“Angelic as always, Mags.”
She was pretty. Pretty wasn’t the word, really; that made her sound delicate, like a china doll, and she didn’t look fragile. She was hot. Sultry, smoky, and I was willing to bet on soft, too. I’d had probably two drinks too many already, and there was a third in my hand.
“Like what you see?”
I lifted my glass towards her, smiling, maybe a little too much. “I was wondering if we could-- get to know each other better.”
“Oh, really?” Her eyes flicked up and down me, and then over my shoulder, and I turned to look-- never leave your back unguarded, dammit-- and saw Hancock’s face.
"I." I didn't know how to backtrack; I was too drunk to be graceful about it. "I just. You're very pretty, but. I think I'm drunk."
She smiled; I could see now she was kind, too. "Don't worry about it, sweetheart."
Her eyes skipped onto Hancock again, and then she said softly, to me, "Be gentle with him, OK? He talks tough, but--"
I was definitely too drunk for this.
"Let's go," I said to Hancock, and he put his hand on my arm, firmly, maybe just because I was so drunk, steering me up out of the Third Rail.
The campfire light reflected off his black, glassy eyes. The first time I saw them, the first time I looked deep into them, I’d found myself thinking words like obsidian and scintillating, the way they caught the light. I could see my own reflection in them, as if they were sunglasses, or a scrying pool where I might catch my future. I’d already talked Mama Murphy into getting clean-- no more Psycho, no more Med-X, no more Jet-- but these jet-black eyes, I could see a future in them. Maybe.
“I’ll take first watch,” he said. “You get some sleep.”
“I’m not tired.” I was tense, nervy, there was so much to do, and Shaun was out there, my baby, how could I ever sleep until I found him? I kept falling asleep anyway, every twenty hours or so, and waking up with a sick lurch, as if I’d slept through an alarm and was going to be late, except it was worse. It was a nightmare I couldn’t wake up from: Nate dead, Shaun missing. Stolen. God only knew where.
“You’ve gotta be tired,” he said. “Here. Lie down. Put your head-- yeah, here.”
My head resting on his lap. It was ridiculous. The centuries-old cloth of his coat, the acrid, smoky, boozy smell.
He touched my scalp, the shaved side. His fingers felt like calluses, like something hard work had made. I shivered all over, and he made a little sound.
“You like that?” he asked huskily, and I made a little sound back, not a no-sound, not quite a yes.
Then there was a sound that wasn’t little, that wasn’t good, a crashing sound outside the circle of firelight, and we both said, in unison, “Shit!” and I was scrambling to my knees and then to my feet, he was fumbling for his gun, a yao guai was about to get the least welcome surprise of its stunted little life.
“I know you want this,” I said, fumbling with his coat, trying to open it, to push it off his shoulders. He was fighting me for some reason, and I pulled back, squinting at him-- he kept going in and out of focus-- to try to figure out why. “What about all those impure thoughts you said you’d been having? Come on, Mr. Mayor. You, me, a mattress, some chems, a few dead raiders--”
“No,” he said. “Not here. Not like this.”
“What, are you holding out for candles and rose petals?” I laughed, hoarsely. “Gonna be waiting a while.”
“No,” he said again. “For one thing, you’re hopped up. Now I got nothing against chems, you know that, quite the contrary, but-- no. Not the first time, Nora. You come at me like this, you’re gonna know exactly what the fuck you’re doing, or I’m gonna fight you off.”
“Makes you think you can?” I wasn’t slurring, much.
He snorted. “You gonna ravish me against my will, General?”
“No.” I could feel myself pouting, and it made me feel ridiculous. “But I don’t get it.”
“You’re hopped up,” said Hancock, again, so fucking repetitive, “and you need an itch scratched. That’s fine, I ain’t about to judge, but if this happens, that’s not gonna be why. I couldn’t--”
He broke off. It sounded like someone had hurt him, and I wasn’t going to have that-- I’d fucking kill anybody that hurt Hancock, now and forever-- but there was nobody here but him and me.
“Nora-- Jesus, Nora, fuck, do you know how long, I thought, I thought--”
He couldn’t seem to stop touching me, and I didn’t mind, not exactly. No one had touched me in the Institute. When I stepped towards Shaun-- Father-- with my arms outspread, he stepped back, tense, as if he didn’t know what a hug was, as if he felt menaced by the idea that I might wrap my arms around his body. As if it were inappropriate. The scientists regarded me coolly; the synths smiled at me desperately.
Hancock’s hands were desperate, too, in a different way, on my arms, on my neck, on my waist, on my hair: restless, thorough in their stroking and caressing, as if memorizing my shape, the contours, in case I disintegrated into blue lightning again.
Which I was going to have to. I was going to have to go back. The strange old man was Shaun, my baby, and if what he’d told me about the synths’ creation was right, then all of them--
“Hancock,” I said. “Hancock, stop. Stop. I have to-- I have to tell you-- where I’ve been.”
“I don’t take the coat off.”
I smiled. Not mockingly-- it wasn’t like I didn’t understand what the coat meant to him. It wasn’t a dumb thing for him to say. Incorrect, but not dumb.
“What,” I said, running my palm over his head, the heat and thickened whorls of flesh, his hat on the floor. One victory already. “Never?”
He shook his head, breath catching as my nails touched his neck. “Never.”
I leaned in and kissed his lips, deeply. Lack of lips. A mouth, but no cushion there, no pillowy, swollen protuberances to mash against mine. Just his mouth, the rough edges of flesh. I ran my tongue along them, the contours that meant him and nothing but him. I’d have them memorized soon enough, and forever.
My hands were under the edges of his coat. I edged it backwards, feeling the shape of his shoulders underneath. “With anyone but me?”
He shivered all over, suddenly.
I pushed the edges of the coat back further, over the rounds of his shoulders, the muscle and knotted flesh there. He didn’t fight this time.
I pushed the parted edges, back, and back, down his arms.
“With anyone but you,” he rasped. “Nora-- you’re so goddamned beautiful-- I wish--”
“Don’t,” I said, and touched my lips to one shoulder, one naked arm, and gave one last push, and the coat fell to the floor.