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Happy Birthday, Boone

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"You're surprisingly young to be a decorated, retired shoulder," Lincoln mumbled over his shot of (watered down) scotch.

"Hmph." Boone ground the butt of his Cuban cigar into the ashtray, nodding approval at Lincoln as he began pouring him a shot of whiskey. Boone hated scotch and Lincoln-after twenty failed attempts-finally remembered that.

"I'm serious," Lincoln said, slicing a lime in half and rubbing one half around the rim of Boone's glass, just as he liked it. "How old were you when you joined?"

"17." Lincoln raised an incredulous brow. "Lied when I signed up. Not like they checked, they'd take anyone they could get."

"And you'll be turning...25 tomorrow?" Lincoln slid the glass across the table. Perceptive bastard didn't even look at the glass as he caught it. He's just showing off now.

Boone paused for a bit before he downed his shot. "Huh. Guess so."

"You forgot about your birthday?"

Boone shrugged. "Not a day I like remembering."

Lincoln scoffed. "I hear you there. I remember always hating birthdays. Another year in this hell is no cause for celebration."

"Used to like birthdays."

Lincoln reached over, grabbing Boone's lighter from his hands and lit his own cigar. Taking a drag, he let the smoke fall out of his mouth as he spoke. "What made you stop?"

"Because it'll be the first year without-" he sighed, refusing to answer the sentence as he grabbed the rest of the whiskey bottle and downed it in one fell swoop. The aggravated sadness didn't leave his eyes when he was finished, however, and Lincoln handed over his cigar in solidarity.

He watched as Boone took a slow drag, leaning his head back and closing his eyes as he let the smoke dance with his lungs for quite a while before he exhaled the smoke in an entrancing, simple line. He had to will himself to look away, averting his gaze to the silver wedding band wrapped around his finger as he tapped it rhythmically against his empty whiskey bottle. 

Then it clicked. It'll be his first year without her.

"Oh." He could tell Boone didn't want to talk about it, and frankly, he didn't want to be the bad guy that brought it up again. So he cleared his throat, holding up the empty whiskey bottle to the waitress leaning against the bar. "Another round?"

Boone smirked, handing the cigar back over to Lincoln and taking the new bottle of whiskey from the waitress. "Sounds good to me."

_

Lincoln wasn't drunk. In fact, he'd only had one shot of pure scotch the whole night. He pretended to be much drunker than Boone though to encourage him to keep at it. Always a good idea for an alcoholic, he knew, but Boone would never go along with Lincoln's plan awake and sober.

Boone sure knew how to hold his alcohol, though. It took him near 20 shots, the bottle half empty before he was finally out. It was a relief to Lincoln, he started thinking he'd have to drug him and then it'd take him far too long to wake again. Consciously, he plucked the cigar from Boone's fingers before his head hit the table. He couldn't have him catching on fire before his surprise party, after all.

The guard at the far side began walking toward them when he saw Boone drop, but Lincoln waved him off. After waking up at Doc Mitchell's, he realized he was much, much stronger. He figured that this was the good side of being shot in the head and left for dead. Pulling Boone's chair out from under the table, he easily draped his unconscious body over him and stood. Giving the flabbergasted guard a wink, he lugged his 200-something pound buff, comatose partner all the way back to their apartment in Novac with little to no effort.

Kicking the door open, he gently but unceremoniously heaved Boone onto the bed. Boone furrowed his brows, sighing unconsciously as he started reaching blindly for the covers. Lincoln smiled at the sight, routinely removing his shades and beret and unlacing his boots before draping the sheets over him. Boone's breathing slowed and became heavy again as soon as Lincoln tucked the blankets around him.

Tilting his head, Lincoln leaned against the dresser behind him and admired Boone's unconscious form, illuminated by the bright moon rays coming in from the open door.

He never could stare at Boone for very long when he was awake because Boone would eventually slap him upside the head and tell him to focus. Luckily, Boone would always be the first to fall asleep, and Lincoln could take all the selfish glances he wanted at night.

He really was a beautiful specimen. It made Lincoln both angry and incredibly sad that Boone didn't see himself that way. Even after he scored a complete dime like Carla, he'd go on and on about how he never deserved someone like her. 

Lincoln really wished Boone could just see himself the way that he and Carla did.

He was torn from his thoughts when Boone let out a giant snore. Shaking his head, Lincoln quietly left the room, closing the door behind him.

Stage one of the epic super-secret-surprise was finished.

_

The next stage of his plan involved Manny.

He didn't hate Manny as a person, but he didn't particularly care for the way he acted when Carla was still with Boone. In retrospect, though, he understood completely how Manny must've felt. After all, if somebody tried stealing Boone away from him, he'd be completely pissed off. 

Like Manny, Lincoln was jealous and overprotective. So while he disapproved of the way he acted around the couple, he understood him. 

He pounded hard on Manny's front door, continuing after he heard nothing from the other side. Eventually, he heard stirring and a string of multiple profanities, some in English and some in whatever language the Great Khans spoke before the door jerked open. Manny stood there, eyes red and puffy from sleep. He squinted when his eyes focused enough for him to see who it was who woke him. "The fuck you want?"

"Heya, Vargas. How've you been?"

"Listen, can we just skip the moronic small talk and get to the point? What do you want from me?"

Lincoln smiled. Manny was smart, and his angry side reminded him a lot of his old self. Sighing, he leaned against the door as he deposited a new, full bottle of vodka from his bag. Boone may have told him that that was Manny's favorite drink. "Another reason I can't stand the man anymore," he'd said.

Manny looked at the bottle for a long time before he looked back up at Lincoln. Sighing, he stepped back and opened the door wider to permit entrance. "Come in."

_

Lincoln uncapped the vodka, pouring the clear liquid into two shot glasses before sliding one across the table to Manny. He caught it, throwing it back already. Wiping his mouth, he nodded. "What do you need, Link?"

He squirmed. He didn't like anyone calling him that. Well, anyone besides Boone, of course. Still, he smiled. "It's Boone's birthday tomorrow."

"Yeah," Manny said in an uninterested tone, pouring himself another glass. "So?"

He almost decked the man for such a callous response but reminded himself that Boone hurt Manny, too. "Listen, you've known Boone much longer than me. What was he like before he met Carla? What did he like?"

Manny sighed, creating circles on the table with the perspiration from his glass. "Craig was-" he shook his head, chuckling without humor, "he was the greatest man I'd ever met. Stuck his neck out for anyone and everyone he'd met, even if it met certain death for him. And he had such a great sense of humor too. Used to make our entire squad's kidneys rupture from laughing too hard. Careful, cautious, highly intelligent. Much like he is, now. Trusted far too easily, though. He trusted her too easy. She took advantage of that, of him."

Boone never told Manny about what happened to Carla, not even when he found out who the real culprit was. If you ask Lincoln, he'd tell you it was just because Boone was disappointed that it wasn't Manny that he could blame anymore. He couldn't have a reason to want to pull the trigger. 

However, he made Lincoln promise up and down he'd never tell him, either. Manny was being unintentionally rude about the situation, but he didn't know otherwise. Lincoln wouldn't break his promise. So instead, he nodded. "What did he like?"

Manny thought for a while, face lighting up when he caught something. "He always liked the big, bright lights of Vegas. How busy it was. Think it's because he grew up in Cali. Vegas reminded him of home." He was silent again but then cracked a toothy grin as he remembered something. "He really liked music, too. Loved to sing."

Lincoln almost choked on his shot when he heard this. Boone, singing? That's not something he could even imagine from his serious, stoic companion. Then again, Craig was a much different person than Boone, from a different time entirely. 

"He idolized Dean Martin." Slowly rising from the table, he motioned for Lincoln to hold on as he disappeared into a room. When he came back out, he was holding a Dean Martin vinyl, autographed and all. "I got this as a gift for him from Gibson. Cost me almost three months' pay." He smiled sadly, pulling out the record. "I was going to give it to him, when he moved down here. But then everything-happened-and I never really found the right time." Sighing, he slid the record back into its cover and pushed it across the table to Lincoln. "Do me a favor. Give it to him for me."

"I think it'd be much better if you gave it to him yourself, Manny."

He shook his head sadly, occupying his trembling hands by pouring another drink. "No. The best thing I can do for Craig Boone is to take myself out of his life. I need to come to terms with the fact that the Craig I knew is gone, and we both need to move on, alone."

Lincoln wouldn't argue with the man. It's obvious he'd felt this way for a long time. Sighing, he took the record and slid it carefully into his pack. "I'm going to tell him it was from you, Manny."

His eyes widened. "Wait, don't-"

"I will not take credit for your love and utter devotion for him, Manny. What kind of man would I be, then?" He stood from the table, patting Manny's shoulder comfortingly. "You are a good man, Manny. And for your time, you were perfect for him. Don't forget that, ok?"

Manny nodded, lip twitching a bit as he smiled. "Thank you, Lincoln." He moved to give the bottle of vodka back, but Lincoln shook his head.

"Keep it. Consider it my thanks to you." He opened the door, looking back and giving him one last wave. "Cya around, Vargas."

_

The second-to-last stage was trying to haggle Gibson, the goddess of haggling, out of whatever prewar relics from Vegas she had. Surprisingly, she had a lot. From decorative light strings, bobble heads, snow globes, posters of Vegas movies, and the hook and sinker: Dean Martin's signature acoustic guitar.

The lady, as expected, asked for much more than Lincoln could ever afford.

But he loved her. And she loved him.

"Tell you what, Nan. I got about 4,000 caps right now. Let's say you give me a couple posters, the guitar, and a couple of the lights, and I make up the rest by taking you out to dinner tomorrow night? Boone will be there." Her face twitched, and Lincoln smiled. She loved Lincoln, but she adored Boone. Saw him as the son she never had.

She contemplated this for a while, but finally sighed. "Alright, sonny. You've got a deal. You better treat me to the best dinner Novac's ever seen, though!"

Lincoln smiled brilliantly, pulling her in for a hug. "You've made Boone very happy, Nan. I promise that."

Leaving with a pack full of items and a guitar strapped securely to his back, Lincoln's heart swelled as the last stage was right around the corner.

_

It took about three hours, a lot of curses from Lincoln as the hot glue gun scalded his fingers, and painstaking will to keep quiet so he wouldn't wake Boone, but it was finally done. 

Lincoln stood back, smiling with wonder at his creation. It wasn't Vegas of course, but it was the best Vegas Novac would see. He couldn't wait for Boone to see it.

Keeping his smile plastered to his face, he set his Pipboy alarm for three hours, giving him enough time to catch some sleep before he'd wake Boone and surprise him.

_

The alarm buzzed on his arm, and his eyes snapped open. Heart pounding with excitement, he sprang out of bed and kneeled in front of Boone.

"Boone," he shook his arm, "Boone, wake up. You gotta see this."

Slowly, Boone began to stir awake, stretching and eyebrows furrowing before he cracked open his eyes a bit. "Link? What's wrong?"

"Nothing." Lincoln smiled. "But you need to see this."

Boone sat up in bed, giving his arms and legs a good stretch as he blinked the sleep from his eyes, focusing them.

When they did focus, they widened in shock, his mouth agape. Eyes flicking at supersonic speed across the room, they finally landed on Lincoln.

They looked absolutely beautiful in the dim string lights. Lincoln smiled, taking his hand and pulling him from the bed. "Welcome to Sagev, Boone." He raised an eyebrow, and Lincoln cleared his throat. "It's uh, it's Vegas backwards. I didn't really know what to call it, it sounded better in my head. Stop looking at me like that."

Smiling wide, Boone slid his arm from Lincoln's grasp and started slowly walking around the room, hand dragging delicately across the posters of outer Vegas, eyes full and bright as he went. He stopped short in the corner, breath catching in his throat.

Lincoln craned his neck to see what he was staring at.

It was the shrine he had made of Carla. Red roses and daffodils-Boone had once told Lincoln they were her favorite-piled to shape perfectly around the framed picture of the only wedding photo that Boone had in his possession. Candles lit the picture, Boone's green eyes in the reflection at the center.

"I wasn't sure exactly where you met her, so I just gave you both your own space." Lincoln swallowed, apprehensive of Boone's reaction to something this sensitive.

Slowly, Boone reached out to the picture, taking his pointer finger and tracing the smooth outline of Carla's face, then shoulders, hair, and dress. After a long look, he turned to Lincoln with tears brimming his eyes. He, of course, said nothing, but before Lincoln could process what was going on, he felt Boone's arms wrap tightly around his waist. Quickly, Lincoln reciprocated the hug, pulling him closer. "Thank you so much, Link."

Lincoln smiled, closing his eyes and nodding. "Happy birthday, Boone."

Boone pulled away, eyes bright and a smile on his face. He had the most beautiful smile, Lincoln really wish he could see it more often.

He'd take it when he could get it.

"How'd you score all this?"

"Gibbs had all the decoration on hand. Charged me 4,000 caps for the whole deal. She wishes you a happy birthday, too."

Boone smiled at the name, nodding. "Pretty good deal, considering who you were dealing with."

Lincoln chuckled, taking his hand and leading him to the bed. "Okay, sit down and close your eyes. I have two more surprises for you."

Boone quirked an eyebrow but obliged. Quickly, Lincoln grabbed the vinyl from his pack and slid the guitar from under his bed and leaned it against the corner of Boone's bed. Choosing to start with the vinyl, he nodded. "Okay, you can open them."

Boone's eyes fluttered open, and he gasped as he looked at what Lincoln was holding. "No fucking way. Is that Dean Martin?" Lincoln smiled, nodding. "And is that, a real-life autograph?" His hand flew to his chest, breathing becoming hard. "I swear I'm gonna have a heart attack. Link, how did you get this?"

"Woah, calm down there, Tiger," William smirked, grabbing Butch's arm. "Actually, this wasn't from me. It was from Manny."

Immediately, Boone's expression darkened. "What did you say?"

"He got it for you, a long time ago. Cost him three months' pay." He tapped Boone on the shoulder to catch his attention. "Boone, I went to talk to him yesterday about what I could do for you. He's the one that came up with turning our apartment into Vegas. He's never stopped thinking about you, and caring for you. I'm not condoning his actions, but that has to mean something."

Boone sighed, hands clutching the vinyl. At first, Lincoln thought for a fleeting moment he was going to crack the record across his knee and burn the cover in the candle fire, but he only nodded, setting the present on the bed beside him. "I dunno, maybe."

Lincoln shrugged. "I'll take it." Moving to grip the guitar, he smiled up at Boone. "Manny told me you used to love to sing."

"Oh good god, he said what?" Boone hid his head in his hands.

William smiled, tapping his shoulder again. "So I got you a little something." He held the guitar out to him.

Boone was speechless as he took it, setting it in its correct position and strumming absently. "That sounds-"

"Lovely." William nodded. "Sing me something."

Boone's eyes widened. "What? I'm not doing-"

"You owe me." 

Boone's mouth opened his closed, but he eventually just grunted in frustration as he looked down at the guitar. God, did he even remember how to play? It's been years. Gulping, he closed his eyes, and before he knew it, he began strumming along to Johnny Guitar.

Lincoln watched in complete wonder as Boone played. Manny was right, he was an amazing musician. His voice was like heaven, and there was no bias in this claim. He begged time to stop, so this song could last forever. But it did eventually come to an end, and Boone's eyes opened to speak an unspoken question at Lincoln.

Lincoln grinned from ear to ear. "Absolutely amazing. Where did you learn to play?"

Boone's ears grew crimson, and he shrugged. "I dunno, just learned."

"Keep this, Boone. If you choose for some reason to completely trash everything I've given you, keep this, okay?"

"Of course, Lincoln." He carefully set the guitar down, standing so that he was eye-level with him. "Thank you, again. I needed this."

Lincoln nodded emphatically. "What are friends for?"

Friends?  Lincoln shuddered at the word. He for certain did not like using the word friend when he thought about Boone. But what else could he say? The man's obviously straight, he married a woman and was about to have a kid with her. Why was he even trying?

His eyes began to brim with tears, and he turned away quickly from Boone so he wouldn't catch it. 

Boone caught this right away, and he placed a hand on his shoulder. "Lincoln? What's wrong?"

"N-nothing, Boone. I just, uh-" he shook his head, coming back to face him. "It's nothing, just forget about it. I just thought that maybe we, you would, um-" he sighed, shaking his head. "I don't know, I-"

He was cut short by Boone crashing his soft, whiskey and rime flavored lips into his own. 

Lincoln stood still long enough for the shock to pass, and before Boone could pull away, he brought his hands up and cupped his face, sinking further into the kiss. 

They barely broke away for air as Boone started walking them backwards to the bed, pulling Lincoln down with him as he hungrily reached for the hem of Boone's shirt.

_

A while after, Lincoln and Boone laid together, lightheaded, exhausted, and absolutely ecstatic at the same time. 

"I didn't know that you were-" Lincoln drifted off, breathing hard.

"I didn't either," Boone admitted, casting him a wide grin. Furrowing his brows, he licked at his bleeding lip. "Damn, you play rough."

Lincoln shrugged. "So I've been told."

"Hmm, I like it," Boone cooed, turning so that his head was in the crook of his shoulder, tongue swiping playfully across his earlobe.

Lincoln sighed in content, letting Boone have his fun as he stared at the Sagev skyline. "Oh yeah, and you're cooking tonight. Five-star, for three."

"I'm doing what?"

Lincoln chuckled, pecking Boone once on the cheek before he ducked into the bathroom, ignoring the angry calls behind him.