A whole lot of people out there thought Hancock was a trouble-stirring problem-maker. MacCready didn't see where they were coming from, right up until Hancock caught him staring at Preston.
MacCready had no idea how long Hancock had been there, boots swinging away jauntily alongside him as he worked the rearguard position on the group's way back to Sanctuary, but it had clearly been long enough. He scowled back him, but Hancock's toothy grin didn't budge. That just made MacCready scowl harder. "Heh yourself. I got no idea what you're talking about."
"Really?" Hancock leaned over and flicked MacCready right in the ear. "Because if that shade of red isn't a blush, then you probably need to see a doctor."
"Told you, I got no idea--"
"I bet Curie knows all kinds of things about treating nasty rashes." Hancock cupped a hand by his mouth. "Hey, doc--"
MacCready promptly slapped his hand away. "Okay, fine, shut your mouth. Maybe I've been looking at him. Maybe, just a little." He squared his shoulders and tried to stare Hancock down, a tactic that perhaps would have been more effective if they weren't both the same height. "That a crime?"
"Honesty is the best policy," said the drug-addicted costumed mayor of a town of criminals. "So why don't you just ask him out?"
"What?" In front of them, Piper turned at the sound of his sudden squawk, but he waved her away until she rolled her eyes and looked back. "That's crazy," he hissed to Hancock. "I can't do that."
Words deserted him. MacCready gestured at himself, then at Preston, then threw up his hands.
"Because you're a mime?"
"Knock it off!" MacCready rolled his eyes sullenly, shoulders slumping. "Because a guy like that isn't exactly going to be interested in a guy like me. He's all 'Sir yes sir let's save some kittens', and I'm... you know damn well how I am. I do bad things for money. Have gun, will travel."
This offering of emotional honesty went completely unappreciated. "You never know if something will work until you try it, brother. That always works for me."
"Really? You looked in a mirror lately?"
"Heh! C'mon," Hancock settled his hands on MacCready's skinny shoulders and pointed him towards Preston, squinting as if picturing some strategic maneuver. "Here's what you're going to do. When we get back to base, someone's going to break out the beer and set up a campfire, because they always do, and we're all going to sit around it, because it's been one long day. You'll have a beer or two, and then you'll go talk to him, and you'll say," he pitched his voice higher, "'so, how about this weather?'"
"I don't talk like that! And that's a goddamned-- a goshdarned terrible line."
Hancock shrugged, and began to wander back to the rest of the pack. "Hey, it's a classic. Don't knock it until you try it."
By the time that Sanctuary was rising on the horizon, clouds were beginning to scud across the sky. MacCready made a silent plea to the god of not getting rained on, but it went unheard; a few minutes later the creeping clouds got themselves together enough to rain, an uncomfortable spitting drizzle that was just enough to make you feel damp right from top to socks.
How did people like being out in this kind of thing? MacCready had no idea. Even after all these years, something about being out under the sky, under all that huge... hugeness-- it gave him the creeps. Grumping, he shielded the rain from his eyes and tried to trot along a little faster, as if that would leave him somehow less sodden.
Behind the safety of the shadow of his hands, he worked up the courage to look back over to Preston.
It ought to have been impossible to look at home in miserable spitting rain, but Preston somehow managed it. With his hat catching the worst of it, coat and scarf practical and warm, and his boots well cared for instead of being a collection of holes, he looked like he was just out for a stroll, completely at home, not bothered by anything that the sky could throw at him. It was exactly the sort of thing that MacCready had meant with his helpless gesturing-- here he was, shoulders hunched and scowling, feeling like a wet rat, and there Preston was, happily walking along like he owned the world, smiling in conversation with Hancock.
These sort of feelings weren't new. Right back in the early days, still getting used to life up top, he'd wanted nothing more than to disappear into some dumb comic book instead of the crapshack world he was stuck in. He'd wanted to be right alongside the heroes with their inked muscles and perfect newsprint smiles, and then he'd wanted more than to just be their boy wonders, heart beating as he stared at every panel with rescued heroines swooning into their arms... But then there'd been Lucy, and then all too suddenly there was Duncan, too, and there hadn't been the time to think about that sort of thing any more.
Now there was the time, and there was a perfect newsprint smile, and looking at it made his heart beat just the same way.
Scowling, MacCready stomped his way through a chain of puddles.
When his new boss had bought him to Sanctuary for the first time, MacCready had expected just another one of the little desperate settlements that dotted the country. He hadn't imagined the rate at which it would grow, the main road permanently scuffed with footprints heading in along it, new buildings in place every time he came back. There were even kids, now, stray toys accidentally left forgotten here and there, and a growing family of cats, mousing in the corn. The place was turning into a real town, and if it didn't exactly have all the bells and whistles, it had enough of them to make it good to come back to.
Despite the rain, Hancock's prediction still came true. Under the cover of some old carport, a tarp tied down over the worst of the holes, someone had set up a brightly burning fire for their return. Packs were slung next to free beds, jackets and coats hung up to dry, and then in dribs and drabs the group began to filter towards the warmth of the fire and, more importantly, the crate of beers that someone had managed to get their hands on.
It was no Third Rail, but after the long walk in to town, heaven was a dry place to sit, a warm fire, and a cold beer. MacCready got himself one of the latter and both of the former, feet pointed towards the fire and his ass on an old upturned crate.
Across from him, lit by the shifting light of the fire, Preston was laughing at something Piper had said. MacCready watched him until he'd had enough beers to start to drown out his misgivings.
Things had been... okay, things hadn't exactly been easy with Lucy, but they'd just kind of... happened. This wasn't something that was going to happen like that. It was something that he had to actively try to do, to actually think of a plan and then to carry it out, like some sort of romantic mission or something.
Missions were easier when someone gave you a target and a pocketful of caps, he thought desperately. Maybe he could ask Hancock? Give him ten caps, and tell him to pay them back to him after a successful conversation? No, that was stupid. He'd need at least fifty to bribe himself into action, and he didn't have that on him to give to Hancock to give back to him.
Okay, this was getting complicated.
Before he could think about it any more, he was getting up, wandering as casually as he could through the get-together, until he was right next to his target...
"Oh, hey MacCready," Preston said.
"Hey," said MacCready, and then every single word in the world deserted him.
He raised his beer to Preston. Preston smiled back.
The seconds were ticking away. This was bad.
"So," MacCready squeaked, "how about this weather?"
Preston didn't laugh at him, or screw up his nose, or have any of the reactions that MacCready had brainstormed on the walk back to Sanctuary. Instead, his face lit up.
"It's great, isn't it? There's a whole lot of folks out there that'll be grateful for the water." Looking off at the rain that was pouring down from the overhang, he smiled.
MacCready hid his face behind a sip of beer. "Huh. I guess I hadn't thought about that kind of thing."
Maybe picking up his nerves, Preston turned to look at him, and whatever he saw in MacCready's expression made him smile even more, big and slow and warm.
"You know..." Preston began, and with a jolt, MacCready realized that they were closer than he'd thought. "You look a little cold."
"My jacket. It, uh. Got wet? In the rain," MacCready managed. He hadn't felt all that cold just in a shirt, but the shiver that had run through him had had nothing to do with temperature.
"Here, hang on moment..." Preston said, and then, like something out of one of the Lamplight girls' stupid stories, he took off his coat and slung it around MacCready's shoulders.
It was nice. Too nice. A sudden suspicion rose up in him, and before he could control himself he blurted "Hancock told you, didn't he?"
In response, the corners of Preston's eyes crinkled. "He... might have said a word or two."
"And you're standing here, instead of running for the hills."
Drunk and happier than he'd been in a long time, a thought struck MacCready. "Do you think the town cats are okay? I mean, in this rain?"
Preston looked surprised, then mostly just thoughtful. "There was that litter of kittens out in the old toolshed..." He frowned, thinking, concern creeping in across his features. "Last I heard, that roof leaked pretty badly."
"I knew it," MacCready said, fighting the urge to laugh, then squared his shoulders. "Let's go save those kittens!"
As they ducked out of the party, MacCready shot a incredulous look across the fire to Hancock.
Always works, Hancock mouthed, and gave him a wink.