangely pink meat. The idea of it seemed to churn her stomach and she tried not to throw up what little it contained. Fucking morning sickness.

“Shaun, honey, that is the saddest thing you’ve ever told me.” The dogs quickly crowded around Shaun as he laughed and accidentally knocked some of the food off of his plate, not even bothering to try and stop the dogs from eating his scraps. Evelyn rolled her eyes with a smile and accepted the small plate of crackers Codsworth handed to her. She tried not to think about how her hands shook softly as she tried to eat, knowing that the exhaustion and withdrawals were lapping at her heels. She had too much to do today and couldn’t afford to just spend the day sleeping, as tempting as it might be to do so.

“Mom, did you sleep at all? You look pretty tired.” She winced at her son’s words and tried to resist reaching up and prodding at the dark circles that had begun to sag under her eyes.

“Thank you for your concern, dear,” she forced herself to smile, trying her hardest not to snap at her son. “I had a lot on my mind and didn’t get much sleep, no.”

“Is that good? For my little brother, I mean?”

“Brother?” Evelyn asked, blinking at him. “You know, you could be having a sister.”

“Maybe,” he agreed, pausing to take another bite of his breakfast. “I think I’d like a brother, though.” Codsworth floated over and offered Shaun a bottle of purified water, his eyestalks focused entirely on Evelyn as she tried to think of a response. When she took a second too long, Codsworth hummed again and looked towards Shaun.

“I’m sure you’d make for an excellent big brother regardless, Master Shaun!” Codsworth offered her a bottle of water as he spoke, nudging it towards her again when she started to refuse it. “The world is a tricky one now, but Missus Evelyn is doing everything she can to make sure they come into this world as happy and healthy as any bouncing bundle of joy can, aren’t you, Mum?”

“Yeah,” she agreed, wincing around her first sip of the crisp water. “I sure am.” It hurt to lie to her son but some things just had to be done. Carefully, Shaun handed Codsworth his now empty plate and took a moment to pet each dog, rubbing the exact spots behind each of their eyes as he waited for her to finish her own breakfast. For her part, Evelyn tried not to delay the inevitable conversation any further, scarfing down her meal as quickly as her finicky stomach would allow her to.

“So,” Shaun started as she handed her own mostly empty plate to Codsworth, keeping his pale green eyes locked on the dogs. “What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well, sweetheart,” she started, trying not to cry at how broken, how adult he sounded.

“You’re not gonna leave me in the city, are you?”

“What? No! Never! After everything we’ve been through, why would you think that, honey?”

“The Father,” Shaun winced, finally looking up at her to see if she would be mad at him for his slip-up. “The man told me that I might get in your way and that there was always a chance that you… That you wouldn’t want me around anymore. Please don’t leave me behind, Mom. Please. I promise that I will do more to help out! I promise!” He cried as the words poured out, lunging forward to wrap his arms around her middle and do his best to bury his face against her shoulder.

“Shaun!” She cried out, nearly knocked backward from the force of his impact. “Oh, baby, that would never happen, you have to believe me. I will never in my life let you get taken away from me. Not again.”

“I thought that you were gonna give me away to whoever you met,” he sobbed, clinging to her like a baby koala. Evelyn looked desperately towards Codsworth, mouthing pleas for help to him as she stared wide-eyed at the robot.

“Master Shaun, please,” Codsworth stepped in, awkwardly patting the young boy’s back with a clawed appendage. “I would never leave you, either. Why, even if my motor burned out, I would find a way to accompany you wherever you went!”

“Then what is it?” He asked around hiccups, pulling away just far enough to look up at her with tear-filled eyes. The mint green of his irises stood out sharply against the red-rimmed orbs, the color seeming brighter than ever surrounded by bloodshot eyes. Evelyn knew that her eyes must look similar to his as a tear slipped down her dirt covered cheek.

“Shaun, I ran into Lee Danse last night. He… He says he’s sorry for leaving and that he wants to come home to us.”

“Oh.” Shaun’s words sounded like lead as they fell from his mouth. He pulled away from her and wrapped his arms around himself, looking tiredly at Junkyard as he processed her words. “What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t know. I told him that it is your decision since this is your family, too.” Shaun didn’t say anything to that, just nodding and holding onto himself as he pondered over her words.

“Do I have to forgive him?”

“No.” She tried to smile encouragingly at him, but she wasn’t sure if it even came close to reaching her eyes. “I don’t even know if I will forgive him.”

“Will it be easier on you if I say yes? Like, so you and Codsworth don’t have to do as much?”

“Well, sure, honey, but don’t make that the reason you say yes. If you don’t want him around, he won’t come with us again.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“He can come with us,” Shaun finally looked up at her, the crinkle between his brows reminding her of the adult version of himself she had encountered. It made her heart skip a beat as sorrow washed through her veins like ice. She had wanted so desperately to save him from the all too real adult difficulties in the wasteland, but she’d failed. “But this is his last chance, okay? If he runs off again, then he isn’t allowed back and that’s it. Don’t you think so, Codsworth?”

“Definitely, Master Shaun,” the robot agreed quickly, scurrying around the room to gather whatever valuable they might accidentally leave behind. “Do try and get some rest before we go and find Mister Danse, Mum. We won’t wake you up, will we, Master Shaun?” It felt like a world of weight had been lifted off of her shoulders as she let herself fall back against the bed, laughing when Dogmeat immediately jumped up and laid firmly against her back. She reached back and ran a hand over his coarse fur, closing her eyes and letting out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.

“I’ll try my best to get some shut-eye. Shaun, if you take the dogs out, please take Codsworth with you and stick close to the hotel, okay?” Despite the bone-deep exhaustion, sleep didn’t come to her easily, every little noise seeming to instantly wake her up. With a small room filled with animals and people, it was almost impossible to get some actual rest. It didn’t help that worry invaded her mind as every worst-case scenario wormed its way into her mind the second her eyes slid closed again.

Eventually, Shaun crawled up the bed with her, trying not to wake her up as he laid down next to her and rested his head against her shoulder. His presence seemed to do the trick because the next thing she knew, the bustle of the world around them invaded the decrepit room and her Pip-Boy chirped at her that it was now noon. Shaun was fast asleep next to her, taking up most of the bed as he seemed to want to imitate a starfish. “Ah, you’re awake, Mum,” Codsworth greeted the second he saw her eyes open. Evelyn grunted and untangled herself from her son, sitting up and wincing at aching muscles.

“Codsworth,” she greeted, reaching for the bottle of water she’d left on the excuse for a nightstand hours ago. She took a sip, thankful for the way it soothed her burning throat and tried to decide what her next action would be. “Has… Has anyone come by while I was sleep?”

“I saw Mister Danse when I took the dogs out a few hours ago,” he confirmed with a sort of forced cheerfulness. “I informed him that you and Master Shaun were sleeping and that you would meet with him when you were able to. He agreed and said he would be waiting for you.”

“Thanks.” She took another sip of water to buy herself some time to gather her thoughts. “How long ago was that, Codsworth?”

“Approximately three hours and fifteen minutes ago, Mum.” Evelyn sighed and looked down at Shaun, only mildly surprised to see him looking up at her.

“Alright. You ready, honey?”

“I guess so,” he shrugged, sitting up and wandering over to his backpack. He waited for Codsworth to help him lift the heavy sack onto his back, tying the supportive straps across his thin chest when it was firmly on his shoulders. Evelyn dreaded the day when she would need Codsworth’s help to put on her own backpack and realized it really would be a lot easier with Danse around. If nothing else, she could use the big lug like some sort of pack mule.

“Codsworth?” She asked, scratching absently at her nose as she watched her son. “Do you think we should invest in a brahmin or something?”

“It might be worth the investment,” he agreed, floating towards her bag to wait for her. She smiled at him and looked toward where Shaun was preparing the dogs for their journey, making sure their bananas were perfectly tied and that they both had their fill of water. “Perhaps it is an investment you could encourage Mister Danse to make? An extra incentive to stay.”

“No,” she frowned, waving Codsworth away as she struggled into her own backpack. “I don’t want him taking it with him if he leaves again.”

“Mom?”

“It was a joke, honey,” she sighed, forcing herself to smile over at Shaun. “Are you ready to really start your day?”

“If we have to,” Shaun gripped and the way he stood their, his hands laced in the straps of his backpack and rolling his head around apathetically, it made Evelyn wish that she was just taking him to school. She would have to find a way to get him a good education somewhere, but she knew she would have to put it off indefinitely. As much as she valued education, she knew survival was higher on the list of importance.

“Chin up, buttercup,” she tried to sound cheerful, reaching over and messing up his already haphazard curls. “Hopefully it’ll only be weird for a few hours.” She checked them out of the hotel easily, only grumbling a little bit when the clerk insisted that they paid for a late check out. She could have sworn such hawkish behavior had been left behind in the fallout, but she wasn’t really surprised. Any way to make a quick cap, Evelyn supposed.

What she hadn’t been expecting was Danse sitting patiently on a bench right outside the door, his things stacked neatly beside him as he tried not to be noticed by the bustling city around them. He stood up the moment he spotted him, his hands dropping to his sides in military precision, making himself stand out like a sore thumb. Evelyn ignored the grunt Shaun let out next to her and took a step towards Danse, taking a deep breath and trying to remind herself that it would all work out in the end. She had no choice but to try and be optimistic about their future.

“Are you ready, Lee?” She asked by way of greeting, jerking her head towards the crowded marketplace. He took a moment to process her words, looking down at Shaun for the young man’s confirmation. When the boy eventually nodded and looked away, Lee gave her a nervous smile.

“Absolutely. Did you want to get more supplies before we leave?”

“We were going to see about buying a brahmin,” she confirmed, taking a moment to make sure everyone was with them before making her way towards the hustle and bustle. “Should make the road ahead a little bit easier.”

“Make us harder to spot, too,” he added just soft enough for her to hear. She nodded, letting him know that it had been on her mind, too. The last thing Maxson would expect to look for was a tired looking family bumbling along the roads with a pack animal. She had to admit that certainly didn’t strike her as behavior a woman on the run for her life would do.

It didn’t take them long to find a padlock filled with the mooing beasts, their noses leading them right to the place. Without even being asked, Danse began inspecting each one, talking quickly with the sturdy-looking woman and pointing out various things Evelyn would have never thought to notice. He checked feet, mouths, backs, and even the quality of the patchy fur, shaking his head as if each one were the worst animal he’d ever laid eyes on. As badly as she wanted to wander off and purchase other supplies they needed, she didn’t want him to look over and see her gone. She wouldn’t do to him what he’d done to her. Besides, how long could looking at a pack animal take? Eventually, they shook hands and exchanged money, Danse automatically reaching in his own pocket and paying for the animal without her even having to ask. She grimaced as he counted out his money and resolved to pay him back for the cost.

“Shaun, do you want to ride on her before we load her up with supplies?” Danse asked, smiling hopefully at the boy who barely even glanced his way.

“No.” Evelyn wanted to nudge her son to at least be polite, but after exchanging a glance with Codsworth, she decided it was best to just leave the boy well enough alone. He had his own issues with Danse’s abandonment to work through and her forcing him to be nice wasn’t going to help anyone in the long run. Danse accepted it with a strained smile and patted the ugly cow anyways.

“It’s okay. You can always ride her if you get tired of walking. I’m sure she won’t mind.” Evelyn bit her lip and looked away from them, trying to plan out their path in the market. They really should have waited until it was less populated but at least now they would be harder to spot and difficult to follow, even with the massive brahmin, the dogs, the floating robot, the young boy… Okay, maybe there wasn’t anything she could do to make them harder to notice. She tried not to press a hand against her lower stomach with a frown, refusing to think about how things would be when she really began to show.

She did her best to rush them through the rest of their supply building task, not wanting to set off on the road when the sun was going down, but they had little choice. After she spent half the day sleeping she couldn’t blame anyone but herself for the late hour. Danse focused himself on making sure everything was secure to the brahmin as Codsworth told Shaun a story of some king in a far-off land. With a start, she realized that he had been telling him a story about King Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail. She tried not to throw up as chills raced down her spine and her eyes squeezed closed. Fuck, she would have to ask Codsworth to never tell any story relating to that ever again after Shaun went to sleep for the night. It was hard seeing him so excited for a story, though.

“Evelyn?” Danse asked softly, reaching out as if he wanted to lay a hand on her shoulder again. Instead he turned it in an offer to take her backpack from her, jerking his head towards the empty space he’d made just for her things. “It’ll be an easier trip without anything weighing you down.”

“If only it was that easy,” she snapped, shrugging off her backpack with a huff.

“I’m sorry.” She wanted to believe that he was telling the truth and from the way he lowered his eyes, she knew he might actually be. “Do you want to get dinner here before we hit the road? It’ll… I’ll buy.”

“No,” she shook her head, reaching a hand out for Shaun to take. Wordlessly, the boy handed her his backpack and refused to even look in Danse’s direction as she passed it along to him. “We’ve already spent too much time here.”

“Okay,” he agreed, patting the brahmin on the rump and offering her a smile. Her heart melted a little bit at the sad look on his face, but she refused to return the smile, looking away and reaching her hand out to Shaun again. Hand in hand with her son, Evelyn lead them towards the other exit of the city, avoiding eye contact with people and knowing that the rest of her family trailed after them. Dogmeat wandered somewhere next to Danse as Codsworth floated between them. As always, Junkyard was practically glued to Shaun’s side.

Getting out of the city was leaps and bounds easier than getting in had been, even with the Brotherhood breathing down their necks the entire time. Evelyn really should have thought of dying her noteworthy hair when she had the chance, but it was too late now with a Scribe looking at her with a frown and a pen tapping sporadically against a clipboard. Shaun tugged impatiently on her arm, loudly complaining about how bored he was to Danse. Evelyn didn’t risk a glance back as Lee tried to comfort the boy, promising that they would be to grandpa's farm before he even knew it. Finally, the Scribe grunted and nodded them through, waving the next group in line forward.

“My! What wonderful thinking, Master Shaun!” Codsworth praised the moment they were far enough from other people. Shaun grinned at the robot and let go of her hand, using both hands to rub at Junkyard’s face.

“Thanks, Codsworth. I didn’t want them asking any questions.”

“It really was quick thinking,” Danse spoke up in praise. Shaun gave him a wary look before nodding in acknowledgment and shifting his attention back on Codsworth. Hurt, Lee looked over at Evelyn and worried his lip as he tried to think of something to say. “Shaun really is as quick as you are in sticky situations.”

“Yeah, I don’t know where he gets it from.” He blinked at her for a second and laughed, petting the brahmin gently on the side of one of its heads and offering Evelyn the rope he’d tied loosely around their necks. “How did you get so good with these things?”

“Back when I was a junk trader I used them a lot,” he shrugged, his cheeks flushing. “Well. You know what I mean.” She did. There was no telling if he had replaced an actual Lee Danse or if he had been made up entirely by the Institute.

“Yeah. I guess that’s a good skill to have nowadays. Much better than a law degree and knowing Latin, at any rate.” She joked, letting herself walk behind him. If she closed her eyes, Evelyn could pretend that nothing bad had happened to them, that Danse had never left them and that things were just the way they should be. Instead, she opened her eyes and scanned the road for any sign of threats.

Who knew what laid in wait on the road ahead of them.