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Wave the Flag

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Boston Airport Ruins, MA

April 16th, 2288

With questing fingers, he slid the pair of angular metal holotags attached to a chain around the feral’s neck to face him. Kneeling beside his kill, Danse pondered his victim. A leftover scrounger from when the airport had been cleared, the feral had sprung at him, broken teeth visible as it honed in on his throat. Danse had made short work of it, plunging his combat knife into its temple. Fragile bone and softened tissue had given way and the thing had dropped instantly. It had been a simple kill that hadn’t drawn attention from nearly Brotherhood guards.

Now sprawled out in death, he frowned at the beast. A buzz of confusion took place in Danse’s brain as he tried to comprehend the identifiers in his palm. The tags were from a Brotherhood registry, but the number was from an old category, and the metal oxidized due to time and the elements. Somewhere, someone had served, turned and traveled all the way to the Commonwealth. Or traveled and then turned. Or…turned and then served. But where the hell had it wandered from? Maybe he was entirely mistaken and the tags were the prank of some daring raider meant to cause mayhem. He sighed and let the tags fall from his hand. Between John’s bizarre infirmity, the mess in Far Harbor and the reveal of his own identity, Danse was over trying to make sense of the world.

Standing, he cautiously peered out of the airplane cockpit that he lingered in. Curving steel supports stuck out from the craft like a ribcage. Gaps in the cabin where entire panels were missing had allowed that wayward feral to slip in. A stiff breeze came in from the ocean, causing Brotherhood flags to snap in the wind, the proud orange fabric cracking violently as it flapped. 

Hardly a secure position, but its purpose served to hide Danse from sight while he waiting for his former charge to return. Danse had been left to skulk in the ruins while Paladin Sterling had taken a short transport up to the Prydwen. The grand bulk of the airship veiled the airport in shadow. How fitting that the sprawling Brotherhood hub should blot out the sun, diminishing natural grandeur in lieu of superior technological prowess. The flight deck was bustling, vertibirds loading and detaching in regular intervals, surely off to stage the grandest offense the Commonwealth had ever seen. Such amass of firepower and personnel could only mean that something had shifted, that some player had made their first move. The scene made Danse wistful to be unable to partake, a hollowness filling his chest as he watched fat-bellied craft glide from view.

It would have been more efficient for Sterling to have taken a vertibird escort from one of the fields near Sanctuary Hills. Instead, they had spent several days crossing the Commonwealth, smuggling Danse into the heart of Brotherhood operations. When Sterling had requested he accompany him to the airport, it hadn’t been Danse’s place to question him, despite his concern. He’d be damned if he was going to begin shying away from a superior’s request.

During the trek, Sterling had questioned him diligently about Brotherhood rules of engagement, particularly the level of force available and specific tactics that were part of a standard response. Danse had gone beyond humoring the man, giving him sound advice and stern recommendations. Handling logistics in Goodneighbor was a tedious occupation as compared to the grandeur of his former role. He longed for a grander purpose. If his new position was to serve as Sterling’s civilian second, such an opportunity was better than he should hope for. But, if he was to be honest with himself, he knew that role belonged to Colonel Garvey.

They had paused at an old church in the north end of the city, Sterling insisting that Danse wait outside while he ducked into the crumbling building for nearly half an hour. When he had emerged, he had jammed his helmet on angrily and refused to speak of what happened.

The effect of watching Sterling march in his old paladin armor was surreal. It was as if he was watching an echo of himself, his suit trying to maintain a status quo while its former operator could only watch. Giving his armor away was the grandest insult that Maxson had ever devised. Most salvageable suits were broken down into scrap for new models or the pieces refinished and issued anew. Danse’s suit was intact, the scuffs and rust stains old friends that had seen him through difficult times. He felt quite humble and vulnerable in its presence.

Unobtrusively, Sterling reappeared, coming around from the rear of the airport, stomping wide footprints in the sandy beach. A few radgulls took to the air, startled by his approach, flapping lamely with malformed wings. Danse stepped down from the plane’s cockpit to greet him. Watching Sterling disembark from his armor in the lee of the craft, it struck Danse that everyone else who had served under him had gone home in a bag. Haylen was the only other exception. His lungs seemed to deflate. “Everyone that has ever stood by my side has either died or forsaken me,” he mentioned flatly, more for his ears than Sterling’s.

Leaving his suit to reseal around an empty center, Sterling approached, clad in his uniform, frowning as he hopped up into the exposed belly of the plane. “I haven’t. And I didn’t.” He glanced behind him, back the way he had come. “And neither did someone else.” He tossed Danse a roguish grin and held up a finger. “Wait for it…”

Danse followed his line of sight. A few seconds passed before Haylen poked her hooded head around the corner, spotting them. She strode towards them with her chin up, and hauled herself up into the plane with a grunt. “Paladin Sterling,” Haylen stiffly addressed with a nod as she stood. “Danse,” she added, almost as an afterthought, his name hitting him like a slight blow to the gut. She had visited him once while he was a mess in Sanctuary. He had drunkenly fought with her, although he couldn’t recall why. She hadn’t returned and he hadn’t blamed her; he had been terrible company. “How have you been?” she asked, her trademark concern absent from her eyes.

“Distraught, to be honest,” he answered candidly. “John has been a great comfort to me.” And he had. Despite John’s personal hardships and degenerative mental state, he had made every effort to ensure that Danse wasn’t jostled or harassed while he was adapting. Goodneighbor might be a waning slum, but no one was likely to challenge him or hold his past against him.

Haylen’s eyes rounded. “You…you’re still with that thing?” she stammered. She bared her teeth in a grimace. “I don’t see how can you stand to look at him, let alone….you know.”

At her words, Sterling spun and made himself very busy, scanning the area for threats and pointedly keeping his back to them, leaving them to sort out their issues without interference.

Danse’s mouth turned down into a wicked scowl as disappointment swelled. “Oh, Haylen…” he mumbled with a shake of his head. Negligently, he had forgotten that she was still a model Brotherhood soldier, her beliefs rooted as a part of who she was. Neither of them tried very hard to get through to the other during Danse’s seclusion. The only person that could stand him had been John. He tried to look at his situation from her perspective. Although he absolutely had, Danse no longer found John repulsive. He just…was the way he was. It wasn’t as if they had just met – how revolting, finding himself sexually attracted to some anonymous ghoul – and he owed John more than tolerance. Thought it horrified him, Danse had made a commitment to see John through his change, to stand by him and not let him face his deterioration alone. He felt guilty over John’s condition, carrying a certain responsibility for it. If his decision had been different…

He always seemed to choke on his words, but it was important that he try and explain. So few people were in his corner and the prospect of losing Haylen forever due to a disagreement over John was heartbreaking. Maybe she’d never understand. That would be unfortunate. They had been close for so long, fluttering at the edge of true friendship for years, the strain of their ranks keeping them from true comradery. “I managed to rekindle a previous romantic relationship at no small feat,” he told her. His fists were nervously balled, although he had no memory of doing so. “He wasn’t like this before, whereas I’ve always been a wretched being – shortsighted, intolerant, and synthetic. But despite who – despite what I am – despite what I’ve done that he finds reprehensible, despite the slights and slurs, he cares about me and has the capacity to forgive my actions. And so I can forgive his exterior.” 

Her hardened features slacked, her eyes softening. She looked down at her feet before meeting his gaze again. “I didn’t mean to offend you. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around everything that you’ve gone through. I just…I miss you, Sir.”

Her Sir both soothed and stung. It was a painful reminder of how straightforward and simple his life had been. He gave her a fragile smile and opened his arms. The stiffness in her spine vanished, and she loosened a huff of laugher before reaching up to drape her arms around his shoulders. The hug they shared was timid but warm. When she laughed again, he could feel the vibrations against his chest. “Well, the guy seems to be doing something right for you to show any affection at all.”

Sterling coughed dryly, redirecting their attention. “Can I come back now?” he queried from the rear of the craft. “We’ve got work to do.”

He and Haylen drew apart. “Of course,” Danse affirmed, prepared to shoulder any necessary burden. “What do you need?”

“I met with Maxson to discuss a situation that I recently became aware of. My trips to the Institute, they’ve, uh…shined a light on certain facts that we would have otherwise been blind to.”

“What did you find?” Danse asked with an air of suspicion. Although he trusted Sterling, he had a distain for secrets, something which the paladin seemed to thrive on. He couldn’t say that he sanctioned Sterling’s mysterious visits into the heart of enemy territory. The man went alone each time and returned looking either drawn or furious. Danse would have gladly switched places with him, as he was certain that his resolve was higher. If he twisted his head, he would be able to spot the charred remnants of the relay transport that first sent Sterling into the belly of the beast. The scorched pieces of the relay hadn’t been salvaged yet and stood as a technological testament to Brotherhood ingenuity in the open air of the exposed airport lobby.

Sterling’s furrowed brows and tight lips were straight lines. He sharply inhaled through his nose, and his words tumbled out, riding a single breath. “The Institute has at least one rat in Bunker Hill. Word got back to them that the trading post is ground zero for escaped and jeopardized synths. They plan to have a fleet of coursers and automated units bring them back.” He flinched, as if uneasy to speak about synths in front of Danse.

Utilizing Brotherhood forces to liberate synths…Danse’s loyalties felt divided. Not that his old prejudices were coming back into play, but the potential loss of soldiers’ lives on behalf of synths being sequestered by the Railroad was difficult to stomach. In truth, Danse’s opinions were cloudy. He tottered on the edge of wanting to hold each individual – synth, ghoul, or human – accountable for their own actions since, God knew, members of the Brotherhood were not without flaws. Of all his Brothers and Sisters, two were left that still held him in esteem. All his deeds, everything that he had given up or denied for the sake of duty, was now moot.

“You want us to launch a counterstrike?” Danse guessed with rising dismay. Clearly, Sterling was biting off more than he could chew. The three of them stood little chance against multiple Institute forces.

“Not just us,” Sterling clarified. “I may occasionally look stupid but, boy, do I build a mean house of cards.”

“Your fashionable glasses are fabulous, Sir,” assured Haylen. “Never let anyone tell you otherwise.”

“Thanks, Haylen. No, Danse. I’m bold, not suicidal.” Sterling pointed overhead at the mass of forces heading out into the field. “The Institute monitors all airwaves in the ‘Wealth. That’s why we took the long walk. I had to tell Maxson personally. The chance to take out a hefty number of coursers? No way he was gonna pass that up.”

“The Institute has our lines tapped?” Haylen looked pale. “Dammit,” she hissed. “This information would have been appreciated earlier, Sir.” That was as close to a scolding as someone of her rank dared. “But there’s an additional complication. I think the higher-ups might actually suspect that the town is harboring synth refugees. Over the last few hours, several known and suspected Railroad operatives have been spotted congregating within the town perimeter. It seems as if they’re organizing a full assault.”  

Sterling appeared stunned by this information. “The Railroad? No!” he shouted before getting his voice under control. “I told them to lay low for next few days and let me handle things! They couldn’t wait one day?”

The church.

Danse’s spine stiffened as he made the connection, feeling relieved that Sterling hadn’t taken him inside. He didn’t want any type of connection to the Railroad, not trusting them to resist grabbing him and scrubbing his memories clean on the spot.

Sterling looked equal parts confused and irate. He was pacing, his hands in his hair. “Maxson’s deployment is supposed to fight the Institute synths while the people of Bunker Hill go to ground! Why would the Railroad get in the middle of all that? Let the Brotherhood clean house. Railroad can deal with their charges after.”

Haylen shook her head. “It’s too late, Paladin. Brotherhood deployments are already converging on the area.”

“Bunker Hill is a Minutemen settlement, isn’t that right?” Danse chimed in, the fact dawning on him. “If word is traveling of an impending attack, wouldn’t Colonel Garvey be sending a team to defend it?”

The paladin cursed up a rainbow storm of insults. “Everybody wants me to help them but no one checks with me before actually doing anything!” he exasperatedly cried. “Out of everyone, the Railroad listens the least! They all think that they’re solving a problem when they’re only making more.” He leveled a fierce kick to the airplane’s hull that made the weakened support structure shudder. Recovering himself, Sterling pushed his hair from his forehead and said, “We need to get to Bunker Hill, fast. C’mon. We’re taking a ‘bird.” He headed out of the craft’s rear, jumping down onto the sandy beach.

Danse remained rooted to the spot. This was as far as he could go into Brotherhood occupied territory. He felt aggravated that Sterling would bring him so close to being part of a grandiose event, only to have him watch from the shadows and live vicariously through his former teammates.

 “Um, Paladin?” Haylen questioned.

Both Sterling and Danse turned to face her. Embarrassment flared and Danse looked away, his heart heavy. Never again would he carry a title. Such things were reserved for people, not masquerading machines.  

“You’re gonna need a pilot,” Haylen pointed out, approaching him. “All lancers have already been assigned.”

Sterling twisted the release valve on his armor. The back opened invitingly, ready to cradle its operator. He grinned at her. “I’ve got a pilot.” Nodding with his chin to Danse, he patted the open suit on the shoulder. “Saddle up,” he ordered.

Danse still hadn’t moved. “Is this the reason you brought me?” he asked, stunned.

“One of them, yeah,” Sterling disclosed. His expression hardened. “If I were to bring some lancer with me, they would happily lay waste to civilians if that meant inflicting more damage – targeting generators and vehicles to explode and damn the consequences for the poor local idiots. You know I’m right. I hold you in higher regard.”

He felt peculiar that Sterling trusted him in this way. Had the man witnessed so many senseless deaths caused by Brotherhood negligence that he would forgo the proper channels, opting to bring an outcast into the fray instead?

“You want me to…steal a vertibird?” Danse attempted to clarify, hoping that he was mistaken. 

“No. Not steal,” Sterling quickly explained. “I have one on reserve at the airport. I just need you to claim it. Haylen and I will meet you on the off-ramp to the airport. That should be far enough away to avoid additional eyes.”

Danse exhaled roughly. It wasn’t quite a sigh, but a sign of submission. He was very good at following orders, even when they set his nerves on fire. It was an ability that John had hated.

After striding to the suit, he hesitated, giving Sterling a once-over glance. The two of them were nearly the same size, and bared the same coloring. They could have been brothers through blood instead of combat. From a distance, they could easily be mistaken for one another. “For the record,” Danse stated, as he straddled the armor, “I believe this is a perfect storm of good intentions going awry.”

“Noted,” Sterling acknowledged with a curt nod. “Get in.”

Danse climbed into his armor, which sealed behind him with a well-acquainted hiss, feeling that reassuring squeeze as the suit pressurized. For a precious moment, his life was normal again. He was suited up and ready for battle, safe inside of his shell. His eyes raked over the screen’s display. Sterling was letting his helmet fall into disrepair, Danse observed with a sinking heart.  Headset displays were notoriously delicate pieces of equipment, prone to short circuits and loss of visual acuity. Several of the onscreen icons were flickering, their readings obscured.

“You good in there?” asked Sterling, knocking on the chestplate.

“Your upkeep is shoddy, solider,” was his response. “You should surrender this suit to Ingram once our mission is complete.”

He heard Haylen chuckle. “That’s our boy!” she quipped.

Hiking up his resolve, Danse set the suit in motion. Without an interfacing undersuit, the armor wasn’t nearly as comfortable as he recalled. The joints and shoulders rubbed abrasively at his skin through his worn clothing. The controls were sluggish and the steps sent unpleasant vibrations into his knees. How on earth did raiders manage to control such advanced gear without the proper attire?

He plodded his way towards the airport security gate, his knowledge of the area allowing for his body to continue on auto-pilot as his mind churned. What a harrowing experience. Despite his armor, he felt naked, wearing a sign that read Here I Am pasted onto his front. He tried to recall Sterling’s gait, and if it differed from his own. Every member of personal that he passed sent beads of sweat to trickle icily down his back. His presence drew almost every eye straight to him. Most nodded at his passing. Several even gave salutes, addressing him as ‘Paladin Sterling, Sir’.

Luckily, the airport was undermanned, the majority of able-bodied personnel headed to Bunker Hill. Danse found a handful of initiates gathered in the supply depot, playing what looked to be a makeshift game of Caravan. Too green to be cleared for field ops, their type had little to do during campaigns like this. They paid him vague attention, possibly because they were unfamiliar with individual officers, their lives an excess of training and menial tasks.

Skirting by, he overheard an embittered recruit say, “Our brothers better get a few licks in at those synthfuckers in the Railroad. About time they got crushed under our boot.”

Another gave an exuberant guffaw. “Those psychopaths are about to get their asses handed to them on a silver platter.”

Danse halted in the cover of the stairwell. For the first time, he was embarrassed by his former regime. He wanted to reprimand these recruits right there, to remind them of who the real enemy was, to not bother concerning themselves with an annoyance like the Railroad when the Institute was looming so large with the threat of a pending attack.

“Think the Railroad’s hiding Danse in there?”

His heart stopped. He didn’t breathe.

“In Bunker Hill, I mean,” that same solider continued. “It’s not like…I mean…his body wasn’t brought back…”

“Jeez, Clarke,” another answered. “You and your conspiracies.”

“No, think about it,” Clarke persisted. “Doesn’t the Railroad change what people look like? What if they made, like, a fake Danse for us to find? They could do that, right?”

The group seemed to think about that for a moment. “I guess,” one of them replied. “You think…is that why the Brotherhood is going all in? To try and reclaim Danse? All this action for a couple of lost synths and the shot to take out a few coursers…it’s kinda hard to swallow.”

Were these lackluster recruits right? Was this going to be a bloodbath because of him? He was inclined to agree with that recruit. Sending all able forces in to raid a single Railroad stronghold was overkill, even by Maxson’s standards. 

He set his jaw and continued up the stairs to the acquisitioned tarmac, his armored feet clanking on the concrete. As he crested the top of the stairs, a beautiful sight greeted him. Invictus sat on the landing platform, her polished plating gleaming in the sunshine, white bars of light reflecting off her hull. Her name was still proudly displayed on her tail in Danse’s own scrawl. Had Sterling selected this particular gunship to deliver him back to the ground following his meeting with the Elder? He must have, knowing what the ‘bird meant to Danse. He had assumed that he would never step inside of her again.

The tarmac was vacant of guards. Looking upward, he noticed that all vertibirds had detached from the Prydwen. The battle was on.

Crossing the platform, he hoisted himself inside. Danse secured the suit to the floor of the cabin by utilizing the magnets in the feet. He slid out the back of it and into the pilot’s seat. Selfishly, he wasted several seconds to run his hands lovingly over the control panels, tracing the buttons and screens warmed by the sunlight filtering in through the windshield, Invictus feeling alive under his touch. This ‘bird and this suit – he owed his life to both of them many times over.

Then, duty kicked in, and he began the process of getting Invictus into the sky. During preparations, he made sure to disable the tracking system and radio, ensuring that his unit would be off the grid. The wind in his hair felt glorious as he lifted away from the airport. He was free. Briefly, he imagined flying off, of grabbing John and leaving this vile Commonwealth behind. But no. That would self-indulgent. Sterling needed him and John would never abandon Goodneighbor. For better or worse, this was his life now, assisting from the shadows and sacrificing glory. 

He picked Sterling and Haylen up atop the fractured overpass as planned. Sterling climbed into the armor as Haylen took the navigator’s chair. She handed him her goggles to wear, and he graciously accepted. He and Haylen both reached for headsets. As long as Sterling had his helmet on, his voice would feed through the receivers and their voices would, in turn, be sent back to him.

Soon enough, they were back in the air and on their way to Bunker Hill. They flew over the waterfront, skimming the north end. Danse was thankful for Haylen’s goggles; the sunlit glare coming up from the river was intense.

“Why can’t I move?” Sterling queried over the headset.

Danse guessed that he must be trying to lift his feet to cross the interior. “I’ve magnetized the soles of the armor.”

“Why? What am I going to do? Fall out of this thing?”

“You’d be surprised,” Haylen and Danse dryly responded in tandem.

Sterling kept his mouth shut.

When they approached their endpoint, the battle was already in play. Danse kept them at a distance, skirting the surrounding streets.  As Sterling had predicted, one tanker truck was already ablaze. Several vertibirds were hovering within the enclosure of Bunker Hill’s courtyard, firing their front turrets in lengthy successions, ripping their targets to shreds. Their fire was met by a volley of deadly energy or lead aimed at the fuselages or lancers. Beams of blue light were crackling in vertical spears, the energy waves distorting readings on the control panels.  One ‘bird staggered in midair, its tail clipping a corner of the monument, sending chunks of granite tumbling from the spire before crashing to the ground. 

“Fire is too heavy,” Danse observed. Ground units were being pummeled by pieces of their own transports. “Haylen, reroute audio feeds. Sterling, get on the com and get these units out of the air. Ground forces should fall back until the sky is clear.”

“Lancers, this is Paladin Sterling,” the man announced to the other air units. He relayed Danse’s orders before Haylen switched the feed back to Invictus only. 

“Additional orders, Sir?” Sterling requested.  

A few beats of silence passed as the air traffic thinned. Apparently, they were both falling into old habits.

“Are you asking me to take charge?” Danse questioned, floored.

“I’m still a tourist, Danse. You’re the veteran. It’s your world, not mine. You belong in the field.”

Danse felt knocked off kilter by the praise. He finally caught onto why he had been brought. Sterling’s faith in him was unwavering. Although his title had been revoked, little had changed between them. He was honored that Sterling still relied on his council, trusting that he knew both the Brotherhood and the Wasteland inside and out and bestowing him with a purpose. That was one of Sterling’s attributes – grasping his friends’ desires and making them reality.

“Track the Institute relays,” Danse instructed, assuming his role. “At each burst, target the forces appearing at the base. Take the time to search out coursers. They have to take priority. Railroad operatives are an unfortunate irritation. Haylen, search out tell-tale signs of Stealth Boys – shimmering air or intermittent visuals – and flush them out, avoiding direct hits. Aim for distraction, not annihilation.”

Off starboard, a flash of light popped. The deep whom of Sterling’s Gauss rifle declared that he was picking off targets. His rounds were infrequent and controlled, selecting his prey with careful precision as he avoided friendlies. Haylen sent a few scattering shots down from the front turrets, attempting to dispel clusters of enemies firing up at them. Despite her actions, Invictus took intervals of extreme bombardment from combatants on the ground intent on bringing down a Brotherhood craft. Bullets pinged off of the hull and rattled around the insides of the cabin. Sterling let out a grunt and swore.

“Sterling, sound off,” Danse commanded. “Are you alright?”

“Negative. I’m blind,” was the paladin’s disgruntled reply. “Feed to the screen is out. Now I see why you always take your helmet off.” He blew a sigh. “I’m going to remove it.”

Without his helmet, Sterling wasn’t going to be able to effectively communicate. Now wasn’t the time for a lecture on gear maintenance, but Danse made a mental note to include one once they landed.

Something huge went hurling past the windshield, narrowly missing their craft. Swerving, Danse cringed and ducked his head out of reflex, never mind being incased in the cockpit. The object struck another ‘bird, which spun off course. The engine belched smoke as it went down nearby. Invictus quivered against the force of the ensuing fireball.

Haylen leaned forward into his periphery, almost rising out of her seat. “Where is it?” she sounded panicky. “Danse? Do you see it?”

“What happened?” Sterling yelled from the cabin, sounding confused. “See what where?”

Danse pulled up, gaining elevation and maintaining a level that he assumed was out of range. He scanned the roadways, circling. They were alone in the sky, the last remaining air unit. When he spotted the mutant behemoth, it was crushing a trio of his Brothers with an impressively sized boat anchor. His heart tore for those soldiers. “Affirmative,” he answered, the rancid taste of digust in his mouth.

Danse swung the craft around, pinpointing the asphalt-chucking behemoth with the front-mounted turrets. It stretched its entire stature, reaching to swing the anchor at Invictus’ exposed belly.

“Haylen! Light it up!”  Danse instructed. She lurched forward, gripping the gunnery controls as he held the craft steady. Haylen released a torrent of concentrated ammo into the roaring beast.

“What going on?” Sterling shouted again in alarm.

“Mount that minigun, Sterling,” Danse instructed over his shoulder. “Fire!”

Sterling continued to holler over the drone of the propellers. “I don’t – Shit.” He must have finally seen it. In less than five seconds, the cabin was filled with echoing minigun fire, a thrilling sound despite being deafening.

Daring a glance over his shoulder, Danse caught sight of Sterling leaning as far out of the cabin as he could manage. He had ripped the minigun off of its axis and was unloading it into the mutant, looking as if this was where he belonged, the fray a part of who he was, the necessary lifeblood to keep on living in a world that had let him down. Danse understood. In that manner, they were the same person. Over the bellowing of the mutant, and the firing of both types of weaponry, Danse could hear Sterling’s battle cry, visceral, enraged and authentic. 5mm casings flowed downward like hail, spilling across the floor and cascading out of the ‘bird.

Amid the screaming and gunfire, if allotted, Danse would capture this moment and happily live in it for eternity. The rush of blood, the surge of adrenaline, it was essential. Without it, he was lost. His knuckles tightened over the throttle.

John would have to understand. 

This was where he lived.