If asked about it later, Wash would deny it was his fault.
In fact, when Connie did ask about it later, he blamed York.
It was mid-afternoon when training finally concluded and Wash—with a steady limp in his left foot and an acute tingling in his arm like fucking ants were marching across his bones—all but dragged himself into the locker room. York and Maine were quick to follow, just as eager to hit the showers before someone else came along and used the hot water. Wyoming and North arrived last, the latter needing to be chiseled out of the hardened paint and the former being stuck with the task by virtue of the other three agents making a run for it.
(They might've been comrades and brothers-in-arms and all, but none of them were above throwing each other under the bus. Especially if the bus wore glasses and had a goatee and was named Leonard Church.)
"You sure it's in your locker and not your room?" York was hovering at North's elbow, arms crossed as he leaned against the cold metal.
"I already told you"—North’s voice was partially muffled with his face half-buried in his locker—"I searched my quarters. It's not in there. And before you ask, I already asked South if she had it, and she said no."
"Figures." The locksmith sighed before running a hand through unkempt brown hair, a practiced maneuver. Again he peered over his friend's shoulders, his curious expression taking on a hint of apprehension. "And you're sure you didn't lend it to another soldier and forgot…?"
"No, York, I told you I—son of a bitch!" The other man made the mistake of trying to lift his head and caught it on the top of the locker with a cringe-worthy bang. With an uncharacteristic swear North withdrew and straightened, a hand now rubbing the newly-acquired bruise he could already feel blossoming across his scalp. Pale blue eyes refocused on York as he turned around, an eyebrow half-raised in question. "Why do you need it back all of the sudden?"
A shrug, as York resumed his pose against the locker, his nonchalance a bit too forced. "Oh, you know. For things."
"Important things," York clarified.
"I don't even want to know."
A disarming grin stretched across York's face, followed by a playful backslap. He didn't notice North wince from the additional pain that the gesture only added onto, what with the head-slam and lockdown paint-induced stiffness. "Good call, man. And the sooner it's out of your hands and into mine, the less likely someone will trace it back to you."
"Trace it back—? You know what. No. You're absolutely right." He'd been playing the game for too long now to not know better. Ignorance was sometimes bliss.
All the better to retreat from whatever minefield York planned on detonating.
"I could have sworn it was in here…" North rubbed the back of his head as he stared into the empty space. "Huh. Maybe South did—" His expression lit up. "No, wait, I know where it is."
And to York's surprise he beelined past his own locker and started inputting the combo for his sister's.
"What are you—?" The question trailed off as North popped open the locker, reached in, and held out the elusive razor. York blinked, nonplussed, as it was dropped into his hand.
"There you are. One electric razor, to do…whatever the hell you have planned to do with it."
"Yeah, uh. Thanks." York continued to stare down at the razor. "So why was it in her locker?"
"I must have put it in there by accident. We know each other's combos. Sometimes if her locker is open I'll just throw my things in there because it's convenient. She does the same thing with mine. Guess we're just so used to sharing space that it doesn't really occur to us."
"Uh-huh." Bemusement bled out into relief, and York pocketed the razor, a flash of mischievous intent darkening his face.
Against his better judgment North decided to prod, at the same time rummaging through South's locker with a disappointed frown at how cluttered and trashed it was. They may have been fraternal twins, but they sure as hell didn't act like it. "I'm going to assume that razor isn't intended for shaving-related purposes."
"You'd assume correctly," York chirped.
"Right." An exasperated sigh left North as he plucked what suspiciously looked like an apple core off of an old report. Brow furrowing (when was the last time his sister actually bothered to clean in here?) he began to dig through, setting aside things that needed to go. Preferably in a landfill, but in space you had to make do with what was available, so the trash can it was. "Is this something that's against Protocol? Because if you're intending on—"
"So whose underwear are these?"
That was the second time today North caught his head on the locker.
York leaned into the locker, twirling a thong around his index finger by the cuff. "How come you didn't say you were seeing someone? We would have congratulated you." He tilted his head, smile growing by leaps and bounds. "Or are these a reminder from a one-time deal?"
"First of all, I'm not seeing anyone." North only need glance up once before returning to purging his sister's locker. "Secondly, those are South's."
York flailed windmill-style as he flung the offending clothes back into the hellish crypt from which they came. Followed by a breathy exclamation as he slammed the locker shut.
One aisle over Wyoming laughed.
"Serves you right," North said.
York, meanwhile, was having none of it; dusting off his t-shirt in mock affront with the most realistic, disgruntled Pop-Eye impersonation North had ever seen. "Thanks," he said. "Could have said something."
"I did." This time North poked his head out long enough to shoot the other Freelancer a good humored look. "After you started going through my things."
"If South's knickers are in your locker," Wyoming asked, "then does that mean we're going to find your jockstraps in hers?"
Rather than respond North rolled his eyes and resumed cleaning out South's locker, leaving York to complain halfheartedly under his breath. "Great. I'm contaminated. Now I'm going to have to wash my hands with bleach."
Speaking of Wash. Weird how quiet his friend was being. If Wyoming was capitalizing on his mockery, then Wash should have been spearheading that particular bandwagon. It wasn't as if he could've ignored them. For the first time York turned toward the other end of the aisle, curious as to see what could be so much more fascinating.
And as quickly as his smirk fled it came crawling back like an abused spouse.
Wash, still shirtless and hair dripping wet from his shower, was sitting on one of the benches.
Staring fixedly at Maine.
The other Freelancer had yet to notice the attention and was standing in front of his own locker, more than likely searching for a shirt. It didn't escape York's notice that his friend's gaze was practically stuck, nailed, and riveted to Maine's hips, waist, and shoulders, eyes trailing over the sleek sheen of skin and cords of toned muscle.
Well. That was certainly new.
It went without saying that the opportunity to sacrifice someone else's pride on the altar in place of his own was tempting.
Fuck it. Go big or go home.
"Mind saving the bedroom eyes for later?" he whispered into Wash's ear.
As expected the kid all but jumped out of his skin. He glared, before he settled on looking disgruntled. "What the hell is wrong with you, you maniac? Don't do that." The implication finally manage to bypass his delayed reaction, and Wash flushed pink to the tip of his ears. "And I wasn't doing that."
"Oh? 'Cause that's not how it looked from where I was standing." York grinned. "I never figured you rolled that way."
"What?" Wash blinked, then sighed, loud and long-suffering. "No. I was—I was just. Thinking."
"While staring at Maine. Without his shirt on."
For a wild moment Wash stole a look at Maine, on the off-chance their teammate heard. Fortunately he was preoccupied with rifling through the contents of his locker to pay them any heed. "Would you quit making it sound like a euphemism for sex?" Wash hissed.
York held up his hands. "Hey, I'm not the one undressing Maine with my eyes."
"I wasn't—" Wash hesitated. His thoughts were clearly running on multiple tracks, and swiftly derailing, if the thoughtful pause was anything to go by. York liked to think that he had this reading-people-thing down pretty well (his opinion being the overwhelming minority, of course). "You know what? You can help me with something."
And that was York's cue to bail from that particular ship before it sprang any more leaks. "I'm not helping you get into his pants, if that's what it is. Although I do agree with you, you could certainly use the help."
Wash's face, if possible, flushed a deeper shade of red. "First of all: fuck you. Secondly: no, that's not it," he snapped. "I have a question."
"I'm pretty sure I don't want to know."
"It's nothing gross!"
Oh, York had no doubt about that. In the end curiosity bypassed his self-preservation instincts. "All right," he said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'll bite. What do you want?"
Wash paused. "What's the definition of curvy?"
"'Curvy'? Isn't that pretty self-explanatory?"
"I mean in a non-geometric context." When York continued to stare Wash reluctantly elaborated. "You know, like when applied to people."
This time it was York whose gaze shifted to the half-naked behemoth ten feet away, before darting back to a rather uncomfortable-looking Wash. "Oh god." Soft, incredulous laughter managed to slip its way past the fingers now sliding over the bridge of his nose and mouth. From underneath the facepalm he said, "You are going to make me regret this, aren't you? No. I want no part in your sick fantasies."
"Would you just give me the definition!"
"Definitions," North said.
Like a deer in headlights Wash froze. In silent deliberation he turned and stared, as if trying to gauge just how much of their conversation—if you could even call it that—he'd heard. Deciding it was safe, he asked, "What?"
"Definitions. As in plural." Evidently satisfied with the state of South's locker (for now), North closed and relocked it. "In that context there are two definitions."
"Which are…?" Wash prompted.
York kicked his heel against the locker and crossed his arms. "The first one is used as a euphemism for 'fat' or 'chubby.' It works scary well as a marketing ploy for companies trying to force certain mindsets on gullible teenage girls with low self-esteem."
Wash made a face. "Yeah, uh, not quite what I was going for. What's the other?"
This time North responded. "The other is used to define an attractive, healthy figure. Normally an hourglass shape with broad shoulders."
"Uh-huh." There was a processing sort of gleam in Wash's gray eyes as he absorbed that piece of information. He chewed on his bottom lip. "And hypothetically speaking, what would you say are the ideal measurements for someone who fits that description?"
"You mean the fat teenage girl one, or the Victoria's Secret supermodel one?" teased York.
"The second one."
To their surprise it was Wyoming who answered from the adjacent aisle: "Thirty-six, twenty-four, thirty-six."
When none of them said anything—York too busy trying not to laugh at Wash's mortified expression and North giving a slow, owlish blink—Wyoming poked his head into their aisle. Towel wrapped around his dark hair, he was still wringing water out of it. He pursed his lips at the trio when the silence began to drag out. "…What? Am I not allowed to have standards?"
"I thought British men liked women that don't shave and have bad teeth?" Mild contempt met York's cheekiness as Wyoming leveled him a cool stare.
"Uneducated twat." The insult sounded halfhearted and distracted, as if he didn't have the energy to feel slighted by the cultural jab. Instead, he returned to drying off his hair. "That's like saying all Americans like their women with artificial tans, Botox, and no brain cells."
"I can see why you'd say that," North said. "Not sure if I agree with you though."
"Who asked you anyway?" York added. "Why don't you go back to combing that caterpillar on your face?"
"At least I have the capacity to grow facial hair," Wyoming replied. The implication wasn't lost on York; once, he tried to grow a beard for the sake of simply proving he could to the smug bastard. The result was a "deformed-looking" (Wash's words, not his) scruffy patch that lasted roughly a month, before Carolina threatened to shave it off in his sleep if he didn't get rid of it.
"And come now, it was hardly like you were trying to keep this conversation private." As suddenly as if a spotlight were shined upon him Wash squirmed a little when Wyoming's gaze turned to him. "Besides, this intrigues me. Why all the questions, Wash? Someone catch your fancy?"
"For the last time, no." Wash scowled. "I was just thinking."
Wyoming flashed a brief, if not vicious smile. "Careful you don't think too hard, lad. You might hurt yourself."
For a second Wash looked as if he were on the brink of speech, when his entire stance shifted. Like a guppy with its mouth open he wordlessly stood there, the gears in his head all but visibly turning as he deliberated over his reply. Mind clearly made up he turned in Maine's direction. Then, with what had to be one of the single greatest acts of noose-tying York had ever seen, Wash verbally hung himself: "…You know, I never really noticed it before, but you're really curvy, Maine."
(Much later, when Wash did try to blame him, York made sure to point out that he hadn't made him open his mouth.)
Maine had been in the middle of putting on deodorant when he froze. Up until then he’d done an impressive job of not giving a fuck, but even he couldn't pretend to have not heard that. Very, very slowly he turned around, all six-foot-five-inches of him looking down (a long way down) at Wash.
"So you're either calling him a woman or a fat bloke. Is that right?" The amused quirk of Wyoming's lips made Wash very certain he would regret making his observation. York's kid-in-a-candy-shop look made him absolutely certain there would be blackmail for this, and by god would there be a lot of it. North, to his credit, had the decency to look politely confused. Or perhaps he was just regretting that he supplied the definition and was now a co-conspirator by association.
"No!" Wash said, flinching at how defensive he sounded. No, he definitely did not want them getting the wrong idea. "Look, I—it's just, I dunno, his shape is really curvy."
Wyoming cocked his head. "And you thought to voice this because…?"
Maine continued to stare.
"Hey, Wash?" North said. "Maybe this is a conversation you should be having with just Maine…alone. In private."
"And with lube."
"No, wait, wait, wait." Wash made sure to give York a particularly nasty look for that remark. "That. That’s not why I said that. This has literally nothing to do with sex. It was just an observation!"
"Well don't go leading on the poor chap with false impressions, you might get his hopes up." If Wash concentrated hard enough, he could imagine Wyoming's head being willed to spontaneously combust. "And how are you taking all of this, Maine, seeing as Wash is apparently fixated on your body?"
For once Maine seemed genuinely speechless as opposed to just voluntarily mute.
"Thank you, Wyoming, but I actually can speak for myself. And I'm not fixating."
"Yes, yes, you're quite right. I believe 'consumed with' was what I meant to say. Thank you for correcting that oversight."
"Jesus Christ, would you let me just—that's not what I—god damn you assholes—" His attempt at composure fell a little short as he attempted to dig himself out of his own grave. "It's just that, I noticed he has really defined features. He's got more hip and bust than all the women on the ship combined. Seriously, he's built."
“Next you’ll start telling us what shoe size the Director wears, or what South’s lingerie size is,” Wyoming said.
“I can help you with that last one,” York offered.
“What part of ‘just an observation’ do you not get?” Wash asked, his voice hitting optimal anger-induced squeakiness.
“We’re actually wondering the same thing,” Wyoming answered. “And still trying to figure out when you decided to start running Freelancer safaris.’”
"With every word out of your mouth this conversation keeps descending to new levels of awkward." York clapped Wash on the shoulder. "You proud of yourself?"
"Look, I just have a good eye for detail! It's not like I'm intentionally doing this!" It wasn't his fault that Maine was almost as obsessed as Carolina when it came to maintaining physical fitness; it wasn't his fault that he was cripplingly detail-oriented.
North arched an eyebrow. "So your eyes were wandering of their own accord?"
"I believe the correct term is 'amblyopia,'" Wyoming offered, with nothing benign in the suggestion.
"What?" It took a few seconds to ransack his brain for the exact meaning of the word. "No! I just like the shape—"
"You like Maine's shape?" York interrupted.
Just a tad desperate now, Wash bleated, "I meant the shape in general. Not his shape."
"But…they're the same thing." North was looking at Wash with the kind of vague concern that probably bumped him up to number one on his Counselor Recommendation List.
"I mean, I like the numbers," Wash backpedaled. "The numbers are sexy! Not Maine!"
Maine gave him what passed for his version of mild indignation.
Only then did he realize what he'd implied, and he stammered, nerves all kinds of jacked up, "I mean, not that you're not sexy. 'Cause you definitely are. Just not to me! I mean—"
"This," York said, "has to be the worst attempt at flirting I've ever seen."
Wyoming snorted under his breath. "I find that unlikely, given your own attempts with Carolina."
"Hey, it's not my fault she's oblivious."
"You think her oblivious?" The sniper tsk'ed as he finished drying off his hair and draped the towel over his shoulder. "Oh, she'll love to hear that one."
"Wash? Maybe you should stop," North said. He still looked like he was torn between amusement and near-patronizing levels of the Dakota brand of concern.
"Look—" He was really getting tired of saying that. "All I'm saying is that it would be a great shape for a woman."
"Are you implying that you wish Maine was a woman?" Wyoming asked.
"Worse, I think he's implying he'd bang Maine if he was a woman," York laughed.
"Could certainly have lived without that mental image, if truth be told." The mustachioed peanut gallery continued to regard Wash like a fascinating if not leprous anomaly. "It's unbearable enough when the rumor mill hits a dry spell and then springboards off the first scandalous thing to filter through the rank for weeks on end. Though I'd dare posture a dry spell is what got you thinking about this in the first place. Not an enviable limelight to occupy, Maine, old boy."
Maine still had that weird look on his face somewhere between stop talking and why are we even friends. Wash was still embellishing his mental hit list, which Wyoming and York were vying for the number one spot on.
"Hey, Wash." At this point Wash was pretty certain he was blushing a shade of red that would've made a tomato proud. He shot York a dirty look, who continued talking like a man who didn't care if he woke up with a knife between his ribs. "Why don't you ask Maine to give us a little spin so he can show off all of his curves."
At least this time Wash wasn't the only one giving York a dirty look. Evidently, Maine's tolerance levels were beginning to hit their peak. What that meant for him, he wasn't sure he wanted to find out. Best friend status didn’t automatically guarantee him protection from Maine.
Clearly he wasn't going to be walking away from this with his pride intact. Maybe there was still hope he could walk away with his face intact.
"Seriously," Wash snapped, "would you quit putting words in my mouth?"
"I'm sure that's not the only think you'd like to put in your mouth."
"Shove it up your ass, York."
"Don't you mean your ass?" Wyoming chimed in.
"I'm not into him!" Extra emphasis on not. Because clearly they weren't getting it. "I was just making an observation!"
North and York swapped looks. "Observation, huh? Sure," North said, "if that's what you want to call it."
Or they just didn't give a shit because martyrdom was funnier.
"Fine," he seethed. "Let me rephrase, then."
York leaned back into one of the lockers with arms hooked behind his head and nodded—his patented the-king-has-consented-you-make-speak-now gesture. "This ought to be good."
"The shape, in general, would look great on a woman. Not him."
Cue York and his fucking mouth, which he didn't have the curtsey to staple shut. "So are you saying that on Maine it just looks like complete shit?"
"Or that it makes him look feminine?" Wyoming tacked on slyly.
Wash deflated. "…I hate all of you."
Wyoming's smirk glowed with ten thousand watts of evil, dark eyes alight with glee at Wash's expense. "Please never feel the need to not share your observations more often."
"You're all dicks, you know that?" He made sure to look directly at York as he said that.
The infiltration specialist shrugged, as guileless as the day he was spawned by whatever dark pit had spat him out. Hopefully hell had a return policy. "Not our fault you keep giving us ammo."
"Seriously"—Wash switched his gaze to North and Wyoming—"what kinds of friends are you?"
Wyoming opened his mouth, a witty quip on the tip of his tongue, when his gaze abruptly turned to look over Wash's shoulders rather than directly at him. "The kind that aren't about to leave a crater where your face is."
"What—?" Alarmed, Wash whirled around, just in time to see Maine stepping over the bench and slowly stalking toward him.
Even more unnerving than the three sets of eyes watching him was the aura of palpable calm enshrouding Maine, as he backed Wash into the row of lockers. Instinctively he tensed, bracing for a fist and feeling his blood pressure skyrocket when the other man simply kept walking toward him—well into his personal space. Trepidation was replaced with confusion, then fear, as Maine lifted both arms and palmed the cold steel on either side of his head, boxing him in.
It gave him a very up-close view of Maine's abs.
Wash swallowed, not sure what to make of his friend's actions and not suicidal enough to out-rightly ask.
The last thing he’d expected to see was a fucking smirk on Maine's face. He dipped his head down, craning his neck to bring them eye-level, his lips curling in wicked amusement when Wash squirmed. Suddenly, Wash had a new appreciation for what an insect must feel under a microscope.
In his rough, grating voice, Maine asked, "Still think it's sexy?"
"No," Wash squeaked.
"Thought so." The much larger Freelancer's eyes dipped down, taking his time in letting his gaze rove over Wash's shirtless torso. The parody in the action wasn't lost on their audience, and Wash swore he heard York stifle a fucking giggle.
"Nice curves," Maine rumbled into Wash's face, before mercifully withdrawing. The second he stepped back Wash exhaled a shaky breath. Apparently Maine did have a sense of humor—for all of South's claims that he kept it in a jar next to his cot—and was chuckling lowly, rattily, but still chuckling as he grabbed his shirt from his locker, closed it, and proceeded to leave the room.
As soon as his footsteps retreated York doubled over and laughed to the point of tearing up, clutching the stitch in his side and nearly choking on his own spit. Wyoming trekked back to his own aisle, but not before murmuring into Wash’s ear as he walked past, "Best sleep with a rape whistle under your pillow, that’s a good lad."
At least North was kind enough to give his friend a reassuring pat on the shoulder as Wash continued to slump against the locker and try not to have a heart attack.
Even if North was laughing while doing it.