“I have an idea.”
Simmons freezes with a forkful of rubbery eggs halfway to his mouth. Hearing those words from Donut never meant anything good. Ever.
“Ruh-ro,” Sarge hums.
“Whatever it is, I don’t like it,” Grif says shortly. “Remember last time Donut had an idea?”
Simmons sends him a confused glance. “Nnno? No.”
“Exactly. It was so bad, we all had to repress the memory of it.”
“Come on guys, give me a chance! This one is good!” Donut whines.
“Uh-huh.” Grif crosses his arms. “What is it then?”
Donut’s grin turns uncannily sharklike, all toothy and pointed and absolutely threatening. Simmons swallows dryly.
“I,” he says in an airy-fairy voice that completely contradicts the chaotic energy Simmons swears he can feel emanating from him, “am going to prank our dear friend Agent Washington.”
The table goes deathly silent. Grif's pancake falls from his fork and falls onto the table with a pathetic splap.
“What?!” Simmons squawks at the same time Sarge snorts and asks, “Son, why in Sam’s hell did you ask for the devil himself to show up at your doorstep at zero five hundred hours screamin’ about leg day for your birthday wish? Ya coulda just asked me!”
Donut waits patiently for Sarge to finish his half-mumbled rant before he continues. “He's been way too hard on everyone lately!” he starts counting off of his fingers. “All he ever does nowadays is yell, paperwork, drills—I would name some more, but I only have three fingers on this hand, so.” He drops his hand. “I just want to help him get a load off!”
“Don’t you mean ‘take a load off?’” Simmons knows it’s pointless to ask, but he’s going to anyways.
“That’s what I said!”
Grif mutters, “Bullshit.” An oddly smug glint dances through Donut’s eyes, but it vanishes in less than a second behind deceptive blue eyes. Simmons squints at him suspiciously for a few seconds. The look does not reappear. Simmons narrows his eyes further, but after reluctantly tunes back into the conversation anyway.
“He needs to de-stress!” Donut was saying. “Haven’t you noticed he’s rejected every little thing we try to do for him? He hasn’t even come to a single one of our daily wine and cheese hours!”
“Maybe that’s because he’s a sane human being,” Simmons states flatly, “and his idea of ‘de-stressing’ doesn’t include getting drunk off of shitty wine and eating really old cheese, and then screaming at each other for an hour before falling asleep at one in the morning.”
“But that’s the fun part!”
“Or maybe he enjoys shooting large, slow-moving, orange targets in his free time!”
Grif is unfazed. “I’m gonna take a shot in the dark and say he isn’t, and that he’s into like, sudoku, or stitching, or some old person shit like that.”
“Hey! It’s not just for old people! It’s quite fun once you get the hang of it!” Donut huffs. “Look, the point is that he is being a total ass who refuses to take care of himself! He considers two hours of sleep ‘fine’! Grif, you can’t be okay with that!”
Grif glares at him. Then he drags a had down his face and groans, “Ugh. I hate it when you’re right. Fine. Whatever, yeah, that’s pretty shitty. No one deserves to not be able to sleep. But what’re we supposed to do, prank him into sleeping?” He frowns, adding under his breath, “How is that a prank? That sounds awesome.”
“Nope!” Donut rubs his hands together. “We’re doing this the old-fashioned way!”
“Do I want to know what that means?” Simmons murmurs.
“I’m talking about whipped cream! Buckets of water! Saran wrap in the doorways! Drawing genitals on each other’s faces and-and-or helmets while we’re sleeping! Just something to get his mind off of things!”
“You’re a menace to society,” Grif says.
“Why are you so against the art of relaxing?”
Simmons rolls his eyes and takes a long drink from his mug as Grif scoffs and goes to peel his pancake off the table. It’s weirdly stuck and takes him a lot more effort than it probably should. “Look—what the fuck is wrong with this pancake?—I am the embodiment of relaxation. Don't even start with me. I just wanted you to know I won't be the one scraping the remains of your body off of the training room floor.”
“Oh, calm down! A little hair dye never hurt anyone!”
Simmons does a spit-take all over Sarge and his breakfast. “A little—sorry, sir—a little what?”
Wash almost collapses in relief as he stumbles into the shower blocks. No one else is here yet. He’s a little curious before he remembers, right, it’s dinner. He would be alone for a little while before people would head for the showers before going to bed. He undressed quickly and goes straight for the middle stall since it had the best water pressure (he’s fairly certain he’s the only one that knows that), where he pushes a button on the wall and a stream of almost-too-hot water blasts him in the face.
After a minute of simply letting the water wash over him, it automatically switches off. Right. This wasn’t the MOI. Chorus didn’t have the luxury of access to unlimited water. Maybe in the future, they would.
Wash lets the air chill his skin before he blindly reaches down and feels around for the shampoo. He uncaps it and pours a liberal amount in his hand just because he can. It probably won't matter in the long run, and only end up as a waste of precious shampoo, but since it was just his own, and not someone else's, he doesn't care. It smells a little odd, but it was likely that was just his exhaustion thinking for him. He shrugs it off and continues to rub it in his hair.
And then he just... Stands there. For nearly an hour. For no reason other than, “I'm tired,” which is currently reasonable enough for him. So he stands there, nearly asleep (it's so warm and quiet in here), with foamy suds in his hair and his forehead pressed against the cool tiles on the wall, thoughts only briefly making an appearance through the sleepy fog in his head before sinking back down. Maybe he was getting sick. He wouldn’t be surprised. It’s been years, anyways. Something was bound to come up.
Wash only remembers to actually finish when he touches his temples to rub away an oncoming headache and hears dozens of tiny soap bubbles crackling and popping in his ear. He sighs despondently and presses the button again. He merely watches the stream for a moment before he tilts his head forward, letting the shampoo flow down the drain along with today’s sweat and exhaustion.
The water switches off again. Wash steps out, lets himself drip dry for a few seconds, then towels his hair off. He’s is halfway through re-dressing himself when he spots a deep blue smudge on the towel. He frowns.
...He must sicker than he thought.
Donut knows exactly when Wash enters the mess hall without him even glancing up. First, the quarter of the room nearest to the main entrance falls silent. Second, the silence spreads until the cadets who haven’t noticed the sudden hush are still the only ones talking, and still continue to loudly do so until they are elbowed in the side by their friends. Third, there’s a hesitant pause. A united uncertainty, wavering back and forth from, “Should I say something?” to, “Do I want to live another day?”
Someone laughs, a murmured, “Whoa,” that carries through the whole room, and the conversation continues with a lot more whispers and obvious pointing. Many people trot right up to him in a way they most certainly would not have twelve hours ago.
“Ho-ly shit,” Grif says in awe. “You actually did it.”
“The absolute madman!” Sarge mutters. If Donut didn’t know better, he’d say he almost sounds impressed.
Simmons doesn’t say anything at first. He just looks at Donut with horror. Then he whispers, “Where did you even find a dye that blue? Seriously, I’m having a hard time looking at him.”
Donut glances up at him with a light smile. “Around,” he says vaguely.
“Forget Frecklelancer and all that corny-ass shit” Grif’s voice pitches up as he strains to keep himself from breaking into hysterics. “‘Look! There goes Agent Carolina and her friend, Agent Blueberry Boy!’ Man, the bad guys are just going to be absolutely shaking in their boots.”
“Don’t be mean,” Donut chides as a flash of teal appears at his side. He turns his head as Tucker sits down heavily, slapping his palms against the table and rattling their trays. Caboose follows him a little more idly, nestling himself between Sarge and Grif and immediately beginning to rearrange his food into some design only he understands.
“Well, this is a fine how-do-you-do!” Donut says.
Tucker blatantly ignores him. Rude. “Alright. Straight to business. How?”
“A magician doesn’t give away his tricks—”
“No, but the magician’s assistants can,” Grif interrupts. He turns to Tucker with a smug look. “He put a shitton of dye in Wash’s shampoo.”
“Grif!” Donut whines. He swats at Grif while Tucker nods in approval. Then he stops.
“Wait a minute. How’d you know which bottle he was gonna use?”
Donut shrugs. “I just figured he’d use the shower blocks closest to the training room after he was done with the cadets, ‘cause who wants to walk across the base for a shower when it’s right there, and everyone knows the middle stall has the best water pressure, and he'd probably be super tired and it would feel nice, so I just grabbed the shampoo in that one, mixed in some Berrylicious Blue and Ultramarine and bam!” He snaps his fingers. “Easy! Took a little while to get the dye to shampoo ration right though, that stuff is potent.”
Tucker’s eyebrows travel higher and higher up his forehead throughout the story. Now they hang just under his hairline. He looks back and forth from Donut to Grif to Simmons and back again a few times before he whispers in a voice that trembles with laughter, “Seriously?”
Tucker gapes. “Seriously?”
He nods again.
“Oh, my—” Tucker drops his head to the table, banging his fist on the table as he cackles ravenously. Grif joins him a few seconds later when he hears Wash shout over the cadets head, “Please get your hands off of my head!”
“Ha! Ha! Yes! I know why we are laughing!” Caboose says loudly. “But maybe some people need some reminding about what it is!”
Donut tells him kindly, and although he doesn’t laugh like Tucker laughed, he does smile benignly and say, “That sounds fun. Can I have a turn?”
“Of course you can, buddy!” Donut hums thoughtfully. “We'd have to bleach your hair a couple times though, it's too dark...” He hums again and lazily eyes the room. He's quickly drawn in by the ever-growing crowd by the front door. He can't really see—Ah. There he was. He can easily pick out Wash, trapped amongst the cadets. Eye-watering ultramarine hair is hard to miss. Especially when it’s topping stiff, scary, stone-faced Agent Washington who sometimes looked like he had never heard what the definition of ‘fun’ was. A pleased grin forms on his lips.
“Gotta hand it to you dude. This was pretty good.” Grif leans forward solemnly. “But you’re still totally fucking dead.”
Simmons hisses, “Shut up, Grif!” as Wash spots them and starts to puse his way through the crowd and towards their table. He isn’t smiling. He isn’t scowling. He simply looks like a disappointed father. Donut’s smile fades. His confident gaze falters and he glances down at his food as Wash sits himself down right next to Simmons, who mouths, “Shit.”
Wash settles himself with a scary, calm manner that thinly veils stormy rage, lacing his hands purposefully over his helmet and sitting with perfectly straight posture. The effect is slightly thrown off by his shiny blue hair, so brilliant and deep that Donut can’t help but feel another pulse of pride that quickly dies as Wash frostily states, “Alright.” Donut feels goosebumps prickle to life from how cold his voice was. “Who did it?”
No one says anything. In fact, everyone looks away and takes an unnecessarily large bite of breakfast or gulp of their drink. Donut bites his lip and forces himself to keep looking forward.
Grif coughs and clears his throat. “So. Um. Training. What time was that again? Five minutes?”
“It’s in twenty minutes,” Simmons answers automatically.
“Oh. Right. Cool.”
The conversation dries up like a puddle in the desert. Wash ignores it entirely and stares at them evenly, one by one until they’re all squirming in their seats. Donut feels his frigid glare boring into him. He makes himself meet his eyes. “Look. I’m not mad,” he says in a very unconvincing tone. “I just want to know.”
Stay strong Delano, Donut tells himself. This is just a really strong, kind of un-killable Freelancer. Who almost killed you and your best robot bud one time. Whose hair you have dyed blue. A very bright, very permanent blue. That may or may not have gone out of style in the 21st century. You’ve done worse before.
Come on! Donut bites his lip.
The other eyebrow goes up. Donut’s resolve shatters into a million pieces. But before he can get a word out to confess to his crimes, Caboose blurts, “Tucker did it!”
“What!?” Tucker immediately shrieks. “No, I didn’t! What the shit!” Unbridled fear crosses his face. He lunges across the table and grabs Wash's hands. Wash looks largely unamuseds he tugs them out of his grip. “Wash, dude, you gotta believe me, don’t make me do more leg days—”
“Um...” Donut’s voice fails him as Caboose crosses his arms and says crossly, “It's rude to lie!” Tucker doesn't deem him a response. He merely makes several unbelievably vulgar gestures and finishes it with a flourished double middle-fingers.
“Eloquent,” Wash says dryly. “But that's not an answer to my question”
Another minute goes by in horrible, stuffy silence.
“It was me,” Donut says. Wash doesn’t hear him. “I—” he tries again, louder this time, but Wash holds up his hand. He stops. “I heard you. I know it wasn’t you.” Donut blinks owlishly as Wash says, “Who did it? And why are you letting Donut take the fall?”
“Wash!” he presses urgently, though that last bit still rings oddly with him. “I’m being serious!”
“So am I.” He turns towards Simmons. “Simmons?”
Simmons splutters for a few seconds before squeaking, “It wasn’t me, it wasn’t me!”
Wash immediately looks to Grif, who spits, “I don’t even use that shit, why would I have had it in the first place?”
“Wash, I’m telling you it was me, I can fix it—”
“No,” he says firmly. “Who did it?” Donut has to fight with everything he has to keep the pure mirth off of his face. He thinks Tucker’s eyes are going to fall out of his head if he opens them any wider, Grif is glaring at him with an expression that promises murder, Simmons is doing the same, and Wash still won’t look at him.
“If Private Lardass over here wasn’t usin’ those horrific blue substances,” Sarge slowly says, “what was he doin’ loiterin’ ‘round the bathrooms a couple nights ago?”
”Loitering—You are completely insane, Jesus Christ!” Grif snaps. “Why haven’t you been forced into retirement yet? God, I was taking a piss like every other person in this god damn base has to do at some point!”
“You know...” Everyone looks at Caboose. He promptly snaps his fork in half and fidgets with the pieces. “I did see Tucker with a weird looking bottle yesterday.”
Tucker’s incredulous expression morphs into fury at record speed. “Oh! Really? Really? After that shit you pulled a minute ago, you’re actually gonna—”
The entire table dissolves into insanity. Donut can’t help a snicker escape as Grif actually stands up to his full, rather unimpressive height and starts jabbing his finger at Tucker with a sausage waggling around between his lips like a cigarette. Simmons is holding his own in a hopeless argument with Caboose, while Sarge is loudly declaring a list of all of Grif’s traitorous actions against his superiors.
“What,” comes a new voice, annoyed and bewildered at the same time, “the hell. Is going on? And what happened to your hair?”
Donut turns around. Carolina is standing behind him, helmet tucked up on her hip. Epsilon appears over her shoulder, looks at them with a bored turn of his head, does a double-take when he sees Wash, and immediately hunches over and starts crowing with laughter. Wash sighs.
“I’m trying to get them to tell me who did this,” he gestures to his head, “so I can congratulate them.” Donut claps a hand over his mouth. “I have to give this point to them. They got me.” No one hears him. If anything, the arguing actually gets louder.
“Yeah, they did.” Carolina smirks, amused. “Just like the old days, huh?”
“Oh, come on, it wasn’t that bad.”
Carolina raises a brow.
“Okay, maybe it was a little bad.”
She snorts. “It was very much more than a “little” bad. You were actually convinced that you could throw up—”
“Alright!” Wash says loudly over her. Carolina laughs, genuine and unteasingly, and reaches out to ruffle his hair fondly. He rolls his eyes and bats her hand away. Her smirk softens a bit.
“In all honesty though, I think it’s a good look on you,” she says.
Wash brushes some of the strands out of his face almost subconsciously, bringing his hand to rest on the back of his neck. “You think?”
“That blond was getting old, anyway,” Epsilon cuts in. “You looked like a kid.”
“I guess so.” And that’s that. Carolina walks off, her own fiery red ponytail swaying slightly. Donut watches her in amazement before a spoon whizzing by his face brings him back.
Donut shakes himself, then grabs Wash by his arm and pulls him close. “Wash,” he says into his ear, “Wash, Wash, you’ve got to get them to stop!”
He scowls and leans away. “Until they tell me—”
“And they did! I told you, it was me!”
Donut waits with a patient grin while the gears visibly turn in Wash’s head. It takes a full thirty seconds, but when it finally clicks, he whips around and stares at him in disbelief.
“You’re kidding,” he says monotonously. A spoon bounces off his head. He doesn't react. He doesn’t even blink. That's how stunned he was. A surge of giddiness washes through Donut’s veins. The realization, the reaction, that was what he absolutely lived for for when he did these kinds of things.
This may be his most satisfying victory yet.
But he doesn’t say any of that. Even if he sort of really wants to.
“Nope!” he instead answers cheerily. “And I think Carolina’s right—It does look really...good...” Donut trails off because Wash’s shoulders have started to shake, though his face remains painfully blank. The others immediately fall silent. They glance at the person next to them in concern.
“Uh.” Tucker hesitates. “You good—?”
He stops talking when Wash lets out a snort. And then small snicker, a giggle, more and more until he’s got his face buried in his hands as round after round of wheezy laughs float into the air. Donut’s face lights up with glee as the other's jaws drop. Simmons just about jumps a foot in the air when Wash grabs him by the shoulder for support. His face turns red and he starts stammering, instantly instigating teasing from Grif.
In Donut’s professional opinion, Wash’s laugh is nice. Better than nice, actually. It comes from deep in his chest, a little bit quiet like an alarm gone rusty after years of disuse, but it still rings brightly into the air. He also snorts a little bit, something Donut had definitely not been expecting, and his cheeks and ears become flushed as well.
It makes him look a lot younger. Freer.
“I can’t believe—” he starts. He catches sight of their stunned expressions and breaks down all over again.
“Is he okay?” Grif asks after a moment.
“I dunno, man. He’s laughing.” Tucked pauses. “I think he’s dying.”
“I think he is just happy!” Caboose comments idly. “I know I would be pretty happy because my friends are doing friend things with each other like Colonel Croissant did for Agent Washington. And he is happy, I think, because he is laughing, and not a lot of people laugh when they're sad.”
Donut smiles gently as Wash begins to calm down. “I think you’re right, Caboose.”
After another few minutes, Wash straightens up, wiping a tear from his eye. “Do you have any how many times this has happened to me?” he asks. His voice is raspy and light with a few unshed giggles.
“Aw, I’m not the first?” Donut pouts. “I’ll just have to try something new, then.”
“Couldn’t you have made it red?” Grif, who had been eyeing Wash’s hair, comments with a hint of distaste. “Or like, orange? That seems more ironic than just plain ol’ blue. ‘Cause he’s already Blue and all.”
Donut scrunches his nose. “God, no! He’d look like a Weasley!”
“I think he said a weasel, sir.”
“A weasel? Private Donut! You know the protocol for talking about fake animals such as dad-gummed weasels around Caboose!”
“Oh! I love that song! But I do not think the people understand what it looks like for something to ‘pop.’ It’s very messy. Things go places where they should not go.”
“Caboose. Dude. Gross.”
Wash’s eyes crinkle and he looks at Donut with a quirked lip. “I’m not going to ask why you did it. You have more than enough reasons.” He hesitates, biting his cheek before rushing on and saying, “I hope it’s not too hasty to assume I shouldn’t be afraid of doing something similar to you?” Donut’s surprise quickly melts into delight, then into devilish grin.
“Oh, it’s on.”