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All The Things We Leave Behind

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Serena Woodward started to regain consciousness before she actually understood what was happening. She came back to her body slowly, disjointedly, a tickle of awareness deep in her brain sparking to life. She felt weightless, her mind thoughtless. The air around her was still and silent, but in her mind she could hear. A song, completely inane and not connected to anything happening in the moment.

March along, sing our song, with the Army of the free

Count the brave, count the true, who have fought to victory

We’re the Army and proud of our name

We’re the Army and proudly proclaim

In her mind, she sees Nate. She hears his voice, off-key but not unpleasant. He's singing at the top of his lungs, a towel slung low on his hips as he bounces and sways his way down the hall from the bathroom. He's fresh out of the shower. Serena's laugh rings out, loud and brash. It was the way he always made her laugh when they were like this. Unapologetic and totally them, particularly in the early days of their relationship, when it was all fresh and shiny and new.

First to fight for the right,

And to build the Nation’s might,

And the Army goes rolling along

Proud of all we have done,

Fighting till the battle’s won,

And the Army goes rolling along.

A memory of strong arms holding her from behind, hands already beginning to explore and tease. One sliding up to cup her breast, the other fumbling with the button on her pants. Nate pressed along her back, her shirt already feeling damp from his wet skin. Nate moves behind her, still in the rhythm of the song, the towel sliding off and pooling at their feet. The button gave way and Nate's hand moved down, further down, seeking out her warmth. His mouth is on her ear, singing more quietly, just for her.

Then it’s Hi! Hi! Hey!

The Army’s on its way.

Count off the cadence loud and strong (TWO! THREE!)

For where e’er we go,

You will always know

That the Army goes rolling along.

Serena's in bed now, the room dark around them. She watches as her husband paces around the room, soothing their son Shaun's cries. He had already been nursed and changed, and now his father was singing to him, Nate's low and lulling voice working its magic. Serena watched her two favorite boys, her heart swelling as her husband tilted his face down to leave a gentle kiss on his son's forehead. 

Valley Forge, Custer’s ranks,

San Juan Hill and Patton’s tanks,

And the Army went rolling along

Minute men, from the start,

Always fighting from the heart,

And the Army keeps rolling along.

Serena was just so fucking fond of Nate. He wasn't perfect, she knew that better than anyone. But he was good, and he made her laugh more than he made her cry. She loved how he loved their son, and their life together. She loved how she could still look at him and see the boy she'd met so many moons ago, just forming into the man before her comforting their son. The twinkle in his eye right before he did or said something terribly offensive or inappropriate, just waiting for her raucous laughter. She beckoned him to come back to bed, to bring the baby. The three of them curled together, lost in their own little world.

Men in rags, men who froze,

Still that Army met its foes,

And the Army went rolling along.

Faith in God, then we’re right,

And we’ll fight with all our might,

As the Army keeps rolling along.

Her brain finally caught up to her, and Serena started to become aware of her surroundings. She realized that she was cold, that her body was tingling with the feeling of pins and needles. She had always hated that feeling, would have preferred to be in actual pain in some instances just to avoid that creepy-crawly sensation. Slowly, so slowly, Serena opened her eyes and looked up. She took in the sight of the inside of her pod, not understanding for a moment where she was. There was a small window plate in front of her, the edges already a bit fogged up. She peered out at the pod across from her, the figure slumped down and barely in view, before it clicked.

Nate. Shaun.

She struggled to move, needing to get the fuck out of this little metal coffin and across to Nate to see if he was okay. Her limbs felt detached, their disuse clear to her immediately. By sheer will alone, Serena managed to hit herself against the door a few times until it popped open, promptly dropping her on the floor below. She laid there, hunched over and trying to get her bearings, her need to get to Nate waking her up more and spurning her on. When she thought she might be able to walk, Serena pushed up from the floor and got her feet under her. She stumbled the few steps across the walkway to Nate's pod. She could already see through his window that there was no chance. But she had to see him, to feel him. She fussed with the controls until she heard the lid unlatch and hiss as it gave way. Serena pushed the lid up and got a good look at Nate.

A small sob escaped her. "I'll find who did this," she promised. 

Serena's hands trembled as she slipped Nate's wedding ring off of his hand. She patted herself down, looking for a pocket on her damn jumpsuit to no avail. The ring was too big to fit on her own fingers, and that would be a surefire way to lose it. For a lack of anywhere else to hide it, Serena tucked it into her bra, close to her heart. She reached up and touched Nate's cheek, smoothed his hair back on his head, traced her thumb over those lips she'd kissed thousands of times. She didn't want to leave him down here but she was in no condition to try and get him out on her own. She made another promise, this one to herself. To come back and lay him to rest the right way. 

She checked the other pods in the room, their inhabitants in no better shape than Nate was. Though at least they didn't have a bullet wound marring their peaceful appearances. There was a terminal in the room and Serena took a look at the records, already confirming what her eyes had told her. These people, her neighbors and friends, were all gone. She thought that maybe she should lay them all to rest the right way. It was the decent thing to do, after all. As she exited the chamber room, she finally took notice of the alarm that was repeating in the air. It had been going on the entire time Serena had been awake, and who knew how long before that, but she had been so focused on getting to Nate that she hadn't even paid it any mind. Serena quickly tuned it out again as she explored the rest of the vault. Her ventures into other rooms found more deceased neighbors, a gun and some bullets, miscellaneous odds and ends and some disgustingly huge roaches. Serena had thought that roaches back in her day had been bad enough. These looked like they'd actually eat her if they had the chance. She managed to smash them all with the gun she found, not needing to waste any bullets. She looked at them on the floor for a moment before ripping out their meat. She had no idea what the food situation was like, and like it or not, she'd eat a damn bug if she had to.

As she poked around, she also managed to find out that the vault had been experimenting with cryogenically freezing its inhabitants. Serena thought about all of those dead bodies and considered the experiment a failure. But then, she was here, wasn't she? Was that a success, or just an anomaly?

There was a huge gun in a case on the wall, one that would supposedly be able to freeze someone just by shooting them. Serena was intrigued, fingers dancing along the box looking for a latch or a way to get around the strong lock keeping it inside. No way she could get this thing open. "I'll come back for you later."

Finally, she made her way into a familiar area, the entrance bay she'd last seen when she picked up her jumpsuit and followed the doctor to her doom. More death in there too, but these weren't frozen people that were relatively unscathed. These were skeletons covered in the barest remains and scraps of clothes and lab coats. Serena inspected them, once again feeling overwhelmed at the magnitude of it all. She wanted to just get the hell out of this tomb. But what the fuck was she about to find when she got to the surface. Better yet, how the hell was she even getting there? The vault was sealed tight, and Serena had no idea how to even get the damn door open. She looked around, kicking at a box and poking around in corners. She saw a control panel, another skeleton on the floor in front of it. But this one had a contraption around what used to be its arm. Serena picked it up, putting it around her own arm and clasping it into place. She fumbled with the controls until she got it on, cleaning the screen with her thumb while it started up. Pipboy. Huh.

Serena looked at the control panel in front of her, noticing there was a round part that looked like it should have something there. Maybe that would control the door. She glanced around, not seeing anything useful. She used her free hand to feel around on her Pipboy until she found a piece on a string that pulled out. Lo and behold, it was the right shape, and she eagerly pushed it into place. She watched the screen, waiting until she got indication that it was ready. One deep breath later, Serena closed her eyes and punched the button.

The grinding noise was loud, drowning out the sound of the alert system, and was bloody music to her ears. She watched as the vault creaked and squeaked and groaned its way back to life. The walkway extended, the vault door retracted and rolled aside, the large industrial elevator descended from the surface to greet her and take her home.

Serena was more than a bit terrified of what she would find, but she'd be damned if she wasn't going up there to find the fuck out.

As the elevator rose, she watched the glow of the sunlight get brighter and brighter. At the last minute, before she rose above the lip of the elevator shaft, she closed her eyes. Giving herself a moment to prepare. The elevator dragged itself to a stop, and everything was quiet. So quiet. Serena waited, eyes closed, adjusting to the sounds of the outdoors. She could hear leaves and grass rustling in the breeze, but nothing else. Finally she opened her eyes, and the sight brought her to her knees.

The sky was still beautiful and blue, but the wreckage of everything else was overwhelming. Bleak. Stark. The grass around her should have been lush and green, not this sickly brown color. Trash and litter scattered about. Serena knew the world had gone to shit, she'd still been awake when the bombs fell obviously. But seeing it, seeing it, that was a whole different thing. She moved slowly off of the elevator platform, investigating the area immediately surrounding her, poking around in a trailer and grabbing a couple of items that might be useful. She'd have to make sure that she got some sort of a bag or rucksack, or even just something to make some damn pockets on her suit. Anything to carry stuff besides her own two hands. She wasn't sure where exactly she should go, so she decided to go to the one place she knew.

Serena went home.