It had to be ferals, Hancock thinks miserably as they dispose of the last of them. The bodies are stacked up by the door for now - the new settlers can shift 'em later, for all he gives a shit. The day is going to ruins right before his eyes and Nora doesn't even seem the slightest bit aware.
"Think we got 'em all?" she asks as they heft a glowing, bloated ghoul towards the door of Croup Manor. They'd been sent to scout the place out for settling; apparently Garvey failed to grasp the importance of Hancock finally getting his shit together enough to admit his feelings for his General, because they hadn't had a minute alone together since three days ago when he'd pulled her aside for their chat. Sendin' them to a place packed to the rafters with ferals had to be some sort of fuckin' justice, didn't it? Karma finally sorting itself out on Hancock's part.
"There can't be any more, surely," Nora's still speaking, startles Hancock from his reverie. He nods at her dazedly, trigger finger still itching at his shotgun.
"I wouldn't be so sure, sunshine," he mutters, hearing something move from the lounge area. The worst of them - the family - had come from the basement, but potentially...
Springing from his relaxed stance in the hallway, Hancock jumps into action at the sight of another feral clambering noiselessly over a cabinet to reach them, one molten arm outstretched. He lets instinct pull him onto the defensive, hoisting the gun into both arms and firing three rounds into the creature's head. He can't help but wince as the ghoul's brains splatter the wall behind it, blood spitting forward from impact and splattering his clothes.
"Guess that's the last of them," Nora chuckles. He watches the ease with which she searches the feral's rotten clothes for treasure, triumphant when she pulls her arm back with the latest find - a couple stimpaks and a handful of caps. He can't help but notice her flinch at coming into contact with a chunk of the thing's arm lying a little ways from the body, fingers coming away tacky with blood.
"You ready to head out?" he asks her, just for something to fill the silence. She flashes a grin as she straightens, linking her arm through his. He's surprised she can bear to touch him, after that.
"Sure am, mister mayor," she teases, then in one fluid movement twists his hat sideways so she can press a kiss to his mouth. It's hardly their first, but it makes butterflies swell in Hancock's stomach anyway, fluttering uncomfortably. They've hardly had a moment alone together - this is the closest they've come to a proper kiss, rather than a quick peck on the lips while Garvey and MacCready weren't looking.
Wouldn't do to make them jealous, he'd teased, although he'd meant it. He'd caught Danse's looks, too - that metal fuckhead was probably wondering what Nora's doing with a ghoul of all things.
Hancock lets out a low hum when her tongue sneaks into his mouth, pulling her flush against him. This might be leading to something he's been trying his best not to think about, in fear of an... uncomfortable situation arising whilst battling a pack of super-mutants, but now they have all the time in the world and-.
"Maybe we should hunker down here for the night," she murmurs, close to his right ear, "It's getting dark out, and that bed upstairs seemed pretty intact..."
Hancock can't bring himself to utter more than a mmm-hmm, too taken by her breath on his skin and her hand sneaking to grip his hip. Nora damn near sprints for the stairs at that, towing him along by the hand. She jumps a rotten floorboard, half-stumbling over a fallen cabinet in her haste to reach the latest in their trail of grimy mattresses, and finally flops back against it, propped up on her elbows so she can look up at him. The only light in the room comes from her Pip-Boy, painting everything a sickly shade of green, and even then she's beautiful.
"Nora-" he begins, fumbling for something to adequately capture his feelings on the whole situation. His heart's still hammering in his ribcage, shaky breaths coming in pants, and it's all he can do not to ravish her there and then.
Hancock cuts off immediately when he glimpses movement in the corner of the room, freezing with one arm extended awkwardly towards Nora. Her come-hither look bleeds into frantic alertness at Hancock's expression, eyes following his gaze-
To where another feral is lumbering towards them, one arm swinging limply parallel to its body, the other outstretched, hand twisted into a claw. It's frothing a bit at the mouth, emits a low, wistful growl as it nears them, before Nora blows its head off with a single shot from her rifle.
"Fuck," she mutters, then erupts into laughter. Hancock just squints a little at her, black eyes narrowing.
"What's so funny, sister?"
"Just- ruins the mood a bit, doesn't it? Blowing the bastard's head off at close range."
"One ghoul too many, huh?" he jokes, while Nora slumps back down on the bed, "I get the feeling there might be another hangin' about the place, if ya catch my drift."
She laughs with him at that, still not put off despite what feels like Hancock's best efforts, "You're the only ghoul here I give a damn about," Nora grins, and then she's reaching for his hand again, to pull him close and breathe the scent of him in. Hancock feels her nose against the taut skin of his neck, a sharp hint of teeth, and turns to kiss her.
It's only when she pulls away a bit that Hancock freezes, wondering if he's done something that crosses the line between sexy and way too much after a feral attack. He props himself up on an elbow to look at her, a relieved chuckle worming its way out of his system when she yawns hugely, right in his face.
"Shit," she giggles, "I don't mean to be a moodkiller, but I'm beat."
"Taking out ferals will do that to ya, sister," he smirks, the relief curling in his stomach making him bold. The worry is foreign to him - he's never really been shy about sex before. Before he'd turned ghoul, he wasn't afraid to admit that he was handsome, and he had quite the entourage of star-struck citizens back in Goodneighbor, too. He's never been short of willing partners, at least, even if you did get the occasional creep with a ghoul fetish, who'd begged him to go feral on me, Hancock, harder! But it had been fine, because Fahrenheit disposed of their asses pretty quickly.
But Nora is different. Nora is everything.
Hancock didn't see himself as the settling down behind a picket fence type, before. He was content with fucking, occasionally spending the night in someone's arms, but never long enough to have breakfast the next morning. He'd enjoyed his life just as it was, and, if Nora hadn't come along, would probably still be enjoying that same life right now.
Now she’s still stroking a hand down the side of his face; the barely-there touch makes him shiver. If he had any hair left, it’d be standing up now. Hancock still feels gooseflesh rise on his arms when she replaces the hand with her lips to press a long kiss to his cheek, seemingly unbothered by the ridges and bumps there. And how the hell isn’t she recoiling, even now? With the spattered remains of the last feral rotting behind them, covered in all the same ridges and bumps?
Hancock exhales shakily, feeling as though his breath is being wrenched through broken lungs. Hell, maybe it is - wouldn’t surprise him if another part of him decided to fall apart. He pecks a mirror kiss to Nora’s own cheek and slumps back on the bed while she strips herself of her armour, flinging her chest plate towards the pack she’s already divested of.
Hancock freezes when she gets to her shirt - a rumpled grey thing with short sleeves, tight in all the right places - and watches while she strips that off, too, then squirms out of her jeans so she’s lying in nothing but her underwear. And she’s beautiful - of course she is, even covered in feral remnants - dark hair swept back over alabaster shoulders, hooded eyes peeking up at him, although that might be less to do with seducing Hancock out of his own clothes and more because she’s about to fall asleep.
Still, he can’t concentrate. Not when she’s expecting him to shuck off his coat and hat and - sweet Atom above, his shirt and trousers - so he’s naked, naked next to her and her milky skin-
“Aren’t you gonna join me?” Nora asks, frowning a bit, and Hancock becomes painfully aware that he’s still three feet apart from her, fully clothed right down to his boots.
Okay. He can do this. His coat’s easy enough. He nudges his abandoned shotgun off the bed, draws one arm out of the duster, slowly, and wriggles out of the other. There. The coat’s off. He lobs it over the back of a broken chair with effected casualness, forces a wobbly grin at Nora. She’s frowning harder now, head cocked to one side.
“You okay over there, John?” she asks, because of course she couldn’t pretend he’s not quivering like Sheffield used to before Nora fixed him up in Sanctuary. He nods. A nod is good. A nod works.
“‘Course, sunshine.” Apparently words work just as well, and his voice barely wobbles. God, how has this become such a big deal? He’s undressed dozens, maybe hundreds of times in front of people. Sometimes people he was about to fuck, sometimes Fahrenheit when he wanted an impromptu cuddle. Once, very memorably, in front of Valentine when Hancock was coming down from a Psycho high and the unsuspecting detective came up the street to Hancock mooning him from the roof of a nearby house. So why is this such a big motherfuckin’ deal all of a sudden?
“Coming, don’t worry,” Hancock murmurs. Maybe she’ll fall asleep before he gets to his shirt. Maybe he can get away with sleeping in it, July heat be damned.
The hat next. She’s seen him without it before and she’s still here, isn’t she? It isn’t such a big deal that her husband had flowing mahogany curls, is it? Or that he’s seen her ruffling Danse’s hair a few times when she thought he was asleep. Not a big deal at all.
The hat comes off. It joins the coat over the chair, and Nora only grins and pats the bed next to her. Okay. He’s really doing this.
Hancock toes his boots off and crawls over to join her, mattress squeaking uncomfortably with his added weight. God knows how rotten the thing is. God knows how rotten the floorboards are. Maybe they should’ve steered clear of the second floor.
Well, falling down a storey would be a distraction at the very least.
“Hancock?” Nora’s saying, and he’s so startled by her voice that he almost topples back over the other side of the bed. She’s looking at him with a frown, a strange wiggly line creasing her brows. He wants to kiss her there, make her laugh instead, see those brown eyes light with their previous mirth. As things stand, she just looks concerned, propped up on an elbow to look at him.
“Aren’t you hot?” she asks, frown still firmly in place. It isn’t a stupid question - in the dim glow of the Pip-Boy light Hancock can just make out a thin gleam of sweat covering her even as she sits there in a bra and panties, and while he deliberates she lifts her left arm to lazily fan her face.
“Nah. Ghoul, remember, heat doesn’t bother me that much,” Hancock lies. The heat damn well does still bother him - hell, it might even be worse since that near-fatal dose of rads - but he has to tell her something. She probably skipped Ghoul Physiology 101 in the vault, anyways.
“Well, uncomfortable, then? You’ll get your shirt creased,” she tuts, plucking at the fabric.
John suppresses a shudder at her touch, still unexpected after what they’ve just witnessed, and he can’t help half-looking for some twinge of disgust in her face. He doesn’t find any, of course, only sleepiness and affection and that damn concern.
“Damn, and just before the beauty pageant, too,” Hancock jokes, breath emerging half-chuckle, half-sigh. He reaches over to peck her nose so she might lie down and they can get this sleepover done with, and succeeds in nudging her into the grubby pillow, littering a faint line of kisses down her jawline to her neck.
“I love you,” Nora whispers, one hand going to trace a path down his ribs through the shirt. It’s the heat of the moment, of course, Hancock’s been in this situation enough times to know that. Never quite expected it from her, though, not so soon after Nate and Shaun and- Still. The words steal his breath for a second, long enough for the concern to leap back into her eyes.
“Too soon?” she asks. The hand keeps stroking his back, unwavering. He waits for her to take it back, but there’s only silence.
“No,” Hancock blurts, before he can stop himself “Not at all. I- I love you too, sunshine.” That’s true, at least. Loving her comes easy as breathing. It feels like a privilege to love her, the woman who swooped in to save the Commonwealth and ended up saving him in the process.
And fuck if it ain’t cheesy, but it’s true.
They settle, eventually, after more stolen kisses and breathy whispers and Hancock’s hand sliding up to cup one of her breasts. Another yawn, this time from him, and Nora chuckles lightly.
“Time for bed, mister mayor,” she berates, a finger reaching up to tap the spot where his nose would be. (And how the fuck she can stand to touch him there when for most of the first year he couldn’t even look at the cavity in the mirror is a fucking mystery-)
“G’night, love,” Hancock breathes. She flicks off the flashlight, sending the room toppling into navy blackness. The air's so close he feels like he's gonna choke on his own tongue.
Slowly, they settle side-by-side on the mattress and Hancock listens while she breathes, wondering if now is the best time to flip onto his side so she doesn’t have to wake to the sight of his molten face and scream at the thought of another feral gotten in during the night-
“Hancock?” Nora whispers, as though the darkness demands she lower her voice, as though it senses his racing thoughts. Her fingers are scrabbling for his thigh and latch onto the fabric of his trousers there, clammy in the pitch black.
“Mmm?” he manages to reply, though the panic has become stifling in the dark. When did this become such a big deal? He’s slept next to enough fuckin’ people to be over this - hell, he was over this, years ago, but being with Nora is somethin’ else, something that makes him feel as if he’s flailing for air in rolling waves.
“You’re sweating, babe,” she says, matter-of-fact.
“You are! I can feel how hot you are, you’re practically a furnace. Why don’t you strip off?”
“I’m fine.” The answer’s curt, but he can’t help it. Panic swells at the base of his throat, stoppering up the words.
“Is something wrong?”
“Nora. I’m fine. Honest.” He can’t quite bring himself to say promise, because that’s more of a lie than he can tell. Not to her.
“Did I do something? Is it because I’m covered in feral innards?” Her tone is light, but Hancock can hear the anxiety running through the words like a damn undercurrent. His fingers scrabble for hers in the darkness.
“I’ll have you know I find that mighty attractive in a woman,” he jokes back. A sigh, then. And he knows she’s looking at him through the inky dark, can imagine her chocolate brown eyes squinting in concentration. He imagines this is the way she looked at Nate when he came back from the war, searching his prone form for some hidden tale of the trauma he kept squirrelled away from her. She’d told Hancock about him once, how he’d woken screaming from night terrors so bad she’d had to cling to him for dear life until he’d calm, rocking him through waves of pain as he wept for dead friends, how she’d tried to force him into therapy and how he’d lied to her and gone to a bar instead and come home drunk out of his mind-
Suddenly it’s all too much, the guilt of keeping her trapped outside, helpless - he can’t keep everything bottled up while she’s so fraught with concern, and it comes rushing out of him in shaky currents. He’ll feel guilty for offloading after, of course, but for now he can see her gnawing on her bottom lip even without lighting, and all of this hurts so much goddamn more than he ever thought it could.
“I just don’t want you to wake up afraid,” Hancock says. The sentence comes out in one trembly breath and for a second he isn’t sure she’ll understand. Then her own breath hitches, a pained whine escaping her lips and God of course she understands-
“Hancock,” she says. It’s almost a moan. Another breath, “Love.”
He isn’t sure what to say, whether to explain, whether to talk himself the fuck back out of this. In the end Hancock just lies there, staring up at the rotten ceiling, cursing Garvey and his stupid medieval notions of gallantry for sending them here.
“Why would I be afraid of you?”
His voice emerges an octave lower than he’d like, rough around the edges, “Look at me, sweetheart. Ain’t much difference between me an’ those zombies we’ve been hacking to pieces.”
“Hancock, you’re- There’s a huge difference. You’re human. Those poor bastards have lost their minds, they can’t help that they want to eat us.” Nora shuffles up into a sitting position, hands resting lamely in her lap, “Is that it? You think I’d mistake you for a feral and shoot you in the face before I’d woken up properly?”
“No. Nora, no. I told ya before, I wouldn’t wish waking up to this mug on anyone, much less you. I don’t want you to wake up from a nightmare or somethin’ to the middle of another one.”
“Hancock. I’ve told you a thousand times how attractive you are to me. Hell, you know you’re attractive. Folk in Goodneighbor make damn sure of that every time you walk through the gates.” She’s trembling now, Hancock can feel it. He wants to reach out, squeeze her hand, give her some sort of comfort, but then he’s the one causing all of this. He keeps his hands firmly to himself. “We kill human monsters every damn day. Don’t see me running screaming from MacCready every time we go clearing out a bunch of raiders, do ya?”
“Can’t imagine a little kid runnin’ from MacCready even with his rifle pointed right at ‘em. Guy ain’t tall enough.” Hancock hears himself say. It startles a laugh from Nora at least, and she snuggles a bit closer to him, a bit of the tension easing out of the room.
“I mean it. You don't scare me, Hancock. I think you’re beautiful. I know that I never met you before you turned Ghoul, but I honestly can’t say I’d prefer it. You’re- Everything that makes you John Hancock is right here. I know this face. I love this face.” She taps his chest, over where his heart would be, “And I love you. I told you. I don’t-“ she pauses, apparently thinking something over, “Is this why you wouldn’t get undressed?”
“There're feral limbs scattered around the bedroom, sunshine. Didn’t want to draw any unnecessary comparisons.”
She kisses him then, although he wonders how she can bear to. Woman's insane. Here Hancock is, lamenting his ruined face, and she's lost her husband and son and been plunged into an apocalyptic wasteland in one fell swoop, and she can still stand to kiss him right on the lips. Still, he kisses back like a man drowning, wondering what in hell he did to deserve this. He loves her with everything he has left in him. And despite the whining, despite the guilt, it feels like something heavy has eased off his chest a little, and the darkness ain't so stifling anymore.
"Y'know, it is pretty hot in here," Hancock has to admit a moment later, braying a sudden laugh. He can feel Nora roll her eyes even if he can't see it, and she chuckles when his fingers find her bare stomach and tickle her there.
"Why don't I help ya out of these clothes?" she whispers, one hand going to his belt while the other cups his face. She has to lean back from kissing so she can wrangle the belt off, but once she's done with that and making a fine start on unbuttoning his shirt her lips return to his, warm and pliant.
"Gorgeous," she says when he's stripped down to his underwear, so reverent he almost believes her. And this he feels strangely familiar with, back in his own territory - near naked in bed with someone. It feels so simple, like all the emotional stuff has been put on the back burner for a minute so he can just appreciate her hands tracing the lines of his ribs, like he's back on solid ground.
"Thanks, sunshine," Hancock says, and means it.
"Ain't nothin', mister mayor," she says, and he thinks she means that too.
Tomorrow they'll wake together, and she'll only kiss his face softly and maybe they'll make love, slow and soft, and the light will seep in through the broken window and neither of them will feel afraid anymore.