To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

You can catch up on the story at Part 1Part 2 and Part 3.

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To Catch a Dragon (Part 4)

They followed the shoreline not sure what they were looking for. Perhaps another footprint. A scale. Or even a dragon bathing in the lake.

Instead, they found a handful of deer, a couple of moose, and even a flock of sheep. All which should have been tasty morsels for a dragon, but no such creature was tempted from the sky.

“Any people missing?” Ndrek asked as he glanced over his shoulder at the sheep.

“No. Livestock seem to be accounted for as well.”

“What I felt may not have been a dragon, but whatever it was, it was far more powerful than the lich Sir Marcus destroyed.”

Knight Kailis frowned. “Maybe you just drank too much ale.”

“It takes far more than Tamarian ale to make me fall down drunk.”

“Maybe it was spiked with something.”

“Let’s say it wasn’t spiked ale that knocked him out,” Vaiya said. “And, for the sake of argument, let’s assume it wasn’t a long dead dragon or elven arch mage. What does that leave?”

Ndrek thought for several long moments, then ticked each off his fingers. “A supremely powerful but untrained and undiscovered sorcerer. A magical relic of immense power. A dragon. An elven arch mage.”

“An untrained sorcerer would be hard to hide,” Vaiya said. “They tend to set themselves and those they love on fire while still in the cradle.”

“That leaves a relic.” Kailis frowned. “I suppose it’s possible.”

“And if true, very dangerous,” Ndrek said.

“We’ll spend the next couple of days searching for any additional clues and following any leads the locals can give us. If you sense that kind of magic again, I’ll send an urgent request for back-up to the Dragon Church.”

“And if not?” Ndrek said.

“Then I make a full report and let the Dragon Church decide. Not sure how much manpower they want to spend on this when they’ve got undead walking the streets in the eastern provinces.”

“I would not wish to return to the eastern provinces. Hard to believe, but the food is better here. So is the smell,” Ndrek said.

Knight Kailis shook her head and led them back to town.

 

Curiosity burned. Ndrek knew something was out there, something of immense power, but not necessarily hostile. If it were, Kelleran would already be dust.

Church protocol bound Knight Kailis, but it didn’t bind him.

He watched the Knight of Valor conduct the investigation with by-the-book precision, but they knew nothing more when they retired for the day than they had at the beginning.

Ndrek lay in bed and studied the whitewashed ceiling. There was something out there. He could almost feel a whisper of its power. Almost.

Perhaps it was his desire to find the source of the magic that he felt rather than anything else, but he had to know.

His companions were asleep when he slipped out of the inn. He didn’t bother with the invisibility or silence spells. If he did find the presence, such magic would be of no consequence to it.

A sliver of a moon lit his path, and Ndrek augmented it with a faint light spell. No point tripping over a rock, and if this was a dragon, it already knew he was coming.

The familiar patter of his heart fueled him, and Ndrek felt himself come alive. His hearing was sharper, his eyes keener, even his sense of smell heightened.

A dragon. An elven arch mage. Something was out there. Waiting for him.

It would’ve been wiser to wake Kailis or Vaiya, but he didn’t want to endanger them. He had to find the truth, but he wouldn’t let anyone but himself die for it.

Ndrek crested the last hill and saw Lake Meade sparkling in the faint light. A man stood shirtless beside the water. His skin was pale as new fallen snow, and his hair shimmered as it reflected the faint moonlight.

“I knew you would come.”

Ndrek’s magelight spell evaporated as the words rumbled over his flesh. The wizard swallowed back the metallic taste of fear as his entire body trembled.

“You are not the one I seek.” The pale man continued to stare across the lake.

“Who is?”

“I don’t know. I thought I felt her, but I no longer do.”

Ndrek said nothing as the water lapped the shore. He could feel whispers of the same magic pressing against him, but this time, the magic was contained. Wrapped in strong wards that even now were weaving ever tighter and locking away the power.

The man turned to look at him, and Ndrek felt the weight of a thousand mountains in those violet eyes. Millennia of loneliness, isolation, and longing seared Ndrek’s mind in the time it took a firefly to blink. In the same moment, Ndrek’s soul was laid bare, exposing everything he was and all he wasn’t.

The man turned back to the lake, breaking the link.

Managing to stay on his feet, Ndrek forced himself to breathe.

“Go. You will find no dragon here.”

Ndrek nodded and fled to the inn, never looking back.

 

Ndrek accompanied Knight Kailis and Priestess Vaiya as they spent seven more suns following leads and looking for signs of a dragon, mage, or relic. They found none.

When Kailis asked him over and over about what he’d felt the night they’d found him on the road, Ndrek deflected, saying that perhaps the innkeeper had given him a stronger drink. Or perhaps he’d reacted poorly to something in the rocks or soil.

Kailis didn’t believe him, but she eventually stopped asking.

Three days after they returned home, Ndrek swore under his breath as Sir Leopold tromped into his bar and dropped payment onto the counter.

The Knight pinned him with his faded blue stare that always saw more than Ndrek wanted. “Knight Kailis thinks you found something but won’t tell her.”

Ndrek collected his payment and dropped it into the folds of his cloak. “You will not find a dragon in Kelleran.”

“Not what I asked.”

Ndrek closed his eyes as the memories flooded him, and even in the quiet warmth of his bar, he shivered.

“You look like you saw a ghost.”

“Those are easy to deal with.”

“What did you find?” Leopold folded his arms and waited.

“Doesn’t matter. It didn’t find what it’s looking for.”

“And what was it looking for?”

Ndrek paused a moment. “I think its mate.”

“Then it’s gone for good?”

“I hope so.” But the prickle down Ndrek’s back warned it was an empty hope.

Why Books?

Why do I choose to spend my time reading and writing with everything else in this world that competes for my attention?

Television. Movies. Games. Twitter. Facebook.

Whatever is your choice of diversion. But I’ve chosen books. Why?

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For one, I read romance novels, fantasy, and then Sci Fi. I dislike most romantic comedies, so once you exclude those, you’re really not left with much to choose from in the romance category. I can only watch Pride & Prejudice so many times.

Only recently has fantasy and sci fi really gotten any Hollywood love. Even then, there’s only a handful of movies and unless they have huge budgets, they look awful.

At least compared to my imagination.

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Looks like these astronauts are on Triton. There’s a story here…

And then there are the characters. Books, good books, do characters right. I am ecstatic when the bad guy goes down, and I love it when the hero wins because I’m invested in them. It’s much easier to invest me in a character via a book than a movie. That’s just the nature of the genres. I can actually see what the character is thinking and feeling. A good actor can get some of that across, but not like a good author.

TV shows,far more than movies, have a lot of potential for character development, but oftentimes, networks beat their shows to death rather than giving them a graceful ending. I can think of several right now, but X-Files always comes to mind first.

While I love an immersive video game RPGs, so many of them do wrong by the characters. *cough* Danse in Fallout 4 *cough* I feel like video games could be so much more, but they’re not there yet. Maybe they’ll never be. But I can hope. They feel like the closest to books to me, and I love the interactive aspect.

My favorite past time other than reading and writing is playing table top RPGs run by a competent DM. For those not familiar, this means games likes Dungeons & Dragons. Sure, they’ve gotten a bad rap, but our group of friends are all quite respectable and many hold very highly-paid day jobs. No basement dwellers among us, and no one lives at home.

But tabletop RPGs gets back to characters again. A good DM sets up the world and then turns the characters you’ve made loose in it. Yes, they keep the story going, but they never railroad you or force you to do dumb things to keep their plot going. They improvise to keep the players happy and interested. To keep them focused on what’s going on and engaged in the world.

Characters are what keeps me reading and writing.

How about you? What makes you read when you could be doing something else?

 

Loving a Mage Lord: Part 5

Continued from Part 1Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 should you wish to catch up on the story. Or just jump right in.

Not sure if you all are enjoying this. Let me know in the comments below. I can either keep posting pieces of the story, or go back to my regular writer ramblings on Friday.

 

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Post 5

Aenwyn studied the deep red blooms, thinking through the spells she knew and how she could repurpose them.

Reaching for her magic, she teased off a strand and wrapped it around the blossom, coaxing it to change color.

The flower stayed red.

She tried again, taking a different approach and modifying a different spell.

“Closer,” Dryden said.

He linked his fingers with hers so her bare palm pressed against his, and she felt the rush of his magic. Strong. Powerful. Controlled. He could overwhelm her if he chose, sweep her away with the sheer intensity of his magic.

Instead, he guided her, nudging her closer to the correct answer without showing her how to do it. The touch of his magic and the quiet gentleness of his guidance revealed more about him than words ever could.

Her wards offered only a whisper of protection, and she felt as if he could see all she was, all she’d ever been.

Tamping down the fear and vulnerability, she started to pull back.

He allowed her to ease away, but he also lowered his wards for her, wards that were far stronger than any she could hope to breach. By letting her through, Dryden gave her a glimpse of the man who shared her magic.

With both of their wards cast aside, the magic mingled more freely between them. A deeper and more intimate joining that both terrified and delighted her.

Swallowing hard, she forced herself to focus on the flower. She wove the spell, accepting his guidance, and watched the bloom turn yellow.

Excitement swelled through her. She touched another flower and turned it yellow. This time without his help.

“Yes, just like that,” he said. He reached up and caught an escaped strand of her flame-red hair, then trailed his fingers over the exposed flesh of her shoulder.

She closed her eyes as a delicious shiver of pleasure coursed through her.

She felt him strong and powerful beside her, felt his magic flowing through the gardens and around her. The heady fragrance of flowers filled the air, but she barely noticed them over the rich almost electrical scent of him. Like the air after a storm.

He leaned closer, the planes of his chest brushing against her, teasing over the skin her dress left exposed.

Her breath hitched as desire snaked through her. Tightening her hold on his hand, she pressed closer to him, enjoying the sensual contrast of his heavy mage robes against her bare flesh.

Dryden’s hand slid down her back and held her tightly against him as he touched his lips to hers.

Loving a Mage Lord: Part 4

Continued from Part 1Part 2, Part 3, should you wish to catch up on the story. Or just jump right in.

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Post 4

His words weren’t a request. Aenwyn sucked in a breath. While she and most of the Empire knew of Mage Lord Dryden, what was said about him wasn’t complimentary. She almost regretted letting Caewyn go.

Almost. She wanted to see her friend happy more than anything.

Gathering up her courage, she walked to the edge of the dance floor then turned to face Dryden. “My apprenticeship? I’m the duchess’s companion, nothing more.”

“I can protect you from Lady Melisandra better than a half-trained wizard can, duchess or not.”

Aenwyn swallowed, and her eyes darted to the crowd.

“Come, let’s talk. I promised to be a gentleman, and I will be.” Dryden offered her his arm, and Aenwyn bit her lip but took it, forcing her hand to remain still despite the fluttering in her stomach.

The sea of guests parted before the mage lord, and he swept her outside and along the paths of the garden.

She could feel the change in him, feel him relax under her fingers as a whisper of his magic seeped through his wards. Sky magic, she was almost certain of it. Sky mages were some of the most powerful, though the title of archmage meant he’d mastered all schools of magic.

No small feat, and it was a testament to his tenacity as well as his intelligence and skill.

They were deep in the gardens when he took a deep breath and let it out. His magic flowed over her like the quiet blanket of night.

“You don’t like the crowds.”

Dryden lifted his shoulders. “Do you?”

“I’ve learned to deal with them.”

“To be Lady Escadia’s companion?”

“A companion is of little use if she never leaves her rooms.”

“And a mage of great potential is of little use if she spends her time as a companion.”

Straightening her spine, Aenwyn glared up at the haughty archmage. “How can someone as offensive as you have such serene magic?”

“The truth is seldom flattering.”  He paused then looked at her. “You can feel my magic even through my wards.”

“It leaks. Less so inside than out here. Probably because you’re back under the sky.”

“Gifted and observant. You’re squandering your potential.”

“Not all of us have the birthright to get to do as we choose.”

“A failing of a crumbling empire.”

“I do what I must.”

“Which is why you’re hiding behind Escadia. Listening to her tutors and doing her work for her.”

“You can’t prove that.”

“I don’t have to.” Dryden paused beside a flowering shrub. “Can you turn the blossoms yellow?”

“Why?”

“Because I want to know if you can.”

“I never learned that spell.”

“You are an elven wizard. Can you do it anyway?”

Aenwyn frowned, but she accepted his challenge.

End: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

Continued from: Part 1Part 2, Part 3, & Part 4.

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End: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

They awoke more tired than when they’d gone to bed. She’d lost track of how many times they’d made love, how many times he’d brought her to climax, and how many times she’d wished her conscious would simply let her marry him.

The thought made her smile, and while wanted it, wanted him, she had to make sure he wanted her. She would have to give up her Vault and the people she loved to be with him and his brothers and sisters. It was a hard choice, but one she’d make. She just didn’t want him to regret asking her to spend the rest of their lives together.

Conversation quieted between them as they walked southwest of Diamond City and came to a small ghost town. No signs of squatters or even raiders.

“Lots of the scientists lived here before the war. We lived in the next town over because Mom didn’t want to be too close to Dad’s work colleagues. She said he worked enough already.”

“Do you want to go up and see it?”

“I left that life behind 200 years ago, and I may be starting a new one in a few months. But this is where we must part ways.”

“I love you, Tesla.”

“And I love you.” She hugged him, and even through the power armor, she felt the tension in him. He didn’t want to let her go, and his every instinct was to fight for what he wanted.

She turned away from him and walked into the silent and abandoned town. She didn’t look back, knowing she didn’t have the strength to continue if she did.

Danse watched her go until he couldn’t see her anymore. He waited another hour, maybe more, before setting the flare that called a veribird.

Paladin Danse returned to the Prydwen, silent and brooding, and found Elder Maxson was waiting. After making a full report to the Elder, Maxson shook his head.

“Shame about those Wastelanders. Holotags were barely dry. Two deathclaws,” Maxson shook his head. “I’ll send a squad out to retrieve the power armor. When you’re ready, I have another mission for you at Fort Strong.”

“Reporting for duty, sir.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

Danse listened to the mission briefing on Fort Strong. Another dangerous mission. Another chance he might not make it home. Once he wouldn’t have cared, but now… He touched the holotags around his neck.

“Before I send you to Fort Strong, tell me about this Vault Dweller you recommended for admittance into the Brotherhood.”

“Nate, Sole Survivor of Vault 111 and a veteran of the Battle for Anchorage. Skills are sharp. I saw him in action in ArcJet against synths.” Danse paused, considering Nate’s proclivity to pick up junk. “Still acclimating to the wastes after his time in cryostasis.”

“Sounds like a solid addition to the Brotherhood. I’ll have you head back over to the police station. See if you can recruit him. Keeping Knight Rhys and Scribe Haylen there to oversee the outpost.”

Danse slapped his fist over his heart in acknowledgment. He turned to leave, then paused. “Permission to speak freely, sir?”

“Of course. What’s on your mind?”

“Back at the Citadel, soldiers and their families were permitted to dwell together.”

Maxson stilled. “Did you get a girl in trouble?”

“No, nothing like that.”

Maxson let out the breath he’d been holding. “In time, after we get the airport fortified, yes, we’ll work on setting up a place for families. Only rare exceptions like you have the same drive and commitment as those born into the Brotherhood.”

A rare smile curved Danse’s lips as he thought of a son of his as a Brotherhood squire. All the more incentive to make it home alive.

But if he didn’t… Elder Maxson wasn’t the right person to ask. Maybe Scribe Haylen. If he didn’t make it back, he wanted Tesla to know that’s why he hadn’t come for her at the end of the six months.

With his mission briefing in hand, Danse went back to the police station in search of Haylen.

***After the story events leading to Blind Betrayal***

“Still thinking about him?”

Tesla looked up from the detail schematic she’d stopped seeing ten minutes ago. She pressed her lips together as glanced at her father and shrugged.

“I want to punch the bastard that hurt you like this, but from the sounds of it, that wouldn’t end well for me.”

Tesla smiled and hugged her father.

“Have to say, though, I’m glad you’re not going back to the Wastes. You made robotics team lead, and with all of the advancements this Institute has made that we’re getting our hands on, it’s going to take a strong person to keep us on the straight and narrow.”

“I know the answer to Turing’s conversation. A machine can have a soul, Papa. I met one that did.”

“All the more reason for us to be careful.” He hugged her and looked down at the tiny receiver she wore around her neck. “And if he ever finds the sense he was born with, maybe you can convince him to join us. I’d rather gain a son, even an unruly one, than lose a daughter.”

“His transmitter is undamaged.” She shrugged. “Perhaps his feelings changed after returning him.”

“Or things in the Wastes are more unpredictable than here in the Vault. If he does stop being stupid, at least consider asking him to join us here.”

“He would never…”

“Did you ask him?”

She looked down.

“At least give him the choice, Tes. And I promise not to hit him. I’d only hurt my hand.” Her father hugged her again and left her to her work.

Tesla’s head jerked up when the tiny receiver around her neck kicked into life. Six months had come and gone so long ago that she’d given up hope. Perhaps not entirely, as she still wore the radio, but…

“Is he really dead?” an unfamiliar female voice asked.

“He’s dead to Brotherhood,” a man said.

“Not the same.”

The man’s voice dropped to little more than a whisper. “I convinced Maxson to spare him, but if anyone in the Brotherhood ever sees him, they’ll shoot him on sight.”

“You found him at Listening Post Bravo,” the woman said.

“Don’t tell anyone else. Don’t even breathe it. Give him time to escape.”

“The Brotherhood was his life,” the female voice said. “I don’t care what they say he is. Danse is a good man.”

“One of the best,” the male voice replied. “Which is why I would’ve gone to blows with Maxson if he hadn’t spared him.”

The tiny battery on her transmitter died and she missed the rest of the conversation, but she knew the Brotherhood had learned the truth about Danse. That they could have cast him out after all they meant to him, all he’d sacrificed for them…

She pressed her lips together as she hurried out of her workroom. Yanking off her clean suit, hairnet, and gloves, she tossed them into a bin as she hurried through the Vault to her room. The glittering power armor stood quietly in the corner. Her bots had been busy, even if she’d lost hope she would ever need it.

She paused a moment as she looked at the suit. Danse hadn’t actually called for her. Hadn’t actually said he wanted her to come back to him.

To hell with it.

If the Brotherhood had kicked him out, he’d be in more pain than when the deathclaw had ripped apart his leg. And if she knew him at all, she knew he’d be destroying himself, blaming himself, because he’d lost everything he loved.

He may not want her as his lover anymore, but she could still offer him the comfort a friend. And he’d need that.

Donning her power armor, she clomped down to the newly built relay station. Hadn’t been too hard to purchase the remains of a dozen synths the Sole Survivor had destroyed. The Institute’s technology was impressive, far more advanced than theirs is some ways, primitive in others.

But once they’d had access to the Institute’s leavings, Vault 010 had been working furiously to unravel how it worked. How and if to use this technology was still being hotly debated by the ethics committee, but the one thing they’d unanimously agreed on was copying their teleportation technology.

When the security officer saw her walking towards him in the power armor, he stepped in front of her and crossed his arms over his chest. “We’re still proving it out, Tesla.”

“You can either send me to Listening Post Bravo, or I am walking there.”

“You’re a research lead. You can’t go traipsing through the wastes!”

She folded her armored arms over her chest. “You going to stop me?”

The guard glanced at the relay technician and then back at the faceless armor. “Lemme call this in.”

“You have ten minutes.”

Danse sat on the sagging mattress, head in his hands. Why had Nate decided to spare him? The Sole Survivor should have taken him out rather than standing up to Maxson for him. Danse looked down at his hands, still unable to believe he was a machine. An abomination. An example of everything that was wrong with humanity.

How many of his memories were even his? Clearly, he’d never been child. Had his time in Rivet City been real or were they another man’s memories? He couldn’t be sure.

He looked at his laser rifle sitting next to him. Almost impossible to take his own life with it. He looked toward the dead yao guai rotting in the broken ruins of the bunker. Tesla had warned him about it, but he hadn’t wanted to end up here. He’d wanted to go down to the third floor, the one they’d shared for those few weeks. A trip down memory lane before he ended it all. But he hadn’t been able to figure out how to make the elevator go there.

Tesla. She’d probably forgotten him by now. The six months had come and gone. He’d been so wrapped up with dealing with the Institute and helping Nate that he knew he couldn’t have married Her and brought her within the Brotherhood fold. Especially as the airport was being prepared for war with the institute.

She deserved better than that, and he was sure someone in her Vault would give it to her.

Besides, better that she not know the truth about the ‘man’ she thought she loved.

He ran his hands through his hair.

He’d lost everything and everyone who’d ever mattered to him. While it would be easier to just give up, Nate had fought Maxson for his life and won. Nate saw something in him worth saving. Maybe there was, maybe there wasn’t, but Nate was the last man he’d called a friend since Cutler.

Standing, Danse collected his laser rifle, provisions, and ammunition. Maybe he’d head out to the countryside, start a farm or something. Damn the Institute for creating him, for letting him feel pain and loss. He couldn’t quite damn them for having let him love, even if it was a short time.

Hefting his pack, he paused as he heard the elevator engage. It slid past his floor, but he could hear nothing through the rock.

Rifle drawn and aimed, his heart thudded against his ribs. Someone had gotten past Tesla’s security protocols to get down to the third floor. Had Nate come back to end him? Only the Sole Survivor would have the skills to hack past Tesla’s security parameters, and even then, Nate would have to know there was a third floor to get to.

The elevator lit up again, and when the doors opened, a vaguely familiar suit of power armor emerged. The suit held up its hands. It wasn’t Nate. “Don’t shoot.”

“Tesla? What the hell are you doing here?” He lowered his weapon.

She took off her helmet and smiled at him. “I heard you were here.”

She was even more beautiful than he remembered. His chest constricted. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t.”

Her lips pressed together, and the hurt on her face pierced his heart. He reached out for her, then yanked his hand back. She deserved better than a machine.

She stepped out of her power armor and walked over to him, the top of her head brushing his shoulder. Wrapping both of her hands around one of his, she looked up at him.

Her fingers looked so small, pale and fragile compared to his. He laid his other hand overtop of hers, and when he looked up, he found himself caught by eyes as blue as her Vault suit.

“You’re hurting more now than when I found you the first time.”

He couldn’t bring himself to say the words, to tell her the truth about what he was. The lie he was.

“Where’s your power armor?”

His face fell.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered and wrapped her arms around him.

“I’m not a man,” he choked as he pulled away from her. “You should go. You deserve better than a machine can give you.”

“I knew you were a synth long before I fell in love with you.”

His head snapped up. “You knew?”

“You can’t fool my Fixers.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to cause you pain. To see you hate the man I love. And the only way anyone would’ve known would’ve required technology similar to Vault 010s. The Brotherhood meant so much to you, but with 200 year old tech, they could have never learned…”

Danse heard her unasked question and shrugged. “I was helping the Sole Survivor find his son. He hacked into the Institute’s databases for the Brotherhood, and that’s where they learned…”

“That they’re racist bigots?”

Danse’s head snapped up, defense of the Brotherhood on his lips.

“One night, when I was missing my mother particularly badly, I asked my father why God would let the world end.”

“What did he tell you?”

“That sometimes the world is so corrupt, so evil, that God must flood it to start anew. I hated God for letting the war happen for a long time.”

“Do you think the Wastes are an improvement?”

“I don’t know. The evil that permeated the old world…” She shook her head. “ And when anyone stood up or questioned, they were labeled a communist and carted away. So many atrocities, and people stopped fighting them.”

Danse reached into his pack and withdrew a handful of holotapes. “Speaking of atrocities, the information on Vault 75.”

Her eyes widened. “How…”

“You wanted it, and when the Sole Survivor had to go there, I was with him.”

“You remembered.”

“I thought of you most nights. But the fight with the Institute, helping the Sole Survivor… I had to protect you, and you were safe in your Vault. Besides, if I didn’t make it home…”

“Trying to protect me even after death?”

He looked down at his hands.

Holding up the holotapes, she shook her head. “I thought you said a whole Brotherhood squadron couldn’t get into Vault 75.”

“You haven’t met Nate. He’d have leveled half the Commonwealth to get his son back. And when he finally found him…” Danse shook his head. “Still not sure what he’ll do.”

“Nate has to make his choices, just as you have to make yours.”

“I…I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’d expected Nate or Maxson…”

“To call you a communist and destroy you?”

Danse ran his hand through his hair. “It’s not like that. I’m not even human.”

“Stop.” The sharpness in the single word had him staring up at her. “Not even you are allowed to hurt the man I love.”

“You still love me? Even knowing…”

“I already told you I knew before I kissed you. Before we…” Her cheeks colored.

“I love you, Tesla, but I have nothing to offer you.”

“Do you really love me?”

He looked at her, pain etched across his face. “I don’t have the words to tell you how I feel. You are the last thing I think of at night and the first thing on my mind every morning.”

She touched his cheek. “I had been willing to give up everything to be a soldier’s wife.”

“Had been?”

“You aren’t a soldier anymore.”

He sucked in a breath.

“So come back to the Vault with me.”

“The Vault? I’m not a scientist.”

“You are an effective commander. We could use you in project control. And on the ethics committee, especially since we came into possession of Institute tech.”

His eyes widened.

“Haven’t done much with it yet, but the ethics committee will decide how we proceed.”

“Tesla…”

“And our security staff is lax. The entire Vault should be trained to shoot straight and care for a weapon.”

“Tesla…”

“And we could use help trading in Diamond City. The demand for clean water is high, and we can clean irradiated water and trade it. The guards of Diamond City have come to recognize my armor and make sure I get safely into the city, but I could use a partner.”

He framed her face in his hands and kissed her.

Her eyes fluttered closed and she melted against him, her mouth yielding to him as her arms wrapped around him.

“Are you sure you want me?”

A smile curved her lips, and her arms tightened around him. “More than anything.”

She slipped out of his arms and tugged him toward her power armor.

“I have a set of X-01 hidden away…”

“We’ll get it later. I’ll have them teleport us there if you can give them the coordinates.”

His brows knit together.

“Some of the institute technology we acquired,” Tesla said as she turned on the radio of her pipboy. “You take my armor. You’ll feel better in it, and I’ll feel better out of it.”

Danse frowned but did as she asked and stepped into the power armor. He studied the armor. It was lighter and more responsive than any he’d ever stepped into, and yet…

She smiled at him. “Stronger than anything I’ve come across, even modified. And it reflects energy weapon damage. My bots were very busy.”

“You really were preparing to leave your Vault. Your family…”

“I just hope you like life in the Vault.”

A smile curved his lips as he looked into her blue eyes. “I’ll be with you. We’ll figure it out.”

She picked up the helmet, slipped her arms around him, and with a flash of blue lightening they appeared at the relay station inside Vault 010.

He was there. And Tesla was with him. Danse let out a breath he felt like he’d been holding a lifetime. He was finally home.

Part 4: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

Continued from: Part 1Part 2, & Part 3.

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Part 4: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

She woke up wrapped in his arms, his hard chest against her back, and she pressed herself closer to him. Things had gotten complicated, but before she could dwell on it, she felt him nibbling the soft flesh of her shoulders and the sensitive area at the top of her spine. His hands reached around and cupped her breasts, teasing over the sensitive peaks as he massaged the tender globes.

A soft moan escaped her and she twined her arms up around his neck, giving him total access to her.

Access he took.

Lifting her thigh over his leg, he probed her slickness, then slid into her.

She closed her eyes and gave herself over to sensation. Gave herself to him.

He felt her surrender, felt her let go and give him his way. He smiled against her smooth flesh, touching, stroking, indulging his senses in her. The sweet feminine scent of her, her tight sheath that gripped him as he plumbed her core, the feel of her silken skin under his hard hands.

He wanted to make her climax again, make her lose control as he saturated her with pleasure.

He teased a pert peak one final time then eased his hand lower, over the gentle curve of her belly and into the dark curls.

She gasped as he found her tender button and stroked. Her head fell back against his chest as she tried to process the feel of him deep inside her, his rhythmic thrusts filling her over and over, as his hands drove her further still.

The sensation built, pushing her higher and higher, and with one final thrust, he sent her up and over. Pleasure exploded through her, the culmination of fulfilled desire and passion.

Her body tightened around him as pleasure took her, and he could hold back no longer as he lost himself in her.

Still inside her, her turned her in his arms so he could feel her cheek against his chest.

“I love you, Danse,” she whispered as her arms tightened around him.

He’d never had anyone say to that to him before. Not say it and mean it. “Marry me, Tesla. You don’t have to be Brotherhood. Just come back with me.”

“Those word weren’t meant to trap you.”

“Which makes them all the sweeter. I’ve never felt this way about anyone, and I don’t think I ever will again.”

She brushed aside a lock of his dark hair as she smiled into his deep brown eyes. “I worry that you feel this way because I helped you, and then you were stuck with me for weeks. It’s called the Nightengale effect.”

“Not the first time I’ve been injured and needed healing.” He brought her fingers to his lips as he molded her naked body against his.

She fingered the holotags her wore even now. “I’m not sure you’ll feel the same way once you return to your brothers and sisters.”

“I’m more worried about not coming back to you. Of someone bringing you back my tags.”

She held him close and listened to the strong steady beat of his heart. “If you still love me and want me to marry you in six months, I will.”

“Tesla…”

“That way you’re sure. And I’m sure you really love me.”

He held her close, stroking the soft curves of her body. Then he rolled her beneath him and made love to her again.

 

Time escaped them. He’d waited as long as he could to take her back to her Vault and return to the Brotherhood. Danse donned his power armor as she got into hers.

“Six months.” He touched a gauntleted hand to her cheek.

“Your holotags. If you decide you still want me, there’s a tiny transmitter in them.” She leaned forward and lifted them, the fresh smell of her wafting over him and making him want to carry her back to bed.

She smiled, touched her lips to his, and then showed him how to use the transmitter. He memorized it, certain he would be using it at the end of six months.

They donned their helmets, picked up their rifles, and walked over to the elevator. It opened, and a moment later, they were walking back into the searing light of the wasteland.

The helmet muted the glare, making the bright light bearable after weeks in the bunker. Still, his heart was heavy and his eyes stung as he turned and led Tesla across the wastes to Diamond City.

They came across the occasional feral ghoul or raider and made short work of them. It felt strange to be out here with her, skirting super mutants and ferals, rather than leading a Brotherhood squad to exterminate them. Even after all the instruction and training he’d given her before leaving the bunker, she was still a civilian. And he wanted to keep her that way.

Her mismatched armor no longer looked mismatched; the little bots had been working hard on it after they’d finished repairing his. Hers had a slight shimmer to it in the fading light and looked almost ethereal. It suited her better than the mismatched stuff ever had, though he liked her best of all wearing nothing but him.

Shaking his head, he pushed the thought aside and concentrated on getting them to their destination.

 

They tromped into Diamond City, but none of the guards gave them more than a curt nod.

They didn’t look like raiders, and Danse wondered what he and Tesla did look like. He looked down at the winged sword on his chest plate. Had word of the Brotherhood already made it to Diamond City? The Brotherhood hadn’t been in the Commonwealth long, but it boded well if they were already well received. Perhaps they’d be able to build another fortress on par with the Citadel. Much safer for soldiers and their families.

As he led her through the makeshift city, she paused and looked up at the lights. “Last time I was here, my father bought me boiled peanuts and …”

Danse took off his helmet and gave her moment. When she removed hers, he could see the tears  shining in her eyes.

He leaned down and kissed her, a gauntleted hand stroking her cheek.

To hell with baseball, she had him. A smile curved her lips, she blinked back the memories, and followed him to the Dugout Inn.

Vadim greeted them, his eastern European accent making Tesla arch an eyebrow. “I’m surprised anyone has an accent after 200 years.”

Danse shrugged as he got them a room and something to eat.

“Ah, lovebirds.” Vadim grinned as Danse scowled at him. “But how you make love through so much metal?”

Tesla laid a hand over Danse’s, quieting him as she smiled at Vadim. “It’s tricky and complicated, but where there’s a will there’s a way.”

Vadim laughed and spread his arms wide. “Ah, you will have to show me sometime.”

“No.” Danse’s fists balled, but Vadim laughed, clapped him on the shoulder, and went to see to his other customers.

Tesla slid her chair closer to Danse and kissed his cheek. “He means well. I think.”

Pulling her a bit closer, Danse glared at Vadim. He said little else as they finished eating. When they were done, he led her to the room.

Closing and locking the door, he faced it and stepped out of his power armor, making it impossible for someone to open it. She stood beside his armor and stepped out as well, then they each removed their power core.

Once the cores were safely secreted away, Danse pulled her to him, his mouth hot and hungry on hers. He molded her body against his, then stripped her out of her vault suit and tossed it aside. He yanked off his own Brotherhood fatigues, picked her up, and carried her to the bed.

As he laid her down, he came down beside her, his mouth plundering hers as his hands explored her, memorizing every inch of her silken skin, every curve, every detail.

She wrapped her arms around him, feeling his thick muscles bunch under her fingers as she opened herself to him, letting him take all he wanted.

And he wanted everything.

He stroked down her slim body, pausing to tease her rosy peaks. He palming her tender globes in his calloused hands before his lips and tongue found them. She groaned, arching beneath him as his mouth fastened around one pert bud and suckled.

“Danse,” she groaned as she her nails bit into wide expanse of his back and shoulders.

He gave her no quarter as he moved his attentions from one nipple to the other, his hands still stroking her, touching, exploring. They eased down over her soft belly and down her rounded him, teasing the curve of her thigh as he moved higher and found her soft petals. He dipped one finger and then a second into her soft inner recesses as his thumb found her hidden pearl.

A soft moan escaped her, her body alight with passion and a bone deep need for him.

As if sensing it, he released her swollen breast and took her mouth with his, his tongue and lips claiming her as he parted her thighs and guided his shaft into her slickness.

And then he was in her, his strong hard body pushing her back into the mattress as he took her, filled her, and made her his. She threaded her fingers though his hair then stroked down his broad shoulders and over the wide expanse of his back. She gripped the knotted steel of his strong arms as he took her, his strong steady strokes pushing them both higher.

She was lost beneath him. The feel of him filling her as his heavily muscled chest pressed against her tender breasts overwhelmed her senses. So hot, hard and wholly male. She lost herself in the feel of him, in the clean masculine scent of him, in the exotic taste of him.

His hands skated lower over her body, found her little nub, and stroked. Her head lolled back as desire seared her, but he gave her no quarter, his hard body driving her higher and higher as his tongue claimed her mouth.

She was his.

She surrendered, giving herself over completely to everything that was between them. Quieting her thoughts and fears until all she knew was him and the passion and love that was between them.

Pushing, driving her relentlessly up until desire crescendoed. She cried out and clung to him as wave after wave took her. He clutched her hard against him, holding her as he gave in to his own needs and filled her with himself.

He gathered her to him, smoothing her hair as he teased his lips over hers.

Here, now, the conqueror was replaced by kindness and compassion. She lay against him as he continued to touch her, his fingers soft, gentle, almost reverent.

She was undone. And not by one of the many scientists that had wanted her over the years, or by the traders or mercenaries she’d dealt with. She’d lost her heart to a machine that was more human than most of the men she’d met.

She held him tightly, praying that he’d still love her six months. She’d love him for the rest of her life in Vault 010, and a lifetime there was a very long time indeed.

Part 3: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

Continued from: Part 1 & Part 2.

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Part 3: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

Danse talked and she listened until sleep took him. When he woke again, she was gone and so was her power armor.

Pushing himself to the edge of the bed, he eased his weight onto both legs. Pain stabbed through him, but he forced himself to stand and walk over to his suit of power armor. His eyes narrowed as he looked at the left leg of his armor. Still damaged, but not nearly as bad as it had been. At least, he didn’t think it was. Had Tesla been repairing it?

Movement caught his eyes, and he leaned closer. Tiny…creatures, all smaller than the tip of a pencil swarmed the ripped metal.

Danse fell backward and grabbed his laser rifle.

 

As Tesla came back down the elevator, the doors opened in time for her to see Danse aiming his weapon at the leg of his power armor.

“Don’t shoot!” she cried.

He paused and looked up at her.

She saw his panic and kept both of her hands palms up. “If you shoot, the protectrons and turrets will think you’re an enemy.”

His breathing was coming fast, but he lowered the weapon. “There’s something…”

“Bots,” she interrupted. “I built them to repair your armor.”

“You built them?”

She slowly let out her breath. “Can you please lower your weapon and I’ll explain?”

Danse looked from her to his crawling armor and over to the protectrons. He lowered the gun but he didn’t flip the safety. “What the hell are those things?”

She clunked into the room, set the junk she was carrying at her feet, and slid out of her power armor. Looking down at the slim pipboy on her wrist, she typed something in and the little creatures scurried from his armor to hers.

“They are repair bots.”

Danse eased off the bed, rifle in hand, as he frowned down at the leg of his armor. There were strange bits of jagged metal along the edges where the creatures had been. “Are they…eating my power armor?”

The disgust in his voice had Tesla folding her arms over her chest. “They are repairing it on a microscopic level. Making sure every tiny fissure is properly closed. Knitting together the basic fabric of your armor so it will be as good, or better, than it was before the deathclaw.”

His frown deepened.

“Things break, even in a Vault. You can only repair them so many times. Unless you use bots, because they don’t just repair, they remake.”

“How…”

“Technology that we perfected over a hundred years ago. We teach children to build and control these.”

He looked down at his wounded leg.

“Yes, something very similar is rebuilding your destroyed bone, tendon and muscle right now. I built them and injected you with them. It was either that or you would limp for the rest of your life.”

His eyes widened as he looked down at the healing tissue.

“I had no idea what the Brotherhood was. Or that you hated technology. I figured if you were using a 200 year old stimpack, you wouldn’t mind something more modern.”

“Tesla…”

She heard the coolness in his tone and threw up her hands as she stalked back to the elevator.

“Don’t go,” Danse called to her. “Especially not without your armor.”

She glared back at him.

“What…what are they doing to your armor?”

“Modifying it. Strengthening it at a molecular level, and using the raw materials from the stuff littering the wasteland to do it.”

“Tell me how it works.”

He watched her expression soften as she talked about her work, explained what was happening and how. She was so beautiful, so kind, and yet…he shuddered at the horrors those little bots represented.

“When I go home,” she said, drawing his attention back to her, “I’ll need this armor to protect me as I walk back across the wastes.”

“How long will it take to finish your armor?”

She shrugged. “They can always make improvements. It’s up to me when I’m ready to try.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Two months, give or take.” She closed her eyes and squeezed back the lump of emotion. “I’m very homesick, but I’m also nervous. I don’t know if I can make it home by myself, and I’m not sure I should even try.”

“Tesla…”

She looked down at her hands and then back up at him. “I have something else for you.”

Taking his hand, she dropped four holotags into it.

“My squad…”

She closed his hand over the tags. “I disintegrated the bodies so the deathclaws couldn’t get them, and I stored their armor in one of the convoy trucks. The power cores are hidden in the third truck under the floor mat so not just anyone can take the armor.”

He looked at the holotags and then back up at her. “I owe you a debt I can never repay, but I’ll start by escorting you home. When I can walk out of here and can actually protect you, I will see you as close to your Vault as you’ll let me come.”

“I’m not sure…”

“I am,” Danse said, his tone brooking no argument. “You’re different than when you left your vault, but still a good person. I will see you safely home.”

“Thank you.”

“I we you so much more.”

She shook her head. “That’s not why I’m helping you.”

“Why are you?”

“Because that’s what people are supposed to do.”

“You haven’t been in the Wasteland long.”

“Long enough to know it’s still a Wasteland because people have forgotten that.”

 

Hours merged into days as the underground bunker shielded them from sunlight as well as the dangers of the Waste. After polishing off some BlamCo mac and cheese, Danse leaned back and watched her inspect his armor. He still wasn’t sure how he felt about the tiny bots, but he couldn’t argue with their results. His power armor was in better repair than it had ever been. Proctor Ingram would love to get her hands on such a capable and tireless assistant.

“Not sure why I’m even asking this, but why don’t you make more of those things so they can repair both sets of armor at the same time?”

“Their computing power increases the more of them that there are. I don’t want to accidentally make them too smart.”

“As intelligent as humans?”

She smiled and sat beside him. “We still haven’t answered Turing’s polite conversation.”

“What was life like in the Vault?”

“Hard to compare to the wastes. No super mutants, ghouls, or raiders. Maintenance oversees the machines that make and grow our food and keep our water clean. Left us free to work.”

“Your dedication is admirable. It sounds safe.”

“And a little boring?”

Danse shrugged. “Boring is better than trying to keep yourself fed and your radiation exposure limited while you stay one step ahead of raiders, slavers and feral ghouls.”

She winced. His childhood had been so much different than hers, but it had shaped him in the capable soldier that he was.

“Sounds like life in a Vault is as quiet as the rumors suggest.”

“Yes and no.” She smiled and shook her head. “You know too much about everyone else in the Vault, and there aren’t any secrets. Or privacy. Silly drama but not really fighting for survival.”

Danse looked down at her soft pale hand in his.

“If you’re passionate about your work, Vault life can be very enjoyable. Our basic needs for food, water and shelter are well met, so you can focus on your research. We even learned how to grow meat.”

“Grow meat?”

“You can only live on Salisbury steak for so long, especially if you know what you’re missing. I wanted to try Brahmin steak, but I couldn’t summon the courage.”

“You’ve alluded a couple of times to life before the war.” Danse paused.

He’d told her about Cutler, Krieg and his childhood. Tesla pressed her lips together then let out the breath she was holding. “I don’t want you to hate me.”

“I’m not sure I could ever hate you.”

She looked up into his warm brown eyes and swallowed back the lump in her throat. The truth, and maybe when he looked at her with disgust the fluttering in her stomach would quiet. “You already know my Vault has spent a lot of time developing new technology. Genetics was an early passion.”

“What did they do to you?” Danse’s hand fisted overtop hers.

Tesla wrapped her other hand over his. “I was a little girl when the bombs fell. Home with my dad while my mom was at a conference in California. I never saw her again.”

Danse tightened his fingers around hers.

“My dad was a genius with computers and robots. Others were studying genetics. They collaborated and developed Fixers.”

Danse frowned. “What did they fix?”

“Anything and everything. Simply put they are machines so small you can only see them with a strong microscope. They are fed your unique genetic code, and they go through and “fix” anything that’s wrong in the body. For example, they remove free radicals and repair damaged cells.”

“Similar to your bots?”

“Yes and no. My bots are a lot smarter, but because of that, they can never be used as Fixers.”

He let out a slow breath. “A lot of potential for misuse. Look at what the FEV virus did. Some things mankind shouldn’t tamper with.”

She shrugged. “Maybe, but it eradicated cancer and most diseases. It also slowed aging. Look at me.”

“Don’t look a day over twenty-five.”

She laid her head on his shoulder, and Danse stiffened. The heat of her soaked through him, the smell of her, so soft and feminine, wreathed him. He slid an arm around her and held her close.

“When we learned about super mutants, we tried to cure FEV, but there wasn’t enough original genetic material left. And the virus is very aggressive. After a close call, we decided it wasn’t worth having samples of it in the Vault. We didn’t think they’d survive this long being sterile and stupid.”

“Smart enough to infect other humans.”

Tesla remembered Cutler and squeezed Danse’s arm. “Smarter than we gave them credit for.”

“A constant reminder of mankind’s hubris and its price.”

“We also tried to reverse the radiation poisoning on ghouls, but again not enough original genetic material.”

“To mess with genetics…”

“And give them the chance to be human again.” She looked up into his warm brown eyes.

“The way you say that makes it hard to see you as one of the bad guys.”

“Maybe because I’m not.”

Danse frowned but couldn’t help wondering if she was right.

 

Days slipped away, and Danse’s leg continued to heal. Tesla proved to be right again. While sitting idle had been hard, strengthening his leg as he healed was worse.

After a grueling session of squat jumps, lunges, and running in place, Danse swiped his brow as Tesla continued to study the small screen. He liked the way her brow puckered when she was thinking, really thinking, but the way she pressed her lips together said she was worried.

“Whatever is on that screen has you upset. Leg hurts but is holding.” He looked at the screen over her shoulder, but the readout might as well have been in another language.

“Some unusual readings.” Tesla looked up into his rich brown eyes. No laugh lines crinkled his eyes, but she already knew he didn’t laugh much. She wished she could change that.

“What kind of unusual readings?”

“Doesn’t matter. It won’t impede your recovery.”

“What aren’t you telling me?”

She looked down at the readings again. Maybe the bots were wrong. Maybe his years of exposure to the radiation of the wasteland made it impossible to get a good reading. Or maybe she didn’t want it to be true. For his sake.

She thought through everything he’d told her about synths, and while he didn’t understand the science behind the Institute’s creations, she knew Paladin Danse hated them with all his soul. The one her omnipotent God had given him…

“The bots are running out of fuel. A few more days, and they’ll pass harmlessly through your system.”

“And that’s a problem?”

“I had expected them to last longer, to finish the healing process…” But she’d also expected him to be human.

“Must have been a worse injury than either of us thought.”

She nodded and looked away.

Her reaction told him there was something more. “Is something not healing right? You can tell me anything.”

She touched his cheek, and he laid his hand over hers. “You are a good man, Paladin Danse. There’s nothing wrong with you.”

He kissed her palm, and color crept up his neck. “I…”

She touched her lips to his in a soft, tentative kiss, and his eyes widened. She pulled back and smiled. “I’ve wanted to do that for a long time.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“Didn’t think you’d let me. Evil scientist and all.”

“You are a lot of things,” he said as he thumbed over her lush pink lips. “But evil isn’t one of them.”

“I don’t know,” she looked away. “Bots, genetics, killing my escorts…”

Danse wrapped her in his arms and held her.

She was old enough to be his grandmother’s grandmother, but he felt so good she didn’t care. Even after all her long years in the Vault, she’d never known anyone quite as well as she knew him. Perhaps because he didn’t understand her work so they had to talk about other things. Had to talk about themselves, their thoughts and their beliefs. What they wanted, dreamed of, wished for.

She’d told him how lonely she’d been as the only child in the Vault. How many still viewed her as a junior member of her research team even though she’d contributed so much. How she’d struggled with shyness and finding her place in the Vault, and not just as father’s child.

He’d told her of his first commander, Krieg, and his best friend Cutler. Both he’d lost. Parents he’d never known but had often wondered about. The men and women under his command. Some brave, some honest, some heroic. And some that hadn’t made it home.

The Brotherhood was the only family he’d never had, and Elder Maxson his father figure. The Brotherhood was his home, and even as her heart sang while he held her close, she knew Danse had to return to them.

He loved the Brotherhood because that’s all he had. Tesla understood that. Respected it. And from time to time, had lived it within the Vault.

She laid her head against his chest and simply held him.

He stroked her rich hair, feeling the strands slide like silk through his fingers. “You could come back with me. Join the Brotherhood as a scribe.”

“I wouldn’t make a very good scribe. I’m not good at following orders, and I can’t hate ghouls or synths simply because of what they are.”

“Abominations…”

She looked down, a pained expression pinching her face.

“Tesla…”

“You don’t believe they have souls and so should be destroyed. I disagree with you, and that’s okay. We can agree to disagree, but it would make me a poor candidate for the Brotherhood.”

He hugged her close. “I don’t want to never see you again.”

She touched her lips to his, a gentle, tender kiss. He felt so hard and strong beside her, the heat of him soaking through her vault suit and caressing her skin.

His fingers tangled in her hair as he pressed her against him and captured her mouth with his.

She yielded, giving him all he wanted as she parted her lips and he surged inside. So hot, so raw, so wholly masculine, she shivered against him.

Danse lifted his lips, breaking the kiss. “I…are you all right?”

And this was why she loved him. The thought surprised her, but she knew it was true. All that strength, all that power, accompanied by a bone deep compassion that would never let him hurt her. Even after everything the wastes had thrown at him.

Threading her fingers through his dark hair, she touched her lips to his.

“Tesla…”

“I want you,” she whispered.

Her words undid him. All the desire he’d locked away to protect her and keep his needs in check escaped. He molded her soft curves against him and gave her what she asked for.

The intensity of his response surprised her as he held her close and plundered her soft mouth. His kisses were hot and hard, filled with an aching hunger that left her breathless. Her small hands spread across the wide expanse of his back, his thick muscles bunching beneath her fingers as the hard wall of his chest pressed against her soft curves.

Passion nipped him as he trailed hot kisses along her jaw and down her neck. Dragging in a breath, he steadied his hands and reigned in his need. The feel of her was more intoxicating than any drug, but he wouldn’t lose control and hurt her. There was no need to rush. She was his.

Laying her back on the bed, he captured her mouth in a hot, hard kiss as her rich hair spread across the pillow. He stroked down her body, his strong hands finding the zipper on her vault suit and eased it down to her waist so he could explore her soft bare flesh.

Color flushed her cheeks as his calloused hands touched, teasing over her collarbone and down her sensitive skin until they reached her soft breasts. Cupping them, he rubbed his thumbs over their pert tips.

Sensation shot through her, and Tesla moaned against his lips as her back arched and filled his hands with her.

Reveling in the feel of her undulating beneath him, he deepened the kiss as his thumbs continued to stroke.

Her fingers dug into his broad shoulders as she clung to him against the onslaught of sensations, but he gave her no quarter. His fingers continued to taunt her smooth flesh as his lips and tongue plundered her mouth.

He wanted more, so much more. He wanted to see, to touch, to take. Danse eased her vault suit completely off along with her undergarments, leaving her naked beneath him. Pausing a moment, he looked down and drunk in the glorious sight of her milk pale skin, glorious curves, and soft pink nipples. She was beyond beautiful, and she was his.

He teased his fingertips over her lushness, her little intakes of breath fueling his own desire.

She reached for him, and he came to her, taking her mouth with his as he stroked her smooth flesh.

He couldn’t get enough of her, the feel of her soft and yielding beneath him, the intoxicating feminine scent of her, the sweet taste of her on his lips. He stripped off his Brotherhood fatigues and let them fall to the floor.

He parted her thighs and eased between them.

Sucking a breath, she looked up at him as she felt his hard legs open her as he came down to her, his weight pressing her into the bed.

The light sprinkle of hair on his chest taunted her sensitive nipples, and the warm metal of his holotags dipped between her sensitive mounds. She wriggled against him, eliciting a quiet groan from him as she rubbed against proof of his desire.

“Tesla,” he murmured then caught her lips with his. He plundered her mouth, taking her soft lips as his tongue slid between and mimicked a far more intimate dance.

She responded to him, giving him all he wanted as her hands teased over his heavily muscled back and shoulders. Lightly grazing him with the tips of her nails, she stroked down his strong chest and teased over his muscular abdomen and down his lean hips.

He explored her in kind, his hands stroked down her her sides, pausing to tease her rosy buds before dipping lower over her softly rounded belly that cradled his erection. Teasing still lower, he traced the curve of her hip and the smooth column of her thigh. Pausing to stroke the sensitive area behind her knee, he followed the inside of her thigh higher until he found the curls at the apex.

Her body bucked underneath his hand as he found the tiny nub secreted between her soft folds and teased his thumb over it.

“Danse,” she moaned against his lips.

He captured her mouth again as he continued to stroke her between her thighs. As her wetness slicked his fingers, he gently eased one into her, further claiming her as his. She was hot and tight, her silken sheath wrapped tightly around him.

Gasping, she clung to him as his hard finger entered her, stretched her, touched her inner most recesses. His weight pressed her back into the bed as his strong body pinned her beneath him.

She should be nervous, but that’s not what she was feeling. She wanted him, all of him, and she opened herself to his plundering hand.

He slid his hand from her slickness as he guided himself between her parted thighs.

His mouth continued to plunder hers as she felt him hot and hard and impossibly large pressing between her softness. She stiffened beneath him even as her tongue met his and stoked.

He eased back, but continued to kiss her, to stroke her soft curves, and to tease her secret nub until she was again writhing against him.

He held her close, and with one powerful thrust, he was inside her.

She gasped, clinging to him as his thick girth stretched her and length touched her very core. She had never felt so impossibly full, so vulnerable, and so happy.

Reigning in his raging desire, he held her, his kisses gentling as he let her get used to the feel of him deep inside her as her sheath wrapped around him like hot velvet.

She framed his face with her hands and kissed him back, long and slow as she gave herself completely and totally to him.

When he felt her let go, felt her give herself over the passion rising between them, he was lost. Holding her close, he eased back, then filled her again.

She gasped as sensation sizzled through her, electrifying her nerves and heightening her desire. He eased back and slid forward again, filling her as the thick muscles of his chest pressed against her lush curves.

The feel of him, hard and strong above her, filling her, taking her over and over mixed with the heady masculine scent of him. She tightened her arms around him, holding on to him against the rising tidal wave of feeling as his slow steady thrusts built and drove them both up the cliffs of desire.

She was so tightly wrapped around him, so hot, so soft, he grit his teeth to keep from losing himself. He again found her little nub and stroked it as he took her.

She felt herself building, climbing higher and higher. She clung to him as he continued plundering her softness, taking her and making her his.

She gasped as sensation built, pushing her higher and faster, and then she lost herself, her body arching beneath him as the golden glow of pleasure exploded through her. Unable to hold back any longer as she tightened around him, he lost himself in her, filling her.

Panting, he collapsed on the bed beside her and gathered her to him, their naked bodies cooling in the recycled air. He eased the blanket around them, wrapping her in it and his arms as he held her close.

A smile curved her lips as she nuzzled against his hard chest. He watched as her features softened with sleep. He stoked her hair as he studied her plump pink lips and thick dark lashes.

He loved her, and it scared him. Her beautiful smile, her sharp mind, her compassion. He didn’t always agree with her, but he didn’t have to agree with her to love her. His rose blooming in the wasteland desert.

Now more than ever he didn’t want to lose her.

Part 2: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

Continued from yesterday.

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Second Chance for Paladin Danse

Hours faded into nothingness as they tended to do when she was working, but when she finally emerged from the clean room, she had what the man needed. Funny, she’d brought him to her sanctuary but hadn’t bothered to ask his name.

She was lonelier than she’d thought.

Too much of her life had been in a Vault surrounded by people every waking moment. The solitary days were eroding her judgment.

Shaking away the thoughts, she hung up her clean suit and brought what she’d been working on over to her guest.

She snorted when she saw that he hadn’t made use of the pain killer she’d given him. Sure, it was a bit crude, but it was also safe and effective. She wouldn’t have been carrying it otherwise.

Her bed strained under the weight of him and his armor, so she sat on the floor beside him as she listened to his labored breathing.

Touching a hand to his forehead, she pressed her lips together. Fever burned him. Infection had set in quickly, but it wasn’t surprising given the wound or how he’d earned it.

Tesla injected him with the pain killer. He twitched but didn’t awaken. Another bad sign.

She took his gauntleted hand in hers and sat beside him, watching, waiting and listening. He was quite attractive even with the five o’clock shadow stubbling his jaw. She brushed aside a lock of his black hair and caught herself. Yanking back her hand, she crushed the strange thoughts. Definitely eroding judgment.

His breathing steadied as he eased into the medical induced sleep. Waiting until she was sure he was well and truly under, she refilled the stimpack with the microscopic bots she’d built and injected them into his leg. He cried out, yanked from the depths of sleep, but only for a moment. The drugs pulled him back to them and wrapped him in the pain free depths of oblivion.

She touched her lips to his forehead, and keeping his hand in hers, she sat beside him as she monitored him.

 

When Danse woke again, he found the Vault woman sleeping on the floor next to him and she was holding his hand. She had a pillow tucked under her head and was nestled into a clean pre-war army sleeping bag. Her rich chocolate brown hair shimmered in the artificial light as it tumbled over her shoulders and spread across the pillow. Soft pink flushed her porcelain complexion, and thick dark lashes lay against her pale cheek. Everything about her was clean, soft and delicate. A rose blooming in the wasteland.

And she’d be crushed just as quickly.

But the protectrons and security wired elevator promised she wasn’t just any Vaultie. Maybe not the Lone Wanderer or the Sole Survivor, but someone not to dismiss, either.

Maybe Nate knew her family before the war. A strange wisp of jealousy nipped him. He frowned and pulled his hand from hers.

Her eyes flickered open, and she sat up as a smile curved her lips. “You’re awake. How are you feeling?”

“Better than I should be.”

“I gave you something for the pain. Not addictive, so I can prepare another dose if you need it.”

His frown deepened. Who was this strange Vault dweller? Was she from Nate’s Vault? Her appearance seemed to coincide with his.

She traced a finger over the sword and wings on his chest plate. Danse suppressed his response as he caught her fingers in his gauntleted hand and studied them. Her fingers were soft and uncalloused. He looked down into her deep blue eyes, swallowed hard, and let go of her hand.

“I’ve never seen that insignia before.”

“Brotherhood of Steel.”

A frown furrowed her brow. “That doesn’t sound familiar. Pre-war?”

“No. From the Capital Wasteland.”

“That explains it. Still, we should get you out of that armor. You’ll sleep better without it, and you’ll heal better if you sleep.”

“I have a hard time sleeping.” He frowned, not sure why he’d admitted that to her.

“Soldier out in the wastes, I suppose you’ve learned to sleep with your eyes open.”

He thought of Recon Squad Gladius and of the tech still sitting in the convoy.

She touched his cheek. “I didn’t mean to bring back bad memories, and you’re safe here. If I don’t need my power armor, you shouldn’t.”

He glanced at the protectrons.

“I’ve programmed them to recognize you. As long as you don’t shoot me, they won’t bother you.”

He wanted to argue, to keep his steel wall, but he knew she was right. And if she’d wanted to kill him, she already would have.

Standing, he took a few steps, opened the armor and stepped out. Danse grimaced as his weight came down on his injured leg.

Tesla slid an arm around him and suppressed a shiver as she felt the heavy muscles of his back flex. She’d never known anyone as tall or as broad as he was. Even without the power armor, he towered over her. It should frighten her, but the tightening in her stomach wasn’t fear.

Danse stiffened as he felt her slim shoulders under him. He didn’t want to crush her, but pain had him leaning against her as he took a slow deep breath. She felt warm and soft as the crisp smell of fresh soap filled his senses.

She let out a breath as she helped him back to the bed. “You’re really heavy, or I’ve come to like my power armor a little too much.”

He kept an arm around her as he settled back on the bed, the heat of him sinking into her and making her stomach flutter. Tesla swallowed and looked away. What the hell was wrong with her? She wasn’t some teenager on her first date. If anything, she should be afraid of him. He could break her in two before her protectrons could get off a shot.

“I won’t be a burden.” Looking down at his leg, Danse’s brows shot up. “Whatever you did, looks like it’s healing. Fast.”

“It’ll take a while for it to heal completely. You need to stay off it for now. That’s the easy part. Walking on it later to strengthen it will hurt. A lot.”

“Pain and I are well acquainted.”

“I suppose you are.” She looked down at her hands. “I’m sorry for that. I wish there was more I could do.”

Danse swallowed as he looked up at her, the genuine concern in her words startling him. “I thought I was going to limp for the rest of my life. Thanks to you, looks like I won’t.” He felt the heat of her sink through his Brotherhood jumpsuit, the scent of her filled his senses.

She smiled and touched his cheek. Yanking her hand back, she dropped it to her side and took a step back from him. “You’ll be fit for active duty soon enough.”

His heart beat faster at the thought of some time with her, then blinked as duty reasserted itself. “I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced. I’m Paladin Danse of the Brotherhood of Steel.”

“Tesla of Vault 010.”

“Not Vault 111?”

“Haven’t heard of that one,” she confessed. “Was it recently opened?”

“Cryogenics vault,” Danse said. “Looks like only one person survived.”

Tesla whispered a prayer then shook her head. “Vault 010 hasn’t had good luck with establishing and maintaining contact with outsiders. Last scout went out thirty years ago and came back shaken. We decided it wasn’t time for us to come back into the world yet.”

“With the Institute, it still isn’t. But we’re working on that.”

She heard the determination in his words. He was a soldier. Using his strength and laser rifle to protect a mostly dead world.

“Your Vault sounds saner than most I’ve come across,” Danse said.

“Really?”

He relayed the stories he’d seen and heard of the various Vaults and the experiments they’d been doing on their captive populations.

Tesla grimaced. “Suppose cryogenics wasn’t so bad. Good thing we figured out and stopped what they’d planned in ours.”

Danse raised a black brow.

“Ours was supposed to study the effects of certain drugs on intelligence, ingenuity, and work ethic.”

“Drugs were a failure?”

“Don’t know. My father got suspicious when a couple of men he’d worked with for years began acting strangely. He hacked the overseer’s computer, and when he learned the true purpose of the Vault, he sent her mission directives to every member of the Vault.”

Danse grimaced. “Can’t imagine the overseer took well to that.”

“It was her and a handful of security officers against the whole Vault. They saw reason, and the overseer was demoted to janitor. Vault leadership is now overseen by research leads who then choose an overseer for a six year term. You can serve as overseer more than once, but not in consecutive terms. It’s worked for us.”

Danse paused a moment as he thought about her words. “Your father hacked the terminal…”

“Brotherhood of Steel,” she interrupted. “I haven’t heard of them before. You said they weren’t pre-war?”

Distracted, Danse launched into his spiel about the Brotherhood, explaining their mission to preserve technology and destroy the abominations of super mutants, ghouls, and synths.

She listened as he expounded on his order, its origins, and its beliefs. She heard the passion in his words that bordered on zealous.

“You feel strongly about the Brotherhood.”

“It’s my life.”

“Tell me more about these synths. That’s not a term I’ve heard before.”

Danse explained about the Institute, the synths they were building, and the threat they posed to the Commonwealth and all mankind. “Abominations. Perversions of science that exemplify where mankind has gone wrong.”

“I wonder how the Institute came to terms with Turing’s polite conversation.”

Confusion puckered his brow, and Danse shook his head.

“Turing was a pioneer in computers, and his work posited that if a machine behaved as intelligently as a human being, than it was as intelligent as a human being.”

Danse frowned. “But it’s not human.”

“Turing also said that if you believe in an omnipotent God, which I do, then you have to accept that He could imbue an intelligent machine with a soul.”

“That’s crazy.”

Tesla shrugged. “We wrestled with the ethics of artificial intelligence a long time and never came to terms with it. The ethics committee distracted us with other areas of research.”

“We?” Danse asked.

“The scientists in Vault 010.”

“So what do you research?”

“Human genome, nanotechnology, sub-atomic theory. Lots of things.”

Danse frowned. “I don’t understand anything you just said.”

She touched his hand and suppressed a shiver at the strength in his calloused fingers, but she waited for him to look up at her. “Technology for you and the Brotherhood ended over 200 years ago. For us, it was the beginning. There isn’t much to do in a Vault but work, and almost everyone in our vault is a research scientist.”

“Technology is what destroyed the world. It has to be controlled so it doesn’t happen again.”

“Technology also gave us refrigeration, street lights, and medicine. It helped us keep away predators, keep our children healthy, and keep us fed. It’s not the technology, but how you conduct Turing’s polite conversation.”

He looked at the weapon strapped to her belt. A gun that had disintegrated a deathclaw with a single shot.

She followed his gaze and squeezed his hand so he’d look back up at her. “Be thankful we spent that time researching or you wouldn’t walk again.”

Danse stiffened and looked down at his leg. “What ‘research’ did you use on me?”

His quiet anger made her stomach roil. She didn’t want him to look at her as if she’d just fed him a radroach, but she wouldn’t be ashamed of her work and all the people it had helped. Including him. “I gave you something that will repair your shredded muscle, bone, tendons and nerves. You will walk because of it.”

“I don’t know if I should be angry or…”

She folded her arms over her chest. “How about thankful that you’ll be able to rejoin your brothers and sisters in this Brotherhood of Steel?”

“I…thank you,” Danse mumbled.

She fluffed the pillow on his bed then propped hers up against one the bed’s legs. Sitting cross legged on the floor, she leaned against the pillow and looked up at him. “Tell me about life outside the Vault.”

“You know a lot already.”

“I haven’t been out of the Vault long, and most of that time, I’ve been holed up here.”

“Where are you headed?”

“Vault 75.”

“That’s north of here, but it’s a Gunners stronghold.” Danse shook his head. “Not even a whole Brotherhood squad could get you in there and back out again.”

She pressed her lips together then sucked in a breath. “We were unaware of that. So this mission was for nothing. My escorts died for nothing.”

“Escorts?”

She looked down at her hands.

“What happened to them?”

“We hired them to take me to Vault 75. Came recommended from a traveling trader we dealt with occasionally.” Tears shone in her eyes as the memories came flooding back.

“Did they hurt you?” Anger simmered beneath his words as he laid a hand on her shoulder.

She put both of her hands over top his and shook her head. “They saw my weapon, my vault suit, and the provisions I’d brought and decided I was worth more to them dead than collecting their fee.”

Danse tightened his hold on her shoulder.

“They waited until they thought I was asleep, but the darkness and all the strange sounds made it so hard to sleep…” Tears spilled over her cheeks and dampened his hand. “When the first one aimed his gun at me, I pulled the trigger on mine. As he disintegrated, the second stood and stared, giving me time to…”

Danse pulled her up next to him and held her.

“I’ve never killed anything before,” she whispered. “Much less another person.”

He stroked her hair as her tears dampened his jumpsuit. “Is that why you haven’t gone back to your vault?”

Her throat constricted. “I feel like something broke inside me. Like…”

He nodded and held her as she cried.

“I won’t lie to you and tell you that taking a life, even justifiably, doesn’t change you. But I would’ve died out there if you hadn’t killed that deathclaw and brought me back here with you. That takes conviction and courage.”

She looked up at him, her soft pink lips slightly parted and her blue eyes luminous even in the harsh artificial light. “Then I’m glad I was there.”

He thumbed the tears off her cheek, swallowed and looked away. “What were you looking for in Vault 75?”

“We recently learned of it and of the atrocities they commit trying to understand genetics. Doubtful that the butchers gleaned any useful data, but if they had, we wanted to make the people’s sacrifices mean something.”

“You’re unusual,” Danse said. “Haven’t met too many scientists that cared about much other than their research.”

“Which is why the world was destroyed by nuclear fire. Some might say like Sodom and Gomorrah.”

“Is that a place in Commonwealth?”

Tesla leaned her head against him and breathed in the rich masculine scent of him. “Cities from long before the war that were destroyed for their evil choices.”

“I see the similarities.”

She relaxed against him. Of course he took her killing two mercenaries in stride. Her vault might not, but he understood. Somehow, that helped. “So what brought you to deathclaw alley?”

Part 1: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

After listening to DH, I took a week out of my regular writing schedule and wrote Fan Fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed Fallout 4, and there was one character in particular I was was extremely found of: Paladin Danse (because of course I was.)

He gets the worst ending ever, even by post-apocalyptic game standards. So, staying within the parameters of the story, I fleshed out a different ending without changing canon.

Even if you haven’t played Fallout 4, you should still get the story.

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Part1: Second Chance for Paladin Danse

***2287 – Shortly After A Call to Arms but before the Sole Survivor Joins the Brotherhood of Steel***

 

“Something’s wrong,” Paladin Danse radioed as he nudged the dead super mutant.

“Second body, or is that the third?” Knight Cole looked over his shoulder. “Another Brotherhood patrol beat us here?”

“Don’t have the manpower to waste.” Scribe Fehl knelt beside the super mutant. “Unless there was a miscommunication at command.”

“Like that’s never happened.” Knight Cole crouched down beside Fehl. “Wasn’t energy weapons that killed him.”

“Something ripped him apart and was…”

When the scribe didn’t finish his sentence, Danse nodded. Not much would eat a super mutant, and while they all knew what would, no one wanted to jinx the mission by saying its name.

Glancing back at Cole, Fehl and the other two knights of his squadron, Danse knew none of them had ever faced a deathclaw. Super mutants had taken over the Revere Satellite Array nearby, and Command had expected them to be in the area when they sent Danse and his team to retrieve the tech.

The squad could handle muties. A deathclaw was something else altogether.

But there was tech to get, and Elder Maxson didn’t tolerate failure.

Danse looked ahead at the ruins of the 200 year old military convoy. Not much in the way of cover or high ground.

“Eyes and ears open,” Danse said as he motioned the team forward, their power armor making stealth almost impossible.

Rattling inside the lead truck of the convoy made him pause. A deathclaw couldn’t fit inside the truck. Then he glimpsed mismatched power armor.

“Raiders,” he radioed back to the team.

“What would they want with tech?” Scribe Fehl asked.

“Scavenging for whatever they can find,” Cole said.

The derision wasn’t lost on Danse, and a past he’d rather forget flickered through his brain. He silenced the thoughts and focused on finding the tech and getting his team out alive. As he started to move forward, movement from the left caught his eye.

Turning, Danse watched a deathclaw bound over the embankment and rake its claws through Knight Cole and his power armor as if he were wearing tissue paper.

Damn, these things were faster than he remembered.

Before Danse could unleash more than a couple shots from his laser rifle into it, a second deathclaw raced toward him from the opposite side. Danse aimed for its legs, knowing his only chance was to slow it enough that he could kill it before it got close enough to use its claws on him.

Fehl screamed behind him and went silent as the smell of ozone clouded the air.

Reloading His laser rifle, Danse pumped blast after blast into the second deathclaw. One final shot and the deathclaw fell against him, its claws scraping against his power armor as it collapsed on top of him and knocked him to the ground.

The second beast screamed, an agonizing howl that reverberated across the hills. Tearing through the last Knight, it charged Danse.

Throwing the first one off him, Danse rolled away but the deathclaw raked his left leg.

Growling, Danse aimed his laser rifle and emptied the rest of his energy cell into the creature. As he reloaded, the beast reared up, its claws ready to rip him to shreds when a brilliant flash of light slammed into the creature’s chest. The deathclaw disintegrated.

The raiders.

Danse grit his teeth against the pain as he slammed a stimpak through his shredded armor and into his leg.

He took aim as the raider in the mismatched power armor jumped down from the top of one of the trucks.

“Please don’t shoot,” a female voice said as she took off the raider helmet.

Without the helmet, he caught a glimpse of bright blue under the armor. A vault dweller. That might explain the strange weapon. He eased his gun down, but he kept his finger on the trigger.

“There are two more of those things out here,” she said. “That one’s howl might bring them.”

“Deathclaws?” Danse forced out between clenched teeth.

She knelt down beside Cole and whispered a prayer. “They’re a lot more unpleasant than the super mutants at the satellite array.”

“Unpleasant? You make it sound like eating a radroach rather than a monster than can wipe out a whole squad.”

She said nothing as she examined and prayed for the rest of his men. Confirming that no one else had survived, she eased next to him even though he continued to grip his laser rifle. “Leg’s bad. The servos in your armor are working well enough that you can get back to my makeshift base.”

“Your base?”

“Old military bunker not far from here.”

He looked at her but said nothing.

She shrugged. “You can either come with me, or you can stay here and take your chances with the deathclaws and super mutants. Easier for me if you stayed, but my conscience won’t let me just walk away.”

Conscience. That wasn’t something too many wastelanders had. He looked at the sliver of blue underneath her armor. Vaulties were a rare breed. They either were something spectacular, like the Lone Wanderer down in the Capital Wasteland, or they were radroach food. And she’d just taken down a deathclaw.

Danse slipped on the safety and pushed himself to his knees.

“Let me help.”

Danse took her hand, small and fine-boned under the armor. He looked up into her brilliant blue eyes as she helped pull him back to his feet. Looping his arm around her shoulders, she kept her rifle within easy reach as she helped him limp back to the military bunker.

Danse grunted as they approached. “Listening Post Bravo. We found this, but the security system has the elevator locked tight. Scribe Fehl couldn’t break it.”

“So you’re the ones that destroyed my protectron. Had to replace him with some modified turrets.”

“Modified?” Danse said between clenched teeth as the pain sent black spots skittering before his eyes. He shook his head and focused on the small domes mounted on the guard desk.

“Yes.”

“Same model as what you used to turn the deathclaw to ash?”

“Not quite as powerful given the close quarters.” She stepped up to the ancient elevator.

“You can make it work?”

She took off her gauntlet, pricked her finger and touched a drop of blood to the keyboard. A moment later, the elevator powered up and slid open.

Danse’s eyes widened.

“Crude, but it’s the best I could rig up on short notice.”

He said nothing as she eased him through the doors and they slid closed behind them. The elevator descended smoothly to the third floor.

As the doors slid open, Danse eyed the interior of the building. No dust. No dirt. Nothing collapsed. Nothing out of place. Even the ancient computer banks looked pristine. Danse had never seen anything like it. Not even on the Prydwen.

She escorted him past several protectrons, a couple of turrets, and rows of shelves filled with neatly stacked crates. “Fixed up the place?” he asked.

She smiled up at him, the expression reaching all the way to her brilliant blue eyes. “You have no idea what a mess nuclear war makes.”

“Never seen an elevator work so well, either.”

“It’s the only way down here. There’s a mutated bear on the level above this one, so be careful if you go back up alone.”

Danse looked down as his leg.

“Won’t be going anywhere for a while,” she agreed. “But we’ll get you fixed up right as rain.”

Given the extent of damage to his leg… “Never heard that said about the radioactive storms that plague the Commonwealth.”

“Pre-war expression,” she admitted as led him through a large metal door and into a room with floors cleaner than the tables in the mess hall.

A single large bed was nestled in a corner with what appeared to be a working sink next to it. The mirror above it was intact, and a screen concealed a toilet. On the opposite side of the room, behind some sort of glass wall, was a workshop with a table, microscope, and instruments Danse had never seen before. Neat piles of circuitry and computer parts were arranged beside the table.

He closed his eyes and sucked in a breath as unconsciousness threatened. “How long have you been down here?”

“Was only supposed to be a day or two as a radiation storm passed,” she admitted as she eased him down onto her bed.

“Where are you from?”

“Does it matter?”

“I think it does.” He took off his helmet and laid it on the bed next to him.

He looked less intimidating now that he had a face, and she met his warm brown gaze. “I can’t endanger the others.”

“Vaultie?”

Her eyes widened and she took a step back, but she didn’t reach for her weapon.

“Blue of your vault suit gives you away.” He motioned to the collar of her power armor.

She looked down and color flushed her cheeks.

“Nothing else that blue in the Wasteland.” Except her eyes, but he kept that to himself.

She bit her lip. “Please don’t make me regret helping you.”

Danse sucked in a couple more steadying breaths and looked around the tidy room. “Plenty of Vaults still locked down. I won’t bring you trouble.”

“The Wasteland hasn’t been welcoming.”

“Lesson you learned well judging by all the security.”

“I still let you in and probably shouldn’t have.”

Danse grimaced as he looked down at his leg. “Glad you did. Being eaten by a deathclaw isn’t the worst fate in the wastes, but it’s up there.”

She looked at his mangled armor. “I need you to trust me enough to remove the armor and let me look at your leg. Those stimpacks help, but your injuries are severe.”

He grunted, watching as she gathered up several tools and sat beside him. Balling his fists, he swallowed back a scream as she jolted his leg prying off the armor plating.

“Worse than I thought.” She pressed her lips together, knowing the pain he had to be in.

“I have another stimpack.”

She shook her head as she took something from the chest plate in her armor.

“What is that?”

“It’ll ease the pain and let you rest while I put together something to help with your injuries.”

He narrowed his eyes but said nothing.

“Your choice.” She laid it beside him.

Taking off her power armor, she kept her weapon with her as she walked across the room and donned the clean suit hanging outside the glass enclosure. The doors slid open and a rush of air blew back her hair. The doors closed behind her, and she sat down at the desk and began working with the microscope and computer parts.

Danse grit his teeth as he looked down at the wound. She was right. It was bad. Only reason he hadn’t bled out was the stimpack. He looked at the strange stimpack she’d given him and balled his fists against the pain.

 

Diamond Part 5: Bourbon in the Dark

 DH’s next installment of the Drake Diamond Saga. I like Betty. Unusual for me as vampires aren’t usually my thing. 

Part1Part2Part 3, Part 4 are available if you want to read them for the first time or get a refresher.    

Ace

Betty has to rush off to meet Papa Thorne, and she swears to me she’ll be back as soon as she can.

“I’m already a dead man in a cemetery,” I assure her, smirking.  “What’s the worst that could happen?”

She smiles apologetically at me, and I catch another glimpse of her fangs.  Then she turns and runs off with a superhuman speed that surprises me.  Although it really shouldn’t.  It occurs to me that I’ve spent the evening with a blood-drinking creature who preys upon the living.  I’m not afraid of her, myself.  I’ve got no blood to drink.  But how would I feel if Betty preyed upon someone like Maxine to meet her dietary needs?

Or Lana?

In all the stories I’d read about vampires, they were monsters.  The bad guys.  The stories were filled with fear, tragedy, and death until the happy ending where the good guys finally destroyed them.  Usually involving a wooden stake and a mallet.  Dracula.  Nosferatu.  Varney.

Maybe they’re not so bad once you get to know ’em.

Of course, I’ve only known Betty for one night.  She’s likable enough.  Not sure I trust her though.

I’m not the trusting sort to begin with.  The trusting sort doesn’t do well in my line of work, for one thing.  But that’s not the only reason.

I’d worked on a fair number of kidnapping cases, both as a cop and as a private eye.  When making ransom demands, kidnappers almost always say “don’t go to the police or your loved one gets it”.  They do that ’cause police have a lot of experience and proven techniques at their disposal for effectively dealing with kidnappers.  If you go the police for help, the kidnappers are likely going to wind up behind bars instead of getting paid.  So they use fear to keep you from doing the smart thing and going to the professionals who know how to effectively unravel their plans.

Same thing with brainwashing cults.  They tell their recruits…their victims, that is…that psychologists are evil.  To be avoided at all costs.  That’s because psychiatrists and psychologists are really good at recognizing brainwashing techniques, and the cults don’t want that.

So earlier when Betty told me not to think too much about the magic she used on me, or it would stop holding me together, I couldn’t help but see the same pattern.  I got to wondering if besides raising me from the dead she cast another spell or two on me.

And then there’s the matter of giving me a place to stay.  In her family’s mausoleum.  In a cemetery surrounded by a brick wall with decorative wrought-iron spikes and heavy wrought-iron gates.  She says she didn’t know I’d be vulnerable to iron.  But she knew ghosts were.  And I’m not exactly a ghost, but whatever I am, Betty’s the one who cast the spell.  I was a desperate experiment, she says.  Maybe she was telling the truth.  Maybe.

I may not trust Betty.  Not fully.  But for now she’s all I’ve got.  For now.

Now that she’s run off, I might as well head inside the mausoleum.  She’d said she spent a lot of time fixing up the inside.  Might as well have a look.

Right inside the entrance there are some steps down.  Not very many.  Coming into the crypt is like stepping down off of a porch.  First thing I see is a row of plaques on the wall.  A bunch of names I don’t recognize, and Salvatore “Sonny” Malone.  His plaque is recessed into the marble wall about an inch.  The other plaques are flush with the wall.  Odd.

I press my hand against his plaque.  There a soft “clunk” sound, like a weight somewhere shifting position, and the plaque springs out, flush with the wall like all the others.  And the entrance quietly slides closed behind me.

And now there’s not even moonlight.  The darkness is absolute, pitch black.

And I can see just fine in it.

Guess from now on the only thing I’ll need a lighter for is my cigarettes.

It’s different, seeing without light.  And yet it’s still “seeing”.  I can see all the colors and textures and patterns I can see in light.  But I see them in the dark, while also seeing that it is, in fact, perfectly pitch-black dark.

Is that hard to picture?  Once I figure out how to describe color to someone who was born blind, I’ll have the words.

Past the row of plaques are walls with long recessed shelves.  And on each shelf lays someone wrapped in a shroud.  Well…this is a crypt.

“Pardon me.  Don’t get up.  Name’s Drake Diamond.  Betty said I could stay here.  Hope you don’t mind.  It’s just for a few days.”

Nothing.  Either Betty was telling the truth about them Resting in Peace, or I’m being snubbed.  Hard to say which is more likely.

There are three layers of shelves, from about waist high all the way up to the ceiling.  It’s a narrow corridor, only slightly wider than a closet.  I don’t recognize the names carved on the shelves either.  Three body-length shelves later, about twenty feet, the corridor ends but there’s a stone spiral staircase down.

One rounded flight down, and I find myself in a cozy one-room apartment.  No kitchenette, and no bathroom, but that’s okay.  I don’t need them anymore.

There’s a desk with a blotter, and a wheeled leather swivel arm chair.  On the desk is a crystal decanter and a couple of matching glasses.  No filing cabinet.  Not sure I need one, but the desk doesn’t look right without it.  There’s a coat rack by the desk, too.  Across the room there’s a comfy looking sofa and some cushioned chairs.  The floor’s even covered by a decent rug.  In another corner there’s a wardrobe and a few other cabinets.

Of course, when you fix up a crypt, it’s still a crypt.  All four walls are more of those shelves, and there are a few dozen folks interred here, by my guess.  And it’s still pitch-black darkness.  Something tells me if I wasn’t undead, I’d find it awfully creepy in here.

“Evening, folks.  You may have heard me upstairs.  Drake Diamond.”  I give a slight nod to the crypt in general and touch the tip of my fedora.  “Betty assures me none of you will mind my staying here for a few days.  If she’s wrong, don’t hesitate to speak up.  I’m sure we can work out a reasonable arrangement.”

After what feels like a full minute none of them voice any objections.  Yeah, I remember what Betty said, but that’s no reason to be impolite.

After hanging up my coat and hat on the rack, I make my way over to the desk and take the crystal decanter and pull out the knob and give it a whiff.  Bourbon.

I pull over a glass and I’m about to pour, but stop myself before a single drop leaves the decanter.  Why the hesitation?  Because wasting good bourbon is a travesty, and the question just occurred to me:  Is bourbon going to be the same, like cigarettes?  Or a hollow sensation of its former pleasure, like eating?

Frowning, I recap the decanter and put it down, and put my hands in my pockets.  Empty.  My matches and smokes are in my coat.  Betty’s right.  I’ve got no wallet.  No keys.  No cash.  Couldn’t have gotten a room or a bed without bumming more off of her.  Macho pride, she called it.  Well, dead or not, a man needs his dignity.

“Anyone here mind if I smoke?”

They’re exactly as chatty as they were before.  I go over to my coat and fish out my smokes and matches.  Six cigarettes left.  I’ll have to buy more soon.  Maybe later I can find some loose change over in the sofa cushions.

Striking a match, the tiny flame makes the room suddenly oppressively dark.  I can barely see a thing.  I let the match fizzle out, and I can see again.

I take out another match and do the same thing.  Light it, and let it fizzle out.  Same thing happens.  And again with a third match.  Now I’ve got a working theory.

Seems as though when there’s any light at all, even from a single match, I see like I did when I was alive: by light.  It’s only when there’s utterly pitch black darkness I can see like the dead.

With a fourth match I light up and take a few puffs, shaking out the match and looking around for an ashtray.  None.  I’ll have to get one of those.  No way I’m even going to try to quit smoking now that I’m already dead.

I crush the match out on the stone floor of the crypt, like Malone once did in my office carpet.  Even such a minor desecration makes me feel guilty.  I’m just here for a few days.  But to these other bones, this is their final resting place.  I should be a more considerate guest.

The glow from the end of my cigarette when I inhale is dim enough that my dead-sight still works.  Good thing, too.  I’d hate to stumble in the dark and knock over the bourbon.

Betty’s words in the diner come back to me:  tobacco nourishes death.  Well, in my case bullets beat it to the punch, but that’s why I still enjoy smokes while food, which nourishes life, gives me no pleasure.

Booze?  That seems like a gray area to me.

Sitting at the desk, I pull over one of the glasses and tap my cigarette ashes into it.  Until I get a proper ashtray it’ll do.  I’ve made enough of a mess as a guest here.  The other glass I set next to the decanter, and pull out the top once again.  I carefully pour myself two fingers of bourbon, and set the decanter back down and cap it.  Moment of truth.

I sniff the bourbon, and there’s a hint of a bitter, nutty aroma to it that complements it well.  I take a sip.

I’ve had good bourbon before.  Smooth, smoky, and slightly sweet.  But now I feel like I’ve just tasted it for the first time.  I have no idea what brand or label of bourbon is in this decanter, but this is top-shelf stuff.

I’m not too proud to admit, I’ve got a tear in my eye.  With all that I’ve lost, suddenly the little, simple pleasures that I still can enjoy mean that much more.

I sip the rest of the bourbon in the glass very slowly, savoring the taste of each drop.  The smoky, nutty, sweet taste sprinkling lightly on my tongue.  After I’ve finished my drink and my cigarette, I feel more alive than I’ve felt since I woke up in Betty’s chalk circle.

That’s when I notice the lamps.  There are a couple of unlit kerosene lamps here too.  One on the desk in front of me, and another one over by the wardrobe, on top of one of the cabinets.  They were there all along.  I just didn’t notice them until now.

Betty brought all this stuff down here, just so I’d have a place to stay.  She may have raised me tonight, but she’s been planning this for a while.

And besides all the furniture, and the most expensive tasting liquor that’s ever graced my unworthy mouth, she also brought a pair of kerosene lamps.  So I’d have light down here.  To see.

She doesn’t know I can see in the dark?  Maybe she really didn’t know about the iron.  What else doesn’t she know about me?

Is she wrong about Lana?

I mean, about my being able to talk to Lana.  See her again.  As far as I know Betty’s never met Lana.  But that whole business about Unfinished Business…I’d give up being able to enjoy bourbon and cigarettes if I could have another chance to…to…

Of course there are tears in my eyes.  Crypts are dusty places.