"Why are we here?"
Experience had taught him that waking up was harder than being knocked unconscious, and this time is no different. He's been lying in the snow long enough for the cold to seep through his armor and send a chill through his bones. He's not quite conscious, not yet, still struggling to breathe.
"We are not having this conversation again."
"Not that, you idiot. I mean why are we standing here?"
It takes a long moment for him to struggle past the haze of pain clouding his senses and blink his eyes open. He's grateful for his helmet; at least his face won't freeze off. His training kicks in, almost in instinct at this point. He's been in this situation enough times to know he has to make sure he's healing properly.
"Because Sarge told us to, dumbass! Are you ever going to start paying attention when he gives us orders?"
"Don't even give me that, you know he can't order us around anymore."
"That doesn't mean we should disrespect him!"
Bringing up his HUD to check on his healing unit takes a few tries, and he manages a shaky breath when he sees it's still functioning. Slowly, more so than he'd like to admit, he increases its output to send more drugs into his bloodstream. He knows from experience that the side effects won't be pretty later, but he can't worry about that now.
"God, are you ever going to stop being a kissass?"
"I'm not being a kissass, I'm respecting our commanding officer! You should follow my lead!"
"Follow your lead? Into what, insanity?"
He closes his eyes and tries to summon his strength. He hasn't fought for this long to give up now, no matter how much his body wants to stay crumpled in the snow. He can hear the simulation soldiers bickering above him. He'll have to be quick if he's going to get past them.
"Sarge said I was capable of being a good leader--"
"'Capable' doesn't mean 'should,' dumbass!"
"That's not the -- Grif, he's moving!"
It takes the blink of an eye for him to register that they know he's awake, and he puts all of his strength into pushing himself up and kicking out towards the sound of their voices. He's struggling harder than he thought he would, and it's taking almost all of his strength just to stay up on his hands, but he's not going to let them take him easily.
But there's not much he can do about a heavy orange soldier sitting on top of him. Washington groans in pain, fingers scrambling in the snow for his weapon. "Get off--"
"Dude, after that shit you pulled earlier? We're not taking any chances."
"I can't breathe--" he chokes out, and it's not entirely untrue.
"Get off him, you moron," Simmons sighs, and Washington feels a sudden spike of appreciation for the maroon soldier. He knew there was a reason he'd let him live.
"Come on, he doesn't need to breathe! He's probably just waiting to us to let down our guard, and then we're gonna get our asses handed to us again. I am not going through that."
"We have guns, Grif."
"What's the fun in that? Besides, I don't feel like getting up, I've been standing for hours--"
"It's only been twenty minutes!"
"Hours, Simmons. Honestly, after all the times you've yelled at me to fix my helmet clock, I would think you of all people would be able to keep track--"
"Grif! What are you doing with the prisoner?"
Somehow, just hearing Sarge's voice again makes something shrivel up deep inside of Washington, and his words don't help. The last thing he wants to do right about now is deal with that idiot again. If he could manage more than pained breaths, he'd protest, but as it is there's little he can do but pray Grif gets off of him, and soon.
"I'm keeping watch, what's it look like I'm doing?"
"You're sitting down on the job again!"
"No, I'm keeping him from killing all of us!"
"I'm not--" Okay, maybe he shouldn't have tried to talk, because all that's coming out is pained coughing. "I'm not going to kill you--"
"Oh, and you expect us to believe that? Sarge, come on, why are we even watching him?"
"Because I told you to, Private!"
"I'm not a private! We went over this!"
"What are you guys doing?" Washington can hear a new pair of boots crunching over the snow, and he sees a flash of green in the corner of his eye. "Whoa, dude, I didn't know you swung that way."
"I'm subduing the prisoner! Don't any of you know how this works?"
"Tucker! Tuckertuckertucker can we keep him can we keep him--" Oh, God, no. Not him. Anyone but him. That second pair of footsteps has to be a hallucination.
"Shut up, Caboose, I already said okay! Stop asking already!"
"You're doing what?" Sarge growls, his suspicious clear.
"I said we're keeping him. Seriously, Grif, get off, you're going to squash him."
"Ugh, fiiiine." The soldier slowly climbed off of Washington, and he gasps, finally able to get air into his lungs. The healing unit has had time to start working its way through his system, and he slowly struggles to turn himself over and sit up. He can feel hands on his shoulders, and while he jerks and tries to shake them off, they help him upright and keep him there.
He can see all of the soldiers properly now -- Grif looks annoyed that he had to get up, Sarge is tapping his shotgun in his hand, and Tucker is standing right in front of him, helmet tilted. He doesn't quite know what to expect from the soldier -- he's the only one he hasn't really met before now, only recognizing him as the guy with the sword the others had mentioned. It's a long moment before Tucker lets out a sigh.
"Look, dude, the way I see it, there's only two ways out of this. We already called Command, and they're going to be here soon to clean up and figure out what the hell went down. I figure if you don't want to stick with them, we've got an open spot on Blue Team."
Silence, and then-- "You're serious."
The Reds start talking all at once. Sarge demands to know if Tucker's out of his mind. Simmons yelps and takes it upon himself to remind everyone that this was the man who shot Donut and Lopez. Grif wants to know if they've got a death wish. Tucker just lifts his shoulders in a shrug.
"If it wasn't for him, that crazy guy would have killed all of us. He did some pretty bad shit along the way, yeah. But I'm not gonna write him off just because of that."
"And I want to keep him."
"And Caboose wants to keep him. Doesn't give me much choice, guys. So, dude." He looks down at Wash and offers his hand. "You in?"
He could take the time to consider all of his options. He's got Epsilon, damaged though he is, and there's a chance he could convince the Chairman to honor their agreement. But what does he have after that? The last vestiges of Project Freelancer are on this icy plain, and he's not sure if he really wants that military career he dreamed of anymore. He could think about what it would be like with these idiots all day and night, giving him grief about every little thing that goes wrong and being stuck fighting another team of idiots.
But he doesn't.
He doesn't think about what's past or what could be. He doesn't think about what his life has turned out to be. He's learned to trust his gut above all else, the one thing that has yet to betray him, even when his mind wasn't his own.
Washington reaches out and takes Tucker's hand, pulling himself up with his help.