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Wave the Flag

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Sanctuary Hills, MA

April 13th, 2288

An impromptu celebration had popped up when the group from Vault 95 returned that evening. The festivities were held on the exposed foundation of a house that had once stood next to Nate’s workshop and garage. Just out of reach of the firelight, Danse stood off to one side, leaning against a wooden pole that had a copper bell suspended from the top of it. A grinning Cait was being passed around the settlement, going from one set of arms to another before landing in MacCready’s embrace and refusing to part with him. Nate made his rounds, checking on his charges, exchanging handshakes and smiles while Codsworth passed out beverages. Enjoying the bustle of excitement, Dogmeat slid between shins, tongue lolling and tail wagging. On the porch of the workshop, John sat alone with a beer in his hand, mouth set in a straight line, sunken eyes downcast, one hand wrapped around his knee, back curved in a mournful slump.

To look at Sanctuary, it seemed as if nothing had changed, and yet, for Danse, everything was different. Six months ago, he had come here as a noble representative of the largest military organization in the Wasteland. That role had been short-lived, ending when the reality of his identity as a synth had been revealed to him. He had largely been on the move since then, avoiding Brotherhood depots and adopting new lifestyles. For a brief, sweet moment he had thought that he might have had a future in Acadia, before the events in Far Harbor removed that as an option. The only upside to Goodneighbor was proximity to John. Yes, work was consistent, but he felt too far removed from the habits of the citizens in John’s town. He had been assigned to oversee a drunk tank at the Capital for a few shifts once – that sorry state of exposure to the worst of humanity’s degradation was present every day for him now. Subjected to a rigid sense of order and a consistent code of ethics for the entirety of his adult life made Goodneighbor seemed like a pit of pure chaos and mischief in comparison. John was a better strategist than he let on. Why he allowed populism to run rampant through the streets made little sense, seeming almost as if he had given up on bettering the town and was contended to play to role of the jaded rebel living a lackluster life of chems, drink and inaction.

Although he longed to sweep a miserable looking John into a hug, he refrained, letting distance protect them from discovery. He imagined an irrational reality where he would actually be able to act on his longing, to be beside John with an arm draped over his shoulder, in the same manner that MacCready was standing with Cait. He was touched and stunned that John had even attempted being cured and felt inherently awful that the endeavor had been unsuccessful. Trying to catch John’s eye was failing and, against logic, he took a step towards him. “Danse!” someone shouted. He took a step in reverse, ending up back when he had been, and swiveled his head to see Nate motioning at him. “Don’t disappear,” Nate called. “I’ll need you later.” Danse nodded and looked back to John, who appeared to have shaken off his sulk and was now integrating with the crowd, raising his beer to Cait in a toast that lacked mirth.

Someone jostled him from behind, colliding with his shoulder. “So, you ever gonna actually tell anyone that you’re a synth?” Deacon asked, handing him a bottle of whiskey, Danse’s preferred type of alcohol. He considered asking Deacon about the lengths he had gone to find out about the drink but he bit his lip and thought it best to be accepting instead of suspicious. “It’s not my call to out you,” Deacon said, the camp fires causing orange balls of light to reflect off of his glasses. He had a beer in his hand, although the cap was still on. “But word came down from Acadia about a ghoul and a big, military-type guy that kinda got caught up in a firestorm. Thought it’d be nice to know that Nick died for reason.”

Danse felt a stab at the mention of Nick. He tapped the whiskey bottle against his leg. “I’d…assumed that I’d know when the time was right.”

Shrugging one shoulder, Deacon said, “Don’t know if there ever really is a right time to tell people that you aren’t who they think you are. I mean, not that I’d know anything about that.” He spread his arms and walked backwards into the revelry. “Everyone already knows that I’m the Dread Pirate Roberts.”

Although Danse kept the whiskey bottle on him for the remainder of the evening, he rarely drank from it. He and John stayed in their respective corners of the event, noticing each time the ghoul gave half-hearted well wishes to those that approached him but keeping his distance. He remained away from the thick of the revelry, sticking to the outskirts, wandering in long, slow circles as his thoughts raced. Partially cast in shadows, Danse wondered, if anyone looked at him too closely, would they know? Could they see through him, right down to his lies? He knew that was impossible. He had gone a decade without anyone suspecting he was a synth, without knowing it himself. But it was more than just his construction that bothered him. Were there countless synths out there in the Commonwealth right now, estranging themselves from their communities, struggling to find the words to tell those that knew them that they were imposters? The likelihood of that scenario left Danse aghast. He was part of a race that he knew nothing about. Kasumi…Kasumi was going to be his guide…

The night was warm with no breeze, and between the camp fires, barrel fires and the dancing that had started up, the temperature in the communal square was rising. Voices got louder the more people drank, and by the time the radio was going into its second round of the same songs, Danse felt like he was suffocating. His chest had gone tight and a warm flush had creeped up his neck, setting his ears on fire. Making a decision, he called, “John!” The level of noise must have been too high; he didn’t turn in Danse’s direction. Anxiety charging through his system, he slammed the bottom of the whiskey bottle down on a workshop table, and strode into the open garage where Nate kept his armor – Danse’s armor – and flicked off the radio.

Voices dropped when the music died. A few confused muttering floated here and there as all eyes turned to Danse. His lungs heaved and he rubbed at his beard growth, wishing that he had drunk more. That, perhaps, might have helped him blurt out what he needed to say and get it over with. He saw John shove his way to the front of the crowd.

Danse gave a shaky exhalation and forced himself to take a deep breath. He felt eyes crawling all over him. “I’ve never been very good at addressing crowds, so you’ll have to forgive me if my manner is less than eloquent.” He cast a quick glance at the armor standing proudly by his side. The sight of it stabbed him right in the heart. “You’ve all likely noticed that several months have passed since I’ve spoken for or partaken in events regarding the Brotherhood of Steel.” He paused, his nerve threatening to leave him. In the gathering, he saw Nate fold his arms. “This is because I am no longer a part of their operation.”

As he let that information sink in, Piper nudged Preston, saying, “Called it.”

From a few feet away, John, with wide ebony eyes, shook his head slightly and mouthed, What are you doing?

He licked dry lips and kept going. “This was not a decision that I made, but rather was forced upon me for a very specific reason.” Danse let his head hang for a moment before looking up and saying, “It was brought to my attention that I am, in a fact, a synth unit.”

Silence. The only sound in Sanctuary was the crackling of burning wood and the whir of Codsworth’s motors. Expressions of befuddled shock slid from face to face.

He hadn’t planned for anything past this point and now found himself scrambling for words. “I…I feel that you should know I…I didn’t replace anyone. I didn’t deliberately mislead you. Though I…I suppose that no synth did. But I understand now. This life. This…fear of being prosecuted. I have no doubt that I deserve it. But all of my former offenses were because of who I was, never due to how I was made or who programmed me.” He wanted someone to say something, anything at all to spare him from having to keep speaking. “I just…felt that it was time you knew.” He gave another heavy exhale and shuffled in place, waiting for something it happen.

MacCready gave a low whistle and several people parted in front of him, leaving a clean trail between him and Danse. “Man,” he said, shaking his head slowly. “You are goddamned lucky.”

Danse felt a surge of unease, as if things were about to go very wrong. “What do you mean?”

“I mean that you are godDAMNED lucky,” MacCready repeated, his voice raising. “Oh, lucky that this happened to you, that is. If anyone else that had turned out to be a synth…Hell, if it’d been me, you would have been the first in line to have shot me in the head.”

Danse clenched his jaw and remained silent. What MacCready had said was the absolute truth. He would have put the culprit at down first discovery.

“Wanna know the kicker?” MacCready asked, looking livid. “You kept this from us. You knew and you just…decided it didn’t matter. Like what we didn’t know, wouldn’t hurt us. Acted just like any other synth would, hiding and laughing at the stupid humans that trusted it.”

John moved into the path, putting himself between Danse and MacCready. “That ain’t what happened,” he snarled, beer bottle gone, his fists balled, his back to Danse.

In the back of the crowd, Danse spotted Curie. She was off in a corner, wringing her hands, eyes darting around nervously. It dawned on him that she was the only other synth in Sanctuary. If events were to ever turn ugly, she would likely get caught up in the same bias that would be directed at him.

He should have expected this, should have anticipated that a percentage of the Sanctuary crew would not accept him. It still hurt. “MacCready, I couldn’t…I didn’t know what to tell anyone. Perhaps I chose poorly, but I –”

“Christ,” MacCready snapped at John, flinging out hand in a wild gesture. “Is that why you’re fucking it? Out of pity?”

Faint whispers slithered through the group as Danse felt that hot flush claim his face and rush down his back. Never in his life had he felt so unjustly betrayed. The Brotherhood had been correct to hunt him down. That disaster in Far Harbor hadn’t been his fault. But MacCready, his friend, who, hours ago he had vouched for, spouting hateful comments and insulting John, crossed a line.

John’s posture bowed for an instant before he squared his shoulders and growled, “Watch your damn mouth, Robert. After all I’ve given you…After all the times I’ve stuck my neck out to protect you, you throw this back at me?”

“Jeez, look at you. You knew!”MacCready spat. “You knew longer than anyone and you kept it a secret. Like we’re a bunch of damn morons that would just –”

“– Act the same way that you’re doing right now?” John asked. “Yeah, crossed my mind.”

Leaving the covered area of the garage, Danse nudged past John, warily approaching MacCready like he would a nervous dog. “Everything that I said in the vault today, that was my decision. No one made me say or do anything that I didn’t want to.” Cait appeared at MacCready’s side, her bat in hand. The addition of a weapon to this discussion set off alarms in his head and sent his body into preparations for an altercation. He stood taller, with slacked knees, tension rounding his shoulders. “MacCready, this is still me,” he asserted, his hands floating upwards in surrender. “I haven’t changed.”

“Hell, the old you was a monumental asshole who didn’t give two shites about any one of us,” Cait deliberately pointed out. “Some comfort if we’re in for the same.”

Danse’s hands were still in the air. “I understand that this is still a shock to you. Believe me that I am still adjusting.” He extended a hand, imploring that MacCready shake his, that they might lead on an agreement. “Hate me for who I am, not because of what I am.”

Cait shoved the head of her bat at his chest, “Don’t you fuckin’ touch neither of us, synth. Ya best be headin’ back to whatever the hell you’ve been hiding out. You ain’t welcome here.”

“Both of you stop it!” Nate thundered. Attention turned to him. Anger blazed in his dark eyes. That was the thing about Nate – he was a nice guy, quiet, sarcastic as hell, but when pushed, he could become downright terrifying. “Grab some air. And if you decide that this is something just too difficult for you to overcome, keep walking.”

Butting in, Deacon gently pushed Cait’s bat away. “See? This is why we can’t have nice things – like friends. And I’m not gonna to stand for any synthshaming on my watch.”

“Course you’d get in on this nonsense, Deacon,” Cait hissed, making circles with her bat at her side. “That thing’s more interesting than all of us to you. When it’s burnin’ this place to the ground, hope ya stop to have a good laugh.”

“C’mon, man,” MacCready shouted at Nate. “Dude’s a synth and you’re defending it? Fine.” He put a hand on Cait’s shoulder and pulled her away from the crowd. “I’m not getting killed because the rest of you want to play make believe. We’re outta here.” With that, he left the group, guiding Cait away as they both vanished into the night, beyond the throw of the firelight.

Guilt sank deeply into Danse’s chest. The already strained band of survivors in Sanctuary had just lost two of its best fighters because of him. He had only wished to be candid and keep those that he knew and trusted abreast of what was happening. This was likely to be his life now – facing the possibility that anyone he met might be eager to kill him based on principle alone.  He was exceptionally glad that he hadn’t chosen to bring this information up in the vault today. The sniper would have left a smoking hole in his body.

The sensation of fingertips against his back made Danse turn. John stood behind him, echoes of firelight dancing in his black eyes. Distress gave way to need, and he wrapped his arms around John’s narrow shoulders. There was no more room or reason for shame. In one fell swoop, all of his secrets had been revealed. “I’m sorry that your treatment was unsuccessful,” he said into the shell of John’s ear. “But I am so proud of you for trying.”

John’s arms slid around his waist. “Proud of you, too.” He breathed a quiet laugh. “What are you gonna do now that you don’t have to hide anymore?”

He pressed his forehead to John’s, making the tricorne tilt up a little. “Catch up on all of the time I’ve lost with you.” Both of them tightened their arms around the other.

Deacon coughed loudly, garnering attention. “So, to anybody that placed bets on the cause of our paladin’s removal – I’d like to collect now.”