Dogmeat followed at his heels, keeping a nose out for trouble as his mind drifted. There was no way that this man he sought out now was his Nick Valentine. It was an odd coincidence, no doubt. That name? That profession? Really, what were the odds? But coincidence was all it would have to be.
Nate couldn’t help but wonder though. Perhaps Nick had been able to get to a vault before the bombs fell. Who was to say that the other vaults hadn’t had cryo chambers too. Maybe theirs had worked and Nick was now making a new life in the new world.
No, that couldn’t be it. There was no way that Nate could get that lucky. What were the chances?
He was going after the detective from Diamond City more out of curiosity than anything. He had wandered into town with Dogmeat the day before, on the hunt for trading and some work. No one had been much help, save for a nosey reporter by the name of Piper who pointed him in the direction of the detective agency.
Nate wasn’t sure what he would find when he reached the vault the detective had been investigating when he disappeared. With plenty of enemies in the way though, Nate tuned out all those troubling thoughts to focus on the immediate task of staying alive.
That all changed the moment he heard the detective speak. Nate was jolted from his zone. A sensation like being hit with cold water went down his spine.
“Nick?” he asked as the door slid open. The man was cloaked in shadow, fedora dipped low over his face otherwise lit by the low glow of a cigarette. That silhouette. That voice. “Nick!”
Nate couldn’t help but rush forward in delighted surprise. He came up short when Nick looked up, face catching the light. Where flesh should have been there was metal and rather than bright amber eyes looking at him there was glowing yellow. “Wha…? What happened to you?” Nate demanded.
Nick looked himself over and mused, “Well I know I’m not exactly in the best of shape…”
“Nick this is serious. You always do this to me.” Nate huffed, grabbing Nick’s wrist in frustration. He quickly dropped it though when all he felt was metal. It appeared Nick’s right hand wasn’t covered in whatever synthetic looking flesh that the rest of him had, metal left exposed. “What the fuck?”
Nick seemed puzzled. “I dunno what your talkin’ about sport, but I’ll say thank you for the rescue. Can’t argue with the timing. Wasn’t sure how much longer I had before ol’ Skinny Malone decided to just do me in.”
“Sport? Seriously Nicky? After all this time you wanna fuck around?”
It was only Nick’s genuine confusion that stayed his temper. “Have we met?”
“What do you mean have we met?” Nate’s heart plummeted. “Of course we have.”
Nick appeared to think it over a moment before shaking his head. “Sorry. Can’t say as I remember. You’ll have to jog my memory once we’re out of this joint.” He tilted his head to indicate the door. “Let’s get going.”
Nate couldn’t understand and he didn’t want to wait, following on Nick’s heels with Dogmeat right beside him. “What the hell happened to you?”
“Got surprised by a few of Skinny’s goons when I was snooping around. Guess I’m just lucky Skinny’s a bit sentimental or he might have just killed me instead of locking me up.”
“That’s not what I meant. I’m talking about why you’re a…” He gestured to the whole of Nick, unsure of the word to use.
“Synth?” Nick supplied. “That would be the Institute kid. They created me, then dumped me in the garbage. Been wandering the Commonwealth ever since.”
“I have a name you know,” Nate replied in a huff.
“Mind sharing with the class?”
“Nate.” He jerked Nick’s arm, stopping them. “That should mean somethin’ to you y’know.” When Nick only stared at him, Nate growled and pushed him away. “Come on Dogmeat. Let's get out of here.”
He’d found Nick Valentine alright. And while he- it?- spoke like Nick, dressed like Nick, and even acted like Nick, well, Nate had no rightly clue if he could say it was his Nick.
* * *
“Never thought I’d be so happy to see that sky again,” Nick mused once they got out. Nate stayed silent, Dogmeat sitting at his feet. “Didn’t get a chance to properly thank you for what you did.” Nick looked over at him. “Thank you.” Nate lifted a shoulder, eyes shifting away. “How’d you find me anyway? I doubt you were just lookin’ around the place.”
“Ellie sent me.”
“Ah. I’ll have to give her a raise.” Nate looked back at Nick, finding his lips twisted into amusement, although the expression fell when Nick got a look at Nate’s face. “Look, about earlier… I’m sorry if my lack of memory upset you. Gotta understand the ol’ neural processors ain’t exactly what they used to be.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I guess I didn’t figure I was so forgettable.” Nate hadn’t meant it to come out bitter. He sighed, mentally kicking himself. “Well, I guess you can find your way back from here. Come on Dogmeat.”
As he started to walk away, Nick protested. “Now wait just a minute. I can’t have you goin’ off without some type of reward. Come back to my office in Diamond City.” Nate tried to refuse but Nick pressed, “Besides, I’d like to know more about how we know each other.”
Nate looked down, shoulders sagging. “How the hell did you survive the war? How did you end up like this? I know you said about the Institute. Don’t know a lot about them to be honest. Still trying to figure all of this out.”
“Oh.” Nick seemed surprised and it drew Nate’s attention. “I see. You, umm… you knew Nick before the war.” Nate’s brows dropped. “Not really sure how to explain the details but, uh, Nick- the old Nick- he’s probably dead. To the bombs or time, can’t really say. The Institute… before the war, Nick went to them to do some kind of brain scan experiment. Supposed to help him with PTSD. They ended up putting his consciousness, his memories, into my body.”
Nate felt his head swim and he held his temples with one hand. “How is this even possible? I don’t- So you’re not Nick?”
“I am,” he replied. “Though I guess I’m a bit different from the one you know. I have a lot of his memories, his same feelings. I like to think I got his sense of right and wrong. Didn’t just decide to become a detective all on my own.” Nick rubbed the back of his neck. “I’ll admit I don’t have everything in tact. A lot of it is fuzzy. Can’t say if that’s due to time or things not taking right, but that’s how it is.”
“Unbelievable.” Nate scrubbed his hands over his face, having no idea what to make of any of this. Dogmeat whined, pawing at his leg and Nate let his hand fall on top of the dog’s head in comfort.
“Speaking of unbelievable things. How is it that you would even know the original Nick? You sure as hell don’t look like any ghoul I’ve ever seen.”
“I was in Vault 111. The day the bombs fell. They had us cryogenically frozen. I only just woke up a little while ago.”
“No kidding? That’s… Well, that’s something. Even more of a reason you should stick with me then. I can show ya the ropes. Fill ya in on what the hell’s goin’ on around here.” Nick hesitated. “And if you knew the old Nick, well, I wouldn’t mind hearing about more of who he was… who I am.”
Nate was still confused on exactly what was going on with Nick. Then again, he supposed Nick was probably just as confused. Old Nick? New Nick? Nate just had no idea what to make of any of it.
If this was Nick though, well, he owed it to him to stick around. At least long enough to make sure he was alright.
“Sure,” Nate finally answered. “Sounds like an idea to me.”
“Good.” Nick visibly relaxed.
Nate managed a little smile, gesturing in the direction they needed to go. “Lead the way.”
* * *
“So how’d we meet?” Nick asked.
They hadn’t talked much once they got back to Diamond City. Nate was exhausted and Nick offered up his bed. When he woke, Ellie was conveniently out for the day, leaving them alone. Still, Nick hadn’t pressed, instead heating up some breakfast Ellie had made and offering a cup of coffee.
Afterward they sat in the office, Dogmeat curled up under one of the desks to take a nap.
“You came in from Chicago to help Boston PD with a big case.”
“Eddie Winter.” Nick nodded, lighting up a cigarette. “Believe me. I remember him.”
Nate’s brows lowered. So Nick could remember that dirt bag Eddie Winter but not him?
Nick surprised him though when he asked, “You were a soldier?”
“Yeah. How do you-?”
“I just remembered… I had this image of you in a uniform.”
Nate nodded. “Yeah. I was power armor. Got injured during Operation Anchorage and I was in Boston to see the military docs.”
“We ran into each other?”
Nate couldn’t stop the little smirk from forming. It was good to know perhaps he wasn’t so easily forgotten after all. “Literally in fact.”
Nick chuckled. “If I’m remembering correctly, you ran into me.”
“Says the detective that can’t watch where the hell he’s going,” Nate countered with a playful smile.
“Yeah, well…” The stranger deflated, looking apologetic. A lit cigarette hung between his lips. “Sorry. Guess my head’s still at work.”
Nate conceded as well. “It’s alright. No harm done.”
“Are you sure?” the detective nodded towards Nate's slinged arm, taking the cigarette in hand to be heard better.
“This thing’s mostly for show. Doc says I’m not allowed to use it ‘til my shoulder’s fully healed. But what he doesn’t know...”
The detective chuckled. “Man after my own heart.” He offered his hand. “Nick Valentine.”
“Nate Walker,” Nick murmured as though reliving the same memory. “We ended up at some cafe, didn’t we? Started to meet up a few times a week?”
“I didn’t want to be a distraction. But you claimed-”
“You’re the best kind of distraction.” Nick’s eyes widened, the words holding a certain amount of wonder. It was like a light going off. He looked at Nate with what amounted to disbelief. “We were… We…”
“Dated?” Nate supplied. “Yeah.”
Nick was immediately distressed, smashing the cigarette out in an ashtray. “No wonder you were so upset. I can’t believe… How does somebody just forget-?”
“Nicky.” The synth’s teeth clanked as he shut his mouth. “I believe the saying ‘shit happens’ applies to this very situation.”
Nick scoffed. “Hardly. This ain’t exactly a small thing here.”
“You said a lot of your memories are jumbled, right?” Nick begrudgingly nodded. “Then let it go. It’s done now.”
Nick let out a breath through his lips that was one part relief, one part exasperation. “Why wasn’t I in that vault with you then?”
Nate frowned. “Things went south in the case. A woman got killed…”
“Yeah. She was an informant or something. I dunno. You were tight-lipped about the whole thing. Blamed yourself for it. Then the case went belly up when it turned out Winter made some deal with the Feds.”
Nick’s brows drew together. “I… I remember some of that I think.”
“You kindda went off the deep end,” Nate supplied. “You didn’t want to hear anything from me about any of it. Even after I let it be though you just… you pulled away from me.”
“That was when I started going to CIT. Their memory program.”
“I never knew about any of that.” Nate stared into his coffee cup.
“I think… I think I was scared.”
“Only ever tried to help you Nicky.”
“I know,” was Nick’s quiet answer.
There was a lull in conversation, each caught up in their own thoughts.
It was Nick that spoke first. “You broke it off.”
Nate nodded. “Didn’t know what else to do. Thought maybe it would wake you up.”
“Dunno.” Nate looked up at him again, meeting his eyes. “Few days later the bombs fell.” There was another long pause before Nate added, “We were supposed to go to the Veteran’s Hall that night. I was getting a commendation.” He didn’t know why he said it- wasn’t sure it was really important- but Nick nodded all the same.
“I’m sorry,” Nick murmured. “I never… I never wanted to hurt you.”
The corner of Nate’s mouth ticked up. “Neither did I.”
Silence settled between them, neither sure what to say. Finally Nick asked, “What now?”
Nate wet his lips. “I guess we just keep going. See where things take us.” He looked away. “Can’t promise that anything will come of it. But… I’d like to try.”
When he looked back at Nick, the detective was gazing back. It had always been hard to read Nick’s face, but it seemed this new synthetic version had an even better poker face. “I’d like that,” Nick replied at last, face softening.
Nate managed a little smile. “Alright then.”
* * *
Nate ended up sticking around Diamond City. He rented out a room at the Dugout Inn, despite Nick’s insistence he could stay there at the agency. Nate spent time learning the city that had grown up in the former Fenway Park and hanging around Nick’s office.
There currently weren’t any active cases so it was mostly Nick looking through his backlog. They were cases that had gone cold, nothing left for him to work with. Even so, Nick tried to find something in them- perhaps a clue he’d overlooked or a new direction to go.
Nate was perched on Ellie’s desk and he chuckled. Nick looked up at him curiously. “You haven’t changed. Still the same ol’ Nick. Not happy when he can’t find what he’s looking for.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Ellie muttered under her breath.
Nick scoffed, looking back down at the file. “Well, I won’t argue there.”
“What’s got you so absorbed anyway?” Nate hopped off the desk, walking over behind Nick. He looked over his shoulder, pressing up behind Nick in the process. There was no missing the slight intake of breath.
Nick cleared his throat. “Missing person cases mostly. Seems that’s all I get these days. Some of them are cut and dry, y’know? Guy sneaks off with his mistress in the dead of night. Wife takes the kids, all the caps, and skips town. People of questionable repute disappearing in the wasteland…
“Then there’s ones like these. Daughters, sons, mothers, fathers… Regular, good people who just vanish.”
“People around here seem to think it’s the Institute.”
“May well be. But even I don’t think they could be responsible for all of them.”
“Well, maybe I could help?”
Nick smiled, craning his neck to look at him. “Why does this situation seem familiar?”
“Cause it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve helped you talk something through.” Nate tilt his head, gazing right back at Nick.
Finally Nick turned back to his files. “Well alright then. Pull up a chair.” The detective couldn’t seem to stop smiling after that.
* * *
“Goin’ somewhere?” Nate inquired when he arrived at the agency in the morning, Dogmeat in tow.
“Got a request from one of the outlying settlements. Heading out there now.”
“I’ll come with you.”
Nick tried to hide his smile. “I’d appreciate the company.”
By the time they made it to the settlement and picked up the case- yet another missing person vanished in the night- it was starting to get late. “Sanctuary is closer,” Nate mentioned, looking at his Pip Boy. “We can go there for the night. Try and pick up the trail tomorrow.”
“A fair plan,” Nick agreed.
The synth hadn’t expected to find a small settlement eeking out an existence there. As far as he had known, the area around the former town of Sanctuary Hills was deserted. Nate introduced him to Preston Garvey and the other survivors of the Quincy Massacre before they went into Nate’s home.
It wasn’t the same as it was before the war, but even so Nick found himself almost seeing it the way it used to be. He remembered evenings spent curled on the couch with Nate. He remembered the day that Nate’s dog had disappeared and how heartbroken his partner was. He remembered cooking together in the kitchen and BBQ’s out on the porch.
He remembered the shouting match when Nick showed up half plastered on booze. He remembered the tears of frustration running down Nate’s face. He remembered the heartbreak when Nate inevitably had enough.
“Nicky? Nick!” Nick was pulled out of his thoughts by a sharp shake, Nate looking at him in concern. “You alright? You zoned out on me there.”
Nick’s hand came up, cupping Nate’s face. “I’m sorry Nate… so sorry.”
Nate didn’t ask. He just pulled Nick in, holding him tight. “Me too.”
* * *
The next morning Nick awoke to the smell of breakfast cooking, wandering out to the kitchen. Nate was there in just a pair of sleep pants, moving around the kitchen while the radio played softly. Dogmeat sat out of the way, watching Nate intently and catching bits of food Nate tossed his way.
“I’m surprised Diamond City Radio comes in that well out here.”
Nate jumped. “Jeezus Nick.”
Nick chuckled. He walked over, settling behind Nate. “Sorry.”
Nate huffed. “Sorry my ass. I swear you enjoy giving me heart attacks.”
Nick put a hand over Nate’s heart. “Can’t have that.” He pressed his lips to Nate’s shoulder, not even thinking about what he was doing. It was all the memories of this place swirling around his head. How else could he explain all these feelings?
Nate turned around in his grasp, looking at him carefully.
Nick took a step back, trying to pull himself together. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “I shouldn’t have- I’m so mixed up inside right now. These memories. These memories aren’t mine, but they are. They’re part of who I am but they weren’t me. The man you loved…” Nick felt dejected.
“You’ve changed a little, sure,” Nate agreed. “But you’re still Nick.” Nick looked up at him. “You’ve had two lives. Well, so have I. Just cause I’ve got a second chance doesn’t mean I’m still not me. Doesn’t mean I’m not the same person I was before the war.”
Nick nodded. He thought he understood what Nate was getting at. “Still. You’re the same physical person. I’m… Well, I’m a rusting pile of bolts. Somehow I doubt it comes close to measuring up to the human I once was.”
Nate smiled then. “You’re still mine where it counts.” He reached out his hand, Nick accepting it easily. He allowed Nate to pull him in close, to hold his chin with his other hand. “I love you Nick Valentine. I never stopped.”
Nick froze, shocked. He snapped out of it quick enough, leaning in and pressing their lips together in a brief kiss. “I love you too.”
Nick couldn’t explain how some old synth like him could love anyone, but he did. He had thought his attraction towards Nate these past weeks had been leftover emotion from the old Nick. Now he knew that they were his own genuine feelings.
There was no old Nick and new Nick. Just Nick.
Smirking, Nick mentioned, “Think your sausages are burning.”
“Fuck.” Nate spun around, trying to salvage his breakfast and cursing up a storm in the process.
Nick chuckled, laying a hand on Nate’s arm. “Why don’t you go relax? I’ll fix you something.” The perks of being a synth was that he didn’t require food. Sleep wasn’t a necessity either but it did help his mental health to shut down as it were and let his system recharge and reboot.
Nate relented but he didn’t leave. Instead he wrapped himself around Nick from behind, hooking his chin over Nick’s shoulder. Nick grinned, warmed by the gesture and having Nate so close. He turned his head, locking their lips together once more.
“Think the case can wait an extra day?” Nate asked.
Nick grinned. “I don’t think one more day will hurt.”
Nate gave him a squeeze, cheek lying against Nick’s shoulder. “Sounds good to me.”
Nick wouldn’t complain, not after finally finding Nate again. Old Nick or new, one thing he was certain of was that he loved Nate Walker more than anything, and he would make sure this time he held on tight and never let go.