“How was I supposed to know? No one actually ever dies from Jet, it's the safest stuff around … okay, maybe not the safest.” Hancock admitted under the disappointed glare of one Nick Valentine. “But it's not like Charlie can't handle themselves. You saw what they did to Kellogg and I have heard the stories. Is it true the biggest part they found of him was his hypothalamus? Not the point, not the point, I get it. Just stop looking at me like that and help, will you?”
With a deep sigh Nick relented and helped Hancock take care of their very own ex-Vault Dweller, generally agreed upon badass and, as of right now, out cold from a dose of Jet that Hancock swore up and down he knew the source of. By the time they got Charlie into bed half of Sanctuary Hills heard what was going on and had dutifully gathered to either give Hancock a piece of their mind (Preston and Piper managed together to instill in Hancock the fear of a god that had been forgotten for two-hundred years) or laugh themselves silly. Sturges had the time of his life imagining in candid detail what would happen if Charlie found out Hancock had given them laced drugs.
The ghoul meanwhile made himself comfortable in the chair by Charlie's bed and, after Nick handed him some of their med supplies, prepared himself for a long night.
It was Denver all over again. That first shot of Psycho, medical staff behind bulletproof glass, enemy forces just a street over. Being stronger and faster and tearing through every living thing to no particular end except to keep going. Stopping meant death and death was something that happened to other people. Charlie didn't feel their ligaments tearing, their muscles straining under the effort of pulling a soldier forward that should have dropped dead long since. Didn't even notice when the power armour's fusion core gave out. Ran on regardless, carrying a ton of metal instead of it carrying them.
It was an exhilarating ride and the actions under Psycho a mush in your brain too surreal to cause PTSD. Or so they said. Nothing that happened under the influence was real. Not even shooting civilians who protested on the streets for water and food.
The downside was coming off again. Reality kicked the door in and presented pain bills of six hours to be paid all at once.
Charlie groaned, the texture of their clothes too rough, grinding their skin down to sandpaper. A breeze drafted in and froze the skin on their arms on the spot. Back in the cryo-chamber? Had Charlie never left it?
“No. No, no, no. Let me out. Where's Shaun? Bastards ain't getting him.”
It was freezing. They were freezing them again, god knew when they would wake up next.
“Shhh … relax, love. Shaun's … safe. He's safe.”
That voice. Charlie knew that voice. But no face would come to connect with it. All they knew was they liked that voice. The voice was trustworthy.
“Nate. Don't let 'em take Shaun.”
“I'm not …” The voice hitched. “I won't. I'll keep the boy safe. Do you, uh, need anything?”
“Cold.” Charlie said and was. So damn cold. Something heavy and warm almost smothered them, but it smelled like the voice sounded. Like home. Charlie's head pounded, every neuron fired wild commands up to the brain. Keep your head in the game, Charlie thought with the voice of their old drill instructor. Assess your situation. What's your status, location, enemy forces. Confusion settled momentarily. Hadn't they been in the Vault just now? Why was the war back on? No matter. Reality check later. Survival now. They dimly remembered someone to be close. Someone who was on Charlie's side. There was only one person they could trust on the battlefield.
“Lieutenant, what's your position? Brooks, where are you?”
Their own voice rang loud and painful in Charlie's ears and Brook's answer was no less thundering.
With a groan Charlie heaved themselves up, shaking off part of their winter equipment in the process. They hadn't realised how cold it had gotten. Their vision was blurry, colours mixed with each other. Wasn't their winter gear white camouflage? This looked distinctly … red. Blood then. Someone got hurt during the fight. From what it felt like it had been Charlie themselves.
“No, fucking Santa Claus. Of course you. I need a status update. Command told us to hold the radio tower. What's been happening, Brooks? Did I get shot?”
“Oh. Um. I'll … go see Pres- I mean, Major? Major Preston about it. Be back in a minute.”
The sound of footsteps hurrying away told Charlie two things. One, their left ear was banged up mighty good. Every sound reached it like through a brick wall. And two, that wasn't Brooks with Charlie. Unless the Lieutenant had miraculously grown two new legs since the last time they saw each other. Fuck. Someone pretended to be Brooks to lure Charlie into a false sense of security. Captured by the enemy then, drugged too, probably. Charlie looked around and found to their glee a 10mm pistol lying next to the bed. They grabbed it, listened for 'Brooks' to return with that Preston character – Minutemen, honor to serve you General, we were twenty, defend the castle.
Charlie backed against the wall. Where the hell had that come from? The last time Charlie had given a thought about the minutemen was when they did their tour of Sanctuary Hills. There'd been a statue. Nate had been so excited about it. A piece of history right in front of our doorstep he said.
How late was it anyway? He had to be up by now, preparing breakfast. Charlie never slept in so late, why hadn't Codsworth prepared the coffee yet? Something was wrong. Charlie was halfway out the bed, gun in hand – they never had a gun in the house, neither of them liked the thought of weapons lying around – when they heard the footsteps. Heavy boots, hurried. Neither sounded like Nate.
Charlie was up just in time to bring themselves between the bed and the intruders. Charlie blinked. If those were robbers they were the weirdest robbers they'd ever seen. Both looked like straight out of the revolution, waistcoats and ruffled shirts all inclusive.
“What is this? Historical reenactment? What the hell are you doing in my house?”
There was something weird about the guy in the tricorn hat. Weirder than being dressed up like he was.
“And who are you supposed to be, anyway? Davy Crockett?”
“John Hancock.” The man said sullenly and entirely too relaxed for the fact that Charlie had a gun pointed at him. The other guy held his rifle at ease, as well. Was Charlie that little a threat to them? Okay, they were in their underwear and okay maybe frilly bows weren't exactly the most threatening garb but still. Gun.
“Yeah, I don't care. Where is Nate? If something happened to my husband I'll kick your asses into the next century.”
To their surprise that elicited a chuckle.
“Two centuries more like.” John Hancock the cosplayer said. His buddy grinned and said louder: “No need to worry, General. We're on your side.”
“Doesn't answer my question. Where the hell is Nate?”
Neither of the two clowns answered. They both suddenly looked very uncomfortable in their skin. Charlie lost their patience. Wrestling the two aside, they stalked down the hallway into the kitchen.
“Nate? Nate! Where are you? Answer me!”
No sign came forward. The two LARPers, or whatever they were, followed Charlie as they went outside. Someone left the door open. Nate wouldn't do that, would he? Not unless he had no other choice.
“Nate! Damn it, if this is a joke, it's not- Let go of me!”
One of the guys grabbed Charlie and tried to pull them inside again.
“Love, you can't go out like that. You'll catch your death. And you'll kill me if I let you wander around in your underwear for everyone to see.”
Charlie fought against him to no avail.
“Damn right I'll kill your ass, but it won't be for …”
They stopped. Charlie's vision cleared up. They wished it hadn't.
Chaos spread out over their home. Houses ruined, streets broken, cars only rusty tin cans. War had come to Sanctuary Hills, even though everyone said it wouldn't.
Charlie didn't react but the hand on their shoulder turned from an iron grip into a comforting one.
“It's all gone, isn't it?” they asked and remembered. The Vault. Freezing cold. Shaun gone. Nate …
“He's dead. Oh god, he's dead, they shot him, they … Nate, please, he can't be …”
Charlie's knees gave way and they would have fallen if it weren't for someone behind them catching them. Who was it? Someone had been there but the memory was fuzzy. He felt like Nate, sounded like Nate when he whispered low assurances that everything would be okay. But it couldn't be Nate because Nate was dead, dead and gone and frozen in that blasted Vault.
“I know, love. Let's get you to bed. It'll all look better in the morning.”
Charlie didn't have the strength to argue anymore. They allowed themselves to be led into the bedroom by the man who smelled so familiar, so much like safety and comfort. A heap of red cloth lay on the ground in front of the bed and Charlie bent down to pick it up. It was warm and thus very much welcome to a freezing Charlie, who obediently crawled on the sheets. They felt the man making to leave again and couldn't let that happen. They still didn't know who it was, but he couldn't leave like Nate had. Charlie couldn't let him out of their sight.
“Stay?” they asked, embarrassed at how weak their voice sounded. Whoever he was he hesitated only a moment.
“Sure. I'll just tell our friends you're okay. I'll be back in just a second, alright?”
That was enough. Charlie could wait a second.
“So, any thoughts about leaving a gun by a delirious person?” Preston asked when Hancock emerged from the bedroom.
“It wasn't loaded. Thought Charlie would feel safer with something to defend themselves with. Who checks for bullets high on … whatever it is they're high on.”
Preston almost looked amused. Almost.
“So you do admit you don't know what was in that Jet you gave them.”
Hancock threw his hands in the air.
“I admit it, for fuck's sake. It was probably just Super Jet. The guy I buy my stuff from must have packaged it wrong. Sure explains why I didn't feel a damn thing. It'll wear off by the morning.”
“Well, you're on duty to look after Charlie until then. Just be glad Piper didn't witness that little breakdown. She can be damn protective over Charlie.”
Hancock mumbled something not overly complimentary about the ragtag bunch of misfits Charlie gathered, of which he was firmly a part of, and went back inside.
Charlie was deep asleep, or so Hancock thought. But the moment he brushed past them, intending to take up his seat by the window again, they reached out and held him rooted with a surprisingly strong grip for a smoothskin riding a Jet high from hell.
“Dad. Had a nightmare. Bad people put me in the freezer. Davy Crockett was there.”
“John Hancock.” Hancock said, trying to focus on that rather than the fact that Charlie now thought he was their father.
“Right. Read me a story?”
What else was he supposed to do than oblige? Charlie shuffled to the side, almost falling out if it hadn't been for the fact they still held on to Hancock's sleeve and patted the empty space with their free hand. He got in, awkwardly shuffling around to engage in as little body contact as possible. He was already due for an asskicking, he didn't want to hurt Charlie further by taking advantage of their vulnerable state.
Charlie however seemed to have a different idea, since they cuddled up to Hancock, forehead pressed against his skin. They were feverish. Hancock fished for the medkit on the nightstand and almost knocked over the bowl of water Nick brought in earlier, sometime between Charlie thinking he was Nate and thinking he was Brooks, whoever the hell that was.
One wet cloth placed on Charlie's forehead later, it was time to polish Hancock's storytelling abilities. He wasn't sure there was anything to polish in the first place.
“Okay. Storytime. So, there was this … this tiny radstag. Who frolicked around like radstags do, I suppose. It was happy as can be, until one day …”
Charlie fell asleep sometime between the tiny radstag making a friend in the form of a brahmin and the two of them getting sucked up the engines of a landing vertibird, a storyline which Hancock freely admitted to himself could do with a little editing. The spotlights fell into their bedroom in short intervals, causing Charlie to scrunch their eyes together even in sleep. Hancock resolved the issue by placing his hat over her eyes. At this rate he'd end up naked by morning. Making sure his coat still covered most of Charlie and kept them warm he closed his eyes to get some shut-eye himself. Not much damage Charlie could do, cooped up in his arms likey they were.
Charlie was gone. Hancock swore he was just out for a second but the next time he opened his eyes his hat and coat were nowhere to be seen and neither was Charlie. He panicked, shot up and almost fell over, thank you ghoul legs for being barely alive but still falling asleep at every inopportune moment, looked everywhere, even under the bed. No Charlie there.
“Fuck. Worse than herding radroaches.” Hancock muttered to himself, rushing outside to ask if anyone had seen their illustrious leader.
He stopped in his tracks, finding Charlie sitting across the street with Piper and Nick, Dogmeat in their lap, sharing a can of dog food. They waved. One good scare away from a full-blown heart attack Hancock wandered over and sat down next to Charlie.
“You feeling better?” he asked, deliberately casual. If they didn't, at least they got his name right. But who knew what Charlie thought was happening. Within the last twelve hours he'd been husband, soldier, Davy Crockett (robber) and Dad. Hancock didn't look forward to becoming the Vault-Tec Rep or, heaven forbid, Kellogg.
“I feel like crap.” Charlie answered. “But I know who and where I am. Thanks for the hat and coat by the way.”
They wore both. Right now Hancock would sooner personally go to hell than admit that it did things to him, seeing Charlie wearing his clothes. So he just smiled uncertainly and accepted a few forkfuls of dog food.
Despite Charlie's assurances of being aware of their surroundings they were much more … cuddly than usual. After dogmeat had trotted off with Piper to check the defenses at the bridge, they used the newfound space to lean up against Hancock.
“Your body heat is amazing. Is it a ghoul thing or is that just you?” Charlie mumbled, already half-asleep again. Then they frowned. “Was there a radstag fighting a vertibird involved at some point?”
Chuckling Hancock took his hat back and placed it on his own head.
“Something like that. The radstag lost.”
“Huh. Well. Thank you for taking care of me.”
“It was my fault giving you that jet instead of the normal stuff.”
“The jet? I didn't even use that.” Charlie said and fished the, full, inhaler out of their pocket. “I was down at the Rexford, sampling Fred's newest creation before I came up to visit you. Didn't feel anything, though. We just thought it didn't work. Apparently we were wrong.”
“Oh.” Hancock said dumbly and then. “So it wasn't my fault?”
“Wasn't your fault. Why? Something wrong with the jet you gave me?”
“Nooo. No. Nothing wrong.” Hancock drawled. Charlie seemed to buy it and dosed off not soon after, sleeping off the last effects of whatever they'd taken. The moment Hancock was sure they wouldn't notice, he fished the jet out of Charlie's pocket. Just to be sure.