Tucker never even hears the crack of the fateful bullet, not over the barrage of other rounds being fired. This creates the illusion of silence–the shot is a soundless streak through the air. This, in turn, makes Wash’s choked gasp as the bullet tears through his neck unbearably loud.
Crimson droplets spray the air, sparkling like rubies. The Freelancer falls and the gems splatter the floor beside him. They’re consumed by the quickly growing pool pillowing the man’s head.
“Wash!” Tucker’s own voice sounds like he’s listening to it underwater.
He doesn’t remember running to Wash, only slamming his hands and knees into the ground as he skids to a halt at the man’s side.
The agent’s helmet is gone. Wash’s face is pale and he’s shaking as his wide eyes latch on to Tucker’s. The eyes are wild, frantic. Wash’s throat bobs and a painful choking noise bubbles past his lips. He jerks a trembling hand towards his neck, the movement instinctive but also pleading.
Tucker’s own shaking hands fly to the man’s throat, desperate to stop the dark stream pouring from both sides. But his hands slip away. He tries, again and again, to plug the wounds, only to have his hands pushed away by another rush of red.
The glassy gaze begs for help. Tucker can’t find a grip yet, somehow, he feels Wash’s heartbeat beginning to lag behind his own hammering pulse.
“Do something!” Tucker screams for his friends, tearing his eyes from the paling Freelancer.
An icy chill takes hold of his heart. No one’s there. Caboose, Sarge, Carolina, Grif, Simmons, Donut. Even Locus. They’re gone. Even the red and blue flag freaks have vanished, leaving the room empty and echoing. Tucker can feel his own throat closing.
“Someone!” He cries, voice cracking.
A terrible sobbing noise sends his head whipping back to Wash.
The Freelancer’s staring up at the ceiling in a daze. He’s not shaking anymore. Even the erratic heaving of his chest is slowing. Every breath is pained and wet. The twitching armored hand goes limp and falls, hitting the floor with a crack.
“No, no, no, Wash, stay with me.”
Wash blinks hard, struggling to keep his eyes from slipping closed. It’s a battle he’s quickly losing. His blood-coated gasps grow softer and softer.
“Just stay awake–th-that’s an order.” The teal soldier’s voice breaks. He’s choking on words and tears. “Wash, stay with me!”
Even as the light within them begins to fade, the agent’s eyes find Tucker’s.
Without warning, the agent’s hand shoots up. The grey and yellow armored gauntlet wraps around Tucker’s throat with a new found impossible strength. Tucker’s frozen, unable to even paw at the grip cutting off his air. The gaze that pins him is cold, electrifying. And the face is twisted with hate.
“This is all your fault!” Wash hisses.
Tucker flies out of bed, hitting the floor on hands and knees. A cup on the nightstand clatters to the floor. The spilled water splashes against his knuckles, momentarily sending him back to the bloody scene he just escaped. In the dim light of the room, the puddle becomes a dark stain. Tucker recoils, scrambling backward until his shoulders smack the bed. Chest heaving, his eyes fly to his shaking hands, turning them over and over. He blinks hard. It takes a few long seconds for reality to sink in. No blood. No blood.
Tucker curls in on himself, pressing his forehead to the cool cement. He stays like that, panting on the floor, willing the lingering shadows of the nightmare to fade.
It’s okay. He’s okay. He’s–
For a heart paralyzing minute, Tucker doesn’t know if the memory of visiting an exhausted but living Washington in the hospital on Chorus is real, or just wishful thinking.
He closes his eyes and wracks his brain for more memories–desperate to prove the nightmare false.
Walking Wash out to the ship after his discharge. Carolina pulling Wash into a hug and not letting go long after it becomes awkward for bystanders. Wash accepting an armful of handmade get-well cards from Caboose. Tucker punching the Freelancer on the arm and quipping, “Way to get yourself shot, dipshit.” Tucker’s eyes already sting and he knows if he tries for anything more emotionally mature he’s going to start to start crying in public and fuck that.
It takes time but he pulls himself out blurred space between nightmares and the waking world.
Tucker releases the breath he’d been holding in a drawn-out groan. This is the part when he shakes himself and climbs back into bed. This is the part when he pretends he’s going to get any more sleep tonight.
But tonight, he just can’t do it. Instead, he stays on the floor and stares at the far wall as if he can see into the bedroom on the other side.
One thing Tucker never considered before arriving at their retirement bases was the rooming situation. Given the lack of housing for soldiers on Chorus, it had stayed consistent for the last few years. Tucker roomed with Wash. Grif roomed with Simmons. So on and so forth. That was just how it was and always would be.
The moon bases were specifically designed to give everyone their own room.
But Tucker had gotten used to living with the Freelancer. To hearing the turn of a page as Wash stayed up to read by flashlight (product of insomnia). To the sound of his breathing from the other side of the room when he finally fell asleep.
Tucker didn’t say anything though. Wash probably wanted his own space and would sleep better without an annoying roommate always wandering in and out.
Then the fire leveled both bases and the sim troopers faced the task of rebuilding from the ground up. The universe gave Tucker the perfect opportunity to casually suggest rooming together again to ‘save space’ or some BS. But he still didn’t say anything. Because he’s chicken shit.
So he and Wash took separate rooms, side by side.
It hits Tucker midway through knocking at the door that he has no fucking idea what he’s going to say. Goddamn, he should have rehearsed something back in his room. Maybe he still has time to bolt before–
Wash opens the door
“Tucker?” The agent raises his eyebrows.
Tucker stares. The teal soldier’s mouth outruns his brain, saving him from standing there gaping like a fish.
“You wear glasses?”
Wash pulls back, squinting in confusion. It takes a moment for the man to realize he’s wearing a pair. He hastily pulls them off.
“What? No–I mean, just for…” He trails off and eyes Tucker.
“Is that what you came here to ask? At…” Wash glances back at the digital clock on the nightstand before looking back to Tucker with a faint smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth. “At 0300 hours?”
“What? I–no. Don’t be an ass, man.”
Wash must see something in his face since he steps aside to let the soldier into his sparsely decorated room. Tucker’s not in much of a place to judge though. His isn’t much different. Since Donut burned down the bases, their quarters have begun to resemble the set up at Crash Site Bravo, with the mismatched assortment of junk and sheet metal walls.
But thinking about Crash Site Bravo makes Tucker think of what happened after and that’s not helping untangle the tendrils of anxiety from where they’re gripping his heart.
Tucker’s not quite ready to talk about his nightmare yet. Instead, he wanders over to one of the few personal touches to the room: the wall beside the bed is plastered in crumpled, crayon-scribbled drawings that Tucker immediately recognizes as Caboose’s work. Wash has taken the time to carefully smooth them out and tape them in neat rows. Tucker spots an image of figures standing together on a hill, one blue, one teal, and one grey and yellow. They’re…not half bad. Or, well, they’re recognizable. Caboose has gotten pretty good at drawing armor. Tucker supposes he’s had plenty of practice over the years. Others are a bit more questionable. In another picture, the blue soldier’s either drawn cats or hotdogs with legs. With Caboose, it’s a toss-up.
“So when did you start wearing glasses?” Tucker asks, looking back at Wash standing by the door.
The agent is definitely aware Tucker’s trying to distract him from the fact they’re both awake at this god-awful hour and not by choice. But he plays along.
“Reading glasses,” Wash corrects, gesturing to a book lying open on the crude desk. “Grey checked my vision while I was in the hospital–after the fight with Temple.” It’s kind of sad Wash needs to clarify which trip to the hospital he’s talking about.
Tucker picks up the book lying on the desk. “Isn’t this one of Simmons nerd books?”
Wash nods. “Yeah, he lent it to me. I think he wanted someone to talk about it with.”
Tucker inspects the book further. “You’re really powering through the series. Number six?”
“Actually, the first five were lost in the fire. I’m kind of jumping in halfway through. Still trying to figure out what’s going on and who everyone is.”
Wash is playing with the hem of his t-shirt while he talks and it pulls down the collar to reveal the exit wound just above the collarbone. Something in Tucker’s face must change because Wash cocks his head.
“Did you want to talk about something?”
Tucker waves him off and goes back to studying the drawings pasted to the wall. “It was stupid.”
He’s answered by silence. When he looks back at Wash, the man’s crossed his arms. He raises his eyebrows at Tucker. Expectant. Great.
Tucker huffs and looks at the ceiling. “I had a nightmare, okay?”
Wash gives a faint nod. “Okay.”
Tucker folds his arms across his chest, making himself smaller. He looks at the floor. “See, I told you it was stupid.”
“Tucker,” Wash sighs, voice soft, “it’s not. It’s really not.”
Tucker kicks at the floor and risks looking up. The Freelancer is still fidgeting with the edge of his t-shirt, still occasionally revealing the barely healed exit wound. Tucker’s eyes go right back to the floor.
“Did you want to talk about it?” Wash asks.
Fuck no. “Not really,” Tucker says. He suddenly doesn’t know what he’s even doing here. He should just go and leave Wash alone.
“Well,” Wash tries, “do you want to do something to get your mind off it? We could spar.”
The Freelancer steps closer. It’s getting harder for Tucker to keep from staring at his neck. And Wash isn’t stupid. Of course, he notices how Tucker won’t even look at him.
Wash’s brow furrows. “Are… you okay?”
Tucker’s eyes slip to the scars of their own accord. The entry wound is small and round, almost hidden behind Wash’s jaw. The other is large gash above the collarbone. It’s had no time to fade or even properly heal and stands out even among his other visible scars.
Tucker scrubs at his eyes. “No,” he groans, “–I mean, fuck. It’s nothing–it’s just…”
Wash is standing close enough to touch now. Tucker reaches out a hesitant hand towards the man’s neck.
“Can… can I just?” Tucker can’t stop his voice from cracking.
Wash blinks. For a moment, it looks like he’s going to say something before, ever so slightly, Wash tilts his head, exposing his neck. That’s the permission Tucker needs.
Careful to keep his touch light, Tucker ghosts his fingertips over the thick scars on either side of the man’s throat. Wash’s breath hitches and at this distance, Tucker can feel it as well as hear it. But Wash stays stock still, determine to let Tucker finds what he needs.
It’s impossible to hide the tremble of his hands when his fingers are tracing the Freelancer’s pulse point, but Tucker’s past the point of caring. All that matters is this: even through layers of scar tissue, Tucker can feel the Freelancer’s blood beating against his fingertips.
Just like that, it hits Tucker just how close he came to a world without Wash.
A dam breaks and without warning he’s got his arms around Wash’s chest, hands fisted in his t-shirt. Tucker buries his face in the crook of the Freelancer’s neck, pressing his temple to the cold skin (why is wash always so cold?) until the steady pulse beats against his skin. Tucker feels the raised scar of the bullet’s exit wound brush the corner of his mouth and Wash stiffens.
Fuck. Guilt lances Tucker’s gut. He’s fucked it all up, overstepped. He’s going to back away, stutter out an apology, and retreat to his room. Then he’ll curl up in a ball and die.
But before Tucker can pull away, Wash shivers and relaxes. Tension melts from his shoulders as he lets out a long, heavy breath. Tucker freezes. And after a few long seconds, Wash returns the hug, hands coming up to hold the small of the teal soldier’s back.
That’s more than enough to keep Tucker there, gripping Wash’s shirt like he risks the man fading away before his very eyes. And in turn, Wash holds Tucker like a lifeline.
Because maybe they both needed this.