For the second time in as many minutes, I found myself thrown back down the stairs, breath knocked out of me. The world moved in swirls, both from head trauma and the disturbed dust kicked into the air. My ears rang and I felt blood oozing out of my nose. I could barely move, but saw a familiar face nearby. My only friend in the world, who had walked with me from my first day in this unforgiving world, lay with his face twisted in pain, breath labored and raspy.

As my vision cleared I forced myself to look up the stairwell, not knowing where my weapons were or if they would be of any use against the hulking monstrosity that had taken residence inside the Museum of Witchcraft and caused so many local rumors. I fumbled for my backup 10mm pistol, a weapon of last resort, swearing to make that monster pay for killing my dog and me. Grimacing through the pain, I aimed the gun up the stairs.

Nothing moved, the only sound my companion’s gasping breaths in the foul air.

Agonizingly I rolled to my knees and started to climb the stairs on all fours, pistol at the ready. I wasn’t about to have the beast come after us as we made our escape from the basement. There it lay at the top of the stairs, charred and blasted from the two grenades that exploded directly beneath it. The cramped, tight space meant the full force of the explosions went into the Deathclaw, now partially buried in building material that collapsed atop of it. The beast lay still, unmoving.

I emptied a full magazine into its face, the barest repayment for what it tried to do to us.

I emerged from the cellar door, back into the side yard, carrying my gravely-injured friend in my tired arms. Most of my stimpacks had been broken during the fight, and I used my final two on the dog. It was my fault for going into that stupid house, it was my fault to keep exploring once things started getting dangerous, and it was my damned fault that he got hurt at all. He’d been my constant and stalwart companion through all of my triumphs and failures since I woke up, and never asked for a thing in return. Tireless and protective, my friendship was enough for him.

He had walked with me across miles of radiated wasteland without complaint. I wasn’t about to complain that I had to carry him now. Bloody, bruised, and with limbs and lungs on fire, I walked, following the road. Anyone who saw me probably thought I was a ghoul, shambling without acute consciousness down the broken roads of the Commonwealth. I don’t know what I would have done if anyone had accosted us, but I know it wouldn’t have been pretty for anyone.

I hadn’t realized that I made it all the way to Goodneighbor, or even that I was walking that way, until I reached the massive doors with their bright neon signs. I made it just inside before collapsing, unable to hold my friend or myself up any more.

When I next awoke, I thought I was back in the museum, the deathclaw about to descend the stairs. Two nurses held me down until I regained some of my wits, when I demanded to know how my dog was doing. They told me he was fine and that I needed to rest. They had pumped me full of some exotic things and the doctor would be around soon. I passed out again.

They hadn’t lied, my dog did survive. His recovery would be long and painful though, and he would need constant care until he healed up. That kind of help wasn’t cheap, particularly with veterinary skills in short supply.

I gave him all of my caps, sold most of my belongings, and promised that more would be coming. He liked dogs, he wasn’t a monster after all, but he had a business to run and drugs weren’t easy to manufacture.

I gave my dog, my friend, my companion, a loving rub and smoothed out his fur as he lay on the operating table. He was unconscious, but still his ear twitched when I scratched his forehead. I hated to see the stitches holding together vicious cuts and IVs feeding him fluids, but I couldn’t leave without saying goodbye. He deserved so much more than that. He deserved so much more than me.

The next morning I left Goodneighbor, promising the doctor that I would return with more payment soon. Whereas once I scavenged and hunted just to stay alive, now I had a higher purpose – making sure my friend pulled through.

Turning toward the far-off jewel that was Diamond City, I was now a woman on a mission, looking for work.