It was going to be a quick in and out stop, just a quick look around for anything of use or value in any dressers or safes or even just laying around, but that was where Nate’s luck started going sour.
He had stomped up onto the small porch of the house in his power armour and almost immediately got hung up on the railing. MacCready started laughing, not bothering to hide it, clearly audible over whirring servos, whining hydraulics, and ancient wood that creaked and groaned but refused to break. Nate finally freed his armour, backed down the steps, ejected and ran inside unencumbered to do his sweep. He tried to retain some dignity by ignoring the still laughing MacCready, but doubted the merc would let him keep it easily.
He pulled his heavily modified pistol from his shoulder holster as he went in the front door of the empty looking house. All the windows and doors were long gone, and nothing moved or made a sound but it could be fatally stupid to assume nothing or no one was home.
Nate crept through the main floor first, pocketing caps and other small useful items while MacCready stood impatient watch outside. Nate debated at the stairs- up or down first?- and decided to go up first. The stark grey sky looked down on him, the roof having been mostly torn off at some point in the house’s lifetime. Upstairs was much like the main floor, and he moved through it quickly.
He was nearly done when the floor gave out under his feet.
He hit the main floor hard, but then he felt it give and fell again and hit another surface probably just as hard but felt harder. He lay stunned, gasping, wondering if it had suddenly gone dark or if he had gone blind. The air was full of dust, choking him, and he coughed hard, lighting up his ribs with pain. He could hear boards creaking and dirt sliding and thudding as it hit the ground nearby, and MacCready shouted unintelligibly somewhere in the distance. He couldn’t respond right away, still winded from the fall and trying to recover his wits.
Something huge breathed nearby, giving a great, wet snort that froze Nate where he lay. His breath stuttered and then stopped completely as a Deathclaw came looming out of the shadows. It looked disgruntled, but it hadn’t actually seen him under pieces of broken house and flooring yet, and Nate started praying to Whoever was listening that it would stay that way.
The ground actually shook under Nate with every step the huge beast took. He could feel himself trembling in terror and squeezed his eyes shut, not daring to move. The steps came closer, and finally stopped.
Nate hoped MacCready had grabbed all his gear before he left, and that was when he realized he had already accepted that he was dead. He oh, so carefully and slowly peeled an eyelid open, and found himself eye to eye with an angry Deathclaw.
His pistol had been lost somewhere between the fall from the second floor, through the main floor, and into the basement, because yes, he realized that’s definitely what had happened. The open roof allowing radioactive rain in for however many years rotted the floor of both the second and main floors, and while he walked around the main floor just fine it couldn’t handle his weight falling from the second. Right now he was lying on the basement floor close enough to the front door of the main floor that loose dirt from under the front porch kept sliding in on top of him. His knife was still in his boot, but his body was still in frozen mode and the blade on it was pitifully tiny in comparison to a Deathclaw’s thick hide anyway.
While his dazed and possibly in-denial brain made note of all this, the Deathclaw was not getting any happier. With a howl, a massive clawed hand came swinging down to slam against his chest and grabbed him, picking him up and slamming him back down. All the air had rushed from his lungs with the initial blow, but with the smack against the floor Nate felt bones snap. He might have screamed, but if he did it was lost in the Deathclaw’s roar.
The Deathclaw leaned heavily on him, cutting off all his air and snapping what felt like at least two more ribs. He would have screamed again but couldn’t. His vision was going grey, his ears ringing, and he knew the end was coming. He wished it would hurry up, because it couldn’t possibly hurt as bad as this.
Something heavy landed on the Deathclaw, transferring even more weight onto Nate although he couldn't really care at that point. It picked him up and flung him against the floor again, his head hitting something hard and everything went grey for a moment, and when the world came back into focus he couldn’t move or even remember how to breathe. He almost thought he heard MacCready screaming, something like “come and get it, you ugly mud sucker”, but was reasonably sure MacCready would have been smart, grabbed his gear, and been at least a mile away by now.
The Deathclaw was roaring and clawing for something on its back, distracted, and it was more instinct than any real desire to move that had Nate’s lungs remembering what oxygen was before he painfully turned himself onto his chest and started dragging himself away. The pain was unbelievable, screaming at him to stop, that more than several things were very, very wrong, but the roaring and thrashing and screaming behind him didn’t sound like anything he wanted to be underfoot in.
Nate reached another wall and decided that was as far as he could go. He let himself go limp onto the floor but managed to peel his eyes open again and tried to make sense of the scene behind him.
MacCready was in Nate’s power armour, with the new power fist they had found yesterday in hand and a slightly crazed look in his eyes. The Deathclaw already looked mostly dead with a machete stuck in its back and the side of its rib cage caved in where it looked like a suit of power armour had landed on it. They seemed to be in a standoff at the moment, eyeing each other warily, neither particularly willing to make the first move. MacCready was winning, Nate decided, feeling a surge of pride.
Nate weakly coughed and felt something splash on the concrete beneath him as a blast of agony made him whimper. The Deathclaw turned at the noise to look at him and MacCready lunged forward as Nate squeezed his eyes shut in helpless terror. He heard a thud and dull snap and a gurgling snarl before a huge body slid to the floor with a thump.
He opened his eyes again to see MacCready bent over, hands on his knees as he panted, sweat or blood or both dripping from his forehead and onto the power armour and past onto the floor as he just breathed for a moment. The Deathclaw lay motionless on the ground, looking very dead as it’s green blood slowly pooled on the floor. MacCready finally looked up at Nate.
“Oh, you owe me big for this one.” MacCready promised as he stomped over and ejected from the armour.
“Yep.” Nate said agreeably if not a bit breathlessly as MacCready dropped to his knees beside him.
“It’s bad, isn’t it.”
“Yep.” Nate choked on the word, started coughing, and abruptly blacked out.
When he came to, he didn’t think too much time had passed. He was arranged a little more comfortably on his back and propped up against something reasonably soft, but it still hurt to breathe. His neck was tingling like he had just been hit with a Stimpack, and he could hear MacCready muttering to himself nearby while rooting through a pack.
“M’Cready,” he croaked, his lips strangely numb, and the rustling sounds stopped for a moment before MacCready appeared.
“You're awake?” MacCready looked dismayed. “Of course you're awake. Don’t move. Where's the rest of your Stimpacks?”
“Daisy. Caravan.” Nate coughed once and couldn’t help the small whine of pain that escaped him. Something was very wrong with his ribs, pain crackling like a fire in his nerves. He realized then that his jacket and shirt had been opened to his waist, and MacCready avoided looking directly at his bared chest so he probably knew about it already.
MacCready abruptly buried his face in his hands for a moment. Nate just looked at him while trying to find a depth of breathing that got him enough air while not moving broken ribs too much. His headache was getting worse too, although he wasn’t sure why it hadn’t occurred to him earlier that he had a headache in the first place. Now that he was aware of it, however, it was impossible to forget as it fought the rest of his aches and pains for his attention.
“Right. We were in Goodneighbour two days ago.” MacCready said shakily when he lifted his head. “I forgot that you usually sell your medical supplies to Daisy. You should have kept some back.”
“Sorry.” Nate hoarsely whispered. “She- needed- I thought- I’d get more.”
“Of all the stupid-!” MacCready burst out before catching himself, took a deep breath and managed to find a place on Nate’s shoulder to gently pat without it hurting too bad. “Of course you did. Okay, we’re getting you out of here, finding you a doctor to get you patched up, and then you are going to pay me back. Big time.”
MacCready got up and started rummaging through their packs again while still talking.
“And I don’t want just caps.”
“I want that Combat Armour you modded the heck out of and then stuffed in that dresser at Sanctuary.”
“And my rifle needs a tune up. But I want to do it, on your fancy weapons bench.”
“And when you’re feeling better, I want to take your Fatman down to the Corvega Factory and take out that sniper on the tower.” MacCready touched the frayed edge of the brim of his hat. “That jerk put this hole in my hat.” He looked as offended as if it had just happened the day before but Nate was pretty sure it had been three months ago.
“You’re being too agreeable.”
“Almost got you killed.” Nate could barely get the words out and felt his eyes well up. “I owe you.”
“Dang right, you do. I killed a Deathclaw for you. You better get my name tattooed on your butt or something.”
Nate couldn’t help himself and started laughing but the pain quickly put a stop to it, leaving him holding his ribs as he wheezed. MacCready waited patiently for him to recover, looking slightly guilty.
“Do you want me to leave you here and go for help?” He asked once Nate’s breathing had calmed down somewhat.
“Don’t leave me here.” Nate said quickly, feeling a surge of panic at the thought. “Please.”
“Okay. Get some rest, I’ll figure something out for dragging you out of here.”
Nate dozed on and off while MacCready worked, only fully rousing when it was time to move out. He had fashioned a rough stretcher to drag as a sled by using the hollow metal tubing of the bed frame he had found upstairs and Nate’s torch, as well as a chunk of canvas he dug out of his pack. There was an exit from the basement that had likely been a cellar stairwell at some point, but the Deathclaw had dug it out wider and into a ramp which served them well for getting out.
Nate knew that moving was going to hurt. MacCready was surprisingly patient and gentle, going as slow as he needed to get onto the sled, making sure he was settled as comfortably and securely as he could be with the packs before MacCready got into the power armour to start moving. But knowing that it was going to hurt was not the same as experiencing it. Nate could actually feel the blood drain from his face as they moved up the ramp and started the trek across the Commonwealth.
“Changed my mind.” Nate croaked, only half joking. “You can leave me here to die.”
“Too late.” MacCready said. “I already did all this work so you have to come now. Besides, you still gotta pay me. In caps. And armour. And souped up rifle. And help me avenge my hat. And my own PipBoy.”
“I think the list got longer.”
“Sorry, I didn’t hear that, my ears must still be ringing from the Deathclaw roars, what was that?”
Nate sighed, but he was already seriously considering where he could find another PipBoy. He had heard rumours about another vault, what was it, Vault 88? Maybe they could find one there.
“Nate. Nate!” MacCready was suddenly shaking his shoulder frantically, sending shockwaves of pain through him.
Nate struggled to open his eyes, not remembering when he had closed them, and dragged his mind into wakefulness. His head was aching, and the light made him squint.
“There you are!” MacCready sounded frightened. “Don’t scare me like that! Don’t fall asleep, okay?”
“Didn’t.” Nate muttered groggily, although he was starting to wonder with how he was feeling. “Was thinking about what you just said. Where we can find a PipBoy.”
MacCready went pale. “Nate, that was three hours ago. We’ve been walking for three hours. You were even talking some, and it hasn’t been about PipBoys.”
Nate tried to remember anything between PipBoys and now, but was drawing a blank. He looked at MacCready helplessly, unsure of what to say. The numbness in his face was worse now, including his left eyelid and half of his nose as well as his lips now. He coughed weakly and grimaced at the pain. He was so tired of hurting. He had gotten spoiled having Stimpacks instantly taking away his hurts and pains, and now that he had been dealt a potentially fatal blow there weren’t any to be found.
Just his luck.
“C’mon, boss, stay with me here.” MacCready was slapping his cheek, and despite the jarring agony it caused he pried his eyes open again. How had the sun moved so far so quickly? “We have to keep going, okay? Just a bit further.”
“Okay.” Nate said faintly. He didn’t think he could move, but remembered that it didn’t matter when he heard the sounds of MacCready clambering back into power armour.
He tried to stay awake, but knew he had lost track of time again when he opened his eyes and saw MacCready trying to start a campfire. It had somehow gotten dark out, and there was now a holey tin roof overhead. Thunder cracked, a sharp gust of wind blew over them, and the small pile of kindling and paper that MacCready had nearly managed to light suddenly scattered.
“Fuck!” MacCready yelled, then came over to throw himself down beside Nate.
“Feel better?” Nate managed to get out.
“No.” MacCready said miserably. “I wish I hadn’t said that.”
“Can kick your ass later.” Nate weakly offered. “Wash mouth out. Whatever.”
MacCready huffed out a laugh. “Thanks. I’ll hold you to that. And I’ll try to do better.”
It started raining. It was cold and miserable, but the lightning wasn’t green and radioactive, and as rusted as the tin roof was it kept the worst of the rain off.
“You feeling any better?” MacCready asked quietly. Nate heaved a sigh, then winced.
“No.” He admitted. “Losing time. Face feels weird. Head hurts worse than ribs now.”
MacCready gently touched Nate’s face, a frown creasing his brow.
“Sorry.” Nate felt the tears well up again but only felt them track down the right side of his face. He couldn’t even tell if the left side of his face was there anymore, it was that numb. He had to form his words carefully and they still came out odd and slurred. “Today really sucked.”
“I think you mean yesterday.” MacCready said heavily. “Yesterday really sucked.”
“I… No, I meant the Deathclaw…” Nate trailed off as MacCready shook his head. He had lost a whole night and day? “How…”
“I haven’t seen anyone else on the road yet.” MacCready sounded hoarse. “I don’t even know how that’s possible, go a whole day without seeing anyone in the Commonwealth. But we’re still miles from the next settlement. I’m hoping we’ll be there by noon tomorrow.”
“It’ll be okay.” Nate didn’t know why he said it, he didn’t really feel like he’d be okay, he just wanted MacCready to stop looking so miserable.
“I’m not stupid, Nate, or a little kid.” MacCready looked away. “I can see it’s not okay.”
Nate blindly reached out and managed to find MacCready’s sleeve, tugging him closer.
“Whatever happens, I’m glad I came into that backroom in The Third Rail.” Nate was pretty sure he was slurring even worse but hoped he was still making enough sense. “As shitty as this new hand was that I got dealt, I don’t regret any of it. I especially don’t regret falling for you.”
MacCready had tears in his eyes now too, not that he’d ever admit it, and he leaned in closer to press a kiss to Nate’s lips. He wished his mouth wasn’t so numb, but he could feel enough of the kiss to tell that it was nice. Another tear slipped from his right eye.
“Nate, you gotta stop talking like that.” MacCready’s voice was husky, “I’m what, twenty two, twenty three? Too much tragedy for my short life if you die too. So you can’t go and do that to me, okay?”
Nate smiled weakly up at him, even as he felt the pain and pressure build up in his skull. Something warm tickled his upper lip. “Okay.”
MacCready frowned in concern, “Nate?”
Nate blinked, and knew he had lost time again. MacCready was rolled up in his blanket beside him, holding his hand from under the blankets while a small campfire crackled nearby. It wasn’t raining anymore. He blinked again and the sun was blinding overhead and MacCready was talking to someone. He sounded angry.
The next time Nate blinked awake the intense pressure in his skull was being met by one behind his ear. Just when he thought he’d scream, something popped and the pressure lessened, escaping like air from a balloon. Feeling came back to his face almost immediately, the pins and needles sensation overwhelming as something hot blossomed on the back of his head and ran down his neck.
“Nate. Nate? Can you hear me? C’mon, Nate, Nate.” Someone was chanting his name nearby. He struggled to open his eyes again and looked at MacCready. Someone grabbed a hand he hadn’t realized he had raised, and MacCready gripped it tightly. He was laying on his stomach and something was holding him down, completely immobilizing his head and shoulders and he didn’t have the strength to fight it.
“‘Cready.” Nate said with lips that didn’t work quite right yet.
“It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”
Nate feebly squeezed his hand and gratefully let himself fall into what felt like the first pain-free sleep he’d had in days.
Nate woke up and knew a moment of confusion. He looked at an unfamiliar ceiling for a moment, lit only by lantern, then turned his head towards the sound of gentle snoring. MacCready was propped up in an old beat up recliner right beside the bed Nate lay in, rifle close at hand and looking exhausted even as he slept. Nate gingerly reached up and touched bandages on his head, and even that slight movement somehow woke MacCready with a snort.
“Boss?” MacCready groggily leaned forward and grabbed Nate’s hand and wrist, checking the pulse at his wrist before he was even fully awake. Nate would have been touched if it wasn’t so damn sad. Had it been that bad? “How you feeling?”
Nate tried to speak but his mouth was painfully dry. MacCready caught on quickly and produced a can of clean water from somewhere and helped him get a few sips down.
“Ugh.” Nate groaned. “What ran me over.”
MacCready laughed shakily. “Oh, you know, only a freaking Deathclaw.”
“Oh yeah.” Nate blinked at the ceiling a bit more, clearing some more cobwebs from his brain as more came back to him. He turned a grin to MacCready. “You kicked its ass. Now I gotta plan that tattoo.”
MacCready just looked at him, a series of emotions playing over his face, the most prominently featured ones seeming to be hope and disbelief. MacCready looked like he might burst into tears, which was something Nate had done in front of MacCready more than a few times, but he hadn’t seen the merc this tore up about something since he had told him about Lucy and Duncan. Nate pushed himself up on his elbow in concern, only half noticing but fully appreciating how little that movement hurt.
“Hey, what’s wrong? You okay?”
MacCready all but threw himself at him, grabbing him in a tight hug, and Nate instinctively squeezed him back.
“I thought I lost you!” MacCready was nearly sobbing. “I thought you died. You kept blacking out and talking about weird pre-war stuff and you had the worst black eyes I’ve ever seen and I swear every time I got it stopped your nose would start bleeding again-”
“C’mon, I’m here, I’m fine,” Nate grinned crookedly, but MacCready wasn’t finished.
“Don’t even get me started on the rest of you!” MacCready pulled back, wild eyed. “That thing crushed your rib cage like an eggshell! I don’t even know how you kept breathing! And then the doc, the doc had to drill a hole in your skull because you’d been bleeding inside, and there was no way to know how bad it really was, and she said,” his voice faltered, “she said she wasn’t sure if you’d wake up, and if you did if you’d be the same. If you’d remember anything.”
Nate stared at MacCready, horrified, then pulled him into another hug when tears welled up in MacCready’s eyes.
“I’m sorry, RJ.” Nate whispered. “I’m here now. You saved me. I’ll try to be more careful.”
MacCready snorted as he sat back this time and wiped his face on his sleeve.
“If you are any more careful, it’s going to make me pull my hair out. Crap happens. I get it. Just… just try not to tangle with a Deathclaw without any weapons or armour again, please.”
“Deal.” Nate quirked a wet grin. “Wasn’t any fun anyway.”
“I miss Duncan.” MacCready suddenly said. “I love you, and I’m here for you until the end of this mess with the Institute, but I miss him. You… you haven’t forgotten what we talked about, have you?”
“I absolutely have not forgotten.” Nate immediately said. “We’re gonna bring him home, RJ, I promise. We’re gonna take out the Institute, make sure that the Brotherhood backs off, even if we have to wipe them out, and then we’re bringing your boy home, wherever we decide home is. Together.”
“Good.” MacCready nodded. “That’s good. What are you doing?”
“I’m getting up.” Nate said in his ‘duh’ voice, as if lurching upright out of bed and then nearly face planting was self explanatory. MacCready had managed to catch Nate before he actually hit the floor, but it took some struggling from both of them and some swearing from Nate before MacCready managed to dump Nate back onto the bed.
“At least let me help you, then.”
Nate heaved a put-out sigh from where he lay flat on his back on the bed.
It still wasn’t graceful, but they managed to get Nate on his feet and wobbled over to the window where he could peer out over the settlement, already quiet for the night. The generators chugged quietly in the distance, spotlights trained on the perimeter and the tarberry pool.
“This is The Slog.” Nate finally recognized in surprise. “We haven’t been here in ages.”
“Yeah. It wasn’t my first choice, but I’m glad we ended up here.” MacCready shifted where Nate’s arm rested across his neck and shoulders but didn’t let him go. “Wiseman has a friend who was a doctor before the war, she travels around and she happened to be in when I dragged you in two days ago. She had to leave this morning, though.”
“Wow.” Nate lifted his eyebrows. “Maybe my luck is turning around, finally.”
“I can only hope.” MacCready groaned. “Honestly, bad enough you fall through not only one but two floors, onto a freaking
“I’m not going to live this one down anytime soon, am I.” Nate let MacCready steer him back towards the bed, unwilling to admit it but more than ready to lay back down again. Some more rest wouldn’t hurt.
“Not if I can help it.”
“Fair enough.” Nate flopped back into bed and struggled with the blanket, gratefully accepting the help when MacCready threw it over him in exasperation before settling into his recliner again.
“You ready to head out tomorrow?”
“I go where you go, remember?” MacCready reached out and took his hand, and Nate squeezed it back as he closed his eyes.
“Yeah,” Nate said, “I remember.”