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.”
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
She looked down, a pained expression pinching her face.
“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.
“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.