Gunnar ground his teeth together and stomped down the dark path from the camp. He says one goddamn word I'm going to kill him. I swear it.
It didn't matter that he hadn't really wanted to do anything much with Dr. Richards. That might not have sat well, but Gunnar now realized he hadn't wanted to even be there except that Alex had wanted him there and obviously desired him, and Gunnar desperately needed affection now. But maybe he and Alex could have come to some agreement, but he'd never know, would he, since it was unlikely he'd be welcome back anytime soon after being escorted out of camp for disturbing the peace.
Go ahead, Boone. Say one word. Just do it so I can shoot you.
Boone had also been escorted out, and he now walked several steps behind Gunnar. They'd been given their belongings, and a firm and hearty "don't come back for a while". Nobody wanted a lovers’ screaming match in the middle of a war camp.
Least of all me. Goddammit.
There was only one way down, and no way to outrun Boone in the night, down a hill, without a good chance of trip-and-fall and possibly breaking a bone. So Gunnar ground his teeth some more and kept moving, letting his fury drive him to the fastest pace the trail would allow. He could hear Boone's footsteps, but the man had the sense, or dumb luck, to not say anything right now.
Gunnar stopped to get his bearings and look at the time. Late at night. Great time to be out walking around in the wilderness with someone you were mad at.
He didn't need Boone. He'd traveled the Mojave by himself, with a recovering head injury, and he'd survived. Of course he hadn't been stalked by Legion assassins and who knew what other people gunning for his head. But the point was still the same. He'd get to the nearest town and find someone else to travel with, just to be safe, and then he'd get on his way.
Keep walking, keep on the move, get farther away from Camp Lost Hope and Ruined Reputation. Gunnar kept seething the whole way, and woe to the unfortunate geckos that crossed his path. The barn gun was on his back, but the Duzi was in his hand and firing as soon as he saw them. Of course his accuracy still wasn't that great, but at close range he didn't need to be too accurate, as long as he didn't mind the critter blown into tiny gobs instead of remaining a useful carcass. Gunnar didn't care right now.
The walking eventually used up much of his anger, and it was now very late. He'd have to stop for sleep soon, but he told himself he could push on to Novac and sleep in his own room there, without fear, because that door had a lock.
Still Boone said nothing, just shadowed him the whole way back. Gunnar determined he wasn't going to give in. He was going to reach Novac, get to his room, and then collapse on the bed and not come out for at least a day.
And collapse would be right; he'd been up an awful long time now, and false dawn was on the horizon. His steps had slowed, but if he kept up the pace he'd still make it there just fine.
For the first time he looked back at Boone as he walked. "Don't you have somewhere else to go?" Gunnar snapped.
Boone didn't answer. Gunnar faced forward again.
"I thought we were going our own ways now," Gunnar said, and let his voice be bitter. "That's what you said, wasn't it?"
"I — "
Gunnar stopped and turned to face Boone full on. "Yes?"
Boone hesitated. "I made a mistake," he said at last.
"Yeah. I… was trying to tell you, I wouldn't… I wouldn't stand in your way if you went to him."
"You could've fooled me. You said I could go my own way. As in, we're not traveling together any more. And even if you mean that, you didn't exactly stay out of my way, did you!"
"No. I didn't mean that. Gunn. Just… stop talking and let me tell you. Please."
Gunnar took a deep breath, set his jaw, and nodded.
"I made a mistake. That mistake was… not… not staying with you." Gunnar could see Boone's nervous body language against the starlit sky. "I realized it. You said even if we make mistakes, we should try to make up for them."
Oh, damn, he's going to use my words against me. But most of the anger faded, if not the resentment, and Gunnar kept his tongue.
"I'm sorry." Those two words had more emotion than Gunnar had heard in Boone's voice in some time. Boone paused so long that Gunnar wondered if he was done, but then the sniper spoke again. "I want to stay with you. I realized it tonight. I know everything went to hell. I… want to be with you." He took off his beret and ran a hand over the still-short dark hair. "If you'll take me back."
Gunnar wanted to throw it all back in his face. You dumped me, remember? You broke my heart! Why should I give you a third chance?
He didn't say those things, though he wanted to. He forced his fists to unclench. "I don't want to get hurt again," he said at last.
"Neither do I."
"I mean it."
"So do I."
"You said I don't know about love," Gunnar said, feeling lightheaded and like if he didn't move, he'd fly apart. "But I do know. I know that I used to have it, and I need it, and I want it back. And so help me — " He stopped before he might say something he couldn't take back.
"Yeah. I… I know." Boone put his beret back on. "I threw it away, before I understood. I won't do that again. I swear it."
"I want to believe you."
For the first time in the conversation Boone looked offended. "I never lied to you."
That was truth — Boone tended to evade or not answer, but as far as Gunnar knew, he hadn't lied. But.
"…I don't know." Gunnar suddenly felt exhaustion wash over him. "I need time. I need to sleep." He needed to not think for a while, and not deal with any of this. "Let's go." He turned to begin walking again.
"We're going to Novac?"
I'm going there, sure. "It's not much farther and it's a safe place to stay."
"Fine by me."
Gunnar concentrated on just moving, keep walking, one foot in front of the other, but he did notice when Boone began walking beside him.
~ ~ ~
They made it in to Novac around dawn. Gunnar wondered if he'd been sleepwalking for the last half hour. At least few people were awake to see them, and potentially want to talk. Gunnar just wanted to drop everything he currently carried and get into bed. At this point he'd been awake nearly twenty-four hours, including a lot of walking, and even hunger took a back seat to sleep.
Boone had eaten while they walked, but he too was dragging when they entered the gates to the hotel. "Gunn — "
"You can sleep on the couch." Gunnar wasn't going to hint about sharing the bed this time.
He found his key at the bottom of his backpack. The room was undisturbed — always a relief — and he'd worry about things after a good long dive into oblivion. He didn't want to think, or dream, or —
His wish was granted within seconds after his head hit the pillow.
~ ~ ~
Gunnar woke to find himself the only one in the bed. That was odd; he must've overslept. He rose up on one elbow to ask where —
— this wasn't home —
— this was the room in Novac —
— and the name and memory were already gone from his mind. Who? Who was it? Who was with me? Where is home?
It was no use. It had all disappeared like a dry leaf in a fire, without even ashes to sift through.
Gunnar's heart ached. He'd been so close that time, he thought. Now it was all gone again. He curled around the second pillow, hoping it would come back. Maybe if he slept again it would.
~ ~ ~
Boone woke from his own uneasy sleep and squinted at the daylight coming between the boards over the windows. The light striped across the bed, and Gunnar who lay in a nearly fetal position, one arm across his face as if to protect himself. Nightmares again, maybe.
Boone wanted to go to him, but given the past day, that might not be wise. So he watched him for a little while, and how the light slowly moved across the room with the passage of the day, until he too drowsed off again.
~ ~ ~
I had a home.
Gunnar lay in the bed, the old bed in a room with boarded-up windows, in a scavenged town.
I had a home. I don't remember it, but it was there, and I had someone.
It was bittersweet, because he’d had a home; but now he didn't, and the same went for the someone. Maybe he would fully remember someday. His mind certainly seemed to be trying.
But if his mind was worried about such existential matters, his body needed food, now, and life went on, and so must he. Time to eat, resupply, rest a little more and leave at dawn, or close to it. Keep moving. Keep working.
So he did.
"What's the plan?" Boone asked when the day was mostly gone.
"We'll leave in the morning and head for Camp Guardian. Find out what's happening there." Gunnar kept repacking his backpack. "Then back to Benny, if I can. See if I can get some answers."
Boone emptied his pack onto the made bed as well. The door was propped open to allow some light into the room.
"And yes, you're coming with me. One of those Legion hit squads could down me in no time," Gunnar said.
"I said — "
"I know what you — sorry." Gunnar took a deep breath, counted to three. "I'm still pissed, Boone." He glanced at the contents of Boone's pack, then looked again. "What're these?"
"Some weird kind of wine." Boone handed one of the bottles to him. "It's too sweet to be real booze."
Gunnar turned the label to the light. "It's twenty-two proof. Yeah, that's pretty weak, but it's still wine." He opened the bottle and sniffed it. "Practically juice, but — I wonder if I could drink this."
"You'll get all silly again."
"You're probably right. Well, we can leave it here in the fridge." The hotel room had a nonworking refrigerator. All refrigerants had likely dissipated within a decade after the bombs fell, so they were mostly used as pantries now.
Gunnar returned to packing. "Did you check at the store, see if they have any extra medical supplies?"
"I haven't been out of the room except to hit the latrine."
"Oh. Right." That was embarrassing.
"Besides, you usually pick those up."
"Okay. I can do that." Gunnar set down the extra stimpacks. "There's got to be a way to… I don't know, make it easier to use these. Maybe some kind of auto-injector."
"Boone — Look. I want to trust you on this. I just — " Gunnar threw his hands in the air. "You'd better be serious about this. If you back out again, I'll — "
Gunnar narrowed his eyes.
"Gunn. I won't back out again. I won't."
The silence stretched out as neither one blinked.
"No more chances, Boone," Gunnar said, slightly shaking his head but not breaking eye contact.
Boone put his hands flat on the bed and leaned forward. "But you said mistakes should be made right. Give me that chance."
Gunnar looked to the open door. Late afternoon.
Head to Camp Guardian, check on them, come back. That would be enough time to know. And from Novac, Vegas was close enough for Boone to start somewhere else, and for Gunnar to find a new bodyguard and traveling companion.
"Okay," he said at last, facing Boone again. "You're on."