There are a lot of reasons why it's better for Boone to walk behind the Courier.
Tactically, it doesn't hurt. He's trained as a sniper, and ED-E alerts them of any dangers ahead of them. The Courier can dispatch any enemies with their six guns, plasma rifle, or cowboy repeater. What they don't take down, he takes out with his rifle.
At least part of it is an attempt to assuage the guilt he feels. He had seen the Courier injured before, but he didn't think he would have to see them nearly die. In hindsight, he probably should have-he was cursed, after all.
The Courier had told him he wasn't cursed. That no one was punishing him. He didn't know if he believed that yet.
He didn't hear anything when the Courier had slipped down the cliff. He agonized over that day-wondering if he had heard something and just ignored it. A shuffling of rocks, a scream or shout. But there had been nothing.
He had just kept walking, the Courier's chirping little robot at his side. Even he didn't know when he had noticed the Courier's absence.
When he had finally found them, it had nearly been too late. All his field medical training seemed to go out the window when he saw the Courier laying broken in the ravine. He had used so many stimpacks on them, they nearly died of stim sickness.
But they didn't. Hard to kill, or something. He tried to pull away after that, tried to piss off the Courier so they'd hate him.
They didn't hate him.
Maybe they just didn't know how.
The Courier drags him all over the Mojave and he follows and watches their back.
He doesn't know how that became how he feels now. He's never been good with emotions anyway.
It isn't something he knows how to handle, so he decides to ignore it. He doesn't want it. The Courier is his friend, not Carla. And for him, it was only ever Carla.
Watching the Courier's back desn't keep them from being taken from him, not any more than it prevents them from getting into trouble. He was behind them when they were knocked out and taken away.
But he was there when they returned and he helped them put their peices back together. It would be easier to just let both of them fall apart. It would be easier to deprieve themselves simply because it's too much work to do anything else. Too much work to eat or drink.
Instead, he makes an effort. It isn't easy, but he isn't alone. In time, they grow to being two individuals who want to live. They always were a bunch of problem solvers.
Once, after he and Arcade had convinced the Courier it was safe to rest for a time, Arcade had said something to him.
"It's rotten work, taking care of them."
"Not if it's them. Not to me."
Arcade smirked at them like he had won something in this exchange. Boone ignored him. Whatever Arcade thought that admission-that he cared about the Courier-proved meant nothing.
He was just trying to keep his friend alive.
The Courier has gone to meet someone from their past. They've gone somewhere he can not follow, just as they had been kidnapped away to the Sierra Madre, abducted to the Big MT. Only, this time he's chosen not to follow.
Whatever the Courier finds-if it ends up being the home they had forgotten-he'd rather they didn't have to worry about him.
When the Courier does return, they run to him and grab him in a hug faster than he can react. They burrow into his chest in a way that would have been intrusive if it was anyone but them.
"I misssed you!" they mumble into his armor. "You won't believe-"
But before they can finish, their little robot is beeping so frantically to get their attention. The Courier's arms drop and they take a step back from him, seemingly embarrassed by their affections.
As the Courier and ED-E engage in a conversation Boone can only half understand, he looks out into the desert to compose himself. That's when he sees it first. A glint of something out in the sands.
Initially, he has no idea what it could be. His eyesight's sharp, but not that sharp. It doesn't look like Legion, so he doesn't shoot it.
The Courier is so proud of their new name. It's taken from an Old World battle, and someone had given it to them.
Boone thinks its a mouthful. It takes some time for him to adjust. He had been so used to refering to them as Six or just Courier. Eventually, he decides to just shorten it to Tie.
It's not because he's stupid, no matter what Arcade says. Antietam just takes too long to say.
The name wasn't the only thing Tie had brought back with them. Their bounty-hunter attire is retired in favor of a blue duster with an Old World flag on the back. It certainly makes them stand out against the Mojave.
The Glint he had sighted back in Novac didn't disappear. It followed them. Boone is fairly certain it's a person, but he can't gage their intent or why they are following them. He's fairly certain it's non-hostile-they had plenty of opportunities to kill both of them.
New Vegas looms large in front of them. There's business to be settled here, he knows, but it isn't his.
Instead of tracking down the man who stole their life and shot them in the head, Tie seems happy enough to serve as errand runner for Freeside.
Maybe that's why they had originally became a courier. The reason why doesn't matter much to them any more.
No matter how silly or monotonous a job seems, Tie is willing to complete it. They do a day's work for the Van Graff's and Boone can't help but stand a little closer to them after the attempted bombing.
The King certainly appreciates their work. He tells them as much, bringing Antietam to his room to discuss some task or another The King sent them out on.
He sits down on his stupid bed-what kind of a bed is that-and insists the Courier do the same. Boone stays standing, frowning a mile a minute.
"Darlin', could ya ask your soldier boy to wait outside a minute? I think we oughta have a discussion without an audience."
Boone has seen Antietam face hoards of Legion assassains without fear. He's seen them struggle to recover after whatever they saw in the Sierra Madre. Right now, he doesn't think that they want to be left alone with The King.
"Body guards work better if they're in the same room." Boone says, and leaves it at that.
"I guess, if the Courier trust ya that's enough for me." The King looks him sharply in the eye.
"Thank you." Tie says, but Boone knows that was for him. If his blood wasn't full of rage, he might be smilling right now.
When they return to their room at the Wrangler-not without Beautrice and Old Ben trying to offer their services to Antietam-the Courier says "You're not a body guard. You know that, right?"
"You didn't want to be alone with him." Boone says in response.
"T-That's not-I didn't want to be seperated from you."
And then they pretend that conversation didn't happen. They go to sleep, and their room at the Wrangler only has the one bed. It's not all that awkward, and Boone was just thankful that Tie wanted to sleep. in the morning, they get up and head off on some other grand adventure.
This time, it's investigating what's wrong with the water at the NCR Sharecropper farms. The Glint darts closer to them than it normally strays.
Close enough for Boone to get a decent look at it. It's a man.
He moves a little like a Legion man, but he doesn't look like one of Caesar's. His duster is the same as the one Tie brought back back from the Divide.
Tie never had told him too much about the Divide. He sort of expected that. They didn't speak about the Sierra Madre or the Big MT, or even about their trip to Zion unless he asked.
Small talk has never been his strong suit. Arcade, the nosy guy, would be much better at getting this sort of stuff from them.
"Your duster's new." He says casually.
"Yeah. Ulysses gave it to me." They respond.
"Ulysses...What's that guy like?" He asks.
Antietam thought for a moment and then answered.
"He's the strongest man I've ever met. Eyes like a hawk, really skilled in hunting and tracking."
Boone hugged his riffle a little tighter. It was a massive weapon, one lovingly assembled by Tie. He puzzles over that, and then decides that was what he meant. Antietam had lovingly assembled the Anti-Material Rifle for him, handing over dozens of caps to the Gun Runners for peices and parts for it. Any time he started to run low on ammo, Tie handed him another box of .50. They didn't have to, but he always appreciated it.
"Huh." Strongest man they've ever met, huh? An incrediably stupid idea forms in his head. "Hey, Tie, do you think I can carry you?"
"W-What? Don't be stupid-I'm carrying a bunch of gear right now."
"I could do it. Who do you think carried you out of the ravine?" He answered defensively.
"I'm not saying you couldn't do it. I'm saying you shouldn't." Tie settled their beret, and then fixed their pin in their hair. It glinted a little in the sun. "Who are you trying to show off for? There's no one around."
They were heading into a vault. Boone hated vaults.
Dwellers themselves were alright, but if there was a vault where people worked together and Vault-Tec didn't shoot them in the foot by drugging them or something, it wasn't in the Mojave. Boone still thought about the spore-creatures.
This vault isn't any different from other vaults. It's partially flooded, and Tie's geiger counter keeps on beeping.
"Alrright, I'm going to dive down now." Tie says as they stand over a flooded section of the vault. They loved water, always seemed so transfixed and mystified by large bodies of water. Only, they didn't seem to like being in the water all that much. Boone had asked once, and the Courier had just said "Have you ever been buried alive?" and left it at that.
Antietam is not very good at swimming. It's not all that surprising-most bodies of water are too tainted for swimming.
They strip down to their underclothes, all lanky limbs and scars on show. Handing their beret and duster to Boone and removing their boots, they strap on their rebreather. The spurrs of their boots clack against the ground as they wade into the flooded chamber.
He hates waiting for the Courier to reemerge. Anything could go wrong and they would be unable to defend themselves. Eyes on the water, watching for any disturbance, he thinks about something else.
He hasn't seen The Glint since they entered the Vault. Maybe it didn't follow them down here. He'll bring it up when the Courier resurfaces. It should be any second now, but that doesn't stiffle the feeling that they've been down there too long.
Shit. Maybe they ran into an issue with their rebreather. He knew that was a peice of junk. He drops TIe's clothing and is frantically taking off his boots when the Courier rises from the water.
"Christ, Tie. Don't scare me like that."
Antietam drops a handful of ammo on the vault flooring.
"Sorry. Didn't mean to. I found a lock box at the bottom, but I knew I couldn't get it back up to the surface so I popped the lock. " The Courier wrings a little water out of their hair. "Should have done this part last, huh? I'm soaked through."
It's when they leave Vault 34, sick with rads, that he brings up The Glint. He's looking directly at The Glint.
"Do you see that? Do you ever feel like something is watching you?"
"Yeah? I got you, don't I?"
"That's not what I meant."
As Arcade treats their radiation sickness, Boone watches for The Glint.
It was better if he did this alone, he reasoned. He felt uneasy leaving the Courier, especially while they were sleeping, but he knew that there was little threat of anything getting into their room at the Wrangler.
He was facing the real threat: whoever was following them. That, and however sore Tie was going to be if they woke up and found him missing.
The Glint was on the roof of a building adjacent to the Wrangler. His focus on his quarry is stedfast. The Glint doesn't move.
The Glint turns out to be a man, as he had thought. The man isn't anyone he recognizes, but he recognizes the duster the man is shrouded in.
This must be Ulysses, he thinks, although his evidence is shallow at best. Ulysses-if this is him-is sleeping with a hunter's awareness. The Mojave night is warm, and Boone walks away from that roof.
He isn't sneaking. If the man wakes, he wakes. He's fairly sure that Ulysses is no enemy of the Courier, not with how fondly they had spoke of him.
A few days later, the Courier leaves without warning. Leaves of their own volition-not abducted-this time. Comes back in an Old World suit, eyes red from crying. Before he or Arcade could ask what's wrong or why they left, Antietam is pulling the researcher into a hug, muttering some story.
Arcade removes the Courier, holding them at arm's length.
"Hold on, I can't understand you when you're muttering like that. You did what?"
The Courier can't meet Arcade's eyes and is definitely avoiding Boone's gaze.
"I said, I went to go settle things with Benny."
"Ah, yes. The man who shot you in the head. Well, he doesn't appear to have finished the job. You aren't hurt, right?"
"No, it didn't come to that. I'm alright." They find something fascinating in the dirt of their nails. "Reputation might have taken a hit though."
"What did you do, Antietam?" Arcade was something like the Courier's brother, and he often had reason to be concerned for them.
"Tried to seduce Benny."
Arcade looks at Antietam for a second, like he's sure he's heard wrong.
"Sorry, run that by me again?"
"I tried to seduce Benny."
Arcade inhales deeply, and then sighs. He rakes a hand over his face.
"Why? Where did you even get that idea?"
"I thought it was the best way to get him alone! I wasn't going to do anything!" They still aren't looking Arcade in the eye-too afraid to see disappointment. "It didn't work anyway."
"What were you going to do? Talk to him? He tried to kill you!" Arcade says. And then he snaps. "It's your life anyway. Just don't come crying to me when you make a mess of it. Although it seems you already have."
Boone does not say anything. He just doesn't know what to say. This was not a situation he had ever anticipated. He's mainly just shocked by the Courier's actions, and by the blinding fury of his own jealousy. That's probably a thread, but he's doing his best to not pull at it.
"Arcade.." Antietam tries, but Arcade responds with a quick. "Just go to bed, Courier. We'll talk in the morning."
Dejectedly, the Courier climbs into the Wrangler's lone bed and tries to sleep.
"Trying to seduce the man who shot them in the head. What will they think of next?" Arcade mutters , more to himself than to Boone. "It's late. You can take the floor."
In the morning, Antietam wakes up in bed with their brother and their fight the prior evening seems less severe. They get up, get dressed and head over to Mick and Ralph's for odds and ends. New Vegas was a grand place, sure, but it wasn't somewhere Antietam could live. All the lights hurt their head, for one.
Another gift from Benny, packaged in lead wrapping paper. As the Courier steps out they are accosted by Vulpes Inculta. He isn't dressed as he was as a Nipton, but the Courier's reflexes take over and they draw their sixgun.
"Patience, Courier." He says, and then bestows the Mark of Caesar upon them. Antietam instantly feels worse for it, craving a bath if only to wash this man off of them.
The Wrangler doesn't have such amenities, but it does have Boone and Arcade. Two of their favorite people, and the support Antietam happens to need at the moment.
Already, a plan is forming in their head. Barely a step outside of the Wrangler, blood pooling at their feet, they turn and reenter the building.
James Garret tries to get their attention-maybe for work, maybe because he heard of Benny's rejection. It doesn't matter to them at the moment. With the mark burning a hole in their hand, they climb the stairs to their room.
"Antietam, your hands are looking rather empty. Did you forget your caps or something?" Arcade says, smiling at the Courier.
Antietam doesn't say anything, walking up to the table and dropping the medallion. Arcade examines it, eyes wide.
"I got the Mark of Caesar."
"They just gave it to me because they're impressed with my work."
"You have killed a fair number of their men."
"Yeah, we're a bunch of problem solvers."Boone chimes in.
"Yeah, we are. Anyway, that's not all. They invited me up there-to their fortress-so I can meet with Caesar." Antietam was smirking. Pointing a finger at Boone, they asked him. "Say, what do you think about wiping out the Legion's Fort, huh?"
"I'd say we're outnumbered." Boone responded, a grin growing on his face despite their very apparent outnumberedness.
"But we've got the element of surprise?"
"Sure, we'd have to be something awfully stupid to try and attack the fort with three men." Arcade added.
"We can probably stop by McCarran on the way, see if Col. Hsu can spare any men for the attack. First recon hasn't left for Forlorn Hope yet, yeah?"
"You head out to McCarran and they'll keep you there all day. "
"I can run errands for Hsu if it gets us men." Antietam responded. "I took care of their messenger, so we should be have some time."
The Courier stretched, and then got to work preparing for their trek across the Mojave and their upcoming battle with the Legion.
It was stupid, and he had a million other things to do, but Boone had an idea. He looked over at Antietam, who was currently comparing different side arms. They put Cram-Opener to the side. Really, they weren't much of a melee or unnarmed fighter, but Little Buster had been something like a friend to the Courier.
"Tie?" He asked, and they looked over at him, putting down their weapons. "Remember how I said I could pick you up?"
"Yeah, but I-"
"You aren't carrying any gear right now." He stepped forward, pulled his friend into a secure hold. It wasn't all that difficult, even if he and Antietam were about the same height. "Told you I could do it."
"Yes, you're looking exceptionally virile." Arcade said, narrowing his eyes at the duo. "Put Antietam down so they can get packed."
Boone rolled his eyes, but put Antietam down.
It was a fast enough walk to Camp McCarran. Hsu, for once, didn't have a grocer's list of errands for them. He was mostly surprised to see them.
Antietam explained their situation and their plan to attack the fort.
"The mark of Caesar? You never cease to surprise, Courier." Col. Hsu never referred to the Courier by name. For what reason, Boone didn't know and didn't really care. "Regardless, we can't spare the men. We just diverted some of our forces to Bittersprings, and the First Recon left for Camp Forlorn Hope this morning. Even if we could, we shouldn't place military troops in the hands of a civilian."
The Courier had fought and seized Nelson from the Legion. Had the NCR forgotten that? But the Courier bites their tongue.
"Yes, I suppose that would be the case. I guess we'll have to take care of Caesar ourselves, huh? Alright, I'll be back to collect the bounty on that-there is a bounty, right?"
"I'm sure we can rustle up something." Hsu said, although it was evident from his tone that he did not think he would see the Courier again. "Goodbye, Courier. Thank you for everything."
"So that was a bust." Arcade said as they exited McCarran.
"It was a long shot anyway. Couple of hours walk to the fort." Antietam said, settling their bag on their shoulder. They had dressed for a fight, assassain suit concealed by their duster, beret on their head, and Arcade's pin in their hair. "Yeah, I recon it's probably about several hundred men against the three of us. Uh, that's the thing. Y'all don't have to go with me. It's likely that we would die or worse and I-"
"And what, leave you to take on the Legion by yourself? I'm going with you, and if we go down, we'll take as many of them with us as we can." Boone said. In a quieter voice, he added "And if you get captured..."
His voice trailed off, but they both knew. Arcade was walking ahead of them a little. Antietam nodded, a consent to things that were too awful to say aloud.
"I'll do the same for you." Either that, or die fighting like hell to get him out. "It might not come to a direct confrontation. I've got a couple packs of C4. Could lay those around the camp, set 'em off. I have some stealth-boys too, if you wanna try that."
"A dozen packs of C4, and 4 stealthboys. Not exactly a surplus. Could stop and get mines too. Didn't think to bring any."
As they walked, he scanned the horizon, looking for any sign of trouble. He knew Ulysses was following them, but he didn't anticipate any fight with him.
All the confusion and jealousy of the prior night had been forgotten in the wake of the Courier's plan to attack the Fort. It certainly had been a wild day.
They reach the Fort via the Cottonwood Cove waterway. Arcade elects to stay behind at the Cove and to send reinforcements if they don't return in time.
But miraculously, they survive. Caesar is dead, and the Courier is victorious. It's almost certainly the heat of the battle getting to his head, but Boone wants to kiss Antietam. Badly.
He settles for picking the Courier up and spinning around. They're both laughing, a rich thing in the air between them, half drunk on victory.
Someone's voice cuts through their reverie.
"Say, wouldn't you let a guy loose, baby? At least before you start macking on each other?"
Shit, had they forgotten someone? He thought they had cleared the camp. Weapons drawn, they quickly find the speaker. It's a man in a checkered suit.
"Oh, if it isn't my baby! Come to rescue me, huh?" Despite the heavy bruising on his face, he smirks and it's almost half charming. "Told them you'd come for me. Just couldn't get enough of me?"
"I didn't know you had left Vegas." Tie says quickly, shutting him down. The man's face fell.
"So what was all that then? Business as usual?"
"Just about, yeah."
"Tie, you know this man?" Boone asked.
"Not really. This is Benny, y'know the one who shot me in the head. What are you doing here, actually?"'
"You gonna untie me if I tell you? What kind of a name is Tie anyway?"
"A good one." They said, feeling their energy level begin to wane as they spoke with Benny. They just didn't make guides on how to speak with your would-be murderer who you tried and failed to seduce. "I'll think about it. Why are you here?"
"Those bullets must have scrambled your egg pretty good." Benny said. "What's it look like? I got captured sneaking into the fort."
"You want me to take care of this guy for you?" Boone said.
"Oh, come on, baby! You can't still be sore at me."
"Where's the platinum chip?"
"Caesar's got it. Or had it, considering he's probably worm food now. Baby, you don't know what-"
"Stop calling Tie your baby." Boone snapped.
"Bye, Benny." Antietam pulled a switchblade from their pocket and slashed his restraints.
"You're letting him go?"
"I don't care any more. Let's get the chip and loot and then head back to McCarran."
"What kind of bounty do you think Hsu rustled up?"
"None, probably. Still, we killed Caesar. Won't end the Legion, but it's a blow for sure."
"Sounds like what Ulysses would say. C'mon, let's get back to Arcade before he calls for the cavalry."
ED-E beeped cheerfully, and Boone smiled a little. Just a little.
As they walked through the river, Antietam stopped and then wrapped their arms around him.
"Thanks. For everything, y'know?"
"Yeah, sure, Tie."
Wounded and tired, they made their way back.
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