"Now say goodbye, Shaun. Bye bye. Say bye bye! Bye, honey. We love you."
The holotape clicked as it ended, leaving the hum of engines and creaks of steel the only company in Quinn's lonely spot at the bottom of the Prydwen. Her Pip-Boy flickered to life, its green glow filtering up through the stairs above; Quinn opened the top and hovered her hand over the tape inside, chewing her lip. There was a pause, and she shut it again, closing her eyes as the words she had memorised began to play.
"Oops, haha. Keep those little fingers away... Ah, there we go. Just say it, right there. Right there, go ahead. Ah, yay! Hi honey..."
"Shit!" Quinn jumped to her feet without thinking. Stars exploded in front of her eyes and pain seared through the top of her head as she hit the metal steps. "Fuck!" she hissed, staggering forward.
"Whoa," the voice said, and cool metal hands gripped at her arms, steadying her.
"...kind, and loving, and funny..."
Quinn groaned, the ache in her head all-consuming as she pressed her palms on the source of her pain. She could feel a lump starting already. After a few moments, when her surroundings had stopped moving, Quinn opened her eyes and found Paladin Danse staring down at her, his bushy eyebrows knotted together in a slight frown. There was a pause; he looked at his hands and let go of her, clearing his throat. "Are you alright, sister? I thought I heard..."
"But everything we do, no matter how hard, we do it for our family."
Quinn jabbed at the Pip-Boy buttons, shaking it and twisting the dials at random, as Nate's message continued. A hot, prickling sensation was creeping up her cheeks as she wrestled with the glorified tape player; Nate's voice was for her, and her alone. Danse looked away as she cursed under her breath, taking a sudden keen interest with a patch of rust on the interior of the airship.
"Now say goodbye, Shaun. Bye bye. Say bye bye! Bye, honey. We love you."
The click was music to her ears, and she dropped her arm in defeat, the glow of the Pip-Boy illuminating Danse's features. He looked back at her, squinting, and cleared his throat again. "I'm sorry," he said finally. "I didn't realise you were...I was just checking that you were settling in fine."
"Yes, fine, thank you," Quinn breathed. She could probably melt Danse with the heat rolling off her face right now. Quinn shook her head. The man was dressed in enough metal to pass as a human tank, and yet he'd still startled her when he'd approached. How out of it had she been? "Is there anything particular you wanted me for?"
If her tone irked Paladin Danse, he didn't show it. If anything, he seemed to relax at the return to familiar territory. "Yes. Maintaining your power armour is an important aspect of the Brotherhood. To survive on the battlefield, you need to know your way around the tool station."
Quinn nodded. Days on the base surfaced to mind, a lifetime away in an untainted world. Sunlight streaming through an open window, a glass of pink lemonade next to Nate as he bent over a rifle, its parts spread out all over the clean tablecloth. Despite countless threats of divorce and arguments over the dining table not being a personal work station, the guns were still maintained in the kitchen until the day Nate left the army. In the end, Quinn had given up, but this in itself came with perks. No one else she knew could say their husband treated them to a brand new tablecloth every month. And it had always been interesting to watch him work. He talked while he tinkered and cleaned, and eventually it had become somewhat of an activity for both of them, though Quinn still insisted on the payment of tablecloths. What had he always said? "Look after your gear, and it'll look after you."
"Exactly." Quinn jumped. Had she spoken aloud? Danse was smiling at her. "Not many new recruits understand that so quickly...and sometimes, not quickly enough." He motioned her to follow. "You said you were from the vault, so might not have had an opportunity to learn about power armour maintenance. Mine is in need of repairs, so if you want me to show you the ropes, come with me." He stomped away, each footstep sending loud clangs through the ship. How anyone slept here, Quinn didn't know. She guessed they just adjusted after a while. With a shrug to herself, she trailed after the paladin, ducking carefully around the stairwell before travelling up it.
Danse crouched behind his stationed power armour, humming tunelessly to the radio as he worked. Quinn watched in silence, sat cross legged on a stack of crates next to him, noting his careful hand despite his size, and how he placed each tool down neatly in a line when he was finished with it. Nate's workshop – Quinn had made him move to his own man shed when they bought the house in Sanctuary Hills, tablecloths be damned – had been an explosion of tools and components scattered across various boxes, shelves, and sometimes even the floor. Most of the women on the street had complained about their husbands always asking for the location of their socks. With Nate, the most common question of the marriage had been, "Hun, where's my screwdriver?"
"What is it, soldier?"
Quinn blinked and looked down at Danse. "Pardon?"
"You were smiling."
"Oh, just..." Quinn coughed. "I was thinking of my husband. He used to show me how to fix up guns, back when...before everything happened. But he was a lot messier than you."
"Tidy tools lead to a tidy victory."
It took some effort suppress the giggle that threatened to come out. Thankfully, Danse had turned back to his armour, giving Quinn the chance to bite on her knuckle until the urge went away. "They teach you that slogan in training, huh?"
"No, it's my own creation," Danse said, his brow creasing. "But...I will admit it sounded better in my head."
She couldn't hold it back anymore. Laughter – real laughter, perhaps the first time she had truly laughed since the day of the vault – erupted from her, and she clutched at the edges of the crates to stop her from falling off. Danse glanced up at her, clearly wounded by this, but before she could utter an apology, she caught sight of the scribes and initiates staring at her, wide-eyed, which set her off again. She laughed until her sides hurt and tears were streaming down her face, and even then it took several more hiccuped giggles before she had calmed down completely. Danse stared at his armour as if he hadn't noticed her outburst, but she could see a tinge of red underneath the dark stubble.
"I'm sorry," she said, wiping her eyes. "I wasn't laughing at you. It's just...that's something Nate would have come out with, and he would have been just as earnest as you. He was a real soldier when he first joined up, though he relaxed a lot after we had Shau..." She trailed off. Nate. Shaun. Gone. God, how she wanted to play the holotape. It took her a moment to realise Danse was staring up at her, but when she caught his eye, he quickly turned away.
"I'm almost done with my adjustments. Just a tweak of this plating and..." There was a scraping noise, a click, and Danse stood up. "There." He stretched his arms and gave her a warm smile. All was forgiven. Quinn returned it and slipped off the crates, padding over to her own station with the paladin. He was surprisingly agile outside of his armour, but moved with a strange lope, as if trying to compensate for a weight that wasn't there.
Danse laid the tools out on the floor, one by one, in a perfect line, and gestured her over. "First things first," he said, picking up a screwdriver
Hun, where's my screwdriver?
and pointing to the helmet, "you need to protect your head. The on-board display is essential for mapping out the battle and identifying enemies, so knowing what you're doing when you're repairing or upgrading could save your life...or kill you, if your work is shoddy. Luckily for you, Proctor Ingram insists on field tests for every modified piece of equipment. However, if you're on the field, no one else can pick up your slack. Do you understand, soldier?"
"Good." Danse set to work on the helmet and after a few minutes, removed the face plate. "Now, let me explain all the main parts to you. It looks complicated, but once you get used to it, it's fine..."
Hours passed. The paladin went over everything, from the basics to the fine details, and Quinn drank it all in. It was much more advanced than anything she had done with Nate, and yet somehow it seemed to click. Danse would explain an aspect of the armour, and she would barrage him with questions, before taking a look at the part in question and discussing how she would tweak it. Sometimes he would agree with her, other times he would correct or challenge her, but also tell her why. The conversation would flicker between playful and serious, with most of the seriousness from him, and yet she noticed him smiling more and more as the evening went on.
Eventually, Danse set down the last of the tools and stifled a yawn. "I think that's all I can teach you, soldier," he said, rubbing his eyes. "But if there's anything more you want to learn, Proctor Ingram will be happy help...if she's not busy." They both knew that Proctor Ingram barely had time to eat or sleep, never mind teaching new recruits armour modification, but Quinn appreciated the sentiment all the same. "That went on longer than I thought it would, though, so..." Danse began to walk away, but stopped when Quinn stayed on the spot. "You're not tired?"
"I..." Quinn glanced at her Pip-Boy before she could stop herself. The hot flush was returning to her cheeks and she stared down at her feet, wishing he would just go away.
He did not go away. Instead, he spoke so softly she almost didn't hear him. "Quinn."
Quinn reluctantly met his gaze. He wasn't smiling now, but there was something else in his eyes that seemed to speak volumes of loss...or maybe simply understanding. He beckoned her, and for the umpteenth time that night, she followed. Danse led her through the maze of steel walkways and stairs, and took her to a door near the top that she had missed before, holding it open so she could walk through first.
The wind hit her with such force her breath caught in her throat as it pushed her back, but Danse's hands were firm at her shoulders, guiding her forwards until she found her balance. The Commonwealth was laid out before her, a decaying hive of metal and brick, the grey sky a grim backdrop to this new world. And yet it still left her speechless. There was a clang behind her, and she turned to see Danse leaning against the shut door.
"It's loud," he shouted above the gale, "but they can't hear you from in there, either. No one comes out here unless we're under attack." He motioned to the sniper rifle and ammunition box at their feet. "So you won't be disturbed. Goodnight, sister." Danse wrenched the door open and left, banging it shut as he went.
Quinn stared after him. He hadn't even given her a chance to say thank you, but then again, perhaps that was the point. She gazed out onto the Commonwealth one last time, and then sat down with her back to the door, activating the holotape at her wrist. It was much harder to hear outside, but that didn't matter. She knew it all, word for word.