A few days later, they said their goodbyes. Lucy's were tearful and it stabbed at Boone's insides. Six was a lot more restrained, probably for the sake of the kid, but every so often, he caught her dabbing at the corners of her eyes with the back of her hand.

Boone felt anxious to be gone and back again. Didn't like leaving them alone in that settlement, even if they had been there safe and sound for the last near-on five years without his knowledge. He had the sense that his knowing about them and more importantly, his loving them, put them in danger. Would be just like fate to play a trick, a dirty hand, and have them snatched back out of his reach.

Upon his arrival at McCarran, Boone applied for a transfer to Sacramento Springs, the camp closest to Santiago del Mar. When they turned that down, he requested an honourable discharge. He'd pulled three tours of duty, not even counting the ones he'd done the first time around, before leaving for Novac. It wasn't unreasonable.

Word got around the base. It was inevitable that folks would start ribbing him. Bitter Root was so pissed off about it, he wouldn't talk to him unless he had to and then it was just the bare minimum. One word demands. Questions levelled at him in a flat voice. Passive-aggressive shit like 'accidentally' spilling water all over Boone's gear or disappearing in the middle of a debriefing and not returning 'til it was over. Boone couldn't even complain about it to Major Dhatri because he needed the guy's good word for his discharge and everybody knew Bitter Root was practically Dhatri's adopted son.

Corporal Betsy was probably the worst for razzing him.

"You're back with that Six woman, right? Goddamn, Boone. Don't know how an ugly motherfucker like you gets to go home to a fine piece of ass like that. More evidence the world ain't fair."

"Hey, that's the mother of my kid. Show some respect."

He knew she was just doing it to bug him and 'cause it made Jack o' Spades crack up every time. Betty had a girl of her own back in Vegas, one of them fancy showgirls, and she never shut up about her, even if the official NCR line was 'don't ask, don't tell', with a heavy emphasis on the 'don't tell' part of the equation. She had pictures of the broad taped up all over the inside of her footlocker and it didn't take much encouragement for her to start passing them around, even the ones that were clearly meant to be private.

"I'm showin' Six plenty of respect," Betty said. "You want me to act like she isn't a sweet bit of trim?"

"C-c-careful now, B-bets," Jack cut in. "You're m-making him embarrassed."

"I want you both just to shut up," Boone said. "Just don't talk about it, alright? Goddamn, but I'm glad I'm getting out here. Sick to death of you jokers."

That wasn't true, not entirely. While he knew it was time to go, it was hard to give up First Recon and all the memories that came with it. He found himself thinking about Manny more than he had in years, wishing he'd stuck around the funeral the townspeople had held for him out in Novac. He'd been in the army since the day that he'd realized he could lie about his age on a recruitment form. Spent most of his life in uniform. Nowadays, when he felt the urge to lie about his age, the numbers went in the opposite direction.

When Major Dhatri called him into his tent, the man was frowning under his beard, which didn't bode well.

"Sorry, Sergeant. Just received word back from High Command. We still need you, at least for another couple months. They have another a big offensive planned out East and there've been stirrings of trouble here in the Mojave. Brotherhood. Followers. The usual. We can't spare you yet."

"Look, I can't do another couple of months. If I'm here now, it's because I've got no choice in the matter. Another couple of months...look, I got a kid. I can't be away for that long."

"There're a lot of soldiers with families, Boone. I know you've got some special circumstances, but they aren't that special. Not when we need manpower."

"My wife – I mean, the woman I'm going to marry – she's a war hero. General Oliver pinned the medal on her jacket himself. Doesn't that mean something?"

"If Oliver were still in charge, maybe it would. But they've put him to pasture now and as I hear it, your Courier Six doesn't get along with General Moore. Even if High Command cared – and they don't – nobody's going to be inclined to do you any special favours."

It like there was a vein swelling behind his right eye. It made him twitchy. "This is fucking ridiculous."

As soon as he'd blurted it out, Boone regretted opening his mouth. Dhatri was an understanding guy, but he didn't take shit from anybody, especially not subordinates.

"Watch it, Sergeant. That's not the tone you want to use with me. Even if I agree."

"Sorry, sir. It's just...I been doing this for a long time. I like to think I've always been a decent soldier. Doesn't seem right."

"Look, my advice to you is, stick it out. Wait another couple of months and let your number go through the lottery. See what comes up. Even if you're out of luck, you can just ride out this tour. Get yourself married and go home when you're on leave. Your woman back home may be a civilian, but she's seen enough of army life to know how it goes."

It was a fair response. Boone could how other guys might be able to live with that. He just...couldn't. It wasn't in him.

"And how about my kid? Don't know how I'm supposed to explain it. She was bawling her eyes out when I left. If I stick around here much longer, I don't know what she's going to think."

"Again, I'm sorry, Sergeant, but you signed on for this. You didn't have to re-enlist."

Dhatri went back to sorting through the papers on his desk, a clear signal that the conversation was over.

"Fine. If that's how it's got to be," Boone said. "Guess I'll figure something out. Anyway, thanks. For breaking it gentle-like. Know it wasn't your call."

"Not a problem, Sergeant. Sympathize with your situation."

Boone straightened his spine, clicked his heels together and offered up a more serious salute than he had in a long time. "Sir."

"Dismissed, Sergeant."

Dismissed, but not discharged. The thought was enough to drive him squirrelly. Time was, he would've liked nothing better than to get shipped out East to fight the tail end of the Legion or to get sent down South to keep the Brotherhood in line. He'd never been so crazy about going after Followers, but it was worse now, when his family with them.

Packed up his stuff – the rings, the new suit he'd bought on the Strip, a couple souvenirs of First Recon he couldn't live without. When he walked out the front gates of McCarran, he ran into one of the new recruits, a kid he'd vetted for a chance at First Recon.

"Hey, Sergeant." The kid gave him a half-assed salute, knowing Boone wasn't all that big on rank, still liked to think of himself as an average grunt. "Where you off to?"

"Just going out for a smoke."

As soon as Boone said it, he realized his mistake. He was carrying too much shit around to just be heading out for a cigarette or two. The kid looked at him funny, noting the gear on his back, but he didn't say anything about it. "Okay. Have a good one, Sir."


It took him another two weeks to walk back to Santiago del Mar. At last, he went trudging up the steps to Six's house and knocked on the door. It was getting to be about evening and with any luck, she and Lucy were at home, probably just finishing their supper. The thought of a home-cooked meal warmed him and made his stomach complain. He'd been eating mostly hard tack and cans of Cram, typical rations for desert patrols.

Six didn't answer right away and so he straightened up the flowers he'd picked off the side of the highway. They were yellow, with black in the middle, not exactly a dozen roses, but he figured she would appreciate the effort. He'd wrecked some of the petals as he'd walked along with them and a couple of the taller ones were starting to wilt.

The door peeled open and there she was, wearing a simple house dress. The kerchief tied around her head seemed to suggest she'd been cleaning.

"Craig. Sorry. I wasn't...expecting you." She tugged the kerchief off her head. "The house is a mess..."

"Of course, it is. You've been working."

He handed her the flowers and she looked at them in disbelief.

"I know it isn't the prettiest bouquet in the world," he explained. "But I, uh, tried."

"It's lovely." Six stuck her nose into the bouquet and wound up sneezing.

"Daddy! Daddy!" Lucy came barrelling out from behind her mother and grabbed his pant leg. "You back!"

He crouched down and hugged the kid. He'd never done that before and it felt good. "Yep. Not going anywhere."

"Are they transferring you somewhere nearby?" Six asked.

"Uh, not exactly."

"What's that mean?"

"I applied for an honourable discharge. Didn't get it. I had to arrange my own transfer and it...wasn't so honourable."

"Craig...you deserted?"

"I guess that's what they'll call it."

Six looked like she was mightily tempted to swear. She clamped a hand down over her mouth until the urge passed.

"Why did you do that? We could've waited. You've given enough years to that unit. A few more months wouldn't be such a big deal."

"I needed to be here. Needed to make sure...you guys are okay."

He could see her reminding herself to take a breath, to take everything one step at a time. She cradled the flowers between her hands, careful not to knock off any more of the petals.

"I get it. C'mon in. You must've had a long trip. We'll figure out a way around this. I still have a few friends in high places. I'll write General Hsu and see what can be done." She sighed just thinking about it. He knew she didn't like to go asking anyone for favours, especially not the NCR. "They should've let you go. You've given enough."

"That was my thinking. Figured they'd cut me a little slack, but I guess there's none to give. Forces are stretched pretty thin out there."

"Are they?" she said. "Good news. Maybe they can go back to fighting Fiends and the Legion and stop picking fights with every Follower they see."

They set off for the registry office the next morning, a little building 5 miles south in the settlement of Dorado. Boone wore his new suit. Six had stated upfront that she would not be wearing white unless she was in her lab coat, seeing as she was a legitimate doctor and a very unconvincing virgin.

"Let's face it, I'm not fooling anyone in that regard," she said. "Even if I wanted to."

Six wound up wearing a dress that Boone hadn't seen before, navy blue with white polka dots, cinched at the waist. She looked gorgeous in it and exactly like herself, and once the honeymoon rolled around, he thought it'd look even better crumpled on the floor.

The length of the trip meant they had to leave Lucy in Calpurnia's care, but the kid seemed to sense that something was out-of-the-ordinary.

"What you doing?"

"We're getting married," Boone told her.

He was in good spirits, relieved to finally be making things honest. Six might be one of those bohemian types who seemed to think holy matrimony was just a formality, but he'd been taught different. He wanted the piece of paper. He wanted everything to be official.

"Mwarried?" Lucy seemed more puzzled by this word than by her mother's medical terminology. "Why?"

"Because that's what mommies and daddies do."

"Except usually they do it before they start popping out babies," Six said, smirking.

Boone gave her a startled look. The subject of where babies come from was not one he'd been expecting her to broach in front of Lucy. They'd already set the kid a bad example and that precedent was going to bite him in the ass if he ever tried to lay down the law about "no sex before marriage" in Lucy's teen years. Of course, he'd have to discuss that with Six. He had the feeling her advice to Lucy would be more along the lines of "eat, drink and be merry" and "speak softly, but carry a very big stick".

On the road to the registration office, he took Six's hand and she smiled at him, lacing her fingers through his.

"If it's okay with you, Craig, I'd like to hyphenate."

Boone wasn't even sure he knew what that meant. Probably some newfangled invention of the Followers. He found that if a word had too many syllables in it, it was usually something those eggheads had made up to confuse him.

"Hyphenate? I don't know what that is, but it'll make you happy, then it's alright by me."

"Don't say 'yes' before you understand it, though. It's kind of...modern and you may not like it."

Six proceeded to explain how certain Pre-War books she'd read had argued that the tradition of a woman taking a man's name might not be good for equality between the sexes. It was like being a possession, they said, and in a new age, where women were not slaves to the household, it might be wise for a female to consider keeping her name or putting a hyphen (a little line) between her name and that of her intended partner.

"If we hyphenate the names, nobody has to give anything up. It doesn't have to be some kind of power-struggle."

Boone mulled it over, gripping her hand all the more tightly while he thought out the consequences. On one hand, he'd always been kind of fond of the idea that his wife would take his name. He wanted to be able to lay a claim on her, especially if any other men might be stupid enough to come circling.

On the other hand, he could understand why Six might not want to give up her name. She'd lost her freedom before and now she wanted equality. Boone-O'Shaughnessy. O'Shaughnessy-Boone. Kind of a mouthful, especially for a kid like Lucy, but she'd tough it out.

"Sure. Let's do the hyphen thing. You want it, you got it."

In return for the long name, he earned a long kiss. It seemed like a fair deal.

Six returned from the honeymoon with her marriage license, a shiny new ring on her finger and a fresh new tattoo on her back. The tattoo radiated outward, from the center of her spine to her shoulder blades, black ink curling over her skin in long tendrils.

When her clothes shifted against her skin, the tattoo ached, a reminder of her hours under the needle. It was a good kind of hurt, like the lingering soreness between her thighs, a result of her hours under the newly minted Mr. Craig Boone-O'Shaughnessy on their honeymoon night.

Boone had also decided to get inked, but his tattoo was much more subtle: two small numbers on the inside of his wrist – 6, 7.

Six had joked that he'd better leave room unless they broke the condom again and had an 8 and a 9 and Boone had deadpanned that he'd just continue listing numbers onto his forearm and that, if they were feeling real ambitious they could go all the way to his elbow.

In fact, he'd been so deadpan about it, she wasn't entirely sure he'd been kidding. But hopefully he was. She might be okay with a sister or a brother for Lucy, but she didn't plan on changing diapers for numbers 9 through 13.

Six's own tattoo had taken more time, not simply because its size and intricacy, but because it'd been done around the scars on her back, the letters 'VI' that Vulpes Inculta had carved there so long ago. The marks had faded to a shiny whitish-pink, but the skin had never been stitched together properly and so it'd healed unevenly, with crooked seams, upraised flesh that she could still read with her fingers. The tattoo grew out of this scar, a lush garden, its inky black vines hung with morningglories.

She'd chosen it with the intention of obscuring the scars, so that, at midnight, her husband would have something better to look at than another man's name carved into her back (the name of his rival and yet, in a strange way, also his unknowing ally, because Six doubts she would've said more than a few words to Craig back in Novac if they hadn't been united in their hatred of Legion). She'd thought that the tattoo would make the scars less noticeable, but the effect was something altogether different.

Instead of distracting from the scars, the tattoos had incorporated them into a grander and more intricate design. Looking at it, one couldn't forget the scars but one could see them in a wider perspective. Terrible things had happened. People had died – people she'd loved, people she'd hated, people who'd deserved better, people who'd deserved worse, people she'd never even met. Six had wasted years on vengeance and fool pride and made mistakes that she'd never be able to take back. And yet, in spite of all that, there was goodness and there was something left to hope for, something better than just surviving to the next sunrise.

She was lucky. More fortunate than she'd ever have guessed.

And so it was that the Courier, who'd escaped a grave in Goodsprings, survived the Lottery at Nipton and broke free of a Legion slave collar, laid down her vengeance at last and began a new life, finding fulfillment in her work and comfort in her family.

Although the NCR continued to interfere in the affairs of the Followers of the Apocalypse, the truce held steady and Six never found cause to use Yes Man to activate New Vegas' Securitron army.

It was only years later, after the deaths of the Courier and the sniper, that their children would witness the clash of armies in the Mojave and see the NCR weakened in its conflict with the Eastern powers.

It would be the quiet boy called Nine, not the clever girl Eight or bold, strange Seven, who would stumble upon his mother's secret defense and convince the Followers of the Northwest and their allies to cede from the NCR.

In this new world of the reclaimed West, fighting continued, blood was spilled, and many lived and died – just as they had in the Old World. Because war...war never changes.