It was late that night when Nora found herself seated at the Castle radio- or maybe it was early morning, she wasn't too certain.
When she found her fingers tapping nervously next to the 'On-Air' button, wondering when her throat and stomach were going to catch up to one another. Wondering when her mouth was going to stop being so dry, and allow her tongue to speak.
The day had been filled with celebration, and for now, as far as she knew, everyone was mostly passed out in the bunks of the Castle. Or at least well on their way to doing so- a few people were having to be drunkly helped to bed after one too many. It would be a killer headache in the morning, but for now, they were taking advantage of the new future before them- and leaving the crippling days behind.
Everyone was asleep.
Everyone but her anyways.
Taking a deep breath, Nora urged her fingers to move once more and switched on the microphone in front of her- giving herself no chance to lose her nerve and turn away. She was faced with her own ultimatum now.
"This is Radio Freedom," she started, using their trademark introduction, "and this is the General speaking to you at this late hour. Normally I'd be afraid that I'm waking someone up, but I have a feeling not many people out there are sleeping. Which you should be- for this is the first night where you can sleep without the threat of the Institute on your mind." Delicate pause to let the words sink in. "I'm certain everyone already knows, but for those who might not, you're hearing it straight from the General's mouth: the Institute is gone. That explosion many of you might've seen, or heard, or felt even, was just that. For those of you in Diamond City a few days ago, who might've overheard me saying that I would take the Institute down to protect the Commonwealth- I hope you see that I made good on that promise."
Nora paused, and chuckled lightly as she heard the faint sound of clapping coming from the corridors of the Castle around her.
Okay, so perhaps not everyone had passed out just yet.
Perhaps some of them were still conscious enough to listen to her.
"But I couldn't have done it without the Minutemen," Nora continued. "I couldn't have done it without the people who went with me, or without the people I left behind." This was the part she had been dreading, and she took a moment to clear her throat- praying it wouldn't crack when she spoke again. "As I'm sure many of you heard, the Castle took a personal hit from the Institute just a few days before, a day before the strike on Diamond City. That personal attack was one of the leading factors for why we buckled down and hunted out the Institute- thanks to some of our silent friends out there for helping us put them on the map. In total, we lost fifteen people in that ambush; fifteen good men and women who did everything they could to protect the Commonwealth, to protect their fellow man. And I'm sure in a couple of years, fifteen is going to sound like such a small number, especially when compared to University Point, or any other settlement that's fallen to the Institute. When compared to the years of peace we'll find without the Institute looking over our shoulders. But right now... fifteen is big; it's a huge number, a huge loss for the Minutemen, for everyone."
She took another pause, another moment to clear her throat, and get her thoughts back together.
A brief moment to hear the subtle footsteps behind her, before she felt a heavy hand curl over her shoulder. And she didn't have to guess who it was- she already knew. Her fingers were already moving to greet his before they had even settled completely against her.
And she smiled lightly at the reassuring squeeze they gave.
Using the subtle gesture to get through her memories and thoughts.
The thoughts of the fifteen neatly lined up graves in the back of the Castle; each one delicately brushed of debris, and marked with a small, wooden cross. The lack of proper graveyards, of proper burial sites really seemed to be hitting home right now... They needed a proper place to be buried, to be laid to rest- so they would never be forgotten.
And yet, on the same hand, they lived, worked, and died for the Castle; it only seemed appropriate that they would stay here.
The Castle had been a shell of hope and freedom, brought back to life with a guiding touch and once more transformed into the castle that it truly was... Only to be broken back down into a coffin of death and energy burns.
But it would come back- stronger this time.
"All I ask is that we try to remember these people. That we all celebrate the new years to come by remembering and honoring the people who helped to bring it forward, but don't get to see it for themselves."
Nora still battled with the knot in her throat, and leaned away from the microphone just in case something did manage to slip out. This was hard, but she... she had made a promise that she wouldn't forget these people- and that she would make sure that no one else did either. Their names were still written down somewhere in Ronnie's notebook, but she intended to get them written down somewhere bigger- on a plaque or something. She would get Piper to run an article about them, so that those names weren't forgotten.
It was the least she could do as General.
Leaning back forward, Nora drew in a deep breath before she continued. "Many people out there know who I am, the tabloid 'Woman Out of Time'. You know my story, my struggle, why I was out for the Institute to begin with." Another pause, a few more drifted thoughts about Shaun and Nate. "I won't go into detail about what happened, but I will let you know that that chapter of my life is done and over with. I found my closure, and I've made my peace with it. And now... my life in the Commonwealth starts over again."
She stopped to let the words sink in, to let them manifest and come alive- to let them feel alive.
To let them feel true.
"This is Radio Freedom, and this is the General, signing off."
Her fingers cut the microphone and let the station resume playing its usual melody when the mic wasn't active.
Leaning back heavily in her seat, Nora squeezed at Preston's hand once more. "It doesn't feel real." Yet another repeated statement, but still it felt like she was living an out-of-body experience here.
"It'll take some time," he assured. "A lot has happened in a short amount of time, just let it catch up to you."
That felt like good advice- hell, she had no doubts that Preston sure as hell knew what he was talking about. This was probably even more of a disassociated experience with him than it was with her. And he seemed to be pulling it off just fine. And that gave her hope, gave her encouragement that she could too.
"You're right," Nora sighed, before she slowly forced herself to her feet- feeling the heaviness in her limbs as she did so.
Christ, she was more exhausted than she thought; the few days of drinking nothing but water and liquor couldn't have been helping her either though. That on top of lingering overexertion that started at the Castle, and ended at the Institute. And her diet wasn't any better either. Either way, the slight weakness on her feet must've been more apparent than she thought as Nora felt Preston's hand on her once more- carefully steadying her out.
She chuckled lightly at the gesture, thankful for it, before she stepped around the radio host's chair and moved to him; she hooked her arm around his waist and fell heavy against him, tucking her head against his shoulder.
"Let's get some sleep, Cowboy."
A/N: And that's it! Thanks for sticking around everyone! This story turned out double the size I had intended, but it was definitely fun and it was a nice practice exercise for me in terms of character interactions and overall actions. I am glad that it's done though- and I wish that it hadn't taken me so long to finish!
Also, to the guest reviewer who asked about the lack of Brotherhood involvement in the story, I'll be honest, I simply didn't want to write them. It might've been lazy on my behalf, but I really didn't want them to be part of the story's focus. I just wanted to envision what a combined Minutemen-Railroad ending might've been like- and I wanted to give some underrated characters a nice spot of attention.