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Working Class Hero

Chapter Text

MacCready was so tired of hearing these assholes talk. He glared daggers at the backs of the Gunner squad leaders as they left. He must have been crazy to think he’d fit in with those douches. Winlock and Barnes paused briefly as they were leaving. There was a slender, tall figure in a too big duster and assault mask standing in their way.

They looked the two men up and down, "Gentlemen", the voice sounded like it belonged to a child; a sarcastic child, at that. She’d said ‘gentlemen’ but it sounded like the word was covered in shit. She stepped to the side to let them pass. Mac wasn't sure he was ready to deal with more bullshit, but hey, why not? Maybe this was actually a paying customer. Could be lots of reasons a little girl needed a merc. Her gear was new and looked expensive, if ridiculous the way it all hung off her. This one could absolutely afford his full rate. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dumbass finally left and she came over, every step purposeful.


"Mister MacCready, right?"

"Look, lady, if you're preaching about Atom, or looking for a friend, you've got the wrong guy. If you need a hired gun, then maybe we can talk." There was no reason for her to know how eager he was to get a job and get the hell out of here.

The masked head tilted a bit, like she was sizing him up...or found him amusing. He couldn't tell and it was starting to piss him off. He also wasn't too thrilled that the top of his head barely came past her chin.

"Maybe...why don't you tell me who those guys were first, honey?" The voice was oddly accented. It reminded him of a movie he saw once...something where all the women had giant fluffy skirts and the men ran around like idiots. She was tapping out a rhythm on her leg with her thumb. Nervous, maybe? Most people probably wouldn't have noticed it, but Mac wasn't most people.

His observational skills were why Hancock didn't play poker with him anymore.

MacCready was internally screaming every obscenity he had ever learned in his twenty-two years of life. His first potentially paying customer in who knows how long and those assholes had probably ruined it.

"A couple of morons looking to climb the ladder of success by stepping on everyone else on the way up. You shouldn't be surprised though. That's how it goes when you run with the Gunners."

Her head tilted the other way now. Tappita tap tap went her thumb. Was she on something, maybe? She didn't seem nervous but she also didn't seem aware she was even moving her hand at all. He'd seen psychojet do that to people.

"Never heard of the Gunners. Who are they?"

Definitely not from around here, then. That might work in his favor.

"They're one of the biggest gangs in the Commonwealth. Got a rep for being crazy...you know, so tightly wound, you'd think they were a cult or something. Stuck with them for a while cause the money was good, but I never fit in. That's why I made a clean break and started flying solo. Now what about you? How do I know I won't end up with a bullet in my back?"

She sighed. "I guess you don't. That's part of the risk when you're a soldier of fortune, right? I could tell you I'd once taken an oath to uphold the law and murder was a pretty big no-no, but I don't suppose that matters a whole hell of a lot anymore."

Mac narrowed his eyes. An oath? Was she some kind of sheriff like the one from Megaton? Or part of a security detail? She didn't come across as someone who could possibly be useful in either of those positions. She was here, though, and not a Gunner. Probably.

"You got me there. Okay. Price is 250 caps. Up front, no room for negotiation." He folded his arms.

"Everything in life is negotiable, Mr. MacCready, even death. Is that 250 per job or per week?"

"Uh..." No one had ever asked him that before. "The deal is usually 250 caps and we split any gear we find."

She put a hand on her hip. Not the one with the dancing thumb. "That's appalling. You're going out there risking your life for a perfect stranger; surely it's worth more than a pittance and some trinkets, honey. Are you undervaluing your skills, Mr. MacCready, or are you not as good as your reputation says you are?"

That raised his hackles. "Oh, I'm good. I'm the fu-freaking best, lady. And it's just MacCready, alright? No 'mister'." Mister was way too mungo and even if he was an adult now, he was no fucking mungo.

She actually chuckled at that. He was radiating anger and it was like she didn't even notice. "Okay then. 250 per week plus you can have first pick of any gear we find, oh, except duct tape. I call dibs on any duct tape. Does that sound agreeable, Mi...MacCready?" She held out a gloved hand.

What the hell? Handshaking? She'd just talked him UP in price and now wanted to shake his hand? Lady was fucking insane. She was also apparently rich, though, and as long as crazy paid well, he could handle it.

"Yeah, it's agreeable. Congratulations. You just hired the best gun around."

"I certainly hope so." She dug out a few bags of caps from her pack and handed them over. "You can call me Nora, if you'd like."

"Whatever you say, boss. You lead, I'll follow."

 

Definitely crazy and definitely rich. The first place she led him in an infuriatingly dangerous and haphazard way was a strangely pristine house in the middle of Boston, its grounds patrolled by a SentryBot and a few Mister Handys. He had a bad feeling about this place and was bringing his gun up when she waved the robots off, pulled out a key and opened the front door.

Mac took in the tidy foyer and left out a low whistle. "Whoever lives here must have made a deal with the devil."

"Almost." A slightly familiar voice caught him off guard. It was a tall ghoul he'd noticed a few times from the Third Rail. He'd seen him around that crazy blond girl Magnolia was always talking to...Emo-something? Emo-crazy, as far as Mac was concerned.

Nora paused and looked up. Way, way up. "Oh, hello, Edward. Thank you ever so for the tip about MacCready here. I think he's going to work out just fine." She touched Edward's arm as she spoke. At least she wasn't some ghoul bigot. That was a solid plus in Mac's book. Most ghouls were good people. Some were the best. He was pretty sure this one was sweet on his boss, the way he was smiling down at her...fuck, was everyone a giant around here?

"I'm so glad, Miss Nora. Are you in for the evening or just stopping by?" Mac frowned at the formality. Edward spoke to Nora like...like she was someone's grandmother, actually. Like he was taking extra care to keep his voice smooth and respectful. Weird. Maybe Edward worked for her, too. Holy shit, was this her house? Nora really was rich.

"In, I think. I swear, I'll never be used to all this walking. My dogs are positively barkin’. Has dinner been served yet?"

"No, you've still got almost an hour."

"Oh, good." The thumb thing had started again, only now she was tapping her ring finger with it. Well, if she was some kinda chem fiend it wasn't any concern of his. So long as he got paid and she didn't expect him to clean up her messes. He was no babysitter. "Do you think there's any chance I could get away with bare feet at the table?" She sounded so young. Mac wished she'd take that damn mask off already.

Edward chuckled. "Well, you could try, I guess, but you know how Mrs. Cabot is about observing protocol."

Nora sighed. "Yes, I know. Heels it is, then." Apparently it was Mrs. Cabot's house. She started for the stairs, then stopped. "Oh, I nearly forgot. MacCready will be joining us, I think. I'm sure he'll be an excellent dinner companion for Jack; a fresh set of ears, you know."

"Sure thing, Miss Nora. He'll have a place set." Edward touched the brim of his hat. "Does he need a room, too?"

"No, I'm sure he's used to roughing it. He can sleep on the couch in mine. I don't want to make any more work for you, honey. And thanks, you're a peach."

MacCready felt a little like some kind of pet the way they talked as if he wasn't even there, but he gave his best polite smile at the ghoul as they passed to try and show he wasn't a threat. If she was his turf, he wasn't interested in moving in. Besides, for all he knew, she looked half mutant and Mac did have standards. There wasn't a single inch of her exposed in her ridiculous get up.

He followed her up the stairs, fingers itching to swipe some of the old world crap just sitting out. He hated the stuff himself, but you could always find some sucker who was willing to trade a ton of caps for something completely useless. She opened a door, flipped on the light and gestured to the sparkling fixtures inside.

"This is the bathroom. Yes, everything works. Yes, you are expected to shower and change before dinner. You can also leave your um...clothes in the hamper and Edward will see that they are cleaned and pressed for you by the morning. There are more appropriate clothes for tonight in my room." MacCready scowled at her. His clothes were fine and completely appropriate for a merc. So maybe he wasn't the whiz Lucy had been with a needle. He at least still managed to look decent, right?

Nora wasn't paying attention to his scowl. She'd already moved on a few doors down and opened it. "This is my room. Well, rather, this is the guest room they have given me. There's a very comfortable couch in it, which is where you'll be sleeping. Clothes are in the dresser." She leaned back and peered at the clock down the hall. "We have about 45 minutes before dinner. You can shower and dress first, then I'll have Edward show you around while I get ready. Is that acceptable?" There was that fucking head tilt again. Her thumb was now tapping along three fingers. She apparently needed a fix.

"Uh...yeah. Where should I stash my gear?" Mac didn't really like the idea of being without his rifle but was pretty sure this was the first place he'd ever been where he didn't need it.

"Oh, anywhere is fine, sugar. The closet, I suppose, if you want a bit of privacy." She paused. "I know this place and the people in it are probably very strange to you, but they are very dear friends of mine. Please be polite while you're here. You're likely to hear some odd...things, especially from Jack, but they really are wonderful people." Now she had her hand on his arm, lightly, like she was touching something wild or like she didn't really want to touch him at all but did it anyway. Mac froze. When was the last time a woman had touched him without him paying first? Probably not since Lucy. He stepped into the room and away from her and that tiny spark of warmth.

"Like I said, boss. You lead, I'll follow."

Chapter Text

The fact that hot showers had all but vanished from the earth was the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind, as far as MacCready was concerned.

Whoever these Cabots were, they sure had style. He'd been confronted with several bottles of mysterious goo when he'd stepped into the shower. Two were clearly soap, he wasn't sure about the other one. It was hand labeled 'cream rinse'. Lube, maybe? Did these people have so much clean water they fucked in their showers? That was some next-level crazy decadence even Hancock couldn't match. He stayed under the spray until the water below him finally ran clear. Mac was pretty sure he'd never in his entire life been so clean. He toweled himself off and pulled on the khaki pants and collared shirt Nora had handed him. Old world fuckers were the literal worst. Blowing up comfort like this for no good reason. What assholes.

By the time he finally stepped out of the bathroom, Nora was pacing outside, still fully armored. She practically growled as she shoved past him and slammed the door. Edward was chuckling down the hall.

"You were in there so long she was convinced you'd drowned. Or used up all the hot water, which would have been worse."

Mac smiled at the tallest ghoul he'd seen since leaving the Capital Wasteland and ran a hand through his hair. "Couldn't help it. This is quite the set up you have here. Pretty sure this is the cleanest I've ever been."

Edward smiled back at him and nodded. "Yup. We do what we can. It's very important to Mrs. Cabot that the house is kept up to pre-war standards. It's mostly a pain in the ass, but there are perks. The showers are one of them. Follow me, Miss Nora said to give you the grand tour."

MacCready was in his seat and had been introduced by Edward to the Cabots by the time the clock struck six, except Emogene ( that was the crazy one's name) who he was told was 'out'. Mrs. Cabot, an epic-level bitch who could have given Princess lessons, huffed.

"Edward, begin serving."

Jack glared at her over his glasses. "For heaven's sake, Mother. Give her a few minutes. It's rude to start without her."

Mrs. Cabot gave him a glare right back. "It's rude to keep us all waiting. Dinner has always started at six in this house and it always will. Serve the soup, Edward." Her voice was like a whip cracking and Mac took a second to wonder how many caps Edward got paid to put up with this shit. Whatever it was, it wasn't enough.

"Yes, Mrs. Cabot."

Edward brought a bowl to Mrs. Cabot, then placed one at the empty seat across from Mac, then one for Mac and finally, Jack. The smell wafting up was amazing and MacCready was salivating as he picked up his spoon. Bitchy old woman or not, he could definitely get used to the perks of dealing with the Cabots. The boss had told him to be polite, so he hadn't gotten around to telling the Missus to shove it...yet. It was hard keeping his mouth shut and he decided to think of the soup as a reward for good behavior. If his nose was right, steak was coming up next. Yeah, he could totally keep his mouth shut for this.

He was so enraptured with his soup that he didn't even look up when he heard Nora apologizing to Mrs. Cabot for her "tardiness". Mrs. Cabot accepted the apology with something close to cool civility and conversation swirled around him. He didn't give two shits about any of the crap they were talking about. Mac was scraping the bottom of his bowl and wondering if it would be "polite" to ask for seconds when he finally glanced up.

He forgot all about seconds. There was no way this was the boss.

Across from Mac sat a vision in sunshiny yellow. Pale creamy skin, wide green eyes that sparkled and hair as black as night. Curves for days and when her lips, full and rosy, blew on her spoon to cool the soup, he felt all the blood leave his head and rush south. Not some gawky little girl like he'd assumed, and she didn't look like any chem addict he'd ever seen. He'd originally pegged her as being younger than him with that voice, but there was something in how she carried herself that said this was a fully grown, mature woman. No, no, no, no, no, no. This was not Nora. No.

This was...wait, what the hell was in the soup? Was he hallucinating? Not only was he sitting across from the hottest woman he'd ever seen in real life, something was telling him he had seen her before, as unlikely as that was. Something about the smile she occasionally sent down Mrs. Cabot's way. It was...fake? Practiced. Like if they were playing poker, he'd swear she was bluffing. That was weird, but regardless, if he'd seen her before, surely to God he would remember where the hell it had been.

Those emerald eyes fixed on him and she smiled. A real one that lit up her whole face. Shit. Dimples. "My goodness, you do clean up nice! Who knew you were so handsome under all that dirt? Did you enjoy the soup, MacCready?" Her head tilted, waiting for an answer. She seemed oddly still to him, then he noticed her thumb just barely rubbing her spoon.

Fuck. It really was her.

"Uh...yeah, it was uh...it was the best fu-freaking soup I've ever had. Uh...what was in it?"

Jack looked up, "Oh! I'm so glad you asked!", and launched into what turned out to be the longest speech about hydroponics and old world spices MacCready had ever heard. Probably the only one he'd ever heard, come to think of it. He had no idea what Jack was babbling about, but he didn't seem to require actual responses, just the occasional "Mhmm" and "That's amazing". It gave Mac time to focus on bringing the blood back into his brain and puzzling out how he knew Nora's face.

The steak was superb, as were the vegetables and dessert that followed. Easily the best meal Mac had ever had and he hadn't tasted any of it past the soup. He was too fixated on Nora.

Where was she from? It was like she'd stepped out of a fucking comic book or a holotape. She made a pretty picture in her yellow dress and carefully coiffed hair and Mac wanted nothing more than to rip her clothes off her like he was fucking Grognak or something. No wonder she wore that ridiculous get up. If raiders or drifters ever saw what she was hiding under there, she'd never be safe.

She had zero edge to her, none of the suspicious caution most women in the wastes picked up by the time they were five, so he was willing to bet money that Edward had been the one to outfit her. She didn’t seem self-aware enough to have been able to realize the danger she was in by just, well, existing. He couldn't find any flaws on her skin, no scars, no callouses, nothing. She had a few freckles sprinkled across her nose, and wore glasses. And he was pretty sure that was a string of pearls around her neck. Her hand would occasionally reach up, like she wanted to touch them, then she'd catch herself and put her hand back in her lap. He'd seen enough movies and old advertisements to know that's what they had to be. He'd never seen anyone actually wear them in real life, though.

A lifetime ago, he'd had a skin magazine that featured a ‘sexy librarian’ spread. That's the vibe Nora had going on. Especially now that Jack had switched to a discussion about the possibilities for new blood types since the bombs had dropped and she was actually keeping up with him, using words Mac had literally never heard in his entire life. Was she some kind of doctor? That would explain her being flush with caps.

It was like she'd just stepped out of the Old World, just like this creepy ass house. Part of Mac was into it. Like, REALLY into it. The part of him that Lucy had always called 'insatiable' wanted to know what it would be like to sink his fingers into those ample curves, wanted to know if she tasted as good as she looked, wanted to know if that constant restlessness meant she could keep up with him in the sack. Lucy had never been able to. Too delicate and life in the wastes had taken its toll on her, even before she'd had Duncan. He'd always had to hold back with her. But Nora...well, as Hancock would have said, she seemed like the kinda woman you could sink your teeth into.

Of course, the other part of him, the part that had enabled his survival all these years, said this was had to be some kind of trap. That there was no way providence would just plop this woman in front of him, beautiful and rich and clearly waiting to be ravished, without there being something big to balance the scales.

Mrs. Cabot announced she was retiring for the evening. Jack stood and Mac followed suit since it seemed the thing to do. Nora gave him a small, pleased smile and he tried to ignore what it did to him. She then also stood, thanked Edward for the meal, and excused herself as well.

"I have a few papers to go over from Preston and I really can't stand these shoes a moment longer, Jack. I'll see y’all at breakfast." She gave the men one last smile, removed her heels and padded barefoot out of the dining room, Edward's soft chuckle following her.

Mac took an unthinking step to follow, when Jack's hand slapped down on his shoulder. He stopped and looked at the older man.

"Tell me, my boy, what are your thoughts on aliens?"

Chapter Text

Jack Cabot could talk a man to death, or a corpse back to life. By the time he managed to get away, nearly four hours had passed and Mac's head was spinning with ideas of aliens and ancient civilizations and felt nearly pickled with brandy. This must have been the ‘odd things’ Nora had warned him of. He didn't think Jack was crazy or anything, just incredibly annoying and naive. Aliens were probably out there, but Mac was pretty sure they were assholes just by virtue of being aliens. He doubted they'd come to earth to help with anything. That's just not how shit worked, but if Jack wanted to believe it, more power to him.

He slipped into Nora's room and froze.

Nora was already asleep, papers and maps strewn about her bed; her glasses still on her face and a pencil still in her hand. Her hair was down from it’s bun and he was surprised at how long it actually was. Impractical for the wasteland. She'd changed into something white and lacy with ribbons. A nightgown? He remembered back in Little Lamplight when Princess had tried to insist everyone wear nightgowns, even though none of them knew what the hell she was talking about.

Mac had threatened to sock her if she didn't drop it.

He was starting to think maybe he'd been a little hard on Princess for that one. Nightgowns were definitely a great thing and every woman should wear one. All the time. The thin material was almost sheer in the low light and did little to actually conceal Nora's curves, especially as it had ridden far up her legs while she'd slept.

He bet it came off real, real easy, too.

Sexy librarian. Definitely.

Shit. He had to calm the hell down. This was the boss. And even if it wasn't, she hadn't given him any kind of sign that she was into him. Women, in his experience, tended to be bold when it came to sex. Even his first time with Lucy, who was the shyest, sweetest girl he'd ever known, had begun with her sliding into his lap, pressing a clumsy kiss to his lips. Sure, Nora had called him handsome at dinner, but she'd said it like it didn't mean anything. Like she was commenting on the weather or something. Sky was blue, water was wet and MacCready cleaned up nice. No big deal. If she'd wanted him, she'd have said something or given some kind of signal by now, right?

Mac backed out of the room and pressed down on the erection that had tented his pants. Fuck. When the hell had that happened? He felt like some sixteen year old horndog around Nora. He heard Jack muttering down the hall and panicked briefly before hiding in the bathroom. His eyes fell on the shower and the mysterious 'cream rinse'.

Fuck it. Lube was lube and he needed to get this out of his system now before it became a real problem.

Fifteen minutes later, slightly lightheaded but a little more in control of himself, Mac slipped back into Nora's room. Someone had left out a blanket and pillow on the couch and an impossibly soft pair of pants with a matching shirt. He quickly changed, deliberately keeping his back to Nora, and was about to lay down when he heard her voice, soft and drowsy.

"Mmm...Mac, is that you, honey?"

His cock twitched. When sleepy, her voice was lower and almost a purr, the accent thicker, he noticed. And she'd called him 'Mac' for the first time. Not his real name, but hot nonetheless. The breathy way she'd said it was going in the spank bank for later withdrawals. For sure.

He cleared his throat a little, "Yeah, boss. It's me." Awesome, he almost sounded normal.

"M'kay. Don't worry about takin’ a watch. Edward keeps watch here. You can sleep, too."

He heard her move around. Mac dared to look over his shoulder and immediately cursed himself. He'd caught her mid-stretch and mid-yawn and damned if it wasn't the cutest thing he'd ever seen. Like watching a kitten or some shit. What he wouldn't give to slide up behind her and cuddle until they both fell asleep.

Wait, cuddle ? Where the hell had that come from?

"Uh...thanks, boss. Take your glasses off, okay?" It was the only thing he could think to say in the face of such temptation.

"M'kay." She fumbled her glasses off her face and onto the bedside table. "Sweet dreams." Nora rolled over towards the wall, pulling her blanket over her as she did, papers and pencil sliding to the floor.

Well, at least he wouldn't have to try to sleep with those fucking legs all up in his face. "Yeah, sweet dreams, boss." She had no fucking idea.

He stifled a groan as he fell onto the couch. Easily the most comfortable non-bed bed he'd ever had. Man, if he could just keep it in his pants, this might be the best, most lucrative job he'd taken in the Commonwealth. Shit was weird all the way around, but he could handle weird. All he had to do was mind his P's and Q's and he could send back all sorts of caps to the farm. He rubbed his hands over his face and tried as hard as he could to focus on the thought of Duncan and those he'd left behind. That's what mattered. Not fulfilling some ridiculous fantasy with his incredibly well-paying and possibly (probably) crazy boss. Was never gonna happen anyway. Women like that ended up with...well, he didn't know, but definitely not jerks like him.

Mac hadn't slept more than a few hours at a time in...ever. Growing up in Little Lamplight meant taking watch shifts as soon as you could handle a flashlight. His first time as lookout, he'd been four. He could still remember the terror he felt the entire time, clutching the alarm bell in the dark, eyes wide and ears open for any movement. By the time he and Lucy had gotten their farm, he'd gotten used to sleeping maybe four hours at a time, but had never managed to relax enough for more, even when their family had grown to include two of the toughest motherfuckers he'd ever met.

So he was quite surprised when he opened his eyes and the clock on Nora's dresser read 7:45. He'd slept the whole night and most of the morning away. Mac bolted upright. Nora was gone, the papers put back wherever they went, and her bed was neatly made. Shit. His first full day on the job and he was already late.

His regular clothes were on the dresser. Everything was cleaner than new and all the rips and tears were mended. He hurriedly put them on, used the facilities and bolted down the stairs.

Nora, Jack and Edward were in the living room, going over a map. They all looked up and smiled at him when he came in. It caught him off guard. He'd come downstairs expecting some kind of bullshit ass chewing. People were fucking weird here.

"Good morning, MacCready. Grab some breakfast and then we need to get to steppin’. Got quite a walk ahead of us...unfortunately." Nora made a face and Jack clucked sympathetically at her.

"I'm ready to go now, boss." Mac didn't want to waste any more of her time today.

"Well, I'm not. So go eat something, honey." Nora was focused on drawing a careful line on the map between marked settlements and didn't look up at him. She had on dark pants with boots and an awfully fancy white shirt. It even had a little bow up by her neck. He hoped she planned on wearing actual armor wherever the fuck it was they were going.

Mac gave the two men flanking Nora on the couch a polite (he hoped) nod and wandered into the dining room. There was cereal and brahmin milk, some kind of gruel looking crap, fruit and...was that steak? Hells yeah it was steak! Fuck it. If they wanted to feed him so bad, he wasn't going to look a gift brahmin in the mouths. Maybe, if he stayed employed with her for a while, he could get enough free food for his ribs to stop sticking out quite so much. He'd always been skinny, but since he came up north it had been getting ridiculous. Lucy would have a fit if she saw him now.

Edward was tacking the map up onto a wall in the living room when he had eaten his fill and wandered back in. It had "Minutemen Allied Settlements" printed neatly at the top. Mac studied it. He'd heard about the Minutemen rebuilding, but he hadn't realized they'd spread across the entire Commonwealth.

Of course, having to hole up in the Third Rail since ditching the Gunners meant he'd been a bit out of the loop.

Nora wasn't in the room. Mac could hear Jack puttering upstairs in his lab. Someone, probably Edward, had brought Mac and Nora's gear down and it sat neatly by the front door.

"Well, MacCready, it's been real nice getting to know you. Take care of our girl out there."

Mac smiled at the man. He'd only known him for a few hours but he could totally tell they were going to be bros. "Thanks, Edward. Don't worry, man. How much trouble could we possibly get in?"

Edward almost looked sympathetic. Shit.

"Okay, MacCready. Let's roll."

He turned and stared. Nora was wearing a whole different suit of armor than the one she'd had on in Goodneighbor, and this stuff actually fit. It looked like something Hancock would wear, and she even had a ridiculous hat like he had in her hands. Her overcoat was blue and there was a star over her chestplate. Oh, great. What a perfect target for another sniper.

"Uh...whatcha wearing, boss?"

Edward stepped forward and hugged Nora as she frowned at MacCready. "My uniform, of course. What else would I wear?" She gave Edward a kiss on his cheek. "Goodbye, Edward. Do take care while I'm gone."

"Be safe out there, Miss Nora. We'll have our ears on here, just in case...and don’t worry too much. Everything will work out. It always does." He gave her one last squeeze and walked away, giving Mac a friendly wave.

He wondered, just for a minute, how long you had to know Nora before she'd start giving out hugs and kisses like that. Nora had put the hat on and was now fussing with the straps on her pack and checking a ridiculously modified 10mm before she shoved it into her thigh holster.

"Are you all set, honey?"

"You're gonna get shot wearing a get up like that, boss," he blurted out. Couldn't help himself. Tact had never been one of his strengths.

She looked down at her uniform and laughed. "You'd think so, but no. People have started to recognize it and I get messed with a lot less than before." Nora paused, thoughtful. "Oh...I guess I didn't tell you."

"Tell me what?"

Nora held out her hand and he took it without thinking. She shook it with a solemn sort of twinkle in her eye. "I'm General Nora Cabot, of the Norfolk Cabots, Commonwealth Minutemen. How do you do?"

Chapter Text

As Nora explained it as they walked, his basic duties while in her employ was to make sure she stayed alive while she got some 'deep thinking' done and checked in on some of her settlements. Simple. Or it probably would have been if she hadn't been such a celebrity, or so dangerously oblivious to her surroundings at all times.

She wasn't just General Nora. She was also Eleanor, the sole survivor of Vault 111 who'd been thawed out almost a year ago. 'The woman out of time', as Piper had deemed her. (He might have been out of the loop in Goodneighbor, but you could still get the paper there.) The lady everyone knew was planning on going to war with the Institute.

This was a whole new level of crazy and Mac wasn't entirely sure he was getting paid enough if he was going to have to hold off the general horrors of the wastes plus synths.

Turned out the ridiculous outfit she'd worn to Goodneighbor hadn't been to deter anyone save Hancock, who'd apparently been so overly solicitous the few times Nora had dealt with him she'd been overwhelmed. Mac thought it was pretty hilarious that she'd leaned toward him and whispered with wide eyes, "he's one of those, you know... scandalous types; a real candyman".

He didn't know what the hell a candyman was supposed to be, but he'd bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing his ass off at Hancock. The good mayor of Goodneighbor would be furious if he knew the Commonwealth's hottest piece of ass was deliberately avoiding him, especially for something as stupid as being scandalous .

But her reaction to Hancock's heavy charm at least gave him a pretty good look at her character. She was 100% old world class. You couldn't expect a lady like that to just take a tumble with anyone. Hancock had overplayed his strengths. Mac wasn't going to make the same mistake.

Not that he was planning on taking a tumble with her. She was the boss and it was important that he not piss her off too much, that was all. Yup.

So he kept his mouth shut, most of the time. Didn't yell at her for doing stupid shit like wandering down the center of the fucking road too distracted by her 'thinking' that she apparently couldn't be bothered to keep herself alive or assuming everyone they encountered was friendly until they started shooting or even the fact that she seemed incapable of being still or quiet unless asleep. Most of the time she didn't even have her damn pistol drawn until he barked at her do to so.

By the second day, he was absolutely certain he was going to explode if he didn't get to yell at something, anything, soon.

Preston Garvey ( the Preston Garvey) had come up with the idea of building actual artillery mortars at each settlement and Nora was checking on the progress while Mac mostly looked scary and dangerous behind her, keeping all but the bravest of her admirers from harassing them. He'd been surprised at how well she understood the complex machinery. Shit was certainly beyond him. Maybe everyone 200 years ago had been better at that kind of thing though.

They'd hoofed it from the Cabots to the Castle the first day to drop off some papers to Preston and he'd been a little surprised by her transformation into the General as they walked through the gate, suddenly so commanding and sure of herself. She gave orders in a no nonsense, businesslike manner that was completely at odds with the Nora who dressed up for dinner at the Cabots, who...were somehow distant cousins of hers? She'd been almost deliberately vague there, not that he really cared. Whatever creepy secrets the Cabots had were their own.

Minutemen practically fell over themselves at her direction, trying hard to anticipate her every whim. He had to really work to keep from laughing every time she walked past one and they sucked in their gut. Even the way she held herself had changed and he was almost positive it somehow added inches to already impressive height. She wore that stupid hat like a crown and was every inch a queen. Visiting the Castle with Nora was quite the experience.

He also had to admit, his new Minutemen hat looked pretty fucking awesome. Nora had smiled that thousand watt smile at him and said he looked like a cowboy, which he was absolutely going to take as a compliment.

Now they were headed toward Jamaica Plain, an area known for raiders, Super Mutants and ghouls. Fantastic.

"Boss, we need to camp someplace. It's getting dark and we don't want to get caught off guard by sh-something out here." Mac was pretty sure they were near where he'd encountered a behemoth when he'd been running with the Gunners. That was the last thing he wanted to deal with right now. Especially with his accident-prone, oblivious boss to protect.

Nora was fiddling with her Pip-Boy. She'd put it on before leaving the Cabots, explaining that she was able to pick up and send radio transmissions from it so she had to wear it 'for safety's sake'. She frowned at the softly glowing map and then looked up, seemingly surprised at the sun setting. "Yeah, okay. Yeah. I think we're near an old cabin I cleared last time I was out this way with Deacon. It should be safe." She abruptly turned left and started walking cross country.

"Deacon? That Railroad as-guy?" Mac jogged a little to catch up to her and nearly knocked her down when she abruptly stopped.

She caught herself and started at him, eyes huge behind her glasses before they narrowed suspiciously. "Do you have a Geiger counter?"

Was she serious right now? "What? Fu-frick no. You have one. It's right there in your Pipboy, boss." How the hell had she forgotten that?

Nora still had that suspicious look on her face and Mac thought for a second that if she were a normal person, she'd probably have her gun out by now. "How do you know about Deacon and the Railroad?"

Mac rolled his eyes. "Oh, you mean the world's most obvious superspy and his super secret organization that leaves holotapes all over fu-freaking creation?"

Nora blinked and then, to his surprise, busted out laughing. He smiled and looked around, a little confused and a lot nervous. Her laughter would carry a long way out here in the open. She was holding her stomach, almost bent over double, laughing her ass off in one of the most dangerous stretches of the Commonwealth.

Crazy.

She finally took a huge breath and stood up, wiping her eyes. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, it's just...he really is the worst, isn't he? He thinks he's such a James Bond type, but he's so terrible at it! I've recognized him every time he's tried following me around with those silly sunglasses on. He still won't ever admit it's him. The whole thing is so ridiculous." Nora was giggling behind her hand now.

Mac felt a goofy sort of smile spread across his face. He liked her like this, giggling and silly and making fun of assholes he didn't like. If he lived to be ninety-nine, he'd never forget how she looked right now.

Nora finally caught her breath as the giggles died down. "Seriously though, sug, I sometimes uh...work with the Railroad. If you're with me when I do..." The thumb tapping was back.

"I know, I know. Polite, right?" Mac rolled his eyes again.

She smiled at him. "Yes. Polite. That would be perfection."

The cabin hadn't been touched since her last visit. There were even two bedrolls inside. Not exactly a night at the Cabots, or even a night inside the Castle’s bunkhouse with it's army cots, but better than nothing. Mac offered to take first watch and Nora nodded while yawning. She might have been in the wastes for a year, but she still wasn't used to all the traveling.

He'd seen how she longingly looked at the rusted out cars they passed on the road, her fingertips usually reaching out to graze the rusted paint of the green ones. They'd been her favorite. She'd told him no one ever walked anywhere in her time. Even small trips under a mile, people would pile into the car or take the subway if they were in the city. Nora had told him in pre-war times, the only exercise most people had gotten had been recreational. Dumbasses actually ran for fun . What a stupid world.

She'd gained plenty of muscle since waking up, but her feet had never gotten the memo, she'd told him. Mac didn't know what a memo even was, but he got the gist of it.

Just like he also got why the Minutemen were so important to her in the first place. He knew, just like everyone else did, that the Institute had taken her baby. (Mac was absolutely never going to admit to anyone what the idea of a ripely pregnant Nora did to him. Awful, savage things. He was definitely a bad, bad man and the universe was probably right to curse him with his unending shitty luck.) She'd told him while they'd walked along about how she'd watched that fucker, Kellogg, kill her husband to take the infant. If he hadn't already been taken out by her and Nick Valentine (mostly by Valentine, he assumed), Mac would have insisted they go find the bastard. As it stood, part of him wanted to go find his body and kick it a few times.

He couldn't imagine the horror he would feel if someone took Duncan from him and he was powerless to stop it. Nora was bound and determined to take the Institute down, and to do that, she needed an army. The Minutemen were that army. Made perfect sense. Nora was clearly not the fighting type, but her old world education and knowledge probably meant she was a decent leader, right? At least better than what the Commonwealth currently had.

He was surprised at how much they actually had in common. Both of them had lost spouses and had to watch them die. Both of them had children they were desperate to save. They even seemed to share the same sense of humor, although Nora tried to hide it most of the time. Mac was pretty sure she was secretly a smartass deep down when she wasn't having to play General, even if she wouldn't admit to it.

Mac had sat watch for about an hour when nature called. He set his rifle aside and had just unzipped his pants when Nora's blood curdling scream tore through the air.

He was on complete autopilot as he slammed through the door, knife in hand and stomped the life out of a radroach.

Wait, seriously? A radroach ?

Nora was in the corner, blanket pulled up to her chin, tears pouring down her face. Really? Tears ? Over a fucking radroach ?

Mac felt what little control he had on his temper snap. "What the hell are you screaming in here for! I about had a goddam-dang heart attack! Next time you scream like that, there'd better be a fu-freaking deathclaw in your sleeping bag!", he was yelling now. Because of course he was. He felt like his heart was trying to punch its way out of his chest. This ridiculous woman was going to kill him. Mac was absolutely not getting paid enough for this.

She blinked in the darkness and sniffled loudly. "I'm...I'm sorry, MacCready. I was...I was having a bad dream and I woke up and it was there and...oh, they're just awful! Awful and disgusting!" The crying had started again.

Shit. Mac kept forgetting, somehow, that she hadn't grown up with this kinda crap. Hell, he didn't even think they had radroaches back in her day.

He lowered the knife and sighed. "Look, I'm sorry I yelled. You just...you scared me, is all. Okay? I'm not mad. It's fine." He took a step forward to give her some kind of comfort when his pants decided now would be the perfect time to fall off.

Whoops.

Hey, at least the crying stopped. Abruptly. Mac felt his face go red as Nora blinked at him. She didn't have her glasses on, but he was pretty sure she could still see that he was now without pants and that he went commando. He froze in place, unsure of what to do. What a ridiculous situation. No pants, knife out, combat boner, boss in her bedroll. If he had a job after this, it would be nothing short of a miracle.

Then the giggling started with a muffled sort of chuckle-snort.

Nora was laughing. Actually laughing. At him. With his pants down. Awesome. This was some grade A embarrassment right here. He'd had a lot of reactions to his cock, but never this. His mouth opened but no words came out, so he snapped it back shut. Whatever facial expression he was wearing only seemed to amuse her further. He couldn't even be mad at this point, he had been moved beyond human emotions by the sheer mortification he was drowning in.

She pulled the blanket over her eyes and managed to quiet the giggles down. "Mac...why are your pants down, honey?" Her strange accent got thicker when she was amused, some distant, still functioning part of his brain noted.

His mouth opened again. Thankfully, words came out this time. They weren't terribly brilliant words, but at this point he'd take anything his brain could fart out. "I was taking a pi-uh...bathroom break, when you screamed and..."

Nora snorted from behind the blanket. "Are they still down?"

Mac was sure his entire body was red by this point. He hurriedly pulled his pants back up and buttoned them. "Nope. Nope, they are up."

She peeked over the blanket at him, eyes now sparkling with mirth in the moonlight. "Okay. That's good."

He was still frozen in place. "Yeah."

He could see the dimple in her cheek. She was still laughing, on the inside, anyway.

"I'll uh...I'll get back on watch." Mac skewered the radroach with his knife and flicked it out the door. Nora watched with an amused expression and nodded solemnly. He turned to leave.

"Thank you, Mac. You're my hero."

Her laughter followed him out into the night.

Chapter Text

Mac was busy taking little mental notes on his new boss. Besides being rich and crazy, she was clearly not meant to be in the Wastes. Oh, he'd heard the rumors about the Minutemen General taking down a deathclaw with her bare hands and all the other unbelievable stories that swirled around the mysterious vault dweller, but so far he'd seen nothing that indicated she was capable of doing anything but bleeding out if left unattended out here.

Between her ridiculous fear of radroaches (he was never going to forget the horror on her face when he'd offered to butcher the thing for breakfast) and her reluctance to shoot anyone until they'd shot at her first, he was starting to think this whole badass popsicle thing was just a myth, like the Founding Fathers stuff Hancock was always going on about. Just some symbol for idiots to cling to.

Not that the whole idea wasn't completely terrible. The Commonwealth was slowly crumbling under the weighty fear of the Institute and probably needed a figure to rally around. When he'd been a kid in the Capital Wasteland, the so-called Lone Wanderer had been that figure. He'd even met the guy himself a few times and never could pinpoint where the line between actual person and myth had been.

At least this symbol had serious sex appeal. The Minutemen could do a lot worse. They should start making posters with her on it. Bet that would get a ton of recruits. Ha.

He'd started to hang back maybe twenty yards from her. Gave him a better view of her ass line of sight on anything that might want to fuck with them. He tended to spot enemies way farther out than she ever did, so he was a little surprised when she suddenly slid to a halt, holding up her hand.

Mac frowned and looked carefully around, taking note of every probable sniper position in the ruined buildings towering over them. It was still pretty early in the day for most raiders, but there were plenty of shadows cast by the low morning sun for some opportunistic asshole to hide in. His eyes kept being drawn back to Nora. Her whole body seemed like it was on high alert and her head was tilted like she could hear something he couldn't. She suddenly lay down on the ground, ear pressed to it with her eyes closed.

Mac crouched down, making himself as small as possible. He was starting to get nervous. He could feel that prickly feeling on his back like something was coming or something was watching them. Mac had turned away from Nora's prone form and started using his scope to scan the higher levels of the buildings. He nearly pissed his pants when he felt her leg bump into his arm, jerking him off balance and out of his sniper's stance.

"Shake a tailfeather, Mac." She was using her general voice at him. That was new. Then she was bolting past him, headed back the way they'd already come. She was faster and quieter than he'd previously thought possible and moved with purpose, her pistol out and a grenade in her other hand.

Wait, a grenade?

She ran up on one of those obnoxious Pulowski Protection shelters, chucked the grenade in a whole different direction than either of them had been, and darted inside, motioning him to follow. It was a tight fit with the both of them inside, made tighter when she hit the 'door closed' button. The insipid voice announcing the company's tagline abruptly cut off after she cursed and yanked some wires out from the side. It also, unfortunately, killed the lights.

They were both breathing hard, and whatever it was that had spooked Nora so much, she wasn't talking about it just yet. She had her arms around his neck and shifted around until she could click the light on her Pip-Boy on. He wasn't sure what to do with his hands, so he settled on holding them down by his sides, rifle propped up against the inside curve of the shelter. Seemed like the safest bet. He'd never been so grateful for combat armor, or he'd have to somehow deal with feeling her breasts pressed up against him, too, and he was pretty sure he'd stroke out at this point if that happened.

She was still tilting her head. Still entirely too still and listening for...whatever it was. Mac opened his mouth to ask and she shook her head at him. He heard her grenade finally go off. Impressive distance. Quite the arm on his boss.

A few seconds later he heard it and their eyes met in understanding. A terrifying roar. Shit. Deathclaw. Then a second, answering roar. Great. TWO deathclaws. No wonder Nora had run like a rabbit.

Mac felt himself go pale and his arms unconsciously circled her waist, pulling her even closer. Like he could actually protect her from that. There was no way the two of them could take on two deathclaws. One, maybe. He could probably hold off two so she could escape, but he'd definitely be dead at the end, and he couldn't afford to be dead. People were counting on him.

"Sh-Holy crap, boss", he whispered. "How'd you know? I didn't hear anything."

Nora smiled a bit and whispered back, "There was nothing to hear, sug. I could feel it in my feet. Deathclaws lumber around in a very specific way and it rattles the ground. I had no idea there were two though. You heard that, right? I'm not crazy. Two different roars? What's that about?"

He was wondering the same thing himself. "I dunno...maybe mating season? If they have a mating season. Maybe they just fight over territory or something?"

Nora laughed silently. "Oh, wonderful. Deathclaw mating season. That sounds romantic." Mac snorted. "You know, the first time I saw a deathclaw in person, I thought it was a dinosaur?"

Now Mac had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud. He heard what he was pretty sure was a car slamming into a wall outside, close enough to be worrisome but far enough away to indicate they weren't in immediate danger for now. "Seriously, boss? A dinosaur?"

Nora glared down at him in a sassy kind of way that he found ridiculously endearing. "Hey, it was my first day, alright? There was a learning curve."

He chuckled and they went back to waiting, listening to the roaring and crashing outside their tiny pocket of safety. Whatever the hell they were doing out there, mating or fighting, it wasn't letting up any time soon. At least it was cold out. The shelter was too shielded to be breathable and it was starting to feel like a sauna with their trapped body heat. They probably would have been in danger of heat stroke or worse if they'd been in this situation in the summer.

They stood there, pressed against each other for nearly fifteen full minutes before the sounds started to drift away. Mac glanced up to ask if they should sneak on out when he caught Nora staring with that startling focus she was sometimes capable of. At his neck? What was that about?

He decided to whisper even though he was pretty sure the danger had passed. "Hey, boss? Whatcha thinkin' about so hard?" She met his gaze in the greenish light and frowned slightly. She was looking for something in his face. He gave her his usual smirk and he was pretty sure she blushed at him. Cute.

She opened her mouth like she was going to say something but nothing came out. He didn't know what was going on, but his dick seemed to think things were suddenly very interesting and he knew she was going to be able to feel it very, very soon if they didn't get out of this stupid thing. He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not at this point, and was trying to remember exactly where the escape button was in these things when Nora's eyes went back to staring at his neck.

Mac felt one of her hands slide into the hair at the nape of his neck and his hands betrayed him by deliberately pressing her against his hips. She was definitely gonna feel it now. Nora leaned down and pressed a soft kiss to his neck, then looked at him through her lashes. Her glasses were slightly fogged up, he noticed. For the first time in his life, words failed him.

She gave him a shy kind of smile. "You...you asked what I was thinking about..."

He caught her mouth before either of them realized what was happening and without thinking, kissed her. He'd meant to go slow. To be gentle and careful because this was the boss and she wasn't used to wasteland men yet...probably, but then she moaned just a bit and sort of melted against him. The next thing he knew, his tongue was in her mouth and he was grinding against her, one of his hands reaching around to squeeze her ass and pull her even closer. They were both breathless as she pulled back a little, Mac nibbling at her lower lip as she did and making a small sound of protest. She had her hands fisted in the collar of his duster and blinked at him with an almost comically shocked expression on her face. It would have been pretty funny if it wasn't mirroring his own.

"Well...that was...amazing.", He managed to get out.

Nora was definitely blushing by this point. "It was...it was the adrenaline, or...or the forced closeness. Pheromones. The brush with death and...Mac, I don't expect...I mean, I'm not...I'm sorry...I don't want you to think this is part of what I hired you for." She wouldn't meet his eyes.

He cursed his own foolishness. Too fast. He'd pushed way too fast. Yeah, she'd started it but he'd run away with it just like he always tended to. "It's okay, boss, I know you're not that type. We both just got caught up in a moment. It's cool."

She smiled a little and nodded, still not looking at his face. Then she noticed where her hands were and tried smoothing his collar back out, mumbling apologies.

Shit on a shingle. He needed air. They needed air. Mac finally saw the escape button behind her head and pressed it. Nora jumped a bit when the cold air hit them both and they immediately broke apart. He picked up his rifle and she stared at her boots and fiddled with her Pip-boy, killing the flashlight.

"Let's hit the road, boss." he turned to lead Nora away from the shelter, taking point this time. Mac wanted time to clear his head without her swaying hips in his face and figured she needed a minute, too.

They'd gone a few blocks when she hesitantly spoke out. Ah fuck. That tone. Well, there was the best paying job of his life, gone.

"Mac..."

He turned to face her. If she was gonna fire him, she'd have to do it to his face. She was still looking at her boots, her left hand, the one that was almost never still, was tapping out a new rhythm on her leg. Goddammit, didn't even have her gun out or anything. Nora was going to get herself killed out here; fool woman didn't have the sense Atom gave a radchicken sometimes. She was frowning and had her other hand up by her mouth, like she didn't know what to say or how to say it.

"Boss, it's..." he shrugged helplessly. He didn't know how to explain it. This was just how his life was. He got something great, fucked up, it got taken away. Que sera sera or whatever. He should be used to it at this point.

Nora finally looked up, her eyes large and dark behind the glasses. "Mac, do all boys...do they all kiss like that nowadays?"

Any thought process he had been attempting ground to a halt. That was...well, wasn't that...shit. Thankfully his autopilot mouth kicked in and smirked at her. "Nah, boss. Boys don't."

Nora's face went beet red. It was pretty cute, really. She looked back down at her boots.

"Okay. Okay, yeah. Um...we should swing further north, towards Sanctuary, I think."

Mac couldn't believe it. He still had a job. She still wanted to travel with him. Maybe his luck was finally turning around. He adjusted his hat a little and waited for her to take the lead. She hurried past him, eyes darting over him briefly as she did and he couldn't help it, he had to smile at her. He wondered if all women back then had been this confusing mash up of endearing and infuriating.

He waited until she was twenty paces ahead before he turned to follow. Mac didn't know if their first kiss would be the only kiss, but he was willing to bet if he played his cards right, they'd be doing a whole lot more than just kissing. He just had to be patient, and lucky for him, of the three things he knew he was good at in this world, being patient happened to be one of them.

Chapter Text

That night, they made camp inside an old Slocum Joe's. Nora sighed regretfully when she couldn't find any coffee to scav. Mac was secretly relieved. No matter how good coffee sounded, there was no way it was going to fit in either of their packs by this point. Nora seemed bound and determined to collect every shiny thing she found. Like a crow or something. She didn't even sell it, just dropped it off at each settlement she came to. What a waste.

At least looking for shit kept her occupied. She'd been subdued since the kiss and barely responded to even his best-worst dad jokes. She'd apologized a few times for being 'spacey', whatever that meant. Apparently it was a common issue for her.

He'd never seen somebody get this ruffled over one stupid kiss. She'd been out of it all damn day, far more than usual, practically tripping over her own feet at times. Mac knew she was a mother, knew she'd had a husband. A lot of things had changed in 200 years, but surely babies had been made the same way back then. She acted like a girl half her age...probably. Mac still didn't know exactly how old she was since she seemed to go from twelve to forty in the blink of an eye and he honestly had no good way to ask her. He may lack polish, but even he knew you didn't ask a woman her age.

Their bedrolls both went behind the counter, although Mac ruefully noticed Nora had arranged them as far apart as she possibly could for no real reason. It wasn't like they were going to be sleeping next to each other if they were alternating watches. He hoped she didn't regret what had happened...he sure as hell didn't.

Maybe she was just embarrassed? The few non-comic books he'd read over the years almost always made huge deals of how much stupid romantic crap was supposed to go down before shit got good. She was probably used to...what, sock hops and long, sappy strolls through the moonlight or whatever. Those things didn't exist anymore and the closest most couples got to a date was taking a few shots at the bar before renting a room.

He and Lucy had liked finding little treasures for each other and catching the occasional slow dance in the kitchen on their farm when Duncan was taking a nap, but overall the wasteland didn't exactly lend itself to romance.

There was also her husband, of course, the gold ring on her finger a constant reminder. She'd told him that it had actually been years since his murder, but due to Vault-Tec's freezer shennanigans, for her it felt like it had just happened. Which was so fucked up. He got that kind of pain though. There were still too many nights when he closed his eyes and saw Lucy's face screaming at him to take Duncan and run run run. He knew he would probably always hate subway tunnels and encountering feral ghouls provoked an unquenchable rage in him still. But even with all he'd gone through, it was pretty typical fare for post-apocalyptia. Nora's story was tragic and bizarre to boot. Had to be a tough thing to carry.

She offered to take first shift and he'd agreed only after she'd promised, repeatedly, to pay attention.

"I have survived out here almost a year already, Mister MacCready. I know what I'm doing.", her voice was snippy and more than a little offended.

Mac just smirked, "Coulda fooled me, boss."

 

There was no way her shift was over yet.

Mac grumbled as he felt someone kicking his boot. Why? Why did no one ever let him sleep? People were always bitching about his attitude but they never let him sleep. Did it occur to no one that maybe he'd just been very tired for a very long time? Fuck.

"Rise and shine, Mac. Duty calls." It was the General voice again. Dammit. He'd hoped, as he'd fallen asleep, that he'd wake up and they would past what had happened.

She hadn't seemed like the type to hold a grudge.

Still, he was getting paid, so Mac stood and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Yeah, boss. What's up?" He finally got a good look at her.

Nora was pissed. Super pissed. The air around her almost crackled with it. He hadn't seen a woman look this pissed off since those assholes had messed with Daisy's caravan lines, and Daisy was not a woman to be trifled with.

Apparently neither was Nora when her temper was up.

She already had her gear all ready to go and was busy checking the lenses in her glasses in the weak light from a flickering street lamp outside. "We gotta go. Call came in about a kidnapping. They were last seen about a day's march...", Nora slipped her glasses back on and checked her PipBoy map. She turned towards the northwest. "That way. Something about a group of men, all dressed in camo with tattoos and expensive guns." Her eyes pinned him in place. He was pretty sure last time he'd seen a look like that had been on a Yao Guai charging him. "Sound familiar to you, honey?"

He nodded. Gunners. Fuck.

"Is this one of their MOs?"

"What's an MO, boss?"

" Modus operandi . It means like...is this something they typically do?"

He rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, yeah, boss. It is. I...it's part of why I split from them. There's plenty of raiders and sh-stuff to mess with to get caps and gear, ya know? No reason to go after random settlers just trying to earn a living out here."

She nodded. "Alright, then. It's settled. The Minutemen are officially declaring war on the Gunners." She said it like she had asked him to pass the salt.

Mac had zero idea how to respond to that, but the boss didn't need a response, apparently. She was already out the door, heading southwest at a jog. He scrambled to grab his shit and ran after her, cursing on the inside the whole way.

Crazy damn woman.


Leave it to the Gunners to find perfect strategic real estate. They were camped out in the burned out ruins of an old motel. Sheer rock cliffs behind it, plenty of open space in front. There were a few old billboards but nothing you could reliably hide behind. He and Nora hid in a copse of trees a few hundred yards from their position, eating a bit of jerky and waiting for the sun to finally set. She was seething, working on wearing a hole in her glove from how hard she was rubbing her thumb against her forefinger. Mac was just trying to figure out how to explain to her it was kinder to just snipe the victim than to try and take on a full squad.

He was busy counting heads through his scope when he felt her hands go below his belt. Well, hello there . Wait, no, no, not hello there. Shit . Baseball, Eclair's fungus croissants, Rivet City bathrooms...

Then she was right in his ear, whispering "Hey, can I borrow these?"

Mac finally dared to look down. His binoculars. Of course. Of course that's what she wanted.

"Yeah, boss. Be careful with 'em. They're rare."

Nora's nimble fingers made quick work of his knots. "I know. These are the first working pair I've seen since I woke up. I used to have some of my own, but Codsworth said they were busted up when the bombs fell. Fell off the windowsill from the blast."

Mac went back to scanning for assholes. "What did you need binoculars for back then?"

Nora settled in next to him. "Bird watching."

He snorted. Her world had been a bizarre place to live in. You could see birds with your naked eye. What the hell did you need to see 'em up close for? Little shit machines is all they were...

"Hey, Mac. How many of these...people travel together at a time?" She said 'people' like she wanted to say something far worse.

"Usually groups of five or ten make up a squad. They put squads together to form platoons."

"Ah, so they like playing soldier...hmm." Nora went back to watching. He could almost hear the gears turning in her head. "Well, whatever source material they studied from, they didn't do it very well. I see four of them drinking. They're going to be drunk as skunks soon. Where's the fifth?"

Mac ignored the impulse to ask what a skunk was. He'd already sighted the lookout. "He's up on the ridge a bit. Probably drew the short straw."

Nora hummed. "They only have one lookout? No shift changes?"

"They won't stay here long. Just a few hours. Eat, drink, sleep, move on to the main group. Four or five hours tops." He didn't mention what they'd do to the captive after they'd gotten a good rest. He didn't want to think about the nights when he'd willingly taken watch, unable to stomach being that close to the screams and pitiful begging most settlers ended up doing when caught by a Gunner raiding party.

She seemed to already have an idea, though. "Probably a little rape, a little abuse, too, huh? Goddammit."

Mac caught a flash of light. Whoever their hostage was, they were in the back, chucked into the motel for safekeeping. A redhead, it looked like. He wondered if Nora had seen when he heard her scramble up on her knees.

"Oh, no. No, no, no. Mac, they took Sav."

"I dunno who that is, boss."

"Sav...Savannah. She's the only redhead at Tenpines. Pretty little thing. Works with the brahmin. She was probably outside the perimeter with them when they grabbed her."

He sighed. That was a shame. Now he had a name and an occupation for this poor sap he was gonna have to shoot. Sav the redheaded milkmaid. Great.

Nora was tying the binoculars back on his belt. At least she knew her knots. "She's just a baby, Mac. We can't wait for reinforcements. Gotta go in as soon as they pass out."

Mac stopped looking through his scope long enough to give her a good glare. "She ain't a baby , boss. Parties this size don't take children unless they raze a whole settlement first. And I don't care who she is, one settler ain't worth losing a general over, right?"

Nora glared right back and hissed at him. "She's not even twenty-five, Mac. I'm not letting these monsters ruin her life or end it before it even begins. Besides, all of us are created equal. A settler's life is just as important as mine or anyone else's."

He snorted. "Twenty-five. Shit, boss, I'm twenty-two. Do I seem like a baby to you?" He took a moment to enjoy the shocked look on her face and went back to his watch.

Nora was quiet for a long moment. Mac knew she was staring at him, probably wanting to keep arguing, but he was pretty confident he'd won this round. Sucked for the milkmaid, but he had a job to do and if sometimes he had to protect the boss from her own foolishness to keep her alive then so be it. He heard her move behind him, rustling around in her bag, probably for the radio...please don't let her be dumb enough to want to use the flare gun.

By the time he felt her next to him again, the sun had finally slipped below the horizon. Murky twilight covered the land and the four now 'drunk as a skunk' Gunners had indeed passed out by the fire. Disciplined, his ass. Mac kept his eye out for the hostage. If her little head could just pop up by a window, he'd have a pretty good shot and this could all be over.

"Mac, listen. When I give you the signal, I want you to take out the lookout. I'll send Sav back this way, so please don't shoot her."

That certainly got his attention. Mac dropped his rifle and stared at her.

Nora had been busy.

Her duster was gone. So was her armor. All her armor and the Pipboy. She was in the frilly shirt, pants and boots he'd seen her in that first morning at the Cabots. The hat was gone, too. She was tucking a knife in her boot (oh, sure, like she knew how to use a combat knife) and had...something, in her pockets.

"Boss, no. No way."

"This discussion is tabled, sug. I am no longer taking suggestions. I am going down there and getting my settler back and I am taking those assholes out so they can't do it again." She batted his hand away. He hadn't even realized he'd grabbed her arm. "Listen, honey, even if I die, you'll still get paid, alright? There's a letter of credit in my bag. It's like money. I added your name to it. If this goes wrong, make whatever choices you think are best, and run. Get to Bunker Hill and give it to Kessler there. She can cash it out for you. I don't think any other settlement will have the caps on hand. You can have everything but the duster and the hat. Those go to Preston, please."

His voice choked in his throat. She really thought it was just about the money still? "Boss...Nora, it's not...it's not about the caps."

She peered into the darkness toward their camp. Her voice was flat, emotionless. "That's sweet, Mac, but irrelevant." Nora turned back to him and he realized he'd missed the change. She was different again. Not General Nora, and not who he thought of as "regular" Nora. This was someone different. He'd never seen this Nora before. Whoever she was, she patted his cheek and gave him a quick grin. "Don't worry, sugar, I've lived this long, right? Remember, wait for my signal." Then, out of nowhere, she shoved him, hard.

Mac fell over, out of his stance and onto his ass. By the time he'd got his feet back under him, she was already a good thirty yards away, moving like a shadow across the land.

Shit. She had known he wasn't going to just let her go. He wasn't sure if he should be furious or impressed. He settled for getting back on one knee, rifle at the ready, following her progress with his careful eye.

Someone had to have taught her how to move through underbrush without being detected. If he hadn't known she was there, he would never have noticed her. Where was this Nora when they'd been bumbling across the Commonwealth? That Nora had once tripped, hilariously in his opinion, over a curb she'd clearly seen and almost busted her nose against a building trying to catch herself. He'd laughed until she'd threatened to shoot him. This Nora though, she moved like she'd been born out here. Raised by a radstag or some shit.

She got to the base of one of the billboards, turned her back against it and gave him a thumbs up. Ah. That must be the signal.

He still thought this was the worst possible idea in the history of bad ideas, but she'd given him a direct order, for once. Mac took the shot and smirked as the lookout suddenly crumpled to the ground. Chalk up another kill for him. He took a quick scan of the camp, breathed a sigh of relief when no one stirred, then back over to Nora.

Or where Nora had been, anyway. Shit. He'd lost her. He immediately switched to his binoculars to give him a wider field of vision and decided to start at the billboard and work towards the motel. She had to be somewhere in between.

Then he saw it. Really saw it.

The billboard. That smile Nora had that was oddly familiar. The fake one she only used with assholes she had to get along with like the delightful Mrs. Cabot. It couldn't be, but it was.

Her hair color was wrong, and she wasn't wearing glasses, but it was her. It had to be.

Nora had been the Nuka Cola spacegirl.

Holy. Shit . No wonder she was so tempting and he could barely control himself around her. How many times had he, how many times had every man in the Wastes, thought of the Nuka Girl when they had a little alone time? She was every boy's first fantasy dream girl, wasn't she? Calendars with her image, along with the other Nuka Girls, had been highly prized and even fought over in Little Lamplight among the older boys.

Is that why she wore glasses and had that dark hair now? To keep from being recognized? Did she know what an icon she'd become while frozen? One of the last surviving images of iconic pre-war beauty. He knew men who practically worshiped her, plus there was that crazy chick out in Girdershade with her 'Nuka museum'. She'd had a lifesize cutout of the 'Nuka Cadet', as she'd called her.

And she was headed right into a Gunner camp. Oh, wonderful . He couldn't even begin to imagine the caps she could bring in as a slave, if the Gunner leaders even wanted to sell her. Having a living, breathing relic like that in their possession? Every man around would flock to join their stupid cult just to get a look at her.

Mac stamped down the panic rising in his throat. He'd already known Nora was some kinda treasure. This just added another strange layer to who she was. He picked up his rifle and trained it on the assholes snoring in the camp.

He would be damned if he let her die before he got to ask her the zillion questions he now had.

An uncomfortable amount of time had passed when he finally spotted her. Okay. Finally. One of the questions he was going to have to ask was who had taught her to move like that (Deacon, maybe?) because he owed them a drink.

Nora slipped past the drunken men and into the motel. Mac caught fleeting glimpses of her through the broken windows, but none of the milkmaid. Then Nora popped up for a second in a window, waved at him and pointed to the right before ducking back down.

She must have slipped the milkmaid out a side window. The girl was traveling slowly towards him. Not quite as quiet as Nora had been, but pretty good. Course, kids growing up out here spent most of their time hiding from shit that wanted to eat them. She should be a good sneak, even if she was stupid enough to get snatched. Mac frowned at himself. It wasn't the girl's fault she'd been taken, and it definitely wasn't her fault his fool boss had decided to go get crazy trying to get her back. He wasn't going to let himself be mad at her after what she'd probably been through.

He'd save all that for Nora.

Mac waited until he was sure the girl had spotted him and nodded to her before looking back through his scope. Nora was moving carefully around the sleeping men, pausing whenever she heard a change in their breathing. He wished he'd taken her up on her offer to fix up his scope. He could see her just fine, but he couldn't quite make out what she was doing with her hands. Was Nora... pickpocketing the men? He chuckled. Shit, that was pretty good. They'd be pissed when they realized their captive and their personal caps were gone.

"Hey, are you MacCready?", it was the little redhead. Whatever her name had been, that heavy accent marking her as just another local hick. He took a second to acknowledge her with another silent nod. She nodded back and squinted down into the camp. "General Nora said you should tell me when you see the signal, then I'm supposed to count to thirty and push the button."

Mac hands tightened on his rifle as felt a vein start to throb in his head. Of course. Of course there had to be something even more stupid than the stupidity he'd already witnessed. He grunted at the girl since he couldn't think of a better response. He wasn't just going to yell at Nora. No. Yelling wasn't going to cut it. He was going to throw her over his knee and spank her ass until she couldn't sit down for a week. All this bullshit for a fucking milkmaid.

Nora finished doing whatever it was she'd been up to. She made her way to the edge of camp, picking up a few things that struck her fancy here and there along the way and sticking them in her pockets. Mac's jaw was clenched so tight he thought his teeth would break. She looked so casual. Like she was gathering tatos or something. Like she wasn't totally in life-threatening danger.

Two weeks. That's how hard the spanking was going to be. He definitely wanted her to remember to never, ever, ever do this to him again.

Nora paused just for a second, looked around at the men one last time, raised her hand and gave him another thumbs up. He nudged the girl and she started counting.

She got to about ten when he finally looked at her. The milkmaid had a silver box in her hand with an...antenna sticking out of it? It had an old pre-war toggle button switch in the center that was currently set to off. Her thumb was hovering over it.

Mac reached towards it and she pulled away from him, snarling and actually baring her teeth.

"It's mine. General Nora said I get to hit the button for what they done and what they were gonna do."

He raised his hands up in surrender and finally sat down, rifle in his lap. Mac was officially giving up all control of this situation. He'd seen the marks on her neck where she'd worn a slave collar and the bruises on her arms from their hands. He knew she probably had other, worse bruises, elsewhere. This was above his pay grade, clearly. Whatever the two women had cooked up was beyond him at this point.

The feisty little milkmaid got to twenty-five before he saw Nora peek out from around a tree. He gave her his best 'your ass is mine' stare and she narrowed her eyes at him. Still wanted to fight him then. Fine. He liked a good scuffle now and then.

"Savvy, you can hit it now, sweetpea. You don't have to finish the count." Nora whispered loudly at the girl. Savvy...Savannah. That was her name.

Actually, now that he thought about it, did Nora know every settler's name?

Sav was giggling now, Nora joining in. It was gleefully malevolent and Mac was glad they weren't laughing like that at him. Damn, women could get scary when they were pissed.

Then Sav finally hit the button and night suddenly turned into day.

"Whoa whoa whoa!" Mac threw his arm up but nope, his night vision was already screwed. The shockwave from the blast blew past them and Nora stumbled into Sav, still giggling. There was a giant blue fireball headed into the sky and below it the camp looked like someone had held a massive bbq in it. Everything was instantly charcoal. Most of the front half of the motel was gone. Just gone. Blown who knows where.

Mac shook his head to clear the ringing from his ears and stood up. Nora hadn't just been pickpocketing the men, she'd been planting explosives. Sav and Nora were holding hands, watching the last of the fireball fade out. Nora spoke softly and Mac had to be very, very still to hear it.

"I'm so sorry, Sav. I'm sorry I wasn't here sooner."

The girl smiled up at her. She looked just a bit starstruck. "S'okay, General Nora. I knew you'd come. You always come when we call."

Nora gave her a sad kind of smile back. "The Minutemen are always happy to help. Now let's get you back home to Becca, alright, darlin’?"

She avoided his gaze as she slipped the armor and duster back on. He silently handed her back her stupid hat. All the fight had gone clean out of her now that it was over. Nora just looked tired and he remembered it had been at least twenty four hours at this point since she'd slept and maybe longer since she'd last eaten anything that wasn't jerky. Shit.

The questions and the ass chewing he was still planning to give would have to wait. He wasn't interested in picking a fight with a Nora who wouldn't fight back. Where was the fun in that? It was fine, he had a long memory. Waiting was what he did.

Nora emptied her pockets into Sav's waiting hands, calling the odds and ends 'restitution'. The girl shoved the loot into her own pockets and took Nora's hand in hers for the walk back to Tenpines. Nora let the other woman babble at her through the adrenaline high that came from participating in a daring rescue, patiently listening the whole while.

Mac stayed thoughtfully quiet and took point behind them. He was pretty sure he had figured out who this new Nora had been. This was the Nora who was an avenging mother. The one Nick Valentine probably got to see back when they'd killed Kellogg. She was cunning, merciless, focused, absolutely insane and terrifying in action.

God help the Institute when she and her army finally got to them.

Chapter Text

They received a hero's welcome at Tenpines, including getting to see Sav run into the arms of her wife while the crowd cheered. He had to admit that was pretty nice. Felt kinda good to see someone get a happy ending for once.

Mac had never personally been this far north and the tiny settlement didn't really look like anything special to him, but Nora had perked up enough to do an abbreviated official 'inspection' as the sun rose on the little farming community. Mayor Nora had taken over.

Turned out, she did actually know all their names. She knew their names, their children's names, what jobs they all held, when the last time someone had been sick, who's joints acted up whenever it rained...all the mundane, boring as shit details of their lives, she knew. To be honest, all dirt farmers kind of ran together to Mac, but Nora treated each one like they were the most interesting person she'd ever talked to.

She fretted over the turrets the gunners had busted up on their kidnapping run, checked the bandages on the settlement's guard dog with tears in her eyes and shook her head at the huge pile of soggy, burnt hay. Apparently the gunners had tried to set the barn on fire as a distraction. It had worked. The whole community had raced to save the barn and the winter hay while the men had made off with the girl. Idiots.

Nora promised she'd have replacement hay sent from Sanctuary, which was apparently the main Minutemen settlement on this side of the Commonwealth. According to her, they had plenty of surplus. It wouldn't be a problem to send a few hundred bales over with the next caravan.

Mac let her run around like a radchicken with its head cut off until he caught her swaying a bit by one of the water pumps. Enough was enough. She needed rest.

The few idiots dumb enough to keep wanting her to check this, fix that, inspect these, finally fled as he came up behind her. Nora turned and nodded at him. "I know, I know, Mac. I know."

Oh ho ho. She thought the fight was happening now . Silly woman. No. He knew this trick. Lucy had pulled it sometimes. The 'I know you're mad but I'm so sleepy and cute and let's just go lay down and we can snuggle and forget about it' thing. Ha. She wished it was gonna be that easy.

Mac held up a hand and she stopped trying to apologize. "It's time to rest, boss. Got a nice empty hay loft with our names on it. Come on." He grabbed her pack and her hand and led her over to the barn.

By the time he got them, and all their shit, up the ladder and their bedrolls out, she was blinking blearily and acting frustratingly passive. Mac didn't like the glassy, blank look of her eyes. He took off her duster and armor, tossed her hat by her pack and pointed at the bedroll closest to the wall. When she barely responded he snapped his fingers inches from her face until her eyes focused on them. He frowned and removed her glasses while he was thinking about it.

"You. Sleep. Now."

Nora nodded, dropped on her bedroll and was out before he even had his boots off.

He didn't like passive, exhausted Nora, but at least she listened to reason more than the others.

 

They slept most of the day away. Nora did, anyway. Another apocalypse couldn't have woken her. Little noises kept waking Mac up though. Especially that one fucking Brahmin who would not shut up .

He'd tried the farmer’s life. He really had. With Lucy at his side it had been bearable, mostly. He'd get pissed at the livestock or a pump getting stuck or whatever and she'd be there, laughing at his cursing and antics until he couldn't help but laugh, too.

Things had been simpler then. Happiness had been easier to hold onto.

But when your wife gets torn apart in front of you and then your son gets sick on top of it, well...happiness became a slippery kind of thing.

When he'd first arrived in the Commonwealth and failed in his attempt to break into MedTec, he'd pretty much given up on life. Mac wasn't proud of it, but he'd spent an inordinate amount of time and caps after at the Combat Zone, drinking like his life depended on it and preferring to focus on the violence in the arena instead of the feelings of helplessness he was slowing being crushed under.

Every week he'd stumble back into Goodneighbor, hoping to have a letter from Duncan, praying he didn't have the letter from his caretakers. It had been Daisy who'd taken pity on him and hired him to get rid of those mercs messing with her caravan contacts. That had given him enough purpose to get sober...or sober-ish, and start looking for real work again. His family back home needed the caps and if he had enough, he could hire another gun to go with him back into that hell.

He knew it was going to be hard though. Damn near impossible, even. Mac needed someone who knew what they were doing and who he could trust if he had one of his...episodes around the ferals.

Since Lucy...there was just something about ferals that triggered two responses in him. He either saw everything go red and killed until there was nothing left to kill, or he just froze.

Freezing was what had nearly gotten him chewed to death that first pass at the medical facility. If he went back...if it happened again, he needed someone there to either push him out of it, or at least cover his back until he got it back together.

He'd thought, maybe, he could find that person in the Gunners. Boy, had that been dumb.

Now, months later, he still didn't have his son's cure. He knew he was being hunted by Winlock and Barnes, and he'd unknowingly taken a contract for the goddamn Nuka Girl.

His life was fucking ridiculous...and that fucking Brahmin just would not shut up !

The only thing currently keeping him from murdering every damn walking piece of shit steak in this godforsaken place was the boss. Every time he'd been woken, he'd found she'd scooted just a little bit closer. It was kinda funny, really. Like she was moving so slowly you couldn't see it happening.

This last time, though, she was actually snuggled up to him, one long leg thrown over his and her hand on his chest. He must have put his arm around her in his sleep on instinct. She was soft and warm and still smelled faintly of that soap from the Cabots. It was nice, laying there with her in the hay loft. Almost felt normal, natural. It had been at least...jeez, almost a year, since he'd had human contact like this. Longer without it involving exchanging caps.

Of course, if there had been a cap transaction, he could do a lot more than just lay here with her, deliberately focusing on how pissed he was at the livestock rather than on the woman in his arms.

Yeah. His life was just a laugh riot.

It was almost dinnertime when she finally stretched like a cat against him and woke up. Mac was pretty proud of himself that he'd kept his sanity up to that point. Then she looked up at him with that sleepy, sweet smile, eyelids still heavy and her hair all over the place.

Shit. There it went. His last bit of sanity. Like a fart in the wind.

He smiled back at her. What else could he do?

"Well...hello, beautiful."

Nora yawned and rubbed her eyes. "Hey, Mac. What time is it?"

She hadn't moved away yet. Good. He tightened his arm around her and brought his other hand up to turn her head up towards him. She seemed like she was going to speak but thought better of it. Parts of him were pretty thrilled that her eyes immediately went to his lips.

He tried his damndest to look stern. "I dunno, boss, you're the one with the giant, fancy wristwatch." Her ears turned pink and she chewed on her bottom lip a little. She always forgot she had the Pipboy on. How, he didn't know. Thing weighed a ton. His fingers slid from her chin, down her jawline to the back of her head. Mac was absolutely going to ignore how her skin felt like he'd always imagined velvet did and her hair like silk. He had her trapped. She was starting to squirm a little.

Also good.

Mac's voice dropped a bit. He tried to channel some of that authoritative aggressiveness and swagger that had seen him through all those years being mayor back in Lamplight. "If you ever, ever do something that stupid again, I will beat your ass. You got that? Never again, Nora. I mean it."
He was pretty sure she'd briefly stopped breathing. He knew he was taking a big risk here and was fully prepared to slug this out with her, with words or otherwise. Shit was ridiculous. She had to know how ridiculous she'd been. If he had to bodily drag her to someone she would actually listen to, like Garvey or Edward, then by Atom he would.

As per usual though, just when he thought he'd seen her at her peak crazy, she upped the ante.

Nora's pupils had blown so wide they nearly eclipsed the green of her irises and her right hand slowly curled into his shirt. Her eyes slipped back down to his mouth and she whispered, "Yes, Mac" so softly he almost didn't catch it.

Of course, Nora actually rubbing herself ever so slightly against his leg was terribly distracting.

Another Nora. How many of her were in there, anyway? This new one, with the bedroom eyes and excited flush across her cheeks, was his new favorite. Hands down. This Nora could get as crazy as she wanted.

All thoughts of making her rue the day she'd crossed him flew completely out of his head. He couldn't even hold onto why he'd been mad in the first place. How could anyone be mad holding the Nuka Girl?

This was it, right? The moment. Their moment. He still clearly remembered the moment with Lucy, when he'd realized he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her. It had felt like this...alright, maybe a little more calming and a lot less terrifying, but Lucy had been a sweet-tempered medic, not...whoever it was Nora was supposed to be.

They were moving towards each other now. He could feel the warmth of her breath on his face. Saw her eyes sliding shut. Second kiss in a hayloft...that was old world romantic, right?

"General Nora, are you up yet?"

They froze. Mac could actually see it this time. It was like someone was shuffling a deck of cards in Nora's mind, looking for the right Nora for the situation. Her eyes went blank for just a split second, she blinked and then sensible, caring Mayor Nora was back. Moment over.

She cleared her throat and sat up. "Yes, Sav. Is everything alright, honey?"

Mac grumbled and started pulling his boots back on. He was starting to really hate the Minutemen, despite their good taste in goofy hats.

Red hair and then a freckled face came up the ladder. Sav looked at their bedrolls and at the General's face and then glared daggers at Mac. He focused on tying his laces and pretended like he didn't notice. It's not like anything had happened between the two of them in the hayloft, not really , and even if it had, Nora's settlers didn't own her. The whole lot of them needed to learn how to share, goddammit.

Sav came the rest of the way up and helped Nora back into her uniform, snatching the offered glasses out of Mac's hand putting herself between the general and the merc as Nora tucked her hair back into it’s bun. "Everything's fine, just fine. Mr. Garvey was asking about you on the radio, though. He wanted to know if you were on your way yet."

"Oh...yeah, okay." Nora put the hat back on and followed Sav down the ladder. She didn't look at Mac at all. "I'll grab a quick bite and then we'll head out. It's...I think it's been a while since I ate."

He could hear Sav's disapproving tutting as they wandered off. "You really have to start taking better care of yourself, General Nora."

Ha. Nora taking care of herself. That would be the day.

Chapter Text

They followed the provisioner trail from Tenpines to Sanctuary and made it in pretty good time, all things considered.

Those things mostly being that Nora was treating him more like just some hired stranger than she ever had and it was making Mac just a little more pissed with every step. They had just passed the Red Rocket outside of Concord when she gave a sharp whistle out of nowhere, startling him. It was the first noise she'd made at all since she'd told him they were leaving.

A huge dog with a blue bandana came racing out of the underbrush at them. The fuck? How long had that been tracking them?

He started to raise his rifle when he saw Nora crouch down and open her arms at the oncoming storm of fur and teeth.

Ah, this must be her mutt she kept talking about. His bag had at least four disgusting teddy bears for the damn thing.

Dogmeat almost knocked her down with his waggle dance and Mac involuntarily smiled when he heard her laugh. It was like the dog couldn't decide if he should be licking her or just happy with the scratches she was giving him.

Alright. Boss loved dogs. He put that in the plus column. He also loved dogs. They tended to be a lot more trustworthy than people. Quieter, too.

If he'd been ignored before, he was now completely forgotten by Nora. She jogged on ahead into the night with Dogmeat happily prancing alongside, barking and raising eight kinds of hell. Okay, that was fine then. He could see the lights of Sanctuary from here anyway. He'd catch up when he caught up. Mac wasn't going to run after her like that damn dog. He had that much dignity at least.

By the time he made it across the rickety bridge and passed the guard towers, Nora and Dogmeat had vanished deeper within the community. Cool. Wasn't like he was a total stranger here showing up in the dead of night or anything. Thanks, Boss.

There was someone waiting for him, though; standing under a streetlight, hands on her hips and that old wicked gleam in her eyes. He stopped and stared. No way. Couldn't be.

"Oi, hello there, handsome! Long time, no see. Just couldn't stay away when you heard I was here, huh?"

" Cait? I don't believe it." Mac really couldn't believe it. He'd assumed, as many who'd heard about the fall of the Combat Zone, that Cait had died. Finally consumed by her addiction to chems and violence. Yet, here she stood. She looked...good. Great , in fact. Healthier than he'd thought possible and not a single bruise on her.

"Good to see you, MacCready. It's been a while, yeah? Last time I saw you, I wasn't sure even the bar could hold you up. Nice to see you when ya aren't fallin' down drunk. It's a good look on you." She gave him a once over. He never could tell if she was flirting with him or she was just being...her.

"Yeah, yeah. Sober's a good look on you, too, Cait." She used to fidget constantly like the boss did. Psycho is a hell of a drug and she used more than any human he'd ever seen. This new Cait was calm and still. Country living was doing someone some good, anyway.

"Oh, now you've got me blushin', MacCready. I bet you say that to all the girls."

He laughed. This was nice, talking to someone he wasn't constantly thrown off by. He'd always had a soft spot for Cait. Kinda reminded him of Nova in Megaton back home, all sharp edges with a soft heart.

"What on earth are you doing here, anyway? A settlement at the as-far end of the Commonwealth doesn't seem like your speed."

She smiled, "Well, could be I slowed down a bit. Turns out I got a way with plants, if you can believe it."

Mac blinked. "You...seriously?"

Cait laughed, "Fuck no, MacCready. I teach the idiots here how to fight so raiders don't take the place. Goddamn , I do love gullibility on a man."

He should have known. There was the Cait he remembered. He decided to change the subject. "You seen where Nora was headed, by any chance? Think she forgot about me back there."

Cait snorted. "Try not to take it personal, Mac. No man stands a chance with her with Dogmeat around. She loves that stupid fart machine more than life itself." She paused, a little unsure. "You've...you've never been here before, right?"

Mac nodded. Cait nodded back.

"Och, well, then ya dunno. Nora has a...thing she does every time she comes back home." Cait shrugged. "Can't turn her from it. Your best bet is to just wait by her house. It's the one with Codsy outside. He'll be waitin' for her by now. Big, shiny robot. Can't miss him."

Mac shifted his pack. A house. Thank god. She hadn't wanted to leave any of the crap she'd forced on him in Tenpines, wanting to save it for here. His shoulders were killing him. He needed to drop his pack someplace and sleep for a week.

Who needed this many desk fans? Honestly?

He smiled at Cait. A real one. She winked cheekily at him and sauntered off towards the bar built over the water. They were maybe ten feet apart when she turned and called out his name.

"Oi, Mac!"

"Yeah?"

"I'd watch out for Deacon if I were you. Tall, handsome man with the shades. He weren't too thrilled nor impressed when he found out you were travelin' with Nora, if you take my meaning."

Mac popped his neck. God fucking dammit. That asshole was here, of all places?

"Got it. Thanks, Cait."

"Anytime, cutie. Anytime."

He had to admit, Sanctuary was impressive. If they survived long enough, he could see this becoming the new Diamond City, or at least a rival. People milled out, even after dark, with a relaxed sort of air he wasn't used to seeing in an only partially-walled settlement. Of course, there were guards and turrets everywhere. Probably had a lot to do with it.

He'd even noticed an old pre-war playground in the middle of some crops. Mac indulged for just a second, imagining Duncan growing up in a place like this, running around with the other kids, being kept safe by a whole community that actually cared rather than just his last two surviving friends in the Capital Wasteland. He wondered if these people knew how lucky they were to live here? Probably not. Mac had noticed that assholes who got breaks like this tended to never appreciate them. That's part of what made them assholes.

Every guard he passed was wearing the Minutemen uniform, complete with hat. He was pretty impressed that each one separately looked him over, eyeballed his hat that matched theirs, and only then relaxed as he walked by. At least they weren't mindless drones. Every man, and woman, who'd been picked for guard duty seemed well trained with functioning brains. No short straws here.

He rounded the corner and saw the house Cait had told him about, a shiny Mister Handy puttering around in front, wearing a bowler hat and muttering to himself about azaleas and roses, whatever those were. The house itself was obviously pre-war and had seen some shit in its time, but there were sturdy boards over the old windows and a patched roof. At least it would be warm and dry. Good enough for free.

The robot turned towards him as he approached and Mac made a show of putting his empty hands up. He'd long ago heard...things, about this particular Mister Handy from an old pre-war ghoul in Goodneighbor. He wasn't looking to get crisped up anytime soon.

"Oh, Mister MacCready! That is you, isn't it? Mum said you'd be along!"

Guess she had remembered him.

"Yeah, it's just MacCready, thanks...and you're Cods...y?"

The robot muttered. "I see you've already seen Miss Cait. It's Codsworth , if you please."

Mac snickered a little. Only Cait could aggravate a robot programmed to be polite. "Whatever you say. Is there a place I should stash my gear or what? I got about a million bits of junk Nora just couldn't bear to part with out there and they're breakin' my back here."

"Oh, wonderful! New parts! Splendid! I'll just take those, Mister MacCready. You are free to wait for Mum in the house, if you'd like. She should be finished talking to Sir soon."

Mac handed the useless shit over and frowned at the use of Mister...and..."Sir?"

Codsworth voice was low and tinged with sadness. "Oh, yes. Mum misses Sir terribly. She always checks in with him when she comes home."

Mac felt like he was missing something here. "I...was 'Sir' her husband?"

"He certainly was. They made quite the pair. He doted on her, you know, and she just thought he hung the moon. I replay my memories of all those happy times often. He cherished her. Absolutely cherished her, and when young Shaun came along, why, it was like a fairytale."

Mac felt a little knot of...something unpleasant form in his stomach. Jealousy, maybe? He'd thought a lot about the kind of man a woman like Nora would have been with. It had been selfish, but he'd kinda hoped the guy was a jerk. The way Codsworth told it though, he'd been prince fucking charming. Of course he had been. He was prince charming, and Mac was a schmuck for thinking she'd ever go for a guy like him. He didn't know what the hell had been happening between them, but clearly it had to be just a passing whim of hers. Maybe she was just lonely?

It hurt more than he wanted to admit.

He cleared his throat a little and lowered his voice, "Codsworth, I thought her husband had...you know.. .died ?"

Codsworth nodded his middle eye at him. "Yes, sir. A tragedy of the highest order. The world lost a great man that day."

"Uh-huh. I'm sure it did. So, how is she checking in with him, exactly?"

The robot had started to float away, the heavy bags apparently no more cumbersome than a feather duster to it. "Why, she goes and talks to him in the cemetery, of course. As one does."

Mac frowned. A cemetary? People still did those? He knew sometimes people buried their kids, but most just burned the bodies, if there even were bodies left to burn. Sanctuary actually had a cemetary? That could get depressing real quick in a settlement of this size. He put his hands in his pockets and bounced back on his heels for a minute.

It was probably, definitely a bad idea to go try to find the boss. Cait and Codsworth had both said he should wait in her house. Yeah.

With that thought in mind, Mac headed further down the street. The place wasn't that big. Cemetary should be easy to find.

He wanted to meet 'Sir' himself.

Mac had made it maybe fifty feet when he realized he had eyes on his back. Somebody was ghosting him. He kept his head down and checked his peripherals. Whoever it was, he couldn't see them in the dark, even with the occasional streetlight Sanctuary sported. The only people out at this point were the Minutemen guards. Maybe one of them had been assigned to follow him? That would make a lot of sense, since he was new in town. It was uncomfortable, walking while trying to ignore that prickly feeling between his shoulders, but he knew he wasn't in danger here. Anyway, he still had his pistol. It was just some overzealous guard. It was fine.

The eyes never left him as he came upon an almost hidden path in the dirt. It looked like it wasn't used much and led behind a large building. New build. It had a red cross on it like the old hospitals sometimes did. Did Sanctuary actually have a real hospital? Damn. That was impressive.

Well, if it did, and if that's what this building was, then it would probably make sense that people would get buried out back, right? Right. Mac took the little dirt path, cutting through the darkness, wishing he knew who was watching him so he could punch whoever it was square in the mouth.

He hadn't intended on sneaking up on the boss or spying on her private time talking to a lump of dirt. Mac just naturally moved quiet was all. He came around the corner and there she was, sitting with her back to him on the cold ground, Dogmeat practically in her lap and her fingers carding through his fur. She was talking but the wind was blowing her words away from him. The dog noticed him but other than an odd ear perked up for a second, didn't give him a second glance. He was too busy being pampered to care about MacCready.

Nora's guard was completely down and Mac frowned. He didn't care how safe this place supposedly was, you didn't ever let your guard down like that. Especially just to talk to yourself. There weren't even guard stations on this side of the building. Unbelievable. And all these idiots just let her indulge in this madness every time she showed up.

Mac started to move forward when a hand landed on his shoulder out of fucking nowhere. Another went over his mouth before he could make a sound, dragged him back out of view and he heard an annoyingly familiar voice in his ear. Right in his fucking ear. Creeper.

"Still killing people for caps, MacCready?", the hand moved away from his mouth.

"I dunno, still pretending to be anyone but yourself, Johnny ?" Mac turned around, smacking the hand away from his shoulder, and there he was. Deacon. That fucker. Ever since Mac had taken a contract that had ended with the death of some synth, as if he'd known or cared the person had been a synth, Deacon had had a problem with him.

He probably also didn't like that Mac had a long memory, and had remembered his voice from when the Railroad had been doing shit back home. Face swaps or not, you didn't forget a voice like that. He'd probably have been a radio dj or something if the Railroad thing hadn't panned out. Smooth talking motherfucker.

The two men glared at each other. At least, Mac thought they were glaring at each other. Deacon still had sunglasses on. In full dark. What a fucking dork.

Deacon smiled, like they were old friends. " No one interrupts Nora's private time with Nate. I'm sure someone already told you that. What's going on, hmm? Turning Peeping Tom? Not enough to just be a hired killer anymore, kid? Need that extra thrill?"

Mac snorted. "That's rich coming from you, fu-freaking creeper. Isn't that basically your job or whatever? Staring slack-jawed at people from the shadows, probably with your pecker out."

Deacon's smile widened. "Aw, what's wrong, little Mayor McPottymouth? Afraid I've seen more of your boss's goodies than you have? Well, let me ease your delicate sensibilities." He leaned forward into Mac's personal space and looked at him over his shades. "I definitely have."

Mac glared up at him. Why did assholes always have to be so damn tall anyway? "Bullsh-bunk, Deacon. You dunno what I've seen...or what I've done." He ignored the ghost of guilt that whispered up his spine. Mac had never been one to kiss and tell but dammit, Deacon just got to him. The idea of Deacon even knowing Nora at all was enough to make him want to fight the man. Anyway, the zinger seemed to hit. Maybe. He thought it had, anyway. It was always hard to tell with Deacon.

" Oooh , somebody's been busy growing big boy stones. Now I know you're full of shit, MacCready. If you'd so much as laid a hand on her, you'd have burst into flames. Sinners like you aren't meant to touch heaven."

Like he didn't already know that. "And what, you're worthy? With all the sh-stuff you've done? Your hands are at least as dirty as mine, Deacon. Dirtier, even." Mac wasn't completely sure that was true, but he heard shit, same as anybody else. "You need to get the he-heck outta my face. Last man who looked at me like you do ended up trying to lay one on me. Let me save you the embarrassment now. I ain't interested."

Deacon smirked at him, "Hmm, cute. Ya know, maybe she likes my kinda dirty, kid. You ever think of that?" He stopped towering over MacCready and casually walked around the corner. Like he fucking belonged there. Like it was okay for him to interrupt this supposedly sacred private time everyone else respected.

If Mac got out of this place without putting a bullet in Deacon's head, someone should nominate him for sainthood or whatever. The man was beyond infuriating.

Mac fumed for almost a full five minutes, listening to their murmurs and feeling his anger grow bigger and bigger until he felt like it had pushed him outside his body. He decided to follow him around the corner. If Deacon could interrupt Nora, so could he, right? Besides, it wasn't like he was going to ever willingly let Deacon be alone around Nora. Absolutely fucking not. Clearly he could not be trusted.

Mac froze. Clearly should not have come around the corner.

Deacon had his arms wrapped tight around her, swaying gently back and forth. Nora was folded against his chest like she loved it there, like she never wanted to leave. Mac hated to admit it but they looked like they belonged together. The bastard had one hand rubbing little circles on the small of her back and another was gently pulling the pins from her hair, letting it fall freely down her back and massaging the back of her neck. Her hat was forgotten in the dirt at their feet. She was practically purring under his hands. Mac watched him drop a kiss on the top of her head and watched Nora's whole body relax and melt against him.

He felt sick. He felt radstorm sick.

Mac knew Deacon saw him. Had been waiting for him to come around the corner. He felt frozen in time as he saw the smirk directed at him. Goddammit. Deacon knew exactly how he felt about Nora. Probably exactly how much he'd done with her, too, which, admittedly, wasn't much but still. Deacon always knew shit he wasn't supposed to.

Mac felt trapped, stripped bare...his mind went back to when he was a little kid and had stumbled on some of the older kids in Lamplight doing...things...to each other. It was that same sick, twisting pit in his stomach. Like he was seeing something he wasn't supposed to see, but he couldn't look away.

Deacon was whispering something to Nora, moving his lips against her hair. She still hadn't noticed their audience. Of course, Mac was in full shadow, at night, and she was infuriatingly oblivious even in the day.

Nora looked up at him, laughing in an indulgent sort of way. She'd certainly never laughed that way at Mac before. For a second he thought they were going to kiss. Deacon sure seemed to want to; he'd licked his lips and smiled a crooked smile at her, inviting and far more kind than Mac had ever seen.

Instead, to his horror, he watched her slide out of Deacon's arms, onto her knees. Watched Deacon's smirk grow as he watched her go down, only to look up and stare at Mac. Watched Nora's hands come up to his fly and saw Deacon turn back to her. She'd said something and he ran a hand over her hair and chuckled at her.

Mac had seen enough.

He went back and waited at her house. Like they'd all told him to do. Like he should have done all along. If he felt like he'd dropped what had been left of his heart in the dry dirt there by the side of the hospital, he wouldn't miss it. He knew it would be for the best, once the pain faded. If the pain faded.

Codsworth had set up the couch for him. Just like that first night at the Cabots. He didn't want to think about that night, or any of the nights and days that had come after.

Mac didn't wait up for Nora. Apparently someone else was going to keep her warm tonight.

Just his luck.

Chapter Text

Some jerkoff was knocking on Nora's door. The boarded up windows meant it was always dark inside, but apparently morning had come to Sanctuary. Mac opened bloodshot eyes and wondered if this was going to be his problem or someone else's.

He hadn't slept well, if at all, really. Nora had actually come home, sooner than he'd thought she would. Quiet as a mouse. If he hadn't heard the door click shut he never would've noticed. Probably trying to be a good hostess or some shit. Or maybe she'd just needed to get a drink to get the taste of...him out of her mouth.

Who the fuck knew? She'd paused by the couch but Mac had pretended to be asleep. Pretended he totally didn't feel her fingers briefly brush his hair.

Stupid hair. Too bad Deacon had ruined going bald for him. Permanently.

After that, he'd listened to the sounds of her getting ready for bed. She hummed in Sanctuary and drummed on random things as she passed them. It should have been annoying. Mac desperately wanted it to be annoying.

Instead he found himself trying to figure out if he knew her song. Goddammit.

Dogmeat had come home with her and known he was awake, of course. Dogs always knew. They were pure and honest and so much better than people. He kept nudging Mac's hand and he felt bad for ignoring the pup, but he couldn't deal with facing Nora now. Not when he'd gone over the scene Deacon had set again and again in his head, each time his mind coming up with a worse ending. He couldn't stand it. Mac had foolishly let himself believe he might finally have a shot at real happiness again. He could blame Deacon for it all he wanted, but deep down he knew he was mad at himself for getting his hopes up in the first place.

After all, if the situation was reversed, if he had that kind of connection with Nora, if he'd been granted the privilege to put his hands on her and...well, other things, he'd want the whole world to know, too. Any one would.

The knocking wasn't stopping. Was he alone in the house? Fuck. He must have gotten at least a little sleep if Nora and the dog had managed to sneak back out without him noticing.

It was definitely his problem. Mac got up.

He wasn't entirely sure what he'd expected when he flung the door open, but never in a million years had he thought it would be this.

" Bonjour , Monsieur MacCready!"

Oh, wonderful. Another beautiful woman. Man, somebody really liked fucking with his head up there.

When he didn't immediately respond, she continued, "I am Curie. Madame said you were probably still asleep, but Monsieur Deacon said 'non! c'est impossible!' He is such a charming gentleman, don't you think? Only the second person I have met to know French. Si triste; so sad. It was such a beautiful language."

Deacon. Of course. It was Deacon fucking with him again. Mac could practically smell the crazy on this one. She had that same weird, sharp look Nora did. Like she saw everything and nothing all at once and then made the internal executive decision to just ignore most of it. She even had the head tilt down.

Curie, no last name, apparently, was dressed in a Vault-Tec lab coat. It was oddly pristine. He wondered if Nora had taken it to be cleaned at the Cabots or if Codsworth had some kind of magic clothes washing programming.

Mac's brain woke up enough to prod him into a response. "Hi...hey, yes, I'm MacCready."

She clapped her hands, eyes sparkling like a child. "Oh! Fantastique! I have been tasked with bringing you to breakfast. Mademoiselle Cait always says that if you do not work, then you do not eat, but Madame said you work all the time so you can eat all you want." She finally took a breath and looked at him excitedly while he grabbed his hat and closed the door behind him. "Tell me, please, Monsieur MacCready, what is your line of work?"

"Uh...", Mac thought a second. He didn't want to scare off the new crazy lady. Especially if sending her had been Deacon's idea. The jerk was probably hoping he'd screw this up somehow. "I, uh...you know, I protect people. Keep 'em safe." Technically true, for this job, anyway.

Curie seemed to think this was wonderful. " Mon dieu . How brave and gallant! To risk your life for your fellow man like that. Madame knows the kindest people, does she not? Are you a Minuteman, too? Or with her...ah, other friends?"

So she knew about the Railroad, too, then. Most secret underground organization in the Commonwealth. What a joke.

"I'm more freelance, actually. Don't like to stay in one place for too long."

Curie looked fascinated by him, like she had a billion questions...or like she wanted to open his head and dissect his brain, maybe? She was intense.

Unfortunately, for her line of inquiry, they'd reached the communal house across the street with it's scavenged patio tables arranged out front. Deacon was already there, seated. Of course he was. Somebody had already brought him breakfast, too. He tipped the brim of his hat to Curie like some old timey cowboy out of a spaghetti western and smirked at Mac when she wasn't looking.

Bastard.

"Don't get too attached to Mac, here, Curie. He's got that lust."

Mac froze mid-sit. Curie's head did the little tilt thing that seemed to be common among all intense, crazy ladies.

"The lust, Monsieur Deacon? Le armor ?"

Nora's voice rang out from inside the house. "Wanderlust, Curie. Esprit d'aventure ." She came out of the settlement's main kitchen, a tray of food in her hands. "Monsieur MacCready is a soldier of fortune and so he wanders trying to find it." She made it sound exciting, fun, even. Ha.

Released temporarily from Deacon's games, Mac finally sat down. The women sat in the final two available chairs. Boy girl boy girl. Well, wasn't that sweet.

He focused on his food. It seemed the safest bet. Certainly safer than noticing how the green in Nora's dress brought out her eyes and how she had that cuddly sweet housewife thing happening with her apron and sweater with the tiny buttons and her hair down her back in a loose braid...or how Deacon sat practically making kissy faces at her. Curie seemed oblivious to it all, describing each piece of food that went into her mouth in excruciating detail like she'd never ate before.

He'd bet she would get on swell with Jack. They could talk each other into the next century and leave the rest of humanity alone with their thoughts.

Mac was almost finished with his tatos when Deacon just had to open his mouth again. He'd long since finished, there was nothing keeping him at the table. Other people probably wanted to sit down, the inconsiderate jerk. ' A charming gentleman ', Curie had called him. Ha.

"Man, Nora, I cannot tell you how much I missed having you around. It’s so boring when you're gone. A man gets lonely without his little lapin de la mort.", it came out a sickening coo to Mac's ears. Jesus. Didn't the man care that there were children present...somewhere? A settlement like this had to have kids somewhere.

He had no idea what the last part of his sentence had meant, but it sounded like that stuff that kept popping out of Curie's mouth so it had to be French, right? Of fucking course Deacon could speak French. Wasn't he just Mr. Perfect?

Nora sipped her coffee and smiled. "That's so sweet, honey. You know I always miss you, too."

Mac wondered if anyone had actually been killed with a fork before. Deacon could be the first. It could totally happen. Mac could make it happen. He would be legend. Mac the Fork.

The bastard had his smile turned all the way up, not that he was looking. If this were some stupid movie, it would be time for a close-up. Mac could tell.

"I mean it, gorgeous. I miss making you sing for me." He sighed dramatically. Deacon waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Nora. "Wish I could hear it now." His voice was low, seductive. Probably getting all the ladies of Sanctuary knocked up as he spoke.

Mac's head snapped up. He glared at Deacon as hard as he possibly could and then felt the bottom of his stomach fall when Nora actually blushed.

He didn't know why he'd thought she only did that for him.

She set the cup down and leaned towards Deacon just a bit, like she wanted to keep this ridiculous conversation private. Yeah, too little, too late, boss. "I'm sorry, weren't you listening last night? I sang for you plenty then. You certainly seemed like you were listening."

Curie slapped the table suddenly and Mac nearly jumped out of his chair. He'd completely forgotten she was even there.

" Mon dieu! C'est inacceptable! I do not know how many times I have asked, Monsieur Deacon, that I be included when the two of you are together! You are the only one she will do it with. It is not fair!"

Nora was staring down at the napkin in her lap. Mac was pretty sure she was trying not to giggle.

Deacon pouted at Curie and put his hands over his heart. "Ah, Mademoiselle Curie, ma belle , you wound me! You know I would love to not only include you, but see her perform with you! Our dove is a shy one though, ma cherie ." Curie pouted right back at him until he put a holotape under her nose. Where the hell had that come from? "Which is why I made you a recording of our time together last night."

Curie squealed, snatching the tape from his hands. Deacon had that smirk back on his stupid face. Nora started clearing dishes, cheeks pink, not meeting anyone's eyes.

MacCready was now pretty sure he had died and was in some incarnation of hell, where all the women were hot but crazy and they were all super into assholes. Shit. Deacon's dick must be bedazzled in caps or something.

The plates and cups vanished from in front of him. Curie had already skipped off with her treasure towards the hospital. Deacon locked eyes with MacCready one last time over his sunglasses and deliberately, deliberately , let his napkin drop between his feet.

" Oh, no . Whoops. Sorry, bun-bun." He smiled that rare genuine smile up at Nora and gestured helplessly at the napkin. She rolled her eyes at him, dirty dish bin on one hip and a hand on the other. Sassy.

God, she was beautiful.

"I swear, Deacon, I just can't for the life of me figure out how someone with such nimble hands can be such a butterfingers sometimes." Nora huffed, set the bin down, and reached under the table, her face practically in Deacon's lap.

Deacon leaned back in his chair, thumbs through his belt loops, and chuckled as Mac furiously got up and stormed off. "Truly, it is a mystery, beautiful."

Chapter Text

Mac had decided the best thing for right now was for him to stay the hell away from Nora and Deacon. She hadn't specifically ordered him to shadow her here, and, good patrols or not, a sniper on lookout was always welcome. He'd headed all the way back toward the hospital, easily the tallest building around, and shimmied his way up to the top.

He lit one of his few precious cigarettes, set his rifle next to him, and let the cold wind hit his face. It was soothing. He felt like he was on fire inside and he wanted to use that fire to burn this place down. Instead, here he was, protecting it...or pretending to anyway.

The caps were just too damn good. He had only been with Nora almost three weeks and he'd already saved up enough to ensure Duncan could have a proper Christmas, with real toys and plenty of food. Plus, every week brought him closer to being able to buy his way out of trouble with the Gunners.

He was still pretty sure, too, that, by now, if he really had no other options left, he could ask Nora for someone trustworthy to help him get into MedTek even. Maybe Cait or Edward. Nora was a mother, after all. Probably wouldn't be able to help herself but try to assist him if he ever got around to telling her the whole story. Not that he was feeling very talkative right now.

Fuck, he'd totally forgotten he had all those questions for her earlier before everything had gone to shit. He grumpily wondered if Deacon knew the answers to them. Probably. He probably recognized her as the Nuka Girl the first time he laid eyes on her and had latched on like a deathclaw on a bone. It's what Mac would have done.

Whatever. He didn't know how long they'd be stuck here, but babysitting a settlement wasn't as bad as trying to keep Nora alive in the wastes. At least here that duty got spread around, with Deacon clearly taking point. When Mac had finally actually gotten around to properly watching the town, he kept catching little glimpses of Nora, Deacon following her around like a puppy...a creepy puppy.

She went everywhere, with no rhyme or reason that he could see. Typical. She'd even gone into the hospital under him once, never noticing him on top of it. Curie worked there and he'd heard their muffled conversation, almost entirely in that strange language. He'd wondered if everyone before the bombs had spoken more than one language like Nora did. Must have been nice to grow up when real schools had existed.

Then she'd gone over to the massive junk yard and talked for a bit with Codsworth, who seemed to be in charge of sorting all the odds and ends. That made sense.

Probably a good job for a cleaning robot in a world that was hopelessly dirty. At the center of the yard was a huge contraption of some kind, all blackened metal and twisted beams. Looked very sci-fi to Mac. Most likely something dragged in from a military installation. You could scav a lot of expensive parts off shit like that. Codsworth and a few settlers were busy dismantling the thing and tossing the parts into their respective piles.

He'd noticed the tapping was all but absent. The usual offending hand (it was almost always her left one) was nearly always tucked into Deacon's. Well...good for Deacon, then.

It turned out there were kids in the settlement. A whole herd of kids. They seemed to be shepherded by a small woman with a razor blade for a voice. Marcy, something? She moved angrily and snapped at any adult who got in her way, but was surprisingly gentle with her small charges. They'd all run straight for Nora the second they saw her. It was one of the few times Deacon allowed himself to be pushed to the side, laughing as he went.

Apparently she'd been teaching them some sort of silly dance and they'd been practicing their moves. He watched Nora laugh and clap along with them, getting pulled along to dance with people half her size or smaller. There was an odd, sharp pain in his chest as he watched her pick up a toddler, settle them on her hip and then spin around, laughing merrily the whole time. She looked good with a baby in her arms.

Mac had spent the entirety of the morning up in his spot. He liked it up high and quiet, even if having the sky, and not a cave, above his head still felt weird. Could have stayed there forever if his stomach hadn't been rumbling. He'd gotten too used to eating regularly. It was a pain in the ass to keep up with.

It was approaching mid-afternoon already. He'd have to risk another encounter to get food. If he'd been able to think properly before, he'd have grabbed provisions, but after Deacon's performance this morning, Mac had been caught in fight or flight mode.

He was about to pack up and go steal something to eat when Cait's cursing broke through his melancholy. Mac leaned over and frowned. What the hell was Cait doing trying to climb the hospital? He did his best to not laugh. He'd seen enough of her in action back in the day to know this was not a woman you laughed at.

Instead, he bit his tongue and held out a hand to her when she got close enough.

She grinned at him as she scrambled up over the edge and sat with her feet dangling, handing him a water and a pack of Fancy Lads from her small pack. Ah, bless her heart of gold. He knew he'd always liked Cait.

"Thanks, Cait, you're a doll." Mac scooted over a bit so she didn't feel crowded and tore into the cake. It tasted like heaven-flavored sawdust and he almost moaned it was so good.

They sat in companionable silence, both eating their junk food as they looked out over Sanctuary. Cait took a long drink off her water and cleared her throat.

"Ya know, Nora says these things used to be soft? She said they were soft and spongy and you didn't need half a can of water to choke 'em down. Can you imagine that?"

Mac paused and took a small sip of water. He hadn't really wanted to talk about Nora but okay. "Yeah, must've been something to live back then."

"Oh, to be sure. I know it weren't all flowers and Quantums before the bombs, but shite , had to be better than this world."

Mac grunted. All he really knew of the old world was what he'd picked up in comics and the history of Lamplight. Honestly, aside from the difference in food and radiation, he was pretty sure it had been about the same level of bullshit. Although, if it could produce someone like Nora, it couldn't have been all bad, he guessed.

He glanced at Cait, who seemed content to just sit and drink her water. She seemed a little too casual for his liking. No way she had climbed all the way up here just to share snack cakes with him. They weren't that buddy-buddy.

"So what brings a beautiful girl like you to my neck of the woods, Cait?"

She snorted, "Can't a girl just want to sit next to a handsome man once in a while? Jeez, MacCready. Give a lady a break." Cait fluttered her eyelashes at him.

He stared at her, deadpan. She finally started to smile. Yeah, he knew it. Mac went back to looking out over Sanctuary, taking another swig off his water. At least he was getting better at catching her bullshit.

"Alright, alright, you caught me. I thought maybe you'd want a piece of the action is all."

Mac sputtered and tried not to choke. A piece of...what? Cait was now outright laughing at him. Fantastic.

"Oh, you wish , handsome. Not that kinda action. You've never been here before so I knew you didn't know about Combat Tag. I'll give you two to one odds on Nora." Cait's eyes were sparkling like he was some green mark. Nuh-uh. This was clearly a trap of some sort. He knew Cait could get caps out of even the most tightfisted of misers. He wasn't letting her work her magic on him.

"Cait, I know you think because I have a dick, I'm stupid." She snorted with laughter. "But even I'm not that stupid. I don't even know what Combat Tag is and even if I did, it doesn't sound like something Nora would be good at. It's got 'combat' in the title." He stuck his tongue out at her pouty face.

"Well...fine. Be that way, then. I've already got me bets placed with Marcy and Sheffield, anyway. Just don't be a wanker and interfere in the game. That'll ruin it for everybody." She shook a warning finger at him and crossed her arms. Holy shit she had muscles on top of muscles. No wonder she'd been able to tear a man's head clean off his shoulders once.

He held up his hands. "Fine, fine. Whatever this stupid game is, I won't do anything. I'll just sit here with my thumbs up my a-butt, alright?"

She smiled. "Good boy. I knew you could be taught. You dunno what time it is, by the by?"

"Uh...", he looked at the sun. "Maybe...half past noon?"

Cait smiled that feline smile of hers. "Perfect."

Chapter Text

An outraged scream echoed through Sanctuary, followed quickly by Dogmeat barking incessantly. Mac tensed. That sounded an awful lot like Nora. He made a move for his rifle on instinct, but Cait's hand on his arm stopped him. He stared at her, confused and she just shook her head at him, chuckling.

"Game's on, Mac." She nodded in the direction of the communal farming plots.

He whipped his head around and there she was. Nora was tearing through the fields, still in her dress from the morning. Her shoes were gone and Mac worried she'd step on something dangerous...or lose her toes to frostbite. The sweater was gone and her arms were exposed, too. What the hell was going on?

Deacon came sprinting behind her, Dogmeat alongside him. Mac had thought Nora was fast, but Deacon, he realized, was clearly faster. Nora seemed to sense he was behind her though and pivoted just as his hand went to grab her by the hair. He missed by inches and fell on his face trying to follow her sudden change in direction.

Ha! Take that, fucker!

Cait was chortling beside him. "Oh, she's gotten better. He's actually having to work a bit now. Might finally be the day I lose caps bettin' against her." She didn't seem terribly upset by the prospect.

Nora had spun to face Deacon now, feet planted in a clear fighting stance Mac hadn't even known she knew, as her attacker started slowly getting up. Even from this distance, Mac could see the maniacal, vicious grin on his face. Jesus. He'd only ever seen raiders out of their minds on psycho or ultrajet look like that.

Nora, on the other hand, looked focused. Really focused. Like the night she'd taken out those Gunners. He watched her hands flex a little and knew she was thinking. Trying to calculate a way to take down her much larger, stronger opponent.

Barefoot. In a dress. Unarmed.

This was ridiculous. And the fact that Mac seemed to be the only one who thought so just proved everyone here was nuts. Farmers had stopped tending their fields to lean on tools and watch...whatever was about to happen. He saw the women at the clotheslines smiling indulgently at the pair.

What the hell was wrong with this place?

Deacon circled Nora (while Dogmeat circled them both, barking like a fool but not particularly aggressive, Mac noticed), looking for an opening...or maybe just fucking with her? Mac could see his mouth moving. He was saying something to her and whatever it was, it broke that focused look on her face made it go all stony. He was trying to provoke her, Mac realized. Trying to goad her into reacting before she was ready.

She suddenly sprung forward and came at Deacon like a kid hopped up on too much Nuka. Shit. She'd fallen for it.

Deacon laughed, the bastard, and grabbed her as she rushed him, easily lifting her and tossing her aside like a ragdoll. Nora hit the ground, hard, sliding a bit along the dead grass. Mac growled. Asshole was going to really hurt her doing shit like that.

" Och , that had to hurt. She's smarter than that." Cait was muttering under her breath. She then cupped her hands and yelled towards the field. "Come on, girlie! Get your head out yer arse! Focus! "

Mac frowned. Nora wasn't moving. He watched her struggle to catch her breath. Dogmeat surged forward, sniffed her and then danced away at Deacon's approach. She must have gotten the wind knocked out of her when she landed. She managed to raise up on her elbows but couldn't seem to get up. Deacon loomed over her, his face all but unrecognizable in its fury. Nora was staring up at him, trying to scoot back away from him when he fell heavily on top of her.

Now Mac was pissed . Deacon was tearing at Nora's dress. His hands were everywhere. Her skirt was shoved up above her hips, the creamy legs splattered with mud and he could see Deacon grinding into her while she kept ineffectually batting at his hands and pushing his shoulders, shrieking breathlessly at him. Shit. Shit shit shit. Was this part of the game, too? All of Sanctuary was just going to watch her get raped out here in the open? If he'd wanted more of that, he could have stayed with the fucking Gunners.

Mac closed his eyes and tried to control his breathing, tried to stamp down the nausea. This might be prime entertainment for the people here, but he couldn't watch. He felt Cait take his hand and looked over at her. She was smiling gently at him.

"It's alright, darlin'. I know it can be hard ta watch for some, but it'll be over soon."

He just stared at her. What the hell? How could someone like Cait be okay with this?

Then he heard another outraged scream. Different than before.

It was Deacon.

In the few moments Mac had looked away, Nora had done...something, to Deacon. She was up, moving backward quickly and not taking her eyes off him. The top of her dress was torn open, her skirt was rumpled and dirty. She was flushed all over, gulping air and he could see it when she released it. She was running hot, then. Some of the farmers were clapping and whistling. Whatever she'd done, they were clearly impressed. Dogmeat was dancing around behind her, tail wagging and his tongue lolling out.

Curie's voice from below startled him. He hadn't realized she'd been watching, too. " Touche , madame! You can do it!"

Deacon got up, limping a bit and rubbing his neck. He grinned evilly at her and said something that had Nora's eyes going wide. She bolted and Mac watched Deacon chuckle to himself before taking off after her again. He wasn't completely sure, but he thought maybe he'd given her a headstart on purpose.

Mac had to admit, Nora was pretty good at evading, but he could see she was clearly tiring. Her pivots weren't as neat as before and several times he was pretty sure Deacon could have had her if he'd really wanted to. Cait was hooting and laughing every time Nora managed to twist away from him, cheering her on despite having bet against her. Curie, too, was giggling and clapping, delighted in the spectacle of Deacon chasing 'Madame'.

People here were absolutely, positively, batshit crazy.

Finally, it was over. Nora's feet were slick with mud by now, and when she tried to dart away, she slid a bit and got thrown off balance. Deacon's large hands wrapped around her waist and down they went, her squirming under him on her back and him still grinning at her with that slightly deranged look.

Deacon said something to her and Nora vehemently shook her head, baring her teeth at him. He laughed and said it again and this time Nora actually snapped her teeth at him. Mac shifted, hoping Cait wouldn't notice the party starting in his pants. He really didn't want to admit it, but fierce Nora was pretty hot. Maybe even his new favorite.

He wondered if she played this game with anyone or just that asshole.

Cait was chuckling. "Ah, he got her. Gonna go get my caps. See ya, Mac." She moved away and he mumbled a goodbye as she disappeared over the side of the roof.
Deacon had her hands pinned over her head now. He leaned over her and was clearly whispering something in her ear. She shook her head. Mac was about to lose his goddamn mind when Deacon moved in, mouth on Nora's neck.

Then a wet, farting sound tore through the air.

Nora was suddenly screaming with laughter as Deacon blew a raspberry on her neck. He pulled back and grinned at her, back to plain old regular Deacon and Mac was pretty sure he said 'Say it' to Nora. Nora was still laughing and kept shaking her head no.

Deacon shrugged and moved down past her exposed bra and blew another raspberry on her stomach. Dogmeat ran over and started enthusiastically licking her face. Nora squealed and jerked her hands out of his grasp to push Dogmeat's face away. Mac heard her start yelling.

"Uncle! Uncle ! Fine, good Lord, Deacon, Dogmeat, stop ! I said it! Uncle!"

She was still laughing as Deacon rolled off her and helped pull her up. Deacon was laughing, too, as were the settlers who'd still been watching. Some pouted sympathetically at Nora, giving her polite applause and words of encouragement. She waved them off and held the top of her dress closed with the other hand.

Codsworth immediately came over, handing over her sweater and shoes, tutting over the lost buttons on her bodice and the mud covering her skirt. Mac also noticed the caps exchanging hands. Seemed that even though Deacon was clearly the sure bet, a lot of settlers had put caps on Nora winning. Sentimental idiots.

Deacon helped her with her sweater, tucked her under his arm and kissed the top of her head. They walked off in the direction of her house, Dogmeat prancing along behind them. Mac fell back against the roof of the hospital, staring at the white puffy clouds and ignoring the raging boner in his pants.

Man , he hated Deacon.

Chapter Text

Man could not live by Fancy Lads alone. The sun was slipping down when Mac's stomach started rumbling, again. There was the scent of grilled brahmin in the air and it was making his mouth water. Jeez, a few weeks of eating three squares a day and he was already starting to get soft. He used to be able to go days without caring if he ate.

He silently came down off his perch and headed towards where he'd found breakfast. Hopefully Shady McAssface, aka Deacon, wouldn't be around to spoil his appetite.

Mac was close enough to hear the relaxed conversation of settlers, the clinking of glasses and silverware, when Codsworth rushed up in his face.

He could of sworn this robot was supposed to be polite. How was floating inches from his face and getting between him and food being polite?

He sighed, "Hey, Codsworth. Whatever it is, it'll have to wait until after dinner."

Codsworth's eye stalk bobbed. "Yes, sir, of course, but that's why I've come to get you. Miss Nora has your dinner. I'm to escort you home before it gets cold."

Mac rubbed his eyes. Great. Fantastic. Dinner at Nora's. She was probably sitting in Deacon's lap at the dinner table or some shit.

"Alright, Codsworth. Lead the way."

Mac was pleasantly surprised to find Nora was not, in fact, sitting in Deacon's lap. The jerk didn't even seem to be there at all. Wherever he had fucked off to, Mac hoped he stayed for a long, long time.

Instead, the scene that greeted him when Codsworth opened the front door and ushered him in was right out of Picket Fences, complete with Dogmeat stretched out in front of the fireplace.

He hadn't really cared to look around Nora's house yet, but it wasn't too bad on the inside. Certainly everything had been spit shined to within an inch of its life. He'd noticed the couch was clean the night before, but now that he was actually looking, all the furniture seemed clean, almost new. Cabots, maybe? Or Codsworth?

Whatever. It was nice is all he knew. Relaxing. There was actual art on the walls, her general uniform was resting on a mannequin, complete with hat. She had a few impressive rifles and pistols mounted up, too. That made Mac chuckle a bit. He hadn't thought she'd be the type to decorate with weapons. He liked it though.

Nora herself was already at the table, waiting for him. She'd changed her dress (this one was dark blue and almost matched the highlights in her hair shining in the bright glow given off by the kitchen light, not that he noticed or anything) and didn't really seem any the worse for wear after her defeat. There was food, too, probably, but as was typical for Mac when he was alone with Nora, he couldn't really focus on it.

Codsworth actually pulled his chair out so he could sit. Well, la-di-fucking-da. So fancy . Mac took his hat off and sat down. Seemed the right thing to do.

"Thank you, Codsworth. That will be all." Nora quietly dismissed the robot.

"Yes, mum. I'll be in the salvage yard, should you need me." The Mister Handy bobbed his eyes toward her and floated back out the front door, closing it behind him.

They were finally alone. It had only been barely a day, but Mac realized he'd missed it like they'd been separated for months.

It was going to be really fucking hard when they finally parted company.

Mac wasn't sure what to say. It had slowly dawned on him that, to Nora, his behavior was probably very childish. He'd basically stomped off at breakfast and pouted the day away as far as she knew. Like some kid who'd lost a card game. He felt a little embarrassed now. He could have at least told her where he was going. Mac had let his temper get out of hand, again, and now he was probably going to have to pay the piper for it, also again. He looked up, ready to apologize, but Nora beat him to it.

"Mac, I...well, I wanted...I invited you to dinner to apologize." The flickering in her eyes was back. Whatever she needed to get out, regular Nora on her own wasn't going to cut it, he guessed. "I shouldn't have run off like I did. Everyone knows...well, everyone knows by now what I have to do when I come home, but I completely forgot to tell you. I...I keep forgetting we haven't known each other very long and that we haven't...we haven't talked about much. I'm sure you were upset when I just took off like that. I know how seriously you take your job, Mac. I'm sorry I keep making it so difficult." She was perfectly still as she waited for his response. Almost. Mac could see her thumb rubbing the stem of her wine glass.

Once again, she'd thrown him off his stride. He'd figured she just wanted to chew his ass in private when Codsworth had grabbed him outside. Instead, he was getting an unnecessary apology and a home cooked meal to boot. Goddamn this woman was confusing as hell.

"It's...fine, boss. It's all fine. Cait filled me in when I got here so, you know, no harm done. You don't...I mean, you're the boss, right? You can do what you want. Anyway, we'd both had a rough time and all with that kidnapping. I'm sure you were tired and...you know, not thinking clearly or whatever. It's fine." Mac took a swig off the ice cold beer sitting next to his plate. That was alright, right? Pretty good, anyway. Talking shit out like this wasn't exactly his style, but he thought he'd managed. "Anyway, I'm sorry, too. I shouldn't have just, uh, wandered off myself this morning. I uh...I set up on the roof of the hospital and took watch. Figured I might as well be useful while we're here, right?" He looked at her, trying to give his best 'sorry I fucked up' smile. It had always worked with Lucy.

Nora was crying. Big shining tears pouring over her cheeks. Shit.

"Boss? Boss, hey, seriously, it's cool, okay? Please don't cry. Nora, come on." Mac went to get up but Nora waved her hand at him to sit and dabbed at her eyes with her napkin.

She laughed a little, "It's fine. I'm fine, honey. Just relieved. I really thought you weren't going to want to work with me anymore." She finished drying her eyes. "Sorry...I um...I've been under a lot of stress lately and don't...well, I don't people very well even when I'm not."

He frowned a bit. She'd said 'people' like it was an action. What the hell did that mean?

"You don't 'people' well, boss?"

She smiled and stared at her wine. "Yeah, I um...well, my mind works a little bit different." She got fierce for a second and pinned him to his seat with her eyes. "I am not crazy. There's nothing...wrong with me. I'm just...", she shrugged defeatedly.

"Different. Yeah, funny enough, I had noticed that, boss." He smiled a crooked smile at her and she huffed out a little breath of laughter.

He watched her take a tiny sip of wine. Damn, those lips. Oh, yeah, he'd almost forgot...

"Can I ask you a question, boss?", he took a bite of the dinner she'd made. Or maybe Codsworth had made. Some kind of loaf thing. He could taste the Cram in it but choked it down anyway. It was easily the closest he’d ever come to actually liking that crap. He'd missed home cooked meals too much to complain.

Nora nodded, "Of course. Anything. You...you probably have a lot by now. Questions, I mean. I don't think we've ever really gotten a chance to...to talk. I mean, I know I talk a lot but...", she stopped. Took a breath. Reshuffled. The thumb tapped the wine glass stem."Yes, Mac, you may ask me anything you'd like."

He nodded thoughtfully. It was true, he had a ton of questions. Hard questions, even, but he desperately did not want to spoil this dinner. He'd come to think of Nora as a friend, even as less civilized parts of him were thinking of her as walking sex. She was someone who was always wanting to look out for others, and kind. Smart and funny, too, sometimes even on purpose. You didn't see that too much nowadays. Mac wasn't going to shit on this good vibe. He'd missed her too much.

Of course, that didn't mean he didn't want to mess with her a little bit. It had been a very trying day for him, after all.

"So...tell me, boss, is that your natural hair color or are you actually blonde like when you were the Nuka Girl?"

Nora's eyes went wide behind the glasses. Impossibly wide. He smirked a bit as he watched the flush creep up her neck and bloom in her cheeks. Got her.

"You...I...did...", it seemed like he'd actually broken her brain with the question. Well, good. About damn time he threw her off.

"Shame I don't have anything for you to sign, boss. I mean, how often do you meet a real life celebrity? Can't believe I don't have a poster on me or somethin'."

Her hands and gaze went to her lap. He was pretty sure she was working on shredding the napkin he knew was there. She was chewing her bottom lip hard and Mac enjoyed watching the gears in her mind spin in place for a bit.

She really was adorable.

"How long have you known?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.

"Since we saved the milkmaid", he whispered back and took a swig off his beer to chase the Cram taste away.

Nora nodded. "Yeah...yeah, that makes sense. That billboard...and you're a sniper, so of course you'd be observant." She grumbled, "Those stupid billboards."

He smirked. "Yup, those stupid billboards. So?" Mac waited until she finally looked up at her and tried to not get distracted by how rosy her cheeks had become. "Real hair color or not?"

Nora's mouth opened but no sound came out. Then she started laughing. She kept laughing until tears were pouring down her face and she'd even started snorting and Mac couldn't help but laugh, too. He couldn't remember the last time he'd laughed this hard. His stomach was actually starting to hurt by the time he got it under control.

Nora was giggling still when she stuck her tongue out at him. "Fresh. You're never supposed to ask a woman if she dyes her hair. Everyone knows that, honey. Were you raised in a barn or something?"

It was Mac's turn to snort, "Close."

They smiled at each other. Mac felt like this was probably going to be one of those moments he took out of storage and thought about long, long after they'd gone their separate ways. It made things a little bittersweet to think of it that way, but he'd long ago learned to savor every little piece of happiness whenever it fell his way. You never knew when, or even if, it was going to happen again.

She took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter, Mac could practically see the crown on her head. "To answer your question, Mister MacCready, yes, this is my natural hair color. They changed the color in post for the print campaign when it didn't work well against a starry sky and I wore a wig for the guest appearance and commercial."

Mac smiled at her, "So, were all lawyers models back then, too? Or just you?"

Nora giggled and looked a little less like a queen and more like the slightly goofy girl he was used to bumbling along with. "No, I'm pretty sure most lawyers weren't models before the war. I wasn't one, either. I just won a...well, a contest, of sorts."

"A contest?"

She nodded. "Yes, they were called beauty pagents. You would get all dressed up and parade yourself on stage in front of a bunch of people and there were these men who would judge you."

Mac frowned. That sounded a lot like a slave auction to him. "Judge you on what?"

Nora waved a hand at him, "Oh, you know. Things like poise and demeanor, fitness. You basically had to show them you could walk and chew gum at the same time. There was almost always a talent portion, too, though. That was my favorite. The rest of it felt...well, kind of like being in a cattle auction, I guess?"

He nodded. Ayup. That's definitely what it sounded like to him. An auction. Mac decided to focus on the non-infuriating part for a moment, "So what was your talent?"

She smiled fondly, "I sang. Played piano and sang. I'd had music lessons for years...not that I was some kind of...of Magnolia, or something, but I could carry a tune at least."

Mac mildly hated the idea of her prancing around on stage like that, probably getting ogled by pervs. It didn't seem like something a woman like her would even be interested in. He was scowling at her and realized too late that she'd caught him at it. She nodded in acknowledgement.

"I know, I know. Goodness , your face. You look just like Nate did when I had to tell him." Nora rolled her eyes a bit. "Ugh, I guess this means he was right though. It was a stupid thing to do and it really is going to haunt me until the day I die." Mac's scowl deepened. Nora almost seemed ashamed. He liked that a hell of a lot less than the idea of her in some pageant.

"I'm sure you had a reason, boss. You usually seem to."

She smiled. "Thanks, Mac. At the time...at the time, it seemed like the only thing to do and I certainly didn't think it would go quite so far."

He waited. There was more to this story and he was patient.

Nora's eyes darted over his face. "Fine. Okay. Fine. The long and the short of it is, I needed the money. Nuka-Cola was sponsoring the pageant and the prize was a big scholarship." She paused. "That's like...money you could only use for school. I needed it for law school. Law school was very, very expensive and my job at the doughnut shop just wasn't going to cut it."

"I thought you were a Cabot, though? Weren't they rich even back then? They have all those old fancy paintings and shit in their house..."

Nora nodded. "Yes, yes, I was a Cabot, but I wasn't a Boston Cabot. It was a big family, darlin’. We were everywhere. The Cabots here were distant, distant cousins to me. My branch of the family was from Virginia and we had the name and some of the prestige, but not the deep pockets they had here."

"Oh. Okay, yeah, that makes sense, I guess."

She sighed. "Anyway, my parents could have paid for it. Daddy certainly made enough. He worked with computers, you know. But Mother wouldn't have it. She was already irritated enough that I'd gone to college away from home and never brought back a fiance. Mother said I was wasting my time getting a degree in the first place when I would just end up...end up being someone's wife." Mac glanced at the thumb on her wine glass. If she put any more pressure there it was probably going to snap the ancient glass. He watched her work to swallow. Talking about her mother had rattled her. Shit. The whole point of talking about this silly shit was to keep her laughing.

"Your mom sounds like a bitch , boss."

Nora stared at him. He stared right back and raised an eyebrow, daring her to argue. She looked away and started laughing.

"Yes, I suppose she probably was." Nora relaxed a bit, took another sip. Mac breathed a sigh of relief. Mood restored.

She finally finished the wine and took a deep breath. "So...yeah, the thing was, they had cash prizes for even the losers. Not as big as the grand prize, of course, but enough to pay for a few textbooks. Nate and I...we'd been dating for a while, and I was pretty sure he was the one, but we weren't engaged or anything. I didn't feel like I could ask him for the money. Daddy would have tried to fight for me but...but he wasn't good at conflict. Mother controlled the pursestrings at home, so I knew better than to even ask, and my cousins here were nice but...well, it would have been impolite to just walk up and ask them for this huge favor, you know?"

He nodded. He knew how it could be when you were hard up for caps. Becoming a lawyer must have been super important to her for Nora to have wanted to go to law school so bad.

"I'd done...Mother had made me do pageants as a kid, so I knew what to do, how to smile, what to wear. I thought maybe I could get at least to the regionals and then I'd have a little money to set aside while I worked on getting other scholarships and grants." She rolled her eyes. "So imagine my surprise when I'm suddenly crowned Miss Nuka Cadet ."

Mac chuckled. "Oh, I bet your mother loved that."

Nora giggled. "Oh, my word, sug. She was madder than a wet hen. Not that I had won, because she could brag to the other church ladies about that, but that I had done it for the scholarship. She had...very different priorities than I did."

He snorted. "No sh-joke."

She nodded. "Well, after I'd won, I found out that when I'd signed up for the original pageant, I'd actually been signing this...contract? I had to agree to do a photo shoot and at least one appearance at Nuka World in the Star Port for a whole day...and a television commercial. I hated the wig they made me wear. It was itchy like you would not believe." She made a face. "That's when I realized I was going to have to tell Nate the next time he was stateside. He was...less than pleased. It was our first real fight. I hated it."

Mac lit a cigarette since he couldn't very well throttle a dead man.

"He...we worked it out, obviously. He understood. Nate...he was very good at understanding. I think he thought I'd been taken advantage of?" She tilted her head. "He knew about my being...you know, different and all. He never really got it, but he knew that sometimes I miss stuff. Little signals other people can pick up on. He was ready to go to war with Nuka-Cola at the notion that they'd tricked me somehow." She chuckled and Mac felt his anger at her long-dead husband slide away a bit. Couldn't fault the man for wanting to protect her. He knew exactly how frustrating that could be.

"Anyhow, now you know. The story of how I became the Nuka Cadet, in all its glory. I'd appreciate your discretion on it, honey. It's not exactly something I'm proud of." Mac nodded and she looked relieved. "They didn't even use the pictures for years, actually. Nate was on his last deployment and I was pregnant with Shaun already when the campaign was properly launched. In fact he...well, he got the one and only demerit of his career as an officer because of it." Mac raised an eyebrow and she shrugged. "He caught some of his men with a calendar. They were making...comments, about me...or the Nuka Cadet, anyway."

Damn. Mac actually kinda liked Prince Charming. Probably could've been bros.

Nora chuckled, "I don't know why he got so upset for. It's not like anyone actually recognized me as the Nuka Cadet. She was plastered all over the place, in stores, on the side of buses, everywhere. The grocery store I used had this giant, life-size cardboard thing of her with Nuka-Cola arranged all around it but no one ever put me and her together."

Mac frowned. Were all the people back then fucking blind? "Uh...how...how is that possible, boss? I mean, the hair's different but your face is exactly the same."

Nora tilted her head. "Well...like I said, Mac, I was already pregnant with Shaun. I was showing just a bit by then. No one paid any attention to the expecting housewife in glasses, stuffing her face with saltines and turning green every five seconds. Anyway, it's not like everyday-me is hot to trot like the Nuka Cadet was."

Mac opened his mouth to argue with her when the ancient grandfather clock at the end of the hall chimed. It was already eight. They'd been talking for hours, it seemed. Nora looked up, startled.

"Oh, my! It's so late already? I was going to go to bed early tonight, too. It's been forever since I played tag with Deacon and I'd planned on a nice long soak. Stimpaks are wonderful, but they don't do much for little aches and pains, do they?"

Oh, right. Her 'game' with Deacon. "Yeah, seemed like he got pretty rough with you there a bit, boss." Mac wasn't going to forget it, either. Ever. Just another axe to grind.

Nora nodded and stretched her left arm a bit. "Well, I am glad someone else noticed. I think he jammed my shoulder, too. He gets a little too into the raider role for my tastes. I like playing it with Preston or Piper better. They're more finesse, less brute strength."

Mac froze mid-puff. "They...you play it with other people, boss?"

She seemed surprised. "Well, of course. Everyone has different strengths and I have a lot of catching up to do. Thirty years living in pre-war America didn't exactly leave me very well prepared for this world, honey. All my friends have been teaching me different ways to fight so I can stay alive long enough to...to stop the Institute." Nora laughed. "I mean, can you imagine? Me as I was, fighting them? What would I have done? Thrown a rolling pin their way? I didn't even kill house spiders back then."

Mac smiled absentmindedly. He was too busy thinking about all the things he could 'teach' her. Maybe he should offer. Then again, she'd said her friends taught her...he didn't know if that's what she thought they were yet. Maybe not enough time had gone by.

Nora had gone quiet and still again. She was staring at Mac in that focused, piercing way that made him mildly uncomfortable. Her head tilted to the left just a bit and her eyes narrowed. She was searching his face. Trying to read it for...whatever, he didn't know. He never knew.

"You know, Mac, I just can't get over how young you are. I thought you were at least my age."

Oh, right. She'd said thirty years pre-war. That made her, what, thirty-one or something now? Give or take a couple hundred years. Shit. He'd thought she had been his age. She looked incredible for being in her thirties.

"Yeah, we age different out here, I guess, boss. It's...well, it's a hard life for most people."

She nodded. "Yes, I imagine it must be." A slight reshuffle, then she blinked. "Alright, well, I had plans for a dessert but it didn't quite...um, turn out. It's hard to find a proper substitute for chicken eggs and Curie isn't...ah...well, I don't think she's as close as she thinks she is." She smiled apologetically. "Will you take a raincheck, honey?"

He had only a passing idea of what the hell a raincheck was but nodded anyway. "Sure, boss."

"Wonderful. Well...if you'll excuse me, I think I'm going to go take that long soak now and then head to bed." Nora stood and he followed suit. "I'll see you in the morning. Oh, and don't worry about your dishes. Codsworth will see to them. He lives for that kind of thing."

"Alright, boss. Goodnight." He watched her walk back further into the house. Kind of wishing he had the balls to follow, and casually chucked the rest of his Cram loaf in Dogmeat’s direction.

"Night, Mac."

Chapter Text

Mac had managed to wait until the water started running before he realized he should probably get out of the house for a bit. The idea of Nora, naked and wet and warm in her bath, was making life...difficult for him right now. He'd wanted to do a perimeter check of the settlement before bedding down, anyway. Might as well walk off this erection while he was at it.

Once again, he made it about fifty feet from her front door when he felt eyes on his back.

At least this time he knew who it was.

Mac kept walking until he was around the corner from Nora's and found a bench to sit on. Thing was probably romantic as fuck for idiot settlers, under an ancient tree with barely any light reaching it. It was also a good spot to smoke a cigarette and wait for an asshole to ruin his night.

Which he did. Of course.

Mac had been watching the street where he'd already been, so naturally Deacon came from behind. As much as Nora liked to laugh at his poor spy skills, the man could employ serious stealth when it suited him. Probably used stealthboys and the like. Cheater.

"Hey, kid. How'd you like the show today?" That obnoxious drawl. Of course Deacon had known Mac had been watching. Of. Fucking. Course.

Mac bared his teeth at him in a parody of a smile and watched him walk around the tree. "Oh, it was great , Deacon. I especially liked the part where you almost broke the boss's ribs. That was real fu-freaking smart."

Deacon flopped down on the bench next to Mac, relaxed and chuckling. "Oh, Mac, don't be such a child. I've gotten way rougher with her than that before. She can take it. She likes it. Anyway, you think a raider would hold back if he got a hold of that ?" He smirked and Mac wanted to rip his shades off and put his cigarette out in his fucking eye.

Instead, he decided to try to ignore Deacon as best he could. Nora, for whatever reason, liked this jerk, so the least he could do was not kill him. He guessed. For now.

When Mac didn't respond, Deacon decided to push a bit. "Yeah, you should've been here back in July. I got her real good, then. She had these little itty-bitty shorts on...hot damn . Enough to make a man feel.. .ungentlemanly , if you take my meaning. Had her on her knees by the creek and ripped them off with my teeth. Should've heard her squeal."

Mac exploded off the bench. "What the hell is your problem, man? You wanna go? Let's go! I'll take you right now you piece of shit!"

Deacon laughed, actually laughed, as he stood, "Uh oh. Language, kid. And sorry, Robbie. You aren't my type. I prefer 'em tall, leggy, an ass you can really grab ahold of an..."

Mac socked him as hard as he could in the jaw. Deacon staggered back a step and wound up sitting back on the bench, staring up at Mac. He'd knocked the sunglasses off the taller man's face and Mac thought he saw...amusement? Fuck. This was funny to him still.

He grabbed Deacon by the collar and raised his right fist. He was going to hit this motherfucker until he couldn't smirk at him any more.

"Whoa, whoa , partner. Whoa. I give. No need to get so physical, Mac. Jeez." Deacon had his hands up, still laughing but it wasn't...it didn't seem like he was laughing at MacCready anymore.

Mac released him and backed up. "Whatever, man. You are fu-messed up in the head. Ain't worth it anyway." He turned to stalk off. Had to be plenty of benches in this settlement that didn't have Deacon on them.

He froze when Deacon caught his hand.

"RJ, sit down. We need to talk."

Mac turned back. It was that reasonable, trustworthy voice he'd heard as a kid back in the Capital Wasteland. The one that had talked down that guard in Rivet City back when Mac's pickpocketing skills still needed some polish. The friendly guy he'd occasionally known before that contract had fucked everything up.

He frowned at Deacon, but sat down anyway. What was the game this time?

Deacon sighed and rubbed his jaw. "You got some pretty good moves for a short shit, Mac."

"Really? This is what you wanted to talk about?"

The sunglasses had found their way back onto his face, or maybe it was a new pair of glasses. "Heh, no. Not really. I'm sorry, Mac, you're just too tempting not to fuck with." He smirked a little. "Listen, I know you don't like me being around Nora, and I'm pretty sure you know how I feel about you and all your wasted potential." Mac huffed and crossed his arms. This bullshit again.

"Yeah, yeah, I know. I could be out there making the world a better place and blah blah blah. That sh-crap doesn't pay the bills, Deacon."

Deacon chuckled. "No, it does not." He paused. "Look, I...I heard about Lucy, RJ. I'm sorry. She was a good girl."

Mac felt a wave of fresh grief wash over him, his anger rising again despite the sincerity in Deacon's voice. "She was the best girl. And her name doesn't belong in your mouth. Don't fucking talk about Lucy."

Deacon raised a hand. A silent plea. "I know, I know. I get it, Mac, what you're going through. More than you know, believe me."

Mac snorted. Yeah fucking right. Deacon was so obnoxious. Always acting like he knew everything.

The other man sighed, "It's fine if you don't believe me. I just wanted you to get what's going on here before your head explodes or you go off half-cocked and do something stupid. Look, if you could go back in time and teach Lu...teach the woman you loved how to protect herself from impossible odds, how to fight back and maybe keep herself safe, wouldn't you?"

Mac paused, caught off guard by the pain in Deacon's voice. He looked at him and his carefully blank face. So there had been someone who got to Deacon once. Christ, she must have been a saint to put up with that asshole.

"It...I guess, but Lucy wasn't a fighter. You can't turn a kitten into a deathclaw, Deacon. She just...didn't have it in her." A memory flashed through his mind before he could stop it; Lucy crying over that wounded mole rat pup she hadn't been able to save. She'd mourned the thing for a week, long after the scratches and bite marks it had left on her arms had healed. Lucy couldn't have hurt a bloatfly.

Deacon nodded and scrubbed his face with his hands, "Yeah, Yeah, I know. Some women are just too sweet for that. Too gentle." His face had grown pinched and dark. Mac could see his throat work to swallow. "They don't tend to last long."

Mac remembered Lucy's sweet face, her soft touch and that ringing laughter. Remembered how Duncan had looked nuzzled up to her breast and how she'd been so gentle with him. He cleared his own throat. "No, they don't."

"So...do we understand each other?" Deacon was back to business. Man could flip his emotions like a light switch.

"I...guess? You play your stupid game with Nora to train her up? She already explained this to me at dinner. It's...it's dumb, but whatever. I get it."

Deacon laughed. "No, I mean...huh. It's...you...you really don't get what I'm trying to say here, do you?"

"Well you're being about as clear as mud, Deacon," Mac snapped back.

The other man rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, yeah, I probably am. Just...alright, I'll just ask you straight out, Mac, just for my own piece of mind." Mac blinked at him. A straight question from Deacon. What a concept. "Is there room in your heart still for someone after Lucy? After all you went through? Are you brave enough to risk that kind of pain again?"

Mac's mouth dropped open. Shit had suddenly got deep. He had no idea how to answer that. Another woman...of course, Nora had immediately flashed through his head, but Nora was with Deacon, wasn't she? He stammered around for an answer but nothing was coming.

Deacon was nodding though, like he had answered. The older man slapped MacCready on the back a few times. "Yup. That's what I thought. That's the difference between you and me, kid." He started to walk off then paused. "You only get so many moments in life, you know. Don't waste them being a fucking idiot, RJ." Then he was gone, faded back into the night.

Mac sat on the bench for another hour, at least, trying to puzzle out what the hell had just happened. He had no idea what the fuck Deacon had been talking about, or what he'd meant with his fortune cookie advice there at the end. He smoked the last of his cigarettes before heading back to Nora's.

Everybody in this whole damn settlement: capital 'C' crazy.

Chapter Text

"You ready to head out, Mac?"

Oh, yes, God, yes. Mac had never so relieved to hear Nora say they had to leave a place. They'd been in Sanctuary a week. If he stayed any longer, he was going to lose his mind.

The morning after Deacon's weird...talk, Mac had found himself cornered by a walking corpse named Mama Murphy. Her talk had been even more confusing than Deacon's. Full of vague statements about keeping his eyes and his heart open and smug knowing looks. Cait had sworn the old bat was off chems when he asked, but Mac doubted it. She was either on something or just completely off her rocker. The whole rest of the week, she'd followed him around making her stupid comments or just staring into space. Lady creeped him right the fuck out.

So when Nora had told him she needed to swing back by the Cabots and then stop in at Diamond City, Mac was thrilled. He would carry all the fucking fans she wanted so long as they could get away from here for a while.

Especially after that time he'd caught Deacon practically feeling her up in the hovel that he constantly referred to as  " Casa Del Deacon ", whatever the fuck that meant. Mac didn't care how special the 'ballistic weave' was supposed to be, Deacon hadn't needed to cop a feel like that with an audience present.

Mac scowled. He wasn't sure when he'd become such a prude, but hanging around Deacon certainly made him sound like one in his head.

"Heck yeah, boss. Let's hit the road."

Despite Nora having to hug every single fucking settler in Sanctuary, and of course the damn dog, they'd still managed to hit the road shortly after breakfast. Nora's plan was to go straight through to the Cabots, stay the night so she could 'brief Jack', then head to Diamond City in the morning.

They'd made it to the edges of the city by lunch; just a few bugs and feral dogs had gotten in their way. Didn't even slow Mac down, especially since he had long stopped waiting for Nora to participate in battles. The thought of another hot shower was some pretty powerful incentive. They'd found a little cleared alley to rest in, eating the lunch Codsworth had packed for them...in little Vault Tec lunchboxes. Cute.

These mutfruit muffins were the real deal, though. Codsworth could pack his lunch any day. "S'what's in Diamond City, boss?"

Nora handed him a water. "Mac, don't talk with your mouth full, honey. I need to stop by and check on my home there. I paid Arturo and Abbot to set up a bathroom a while ago and it should be finished by now. I still owe them the second half of the caps I promised." She started packing back up. "Plus, I need to stop by and see Piper. I've got a press release burning a hole in my pocket that she's gonna just love."

Mac stood and stretched. Heck, at this rate they were gonna be at the Cabots by dinner. Awesome.

"Oh, yeah, boss? I know Piper. Met her once or twice. What's a...press release?"

Nora slipped on her pack and checked to make sure her knife was clear. Mac tried not to laugh. The big scary knife he'd never actually seen her use yet. It was still funny to him.

"Um...it's like an authorized statement that she can reprint. Like, I'm going to give her permission to take what I have written and just put it straight in Publick Occurrences. No interview required."

Now he did laugh, "Well, thank god for that. Last person I heard about getting interviewed by Piper ended it by trying to shoot her."

Nora grinned and tilted her head, "She does have a certain way with people, doesn't she?"

Mac grinned back then started fiddling with his scope. Damn thing kept coming loose. He should have fixed it instead of eating, but those muffins had been too good to pass up. Maybe Edward could look at it when they...

Nora moved. She really moved. It took Mac completely by surprise and he stumbled forward, out of her way, his body reacting by instinct.

There was a flash in her hand, and then there was blood. Blood was splattering everywhere.

Mac had barely managed to get his hand on his pistol, the one he kept just in case he ever had to deal with close quarters combat, in the time it had taken Nora to kill the raider that had somehow managed to sneak up behind them.

She still had the knife in her hand, standing over the prone body, idly watching the man's life blood pumping out from the wound in his neck onto the street with a slightly bored expression and listening to his gurgling until he finally went. There wasn't a drop on her, save her gloves, despite the epic spray Mac had seen.

Nora was perfectly still, head tilted. She was listening to make sure there weren't more, he realized. Mac had his pistol out now, just in case, and took up point behind her.

He noticed she wasn't tapping anything. No, she was rubbing little circles on the hilt of the knife with her thumb instead. Well, that was...unsettling and also kinda hot.

She finally relaxed. Mac relaxed, too, albeit more slowly. He couldn't believe that asshole had got the jump on them like that. And he definitely couldn't believe what he'd just seen.

Then she leaned down, cleaned the knife off with a scrap of the unfortunate raider's clothes, flipped it over her knuckles and slid it back into its sheath. She took a deep breath, smiled back at him and headed out like nothing had happened.

"Boss."

Nora stopped, stared at him questioningly, "Hmm?"

"How...what...what the he-heck was that ?"

She raised an eyebrow. "What was what? I stabbed him in the carotid artery, honey. You'd prefer to be dead right now?"

"No, that's...", Mac pinched the top of his nose and took a breath. "What I meant, was, were did you learn to do that?" Please don't be Deacon. Please don't be Deacon. If Deacon possessed knife skills like that, that would be terrifying.

Nora smiled, " Oh! Mayor Hancock! He gave me a lot of hands-on training."

Ya-huh. Mac just bet he had. "I thought you didn't like Hancock."

She looked offended. "Mac! Where on earth did you get that idea! I adore Hancock!"

He was never going to make it to the Cabots. His head was going to explode first. "You said...that first day...that you were hiding from Hancock because he was a candy-pusher."

"Man, honey. Candyman."

"Whatever. You know what I mean. That whole ridiculous get up you borrowed from Edward. Wasn't that just to sneak past Hancock?"

Nora frowned a bit, "Well...yes, but not because I don't like the man, honey."

Mac frowned right back at her. This was another one of those annoying, confusing Nora things, he could tell.

Finally she sighed, "It's just...it's complicated, with Hancock, I mean. Especially right now. He's a sweetheart, really, and has absolutely been a gentleman every time we’ve traveled together. It's just he...well...he uses a lot of chems, you know? And he never outright pushed any on me, really, but he just kept giving them to me. Kept saying he thought I needed it." She closed her eyes against some ancient memory. "I don't need to be drugged; there is nothing wrong with me."

Mac hated that look on her face. He reached out and put a hand on her shoulder. "Hey, hey, it's cool. I know. There's nothing wrong with you and you aren't crazy, you're just different."

Nora opened her eyes and gave him a wide smile. "Yes. Exactly." She was studying him again. He wondered what she saw when she did that. "Anyway, I just got more uncomfortable the more he kept being...well, him...and then I, um, found out something rather...disturbing? I didn't...I couldn't think of a nice way to tell him, so instead I told him I was taking a break from traveling and that he should go home for a bit." She shrugged a little. "It's not his fault, and it's not my fault. He just doesn't really seem to know how to be around anyone who doesn't want to use him for his chems and I don't know how to people well."

Mac narrowed his eyes. "Wait, you learned something disturbing ? Disturbing how?"

"Um...it's of a personal nature. I really can't discuss it." She looked uncomfortable and shifted her weight just a bit.

"Is it...disturbing about Hancock?" Even if they went way back, even if he did owe the guy, he didn't like the idea of Hancock making Nora uncomfortable somehow.

"No, no, nothing like that. It's more...something disturbing about someone he knows."

Mac nodded a bit. So personal, but not too personal. "So you got to learn about knife fighting from him though? I'm jealous...and impressed. Hancock doesn't teach just anybody, boss. He must have seen potential in you." Somehow...must be all the mentats.

She rolled her eyes and laughed. "Hardly. He saw me play tag with Deacon and said it wasn't fair that he didn't get to play, too. That's what started it."

"He...uh...well, I'm sure he only suggested it...", he wasn't sure why he felt compelled to try to defend Hancock's probably less than honorable intentions except the man had been good to him and they were bros.

"Mac?"

He stuttered to a stop. "Yeah, boss?"

"I'm bad with subtle social stuff. Is there anything about Hancock that says subtle to you, honey?"

Mac snorted. "No, not really, boss."

"Mmm-hmm. Come on, let's get a move on." Nora took off walking towards the Cabots. Mac trailing close behind.

The arrived at the Cabots at almost the same time as before. This time though they had a whole hour before dinner, and Mac knew better than to use up all the hot water lest Nora get her panties in a bunch, so they were both 'dressed and pressed' as she had put it with almost a half hour to go, she in a pink dress he thought she really ought to wear more often and he in the same shirt and pants as last time.

They relaxed on the couch in Nora's room while they waited. Mac had noticed her face scrunch up when she'd pulled out the high heels. They looked like instruments of torture as far as he was concerned, although he liked what they did to her ass. Kind of popped it up a bit so it fluffed out her skirt more.

He'd just lit up a cigarette when he saw her rubbing her foot out of the corner of his eye. Well...it was no Combat Tag, but this was a perfectly friendly, totally innocent and helpful way Mac could touch her. That...was totally not creepy, right? That he'd thought it all out like that.

Shit, he'd spent too much time around Deacon. Man had a way of getting in your head and just setting up camp there.

"Hey, boss, you want me to rub your feet?", it was out before he thought better of it.

Nora lit up a bit, but immediately started to refuse, "Oh...oh, no, I couldn't...no..."

Mac smirked. Someday soon he was going to have to clue her in to the fact that he had been married once upon a time. Lucy did this same song and dance when she'd been pregnant with Duncan and he'd offered foot massages. She'd hem and haw and waste entirely too much time until Mac just picked up a foot and started.

He glanced at the clock. Twenty five minutes. They didn't have time for that bullshit.

He stuck his cigarette in his mouth, reached down and grabbed one of Nora's feet. She squeaked, startled, and stared at him, eyes wide, as he settled it in his lap and began rubbing the arch of her foot with his thumbs. He rubbed hard in little figure eights, knowing the pressure would keep her from feeling tickled...if her feet were ticklish, anyway. Deacon probably knew, the bastard.

"Oh, that's...mmm, oh, Mac. Magic hands. You have magic hands." Nora's head rested back on the arm of the couch and he chuckled when she promptly put the other foot in his lap.

"The secret to this, boss, is I can only do one at a time. Gotta really concentrate and use both hands to get it right." He slid one thumb up the length of her arch and she practically purred in delight. That wasn't distracting at all. Nope.

Her head came up just enough for her to pout at him before she let it fall back again. "Fine. Meanie." The second foot slid from his lap along his inner thigh on its way back to the floor, dangerously close to...

Nope, not fucking distracting at all.

They sat for a bit, Mac working her foot, paying close attention to the pad just below her big toe, while Nora unknowingly tortured him making ridiculous noises that forcibly evicted the blood from his brain.

She sighed. "I guess this hidden talent of yours shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. I've seen your knot work before. It’s beautiful, honey. Of course you're good with your hands."

He was a little out of it since her skirt had rode just a bit up her leg. It was hardly past her knee but something about the whole idea was making it very hard for him to focus. "M'hmm." It was all he could manage to get out.

Nora chuckled a bit and rambled on, "Of course, sometimes even the nimblest of fingers can't work knots properly. I still haven't really forgiven Deacon for interrupting my quiet time in Sanctuary that first night we were there, you know." She flexed her foot, bringing Mac's attention back to the task at hand. Ah, yes. Her foot. Not the leg attached to it or other, more interesting things attached to that. Focus, MacCready . "I told him if he can't undo his own belt knot next time just cut the damn thing off."

Mac blinked. Wait, what was she saying...Deacon and...a belt? Some stupid knot? "Uh...oh, yeah, boss?"

"M’hmm, I don't care if he does pee his pants, he shouldn't interrupt that time. It's private. He's lucky he gives good neck massages.", she added grumpily. There was a thoughtful pause. "I wonder if all men have a special area they're good at massaging. I bet Cait would know."

Mac had completely taken his hands off her foot now. He couldn't trust that in his rage he wouldn't accidentally crush something. He was actually seeing little tiny red and black spots before his eyes. Wonderful. He had found a whole new level of pissed off.

He cleared his throat and very carefully placed his cigarette in the nearby ashtray. He just needed proper confirmation before Deacon went on the 'attempt to kill on sight' list for life.

"Hey, boss?"

"Hmmm, oh, hey, why'd you stop, honey?" She grumbled. "What, Mac?"

"Are you and Deacon...you know...together?"

The head came up. "Together?"

Mac nodded.

She looked extremely confused. "Like...together-together?" She held up her hands and laced the fingers together.

Fucking hell, it was like talking to a kid sometimes. "Yes, yes, boss. Like together-together." What a stupid way to put it.

Nora started that giggle snorting she did and Mac knew.

Deacon. Staring at him with that fucking smirk as Nora went down... to fix his fucking belt . Looking back on it, he couldn’t believe he’d fallen for that. As if Nora would be the type to blow a guy on her husband’s grave. Mac furiously thought for a moment. All the little times Deacon had touched her, been near her, he'd never actually seen them so much as kiss, now that he was able to really think about it. Even when they'd left Sanctuary, Deacon had grabbed her from behind and...blew a fucking raspberry on her neck. That...he'd been so distracted by Nora's giggling, blushing reaction that he hadn't realized the whole situation was wrong. It was completely the wrong send off for someone you were involved with. It...

Deacon. That second night at the bench. ‘I'm sorry, Mac, you're just too tempting not to fuck with.’

It had all been a lie . Deacon just fucking with him. Nora and Deacon weren't a thing...were so far from a thing that Nora found it ridiculous, even. Fuck, she was still laughing. He'd deliberately fucked with his head the whole time they'd been there just to...just to what? Play some mind game? What the hell?

Mac's body went on autopilot while his brain cranked out fantasy scenarios of Deacon's demise at his hands. He picked up the other foot and started work on it, Nora murmuring happily and wiggling a little in delight as he applied practiced, careful pressure. The giggling ceased, replaced by those distracting noises again. The dress rode up a little more, drawing his focus again. Snapping him out of his red-tinged fog of rage.

Deacon wasn't in the picture. He wasn't the obstacle he'd thought he was. He thought of Nora, after their first and only kiss. Flustered and still a little breathless even though it had been at least five minutes since it had happened. ‘ Mac, do all boys...do they all kiss like that nowadays?’ Shit. How had he forgotten that? She hadn't done anything with anybody since being thawed out. She'd as much as told him so.

Maybe she still wasn't ready? She visited that stupid grave still. Had whole conversations with the memory of her husband. Maybe she was content to just...what, grow old alone? Some dried up old wasteland widow to go with the hundreds of others out there?

But there had almost been a second time. In the hayloft. There had . The way she'd looked at him...that moment. That missed moment.

‘You only get so many moments in life, you know. Don't waste them being a fucking idiot, RJ.’

He'd thought that was just Deacon trying to sound deep or whatever, but...had that been him telling him to step up? Had that bastard actually thought he'd been helping with all that bullshit? Jesus, he really was fucked in the head.

A moment in life. Kinda like this moment. They were safe, there was no chance of some random raider attack or a settlement needing their help. Nora, blissed out and boneless on the couch, her bare foot in his lap, her dress that couldn't seem to stay down.

Oh, this was definitely a moment.

Mac didn't think. Thinking would just fuck him up. Had to go with his gut. He abruptly turned on the couch, getting on his knees between Nora's legs and looming over her, braced with one arm. He watched those jewel eyes open and study his face like she always did. He felt one of her hands slide up his arm and rest on his shoulder. She blushed and smiled shyly at him and Mac leaned down, pausing just a second before their lips met until she tilted her head up a little, just making the connection.

He was pretty sure he could kiss her a million times and still never get over the taste of her lips or how soft they were. Once again, he tried to do the gentlemanly thing and go slow. Keep it chaste. He already had her in a ridiculously compromised position, no reason to push things too far.

No reason at all except Nora's fingers sliding into his hair, her mouth opening like a flower under his, her soft moan filling his ears and making it impossible for him to think. Mac brought his free hand up to cradle her jaw, his thumb just brushing against the rapid pulse in her neck. Last kiss, she'd been able to pull away from him. He wanted to keep her exactly where she was this time.

Not that Nora seemed interested in going anywhere. Her foot was now hooked around his leg, encouraging him closer and there was a hand sliding down Mac's chest, slipping under his shirt and sliding around to his back, pulling him down to her. He was still keeping most of his weight off her, as it was an awkward position to be in (Mac briefly cursed in his head; logistics would have probably been good to think of before starting...this) and he didn't want to hurt her, but now he could feel the heat coming off her, feel how well he fit between her thighs. Mac couldn't help himself. He rolled his hips against her and was rewarded with a begging sort of whimper.

Nora was definitely not going anywhere. Mac brought his hand down from her jaw, ghosted along all the interesting bits he was absolutely going to closely inspect next time, and moved her skirt out of the way. He hesitated before touching her. Mac had realized this was probably a little past too far, and he actually knew very little of what pre-war sex had been like and maybe things had changed a little in two hundred years? Then Nora was grazing his lower lip with her teeth, trying to wiggle her hips up to his hand. Hmm. Mac ran just one finger down the middle of her already wet panties and she bucked against him, the hand still on his back suddenly had claws.

Maybe things hadn't changed quite so much.

Mac added a second finger to the party. Still staying over her panties. This was...someone could call this going slow, right? They still had all their clothes on. Even if Nora was already soaking and even if he couldn't stop himself from rubbing against her, building a rhythm that was slowly driving them both crazy.

Mac was already so far gone, he barely noticed the knock at the door. Nora did, though, and tore her lips from his, panting and breathless. She turned her head from him and he settled his lips on her neck. It would have to do for now.

"Miss Nora?"

Mac was rubbing little circles over her clit now, enjoying how her hips moved in time with his fingers. Her felt her take a shuddering breath.

"Yes, Edward." Mac smiled against her neck. Pretty good. Her voice was just a little breathless, a little higher than normal. Almost normal. Almost.

"Dinner is in five. You don't want to be late."

Nora's hips were still moving against Mac. Shit was driving him crazy. He was going to ruin his pants if they kept this up.

"Oh...okay. Th-thank you...", she was probably going to say his name, but instead the last bit of her sentence fell off as she gasped. Mac had started nibbling her neck, just a little.

It wasn't his fault she was so damn delicious.

There was a long pause outside, then a "You're welcome" floated through the door...almost sounded like Edward was trying not to laugh.

Not that Mac was paying attention or cared about any of what was happening around him. He'd decided he'd put up with these ridiculous panties getting in his way long enough. He wanted to know just how hot she got inside. Mac was pushing them aside when a hand grabbed his wrist. Nora's hand.

"Mac, stop. We can't.

He groaned against her neck. God, he hated that word. 'Stop'. Mac ground his hips into hers. "Don't wanna."

Nora was breathing hard still, he could hear the amusement in her voice, "Well, I don't wanna either, but we have to, honey."

Mac raised his head up enough to look her in the eye. Her face was flushed, beautiful, pupils still blown wide, hair all over the place. He smiled. He'd done that. He'd made her look like that. He leaned back down to kiss her again but was stopped by her hand on his lips.

"Mac...we only have five minutes to look... presentable ." Nora looked a little worried at the prospect. It was more than a little adorable and Mac chuckled. She should be worried. She looked like she'd been busy being ravished and he probably looked unhinged at this point. He certainly felt unhinged.

Damn Mrs. Cabot and her stupid rules.

He groaned with disappointment, rolled away from her and held his hand out to help her up. Nora smoothed her hair back into place and pressed down on her skirt, trying her best to get the wrinkles out.

He watched her with growing amusement, trying to not think about the bed that was just waiting behind her and instead think of boner deflating things: that asshole in Diamond City who never shut up about baseball, Cait tearing that guy's head off his shoulders in a Psycho-induced rage, the terror of his pilgrimage to Big Town as a kid.

She was frowning at her dress now. "I...I don't think...it's just too rumpled. I’ll have to change." Nora looked up at him. He noticed she had a light rash on her neck from his beard now.

Mac just grinned at her. "So change."

Nora’s eyes narrowed into slits. "Oh, that’s real funny, darlin’. Why don't you head down first? I'll only be a minute."

He sighed. Dang those pre-war hang-ups of hers. Mac had really thought maybe she would just rip her own dress off and not even think about it. Hoped she would, anyway.

"Fine, I'm goin'." Mac turned for the door. Maybe splashing some cold water on his face in the bathroom down the hall would help.

He heard Nora giggle behind him and paused, looking at her with an eyebrow raised.

"That was...that was just our second kiss." She sounded mildly shocked at the idea; looked it, too.

He grinned back at her, "Yeah, it sure was, boss."

Chapter Text

Mac was pretty sure he looked at least half-human again by the time he got downstairs. He still had the urge to tell the Cabots to go to hell, run upstairs, tear Nora's clothes off and not leave her bedroom until the fucking bed broke, but at least he looked normal.

The cold beer and the scent of steak helped a bit. Edward's slightly raised eyebrow and knowing half smirk gave him something else to focus on. Mac felt a little nugget of hostility at the man in his stomach. How long had he been standing outside that door? And why couldn't he have just told Mrs. Cabot they were 'indisposed' or some shit? Cockblocking bastard. He was probably in cahoots with Deacon somehow. Tall assholes always stuck together.

Nora came flying down the stairs with barely a minute to spare, looking just a little too flushed and lovely in her plaid dress with its high, prim collar, pausing at the doorway of the dining room to slip the offensive shoes on. She gave the Cabots a polite hello, eyes flitting over Mac, and promptly sat down just as the clock began to chime.

"Serve the soup, Edward."

"Yes, Mrs. Cabot."

Dinner this time was quite different than his first. Oh, it was the same delicious soup and all that, but whereas before he'd been oblivious to anything but Nora, this time she seemed oblivious to anything but him. Huh. He felt his pride fluff up at the idea. Man could get an awfully big ego with her staring at him like that, eyes dark behind her glasses and nibbling her lip the way she was.

She had that focused face on. The one she usually wore whenever she studied his face, but now she was staring at...wait, what was she staring at?

Mac watched her eyes as he picked up a piece of razorgrain bread. His hand? Was she staring at his hand?

It finally dawned on him. No, not his hand. Just his first two fingers.

Mac smirked. Guess his magic hands had made an impression.

He watched her watching him and licked the breadcrumbs from his fingers. Her eyes were huge and there was a flush of pink creeping into her cheeks. Her mouth dropped open, just a little, and her eyes went to his. He smiled at her and she suddenly found her napkin very interesting.

"Oh, are you quite alright, Nora? You seem a trifle feverish, dear."

Nora's face went bright red. She looked up at Jack, stammering, "I...I feel...um..."

Mrs. Cabot huffed irritably. "I do hope you haven't brought in any of those awful Wasteland germs with you. I don't know how you can stand to wallow about in the filth out there."

Jack rolled his eyes and scowled, "Really, Mother, I'm sure it's just some cold or something. The germs out there are the exact same as the germs in here, you know."

"They most certainly are not!"

"Of course they are!"

Mac watched Nora while the Cabots argued. It had been funny, seeing her flustered at the dinner table, but she seemed in genuine distress now. That...that wasn't funny at all. Mac felt like shit. He'd pushed too far again.

Nora abruptly stood. Shocked silence suddenly reigned.

"I...I'm sorry, I have to...", she was twisting her fingers and Mac worried briefly that she might actually hurt herself. "I'm sorry." Nora fled the dining room.

"Goodness, the manners on that child."

"Mother, enough." Jack sighed. "Nora is clearly ill. You can't fault her for not wanting to get sick at the table."

"Seems like maybe she was just overwhelmed a bit, Jack." Edward's soft voice came from behind Mac. He was pretty sure no one else detected the trace of blame in it, but it was definitely there.

Mrs. Cabot's eyes softened just a little, "Ah, yes. Well. That's the price one pays for brilliance in our family, I suppose."

Jack nodded sagely. "The Cabot curse. Nora manages pretty well, all things considered. I'm sure the world of today is...well, it's probably very overly stimulating for her. Especially with all she tries to get done. Takes tremendous effort, I'm sure."

"Yes, it probably does. Edward, be a dear and make sure her dinner is set aside in case she's hungry later."

"Yes, Mrs. Cabot."

Mac had no clue what the fuck was going on. The Cabot curse? What the hell was that? They were talking about Nora like there was something wrong with her.

"There's nothing wrong with her! She's just different!"

The Cabots turned and blinked at MacCready. Edward had moved behind Mrs. Cabot and Mac could see him crack a genuine smile at him.

Jack smiled, too, "Of course there's nothing wrong with her. Our Nora is a gem. An absolute gem of a girl."

Edward nodded, "And there's nothing wrong with being different, kid."

Jack clapped enthusiastically, "Quite so, quite so, Edward! Variety is the spice of life, as they say!"

Mac had almost forgotten how crazy these people were.

"Uh...so...is anyone going to go check on Nora or...?"

Mrs. Cabot waved his concerns aside. "No, what she needs right now is quiet. She'll be in her room. She's fine. She'll be fine. Thank heaven it wasn't germs." She shuddered dramatically.

 

Mac thought he was going to lose his shit before the Cabots finally released him. He had to get through the rest of dinner, dessert, brandy and a cigar with Jack and flee another talk about aliens before they finally let him go. Nora hadn't come back down after...whatever that had been. It didn't seem particularly worrisome to anyone but Mac and he felt like that was some fucked up bullshit.

He was pretty proud of himself for not running up the stairs. Instead he carefully, deliberately walked up, Edward's chuckle telling him he was probably being a little too casual about it.

Mac paused outside her door. He wasn't sure if he should knock first or what. Maybe she'd gone to sleep though. He didn't want to wake her if she had, so he slipped in as quietly as he could.

It was almost full dark inside. Just a single oil lamp had been lit and it had been turned down to the absolute lowest flame. Nora was in bed, completely under her blanket. She gave no indication that she was awake.

Probably for the best. Mac didn't want to upset her further tonight anyway. He felt like such a dope. He should have let what had happened in here stay in here and not tried to be clever at the dinner table. He'd noticed she sometimes had little problems with things like that. Like she wanted the world to be kept in neat little boxes. Nora liked schedules and keeping things orderly and everything staying in its proper place. The same thing had kind of happened in the hayloft at Tenpines, come to think of it. Mac cursed himself for not remembering that.

Clearly, the Cabot's dining room had not been the proper place for Mac to try flirting with Nora.

Mac sat on the couch with a sigh and started removing his shoes. Maybe things would be better in the morning. She just needed...time to recharge, or something? Deal with 'the Cabot curse', whatever the fuck that was supposed to be. He briefly thought of vampires and shook his head. That was the only curse he'd ever heard about before, from some old movie, and the Cabots were weirdos, but probably not vampires.

"Mac?" His head snapped up. He could see just the top of Nora's head above the blanket, her eyes too dark to read in the low light.

"Yeah, boss. It's just me. You alright?"

She nodded. "I'm alright. I'm sorry."

He smiled at her. "Nothing to be sorry about, boss. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have...well, I'm just sorry."

Her eyes crinkled just a bit. She was smiling back. That was good, wasn't it? Nora always liked it when Mac tried to play gentleman.

"Do you need anything? Water or something? Edward saved your dinner; I could go get it for you."

"No, I'm okay, I just...um, could I ask a favor of you? It's fine if you say no."

Mac chuckled. Nora seemed to have no idea, but if she asked him to burn down the world, he'd do it without a moment's hesitation.

"Anything, boss. Shoot."

"Can you lay on top of me please?"

His brain screeched to a halt. "Uh..."

"It helps. Sometimes. I used to have a special blanket before...well, before, but it's gone now. This blanket isn't heavy enough."

Helps? Helps with what?

She seemed to take his silence for a no. "It's okay. Don't worry about it, honey."

He stood. "No, I want to. Uh...how do we..."

She pulled the blanket down enough that he could actually see her smile this time. "It's pretty easy. I lay on my belly and you lay on top of me. The weight helps uh...", he could see her fumble for a way to describe it.

Mac held up a hand. "Don't gotta explain it. If it works, it just works, boss."

Nora smiled gratefully and rolled over. Mac felt awkward as hell as he came over to her bed. He knew they were going to be separated by a blanket and at least two sets of clothes and all, but the idea of laying against her and just...laying there seemed kind of unnatural to him. But she was the boss and the boss got whatever she wanted, right? Right. Even if she wanted to torture him until his soul departed his body. It was fine. That was fine.

He moved over her and carefully settled down on her prone body. Mac still wasn't entirely sure how much of his weight she actually wanted, so he decided to err on the side of caution and brace himself a bit with his knees and elbows.

She sighed, "Oh, that's so much better. A little more, Mac, please." Her eyes were closed and he could see the little tension line between her brows start to smooth out as he relaxed his full weight onto her.

This was still strange as hell to him, but he kind of got the concept. Back in Lamplight, the littles had always slept in big piles, comforted by the presence of the other kids. It had been nice back then. Warm and safe. This was basically the same deal.

This was kinda nice, too, actually. Even if it wasn't exactly what he'd wanted to do the first time they shared a bed. He could feel the warmth from her seeping up through the blanket, could feel the gentle rise and fall of her breathing. He snuggled against her just a little and got another happy sigh in return.

Mac didn't want to ruin anything, but he had to ask, "So...boss, this uh...'Cabot curse' thing...what uh...what's the deal with that?"

Nora grumbled and huffed beneath him. "Unbelievable. I cannot believe they still call it that. Jack is a man of science and everything. Psychology, even." She paused. "This...the thing that makes me different. It's...well, it's a condition. The umbrella term for it in my time was 'autism spectrum disorder'. There were loads of different types, some more severe than others, and everyone presented symptoms differently, even if they were the same type. It appeared to sometimes run in families, and there was some research going on trying to prove the genetic link, I believe, but I doubt anyone is looking into that anymore. The Cabot family line has always had people who were autistic, even long before it had a proper name. People used to get called eccentric or a tortured genius or sometimes just plain crazy, but it was all just autism. Jack has has it, too, actually, which is why I'm surprised he refers to it as a curse."

Mac took that in, thinking, "If it runs in families then, it's not like...an illness or anything, is it?"

Nora opened her eyes and stared at the wall. "No. It's not an illness. It's not contagious and I'm not going to get any...worse, for lack of a better word. It won't progress. All it basically does, for me, is make my brain work a little different." She took a deep breath and snuggled under him again. "It used to be a lot worse, actually. The world before was...loud, bright...you were expected to smile at everyone, talk to everyone, be pleasant. That took a lot of work for me. I...my mother, she tried to teach me to be like all the other little girls. That's why I was made to do pageants and take ballet and piano and a dozen other classes. I think she thought if she just kept teaching me how to fake it, one day I would magically be...normal. Or her vision of normal? She...I had pills I took, too. They made everything...slow. Dreamlike. She said they were to help my anxiety but I think she just wanted me to be less...me."

Mac frowned. Well, that explained her aversion to chems now. Man. Nora's mom could out bitch Mrs. Cabot. "You seem alright just as you are, boss."

Nora smiled, "Thanks, Mac, that's...well, you don't know how much that means to me. It was bad, when I was still at home, but once I came up here for college, I met my Boston cousins, saw the doctors they recommended a few times, got weaned off the pills...it helped me see that I was normal, for me. That normal doesn't really exist, there's only typical and atypical. It helped, a lot, even if this city was loads more difficult to deal with than my hometown had been."

"Doesn't seem so much like a curse to me." Mac was still a bit confused.

"Well, to be entirely fair...I guess it can be? Some people with autism have it so severely that they literally couldn't ever go outside. Some had so much trouble with sensory input...you know, sounds, sights, tastes, that kinda thing, that they were never able to learn to talk or function as independent adults. Some of the...earlier Cabots were inclined to more severe types, and back before anyone knew what it was...I mean, it hits most people when they're just little babies, so, you know, you go from being a happy little baby one second to...not. It probably scared the bejesus out of people."

"Huh." Mac still felt like this was more old world nonsense. Seemed like people back then just weren't happy unless everyone was marching lockstep in line. He didn't understand how Nora could have stood living back then. "You sure seem like you know a lot about...science-y medical type stuff. Was that a thing for lawyers?"

She chuckled, "No, just a hobby of mine. That's part of my kind of autism. I get really focused on very specific things and then get kind of obsessive about them. One of my brothers married a really sharp neonatal surgeon and that's what sparked my interest in medicine when I was...oh, maybe sixteen? Mother hated it. Said I'd never get a boyfriend with my nose in a book all the time, but it was fascinating. I probably would have gone into medicine if...if my parents had allowed it." Nora sighed regretfully. "As it was, though, I quite enjoyed being a lawyer. I was an 'attorney ad litem'. It was hard work, but very fulfilling."

"What's a..."

"It's a special kind of lawyer that represents people who cannot properly represent themselves. In my case, I mostly had children for clients."

"Wh...what? Kids went to court?"

"Well, juvenile court, sure. But that's not what I dealt with. I was mostly in what they called family court. Stuff like custody disputes and domestic violence." She paused, "How does that stuff work now, honey? If parents split up, how does it get all handled?"

Mac thought. This wasn't really his area of expertise, having grown up in a place where parents didn't exist. "Uh...well, sometimes you hear about a parent snatching their kids up and running? Or their spouse just ends up dead? Sometimes whole families just disappear. I dunno, boss. It's probably not handled very well by most."

Nora frowned and closed her eyes, "That's appalling, Mac. When all this Institute business is finished, I'm going to talk to Preston about establishing a new court system."

Mac chuckled. "Okay, you do that, boss." He was sure it would go over like a brahmin patty pie to most folks, but he'd let her dream, anyway.

Sometime during the night, they'd drifted off together. Mac enjoyed talking to Nora into the wee hours. They didn't have a damn thing in common, aside from the dead spouses and kids-in-danger situations, and looked at the world in very different ways, but somehow seemed to agree on most things, even if it was for different reasons.

By the next morning, they'd ended up cuddled together side by side. Nora was still under her blanket and Mac was grateful for that small mercy since it appeared she had nothing on under it.

Oh, he thought that was fine that she was naked and all, of course. More than fine, even, but he was sure Mrs. Cabot had the ears of a fucking bat and he definitely wanted their next...'kiss' to happen somewhere he didn't have to worry about Nora getting embarrassed.

Mac didn't care about that shit. In the wasteland, if people wanted to have sex, they just did. Privacy was a concept, but hardly ever one put in practice. Most families had one room cabins and all slept together. Sex was just another part of life. But Nora had those ridiculous pre-war sensibilities and the Cabots probably did, too. Mac personally thought they were a little too into the whole old world thing. Fetishists about it, almost, but whatever. That was their business.

Right now it was his business to get Nora to Diamond City.

He wondered how private her home there was...probably better than a room at the Dugout, anyway.

Chapter Text

When she'd started to wake, he'd kissed the top of her head and quickly left to get dressed in the bathroom. No sense in tempting fate. Mac waited downstairs, rather impatiently from the looks Edward kept giving him, and then hovered around her as she quickly ate breakfast. She seemed confused at his newfound urgency to leave, but didn't question it.

He liked that about Nora. She usually just assumed he knew what he was doing. That was refreshing after spending his entire life having to argue with idiots.

Mac figured they'd easily make DC before lunch, toss the press release Piper's way, Nora could ooh and aah over her precious bathroom, then the fun could really start. That was the plan.

He was going to go slow this time, dammit, and that required plenty of daylight hours. Mac was a man on a mission. Their first time was going to be special.  Magical, even. It's what he wanted. It's what Nora deserved.

So it came as zero surprise to him, of course, when the whole plan went right out the window.

They skated through a minor scuffle involving super mutants near the DC gate. Mac's headshots, excellently placed if he did say so himself (and he did), and Nora's ridiculously powerful Nuka Grenades she kept pulling from somewhere making quick work of the monsters. The second they stepped inside, Nora was immediately whisked away by Piper, who shooed Mac away and towards the market. Nora protested but Piper was not to be denied and the two women vanished into Publick Occurrences.

Mac popped his neck. Fine. That was fine. That's just...that's Piper for you, is all.

He headed for the market, sold some stuff, bought more ammo (always more ammo) and on a whim, decided to brave dealing with Myrna while pursuing her junk pile. If he could find more adhesive, he absolutely knew Nora would kiss him, right here in the middle of the market.

Girl was crazy for duct tape.

He was nearing the bottom of a bin full of odds and ends (he never could understand Myrna's so-called organizational system and much preferred dealing with Percy when he was here) when he saw something that glittered in the light.

It was some kind of old world trinket. Full of water and sparkly shit. Duncan would love it, probably. Mac raised an eyebrow at Myrna.

"Ah, good eye. Yes, you have a good eye. Not many would be interested in a Nuka World snowglobe! Certainly not a synth."

Mac shook the thing, watching the water swirling the 'snow' around. Inside was a tiny replica of what looked like a spaceship, if a spaceship had been built from a Nuka Cola bottle, being ridden by a teeny tiny Nuka Cadet. There were little stars floating all around it in the water, too. Weird.

"Yes, I was actually saving that one. It's apparently from when they opened the Star Port, whatever that was. Heard about a collector who might be out this way. Very rare, very rare."

Mac looked up. "A collector, huh?" He'd heard this crap from vendors before.

Myrna nodded eagerly, "Oh yes. People collect all sorts of different things, you know. It's part of what separates us from the synths."

Shit, Mac would bet a million caps Myrna's home looked like a trash heap if she really believed that.

He sighed, "You know da-darn good and well this is a useless piece of crap. I'll give you...five caps." She looked offended. Ah, shit. Too low.

"That's ridiculous! Five caps! Are you sure you aren't a synth, kid? No real person would name a price like that. They'd definitely know better."

Mac rolled his eyes behind his sunglasses. "Fine. What do you think it's worth?" He shook it at her so she could see how ridiculous the stupid thing was.

Myrna smirked. "Fifty caps."

"Fifty!" Woman was nuts. "Fu-freaking heck, Myrna. The crap inside better be some of Bobrov's finest for that amount. I'll give you ten."

"Forty-five."

"Twenty."

"Thirty or it goes back in the box."

They glared at each other hard. Mac was as flush with caps right now as he'd ever been, but that didn't change the fact that this was a ridiculous amount she was weaseling out of him.

"Fine. Take your thirty caps. I hope you choke on 'em, you harpy."

Myrna shoved the caps in a drawer and smiled pleasantly at Mac while he shoved the snowglobe in his pack. "Thanks for your purchase. Now go away."

Mac had checked out all the stores in the market, and had started on some noodles when he saw Nora finally emerge from Piper's, pausing just outside to put her Atom Cats jacket back on. She looked focused and...determined. Ah, it was General Nora. The press release must have been Minuteman business. It was hard to tell sometimes when she wasn't wearing her uniform or stupid hat.

Those had been left behind in Sanctuary. Deacon had said something about 'spiffing up those duds' and Nora had mentioned to Mac that she and Preston had decided it would be good for her to go incognito for a bit anyway. She didn't really say why, but Mac assumed it probably had something to do with the kidnapping they'd thwarted.

The Gunners didn't take kindly to someone fucking up their business. If word had gotten out that the Minutemen general had been responsible - and, let's be honest, given the idiocy of her settlers, it probably had by now - she could have a price on her head.

He hated the idea of that. It was bad enough that he was hunted, but at least he stood a chance of surviving against them. Nora was a sitting...what was it, duck? Buck? A sitting buck just waiting for them to put a bullet in her head. All the playtime with Deacon in the world wasn't going to make her capable enough to take those assholes out.

He should have talked to Edward about it. Between the two of them, they could probably come up with a way to keep her safe.

Mac could see her shuffling around in her head before she smiled at him as she walked over. That odd habit of hers made a lot more sense now that he knew about her heinous mother's attempts to force her to be someone else. Nora must have gotten used to slipping on other people's skin to make interacting with the world a little easier. He wondered if she used the memory of her husband for her general persona or if she'd pulled from some other great leader in history.

"Hey, honey, sorry. Piper was...Piper. Would you mind ordering me some noodles, please? I need to go check with Arturo about my house." She barely paused as she walked behind him, which Mac didn't like, but she made up for it by sliding her hand across his shoulders as she walked. That, he did like.

"Sure thing, boss. Takahashi! My man! Another bowl of your finest!"

Mac kept glancing over at Nora as she talked to the gunsmith. They seemed to be on pretty solid terms. Nora might not think she peopled well, but Mac was pretty sure she just hadn't peopled well in her time. People must have changed a bit between then and now. Still plenty of assholes, but Mac was fairly certain that the streets of America must have been rife with the jerks back then. No wonder some dipshit pressed the damn button.

She was practically skipping as she came back. "I have hot water, Mac! Real hot water! And a toilet in a proper closet, can you believe it? He said Abbot was just cleaning everything up for me and it should be ready by tonight! Isn't that just dreamy? I can have a bath whenever I like and I don't even have to impose on anyone to do it!" Nora clapped, actually clapped, and hopped onto the stool next to him.

He smiled at her. So he wasn't the only one addicted to hot showers, then. Mack noticed she seemed to be an expert with chopsticks. Of course she was. She probably knew what the hell language the damn robot spoke, too.

"Sounds great, boss. Real swanky."

Nora slurped up a mouthful of noodles and nodded, did a little wiggle dance in her seat and then went back to her noodles.

What the hell had that been?

Mac busted out laughing. "What...you that excited, boss?"

Nora wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and glared at him. "Excuse you. Some of us weren't, in fact, raised in a barn. I couldn't very well talk with my mouthful so I pantomimed being excited."

"Oh, a thousand apologies, your ladyship. Please forgive me."

She swept her eyes over him as she raised her Nuka Cola and Mac could clearly see the cadet in her eyes. Pinup Nora. Yowza.

"You're forgiven." She raised her eyebrow at him. "This time."

Damn, he liked her sassy.

Mac had been willing to endure Piper's charming personality if Nora had wanted to hang out at her house to...do whatever it was girls did, but Nora said Piper was busy and she just wanted to get out of the sun and wait somewhere warm. He'd noticed that even in winter, sunlight seemed to make more little freckles appear on her cheeks and she had told him her mother had been a redhead and that her skin had come from her. She'd giggled and called herself a 'daywalker', whatever that meant.

So off they went to the Dugout Inn. Mac was a big fan of the Bobrovs. They'd run a dive in the Capital Wasteland back in the day before moving here and Mac and Lucy as teens in love, used to sneak in and neck in the back.

Mac watched as Nora practically bounced over to Scarlet, excitedly asking how things were with Travis. He figured she was safe enough in here and strolled up to the bar.

Vadim saw him and threw out his arms wide, yelling, "MacCready! Is good to you see, tovarisch. How is Lucy? She still as beautiful as I remember?"

Lucy's smile, her eyes in Duncan's face. Mac stamped down the grief. "No....she didn't make it, Vadim."

"Ah...I am sorry to hear that. I get you a drink. On the house."

"Thanks, Vadim."

Nora had finished checking in with Scarlet and was watching him, moving toward a couch. Ah, so she had heard. Of course she had, everyone could hear Vadim and his giant, loud mouth. He handed her a water and sat down with his beer, trying to ignore the fact that she was busy mentally dissecting his face.

"Mac?"

He picked at the ancient, peeling label. "Yeah, boss."

"Who was Lucy?"

Mac sighed. It was probably past time he'd told her but he still didn't feel comfortable talking about all...that. His failure to protect his wife or his situation with Duncan. Especially didn't want to talk about it here, in a loud dive bar with Nora when the plan had been to be in bed with her by now.

She was frowning at him now. "If it's...if it's bitterly painful for you to talk about, you don't have to, darlin’." Nora's head was tilted, again. He kinda thought she looked a little like a kitten when she did that. It was enough to get a sad smile out of him.

"That's a good way to put it, boss. Bitterly painful. It's...she was my wife and...she died." Mac couldn't meet her gaze. Nora put a hand on his arm, eyes wet with unshed tears. Here it came, any second now, all the questions. He could not believe they were going to have this conversation here.

"I'm so sorry, honey. You don't have to say another word about it."

He stared at her, confused. Just when he thought he had her figured out, off she went proving him wrong again.

She smiled sympathetically, "I get it. People...when people found out what the Institute had done to my family, I got bombarded. So many condolences and heartfelt speeches and questions, questions, questions. I hated it. Nearly drove me mad. When you're ready, if you're ever ready, I'm here." Nora looked around at the crowded pub and blinked. "But probably not here? This doesn't really seem like the place for...that." She ran a finger across a dirty table top and frowned at the line it left behind. "Completely inappropriate."

Before he knew it, Mac was laughing his ass off. Nora smiled politely, confused, and sipped from her water. He laughed until he cried, until Nora started giggling at the sight of him.

Goddamn, he loved this woman.

Chapter Text

They spent the day playing cards and ‘people watching’, as Nora called it, Mac splurging a bit on a few ice-cold beers. Nora had explained as he drank that even though refrigeration was so expensive now, in her time, it had simply been a given that drinks from the bar would be cold...those sons of bitches, that was at least two good things they ruined with the bombs.

Nora almost never really drank, which was fine with Mac since he figured that as scatterbrained as she could get sober, drunk Nora was probably too ridiculous to even contemplate. She'd told him her last experience with hard alcohol had been the rum she'd tried on her 'honeymoon', whatever the hell that was, years ago, and that she really preferred water and the occasional wine with dinner anyway. Totally fine by him, if a little pricey, but hey, she was buying.

It was clearly not fine, however, with Vadim, who seemed to take personal offense to her not trying out his moonshine.

"Is not right! You come into my bar, you sit at my tables and all you order is water! Water! Is not good for business, Nora!"

She sighed, "Vadim, it's really nothing personal...and isn't it better for your business? Water is more expensive nowadays than liquor, isn't it?" Mac could tell she really thought being reasonable was going to work with Vadim. Funny.

He was waving his arms all around now, "Not the point! Is not the point! People come in, they see pretty lady, they see she is not drinking! What does that tell them?!"

Nora looked completely lost. Mac was just trying to not die laughing at Yefim's irritated expression from across the room. "That...that I don't like alcohol?"

Vadim slammed his hands down on the bar, making Nora, but no other patron, jump. Everyone else was used to his ranting by now and just tuned it out. "No! It tells them you do not like my alcohol! This is great insult to me, my bar, my brother, Diamond City itself!"

Nora's mouth open and closed like a fish. She looked to Mac for help but he was too busy shaking from suppressed laughter to be useful. Finally, she sighed and turned back to Vadim.

"Fine. You can make me one drink, Vadim. One." She held up a finger. "Understand, honey?"

Vadim smiled his devilish smile. "Yes! Okay! I make the finest drink for the prettiest lady in Diamond City! All will talk about it tomorrow and want to order! Yes!"

Nora frowned at Mac as Vadim concocted...whatever it was going to be. "Just so you know, I am going to hold you personally responsible for this, Mac."

He sputtered, "What?! What'd I do?"

"You didn't do anything! That's the point!"

Now it was his turn to look around for help. There was none. "I...oh, come off it. It's just one stupid drink. What's the harm anyway? He'll probably give it to you for free."

Nora's frown had darkened into a scowl, "There is a reason I do not imbibe, sugar. Did that ever occur to you?"

"Uh...", it honestly had not, he'd just assumed it was a preference. "I guess not. Look, if you don't want it, don't drink it. Hell, I'll drink it. Don't worry about it."

She shook her head, "No. No, that's not how it works . He's making it especially for me. Now I have to drink it. It would be rude not to." Nora was tapping her thumb against the side of her chair. Hard.

Ah, shit. This was one of those...things.

Mac reached out and covered her hand with his. "Hey, it's cool, boss. It will be fine, okay? I'm still...mostly sober. No matter what happens, I'll watch your six and get you home, alright? No worries."

She was chewing her lip and staring at him with a look of apprehension on her face. It was kind of mildly freaking Mac out, if he wanted to be totally honest. What was the harm? It was just one little drink? No big deal.

Oh, it was a big deal.

Vadim had brought over his creation with the level of fanfare Mac hadn't seen since the last time he'd been at one of Hancock's little surprise parties he liked to spring on people in the Third Rail. All that was missing were the stripping drifters and chems.

It was in a pint glass, brown in color with a piece of mutfruit in the bottom. Certainly didn't seem like anything magical to Mac's eyes but whatever floated Vadim's boat.

Nora took it, staring at its contents like it was poison. The glass looked enormous in her small hand and Mac frowned at Vadim. The man clearly knew Nora didn't drink, why would he give her this giant thing to try?

"You try! You try! You like it, I think." The man was practically vibrating he was so excited.

Nora cautiously took a small sip. "Oh, it's...it's not so bad, actually. It's...goodness, it's very sweet, Vadim. I almost can't taste any alcohol at all in it. Thank you, honey."

Mac smiled. There you go. He knew Vadim could be reasonable. Sometimes.

The big man puffed up a bit. "I make this very special. Has special secret ingredient. No one else can make a beverage this delicious!"

Nora was still sipping, "M’hmm, it's very good, Vadim, actually. Quite good. What do you call it?"

"I have not yet named it. Is new. Was thinking maybe 'the Candy Rocket'?"

She frowned a bit. "No, that's not...", she giggled over her glass at Mac. "What about the Nuka Rocket? It kinda tastes like Nuka Cola." Mac smiled back at her. At least they could joke about that cadet crap now.

"Ah, you have discovered my secret ingredient! Yes, I use Nuka Cola syrup! Very special!"

Nora froze, "Vadim...not undiluted though, surely? The syrup is very dangerous if it's not diluted properly."

He waved her concern away. "No, no, of course! Is diluted! Very safe. Safe drink for a lady!"

She was frowning at the glass now. She'd already had a fourth of it. "Um...why does it smell like art class a little, sugar?"

Mac rolled his eyes, "Nobody knows what that is, boss."

Nora looked up at him. She was swaying just a bit. "It's...it's the scent of turpentine, almost."

He snatched the glass out of her hand and smelled. Moonshine. A lot of moonshine. He glared at the Russian. "Vadim, what the sh-heck, man! What did you give her?"

Nora was definitely swaying at this point. Swaying and looking around at everything with huge, doe eyes like she'd never been there before.

Vadim looked a little nervous. "Is just...is drink for lady..."

"He slipped me the mickey..." Nora giggled in a sing-songy voice.

Jesus. Mac snapped at him, "How much moonshine is in this drink, Vadim?

The other man smiled, relieved, "Oh, oh, is not much. I only start with half moonshine."

Mac set the glass down on a table out of Nora’s reach with a thump. Half. He only started with half a pint of moonshine. And then Nora had drank a fourth, that made it...well, he wasn't completely sure but clearly it was too much. Shit.

"Vadim, coffee, now." The bartender rushed off. "Nora...boss, here, drink some water, okay?"

She was smiling dreamily at him now. She took the water he offered but didn't drink it, instead she was using it to gesture around as she talked.

"This place is so nice, don't you think, honey? Friendly. They'll never be able to get that smell out though." Nora raised her voice, "No offense to you, Scarlet dear, you do what you can. Isn't that right, Mac?" She giggled. "Mac...Mac Mac Mac...Mac-n-Cheese." He slid over onto the couch next to her and tried to get the can of water at least somewhere near her mouth. He heard someone laughing behind him and was pretty sure it was Yefim, the jerk.

"Come on, boss. Drink your water. It'll make you feel better."

Nora snorted and tried to slap his hands away, "I feel fine, Mac. Feel great, even. Oh! Look at your precious face." She abruptly dropped the water to grab his face with both hands. Mac caught it, but barely. They were just inches from each other, which would have been great if he wasn't still worried she was going to puke on him any second. "I just love your face. Just look at it. So handsome."

Mac felt his whole face go red. There were more people laughing around them now.

Nora studied him and frowned. She covered his beard with her hands...or tried to, anyway. "I just bet if you shaved this off, you'd have the sweetest babyface in the whole.. .whoooooole wide world. Yes, you would. Oh! Such a babyface! I just wanna breastfeed that face!" She jerked him down and hugged his head to her breasts.

The giggles in the background got louder and now there was snickering involved, too.

Mac was absolutely putting Vadim on his kill list, right under Deacon, old friends or not.

Nora was still snuggling him to her ample bosom, humming some lullaby even, when Mac heard some asshole yell at them.

"Hey, get your bitch under control, dipshit. Some of us are here for the quiet."

Mac finally wrestled away from Nora and glared in the general direction of the voice. He wasn't sure who'd said it, exactly, but felt compelled to respond.

"Shut the fu-frick up. This don't concern you."

A tall blond man a few tables over stood up, "Keep her quiet or it's gonna concern me."

Nora was glaring daggers at the man, "You...that...that is just so rude. You apologize right this minute, young man."

Mack groaned inwardly. Her mouth was writing a bill his ass was going to have to pay. He stood, too, and faced the tall stranger. Why are assholes always, always tall? "Back off, man. Just go back to your table. I'm about to take her home, anyway. Don't nobody need to get hurt here."

"Oooooh but they're gonna." Nora was now getting up. It took her a few tries, and she was unsteady on her feet, but she managed. She took off her glasses and handed them to Mac, who took them in complete disbelief. What the hell even was his life right now? She squinted a little, frowned and pointed at the man. "You are quite the uncouth gentleman. Calling a lady a...well...you know what you said. That's...Piper says you can't let that stuff go. Nope nope nope."

She was moving towards the man before Mac even registered what was happening, not as smoothly as she had with the raider, but still surprisingly swift for being three sheets to the wind.

Certainly the asshole never saw it coming. Nora hit him with an uppercut as he'd stood sneering at her. Mac saw the man's teeth shatter in his head as his jaw snapped together and he went flying as if it all happened in slow-motion. Nora staggered a little, cradling her right hand and hopped about in a fighter's stance that looked oddly familiar.

Ah, shit. Cait. Apparently Combat Tag really was an equal opportunity sport.

Vadim was back, without the coffee. "Mac, stop her. Last time she destroy half the bar."

He stared at his old friend, blinking, "Last time? You got her drunk before and still thought it was a good idea?"

The bartender looked offended, "Do I look like idiot? No. When she destroyed my bar she was stone sober. I thought maybe, you know, alcohol would help her relax, calm down a little."

Nora was now taunting the clearly unconscious asshole, encouraging him to get up and 'fight her like a proper man'. Mac cursed under his breath, tucked her glasses in his pocket and grabbed her hand.

Then he dodged and grabbed her fist when she swung on him.

Damn. Nora was a mean drunk...ah, that must be the reason she didn’t drink. Right. Good to know.

"Boss, we're leaving. Come on."

"Nuh-uh. I'm not finished kicking his candy ass butt yet. I can do it. I know you don't think I can do it, but you dunno. You're always looking at me just like...just like Nate used to." She planted her feet when he tried to drag her along, there were tears in her eyes suddenly. "I am not made of glass! I can take care of myself! I don't need...I don't need medication or a robot or...or anybody!" She suddenly moved, trying to sweep his legs out from under him.

Mac stumbled, but didn't fall. "What the fu-frick, boss? Alright. That's enough ." He twirled her by the arm he still had and swept her up over his shoulder.

"Hey! That's...no! You put me down this minute!"

"No, boss, I’m taking you home."

"No, you are not! Mac! I am not joking! Put me down right now! I'm...I'm older than you are and what I say goes!"

Mac was already stomping down the long hallway out of the bar, laughter still echoing behind them. "Well, you're acting like a child, so I'm the boss now and I'm taking you home anyway."

"I...you can't...I'm taller than you, too!"

"What the heck does that have to do with anything?" He kicked the door open and stomped out into the night. A guard saw them and chuckled. Good. At least he didn't have to deal with that nonsense. Probably saw a ton of drunks carried out of the Dugout in his day.

"It...It means I'm the boss. This is....this is undignified, that's what it is! You better make sure my skirt stays down, MacCready! I'm a lady!" Nora was now pummeling the back of his thighs with her fists, because that was super helpful when you're trying to carry someone.

"Boss, you're in enough trouble as it is. Do yourself a favor and shut up."

Chapter Text

Nora's first time in her new fancy-for-Diamond-City bathroom was not going to be the tranquil experience she'd probably hoped for. Mac had unceremoniously kicked her door open, ignored her yelling about scuff marks and that she never should have given him a key, marched her over to the new bathtub and dumped her right in.

Then he held her down with one hand and turned on the shower. Full blast. Her shocked scream as the icy water hit her nearly split his head in two.

"There! Happy now? You sit your butt down, take some addictol and a stimpak for that hand and then go to bed. I can't believe you today, boss. Ri- goddamn -diculous! You could have gotten yourself killed!" Mac adjusted the water temperature, just a little so the cold wouldn't sting quite so much once she stopped fighting him. Nora glared up through her wet hair at him and didn't say anything.

Silent treatment, then. Wonderful. Mac's favorite punishment.

Mac threw the addictol he'd swiped from Dr. Sun's on the way to Nora's at her and stormed out of the bathroom.

He needed a cigarette.

Mac threw off his duster and tossed it aside. Usually he'd be nice and find some peg somewhere to hang it up since Nora liked tidy, but he was too pissed to be nice about anything right now. He rummaged around in her galley kitchen, found the inevitable cigarettes (Nora didn't smoke that he'd ever seen, but she always, always had cigarettes), collapsed on her surprisingly decent couch and lit one with slightly shaking hands.

Goddamn he was pissed. The idea of someone trying to lay their hands on Nora. That asshole calling her a bitch. He wasn't completely sure if he was more angry that Nora had picked a fight at all, or that she hadn't let him punch the guy himself.

And what the hell was that talk about Mac being like Nate? He was nothing like Prince Charming had been.

He was still fuming when a sober Nora finally emerged from the bathroom, holding a towel around herself and glaring at him with a frosty dignity. He glared right back and for a second thought maybe she was smart enough to just take her sassy butt on up to bed, but no, of course not. This was Nora, after all.

She raised her chin and looked down at him, "That was completely unnecessary and unacceptable." She waited.

Mac just stared at her; she actually thought he was going to apologize to her. He was so pissed he couldn't even enjoy the fact that she was wet and naked under that towel. No, she had to go make him so damn angry his hands were still shaking.

When he didn't respond, Nora huffed, "I don't know why you seem to have decided I am incapable of handling myself when in the field, but I can assure you, I can. I'm...", her hands balled up into angry little fists at her sides, "I'm a goddamn heavy for the Railroad. I have killed a courser."

Mac had no idea what the fuck a 'heavy' was or what a 'courser' was supposed to be and just frowned at her, but the way she said it he was supposed to be impressed. He was not.

"I...", Nora took a deep breath. "The person I once was died a long time ago. Who I am now, she...I...I am not going to get hurt by some drunken dandy at a bar in Diamond City. I-"

Yeah, he'd about had enough of this shit. She wasn't sorry. Not at all. Mac stood up, and started rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, cigarette still dangling from his mouth.

Nora took an unthinking step back. Good instincts. "What...what are you doing?"

He finished rolling up his sleeves and put his hands on his hips. "I told you. I fucking told you. If you ever did something like that again. You remember? What'd I say?" He took a last puff and shoved the cigarette into a nearby ashtray. Nora was staring at him with something close to horror now. He blew the smoke out. "What did I fucking say , Nora?"

"Mac...you...you're using... language." Another small step back.

Mac moved, too, just a bit. Stepping along the coffee table to its side. "What. Did. I. Say?" The words were almost a growl.

She looked a little pale. Her left hand was rubbing the bottom edge of her towel and her eyes were fixed on his hands. "You, um...you said if I ever did anything like that again that you'd..." Nora took a deep breath and chewed her lip. "That you'd 'beat my ass'." The last part was barely a whisper.

"Yeah. Yeah, I did." Mac launched himself at her, Nora bolted.

Game on.

Mac had to admit, Nora did have some moves. Even barefoot and only able to utilize one arm since she had to use one hand to keep her towel up, she almost got away. Almost made it to the door.

Mac scoffed. And then what? Bolted half-naked screaming into the night? Not likely. She had to know she was trapped, that it didn't matter how much she tried to get away. Mac already had her.

Still, it was pretty fun to watch.

He finally grabbed her around the waist and dragged her with him back to the couch, sitting and dropping her unceremoniously across his lap. Mac grabbed her hands and used one of his own to hold hers at the small of her back. Nora kicked and wriggled, trying to get off his lap but only succeeding in making her towel ride up until her glorious, often fantasized about, ass was exposed.

Perfect.

Mac's other hand came down hard on one of her cheeks, the flesh instantly going red and then fading to pink. Nora squealed and lurched forward. He took just a moment to admire his handprint before continuing on, spanking her as hard as he could manage with all her squirming, feeling the anger seep out of him as her bottom went from white to pink to red.

He stopped after twenty. He felt that was fair. Mac wasn't a monster, after all.

Nora was suspiciously quiet after he stopped. She didn't move, didn't try to look at him. Just lay there passive in his lap, her still damp hair hiding her face from him. There was just the sound of their panting. The silence built and Mac felt a little ball of anxiety form in his stomach. He let go of her wrists but her arms stayed in place anyway.

Shit. What the hell had he been thinking? He hadn't been thinking. That was the problem. That was always his problem when he was around Nora. He'd just held down a grown woman, his employer, and spanked her like some out of control little from Lamplight.

"Uh...boss...Nora, I'm...", Mac didn't know what else to do, so he tried gently soothing her glowing bottom with his hand. Nora gasped and he froze. Shit. Was she that hurt?

"Mac?", her voice was soft, just a whisper.

He still didn't know what to do. Part of him, a big part, wanted to throw himself on the floor at her feet and apologize. "Y-yeah, boss?"

"Is it time for bed now?"

"Um...yes. Yes, boss. Of course." Mac put his arms under her and helped lift her to her feet. Her hair was still in her face so he brushed it out of the way for her. Her eyes were dark, dark, dark in the faint light from the kitchen and unreadable.

She walked slowly towards the ladder to the loft, clutching the towel around her and shivering in the chilly air. Mac was already praying to whoever was up there listening that he'd still have a job in the morning, when she turned and looked at him with that slightly confused expression she sometimes got when people weren't following whatever script she had in her head. Nora saw he hadn't moved and she frowned.

"Mac?"

"Yeah, boss?"

"Aren't you coming, honey?"

Mac's entire brain was suddenly on fire. How...what? What? He just stared at her. Stared at her towel that barely covered anything. Stared at her confused kitten face. Every drop of blood in his body had immediately rushed into his pants and that left his brain completely inoperable. Suddenly he felt himself nodding, one foot trudging in front of the other towards Nora and the ladder. Apparently his dick was just going to up and hijack his whole body. Fine. Whatever worked.

Nora for once had more motor control than he did at present. By the time he'd reached the loft, she was already snuggled up under the covers, staring at him expectantly with glowing eyes. Mac was surprised she'd not only managed to find a serviceable queen sized bed but had somehow got it up the ladder. He started unbuttoning his shirt and once he got that off, he sat on the bed to unlace his boots.

Stupid fucking boots. Damn laces were taking forever since his hands kept trembling. He'd just managed to toe them off when Nora surprised him from the side, grabbing his arm and dragging him down into the bed with her, giggling. She kissed him hard, sliding her hands along his naked torso. He kissed her back as best he could, still fumbling to get his pants off when he felt her pause and break off from their kiss.

"Mac, what's this?" She ran her fingers, a little cold from the shower but still wonderful, down a scar that ran along his chest.

He finally, finally, got his pants kicked off and managed to look down briefly before sliding his hands into Nora's wet hair. "Yao guai. Couple years back." He breathed against her mouth and then nibbled on her lower lip. He heard her hum a bit. Her hand slid over his shoulder.

"And this one?"

God, her fingers actually felt great, he decided. So cool and soft. She kept asking questions though. It was hard for Mac to think about anything when he already had precum leaking from his dick.

He paused in his exploration of Nora's lips and thought hard for a second. "Uh...that was a shotgun blast. Happened...fuck, I dunno." He pressed another kiss to her lips and slid his tongue into her mouth, eagerly exploring her. Mac loved that she was giggling as it happened. He always liked hearing her laugh.

She managed to break away from him again though. He hated that.

"Um...Mac, w -"

He couldn't take this anymore. "Nora. I'm sorry but we...we need to stop talking now. I need...we..."

She blinked up at him for a moment. He could see the gears working in her mind. At least someone could still think. Mac could see the light bulb moment when she realized what was going on.

"Oh...ooooh, yes. Well, yes. Exactly! I was just going to ask if maybe we could skip um...you know...the slow bits, honey? For now, I mean, not forever, probably."

Mac blinked back at her now. "Are...are you fu-freaking serious right now?"

"Of course I'm serious. It's been a while for me and all that but um, well...I'm pretty ready already, see?" Nora abruptly took his hand, and to his surprise slid it under the covers and put it between her legs. Pretty ready, she'd said. She was already so wet it was all over her inner thighs.

Words refused to come. He just stared at her.

She shrugged a little, blushing. "I'm sorry, it's just...it um...well, I guess I got a little excited...it happened when you were...you know, earlier..."

Mac was laughing now. It was all he could do. He cut off her ridiculous apology with a kiss and flexed his hand just a bit against her outer lips. She shivered and he smiled.

"You do not ever have to apologize for that sh-stuff, boss."

He managed to peel off most of the cover from her body. Nora shivered in the cool air and he moved over her a bit, knowing the heat pouring off his body would keep her warm for now. Mac braced himself with one arm and watched Nora's face as he worked first one, then another finger inside her warm folds. She'd said she was ready, and she definitely was, but Mac had been with enough partners to know that sex with him could sometimes be uncomfortable if proper precautions weren't taken.

He moved his fingers deep within her, searching for that little rough patch of skin in an ocean of satin, his thumb gently rubbing her clit as he did. She bit her lip and arched against him, her nails scratching along his back just a bit. Mac chuckled as he bent down to kiss her and knew the exact moment he found that spot from how her hips suddenly bucked against him.

Nora's moans were going to be the death of him. His cock had not stopped leaking precum since they'd started this and he knew he was already dangerously close. Mac waited, though, until her moans had just a hint of a whine to them and her thighs were starting to shake before he removed his fingers from her, stretching her further out as he went.

Mac got up between her legs, and pressed his cock against her opening. It took every ounce of self control he had left but he paused, broke off from their kiss and waited until her eyes slid back open. They were both panting by now and he was pretty sure the answer was yes, but he had to ask anyway.

"Nora, are you...are you sure you wanna do this? I don't...if we keep going, I don't know that I can stop."

She slid her fingers into his hair and pulled his mouth back to hers, whispering a 'yes' just before she kissed him. Mac moaned into her mouth and rubbed his cock against her, coating it in her wetness. Nora arched up, trying to get him to go faster, but he wasn't going to let that happen. Not when he'd waited this long.

Mac lifted his head from hers and just barely managed to speak. "Nora, look at me."

Her eyes stared into his as he slowly, slowly slid into her. He watched her mouth fall open a bit as his cock stretched and filled her. Mac made it almost all the way in before he met resistance and stopped, watching her face carefully to see if she was in any pain. She was chewing her bottom lip, making tiny, tiny adjustments with her hips.

She blinked and giggled at him, "Goodness gracious, Mac." Nora sounded mildly awestruck.

Now there, that was the proper response to his cock. Finally. He smirked at her, a chuckle rumbling through him, as he carefully moved back out of her tight pussy and slid back in, easier this time and just a fraction deeper. She gasped a little and ran her hands up his back to hang onto his shoulders.

MacCready started kissing her neck, leaving little love bites as he slowly rocked against her, each time able to get just a bit closer to seating himself fully within her.

She was almost babbling now, "I mean, it, Mac, holy cow. I don't...that's...I mean... Jesus Christ ..."

He finally was able to sink all the way into her. Mac paused for a moment, relishing in her warmth and the way her body gripped his like a vice. Nora kept wiggling her hips ever so slightly and Mac held them tight in his hands to stop them from moving as he raised up over her. If she kept that shit up, he was going to last about five seconds and then he'd want to go kill himself.

Mac felt her pulse around him, just a little. Maybe he wasn't the only one who wasn't going to last long. She'd finally gone silent and he looked down at her, unable to stop himself.

"You like that, huh, baby?"

Nora locked eyes with him and nodded, still trying to wiggle despite his grip on her.

"Oh, yeah?" Mac slid out of her slowly and then slammed his cock back into her, just once. She gasped and bucked against him. "What about that?"

She was biting her lip and panting again, hands twisted in the sheet beneath her. "Yes, please. Please, please, please."

He flexed against her, rolling his hips and grunting as her pussy flexed around him. "Mmm, yeah, feels pretty fucking good, doesn't it?" Nora just whimpered in response. Mac let go of her hips and pulled her left leg up and over his shoulder, still moving within her as he went. He ground the palm of his free hand against her clit and felt her whole body shudder as another pulse gripped him from within her. Mac kept up his rough thrusting, running his hand along her leg and feeling her thigh quiver beneath his fingers.

"You gonna come for me, baby?" He pressed a bit harder against her clit and watched Nora's face. Her eyes were squeezed shut and she was breathing hard, her cheeks flushed. Her hands had gone to the headboard and she was using it for leverage, meeting his every thrust. Her breasts bounced along with their rhythm, and Mac realized he hadn't gotten to them yet. Well, fuck; next time.

Mac could feel the pressure building in her, coiling like a spring. She was right there on the edge.

"Nora...Nora, open your eyes. Look at me, baby." It seemed like it was a struggle for her, but she did it, meeting his gaze, pupils blown wide. Mac smiled at her, all predatory male and whispered, his voice shaking with desire, "Show me what a good girl you can be. Do it. Come for me."

That did it. Mac felt the pressure build up and up and up. Watched as her face contorted in ecstacy, her body arched up and she stopped breathing. He grunted and his fingers involuntarily dug into the soft flesh of her thigh. She was squeezing him like a vice and he had to stop thrusting. Then she tipped over the edge and almost took him with her, her walls milking him mercilessly. Nora finally took a shuddering breath and cried out as she came, gasping for air. Mac started moving again, in time with the waves crashing through her. He was right there, too. He was starting to see stars dance before his eyes and he felt his balls constrict as he pulled out of her with a loud cry of his own, his come splashing over her stomach and breasts.

They were both still shaking as he pried his hand off her thigh. He pressed a kiss against the fingerprint bruises he'd left behind as a kind of apology and leaned down over her, resting his forehead against her heaving chest while he caught his breath for a second.

"Mac...", it was the first coherent word Nora had said since...shit, he didn't know. His head was too floaty for him to think, so he just looked at her blankly. She had a towel in her shaking hand and was giggling just a little.

Ah, right. The towel she'd been wearing. Perfect.

He smiled at her, giving her a quick kiss as he took the towel and cleaned them both off, tossing it to the floor after. Mac collapsed next to Nora, pulling her into his arms and tucking the blanket back around them as they basked in the afterglow and tried to catch their breath.

Not too bad for their third kiss, he thought, chuckling a bit to himself. He felt a little loopy after that and beyond stupefied at his luck. To have this wonderful, delicious, crazy woman in his arms. It didn't seem real, like any second he could wake up.

Chapter Text

If he could go back in time and tell the kid he'd been that someday he'd actually meet and then get to fuck the Nuka Girl and that it would be so much better than any fantasy his brain had been able to come up with...

Mac raised his arm up and pretended to high-five his thirteen year old self.

Nora giggled and Mac froze for a second. Busted.

"Mac, what’s that you’re doing? Is that like...a thing people do now? Wave their hand in the air? In my day people mostly had a cigarette after." She sounded so serious, and Mac snorted with laughter. He was tempted to go with it but figured he'd just get his ass kicked later when she found out it wasn't true.

"Nah, boss, that's just me being a dumba-dummy. I was just uh...high-fiving my kid self over being in bed with the Nuka Girl."

Now Nora laughed. "Really? That's...that's very...mature of you, honey." She was trying to give him that sassy look but kept ruining it with her giggling.

"You just don't get it, boss."

"Hmm, I'm sure I don't." She snuggled against him, her hand tracing little circles on his chest. "Hey, Mac, can I ask you something?"

"Anything, baby, just don't ask me to get up for about another five minutes. Pretty sure I'd fall down the ladder."

She huffed at him, "No, I don't...no, I like you just where you are." She scooted even closer to him and his arms reflexively tightened around her. "It's just...I just realized...um..."

Mac opened one eye and looked at her. She was staring at his chest with that focused face on. "Just realized what, boss?"

Nora looked up at him, "Mac, what's your first name?"

They stared at each other in awkward silence. Whoops.

Mac felt just a little embarrassed. Fell into bed with a woman who didn't even know his real name. Fantastic. Put the cart waaaay before the brahmin on this one.

"It's uh...it's Robert Joseph. RJ, for short."

She smiled and put a hand to his cheek. "Robert Joseph. It's lovely. It suits you, sugar."

Mac wasn't sure how to respond to that so he just smiled back at her.

She looked thoughtful now. Her hand went back to making little circles along his chest. "Things are so different in this...time. I never...I mean...Nate and I were engaged by the time he made it to third base, even."

He frowned, "Nate was a baseball player?"

Nora giggled, "No, no. Bases back then meant like...how far a girl would go with a boy. First base was a kiss, second base was usually copping a feel over your sweater...girls wore super soft thin sweaters just for it, actually. Made from bunny fur. Third base was um...stuff happening under clothes..."

Mac glanced down at her. No fucking way.

"Nora, are you blushing?"

Her hands flew to her cheeks. "Am I?"

"Are you actually embarrassed right now?"

"I...", she was quickly turning beet red and Mac started laughing.

"You....we're literally...I just fucked your brains out, Nora. How are you blushing now?"

"Mac!" She squeaked at him and hid her face against his chest. He couldn't help it, he was laughing his ass off as she grumbled at him.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, baby," he stuttered as soon as he could actually speak. "I just...I've never met a girl like you before. Guess they really don't make 'em like they used to."

She peeked up at him through her fingers. "I suppose it is pretty silly, isn't it?"

He kissed the top of her head. "Yeah, but it's pretty da-dang adorable, too."

Nora huffed a bit. "Well, anyway, as I was saying, people went a lot slower than, you know," she gestured at their still entwined bodies, "this back then. Or at least, they were supposed to. I did, anyway. I was a good girl."

Mac smirked, "Yeah, I bet you were."

She smiled as his innuendo sailed right over her head, "I really was. Not by any kind of effort or anything, but just because I was so...awkward, I guess? Boys hardly ever actually noticed me. 'Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses', as Mother always said."

He rolled his eyes. Fucking dumbasses. "Their loss, boss."

Nora shrugged, "It was fine. I wasn't interested in them, either. I mean, Nate was my first...well, pretty much everything, and I was almost your age when we met."

"What...you mean you didn't do anything ?"

"Nope."

"H-how did you live?"

She sounded confused, "I...I lived very well, thank you very much. What are you talking about?"

"Boss, people...people need sex."

Nora frowned up at him. "No, they don't. Not all people."

Mac felt like his brain was broken. This was the most bizarre concept he had ever come across, and he was including Jack and his stupid aliens. "Uh...well, okay, so you were one of those...what? Late bloomers, I guess?"

She gave him a considering look but let him change the subject. "I suppose I was."

"Well, you did a damn fine job once you bloomed, boss." He ran a hand down her back and squeezed her ass a little through the blanket.

Nora snorted with laughter, "Thank you, RJ. I'm tickled pink you think so."

"So how um...how did you and Nate, you know, get together, then, if you were so awkward and all?"

She snuggled against him and sighed a bit. "It was at a dance. A USO dance. I was the punchbowl girl."

Three sentences and Mac already had a million questions. "What's USO mean?"

"United Service Organizations. They were this civilian group who supported the military. They'd throw concerts and parties to entertain soldiers. Sometimes they'd do it right in the middle of a warzone, but a lot of stuff happened stateside, too."

"Okay, so these people threw a party for some soldiers. Nate was one of the soldiers?"

She nodded. "Yeah, he was an officer, actually. Nate was older than me by nearly a decade. His men had dragged him to the dance because it was almost his birthday. They wanted to celebrate with him before they went back overseas."

"And you were...what? A punchy girl?"

She snorted, "The punchbowl girl, honey. See, the USO had asked my sorority, oh...um...that was like, a club for ladies in college, to come to the party so the men had girls to dance with. I didn't really want to go but my Cousin Emmy was our chapter president and she insisted. She said I could serve punch and didn't have to dance with anyone, but it would be good for me to get out and...and study how men and women interacted." Mac hummed. That made sense. Her family was probably worried she was never going to find someone if she hadn't done anything by twenty-two. "Punchbowl girl was a very important job, you know. People were always trying to be naughty and sneak alcohol into the punch."

Mac wasn't sure what to make of that. He'd assumed it was alcoholic to begin with. Otherwise what the hell was the point?

Nora continued on, "Nate kept coming back to my table. He looked so dashing in his dress uniform, like something out of a movie, but...well, you know how I am. I don't notice stuff. I honestly just thought he was really thirsty. It was hotter than fire that night." She shrugged. "Cousin Emmy finally came over and nudged me. She told me he was clearly interested and I should 'give the guy a break'. That's a direct quote, by the way." Mac chuckled. "Anyway, the next time he came by for some punch I tried to talk to him a little. Asked him where his family was from and what his rank was, that kind of thing. Small talk. I wasn't ever good at it, but I had been taught the right things to say." He felt her smile against him. "Finally, he said...he said 'who's bright idea was it to put the prettiest girl at the dance behind the damn punchbowl?' and I was...well, I just froze like a deer in the headlights. I couldn't believe he'd said that. Next thing I knew, Emmy had swooped in, given him my phone number and swept me away before I really embarrassed myself. He called me the next day and we had our first date. Took me bowling."

"And the rest is history," Mac said.

"Yup, the rest is history."

The lay in companionable silence for a bit. Mac was happier than he'd been in a long time, but he felt guilt creep in. Nora had shared so much with him already and he'd kept her in the dark about nearly everything. It was past time he asked her.

"Bit different from how we met," he finally offered.

She giggled, "Just a bit."

He cleared his throat, "I don't uh, usually go around sharing stuff like this, but, well...those two idiots you saw me talking to at the Third Rail, that night we met, Winlock and Barnes. They've been hounding me for months and it was driving off my clients until...well, you. No one wanted to touch me once they learned I used to run with the Gunners." He sighed, "I figured if I get enough caps together, I could buy them out. Make them back off."

Nora waved her hand dismissively. "Caps are no issue, Mac, but that...that dog won’t hunt, darlin’. Men like that probably can't be trusted, right? They're liable to put a bullet in your back, even if you did pay them off."

"Yeah, I'm right there with you..."

"What if...what if you tried to take them out first? They're awful men anyway. You'd be doing the people of the Commonwealth a kindness."

"If only it were that simple. Winlock and Barnes have a small army of Gunners with them at all times. They're nearly impossible to ambush. If I tried to set up a place to meet, I'm sure they'd roll up with everyone they've got...and their base camp is too fortified to get a clear shot into. They've got the high ground in a big way."

Nora was gently tapping her fingers on his arm, thinking.

"...Unless, I figure maybe if I had somebody watching my back, I might be able to take them out. Maybe sneak in and launch an inside attack."

She perked up, "Oh! I could help you with that!"

Mac smiled, "I was hoping you'd say that. I thought maybe you could ask Edward or Cait if they'd be willing to go along with me?"
"Edward or Cait?"

He paused, there was something off about her voice and the drumming had stopped. "Well...yeah. I mean, I've never seen Edward in action personally, but I've heard he's nearly unstoppable in a fight. And Cait is...well, Cait. She's always ready to bust some heads."

Nora abruptly sat up and glared down at him. "Edward or Cait but not me?"

Mac blinked, "What...of course not you." He reached out for her arm but she pulled away.

"Why not?", her eyes had changed. She wasn't quite General Nora but it was close.

"Why not? Boss, come on. These guys are professionals. They've got a ridiculous amount of fire and manpower. Sh-shoot, probably even an assaultron. This isn't going to be some picnic you can flit in and out of like that kidnapping was."

"I...they're professionals? I'm a professional, MacCready." Nora looked hurt and angry, Mac had no idea where he'd fucked up but clearly he had.

He sat up so he could see her face better, "Nora, it's not...it's fine that you're Minutemen general or whatever," she huffed at him, "and I know you run around with Deacon playing spy but this is serious."

Nora stared at him. Her face could have been carved from stone. "I thought we...Bless your heart, I thought you were past this."

He threw his hands up, "Past what? There's nothing to get past!"

She chewed her lip and looked away from him. Those gears were turning again. "You're never going to believe me...it's just like..."

"Believe what, boss?"

Nora closed her eyes, took a deep breath and opened them to stare at MacCready. "Nothing. Don’t worry about it, sugar. It's fine. Do you know where they're located? I’d need to know if I'm going to ask for assistance on your behalf." Mac started. Their fight was over as quickly as it had begun and he'd...won? He'd somehow won? She was actually going to help him!

"Yeah...uh, yeah, it's at the Mass Pike Interchange. I can put it on your Pipboy if you want..."

She held up a hand, "There's no need. I know where that is." Nora gave him a half smile. "I did live here, a long time ago, you know."

Mac rubbed the back of his neck and grinned back at her. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Sorry, I...I guess I forgot there for a minute. I want you to know, I wouldn’t have even asked if I didn’t trust you and...well, I feel like you actually care about what happens to me."

She looked at him and pressed a hand to his cheek, "I do care what happens to you. Are you absolutely positive we..."

He shook his head. "No. No, boss. I do not want the two of us going up against...that. It's too much."

There was something not quite right about how she was staring at him. "Okay, then we won't." Mac wanted to ask if something was wrong, but she kissed him before he could get the thought out, pushing him down onto the bed and straddling him. He decided to just go with it and not question his good fortune. He had a solution for the Winlock-Barnes problem, he had his fantasy girl in his arms and he'd even won a fight with a woman. Life didn't get much better than this.

Mac had one hand fisted in her hair and another marveling at the delicious softness of her breast when Nora surprised him again.

"Mac?", she whispered when he broke away from her kiss, moving his lips down her neck.

"Hmm?" He cupped her breast and sucked her nipple into his mouth, drawing a gasp from her.

"This time, if you want, you can finish inside me. Curie um...she gives me these shots every month, so it's fine." Nora had her fingers in his hair, holding him to her while her hips rocked against his growing erection. It had never really gone all the way down from the last time, but now Mac felt the blood rushing from his head, rendering him an idiot again.

He let her nipple fall from his mouth. "Uh...this....this time? You're...we can go again?" He knew women tended to get sensitive after they came. Lucy had always been a one and done kinda girl.

"M'hmm. Do you need a minute, honey?"

"I...", she was giving him that head tilt. "No, No, I do not need a minute, boss." She smiled and gave him another quick kiss before moving her hand between them to guide his cock back inside her. She was so warm and wet and perfect and MacCready moaned as he watched her slowly slide down on his length, eyes closed, sighing happily and doing a little wiggle at the end that, strangely enough, reminded him of her silly happy dance from earlier that day.

His hands settled on her hips and he bucked up into her, enjoying watching her eyes fly open in shock.

"Sweet Jesus, Mac. You could...you could warn a girl." She was panting a little already.

"Didn't hurt, did it?", he grinned at her as she squirmed.

"No, no, it...it did something but it definitely did not hurt," Nora narrowed her eyes at his sassy grin.

"Well, you were just sitting there, I thought you'd fallen asleep."

If Nora had been a teakettle, she'd have had steam pouring from her ears. "I was not just sitting, Robert Joseph, I was... savoring." She actually crossed her arms and glared at him, like his dick wasn't inside her at all.

Mac started laughing, "Oh, savoring, I see." He bucked into her again, throwing her off balance. Nora squealed and just barely caught herself. She blew her hair out of her eyes and glared at his face, now inches from hers. "That was savory, right?"

She almost managed to keep a straight face, but his goofy charm had gotten to her. Nora laughed under her breath and settled back over him. "You are absolutely ridiculous, RJ."

Mac ground his hips against her, still laughing until she started to move. That knocked the sass right out of him.

Chapter Text

Mac woke up smiling the next day, which nearly never happened, and despite some asshole knocking on Nora's door entirely too early in the morning. Why were assholes always knocking on her door? Couldn't anyone just leave her alone with her...merc, for a few days? Shit.

He gave her breast one last, good morning squeeze as she shifted away from him. What were they now anyway?

Nora was groggily searching with her hand along her bedside table. Mac watched her for a second before it dawned on him. Ah, glasses.

"They're still in my pocket, boss. In my duster." He turned his head back into the pillow. If some asshole was here to see Nora, it sure as shit wasn't his problem.

"Right...right...", she stood and actually stumbled a bit on unsteady legs. Mac wasn't entirely sure why but it filled him with a ridiculous kind of pride. They'd made love into the early hours, stopping only for occasional water and bathroom breaks. He was pretty sure it was the most he had come in a single setting since that one time with Hancock and there had been three ladies involved in that.

Mac felt like he'd finally met his match...at least in bed. Nora gave as good as she got and was just as ravenous as he was. It was a little fuzzy, but he was almost positive they'd initially fallen asleep with him still inside her, stopping finally only because their bodies were completely exhausted.

He watched with one eye open as she fumbled around for her robe, taking in her still swollen and bruised lips, the light handprint bruises he'd left on her hips and shoulders and he was pretty sure she had a few pink places from where his beard had rubbed against her soft skin. Her hair was a mess of tangles and he chuckled as she tried to smooth it with her hands. Wasn't helping much.

Whoever was at the door was damn persistent. They kept knocking. Nora huffed at the door and looked back at him. "I'll be right back. Don't run away."

Mac snorted, "Not possible today, boss."

He heard her giggle as she went downstairs to deal with the jerk at the door. Mac was perfectly happy to stay in bed with her all day...all week, even. The rest of their lives, maybe?

He really should figure out exactly what they were, first, he guessed.

Nora's voice rang out, "Hang on, just a minute! I'm...I'm getting my glasses!", and the knocking ceased. Thank god.

A few seconds later, he heard the door open.

"Hey, doll."

"Nick! What a nice surprise! What on earth are you doing here so early, honey?"

Mac heard a match strike. "Early? Sweetheart, it's nearly noon."

A long pause, "Is it really? Good gracious." Mac chuckled into his pillow. Damn, he was thirsty. Woman had him all dehydrated.

"I uh...I came by because I heard about a little... scuffle at the old Dugout Inn last night. You hear anything about that?" Nick sounded like someone's dad, Mac decided. He yawned and got up, stretching.

"Oh. Ooooh. Yes. I mean, well, you know, things um...things often get out of hand when Mr. Vadim is involved."

Nick snorted with laughter, "Yeah, they do. Thought you'd have remembered that from last time." His eyes shifted over her shoulder. "Hey, MacCready. How you been, kid?"

Nora's head whipped around, face going pink. Mac had silently come down the ladder behind her to get a drink. He shrugged at her and tried to not laugh at her face.

"Yeah, hey, Nick. Long time no see. If you've come by for lunch, we don't have the motor oil heated yet." He didn't stop to chat, he was focused on a tall can of water from the kitchen.

Nick rolled his gold eyes. "Clever, kid."

Nora said nothing but Mac knew she was staring at his naked ass as he sauntered around the corner.

Nick chuckled, "So...cradle-robbing, are we?"

"Wh-what? I never! No! No, I...we...I mean...people age differently nowadays, Nick." He could literally hear the blush in her voice as he opened the can and took a long drink.

"Heh, yeah, I guess they do. So, you gonna be the kid's new mommy, or the new mommy to his kid?"

Shit.

He wasn't even near the door but he could feel the mood in Nora's house shift immediately.

"He...Mac has a kid?" Shit. Shit shit shit. Her voice sounded...almost heartbroken, childlike. It was cowardly, but Mac was grateful he wasn't there to see what she actually looked like just then.

"Ah...uh...I uh...I should go." Nick sounded like he'd be thrilled if the ground opened up right under his feet right this minute. "I'm uh...sorry, Mac." He called out.

Mac heard the door shut. Yeah, he was sorry, too.

He waited in the kitchen, too nervous to move for a moment. He finished his water and grabbed one for Nora as something of a peace offering but immediately changed his mind. If she was going to get mad, he wasn't handing her something to bludgeon him with.

He'd had this whole plan in his head for telling her about Duncan, a big speech and everything, it just had never seemed like the right time. Mac was starting to wonder why he even tried making plans at all. All they ever did was go to shit.

Nora came softly padding around the corner and stopped when she saw him, hands fidgeting with the tie on her robe. They just stared at each other for a minute, Nora studying him carefully, like she'd never seen him before. Mac couldn't make his mouth open and say the thousands of things his brain was screaming. Things like he was sorry and he loved her and please don't be mad.

Instead, they just stared. She looked away first, walked past him and went into the bathroom, closing the door behind her.

Mac heard the shower turn on and fought the urge to break things. He settled for slamming his hand on the counter in Nora's kitchen and then started to get dressed.

Why did he have to pay for every good thing in his life? Why couldn't he ever just have something for once and not have to worry about it getting fucked up?

Mac was fully dressed and sitting nervously back on Nora's couch by the time she got out of the bathroom. She walked past him to go get dressed like he wasn't even there, head down and her hair hiding her face. He thought maybe she'd been crying but wasn't entirely sure. Mac stared at his hands, remembering all the wonderful parts of her he'd touched during their one night together. He hoped he hadn't ruined whatever this had been busy becoming. Hoped there'd be other nights.

Nora finally came back down, dressed in jeans with a flannel shirt, hair pulled back in its regular bun and carrying a small duffle with her. She set it by the door and then sat in the chair next to the couch, thumbs tapping the arm rests.

She took a deep breath, reshuffled into someone who could deal with the current situation, and faced him. "You have a child." It wasn't a question.

He looked up from his hands. Her eyes were so distant right now, like chips of green ice. Mac hated that. They should be curled up around each other in bed, still, dammit. "Yes. His name is Duncan."

Nora nodded. "Duncan. How old is Duncan?"

Mac wondered if this were maybe lawyer Nora he was seeing. "He's four. Gonna be five come spring."

"Lucy was his mother." Another not question.

He swallowed. "Yes, she was."

Nora frowned a bit, "Who has custody...who is taking care of him now?"

"My friends back home. In the Capital Wasteland. They're...tough. Good people. He's safe with them. I send caps back there through Daisy's caravans." Mac was watching her breathe, so calm and measured, her posture impeccable and unreadable. He'd never seen someone take upsetting news this way. It was a little unsettling.

"Back home. He's not...he's not in that cave, is he?" She sounded mildly horrified at the idea.

"No, he's not in Little Lamplight. Lucy...Lucy and I wanted better for our kids."

Another nod. "That's admirable. I'm sure you were capable parents. Were you unable to retain employment in the Capital Wasteland?" He finally noticed her accent was nearly entirely absent from this conversation.

"I...uh, no, I didn't leave because of that. I had to leave because...because Duncan is sick and I've been searching for a cure." He felt sick himself just saying it out loud.

"Sick? What does he have?" She was definitely frowning at him now.

Mac ran his hands through his hair. "No one knows. One day, he was fine, running around, playing out behind the house on our farm. Then, these blue boils started popping up...

Nora's face had gone white, the impenetrable mask broken suddenly. "Blue...blue boils? All over his poor little body?"

Mac nodded.

"And...and fevers, right? It causes fevers. Labored breathing..."

He seized one of her tapping hands, "Nora? Nora, do you know what he has?"

She looked at him with a bleak expression. "I...I don't know, if...if he's survived, it might not be the same thing..."

"Nora, please. No one has ever seen this. No one knows what it is. If you do, please, tell me?"

"It...it sounds a lot like the Blue Flu, honey...New Plague." She swallowed. "It killed almost a quarter of a million people before the war. There would be these scares, and everyone would go into quarantine...you couldn't leave your house for days, sometimes weeks. Everyone had to go get mandatory check ups and get registered as healthy or...or taken away if it turned out you were infected."

Mac couldn't swallow, couldn't breathe. If medicine back in Nora's day hadn't been able to save that many people from this thing, how was he supposed to? Was this cure he was chasing just some pipe dream?

She was staring at him still, "Mac, how long has Duncan been sick?"

"Uh...it started this past spring. Just after his birthday. We thought he just had a really bad cold at first...but then he couldn't even walk..."

Nora was nodding; she seemed almost relieved, "Okay. Okay, that's good."

Mac dropped her hand. "How the fu-frick is that good, Nora?" What the hell was wrong with her?

She didn't seem to notice he was pissed. "New Plague typically took less than one week to kill its victims. Duncan has already lived far beyond that. So either his immune system is a marvel of natural science or...or the virus itself was somehow weakened. It could be that it was mutated along with everything else, except it actually mutated into something less lethal than before." Those gears were spinning again. "What's his pathology, sugar?" Mac just blinked at her. "I mean...what's his illness like? Is he sick the same amount all the time or...?"

Mac shook his head, "No, no, he has good days. Good weeks, even, where he's just weak and hot but he can...can still move himself around. Then the boils will show up again and he'll be bedridden for weeks."

Nora considered this, "Okay...okay, that sounds like his body is trying to fight it but keeps reaching a stalemate. His immune system probably just isn't developed enough for that final push. Poor little angel. What about his caretakers?"

"What about them?"

She huffed impatiently, "I mean, are they taking quarantine precautions? Do they isolate themselves from Duncan via...oh, hazmat suits or medical masks, even? Use gloves when they handle him? Are they human or ghoul?"

"Oh, okay, um...one is a ghoul, pre-war if that matters. The other is just a uh...a regular guy, like me. They don't do any of that quarantine stuff that I know of."

"But they haven't gotten sick?"

"No, they haven't gotten sick."

Nora nodded. "Alright...alright, then it's something the average healthy adult in the Wastes could fight off...that's probably why no one has ever heard of it. It could be people have been carrying it around for years but it's never been able to really become visible until it hit your sweet little baby.”

Mac had just opened his mouth to tell her about Sinclair when a bolt of blue lightning had him shrieking and falling off her couch, scrambling for his pistol when he saw the tall, unsmiling man in sunglass standing where it had struck. He looked to Nora to tell her to run but she was just still calmly sitting there, looking mildly irritated and rubbing her forehead with the heel of her palm. What the hell?

Mac decided the smart thing to do was to sit back on the couch but kept his pistol drawn. Just in case.

Nora sighed and addressed the stranger, "X6, we have discussed this."

"Ma'am?" Jesus, Mac had heard protectrons with more emotion in their voices.

She was now rubbing both temples with her eyes closed. "You are testing my patience, darlin’. How many times have I asked you to please teleport somewhere outside my personal residence and then come and knock?"

"Including this time, eleven, ma'am."

"Eleven. That's ten times too many, X6. Are you physically incapable of following this one simple directive?" Mac stared at Nora. Another new one. This one was cold and spoke to the man like...well, he didn't know, but it certainly wasn't how she spoke to anyone else.

He seemed to briefly consider what she said. "It could compromise my mission should I be noticed visiting your home."

She sighed again and gave up. "Yes, I suppose...that's true. Fine. What was so important you just had to pop in here when I have company?"

Mac frowned at the guy. He seemed to be staring at Mac from behind his sunglasses and Mac fought the urge to flip him off. Something about this guy was downright creepy.

"The board has noticed your continued absence. Father has asked for a status report. I also have some files he wanted you to review before the next meeting."

Nora glanced toward Mac. She didn't seem to want to talk in front of him but did anyway, choosing her words carefully.

"Please tell Father I offer my most sincere apologies. I have been busy with my Minutemen and the upcoming operation. Our hand has been forced a bit, and the timetables have been moved up. I will personally check in with him after the mission, which I am confident will be a complete success." She took the files the man slid out of his jacket and put them in her lap, "And, I will carefully review these files and make my own notes on them for the next meeting, which I have not forgotten about."

X6 nodded at her. "Very well, ma'am. I will report back on your behalf."

Nora nodded back at him, very serious. "Thank you, X6. Is there anything else, honey?"

"No, ma'am."

"Alright. Oh, and X6?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"If Father asks about my...company, please tell him I said it's none of his business and not his place to question what I do in my free time."

"Ma'am?" The man looked mildly disconcerted.

"You may quote me directly on it."

He sighed, "Yes, ma'am." He bowed, actually fucking bowed, politely at her, gave MacCready a head nod, and then there was that flash again. Mac flinched and covered his ears on instinct, but it was over almost before it had begun. Silence filled the space and a trace of ozone scented the air.

He turned and stared at Nora. She was staring at a spot somewhere between here and infinity, tapping her thumbs and now her leg was jiggling just a bit, too. She took a deep breath and blew it out slowly, then looked over at Mac.

"I'm sorry, honey. Where were we?"

His mouth dropped open. No. There was no fucking way she was just going to get away with acting like none of that had happened. "Nora, boss, what the hell was that?" He waved his hand towards where X6 had stood.

"That's...that's need to know."

"Need...need to know? It's need to know, that's your answer?"

"Yes. Do you not understand the concept?" General Nora was in full effect.

"Oh...oh, do not. Don't condescend to me, Nora. I understand it fine. It's need to know and apparently you've decided I don't need to know."

She frowned at him a bit, seemingly confused by his outburst. "I wasn't being condescending, I was offering to explain. And you are correct, I have decided you do not need to know about...that. It's...it's complicated and it could put you at great personal risk, MacCready. Enough people are in danger because of me already, sugar, and you have a baby to think of."

"I'm a merc. I put myself at great personal risk everyday." He snapped back.

"Yes, you do, and you should really think about reevaluating your career choices. It's hardly a proper occupation for a single parent."

Mac sat back, stunned. "That's...that's a low blow, boss."

"No, it's simply the truth." Nora stood and placed the files on a side table. "I need to go to Goodneighbor today. Are you coming or would you like the day off?"

Fine. They were back to nothing more than employer and employee. Whatever. Maybe he should ask for some kind of bonus for last night. Mac grabbed his hat from where it had fallen on the floor. "Can't afford a day off. I'll watch your six."

Nora frowned at his response a bit. She seemed puzzled that he was clearly angry. "I...do you send things home to Duncan? Besides caps, I mean?"

Mac blinked at the abrupt shift in conversation. He didn't really want to talk about Duncan with her anymore but she was the boss, after all. "Yeah, sometimes."

She nodded, "Christmas is a little over a month away. I know they string lights in Diamond City, so some people must still celebrate. Does your family celebrate it, honey?"

He was now completely confused. "Uh...yeah, we...we used to do gifts in Little Lamplight. We kept the tradition after we left."

"That's sweet. Family traditions are very important. We always celebrated Christmas, too, even though we weren't really religious. It was more a commercial holiday anyway. Does Duncan receive toys or have people gone back to giving food and candy?"

"Uh...well, I mean, he gets candy but yeah, toys and comics is what we've always..."

Nora was headed up into the loft. He watched her progress through the rickety floorboards to the upper loft, the one she had told him was 'for storage' earlier. She came back down with a closed box and held it out to him. He took it and shook it a bit. Things rattled around inside.

"What's this?"

"They're toys, of course, honey. I've been saving them, but...they have no purpose for me now. They're all new and in pristine condition. There's cars and trucks, wooden blocks, a baseball and mitt, stuff like that. I have a working Giddyup Buttercup, too, but she’s not here." She shrugged. "It's all things a little boy would love, probably. You should send them to Duncan when we get to Goodneighbor. Say they’re from Santa...if people still do Santa."

Mac opened the top of the box and stared. It was nearly full. More perfect toys than he'd ever seen in his life, plus robot models and a few comics, even what looked like a homemade teddy bear. "I...thank you. Shouldn't you be saving these for your kid though? For when you get him back?"

Her eyes were glassy and unreadable as she picked up her bag, grabbed the shiny gauss rifle from the wall and headed for the door, "He doesn't need them anymore. He has his own toys now."

Mac's eyes widened. He'd had no idea she'd already found her boy. As far as he knew, the Institute still had him. He closed the box back up and grabbed his own pack, following Nora out of Diamond City. She paused only to give Nat, Piper's equally loudmouth little sister, a quick hug before leaving the city and heading for Goodneighbor.

Chapter Text

He'd never seen her like this. She was focused, moved quietly and stayed in the shadows. Not once did she trip or hum like he was used to. She kept a hand on her pistol, always, thumb tapping away, and if she were capable of using the beautiful gauss rifle on her back then he was pretty impressed. Those things packed a punch and Nora's looked like it could shoot a hole through a building. Of course, they were headed for Goodneighbor and KL-E-0 was there. Maybe this was a rifle she'd worked on to sell. Nora was a pretty decent tinkerer.

Nora kept up an easy jog the whole way, stopping only in areas she knew to be typically infested with Super Mutants or raiders, tossing those Nuka grenades and using her pistol to pick off the ones Mac didn't get to. That impressed him, too. They were actually working as a team, for once, despite barely speaking, and it was the first time he didn't feel like he was babysitting some wandering toddler through the wastes. Mac wondered how many times she'd traveled this route to know it so well.

They made it to Goodneighbor in good time, Nora pausing just inside the gate.

"I need to speak with Hancock, honey. It...it's probably going to take a while. Do you mind getting a room at the Rexford?" She was looking at the State House, frowning a bit.

"Uh...yeah, sure. No problem, boss. Just need to see Daisy first."

Mac watched Nora nod absently at him and wander off. She was back to her regular, scatterbrained self and tripped slightly over a loose cobblestone as she walked. Mac snorted and headed over to Daisy, excited to send the best Christmas ever to his son back home.


It had been over two hours. The sun was starting to go down, but Nora still wasn't back. Mac paced back and forth in their room at the Rexford. She'd said it was going to take a while. That she just needed to talk with Hancock. Alone, apparently. For a couple of hours.

Yeah, maybe he should go check on them. Just in case. Nora probably lost track of the time was all.

Mac jogged across the way to the State House. The Neighborhood Watch had always been wary of him, but now they all seemed to be...smirking? Were they smirking at him? What the hell what that about? No one attempted to stop him as he let himself into the old building and bounded up the stairs.

Hancock and Fahrenheit sat across from each other, a chessboard between them. Nora wasn't there, but her bag was in a corner. Mac paused just inside the door. There was something a bit too casual about this whole scene.

"Hancock, my man! How's the coolest ghoul in the Commonwealth?" He could play along until he found out what the hell was going on.

"MacCready! Been a while. Have a seat, brother." Hancock's dark eyes watched Mac cross the room and sit next to Fahr. He smiled at the younger man. "How's it been hanging? Tell me everything."

"Been fine. Thanks for asking. Have you seen the boss?"

Hancock took a hit of jet as Fahr considered the board. She hadn't actually acknowledged that Mac had even entered the room, let alone sat next to her. "The boss? Who're you working for now? Somebody I know?"

Mac narrowed his eyes at the ghoul. It wasn't like Hancock to deliberately fuck with him. "Yeah, Nora. Maybe you heard of her. Tall, glasses, runs around with all manner of as-jerks...any of this ringing a bell?"

Hancock huffed at him, "You forgot those curves and the legs that go on for days, kid. Not like you to miss something like that." He lit a cigarette and frowned at the board. Fahr had one of his bishops cornered now. "Course, I heard once all snipers are far-sighted. Can't see for shit right in front of their noses. You got that problem, brother?"

"I...what? No, I see fine."

Fahr snorted and got up to get a drink. Apparently Mac now amused her for some reason.

"Hmmm. Alrighty then...what was it you were askin' again?"

He felt his temper start to fray. "The boss. Nora. Have you seen her?"

Hancock pushed his hat up a bit and rubbed his forehead. "Could be. I see a lot of people."

Mac had had enough, "I know you saw her, Hancock. That's her goddamn bag over there." He pointed to the corner. "Where is she?"

The ghoul looked over his shoulder. "Ah, shit. Fahr, thought I told you to stash that."

Fahr was sipping whiskey now. "No, you didn't."

"I didn't?"

"Nope."

"Huh...I was sure I did..."

"Maybe less jet, more mentats, boss."

"Maybe." Hancock rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

Mac snapped, "Tell me where the hell Nora is, Hancock! Now!"

The pair both fixed their eyes on Mac and he had a mild moment of panic. Shit. He'd momentarily forgotten how scary these two actually were.
Hancock coughed, "You wanna try that again, brother?" Fahr had her hand on her revolver.

Shit shit shit. Mac closed his eyes and took a breath to steady himself and remember who he was actually dealing with. "I'm sorry, Mayor Hancock. Nora told me to get a room at the Rexford but now I can't find her. It's...I'm just worried. She...she gets distracted."

The other man smiled, "There. Now, was that so hard? It's nice to see you actually care about her, Mac. Not that I ever thought otherwise, but Fahr here was beginning to have her doubts." Fahr scoffed at this. "She's uh...got a soft spot for Sunshine, you know. Things could have gotten...unpleasant."

Mac stared at them both and paled. Hancock's smile was predatory and Fahr's smirk was making his stomach twist. His hand itched to draw his pistol but didn't.

"Do you know where she is, Hancock? Please."

He nodded, seemingly satisfied with Mac's show of respect. "I don't know exactly where she is right now, but I know where she's going. She'll be fine. Said you should enjoy a night off." He pulled an envelope out of his coat. "Gave me this to give to you." Mac reached for it but Hancock pulled it out of his reach. "In the morning. She said it was important that you get it in the morning. Until then, uh....well...", he looked back at Fahr.

She rolled her eyes and spoke up, "You're under house arrest, kid."

Mac blinked. "What...what is house arrest?"

She shrugged, "It's what she called it. You don't get to leave Goodneighbor until daylight."

"I....what....you can't just keep me here!"

Hancock had the grace to look a bit uncomfortable, "Well, it wasn't exactly my idea, brother. I don't much care for telling people what they can or can't do, you know. Personal freedoms and such, but Sunshine needed this favor and...", he shrugged, "I can't say no to that face, Mac. You understand."

Mac was in complete shock. Nora had trapped him here? Or was trying to, anyway. Why? What was going on? He'd known she was probably mad at him for this afternoon, but this was too much. "Hancock, you can't keep me here if I don't wanna stay."

"Brother, I'm the Mayor of Goodneighbor. If I have to lock you in the drunk tank until morning, I will. As it is, the Watch knows you aren't to leave. So does KL-E-0. Now, you won't die if you attempt to bust out, because that would upset Sunshine and I ain't havin' that, but you also will not succeed in your attempt, you dig?" Hancock shook his canister of jet and frowned a bit at it. Must be almost empty then. "Now, if it were me, I'd be pissed, too, but I'd also know when to give up. Now is a good time to give up, Mac. She opened a tab for you in the Third Rail. Such a sweetheart. Why not just go enjoy it?" He took one last hit then tossed it behind him. "You just sit tight a few hours, come back and get your letter and then you can leave."

Mac stared at his hands. He could probably slip past the Watch, but KL-E-0? No way. She was right there by the gate and she was always watching, and there were plenty of horrible things she could do to him that fell under the umbrella of 'don't kill him'. He took his hat off, ran a hand through his hair and collapsed against the back of the couch. How had this happened? How had he not seen this coming?

"Why?" It was all he could get out.

Hancock blinked slowly at him. "Hmm?"

Mac raised his head enough to give him a bleak sort of look, "Why did she ask you to do this?"

The ghoul smiled. Something approaching sympathy was on his face. "Sorry, brother. That's between me and Sunshine." There was an almost polite cough from behind him. "Oh, and Fahr."

Mac sighed. Hancock's loyalty to Nora was clearly greater than his loyalty to him. Stung a bit. He'd thought they were bros, friends, even.

Hancock seemed to know what he was thinking. "Brother, its for your own good. All kidding aside, I'm not just doing this for her. You're just a...what'd she call it...a liability right now. It's best if you lay low for this one." He leaned forward and put his elbows on his knees, "She seems to really care about what happens to you, brother. How long you been tappin' that anyway?"

Mac glared at the ghoul. "I...that's none of your business, Hancock."

Fahr hooted triumphantly and tapped the mayor on the shoulder. "Told you so! Pay up, boss!" Hancock grumbled and tossed a sack of caps to her.

"Wh....you all were betting on it?" Mac couldn't believe it. Nora would die a thousand deaths from embarrassment if she found out.

"No, I was betting against it, actually.", he grumbled. "How in the hell did you manage that, Mac? I mean...I've seen you in action and all but damn. I figured your mouth would've gotten in the way before she caught on to what you're packin'. Sunshine seems uh...seems a bit above your league." Hancock lit a new cigarette and ignored Fahr's gloating look. "No offense or anything."

Mac bared his teeth at the ghoul. It was almost like a smile. "Maybe she's just got a thing for smartass mercs. You never know with some women."

The other man chuckled, "Ain't that the truth." He held his hand out for Mac to shake. "Well, congratulations, all the same. You're a lucky man, Mac. Don't ever forget it."

He reluctantly shook Hancock's hand. "Don't know if I deserve congratulations, man. She uh...she hasn't been too happy with me since this morning."

Hancock blinked. He genuinely looked confused, as did Fahr. "Really? She didn't seem upset when we saw her. I mean, not about you, anyway." Fahr shoved the back of his head. "Right ...right. Alrighty, Mac, well...it was nice seein' you. You should go get a drink or somethin'."

Mac was confused at the abrupt dismissal but stood to go anyway.

"Oh, and brother? You and her ever uh...feel like spreading the love a bit, remember me? Alright?" Hancock's eyes twinkled a little in the light.

Mac and Fahr exchanged an exasperated look, then he took his leave, heading for the Third Rail. Nothing else to do.

Chapter Text

He'd gone to the Third Rail, since that was the only game in town, really. The Memory Den was tempting, but he had enough trouble letting go of the past. He certainly didn't need any help holding onto memories. Mac's initial thought as he headed down the stairs was to get 'drunk as a skunk' as Nora would've put it, after all, she was paying.

He'd ordered Charlie's finest steak and bottle of whiskey but once it arrived, found he wasn't really interested. Something felt wrong about all of this. Really, really wrong. He ate the steak anyway, since it was protein and all, but left the whiskey. Mac had a sneaking suspicion that whatever was coming next, he'd need to be sober for it.

Good to Hancock's word, the eyes of the Watch never left MacCready's back. Ever. It was really, really annoying, too. He felt like some kid who'd been grounded. Even when he headed towards Daisy's, just to have someone sympathetic to talk to, KL-E-0 had assumed he was trying to be slick and given him a hair-raising "Uh-uh, baby" that had him immediately turning around and heading back to the Rexford.

Everyone in this settlement was entirely too terrifying for his liking.

Safely back in the room, Mac was able to relax a little, despite the knot in his stomach. He kept replaying every interaction he'd ever had with Nora, trying to see if he could catch clues as to what the hell was happening, but nothing was there. At least, nothing he could see.

He went over all his notes on her. She'd hired him to watch her back because she wasn't capable in the Wastes...except she kind of was? She'd told him she was after the Institute because they'd destroyed her family, except now she'd indicated she'd found her son already? She'd clearly been upset when she found out about Duncan, then given him a box of toys to send home. That fight the night before, she'd been upset, too, for some reason he still wasn't sure of, but they'd made up in a huge way after.

Mac felt like he was on some bad chem. Nothing about her made sense. Nothing about them made sense. And given Hancock and Fahr's weird reactions to him, Mac was starting to think everything would make sense if he just had all the facts. Clearly, everyone else was in on something that he was not.

He knew Nora kept secrets. Usually she kept secrets for others, and he respected that. He knew she couldn't talk about the Railroad stuff because that could endanger others. He knew she didn't like talking about the Minutemen's plans in detail because...well, actually, he wasn't sure. She loved talking about their "infrastructure revitalization" goals. The hospitals and schools she wanted to build. He knew there were whispers about reclaiming the library downtown and turning into a stronghold of learning. He knew she wanted to clear out Trinity Church for...some reason.

Mac was starting to think maybe he'd let himself get a little too distracted by her being the Nuka Girl. He'd been asking the wrong questions this whole time. He felt like he had pieces to a puzzle, but not enough to see the whole picture, and he desperately wanted to see the whole picture.

He'd finally gone to sleep sometime just past midnight. He'd read through all the letters Duncan's caretakers had sent, and stared at all the drawings his son had added to them. Mac had also dug out that old wooden soldier Lucy had carved for him and stared at it; thinking of missed chances and all the half-truths that made up his life. As he'd drifted off, Mac had promised whoever was out there listening in the void that if he got another chance, he was going to do it better this time. Be honest. Try to be the good man Lucy always thought he was, the kind of man Duncan deserved to have as a father.

The next morning, Mac woke promptly at seven. Then realized that probably didn't count as morning to Hancock, so he decided to sit tight. His rifle needed cleaning anyway. He went slowly, methodically, and used the time to try and think of what he was going to say to Nora when she got back. He finally had a nice, tight rein on his temper and this time, when confronted with her being... her , he wasn't going to snap.

Around eight, he heard a thump at the door and opened it to get the paper. Since Nora had shown up that first time in Goodneighbor and had begun to have conversations with Claire about the amenities you used to be able to expect in hotels, the woman had actually started to implement some of them. They were still a long way off from dogs made of fluffy towels and mints on fresh pillows, but at least clean sheets had started making an appearance and there was now complimentary paper delivery. Had to start somewhere.

The newest issue of Publick Occurrences had big stars across the top of it and the words "Special Edition" printed in all caps. Mac chuckled. What on earth had Piper uncovered now?

Then he unfolded it and felt his stomach flip.

MINUTEMEN DECLARE WAR ON GUNNERS!


The staff of Publick Occurrences was recently graced by the presence of General Cabot, of the Commonwealth Minutemen. While we are always excited to see our dear Sole Survivor, this time the news she brought with her was a bombshell! We have been given special permission to reprint the official declaration of war written and hand delivered by this dynamic relic of bygone era.


Attention all Citizens of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts,

A state of war has formally been declared between the Commonwealth Minutemen and the para-military raider cult known as the Gunners. Whereas the Gunners have commited unprovoked acts of war against the people of the Commonwealth, it is therefore resolved by the collective leadership of the Minutemen and our allies, the citizens of the free state known as Goodneighbor represented by Mayor Hancock, that the state of war has been thrust upon us and we must respond in all due haste to ensure the continued safety of the citizens entrusted to our care.

Therefore, it is with a heavy but resolved heart that I, General Eleanor Cabot of the Commonwealth Minutemen, with the power vested in me by the people, do hereby declare that no quarter or mercy will be shown to the Gunners, their allies, or anyone found to be willingly harboring these fugitives of justice.

Operation Key and Kite will begin at 0900 Saturday, November 17th, 2288.

May God have mercy on our enemies, for we shall not.

- General Eleanor Cabot, The Castle, Commonwealth Minutemen

 

There you have it, folks! War has been declared in the Commonwealth!
Keep up the good fight, General Cabot! The people of Diamond City stand with you, even if our cowardly mayor does not!

Mac let the paper fall to the floor. She'd said it...she'd told him she was going to war with them, but he hadn't believed it. There was no way this was going to work. The Minutemen, from what he'd seen, were nowhere near ready to take on something like this. This was going to be a slaughter.

Shit. Where was Nora?

The streets of Goodneighbor were humming with excitement when Mac bolted out from the Rexford, Claire's voice following him, yelling something about running through her lobby and scaring the daylights out of people. Every citizen was always armed, but now they were all visibly armed, most in some kind of armor, too. He noticed about half of the Watch seemed to be gone, but Hancock was in his full glory, barking orders from the courtyard and making crude jokes about the Gunners with his people.  He saw Mac and tipped his hat a bit to him as the young man ran up in a panic.

"Hancock, where is Nora? What the hell is going on?"

"Hey, MacCready! About time you woke up, brother! Exciting day, right? Sunshine sure knows how to shake things up, doesn't she?" He pulled out the envelope from the night before from his coat and tossed it to Mac. "Here you go, as promised. Thanks for being a good sport about it."

Mac shoved the letter in his pocket. He wanted answers from Hancock first. "What is going on?"

Hancock smiled at him, feral and terrifying. "War's been declared, kid. Don't you read the paper? She's on the radio, too, by the way. Recorded her statement on a holotape for Travis. He's about shitting himself. Ha. I knew that smooth-talker act was bullshit." He lit a cigarette and surveyed the chaos around him proudly. "I'm the leader of Delta Squad. Means I gotta stay here in case some assholes want to retaliate. Fahr's out leading Foxtrot. She's got some Gunner heads to bust downtown."

"You...you're a squad leader?" Mac's head was spinning ever-so-slightly.

"Ayup. Sunshine said she'd thought about making you one, too, but you didn't wanna."

"Wh...what? She said I didn't want to? She never...", then he remembered. Her asking if they could go take out Winlock and Barnes together. Him laughing at the idea. Her telling him that it was fine, if he didn't want them to do it together, then they wouldn't.
Shit, shit, shit. He had a sinking feeling he knew exactly where Nora was.

"What squad is Nora leading, Hancock? Where is she?"

Hancock smiled, "That's the brilliant part, brother. She ain't. Those assholes kept sending letters to the Castle, demanding the Minutemen turn her over or they were going to start torching settlements, so she's been flying under the radar. She's on a squad, but she ain't leading one. Staying completely off the radio, too, so they can't figure out where she's at." He popped a few mentats and chewed them. "Fucking brilliant, ain't she? Goddamn."

Mac felt his temper trying like hell to break away from him. "Yeah, she's...she's brilliant, all right. Do you know which squad she's on?"

Hancock shook his head. "Nah, ' need to know', she called it. Secrety shit. I love it when she's sneaky. You ever see her sneak around? That ass. Shit. When she changed into that stealth suit last night, I almost came in my pants. No woman should look that hot without being naked."

He blinked. " Stealth suit? What stealth suit?"

"Oh, man! You ain't never seen it? Damn. It's this fancy thing she found somewhere. Think one of her Railroad friends spiffed it up for her extra special. Can't hardly keep your eyes on her when she's got it on. They just slide right past, and you know that's sayin' somethin'."

Mac sat on the bench Hancock was standing on. A few more pieces for the puzzle. He took his hat off and ran a hand through his hair. "I...I'm kinda lost here, Hancock. I don't know what to do, man."

Hancock plopped down next to him and slapped his shoulder, "Ain't this the part of the story where the boy goes and gets the girl, brother? Seems pretty simple to me."

Mac sighed and put his hat back on. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is. Thanks, Hancock."

"Anytime, kid." The ghoul looked up. "Ham, I told you! No missle launchers inside the walls! Save that shit for outside!" He left Mac at the bench and threw himself back into the chaos.

 

Chapter Text

It took Mac most of the day to reach the Mass Pike Interchange and he got there right at sunset. Normally, it would have only maybe taken until lunch, but there were skirmishes breaking out all over the place and he’d had to lay low quite a few times. He was itching to take out some Gunner assholes, but didn’t want to waste any ammo before he got to Winlock and Barnes, so the only kills he’d taken along the way were stealth ones with his knife. The first one, he’d stabbed the Gunner guard through the neck, just like Nora had done with that raider days back. He wasn’t as neat as she was, though. Up close kills were never his forte, and he was starting to appreciate how talented she actually was with every throat he slit.

The area around the interchange was quiet. A little too quiet for him. There were bodies of Gunners littering the landscape, some at impossible angles including one that looked piledrived into the ground. Mac felt a little better seeing that, actually...he’d briefly met the supermutant Nora had somehow managed to befriend while in Sanctuary and this looked like his handiwork. If he was here, there was a chance Nora wasn’t hurt.

He quickly hopped into the rickety elevator and took the safety off his rifle, just in case. There was no way to sneak up and if there were any of those fuckers left, he wanted to be ready.

Mac was not, however, ready for the friendly face and laser sniper rifle he was confronted with when he reached the top.

“Mon dieu! C’est Monsieur MacCready!” Curie dropped her rifle out of his face and held out a hand to help him off the lift. “No one told me you would be here! I could have blown your head off! And it’s such a lovely head, too!”

He wasn’t entirely sure if she was saying he was handsome or if she just liked the shape of his skull for some reason. You could never be sure of these things with Curie. “Hey, Curie, yeah. Thanks for not shooting.”

Cait came around from behind an old bus and snorted, “Och, not like he’d miss it much anyway.” She had on a power fist and a full suit of combat armor. Looked lightweight from how she was moving. Probably made to not get in her way when she fought.

Curie now had a hand on her hip with a scoldy kind of look directed at Cait. Mac finally realized she was wearing some kind of skin tight black suit and no combat armor. Fucking hell. She was lucky she was still alive. “Mademoiselle Cait! This is not true! Madame said MacCready is very intelligent! Especially for someone who grew up in a cave!”

Mac inwardly groaned. Thanks, boss. Now he’d forever be some kind of caveman to Curie. No wonder she was so interested in his head.

Cait rolled her eyes. “If he’s so intelligent why didn’t he get picked to be Charlie Squad’s leader, hmm?”

“You’re Charlie Squad? Where’s the rest of you?”

Curie and Cait both blinked at Mac. Curie spoke first, “Yes, we are Charlie Squad. Cait is our leader. Madame is above us. She said she needed a...ah...a breather, she called it.”

Mac looked up. Okay. Good. Nora was here and she was safe. Alive, at least. “Yeah, that’s great, but where’s the rest of you? Did the Minutemen leave already?”

Cait frowned at him, “God, you really can be dense. It was just us, darlin’. We were more than enough for these pissants, especially once the boss showed up.” She gestured at the smouldering wreckage of what had once been a formidable Gunner base.

Mac frowned back. “The three of you took on all of...this?”

Curie smiled proudly, “Oui!”

Cait just smirked and nodded.

Jesus fucking Christ. Three insane women had been enough to do it. He knew Cait was formidable on psycho, but he’d never seen her fight sober. He couldn’t even imagine what kind of damage she could do if she had focus. Curie...well, he’d never seen Curie do anything that wasn’t some kind of science, but her rifle was a serious piece of work and that terrifying look she’d given him in the half second before she’d realized who he was hadn’t looked anything like the sweet, fragile-seeming girl he’d known in Sanctuary.

What about Nora though? Had she just planned or had she actually been part of the fighting? Hancock had talked about that stealth suit...maybe she’d planted explosives? He knew her Nuka Grenades packed a serious wallop. He looked around, surveying the damage. There were marks from Curie’s rifle, and he counted at least a dozen exploded heads and torsos that were easily Cait’s work, but there were a lot of damage from what looked like metal discs flung at the speed of sound, with little marks that looked like lightening gone to ground. That was Nora’s gauss rifle.

He saw Winlock’s corpse in the distance. It looked like it bore marks from all three women. Barnes was still in a suit of burned out power armor, but it looked like he’d been hit in the face, repeatedly, with those electromagnetic disks from close range. Nora had to be right up on him to do that kind of damage.

Mac had a sudden, earth-shaking realization that he’d completely misjudged Nora and her ability to fight in the Wasteland.

Curie and Cait had gotten bored with him by now and moved back to their earlier efforts of cleaning the overpass of bodies after stripping them of their armor and weapons. Cait’s preferred method was to punch them over the side, laughing at how far she could get the lifeless bodies to arc out before they plummeted to the ground; cheering when they would land in funny ways. Curie simply nudged them over the side and moved on, but Mac noticed she was carefully harvesting body parts here and there.

These were clearly some seriously disturbed women.

Since he was obviously not needed here, he slung his rifle over his shoulder and headed up to the upper level. The sun had just slipped under the horizon and for a panicked moment he didn’t see Nora anywhere. Then a glint of silver caught his eye. She was sitting with her back against a ruined car, gauss rifle on the pavement next to her, the ground littered with stimpacks and even a Med-X syringe.

Shit. He’d never known Nora to use Med-X. Ever. He knew how she felt about chems in general. Whatever had happened, she must have been hurt bad. That almost made him lose his temper. Almost. But his relief at just seeing her still alive was enough to overpower it.

Mac walked over and sat down next to her. She had her eyes closed but he could see her breathing steadily. Hancock had been right though. It was somehow hard to look at her with her suit on. It covered her from her toes up to her neck (the discarded face mask sat beside her) and was a dark navy blue with what were either silver threads or wires shot through it. The silver in it was what had winked at him earlier. It sparkled just a little every time she breathed in and out.

“Nora, are you awake?”, he kept his voice soft and soothing. If she was asleep, he didn’t want to disturb her.

Her eyes opened and she moved her head slowly towards him. He could see a little of the loopiness from the Med-X in her eyes before her glasses caught the reflection of the sky. She smiled at him.

“Hello, RJ.”

He took her gloved hand in his, fingers tracing over the silver lines. “Hello.” He kissed it. “You scared me today.” There it was, the understatement of the year. Mac knew if he said more than that he’d lose it and he didn’t want to lose it on her. Not now, anyway.

She looked away and stared at the sky. The first few stars of twilight were coming out. “You didn’t have to be scared, honey. I knew what I was doing.”

Mac nodded, “Yeah, yeah, no, I get that now.”

This seemed to amuse her. “Do you really?”

“Yes, I...I was an idiot, boss. Everything was right there in front of me and I couldn’t fu-freaking put it together.”

She sighed, “It’s not your fault. I know...I know I was less than useless when I hired you. That’s why I hired you. I’d...I’d just been through something. Something awful, and I needed quiet and time to think...I knew I wasn’t going to be capable of caring for myself properly, you see. That’s why I sought you out..” She glanced over at him. “You saw me. I couldn’t hardly take two steps without falling over myself. I was too lost in my own head.”

He stared at her for a moment, noticing the bruise that was coming into bloom on the side of her face. Almost looked like the glove from a certain asshole’s power armor and he resisted the urge to go down and kick Barnes’ corpse a few good times. “What was it? What was the something awful?” He had a sinking feeling it had to involve her kid.

Nora leaned her head back against the car and closed her eyes again, but tears seeped out anyway. She shook her head, unable to speak.

Yeah, it had to be her kid. He didn’t know what was going on, still, but he knew that look. That look of helplessness and horror and resignation. His own face had worn it quite a few times in the months since Duncan had become sick.

Mac put his arm around her waist and carefully pulled her into his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and held on tight, rocking her gently back and forth. If he hadn’t been able to feel the wetness soaking through his shirt, he’d never have known she was crying.

“It’s okay. You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to, but if you ever want to, I’m here.” He felt her smile against his neck. It was almost exactly what she’d said to him about Lucy. “Well, probably not here…”

That got a quiet giggle out of her.

He gently touched the bruise, “Did Barnes do this?”

Nora didn’t open her eyes. “Was he the one in the power armor?”

“Yeah, boss.”

She nodded, “He managed to grab my arm, lifted me in the air and I couldn’t get my rifle up in time with only one hand. He got one hit in before I got him. It hurt, but not as bad as when his suit blew. I’d already damaged his fusion core and when he died, the suit wouldn’t let me go.” She sounded exhausted. Nora leaned back and watched his face. “You really aren’t mad?”

“Mad? No, of course not. You’ll talk to me about all this stuff when you want to.”

She smiled, “No, I reckoned you wouldn’t be mad about that. I mean...all of this. The mission. Me...having Hancock keep you busy until morning and all…”

Mac looked at her thoughtfully, “Well, now that you mention it, I sure was mad, but I’m sure its nothing giving you another spanking won’t fix.” His hand slipped down to squeeze her ass through the suit, just a little.

Nora jumped and laughed, “Oh, I see. That’s awfully old world for you, isn’t it? Spankings whenever you think I’ve been naughty?”

He smirked, “Sure, why not?”

“Honey, I’m old enough to be your...well, your great-five times removed-grandmother.”

“Which is exactly why you should know better than to be naughty.”

She opened her mouth to keep arguing but Mac sealed his lips to hers. Nora froze for just a second before sighing happily into his mouth and snuggling closer against him. He slid one hand into her hair and pulled her closer with the other. Mac was already hard. It seemed to be his default state around Nora, but he was surprised that he wasn’t actually thinking about sex with her this time. He was just grateful she was alive and in one piece and apparently still wanted to be with him.

Things were just starting to get interesting when he heard a quiet cough. He grumbled but allowed Nora to pull back and look over her shoulder. Cait stood with her hands over her eyes, Curie was peering around her looking very interested.

“I didna need to see that, boss.”

Even in the dim light, Mac saw that blush creep up Nora’s cheek. “Sorry...Sorry, Cait, Curie. Did all the squads report in yet?” General Nora backed out of Mac’s lap and stood. He frowned as she moved away. It looked like she was still hurting.

“Oui, madame! Squads Alpha through Juliet have all reported in! No casualties for the Minutemen, although some where injured, particularly from Squad Alpha, which of course, we already knew would happen. They are being moved to various settlements to be stabilized, then those who require further support will be taken on to Sanctuary.”

Cait looked through her fingers to be sure there weren’t continuing shennanigans before finally lowering her hands. “Yup. Congrats, boss. The Minutemen have officially defeated the Gunners. That’ll send a message to any other ripe bastards wantin’ to screw with us.”

Nora grinned at them and twisted a little, popping her back. Mac noticed she was favoring her left leg, just a bit. “Yes, I do believe it will. Well done, Squad Leader Cait and Field Medic Curie. Have Sturges check your powerfist when you get home, okay, Cait? Some of your punches seemed a little sloppy, sugar, and I know it couldn’t have been you.”

The redhead snorted, “Damn straight.”

“Curie, please remember that the Minutemen who arrive in Sanctuary aren’t to be thought of as organ donors first, hmm? I know triage is a little slow for you, but it’s still important.”

Yeah, Mac was just going to pretend like he didn’t hear all that. Jesus. What kind of monster was lurking in Curie’s head anyway?

“Oui, Madame. Of course. They belong to you so I will treat them with dignity and do my best to ensure they all survive. I promise.”

“Great, now…”, she froze and turned. A single crow sat unnaturally still on the overpass railing by them. It swiveled its head around and seemed to focus on Nora. “How long has that crow been there?”

Mac opened his mouth to make a joke when he saw the momentary panic that flashed across both Curie and Cait’s faces. What the hell? It was just a fucking bird. He didn’t know what the hell had them so terrified of a flying shit machine, but he took out his pistol and blew it away just the same. The three women all turned to him with varying degrees of shock on their faces and he shrugged.

“It’s a fu-freaking crow. Who cares?”

The women exchanged a look he couldn’t decipher.

Nora turned to Curie, “Could you unzip me please, honey? Now. Before more show up.”

Curie was immediately all business as she moved behind her. “Oui, Madame.”

“I’ll grab you an extra suit from Curie’s pack, boss.” Cait went running back down to the main camp.

“Thank you, Cait.” Nora called after her.

Mac was, once again, completely lost. “Boss...what’s going on? It was just a crow, right?”

Nora stepped out of her suit. She had on a tank top and her panties under it and Mac tried to stay focused through the fury that suddenly engulfed him. Nora was nearly completely covered in bruises, some clearly impact sites from bullets. Curie was busy balling the suit and it’s matching mask up and stuffing it into a bag she’d produced from somewhere.

“It…”, Nora paled as three crows now flew up and took the place of the original one. “Don’t worry about it.”

Cait came back with a black sheath that matched what Curie still wore and a new pair of boots and silently handed them to Nora, who slipped them on as fast as possible. The women shared one last look before Cait and Curie headed down the overpass and Nora turned to Mac.

She stepped close to him and put her arms around his neck, his went around her waist automatically. Her head went on his shoulder and he realized to anyone who might be watching, they’d just look like two lovers sharing a post-slaughter snuggle. Deacon had taught her well, it seemed.

“Listen, sugar.” Nora’s lips were close enough that they brushed his ear and he still had to focus to hear her. “Go to Diamond City and wait for me there. Do not leave under any circumstances, alright? No matter what you hear, no matter what happens, do not leave. Watch over Piper and little Nat for me. The city is...compromised, but mostly safe. If you need to talk about...this with someone, Nick’s office is the only truly safe place to do so and you need to say ‘Have you dusted lately?’ before you do. Remember that, honey. I have to go now, but I promise I will come back to you and I promise we’ll talk when I do, okay? Don’t trust the crows, Mac.” She kissed his cheek and stepped back a few feet, her eyes never left his face.

Just when he thought he couldn’t be any more confused, Nora had managed it. He opened his mouth to speak but she shook her head at him, glancing over at those stupid fucking crows. She looked down at her Pipboy, fiddled with it for a second, then looked back up at him.

“There’s gonna be a whole mess of shooting stars tonight. Wish on one for me, sweetheart.” Nora smiled at him just before a bolt of blue lit up the highway. When it faded, and Mac could see again, she was gone.

The crows took flight.

Chapter Text

By the time Mac had recovered from seeing his boss...girlfriend...whatever, vaporized into the ether, Curie and Cait had already vanished from the former Gunner camp. There were neat piles of armor, weapons and ammunition and one of them had hung a Minutemen flag from the side of the overpass. He figured some Minutemen would probably be along shortly to collect the spoils of war and helped himself to some ammo before he left. He was practically a Minuteman, anyway, right?

The thing about the crows was creeping him the fuck out and part of him wanted to make a beeline for the Cabots. Jack was an expert on creepy. He’d totally know what the hell was going on with the crows, right? Or maybe he was just an expert on aliens. What if the crows were aliens? Jesus.

Nora had said to head straight for Diamond City and sit tight, though, so that’s what he was going to do. He was almost on the outskirts of Boston when the first star shot across the sky. Mac slid to a halt and stared, transfixed as the sky suddenly seemed filled with them.

She’d said there were going to be shooting stars tonight and to wish on one for her. Mac hadn’t even known you could predict something like that and he wished on quite a few of them. Some for himself and Duncan, and a lot for Nora and her safety. He hoped wherever she was, she was safe and that she’d be able to come back to him. He also wished she’d suddenly appear in a blast of light, but he was doubting that was going to happen any time soon.

He made it to the city at around midnight and, despite the late hour, decided to go ahead and check on Piper. She was a pain, but she was a loyal pain and he knew she was important to Nora.

He knocked on the door to the newspaper, politely at first, then with increasing force as the minutes ticked by and his temper began to fray. It had been a long, long day for Mac and he just wanted to go pass out in Nora’s bed. Piper needed to answer the fucking door. He’d resorted to pounding on it with his closed fist, yelling her name when she finally slammed it open and he nearly fell in.

“What the fuck, MacCready?! It’s late! Nat’s been asleep for three hours! What is wrong with you?” Piper hissed like a spitting cat at him. She’d perfected the maternal whisper-shout all mothers and big sisters seem to develop. She shoved him out of the doorway and shut it behind her. She had on a set of red longjohns...not quite a nightgown, but apparently Nora’s ideas about night clothes being different from day clothes was catching on.

“Sh-shoot, Piper, calm your tits. Boss said I should check on you.”

She went still and the irritation on her face was quickly becoming something resembling fear. “Wait...Blue sent you? What’d she say, exactly?”

Mac rubbed the back of his neck. Fuck, he was tired. “She said the city is compromised? Said I should watch over you and the kid. That Nick’s was the only safe place.” He was paraphrasing here but he just wanted this night to be over.

Piper was now pale enough that he could see all the freckles on her face. “Okay...okay, yeah. Wait here.” She slipped back inside her house, and Mac frowned a bit when he heard her lock the door. He leaned a bit with his ear towards the door and heard the distinct sound of two female voices arguing with each other and a lot of banging around, then the door was suddenly opened again and he had to jerk back to avoid falling in. Again.

Piper now stood fully dressed. Nat was beside her, looking sleepy and irritated. They were each holding a bag.

“Alright, MacCready. We’re ready.”

He frowned. “Ready for what?”

She huffed at him, “For you to take us to Nick’s, obviously. Jeez. Thank God you’re pretty, right? Lead the way, merc.”

Mac’s brain wasn’t quite up to processing anything else today, so he just nodded and led the way to Nick’s, the amused eyes of DC security following him and his grumpy convoy.

He stood at the entrance to Nick’s, nodding a greeting at the detective as Piper cheerfully explained to Nat that they were going to stay with ‘Uncle Nicky’ for a while because he was ‘lonely’. He rolled his eyes almost as hard as Nat had with that one. Piper underestimated her little sister, but then people always did underestimate kids. Mac was pretty sure at this point, Nat was probably more in the know than he was. It would have been irritating if sleep wasn’t calling him.

He left the befuddled detective to his two charges, smirking a little. Served the old bucket of bolts right for running his mouth the other day anyway. He always did like it when doing a good deed meant getting revenge, too, no matter how minor.

Mac finally made it to Nora’s, unlocked the door and let himself in. Everything looked exactly as they’d left it. He turned on a lamp in the living room, just in case Nora came in before he woke up, and dropped his gear by the door. He’d worry about cleaning shit tomorrow. Mac stripped as he went up the ladder and fell into her bed, wrapping himself in the warmth of her blankets and the lingering scent of their one glorious night together and slipped into a deep sleep where he dreamed of dancing with Nora among shooting stars and tears that fell like rain.

 

The first thing he did when he woke up was helped himself to Nora’s fancy shower. The water didn’t get quite as hot as it did at the Cabots, but it was still soothing and the sound of the water hitting the porcelain at his feet made it easier for him to think. He still felt like he only had a handful of puzzle pieces, but at least now he was pretty sure Nora would give him the rest when she came back. And she would come back, he wouldn’t let himself think otherwise.

The second thing he did was clean. No one but Lucy had ever known, but Mac cleaned when he was nervous. He cleaned his rifle, his combat knife, shined his boots. He even made Nora’s bed.

He was hanging up his duster when an envelope fell out of one of the pockets. Nora’s letter. Mac picked it up and went to the couch to read it. In all the excitement from yesterday, he’d completely forgotten about it.

There were three separate pages. The first was a letter of credit. He remembered Nora telling him it was like money back when they’d saved that milkmaid. His eyes skimmed through it until he reached the amount and felt his heart threaten to come to a screeching halt.

10,000 caps. This piece of paper entitled him to take 10,000 caps of Nora’s from some stash at Bunker Hill. Fucking hell. That kind of money could set him and his family up for life. He wasn’t even sure how he could carry that kind of currency. 10,000 caps would have to weigh a shit-ton. He’d have to hire a brahmin just to move it around. What on earth was she thinking?

The second page wasn’t actually meant for him, it seemed. It was headed with “To whom it may concern” and then listed MacCready’s skills and accomplishments, along with a glowing review from Nora. She’d signed it with her official title as the Minutemen’s general and there was even some fancy seal under her name that had a picture of a musket and stars. He had no idea what to do with it, but he loved that she thought so highly of him. Maybe he’d ask Nick if he knew what it was for and who he was supposed to actually give it to.

The third page was for him. It simply read:

 

Dear Mister MacCready,

Your services have been greatly appreciated. However, effective immediately they are no longer necessary. Please see the included letter of credit for your severance pay. I have also included a letter of reference should you continue to seek employment as a mercenary, although I still hope you will reconsider this particular career path.

Best wishes,

Nora Cabot

 

It took Mac at least three times through it to realize what had just happened. He’d been fired. Nora had fired him. He was ‘no longer necessary’. Well, no shit. He’d seen what she’d done to those Gunner assholes. He had never been necessary. What the hell? Why had she done this? She had to have written it after they’d arrived in Goodneighbor. She’d referenced hoping he’d stop being a merc. She hadn’t cared about that until she knew about Duncan.

Mac had half a mind to go to Goodneighbor and start a fist fight with Hancock. That bastard must have sat there and watched her write this bullshit and hadn’t said a word to him about it. Was that why Fahr was so amused by him? She must have known he’d been fired, too.

He needed to talk, or yell, at someone for this, but he was still supposed to stay put like a good boy, wasn’t he? Nora wasn’t even the boss anymore, but he was still expected to come to heel at her command.

MacCready had worked himself up into a proper fury by the time he stomped into Nick’s, startling the daylights out of Piper, Ellie and Nat as he slammed the door open. He glared at the girls and they silently stared back. Piper was about to open her legendarily huge mouth when Nick’s voice drifted out from the back.

“Some entrance you got there, kid. This is the first time they’ve stopped yappin’ since you dropped them in my lap. I owe you one for that.” A cloud of cigarette smoke floated in front of the synth as he came around the corner. For some reason the cloud just pissed off Mac more. Why the hell did Nick even smoke? He was a synth, for fuck’s sake. He was just wasting good cigarettes.

Mack stared stonily at the detective, Nora’s letter held in a death grip in his hand. Nick’s eyes saw everything, as usual, and he cleared his throat.

“Ah, ladies, I think we need a minute here. Ellie, why don’t you take Piper and the kid over to the Science Center. It’s always good to learn somethin’.”

“Sure thing, boss.” Ellie was up and shooing Piper and Nat out the door before the Wright sisters even registered what was happening, Nat’s wailing about how ‘it's not even a school day’ following them down the alleyway.

Nick moved over to his desk chair and motioned for Mac to sit down. The mercenary flopped into the chair in a huff. He suddenly remembered what Nora had said, “Have you dusted lately?”

Nick blinked at him, then Mac saw him hit a button on the underside of his desk. There was a brief high-pitched whine, then silence.

“What the he-heck was that?”

“The device Nora’s friend Tom came up with to jam Institute signals. Now what’s the deal, kid? This better be important.”

Mac threw the letter on Nick’s desk.

“What’s this?”, the nonexistent eyebrow was up.

“That’s what I’d like to fu-freaking know!”

Nick studied Mac’s face for a moment, his hand hovering briefly over the letter before finally taking it and carefully unfolding its contents. He got to the last page before his gold eyes went a bit wide. Nick just as carefully refolded the letter and slid it back in the envelope. He gently set the envelope back on the desk and finally looked directly at Mac.

Mac frowned. Why did he look so fucking amused?

“Do you think this is funny?”

Nick almost chuckled but caught himself. “I’m uh...I’m sure it's been a distressing morning for you, MacCready.”
“Yeah, that’s a great fu-freaking word for it. It’s been a distressing few weeks, actually.” He crossed his arms and glared at the detective. “Some days I wish she’d never walked into the Third Rail at all.”

Nick tapped the end on a box of cigarettes and politely offered one to him. “Now, now. You know that isn’t true.”

Mac grumbled, but accepted the cigarette and the match that came after.

The synth took a long drag off his. Mac still thought it was ridiculous but he guessed it completed the detective schtick or whatever.

“The problem here, kid, is Nora’s not...well, you’ve been with her. You know how she is. She gets these notions in her head and then that’s it.” He shook his head. “It’s been hard for her, you know. She was used to living in the old world, used to all its rules and demands. She’d built her whole life around them. Now she’s here, and the rules are different, the demands are different. Some stuff she’d been able to pick up pretty quick. Other stuff though...not so much.”

Mac knew all about it, thank you very much. He wasn’t sure what that had to do with him getting fucking fired though.

Nick sighed, “Look, back then...a boss sleeping with an underling...well, it happened, but it wasn’t exactly kosher. Mostly it was done by rich old men banging their hot young secretaries. There was a whole dark underworld of Sugar Daddies and their babies.” He took another drag. “Nora would never have been the type to get mixed up in that, from either side. She was a beautiful girl in what was largely a man’s profession though. I don’t doubt some slob had ah...propositioned her at some point. Happened a lot back then, and back then a girl couldn’t really respond with violence like they can nowadays. She’d have been expected to smile and keep quiet; maybe quit her job if it got too bad.”

Mac now had a new target for his wrath: long dead assholes from two hundred years ago who treated women like Nora like shit.

Nick continued, “Now, a woman like that...if she hired someone and then fell for that someone, do you think she’d be okay with him still being on her payroll?” His eyebrow was back up.

“We’re not...I mean, I don’t know if she…”, Mac actually had no idea how Nora really felt. Where they friends who just happened to get on well together in the sack? Something more? He hadn’t had the balls to ask yet.

Nick snorted, “Kid, I’ve seen how she looks at you, and I’ve seen how you look at her. If you two really don’t know you’re crazy about each other, then you’re the only ones.” He was chuckling now.

Nick definitely acted like someone’s dad, Mac decided. At least he hadn’t tried to give him the old ‘if you hurt my daughter’ speech yet though.

Mac ran a hand through his hair, his hat was still back at Nora’s. “So...this letter...me getting fired…”

The detective shook his head, “Doesn’t mean she doesn’t still want you around, kid. Just means she doesn’t want to pay for your gun. She wants you to be there for her, and not just the caps.”

“I would never...it hasn’t been about the caps in a long time. I told her that.”

Nick smiled, “Well, you know how Nora is about her notions. Sometimes you’ve gotta tell her something quite a few times before it really sinks in all the way.” He leaned back in his chair. “Now that that crisis is averted, what’d you want to ask about the Institute? I assume that’s why you said Nora’s code phrase.” He looked mildly put out. “Otherwise I’m gonna be a little pissed that I have to reset the whole system in an hour.”

Mac blinked. Shit. He hadn’t really known what he was saying when he’d said it, just that Nora had told him to. “Uh…”, it popped into his head suddenly, “So what exactly is the deal with the fu-freaking crows?”

Chapter Text

Yeah, the crow thing was actually terrifying. He’d had no idea the Institute was that into spying on people. Myrna’s paranoia now seemed all too reasonable. They were even creepier than Deacon. At least he just used himself to do the dirty work. He wasn’t out there building synthetic animals and people to do it. Shit.

Mac had been in Diamond City two days when Deacon himself showed up at Nora’s...dressed as a mailman. Of course.

He opened the door and stared at those infuriating sunglasses and opened his mouth to tell the Railroad agent to stuff it but Deacon beat him to the punch.

“Hey there! Just your friendly neighborhood mailman! Got a package for ya, no pun intended.” He waggled his eyebrows at Mac and he wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or sock him in the face. But that was how most interactions with Deacon seemed to go.

Mac accepted the box with a muttered thanks and watched the ‘mailman’ wander into the marketplace, casually making his way back to the gate.

He went back into Nora’s and set the box on her kitchen counter. Mac then noticed it was actually addressed to him. He tore the package open and was greeted by another letter and some kind of odd device. It looked like a speaker, sort of, except it was a four sided one. The top of it had a lightbulb. He lifted it out and inspected it. The bottom was hollow. It looked like something fit inside it. Mac checked the box again and found a smaller box at the bottom full of fusion cores. Ah, that’s what went in the hole.

He opened the letter, hoping for instructions.

 

Mayor McPottymouth,

Hey, man! Merry Christmas from the Railroad. Had the boys put together a signal jammer for the Professor’s digs, just in case. All you gotta do is plug in a fusion core into the bottom. The light lets you know its working, plus it looks badass. One core will power it for about a week and it has a range large enough to cover her whole house and then some. There may be a few side effects, so if you begin to experience headaches, nausea, or night sweats, deactivate it and give it to Valentine. He’ll know how to get it back to D.

There’s going to be some big shit going down at Bunker Hill soon. D says you shouldn’t leave DC. No matter what.

Hope to meet you soon, if we don’t all die first.

Burn this letter after reading.

 

-Tinker Tom

 

PS: Your codename needs work, man.

 

Big shit going down? Fuck. Mac frowned. He didn’t like getting sidelined so much, but it was apparently important that he remain here, guarding Nora’s home and keeping an eye on the Wrights.

He followed the letter’s instructions, activating the signal jammer and then burning the letter. It had let out the same whine as the one at Nick’s, only louder and Mac felt his ears pop before it went away. Whoever this Tom was, he hoped he knew his shit.

The next day, word of a massive battle at Bunker Hill spread through the city. Brotherhood versus Institute versus Railroad. Jesus. Mac had his doubts the settlement would be anything more than a crater by the time those factions got finished fighting over it.

There was no word on Nora, though. Not as Minutemen General or as the Sole Survivor, either. If she’d been there, she’d been in and out without getting noticed by anyone. Mac sincerely hoped she hadn’t been there.

Two more days ticked by. Mac had been stuck in Diamond City almost a full week. He hated being stuck in one place for too long and was starting to get antsy. He knew he was free to go anywhere in the city, but he swore he could hear the rustle of wings every time he left Nora’s, so other than going out to get food and checking in with Piper once a day, he stayed inside.

Still, he was reaching his limit, and the end of Nora’s impressive comic book collection. He couldn’t just stay here forever, sitting on his thumbs. She was out there somewhere, maybe alone, and Mac was having trouble keeping his anxiety about that under control. He’d already scrubbed Nora’s apartment down twice and it’s not like she’d left a huge mess in the first place. Maybe he could offer to tidy up Nick’s? His office always looked like a tornado had blown through it.

Mac headed to bed early on the sixth night, resolved to at least go talk to the detective the next day, watchful crows or not. He was going to go nuts with just his own thoughts for company.

A small scratching sound at the door woke him. Mac rolled over and looked at the restored alarm clock on Nora’s side table. It was a little after three in the morning. What the hell?

He took his pistol out from under her pillow and moved quietly down stairs. Someone was definitely scratching at the door. Mac saw the doorknob jiggle, just a little, like someone was testing it, then heard a frustrated sigh from the other side.

“Mac? Are you there? Please open the door.”

His eyes widened in the low light from the jammer. Nora. He unlocked the door and opened it, catching her as she fell inside.

She was wearing that black outfit of Curie’s still, only it looked like it had been to hell and back. There were tears and burn marks on it. Whoever she’d been tangling with had had laser rifles and some kind of knives, maybe? Her Pipboy was gone. Mac pulled her inside and locked the door behind her. She was swaying on her feet, hair everywhere and her rifle was on her back but it looked like she’d long ago run out of ammo for it. He brushed her hair out of her face to get a good look at her. There were small cuts and bruises there and Mac felt that white hot fury rush through him. He wanted to kill whoever had dared put their hands on her.

Instead, he softly pressed a kiss to her lips, being extra careful of the cut on the lower one, and held her close.

Whatever had happened, it didn’t matter. Not really. What mattered was that she’d survived and she was here, with him. Everything else was inconsequential.

“I was starting to worry about you, boss.” Mac whispered, rocking her back and forth. She didn’t seem capable of staying on her feet under her own power and held onto him like her life depended on it. He knew she was crying; had been crying. Those silent, heartbreaking tears had been sliding down her face since before he’d even gotten the door open.

She nodded against his neck, “I know, I’m sorry...I was worried about me, too.”

He chuckled at that a little. “Come on, baby. We gotta get you cleaned up.” Mac slid her rifle and pack off her shoulders, picked her up and carried her into the bathroom, this time being very gentle when he set her in the tub. He slipped off her glasses and put them in the medicine cabinet for safekeeping, unzipped her suit and started to peel it off, trying to not let his rage at seeing the damage underneath overwhelm him. He could see her ribs and hip bones just a little now. Had she not eaten in the week they’d been apart? There were dark circles under her eyes, too, as if she hadn’t slept in that time, either. What the hell had happened to her?

After he finally got her free from her clothes, Mac turned on the hot water, adjusting it until it was just this side of scalding. He knew she liked her water as hot as it could be and he was betting she was sore all over anyway. Mac went and grabbed some Stimpaks from the first aid kit and a Med-X syringe, just in case. He wasn’t sure he could convince her to take it, but he was hoping she’d make a one time exception and be cooperative just this once.

She was rocking back and forth by the time he came back, staring into nothingness and shivering despite the heat of the water. He injected one Stim into her neck just under a particularly nasty bruise and the other into her lower back. Experience had taught him that the closer you could get them to arteries and nerves, the faster they worked. Mac watched the cuts on her knit together while he carefully washed the blood off her body. The bruises would take time to fade, but at least they wouldn’t get any worse now. Stimpacks could heal burst blood vessels, but they couldn’t instantly vanish the existing damage.

Nora had her eyes closed now, occasionally making tiny appreciative noises while Mac’s hands worked to get her clean as she sat in the bathtub.

“Nora, do you want some Med-X? It’ll help.” Mac could see the brief struggle Nora had with herself play across her face, panic at war with the pain. Finally she took a shuddering breath and nodded. He sent up a prayer to whoever had nudged her into being reasonable and slid the needle into her arm. The effects were almost immediate. He could tell it was easier for her to breathe and some of the tension went out of her body.

Mac turned off the water, wrapped her in a towel and carried her back to her bed. She felt light as a feather in his arms and he knew with absolute certainty that she couldn’t have eaten since they’d parted at the overpass, maybe even since before Goodneighbor. She’d gone a week without taking care of herself. That pissed him off a bit. She knew better than that.

“Do you want a nightgown? Or something to eat?” Mac tried his damndest to keep his irritation out of his voice. She didn’t need his temper to deal with now, obviously.

Nora shook her head slowly and opened wide, dilated eyes to stare at him. “No, just you. I just want you.”

He nodded at her. The Med-X was in full effect. She was crazy if she thought he was going to fuck her as she was now. He was terrified he’d break her with how fragile she seemed. “Yeah, sure. How about you lay down, boss?” Mac was looking through her drawers. She had to have some of those soft pants the Cabots always lent him to sleep in. There was no way he was getting into bed completely naked with her right now. That was just asking for trouble.

Nora fell the rest of the way into bed, her head hitting her pillow. Mac was pretty sure she’d be out soon with how sleepily she was blinking at him. He’d found a pair of pants and slipped them on, then snuggled up next to her, wrapping his arms and the blanket around her, hoping his body heat would be enough to stop her from shivering.

She sighed happily and started to slide her hands down towards his pants, planting little kisses on his chest. Mac grabbed her hands. They felt like ice. “No, boss. Stop.”

Nora grumbled against him, “Don’t wanna.”

Mac couldn’t help it, he laughed. He was pretty sure he’d never once been the sensible one in these situations. First time for everything, he guessed. “Well, I don’t wanna either but we gotta. You’re hurt, baby.”

She was trying to tug her hands away from his grip but couldn’t even manage that. “Nuh-uh. I feel great.” Her speech was starting to slur.

“Nora, go to sleep. Come on, be a good girl for me.” Shit. Mac knew that was a mistake to say as soon as he said it. She was practically purring at him now.

“Lemme go and I’ll show you how good I can be.” He felt her tongue swirl around his nipple just before her teeth scraped against it and for just a second he almost let go of her hands. She almost got him.

Mac took a deep breath and rolled her over so he was cuddled against her back, ignoring her protests. “Go. To. Sleep.”

Nora grumbled a bit but without his body right in front of her, seemed to quickly lose focus. She was laying passive in his arms in under a minute and her breathing had become deep and even in under five. Mac finally relaxed against her and pressed a kiss to the back of her neck.

She was home. She was safe. She was in his arms. She would sleep and then he’d make sure she ate in the morning. That’s all that mattered.

Chapter Text

Unconscious Nora was a million times easier to take care of than conscious Nora, Mac decided.

He woke up promptly at seven and then spent a few hours just enjoying holding her, sliding his hands carefully over the fading bruises, gently finger combing the knots out of her hair and occasionally pressing a kiss to her forehead. It was the first time he’d been in bed with her without fucking being involved and it kind of bothered him that she had to be unconscious for it to happen. This should have happened right after they’d had sex that first time. He should have slowed it down, taken his time and worshipped her properly instead of letting the moment get away from him. Mac had been so surprised and then thrilled to have found a woman who had the same roaring sexual appetite he had that he’d let all that lovey stuff, ‘the slow bits’ as Nora had called them, get chucked aside completely.

He decided that once she felt better, he was going to rectify that. He would go slow, dammit. He didn’t care if she morphed into an honest-to-god succubus and promised him a portal to heaven through her pussy, he was gonna stick with the plan this time come hell or high water.

Eventually, nature called and he reluctantly got up to use the bathroom. He made breakfast for himself and briefly considered waking Nora but decided she needed rest more than food for the moment. He’d wake her at lunch.

Nick showed up around ten and Mac laughed when he opened the door. The synth actually had his eyes closed with a hand over them, like they were going to open the door fucking like bunnies or something.

“Relax, man. She’s been out since she got back.” Mac stepped back to let the detective into the house.

“Oh. Okay, good. Yeah, that’s probably good. How’s she look?” Nick seemed thrilled to not be interrupting another moment. His eyes landed on the signal jammer and relief flashed across his face.

“She looks like sh-crap, to be honest. I dunno what happened to her but it was bad.” Mac frowned. “How’d you know she was here, anyway?”

Nick lit a cigarette and shrugged. “Whole town knows she’s back by now. She stumbled through the gate and about knocked down one of DC’s finest. He thought she was chemed up or something the way she was moving.”

Mac shook his head. “Nah, no chems. She was just hurt. Looked like she’d been starving herself and not sleeping, too.”

“Damn. She gets like that sometimes. Distracted. Usually there’s someone there to make her eat though, so we can assume she’s been alone a while or...well, I can’t see Deacon letting her go that far, so she wasn’t with the Railroad this past week. Has to be Institute.”

“Yeah, that’s kinda what I figured. I watched her uh...ya know, zap herself there? I mean, I guess it was there. Where else would it have been?”

Nick nodded, “Yeah, that’s how they get in and out. Teleportation. There’s no surface entrance.” He sighed and turned back to the door, “Well, we won’t know what the hell is going on until she’s well enough to tell somebody. Keep an eye on her, Mac. I’ll let Piper know she needs rest, and I’ll uh...get word to her other friends, too. We’ll sit tight until you send the word.”

“Sure, Nick. I’m on it. Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it, kid.”

 

At lunch, Mac heated up two bowls of vegetable soup he’d bought earlier in the week and sliced a loaf of razorgrain bread. It wasn’t dinner at the Cabots, but depending on how long she’d been without food, it could be all she could handle. He thought about feeding it to her in bed, but figured she’d need to use the bathroom by now anyway and for that, she’d have to come downstairs. Mac left the bowls to cool at the table and went into the loft.

Nora was still laying in the exact same position he’d left her in. Her body must still be exhausted, Mac realized. He went back and forth with himself for a minute, weighing the pros and cons of letting her sleep more. She certainly needed sleep, but her body needed fuel if it was going to get better. In the end, he decided to go ahead and wake her. She could sleep again after lunch.

It took a bit, but he finally managed to convince her to open her eyes and slip on a warm flannel nightgown. She insisted on standing on her own, but when she swayed just a little, Mac swept her up and carried her down the stairs. No sense in her hurting herself more over something as stupid as pride.

He waited for her outside the bathroom, letting her know where her glasses were, and then led her to the table. He put a spoon in her hand and sat down across from her at his own bowl.

Mac stared her down, pretending the hollow look in her eyes wasn’t scaring the hell out of him, until she finally took a bite of the soup. Only then did he relax a bit and try his own.

It was pretty good. Certainly better than anything he could have made on his own, and they ate in companionable silence. He almost shouted with joy when he saw her starting to nibble a second piece of bread.

Nora swallowed a piece of the hard bread. “Hey, Mac?”

It was the first thing she’d said since she woke up and he fought the urge to cry with relief for a second. “Yeah, boss?”

“May I have something to drink?”

“Oh. Oh! Yeah, sure, boss.” He scrambled into the kitchen and opened the fridge, grabbing an ice-cold Nuka Cola and a water. “Uh...which do you want?” He held up the bottles so she could see.

She smiled a little. “Both, please. I’m thirsty.”

“Both, it is!” Mac came over and opened the bottles, setting them down with a flourish that had her giggling. He smiled back at her, feeling slightly giddy. She was awake, she wasn’t crying, he was managing to get her fed and rehydrated. Mac was pretty damn proud of himself.

Nora took a sip of the Nuka and sighed. “You know, these were so much better when they weren’t all flat.”

“Flat, boss? What were they before?” Nuka was Nuka as far as he knew.

“They were carbonated. Had these little bubbles in them that tickled your mouth. I didn’t like it back before the war, but now I miss it somehow? I don’t really know why.” She frowned at the bottle and shrugged.

“Well, flat or not, at least there’s sugar in it, right? Finish eating, boss. Gotta get you back in bed.” A flush came up Nora’s neck and he grinned. Oh, he’d missed making her blush. “Nah, not like that, boss. You need rest. Look like you’ve been to hell and back.”

She huffed a bit and finished her Nuka. “You aren’t far off.” That bleakness was seeping back into her eyes. Mac didn’t like that one bit.

“Why don’t you take your water with you, boss? Get on back in bed and I’ll clean this up. Maybe if you’re good I’ll come cuddle with you.”

Nora blinked, surprised, “You cuddle?”

“Hey, we’ve cuddled!”

She frowned at him, “Did we, honey? That felt like...like foreplay for the next round…”

MacCready covered his heart with his hand, “Oh, you wound me, baby. I’m more than just a sex machine over here, come on.” She was back to blushing and giggling at him. That was better. That’s how someone like her should always get to be, happy and silly and carefree. Mac realized he would move heaven and earth to try and make her life like that, if she’d let him.

Nora got up from the table, water in hand and a little more steady on her feet, and made her way slowly to the loft. Mac cleared the table, washed the dishes and grabbed another Stimpak from the kit in the bathroom. He was pretty sure the worst of her wounds were healed, but it was always better to be safe than sorry.

By the time he got to her bed, she was already back to sleep. He woke her just enough so she’d know he was giving her a Stimpak, and then let her slide down back into sleep. Mac tossed the used meds and climbed back into bed with her, curling up against her back and humming until he knew for sure she was all the way back to sleep before letting himself slip off, too.

Sometime around dinner, Mac woke to Nora stirring in his arms. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes, rolled over and smiled at him.

“Hey.”

He smiled back. “Hey, boss.” Mac kissed her forehead. “You need anything?”

Nora snuggled against him, “No, I just want to stay right here for a minute with you. Is that okay?”

He pulled her as close as he could without hurting her. “That’s fine by me.”

She sighed, “I’m still so tired. I...I couldn’t sleep there this time. He had them sedate me when I went back so they could ‘assess the damage’ from the Gunner fight and give me medical treatments. He knew how I felt about that stuff, and I kept saying no, but he ordered them to hold me down and do it anyway. After I woke up, I didn’t feel I could trust them to not do it again, so I just stayed awake. I drank a lot of coffee.”

Mac bit his tongue hard enough that he tasted blood. Someone was headed right for the top of his kill list. “Who, baby?”

Nora shuddered, “Shaun. My son. My own son ordered his synths to hold me down so he could inject me with sedatives.”

Mac had a moment where his brain went completely blank, then started running a million miles per second. Her son. His synths? “Shaun...he’s…”

She nodded, “Shaun is the leader of the Institute. They call him Father. He’s an old man. My sweet little baby grew up without me and became the boogeyman. I...that’s what I found out just before we first met. Why I couldn’t focus. I thought...I thought maybe I could figure out a way to save him still. Some way to reach him, but he’s too far gone. He’s a sociopath, Mac. He...they took everything good about Nate and I and turned it into someone... something terrible. He’s absolutely convinced the Commonwealth cannot be saved, that everyone on the surface is tainted. He doesn’t even look at them as people, sug. No one down there does.”

Mac didn’t know how to process any of this, so he just rubbed the back of Nora’s neck and let her get it out.

“After the...incident in the medbay, Shaun decided it was time for me to finally prove myself to the board. He actually wanted me to take over that mess, can you imagine? He really, truly believes everything he does is right and logical and so of course I should agree with it. He thought we were two peas in a pod. I stayed as long as I could because the Minutemen and Railroad needed intel but...it was so hard. It felt like being back in the old world down there. Everyone was smiling and polite and it was all a lie.” She took a breath and then continued. “Shaun and the board decided they needed to take out the Railroad. They’d found out about Bunker Hill being a hub where runaway synths were kept. I have no idea how, except they pay some merchants to spy for them, so maybe one of them told? I don’t even know how they would have found out, though. We’re always so careful.”

Jesus, the Institute had undercover synths and fucking robotic crows and the caps to convince regular people to do their bidding. He’d definitely been right. They were infinitely creepier than Deacon.

“They wanted me to go immediately but I told Shaun I needed time to recover and check my gear in the field. So I left and went to a dropbox. I knew they were watching me, they’re always watching, but I pretended like I was just scavenging. One of the runners must have seen it because by the time they made me go, all the other heavies were there. Deacon saw me then and started to tail me and the courser I’d been assigned. We were supposed to use the recall codes on the escaped synths and then relay them back to the Institute for... reclamation.” She shivered and Mac pulled her closer. He didn’t know what reclamation was but by the way she’d said it, he knew he didn’t want to know.

“Instead, Deacon and I took out the courser and then I went back to Father. Deacon and the Railroad relocated the synths somewhere safe. Father was...less than thrilled at my failure. At first I tried pretending, told him sometimes defeat is inevitable and that the Brotherhood had shown up unexpectedly and gotten in the way...I tried so hard to stick to the mission but then…” She’d started crying.

Mac was rocking her like a child. “Hey, hey, it’s alright. You don’t have to keep going, Nora.” He could endure anything but her crying. It killed him every time.

She sniffled, “No. No, I have to get it out or it's going to swallow me whole. I...Shaun started talking, telling me how the world above was ruined and beyond saving. How the people were all corrupted and how...how he’d been the one who released me from Vault 111. As an experiment. He didn’t actually care, you see, he was just curious if I could survive or if I’d become ‘corrupted’, too. I...I couldn’t...I got so angry. He plays with people’s lives like they’re nothing. He has no respect for any living thing that isn’t born in the Institute. If Nate...if Nate knew what kind of man he’d become…” She got quiet for a moment and shook her head. “I couldn’t stand it. I told him he was a monster. That the people and the environment were adapting and surviving just fine and he needed to stop playing God. That the people of the Commonwealth were equal to the people of the Institute in every way, better even. That I wished Kellogg had killed me in the Vault, too, so I didn’t have to see the kind of man my own son had become. I told him...I told him even if it took me the rest of my life, I was going to destroy the Institute and everything it stood for. That when I was done, there would be nothing left but a crater and a memory.”

Nora was still sniffling but sounded brutal just the same. Mac was filled with a fierce kind of pride. This was his girl. This wonderful, strange, fearsome, dangerous creature. She was his and he loved her.

“He um...he said I was a disappointment and I told him the feeling was mutual and then he teleported back to the Institute. They...the courser chip they’d put in my Pipboy so I could use their relay must have had a failsafe in it because it started smoking. I got it off my wrist just before the whole thing blew up. They detonated it on his orders. I know they did. It could have blown my hand off, and he didn’t even care.”

Mac took her left hand and kissed it. It still felt too cold to him. “Damn glad it didn’t. This is my favorite hand in the whole fu-freaking world.”

Nora blinked at him and then giggled despite her tears. Mac smiled at her, that had been exactly what he’d been going for.

“Well...after all that, I was...you know, distraught? It was so hard to focus on anything. I was at the top of the CIT building and I just kind of...I don’t know, shut down, I guess. The next thing I knew, I was wandering through the streets and completely lost. That’s why it took me so long to get here. I thought maybe I could get to HQ. It’s in this um...famous kind of place, but then I realized the Institute wouldn’t just stop watching me since I was no longer working with them. If anything they’d be watching me more. So I couldn’t go anywhere near there.”

“But...you lived here before the war, boss. Wasn’t this whole place some big deal back then?”

She huffed. “Yes, it was, but I was never a fan of baseball. I came here maybe once before I started dating Nate and only after at his insistence and he always drove. Without my Pipboy, I was completely lost.”

Mac sighed. Being lost in the Commonwealth was a great way to get yourself killed. He really needed to teach her how to navigate on her own. “So what all did you run into?”

Nora shrugged, “Oh, you know. Raiders, super mutants, a few synths...your typical Wasteland nightmare. I ran out of ammo by the end of my first night. Things got...rough after that, but I made it. I was so relieved when I saw those stupid umpire uniforms.” She closed her eyes. “I’m still so sleepy though.”

He kissed her forehead. “Yeah, that’s because you’re in shock, baby. Anyone would be. Plus you’re going to be on the mend for a bit. How about we go downstairs, go to the bathroom, then we’ll bring food back up here. You can snack in bed and then go right back to sleep.”

“There’ll be crumbs.”

“Then we’ll deal with the crumbs, boss.”

Chapter Text

The next morning, Mac was pretty sure Nora was definitely on the mend. He felt like she must be if she’d managed to not only get herself undressed, but his pants off, too, and was now happily pressing little kisses down his torso under the blanket. Not that he was complaining or anything. This was probably the single greatest way anyone had ever woken him up, but a part of him was still worried about her injuries, both physical and mental. As much as he hated to, he felt like he had to at least make a token effort to stop her.

“Nora, what are you doing?” Mac wasn’t sure why but he felt like whispering was the way to go here. She was working so hard to be sneaky and all.

The movement under the blanket halted. He could still feel her lips just below his belly button and knew she was smiling, probably trying not to laugh. “I...you can’t prove it's me.”

Mac raised his eyebrow, “It certainly sounds like you, boss.”

“I could be anybody.” If he didn’t know any better, he’d almost think she sounded a little like the Silver Shroud from that stupid radio station Kent ran.

He snorted with laughter. “Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you want breakfast?” He set his hand on the bump under the blanket that he was pretty sure represented her head.

“Why do you think I’m under here, honey?” Oh, that sass. That tiny edge of a smartass she sometimes let slip through. God, he loved that.

When Mac didn’t immediately respond, her sassy mouth nibbled on his skin and kept moving further down.

Well, no one could say he hadn’t tried.

Nora pressed on, moving to press kisses down towards his left hip bone, nipping the sensitive skin there and then skirting along his inner thigh. Mac felt her nuzzle his balls and grabbed the blanket in both fists. Her tongue darted out to gently swirl around one and then the other as her hand curled around the base of his cock, squeezing slightly. Mac whimpered just a little and felt, rather than heard, her soft laughter. She opened her hand just enough to brush her lips along his length, then took the swollen head into her mouth, her eager tongue laving at the precum he’d been leaking. Mac moaned as she started building a gentle suction with her mouth, keeping rhythm with her hand as it pulled and twisted up and down his length.

“Shit, baby, how are you so good at this?” Mac couldn’t stand the silly blanket anymore, he had to see her. He flipped it back enough to watch her head bob up and down on his cock and her eyes opened to meet his briefly, then closed again. She was starting to move faster and he was having trouble keeping from thrusting his hips. Mac ran his hands through her hair and held on to her gently as her mouth milked him. Nora moaned as he did and he felt the vibration in her throat down to his spine. His fingers flexed in her hair and he couldn’t help himself, he had to thrust a little into her nimble hand and mouth. She seemed pleased at that though and squeezed his cock a little more, drawing him even further into her mouth, and using her other hand to gently massage his balls.

Mac felt it rise up within him, his balls drawing up close to his body in her cool hand and he shouted as he came, holding her head in place and feeling the head of his cock almost at the back of her throat. It was close enough that he could feel her swallow his load and then smile around his cock still in her mouth. He finally managed to convince his hands to let go of her hair, and she released him with a wet sounding pop and crawled up to him, snuggling under his arm. Mac grabbed the blanket and tucked it back around them, noticing Nora’s happy wiggle and the pleased look on her face.

He was still hard, still wanted her, but he had to ask first, “Baby, did you just swallow?”

She blinked up at him, a little confused. “Yes. Why? Is that wrong?”

“I...nobody does that anymore.”

Now she frowned, “Why not?”

“Radiation. No one wants to get more radiation from anyone else.”

She snorted, “That’s ridiculous. Unless you’re actively radioactive, it’s no worse than what I would absorb just walking outside. Besides, don’t people...you know, finish inside other people all the time? What difference does it make where it happens?”

“Well...yeah, I guess, but…”

“Anyway, spitting is gross, honey. I am not spitting. It’s not ladylike.”

Now Mac was confused, “Wait, spitting is gross and unladylike but having a cock in your mouth isn’t?”

Nora went pink. “I...I don’t make the rules, RJ. That’s just how it is.”

He laughed, and rolled on top of her, sliding a leg between hers. “You’re blushing again.”

She laughed, too, “I know. I can’t help it.” Her hands went to her cheeks.

Mac nipped at her lower lip. “It’s cute.” He kissed her then, slow and gentle and putting his whole heart into it. He still wasn’t sure what they were, but he knew what he wanted them to be. He loved her, and even if they never got to a place where he could say it out loud, he could at least show her with his body.

Nora’s fingers ran through his hair, one cool hand sliding down to rest over his heart. Mac’s hand mirrored hers, finding comfort in her heartbeat. The mood had shifted from silly to sweet and he slid his mouth away from hers, peppering her neck with nibbling kisses.

“I missed you,” she sighed.

It sounded like ‘I love you’ and Mac knew he would never forget how she said that. “I missed you, too.” He was now ghosting his lips along her collarbone.

“You did?” She sounded genuinely surprised and Mac paused in his exploration and looked up at her frowning a bit.

“Of course I did.”

Her eyes were sparkling a bit and she gave him a little half smile. “Really?”

Mac rolled his eyes, “Really. Nora, I…”, he wanted to say it, it was right there, but so where the ghosts of Lucy and Nate. He cleared his throat, “I really, really missed you.”

Nora was studying his face again, there was something in her eyes now, a touch of concern, almost like she knew what he was thinking. Mac wasn’t ready to have that talk with her and he knew she wasn’t ready. Not with everything that was going on. She opened her mouth to say something and he abruptly moved to seize her nipple with his teeth; whatever she’d been about to say was lost in a surprised squeak.

Mac grinned around her for a second before gently sucking the sensitive, pebbled peak. He used his thumb to gently brush over her other nipple until she was whimpering beneath him, then switched places.

Her legs were restless by the time he’d moved on, nibbling his way down her belly, mimicking her earlier efforts. She giggled when his beard tickled the skin of her inner thighs and he smiled against her skin. Mac watched her face and slowly spread her legs, chuckling when her eyes caught his for a second, went wide and she covered her face with her hands. The blush was now spreading down her neck and he kind of loved that.

The restlessness was gone. Nora was now laying perfectly still, waiting. Mac thought he was pretty sure she was even holding her breath. He kind of loved that, too.

Hell, he loved everything she did.

Mac used his thumbs to gently open her outer lips and press a wet kiss to her core, tongue dipping into her and moaning as he savored the taste. Nora let out a shuddering breath and he could feel her trembling under him just a little. She was every bit as delicious as he’d remembered, sweet and just a little salty and it suited her perfectly. Mac lapped at her opening, using his thumbs to rub and massage her folds until she was writhing under his attention.

“RJ?”, her voice was unsteady.

He looked up and raised an eyebrow at her, his mouth still moving against her. “Hmm?”

Nora moaned and squirmed against him, “Please? Please please please?”

“Please what, baby?”, he murmured against her, knowing full well what she wanted, teasing a finger at the very edge of her pussy, barely pressing against it.

She let out a desperate little whimper that made his cock throb. “More, please? God, RJ, please?”

Mac chuckled, “So polite.” He swirled his tongue around her clit as he slowly slid first one, then two fingers in side of her, working upward until his fingertips found that little spot that made her hips buck against him. Nora’s hands immediately went to hold his head in place, like she would die if he moved away, her thighs trying to close around him.

He suckled at her, moving his fingers with an increasing rhythm that soon had her crying out, begging him to not stop, to never stop. Mac felt the walls of her pussy start to tighten around his fingers, the tension building. He pressed his fingers upward just a little harder while lightly grazing her clit with his teeth before sucking hard at it and that did it. The tension snapped and Mac felt Nora shudder around him, pleasure rolling like waves through her body as she gasped for air and cried out. She was chanting something under her breath as her orgasm continued to ripple through her and Mac lifted his head to hear her better, chuckling when he realized she was saying ‘thank you’ over and over.

Mac moved back up to kiss her, fingers still slowly working her pussy, enjoying the feel of her pulsing around them. She returned his kiss and slid her tongue into his mouth, moaning a little at the taste of her on his lips and grinding her hips against his hand.

“That feel good, baby?”

Nora was still panting, “Yes...RJ?”

“Yeah?” Mac had moved on to nibbling on her earlobe.

“More, please?”

He whispered against her ear and felt her shiver, “Always such a greedy baby.” Mac heard her whine a little and looked at her face. She was actually pouting at him and he laughed. “It’s okay, I like it.” He kissed her, nibbling at her lips while he positioned himself between her legs. She sighed happily and wrapped her arms around him when he moved the head of his cock against her.

There was a knock at the door. Almost sounded polite. Mac and Nora froze, her making a strangled sound of dismay.

Mac pulled away from their kiss and rested his forehead on hers. “No. Not happening.”

Nora tried to move him forward with one of her legs and whispered, “Just ignore them. They’ll go away.”

He raised an eyebrow at her and she grinned back. Mac shrugged and went to kiss her again when the knocking became pounding. He paused and grumbled under his breath.

“Blue! Are you there?”

Piper. Shit.

Nora looked up at him in panic. “Mac...she has a key…”

Mac opened his mouth to ask her just how many assholes had a key to her place when he heard it. Piper was unlocking the door.

He scrambled out of bed and bolted down the stairs, stopping the door from opening with his foot and ignoring the fact that he was lightheaded as fuck.

“You’re naked!” Nora’s scandalized voice whispered down from the loft and he cursed under his breath. Of course she would care about that.

Mac grabbed his Minutemen hat off the peg by the door, holding it in front of his cock, which had apparently decided to completely ignore this little interruption. He took a deep breath and opened the door, glaring at Piper as she glared back at him.

Until she realized he wasn’t wearing any clothes.

“Oh, freaking gross! What the hell is wrong with you! Nick said you were here taking care of Blue!” Piper had her hands on her hips, clearly unintimidated by a naked MacCready.

He smirked at her, “Oh, I am taking care of her, Piper. What do you want?”

The young reporter looked horrified, “That...that is just nasty, MacCready! You are nasty!”

“Yeah, I am.”

“Oh my God, stop. God, just stop. No more innuendo or I’m gonna barf.” She actually did look a little green around the gills and Mac couldn’t help it, he laughed. He’d always suspected Piper was a prude, but he didn’t know how much of a prude until right now. It was fucking hilarious. The way she was reacting, you’d think he was fucking her mother or something.

“Piper, come on. Little busy here. What do you want?”

She was glaring at him like she wanted to keep arguing for a second, then she took a deep breath and folded her arms across her chest, “I was just worried about Blue. Deacon stopped by Nick’s and said she hasn’t reported in with anyone. Has she made any holotapes for him or Preston yet?”

Oh. He frowned, “No...her Pipboy was broken, so no holotapes.”

Piper bit her thumbnail a little. “Shit. Okay, well, I’ll let them know but they’re still gonna want her to check in with them soon. So...you know, let her come up for air at some point, you pervert.” Mac could hear Nora giggling from the loft now.

He leaned against the doorframe, looked her up and down and smirked, “Jealous, angel? You can always join us. There’s plenty of me to go around. You know what they say, the more the merrier.”

Her eyes went huge. “That is...you...She’s like a sister to me! You are a degenerate and disgusting and that is never going to happen in a million years, MacCready!” The giggling got a little louder and Piper narrowed her eyes at it. “You are a terrible influence, too.”

Mac smiled at her. “Heck yeah, I am.” He shut the door in her face, locking it loudly while she sputtered behind it. Then he ditched the hat and bounded back up the stairs to Nora. He hadn’t had this much fun in a single morning ever in his life.

Nora was hiding under the blanket, still giggling when he bounced onto the bed, her surprised squeal making him laugh. He joined her under the blanket, liking how it kind of felt like a little cave of their very own.

“Now, where were we?” Mac settled back between her legs and kissed the tip of her nose.

She had a slightly grumpy look on her face, “I really do need to try to fix my Pipboy…”

“Uh-huh. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, boss.I have a better one though.” He kissed her before she could argue and lined himself up with her opening, pressing his cock into her slowly. Nora’s arms wrapped around his back, her nails digging into him just a little as she moaned into his mouth. She was hot and wet and Mac knew he’d never get over how good it felt. Like she’d been made just for him.

Once he was finally fully within her, Mac stayed there, lazily exploring Nora’s mouth with his tongue and only rocking against her when she started to make little desperate movements with her hips. He could tell it was driving her crazy, but this was the plan. Finally. He could take his time, go slow. Besides, she still wore bruises from her ordeal, a lot of them up her back and along her ribcage. Mac didn’t mind inflicting pain on a partner who wanted it, but not if they were injured.

Nora bit his lip, hard enough that he pulled back, surprised. She was glaring up at him. “Robert Joseph MacCready, if you do not move soon, I will die. I swear to God.”

He chuckled at her and rolled his hips against her, enjoying hearing her gasp. “You’re still hurt, baby. I don’t want to add to it.”

She huffed, “I feel fine, RJ. Really.”

Mac nodded, “Hmm, yeah, but your whole back is pretty much purple. It takes time for bruises to heal all the way.” He nibbled on her neck, just barely rocking against her.

“I’ll tell you if something hurts.”

He gave her an incredulous look, rolled his eyes and returned to her neck.

“I promise. I will, I promise, please, RJ?”

Mac chuckled against her neck. “You promise, huh? You think you can actually be a good girl for me and watch out for yourself? That would be pretty impressive coming from you.” He gave her a little love bite and she shivered under him.

“I can be good, honey. I promise I will.”

“Hmm...I almost believe you…”

“Oh, my God, RJ. What will it take?”

Nora squealed as Mac abruptly rolled them both. He ghosted his fingertips along her back and then dug in when he got to her hips, enjoying her delighted laughter against his chest. She rose up just enough to look at him and press a kiss to his lips and Mac brought one hand up to twine his fingers into her hair, tugging gently.

“I’ll give you what you want, baby, but you have to lay still, alright? If I ever hurt you…”

She snuggled against him, her face tucked up against his neck, and sighed happily. “It’s okay. You won’t.”

He pressed a kiss to her temple and moved his hand back down to grasp her hip. “Just let me know if you need to slow down or stop, okay, baby?”

“M’hmm, I promise.”

Mac held her in place while he slid out just a few inches, then thrust back in. Nora gasped and he felt her teeth on his neck. So far so good.

He kept a steady, slow pace, grinding against her clit with his pelvic bone just a little every time he bottomed out. Going slow and careful was nothing new to Mac. That was the only way he and Lucy had been able to make love. He hadn’t thought it would be this difficult to control himself with Nora, but found it was a whole different thing when you knew the woman in your arms wanted you to go as hard as you could, craved it, even. He had to grit his teeth to keep from pounding into her, especially with her whimpering and begging him to do just that.

She couldn’t heal fast enough, as far as Mac was concerned. He was going to bend her over the nearest horizontal surface and fuck her until she couldn’t walk at the first opportunity. The second her bruises faded.

Nora was panting, her breath in his ear, “RJ, please, just a little faster? Pretty please? I can take it.”

Mac growled and dug his fingers into her hips a little more, pulling her down harder on his cock when he rose up. “Yeah, I know you can, baby. You like riding this big cock, don’t you?”

She shivered the way she always did when he started running his mouth in bed and he felt her nod against his neck.

He was close now and so was she. Her thighs were starting to quiver and her pussy was tightening around him, making him instinctively thrust harder and deeper within her with every stroke. Mac could feel her juices running down his legs and the sound their bodies made as they met was delicious to his ears.

“God, baby, you were made for this. You were made to be fucked, weren’t you? You gonna be a good girl and come for me?”

Nora’s nails dug in along Mac’s ribs, just a little, and she whimpered, unable to speak. He felt her muscles shudder and then the sweet torture of her pussy squeezing down hard on him, drawing his cock even further in, before it began rippling around him. Mac got just a few more thrusts in before his own climax exploded within her, filling her with his come.

He finally released her hips and raised his trembling hands to cradle her head against him while they both gasped and struggled to calm their breathing. He could feel her body still trying to milk him, the waves slowly fading before finally stopping. Mac waited until his heart wasn’t galloping within his chest then he slid out of her, chuckling at her sound of dismay.

“Come on, baby. Don’t you have a Pipboy to fix?” Mac brushed the hair out of her face and tried to not laugh at her grumpy expression.

She sighed, “I guess...should probably eat actual food at some point, too.” Nora leaned up and kissed him. “I wish we could stay here forever, though. Stuff’s a lot simpler with you under this blanket than it is out there.”

Mac didn’t quite know what to say to that, so he settled for kissing her back and helping her sit up. “How about you get started on your repairs and I’ll go get us something to eat.”

“Is there any steak?”

He blinked, “Do you want steak?”

Nora nodded.

“Then there will be steak. I’ll go hit up Polly’s. Why don’t you take a shower? Maybe grab a water? Then you can start on the Pipboy stuff.”

“Yeah, okay, that’s probably a good idea.” She narrowed her eyes at him, “Wait a minute, since when are you in charge?”

He laughed and got up, giving her one more lingering kiss before he grabbed his pants and shirt from the floor. “When our pants are off, I’m always in charge.”

Her muffled giggles followed him down the loft stairs and out the door.

Chapter Text

Nora was in the shower still when Mac got back, loaded up with steak, fruit, wine and even a wasteland omelet. Anything he could think of that might tempt her to eat more than just a few bites. He put everything but the steak and wine away and those he put on the table next to a small box labeled ‘ Vault-Tec Pipboy Replacement Parts, Property of Vault 81’ and the remnants of Nora’s Pipboy.

He frowned at the pile of melted plastic and wires. You almost couldn’t even tell it had ever been anything and he silently wished her luck on her reconstruction project. Mac didn’t want to think about what could have happened to her if she hadn’t managed to unclip it from her wrist before it blew. Shaun was a ripe bastard to show such reckless disregard for his own mother and MacCready hoped he’d be the one to put a bullet in his head.

Mac had just sat down to his own beer and steak when Nora emerged from the bathroom, hair still wet and combed straight. She had on a Vault 111 jumpsuit on and he raised an eyebrow at her.

She shrugged, “They’re warm and easy to put on.” Nora looked at her hands and frowned, “I just can’t seem to get warm enough.”

He nodded and tapped her plate with his fork. “Eat. The protein will help. Wine will, too.”

“Oh, I see. Already looking to get me liquored up again, huh? My mother warned me about men like you, sug.”

Mac laughed as she sat down. “Oh, yeah. I love me some drunk-boss. Especially when she swings on me.”

Her first bite of steak froze on its way to her mouth, “I did not.”

“Yup, you did.” He smirked at her expression. “Eat your steak.”

Nora chewed the brahmin, a concerned look on her face, and swallowed, “Did I...you know...hurt you, honey?”

Mac snorted, “Nah. Almost, but nah. You’ve got some moves though, boss. Cait did a good job training you up. Knocked the he-heck out of that jerk at the bar.”

She blushed, “I can’t remember any of that.”

“Seriously? What’s the last thing you remember?”

“I think…”, she paused and ate another piece. “I think I remember saying something smelled like art class and thinking someone was being rude? Everything is fuzzy after that.”

“Yeah, for future reference, that’s moonshine. If something smells like that, do not drink it.”

Nora nodded, “Noted.”

They finished their steaks and Nora reached for the Vault-Tec box as Mac cleared the table. He sat back down next to her and she smiled a little shyly at him. He’d watched her work with guns before, but never something like this.

Mac watched her carefully sorting through the wreckage, pulling pieces from the melted mess and setting them aside in little piles that made no sense to him.

“Hey, you said your dad worked with computers, right?”

Her head came up, surprised, “I can’t believe you remembered that.” She reached for a tiny screwdriver and began unscrewing the partially melted outer casing of her old Pipboy. “Yes, he did. He um...he worked in coding. That’s like...the instructions you give a computer or a robot. He taught me a lot whenever Mother wasn’t around. She didn’t approve of my tinkering. Daddy did a lot of work for General Atomics, actually. That’s how I knew how to modify Codsworth when I first got him.”

“Sh-wow, boss. That’s amazing. What kind of modifications did you do?”

She tucked a piece of her hair back behind her ear and gave him a little half smile, “Well...to be honest, the first thing I did was deactivate him.”

Mac frowned, “Wait, what? I thought you loved Codsworth.”

She nodded, “Well, yes, now I do. He sorta grew on me, I guess. But when he first showed up, I was so mad I could spit.” The outer casing was off and Nora was carefully peeling apart melted chips, apparently looking for something. “See, Nate...I became pregnant with Shaun while Nate was on leave. He went back before either of us knew. I felt...different almost immediately but I didn’t realize why until suddenly even the idea of food was enough to make me sick.” She passed her screwdriver to Mac for a second, using both hands to gently pry a piece from the middle of her old Pipboy. “I went to the doctor, of course, and got everything confirmed, but I waited to tell Nate. I didn’t want him worrying over me and...well, the possibility of miscarriage is highest in the first trimester. I didn’t want to tell him the rabbit died until I was pretty sure it was going to stick.”

Mac idly twirled the screwdriver in his hands. He could imagine a pre-war Nora, sick and pregnant and virtually helpless and still not wanting to bother anyone. What was it Nick had called her rare dumb ideas? Her notions. He almost felt bad for Nate.

She held out her hand for the screwdriver and he passed it back before she continued, “Anyway, I was maybe four months along when I put in a telegram to him through the Red Cross. He called and I told him the news and he was over the moon.” Nora smiled, her eyes going a little misty. “I can still remember hearing him yelling at the guys about it and they cheered and clapped.” She sighed, “But then, of course, he had to go be...well, Nate. He said he didn’t like the idea of me being with child and alone with just the dog for company. That I should...I should go home. To my mother.”

“Had he met your mother at this point?” Mac couldn’t believe anyone who’d actually met that harpy in person would willingly send Nora back into the deathclaw’s den like that.

Nora laughed a bit, “Yes, he had, but she’d always been on her best behavior around him. I’d told him...some stuff about my childhood but I don’t think he got it, you know? Nate had wonderful, caring parents. It was hard for him to understand that not everyone is so lucky.” She was now busy chipping away at a burned piece. Mac had no idea what it did, but it was still shiny underneath. That was probably a good thing, right?

“Anyway, we fought, of course. I was absolutely not ever going back to that house alone and I told him so. Then he said he would call her and have her come to me. That a girl needed her mother at a time like this.” Nora was frowning now. Mac had seen her wear that same face when shooting down a super mutant and worked to keep from laughing. Now he definitely felt bad for Nate. “I told him if he pulled a stunt like that, I would leave. I would run away somewhere and he’d never see hide nor hair of me or our baby again.”

Mac’s eyes went wide, “Damn, Nora. That’s...that’s a...heck of a thing to say to an expectant father. Wow.”

She nodded, “I know, honey, I know. I was very hormonal. It made it hard for me to control my temper.” She sighed, “We compromised. He told me to find a helper. Like a housekeeper or something. Someone to keep an eye on the house so I could rest...I didn’t like the idea of someone else in my home, telling me what to do. I didn’t need a nanny. So I told him I would try but I think he knew I was lying. I’ve never been very good at lying.”

“Not a bad thing, boss.”

Nora smiled at him. “Yeah, I know...anyway, a week later, a General Atomics truck shows up at the house and they brought in Codsworth. They did this whole little...I don’t know, show? They activated him and talked me through his user’s manual. I kept telling them I knew all about Mr. Handys already and they just kept talking over me, like I was some little suburban fluffhead.” She snapped a new piece from the box onto the board she’d been scraping off. “As soon as they left, I turned him off and stomped around the house. Had a right proper temper tantrum. Then I took a nap.”

Mac could just see it. Her pitching a fit in her pristine home, probably yelling at a man who was thousands of miles away before exhausting herself. “Very mature, boss.”

She stuck her tongue out at him. “Oh, like you’ve never had a tantrum before. I watched you kick the bejesus out of that mutant hound after you killed it, sug.”

“Hey, it almost bit me! Could have taken my leg off!”

“M’hmm. Anyway, after I woke up, I decided maybe Codsworth would be useful, at least for yard work. So that was my first program modification I made. Most Mr Handys were made to prioritize housework first, so I made his primary function to keep the yard tidy.”

He laughed, “Is that why he’s still trying to tend flowers that haven’t existed for two hundred years?”

Nora looked a little sheepish, “Probably...I did a lot of other little tweaks to make him bearable. I toned down his servitute protocols and adjusted his pre-installed blind loyalty to our family. It felt weird having this robot basically worshipping every little thing I did. Especially when his AI was already so advanced. Felt like I was keeping a slave or something. It made me uncomfortable.” She sighed, “I haven’t tweaked him since I woke up though. He’s had two centuries to develop his own unique personality. I don’t want to change it. Now he stays with me because he wants to, because he loves me and loved our family. That’s how it should be. He’s his own person...and an absolute peach.” She swept aside the burned pieces of her old Pipboy and took out what looked to be a brand new one from the box, still encased in a plastic bag. She passed it to Mac.

“Can you open this with your knife, please, honey? The plastic is too thick to tear.”

“Sure, boss.” He sliced through the plastic and passed it back to her. “Why’d you do all that stuff to the old one if you’re just going to use a new one?”

She started on the tiny screws on the shiny new Pipboy. “I needed the memory and motherboard. Otherwise all my data is lost...my map and notes and things.”

“Oh, that makes sense...so by the time Nate came back, had you forgiven him for Codsworth?”

She laughed, “Kinda? He called a few days after Codsworth arrived to make sure everything had gone well. I told him he was a jackass for buying a robot babysitter for his wife.”

Mac snorted. “I’m sure he appreciated that.”

Nora smiled, “Well...he tried to nice about it. He told me to not think of Codsworth like a babysitter, but more like a member of the family. He’d totally bought into the whole General Atomics sales pitch.” Her eyes were twinkling now. “When he came home, after he was injured, there was this big welcoming ceremony at the airport, you know? The press was there, they had a band and the mayor came...I brought Codsworth.”

“You...how?”

She shrugged,“Our car was a convertible. I just put the top down and put Codsworth in the back. He was pleased as punch to get to ride in a car. I’d bought him a hat for the occasion and everything.”

Mac was laughing at the idea of that. Codsworth and Nora out for a drive was fucking funny as hell.

“Nate was so embarrassed. We had to do this photo op with the mayor, and I insisted Codsworth be included. I was already huge by then, at the end of my second trimester, and no one wanted to argue with the crazy pregnant lady. He asked me when we got back to the car what I had been thinking and I…”, she was giggling too hard to continue and had to take a minute. “I said, ‘But honey, Codsworth is family!’”

“Sh-shoot, boss. That’s hilarious.” Mac loved that sassy streak.

“Well, I certainly thought so. Codsworth was ecstatic, declaring his undying love for our family from the backseat. Nate had the face on. That look he always got whenever I sassed him.” She chuckled, “He always hated that.”

“Hmph.” Mac wasn’t going to speak ill of Prince Charming to Nora, but he was oddly disappointed in him for not appreciating the humor in that situation. Her sass was one of the things that made Nora Nora.

“Joke’s on me though. Codsworth is family now. Nate’s probably on a cloud somewhere laughing his butt off at that.” She pulled pieces from the new Pipboy and replaced them with the salvaged pieces. She snapped everything back in place and began replacing the tiny screws. Mac watched as she went to turn it on but then paused. She stared at the hand holding the screwdriver for a moment, frowning. “I don’t feel right, Mac.”

He was immediately up, feeling her forehead, “Are you sick? Does something hurt?” She felt fine under his hand, if a little cool.

Nora shook her head, “No, it’s...I just don’t feel like me.” She set the screwdriver down and watched her hands open and close. “Did...did they replace me?” She said it softly to herself and Mac felt himself go pale. He’d never considered Shaun would replace his own mother with a synth, but if Nora thought he could, then he probably could.

Mac sat back down and took one of her hands in his. “You feel like you to me, boss.” Her hands were still much too cold but he wasn’t going to mention that.

She closed her eyes and a little line formed between her eyebrows. “I...no, something is wrong. I can usually see the path from here to Sanctuary in my mind. I know every car, every building, every place where raiders like to lurk...I can’t see any of that. I...I think I could get home from here but I can’t see it.” Nora opened her eyes and looked at Mac. He realized that odd focus was missing from her face. The way she always used to look at him was gone. He felt a sinking sensation in his stomach.

He didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t a problem you could just shoot. Mac felt helpless and he hated seeing that reflected in her face. “What...what do we do, boss?”

Nora took a deep breath. “First...I need to make my reports for Preston and Deacon. They...Deacon will know what to do. I…”, she shook her head. “It’s like I can’t think. I...usually there’s a ton of stuff running through my mind. Songs and plans and maps and things. There’s nothing. No background noise. I...I have to focus to think. That’s never happened. Usually I have to focus to not think, you know?” She reached out and clicked on the Pipboy. They both stared at the screen as it loaded and came online. Nora clicked through the tabs and breathed a sigh of relief. Her data must still be intact. “I’ll make the holotapes now and then you can take them to Nick and Piper, okay?”

He let go of her and ran his hand through his hair. “Yeah, yeah, boss, that sounds good. Anything else I can do?”

She smiled at him but it didn’t reach her eyes, “Don’t trust me. If I’ve been replaced...you can’t trust me.”

Chapter Text

Mac delivered the tapes to Piper and Nick, as promised. They immediately headed out, Nick to a dead drop and Piper to the Castle after sending Nat to stay with Ellie. It had broken Mac’s heart to watch her recite the terror she’d dealt with all over again, even more so when she had to explain to her friends that she might not even be her anymore. He still didn’t know what to do, and now Nora was deliberately keeping her distance from him; as much as she could in her small home, anyway. She’d told him he should sleep downstairs until they knew for sure what was going on, that it was safer that way. He hated that. He didn’t care what she thought, he knew she was still Nora. Maybe her son had done something to her, but Mac couldn’t believe they could have replicated how she tasted, how she moved under him and how she melted into his kisses.

No matter what he said, though, Nora had drawn the line. She felt like she couldn’t trust herself and so he shouldn’t either.

So, instead of snuggling up together, which is what Mac wanted to do, Nora sat at the table cleaning her gauss rifle and he sat on the couch, pretending to read an old comic. He watched her nimble hands methodically disassemble the weapon, carefully removing the carbon scoring along its barrel. He wished he could believe she was fine, that it was all in her head, but her movements were different. She actually sat perfectly still, none of the tapping or humming she usually engaged in happening. Something was definitely different. The restlessness was gone. It bothered him more than he wanted to admit.

That night, after a tense and almost silent dinner, Mac tossed and turned on the couch. It didn’t sound like Nora was doing much better upstairs, and every fiber of his being said to go to her; but he’d promised, so he stayed put, his pistol within arms reach. He hated this. He hated Shaun for doing this to her. Mac hoped whatever Deacon and Preston came up with could fix this, fix her , and that it happened fast.

They spent the next day making polite small talk, Nora pretending that she wasn’t terrified and Mac pretending he didn’t see every time she trembled just a little. He knew she was still too fragile from her confrontation with Shaun for this and he was worried she was going to break under the pressure. He exhausted his supply of terrible dad jokes just trying to keep her from crying all day. She ate because he told her to, she slept when he told her to and it was infuriating. He hated this weird, docile, pod-person she’d become. It seemed like whatever was wrong with her was getting worse as the hours ticked by. She just agreed with everything he said. Like she didn’t trust her own judgement on anything. Mac had even thrown a few stupid opinions at her (things like Jack knew all about aliens because he was one and that Curie was building her own Frankenstein’s monster) and she’d just nodded along, her eyes blank.

Her hands were colder than before, too. Almost frozen. Mac felt like something was draining the life from her and if he knew where the stupid Railroad HQ was, he’d have dragged her there already, Institute spies or not.

He was frustrated beyond all reason by dinner and made the executive decision that they would both go to bed early. He couldn’t take seeing her like that anymore and he knew it was getting harder for her to pretend everything was fine in front of him.

Mac wasn’t even surprised when he woke with a hand over his mouth and a pair of sunglasses all up in his face, just relieved. He knew it had to be a bad situation if he was actually happy to see that asshole.

“Jeez, Mac, what’s with the early bedtime? This ain’t Little Lamplight. You can stay up past nine.” Deacon smirked at him as Mac pushed the hand from his face, sat up and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes.

“Shut up, Deacon. Are you here to be useful or not? Something’s really wrong with Nora.” Mac didn’t have time for their usual song and dance.

Deacon was suddenly all business, “I’m always useful, kid. We gotta move her to the Castle. Got a crackerjack team waiting for her.”

“Okay...yeah, good. Listen, I don’t think she’s been replaced, okay? She thinks she has, but…”

The eyebrow was up, “But?”

Mac suddenly felt uncomfortable. This was his first time talking to Deacon since things had changed between him and Nora. He knew she’d seen Deacon at Bunker Hill, but he doubted she’d said anything about their relationship. He rubbed the back of his neck, trying to think of a respectful way to say it. “But...I uh...I don’t they could have replicated her that well, you know?”

Deacon smiled obnoxiously at him and Mac immediately wished he could take it back. “Well, look at you. Seizing the moment instead of being a dumbass. I’m impressed.” He looked at him over his glasses and pointedly stared at Mac’s crotch. “Just try not to kill her with that, alright? I’ve heard things.”

Mac shoved him hard, and got up. “Shut the...shut up, Deacon.”

The older man was laughing at him now, “Come on, let’s go wake sleeping beauty.”

Mac tried to not be too pissed at how Nora had cried in relief and practically thrown herself into Deacon’s arms. And he was definitely not going to be mad at how Deacon had insisted on helping her change into her vault suit, carefully zipping it up and snapping her Pipboy onto her wrist. He even tied her damn boot laces.

But he thought it was a little much that Deacon was trying to insist on carrying her out of Diamond City.

Luckily, Nora seemed to think it was a bit much, too.

“Deacon, honey, I can walk. Put me down, please.” Her tone was gentle, at least a million times nicer than when she’d been drunkenly yelling at Mac about carrying her. He wasn’t going to let that bother him either. Nope.

“Alright, Professor. You’re the boss.” He set her down just outside of Piper’s, but refused to let go of her hand. “I get to hold your hand though...and don’t forget to look both ways before you cross the street.”

Mac frowned. He had no idea what the last part meant, but Nora chuckled a little at it. That was fine. So Deacon could make her laugh when she looked like death was in her eyes. That was great. Wonderful. He had no reason to be jealous of the man, right? Right.

Deacon was carrying a massive silenced rifle and Nora’s gauss rifle, too. Mac followed the pair and had his regular sniper rifle on his back and pistol out, just in case. Together the two men shepherded her through the ruins of Boston and into the Castle. Mac had to admit, Deacon was amazing at moving unseen when he wanted to. They managed to make it the whole way without a single incident, Deacon simply turning abruptly at the first sign of movement or first sound of danger and finding a new way.

It took longer than Mac would have liked, but finally they arrived. Preston was waiting at the gate in the darkness, looking anxious, and he motioned them inside and closed the massive doors before actually speaking. He gave Nora a quick salute and nodded to the two men.

“Evening, General. Your friend, Tom, has been here a while. He’s set up some kind of system that’s supposed to keep the Institute from being able to teleport in. A couple guys said it was giving them a headache, so I sent them out on patrol. The doctors have set up downstairs in the old armory.” Preston led them through the courtyard, past Ronnie in the garrison who saluted Nora and didn’t spare a glance for her companions, down an ancient set of stairs and into a dimly lit corridor. He stayed at the door with his musket out, on guard.

Deacon finally let go of Nora’s hand once they were safe in the basement of the Castle. He set their rifles down on a table and Mac followed suit. He could hear Curie’s familiar voice and three others. One had an accent he’d never heard before.

They came around the corner to a room that had clearly recently been converted into a surgical suite. There was plastic sheeting everywhere and it smelled clean in an antiseptic sort of way. Curie stood alongside an animated man with strange headgear who was trying to convince her that she needed a vaccination he was waving around. There were two other figures in lab coats behind them, fiddling with some complex looking equipment that Mac couldn’t make heads or tails from.

Curie was frowning at the man. “Monsieur Tom, I am a virologist by training. You cannot expect me to believe in this nonsense.”

“That’s just what the Institute wants you to think, baby! That’s how they get you!”

“What exactly has been the sample size of your vaccination experiment against the nanobots you cannot confirm exist?”

He looked befuddled for a moment. “Sample size? Well...uh, it’s a little low so far, but...”

Curie looked stonier than Mac had ever seen and held up her hand, “ Non , Monsieur Tom. I will not be taking part in your experiment.” She looked over and her face lit up. “Madame! And Monsieur MacCready! It is so good to see you both!” Curie rushed over and grabbed Mac, kissing both of his cheeks before doing the same with Nora.

Mac nodded at her and Nora smiled a bit, “Hello, Curie. It’s good to see you, too. I wish it were under better circumstances.”

A look of concern flashed across Curie’s face and her eyes flitted to Mac for a second. He knew she could hear the difference in Nora’s voice, too. She patted her hand, “Do not fret, Madame. Docteur Amari and Docteur Carrington seem most professional. And your friend, Monsieur Tom is very ah...enthusiastic. I am sure we will be able to help you.”

“Thanks, Curie.”

Deacon lead Nora over to a gurney and helped her hop up on it. “Here you go, princess. Your throne is all set up for you.” He ran a hand over her hair. “Tom’s gonna scan you first, okay? No big deal. I’ll even find you a lollipop if you’re extra good.” He was all smiles and Mac wondered if he realized he wasn’t fooling anybody right now.

Nora’s eyes were huge behind her glasses and Mac hated how scared she looked. He walked over and took her hand. Deacon silently (and surprisingly) brought him a chair and he sat by her side.

“It’s gonna be alright, boss.” Mac squeezed her hand and smiled at her when she squeezed back.

Tom came over with a strange looking wand kind of thing in his hand. It had a ton of lights and made weird noises and Mac leaned away from it instinctively, but Nora just stared blankly at it. Whatever it was, she’d seen it before. Or maybe she was just used to Tom being insane. “Alright, Professor. Let’s see what kind of creepy crawlies we’re dealing with here.” He started at her feet, frowning a bit at the screen.

“Whatever has affected your cognitive abilities is probably still inside of you. If you had simply been drugged, it would have worn off by now. So either they have implanted something in you, or they have done some kind of procedure to alter your brain chemistry. If Tom doesn’t find anything things could become...difficult to repair, so...let’s all hope he finds something.” The man in the lab coat looked both concerned and agitated and Mac kind of wanted to tell him to shut the fuck up, but Deacon beat him to it.

“Jeez, Carrington. Nice bedside manner.” The words were mild but the tone of Deacon’s voice was not. He glared at Carrington over his glasses and the doctor looked slightly mollified.

Doctor Amari was looking over Tom’s shoulder at the screen of his device, frowning along with him. “It would appear that there are at least two...no, three implants. Nora, did you have any kind of medical implants pre-war?”

She shook her head, “No, nothing...and I did not consent to any after, either.” There was just a tiny hint of anger in her voice. Mac knew if she were feeling like herself, she’d be enraged.

Tom was now reading from his screen, his scan finished. “Yeah, looks like there’s two trackers. Those are no big deal. One’s in your right wrist and one’s between your third and fourth ribs, left side. Curie or Carrington can handle those...I’m honestly not sure what this third one is, but its right at the base of your skull. Looks like it's attached to your brain stem, Professor. That...can’t be good, right?” He looked at the three doctors. They looked at each other.

Amari spoke first. “Alright, first we need to scan her brain and see what differences have developed between the last time she was scanned and now. Then we can get a better idea of what we’re dealing with.”

Curie raised her hand, like she was a schoolgirl. “Should we remove the tracking devices now or...?”

Carrington seemed mildly amused by her, “We’ll hold off until after we know what’s going on with the third device. We need to be sure she’s physically stable while we’re working and we don’t want a minor complication to cause any delay.”

“Ah, yes, of course you are correct, Docteur Carrington.” The older man seemed flustered by Curie and Mac caught Deacon snickering.

Nora blinked slowly, “He put trackers in me. He...he had me tagged? Like a cow?”

“The cutest, smartest, best cow, boss. Prettiest in the herd.” Deacon gave her a winning smile and Nora’s expression melted from confusion to exasperation.

“That...that doesn’t make it any better, Deacon.”

Amari clapped her hands to get their attention, “Okay, if we’re finished discussing livestock, I need Nora to please lay down.” She had a strange kind of cap in her hands with wires coming from it. “This is as close as I can get to a memory lounger down here, but it won’t have the kind of direct interface I’m used to, so I need her to be very still.”

Mac helped Nora lay down and kept a hold of her hand. Deacon casually walked to the other side and took the other one. The two men shared a worried look as Curie and Carrington slipped the cap over Nora’s hair, Amari keeping an eye on the monitors, Tom watching with wide eyes over her shoulder.

“Curie, please move the censor by her left temple just a bit to the...yes, that’s it. Thank you.” Amari frowned at her screens. “Hmm...the architecture looks the same, but...Nora, I need you to talk, please. Tell us a story.”

Nora swallowed, “What kind of story?”

Deacon waggled his eyebrows at her, “How about the story of how we met, sweetheart?”

There was a ghost of a smile on her face, “Ah, yes, the story of how I ruined all your plans. A timeless classic.”

“Yeah, that’s my favorite.”

Mac made a show of rolling his eyes and vowed to never tell Deacon how much he appreciated him making her smile in this moment.

“Okay...well...I’d only been out of the vault a week or two...made it to Diamond City somehow. I had Codsworth and Dogmeat with me and had just met Piper. She lied to Danny to get us through the gate and I felt awful about that. They...Diamond City security reminded me of the police from my time and you weren’t supposed to lie to the police. After McDonough told me about Nick and was otherwise about as helpful as a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it, Piper headed on inside. I went to apologize. Danny was sweet about it and...and you were there. Standing in the corner, smoking. You said ‘hey’ to me and I said ‘hello’ back. I thought it was odd you were wearing sunglasses because it was dark out.”

Mac snorted, “Fu-freaking dork.”

Deacon made a face at him. “Then what happened, boss?”

She took a deep breath. Behind her, Carrington, Amari, Tom and Curie were all staring at the screen with varying looks of concern on their faces. “Well...I went to see Nick, but of course he wasn’t there. Ellie said he was in trouble and I remember almost crying I was so frustrated. I just wanted someone to help me , but it seemed like everyone I found wanted me to help them. Then I came out of his office and there were people talking about the Railroad. How they help synths and help people fight the Institute. I...I thought maybe they could help me, too. One of the men said they had a special code phrase. To follow the Freedom Trail.”

Deacon was now pointedly ignoring the whispering of the doctors. “Such a classy code phrase, too, huh, pal? Then what’d you do?”

She frowned a bit, it seemed to Mac like it was hard for her to remember the details of this particular adventure. “I...well, I knew what was at the end of the Freedom Trail. I’d walked it in college when I’d first arrived in Boston. All the tourists did back then. So, I went straight to the Old North Church and there was a chalk drawing of a lantern. There were ghouls inside, too, but Codsworth and Dogmeat handled them. I...I could barely fire a pistol back then still. I came to the door and there was the big seal. I spent...oh, ages, inputting possible passwords. I was completely overthinking it.” She looked at Deacon and smirked a little at him. “I mean, who uses ‘password’ as the password, right?”

Deacon chuckled, “I liked the ones you put in, though. Very historical.”

“Hmm. So I finally got it, then the rest is history. You were there, of course, and looked rumpled to me. I remember you told me later that you’d been following me from Diamond City and used the back way to get in once you saw me enter the church. And much later, you told me that you’d been following me since the Vault. That you’d been planting holotapes all over for me to discover and had spent countless hours planning my recruitment.”

“Creeper,” Mac muttered but Deacon ignored him.

“Yeah, I had a whole masterplan for you, Professor, and it went right in the toilet. You were just too clever by half for me.”

Mac smiled. That sounded about right. Plans made around Nora never seemed to go like you wanted them to.

Curie’s polite cough had them turning to the doctors. Mac didn’t like the look on Amari’s face at all.

“It would appear that this implant...whatever it is, is causing the neurons in Nora’s brain to slow down or misfire. Her entire cerebrum, which was quite bright the last time I saw it, has dimmed considerably and the parts of her brain that should light up for emotions and memory are...well, turning dark. We need to remove it now before it causes permanent injury.” She took a breath and looked directly at Nora. “I’m sorry, but you’ll have to be conscious for it. We’ll need you to tell us if you start to feel different and I’ll need you to talk while we remove the implant. It will be painful, Nora. Carrington can handle giving you a nerve block so that you don’t move and cause injury to yourself, but because of where its located, you’ll still feel the surgery.”

Mac was shaking his head. This sounded horrific. They were going to cut her head open and force her to feel it. It was barbaric.

“Isn’t there any other way we can do this that won’t hurt her, Doc?” Deacon didn’t seem too thrilled with it, either.

“I’m sorry. It’s the best we can do.” Amari looked as helpless as Mac felt.

Nora was nodding though, her eyes nearly vacant, “Then let’s do what we have to do and be done with it. Where do you want me, Amari?”

Curie helped her up and shooed Deacon and Mac away.

“We’ll need you to undress, at least down to your waist, and lay face down. Curie will hold your head in place, I will do the procedure, and Carrington will monitor your functions. Mister MacCready, Deacon and Tom can stay, but they need to move to the other side of the room and at least wear surgical masks. We are opening up your head, after all.”

“Yeah, uh...I’ll be headed out to hang with Garvey. You guys don’t need me right now anyway, right? Ha...yeah...save those little creepers for me though.” Tinker Tom was backing out of the room with a look of stark terror on his face. Mac frowned at him as he went and glanced over at Deacon.

Deacon sighed, “He’s...he’s not good with blood. It’s part of why he almost never leaves HQ.” He walked over to a chair against the wall and sat down.

Mac dragged his chair over and flopped down next to him. He still felt less than useless in this situation, but at least he was pretty sure Deacon felt the same way. Misery loves company and all that.

Curie brought them their surgical masks while Amari and Carrington washed up, then moved a rolling curtain in front of Nora’s gurney. Mac didn’t like the idea of not being able to see her, but at least with Curie there he knew she’d be safe. Curie was terrifying deep down, after all. Nothing would get between her and her beloved Madame.

He sighed and put the stupid mask on. Worst part was he couldn’t even smoke with the damn thing on.

“What do you think their game plan with this thing was anyway?” Mac kept his voice low and Deacon responded in kind.

“Hard to tell. Maybe he wanted to incapacitate her? Maybe it’s another experiment? Maybe it had a benign purpose but they fucked it up. Who knows? She said he always thinks he’s right, that they’re all like that. They do countless experiments and studies and no one ever actually checks the work.” He chuckled. “You should have heard her and Curie ranting about the perils of not properly following the scientific method.”

Mac laughed softly behind his mask. “Yeah, I can imagine.”

Deacon sat back in his chair, a perfect imitation of casual lounging. “Was she...off from the start? When she first came back?”

Mac shook his head, “I don’t know. I...I figured she was in shock. It seemed like shock. She was cold and had been through so much. Couldn’t fault her for just wanting to sleep. She seemed like she might be okay, then she fixed her Pipboy and said she felt wrong. Her hands kept getting colder though. That was weird. Even when she was almost herself.”

“Hmm...definitely sounds like an experiment to me. I’ve never heard of any implant that causes this kind of shit.” He got out a cigarette and almost lit it before catching himself. “Fuck. I don’t know what to do with my hands right now.”

Mac crossed his arms. He was having the same problem. Both men’s eyes tracked Carrington as he walked towards the gurney, a syringe with an impossibly huge needle in his hands.

“Deacon, what the fu-frick is that?”

“I...I think it’s the nerve block?” He sounded like he might be sick.

Curie’s voice drifted towards them. “Alright, Madame, you must be very still now. Docteur Carrington is going to slide the needle into your spinal column, yes? It will pinch a bit.”

“Fuck…” Deacon leaned forward, his head in his hands.

Mac bit the inside of his cheek to keep from yelling at the eggheads when he heard Nora’s pained whimper from behind the curtain. They were helping her. They had to hurt her to help. Shooting the place up wouldn’t do any good.

“Tres bon, Madame! You did very well. Yes. Now there will be a cooling sensation along your nervous system while it takes effect. Oh?” Curie paused, “Yes, it is alright, Madame. You may squeeze my hand as hard as you like for as long as you can, but soon you will go numb...ah! There you go. I will place your hand right here, yes? Now I will braid your hair to get it out of the way, then hold your head in place for Docteur Amari so that she may begin the procedure. She has beautiful hands. I am sure everything will be fine. Oh, Madame. Your hair is very soft! Soyeux, yes? Like silk.”

Amari’s amused voice floated over to them, “Curie, we need her to talk, dear.”

“Ah, yes, of course. Pardon. Madame, please tell us of...ah...oh! When you rescued moi from the vault!”

Mac and Deacon could just barely hear Nora’s voice murmuring over the hum of the machines and the quiet commands given by Amari to Carrington and Curie. Occasionally there would be a quiet sort of cry, followed by Curie’s gentle reassurances. Mac mirrored Deacon’s stance and pulled at his hair to keep from screaming. He was pretty sure he was going to lose his fucking mind if this shit wasn’t over soon.

Chapter Text

Deacon had abandoned his chair and been pacing for the better part of an hour. It was starting to piss off MacCready and he briefly entertained the idea of asking the other man to step outside. He knew it was stupid, but he really, really needed to hit something right now. Anything.

Finally, Curie moved the curtain back out of the way. Nora was lying motionless on the gurney, still face down. There was a gauze pad on the back of her neck and Amari came over to them, removing her gloves and looking tired but pleased.

Mac stood as she approached, “How’d it go, Doc?”

She smiled, “Very well. I’ve given her a dose of preventative antibiotics. Carrington is going to remove the trackers now before the nerve block wears off, and then we’ll administer a Stimpak and she should be fine after some rest. Curie will give the implant to Tom for further investigation, but her brain activity already looks better than it did. I’ve never encountered an implant like this one, although it’s obviously Institute work. It’s very odd...almost like the implant was trying to slow her nervous system somehow? But I have no idea why. It looks like it may have been damaged at one point, which is probably what caused it to malfunction. At least, I assume it’s a malfunction. Sedating her to the point of being near comatose doesn’t seem to serve any purpose.”

Mac ripped his mask off, “It was sedating her?” Those little enraged dots were back, dancing before his eyes.

Amari nodded. “Yes, at least, that’s what it looks like. As I said, we’ll know more after Tom takes it apart.” She looked at Deacon. “She’s your agent, so I am entrusting her to your care. She needs rest and should not be moved after she’s taken upstairs. For at least a week. If she feels better by then, bring her to Goodneighbor. If not, send for me. Carrington or Curie can handle her aftercare.”

Deacon shook her hand, “Yeah, thanks. Once again you’ve performed a miracle, doc. We won’t forget it.”

She smiled, “See that you don’t.”

Somehow, Curie had been able to convince Nora to take a full dose of Med-X after her surgery to combat the vicious headache that followed. It made moving her upstairs to the general’s quarters a lot easier, in Mac’s opinion. Carrington cleaned up while Garvey escorted Doctor Amari back to Goodneighbor. Tinker Tom had run off somewhere, happy with his little jars full of silvery bits of crap. Deacon was back to his Minutemen disguise, skulking around the Castle. Curie was off to ‘inspect the troops’, whatever that meant. Mac didn’t want to know.

His last time in the Castle, he’d stayed in the large bunkhouse they’d built for the Minutemen who needed a place to sleep between patrols. Nora hadn’t needed him to guard her while in her own base of operations. This time, though, he decided to stay with her. Her bed was far comfier than the old army cots anyway.

Deacon had carried her up the stairs from the old armory, but Mac had been the one to tuck her in tightly. He’d waited until everyone else had left before laying on the blanket next to her. He wanted to be right there when she woke up, so he could see if it was really Nora or if her son’s experiments had somehow damaged her. Amari and Curie had both reassured him she would be fine, but Mac never trusted his luck. Until he saw her eyes open himself, he wasn’t going to believe it.

He heard some idiot somewhere playing reveille and he rolled his eyes. Of course. Of course they’d be playing that shit. The last time he’d heard that crap, he’d been in the Capital Wasteland as a kid, those obnoxious eyebots blasting it at 7am sharp every morning. No matter how many the kids of Little Lamplight shot down, more always showed up. He wondered where Preston had managed to scrounge up someone who knew how to play it, or if it was just a recording.

Nora frowned a bit in her sleep and turned toward Mac. He could see her eyes darting behind her eyelids and breathed a sigh of relief. Curie had told him dreaming would help her brain repair itself. Mac wrapped his arms around her and hoped they were good dreams, at least.

Curie appeared around nine with breakfast for him on a tray. She held a finger up to her lips when he went to thank her, and he nodded in understanding. Everyone had agreed Nora needed all the sleep she could get at this point. Curie checked her pulse, watched her breathing for a moment, then smiled at Mac and left as silently as she’d arrived.

Mac reached over Nora to the tray and grabbed a biscuit off of it. It would have to do. There was no way in hell he was moving from his spot, no matter how good the coffee smelled. The hours ticked by. Occasionally a head would poke into her chambers, usually either Deacon or Curie. At noon, she brought another tray and frowned at how little he’d eaten for breakfast. She looked like she wanted to scold him but couldn’t since she didn’t want to disturb her patient. Mac rolled his eyes at her and she huffed and left after checking Nora’s vitals again.

Finally, around mid afternoon, Nora’s eyes opened for the first time since the surgery. Mac stared intently at her face, looking for any change in her. She sat up slowly and rubbed her eyes. He sat, too, and tried not to blink.

Then she finally looked at him, really looked at him. She studied his face with that wonderful focused look and tilted her head, frowning. “My goodness, Mac. You better watch yourself or your face is liable to stick that way.”

Mac whooped and she jumped at the sound. He pulled her into a hug and laughed while he cried against her hair.

She started laughing, too, “Land sakes, honey. You almost had me out of my skin.” Her arms wrapped around him and he could feel her thumb rubbing back and forth against his back. Who knew he could so happy with her fidgeting?

He pulled back and cradled her face with his hands. “Do you feel alright, boss? Back to you?”

Nora placed a warm hand on his and smiled. “I feel right as rain. Head hurts a bit, but I reckon that’s to be expected.” She stared at the tears on his face, seemingly confused. “Mac, why are you crying?”

“I...are you kidding? I’m just so relieved, Nora. I…”, There it was. Another moment he could say it. He didn’t know why he kept holding back, he just did. “...you had me pretty freaked out, is all. Deacon, too. We were all worried.”

Something flickered in her eyes, just for a second. A very slight shuffling. “Oh...oh, of course.” She smiled politely at him. “I’m sorry for worrying y’all. Um...would you mind fetching Curie, please? I want to make sure I’m allowed to eat and get out of bed and all that.” She had slid back out of his embrace and was fiddling with the ring on her finger.

His arms felt empty without her there. Something was still off. It was definitely the old Nora, but there was something else there now, too. “Yeah...yeah, sure, boss. I’ll go grab her right away.” He slipped out of her quarters, trying to figure out what the slightly closed off look on her face meant, and ran to get Curie.

By the time he’d tracked down Curie, Deacon had tracked him. So they all three ended up returning to Nora’s room.

She was still sitting where Mac had left her, pulling her hair out of its braid and threading her fingers through it absentmindedly, like she was puzzling something out. Mac saw the tension drain out of Deacon when he saw her like that and felt that kick of jealousy in his gut when she smiled beautifully at the tall man and held her arms out for a hug.

Deacon carefully sat next to her and gave her a quick squeeze before pulling back and carefully examining her face, just as Mac had done. He finally smiled at her.

“Hey, there you are, Professor. I was worried someone had replaced you with fool’s gold.” He tugged lightly on a tendril of her long hair and she rolled her eyes at him. Apparently it was some inside joke.

Mac struggled to keep his face neutral. Well...that was just fine.

“Pardon, Monsieur Deacon. I have a patient to see.” Curie tapped Deacon’s shoulder and he kissed Nora’s forehead before standing and moving out of her way.

Yup, that was fine, too.

Curie had a light out and was shining it in Nora’s eyes, nodding at the way her eyes dilated and constricted. “Your wrist, please, Madame.”

Nora smiled rather indulgently at the woman. “Here you are, Curie. Your bedside manner is coming along real nice, honey.”

Mac watched Curie blush and puff up a little at that. “Ah, Madame. There you go again. Saying things that make poor little Curie’s heart flutter.” She moved her hand from Nora’s wrist so that their fingers intertwined and held her hand. “Please squeeze my hand. Ah, good. Are you feeling better? Any dizziness or pain?”

“Just a bit of a headache. Right across the top of my head. Amari mentioned migraines as an acceptable temporary side effect.”

Curie nodded, “Oui, she did. However, if the pain gets worse, please let me know, yes? There is nothing more vital than the health of your brain.”

Nora chuckled, “Yes, I agree. Merci, Curie.”

“De rein, Madame.”

Chapter Text

Mac frowned as another Minuteman arrived at Nora’s door, a stack of paperwork in his arms.

Apparently when Preston had heard Nora needed rest, what he’d really heard was ‘someone else is here to do all your paperwork for you’. Mac folded his arms and leaned against the wall, glaring at the mountain of paper that was currently engulfing Nora’s desk. He didn’t think it was right. When the brain doctor told you to get rest, Mac had figured she meant you rest everything, not just your body. He’d been overruled by both Nora and Curie though, and then got fussed at by Curie for upsetting Madame with his arguing. He was trying to make peace with the idea that he was just going to have to resign himself to giving the stink eye to every jerk who came and dropped more shit off for her to look over.

Nora was into day four of her official convalescence. Deacon was still skulking about, and occasionally he brought her little presents to brighten her day. Things like tiny shells from the beach, random cats from all over the Castle and once even a genuine message in a bottle. She was delighted every time he showed up, her face lighting up like Christmas, and Mac was trying real hard to not take it personally.

Especially since stuff was still weird between them.

Mac had been kicked out of her room before that first night. He was pretty sure it was actually Nora who’d wanted him back in the bunkhouse, and not Curie, despite it being an ‘official’ request from her personal physician. Curie had quite reasonably pointed out that Madame needed rest and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She’d hovered over him while he gathered his things, Nora hiding in her private bathroom the whole time.

So now Mac showed up at her door every morning, promptly at reveille, and he left only when taps was played over the intercom. He could tell Nora was uncomfortable with him being there. She hardly ever looked at him and the friendly banter they’d always enjoyed had vanished. Mac didn’t care though. He wasn’t going to run away with his tail tucked between his legs. If she wanted him to leave, she was going to have to suck it up and tell him directly. He spent most of his time pretending to sharpen already sharp knives and stealing glances at her when he knew she wasn’t paying attention.

The oddest part of the whole thing was how nice Deacon had started being to him. The teasing had all but vanished, and he kept getting pats on the shoulder or slaps on the back at random times. Once at a urinal, even, which he did not appreciate. The whole situation was screwy any way you looked at it and it was causing his temper to simmer quietly under the surface, but he’d already been warned off by Curie and her intense glare about arguing with Nora, so he was biding his time. A week wasn’t too long. The day she was cleared, they were going to have it out and he was going to get to the bottom of this bullshit.

Tinker Tom had been busy. He’d not only been working on piecing the mystery of Nora’s implant together, he’d been working on her stealth suit, too. It had been slightly damaged in the attack on the Gunner’s and Curie had somehow got it back to him. She’d came in on the fifth day, excitedly twirling it around for Nora to see how the light sparkled on it.

“Is it not lovely, Madame! Monsieur Tom has added an extra layer of his wonderful ballistic weave! Also, he said he’s found a way to help the suit redistribute the force from impacts, so you should be able to withstand far greater damage without actually getting hurt! Is he not a marvel, Madame? So brilliant!” She laid the suit out on Nora’s bed, smoothing it out. Mac casually looked over and noticed for the first time that the front of the suit’s silver threading on its front was in the shape of a Minutemen star.

Nora touched the suit and traced along one of the lines. “Yes, he is. I imagine that’s why they wanted him in Advanced Systems so badly.”

Curie clucked sadly. “Such a terrible tragedy to befall such a kind man, don’t you think? I do not know why the Institute cannot simply ask people to join them.”

“It’s not their way, Curie. They never ask anything, they just assume.” Nora sighed.

“They are terrible scientists, Madame. Especially for the descendants of such brilliant people.”

“Yes, they are, darlin’. That’s what happens when you believe in science but forget ethics. It’s a good lesson for us all.”

Curie nodded seriously, “Ah, yes, indeed. The Vault-Tec scientists...they had this problem also, I think.”

Nora snorted a little, “Yes. Yes, they did.” She held up the suit’s mask. “This feels heavier.”

“Yes, Monsieur Tom said he’s added special sensors! He thinks they will be able to penetrate a stealth field.”

She frowned at the girl. “Thinks it will? He didn’t test it?”

“Well, yes, he said he did...but he said he was not sure if the Institute had more advanced stealthboys than he did.”

“Oh...hmm. I don’t think they did? They never seemed different, anyway. I think the ones he and Carrington created work better, actually.” Nora set the mask down and returned to her desk. “Could you please put it on my dresser and thank Tom for me next time you check in with him? I’ll test it properly when I get cleared by Amari.”

“Oui, madame. It would be my pleasure.” She began to carefully fold the suit before moving it. “I was not sure of Monsieur Tom at first with his wild theories and ah...haphazard laboratory practices, but he is truly fascinating, yes? A great mind.” She sighed wistfully, “I would love to study it in detail...do you think he would let me have it, if I asked?”

Nora blinked at her, “Post mortem?”

Curie nodded.

She shrugged, “Never hurts to ask, I suppose. Just...be sure he knows you want it after he dies, honey. He’s skittish, you know.”

“Ah, yes, of course.” Curie saw Mac and her eyes widened a bit. He waved in return. “Ah! Monsieur MacCready! I did not even see you there!”

“Hey, Curie.” Mac resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Where the hell else would he be?

She was staring at him with that focused look she shared with Nora. It was endearing when Nora did it. It was mildly terrifying on Curie, though. “You…you are a wonderful specimen, Monsieur MacCready.”

He tipped his hat back and looked at her. You could never tell where this kind of talk was going to go with her. “Oh, yeah? Thanks...I guess.”

Nora was steadfastly ignoring their exchange, diligently working out the details on some stupid trade agreement or calculating how many outhouses some bumfuck settlement needed, no doubt.

Curie stepped a bit closer to him, eyes sparkling a little. Some men would probably be drawn in by that, if they didn’t know her. Mac did, however, so he just waited. “I was wondering if you were interested in helping me further my scientific research?”

Nora’s head whipped up and around, met Mac’s eyes briefly, and then immediately went back to her work. Mac noticed she was no longer writing though. Her thumb was quietly tapping her desk. She was listening, focused. That was interesting. He narrowed his eyes at Nora before smiling at Curie.

“Sure, Curie, I’m down. Always happy to help, or whatever, right?”, he tried to keep the sarcasm out of his voice when he said it. The Minutemen’s motto was corny as fuck.

She clapped and started for the door, “Oh! Oh, I am so glad! It will only take un instant for me to collect my equipment!”

“Curie? Remember what we talked about, honey.” Nora looked up at her and smiled for a second. “Informed consent, remember?”

“Ah, yes, of course. Pardon.” She turned back to MacCready. “Monsieur MacCready, my study is entitled: The effects of possible radiation-induced mutations on the reproductive abilities of Homo Sapiens Apocalyticum. It is very important work for the continuation of humanity’s survival in the Wasteland, yes? I will ah...I will need to see to your physical health and have you answer a few questions. Also I will need a blood sample. Is this acceptable?”

Mac blinked. “Uh...yeah, sure. That sounds...acceptable.” He was starting to worry a bit about what he’d agreed to.

“Wonderful! Wait just a moment, s’il vous plait!” She dashed out of the room.

There was a long moment of silence. Mac thought maybe Nora was trying to not giggle.

“You um...you’re a real peach to help her out. I didn’t know you had any interest in science, Mac.”

Yeah, she was definitely trying to not giggle. Mac shot her his best smile, “Well, I’m a man of many interests, boss. I’m all about that science stuff. Never understood it much, but it’s still pretty neat.”

Nora looked at him directly for what seemed like the first time in days. He could see the sass in her eyes and loved it enough to ignore the warning bells in his head.

“That’s wonderful, honey. The first step in acquiring knowledge is to have a curious and open mind.” She turned back to her paperwork, smiling to herself.

Mac was about to ask her to explain exactly what it was Curie was actually doing when the scientist burst into the room, hands full of medical instruments and what looked like a journal.

“Ah, here we are! Oh! I am so excited, Monsieur MacCready!” She dumped everything out on the table next to Mac. “You know, I asked Monsieur Deacon to participate but he said he was too busy. And Monsieur Preston, he was happy to help, then in the middle of my examination, he suddenly had something come up!”

Nora’s chuckle snort startled Mac. She now had her head pillowed in her arms while her shoulders shook with laughter. He looked up at Curie and she shrugged.

He cleared his throat, “So uh...what do I have to do, Curie?”

She pulled a measuring tape from her pocket and set it on the table. “First, I would like to do some measurements, please. Would you mind standing up?”

“Uh...sure…”, Mac stood slowly. Nora was still chortling and couldn’t seem to stop.

“Ah...hmm. Monsieur MacCready, would you mind removing your shirt?”

Mac swallowed. “My shirt? Why?”

Curie smiled reassuringly at him, “I need to gather data on your overall physicality so that my results can be accurate. Do not worry, no harm will come to you from the examination.”

“Oh...okay.” Mac removed his hat, then his duster, and handed them to Curie. She set them down on the table and waited patiently while he unbuttoned his shirt.

“My! Such marvelous musculature, Monsieur MacCready! You are ah...how do they say it...wiry, yes? Strong but slender, too.” She pressed the palm of her hand to his chest and pushed very lightly, frowning. “Hmm, you do look a little malnourished. That could be because you do not take proper care of yourself, or a carryover from your days of growing up in subpar conditions.” She removed her hand and Mac let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. Her hands were soft and delicate like Nora’s. His body apparently couldn’t tell the difference, no matter what his mind was screaming at it.

She picked up the journal and flipped it open, clicking a pen as she did. “Alright, let me just make a few notes here...ah, Madame, would you agree he has sustained damage to approximately ten percent of his body?”

Nora looked up, eyes glowing with mirth. “M’hmm. Ten percent is a good figure, honey.”

Curie set the notebook down for a moment and picked up the tape. “Alright, Monsieur MacCready. Now I will measure your height and weight and then get that sample from you.”

Mac held himself perfectly still as she took her measurements and drew a vial of his blood. He was starting to think maybe this wouldn’t be so terrible after all.

She had an odd ruler kind of thing now, and was busy pinching his muscles in random spots with it, oohing and aahing to herself, tutting over his scars, and then scribbling down little numbers in her book. Finally she sat in his vacated chair and smiled up at him. “Alright, wonderful! I will just need to ask a few questions now before my final examination and then we will be all done!”

Mac ran his hand through his hair. He usually didn’t care about this kind of thing, but it felt weird standing next to Curie half naked while Nora watched them. “Sure, Curie, shoot.”

“Alright, where were you born?”

“The...the Capital Wasteland. I thought Nora told you that.”

“Oui, she did, but I must ask all the questions on my survey, even the ones to which I think I know the answers to. That is how science works. You never assume.” She wrote his answer down and continued on. “Now, your age please?”

“Twenty-two.”

“Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I...I have no idea. Maybe?”

“Hmm...have you successfully impregnated anyone?”

Mac rubbed his hand across his face. He was starting to get a little suspicious of her questions. “Yeah, yeah, I did.”

“Ah, and of this, was a child successfully carried to term?”

He sighed, “Yes.”

“Is the child still alive?”

“Yeah...I mean, I hope he is.”

Nora had stopped giggling. She was now tapping her pen.

“Ah...Madame has mentioned he is ill. Was his overall health good before?”

Mac swallowed hard and nodded. “Yeah...yeah, he was never sick. Lu...my wife was a medic. She kept him healthy.”

Curie blinked, “Ah, that I did not know! How wonderful! How is your wife’s health?”

The pen tapping stopped. Uncomfortable silence filled the room and Curie seemed puzzled as Mac looked down at his boots instead of answering her.

“Sa femme est morte, Curie. Next question.” Nora’s voice was gentle but firm. She did not look at him.

“Ah... je suis desole. You have my condolences, Monsieur MacCready...and my apologies.” Curie looked uncomfortable for the first time Mac had ever known her.

He shoved his hands in his pockets and shrugged, “It’s alright, Curie. Don’t worry about it. Thanks though.”

She nodded, “Alright, that just leaves one last question. At what age were you first sexually active with yourself and also with a partner?”

“Wh...what?” Mac blinked at her.

Curie blinked back. “Which part of the question is confusing, please?”

Nora was quietly giggling again.

Mac cleared his throat, “Um...I guess...none of it.” He took a deep breath. “Fine, okay. It was...I was maybe, I dunno...ten?”

She jotted it down, “And the first age at which you had sexual contact with a partner?”

“I...uh...twelve...maybe?”

Nora whispered something under her breath. It sounded a lot like ‘lord almighty’.

Curie was nodding though. “Yes, this seems to be the average age at which most boys become active in the Commonwealth. Very interesting. A bit earlier than in homo sapien sapien. Hmm...I wonder if it is because of the lower life expectancy or due to a cultural shift?”

“Probably both, honey. One can cause the other.” Nora was back to writing and ignoring Mac entirely.

“Oui, this is also a possibility.” She was busy writing notes in her little book.

Mac was starting to get cold, “Uh...are we done here, Curie?”

Curie smiled brightly at him. She really was quite beautiful...for someone who collected body parts, anyway “Nearly, Monsieur MacCready. Now I just need to take my final measurements. You have been a wonderful test subject so far! Please remove your pants.”

Mac closed his eyes for a calming second and felt like a dope for not seeing this coming. Nora had turned in her chair and was now looking at him with a mischievous grin and sparkling eyes, an eyebrow raised as if daring him to continue.

He was beginning to see why Nate had had such a problem with her being sassy.

“Do what now?” He tore his eyes away from Nora and stared Curie down hard.

She didn’t seem to notice as she was putting on gloves. “Your pants, please. They must be off if I am to measure your penis and testicles.” She now had the tape measure in her hand.

There was no way in hell Mac was going to do this. Absolutely not. He had nothing to be ashamed of, of course, but it was the principle of the thing. If he was getting his dick out, it sure as hell wasn’t for science.

Then he looked at Nora. At the cat that ate the canary look on her face. The smugness in her eyes and the fact that she was clearly biting her lip to keep from laughing at him. She didn’t think he’d have the balls to do this. She was just waiting for him to get embarrassed and refuse. She’d known all about Curie’s little tests and let her rope him into them as a joke. That settled it.

He narrowed his eyes at her and started undoing his belt.

Chapter Text

Mac was wondering what, exactly, he’d done to deserve this kind of treatment from the universe.

After dropping trou for Curie and smirking at Nora while the scientist ooh’ed and aah’ed at him, he really thought he’d won. That blush he loved so much had creeped into her face and the smug look had been replaced by mild shock. The satisfaction he’d felt had been enough to get through Curie’s careful examination and measurements.

But then, the little egghead just had to go and open her mouth one more time.

“I am so appreciative, Monsieur MacCready! Truly! You are the first specimen to agree to the final examination! All others either said ‘non’ or had sudden business to attend to! To think I had to go through thirty seven specimens before finding you. Such a waste! It will be much easier now, I think. Now when I am asked if anyone else has agreed to it, I can say ‘oui’!”

Mac had opened his mouth but no words had come. Nora had started laughing so hard he thought she might fall out of her chair. Curie, as usual, looked befuddled but nonplussed by the whole affair.

He had to admit, it was mildly humiliating. He still felt like he’d been tricked somehow.

In the end, Curie had skipped off, happy with her new data. Nora had finally quieted down and returned to her work, while Mac slumped back down into his chair and tried to figure out a good alternative for throttling a certain someone. Then, all too soon, taps was played. Preston arrived at the door to wish Nora goodnight and then waited until MacCready got up and ambled over, as he always did.

Preston never said much to him directly, but the silent pat on the shoulder every night was oddly comforting. He was a much simpler man than Deacon, so when he used a friendly gesture, you at least knew it was genuinely friendly. They walked in companionable silence to the bunkhouse. Just two more days until the week was up. That’s all Mac had to get through.

The next morning, promptly after reveille, Mac knocked politely on Nora’s door. He heard her undo the ancient lock and then let himself in when she didn’t actually open the door. Nora was already getting back in bed by the time he closed the door behind him.

That was weird. She usually went right to her paperwork.

Mac went to his usual chair and sat down, taking out his whetstone and a random knife he’d swiped off a Minuteman recruit. He watched Nora snuggle back under her covers, her back to him, of course.

“You not sleeping well, boss?”

Her voice was muffled, “It’s fine. I’m fine.”

He made a pass over the blade with the stone. It sounded oddly loud in the otherwise silent room. “Isn’t that why you kicked me out? So you could sleep?” It took effort, but he kept the hurt out of his voice.

“You weren’t kicked out. This was never your room to begin with. You can’t be kicked out of a room that isn’t yours.”

He frowned. Her voice had that prickly tone she usually reserved for when she discussed raiders or super mutant threats. “You got me there.” Another pass. “Been having bad dreams or something?”

An irritable sigh filled her side of the room. “No, I...it’s fine.”

He checked the edge with his thumb before continuing on the other side. “If you’re getting, uh, overstimulated or whatever with your paperwork, I can do that thing, you know. Lay on you until you sleep or whatever. It’s no big deal.”

She abruptly sat up in bed, hair everywhere and turned to glare at him. “Mac, why are you here?”

He stared at her. It had been days since he’d seen her hair down. She was flushed and beautiful and it took his brain a second to process her question. “What...what do you mean? Where else would I be?”

Nora noticed him staring at her even without her glasses and pulled the blanket up to her chest. “I mean, you no longer work for me. Why aren’t you headed home to your little boy, honey?”

Mac frowned at her tone. She sounded angry at him. “I...you know why. I have to get a cure for him first.”

“I gave you ten thousand caps. You can afford to hire whoever you need to search for a cure, or take Duncan to the best doctors around.”

It was the first time Nora had mentioned his ‘severance pay’, as she’d called it. Mac opened his mouth to argue but then suddenly realized she was right. He could afford to hire an entire army to take out the ferals at Med-Tec now. Trust wasn’t an issue when those kinds of caps were on the table. He only had one reason to stay in the Commonwealth still. At least, he’d thought he had.

Nora sighed and looked away from him. Anger had always seemed to drain out of her quickly. Now she just looked sad and tired. “Mac, you should go home.” Her voice was soft, almost completely devoid of emotion.

Panic skittered up Mac’s spine. He’d known something was wrong this whole week, but he’d never thought it would be this. That she wouldn’t want him around anymore. Nick had said her firing him had been a good thing, that it meant Nora wanted him and not just his gun, but it sure seemed like the old bucket of bolts had been wrong on that one.

Mac felt like some little kid, completely out of his depth. Every time he thought he had a handle on life with Nora, everything went sideways. He opened his mouth again to try to get something, anything to come out, when there was someone suddenly pounding on Nora’s door.

She took a deep breath, grabbed her glasses from the side table and sat up straighter in bed, “Come in.”

Ronnie burst in, followed by a troubled looking Curie and Deacon, who took one look at Nora and Mac and immediately frowned at Mac.

Oh, yeah, sure, like this was his fault.

“General, we’ve got Institute agents comin’ in hot. Preston’s out there trying to keep the men from pissin’ themselves while we have this little pow-wow. What are your orders?” Ronnie had her laser musket and looked all too eager to use it.

“What? How many?” Nora immediately swung out of bed, suddenly a general, even in her nightgown.

“There’s about fifteen Gen-1’s, boss.” Deacon took a deep breath. “...and at least two coursers.”

Nora paled, “At least two? You aren’t sure if there’s more?”

Curie spoke up, “We counted two. We cannot confirm there weren’t others already using stealth.”

Nora was nodding to herself. “Right...right. Where are they coming in from?”

Ronnie snorted, “They’re waltzing right up to the gate, General. Like they own the damn place.”

Mac noticed Nora’s left thumb was tapping out some beat on her thigh. She had the focused face on, staring into nothing.

The silence stretched on until finally Deacon slipped his hand into hers and spoke up, softly, “Professor?”

Nora blinked and it was like she was suddenly a different person. “Right. Ronnie, tell the men to line the wall. Snipers on the side we know they’re coming in on but do not leave the other sides defenseless. I want the gate closed and barred. No one goes out to them, understood? Tell Preston to stay in the courtyard...he should have his gatling laser. If the door is breached, have him to lay down suppressive fire. All non-military personnel should be evacuated into the armory and the door sealed. I want you there, Ronnie, try to keep the panic down.” Ronnie saluted and headed out. “Curie, I know you hate fighting, sug, but I need you to grab your rifle and go downstairs to Tom’s workspace. You’ll be our last line of defense should they try to snatch him again.” Curie had that terrifying look on her face Mac had seen on the Gunner overpass as she nodded and quickly left the room.

“Where do you want me, boss?” Deacon was grinning at her in a feral sort of way.

Nora grinned back, “Right above the gate, honey. They’re here for a reason. See if you can’t trick them into telling us what it is.”

“On it like Blue Bonnet.” Deacon took off.

Nora took a deep breath and looked at MacCready, “You should stay here. You aren’t a Minuteman. This isn’t your fight.” She took a step towards her dresser and he grabbed her arm.

“Are you fu-freaking crazy? You should stay here. You’re supposed to be taking it easy. I’ll go. What happens to the Minutemen if they lose their general?”

She turned to him and looked down at his hand until he released her. There was a resolved kind of anger in her eyes. “Then Preston or Ronnie assumes the title, of course.”

He didn’t like how flat her voice sounded. Almost like she didn’t care what happened to her. “I...I’m going up on the wall, Nora. Stay put. Please.”

She sighed irritably and looked away. Mac grabbed his rifle and headed out, closing the door behind him.

He bounded up the stairs and headed in the direction of Deacon’s voice. He was playing the part of bumbling idiot. Mac thought it suited him perfectly.

“Howdy!” Deacon was waving like a dork. “Y’all sure are up bright and early! Plan on joining the Minutemen today?”

Some of the men on the wall snickered despite their obvious nerves. Mac smiled to himself. Clearly Deacon’s act wasn’t just for the Institute.

One of the men clad in all black stepped forward. Mac figured he must be a courser. Didn’t look so scary to him. Last guy he’d seen in an outfit like that had done nothing scarier than hand over paperwork. The rest of their posse looked like it was composed of flimsy robots. Pfft. Easy.

“We have come to retrieve Institute property. You will release it to us or we will come in and take it by force.” He had that same automaton voice that the guy who’d zapped himself into Nora’s had. Mac wondered if they were like that to be deliberately creepy or if the Institute just didn’t care.

Deacon pushed his hat back and scratched his head like he was really thinking hard. “Institute property, huh? Hmm...nope, don’t think we’ve got any of that here.” He looked around at the men and women on the wall. “Any of y’all got any of that Institute property on you? Come on, everybody, check your pockets.”

More of the Minutemen laughed. The expression on the coursers’ faces never changed. Deacon was playing his part to perfection but Mac noticed there was a muscle in his neck that was twitching just a little. He may look relaxed and full of ignorant confidence, but the man was terrified. Mac scowled down at the Institute agents. Coursers might be more of a threat than he’d realized. He quietly knelt down by Deacon’s side and flipped the safety off his rifle.

The other courser stepped forward. “The head of the Institute demands you return the remains of the woman known as Eleanor Joan Cabot so that she may receive a proper burial.”

Mac looked up at Deacon. He’d gone perfectly still for a split second before shivering slightly. Why did the Institute think Nora was dead?

“Hmm. Well, that’s gonna be a tough order to fill, boys. We don’t have the remains of anyone who goes by that name.” He paused. “How about y’all leave us your phone number or somethin’, and we’ll call you if anything turns up.”

The coursers now wore matching expressions of irritation. “Are you saying you will not willingly hand over the body?”

Deacon put a hand on his hip, “I’m telling you there is no body.”

Mac watched the two coursers confer quietly with each other when a flash by the water caught his eye. He blinked and looked a bit harder but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Maybe he’d just imagined it? It had looked like the sunlight on the water was bouncing off the air for just a second. Weird.

It looked like one of the coursers had noticed it, too, though. The blond one had held up his hand and was staring at the spot with narrowed eyes. The other courser turned and looked, too. Mac saw Deacon ready his rifle.

Eerie silence filled the air. Then the popping and snapping began. Mac watched in confusion as the Gen-1s fell to the ground suddenly like dominos, twitching as electricity rippled through their metal frames.

“There’s someone-”, the more observant, blond courser was cut off mid sentence. Blood ran from his mouth as a hole exploded in his chest, shredded organs and pink mist spraying through the air in front of him. He crumbled into the dirt as the other courser pulled out a stealth boy and rippled into nothingness.

Mac was about to try and get a shot off when Deacon held up his fist. “Hold your fire! General in the field!” To a man, the Minutemen were silent, watching the spot where the agent had vanished. Mac’s mouth was dry and he felt mildly sick. Nora was there, somewhere, with a silent predator and there was nothing he could do. Again.

Suddenly there were pebbles shifting around. It almost looked like they were moving under two sets of invisible feet. Deacon brought his rifle up, watching carefully. A scream tore through the air and Mac felt his heart sink. It was Nora.

For a split second, they could see her silhouette. She was on one knee, trying to push off from the ground. The courser had managed to hit her with a stun baton and it’s electric shock was destabilizing the stealth field generated by the suit. Then she rolled away and vanished again. Mac could tell she was on her feet, running, as little puffs of dust rose up behind her. Suddenly a grenade or ball or some kind was whizzing through the air. It collided with the invisible courser and exploded into a gelatinous mess of bright purple goo. The goo gave them a target.

“Open fire!” Deacon, Mac and the rest of the Minutemen all unloaded their weapons at the odd shape floating above the battlefield, not stopping until it lay in the dirt, unmoving. Finally the courser’s stealth boy deactivated, revealing a torn and bullet riddled body.

Nora rippled into sight. She was wearing a powerfist, which she dropped before reaching up to tear her hooded mask off to the cheers of her men. She looked hot and exhausted. Mac could see her hair was plastered to her face, actual steam was rising from her head and she was breathing hard, but she still raised a Victory salute in recognition of her men cheering.

“Well done, everyone. Deacon, please ask Preston to open the gate.” Nora was using her General voice but Mac detected a bit of a wobble in it and felt his temper snap.

He shouted down at her, “What the hell is wrong with you! You could have been killed!”

Her head snapped up and she narrowed her eyes at him before pointedly ignoring his outburst and calmly walking to the gate.

“Oh, man... how dumb are you, kid?” Deacon shook his head then yelled for Preston to open the gate.

The rest of the Minutemen were all giving him varying looks of disbelief and anger. That was fine. If he was the only non-idiot in this whole damn Castle, that was just fine. He stomped off towards Nora’s bedroom, Deacon trotting close behind and trying not to laugh.

They got there before she did. Mac could hear the men clapping and cheering her as she walked back to her quarters. He was pacing while Deacon leaned casually against her dresser. The man really was infuriating. Didn’t he care if she got herself killed?

Nora walked in, ignored MacCready and headed straight to Deacon, who helped her unzip the suit and peel it off of her. She was soaking wet under it and he ran a finger through the sweat on her back before flicking it off.

“Bit of a workout, huh, boss?”

She made a face, “No, actually. This suit feels like an oven. I was sweatin’ like a sinner in church already when I tapped you on the wall.” Deacon chuckled as she stepped out of the suit. He acted like seeing Nora in her panties and a clinging, wet tank top was no big deal and Mac wasn’t sure why, but it somehow pissed him off more than if he’d been openly ogling her.

Nora handed Deacon the suit and fanned herself with a hand. “I appreciate the modifications Tom did, but he’s gotta fix that. I feel like I’ve been steam-cleaned. If it’s this hot in December, I’m liable to get heat stroke in the thing in June. Could you be a lamb and let him know, honey? I want to take a shower.”

Deacon nodded, folding the suit over his arm. “Sure thing, Professor. I need to escort him back to HQ anyway. He won’t want to stay here once he finds out there were coursers at the gate.” He pointedly looked at Mac. “You uh...need help with anything else?”

She sighed, “No, I’m handling it.”

He frowned, “I could…”
“Deacon, I said I’m handling it, sugar. Scoot.”

“Alright, alright. I’m scootin’.” He shrugged at Mac and sauntered out the door, closing it behind him.

Mac frowned and stopped pacing, planting his feet and folding his arms over his chest.

Nora continued to ignore him and held her hair off her neck, fanning it with the other hand. She then walked to her desk, and took a can of water out of one of the drawers, drinking the entire thing and setting the empty can down carefully before finally turning to look at him directly.

Mac realized there was no one he knew in her eyes.

“If you ever speak to me in such a disrespectful manner in front of my men again, I will have you forcibly evicted from the grounds and you will not be allowed to return, do you understand?” There was an edge of steel in her voice he hadn’t even known she was capable of.

Mac didn’t know why, but he had a sinking sort of feeling in his stomach like he’d already lost this fight. He took a deep breath and decided to try being reasonable. “Nora, you could have been killed. By one of those coursers or shot by one of those goobers on the wall. You’re still supposed to be resting.”

She raised an eyebrow at him, “MacCready, do you have any concept of the destructive force of an Institute courser? One is all they need to take out an entire settlement...you can go visit the ruins of University Point if you don’t believe me; and they sent two. You can’t expect me to stay here and rest while my men fall on their swords.”

“So it’s better for you to just go out, alone, and face them? They could have torn you apart.”

She shook her head at him, “You don’t get it, honey. It doesn’t matter what happens to me anymore. My job is done. I am done. I’m not even supposed to be here. Those men have families, people who love and depend on them. I don’t. If I fall in battle, it’s fine. I become a martyr; they’ll build a statue. My friends will grieve and move on. If they die, there are families and children who would never recover.”

“What about your cousins? They’re family.”

She shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “They’ll be fine. They’re always fine.”

Mac was suddenly terrified and filled with dread. “Nora...you aren’t...you aren’t trying to get yourself killed, are you?”

She laughed but it was hollow. “I don’t have to try, darlin’. The wasteland will do it all by itself in its own sweet time.”

He walked across the room and put his hands on her shoulders. He felt her tense, but she didn’t try to move away. “Listen, I...I get it, okay? I get what you’re going through. When...when Lucy died...it was my fault. We’d gone into a subway station to sleep for the night. I should have done a better perimeter check but we had been traveling with Duncan and we were just so tired. The ferals came out of nowhere. They were on her and tearing her apart before I could even get a shot off. It took everything I had to escape with Duncan in my arms.” He took a deep breath. “Sometimes...sometimes I feel like it would have been better if Duncan and I had died with her. So, I know…”

Nora narrowed her eyes at him and stepped back. “No, you don’t. You still have your boy, Mac. You still have a chance at saving him. I have nothing. My world disintegrated to ash over two hundred years ago. My husband has been gone sixty years ; longer than he was even alive. And my baby...my sweet baby grew up to be a monster. He’s no son of mine. Not anymore.” She turned away from him, hair falling in her face so he couldn’t read it.

Mac ran a hand through his hair. “I...I don’t know what to do here. What...what can I do to help? To fix this?”

She sighed, “Just go. Go home, Mister MacCready. Go find the cure for your sweet boy and go home. Live a long and happy life with him. That’s what I want. One of us should get a happy ending, at least.”

He took a step toward her but she immediately stepped back. “Nora, please, baby…”

She shook her head and wrapped her arms around herself. “I have to take a shower now. You should go. Goodbye, Mister MacCready.”

Chapter Text

Mac wasn’t sure how he did it, but he held it together. He had his best poker face on while he walked across the courtyard among the celebrating Minutemen, ignored Preston’s friendly salute, gathered his pack from the bunkhouse and headed for the gate. He was completely on autopilot and had no idea anyone had been calling his name until someone grabbed his arm.

It was Deacon, of course, a nervous looking Tinker Tom on his coattails.

“Hey, where you goin’, kid?” His face fell a bit when he finally got a good look at Mac. “Whoa...what’s going on, RJ?”

Mac shook his head. Deacon was the last person on earth he wanted to talk about this with. “Nothing. I’m going to Bunker Hill and then...then I’ll be headed home. Maybe I’ll see you around if you’re ever back out that way.”

Deacon’s hand briefly tightened on his arm before he let him go. “Kid...come on. What happened? What’d you do?” It was the caring voice of ‘Johnny’, as Mac had once known him.

He sighed. “Nothing. It’s...whatever. It’s fine. She just got tired of me, I guess? I don’t know. She’s...I dunno, man. I thought...and Nick said, but…”, he knew he was making no sense but he still couldn’t think straight. If Deacon didn’t leave him alone he was going to start crying in front of him and then he’d want to walk straight into the ocean.

Deacon was watching him over his glasses. His eyes narrowed and he nodded. “Yeah, okay. Hey, it’s okay, kid. Look...Amari didn’t mention it in front of Nora, but she said there was a possibility of her emotions being...unstable while she recovered. That’s probably all it is. She’s just...not herself right now.” He frowned a little. “Listen, if you take off when she’s not thinking clearly, she’s going to be really upset to find you gone once she’s back to normal, right? Why don’t you hole up in the bunkhouse for today. Keep a low profile. I’ll talk to her once I get back and we’ll see if we can’t get this sorted out, okay?”

Mac studied Deacon’s face. He really wished just once he’d take off those stupid sunglasses. “I don’t get it, man. Why are you being so nice to me all of a sudden?”

“Hey, I have always been nice to you!” He smiled and Mac just glared at him in return. Deacon shrugged, “Or, maybe it’s because I love that little vaultsicle and I want to make sure she’s happy. You seem to make her happy, sometimes,” he grinned in an infuriating sort of way. “She could do a lot worse than you...I guess. I mean, she’d have to work at it, but still.”

“I...yeah, sure. Fine. I guess I can wait a day.” A day, a week, what did it matter?

Deacon slapped him on the back. “Fantastic, man! I’ll be back tonight and talk to Nora around dinner, alright? Then I’ll come tell you what’s up. How’s that? I’ll be your personal Cupid on this one. Just call me the Love Doctor.” He waggled his eyebrows at him and Mac rolled his eyes and wondered for a second how Deacon avoided being punched every day of his life.

“Whatever, man.” Mac turned around and headed back to the bunkhouse, a tiny spark of hope taking root in his chest. Deacon was a sonofabitch, but he was a silver-tongued sonofabitch. If he thought Mac and Nora belonged together, maybe he could convince her of it, too. Stranger things had happened.

Mac spent most of the day loafing around. He checked and rechecked his gear, cleaned his already clean rifle, avoided the glares of the Minutemen who were apparently going to hold a grudge for him yelling at their General, and wrote a letter to Duncan. He’d send it off with the cure, once he had his hands on it. It was almost Christmas. He hoped the package he’d sent a few weeks back was nearly there. Daisy’s caravans had never let him down before, but there was a first time for everything, especially with how his luck was going lately.

He’d finally seen Deacon in the mess hall. He’d returned in time for evening chow and was having a grand old time entertaining the troops with increasingly ridiculous stories. Their eyes met briefly, Deacon tipped his hat at him and hopped up, headed in the direction of Nora’s quarters. Mac took a deep breath and silently wished him luck. If anyone could get him back in  her good graces, it was Deacon.

Time ticked on by. The men who weren’t on watch played cards or retold the story of how Nora had taken out the coursers. Mac figured by the time the night was over, the story would grow to include Godzilla, too, the way they kept adding to it.

She’d been right. They would absolutely build a statue if she died.

Taps was sounded over the intercom and people began returning to the bunkhouse. Mac followed and laid on top of his bunk, staring at the ceiling and wondering how the talk was going.

The moon had risen and then disappeared from the window he was closest to when he finally got fed up with waiting. It was now past midnight. He wanted to go find Deacon, but realized he’d never actually seen him sleep at the Castle before and had no idea where his bedroll was.

Mac got up and slipped past the sleeping Minutemen. Deacon had to be somewhere.

He checked the mess hall, the latrines, the armory (apparently Ronnie slept there cuddled up next to the missles), the main lab where Curie slept. He prowled the top of the walls, nodding silently at the sentries posted there. He even went and checked the basement where Nora’s surgery had taken place. The cavernous room looked completely different emptied of all its medical equipment and the only evidence remaining was the faint scent of antiseptic cleaner left in the air.

The only room left was Nora’s, and Mac really, really didn’t want to just waltz up and knock on her door after she’d so clearly told him to scram. He found himself standing outside of it anyway, hands in his pockets, trying to not think about how easy it would be to pick the lock, when he heard it being opened.

Mac scrambled behind a stack of crates. He didn’t really know why he was hiding, but he figured it was easier than trying to come up with a plausible story as to why he’d been sniffing around her room. He watched faint light spill out, a dark figure silhouetted against it.

Nora’s voice was soft and drowsy. The last time he’d heard it like that, they’d been curled up around each other in her bed. “Goodnight, honey. Thank you.”

Deacon’s voice answered, it felt like silk even to Mac’s ears, “Any time, sweetheart. I love you.”

“I love you, too, John.”

Mac watched Deacon step out and carefully close the door behind him. Watched him light a cigarette and thanks to its faint glow he saw Deacon didn’t have a shirt on, despite the cold. He’d slipped on his stupid sunglasses before stepping out of her room, though, of course. He rolled his shoulders and stretched, sighing, before heading towards the latrines, an obnoxious kind of swagger in his walk.

It seemed pretty clear to Mac how the ‘talk’ had gone.

He wanted to feel angry. Betrayed. Enraged. Shocked. Something. Instead he felt absolutely nothing. Nothing at all.

He would go to Bunker Hill. He would get his money. He would find Duncan’s cure and then he would go home and forget the Commonwealth ever existed.

Just like she’d wanted.

Chapter Text

Mac arrived in Bunker Hill around dawn. The little community had recovered quickly from the earlier skirmish (via the limitless power of caps, no doubt) and was just starting to wake up with caravaneers bustling about in the early morning sun, readying brahmin for their routes. He rolled his eyes at their pitiful monument, tried to not think of home, and stomped his way to the bar. They were open, barely, the barkeep was still rubbing sleep out of his eyes when Mac sat on a stool.

“Bottle of whiskey and a glass.” Mac slapped a handful of caps on the counter and ignored the man’s raised eyebrow. The caps disappeared and a new bottle of whiskey with a reasonably clean glass appeared.

“Breakfast of champions, kid.” The barkeep said ‘kid’ like he meant ‘idiot’. Mac ignored that, too.

He spent an hour (and a third of the bottle) in relative peace before the man spoke to him again.

“Alright, what’s eatin’ you, kid?” He slapped his bar rag on the counter and put a hand on his hip. “You’re depressing the shit out of me with that kicked dog look on your face.”

“Jeez, Dad, lay off the guy. He’s a paying customer, you know.” A younger man with a long-suffering expression glared at him from the other end of the bar.

“Tony, you stay outta this.” He looked at Mac like he felt personally offended by his face. “Oh, I know that look. You don’t tend bar for twenty odd years without knowing a few things. It’s a girl, ain’t it?”

Mac poured himself another glass and didn’t answer.

“M’hmm. It’s a girl, alright. What happened, kid? Some hot little thing turn you down?” He tapped his fingers on the counter, thinking. It reminded Mac of Nora and he really wished the guy would fuck off already. “No...no, that ain’t it. Ah! I got it. She screwed around on you, huh?” He nodded to himself. “Yup, that’s it. What’d you do? Catch her in the act? That’s rough, kid. Real rough.” He poured Mac the next glass of whiskey himself. “You’re better off though, son. Forget about that little tart. You’re young, you’ll find somebody better.”

Mac had the man’s shirt collar in his fists and had dragged him across the bar before he even realized what he was doing. “The fuck did you call her, old man?”

“Whoa, whoa, easy there, friend.” Tony had his hands up, cautiously approaching them. “My dad just runs his mouth a lot. Everyone knows that.” He slid a key down the bar at Mac. “Here, take a room upstairs. For free. As an apology for my old man being an idiot, alright? Ain’t nobody gotta get hurt.”

Mac abruptly released the barkeep and took the key. He took the bottle, too, and headed on upstairs. “Whatever, man.”

He walked in a mostly straight line up the stairs, ignoring Tony’s quiet scolding of his dad about the dangers of fucking with random mercenaries, and found a door the key unlocked. He tossed his pack in the corner and sat on the bed. It was filthy and exposed to the elements, but at least here he could drink in peace.



Mac couldn’t remember the last time he’d drank until he passed out. Had to be when the Combat Zone was still operating. He opened his eyes in the hovel the rubes in Bunker Hill considered a hotel and stared at the shadows on the walls. The sun had moved quite a bit while he was blissfully unconscious. It had to be nearly three in the afternoon by now.

He decided to put out some feelers for mercenaries or caravan guards who might like some extra work. Everyone in the business came through here at some point, so odds were he’d find at least a few capable people to go with him to Med-Tek. He wasn’t about to cash in his letter until he was ready to leave though. Knowing Kessler’s reputation, she’d just start charging him to keep the caps he couldn’t immediately carry safe.

Mac sat up, rummaged through his pack for a can of water and then took a piss out the open window. He figured a good place to start would be the bartender’s son from this morning. Tony, or whatever. He seemed like a reasonable kind of guy.

Tony and his dad, Joe, were pretty much exactly where Mac had left them, each taking an end of the bar. Tony gave him a nod as he walked down the stairs. Joe narrowed his eyes at him and harrumphed, polishing the bar a little harder. That was fine with Mac. Maybe the old fart wouldn’t try talking to him again.

“Hey, Tony, thanks for the room, man. How much to keep it for the week?”

Tony blinked at him for a second. Most people who came through Bunker Hill only stayed a night, if that. “Uh...it’s usually ten caps per night. You lookin’ to stay five days or seven?”

Mac thought about it, “Five, to start. I’m looking to hire some guards for a job. Got a building full of ferals that needs cleaning out.”

“Ferals, huh? Hmm...I might know some guys who’d be into that. For five days, if you’re paying up front, I’ll give you a discount. How’s forty caps sound? That’s a whole night for free.”

“Thanks, man. I appreciate it.” He fished out a few bags of caps from his pockets and handed them over. “You guys got a weapons dealer here?”

Tony nodded, “Yeah, I think Cricket is here today. They rotate, except the junk dealer, so, you know, it changes every day.”

“Right, right. Alright, well...see you around.” Mac gave him a wave of sorts and headed into the monument.

Cricket was there, alright. Eyeballing everyone who came and went while petting the weapons in front of her, whispering to them like they could hear her. She saw him and perked up a bit, practically wiggling from excitement.

“Hey, there, killer. Looking for a hot new piece? I got a pretty baby right here that would love to have your hands all over her!” She was digging around in the duffel at her feet.

Mac wondered if every transaction from now until the end of time was going to involve people making references that reminded him of Nora, of if it was just today in particular. He sighed, “No, Cricket. I just need some ammo. .308 if you’ve got it. 10mm if you don’t. Shotgun shells wouldn’t hurt, either.”

She looked up at him and frowned for a split second. “You sure? Just ammo? Well...I guess babies gotta eat, right?” She tapped one of her guards and they dragged over a trunk and opened it for Mac’s perusal. It was filled with every type of ordinance, from 5mm to a couple mini-nukes. Mac frowned at it. What was it with vendors? Always making him dig through shit.

He managed to scrounge up a decent amount of shotgun shells and a few handfuls of .308. Cricket helpfully produced an ancient cardboard box for his purchase and happily took his caps, reminding him that ‘a well-fed baby is a happy baby’ as he walked away.

He also hit up the junk dealer and bought some new pens. He was always running out of ink with all the letters he sent back home, so they were the one item he never passed up. His eyes landed briefly on a poster behind the woman. It was Nora as the Nuka Cadet. She had that silly costume on, a leg kicked up behind her like she was floating through space, holding some kind of fake ray gun. Her grip was all wrong and he realized it was completely different from how she held her pistol today. He felt a lump form in his throat and it felt like someone had squeezed his heart. Mac looked away but not soon enough.

“Oh, got an eye for the Nuka Girl, huh? Yeah, she’s pretty cute. You can have the poster. Five caps.” Deb smiled at him. Probably thought she was being super helpful.

Mac shook his head, “Nah, I’m uh...I’m good.” He bundled up his pens with a piece of string Deb handed him and nodded to her as he left. He pretended he didn’t see the confused, slightly concerned look on her face as he went.

He paused at the bar to buy another bottle of whiskey before heading upstairs. Joe slammed the bottle down and took his caps in a huff, Tony giving him an apologetic look. Mac thought the guy should really pay his son better. Tony was probably the only reason the jerk was still alive.

Mac tucked his purchases away and drank his dinner, determined to pass out so he didn’t dream of Nora, or worse, have a nightmare about Nora and Deacon. He got through almost half the bottle before the room tilted just a bit and darkness swept over him. Perfect.

 

When Mac’s eyes opened, the sun was nowhere near up. He frowned in the darkness and tried to figure out why he was awake when someone struck a match, lit the lantern next to his bed and cranked the flame way, way up. Mac flinched away from the light. It felt like it was punching him right in the eyes. A pair of sunglasses slid onto his face and he opened his eyes, just a little and squinted at the generic looking caravan hand sitting in his room.

Deacon. Of fucking course.

Mac sat up, tore the glasses off his face and threw them at him. “Why the fuck are you here?”

He raised an eyebrow at Mac as the glasses bounced off his chest. “Rude, kid. Jeez. People might think you were raised in a cave or something with manners like that. Didn’t you put the word out you had a paying gig? Something about ferals? Well, here I am. Ta da!”

“Un-fucking-believable. Give me one reason I shouldn’t put a bullet in your goddamn head right now.” Mac’s voice sounded rough to his own ears. He knew Deacon could hear the hurt in it and that pissed him off even more. If he wasn’t sure he would fall on his face, he’d have tackled him already.

“Hmm, I guess you could...I mean, it would be pretty hard since your pack and rifle are over here by me and your pistol is... oh! Look at that!” He held up Mac’s gun. “It’s in my hand! How on earth did that happen? Magic!” He waved his hands around and the pistol vanished somewhere. He grinned at Mac like he was waiting for applause.

Mac stared at him in silence for a moment before shaking his head and looking away. “What do you want, Deacon?”

He sat back in his chair, “Well, to be honest, I came here to kick your ass, but I see you’re already handling that.”

“You came here to kick my ass?”

“Yup.”

“Wh...if anything, I should kick your ass, you piece of shit! Why can’t you just leave me alone? You already won! Okay? You won. I’m leaving, you got the girl, congratulations to you. Now fuck off.”

Deacon actually took his sunglasses off and peered at Mac’s face. “Kid, I gotta say, I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.”

Mac blinked. He hadn’t known Deacon could lie that well without the glasses. “I saw you, okay? I was there by her door and I saw you.”

“Oh... oooooh….”, he frowned. “That...that probably looked pretty bad, huh?” He shrugged and put the shades back on. “Okay, I can see how you’d get the wrong idea. Ass kicking rescinded. Now get your shit together. We’re going to Goodneighbor.” He got up and stretched, “Are you coffee-drunk or addictol-drunk right now?”

“I’m not going anywhere with you, you fu-freaking psychopath.” Mac laid back down and rolled over, resolved to ignore him if he couldn’t actually make him leave.

He heard a sigh. “Look, I...RJ, I’m sorry I fucked with you so much at first, okay? I feel like its put this idea in your head that I’m hot for Nora and I’m not.” Mac rolled over and glared at him. Deacon put his hands up. “I’m really not. She’s great, don’t get me wrong. Close to perfect, even. If I were ten years younger and if...things hadn’t happened, yeah, I’d probably be right there with you.” He sat back down and rubbed the back of his neck. “She’s like...the little sister I never knew I wanted, you know? We’re best friends and I love her, and she loves me, but we’re not in love. Not with each other, anyway.” Deacon looked over his glasses and gave Mac a wink. It was a little unsettling.

Mac still wasn’t buying it. “You were leaving her room. After midnight. With your shirt off.”

“Yeah, yeah, I was. I know.” He took a deep breath. “I uh...Nora gets these little moments where everything is just too much, you know? It all piles up on her at once. When that happens, deep pressure therapy helps get her centered again. That’s why I was in her room so late. We talked, she got upset and couldn’t calm down on her own, so I helped her. That’s all.”

Mac sat back up and narrowed his eyes. “Deep pressure therapy?”

Deacon nodded. “Yeah, it’s uh...well, sometimes just a really tight, long hug works.” He cleared his throat. “I’m not uh...the hugging type, really, but I make exceptions for her because it’s...you know, medicinal.”

“Medicinal hugs?” Mac wondered if he realized how ridiculous he sounded.

“Yeah. Medicinal hugs , smartass.” He sighed. “Sometimes though, just a hug won’t do it. She’s been under a lot of stress for...well, since before she met you, actually. I don’t know how she handles it, myself. I’d probably have bugged out and run away a long time ago. She’s tougher than me, though.” He shook his head, “I um...well, she wasn’t calming down, so I told her to lay down and I laid on top of her. That’s all I did.”

It made sense. It’s exactly what Mac had tried to do that last day when it was clear she wasn’t herself. “I offered to do that for her...before the fight. That’s when she got mad at me.”

Deacon perked up, “Ah, so you know all about it, then. She can get testy if someone suggests it to her. You usually gotta wait for her to ask, kid.”

A part of Mac really wanted to believe Deacon, “You still had your shirt off, man.”

He laughed, “Yeah, I did. She’d used it as a snot rag. So gross. Then she tells me I better not get snot all over her blankets. Can you believe that shit? She’s such a brat sometimes.”

The night was starting to break. Predawn light was filling the eastern sky. Mac took a deep breath, “Okay, well...even if all that is true, she doesn’t want me around, man. She told me to go home. To my face. She was very clear about it.”

Deacon pulled down his shades just a little and stared at him, “Yeah, about that, just how many times did you refer to the Capital Wasteland as home, kid?”

Mac frowned, confused, “What?”

“Nora has this notion in her head that you’re gonna find the cure for your son and then fuck off back to Washington. It’s practically engraved in stone for her at this point.” He looked a little irritated at him, “So, how many times?”

“I...I dunno...a few, maybe?”

“Uh-huh. You may have noticed, she’s a very literal person.” Mac nodded, thinking of the Dugout Inn. Her offer to always be there but not there. He’d shrugged it off as a joke, but now that he really thought about it, she was always over explaining things like that. “Okay, well, I’m sure when you said ‘home’ you probably meant ‘Duncan’, right? Because no sane person wants to live in the Capital Wasteland anymore.”

Mac hadn’t known Deacon knew Duncan’s name, “Yeah...yeah, I mean, if he’d been up to traveling, I would have brought him with me. It’s too dangerous there for a kid now that the Brotherhood have...well, you know.”

Deacon nodded, “Yeah...and I saw how you kept staring at the kids in Sanctuary. That’s where you’re hoping ‘home’ will be, right?”

Duncan running through the playground, learning in the school from Marcy and Nora, having access to a doctor like Curie all flashed through his head. “Yeah…”

“Okay, now, have you told any of that to Nora?” Deacon folded his arms across his chest and the look he gave Mac was indeed very big brother-ish.

Mac said nothing, just shook his head.

“Yeeeeah...so try to see it from her point of view? She’s a widow who’s just lost any hope she had of saving her baby because he grew up to be the world’s biggest asshole. She feels alone in the world and then she meets a...uh, charming, I guess, young man and falls for him, only to realize he’s going to leave eventually, too.” He shrugged, “You can see why she’d probably want to push that man away, right? To protect herself.”

“I...she’s fallen for me? Are you serious right now?” Mac was really wishing he’d eaten something with his liquid dinner. He still felt like the room was slightly spinning.

Deacon rolled his eyes, “Come on, kid. Keep up. A girl like that doesn’t fall into bed with just any dick who comes onto her. Shit, she didn’t even sleep with Nate until they were married. If she’s done anything with you, and we both know she has, it’s because her whole heart was already in it. Women like Nora...well, back when there were women like Nora, they rarely fall, but when they do, it’s hard and fast. She told me she knew Nate was the one on their first date. Some sappy little bullshit moment and bam. She was hooked. I’m sure it was the same way with you.”

Mac shook his head, “She’s never said anything. We...we haven’t really talked about feelings or whatever…”

“M’hmm, well, you might want to rectify that, kid.” Deacon stood again. “I think coffee will do it. I’ll go see if Joe’s willing to brew some up for you.” He chuckled, “Guy really hates you, by the way. Next time you swing this way, make sure Nora’s with you. He dotes on her, you know. He might even not overcharge you if she’s there.” He slipped out the door and headed for the bar.

Mac reached over and turned the flame down on the lantern. The sky was starting to turn pink and it reminded him of Nora, naturally. If everything Deacon had said was actually true, or even close to true, maybe he wouldn’t have to live the rest of his life haunted by her memory. Wouldn’t that be something?

Chapter Text

Deacon somehow sweet talked Joe into not only brewing coffee, but frying up a passable breakfast for MacCready. He wasn’t sure what to do with the sympathetic look Joe kept giving him and would have asked Deacon what lie he’d spun to the old man, but he was too busy shoveling food into his mouth. As soon as he’d taken his first bite, his stomach had growled loudly, reminding him he’d had nothing but whiskey and water since he left the Castle. He ate quickly, drank half a pot of coffee, and Deacon practically dragged him off his stool and they started the trek to Goodneighbor.

Mac had zero idea of what to say to Nora when he got there. He had no idea what state she’d be in. If she’d give him that cold, blank stare from their last fight or if she’d actually be happy to see him. He tried to not overthink it. Deacon kept up a running dialog about little things that interested him along the way and he tried to just focus on the babbling but his mind kept reminding him this was probably his last chance. That if he couldn’t fix this thing that had become a wedge between them, then that was it. He was well and truly boned.

They passed through the gate around lunch. Daisy gave him a friendly wave, which he returned. Deacon had changed his clothes as they walked the last block, tweaking his outfit and somehow morphing from caravaneer to drifter. Mac rolled his eyes at the costume change and briefly wondered what Nora thought of them.

“Nora’s probably in the Rexford still. Amari ran a ton of tests on her yesterday and she was pretty tuckered out.”

Mac frowned as they walked through the settlement’s main courtyard, “But she’s okay, right?”

Deacon nodded, “Oh, yeah. Yeah, no, she’s fine. Tom figured out the implant was only supposed to, you know, turn down the volume on her sensory input? It must have gone haywire when it was damaged. Nora said a super mutant swung a board at her outside of Diamond City and just grazed the back of her head. Must’ve been when it happened.”

“Da-dang. She’d mentioned running into super mutants, but didn’t say one actually got her.” Mac scowled, remembering the nasty bruise on the back of her neck when he’d checked her over.

“Well, you know Nora. She doesn’t like people to worry.” Deacon stopped suddenly and whistled. Mac stopped a fraction of a second later and finally noticed Curie. She was wearing regular wastelander clothes, jeans and a flannel shirt, and he almost didn’t recognize her.

“Monsieur Deacon! You have found Monsieur MacCready! How wonderful!” She trotted over, arms full of prepackaged food and cans of water. “Bonjour, Monsieur MacCready!”

“Yeah, hey, Curie. Hungry much?” Mac caught a pack of Fancy Lads as it fell from her pile.

“Ah, merci! And it is not for me, it is for Madame. Maire Hancock invited us to lunch but she said she is not up to it, so I am bringing lunch to her.” She smiled at Deacon as he took the food from her.

“Yeah, that sounds great, Curie. Rest is just what she needs. Oh, but hey, wouldn’t Hancock be the perfect subject for your study?” Deacon kept his eyes on the girl while he shoved the food at MacCready. He took it, confused for a moment, then noticed there was a key being pressed into his palm.

“Maire Hancock? But...he is a ghoul, yes? They cannot reproduce.”

“Ah, but Hancock did.” Deacon looked at her over his glasses and winked.

“Non! C’est impossible! How is this possible?” Curie put a hand over her heart and was nearly hyperventilating from excitement.

Deacon threw up his hands, “Who knows? I bet he would love to tell you all about it, though.”

“This could be a new breakthrough! If a ghoul can reproduce, then it should be no problem for a slightly irradiated human to as well. Monsieur Deacon, this could save humanity! We must go at once!” She grabbed his arm and started to drag him off towards the State House.

“Yeah! Let’s go science the hell out of this shit! Mac can totally handle feeding Madame for you. No worries.” Deacon gave Mac an odd sort of finger gun salute and followed the still babbling Curie into Hancock’s lair.

Mac watched them go and chuckled to himself. Deacon was pretty amusing so long as you weren’t on the wrong end of his manipulations. He stared at the Rexford’s door a moment and headed on in. It was now or never.

Claire’s eyes narrowed as he walked in and she leaned on her counter in a territorial sort of way.

“No running in my lobby, boy.”

He nodded, “Yeah, yeah, I got it. Sorry about last time, ma’am.”

“About pissed myself with you running like that. Acting like a fool. This is a place of business, you know? Oh, it ain’t what it used to be, but what is…”

Mac ignored her prattling on and kept walking. He felt like if he let anything stop him now, he’d end up bailing.

Finding her room was easy. She was in what Hancock gleefully referred to as ‘the Sunshine Suite’. Easily the best room in the house, with its own adjacent bathroom. It even worked, usually. Mac had suspicions Hancock just permanently paid for the room, just in case Nora showed up on his doorstep. He’d been allowed to stay in it last time he was here, since he had thought he was getting the room for the both of them. It wasn’t quite as nice as Nora’s home in Diamond City, but it was miles better than anything else in the wasteland.

He unlocked her door quietly and let himself in, placing the offerings of centuries old junk food on a table by the door, right next to the glowing light of one of Tinker Tom’s signal jammers.

She was on the bed, her glasses on the bedside table. She had her arm across her eyes and had on an oversized knit sweater, ancient jeans and socks. Her sneakers were neatly set on the floor under a chair by the foot of the bed. Mac watched her breathing for a moment, trying to figure out if she was asleep or not, when she spoke.

“Merci, Curie. I’m sorry I can’t come with you to lunch, honey. I’m just…”, she sighed deeply, “not up for cards with Hancock today.”

“He’ll get over it. I think Curie’s gonna rope him into that study she’s doing.”

He watched the hitch in her breathing and the arm slowly moving away from her eyes. She squinted at him, frowning. He smiled back.

“Hey, boss.”

Nora sat up and put her glasses on. “Ma-Mister MacCready? What on earth are you doing here? How did you get into my room?”

He held up the key in a surrendering sort of gesture, “Deacon gave me the key.”

She looked annoyed by that. “I...it wasn’t his to give.”

Mac nodded, “Yeah, I know. I’m pretty sure he swiped it from Curie when she wasn’t paying attention.” He carefully set the key down where her glasses had been and sat in the chair by her shoes. She watched his every move with that unnerving focus.

“Why...why did you come back? I thought you’d be on the way to Washington by now.” She looked away from him only when she realized he was staring back.

“Well...about that. I uh...I don’t really want to go back to DC.”

She twisted the end of her sleeve in her hands, “How can you say that?” Her hair hid her face but her voice was full of condemnation and a righteous sort of fury.

Mac sighed and took his hat off, running a hand through his hair. “Because the Capital Wasteland sucks, Nora. It’s a goddang clusterfu- disaster. There was a time when it seemed like sh-stuff was getting better, then Maxon took over the Brotherhood and, I dunno, things started falling apart. They draft people now, you know. If you use their precious filtered water, you have to sign a piece of paper agreeing to join if they ask. They...they emptied Little Lamplight, boss. Took all the kids and burned the town in the cave so they couldn’t go back. I found out from an old friend of mine; he used to take them food every week. They’re all squires now. They have to be. There used to be a town full of ghouls in this old museum downtown...Maxon had it wiped out, too. Lucy and I...we’d talked about heading out. Finding someplace new to live that wasn’t being strangled to death by those as-jerks. That’s why we were out traveling with Duncan in the first place when she was...when she died.” He took a deep breath, “I was still saving up, trying to get enough caps together to hire guards to help keep Duncan safe and move our stuff, when he got sick. I hate that I had to leave him there, but he was... is too weak to travel.”

She faced him and her eyes were frosty, “So you’re just going to leave him there?”

He frowned at her expression, “What? No. No! Of course not! I’m not a fu-freaking idiot, Nora.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to calm down. This was not going well. “I have to find the cure to get him well so he can be moved. Then…”, he paused, unsure.

Her eyes were still narrowed, but it seemed more cautious curiosity and less anger was in her face now. “Then?”, she prompted.

“Then...well...I had kinda hoped we could live here.”

Her head tilted. “Here? Goodneighbor is a terrible place to try and raise a child.”

Mac chuckled. “No...no, baby. Not here here. The Commonwealth here.”

“Oh. Oh…”, she considered that. “But...the Brotherhood are here, now. Maxson’s here.”

“Yeah, I know. I saw, but...I figure you and the Minutemen aren’t about to let them just take over sh-stuff.”

There was a brief flicker of General Nora on her face and Mac smiled. Maxson would have no idea what hit him once she set her sights on the Brotherhood. Then she blinked and was back to regular Nora. “Where exactly in the Commonwealth did you want to live?”

He folded his arms across his chest. It all came down to this moment. “I was thinking probably...Sanctuary?”

Nora’s eyes went wide and her mouth dropped open just a little. “Sanctuary? You...you want to bring Duncan to my town?”

Mac shrugged, “Well, yeah. Who wouldn’t? I mean, as settlements go, it’s pretty da-dang near perfect. I mean, I don’t know if there’s some kind of vetting process or if there’s even room…”

She scrambled up on her knees. “There’s room! There’s plenty of room for you and your little boy, honey.” Her eyes had the same kind of Christmas sparkle Curie’s often had. “I...I thought...you kept calling the Capital Wasteland ‘home’, so I thought you were going to leave.”

He nodded, “Yeah...yeah, I know, boss. That’s my fault. I should’ve been more clear. Wherever Duncan is, that’s home...and I want Duncan in Sanctuary.”

Nora had started threading her fingers through her hair and muttering to herself. It was soft, but it sounded a lot like plans for where Mac could work and where they could build the house and what class Duncan would belong in...the gears were already turning, tucking the MacCready family into the fabric of Sanctuary.

Mac cleared his throat, “Nora?”

She blinked and raised her head. “Oh...sorry. I’m sorry. I got excited...I…”

He raised a hand and she fell silent. “Wait….I...I know I act sometimes like I want to be left alone, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth. Since I was a kid, I’ve basically been on my own, you know? I never had anyone I could depend on. Then there was Lucy...she was always there with a shoulder for me to lean on. She...you would have liked her, I think. And she would have loved you.” He smiled at her and she smiled back and his chest immediately felt a million times lighter. “When I lost her, I thought I’d lost that feeling forever, so I just kind of...closed myself off? But then you came along and...I know we get into it and I know sometimes I’m a jerk and you’re...insane, frankly, but you’ve always been in my corner. You’ve always got my back, even when I’m being an idiot...and, well, I just wanted you to know how much I appreciate that. You’re the best friend I’ve got and...and I guess I just wanted to let you know that you mean a lot to me. I don’t want to go away. I will, if you still want me to, but I don’t want to.”

Nora was nibbling on her bottom lip and staring at her hands, thinking. “I’m sorry I sent you away, Mac, and I’m glad we’re friends. You um...you mean a lot to me, too.” She glanced up at him for just a second and then back at her hands.

Mac fought the urge to tackle her in a hug and instead just nodded. “That’s uh...that’s good to hear, boss.”

She nodded in acknowledgement, still not looking at him. “Have...have you maybe ever thought of us as more than friends?”

Only every day since the first day, he thought. It came out as, “Yes.”

Nora looked up at him, eyes wide and cheeks pink. “You have?”

He nodded, “Yeah, I have...but, I know you’re still in love with Nate. That you still miss him. I don’t want to...I don’t want to put any pressure on you about that stuff.”

She blinked in confusion, “Well...of course I still love and miss Nate.” Her head did the tilt thing again, “Don’t you still love and miss Lucy?”

“Well, yeah, but…”

“I’ll always love and miss him, honey. Just like you’ll always love and miss Lucy. But...that’s alright, isn’t it? I mean, it doesn’t change how I…”, she abruptly stopped talking and resumed staring at her hands.

Mac stared at her. The tips of her ears were now as pink as her cheeks and she was breathing faster than normal. If this were poker, he’d say she had a killer hand she was trying to hide.

He took a deep breath and decided to hell with it. “Nora, I love you.”

Her head snapped up and her eyes were full of tears. “I...are you sure?”

Mac couldn’t help it, he laughed, “Yeah, baby, I’m pretty da-dang sure.”

Nora closed her eyes, “And you really aren’t leaving?”

He got up and sat on the bed in front of her. “I’m really not leaving. And you know what? I changed my mind; I’m not leaving even if you get mad and tell me to.”

She smiled a little and opened her eyes as Mac wiped a tear from her cheek. “Do you promise?”

“I promise.”

Nora beamed at him. “I love you, too, honey. I have since you saved me from that radroach and your pants fell down.”

Mac had been moving in to kiss her and instead busted out laughing. “Are you fu-freaking kidding me? That’s what did it?”

She was laughing, too, “I don’t know why, it just...it just happened. The look on your face and you were so cute and...I dunno, something just flipped on.”

He rolled his eyes. “Well, thank god for radroaches then.”

Nora leaned against him, their foreheads touching, still giggling. Mac wrapped his arms around her and pulled her down on the bed with him, holding her close, just happy to be there with her.

“Hey, Mac?”

He kissed the top of her head, “Yeah, baby.”

“You said you were getting the cure for Duncan…”

“Yup.”

“New Plague doesn’t have a cure, honey.”

He smiled against her hair, “Well...actually, that’s what I was trying to tell you when that scary as-jerk zapped himself into your house. Remember?”

“Oh...that’s X6-88.”

“Yeah, that guy. See, the whole reason I came here in the first place was I heard from a guy I met at a bar...his name was Sinclair. He had a buddy that had the same symptoms as Duncan. They’d tracked down a cure in a place here in Boston called Med-Tek. Had the passwords to get past security and everything, but the guy died before they could get there. He gave me the passwords and told me where it was. I hauled as-myself there as soon as I arrived, but...it’s completely overrun with ferals. I...I just froze when they came at me and I just barely got away. Nearly died.”

She was fiddling with the buttons on his duster, “That’s awful, honey.”

“Yeah...yeah, well, I tried to find someone to help me in the Gunners...you know how that worked out.” He took a deep breath, “I can’t go back there alone. I need someone I can trust to help watch my back.”

The fiddling had stopped. Mac looked down and saw she was staring up at him with a hopeful expression on her face.

“I...I could help you with that…”, she almost whispered it.

Mac smiled at her. He knew she was waiting for him to say that no, it was too dangerous, but he wasn’t making that mistake again. “I was really hoping you’d say that.”

Chapter Text

Nora was smiling like Mac had just given her the best present ever. “We could go tomorrow, honey! Or today! I mean...I probably need a nap still, but then we could go. It’s Med-Tek, right? Curie and I went there once, but we never got past the first floor. I’ve got it on my map already.” She tried to bounce off the bed but Mac grabbed her sweater and pulled her back into his arms.

“Whoa, there, partner.” He rolled so he was leaning over her, just a little. She stared up at him, then her eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“This better not be the part where you tell me to ask somebody else to help you, honey.”

Mac laughed, “No, no, even I’m not that stupid, boss.” He rolled his eyes and she giggled, “First, what about you and the Institute? Don’t you have to deal with them still?”

Nora sighed, “Well...yes and no? We still haven’t figured out how to breach their facility from the surface yet. Deacon is going to Sanctuary to talk it over with Sturges. He’s been going over some files I swiped from their mainframe. Curie was going to take me to Diamond City for the time being, since I’ll draw their eye once they figure out I’m not...you know, dead and all.”

“Yeah, why did they think that anyway?”

She shrugged, “We aren’t completely sure, but Tom thinks it’s because he’d finally managed to switch off the power supply to the implant. His grid was only designed to keep out their teleportation signal, we weren’t too concerned about their listening in. I mean, it’s just too big a structure to have the whole area completely locked down. That’s why Deacon’s meeting is in Sanctuary. There’s a secret bunker there.”

“Huh...well...okay, but did Amari clear you? Deacon said she made you do a bunch of tests yesterday and it wore you out.”

Nora huffed, “Yes, I have been cleared for duty. The tests were just...I had to do a lot of remembering in the Memory Lounger and it wears you out if you aren’t used to it. Honestly, I don’t know how Kent stands it. He practically lives in one, bless his sweetheart.”

“Hmm...but you said you need a nap.”

She was starting to look a little miffed. “Yes, because she gave me some medicine to take last night and this morning and it makes me a little sleepy. That’s all.”

Mac put a hand on her forehead, “So this is all healed up?”

“Yes.”

He moved the hand down her side and rested it on her hip. “And your body, too? No more bruises? What about when that as-jerk courser got you?”

“No, no bruises...the suit moved the impact around so I didn’t get hurt. Tickled like you would not believe though.” She paused, “Oh...I can’t remember if I told Deacon or Tom about that, now that I’m thinking about it.”

“Ah, so you are ticklish.”

“Wh...what?” She looked completely lost.

Mac chuckled, “Nothing, don’t worry about it.” He dropped a kiss on her forehead and climbed over her, getting off the bed and walking to the door.

She immediately sat up, “Hey, wait, what…”

He flipped the lock on the door. “Forgot to do that.”

Nora tucked her hair behind her ears, “Mac, what are you…”

The chair would probably be a good idea, too. Mac grabbed it and shoved it under the doorknob. He turned to Nora and grinned, hands on his hips. It took a second, but eventually she started to smile back.

“You...you’re supposed to put something on the doorknob, honey.”

Mac was busy taking off his duster and unbuttoning his shirt. He liked how her eyes watched his hands. “What?”

“It...if you have, um, company, you’re supposed to put a thing on the doorknob so people know to not interrupt. Hotels used to have little signs that said “Do Not Disturb” on them, but...well, when I lived in our sorority house, Emmy used to just hang a random piece of clothing from her doorknob whenever she...you know...”, her rambling had ceased once Mac was out of his shirt. He liked that, too.

He let her just stare for a minute before speaking, “So what did she usually use?”

Nora blinked, “What? Oh...well, it was usually, um…”, she turned a bit pink. “A pair of her panties.”, it came out a scandalized whisper.

Mac snorted, “Well, we ain’t doing that.” He came over and grabbed one of her feet, tickling it while she squealed and kicked at him, before stealing her sock. “This will work.” Mac undid the locks and slapped the sock on the doorknob. Then he redid everything and added the chain, too, for good measure. “There. Perfect. Our very own ‘Leave us alone, we’re fucking in here’ sign.”

Nora burst into giggles, “Goodness, Mac. Language!”

He grinned at her and sat on the bed, unlacing his boots. Kind of reminded him of their first time, except this time Nora didn’t grab him. She was watching him with huge eyes and had scooted over on the bed a bit so he could lay beside her. He finally got the damn things off and got in next to her.

Her cheeks were still a little pink, “I don’t know why, but I’m nervous. My heart’s going a mile a minute. Isn’t that silly?”

He took her glasses off and set them behind him on the table. “No, I’m kind of nervous, too.” He laid back and sighed. “I think it’s because we both know what it actually means now.”

Nora nodded, “That’s probably it.” She snuggled up to him and he wrapped an arm around her. Her hand started tracing little circles on his chest and he was struck by how much he’d missed that.

Mac rubbed her side, enjoying the feel of the oddly soft sweater she had on. This was actually really wonderful, just laying here with her. “Hey, where’d you find this sweater, anyway? It’s nice for two hundred years old.”

He felt her smile against his chest, “I’ll be sure to pass your compliment along to Codsworth, honey. He’s been knitting sweaters for everyone in Sanctuary. Mine was his first attempt, which is why it's a little big. He was upset it wasn’t perfect, but I told him I like it big. It’s snugglier this way.”

“Huh. I didn’t know Mister Handys could knit.”

“Not all of them can. You could order extra programming packages for them so they could be personalized. Nate had them preinstall the ‘Mother’s Little Helper’ package. He can sew, knit, shine shoes, preserve food...all sorts of things.”

Mac smiled at that. Trust Prince Charming to think of everything. “Pretty handy, wouldn’t you say?”

She groaned, “No, no bad puns. I can take your dad jokes, but I’m drawing the line at puns.”

“What? My puns are amazing. My puns are so amazing, they’re punstoppable!”

“Nope. Nope nope nope.” Nora reached up and pulled his head down. “Kiss me. Right now. I’ll do whatever it takes, honey, just stop.”

Mac was still chortling when his lips met hers. Then her tongue slid into his mouth and her fingers threaded through his hair and he couldn’t for the life of him remember what the hell they’d just been laughing about.

He slipped his hand under her sweater, fingers just barely skimming over her skin, goosebumps following in their wake. She felt warm and soft and wonderful and he was pleasantly surprised to find she wasn’t wearing a bra. She was completely naked under her sweater and he felt her shiver when his calloused hand gently brushed against a nipple.

Nora’s hands were busy exploring, too. She seemed determined to memorize every inch of his torso, gently tracing the scars a lifetime in the wastes had given him. He felt her fingers hook into his belt and tug, a little frustrated sound coming from her. Mac chuckled and then gasped when she palmed him through his pants.

“You are wearing too many clothes, sug,” she whispered against his lips.

“I... you’re wearing too many clothes.” Mac plucked at her sweater. She giggled and sat up, letting him pull it off and toss it on the floor. He felt momentarily stunned by the sight of her and for a second just watched as she wiggled out of her jeans and panties.

Nora huffed at him, “Your pants, honey. Take your pants off.”

There was just enough blood left in his head for him to nod, “Right...right, pants.” He fumbled with his belt for a minute, Nora impatiently watching him struggle until she batted his hands away and her nimble fingers worked their magic. She giggled at him while he shimmied his pants off and chucked them across the room, cursing at them all the while.

Mac settled between her thighs and resumed their kiss. Nora sighed happily into his mouth and wound her arms around his neck. His hand grazed along her ribs and eventually found its way to the warmth pouring from her center. She was ready for him, as she always seemed to be, and his fingers slid easily into her. Nora moved her hips against his hand, her head falling back and moaning when his thumb lightly brushed against her clit.

He dropped little kisses along her neck. “I missed you, baby.” His voice was low and husky in her ear and Mac felt her shudder under him.

“I missed you, too.” Nora was already panting a little and Mac smiled at how breathless she sounded.

Mac removed his fingers from her and grasped his cock, rubbing the head of it along her slit. She made wonderful little desperate noises and tried to scoot herself down to meet him. He chuckled against her neck and kept torturing her, making sure to press into her clit just a little when he found himself against it, enjoying how she involuntarily bucked against him.

“You miss this, too?” He couldn’t keep the teasing tone out of his voice.

Nora whimpered and nodded her head. “Yes, I missed it. Please, RJ?”

Mac leaned up and looked her in the eye, smirking, “Please what, baby?”

“Please…”

“Tell me what you want, Nora. Say it.”

She was now blushing furiously, “I...I want you. Please. I want you inside me.”

He kissed her gently and finally pushed into her, gritting his teeth at the way she tightened around him. Nora moaned as her hands slid down his back. Mac felt her nails bite into his ass as she pulled him closer and deeper inside her. He was shaking now with the effort to maintain at least a tentative sense of control over himself. Then Nora rolled her hips against his and whatever thoughts he’d had about drawing this out and making it tender and special as their first time making love and not just having sex evaporated from his mind. All that was left was the desire, the need, to come into her. He ground his hips into hers, loving the way she mirrored his movements. Mac wrapped a hand over her shoulder and thrust deeply into her.

Nora cried out softly beneath him, “Oh, just like that. Please, RJ, please don’t stop.”

He growled against her neck as he pounded into her, “You love this, huh, baby? You love me filling you up, don’t you?“ Nora nodded and moaned in response.

Mac drove into her again and again, driven wild by her cries of pleasure and the way she was coming undone beneath him. Dimly he was aware of a hot, delicious pressure building within her. There was the feeling of warmth drenching his cock and balls and she arched off the bed, shrieking breathlessly while her legs wrapped around his hips. Mac slid an arm around her waist, changing the angle so he could get even deeper and gripping her hard for better leverage. Her soft, smooth skin caught his eye and he felt compelled to sink his teeth into her just a little. He couldn’t make himself slow down, to gently work her through her orgasm. Instead he just pushed harder, faster; the stinging pain of sweat pouring over the scratches she’d left down his back whipping him into a frenzy.

He caught her mouth with his, ignoring her heavy panting as he crushed his lips against hers, tongue invading her mouth. Something in him had turned savage, demanding he dominate and mark this woman as his and only his. Her whimpering submission when his teeth pulled at her bottom lip as her pussy continued to pulse and squeeze around him finally pushed him over the edge. Mac saw stars dance behind his eyelids and he came impossibly hard with a rough growl, his come filling her with warmth.

Their kiss turned tender in the aftermath, Mac softly running his tongue along the bite mark he’d left on her lower lip, tasting just a hint of blood. He could feel her still shivering under him, her hands now softly running along his back, lightly tracing the marks she’d left there. Mac realized somewhere along the line, he’d ensnared his fingers in her hair and gripped a fistful of it. He made his hand release her and gently rubbed the back of her head, hoping he hadn’t pulled too hard in his fervor.

Mac pulled back and laid his head on her chest, listening to her heart beating wildly. They were both panting and his eyes eventually focused on a bruise blooming on her breast. He couldn’t even remember biting her there, but apparently he had. He felt a little zing of worry go through him that he’d really hurt her, but then her fingers were gently brushing through his hair, soothing and accepting and slowly bringing him back to himself.

He raised his head to get a proper look at her face. She was watching him, lips bruised and swollen, her eyes still dark and sparkling. Mac smiled at her and she shyly smiled back.

“Did...did I hurt you, baby?” Mac hated that he had to ask, but he’d never lost control like that in bed with her before. He couldn’t even remember all he’d done.

Nora shook her head and leaned down to kiss him softly.

Mac finally slid out of her and chuckled at the pout that briefly flashed across her face. He pulled her into his arms and kissed her forehead. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

He felt her nod. “I’m okay. Thirsty.”

“Thirsty. Right. I’m on it.” Mac rolled off the bed and stumbled drunkenly towards the pile of provisions by the door. He hadn’t expected his knees to be quite this weak and barely managed to catch himself before he crashed to the floor. Nora was watching him, trying to not laugh as he grabbed two cans of water and unsteadily made his way back.

He fell back into bed and passed her a can of water. Her hands were still shaking a little, but so were his. Mac watched her drain the can, eyes on her throat and thinking of other things he wanted her to swallow. She caught him staring and squealed when he leaned over and nipped at her neck.

Nora cuddled up against him as he drank his own water. She felt wonderfully warm and soft and a part of Mac was worried he was about to wake up. That all of this had been some amazing whiskey-induced dream and he was going to find himself back in that hovel in Bunker Hill at any second. He felt her yawn and stretch a little, settling against him with her head pillowed on his shoulder and her leg thrown over his. Mac managed to grab the edge of the blanket and pulled it up over them, eliciting a happy murmur and wiggle from her.

“Tired, baby?”

“M’hmm.” It sounded like she was close to asleep already. Probably those pills Amari had given her.

“Okay, you take a nap, then.”

“M’kay…”, she roused herself enough to look up at him. He loved the sweet, sleepy way she smiled up at him. “You’ll be here when I wake up, right?”

Mac smiled back at her, “Yup, I will. I promise.” He brushed her hair away from her face and tucked it behind her ear. “I love you.”

She snuggled back against him and sighed, “I love you, too, RJ.”

As much as Mac wanted to stay awake and watch the gentle way her chest rose and fell as she slept, sleep decided to take him, too. Passing out from being too drunk didn’t actually count as sleep, apparently, and it had been far too long since he’d slept in a comfortable bed with the woman he loved curled up with him.

Which is why he woke up pretty pissed hearing familiar voices arguing down the hall. They were coming closer and if they ruined this quiet moment, he was going to shoot them. Friends or not.

“I do not understand why you had to interfere, Monsieur Deacon! Maire Hancock was being most helpful! Such an eager specimen! So many details of his mating habits for my journal! I cannot believe you would stand in the way of science. I had thought you were more enlightened than that!” Curie sounded furious, stomping down the hallway. Mac could almost imagine the flames that had to be shooting out of her eyes.

“Yeah, sorry, Curie, I gotta draw the line at him giving you a demonstration of his reproductive abilities.” Mac snorted quietly. He almost wished he’d been there for that particular conversation. Nora shifted against him, and he tightened his arm around her. Almost.

“Incroyable . What would Madame say if she knew you interfered!”

Deacon chuckled, “Oh, I think she’d agree with me on this one.”

Curie scoffed, “Non . Madame is a woman of science. She is unaffected by silly...oh! There is a sock on the door! Most mysterious. What does this mean, Monsieur Deacon?”

There was a brief pause, then obnoxious snickering drifted through the door. If he wasn’t sure it would wake Nora, Mac would get up and kick Deacon right in the shin. Jerk.

“Ah...well...I guess it means I get to escort you back to Sanctuary, Curie.”

“But...I was to go to Diamond City with Madame. There are many wonderful possible specimens there for my study! Such variety!”

“Yeah...yeah, there are. But I have a feeling Monsieur MacCready will be uh... escorting Madame for the foreseeable future.” There was a long pause. “Aw, come on, Curie. Don’t start with the pouting. There’s plenty of specimens for you to check out in Sanctuary still.”

“None that are particularly interesting to me, Monsieur Deacon.” She sighed, “I am starting to feel stymied. Poor, poor little Curie.” If Mac didn’t know any better, he’d say she was trying to con Deacon into something.

There was a long-suffering, aggravated sigh from the other side of the door. “If you come with me to Sanctuary, I’ll be part of your study, Curie.”

“Oh! Oh! Monsieur Deacon! Truly?” Her excitement was palatable.

“Yeah…” Deacon sounded incredibly uncomfortable and Mac smirked at the whole idea.

“This is so kind of you, Monsieur Deacon.”

“M’hmm. All I know is, some people damn well better appreciate this shit.” Mac rolled his eyes. Now Deacon was going to think he owed him some stupid favor. Like he wasn’t already doing him a favor by not shooting him whenever they met.

He listened to their voices drift back down the hallway, pressed a kiss against the top of Nora’s head and fell back into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter Text

The next time Mac woke, his arms were empty. He bolted upright in bed and fought panic for a moment, taking in the details of the room. Nora’s sweater was still on the floor where he’d thrown it, her sneakers still under their chair. This was still her room at the Rex. It hadn’t been a dream. His eyes darted to the door and he finally breathed a sigh of relief. The chair and chain combo was still in place. She was here, she just wasn’t here.

Mac heard the water run for a moment in the bathroom and fell back against the bed, feeling like a fool. He ran a hand through his hair and tried to slow his breathing. There was no reason for Nora to know how alarmed he’d been.

The bathroom door opened and Nora appeared, still rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Mac watched her for a moment before she realized he was awake. She was moving in an odd sort of way and he frowned. Had he hurt her?

She finally got close enough to the bed to see that his eyes were open and smiled at him. He watched her crawl up the bed towards him and fought the urge to take her there and then. Instead he willed himself to stay perfectly still; gently, carefully kissing her back when she pressed her lips to his.

He broke away from their kiss and pulled her back down to her place under his arm. Nora melted against him and pressed little kisses on his chest.

“Nora?”

She paused and met his gaze. “Hmm?”

“Are you hurt?”

Her eyes darted away for just a moment and he knew. “I…”

Mac immediately rolled and pinned her beneath him. “I asked you before and you said you were okay. Did you lie to me?”

Nora’s eyes were wide and she was seemingly unable to look away. She had that excited flush across her cheeks she always seemed to get whenever he got particularly bossy and he felt her shift beneath him and press her thighs together. One day he was going to have to figure out why this kind of shit got her going so hard, but for right now, he was focused on being pissed that she’d apparently lied to him about something so important. He caught her hands moving for his waist from the corner of his eye and grabbed them, pinning them above her head and ignoring how delicious she looked when she bit her bottom lip and arched up towards him just a little.

“Nora, focus. Did you lie to me?” He was trying his damndest to keep his voice calm and sensible, but it still came out with an aggressive sort of snarl behind it. Here he was trying to have a serious talk with this crazy woman and she was busy melting into a puddle. Ridiculous.

She tried to pull her hands free and frowned up at him when he wouldn’t let her go. “I didn’t lie to you. It didn’t hurt. I’m not...you don’t have to treat me like a porcelain doll.”

“You’re moving like you’re hurt, baby.”

She huffed at him, “I’m not hurt. I’m just...things are...and…”, Mac watched her go pink and reluctantly released her hands. Whatever was going on, it was pretty clear she wasn’t actually in distress.

Mac leaned back, sitting on his knees and looked at her carefully. Her lips were still a little swollen, and there were little bruises from his hands on her hips and shoulders. Plus that bite mark, of course. There was nothing he could see that would cause her to limp a little though. Then he noticed her legs were still pressed together. He put his hands on her knees and for the first time in their relationship, she hesitated to open her legs.

He gave her a stern look, “Nora, let me see.”

Her cheeks went from pink to red and she couldn’t meet his eyes, but he felt her legs relax anyway. He spread her legs apart and saw that her pussy was still raw and swollen. Mac lightly pressed against her outer lips with the back of his hand and she hissed a little. She was hot to the touch. He had hurt her.

“Baby...I’m so sorry…”, Mac released his hold on her and sat back, almost afraid to touch her further. He felt like a monster. This was exactly like his first time with Lucy. He’d tried his best to be gentle, but he’d still ended up injuring her. She’d bled for almost two days after and it had been months before he’d been able to bring himself to touch her again. After that, he’d made sure she was always on top, always in control. He’d never wanted to hurt someone like that again.

Nora sat up, wincing a bit as she got comfortable and grabbed his face with her hands. “Robert Joseph MacCready, you listen to me. You did not hurt me, honey. It’s fine. I’m fine. I loved every second of...that.” Her ears turned a bit pink and he smiled a little in spite of himself. “I love that you didn’t hold yourself back. Nate...what we had was always um...nice, but he always held himself back. No matter what I said or did or how I begged, he always treated me like some delicate flower.” She shook her head at the memory. “I hated that. I don’t want that.”

His fingers lightly brushed against the bite mark he’d left on her breast, already turning dark and angry. Guilt and fear were warring inside his stomach. “But...you’re in pain, Nora. I did hurt you. You have bruises because of me.”

She nodded, “Yes, I do. But I’ve worn bruises from you before, remember? I like them. They’re reminders of...of our time together.” She kissed him gently and he felt her smile when he kissed her back just a little. “Besides, I’m not some helpless little housewife anymore, Mac. If you ever really hurt me, you’d know it, honey. Trust me.”

There was just a hint of a threat in her voice at the end and he felt the knot of anxiety inside himself relax a little. She was right. If she was hurt, she’d fight back. Hell, she could probably even kill him if she really wanted to. Nora had a lot in common with Lucy. Her desire to help others, her gentle hands, the way she always wanted to believe the best of people. But there were a lot of differences, too, and one of those differences was her ability to fight back, to give as good as she got. If the day ever came when he went too far, she’d be able to put him back in his place. She was strong enough to hold the leash, always.

He relaxed finally and wrapped her in a hug. Nora kissed his neck and rocked him gently, humming some song he didn’t know. It was soothing, though.

“Let me take care of you.” Mac carefully laid her back down, ignoring her protests. He grabbed a can of water and darted into the bathroom, grabbing a washcloth. He poured the water over it and wrung it out, shaking it in the air so it would cool. Nora jumped when he laid it carefully between her thighs.

“It’s cold!”

“It’s supposed to be cold. It will help the swelling go down.”

She shivered a little and grumbled at him. “Can I at least have my sweater so I don’t freeze to death?”

Mac chuckled at her and grabbed her sweater from the floor, shaking it out before handing it to her. He felt a little gumblely himself, watching it cover her from head to hip, but decided the idea of her wearing only the sweater was still pretty hot.

“Okay, now for dinner. You skipped lunch, so you need to eat.”

Nora huffed at him, “Well, whose fault was that, honey?”

He poked around the giant pile of food and shot her a cheeky grin over his shoulder, “Pretty sure that was you telling me to take my pants off, boss. Totally your fault this time.” Mac frowned at the food. “Looks like we’ve got Fancy Lads or...Fancy Lads? It’s literally all Fancy Lads. What the hell?” He grabbed two packs and another water for them to share and settled back on the bed with her.

She slipped her glasses back on and Mac had to fight to stay focused. Her sex-tousled hair, giant sweater and glasses was almost a perfect replica of a page from that long-lost sexy librarian spread. He made a note to get her in the same state again later, when he’d be able to better appreciate it.

“Curie can’t help it. All synths love Fancy Lads. It’s probably a genetic thing. I know I about ate my weight in them when I was pregnant and they are all my grandchildren, so...”

He swallowed a half-chewed piece of cake and tried not to choke, “Your grandchildren?”

“Well, yes. From a genetic standpoint, anyway. The Institute used Shaun’s DNA to create all the Gen-3s. So...some of my DNA is in them. I mean, I sure as shootin’ don’t claim them all, but technically they are.”

Mac thought that over then paused mid-bite. “So Curie’s a synth?”

“M’hmm”, Nora nodded at him, too polite to actually talk with her mouth full.

“That’s...huh...kind of explains a lot.”

She took a drink and nodded again, “She’s actually a Miss Nanny bot put into a synth. I found her in Vault 81. She was still carrying out the experiment she’d been programmed for.”

“That...yeah, that actually explains a whole heck of a lot, boss.”

Nora beamed at him, “I’m glad you’re being so open-minded about this, honey. Not everyone is so accepting of synths.”

Mac shrugged, “So long as I’m not getting shot at, I don’t have a problem with most people. No matter what kind of people they are.”

She leaned over and kissed him lightly. “I suppose asking you to take me right now is probably…”

He laughed, “Probably not going to happen, baby.”

Nora pouted at him for a moment, “Tomorrow though?”

“Maybe tomorrow. We have to hike a ways, remember?”

She sighed, “Right, right...sorry, I get...fixated on things.”

Mac nodded, “Yeah, I know. Trust me, I have no problems with you being fixated on having sex with me, but you’re benched for now.”

Nora ate the rest of her cake in disgruntled silence. Mac’s chuckling at her probably wasn’t helping any. He tossed their trash, then snuggled up in bed with her. She’d shot him a downright petulant look when he put his pants back on before getting under the covers, but seemed happy enough to be cuddled up against him. For now, anyway.

“We need to stop by Diamond City before we head to Med-Tek, honey.” She was tapping just a bit on his arm.

“Okay. Any particular reason?”

She nodded, “I need some gear. All I have with me is my 10mm and a handful of stimpacks just in case.”

Mac hummed a bit. “Is your rifle back at the Castle still?”

“Yes, Ronnie said she wanted to take a look at it and make a few modifications. She’s a whiz with that kind of stuff.” He could hear the admiration in her voice and smiled.

“You’re a whiz with that kind of stuff, boss.”

Nora wiggled a bit at that. “Well...thank you. I mean, I guess I am. Maybe. But she’s got quite a few years of experience on me. No harm in letting a master take a look at your art, right?”

He shrugged, “I guess. We heading out after breakfast?”

“It’s your rodeo, darlin’.”

Mac guessed that meant yes. “Then we should probably get some sleep while we can, right?”

The hand that had been trying to sneak down to his pants suddenly stopped. She sighed and put it back on his chest. “Right...good night, RJ.”

He chuckled just a little. It was very surreal being on the sensible end for once. “Good night, Nora.”

Chapter Text

Mac woke in the morning before Nora, for once. She was mumbling in her sleep, pressing back against him and moving her hips in ways that had him seriously considering putting the Med-Tek trip off by a few days. Her sweater had rode up to her waist in her sleep and his hand had somehow found its way up under it and was holding her breast, his thumb moving absentmindedly over her nipple.

Well...that would explain the wiggling, he guessed. Some voice of reason he was turning out to be.

He reluctantly slipped his hand back to a more sensible location and he pulled her against him, breathing her in and pressing a kiss to the back of her neck. She murmured happily and settled back down a bit. Mac wrestled against the urge to rub his morning wood against her and instead tried to think about the job they had ahead of them. There would be plenty of time for all that fun later, when Duncan’s future was secure.

The Rexford was waking up around them. He could hear Claire barking orders even at this distance and the banging around of the other patrons getting ready to head out. Mac wasn’t sure why he was just now noticing how thin the walls here really were, but they certainly were. He hoped Nora didn’t notice. She’d probably be mortified after their afternoon together.

Footsteps shuffled along the corridor and stopped by their door. There was a single bang and someone (maybe Fred?) yelled out, “Room service!” before shuffling back down the hall.

What the hell was room service?

Mac reluctantly dragged himself from bed and grabbed his pistol before moving the chair and unchaining the door. This was Hancock’s town, and he was pretty sure nothing would threaten them here, but a lifetime of being on guard didn’t just magically go away overnight. He opened the door a bare inch and looked around.

Nothing and nobody.

Then he looked down and saw a tray with two covered plates, a pot of coffee with two cups and a card with ‘Sunshine’ written on it in block letters. Hancock’s handwriting. Interesting.

Mac brought the tray in and shut the door, locking it but not putting the chair back. Seemed a little like overkill since Deacon wasn’t in town anymore. Nora was sitting up, yawning and blinking sleepily at him as he brought the tray over.

“Morning, honey...I was having the most marvelous dream…”, she reached for the coffee and poured a cup for herself and him.

He accepted the mug and snickered just a little, “Oh, yeah?” Mac had a pretty good idea of what she’d been dreaming about.

“M’hmm…”, she paused and looked at the cup at her hand, finally awake. “Oh. Is this...the Rexford has room service now?”

“That’s what the guy yelled at our door, boss. What’s room service?” He sipped his coffee. It didn’t have the smoothness Nora’s coffee did, but it got the job done.

“Before the war, in nice hotels, you could order food from your room and they’d bring it to you so you didn’t have to leave. Then when you were finished, you’d leave the tray outside your door and housekeeping would pick it up for you.”

Mac thought about how very convenient that could be, if you never had to leave your room with a girl like Nora in it. Lucky pre-war bastards probably hadn’t even realized how good they had it. “Sounds fancy. There’s a card there with your uh...name on it.”

Nora set her cup down and grabbed her glasses, “A card?” She plucked the envelope from the tray and opened it. He watched her read it and tried to not get jealous at how her eyes softened once she’d gotten through it. “Well isn’t that just the sweetest thing. Hancock really is an angel, isn’t he?” She held the card out to Mac and he took it with an eyebrow raised.

The card read: Please enjoy this humble breakfast, compliments of your favorite mayor. Gotta keep your strength up, love. - Hancock

Mac fought to roll his eyes. It was a little saccharine for his tastes, but the gesture was nice, he guessed. Whatever it was was probably better than another pack of Fancy Lads.

“Oh, there’s something written on the back, honey.” Nora was squinting a little at the note and he flipped it over.

Kid, remember what I said. Sharing is caring. -H

Mac snorted and tried to not laugh. Now there was the Hancock he knew. He tossed the note aside and uncovered the plates. There were fried tatos, toast and mutfruit jam, and an omelet each. He whistled. For Goodneighbor this was downright swanky.

Nora’s eyes had followed the note to the floor. “What’d it say?”

“Oh, uh…”, he didn’t want to lie to her, but he also didn’t want to be responsible for soiling Hancock’s angelic rep with her either. “He just said to make sure we shared.”

She smiled, “Ah, he must know how I feel about coffee.”

“Yup, that must be it, boss. Let’s eat.”

 

If Mac didn’t know any better, he’d swear Nora was deliberately trying to tempt him. He’d watched her wiggle-hop dance getting her jeans back on and then watched her bend over to slip on her shoes, her ass right up in his face, and felt like his sanity was being assaulted. She hadn’t bothered with a bra and her hair was put up in a messy knot on the top of her head with just a few pins. It would be so easy to pull it back down, throw her on the bed and…

No. No, he had to focus. They had to get to Diamond City.

They’d left the Rexford holding hands, Nora happily tugging him along. The eyes of the Watch never left them but they seemed more amused than suspicious for once. That was pretty nice, he guessed.

“Hey! Be careful out there, Sunshine!”, Hancock was waving his hat at them from his balcony. Nora smiled up at him and blew him a kiss.

Mac thought his play acting that it knocked him off his feet was a tad much.

“Take care of my girl, Mac!”

“She’s my girl, Hancock!”, he put just a bit of temper into it and gave him a one finger salute for good measure.

The ghoul just laughed. Nora dragged him around the corner and out the gate before he could get himself into real trouble and they headed out.

The streets of Boston were oddly quiet along the path to Diamond City. Mac didn’t like it. There were places where super mutants or raiders always seemed to congregate, but those areas were empty. There weren’t even bodies to loot.

“Does this seem weird to you, boss? It’s a little too quiet, right?”

Nora paused for a moment and looked around. “Oh…”, her head tilted and Mac knew she was listening hard for any sign of life. “It must be the Brotherhood.” She shrugged and continued on; Mac followed, his right hand still in her left.

“Brotherhood? I thought they were hanging out at the airport?”

She nodded, “Mostly, yes. We’ve been having some issues with them trying to bully settlements into giving them free food though. They tried saying it was a fair exchange for protection, but I know extortion when I hear it. I sent an official notice to Maxson that if it continued, we’d see it as an act of aggression.” She shot him a dangerous sort of grin over her shoulder. “I don’t think he took it seriously until we wiped out the Gunners, but now they’ve started clearing out portions of the city. I think they’re trying to impress the Minutemen. Prove that they can be useful or something.”

Mac grumbled under his breath. Knowing Maxson, he was pretty sure he was trying to impress someone, but it probably wasn’t the Minutemen at large.

“Have you had a lot of meetings with him, boss?”

Nora shook her head, “No, not really. I just met him once. I mostly deal with Paladin Danse. He’s not too terrible, just...a bit misguided. He was stationed in Cambridge and I helped them out before I knew better.” Mac laughed at that. “Danse really wanted me in the Brotherhood, and dragged me up on the Prydwen when it arrived. I think he thought I’d be really impressed with their giant floating tin can. I met Maxson then and he made me a Knight on the spot, regardless of how I felt about it. Typical despot behavior. Deacon said it was a good thing though, for espionage and such.”

“You’re a Knight in the Brotherhood?”

She laughed, “I guess. I don’t think Maxson likes me much. I haven’t done a thing for them and I asked a lot of questions when we met. Danse told me I was being disrespectful later on, but I don’t think asking questions is disrespectful. If your authority is genuine, you shouldn’t mind people questioning it occasionally.”

Mac snorted. Yeah, he bet old Artie had just loved Nora questioning him. He wished he’d been there for that. Not that he ever cared to be in Maxson’s presence again.

“I met him once myself, back in the Capital Wasteland. I don’t think he liked me much, either.” He still remembered how satisfying it had been to punch that asshole in the face.

Nora stopped abruptly and kissed him. “Well, there you go, honey. He clearly has no taste in people.”

Mac went to wrap his arms around her, but she’d already taken off again.

Was she trying to drive him insane? Or was he somehow doing it to himself? He should have taken her up on her offer to get him off before they left the Rexford. Probably be able to think more clearly.

They made it to Diamond City without having to fire a single shot. Even the massive encampment of Super Mutants who usually spent their days picking off members of DC’s security force was emptied out. Mac overheard some of the officers talking amongst themselves about the power of the Brotherhood. They seemed less impressed than worried. He wondered if Maxson knew, or cared, that the people of the Commonwealth didn’t seem to view them as the great liberators they clearly saw themselves as.

Nora sighed as they walked through the gate, “I really wish you could have seen this place in its glory days, Mac. I wasn’t into baseball at all but it was still impressive. Next time we’re in Sanctuary, remind me to show you some of my old photo albums. I think there’s a few pictures from the last time we came to Fenway.”

Mac didn’t give two tenths of a shit about any old world crap that wasn’t specifically related to Nora, but the idea of seeing pictures of her from back then was pretty tempting. “Your pictures survived? That’s pretty lucky.”

She laughed, “Luck had nothing to do with it, honey. Codsworth buried everything that he could. I’ve got holotapes, pictures, all sorts of things packed away.”

He nodded, “That must be nice, boss. I’ve got some letters and a...present Lucy gave me once, but no pictures.”

Nora froze. He could feel her hand twitching just a little in his. “No pictures at all?”

“Nope. Most people don’t nowadays.” Mac shrugged, a little uncomfortable with the pitying look on her face.

“I...That’s...I’m so sorry, honey.” She looked like she was about to cry.

Mac caught a tear before it fell with his thumb and smiled at her. He hated to see her cry but loved that she cared so much. “It’s okay, baby. I’ve still got my memories, right?”

She nodded for a second. “Oh... oh! I…”, she looked around as if noticing where they were for the first time. “I’m going to go get us something to eat! Why don’t you go on to Home Plate? You still have a key, right, honey?” Her hand slipped out of his and she practically bounced away.

He scratched his head for a moment and wondered if he was ever going to get used to how she could emotionally turn on a dime. “Uh...yeah...yeah, sure, boss. I’ll head over there right after I grab some ammo.”

He watched her trotting down the ramp, excitement evident in her every movement. “Alright, honey! I’ll see you at home!”

Mac shrugged and headed for Arturo’s. He’d buy all the .308 the guy had and then see if Myrna had any. She usually was good for a few rounds, anyway. He made his way across the market when a rustling sound made his blood go cold. Mac looked up and there were two crows sitting on a powerline. They looked like regular birds to him, but he took a few steps back just to see. One of them followed his movement. He took a step to the side and the bird mirrored him.

Shit. Institute.

He looked around at all the security milling around. There was no way he could just randomly shoot it here. They really frowned on discharging your weapons within the city walls and he was not getting delayed by spending a night in the DC brink.

Mac thought for a minute. There was nothing about a merc buying ammo in the market that could possibly seem suspicious or tell them anything about Nora. She was safe as long as she was here, probably. Not even the Institute would just zap themselves into the middle of the biggest city in the Commonwealth. Surely not. He’d buy his ammo, get to her house, activate Tom’s jammer thing and then sit tight.

Turned out, Arturo had a ton of .308. Mac bought enough to take down a small army, or a building full of ghouls, and decided to skip Myrna’s. She was warily eyeballing anyone who came close to her store and part of him briefly considered telling her about the crows but decided against it. Atom only knew what kind of damage she could wreck if she got pushed too far past the line of sanity.

Mac let himself into Nora’s and set his gear down. He headed for the kitchen where the jammer had been and froze when he saw it in pieces on her counter. They’d been here already. They could still be here. He backed back around the corner, grabbed his shit and went back outside, leaning casually against the door and pulling out a cigarette like he’d just decided to have a smoke break.

Nora came bouncing around the corner halfway through his second cigarette. She had a paper bag in her arms and an excited, almost euphoric look on her face. He smiled at her as she came up to him, despite the terror that was poking him in the stomach.

“Oh, Mac. What’s wrong? Did you forget your key?” She was digging around in her pack now for that ridiculously huge keyring she always carried.

He took the bag from her and pulled her into a one-armed hug. She squeaked a little in surprise but wrapped her arms around him and snuggled against him all the same.

“Listen, baby. The Institute has been in your house. They broke that thing Tom made.” He whispered it against her hair and felt her go so still that for a brief moment she didn’t even breathe.

Then she leaned back and smiled that fake Nuka Cadet smile at him, “It’s okay, honey. I always have a key on me.” Her voice would sound normal to anyone listening, but her eyes were wide and worried. She nodded just a little and he stepped away from the door. He had a hand on his pistol just in case and followed her in close enough to be her shadow.

She paused just after the door shut behind them, ripped open a pocket on her pack and brought out the signal jammer from her room at the Rexford, twisting the fusion core in the bottom all the way in as she did.

There was the customary whine and Mac heard a few odd pops from deeper within her house. Then everything was quiet. Nora relaxed and leaned back against him a little.

“Okay, we should be fine for now.”

Mac set his gear down for a second time and followed her into the kitchen. She set the jammer next to the destroyed one and tutted at it.

“This is so...wasteful. Childish, even. Why destroy it?” She poked a little at the mess and sighed, “Tom worked so hard on it, too.”

“I’m sure he’ll understand, boss. What were those pops earlier?” Mac still hadn’t put his pistol away and was peering into the dark corners of her home with suspicion.

“Oh, those were the bugs.” She waved a hand as if it were of no importance. “They bug everything they can. The jammer overloads them. We’re safe in our little bubble for now.” Nora started unpacking their lunch. “I hope you like mirelurk cakes. They taste a lot like crab cakes from my time and I had a hankering for some.”

Mac holstered his gun and went to the fridge to grab some drinks. “Food’s food, boss.”

Nora looked at him over her glasses for a moment like she was going to scold him but chose to busy herself with cutting a loaf of bread instead. “There’s a little jar with white stuff in it in the fridge, sug. Can you grab it?”

He turned back to the fridge and frowned at the mysterious goop. Mac picked up the jar and shook it a little. The stuff inside was jiggly and decidedly unappetizing. This couldn’t possibly be food, right? Last time he’d been here he’d assumed it was some mysterious woman’s thing. He handed it over anyway and watched as she painted both pieces of bread with the stuff, set a cake on it and then pressed it all together.

“Viola! Mirelurk rolls! Sort of.” She licked a bit of the white goop off her finger before holding one of the rolls out to him and he had to work a bit to smile pleasantly and accept it instead of tackling her to the floor like his dick wanted him to.

Mac narrowed his eyes at her but she sure seemed like she was just making lunch and not trying to slowly drive him out of his mind. He knew she wasn’t good at outright lying, but pretending? Maybe? He wasn’t sure. He took a bite of his roll thoughtfully and was surprised at how good it was.

“Sh-shoot, boss. This is good!”

Nora sighed, “Mac, honey, do not talk with your mouth full. I’m glad you like it. I made the mayonnaise myself. Had to use a mirelurk egg, so it’s not really good for much else.” She took a bite of her own roll and stared off into space for a minute. “Someday, I’ll get some of those lovely radchickens from Far Harbor down here. Then I’ll really be able to make stuff that’ll knock your socks off. Custard. Cakes. A proper omelet. You just wait.”

He swallowed a bite before answering her, “You’re gonna make me fat if you cook up all that.”

She snorted, “Honey, there isn’t enough food in the world to put meat on your bones.”

There was a dirty joke right on the tip of his tongue, but he stifled it and decided the best course of action was to keep his mouth shut and just eat his damn sandwich.

They finished their rolls and had a Nuka Cola each. Mac helped her clean up their mess and the nostalgic feeling of doing domestic chores with the person you loved made his eyes go all watery for a second. He watched her wipe down the counter and wondered what good thing he’d done to earn this kind of karma.

“I’m going to get changed and then we can head out, honey. We can stay overnight at Cabot House and then head out at first light. We’ll make Med-Tek by this time tomorrow. If that’s okay?” She kissed his cheek on her way out of the kitchen and he followed, as he always did.

“Yeah, that sounds great. We’ll be able to hit it hard and get out before nightfall. That place is creepy enough during the day. I’m not interested in being there after dark.”

They went upstairs, Nora continued on to the upper loft while Mac sat on the bed.

“It is creepy, isn’t it? Curie and I cleared out the parking lot when we went but when I ran by it a few weeks after, there were a whole new crop of ferals just wandering around.” Her voice was muffled as she dug through a huge trunk. “I wonder if they’re former employees or if there’s just something about the place that attracts them.”

Mac shrugged, “Who knows? I’m just glad we’re going together. Nothing stands a chance against the two of us.”

She reappeared, her arms full of clothing, and smiled brightly at him. “This is only our second real mission together, you know. I’m so excited!” She dumped everything on the bed next to him and started taking the pins out of her hair.

Mac watched it fall down her back but managed to tear his gaze away to look at the giant coat she’d brought down from storage. He held it up and wrinkled his nose at it. Thing weighed a ton and was quite possibly the ugliest thing he’d ever seen.

“Boss, what the he-heck is this thing?”

Nora pulled her sweater over her head and grabbed a tank top. “It’s my Railroad heavy coat, of course.”

He was glad he needed both hands to hold the stupid coat up. It stopped him from pawing at her breasts. Mac cleared his throat and tried to ignore how ridiculous this entire situation was. “Oh, yeah? It’s uh…”

She was out of her jeans already and busy squeezing herself into a pair of leather pants. He hadn’t even known she had leather pants but now he was mildly irritated that she didn’t always wear them.

“It’s dog ugly. I know. But it gets the job done. Nothing can get through that coat. Deacon said he once had a yao guai bite his arm while wearing one. Didn’t even tear it.” She paused and wiggled a bit before bending over to slip her boots on. Mac was having trouble remembering why he’d told her no sex in the first place. Seemed like something a dumbass would have said. “I mean, it still broke his arm. They have amazing jaws and incredible bite strength. But still, it’s pretty impressive.” She slipped a flannel shirt on over her tank top and started brushing her hair.

He kept his focus on the coat. “Lot of pockets on this thing.”

Nora nodded and began braiding her hair. “There are pockets on top of pockets, honey. I don’t have to wear a pack at all when I have that thing on.” She slipped a hat on and tucked the braid into it.

Mac frowned at the hat. Looked familiar somehow. “Hey, is that a Brotherhood hat?”

She laughed, “It’s a scribe hat. They’re cute, right? I bought it from their commissary when I was on the Prydwen as a souvenir.”

He snorted at that. Trust Nora to visit a flying war machine and come back with a trinket. He handed her the giant coat and followed her back down the stairs. She pulled a plasma rifle off the wall and started shoving cartridges into her pockets from a trunk hidden behind the couch. Mac heard her muttering to herself and realized she was counting as she went.

He picked up her rifle and let out a low whistle. “Da-dang, boss. This is fancy.” The thing looked like it could melt a hole through a Sentrybot.

“It’s Experiment 18-A. I was testing it for the Institute.” She shook her head ruefully. “So many brilliant minds down there. I hope I can save some of them.”

“If they’re so brilliant, they’ll save themselves.” She closed the trunk and pushed it back behind the couch. Mac chuckled a little as she slipped a bit trying to muscle it back into place. “Anything I can carry, boss?”

She stood back up and slipped the rifle on her back. “Sure, honey. Let’s grab some stimpacks and stuff and then we’ll be good to go.” He followed her to a back corner behind the bathroom. Mac hadn’t even known this particular cubby existed, but it had metal shelving and boxes with more chems than most doctors had on hand.

“Jeez, baby. You stocking up for the next apocalypse?” He watched her slip Rad-X, Radaway and stimpacks into pockets on the inside of her coat.

Nora gave him a sassy look and handed him a small bag full of chems. “It’s always good to be prepared, Mac. You never know, right? I mean, I woke up one morning, had a cup of coffee, read the newspaper, played with my baby and then the world ended. You don’t tend to get a lot of warning about that stuff.”

He grimaced, “Right...right. Sorry.”

She shrugged it off, “It’s fine, honey, really. Let’s rock and roll.”

Chapter Text

The Brotherhood hadn’t made it to northeast Boston yet, it seemed. They encountered fairly heavy Super Mutant resistance and even a few pockets of Mirelurks on their way to the Cabots’. The more creatures Nora’s rifle vaporized into green puddles of goo, the more impressed he was with it. Looked like they were attempting to regroup to Mac, at least the mutants were. Who the hell knew how a Mirelurk’s mind worked. He hoped the local civilians had enough sense to stay the hell out of the way whenever the inevitable pushback began.

There was an extra Sentrybot patrolling the area in front of Cabot House. It scanned them, identified Nora and ‘guest’ and rolled on its way.

“How many of those things do your cousins have anyway, boss?”

She laughed, “Goodness only knows, honey. I guess the Brotherhood is making Edward nervous.”

Mac frowned, “He should be more than nervous. They’re ghoul haters, you know. Claim there’s no difference between a regular ghoul and a feral.”

Nora paused as she unlocked the front door, her thumb rubbing on the key in her hand. “So...they would kill Edward or Hancock on sight?”

He nodded, “Yeah. Hancock, Edward, Daisy...they don’t care.”

A dark look crossed her face. “They’re in for a reckoning if they try that nonsense in my Commonwealth.”

Mac followed her into the dark house, smirking a little. He really, really wanted to be there the next time she met up with Maxson, despite his own personal feelings on that asshole.

Nora flipped on the light and looked around. “I...don’t think anyone’s home? That’s funny. Cousin Mina’s always here.”

“Cousin Mina?” Mac had a hand on his pistol, just in case, as they moved deeper into the house.

“Oh...you know her as Mrs. Cabot. She never, ever leaves her house.” She paused in the doorway of the living room. There was a folded note on the coffee table with her name on it. “That’s Jack’s writing.”

Mac didn’t relax until Nora set up the signal jammer and set it on the table next to the note. There were no pops that he could hear. That probably meant the Institute hadn’t bothered with her cousins, right? Not yet, anyway.

She read over the letter and tucked it into a pocket. “They’re out on family business. Guess we have the house to ourselves for tonight, honey.”

“Sh-shoot, really? Means you won’t have to wear those shoes, right?”

Nora chuckled a bit. “Right. Let’s go put our stuff upstairs and then see what’s in the kitchen.”

He followed her up the stairs and down the dark hallway. She didn’t bother with lights until she reached her room. Mac wasn’t a huge fan of bumbling along in the dark but she knew the house well enough that she didn’t need to see, apparently.

They dumped their gear, including Nora’s giant coat, hat, boots and pants. He watched her shed clothes and kept his focus on setting his rifle down just so on the dresser.

“Uh...whatcha doin’ there, boss?”

She dropped her boots by the door and shrugged, “I just want to be comfortable, honey.”

He rubbed the back of his neck. “You need to be pantless for that?”

“Well...yes. Leather pants get hot.” Her head tilted a bit. “Is there something wrong with not wearing pants?”

Mac laughed helplessly, “No, no, I guess not.” He took off his duster and hat and tossed them on the couch. “Let’s go raid the kitchen.”

He followed her down the ‘servants hall’, as she called it, and realized he’d made a terrible tactical error. The hem of her flannel shirt just barely covered her bottom and his hands itched to tear it off. He watched her hand tapping along with whatever song she was humming, mesmerized by the way her thighs jiggled just a little every time she took a step. She was entirely too tempting half-naked. He should have lead the way, clearly.

Somehow he made it down the stairs without falling on top of her and quickly sat on a stool while she peeked inside various refrigerators. Every countertop in the place seemed like it was just begging for him to throw her across it, so he figured sitting on a hard stool and focusing on how uncomfortable it was would be a good distraction.

He was trying to prove he could restrain himself, after all. Someone in their relationship had to be the voice of reason about these things.

She came over loaded up with plates of leftovers and slid one with a few slabs of steak on it in front of Mac with a wink.

“All your favorites, honey. Just need a pot to heat this soup up in.”

Mac picked up a piece of meat and tore a bite off with his teeth. Shit was still incredible, even cold. “Yeah, what’s with the soup anyway? Do they have it every night or what?”

Nora grabbed a large pot off the top shelf. Mac watched her shirt ride up when she reached for it and tried to not choke on his steak. She turned and he carefully watched her face for any sign that she knew what she was doing to him, but there was nothing.

Atom help him if she ever actually tried to seduce him.

“It’s Cousin Mina’s favorite from when she was a girl...sort of. The original recipe uses pork, but you can’t find that anymore, of course...except for old cans of Cram, and they’re more salt than pork.”

“Pork? Like from a pig, right?” He chewed another piece thoughtfully.

She nodded, “Yup, like from a pig. They use fatty brahmin cuts as a substitute now. It’s still pretty tasty, but there’s really no replacing pork. I really, really miss bacon.” Nora sighed and Mac watched her carefully pour some of the soup into the pot and stir it.

“Pigs haven’t been around since the war, though, right? How old is Mrs. Cabot anyway?”

He’s said it as a joke, but her eyes went wide with something close to panic and she stared at Mac in silence. “I...um…”, she looked extremely uncomfortable suddenly and he felt a little nudge of suspicion deep in his gut.

Mac set the steak down and cleared his throat a bit, “Nora?”

She was twisting the ring on her finger. “Yes?”

He took a deep breath, “Are your cousins vampires?”

They stared at each other in heavy silence for a moment before the giggle-snorting started. Mac watched her bend over, holding her stomach and laughing her ass off and chuckled a little. He’d been at least sixty percent sure they weren’t, but her reaction was a welcome confirmation that the whole idea had been ridiculous.

Nora took a deep breath, steadying herself, and wiped her eyes. “Actually, you're not far off, honey. They kind of are vampires.” She was still chuckling to herself as she stirred the soup. Mac’s mouth had dropped open at her statement but she hadn’t noticed.

“They’re...vampires are real?” He hated that his voice had risen a few octaves but this shit was terrifying.

“Well, no...but...it’s complicated. I can tell you, but it’s a very old family secret and you have to swear to never tell another soul. It can’t leave this house.”

He solemnly held up a hand. “I swear.”

“Cross your heart?”

“Uh...yeah, that, too.”

She narrowed her eyes a little, then shrugged, seemingly satisfied with his sincerity. “Okay. Well...a long, long time ago, Jack’s father, Cousin Lorenzo, found the remains of an ancient civilization. He was an explorer of sorts, and had gone out trying to prove that whole thing Jack’s always on about. How aliens set up all of human civilization.” Mac nodded. He’d gotten the whole run down on this that first night. “Now, I don’t know if that is actually true, but Lorenzo did find a mysterious artifact. The artifact gave him amazing powers, but it also drove him insane...and homicidal. If it hadn’t been for the family’s influence, they would have executed him. Jack convinced the authorities to let him keep Lorenzo in the basement of an asylum instead, as a permanent resident, while he tried to separate the artifact from his father. It had sort of...melded with his brain, you see.”

“Jeez, that’s awful.” Mac hadn’t had a father that he could remember, but he was one. He could only imagine the terror Jack must have felt when his dad turned into a monster.

Nora nodded, “Yes, it was terrible by all accounts. Jack adored his father and he was apparently a very nice man before...well, before. Jack was limited by the science of the time, but he discovered that there was an unknown compound in his father’s blood. Something he couldn’t identify. He separated a sample from the blood itself and discovered that it could be used to create a serum that would give whoever used it incredible strength and vitality. Kind of like Psycho but without the rage issues. Jack began using the serum as a means of keeping himself awake longer so he could keep at his work.” She ladled the reheated soup into two bowls and passed one to Mac, then came around and hopped up on the stool next to him. He stared hard at his bowl and deliberately ignored how much he wanted to reach out and run his hand along her creamy thigh.

“That um...that doesn’t sound very safe, boss.” He started on his soup and saw her nod from the corner of his eye.

“It most certainly was not, honey, but Jack was desperate. Every day he lost more of his father and every day his father’s abilities grew. Eventually though, Jack realized the serum also had another side-effect. It halted aging. Once he realized this, Cousin Mina and Cousin Emogene wanted to use the serum, too. They wanted to stay alive as long as it took to cure Lorenzo. So they all started taking it.” She swallowed a bite of soup. “That was in 1899.”

Mac froze and turned to get a proper look at her face. She was sitting there eating her soup like she hadn’t just said something unbelievable. “1899, boss?”

She nodded, “M’hmm. They’ve been around almost 400 years now.”

He stared into the soup bowl. “So...this soup…”

“It’s from the Civil War era. It’s boiled pork and bean soup. It was a big hit when wartime rationing started. Cousin Mina’s family cook was famous for it.”

“Sh-shoot, boss, that’s…”

“Incredible, I know.”

“So...when did you find all this out? Or had you always known?”

She shook her head, “No, I didn’t grow up knowing about the serum or anything. I didn’t find out anything until I visited them as an adult. Daddy brought me here as a child to meet them, and Jack was going by Jacob then. His hair was a little different, too. Then when I arrived fifteen years later and came to pay my respects, he answered the door calling himself Jack.” She chuckled a bit, “He seemed surprised that I was able to remember him so well. Kept trying to deny everything until Cousin Emmy told him to give it a rest.”

“Wait...Cousin Emmy...that’s Emogene?”

Nora nodded, “Yup. The very same.”

“Huh...when you first uh...thawed out, did you come straight here?”

She shook her head, “No, I assumed they had perished along with everyone else. It wasn’t until Deacon mentioned a strange house in the area that I started to wonder if maybe they’d made it, too.” She gave him a half smile. “Apparently we Cabots are made from pretty stern stuff.”

“I’m glad you are, boss. I dunno where I’d have ended up if you hadn’t walked into my life. Probably have a bullet in my head from those Gunner as-jerks by now.”

Nora reached over and ruffled his hair before pulling him closer to kiss his cheek. “And it’s such a nice head, too, honey.”

He laughed, “Now you’re starting to sound like Curie.”

She giggled and hopped back off the stool, gathering their empty bowls. “You want to have the first shower? I can get all this cleaned up.”

Mac shook his head and took the bowls from her, “Hey, you cooked. Least I can do is clean up. You shower first.”

“I don’t feel like heating up soup is cooking, but I’m not about to argue with a man who wants to do dishes.”

She headed back upstairs, Mac’s eyes following her as she went. He could take his time cleaning up, really mull over this new, strange Cabot alien-vampire thing, and then figure out how he was supposed to actually sleep next to her tonight. He was anxious about their mission and had a lot of restless energy that would be far better spent doing...other things in bed than just sleeping. Lucy had needed at least two days to recover from her injuries though. Probably more time, really. He wasn’t going to push just because he wanted to burn off excess nerves.

By the time he got the kitchen put to rights, Nora was already out of the bathroom. A cloud of steam still hung in the air and when he poked his head into their room to grab some pajama pants, she was combing her hair, still sitting in a fluffy robe. She smiled at him and he smiled back before heading into the bathroom.

Mac took his time in the shower. He eyeballed the cream rinse for a few minutes before deciding against using it again. Rubbing one out would definitely take the edge off, but it would be a poor substitute for Nora and he had a feeling like it would just make him even more frustrated than he already was.

It was fine. This was totally fine. He could be a gentlemen for a few more hours and then after they got the cure, they could celebrate in style. Eventually. Once she felt better. He was going to be a sensible adult and not push.

He toweled off and slipped his pants on. The air outside the bathroom had a bit of a bite to it after the steamy warmth of his shower and he took a deep breath. It was steadying, really. He was proud of himself. Restraint had never been his strong suit, but he was doing pretty well, all things considered.

Then he opened the door to their room and felt his brain completely switch off.

Nora was laying on the bed, propped up with pillows against the headboard, reading a book in the soft lamplight. Her hair was fanned out, the ends starting to curl up slightly as they dried and she had on that damn nightgown. The white lacy thing with the ribbons. The one from their first night at the Cabots. The one Mac had spent countless hours after imagining himself tearing off.

She smiled at him as he stood in the doorway, seemingly unaware of his struggle to control himself. “Hey, honey. I thought...since you said we couldn’t um...well, I thought maybe reading? Jack’s got an impressive collection in his library. I pulled some stuff I thought you’d like.” She gestured to the stack of books on the dresser. There was absolutely nothing in her demeanor that suggested she was doing any of this on purpose. She was apparently just naturally gifted at driving him out of his mind.

Mac was moving for the bed before his brain even registered what was happening. He crawled up to her, tossed her book over his shoulder and kissed her, hard. She froze for just a moment in surprise, then melted into it like she always did.

For just a second, a tiny slice of sanity shone though and Mac pulled back. Nora followed for a bit before letting him break their kiss, a small sulky sound in her throat.

He rested his forehead against hers and thought hard. Thought about getting to Med-Tek, Duncan waiting, the ferals that awaited them...none of it was enough to make him get off the bed. She pushed him back just a bit with a hand on his chest and he opened his eyes. She was watching him with that wonderful focused kitten look.

“Honey, I’m okay. I really am. We don’t...I mean, how long are you planning on making me wait, anyway?” She gave him a comically fierce sort of frown and he found himself laughing at the absurdity of the entire thing.

“Nora, I...Having you this close to me has made me happier than I've ever been before. I guess I’m...I’m kind of terrified of fu-messing it up.” He closed his eyes when her face shifted from irritated to understanding. He couldn’t take seeing that sweet look on her face right now.

She leaned forward and kissed his forehead. “Being with you makes me feel happy, too. I love you, RJ. You can’t mess that up.”

“I dunno, I have a pretty solid record of messing sh-stuff up,” he grumbled.

“Well...I have a pretty solid record of fixing things, so maybe we’ll balance each other out a little.”

He looked at her and her patient, slightly amused smile and smiled back. “I love you, baby.”

“I know you do.” She put a hand on his cheek and rubbed her thumb across his cheekbone. “Now get your butt in gear and show me.” He caught her sassy little smile just before her lips met his and chuckled.

Mac relaxed into their kiss and Nora made happy little noises when his hands came up to slide through that wonderful hair he loved so much. He felt her trying to scoot down further into the bed and broke away from her, smiling at her grumpy expression.

“Mac, what…”

“Gotta pass inspection first, boss.” He grinned wickedly at her and she tilted her head.

“Inspection?” She sounded confused and more than a little suspicious.

“Yup.” Mac kissed the tip of her nose and then backed slowly down her body, planting little kisses here and there until he was settled on the bed, laying comfortably between her legs with his head resting on her lap. He raised an eyebrow at her and waited for her to get it.

Her cheeks went pink and she started giggling, “Oooh, I see. Inspection ...right.”

He laughed and leaned back on his knees, sliding his hands under her hips and dragging her further down the bed. She squeaked in surprise and her nightgown rode up enough that he could see she didn’t wear anything under it. Well, wasn’t that convenient.

Mac settled back between her legs and pushed the silky fabric further up. “No panties, baby? Look at you being naughty.”

She was still giggling, “Nice girls don’t wear panties to bed, Mac. Everybody knows that.”

“They do not. I didn’t know that.”

She snorted, “Well, you did grow up in a cave, sugar. You probably don’t know a lot of things.”

He faked offense. “You’re awfully sassy for someone who thought a Deathclaw was a dinosaur.”

Nora raised up on her elbows just enough to glare at him. “It was my first day, Robert Joseph. I…oh!”

He’d nipped her on the thigh and laughed as she immediately fell back against the pillows. All thoughts of arguing apparently forgotten. He used his hands to gently separate her folds and carefully looked her over.

“Hmm, well, it certainly looks better.” Mac glanced up at her pink face and she started giggling. He then slowly drug his tongue along her center to her clit and chuckled when she gasped and held her breath for a moment. “Still tastes the same...I dunno though…”

Her hands were now covering her face and he heard her huff through them. “For heaven’s sake, why are you always trying to be so mean to me?”

He smiled and flicked his tongue around her clit before answering, “I’m never mean to you. You’ve been torturing me all da-dang day.”

Her hands came down enough for her to glare at him, “I have not. I haven’t done a thing to you since you said no sex. I’ve been good all day! And it was hard, too!”

“Oh yeah?” He smirked at that and placed a wet kiss to her core, dipping his tongue into her for a better taste.

She moaned and tried to wiggle down closer to his mouth. “Yes. You’re just...the way you look at me sometimes and...and the way you walk…”

That was interesting. He’d hadn’t realized she was apparently watching him the way he watched her today. “The way I walk, baby?” He slid just one finger into her, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to do anything but drive her crazy. Her pussy immediately tightened around it and the frustrated sounds she kept making made him oddly smug. He pressed a few light kisses against her clit before sucking it gently, feeling her shudder under him as he did. If his cock weren’t throbbing so painfully, he could probably do this forever.

Nora was panting a little already and her answer was breathless in a way that went right to the heart of him. “You...your walk...the way your hips sway and...and all I can think about is...is this.” Her hands found his hair and she pulled him closer, whimpering in her need.

Mac was pretty close to whimpering himself. He pulled back despite her grip and settled his body over her. His cock was pressed right against her and he could feel her heat through his pajama pants. He rolled his hips against her and she clawed at his back in desperation.

“Want me to keep going, baby, or are you ready for…”

“Goddammit, RJ, just take your pants off.” She almost snarled it at him and he laughed.

“Bossy.” He kissed her, grinding into her and enjoying the way she already bucked against him. Mac broke off long enough to take her glasses off and set them on the bedside table. Nora huffed impatiently and took the opportunity to slide a hand into his pants, fingers wrapping around his cock and pulling with a twisting motion. He involuntarily pumped into her hand a few times before he was able to control himself enough to stop.

Mac seized her neck with his teeth and growled against her. She shivered and her hand stopped and let him go. He grabbed a handful of her hair close to the base of her skull and pulled. She gasped and arched against him. He released her neck and their eyes met.

“Who’s the boss when we’re in bed, baby?”

Her eyes were sparkling and she bit her lip a little before answering, “You said you were the boss when our pants are off. Your pants aren’t off yet, honey.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. He honestly couldn’t tell if this was one of those annoying super literal moments or if she was deliberately being facetious. “Think you’re pretty clever, don’t you?” His hand tightened in her hair and her lips parted, drawing his attention. “Maybe I’ll just use that pretty mouth of yours instead. Leave you wanting a few more hours.” Her eyes went wide and she shook her head a little. “Oh, no? You wouldn’t like that, huh, baby?” Mac kissed her gently, carefully, taking a little of the sting out of his words. She relaxed under him and he smiled against her. She had to know he’d never actually torture her that much. Maybe. This was just a game, after all. He planted little kisses along her jaw and nuzzled against her ear, “Now, who’s in charge when we’re in bed?”

“You are, RJ.” It came out as a sigh and he chuckled. He still wasn’t completely clear on why she loved this shit so much, but he didn’t care, really. The way it turned her on was all he cared about.

“Good girl.” He let her hair go and rose up above her, sliding his pants off and watching the hunger on her face as he freed his cock. He was absolutely never going to get over the fact that someone like her wanted someone like him so fucking bad. Her eyes finally rose to meet his and her shy, blushy smile about did him in.

Mac grabbed the bottom of her nightgown and tugged it up over her head. She sat up just enough for him to pull it off and his hands immediately cupped her breasts after he tossed it aside. He rolled her nipples between his thumb and forefinger, watching them harden under his touch and she writhed under his touch, hands fisting into the sheet beneath her.

His hands were starting to tremble and he knew if he took her like this, it would just be a repeat of the Rexford. He’d already nearly exhausted his already limited self-control. All he could think of was how good it would feel to drive into her again and again until they both came undone. He put a hand on her hip and pulled up a little.

“Nora, baby, roll over for me.”

She immediately followed his direction, rolling onto her stomach and arching her back beautifully when his hands found her ass and kneaded it. God, she had a great ass. Mac wondered if Nate had ever taken it, if she’d even be into that, but decided against asking until later. She was plaint and obedient under his hands now and he figured it wouldn’t be fair springing something like that on her when she couldn’t think it out. He grabbed one of the pillows and lifted her hips enough to slide it under her. She was leaned up a bit, watching him over her shoulder and he pushed her head down.

“Head down, ass up, baby.” He grinned at her and she giggled nervously but dropped to lay flat on the mattress, her arms folded on her sides. “There. Perfect.” He kneaded and spread her cheeks and she squeaked impatiently, her feet kicking up for a second before hitting the mattress with a thump. Mac laughed at that. It was the mildest temper tantrum he’d ever seen anyone throw.

He scooted forward on his knees and rubbed the head of his cock along her slit. She was already dripping and he slipped just the first few inches in easily, just enough to make her wiggle a little. Mac fought against the urge to slam into her and instead leaned slowly against her, enjoying the way her pussy clenched and how soft and smooth her ass was against him. It was a different angle than he’d ever taken her before and he saw her hands curl into the sheet beneath them as he pressed deeper. Mac knew the second the head of his cock pressed against that magic spot inside of her when her whole body jumped and she pushed back against him.

“Oh, God, RJ. That’s…”

He rolled his hips a little and whatever she was going to say turned into a moan. Mac wrapped his hands around her hips and quickly found a rhythm that made her toes curl. He tore his eyes away from the delicious sight of his cock disappearing into her and let his head fall back, trying hard to think of anything that might stop him from coming before her.

Not that he was going to have a long wait. Her pussy was already tightening around him, the sounds escaping from her throat becoming almost lost in her panting. Mac’s hips snapped against her and he felt her reach the edge. He couldn’t help himself, he had to look. He parted her cheeks enough to watch as her pussy pulsed around him, her come glistening on his cock and her muffled cries against the mattress and it undid him. He slammed into her, raising up over her back to get as deep as he could before he exploded inside her, the tension draining from him almost immediately after.

Mac fell against her back for a moment, panting, and brought his hands up to twine his fingers with hers. Nora raised her head just a little and he leaned up to press a kiss against her temple before she smiled and collapsed back on the bed.

“God, that felt amazing, baby.” Mac leisurely, slowly pumped in and out of her. He didn’t even know why, really, he just didn’t want this moment to be over yet. “Your pussy always feels so damn good.” He pressed little kisses along her skin, enjoying the way aftershocks rolled through her and how she shivered every time his lips brushed against her.

She giggled breathlessly beneath him, “So I passed inspection?”

He snickered at that. “Yeah. Yeah, you pass. Gold fucking star.” Mac reluctantly pulled out and watched their come leaking from her. He rubbed at it with his thumb and pushed it back into her. She shuddered and spread her legs a little wider.

“More?” It was a whispered question, not a plea for once and Mac smiled up at her.

“Just admiring how pretty you look full of my come, baby.” He finally fell into bed next to her and grinned at her pink face.

She smiled back, still giggling a little, and he brushed her hair out of the way before pressing a soft kiss to her lips. Her hand found his and they lay there holding hands, bodies cooling slowly as they waited for their hearts to stop pounding.

Nora recovered first and managed to snuggle up to Mac. He idly ran his hand through her hair and hers tapped out a soft rhythm on his chest. His eyes closed and he tried to soak up as much contentment as he could out of this moment. He knew the next day was going to be a clusterfuck of a horror show and part of him still hated bringing her into it, despite her proven ability to kick ass.

He couldn’t help but think of how confident he and Lucy had been, choosing that stupid subway station to stay in. They’d thought they’d been so smart to go underground and avoid the super mutants that still reigned in areas of DC. Now he was dragging another woman he loved into a dangerous situation. It made his stomach churn. He had to get his mind off it or he’d never find sleep. He searched around for a safe, distracting topic and threw out the first one that came to him; grinning to himself as he threw Hancock under the proverbial bus.

“Hey, baby, you know what a threesome is, right?”

Her hand stilled on his chest and when he glanced down at her, she was blinking owlishly at him with a mildly shocked expression on her face, “Um...yes? I mean, I’ve read stuff, you know, and Emmy was always very...knowledgeable. She called it a ‘menage a trois’. I think that’s what most people called them in my time, even though it was wrong.”

“Which part?”

“What?”

“Which part was wrong?” He knew Nora viewed Hancock through fairly rose-colored glasses, but she had to know a little about what he got up to. This was Hancock, after all.

“Oh, the translation. People thought ‘menage a trois’ literally meant ‘threesome’, but it doesn’t. It means a household of three. So...I think originally the term meant an actual living arrangement? Like back in the 1700s, the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire had an arrangement with a friend of hers. He married her friend after she died. It was very tragic.”

Trust rich people to be up to that shit going all the way back. “Is that how you learned about threesomes? When you read about a Duke and Duchess?”

She nodded, “Yup, I had a European history class that covered it.”

Of course she had. It was kinda cute, really, that her only experience with that kind of thing came out of a dusty old textbook in some no doubt boring as hell class. He bet she blushed through that whole chapter.

“Well, what do you think about them?”

“The nobility?”

He snorted, “No, baby. Threesomes. What do you think of them?”

“Oh.” She shifted against him and snuggled closer. “I guess they’re fine as long as everyone’s a consenting adult, right? I mean, it would have been unthinkable in my time for most people, but who knows nowadays? Doesn’t Hancock do that sort of thing a lot, honey? No one seems to judge him for it. Course, he is the mayor. I guess he can do what he wants.”

Mac snorted, “Not everything he wants.”

She lifted her head and focused on his face. “Why...wait, are you making fun of me for something?”

He laughed, “No, I’m not.” Her eyes had narrowed and he swallowed another laugh, “Really, baby, I’m not.”

“Why are we talking about this, then?” She sounded confused.

“Well…you remember the note Hancock left us with our breakfast?”

“Yes, of course. It said to have a good breakfast and share.”

“Yeah, about that, boss...he wasn’t talking about the coffee.” He raised an eyebrow at her and chuckled at the obvious concentration on her face. It was like he’d given her some unsolvable riddle or something.

The gears were turning for a few minutes before she finally blinked. Mac saw the moment she put it together and started laughing at her shocked expression.

“I...that...he does not!” Her voice came out as a squeak and it just made him laugh harder.

“Yeah, yeah, baby, he does. Trust me. He’s been very clear on multiple occasions.” He kept trying to stop laughing but her face was turning from pink to red and she seemed like she couldn’t decide if she should be mortified or flattered.

“But...Hancock’s my friend. I thought he was your friend, too. He’s...the way he acts, it’s always just a joke, right?” There was a tiny sliver of hurt in her voice and that knocked some of the wind from his sails. He didn’t want her questioning Hancock’s friendship, just wanted to give her something to fuss at him about next time they met up.

“He is our friend, boss. He has sex with most of his friends. It doesn’t mean he isn’t your friend just because he wants to fu-bang you.”

Nora tapped her finger on his chest and seemed to be in deep thought. She looked up at him and he knew what she was going to ask before she even said it, “Has he had sex with you?”

Ah, shit. “Uh...well, I mean, yeah, a few...dozen times, I guess.”

She blinked at that, “A few dozen?”

He rubbed a hand across his face and wondered why he’d thought this was a good topic to talk about with her in the first place. “Yeah, uh...I mean...yeah.” He had nothing. He had no idea how to even begin to explain how living a hedonistic lifestyle in Goodneighbor for a few months had been the only thing that kept him alive.

She surprised him though, as she always did, and darted in a whole different direction than he’d thought she’d go. “So he’s...he really is good at that kind of thing?”

She sounded interested but not interested and Mac sent a quick thanks up to whoever was listening. “Yeah, he’s pretty talented, boss.”

“Hmm...I heard a few things, you know. Some of my settlers always ask me when he’s coming to visit, but I...I mean, he’s so sweet, you know? I just never thought of him that way.”

Mac wasn’t sure how he’d found the one woman in the Commonwealth who wasn’t looking to go on a tour with Hancock, but he was glad he had. Not that he minded sharing partners, usually, but Nora was more than just a partner.

Plus, he was about ninety-nine percent sure Hancock would try to steal her and he wasn’t having that shit. Bros or not.

“Well, alright. Next time he asks, I can tell him we talked about it and decided no.”

“We did?”

He scowled and pulled her closer, “I decided no.”

She giggled at his expression, “I guess you are technically the boss still.”

Mac snarled jokingly against her temple and she squealed. “Damn straight.”

“I would have thought growing up with all those kids would have made you better at sharing, sug.”

He snorted, “Nah, it just made me better at knowing what to keep and what to share.”

She smiled against him, “And I’m to keep?”

“Definitely, baby. You are definitely to keep.”

Chapter Text

Morning came all too swiftly for Mac. The alarm clock on Nora’s dresser started buzzing at seven sharp, and he grumbled when she slipped out of bed to turn it off, taking her warmth with her. He wanted to save Duncan. He really did. He also really, really did not want to ever go back to Med-Tek. Ever. Despite his best efforts to not think about it, he’d tossed and turned all night, going over every possible scenario in his head a thousand times. It made for a cranky start to the day. Nora, on the other hand, had slept like the dead and was practically vibrating she was so enthusiastic.

“Outta bed, sleepy head! Today’s the day we save your baby, honey!” She whipped the blanket off the bed and he instinctively curled up when the cold air hit him. Then she flipped on the overhead light and it about blinded him.

Shit. No going back to sleep from that. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. “I’m up, I’m up. Sh-shoot.”

Nora was already out the door, headed for the bathroom. Mac rubbed his face with his hands and tried to shake off the feeling of impending doom. His eyes landed on their rifles. This time would be different, surely. Nora was amazing when she was focused and the way her face lit up whenever he talked about Duncan, he was pretty sure she already saw him as her own. She’d tip the scales in his favor this time. It would be fine. He’d just swung his feet out of bed when she came bouncing back in, her hair already neatly braided.

“I’m so excited, Mac! Aren’t you excited? Why are you still in bed for, sugar? Come on, get the lead out!” She stepped into a pair of panties and slipped her tank top back on. Mac found himself smiling at her, despite his mood. He was starting to see why Hancock called her ‘Sunshine’.

“Yeah, I’m excited. I’m just...I didn’t sleep so hot last night.” He got up and pulled his pants on. Nora paused in wiggling into her leathers and tutted at him.

“It’s going to be fine, Mac. Completely fine. We’ll get this cure, ship it off to Duncan and then once you get the word, you can run on down and fetch him. Easy.”

He laughed at that, “Easy, huh? It’s 400 miles from here to there, you know.”

“I know that. We used to travel to DC all the time.” She waved a hand like it was no big deal, slipping on her flannel.

Mac sat on the bed and started putting his socks and boots on, “That’s nice. Did you walk there though, baby?”

Nora froze and he looked up. He could see the gears turning and her thumb was tapping along all the fingers of her left hand. “That’s...if you walked eight hours a day at a pace of three miles an hour...that’s twenty four miles per day…”, she blinked and stared at him with something close to terror on her face. “That’s more than a month. If you walked everyday with no breaks, that’s almost thirty four days...and that’s not accounting for times when you have to stop for emergencies.”

He nodded, “Yeah, it takes about a month and a half to get from here to there. Gonna take a lot longer coming back with a kid in tow.”

She sat on the bed next to him and stared at her hands. “So...once we send it...maybe four months after that you’ll get the word and leave and then…”

Mac watched her face and pulled her into a hug before the first tears fell. “Hey, come on. It’s not so long, right? Nate got deployed all the time, didn’t he? And it was fine. You were fine. You’ll be okay until I get back.”

“If-if you get back.” She was hiccuping now a little and he rubbed her back reassuringly.

“I’ll be back, Nora. Nothing’s going to stop me from getting back to you, alright? I’ll be back and I’ll bring Duncan and we’ll be a family.” He leaned back a little so he could see her face. Even splotchy with tears, she was beautiful. “Come on, stop crying, baby. The universe owes us this one, right?”

She sniffled and wiped her sleeve across her eyes. “Its weird when you’re trying to be optimistic, Mac.”

He laughed and kissed her forehead, “I’m not being optimistic. It’s just a numbers game. Eventually, everyone’s luck turns and my turn has been a long time coming.”

Nora nodded and took a deep breath, “You should take someone with you. Deacon has been to the Capital Wasteland a bunch of times.”

Mac immediately shook his head. Being stuck on the road with Deacon for months was not an idea he cared for. “No. Not Deacon.”

She frowned at him a little, “I don’t know why you don’t like Deacon, honey. He likes you. He told me you were like a little brother to him back when you were a kid.”

He had no response for that. If Deacon really thought they were like brothers, he sincerely hoped he’d never actually had one. “Not. Deacon.”

Nora huffed a little and went back to thinking, “What about Curie then? You like her, right? She’d love to travel and she’ll be able to properly monitor Duncan on the way back.”

Images of Curie measuring dicks all up and down the eastern seaboard flew into his head before he could stop them and he snorted. Nora looked at him, confused and he just shook his head, chuckling. “Sure, maybe Curie. We’ll cross that bridge once we get there, okay? Let’s just focus on today for right now.”

After their little talk, Nora was a bit more subdued, but there was a resolute, determined look to her that Mac really loved. It was the same Mama Bear face she’d worn when they’d rescued the milkmaid all those weeks ago.

They ate a quick breakfast of Sugar Bombs and brahmin milk, Nora penned a short thank you note to Jack and instructions for using the signal jammer and they left Cabot House at half past eight, heading north. There wasn’t much between them and Med-Tek except miles and a few raiders, really, and Mac felt more relaxed as they walked. He’d actually missed being on the open road with Nora; and this Nora, who seemed to be hyper-aware of her surroundings was a nice change of pace from the old days. Meant he didn’t have to think quite so hard all the time.

They walked along a few miles in companionable silence (sort of, Nora never stopped humming the whole way) before she actually spoke.

“Tell me about Duncan.”

Ah, one of his favorite subjects. “Sure, boss, what do you wanna know?”

Her thumb tapped along her rifle for a second, “Well, is he like you?”

Mac laughed, “Hardly. He takes after his mother. Sweet, smart...gets along with people.”

“Oh, Mac, you get along with people.” She grinned at him, “We get along pretty well.”

“Heh, yeah, we do.” He winked at her and she giggled. “He just seems to make friends easy is all. Lucy was the same way. People just gravitated towards her.”

She nodded, “Ah, so a charmer, then.”

“Yeah, I guess. He’s got her eyes, too.” Mac wasn’t sure why, but talking to Nora about Lucy felt so easy. There was no grief trying to swallow him whole, no anger. Just a bittersweet memory of a wonderful girl he still loved. Maybe it was because she knew where he was coming from. She felt the same way about Nate, after all.

“Oh, that’s wonderful. I bet he’s just beautiful, honey.”

“I guess he is. Lucy always said he looked like me, but I never saw it. We have the same hair.”

She smiled at that, “What’s he into? When I was his age, I was all about dinosaurs and ponies.”

Mac smiled back, “You ever ride one?”

“A dinosaur?”

He snorted, “No, a pony.”

“Oh! Sorry. Yes, I had one. Her name was Belle and she was gorgeous. I did the Junior League Horse Show every year. Once I outgrew her, I got a proper horse. His name was Jasper. A big, beautiful dappled grey. Warmblood.” She sighed, “I loved horses. I wish they’d survived. Would sure make traveling a lot easier.”

Mac wondered if she had any pictures of any of that. People riding horses had always been one of the coolest things about the old world to him. “Yeah, it sure would. Duncan’s into drawing right now. He sends them with the letters I get from Bryan.”

“That’s so cute. I bet he’s a talented little artist. Who’s Bryan?”

“Oh, he’s one of Duncan’s caretakers. A friend of mine from way back. He’s a couple of years younger than I am. Great guy. His dad was the leader of this place called Grayditch and taught him a lot. We met in Rivet City as teenagers. His aunt ran an inn there before the Brotherhood fu-messed everything up.” He couldn’t believe he hadn’t told her about this stuff yet but he was so used to playing shit close to the vest that he hadn’t even thought about it until she asked.

She kicked at a loose pebble as she walked and chewed her lip for a second at that. “How’d the Brotherhood mess up a city?”

“They stole the fusion cores that powered the city’s generators...of course, they didn’t call it stealing. They called it commandeering. Fusion cores aren’t as plentiful in the Capital Wasteland as they are here. It was back when they first got the Prydwen operational. Guess they needed them to jump start their own fusion reactor.”

Nora seemed appalled by this, “And they never replaced them or offered compensation?”

He snorted, “He-heck no, boss. That’s not how the Brotherhood operates.”

“That’s...they’re violating the Tenth Amendment! They can’t do that!”

“Tenth Amendment to what?”

She huffed, “To the Constitution, of course. The tenth amendment protects states from commandeering by the military. The Supreme Court already ruled on that.”

He rolled his eyes, “Boss, no one follows that junk anymore. Judges and juries are a thing of the past. Swift justice is the only way to solve the problems ruining our world.”

“That’s…”, she shook her head. “That’s probably true, but it’s still wrong. If we have any hope of rebuilding, we need structure. Rules and laws that everyone is beholden to. The people have to be able to have faith in their government and that’s how you do it, by making sure things are as fair as possible.”

He shrugged, “Did people have faith in the government even in your time, though?” He’d heard enough ranting from old Abraham Washington back in DC to know they hadn’t.

Nora sighed, “No, I guess not...and look where that got us.” She gestured at all the crumbling ruins around them. “Our government failed us. They stopped holding themselves accountable and stopped following the rules, long before the riots started...that corruption is what did us in. It happened everywhere. Science, medicine...even police and the military. A country of any size operates largely on faith, you know, but once that faith is lost, the nation is also lost. That’s why it's so hard to rebuild now. People don’t have anything to believe in anymore.”

Mac nudged her shoulder with his own and smiled at her, “Your Minutemen believe in you, boss. That’s a start, right?”

She smiled back a little, “I guess, sug. Doesn’t seem like much though. I never wanted to be a leader...if I’d known what was coming, I probably would have majored in diplomacy or military history or something useful.”

“So who do you pretend to be when you’re being the general then?”

She chuckled, “Eleanor Roosevelt. Is it working?”

“Was she terrifying?”

Her head tilted, “I guess she was to some people.”

He nodded, “Then you’re doing great, boss.”

Nora giggled at that. “She was married to one of our presidents but I’ve always thought if she’d been born in a different time, she would have been the president. My favorite story of her was once she was at this White House party and it was dreadfully dull, so she and this famous aviatrix snuck out, stole a plane and went on a joyride to Baltimore. They got back in time for dessert.”

Mac snorted, “That sounds like something you’d do. Maybe one day we’ll steal a vertibird.”

“I’m sure Maxson would really appreciate that, honey.”

“Nah, he won’t miss it. You’ve seen how they crash those things. They have to go through at least ten a day.”

“That’s true...you know, Hancock thinks the pilots are always drunk and that’s why they crash so much.”

“He might be onto something there, boss. I’d drink, too, if I had to be stuck up on that floating coffee can with Maxson and all his worshippers all dang day.” Mac shook his head at the entire idea of anyone being stupid enough to willingly join the Brotherhood.

“Have you ever been on it? It’s surprisingly stuffy for something that high up. Kinda smells, too.” She wrinkled her nose and he laughed.

“No, I have not...and smells compared to what? The whole world stinks.”

She laughed, “It does that...and I dunno, sug. I guess I expected it to smell clean and kind of...well, once Nate took me to see a friend of his in DC at this big hanger, right? I thought it would smell like that. Like metal and ozone and oil.”

“The Prydwen doesn’t smell like that?”

“No. I mean, it’s under other stuff, but mostly it just smells like dirty man smell.” She shuddered a little.

“Hey, rude. Isn’t that how I smell most of the time?”

“You most certainly do not! You smell...delicious.” Her cheeks turned a bit pink and he grinned at her.

“Delicious, huh?” Mac reached out and took her hand in his. “You’re pretty tasty yourself, you know.”

She squeezed his hand briefly before letting it go and sighed, “I really miss the old days sometimes. Used to be you could walk down almost any street holding hands and not have to worry about getting shot at all.”

He nodded, “Yeah, that must have been nice.”

Nora leaned in a little, whispering, “Did I ever tell you where Shaun was conceived?”

Mac frowned in confusion. He had no idea where this was going. “Uh...no, boss. No, you did not. I don’t...I don’t really need the details on that.”

She frowned back at him, “I’m not...you aren’t getting details, RJ. Goodness.”

He chuckled at that and nodded, “Alright, alright. What’d you want to tell me about it?”

“Well now I dunno if I want to tell you.” She started walking a little faster and he had to jog a little to keep up. Those fucking legs of hers could easily outpace him.

“Aw, come on.”

She huffed, “I’m not going to tell you if you’re going to be all judgemental about it.”

Oh, now he had to know. “I won’t be judgemental. I promise.”

Nora stopped and narrowed her eyes at him. “I was very brave and daring, you know. Especially for back then. Emmy was shocked, even.”

Improbable fantasies flashed through his head and he was pretty sure he’d die if he didn’t get to know this little tidbit about pre-war Nora. “Baby, I’m sorry. Come on, I gotta know now. Don’t leave me hanging like that.”

She gave him one last, considering look. “You really want to know?”

He gave her his best smile, “I really do.”

“Well...fine then. I’m sure it’s not at all bold today, but Shaun was conceived in Boston Common. Right in the park where anyone could have seen.” Her face was a little rosy and Mac thought it was adorable how she seemed scandalized by her own actions but still proud.

“Boston Common? Sh-shoot, boss, that’s still impressive today. Having sex out in the open like that is just asking to get killed.”

She seemed satisfied with his answer and started walking again, slowing back down to her normal pace. Mac fell in alongside her and tried to think of a respectful way to ask for more details. He had to know how Nate had convinced her to do something so against the rules.

“I uh...wasn’t that kind of thing illegal back then?”

Nora smiled a little sheepishly at him, “Yes, it was. We broke a lot of laws that night. Public intoxication. Public indecency. Public lewdness.”

“Wow. That’s...that’s a lot of laws to break.” Shit. Seemed to him like you couldn’t do a damn thing but walk around and maybe breathe in her time.

She laughed, “Yes, it was. I’d never broken one before that night. I was too tipsy on wine to care in the moment, but I was so anxious about it after. Every time someone knocked on the door I thought ‘oh, they’ve come to arrest us’ for almost a week.”

He snorted, “How would they have known it was you?”

“Well I’m sure I don’t know, Mac. Detective work, I guess. At least we were in disguise. Halloween costumes, you know.”

Mac thought briefly of a pre-war Nick arresting a pre-war Nora over something so stupid as fucking outside and shook his head. “I feel like maybe they had too many police and not enough actual crime back in the old days, boss.”

She rolled her eyes, “Oh, no, we had plenty of big crimes, too, honey. It’s just...have you ever heard of the Broken Windows Theory?”

“No...what’s that? Some science thing?”

“Sort of. It’s criminology. The scientific study of crime. It basically says that if a window is left broken in a neighborhood and no one fixes it, it will have a snowball effect. More windows will get broken, more crime will occur. Once people stop caring about their neighborhoods, once the laws that make a polite society are no longer enforced, everything goes down the tubes.”

“Okay...okay, yeah, that makes sense. Like, if a thing is broken and I don’t care enough to fix it, why should anyone else?”

“Exactly! It’s entropy on a societal level. So, even though some laws were pretty silly and weren’t really protecting anybody, they were still protecting the idea of how we should live, so they had to be enforced.”

He nodded, “Yeah. So...if someone caught you guys but you weren’t punished, then what would stop the next couple?”

“Yup. You’ve got it.” She studied his face and tilted her head a little, “You know, you pick up things so quickly, Mac. Duncan doesn’t get his intelligence from just Lucy. You’re smart, too, honey.” He felt heat creep into his face and her eyes went wide. “Mac! You’re blushing!”

Mac cleared his throat and tugged his hat down a little. “Yeah, uh...we should pay attention to the road, boss. We’re almost to Med-Tec.”

Her eyes reluctantly left his face and checked her Pipboy, “Oh, look at that. We really are.” She looked around, “It’s awfully quiet for this part of town, isn’t it, honey? The Brotherhood hasn’t been here yet, but it’s like everything is deserted.”

“There’s usually just raiders around here. They’re probably off somewhere trying to figure out how to push back against the Brotherhood.” Mac frowned at the empty streets around them. He almost expected a tumbleweed to roll on by like in those old movies.

Nora shook her head, “Raiders don’t stand a chance against the Brotherhood. They’re too well equipped. If they were smart, they’d just move on someplace else.”

He snorted, “Well, raiders are a lot of things, but smart usually ain’t one of them.”

“It’s sad, really. There’s so few humans left in the world and such a large chunk of them are just lost to violence and chems.”

“Raiders aren’t humans, boss. They’re just animals who look like us.” He squinted at the horizon. A large building was starting to loom and he felt his stomach twist just a bit. Med-Tek.

“I can’t believe that, Mac. Everyone can be redeemed. There’s a bunch of people in the Railroad and Minutemen who left raiding, you know, and now they fight to make the world a better place.”

He shook his head at her idealism and pointed, “Look, Med-Tek. We’re almost there.” The building looked dark and foreboding, even in the bright sunshine. Or maybe that was just Mac’s imagination.

Nora was studying his face. Whatever she found there, she didn’t like. She abruptly stopped walking and he didn’t even notice for a few paces. “Mac, wait.”

He stopped and turned to face her. She looked worried for the first time since he’d proposed this little adventure. “Yeah, boss.”

Her head tilted and he saw the shuffling start. It had been a long time since she’d had to be someone else to talk to him. “I...you have PTSD, you know.”

The fuck? “Oh, yeah? What’s that?”

She took a deep breath, “Post-traumatic stress disorder. Nate had it, too, from the war. Sometimes...in your sleep, you...you say things. I know you have nightmares about what happened to Lucy and what happened there.” She nodded up the road. “You said you froze last time, right? That’s a panic response, sug. We...I need you to promise me that if you start to feel funny, you’ll say something, okay? I can help you, but you have to let me.”

Shit. He had no idea he talked in his sleep. “I am letting you help me, Nora.” He kind of hated the idea that she knew how much this crap affected him.

“I know you are, honey.” Her voice had a soothing tone he’d only ever heard her use with children and the occasional wild dog. She walked up to him, not touching but in his space. “You know it’s not a weakness to need help, right? You’ve been through so much already. It’s like...if you had a sprained ankle, you’d take extra care. You wouldn’t put stress on it and you’d take it easy. Well...you have a sprained mind, Mac. You can’t just walk it off. You have to lean on me.”

He frowned up at her. “I’m fine, boss. I just want to go and get it done and never have to think about it again.”

Nora nodded, “I know. I just...remember I’m here, okay? There’s probably going to...there will be a time when you feel like you’re alone. Nate used to say it felt like the walls were closing in on him and the world just disappeared. Remember that I’m not going to disappear, honey. Reach out for me when you need to.”

It surprised him that he and Nate had shared this problem. Mac had built up Prince Charming in his head so much that the man seemed nearly perfect to him. He sighed and gave her a half-smile. “Yeah, I got it, boss. I’ll reach out...or try to, anyway.”

She nodded, seemingly satisfied. “Alright. Good.” They headed out again and walked a bit before she spoke again. “You know, Nate always said having something to take his mind off things helped. He...he had problems with crowds when he got back, but they kept wanting him to make speeches and show up at parades and stuff. So he’d make little bets with himself. It gave his brain something to focus on besides the anxiety.”

“What kinds of bets?” Maybe he and Nate really were a lot more alike than he’d thought.

“Oh, usually just silly stuff. It didn’t really matter. Like, he used to keep score for how many people he could smile at and get to smile back when he went grocery shopping.”

Hmm. Not really helpful for this situation. Mac kicked a few ideas around in his head but nothing seemed distracting enough to be useful. “Yeah...I got nothing, boss.”

She laughed, “Well, how about we make a wager, honey?”

He raised an eyebrow, “A wager? On what?”

“Kill count. When Deacon was first teaching me how to survive, we used to compete for who could shoot the most things. It’s weird, but it kept my mind off of...you know, actually killing things? It turned it into a game.”

Mac nodded. Made perfect sense to him. As much as Deacon drove him nuts, he was starting to feel pretty indebted to the guy for keeping Nora safe and sound until they’d found each other. “Sounds good, boss. So what do I get when I win?” He grinned at her and she rolled her eyes.

“Who says you’re going to win, honey?”

“Cause I’m the best. That’s why you hired me in the first place, right?”

She huffed, “Well, you’ve got me there. Name your stakes.”

He thought hard for a minute. “When I win, you have to wear a dress for a week.”

Nora laughed, “Oh, no, not a dress! Mac, are you sure you don’t want to ask for something a bit more…”

“And no panties.”

She immediately turned bright red and he grinned wickedly at her. “Ah. Alright, that’s...well, you aren’t going to win anyway, so fine. When I win, I want...your hat.”

His hand immediately went to his hat and he adjusted it a little. “My hat? Boss, you have to have a million of these things stashed somewhere.”

She shook her head, “No, not that hat. Your hat. The one you were wearing when we first met.”

“Oh...I don’t have that hat anymore.”

“What? Why not?”

“I sent it to Duncan for Christmas.”

A look of almost indescribable fondness came over her face, “Oh, Mac, that’s so...his daddy’s hat. That’s so sweet, honey.”

He shrugged and hoped his face didn’t turn pink again, “Well...a boy needs a good hat. Why’d you want it anyway?”

“I wanted to wear it, of course. That’s what you do with hats.” She looked down and mumbled something that he couldn’t quite catch.

Mac narrowed his eyes at her a little, “Sorry, boss, what was that last part?”

She glanced at him quickly before looking down again, “I said...I wanted to wear it and nothing else.”

“Oh, I can get that hat back, boss.” He wondered if maybe Daisy sold hats like his old one. Or that lady in Diamond City.

She shook her head, “No, no, it’s Duncan’s hat now. I’ll think of something else.”

Yeah, he bet Fallon's Basement would have something similar. Would it be better if her hair was tucked into it or left free? If it was down, that’d be pretty hot, but if it was up, he could at some point take the hat off and he did love watching it fall down her back. Maybe her general hat would even work…

Mac realized Nora had said something and was staring at him for who knew how long and blinked a few times, trying to get the image out of his head long enough to listen. “Sorry, what?”

She laughed and pointed at his rifle. “I said, I want your rifle. When I win, I get to tinker with it and you don’t get to whine about it.”

“Hey, that’s...okay, first, I don’t whine. Second, come on, baby, a man’s rifle is a sacred thing.” His hands tightened on his protectively and she shrugged.

“Then you better hope you really do win, sug.”

That sassy streak might very well be the death of him yet. “That’s just mean, boss.”

“Oh, like you weren’t going to be mean to me if you won! A whole week of me without panties and in a dress? I didn’t fall off the turnip truck yesterday, Mac.” She sniffed at him and her indignation was funny enough that he didn’t think to ask what the hell a turnip truck was.

“Well, if I wasn’t before, I’m definitely gonna be mean now. Messing with a man’s rifle is like messing with his heart, baby.”

Her eyes narrowed at him, “I’m gonna chrome it out. Pink. Shiny and pink...with your name in cursive up the stock. You see if I don’t.”

He narrowed his eyes back at her, “I’m gonna remember this when I win, you know. You better hope you can be quiet or you’re going to be awfully embarrassed.”

She stuck her tongue out at him and he reciprocated. Then her face changed abruptly and her rifle came up. “Mac, behind you.” Hot plasma bolts shot through the air and three ferals fell. She grinned at him. “Three! I’m winning!”

“You...that’s cheating, Nora!” He swung his rifle up and headed in the opposite direction, picking off the ferals in the parking lot as they struggled to get up from their hibernative sleep. He heard her shooting and tried to not get distracted counting her kills.

They moved in loose arcs, mirroring each other and meeting by the door. Nora’s eyes were sparkling and she was a little breathless. “I got seven! How many did you get?”

He smirked at her, “Eight.”

She pouted a bit. “I’ll catch up.”

“Sure, boss.” Mac looked up at the building. “Med-Tek Research. I hope Sinclair's information pays off.” Nora reached out for his hand and this time didn’t let it go. He smiled at her. “Let's head inside and grab that cure.” He took a deep breath and they walked through the doors together.

Chapter Text

Med-Tek was every bit as creepy on the inside as on the outside, to Mac’s way of thinking. Cold, dark, dank and far too quiet for his liking. He paused just inside the door and stared with wide eyes, looking for any sign of movement. Nora squeezed his hand and smiled reassuringly at him when he glanced over at her. He tried to smile back.

“All right, let's find that executive terminal. Sinclair said that's the only way we can override the facility's lockdown.” His hand slipped out of hers and he readied his rifle.

Nora took the lead, headed for a door on the right. She pointed over at a terminal on the left side of the room, “That’s where Curie and I stopped. It’s some kind of airlock, probably to keep any nasties they were manufacturing here from getting out if the unthinkable happened.”

“Manufacturing nasties? What do you mean?”

She shook her head, “Biological warfare, sug. Dirty bombs. Hundreds of years ago we were giving infected blankets to people and we only got worse from there. Of course, there were other, perfectly ethical reasons to create nasty diseases, too. That’s how we made vaccines for things. You needed a pure source of whatever illness you were trying to fight to create the cure...I’m sure most people who went into that kind of science did it with fairly good intentions, but, well...the war effort trumped all else there at the end.”

Mac shook his head, “That’s fu-freaking awful, boss.”

“Yeah, it was.”

They came around a corner and a feral was standing in the hallway. Nora turned it into a puddle of goo before Mac even realized what was happening. She turned to him with a gleeful sort of grin.

“Ha! Now we’re even stevens.”

He chuckled, “You’re surprisingly competitive, baby.”

“I know, I know. Don’t ever play Monopoly with me, honey. No matter what. Our relationship wouldn’t survive it.”

Mac snorted and they continued on into an odd room with desks and old terminals everywhere. Ferals were milling about on the upper level. “What the he-heck happened here? Place is trashed.” He took three shots and three ferals fell.

“Looks like the office pool?” She looked thoughtful and watched a feral trying to puzzle out how to get to them. “Maybe after the bombs, people came here in search of medicine? Maybe even the military. That would explain why everything is torn apart.” She shrugged, “I mean, your friend’s information had to come from somewhere, right?”

He nodded, “Yeah, that makes sense.”

The feral had finally noticed a piece of the walkway that had fallen and become a handy ramp. They watched it shamble down and Nora took the shot.

“Still two behind. Well...I’ll catch back up. Come on, honey. The executive offices in places like this are always upstairs.”

Mac followed her up the ramp, listening for any ferals they’d missed. This whole mission was going about a thousand times better than he’d dared hoped, and he was starting to feel cautiously optimistic about the whole thing. His hands were sweaty and he felt like he wanted to throw up, sure, but things were pretty smooth so far. Nora’s presence was making a world of difference.

They walked through an open doorway into what looked like a small office. A desk with a skeleton still slumped over a typewriter greeted them.

Nora stopped, “This will be it. Through that door.”

“How can you tell?”

She pointed at the skeleton, “Because that’s the executive assistant. Offices had a specific culture to them. Drones on the ground floor, executives above them, and special workers to act as intermediaries, since executives didn’t like interacting with their drones personally.”

Mac shook his head, “Sounds like a lot of bullsh-crap to me.”

She nodded, “Oh, it was. Absolutely was. Daddy worked in an office like this. Had his own secretary and everything. Miss Pansy. I liked her, she was nice to me whenever I came to visit. It wasn’t until I grew up that I realized she was always smiling because that was part of her job.”

Having to do a job and be pleasant while you did it sounded pretty close to slavery to Mac’s ears. He remembered those assholes in Paradise Falls with their pretty collared girls and boys who never dared to stop smiling, no matter what awful things they were forced to do. The whole concept was sick.

“Well, let’s head on in then.” He tapped the door with his foot and it slid open. Ferals immediately swarmed out. His vision went white for a split second and then he was back there, in that subway tunnel, Duncan in his arms and Lucy’s screams filling his ears. Something heavy hit him in the chest and he fell backward.

“Mac! Snap out of it!” Nora’s voice rang out in the tunnel and Mac frowned.

She didn’t belong there. He hadn’t even met her yet. There was the oddly comforting sound of weapons discharging and then the weight on his chest was gone, replaced with something softer, warmer. The rough pinch of a stimpak being jabbed in his neck helped clear his vision and when it did, Nora was there. Not his Nora though, she’d already shuffled into someone else.

“Hey, honey. Take a deep breath for me, okay?” Her voice was soft, comforting, calm and her hands were gently brushing over his chest, which was pretty great.

Mac did as he was told and felt the stretch of new skin, felt a few ribs pop back into place as the stimpak worked its magic.

She was busy doing...something. Something wonderful in that efficient way of hers. So sure and radiating serene competence. He watched her face as her hands kept to their task. The way she was so focused, her eyes soft and concerned. Maybe this was another side of the Nora who’d been a mother? He could see a little of Lucy in her, the way she shone with a gentle kind of confidence. Like she knew exactly what to do and how to do it to make everything better.

He smiled at her. God, she was so beautiful. He was never going to get over that. Every time he looked at her it blew his mind that she wanted to be with an idiot like him. Unbelievable.

She noticed him smiling and smiled back, “Can you speak yet, sugar?”

Mac nodded, “Yeah.”

“Okay, great. What’s your name?”

Silly woman. She knew his name. “Robert Joseph MacCready.”

Nora nodded, “Very good. Where are we right now?”

That one was...a little harder. Were they in that tunnel in the Capital Wasteland or somewhere else? Nora didn’t belong there, so it had to be somewhere else, right? They’d been doing...something, right? Something important.

“The Commonwealth?”

She chuckled a little, “Technically correct. Where in the Commonwealth?”

He willed his brain to focus a little harder and finally noticed how pale she really was. “Um...a building. Someplace important...Med-Tek.” It was starting to come back to him.

“Okay, good. Why are we here?” Her voice had just a hint of a wobble in it. It made him frown. She was pretending to be calm. She never pretended with him. He didn’t like it.

“We’re here to get the cure for Duncan.”

“Yes. Yes, we are.” She moved off his stomach and knelt next to him. “Can you try sitting up for me?”

Why was she talking to him like he was a child? “Yeah, I’m fine. I’m fine. What happened?” How’d he get on the floor anyway?
Nora sighed, “Just a little flashback, honey. Those ferals were right on top of you when you opened the door. The big one knocked you down, took a bite out of your chest before I could get him. I’m...sorry, for that. It surprised me. I didn’t think you’d react so badly so fast.” She shook her head, “Maybe it would be best if you waited up here or something. I can clear the building.”

“No.”

“Mac…”

“No, Nora. This is...he’s my son. I have to do this.” He couldn’t stand the look in her eyes so he made a show of inspecting the damage to his shirt instead. “Crap, I’ll have to get some new clothes when we’re done here. I don’t think even Edward could fix this.” He could hear her thumbnail tapping away on her rifle. She was thinking hard about something.

Finally, she stood and offered him a hand up. “Fine. We’ll do this together, but I want you to stay behind me from now on, alright, honey? No more wandering ahead and opening doors. I mean it.” The general had shown back up.

Mac accepted the hand up and nodded, “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea, boss.”

Her head tilted, “You good to go?”

“Yeah.” He let her take the lead through the open door. The office was a wreck, too, but there was a terminal sitting on the desk, its screen still faintly glowing. “Check the terminal on the desk over there. Sinclair's passcode better work, or we're screwed.” He passed her the piece of paper he’d written everything down on all those months ago. If she noticed how crumpled and well-worn it was, she didn’t mention it.

Nora sat at the desk and typed in the code. Line after line of options popped up on the screen and she chose the command to override the lockdown. They listened to the far off sound of magnetic locks unsealing and she grinned at him.

“Thank god that worked.”

“Let’s just hope they weren’t working with some kind of fungus. That stuff can stay lethal for ages.” She got up and headed back out the door, he followed a few paces behind. Close, but not too close.

“What? Seriously?”

She nodded, “Oh, sure. You’ve heard of the pyramids, right? In Egypt?”

“Yeah, that’s...where mummies come from. Grognak fought a few.”

Nora chuckled, “Yes, he did. Well, real mummies don’t attack people, but their tombs were sometimes laced with deadly fungi as a way to deter graverobbers. There was a really famous instance of it happening once, where archeologists opened a tomb and they all eventually succumbed to this bizarre respiratory illness. Come to find out, the spores were still active, even after thousands of years.”

Well, that was terrifying. “Sh-shoot. Maybe we should have brought respirators or something.”

She shrugged, “Chances are they weren’t actually working with stuff like that. If they did, they’ll have hazmat suits somewhere and we can use those. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”

Mac glared at the back of her head, “Then why even bring it up?”

“To keep you distracted, of course. I’m trying to be as distracting as possible. How am I doing?”

He snickered, “Pretty good, boss. You’d be a lot more distracting without that coat on though.”

She shook her head, “Nope. Coat stays on.” She shot him a glance over her shoulder, “We should get you one if you’re going to keep getting cozy with ferals.”

“Hey, I was not getting cozy with anything. I was being assaulted! I…”, he paused. They were back in the lobby already by the airlock. Damn. She really was distracting. “Let's find our way down to the Sub-Level. That's where Med-Tek should be storing the cure.”

Nora checked the terminal and the airlock slid open. “Alright. Let’s go see what we can see.” She glanced over at him and he took a couple of steps back from the doorway just to show her he could occasionally follow directions. She took the lead again and he followed.

The room beyond the airlock was quiet, but there was the telltale sounds of shuffling ferals behind several doors. Nora had her eyes on another terminal and was moving around a desk to access it when Mac heard the beeping of a turret.

“Nora, down!”

She dove behind the desk and he managed to take out the turret after it fired only a few rounds. The ferals started to growl.

Mac grinned down at her, “That counts, right? I just killed that turret.”

“Sure, sure, it counts. You’re still down by one though.”

“Sh-shoot, really?”

She nodded and started typing, “Yup, that freak out cost you the lead.”

“Sonofa...dang.” He really, really did not want to have to explain to people why he was using a pink gun if she won.

“Okay, I deactivated the security system in here. Looks like there’s only one control for all the doors though, so...once I hit the button, it’s going to get hectic.”

He took a deep breath. “Okay, yeah. Hectic. I think I’ll be okay this time.”

Nora nodded, “Of course you will. Just keep breathing, focus on Duncan. You’ll be fine, honey. You ready?”

He brought his rifle up, “Ready, boss.”

“Alright. On the count of three. One, two...three.” She pressed a button and the doors around them swooshed open. Nora moved towards the first room on their left. “We’ll clear each room and then try to find our way.” Her Pipboy was going nuts.

“Hey, uh, should that thing on your wrist be making that much noise?” Mac moved to follow when a feral shuffled out of the room across the way, making a beeline for Nora. He fired a round and it’s head exploded into pink mist. He could hear Nora’s rifle and the muffled sound of bodies dropping. He was almost to the door when she poked her head out.

“Clear! Next room!”

They moved quickly after that. Mac was able to focus more so long as he was following her lead. There was something about not having to be the person in charge that made him breathe a little easier.

Also, somewhere in the very back of his mind, was the comforting idea that even if he failed, she would carry on. Nora, once committed to something, wouldn’t stop until it was done. Even if he died here, Duncan would still get cured. She’d make sure of it.

Once the space was finally cleared, they wandered around a little, trying to make sense of the layout. There were quite a few collapsed places and missing walls, and eventually Mac found a way through in a bathroom. They headed up the stairs where a few ferals were clustered around a space that made Nora’s geiger counter go nuts again. Mac took them and glanced at Nora with an eyebrow raised.

She grinned at him, “You’re still down by three.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, “How do I know you’re keeping a fair count?”

“Mac! I would never cheat!” She put a hand on her hip and gave him one of those super sassy looks he loved so much.

It made him chuckle, “Alright, alright. I know. Come on, boss.”

Nora lead the way through to a strange room with tiny...well, they looked like prison cells to Mac. They had ferals in them, too. Mac took out the feral on the countertop and made for the elevator.

“Mac, we can’t just leave them here.” Nora was staring at the ferals in the tiny rooms.

“Nora…”

“They were humans once, honey. Can you imagine how scary it was for them? To already be locked away and experimented on like animals, and then the bombs drop and this happens?” She put her hand on the glass window of one of the rooms and the feral inside went nuts trying to reach her.

Shit. He didn’t want to open those doors and put her in any more danger, but he also knew she’d wear that sad look on her face for days if they didn’t take them out. He sighed and tried to remind himself that her soft heart was one of the best things about her.

“Alright, boss. Open the doors and I’ll take them out.”

The smile she gave him almost made up for how stupid this idea was. “Thank you, Mac. Hang on, the terminals are probably password protected.” Nora poked around on one of the terminals and the door slid open.

They waited and the feral inside shuffled out, drooling with that horrible blank look they all had. Mac took the shot and it crumbled to the floor. Nora moved over and opened the other door, and he took that one down, too.

Nora looked relieved that their suffering had ended and walked on over to the elevator. “This will probably take us down to the sublevels.” She pressed the button and they waited for the doors to open. “I hate elevators. Always have, but they’re a lot worse now.”

A bell dinged and the doors slid apart. Mac followed her in and she pressed the down button. The entire thing shuddered hard before dropping and he felt her hand grab for his.

“Elevators aren’t so bad, boss. Better than stairs, right?” He tried to give her a reassuring smile but the truth was, he wasn’t such a huge fan of elevators himself.

“Back when they were first invented, the public called them death traps. They didn’t have emergency brakes, so if the cable broke, you just died. They were safer in my time, of course, and inspected regularly. I used to not hit the button until I read the inspection certificate.” She was taking slow, deliberate breaths and Mac squeezed her hand. He’d never seen her actually scared before.

“It’ll be fine, baby. Just keep breathing.”

Nora closed her eyes and nodded. They remained closed until the elevator reached the bottom of its shaft and the doors slid open with another ding. She all but ran out and Mac followed until a powerful stench sent them both back a step.

“Ugh... smells horrible. I think we're the first ones down here in a long time.” He tried not to gag at the smell of carrion and mold that filled the air.

“I am going to take the longest shower of my life when we get out of here.”

“Right? I feel like I’m going to have nightmares about how awful this place smells. Sh-shoot.” He blinked a few times, trying to get his eyes to stop watering. “The sooner we find that cure, the sooner we can get the heck out of here.”

“Amen, honey.”

They walked down a short hallway and even before he heard the beeping, Mac felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.

“I’m feeling eyes on my back, boss.”

She stopped just inside a doorway and peeked around the corner. At least two turrets and a lot more closed rooms. Fuck. How many people were they experimenting on here anyway?

Mac stepped just far enough inside that he could take out the turrets and they listened carefully in the silence that followed. More shuffling. Great.

“What the hell was wrong with these doctors? How could they just switch off their morality?”

Nora shook her head, “I don’t know, honey. They probably tried to rationalize it? Like the scientists in the Institute do.”

He shook his head in disgust, “There’s no rationalizing this.”

“Well, no, not to you, but that’s because you’re a good, sane person, honey. The doctors here probably figured the ends justified the means. That the lives of a few criminals didn’t mean anything weighed against...whatever it was they were trying to accomplish.” She moved on towards what looked like a control room and he followed behind carefully.

“Criminals? That’s who their test subjects or whatever were?”

She nodded, “Probably. Either that or people who volunteered for it without knowing what they were really volunteering for. Maybe even military prisoners if they were doing stuff for the government. There were lots of ways to disappear people back then and I guess this was probably one of them.”

“Sh-shoot, boss. Your time was kind of terrifying.”

“Yeah, it kind of was.” She sighed. “People do terrible things when they’re scared, and Americans were scared all the time. You add power and money and military might to that and stuff gets scary pretty quick, honey.”

There was another terminal in this room, along with a locked security cage. Mac focused on picking the lock while Nora went through the computer.

“Okay, I deactivated whatever turrets are left...there’s a Protectron on standby...and we can unlock the doors but it’ll be all at once, again.” She shook her head, “That seems awfully...stupid. This is a stupid design. What if you only needed one door open?” Nora stared at the rooms thoughtfully for a moment. “Oh...unless they kept them restrained at all times? Maybe that was it.”

Mac shook his head and grabbed a few cases of ammo from the cage. “Let’s not worry about figuring out how the minds of monsters work, boss.”

She pulled an odd little ball out of her pocket. “Here, honey. Can you throw this as far as you can out there?”

He took the ball and rubbed his thumb over its surface. It felt rubbery but it had little metallic bumps on it. “Uh...sure, boss.” He took a few steps outside the little room and chucked the ball as hard as he could. It bounced off the back wall and the down into the lower level. A high pitched wailing kind of sound suddenly filled the air and he covered his ears.

“What the he-heck is that?” He had to shout to be heard.

“Decoy! Tom made it. He combined the sounds of a dog in pain and a baby crying. Ferals go nuts for it.” She typed a command into the terminal and Mac watched the doors whoosh open. Feral poured out and immediately headed for the doddering Protectron and the screaming ball.

Nora stepped out onto the walkway and started shooting. Mac scrambled to join her before she got too far ahead. It was like shooting fish in a barrel and by the time the wailing stopped, the ferals were gone. The robot looked to be on its last legs but was still going.

“Sh-shoot, boss. That thing is handy. How many more do you have?”

She shrugged, “A couple. I figured this would be a good place to test them. Now we can tell Tom they work like a charm.”

Mac frowned, “Wait, you didn’t know it would work before I threw it?”

“Well...I wasn’t sure. Tom said he tested them himself but...sometimes he thinks he’s tested something when he’s only had a very vivid dream about it.” Nora shook her head. “The Institute really did a number on him when they destroyed his family, you know. I bet he was sharp like a razorblade back in the day.”

Mac followed her down a set of stairs, “He’s still pretty sharp now, boss.”

She nodded, “He certainly is. I just wonder sometimes what he was like before though, you know? Like...Cait was amazing even when she was addicted to psycho, but now that she’s clean, she’s unstoppable. Tom is brilliant just as he is, but imagine that brilliance without all his paranoia and madness on top of it.”

“Maybe someday he’ll get over it.”

“Maybe. Maybe once the Institute is gone, he’ll be able to heal.” Nora stopped and frowned. “We need a way further down, I think. Let’s check these rooms.”

They split up and looked in all the odd little cells. Mac got a little more pissed at every soiled bed he found. These Med-Tek assholes were twisted and he couldn’t wait to get out of here. He’d always known the old world was a fucked up place, no matter how pretty it had been, but this was a whole new level of bullshit.

“Hey! There’s a collapsed floor in this one!” Nora’s voice rang out in the oddly quiet space and the Protectron answered her with it’s usual ‘protect and serve’ slogan.

“Great! I’m right behind you.” Mac trotted over and watched as she carefully snuck down the makeshift ramp. Hancock was right. Even in that ridiculous coat, the way she moved when she was being sneaky was pretty dang delicious. He bet her ass looked immaculate right now in those pants.

Nora froze suddenly and held up her hand. Must be something ahead. Mac crouched down and followed until he was right behind her. Up ahead, wandering around in the dusty light, was another group of ferals.

Fuck. How many test subjects did these assholes need anyway?

She reached in her pocket and pulled out another ball before glancing back at him. He nodded in understanding and readied his rifle.

Her throw wasn’t quite as far as his was, and the decoy landed right at the end of the hallway they were in. The ferals swarmed around it and Mac started laying down fire. A few noticed there was fresh meat further up and tried to make their way to them, but Nora’s rifle quickly turned them into goo.

Once the wailing died down, Nora stood and moved into the room, Mac right on her tail. There was a set of stairs that went up to some kind of office and a doorway on their level that went who knew where. There was also a small reactor set up and Nora’s geiger counter went nuts the closer they got to it.

“It must have a cracked housing somewhere...we’re probably going to have to take some Radaway when we get out of here.” She walked quickly past it and through the door, not stopping until her Pipboy stopped clicking at her.

“You don’t want to check out whatever’s up there?” He pointed up the stairs and she shook her head.

“No, it’ll just be some administrative office or whatever. We should keep heading as far down as we can.”

They came around the corner and a feral lunged at them. Nora fired but missed by inches when it suddenly dove to the right before slamming into her. Her rifle went flying and Mac was ready to take the shot but couldn’t, there was no way to shoot the feral without endangering Nora. He froze for just a second and the feral had her arm in it’s mouth, trying to bite through her coat. She screamed breathlessly and tried to bat it away.

Mac didn’t think, he just let his body react. “Not this time!” He slammed into the feral and drove it off her, slamming the butt of his rifle into it’s head repeatedly until he felt someone grab him around the waist and pull back. He spun and readied himself to face his new attacker only to be confronted by Nora. She was the one pulling him back.

“It’s okay, honey. I think you got him.” She was panting a little and Mac wondered for a second how long she’d been trying to pull him off the now pulverized feral. It’s head was completely gone and his rifle smelled like death incarnate.

He dropped his rifle and grabbed her face in his hands. “Nora, are you alright?”

She smiled and nodded, “I’m alright. I’ll probably have a bruise for a while but I’m good. Nothing gets through these coats, remember? I’m safe as kittens.”

Mac had no idea what that meant but kissed her forehead anyway. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, baby.”

“Sorry for what, sug? I’m the one who missed. I zigged when I should have zagged.” She sounded so irritated with herself and Mac laughed a little.

“I’m just...sorry.” When he stood this close to her, he could smell the soap from the Cabot’s under all the disgusting stink of this godawful place. It was calming. Reminded him that they wouldn’t be here forever. This was all just a temporary bump in the road. His eyes fell on his rifle and he grimaced. That was...fucking disgusting. “Just give me a minute to clean the stock, alright? I’m not pressing that crap against my shoulder. Fu-forget that.”

Nora dug around in one of her pockets and found a bandana for him to use. He chuckled at that. She was like a walking general store today. “Here. A Girl Scout is always prepared.”

He took it and grabbed a bottle of vodka he’d picked up earlier from his pack and started scrubbing the mess off his rifle. “You were a Girl Scout?”

She nodded, “Yup. Went all the way to Ambassador.”

Mac just blinked at her and she sighed.

“There were rankings within the Girl Scouts. You started off as a Daisy, then Brownie, and so on. Ambassador was as high as you could go.” She held up three fingers and gave him a little salute.

“Nice. I bet you were pretty hot in the uniform.” He grinned when a bit of pink flooded her cheeks.

“I doubt it, honey. That was all before I uh... bloomed. I resembled a lollipop back then. All stick body and a giant head.”

He snorted and finished rinsing the offal off. It would air dry in no time. “Let’s move out, boss. We’ve gotta be close by now.”

“I certainly hope so. I’m about tired of this place, sug.”

They eased down a set of stairs and paused halfway down. Something was moaning a little further up. Nora tapped her thumb impatiently and huffed.

“It’s like they think we’ve got all damn day.” She tossed the last decoy ball and it’s wail filled their ears. Two ferals skittered around the corner into the open, followed by a larger, faster one wearing some kind of ancient armor.

“Sh-shoot. Reaver, boss!” Mac started taking shots at it while she handled the smaller two. Even after it had half its head blown off, it wasn’t stopping.

Mac started moving back up the stairs a little, but Nora held her ground and started shooting it’s legs. Her rifle managed to liquify one of it’s shins and it went down, still trying to drag itself toward them. Mac fired twice before it finally stopped moving.

“Well...that was unpleasant.”

He snorted. ‘Unpleasant’ was the understatement of the year. He tried to ignore just how fast his heart was beating and followed her on down the stairs.

She stared up at the building within a building in front of them. “This has to be it. A completely separate research area. Some kind of clean room, maybe. Whatever they were working on, they definitely didn’t want it to get out.” There was a terminal by a reinforced doorway and Nora paused by it. “Be ready for anything, okay? Whoever was stuck in here when the lockdown began is still going to be there...and they’re probably pretty hungry after two hundred years.”

Mac popped his neck and nodded at her, bringing his rifle up and focusing his whole being on whatever was just beyond that door.

Nora took a deep breath and entered the command to open it, immediately hopping back a few paces, staying low and out of Mac’s line of fire.

Two ferals were just turning toward the door when he took them down easy, Nora moved further into the room and her geiger counter started clicking at the same time he saw it. A glowing one.

“Let’s get it on!” Mac unloaded shot after shot as Nora concentrated her fire on it’s legs, trying to slow it’s progress towards them. Movement caught his eye and he saw another feral on the other side of the room through the windows. It was coming around to flank them.

Nora saw it, too. “Mac! It’s gonna come up behind you!” Her eyes never left the glowing one.

“I know! I saw!” He spun around just as it reached the threshold and popped its head off while Nora finally managed to turn the glowing one into a puddle of goo.

They both paused, breathing heavily and listening.

“I think...I think that was it, honey.” She shouldered her rifle and started poking around the space, opening drawers and a few of the refrigerators.

Mac traded his rifle for his pistol and followed close behind, peering around her. “Sh-shoot...are those...human bones, boss?”

She sighed heavily, “Looks like. I can’t even begin to imagine why one would need to keep human bones in a refrigerator like this. They aren’t even labeled or anything.”

He grimaced, “Yeah, this looks a lot less like science and a lot more like someone’s deranged idea of fun to me.”

Nora hummed in agreement, “Maybe Curie will have a better idea of what this was for.”

Mac shook his head, “Let’s not ask her...I don’t want her to get any ideas…”

She snorted at that and moved along, careful to not touch any of the human remains. He watched her and decided to let her do the looking. Science had always been beyond him and knowing his luck, he’d accidentally destroy the thing before he even realized what it was.

“Have fun with this junk. I have no idea what any of it does.” He did spot an old surgical magazine and picked it up though. Curie would probably be stoked to get a souvenir.

“Oh!” Nora picked up an odd red syringe and studied it closely. “I think...I think this is it.” She held it out to him. “Here you go, Mac.”

He stared at it with wide eyes. “We did it... holy crap, we actually did it! We just gave Duncan a fighting chance to live.” He took a deep breath, “I don't know how I'll ever be able to pay you back for this... I owe you big time.”

Nora just shook her head, “You don’t owe me anything, honey. All I care about is curing your son.”

“I know you do.” He pulled her in for a hug. “I'm just getting tired of taking instead of giving. Maybe one day I'll learn to get my priorities straight.”

She chuckled and rubbed his back. “Well, if you really want to do something nice, you could always go easy on me.”

He leaned back and frowned a little, “Go easy on you? What?”

She sighed heavily, “Yeah, you beat me. By one.”

A wicked grin spread across his face and her ears turned pink. “I think I’ll work on my priorities after the week is up.”

“See? You’re always trying to be so mean to me.” She pouted at him for a moment before moving away. “And don’t get any ideas, either. This place is entirely too gross to do any celebrating in.”

He blinked and followed after her, watching as she carefully slid the syringe into an inside pocket of her coat. “I wasn’t even thinking of celebrating yet!”

“Sure, sure.” She headed for what looked to be an elevator and pressed the button.

He rolled his eyes at her. “Anyway, the last step ahead of us is getting the cure to Daisy in Goodneighbor. With her caravan contacts, she's the only one I trust to get this to Duncan on time. This is the last favor I'm going to ask, I promise.” A bell dinged and the doors slid open. “Let's go.”

Chapter Text

The setting sun greeted them as they stepped out the doors of Med-Tek. Mac squinted a little and took a deep breath. The air still smelled awful, but it was a million times better than what they’d just left.

“Alright, honey, Goodneighbor is about four hours from here. We can be there by dinner if we shake a leg.” Nora was looking down at her Pipboy map.

“Daisy’s caravan friends won’t be there until the morning, so we can take our time.” He could feel his muscles already starting to get stiff as the last of the adrenaline left his system. “Besides, we might want to hold off on getting there tonight.”

She looked him over carefully, “Why? Are you hurt? Is your chest alright?” Her hand came up to check his newly healed scar and he put one of his over it.

“No, I’m fine. Great, actually...but if we show up tonight, Hancock’s going to want to throw us a party and he won’t take no for an answer. I’m not up for much but sleep right now.”

“Ah...okay. That makes sense. That...that does sound like Hancock.” Nora’s whole face lit up suddenly, “Oh! Let’s go back to Cabot House! We can shower and wash our clothes, too.”

Mac was nodding enthusiastically before she even finished, “Yes. Yes, let’s do that. I can’t take much more of this fu-freaking feral smell on me.”

She giggled a bit, “It is pretty bad. I don’t understand why ferals smell so awful anyway. Regular ghouls don’t. Hancock kind of smells like...leather and tobacco? I wonder what the difference actually is. It can’t all just be mental deterioration.”

He kept a hold of her hand as they headed back to the safety of her family’s home. “I dunno, boss. It’s probably got something to do with how they just don’t seem to notice the elements, you know? They don’t seem to give a sh-toot if it’s raining, hailing, a million degrees out, whatever.”

“That could be true. I’ll mention it to Curie. Maybe it’ll be something she wants to study.”

“I thought she was busy with her reproductive study or whatever.”

Nora nodded, “Oh, she is, but she likes all sorts of experiments. Like she’s working with Sturges to restore an internal-fusion car engine and she helps Tom with some stuff. Her synthetic chicken eggs...and my birth control, of course.”

Mac blinked, “Wait, that’s experimental?”

“Well...yes. I asked Doctor Sun in Diamond City about birth control and he acted like I was crazy. He said women take medicine to be fertile, not to prevent having a baby.” She shrugged, “I guess that makes sense in a world full of radiation, but I think it’s a little silly to just assume every person who can have a baby wants to have a baby, you know? Anyway, it’s fine, honey. She tested it on the Abernathy’s cat and their cow before moving on to the human trials. It works.”

He felt a little disquieted about how blase she was being about the whole thing, but then again, Curie was brilliant. If Nora trusted her on this, he guessed he should, too. Besides, it wasn’t like there was a whole lot he could do about it anyway, other than not have sex with Nora and that just wasn’t an option as far as he was concerned.

“Do you uh...ever see yourself having more kids?” She was suspiciously quiet and Mac glanced over his shoulder at her. Even in the waning light, he could see the pink in her cheeks. “Nora?”

“Well...I mean...I hadn’t.” Her blush deepened a little and she ducked her head down and stared at her feet as they walked.

Mac watched her through slightly narrowed eyes and grinned a little when it finally dawned on him. “I like the name Jason for a boy.”

Her eyes met his and she smiled shyly, “I was thinking Joseph.”

He chuckled, “Joseph’s good.”

“Josephine for a girl.”

“Josephine is a fine name, too.” A sweet little girl with his eyes and Nora’s hair, or vice versa, would be beautiful. Mac was half in love with this hypothetical daughter already.

“Not now, of course. Someday, though.”

He nodded, “Yeah, someday.” He kissed her hand and the subject was dropped. The idea, however, had now become a permanent fixture of Mac’s mind. Duncan would probably love to be a big brother and he’d definitely love to make him one.

The trip back to Cabot House took less time than the trip from there to Med-Tek had that morning. Mac realized he must have been dragging his feet pretty hard to add an entire extra half hour to what should have just been a three-hour trip.

Their hosts were still out. The jammer was shining softly in the darkness and Nora flipped on lights as she went this time, leading him down into the basement where the laundry facilities were. There they shed their clothing after emptying their pockets into an empty basket. Mac laughed a little at how long it took Nora to shake all the things out of her ridiculous coat and she just rolled her eyes at him.

His shirt was unsalvageable, so into the trash it went.

“You can borrow one of Jack’s for tomorrow, honey. He won’t care.”

Mac shrugged, “It’s no big deal, boss. I can just go without.”

She gave him one of those scoldy looks she was so good at, “And catch your death of cold? I don’t think so.” There was an old measuring cup and a bizarrely pristine box of Abraxo in a cabinet and she measured out two cups. “Anyway, Jack would see it as his duty as host to provide you with clothes. He’s old-fashioned like that.”

“I’d feel weird digging through someone else’s closet like that, baby.” Which was odd. When had that change happened? He’d gone from casing the place to actually feeling bad about taking a man’s shirt.

Nora fiddled with the dials on the machine and it kicked on with a bang. “I’ll do it, then. I’ve borrowed shirts from him before.” She shimmied out of her panties and tossed them with her tanktop into the machine before closing it. “They’ll probably be a little big on you, though, honey. We’ll have to find you something better in Goodneighbor or Diamond City.”

“Daisy’ll have something. She always does.” Mac followed her back upstairs. “You should take the first shower.”

She stepped into her bedroom to set Duncan’s cure and her glasses on the dresser; grabbed her robe and shook her head at him, “Don’t be silly. We can shower together.”

Immediately every shower-based fantasy he’d had since he’d met her flooded his brain. The only problem was he was beyond exhausted. “Uh…”

“It’ll save time and water. The sooner we can get to bed, the better. I’m about to drop after all we did today.” She breezed past him and entered the bathroom, turning on the shower and pinning up her hair.

Mac sighed, relieved. Not that having sexy fun playtime with Nora in the shower wasn’t still one of his top five fantasies of all time, but he was beat. Plus, his chest still ached just a little whenever he took a deep breath. The stimpak had healed his broken ribs, but it didn’t do much for the soreness.

Steam filled the room as they stepped into the bathtub. Mac winced a little at how hot the water was, but Nora didn’t seem to notice. She hummed happily when it hit her and he watched her skin turn pink from the heat. Even if they weren’t up for anything other than actually getting clean, at least he was getting some tasty images for later.

She pushed him under the spray and he was working on getting the soap lathered when he felt her fingers slide into his hair. It sent a little tingle up his spine before he realized she was just washing his hair. Her touch was firm but gentle, rubbing little circles all over his head. It somehow made his eyelids feel heavy.

“You have such great hair, honey. Have I ever told you that before?” Her hands carefully positioned his head under the water and rinsed his hair clean, taking extra care to not let the soap get in his eyes.

“Uh...I don’t remember, baby...but thanks. I’m glad you like it.” He was fumbling a bit with the soap and she took it from him, quickly lathering a washcloth and working on cleaning all traces of the ferals off him.

“I don’t like it. I love it.” Her fingers trailed over the new scar on his chest. “I’m so sorry you got hurt. That shouldn’t have happened.”

Mac frowned a little at her tone. It sounded like she was trying to take responsibility for his fuck-up. “Hey, you don’t have anything to be sorry for. That was on me.”

She shook her head, “No, it’s on me. It was my job to keep you safe in there.”

He rinsed himself off quickly and pulled her back under the sprayer and into a hug. “Nope. Your job was to help me and you did that. Heck, if you hadn’t been there, I’d be dead.” He pulled back enough to hold up her right wrist a little. “I’m sorry you got hurt.” The bruise from where the feral had tried to chew her arm off through her coat was blue, quickly headed for purple.

Nora’s eyes left his and glanced at the mark. “It’s fine. It only hurts if you poke it.”

Mac carefully kissed it and grinned at her, “Well, mine only hurts when I breathe, so it’s fine, too.” She giggled a little at that and he took the washcloth from her. “Now turn around and I’ll wash your back.”

She turned and sighed when he started scrubbing her back. “Yay, magic hands...” Her voice was starting to sound drowsy.

He chuckled, “How are your feet, by the way? We must have covered twenty miles today.”

Her head nodded a little, “Yeah...they hurt, but they always hurt. It’s fine, honey. They’ll feel alright in the morning.”

She was yawning when he turned her around to rinse her off and he loved the sleepy smile she gave him. Once he was sure the soap was gone, he decided to heck with it and kissed her, slow and gentle while the steam swirled around them and the world smelled clean and bright. Mac still wasn’t looking to go any further, he was just so happy they’d survived and finally saved his son. It ended just as innocently as it began and they smiled at each other for a minute.

“We saved Duncan today, Nora.”

“Yeah, we did, Mac.”

“I can’t wait for him to meet you.”

She smiled brightly at that, “I can’t wait, either. I bet he’s just the sweetest little boy in the whole wide world.”

Mac laughed, “Well, he is my son, so...don’t expect too much.”

Nora rolled her eyes at him and then squeaked suddenly, barreling into him and away from the water. “Cold!”

Mac turned a little so she could escape the now freezing water and turned it off quickly. “Sorry, baby.”

“It’s the dang washer. It must have drained the hot water tank.” She grabbed one of the Cabot’s fluffy towels and wrapped it around herself. “You want to take the Radaway now or in the morning?”

He considered his options while toweling off. “I guess tonight...that sh-stuff gives me a headache and I’d rather just sleep it off.”

Nora nodded, “That’s the most common side-effect.” They went back to her room and she pulled out a small first aid kit from the dresser.

“Huh. What are the other side-effects?” Mac sat on the bed and watched as she hung two Radaway from tiny hooks in the wall. They seemed to be there for just such an occasion and he wondered if the Cabots had them installed before or after Nora had shown up on their doorstep.

“Oh, pretty typical stuff...nausea, stomach cramps, hair loss.”

His hand moved to hover protectively over his hair. “Hair loss?”

Nora stopped for a moment and smiled at him, “You’d already know if it did it to you. From what I’ve read, it's quite sudden and happens all at once.” She handed him his tubing and he winced a little as he slid the needle under his skin. He noticed her face was carefully blank when she administered hers.

“Don’t like needles either, huh?” He flexed his hand a little before carefully setting it down on the bed between them. The medicine was icy and tingled unpleasantly as it slowly worked through his system.

Nora wrinkled her nose a little, “Does anyone actually like needles?” She watched her bag carefully until the liquid inside ran down the tubing and into her arm, then leaned back against the wall with her eyes closed.

“I’m sure there’s somebody out there who does. Some people are into weird stuff.”

She nodded, “That’s true. When Nick and I went to Far Harbor, there was a big group of those Children of Atom people, right? They all had facial tattoos in these giant patterns...some of them probably like needles.”

“Where’s Far Harbor?”

“In what used to be Maine. Way up north.”

“Da-dang. You know, the Children of Atom got started back in the Capital Wasteland. That’s crazy that they’re that spread out now.” Just proved his theory that there were idiots everywhere.

“Really? Do you know how they started? I asked but they just recited their creation myth at me.”

“I dunno how they got started, but I know where. This little town called Megaton. It’s built around an undetonated nuclear bomb.”

She blinked at that, “They built a town around a bomb?”

“Yup.”

“And...they worship the thing?”

He chuckled, “Not the whole town, but yeah. There’s a little church there and everything. I’ve heard rumors that the bomb was deactivated years ago, but no one knows for sure.”

“Good lord, honey. That’s...that’s incredibly dangerous.”

He shrugged a little, “It’s one of the safest places around down there. They have a sheriff, doctor...lots of little families live there.”

She frowned at him, “The Capital Wasteland sounds like an awful place to live.”

Mac sighed, “Yeah, it is.”

Nora stared up at their bags thoughtfully for a minute. “Mac, would you do me a favor when you go to get Duncan?”

“Sure, boss. Anything.”

“Will you ask around and see if anyone else wants to come with y’all back up to the Commonwealth?”

He smiled at her, “Yeah, I can do that.” He’d already been planning on it, but he loved that she’d asked him.

She smiled back, “We have plenty of room here, and resources. Just make sure you don’t make us out to be some kind of utopia or anything, honey. We have our share of challenges, but...from everything you and Deacon have said about DC, it’s not fit for people to live there anymore.”

He nodded, “I’ll do what I can. How many people can you fit in Sanctuary anyway?”

She shrugged, “Quite a few, but we have a bunch of settlements all over the Commonwealth. Some barely have any settlers at all. Some are better suited for families and others are better for young, adventurous types. I also have some ideas about repopulating Boston proper that Preston says are a little too ambitious, but if we could actually pull it off, it would be amazing.”

His brows drew together, “Right, because rebuilding the Minutemen from the ground up, taking on the Institute and all the other insane things you’ve done haven’t been ambitious. If anybody can get the job done, Nora, it’s you. Don’t listen to that idiot.”

She beamed at him, “Thanks, honey, but he’s not an idiot. He’s just...realistic. He’ll have more faith once I get Trinity up and running.”

“Oh, right...that old church. What are you working on there anyway?”

Nora pulled the needle from her arm and pressed her thumb against the tiny wound to staunch the bleeding. “I’m going to turn it into a Minutemen outpost and hospital. That way if anyone is hurt downtown, they’ll have access to quality care faster than if they tried to make it out to the Castle or Sanctuary. Curie is already training several interns to act as medics and I’m hoping some of the Institute doctors will see the light and join us there. Once things really get going, I was thinking of making the upper level into an orphanage? Or maybe just a shelter of some sort for families on the move.”

Mac whistled low. “That...okay, yeah, that does sound a little ambitious.”

She nodded, “I know. It’s definitely going to have to be a group effort, but think of how beneficial it will be to the Commonwealth. The ripples from it will affect all sorts of things.”

He pulled his own needle out and frowned thoughtfully, “The ripples?”

“Yeah, like ripples in a pond. You can toss in one small stone and the ripples go out and out and out. Like a domino effect. Getting Trinity going will strengthen the entire region if we do it right, which will attract more settlers to our cause, and that will bolster the Minutemen so we can protect more people and restore more places and on and on and on.” Her eyes were sparkling now and she was growing more animated as she talked. “Maybe someday we can make sure everyone has access to schools and adequate medical care. We have a chance to leave a legacy behind here and we have to take it. If we just put in a little effort now, generations down the line will be able to reap huge benefits.”

He unhooked their bags from the wall and tossed them both in the trash can. “That’s...kind of crazy but wonderful, too. Is there a word for that?”

Nora laughed, “Sure. Ambitious.”

Mac leaned over and kissed her softly, “You’re amazing, you know that?”

She smiled at him, “You’re amazing.”

He nodded, “I must be if I landed someone like you.” Nora giggled at him and he grinned cheekily. “So, can we pass out yet or what? I’m pretty sure this wall is the only thing keeping me mostly vertical.”

She nodded, “You go ahead and lay down. I have to go switch the clothes over.”

“I can do it.”

She blinked at him, “You know how to work a dryer?”

Shit. “Uh...no...hurry back.”

Nora pressed a quick kiss to his forehead and headed out the door. Mac watched her go appreciatively and snuggled under the covers. Pants would have been nice, but they were all the way across the room and he wasn’t up for that. His muscles felt like Takahashi’s noodles and his brain was already half switched off.

He’d almost drifted off when he heard Nora enter the room and switch the lamp off. Then there was a momentary chill as she lifted the blanket and got in behind him, snuggling up to his back and wrapping her arms around him. She pressed a kiss against the back of his neck and his hand found hers, their fingers threading together.

“Good night, honey.” It came out a happy, sleepy sigh and Mac smiled in the darkness.

“Good night, Nora.”



Mac woke up with the unnerving sense that something was wrong. Nora was still there; they’d moved a bit in their sleep and he now had her wrapped in his arms and that was good. They were still at the Cabots, their room warm and comfortable, and that was good, too. So what was wrong?

He blinked in the soft lamplight and that’s when it hit him. Light. Nora had turned the lamp off before getting into bed. Someone else had turned it on.

His eyes narrowed a bit as he took in the parts of the room he could see. Nothing was different or out of place. There was a soft chuckle from down by the foot of the bed, and he took a deep breath, fully prepared to spring out and attack whoever was trying to get the drop on them when he smelled it.

Cigarette smoke.

Nora stirred, blinking drowsily while her nose wrinkled, “Emmy, I’ve asked you a million times not to smoke in here.”

Mac frowned at that and sat up, glaring at the tall blond chuckling by the door. Emogene.

The youngest Cabot just smiled at them, “Sorry, Ellie Jo. A girl needs a few vices in the face of eternity, right?”

Ellie Jo?

Nora sat up, too, holding the blanket against herself and rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “How was the funeral?”

Emogene made a face, “Oh, you know. The usual. Tears, wailing...Mother will insist on being the center of attention at all times.”

“Oh, Emmy...now be nice. Your mama loved your daddy. I’m sure it was hard letting go of him after all this time.” She yawned behind her hand and held out her other one. Emogene gave Nora a small smile and handed her glasses to her.

“Well, Mother wasn’t the only one who loved him. She forgets that.” Her eyes finally rested on Mac. “So who’s this?”

Nora turned to Mac, blinking at him like she’d forgotten he’d been there. “Oh. Oh! This is ah...this is Robert Joseph MacCready.”

He ran a hand through his hair, “Mac is fine.”

Emogene smirked at Nora’s blush. “Mac...oh, I remember. The boy from the Third Rail. Hancock’s mentioned you.” Her eyebrow went up just a bit, “You didn’t hire him for…”

“No! Goodness gracious, Emmy!” Nora sighed heavily, “I hired him to be my bodyguard when I was figuring out the stuff with Shaun, on Edward’s recommendation.”

She laughed at that, “Bodyguard? Well...he’s certainly thorough, isn’t he?”

The flush from Nora’s face was now creeping steadily down her throat and Mac glowered at Emogene. “It ain’t like that. I’m not her bodyguard anymore. We’re...I’m her…”, Shit. They never had had that talk, had they?

Nora’s hand found his and squeezed it, “He’s my beau, Emmy.” The smile she gave him went all the way down into his soul and he grinned back at her.

Emogene studied Nora’s face for a moment before smiling. “Ah...good for you, cousin.” She gave Mac a careful once over and smirked, “He’s a bit scrawnier than the last one, but still a savory little snack. You have good taste.”

Mac could now feel a flush creep into his cheeks and Nora giggled at him, “I do, don’t I?”

“If you come across another good one, send him my way, would you? Quality men are few and far between nowadays.” She moved towards the door and waved her hand at the dresser, “By the way, Edward pressed your clothing. And I brought it up. You’re welcome.”

“Thank you, Emmy. That was very thoughtful of you.”

Emogene nodded, “I know. Hurry up or you’ll miss breakfast.” The door closed behind her and they sat in the quiet for a moment.

“So that’s your cousin.”

Nora nodded, “Yup.”

“She’s uh...she’s…”

“She’s a lot to deal with. I know.”

Mac grinned at her, “Yeah.” He nudged her with his shoulder, “So I’m your beau, huh, Ellie Jo?”

Nora grimaced, “Ugh, don’t call me that.”

He chuckled, “Why not? It’s cute.”

“It’s an old family nickname. I haven’t gone by it since I was a child, except Emmy won’t let it go.”

“Why’d you switch to Nora?”

“Because Eleanor was too formal for my youngest clients and no one wants a lawyer named Ellie Jo, honey.”

He shrugged a little and watched her get out of bed, “Why does the name matter? You’re you no matter what you call yourself.”

She smiled a bit at that, “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, right?”

Mac smiled, “Hey, I know that one. That’s Shakespeare.”

Nora blinked at him, “You know Shakespeare?”

“Sure. We had encyclopedias in Lamplight...and once we put on a play. ‘Pyramus and Thisbe’. It didn’t go over very well.”

“That’s Ovid. Wow. Y’all were very cultural, weren’t you?” She shrugged into her tank top and flannel.

“I guess. We had a lot more success acting out scenes from comics though.” He reluctantly left their bed and started getting dressed.

She smiled at the idea, “I bet that was adorable.”

“Oh, sure, right up until it devolved into a free-for-all fight.” He snickered, “There was this one kid, Princess...and God help you if you got in her limelight.”

“Princess? That was her actual name?”

“It’s the name she gave herself. Some kids showed up with names, some didn’t. Some were born in the cave and named before their parents had to leave.”

Nora frowned a little at that, “Leave? Why’d they have to leave?”

Mac shrugged, “Cause we couldn’t trust mungos...er, adults. Once you hit sixteen, you had to go. There was a place called Big Town we were supposed to go to, but it was basically a killing field for a bunch of super mutants for the longest time, so most of us moved on pretty quick.”

“But you had babies being born? To children in the cave?”

“Well...yeah, boss. I mean, you get a bunch of teenagers together with no rules, you’re probably going to get a few babies out of the mix.”

She shook her head, “Babies having babies...that’s just awful. Were you born there?”

“Nah. I got dropped off when I was maybe two? The older kids wrote down my name and the birthday the lady gave for me, so I know I was born in Rivet City on November 3rd, 2265.”

Her head tilted a little, “Who was the lady?”

He shrugged, “I dunno. Wasn’t my mom though. She told them my mom died. Cancer.”

Nora stopped tying her boots to hug him, “Oh, honey. I’m sorry.”

Mac hugged her back and smiled against her hair, “It’s fine, baby. Most people die of cancer in the wastes. Anyway, I went to Rivet City after, to see if I had any family there, but by the time I had grown up, no one remembered me or my mom. Or if they did, they wouldn’t admit to it.”

“Hmm...so, Lamplight was kind of like an orphanage?”

Mac nodded, “Yeah, I guess.”

“So what happens to orphans in the Capital Wasteland now that the Brotherhood closed the cave?”

He paused. A sickening realization was sweeping through him. “I...I dunno, boss.”

“I bet Maxson didn’t even consider that, did he? What happens now when people show up with babies to drop off and there’s no one there?” Nora had that mama bear look on her face and Mac was right there with her.

“I dunno...if he was smart, he’d have left behind some scribes or something, right?”

She huffed angrily, “You’d think so, but from what I’ve seen, he doesn’t have the common sense God gave a goose. I’ll have to add that to the list of things we’re going to have to discuss.”

Mac grinned. If there was anyone to give Maxson a good scolding for being an idiot, it was Nora. She might even be able to do the entire world a favor and browbeat him into going back to the old Lyons way of doing things.

By the time they’d made it downstairs to breakfast, Mrs. Cabot had ‘retired’ to her bedroom, citing a headache and leaving Jack to make her apologies. Mac was more than happy to accept them. Breakfast with just the Cabot siblings and Edward was much better than having the harpy in attendance. Jack was fairly enthralled with Tom’s signal jammer and made Nora promise to bring its inventor to meet him as soon as she could. He also had a handy protective case for Duncan’s medicine. It made Mac breathe a little easier knowing his son’s cure was wrapped in soft plastic foam and encased in a solid lead-lined titanium case for it’s trip down south.

“You know, Jack...I was thinking...poor little Duncan has been sick for almost a whole year now. Mac says he goes whole months without being able to move around on his own…”, Nora was pushing around the pieces of fried radstag on her plate and frowning thoughtfully.

Jack nodded, “Yes, I was just thinking the same thing. Such a small child already and at such a crucial age for development. His atrophy is probably quite severe at this point.” He turned to Mac, “Has he been able to consistently keep down food?”

Mac swallowed and fought back the gut-wrenching feeling that came whenever he focused on just how sick Duncan really was. “Um...most of the time, but when the boils appear, my friend says he can only handle broth.”

The scientist shook his head, “Broth. At age four...he’s going to be prone to rickets, too. Maybe a permanently compromised immune system. You’ll have to take extra care with him.”

Mac stared at his own plate, wondering if even this cure would be too little too late. “Yeah.”

Nora studied his face for a moment before turning to Jack, “What if he was dosed?”

Jack blinked at her in surprise. “Nora! Dosing a child...we’ve never even attempted that before.”

She nodded, “I know...and I wasn’t talking a full dose, but...I know you calculate the serum strength based on weight, right? And most four year olds are...what...forty pounds? Mac’s wiry and poor Duncan has been malnourished for a year at least, so it’s safe to bet he’s closer to thirty, maybe. What if we took a full dose and measured it out in smaller doses for him that he could take over the course of a month or so? Maybe two a week?”

Mac frowned at her, “Wait...the serum...that immortality sh-stuff?”

Jack was tapping his fork against his plate softly, “It might work...the serum could easily restore a child’s vitality, certainly, and since he’s only taking one full dose it’s not like he would stop aging.”

Nora’s eyes were sparkling a little like Curie’s and it was making Mac nervous, “Yes, exactly! And even if he did, well, what’s a month, really?”

“What indeed? He’d have side effects, of course. Be a bit...feisty in the hours following each injection.”

Emogene rolled her eyes, “Oh, honestly, he’s a child, right? Even if he got outright violent, how much damage could he possibly do?”

“And Mac says one of his caretakers is a pre-war Ghoul, so there’s already someone there who’s strong enough to hold him back if he really gets out of hand,” Nora added helpfully.

Jack nodded, “Yes, I think it just might do the trick. Oh! It’s exciting! I wish I could be there to observe!”

Edward cleared his throat, “Jack...you might want to get consent from the child’s father before you conduct an experiment on him.”

“Right! Right you are, Edward!” The Cabots turned to face Mac as one, “Well, my boy? What do you say?”

Mac just stared at them. Jack and Nora wore matching excited expressions and Emogene just looked amused by the whole thing. “Uh...what exactly are we talking about here?”

Nora smiled reassuringly at him, “We want to give Duncan a child-sized dose of the Cabot serum to counteract the effects of his illness. The cure we found at Med-Tek should make him well, but it won’t be able to restore him like the serum can.”

Jack nodded along, “Yes, and it’s quite safe, really. Well, it will be as safe as we can make it. There may be side-effects.”

Mac swallowed, “What kind of side-effects?”

“He could get violent for a few hours after the injections, and he’ll be stronger than a child should be at first. So your friends would want to watch for aggression, but it’ll wear off quickly and this could speed up his recovery time like crazy.”

He looked at Nora. There was no doubt or worry in her face, but he decided to ask anyway, “If this was for Shaun, what would you do?”

She blinked at him for a moment before considering the question, “I would do it and worry the whole time.”

“Why would you worry?”

“Because I’m a parent, honey. It’s just what we do, right?”

Mac smiled a little at that. They all seemed united in their conviction that this was a great idea so he slowly nodded, “Okay...yeah, okay, let’s do it. If it’ll help Duncan get better faster, let’s do it.”

Jack clapped, “Oh, wonderful! It’ll just take a moment to measure out everything and I’ll write out instructions for your friends...oh, they can read, can’t they?”

Nora waved her hand, “I’m sure they can read, Jack. They do send Mac letters, after all.” Emogene snorted behind her coffee and Edward snickered as he cleared the table.

The scientist didn’t notice. “Right. Right, of course. I’ll be right back.” He all but skipped up the stairs to his lab and Mac watched him go, trying to stamp down the worry in his gut.

“It’ll be fine, Mac. My brother’s a lot of things, but he’s not an ass. He wouldn’t endanger your child.” Emogene sounded almost sympathetic and Mac nodded in thanks at her.

“Oh, of course not, honey. We just want to do all we can to help, don’t we, Emmy? I mean...well, you’re practically an honorary Cabot at this point, so that makes Duncan one, too, right?” Nora smiled brightly at him and Emogene chuckled.

“Yes, welcome to the family. I’m sure Mother will be thrilled to add a mercenary to our ranks.”

Chapter Text

“MacCready! I haven't seen you in a while. You haven't been avoiding me, have you?”

Mac laughed, “Now how could I stay away from someone as cute as you, Daisy?”

Her black eyes twinkled, “You're a lousy liar, but I'll just play stupid and pretend I don't know that. So, what did you need?” She nodded a hello to Nora, who was poking around a box of odds and ends labeled ‘Is It Food or Not?’

“I got it, Daisy. I found the cure to Duncan's disease.” Even as he said it, the words still didn’t seem real.

“Oh my god! That's wonderful news. How did you do it? Last time you tried, the ferals almost chewed you to bits.”

“I didn't do it alone. My friend here got me through Med-Tek.” He gave Nora a half-smile. “Now all I need to do is get the cure into Duncan's hands. Can you help me?”

“Of course, MacCready. You've saved my behind more than once, it's the least I can do.”

Nora set the heavy case on the counter and placed the second, smaller case full of the Cabot serum regiment on top. “Everything is already protected, but...maybe we should put it in a less conspicuous box? Just to be safe?”

Daisy nodded and eyed the shiny coating, “That’s a good idea. I have just the thing. We’ll wrap it in burlap and then put it in a beat up old wooden crate. It’ll look just like every other piece of scrap.” They watched the older woman rifle through a bin and pull out an ancient potato sack.

“Say, Daisy, what did Mac do to help you out?”

She shrugged, “Running a business in a town like Goodneighbor is a challenge. Let's just say I've had my share of unfriendly customers and MacCready's been there to help me handle the situation.”

Nora beamed, “He’s wonderful, isn’t he?”

Daisy chuckled, “Yeah, he's actually not so bad, once you get to know him.” She kindly ignored Mac’s glowing red face, “I'll get the sample on the first caravan leaving the Commonwealth. The driver owes me a few favors and he's reliable. It will arrive at your homestead in no time, MacCready.”

He sighed with relief. It was over. He’d done all he could do. “Thanks, you're a doll.”

She waved his praise away and glanced over at Nora, “Hey, do me a favor. Take care of this one for me. He's one of the good ones.”

“I will, Daisy. I promise.”

“Good...oh, and Doctor Amari said if anyone saw you come through the gate to tell you she needed to see you before you left, dear.”

“Oh, okay. Okay, great! Um…”, Nora stared hard at Mac for a second, clearly trying to puzzle something out.

He lifted an eyebrow, “Do you want me to come with you?”

“No!” She took a deep breath and shifted, “Sorry. What I mean to say is, no, thank you. I’ll be right back.” She all but bolted from the shop before he even had a chance to respond and he and Daisy shared a puzzled look.

“That girl has more energy than a roomful of molerat pups.”

He laughed, “Yup. First person I’ve traveled with in a long while that gets up before I do most days.”

“Hmm.” She leaned on the counter, “So...you and her, huh?”

Mac resisted the urge to stare at his feet, “Heh...yeah. It’s still pretty new, but...yeah.”

“Well, good for you, honey. I knew your luck would turn around someday.”

He nodded, “It was a hell of a turn, too.”

“That’s how it usually works. Darkest before the dawn and all that. Just...be careful, alright?”

“Careful of what?”

“Careful you don’t screw it up. Hancock will gut anyone who messes with his Sunshine, present company included.”

He rolled his eyes, “Yeah, I know. He’s got some kinda...I dunno, possessive thing with her. I’m not messing with Nora, though. I...I think I’m going to marry her. Someday.” Just saying it out loud felt like he was tempting fate, but this was Daisy, and she was the closest thing he’d had to family since leaving the Capital Wasteland.

She seemed surprised, “Someday? You’re with a girl like that and you just think you’re going to marry her someday?”

“Like I said, it’s still pretty new.” Jeez, maybe Hancock wasn’t the only ghoul who felt possessive of Nora.

“Hmph.” Daisy narrowed her eyes at him, “I bet you haven’t even gotten her a proper Christmas present yet.”

Uh-huh. “Oh, I see how it is. You’re trying to hard-sell me something here, aren’t you? Some stupid thing that’s worth nothing to anybody born in this century, right?”

“MacCready! I’m surprised at you! So cynical for such a young person...but now that you mention it, I do happen to have something quite lovely I think she would like.” She gave him a winning smile and he laughed in spite of himself.

“Did pre-war women even expect Christmas presents? I thought it was always a kids’ holiday.”

She nodded, “It was, but sweethearts always exchanged gifts, too. My husband...he died fighting the Reds, you know, but that first Christmas after, I still got flowers. He’d arranged to have them delivered just a few days before…”, she shook her head. “Anyway, he always made sure I had a present. Always.”

This still kinda felt like a scam to him. “I dunno, Dais…”

“I guarantee she already has a present for you.”

That made him blink, “What? Seriously? I’m getting a present?”

She sighed heavily, “Come on, kid. Of course she has a present for you.”

Shit. The idea of sitting in Sanctuary with Nora and having no present to give her was starting to feel pretty close to mortifying.

He’d bet a million billion caps Deacon had already gotten her something, too. Probably something ridiculous and inappropriate, but still something.

That settled it.

“Fine, you old hustler. Show me what you’ve got.”

By the time Nora got back, looking distractedly pink-cheeked and sparkly, Mac, with Daisy’s invaluable help, had purchased and wrapped a present that they both agreed she would like. He’d slipped it into his bag just moments before she bounded around the corner.

“Mac, Hancock says we’re going to have lunch with him. No rush though, he just woke up.” She smiled brightly at Daisy, “Why is it he’s always asleep but you never are?”

Daisy snickered, “Because I work and he doesn’t.”

“Yeah, it’s good to be the king.”

Nora frowned at Mac, “He’s the mayor, honey. Hancock doesn’t believe in kings.”

“Right, right.” He took her hand, “See ya around, Dais.”

She smiled, “See you, kids. Have fun out there.”

They made their way over to the State House and up the stairs to Hancock’s lair. Mac paused just at the doorway and frowned, trying to figure out what was different. Then it hit him. Someone had cleaned.

There were no piles of jet canisters or full ashtrays. Not even a single pair of misplaced underwear. No trophy underwear either, come to think of it.

Weird.

Nora didn’t seem to notice their bizarrely unsullied surroundings though and walked right in, hanging up her coat before sitting on the couch and politely waiting while their host was off doing whatever it was he did. Mac sat next to her after dumping his gear at the door and put his feet up on the coffee table, ignoring her mildly scoldy expression.

“So, lunch, huh? Hancock sure loves to feed you.”

She nodded, “He kind of does. Any time we were out in the field and he would um...take a chem break, he’d make me eat something.” She picked at a thread on the couch for a moment. “Hancock was always so worried about me when he should have been worrying after himself. He’s a real sweetheart, you know? I...we don’t have to talk to him about the thing right now, do we?”

Mac glanced at her, “The thing?” Her whole body was tense. When had that happened?

Her eyes darted to his for a second before she started fiddling with the buttons on her Pipboy. “Yeah, the...you know, the sex thing.”

He pretended to not see the pink in her cheeks and chuckled, “No, we don’t have to talk to him about that right now. I doubt he’s going to try to jump us at lunch.”

The tension melted out of her and she sighed, “Okay. Okay, good. That’s good. I...I don’t know how to have that talk without hurting his feelings.”

He shrugged, “I’ll just tell him thanks but no thanks. He’ll get over it.”

Her head tilted, “That seems far too simple to work.”

“On anyone else, it would be. But Hancock’s Hancock. It’ll be cool. Don’t worry about it.”

“Don’t worry about what?”

Nora’s smiled at the ghoul, “Speak of the devil! There you are!”

Hancock grinned at her, “And there you are, Sunshine. Right where you should be.” He barely spared a glance at MacCready, “Hey, kid.”

Mac rolled his eyes, “Hey.”

Two watchmen walked in with trays of food and set it all down on the coffee table after Mac hastily moved his feet. Hancock shooed them out and sat on the couch across from them. “Now, what’s this we’re worried about?”

He could feel Nora start to fidget next to him and answered for her, “Christmas. It’s a stressful time of year, you know.” He didn’t, and he was sure Hancock didn’t, but Daisy had said it used to be so it had to be right.

The mayor nodded sagely, “True, true. It certainly is.” His eyes never left Nora, “But you shouldn’t worry about that stuff, sweetheart. Your presence is our present.”

Mac probably would have taken issue with Hancock’s flirting if any of it had ever actually made it past Nora’s impenetrable shell of obliviousness. He kinda felt bad for the guy. It had to be hard to finally find someone who was completely immune to charisma of any kind.

Nora reached for a jar on the table, “Thanks, honey...what’s this?” She shook it a little and Mac heard ominous sloshing from inside.

“Ah! I knew you’d be interested. Now Fahr owes me ten caps.” He held out a hand for the jar and she passed it over, “This is something very special. Very rare. Don’t even ask me how I got my hands on it because you don’t want to know.” Nora giggled at that and Mac cracked a smile. No one could put on a show like Hancock. “It came from a far off settlement and before that, who knows?” He twisted the top and an audible pop was heard. “I present to you, my sweet, tapenade.” He passed it back to her with a flourish and she took it with both hands and wide eyes.

“Oh, Hancock! You didn’t!”

“I most certainly did.”

She sniffed the contents, “It smells like it’s still good!”

“Well, of course it is, Sunshine. Go on, taste it.” He gestured vaguely at the table and Nora grabbed a razorgrain cracker from a bowl.

“I just can’t believe you went to all that trouble just for me.” She scooped out a tiny bit of the goop and nibbled at it. “Oh...oh, it’s so good. So good.” The rest of the cracker disappeared into her mouth and she wiggled happily, making little noises Mac was used to hearing only when she was naked.

He glanced over at Hancock and narrowed his eyes at the mayor’s gleeful expression. “So, what the he-heck is tapenade?”

The ghoul smiled wickedly at him, “Something she likes, obviously.”

His eyes narrowed further. Yup. That’s what he thought. Hancock didn’t know, either.

Nora was shoving another cracker into the stuff and held it out to Mac, “It’s so good, honey! French, I’m pretty sure, but it has earlier origins in the Roman empire. It’s olives and capers and olive oil and this one has garlic and anchovies, too! You can eat it on bread or crackers or even stuff a chicken with it! It’s divine!”

The dark stuff on the cracker didn’t look anywhere close to divine to Mac, but he obediently opened his mouth anyway. If she wanted to feed him rat poison he’d probably at least try it. Once, anyway.

As soon as his mouth closed, his eyes started watering. All he could taste was shit-flavored salt and then the taste of ocean wind filled his sinuses. He had to focus extra hard on chewing and not spitting it out onto the floor.

If this is what this crap tasted like when it was good, he never, ever wanted to encounter it when it was bad.

His sole comfort was watching Hancock try some. Despite the man’s nonchalant pose, he could tell it was destroying his palate, too. Both men struggled to swallow the offensive sludge while Nora happily stuffed her face with it, inhaling several crackers-worth while they chewed and waved away her offers of more.

Hancock managed to get his down first. He took a long draw off a beer and gave her something close to a smile, “I can see the appeal. Tastes...historical.”

Mac snorted at that and immediately regretted it. It made the scent of the tapenade rush into his sinuses all over again and he almost gagged, but saved it at the last second. “Uh...yeah, it’s...different, boss.” He couldn’t believe she wouldn’t touch radroach but she’d eat this crap.

“M’hmm. It’s delicious. I never thought I would taste it again.” She gave Hancock that thousand-watt smile, “Thank you, honey. Is this my Christmas present?”

He nodded, “It’s part of it. A little amuse-bouche, if you will. You get the rest when we get to Sanctuary. I already sent it on its way.”

“Oooh, I can’t wait!”

Mac frowned, “Sanctuary? You’re coming with us?”

Hancock frowned back at him, “Actually, squirt, you’re coming with us. I arranged to spend Christmas in Sanctuary months back.”

Nora nodded, “It’s true. He asked to be our Santa way back in...August, maybe?”

“Santa?”

The ghoul smirked, “Yeah, I already have the red coat, so why not?”

“He’s going to pass out presents to all the kids. Codsworth knitted him a beard and everything.” Nora was still happily entranced by lunch and hadn’t noticed the way the room’s vibe was starting to turn.

“Pass out presents to the kids, huh?”

Hancock shrugged, “Pass out presents, eat cookies, hang mistletoe...what was the last one, Sunshine?”

“People sit on your lap and tell you what they want. That’s very important...maybe the most important part of Santa. It’s a contract, you see...they promise to be good and you promise them a present.” She took a sip of Nuka and finally looked at Mac, face very solemn and serious. “It was the fundamental foundation of the Santa mythos back in the day. He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake.” She sang the last part like it was a song everyone should know and Mac’s eyebrows shot up.

Her time’s version of Santa sounded like a creeper to him.

Hancock, on the other hand, looked all too eager to assume the role. “Yeah, that’s the part I just keep forgetting.” His tone suggested otherwise and Mac gave him a dirty look. “So, did you ever figure out what you’re gonna ask Santa for Christmas, love?”

Oh, so that was it. “Adults don’t sit on Santa’s lap.” He was pretty sure, anyway.

“They can.”

Mac huffed, “They don’t.”

“Well, I’m Santa and I say they can.”

“I’m gonna ask for snow.”

Both men turned and blinked at her.

“Snow, boss?”

Nora nodded, “Yup. I know it probably won’t happen but...it would be nice to see snow again.”

“Hey, you’ve been a very good girl this year. You want snow, Santa will bring you snow, Sunshine.”

Mac rubbed his eyes. Hancock was going to wind up promising her the moon for her birthday at this point.

Speaking of which, when was her birthday anyway?

“You’re powerful, Hancock, but even you can’t control the weather.”

“Wanna bet?”

Nora was now thoughtfully munching on what Mac was pretty sure was the smallest sandwich he’d ever seen. “I got Curie a bunch of romance novels. Deacon had them stashed away. She keeps saying she wants to understand that aspect of humanity, but I’m not very good with it myself, so I thought the books would be good.” She paused and looked at them nervously, “Do y’all think that’s good?”

Mac smiled at her, “It’s great, boss.”

“Yeah, that’s perfect for your little bird...she interviewed me, you know, for her study.”

“She did? How did that happen?”

Hancock shrugged, “She thought I’d fathered Fahr after I turned ghoul. I set her straight, but she still wanted to add me anyway. Real sweet little pet, that one.”

Nora nodded, “She really is. I’m so glad you were able to help her.”

“You know me, Sunshine, always ready to serve the greater good...so she’ll be in Sanctuary, too, then, I take it?”

“Yup. Deacon took her, I think...I’m pretty sure, anyway.”

Mac nodded, “Yeah, he took her.” He cleared his throat a little and gave Hancock what he hoped was a good fatherly glare, “We’re all real uh... fond of Curie, you know. She’s special to us.” He tipped his head slightly towards Nora and watched the older man absorb his hidden meaning.

Hancock just grinned, Mac’s disapproval bouncing off him like he was made of teflon, “Yeah, it’s hard to miss how... special she is.”

Nora nodded, “She’s unique. I doubt there’s another pre-war Miss Nanny turned Vault-Tec scientist turned synth anywhere out there.”

Mac gave Hancock the stink-eye for just a moment longer. “Yeah, that, too...so what’s with the tiny sandwiches?” He picked one up and tried to figure out what was actually on it.

“They’re finger sandwiches, of course. Big hit with the ladies back in Sunshine’s day.”

“Finger sandwiches?”

Hancock snorted, “Not actual finger sandwiches. Just little dainty sandwiches for little dainty hands...kinda like yours, kid.”

Mac bristled, “My hands are not dainty.” He shoved the entire sandwich in his mouth, grateful to have something to wipe away the taste of the tapenade.

“I really wish we could find cucumbers somewhere...then I could make Benedictine spread. Maybe Curie can reverse engineer one if we find some pickles.”

He noticed Nora could somehow get three bites out of the tiny sandwiches. “Benedictine spread? Is it anything like the tapenade?” Please say no, please say no.

She shook her head, “Oh, no. It’s very mild. Mother used to have it at every tea.”

Thank god. “Sounds great. We’ll definitely keep an eye out for pickles then.”

“So what’s the plan, love? We leavin’ today or you wanna wait until morning?”

“Well...if we leave today, we won’t get there until maybe ten? So that’s a good four hours of walking in darkness…”

“Ah, a moonlight stroll with my Sunshine. That takes me back.”

She smiled at him, “Or we could leave at eight in the morning and get there around four, so we’d still have two hours of daylight left for chores.”

Hancock frowned, “Chores?”

“Well, sure. There’s a lot to be done still. You know how it is in Sanctuary. Everyone pitches in.”

“Eight in the morning is a mite early, Sunshine. Let’s just leave after lunch. I do all my best work after dark anyway.”

Mac rolled his eyes at the obvious double-meaning, “If we’re out at night, that’s going to make it a hell of a lot easier for as-jerks to sneak up on us.”

“Hey, anyone stupid enough to try and take on the three of us is as good as asking to be put down in the dirt.”

He sighed, “Not really my point...Nora’s the Minutemen general and they have a lot of enemies. Plus, we have to assume she’s now a marked target of the Institute. It would be real easy for them to pick her off in the dark.”

For the first time since lunch began, Hancock turned serious. “They wouldn’t do that. Not to her. If they were gonna do anything, they’d abduct her. Or try to, anyway.”

Nora shook her head, eyes full of sadness. “I don’t know that we can count on Shaun to show restraint at this point, honey. He was...quite clear as to how he felt about me the last time we spoke.” She went still and quiet for a moment and Mac took her hand and squeezed it gently.

Hancock frowned, “Then he’s a fool, sweetheart. I hope you didn’t believe any of that bullshit he spouted off at you.”

“No...I know his thinking is warped by his upbringing. I mean, I probably am a huge disappointment to him, but it’s not because I’m a disappointment as a person, you know? He just had this idea of who I should be and...clearly I’m not her.” She stared down at the plate on her knees. “Besides, I think I...reminded him of his own weakness.”

Now Mac frowned. They’d never talked about this stuff. “His own weakness?”

“Yeah, I...well, I’d noticed little things when I first went. Back when I was still trying to reach him. He’d tap stuff with his pen constantly. People told me he hardly ever slept...he over explained things to everyone.” Her head tilted, “In a man of great authority and power, those things are seen as a positive, but...they can also be signs of autism. I asked him if he’d ever been tested as a child and if he’d found it hard to understand what others were feeling...at first he seemed kind of...relieved that I understood him? But then I started explaining what we had and he suddenly had an appointment to see to.”

Mac squeezed her hand again, “Hey, boss. It’s not a weakness.”

Hancock nodded, “Yeah, and if he sees it as one then he’s a fool twice over.”

A ghost of a smile crossed her face. “Y’all are sweet...but the thing is, Shaun fights who he is all the time. He wants to be... normal so badly. Seeing me being fine with who I am made him uncomfortable, I guess.” She shrugged a little, “I’m pretty sure that’s why he put that thing in my head. He was trying to cure me so he could pretend his mother wasn’t...deficient.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up. Nora, you aren’t deficient by anyone’s standards.”

“Yeah, what the fuck? Did that asshole actually call you that?” The mayor of Goodneighbor looked ready to declare war on the Institute. Again.

Nora just nodded, “Yeah, he did. He...he looked just like Mother when he said it. I couldn’t believe it. There was so much good in his father, but those are the genes that were dominant? It’s...frustrating.”

Mac grumbled, “Well, that’s a word for it.”

“Fucking little pissant is what he is. I ever see that kid of yours, Sunshine, I’m kicking his ass across the Commonwealth.”

Mac scoffed at him. “He’s like...sixty or something, right? Don’t you think you’d look a little silly punting some old fart out in the wastes?”

“Sixty or not, he’s a goddamn brat.”

“I doubt a good spanking, or as-butt kicking is going to set him straight at this point though.”

“Maybe not, but it would make me feel a hell of a lot better.”

Nora finally smiled for real. “It would make me feel a hell of a lot better, too, sugar.”

Hancock grinned in triumph, “See? Even his mother agrees with me.”

Mac raised his hands in surrender, “Alright, alright. I give. We’ll kick an old man’s butt across the Commonwealth.”

Nora sighed, “You know, I had this whole plan for raising him. Nate and I had talked about what we’d do if he turned out to be like me. We were going to read him lots of stories and be very gentle with him. Try and teach him how to connect with people early. Jack was going to help...we’d even talked about getting him a puppy or something when he was a little older so he could learn empathy. Scouts when he was old enough so he could learn to do for others. All kinds of stuff...and in the end, none of that mattered. He grew up in the worst possible environment for him.”

“Yeah...kid never had a chance... until you showed up.”

Hancock gave her a half-smile, “Mac’s right, Sunshine. Shaun had a chance to be the person he should have been and he blew it. That’s on him and no one else. He’s a grown ass man and he made the wrong choice.”

“I know. That’s what Deacon said.” She closed her eyes for a moment. “I’ve been trying to separate them in my mind, you know? Shaun is my son. My baby. He was sweet and beautiful and his tiny hand held so tightly to my finger...but Father is different. He’s a monster who...just looks like my son. He isn’t mine. He was never mine.” A tear slipped out and she brushed it away. “Deacon and Jack say compartmentalization can help with grief.”

“Well, if they both say it then it might actually be true, baby.” Mac ran his hand over her hair in a comforting gesture and she smiled and looked at him.

“I’m sorry...I’m being so maudlin when we’re just trying to decide when to take a walk.” She sniffled once and was suddenly done with trivial emotions. “I think we should leave after lunch. Even if it’s going to be dark by the time we get there. It’ll be harder for us to see them, but it’ll be harder for them to see us, too. Besides, once we get to Starlight, it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there.”

Mac acknowledged the shift with a nod, “Alright, General. You’re the boss.”

They left Goodneighbor at half past one, Hancock holding Nora’s hand in his tightly and suggesting to Mac that he stay behind a few yards ‘for strategic purposes’.

Mac, who had a pretty good idea what the strategy was, gave him a tight-lipped smile and fell back to his old position, twenty yards behind the boss. Just like the old days. Except back then he didn’t have to resist chucking a rock at a certain mayor’s stupid hat.

Hancock kept pointing out little items of interest, spouting off trivia that Mac was a thousand percent sure was bullshit.

Who’d ever heard of the Battle of Breed’s Hill anyway?

The only thing that made their little trek bearable were the shy peeks Nora kept taking at him. At first he thought he’d just caught her eye on accident, that maybe she was checking her six like an actual wastelander would, but then it happened a second time and her cheeks got that pretty flush when he winked at her.

Oh, yeah. She was definitely checking him out.

He wondered if she’d be this shy in Sanctuary. Their relationship was pretty new. Plus Sanctuary had a lot of memories there for her. Mac frowned a little. He wasn’t even sure what the sleeping arrangements were going to be...

“So…”, Nora and Hancock stopped talking about whatever fool thing they’d been discussing and looked back at him. “Where do you stay when you’re in Sanctuary, Hancock?”

“Sunshine’s house. She gets cold at night, you know. Needs somebody to keep her warm.” He flashed Mac a quick smirk before shifting to a helpful, friendly smile in her direction.

She nodded. “It’s true. I think it’s got something to do with the cryostasis. Even in the summertime, I get awfully cold at night.”

Mac grinned cheekily at her, “You’ve never gotten cold when I’m around.”

Her ears turned a brighter shade of pink, “That’s...also true.”

Hancock huffed a little but seemed to at least have the sense to know when to give up. “I’ll probably shack up with Deacon this time around. Check out his casa. We got a lot to talk about.” He shot Mac a smug little smirk that immediately had his hackles up.

Well that was fine. If Hancock wanted to ally himself with a known creeper, that was his business. Besides, he and Deacon were cool now. Mostly cool, maybe?

“Speaking of Deacon, what’d you get him for Christmas, Sunshine?”

Nora shook her head, “Oh, no. After what happened with his birthday I’m not saying it out loud. I still haven’t figured out how he knew I found him those old movie reels. Cait and Piper both swore they didn’t tell, so he had to have eavesdropped.”

Hancock chuckled, “Maybe he got to Codsworth.”

“Nope. Codsworth’s programming expressly prohibits sharing private conversations unless his owner tells him to and I’m his owner.”

“That’s an interesting rule.”

She smiled over her shoulder at him, “I’m pretty sure it was put in there to make sure Mr. Handy’s didn’t spoil surprises or divulge family secrets to random people. General Atomics certainly tried to think of everything.”

Their trip was mostly uneventful, probably thanks to the occasional Brotherhood squad they spotted. Mac glared at them every time they sneered and called them “scavvers” while Hancock just made increasingly creative sexual insults and threats. Nora was silent at each encounter, but he could see how she took careful note of each soldier’s face. He’d bet good caps that Maxson was going to get another strongly worded letter over his underlings manners. It was bad enough they were insulting a fellow initiate, but she was the Minutemen General to boot, equal in rank to their own Elder. The flagrant disrespect shown to citizens of the Commonwealth would not be allowed to stand.

They’d just made it to their halfway point, Lexington, when Hancock stopped mid-step and looked around. “Wait…”

Mac immediately scanned the horizon, squinting in the dying light and trying to catch the glint of a scope anywhere. “I got nothin’.”

The Geiger counter in Nora’s pipboy started ticking, “Radstorm.”

Mac switched to looking for a place to bunker down in. Hancock would enjoy the extra dose of radiation, but he wasn’t looking to go through another round of Radaway and he was pretty sure Nora wasn’t, either. His eyes landed on a familiar blue by an old diner and he grabbed her hand, dropping his pack, hat and rifle at Hancock’s feet and making a beeline for the shelter. “Watch my stuff...and don’t do anything stupid!”

“I never do anything stupid... fun, on the other hand…”

He shoved Nora into the shelter, climbed in behind her and smacked the button on the wall, the door closing just as the sky outside started to turn that sickly green color. The speaker buzzed in this one, instead of declaring the company tagline and the ancient light bulb flickered once and then popped. He took a deep breath and sighed, “Man, I hate those storms. Never had to deal with this crap down south.”

Nora giggled in the dark, “Oh, I dunno...these shelters are starting to grow on me anyway. Kinda feels nostalgic.” She wiggled around a bit and then her hand found his lips and pressed something cool and smooth into his mouth. “Here. Rad-X. Just in case.”

He dry swallowed the chem and took the opportunity to wrap his arms around her waist, “Think Hancock will be alright by himself out there?”

There was a loud whoop from outside and she laughed, “Oh, sure. He’s out there hootin’ and hollerin’ while we’re stuck in this tiny metal shoebox. He’s probably having the time of his life.”

He chuckled and slid his hands down to her ass, pulling her close and kneading gently. With the leather pants she still had on, it was almost as nice as if she were naked. “We could always have the time of our lives in here, you know.” Silence suddenly reigned supreme and he smiled in the dark. He could perfectly picture her red face. “Unbutton your coat, baby.”

“I...we don’t know how long the storm will last.”

Someday he was going to have to sit down with Ham or Daisy and have a serious conversation about how a pre-war woman could be so insatiable when naked, but borderline timid when fully clothed. It didn’t make any damn sense to him. “Then you’d better hurry up.” He pinched her, just a little and laughed when she squeaked and jumped. She was clearly flustered, but obediently started unbuttoning the ridiculous coat anyway.

Her arms went loosely around his neck when she was finished and she huffed, “This is just silly. We’re packed in here like sardines. It’s not like we can actually do anything.”

“Hmm...that almost sounds like a challenge, boss.” He brought one hand around and slid it up under her shirt, marveling a little at how soft and perfect her skin felt before cupping her breast and lazily rubbing his thumb over her pebbled nipple. She shivered and he grinned, “Know what I just realized, baby?”

“W-What?”

“I haven’t kissed you yet today.” He pushed her feet further apart with his and ground his hips into hers.

“Oh…”, her breathing sped up a little and her fingers dug into his duster as she started moving with him. “Well...we’ve been awfully busy.”

He scoffed, “Never too busy to kiss my girl.” The hand on her breast squeezed and he rolled her nipple between his fingers. “And you are my girl, aren’t you?”

She whimpered, “Yes.”

Mac pushed her shirt and undershirt up and out of the way, “Say it. Say you’re my girl.” He nuzzled against her, bringing her breast to his mouth and suckling gently for a moment before releasing her. “Say it, baby.”

Her voice was soft and breathless, barely above a whisper, “I’m your girl.”

“M’hmm. That you are.” His hand skimmed up along her neck and pulled her face down to his, “And what a good girl I have.” Her lips were already parted when he got there, and he wasted no time in slipping his tongue into her mouth, groaning at the way she pressed against him and the hungry way she kissed him back. He brought his other hand around to roughly massage her breast and grinned against her mouth when she rocked her hips harder against him.

She broke off from their kiss and buried her head against his shoulder, “RJ, please…”

“Still think we can’t do anything in here?” He murmured by her ear and she shivered in response. “Can you be quiet for me?”

Her lips nibbled at his neck and she nodded a little. “M’hmm.”

He grinned, “We’ll see.” His hand found the fly of her pants and flew through the buttons, slipping inside and pressing against her folds until she squirmed. “You gotta be extra quiet, baby. If we can hear Hancock, he can hear us, right?”

She held tighter to his shoulders and nodded again, “Right.”

Mac moved her panties aside, sliding two fingers inside with ease and slowly twisting them until he could feel her juices coat the back of his hand. “Fuck, baby...how long have you been this wet?” His fingers moved to her clit and idly slid back and forth.

She shuddered and shook her head, “I dunno…”

He chuckled and alternated between circling her clit and pressing his fingers deep in her pussy. “I bet I know. I bet it was when I started ordering you around. You like that, don’t you, kitten?” When her only response was to buck against his hand, he nudged her head with his and put a hint of aggression in his voice, “I asked you a question, Nora.”

“Yes, I like it.” She was breathless, already tightening around his fingers.

Mac pressed a kiss to her temple, “I know you do, baby.” His thumb pressed gently against her clit and she whined softly. “Shh, stay quiet. Be a good girl.” His two fingers curled up and rubbed that special, sensitive little spot inside her. “Think of this as practice for when we get to Sanctuary.”

She shifted closer and moaned against his neck, “P-Practice?”

His smile was wicked in the darkness, “Yeah, you remember our little bet, don’t you? A whole week of my hand under your skirt...you wouldn’t want all your settlers to know what a needy little girl you really are, would you?” He laughed at her distressed squeak but missed what was mumbled after. “What was that?”

“You’re so mean to me, honey. It’s not fair.”

“Not fair?” His hand left her breast to wrap around her waist and pull her closer. He rubbed his length against her inner thigh and groaned at the friction. “Feel what you do to me? I gotta walk another four hours watching you...thinking about how good its gonna feel to rip your clothes off and slip inside this hot little pussy. That’s not fair.”

She came suddenly, with a sharp cry that he immediately shushed. He felt her bite down on his collar and braced himself as she collapsed against him, his fingers going still inside her until the waves finally subsided. Mac rubbed Nora’s back comfortingly and licked the come off his fingers while she caught her breath.

“You did pretty good until right at the end there...good thing we practiced, huh?”

She giggled softly and nuzzled against his cheek, “M’hmm.”

“Still think Hancock is having a better time out there?”

“Probably not.”

Mac snorted, “Probably not…”, his lips found hers in the darkness and he kissed her nice and slow while he tugged her shirts back down.

Once her knees were no longer weak, she backed away from him as much as was possible in their tiny shelter and started redoing her fly. “What about you, honey?”

“What about me?” Baseball, that horrible CRAM loaf, Mrs. Cabot’s sour face...

She moved closer to him again and pressed her hand against his erection, “Don’t you wanna…”

He moved her hand away and kissed it. “Nope.”

“Nope?” Her voice was somewhere between incredulous and insulted.

Mac laughed, “I’m only gonna be satisfied by one thing and we can’t do it in this fu-freaking tube. So nope.” There was silence for a moment and he knew she was puzzling it out.

“Oh... oh.” The giggling started again and she wrapped him in a hug. “Let’s hope this storm ends soon. I wanna get home.”

Mirelurks, wet socks, that time he accidentally walked in on a half-dressed Fahrenheit and she about beat him senseless. “Yeah, me, too.” He took a deep breath and decided putting his arms around her wasn’t a terrible idea. Ill-advised, sure, but not terrible. Minutes ticked by and he was finally able to convince his body to relax, swaying slowly to the song Nora was absentmindedly humming.

A sudden bang from outside made them both jump.

“Everything alright in there? Kinda quiet…”

Mac answered, “Yeah, we’re fine, man. What’s it look like out there?”

“All clear! Let’s get this freakshow on the road!” Another bang and the door behind Mac suddenly whooshed open. Hancock stood just outside, hands on his hips and a suspicious expression on his face that only deepened when he saw Nora’s coat was still unbuttoned and her face was flushed. “What’s uh...what’s goin’ on?”

She went a deeper shade of red and quickly took her glasses off her face, cleaning the condensation from the lenses. “Um…”

“It was hot.”

Her head came up and she stared at Mac, mouth dropping open like a fish. Hancock just narrowed his eyes, passed Mac his hat and tapped his foot a little. “Oh, yeah?”

He shrugged and smoothed his hair with his hand before putting the cowboy hat back on, “Yeah...gets hot in those godforsaken things. Right, boss?”

Nora’s mouth finally snapped shut and she blinked owlishly at him, “Right.”

Mac smiled at her and gave Hancock a sarcastic little salute, “Let’s get a move on. Sanctuary awaits.”

Chapter Text

“It’s about damn time you showed up!” Cait stood at the edge of the bridge to Sanctuary, hands on her hips and fire in her eyes.

“Hi, Cait.” Nora was already peeling off from the group, Dogmeat on her heels, headed for the cemetery. She shot Mac an apologetic smile for the tongue lashing he was about to receive.

“Oh, fine. That’s fine, then. No, you just run along. Leave all the work to me. As if I know what the bloody hell I’m doin’.” She finally seemed to notice Hancock and MacCready and turned her ire to them. “Don’t suppose the two of you know what the hell mistletoe’s supposed to be?”

Mac thought for a second and shook his head, “Something people kissed under, right? I think I saw it once in a movie.”

“Not a clue, love.”

“Well that’s just fan-fucking-tastic then, isn’t it? I’ve got a list a mile long and I can’t make heads nor tails of half of it. Mistletoe. Eggnog. Wassail. It's not even English!”

“What’s your list for?”

“Christmas, of course. The boss said that as vice mayor of Sanctuary, it was my duty to get through this ridiculous list she put together the last time she was here.”

Hancock whistled, “Vice mayor, huh? Fancy title.”

She snorted, “Oh, aye. A fancy title that means I get stuck with all this shite whenever she goes runnin’ off.”

Mac did his best to not chuckle, “Why not just ask Codsworth for help? He’s pre-war.”

“Yeah, and a robot. Hell, he could get everything done in a minute. Delegate that shit.”

Cait sighed heavily, “Do I look daft? No, I must if I’m standing here losing my fucking mind over shite I don’t even understand. Look, he’s busy, okay? Been knitting day and night, nonstop, for a month. Sweaters for the whole damn town and now he’s started with blankets. You can’t get anywhere near him for all the damn fabric.”

“Sounds like a fire hazard.” Mac was really, really hoping that ground zero for the knitting wasn’t at Nora’s.

She cracked a smile, the first one they’d seen, “That it does...anyway, where are my manners? How have you boys been? Up to no good, no doubt.”

“Same old, same old, beautiful. How have you been?” Hancock gave her a side-hug, letting go the moment before she turned a little skittish. He, like Mac, must have noticed how uncomfortable Cait was touching men unless it was with her fists.

“Fine, fine. Aside from going out of my mind, of course.” She gave Mac a good once over, “Well don’t you seem like a whole new man. Guess you found what you were lookin’ for, huh?”

He blinked at her, “What?”

She huffed, “That stuff. For your kid. Found it, didn’t you?”

“I...yeah, Nora and I got it. Just sent it out. How on earth did you know that?”

“Oh, come on, handsome. Anyone with a pair of eyes can see you’re happy.”

He smiled and nodded, “Yeah...yeah, I guess I am. Huh.”

“So, are you headin’ back home or what?”

“Actually, this is my home now. Nora invited Duncan and me.”

“Did she now?” Cait’s eyes lit up even as she pretended annoyance. “Another pair of mouths to feed. Just what we need. At least you’ll be useful, I guess. Better than half the riff raff she lets in here.”

Hancock looked a little put out, “I didn’t know you were moving here, kid.”

He smiled, “Well, I am.”

“Well, ain’t that cozy.”

Cait, already tired of the posturing, grabbed Hancock by the hand, “Come on, Mayor. Been workin’ on that little project we talked about. I think you’ll be happy with the results.”

“Oh, no shit?” He grinned at Mac, “Come on, squirt. I think you’ll like this.”

Mac grumbled but followed anyway. Nora’s talks with Nate could go on for ages, and chances were good she’d return to wherever Cait was to discuss Christmas prep. They walked up a small set of stairs to a boardwalk of sorts. He’d visited some of the shops there on his last visit, but never actually went down to the dock portion where the restaurants were. There hadn’t been a need with Nora’s home cooking and the communal meals served to anyone who worked.

As they came around the corner, a bright purple neon sign blazed to life, causing both men to flinch. Cait just looked pleased.

“Isn’t she beautiful? Sturges got the sign goin’ just last week. It’s a glorious thing.” She proudly pointed at the now blinking sign that looked like a bunch of circles surrounding the bar’s name, Grapes of Wrath.

“What’s the circles mean?” Mac squinted in the bright light and tried to make sense of it.

“Those are grapes, obviously.”

“Grapes? Like wine?” Hancock was clearly confused as well.

Cait sighed heavily, “Yes, like wine.”

“Grapes of Wrath...wasn’t that a book or something?”

She glared at the pair, “Yes, it was a book or something. It’s also from the Bible. Deacon came up with the name.”

Mac snickered, “Oh, well that explains everything.”

She huffed, “'So the angel swung his sickle to the earth and gathered the clusters from the vine of the earth, and threw them into the great wine press of the wrath of God.’''

Hancock’s eyes widened, “Shit. That’s heavy stuff for a bar.”

“Deacon said it was perfect because I punch like an angel.”

“Now there’s a compliment.”

“I have no idea how the boss puts up with either one of ya. I’d have killed you both long before now.” She stomped off into the bar and they followed meekly.

Inside it was cozy. Soft lighting and comfortable looking chairs surrounding battered tables, a few quiet booths in the back. Nearly every seat was taken. The bar was polished metal and there was an impressive selection behind it. There was even a sign for a bathroom and a private office.

Hancock whistled low, “Swanky. I like it.”

Cait puffed up a little and looked expectantly at Mac.

“Cait, this is...wow. You did good.”

“I did, didn’t I?” She smiled and ran a possessive hand down the bar, “This is the first thing I’ve ever owned that was mine. All mine. A place where people can come and be friendly-like, you know? A comfort of sorts.”

“Mission accomplished, sweetheart. It’s perfect.”

“Thanks, Hancock. It’s no Third Rail, but we’ll get there. Gonna give you a run for yer money.”

“I don’t doubt it.” He slid onto a bar stool and Mac followed suit. “Is it always this packed?”

She shrugged, “Most nights, no, but we’ve had a lot of visitors the last few days. Tourists, I guess. Word musta got out about our upcoming celebration.”

“Ah, like moths to a flame, no doubt. That’s how it is in Goodneighbor. Anytime we bother to plan anything, suddenly the Rex is booked solid for a week.”

Cait moved to behind the bar and set two glasses in front of them. “The problem here is, we don’t have a hotel as of yet. Been having to put them in our bunkhouse...which is supposed to be for families waiting on proper housing. It’s been a real mess.”

Mac frowned, “No troublemakers though, right?”

A feral smile appeared, “A few, but nothin’ I couldn’t handle. A dunk in the river sets them straight quick enough.” She pulled out a large clear wine bottle. The liquid inside was molten gold in color and seemed oddly thick to Mac’s eye.

Hancock immediately switched from eyeing the locals to eagerly reaching out for the bottle, “Is this it? It worked?”

She popped the cork before handing the concoction over, “Aye, it worked. Powerful stuff, though. Maybe a mite bit too powerful. Been reserving it for ghouls and super mutants.”

Mac watched Hancock pour them both two full glasses and leaned forward, sniffing suspiciously. “What is it?”

“Fire ant mead.”

Hancock shook his head, “We gotta come up with a better name that that.”

Cait grinned, “Strong calls it ‘Tingle Piss’.”

He paused before tasting it, “Because?”

“It makes his mouth tingle and looks like piss, apparently.”

“Ah. You had me worried for a minute.” He took a sip and rolled it around in his mouth carefully. “It does tingle a little...tastes good, though.”

Mac decided it must be at least mostly safe if it was available in a place like Sanctuary, and took a sip himself. His entire tongue went numb for a moment before buzzing oddly in his mouth. It tasted sweet, almost syrupy and finished with a strong floral note. “Not...terrible. You’re using fire ant nectar, right?”

Cait nodded, “Aye. From way down where you’re from. Costs a bundle to get it up here in decent condition, but you don’t need a lot to make it.”

“What’s the proof? I can’t even hardly taste any alcohol.”

“One-ninety.”

Mac almost choked on the mouthful he’d just swallowed, “One -ninety?”

She had the decency to look a little sheepish, “It’s as low as I could get it.”

Hancock, clearly unperturbed, had already drained his glass and smacked his lips, “Pretty good stuff. Side effects?”

“In ghouls and super mutants, almost nothin’ aside from the tingles. In humans though…”

Mac firmly pushed his glass away, “In humans?”

“Dizziness, mostly. Gets you drunk faster and almost no hangover, so that’s good. Tends to knock your feet out from under you before you realize it, which is...not so good. Deacon was my guinea pig. He got through half a glass before he couldn’t stand on his own.”

Hancock smirked a little, “I’m sorry I missed that.”

She paused, “Oh, right, I forgot. You don’t much like Deacon either.” She folded her arms and scowled at him, “Why is that, exactly?”

He shrugged, “I like a man who’s honest about who he is. Like Mac here. Deacon doesn’t even know who he is half the time, so you can’t trust him.”

“The boss does.”

Hancock gave her a knowing look, “Yeah, she also trusted a deathclaw not to eat her just because she brought its egg back.”

Cait chuckled, “Och, I’d forgotten about that. She was right, though. It didn’t eat her.”

Mac decided it was better not to ask, “Hey, can I get a water or something? I gotta get this stuff out of my mouth.”

She snorted, “You want water, there’s a river out back.” She produced a bottle of whiskey and three shot glasses from under the bar. “Come on, Mac. Couple of shots for old time’s sake?”

Whiskey was all he’d drank at the Combat Zone. An alcohol reserved for the lowest points of his life. “Just a beer would be fine, thanks.”

Hancock poured the shots and scooted one over to him, “None of that, kid. We’re celebrating! Didn’t even get to throw you a party after you saved Duncan or anything.” He turned to the rest of the bar, “This round’s on me, friends!” He grinned at him as a wave of appreciative shouts and applause broke out. “Now, I’m buyin’ and I say, drink the damn shot.”

Whiskey had also been all he’d drank during his sojourn to the land of hedonism with Hancock. It made sense he’d think it was Mac’s party drink of choice. He sighed and picked up the shot.

“Well, alright!” Hancock raised his glass and turned to the crowd. “Here’s to Mac!”

“To Mac!”

They pounded their shots and Cait grinned at Hancock when her glass hit the bar first. “Another!”

Mac shook his head, “No, really, I gotta…”

Hancock poured the whiskey, “Another!”

He stared at the glass for a second and then at the happy, expectant faces of his friends. The two people who’d seen him at his absolute lowest and were now just trying to celebrate him on a high for once. He shrugged and gave them a half smile. “Another.”

Thirty minutes later, Mac was only able to stay on his bar stool by leaning heavily on Hancock’s shoulder. The ancient red fabric of his frock coat was oddly soothing under his cheek and he realized, in a blurry sort of way, that he’d missed cuddling up to the warm ghoul.

“It’s just...here it is, Hancock. Hancock, are you listening?” His words sounded fuzzy to his own ears but the mayor just nodded along patiently so they must be getting out somehow. “I love her, man. I...she’s all I think about. Every da-dang second of the day, you know?”

He nodded, “I know, kid. All too well.”

Mac nodded, too, “I know. I know you do...and I wanna let you know, man, I’d share her if I could. I really would. But I just can’t, you know?”

Cait raised an eyebrow at that but kept quiet, big dark eyes staring at the two men over the rim of her glass. She’d switched to Nuka ages ago but neither of them had noticed.

“Yeah, I get it, Mac. I probably wouldn’t share that either.” Hancock frowned down at his own glass. “That’s...true. I wouldn’t. Huh...you’re a lucky son of a bitch, RJ.”

“The luckiest. I’m gonna make her so...so fu-freakin’ happy.”

“You better. I love you, kid, but you fuck this up and hurt my Sunshine, I’ll put you in the ground myself.”

Mac put his hand over his heart, “Aw...Hancock...I love you, too. You old sonofabit...sonofagun.”

Cait snorted quietly to herself. “The both of you are completely ridiculous.”

“Fools in love, beautiful. Two fools in love.”

“Yeah, it’s...she makes it hard, you know? I mean, well, of course she makes it hard.” He snickered at his own joke for a minute. “She’s just so...her and it’s hard to keep up with all that sometimes.” He snickered again and only stopped with Hancock’s glare finally penetrated the whiskey fog around him. “Oh, hey, now, I’m not bein’ disrespectful. I’d never...I’d never do that to her.” He leaned away from the steadying shoulder so he could look him in the eye properly, “I’m just sayin’ she gets my brain all messed up. It’s hard to think when she’s...being her. She’s...just so fu-freaking her.”

“Why do you always do that? That weird little stutter? Just say fuck. Shite.” Cait rolled her eyes.

“He does it for his son.” The two men turned and stared blankly at Nora. “Nate did the same thing when Shaun was born. He had a swear jar and everything. Filled it within a month. He never could stop swearing around the house.”

“There’s my Sunshine!” Hancock was tipsy but still had enough coordination to blow her a kiss of sorts. “How ya been, love?”

“In the forty-five minutes since we last saw each other? Fine.”

Mac winced at the sharpness in her tone, “Hey, baby.” The room was starting to spin slightly but he was good so long as he kept one foot on the floor.

Her eyes narrowed, “Don’t you use that boyfriend voice on me, Robert Joseph MacCready. I’ve got half a mind to leave you here to your own devices.”

Hancock giggled, “Ooooh, lover-boy's in trouble.”

“I’m not terribly happy with you right now, either.”

He pouted until Cait intervened, “Och, don’t be too hard on ‘em, boss. You get these two together and shenanigans are bound to happen.”

“Apparently so.” Nora sighed, “Can you handle Hancock?”

“She can handle me whenever she wants.” He tried winking at the women but managed only a good blink.

“Yeah, I think I’ve got him covered. I’ll just let him drown himself in booze and then chuck him in the back office.”

“The back office? Not the river?”

She chuckled, “Don’t tempt me.”

Nora’s gaze finally settled back on Mac, “Can you walk or do you need to be carried home like a big baby who can’t control themselves?”

He tried to nod and get off the stool while simultaneously involuntarily wincing at the ice in her voice and that was at least two things too many. Next thing Mac knew, he had a closeup of her boots and could just make out her irritated sigh over Hancock and Cait’s gleeful giggling.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake.” The boots stomped off and he whimpered as they disappeared from his view.

“Nora...wait…,” his arm reached out after her and he very nearly lost a hand when a massive pair of feet suddenly appeared from the haze.

“Here he is, Strong. Stand him up and we’ll see if he can walk.”

A gigantic hand wrapped around his arm and suddenly he was in the air, hanging helplessly from the super mutant’s fist.

“Mack Ree Dee.”

The smell of carrion on the mutant’s breath was enough to turn his stomach, “Strong. Hey, buddy.”

“Mack Ree Dee good fighter. Bad drinker.” He abruptly let go of Mac’s arm but caught him roughly before he crumpled all the way back to the floor. “Can’t walk. Strong carry.”

“Thanks, honey. I’m sorry to put you through all this trouble.”

The world shifted again as he was thrown over the giant’s shoulder, “No trouble. Mack Ree Dee little.”

If Nora gave a response, it was lost to Mac’s ears. They trudged out of Cait’s and up the road to Nora’s home. He tried to focus on not throwing up on Strong and ignored everything else. They came to a sudden stop and he heard another irritated sigh.

“There’s no way you’ll fit in my house. You can just leave him here.”

The sentence was barely out of her mouth before Mac felt himself tossed through the air, landing roughly on the grass outside Nora’s home.

“Stong!”

“What?”

A cool hand was on his forehead suddenly and Mac smiled even as his head throbbed.

“You could have hurt him! I said leave him here, not...you know what? Never mind. It’s fine. Thank you.”

The mutant grumbled something that almost sounded like ‘you’re welcome’ and stomped back to wherever he slept.

The hand slid down his forehead and around to the back of his head, soft and gentle, looking for any sign of injury. Mac’s smile grew. Nora. His Nora.

“Nora?”

“Yes, Mac?”

“I love you.”

There was a long pause, “Okay.”

He frowned and worked to get an eye open. Her face was in shadow and he couldn’t tell if she was more pissed than amused or not. “You don’t love me, too?”

“I do, but I’m mad at you right now and I don’t really feel like saying it right this minute.”

“Oh.” Mac thought hard for a second and smiled again, “I’m gonna marry you, you know.”

The hand froze, “What?”

“Yup. I’mma marry you, Ellie Jo Cabot. We’re gonna get married and have babies and it’s gonna be great.”

She huffed, “Good lord.”

“Might I be of assistance, Professor?” Mac frowned again as one of the most irritating voices in the world filled his ears.

“Deacon! Thank God. It’s too cold to leave him out here overnight. Can you help me get him inside?”

“Oh, sure.” The older man picked him up like he was a sack of tatos and flung him over his shoulder. “Where’s his crap?”

“Cait’s got it. She put it behind the counter.”

They moved into Nora’s and Mac once again had to use all of his resources to not throw up.

“You want him on the couch?”

“No, in the bedroom, please. Otherwise I’ll just be out here checking on him every half hour. You don’t think he’s got alcohol poisoning, do you?”

Mac wanted to argue and explain that it would take a lot more than just a few shots of whiskey to get him that far, but swaying on his stomach the way he was, he couldn’t trust that his body wouldn’t betray him so he kept quiet.

“Nah. Mac’s a big drinker goin’ way back. He’ll sleep it off and be fine.”

There was a pause as Nora opened her bedroom door, “He is? I didn’t know that.”

“Oh, yeah. Used to go through whiskey like you go through water. He was soaked to the gills when I found him in Bunker Hill, you know.” Deacon tossed him on the bed and Mac wished with all his might that he’d just shut up and leave.

“I didn’t know that, either...is he an alcoholic, you think?”

“No more than anybody else is nowadays. We can’t all be teetotalers like you, sweetheart. You need any help getting him stripped down?”

Mac groaned at the idea but Nora was all for it. “Sure, can you grab his boots? I’ll work on all these bandoleers.”

“Yup.” Deacon’s hands flew through his bootlaces and Mac worked as hard as he could to get past the fog, someplace where he could actually operate his mouth and use it to tell them both to leave him alone, but it wasn’t happening. He had to silently suffer through the indignity of being stripped down by someone he’d spent a large portion of his life hating and the woman he’d hoped would never see him in such a pitiful state.

“Is he out?” Nora’s hands were working on the buttons to his coat, occasionally pausing to press against his chest. Probably feeling his heartbeat.

“Looks like it. He’s never gone this long without running his mouth.”

“Deacon.” There was a warning note to her tone that had Mac feeling oddly smug.

“What? It’s my fault your boyfriend is mouthy?”

She carefully maneuvered his arms out of his duster, “He said he was going to marry me.” It was soft enough that even Mac almost didn’t catch it.

“Did he, now?”

“Yeah.”

There was a pause while Deacon rolled the socks off his feet and moved his legs under the covers, “And how do we feel about that?”

A longer pause this time, “I don’t know...men say all sorts of things when they’re drunk, don’t they?”

“They do indeed...do you think he didn’t mean it?”

“I’m not sure. He used my real name and everything but...he had just hit his head.” Deacon chuckled in the quiet for a moment before she continued. “Do you think he meant it?”

“Probably. Mac’s the marrying kind, after all.” There was a sudden shift in the feel of the room. Mac could feel it even with his eyes closed. “Nora, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” Her fingertips just barely brushed his hand, “He looks so young when he’s asleep.”

Deacon moved to stand by her, “Yeah, he does. He is, you know. He’s been through a lot but...he’s still a kid under everything.” Another hand, larger and rougher than Nora’s, pushed the hair back off his forehead.

She sighed, but it was sad this time instead of angry, “Yeah, I know.”

“Come on. Let’s go get you something to eat and you can catch me up on all the hot gossip.”

Nora laughed and followed him out of the room, carefully closing the door behind her. “The only hot gossip I have is the family finally buried Lorenzo.”

Mac listened to their voices disappearing down the hallway and tried to get his whiskey-pickled brain to work out why the idea of marrying him made Nora so sad, but only managed to get himself more confused before sleep finally overtook him.

He woke to a darkened room. There was a soft light coming from somewhere down the hall and the door was partially open so it spilled in. A soft rustling to his right had him turning his head, just catching Nora’s face before she laid down, facing the wall and away from him.

“Nora?” His voice sounded ancient and ghoul-like. He needed water.

“It’s just me, honey. Go back to sleep.”

He frowned at her tone. Caring but guarded. He hadn’t heard it like that since before their fight at the Castle. He forgot about the water and turned his body toward her so he didn’t have to turn his head further. She looked tense to him. He hated that. “What’s wrong, baby?”

She grumbled a little, “Nothing. We can talk about it later. Go to sleep.”

There was a good foot of space between them. He hated that, too, and scooted over until he could wrap his arms around her. Her hair was damp and she smelled like soap. He was briefly envious of her obvious shower but then a bubble of a thought popped in his brain. Her last shower when they were together and how delicious she’d looked. “Mmm, you smell nice.”

“Thank you.” Her voice was brittle. Frosty.

He nuzzled against her neck anyway. She felt cold in his arms and he knew she couldn’t stand to be cold. Surely warming her up would earn him some points. “Feel good, too. Little chilly though. I could help with that.”

She hugged the blanket tighter around her and didn’t melt into his arms like she usually did. “No, thank you.”

Crap. Still in the doghouse for getting drunk. “I’m sorry about tonight, Nora. I should know better than to drink with Cait and Hancock.”

She huffed irritably and tried to shift away. He didn’t let her. “It’s fine. I don’t care about that.”

Weird. It sure felt like she cared about it. “You sure?”

“Yes. You deserved to blow off some steam. I’m glad you had a nice time.”

The words sounded right, but they weren’t right. None of this was right. “I’m still sorry...if I said anything or embarrassed you somehow…”

Another huff, “The only person you embarrassed was yourself.”

Mac thought hard about the words she’d used. “So it was something I said?”

She took a deep breath, “Please just go to sleep, honey. It’s been a long day.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Good night.”

He reluctantly let her go and returned to his side, “I could sleep on the couch if you want.”

“No, this is fine.”

“Okay...good night.” Fine, fine, fine. Everything was fine. It felt like his chest was on fire and he could feel the icy panic racing through his veins, but Nora had said it was fine so he was supposed to just lay here and pretend, right? Sure. He could go wake Deacon up and make him explain exactly what she meant when she said fine but clearly wasn’t, but he was getting pretty tired of letting other people fix the little things that kept going wrong between them.

He was going to fix this one himself. Without any outside interference. Not just to prove he could, but to prove to Nora that he could understand her just as well as that jerk.

He was still thirsty though. He thought about getting out of bed when his eyes landed on the glass of water sitting on the bedside table next to him. For some reason it made tears come to his eyes.

Even when she was ‘fine’ with him, she still cared enough to get him a water.

Mac downed it quickly and settled back under the covers. Now that he was able to open his eyes and actually look around a little, he realized this was the first time he’d been in Nora’s bedroom. He was pretty pissed at himself that he’d had to be carried in over Deacon’s shoulder, and that his first night in her bed was an absolute disaster. He’d spent the last four hours on the road coming up with increasingly amazing things he was going to do to her once they’d gotten here, and a half hour at the bar had ruined it.

Story of his life.

Her room was cozy. Curtains hung over the no-doubt still boarded up windows. The bed was clearly new and incredibly comfortable with soft pillows and softer blankets. There was actual art on the wall above his head. Something with flowers maybe? It was hard to tell upside down. Framed photos sat on her dresser. He squinted in the low light and realized at least one of them was her, pre-war.

He glanced over and counted her breaths. Asleep already. He slid out of bed as silently as possible and went over to the dresser, carefully picking up the picture of her and studying it in the low light.

The color was faded and washed out, but it was still the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

She was seated, holding a huge bouquet of some kind of dark flower. Roses, maybe? Her hair was up, styled in an elegant coil with curls the likes of which he’d never seen. The dress was surely impractical even in her time, all prim white lace and tightly fitted until it exploded into a mass of ruffles and endless layers. A wedding dress? He vaguely remembered seeing a shop window in DC that had a mannequin who still wore something close to what Nora had on.

Her face looked far younger than he was used to seeing, eyes huge and doe-like without the glasses. She looked excited and happy. More than that, content. The cosmetics of her time had been carefully, tastefully applied. Winged liner that drew you into her eyes and a rosy red lipstick accentuated her lips. There was a high blush in her cheeks that set off the green color of her eyes and the matching green of some shiny gemstones she wore in her ears. She was clearly ecstatic.

The other pictures were mostly of an older man. Tall, distinguished looking. Apparently walked with a cane at some point. Nate. One of the pictures in the back featured the two of them together, Nora clearly pregnant and glowing, hanging on Nate’s arm while Codsworth hovered behind. There was a massive plane behind them and it finally clicked. This was from when she’d met him at the airport with the Mister Handy in tow. He grinned at the resigned look on Nate’s face. He knew exactly how the man felt.

Her husband looked almost exactly the way Mac had thought he would. Prince Charming made flesh. Stern but warm. A commanding presence, but you could picture getting a beer with the man. The perfect kind of guy for a girl like Nora. He set the pictures down with a sigh and returned to bed. He had a hell of a long way to go before he was worthy of her the way Nate had been. He just hoped she’d stick around long enough for him to play catch up.

Mac woke the next morning to a cold bed and the sounds of ecstasy floating down the hallway. He was hard as a rock as his mind struggled to make sense of his situation. Soft, Nora-scented sheets and Hancock’s throaty moans had his hips rutting against the mattress while he struggled through his early morning haze.

“Goddamn, Sunshine. I knew you’d be good, but I didn’t think it would be like this.”

Nora giggled, “Worth the wait?”

Another moan, “Oh, definitely. I can’t get enough of this sweet cream.”

A different moan this time. Deacon. “I gotta say, I’m a little put out that we’ve known each other so long and I’m just now enjoying your talents, sweetheart.”

“Now, boys, don’t get too greedy.” There was a pause and then a breathless sort of shriek, “Ow, Hancock! Watch your teeth!”

“Hey, that’s not fair! I want some!”

Nora’s laughter rang out, “Deacon! Your tongue tickles!”

Mac bolted out of bed and barreled down the hallway, irate and ready to draw first blood.

It took him a minute to make sense of the situation and about a half second later, he felt like a fool. Nora had made a cake of some sort and Deacon and Hancock sat at the counter, fighting over who got to lick frosting off her hand. They all blinked at each other for a moment before Hancock smirked at him.

“Well, good morning, sleeping beauty. I see you brought your own piping bag to our little pastry party.” Nora quickly averted her eyes and Deacon chortled as Mac’s face went red before he fled back down the hall for pants.

He hurriedly got dressed and smoothed his hair down as much as possible before stepping back out to face them. Hancock and Deacon were still quite smirky, but Nora seemed happy to pretend like it had never happened and murmured a good morning and something about getting dressed while scurrying past him and back into her bedroom, shutting the door firmly behind her.

“Alright, kid, what’d you do?” Deacon’s happy-go-lucky mien had suddenly evaporated.

Mac bristled, “What are you talking about?”

“Come off it, Mac. What happened?”

There was coffee on the counter and he made a beeline for it. “I have no idea what either of you are talking about.”

Deacon set his own mug down with a thud and lowered his voice to a harsh whisper, “We’re talking about whatever you did that had Nora sleeping on the couch this morning.”

“In her own fucking house!”

“Shhh! She’ll hear you.”

Mac stared at them, “She...wait, what? She was sleeping on the couch?”

Hancock went to light a cigarette but irritably shoved the lighter back in his pocket. No one smoked in Nora’s home without permission. “Yeah, she was. I came by to make sure her Christmas present had gotten here alright, and there she was, shivering on the damn couch asleep. Her toes were practically blue.”

“Everything seemed alright when I left last night, so...what happened?” Deacon’s tone had shifted from angrily protective to helpful and caring at Mac’s confused expression.

“Guys, I swear, nothing happened. You put me to bed, she came to bed, we went to sleep. The end.”

The two older men exchanged a glance and Hancock shook his head. “Nope, not buyin’ it. She doesn’t get tweaked over nothin’.”

Mac stared into his coffee mug and tried to go over every second from the night before in his mind. “She seemed weird last night. I asked her but she kept insisting she was fine.”

Deacon winced, “Oh, that’s bad. That’s real bad.”

“Let’s be logical about this. What’s the last thing you remember, Mac?”

“Uh...I tried to cuddle with her? She wasn’t into it though, so I backed off.”

Hancock’s eyes narrowed, “You didn’t try anything after that, did you?”

“No! No, of course not. She just seemed...cold and I offered to warm her up and she said no, so I backed off. Then she fell asleep.” He frowned at them both. “She was in bed asleep when I fell asleep. I have no idea how she ended up on the couch.”

Deacon thought for a moment. “Nightmares again?”

Hancock scoffed, “She hasn’t had those in ages.”

“Maybe something triggered it. Something we missed.”

“Nah, she hadn’t hurt herself. She was just cold.”

“Nora has nightmares?”

Deacon and Hancock exchanged another cryptic look before Hancock answered, “Yeah, kid, she does.”

“She had a bad dream once. Back when we first started traveling together, but...I didn’t think they were that bad.”

“Come on, man. How could they not be?” Deacon sighed, “Hancock’s right though, she hasn’t had any in a long time. I thought she was past them.”

“She is past them. Listen to Mac. She hasn’t had an episode the whole time they’ve been together. I’m tellin’ you that ain’t it.”

An irritated voice cut through their discussion, “I can tell you what her problem is sure as shootin’.”

Mac jumped in surprise. He hadn’t even noticed Cait sitting in the living room.

She stood and brought her empty plate back to the kitchen, tossing it carelessly in the sink. “The problem is there’s entirely too much testosterone in here for anyone to think straight. You three need to clear out of here so she can get her head on right.” She unceremoniously shoved both Deacon and Hancock off their stools and pushed them all out the door. “There’s plenty of work to be done, so have at it. Let the boss alone for a while. Go hang some Christmas lights.” She slammed the door behind them and that was that.

Hancock sighed, “Well...I’m takin’ a nap.”

“Little early for a nap, isn’t it?”

“Not if you ain’t been to sleep yet, kid.”

“Come on, Mac. Let’s go be useful somewhere. Maybe Cait can sort it all out. Girl talk, or whatever.”

Having no better options, Mac followed Deacon into the barn for a ladder and a large spool of Christmas lights. It seemed the inhabitants of Sanctuary were determined to cover every available surface with the gaudy things. Ruined houses and barren trees alike were festooned in the ancient bulbs. There was also some kind of shallow pond built at the end of the street that circled the long dead maple in the cul-de-sac. Poles had been erected every few feet and they quickly got to work hanging lights between them.

Mac held the ladder steady while Deacon banged another heavy staple into a pole. “Hey, what’s this supposed to be, anyway?”

Deacon chuckled, “Ice skating rink.”

“Don’t you need ice for that?”

“Yeah, Curie’s on it.”

“Bonjour, Monsieur MacCready!”

Mac looked over his shoulder and smiled at the synth, “Morning, Curie...nice gun.”

Curie stood at the edge of the rink fiddling with a massive rifle. There was some kind of mist pouring off of it and it was clearly homemade. “Ah! Merci! This is the Cryolator! A pet project of the overseer of Madame’s vault.”

“The Cryolator...so it freezes stuff?”

Another chuckle from above him, “Oh, yes. Another test, Curie?”

“Oui, if you do not mind.”

“Should we back up?”

She waved a hand at them, “Non ...well, perhaps? I am mostly sure it will be fine.”

Deacon came back down the ladder and took a few large steps backward. “Uh-huh.” He waited until Mac stepped over next to him and then gave her a thumbs up. “Fire when ready, ma belle.”

She gave them both a bright smile, slid safety goggles over her eyes and fired the heavy weapon at the center of the rink. Immediately the water rippled and ice crystals shot out, freezing the entire body of water in under ten seconds flat. The rubberized liner in the pool groaned a little as it flexed around the ice and then settled. Curie let out a relieved sigh and removed her goggles. “Magnifique! I knew switching the liner from plastic to rubber would make all the difference!”

“Congrats, Curie. Nora’ll be thrilled.”

The heavy weapon was set aside and she carefully stepped on the ice. “Yes, she was looking forward to ice skating the most, I think.” She slid around a bit. “It feels solid enough. Now we wait.”

“Wait for what?” Deacon moved back up the ladder and Mac resumed his position below.

“For how long it takes to melt.” She hopped back off the ice and picked up the Cryolator like it didn’t weigh anything. “I’ll be in the hospital if anyone needs me. Bonne journée.”

“Later, Curie.” Mac waved as she went and glanced up at Deacon. “So how bad did this little experiment go on the first take?”

“Not too bad. Blew up the entire rink. Almost took out one of Sturges’ eyes.”

He snorted a little and shook his head. For a quiet little town, Sanctuary could be downright dangerous at times.

“Alright, this one’s done, let’s move on.” Deacon climbed back down and they moved their little operation over to the next pole. “Of course, the real pain in the ass is going to be taking all this shit down, you know.”

Mac shrugged, “What goes up must come down, right?”

Deacon laughed, “I guess.”

The sun was right in Mac’s eyes for this one and he squinted irritably. “I have no idea where my dang hat went. Sun’s going to give me a headache.”

“You should invest in sunglasses. They stay on better than any hat.”

He grumbled, “Maybe.” Suddenly his eyes were shaded and Deacon’s Minutemen hat sat on his head. “What the heck?”

“Merry Christmas, kid. Don’t say I never gave you anything.” He grinned down at him and went back to messing with the lights. “Mac, I’m about to drop my hammer. I want you to pick it up and check your six real casual like, alright?”

Mac immediately felt his back go up and resisted the urge to immediately turn around, “Yeah.”

Deacon fumbled the hammer suddenly, yelling as it slipped out of his hands. “Watch out!”

He jumped back a bit as it hit the ground right where he’d been standing, then bent over and picked it up, glancing over his arm. There was a woman standing about fifty yards back. Definitely staring. She looked vaguely familiar but he couldn’t place her. He held the hammer up to Deacon, “Watch it, butterfingers.” His voice went to a whisper, “I dunno who that is.”

“Yeah, yeah. My bad.” He took the hammer and whispered back, “I don’t either. That’s a problem.”

Mac went back to holding the ladder steady and tried to stay relaxed, “She’s probably someone just here for the party, right?”

Deacon took a staple out of his mouth and banged it into the pole, “Maybe. She’s been watching you for a while though. It’s weird.”

He frowned up at him, “It’s not that weird. Despite what you may think, a lot of people happen to find me attractive.”

“You’re sure you don’t know her?”

He shrugged, “I dunno. She looks familiar, but I can’t remember who she is. Nora had us all over the Commonwealth. It could be a settler from another community.”

Deacon popped his neck a little, “Yeah, could be.”

They continued their work, making meaningless chit chat. The girl continued to watch until they were almost done, then suddenly was gone.

“Your secret admirer has flown the coop.”

“Shut up, Deacon. She could have been watching you, you know.”

He hung the last strand of lights and came down the ladder, “Nah. I always know when someone’s checking me out. We’ll have to keep an eye on her. At least it won’t be too hard. Redheads are easy to spot.”

Mac nodded, “Yeah, well, you have fun with that. I’ve got a brunette to keep an eye on.”

Deacon chuckled, “You may not have to after all. Here comes Cait.”

He turned and she was indeed stomping over to them. The look on her face did not bode well for him. He went for chipper. “Hey, Cait!”

She paused only long enough to smack him upside the head and knock his hat off. “You daft bloody cabbage!”, and off she went back the way she’d come.

Deacon picked the hat up and set it back on Mac’s head, “Well, that was...helpful.”

“I’m completely screwed, aren’t I?”

“Nah, if you were completely screwed, she’d have laid you out flat.” He set a hand on Mac’s shoulder, “Just go talk to her, kid...and don’t let her escape. She likes to run from what she calls ‘unpleasant emotions’. Don’t let her.”

The hand felt oddly comforting. “So I should push here?”

“I would. Look, the two of you are very different people. You’re going to have to learn how to work stuff out between yourselves at some point. Might as well be now, right? Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.”

“That sounds familiar.”

“Benjamin Franklin.”

“Right, right. One of the Founding Fathers.” He glowered at Deacon’s astonished face, “I did attend school back in Lamplight, you know.”

“I bet you were the teacher’s pet and everything, too.” He laughed and took down the ladder, “I’ve got more lights to hang. Go get your girl, Mac.”

Mac watched him wander off, headed for a massive tent erected down by the river. He had no idea where Nora would be by now, but it wasn’t that big of a town. Surely he could track her down.

An hour later, he was starting to wonder if she’d left or was deliberately hiding somewhere. Everyone he asked seemed to have ‘just seen her’ but no one could pin down where she was. He’d checked the school, the hospital, the tent, the restaurants and shops, her house twice and now he was wading through the mud of the tatos fields, headed for the barn. There was no reason for her to be there, but he’d already checked everywhere else.

He went in the side door and immediately heard her murmuring to someone, soft and low, from above his head. Hayloft. He eased up the ladder and paused when he could finally see over the edge.

Nora sat surrounded by paper, ribbons and barn cats. She was quietly arguing with a particularly tenacious kitten who had a large bow in its mouth.

“Now, Nash, if you don’t stop that I’m gonna have to put you in a stall. I have to get these presents wrapped for the children. You’ll get your present later.” She wagged her finger at the frisky creature and gently tugged the ribbon away from it.

“You could just give it the ribbon. Merry Christmas, cat.”

Her head turned toward the ladder and she glared at him for a moment before going back to her wrapping. “The ribbon isn’t his present. He already has a present.”

Mac watched her and debated for a moment if he should come any closer. Her movements had gone tense and angry and she seemed intent on ignoring his existence.

Clearly things were not ‘fine’.

He eased all the way up into the loft and sat right by the ladder, not in her space but blocking the only exit so she couldn’t run. The longer he watched, the worse her wrapping became until she finally frowned down at the toy in her lap and spoke.

“What do you want? I’m busy.”

“I want to know what’s wrong.”

Her hands tightened on the doll’s body before she took a deep breath. “You know perfectly well what you did.”

Mac felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He’d done something. Something awful, apparently. It was his fault. “Let’s pretend like I don’t.”

Her eyes, full of icy anger, met his for a moment before sliding away. She shook her head, “I can’t believe you’re going to sit there and act like you have no idea. You know how I feel about the Nuka Cadet stuff.”

“Nuka Cadet stuff?” Nothing was ringing a bell for him.

“If that’s...if that’s the only reason we’re together, th-then I don’t want to be together.” Her head ducked down a bit, enough for her hair to hide her face, but two tears fell on the doll in her lap anyway.

Mac’s panic was now full blown. He scrambled over and sat directly in front of her. He wanted to grab her, to hold on and not let go no matter what, but he felt like if he tried that, he’d wind up getting physically tossed out of the hayloft. He settled for trying to reach for her hand, but she pulled away, hugging the toy to her chest and keeping her face stubbornly hidden.

“Nora...baby, please look at me.” She shook her head and seemed to shrink in on herself. “Okay, don’t look at me, but listen. Can you do that?” A moment passed and then a slight nod. He took a steadying breath and tried as hard as he could to keep his voice gentle. “The last thing I remember last night is looking at your old pictures and then going to sleep.” She huffed a little and he continued, “Then it was morning, and I woke up to you being in the kitchen.” Wait...something wasn’t right there…

Nora scooted back away from him a little and grumbled, “You didn’t want to talk about it last night. Why do I have to talk about it now?”

He held up a hand, “Wait. Something...my pants.” Mac frowned thoughtfully. “Deacon didn’t take my pants off last night.”

She snorted, “No, you handled that yourself, didn’t you?”

He racked his brain but nothing was coming. Just an overall sense of doom and despair. “Nora, I didn’t...hurt you, did I?” The doll she’d been holding suddenly beaned him in the head and he rubbed his forehead in surprise. “What the --”

Her eyes swam with tears and she was as mad as he’d ever seen her, “How can you ask that? You know you did! Why can’t you just go away and leave me alone?” She was sobbing now and pulled the apron she wore up over her face.

Mac was actually starting to wish Deacon were here. “Nora, please...please don’t cry. I’m sorry. Whatever I did, I’m sorry.” He still wanted to touch her somehow but she was completely closed off. “Baby…”, he tried to reach for her and just grazed her arm when she suddenly kicked at him. He jerked back just in time to keep his ribs intact.

“Don’t touch me! Don’t you dare touch me!”

“Okay! Okay, I won’t touch you.” He held up his hands in surrender and scooted back a little.

She angrily wiped away the tears, “I don’t want to talk to you.”

“I noticed.”

“Go away. Leave me alone.”

He shook his head, “No.”

There was fire in her eyes now, “Robert Joseph MacCready, you leave me alone right now.”

“No.” He watched her eyes dart to the ladder and the way her shoulders shifted just a bit. “Don’t try to make a break for it, either.”

“You can’t keep me up here. If I want to leave, I’m going to leave.”

“You’ll have to go through me to do it.”

There was something almost cruel and terrifying in her eyes, “I can take you.”

He sighed, “I know. I know you can. It’ll probably hurt like hell, and you might even kill me, but I’m not letting you leave here until we fix this.”

“There’s nothing to fix.”

“There’s us.”

She shook her head, “There’s no us. There never was, I guess. There’s always just been you and the stupid Nuka Cadet.”

Mac wiped his face with his hand and tried not to scream in frustration. “I don’t think of you that way. You aren’t her.”

“Oh, bullshit.”

He felt his temper try to slip around his control and squashed it back down, “Not bullshit.”

She folded her arms protectively in front of herself and refused to meet his eyes. “This whole relationship was doomed from the start.”

If she’d sucker punched him it would have hurt less. “What?” Those little dots were back. The ones that signaled he was about to officially lose his shit. She refused to answer and they sat in stony silence for a few minutes. He wasn’t sure what she was using those minutes for, but he was doing his best to wrangle his temper back into check before he went off on her and the whole stupid town.

When he was sure he could speak without hurling curse words,he focused on studying her. She was tense, anger practically glowing through her skin. He couldn’t see any bruises and she didn’t move like she was in pain, so...maybe not a physical hurt? She was upset about his love of the Nuka Cadet though. That was...odd. He’d thought they’d put that past them ages ago, back in Diamond City when they were able to laugh and joke about that terrible drink Vadim had made her. This was a new hurt but an old wound, apparently.

He tried a less direct approach, “Nora, I love you...and obviously I did something unforgivable, so...I’m sorry. Whatever I did, I’m sorry. Can’t we at least try to work past this?”

“I don’t see how we could. We’d have to...travel through time or something.” She relaxed enough to start twisting the apron in her hands, “You...you probably can’t help it. She just, I dunno, imprinted on you when you were a kid. But I’m not her. I can’t be her, not even for you.” She attempted a watery smile at him before looking away.

“I don’t want you to be anybody but yourself.”

More tears fell on the apron, “A sweet lie is still a lie, honey.”

“It’s not a lie. I fell in love with you. I want you. Not the Nuka Cadet. I don’t know where you got this idea from.”

“Well, there was that time when you high-fived yourself because you got to have sex with her when you had just had sex for the first time with me.” Her eyes pinned him in place, “And then there was last night, when you said ‘I can’t believe I landed the Nuka Cadet.’ as we were…”, her cheeks went pink and she stared down at the mess her apron had become.

Mac still had no memory of the previous night’s events, but little dreamlike moments were starting to come back to him. “We...we had sex last night.” She mumbled something and he leaned forward just a little, “I’m sorry, what?”

Nora sighed irritably, “I said maybe you did. I certainly wasn’t there. ‘Ride that rocket, baby.’ That’s what you said. To her, not me.”

He dropped his head into his hands, “Oh, God. Oh, God, Nora, I’m so sorry.” A misty image was forming in his head. Nora glowing in the darkness, the light from the door looking like silvery shooting stars through her hair as she rode him. He’d closed his eyes in the dream and she’d suddenly disappeared, but it hadn’t been a dream. Silence reigned from her side, and he finally lifted his head and met her stare.

“You really don’t remember, do you?” Her head tilted thoughtfully.

“Nora, I swear. I swear on...I don’t even know, but I really don’t.” Hope fluttered in his chest for a moment before her sad expression crushed it.

“That doesn’t make it any better, does it? I mean, she’s clearly way down deep in your subconscious and I...I can’t compete with that.”

“I’m not asking you to! I don’t want that. It’s...I mean, it's not real. She’s just a fantasy. Just a stupid image in my head.”

“Perception is reality.”

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“It means if you think something is real, it becomes real for you.”

“She’s not real.”

Nora shook her head sadly, “No, she isn’t.”

He resisted the urge to shake her by the shoulders, “Listen to me. I do not love the Nuka Cadet. I love you.” His brain scrambled for evidence and came up with what certainly seemed like a grand slam. “I kissed you before I ever knew you were the goddamn Nuka girl, didn’t I?” He waited for her reluctant nod before continuing. “Well there you go!”

She sighed, “But when did you first recognize me?”

“When you hid behind that billboard! I told you that!”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m --,” then it came back to him. That very first night. Dinner with the Cabots. Nora wearing that sunny yellow dress and his suspicion he’d seen her somewhere before. Shit.

“See? She’s always been there.”

He shook his head, “No. No! You can’t believe that!”

“There’s no way to know for sure if the Nuka Cadet had any influence on you wanting to be with me or not.”

“Yes, there is! You can listen to what I’m saying!”

The shuffling was happening behind her eyes. “I believe you believe that.” Her hands twisted the apron again. It seemed like she was trying to choose her words very carefully. “It’s...none of this is your fault. It just...is what it is.”

His entire life was unraveling before him and he had no idea how to hold it together. The idea that Nora thought he was so hung up on a stupid image from 200 years ago that he’d use her as some sick fantasy fulfillment enraged him. His temper finally snapped. “Is this how you were with Nate? The first sign of trouble and you try to bolt away?”

She blinked in confusion, “What?”

“You’re un-fucking-believable, you know that? You can face down every goddamn monster in the fucking Commonwealth, but any little bump in a relationship and you’re ready to retreat.”

“Th-this is more than a little bump, Mac.”

“Coward! That’s what you are! A goddamn coward.”

Her eyes went wide, “How dare you! I am not a coward!”

“Yes, you are! And who the fuck are you to just decide we’re over anyway? This is my relationship, too, goddammit.”

Her chin went up. General Cabot had entered the fray. “You are acting like a crazy person.”

“No crazier than you! After everything we’ve been through, you’re honestly going to sit there and try to tell me it was just so I could fuck you and pretend you were somebody else? That’s crazy, Nora. No man alive could do that.”

She rolled her eyes, “Oh, plenty of men could do that. Men have done things like that since the dawn of time.”

“Well I haven’t.”

“Then you’d be the first.”

This cynicism wasn’t like the sweetheart he knew. “Emogene’s experiences are not universal, Nora.”

She sniffed primly at him, “Says you.”

His jaw clenched until he thought his teeth would break. Arguing with her felt a lot like banging his head against a brick wall. “Nora, please just listen to me and believe the words that come out of my mouth. Please.”

Her eyes met his for a second and she shrugged.

“Okay. Look, yes, I have had a thing for the Nuka Cadet since I was a kid. Okay, yes, I admit that. I dunno why. Probably some combination of those boots and the whole idea of outer space. She was never real to me but...maybe I did hold her up as a standard for all women.” He ran his hand through his hair and sighed. Introspection had always been a hard thing for him. “But then I met Lucy, and she was beautiful and warm and way better than some pinup on a poster, you know? I mean, I still had those...dreams, but they changed. It was just Lucy in that stupid outfit.” She gave him a withering kind of look and he coughed awkwardly. “Anyway, my point is, I eventually met you and, yeah, you know, the stupid poster was probably in the back of my mind. I honestly don’t know. I do know I wasn’t looking to fall in love again. I didn’t think it was even possible after losing Lucy...but I did.”

“But --”

“No, wait. Let me finish.” He took a deep breath and continued, “I found you, or...I guess you found me, and you drove me insane from the jump. I thought you were the craziest person I’d come across in the Wasteland and that’s saying something. But you were wonderful, too. The smartest person I’ve ever known, funny as hell and so beautiful you almost didn’t seem real at times. Finding out that you’d been the girl on the posters was just like, the icing on the cake. You blew the fantasy out of the water just by being you. You, Nora Cabot, are infinitely better than anything I could have imagined...and every day that you let me be with you is the best day of my life.”

She’d gone from contemptuous to confused, “I...I don’t know what to do here.”

Mac scooted a little closer to her and mentally cheered when she didn’t move away, “I’m so sorry, baby. I can’t control what I dream about, but I’m sorry I acted it out with you there.”

Nora frowned thoughtfully and twisted her ring. “I didn’t know you were asleep.”

“I didn’t know you weren’t part of the dream...just how much of an ass was I?”

She shook her head, “No, you were...I mean, you were...nice, like you always are.” Her cheeks went pink at the memory and Mac was very, very irritated that he couldn’t remember a damn thing. “We um...we were having a nice time and then you said that stuff and I told you to stop and you...you laughed, so I left and went to sleep on the couch.”

“Oh, God...so a colossal ass then.”

“When you didn’t come after me, I thought…I dunno what I thought.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I really am.”

She chewed on her lip for a minute then finally met his eyes, “How much of what you like about me is because I was the Nuka girl?”

He blinked, “Um...like, a percentage?”

She nodded, those sharp eyes never leaving his face.

“Okay, maybe...two percent?” He winced a little, “It probably should be zero percent, right? It’s stupid, but...I can’t lie, if you had those boots stashed away somewhere, I’d definitely want to see you in them and nothing else...for at least a month.”

Her head ducked down and for a moment he was really worried, then her shoulders started shaking just a little and the giggle-snorting she sometimes did happened and he chuckled as she clapped a hand to her mouth to try to stifle it.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. I’m a freak with some kind of shoe fetish, I guess.”

She finally got the giggling under control and cleared her throat, “No, it’s...everyone has their, you know, little things they like.” She gave him a small smile and he almost felt lightheaded from relief. “I guess...maybe I overreacted?”

“No, no, it’s...none of this is your fault.”

“Well, it’s not your fault, either.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, “Thanks for saying that. Sure feels like my fault, though.”

“No, it’s...I’m sorry.” She wrinkled her nose up a little, “I’m...not good at this. I never was. That’s why Nate and I went so slow and, well, this has all been...about a million times faster than I’ve ever experienced.”

He nodded, “Yeah, I know. Sh-stuffs different nowadays and all, but, we have kinda gone fast.”

“You think so, too?”

Mac sighed, “Well...I mean, yeah. We had sex before you knew my first name, or about Duncan. Even Lucy and I dated for a few months before we got married and...I dunno, there’s just something about you that makes me want to move fast.”

“I know the feeling.”

He grinned at her, “It’s a pretty great feeling, though, right?”

“It kinda is.” She blushed and gave him a shy smile back. “Maybe we should slow down a little.”

“Well, we probably should, but I dunno if we can. I mean...what would that even involve? No more sex? Sleeping apart again?”

“I don’t want that.”

“I don’t either.”

“Then what do we do?”

Mac thought hard for a moment back to when he and Lucy had been first moving from friends to maybe something more. They’d spent hours staying up late and talking. He’d wanted to know everything about her. He wanted to know everything about Nora, too, but life kept getting in the way. “Alright, here’s the plan. Every day, no matter what, we’re going to take the time to sit and talk to each other. No distractions.”

“So...clothes on?”

He chuckled, “Yes, dammit. Clothes on. At least a half hour. We kind of skipped a few steps in the ‘getting to know you’ phase, right? So we should fix that.”

“Yeah...yeah, okay. That sounds good.”

“Okay, so...I’ll start. When the hell is your birthday?”

She smiled, “February 7th, 2048.”

“So this coming year you’ll be…”

“Technically two hundred and forty-one, but really I’ll be thirty-one.”

“Thirty-one...I just turned twenty-three.”

“I know. Favorite color?”

“Green. Yours?”

“Also green.”

“Nora?”

“Yes, Mac?”

“I really want to kiss you right now.”

The way he could make her blush at the drop of a hat was never going to get old. “Okay.”

He moved forward until their legs were touching and just barely brushed her lips with his. “Can we have a do-over for last night?” She nodded and he gave her another soft kiss. “Could it be right now?”

“Oh...I actually am really busy today.”

Mac sighed irritably and leaned back.

“Really I am. I want to, but I have to get these wrapped and dropped off at the school and then I promised Curie I’d help her with her costume and Cait has a bunch of stuff for me to check and --”

“Alright, alright, I get it.” He smiled ruefully, “That’s what I get for falling in love with the mayor of a town.”

She smiled back, “You really should have known better, being a former mayor yourself.”

He laughed, “I was never half as busy in Lamplight as you are here. Anytime somebody bothered me too much, I just shot at them. Made people real self-reliant.”

“Hmm, somehow I doubt your managerial style would be a big hit with my settlers.”

“It would help with you being so busy though.”

“True.” Her head tilted a little, “Once we’re here full-time, I’m probably going to have to set hours or something. Right now whenever I show up it’s all work all the time. I can’t do that forever.”

“And no one should expect you to. You know you don’t have to be the mayor, right? You could just tell them to do it themselves.”

She made a face, “I know, I know. But...this was my home, honey. It feels right to be the mayor, for now, anyway.”

“Alright, well, Miss Mayor, are you free tonight? Around eight?”

“I think so...are you...Mac, are you asking me out on a date?” She was giving him that confused kitten look. The one that made him want to make her stop thinking altogether.

“Yeah, I am. You and me, eight sharp. Cait’s. We’ll find some booth in the back. It’ll be nice.”

“You’re probably going to have to apologize to Cait, first.”

“I figured.”

“I doubt she’ll serve you anything stronger than beer from now on.”

He shrugged, “That’s fine. Been thinking I should make the switch anyway.” If he ever tasted whiskey again, it would be too soon.

“Okay...it’s a date.” The smile she gave him could have melted Curie’s ice rink.

“Great. I will...go make myself useful and see you tonight.” He pressed a quick kiss to her cheek and scrambled out of the hayloft, before she could change her mind and before he could do something reckless like try to tie her up with her own ribbon and…

“Mac?”

He paused halfway down the ladder, “Yeah?”

“I love you.”

Mac came back up just enough so she could see his smile, “I love you, too.”

Chapter Text

It took every bit of luck and charisma Mac had, but somehow he convinced Cait to not only help him set up the perfect date, but also forgive him. Mostly, anyway.

By seven, he was showered, shaved, ‘dressed and pressed’ as Nora would have put it. Now all he had to do was wait.

For an hour.

By himself.

He sat in the little corner booth in the back of Cait’s and tried to not fidget. He’d checked and rechecked all the silverware, rearranged the flowers he’d brought in their little jar at least four times and was starting to think about maybe taking a walk when Hancock sauntered up.

“Well, well, well. Look at all this.” He slid into the booth across from Mac and gave him a cheeky grin. “Can’t remember you ever going to all this trouble for me.”

Mac rolled his eyes, “I thought actual dating was too dull for you.”

He shrugged, “Depends on who the date’s with.”

“In that case, I’m sorry I never took you anywhere fancy.”

Hancock laughed, “Don’t sweat it, kid.” He straightened Nora’s napkin a little and sighed, “So this is the real deal, huh? For both of you?”

“Yeah. I think it is.”

“Hmm. I’m not sure who I should be more jealous of.”

He studied the mayor’s casual pose. The way his eyes kept scanning the room. Mac had always put that down to Hancock constantly being on the prowl for another conquest, but maybe he had more in common with Nora than he’d realized. Maybe it was more about not being able to meet people’s eyes. “You’re serious.”

His eyebrow went up, “Serious? You know me better than that, Mac. When am I ever serious?”

“Well, right now, for a start.”

Hancock just snorted and waved it away.

“No, come on. I always thought...I mean, I thought you just wanted Nora.”

“Well, who doesn’t?”

“But you don’t just want her. You want me, too, don’t you?”

He smirked, “Again, who doesn’t?” He finally looked at Mac and the loneliness in his dark eyes was bottomless. “Look, kid, you’re great on your own. She’s great on her own, but...I’ve never been a one partner kinda guy, right? I just thought...the two of you as a package deal would, well, would maybe be the right fit.”

Mac turned this new information over in his head for a moment, “I asked her, you know. I asked her about a threesome.”

Hancock blinked in shock, “No shit.”

“Yeah, she uh...she said she’d heard of them back in some class in college.”

He chuckled, “Of course she did. Dame like that would probably faint at the idea of participating.”

He rubbed the back of his neck, “Well...to be honest, she didn’t seem that shocked by the idea, but…”

“But?”

“She said she never thought of you like that. That you were sweet, but I guess she never caught on that you were actually interested.”

His eyes went blank and expressionless, “Are you serious?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you fucking...goddammit. Do you realize how much shit I did trying to get her to notice me?”

“I heard you killed Finn for her.”

“Shit, Finn. That was just the start.” He looked like he wanted to punch something and Mac wasn’t surprised when he brought out a Jet canister and took a big puff off it. “I was a gentleman, Mac. A fucking gentleman. I did all the right things. We talked and talked. I took things slower than fucking snail snot! Kept my flirting nice and gentle-like. There was this one time last summer, she tripped and fell in a creek, in a sundress, and I didn’t even...” He held his head in his hands and stared at the table. “Where’d I go wrong?”

He shrugged, “I dunno, man. I still haven’t figured out what I did right, to tell you the truth. She did notice you, though. Told me she thought you were just frisky like that with everyone. That it was all just a joke.”

“A joke. Motherfucker.”

“I’m sorry, man.”

“No, no this is my own damn fault. She’s sharp. I should have realized she’d notice I was just some...deviant. No matter what kinda good boy act I put on.”

Mac didn’t like the hint of self-hate in his voice, “Nah, man. She doesn’t think of you like that. I mean, you’re one of her best friends. She loves you. Thinks you’re great.”

“It’s the chems, isn’t it?”

He lit a cigarette and shrugged, “Maybe a little.”

“I’d give ‘em up for her.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

He sighed, “No, I wouldn’t...but I’d cut back.”

“So you really didn’t just want to steal her away?”

“I really didn’t.” He looked up at him, “Kinda offended you thought I actually would. Wouldn’t do that to you, and it ain’t like a girl like her would be happy in Goodneighbor long term. She’s not cut out for that lifestyle.”

He frowned thoughtfully, “So what was your plan then?”

“I dunno. I thought maybe...you guys would live somewhere boring and maybe we’d visit from time to time. I’m sure you wanna bang out a bunch of kids and all, I just thought my place in Goodneighbor would be like a little vacation spot...or something.”

“Vacation spot?”

“Yeah, you know, a place to unwind and relax. No cares, no responsibilities…”

“Just sex.”

Hancock glowered at him, “Not just sex. That’s the whole goddamn point. I can get sex wherever and whenever I want but --”

“Love, then. That’s what you really want.”

He grumbled a bit but wouldn’t answer.

“You gotta know half the Commonwealth is in love with you.”

“That’s lust, not love.”

Mac shook his head, “No...well, some of it, yeah, but I’ve seen plenty of people who look at you like the sun shines out your butt. That’s love.”

“Maybe, but it ain’t me they love. It’s Hancock. They don’t see anything past this hat. You look at me and see who I actually am, same as Sunshine.”

“So will the right person once they come along.”

“Brother, I ain’t one of those pre-war ghouls, but I’m older than you realize, and in my whole damn life, it’s just been you and her...and maybe my ma. God rest her soul.”

Mac finished his cigarette and flicked the butt into a nearby ashtray. “It’ll happen, man. When you least expect it.”

“Sure, sure.”

“No, it will. Don’t give up...and if you’re ever feeling down, you can always come see us. Nora might not be in love with you, but she does love you, John. If you need, I dunno, cuddles or something, we could probably work something out.”

He laughed, “With her, right? Nobody wants to cuddle up to your bony ass.”

“Sure, and if she’s unavailable, there’s always Dogmeat.”

“Nice, kid. Very thoughtful.” His eyes lit up as a shadow fell over the table. “Now there’s a face I ain’t seen in a while.”

Mac looked up and immediately felt on edge. It was the girl from before. Still vaguely familiar. She grinned at Hancock like they were old friends and slid into the booth next to Mac.

“I can’t believe it! I come all the way out here to bumfuck nowhere and run into the two sexiest men in the Commonwealth!” She flashed Mac a pouty kind of smirk and he felt a hazy sense of recognition.

“How you been, little Strawberry?”

Strawberry. That was it. One of the girls from Hancock’s parties. He had no idea what her actual name had been. Once Hancock had blessed her with a new title for her strawberry blonde curls, it had been all she went by.

“Pretty good, Hancock. Better now though.” Her hand found Mac’s thigh under the table and she squeezed it briefly. “I was bored out of my mind before, but...seeing as how the two of you are here, well...things are bound to get a little more interesting.”

Hancock grinned at her, “Yeah, this place ain’t exactly my speed, either. Sunshine invited me to be Santa for the kiddies though, so here I am.”

She scrunched up her face, “Sunshine? Isn’t that the girl you ran off with?”

He laughed, “Somethin’ like that, sister.”

The plump lips were at full pout now. “So I’ve got competition, huh?”

“Nah, not with me, anyway.” He tilted his head toward Mac.

“Oh, so she gets around, huh? Must be somethin’ special to get you both one on one.” She gave Mac a cheeky grin, “It can’t be that she’s got a sweeter pussy than mine. I seem to recall you couldn’t get enough of it.”

Mac just glowered at her, “To be honest, I don’t really remember you.”

Hancock frowned at him, “That’s just rude, kid.”

Strawberry didn’t seem phased, “I’d be happy to jog your memory, Mac.” She palmed his crotch and didn’t seem to notice that he flinched away. “You always liked it when I blew you in public, right? I could slide under the table and --”

“Am I interrupting something?” Nora, beautiful in a simple pink dress with her hair done up special for their first date, stood next to the table. He hadn’t even noticed her walk in.

Mac closed his eyes for a moment and wished to God the whole damn place would just fall in the river. “Nora, this isn’t what it looks like.”

Her eyes were glassy and doll-like. Her face frozen in that fake pinup smile, “Who’s your little friend, Mac? I don’t believe we’ve met.” She held out her hand, “My name is Nora Cabot. How do you do?”

Before Mac could get his brain up to speed, Strawberry laughed. “Jeez, Mac, who’s she supposed to be? Your mom?”

Hancock glowered, “Hey, now --”

The smile slipped just a bit and when she spoke, her voice was devastatingly icy. “Obviously not. I would have raised my son to keep better company than you.” She glanced at Hancock for the first time, “Good evening, Mayor Hancock.” Then she was gone, walking swiftly with an impenetrable kind of dignity right out the door.

Strawberry looked at the two men and laughed like the whole situation was hilarious. Mac tried to move past her but she wouldn’t budge, so he went under the table and bolted for the door.

“Aw, come on, Mac! Come back! We’ll have some fun!”

“You know, Strawberry, I don’t remember you being this much of a bitch in Goodneighbor.” Hancock’s chastisement was the last thing Mac heard as the door swung behind him. He ran up the dock and paused on the boardwalk, looking for Nora in the darkness. She was moving quickly up the street, obviously headed for home and he ran after her.

“Nora! Wait!”

If she heard him, she gave no sign. He watched her disappear into her house and managed to slide to a stop just outside the door. She locked it and he heard her stomp away; on her way to bolt the other one, no doubt.

“Nora, open the door.” He jiggled the knob but the door had clearly been reinforced at some point. It didn’t move at all. “Nora! I mean it, open this damn door!” He pounded his fist against it a few times to be sure she heard.

“No! Go away!”

“If you think this rinky dink lock is going to keep me out, you’ve got another thing coming!”

Frosty silence met him and he grumbled, stomped over to the side of the house where her personal tools were kept and grabbed a screwdriver. Two minutes of pure frustration later, it finally clicked and swung open.

She was standing in the kitchen, furiously scrubbing the breakfast bar and refusing to look at him.

Mac stepped inside and closed the door behind him, setting the screwdriver on a shelf. “Nora, we need to talk about this.” She scrubbed at one spot particularly hard and he wondered if she was going to clean the varnish right off it. “What are you doing?”

The scrub sponge paused for a second, “I’m cleaning.”

He sighed and ran a hand through his hair, “Well, can you stop for a minute so we can talk?”

“No.”

“Nora.”

“No, I can’t. I…”, she froze for a moment and turned away from him. “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t…”

He moved to the other side of the counter, “Baby, take a breath. It’s okay.”

She shook her head and her hands slid into her hair, pulling at it. “No, no, no, no.” She was fairly vibrating with panic and suddenly turned, fleeing down the hallway and into the bedroom.

Mac went after her and it took him a minute to find her in the dark room. She had pressed herself into the far corner and had her arms wrapped around herself, mumbling something. He might not be an expert on all things Nora yet like Deacon was, but he knew a panic attack when he saw one, and carefully crept over to her. “Baby, it’s okay. You’re okay. Just breathe for me, alright?”

She shook her head and pressed harder against the walls, sobbing like her heart would break.

He wanted to touch her, but what if that was the wrong thing to do? Deacon had said his ‘medicinal hugs’ helped sometimes though, right? “Nora, can I touch you? Just shake your head no if it’s not okay.” He waited but all she did was cry harder and he moved behind her, wrapped his arms around her and hugged her tightly. “It’s alright. Everything’s alright.”

Now she did shake her head, “N-no, it’s not.”

Mac rocked back and forth with her, “Shhh, yes it is. I’ve got you.”

How long they stood there, he couldn’t say. It certainly felt like forever before she finally ran out of steam and quieted down. He turned her around and took off her glasses before wiping the tears and snot off her face with his handkerchief.

“There’s my girl. It’s alright, baby.”

Her face crumpled for a moment and more tears leaked out of her closed eyes, “No, it isn’t.”

He wiped those away, too, and kissed her gently. “Can we talk about it now?”

Her eyes opened and she nodded but still wouldn’t look at him.

“Alright, come on.” He led her back into the living room and had her sit on the couch. “I’ll get you a water first, okay?” She nodded, eyes on the boarded up window, and he tried not to sigh in frustration. She hadn’t looked at him since Cait’s. That probably wasn’t good. He realized he still had her glasses and set them carefully on the counter. Chances were she wasn’t going to need them anyway.

He brought her the water and waited until she took a polite sip before sitting on the coffee table across from her. She shrank away from him just like he thought she would, but it wasn’t like she could go anywhere really.

He wasn’t letting her run from him anymore today.

“Been kind of a rough day for us, huh?”

A hysterical sort of laugh tumbled out of her for a moment before she stopped herself. “I guess.”

“You remember what you said to me back in Diamond City? That you wished you could just stay with me under a blanket forever? That it was far less complicated there than out here?” She nodded and he smiled ruefully, “Well, I’m starting to understand what you meant.”

She swallowed another sip and he saw her jaw clench a little, “Who was she?”

Mac sighed, “Somebody from my past, I guess.”

Nora frowned down at her glass, “You guess?”

“I don’t...I don’t really remember her.” He winced when he realized how bad this was all going to sound to someone like her. “She was one of the party girls I uh, met, while I ran with Hancock back in the day.”

“Oh.”

“Nora, she didn’t mean anything to me.”

“Okay.”

He hated how flat she sounded. He almost wanted her to get mad, throw something, yell at him. Tell him he was trash and that she hated him. Anything would be better than this passive husk sitting in front of him.

“I was in a dark place for a really long time after I failed to crack MedTek. Basically crawled into a bottle and didn’t expect to come out of it. Hancock...I don’t even know how that got started; I guess he took pity on me? He kept me close when I’d stumble through the gate, kept me alive, until I finally got myself back together.” He sighed, “I don’t expect you to understand. You aren’t the kind of person who gives up. I mean, everybody knows the story of how you popped out of the vault, guns blazing, ready to fight the world and get your kid back.”

She turned her head away, “That’s a lie.”

Mac frowned, “What?”

“Everyone thinks that, but it’s a lie.” She took a deep breath, “I didn’t come out of stasis and immediately leave the vault.”

“Oh.”

“I was down there almost two weeks.”

“Oh...why?”

Her eyes darted to his for a second before she looked away again, “I couldn’t make myself leave. I...I wanted to stay with Nate. I even tried to refreeze myself but the array was damaged. I couldn’t fix it.”

He stared at her in shock, “You...you tried to freeze yourself?”

She nodded, “I’m not stupid. I looked at all the computers...I knew time must have passed since they went to all the trouble of putting me back on ice, but they’d erased the timestamps. The man...Kellogg, looked ruthless and terrifying. I knew the chances of getting Shaun back were slim to none, so...I just gave up.”

Mac couldn’t imagine Nora ever giving up on anything. She was far too stubborn for that. “What made you change your mind?”

She shrugged, “I guess...I asked myself what Nate would do? He wouldn’t just sit there waiting to die. He’d go out and get revenge on the people who hurt us...so I told him I was sorry and that I was going to try to get our boy back and make those responsible pay. Then I left.” She glanced at him and then back away, “No one else knows that. Not even Deacon.”

He nodded in understanding even though she couldn’t see. No one else would ever know that. He’d take it to the grave. “Okay, so...maybe you do understand.”

“Yeah.”

“Nora, I’m sorry. I mean, I can’t really apologize for the crap I did before we met, but I am sorry it got thrown in your face like that.”

She nodded slightly, “The flowers were pretty.”

“Oh, you noticed those? I wanted to make it a special night for you.”

“I noticed. She was pretty, too.”

He knew better than to try to lie. “Yeah, she was.” On the outside, anyway.

“Young, too.”

He shrugged, “I guess.”

“She’s probably a lot closer to your age than I am.”

Mac frowned, “Maybe? I’m not a very good judge of ages...I mean, I thought you and I were the same age.” He didn’t like how despondent she sounded. “Does our age difference bother you?”

Nora shrugged and stared down at the water in her glass.

“Is that why you got sad when I said I was going to marry you?”

“You remember that?”

“Yeah, I remember. Is it?”

She shrugged again.

“Nora...look, I know I’m half Nate’s age and all, but give me time. I’ll get there.”

Now she did look up, “Well, yes, that’s how linear time works.”

“No, I mean give me time and I’ll be able to take care of you like he did. I know he had more experience and all and was probably better at...well, everything, but I can catch up. I know I can.”

“Mac, what on earth are you talking about?”

“Our age difference. Isn’t that...I thought my being younger, you know, bothered you.”

She laughed in disbelief, “That’s...that’s ridiculous. I don’t care that you’re young.”

He threw his hands up in frustration, “Then what the hell are we arguing about now?”

“Men don’t marry women older than they are.”

“Who the f-frick says that?”

“Everybody, honey.”

He rolled his eyes, “Right, yeah. The great and powerful ‘everybody’. We better do what they say!”

“Biologically --”

“Oh, here we go.”

“Biologically, men always seek out young, healthy females for procreation since women are only fertile for a few years and men can father babies well into their seventies and beyond.”

“Yeah, that’s just what I wanna do. Have a kid when I’m seventy. We can gum our food together.”

She sighed irritably, “Right now, I look young for my age because I didn’t grow up surrounded by all this, but that isn’t going to last. One day soon, I’m gonna have wrinkles and grey hair and you’ll still be…”

“What?”

“Perfect.”

He sat, stupefied, for a moment. Then the anger hit, “That’s the dumbest goddamn thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“It’s not dumb!”

“Yes, it is!” He reached forward and held her head in place so she’d have to look right at him. “If you think that a few wrinkles and some grey hair is going to keep me from loving you, then you’re an idiot.”

She frowned at him like he was the one being an idiot. “Mac, it’s easy to say that now, but --”

“No, you listen to me. Thirty or fifty or hell, eighty, even, you’re always going to be my baby.” He smiled when her eyes welled up with tears and kissed her forehead. “You’re so silly sometimes. I don’t know how these ideas get in your head.”

“A lifetime of conditioning.”

Mac let her go and leaned back, “Well, it’s time to let that sh-stuff go. Pre-war men were clearly morons. Stop lumping me in with them...and for your information, Lucy was older than me.”

She blinked at him, “She was?”

“Yup. So maybe I’ve got a thing for older women. You ever think of that?”

“N-no.”

“Nah, of course not.” He shook his head, “Here I thought you didn’t want to marry me because I’m just some kid.”

Nora frowned at him, “That’s ridiculous.”

“No, it’s not. It makes more sense than your weird, biological...whatever.” He sighed, “I mean...you were with Nate. He’s at least twice my age. Your best friend is Deacon. He’s also twice my age. Hancock is...I dunno even know how old he is, but he’s definitely older.”

“I was never involved with Hancock or Deacon.”

“Yeah, I know, I know, but the thing is, they’re who you hang out with...them and Curie, and you said she was pre-war, too, so she’s definitely older. Everyone you hang out with is older than me.”

“I…”, her head tilted thoughtfully. “I guess they are.”

“See? And you guys get along great. You’ve got all these little jokes and memories with them, and they get most of what you’re talking about.” He looked at his feet and sighed, “I feel like a little kid sometimes. Like a kid in a room full of grownups.”

“Mac, that’s silly.”

“No, it’s not. It’s the truth, Nora. I literally have no idea why you chose me. Out of all the men out there who would have given their eye teeth to be next to you, you picked me.” He shook his head, “And it scares me because I don’t know how to keep you.”

They sat in the awkward silence for a moment before she spoke. “Is that why you kept getting so mad at Deacon?”

“I guess.”

“And Hancock?”

“Yeah, him, too,” he muttered. “We talked though. Stuff’s fine now.”

“I’m glad to hear that...otherwise, it probably would have been awkward when I asked him to officiate.”

He looked at her and raised an eyebrow. “Officiate?”

“Our wedding...I mean, if you still wanted one. You haven’t actually asked me yet.” She smiled a little at him, “Mac, I chose you because you’re wonderful and smart and funny and handsome and, oh, a million other reasons. You don’t have to worry about keeping me, because I’m not looking to go anywhere.”

“You mean it?”

She nodded, “Of course I do, honey. If you really want me, I’m yours...I just hope you won’t get bored with me.”

He moved to the couch and pulled her into his arms, “Not possible.”

“Well...I’m not, you know, experienced like your other um...friends.” She snuggled against him, her fingers tracing little patterns in his shirt.

Mac kissed the top of her head, “So?”

“So...that doesn’t bother you?”

“Nope. Just means I get to corrupt you myself.”

She laughed a little, “Well...before all that, I have something I want to give you.”

“Like a present?”

Nora sat up and nodded, “Yup. It’s one of your Christmas presents.”

“One of them?”

“And I wanted to give it to you tonight, away from everybody else. We’re supposed to do the gift exchange on Christmas Eve, but...this is something I wanted you to open with just us.”

“Okay…”, he watched her get up and head for the bedroom. “It’s not the boots, is it? Cause I wasn’t kidding about you wearing them for a whole month.”

“No, it’s not the boots.” She laughed and came back holding a small box with a bright red bow on it. “I don’t have the boots. They were property of the Nuka Corporation.”

“Dang it.” He snapped his fingers. “I was really hoping it was the boots.”

She sat next to him, “Well, hopefully this is just as good. Merry Christmas, Mac.”

He took the box and shook it a little. “Is it a book?”

She shrugged, “I dunno, open it and find out.”

“Or socks? A man always needs a good pair of socks.” He untied the ribbon and tore the paper off. Inside was a plain white box and inside of that was a leather book of some kind. “Is it normal for presents to have this many layers?”

Nora smiled, “Yes, open it.”

He grinned at her and opened the book. Only it wasn’t a book. It was some kind of picture holder. Mac stared down at the color photo of him and Lucy back in that dive in Rivet City and his mouth dropped open. “Wh...how?”

“Vadim. Last time we went to Diamond City, I didn’t just go get lunch. I asked him to do me a little favor.”

Lucy looked so vibrant. Laughing at some dumb joke he’d told and staring at him like he was the only man in the whole world. “A little favor…”, his hand traced along her image, taking in all the little bits of her that he’d made himself forget.

“Yeah, see, you said you didn’t have any photos of her, and I remembered Vadim said she was beautiful, so I knew he had to have seen her. Doctor Amari can record what people see in the Memory Loungers, you know? So I paid him to go to Goodneighbor and get his memories  of the two of you scanned and she printed out the best frame.” She smiled, “That’s why I had to go see her when we were at Daisy’s.”

His eyes welled up with tears and he wiped them away before they could fall and potentially damage the treasure in his lap. “Nora...I don’t know what to say.”

She curled her feet up under her and laid her head on his shoulder. “It’s okay, honey. You don’t have to say anything.”

“I never thought I’d see her again.”

“I know...she was lovely.”

“Yeah, she was.”

“I like how she looks at you. You said Duncan had her eyes, right?”

“Yeah, he does.”

She nodded, “He really must be adorable then.” She glanced at his face for a moment and then back at the picture. “I was thinking...if you wanted, we could pull pictures from your memories of her, too. Maybe make a whole album’s worth? Then Duncan would have something to remember her by.”

He couldn’t speak, but nodded anyway. A whole book of Lucy. Just this one photo was bringing back every memory he had of her, all the good times and laughter. It felt like a lifetime ago and he’d gotten used to thinking of his life back then as a dream that he’d woken up from. But there she was, in the flesh. She’d been real. This was so much better than the silly token he had…

Mac carefully set the book down. “I have something for you, too. Something I don’t want anybody else to see.”

Nora stared at him in surprise and nodded, “Okay.”

He got up and went back to the bedroom closet where he’d chucked his bag after retrieving it from Cait. It was there, just like it always was, tucked away in his shoe shine kit for safe keeping. When he came back out, Nora had put her glasses back on and cleared away the wrapping from his present.

He sat down next to her and hoped she’d understand, “Here... I wanted you to have this.” He practically shoved the statue in her hands. “I know a carved toy soldier is a strange gift, but this one's special... it means a lot to me.”

She studied it closely, “If it’s special to you, then it’s special to me, honey. Thank you. Did you make this yourself?”

He laughed, “Do I look like the artistic type to you?” His eyes were drawn back to the photo of Lucy on the coffee table. Nora had set it up so the little book stood open. “Lucy gave this to me right after we met. I... I uh, told her I was a soldier and she made it for me.” He sighed regretfully, “Never could bring myself to tell her the truth... that I was just a hired killer. The soldier story was the best thing I could come up with. I didn't want to lose her because of what I was.”

Nora hugged the toy to her chest and tilted her head at him, “I'm sure you had good intentions. I know how much you loved her.”

Mac smiled a little, “Thanks. I had a feeling you'd get where I was coming from.” He picked the picture back up and stared at the carefree girl he’d known. “I miss her, you know? No matter how bad things got, she was always there with a shoulder to lean on. It gave me... well, it gave me the courage I needed to press ahead... to never give up. When she died, I thought that feeling was gone forever...then I met you.” Their eyes met and she smiled gently at him. “You have the world's problems on your back and you still helped me with mine... lending me your shoulder like Lucy did. I just want you to know how much our relationship means to me.”

She hugged the toy tighter and nodded, “I do, honey. I love you.”

He carefully closed the book with Lucy’s picture and smiled back at Nora, “I love you, too. For once in my life, everything's going right and I have you to thank for it. I don't think anyone in the world could ask for a greater gift than that.” He leaned over to kiss her when a rumbling growl filled the room.

Nora blinked for a second and then turned pink. “I um...I skipped lunch today.”

He scowled at her, “You’re always supposed to stop and eat, baby. You know that.”

She huffed at him, “I got busy.”

“Come on, let’s see what we can find in your fridge.” He waited until she set the soldier next to his picture and helped her up.

“There’s not a lot. All I’ve made so far are those puits d'amour.”

He opened the fridge and started pawing through the contents. “The what now?”

“Puits d'amour. It means ‘well of love’.” She peeked over his shoulder and pointed, “It’s those little pastries there.”

Ah, the cakes from this morning. He grabbed one and sniffed it, “So...it’s a dessert then, right?”

“Right. It’s got vanilla cream filling...I was finally able to make them thanks to Hancock’s present.”

Mac decided to risk it and took a big bite. Golden sweetness filled his mouth and he involuntarily moaned while she giggled at him.

“Yes, that seems to be the general consensus.” Nora moved him aside and started pulling fruit and some kind of charred meat from the fridge, along with a wheel of brahmin milk cheese.

He chewed slowly, wanting to savor every last bit of the magical cake. It was like sex made into something you could eat. He watched Nora slice the fruit and wondered what he’d done in a past life to deserve a woman who could cook like this. He finally swallowed and grinned at her, “I’m gonna need you to make these every day for the rest of our lives.”

She laughed and arranged their dinners on two plates, “If you had them every day, you’d get sick of them.”

“I can’t see that ever happening.” He popped the rest of the cake in his mouth and grabbed them two chilled waters, meeting her at the table. “Seriously, Nora, these are amazing.”

She sat next to him and smiled, “I’m glad you like them. Be sure to thank Hancock, too. Without that vanilla extract and sugar he found, they wouldn’t have been possible.”

“So your present was...food?”

Nora nodded, “Yup. He spent this whole past year tracking down pre-war ingredients for me. He even had Nick contact our friends up north in Far Harbor and had them send down radchickens for eggs.” She chewed on a piece of the deathclaw steak and moaned a little herself. “Oh, that’s better...I definitely needed protein.”

Mac grunted in agreement and they ate in comfortable silence. They’d both had an incredibly long day and it was well past dinner time already...so much for date night. When they’d finished, he helped her clear the