Actions

Work Header

Divine Atrophy

Chapter Text

Marlow had had enough of the wasteland. It seemed like every single time she tried doing someone a favor, taking it upon herself to make the world a better place, it would still stop at nothing to end her. And she was sick of it.

She didn't know what to do with this revelation as she lugged her tired body to the Muddy Rudder. Giving Belle one look, she disappeared behind the counter to return with a full bottle of whiskey, sliding it across the counter to her. Belle promised this would be on the house, but she'd promised that the past ten times Marlow needed a fix. She grunted, setting a giant pack of caps down and uncapped her bottle.

Downing a whole shot, she tried not to show that she knew someone was watching her every move. She'd just went toe to toe with a pack of super mutants to save some lowlife's girlfriend, she really didn't feel like fighting right now. Instead, she called Belle over and asked for a menu. Before Belle could leave again, though, Marlow put a hand over hers.

"Don't make it obvious, but there's somebody staring at me, isn't there?"

Belle's eyes flicked behind her for only a second before she looked back down and nodded. "Boy about your age. Pretty. Wearing a black jacket. Snake on the back."

Marlow's eyes widened. That couldn't be true. He couldn't really be here. Not now. "What's his hair look like?"

Belle cocked her head, eyes glinting with a bit of amused wonder. "Much better than any hair I've ever seen out here."

Her heart lurched and she shut her eyes tight. "Pompadour?"

Belle winked. "Pompadour."

"Oh my dear God no." Marlow's head smacked harder than she wanted but it didn't matter against the bar counter. She heard Belle chuckle.

"You know him?"

"Trust me, I wish I didn't."

Belle pat her bat comically. "I'll go start on your burger, hon."

Marlow peeled her head off the counter, rubbing the mark it made and sighing. It wasn't like him not to make his presence known. If there's one thing Marlow envied about the dick, it would be his confidence. 

She didn't want to do it but her body moved before her brain could protest. Sliding off the barstool, she turned on her heel and looked behind her. 

Sitting there, just staring, even now, was no other than Butch DeLoria. Her childhood enemy, the bane of her existence. When his eyes focused on her, they narrowed just a bit but he still said absolutely nothing, the only movement he made being the occasional tap of his cigarette at the edge of his ashtray.

Don't say anything. Just pretend like you don't remember who he is and walk away. You don't owe him-

"Well, would you look who it is?" Marlow stood straighter, taking a step toward him. "Could it really be the Butch DeLoria, gracing myself-no-the entire wasteland with his heavenly presence?"

He still said nothing, hand propped up on the chair's armrest, rubbing against his lips as he kept his dark blue eyes fixed on her. 

She definitely wasn't expecting this kind of silent behavior from him. It was actually disturbing. "Okay I really don't get what's going on and normally I wouldn't care but it's actually freaking me out. You really have nothing to say? You?"

She was standing on the other side of the table he was sitting at now. He looked up at her for a bit, then looked down, grinding the butt of his cigarette into the ashtray, taking his bottle of beer and taking a long chug. Wiping his mouth, he sighed, kicking his legs out farther in front of him and throwing his hands behind his head. "Hello, Marlow."

Her heart felt funny at the sound of his voice, after all this time. She'd only been in the wastes for a year, but a year in the wastes feels like 50. Twitching her lips to hide her smile, she crossed her arms. "Hello, asshat. How'd you finally spring out?"

Butch smiled and nodded at the waitress that brought him his burger-medium well, just like Marlow liked too-taking a fry and eating it dramatically slow. He tilted his head at her. His eyes had a weird look to them, almost like the way he'd look at her right before he'd start throwing punches, but this kind of rage wasn't hostile. It seemed as if his rage was only directed at him.

What happened to him?

"You ever find your dad?"

The hair on the back of her neck stood up, and she growled. "Fuck you."

Butch's head snapped up to her, but he nodded. "Kay fine, touchy." His voice sounded the same as it always had, but it didn't have the same kind of cheer. Something had happened to him. She didn't want to care, but something in her heart kept screaming about why she did.

"Seriously, what's wrong, Butch?"

He kept his gaze on her as he rubbed the salt off his fingers. Sighing, he let just a tiny bit of rubble fall off the wall he had around himself as his bottom lip quivered ever-so-slightly. Immediately, he bit his lip to stop it and was back to his facade in no time. "Are you still waving your wand around the wastes and making everything better again?"

Marlow rolled her eyes. "If you're asking if I still travel, yes. Thinking of a change in character recently, though."

"Hmm." Butch cut into his burger, taking one half and holding it out to her. "You hungry?"

"I can pay for my own food, DeLoria."

Butch smirked, shrugging. "Fine then, sorry I asked."

Marlow shifted her weight from foot-to-foot. Her body told her to go, but both her brain and heart told her to stay. "Why did you ask if I was still traveling?"

Butch didn't answer right away, humming happily along to the radio playing at the corner of the bar. He actually had a pretty nice voice, she noticed, but quickly pushed the thought from her mind when she realized who it was she was thinking about.

"Because," Butch said through a mouth full of beef, looking up to her, "I want to come with you."

 _

"How was it after Amata kicked me out?" Marlow and Butch were now sitting at the same table, eating dinner together but not romantically. She was just hungry, and he just liked being the center of attention.

She didn't feel for him one bit.

"That depends," Butch smirked at her, "are you still butt buddies with her?"

Marlow groaned, and Butch chuckled. "For the thousandth time, Butch, we only kissed once and that was because you and your goons wouldn't leave us alone about it."

Butch nodded, still smiling. "Fine, whatever. In the past. It started out nice, really. She'd obviously been planning this out for a long time. She kept her promise about opening the doors. Bunch of us went out on expeditions. Some of us didn't come back. That's when she started going just as batshit crazy as her father."

"When she realized it was dangerous outside?"

"No, when she started not trusting her own residents. Must run in the family." Butch paused to take another bite of his burger. "She obviously didn't think to take into account that when she opened the doors, people were going to want to see what they'd been kept from their entire lies. Our numbers were dwindling every day, and I guess she took that personally because she started locking up people who even talked about wanting to leave. Then she closed the doors again and only allowed a certain few to leave on 'scout' missions. We were supposed to survey the area for a week and then come right back. It's been two weeks and now I'm here."

Marlow raised her eyebrows. "You don't think she'll come after you?"

Butch scoffed. "Please. That pampered princess wouldn't step a toe outside. I don't think I'll have anything to worry about."

"So you just left? What about your goons?"

"Wally's Amata's husband." Marlow almost choked on her fry, and Butch laughed. "Yeah I know, me too. Freddie was on the scout mission with me. That goody-two-shoes, of course, went right back when he was told. Snakes don't abandon other snakes, so he's not in the group anymore. And-you know about Paulie." A dark cloud passed across his eyes before he shrugged. "Tunnel Snakes is now down to one."

"Well, what about your mom? What did she think of all this?"

"She's dead."

Marlow let out a short gasp. She knew how that one felt. "Oh. I'm s-"

"You know, I heard there were dragons out here. You ever see any?"

Marlow obviously caught the subject change, but was too flustered to care. 

"Did you really just say dragons?"

_

It was well past midnight now, they were both mildly drunk and Butch's head was bobbing in his chair when Marlow finally got up from the table, slinging her pack back onto her shoulders. 

She thought about leaving Butch there, but it took her three seconds to change her mind as she shook him on the shoulder. "Butch. Come on, let's get some sleep."

"Hnngh?" Butch stretched, yawning. "I don't have a room here."

"Lucky for you, I do. Now can you walk or am I gonna have to get one of the guards to help carry you out?"

"Wait." He stared into her eyes now. "Does that mean you're taking me with you then?"

Marlow took a deep sigh, shrugging her shoulders. "Fine, whatever."

Butch didn't try hiding his smile now as he stood up slowly. "Thank god. I can walk."

Marlow rolled her eyes, watching him stumble walk up the stairs before she let him take her arm for support as they made their way to her room. 

_

She heaved the metal door open, ushering Butch inside as she messed with her lock. It wasn't until she heard his scream that she dropped what she was doing, pulling her sidearm from its holster and running into the room. "Butch! What's-"

She stopped, chuckling and putting her pistol back in its holster when she saw what had gotten him so frenzied.

Dogmeat was laying on the bed, tail wagging and head cocked in a curious manner as he stared at a very, very, drunk and terrified Butch. Marlow smiled, patting Butch gently on the shoulder. "Easy there, tiger. It's just a dog."

"A dog? What the fuck is that?"

Marlow sighed, walking over to Dogmeat and scratching him lovingly behind the ears. "See? He won't hurt you."Cautiously, Butch sulked over to the dog, sticking out his trembling hand. "Let him sniff you first," Marlow instructed. "He'll trust you more."

Butch did as he was told, looking curiously up to Marlow when Dogmeat was finished rubbing his snot on Butch's hand. She nodded, and Butch carefully put his hand on Dogmeat's fur, petting him smoothly along his white fur. Dogmeat yipped happily, leaning farther into Butch's touch. That one movement had Butch free of worry, and he sat down beside him on the bed and started scratching his belly as he kissed the top of his head. 

Marlow smiled. "There we go. Good boy, Dogmeat. That, Butch, is a dog."

_

They were both lying on their respective cots on opposite corners of the room, Marlow feeling just a bit jealous at the absence of Dogmeat's warm body beside her as he chose to sleep on Butch's feet. 

Marlow sighed, shifting on her cot so she could see the dark outline of Butch's body on his cot. "Butch? You still awake?"

"Hmm," Butch groaned, "only partly."

"I'm sorry about your Mom, Butch."

He was silent for a while. She heard his mouth part. "I'm sorry about your Dad."

Her heart lurched, and she bit her lip, curling her head into her pillow. "Thanks."

"Let's just sleep it off, yeah?"

Marlow nodded. "Yeah."

 

Butch reminded her of home. She didn't need him, but he was good enough to have around. At least for a while. 

Chapter Text

She wouldn't listen to him. Wouldn't even look at him.

He wanted to blame Nosebleed for this, but really it wasn't anybody's fault but their own. As soon as the door opened, the vault was divided. Those who wanted to leave, and those who wanted to stay. Butch chose the deserters.

Ellen chose to stay.

He remembered the fight as he watched her lock herself in the closet. How she called him a good-for-nothing freeloader who took advantage of her love for him. How he shouted back that she never loved him, she loved the bottle. That's why she wouldn't join the deserters. Why leave when you have a seemingly unlimited supply of scotch here?

But it was still his mom. No matter how much emotional turmoil the two put on each other for 19 fucking years, he still loved her. And when she started to scream, he hurled himself at their locked apartment door.

"Come on Ma, unlock the door. Please. Let me help you."

"Butchie?" Butch froze. It was the first time he'd heard that name in at least six months. It had him banging on the door more.

"Open the door, Ellen."

She was silent for a while, and then the door burst open and Butch was sent sprawling across the room, hearing a sickening crunch when his back hit the stone floor. He blinked through the pain, looking up. His mother was standing there, a knife in her hands and wrists bare.

"You weren't there to save me, Butchie." She uncapped the knife. Upon closer examination, he realized it was his own Switchblade, Toothpick. Why didn't he take that with him? "Not from myself. Not like you could have anyway." 

"Mom, what are you talking ab-" his eyes widened in horror as he watched his mother take the blade to her wrist, dragging down alongside the vein. "No, ma, what the fuck did you just do?"

He tried reaching out for her, but his hands went right through her body. She stared at him with a sick smile on her lips. "This is your fault, Butchie."

Butch watched as the very life in his mother's eyes shrunk away, watched her fall to the ground, blood pooled around her. 

"All. Your. Fault."

Butch woke with a gasp, sitting straight up in his bed. Frantically looking around, he saw Marlow sitting on her bed, gun parts in her hand and strewn across her space. She was looking at him in surprise. "You alright?"

Butch sighed out a shaky breath, dragging his hands down his face as he nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Marlow reached into her pack, pulling out a bottle of purified water. "Here, catch." Butch obeyed, uncapping it and bringing it to his lips. "Drink it slow. Helps with the headaches and-takes some memories away."

Butch screwed the cap back on, sitting up and setting the bottle on the floor next to him as he nodded at the mess Marlow had made. "What are you doing?"

She whistled tunelessly as she worked. "Lemme answer your question with a question. Do you know how to shoot a gun?"

Butch scoffed. "How else do you think I made it here?"

"You teamed up with a caravan. Wolfgang already told me."

"Hmph." Butch crossed his arms, pouting. "I can still shoot a gun."

Marlow watched him for a bit, eyes narrowed as she nodded. "Alright, I'll take your word for it. I woke up a few hours ago, went to get some fresh supplies since now I actually have to worry about watching someone else's ass. Bought a couple of guns and repair parts for the ones I already had. Come over here and hold some, tell me which ones you feel most comfortable with."

Butch didn't bother with putting his shoes back up, feet hitting against the cold metal surface of the floor as he made his way to Marlow. She motioned to the guns she had ready for testing, and Butch's hands immediately went for the caravan shotgun and the 10mm pistol. He picked the shotgun up first, adjusting his grip for the weight of the gun, hand under the barrels as he put it in aiming position, closing one eye and pretending to pull the trigger. He nodded. "I like this one."

Marlow took a second to look up from her work, nodding. "Thought you would. Here." In the flash of a second, she'd picked up a pocket knife, blade up and all, and tossed it at Butch. He yelped, jumping back before it could stab into his gut. It landed on the floor, very close to Butch's foot. He looked up at her, absolutely bewildered. "Sorry," she said, but didn't sound that sorry to Butch. "Forgot you still had the reflexes of a sheltered vault dweller."

Not satisfied with her nonchalant appearance but refusing to let her bask in his genuine fear any longer, he sighed and picked up the knife. "What am I supposed to be doing with this?"

"Carve something into your stock, so we don't mix up our guns." She lifted her own rifle for example. In the stock, she had carved her initials with a little heart at the end. "Makes you care for it more, too, if you mark it with your own identity."

Butch sighed, flipping the gun around his hands for a while before he finally thought of something, scooting the pile of guns over so he can sit next to Marlow as she worked. Every once in a while, Marlow would take a pause in her own work to peek at what Butch was carving, but his head or his arm would be blocking it most of the time so she just gave up and waited for him to be done.

"There. Whaddya think?" He held out his stock to her.

Marlow took a glance at it and almost dropped the parts all over the floor. Tossing the mostly assembled pistol aside, she took the gun in her hands to get a closer look.

Butch had actually carved a real-life snake into the barrel, just like the one on his jackets and it actually looked amazing. "Woah."

Butch smirked, taking the gun back from her. "I know, right? I've gotten pretty good at drawing these things."

"I mean you didn't have to rub it all in my face like that," Marlow said, smiling. Reaching in her pack, she took out all the boxes of shotgun shells she had, handing them to him. "Here, put these into your pack. Don't forget to grab some more ammo whenever you can, whether it be on scavenging trips or from stores. Same goes with your pistol." 

Butch slid the ammo into his pack, strapping his shotgun to the back holster Marlow had given him, admiring how it felt for such a beautiful weapon sliding along his back. He slid his boots on, waiting for Marlow to finish assembling the guns. He took to playing  fetch with Dogmeat in the meantime. 

When Marlow cleared her throat, Butch looked toward her. "Ready to head out?"

Butch stood, nodding. "Where are we headed?"

"I don't really know yet," she said, taking the lead as she heaved open her door. "But don't worry, somebody will find us with something to do. They always do."

Butch doubted that, but was proven wrong when as soon as they got outside, a man came up to her and asked if he could save her daughter, who'd recently been abducted and taken to a slaver camp up north. 

_

"Fucking hate this..." Marlow kicked at the rotting corpse of a radroach, Butch trying to hide his wince when he saw it, "goddamn stupid ass shit."

"Yeah I hear ya," Butch mumbled, switching out his shotgun for his sidearm. "I hate those fucking things."

"I'm not talking about the damn bug, Butch."

Butch raised an eyebrow at her. "Then what are you talking about?"

"This!" She gestured wildly to the wasteland around them. "How everyone depends on me, and only me, to singlehandedly make the wasteland a better place. What you saw this morning with that guy? Happens at least once a day. Why can't they find someone else?"

Butch shook his head. "Wanna know what I think, Mars?"

"Not even a little bit."

"You're just pissed because you physically cannot tell somebody no. Come on, say it with me. It's easy. Don't even have to move your lips."

"Stop patronizing me," she hissed. He had a point. But she wouldn't admit that. "I can tell you no."

"That's different. I'm your partner. And I'm not asking you for any help."

"You asked me to take you with me."

"And here I am right now, traveling the wastes with you." Butch smirked. "Exactly my point."

"How do you tell someone who just got their kid abducted by slavers that you won't help?"

"Easy," Butch chided, spitting out his flavorless wad of gum as they walked, "let me take the lead."

Marlow scoffed. "Never in a million years, Bitch."

"That's a good start."

Marlow groaned. "You are absolutely infuriating!" 

"And right." She didn't reply, and that made Butch's smile cockier. 

She was feeling rather petty now and refused to talk to him for the rest of the trip, until they reached the camp at least. 

_

When they did reach the camp, she shot her arm out to stop Butch from walking more. She made sure to slug him hard enough in the stomach for him to cough for air for a while, smirking.

"Oh yeah, injure a man before he gets into a gunfight." He groaned, clutching his stomach. "Very funny."

Marlow rolled her eyes, but waited for him to get his breath back before she began. "Okay, so battle plan." She reached into her pack, pulling out a deactivated slave collar. 

"Where in the actual fuck did you get that?" Butch exclaimed, shocked. "And why do you carry it around?"

"This isn't my first rodeo, Butch." In one fluid movement, she strapped the collar to her neck. "Always have to come prepared for these kinds of things."

Butch's eyes widened. "Hey, are you crazy? That thing can take your head clean off!"

Marlow squeezed the top of her nose, sighing. "Either you're an idiot or as observant as a naked role mat. Or both. You saw how I had to restrap it to my neck. As soon as you disconnect it, it disarms itself. It's not working anymore."

Butch grumbled under his breath something Marlow didn't care to ask him repeat, kicking the ground beneath him. "The hell did you put it on anyways?"

"Because. You're going to act like you captured me and are turning me in since you can't make the trip to Paradise Falls." She stopped, smirking, "Because it's been completely wiped out by your's truly."

"And I can't be the slave because?-"

"Because every mercenary and slaver knows who I am out here. They'll shoot us both on sight."

Butch bit his lip. "Okay, so say your plan actually works and they let us in. What then?" 

"They'll take us to some kind of building that sets my information into the computer to make sure I'm legit and not some fraud. Helps them figure out how much I'm worth, so they can pay you out."

"And that splits up the group."

Marlow smiled at his surprising astuteness, nodding. "Yes, exactly. We'll wait until they actually start taking me to a cell, and then we'll make our move."

"And our 'move' is?"

Marlow reached up to the collar, pressing a button on the side to reveal a secret compartment, sliding out from the front. Inside the compartment was a whole machete. 

"Wow," Butch whispered, faint smile on his face as he stared at the blade. 

Marlow smiled. "You like it? Did it myself." Closing the compartment, she nodded. "I'll take the blade out and stab the guard detaining me, and you take your pistol and shoot whoever is left."

"How many will there be?"

Marlow shrugged. "They never bring more than 2 or 3 guards in for the technical shit, all the times I've seen. Shouldn't be too challenging, especially since you have a solid 8-10 seconds when they're both too shocked to move. Once we've taken them out, we find the girl as soon as possible and get to her cell. We won't have a lot of time before the camp's alerted, and you'll need to keep your gun out. There's bound to be some straggling guards somewhere in there."

"Jesus Christ, how many times have you done this?" 

Marlow smirked. "I told you, at least once a day for about 6 months now. I know what I'm doing."

Butch gaped. "You really have to start saying no, Mars. That's unhealthy as shit."

Marlow shrugged, handing Butch a rope to very loosely tie her hands together. "I charge for it these days. Helps keep food on the table and guns that don't jam in the worst moments."

Butch sighed, tapping her on the shoulder when he was done tying her wrists. "Alright," he strapped Marlow's rifle over his shotgun onto his back, nodding, "I'm ready when you are." 

Marlow turned, eyeing him suspiciously. "Lose the jacket."

Butch gaped. "Excuse me? Why would I do that?"

"Look at it, Butch. It makes you look 12. These guys'll eat you alive."

Butch genuinely looked hurt, but shrugged it off, folding it up and stuffing it into Marlow's pack. "This is such bullshit."

"Don't worry, Butch. It'll be safe up here, I promise."

Butch sighed, grabbing Marlow by the arm and leading them toward the camp's front gate. "Still sure about this?"

Marlow nodded. "As long as you listen to me and stick with the plan, everything will be fine."

"I hope so." 

_

The guards at the front gate were quick to point their weapons at them, which made Butch's grip tighten nervously around her arm but he quickly released it and stuck with the plan.

"Easy. I've got another rat for you." He shoved Marlow to the ground harshly, kicking her down so that she was tasting dirt. His boot stayed on her back so she wouldn't try to sit up. It was all part of the plan, but it reminded Marlow of when they were in the vault and she let out a small whimper. Consciously, Butch released some of the pressure he had on her back. 

"Caught her scavving in Raider territory. Was gonna take her to Paradise Falls, but well, we all know why that ended up being a problem."

One of the slavers lowered his gun just a bit so he could see who it was the kid had. When he saw, his eyes widened. "Holy shit, is that really-"

"The savior of the wastes, yes. Honestly, I don't trust in my abilities enough to just keep her to myself, so I figured I'd just sell her to some group out here. Asked around and was led here."

The one slaver who had talked stared at the two for a while, sucking in a corner of his mouth as he thought. Eventually, he nodded, lowering his gun the whole way. "Alright, boys. You know the drill. Tony, Dave and Johnny, shake her down and then take them both to the archive building." 

Butch stepped off her back as two of the three men lifted her off the ground and slammed her against a barricade, poking and prodding her harshly for weapons. One of the sick fucks groped her boobs, and Butch almost ruined it all by punching the guy, but finally got a hold of himself and bit his lip. 

"Alright, she's clean. Follow me, boy."

Butch obeyed, following closely behind Marlow's figure. His warmth was oddly comforting to her. It was strictly business when she did this with Charon. This should be too. 

Soon, they were in the archive building, the one introduced as Tony climbing up to the terminal and powering it on. "Where'd you say you captured her?" 

"An old schoolhouse raiders were using as a hideout, a few miles south of Paradise Falls."

The man nodded, pausing to type something into the machine. "Full name, date of birth, gender and race?"

"Marlow Parlen. September 22nd, 2257. Female. Caucasian."

The man typed the remaining info, and nodded. "Yep, records check out. She's the real deal." He looked down to Butch. "You're about to be one million caps richer, boy." He turned to the other two. "Dave, go get the caps. Johnny, take the girl to the holding block." 

Butch subtely set his hand above his pistol, making it look casual enough not to alert the guards, waiting on Marlow to make her move. 

It came quick, she yanked her wrists from the bondages, shoulder slamming into the man holding her so he fell to the ground. Quickly, she slammed the button, snatching the machete from its place and driving it straight into the man's chest. 

Butch didn't waste time watching her handiwork any longer as he pulled the trigger of his pistol, bullet spiraling and hitting Tony right between the eyes. He heard scrambling feet coming towards them, whipping around and popped Dave in the chest twice. 

As soon as he dropped, Butch sheathed his weapon and climbed up the steps toward the terminal behind Marlow. She shoved Tony's corpse off the screen, quickly scrolling to the catalogue of captured slaves. Quickly, her eyes scanned the page until they landed on the girl's name. 

"Cell block 2A. Easy, it's right around the corner." Slamming on the space button, she opened the cell door and took her rifle back from Butch's hands. "Let's go get her. Don't let your guard down, you hear?"

Butch nodded, grip tightening on his shotgun as he followed closely behind Marlow. 

Marlow yelped as a bullet came dangerously close to hitting her in the head, ducking down low to the ground and scrambling toward the open cell. 

She heard gunshots behind her and then silence, and hoped to God that Butch had won the fight when she made it into the cell. 

The girl, no more than 8, was curled into a ball, eyes full of fear as she glared toward Marlow. "P-please don't hurt me."

Immediately, Marlow's hands went up in defense mode. "I won't hurt you. Your father sent me." Immediately, the girl calmed, hands falling to her sides. Marlow took the opportunity, crouching in front of her and deactivating her collar. She felt as someone scrambled into the cell, shoulder brushing against her's as he leaned down next to them. She recognized it was Butch right away, and relief washed over her.

The girl however, shrieked and flinched away, almost setting off the explosive in her collar. "Hey, hey!" Marlow gripped the girl harshly, forcing her still. "He's with me. You have to stay still, or we all die." 

The girl nodded, obeying. In little to no time after that, Marlow had her collar deactivated, discarding it to the side as she lifted the girl to her feet. "Alright, let's get out of here."

"Wait! Wait, you have to save Donnie. Please, he's my friend!" 

"Look, I'm sorry but if we don't get you out now-" 

"He's in the cell right across the hall! Please, he's a kid just like me and they'll kill him if we leave him here!" 

"I'll get him," Butch said, snatching Marlow's gun off the ground and handing it to her. "You just get the girl out of here. I'll be right behind you."

Marlow wanted to object, but there was no time. "Fine. Just be careful." 

Butch nodded, disappearing out of the cell. Marlow turned to the girl, taking the spare pistol Butch had given her. Staring her straight in the eyes, she took her hand and placed the gun in her palm. "I don't know if you will have to use this, I don't want you to have to, but if you do, just point and shoot, okay? No matter what happens. Shoot and run, don't look back okay?"

The girl looked terrified but nodded. Marlow nodded along, ushering the girl behind her as she crawled out of the cell.

Across from her, she saw Butch as he jimmied the lock on the cell, it finally popping open. Quickly, he ducked inside.

That's when she heard the all-too-familiar clicking. "Butch, there's a trap! Move!" 

There was no response as the mine was set off. Marlow grabbed the girl, tackling her to the ground inside their cell and hovering protectively over her. 

It was over in seconds. Marlow panted, pushing herself off the girl once she'd made sure she was fine. Frantically, she called Butch's name. 

She was greeted only with a deafening silence.

 

 

Chapter Text

Butch's eyes opened to white. His head was heavy and whatever light that was, he could feel it burning the tip of his nose. He shut his eyes tight enough that he saw those little spots before he opened them. 

The light was gone, but his head hurt like hell. He tried lifting his arm to blindly assess the damage, but it was being weighed down by something. Something heavy, with hair.

He blinked his eyes into focus, looking down. The boy, fuck if he could remember his name, was sitting on his arm, pushing his hands against Butch's chest as if trying to wake him. Butch made the slightest twitch of his leg, and the kid looked up to his face, eyes wide and mouth agape.

"Oh my god, are you okay?"

Butch wiggled his arm, and the kid scrambled off of it, watching as Butch brought his hand up to his head and winced. "How bad does it look?"

"You're bleeding. A lot."

Butch sighed. "What happened?"

The boy, stronger than Butch would have thought possible, helped Butch up into a sitting position, letting him lean his back against the wall. "You stepped on a landmine that was buried in front of my cell. I tried to warn you, but it was too late. You dove at me to cover me, and then it went off." Butch saw his face twitch then. "Why did you do that?" He picked at the skin around his nails. "Save me. You don't even know me."

"Well, I couldn't very well have you blown to smithereens because I couldn't look down," Butch teased, smirking. "Wouldn't do too well for my conscience. And between you and me, blood's really hard to get out of your clothes."

The boy laughed then, sticking out his hand. "I'm Donnie."

Butch took his hand. "Butch."

"Butch?!" He looked up to see Marlow sprint into view, staring dumbfoundedly down at him. Her eyes went to his wound and she dove at him, gingerly pressing against it with her hand. "Are you okay?"

Butch bit his tongue to hold back the hisses of pain, grabbing her wrist and pulling it away. "We can look at it later. We need to get out, now."

Marlow's eyes changed color as if she'd forgotten where they were until now. Getting up and pulling Butch with her, she eyed him from head-to-toe. "Can you walk?"

Memories from the previous night flooded his mind and he smirked. "Yes, I can walk." He looked back at Donnie. "Kid, come on. Stay behind me."

"Wait." Marlow turned around, swiftly taking Butch's pistol from his belt and kneeling in front of Donnie. "I need you to listen to me, okay?"

"Mars, what're you doing?" She ignored him, continuing to murmur something to Donnie as she grabbed his hand and wrapped the metal pistol around his little fingers. "What the actual fuck, Marlow?! He's just a kid!"

"That's exactly why I gave it to him." She stood, giving Butch a hard glare. "They are kids. They deserve to live." She stepped closer to him. "That fight out there is going to be big. You're hurt. There's no guarantee that we can get them out ourselves." She looked between the kids, shaking her head. "I won't let them live their lives in cages, Butch. I won't."

"Fuck it all," Butch exclaimed, picking his shotgun from the floor and brushing little pieces of floor out of its crevices. "Fine, let's just get out of here."

_

Marlow certainly was not the little twerp he remembered from way back when. 

He watched her work, broad shoulders, imposing nature as she stood with back straight, one eye closed and the other cracked as she took perfect aim, each one of her bullets sinking straight between the eyes. He took mental note not to screw her over.

Something weird stirred inside him as he watched her. He didn't hate it but he certainly didn't want it there. He tried to push whatever it was out by thinking about how she'd make little robot radroaches down at her shop and sneak them into his room long before anyone was awake, waking him by making them crawl on his chest.

"Butch!" He blinked, looking around to see that she, the girl and Donnie were already making their way toward the front gate. "Get the lead out of your ass and let's go before more come!"

He kicked dirt underneath him as he sprung to his feet, lowering his gun and sprinting towards them. As soon as they pushed their way out of the gates, he reached down and plucked the pistols out of the kids' hands, sheathing his and tapping one against Marlow's back. She gave him an annoyed look when she turned around but still took it as they ran as far as they could from the danger hotspot.

_

As soon as she was sure they were out of danger, Marlow stopped dead in her tracks, almost knocking Butch over. She set her pack on the ground, pulling out two bottles of water and handed them to the kids. Looking up to Butch, she gave him a determined glare as she gestured for him to sit down. "Let me take a look at your head."

He huffed, crossing his arms across his chest. "This is only gonna waste time. We need to get these kids back to Rivet City before nightfall. And you were maintenance, what in the hell do you know about medicine?"

She groaned in frustration. "Don't you dare act like you don't remember who it was that patched you up when my Dad was busy." He didn't move, but something washed across his eyes before he blinked it away. Marlow sighed. "Come on, Butch. You're pale as a ghost and you look like you're ready to drop at any second. Just sit down and let me see what I can do, okay? We can set up camp here if it takes too long, we have enough supplies to feed us all for a night."

Eventually, Butch gave in, albeit complaining about it all the way down to the ground in front of her. She knelt forward, pulling his hair back to assess the damage. 

There was a large cut just above his temple, bleeding not as heavily as before, but still bleeding and the edges of it turning yellow as it was turning into a nasty bruise. Ignoring his childish yelps, she pulled the strands of hair tangled into the cut from the dried spots of blood alongside his face, rooting around in her pack for a clean rag.

She turned to Grace, the little girl. "Grace, could I use the rest of your water, please?" She nodded, handing it over right away. She thanked her, and glanced between the two, motioning to Butch's pack. "You guys look hungry. You can pick out a couple of snacks from Butch's pack. I'll cook up some dinner when I'm all done here, sound good?" They both nodded, smiling as they eagerly shuffled to where his pack lay.

"Just don't take my snack cakes," Butch murmured. Marlow rolled her eyes, using the rest of what was left in Grace's water bottle to spill it onto the rag. 

"Hold your hair back." Butch did as he was told, and she brought the soaked rag to his face, beginning to scrub the trails of dried blood that ran all the way down his neck. As soon as she made it close to where his gash was, Butch winced and pulled back. "Oh, calm down, you big baby." She grabbed his arm, pulling him back toward her. "It's just water."

"Water and a dir-" he hissed again, pulling away, "a dirty ass rag scrubbing against my open wound"

"I just cleaned the rag this morning, you moron." She scrunched her nose, face twisting into a bright white smile. Butch had to look away before that stupid feeling could come back. She's making fun of you, idiot. He locked his jaw, looking back and watching her silently as she worked.

It was a while before she pulled the rag away, reaching down and setting up a suturing needle. She bit her lip, looking him in the eyes. "I know how much you hate needles, but-"

"Just do it."

She widened her eyes, leaning back. "You serious?"

"If I don't let you do it now, you won't shut up about it all the way back to Rivet City." He sighed, closing his eyes. "So just do it."

Marlow shifted, watching him for a bit before she looked back down. "Okay. You want the stimpak first or you just want me to start with the stitching?"

"Just pick one and let's get this over with," Butch said curtly, eyes still closed.

"Fine." She started with the stimpak, wincing in sympathy as she watched him lurch back when she pumped the medicine just above his cheek. Wiping a thick patch of numbing cream around his cut and rubbing it around with her finger as best as she could, she sighed and picked up the suturing needle.

He flinched, cursed, and she basically had to lay on his chest to get him to sit still, but sooner than later she was done, snipping the excess thread off with the tiny scissors and pushing off of him. "There, I'm all done." She packed up her supplies, getting up and grabbing some brahmin meat from Butch's food pack and stalking off to start a fire.

Butch opened his eyes, bringing his hand up and very gently running his two middle fingers across the stitching. He turned to Donnie, raising an eyebrow. "How do I look?"

He licked his lips free of cheese powder, tilting his head at him. "Better now that you don't have blood all over your face."

Grace nodded from beside him. "You should've seen how worried she looked when the explosive went off." She took a bite of the snack cake Butch distinctly remembered telling her not to take but didn't really care that much anymore. "She must really like you."

Butch narrowed his eyes, turning his head to watch Marlow spark the fire, leaning down and blowing on it to catch sparks. "Yeah, and what do you two know, huh? You're 8."

The children looked at each other, smiling before they turned back to him, shrugging. "You should at least thank her. She could'a let you bleed out." Donnie raised a sassy little eyebrow at him.

Butch scoffed, scrambling to his feet and snatching his pack from the ground. "What did I say about my snack cakes, Gracie?"

She gulped down the rest of her food, looking up and smiling innocently. "What snack cakes? I dunno what you mean."

Butch smirked, reaching down and ruffling her hair playfully before he threw his pack over his shoulder and walked toward Marlow.

"They do like each other, don't they?" Grace asked, nudging Donnie with her elbow.

"Well duh! They're totally head-over-heels crazy about each other." They giggled, standing up and walking together toward the warm fire.

 

 

Chapter Text

Marlow shifted her position, sighing and bringing her eyes to watch over her sleeping companions. She bit back a smile at the scene. Both children curled up under Butch's arms as he lay, one arm under his head and one draped over Grace's shoulders.

Marlow noticed that he was naturally good with kids and that the two seemed drawn to him. Probably because he wasn't mature enough to hang with the adults, she cracked. She genuinely hoped he could share this type of chemistry and unacknowledged affection with his own kids. It wasn't until she thought about who could give him that, that her cheeks flamed red and she ducked her eyes away from them.

She was poking and prodding at the slowly dying fire when she heard rustling from the other side of the fire. Peeking over again, she saw Butch slowly waking, lifting his head and looking down at the sleeping children. His head turned slowly in her direction, his big, sleepy blue eyes finding her as he blinked enough sleep from his eyes to be semi-cognizant. "How do you suppose I get out of this?" He mouthed at her.

Marlow cracked a small chuckle, shrugging as she smirked. "Just get up. They'll go back to sleep."

Butch sighed, slowly lifting his arm away from Grace's shoulders, hands behind him as he pulled himself from the children. They stirred, sighed, but fell right back to sleep when Butch was free. Butch raised his eyebrows considerably, nodding then stumbling drowsily toward the fire. "You haven't slept yet?"

Marlow shook her head. "Nah, I don't sleep that much anymore."

Butch squinted at her, cocking his head. That was true; since he met her again she'd always be the last one asleep and the first one awake. He never questioned it, it gave him more hours of beauty sleep. He did wonder how it hadn't affected her ability to stay alive out here, though. 

He decided not to push it, too tired to care enough to start that long conversation. "Thirsty," he mumbled, shuffling to his bag and pulling out his flask. He tipped it back, ready to gulp it all down before Marlow stopped him.

"Gotta be smart with the supply, Butch. It's a dry desert all the way back to Rivet City from here."

He grumbled but listened as he took small sips at a time before he shoved the flask back in his bag. He sighed, more than ready to get back to sleep before he looked back at Marlow. She had this look on her face where she wanted to say something but bit her tongue. He remembered back in the vault she'd give him that look when he'd have to bunk up in the spare cots in the basement next to her shop when his mother kicked him out.

"Wait. Before you go back to sleep, can we talk?"

There it was. Yawning, he sunk down on the ground on the other side of the fire and looked up to her. "Can't promise I'll be awake for most of it, but whatever."

"Just humor me," she sighed, biting her lip. It took her a really long time to come up with what to say, and Butch was already making a comfy spot for himself on the ground before she cleared her throat. "What happened to you, Deloria?" His eyes snapped to her. "It's just, we were not friends when I left. Or even when I came back. And then I meet you out here, and you're different." She swallowed, looking into his eyes now. "You're sadder."

Butch squirmed in his spot. Images of his mother crowded his mind and he dug his nails deeply into his palms. "Too tired to get pissed, Mars. Please try again in the morning."

Marlow sighed, eyes radiating sympathy as she looked into the fire. "My dad died a week after I found him." Butch stayed silent, staring into the fire, too. "I'd just saved him from that vault simulation thing that I don't want to try and explain, and we'd had enough time to get back to Rivet City, back to Jefferson, really start getting his project back to life. He was so happy, I'd never seen him so alive." She smiled, but the tears brimmed her eyes. "And then he died right in front of me."

Butch didn't know what to do but apparently his body did. He found himself standing, walking over to the log Marlow had perched herself on and sitting next to her.

"I'm not-um-really that good with the whole comforting thing." Butch sighed out a nervous breath, swallowing hard. "Do you remember when we were kids, and you found me sitting alone in some classroom?"

Marlow squinted. "You mean when your mom first started drinking?"

He nodded. "I felt so alone, so betrayed. It's the first time she'd hit me. I didn't know what to do, where to go, fuck, I basically forgot how to breathe. And then you came." Butch scoot closer on the log to her, wrapping his arm around her. "You sat next to me, put your arm around me. And you said?"

Marlow smiled, sniffling. "It's okay if you wanna cry. I won't tell anybody."

Butch hummed in affirmation. He brought up his other arm around and wrapped her in a hug, chin resting on her head as she began to cry again. "It's okay, Mars. You can cry. I won't tell."

She cried for a while until her sobs finally stilled and her breathed evened into soft, slow snores. 

Butch sighed. Well, he certainly wouldn't be getting any more sleep tonight. Gently, he changed his posture and pushed her body down so she was laying with her head in his lap. Sitting in the silence, besides the small crackles of the slowly dying fire, running his fingers softly through her light red hair, he realized something.

Christ, he was falling for Nosebleed.

_

"Oh my god, Gracie!" 

As soon as the group had made it back into the main deck of the ship, Grace's father was there, tears spilling from his eyes as he held his arms out to her. 

"Daddy!" Grace shrieked, running and jumping into his arms, clutching him so tight Butch was surprised the old man's arms didn't fall off.

"Oh, my sweet sweet baby girl. I thought I'd lost you forever." The old man whispered, talking to no one but himself as he cursed his name. "I will never let you out of my sight again, Gracie. You got that?"

Grace couldn't speak through her sobs, so she only nodded, hugging him even tighter. 

Marlow smiled, walking up to the group after giving them a considerable amount of time to reconcile. The man looked up to Marlow through teary eyes, momentarily letting go of his grasp on his daughter to pull Marlow into a tight hug of her own. "You can't imagine how much this means to me. Thank you, both," he opened his eyes, nodding over Marlow's shoulders at Butch, who gave him a small wave. Letting go of Marlow, he immediately began fishing in his pockets for the caps he promised. "I know your reputation for refusing payment," he cocked a friendly eyebrow at Marlow, "but I insist." Pulling out a decently sized bag full to the brim with bottle caps, he clapsed them into Marlow's hands. 

Marlow pulled her lips into a tight smile, she didn't like being the center of attention most times. It just came naturally with the reputation that preceded her. Tossing the bag over her shoulder to Butch, she cleared her throat. "Actually, I have a favor to ask of you. If you're so willing." Reaching behind her, she pulled a timid Donnie into sight of the old man, resting her hands on either of his shoulders. "I know this is a lot to ask, but I couldn't dare put him in harm's way by taking him on wasteland jobs with me. Would it be possible for you to keep watch over him for me?"

The old man's mouth fell agape, and he stammered incoherently. "I-I mean I would love to, but I couldn't possibly," he sighed, biting his lip as he looked at Donnie's deflated face, "I'm sorry, I just don't have the money or means to take care of you."

"Daddy, please!" Gracie interjected, pulling on his sleeve. "He's my friend, he protected me from the bad guys when they came to hurt me. You can't just leave him alone."

The old man sighed dejectedly, sinking on his knees and rubbing his hands down her forearms. "I'm so sorry, Gracie. But we just can't." He raised his head to Marlow. "You saved my daughter, bringing the life back to my stilling heart. I cannot thank you enough. But, unfortunately, I cannot do this."

Marlow stayed standing straight, nodding. "Okay, it was worth a shot."

Butch stepped in then. "Mars. You can't actually be-"

"Come on, Donnie." Marlow grabbed Donnie by the hand, pulling him with her as she stepped past the man. Gracie cried out, running to her friend and wrapping him tightly in a hug before she hung her head, walking back to her father. 

Butch watched them go, practically fuming. How could she be okay with this? Gracie gets a home, which is fine, but what about Donnie? What about him? "I hope you can understand." He looked back toward the old man, who was looking at him with pleading eyes. "I just can't take him in."

"Yeah, yeah," Butch waved him off dismissively. "You're sorry. I get it." He didn't mean to sound so harsh, but it's all he could think of doing as he watched Donnie being dragged away from his best friend.

Giving a well enough believable smirk at Gracie, he reached down and tousled her hair. "Maybe I'll see you around, huh kid?"

Gracie smiled at him even though her face was still crusted with tears. "Don't forget the snack cakes when you do."

Butch smiled. "You betcha, kid." Stepping past her, he ran to catch up with Marlow.

_

"For fuck's sake, would you slow the hell down?" He grabbed hold of Marlow's shoulder, roughly pulling her to face him. "What the hell, Mars? You're just gonna leave Donnie all alone like that? I thought you were suppposed to be saving everyone, not damming them!"

Marlow's eyes darkened in a deadly glare, and she ripped her arm from Butch's grasp. "Get bent, jackass. How dare you assume I'd leave a child alone to fend for himself. Must you always think the least of me?" She twisted on her heel, taking Donnie's hand and beginning to walk away from him again.

He huffed in frustration, but his feet decided to walk back into pace with them. "Where are you going?"

"For your own sake, I implore you to keep your damn mouth shut for a while." Marlow growled. "You'll see soon."

Butch gulped back his hot-headed reply, choosing only to groan as he followed the pair closely down to the Rivet City market. 

He raised a quizzical eyebrow, but Marlow refused to acknowledge it as she walked up to the bar of Gary's Gallery. She motioned for Angela to come over, but that's all Butch cared to see as the firey rage he was feeling toward her brought him storming up the steps and out the door. He didn't understand half of why he was still so mad at her, especially after the realization he'd just made the night before, but he knew from past experience that being around her was the worst thing for either of them right now.

He shoved through the ship door, ignoring the confused glare Harkness tossed his way. "Hey kid, where you going?" 

Butch shoved his arm off his shoulder roughly. "Going for a smoke. That good enough for you, Mother?" He didn't bother to wait for the man's reply as he stalked away, past the bridge, down the steps, and out down the street.

Butch didn't know the wastes like Marlow did. He shouldn't wander off out here alone.

There's a lot of things Butch shouldn't do, but he did them anyway.

_

"Wait, are you serious?" Donnie asked, absolutely astonished as he followed Marlow up the steps toward her room. 

Marlow had just spent the past two hours talking to every Rivet City shop owner, bargaining or using up the favors they owed her, in order to give Donnie rights to free food, clothing, and otherwise needed supplies for the rest of the time he had planned to stay on the ship. She also had Weatherly make an extra key to the room she and Butch shared, handing it over to Donnie.

Marlow smiled, nodding. "Of course, Donnie. I wouldn't leave you alone like this. I won't promise that Butch and I will always be here, but I promise we'll stop back here as much as we can." She stopped outside her door, turning to Donnie and giving him a soft smile. "But don't worry, you'll never really be alone."

Donnie furrowed his brows in confusion as Marlow opened her door, gesturing him inside. Soon, Marlow heard his shriek of glee and she smiled wide, ducking inside. "Oh my gosh, you have a dog?"

Marlow chuckled, nodding as she knelt on the ground to scratch Dogmeat on the belly. "Yep. His name's Dogmeat, and he's the best dog in the whole wide world." Her heart filled with joy as she sat back and watched Donnie's eyes shining brightly, giggling as Dogmeat licked at his face. "Looks like he really likes you."

Donnie looked at Marlow, nodding emphatically. "Thank you a whole bunch for this. Nobody in the world has ever been as nice to me as you and Butch."

Marlow nodded, but couldn't help but feel the hairs on the back of her neck stick up a little bit. Where was Butch, anyway? He'd gone with them down to the Marketplace, she knew that much. But she hadn't seen him since. Sure, she might have still been a little ticked off at the guy, but that doesn't mean she wouldn't worry about him.

She bit her lip, shaking her head out of her thoughts as she smiled back at Donnie. "Don't mention it, kid." She stood, ruffling his hair as she began to walk to the door. "There's a fresh change of clothes in your bag if you want, and if you get hungry, just go grab whatever you want from Gary's Gallery. Closes in a couple hours though, so if you want something, I'd go now."

Donnie nodded, already heading toward the bag Marlow had given him. "Where are you going?"

Marlow sighed, strapping her pack across her shoulders. "I'm gonna go find Butch, explain what's going on." She began to close the door, but thought of something at the last second and peeked her head in. "Hey!" Donnie looked over his shoulder at her, eyebrow quirked. "Don't stay up too late, yeah?"

Donnie smiled a toothy grin, nodding. "Okay, Mom."

Marlow's stomach flipped, and she stood as still as a statue for as long as it took for her senses to come back. Silently, she ducked her head back out of the door and closed it behind her.

Mom?  Was that was she was?  She leaned against the wall, breathing out a heavy breath as she rubbed at her temples. 

Naturally, it was only human to assume the way Donnie did about her. She had taken him under her very wing, giving him clothes for his back, food to eat, a roof to sleep under. And she did love the kid, that she wouldn't try to deny. But, a mom? Was she even ready for that?

She stood up straight, pushing off the wall as local passerbys began giving her weird looks. Shaking out the nerves in her body as she started her descent toward the Muddy Rudder where she assumed Butch would be. Man, doesn't she have a story to tell.

But Butch wasn't at the Muddy Rudder. She checked the upstairs pool area, the bar, the cafe, even the room Bonnie and her guards slept in. He was nowhere in sight. "Hey." She nodded at Bonnie, waving her hand in refusal as she saw her begin to duck behind the corner for a bottle of scotch. "Have you seen Butch around?"

Bonnie pursed her lips, tilting her head to the side as she thought. "Nah, he hasn't shown up down here yet, hun. I didn't know you two were back yet. You save that kid?"

Marlow was really starting to worry now. If Butch wasn't sleeping off his hangover somewhere, this is the only other place he'd be. Gulping, she gave Bonnie a curt nod to answer her question but didn't stick around to continue the conversation as she bounded up the steps.

Upon opening the door, she collided face-into-chest with someone. "Oh shit, sorry, I wasn't paying attention." She rubbed at her irritated eye, looking up to see Harkness staring at her, saying something about not worrying about it, he was in the way anyway. She cut him short. "Hey, you wouldn't have happened to see Butch around anywhere, have you?"

Harkness' eyes narrowed as he watched her. "What, he hasn't come back yet?"

Her stomach flipped again, in a bad way. "What do you mean, come back?"

"He came flying out the front entrance of the ship while I was on duty, about two hours or so ago? I asked him where he was going, he said he was going for a smoke. Kid seemed awful upset about something, so I figured I'd just let him go walk it off."

Marlow's breath hitched in her throat. "Two hours? He was smoking for two hours?!"

Harkness' brows furrowed in defense as he put his hands up. "Hey, it's not like I could have followed him. I was on duty." He gulped, staring sheepishly at Marlow's shocked form. "Hey, do you want me to look for him with ya?"

Marlow instantly shook her head. "No, I couldn't possibly ask you to take time out of your duties to worry about him."

Harkness shook his head. "Listen, I like the kid too. I wanna make sure he's safe. Hate to think that the last human contact the kid had would've been with my ugly mug, eh?" He chuckled, but Marlow was too scared to reciprocate it.

Sighing, she nodded. "Alright, alright. I'm heading out now, so if you have any second thoughts-"

"Nope." Harkness was the one to cut her short this time, making sure he had enough ammo in his plasma rifle. "Let's go find him, then."

Chapter Text

Butch woke up cold. His shoulders and back were sore as if he'd slept on concrete. Upon opening his eyes, he realized that that was exactly what he did. Slowly sitting up despite his sore muscles' protests, he stretched his back, arms, fingers, and toes as he looked around. 

Where was he, anyway? This the bottom deck of the ship or something?

He tried getting up but was brought back down as his thigh screamed in pain. Hissing, he looked down to see a very large gash spreading from one side of his thigh to the other, just above the knee.

"W-What the fuck?"

A door on the other side of the vacant room opened, blinding light corrupting his vision.

_

"Did you at least see what direction he was heading off to?" Marlow was getting impatient now. They'd been searching all around the area of the ship for hours now, and there was still no sign of Butch anywhere.

"I told you, I saw him heading off toward Jefferson and then I had to get back to guarding the ship. I have no idea where he could be."

Marlow groaned in frustration, swallowing back the tears that were threatening to break loose. Taking deep breaths, she leaned against the concrete wall next to her, sinking down and ducking her head under her legs.

"Hey, kid. We're losing daylight here, what's-"

She held up on finger. "Just-give me a minute." Harkness sighed, but shut his mouth and moved to sit across from her in the shade the statue she'd chosen to take a respite by was giving them.

She took a deep breath, closing her eyes and focusing on the sound of her heart beating. She swore she could hear the gears grinding in her brain as she relaxed and felt her memories slip out of the machine's crevices.

"What's this even about, Nosebleed? I'm not gonna pay you back, you know that right?"

Marlow groaned, reaching out and yanking Butch's pip-boy clad arm back onto the desk in front of her. "I don't give a shit, I don't give things hoping for things in return like some people." She narrowed her eyes suggestively at him before looking back at his arm to plug the flash drive into the USB port of his Pip-Boy. 

"Well can you at least explain what you're tryna do to me?"

"I found you in a pool of your own blood shoved into a supply closet nobody even uses anymore, Butch." She realized she sounded much angrier than she'd thought to be in her head, voice deep and thickly laced with emotion. "No telling how long you'd even been there, you looked practically dead." She took a deep breath to hide the teary cracks threatening to break her tough-girl facade. "Hell, you almost were." She saw Butch's Adam's apple bounce as he took a large gulp from the top corner of her eye as she worked. "At least when she tries it again, I'll have an easier time finding you. It was a very, very close one last time, you understand that?"

Butch was silent for a while before he cleared his throat, pulling at least a tiny "macho-man smirk" as he nodded at the flittering screen. "So it's a tracker?"

"Simply put, yes." She extracted the flash drive, opening the spare compartment of her own pip-boy and stashing it there. "Stanley found an old chipping area down here. Odd place to have it. Anyway, you ever go missing, I plug in the drive and it'll pick up your signal. Easy peasy."

"Really? From anywhere?" She nodded, and Butch even spared a fleeting moment to look impressed before he scraped his chair along the stone floor, erupting into the ear-piercing screech he knew very well that she hated. 

She grimaced, looking up to reprimand the little shit only to be greeted with that infuriating snake at the back of his jacket. "You're welcome!" She shouted at his fleeting form.

It took him up until he got to the door of her shop for him to look back at her, smirk still plastered on his face. "I always knew you had a thing for me, but resorting to stalking me, Nosebleed? How low!" 

She groaned, grabbing a pen from her desk and heaving it at the now empty space, happy that it at least pierced the air holding his infuriating snorts.

Gasping back into reality, she sprung up on her feet, startling Harkness into doing the same. "What? You got something?"

She half-ignored him, forcing open the secret compartment that still held the ugly yellow flash drive, grasping it and shoving it into her USB drive. She looked to Harkness as the signal began flicking to life. "When Butch and I still lived in the vault, I linked our Pip-Boys together via this GPS flash drive. It'll tell me exactly where he is, granted he didn't end up breaking his Pip-Boy somehow."

Harkness sighed in content, a smile spreading across his face. "Oh thank the Lord for that." It fell silent for a short bit before Harkness cleared his throat. "You chipped him. So you love him, don't you?"

Marlow scoffed, trying and failing to hide the blush currently burning her cheeks. "Oh for-really?"

Harkness chuckled. "Hey, at least I didn't accuse you of being a stalker!"

She rolled her eyes, blush spreading to every square inch of her face now. "You better shut your trap before I take out this flash drive and find the USB port on you, Android."

Harkness broke into a belly laugh but otherwise remained silent, laughter dying short as soon as Marlow's pipboy sprung to life and flicked to a map. "There, it work?"

Marlow's eyes flicked enthusiastically to the screen, hope bellowing deep in her heart as she looked to the screen. As soon as she saw where it was, though, she felt her stomach drop and her smile fell instantly. Harkness shifted in front of her, eyebrows furrowing in confusion. "What? Is it broken or something?"

Marlow shook her head, sighing as she angled her arm to show him. "Look where it's pointing."

It took one second for his eyes to flick to the screen before his face contorted into something half sympathetic, half deflated. "Oh." Marlow nodded, her arm flopping limp at her side as she struggled to keep her breathing steady. "Listen, you don't have to go if you don't want to. I can go, kill a few lowlifes and bring him back here. No biggie."

Marlow set her jaw, shaking her head as she unsheathed her rifle from its holster on her back. "He's my best friend, Harkness. I won't leave him alone because I'm too scared to face reality."

Harkness nodded silently, unsheathing his own weapon and following closely behind her as they made their trek towards the front entrance of the Jefferson Memorial.

_

Butch blinked the light from his eyes, letting his hand fall from his face as he squinted to see whoever or whatever it was that had just opened the door. He swallowed back the hitch in his breath as it looked to be a rather large group of raiders. Or at least, somewhere close to raiders. Tribals, maybe? He'd heard about those vaguely from what Wolfgang's mercenary had told him about her dealings back in some place called Nevada, but he hadn't expected them to come this far north.

In lead of the group was a woman, tall, skinny, long hair and dark brown eyes glaring curiously back at him. He flinched as she took a step closer, squirming helplessly further against the cold stone wall. This made the girl stop, eyebrows furrowing as she held up a hand, signaling the others to stay put as she began walking towards her alone.

"P-please," Butch managed to croak out as she was close enough to crouch down in front of him now. "Please don't hurt me."

She said nothing, eyes never breaking contact with his as she slowly drew up an unarmed hand, placing it firmly against her own chest. "Won't hurt." There was a weird accent undertoning her voice, sounding like a mix of Butch's own accent and something much harsher. "Me Rolawnya. These my people. You hurt leg?"

Butch didn't know why he couldn't respond, instead bringing his eyes to where she was pointing. The gash had begun leaking more blood at his earlier attempts to stand, staining his pantlegs as it slowly trickled down and through the ankle cuff of his pants. "Ah, yeah. I don't know how though."

"Mercenaries, way wound looks." The deep growl in her voice had Butch's eyes snapping back up to her. "Talon Company. Bad men. Hurt good people." The girl sat on the floor then, sliding her bare feet under her as she nodded toward him. "You must be good man."

It was on instinct that Butch began shaking his head. "Not me. The woman I'm with, she's the good one."

"You with someone? Who?"

"I don't know if you'd know her. They call her the wasteland savior out here. Eye roller, I know."

Something neither alarming nor comforting glinted across the girl's eyes now. In a quick motion, she stood. Butch gasped, flinching back. The girl sighed at this, sadness and worry flitting across her face. "Am sorry. Cannot stay here. She and my people not get along." Crouching slowly in front of him, she pushed a flask towards him that smelled strongly of herbs and dirt. "Drink. Will keep wound from infecting. Have to go now." She stood, nodding toward her people as they nodded back, beginning to file out of the room. She looked back at Butch, eyes kind as she nodded between the liquid and him. "Promise I did not poison." She smirked now, which shocked Butch. "She will come soon. Good luck, friend."

She was gone before Butch could even come up with a way to thank her. Looking at the liquid before him and curling his lip in disgust, he sighed as he lifted it closer to his lips. He guessed this could count. Closing his eyes tight, he tipped it back in one fell swoop, biting down on his tongue and cheeks so hard he tasted metal, trying to keep it down. Eventually he had swallowed it all, and miraculously, he had started feeling a bit better, his leg not pounding as much. 

Gingerly lifting his leg so he could rest it on top of his ankle in front of him, he groaned and waited. The woman said she'd be here soon, and judging by all the weird shit that's happened to him the mere three weeks he'd been out of the vault, he had a feeling he could trust her.

He sighed, closing his eyes as a wave of exhaustion (presumably from the amount of blood he'd lost) suddenly hit him, leaning his head against the cool stone of the wall and letting it take him.

_

If there was anything to be thankful for in being here again, it would be that at least she wouldn't have to go past the Rotunda. Butch's signal was coming from the basement. Harkness still glanced at her as if she was a ticking time bomb ready to go off at any minute, and it annoyed her enough that she almost faked a mental breakdown to get him to stop wondering when it would happen. 

"This place sure is big."

"You should've been here when all the super mutants were still roaming. You'd feel pretty small then."

"Good point. Where exactly is he?"

"It doesn't specifically say, but it says he's somewhere in the basement. If I had to guess, he's probably in the control room, or the bunks, depending on whether or not he brought himself here."

"I'd bet you 1000 caps he didn't willingly trap himself in the basement of a super mutant's breeding ground."

The hairs at the back of her neck bristled as she huffed angrily. "I won't take that bet." She pushed roughly through the basement door. "When I find whoever took him, I swear-"

Marlow stopped short, blood running cold as she almost dropped her weapon. There, standing in front of her, was no other than- "Rolawnya." She grunted, bringing her rifle back into a steady position. "Why am I not surprised?"

Instantly, Rolawnya shot her unarmed hands up defensively. "Not here to cause trouble."

"Judging from our history, I find that very hard to believe," Marlow growled as she brought her rifle to rest against her chest. "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't kill you where you stand."

Rolawnya hissed a warning in foreign tongue to those in her tribe who brought their weapons up in reply, and they begrudgingly dropped them back to their sides. She licked her lips, looking back to Marlow. "The boy. He is hurt bad, but alive. In flood control room. Talon Company found him. Gave him herbs to help, but must hurry. Losing blood fast."

Marlow immediately dropped her weapon at the mention of Butch, setting her mouth in a tight line. "Fine. You and your tribe can go." Rolawnya sighed out a tentative breath, nodding her thanks as she motioned for her tribe to depart. She lagged behind them, about to mount the steps before Marlow stopped her with a hand to her chest. "Rolawnya, understand that if I ever see you or your kind around here again, I will not hesitate to pull the trigger."

Rolawnya's eyes flashed in fear, but she nodded and upon Marlow shifting to the side, she scurried up the steps. 

Harkness looked after her with wide eyes, gazing at Marlow with a confused glare. "What was that all about?"

"She submitted to Enclave alliance upon news of my father's escape from the vault. She was a spy, hired to follow my Dad and report back his intentions. She masqueraded as a helpless tribe girl running from those seeking to hurt her. Dad agreed to take her in, treating her wounds and helping her through it. There was a time I called her sister." Marlow turned back around, walking in the direction of Butch. "She was the one who told the Enclave about the project's renewal. Told them where we were. She was the one who got my father killed."

She heard a gasp of sympathy behind her. "Oh, kid, I'm-"

"Please, can we please just not talk about it?"

Harkness hummed in agreement. "Of course."

"Thank you." Marlow said, bounding down the steps and racing toward the flood control room. The panicked warnings Rolawnya gave had her heart pounding hard in her ears as she sprinted around the halls.

Hurt bad.

Must hurry.

Losing blood.

 

Fast.

She all but bounded into the room, tossing her shoulder through the room's door as she felt her heart in her throat. "Butch!" She groaned against the pitch blackness of the room, fumbling in the dark as she found the flashlight on her pipboy and flicking it on. "Butch, can you hear me?" She quickly swiped it across the room as she walked, walking from corner to corner, hall to hall with no sign of him. Her breath was getting heavier and her heart beating faster and faster as she began to panic. "Come on Butch, please answer me!" She scrunched up her face as she felt tears bristle her cheeks. "Please be alive, Butch. Not you too."

Blinking through the tears clouding her vision, she began running. The stinging of the tears piercing her eyes was blinding, and as soon as she reached up to wipe at them, her foot caught on something warm and heavy, and she went sprawling toward the ground. Hands stinging at the hard contact of the floor, she groaned and scrambled up to see what she tripped over. 

Her breath caught in her throat, eyes widening at the image of Butch's terribly pale face glinting in the green glow of her flashlight. "Harkness! I found him, over here! Hurry, he's-" she scanned him over, frantically trying to find the source of the sickly coppery smell protruding from him. When her eyes finally found his leg, her heart shattered. There was a very large gash, she could tell made by a serrated combat knife, stretching from his inner thigh all the way across his leg. The amount of blood pooled around the cut on the floor, and staining the entire leg of his jeans, made her want to throw up. "No." She whispered, reaching up and taking Butch's face in her hands. His head fell limply between them as she shook him, lightly slapping at his cheeks. "No no no no, Butch, please wake up! Please, I-"

"Jesus Christ." She whipped around to find Harkness looking between Butch's leg and her, alarm and terrifying sadness in his eyes. 

"Can you carry him?" Harkness nodded, and she scrambled back to make room as Harkness gingerly wrapped one arm under Butch's legs and the other around his back, slowly lifting him bridal style in his arms. Marlow sprung on her feet, grabbing her rifle from the ground. "Quick, we have to get him back to Rivet City. Madison will know what to do." 

"Kid, I don't think he's-" he sighed, following quickly behind her all the same. "He's cold, Marlow."

Tears flew from her cheeks as she shook her head vehemently. "He has a pulse, Harkness. I won't give up on him."

"But he's dy-"

"I won't lose him too!" She spun on her heel to face him. She let her eyes fall to Butch, pale and almost lifeless in Harkness's arms. "He's all I have left," she whispered, sniffing as she wiped at the tears spilling uncontrollably across her face. "So stop talking and get him to Madison. Now."

Harkness nodded, taking lead as he sprinted, with Marlow in tow, through the doors of the Rotunda and across the bridge leading to the ship. Marlow watched as the Rivet City surgeons took his limp body from Harkness, strapping him to a gurney and beginning to cut through his pants.

Please, Butch.

Please.

Chapter Text

"Here, Kid. You should eat."

Marlow tore her gaze away from the Rivet City doctors to look toward Harkness, who was pushing a plate of food toward her. It was kind, but her anxiety made the food look like the grossest slop she'd ever seen. She waved her hand dismissively. "I'm fine, thank you though."

Harkness sighed, moving to sit next to her and putting the plate in her lap. "They'll be going at this for hours, you know. Not exactly the most equipped emergency room in the wastes."

"I'm sorry, was that supposed to cheer me up?"

Harkness smirked. "They were pretty confident they could save him when I asked. He'll need blood transfusions. A bunch. Luckily, we have the whole shipful of people willing and able to give blood whenever they can, so we have a shit ton."

Marlow sighed, nodding. "That's better. Thank you." Maybe it was to please him, or maybe it was just because some worry was chipped away enough to make her starving, but she began picking silently at her food. "It was Talon Company kind of work," she murmured through a mouthful.

Harkness nodded. "Looked like it."

"The Talon Company, as bad as they are, don't just kill on random." She shook her head sadly. "They must have had orders."

"But Butch has only been out for a couple of weeks. Who'd be planning that?"

"It was because of me," Marlow sighed out, closing her eyes tight. "Someone must have seen us together, got him to get to me."

"Kid, don't blame yourself for this. Wasteland is dangerous enough as it is. Going it alone, I'm surprised he wasn't mutant chow."

"Yeah well, that would be more comforting if it wasn't a direct enemy of mine that hurt him." She sighed, slowly standing up.

"Where you off to?"

"I'm gonna go check up on Donnie. Get out of these clothes, maybe grab a couple winks. Could you let me know if anything changes here?" 

Harkness nodded. "Of course, kid."

Silently, Marlow made her way to her room and seeing no light come from the crack under the door, quietly as possible undid the lock and pushed the creaky door open. Stepping in and shutting out the disturbing light qucik;y, she flipped on her flashlight of her pipboy and looked around. Donnie, or at least a mass that looked like Donnie, was curled under the covers of her bed, unmoving and silent. She smiled softly at the sight, turning toward her bag and beginning to pull out her sweats and tank.

"Who's there?"

Marlow whipped around to see Donnie sitting up now, eyes clouded over in a mostly asleep haze. "It's just me, Donnie. Marlow. Sorry, I didn't mean to wake you."

"Oh." His features relaxed then, and he blinked some of the sleep from his eyes, rubbing them. "Wait, are you alright?" 

She furrowed her brows, looking to where he was pointing. Her heart skipped a beat. "Oh. Y-yeah, I'm fine. It's not my blood."

"Oh." He looked away when she began to undress, looking back at her approval. "Did you find Butch?"

Her stomach did a flip, pausing. "Yeah."

"Where is he? I wanted to show him something."

"He-" she sighed. She figured she may as well tell him. Not like the boy hadn't already been through more hell than the both of them combined, she thought he'd be able to handle it. "He went out in the wastes by himself. Got caught by a bad group that wants me dead. They hurt him, and the doctors are fixing him."

Donnie's eyes got wide, and he fidgeted, but as Marlow suspected he didn't look too worried. "Oh. Will he be okay?"

Marlow nodded. "Yeah, they told Harkness he should be fine after a few days."

"Will you be okay?"

Her cheeks warmed along with her heart and she smiled at him. "Yeah, I'm gonna be just fine Donnie."

She saw color go back to Donnie's cheeks, and she sighed. "Sorry bud, I didn't mean to worry you."

"No it's okay, I'm glad you told me the truth." He sat back, but then shot straight up and looked toward her. "Oh, I'm sorry. I'm in your bed, aren't I? I can move-"

"Don't worry about it," she smiled reassuringly at him. "I don't blame you, it's much more comfortable than those darned cots isn't it?"

Donnie nodded emphatically. "I was trying to get Dogmeat to come with me, and as soon as I hit the mattress I wouldn't move." He smiled at Marlow's laugh. "I can move over a little bit, if you wanted to sleep here."

Marlow tilted her head. "Do you want me to?"

Donnie nodded. "If you could?"

She smiled warmly. "Of course I can." He moved over, and she slid under the covers beside him, reaching over and shutting off her pipboy light. They lay in silence then, waiting for sleep to come before Marlow heard Donnie shift. 

"Marlow, can I ask you something?"

"Go for it."

"Do you-" he sighed, shifting toward her again, "do you not like it when I call you Mom?" She stayed silent for a while, unable to come up with a response before Donnie continued. "Because when I called you it earlier, I saw that look on your face. Like I just shot your dog. If you don't like it, I can stop-"

Marlow shifted up, reaching blindly across the covers before she found his hand, laying hers on top of his comfortingly. "You can call me whatever you want to, Donnie." She tried to show the smile in her voice. "I was just a little surprised at first, is all."

She felt the tension leave him as he sighed. "Oh, okay. Thank you."

She smiled, nodding. "You're welcome. Can I ask you a question, now?" She felt him nod against the pillows. "You don't have to tell me, but what do you remember about your real mom and dad?"

He was dead quiet for quite a while, and Marlow was about to apologize before he sighed. "Our village was attacked by a group of Enclave soldiers when I was 6. I don't know why, we must've done something really bad, I guess."

Marlow shook her head. "You didn't do anything. The Enclave are evil people. They'll hurt and kill tribals for the sport."

Donnie sighed, reaching back down and squeezing his little hand against hers. She held on. "My mother was so kind, caring. Beautiful, and smart. And my father was the same, strong too. Brave. They hid me, created a distraction so I could escape. Told me to keep running, don't look back. Like you did, back at the pens." Silence fell for a bit before he sighed, shifting so he was now laying with his head on her chest. "You remind me of her. Butch reminds me of my dad. S'why I called you it without thinking."

Marlow's heart swelled, and she slowly reached her hand up to comb through his short, curly hair. "I know I can't replace your mom, Donnie. And I don't want to. But I'm glad I can be there for you." Leaning down, she kissed the top of his head.

She felt the smile on his lips as he burrowed deeper into her, sleepy sigh coming from his lips. "Can we go see Butch tomorrow?"

"If they're done with the surgery, sure. I'm not sure he'll be awake, though."

"That's okay. We can still talk to him, he'll hear us."

Marlow smiled, wrapping an arm around his small frame as she used the other to stroke his hair gently again. "Okay, we'll go."

"Thank you," he whispered, and seconds later, he was asleep.

Marlow smiled, shifting to lay her head back against the pillows as she hugged his little body close, closing her eyes.

"You're welcome."