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Hidden Injury

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*

 

MacCready lifted his head from his pillow, barely awake but already listening for whatever it was that had woken him.

 

Outside, crickets in the grass chirped to themselves as wind blew gently through the mostly dead trees and bushes. Inside, the radio still played quietly in another room; classical music of the Minuteman channel that was the signal of ‘all’s well’. After a long moment, he still didn’t hear anything unusual, but he knew he had heard something. As he regained more of his sleep-addled senses, he realized Duncan was curled up against his chest, snoring softly with a hand that was wet and sticky for some reason hanging on to a handful of the shirt MacCready had worn to bed. He couldn’t help the fond smile at the sight. The six year old must have snuck into bed sometime during the night, or possibly had been put there by Nate when he’d gone to take the morning watch.

 

Then he heard it; running footsteps outside, light and soft but unmistakable. It could be nothing, just a settler hurrying by, but he couldn’t shake the sense of unease in his gut. He carefully disentangled his shirt from Duncan’s loose grip and slipped out of bed, electing to leave his boots for now but picking up his 10mm before easing out into the hallway and towards the front door.

 

MacCready froze as another set of footsteps pounded by outside, louder this time, followed by a shout of alarm.

 

A hail of gunfire answered the shout, and MacCready threw himself to the floor when a spray of bullets came tearing wildly through the house, pinging off tin and shattering wood. He army-crawled as fast as he could back to the bedroom, scrambling frantically to get back to Duncan, who was just sitting up in bed with sleepy but wide eyes, looking more than a little alarmed.

 

“Daddy—?” His question was cut off as MacCready leapt to his feet and swept him off the bed, tucking them both into the corner by the closet behind the dresser that sat there. Nobody was firing at the house anymore, but there were still faint pops of gunfire outside. Staying low, he reached across the floor for his boots and shoved them on before getting up on one knee to grab his duster off the top of the dresser. A sharp stab of pain made him pause, breathless, and he looked down at his shirt to see a dark spot just under his ribs. He tentatively touched it, confirming that yes, it was fresh blood, and yes, it was his. He swallowed hard as a dull ache began, starting his countdown. He quickly put his duster on, covering all evidence, and turned back towards his son.

 

Duncan was fidgeting, bewildered but wisely staying silent, watching MacCready with wide eyes. He didn’t seem to have seen the injury, and MacCready hoped to keep it that way.

 

“Hey, ‘Cans, you remember what we talked about?” MacCready tried to not sound as breathless as he felt, whispering as quietly as he could. “About going to the bunker when someone bad comes here?”

 

Duncan solemnly nodded and MacCready gave him a reassuring squeeze on his shoulder before cautiously sliding over towards the window to peer out.

 

It was only just barely beginning to be light out, the sun not even peeking over the horizon, but there was just enough light to see that the backyard was empty. The dwindling gunfire seemed to be contained to somewhere on the other side of the block now, and MacCready hoped it stayed that way. He climbed out the window and reached back inside to lift Duncan out, biting his lip as the extra weight pulled at something in his gut that did not want to be pulled. Fresh warmth flowed down his side along with the pain. More gunfire and shouts, thankfully distant but no less alarming, warned him that he didn’t have time to do anything about it.

 

Keeping low and making sure that Duncan did the same by holding his hand, he crept towards the edge of the house and peered around it. Someone ran by on the street, but judging by the silhouette it was someone in a Minuteman uniform. Someone shouted again, and MacCready nearly leapt up and out into the fray when he recognized Nate’s voice, only keeping himself from doing so when Duncan squeezed his hand, clearly recognizing Nate’s voice as well. MacCready squeezed his hand back, and making sure to keep Duncan close and on his side away from the fighting, they darted across the yard. Using the shrubbery and houses as cover, MacCready picked his way to the house that had the cellar with the metal trap door and tapped out the settler’s code before letting them in, thankful that Nate always made sure to grease the hinges so that they didn’t squeak.

 

Jun was already down there, sitting on the floor with his arms wrapped around his knees as he rocked anxiously. He looked relieved to see them, and MacCready saw behind him that Nate’s security gate was still intact and locked.

 

“I’m sorry— I couldn’t— I’m sorry—” Jun stammered, clearly shaken.

 

“It’s okay, you did the right thing.” MacCready told him while quickly disarming Nate’s traps. Once he had unlocked the series of locks he ushered Duncan and Jun inside the secure area. Nate had left a crate within easy reach that had sleepings bags and pillows, and MacCready pulled a couple of each out and got Duncan settled in behind the metal cabinets after handing the other set to Jun. He only realized then that Duncan was clutching his little slingshot, apparently having grabbed it before they left the house.

 

“Are the bad people coming here?” Duncan asked with a waver in his voice.

 

“No, buddy, they aren’t coming here.” MacCready hugged him and pressed a kiss to the top of his head. “I’m going to go and make sure that they don’t, okay? I’ll just be on the other side of the gate, and only you or Mr Long can open it, but only open it when I tell you it’s safe.”

 

Duncan looked worried but nodded, and MacCready gave him another hug and kiss before getting back to his feet to close the gate behind him. Duncan had already sidled closer to Jun, who put an arm around him as he continued his nervous rocking. They’d be safe, here. MacCready would make sure of it.

 

He felt naked without his rifle, but it wouldn’t do him any good in this enclosed space, anyway. He checked his 10mm again and took a shaky breath before discretely opening his jacket to check his side. The blood stain had spread, trailing down to his belt line and he could feel warmth trickling down his hip bone. He resisted the urge to press a hand over it, reluctant to aggravate it now. He’d only make it worse, and he needed a clear head.

 

The minutes ticked by slowly. He wasn’t sure how much time had passed but it felt like ages before someone knocked on the cellar door, tapping out the same code that MacCready had, but he was still tense until he saw it was Preston on the other side.

 

“Oh, thank god.” He heard Preston mutter before raising his voice to shout over his shoulder. “General! They’re in here! Jun, too!”

 

Nate yelled something unintelligible in the distance, but it was clear he wouldn’t be there anytime soon, likely taking care of the matters that always came with a settlement raid. Marcy’s head popped up beside Preston, and her normally dour expression flickered to one of relief when she saw Jun and Duncan sitting unharmed behind MacCready.

 

“It’s safe to come out now. Small group of raiders trying their luck.” Preston told him. “We did a sweep, got the last of them. They won’t be coming back again.”

 

“My hero.” MacCready said with a tired grin, then turned when he heard the gate opening behind him. Jun was carrying Duncan, who had wrapped his arms firmly around his neck, slingshot still tight in hand. Jun only slightly tilted Duncan towards MacCready before Duncan nearly leapt the distance, wrapping his arms and legs around MacCready. Now that the adrenaline was fading, the movement hurt more than he expected it to, but he powered through it to hug Duncan back and press another kiss to his head.

 

“It’s alright.” MacCready told him while rubbing his back. “Everything’s okay.”

 

Jun climbed the ladder to get out first, and MacCready hesitated at the bottom before gritting his teeth and started the climb with Duncan still clinging to him. Once he was close enough to the top, Preston reached down and lifted Duncan out and passed him to Jun before reaching down to give MacCready a hand, concern etched on his face.

 

“You alright?” Preston asked him once he was out, annoyingly astute.

 

“Yeah,” MacCready said breathlessly, and felt his knees give. Preston grabbed him and kept him upright, and MacCready hung on to his jacket like a lifeline.

 

“Hey Jun, why don’t you take the little man up to the main house?” Preston suggested casually. “Get something hot to drink before trying to get some more sleep.”

 

“I want daddy to come.” Duncan said sleepily, already leaning against Jun like his head was too heavy to carry. MacCready’s parental instincts told him he wouldn’t last long enough to get that drink before he’d be sleeping again.

 

“It’s alright, buddy.” MacCready told him, putting his best effort into keeping his voice steady. “Go with Mr Long. I’ll be there soon.”

 

Duncan reluctantly conceded and let Jun carry him away without any protest. Once they were out of sight, Preston adjusted his grip on MacCready and the next thing he knew, he was on the ground with grass prickling the back of his neck and his eyes looking up at the last of the morning stars.

 

“Marcy, go get Curie and then the General.” Preston was saying in a low voice over his shoulder. “Tell them to hurry.”

 

“I’m okay,” MacCready wheezed, the words automatic, and tried to sit up. Pain lit him up from the inside, like a hot knife slicing through his core. He might have blacked out, because the next thing he remembered was Preston leaning over him, putting enough pressure on his gut it made it difficult to breathe.

 

“Oh, yes, this will require surgery.” Curie was somewhere nearby. How had she gotten there so quickly? “I will need him moved to my clinic.”

 

MacCready didn’t catch everything that was said over him, fading in and out, although he became uncomfortably aware while they gently rolled him onto his side to slide the stretcher under him and then back. His arms were folded across his middle, and he could feel a sodden mass of soft material over the source of pain. Preston took the head of the stretcher while someone else took the foot, and despite them working smoothly the movement nearly made MacCready black out again.

 

Nate was suddenly there, hurrying beside them, and MacCready’s breath caught as he took his hand.

 

“RJ, baby,” Nate looked stricken. His hands were so warm. MacCready could feel himself starting to shiver, he was so cold, and it took all his strength to squeeze Nate’s hand back.

 

Before he knew it, they were setting him on a table and an oxygen mask was placed over his face. The last thing he remembered was fingers combing through his hair and a low, comforting voice murmuring in his ear.

 

***

 

MacCready opened his eyes and nearly went cross-eyed as he struggled to focus on the face in front of his. Duncan patted his cheek then turned his head to yell.

 

“DAD’S AWAKE!”

 

MacCready groaned, although it was more startling than anything else. He lifted his hand to ruffle Duncan’s hair and while doing so noticed the IV taped to the back of his hand.

 

“‘Cans, what did I tell you?” Nate said as he came into the room and swept Duncan up to tickle him until he was giggling before sitting down with him in his lap. MacCready blinked at him, looking him over, but everything appeared to be normal. Nate was wearing a clean pair of jeans, for once, and his faded flannel shirt had the left sleeve folded neatly above the protective bandage he wore over the stump of his arm most of the time. He noticed MacCready looking and gave him an exasperated look, heavily overlaid with fondness, and continued talking to Duncan. “Daddy needs as much sleep as he can get.”

 

“Sorry, daddy.” Duncan whispered loudly, leaning over Nate’s arm to pat MacCready’s cheek again. “Go to sleep.”

 

“Mm, maybe in a bit, bud.” MacCready managed to rouse himself enough to look around, and finally figured out that he was in the wooden and tin shack that Curie had transformed into her clinic and lab.

 

“How are you feeling?” Nate asked, his tone casual for Duncan’s sake, but MacCready could read the worry in the lines of his body.

 

MacCready took a moment to do a self assessment.

 

“I feel fine.” He said at last, surprised. “A little tired and sore, but fine.”

 

“Good.” Nate wrangled Duncan under one arm so he could lean forward and press a kiss to MacCready’s forehead. “You’re on strict bed-rest for another day, but Curie seemed pleased with how you’re healing up after…” he glanced towards Duncan sitting patiently on his lap and seemed to change his mind about what he was going to say, “I finally had to send her to go get some sleep, she’s been fussing over you all day.”

 

“Hmm.” MacCready hummed, his eyelids already feeling heavy again. “Tell her thanks for me.”

 

“Mmhmm.” Nate set Duncan on his feet. “Hey bud, would you mind going to grab a can of water for daddy? There should be one in the fridge in the main house.”

 

“Yep!” Duncan sped out of the room, thumping loudly into the front area of Curie’s clinic and out the door.

 

Nate leaned forward to drop to his knees beside the bed, running his hand up MacCready’s neck to thread his fingers through his hair to cradle his head and press their foreheads together. It took some fumbling, but MacCready managed to get his arms moving enough to weakly embrace him back.

 

“Don’t do that to me again.” Nate said, voice thick. “I thought… I thought…”

 

“I know. I kinda thought myself there too.” MacCready shook his head at the thought. “I’ll try not to.”

 

“Good.” Nate sighed. “That’s good.”

 

“Was anyone else hurt?”

 

“Just a couple grazes and bruises. Sturges is gonna have a wicked black eye, but that’s about the worst of it.” Nate sat back on his heels and looked at him. “It happened right away, didn’t it.”

 

MacCready swallowed but nodded. Nate dropped his head.

 

“I knew it. I startled the first one, some idiot raider with a shitty assault rifle. I should have—”

 

“It wasn’t your fault.” MacCready stopped him before he could get any further.

 

“But—”

 

“If it’s your fault he started shooting it’s my fault I was standing there waiting to be shot.” MacCready tiredly patted his hand. “Stop worrying about it.”

 

Nate’s face went through a series of emotions, but he finally bit his lip and nodded before leaning forward to kiss his forehead again. “Alright, I get it. You know I love you, right?”

 

“Love you too.” MacCready clasped their hands, just in time for Duncan to burst back in at full speed with the can of water in hand.

 

“Here it is!” Duncan chirped, bouncing towards the bed that MacCready was on with the obvious intention of jumping onto it, but Nate managed to snag him in mid-leap and swung him over so MacCready could safely take the can.

 

“Thanks, ‘Cans.”

 

“I’m gonna tell Ms Curie you’re feeling better!” Duncan bolted back out the door again. Nate groaned, getting to his feet, and MacCready moved to sit up before being pinned in place by the look Nate gave him.

 

“You stay put until Curie says you’re free to go.” Nate ordered. “I think I can wrangle the kid for at least that long.”

 

MacCready subsided with a grin. “Good luck.”

 

“You ain’t kidding.” Nate sighed before running after Duncan. “‘Cans, wait up! Remember what we talked about with people needing sleep…”

 

*