Author's note: Big thanks once again for all the support and encouragement on this story. The reply to reviews link didn't seem to be working but I read and appreciate every single one.

This week we finally have Nora's POV. Hope you all enjoy.


Cog wheels creaked and groaned as the mechanical lift descended. Nearly drowned out by her own gasped attempts at breathing and Shaun's piercing wail.

Adrenaline turned to lactic acid in her legs. Limbs barely capable of holding her upright now that the need to run had eased.

A sudden flash of light damn near blinded her.

She blinked rapidly, desperately trying to clear her vision from the excessive brightness.

Several seconds later, a loud crack and rushing roar assaulted her ears as sound limped pitifully behind the pace set by the speed of light.

Ears ringing, she glanced up at the increasingly distant sky. Then immediately wished she hadn't when she saw the billowing dark cloud.

It was too big. Too close.

A detached corner of her brain tried to work out distance and direction. Calculate where the bomb hit.

A thick metal gate closed above the elevator shaft before she could figure it out.

The tinnitus in her ears faded, the shocked voices of her fellow survivors rising in its place as the lift finally bumped to a halt.

Blue suited Vault-Tec employees hurried them along, deeper into the facility. Nora's legs stumbling forward on autopilot.

"Shaun." One thought waded through the thick molasses of her mind. "Shaun!"

"He's ok." Nate tried to reassure but Nora didn't seem to hear, repeating her son's name like a mantra until he pulled them to the side. Placing the infant in her shaking hands.

"It's ok. He's ok. We're ok Nora."

Her brain floundered, accelerating from snail crawl to supersonic in an instant. Realisations hitting hard like a multi car pileup on the freeway.

Pennsylvania.New York.So many dead.The blast she saw must have been Boston.How many more cities were hit?Were her parents safe? What about Nate's?Her sister? His brother?How long would they have to live down here before radiation levels on the surface dropped back to habitable levels?

"We're safe Nora. It's ok. We made it."

Nate's steady timbre floated through the tumultuous tsunami of thought. She latched onto it, like an anchor in the storm.

His hands were a grounding presence on her shoulders. She breathed deep, lifting her face to meet him.

He was close enough that she could see the flecks of amber in his dark mahogany gaze. He seemed to be searching for something. It took a moment for her to realise what it was.

"I'm here. I'm good." She muttered, aware of the reversal of their usual roles.

How many times had she guided him home when his mind got trapped in the horrors of Alaska?How many times had he uttered those same words? One statement true, the other slightly less so.

A shadow of a smile stretched his lips. Thumb caressing her cheek.

"Come on. Let's go inside." His voice was soft and gentle, but she could see a steeliness buried behind his eyes.

He was her rock, but he wasn't made of stone. Wasn't immune to what had just happened.

He simply had more experience compartmentalising. Pushing everything to the side so he could get the job done.

Act now. Feel later.

Days, weeks, months. He'd bottle it up however long he needed to.

Wait until the danger passed.

Until it was safe to think and feel again and, sometimes, if needed, break. Just a little.

It wouldn't be today.

Today he was the strong one.

But she'd be there when it happened. Be the safety net when he fell. The glue when he cracked. His light in the dark.

All the things he was for her.

"How do I look?"

She must have zoned out because when she followed the voice she found Nate wearing a bright blue jumpsuit.

He looked good in it.

Not quite as good as he looked in his old military uniform, but good.

Then again he looked good in anything, bastard.

He laughed when she told him as much.

"Here, I'll take Shaun while you change."

In no time at all she was modelling a near identical suit of her own.

"How do I look?" She threw the question back at him.

"Perfect."

She snorted, preparing a witty comeback, but was interrupted by the labcoats urging them into decontamination units.

"Don't know what the hurry is." Nate grumbled. "Not like they need the pods for the group after us."

Nora's smile was more of a grimace. The only other people in auditory range directing sharp glares at her husband.

She understood though.

Dark humour was one of his coping mechanisms. A safety valve to release some of the pressure he was under.

To prevent the pressure building high enough that it had no choice but to dangerously explode.

As the lid came down on her decontamination unit, her thoughts finally solidified into facts.

They were safe.

True, they didn't know what state the surface was in. How long they'd be living down here.

But they were safe and they were together.

Even the end of the world didn't seem so bad with Nate by her side.

It was getting colder. She idly wondered how long decontamination was supposed to take.

They hadn't said.

Or maybe they had but she'd been too out of it at the time to notice.

"Procedure complete in five… four… three…" A mechanical voice was counting down.

She tensed, ready to step out and rejoin her family. To tour the vault and begin to make it their new home.

Instead her muscles didn't respond. Her brain was sluggish as it tried to process the input from her senses.

She vaguely noticed frost casing the glass in front of her. How long had that been there?

Her head ached and throat was parched, like the morning after a night of drinking. Meanwhile her fingers throbbed with the same agony as entering a warm building after hours outside in the depths of winter. Pins and needles raced through her limbs.

There was movement outside her window.

Voices.

A person in a hazmat suit, but that didn't make sense. Vault-Tec's doctors and scientists had all been wearing labcoats.

Perhaps a late arrival from the surface? Kitted out in protective gear so they could continue helping for as long as possible with minimal risk of contamination.

The pod opposite lifted its lid and she heard Nate coughing, Shaun's piercing scream.

She needed to get out, to soothe Shaun. The hazmat person reached out instead.

"No, I've got him." Nate wasn't ready to let go. Nora didn't blame him. Not with how disorientated she felt.

She just hoped he wouldn't flashback.

If they'd known how this was going to go she would have made sure she had Shaun. Asked the doctors to get her out first so she could help smooth the transition for Nate's fractured mind.

"Let the boy go." The figure on the left ordered, aiming a pistol.

That wasn't right at all.

That was wrong. Very, very wrong.

"I'm not giving you Shaun!"

A gunshot rang out. Loud and echoing.

Nate tumbled backward. Losing his grip on their son.

Nora started hyperventilating.

She had to help him. Had to move.

She urged her muscles to respond but they stayed stiff.

Nate's pod resealed. Hazmat leaving with her crying child.

It was cold, so cold.

A face peered through her window.

The man who shot Nate.

Bald. Beard. Scar.

She committed the features to memory. All the little details. Enough to pick him out of the toughest police lineup.

"-Still have the backup."

Voice.

She had to remember that voice too, but her thoughts were growing sluggish.

She began to cough.

Her head ached and throat was parched, like the morning after a night out boozing. Meanwhile her fingers throbbed, pins and needles racing through her limbs.

None of it compared to the stabbing pain in her heart.

Her arms finally moved, fist pummeling the window of her pod.

"failure… cryogenic… vacate…" A mechanical voice stated. The words' meaning didn't really penetrate as she fell to the floor.

She struggled forward and up. Half crawling, half surging across the distance toward her soulmate's pod.

She yanked at the mechanical release lever.

She didn't wait for the door to finish opening. Ducking beneath the lid as soon as there was space.

"Nate! No, come on Nate."

His body was stiff and cold. White ice stuck to his face and clothes.

It reminded her of the chicken she'd taken out the freezer a mere hour ago in preparation for a pie tonight.

They wouldn't get to eat it now, but the vault would have some kind of food supplies.

"Come on Nate."

Her fingers searched valiantly for a pulse on his neck. Other hand trying his wrist.

There was no steady beat, not even a weak flicker.

No heat. No warmth.

Just cold, and still, and hard.

"Damn it Nate, I need you! It's supposed to be your turn to be the strong one. I can't, I…"

She closed her eyes. Memories of the last, god how long must it be? Twenty? Forty minutes tops, crashing through her mind.

Codsworth calling.News report on the TV.Running. So fast and so hard up that hill.The lift.The bomb.Nate grounding her, checking on her. Making sure she was ok.The pods.A gunshot.A man.Bald. Beard. Scar.Murderer.Shaun.They took Shaun.

Her eyes snapped open.

One of her hands was pressed to Nate's cheek. The other subconsciously tracing the words on his palm.

His soulmark. Her first words to him.

The proof that they completed each other.

"I'll find who did this and I'll get Shaun back. I promise."

She pressed a kiss to his forehead.

It didn't feel like enough. It wasn't enough.

She couldn't do anything else though. She had to get moving. Find Shaun.

Crouching down, she slipped the wedding ring from his finger. Quickly untying one of his boot laces, she threaded it through the ring and fastened it round her neck. The cold metal hung heavy against her chest.

"Critical failure in cryogenic array. All vault residents must vacate immediately." This time the looped message penetrated her brain.

She became aware of the coldness seeping through her skin, deep into her bones. Her body shivering in an attempt to stay warm.

Each gasping breath felt like icy daggers stabbing her lungs, but it paled in comparison to the piercing sharpness of the shattered shards of her heart embedded in her chest.

"I love you Nate." She whispered, turning.

If she didn't go now, she'd never leave.

She tried to open a few more pods on her way out. They needed to vacate after all. But the pods remained sealed. The bodies frozen inside.

She swallowed down the mounting horror as she recognised her neighbours' faces.

The Callahans, Mr and Mrs Able, Mr Russell.

There was nothing she could do but put one foot in front of the other and keep moving. Her hands clutched tight under her armpits in search of warmth.

She found the exit, but the door wouldn't open.

"Come on!" She picked up a nearby wrench, throwing it at the door in futile desperation.

There was a clang as metal hit metal but no other result.

She breathed deep. Fighting her plummeting emotions with sheer willpower.

Shaun needed her.

She couldn't afford to fall apart.

She had to be the strong one now. She was the only one left.

Grabbing a screwdriver for no other reason than it felt good to grip something in her hands, she made her way back down the corridor.

One door led to more cryopods, another claimed to be a restricted area.

With no other choice, she ventured deeper into the vault.

Silence pressed in on her from all sides, the only sound her own laboured breathing.

She found a terminal and logged on, searching for a floorplan. Instead she found 'security instructions' and 'operation protocols'.

Anger flooded her veins as she read how the vault was: 'designed to test the long-term effects of suspended animation on unaware, human subjects'.

Nate might not have read the terms and conditions before signing up with Vault-Tec but she sure as hell did. There was nothing, nothing, that allowed them to do this.

[Life-saving intervention is only permitted if greater than 80% of the resident population has perished…]

[Independent research is encouraged]

That was it. Once she found Shaun she was going to slap Vault-Tec with a lawsuit so hard they ended up back in the stone age.

She searched for a blank holotape, she'd need solid evidence for the courts, and if she left now the files would probably vanish quicker than ribs at a family bbq.

A fluttering noise caught her attention and she turned to find… well, it looked like a cockroach, but it was the size of her forearm!

It flew straight for her, biting and scratching until she managed to squish it.

She needed a better weapon than a damn screwdriver she decided, cringing at the black carapace and yellow gunk spread across the floor.

She pushed past her disgust. Bottled it up and kept going.

She found more live bugs and more dead humans, but this time they were skeletons.

How long had she been frozen if the bodies had time to decompose? Or maybe the roaches had just picked the bones clean.

She found a pistol in the overseer's office, the weight felt comforting in her hand.

Nate had taught her how to shoot. She was pretty damn good too.

Against stationary wooden targets at least.

She'd never aimed at a living being before.

The roaches soon changed that fact. Although she wasn't sure they really counted. That wasn't killing so much as pest control.

Cog wheels creaked and groaned as the mechanical lift ascended. She missed Shaun's piercing wail.

The roof of the elevator shaft opened, the sudden increase in light damn near blinding her.

She blinked rapidly, desperately trying to clear her vision from the excessive brightness.

The lift shuddered to a halt and, slowly, the world she left behind reshaped before her eyes.