“Will your nose ever grow back one day?”
“Think about it. If you lost yours, would that grow back?”
“Hm... I guess not. So does that mean you can’t smell anything anymore?”
“Nah, I still smell just fine. Still got all the stuff inside workin’.”
“So it’s kind of just the outside that’s weird... Oops, I don’t mean weird! I just mean... different.”
“I gotcha, kid, I gotcha. Yeah, I might be weird, but how else do you think I scare away all the baddies that might wanna hurt ya?”
“Heehee. Yeah. I bet nobody messes with you or is ever mean to you or anything! That must be so cool!”
Hancock grinned back from down on the ground, watching the boy pick at small blades of grass in front of him.
They were both sitting cross-legged in the middle of the Castle, in a small patch of light green grass that had managed to grow and survive somehow amongst all the dry dirt and rubble. A few settlers were working crops not too far away, and spare Minutemen wandered the perimeter on patrol, avoiding the sitting pair, but the number of odd looks and disgusted glances thrown towards Hancock, a ‘filthy ghoul’, couldn’t be farther from his mind.
The early morning sun was shining down on Shaun’s peaceful face, a warm breeze was blowing over the high castle walls, and Hancock’s girl was out doing what she did best with one of her many trusted friends. That, according to the ghoul, was the recipe for a perfect day 100% of the time.
He’d taken his tricorn hat off a while ago and had set it down on the kid’s head instead, watching the way it made his face light up like he’d gotten the best gift in the world. It was big on him, sure, but Shaun had said the way it tilted down over his face just made it even cooler.
“So Mom said I’m not staying here long,” Shaun mentioned, idly ripping a long blade of grass into tiny pieces and scattering them to the breeze.
“That’s right,” Hancock agreed, leaning back and stretching, “She wants the two of us to head out later today and meet her at new place a little further north.”
Honestly, he was itching to get moving right away, but an order was an order. All this sitting around just made him ache for chems and a smoke like nobody’s business. He wouldn’t do anything about it now though; not around the kid. Sure, he was a synth, so the smoke could never do him any harm, but Hancock liked to think that it was the principle of the matter. He would never smoke or do chems around a real child of his girl’s, so he wouldn’t around her synth child, either.
Whenever Shaun looked up with those deep brown eyes of his, perfectly mimicked after his mother’s, Hancock couldn’t help but smile softly in return, a little grateful that he was fully sober and able to give the kid the attention he deserved. He knew Shaun got lonely with all the new people popping in and out of his life almost every day. MacCready was around to give him shooting lessons one day, and the next he was out finishing up merc jobs with Shaun’s mother. His little projects for her kept him busy most of the time, but Hancock could only imagine what it must be like to sit and wait for a friend to return, not knowing when, or if, they’ll come back again.
“I think I know why Mom wants me to move away...” Shaun mumbled, still fidgeting with grass. “I think it’s because people here say mean stuff about me sometimes.”
As soon as Hancock heard this, he pushed himself forward and sat up straight, unable to keep the scowl off his face. “Oh, do they now... And what kinda mean stuff are they sayin’?”
Having grown shy at the sudden attention given to him, Shaun stayed quiet for a few seconds, staring down and poking at the dirt before opening his mouth to speak again. “Well. Just stuff. Like stuff about me and Mr. Valentine. Er, Nick I mean. He asked me to call him Nick... Anyway, they say stuff about how we’re... not real or something. I don’t know... I don’t pay attention to it.”
Based on the kid’s bashful reaction, Hancock would guess that he paid more attention to it than he cared to admit. “And what does Nick say about it?”
“He tells me not to listen to them, because ‘they’re just jealous we’re more alive than they are.’” A small smile graced his lips at the memory. “Whatever that means.”
A chuckle was ripped from Hancock as he nodded, imagining Nick’s proud smirk and heroic tone in the faces of the disrespectful comments. “Yeah, that sounds like ol’ Nick alright. I’m happy he’s standin’ up for ya and everything, but it’s like what your mom told you. You don’t have to stay here and take that kinda crap. I’m surprised people like that are even allowed to live here under the protection of the Minutemen in the first place,” he finished pointedly, casting a glare over to the group of settlers tending to the crops not to far away. One who had been staring intently at the two got caught red-handed and turned away as quick as he could.
Shaun caught sight of the intrusive settler too and sighed, going back to pulling at more grass in the dirt. Hancock’s hat slipped down over his eyes, and he didn’t bother to reach up and fix it.
At the deflated sight of him, the ghoul decided that he’d had enough of sitting around chatting about all the differences they both had with the people around them and reached a finger out to nudge Shaun’s hat up himself. Shaun looked up to watch him stand with wide eyes.
“How about we go out and start the day early to cheer up a bit? All this sittin’ around ain’t doin’ us any good.”
He helped pull Shaun up from the ground and patted down his hat playfully, purposefully pushing it down over his eyes, before turning to walk away.
“Hey!” Shaun complained from behind him as he hurried after Hancock’s footsteps, giggling and running into his back. The other smirked and reached back to nab his hat, placing it back on his own head and briefly ruffling a hand through the kid’s hair as he did so. When Shaun reached up to fix it, he scoffed and continued on his path to the workbench by the far wall.
They passed Preston as they walked by, who went out of his way to crouch down and ask Shaun how he was doing. Hancock listened to their conversation as he loaded the spare backpack by the workbench with plenty of ammo and Stimpaks.
“Yeah. We’re heading out early to explore,” he heard Shaun say proudly, and Preston shot him a concerned glance before turning his attention back to Shaun.
“Alright. Just be careful out there.”
If it were possible for Hancock to roll his black eyes and have Preston see it, he would have done so. Instead, he shouldered his shotgun and tugged an old baseball cap down onto Shaun’s head when he approached them, giving Garvey a smile just for old time’s sake. He knew the man meant well after all.
“C’mon, Garvey. When am I not careful?” he teased the Minuteman, relishing in how the skeptical look on his face only doubled in intensity.
Nevertheless, Preston kindly walked them to the western entrance of the Castle and wished them safe travels one more time before they both took off, side by side.
By the time they’d ventured out of sight of the Castle and towards the heart of Boston, Hancock had killed anything that had even remotely breathed within his line of sight and had given Shaun his own 10mm pistol to hold in both hands.
He had to hand it to MacCready’s lessons; the kid had gotten in quite a few good shots with that thing, popping raiders in the legs and stopping super mutant hounds before they coulld even get close. Once, he landed a lucky shot on a mutant suicider’s mini nuke and just stood still for seconds after the explosion went off, staring in awe at the fading light and dissipating smoke as the boom echoed down the block.
Hancock couldn’t be more proud.
It wasn’t until he noticed that he had unintentionally been leading the kid directly on the path to Goodneighbor that he adjusted their course and angled towards Shaun’s new home. As much as Shaun might love to see where Hancock was the big, bad mayor of, Goodneighbor was the farthest thing from “kid-friendly” this side of the Commonwealth. And with the sun beginning its downward arch in the sky, signaling the passing of noon, Hancock figured they’d pretty much have to hightail it up to the new settlement to make sure they got there on time.
“Wait, I think I saw something over there!” Shaun cried out suddenly, straying from Hancock’s side and darting over to an open doorway.
Hancock reached out instinctively to snatch him back as fast as he could, but his fingers came up just shy of Shaun’s shoulder, and he could only watch as the kid ran off towards the collapsed building that could very well still be occupied. “Oh hell... Shaun!”
“C’mon!” Shaun just called back, ducking inside without a second glance, and Hancock’s heart nearly exploded with panic.
“Shaun, stop!” he ordered again, racing across the narrow street after the synth.
“Wait!” he heard Shaun request as he rushed into the ruined building. The kid was standing near the doorway and looking down at something on the wooden floor. “Look, Dad!”
And just like that, all of a sudden, time seemed to stop for the both of them.
Hancock blinked, dumbfounded and completely taken off guard, as the realization of what he had said washed over Shaun and the excited look slowly fell from his face.
Something he’d never felt before began to rise and swell in Hancock’s chest, while Shaun looked away and desperately fumbled to string a sentence together in the silence. “Uh. Um. I. I mean... I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to- I didn’t mean to say-”
Hancock cut him off and got his attention in the only way he could think of, by placing his hand on the kid’s head and smiling down at him. “How about you show me what you found, kiddo.”
It took a second or two, but, slowly, a smile began to paint its way across Shaun’s face, gradual and sincere. He visibly relaxed like a ton of bricks was just lifted off his shoulders, bending down to pick something up and cradle it in the hand not holding his gun.
“I noticed this and thought it looked really pretty. I just thought we could give it to Mom when we make it to our new home,” he said softly, and Hancock looked down at his hand to see a dirty silver locket on an unbroken chain.
Without a second thought, he lugged off his backpack and unzipped a pouch for Shaun, holding it open. “Well, would you look at that,” he mused as the kid- his kid - tucked the locket away for safe keeping, “I don’t think I could have found a better present for her myself.”
When Shaun shyly smiled up at him, that growing warmth in his chest got impossibly strong, and he wondered how his girl did it if this was how she felt every time she looked at him. It almost felt like his lungs were giving out, and his heart was too big for his chest cavity.
‘But goddamn,’ he thought, leading Shaun back outside with a protective hand on his shoulder, ‘What a feeling.’
The rest of their trip was much more relaxed now that they both felt infinitely more comfortable with each other. Shaun practically bounced with impatient excitement over the gift for his mother, and Hancock rode the emotional high of being seen as someone’s dad for the first time ever, let alone that someone being the child of the love of his life.
When they arrived at the new settlement, a wide open space where an old drive-in used to be, Shaun ran from his side and out onto the pavement, looking all around him. Hancock had to admit as well that it was all pretty impressive.
There were several wooden buildings already set up, all connected and chained together with walkways, surrounding a decently sized pool of water in a sinkhole, with a purifier already stationed in it.
A number of handmade lamp posts were set up all around the semi-circle of buildings, lighting up doorways and staircases. Functioning turrets had already been placed outside a surrounding fence barrier, which branched off in multiple directions, offering more than one way into the settlement.
Off to one side, there was a healthy patch of crops growing, and a large work shed that must have been stocked with all sorts of trinkets and gadgets: all the little things Shaun liked to fiddle with and put back together into something new.
It looked like his mother had been planning on this move for quite some time, just to make sure that everything was perfect for him.
“Woooow,” Shaun breathed in amazement, still spinning in a circle to look at as much as he could.
Hancock saw his girl peek out from one of the wooden doorways, catching his eye and giving him a smile, a hint of warm love in her eyes as soon as she spotted him. He set out in a beeline towards her while Shaun walked up to look into the small pool of water, completely engrossed with his new home.
“Hey you,” Hancock’s lover greeted him with a teasing punch to the shoulder. “Glad to see you made it okay.”
The ghoul huffed out a laugh and reached up to rub at the abused limb, feigning injury. “Jeez... Happy to see you too, sister.”
She laughed out loud at his fake pout, one of those deep, raw laughs that he had absolutely fallen in love with, and as soon as Shaun heard it as well, he looked over to them and came running.
His mother was already waiting with open arms, ready to catch him as he stepped forward to wrap his arms around her.
Hancock watched her lean back and spin Shaun around before setting him down and planting a big kiss on his cheek. “Hey there, sport! I missed you.”
“I missed you too, Mom!” Shaun spouted, stepping around Hancock to fiddle with the backpack still hanging from his shoulders. Hancock met his girl’s confused eyes with a knowing smile, staying extra still for Shaun as he packed his pistol away before digging around in a side pocket.
“I love this new place,” he continued. “I can’t wait til your other friends come to visit.”
“I already told them about it,” she replied, trying to peek around Hancock to see what Shaun was doing. “They’ll all be around to visit you very soon.”
“Even Nick?” Shaun gushed, clumsily zipping the pocket back up after having successfully found what he was searching for.
She looked down fondly with a laugh. “Yes. Especially Nick.”
“By the way, Mom...” Shaun started, stepping back to Hancock’s side with his hands behind his back.
“Hm?” his mother hummed, gazing down at him in curiosity. “What is it, son?”
“Look what Dad and I found for you on the way here,” he bragged, holding his hands out and grinning up at her.
Hancock stood by quietly and shifted on his feet while she reached out to take the trinket from her son’s hands, a smile spreading over her face.
“You and ‘Dad’, huh?” she emphasized, sneaking Hancock a sly glance, which he could only respond to with a smirk and an easy shrug of his shoulder.
When Shaun nodded enthusiastically, she held the small locket up in both hands now, honestly regarding it, rubbing its smooth surface and feeling the weight of it in her hands. She had found a countless number of lockets just like this one out there in the Commonwealth, pried apart a ridiculous amount of them to harvest the silver they were made of, but this one, this one was special.
She gazed hard at the locket in her hands before looking back up to meet the faces of her two loved ones in front of her, Hancock's loose smile and loving eyes, and Shaun's pure excitement at getting to see her again.
Her new family.
Finally, she reached back to hook the chain of the special locket around her neck with a smile to the both of them in return.