Actions

Work Header

Waking Up to Ash and Dust

Chapter Text

He stood on the balcony, smoke drifting up from the lit cigarette in his hand, as he watched the woman stumble through the door and slam it shut behind her. She looked lost, but that certainly wasn’t uncommon. There was, however, something strange about her; he just couldn’t pinpoint it from his current vantage point. He couldn’t make out any of her features, and she was dressed similarly to most other drifters who wandered through the front door of his little town, but something still nagged in the back of his mind.

He brought the cigarette to his wrecked lips and then frowned. Putting the cigarette back down, he watched as the woman spun in place a few times. Her glances seemed frantic, and she didn’t seem to focus in any one place for very long. Perhaps she was high? Maybe they had something in common, he thought, chuckling to himself.

A movement from just beneath him caught his attention. Someone was creeping out of the shadows, approaching the stranger. Goddammit, Finn, he thought, crushing the cigarette out on the balcony and whirling around to head downstairs.

 

 

He let the other man’s body fall to the ground and took his time wiping his blade clean before replacing it in the pocket he had personally sewn for it inside his coat. When he looked back to the woman, he saw that she was now kneeling beside the man who had tried to extort her.

The fuck?

She spread her hands on Finn’s chest and then looked up at him, her face filled with reproach. He took a step back, unsure, and then swore internally. Since when was he ever unsure? But there was no denying the sorrow in her eyes, and he suddenly regretted killing that asshole, even though he’d been swearing to Fahrenheit for months that he was gonna do it.

“Why would you kill him?” she asked in a soft voice. She didn’t appear to be afraid of his physical appearance, and her gray eyes bore directly into his. For once in his life, he was at a loss for words. He wondered if he should apologize to the stranger, and thought he must be losing his mind.

“He’s been pulling that shit for weeks now,” he finally said, hoping she might understand. “I warned him that if he did it again….”

“You’d kill him,” she murmured. “I hate this world.”

Me too, sister, he thought. Me too.

Now that he was up close, he couldn’t help but study her appearance. She looked ill, and there was a quality to her features that he hadn’t seen before. It wasn’t the dark circles under her eyes; he saw that on faces nearly every day. It also wasn’t the cracked and chapped lips that looked like they might have bled recently. It was something to do with her pale skin. The word that immediately came to mind was “melted,” but that didn’t quite seem right. Truth be told, his own skin looked melted, while hers appeared soft and lacked the rough ridges and scarring that concealed his once-handsome features.

It was more that her skin just didn’t seem to fit properly, like it was a couple sizes too big. That didn’t make sense though – how could someone’s skin be the wrong size?

He noticed that the clothes she wore fit just as poorly as her skin. Her filthy jeans were held in place with a length of knotted rope, but the pant legs pooled around her shins as she knelt on the damp pavement. She all but swam in the button-down patched flannel shirt she wore. A shoddy-looking pistol was stuck in her pants pocket, cracked grip sticking out.

Her dark hair was just as much of a mess as the rest of her, frizzing out in all directions from her head, with no apparent attempt made to control it.

She heaved a heavy sigh that carried with it a world of misery, stood up, and faced him. She wasn’t very tall, but then again, neither was he. “I guess one of these days I’ll get used to casual murder,” she said, “but today is probably not that day. I doubt tomorrow will be either.”

He wasn’t sure what the proper response was and felt awkward, like he was a kid back in Diamond City, called on in class after he had once again fallen asleep. It wasn’t a feeling he had particularly liked then, and he liked it even less now. Somehow this strange creature had the upper hand over him, and he had to try to regain control. The slow drizzle (and, likely, Fahr) had kept most onlookers away, at least for the moment, but he could practically smell Daisy’s keen interest from within her shop.

“What exactly brings you to our little town here?” he asked.

“You had a gate,” she answered. “I needed something solid between me and everything that goes bump out there.”

“Well, you’re welcome to stay as long as you like. There’s a hotel around the corner, a bar, and the best shopping Boston has to offer,” he said, showing his teeth in a sideways grin. “And if you’re short on caps, there’s plenty of free mattresses you can crash on too. We’re of the people, for the people around here, ya know?”

She glanced back down at the body at their feet then looked back up, square into his eyes. “Not all the people, apparently,” she said.

To that, he once again had no answer.

Chapter Text

“You mentioned a hotel?” she asked.

“Follow me,” he replied, and began leading her around the corner. As they walked past the State House, he noticed her looking up at it. That same sad expression remained on her face, and he saw a tear track down her cheek. “That’s where I live,” he volunteered.

She stopped. “You… live in the Old State House?” She seemed to be debating internally for a moment. “It’s still solid?”

“Yeah,” he said. Finally a comfortable topic. “It don’t look like much, but they built shit to last back in the day.”

Her mouth made a strange movement, not quite a smile, but a slight upward quirk of her lips. “Please… can I see?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess.”

He changed directions, and they entered the dimly lit interior of the building.

 

She ran her hand over the banister on the staircase and peered into the alcoves on either side. “It’s still here,” she murmured to herself. “Still here.”

The old, wooden boards of the floor creaked beneath her feet with each step she took. He couldn’t help notice that she looked around reverently, as if she were in a church rather than a junkie’s den. She stepped into one of the larger rooms and gazed around at the mattresses strewn across the floor, drifters sitting around, some talking quietly, some sleeping off their high.

“Can I go upstairs?” she asked.

“Be my guest,” he said, extending an arm as though he were some kind of gentleman.

She stepped carefully, placing her feet as if she expected the staircase to crumble into dust. Where had this strange woman come from? She clearly was familiar with the building, but at the same time, he knew full well that she had never been to Goodneighbor. He would have remembered her.

What if you were high at the time?

Nope, he concluded. He never became that forgetful. At least not since… no. He didn’t want to go down that molerat hole right now.

The woman stepped into the room that served as his office. Fahr was sprawled out across the couch and glanced up with a sneer. He caught her eye and shook his head slightly. He hoped she would accept his cue to let it be. For a moment he thought she might say something after all, but then she simply got up and brushed past them, making sure to bump into his shoulder as she went by.

Great, he thought. Now I’ll have to deal with her shit later.

The woman walked around the room slowly, glancing through the glass of the balcony doors. She frowned at the bottles, jet canisters, and stubbed out cigarettes that littered the floor of his favorite spot, where he spent hours just observing the goings on in his little town.

She turned back toward him and appeared to study him for the first time. Suddenly her eyebrows shot up and her hands went to her mouth. What, did she just now realize what he looked like?

She strode quickly across the room back to where he stood in the doorway, and he realized that she was actually looking at his clothing. She grabbed his arm and ran her hand along the sleeve of his coat, almost stroking the patchy velvet. Her fingers found an area that was threadbare and seemed to kiss over it.

“It’s… still here…” she murmured. “But why would you be wearing it? It’s priceless….”

“That’s a long story for another day, sister,” he answered. He’d had about enough judgment from strangers for one day. She didn’t need to know the rest.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “I need a drink,” she stated flatly.

“Lucky for you, I know just the place.”

 

 

They stepped back out onto the dark street, and he guided her to the entrance of his pride and joy. She stopped before entering. “It’s State Station,” she commented.

“I don’t know what that means, sister, but it’s my bar and the drinks are strong.”

She allowed herself to be led once more. They walked down the steps, and he nodded at Ham, who was looking at the woman curiously. He was pleased to hear Magnolia’s voice drifting up the stairs. Hiring her was one of the smartest damn things he’d ever done… and Fahr would definitely agree, he thought, smiling to himself.

As they stepped into the bar itself, the woman’s gait faltered for a moment before she caught herself and continued forward. “The Third Rail, huh? I’ll give you credit for the smart ass name, at least,” she said.

He grinned, displaying crooked teeth, as she looked around. “What’s your poison, sister? It’s on me tonight.” He pulled out a chair at a nearby table.

Really playing up the whole charming thing tonight, aintcha?

Well, they’d gotten off on the wrong foot. He hated leaving anyone with a bad impression of either his town or himself… unless they were a complete asshole, in which case he couldn’t give two shits. That’s why he’d stabbed that moron in the first place. No-win situation right there, but maybe this could still be repaired. Besides, he couldn’t lie to himself. He wanted to know the story behind this strange woman, who she was, where she came from, why she looked the way she did.

Shit, he didn’t even know her name.

She sat down and scooted her chair up to the table, leaning forward on her elbows. “Gwinnett Stout, please, with some water, if you have it,” she said, tilting her head as she watched Magnolia.

“You got it, sister.” He wove through the late night crowd, nodding at friendly faces and receiving pats on the back from those who had a good reason to kiss his ass.

Returning to the small table, he set down her bottle and the can of water in front of her. She turned away from Magnolia and reached out for the water, then pulled her hand back as though she had been shocked.

“It’s cold!”

“Yeah, we pull out all the stops here at the Rail.”

She popped the top on the can and proceeded to chug it down, trickles escaping down the sides of her chin. He watched her, mouth open in surprise.

Finishing, she wiped her arm across her mouth and stifled a belch. “Oh my God, that’s heavenly,” she said. Finally, a real smile crossed her face. She still looked unhealthy, but he could see that once, she might have been lovely. Maybe even could be again.

“Want another?” he asked, hoping to make her smile again.

“Yes, but I might not be able to control myself and I don’t want to be sick,” she answered.

He chuckled. “I’ll get you another one later then, so it can stay cold until you are ready for it.”

Her smile widened. Holy shit, her teeth. He had never seen teeth that white or that straight. Who the hell was this woman?

“What’s your name, anyway?” he asked, trying for nonchalant.

She studied him for a moment. “Erica,” she finally replied, putting her hand out, thumb up, in an old, friendly gesture that wasn’t common these days.

He took her hand to complete the ritual. “Hancock,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

They shook on it.

Chapter Text

Erica’s fingers worked the label of her beer bottle, and soon a long, thin shred of paper curled off of it onto the table. Hancock watched her work. She seemed entirely focused on the project, and he felt it would be rude to interrupt.

Finally, she lifted the beer and took a sip. She grimaced as she swallowed.

“Not a fan?” he asked. “I can grab you something else.”

“Don’t bother,” she said. “Everything tastes like shit these days anyway.” She took another sip. “I’ll take another water, though. At least I can use that as a chaser, wipe away the taste for a moment.”

He got up and was quickly back, dropping another can in front of her. She popped the top and alternated sips of beer with gulps of water.

“If you hate it, why drink it?” he asked.

She looked at him as if he were an idiot. “Why do you think? Water doesn’t get you drunk.”

He chuckled. “Fair enough.”

They sat in silence for a few minutes before Hancock’s curiosity and his need to talk took over.

“So, where you from, anyway?”

Erica turned her face away from him, and seemed to shut down. “West, I guess,” she said, vaguely.

“Like, NCR territory?”

“I don’t know what that is.”

That didn’t make any sense. Who the fuck didn’t know what the NCR was? Even though it was all the way on the other side of the continent with thousands of miles in between, folks out here still knew about the NCR. There had been talk of trying to set up something similar, but the attempts always ended in a massacre, so nobody bothered anymore. It was probably for the best, anyway. Who needed all those goddamn rules?

He couldn't help himself. “How do you not know what the NCR is?”

Erica’s eyes narrowed and she pushed her empty bottle of beer across the table. “Codsworth and... he didn’t tell me about the NCR. There’s a lot he didn’t tell me. I’m still trying to figure all this shit out, okay?”

Codsworth? Who was Codsworth? An idea occurred to Hancock and he glanced at Whitechapel Charlie, the Mr. Handy tending the bar. A lot of those machines had those goofy old English butler names. Finally, some information, he thought. He credited the flash of insight to the Mentats he'd been snacking on tonight.

If Erica was talking with a Mr. Handy, maybe she owned it. And if she owned a Mr. Handy, maybe she had some money from somewhere. And, finally, people with money tended to be assholes and totally fucking nuts in the bargain. Including yours truly, Hancock thought, inwardly grinning. He waved over Charlie, feeling brilliant. “Another Stout for the lady, Chuck,” he said.

“Call me that again, guv’ner, and you can get your own bloody drinks,” the robot responded with a snotty tone. Hancock noticed that Erica didn’t even blink at the robot or the exchange. He thought that gave credibility to the "rich lunatic who owned a Mr. Handy" theory. Probably not one that was as rude as Charlie, he thought, but you can’t have everything.

The robot returned with the beer, and Erica resumed sipping, chasing, and peeling. He noticed that her eyes were beginning to look a bit glazed. Maybe he could make more progress with an easier subject.

“You like the music?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Erica answered, perking up a touch. “She has a beautiful voice. I remember some of these songs. It’s good to hear them again.”

“That idiot DJ in Diamond City keeps trying to get recordings for their station. But I’d rather keep her voice here in the Rail. She’s a bigger draw than the booze.”

Erica looked straight at him. “Diamond City? You know how to get there?”

Goddammit. Of course.

He sighed. “Yeah, I know how to get to fuckin’ Diamond City. I suppose that’s where you were trying to get to tonight?”

“Yeah. I’m supposed to find someone there. I sort of had directions, but they weren't great and I got turned around.”

He glared around the bar, mood ruined. He hated sending anyone to that cesspool, but turning her loose without better directions – and maybe a guide with a halfway decent weapon – would probably be the same as putting a gun to her head and pulling the trigger himself. And he couldn’t help it, he was intrigued. He still had so many questions. Probably a side effect of all the fucking Mentats, he thought. Made his poor brain work a mile a minute.

“Tell you what. I’ll book you a room tonight, and then you come find me in the morning. I’ll draw you a map.”

“Thanks,” Erica said, briefly flashing that bright smile. He was glad to see it. Strange.

Chapter Text

He rocked back in his chair, feet kicked up on his desk, cleaning his fingernails with his knife. A lot was on his mind, and he was considering his options.

After he’d seen Erica safe and sound at the Hotel Rexford (and convinced Claire that he’d pay the bill later), he’d headed down to Daisy’s to do a little commerce. She rarely slept, and since Goodneighbor was an all-hours kind of town, it made sense for her to be open even at one in the morning. They dickered good naturedly, planning for the following morning, and he left with a package of clothes that he and Daisy both suspected would better fit their new arrival. He’d snuck into her room and left the package on the rickety dresser while she slept. Since it was after midnight, he figured that probably counted as his good deed for the day. He’d even left a signed note so she would know who her mysterious benefactor had been.

Now to solve the Diamond City problem.

Going with her himself was an option, of course. He was bored and ready to roam downtown Boston a bit. Plus, if he were lucky, he'd get the chance to kill a few troublemakers. But he wasn’t keen on trying to get into goddamn Diamond City. He could, with a fairly simple disguise, but it was the principle of the thing.

Another option was to throw a few caps MacCready’s way and let the young mercenary escort Erica through the ruins. Lord knew MacCready could use the money, and it would be good for him to take a break from trying to drink himself to death in the Rail’s VIP room. On the surface, this was the option that really made the most sense, but Hancock didn’t like it for some reason he couldn’t quite put his finger on.

So he sat in his office trying to make up his mind, waiting for Erica to show her face. Not exactly an early riser himself, he had double-checked with Claire at the Rexford already to make sure he hadn’t somehow missed her while he slept in, but no. She was apparently still sound asleep, and he figured that she knew where to find him, so he’d just wait.

He’d just about finally talked himself into hiring MacCready when he heard a heavy tread on the spiral staircase. Probably Fahrenheit, he thought to himself, remembering the cautious way Erica had moved about the ancient structure last night. Time to have our little argument, I guess.

He was wrong about that. Erica pushed his door open with enough force that the handle slammed into the wall and left a dent in the wood. This morning, the gray of her eyes was more reminiscent of a thunderstorm, complete with flashes of lightning, and her thin lips were drawn back in a snarl to reveal those unusual teeth.

Startled, he pulled his feet back from the desk, the front two legs of the chair he’d been rocking back in hitting the floor with a concerning crack. She stomped across the room and flung a pile of fabric in his face.

“What. The fuck. Is this?” she hissed.

He pulled the worn military-style pants and ballistic weave-reinforced blouse that he'd purchased last night off his head and looked at them, baffled. Was there something wrong with them? What was the problem?

“I figured you could use something new, something that fit you better,” he said, confused at her ire.

“It’s none of your business,” she growled. She was still wearing the filthy, ill-fitting clothes from the night before, although now her dark hair, which he noticed was shot through with threads of gray, was pulled back into a serviceable ponytail and no longer frizzed out in a corona around her head.

“I was just trying to help,” he said. “If you want to go to Diamond City, you’re gonna want to look a little more…” He trailed off, unsure how to finish without insulting her.

She was having none of it, though. “A little more… what exactly?” she said, a warning flashing in her eyes.

“Look, Diamond City is full of assholes who think they are better than everyone else,” he tried to explain. “You walk in there wearing clothes that look like they’d fit a behemoth…” Dammit, he thought, catching the momentary tightening of her lips. No way to take that back now. “… And they’re just gonna ignore you. You won’t find whoever or whatever it is you’re looking for. You’ll just get the classic Diamond City shutdown.”

Her nostrils flared, but he could see that she was considering what he had said. Maybe he could still get through to her. “Besides, loose clothing is a hazard out there," he continued. "You should know that. You give the bastards something to catch and hold on to, and they’ll take advantage of that for sure.” Her eyebrows raised, and she looked pointedly at his red, velvet coat, currently draped over the ratty sofa. “Yeah, I know, but I’m pretty good at staying out of their way.” He spun the knife across his fingers. “Plus, I’d have a surprise for them if they ever actually caught me,” he said, grinning.

She seemed to deflate. The lightning went out of her eyes, and the fight went out of her stance. For a moment, he actually felt bad for making his point.

“Fine,” she said. “I guess I’ll change. Thanks, I suppose.” He lightly tossed the articles of clothing back to her, and she attempted to catch them. Her fingers snagged in the top, but the pants slithered to the floor. She sighed and bent over to pick them up. “Do you have that map for me? I’m going to try to find something to eat and then I’ll get out of your hair.”

Fuck it.

“No map,” he said. She glared at him with a little of the fire from before. “I’m coming with you. Help you get there in one piece.”

“I don’t need all your damn charity,” she muttered.

“It ain’t charity,” he said. “I needed to go there myself anyway.” She looked back at him, and he could tell that she knew perfectly well that he was lying to her. She didn’t comment, though, and left to go change, closing the door behind her.

Chapter Text

He grabbed his coat, swung it onto his shoulders, and headed downstairs to lean against the wall of the State House and wait for her. He had time to smoke a cigarette and a half before she emerged from the Rexford in the new-to-her clothing. A smile quirked the corners of his lips. She was already starting to look more normal.

She looked around, squinting, before she spotted him and moved in his direction, and he could tell from her stance and her gait that she was uncomfortable. She crossed her arms across her front and looked from side to side in darting glances, as if she were daring anyone to say anything to her. Nobody was paying much attention to her other than Hancock, but she didn’t seem to recognize that.

The clothing fit her well, and he was glad they would be stopping by Daisy’s before they left so that the ghoul could see her handiwork. He had left his pack with Daisy to restock; plus, Daisy had mentioned last night that she had something to give to Erica, and Hancock was wondering what the other ghoul had up her sleeve. She liked to act as a mother to those who didn’t have one to watch over them, and now that included Erica.

There was one more thing to take care of before they visited Daisy, however.

“Let me see that gun of yours,” he said, as she approached him.

A look of mistrust glanced across her face almost too quick to catch, and then she pulled the beat-to-shit pipe pistol out of the waistband of her pants. He turned it over in his hands and grimaced. She was lucky the damn thing hadn’t blown up in her face.

“Where did you get this piece of shit?” he asked.

“I found it,” she replied, with a defensive tone.

“Does it even shoot?”

She shrugged. “I’ve tried to avoid it, honestly.”

He couldn’t help but notice that she had dodged the question.

“We gotta get you something better. This ain’t gonna cut it.” She moved as if to take the pistol out of his hands, but he pulled it away from her. “No way. This is happening, sister.” Her shoulders slumped down in defeat. Seriously, how had she managed to survive long enough to develop gray in her hair? He would have pegged her as a Diamond City softie, except that for one thing, she didn’t seem to have a problem with ghouls, and for another, she apparently didn’t know where the hell it was.

He sauntered over to the shop next to Daisy’s and greeted the assaultron manning the counter. “Hey, KL-E-0, what’ll you give me for this?” he said, pushing the pistol across the counter. The robot looked at it and then at him with what obvious disdain, despite the lack of facial features.

“A small amount of credit toward a real weapon, baby,” she responded, electronic tones nearly canceling out her attempt at flirtation.

He chuckled. “Let’s take a look at what you got for my new friend here.”

He and KL-E-0 poked through her stock for some time while Erica stood in the doorway and silently watched. Finally, they settled on a 10 mm that was in much better shape, modified with a silencer and a larger clip. KL-E-0 stacked a few boxes of ammunition next to the gun, and Hancock pushed some caps across the counter.

He turned toward Erica, who had watched the entire transaction with a look of distaste. “Here ya go, sister. This is lighter and faster, probably easier for you to shoot. And you can find ammo for it all over the damn place, so it won’t be expensive to restock.”

She reached toward the gun, and then paused, almost trying to make up her mind. Her eyes met his, and he could see worlds of misery and pain in them before she finally took the 10 mm. She turned it over in her hands before shoving it in her waistband where the other pistol had been. “I hate this shit,” she muttered.

“Yeah, you’re welcome,” Hancock said, raising his eyebrows. She looked away, at least having the decency to appear embarrassed by her rudeness. “Come on, someone wants to say hi to you real quick before we head out.” She allowed him to steer her by the arm to the shop next door.

“Well, look what we have here,” Daisy said, catching sight of Erica. “What an improvement!” She stepped out from behind her counter and slowly walked around the other woman, inspecting her handiwork. “See, Hancock,” she said. “I told you that other pair of pants would be too big.”

“Yup, you know your stuff, Daisy,” he replied, smiling.

“Sweetie, I have something for you that I think you might like,” Daisy said to Erica with a knowing look. “I made Hancock here promise to bring you back before you left so I could give it to you in person.” Erica looked at Hancock and then Daisy curiously. Hancock was grinning, glad that his own curiosity about this mystery gift was about to be satisfied.

Daisy reached back behind the counter and pulled out a battered but still intact hardcover book. “You look like someone who might appreciate this,” she said, handing the book to Erica.

Erica took the book with both hands, a dazed look on her face. She turned it over a few times and ran her fingers lightly across the words on the spine. Wuthering Heights, Hancock noticed, was the title. What the fuck did that even mean? What was a Wuthering? And why was it high? He saw Erica’s eyes brighten with tears as she clasped the book to her chest.

“Thank you,” she whispered. Well, at least she could be polite to someone.

“You’re so welcome, sweetie,” Daisy replied, her eyes tilting up with her smile. “Don’t worry. Hancock will see you safe. You can trust him. He’s kind of an ass, but he’s not so bad.”

If Hancock still had obvious pupils, both women would have seen him roll his eyes. “Thanks so much for the vote of confidence,” he said.

Daisy chuckled and winked at Erica. “We’ll find more of those later,” she said. “I can’t wait to talk about them with you. It’s been a long time since my last book club meeting.”

Erica laughed and wiped away the tear that had slipped down her cheek. “It’s a date, Daisy. I promise.”

“Well, ready to get this freak show on the road?” Hancock asked. Daisy passed his loaded pack to him, and Erica carefully stowed her new book in it, next to a packet of Fancy Lads snack cakes and a tin of Mentats, before taking it herself and settling it across her shoulders.

“I guess so,” she said. “Let’s do the damn thing.”

Chapter Text

They picked their way slowly through the ruins, with frequent breaks for Erica. She was skittish and often hesitant to put her feet on piles of rubble, which, unfortunately for her, was the primary type of terrain they had to pass over. Her fire from earlier in the day had vanished, and she seemed like a completely different person out here, scared of her own shadow.

It was only a few short miles to Diamond City from Goodneighbor. Travelling alone, Hancock could get there in less than an hour, but Erica was slow moving in a way he’d never quite experienced before. Alert to every sound, she frequently froze and would just stand there, panting. He couldn’t tell if she was terrified or just trying to catch her breath, but he suspected that it might be a little bit of both. Yet again, he found himself wondering how the hell she had ever made it to the front door of his little community.

They’d been out in the ruins for about two hours before the raiding gang attacked. Unlike Hancock, raiders got sloppy and stupid on chems, so the pair had plenty of warning. Erica’s eyes got very wide and her face became even paler than normal before she ducked behind a broken wall and attempted to fold herself into a small ball.

How helpful, Hancock thought, raising his shotgun and preparing for the fight. So glad I invested the caps into her new weapon.

Disorganized as the raiders were, it didn’t take long for him to single-handedly dispatch the idiots. When the last one had fallen, he stepped over to where Erica had hidden.

“Not even gonna try then?” he asked, trying to keep the frustration out of his voice and failing. She uncurled slightly and stared at her feet.

“I can’t,” she said, almost too quiet to hear.

“Yeah, you can.” He replied. “It ain’t hard. You point the damn gun and then you pull the damn trigger.”

“No, you don’t understand,” she said, looking up at him, her own frustration mirroring his. “I just… I can’t.”

“Is this some kind of bleeding heart bullshit like with Finn? Cuz sister, it ain’t a good look on you.”

“No… just… I never learned.” She looked away.

He grimaced. Wherever she had grown up, they’d done her a pretty great disservice.

“Fine. Shooting lessons then.” He looked around. Nothing but rubble and dead raiders. “Stay put for a second.” At least he knew she’d be able to follow that particular directive. Why was he even bothering though? Sometimes his penchant for helping the downtrodden was a major pain in his wrinkled ass.

After picking through the trashed building, he found a few dented cans that would do the trick. Collecting them, he headed back to where Erica was waiting and then placed them on a halfway intact wall on the other side of the street.

“Okay, let’s see you take a couple shots,” he said once he was again standing next to her. He wanted to see how she held the gun.

She chewed on the inside of her cheek for a moment and then pulled out her gun and aimed it toward the far side of the street. Hancock sighed.

“Sister, you can’t shoot with the safety on. Come on. Seriously.”

She groaned. “Dammit, I knew that one, too.” She examined the gun for a moment before finding the small switch and flipping it. She pointed the gun across the street again, squinting and using both hands. It wasn’t great, Hancock though, but it was something at least.

“Okay, go for it.”

She tightened her lips and her eyes, wincing against the anticipated noise of the gunshot, and pulled the trigger. The gun fired, knocking her slightly off balance. The bullet lodged itself in the wall.

“There. Now you’ve fired a gun. Congratulations,” he said. “Now try to hit the cans.”

“The… cans?” she said, faintly.

“Yeah, the cans on the wall.”

She squinted across the street again, once more chewing on her cheek. She lifted the gun, put it down, and then lifted it again. She stood stock still for a moment, and then put the gun down again, turning to Hancock, defeated.

“I can’t see them,” she admitted. He raised his eyebrows and looked back across the street. There they were, clear as daylight. He looked back at her again.

“You… you have problems with your eyesight?” Well, this wasn’t good.

She looked at the floor. “I… used to wear glasses. They… got broken when… well, they got broken.” She looked back up at him, sadly. “I need them to see distance.”

He studied her for a minute, then looked back at the fucking cans, wishing he’d had that particular piece of information before they’d left Goodneighbor. There was a chance that Daisy might've picked up some glasses from a scavver, but they were now more than halfway to Diamond City so it didn’t make sense to backtrack and they were burning daylight. He could get her set up with some glasses once they arrived, but he really didn’t like the idea of any of his caps winding up in some Diamond City asshole’s pockets. It wasn’t like he didn’t have plenty to go around, but still. Dammit.

“How the fuck did you get to Goodneighbor?” he asked, incredulously. “You can’t shoot a gun, you can’t see shit. Just… how?”

“Well, I moved around in the dark, and I hid when I had to. I only moved when it was quiet, and I had to backtrack a lot.” She paused. “I was out of food and water, and I lost my pack somewhere.”

Hancock's mouth fell open. “You could have died.”

“I know,” she said, almost matter of factly. “But what else was I supposed to do? Sit in my torn-up living room for the rest of my life, wondering where…” She stopped herself, tightened her mouth, and closed her eyes.

“Codsworth said there were people out there, people who wouldn’t shoot me, but that’s all I could find. After a while, I quit trying. He brought me food and water, when he could, but I was always so hungry and I was afraid to leave the house. Even the goddamn bugs wanted to kill me.” She swallowed. “Eventually some people wandered up the hill and started to set up across the street. I watched from the house, and they talked to Codsworth and didn’t start shooting at him like the others that would occasionally come through. So I thought, maybe, they wouldn’t try to kill me, and if they did…” She looked him straight in the eyes, and he noticed once more the way her skin didn’t fit right, the dark circles under her eyes, and the lines that surrounded her mouth. He saw the gray threaded through her unruly hair, which had started to escape her ponytail, but he realized that despite all these signs of age, she really wasn’t that old. “… If they did, maybe it was for the best,” she finally finished.

He didn’t have an answer. While much of what she said didn’t make a lot of sense, he knew exactly what she meant.

Chapter Text

“So once they figured out that I wasn’t interested in running errands for them, they settled down and decided to come up with a way to do it themselves. I stuck around for a little bit and tried to make myself useful, but it just felt like I was in the way. Finally the old lady gave me a few not-so-subtle hints about a place called ‘Diamond City’ and said I could find what I needed there, so I decided to go check it out.”

“But you got lost.”

“Well, all she would tell me was that it was to the east, somewhere in downtown Boston. That’s not particularly helpful. It sounded like it was too big to miss, but leave it to me.”

They were sitting on the half wall that Hancock had previously picked out for target practice, Erica kicking her tired feet against the concrete as they passed a can of potato crisps back and forth.

“So there were five of them there and not a single one was willing to go with you?” Hancock was not impressed with this crew. They struck him as incredibly selfish, and he knew selfish.

“Well, the husband and wife, Marcy and Jun, were in no condition to be going anywhere. They were almost as big a mess as I am.” She sighed. “Mama Murphy is too old.”

“But what about the two guys? You said a mechanic and some sort of cowboy?”

“Well, the cowboy guy, Preston, was obsessed with trying to bring people to the cul-de-sac. He kept referring to it as a settlement and talking about all these grand plans. I don’t want anything to do with that mess, and if he went with me, I just know that I would have wound up getting dragged all over the damn place first, and I’d never get a chance to…” She trailed off for a moment. “And the other guy, Sturges, he just kept to himself the whole time, kept his head down, and did whatever Preston said. They were trying to build some kind of radio tower when I left.”

Hancock shook his head in disgust. He picked up a crumbling piece of the wall and threw it as hard as he could back into the other building. Those people pissed him off. He couldn’t believe anyone would let Erica just wander off into the wasteland armed with nothing more than a shitty pipe pistol that she wasn’t willing or able to use. They were lucky she hadn’t been killed because, in his opinion, that would have made them accessories to murder.

He sighed and jumped off the wall, holding his hand out to help Erica, who took it and awkwardly slid down. She winced when she landed on her aching feet.

“How much further do we have to go?” she asked.

“It’s not really that far at all,” he said, “but I gotta tell you, you move pretty slow.”

She grimaced and hoisted the pack up onto her back. He had offered to carry it, but she refused. He suspected that she wanted to feel like she was at least capable of something, so he didn’t argue with her about it.

“Maybe another hour or two. Okay?”

“Yeah, I guess.” She glanced at the sky.

“We’ll make it there before dark, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Not really. It’s easier to travel at night. Harder to be seen.”

 

 

At least she keeps the whining to a minimum, Hancock thought to himself. If the way she was limping was any indication, her feet and legs were really hurting her by the time they were within shouting distance of the gate. She hadn’t said anything about it, but she did drink two more cans of purified water while they walked.

When they approached the statue just outside the gate, Erica looked up, and her eyes brightened. “Ohhhhhhh,” she said, letting the pack drop. “Diamond City! Great green jewel… I get it now.” She looked around for a moment. “Goddammit, I feel so stupid. I should have known it was Fenway.”

Thanks to a book on Boston that Hancock had recently borrowed from Daisy to read, he knew that Fenway had been the name of the baseball stadium before the war (and before it had become his former home), but he’d never heard anyone else refer to Diamond City as that before, not even that twit who sold baseball bats and claimed to know everything there was to know about the sport. Sometimes she reminded him of the pre-war ghouls, like Daisy, with her strange knowledge about the past, but the ghouls he knew were all perfectly well-versed in their current reality. Even childlike Kent, who was almost as unskilled as she was, had the sense to just stay put in the Memory Den. If time travel were a thing, he would have suspected that she had been somehow transported from a previous era. He chuckled a bit to himself at that crazy idea. Time to cut back on the Mentants, he thought. Maybe.

“Well, sister, here we are. Think you can head in on your own?”

She looked horrified. “You’re… not coming in with me?”

“Nope. I’m never setting foot in that place again. I promised myself that after that bullshit with their current… mayor.” He couldn’t help infusing the last word with venom. “But look, you go to the gate, see the intercom?” She squinted at where he was pointing, and he sighed. “No, you probably don’t. But there’s someone there now. See? The red coat?” She nodded. Good, at least she could see that. “Just tell them who you are and that you're there to trade, and they’ll let you in just fine.”

She looked at him with unsure eyes. “They won’t… shoot at me?”

“Nah, you look normal enough, by their standards, anyway. Can’t say you won’t get some grief from the shits in the upper stands, but don’t worry about it. Those people are just assholes.”

She started to step forward, then turned toward him again. “Will you wait for me?”

“Sister, I got a city to run, and I gotta get back, I’ve been gone all day, I can’t just…”

“You’re the only one who’s really given a shit so far,” she said, interrupting him. “You’re the only one who’s actually helped me. Please.”

He looked at her. She was clearly exhausted, the dark circles beneath her eyes appeared even darker than before, startling against her pale face, but he caught just a touch of the fire he had seen in her eyes earlier in the day. Who was he to deny a damsel in distress, even one as bedraggled as her? He’d never let himself hear the end of it.

Shaking out a cigarette from a crumped pack and putting it in his mouth, he sighed. “Yeah, I’ll wait out here. Just… don’t be too long, okay?” He reached into his coat again and pulled out a small bag. “And see if that bitch Myrna has some glasses for you.” He handed her the bag. “It’s on me.”

She smiled, once again hinting at the ghost of a lovely woman, and kissed his scarred cheek before turning and hurrying toward the stadium and the woman in the red coat by the intercom.

He watched her go for a moment before turning and slipping back into the ruins to wait.

Chapter Text

He’d finished the pack of cigarettes and was keeping a close eye on the sun, which was settling behind the crumbling skyscrapers and apartment buildings. He had no idea how long her business in Diamond City was going to take, and he couldn’t help feeling frustrated and impatient. He hoped she hadn’t changed her mind and decided to stay overnight without telling him. It didn’t seem her style, but, he realized, it hadn’t even been twenty-four hours since she’d slammed the door to Goodneighbor. Who was he to know what her style was?

He debated with himself briefly as to whether he should keep waiting or should give up and head home. You aren’t that big of an asshole, he reminded himself. Not anymore, anyway. Besides, this isn’t the first time you’ve spent a night out in the ruins. If she doesn’t emerge by tomorrow, grab Fahr or MacCready and send their ass in after her.

The lights from Diamond City created enough of a glare that the stars, usually easily visible and bright from Goodneighbor and other areas in the Commonwealth, didn’t emerge until later. He was just able to pick out the three stars that made up Orion’s belt when he saw a figure leaving the stadium and hurrying in his direction.

He got to his feet and stepped out from the shadows of the building where he’d been hiding. He hoped there was enough light to illuminate his coat so that she would know where to go.

When she got closer, he could see that something was very wrong.

She was still limping, but she was moving quickly. She’d apparently found a pair of glasses, and they magnified her eyes enough so that he could see the wild look in them.

She nearly barreled into him before he grabbed her arm and stopped her. She froze and then wrenched her arm out of his grasp before stalking into the building he’d spent the last couple of hours in. He followed her, concerned. Whatever she’d been hoping to find in Diamond City, he guessed it wasn’t there.

When she got under the cover of the building, she stopped, head down, fists clenched. The pack slid off one of her arms and fell to the ground. He noted with some grudging respect that she'd had enough of a sense of self-preservation to at least get under cover and hidden before losing it.

She raised her fists to her face, eyes tightly shut, and he heard an unearthly howl begin to emerge from her. It started low and then got louder, like a siren that needed a moment to warm up.

“Sister…” he began. The sound cut off abruptly and she dropped her hands and looked right at him, teeth bared in a painful grimace, before turning and hurtling herself into the concrete wall behind her. She shrieked, and he hadn’t heard a sound that conveyed that much fury and misery in a long time. Her fists pounded against the walls twice before he slipped himself between her and the concrete. He understood breakdowns, all too well, and he couldn’t let her injure herself. She didn’t seem to register that he was there, and her fists pummeled him instead of the wall. He was okay with that. He could take a punch, and she wasn’t really strong enough to do any real damage.

He was, however, concerned that she would hurt herself, so he grabbed her hands and quickly spun her around so that her back was to him, with her arms crossed in front of her. He’d used this particular hold before on his citizens who were too high or drunk to realize what they were doing. It was especially effective on those who’d had a bad hit of Psycho.

She struggled against him, shrieking, but finally, finally, the fury began to leave her body, which had been thrumming like a wire hooked up to a generator. She slumped forward, and he loosened his grip on her, ready to grab her again in a moment if needed.

She fell to her knees, her hands over her face. He put his hand on her back while she rocked, sobbing. A little better, he thought. She’ll get there. Then we can figure out what to do next.

 

 

The fire he had built crackled on the floor of the high rise where they had made camp for the night. She sat, knees to her chest, arms clasped around them, staring into it in silence. He’d long ago observed that some women could look pretty when they cried, but apparently she was not one of those people. Her eyes were swollen, and her face was blotchy from her nose down to her chin. She hiccuped occasionally, and a trickle of snot mixed with the tears smeared on her face. He found a bit of cloth in the pack, wet it with some purified water, and held it out to her. She didn’t acknowledge him.

He sighed and then set to cleaning her face himself. She flinched at first, then closed her eyes and allowed him to take care of her.

“You don’t have to tell me what went wrong, but… if you could just tell me what you’re looking for, maybe I’ll have some ideas how to help you,” he said. She took a deep breath, but continued staring into the fire. “I ain’t no genius or anything, but that’s what Mentats are for, right?” He chuckled, but quit abruptly when she didn’t respond.

Finally she spoke. “I’m just so tired. Why can’t anything, anything be easy?”

“It ain’t an easy world.”

She huffed, unamused. “No shit.” She was silent for a moment longer. “Apparently now I have to find the person who finds things. There has to be an easier way, but I don’t know what it is.”

Find the person who… “Wait a minute. Are you talking about Valentine? The detective?”

That got her to turn her attention away from the fire. “Yes. Do you know him?”

“Shit, Nicky and me, we go way back.” He started. “Hang on, are you saying that he’s gone missing?”

“According to his secretary.”

He frowned. “That ain’t good.” It was starting to look like his brief attempt to assist a stranger was about to turn into a full-blown rescue mission.

Fuck.

“Did she say where he’d gone?”

“Something about Park Street Station.”

Of course it had to be the Commons. Of course. He was heavily empathizing with her complaint about nothing being easy.

“If Nicky’s missing, I gotta try to help him out. I owe him. Big time.” He considered for a moment. “Why don’t we get you back to Goodneighbor. I’ll take Fahrenheit and go rescue the poor bastard.”

She shook her head. “No. I need to do this.”

He stared at her. Was she insane or suicidal? “Sister, you’ll be killed. I ain’t bullshitting you here.”

“Then come with me.”

His eyes, black and shiny as obsidian, met hers, and he could see that there was not an ounce of doubt or hesitation there. She was going, regardless of what he chose to do.

What the fuck have I gotten myself into?

“Okay, we’ll go in the morning, after we stop in Goodneighbor…” She opened her mouth to protest and he held up his hand to stop her. “After we stop in Goodneighbor to restock. We need stims, chems, food, water… I don’t know what we’re walking into here, and neither do you. Also, we both need to get some sleep.”

She gazed at him for a moment, then nodded and resumed staring into the flames.

Chapter Text

He woke up to the sound of retching and the sour sting of bile wafting into the space where his nose had once been.

Fucking hell, he thought. What now?

He had been sleeping on the floor, using the pack as a makeshift pillow, and he sat up and looked across the banked coals to where his coat, which had been functioning as her blanket, had been tossed aside. Hope she didn’t get any on it, he thought before he could stop himself.

He searched for a moment in the shadows before he saw her hunched over the corner. She groaned and her body jolted as another spasm hit, and he sighed. He dug through the mostly empty pack to see if there was any water left. They had shared a can of cram before sleeping, and he was sure there was one more can of water remaining. Relief filled him as his hand found the cylinder.

Maybe the cram had gone bad, he thought, doing a quick self-check for any signs of nausea. He remembered the “incident” with that Lukowski asshole and shuddered. What a pile of fuckery that had been. In any event, he hadn’t heard of any of the pre-war canned goods going funky, and even if they had, he was unlikely to feel the effects anyway.

For a moment, he truly missed having the ability to plug his nose as he carefully picked his way over to where she huddled. The worst seemed to be over, and she sniffled and spit a few times, clearing her throat.

“You okay?” he asked, handing her the can of water. “Careful, that’s our last one.”

She took it and gave him a grimace that might have been intended as a smile. “I will be soon," she croaked. "I just gotta get it out.”

He frowned. “This happen a lot?”

“Every time I eat. I always just hope it sticks around long enough for me to get some calories out of it.” She barked a hoarse laugh. “There’s something I never thought I’d say. Lots of that lately, though.”

“You didn’t throw up those crisps.”

“Yeah, I did. I just managed to hang on to them until I was in Diamond City. Had to book out of the agency before I barfed all over the secretary.”

She wiped her face and took a swig from the can, swishing the water around her mouth before spitting it away from her.

“If you’re done, can we move back to the fire? Not trying to be rude, but it fucking reeks over here.”

She swished and spit again before nodding.

Her sickly appearance was starting to make sense to him. If she couldn’t eat without getting sick….

“How long has this been going on? Have you seen a doctor?” A thought crossed his mind. “You ain’t… you ain’t knocked up, are you?”

She laughed humorlessly. “No, definitely not knocked up. One small favor at least.” She sighed and took a sip of the water. “No, I haven’t seen a doctor. I don’t see what they can do about this. Even the fruits and vegetables are making me sick.”

“What about meat?”

She made a face. “No way. Bugs, dogs, and lizards? No. It’s not happening.”

“You gotta eat something.” He popped a Mentat and held out the box to her. She shook her head and looked away. “What about radstag or brahmin?”

She considered. “Maybe. I’ll probably just throw it up though.”

“Well, it’s worth experimenting.”

“Easy for you to say.”

The Mentat had started working and an idea occurred to him. “Sister, have you cooked anything? Or are you just eating raw vegetables and shit outta cans?”

“No, I don't know how…” She cocked her head to one side. “Hmm. You might be on to something.”

“First thing tomorrow, when we get back, we’re gonna find you something cooked at the Rail. Consider it a science experiment.”

She stretched back out on the floor and pulled his coat back over her, resting her head on her arm and gazing at him over the coals. “God, I hope it works,” she said before she closed her eyes.

 

 

Some time during the night while he slept, he had pulled the pack over his head, and he woke up tangled in the straps. After cursing and fighting with the pack for a moment, he managed to finally extricate himself and threw it to the side. He looked up to see Erica watching him through her new glasses, a sideways smile on her face, before returning to the book Daisy had given her.

“And a good morning to you,” he said sourly.

“Sorry,” she said, eyes on the book, still smiling.

“You seem to be in a good mood,” he commented, reaching for his Mentats.

She shrugged. “I’m definitely ready to test out your cooked food theory. And the book was calling my name.” She held the book in her lap with a finger marking her place and stroked the cover lovingly. “I never got around to reading this one. I’m usually not that into the classics, but it’s like remembering.” She sighed. “Without the bad parts.”

“What’s it about?” he asked. She handed him the book, and he flipped through it. He paused to read a passage and looked back up at her. “Writer’s rather long-winded, ain’t he? I can barely make heads or tails of this, and I just took a Mentat.”

“She,” Emily corrected, taking the book back. “It’s a classic for a reason. It’s a tragic romance, lots of metaphor and symbolism to work through, all that stuff. I miss reading and having someone to talk to about it. I hope Daisy is serious about the book club.” She laughed. He was glad to see her in a halfway decent mood this morning. She had a nice smile. It completely changed her face and made her eyes sparkle playfully, despite her pale and unhealthy appearance.

“What does the title mean?” he asked. He was willing to keep talking about the book if it kept her in this kind of mood.

“It’s the name of the house where they all live.”

“Name of the house?” He chuckled. “These people must be nuts.”

“Well,” she said. “They are rich. It goes with the territory.” He remembered thinking the same thing about her just the other night and leaned back, laughing. She smiled at him, folded down the page to mark her spot, and reached for the pack to tuck the book away. “Let’s get started walking. I’m starving.”

Chapter Text

It was nearly noon before they made it back to Goodneighbor’s front gate.

Erica had started out strong but was worn down and quiet by the time they arrived. While they walked, she had initially looked around quite a bit, but after an hour or so, he saw her remove her new glasses and hang them from the collar of her shirt by one of the arms. She’d made a comment about the “prescription being off” (whatever that meant) and that they were giving her a headache, but her shift in mood told him that there might be more to the story. No surprise there. Eventually he hoped to get to the bottom of it, but he knew the time wasn’t right. It wasn’t like he went around sharing the details of his fuck-ups with everyone who didn’t already know about them, so in a strange way, he understood her reticence. Maybe she’d be ready to talk after some real food….

As much as Hancock was itching to get out there and track down Nick, he thought it might be best if she rested up for the afternoon and they left in the evening. The extra rest in an actual bed would do her some good, and Park Street Station wasn’t particularly far from Goodneighbor so they both could be fresh for whatever it was they would be encountering. She wouldn't be happy about it, but he'd deal with that later. He made a mental note to warn her about the importance of being quiet as they approached the Commons.

“Have you had a chance to start the book?” Daisy asked eagerly as they approached her shop.

Erica’s tired face lit up in a smile. “I did. It’s wonderful so far. I can’t possibly thank you enough!”

“There’s more where that came from. Eventually we’ll have to clear out the library, then we can really go to town!”

Erica looked wistful. “The library… Thank goodness it’s still there.”

Daisy gave Hancock a knowing look that he wasn’t quite sure how to interpret, and he passed her over the mostly empty pack. “We’re headed to the Rail for some lunch, and then we’re going back out this evening. Mind restocking us?”

“Where are you headed now?” the other ghoul asked with a hint of a Southern drawl.

“Nick’s gone missing,” Hancock said. “Not sure what he managed to get himself mixed up in, but according to Ellie, he’s been gone a while. We’re gonna check it out.”

Daisy looked concerned and glanced at Erica. “You sure that’s a good idea?” she asked. “Maybe Fahrenheit should….”

“Yeah, I know,” he said, cutting her off.

Erica turned to him. “I’m going! You said.…”

“I know, I know.” He felt trapped between the two women. “It ain't the greatest idea in the world, but we’re going. It’ll be okay,” he said, turning back to Daisy and noting that she did not look the least bit mollified. “Just… heavy on the stimpacks, okay?”

“I might have to stop by Amari’s place to see what she has available,” Daisy said, rifling through one of her drawers.

“Do whatcha gotta do,” he said. “You know I’m good for it.” Daisy nodded, lips pulled tight. She wasn’t happy, but she also knew when it was better not to push the issue. “We’re heading to the Rail. See ya later.”

 

 

“Want a drink?” Hancock said, gesturing for Erica to sit. She did and then leaned over the table, resting her head on her crossed arms. She closed her eyes and nodded.

“Another Stout?” She shook her head. “What about a Nuka-Cola, then?”

She shook her head again. “I’ve never really liked those. Just water is fine,” she replied without opening her eyes.

When he returned, he had a can for Erica and a glass of bourbon for himself. She sat back up and eyed the bourbon. “Isn’t it a little early for that?” she asked, popping the top on the can of water.

He chuckled and took a sip. “Never,” he replied.

They sat in amicable silence for a bit. After a few sips of water, she laid her head back down on the table and closed her eyes again. He chewed on a Mentat and studied her face, wondering more about all the contradictions that seemed to follow her.

What did he know about her? He ticked off everything he could think of on his fingers.

She knew the area, but everything seemed new. She was from somewhere “to the west” and maybe had a Mr. Handy, although that last part was only a guess. She was looking for something that required the Commonwealth’s most famous (and only) detective. She tired easily but would push on as needed without complaint. Her moods were like storms, sudden to arrive and volatile. She threw up everything she ate but was somehow still alive. She’d never cooked her food… this one made no sense at all. She made references to things that had happened and places that existed before the war and seemed nostalgic for a world that hadn’t existed for centuries. She hated killing anything and apparently hadn’t shot a gun before yesterday.

He toyed with the idea that she had come from a vault, but just like every other theory he’d had, some things fit and some continued to make no sense. Goodneighbor had done some trading with the active vault on the other side of Diamond City. They weren’t particularly fond of ghouls there, though, and she didn’t seem the least bit bothered by either his or Daisy’s appearance. They also cooked their food there, shot guns, wore Pip-Boys, and were familiar with the locals. The other vaults in the area had been abandoned for ages and were complete horror shows, filled with evidence of Vault-Tec’s psychotic experiments. Could Vault-Tec have experimented with time travel? Everything seemed to point in that direction, but….

His train of thought was interrupted by Charlie’s arrival with two plates of grilled brahmin steaks over stewed tatos and carrots. His stomach growled, and his mouth watered. He hadn’t realized just how hungry he was after stalking around the ruins all day yesterday and this morning, and he was glad to be digging in.

At the aroma, Erica lifted her head. She gazed at her plate with a combination of anticipation and trepidation.

“What’s the meat?” she asked, picking up the fork and knife that rested beside the plate.

“Brahmin,” Charlie replied. "As per request." He tipped an eyestalk toward Hancock.

“Like cow,” she whispered to herself and Hancock mentally added another point to the time travel column. She appeared to be steeling herself up. He watched her, hopeful. Taking a deep breath, she finally cut into the meat and lifted a piece to her mouth. She sniffed it and looked at him, a slight smile on her face.

“Bottoms up,” she said and took a bite.

Chapter Text

He finished his own meal quickly and watched Erica work on hers, fascinated by the strange way she ate. Whereas he practiced a more efficient “slice, stab, shovel” technique, she ate slowly, methodically, as if she had all the time in the world. She would carefully hold the meat in place with her fork, saw with the knife to remove a small piece, and then use the fork to lift that piece to her mouth, preparing the next bite as she thoughtfully chewed. It was unlike anything he had ever seen.

He couldn’t take it anymore.

“So, we need to talk,” he said. She lifted her eyebrows, looked at him, and paused in her chewing for a just a moment before returning to her plate.

“Do we?” she asked, avoiding eye contact.

“Yeah, we do. I’ve been making bets with myself, but I’m stumped, so I'm just gonna ask. Are you from a vault or are you a time traveler?”

She took a sip of her water.

“I’m honestly not sure how to answer that,” she replied, slicing off another small bite of steak.

“Well, it ain't a hard question. It’s more specific than ‘where the hell did you come from’ and ‘why the fuck do you act so weird.’”

“I didn’t realize I acted weird,” she said, focusing on her plate so she could avoid his eyes.

“Don’t give me that,” he said, starting to grow irritated at her calm demeanor while she dodged his question. “I’ve seen all kinds of crazy shit in my life, and I can’t figure you out. You don’t shoot guns, you can’t eat, you’ve clearly been here but you don’t know where nothing is. If I wanted to place a bet, I’d put my money on the time travel even though that’s clearly the most batshit option.”

“No, I’m not a time traveler,” she said. He sat back in his chair, frustrated, while she took another sip. “But on the other hand, you aren’t entirely wrong either.”

Infuriating woman! He wanted to storm off, maybe flipping a few chairs while he went, but restrained himself.

“See what I mean?” he asked, his voice rising slightly. “You don’t make any goddamn sense!”

“Can I make a deal with you?” she asked, finally looking him in the eye.

“I don’t make deals unless I know the conditions,” he said.

“These conditions are pretty simple. Help me find the detective, then I promise I won’t just tell you… I’ll show you. Nothing I say will make sense unless I can actually show you. Please?”

He sipped his bourbon and considered the request. It seemed like a fair deal. Of course, she could always just vanish after they found Nick, but it didn’t seem likely. He was concerned about how invested he already felt in her safety. Situations like that hadn’t ended well in the past, but maybe this was an opportunity to make amends.

“Okay, you have a deal.”

“And you won’t ask any more questions until then?”

He smirked. “I’m not sure I can promise that.”

“Well, I can promise that I’m not going to answer them.” She set her knife and fork neatly alongside her plate and leaned back from the table. “Ready to go?”

“Nah, I want you to get some rest. Plus, I want to see if the food sticks. Don’t want you puking on the way.”

“I guess that’s reasonable.”

“Thank you for not arguing for a change.”

She shrugged. “I trust you.”

He tried to ignore the warm sensation he felt in his chest at that simple comment. “Come on. You can crash at my place for a bit. I’ll get you up around sunset. Park Street Station and the Commons ain’t far from here.”

“I know.”

“Of course you do.”

 

After closing the door on her so she could sleep for a bit, he headed to his office, where he planned to spend the next few hours getting high as a fucking kite. Unfortunately, he was interrupted long before reaching kite-like status by Fahrenheit walking through the door and plopping on his couch, where she kicked her legs up on the arm and proceeded to pull out a combat knife and trim her fingernails. He glared at her and the fingernail parings she was brushing onto the floor.

“Can I help you?” he asked in an acerbic tone.

“Maybe you can,” she answered, an evil grin spreading across her face. “But I might do better if I act all helpless. That’s sure to get your attention.”

“What do you want, Fahr? You’re killing my buzz right now.”

“Something’s going down in the warehouses. They were vacant for about a week, but this morning, there was some activity in there again.”

“Fucking triggermen assholes,” Hancock muttered. “They’re up to something.”

“That’s what I’m telling you, you genius,” Fahrenheit said, concentrating on her fingernails.

“Alright, smart ass, what do you think it is?”

“Daisy said Valentine had gone missing. Word is that he was doing some poking around over something to do with that moron Skinny Malone, and you know that crook hangs out with those idiots in the warehouses.”

Fuck.

“Talk to me, Fahr. What am I walking into here?”

“Oh, I’m sure they are planning some kind of ambush, but honestly? I’m not too worried. Those assholes couldn’t hit the broad side of a fucking barn if it was two feet in front of them.” She snickered. “Honestly, it might be good target practice for Little Miss Can’t Shoot a Gun.”

He chuckled and thought about that. “Hmmm. Maybe this ‘rescue mission’ can kill a couple birds with one stone. I’ve been meaning to clear out those fucking warehouses for good.” He tapped his teeth with his thumbnail. And then I can find out the truth, he thought.

Fahrenheit looked at him, eyes narrowed. “What else? There’s something you aren’t saying.”

“Ain’t nothing else. Just wondering what will come of that. You know someone’s going to have something to say about a bunch of triggermen going missing.”

“Bullshit.” She sat up. “Don’t you go keeping secrets from me. I can’t protect your ass if I can’t find it.”

He looked at her pointedly. “Exactly who is whose boss here, Fahr?”

She laughed. “You really want me to answer that, you asshole?”

He threw an empty Jet canister at her. She swatted it away with a small and efficient movement that he couldn’t help but admire. Fahr was a total bitch, but he loved her like… well, like her father.

She looked suddenly serious. “Just let me know before you decide to… take a tour with this new chick. She’s trouble.”

“I ain’t planning any tours,” he said. “She ain’t my type.”

“As if you had a type.” Fahrenheit swung her legs down and headed for the door. “I’m gonna go quell any uprisings. Talk to you tomorrow.”

“Yup,” he said and pulled a fresh Jet from the drawer after she closed the door.

Chapter Text

As they got nearer to the Commons, Hancock put an arm out to signal Erica to stop. She had done better on this excursion, and he credited that to a solid six hours of sleep and a meal that had actually stayed down.

“Before we get to the Commons, there’s something you need to know,” he said, voice low. “Something dangerous is here, in the pond. I don’t know what it is, just that a lot of people never make it back from the Commons. We should keep quiet, but we’ll be okay once we’re in the station.”

She looked worried, but nodded without making a sound.

“We’re almost there,” he continued. “I’m guessing we’re gonna have a welcoming party. I’m gonna take the lead, and I want you to start off in the shadows. It’s better if they don’t even know you’re there. If these assholes are as incompetent as I suspect they are, we should be able to get through them with no problem. But listen…” He paused and studied her face, which had a determined set to it. “We gotta kill these fuckers, or they are gonna kill us. Do you understand that?” He waited for her to nod and she finally did. “It might be a good idea, once we have an idea of what’s up, if you take a turn. You gotta get used to this if you’re gonna be out in the city, you feel me?”

She closed her eyes and swallowed before nodding.

“Okay, let’s go.”

 

They quietly entered the station and paused just inside the door. He listened to the sounds of the voices drifting up the staircase. Yeah, they definitely had Nicky. And Fahr was spot on in her suspicions, as usual. He recognized the voices of triggermen who had been calling the warehouses in Goodneighbor home, and he grit his teeth. This was how they repaid his fucking hospitality? They’d regret that mistake.

“Sounds like just a few down there,” he whispered to Erica. “Stay here, and I’m gonna take care of them. They won’t even know what hit them.”

He crept down the stairs and counted three loudmouths doing a shit job acting as guards. Easy enough. He also decided it would be much more fun if they did in fact know who and what had hit them, so he jumped out into the light, whipping his shotgun around.

Startled, they turned and raised their machine guns, but he had the element of surprise on his side. Shotgun blasts rang out and echoed against the tile of the walls, and two of them fell before their guns could even aim in his direction. The third was a little faster, and bullets started spraying the wall all around Hancock. As Fahr had observed, however, the triggermen relied too much on sheer volume of bullets and not enough on aim, and this one fell to another blast of the shotgun before a single bullet so much as touched Hancock.

He smiled, pleased with himself, and then went back to the doorway to gesture to Erica that the coast was, for now, clear.

She moved into the station and tried to avoid looking at the dead bodies. He saw that same sadness and regret in her face, but this time it was tempered with determination. She was getting there, he thought. It was a cruel world, and pretending that it was anything other than that was the surest possible way to die an early death.

They crept along the wall and approached the staircase that led further down into the station. He assessed the situation and decided to take out this batch on his own as well. Just as quickly as the first bunch, the group was dispatched, and they continued.

As they came around the side of a wrecked subway train, he saw an open area with a few more guards. Perfect, he thought, smiling. It was exactly the opportunity he’d been hoping for. He ducked back and beckoned Erica a little closer.

“Okay, it’s your turn now.” She swallowed and looked a little green, but nodded gamely. “Come over here and take your shot. If you miss, it’s okay. Just get back behind me and I’ll take care of them.”

She moved forward slightly so that her targets were in view and raised her gun. Hancock noted the shaking of the 10 mm and her rapid breathing and put up his hand to halt her. She lowered the weapon and looked at him in confusion.

“Hang on,” he said quietly. “I’m gonna help, okay?” She nodded, and he stepped behind her so that his chest was against her back and he was looking over her shoulder at the men in front of her. “Raise the gun,” he whispered, practically into her ear, and felt a shiver move through her body on top of the vibration caused by her tension.

 She raised the gun with trembling arms, and he put his own arms around her so that his hands were over hers. “Okay, you need to calm down,” he whispered. “You don’t want to panic with a gun in your hands. The wrong people will get hurt.” She nodded, and he felt her attempting to slow her breathing. “Can you feel me breathe?” he asked. She nodded again. “Match your breaths to mine. Slow.”

He felt her breathing pause for a moment, and soon they were breathing in sync. “That’s better. Those assholes are such lousy guards that they don’t even know we’re here, so just take a moment.”

He felt the vibration of her body slow down until it was barely there, and soon she held the gun with steady hands.

“Atta girl,” he said. “Now aim. Go for the torso. It’s the biggest target and these idiots are so fucking arrogant they aren’t even wearing armor.” He let her guide their hands and the gun until she had it trained on the body of the nearest guard. The feeling of her thin body pressed against him kept trying to push its way to the front of his mind, but he worked to suppress it, cursing Fahrenheit and her comment from earlier. Impure thoughts about Erica hadn’t even entered his mind until that moment, and now….

Pay attention, asshole!

“Okay, go ahead and take your shot. Like I said, if you miss, move behind me. Either way, I’m going to move forward and take out the rest of them.” She nodded, and he felt her shift as she slightly widened her stance for better balance.

Her finger twitched beneath his, and the gun went off. To his delight, the guard fell in a heap, causing the other guards to momentarily freeze in surprise. He leapt around Erica to take advantage, and his shots dropped the rest of the guards quickly. He turned back to Erica, whose face was torn between horror and relief.

“I did it,” she said.

“Fuck yeah, you did!” he crowed.

“I killed someone,” she said, quieter.

Aw, shit.

“Remember what I said? If we don’t kill them, they’ll kill us. That’s just how it is.”

“I remember. It’s just…” She shook her head. “I’ll have my ethical crisis later. Let’s keep going.”

Chapter Text

They stood and stared at the giant gear-shaped door marked 114. Erica’s face had gone white as chalk, and Hancock was seriously concerned that she was about to vomit again. This time, though, he was pretty sure it had nothing to do with any kind of food aversion.

“You okay?” he asked.

She slowly shook her head. “Nope. Not okay in the least.” She took a deep breath. “We have to go in there, don’t we?”

He turned to what appeared to be a control panel and studied it. Some kind of plug and a big, red button. “Here goes nothing,” he said and pushed the button.

Nothing happened.

Dammit.

“This is probably a long shot, but you don’t know how to get this to open, do you?”

“Yeah,” she said. “You need a Pip-Boy.”

And just like that, a point in the vault dweller column.

“You don’t, uh, happen to have one, do you?”

She looked pissed for a moment, and he wondered if he’d said something wrong.

“No, I didn’t think…” She shook her head. “No.”

He sighed. “Well, they have to leave some time.” He looked around the open cavern. “Let’s wait for a bit. See if anyone comes out.”

 

 

They found a slight overhang that could keep them in shadow and settled in with their backs against the rocky wall. Erica dug through their pack and pulled out her book. “Do you mind?” she asked. “I just… I feel like I need to keep my mind off of… things.”

“Be my guest,” he said. “I’ll keep watch.”

Silence settled, punctuated only by the occasional turning of pages. Hancock’s shotgun rested across his lap, and he kept his eyes on the giant gear. After a while, he noticed that it had been several minutes since Erica had last turned a page, and he glanced at her to find her studying him.

“I know it’s hard to resist someone as handsome as me, but what’s up?” he asked, with a crooked smile.

She gave him a small smile. “Sorry.” She looked toward the gear briefly and then looked back at him. “I was just wondering… Preston, the cowboy, he said that some of the… ghouls… were really old, so… I was wondering how old you were.” She paused. “I hope… I hope that’s not rude.”

He pulled his hat off and rubbed his bald and scarred head, smiling. “Nah, not rude. I don’t mind, anyway. Well, when it comes to ghouls, I’m practically a baby.” He chuckled. “I’m… hmmm, I’m 45? I think? I don’t really keep good track anymore.”

“How old is Daisy?”

“Well, it ain’t polite to ask a lady, right?” She laughed. “Daisy’s prewar. I don’t know how old, exactly. She looks pretty good for her age, though, don’t she?”

“She’s a sweetheart.” Erica looked back down at the book in her lap. “I like her a lot.”

“I’m not surprised. She likes you too.” Erica smiled in response. He noticed that she appeared to be about halfway through the book. “You’re a fast reader,” he said. “Where did you learn to read?”

“Nice try,” she said with a sideways smirk. “Do a lot of your… citizens… read?”

“Well, Daisy does, obviously. A lot of the prewar ghouls do. Kent likes his comics. Some of the humans do, but not as fast as you. Some of them went to the school in Diamond City, like me. That’s where I learned to read.”

“Do you still read?”

“Yeah, Daisy keeps me in books.”

“What kind of books do you like?”

“Mostly history, some politics. I like war novels, too.”

She nodded, thoughtfully.

A loud screeching sound made both of them jump. The gear had started to move.

Erica quickly stashed the book back in the pack and threw it over her shoulder. Hancock hunched down and moved toward the gear, shotgun trained on it. Two people appeared in the space created by the moving gear, and before they could react or sound the alarm, Hancock dropped them both.

“Okay, sister, here’s our chance. Let’s go find you a detective.”

 

 

They worked their way through the dimly lit, unfinished vault. Erica was looking around in curiosity at the different areas they passed through. They moved slowly, and a couple times they paused so that she could take the first shot at a guard. She missed about half the time, but when she did, she was quick to duck back out of the way so that Hancock could finish them off.

The triggermen were sloppy and didn’t pose even the least challenge for him, and he was glad for her to have the practice. She didn’t seem particularly happy about the ones she killed, though. It was obviously troubling to her, but she was holding it together so far, so he kept his concerns to himself… for the time being.

They came to a small room that appeared to be a dead end, except for a hole that continued down for two floors. Hancock studied the hole to try to figure out the safest way to approach it.

“I think if I swing myself down, I can land on that bit of floor without dropping all the way through,” he said. “Then, if you can hang down, I can catch you and help you down. We can assess from there.”

She looked at him, chewing her lip. “Won’t I be too heavy for you?”

He looked at her, baffled. She was shorter than he was and thin as a rail. What was she talking about?

“I think you’ll be fine,” he said, slowly. “If you’re really worried, take off the pack and send that down first.”

She nodded and removed the pack. He sat on the lip of the hole, then turned himself around and slid down. He hung for just a moment before swinging forward just a bit and dropping onto the floor below. He quickly got to his feet and checked all around him to make sure nobody was coming. There didn’t appear to be a way out on this level, and they would have to drop down one more floor.

“You ready?” he called up. He saw her looking down at him.

“No,” she said. “But I guess that doesn’t really matter. I’ll send the pack down.” She started lowering the pack. He couldn’t quite reach it.

“Just toss it straight down,” he said. “We have to go all the way down anyway.” She let the bag drop, and he heard it hit with a thud on the dirt floor beneath them. “Okay, now your turn. Turn around and lower yourself, like I did. I’ll help you.”

Her feet and legs appeared over the ledge. “Are you sure about this?” she called down.

“Yeah, but you’re gonna have to come further down and swing a little.”

“I should have spent more time in the fucking gym,” she muttered.

Huh?

Slowly, her legs came toward him, and then suddenly she lost her grip and fell straight through. “Shit!” she yelled. He looked down and saw her in a heap on the ground, holding her ankle.

“Fuck!” He lowered himself through the torn up floor and dropped down neatly to the ground below. He quickly turned to Erica, but she was looking past him with huge eyes.

He spun around and saw two triggermen approaching, one carrying a gun and the other armed with a baseball bat. Before he could reach for his shotgun, though, he heard a shot from next to him and the man with the baseball bat fell in a heap. He felt his chest swell with pride and gratitude for Erica’s new presence of mind.

The other triggerman raised his gun, and Hancock threw himself in front of Erica, mindful of the easy target she made. The asshole probably had just as bad aim as any of his companions, but he didn’t want to take a chance.

Bullets started flying, and Hancock pulled his knife out of his coat and flung it at the son of a bitch. His aim was true, the knife lodged itself in the triggerman’s throat, and he fell, gurgling.

Not wasting another moment, Hancock turned his attention back to Erica. “Nice shot,” he said. She grimaced, and he saw that her ankle was turned at a painful-looking angle. He was doubly impressed at her for taking out the bat-wielding triggerman while she was so obviously in pain. No question about it, the woman had guts.

He snagged the pack and looked through it for a stimpak. Spotting the bundle Daisy had put together, he mentally thanked her.

“I’m gonna stimpak you, okay?” He looked up at Erica’s face. Her eyes were closed against the pain, but she nodded. He rolled up her pants leg slightly to see her ankle, which was already swollen and starting to bruise. Pressing the stim to her leg, he clicked the trigger to send the medication into her ankle. He saw her face relax in relief as the medication did its job. She reached out and grabbed his hand.

“You gonna be alright?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Just give me a minute.”

“We’ll rest here then,” he said. He moved to take his hand back, but she held on tight. He looked at her, but her eyes were closed. Fuck it, he thought and sat next to her with both their hands in his lap.

Chapter Text

“Gotta love the irony of the reverse damsel-in-distress scenario,” Valentine said, lighting up a cigarette. “Nice to see you too, John.” Hancock felt a rush of relief at the sight of his old friend, apparently unharmed and his usual sardonic self.

Pleased, he turned to Erica, only to see a horrified look on her face. She drew in a breath sharply, and he could tell that she was about to scream in terror. He grabbed her by the shoulders, forcing her to look at him.

“It’s okay,” he said sharply. “This is Nick, the detective you’re looking for. He’s safe!”

“He’s… It’s… One of those… things! That the lady in Diamond City was talking about!”

Fucking Myrna!

“Yeah, he’s a synth, but he’s okay!” He looked at Nick in desperation. “He hates the Institute as much as anyone else!”

She looked wildly between Hancock and Nick, and he could see her fragile trust in him warring with her fear of the synth detective. Nick was wise enough not to approach, and he held up both hands in a gesture of benevolence. “Trust me, doll,” he drawled, in his strange noir accent. “When you get thrown out like yesterday’s garbage, you don’t tend to think kindly on those who do the tossing. I’m no friend to the Institute.”

“You… you… you…. What?” Hancock could see that Erica was trying to fight back against the panic that was roiling just below the surface. He reached down to take her hand and used the other to gently turn her face so she was looking into his eyes.

“I’ve known Nicky my whole life,” he said in a low, calm tone. “He’s a good guy. He ain’t gonna hurt you, I promise. I know that lunatic Myrna has a case against synths and she lumps Nicky in with the rest, but most synths these days are just people like you and me. There are still some freaky ones out there, and you need to watch out for those, but Nick ain’t one of them.” She was taking ragged breaths, but didn’t turn her face away from his. She swallowed a few times before finally nodding.

Hancock turned slightly, and gestured toward Nick. “Nick, this is Erica. She’s been looking for you and needs your help. Erica, meet Nick Valentine. The best detective in the Commonwealth.”

“Pretty sure I’m the only detective in the Commonwealth,” the torn-up synth chuckled drily. “As fun as this is, though, pretty soon the rest of these morons are going to figure out that muscles for brains ain’t coming back, so I recommend we get the hell out of here. We’ll talk once we’re safe.”

Hancock gently tugged on Erica’s hand until she appeared to recover. Nick led the way, and the three of them dashed through room after room, quickly dispatching the rest of the triggermen. Won’t have to worry about cleaning out the fucking warehouses now, Hancock thought. I can let Charlie know and save the caps.

“Hold up,” Nick said, stopping in front of a door that didn’t automatically open. He hunched over the lock and fiddled with it. Hancock glanced at Erica, standing next to him. She seemed calmer, if out of breath from running through the vault. Nick hadn’t given them much time to rest after taking out one group before moving on to the next.

“You okay?” he asked Erica, softly.

“I guess,” she replied. “I’m sorry about… panicking.”

“Don’t worry about it. I’m used to Nick – hell, he looks better than me – and I didn’t think to warn you. I should have known that Myrna would give you an earful.”

“It wasn’t just Myrna,” Erica said. “There was also a girl selling papers that were full of warnings about… synths. She was the sister of the woman in the red coat who helped me get into the city.”

“Oh, yeah, Piper’s rag.” He sighed. “Diamond City definitely has a lot of hate for synths along with ghouls. I dunno how Nicky’s put up with it all these years. I keep trying to get him to move shop over to Goodneighbor.”

“And I told you,” Nick said, from where he was working on the lock, “I couldn’t pay Ellie enough to get her to move. And Piper means well, but she’s definitely got people all riled up about the Boogieman of the Commonwealth right now.” The lock clicked. “Pretty sure Skinny Malone’s on the other side of this. His new girl, Darla, is something else. I was supposed to be tracking her down as a missing person, but turns out she’s his new girlfriend. Let’s try to get out safely, alright?”

“Where’s the fun in that,” Hancock said, quietly enough that only Erica heard it. She rewarded him with a small half-smile that disappeared almost before he could spot it.

The door opened, and sure enough, several gangsters stood on the other side, including a heavyset, well-dressed man and an angry-looking woman in a gray dress who was brandishing a baseball bat.

“What are you doing?” the heavyset man whined. “You come into my house, shoot up my guys?”

“I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for your two-timing dame, Skinny,” Nick replied.

“Awww, ashamed you got beat up by a girl?” When the woman, Darla, began to speak, both Hancock and Erica winced. Her voice was like broken glass. Hancock gritted his teeth and reminded himself not to just start shooting these assholes on sight. “And what are these two doing here, huh?” she said, gesturing with her bat at Hancock and Erica.

“We’re the rescue party,” Hancock answered, grinning broadly.

“She don’t look like she could even rescue herself from a rainstorm,” Darla remarked snidely.

“I’m just here for Nick,” Erica said. Hancock was impressed by the strength of her voice and her calm tone. “Why don’t you just let us leave, and we won’t bother you again.”

“Nah,” Skinny Malone said, raising his gun. “I don’t think so.”

Chaos erupted in the small room. Erica quickly ducked down behind a desk, poking her head up periodically to take shots. Hancock whipped around, appearing to dance between triggermen, dropping them quickly with his shotgun, and Nick briefly grappled with the triggerman closest to him before disarming him and turning toward Malone.

Suddenly, Hancock saw two red flowers bloom on Malone’s white shirt, even though Nick was at the wrong angle. Erica? he thought, surprised and pleased. Before he could react any further, though, Darla screeched and, bat raised, made for the desk where Erica was hiding. He’d hoped to not have to kill the woman, but now she left him no choice. He darted toward her, raising his shotgun over his head, and brought it down in a swift, smooth move, cracking her skull. She dropped instantly, and her bat skidded across the room.

Silence fell. Erica stood up from the desk.

“Not looking forward to explaining that to Darla’s parents,” Nick commented.

Hancock shot him a dirty look. “What the hell was I supposed to do?” he asked. “Let her beat Erica into a pulp?”

“I’m not blaming you,” Nick replied. He sighed and turned to Erica. “Want to meet me back at the office? I owe you one, and you can tell me about your case.”

She looked to Hancock. “Is that okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll wait outside again, and then…”

“Then I’ll tell you everything.”

Chapter Text

He couldn’t help feeling a touch of annoyance as he, once again, found himself waiting outside Diamond City, pacing back and forth in the deserted building. In the past few days, he’d spent far too much time this close to this shitty town. Why couldn’t they have talked in Goodneighbor? Nick’s processing unit meant he had a better memory than most folks out there, so Ellie was more for decoration than any real note taking. It wasn’t like it was necessary for he and Erica to meet at his office.

Sure, Erica wasn’t ready to tell him everything yet (but for some reason already trusted Nick enough to tell him even after having the shit scared out of her, he thought with some small amount of bitterness). But he could respect their privacy while she discussed whatever it was she needed Nick for. There was plenty for him to do in Goodneighbor, after all. He could have gone down and had a drink in the Third Rail – or gotten high in his office, for that matter. Anything would be better than sitting out here, smoking in the rubble.

Hadn’t he done a good job so far of proving that he respected her boundaries? He hadn’t been too terribly nosy (he snickered at his own little joke), and he’d stepped back whenever she made it clear that he’d pushed too far with his questions.

He smoked cigarette after cigarette, wrestling with the resentment that burned in his chest. He wasn’t used to feeling like this, and it bothered him. She bothered him. His brain wouldn’t stop chewing over his conversation with Fahrenheit over and over, especially Fahr’s insinuations about his feelings toward Erica. At this point, he was afraid to take a Mentat because he suspected that boosting his brain power would only make it worse.

Ugh. Feelings. When had those ever done anyone any good? He just wasn’t into that shit. But somehow he’d managed to get suckered into this stranger’s weird drama, and as much as he wanted to write it off to his usual ungodly amount of curiosity, it was becoming more and more clear to him that something else was at play here.

But none of it made sense. She wasn’t even attractive… not that he was much to look at either, he thought, chewing on his rough lower lip irritably. But seriously, everything about her screamed disaster, and here he was doing stupid shit like holding her fucking hand. Like she was his goddamn girlfriend or something.

And why had she been terrified of Nick initially but hadn’t given him, a ghoul, a second glance other than to chastise him for killing Finn? She had mentioned that the cowboy guy (Preston, he reminded himself) had said something to her about ghouls, but since when did settlers, even weird cowboy settlers, ever say nice things about ghouls?

Nothing about any of this smelled right. He wanted to just go straight back to Goodneighbor and forget that anything had happened, but he was stuck here in this godforsaken building as though a magnet held him in place. He wanted to know. He had to know. Maybe once his curiosity had been alleviated he could walk away. Maybe.

He lit another cigarette and continued pacing while the day wore on and he waited for her to emerge.

 

 

“About time,” he snarled at her. Judging by the sky, it was late afternoon. He was tired, he was hungry, he had long since run out of cigarettes, and he was bored out of his mind.

She recoiled, a hurt look on her face. “Sorry, there was a lot to figure out. Then that newspaper woman came barging in and wanted to write a story on me…”

“And I bet you told her everything, didn’t you? Every stranger gets Erica’s whole life story but not Hancock, right?” He’d been awake for nearly 24 hours and was feeling nasty, and while a part of him was looking on in horror at the way he was acting, a bigger part felt entirely justified right now.

“No!” Erica said. “I told her to leave me alone! My life isn’t everyone’s business! I don’t need the whole world knowing who I am. Do you think I want to paint a big target on my back? ‘Come kill Erica! She doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing!’ I only told Nick the bare minimum I could get away with so he could get started.”

He glared at her, and then noticed the steaming cup she held in her hands. “What’s that?” he said, coldly.

“I… thought you might be hungry and I wanted to thank you for waiting for me. I didn’t have a lot of caps, but the noodle shop was cheap. I had some and they’re really good.”

He closed his eyes, ashamed of himself. Fucking asshole, he thought. What a piece of shit you are. You’re bitching her out over nothing, and she’s bringing you fucking noodles. You don’t fucking deserve them. She should just dump them out at your feet.

He opened his eyes again and saw a tear slip down her cheek. If he’d been wondering whether it was possible to feel even more like a walking, talking asshole than he already did, well, now he had his answer.

“Fuck,” he said, in a voice more hoarse than usual, covering his face with one hand. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what the fuck is wrong with me. You didn’t deserve that, and I don’t know where the fuck it came from.”

She was silent. He moved his hand to look at her and, in the slowly fading daylight, saw that her eyes had gone flinty. Her face, despite the single tear track on her cheek, was almost unreadable.

“Do you want the noodles or not?” she said, flatly.

“Yeah. Thanks.”

She shoved them at him roughly and then made her way into the building. He sipped at the broth for a few moments before he heard her crying in another room and completely lost his appetite.

Chapter Text

The steam had long since ceased rising from the cup, and he’d given up poking at the now-soggy noodles. The crying had also ceased, first dwindling down into occasional sobs, then hiccups, and now silence.

He didn’t know what to do. There was no denying that a part of him just wanted to cut and run, but he’d drawn that line in the sand years ago, and there was no way he was going to allow himself to fall back into that particular habit and all the bullshit that went with it.

He leaned against the wall with one arm over his face. His face. He could burn away that smug, handsome, unreliable asshole with radiation, but the only thing that had really changed was that he was no longer handsome. He was still a smug, unreliable asshole, and for some reason, people seemed to tolerate it. Usually. He knew that Fahr loved him, but he could still see the caution in her eyes when it came to trusting him. She had a box around her heart with a lock he couldn’t pick. He wondered sometimes what stories her mother had told her about him, but it didn’t really matter, did it? He knew all the shit he’d done, and he couldn’t blame Fahr in the least for her caution. You’d have to be stupid not to be cautious around him, and she definitely was not stupid.

So what about Erica? She didn’t appear to be stupid, but for some reason, she’d trusted him. Why? What reason had he given her to think he was anything other than the shithead he knew himself to be? The first impression he’d made was of a tyrant who killed one of his own damn citizens.

You also provided her with the tools she needed to survive, a small voice reminded him. She knows that she’d be dead if it wasn’t for you. He heaved a sigh and decided he could at least go check on her. He recalled how sneaky she could be when she wanted – hell, she’d managed to pull a book out of the pack while he slept on the damn thing – and it would be just his luck if she’d managed to shimmy through a broken window and disappear into the growing dark.

 

 

 

She had fallen asleep on the concrete floor. The moon was passing overhead and it lit her up like Magnolia’s spotlight. Her mouth turned down in sadness, but he did notice that the dark circles under her eyes were starting to fade. In fact, she looked… younger. Maybe it was just because she was sleeping, but he was convinced that something was different….

Her hair! It was no longer the frizzy mess it had been since he had known her. It now shone in the moonlight and fell in tousled curls around her face. It looked soft and he wanted to touch it, but even as he started reaching out for it, he stopped himself. Silvery threads shot through it, reflecting the light, but she still looked like she’d dropped about twenty years, and he couldn’t take his eyes off of her. How the hell had he missed this when she had gotten back? You know how, that voice in his head told him. You were so damn focused on yourself and your own complaints that you couldn’t even see what was right in front of your face.

He suspected this change had something to do with why she had been gone so long. What had inspired it? She didn’t seem to care what she wore or how she looked before, so why now?

He took off his coat and tucked it around her. Without waking, she pulled it closer to her face, took a deep breath, and then let it out in a ragged sigh that was almost a sob. The sound tore at his heart.

Distant gunshots were the only other sounds as he sat down next to her, ready to wait out the night. A few minutes later, as the moon drifted behind a cloud, he fell asleep.

 

 

He woke to his foot being nudged. As he opened his eyes and blinked blearily, he cursed himself for falling asleep. He looked up to see Erica. She had been kicking at his foot, and was now standing in front of him, arms crossed. His coat was pooled in his lap, and his head was killing him.

“Let’s go,” she said, her voice cold. Her hair was in wild curls around her head from sleeping on it. Even now, it still looked miles better than it had before. In fact, it gave her a wild look that suited her.

“Your hair looks nice,” he said, in an attempt at reconciliation.

She looked confused for a moment and reached up to touch it. “I just wanted to feel like myself again for a moment,” she said, warming slightly. “I know it won’t last, but…” She shook her head, and the coldness settled across her face again. “We need to get going.”

“Where… exactly are we going?” he asked. He wasn’t sure why he was still going anywhere. After last night’s fiasco, he figured that she would probably give him an earful when she woke up, he would try to save face by telling her to fuck off, and they’d both stomp off to their mutual destruction. Alternatively, he could apologize again, she would realize that he just needed a good night’s sleep, and things could go back to… as normal as they got. The current reality didn’t seem to fit with either of these scripts, however, and he wasn’t sure whether he was relieved or worried.

“I promised I’d show you, and I keep my promises. So we’re going. If you can get us to Concord, I can figure out the rest of the way.”

Concord? That wasn’t far at all. Maybe a good day’s walking. Two if they took more frequent breaks, which would probably be the smart thing to do. Once again, more questions had been raised than answered, but at least if they were traveling together he could have another chance at making things right.

“Concord it is, then,” he said. “Let’s head out.”

Chapter Text

They’d been walking in silence for most of the day, and Hancock couldn’t take it anymore. Even when they had stopped a couple times to eat, they had sat in silence, hers stony, his bemused. He knew he’d fucked up, but how long was she going to keep punishing him? And why was he apparently going along with it?

It was time to break the silence.

“We’re coming up on Lexington now,” he said, his voice sounding excessively loud to his own ears after not saying anything else all day. “It’ll be better to try to go around than to go through. I don’t come this way often, but I’ve been told that it’s absolutely crawling with raiders and ferals.” She had stopped and was looking at him, her face completely devoid of expression. “We’re better off swinging to the north,” he continued. “We can make camp tonight at the old theater, and then we should hit Concord before noon tomorrow.”

Her mouth was pulled to the side, and her lips were pursed. He was glad to see that she was at least considering his recommendation. Hopefully she wouldn’t disregard it just to be contrary.

After what seemed like an age, she sighed. “Fine,” she said. “Lead the way.”

Halle-fucking-lujah. She’d actually spoken to him! It was small progress, but he’d take it.

 

 

 

The screen of the theater cast its shadow across the rusted cars scattered over the grounds, and the setting sun’s reflection created sharp spikes of light in the broken glass. Each spike seemed directly aimed at his eyes, and he winced and squinted in discomfort.

“There,” he said, pointing at a place where the overhang of the broken down snack bar created a strange sort of lean-to. “We can build a fire and have some kind of roof over our heads. I’ll take first watch.”

She hadn’t said another word since agreeing to head in this direction, and he was exhausted and irritated. He was determined to keep his tongue and not lash out at her, however, and he hoped she was as tired as he was so she would just go to sleep. She’d started limping again a couple hours ago and their pace had slowed to just above a crawl, so he suspected that was probably the case. She slowly made her way over to the area beneath the overhang and groaned as she let the pack fall to the ground.

He started scavenging around for anything they could burn for a fire, preferably one with minimal smoke since they didn’t really need to announce their presence to the entire Commonwealth. Before jumping the counter of the snack bar, he leaned over and scanned around for any traps or vermin that had already made this place home. It seemed clear, so he swung his legs over and jumped in. The place had been picked over pretty well, but he did find a couple cans of cram and a warm Nuka-Cola. He grimaced. These would be fine for him, but he didn’t want to wake up to Erica puking again.

He also found a wooden chair that would work well as kindling. If he smashed that and then pulled down some of the dead branches from the trees near the rusted-out chain link fence, they would probably be in pretty good shape. He could even try cooking up the cram and see if that would work for her.

Sudden loud snarls followed by Erica’s high pitched shriek and a gunshot pulled him out of his thoughts. He whirled around to see her on the ground on her backside, frantically scooting herself away from three molerats. One of the molerats had a bleeding leg and was limping. She took two more shots, but in her panic, they went wild, and the molerats descended on her.

He dropped the cans of cram and vaulted over the counter to get to her. Turning his shotgun around, he swung it by the barrel, connecting directly with the head of one of the molerats with a sickening crunch. The rat fell, legs twitching. A pool of red was starting to spread around Erica and he hoped, horrified, that most of the blood was from the rat she had managed to shoot.

He grabbed the injured molerat by its tail and pulled it off her. She took advantage of the distance his action provided and shot it point blank in the head. The last rat had her leg, though, and started shaking her like he’d once seen a mongrel dog shake a bird it had caught. She shrieked in pain, and he dropped the dead rat in his hand and swung his shotgun again since he couldn’t risk taking a shot this close. He felt the molerat’s spine snap, and Erica howled, a horrible sound to his ears. The rat spasmed, and he kicked it away. It twitched a couple times before finally dying.

He fell to his knees next to Erica and quickly assessed the situation. Her leg was mangled, and she also had a nasty bite on her forearm. Her breaths were quick and shallow, and her eyes were only half open.

“Fuck!” he growled as he grabbed the pack and rummaged through it. He yanked out a couple stimpaks as well as a shirt and some Med-X from his own personal stash. Before doing anything else, though, he had to slow down the bleeding. He wrapped the shirt around her thigh, just above the torn skin and muscle, and tied it into a knot to make a tourniquet. He then injected one of the stimpaks and watched carefully to see if another was needed in that area.

With all the blood, it was difficult to see how effective the stimpak had been. He grabbed a can of water from the pack, popped the tab, and poured it gently over the injured area. Erica cried out and swung her uninjured arm around wildly. He caught it with the hand that wasn’t holding the can of water, and held it to his chest to prevent her from hurting either herself or him. Her breath hitched, and she moaned. The good news was that the stim appeared to be working, and he could see the flesh repairing itself, although he knew that she was likely to always have a ragged scar there.

“Erica, can you hear me?” he said in a low tone. Her eyes fluttered open and looked around wildly for a second before spotting him. She narrowed her eyes for a moment, as if remembering that she was supposed to be mad at him, but then the fire went out of them. She grimaced, locking eyes with him and nodding. “I need to stimpak your arm still, and you’ve lost a lot of blood, but the worst is over. I’m gonna give you some Med-X. It’ll help with the pain, but it’ll make you kinda loopy. You okay with that?” Her gaze was locked on his, and she nodded again.

He used his teeth to uncap the syringe and, using a practiced technique, injected the drug into a vein in the arm he was holding. He watched her carefully to see how she responded. Her eyes glazed over, and he felt her body go limp.

Letting out the breath he didn’t realize he had been holding, he tried to set her arm down across her chest. Her hand grasped at his coat and clenched on the fabric.

“I ain’t going anywhere,” he said quietly. Her hand relaxed, but didn’t let go of the fabric.

Chapter Text

With Hancock standing watch, Erica finally fell into an actual sleep rather than a drugged haze. Her hand started to slide from his coat, and he caught it and gently placed it on her chest. 

While she slept, he stayed busy, occasionally huffing a bit of jet to keep him moving and not thinking too hard. Daisy had packed the bag with fast getaways in mind, not overnight stays and long journeys. He regretted the lack of any type of bedroll for Erica but, as he so often did, figured he could make due with what he had. 

First things first, he had to deal with the mess around her. He didn’t want to disturb her, but he also didn’t want her lying in a pool of blood and water, especially as the air cooled down. He looked longingly at the snack bar. He had seen stairs going up while he was briefly inside, but he was hesitant to leave her alone for even a minute. If there were any more, they would have already been drawn in by all the blood, he thought. Still, he hated to risk it.

Finally, he made up his mind to make a quick run. He jumped back over the snack bar and started toward the stairs. Halfway up the stairs, his eyes caught the flashing of an armed mine moments before he stepped on it, and his heart nearly stopped. He wasn’t entirely sure whether ghouls could actually die of heart attacks, but he would be perfectly happy not to find out. He lowered his foot, carefully, and eased his way around the mine without disturbing it and setting it off. Don’t forget that’s there when you go back down, he thought to himself with a grimace. Last thing either of you need is for you to blow off your fucking foot.

When he got to the upper floor, he nearly cheered in delight when he saw the sleeping bag. He grabbed it and exited down the collapsed roof.

Before moving Erica, however, there was the matter of her soaked and destroyed pants. Hoping she wouldn’t decide to just murder him in the morning, he decided to leave them on and remove only the thrashed pant leg. The injury was just above her knee, and he thanked whoever (or whatever) might be listening that only the soft tissue had been affected. If the goddamn molerat had gotten a hold of her joint instead, they might have had real trouble on their hands. His basic first aid skills were up to snuff, but he knew perfectly well that he didn’t have the knowledge to properly set a crushed kneecap.

He used his dagger to carefully cut the pant leg off just above the injury. While he was tempted to wad it up and throw it away, he rolled it up instead to pack later. If they found some running water, he could wash the blood out of it (mostly) and repair the pants. Waste not, want not. He couldn’t help but notice Erica’s thin and pale leg. Like her face, her leg had that same strange loose skin, especially on the visible part of the thigh. He wondered over it some more, but decided that thinking too hard about Erica’s legs was probably a bad idea at the moment.

Especially since he was going to have to try to transfer Erica without waking her.

He laid out the sleeping bag closer to the entrance to the diner, away from the pool of blood, and then considered his options. Fuck it, he thought, and crouched over her, sliding one arm under her legs and the other under her back, just below her shoulders. He stood up and marveled over how slight she was… and how nice she felt in his arms. She cried out in her sleep, and he froze for a moment, instinctively clutching her closer to his chest. Her head lolled against his shoulder and she sighed, settling back into sleep again. He could feel her warm breath against his neck and was tempted to just sit down with her and hold her like this for the rest of the night. You got shit to do, man, he reprimanded himself. Get a grip, wouldja?

He carefully laid her out on the sleeping bag. She muttered something in her sleep that he couldn’t make out, and he held still. Her head moved from side to side a few times as if she were saying no to something, and he saw a tear slip from her closed eyes. His heart clenched. What secrets was she holding? He knew he would, hopefully, find out tomorrow, but he worried. There was a reason why she had kept them to herself, and while his curiosity burned, he didn’t want to her to be hurt in the telling either. 

Once again, he removed his coat and covered her with it. May as well just give her the damn thing, a snide voice that sounded remarkably like Fahrenheit said in his head. He rolled his pitch black eyes and tried ignore it.

 

 

When Erica woke late the next morning, he had one of the molerats sizzling as he carefully rotated it on a makeshift spit over a fire. He knew she wasn’t keen on the idea of eating rat, but it actually wasn’t that bad, and it wasn’t like they had a vending machine full of options. He had kicked two of the rats off behind the snack bar but decided to butcher and dress this one for breakfast. He hadn’t slept a wink and was mostly running on Mentats and jet at this point, but he couldn’t risk falling asleep while she was injured and doped up on Med-X. Especially not while they were out in the open. He didn’t have a death wish, after all… at least, not today.

He saw her sit up on her elbows, his coat sliding down to pool around her waist. She blinked blearily, casting her gaze around before spotting him. He moved the rat back from the fire just a bit so it wouldn’t burn before moving closer to her and kneeling.

“Hey, sunshine,” he said in a soft voice. “How’s your leg?”

She looked at him, confused, for a moment before moving his coat away and staring at the angry red scar tissue on her thigh. “I guess it’s better,” she said, her voice scratchy with sleep. She cleared her throat and checked her arm, which was in better shape than her leg, then noticed that her pants leg was missing. “You… cut off the pants leg? But left the pants on?”

He gave her a sideways grin. “Most ladies don’t much like it when you take off their clothes without their say-so,” he said. “I figured this would be the best solution. I saved the leg, though, so we can fix them later.”

She sighed. “Yeah, not like Levi’s is still pumping out pairs of jeans,” she said, a statement that made no sense to him whatsoever. She patted the fabric beneath her. “Where did you find the sleeping bag?”

“I poked around in the upstairs part of the snack bar. Got lucky.” He turned back to the rat on the spit. “Speaking of snacks…”

Her eyes followed him. “Nope. No way. I’m not eating that… thing. It’s not happening.” She crossed her arms, pulled a disgusted face, and looked away. 

“Look, the only other thing I got is a can of cram and some Nuka-Cola. You gotta eat something, especially since your leg needs to heal. I’m pretty sure you’d rather eat something that you didn’t have to puke up later.”

Her face and hands both clenched and he gave her a moment to argue with herself. He wasn’t going to force her to eat, but he hoped she would come to the right decision on her own.

“I don’t think I can… I think I would puke that up later anyway,” she said faintly. “It’s… like a giant… rat. How can you eat that?”

“Hey, the wasteland provides, sister. You gotta make the best of it. And really, in the scheme of things, it’s actually pretty good. It ain’t brahmin steak, but it’s a hell of a lot better than bloatfly and radroach.”

“You… eat the giant bugs?” she asked. He thought her face might be turning green.

“If I gotta,” he said, matter-of-factly. He sliced off a piece of the meat, which was nicely roasted with a good char along the outside. He didn’t want to brag, but he was pleased with the butchering and cooking job he had done, especially considering the limited resources. If she didn’t eat, he thought he just might feel a bit insulted.

He had pulled a mostly intact hubcap off one of the rustbuckets dotting the property and scoured it clean with some purified water and a spare sock from the pack, and now he served the slice of roasted meat to Erica with a flair. “Voila,” he said, grinning, the arm not holding the meat tucked behind his back like in a picture he had seen in an old book.

She started to turn her face away, and then he heard her stomach growl. His grin widened. She looked back at the meat, longing mixed with disgust in her face (he knew that look well, sad to say). He handed her a fork, and she looked up at him. No longing in this look, but no disgust either. Just hope for reassurance.

“Trust me,” he said softly.

“It’s hard,” she replied, just above a whisper. He knew she wasn’t just talking about the decision as to whether or not to eat roasted molerat, but then, he hadn’t been either.

He nodded. “I know.”

She searched his eyes for a few moments before taking the offered dish.

Chapter Text

“Are you able to put weight on it yet?” he asked, helping her to her feet. She tottered for a moment, testing the leg then experimentally shifting her weight.

“Yeah, I… ow! Okay, not all the way.” She sighed. “How much farther is it to Concord from here?”

“It ain’t too far, maybe an hour or two, but we ain’t going anywhere until you can actually walk.” He eyed her up and down in an exaggerated gesture. “I’m tough, but I ain’t carrying you to Concord.”

She rewarded him with a half smile and a small snort. “I’m not asking you to carry me anywhere,” she retorted. “But it’s frustrating as hell to be so close.”

You’re telling me, he thought. He wanted his information, but there was no question that her safety was more important. He had actually considered the idea of carrying her, piggy back style, but decided that they would be in deep shit if they got caught by raiders… or anything worse.

“I guess we’ll hole up here for another day,” he said, trying to keep his own frustration out of his voice. He helped guide her back down to the sleeping bag. “Did you want to change into the spare pants? I was thinking I’d try to wash those up and then repair them.”

She considered for a moment. “Yeah, I guess so.” She pulled the extra pair out of the pack and sat with them awkwardly in her lap for a moment. “Uh… do you mind… turning around?”

He chuckled and obliged. While she changed, he scanned the horizon for any potential threats and opportunities. If they were going to spend the day – and another night – here, he wanted to find them something else to eat. Once she’d taken a bite, she’d eaten the rest of the slice of molerat without complaint, but there wasn’t that much meat on the damn things to start with, and the other two had laid out in the sun for several hours now. He hoped they could leave tomorrow, before they started smelling ripe.

“Ow!” she cried out, and he whirled around, catching her half in and half out of the new pair of pants with a startled look on her face. “Hey!” she said in indignation.

“Sorry, sorry!” He turned back around, grinning. “Thought something else might be sneaking up on you.”

“No…” she said. “Just… tricky maneuvering with this stupid leg.” He heard a button snap and a zipper zip. “Okay, I’m decent now.”

He turned around. “You were pretty decent before, too,” he said with a grin, waggling his hairless eyebrows like some kind of old-time comedian. She raised her own eyebrows before wadding up the other pair of pants and throwing them at him with an annoyed look on her face. He couldn’t help but note the sparkle in her gray eyes and the small flush in her cheeks, though.

 

 

 

The sun was starting to set, and she was curled up in the sleeping bag, working on her book from Daisy when he returned from his small excursion. He thought about commenting on the fact that she didn’t exactly look like she was on alert, but decided now probably wasn’t the time. He didn’t feel like treating himself to another helping of her silent treatment.

After sleeping for a few hours while she stood guard, he’d left her in charge of their campsite while he went scavving in search of some food and running water. He was pleased to find a room behind the large screen where someone had clearly lived in the not-so-distant past, and he raided the shelves for the canned goods and water. Better yet, he found a bottle of bourbon that he thought they could share after dinner if she was up for it.

A short walk led him to a river, and he did his best to get the blood and grime out of the pants and the torn-up, detached leg. He resigned himself to the fact that they would always be stained, but at least they could be serviceable again. And, he thought, maybe they would make her look slightly more dangerous to anyone they ran across who wasn’t in a friendly kind of mood.

He stretched out the pants by the small fire so that they could dry for a bit before he set to repairing them and got to work fixing some kind of dinner. Erica watched him for a moment before setting her book aside.

“Here, let me do that,” she said. “You’ve done enough for me already today.”

He looked at her in surprise. “You sure?”

“Yeah, my leg’s actually doing quite a bit better now,” she said. “Look.” She proceeded to demonstrate a squatting motion with only a little bit of a wince and hesitation. “I think I’ll be good to go first thing tomorrow morning.” She gave him a genuine smile that showed her startlingly white teeth.

He smiled back in response and scooted to the side as she approached the fire and cautiously knelt next to it. He’d found a few cans of vegetables as well as some potted meat that wasn’t cram, and she turned the cans over in her hands. “I always hated canned veggies,” she said. “Never tasted anything like straight from the garden.” She had a faraway look on her face. “I miss my mom’s garden. I used to go over there sometimes in the afternoons with…” She shook her head as if banishing a thought. “We’d pick ourselves a salad and just gorge on the fresh tomatoes and green beans.”

He didn’t know what either of those were. Tomatoes… was that like a tato? He knew what a silt bean was, but not a green bean. Always more questions…

“Can I use your knife real quick?” she asked. He passed it over to her, curious as to what she was going to do. She turned it over in her hands, then used it to pry open the cans. Using the hubcap that had served as a plate last night, she dumped the cans together and mixed the carrots and corn and then diced up the canned meat before tossing it in with the veggies. She then set the hubcap and the makeshift stew it contained on the coals of the fire to cook. Hancock nodded in approval.

“Not bad, sister,” he said. “You’re starting to handle yourself pretty well.”

“I’m a fairly quick study,” she said with a sideways smile. “Just never thought wilderness survival was going to be my major.”

 

 

 

The stew had turned out pretty good, the salt from the meat spreading throughout the dish to provide seasoning without becoming overpowering, and they relaxed after dinner, satisfied. Hancock noted that Erica looked particularly pleased with herself, and he was happy to see it.

“Almost forgot,” he said and from his coat, he produced the bottle of bourbon he had scrounged. He twisted off the cap, breaking the seal, and took a hefty swig. It wasn’t as good as it was at the Third Rail and there was no ice to be found, but he still appreciated the way it burned on the way down. He held the bottle out to Erica with his eyebrows raised. She chewed her upper lip for a moment before taking the bottle. She looked at the label and back up at him.

“Never been much of a bourbon drinker,” she said. “Or hard liquor in general, for that matter. More of a beer and wine girl.”

He shrugged. “Hey, you don’t want it, that means more for me.”

She smirked and then stared right at him as she took a huge slug from the bottle. It was too much for her to swallow at once, and he laughed as she sat there, cheeks puffed out, swallowing repeatedly until all the liquid was finally gone. She coughed before taking a huge breath and, laughing, wiping away the tears that had started streaming down her face. He could hear their combined laughter reverberating around the open space of the theater and worried, just for a moment, that someone or something would hear them and come investigate, but he brushed off the worry by retrieving the bottle and taking another sip.

She reached out for the bottle again, and it wasn’t long before they had polished the whole thing off. Thanks to his ghoulish body, he was only pleasantly buzzed, but he could tell that Erica was full on drunk. She got up and meandered crookedly across the campsite to the sleeping bag, picked up her book, and wove her way back to where he was sitting by the fire. Dropping down next to him, she leaned back until her head was in his lap. He froze, not even breathing, as she picked up the book and turned to the last few pages.

“How can you read like that?” he asked. He wasn’t sure if he meant the position she was in, with the book held above her head, or drunk.

“I used to drink while I studied,” she said, a slight slur blurring the edges of her words. “I dunno… It seemed to help me retain it. Makes no sense, but there you go.” It wasn’t long, though, before the book rested on her chest and she stared straight up into the night sky. 

Slowly, hesitantly, Hancock brought his hand to her head and placed it on her temple. The curls were regressing back into frizz, but her hair was as soft as he had imagined. She closed her eyes. He didn’t move his hand.

“Can I… can I ask you a question?” he said.

She didn’t open her eyes, but her breathing paused for a moment. “You can,” she said. “I might not answer it though.”

“I just wondered… you were terrified of Nick when you met him, but I’m just as messed up as he is and you’ve never seemed afraid of me. Why?”

She was silent for a bit, and for a moment, he thought that she wouldn’t answer the question. Finally, she spoke. “Preston told me about ghouls. He said that you were basically just people, so there’s that. When I first got to your town, I was so tired from sneaking around and hiding that I was just relieved. Then you killed that guy right in front of me and I was just pissed.” She was quiet for a moment. “Then you gave me those clothes and came with me, and Daisy looks like you and was so sweet… I guess I didn’t really ever have a chance to stop to think about it. If I’d run into you in a dark alleyway, I guess it’d be different, but now… you’re just you.”

He nodded thoughtfully. “I’m sorry I yelled at you the other day when you got back. You know that, right? And I won’t do it again.”

This time she opened his eyes and looked up, right at him. While her cheeks bloomed red from the liquor, her eyes were completely sober. “No, you won’t. I left that part behind, too. Nobody is going to talk to me like that ever again. Don’t test me on it.” She looked back up at the stars. “It’s about the only good thing about any of this. That part is done.”

Chapter Text

As they approached the crumbling remains of Concord, Hancock turned to Erica. “You’re about to take over as tour guide on this particular fever trip,” he said. “Do we go through Concord or around?”

She considered for a moment, chewing on her lower lip. “Preston and the rest of them got chased out of Concord by raiders, apparently, and barely got away, plus the old lady was going on about something even worse in the city. She’s crazy and high all the time to boot, but I don’t think she was just making that stuff up. We’ll definitely want to go around.”

Hancock pretended to be mildly offended. “Hey, you know, I’m high all the time, too.”

Erica smiled. “Yup, and you’re crazy. But you generally know what you’re talking about, just like her. I now live in a world where the people who are high and crazy are the ones who are the most trustworthy. Unless, of course, they’re the ones trying to kill you. Go figure.”

“How much farther are we going once we get past Concord, smarty pants?”

“Not much. We’re heading to a little neighborhood on the western outskirts.”

He was happy to hear that they had almost arrived and practically had a spring in his step. Erica was walking pretty well today, too. The day off to heal had done her a world of good, and she had even managed to wake up without a hangover. The dark circles under her eyes were almost completely faded, and she looked healthier than he’d ever seen her.

They hadn’t talked about the fact that she had fallen asleep with her head in his lap or that he had stroked her hair for nearly an hour before finally moving her to the sleeping bag (not that she would know about that part, he thought). Things seemed fairly good between the two of them for the time being, and he wanted to keep it that way.

They kept to the outskirts of the former city with Erica consulting the remaining street signs for guidance. Finally, they hit upon a road that led up a hill out of town. “This is it,” she said. “Just a little bit more now.”

 

 

 

As they crossed the rickety bridge into the destroyed neighborhood, he heard barking behind him. He and Erica both whirled around, guns at the ready, to see a dog trotting up without an ounce of fear or aggression. Its tail wagged, and it stayed back as if it felt their concern and wanted to communicate that it wasn’t anything to be afraid of. Hancock slowly lowered his shotgun and studied the creature with curiosity.

Unlike the other dogs he’d seen out in the wastelands, this one looked to be in remarkably good health. Its coat wasn’t the least bit patchy, and it wasn’t skin and bones like the other mutts he’d seen. Judging by the way it held back and didn’t come charging at them, it also seemed a lot smarter.

Hancock glanced at Erica and was startled by the look on her face. Her eyes were shining, and her mouth was open in wonder. “It’s a German shepherd!” she said in delight, once again making no sense at all. He recalled from books he’d read that German referred to a country that had once existed across the ocean and a shepherd used to tend some kind of animal that had died out after the bombs, but the two words together and used, apparently, to describe the dog held no context for him.

She looked back and forth between him and the dog and then, unexpectedly, crouched down and put her hand out toward the dog. He tensed up and raised his shotgun again slightly. She made a shushing noise and waved her other hand at him, and he stepped back in confusion. What was she doing?

The dog appeared to know, even if he didn’t. It cautiously approached Erica, sniffing the air as it did so.

“Hey boy,” she said in a low, soothing tone of voice, as if she were speaking to a young child. “You’re okay, you’re a good boy.”

The dog whined and then, as if the whole thing couldn’t get any stranger, actually appeared to smile at Erica with its tongue lolling out. She was beaming from ear to ear, the happiest he had ever seen her (and did that sting, just a little bit?), and he saw tears shining in her eyes.

Moving slowly, the dog came up to Erica and sniffed her hand before suddenly jumping toward her and licking her face. His heart leapt into his throat and he quickly raised his shotgun again, but was stopped by Erica’s laughter. She looked up at him and must have seen the confusion written all over his face because she stood up, with one hand on the dog’s head, gently rubbing between its ears.

“I guess I have a dog again,” she said and then turned around and continued over the bridge, the dog trotting at her side. Hancock stood there for a moment, dumbfounded, then jogged a bit to catch up to her.

 

 

 

She stood in the middle of the street in front of a dilapidated blue house. Unlike some of the other houses on the street, it was mostly still standing. Some houses were nothing but piles of rubble on top of their foundations, and most of those still standing were currently occupied, but this one remained deserted. A man bent over a workstation who matched the description of the mechanic had stood up and waved to Erica as they walked past, but he hadn’t caught sight of the cowboy, Preston, yet. He kind of hoped he would. He had a few choice words for the man.

Her hand rested on the dog’s head, and her face had gone pale and drawn. He eyed her uneasily, unsure what to do. As they stood there, a woman with dark hair and angry eyes approached them. She looked Hancock up and down with a moue of disgust, and then turned to Erica. 

“You’re back,” the angry-looking woman said. “I figured you’d be dead right now.” She sounded as if she were accusing Erica of something, perhaps of having the nerve to be here and alive and proving her wrong.

“To be fair, Marcy, so did I,” Erica replied, not looking at the woman, her voice sounding far away.

The woman, Marcy, glanced at the house. “Preston said no one should move in there. So I guess it’s still yours.” She looked at Hancock once more. “I don’t know if your… friend… should stay here, though.”

This caught Erica’s attention, and she turned toward Marcy with a hard look in her eyes. “I didn’t realize you had appointed yourself head of the welcoming committee, Marcy,” she snapped. “Maybe you should go find something else to do.”

Marcy drew her mouth into a tight line. “Oh, don’t worry, I will,” she said, and she stalked off.

Hancock reached out and lightly touched Erica’s shoulder. “You okay, sister?” he asked, his voice soft.

“No,” she said. “But let’s get this over with.”

Chapter Text

I guess it’s still yours.

Those words from the woman with the shitty attitude rang through Hancock’s mind as he stepped into the house that had, at least at one point, been Erica’s. He paused in the doorway and looked around at the demolished living room and kitchen. Some signs of life were noticeable, such as a box filled with empty cans neatly tucked into a corner and a ratty blanket thrown over the back of the torn up sofa, but mostly it looked the same as every other deserted old house he’d ever scavenged or crashed in. The air felt and smelled stale, and he detected the faintest hint of rot.

Erica had led the way and stood in the middle of the living room, head down, rubbing her arms like she was cold. The dog stood next to her, looking up at her and wagging its tail uncertainly, as if expecting her to tell it to get out.

A clanking and huffing sound heralded the arrival of, sure enough, a Mr. Handy from the hallway. Hancock was surprised to find that he’d actually been correct in that particular prediction, even though he’d completely missed the mark on so many others.

“Miss Erica,” the robot proclaimed in the British accent that was the hallmark of this particular make and model. “You’re back!” It turned and the sensors on its eyestalks dilated as it assessed Hancock, who felt judged by the machine. “And you’ve brought a guest, I see. No luck on the search for Sir or young Shaun, then?” Hancock raised his eyebrows. She wasn’t looking for a what, he thought with some concern. She was looking for a who – two whos.

“Not much luck yet, Codsworth,” she answered. “But I might have a lead.” She sighed. “Can you… go out for a bit? I want some privacy right now.”

The Mr. Handy considered Hancock for a moment, almost as if it wanted to challenge her definition of privacy, and then gave what appeared to be an obsequious bow with its eyestalks before floating out the door.

“Sorry about that,” Erica said in a low voice. “There are some things… Codsworth isn’t willing to accept just yet. Come on.” She headed down the hall.

Hancock peeked into the shattered, unusable bathroom as they passed, as well as the small room that still housed a washer and dryer. Whoever had lived here before the war had been in pretty good shape financially. He wondered at what point Erica had found this house and claimed it as her own. It must have been deserted when she found it, which was kind of surprising considering that…

His thoughts were interrupted by his view of the next room in the hallway. An ancient crib with a broken mobile suspended above it told tragic story. His heart ached for the family that had lived here. He’d seen the same story played out all across the city and the Commonwealth, but somehow it was always so much more sad when there was evidence of all the children whose lives had been cut so short by the bombs.

Erica walked straight past that room and into a room that had once been a bedroom. The mattress of the large bed was long gone, and the frame itself had been torn to pieces at some point, but other items and furniture remained, surprisingly untouched by raiding. She walked over to the wall where the window had been and looked out at the street, hands clasped behind her back. Hancock meandered into the room, wondering at what point she was actually going to start telling him what was going on.

He gazed about, and his eye fell on the frames that stood on the rickety, broken dresser next to him. He picked up the frame closest to him and studied the image within it.

It was a photo of a prewar couple, perhaps on their wedding day. The man was dressed in a military-style uniform. His dark hair was short, cut close to the scalp, and he stared straight into the camera without a smile, arms at his sides.

The woman who stood next to him was far more interesting. Her hair was dark and fell gently to her shoulders in a curly style that he’d seen before in prewar photos. Her face and body were softly rounded, something that you hardly ever saw in the wasteland, where every day was a fight for survival. The white dress she wore clung to her curved hips in an intriguing way, and she held a bouquet of flowers.

Something about the woman seemed familiar, particularly the slight smile, which didn’t quite reach the eyes nearly hidden behind heavy-framed glasses, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

He set the photo back down and glanced at the other frame. This one contained some kind of faded and yellowed document that must have been important at one point:

 

Suffolk County School of Law 

on the recommendation of the faculty and trustees

confers upon

Erica Rose Kelly 

the degree of 

Juris Doctor 

along with all rights and privileges thereunto appertaining

given this Twentieth day of May 2068

 

His brow furrowed and he glanced at Erica, who still stood with her back to him. The dog had come into the room and was gazing up at Erica in an adoring fashion. Still holding the frame with the document, he turned his eyes back to the photo.

And then, without the help of Mentats, the pieces came together with an almost audible click.

He knew those eyes. He knew that hair.

Oh god, the child’s bedroom.

His own eyes widened in horror. This time when he looked up at Erica, he noticed that her shoulders were moving, just slightly, and he could hear her ragged breathing.

He stumbled over the broken bed frame to reach her and put his hand on her shoulder. She turned to face him, fear written across her tearstained face.

There was only one question. “How?” he asked, his voice nearly a croak.

“The tour isn’t over yet,” she said, her breath hitching. “There’s more to show you.” His eyes were drawn over her shoulder, almost against his will, to the deserted bedroom across the hallway.

“A child?” he asked.

She nodded and covered her face as fresh tears rolled down her cheeks and a rending sob, filled with misery like he’d never heard before, tore out of her.

He put his arms around her and held her while she shook with sobs, his heart breaking and his head spinning. He’d expected answers, but now he only had more questions.

 

 

 

Erica was out of breath after the hike up the hill past the neighborhood, but he didn’t think it was just the walk that was causing her shallow breathing. Her eyes were darting everywhere, and every little sound was making her jump. He’d never seen her so on edge, and he didn’t know what he could possible do to help calm her. The dog might have helped, but she had told it to sit and stay at the front door of the house, and it had done exactly that.

At the top of the hill, a torn-up and rusted chain link fence, several skeletons, and abandoned trailers guarded a cog-shaped platform.

A vault.

Oh Vault-Tec, you bastards, what the fuck did you do? he thought, his jaw clenching.

She took his hand and led him onto the platform. With her eyes to the southern horizon, she pressed a button on a panel next to the platform. He felt the earth beneath his feet tremble. A grinding noise filled the air, and he started a bit as they began moving downward.

He’d never suffered from claustrophobia, but now threads of it competed with his sanity as they left the surface behind and descended into the darkness. He certainly hadn’t felt like this down in the abandoned subway station where they had found Nick. He knew that they were entering a whole new realm of depravity, and part of him wanted to run before he found out the entire truth. He was scared to death of what he was going to learn when they reached the bottom.

 

 

 

 

Finally, finally, the platform came to a stop. Hancock breathed a huge sigh of relief… and instantly regretted it. The air was foul, heavy and reeking of death and mildew. He coughed the breath back out and lit a cigarette to try to replace the corrupted air in his lungs with something a bit more tolerable.

Erica moved off the platform slowly, almost seeming to glide, like a ghost. He followed as she walked across the scaffolding to a control panel just like the one they’d seen before when rescuing Nick.

No wonder she knew how to open it, he thought.

A skeleton lay on the ground next to the panel, almost reaching out toward a Pip-Boy. Erica squatted down next to it and picked up the device, gently brushing away the dust that coated the screen.

“I didn’t take it with me,” she said. “I didn’t want any reminders from here.” She swallowed and then handed it to Hancock. “I still don’t want it.”

“These things are really valuable and useful,” he said, quietly. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure,” she said. “Maybe we can sell it to Daisy.”

He looked at it, unsure. He decided that he’d figure out what to do about it later, but for now, he strapped it to his wrist for safekeeping. It immediately started to beep angrily, and he looked at the screen, bemused. The damn thing was trying to measure his rad levels, which were, of course, off the chart. He chuckled humorlessly and took it off. They’d left the pack back at the house, so he would just hold it for now.

They walked further into the vault.

“The bombs had just dropped and everything was chaos,” Erica said softly. “But down here, things were running smoothly. Everyone was calm. We were terrified, but that helped, a little.”

“Wait…” he said. “You were there? When the bombs dropped?”

“Yeah.” Her eyes had that distant look in them. “One detonated to the south… I’m not sure where. Maybe down past Natick? We saw the cloud just as we were being lowered into the vault. It felt like my heart stopped.” He’d heard some stories from a few of the pre-war ghouls, but most of their memories of the actual day the bombs had dropped were hazy, blurred by the passage of two centuries. She told it as if it had happened yesterday.

They continued on, walking past skeletons and almost perfectly preserved corpses of radroaches.

He glanced through a window into another room as they were walking by and, doing a double take, stopped short. His jaw dropped in horror as his brain tried to register what he was seeing. Rows of pods, each one containing what was obviously a dead human being. How? How? How? The word rang through his brain like an air raid siren.

He looked at her and saw that she had stopped and was waiting for him. Her face revealed nothing; it was completely expressionless. This wasn’t the blankness of the silent treatment, though. It seemed more of a protective kind of lack of emotion, like if she allowed herself to feel something, anything, her sanity might be carried away in a moment.

He swallowed hard and continued walking past the window. Leaving that hallway, she led him down another corridor, this one lined with those same pods. Just like in the room they had passed, each pod held a dead person.

When they reached the end of the row of pods, she stopped in front of one that was open. His foot crunched down on something. Lifting it up, he saw a shattered pair of dark-framed glasses, similar to those in the photo on the dresser. He looked at her guiltily, but she shrugged.

“They were already broken,” she said. She turned to the open pod. “This one was mine.”

He looked at her, barely understanding what she was saying.

“What… what are they?” he finally asked.

“They’re cryopods,” she said. “Vault-Tec froze us that day, minutes after we got here.”

She turned and crossed the aisle to the pod directly across from the open one. Unlike the other pods, this one still functioned, the man inside it frozen, but he could see that this one had been killed by a gunshot directly to the head.

“Hancock, I want you to meet someone. This is Nathan. My husband.”

Chapter Text

It was the man from the photo.

He was older, he'd grown a stubbly beard, and his hair was longer and flopped over his forehead, but there was no mistaking him. Funny, he thought, considering how Erica was damn near unrecognizable in that photo.

The man looked angry, which Hancock supposed was unsurprising considering the massive injury in the side of his head.

Hancock turned to Erica, who was staring at the man in the pod with an expression that was hard to decipher. It certainly wasn’t the unbound grief she had shown at Hancock’s mention of the missing child. It was more like distaste, relief, and a hint of regret combined into some sort of inelegant stew.

“When we ran for the bombs,” Erica said, “Nate grabbed Shaun. So he was holding him when we got into the pods. If I’d had any hint that we were getting in for more than a brief decontamination – that was what they told us, that they were decontamination chambers – I would have taken him with me instead. It’s so crazy to realize how that one tiny moment determined every single thing that came after.”

Hancock was quiet and just let Erica talk. While his curiosity was well beyond sated and everything that had come past that moment of shocking realization was like a bad trip, he knew that Erica had to draw out this particularly poisonous splinter.

“I don’t know how long we were frozen before the scientists and the man with the scar came. They unfroze us and opened up the pod with Nate and Shaun. It was obvious that they knew exactly who they were looking for. I was still locked in and all I could do was watch while they stole my son and killed my husband.” She was quiet for a moment. “He was a shitty husband but… I never wanted him dead.” She whispered the last part. Hancock raised his eyebrows.

“Then they refroze us,” she continued. “And one day, everything failed and I unfroze but everyone else was already dead. And there I was, stuck in this… tomb… no idea how much time had passed, no idea what had happened to the world. But I had to get out.” She shivered, and her eyes were vague, unfocused behind her glasses. “There were… those giant fucking bugs. And the whole thing felt like a nightmare but oh god it was real. It’s still real and sometimes I just can’t even believe it, that this is life now.” She was shaking and her breath had become ragged, and Hancock realized that they had to get out of here, for both of their sakes.

“Let’s go back to the house,” he said quietly. “You can tell me as much or as little as you want, but let’s get out of here.”

She nodded and allowed him to take her by the elbow and gently guide her back the way they had come. As they moved away from Nate’s pod, a glint of light sparked up from the floor and caught Hancock’s eye. He glanced down and saw a woman’s diamond and gold wedding band lying in a puddle. He left it there and didn’t say anything about it.

 

 

 

“He was ex-military,” Erica was saying.

She was sitting on the couch with a bottle of wine in her hand that Sturges, the mechanic, had brought by when they returned. The man had seen them coming back from the hill and had stopped them and handed the bottle to Hancock with a knowing look. Hancock had accepted the bottle with a nod, wondering how much the mechanic had figured out. The man was clearly sharper than he had originally given him credit for.

The dog was curled up next to Erica, and she kept one hand on its back as if to ground herself. Hancock had dragged a stool over from the breakfast bar and perched on it, facing the couch.

“He’d been forcibly retired, and he wasn’t happy about it, but his injury made it impossible for him to continue as a soldier, especially since the war was really starting to heat up. He couldn’t work anymore, or at least, he wouldn’t, and I was supporting both of us. That wasn’t bad or anything, but it was kind of unusual. I was an attorney, and I enjoyed what I did, plus I was good at it, but he was bitter and angry about the fact that I was the one supporting us. I should have left him, but I… I don’t know. I felt like I owed him something? I guess?” She took a swig from the bottle and passed it to Hancock.

He held it in his hands for a moment, considering. “What was he doing? To you, I mean.”

“He was just so damn angry all the time. He didn’t hit me or anything, which is probably why I didn’t leave, but he didn’t want to be a ‘house husband’ or whatever, either, so he refused to do the dishes or the laundry. So I would come home from work and have to take care of that with him bitching at me about them the whole damn time. I told him to buy a Mr. Handy if that was the way he felt about it, and he did, but then he would complain about me ‘outsourcing’ what was supposed to be my job to Codsworth. He’d refuse to eat meals made by the robot. I couldn’t win.”

She reached out and Hancock passed the wine back to her. “Really, he wanted me to quit my job, but then how would we pay the bills? There were so many shortages, and my job paid well, so we were able to live pretty comfortably. He had his stipend from the military, but we would have had to move to an apartment in Concord and deal with the rationing.”

She sighed and shifted on the couch, stretching out her legs. The dog jumped down onto the floor and stretched, yawning. It was getting late, but neither Hancock nor Erica was ready to go to sleep. Erica seemed to want to get it all out, and Hancock was sure that he would be revisiting that vault in his nightmares tonight.

“And then I got pregnant,” she said with a grimace. “I was 35, which was pretty late to be starting a family, but I’d gotten married pretty late, too. I think my mom thought I was never going to get married. She liked Nate, at first, and he never talked to me like that in front of my mom, but at some point, she figured out how unhappy I was, and she would start talking to me about her spare room.” She upended the bottle, finishing the last little bit that remained, and then set it down on the floor beside the couch, folded her hands on her chest, and stared up at the ceiling. “Weekends were the worst. Nate would be miserable all weekend, so I’d make up an excuse to go visit my mom. I think he knew my mom didn’t like him anymore, and he was always worse when I got back; he’d drink all day and just say the nastiest things, but that little bit of respite at my mom’s house was worth it.”

Hancock thought of how he’d yelled at her the other day, and his face burned with shame. He was grateful that his scarred features prevented a visible flush, but he could still feel it.

“I’m… Sunshine, I’m so sorry for yelling at you. I know I’ve said that a million times, but… I just have to say it again.”

“I know you are. But the thing is, Nate used to apologize for it, too. He knew what he was doing, and somehow he’d twist it so that it was my fault for making him yell. And I’d believe it.” She heaved a sigh. “You haven’t done it again, though, so that’s a difference. And you’re thoughtful. He never would have loaned me his coat to use as a blanket or found me clothes that fit. He used to complain when I bought new clothes, y’know? I worked all the time and then came home and had to work some more, and I just kept gaining weight, and then he had the nerve to bitch about how fat I’d gotten. Like I wasn’t already fat when he married at me.” She barked out a laugh. “If he could see me now, right? All the money I spent on weight loss programs, and it turned out that all I needed was the end of the fucking world.”

She rolled over to face him. “When I left the vault… I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t have the skills for this world. Fuck, I still don’t have the skills for this world. You’re pretty much the only reason I’m still alive.” She drew a ragged breath. “Part of me keeps thinking… if only I’d been the one to grab Shaun, or if I’d taken him before we got in those motherfucking pods… I’d be the one who was killed and Nate would be roaming the fucking wastes instead. He was made for this world, not me. It… it would have been better that way. He’d have found Shaun by now.” She put one arm across her face, and Hancock saw her chest heave with a sob.

He jumped off the chair and knelt beside the couch. “And then what?” he asked. “One more fucking tyrant in the Commonwealth. We don’t need that shit. We need people like you.” He shook his head. “Fuck, that sounded selfish, didn’t it?” He scrubbed his hand across his mouth and chuckled. “Okay, maybe I am a little selfish. I’m glad you survived, you know that? And not just because your husband would have been the alternative. You’re more of a badass than you know, you know.”

She shook her head under her arm. “I… I don’t even know where to start. Nick said he would help but… We don't know whether we're looking for a baby or an adult. I didn’t want to tell him the whole story. It sounds insane. For fuck's sake! You thought I was a time traveler!”

He laughed. “Either a time traveler or a highly sheltered vault dweller. Turned out I was kind of right on both counts.”

She laughed through her tears, and his heart just about filled to bursting. He reached over and gently moved her arm to see her face. It was a total mess – as he’d already observed, she wasn’t a pretty crier. And he didn’t care in the least.

He bent over, brushed her hair aside, and lightly kissed her forehead. She closed her eyes for a moment then reached up a bit and put her hand on the side of his face. Her thumb brushed one of the ridges of his cheek, and then she lifted her face to his and, to his surprise, kissed him.

Chapter Text

He leaned into the kiss, breathing in and smelling her. The combination of scents, even the dirt and sweat from the road, were intoxicating, and his hand crept around to the back of her head. She responded in kind, sliding her own hand around and under his hat, knocking it askew. Her mouth opened, and he felt the tip of her tongue touch his. It was like a shock, and suddenly he recognized that this was probably not the best of ideas.

Gently, hoping that he wouldn’t alarm (or offend) her, he broke the kiss and pulled back, placing an affectionate peck on the tip of her nose as he did so. She opened her eyes and looked at him, questioningly.

“Everything okay?” she asked, so quietly he almost didn’t hear her.

“Yeah,” he said, still trying to catch his breath and slow his racing heart. “Very okay. But…”

“Oh fuck,” she said, almost in resignation. “What?”

“I just… don’t think this is such a great idea right now.”

There it was. There was the hurt in her eyes. Fucking hell.

“Don’t get me wrong, Sunshine. I would love nothing more than to kiss you and do all kinds of terrible things to you…” And oh, this was not a lie, and he wondered if there was any way he could subtly shift to relieve the pressure that was building up just below his waist without her noticing. “…But it’s been an insane day, and you’ve had half a bottle of wine. Let’s get some sleep and reconvene in the morning.”

She sighed and flopped her head back on the couch. “Shit. I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking, I… I just thought… I just wanted…”

He brushed his knuckles across her cheek. “It’s okay, believe me. I was thinking it too.”

“Will you stay here with me?”

“Of course. I ain’t going anywhere. I’ll grab the sleeping bag and sleep right here next to the couch.”

“No, will you… will you share the couch with me? Please?”

He pursed his lips. Sleep all night right next to her? The couch wasn’t that big, and his body would be pressed against hers all night. If he happened to have any impure thoughts while he slept… well, she’d know about them for sure. Still…

“Scoot over then, and make room.”

She gave him a half smile and inched herself up against the back of the couch. He stretched himself out next to her and quickly realized that this wasn’t going to work unless she lay half on him. He mentally shrugged and slid his arm under her back, and she rolled slightly and tucked one of her legs over his. He willed himself not to react to this sudden closeness, but he could feel the warmth of her body all along his and it was nearly impossible to ignore. He wondered again what he had gotten himself into, but before he could give the question too much thought, he fell asleep.

 

 

 

He woke early, before the sunrise. His night had been a long string of nightmares, each of them involving him walking alone down the corridor of the vault, pods lining the walls, filled with dead people. Sometimes it was random strangers, as it had been when Erica had taken him through, but other times it was people he knew. He saw Nick, Daisy, Fahr… even his wretched brother and their long-dead parents. On one trip through, Erica was the one shot to death in the sealed pod, and on another, he watched from the pod as he himself was shot in the head.

He had jolted awake several times during the night, breathing fast, each time startled to find himself lying on the couch with Erica sprawled across him. Barely awake, he would quickly drift off again, but he remembered that at one point, he had heard Erica crying in her sleep. He thought he had a pretty good idea now what she dreamed about, and wished that his presence could be enough to stop the nightmares.

 

He didn’t know what time it was, but he could tell from the quality of the darkness that dawn wasn’t far off. It wasn’t worth it to take another trip back into the horror show of his dreams, so he carefully detangled himself from Erica, went outside, and sat on the front porch to wait for the sun to come up.

He was on his third cigarette and the sun had just started peeking over the horizon when Sturges came by. He didn’t appear to have a destination in plan and walked slowly, with his hands tucked into the pockets of his overalls, but it was clear that he was heading straight toward Hancock. He raised his hand in greeting, and Hancock raised his as well. This guy is all right, he thought.

“Y’all doin okay?” the mechanic asked in a low drawl. He clearly knew that Erica was still sleeping and was taking pains not to wake her up.

“I’ve been better,” Hancock replied cautiously. He wasn’t sure just how much Sturges knew and didn’t want to give away secrets that weren’t his. He offered up a cigarette to Sturges, and the man took it with a nod. 

“Wouldn’t be surprised if you had some nightmares last night. I was hopin the wine might help, but it ain’t a miracle worker.”

Hancock raised his eyebrows in surprise. “What do you know about that?” he asked.

“I went up one day to take a look, after she’d already left. Might’ve had a few nightmares m’self after seeing that crazy shit.” Hancock nodded thoughtfully, and the other man continued. “I ain’t a genius, but it don’t take one to start putting it all together. Like building an engine, y’know? Didja catch the ring on the floor?” Hancock nodded again, and the mechanic sighed and snuffed out his cigarette. “She’s been through some shit, ain’t she? Hope she can find her little boy. She was in a hurtin way before we came along. Slowly starving to death and wouldn’t eat anything we offered.”

“Yeah, what the fuck is the deal with that?” Hancock asked. “Why would you folks let her head out into the wastes in that condition? Did you know she couldn’t even shoot a gun?”

“It definitely wasn’t my idea. She’d come n talk to us some, but mostly kept to herself. Preston – he’s kinda the unofficial leader round here – said he’d go with her, but he wanted to make all these detours too and she was hellbent on just finding her kid. I was kind of surprised yesterday when she showed up with you instead of the boy.” He chuckled. “For a minute, I thought maybe the boy had been ghoulified, but it was pretty clear that she wan’t lookin at you in a motherly way.”

Hancock wasn’t sure how to respond to that, so he decided to let it go and bring the subject back around. “Is Preston around now?” He wanted to give that asshole a piece of his mind – even more so now.

“He headed out yesterday morning, I think he was goin down to the Abernathys, wanted to trade for some tatos and nag them again about the goddamn Minutemen. Worse’n a dog with a bone, y’know?”

Hancock did not know.

Sturges chuckled. “Speakin of…” Hancock winced as a cold nose found the back of his neck. The dog was awake and had come out to say hi. He wondered if that meant Erica was up now too. They had to figure out what was next… in a number of ways. The dog trotted to the side of the house and squatted next to the rusted out frame of a car. It occurred to Hancock that the car, like the house, had once belonged to Erica, and his mind started to whirl again.

“I better go check on her,” he said, excusing himself. He stubbed his cigarette out on the front step where he’d been sitting, and got up, somewhat stiffly, to head back into the house.

Chapter Text

She was awake and sitting up on the couch with the blanket wrapped around her and her legs tucked under her. She looked up when he came in and then quickly looked away again, as if she were embarrassed.

“How you feeling this morning?” he asked.

“I don’t know yet,” she said. “One thing I wish had survived the apocalypse? Coffee.” One corner of her mouth twitched. “When I was studying law, there was a little coffee shop right next to my school. I would just sit there for hours with my books and my coffee. I miss stuff like that the most.” She yawned and stretched her arms up above her head, her back popping. “This couch wasn’t even that great to sleep on two hundred years ago. Time has not improved it.”

He poked through the cupboards to see if anything edible had been stashed away. The Mr. Handy had not returned after being sent away yesterday evening, and he didn’t relish the idea of asking any of the people hanging around the settlement if they could spare a bite to eat. Well, except maybe for Sturges, but he’d already done enough for them. Marcy would probably spit in the food first before offering it to them.

“So Sturges knows, huh?” Erica asked from the living room. She was gazing at the dead TV, still not looking at him. They’d have to address what had happened last night at some point, Hancock thought, hopefully before it became a major source of contention.

“Yeah,” he said, giving up on his hunt and heading back into the living room. “Sounds like he had a hunch and went on up to the vault on his own.”

“I hope he didn’t say anything to Preston.”

“I doubt it. He seems like a stand-up guy, and also someone who keeps his cards close to his vest.” He went back to the stool, still next to the couch where he’d left it the night before. “Hate to say it, but this place is pretty empty on food and we need to get something to eat. We’re gonna need to see what’s available.”

“Yeah, I guess.” She didn’t budge though.

“What’s wrong?” he asked. “I mean, besides the obvious.”

Her mouth twitched again, but the melancholy cloud that had settled over her remained further in place. “We have to go back to Diamond City. I need to check in with Nick. It was stupid to come all the way out here. I should have just told you.”

He moved to sit down next to her on the couch and took one of her hands. She still wouldn’t meet his eye and instead looked at their entwined hands in her lap.

“No, you were right,” he said. “If you’d tried to tell me without showing me, I never would have believed it.” He considered. “No, that’s not true. I would have believed it, but I don’t think I would have understood it. Y’know?” She remained silent. “This is some crazy heavy shit, and I can’t even tell you how much I respect you for surviving this long. You’re made of stronger stuff than I think even you know.”

A tear slid down her cheek and she gave him a small half-smile. “My mom used to tell me that. Especially during law school and whenever she was trying to talk me into leaving Nate. I think she would have liked you a whole lot better.”

He smiled. “A junkie with a foul mouth who enjoys stabbing things? Nah, I don’t think anybody’s mom would ever decide that I’m a catch.”

That got a chuckle out of her. “You’re made of stronger stuff than you know,” she said, and finally met his eyes.

 

 

 

They emerged from the house, the dog in tow, and wandered across the street after spotting Sturges puttering around at the little workshop. When he noticed them coming toward him, he stopped what he was doing and sat back on his heels, raising his hand.

“Hey, Erica,” he said. “It’s good to see ya.”

“Hey Sturges,” she replied, her voice somewhat unsure.

Hancock decided to take the lead. “Hey brother, we were hoping you could point us toward some breakfast.”

“Oh yeah! No problem! Come on in, I’ve kinda made this place my home, and there’s a garden out back an everythin. We can rustle up some grub for y’all.” He led the way into his home. Erica looked around as they stood in the living room, and Hancock wondered if she’d been in this house before, a long time ago, when different people lived here.

Half-melted candles stood here and there on the ramshackle furniture, and a radio sputtered on a shelf that had survived. He winced when he heard the Diamond City DJ jabbering on about nothing in that pathetic way he had. How anyone could listen to that shit was beyond him. 

Sturges was pulling out mismatched plastic plates and unwrapping a greasy package with cold cooked meat in it. Hancock could tell that Erica was itching to ask what it was, but she remained quiet, which, he thought, was probably for the best. The mechanic also pulled out a dish of mutfruit and set it all out on a table surrounded by chairs that were mostly intact. 

Shortly after they sat down to eat, a man wearing a long duster, scarf, and a cowboy hat with one side of the brim pinned up came sweeping in the door. Hancock grimaced.

“Erica!” the man said, setting down his hat and shrugging off his coat. “Marcy said you got back into town yesterday! It’s good to see you.”

Erica sighed. “Hi, Preston,” she said, resolutely chewing a bite of the meat.

“And you did bring a friend,” Preston said, turning to Hancock. He stuck out his hand in greeting. “Good to meet you, sir. Preston Garvey, Commonwealth Minutemen.”

Hancock stared at the extended hand until the other man pulled it back, seemingly without embarrassment. “Yeah,” Hancock said. “I’ve heard of you.”

“I’m glad to hear it! Does that mean word is finally getting around? We’re back and trying to build up. I was hoping that Erica would be able to provide assistance, but…”

“We’re havin breakfast, Preston,” Sturges interrupted, noting the sour look on Hancock’s face. “Maybe save the recruitment drive for another time.”

“I just wanted to confirm that Erica was actually here.” He turned toward her. “You look a lot better, by the way. I’m glad to see that. I was worried about you.”

Hancock couldn’t hold back any longer. “So worried that you let her wander off into the wastes all by herself? You couldn’t bother to accompany her to Diamond City?”

Erica turned to him. “Please don’t,” she said. It was too late, though. He’d been wanting to give this cowboy a piece of his mind for quite some time now.

“Do you have any idea what she looked like when she got to Goodneighbor?” he pressed. “She was skin and bones, she wasn’t able to eat a damn thing without throwing up! She couldn’t even shoot a fucking gun!”

“Goodneighbor?” Preston said, his eyebrows drawing together in confusion. “I thought you were going to Diamond City.”

“I was,” Erica said, glaring at her plate with her mouth drawn tight. “I got lost.”

“But Mama Murphy said…”

“What Mama Murphy should have said,” Erica said. “Was that Diamond City was in the old baseball stadium. Would it have killed her to divulge that particular piece of information? It’s not like it’s a big secret.”

“I did offer to go with you…”

“Yeah, you did! If I agreed to go with you miles out of my way to go help a bunch of other people!” Hancock was content to sit back and let Erica do the yelling. She was the one who should ultimately have the biggest bone to pick with the man, after all. “You could have easily helped me get to Diamond City and then gone to help them on the way back.”

“But we have to rebuild! The only way we can do that is to show the people that they can still count on the Minutemen…”

“Oh, fuck the Minutemen!” Erica yelled.

The three men’s mouths dropped open at the same time. Hancock felt an insane urge to applaud and was grateful when it quickly passed.

Chapter Text

He had to practically jog to catch up with her. As the three men were recovering from their shock (and awe), Erica had leaped up from the table, knocking over her chair, and bolted out the door, the dog following at her heels. Hancock had gotten up, making a gesture of not-quite-apology to Sturges and offering an evil grin to Preston, and followed her.

She was nearly to the door of her former home before he caught up with her. He had to say, he adored that fire in her. It came out in bursts, and when it did, it made her damn near irresistible. He wanted nothing more right now than to twirl her into his arms and finish what they’d started (and he’d foolishly stopped) the night before.

Unfortunately for him, someone was waiting for them in the living room, sitting patiently on the sofa.

Erica stopped short in the doorway. Hancock had to catch himself before he ran into her. “What are you doing here?” Erica asked the figure on the couch.

The woman on the couch turned around and offered a beatific smile toward the pair. “Ah kid,” she said in a dreamy voice that Hancock was sure was affected, “Dogmeat found you.”

“Dogmeat?” Erica said. “What the hell are you talking about?” She was clearly still in fighting form, much to Hancock’s approval.

“The dog, he found you. You need him and he needs you.”

“Wait,” Hancock said. “The dog’s name is… Dogmeat? That’s sick.”

“Yeah,” Erica said. “What the hell is wrong with Fido or Max or something? He looks like a Max to me.”

The woman on the couch said nothing, but continued to gaze at them with a barely there smile on her face.

Erica moved into the house, Hancock close behind her. She stood in front of the couch with her arms folded. Hancock leaned up against the wall and lit a cigarette.

“So what kind of half-assed advice do you have for me now?” Erica asked.

The old woman on the couch, who Hancock now could see was dressed up as some kind of fortune teller or something, blinked but otherwise seemed unfazed. “You’ve followed through so far, kid. You found the Great Green Jewel, you found the man who isn’t a man…”

“Whoa, that’s kind of rude, sister,” Hancock interrupted.

“I’m pretty sure she means Nick,” Erica said. “Still rude, but not directed at you.”

“You followed the signs to the bright heart and found him,” the old woman said.

Erica glared at her. “So what now, Mama Murphy? What other encrypted message do you have for me? Where’s my son?”

“He’s alive. I can feel his life force. It’s everywhere.”

Erica looked like she was barely restraining herself from slapping the woman. “That’s very helpful, thank you,” she said through gritted teeth. “Maybe you should be on your way now.”

“Bring me some chems, kid, and maybe I can tell you more before you head back out. The Sight needs the chems,” she said, apparently ignoring Erica’s fury. She got up and shuffled her way back out the door.

“So that’s her game, huh?” Hancock said, watching the woman slowly work her way across the street toward Sturges’s house. “Getting chems out of strangers with ‘the sight’?” He looked back at Erica and saw that she was visibly trembling with anger. He stepped to her and folded her into his arms. “Hey, hey. Don’t let her get to you, okay?”

“It’s like… like she’s teasing me. I can’t tell if she actually knows something or she’s just trying to scam chems out of me.” Erica tucked her head between his neck and his shoulder. He could feel her breathing hard, and he tightened his arms around her.

“Could be the chems, could be a little of both,” he said. “There’s some weird shit in the world, so who am I to say?” He reached one hand up to the back of her head and lightly stroked her hair, hoping to help calm her down.

 She leaned closer into him for a moment before pulling away. “I need… can I just… I need some time to myself. Just for a bit. Please?”

“Is everything okay?” he asked, concerned. “Did I do something or say something?”

She shook her head. “It’s nothing to do with you. But I just need… a break. From everybody.”

She wasn’t looking at him, but he slowly nodded his head. “Sure, Sunshine. I’ll head out for a bit.” He paused, watching her standing in the wreck of her former living room with her head down, wishing there was something he could do to help her grief and her pain.

As he left the house, he briefly put his hand on her shoulder. She reached up and squeezed it, then dropped her hand again. “Thank you,” she whispered. He left the house, closing the door gently behind him.

 

 

 

He sat on the bridge with his legs dangling over, chewing Mentats and smoking cigarettes. His brain was a tangled mess of thoughts, and he hoped the Mentats would help him unravel it a bit. As the water in the river below splashed on the rocks, he could feel radiation coming in the mist that was kicked up, and it was soothing to him in the same way as a calming breeze was on a hot day.

He could no longer deny that he was attracted to Erica, and it baffled him. She didn’t look like most of the women he’d known. She looked a good deal healthier than she had when she’d first come through the doors of Goodneighbor, but she still had a bit of a pallor and that strange loose skin. He thought he might better understand that now, having seen a picture of her before she arrived here in the Commonwealth. She’d lived in a world where food was plentiful and leisure was the norm (something that had always seemed like a strange fantasy in the books he had read) and then emerged into this harsh reality, where you ate what you could scavenge or catch (provided it didn’t eat you first). Plus, so much of what she’d eaten had made her sick. The sudden change in food availability and the challenge of adapting to a wasteland diet had resulted in rapid weight loss; hence, the loose skin. It didn’t bother him (seriously, who the fuck was he to criticize anyone’s skin?), but it was unusual.

He also had to acknowledge that she came with an absurd amount of baggage. Jesus Christ, she was pre-war! That still made his brain hurt when he tried to wrap his head around it. He couldn’t even imagine how hard all of this must be for her. And then to lose her son on top of it… except he wasn’t even dead; according to the crazy fortune teller, he was still out there somewhere, so she didn’t even have any kind of closure, just the intense pressure to somehow find him.

And then there was the business of the husband. Hancock clenched his teeth at the thought of how he’d been treating Erica, hard enough that he lost half his cigarette to the river. He cursed in annoyance before spitting out the bitter tobacco that had flaked onto his tongue and then lighting another one. Still, to her, she’d been married, even if it was to a son of a bitch, just a few months ago. And the man may have been a piece of shit, but there was no denying that he was handsome.

Hancock was determined to be less of an asshole than this Nate, but would she even be interested in him? She hadn’t turned away from him so far, and she had even been the one to kiss him last night (a moment that continued to replay in his mind), but he wasn’t sure if it was just out of loneliness and a bit of help from the alcohol or if she actually felt some kind of attraction to him. He still wondered at the fact that she hadn’t seemed the least bit bothered by his appearance, especially now with the new information that she was pre-war and he was, essentially, the first ghoul she’d ever seen.

The heat from the sun as it slowly trekked across the sky fought against the chill in the air, a reminder that the fall was winding down and it would be winter before too much longer. It also signaled the start of the stormy season. If he was going to keep travelling with Erica (and was there really any question about that at this point?), he’d have to come up with some kind of contingency plan for the inevitable radstorm that would come up.

Without realizing it, he had switched from simply thinking about Erica to planning for the future with her, creating checklists in his head and deciding the best way to approach the problem of finding her child. These were the characteristics that had made him so surprisingly effective as Mayor, skills that he never would have suspected years ago, as he’d laid on a drenched mattress with the rest of the Goodneighbor junkies, shivering his way through a Psycho withdrawal, too poor to afford another hit. Whenever he felt himself getting too cocky, too self-assured, he’d flash back to those desperate moments, convinced that the poor bastard on the sopping wet mattress was closer to the truth of who he really was than the self-assured, charismatic mayor who was both respected and loved by his constituents.

Lost in these thoughts, he barely registered the footsteps that came up behind him, until the shadow fell over him.

Chapter Text

“Fucking hell, man!” Hancock growled. “Don’t sneak up on someone like that! I almost shot you!”

“Sorry, sorry!” Preston apologized, hands in the air, staring down the double barrel of Hancock’s shotgun.

Glaring at the other man, Hancock set his weapon back down. He turned back to the river. “What do you want? I ain’t joining your goddamn crusade.”

“Yeah, I gathered that,” Preston said wryly. “I wanted to ask if Erica was okay. I’m sorry for upsetting her like that. Although, truth be told, it’s good to see some life in her.”

Hancock sighed. “Well, between you and that fortune teller, I think she’s about had it up to here with the whole lot of you, and I’m kinda feeling the same way, to be honest.”

Preston sat down next to Hancock but folded his legs instead of dangling them, cautious of the mist from the river. “I hear you.” He sighed. “This has all been a clusterfuck since Quincy. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and it seems like all I manage to do is piss people off.”

Hancock was quiet for a moment. “I heard about Quincy. I didn’t know you were there.”

“Yeah, I was there all right. I got to see everyone and everything I believed in get wiped out in front of my eyes by people I used to trust with my own life. In the end, I was able to get out of Quincy with twenty other people. By the time I made it here, we were down to five." 

Hancock whistled through his teeth. “Holy shit, man.”

“Holy shit is right.”

“Why don’t you just walk away from this? You don’t need this kind of grief. Ain’t no reason why you can’t just do good on your own without having to bring the Minutemen into it every time. You guys ain’t got the reputation you used to, you know.”

Preston was silent for a long time before answering. “I don’t have an easy answer for that or one that really makes sense. I just know, way down deep, that the Minutemen are the best chance the Commonwealth has. We have to team up if we’re ever going to fight back against everything out there that wants to destroy us. But I can’t do it on my own. I’m no leader. I got all those people killed.”

“Without you, they all would have died.”

“Without me, maybe more could have lived,” Preston snapped. “I don’t know how we made it out of Concord. Dumb luck, I guess.” He was quiet for a while and both men gazed at the river as it chuckled over the rocks. “I gotta tell you though; if I didn’t have those last few with me, or if I had lost them too… I was ready to just throw myself in front of the next asshole with a gun.”

Hancock looked at the man appraisingly. That feeling, that failure, that readiness to give up… that was something he certainly understood. He’d gone through a horrible kind of rebirth in an attempt to absolve himself of that exact same desire. It wasn’t perfect, and he still had his bad moments, but it was better. As irritated as he had been at the other man earlier, he realized that maybe they weren’t all that different, just approaching the same problem from different angles. He offered Preston a cigarette from his pack, which the man in the cowboy hat took with a small smile.

They sat and smoked. Finally, Hancock spoke. “I’m sure there’s some folks out there that will be perfect for your cause. But you gotta realize, it ain’t Erica. She’s got enough shit to deal with, you feel me?”

Preston looked morose, but nodded. “I guess I don’t know everything that’s going on with her. Sturges said it’s not his story to tell, and I’m guessing you feel the same way.”

“You guessed right. But take my word for it. You ain’t the only one who’s been through some serious shit. She needs people helping her right now, not the other way around.”

Preston sighed. “Well, it’s good that she has you then.” He chuckled. “I was surprised when Marcy told me that she had returned to town accompanied by a ghoul. I was even more surprised when that ghoul turned out to be the infamous Mayor Hancock.”

“Didn’t know you recognized me.”

“Hey, I haven’t been living in a vault or anything. Pick through the bullshit, and I’ve heard mostly good things about you though. You’ve got other people’s best interests at heart. I’m glad you’ve been travelling with Erica. It sounds like she needs someone like you.”

Hancock grimaced. “Well, I ain’t entirely sure she needs someone like me. I’m probably more trouble than I’m worth. I’m gonna do my best to keep her alive, though.”

Preston nodded and gave him a sidelong glance. “Where are you headed next?”

“Probably gonna crash here another night, then head out in the morning, back to Diamond City.”

“Are you going to be alright there? I’ve heard about the situation there with the mayor and the ghouls.”

Hancock glanced at Preston. Did he know? No, it didn’t look like it. “I’ve been staying outside so far, but I think I’m gonna have to just suck up my pride and go in this time. I’ll change clothes, wear a gas mask. Their so-called security probably won’t even notice.”

Preston chuckled. “I’ll help Sturges put together a care package for you guys then. Pack you some food, some stims, rad-away for Erica, stuff like that. I was able to get us established on Trashcan Carla’s trade route, and we’re starting to have some better quality stuff of our own to trade, especially with Sturges’s skills. We’ll have it ready for you in the morning.”

“Thanks, Preston,” Hancock said. “I appreciate that. Guess maybe you’re alright after all.”

“And while you’re out there, do you mind stopping somewhere, clearing out some vermin? I heard about a location that might make a great settlement. I could mark it on your map.” Hancock fixed him with a glare, and Preston laughed. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!” He paused. “I mean, unless you want to.”

 

 

 

It was late afternoon before Hancock made his way back to the blue house. Long shadows from the dead trees criss-crossed the pavement, and he could hear the sound of far-away gunfire, a cacophony that was nearly impossible to avoid no matter how remote you thought you were. Everyone had a bone to pick with everyone else, and it seemed like the only way to resolve even the smallest quarrel was with death. Last man (or woman) standing was the winner of every little dispute.

 He thought about Erica’s career before the bombs. A lawyer. He had a vague idea of what that was from the books he’d read, especially the ones on politics. He knew that a lot of lawyers eventually became politicians, including several of his namesake’s contemporaries and co-conspirators. But he wasn’t quite clear on what a lawyer did. Something about arguing on the behalf of someone else so a judge could make a decision. He smiled. He could see Erica being good at that. He imagined her, fire in her eyes, passionately arguing with a judge… and then getting pissed and telling the judge to go fuck himself. Maybe that wasn’t exactly how it worked, but he saw no problem with imagining it that way.

But that career choice, one based on verbal sparring rather than physical sparring, had woefully unprepared her for this world.

He considered for a moment. Was she woefully unprepared? Or was she exactly what the Commonwealth needed? As much as he enjoyed simply killing the bad guys, what if they could, somehow, be convinced to not be assholes anymore? Was that possible? Or was the human race too far gone?

He shook his head. If he followed that particular train of thought, he’d wind up in the same position as Preston, trying to rally people to a cause that seemed, for lack of a better description, batshit crazy.

Sighing, he opened the door. The house was dim. He stepped in and closed the door behind him. He listened for any sounds, but heard nothing. She wasn’t on the couch, and he wondered if she had left at some point while he was out. That thought made his heart race, and he fought back panic.

He walked down the hallway, peeking into both the bathroom and the laundry room. At the end of the hall, he looked into her former bedroom, but like the rest of the house, it was dark and silent. He turned around and looked into the child’s room.

She had pulled an overstuffed chair into the room at some point. The dog was asleep next to her, and she was slumped to one side, her hair falling across her face. He stepped across the room, carefully avoiding the scatter of broken toys on the floor, and knelt down next to her.

He gently brushed her hair from her face. She stirred slightly, murmuring something, and he released the breath that he didn’t know he’d been holding. He cupped her face with his hands and felt the dampness on her cheeks. She’d been crying again, and it looked like she had fallen asleep doing so.

He considered leaving her there in the chair, but experience had told him that sleeping sitting up was not a great choice, and he didn’t want her to have to pay for it the next day, especially if they were going to try to head out.

He leaned into her and lifted her arms around his shoulders so he could pick her up and move her to the couch. The dog (would he really have to call him Dogmeat?) wuffed lightly in his sleep but stayed put. As he walked down the hallway with her pressed against him, she woke slightly and raised her head, then, realizing what was happening, she laid her head on his shoulder and tightened her arms around him. His heart wanted to burst; he had never been the object of that level of trust before, and he loved it even while it terrified him. Oh, brother, he thought, what have you gotten yourself into here?

At the couch, he leaned forward to allow her to slide back, but she only clung to him tighter. He turned his head to whisper in her ear. “Sunshine, go ahead and keep sleeping. I’m gonna go find us some dinner and be right back.”

She mumbled something that he couldn’t understand and loosened her grip on him, allowing him to set her down. She stretched out, and he tucked the blanket around her.

He stood back for a moment in the dimness of the room, considering whether he should actually leave or just wait until the morning. Finally, he decided that she really didn’t need to continue missing meals and left the house again.

Chapter Text

One of the settlers had, incredibly, managed to bring down a radstag and had opted to share his bounty with the rest of Sanctuary Hills, so Hancock returned, feeling victorious, with steaks for both of them as well as some fresh veggies from Sturges’s small garden.

He let himself into the house and offloaded his spoils onto the kitchen counter. When he finally looked up and into the living room, he saw that Erica was now huddled up in one corner of the couch, shaking, her head tucked into her arms. He rushed over to her.

“Sunshine, what is it?” he asked, gently pulling her arms away so he could see her face. She shook her head. It was almost completely dark, but he could see the tears glistening in the faint starlight that made its way through the missing window and the holes in the roof.

“It’s this place. I have to get out of here. I can’t stand it here anymore. There’s just too much from… before.”

He wrapped his arms around her and she leaned into him.

“We’ll leave in the morning, I promise. I already set it all up. Preston and Sturges will have supplies ready for us, and we can leave first thing.”

“Preston?” she asked, incredulous. “Ha! In exchange for what?”

“In exchange for nothing. We had a pretty good talk. I think he’ll back the hell off now.” He held her for a moment longer. “I picked up some grub. Radstag steaks and roasted veggies. Let’s eat and then we can hit the sack. It’ll be morning before you know it, and then we can get back to Diamond City.”

He felt her swallow and then nod her head. He held her at an arms length and then studied her face the best he could in the dim light. Her glasses were smudged and reflected the starlight, and he gently removed them and wiped them, using the flag he had tied around his waist as a sash, before placing them back on her face. This small act earned him a smile. He smiled back and got up to set up their plates.

 

 

 

After dinner, she took the plates back in the kitchen and stacked them neatly in the sink. She turned to him. “Have you seen Codsworth at all while you were out and about today?”

“No, actually, I haven’t.”

“I hope he’s okay and didn’t think I literally meant to go away and never come back.”

“With these robots, it’s hard to say. Their AI can get kinda screwy.”

“Yeah, and he hasn’t been quite right since… well, since I woke up. He spent so much time with Nate since I had to work, that I really think he thinks of himself more as Nate’s assistant rather than mine.”

“I wouldn’t worry about it too much. We can do a search if you want before we head out tomorrow if you’re really concerned.”

“Maybe.” She paused. “He’s one of the few things left over from… before. I would hate for anything to happen to him.”

She returned to the couch and sat close to him, leaning over and resting her head on his shoulder. He reached over and took her hand. They sat quietly for a few minutes, just breathing. He was stroking his thumb across her knuckles and wondered what she was thinking about.

She shifted, inched closer to him, and lightly kissed his jawline. The small motion sent a shiver through him, and he breathed in sharply before turning his head to meet her lips. She moved even closer and reached up with her other hand to caress his scarred cheek. Turning to face her more directly, he deepened the kiss, and she responded by opening her mouth slightly and allowing her tongue to flick lightly across his lower lip. She let go of his hand and reached around his waist to pull him even closer.

“Sunshine…” he whispered against her mouth. When had he started calling her that, anyway? It had happened without him even noticing, and he couldn’t help but wonder whether she had noticed the change. She hadn’t said anything about it if she had, but maybe this was her way of commenting on it. “Are you sure you want… this?”

“It’s been so long since I’ve actually wanted to kiss someone…” she said.

“But… not from your perspective,” he said.

She pulled back and looked him square in the face, glasses somewhat askew. “Yes, from my perspective. Two hundred-plus years since I’ve kissed someone at all, but far more than two hundred since I’ve wanted to.”

“Oh, Sunshine,” he said, understanding. “You deserved so much better than that.” 

“I did,” she said. “And I wish I’d known it then.” She leaned in and resumed the kiss. Their tongues tangled, and soon he found himself pulling her onto his lap. She breathed in sharply, and he realized that she could feel him through his pants. He was so fucking turned on right now, and it took him back to when he was a kid, those first few lustful experiments with the girls (and some of the boys) back in Diamond City.

The thoughts were banished when she rocked against him, drawing a ragged breath out of him. He pushed against her and she responded by pulling him closer and continuing to rock back and forth rhythmically against him, almost imperceptibly picking up speed.

He wrapped his arms around her waist and gently explored her mouth with his tongue until she pulled her face away, her breath coming faster and faster in pace with the motion of her hips. He held on for dear life, loving every second, until her hips stuttered, she shuddered, and her breath hitched. He could feel her warmth through both of their pairs of pants as her whole body seemed to pulse and she released the breath she’d been holding with a long sigh, melting into him.

It was easily the most sensual experience he’d ever had without losing his pants, and it both surprised and gratified him. He hadn’t reached release himself, but, somehow, it didn’t feel necessary or even uncomfortable. He was more than pleased to have offered her a clearly much-needed moment of comfort and pleasure. Who knew he had a selfless streak in him? He certainly never would have guessed it.

“Thank you,” she breathed against his face. He reached up to brush her hair out of her face.

“Anytime, Sunshine,” he said and kissed her. He could feel all the tension leaving her body, and he hoped she would have a night without dreams.

Chapter Text

The clicking of his heels echoed in the deserted corridor as he marched down, flanked by a man and a woman in white coats – scientists, Erica had said. He looked from side to side, feeling nothing but contempt for the fools in the pods. They had believed the stories they had been told and had gotten into these contraptions willingly; they should have known better, and they deserved whatever they had coming to them.

He was the man with the scar.

He was a highly trained killer.

He had a job to do.

He was nearly to the end of the corridor, counting off the pods until he found the one he wanted. He looked inside and saw Nate, the husband, holding the baby. He felt anger in his heart for the way this man had treated Erica, and he hoped that he would refuse to give up the child so that he would have an excuse to shoot him. It would be fun. He would enjoy the hell out of it.

“This is the one,” he announced to the scientists who were with him, weak things who wore protective gear on the surface, afraid that they would be contaminated in ways that their science and medicine couldn’t fix. “Open it,” he ordered.

One of the scientists – the man – turned to the monitor next to the pod and began tapping the keys. Soon after, a huff of air announced his success. He could hear muffled thumps and yells coming from the other pods as their occupants unfroze. They’d had to unfreeze the entire block to access this single pod, a flaw in Vault-Tec’s design for which he cursed them. Not that it mattered; everyone who had worked to design this piece of shit vault was long since deceased.

The pod that mattered opened, and the squalls of an infant began, growing louder as the baby’s small body warmed up. The woman scientist made a timid gesture as if to take the baby from its father, but the man was starting to come to, and his protective instincts had kicked in. He pulled the infant closer to himself. “No,” he said, his voice rusty with disuse. “You can’t have Shaun!”

Hancock grinned. It was exactly the moment he had been waiting for. He lowered the gun, a .44 pistol (strange, where was his trusty shotgun?), and aimed for the man’s head. “I’m only giving you one chance. Give us the baby.” His voice sounded unusual to his ears, the tone clear without a hint of the raspiness he’d developed when he’d turned ghoul.

“No!” the man shouted again, and the gunshot rang out, deafening but beautiful to his ears. The man slumped over, dead, and the woman scientist took the baby before he could drop it. She glanced at Hancock with fear in her eyes before scurrying away.

That was fine. It was good to have people fear you.

He turned to check on Erica. She was an important asset, especially with the man dead. She stared right at him through the thick glass of her pod, her glasses cracked and hanging askew. Her eyes were pure hatred, and he recoiled in horror.

 

Hancock woke up, panting and shaking. That dream was even worse than the dreams he’d had the night before, and he marveled at the level of detail in it. He couldn’t blame jet or Mentats for the dream, or even alcohol for that matter, since he’d been stone cold sober when he’d gone to sleep. Maybe that was the problem. Let that be a lesson to you, he thought to himself.

The dog was lying on the floor next to the couch, and it looked up at him and whined. “It’s okay, boy,” Hancock whispered. “I’m okay, she’s okay, we’re all okay.” His racing heart was telling him something other than that, so clearly he needed some reassurance as well. “It’s just a dream, you idiot,” he said to himself. This place was really getting to him, and he was grateful that they would be leaving in the morning.

Erica shifted slightly in her sleep but remained curled around him. One of his arms was tucked around her and the other trailed on the floor, near the dog. He tightened the arm that was holding her and heard her sigh. The stars were bright, visible through the holes in the roof, and he had no way of knowing what time it was, but he did know that he was done sleeping for the night. He had no intention of drifting back into that horrible, sterile corridor again, especially as the man with the scar.

He lay awake with Erica in his arms, the dream mercifully fading from his consciousness, until the sun came up.

 

 

 

They gathered their meager belongings, including the single sleeping bag and a few changes of clothes that Erica had scavenged from the dresser in her former bedroom. The clothing wouldn’t fit her now, but she was determined to try to resize them so that she could reuse them.

One article of clothing was a beautiful green dress in a soft fabric that only had minor damage after two centuries of lying in a drawer. He could see that it would hang on her frame now, but it would have once hugged soft curves, and he hoped she would be able to alter it so that she could wear it once again. Green was an incredibly rare color in the Commonwealth, and she would catch everyone’s eye in it without question. He would also willingly shell out the caps in Diamond City so that she could once again tame her curls. He loved the idea of parading around Goodneighbor with her on his arm, shiny dark hair and bright gray eyes accentuated by the vivid color of the dress. Fahr could say whatever the hell she wanted, as far as he was concerned, and he didn’t give a shit.

“Are you almost ready?” Her voice startled him out of his daydream.

He was definitely feeling the effects of his reduced sleep from the night before. He’d have to watch that; he didn’t want her noticing that he was a little bit off today and blaming it on the night before. He also didn’t want to tell her about his dream. Very little of it remained, but the moment where he turned around and saw the hatred in her eyes was as fresh as ever, and it haunted him.

“Ready when you are,” he said, smiling at her. She had slept soundly throughout the night, no sign of nightmares – although she had snored a bit, and he couldn’t wait for the perfect opportunity to tease her about it.

They closed the door behind them, the dog at their heels. Preston and Sturges were waiting for them in the street as promised, carrying another pack that Hancock presumed was filled with the proffered supplies.

“Thanks, man,” he said to Preston, shrugging the pack onto his shoulders.

“Anytime,” Preston replied. “Don’t be a stranger. I hope we’ll see you up this way again.”

Hancock glanced at Erica, whose lips were tightly drawn. “Hope you ain’t offended,” he said. “But it might take a while.”

“Understood,” Preston said, reaching down to give Dogmeat a pat.

“Have either of you seen Codsworth?” Erica asked.

“Matter a fact, I did,” Sturges said in his drawl. “He headed up to Marcy n Jun’s place, n he’s been stayin with them.”

Erica sighed. “That’s probably for the best,” she said. “I’m glad someone can take care of him and that he can make himself useful again.”

Sturges offered Erica a hug, which she gladly provided, and then Preston held his arms out. The hug she gave Preston was a bit stiffer than the one she had given to Sturges. 

The two men walked Erica, Hancock, and Dogmeat as far as the bridge and remained there, fading into the distance as the woman, the ghoul, and the dog began the long hike back to downtown Boston.

Chapter Text

Stars burst in his head as the world went dark, and he heard a sickening cracking noise that he was vaguely afraid might be his skull. He fell and felt his body hit the ground.

Somewhere, far away, he could hear Erica shrieking, the dog barking and snarling, and the sound of gunshots. It didn’t matter as much as it should. All that mattered now was the intense pain in his head and the fact that he could feel himself slipping into unconsciousness – and he was afraid of the dark. There were nightmares in the dark.

He became the man with the scar in the dark.

He felt his body being rolled over and then a sharp sting in his shoulder. Erica was muttering something over and over and he could barely make it out.

Slowly, the world became clearer, and the sounds that Erica was making started to solidify into the words oh fuck oh fuck don’t die oh fuck. The pain in his head became a little bit less, and he found that he could open his eyes.

Everything was blurred, like he had mixed jet with vodka, but he could make out Erica’s face right in front of him. She had pulled him back from the darkness where the man with the scar waited, and he loved her for it. He wanted to reach up and touch her face, but his arm didn’t want to move just yet, and trying made the pain in his head flare up.

He blinked a couple times, trying to clear his vision. It was slow, but the world continued to resolve itself. Erica was weeping and had spots and streaks of blood on her face. Whose blood? Her blood? His blood?

“What… happened…” he croaked out.

“We got ambushed. Raiders. I don’t know what happened, but one of them got right behind you and smacked you with a tire iron. You dropped like a rock, bleeding everywhere. I was so scared that you were dead.” She put her head on his chest and sobs tore out of her.

“You… killed them?”

She raised her head, looking fierce despite the tears and snot, and his heart skipped a beat. “We got them. I shot one and Dogmeat took down the other one. I shot that one too, just to be safe,” she said.

He attempted a smile. “Good girl,” he said. The dog whined. He could still feel the darkness calling his name, and he fought back hard.

“I gave you a stimpak. I wasn’t sure if they worked on… ghouls… but I didn’t know what else to do. I think they cracked your skull.”

“Yeah, stimpaks work. Thank god. And I think you’re right. My fuckin’ head.” He groaned.

Without moving his head, he tried to look around to see where exactly they were. He’d felt like he was moving through sludge the last day or so, running on almost zero sleep, and everything was a blur. Every time he’d tried to sleep, though, he’d slipped right back into that horror of a dream. 

The details were the same every time, and they were so strangely specific that it was freaking him out. To be perfectly frank, it scared the everloving shit out of him. The worst part was when he turned around at the end to look at Erica, and the rage and hatred in her face. It was the face of someone who would kill him the first chance he got. If the man with the scar was still around, he should be very afraid.

Hancock was starting to wonder if the dream would drive him mad, drive him feral. He didn’t know any ghouls who had actually turned feral, and he suspected that the rumor was just more racist bullshit designed to stir up fear of ghouls, but if anything could do it, this fucking nightmare would.

No wonder dumbass fucking raiders had been able to get the drop on him. He felt embarrassed and pissed at himself. He had let Erica down; she’d had to protect his sorry ass, and that wasn’t a responsibility she was ready for. He wondered if they should part ways, at least until he could get a handle on the damn nightmares, but the idea made his heart hurt almost as much as his head.

As far as he could tell, they were in the city itself. He could remember the first night, when they’d camped outside Lexington (avoiding the drive-in). He’d slept for maybe an hour and then stayed up the rest of the night, shivering and hoping that he wouldn’t wake Erica. The second night, last night, they had swung further south (he couldn’t even remember why). That night, he had tried to avoid sleeping at all, but had dozed off at some point and immediately found himself back in the fucking corridor.

He’d been trying to keep the fact that he wasn’t sleeping from Erica. In the past, he’d been on benders lasting several days with minimal sleep, but travel and fighting generally weren’t involved – it didn’t matter quite as much if you fell asleep while fucking a stranger who was just as high as you were.

He’d lain awake next to Erica on the sleeping bag each night, her body curled around him. There had been some more kissing, which was nice, but nothing else. She still wasn’t used to this cross-country travel and was exhausted every night, falling almost immediately into a deep sleep.

He figured they could probably make it to Diamond City that day, but right now he had no plan for how he was going to get in. If the blood on Erica’s face was any indication, he probably looked damn near feral at this point, and the fucking guards would be likely to shoot his skinny ass on sight. If he stayed outside the gates, he risked dozing off and either falling into the nightmare or getting shot and robbed, which was starting to look like the preferable option.

The pain was starting to become bearable and he was able to move his head back and forth now, although it still caused his vision to wobble slightly. One thing was clear, though. Out here, they were sitting ducks. They had to get to some kind of shelter.

“Is there a way to tell how close we are to Diamond City?” he asked.

“We’re a bit to the south and the west of it,” she said. “Maybe another couple of miles?”

Shit.

“Is there anywhere close where we can get undercover?” She stood up and looked around.

“There’s a door to a house about a block down. Looks mostly intact.”

“Can you check? See if there’s anything in there?”

She looked worried, but then glanced down at him, and he saw her steeling her resolve. “Yeah, I’ll check. Stay put.”

He half-chuckled. “Sunshine, I couldn’t go anywhere if I tried.” She gave him a pained smile and then stepped out of his line of sight. He closed his eyes to rest for just a moment.

 

 

 

He woke to her shaking him, the nightmare and her hatred fresh in his mind. He was shivering all over. Fucking hell.

“Are you okay?” she asked, concern written all over her face. “You were yelling.”

“Yeah,” he said, scrubbing his hand across his mouth. “Shit, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” At least his arms seemed to be moving better now.

“It’s not surprising, you just had a horrible head injury.” She handed him his hat. “It looks a lot better now, but you probably still have a pretty good concussion.”

He was glad to find that he could sit up on his own now, even if he did feel like he’d been thrown to the ground by a pissed off deathclaw.

She was watching him. “Were you having a nightmare?”

“Yeah, it’s… nothing. Just a bad dream.”

“Well, the house is clean. Okay, not clean, it’s fucking filthy, but there was nothing in it but a few radroaches, and I killed them.” He was pleased to see that she looked proud of herself. She was adapting to the wasteland, and he admired her strength and resilience. She hadn’t even expressed any regret over killing the raiders who had nearly killed him. “Are you able to walk over there? I don’t think I can carry you.”

He rolled forward and fought back some dizziness, but he was able to push himself first to his knees and then to a wobbly standing position. She came up on his left side and put his arm around her shoulder to provide support. He still couldn’t shake the embarrassed feeling that this was not how things should be. Not that he wanted her to be injured, but she still shouldn’t have to take care of him. It seemed to upset the order of the universe somehow.

He took a few cautious steps, and she helped him keep his balance when the world started to spin. Stimpaks were a miracle, but they still took some time to work. They both stood still until the world stopped spinning, and slowly but surely, they made it inside the house.

Chapter Text

“Ow, fuck!”

“Shit. Sorry!”

She had wet down some fabric and was trying to clean the blood from his face and head. While the split skin had healed, the area was still tender; bone didn’t heal quite as quickly as skin. Even her light touch where his skull had been cracked shot pain through his head and made him feel woozy. He knew it had to be done, though. He guessed, based on the amount of blood on her, and the dried blood that was flaking off of him, he must look like an unholy terror – more so than usual.

“Sorry, wasn’t cussing at you.”

“I know. I’m trying to be careful.”

“You’re doing fine, Sunshine.”

She came around to the front and worked on his face some more. She’d had to fold the fabric multiple times to find clean areas so that she wasn’t just smearing the blood around.

“Who knew the old man had so much blood in him,” he muttered.

She paused, eyebrows raised, the fabric just frozen in place just above his face. “You know Shakespeare?” she said.

“Huh? I heard it someplace before. Not sure where. Maybe on the radio or something.”

“Well, it’s a line from a famous old play. We studied it in college. It’s a pretty bloody play. You’d probably like it. Lots of intrigue.” She resumed her ministrations, carefully wiping the folds of the scar tissue on his face. He was very aware of her every movement and wondered how she could stand to be so up close and personal with him. It was one thing to kiss in the dark, but doing this work, she could see – and feel – exactly how messed up his face was. Incredibly, she didn’t seem to mind.

“How old is the play? From your time?”

She laughed. “No, Shakespeare plays were antiques even in my day. They were almost 500 years old at that point. Crazy to think they’re nearly 700 years old now. And mostly forgotten. That’s one of the real tragedies of the bombs. How much of everything that was good about civilization was lost.”

“Can’t be entirely lost if I’m reciting bits of it without even knowing.”

She smiled. “That’s true. It’s not a perfect recitation, kind of a paraphrase, but good enough by my standards.”

“Which are admittedly low given that you’ve been kissing me lately,” he remarked with a grin.

She swatted him with the filthy rag she’d been using to clean him up.

“Ha ha, hilarious,” she said with a dry tone that didn’t match the smile on her face or the sparkle in her eyes behind her glasses. She seemed to be in a remarkably good mood, given the fact that just mere hours ago, he had nearly died. He wondered what had brought it on.

“So is it my turn to clean you up now?” he asked, waggling his hairless eyebrows at her. She rolled her eyes in response.

“I guess,” she answered. “Sponge baths for everyone.”

“What the hell is a sponge bath?”

“This,” she said, waving the soaked rag at him. “Cleaning up with some water and a rag instead of a real bath, in a tub, with warm water.” Her eyes took on a faraway cast. “God, that would be heavenly right now. Just sitting in the warm tub, letting the water soak off all this filth and grime.” She sighed.

For just a moment, an image flashed in his head of her, naked, sitting in a tub of water. He swallowed hard and urged the thought out of his head before he got himself all worked up. Why couldn’t he be dreaming about that every night instead of the bastard with the scar on his face. 

He regretted that his thoughts had come back around to the fucking recurring nightmare and the situation they were currently in. He would be able to travel again soon without physical pain, but he didn’t trust himself to remain alert enough to stay safe. People without good reflexes died quickly out here in the wasteland, and he had a good thing going right now and didn’t want to die at the moment.

“You got a clean rag?” he asked. “I don’t think you want me smearing that nasty thing on you.”

She laughed. “Yeah, I’ve just been tearing bits off this old shirt.” She handed him the ragged piece of clothing and he pulled a section off the back. The old fabric parted easily. He took the can of water from her and poured it over the fabric then studied her to figure out where to begin.

She was a mess from top to bottom. Thanks to her fast actions and the dog’s help, she had avoided any injury herself, but her efforts to care for him had resulted in smears and daubs of blood all over her exposed skin, in her hair, and in her clothing.

“That bad, huh?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I’m sorry you had to deal with all this shit.”

“It’s not your fault.”

He hesitated. “Well, it kind of is. I ain’t been sleeping good since Sanctuary Hills. I guess it caught up to me.”

“I didn’t realize,” she said, concern spreading across her face.

“I know. I was trying to keep it from you. Didn’t want you to worry or anything. But I probably should have told you.”

“Why haven’t you been sleeping?” She looked embarrassed for a moment. “Is it me? Am I keeping you awake? We can sleep separately if that’s better for you. I just… the closeness is nice.”

“Nah, Sunshine, ain’t nothing like that.” He chewed on the inside of his mouth, trying to decide how much to tell her. “I like lying next to you. It’s… nightmares. I know how stupid that sounds. 

She looked serious and reached up to caress his face. He closed his eyes and rejoiced in her gentle touch. “That doesn’t sound stupid at all. I’ve had nightmares since I got here… except for the last few nights. I know how crazy they can make you. What are they about? Would talking about it help?”

“No, I don’t want to talk about them,” he said quickly, opening his eyes again. She removed her hand and looked hurt. “It’s the same dream over and over and… I don’t even like to think about it. What I need to do is get back to Goodneighbor and talk to Dr. Amari. She knows a thing or two about brains, and I want to see what she makes of this. Make sure my brains aren’t about to melt out of my ears. But I also need to get you safely to Diamond City and I promised you I’d come in this time. I just can’t figure out how to make it work.”

She considered the problem, and while she did, he gently removed her glasses and started working on a smear of dried blood that crossed her cheek like raider war paint. She was looking into his eyes the whole time, and it distracted him, his eyes coming to hers like they were magnets.

“Why don’t we head straight for Goodneighbor then,” she finally said. “Maybe we can arrange for Nick to come by and we can figure things out from there.”

“I don’t want to pull a Preston,” Hancock commented with a smile. “Make you travel miles out of the way on account of my sorry ass.”

She laughed. “No, I think it will be fine. Goodneighbor isn’t that far from Diamond City, and I think we can kill two birds with one stone.”

“Alright then. Tomorrow we’ll head toward Goodneighbor and figure shit out.”

“We’ll take it slow,” she said.

“Let’s finish getting you cleaned up.” He folded over the rag, poured more water on it, and got to work on the other cheek.

Chapter Text

As the sun set, they took turns watching out the window, checking to make sure that their hiding place remained undiscovered. Erica had let Hancock know in no uncertain terms that she expected him to get some sleep tonight, and she would stay awake if she had to, both to stand guard and to help him if his nightmares got out of control. He still refused to tell her what they were about, and while she wasn’t happy about that, she left it alone.

He was taking his turn at the window when she sat down next to him.

“My turn ain’t up yet,” he commented, continuing his watch.

“I know,” she said. “I’m just bored.” He snorted a laugh in response. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah, of course. What’s on your mind?" 

“Where did you get the name ‘Hancock’? I’m guessing you weren’t born with it, even given your clothing choice.”

Ah. Was it time for this conversation now? He wasn’t sure he was quite ready for it, and he was definitely sure that she wasn’t. She seemed to see him in a pretty decent light, and he hated to do anything to change that. At the same time, it didn’t seem fair to let her think he was a better person than he actually was.

“No…” he said, slowly and cautiously, not looking at her. “I wasn’t born with it. I guess I gave it to myself.”

She nodded. “Everything else in Boston is named after John Hancock, so why not you too.”

He laughed.

“Do you have a first name? Or are you that much of a superstar that you just go by the one name?” she asked with a smile.

“I do have a first name, actually. John.”

“Smart ass.”

He finally looked at her and grinned. “No, that really is my first name, the one I was born with. Nice how that worked out, right?”

“So what last name were you born with?”

He resumed looking out the window and didn’t answer her for a long time, but he could feel his eyes on her. “It don’t matter,” he finally said. “That asshole is dead and has been for more than ten years. He ain’t coming back.”

She put her hand on his shoulder, and he looked at her, worried at what he might see. “Okay,” she said. Incredibly, her face was clear, empty of any kind of judgment or criticism but full of understanding and compassion. “John Hancock it is then.” He had avoided telling her the truth for now. Maybe that was cowardly, but he couldn’t bear for her to look at him differently.

 

 

 

He woke up again to her shaking him out of his nightmare, his whole body trembling. If his skin could still produce sweat, he bet that he would be drenched in it.

Starlight was the only illumination in the room, and his head ached as he tried to get his bearings. He could tell that he was resting his head on something soft … his coat maybe? No, he was still wearing it. He reached up to pat under his head and felt Erica’s leg. He had fallen asleep with his head in her lap. He felt her hand take his and squeeze.

Swallowing and trying to catch his breath, he sat up. She scooted up behind him, wrapping herself around him from the back, her arms coming around the front and entwining around his chest while her head rested against his.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered into his ear. “I wish there was something I could do to make them go away.” He leaned back into her comfort.

“Ain’t your fault, Sunshine. Told you that already,” his voice sounded raspier than usual. He wondered if he’d been yelling in his sleep again. 

“You weren’t having nightmares before we got to Sanctuary Hills, so I’m kind of thinking that it actually is my fault for bringing you out there.”

He shook his head although he knew that in the dark she probably couldn’t see him, and then turned around to wrap his own arms around her. She laid her head on his shoulder, and he felt hot tears soaking through his coat and the shirt beneath.

“Sunshine, I don’t know what’s going on with my brain. Maybe I just finally fried one too many connections. But I do know that it ain’t your fault, and I don’t for a minute regret you bringing me up there and showing me what happened to you. Okay?” His hand slid up her back to her head, stroking her soft hair.

She pulled her head back from his shoulder and placed one hand on each side of his face. The starlight reflected off her glasses, and he used the hand that wasn’t in her hair to remove them so he could see her eyes. They sat like that for a breathless moment before Erica leaned forward to press her lips on his.

He remembered that when he had first seen her, he had written off those lips as thin and chapped. They were no longer chapped; in fact, they were soft and smooth, and while they might be thin, they suited her features, and there was no doubt that she knew what to do with them. Her mouth opened slightly, and he flicked his tongue at her, a shiver rushing through his body. She responded to the shiver with her own tongue and pressed closer to him. One of her hands moved from the side of his face to the back of his head, gently caressing the lines and folds of the scar tissue, mindful of the area where he’d been injured earlier. Just hours ago, her touch had caused pain to shoot through him, but now, her gentle touch only made him want to be even closer to her. Her hand nudged his hat away, and he paused to take off his coat, tossing it to the side.

He resumed kissing her, leaning forward into her, and she lay back, until he was hovering above her and she was on her back with her legs wrapped around his hips. He broke the kiss and just looked at her for a moment, below him, hair spread out on the floor, her hands reaching up to him.

How had he ever thought she wasn’t attractive? She was beautiful with those shining eyes, that soft skin. Even the fine lines around her mouth and eyes and the gray in her hair was beautiful. It all told the story of Erica and her resilience in the face of the unimaginable. She’d been through utter hell and fought her way through it to land on the doorstep of his town, and now she continued to fight, and he was thrilled to be the one to fight at her side for as long as she would let him. They’d find her kid, somehow, and make as much as possible right for her as they could.

He ran his hand from the side of her face down her neck and across her top. She didn’t stop him and continued looking directly into his eyes as he palmed a soft breast over her shirt. He resumed kissing her and began undoing the buttons that held her top closed. He reached the last, and just before he could spread the shirt open to see her skin, she suddenly reached out and caught his hand with her own.

“Wait…” she said.

“What is it? You okay?” he asked. Shit, he thought, maybe he’d misread the situation. Or maybe he hadn’t and she was having second thoughts.

“Yeah, but… I know it’s pretty dark, but still… I’m not… much to look at.”

“Are you serious? You’re fucking beautiful.”

“Okay, well, you’re a terrible liar. But… I have all this… loose skin and… stretch marks. I’m a mess.”

He had to laugh. “Sunshine, look who you’re talking to.”

She turned her face and covered her chest with her arms. “It’s not the same.”

He gently turned her face back to his and ran his thumb over her bottom lip. “How is it not the same? Talk to me.”

“I don’t know, I just… I used to be pretty, then, you know, I got married and it didn’t matter, and I didn’t love him and he was awful, so I let everything go. I guess I thought if I wasn’t pretty anymore he wouldn’t want to touch me and he’d leave me alone, but… it didn’t make a difference. He’d just call me a fat pig and all sorts of other shit before he’d… you know.”

Hancock’s jaw dropped open. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?” He’d take extra pleasure in shooting Nate tonight when the dream inevitably returned. At least he could enjoy that aspect of the dream.

She shook her head at him miserably. “No. I wish I was. But… now… the skin and the marks…”

“Oh, Sunshine.” Hancock dipped his head down to kiss her, wanting to erase the memory of the bastard she had married. He slid his hands along her arms where they crossed in front of her and gently coaxed them away from her chest.

He sat back again, and brushed her hair away from her face before running his hand back to her chest. He looked at her. “May I?” he asked.

She took a ragged breath and then nodded.

He spread the shirt open and gazed at her skin, which seemed to glow in the starlight. He saw the stripes on her soft belly below her bra and ran a finger along one of them tenderly, causing the muscles beneath her belly to contract in an involuntary response. He bent over and kissed the softest area, his hands at her sides, before scooting himself back up to her face and kissing her mouth again.

“I stand by what I said. You’re fucking beautiful.”

She let out her breath in what was almost a sob and reached for his face.

He moved his mouth along her neck, peppering her with kisses, until he reached the hollow of her throat. Reaching down, he found the clasp of her bra and undid it. He reached in and caressed her breast, running his thumb over the nipple as it pebbled beneath his touch. She was breathing faster. Had she ever been touched like this? Were there lovers before the ill-fated marriage and the asshole husband? He didn’t know, and he didn’t want to ask. But as far as he was concerned, if there were, he’d do his very best to make her forget them. 

His mouth continued its downward trek, and soon he had the nipple in his mouth. She sighed and her body pressed up against him, her hips rolling against his. As he gently nipped and licked at the nipple, he pushed the rest of the bra away and found the other breast and nipple with his fingers, encircling it and teasing her. Her breath was coming faster, and she moaned quietly. He smiled against her breast, then resumed working down her body.

He lightly kissed his way down her belly, giving attention to the marks with tender licks, wanting her to know that he adored all of her, even these parts that made her self-conscious. She had nothing to be afraid of with him.

Reaching her navel, he gave her another quick kiss before lifting his head. Her hands were around his head, and she looked down at him.

“You okay?” he asked.

“God, yes,” she replied with a soft laugh. He smiled in response and unsnapped her pants. Sitting back, he began wiggling them down her hips. She lifted her hips to help him, and soon her pants and underwear joined her top and his coat.

He sat and gazed at her in the starlight, running a hand along the soft skin of her thigh. He could see the scar from the molerat, the only real scar she had. Her skin dimpled in some areas, and he studied it and caressed it, intrigued by her pre-war body and all the ways it was different from the wasteland natives he’d been with over the years.

It had been a long time since he’d taken his time with anyone. For the last several years, his encounters had primarily been quick fucks, fueled by chems or alcohol, with most anyone who was game – and he had his choice. This, though… this was different. He felt drawn to Erica in a way he couldn’t explain. She was comfortable with him and seemed to genuinely care about him, whereas most others were more interested in what kind of favors they could procure from the Mayor of Goodneighbor. He loved her sense of humor and the righteous fury that could prompt her to sudden, and often unexpected, action.

He looked up at her face to see her watching him. Her eyebrows creased together like she was worried. He stretched out alongside her, a hand at her hip.

“What is it, Sunshine?”

“I feel… exposed,” she said with a nervous laugh.

“You are exposed,” he replied, grinning and reaching up to cup her breast again.

“You’re still completely dressed,” she said. “Maybe you need to be a bit more exposed yourself.”

He leaned back on an elbow. “You sure about that? Maybe after you see all of my ghoulish self you’re going to have second thoughts about this.”

She caressed his face. “Never.”

He took a deep breath, grateful for the low light. He knew full well that ghouls weren’t the most attractive thing in the world, and there was only so much that his charisma could do to hide that fact. But if this was going to happen, it was only fair to let her see what she was getting into.

He sat up and began unbuttoning the top few buttons of his shirt, feeling her eyes on him the whole time. After unbuttoning the shirt about halfway, he lifted it over his head and set it aside, watching her for her reaction.

She reached out for him, and he lay down next to her again. She ran her hands from his shoulders to his hips and back up again, letting her fingers settle into and trace the ridges of his skin. He closed his eyes.

While his nerve endings no longer had the sensitivity they once had, her gentle touch buzzed through his body, setting him on fire. She ran her hands back up his face and around his head, and when he opened his eyes again, she was face to face with him, a small smile curving her lips and brightening her eyes. She leaned forward to kiss his mouth, and he returned the kiss wholeheartedly, opening his mouth and swiping his tongue into hers. Without breaking the kiss, he untied the flag he wore as a belt and pushed his pants down his slim hips, freeing himself to press against her thigh.

She sighed deeply and reached down to grip him. Feeling her take him in her hand was almost more than he could stand, and he groaned into her mouth.

“Hold up, Sunshine, or this is going to end a lot sooner than I want it to,” he said. She laughed softly and let go, running her hand along his side. He grinned and gently nudged her onto her back.

He’d left off at her navel, and now it was time to give all areas south the attention they deserved. He positioned himself between her legs, and lovingly ran a finger along her folds, thrilled at the fact that she was already wet. She breathed in sharply, and her whole body twitched under his hand.

“Oh my god,” she whispered. “Do that again.” 

“You got it,” he said, and gave her another gentle stroke, this time finding the nub hidden in her folds and lightly flicking it with his thumb.

She moaned low and reached for his head again, lifting her hips to meet him. “Holy shit, John.”

Hearing her name from her lips made his eyes sting and caused a lump to form in his throat. If tears were still possible, he would have wept for the sheer joy of it. He couldn’t wait any longer, and he dipped forward to taste her.

As he ran his tongue from her entrance to her clit, he had to hold her hips in place; her body twitched, jumped, and trembled beneath him, and the low moan turned into a high-pitched keen. He held one hand on her hip and moved the other to slide two fingers into her, his lips around her clit, gently pulling on it as she twitched so hard she almost shook him off of her. He couldn’t help but chuckle, and he felt her reaction to the vibration of his laughter on her. She laughed too.

“So---HOORRRyy!” she gasped, hips jerking uncontrollably.

“Nothing to apologize for, Sunshine,” he laughed, loving her reactions. He slid his two fingers slowly in and out, lightly pulling on her clit with his lips and tongue. Her body thrummed like a live wire beneath him, and he could hear her breaths coming faster and faster.

He knew she was close and hooked his fingers to brush against that hidden place that he knew was deep inside her. Almost as soon as he touched it, he felt her body clench around him, and she cried out. Her thighs tightened together until he couldn’t have moved his hand if he’d tried, and he felt the waves pulsing through her body. Her hands were clenching and grasping in the air and he reached up with the one that had been on her hip to weave his fingers through hers. As she rode her waves, he gently twitched his fingers inside of her to prolong the orgasm and let her ride it for as long as she could.

He stretched out alongside her again, and turned her head toward him to kiss her. Her eyes were dark and dreamy in the low light, and he had never seen her look more relaxed. He ran his finger under her eyes, catching tears. He knew now for a fact that the idea of karma was total bullshit. There was no way he should possibly be this lucky.

“I have terrible news for you,” she said, gazing at him.

He raised his eyebrows, worried. “What’s wrong?” he asked.

“I think I might be falling in love with you,” she said with a small smile.

He grinned. “Yeah, I can see how that would fucking suck,” he replied, and she laughed. “We ain’t done though.”

She matched his grin. “Good.”

He reached out for her, and she pulled him onto her. With a gentle nudge of his knee and a rolling of her hips, he was inside her, and he thought his eyes would roll back into his head with how good she felt. As he slowly slid himself in and out, feeling her caressing him, he couldn’t imagine how he had come to be here. Out of everyone in the Commonwealth, how was it that he was the one to be with her here in this moment? Surely there were others far more deserving.

He looked down at her. Her eyes were shut, and her mouth was slightly open, her body rocking with their slow motion. He lowered his head and kissed her, tasting her tongue. Her arms pulled at his back, and her legs wrapped around his waist, holding him tightly against her.

He could feel the pulling within himself, like the tide pulling back before rushing back in to the bay. His movements became faster, more driven. Could he bring her to the peak again? Together, with him? He was going to try.

Reaching between their bodies, he found the sensitive bundle of nerves within her folds and began rhythmically passing his thumb over it. She gasped and twitched, jerking her hips up to his, and he could feel her quiver from the inside. The sensation and her desire spurred him onward, pushing and pulling faster. They had broken the kiss and both were breathing quicker, face to face, their exhalations intermingling. Just as he was reaching the point of no return, he felt her clench around him once more as her climax rushed through her body. The sudden change tipped him over the edge, and an instant before he came, he pulled out of her – he didn’t think she’d appreciate wrapping up the night with a bag of RadAway hooked into her arm before she went to sleep. He spilled in spurts between her legs, gasping and shivering with the intensity of it. He couldn’t remember the last time it had been this good.

Breaths hitching, they lay entwined as they both came down from their peaks, her legs still around him, his head on her belly, hands reaching up to clasp hers. Once their breathing had slowed and he felt like his brain could function again, he raised himself up and kissed her once more before getting up and retrieving the scraps they had used earlier to clean away the blood as well as the sleeping bag. He cleaned up the mess he had made and then spread out the sleeping bag, helping Erica up and then guiding her back down and lying down next to her. She rolled toward him and he reached for her, and they lay there in the dark, arms and legs tangled.

Just before he fell asleep, he spoke. “I have some pretty shitty news for you too,” he said. 

“Hmmm?” she sighed, barely awake.

“I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you too.”

“Well, shit,” she replied with a light laugh. He grinned in the darkness. Fahrenheit was going to fucking kill him, but he’d deal with that tomorrow.

Chapter Text

“Did you know you talk in your sleep?”

And just like that, Hancock was wide awake. He’d been, once again, shaken out of his nightmare, although this time he had the joy of waking up bare-ass naked, tangled up with Erica, who was also naked. It made the transition from nightmare to waking a bit easier. 

“What exactly am I saying in my sleep?” he asked, suspicious. She was holding him tightly, gazing into his face. The room was still mostly dark, but he could tell that sunrise wasn’t far off.

“Sometimes it’s just growls and groans, sometimes you say ‘no.’” She paused. “This time you laughed really strangely and then, a few moments later, you said, clearly, ‘No, don’t, I hate it when you look at me that way.’ Then you started yelling like you were in pain, and that was when I woke you up.”

He was silent, unsure of what to say. She had just quite accurately described his thought process during the last few minutes of the dream, and it scared him. He didn’t want her to know what he was dreaming about; she already blamed herself for the nightmares, after all. He had, as he had thought he would, taken great delight in shooting Nate in the head this time, and that had spurred the crazy laughter, but then, to turn around and see the rage in Erica’s eyes…

He looked into those eyes now, eyes that were studying him so intently and with such concern. He couldn’t help it, and he glanced away for just a moment before he said, “I can’t even remember what I was dreaming about.” He looked back just in time to see her eyes narrow, and he knew full well that she knew he was full of shit.

“You don’t have to tell me,” she said, reproach in her voice. “I know that you’re worried. But please don’t lie to me.”

He felt ashamed and resented, for just a moment, the power she had over him, as if she were somehow his conscience. “Sorry, Sunshine. I just… I really don’t want to talk about them.”

“I know.” She rolled over, letting go of him, and he felt a tiny pang of loss as the cool morning air hit his body. “We need to start heading toward Goodneighbor,” she said, tucking her arms behind her head. He took a moment to admire the way she looked, stretched out and naked. He agreed with what she was saying, but really, he just wanted to hole up with her in this abandoned house all day and continue exploring her body with his mouth and fingers. “I really want to make it there today, get you to this Dr. Amari.”

He sighed and sat up. “Yeah. I know. Let’s pack it up.”

 

 

 

They made it most of the way to Goodneighbor before the supermutants hit.

One moment they were walking along, picking their way across the blasted concrete and burnt out husks of cars, then Erica suddenly froze, alert.

“What is that?” she asked in a whisper.

He paused as well, listening carefully. She must have excellent ears, he thought, because he couldn’t hear anything besides the usual sound of far-off gunshots that constantly accompanied them.

“I don’t hear nothing,” he said, but a moment later, he realized he did – a rapid beeping that was speeding up and getting louder. The blood drained from his face and he grabbed her by the arm.

“Suicider!” he hissed. “Run!

He saw her face turn pale and her eyes open wide behind her glasses. The dog’s hackles were up, and it was turning and growling in all directions. He had seen the dog’s handiwork on the raiders that had attacked the day before and was impressed, but he knew that it would be no match for a mini-nuke.

“Dogmeat!” he snarled. The dog’s head swiveled toward him. “Let’s go!”

The three of them stumbled over the pavement, past the collapsed overpass. Erica attempted to turn toward an open alley, but he pulled her back. “Not that way! You’ll get trapped! We need to get the fuck out of here! We can’t be anywhere close when that thing goes!”

They hauled ass up the remains of Washington Street, Dogmeat a few steps ahead, Erica panting heavily next to him. They had only a few more blocks to go, but he could hear the beeping getting even louder, now accompanied by roars and snarls from those fucking mutated hounds the supermutants always had with them. He had a moment of horror in which he visualized, clear as day, Erica’s legs hanging out of one of those disgusting meat bags, and he couldn’t stand it anymore – he had to chance a glimpse behind him.

He could see the flashing light just a few blocks away. It was gaining too fast, and Erica was already moving as quickly as she could. There was no way they would make it to Goodneighbor before the thing caught up to them, and even if they could, the gates weren’t meant to withstand a full-on blast from a mini-nuke. He had to try to stop the damn thing, but his shotgun wasn’t going to do the trick from this distance.

“Your pistol!” he gasped. Erica fumbled for a moment, and his heart nearly stopped, afraid she would drop it. She got hold of it, though, and slapped it in his hand. He spun around, his coat whirling, took a split second to aim for the nuke, then shoved Erica to the side as hard as he could as he pulled the trigger.

The nuke roared in a blinding flash, and the mutant that was carrying it vaporized into a fine mist of blood and flesh before his eyes. He felt the warm wave of the radiation wash over him, and heard Dogmeat yelp in pain beside him. His ears rang from the explosion, and he prayed to whoever might be listening that there wasn’t another suicider in the pack because if there was, he knew he wouldn’t be able to hear it now.

He dashed to the side to check on Erica. She had stumbled behind an ancient, wrecked car, which had protected her from the worst of the blast, but she was still curled into a shivering, retching ball from the radiation that now blanketed the area. They had plenty of RadAway, but he knew more supermutants would be there within moments. They always chose their fastest, strongest warriors to carry the mini-nukes (which didn’t make a lick of sense to him, but what the fuck did he know about supermutant logic), but that only gave them seconds before the cavalry arrived.

Dogmeat limped over to her and licked her face. She reached out to the dog and groaned, sweat dripping off the tip of her nose. Hancock knew in an instant that she wouldn’t be able to run, so he picked her up and hauled her over his shoulder, running the rest of the way to the front gate of his town.

He could hear the rest of the supermutant pack gaining on them, and then, thank the gods, the gate was there, and he threw it open, bolted inside, and then slammed it shut again a split second after Dogmeat slipped through. He could hear the roars outside escalating and, head spinning, he shouted, “Man the gates! Supermutants!”

Stumbling forward a few more steps, he felt rather than saw the neighborhood watch bolt past him, guns drawn, and then he collapsed just outside the door of the State House, just in time for Erica to vomit all over both of them. He heard the fizz and pop of a match being lit, and smelled cigarette smoke, and then heard a familiar voice.

“What the fuck did you do?” said Fahrenheit.

Chapter Text

He and Fahrenheit worked together to get Erica up the stairs. She threw up two more times on the way, causing Fahrenheit to slip and curse up a blue streak so profane that he had to pause to admire her creativity.

Once inside his room, they worked together to remove Erica’s sopping and filthy clothing. One of the watchmen arrived from the hall with a bucket of soapy water and a cloth, and the pair of them did their best to clean her up before wrapping her in a blanket and laying her on the couch with the bucket next to her. Hancock was careful throughout the entire process to maintain a neutral expression, his face a mask in order to not give away any thoughts he might have about Erica’s naked body. 

He then stripped his own clothes off, tied them into a bundle for cleaning later, and changed into a t-shirt and jeans he had lying around. He felt more naked wearing clothing other than his usual outfit than when he was, in fact, naked, but at the moment, there wasn’t much that could be done about that.

The Neighborhood Watch had made short work of the supermutants that had trailed them to Goodneighbor, so he felt no qualms about first keeping Fahrenheit with him, then sending her to go find him someone who could run a message to Diamond City. In the meantime, he hooked up a bag of RadAway to Erica, who was still retching and groaning. At this point, she was mostly dry heaving, but he kept the bucket close at hand just in case. There wasn’t much he could do about the smell though, so he smoked cigarette after cigarette and chomped down Mentats, hoping the fumes from the tobacco and the sweet taste of the chems would do something to cover up the odor from the bucket. Dogmeat stayed in the corner, close enough to keep a watchful eye on his mistress, but not so close that his sensitive nose would be assaulted by the stench.

I must be in love, Hancock thought, to put up with this mess.

His door creaked open.

“Jesus, Hancock, it fu- it reeks in here!” His messenger had arrived.

“Hey kid,” Hancock said. “How’d you like to earn some caps?”

 

 

 

After haggling with MacCready over the cost of a run to Diamond City (and the kid was getting too big for his britches – 200 caps for a thirty minute jog? Who was he kidding?), he stretched out, popping his back and yawning. He wondered when he’d have a moment to get away and check in with Amari. He was completely exhausted and was tempted to get into some Buffout or some other stimulant that could keep him going for a while, but that didn’t seem to be the best idea right now. He also didn’t want to leave Erica passed out on the couch. The vomiting had subsided, but she was still drenched in sweat and had a somewhat greenish cast to her skin.

He heard footsteps on the stairs and wondered who was coming to make his life hell now.

Gray eyes beneath ginger hair shaved on one side glared at him. Of course, he thought, wearily.

“Talk,” Fahrenheit said, perching herself on the edge of his desk.

“Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth…” Hancock began.

“Fuck you. What the fuck is going on?”

“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary… alright, alright!” he interrupted himself as he backed away from the knife that was suddenly at his throat. “We went up to the place where she’d been staying before, little west of Concord, met some folks there, then came back here. She’s searching for a missing person, and MacCready is bringing Nick here so we don’t have to go to goddamn Diamond City, okay?” 

“You’ve been gone two fucking weeks, then suddenly you turn up with this chick thrown over your shoulder, puking all over you, with a dog…” She gestured at the creature in question in the corner. “… and a pack of fucking supermutants on your tail.” She lit a cigarette. “And I heard the mini-nuke go off not long before you came pounding through the gate. Just about shook the whole fucking wall down.”

“That’s why she’s puking. I shot the mini-nuke and a car protected her from the worst of the blast, but she still got a hefty dose.”

“Then why do you look like shit?” Fahrenheit asked, eyes narrowing. “Shouldn’t you look rejuvenated as fuck right now?”

“I ain’t been sleeping good, alright?” he asked, defensive.

She grunted. “You can make her take a watch or two, you know, even if she is fucking helpless. You can’t stay up for two fucking weeks straight.”

“She’s taken her share of watches,” he said. “She’s been pulling her weight pretty damn well, actually. Couple of raiders got the drop on us, smacked the shit out of my head, and she and the dog tore them to pieces. It was hot,” he grinned.

Just then, he heard Erica’s voice from the couch. “John?” she groaned. “Where are you?” He quickly moved over to her side and brushed her damp hair out of her eyes.

“Hey Sunshine, feeling better?” In an instant, he recognized his mistake and cursed himself for being such an idiot.

Fahrenheit’s mouth dropped open and then she quickly regained her composure. She glared at Hancock and then shook her head in disgust. “You fucked her! I fucking knew it!”

He darted his eyes to the door, which was still slightly ajar. “Shut the fuck up,” he hissed.

“Are you fucking insane?” she said, her eyes afire in a way that reminded him uncomfortably of Erica. “This chick is fucking helpless with some kind of crazy story, probably from a fucking vault or something, and you fucking fucked her? You said you wouldn’t!” 

“Yeah, well, shit happens,” Hancock growled, his hand still on Erica’s forehead as if to protect her. “Besides, it ain’t like that. I just told you – she ain’t all helpless and shit now. She’s learning quick.”

Fahrenheit made a face. “Yeah, I’ll just bet she is. Goddammit! What the fuck is wrong with you! You couldn’t keep it in your pants for two fucking weeks?”

“Enough!” Hancock snapped. Fahrenheit bared her teeth at him, but he was done. He was fucking exhausted, his fucking head hurt, and he just wanted a fucking night’s sleep. “You don’t get a say in any of this. You’re my bodyguard, not my goddamn chaperone.”

He thought Fahrenheit was actually going to punch him, but she was interrupted by a knock on the door. MacCready stuck his head in. “Hey, sorry to interrupt,” he said, although his tone clearly stated that he was in actuality more than happy to, “but Nick is on his way and should be here soon. Should I tell him to wait or…?” His eyes quickly darted to Hancock’s hand on Erica’s forehead and back to Hancock’s face.

Fahrenheit’s nostrils flared, but she had gotten herself back under control. “Yeah, I’m leaving.” She turned back to Hancock. “We’ll talk later,” she hissed.

Hancock sighed and rubbed his eyes. “Yeah, MacCready, just send Nick up when he gets here.”

“You got it,” the mercenary said, raising his eyebrows at Hancock as Fahrenheit stomped past, and then closing the door after her.

Chapter Text

The door once again creaked open.

“You rang?” The sardonic tone of the synth’s voice was music to Hancock’s ears. He jumped up to greet Nick. He’d spent the last hour or so fumigating the office, removing Erica’s bucket and throwing the windows open to air everything out so that they could have a meeting here without everyone having to hold their nose (or, in some cases, hold their hand over the hole where their nose once was).

“Thanks for coming over here,” Hancock said. “We had initially planned to head back to Diamond City, but, well…”

“Things change,” Nick said, amicably. He looked at Erica, asleep and wrapped up in the blanket on the couch. “She okay? Your messenger said she was sick.” Dogmeat glanced up at the new arrival, sighed, and then curled himself back into his ball in the corner.

“Yeah, had a little supermutant trouble on the way in. She caught a hefty dose of rads off one of their mini-nukes. She’s doing better now, just resting.”

“Ah. I’m glad to see you’re both still in one piece. Well, what can I do you for?”

Hancock checked that the door was shut and then gently shook Erica’s shoulder. “Hey, Sunshine,” he said, quietly, ignoring Nick’s rising eyebrow. “The detective is here. You feel well enough to talk?”

She groaned and rolled over. Her hair was matted and her face was blotchy in some areas from the couch, but he still thought she looked beautiful. She started to sit up, and he put an arm around her to help. He sat down on the couch next to her, and she leaned in to him.

“Hey Nick,” she said in a raspy voice. Hancock offered her a can of water and she gratefully gulped it down. She turned to Hancock. “How long was I out?”

“Just a couple hours. You didn’t miss much. You should probably know that you’re naked under that blanket though, so careful how much you move around. Unless you want to give Nick a show, of course.”

She laughed weakly and wiped a hand across her forehead. “So, Nick, did you find anything out?” 

The synth glanced at Hancock, unsure whether he could speak freely. “Well, doll…”

“It’s okay,” Erica said. “He knows everything. Honestly, at this point, he knows more about the whole situation than you do.”

Nick looked at Hancock appraisingly. “I see. Well, I do actually think I have a lead for you. The man with the scar who shot your husband and kidnapped your son – I have a name. Conrad Kellogg. He’s apparently a merc who had a house in Diamond City not that long ago. And here’s the important part: He had a kid with him.”

Erica sat bolt upright, holding the blanket in place over her chest. “A kid? There was a kid?"

Hancock put an arm around her and could feel her whole body thrumming. “Easy, Sunshine,” he murmured.

“Yeah, not sure of the age, though. Maybe somewhere between eight and eleven? Hard to tell.”

Erica chewed on her lip and a tear slipped down her cheek. “He’s not a baby anymore then. I missed it.”

“But you still have a chance to be his mom,” Hancock said in a low voice. “It ain’t over yet.”

“Well, I can’t guarantee that this is even your kid,” Nick said. “For all we know, the man is a part of some kind of kidnapping ring. But it’s something, and he was described as having a scar, a beard, and a bald head – it all checks out with your description.”

Something in Hancock’s mind was screaming for his attention. From whatever recesses of his brain the dream came from, he knew that this was the guy. This Kellogg was the man with the scar.

“From the way you’re talking about this guy, it sounds like he ain’t there anymore,” Hancock said. “How long has he been gone?”

“Maybe a month or so?” Nick said. “It’s hard to get a straight answer. I went to look at the place he’d been renting, and that lock was impossible to pick. I’ve never seen a lock of that quality in Diamond City, so it’s safe to say that he’s definitely hiding something. We’re gonna have to get the key off of McDonough.” Nick looked pointedly at Hancock, who narrowed his eyes.

“How do you propose we do that?” Hancock said, irritated. “You know what a son of a bitch that asshole can be.”

“Erica’s gonna have to be the one to ask,” Nick answered. He turned to her. “Do you think you can handle that?”

“I need to ask the Mayor for the key to this guy’s house?” she asked. Hancock could see her mulling it over. “Words over weapons for a change, huh?” She smiled. “Finally a task that’s more my speed.”

Hancock tightened his arm around her shoulders. “Atta girl,” he said. “Let’s do this. Nick, can you accompany Erica back to Diamond City and help her find McDonough’s office? If that bastard catches wind that I’m even remotely involved, he’ll shut this whole thing down before we can make a single move.”

“Even having me involved is risky,” Nick said. “McDonough isn’t exactly my biggest fan.”

“No, but he accepts you and your position as a detective. He ain't that bright, anyway. Nothing about that would seem out of the ordinary to him.”

“Fair enough.”

Hancock turned back to Erica. “While you’re with Nick, I’m gonna check in with Dr. Amari and see if I can get some answers myself.” Erica nodded.

Nick raised his eyebrows. “Amari? You got a problem with your central processing unit there, John?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. I ain’t gonna get into it right now, though. In the meantime, let’s hit the Third Rail, grab ourselves something to eat, and then the two of you can head out in the morning after Erica gets a good night’s sleep.”

“Can you grab me some clothes or something?” Erica asked. “I don’t particularly want to stroll around Goodneighbor wearing nothing but a blanket.” 

Hancock grinned. “I doubt anyone would mind too much.” 

Nick made a show of clearing his throat. “If it’s alright with you, I think I’ll go visit Irma while you two have dinner. Erica, I’ll come by to pick you up in the morning.” He stood up, nodded at both with a finger to his fedora, and left, closing the door behind him.

“Any chance of a shower or bath?” Erica asked. “I feel like swamp muck on the bottom of someone’s shoe right now.”

“I think that can probably be arranged,” Hancock said. “Sit tight for a second.”

 

 

 

It took about an hour of carrying water and heating it on the stove, but eventually he was able to halfway fill the tub in the room across from his office. Erica looked at him with gratitude before shuffling to the next room and then slipping out of the blanket and into the tub. She sighed and laid her head back with her eyes closed, and then dunked her head and face under the water, her hair swirling out around her for a minute before she reemerged and wiped the water out of her face. Hancock couldn’t help himself from just sitting and feasting his eyes. Erica naked in a warm bath was everything he’d hoped it would be.

He finally decided to make himself useful and tracked down a clean cloth and an old bar of soap. He dunked both in the water to make a lather and started running the cloth over Erica’s skin. She opened her eyes and gazed at him with a slight smile on her face, and he leaned over to give her a thorough kiss. Her hand crept up behind around his neck and he laughed and moved away when water dripped down his back under his t-shirt.

“Hey, I don’t want to have to change again,” he said. She grinned and splashed water at him. He laughed. “Oh, is that how it is?”

He stood up, pulled his shirt over his head, and dropped his pants to the floor. Erica beamed up at him with a sideways smile on her face and then pulled her legs against her chest as he climbed into the tub with her, water slopping out onto the floor. One more thing for Fahrenheit to get pissed about, he thought. Oh well.

Once he was in the tub, she stretched out her legs so that one was on either side of him. The cloth gave him the perfect excuse to run his hands up and down her legs before giving her a quick tweak in the sensitive place in between them. She laughed and jumped a bit and then sighed and once again laid her head back as he began working his fingers in a circular motion, pausing every now and then to dip the tip of one finger inside her. He put slight pressure on her clit with his thumb and was rewarded by her quietly moaning and lifting her hips up slightly to him.

He reached out and put his hands around her waist, pulling her first into a seated position and then onto his lap. She leaned forward and kissed him deeply, and he responded, his own urgency growing. She reached down and gave him several firm strokes and he bit back his own groan. Letting go of her mouth, he found himself at face level with her breasts, and he drew a nipple into his mouth and pulled on it.

Just then, the door burst open and Fahrenheit strode into the room. Erica squawked and jumped back, causing water to once again splash all over the floor. She grabbed for the cloth Hancock had been wiping her clean with and covered her top half with it, her face burning red with embarrassment.

“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” Hancock roared at Fahrenheit who stood glaring at him with a hand on her hip.

“Nick said you were going to the Third Rail to get some dinner,” she said, a smirk spreading across her face. “Thought I’d come see what was holding you up.” 

“Jesus Christ, woman, get out!” 

“You have five minutes. Hurry the fuck up.”

“I may honestly kill her,” Hancock growled to himself as Erica attempted to disappear behind the walls of the tub.

Chapter Text

After stumbling around attempting to put clean clothes on their wet bodies without falling over, they headed down the stairs and around the corner to the bar. His balls ached, and he cursed Fahrenheit. It seemed remarkably unfair that even though he could no longer father a kid, he could still get blue balls.

He didn’t know what the hell had gotten into Fahr recently. She was acting like a jealous girlfriend or something, and it was baffling. She’d never seemed to have a problem with him being with women before (or men for that matter), and he couldn’t figure out what was different this time… at least, what was different that Fahrenheit would be aware of.

Erica was hesitant about entering the bar, and he didn’t blame her in the slightest. At this point, he wasn’t real keen on being around Fahr either, but he also wanted to get to the bottom of her strange behavior, and if it took a direct confrontation, then so be it. He wasn’t shy about letting people know what was what.

After some coaxing, they entered. Fahr had procured a table front and center where she had a fantastic view of Magnolia. Maybe I should give her some grief about her relationships, Hancock thought. Turnabout’s fair play after all. Her back was currently to the door and she was one hundred percent focused on the singer. Hancock crept up behind her, drawing his knife. He wasn’t actually going to hurt her, but he thought she deserved a little scare. Just as Erica reached out her hand to stop him, Fahr turned around in her seat and swatted his hand away, neatly plucking the knife out of the air as it fell and turning it back on him. He had to admire the move, even as annoyed with her as he currently was.

“You’re not as sly as you think,” she said.

“Not true,” he answered. “You’re just far slyer than anyone else out there. It’s why you make such a perfect bodyguard.”

She smiled in satisfaction and then rearranged her features into a glare when her eyes passed over Erica. “Sit,” she said. “Charlie’s bringing over dinner and drinks.”

Erica pulled out the nearest chair and glanced at Hancock with a worried look on her face before sitting. Hancock came around the other side so he could keep an eye on the door as he ate. He wasn’t too worried about someone trying some shit while he was here, but it never hurt to keep your guard up.

The three of them sat in uncomfortable silence as Charlie brought over a round of bourbon for Hancock, a Gwinnett Stout for Erica, and a whiskey for Fahrenheit. Shortly after, MacCready wandered in the front door and Hancock waved him over, hoping the merc could liven up this particular strange party. He came over with a grin and sat himself across from Fahrenheit.

“Move your ass, MacCready,” she growled. “You’re blocking my view.”

“I’m pretty sure you’ve had a much better view than this,” he answered her. Hancock snickered. Fahr tried to look offended but finally grinned. 

“Hell yeah, I have. She’s fucking beautiful all naked, spread out in front of me, ready for the taking.” She turned to Hancock. “You know how nice that is, having someone naked in front of you, all set, just waiting for your hand… or your tongue… or your…”

“Enough, Fahr,” Hancock snapped. She smirked, clearly pleased to have gotten a reaction out of him.

Erica turned away from the table to focus on the singer, and Hancock could see from the side that her ears were flushed red, making him guess that the rest of her face probably was too. He was irritated both with Fahr and himself for putting her in this uncomfortable position. Just then, Charlie returned with plates of grilled mirelurk dressed with some kind of sauce (he knew better than to ask), and a side of roasted carrots.

Erica pushed at the meat with her fork, causing it to flake apart. She lifted her fork to her nose and took a sniff. “It smells like crab,” she said, surprised.

“It’s mirelurk,” Hancock said. “I think the damn things are descended from crabs or lobsters or something. Kind of a specialty around these parts.”

“It’s nice to see some things never change,” Erica said quietly with a small smile on her face and then took a bite. Her eyes lit up. “Oh, this is good! Wish I had a roll for this lobstahhhh,” she said, drawing out and exaggerating the last syllable. Fahrenheit and MacCready both looked at her strangely, but Hancock chuckled, glad to see some of her playfulness returning. 

She dug in with gusto, clearly hungry after losing everything she’d eaten that morning (and probably the night before, too). He noticed that both Fahr and MacCready were watching her strange way of eating (fork, knife, cut, set down knife, switch fork to the other hand, lift fork to mouth). MacCready looked at him with raised eyebrows, but shrugged when Hancock gave him a slight shake of the head. Even with her inefficient technique, she still polished off her dinner before any of the rest and then stifled a belch. She looked mortified for a moment.

“Compliments to the chef, Charlie!” Hancock called out, and the robot tipped its bowler hat in their direction. He grinned at Erica, who smiled back, reassured, and sipped her Stout. Magnolia finished her set and headed to the bar for a drink, trailing her fingers along Fahrenheit’s shoulder as she went by.

“So, Fahr,” Hancock said, feigning casualness. “When are we gonna talk about your little issue?”

Fahrenheit paused to swallow the mouthful of mirelurk she’d been working on before answering. “And what issue is that, precisely?”

“The issue of why are you being such a fucking bitch to Erica?”

Erica coughed, nearly losing her sip of Stout, and MacCready paused with a forkful of carrot halfway to his mouth. Fahr narrowed her eyes and tightened her mouth.

“I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Fahrenheit answered. MacCready set down his carrots and looked back and forth between Fahr and Hancock. 

“Yes, you do. You and your little warnings since day one and then your bullshit this afternoon." 

“What happened this afternoon?” MacCready asked.

“She fucking interrogated me about my love life then fucking cockblocked me.”

“Whoa,” MacCready laughed. “Not cool, Fahr!”

“I’m your bodyguard,” Fahrenheit snarled. “I’m guarding your body.”

“Yeah, my body don’t need guarding quite that fucking close.”

Erica glanced between them both, her lips pulled tight, clearly uncomfortable. “Do we have to talk about this right now?” she asked in a low voice.

“Yeah, we do,” Hancock said, still glaring at Fahrenheit. “You’ve never given a shit before. Why now?”

Fahrenheit looked away. “Because this time it’s obviously different.”

“Oh yeah? How’s it different?”

You’re different! You’re… I don’t fucking know, okay? I just know it’s different, and I don’t know why or how or… You’ve been weird since the moment she got here!”

“What are you so fucking afraid of?”

Fahrenheit jumped to her feet. “That you’re gonna fucking split on me like you did on mom, you fucking asshole!” She bolted away from the table and up the stairs. Magnolia turned from the bar and glared at their table and then followed Fahrenheit out. Erica and MacCready stared at Hancock with their mouths open.

Hancock leaned forward, covering his eyes with his hand. “Goddammit. I didn’t realize she… fucking hell.”

Erica reached out and covered his other hand with hers. “If you need to talk to her, go ahead.”

“I’m, uh, gonna go… uh. I dunno. Somewhere.” MacCready got up and left.

Hancock sighed. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow while you’re out with Nick. I’ll just add that to my list of shit I’ve gotta do.”

“Okay.” She squeezed his hand. “You don’t have to tell me, but if you want to, I’m here.”

His mouth twitched up. “Thanks, I guess.” He finally uncovered his eyes and looked at her. “Probably ought to just call it a night. The good news is that she probably doesn’t want to speak to me right now and we won’t be interrupted. I mean, if you’re still interested.”

She smiled at him and stood up. “Could be,” she said.

Chapter Text

Even as he kissed her and tangled his fingers in her hair, guilt and self-loathing bubbled up inside him like heartburn. Finally, he had to pull away from her.

He could see the confusion on her face as she watched him get up from the couch, cross his room to his cupboard, and pour himself several fingers of bourbon. He took a sip, wincing slightly at its good burn.

“What’s wrong?” she asked. He couldn’t help but note the hint of fear in her voice. He wanted to reassure her, but couldn’t find the words. She needed to know what a piece of shit he really was, and apparently now was the time. 

“We gotta talk, Sunshine,” he said, swirling the copper-colored liquid in the cup. “Do you want me to pour you a drink?”

“You’re scaring me, John,” she said, apparently ignoring his question. “Nothing good ever comes after ‘we gotta talk’.”

He sighed. Nothing good was coming this time too, and he wasn’t sure how to start. He went ahead and poured a second glass of bourbon. Even if she didn’t want it, he could probably use the liquid courage. Holding both glasses, he returned to the couch. She took the second glass when he offered it, but held it in her lap, eyes filled with concern and glued to his face.

“Is this about what happened at the bar?” she asked. “With Fahrenheit?”

He couldn’t meet her eyes. “Yeah.”

She set her glass on the end table next to her and turned to face him. “I’m listening.”

Chancing a glance at her, expecting to find annoyance in her face, he was surprised to see nothing but compassion.

“She’s my daughter,” he said slowly.

She nodded. “I was guessing that from what she said when she left.”

“I split when she was… I dunno. Maybe nine? I forget.” He sipped his bourbon and stared at the glass. “She was living with her mother in Diamond City. Me and her mother had… well, an understanding, I suppose.” He paused, and leaned back, stretching out his legs. “Nah. That ain’t true. Wasn’t no understanding about it. I ain’t a good guy, Sunshine.” He met her eyes and then quickly glanced away again. “I loved her mother, but I loved chems and fucking around a whole lot more. She put up with it for some goddamn reason, as long as I turned up in her bed every other day or so, and I was more than happy to take advantage of that.”

“What changed?” Erica asked quietly.

“The fucking mayor,” he growled. “One day he gets a fucking wild hair up his ass about the ghouls in Diamond City and decided that his new campaign slogan would be ‘Mankind for McDonough.’ Those fuckers up in the stands just loved it.” He finished the glass of bourbon and set it to the side. He folded his hands together in his lap and stared at them morosely. “So he wins his next election in a fucking landslide. Suddenly, every ghoul in Diamond City has a target on their back. They could pack up and leave, or they could get harassed, beaten, robbed, all sorts of bullshit.”

“Jesus,” Erica whispered.

“I tried to argue with him, make him see sense. But there ain’t no arguing with that asshole once he made up his mind. Never was.” He grimaced. “I still don’t fucking get it. He was always a cocky, pompous piece of shit, but he never had a problem with ghouls before. I sometimes wonder if…” He trailed off and shook his head. Now wasn’t the time for conspiracy theories. He’d leave that to the reporter in Diamond City.

“Anyway, the ghouls all fled into Boston. A lot of them died right away. You’ve seen how it is behind the walls. People feel safe and let their guards down. It’s easy to get soft. Some tried to come here, to Goodneighbor, but it was a different town then, run by an evil fucker, name of Vic. Some just vanished into the Commonwealth, but that’s basically a death sentence too. There were no good options.”

“So did you get kicked out too?”

“No, I wasn’t a ghoul at that time. Still had me a smooth set of skin and a full head of hair.” He grinned humorlessly. “I guess in a way I kicked myself out. I couldn’t fucking live with myself after that. I shoulda done more. Shoulda helped them more. I could survive on the streets, I was a scrappy little fucker, but I had it too cozy and I didn’t try hard enough. Didn’t want to give up my chems and my regular piece of ass.”

She handed him the second glass of bourbon that she hadn’t touched. He took it, gratefully, and sipped. This was a bitch to tell her about, but it had to be done. It just wasn’t fair to keep her in the dark about it. If she left, well, that was her choice, and he wouldn’t blame her for it.

“So I split. I told myself it was to help the ghouls, but… I dunno. I just couldn’t be in that town, be around all those assholes, anymore. And once I left I couldn’t come back. But it meant I left my kid behind. And I spent the next couple of years so fucking high that I didn’t even care and I didn’t even try to reach out to her.” He leaned forward and covered his eyes with his hand. Erica reached out and laid her hand on his back. He couldn’t believe she would even want to touch him after everything he was telling her.

“A couple years ago, she showed up here. Her mom was dead, OD’d apparently, and she didn’t know where to go or what to do with herself. I don’t know who told her that I was here and that I had… changed… but she knew. She looks so much like her mom… I just couldn’t believe my eyes when she walked through the gate.”

“What was her mom’s name?” Erica asked.

“Maggie,” he said and finished off the bourbon. “So anyway, when she showed up, I offered her a job. I’ve been working to build up her trust again, but it ain’t been easy. Maybe I fucked it all up again, I dunno. She blamed me for her mom dying, which ain’t exactly fair since I’d been gone for something like seven or eight years by that time, but at the same time, when we were together we were usually high so maybe she’s right after all.”

“You need to talk to her.”

“I know. I’ll let Magnolia calm her down tonight, but I’ll track her down and talk to her tomorrow. I gotta try to make this better somehow, but I don’t know if I can.” He let out a dry chuckle. “It’s taking everything I got not to just run away again.”

“Why do you want to run away?”

“Ain’t you noticed, Sunshine? Running away is what I do. It’s what I’ve always done.” His shame was bitter, and he glared at the empty glass in his hand, wishing it was full again. He thought it might be nice to get full on drunk.

“You could have fooled me,” Erica said, eyebrows raised. “I haven’t seen you run away at all. You stuck it out, even when I was giving you the silent treatment. Even through these nightmares.”

“Trust me, I think about it all the time. It’s always my first impulse to split.”

They sat in silence for a moment.

“I can’t remember where I first heard it,” Erica said, “but I remember someone once telling me that a person’s real character isn’t in their first impulse, but in the action they take despite that impulse. Fighting our worst impulses is actually when we are at our bravest.”

He swallowed hard against the lump in his throat and looked up at her, finally meeting her eyes. 

“I’ve run away so many times,” he said, hoarse.

“The past doesn’t matter,” she said. “What matters is what you do now.”

He clasped her to him, pressing his lips to hers.

Chapter Text

Hi folks, this is just a short update. I am a complete Klutz and I fell and broke my hand today. Until I can figure out how to type without a left hand, I'm out of commission. I'll be back as soon as I can. This is not a great situation for somebody who types for a living.

Chapter Text

His intent had been to take his time, to worship her in the way she deserved. But her calm acceptance of one of his greatest shames had him needing her intensely and urgently.

As he kissed her thoroughly, she responded in kind. He broke the kiss to shove his pants down his hips and tug hers away as well. He touched her and found her ready for him and quickly buried himself in her with a groan. She sighed and wrapped her arms around him tightly. One of her legs was planted on the floor to keep her balanced on the couch, and the other wrapped around his hips, encouraging him to drive deeper within her, and he acquiesced, gladly.

He pressed forward, again and again, feeling the tension building up inside of him. At the same time, his lips remained on hers, creating a tidal pulling and releasing between the two of them that intensified the bond they were creating.

He caught himself at the last instant and pulled out to spill onto the couch. In the future, he would have to remember to provide her with a Rad-X ahead of time. He could think of nothing more lovely than to remain inside her through his climax, feeling her pulse around him as they came together.

In the meantime, though, his own urgency had been abated, and he owed her a climax of her own. He fought back the sense of shame and selfishness that threatened to engulf him at allowing himself the indulgence of his own release first, and slid onto the floor to address her properly.

He slid two fingers into her and brushed his thumb against her clit. The leg that had been wrapped around his hips now wrapped itself around his shoulders, drawing him closer, and he was happy to oblige her. Keeping his fingers moving within her, he ran his tongue along her lips, pausing only to flick at her clit.

He looked up at her. Her head was thrown back, mouth open, and her eyes closed. In this position, the skin of her neck was pulled taut, erasing the looseness that was usually there. He couldn’t resist and ran his other hand up her top, across her stomach and breasts to her throat, caressing her soft skin. She opened her eyes and gazed down at him, a small smile curving her lips. “I love you,” she whispered, and his heart felt like it would burst right out of his chest.

Closing his own eyes, he resumed his attention below her waist, kissing, licking, and lightly pulling with his tongue, while rhythmically moving his fingers. He sought again for that spot within her that had already proven so responsive. Finding it, he delighted in the bucking of her hips, the raggedness of her breath, and the small, high-pitched sounds she made. He teased that sensitive spot with his rough index finger, pulling gently at her clit with his mouth, and felt her shatter around him. Her fingers caressed his head, and he nuzzled at her entrance with what was left of his nose, while he slowly and gently moved his fingers in rhythm with her own movements, expertly drawing out her climax. He then eased his fingers out of her and climbed over her, pulling her to him and kissing her deeply. She moved her head away and he felt a moment of fear, but then realized she was just trying to catch her breath. This thought made him grin, satisfied with himself, and he lay his head on her chest, feeling her breath catch and then begin to slow down and gain its usual rhythm.

They laid on the couch for a bit longer, tangled in each other, each caressing the other’s skin, but he knew that she would need some real sleep to be at her best tomorrow for the walk to Diamond City with Valentine. He pulled himself up and noticed the question in her drowsy eyes.

“Come on, let’s get some sleep,” he said, holding his hand out to her. She took it, a slight smile on her face, and allowed herself to be pulled to her feet and led to his room.

 

 

 

He woke to a light but insistent rap on his door. He blinked blearily before tossing back the blanket and extricating himself. After briefly considering opening the door stark naked, he decided to do whoever was on the other side a favor and quickly tugged his pants on.

When he opened the door, he found Daisy standing on the other side, holding his laundered and repaired coat as well as a package that he presumed contained the rest of their clothing. He was glad to see it; he just didn’t quite feel like himself without the red coat and ruffled shirt and found that feeling unsettling and anxiety producing, even if he didn’t want to admit it.

“Thanks, sister,” he said with a grin, holding out his hands for the package. 

“Just a moment,” Daisy said, turning away from him slightly. “Where is she?”

He jerked his head back toward the room. “Sleeping. Why?”

Daisy sighed. “John, you’re an idiot. What the hell have you gotten yourself into this time?”

He scowled. “Why does everybody automatically assume I’m just an asshole?” Daisy raised her hairless eyebrows at him, and he grimaced. “Fine, I know. But listen, this ain’t the same.”

“John, you’ve tried to fuck just about everything with two legs that comes through the door of Goodneighbor. Hell, you even made a pass at me back in the day.”

He grinned. “Hey, that offer still stands.”

“Now see? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. How can you say that when she’s sleeping just a few feet away?”

“I’m kidding, Daisy, I’m kidding.” He stepped into the hallway, gently pulling the door closed behind him. “It really is different, Daisy. Listen, I know how crazy this sounds, but… I love her.”

Daisy sighed again. “How can you say that, John? You don’t know the first thing about her.”

“I know she’s pre-war, like you. And I know you’d already figured that out and that’s why you gave her the book. I know she’s lost her son and she was married to a complete piece of shit who was shot right in front of her. I know where she lived, and I know she was caught up by one of Vault-Tec’s twisted experiments. I know she loves dogs and hates being taken advantage of.” His voice was starting to rise. “I know that since I’ve been in that fucked-up vault, I’ve had horrible nightmares I can’t explain and sleeping with her wrapped around me is the only thing that makes them bearable. And I know that when I told her about Fahrenheit and her mother last night she didn’t even fucking flinch.”

He closed his eyes and leaned back against the door. “Daisy, she accepts all the shitty things I’ve done in the past and even called me brave for fighting back against my worst impulses,” he said, hoarsely. “She said she loves me.” He opened his eyes again and looked at Daisy, recognizing the compassion and sympathy in her coal-black eyes that were so similar to his own. She’d been his friend and confidante for years, and without words, he pleaded for her understanding and acceptance.

Finally, she nodded and handed him the coat and the package. “Okay then,” she said. “I hope you take care of her in the same way it sounds like she’s taking care of you. She’s been through a mountain of shit, John.”

“I know, Daisy. And I absolutely plan to. Far’s I’m concerned, my touring days are over.”

She smiled at that. “Took long enough,” she said.

“Well, I had to make sure I checked everyone,” he said. “Thoroughly.”

She threw back her head and cackled at that, and he grinned. He loved making Daisy laugh.

“I’ll let you two lovebirds get dressed,” Daisy said. “Nick said she’s heading out with him today?”

“Yeah.”

“You okay with that?”

He considered for a moment. “I’d rather go with, but I can’t be a part of this, not when she has to talk to fucking McDonough.”

“Ah,” Daisy said.

“But I gotta talk to Fahr and get that shit straightened out then have Amari take a little peek inside this fucked-up brain of mine, so ain’t like I’m gonna be sitting around on my thumbs.”

“I’ll let you get to it then,” Daisy said, and moved toward the staircase. “And John?”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t distract her too much while you’re getting dressed. Nick is already raring to go.”

“No promises,” he said with a grin as he slipped back through the door.

Chapter Text

“Goddammit, Magnolia, open the fucking door!” He pounded furiously on the locked door, the sound echoing through the dusty hallway of the Hotel Rexford.

“I swear to God, Magnolia,” he heard Fahr’s voice, muffled, from behind the door. “If you open that door, I will shoot you! Don’t think for a minute that I’m kidding!”

The door opened, and Magnolia stormed out, wearing nothing but a ratty blanket. She slammed the door behind her and looked at Hancock, fury in her eyes. “You both are completely insane,” she hissed before bolting down the hallway.

Hancock grinned. You got no idea, sweetheart, he thought before throwing the door back open. Fahrenheit was kneeling on the bare mattress, bare ass naked, her red hair in tangled clumps. She pointed a pistol at the door, teeth bared and green eyes narrowed.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, sweetly. “Did I interrupt?”

She snarled at him. He noticed that the gun was shaking in her hands and her eyes were bright with tears. He sighed.

“I know you’re pissed, but I don’t think you really want to shoot me. Why don’t you get some clothes on so we can talk about this?”

She slowly lowered the gun and dropped it next to her as she slumped to one side. Turning her face away from him, she swiped her arm furiously across her face as if she were ashamed of the tears that were starting to escape down her cheeks.

He reached into his coat and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a small tin of Mentats. Before lighting up a smoke, he popped a Mentat into his mouth and bit into it. He knew he’s have to tread lightly during this conversation, and he could use all the help he could get. As he moved forward into the room, he spotted her pants and top tossed into the corner. He picked them up and set them beside her and then turned to the window to give her a moment to get dressed and pull herself together.

“You can turn around now,” she said, a hint of her usual defiance creeping back into her voice. “Not that you seemed to care before.”

“Hey, if you want to have this conversation stark naked, I could just strip. God only knows what people would say, though.”

“Nothing you haven’t heard before, I’m sure.”

He chuckled. Turning around, he saw that she was now sitting cross-legged on the bed in the ragged jeans and plaid button-up. He also spotted Ashmaker, her much-loved minigun, lying on the floor next to the bed. Did she really still feel so unsafe that she carried two weapons with her even to meet up with her girlfriend? His heart clenched.

“Well?” she said, sullenly.

He sat down on the edge of the bed. “I know why you’re so convinced that I’m about to split, but I need you to know that you’re wrong.”

“Oh, bullshit!” she exploded. She jumped up off the bed and began pacing the room. “You’ve been splitting forever! Do you know what it was like after you left? Mom was so fucking high half the time that she didn’t even know my name. The rest of the time, she was either passed out or boning someone who had promised her more chems.”

“I ain’t proud of it,” he said. “You know that. I’ve fucked up so many times I can’t even count ‘em. It was a no-win situation. I had to choose between trying to help the ghouls and staying there for you.”

“And you chose the ghouls,” she spat at him.

He was quiet for a moment. He couldn’t deny it, but he also didn’t know how to explain to her how agonizing that decision had been.

“I love you, Fahr,” he said, quietly. “I loved you then, and I love you now. It killed me to leave. It was just one more fuck up in a lifetime of fuck ups. I knew I’d hate myself either way, so I had to try to choose the way that I’d hate myself the least.” He leaned back and lit another cigarette and held the pack out to her. She glared at it but then reached for it, plucking out a cigarette and quickly lighting it and blowing the smoke back at him.

“The thing is, even back then, you had so much spark and fight in you. As soon as you were born, with that red hair, we knew that you’d be a firecracker. That’s how you got your name. If someone so much as looked at you sideways, they got the business end of your fist.”

He slowly exhaled and watched the smoke gather in a cloud toward the ceiling. “The fact is, I knew you’d be able to take care of yourself. The ghouls though, the ones that got thrown out? They couldn’t. And nobody was speaking up or standing up for them. I hadn’t done shit earlier, even during the campaign. I didn’t… I didn’t think it would really happen. I didn’t think that the people I’d lived next to, and drank with, and gotten high with, and fucked… I didn’t think they had so muck hate in ‘em. It shocked the shit outta me, and I spent the next several days stoned outta my fucking gourd, trying to come to terms with the reality.” He swallowed. “And then the killin’ started. And I couldn’t live with it, and I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t take a stand. I wasn’t very practiced at stand taking at that point, but I had to do something.”

Silence fell. He could see that Fahrenheit was considering his words. “I didn’t know it was that bad,” she finally said, quietly.

“It was a fucking nightmare,” he said. “Like everyone had gone insane. I knew you’d be okay. I had to help the ones who wouldn’t be.”

“How come you never came back for me?”

He winced. “I don’t got a good answer for that. I was high? I was dealing with Vic? I was busy being mayor? It’s all true, and I know it all sounds like brahmin shit, because, well, it is. I fucked up, that’s all I can say. The day you walked through those gates, lookin’ so much like your mom… it was one of the best days of my life. To get another chance with you? To start over? It was more than I could have ever asked for, far more than I deserved. I’ve been trying so hard not to fuck it up again, but half the time I don’t even know I’ve fucked up ‘til Daisy or someone with a fucking brain in their head shows up to tell me.”

She slumped down in the rusted out folding chair in the corner of the room. He pulled out his tin of Mentats and popped one into his mouth. He offered the tin to her, but she shook her head. Not like she needed them, though. His daughter was fucking brilliant, and he was proud of the fact. Nobody would even play chess with her anymore after she’d managed to beat even the most skilled of the Neighborhood Watch. 

“I know you think this is another in just a long line of selfish fuck ups, but I swear to you, Fahr, it ain’t.”

“I don’t get it,” she said. “You’re not exactly hurting for company. Why are you following this one around? It doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing in it for you.”

He clasped his hand to his chest and acted wounded. “Damn, Fahr, you’re breaking my heart!”

She smirked. “Then what is it? There must be something.”

“You don’t think I could ever be a true altruist?”

She snorted, cocked her head, and raised a ginger eyebrow at him.

“Fine.” He considered. “She… accepts my shit. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. I don’t have to hide anything, and everything I told her about, she has this… different way of looking at it. I even told her about when I left you, and you know what she said?”

“That you’re a shitty excuse for a father?”

He chuckled. “Well, she’d be right, but no. She said that what matters is what I do now. And it’s the truth. I can’t change what happened. But I can promise you this: I ain’t ever splittin’ on you again. I’m gonna help her, so I’ll be gone for a bit now and then, but Goodneighbor is my home, and I’ll always come back, short of getting my ass killed by a super mutant or going feral. I worked too hard for all the good things in my life right now—including you—and I’ll be damned if I throw it all to the wind.”

Fahrenheit pulled another cigarette out of the pack and lit it. They sat in silence while she smoked. Finally she stubbed it out. “Okay,” she said.

“Okay? That’s it?” he said with a sideways smile.

“Yeah.” She stood up and stretched, popping her back. “I gotta go find Magnolia. Make sure I didn’t permanently scare her off.”

Hancock grinned. “She’ll be fine. I’m glad you have her. You’re a cute couple.” He laughed when Fahrenheit blushed. “Alright, I gotta go see about these fucking nightmares. Meet you for drinks tonight?” He swung his legs around and got up.

“Yeah, okay. And Dad?” she said as he reached for the doorknob.

“Yeah?” he said, startled. She hadn’t called him that in all the time she’d been here.

“I love you.”

His throat clenched. He really didn’t deserve any of this. “I love you too, baby girl,” he said and then closed the door behind him.

Chapter Text

Hancock practically had a spring in his step as he exited the Rexford. That had gone miles better than he could have imagined (he hadn’t been a hundred percent positive that Fahrenheit wouldn’t, in fact, shoot him, so calling her bluff had been a risky move). Hopefully Amari would have some good news for him too, and then he’d be batting a thousand, as the old saying went.

That was when he spotted him.

He’d seen him around town before, of course, although not in the last several months. The guy must have thought he was super sly, the master of disguise, but all the wigs and facial reconstruction were useless in the face of his signature accessory—mirrored sunglasses. Idiot.

Hancock wondered what he was doing in town this time. Must be on another recruitment drive. Occasionally, when he had noticed this guy hanging around in the past, he would find holotapes lying around town with “mysterious” messages on them, but when he did, he’d just sigh and pick them up to stash in his office so he could reuse them later for his own purposes. The man’s organization were a bunch of kooks, but they didn’t seem to really be hurting anyone and they kept Amari busy, so he looked the other way for the most part. While Hancock didn’t generally consider the enemies of his enemies to be his friends, the Railroad seemed pretty harmless, at least by Commonwealth standards.

He supposed Amari could wait just a minute and made his way over to where the not-so-secret agent was huddled over a drifter’s cooking station.

“Nice morning, ain’t it?” he asked, lighting a cigarette.

The man in the sunglasses waved the smoke away and then held a hand out to the rain that was gently falling. “Not particularly,” he said, “but I can see why you might think so.”

Hancock chuckled. “What bring you to our fair little town this time?” he asked. “You here to bug Amari again?”

The man glared at him from behind his shades before looking away. “No idea what you’re talking about. I’ve never been to this shithole of a town in my life.”

Hancock pulled his knife out of his coat and started to twirl it in the hand that wasn’t holding the cigarette. “Watch your words, my friend,” he said with an evil grin. “I ain’t had the opportunity to knife anybody in the past few days, and I kinda miss it.”

The man pursed his lips in a frown then gave in with a chuckle. “All right, all right. If you must know, I’m on a fact-finding mission.”

“Exactly what facts are you supposed to be finding?”

“Just keeping tabs on our mutual friend from the vault.”

Hancock’s mouth fell open, and his cigarette dropped to the ground. What did the Railroad know about—or want with—Erica?

“Slow down there, buddy. What the fuck are you talking about? How do you know about the vault?”

“I’ve been on recon for the past few months. We started detecting Institute activity up near Concord earlier this year near a vault that was believed to be dead and abandoned, so I was sent to investigate. Couldn’t believe my eyes when she emerged. Didn’t think she’d last an hour, let alone a few months.”

Hancock couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You were there when she got out?”

“Yup. Trailed along behind her and watched while she set up in the house in that old neighborhood. I felt bad for her, so I’d leave stashes of food and stuff for the robot sometimes and tried to keep the vermin away. I couldn’t really do much more than that. I had orders not to interfere, and I especially couldn’t blow cover since I knew the Institute was watching her.”

Hancock’s eyes narrowed. “How do you know the Institute was watching?” He knew most people in the Commonwealth practically shit their pants at the mention of the Institute, but he wasn’t most people. He knew they wouldn’t dare fuck with his town.

“Tom has a theory… do you know Tom?” Hancock shook his head. “Yeah, he doesn’t really leave headquarters. Well, anyway, he thinks it’s the crows.”

“The crows.” Batshit crazy, the whole fucking lot of them.

“He thinks they’re probably synths, and that they somehow transit messages back to the Institute. See, they aren’t mutated in the least, and they always seem to hang around in the same places. We’ve also noticed that they also tend to follow our little vault dweller around. Tom and Des both think the Institute is interested in keeping tabs on her, but no one knows why.”

Hancock felt light-headed. “You don’t think she’s…” He couldn’t say it.

“A synth? Nope. She’s definitely pre-war. She wasn’t one of ours, and even if she was, we don’t have pre-war memories to implant. They’re interested in her for sure, but we can’t figure it out. I mean, the fact that she’s pre-war is pretty intriguing though. Could be that they want to experiment on her, pick up where Vault-Tec left off.” He focused on the pot he was stirring over the fire. “You’ve been spending a lot of time with her. Any ideas?” 

He slowly shook his head. “No, can’t think of anything specific.” He would definitely be keeping an eye out for crows in the future, though. He wondered what she would think if he just started blasting away at any he spotted and decided she’d probably think he’d flipped his lid.

“What’s her story, anyway? She’s been awfully busy since she left that neighborhood,” the man asked.

“Nope,” Hancock said. “Ain’t mine to tell.”

The other man sighed. “Where did she go this morning? I saw her leave with the synth from Diamond City. Everything okay?”

“Yeah, she… has a task to do. Should be back later. Why ain’t you trailing her to Diamond City if you’re supposed to be keeping such close tabs on her?”

“My security outfit is in the wash.”

Hancock sighed. “Fine.” He’d had about enough of this asshole and wondered how much of what he said was true. The crows? That was fucking terrifying if they were right. But the whole organization was prone to paranoia and conspiracy theories, so it was hard to know. It definitely put a damper on his good mood though and that pissed him off.

 

“I’ll check back with you later. Let me know when you leave town, would you?”

 

The man in the sunglasses just laughed. “Yeah, right.”

 

Hancock suppressed an annoyed growl and turned toward the Memory Den.

Chapter Text

“So it started after she took me down into the vault and hasn’t let up since.” He paused. “Hey, I’m telling you some pretty sensitive stuff here. You ain’t gonna tell anyone else about this. Right?”

Elena Amari leaned back in her seat, stretched out her legs, and smoothed out her white jacket. “Back before the war, there was a concept called ‘doctor-patient confidentiality.’ It essentially meant that whatever you told someone who was serving in the capacity of your health care provider was privileged information and that it would be incredibly unethical—and in certain cases illegal—for the provider to share that information with anyone else.”

“Yeah, but we ain’t exactly before the war, are we.” Hancock lit up a cigarette and Dr. Amari waved the smoke away from her face.

“No, but some of us in the medical profession still hold ourselves to high standards.”

“Glad to hear it. Is that why you won’t tell me what exactly it is you do for those kooks in the Railroad?”

Elena just smiled at him. “Back to your problem, Mayor.”

“Okay, okay.” Worth a try. “So what do you make of it? She’s off with Nick right now in Diamond City trying to bust into the house this guy used to live in. The more I’m learning about him, the more skeeved out I get. This guy is a serious creep, and somehow I’m dreaming about him every time I close my eyes.”

“So your dream takes the information she has given you and then basically fills in the missing detail?” She pursed her lips and looked up at the ceiling, lost in thought. “Has it ever occurred to you that this might be a genuine psychic experience?”

“Oh, come on,” he scoffed. “You know all that psyker stuff is bullshit.”

“What makes you say that? I’ve run into a few people who certainly seem to have abilities I can’t explain. The brain is, in many ways, still a mystery, Mayor. Even to me.”

“The only so-called psyker I’ve run into is some crazy old lady who claims to have something called ‘the sight’ but gives out these vague statements in exchange for chems. It’s a total scam.”

“Is it? What does she say?”

“Well, she told Erica that she needed to go to Diamond City to find Valentine, although not in so many words, but didn’t bother to deduce that someone who’d been frozen the last two hundred years wouldn’t know that Diamond City was in the old baseball stadium. She apparently claims that there’s something big and scary in Concord, but who knows. Oh, and she says that Erica’s son is alive and that she can ‘feel his energy’ or whatever. Nothing that isn’t already known or can be proven. And she’s messing with the head of someone who’s in a pretty desperate situation as it is.”

Elena tapped her front teeth with her thumbnail thoughtfully. “But what if her son is still alive? You said he was kidnapped, so it stands to reason that he might be. How much prompting did she have before she made that statement?”

Hancock considered for a moment. “I… don’t know. But I can’t shake the feeling that she’s fucking with Erica to feed her chem habit.”

Elena laughed gently. “Maybe that feeling you can’t shake is your own psychic ability.”

He huffed, irritated. “We’re going around in circles here. Look, Doc, can’t you just, I dunno, scan my brain or something and make sure all the connections are firing like they should be?”

“I can, but it’s not going to give us a lot of information.” She thought for a moment. “Let’s do this. Step into this modified memory lounger and I’ll induce sleep. If you dream…”

When I dream…” he growled.

“Fine, when you dream,” she continued, “I’ll record it and study it. See if I can catch anything that seems off. At the same time, I’ll take a recording of your brain waves and make sure everything is normal there.”

“Perfect,” he said. He honestly wasn’t sure, though, if he wanted her to find something wrong with him or not. What if she found something but it wasn’t fixable? What if she found nothing at all? Would that indicate that he was just going insane?

“Before we get started, I need to know—and I need you to answer honestly, John—have you taken any chems today?”

He looked sheepish. “I smoked a few cigarettes…” She waved her hand for him to go on. “… And I had some Mentats about… an hour or so ago?”

“Is that all?” she asked sharply.

“Yup, that’s it.”

She nodded, thoughtful. “Okay, that should be easy enough to calibrate for.” She opened up the memory lounger pod. “Climb on in, Mayor, and let’s take a look.”

 

 

He pounded his fists against the inside of the pod, trying desperately to make it open. He could hear a harsh screaming but didn’t know where it was coming from. His heart was pounding and he couldn’t catch his breath. How long had he been trapped?

Through his haze of panic, he could dimly make out a voice coming through the reinforced glass of the pod.

“Mayor… Mayor… John!

The sound of his name got his attention and helped release him from the red cloud of fear that was threatening to drag him down into darkness. He blinked, and his vision started to clear. Through the glass, he saw someone vaguely familiar pounding on a keyboard. Finally, with a hiss, the latch released and the pod opened. He stumbled out of the pod and, losing his balance, collapsed on the floor. An instant later, Elena Amari was by his side.

“No, don’t try to get up. Your brain waves were off the chart. You’re disoriented. Give it a few minutes.” 

He retched and heaved, trying to catch his breath. Slowly, he began to come back to himself, and he realized that he was on the floor of the Memory Den rather than back in Vault 111. He was neither frozen in a cryopod nor the man with the scar… for now at least.

Over the next few minutes, his breathing slowed and the shivering that was consuming his body dissipated. Finally, he sat up, cradling his aching head in his hands. He felt something nudging against his fingers and looked up. Dr. Amari was trying to hand him a carton of irradiated water. He took it gratefully and sipped at it, the water tingling as it slipped down his throat. 

“Well, we can safely say that you aren’t making this up,” Elena said. He glared at her. “Don’t look at me that way. It’s always something that has to be ruled out. I saw everything and recorded it on a modified holotape.” She sat down next to him. He watched her as he sipped his water, not trusting himself to speak. “John, after seeing your brain wave activity, I really do think this might be some kind of authentic psychic experience you are having.”

He shook his head. “Elena...” 

“I know, I know.” She sighed. “I want to do a little research. I’m going to pick through the books I have and maybe see if I can hire the merc to go on a salvage mission to Mass Bay Medical Center, look for more neurology texts.” She looked at him and covered his scarred hand with her soft one. He looked away, afraid and embarrassed. “We’ll get to the bottom of this, John, I promise.”

“Well, at least I ain’t crazy,” he said. “Mostly.”

Chapter Text

Erica and Nick hadn’t returned yet, and Hancock was getting antsy. He was relieved to know that he apparently wasn’t going insane and there appeared to be some kind of biological reason behind the recurring nightmare, but that relief came with the price of further troubling questions that he wasn’t sure he was ready to ask. He headed back up to his office, thinking that he might get some actual work done for a change.

Once at his desk, he shuffled aimlessly through the documents the Neighborhood Watch had left for him. Mostly trade agreements and other boring stuff. Pits and pieces of contracts were written on paper that had been reused several times, and it was difficult to make out what half the agreements were even talking about. Sometimes he hated the nonsense that came with a career in politics, even while he enjoyed the respect that came with it.

He sighed and swept the scrawled notes into a pile. Maybe he’d deal with it later. Maybe he wouldn’t. Maybe he’d hold a big bonfire out back of the Rexford and take great joy in burning all this bureaucratic bullshit to the ground.

He rose from the desk and poked around in his cupboards until he found the good bourbon. After pouring himself several fingers, he perused his bookshelf. He’d been collecting books for a while but hadn’t had the opportunity to sit down and read recently. Maybe that would be a better use of his time. He plucked out a book about the world economy and looked at the back of the title page to check the publication date. 2076. Practically brand new when the bombs had dropped. Perfect. 

He stretched out on the sofa, crossing his legs. Pulling out his tin of Mentats, he riffled through the book until he found the section that talked about the years shortly before the book had been written—the time period in which Erica would have lived. He popped a couple of the chems into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully as he read.

There was so much about that time period in his history that he just couldn’t wrap his brain around and the Mentats barely helped since the actual situation had been so devoid of logic. As he understood it, they’d had excesses of just about everything needed for every soul on earth to have the good life, but the upper classes kept fighting over it and wasting it until only scraps had been left to bicker over. And then, somehow, the governing classes had managed to turn around and blame the loss of resources on other countries, each one blaming another and stirring up ancient hatreds that never seemed to die.

Erica had in fact been quite fortunate, in a sense, to own her own home in a decent, not overly crowded neighborhood. Most people at the time had been crammed into apartments in crime-ridden cities. As tensions flared between the U.S. and China, those of Asian descent in particular had been harassed mercilessly; nobody seemed inclined to worry about whether someone was actually Chinese or from another nearby country—or part of the war effort at all. Most people were just trying to get by, regardless of their country of origin. It reminded him a great deal of the way Diamond City had behaved toward the ghouls. The thought of the way prejudice had managed to survive nuclear war when so much else had gone extinct made him depressed, and he wondered if there was any hope for humanity at all.

He’d wanted to understand Erica better, but he only found himself more confused, as always seemed to be the case with her. She didn’t seem to be a product of her time. He hadn’t observed a drop of prejudice in her. She was short toward the Long woman up at Sanctuary Hills, but the Marcy had been a bitch to her first. Plus, she’d spoken kindly of her husband, Jun, who was clearly Chinese. And she didn’t seem to participate in any of the newer prejudices that had developed either. She’d initially been fearful of Nick, having been given reasons to be suspicious of synths from the paranoid idiots in Diamond City, but she’d taken almost no time in forming her own opinion and disregarding the fear she’d first felt. He admired that about her. No question that her complete lack of prejudice toward ghouls had worked out remarkably well in his favor either. He smirked slightly at the thought, his dark eyes crinkling.

Lying back against the armrest, he let the book fall onto his chest and smoked cigarette after cigarette as he pondered Erica and her new role in the world and his life. The room grew dim as the sun started to set.

 

 

 

A knock on his door pulled him from his thoughts. He cleared his throat. “Come in!” he called. The room was almost completely dark since he hadn’t bothered to light a lantern before sitting on the couch and letting the Mentats do their work.

MacCready opened the door and stuck his head in. Light from the hallway backlit him. “Hey, Mayor,” he said. “I was watching from the roof, keeping an eye out for anyone that wanted to give us a hard time, you know…”

Hancock sighed and waved his hand for him to go on.

“Yeah, so anyway, I saw the synth and the girl coming back. I thought you’d probably want to know.”

Hancock swung his legs around and sat up. The book fell to the floor, the pages rippling. His left leg was asleep, and he stumbled a bit as he tried to stand up. He saw MacCready make a move toward him, but then he caught himself and the young mercenary took an unsure step back.

Hancock tossed him the rest of the bottle of bourbon, and MacCready plucked it out of the air with a grin.

“Enjoy, kid,” the ghoul laughed and ran down the spiral staircase, not bothering to close the door behind him.

 

 

 

He was waiting by Kill or Be Killed when Erica, Nick, and the dog dragged themselves through the front entrance. He strode over, coat swinging, and swept Erica into his arms. He quickly realized she was so keyed up that she was practically vibrating, and he pulled her back to arms’ length, noting the wild look in her eyes and the return of the dark circles. He looked to Nick, concerned.

“What happened?” he asked. “Dead end?”

“Nope,” Nick said, lighting a cigarette. “We found a solid lead and it looks like Dogmeat here can trail it. She refused to go, though, until we came back for you.”

Hancock looked at her with gratitude but had to admit that the determined look on her face made him just a little fearful. This was not an Erica you’d want to mess with or get in the way of.

“Okay then,” he said, “what are we looking for?”

The synth reached out, and Hancock took the cigar that he’d been holding in his metal fingers. “What’s this?” he asked. “A gift or something? I ain’t going out with you, Nicky.”

“Very funny,” Nick said. “That right there is our hired gun’s favorite brand of stogie. San Francisco Sunlights.”

“San Francisco?” Hancock said, sharply. “What the hell is a cigar from San Francisco doing way the fuck out here?”

“You got me. He’d have had to make a helluva deal to get someone to cart those all the way across the continent, but apparently he felt it was worth the effort.”

Hancock smelled a rat. Tracking the guy using the sharp smell of an unusual brand of cigar? It was too easy. He’d spent his lifetime skulking around and covering his tracks when necessary, and all of this smacked of someone who wanted to be found. He didn’t see any other solution, though, than to follow the task that had clearly been laid out for them.

“You coming along then, Nick?” he asked.

“No,” Erica said, turning her blazing eyes to him. “Just us. And Dogmeat.”

“You sure? Seems like another gun might be a good idea.”

“Just us,” she said again. “John… I’m getting Shaun back. I know it sounds crazy but… I only want you there.”

He looked to Nick, who shrugged. “What can I say, John,” the synth said. “The lady has spoken.”

“Okay then,” Hancock said. “We’ll leave in the morning.”

Chapter Text

The dog led them on a winding route through the ruins of the city, and Hancock found himself getting more and more pissed as the day wore on. Not pissed at the dog; he was only following the trail left behind for them. He was pissed at the asshole who’d chosen to take such a strange and winding route, apparently for the sheer joy of knowing that he’d later be tracked and get to exhaust his followers while simultaneously making their lives hell.

Hancock couldn’t shake the feeling that he was a pawn in some elaborate game of chess, and it made him jittery, like a bad hit of Jet. He’d seen the way Fahrenheit played, luring her opponents to their deaths (okay, their checkmates), while giving them the impression that they were winning, and he hoped that just the fact that he was aware of the feeling would be enough to save them both.

While they were able to creep around some of the more obvious dangers (he never failed to be impressed with how stealthy Erica could be when she wanted), some couldn’t be avoided. By the time they made camp that night not far from a lake where the asshole they’d been following had apparently taken the time to enjoy a nice cigar and a beer (as you generally do when you’re on the run, Hancock thought with a sneer), Erica was limping, and they were down two stimpaks thanks to a run in with a group of raiders. Their supply wasn’t half bad, but he hoped the jackass had at least had the decency to meander through a trading post at some point during his journey so that they could restock. 

He still hadn’t been sleeping well, but having Erica next to him last night, who would shake him awake when he started yelling and then hold him until he caught his breath, made it a little easier, and he was no longer trying to avoid sleeping altogether. The nightmares had simply become an unpleasant part of life, just one of many when it really came down to it. He at least didn’t feel like he was moving through life in a daze, and that helped a bit.

They were far enough away from the water that he thought death by mirelurk would be unlikely, and he took a quick circuit with his shotgun to exterminate the bloatflies and other insect life that milled about. Satisfied with his work, he collected the meat and brought it back to the campsite with him.

Erica glared at the dripping flesh in his hand and made a point of opening up a can of cram, sticking the entire lump of questionable meat onto a stick, and resting it over the fire to keep.

“I gotta say, Sunshine, it kinda blows my mind that you’d rather eat cram than bloatfly,” he said, tossing his hunting spoils to the dog, who promptly dug in.

“It’s not my favorite,” she conceded, “but at least it’s familiar. With rationing the way it was, we had all kinds of ways to prepare cram since fresh meat was at such a premium. You haven’t lived until you’ve had ground cramloaf.”

He looked at her, his mouth pulled in disgust at the idea, and then realized she was smiling and had that glint in her eyes that said she was in a good mood. The day’s journey had been hard on her, but he could see that she believed she was truly getting closer to finding her son. He wasn’t so sure, but he opted to keep his doubts to himself. He wasn’t entirely convinced that was the right choice, but he didn’t think picking a fight over it would serve any purpose either.

“How far out do you think he is?” Erica said quietly, her head on her folded arms, her sparkling eyes gazing into the fire. He studied the sizzling preserved meat on the stick and made a show of turning it slightly to brown the other side.

“I ain’t sure. I’ve been mapping it in my head, and it really should have only taken us about three hours or so to get to this point, but we’ve been walking all day. If he takes the same meandering route all the way to whatever the final destination is… it could be a while. Not to mention that I don’t have a fucking clue where we’d going or I’d just say screw it and head straight there.”

He’d noted that despite the roundabout route, they’d also been heading mostly south and east. That worried him. As they moved away from the somewhat “civilized” areas of Boston, they were more likely to run into dangerous wildlife. He wouldn’t even put it past this psycho to take them through the goddamn Glowing Sea just for the shits and giggles of it. This was another thought that he chose to keep to himself for the time being, although they’d definitely need to address it if it did in fact appear to be the case. He could walk right in there without a problem (except for the fucking radscorpions and deathclaws and shit that grew to the size of fucking buildings out there), but poor Erica would be puking in a heartbeat if they even got near the area and the wind was blowing just right.

Erica sighed. “I was just thinking… maybe tomorrow I’ll have Shaun back.”

Hancock thought that was highly unlikely. Even if this asshole did have Shaun, he wasn’t going to give him up without a fight. Yet one more thing to slide into the “not going to tell Erica what he was thinking” column. It was starting to get full, and he worried about his ability to remember what he should and shouldn’t mention.

“Maybe,” Hancock said, instead. “Looks like your cramloaf is ready.”

 

 

Over the course of the morning, the dog had led them on a similar type of meandering route as they day before. As they passed through a raider camp the mercenary they were tracking had cleared out, Hancock and Erica paused to rifle through the clothes of the dead men and women, pulling out ammunition for their respective weapons and other potentially useful spoils. Hancock crowed upon prying open a locked first aid kit and discovering a small stash of stimpaks. He’d prefer not to have to use them, but was still glad to be refreshing their stock.

Not long after that, they’d come to the railroad tracks. At this point, the trail had straightened out and they continued more steadily east. Hancock wondered if the mercenary had simply grown bored with the game or if something else had caused him to travel in a more straightforward manner.

They’d been walking for about an hour and a half when the dog suddenly froze, his ears forward and the fur on the scruff of his neck bristling.

“What—“ Hancock began to say, but Erica stepped backward into him, her outstretched hand grabbing for his.

“Listen!” she hissed.

He heard it. A rustling sound that indicated some kind of large animal. Hopefully just a radstag, he thought. They tend to be more scared of you than you are of…

His brief thought was interrupted by a loud snarl and an ill-looking, large beast bursting out of the scrub that lined the tracks just a few feet away from where they stood.

“Yao guai!” he yelled. “Fuck!” Before he could figure out their next move, whether to attack or run, the dog jumped and was mercilessly swatted to the side. It yelped and staggered, trying to get up on what appeared to be a broken leg. The mutated bear turned and focused its beady eyes on the two of them.

Chapter Text

Erica broke to the right, trying to get to her dog. Hancock just about wanted to howl in frustration as the yao guai spotted her sudden movement and trained its attention on her.

“Hey, shit for brains!” he shouted, jumping up and down and swinging his shotgun wildly, trying to get it to notice him again. When the bear moved toward Erica instead, though, he changed his strategy.

If he shot at the bear, he risked catching Erica and the dog in the spray (he loved the damage he could cause with his shotgun, but he had to admit that it wasn’t the best weapon for traveling with others, particularly with someone he loved). He pulled his blade out of his coat and aimed at the bear’s eye. The target he wanted was tiny, and he only had a split second to get this right.

He flung and he was close, but he didn’t hit the eye. Instead, the knife hit slightly below the eye and buried itself in the bear’s cheek. He accomplished his primary goal, however, when the yao guai stopped its forward movement and let out a shriek of pain. It sat back on its haunches and swatted at the knife with its clumsy paw. Long and ragged claws opened new injuries on its face, and Hancock took advantage of the creature’s momentary distraction to jump in between it and the quarry it had been stalking.

Erica was on her knees next to the dog, seemingly oblivious to the action Hancock had taken to protect them, and he felt a flare of annoyance at that. No time to deal with it now, though. The yao guai had managed to dislodge the knife. Blood flew as it shook its head, trying to regain its previous focus. Hancock aimed his shotgun and fired two blasts in rapid succession. The bear’s already injured face and now its shoulders took the brunt of the blast, and it paused, roaring in rage and pain—and giving Hancock the time he needed to load fresh shells into the chamber.

He doubted he’d actually be able to kill the bear with his shotgun alone (what he wouldn’t give for Fahrenheit’s Ashmaker right about now), but he hoped he could at least convince the stupid animal that this prey was far too challenging and painful to continue to pursue.

As he brought the shotgun back up to level, he heard Erica’s 10mm firing behind him. Three of the shots found their mark in the yao guai’s face, with one of them extinguishing the eye Hancock had been initially aiming at. While he was momentarily impressed with the trick shot, the more rational part of his brain caught up to him, and he recognized that it had been luck that had allowed that particular bullet to meet such a vulnerable mark. Either way, he was grateful for the distraction and disabling of the animal that was ready to make lunch out of the three of them.

He went ahead and let off his next two shots, and now he could hear desperation in the beast’s roars. As he reloaded, Erica shot again, and then he was ready again and drove another two blasts into the animals face. The other eye went out, and the yao guai slumped to the ground. It was still alive, but barely. He ducked around it to retrieve his knife, and then drove the blade into the animal’s ear, putting it out of its misery.

He stood next to it, trying to catch his breath. Their success slowly caught up to him, and with it came shock and surprise. The two of them had just managed to take down a fully grown yao guai with nothing more than a knife, a shotgun, and a 10mm. If he’d told the story in the Third Rail, his constituents would never have believed him, and would have just chalked it up to another one of his (slightly) embellished stories, cheered, and then bought him another round.

He spun around, high on their win, and saw that Erica had tossed her gun to the side and was attempting to pick up the dog. He’d been intending to say something to Erica about putting herself in danger for an animal, but the words died on his tongue when he saw the anguish on her face. Why would she be so distraught over this beast? It had certainly been useful, both as a protector and as a tracker, but her level of concern seemed far out of proportion to the actual value of the animal.

Dropping down next to her, he put his hands on the dog’s side. It was still warm, and it was still breathing. He gently coaxed Erica into setting the dog back down. He hesitated, but came to a conclusion that he hoped he wouldn’t later regret. Pulling out a syringe of Med-X, he injected a partial dose into the dog’s thigh, just above the torn flesh with the jagged piece of bone sticking out.

The dog’s eyes glazed over, and while the medicine worked to kill the pain, Hancock moved as quickly as he could to set the bone and bind the wound before injecting a stimpak in the same place. If they stayed still for a while, hopefully the wound would heal—and the dog wouldn’t overdose.

Wiping his hands, he looked to Erica. She was smeared with daubs of the dog’s blood, especially across her cheeks, where she’d been wiping at the tears that were still falling. She would need to clean up, and he would need to set up camp.

He didn’t like this spot; the brush on either side of the tracks made him nervous. Yao guai didn’t tend to travel together, but without a sightline, it was nearly impossible to see what might be creeping up on them. Plus, they wouldn’t be able to rely on Dogmeat to stand guard, so they’d have to sleep in shifts. He had to wonder again—did the merc they were tracking know about the yao guai here? Had this attack somehow been planned? It sounded paranoid, but at the same time, completely plausible.

He sighed, knowing he wasn’t going to get answers to these questions, and began setting up camp.

Chapter Text

The fire flickered, licking along the bark of the old branches he’d gathered. He waited patiently for it to die down to coals so he could roast some of the meat he’d managed to butcher from the yao guai. If they were going to be stuck here for a while, he may as well make the best of it, and yao guai was a delicious and rare treat.

His eyes darted over to where Erica sat, cross-legged, with the dog’s head in her lap. He was no vet, but he was pretty sure the dog was going to survive at this point. The question remained, though, of how well the leg would heal.

It had been a nasty compound fracture, and if it had been any other creature, he would have simply shot it to put it out of its misery. This dog and Erica had a bond of some kind, however, and he’d have to do his best to help it pull through. He knew that in Erica’s day it had been common to keep dogs and other animals as household companions, but these days it was rare, and a dog was more likely to be valued as a potential meal than as a furry member of the family.

She spoke quietly to the dog in a gentle tone of voice, and lightly stroked its ear. Hancock hoped he’d be able to get her to leave the dog for a bit so she could eat something. Plus, they’d need to trade shifts at night, and she couldn’t keep watch if the dog’s head was in her lap.

The fire was finally ready, and he set the bear meat up to cook. It would need a long, slow cook rather than a sear, and it would be a while before it was ready. They’d need to be alert while it cooked, to keep an eye out for any predators that might be attracted by the smell—including those of the human variety.

He moved over to sit next to her. Hesitating for just a moment, he reached out and stroked the soft fur of the dog’s head. He noticed things he hadn’t before, like the small bony knob right at the dog’s crown, and its thick, dark eyelashes. It made a whimpering noise as it slept, and he moved his hand back, afraid he had disturbed it. 

He looked to Erica and saw that she was looking at him with a sad smile. “You doing okay?” he asked.

She looked from him to the dog and then back and then slowly shook her head. “I can’t stand to lose one more. I just can’t.”

“Oh, Sunshine,” he said, and put his arms around her, drawing her head against his shoulder as her face crumpled. She keened her fear and her grief for everything she had lost, and it wrenched his heart. “He’s gonna be okay. You ain’t gonna lose him.”

“I could,” she cried. “At any moment. Or you.” He tightened his arms around her. “I just can’t do this. I quit. I’m done. Make it stop.”

He was scared of what she was saying, what she meant. He’d been in the pit of despair, chasing highs as the only way to survive, until he’d found the high that had finally managed to burn away most of his misery and self-loathing. That had been a difficult road, though, and he hated to think of someone he loved feeling the same intensity of pain as he had.

“I can’t make it better,” he softly rasped, “and I can’t promise you that nothing’s gonna happen to me or the dog. But we’re on the trail of the fucker that took your son, and we’re gonna catch up to his ass and do everything in our power to get your kid back. I promise that.”

She drew a shuddering breath and then moved her head from his shoulder. Her lips found his, and she kissed him fiercely. He cupped the back of her head, and opened his mouth to allow her darting tongue access. He returned her kiss with the same level of intensity, pressing his body against hers and tasting the salt of her tears.

Gasping for air, she broke the kiss and rested her forehead against his chest. “I love you,” she whispered. “So much.”

“I love you, too,” he whispered. Maybe he had made it better in some small way after all.

 

  

 

He woke up to her hand on his shoulder, lightly nudging him. She had volunteered to take first watch, and he had grudgingly agreed, provided that she wake him in an instant if she heard anything.

His eyes opened and he came up out of sleep immediately. If you didn’t master the skill of the quick wake-up, you didn’t last long out in the wasteland.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“Nothing,” she murmured. “Just your turn. It’s been quiet. Dogmeat is still sleeping.”

He sat up in the sleeping bag. The moon was high overhead, casting shadows across the camp. The coals in the campfire still smoldered. Maybe four hours had passed? He wasn’t sure, but either way, he was set to take watch for the rest of the night so Erica could sleep.

He started to draw his legs out of the warm fabric, but Erica stopped him. “Can you stay with me until I fall asleep?” she asked. “Just for a bit.”

“I can,” he replied slowly. “But to be honest, I’m afraid of getting too comfortable and falling back asleep.”

Her face was mostly in shadow, but he saw the smile pass across her lips. “Maybe you could find something to do,” she said. “You know, so you stay awake.”

Oh. Oh. In that case….

He unzipped the bag and scooted to one side to let her in. She took a moment to remove her pants and then slid in, her body cool from the night air.

“Just the pants, huh?” he murmured against her neck as he planted gentle kisses along her throat.”

“Cut me some slack,” she said. “It’s cold out.” She brushed her lips against the scarred skin of his forehead. “Besides, you’re pretty much fully dressed.”

Hmmm. This was true. And he’d never be able to get his pants off while she was here in the sleeping bag with him. That only left one option. He grinned.

“Guess we’ll just be taking care of you tonight, then,” he whispered and slid his hand along her side until he reached her hip and the edge of her panties. 

“I’ll make it up to you,” she said and kissed him deeply. He liked the sound of that, but in the meantime…

His fingers brushed along the edge of her underpants and then slipped beneath. It was hard to focus with his attention split between the heat his fingers found and the movement of her mouth on his, but he figured he could manage.

Two of his long fingers slid inside her, and his thumb found her clit. She wrapped one leg around his hips and shuddered, and he smiled against her mouth. Her hips moved against his hand, picking up a rhythm, and he thrilled at how much she wanted him. He could kiss her and love her forever, and if had his way, he would.

It wasn’t long before she tightened around him and he felt her whole body quiver. She broke the kiss and let out a long sigh, her warm breath tickling his neck. He brushed his lips against her cheeks, her nose, her eyelids… everywhere he could reach. When she relaxed against him, he withdrew his fingers and ran his hand back up and around her back.

They lay quietly for a few minutes before, regretfully, he started to scoot himself out of the sleeping bag so he could take his watch. Her arms tightened around him and then loosened. He pulled himself up and out, feeling the cool air take the place of her warm body. He watched with a smile on his face as she pulled the sleeping bag around herself tightly, only her hair sticking out of the opening at the top.

Lighting a cigarette, he picked up his shotgun and checked on the dog. It appeared to be sleeping soundly. He threw another branch on the fire and settled back to watch the stars.

Chapter Text

“It ain’t perfect, but it’s better than I was expecting.” Hancock took a quick huff of Jet out of the canister he’d pulled out of his pocket while he watched the dog limping around their makeshift camp. He reached out for Erica and pulled her to him by one hand, noting the expression of concern on her face.

“I don’t know…” she murmured. “Will he still be able to lead us?”

“Don’t see why not. Ain’t his nose that got broken.” He considered for a moment, cocking his head to one side. “Probably slow us down some, but we weren’t moving all that fast to begin with.”

Erica sighed and leaned into him. “I feel so bad. This is my fault.”

Hancock tossed the empty Jet canister to the side, took her by the shoulders, and turned her to face him. “Don’t you start that shit again. You want to blame yourself for every single thing that goes wrong in this world, and it’s making you stir-crazy. This ain’t your fault, the bad dreams ain’t your fault, the whole fucking war and the shitshow of the world ain’t your fault.”

He saw an irritated crease forming between her eyebrows, and she started to pull away. He loosened his grip and softened his tone. “Aw, Sunshine, I ain’t berating you.” He reached out and ran his finger along her eyebrow then down to her chin. “It kills me to see you trying to take the blame for every rotten damn thing that happens. Sometimes stupid shit just happens. A fucking yao guai attacked us and the dog put himself between you and danger. If the dog hadn’t done it first, I would have. If anything, I should be pissed at the dog for showing me up.”

Her expression softened into a sad smile and she reached up to take his hand. “I know. It’s a gut reaction. I’ll figure it out eventually, I suppose,” she said. “I love you. And thank you for trying to keep me sane.”

“I love you too, Sunshine.” He gave her a quick peck on the lips. He wanted to do more, but it was really time to break camp and get this freak show on the road. “I’m gonna throw some dirt on the firepit and then we’ll see how Dogmeat’s sniffer is working this morning.”

 

 

 

Sometime midday, a sullen rain had begun to fall. They slogged their way through soggy dirt and dead grass, eventually leaving the ancient railroad tracks behind.

As they passed through a demolished neighborhood, Hancock stole a glance at Erica, who was looking up at the wrecked walls that used to be homes with an expression that was difficult to decipher.

A few times, he’d been convinced that the dog had lost the scent, but each time, they’d managed to find some shred of evidence that had been left behind, usually in the form of a cigar, but sometimes in a beer bottle or even a scrap of cloth. He continued to refrain from saying anything about it to Erica, but he saw that line forming between her eyebrows again and suspected that she had realized that they were following an incredibly deliberate trail. She was no idiot, after all.

 

 

The sun was setting on another day on the road, and he grimaced, watching the dog slowly limp along the crumbling blacktop. Spirits were low in their small party. The dog’s limp had gotten worse as the day wore on, and there was no question that they were going to be in for another long night.

“Guess I’ll look for a place to make camp,” he said, breaking the silence that had settled over the trio for the past hour or so. Erica only nodded wearily. She had hoped to find her son today, and with no end to the journey in sight, it was taking its toll on her. She dropped her pack and sat down on the rolled sleeping bag, hunched over with her head on her arms. The dog laid down next to her and thumped its tail against the ground until she rested a hand on its head.

Shotgun at the ready, he checked the area. As he rounded the corner to make sure that all was clear, he noticed a flashing light behind an outcropping of rocks. He approached carefully, listening for any signs of life.

He soon spotted a dead man lying along the side of the road. From the look of things, he’d likely been alive that morning. A stubbed-out cigar next to the dead man’s head announced the work of the man they’d been following, and Hancock noted that they couldn’t be far behind at this point.

He paused to rifle through the man’s pockets for any valuables but only found a few .38 rounds, nothing that would be useful to either of them.

Leaving the dead man behind, he approached the rocks with caution. Now that he was closer, he could also hear a vaguely metallic sound that reminded him somehow of Goodneighbor, although he couldn’t quite place it.

He crouched down and peeked around the rocks. He was surprised to see that the source of the flashing lights was an assaultron that had been almost completely demolished. The sound he was hearing was its final squawks as it shut down; its voice had the same robotic undertones as KL-E-0’s sultry flirtations, explaining the familiarity of the noise.

He swallowed, worried. What kind of man had taken down an assaultron singlehandedly? Those things were—literally—killing machines. Hancock didn’t like this shit at all. What the hell was he supposed to do though? Just tell Erica to forget it, forget about her child? Fuck. A chill shivered its way up his spine.

He hurried back to where Erica and the dog waited. The cold rain continued and they were both shivering. They couldn’t stay out in the open tonight. They’d need shelter.

“Sunshine, I hate to say it, but we’re gonna have to backtrack just a little bit. Remember that Red Rocket station we saw maybe ten minutes ago?”

She sighed and dragged herself to her feet. The dog was slower to get moving again, and when they began walking back in the way they had come, it stopped in the middle of the road and looked at them in confusion.

Erica whistled and patted her leg. “Come on, boy. We’ll go that way in the morning.”

The dog whined and moved a few feet further down the road.

“We can’t go that way right now. We’re going to rest for the night. We’re tired.” She looked at Hancock, frustrated.

Hancock was losing his patience with the dog, but knew that getting pissed wasn’t exactly going to go over well. Instead, he walked back to the animal. It yipped and gave a little skip, glad to be moving.

“Nope, sorry pal,” he growled and then bent over and picked up the dog, hauling it over his shoulder. It cried and struggled, but he held on tight and they walked back toward the empty station.

Chapter Text

Neither of them slept well, and both were short-tempered in the morning. As the dog limped out of the station to do its morning business, Hancock busied himself putting out the fire they’d used to try to dry off their soaking clothes.

It hadn’t done much good, and he done his best to ignore Erica’s irritated huffs as she attempted to pull her cold, damp pants back on. He wasn’t thrilled with the situation either, but every annoyed sigh she made was grating on his nerves. He ground his teeth together in an effort to keep from saying something he’d probably regret later. 

She stalked around the station while he packed, and he muttered a few words to himself about the lack of help he was getting. Clearly she was ready to be back on the road, but he was concerned about how much more of this trip they could manage. He didn’t see how calling it off would be an option, and the closer they seemed to get to their quarry, the more snappish she seemed to be. 

He thought about the conversation he’d had with Amari before they’d embarked on this rotten journey, and the idea she’d put forth that he might have some kind of mild psyker ability. Given the misgivings he was having about this effort and what they might actually find at the end of the trail, his heart raced and his breath caught in anxiety. If he was actually able to predict the future…

He shook his head to clear that frightening thought away and tried to remind himself that all the psyker bullshit was just that—bullshit. His misgivings were perfectly normal given the shitshow that the journey had been this far. Plus, they were supposedly tracking some mega hot shit mercenary. Only a complete asshole wouldn’t be afraid.

Erica stomped back into his field of vision. “Done daydreaming, mayor?” she snapped. “I want to get the hell out of here.”

He gnawed on the inside of his lip and bit back a retort. So maybe he was in love with an asshole. Wouldn’t be the first time.

 

 

 

“Do you think he’s lost the trail?” she asked. He sighed and tromped off into the dead underbrush to see where the hell the dog was going. They’d been walking down the crumbled pavement for a few hours when the dog suddenly headed off the road into the remains of the forest on their left.

He caught sight of the dog at the top of a low slope, tail wagging as it looked down at them and waited for them to follow.

“Looks like we’re taking the cross-country route again,” he called back to Erica. He could see the silhouette of her body slump from where he was standing and understood completely. Every time he thought they must finally be done….

They dragged themselves up the hill to find a chain-link fence topped with rusted razor wire. A nearby sign announced that this was had once been military property. Erica tilted her head and looked at it thoughtfully.

“I wonder…” she murmured and then turned in a slow circle. “I think… I think we might be near Fort Hagen. Nate was stationed here for a while. It’s how we met. He wasn’t originally from the Boston area. A friend convinced me to come to some military shindig with her to meet guys.” She huffed. “Some friend.”

“Sounds like it might be a smart place for our current friend to be hiding. Any idea what the defense was like?”

“Not really. I only went on the property a couple times. Soldiers weren’t really encouraged to bring civilians around, even when they were dating them. I went to a holiday party with Nate one year, but it was dark already when I arrived and you were escorted at all times. We’d been at war for a couple decades by that point.”

Hancock mulled this over. According to the books he’d read, the war had been building up for damn near fifty years before the bombs finally fell. Wartime was pretty much all that Erica had known; she had just been fortunate enough to have been sheltered from the worst of it… until her entire life had been upended, of course.

“At any rate,” she continued. “It’s been a couple centuries so who knows what’s still working and what’s been salvaged. I’m not sure how we’re going to get in anyway. I’d rather not catch tetanus from the razor wire.”

The dog was snuffling along the perimeter of the fence and barked at the pair. They both looked over.

“I guess that’s your answer,” Hancock said, pointing at the ragged hole in the chain link that Dogmeat had found. He walked over and pulled a bit of torn cloth from the sharp metal. The dog whined.

“That belong to our guy?” Erica said. The dog barked again.

“You know, Sunshine, I’m worried that…”

“That the trail has been much too easy to follow? I know. I’ve been thinking it the whole way. I was wondering if you knew too.”

He nodded, somewhat relieved that he wouldn’t have to be the one to say it.

“I know we could be walking into a trap, but if he has my son…”

“I know. I’m not asking you to turn back.”

She looked at him, her eyes burning. The dark circles were back beneath her eyes, and her face looked haggard. He’d been so busy worrying about everything else that he hadn’t fully recognized the toll that this journey had been taking on her and how anxious she was about the possibility of actually finding her son. He reached up and brushed a matted lock of hair out of her face, tucking it back behind her ear.

“We’ll get your son or I’ll die trying. I swear it.”

She took his hand, and they pushed through the hole in the fence and followed the dog across the field. A half an hour later, they found themselves at the boarded up front entrance of the old fort. 

“How the fuck do we get in?” Erica said, her cheeks red with exertion and frustration.

Hancock stepped back and surveyed the exterior of the building. “I got an idea,” he said.

Chapter Text

“Wait, John—what are you doing?” She scrambled to catch up to him as he walked a few paces away from the building.

“Hang on, Sunshine. I need to check something.” He turned around and looked back at the military offices. “Yeah, that’s what I thought.” He took her hand and gently turned her so she was facing the building. “See up there?”

She looked, squinting a bit. “I see something reflecting… turrets?” 

“Yeah. They ain’t fired on us yet because they don’t think we’re a threat. But I’d bet my entire fucking strongroom that there’s some kind of hatch on the roof, and if we try to get up there, those bastards will fill us full of holes." 

Erica’s mouth tightened. “Then how…”

“Here’s what I’m thinking. Let’s scout down the street a little bit, see if we can find some sort of point to snipe at ‘em.”

“Neither of us have anything made for sniping.”

“I know. Best we got is your 10mm, but it'll have to do. What I wouldn’t give for MacCready to turn up right about now." 

“MacCready? The kid from the bar?”

Hancock barked out a laugh. “That’s the one. He’s actually a world-class sniper. You should see him in action. Take the wings right off a bloatfly from a hundred yards.” He pulled open a door that was already partially off the hinges. “Yoohoo,” he called in a raspy falsetto. “Anybody home?”

Erica hissed at him, eyes huge: “Are you crazy? Why would you announce us like that?”

“Because I’m betting that when our friend came through, he probably cleared out the surrounding buildings before holing up. Wouldn't want anyone following him and getting in the way.” He spotted a dead raider on the floor and nudged the man with his foot. “See?” The dog sniffed around the raider’s sprawled out, empty hand.

Erica kneeled down and searched the man for ammo. “He’s… actually still pretty warm,” she said, looking up at Hancock.

“Oh yeah? Let’s see…” He squatted down and put his hand across the man’s forehead. “You’re right. This guy is pretty fresh. Our asshole musta gone into his hidey hole less than an hour ago.”

“Well, then let’s go,” Erica said, shooting to her feet.

“Not so fast, Sunshine!” he answered. “We gotta deal with the turrets first.”

Erica froze, then slowly turned to him. “If I forget to tell you later, thank you for keeping me alive these past few weeks. I would have been dead countless times by now without you.”

“You’ve saved my life, too,” he said, simply, and left it at that.

 

 

 

They took turns aiming out the window and shooting at the turrets. After the first turret blew, the AI in the other turrets kicked in, and the two of them spent most of their time crouching down to allow the rounds to hit the wall and fly past them harmlessly. Once the firing from the turrets stopped, one of them would stick an arm out and take a few more shots until the turrets fired up again. This method took a long time, but it was effective, and eventually they blew up the last turret that they could see from the building.

“Should we move to a building on the other side and see if there are more?” Erica asked, reloading her 10mm.

Hancock mulled it over. “No, let’s scout around the back of the Fort and see what’s left. We took out quite a few. If there’s only one or two, we can probably finish them off from there. No idea what we’re going to find inside though. I just hope we’re not walking into a trap.”

“Even if we are, I just don’t see another choice,” Erica said.

“I know,” he said and took her hand.

 

 

 

One turret was still slowly turning, although it looked like it had been damaged in the crossfire from the other turrets as they had spun and shot in all directions trying to reach their quarry. A well-placed shot from the 10mm finished the job, and they both ducked as it exploded and shrapnel went flying. Silence filled the air.

Hancock pointed to a makeshift ramp that led up and around the building. “Looks like that’s gonna be our way in.”

“Let’s do this then,” Erica said. She started moving up the ramp, Dogmeat at her heel.

“Sunshine, maybe Dogmeat should stay outside for this one.”

She paused, and looked down at the dog, who was gazing up at her adoringly. “I hate to leave him out here…” she said.

“I know, but he’s still limping and, frankly, he’s an easy target.”

“Fuck.” She tucked a tangled lock back into her makeshift ponytail. “You’re right.” She crouched down and took the dog’s head into her hands. “Hey boy,” she said in a singsong voice. “I need you to stay outside, okay? Wait here?”

The dog whined, and she looked at Hancock with anguish in her eyes. He hated to deny her anything, but he also knew that if the dog was killed, she would be lost. “I’m sorry, Sunshine. You know he needs to stay.”

She stood back up, and he could see her steeling herself. “Sorry, buddy. Stay. Do you know 'stay'?” The dog sat down and whined again, pleading at her with his big brown eyes and velvety ears. “Stay,” she said again. He lay down with his head on his front paws. She took a few experimental steps, and the dog stayed put, although his eyes continued to track her.

The two of them continued up the ramp. “This sucks,” she commented.

He agreed that the whole situation, in fact, sucked.

Once on the roof, it wasn’t long before they found an unlocked hatch, exactly as Hancock had expected. He pulled it open, and they descended into the darkness below, one at a time.

They paused for a few moments to let their eyes adjust to the dim interior of the boarded-up building, and then they started picking their way through the mess of fallen walls and doors of what had once been an office pool. Hancock wondered what the room would have been used for back in the day and had just opened up his mouth to ask Erica when he heard it.

“Is someone present?” a metallic voice asked from another room. 

“What the fuck was that?” Erica whispered.

“Fucking Institute,” he rasped and readied his shotgun.

Chapter Text

“You cannot remain undetected for long.”

“I know you are still there.”

“Your termination is inevitable.”

Hancock cursed under his breath. Erica stood frozen, terror written across her face. The robotic voices sounded identical, making it impossible to tell exactly how many there were. He had a horrible feeling that this was just the tip of the iceberg.

“Hostile sensor reading detected.”

“An enemy may be utilizing stealth. Interesting.”

He hunched down and crept toward a crumbling door. It was clear that the door would no longer open, but he hoped to at least get an idea of what they were dealing with. He removed his hat so it wouldn’t give him away and slowly raised his head enough to peek through the hole in the wood. One… two… three… four… Four that he could see, anyway.

Just then, one of them turned and the sensors that functioned as eyes zeroed in on him.

“Calculating most efficient attack,” it said, raising its laser weapon.

“Fuck!” he muttered and moved quickly away from the hole as a blue bolt of light shot through the space.

“Your termination is inevitable,” one of the synths repeated.

“Get a new line, asshole,” Hancock muttered. He pulled Erica down beside him, using an overturned desk as a makeshift barricade. “Listen,” he said. She focused her pale face on him. “I counted four, but there’s probably more. I got a sneaking suspicion the whole fucking place is full of them.”

“Those are synths? They don’t sound like Nick at all.”

“Right. These are Gen Ones and Twos. He’s some kinda in-between model. The Gen Threes look just like humans. But there’s good news.” He glanced over her shoulder to check. No synths yet, but they’d be here any second. “These things have shitty programming. They can’t really think for themselves. Everything about them is lazy. Plus, those laser pistols aren’t super strong. They’ll give you a nasty burn if they hit you, but it ain’t gonna kill you… at first. Don’t let ‘em gang up on you though. Stay calm, don’t panic, and pop their fucking heads off. You got this. These bastards are creepy, but we’ve killed much nastier shit than this.”

She swallowed and nodded. As pep talks went, it wasn’t going to be winning any awards, but if it was enough for her to keep her presence of mind….

A blue flash shot over their heads, announcing the arrival of the synths.

He jumped up and his shotgun roared. One of the synths promptly dropped, sparks shooting from the metallic structure that had served as its neck.

“Please lower your weapon,” the synth directly behind the one he hit stated in a monotone. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Erica move and then the side of the synth’s head disintegrated. “Direct hit,” the synth announced. “Primary systems damaged.” It fell to the ground, joining its partner.

Two fresh synths began to barge their way into the room. They didn’t even cross over the threshold of the doorway, though, before one’s head exploded and the other slumped to the side, sparking. Hancock paused to see if more were coming, but it seemed quiet for the moment. He got up and walked over the pile of plastic and metal in the doorway, nudging one of the human-shaped structures with his foot.

He glanced back and saw that Erica had stood up and was staring at the synths with a grimace. He sighed. This was truly the worst-case scenario, the one he’d been hoping wasn’t true. But all signs now pointed to the reality that Erica’s child had in fact been taken by the Institute.

The Mother. Fucking. Institute! They’d been the bane of the Commonwealth since before he was born, but things had been exceptionally bad in the last few years. He’d tried to keep morale high among his own people with regular bravado-filled speeches about how tough they were and how the Institute should know better than to fuck with Goodneighbor, but the truth was that the very idea of this shadowy organization scared the piss out of him. He’d been witness to people who he considered friends suddenly acting completely out of place and when they were inevitably killed, they always turned out to have that creepy bit of circuitry in their brains that marked them as the work of the Institute. Elena Amari was working long hours with another organization, the Railroad, who apparently were somehow working against the Institute, but nobody knew exactly what they did, and their reputation wasn’t exactly stellar. He didn’t hold it against the synths, who often had no idea what they were, unless they started acting dangerous, in which case he dealt with them like he would anything else that was a threat to his community. He thought again of goddamn McDonough in Diamond City. The news reporter was 100% convinced that their mayor had been replaced by a synth, and it broke his heart to admit it, but he was starting to think she was probably right. And what if he, Hancock, were to be replaced by a synth? Fuck, would he even know? He hadn’t heard of any ghoul synths, but that didn’t really mean anything, did it? There was no question that the mayor of Goodneighbor was an attractive target for any organization wanting to gain a foothold—and power—in the Commonwealth.

He was starting to mentally spin. He pulled his Jet inhaler out of his pocket, took a deep puff, and calmed down a bit as his thoughts slowed, along with the world. He had to hold it together for Erica’s sake. He could freak out later, hopefully—if they were still alive, of course.

He stepped back over to Erica and took the horrified woman in his arms. “That reporter was right,” she said, her voice muffled against his shoulder. “It’s the Institute. They have my baby. They have Shaun.”

He squeezed her tighter. “Looks like it, yeah. But we’re almost there. We’re in the same building as their lapdog. We’ll get your answers and your son.”

“I just don’t understand! Why us? Why would they take a baby?”

“Sunshine, I don’t know. I can’t figure it out either. None of this shit makes sense. But listen, there’s probably more of these metal motherfuckers guarding that asshole. We can’t lose our shit now when we need to stay calm. You saw how easy they are to kill. I can’t guarantee they’ll all be that easy, he probably kept the tougher ones closer to him, but if we keep our shit together, we can do this. Okay?” 

He felt her take a ragged breath, then her head moved in a nod. “Okay. Let’s do this.” She lifted her pale and haggard face and looked again toward the heap of sparking mechanics. “Mama’s coming, Shaun.”

Chapter Text

As they moved deeper and deeper into the fort, Hancock couldn’t help but admire Erica’s tenacity. Nothing in her life had prepared her for the world she was now in, but in the few weeks he’d known her, she’d gone from a creeping creature on the brink of starvation to a reasonably able fighter.

She’d noted once that she was a quick study, but he thought it was more than that. Like himself, she was scrappy. She had a survivor’s instinct, and even when the odds were stacked almost entirely against her, she had a way of finding the slightest opening and squeezing through. 

He wished he could have known her in her former life—he especially would have loved to have seen her fighting in the courtroom. She was incredibly smart, and no opponent would have stood a chance.

What would he himself have been in that world? From what he understood, the law back then didn’t take kindly to those who used chems. Hell, Erica might have even teamed up with Nick Valentine to keep him locked up somewhere. They never would have worked in that world. In this one though… well, as the song that always played on the shitty Diamond City station went, anything goes.

In this lifetime, however, she was currently tearing through one synth after the other, a woman on a mission. He’d hate to be the one standing between her and her child, and he couldn’t help but stifle a grin. That piece of shit had no idea what he had stirred up.

They’d stopped to catch their breath in a hallway when a booming voice filled the air, startling them both.

“If it isn’t my old friend, the frozen TV dinner. Last time we met, you were cozying up to the peas and apple cobbler.”

What the fuck? Hancock had no idea where the voice came from, but he recognized it in a heartbeat. It was the voice of the man with the scar, the man who had been haunting his dreams since that trip to Sanctuary Hills. A shiver ran up and down his spine, causing him to visibly jerk and his breath to catch in his lungs. And what the fuck was he even talking about? Peas and apple cobbler? TV dinner? It made no sense. It was gibberish.

He looked to Erica and saw that she was standing at attention, gun drawn at her side, staring at a corner of the ceiling with her teeth bared in a feral grin. It scared him even more than the voice that had come from nowhere. A light had returned to her eyes, but he didn’t trust it. That light spoke of madness, of fury. He swallowed hard.

“Sunshine,” he rasped in a low tone.

“Oh, you motherfucker,” she hissed, furious. “How fucking dare you.”

Hancock could feel his scarred and furrowed skin trying fruitlessly to lump up into goosebumps. He reached out to Erica, gently touching her arm. She turned her wild, almost unseeing eyes to him.

“Don’t let him in your head,” he said. “He’s trying to get under your skin, make you lose control. I’ve dealt with fuckers like this before. It’s all a mind game. Get you so wound up that by the time you find him, you’re like a loose cannon and easy to take down. Fuck, I’ve used that tactic myself. It’s pretty goddamn effective.” He could see her shaking with the effort of trying to keep it together. “I love you, Sunshine. I’m here with you. Fuck that piece of shit.”

“Fuck that piece of shit…” she whispered to herself, echoing him. “Fuck him.”

“You okay to keep going?” Hancock asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “Let’s keep moving.”

 

 

 

 

“Okay, you made it. I’m just up ahead. My synths are standing down. Let’s talk.” The voice boomed from the speakers that Hancock had by now spotted. The taunting edge had left it, and now it just sounded resigned, almost… sad.

The pair stood in the living area, guns drawn. He chanced a glance at Erica. She’d been furiously scrubbing away tears while they walked through the old fort, making rubbish piles out of synths while the crazy son of a bitch’s voice shattered the air around him. He himself shivered every time the voice started talking. As frightening as the nightmares were, it was a million times worse to actually hear that voice in real life. He still had know idea what all of this meant, why he’d been dreaming of this, and it made the whole situation feel completely unreal.

At this point, he couldn’t wait to give that asshole a piece of his mind, preferably with the business end of his shotgun, but he also knew that this was Erica’s fight. She deserved to have the first crack at the worthless piece of shit. It didn’t leave his mind, however, that this guy was an expert, and Erica was… well… not. Plus, if he was from the Institute, all bets were off. He definitely knew how to use psychological manipulation, but Hancock was also quite sure this merc had never dealt with anyone quite like Erica before.

“You ready, Sunshine?” he quietly rasped as they stood outside the door.

She drew a slow and ragged breath. “I don’t know.” She turned to him. “John, I’m so scared.” He could hear the hint of a sob in her voice. She was right on the edge of completely losing her shit, and he didn’t blame her in the least.

“I ain’t gonna bullshit you. You’re right to be scared. Hell, I’m fucking terrified, but I’m with you, okay?”

“I know you are. But what if I get you killed?”

He reached for her hand. “Then I’ll die a much more honorable death than I deserve or I’d get anywhere else.” 

Her face scrunched up. “Please don’t joke.”

“That ain’t a joke. Dying trying to help you is the best way I could go out. Better than finally figuring out a way to OD or getting stabbed by some asshole trying to take over Goodneighbor and definitely better than getting blown to bits by a fucking super mutant. It’s all I could fucking ask for. Even if nobody ever knows about it.”

She pulled him closer and kissed him fiercely. “If we get out of this alive…”

“Yeah?” He grinned at the hint in her words.

“You’ll see,” she said. The spark had returned to her eyes and he was relieved to see it. The motherfucker in the next room would never know what had hit him.

Chapter Text

“And there she is. The most resilient woman in the Commonwealth.”

Hancock hadn’t known what to expect, but agreeing with the first words out of the man with the scar’s mouth certainly wasn’t anywhere on the list. He lifted his chin slightly higher as the bald man’s eyes passed over him with barely any acknowledgement whatsoever. Erica swallowed hard next to him.

“You kidnapping psychopath,” she snarled hoarsely. “Give me back my son.”

The man with the scar laughed, and Hancock shivered. He couldn’t get over the fact that the man standing in front of him now was the same one who had been haunting his dreams for weeks now. He’d seen a lot of crazy shit in his life, but this took the motherfucking cake.

“Right to it then, huh?” the mercenary said. “Okay, fine. Your son Shaun is a great kid. Little bit older than you may have remembered, but you’ve probably figured that out by now.”

As the mercenary continued to taunt Erica, Hancock took advantage of his apparent invisibility. His dark eyes roamed over the room, marking hiding spots among the overturned desks and technological crap. One… two… three… four synths. Okay. There was no way they were getting out of here without bloodshed, but hopefully their own might be minimal, and his brain ticked away, planning strategy.

“I can’t give him to you because he ain’t here.”

That caught Hancock’s attention. The kid wasn’t here? All of this was for nothing? What the fuck was this asshole playing at? Erica stood motionless next to him, practically shooting furious electricity out of her eyes.

“Tell me where he is, dammit!” Erica yelled. Her fists were clenched on her pistol, knuckles white.

“He’s home,” the mercenary said, staying calm in the face of Erica’s fire. “In the Institute.”

“Motherfucker…” Hancock breathed.

“I’ll find him, you piece of shit,” she hissed. “Nothing will stop me.”

“You surprise me. I have to admit, I find myself… liking you. But I think we’ve been talking long enough. We both know how this has to end.” His hand twitched, and Hancock’s sharp eyes caught the movement.

“Sunshine,” he muttered. “Stealth boy.” Shit, did she even know what the fuck a stealth boy was? He couldn’t remember ever having talked to her about it.

He couldn’t have predicted what she did next, though. Instead of shooting at the man as he would have done, she flew at him, low and fast, head down. He’d never seen her move as quickly or as silently. It caught the mercenary off guard too, but before Hancock could see what happened, lasers started to flash throughout the room. The synths were no longer standing down, and while the merc hadn’t bothered to comment on Hancock’s presence, they were certainly well aware of it.

His attention was pulled to the synths who were now shooting at him, and he felt a moment of panic at not having Erica in his line of sight. A gun had started firing, and it sounded like her 10 mm, so he would just have to take care of these fucking synths and trust that her pissed-off mother yao guai instincts were taking over.

He danced around the room, ducking behind computers and leaping over chairs, taking out one synth after another with his shotgun. They really were pretty easy to kill as long as you kept your head. Their creators had moved on to bigger and better things, and it showed in their flawed AI. He ducked down near a staircase to reload his shotgun, and heard the 10 mm firing repeatedly. It stopped momentarily and then resumed. What the fuck?

He leapt up at the two remaining synths that had been stalking him and dropped them both, sparks flying. He turned and bolted toward the sound of the shots.

Erica was straddling the man’s body. He could no longer rightly be called the man with the scar, though, as his face had been completely obliterated by Erica’s bullets. Hancock didn’t think the man had even had a chance to pull his own weapon before Erica had killed him, and now she seemed to be in some kind of fury-driven rage, pumping round after round into the dead man as blood, bone, and brains flew. Hancock’s stomach turned, but he ran toward Erica and the horrifying mess that had, just moments ago, been a man.

“Sunshine,” he panted, trying to catch her arms. “You got the bastard. He’s dead.”

She shrieked and fought against him. It was like trying to hold a rabid molerat down, not that he’d ever tried. To his knowledge, anyway. Weird shit happened when you were high.

“Sunshine!” He pulled her back against him and tightened his arms around her, pressing his face into the back of her neck. He could barely breathe, but he had to do something to bring her back to herself. She bucked against him, howling, and he tightened his grip.

“Shhhhhh.” He murmured into her neck. “Shhhhhh. He’s dead. You got him. You got him, Sunshine.”

Her body thrummed against his and then, finally, she went still. He kissed the back of her head, practically the only part of her that wasn’t covered in gore. He felt her slump down as the fight left her. She took a hitching breath, and then sobs wracked her body.

“Oh my god, John, what have I done?” she wailed. “He’s the only one who knew where Shaun was, and I just… I just saw red.”

“S’okay,” he said, continuing to squeeze her against him. “Fucker wouldn’t’ve told you anyway. He just wanted to fuck with you before killing you.”

“I… oh god, the mess….” He felt her retch, and he let go of her. She moved away from him, and a moment later, vomit splashed onto an overturned stainless steel cart. Hancock grimaced and then made the mistake of glancing back at the meat of the mercenary’s face. His own gorge rose, and it was all he could do to keep from joining Erica.

Strangely, though, a glint of something metallic caught his eye in the middle of the mess. Trying to ignore the human wreckage, his curiosity got the better of him, and he reached out a hand to pluck the small bit of metal from the man’s brain.

Was… was he a synth?

He pulled the small device loose and held it up to his eyes. A small bit of brain was still attached to it. No, it wasn’t the same as the components they had found in the brains of the synths that had replaced citizens of Goodneighbor. Was the Institute on to the next big breakthrough in fuckery? He wasn’t sure, but he had a good idea who might know, so he wrapped the piece of metal and wiring up in a bit of the man’s shirt and stashed it in his coat.

He also spotted the handsome .44 pistol the man had been packing. Good thing he hadn’t had a chance to even pull it out of its holster. One shot would have taken Erica’s head off. It was a nice gun, and Hancock didn’t think it should spend eternity decaying in this shithole fort, so he stashed the pistol in his pocket too.

Erica staggered back to him, wiping her mouth. He’d wait to give her a kiss until she was able to get a drink of water. He wanted to hold her for at least an hour, preferably two, but they needed to get out of here before they went any further insane.

She heaved a sigh that was filled with despair. “Now what?” she said. “I guess I have to let Nick know that I failed.”

“I’m not so sure that this was a failure, Sunshine,” Hancock said. “I might have something up my sleeve.” Or tucked away in my pocket. “I do think we need to talk to Nick though. Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Chapter Text

Erica rattled the doors to the stairway and then banged on them in frustration. “The fucking doors won’t open. I just want to get out of here!”

“Hang on, Sunshine. There’s gotta be something around here to open them. A lot of this shit is controlled by computer. Look around.”

They picked through the room, pocketing stimpaks and other useful items. Hancock checked the various computers, but most of them had been destroyed ages ago. His own frustration was starting to build, along with a cloying sense of claustrophobia. His rational brain told him that there had to be a way out, that Kellogg hadn’t locked himself in to die, but the animal part of his brain yammered away, further convinced that this had all been a trap and this was the last horrifying step.

Finally, he shoved aside a pile of old papers and other rubbish and uncovered a terminal that appeared to still be working. He was no computer expert, though he knew a few who were. Fahrenheit, for instance, wasn’t exactly a slouch when it came to electronics. He did have his own personal set-up back in Goodneighbor, but it wasn’t all that protected. His reputation was all the protection his own device needed, and heaven help the person who tried to nose around in his business.

This device he found seemed to be password protected. Of fucking course. Why should anything be easy? He tried a couple obvious passwords, “Institute,” “Shaun,” and, in annoyance, “Motherfucker,” but none of them worked and the computer beeped at him infuriatingly, announcing that he was temporarily locked out. He restrained himself from putting a fist through the monitor, and got up.

He wound his way back through the piles of clutter, passing Erica, who was sitting against one of the walls, attempting to clean herself up with some bottled water she had found. Retracing his steps, he found himself looking again with distaste at the battered body of the mercenary. He rummaged through the man’s pockets again, pulling out all kinds of random crap and, finally, a small notebook. Flipping through it, he found a list of assorted words and names. Once back at the computer, he tried the last word on the list, a name—“Mary”—and he was finally in.

He wondered who Mary was and where she was now.

The screen flashed and a paragraph of text came up. “Sunshine?” he called out after skimming through it. “You should probably see this.”

She wandered over, a haunted look in her eyes and a towel from one of the various first aid kits tossed over her damp hair. “What is it? Did you find a way out?”

“Not yet, but I managed to get into the fucker’s computer. He was keeping some kind of log of his movements and…” He gestured at the screen.

She read the words over his shoulder. “Motherfucker…” she whispered.

“Yeah, that was essentially my conclusion, too.”

“So Shaun is definitely there, at the Institute. But where is there?”

“I don’t know, but at least we have something to go on.” He hunted on the screen for some kind of menu, but failing that, he tapped the ESC key, which worked on his own terminal. The screen flashed again, and this time an option to open the doors came up. After breathing a sigh of relief and unlocking the doors, he checked back through the logs to see if the merc had been sloppy at all and revealed the location of his employer. No such luck.

 

 

 

 

The elevator only went up, which was fine. They’d go out the way they came in. At least this was a shortcut, and they wouldn’t have to push their way back through the destruction they’d left on their way in. Erica was subdued, and her blank face worried him. She needed to rest before they went any further, and he mulled over their options.

The doors finally slid open, and they emerged onto the roof, only to be greeted by a blinding flash of light. He raised his shotgun and shielded his eyes, trying to identify the source of the light.

A voice boomed from the sky, seeming to surround them. Fucking hell, he thought. What now?

“People of the Commonwealth…”

Oh no….

His eyes had adjusted, and he dropped his arm. He grimaced at the bizarre contraption above them in the sky. Erica stood beside him. The lights reflected off her glasses, making it impossible to read her expression.

“Do not interfere,” the voice announced, echoing off the hills to the west. “Our intentions are peaceful. We are the Brotherhood of Steel.”

Not this. Not now. There was just too much other shit to deal with. He didn’t have time to deal with the Brotherhood’s particular style of bullshit right now. Tensions in Boston were already high, and racism, combined with paranoia about the Institute—which was apparently well founded, was already causing the citizens to tear each other apart. And now the motherfucking Brotherhood of Steel was getting involved? Fucking why?

He needed to talk to MacCready as soon as possible. He knew he’d come from the Capital Wasteland originally and had had run-ins with Brotherhood assholes before. Maybe he’d know why they were here and what they wanted. All he knew from drifters who’d blown through Goodneighbor during their travels was that a once mostly-helpful organization had turned fanatical over the past few years and had a serious hatred for ghouls. And now, on top of everything else, he needed to come up with a plan to deal with these idiots.

He heaved a huge sigh, wishing he could just crawl under a rock somewhere and sleep for… oh, about a thousand years. As much as he enjoyed being mayor and the power and respect that came with it, responsibility had a nasty habit of rearing its ugly head and reminding him that it wasn’t all good times.

The pair watched in silence as the floating monstrosity made its way across the countryside, vertibirds occasionally dropping off of it and buzzing off in different directions.

Erica was the first to break the silence. “What’s the Brotherhood of Steel? I’ve never heard of them.”

“Bunch of racist assholes,” Hancock muttered. She raised her eyebrows. “They’re sort of a military organization, developed out of the remains of the actual U.S. military after the war, somewhere out west, and then moved east,” he explained. “Usually they stay in the Capital Wasteland, don’t venture up this way. They got a hard-on for tech and like to hoard whatever they can find, supposedly so they can study it, although that ship tells me they’re doing a hell of a lot more than just studying it.” He snarled toward the ship, which was now retreating in the distance. “They used to at least help the people just trying to eke out a living, at least that’s what MacCready told me about them. But lately travelers have said that they have a new leader and he’s a little shit. They’ve never loved ghouls or anything that didn’t meet their standard of the perfect human, but they mostly just left them alone apart from some occasional harassment. The word now, though, is that they’re actively hunting them down and killing them.”

“Jesus…” Erica whispered. “Do you think that’s what they’re here for?”

He bared his teeth in a feral-looking grin. “Better fucking not be. They’d be getting a hell of a bigger fight than they’re counting on.”

Chapter Text

They slowly made their way down from the roof using the hastily constructed ramps left by someone else at some point in the past. Hancock groaned internally, feeling every single muscle ache. He noted Erica’s slow and careful pace and suspected she must feel just as lousy, if not more. Plus, she had all of her own personal miseries to contend with.

When they reached the cracked concrete, she sighed and looked around before sharply whistling. He started at the abrupt noise, but then the dog, which had been holed up who knows where, promptly burst out of the scraggly, half-dead underbrush and ran up to her. She reached down to stroke its fur and then turned around, ready to plod back the way they had come.

“Sunshine, hold up,” he said. She turned her head and looked at him dully. “You said your husband used to work here at the Fort, right?”

“Yeah…?” He could read the confusion in her eyes.

“Was he stationed here when you lived in Sanctuary Hills?”

“No, that was before… but it’s not far from here. Probably about thirty miles north?”

“That’s what I was hoping. I think we should head there before we go back to Boston.”

“I need to get back to Nick. I need to tell him what happened with Kellogg. We have to figure out what’s next.” He could hear the panic creeping back into her voice.

“What you need to do right now is rest. Frankly, so do I. I’m fucking wiped out, Sunshine, so I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. I say we get some rest in that building we cleared out earlier, maybe find a quick bite to eat, then in the morning we hoof it north. With any luck, we’ll be there by tomorrow night.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose, agitated.

“What are you gonna tell Nick that can’t wait a week or so?” Hancock argued. “That mercenary motherfucker is about as dead as they come. He ain’t going nowhere.” His voice softened. “I know you’re disappointed and frustrated. But we’re still alive and even mostly unhurt, which is a hell of a lot better than we expected, right? So let’s get back into some sort of fighting shape before we try to figure out the next shadow we gotta chase, okay?”

She nodded. “Yeah, okay, John.”

 

He built a fire and set an opened can of Cram in the flames to cook. It was all he’d been able to scrounge up from the building, and it was better than nothing. He wished they’d taken a minute to go through that fancy ass bedroom area before splitting the Fort, but he was goddamned if he was going to back in that tomb now.

Erica sat with her head folded into her arms, staring past the fire into the darkness. He hoped he could coax her into eating something, but she hadn’t budged once the fire had been lit.

He took a stick and moved the can out of the fire so it could cool a bit. They sat for a minute in silence before he couldn’t stand it anymore. He moved over to sit next to her, but she pulled away, and turned her head so he couldn’t see her face. Bewildered, he reached out for her shoulder, but she flinched and scooted away.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“I’m a horrible person,” she replied, her voice muffled by her arms.

“Why would you think that?”

She finally turned her head to look at him, and the misery in her eyes made his heart clench. “Did you see what I did? I obliterated that man. I killed him with the first shot, but I just… I couldn’t stop.” She hid her face again.

“That don’t make you horrible,” he said. “That fucker took your kid and murdered your husband. I don’t blame you in the least.”

Her shoulders raised slightly as she huffed out a humorless laugh.

“Okay,” Hancock conceded, “So he wasn’t much of a husband, but Kellogg didn’t know that. Big deal, you killed him. He was planning to kill you, remember?”

She shrugged.

“If he’d hurt you, I would have obliterated him myself. Why the fuck would I judge you for it? Besides,” he added, a devilish grin spreading across his face. “You just shot the fucker. It ain’t like you ate him or something. Now that's sick.”

Her head shot up and her face pulled into a moue of disgust. “Jesus, John!”

He couldn’t help himself and burst into laughter. Her mouth twitched as she tried to hold back, but was only a moment before she shook her head and laughed herself, nudging his knee with her own. “Asshole,” she said, swatting him affectionately.

“You got that right,” he agreed. “Hey, remember when I stabbed that shithead Finn right in front of you before I even knew your name? You were pissed.

“How far we’ve come,” she said drily. “I wasn’t exactly impressed with your mayoral skills at the time.”

“And here I was just trying to impress you.”

“Strangely enough, it somehow worked.”

He reached out for her hand, and this time she didn’t flinch away. “My Sunshine. I love you.”

“I love you too. Now pass that disgusting Cram, please.”

 

They had wrapped themselves up in the sleeping bag against the cold, and Dogmeat was standing guard. Both knew that they needed sleep, but they were having trouble keeping their hands off of each other.

While one hand explored further down, the other cradled her head as he kissed her mouth slowly and thoroughly. She responded in kind. He wanted to dive into her right then, but he couldn’t bear the thought of this precious time together ending any sooner than it had to. He still thought it was a miracle that they had survived the day, and he was determined to keep the miracle going.

He was startled when she broke the kiss and then began inching further down his body, peeling his shirt back and kissing down his chest as he went.

He shivered slightly from a combination of the cold air suddenly sneaking into the sleeping bag and the light touch of her lips. “Not that I’m complaining, Sunshine, but what’s this?”

She paused in her trek down his scarred belly. “I believe I made a promise? Something to the effect of things I would do to you if we managed to get out of that hellhole alive?”

He chuckled. “I appreciate it and all, but you did most of the work back there. I’m pretty sure that I’m the one who owes you.”

She growled against his skin, and he jumped a little. “You’re always the one who delivers. Shut up for a bit, okay?”

He stroked her soft hair with his fingers and grinned. “Okay, no more arguing out of me-ahhhh!” He closed his eyes and his head fell back as he felt her mouth envelop him. “Oh, Sunshine…” he rasped, his voice barely above a whisper. Her tongue rolled over the head of his cock, and he brushed his fingers against her cheek. A small voice inside his head reminded him to keep control so she didn’t wind up with a mouthful of radiation.

He felt her mouth work him over, sucking at him as her fingers stroked his shaft. His breath came faster and he couldn’t help but pump his hips, just slightly, as she took him into her mouth deeper and deeper.

Suddenly, her mouth was gone and the cool air was back. He gasped, but then her body was up against his, and he felt her warm hand guiding him into her. She hovered over him, her tangled hair falling around them both, and he pulled her head to his so he could kiss her as they rocked together.

“Sorry,” she breathed against his mouth. “I couldn’t wait another moment.”

He smiled. “I forgive you.”

That night, there were no nightmares.

Chapter Text

The following night, they arrived back in Sanctuary Hills, and Hancock was relieved to sleep through the night once more without having to take a tour through the vault with the man with the scar (who most definitely no longer had a scar… or really any features whatsoever). 

When he woke in the morning in the bed that someone (he suspected Sturges) had built in her former home while they were away, he was surprised to find the sun shining through the broken windows and the other half of the bed empty. Dogmeat was snoring softly at his feet, and he suspected the heat of the dog was what had woken him up.

Curious, he got up, pulled his pants on, and wandered into the hallway. He glanced into Erica’s son’s room, but to his relief, she wasn’t there. Instead, he spotted her in the room with the broken toilet, staring into the mirror, which was, somehow, still intact after all these years.

He watched her for a minute without saying a word. She didn’t seem to have noticed him yet and was angled toward the mirror studying her reflection, touching the skin on her face and running a hand over her hair. She turned her head from side to side and up and down, sucking in her cheeks and grimacing at herself.

“Sunshine?” he said, quietly, not wanting to startle her. She paused, and he saw the reflection of her eyes move away from her image and then focus on him where he stood in the hallway behind her. “What’s up?”

“Do you know this is the first time I’ve really seen myself since… everything happened? And, strangely enough, the last time was in this exact same mirror.” She tilted her head to the left than the right. “I can’t even recognize myself. My face… is so thin. Look at my skin.” She pinched the flesh of her cheek between her thumb and forefinger and pulled at it. “And my eyes.” She raised her glasses and swiped a finger against the dark circles and then traced the wrinkles at the corners. “My hair has so much more gray in it now.”

He stepped forward into the room and her eyes met his again in the mirror. “It feels so close still,” she said. “I mean, in my head, it’s just been a few months, and the days just blur together. I don’t even know what month it is now. Do you?”

He thought for a moment. “I… think it might be March? I don’t know.” He shrugged. “Don’t see the point of paying much attention.”

“So winter has come and gone. How come it doesn’t snow anymore? Wasn’t there supposed to be some kind of nuclear winter or something? Boston was always known for getting snow. Why aren’t we buried under six feet of ice?”

“You got me, Sunshine. I ain’t a motorologist. Do you want to be buried under ice?” He shivered. Sounded like hell.

“Meteorologist,” she corrected with a slight smile. “And no, not particularly.”

“What do meteors have to do with the weather? Or motors, for that matter?”

She shook her head and her eyes went back to the reflection. “It doesn’t matter. The weather’s been the same since I woke up but it’s been almost six months. It got a bit windier and cooler, but not much has changed. Does it still get warm in the summer?”

“It’s sunny more, less rain. But it ain’t really hot either.” 

She sighed. “Just one more thing the scientists all got wrong, I guess. Not really surprising at this point.”

He stepped up and put his arms around her from behind and rested his head on her shoulder, looking at their combined reflection. Talk about your odd couples.

She leaned her head against his and closed her eyes. He could appreciate what it was like to not recognize the person looking back in the mirror. Most days, he was pretty damn grateful for it, but it was always a slight shock to see himself as a scarred, bald creature with no nose and pitch-black eyes. It, of course, didn’t bother him in anyone else, but given that he was a fairly “young” ghoul, he often felt like he didn’t truly belong as one of them, even as accepting as they were. They’d had life experiences he couldn’t even imagine, especially the pre-war ones. But he didn’t really belong with the humans either, and they’d certainly gone out their way to make that clear. He was just Hancock and he didn’t really belong to anyone but himself… and now, Erica, as unbelievable as that was to him.

“John?” she murmured, opening her eyes and looking back at their reflection.

“Hmmm?”

“What did you look like? Before?”

He stiffened in response to the question, and pulled back from her slightly. He didn’t want to remember that man. “It don’t matter, Sunshine, I…”

“I know, and I know it’s uncomfortable, but I just wonder… like, what color was your hair?” 

He was silent for a moment and then decided he would answer her questions. Did it really matter anymore? It wasn’t like that asshole’s face would ever exist again. “It was … kind of a light red. A bit lighter than Fahrenheit’s, actually.”

“So, kind of a strawberry blonde?” He shrugged. The word “strawberry” didn’t hold any meaning for him. “How did you wear it?”

He sighed. “Kind of long. Mostly tied back at my neck. Easier that way.” He ran a hand over his now-bald head. “Although this is easiest of all.”

She smiled and chuckled. “How about your eyes? What did they look like?”

“Kind of a gray-green.”

“Lots of Irish in Boston back in my day. You must be descended from some of them.”

He nodded. “Yeah, probably so.” His former last name marked him as Irish, but he wasn’t planning to share that. She was more than smart enough to put those pieces together. “None of that matters now.”

“No, it doesn’t.” She turned away from the mirror and faced him, wrapping her arms around him. “Maybe you were a dashing redhead once, but I love the way you look now.”

He snorted through the hole where his nose had once been and looked away from her. Gently, she lifted her hand to his cheek, stroked along a line of scar tissue and nudged his gaze back to her. “I mean it,” she said, and he could see the seriousness in her eyes.

He cleared his throat. He wasn’t used to being this vulnerable with anyone, and even as much as he loved her, it made him nervous. “Got any plans for today?” he asked, hoping to change the subject.

“No, this little mini-vacation was your idea. I figure we can say hi, get pissed off at Preston, and spend as much time as possible in bed.”

He grinned. “Sounds like a plan.”

Chapter Text

Later that afternoon, Erica wandered off to make nice with the other residents of Sanctuary Hills. Since he was not the least bit interested in partaking in that kind of bullshit, he decided to give himself a self-guided tour of the small settlement, but quickly found himself drawn away once again to the quiet by the river.

He didn’t have much opportunity for quiet in his life. Sometimes he was grateful for this since the last thing he wanted was the time and space for his brain to churn away and provide him with all the reasons why he was a useless piece of shit who had somehow managed to trick everyone into thinking he had value, but it had been awhile since he’d been on his own, and he just needed a break.

He smoked a cigarette as he meandered along the bank of the river, Dogmeat trailing at his feet. He didn’t know why the mutt had insisted on following him instead of its mistress, but the dog’s company made him feel strangely content.

He paused to study the water purification system that had been installed in the river. Impressed by the craftsmanship and the obvious utility, he popped a Mentat into his mouth and bit down, hoping that he could better understand how the damn thing worked. Although he didn’t personally benefit from water purification (the dirtier the better was his motto… for quite a few things in life, he mused with a grin), several of Goodneighbor’s human residents would be happy to have a decent supply, including Fahrenheit. While there wasn’t a stream close by, perhaps this device could somehow be attached to a working water pump?

“It’s 3:46 pm,” a voice intoned solemnly, startling him out of his Mentats-fueled exploration of the pump. “Do you know where your girlfriend is?

He looked up irritably, annoyed by whoever had had the balls to interrupt the Mayor of Goodneighbor when he was obviously busy. His irritation increased tenfold when he recognized the bald head and mirrored shades of that Railroad asshole.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” he answered, choosing to play obtuse.

“Exactly what I said. Do you know where she is?”

“And who is supposed to be my girlfriend exactly?”

“Ah, so you’re just fucking for fun? Good deal. Does that mean a fellow like me has a chance?”

Hancock bared his teeth. Why was this asshole here? He also wanted to know exactly how long had he been tailing them… and apparently watching them, the fucking pervert. “Put on a good show, do we? Nice to hear I haven’t lost my touch.”

“My original question still stands.”

“She’s up in the settlement, probably getting recruited by the goddamn Minutemen. Have you been given the spiel yet? You should join up, although it sure would be a shame if you happened to die in the line of duty.”

The sunglasses prevented Hancock from reading the spy’s eyes, but his lips curled into a humorless smile. Good. He’d struck a nerve.

“Well, you’re right that she’s up in the settlement, but I think she’s more interested in another group.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

This time, the spy’s smile was less forced, although Hancock didn’t like the animosity behind it a bit. “She’s asking everyone about the Brotherhood of Steel… and then telling them not to tell you she asked.”

“Bullshit. I told her all about them. Why would she need to know anymore about those fuckers?”

“Apparently she’s concerned that you might be just a teensy bit biased. Don’t know why that would be.” He turned away and studied the water purifier, whistling in a way that was clearly meant to both sound innocent and drive Hancock batshit insane.

Hancock was grateful that his ruined skin could no longer flush because he could feel himself heating up with rage. Would Erica really do that? Or was this asshole just fucking with him for no reason whatsoever? Neither option seemed likely, but one of them had to be true.

All right. He could play along.

“What exactly does she want to know?”

“She wanted to know about their military roots, and whether they might be here looking for the Institute. Sounds like she’s hoping you might be able to play nice with them long enough for her to find a way in.”

“Son of a….”

“You might find this surprising, but I’m actually with you on this. My organization is deeply concerned about the arrival of the Brotherhood. Given their rather… extreme… beliefs about humanity and technology, we suspect they might not be super enthused about our little operation we have going.”

“And which operation is that precisely?”

“Nice try.”

Hancock clenched his fists in frustration. “I’m gonna get to the bottom of this.”

“I was hoping you might. But I wanted to bring something else to your attention.”

“Goddammit, what else?”

The spy said nothing but pointed to the sky as a flock of crows took off from one of the rooftops in the settlement and began winging their way eastward.




Hancock sat on the couch watching the shadows in the little house creep up the walls as the sun went down. Erica hadn’t returned yet.

He wasn’t exactly thrilled about confronting her, and there was still a chance that the Railroad asshole was lying. Why would Erica be seeking a second opinion about the Brotherhood of Steel? He thought they’d built up a good level of trust; he certainly trusted her and had been willing to walk right into the fire for her. But what if she didn’t feel the same way about him?

Was there something she saw when she looked at him that inherently made her trust him less than she trusted the people here in Sanctuary? There was one pretty significant difference between him and them, of course, that couldn’t be dismissed, and it wasn’t his sense of style.

But she’d said that she loved the way he looked! She’d touched him, caressed him, sucked his dick for fuck’s sake. You’d have to be a damn good actress to pull that off without a flinch. He’d fucked women who only wanted to be with him for his power and were turned off by his face and skin… and it was obvious in everything from the way they looked at him to the way they placed their hands on his clothing, the bed, everywhere but on his skin. Erica had never hesitated, and he’d never gotten that feeling off of her before.

He didn’t want to admit it to himself, but he was scared that he’d been fooled by someone who was more savvy and ruthless than himself. Maybe Fahrenheit had been right all along and he’d been the fucking idiot who had fallen for someone he didn’t even know. This thought, that Erica wasn’t what she’d seemed, was making his stomach churn. He wasn’t just scared; he was terrified. Terrified of losing what he thought he had, of finding out that he’d never actually had it at all.

The ashtray on the armrest of the couch was filling up rapidly as he smoked cigarette after cigarette. He was restless and wanted to pace, but he was going to stay right where he was until Erica walked through that door.

Chapter Text

The door opened and Erica stepped into the dark house.

“Hello, darling, how was your day?” he said with a sarcastic bite, louder than he intended. She jumped, and he heard something fall and shatter on the floor. The sharp tang of wine immediately filled the room.

“Jesus, John, you scared the shit out of me!”

“I may have heard somewhere along the line that ghouls tend to have that effect on humans,” he said bitterly.

She moved further into the room and clicked on a light. He flinched back from the sudden brightness; he hadn’t noticed that the house had apparently been rigged for power in the last few weeks.

“What’s going on?” she asked him, squatting down and beginning to pick up the broken bits of glass from the bottle of wine. “Damn, I was looking forward to this, too,” she muttered to herself.

“I kinda wanted to ask you the same thing,” he said. “Did you have a nice visit with all your friends here in Sanctuary Hills today?”

“It was… pleasant,” she said, her eyes cautiously meeting his. “Preston wasn’t too obnoxious, which made for a nice change. And Sturges is incredible. Can you believe this? Lights! Apparently he has a shack with running water that they’ve been using for showers too!”

“Technology is pretty valuable,” he snarled.

She crossed the room, tossed the pieces of glass into the kitchen sink, and wiped her hands on a threadbare towel that had been lying on the counter. “It has its uses,” she said slowly, gazing at him. “You’re acting strange. Why?”

“Maybe you could venture a guess.”

She leaned back against the kitchen counter with her arms crossed. “Are you mad at me for visiting with the settlers here?”

“Nope.”

“Are you mad that Dogmeat didn’t come with me and you got to dogsit all day?”

“Not even close.”

“Well, then I don’t know. I’m not in the mood for whatever game you’re trying to play right now, so quit beating around the damn bush and tell me what’s going on.”

“Why don’t you trust me?”

She looked shocked and surprised by his question, which only pissed him off more. “John… Of course I trust you,” she said. “Why would you think that I don’t?”

“How about because you’ve been going around asking everyone about the fucking Brotherhood. Apparently you think I’ve been feeding you a line of bullshit.”

“That’s… That doesn’t mean I don’t trust you. I just… I needed a second opinion.”

“And then you asked them not to tell me.”

She sighed. “You’re right, I did ask that. And it sounds like that was a pretty stupid thing to do. I guess I should be mad at whoever went ahead and did it anyway, but they were probably right to do so.” She moved across the room and sat down next to him. He studied her, keeping his expression neutral. “I trust you,” she said, placing a hand over his. He tensed up, but didn’t move his hand. “I do. I just wanted to get some information from someone who doesn’t have a reason to immediately hate them.”

He jumped up, furious,and began rapidly pacing back and forth in front of the couch. “What, you think I’m incapable of drawing rational conclusions? You think I let bigotry do the talking? What the fuck do you think I am? Who do you think I am? Weren’t you even fucking listening to everything I’ve told you so far?”

She closed her eyes. “Stop it.”

“I’ve seen the damage done by assholes who think like the motherfucking Brotherhood! I told you about fucking Diamond City and what happened there! I’ve seen ghouls cracked open on the pavement like fucking cans of Cram! You have no fucking clue!”

I said fucking stop it! ” She leapt up, eyes blazing, and he took a step back, suddenly unsure. “This is exactly why I needed to get more information from someone else! I’m not saying you’re wrong about them, I just needed… independent confirmation. You think I don’t know what bigotry is?” She was advancing on him now, hands clenched, mouth trembling. “I lived in a time when certain groups hated each other so much that they locked people up just based on the way their eyes looked and left them there to starve. They destroyed the entire goddamn world out of sheer spite just to keep the other side from having it!”

Oh, he was fucking this up so bad. “Sunshine…”

“Don’t you fucking ‘Sunshine’ me! I was an attorney back in that world! Research was a part of my job. I wanted to make sure I had all the information before I made my decision. Can’t you understand that? It’s not about you!”

He sat down hard, his head in his hands. While the Railroad asshole was technically correct in the information he had passed along, he should never have listened to him.

She wasn’t done though.

“How dare you?” Her voice was cold, each word like a nail in his heart. “Sitting here in the dark, just waiting to accuse me! Goddammit! You’re acting just like Nate!”

Oh, fuck…

“This is the kind of shit he pulled all the time, building up stupid little resentments all through the day about nothing that had to do with him, then blasting me when I came through the door. I’m not going to do this again!” She bolted out, slamming the door behind her and causing a piece of broken window to fall out of the frame. He stayed on the couch, breathing raggedly, and holding his head. He felt an old, familiar sting in the corners of his eyes, but he no longer had tears to relieve it.




He didn’t feel right sleeping in her bed without her there, but he also didn’t want to leave the house. His style of conflict resolution usually involved a knife, and he felt helpless, unsure of how to proceed. What if he couldn’t fix this? How had his thoughts spiralled so far that he had thought confronting her in this way was the right way to handle the situation?

Between all the shouting and her fleeing the house (and apparently now choosing to sleep somewhere else), there was no chance that the rest of the settlement didn’t know what had happened. He’d prefer not to have to face any knowing glances tonight, so decided he was better off staying put. He’d tried before to tell her that he was a coward, and now he felt validated. He took a perverse kind of pleasure in that, but mostly, he was miserable. Leave it to him to fuck up the only decent relationship he’d ever had. He wasn’t in the least bit surprised, but it didn’t make it any better.

He flipped his Jet inhaler through his fingers for a bit before finally taking a puff. He just needed to stop thinking for a bit, and the Jet seemed to be the best solution. A syringeful of Med-X would have been the best option, but he didn’t have any more and he guessed that begging around Sanctuary Hills for chems would not help the already fucked-up situation.

One puff turned into several. The night swirled around him, and he lost all sense of time. Hours later, he staggered into the kitchen and searched the cupboards. Finding a bottle of vodka, he returned to the couch and drank himself into oblivion, sinking into unconsciousness with gratitude.

Chapter Text

His head pounded miserably. Groaning, he attempted to roll over but instead fell off the couch, which only increased the pain in his head. He blinked his blurry eyes until they cleared.

Slowly, the argument from the night before came back to him, and his misery doubled. Had he managed to drive her off? Wouldn’t even surprise him, and he couldn’t really blame her. He’d acted like a total shit— like Nate , he recalled her saying with a wince.

Once his eyes had better adjusted to the light, he tried to make heads or tails of how long he’d been out. The day was overcast and rain threatened, making it nearly impossible to judge the time. His best guess was mid-morning.

He plopped his hat on his head before leaving the house. Dogmeat wasn’t around, so he assumed the dog had abandoned him to be with Erica. Made sense. The dog was pretty smart, after all.





The house across the street was quiet, and nobody appeared to be home. He was about to open the door to peek his head in anyway, when Preston suddenly appeared next to him.

“Mayor,” he said.

“Preston,” Hancock replied, tight-lipped.

“Erica’s inside, but she said she doesn’t want to talk to you right now. And I don’t think Sturges would appreciate you just walking into his house.”

Hancock sighed and dragged a hand down his face. “I know she don’t. But come on, you know we gotta work this out.”

Preston studied him for a minute and then glanced back at the door. “She slept here last night and cried half the night. She was ready to take off, but Sturges talked her out of it.”

Thank god for Sturges.

“Can I talk to Sturges then?”

Preston nodded. “I’ll go get him. Why don’t you wait out back.”




Hancock picked through the small garden, admiring the healthy mutfruit bushes and tato vines. They’d done all right for themselves here over the past several weeks. The small community had grown, and new houses had sprouted up in the place of old wrecks. From here, he could even see a couple of kids running through the ruins of a playground. Sanctuary Hills had truly become a settlement, just as Preston had hoped.

It wasn’t long before Sturges joined him. Hancock pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his coat and offered the mechanic one. They both lit up and stood smoking in silence for several minutes, watching the kids at the play at the park. The mechanic was naturally reticent, and Hancock was afraid to say the wrong thing.

“Y’know,” Sturges finally said, “My old man always said duct tape could fix anything. I don’t think he was talking about people though.”

“I don’t know about that,” Hancock replied. “I could probably benefit from some duct tape right across my mouth.”

Sturges chuckled. “Yeah, you made a right mess of things last night. Well, it happens.” He was quiet for a moment and finished his cigarette before speaking again. “She loves you very much, you know. But you gotta keep that temper in check. Reminds her of things she’d rather not be reminded of.”

“I know. But she can’t go keeping shit like that from me, either.”

“I ain’t saying you bear all the blame here. She made mistakes too, and she knows it.”

“Can you convince her to talk to me?”

“Well, I dunno. Are you gonna get mad at her or listen?”

“I’ll listen, but I need to know she’s gonna listen to me too.” He handed Sturges another cigarette.

“I ain’t no damn therapist, you know.”

Hancock snorted. “Not asking you to be. I just want to be in the same room with her.”

Sturges nodded. “I’ll see what I can do. No promises though.”

“That’s all I ask. Thanks, man.”

The mechanic sighed. “Don’t thank me yet. She’s stubborn as hell when she wants to be.”

Hancock grinned. “Don’t I know it. Just one of the things I love about her.”





The sun was starting to set again, and there had been no sign of the mechanic or Erica. Hancock was nervous and paced around the house. He’d used up all of his Jet the night before, which was probably for the best. He would need a clear head for this conversation. He didn’t want to… no… he couldn’t fuck it up.

He was picking through the kitchen looking for something to eat when the door finally opened. He whirled around to see Sturges holding the door open for Erica. A line was set tightly between her eyebrows, and her lips were pursed. He wanted, more than anything, to leap across the room and gather her into his arms, but suspected that would not be currently well-received. Hopefully, he’d have the opportunity later.

Hopefully.

She sat down on the couch, and Sturges remained in the doorway. Hancock moved cautiously back into the living room and pulled a chair over so he could face Erica. He glanced at Sturges, brows raised. The mechanic just shrugged and inclined his head slightly toward Erica.

Was she afraid of him? The thought was almost more than his heart could bear, and he swallowed hard.

He reached out to take her hand, but she moved it away.

“Erica,” he started, unsure of how to go on.

“No,” she said. “You need to listen.”

“Okay. I’m listening.”

“You don’t get to talk to me like that again.”

“I’m sorry, I…”

“I have the right to ask questions and get the information I need. You don’t own me.’

“I never said I…”

“I am going to find my son, and I will get help from whoever can help me.”

“Now hold up a second.” Her eyes blazed, but he continued. “Don’t I get to finish a sentence at all? I get why you’re asking around, but do you really want help from people like that? Sunshine, they’re the bad guys!”

She looked at him sadly. “John, we don’t live in a kid’s story where things are black and white. This is the real world. I don’t know if there are any good or bad guys anymore. I don’t think there ever were.”

“What are you talking about? Of course there are good guys. We’re the good guys. Someone needs helping, we help them. Someone needs hurting, we hurt them.”

“Are we? I’d like to think we are, but I just don’t think it’s that simple. Two days ago, I shot a man’s face clean off and turned him into paste because he wouldn’t give me the information I wanted…”

“He would have killed you,” Hancock interjected.

“... And the day we met, you stabbed a man for… what? Extortion? Would he have killed you, or me for that matter? Or was he just a nuisance?”

Hancock glanced down at his hands, folded in his lap, before answering. “He’d been talking about how I’d grown soft, about gathering a group to take me out.”

“But he hadn’t done it. So you killed him for a crime he might potentially commit not one he’d actually committed. Is that really justice? You’re a smooth-talking guy, and you’re incredibly smart. You really couldn’t find any other way to solve the situation?”

He remained silent and stared at the floor, ashamed.

“In my day, you would have been tried for murder and found guilty.”

“Nah,” he said, attempting a smile. “I woulda just hired you for my lawyer. You would’ve gotten me off.”

She shook her head sadly. “No. I worked for the prosecutor’s office. Nick and I would have been working together to put you away. It would have been an easy conviction.”

He sighed. “So I don’t get it. Are you saying I’m a bad guy?”

“No, of course not. Your heart is so good, and this world is… brutal. But I’m saying sometimes people do the wrong thing for the right reasons, and sometimes people do the right thing for the wrong reasons. It was wrong for you to kill him, but I do understand why you did. And while the law would have required us to lock you up, I’m not sure it would have been the right thing for us to do, although I certainly would have been gung ho for it at the time.”

He rubbed his forehead. “I think I need a Mentat for this.”

“My point is that while the Brotherhood is dead wrong when it comes to their bigotry toward ghouls, they might have information I need.”

“So you… what? Want to join up with the wrong group for the right reasons? Is that what you’re saying?”

She smiled, but it didn’t meet her eyes. “No, I’m the one doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. I want to use them to get what I need. I just needed to make sure they could be useful. I guess I’m a bad guy too.”

“Thought you just said there weren’t no bad guys.”

Her smile this time was more genuine. “See?” she said. “You were listening.”

“Well, hang on. Didn’t you say last night that the assholes in charge destroyed the whole world out of spite? How does that fit into your philosophy? Ain’t no right action or right reason there.”

“I’m not saying it’s a hard and fast rule, John. Yes, some people are horrible and do evil things for selfish reasons. I believe, though, that those people are few and far between.”

“The world’s always gonna have tyrants…” he mused.

“It will. And it could very well be that whoever’s in charge of the Brotherhood is one of them. You  did say that the group got far more dangerous after he took charge. But all the other people, the people serving in the ranks? They have their own reasons for joining. Maybe they are just trying to feed their family. Maybe they fear ghouls because they’ve been fed crappy information all their lives. It’s impossible to know. These are the people who could come around to reason, maybe.”

“That don’t make slaughtering ghouls okay, though.”

“Of course not. ‘Just following orders’ is a terrible reason to commit atrocities. Probably one of the oldest excuses in the book.”

He sat for a moment in silence, trying to make sense of everything they had just discussed. He really preferred to have the buzz of Mentats to assist during these types of philosophical discussions.

“Sunshine, all of this seems really contradictory.”

She smiled sadly. “It is. It’s messy shit. The best minds of my time tried to figure it out, along with a whole bunch of stoned college students, and I don’t think they ever got any closer than we are right now.”

He nodded. “So now what?”

“We continue on. We’ll talk to Nick, try to figure out what’s next. But listen…” She looked suddenly serious. “If I’m doing something that bothers you, talk to me about it. Please. This building up anger and then exploding at me? I can’t do it. I hated it when Nate did it, and when you did it… it was like being right there again.” She shuddered and rubbed her arms, and he ached to reach out for her and hold her. “It made you scary, and I don’t want to feel that way about you. I love you.”

“I love you too. So much. But don’t go around behind my back and trying to keep things from me. Shit like that has a way of getting out, y’know?”

“Fair enough. Do we have a deal then?” She reached out for him, and he grasped her hand. “Shall I draw up a contract?” she asked, her eyes twinkling.

“I don’t think that will be necessary, but I do know another way we could seal the deal,” he said with a sideways grin.

“That sounds perfect. Lead the way,” she said with a smile.

Chapter Text

To Hancock’s relief, the remainder of their stay in Sanctuary Hills passed more peacefully. A few days later, though, he was definitely ready to split. He’d built up cautious friendships with Sturges and Preston, but he didn’t particularly care for most of the other settlers. He was especially nervous around the old woman, who would gaze at him with a knowing expression whenever they passed by each other.

True to his word, he’d spent as much time as possible in bed with Erica, but she seemed distracted, and it worried him. He didn’t think they’d managed to come to a full understanding of her goals in regards to the Brotherhood of Steel. While he enjoyed stoned philosophical discussions as much as anyone, the ones he’d been a part of in the past tended to be more hypothetical in nature. The conversation they’d had carried with it the potential for real consequences, and this contributed to his overall unsettled feeling.

On the fifth day after their arrival, they came to an agreement that they would set out for downtown Boston the next morning. Erica was feeling rested and ready to meet up with Nick to figure out their next steps. He was just glad to have a plan of action and grateful that it didn’t appear to include the goddamn Brotherhood.

That afternoon, they walked down together to the river and sat, chucking rocks into the stream. She was telling stories about life pre-war and pre-Nate, and he enjoyed just listening to her talk.

“Boston was an incredible place for a college student,” Erica was saying. “The city was pretty much built up around universities, and the best students in the country came here. But even the best and the brightest liked to blow off steam, and the parties were epic.”

“Wouldn’t have pegged you for a party animal,” he said with a sideways grin.

She laughed. “No, not a party animal, but I did enjoy spending time with friends. We’d pop a Mentat or two, discuss the state of the world, and plan how we’d fix it, you know, once we had our degrees and were ‘grown-ups,’ whatever the hell that was.” She smiled sadly. “I guess that didn’t work out so well. Most of the guys wound up in the army and were active participants in breaking the world rather than fixing it.” She threw a rock and winced as it bounced off the water purifier. “Whoops. Sturges will kill me if I break that thing. Anyway, most of the girls wound up leaving school to marry their college sweethearts who were heading off to war. I was one of the few that stuck it out and earned my degree. That was… unexpected…  for a woman, and I got my share of grief for it. When I wasn’t married or pregnant by 30, I got a lot of questions from people who thought I was, you know, ‘that way.’”

“What d’you mean?” he asked, confused. “What way?”

“You know, like Fahrenheit and Magnolia.”

He narrowed his eyes slightly. “Was that… unusual in your time?”

“I doubt it was any more unusual than it is now, but it certainly wasn’t talked about much, and you could definitely expect some serious pushback. There were two women who lived together in our neighborhood. They probably were a couple, but it was never discussed, at least not openly. Nate had some disgusting words for them though.” She made a face.

Hancock ruminated on this a bit. “So in your time, people discriminated against Asians and those who fucked the same sex. Anyone else?”

She sighed. “Preston would have had a pretty hard time as well. Just about anyone who wasn’t a straight white male had a target on their back.”

“No offense, but your time period sounds kinda shitty. People here just hate ghouls and synths. We certainly don’t give a shit who fucks who unless there’s cheating going on, and even that’s a personal issue. I guess that’s progress.”

“You’re right. It was kind of shitty. It was easy to blame everything that was wrong with the world on those who were different in some way, and people were happy to jump to that conclusion. It was easier than blaming themselves anyway.”

“So much for the best and the brightest.”

She snorted at this, and soon dissolved into giggles as she lay back on the scraggly yellow grass. He grinned down at her before bending over and giving her a kiss. She reached up and caressed his face, smiling back up at him. “I love you, John Hancock.” She giggled again, grabbed his hat, and plopped it on her head. He got a kick out of her giggles; it wasn’t a sound he heard very often, and there was something youthful and rejuvenating about it that was hard to find out in the wasteland. “There’s something I never would have guessed I’d be saying back at those Cambridge parties,” she said with a smile.

“Cambridge?”

“Sure, a little north of the main city. Across the river.”

“I know where it is, but why were you having parties there?”

“Are you kidding? Those were the best parties! That’s where all the most brilliant students went. I applied to Harvard Law and couldn’t get in, wasn’t smart enough, and all the genius scientists went to Commonwealth Insti….” Her eyes widened and she suddenly sat up, knocking her head into his. “Ow! Dammit!” She put her hand to her head. “Oh my God, John, that’s it, isn’t it? The Commonwealth Institute… of Technology. That’s them, that’s the Institute!” She started scrambling to her feet. “We have to go there! Right now!”

He jumped to his feet as well and grabbed her arm. “Whoa, slow down, Sunshine. We know about CIT, and believe me, the ruins’ve been combed. After reading about the school, I took a team over a few years ago, and we personally picked through them ourselves.” He brushed her hair away from her wild eyes. “Ain’t nothing there but a bunch of fucking super mutants. I wish it was that simple.”

“But… maybe they’re underground…”

“They gotta be underground, it’s the only explanation for why they ain’t been found yet, but those of us who’ve lived here all our lives? We’ve been looking. We ain’t been sitting on our backsides, y’know. The Institute is fucking with our people, our towns. We want answers, too. We want to bring the war to them.”

She looked suddenly deflated. “Dammit, I… I thought I was on to something there.” She looked up at him, her eyes pleading. “Can we go to Cambridge anyway? Just to see? Maybe… I know the area, I know what it used to look like. Maybe… maybe I’ll see something you won’t.”

He sighed and thought about it a bit. It wasn’t the worst idea in the world. There would be ferals, and those fucking super mutants would probably be back in the ruins, but they could be careful. He’d see if Trashcan Carla, that trader, could hook them up with some extra ammo since she was in town.

He put his arms around her and pulled her closer to him. “We can try, Sunshine.”

Chapter Text

Hancock stopped to chat for a moment with Sturges on their way back to the house. Erica continued on, eager to pack their bags, and he watched her go with a slight smile. The sun was starting to set, and he was looking forward to hitting the road in the morning.

“... So the pipe runs through a filter,” the mechanic was saying, “and you can use pretty much any type of cloth, but ballistic fiber, like what you find in the military outfits the gunners like to wear? That’ll remove the most particulate and even some of the radiation…”

“Hold that thought, my man,” Hancock said, patting Sturgess on the shoulder. “I gotta stab a motherfucker.” He darted past the mechanic, having just caught sight of the asshole in the sunglasses attempting to hide behind a blasted tree.

As he approached, the asshole was leaning up against the tree, grinning at him. “Hey, man,” he said, nonchalantly, as if Hancock wasn’t sauntering up to him, blade drawn and murder in his eyes.

“Stabbing would be too good and too fast for you, you son of a bitch,” Hancock snarled, brandishing his knife so that it reflected in the sunglasses. “I oughta string you up like the raiders do.”

The spy laughed. “Whoa, I thought we were on the same side!”

“Bullshit. I don’t know whose side you’re on, but you ain’t on mine. I almost lost her because of you.”

The man’s grin left and he looked suddenly serious. “I’m pretty sure that’s on you, not on me. I simply reported what was transpiring. You’re the one who blew up at her. I could hear you two fighting two houses down. I believe there’s some kind of old world saying about not killing messengers that seems to apply here.”

“Why would you even say anything in the first place? The fuck were you hoping for?”

“I wasn’t hoping for anything. Just thought you’d appreciate the intel. Like I said, we’re on the same side, even if you don’t know it yet.”

Hancock’s fingers clasped the shaft of his blade tighter and he bared his teeth. “She made me talk philosophy, you shit head,” he snarled, trying to regain his footing.

The man tossed his head back and laughed, nearly losing his sunglasses. “No shit? I like her more already! I should invite her to my next big bullshit session with Glory. I bet she could hold her own.” He made a show of wiping away a tear and clearing his throat. “Come on, man. You gotta let this go.”

“Why are you even here anyway? Shouldn’t you be filing a report with your boss or something?”

“That’s kind of why I’m here, actually. I’m extending an official invite to come chat with my boss. We have information on the Institute, and I know that’s what your girl wants. Better us than the Brotherhood of Steel, am I right?”

Hancock narrowed his eyes as he considered the offer. Nobody did anything out of the kindness of their hearts these days, so there had to be some angle, but for the life of him, he couldn’t figure it out.

“Let’s say you do have intel. What do you know about CIT?” he asked.

“Commonwealth Institute of Technology. Founded shortly before the American Civil War, opened its doors to students in 1865. Moved to its present location early in the twentieth century. Home to the best scientific minds in the country and from across the world.” He paused and made an exaggerated gesture of looking around for anyone who might be listening before continuing. “Most likely the source of what we currently know as the Institute.”

“Very helpful,” Hancock said drily. “You all been out there to poke around?”

“Affirmative. We’ve scoured the area, but no sign of any kind of entrance. We were thinking maybe a vault under the campus? But we can’t figure out how they get in and out.” He shrugged. “Why do you ask? I know you and yours have been poking around out there, too. With just as much luck.”

“I take it you were watching?”

“I’m hurt that you would accuse me of doing such a thing. But since you mention it… yes.”

“She made the connection between the school and the Institute. Now she wants to head to Cambridge, poke around and see if she can find something we missed.”

The spy shook his head. “Not going to happen. We were thorough.”

“So were we. What’s the worst that could happen though?”

“You could get eaten by ferals. You could get eaten by super mutants. You could get eaten by raiders. You could get eaten by a Brotherhood of Steel patrol.” The spy ticked the options off on his fingertips and Hancock grimaced in response. “Shall I continue or is that enough?”

Hancock glanced back at the house. “I don’t think you realize just how stubborn and determined that woman is. She wants to go to Cambridge, we’re heading to Cambridge.” He looked back at the other man. “Since you’re probably planning to tail us anyway, maybe you can make yourself useful and watch our sixes.”

“I might be convinced. In return, can you start her moving in our direction?”

“How the fuck do I find you?”

“You already know the answer to that.” The spy grinned. “Follow the Freedom Trail.”

Hancock glared at him, whirled on his heel, and stomped back to the house.




He stood in the doorway of the house, watching her as she picked through their meager belongings, sorting things out so she could decide what was worth taking with them. Their ammo was stacked in separate piles on the table; the calibers they couldn’t use were separated out so they could be sold or traded. Ammo was always valuable in the wasteland.

Food and other perishables were also sorted out. There was no point in taking along a bunch of food that was just going to go bad, but it had been difficult to convince her that they didn’t need to drag along every little scrap they found. As barren as it looked, the Commonwealth had a way of providing.

He stepped in and sat down at the table, brushing her hand as he reached for the satchel that contained his chem stash. No time like the present to sort and organize that mess. As he separated out tins of Mentats (stopping to pop one in his mouth), stimpaks, and Med-X syringes, he stole glimpses of Erica’s face. Her eyes were far away, revealing that her mind was not involved in the task.

“Cap for your thoughts?” Hancock said, breaking the silence.

“Just wondering what we’ll find in Cambridge,” she said. “It will be strange to head back there. And sad. I had so much fun there.” She paused and looked around the damaged house. “I love you, but… I miss my home. I miss my friends. Hell, I missed them before the bombs. Not like I had much chance to see them. Too busy taking care of Nate and then Shaun.” She sighed and put her hands over her face. “I’m so tired, John,” she said, voice cracking.

He scooted his chair over next to her and rubbed her back. She leaned into his touch, and he saw that tears were running down her cheeks. He knew what it was to grieve for a life you couldn’t have, for things that were long gone. To be so tired of having to be responsible when you just needed to rest.

“Come on,” he said, standing up and then pulling her to her feet. “Let’s take a break. We can finish this in the morning.” She looked at him, then back at the pile.

“There’s still so much to do,” she protested without much fire.

“It can wait. I got a better idea of how to spend our last night in a real bed.”

She looked exasperated for a moment but couldn’t keep the expression on her face. She put her arms around his neck and pressed her body up against him. Their lips touched in a gentle kiss. “Tell me more,” she said with a slight smile.

He grinned. “I’ll show you instead,” he said, picking her up and carrying her back to the bedroom.

Chapter Text

He lay her down on the bed, and as he did, she reached up and grabbed him by the ruffles on his shirt, pulling him down to her so that she could kiss him. The ancient fabric gave way with a soft purring soun

“Shit!” she mumbled against his lips, and he chuckled and kissed her nose.

“Nothing to worry about. This shirt has been torn and mended so many times it’s probably more thread than fabric by now. Kinda like me, now that I think about it.” She smiled up at him. “I’ll fix it later. For now…” He stood up and pulled the shirt over his head and tossed it in the corner.

He bent back over the bed. This time, her reaching arms and hands found the scarred skin of his back, and he closed his eyes, loving the sensation of her fingers skimming over his skin. He leaned into her and she scooted to the side, making room for him beside her. For just tonight, they had nothing but time, and he was glad to spend it with her, both of them making the other feel loved.

His hands found her hair, and he pulled locks of it through his fingers. She’d taken advantage of the shower system Sturges had installed ( what couldn’t that man do? he thought with a touch of envy), and her soft hair had fallen into its natural curls. He kissed her at her hairline, and worked his way along her jaw to her chin, then up to her lips. She giggled as he went, and he craved the sound of her happiness.

Her fingers went to his face, traced under his eyes, and then, lightly, grazed over the edges of his skin that had once been connected to his nose.

“John,” she whispered, and he opened his eyes to gaze at her.

“Hmmm?”

“Did it hurt?”

“What, when my nose fell off? Surprisingly, no. The tissue was pretty much dead at that point. It was kind of like losing a scab.”

Her eyes grew sad, and her fingers moved to his hairless eyebrows. “Oh, my love. I actually meant, did it hurt when you changed? Became a ghoul?”

“Ah. Yeah, that hurt. A lot.”

“You said you were a young ghoul. How did it happen? Did you get trapped somewhere with high radiation?”

He sighed and sat up a little, his fingers finding a breast and lightly stroking it through the thin flannel of her top. “No. It was a drug, actually.”

Her eyebrows furrowed. “How did that happen? How could a drug do that?”

His fingers continued their explorations and began to deftly unbutton the front of her shirt. “Well, you know how they added radioactive elements to stuff like Nuka-Cola. Gave people a little bit of a buzz, right?”

She nodded. “Made me nauseated though.”

“Yeah, you seem to be pretty sensitive to it.” He paused. Her sensitivity to radiation worried him. What were the long-term effects of her living in a wasteland she hadn’t been born in? Or making love with him for that matter? He wasn’t sure if questions like this were in Elena Amari’s territory or not, but she was the only one he would trust to ask. Something to think about for later. For now, he pushed the thoughts to the side, trying to answer her question, to make a spur-of-the-moment decision sound rational.

His fingers continued their work, seemingly on their own, now peeling back her shirt to reveal her bra and skin. “Anyway, so soda and shit like that wasn’t all they were adding rads to. Turns out they were also experimenting with radioactive chems. If a buzz is what you’re after, why fuck around with soda, right? Just go straight for the buzz.”

“I’d never heard of a radioactive chem.”

He kissed the corner of her mouth and traced the lacy pattern on her bra with his finger. “You wouldn’t have. It was never made public. But I was kinda known for my chems…”

“Was?”

He smiled. “Okay, am. Better?” The same corner of her mouth he had just kissed turned up in a half smile. “So a buddy of mine who was also a bit of an experimentalist heard about this research and told me about it. Got my attention, y’know?” She nodded. He unfastened the clasp of her bra and moved one cup aside, revealing her breast. His light touched moved to her nipple, and he smiled when it hardened in response. “Looks like I got your attention, too.”

He bent over and took the responsive nipple into his mouth. Her eyes fell closed and he smiled at her shuddering sigh. After giving the nipple the attention it so badly wanted, he released it and pulled the bra aside to reveal the other breast. Her eyes opened again, and her hand worked its way around his neck. “He named a couple of places where they might have been conducting that research, and I set off to find it.” The other nipple was free now, and he ran a gnarled thumb over it, marvelling at his own luck to be here now, with her, after the insanity that had been his lifetime. “It wasn’t all that hard to find, just had to run some ferals off. There was one hit left. So, you know, what the fuck. I went for it.” His eyes crinkled at the memory. “Best fucking high of my life.”

“Did you know what it would do to you?” He couldn’t meet her eyes for a moment. Should he tell her? He gazed down at her, half naked, beneath him. He had to tell her.

“Yeah, Sunshine. I knew.”

She sat up on her elbows. “You knew? And you still did it?” A line of concern appeared between her eyebrows. “Why? Weren’t you afraid? Especially after what happened with Diamond City... You knew how people treated ghouls and you did it anyway?” Her hand reached out and cupped his jaw, her thumb stroking his rough lips. He looked away, unsure how to answer. It didn’t matter though. “Oh, love,” she whispered. He nuzzled into her hand, and kissed her palm before taking her hand in his and guiding her back down. Her eyes were filled with concern. “I didn’t realize it was that bad,” she murmured. “That you’d been hurting so much.”

“I couldn’t live with myself, Sunshine,” he said, slowly shaking his head. “Every time I caught a glimpse of my face, all I could think about was how I’d failed all of them, all the Diamond City ghouls. That face had to go, do you understand? This way… I could make that bastard go away.” He smiled his crooked smile and resumed his exploration of her body, his fingers following the red lines on her soft belly before catching at the button of her jeans. “There’s something to be said for immortality, too, you know.”

“That… how is that even possible?” she asked. “How can anything live forever?”

He unsnapped her jeans and pulled the zipper down. “I doubt ghouls are actually immortal. I mean, we can definitely be killed. I think we just age really slowly. The oldest ghouls are prewar, of course, but that’s only 210 years. How do you know if something lives forever?”

“Trees live for centuries, even millenia, but they eventually die,” Erica mused. “Some animals live an incredibly long time, too. There were tortoises alive in my time that were born before the second world war.” Sadness crossed her face. “I guess they’re gone now. It’s hard sometimes to realize how much we lost.”

His fingers pulled at her waistband and began coaxing the jeans off her hips. “I ain’t no scientist, but living forever probably ain’t a thing. My cells are all fucked up, I can tell you that, and I ain’t going to be fathering any more kids, but provided I don’t get killed by a deathclaw or some other horror, I’ll probably live to a ripe old age.” But Erica wouldn’t. The thought had only now just occurred to him. He looked up at her face and saw that she had made the same realization.

“So I’ll grow old and die, and you’ll stay the same.” Sorrow suffused every word. “How unfair for you.”

“Oh, Erica, love.” He ran his hands back up along her sides until he cradled her head in his hands. His head dipped down and he kissed her until they were both breathless. He had no words to comfort either of them. Somehow, this would have to be enough. Face to face, they held each other. “I can’t make any promises. Growing old… it’s a rare thing now.”

She nodded. “I noticed.”

“So we’ll just do our best in the time we have, right?”

She nodded again.

“Or, you know, we can find a way to turn you ghoul and we can do this long-term. Something to think about.”

Erica attempted an irritated glare, but the corners of her mouth twitched with suppressed laughter. Finally, she snickered and swatted at him. “Very funny, asshole.”

“Hey, you gotta laugh at the darkness. Only way to live.” He sat back to survey his work. “Where was I? Oh yeah…”

He scooted back down and got back to work removing her jeans. She lifted her hips from the mattress to assist him in his mission.

“So did he go away?” she asked. “The bastard in the mirror? I worry sometimes that you think he’s still there.”

He got to work removing her underwear, again assisted by her lifted hips. “Most days,” he replied. “Some days I need reminding that he’s gone. It ain’t a perfect solution, mind you, but it’s better than it was before. The ghouls of Diamond City… they don’t haunt me as much, but I still remember their names and their faces. Anyone who ever tells you that ghouls all look alike…”

“Well, of course that’s bullshit. I mean, I haven’t seen that many, but you are all obviously different. So stupid. Racists in my day would say the same thing about Chinese people, that they all looked alike. Hell, they couldn’t even tell a Chinese person from someone born in Japan or Korea.” She sighed. “Idiots. Some things never change.”

He slid her pants and underwear the rest of the way off and then leaned back on his heels, head cocked to one side as he studied her mostly naked body. She smiled self-consciously, made a move as if to cover herself, then dropped her arms back by her side. “What?” she said, a light flush creeping up her chest to her cheeks.

“Don’t mind me,” he said. “Just admiring the view.”

“Jesus, you’re corny today,” she said, rolling her eyes.

He laughed and stretched out beside her.

“Alright, my turn,” she said, rolling over and straddling him. His eyes gleamed as he watched her working at the knot that held the flag he wore as a belt in place.

“Does this mean I get to ask you a bunch of questions now?”

“I suppose you can, but I’d rather just get your pants off. Besides, my mother always taught me it was impolite to talk with my mouth full.”

He grinned. “Jesus, you’re a smart ass today,” he said, mimicking her.

“Yeah, she told me that a lot, too.” Having made short work of the knot, she quickly unbuttoned his pants and pulled them down. The act of slowly undressing her had already made him hard, and he saw her mouth twitch as he sprang free from the pants. She stretched out next to him and stroked him as she gazed at his face. “I know you don’t believe me, but you really are quite handsome.”

“I know you don’t believe me, but you’re fucking gorgeous,” he replied. He meant it, too. The silver in her hair had become more prominent and the lines around her eyes etched deeper, but she was beautiful to him.

“What a mess we both are,” she responded, laughing. She gave him a quick peck on the lips then began kissing her way down his chest and across his stomach until she reached his cock, which was twitching in anticipation. He watched in amazement as his scarred skin slipped past her perfect lips and then gave in, trying not to overthink this moment in the way he seemed to overthink everything else. Her mouth engulfed him, drawing on him, creating pulling sensations that overwhelmed his brain and helped him shut down every negative thought that tried to surface.

He felt himself getting close to release and shifted his hips, causing her to stop and let him go. She moved back up until they were face to face, and he kissed her, exploring her mouth with his tongue. “Your turn,” he said. She smiled and lay back.

As he worked his way down her body, he noticed a difference. While her skin was still loose in areas, he now found firm, lean muscle beneath it, particularly in her legs and backside. The wasteland had broken her body down, and now it was beginning to reshape it. She could better handle the long stretches of walking that were necessary for travel across the Commonwealth, and her body was adapting to its new circumstances in the same way that her mind and survival skills had. He couldn’t help but marvel at her resilience and strength. She’d been underestimated again and again, but she continued to push on.

He spread her newly muscled legs and dipped his head down to taste her. He knew her body so well by this point, and his tongue expertly found all the spots that made her gasp and quiver while two fingers slid inside her. Her hips lifted to help guide him, and he pressed deeper within her, feeling her grip him. It was almost more than he could stand, and he suddenly stopped, sitting up and withdrawing his fingers.

Her face was filled with concern, and he offered her a quick kiss. “Just a moment, I promise,” he said and dashed, naked, to the living room and the table where their chem supplies were laid out. He quickly found what he was looking for and returned to the bedroom. She was sitting up on one elbow, her brow furrowed with worry.

“Is everything okay?” she asked.

“Absolutely,” he answered. “I was just thinking…” He held out a can of water and a Rad-X capsule. “I mean, only if you’re okay with it…”

She smiled and accepted both offerings, popping the tab on the can and washing the capsule down. He grinned then and pounced on her, causing her to squeal with delight. As he slid into her, he watched her face, reveling in the bliss that suffused every feature, causing her pupils to dilate and her mouth to fall open. He’d never seen this look on any partner before, and he wished he could cry in his joy. They both watched each other as they moved together and the intoxicating tension built up. Just as he reached his peak, he reached between them and pressed against that sensitive bundle of nerves. Her head fell back and she cried out as she clenched around him and he gave in to his release. Just as he had imagined, it was complete euphoria to feel her pulsing as he twitched and shivered, her hands clasping his back and her legs wrapped tightly around his hips.

They held for a breathless moment before he fell forward, his lips finding her neck and hers finding the damaged flesh that had once been his ear. Each whispered words of love and adoration as their hands caressed the other’s skin, hers damp with sweat, his as dry as always. At some point, both drifted off, still wrapped in each other, neither wanting to let go for even a moment.

Chapter Text

It felt like most of Sanctuary Hills had gathered to see them off, and he was less than thrilled about it. Erica seemed to appreciate it, though, so he gamely tolerated the rather enthusiastic farewell, even as he counted down the seconds until they could be on the road.

Dogmeat wove in between legs, wagging his tail, and each settler seemed to feel the need to clap Erica on the back and shake his hand. He kept edging toward the bridge until, finally, they were able to make their escape. Just as they started to cross the bridge, however, he felt his coat catch on something.

He turned, expecting to see the ragged hem of his coat snagged on a dead bush, but instead found it in the surprisingly firm grip of the old fortune teller. He’d barely seen the woman during their stay and, frankly, had been grateful for it.

He yanked the coat back, pulling it out of the old woman’s hands. “Did you need something?” he snapped, trying to ignore the exasperated look Erica shot his way.

“You think the dreams are gone, kid,” the old woman said in her dreamy way, “but you’re wrong. The nightmare is just beginning. He ain’t gone either. You’re gonna meet again, and sooner than you think.” The woman tossed a sideways glance at Erica, and then bent her head toward Hancock, as if they were co-conspirators. “He’s moving, kid, outta your head and into a friend’s. It’s hard to get rid of that man. Many already know this.”

A shudder started in Hancock’s neck and shoulders and worked its way down his spine. The recurring nightmare had appeared to be gone for good with the killing of Kellogg, the man with the scar. That had to be who she was talking about, right? But… he’d be back? What was the crazy old bitch going on about?

He bent his head to her. “What do you know about him? The man with the scar?”

The old woman’s eyes gleamed. “Oh, kid, I’m tired now. The Sight… It drains me. Maybe you have some Jet you could spare?”

Hancock narrowed his eyes at her, turned around, and stomped across the bridge, the ancient boards creaking beneath his feet.




They made good time getting to Cambridge. He hadn’t been imagining things; Erica truly was gaining in strength and endurance. She could walk farther and faster, and they needed to rest less often. On the occasions when they did need to fight back against the wasteland, she was more adept and pulled off some fairly impressive shots. The dog proved itself to be consistently helpful as well, assisting in fights against larger foes and flushing out small animals that could be killed and roasted for dinner.

Hancock was enjoying his time on the road with Erica. She’d become a competent travelling partner, and he was looking forward to showing off her new skills to Fahrenheit.

Unfortunately, this made it all that much worse when the feral ghouls in Cambridge swarmed.





He spun frantically, smacking ferals with the butt of his shotgun, trying to keep them from tearing her to pieces as she lay unconscious on the ground, blood pooling around her. In the back of his mind, he could hear MacCready telling him the story of what had happened to his wife, the horror show that had set in motion the young mercenary’s journey north from the Capital Wasteland. He fought against the panic that was threatening to consume him. He couldn’t— wouldn’t —let that happen to Erica. And where the fuck was that goddamn spy? He’d promised to have their backs.

As he threw one of the ferals aside, he noted with gratitude that Dogmeat was still upright and had managed to pull the leg off of a feral that was trying to reach Erica’s prone body. But even as they fought, more ferals continued to emerge from nearby buildings. For every one they knocked back, three more appeared to be on their way.

It couldn’t really end like this… could it? How could they have bested the notorious pawn of the Commonwealth’s boogieman only to lose out to a pack of fucking ferals ?

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement further down the street, then red bolts of light began flying past him. Jesus, what had they attracted now? Raiders? Gunners? Fucking Institute synths?

His attention was pulled away from the newest interlopers by Dogmeat’s yelp as a fast-moving feral smacked him aside and went straight for Erica’s throat. “Not on my watch, fucker!” he yelled, and kicked the damn thing squarely in its naked ass. His foot squelched through the rotten flesh, and he felt his gorge rise. It did the trick though, and the feral dropped to the ground, although it continued to pull itself forward on its arms. He got between the creature and Erica and blew its head off with a blast of his shotgun.

Another feral leapt for him, but before he could knock it back, one of the bolts of light hit it in the back, and it dropped, flaming, to the ground. Hancock paused for a moment to catch his breath and noticed that the number of ferals around him had diminished. Charred dead ferals were scattered around the area, and the air was filled with swirling ash that he suspected had been ferals not long before.

No longer under immediate threat of death, he dropped to his knees next to Erica and quickly fished a stimpak out of his coat pocket. The worst damage appeared to be a nasty gash across her shoulder, and this also appeared to be where most of the blood was coming from. Fortunately, the feral had managed to miss her carotid artery, but the wound was still ugly and she was losing a lot of blood. He quickly injected the stimpak into a clean area of skin close by and grabbed for another in case the first one didn’t do the trick. She’d have another scar, but wasn’t that just part of acclimating to the fucking wasteland? The bleeding would stop, and that was all that mattered to him right now.

He watched the approaching group with the laser weapons out of the corner of his eye. With the sun in his eyes, it was difficult to make out who or what they were. All he could see was two shapes that appeared human and one that seemed larger and bulkier. Were they travelling with an intelligent super mutant? He had heard of such a thing, although he had never managed to run into any locally.

As the small group got closer, he could feel the ground around him begin to shake with each step of the large, bulky creature. Finally, as the group moved out of the setting sun, he could better visualize their saviors, and his heart fell.

They lowered their weapons and pointed them straight at him. Apparently, from a distance, they’d been unable to tell who he was as well. Now, though…

He raised his hands in despair. “I ain’t feral, I’m travelling with her, I just saved her life…” He felt like he was babbling, but he didn’t know if they would listen or just shoot him.

“Move away from the woman, freak,” the man in the power armor said, his voice amplified by the mic on his helmet.

Motherfucking Brotherhood of Steel….

Chapter Text

Three laser weapons pointed directly at his head, and his shotgun lay useless two feet away. Not seeing any other option, he scooted slowly away from Erica, hands held aloft. It had been a long time since he’d felt this particular blend of powerlessness and humiliation.

“Her shoulder is injured,” he said in a tone of supplication he despised himself for using. “I gave her a stimpak, but I ain’t had a chance to check what other treatment she needs.”

The man who wasn’t in power armor curled his lip derisively. “What, you think you’re some kind of doctor? Maybe you’re actually planning on eating her.” He turned to the man in power armor, clearly their leader. “We should shoot it anyway, just in case.”

“Hush, Rhys,” said the woman. “It’s following directions. I think she has it trained… like the dog.”

Hancock honestly didn’t know which of them was being more condescending. He gritted his teeth, biting back the angry comments he could feel bubbling up.

The woman bent down next to Erica and, with an experienced touch, inspected her shoulder and neck. “Danse, the injury appears to be healing. It was right to give her a stimpak. This area though…” She prodded just a bit, watching Erica’s face intently. Erica moaned and her hands fluttered. “I think she could perhaps benefit from some stitches, and I want to wash the area with antibiotics. There’s no telling what the filthy creatures had under their fingernails..” She passed some kind of scanner over Erica’s body as well. “Looks like some minor radiation poisoning, too. She could use some Radaway.”

At this pronouncement, both men turned and looked at Hancock with accusatory eyes. He jutted his chin up in defiance. Let them wonder. The woman sighed and rolled her eyes. “It’s obviously from the ferals, gentlemen. Let’s just get her back to the station.”

The man in the power armor ( Danse, Hancock noted) bent down, far more gracefully than seemed possible in the metal armor that encased him, and scooped Erica up in his arms. Fury flared bright in Hancock’s chest, but he held still and said nothing. She would get help, and he would live to tell the tale, and right now, that’s all that mattered.

He sat in the street, defeated, as the trio walked away, bearing Erica. The dog sat next to him and he was grateful for the animal’s closeness.




He hadn’t moved from the street and continued to sit, despondent, until a shadow fell over him. The dog didn’t budge, leading him to guess at who was there. He’d collected his shotgun and now raised it half-heartedly at whoever was approaching. Ignoring the shotgun, the spy sat down heavily next to him.

“I told you Cambridge was a bad idea,” he said.

Hancock studied him, tapping a finger against his teeth. “I’m trying to decide whether a shotgun blast to the face or a knife in your guts is the right response. You want to pick?”

“If it’s all the same to you, how about we forgo the murder,” the spy said goodnaturedly.

“Where the fuck were you, you cowardly piece of shit?” Hancock snarled. “Thought you’d promised to watch our sixes.”

The spy chuckled. “I was. You would have been clawed to pieces long before those Brotherhood assholes showed up if it wasn’t for me.” He pointed to a building with an intact second story about a block and a half away. “I was taking potshots from up there. I don’t know how you managed to piss off every feral ghoul in the Commonwealth, but boy did they have it in for you. I’ve never seen so many at once.” He looked suddenly somber. “That was one of the scariest damn things I’ve ever seen.”

“You weren’t down in the thick of it,” Hancock grumbled. He pulled out his pack of cigarettes and lit one before offering the pack to the spy.

“No thanks, man. I’m trying to quit. I get enough second-hand smoke off of Dez.”

Hancock shook his head. Half the things the man said were utter nonsense.

“So,” the spy continued. “How you going to get your girl back?”

Hancock considered, eyeing the man sitting next to him. “You meet the Brotherhood’s low standards for humanity. You could probably collect her without too much trouble.”

The spy shook his head. “Sorry, friend. My organization is almost as high up on their shit list as you are. As far as they’re concerned, we’re either stealing valuable tech or aiding and abetting enemy numero uno.” He patted the dog’s head.

“I thought you were supposed to be some kind of fucking master of disguise.”

“I can’t risk it, man. Dez would fucking murder me.”

“How do you know I ain’t gonna murder you?”

“Honestly? I’m more scared of Dez.” The spy grinned and Hancock snorted.

“I guess I’ll wait it out. She’ll come looking for me when her injury’s healed,” he said and sighed.

“Unless they brainwash her and recruit her,” the spy offered helpfully and ducked before Hancock’s fist could meet his eye.




Under cover of darkness, he worked his way down the street, Dogmeat at his heels. He could see spotlights searching the ground and sky several blocks ahead, and he suspected that was where Erica had been taken. He moved quietly and kept to the shadows, wary of the possibility of encountering additional ferals.

When he got closer, he could see that Danse and his crew had commandeered an old police station. From his vantage point across the street, he could see dead ferals scattered around the courtyard and a few additional soldiers keeping watch. Not wanting to be mistaken for feral (or simply targeted by a trigger-happy bigot), he stayed hidden throughout the night, watching the movements of the soldiers.

They seemed to be a fairly well-organized, if small, team. They kept a close watch on the perimeter and called to each other regularly to make sure they stayed alert. Hancock noted that they weren’t afraid to make noise or alert others to their presence; he suspected that they prefered that others in the area know they were there. The high-powered laser rifles they carried offered protection, both in terms of firepower and intimidation. The soldiers had very little to fear.

At one point during the night, a coordinated shift change took place. A segment of the soldiers ( not all , Hancock noted) headed into the station, and the same number came out to replace the ones who had left. He recognized the asshole ( Rhys , he reminded himself with a growl) among these. With grudging respect, Hancock noted that they were careful to never leave the courtyard unguarded. A few hours later, the second half switched out so the ones who had been on patrol could rest.

It was clear that sneaking in would not be an option. He hoped that a plan would come to him in the morning. Dogmeat let out a barely audible whine, and he rested his hand on the animal’s head. “We’ll get her back, boy. I promise. I just gotta figure out how.” He popped a Mentat, hoping for brilliance. Instead, he fell asleep, exhausted, his hand still on the dog.

Chapter Text

He winced at the sunlight hitting his eyes and cursed himself for falling asleep. As his eyes adjusted, he listened to the clanking and hissing of the power-armor clad soldiers patrolling the courtyard of the police station and wracked his brain trying to come up with some idea, any idea that would get Erica out of there. Even though he had told the spy that he’d have to wait, he wasn’t satisfied with that plan at all, not by a long shot.

His stomach growled, and he realized he hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast the previous day, before everything had gone to total shit. He also realized that he’d never retrieved their pack from where he’d dropped it when the first wave of ferals hit. He cursed himself once again. It was probably long gone now—nothing unguarded lasted long out in the wasteland. Finders keepers was the rule now.

Looking around, he noticed that the dog was no longer next to him. He carefully adjusted his position, trying to spot the animal without being seen himself. Calling out for it wasn’t an option, but without its comforting presence, he felt alone and uneasy.

Peeking out through a crumbling window, he saw the dog trotting across the street toward the police station, tail wagging. He cursed but stayed put. The dog stopped just before the makeshift barrier the Brotherhood had built around their base of operations, and he saw what it had been heading toward. The woman who had been with the trio from the day before was squatting down in the opening, holding her hand out. The dog sniffed her hand and wagged its tail.

Dumb fucking animal , he thought. Not a friend! Enemy! He halfheartedly wished the dog would jump up and bite the woman, but at the same time he had no desire to see it reduced to a pile of ash.

The woman stood up, hand on the dog’s head, and looked across the street toward the building where Hancock was currently hiding. He froze. Did she see him? He remained still as she started walking cautiously in his direction, afraid that any movement would give away his position.

She entered the bottom floor, swatting away a rope of tied-together cans that clattered loudly, announcing her presence. She wasn’t attempting to be stealthy at all; she wanted him to know that she was here.

“Hello?” she called out, curiosity covering the bare hint of fear in her voice. “Are you here?”

He held his breath, listening to her footsteps as she moved around the building. She found the stairs and started to slowly work her way up them.

This is ridiculous , he thought. What the fuck was he so afraid of? He was acting like a child who’d stolen a box of snack cakes and didn’t want to get caught by his parents. He was a grown man—a grown dangerous man—and there was no reason to be skulking in shadows, especially not when they had Erica.

He stood up and aimed his shotgun at the top of the stairs. He wouldn’t shoot her ( probably ), but he did want to scare her… just a bit. Remind her that he wasn’t anyone’s pet.

She emerged from the staircase and saw the gun leveled at her head. She slowly raised her hands, looking him boldly in the eye. “I’m not here to fight,” she said. “I’m not armed.”

He looked at her, baffled, and lowered his shotgun. “Why would you leave the station without a weapon?” he asked. “You got a death wish?”

She gave him a cautious half smile. “No… just the backing of a whole bunch of Brotherhood Knights.”

“This building could have been full of ferals,” he countered.

“It’s not,” she replied calmly. “We cleared it out yesterday.” She paused and they both took a moment to study each other. She was pretty, and her eyes, despite the air of sadness they held, were clear and intelligent. A lock of auburn hair escaped from the hood she wore.

He couldn’t stand it anymore and had to ask her. “Erica…”

She smiled. “She’s doing well. I put a few stitches in there since the wound was so wide. The stimpak would have healed it, but she would have had a hell of a scar. There are no signs of infection, though, which is what I was most concerned about.”

He closed his eyes in relief.

“That’s actually why I came out here…” she continued.

He opened his eyes again and frowned. “What?”

“She’s asking for you. Wants to make sure we didn’t, her words, ‘crisp you on the spot.’”

His heart leapt in his chest, but even with as fearless and kind as this woman seemed, he couldn’t forget that she was still a member of the Brotherhood of Steel. Walking into the wolf den didn’t seem a wise choice.

“Why didn’t you bring her with you then? We could just leave and be out of your hair completely. No need to waste any more of your medical supplies.”

She laughed. “John, we aren’t holding her hostage. I do want her to stick around though so I can remove the stitches when it’s time. They can’t stay in there forever.”

“You think I ain’t ever removed some stitches? I can snip them out.”

“I understand, but I do think it’s best that she’s monitored for a bit. Basic first aid makes a difference, and, yes, you acted fast and that kept her alive until I could help her further, but she still needs real medical attention.” She looked suddenly serious. “I don’t know if you realize how close she was to death, John. Her brachial artery was exposed.”

He could feel the blood draining for his face, and he was grateful that his scarred skin wouldn’t give him away.

“Take me to her, then,” he said. “Please.”





As they walked across the courtyard, his heart pounded and his brain screamed at him to turn the other way, run for his life. The soldiers’ eyes and the barrels of their laser rifles followed him, even though he was accompanied by the Scribe. The yammering, terrified part of his brain shrieked that Erica must be dead and this was a trap and wouldn’t the Brotherhood of Steel just love to have the Mayor of Goodneighbor as a captive?

They walked up the stairs and he saw the signs of a recent battle. Scorch marks painted the walls of the station, and he saw dried splashes of blood.

“More ferals?” he asked in a low voice.

“Yeah,” she said. “The place was swarming with them when we arrived. We drove them back, but it cost us heavy.” He saw her face twist in a flash of pain and didn’t push the issue. The blood spatters told enough of the story.

She held the door opened and he entered. A few soldiers stood around talking, but the room became quiet when they entered. He recognized the asshole from the day before, Rhys. Danse was, incredibly, still stomping around in that ridiculous armor. Why the fuck would he feel the need to wear it inside the safety of the station? Just had to show everyone whose dick was the biggest.

He didn’t see Erica anywhere and the pounding in his chest intensified. He looked to the woman next to him.

“She’s in the next room. I’ve turned it into kind of a makeshift clinic. I’ll show you,” she said, gesturing to him.

Rhys’s face darkened. “Haylen, what the fuck is that thing doing in here? And why are are you talking to it like it’s human?”

“Stand down, Rhys,” Danse said. His helmet was off so his voice had lost the distortion from before, but he still sounded rather pompous, in Hancock’s opinion. “Erica asked Haylen to go retrieve it.”

“And if it turns feral? Here, in the station? We’ve lost too many as it is!”

“Calm down, Rhys,” Haylen said with a sigh. “He’s perfectly rational. I think he’s her bodyguard or something.” She turned to Hancock. “Is that it? Are you her bodyguard?”

He resisted the temptation to grin. “Yeah,” he replied. “Something like that.”

He followed the woman, Haylen, into the next room. Erica was sitting up on a rickety, rusting gurney, bandages plastering her neck, shoulder, and upper arm. Her face lit up when she saw him. He had to stop himself from running to her and throwing himself on her, and instead, shook his head at her slightly, hoping she would take the hint and not reveal anything more about their relationship. Not here.

She looked confused for a moment, then he saw understanding drift across her face.

“See?” Haylen said. “Alive and well, just as I promised.”

“Thank you, Haylen,” Erica said. “Can I speak with him in private please?”

Haylen looked unsure and looked between their two faces. “I’m not sure if that’s such a good idea…” she said, slowly.

“Thought you said she wasn’t a hostage,” Hancock commented, drily.

“She’s not,” Haylen said, shifting her feet. “Danse won’t like it, though. He’s concerned, you know. About our safety.”

“You have nothing to worry about, Haylen,” Erica said. “We’re not plotting against you.”

“Then in that case,” Danse said, stomping into the room, “You’ll have no problem talking in front of all of us. Cambridge is a no-go zone, filled with ferals and super mutants. You weren’t here by accident, so what exactly were two civilians like yourselves doing here?”

Chapter Text

Erica had frozen, unsure what to say. She needed help, but he didn’t want to give away anything about where they were going or what they were to each other… not to these bigoted assholes. Haylen seemed alright, she’d at least moved on from describing him as “pet” to calling him Erica’s “bodyguard,” but Danse clearly (and smartly) didn’t trust him, that other asshole, Rhys, was still openly hostile.

“We were heading to Bunker Hill,” Hancock offered. “Wanted to talk about a caravan.”

“I wasn’t asking you,” Danse said coldly. Hancock bared his teeth at him but stopped talking, hoping he’d given Erica enough to work with. The corners of his mouth twitched up as he saw Erica’s worry leave her face. She’d caught the hint he’d given her and could take it from her. Rearranging her features to create an air of confidence, she sat up straighter on the gurney.

“My… employee… is correct, Danse,” she said. The tone of her voice had changed, and Hancock’s eyes gleamed. “We came from the west and wanted to arrange a trade route between Boston and Upstate New York.”

“New York?” Danse said in surprise. “I thought there wasn’t anything left there.”

“Oh, don’t mistake me,” Erica said. “It’s a total shitheap. But there are pockets here and there, settlements. Just like everywhere else. Manhattan is gone, of course. Direct hit, you know. But there are plenty of people living to the north. We’ve been experiencing shortages, though, so I was sent from my settlement to negotiate a deal. I hired John as both tour guide and additional firepower.” He admired her ability to weave a tale of pure nonsense and add in the little touches that made it sound so believable.

“Why would you hire a ghoul?” Danse asked. “Clearly it led you astray, bringing you through Cambridge.”

“Our intelligence notified us of the situation in Cambridge,” Erica answered, completely sure of herself now. “However, a ghoul was recommended as it seemed less likely that ferals would attack… one of their own. I’ve since learned that this was faulty information”

He winced internally. Even though he knew she was playing it up a bit for the benefit of making her story believable to the Brotherhood asshole, that still fucking hurt.

“But why go through Cambridge?” Haylen asked. “Why not go to the north? Or just cut through Boston?”

“Honestly, Haylen, is there anywhere in the Commonwealth that’s safe?” She rolled her eyes dramatically. Tone it down a bit, babe , Hancock thought to himself, amused. “Raider gangs and super mutants are on damn near every corner in the city proper.”

“And we heard there was a nest of deathclaws to the north,” Hancock interjected, unable to help himself. Danse glared at him, but didn’t comment.

“Precisely,” Erica said. “Cambridge seemed the most likely route, particularly with a ghoul bodyguard.”

Danse tapped his fingers against his armor-encased leg thoughtfully. “So why did the ghouls attack you then?” he asked.

“Because most of what we’ve been told about ghouls is bullshit,” Erica answered, her voice rising and her eyes flaming. “Ferals don’t recognize regular ghouls as their own because they’re not their own. They are nothing alike. You don’t see Ha—” Hancock quickly shook his head, just slightly, but enough to catch her attention. “—John flinging himself at you in a mindless rage, right? He’s scarred, but his skin isn’t rotting off. He smells like leather and cigarettes not… death. I’ve been travelling with him for weeks. He’s smart, compassionate, generous….”

“Enough,” Danse said, a look of mild disgust on his face. “I’m not interested in a lecture on the merits of ghouls.” He thought for a minute. “Bunker Hill. Hmmm. Haylen, what’s our intel on Bunker Hill?”

“It’s a major trade hub for caravans,” the Scribe replied. “I understand they have trade routes heading north, west, and south, even down to the Capital Wasteland. The Scribes researched the major trade routes and caravan hubs in the Commonwealth before we departed, and this one was at the top of our list, especially because it seems quite neutral. We’ve also heard that it doesn’t get attacked because the woman in charge has been paying off raider gangs. One of the reasons Cambridge was chosen for our team’s mission was its proximity to our main target…”

“Haylen!” Danse growled, glaring at her. Hancock and Erica exchanged a quick glance.

“Sorry, but also its proximity to Bunker Hill. Additionally, we have further intelligence on activities that may be taking place at Bunker Hill, but…” She nodded pointedly at Erica and Hancock. “We’ll need to discuss those elsewhere.”

Hancock wondered what other activities might be occurring at the trading post. His mind flashed to the spy and his group, who had been conducting some clandestine operations in Goodneighbor with the help of Dr. Amari. Were they also operating in Bunker Hill? The spy had been afraid to be spotted by the Brotherhood. What did the man know about this group of soldiers, the locations they were watching, and their mission in the Commonwealth?

Danse paced the small room, causing the floor to tremble slightly with every step. Clearly these old buildings were made to last , Hancock thought, given the fact that this idiot hadn’t managed to fall through the floor to the basement yet .

The soldier turned back to Erica. “If you’re heading to Bunker Hill, we may have some need of your services. Haylen?”

“Yes, Paladin?”

“When will she be able to travel again?”

“I should be able to remove the stitches in two more days.”

“Hang on!” Erica said. “I never agreed to do any work for you.”

“You don’t feel any obligation to help us in exchange for the help we’ve given you?” Danse asked. “That seems… unappreciative.”

“Hold up a second,” Hancock said. “What exactly is it that you want us to do?”




He was back out in the ruins for the night. Despite Erica’s angry demands and Haylen’s agreeable murmurs, Danse refused to provide shelter for “the ghoul” overnight. Hancock had even volunteered to take a night watch in the courtyard for roaming ferals, and the tin can sonofabitch had laughed in his face. He’d regret that, but for now, Hancock would have to play nice, even as much as it pained him to do so.

He’d left, muttering as he’d went, but in the end, he concluded that it was probably for the best. He didn’t trust that fucker Rhys not to slit his throat while he was sleeping or “accidentally” shoot him while on patrol. Erica was safe, and that was all that mattered for the time being. Besides, he needed to find that Railroad asshole. Like now.

He slunk quietly through the ruined buildings that had once housed the most brilliant minds in pre-war America. He thought of Erica, attending parties here in younger, easier days, before marriage to an asshole, before the end of the world. He wished he could have seen her then.

On the other hand, what would they have been to each other? He would have been the mangy waste of space selling chems to the college kids outside their parties, left alone in the dark while they went and got fucked up and dreamed their big dreams, many of which had probably contributed to the world’s eventual ruin. Erica wouldn’t have even given him a second glance as she’d waltzed past him in the night, on the arm of a handsome man in uniform or university genius.

Fuck. He didn’t know why he did this to himself.

He only barely flinched when a rock hit the wall next to him. He spun to the side and saw the spy perched on a windowsill.

“Hey, Mayor,” he said, jovially. “What news do you bring?”

“Hey, asshole,” Hancock responded, tired. “We gotta talk.”

Chapter Text

“Fuck!” The spy paced back and forth, agitated, punching his fist against his thigh. “Fuck, fuck, fuck!” He spun around to glare at Hancock. “Dez is going to shit!

Hancock glared at the man. “You think this is my fault? Listen, asshole…”

“That’s not my name, you know.”

“Well, I don’t know your fucking name, so you’re just ‘asshole’ to me. Sometimes ‘shithead.’ ‘Motherfucker’ if I’m feeling fancy.”

“It’s actually Deacon, so maybe call me that from now on instead of your delightful pet names.”

Hancock rolled his eyes. Like hell was that this asshole’s real name. Fuck it. He’d humor him. “Fine, Deacon, don’t go getting pissed at me…”

“You’re the idiot who brought up Bunker Hill to the Brotherhood of Steel!”

“What, like they didn’t know it existed before I mentioned it? Didn’t you hear what I said? It’s one of the reasons they chose to send their little advance recon team here!”

“Yeah, but you had to go bringing it to the front of their mind!”

“You know what? You’re fucking insane. And I know insane. Besides, I don’t know what the fuck you’re getting up to there. Do you have shady operations happening in every goddamn town in the Commonwealth?”

Deacon glared at him.

“Forget it, I don’t even want to know. I don’t know shit about your fucking organization,” Hancock continued. “I don’t want to know shit about your organization. It’s better that way, you know? But you needed to know that they want us to find out what the hell you guys are up to and report back.”

“And you agreed!” Deacon howled, raging around the small space. “Are you insane?”

“Keep your fucking voice down!” Hancock hissed. Deacon at least had the decency to look abashed. “Don’t you get it? I’m just trying to stay alive while surrounded by assholes who would happily kill me without a second thought. Just taking out the trash, as far as they’re concerned. If Erica wasn’t right there making sure they see me as valuable to her, I’d be Mayor flambé by now.” He placed a cigarette in his mouth and flicked his lighter open. He touched the end of the flame to the tip of the crooked cigarette as if to illustrate his point. “Clearly you ain’t doing a crack job of keeping your secrets since they already had an inkling that you were getting up to something there.”

He moved to the window to make sure nobody from the Brotherhood was in the street below. They were holed up a few blocks down from the station and his observation the night before told him that the soldiers preferred to stay close to their home base, but he was worried that Deacon’s yelling had attracted undesirables. Fortunately, the coast still appeared to be clear.

“Besides,” he said. “Do you really think I would give these shitheads valuable information? Come on, man. You ain’t my favorite person in the world, but these assholes? The Commonwealth ain’t perfect but it’s better than some fascist dictatorship.”

Deacon’s face fell. “Yeah. Yeah. Of course you wouldn’t. Fuck.” He scrubbed a hand up his face, and Hancock got a good look at how exhausted the man really was. He felt a pang of empathy and tried to quickly stifle it before it showed on his face. “I don’t know what I was thinking. Sorry, man.” He leaned back against the wall and then slowly slid down until he was sitting. “I still want to know how they know anything at all, though. This is supposed to be a top secret operation, you know? Is someone leaking our shit?”

Besides you, dropping your fucking holotapes all over the place? Hancock thought to himself but didn’t say out loud.

“I don’t know. I do know that they’re monitoring radio signals. That Scribe let a few things slip by accident. They don’t know all the details about the Institute, but they’re picking up some kind of signal that comes in bursts, and they’ve traced it to Cambridge, specifically the CIT ruins,” he said pointedly. Deacon nodded in resignation. “They’re in it for the tech, of course, but this confirms our suspicions. They also have some knowledge of synths.” He stubbed out his cigarette. “And boy do they fucking hate them. Right up there with ghouls in their books.” He glanced sideways at Deacon. “Not that you all would know anything about that, right?”

“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Deacon snarled, glaring up at Hancock. Clearly, he’d managed to push a button.

“You and your group. You all are doing something with synths, right? Fuck if I know what, though.”

Deacon looked off into space, eyes unreadable behind his sunglasses. He didn’t answer.

They waited out the rest of the night in uncomfortable but somehow companionable silence.



At first light, Hancock said goodbye to Deacon, who muttered something about reporting back to base before melting into the slowly brightening streets. Hancock began heading toward the station.

The Scribe had said the stitches could be removed in two days, but today they were going to complete their “mission” at Bunker Hill. He had asked to wait until Erica’s stitches were out, but the dickwad in the power armor had put the kibosh on that. Something about how they were unlikely to return. Well, he wasn’t wrong about that. Hancock just hoped they’d be able to make their bogus little trip without Brotherhood escort. The ghoul mayor of Goodneighbor arriving at Bunker Hill surrounded by Brotherhood soldiers wasn’t something he’d be able to recover from easily.

As he approached the station, he saw that a little welcoming party was awaiting his arrival. Erica, the dog, Scribe Haylen, and that shithead Knight were standing right outside the cobbled-together gate. While the sight of a healthy and upright Erica sent a thrill down his spine, he worried about the other two and hoped they weren’t planning to tag along.

Erica raised her hand, almost shyly, and he smiled in response. Dogmeat barked happily and ran to him. He reached down and rubbed the dog’s soft ears.

“Shall we?” Erica said with a smile. She was clearly ready to get out of the station.

“I’m ready when you are,” he said, patting the butt of his shotgun. He eyed the other two apprehensively. “You all coming with us or what?”

Rhys and Haylen exchanged glances. They locked eyes for a moment before Rhys glowered and Haylen rolled her eyes. “No,” Haylen said. “We’re staying here. The trip should only take an hour. Maybe two, depending on what you run into. So we expect you back before dark.” She looked to Erica. “Unless you change your mind of course.”

“No,” Erica said. “I’ll be fine with my bodyguard. We’ve done alright so far.” Rhys snorted and stomped off toward the door or the station.

Hancock glanced between the two women. Clearly they’d already had a conversation about this. He was glad that Erica had stuck to her guns.

“Alright,” Haylen said. “We’ll see you tonight. Be safe.” The two women hugged, and Hancock frowned. They could talk later, though.

Erica picked up an unfamiliar backpack and shrugged it onto her shoulders. They began the hike to Bunker Hill, which loomed in the distance, barely visible against the overcast sky.

Chapter Text

A flash of orange caught his eye, off to their left, for the third time in the last couple of minutes. Considering that it was the exact same shade of orange as the asshole Knight’s flight suit, Hancock felt safe assuming that was, in fact, exactly what it was. He gritted his teeth and kept going, not wanting to let the Knight know that he had been spotted.

As they walked, Erica kept moving closer to him, brushing her hand against his. He was careful to move away from her and maintain a “respectful” distance, as much as it pained him to do so. He couldn’t have the Brotherhood suspecting anything other than a employer/employee relationship between them. Rhys would be reporting every little movement back to base.

She moved in closer again, tilting her head toward his. He made a little hop away, and she lost her balance slightly. He glanced at her, worried at what he might see.

Sure enough, her face had gone blank, but her eyes sparked with irritation. He wanted to explain himself, but he couldn’t give away to Rhys that he knew that the Knight was following them.

He made of show of looking from side to side and behind them, as though he were checking their perimeter. He spotted Rhys ducking behind a crumbling wall, and he rolled his eyes. Stealth as clearly not in this guy’s skill set. Now was a good moment though.

“Sun— Erica,” he said, quietly.

“What,” she replied through gritted teeth.

“We have a tail,” he hissed. “It’s that Knight. I want nothing more than to touch you—believe me—but I can’t give us away.”

He saw her shoulders settle slightly, but her eyes narrowed. The difference would have been imperceptive to anyone who was further away than he was… Rhys, for example. But he was relieved to know that he was no longer the target of her irritation.

“Son of a bitch,” she muttered. “That asshole promised.”

As much as he wanted to join in and cheerfully trash the Brotherhood Knight, he figured the shithead was digging his own grave with Erica and needed no help from him. He settled for a silent smirk.

“I think it’ll be okay,” Hancock murmured. “He can’t follow us into Bunker Hill without giving himself away, so he won’t get to overhear what we say in there. And it’s not like we were planning to cut and run anyway. So the worst he can do is keep us from holding hands and all that lovey-dovey shit.”

“I like the lovey-dovey shit,” she said with a smile.

“So do I, Sunshine,” he whispered as they continued walking toward the obelisk.




Hancock whistled through his teeth as they stepped through the giant opening in the enormous wall of scavenged wood and metal that encircled the entire fort. It had been a while since his last trip to Bunker Hill (one of the benefits of being Mayor—you could direct someone else to do all your running around for you), and they’d really stepped up their security game at some point.

“Looks like someone went through a lot of trouble to keep out the riff-raff,” he commented.

“And, yet, here we are,” Erica quipped with a smile.

He grinned at her. “Indeed.”

They started up the stairs and into the old fort, but quickly found their path blocked by a slender woman with dark blonde hair wearing an ancient and yellowed suit. Lines criss-crossed her forehead and cheeks, but given the harsh conditions of the wasteland, it was nearly impossible to guess her age. She carried a rifle close against her body. It wasn’t pointed directly at the pair, but it was still in their overall direction, and Hancock could see the tension in the fingers gripping it and their positioning just over the trigger. She was ready and wouldn’t hesitate to use it if necessary.

“You there,” she said. “Caravan or raider?”

Hancock and Erica looked at each other. Clearly the woman didn’t recognize Hancock, and he wasn’t sure how far behind them Rhys was. They’d have to play it up for the Brotherhood until they got through the gates.

“Caravan?” Erica replied, sounding unsure.

The woman raised her eyebrows, but seemed satisfied. “All right. Come on in. You can set up shop wherever you want. Just remember—we get a cut of all your sales, and room and board ain’t included.”

“That’s okay,” Hancock said. “We ain’t staying long.”

“If you need anything, just let me know. Name’s Kessler. I run things around here. If you’re having trouble with Raiders, talk to me. We can maybe help you there.”

“Thanks, Kessler,” Erica said. “I appreciate it.”

Kessler nodded smartly and headed back into the fort.  

As Erica approached the enormous obelisk, she reached out her hand and rested it against the stone wall. “Still standing, huh?” she murmured. “I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve stood through a lot of shit, haven’t you.” She had that same melancholy expression Hancock had first seen on her face months ago in Goodneighbor when she had first laid eyes on the Old State House—and he had first laid eyes on her.

“Did you used to come here a lot?” he asked quietly. “Before?”

“We came here for a lot of field trips in school. As an adult, out-of-state friends would always want to see it. It was the grand finale of the Freedom Trail.”

Hang on.

“What do you mean, ‘The Freedom Trail?’”

“It was this tourist thing, kind of a walking tour of historical points of interest around Boston, places that were important to the Revolutionary War. My dad was a huge history buff so he took all our friends around when they came to visit.” She gave a small laugh. “If he had seen you wearing that coat and hat, he would probably have strangled you with his bare hands. The Old State House is one of the stops on the Trail, you know.”

“But this is the end?”

She shrugged. “Yeah. Why?”

Was this why Deacon was so freaked out? Was their secret hideout… here? That seemed insane, even for them. But, then, there was always something to be said for hiding in plain sight. He knew how to find out, though. He’d been given the password and he knew who to talk to. “Where does the Trail start?” he asked.

“Boston Commons,” Erica answered promptly. Hancock’s lips quirked. He could see the good student she had been. It was endearing. “Right by Park Street Station. There were robot tour guides and everything.”

Hancock nodded, remembering the hunk of junk that had been clanking around outside the station when they’d gone after Valentine. “So you have to follow the tour guide then?”

“Oh, no, it was easy to just take yourself on the tour if you wanted. There’s a path of red bricks that guides you through the streets. And bronze plaques in the sidewalk.” She raised her eyebrows and cocked her head. “You’ve really never noticed this?”

He was irritated with himself and smacked a fist against the side of the obelisk. Ow . He had noticed the red brick and the plaques, but he’d just never connected the two or really questioned what they were. Their placement had seemed random, and he’d always had something more important on his mind—mayoral duties, scoring some chems… getting laid.

“I’m surprised you never read about this,” she continued and wrapped her own hands around his sore one. “You said you read a bunch of history, right? The Trail has been there since about the middle of the twentieth century. You live in one of the stops. I remember when all these buildings were museums.”

He grunted in answer. His mind was whirling. She raised good questions. How had this never shown up in his reading? He got all his books from Daisy… He made a mental note to ask her about it.

Hancock noticed that people were staring. They’d been standing at the base of the obelisk, just outside the market. More noticeably, a human was holding a ghoul’s hand in both of hers. With a touch of regret, he took his hand back.

“Why don’t we head into the market,” he said. “I need to check in with someone.”

Chapter Text

As they moved into the main trading area, Hancock was well aware of all eyes on them. From the way Erica shrank back slightly and walked just behind him, he could tell that she noticed it too.

He cursed himself for allowing Erica to take and hold his hand. The Hill had never been a particularly ghoul-friendly settlement. Not in the same vein as Diamond City; they hadn’t passed a bullshit ordinance to throw the ghouls out (not when there was money to be made, anyway. Ghoul caps spent the same as human caps as far as the merchants of Bunker Hill were concerned). But enough that the sight of a human holding hands with a ghoul was cause for gossip and extra attention.

“I guess we just have to stick around long enough to make it look convincing,” Erica murmured. “I can poke around some of these stalls, do some window shopping.” She chuckled, drily. “It’s been a while since I’ve been to the mall.”

He nodded. “Let’s make sure to stop by that stall in the far corner. Looks like Cricket’s manning it today. She’s batshit insane, but she’s got good prices on ammo.”

As they moved from stall to stall, Hancock heard the murmurs.

“Ugh, ghouls,” one man said to another. “I can’t even stand to look at them.”

“Feeling’s mutual,” Hancock muttered under his breath. He saw Erica’s eyes narrow and she began to turn, apparently to confront the opinionated piece of shit. He grabbed her wrist. “Let it go,” he said, shaking his head.

“I can’t let them talk that way about you!” Her eyes sparked with fury on his behalf, and he loved her for it.

“You can, and you will. This ain’t my town. We’re not in a position to start trouble here.”

“I’m not starting it,” she hissed. “I’m fucking finishing it.”

He chuckled. “Ain’t you a firecracker right now! Look, some people are shits, and that’s the way it is. You know that. This ain’t news. But if we pick a fight, we get thrown out. I need to check in with someone, and you need to make our visit convincing for those Brotherhood losers. So we’re gonna let it roll off our backs for the time being. We see them outside these walls? You have at it.”

She pursed her lips and glared at the man who had made the comment, apparently memorizing his face in case they ran into him later. “Fine. Let’s run your errand then. I don’t feel like spending my caps here anymore.”

Hancock grinned and then slowly spun in place, surveying the crowded shopping area. He spotted the man he wanted at a sparsely populated stall with few wares on display. Deacon had told him who to look for and the passphrase to use.

The two of them worked their way to the table. Erica looked over the few pieces of junk on the counter, nonplussed. The shopkeeper, a dapper elderly gentleman in a coordinated suit that had seen better days, approached her.

“Pardon me, dear, do you happen to have a Geiger counter?”

“A… a Geiger counter? Are… you looking to buy one off me? I don’t really have much to trade…” Confused, she turned to Hancock. “Do we still have that Pipboy from the vault? Those have a built-in Geiger counter, right?”

“I got this,” Hancock said and turned toward the shopkeeper. “Sir, ours is in the shop.”

Erica looked between the two men, clearly believing that both had lost their minds.

“Ah, so you are with our mutual friend… but she doesn’t appear to be. I’m not sure this is the right place to have this conversation.”

“Probably not,” Hancock agreed. “Is there somewhere here more private we could talk? Are our friends here?”

Now it was the shopkeeper’s turn to look confused. “No, of course not. I just help move the packages along. Surely you know that.”

The pieces were starting to click into place. He recognized the shopkeeper. Old Man Stockton. He and his daughter regularly supplied Daisy’s store. It seemed that Bunker Hill wasn’t headquarters, but it still clearly served a valuable purpose in the mysterious mission. Headquarters must then be located elsewhere along the Freedom Trail. He’d pick Erica’s brain later to try to work out other possibilities. In the meantime, though, the shopkeep was starting to look nervous.

“Sorry, man,” Hancock said with what he hoped was a winning (rather than terrifying) grin. “I’m still pretty new to the gig, and I wasn’t given a lot of information. You get how it goes.”

Stockton nodded. “I do. This is a dangerous pursuit. Worthwhile, of course, but dangerous. Are you here to move the latest package?”

“No,” Hancock replied. “I actually have a message. The package needs to stay put right now. Package thieves are in the area.”

“Oh dear,” Stockton said, looking between Hancock and Erica. “I can’t keep the package indefinitely. When will it be safe to make the transfer?”

“Unclear,” Hancock said. “You probably saw the thieves arrive? They announced their presence quite loudly.”

Stockton grimaced. “Ahh. The boys in the bird? Yes.”

“They have an outpost not far from here, and apparently they have their eyes on Bunker Hill.”

“All the more reason to transfer the package then.”

Hancock sighed. He wasn’t entirely sure what this package was, but he did agree that keeping it nearby while the Brotherhood was interested was a bad idea. He suspected this was exactly what that Paladin had been hoping to get more information on when he sent Erica on this assignment.

“I’ll pass the message back then to our friends and see if we can come up with a Plan B,” Hancock said.

Stockton nodded. “That will have to do for now, but we can’t wait long.”

“Understood.” The two men shook hands.

“Are you going to tell me what all that was about?” Erica asked quietly as they moved toward the front entrance of the shopping area.

“I will, but not here,” he said. “Why don’t we grab a drink and a bite to eat and then head back?”

“That sounds good,” Erica said. “I’m starving.”

They stepped back out into the dreary afternoon. It had now started to drizzle. There was a charge to the air, though, that made Hancock’s skin tingle in a pleasant way. He turned his face up to the yellow-tinged clouds and basked for a moment.

Erica wrinkled her nose. “What is that awful smell? It’s making my stomach turn.” Other people were starting to quickly vacate the premises. Shopkeepers were closing down early, packing up their tables and pulling down their tents. Brahmin were being led into pens, and residents of Bunker Hill were slamming doors and shuttering windows. “John? What’s going on? The sky looks like a storm is coming. I think we need to find some shelter.”

Her voice was barely registering through the euphoric haze building in his head, but a few words broke through… Hancock… sky… storm shelter ...

Oh shit.

Radstorm.

Part of him wanted to just stand in place so he could revel in the ecstacy of radiation crashing all around him, but he had to get her out of here, now, before the storm was fully upon them. He shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to will away the intoxicating sensation that was making his thinking fuzzy in such a comforting way.

He looked up at the swirling clouds and saw greenish lightning flash off to the east. They didn’t have time to try to outrun it.

“Come on,” he said, grabbing her hand, not caring who saw. “Back inside.”

Chapter Text

“You two! Over here!”

Hancock’s eye caught Stockton waving at them from his stall. He quickly turned in the direction of the old man, pulling Erica with him. He was hoping that the roof of the building would protect her from the worst of the storm, but maybe Stockton had another idea. He could barely focus with the rapturous swirling of radiation in his head. It called to him, and his brain keened for another hit. No chem yet made (okay, one, but there had only been one dose and it was gone now) could offer the same high as a good radstorm.

As he reached the stall, he realized that Stockton was standing just outside an open hatch that led down beneath the building. Some kind of storm cellar? He didn’t know, but he was grateful for its presence. Erica had gone pale and clammy, and the bolts of radioactive lightning flashed all around the damaged building, illuminating the concrete walls in a ghostly green light.

Stockton helped Erica into the hatch, and she caught hold of the ladder to let herself down. Stockton followed.

“Are you coming down or staying out here?” the old man called.

Hancock gazed longingly at the green haze that had descended outside the building, every nerve on fire, but he knew where his place was. The decision had been made for him the moment Erica had stumbled through his front gate.

“I’m coming down,” he said. Stockton disappeared into the dark, and Hancock swung himself down the ladder, pulling the hatch shut behind him.

The small room was dimly lit by flickering oil lamps. A pathway continued deeper into the dark. Hancock had never known that there was some kind of underground network beneath Bunker Hill. Had it always been here or was this a new addition since the war? Clearly the Railroad had been making good use of this area, storing something valuable here where none of their enemies could find it.

A few other people had made their way underground before the storm struck. He recognized a couple of the traders and a few of the shoppers, including the asshole with the smart mouth and an apparent death wish. The asshole spotted him as well.

“Why does that thing have to come down here with us? Don’t your kind get off on the rads, you freak?”

Before he could respond with his own cutting remark, a familiar but muffled voice cut in. “Shut the fuck up, you racist shit.” Ah, there she was, seated against the wall, her head down and tucked under her arms, her hair damp with sweat. He grinned ferociously at the asshole with the mouth on him and sat down next to her. She leaned into him with a quiet groan and he put his arm around her, eyes on the other man, daring him to say something.

The man’s eyes moved from Hancock to Erica and back again, and his nose wrinkled in disgust. Hancock realized that with Erica’s head nestled against his shoulder, the stitches on her neck and shoulder were clearly visible. Did… did that moron think that he had bit her? People had some strange ideas about ghouls, often based on old stories about zombies, undead beings that came back in a sort of half-life and stumbled around looking for humans to eat. Come to think of it, the idea of a zombie was pretty close to the reality of a feral ghoul, but would these idiots listen if you told them that the only thing regular ghouls had in common with the ferals was the tough skin and the affinity for rads?

“Hey, Sunshine,” he murmured, trying to distract himself from the righteous fury that was threatening to build up inside him. “How you feeling?”

“Ugh, sick,” she responded. “This sucks.”

“You ain’t gonna puke are you?” he asked lightly. “I don’t got anybody to give my coat a wash around here.”

Her eyes remained closed, but her lips curled into a barely there smile. “No, I don’t think so. Just feeling pretty crummy. What was that?”

“Radstorm. They blow up from the Glowing Sea.”

“The… Glowing Sea? Like... the Atlantic?” She opened her eyes. “Jesus, does the Atlantic glow now?”

He chuckled. “No, it’s just a name. It’s on land, where the bombs dropped. Ground zero. Heavily irradiated no man’s land.”

“Oh.” Her eyes drooped shut again, and she moaned.

“Hey,” he said, glancing around the room. “Don’t suppose anyone’s got some RadAway?”

“She’ll need more than that if she’s spending time with you,” the idiot snarled.

“Daryl, shut the hell up,” snapped one of the shopkeepers, a woman in a blue jumpsuit. “Nobody’s interested in your bullshit right now. Sorry about him,” she said, turning her focus to Hancock. “I don’t think I have any in stock right now, but Kay probably has some. She’s basically the doc around here, at least when Doc Weathers is out making the rounds. I’m sure she’ll sell you some once the storm clears. And I’ll double check once I can get back to my stall.”

“Hey, thanks….”

“Deb.”

“Thanks, Deb.” He squeezed Erica against him. “Hear that? We’ll get you patched back up.”

“Mmmhmmmm.”

“Wouldn’ta pegged you for a ghoul lover, Deb,” Daryl remarked.

“Ghoul caps spend the same as anyone else’s,” Deb replied mildly. “Don’t see what difference it makes.”

Daryl grimaced in reply. An uncomfortable silence settled around the group. In the quiet, Hancock could hear the storm continue to rage outside.

“So,” he said, his voice carrying in the silence. Everyone turned to look at him. He had the floor. “A ghoul walks into a bar,” he began. Deb was looking at him curiously. Daryl glared. Erica turned her face up to him, bemused. “The bartender says, ‘We don’t serve ghouls here.’” He paused for dramatic effect. He knew how to work a crowd. There was a reason Goodneighbor had stuck by him all this time. “‘That’s fine,’ says the ghoul. ‘Is the human fresh?’”

Deb cracked a smile and a few people quietly tittered. Daryl pulled his face into a moue of loathing and looked away.

Hancock felt Erica trembling against him. Worried, he pulled her away from him slightly to check on her. Tears streamed down her face and she snorted, shaking with uncontrollable laughter. He grinned, satisfied. Mission fucking accomplished.

Chapter Text

As they walked back toward the police station, the sky put on a vibrant light show. The band of radioactive storm clouds had moved off to the north, giving the sky to their right a greenish cast. Behind them, dusk was fast approaching, rich indigo spotted with pinpricks of stars creeping up on them. Up ahead, the setting sun tinted the horizon a brilliant fuchsia.

Erica shaded her eyes, and they both picked up the pace, hoping to make it back before full dark. Neither spoke much. Erica carried a bag of Radaway, the needle still stuck in her arm. While Kay had tried to convince them to stay until the radiation-relieving treatment was complete, they were eager to be back on the road, worried that a late arrival would bring the full wrath of the Brotherhood of Steel down on Bunker Hill.

There was no sign of Rhys this time, and Hancock suspected that he had hauled ass back to the station as soon as the charged air had hinted at the approaching radstorm. While he was glad not to have the tail, it also meant he didn’t have someone to confirm that they were on their way back, which put them in a precarious position. At least they had a plausible excuse for why they were running so late. He just hoped that jackass in the power armor would see it that way too.

He ruminated over the information he’d gotten from Stockton. It frustrated him to no end that Deacon would offer up the “password” and instructions on who to speak to but wouldn’t just tell him where the damn headquarters were. While he recognized that the spy was probably following a direct order, it seemed like a strange thing to stay firm on when he seemed to bend the rules on so many other things. He had learned that while Bunker Hill was not headquarters, it did serve a valuable purpose, and he was betting that the “storm shelter” they had hunkered down in had something to do with it. He wondered where exactly that dark passageway went and what secrets the Hill held. There was no question though—come hell or high water, their next step was going to be to track down that elusive headquarters.

The western horizon’s previous brilliance had faded to accommodate the encroaching dark by the time they saw the lights of the former police station. As they approached, Hancock heard happy barking. A smile lit up Erica’s pale and tired face, and she accelerated to a light jog to greet the dog running up to them, its tongue lolling out. The Paladin had insisted that Dogmeat stay with them “for safety.” No slouch when it came to nudging people in directions they didn’t necessarily want to go, Hancock knew perfectly well that the dog was serving as a hostage, to further ensure Erica’s return.

“Welcome back,” Haylen said. She had followed the dog out past the gate to greet the pair. “Paladin Danse is waiting inside for your debrief.” She glanced down at the empty Radaway bag Erica was holding. “We’ll patch you up if needed too.” Erica and Hancock both moved in the direction of the gate, but the Scribe put her hand on Hancock’s shoulder. “Sorry, John. Just Erica.”

Hancock seethed. “C’mon, Haylen,” he said. “Have a heart. I’m tired. I want to sleep with a damn roof over my head.”

“Haylen,” Erica said with a pleading tone, “Obviously he’s not going to harm anybody. We’ve done as you asked and we’re wiped out. Just let him stay in the barracks with me.”

Despite the look of understanding on her face, she shook her head. “I have to follow orders, Erica, and orders from Danse are ‘no ghouls allowed.’” She looked to Hancock. “I really am sorry.”

Hancock believed her, but it didn’t help the situation. His fingers itched to bury his knife in the throats of both Danse and Rhys. Instead, he carefully controlled his voice. “I’ll be across the street if you need anything,” he said to Erica, trying as much as he could to sound like an obedient employee.

Tomorrow , he thought as he turned and headed once again for the abandoned building across the street. Tomorrow we’ll be shut of these assholes for good.





He woke up early the next day and perched in the window, smoking while he waited for Erica to be released. Finally, finally , he saw her leaving the station and crossing the courtyard, Dogmeat trotting at her heel. As usual, her gray-streaked dark brown hair haloed her head, escaping the attempts of her loose ponytail to tame it. He grinned and his heart soared. They’d be back on the road today, free of prying eyes. Tonight, he’d have her all to himself, and he couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms and kiss her until they were both breathless.

Leaping from the windowsill, he raced down the stairs, heels pounding against the ancient wood. Just as Haylen had done, he swatted aside the string of cans that had once served some squatter as a makeshift alarm system.

Not wanting to give anything away to anyone who could be watching from the station or the courtyard, he walked cooly across the street to meet her. The stitches had been removed and while she still had a pink line of scar there, he had to grudgingly appreciate the work that Haylen had done in preventing a much more pronounced and ragged scar.

She was alone, which surprised him.

“No committee to see you off today?” he asked, hoping to sound nonchalant. God, he just wanted to be rid of these assholes once and for all.

“Nope, not today,” she said with a smile. “I’m free to go. Besides, they have to show some level of trust to their newest Knight.”

“Then let’s get started, I’d like to….” In his eagerness to leave, he almost missed what she had said. When the words sank in, he turned to her in horror. “Wait. What the fuck did you just say?”

“I’m apparently a Knight of the Brotherhood now.” She rolled her eyes. “See my nifty new toy?” She held up a heavily modified laser rifle. “It has a name and everything. Righteous Authority.” She laughed.

He stared at her with his mouth open, his stomach rolling as if he’d just been sucker punched. In a way, he had. What was happening? He couldn’t wrap his brain around it. “You… you joined the Brotherhood of Steel?” The words sounded ridiculous coming out of his mouth. “Jesus, Erica, what did you tell them that they invited you to become part of their psychotic little organization?” It was nearly unthinkable… had Erica given up Bunker Hill? He wanted to throw up.

She looked around for a moment before pulling him to the side. “We can’t talk here,” she hissed. “Trust me. Please. I’ll explain as soon as we’re somewhere safe.”

Trust her. Could he trust her? He remembered the fight in Sanctuary Hills, which had ultimately been about them both trusting each other. He recalled her talking about using the Brotherhood, if she had to, to find her son. Was she… was she also using him and his connections for the same purpose? The same old fears flared up once again, twisting every moment they’d had together and painting her as a conniving liar. The ugly voice in his head, the one that he had tried so hard to destroy, woke up and laughed at him, at the idea that he could be happy, that someone could love him after everything he’d done.  

He stepped away from her, his heart hammering, and saw fear, frustration, and worry in her eyes. It seemed genuine, but….

While he hated everything about this and fear gripped his heart, he knew that he had to give her a chance to explain. If they continued to have this same fight, they didn’t stand a chance. He also had to find out what she had actually told them. Could he still safely take her to hunt for the damn Railroad? There were too many questions and not enough answers.

He swallowed down the bile in his throat that threatened to overflow. Erica was eyeing him uncomfortably. He had to hear her out, he just had to.

“Okay, let’s find somewhere we can talk,” he said, more hoarsely than usual. Erica’s mouth turned down in a frown, but she nodded and gestured with her head.

“That abandoned house we spotted on our way to Bunker Hill. We’ll stop there.” Her eyes softened. “John, it’s not as bad as it sounds, I promise.”

He nodded, not trusting himself to say anything else right now.

Chapter Text

He opened the tin of Mentats and counted the remaining tablets. Shit. He should have hit up the doctor at Bunker Hill for a refill. He’d always had a preference for the brain-boosting chems (they made him feel intellectual, like he could see the connections that existed between concepts that everyone else, including himself, usually missed), and he’d been popping them more frequently than usual since the day he’d met Erica.

He placed one of his last couple tablets into his mouth and bit down, hoping the chem would offer some kind of guidance for dealing with this latest situation. At the bare minimum, he hoped it would keep him from acting like a total asshole.

They’d done a quick sweep of the abandoned house. While he didn’t plan to stay here long, it was somewhere quiet and completely free from prying eyes and ears (and he hoped that Deacon wasn’t anywhere nearby since whatever Erica was about to say could very well wreck any chance they had of working with the Railroad).

He kicked the glowing corpse of a radroach out the door and Dogmeat barked in approval, earning a pat on the head. Erica had pulled out some of the rations provided by the Brotherhood (Hancock had already decided he would starve rather than eat that crap) and was having a makeshift lunch.

He sat down heavily across from her and eyed the laser rifle next to her. It looked remarkably like the one the Paladin had been using when they came charging down the street, simultaneously saving and wrecking his life.

“Want to see it?” Erica asked. He shrugged, attempting nonchalance. She handed it across to him and he took it from her gingerly. He looked it over from all sides. Pretty fancy weapon. It had been heavily modified by someone who knew what they were doing, and he could see that it would do some pretty good damage. And sure enough, the words “Righteous Authority” were painted along the side in a red script. He snorted. What made them think they had authority? Or that they were righteous for that matter? What a narcissistic assumption to make.

“Have you fired it yet?” he asked. She shook her head.

“Haven’t had the opportunity,” she replied. “You saw Danse using it though.”

His jaw dropped. “He gave you his own fucking weapon?”

She sighed. “Guess it’s time for our talk, huh?” She set the ration bar she’d been nibbling on aside. “I didn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know, I promise. Quite honestly, there’s not a lot more I could have told them. You’ve been really careful and I don’t know much myself.”

He chewed on the inside of his cheek as he stared at her. “So what did you say?”

“Danse asked if I’d ever heard of a group called the Railroad…”

“Fuck,” he whispered.

“...But I was able to say ‘Nobody at Bunker Hill ever mentioned the Railroad.’ It was completely true.” She smiled sadly. “Don’t forget, John. I used to be a lawyer. If anyone can dance around the truth without revealing a damn thing, it’s a lawyer. They asked where I went when the radstorm hit, and I told them one of the shopkeeps had a storm shelter. They wanted a bit more information about that, but I just said that a bunch of people from the town were there and I didn’t remember much about it because I was feeling so sick. All true.”

“I don’t get it, then. Why did they sign you up? And why did that tin can asshole give you his own personal weapon?”

“Honestly? I think they’re pretty damn desperate. That jackass Rhys had a lot to say about it. He’s probably just as upset about it as you are.” She huffed out an unamused laugh. “Apparently they used to have pretty strict rules about who could join. Basically you had to be born into it. You can guess how well that worked out for them. Then they started actively recruiting in D.C. They were pretty picky at that point, looking for people who were already strong soldiers or were young and had a lot of potential. But now? Their numbers are so thin and they’ve been plagued by deserters. So I’m basically a warm body to boost their numbers and let the leadership feel good about themselves.”

“You’ve done your homework,” he replied.

“Haylen told me quite a bit about their history. Maybe she thought it would help their case, I don’t know.” She sighed. “John, please hear me. I didn’t ask to sign up and they didn’t really take no for an answer. I didn’t promise to abide by their ridiculous ideals—in case you haven’t noticed, I’m here with you now, alone. That would be unthinkable to any of them back there, even Haylen, and she’s easily the least shitty of the lot.”

“Looked like you two were getting along just fine,” he said. The bitterness he was trying to hide crept slightly into his words and he winced.

“She’s kind. She has a good deal of medical knowledge, she did a nice job on my neck and shoulder.” She sighed. “I think we could have been friends at one time, but she’s absorbed the Brotherhood message hook, line, and sinker. She’s a bit more flexible than Danse or Rhys, but in the end… she’s one of them.” She reached for his hand. He let her take it, but looked at their entwined hands, his rough and gnarled, hers soft with ragged fingernails and bitten cuticles. They’d have a hard time anywhere they went. He’d known that from the get go, but did she? He recalled their conversation about the bigotry she’d observed in her own time. She seemed to be immune to it, as far as he could tell, but there was no question that she was aware of it. Maybe she did get it and simply chose to ignore it. “John,” she whispered. He looked up at her and finally met her eyes. “She would never be okay with us. And I could never really be friends with someone who wasn’t okay with us. I hope you know that.”

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut. The corners of his eyes stung, and he wished once again for the relief of tears. It was like she’d read his mind. He opened his eyes again to her sad smile and her gray eyes, which were leaking enough tears for both of them. He scooted around so that he could be next to her and pulled her close to him. She leaned her head against his and he could feel her breath hitching. He saw the tears roll off her nose and fall to the dusty boards beneath them.

“Sunshine,” he said, holding her tightly. “Why are you crying?” He knew why his eyes stung, but it didn’t really explain her tears.

“I knew you’d be upset with this, and I was so afraid that you would just walk away. I need you to understand that I’m not Brotherhood. Just because they put a title on me doesn’t mean I accept it. I took the weapon because it’s a good weapon and at least if I have it I don’t have to worry about it being turned on you. I’d have been stupid to turn it down. Besides, they have plenty of firepower. Too much, if you ask me.” She turned her head and pressed her forehead to his. “Your face when I told you… I tried to turn it into a joke, but you looked like I’d stabbed you. I didn’t mean to hurt you, and I’m sorry.”

He reached out and gently brushed away a lock of her hair that was hanging in her eyes. “I gotcha,” he said. “I ain’t mad anymore.”

“Looks like we both still need to work on that trust thing,” she said.

“Yeah.” He kissed the tip of her nose, tasting the salt from her tears. She reached for him and their lips met.

Chapter Text

After, they huddled together, naked and breathless.

“So now what?” Erica said. “Cambridge was a bust. Worse than a bust. A complete disaster.”

“Actually, if you think you can refrain from running back and ratting us out to your new Brotherhood friends....” She elbowed him in the ribs, hard. “Ow! Damn, Sunshine!”

“Don’t even joke about that,” she said with a smile, snuggling closer to him. He held her tightly, glad to have her there, even as his ribs ached.

“Gotcha,” he said and kissed the top of her head. “Anyway, I want to track down the Railroad. We need some help now that Kellogg’s dead. They’re annoying, but they ain’t a pack of racist fucks like the Brotherhood are. If anything, they’re probably accepting to a fault. They’d try to set toasters free if they got the slightest hint that they were sentient.”

“I wish I’d kept my shit together,” Erica said, her voice filled with regret. “Maybe we could have taken him alive, gotten some actual answers.”

“Or maybe we’d both be dead now,” he replied, hugging her even tighter. “Don’t second guess yourself, Sunshine. Besides, I don’t think Kellogg is entirely a dead end. I found something on him that I think might help, and that’s part of why I want to talk to the Railroad.”

She gazed at him with curious eyes. “What did you find? How come you didn’t say anything?”

“Well, it’s kinda gross, and you weren’t in a good place after, so I held off. Then… well, there was just never really a good moment. Hang on, I’ll show you.” He rolled away from her and reached for his coat. She ran a finger down his naked back and wolf-whistled. He turned back, grinning, hairless brows raised. “Oh yeah? Well, I could always grab it later if you’re ready for another round.”

She laughed. “Maybe in a sec, but show me what you’ve got first.”

“Well, if you insist….” He reached down to grab himself and leaned toward her.

“You’re the worst,” she said, laughing and shoving him away playfully.

“The absolute worst,” he agreed and kissed her deeply.

She responded in kind before breaking the kiss and turning her head away slightly. “Seriously, John, show me!”

“Alright, alright! Keep your pants… off, I guess.” Another swat landed between his shoulder blades.

Still snickering, he snagged his coat and pulled the .44 pistol out of it. “First of all, I was saving this for a special occasion like your birthday or fucking Christmas or something.”

“Is that Kellogg’s gun?” She grabbed it from him and examined it, her eyes lighting up.

“Easy there,” he said. “I haven’t checked if it’s loaded and that thing’ll pack a punch. I was hoping to have you practice with it. Lots more kickback than the 10mm. Of course, you’d probably rather play with your fancy new laser toy from your Brotherhood boyfriend.”

“Keep it up and I’ll do a hell of a lot more than just swat you.” The smile remained on her face, but her eyes told him she meant business.

“Okay, okay. Hold on to the gun at any rate. We’ll practice with it along the way.” He reached back into the coat and pulled out the piece of circuitry he’d taken from the mercenary’s head. The bit of attached brain had dried into a mummified clump. “This is what I’m hoping holds some answers.”

Erica looked at it, eyes big. “What the hell is that, John?”

“I dunno. I pulled it… well, out of his brain…”

“Oh, gross!” she said, making a face. “Is that… is that brain still attached to it?”

“Yeah, but it might be important so I don’t want to detach it. See how it’s embedded into it here?”

She shoved his hand away. “Ugh, I don’t even want to look.” He could see her mulling it over, though. “So… are you saying he’s a synth?”

“I ain’t sure. This don’t look like the standard synth components we find, and I didn’t see anything in that mess that looked like one, but the Institute could be up to something new.” He turned it over in his hands, studying it. “At any rate, I got a couple people in mind to show this to, see if they can make heads or tails of it. One’s Amari in Goodneighbor…”

“The brain doctor,” Erica murmured. “Yeah, that makes sense.”

Hancock nodded. “The other is this Railroad group. Their specialty is synths. They help ‘em escape. They’re also plotting to take down the Institute, but I don’t know how far along they are with that. I’m guessing not very. I don’t have much info on the Railroad, but I think it needs to be our next stop. Only problem is that them and the Brotherhood ain’t big fans of one another. Brotherhood thinks the synths are abominations, like yours truly, and that they should be destroyed. Railroad thinks synths are just plain old people who are enslaved by the Institute. You see the problem here.”

Erica was silent for a moment, considering. “And what do you believe about synths?”

He sighed. “I’m mostly inclined to side with the Railroad on this. I don’t always agree with their methods and some synths have definitely posed problems, but most of them seem like regular people just trying to get out of a bad situation.”

“Plain old humans certainly pose their share of problems too. If anything, that makes synths about as normal as it gets,” Erica said.

Hancock snorted. “Ha, yeah. That’s a pretty fair assessment. Guess that makes me Railroad all the way then. Not like I’d ever side with the Brotherhood anyway. Way I feel is, the Institute has no right to keep anyone in captivity who don’t want to be there. Don’t matter if they’re the ones who made them. They made the choice to give them free will, then they get mad when they try to escape?” He shook his head. “What a load of brahmin shit.”

“Then I guess we’ll talk to the Railroad.”

“I’d keep that fancy blaster hidden while we’re there.”

She nodded. “So where are they?”

He laid back down next to her and put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close again. “That’s the fucking kicker, ain’t it? I don’t know.”

“How do you know so much about this group but not where they’re located?”

“Because my one contact with the group is a complete pain in the ass, that’s why.” He grimaced. “The only clue I have is ‘Follow the Freedom Trail.’”

“Ohhhh!” Understanding bloomed in Erica’s eyes. “That’s why you had so many questions when I brought it up yesterday!”

“Yep,” he replied. “When you mentioned that Bunker Hill was the end of the Trail, I thought I finally had the answers. But according to Stockton, that ain’t it. It’s gotta be one of the stops though.” He played with her hair while he thought and she closed her eyes and leaned her head into his shoulder.

“Well, since we’re so near to Bunker Hill, why don’t we just walk the Trail in reverse? I think I can remember the whole thing.”

“What’s the stop before Bunker Hill?” he asked.

“The ship,” she replied. “The USS Constitution.”

Hancock laughed. “Okay, I know that ain’t it.”

Erica groaned. “I’m afraid to ask. What happened to the Constitution?”

“It’s stuck in a fucking building and run by a bunch of robots with too many fried circuits. For a long time, I thought I was hallucinating the damn thing. Trust me, we want to scoot wide around that mess.”

She smiled, but her eyes were sad. “That’s too bad. The Constitution was magnificent. After the ship, you cross the Charles. Next stop is a graveyard. Can’t remember what it’s called.”

“Doubt they’re hanging out in a graveyard.”

“I agree. Next stop after that would be the Old North Church, though.”

“The Church....” he mused. “That seems possible.”

“John,” she sat up, suddenly. “I just remembered! You couldn’t go in them on the tour but… there are catacombs under the Church! It would be an excellent hiding place!”

His eyes gleamed, and not just at the sight of Erica’s naked torso. “Old North Church it is then. Next stop, Railroad,” he said and pulled Erica back down to him.

Chapter Text

“Stop right there,” a woman’s voice rang out. Lights flared, momentarily blinding both Hancock and Erica. He raised his arm to shield his eyes, conscious of his shotgun in his other hand, which he kept by his side. It occurred to him that he had spent a good deal of time lately staying still to avoid being shot. It wasn’t a thought that particularly pleased him.

Despite spending the morning holding each other and taking his time showing Erica just how much he’d missed her the past few days, they’d made good time and had found the church just before dark. Erica had pointed out the lantern painted onto the wall, and Hancock nodded. He recalled the history of the church from the books he’d read and the significance of the lantern. Now he knew how she’d felt upon realizing that Diamond City was in the baseball stadium. He should’ve known. He was also irritated at realizing that the Railroad’s headquarters was practically right around the corner from Goodneighbor. No wonder he saw Deacon in town so much. And no wonder Amari had apparently become so vital to their operations.

They’d cleared out the few ferals that were roaming mindlessly about the sanctuary of the church. (“Why’d it have to be ferals?” he’d muttered in disgust, eliciting an amused snort from Erica as she fired a 10mm round right between the eyes of one of the creatures. It was hard to believe how far she’d come.) She picked through the rubble, sadly eyeing the broken remains of the organ at the far end of the destroyed sanctuary, and led them straight to a roped off stairwell that led down beneath the church.

Sure enough, there was a series of tunnels built beneath the church. They walked solemnly through, respectful of the dead buried there and killing off the few ferals that had made their way down and then gotten trapped in the twisting tunnels.

They found themselves in front of a large Freedom Trail plaque, set into the wall. The gray concrete around it indicated that it was a more recent addition. Erica reached out to touch the wiring hooked to it. “It’s some kind of passcode device,” she had commented.

He nodded, irritated, and wished that Fahr could be there with them. “Any thoughts on how this damn thing works or what the password might be?”

She cocked her head, studying the device. “See this here?” she said, pointing to the arrow at the top of the plaque that had been painted red. She reached out with her fingers and nudged the ring with the words “The Freedom Trail • Boston” emblazoned on it. The ring moved with a gravelly, grating sound that made Hancock wince. “This is ingenious,” she murmured. “You line up the letters with the arrow, like a combination lock”

He reached out and pushed the center of the plaque. It gave. His eyes blazed. “Someone knew what they were doing when they set this up.” He sighed. “But we still ain’t got the damn password, Sunshine.” Well, maybe they did, but that would be one long fucking password. He studied the ring again. Nope, there was no “G” so it wasn’t the Geiger counter passphrase.

“We’re limited to the letters on the ring, so that helps.” She smiled. “It’s a puzzle. I love puzzles.” She was quiet for a moment, occasionally using her finger to count out letters on the device, then stopping and shaking her head.

He pulled out his Mentats tin and offered her one of the remaining tablets. “Need a boost?”

She shook her head. “No, I think I’ve almost got this.” A moment later, she tapped out a series of letters on the ring and laughed. “I bet this is it. People were notorious in my time for using ridiculously obvious passwords. We were always getting emails in my office warning us not to use crap like “Password” or our kids’ names. Something tells me that hasn’t changed.” She started moving the ring, pressing the button after each letter. He watched to see what she was spelling out.

R--A--I--L--R….

“Oh, come on,” he muttered. She snickered.

Sure enough, as she pressed the button after lining up the letter D with the arrow, the building shook. She took a worried step back, and then the entire wall next to the plaque swung inward, revealing a tunnel that continued downward.

“Nicely done, Sunshine,” he said with admiration. She turned to him, eyes gleaming and smiling, a full smile that revealed her teeth. He pulled her in closer and gave her a kiss. His brilliant Sunshine. How could he have possibly gotten this lucky? It continued to baffle him.






“You went through a lot of trouble to arrange this meeting,” the woman continued. Now that his eyes were adjusting, he could see her more clearly. Her auburn hair curled into her uptilted eyes and she held a smoldering cigarette. In a way, she was pretty, but she had an intensity in her features and expression that warned others not to fuck with her. She held no weapon, but she was flanked by two others who did, a man who pointed a rifle at them and a woman with dark skin and light hair who bore a striking resemblance to Fahrenheit… right down to the massive minigun she held. “Before we go any further, you need to answer my questions.”

“I was told to come here.” Hancock spoke loudly and clearly. He was wary of the other two. Where the fuck was that damned spy?

“You were?” the woman asked, her voice filled with suspicion. “By whom?”

Just then, a familiar face (familiar sunglasses, at least) appeared around the side of the woman with the minigun. “You’re having a party,” he said, barely hiding the laughter in his voice. “What gives with my invitation?” He nodded toward Hancock. “Mayor,” he said, cordially.

“Asshole,” Hancock greeted him in return. The other man grinned. Hancock had to give it to him though, fucker knew how to make an entrance.

“Dez, trust me,” Deacon said. “You want this pair on our side. These two took down Kellogg.”

The woman’s mouth fell open in shock. “Kellogg? But… how?” She shook her head. “Nevermind. You clearly aren’t with the Institute.” She paused and appeared to be weighing her options. “I’m going to let you in, but I have one question for you both. Would you risk your life for another—even if that person were a synth?”

Hancock hesitated for the briefest of moments, but Erica beat him to the punch.

“Why wouldn’t I?” she said. “There doesn’t appear to be a difference as far as I’ve heard and can tell.” Hancock smiled.

The woman, Desdemona, nodded in satisfaction. “Okay, then. Come on down to headquarters and let’s talk.”

Chapter Text

The small group hovered closely together in the open space of the crypt, staring in silence at the strange device Hancock held in his gnarled hand. Lantern light flickered against the stone walls, giving everything a haunted quality. Smoke from the lit cigarette Desdemona held drifted slowly up toward the ceiling.

Finally the man wearing the bizarre apparatus on his head spoke. “Shoot. I ain’t never seen nothing like that in my life. You said this thing was implanted in the dude’s head?”

Hancock nodded, turning the circuitry back and forth in the dim glow. Some of the shinier surfaces caught and reflected the light back in brief sparks. “Yeah, pulled it out myself after Erica here made paste of the guy.”

Desdemona looked Erica up and down appraisingly. “We might be able to use someone like you.”

Erica shook her head and leaned back, away from the other woman. “No way,” she said, irritation infusing her voice. “Don’t even try to recruit me. I’m sick of everyone I meet thinking I want to join their fight. I’ve got my own problems.” Her pleading eyes met Hancock’s. “Do I have ‘I want to join your cause’ tattooed across my forehead or something?”

He laughed softly and took her hand, rubbing his thumb over her knuckles. “No, Sunshine,” he replied in a low voice. “Everyone needs something out here. It ain’t personal.”

Desdemona pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes. “You want our help, but you’re unwilling to help us? That hardly seems just.” She raised the cigarette to her lips and took a long drag.

“I think there’s a lot of overlap in our causes, Dez, if you can refrain from chasing her off,” Deacon said, making a show of waving away the smoke that was now escaping from Desdemona’s nose.

Hancock nodded. “We don’t need any kinda official ‘I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine’ arrangement,” he said. “I think there’s plenty of mutual helping to go around, but don’t push too hard.” He closed his hand around the glittering piece of tech and slipped it back into his pocket before turning to Erica. “I think we’ll need to chat with Amari.”

“So yet another wasted stop,” Erica murmured. “Dammit.”

“Definitely not a waste,” Deacon said, shaking his head. “I’ve been wanting to meet you in person and maybe get to know you a bit better, and I do think we can help each other out…” Erica opened her mouth to protest, and he raised a hand. “Not like that. But we’ve got a few leads on the Institute. Not where they’re located or how to get in yet, but maybe a bit of what they’re up to and what might come next.”

“Hang on,” Erica said, peering closely at Deacon through her glasses. “I knew I’ve seen you before. You’re a guard in Diamond City. I remember you from the first time I went there, when I was trying to find Nick. I asked you for directions to the detective office.”

“Son of a bitch gets around,” Hancock commented.

“What can I say,” Deacon said with a smirk, stretching his arms and cracking his back. “I’m just doing my job. You’re looking a lot better these days though. Something about the wasteland seems to agree with you.” He looked pointedly at Hancock.

“She gets regular exercise,” Hancock replied sarcastically. “Now drop it.”

“Hey, if you need intel about all the shit the Institute’s pulling, I’m your guy,” the man with the strange apparatus said.

Hancock didn’t quite trust the wild look in his eye, but had known enough lunatics in his life who had turned out to be correct so was willing to humor him. “Oh yeah? Like what?”

“Tom, nobody wants your goddamn vaccination,” Deacon drawled. Desdemona sighed and rolled her eyes.

Tom jumped up, eyes wide and hands gesticulating in multiple directions at once. “But I told you, you’re putting us all at risk! Coming in here with those nanobots in your blood! All y’all are probably full of ‘em!”

Erica turned to Hancock, apprehension in her eyes. “Nanobots? What does he mean?”

Hancock shrugged, but Deacon was quick to reply. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Tom, your injection contains battery acid. You’ve had plenty of great ideas, but this is definitely not one of them.”

“I was right about the crows, wasn’t I? You’ll see, I’m right about this too.” He got up and stomped over to the far side of the crypt where he bent over a heavily modified computer terminal and started pounding the keys as if they had personally insulted him.

“The crows?” Hancock’s scarred and hairless brows shot up. He turned to to Deacon. “Do we have confirmation on this? Last we spoke this was just a suspicion.”

Erica’s eyes flitted between the two men. “What about the crows?”

Deacon grimaced, and Desdemona shifted uncomfortably. “Yeah, we do, actually,” Deacon said, eyes unreadable behind his reflective sunglasses, which he had kept on even in the crypt. I paid a drifter a few caps to shoot one down and bring it to me. Sure enough, the whole damn thing was full of wires and metal. They definitely aren’t meant to be seen close up.”

“Wait, what are you saying?” Erica said.

A man with sad eyes wearing a newsboy cap who had been silent up until then spoke up. “You ever notice how crows are one of the few things around that ain’t mutated in some way?” Erica slowly nodded. Hancock recognized him as the man who’d been pointing the rifle at them in the entryway. “We’d noticed it too, and Tinker Tom finally figured it out. They’re Institute spycams. We’re pretty sure they’re watching everything we do. It makes me nervous to know it. What if they’ve been watching during dead drops?”

Tom huffed loudly from across the room. “Fuckin’ Institute could be listenin’ in right now. I was right about the crows. Y’all know I’m probably right about the nanobots too.”

Erica’s eyes grew wider and wider until Hancock thought they might come out of her head. “The... crows? They’re watching us?” She turned to him suddenly. “You knew about this?”

Hancock shifted uncomfortably. Had he fucked up again? At some point, they would have to figure this mutual trust thing out, but it seemed they hadn’t made it there yet. “Deacon brought it up but he wasn’t certain. I didn’t want to freak you out.”

She jumped up, fists clenched. “Goddammit, John!”

He scrubbed his face with his hand, knocking his hat askew. He was completely exhausted. “I thought it might be bullshit, okay? I’m sorry.”

“Tinker Tom, Drummer Boy, you only have the one crow,” Desdemona said. “There are other animals that haven’t suffered much mutation. Cats, for instance, and some of the dogs, like this one here.” She gestured at Dogmeat, who had been resting quietly at Erica’s side with his head on his paws. He raised his head and whined, eliciting a smile from Hancock, who reached out to scratch him behind the ears. “We humans really don’t look all that bad, either. Maybe the crows are all full of electronics. Or maybe you got a lucky shot.”

“But even if one in ten is a camera….” Erica started pacing. “They’re all over the place.”

“Here’s the thing, though,” Deacon said. His eyes cut across to Hancock’s and Hancock grimaced. Apparently Deacon had noticed the same thing he had. “They actually aren’t that common. In fact, crows were kind of a rare sight until… about four or five months ago. Even now… they’re only in certain places.”

Erica stopped pacing. Her face was pale and her jaw was clenched. “They’re around me,” she said. “That’s what you mean, isn’t it?”

“Not entirely,” Deacon answered slowly. “There always seem to be some stationed in certain areas—Diamond City, for instance. But yeah. You always seem to have a few hanging out nearby wherever you are.”

Erica was stock still. “That’s not a coincidence.” She turned to Desdemona. “Do you really think random living animals are really going to be following me around?”

Desdemona sighed and lit a fresh cigarette. Hancock gestured at her with one hand. She pursed her lips but passed the pack to him. He fished around for a moment before pulling one out and lighting it, relishing the smoke filling his lungs. It helped to calm the fidgety, twitching sensation in his hands, but he craved something more. He’d noticed the man in the white coat working at a chemistry lab in one of the crypt’s corners. Maybe he had a stash and would sell him some Jet—just enough to tide him over until they could get back to Goodneighbor and he could get to his own stockpile. Most doctors in the wasteland were just glorified chem dealers anyway.

“If they’re following you, they would have seen you come here…” Desdemona said. “Deacon, maybe it’s time for us to move again.”

Deacon groaned. “Not this again.”

“To be fair, we’re constantly in different buildings,” Hancock offered. “Don’t know why they’d think this one’s any different.”

“Don't give me that, Deacon,” Desdemona said, sucking furiously on the filtered end of her cigarette. "We waited too long to move on Switchboard and a lot of good agents paid the price for that mistake. Glory?” she called. The dark-skinned woman who had been holding the minigun appeared at her side. She hadn’t appeared to have been a part of the group, but clearly she’d remained close by, listening in. “Is it time to move?”

Glory flipped her white hair out of her eyes and glared at Hancock and Erica. “Could be. But with so many safehouses offline, I wouldn’t risk it right now. We don’t have the manpower to go hunting for a new location.” Her eyes challenged anyone to say otherwise. So much about this young woman reminded Hancock of Fahrenheit. He wondered if he should find out who the woman’s mother was and if she’d known her father.

Erica sat back down, and Hancock noticed that her eyelids were starting to droop. As tempting as it was to try to make the quick trip back to Goodneighbor so that they could wake up in his own comfortable bed tomorrow morning, they’d have to sneak past raiders and super mutants. If she was as tired as he was, he didn’t want to risk it.

“Dez, can we crash here tonight?” he asked. “We’ll get outta your hair first thing in the morning.”

Desdemona initially looked like she wanted to protest, but she nodded.

“I gotta find someone to make a run tonight,” Drummer Boy offered. “I wasn’t planning on sleeping. You can use my mattress if you want.”

“Just keep it clean, kids,” Deacon laughed.

Erica threw him a withering glare before pulling her pack over.

“Still pissed at myself for leaving our other pack back there in Cambridge,” Hancock said with a grimace. “Don’t suppose you happened to grab it, Deacon?”

Deacon shook his head. “Sorry, man. Everything happened so fast.”

Hancock nodded and sighed. Erica opened the new pack and was rummaging in it. He craned his neck to get a good look. Maybe he’d get a chance later to poke through it and see what items the Brotherhood of Steel deemed essential for traveling. He regretted the loss of their chem stash and Daisy’s book the most. A book like that would be hard to replace, and he felt obligated to make it right.

A clattering noise distracted him from his thoughts. As Erica was searching through the bag, she’d knocked the modified laser rifle to the floor. She moved to snatch it back, but Glory was faster.

The white-haired woman turned the rifle over in her hands and read the inscription, eyebrows raised. “This is a Brotherhood of Steel weapon, the kind carried by those in the upper ranks.” she said in her husky voice. “Why do you have it?”

All eyes turned to Erica.

Chapter Text

“Don’t try to tell me that the Brotherhood of Steel came to the assistance of a ghoul and didn’t kill him on sight,” Desdemona said, her voice icy.

“Actually,” Deacon said, “I can vouch for a good part of what they’re saying.”

“I know you think these two have something to contribute,” Glory said. “But are you really willing to put the rest of us at risk? This is not the time for your bullshit, Deacon.”

“It ain’t bullshit,” Hancock said. “I thought for sure me and Erica were both dead. Deacon was taking shots at the ferals from a building, but there was too many and they’d really made a mess of Erica.”

Erica pulled the collar of her shirt back so everyone could see her fresh, pink scar, which still bore the pinprick signs of Haylen’s stitches.

“I couldn’t believe it myself and I saw it with my own eyes,” Deacon added. “It was three Brotherhood soldiers, one in full power armor. They talked to him for a second then carried Erica here back to the Cambridge police station. They’ve taken the place over, made it a base of operations for their recon team.”

“But why didn’t they shoot you?” Desdemona asked. She was still staring in distaste at the laser rifle in Glory’s hands.

“Honestly? I don’t fucking know,” Hancock said. “That bastard Rhys sure wanted to. The woman with them, Haylen? She talked them out of it. She’s the one who did the patch job on Erica. Once Erica was conscious again, she told them to leave me alone and they respected her wishes.” He let out a rueful chuckle. “She told them I was her bodyguard, but really she was mine.”

“Hey, it was a step up from them thinking you were my pet,” Erica said, nudging her knee against his with a sad smile on her face.

“Yeah, can’t argue with that, I suppose,” he replied, shaking his head. “Anyway, when she was finally free to go, they apparently decided to appoint her a Knight of the Brotherhood.” He grimaced.

“The Paladin gave me the weapon,” Erica said. “I didn’t want it, but I figured I’d be stupid not to take it. The title is in name only, nothing more.” She turned to Desdemona. “I swear to you, I didn’t tell them anything about you. Honestly, I didn’t know anything to tell them even if I wanted to. John does a great job of keeping me in the dark.” He winced, but she sighed. “It frustrates me, but I guess I need to trust that he has his reasons. I couldn’t have told them anything even if they’d tortured me or something.”

“Thank you, Sunshine,” he murmured, taking her hand.

Glory still held on to the weapon. “I don’t like it,” she said. “How can we trust you?”

Erica held on tighter to his hand and looked him in his eyes even as she spoke to Glory. “It’s pretty simple, actually. I love John. Very much.” She turned to Glory. “They hate him. Everything about him and who he is. How could I join a group like that?”

Glory looked down at the rifle in her hands, chewing on her lower lip. Without another word, she handed the weapon back to Erica, who took it and stowed it back in her pack.




Before crashing for the night, he headed over to the man in the lab coat in the far corner. He had guessed right—the man was a doctor by the name of Carrington. His was the only name that didn’t sound like some kind of secret code, but for all he knew, it probably still was. After a brief conversation (filled with condescension on the part of Carrington and a promise from Hancock to send an envoy over to restock at some point), he scored himself some Jet, a couple syringes of Med-X, and refilled his Mentats tin.

Erica had gone off with Desdemona to find a place to clean up a little bit, and Drummer Boy showed him where they would be sleeping. Mattresses were strewn here and there in a few of the darker corners, but the place was clearly going to be bustling all night long. Two other mattresses were right next to their loaner, so he’d apparently have to keep his hands to himself that night. He supposed he could be okay with that. After all, tomorrow they’d be in Goodneighbor, finally in his own bed, and he intended to fully take advantage of that fact.

He pulled Erica’s pack over to stash his new supply (except for one of the Jet inhalers, the Mentats tin, which went straight back into his coat pocket, and maybe just a bit of the Med-X). It was packed to the brim with pockets that were full of random junk. Some of it was potentially useful (he spotted batteries and some duct tape), some of it was food, but much of it just seemed to have no real purpose. Who knew Erica was such a pack-rat?

With the pockets so full, he opened the main pack, unable to shake the feeling that he was going through Erica’s private things. He set aside the laser rifle that had caused some contention among the Railroad and found an inner pocket that would work well for protecting his stash. As he reached for it, his hand brushed against something soft. Not clothing—this almost felt like an animal’s fur. Brow furrowed, he reached in and pulled out…

A teddy bear.

It was in remarkably good shape, given its age. He’d seen bears like this around, but usually the years hadn’t been kind to them and they were missing limbs, ears, or eyes, or they’d been stitched together so many times and were missing so much of their insides that it was almost impossible to tell what they were supposed to be. This one though… it was practically new. The plastic eyes were shiny, and the fabric was soft and plush. Where had she found something like this?

His heart clenched for her as he ran his rough and gnarled fingers over the velvety bear. What if they couldn’t find her son and she spent the rest of the years out in the wasteland, missing the child she had lost? It wasn’t like he could give her another one—at least, not without help from an outside party. But the other question that bothered him… what if they did find her son? What would happen to them as a couple? Would she disappear into the Commonwealth with the last remnant of her family? Would she expect him to be a parent to her child? This last thought frightened him so much, he actually shuddered. His last parenting experience had been a complete disaster, a fact she was already well aware of. He wasn’t keen on the idea of fucking up some other kid’s life. And what if the kid hated him, or was scared of him? If the boy had interacted with the citizens of  Diamond City during his stay, he’d have heard some stories and probably developed some particular feelings about ghouls. If the kid wouldn’t accept him, what would Erica do? Blood was thicker than water, and all that shit.

He heard her familiar light step and the dog’s claws clicking against the stone floor, and he looked up to see them approaching. He grinned somewhat ruefully, caught with his hand in the Mentats tin as it were.

“Sorry, Sunshine. I wasn’t meaning to go through your private things, just needed to put some stuff away.”

One corner of her mouth went up and she plopped down on the mattress next to him. The dog sat down on the floor at the foot of the makeshift bed. “It’s okay,” she said. “What’s mine is yours. I never intended that to be my pack alone, even if Haylen did.”

“You insisted on carrying it, so I wasn’t sure…”

“I guess I think of it as training,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to shoulder all my burdens, after all. I’m trying to be as self-sufficient as possible.”

He leaned in and gave her a gentle kiss. “You ain’t a burden. I’m impressed at how well you hold yourself. Hard to believe you’re the same woman who came bustin’ through my front gate not that long ago and had never even shot a gun.” He grinned down at the bear in his hands.

“It was at the police station,” she said, reaching out to stroke the bear’s soft fabric. “Before I left, they said I could take a look around, see if there was anything I could use. I grabbed some ammo, food, and a couple Stimpaks, but then I found this guy stored away in a locker. In my day, emergency responders sometimes had a stash of stuffed animals for kids they encountered, a little something to help them feel comforted and cared for in a scary situation. I’m guessing that’s where this guy came from. I want to keep him safe until we find Shaun.” She looked back up, directly into his eyes. Her own eyes were filling with tears. “I miss being his mom, John, so much.” Her voice cracked on the last few words, and her head slowly sank down into her arms. He heard a quiet sob escape her as her back started to shake. Unsure what else to do, he slowly rubbed her back and just her cry.

“We’ll find him, Sunshine,” he said. “I promise. I really do think the tech from Kellogg’s head will give us some kind of hint of how to get into the Institute. We’ll gather up the whole Railroad, Preston’s Minutemen, and even the motherfucking Brotherhood of Steel to raid the place if we have to.”

She sniffed and hiccuped before wiping her nose and giving him a wan smile. He couldn’t help giving her a lopsided smile in return. She returned the teddy bear to the pack, almost reverently, and they laid down on the mattress together. He held her in his arms, her head against his chest, and fell asleep before he could worry too much about what would come next.

Chapter Text

It was a relief to be home.

His constituents greeted him, and he stopped to shake a few hands. While he felt bad about brushing off a few of his more… insistent… citizens, he mostly wanted to unload (and maybe get loaded) and then head over to the Memory Den to see if Amari could make any sense out of the tech in his pocket.

He raised a hand to Daisy, making a note to check in with her later. He felt guilty about the book still and needed to find a way to make reparations. Fahr hadn’t turned up yet, and he wasn’t sure whether or not he should be concerned.

As he and Erica stepped into the musty darkness of the State House and the door clicked shut behind him, he could feel the tension start draining out of his shoulders. The members of the Watch nodded to him as the pair and the dog made their way past them and headed up the spiral staircase.

Finally, finally back in his room, the pack hit the floor, narrowly missing the dog, and he pulled Erica in for a deep kiss. Her arms wrapped around him, and her hands cradled his head, fingers caressing the ridges of his skin as he searched her mouth with his tongue and she responded in kind, pressed against him, the heat between them building.

Before they could take it any further (and oh, how he wanted to but now simply wasn’t the time), he pulled back and, with a grin, reached out to straighten her glasses, which had been knocked askew. She smiled at him and straightened his hat, which her exploring hands had cocked to one side.

“Later then?” she asked.

“That’s a promise,” he said, and kissed the tip of her nose. She flashed those beautiful teeth, and his heart just about burst with love for her.




“You want me to do what?” Elena Amari held the piece of technology, eyeing the attached bit of tissue with distaste. “This came out of a dead man, John. It’s sick. And invasive.”

“Please, Elena,” Hancock said. “This is our last lead on the Institute. And the Railroad could use this information too.”

She looked away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Just stop. We’re in with them. You ain't gotta pretend.”

Erica spoke up. “Do you have a Geiger counter, Dr. Amari?”

Dr. Amari sighed. “Mine is in the shop,” she answered, resigned. “But I just don’t see how…” Pausing, she took a closer look at the piece of tissue. “I wonder….”

She rummaged through her desk for a moment before finding what she was looking for—a headset with a magnifying loupe fitted on it. She placed it on her head and flipped on the attached light. The device reminded Hancock of the apparatus Tinker Tom wore, and he wondered briefly if the man had made it for her at some point during their work together.

“Ahhhhh,” Dr. Amari sighed, turning the device this way and that in the light. “Look here. See the shape?” She pointed to the dried flesh. “I believe this is the hippocampus!”

“Is… is that good?” Hancock asked, bewildered.

“It’s the part of the brain that processes memory,” Erica answered.

Dr. Amari flipped the loupe up and stared at her, eyes wide. “That’s correct,” she said in wonder. “How did you know that? Are… were you a doctor?”

Erica laughed. “No, it’s just a little bit that stuck from undergrad biology. I’m not sure if I could tell you what any other part of the brain does.”

Dr. Amari looked at her quizzically, and then shook her head, as if to dismiss the multitude of questions she clearly had. “If this is in fact the hippocampus, then we have a chance, although the tissue is no longer living. How to access it though…” She studied the circuitry for a moment, humming to herself. “This actually looks kind of familiar. I think I have an idea, but we’ll need Mr. Valentine for it. Do you think he’d be willing to help?”

“Can’t hurt to ask,” Hancock replied.




After sending a grumbling MacCready off to Diamond City to request Valentine’s presence (“I’m a sniper, not a fu-- freaking messenger boy,” the mercenary snarled before accepting the caps and slamming the gate shut behind him.), Hancock and Erica decided to grab a bite in the Third Rail.

It was quiet at this time of the day. Magnolia was still sleeping after a late set the night before, and the few drifters holding up the bar were the ones who preferred a liquid breakfast and lunch. They sat at a table and Charlie drifted over to take their order, dropping a cold can of water in front of Erica without a word.

“I’ll have some more of the Mirelurk cakes, if you have them,” Erica requested. “And thank you for the water.” A claw lifted the bowler hat briefly, in an absurdly touching gesture.

“Same here,” Hancock said. “And a glass of bourbon.” He pulled one of the Jet inhalers out of his coat and took a deep puff. Noticing Erica’s eyes on him, he held it out to her, a question in his ebony eyes. She shook her head and he took one more puff and put it away. The world swirled in a familiar and comforting way, and he sipped his bourbon. Not long after, an uncomfortable thought slowly made its way through the haze. “Does it bother you?” he asked.

She cocked her head. “The chems? No.” She smiled. “I told you about my friends in Cambridge. And it’s not like I haven’t popped a Mentat or two in my life. Why do you ask?”

“Just never seen you take any, and a lot of people who don’t have a holier-than-thou attitude about it, so I wondered.”

She reached out to take his hand. “I figure you have your reasons. The world is hard, and you have a lot on your shoulders. It’s none of my business.”

“Thanks, Sunshine.” The high from Jet was brief, and it was already starting to wear off, but the gratitude he felt for having this woman in his life was just as good. Well, like 80% as good.

Their food arrived and they dug in, enjoying the brief moment of calm while they waited for Valentine’s arrival.

Chapter Text

The synth looked skeptical. It was remarkable to Hancock how expressive Valentine’s face could be, but his luminous yellow eyes and torn synthetic skin revealed much more than just the metal framework that made up his skeleton..

“So what you’re saying, Amari, is that if you hook this device up to my brain, you’ll be able to access Kellogg’s memories?” Valentine stared at the doctor as he spoke, unblinking.

Dr. Amari nodded. “Nothing is guaranteed, of course. But that is our hope.”

Valentine’s eyes flicked briefly to Erica and Hancock before returning to Dr. Amari. “It sounds simple enough.”

Dr. Amari pursed her lips. “I hope I haven’t given an impression of overconfidence. There is risk involved, Mr. Valentine. While the technology is remarkably similar to your own, I cannot guarantee that it will function correctly once installed. I also cannot guarantee that you will not experience any side effects. I also have concerns that the device may no longer function properly or that there could be a fail-safe in it that shuts it off when the owner dies, similar to the way in which no synth, including you, is able to remember anything of the Institute once beyond the walls.”

The synth heaved a deep sigh and pulled a pack of cigarettes out of his trenchcoat. Everyone sat, waiting breathlessly, while he selected a cigarette from the pack, lit it, and smoked, considering the request. Hancock could swear he heard a slight humming sound coming from Valentine, as though his processors were revving up in order to parse out all the different variables of the request so he could come to a conclusion.

“So the two of you rid the Commonwealth of big, bad Kellogg,” the robotic man mused, his eyes on Erica and Hancock.

“Erica was the one who did the actual killing,” Hancock replied with a crooked grin. He glanced at Erica, who looked pale and anxious.

“I’m still… not entirely proud of how it went down,” Erica murmured.

“You know, after speaking with you about your case, I went back through a lot of my cold missing persons files. I have reason to believe that Kellogg was probably involved with more of them than I had originally realized. I also suspect that he played a pretty significant role in the disappearance of an entire settlement a few years back.”

He tapped the ash from his cigarette into a nearby ashtray on Dr. Amari’s desk, then took another deep drag. Hancock watched the smoke seeping slowly out of the ragged holes in the detective’s synthetic skin and wondered why Valentine had kept up the habit of smoking. Didn’t the smoke gum up the mechanical workings in there?

“What I’m getting at, Erica,” Valentine continued, “is that you did the Commonwealth an incredibly big favor by taking down that son of a bitch. I hope in time you’ll feel more pride in that.” He took another long drag. “So we all owe you one. Yes, I’m happy to help.” He stubbed the cigarette out in the ashtray. “Hook me up, doc.”

“Thank you, Nick,” Erica said softly. The synth winked at her and smiled slightly.

Dr. Amari pulled open a drawer and selected a set of tools wrapped in a soft cloth. “All right then, Mr. Valentine,” she said, all business. “Let me determine the best way to approach this.” Nick removed his fedora as she removed a small screwdriver from her toolkit. Moments later, she began carefully removing a panel from the back of the synth’s head.

Erica turned her own face away, not wanting to watch. Hancock put an arm around her shoulders and guided her over to the sofa on the far wall. They sat down together and she leaned into him, watching Dr. Amari work as Hancock lit his own cigarette.

Everything was quiet for a few minutes as Dr. Amari worked, prodding Nick to continue talking as a way to monitor his vital signs. Suddenly, a small spark flew, and Dr. Amari jumped back. Hancock and Erica sat up straight in alarm. “Ouch!” the doctor cried, shaking her hand. “Are you all right, Mr. Valentine?”

Nick muttered a response, but Hancock couldn’t make out what he said. He glanced at Erica, who shook her head at him, eyebrows knotted together.

“Everything okay over there?” Hancock called out.

“I… I have it installed,” Dr. Amari said. “But…”

“I can’t access the memories,” Valentine said, his voice sounding strained. “Everything is flashes and static.”

Dr. Amari grimaced. “This isn’t going to work. We need some way to… translate the memories, break through whatever encryption is protecting them.”

Erica leaned forward and put her head in her hands. “Goddammit,” she muttered. Hancock rubbed her back and stared at Dr. Amari, almost willing the woman to figure out a solution. This couldn’t be the end of the line… could it?

Valentine sighed and lit another cigarette while Dr. Amari paced back and forth. She was whispering to herself, but Hancock could still make out bits and pieces. What words he could hear, however, meant almost nothing to him. Something about “mnemonic impressions” and “neural interfaces,” whatever those were. He popped a Mentat into his mouth but suspected that even that wouldn’t be enough to comprehend the doctor’s words.

“I wonder…” Dr. Amari said at her usual volume. She had stopped pacing and was staring at one of the memory loungers, head cocked to the side.

Erica looked up, hope slowly creeping back into her red eyes and tear-stained cheeks.

Dr. Amari turned to the two of them. “I want to try something. I think another brain might allow us to work around the encryption. With Erica in the memory lounger, I can try to connect Mr. Valentine to the lounger itself, instead of trying to access the memories directly. I’m thinking this will allow us to treat the data in the device and the hippocampus more like actual memories. It would work in the same way that the memory loungers normally work, only instead of Erica visiting her own memories, she could visit Kellogg’s. We’ll be able to watch on the monitor as well and identify clues or patterns that could prove useful.”

Erica practically jumped off the couch toward the lounger. Hancock reached for her, worried. He already didn’t feel great about letting Nick serve as what was essentially a test subject, but Erica?

“Elena,” he said, his voice hoarser than usual. “Are you sure about this?”

“I understand your concerns, John. I’m not sure that it will work, but I am quite sure that it will be just as safe as normal use of the memory lounger.”

He frowned. “I gotta tell you, Elena, I’ve seen people staggering outta here before and immediately looking for a hit to help them cope with the things they saw, so that ain’t giving me a ton of confidence.”

Dr. Amari nodded seriously. “Sometimes people relive memories they aren’t prepared for. Irma and I… we do warn them, you know.” She sighed. “I’ll amend my previous statement, then. No physical harm will come to Erica. I can promise that. But I have no way of knowing what she will actually see or what effect it will have on her.”

Hancock turned back to Erica, who was climbing into the lounger and getting settled on the velvety interior lining. “Sunshine, you don’t have to do this. Come on out, let me do it instead.” He attempted a reassuring grin but suspected it appeared more like a fearful grimace. “I’ve already seen my share of shit. Nothing that asshole has seen or done would surprise or shock me.”

All Erica had to do was look at him, and he knew already that he had lost the battle. Stubborn woman , he thought with fear-laced affection.  

“All right then,” he said and bent over to give her a kiss. She caressed the rough skin of his cheek and mouthed the words “Thank you” before he stood up straight and pulled the glass dome over the seat, encapsulating her. He couldn’t help shuddering slightly; the act reminded him of the strange, recurring nightmare. He hadn’t had to deal with it since Kellogg’s death—a fact he was grateful for—but the feeling of dread still lingered. He tapped the glass twice, attempting to signal a confidence he didn’t feel.

“Fire her up, Amari,” he said.

Chapter Text

Hancock’s heart thumped heavily in his chest as Dr. Amari fiddled with knobs, adjusting the picture on the monitor. His eyes flicked over to Erica, who appeared to be asleep in the lounger, and then to Nick, who was slumped over as if he’d been unplugged. The only movement was a slow pulsing of the lights that served as his eyes. Hancock swallowed hard against the panic that was gnawing in a corner of his brain and turned his eyes back to the screen just as Elena found the right setting and an image clearly came into focus.

“The technology in the memory loungers deciphers the chemical imprints of the memories and displays them as experiences the customer can see and hear,” Dr. Amari explained. “In this case, we are using digital data, and Nick is functioning as a sort of conduit that allows the data to be organized and then experienced by Erica. We can see what she sees here, on this monitor.” Hancock nodded, getting the gist of what Elena said. He’d tried the memory loungers a couple times, but quickly found he had no use for anything that caused him to relive the past. He far preferred chems and whiskey, which instead allowed him to forget it.

On the monitor in front of them, a boy sat on his bed, flipping through comics. A woman sat in a dingy chair next to him, reading a book. Tattered posters hung on the wall.

Elena handed Hancock a set of headphones, which he placed over the damaged cartilage of his ears as she put on her own set, which included a small, built-in microphone. The sound of an announcer on the radio and the muffled voice of a man yelling poured into his brain. Hancock felt confused. What exactly what he was looking at?

Just then, a familiar voice came through the headset, causing his thumping heart to skip a beat. He gasped in fear.

It was the man with the scar. Kellogg.

Kellogg’s voice began narrating, describing the scene before them as though they were watching some kind of fucked-up play. The man with the scar was now the boy on the bed. Hancock glanced over his shoulder where Nick sat motionless. Well… not completely motionless. The yellow light of the synth’s eyes pulsed in time with Kellogg’s words. Hancock swallowed again, his throat so dry it clicked with the motion. He didn’t know what they were messing with here, but one thing was clear—it was dangerous.

Kellogg told a story as old as time. A father who drank and then beat the shit out of his wife and offspring. A mother who put herself in harm’s way to protect her only child. Hancock had heard it countless times from the drifters who came through his gates, and yet none of them had turned into soulless murderers. Even MacCready, the young mercenary he trusted with odd jobs, wouldn’t take just any job that came his way, only those that involved taking down bona fide bad guys. He might be a mercenary, but he had a heart and a soul. What had happened that had turned Kellogg into a monster?

He watched in wonder as Kellogg’s mother pulled out a gigantic revolver and handed it to the boy on the bed. He recognized it; it was the one Erica now carried. Incredible that Kellogg had still had that gun all those years later. Who would have known that this evil creature could have a sentimental streak.

“This isn’t what we want,” Elena murmured. “Erica, can you hear me?”

While the woman in the memory lounger remained still and physically silent, Hancock could hear her voice through his headphones.

Yes, Dr. Amari. I can hear you.

“I think I see a connection to the next memory, turn your head a bit…” The visual on the monitor swung to the right, making Hancock momentarily dizzy. “Yes, there, on the right. It looks like a path…”

I see it.

The image moved forward, away from the bedroom and into darkness. Flashes of light sparkled like shooting stars.

“What are those lights?” Hancock asked softly.

“Nerve impulses,” Elena replied. “It seems that the tissue of the hippocampus has been remarkably well-preserved, despite its dessicated appearance. After we get our answers, I would very much like to keep the device and see what I can learn from it. It could provide us with answers as to how to better assist future synth escapees.”

Hancock nodded, distracted. A new scene was beginning to emerge from the darkness. As it solidified, he could make out a kitchen, a table… a crib. He grimaced. The window over the sink revealed the Golden Gate Bridge of San Francisco. Well, that explained the cigars at any rate. No question—the man was nostalgic.

He, Elena, and Erica watched as Kellogg, now a young man, explained to his… wife, perhaps? how he was going to protect her and their daughter, Mary.

Mary.

Hancock groaned and momentarily covered his eyes with one hand. He remembered the name from the notebook. It had been Kellogg’s password. Where was Mary now? He had a pretty good idea, and he just hoped that they wouldn’t have to see it.

He also felt uncomfortable. They were, after all, intruding on Kellogg’s private family life. It seemed so quiet, so normal. Two kids, barely adults, trying to make a go of it in an ugly world. Kellogg’s disembodied voice echoed over the scene. He was already killing people for a living.

Maybe it was already too late for him. It sounded like it was already too late for the wife and the child. Hancock suppressed a shiver. And he thought he was fucked up. This put things into a strange sort of perspective. Maybe he was fucked up. Okay, maybe there wasn’t really a maybe about it. But at least his fucking priorities were straight. Some people needed helping and some people needed hurting, and he, Hancock, knew the goddamn difference.

Elena shook her head, frustrated. “This still isn’t it. Well, we’ll keep going, can you look…. There.”

Back into the void they went. Moments passed, then Erica found another memory.

This one was different. Darker.

A different voice was speaking, mocking Kellogg in the same way he had mocked Erica as they had worked their way through Fort Hagen. “Just so you know,” the voice said, laughter barely hidden, “they died like dogs. And you weren’t there to help them.”

Fuck. Hancock pulled his headphones off and turned away from the monitor. His eyes burned, but no tears would come to provide relief. He took a ragged breath. Was this… sympathy? For Kellogg? He felt like a traitor to Erica for feeling it, but it didn’t take much to put himself in the man’s shoes. What if he’d learned that someone had killed Fahrenheit in cold blood? What would it have done to him?

He felt a warm hand on his back and jumped, startled. Looking up, he saw Elena Amari watching him, her headphones off and her face almost inscrutable. “Should we stop, John? These memories are so… upsetting.”

Should they? He swallowed and looked over at Erica, who still appeared to be sleeping, and Nick, still slumped over, the light in his eyes slowly pulsing. They’d already come this far. And Erica would be pissed if he called it off.  

“No,” he said, his voice sounding hoarser than usual. “We gotta finish this. We knew Kellogg’s memories weren’t gonna be pretty. But we gotta find out what he knows. Just…” He wiped a hand over his face again. “Can we… skip ahead or something?”

Dr. Amari turned back to her console and stared at the monitor, chewing her lip. “I’d like to, John, but… we don’t have a lot to work with here.”

He heaved a deep sigh. “I understand. Let’s keep going then. I’ll try to keep my shit together.”

She smiled at him sympathetically and they both placed their headphones back over their ears.

The next memory provided hints about Kellogg’s journey east. Hancock noted that he now had the distinctive scar across his face. He also felt a deep sorrow as Kellogg’s disembodied voice confessed that he would take any job, even kids.

Couldn’t the man see? What he was doing to other families, families he didn’t even know, was the same as what had been done to his own. How could he not care about the path of destruction he laid, the ruined lives he left behind? The sympathy Hancock had felt before was tempered, overlaid with anger. He knew now the answer to the question that had bothered him just minutes ago.

If someone had killed Fahrenheit, yes, he would seek his revenge. No question there. But he didn’t believe it would fundamentally change him, turn him into a murdering machine. And in an instant, he understood. The deaths of Mary and Sarah hadn’t fundamentally changed Kellogg either. He had always been a cold-hearted, amoral bastard. He’d just been better at holding it in before.

“I think we’re getting closer, Elena,” he murmured.

“I agree,” the doctor replied. “Let’s see what’s next.”

The next memory sent a shiver up Hancock’s spine. Finally… this was what they were looking for. A woman in a lab coat sat behind a desk with several older model synths behind her. Hancock knew that several of these, the original models, barely more than robots, were still in use. Hell, they had fought them at the Fort, mixed in with newer models. He recalled how the AI in these first models was incredibly primitive. They knew how to point and shoot, and that was it. Mr. Handys were more adept at learning and adapting to their environments.

Hancock wondered how long ago this particular memory had occurred.

“Look,” Elena said, pointing to a bright trail of the nerve impulses on the monitor. “This one is quite strong. I think we’re in more recent memories now.”

As the scene clarified around them, Hancock felt his stomach drop into his stolen shoes. Oh, no. No, no, no.

“Elena.” His voice wavered and she looked up at him, startled. “Can we skip this one? Please? I know what happens here. I can’t… I don’t want to put her through that again.”

Dr. Amari looked helplessly at the screen and her controls. “I don’t see how we can, John. Each memory is connecting to the one before it. If I break the trail….”

He took a deep breath. “Okay, I… I feel ya.”

He watched, horrified, as the man with the scar acted out the dream he’d had on so many nights, but this time was more real than any of them. Before, he could at least question how much was dream and how much was reality, but this… this was all reality.

He gritted his teeth as Kellogg’s dark, disembodied voice spoke: “Even then, I knew it was a mistake leaving her alive. I understood that kind of revenge.”

Oh, you motherfucker , Hancock thought. You understand nothing. It ain’t revenge. It’s pain. It’s love. It’s guilt. It’s fear. It’s the need to prevent you from tearing apart even one more family. But…  you didn’t break her. You were already broken, but Erica? She’s as whole as they come. She’s strong and she’ll find her kid and we’ll live out our lives and you’ll be a fucking blip in the fucking distance. You don’t understand anything but hatred.

He bared his teeth at the screen, watching as one fucker shot and killed another fucker, watching as Erica’s infant child was stolen. His hands curled into fists, so tightly that his knuckles hurt and his fingernails bit into his palms. It was all the same. The nightmare was spot on.

Although her body remained still in the lounger, he heard Erica’s voice in his ears, her sharp cry as Kellogg left with the baby and the scene dissolved again.

John?

His own headset didn’t have a mic, but he reached over and grabbed for Dr. Amari’s. “I’m here, Sunshine. I know. I’m sorry you had to see that again.”

“I’m so sorry, Erica,” Elena said. Hancock noticed that tears had crept out of the corners of the doctor’s eyes. She wiped them away brusquely and Hancock let go of the mic. “I think… this is the last intact memory,” Elena murmured. “It’s very recent, but if we don’t find our answers here…”

Hancock nodded. If this turned out to be a dead end, he didn’t know what they would do.  

The scene came into focus and both of them gasped. A young boy, sitting on a wooden floor, comics carelessly tossed around him. The view on the screen swung wildly as Erica turned for a closer look at the boy. Dark brown hair, gray eyes… it could only be….

Shaun! Erica’s voice cried out in his ears.

The boy looked to be about ten years old. Kellogg sat in the corner, cleaning that same goddamn revolver that had caused so much destruction. He wondered how Erica would feel about the gun now. She was, after all, carrying the same weapon that had murdered her former husband.

Kellogg’s disembodied voice confirmed that the pair were in Diamond City. This memory must have taken place shortly before Kellogg fled to Fort Hagen, leaving the trail of San Francisco Sunlights for the two of them and Dogmeat to follow. But where had he stashed the boy before running? And who was the old man Kellogg kept mentioning, the one who was clearly pulling all the strings?

Suddenly, a dark-skinned man wearing a strange, heavy coat and sunglasses entered the memory. Had he come through the door? If so, Hancock had missed it. Kellogg observed that the man was a synth, something called a courser. Hancock had heard of coursers, walking and talking weapons dispatched by the Institute, and felt a tremor of fear in his gut.

He listened closely to the conversation between the courser and Kellogg, about a scientist named Brian Virgil who had left the Institute. Finally—another lead. It was small, but it was something… except for one minor detail.

He was hiding in the Glowing Sea.

“Motherfucker…” Hancock muttered. Had Kellogg already gotten to the scientist yet? He suspected it was unlikely. Even Kellogg probably couldn’t just waltz in and out of the Sea.

Back in the memory, the boy spoke to the courser. “You’re taking me home to my father?” he asked.

Erica’s voice cried out again, and Hancock winced. This was brutal. He wondered if she’d be willing to take a little Med-X later. It might help her cope with all the pain the afternoon’s excursion into Kellogg’s memories was causing.

And then…

Two flashes of light flared up in the monitor, causing both him and Elena to gasp as they threw up their arms to shield their eyes. They blinked, and both the boy and the courser were gone.

“Holy shit!” Hancock breathed.

“Teleportation…” Elena whispered. “That’s why we can’t find them. There’s no entrance at all.” She switched off the monitor and began tapping on the keyboard. “Let’s get Erica out of there. We need to debrief.”

Hancock nodded, took off his headset, and was at the memory lounger in three quick strides. A few more taps on the keyboard, and the latches released, allowing the glass cover to rise back up.

Erica blinked a few times, and Hancock knelt down next to the lounger. She looked wildly around the room for a moment, and then her vision seemed to clear and she recognized him.

“John,” she cried. “Oh my God!”

“I know,” he said and took her into his arms.

Chapter Text

He held her tightly against him, stroking her soft curls as she sobbed into his coat. From behind him came the sound of Amari tinkering with Nick, occasionally muttering to herself as she worked to move the chip from the synth’s head.

“Hey,” he said, his voice soft. “This is good news. We know he’s alive.”

Her voice hitched. “I know… It’s the first proof I have, it’s just...”

“What, Mama Murphy’s sight wasn’t good enough for you?” he gently teased.

She barked out a quick laugh and shook her head. “But John,” she said. “He’s… he’s older. I missed it. All the baby years. All the firsts. He won’t remember me. He… he calls someone else ‘father.’” She clutched his jacket, crushing the fabric in her fists, and moaned. “And Jesus, John, teleportation? I feel like I’m in one of those low-budget sci-fi films Nate used to love. I hated those. They always seemed so stupid.” She let out a long sigh that was more like a sob. “How are we supposed to get in there?”

“You know, we did get something useful out of all that mess. Brian Virgil. The Institute scientist.”

“The Glowing Sea.” She closed her eyes and leaned her forehead against his. “Of course he’s in the one place you’ve warned me against. Ground zero.” She opened her eyes again, and Hancock was relieved to see that the fire in them had returned, replacing the defeat. “If he can get out there, then so can we. It’s heavy radiation, right? So what do I need? Some Rad-X and a hazmat suit? And you’ll be fine. Better than fine.”

“Slow down, Sunshine. We gotta think this through. It ain’t just the radiation. There’s all kinds of nasty shit out there. Deathclaws... radscorpions... ferals…the big ones. The glowing ones. Fuck, everything out there glows. And we ain’t got a clue where he could be hiding. It’s a big place. We can’t just wander aimlessly. Ain’t enough Rad-Away in the world for that.”

Erica’s brows furrowed together. “What exactly is a deathclaw anyway? I keep hearing people mention them, but… well, frankly, I’ve been afraid to ask.”

Hancock shuddered. He’d seen one, once, from a distance, and he’d also seen what happened to people who accidentally stumbled across one. He hoped he’d never see one up close. If they had to somehow get through the Glowing Sea, though….

“Well, it’s like a monster lizard,” he said. “With horns. And claws.” He swallowed. “They can slice you open in one swipe. It’s pretty fucking horrifying.”

“Are… are you talking about fucking dinosaurs?” Hancock thought Erica’s eyes would fall right out of her head. “Jesus Christ, John! Why are there dinosaurs?”

“I don’t know. The rumor is that they were created in a lab, kinda like the super mutants, but I don’t know what the truth is.”

Erica covered her face with her hands. “Sometimes it sounds like maybe the Brotherhood has the right idea.”

“Hey!” Hancock gave her a stern look, only half kidding.

A sad smile appeared on her face, and she grazed her fingers tenderly across his scarred face. “I mean about all the insane things people did with technology, love. All their other ideas are completely fucked up.”

“Speaking of the Brotherhood,” he mused. “I wonder if we can get them to give up one of those power armor suits. That would protect you from both the radiation and the ‘claws.”

She considered this, thoughtful. “Maybe… What about you, though? There’s no way they’ll let you use one.”

He grinned. “I’ll just rely on my abnormally fast reflexes and wits. And the healing powers of radiation.” She chuckled at that.

Just then, a crackling sound echoed around the brick walls followed by a curse from Dr. Amari. The two of them turned, concerned.

“Sorry,” the doctor said, coming to her feet and brushing off her hands on her pristine lab coat. “I’m having some trouble removing the chip from Mr. Valentine. It appears to have generated an ample amount of heat during the memory retrieval process to fuse with the rest of his wiring.”

Hancock stood and strode quickly over to where Amari was working on Nick, Erica close behind. “What do you mean?” he asked, looking into the tangle of wires as if he knew what the fuck any of it meant.

“Did I hurt Nick?” Erica asked, her face anxious.

“I’m not sure what this means,” Dr. Amari said, sounding distressed. “I can say it’s definitely not your fault, Erica, although it may be mine. I should have anticipated this possibility.”

“What will leaving the chip in do?” Hancock asked, watching Nick’s still form apprehensively.

“Hopefully, nothing. Nick’s own programming should override any mnemonic impressions from the chip. Unfortunately, there’s only one way to find out,” Dr. Amari said. Her eyes met Hancock’s. “Should I?”

“There’s no other alternative?”

“I could try clipping it out, but it would sever the connections that serve as Mr. Valentine’s neural pathways. The damage could be irreparable, the equivalent of brain damage in a human.”

“Fuck,” Hancock growled, wiping a hand down his face. Why did the decision have to come down to him? He loved the power and respect that came with being an authority figure, most of the time anyway, but sometimes he fucking hated the goddamn responsibility—especially when things went wrong. “All right, let’s boot him up and see what happens.”

Dr. Amari nodded brusquely and replaced the panel, concealing the wiring and complex technology that served as Nick’s brain. As soon as the last screw was in place, Nick’s yellow eyes flared, and a bolt of pain shot through Hancock’s head. He bent over in agony, his tricorn hat falling to the ground, gripping his skull with both hands and gasping for breath.

“John!” Erica cried, reaching for him, fear etched into every feature.

A familiar mocking laugh began to emanate from the synth’s mouth. Erica spun toward Valentine, placing herself between Hancock and the synth. Hancock raised his head, fighting back against the pain, horrified by the sound of Kellogg’s voice as it filled the room. Dr. Amari put both hands to her mouth and stepped back, her eyes wide with terror.

Nick’s mouth moved, but it was Kellogg who was speaking. “Hope you got what you were looking for inside my head,” his low voice taunted. “I should have killed you when you were on ice.” Nick’s usually amiable features were twisted into a hateful sneer. Erica pulled the .44 and aimed it, hand shaking slightly, at the synth, her other hand still reaching out to protect Hancock, whose vision was blurred with the agony in his head.

“That’s my gun, you bitch,” Kellogg snarled, and Nick’s body lunged at her. Erica and Amari both shrieked, and the gun fired, deafening in the small space. Even through the pain in his head, Hancock had the presence of mind to pull Erica to the side quickly, causing the synth to stumble. He caught his footing barely a second later though, and darted through the door and up the stairs. Through the misery in his head, Hancock heard a muffled scream from upstairs followed by a slamming door.

The pain slowly receded, and he cursed himself for leaving Erica so vulnerable in that moment. And who knew what havoc the synth was now creating outside in his town?

“John! What have I done?” Dr. Amari stared at the door, tears filling her eyes.

He finally stood up straighter. “Ain’t your fault, Elena,” he rasped. “I told you to start him up.” He shook his head, and the world wobbled slightly. A groan escaped his damaged lips, and Erica was back at his side in a heartbeat.

“We have to stop him,” she said, her arm around Hancock, helping to steady him as he recovered his equilibrium.

“I know, but…”

Just then the upstairs door slammed again and they heard Irma cry out. Well, at least he didn’t kill her on the way out, Hancock thought. He leveled his shotgun toward the hallway and staircase and saw Erica do the same with the .44.

Instead of the synth, however, Fahrenheit burst into the room, her eyes wide and horrified. “What the fuck did you do to Nick?” she yelled.

“It’s not Nick,” Hancock said, his voice tight.

“It’s Kellogg,” Erica added.

“I don’t know what the fuck you all were up to down here, but he just wrestled Ham’s gun away from him and sprayed the entire fucking town with bullets!”

“Did… did you stop him?” Hancock asked, afraid of either a yes or a no.

“He got out the gate, but not before…” As Fahrenheit looked around wildly at all three faces, Hancock saw the tears streaming down her cheeks and realized how truly frightened his daughter was. “John… Dad... he shot Daisy.”

Chapter Text

Hancock cradled Daisy’s head in his lap as Amari worked to remove the bullet that had penetrated so close to her lung. He’d expertly dosed her with Med-X to make the surgery easier, but they couldn’t Stimpak her until the bullet was out. Erica and Fahrenheit had been given the rest of Daisy’s supply of Stimpaks and chems to go treat the other residents of the city who’d been struck by stray bullets, and Daisy would be pissed later, but he was fine with that. She could be as pissed as she wanted to be, just as long as she survived this shitshow.

Daisy’s wig was slightly askew, and he carefully adjusted it, wanting to maintain his oldest friend’s dignity in this frightening moment. She had been a fixture in his life practically since birth. He remembered being a young boy, sidling up to her shop in Diamond City (the one now run by the hateful Myrna) and attempting to snatch some piece of junk he had decided belonged next to his bedroll. She’d grabbed him by the wrist, her grip surprisingly strong, and stared him down, her inky black eyes glaring into his own light green ones. He’d dropped the snowglobe and she’d caught it with the other hand, swirling it so that the glittery white flakes inside spun around the miniature Bunker Hill obelisk inside. He’d watched the flakes dance, licking his lips with longing.

“John McDonough, you got the caps for this or am I about to have an uncomfortable conversation with your mother?” she’d asked.

“No, ma’am,” he’d stammered. “My brother… he dared me.”

“My ass he did,” she’d responded with her distinctive cackle. “Your brother’s a damn saint. This has your name written all over it.” She’d squeezed his wrist to the point of pain.

“Okay, okay!” His eyes had shifted from side to side, worried that his brother would turn up any minute. A saint he might have appeared to the adults in Diamond City, but to John, his older brother had been his number tormenter his entire life. “It’s for me. I wanted it for my room. I ain’t got caps, okay?”

She’d looked at him sternly. “Your brother’s always got caps. Where’s he getting them?”

He’d grimaced. “He’s a suck-up. He can charm the caps outta anyone.”

She’d thrown her head back and laughed long and loud at this. “Oh, it’s like that, huh?” Her eyes had darted between the hand holding the boy’s skinny arm and the kitschy antique in her other before she’d made a decision. She’d let go of his arm and tossed the snowglobe at him. “It’s all yours kid. Don’t turn into a suck-up, okay?”

From that point forward, they’d practically been partners in crime. Daisy had kept small, interesting knick-knacks that she thought he’d like, and later, she’d encouraged him to read by supplying him with books filled with plenty of action and gun-toting heroes she knew he’d like. He regretted that he’d never figured out where those books had come from, considering that he now realized what a premium readable books were in the Commonwealth. She’d probably gone to a lot of trouble to keep one kid in quality reading material.

When his piece of shit brother had become mayor and thrown the ghouls out of Diamond City, Daisy had been the last to leave. Her exact words at the time had been, “I’ve got a store to run, asshole,” a sentiment Hancock admired to this day. She’d stuck it out as long as she could, but the blatant racism, which had included frequent theft and vandalism of her storefront, finally drove her out. He’d been thrilled when he’d turned up in Goodneighbor and found that she had both managed to beat him there and already set up shop. While she played along with Vic’s outrageous policies, she had been one of the main suppliers to the growing rebellion Hancock was leading, and when he became a ghoul, she’d been the one to care for him through the pain of his skin burning and scarring and the loss of his nose. She then helped him adjust to his new life.

A voice broke through his racing thoughts. “John? John! I need your help here.” Returning to the present, he blinked his eyes to see Elena Amari gesturing at him. “John, I’m ready to stitch the wound and then we can Stimpak her, but I think she will heal faster if we rinse the area with irradiated water.”

“She… is she...” He was afraid to ask the question on his lips, afraid that he had misunderstood what Elena was saying.

She gave him a weary smile. “She’s going to be okay, John. The bullet is out, and it didn’t reach her lung. We just need to patch her back up.” He let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding and then took the carton of water Elena was trying to hand him, gently pouring a stream over the open wound and washing away the pooling blood. Daisy jerked in response, and her eyes opened, bewildered and slightly glazed over from the Med-X.

“John?” she said, her voice raspier than usual. “That you?”

“Hey, sister. How you feeling?” He reached out for her searching hand and held it tight.

“Like I got fucking shot,” she replied, one corner of her mouth quirking up. “How do you think I feel?”

He barked out a short laugh, relieved. Just then, Erica reappeared.

“Daisy!” she cried, dropping to her knees next to the ghoul as Dr. Amari worked to stitch the wound. “Oh thank God, I never would have forgiven myself…”

Daisy reached out, wincing, and lightly stroked Erica’s face. “Oh, sweetheart, it’s okay. Takes a lot more than a bullet to keep this old bitch down.”

“Keep your hand still, Daisy,” Dr. Amari gently chided.

Erica laughed through her tears and then turned to Dr. Amari. “Elena, I think we got everyone. We’re out of Stimpaks at any rate.”

“Well, take some of my supply,” Daisy offered.

“Where do you think those came from?” Hancock said with a grin.

“Goddammit, John! You better pay me back!” He had to laugh. Daisy’s curse was music to his ears.




“I’ve seen a hell of a lot of crazy shit in my two-hundred-plus years, and Nick Valentine shooting up Goodneighbor still probably makes it into the top five,” Daisy said in her raspy drawl as she nursed a hot toddy doctored up with extra whiskey. Although the Third Rail was packed with the citizens of Goodneighbor, most people were speaking in murmurs and whispers, and several sidelong glances made their way to Hancock’s little group. He’d thought about having this meeting up in his office, but given the chaos of the day decided that transparency was the best policy. His constituents, who hadn’t seen him in weeks, needed to see him acting like a mayor.

Sighing, he tapped the growing cylinder of ash from his cigarette on to Daisy’s empty saucer (earning himself a glare from Daisy in the process) before downing his glass of bourbon in one gulp. Erica sat next to him fiddling with an open bottle of beer, but he didn’t think she’d had more than one sip of it. She had been unusually quiet for most of the afternoon throughout the evening.

His eyes connected with the other members of their small party, one after the other, noting the grim expressions on the faces of MacCready, Fahrenheit, Magnolia, and Ham. Ham sported a black eye (a confusing expression, Hancock mused, given that Ham had the same obsidian eyes as himself and Daisy), and Daisy’s arm was in a sling strapped tightly to her chest to keep Dr. Amari’s stitches in place so the Stimpak would have time to do its job and regenerate the damaged tissue. The rest of the group, while uninjured, looked exhausted, which made sense considering that they had spent the rest of the day patching up anyone injured by the flying bullets from Ham’s hijacked tommy gun and attempting to calm the more hysterical residents of the town with small doses of Med-X and Jet.

There was no denying it—they had a huge problem on their hands. Nick was well-known and generally well-liked; most settlements would happily open their doors to him. They wouldn’t know until it was too late that it wasn’t Nick at all who they had welcomed in but a monster in disguise. As much as Hancock despised Diamond City and most of its asshole inhabitants, he still didn’t want to see the town wiped out.

“We gotta spread the word,” Hancock finally said.

“I don’t want to hurt Nick, John” Erica interjected.

“I don’t either, Sunshine. I want him brought in alive. Period. We gotta send runners to the other settlements and towns, though, let them know what’s going on.”

“I guess I’m being tapped again?” MacCready asked.

Hancock took a drag from his cigarette and considered. The kid was a fast runner, but the town needed his gun more. Finally, he shook his head. “No. I got other people to act as legs. And if we can get the message to that reporter in Diamond City, whole damn Commonwealth will know without much extra effort. Mac, I need you to sharpshoot. If we can track him down and approach from a distance, you can shoot to disable and disarm.” He gestured across the table at Fahrenheit and Magnolia, who were huddled close together, hands intertwined. “Fahr, I want you and Mags to head to Diamond City first thing in the morning. You can’t miss the reporter’s office, it’s to your left as soon as you hit the market.”

Fahrenheit nodded. “Will I have trouble getting her to talk to me?”

MacCready laughed. “The trouble will be getting her to shut up before she convinces you to spill all of Goodneighbor’s secrets.”

“Let her know that I’ll pay good money for reliable information on Nick’s whereabouts, but nobody should attempt to approach or apprehend. Send messages via the radio. I’ll have Kent in the Memory Den start monitoring Diamond City Radio.”

“You don’t want anyone to try to shoot to cripple, like you were talking about with MacCready?” Fahrenheit asked.

Hancock shook his head. “I don’t trust anyone else to shoot and not hit something critical by accident.” MacCready’s thin chest puffed up a bit at the praise. “You let them know that there ain’t no reward for a dead Nick Valentine. Instead, I’ll pay a personal visit and extract a pound of flesh. And I ain’t kidding.”

“What about the Glowing Sea?” Erica said, almost too quietly to hear. “We need to find a way to get out there before we lose the trail of this Virgil.”

He grimaced and took her hand. There was far too much on his plate right now and he had to handle this serious threat to his town. “I don’t know, Sunshine. I kinda feel like I gotta deal with this first. I know you want to get to your kid, but… I don’t think that guy’s going anywhere for a while.”

She nodded slowly. “I understand.”

He raised her hand to his torn lips and kissed it softly before turning to Ham. “How’s your vision right now, brother?”

Ham looked confused. “I got a bit of a headache, but I can see just fine,” the ghoul rasped. “Why?”

“I need you to make a cross-country trip to a settlement called Sanctuary Hills, bit northwest of Concord.”

Erica looked at him sharply. “Do you think he’s going to go there?”

“We know for a fact now that Kellogg was working for the Institute, and we know those crows have been following you around, possibly gathering intel.”

“What’s this about the crows?” MacCready interrupted.

“I’ll explain later,” Hancock replied before turning back to Erica. “I think there’s a good chance he could head there, yeah. And they’re far enough away that they might not get the message from that reporter’s rag or the radio.”

“I’ll head out in the morning, boss,” Ham confirmed.

“What about… our other mutual friends?” Erica asked. A few confused eyebrows were raised around the table.

Hancock considered for a moment before making a decision. “I think they’re probably safe where they are. If one of them decides to show up here, which seems most likely, I’ll have a quick chat with him.”

He’d had about all the mayoral duties he could stand for one night. It was time for some sleep, and he had a sneaking suspicion that with Kellogg once again out and about, he’d be visiting a very familiar corridor in his dreams, a thought that caused him to shudder. He poured himself another glass of bourbon and drank it down as quickly as he had his first before standing to his feet and holding his hand out to Erica. As she stood and joined him, he lifted his hat to the small group. “I’m calling it a night. Don’t interrupt me. For anything ,” he said pointedly, drawing a small grin from Fahrenheit’s pale freckled face as he and Erica headed for the door.

Chapter Text

He kicked the door shut behind him, his arms already around Erica, pulling her closer, as close as he could possibly get her. His hands were in her hair, and their faces were pressed together, tongues searching each other’s mouths, heavy breaths intermingling. They stumbled together toward his bed.

His ancient red coat was the first article of clothing to hit the floor, but it was closely followed by his ruffled shirt and Erica’s flannel top. Her hands swept along the scarred planes of his back, tracing the ridges and grooves of his skin, as his own hands worked the clasp on her bra and, upon releasing it, caressed her soft skin, always such a sharp contrast to his own. He sensed a franticness to her actions that hadn’t been there before and he wondered at it momentarily, but his brain and body were far too lost in Erica and the anticipation of what was to come to think on it for long. He kicked his boots off and then nearly tripped as she toed her own off, knocking them away.

They reached the bed, and somewhere on their lurching journey across the room, she had managed to turn him around so that the bed hit the back of his knees first. He fell backward, pulling her down on top of him. She broke the kiss and, with a fierce grin, grabbed his hat and placed it on her own head. The sight of her above him, her naked torso leaning back, wearing his hat, nearly undid him right then and there, and he groaned with the effort of keeping it together.

She laughed and leaned forward again, giving him a quick peck on the lips before standing up. He watched, smirking, as she stood with her hands on her hips, head cocked at a saucy angle. She seemed to study him for a moment, her grin softening into a tender smile. God, how he loved this woman.

Her fingers began to deftly untie the knot in his sash, and soon his pants met the rest of the clothing scattered across the floor. Hancock had always found it thrilling when a partner took the lead; so many were hesitant, preferring to let the mayor of Goodneighbor take the lead, relying on his reputation as a skilled lover. To have it be Erica above him, his hat on her head, surveying his exposed skin and his erection as though he were a five-course meal laid out before her, was more than he could have ever hoped for in his life. He laid back, watching, wondering what she was going to do next.

He didn’t have to wait long.

She settled herself between his knees and leaned forward, taking his cock into her mouth. He groaned in delight and reached for her head—not to guide her, but just to feel her soft hair. Her hands and her mouth worked in harmony; her tongue swathed over the head of his erection as her hands glided up and down. He felt everything tightening and, worried that his evening was about to end far too soon, he opened his own mouth to warn her, but she was a step ahead of him and she released him from her mouth, keeping her hands in place. She paused a moment as he attempted to catch his breath and then took him back in her mouth. Once again, she expertly brought him to the brink before releasing him.

He opened his eyes to see her watching him with a cheeky grin. Where had she learned this particular trick? Maybe in the early days of her marriage to Nate, maybe before, in her youthful partying at Cambridge. Did it matter? The only thing that really mattered was that here, in the end, she was with him. He caressed her cheek, and she turned her head to kiss his palm before once more leaning forward and engulfing him with her mouth. He watched her work, his mouth slightly open and his eyes glazed over as if he’d had a good dose of UltraJet. He had been wrong before. This truly was better than the chems, and if he spent the rest of his days addicted to Erica, high on her, that was okay with him. He would die happy.

Once more to the edge and then she stood up, releasing him as he watched her, leaning up slightly on his elbows, eyes gleaming, dying to know what else she had in store for him. She studied him for a moment before unbuttoning her pants and sliding them and her underwear off. There she was, haloed in the fading light from the window, dressed only in his tricorn hat, as if he had died and she had come down to escort him to heaven. She turned, allowing him a great view of her backside, and retrieved her pack from where it had fallen. When she bent over to rummage through the pack, he tried to stifle a moan as his cock twitched in response to the sight in front of him. He was tempted for a moment to jump up and just take her, right then and there, but he was also enjoying her exploration of him and didn’t want to interrupt.

She grabbed his sash from where it had fallen before standing back up and looking over her shoulder, the grin she offered letting him know that that bending over in that way had been deliberate, that she had heard his moan, and that he’d given her exactly the response she had been hoping for. His sly Sunshine. He loved all sides of her, but perhaps this bold and playful side best of all.

Returning to the bed, she set the bottle of Rad-X and the can of purified water on his rickety nightstand. She sat down next to him and reached for the bottle. Placing two of the capsules on her tongue, she popped open the can and took a long draught, her throat working. He recalled a lesson from his days at the Diamond City school in which they had learned about a scientist named Pavlov and the dogs he had conditioned, and he wondered if at some point the sight of someone (or Erica at the very least) swallowing Rad-X would cause him to pop an erection on the spot. The idea caused him to chuckle.

She looked at him, an eyebrow arched, the impish smile still on her face. “What’s so funny?”

He explained his thoughts to her and she rocked back in laughter, her whole body quivering in a way that was incredibly delicious. “I remember learning about Pavlov, too! The idea of you salivating every time someone pops a Rad-X—oh my love, you would be in so much trouble!”

He pulled her to him and kissed her. “The best kind of trouble,” he agreed.

“I don’t know about that,” she laughed, brushing his lip with a finger. “But in the meantime…” She held up his sash. He raised his eyebrows, wondering what her plans were. “Do you trust me?” she asked, her eyes suddenly serious.

That was the question wasn’t it? The one issue they’d struggled with over and over.

He swallowed before answering. “I trust you, Sunshine. Completely.”

“Okay.” She bent over and kissed him, sweetly, thoroughly. “I’m going to hold you to that.” Something passed over her face, gone before he could fully observe it. She gently guided him, turning his body so that he was in a normal sleeping position with his head cradled by the pillows. Grabbing his left arm, she tied the sash around his wrist, securing him to a post at the head of the bed. His eyes gleamed, and he thought he would die from ecstasy. She then took his right arm, crossed the long end of the sash over, and tied that wrist to the other post.

He watched her as she looked him over from top to bottom as though she were unsure what to do now that she had him in this vulnerable position. She inched closer to him before crossing a leg over his waist and straddling him, his erection behind her, pressing against her backside. She leaned forward, shuddering slightly as his cock moved against her damp folds and entrance. He couldn’t help but pull against the sash and the knots she had tied, he wanted so much to touch her and hold her. Her nipples, small and hard, teased across his chest, and she kissed him, exploring his mouth with her tongue. She then kissed along his jawline and down his neck. He closed his eyes and revelled in the sensation of allowing her complete control and access to his body.

She continued to move backward. His cock seemed to have a mind of its own; unrestrained, it searched for her, for the place where it fit so well. Her tongue lightly flitted across his collarbone before moving on to his nipples. Once arriving there, she nipped and teased, sucking on one as she lightly pulled on the other, mimicking the actions he had performed on her so many times. A sigh and a small groan escaped his lips, and he felt her smile against him before moving down along his scarred, slightly concave belly. She repositioned herself, and now his erection was between them, in front of her, still searching. Her tongue found his navel, and she momentarily dipped in before taking his cock in her hand and returning it to her mouth. He groaned again, loudly this time, and his hips bucked forward against her; he couldn’t help it. Her tongue swirled around the tip and then down the shaft, and then, oh god, she was lapping at his balls, and it was all just too much.

“Sunshine…” he whispered.

“John…” she responded. He could feel her breath on him and almost came right then and there.

He felt her body shift again, and he opened his eyes to see her positioning herself above him, his hat slightly askew now. Her hand returned to his erection, holding him steady while she guided him into place. She leaned forward to kiss him as she rocked against him, her palms placed firmly on his thin chest, and his eyes slid shut once again, feeling every sensation, feeling her against him and surrounding him, never wanting the moment to end while at the same time craving the release he could feel building up inside. His hips moved forward and back with her, and he felt her movements become more erratic as her breath came faster, ragged. His own breath sped up as well, seemingly in tandem with her. Their lips found each other, separated as they tried to catch their breath, then found each other again. Finally, in an explosive breath, she cried out and shuddered against him and that was all it took to send him over the edge, giving him the release he’d been both working toward and half dreading.

She raised her head to look at him, and he saw the tears in the corners of her eyes. He watched as she reached into the nightstand and rummaged around, coming up with a Jet inhaler.

“Want some?” she asked, holding it up.

He nodded, and she held it to his lips. As she activated the inhaler, he breathed in the fumes, his brain swirling in the familiar, delicious way. She raised herself up and off of him and reached for the closest tied-up hand. Before she untied the knot, she looked back down at him. “Thank you for trusting me,” she said.

He nodded. “Anytime,” he replied. A momentary sadness clouded her eyes, and he wondered what thought she’d just had. “You okay, Sunshine?” She untied both hands and then leaned down to kiss him again before tossing his hat onto the floor and then grabbing the folded quilt at the foot of the bed and pulling it over them both. As he drifted toward sleep, Erica in his arms, his brain fogged by Jet and the powerful orgasm, he realized that she had never actually answered him.





He woke sometime in the night, his heart racing, escaping the nightmare that he’d known was coming. The air was cold in his room, and Erica was no longer curled up against him. A dim light shone somewhere off to his right, and he could hear a strange scratching sound that his half-asleep brain couldn't identify. Worried, he sat up and saw Erica sitting at his desk. She had lit a lantern, and in the flickering light, he could see that he was wearing nothing but his red coat. She appeared to be writing something.

“Sunshine?” he called out.

She looked up. For a moment she looked guilty, but then her features softened into a smile.

“Hi honey,” she answered. “I didn’t mean to wake you up.”

“Wasn’t you,” he said, wiping his face with his hand. “Fucking nightmare is back.”

She looked devastatingly sad. “It’s because of Kellogg, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “What are you writing?” he asked, wanting to change the subject.

She glanced down at the desk before looking back up at him. “Just some stuff I was thinking about. It was keeping me awake, so I wanted to get it out and on paper.”

“Oh, okay.” He yawned and stretched. “Come back to bed. I sleep better when you’re here.”

Sadness crept across her face once again. “I’ll be right there,” she said. “I just… need to finish this, okay?”

He nodded before burrowing back down under the quilt. Despite the nightmare, it was easy to slide back into sleep.




He woke to light streaming in through the windows they had never bothered shuttering last night. He winced and held his hand up to protect his eyes from the brightness. Maybe he’d get up, close the shutters, and wake up Erica, see if she was up for some more fun before he had to deal with the day and the huge fucking mess of Kellogg and Nick Valentine. Maybe he’d just pull the quilt over his head and go back to sleep. He turned to see if Erica was awake yet, but her side of the bed was empty. Had she already gotten up to get breakfast? What time was it anyway?

And then he spotted the folded piece of paper on her pillow.

Concerned, he reached for it and unfolded it. On one side, he saw his own scrawled notes about caravans and some other bullshit, and he recognized the page as one he’d messed up and thrown into the trash. Flipping it over, he saw fresh writing on the back, a tidy script he hadn't seen before. He skimmed it over briefly, without really taking any of it in, and then saw the two words at the top of the page:

Dear John

“No. No, no, no…” he moaned, his eyes darting around the room. His clothes were neatly folded on his desk, topped off with his hat. Her pack and clothing were nowhere to be seen, and neither was Dogmeat.

Do you trust me? she had asked last night.

His face twisted as he looked down at the letter in his hands again, his eyes seeming to sizzle without the relief of tears. He crumpled the paper in his fist, and threw himself back into the pillow, the other hand fumbling at his nightstand for something, anything that would erase the pain that was slowly taking over.

She had left.

She was gone.