It was Danse’s eyes that got to Natalia that day in Listening Post Bravo.
If his eyes had been anything other than a light brown that could have sparkled with mirth, Nat would have had no problem with lifting her gun and giving Danse what he had been asking for. But in the moment that their eyes met, Nat wasn’t seeing a broken Brotherhood Paladin, a man-like machine with all his secrets exposed; no, she was seeing her brother. Her precious little Luke, the brown-eyed terror that had always been right on her heels until the war put a bullet in his back and left him dependant on a wheelchair and a patient Nat to push him from point A to point B.
“Oh god,” she said, her voice cracking. “Oh god, I can’t.” Her arm holding her gun dropped and a sob fell from her throat.
“Natalia,” Danse’s voice was steady, so unlike all of Nat. “You have orders, you need to follow them.”
“Fuck my orders.” Natalia’s voice cracked even further. “I can’t do it. I can’t kill you. I’ve already lost so many people and you’re just sitting there and expecting me to lose even more.”
And finally, something like understanding dawns on Danse’s face.
“Oh. Oh god. I didn’t…” He trails off, the realization settling heavily on him. Instead of returning to his spoken thoughts, he reaches up and fumbles for his holotags, pulling at them, breaking them off his neck, and offering them to Nat. “Here, take these. Tell Arthur you did the job.” Natalia’s eyes widen and she feels a cold drip of trepidation down her back, like something in this plan is going to go horribly awry.
“And what are you going to do?” Nat asks, forcing her voice to sound less broken. “Just sit here?” Danse shrugs and shakes the tags.
“Who knows. I’ll figure something out. Just take these and go before Arthur sends someone to come looking for you.” Nat crosses the room slowly, afraid that this is a trick by Danse to just get her gun and do the deed himself, but he lets her take the tags without incident and then tells her again that she needs to go.
And she does. She turns on heel, avoids looking at Danse’s eyes one last time, and books it back to the elevator. She takes a deep breath once the elevator door is firmly shut and she’s heading back to the surface. Her heart is still beating in her chest though, the adrenaline rushing through her at the thought of having to kill Danse and his Luke-like eyes is keeping her tense and ready for anything.
But she’s still not ready for Arthur Maxson walking towards her when she exits the Listening Post.
“So, can I assume that you handled your mission?” Arthur asks, his voice deceptively calm as Nat hears the edge that threatens awful things if he gets an answer that he doesn’t want.
“Yeah, here,” Nat replies with a calm that she might feel only after another 200 years in a glorified freezer and tosses Danse’s holotags towards Arthur, trying to not frown when they hit his boot and bounce off. “He’s dead. It’s over Elder.”
Arthur doesn’t say anything, just bends down to pick up the tags and roll them around in his hands. Natalia sees this as her chance to escape, to get out of here before the sensible, good soldier side of her blows this all to hell. She’s just barely past Arthur when he finally speaks.
“If I go into that post and go into the basement, am I going to find a corpse or am I going to find evidence of your failure?” Nat almost wants to laugh at the tactic that Arthur chooses. It’s one that she watched her great-grandmother dozens of times, she would ask a fighter a question that implied that he didn’t get the job done and then would wait for him to slip up in whatever lie they concocted. It wasn’t a particularly slick method of getting answers and weeding out people who couldn’t handle simple missions, but to a child watching a woman who was legend in her own right breaking grown men like they were nothing, it was the truest show of power.
But Natalia has no time to reminisce over a long dead woman, not when Danse’s life is on the line. She turns around to face Arthur, arms crossed over her chest, issuing her own challenge.
“I said he was dead, sir.” She adds a bit of emphasis onto the title, daring him to say that she’s disobeyed him outright, instead of just implying it. Before the war, she was a lawyer, and like her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother before her, she learned that there was no greater battle to be won than one where words and wit were the weapons. Arthur rolls the holotags in his hands again before responding to her.
“These are a bit clean to have come off of a dead man.” Nat smirks, something that feels so foreign for the image that she’s tried to cultivate for the Brotherhood, but she knows that she has Arthur right where she wants him.
“Well, with all due respect, sir,” another drop of title with just enough emphasis to sound mutinous without Arthur being able to claim any sort of disrespect out of her. “Head shots tend to take a bit to bleed that far.” And with that, she knows that Arthur is trapped, he can’t question her further without calling her shooting skills into question, which at this point, is a well-known fact that her aim was damn near better than the former Paladin’s. And Arthur must agree with her silent assessment of the situation, because he drops the tags into one of the innumerable pockets on his coat and heads up the hill past her, towards the sound of a waiting Vertibird.
“Knight, when you return to the Prydwen, I’ll debrief you on what happened here personally. And then you’ll have another mission. So put your other affairs in order before your return.” Nat watches the Elder walk to the Vertibird and board it and waits for the aircraft to be well out of sight before hitting the relay on her Pip-Boy to take her to the Institute.
She’s not sure why the Institute is the first place that pops into her head, but then she remembers Danse’s eyes and she knows that what she needs is answers. And she knows that the Institute is the one place that she’s sure to get them.