After, all Tucker can think is, I should’ve been there.
Deep down (deep, deep down) a voice that sounds a lot like Church’s tells him this is a pointless, stupid thing to think. He does, after all, have a lot more pressing bullshit to think about: is Wash going to die, what the fuck did they shoot him with, who has time to craft an armor-piercing dart in a warzone, how many more of said darts are out there—
And, most pressing of all, was there an antidote for whatever poison he’d been injected with?
But pacing outside of the ICU, clutching Wash’s helmet, all Tucker can think is, I should have been there.
No one has said as much but Tucker knows—knows—that the only reason Wash was the only person shot on a mission of twenty-some soldiers was because he did something stupidly heroic. The fact that these twenty-some people were mostly cadets and feds that Wash had been training only lends credence to this line of thought. Tucker can just fucking picture it, Wash pushing someone out of the way or telling Felix to “shoot him instead” or some other self-sacrificial bullshit.
Another voice floats up through his subconscious: Wash’s voice this time, clear as a bell. You mean, stupidly heroic like your stunt at the radio tower?
Fuck you, Tucker tells him, that was different, and you know it.
He can practically see Wash’s smirk, his arched eyebrow. Different how, Captain Tucker? he’d say, and then Tucker would sputter because he wasn’t good at making words in situations like these, not because Wash always leaned in closer when he said shit like that and for some reason it made Tucker feel....
Tucker’s grip tightens on Wash’s helmet until the groan of metal startles him into looking down, half-surprised to find it in his hands. He doesn’t even remember how he ended up with it. They’d wheeled Wash in on a stretcher, Dr. Grey shouting people out of the way and ignoring Tucker’s frantic questions—what happened? is he alright? what happened?!—and wheeled him right into the ICU, with strict instructions to let no one enter. Someone had shoved Wash’s helmet at him, and he’d clutched it to his chest like a lifeline, but he doesn’t remember who, or why.
He holds tightly to it now, guilt surging through him so powerfully it almost brings him to his knees. He should have been there, to make sure Wash didn’t do anything stupid, to protect Wash like Wash has protected Tucker so many times on missions. Pulling and pushing and dragging him out of the way, covering Tucker’s body with his own, carrying him onto the Pelican.
Holding his hand, the entire way back from the radio tower.
Tucker wonders, absurdly, if anyone held Wash’s hand on the way back from this mission, had pushed his hair back, told him it was going to be alright. He thinks they must have—there were people who cared about Wash on that ship, even though he can’t quite picture Grif tenderly stroking Wash’s hair. But—someone would’ve been with him, trying to make him comfortable, make him feel better.
He feels better himself for about five seconds, before the thought makes him feel infinitely worse. Tucker hadn’t even been around when the fucking Pelican landed—hadn’t even realized anything was wrong until he’d just so happened to be making his way back from training with his sword and heard a whisper, a rumor—they’re back, it went wrong, Agent Washington—
Tucker’s heart had plummeted straight through the ground, and he’d grabbed the shoulder of the soldier who’d spoken—Lieutenant Jensen, her face streaked with tears. “Wait, they’re back from the mission? What happened?”
“Something awful,” she’d sobbed. “They’re taking Agent Washington to the infirmary now and—“
He’d taken off at once, crashing around corners until he’d nearly collided with the stretcher where Wash lay, still in his armor except for his helmet. Grif had Wash’s helmet tucked under one arm, the other helping to direct Wash’s stretcher. “Dart,” he’d explained grimly, the second Tucker came careening around the corner. “Some sort of fucking poisoned dart, if you can believe that. Felix shot him with it.”
Tucker had barely had time to take in Wash’s state—shivering like mad, even through his armor, face white and slick with sweat, eyes rolling in his head—before they’d burst through the door of the ICU, leaving Tucker frantic outside the doors.
Grif. It had been Grif who shoved Wash’s helmet at him, before disappearing through the doors as well.
He supposes it makes sense—Grif had been on the mission, after all, and may have seen something that could help—but it doesn’t make waiting out here any easier. A small crowd has gathered outside of the infirmary doors, but Tucker pays them no mind, just resumes his relentless pacing.
At some point, he notices that Kimball and Doyle have arrived in the hallway. Part of him registers dim surprise—Wash was the only one injured, after all, it wasn’t as if they’d sustained catastrophic losses—before realizing that of course they’d be here, at least to find out more about whatever Wash had been poisoned with.
Neither of them speak to Tucker, and he realizes that no one has, despite there being a fair amount of people in the hallway. He supposes he must look a sight, pacing up and down the hallway clutching Wash’s helmet. His own, he realizes with a start, is lying at the other end of the corridor, although he has no memory of removing it—or, by the looks of things, hurling it across the hallway. Tucker can’t imagine what his face looks like. Devastated? Murderous? Disbelieving?
The infirmary door finally opens, and Dr. Grey steps out. She’s only half in her armor, as if she’d been in the middle of suiting up when they brought Wash in, her hair haphazardly thrown up in a bun. Tucker steps forward immediately, but she glances around him until her eyes land on Kimball and Doyle. “Generals, with me please—”
“Can I see him?” Tucker blurts, trying to peer over her shoulder. “Is he alright? What happened?”
She regards him for a moment, something haunted and sympathetic behind her eyes that Tucker doesn’t like one bit. “You may see him. But I’ll warn you Tucker, he’s—”
Tucker pushes past her before she can finish, darting into the ICU. He glances around frantically before catching a glimpse of orange armor and heading that way, to a small room just off the main bay.
Tucker freezes in the doorway. Wash is lying in the bed, tucked under several blankets with an IV drip in his arm. His armor and undersuit are both gone, and he looks incredibly small dressed in a hospital gown—especially compared to Grif, who is hovering by the wall looking as if he’d rather be anywhere else. Wash’s eyes snap to his as Tucker freezes in the doorway, bright and feverish.
His voice is weak and confused, as if he isn’t really sure it’s Tucker, and what’s worse, his breathing is strangely labored Tucker is by his side in an instant, dragging over a visitor’s chair so that he can sit right next to the bed. He’s still holding Wash’s helmet, and clutches it tightly on his lap. “The one and only.”
Wash says nothing, just blinks at him for a while, before squeezing his eyes shut tight. A shudder rips its way through his body, leaving Wash’s face twisted in pain, and he glances up at Grif, panicked. “What’s wrong with—"
Wash doesn’t scream or yell, just makes a tiny, hurt little noise that lances through Tucker like a lightning bolt. He can count on one hand the time he’s heard Wash cry out in pain and distress, and every single one of them was after a nightmare. He’s never heard Wash react to physical pain, ever, not even that time he got shot in the leg or stumbled from the crash of the Hand of Merope with blood gushing from his temple.
But Wash is in pain now, his breathing slow and heavy-sounding, punched out little whimpers coming from somewhere deep in his chest. He’s writhing in the bed, hands clutching desperately at the sheets, and before he can think on what he’s doing, Tucker reaches out and holds one of Wash’s hand tightly in his own, setting his helmet on the floor.
The motion seems to bring Wash back to himself, and he forces his eyes open, frowning at their clasped hands, then at Tucker’s face. “Tucker,” he says again, and Tucker squeezes his hand hard.
“Right here. It’s okay,” he adds. “You’re...you’re safe now.”
He glances up at Grif, who still hasn’t said a word. The seconds stretch on, broken only by Wash’s labored breathing, until Dr. Grey appears in the doorway, flanked by Kimball and Doyle.
“What the fuck’s wrong with him?” Tucker asks, his words coming out harsher than he intended. He glances at Grif. “What the fuck happened, what...”
“Palatorium poison,” Dr. Grey says. “It’s the most deadly plant in all of Chorus. Agent Washington has been shot with its venom.”
“By Felix,” Tucker spits, his hand tightening on Wash’s. “Right?”
They all glance at Grif, who sighs heavily. “Right.”
Silence. Tucker thinks he might scream, and he grits his teeth hard. “Grif, what the fuck happened?”
“We were right there,” Grif says abruptly. “Right there, at the entrance to the weapons cache. We didn’t know those assholes were there too until they were right on top of us. We saw them aiming at the cadets, but Wash made himself a more valuable target, and...”
“Why didn’t he shoot more of you?” Kimball asks with a frown. “Why stop with Agent Washington?”
“Think he only had one dart,” Grif says, and for the first time Tucker notices he’s holding something in his hand. He lets it roll out onto them bed.
Tucker doesn’t know what he was expecting—some sort of flimsy, feathery dart. Certainly not the sleek, black object that lies in front of him. The needle itself looks to be at least three inches long.
“Shot him in the neck,” Grif says abruptly. “He went down the second it hit him. We got him out of there as fast as we could, but...”
Doyle is leaning over the dart, as if afraid to touch it. “I can’t imagine how they even got the poison,” he says in wonder, “even touching the tree is incredibly deadly...”
“So now what?” Tucker asks loudly. “What do we do? How do we fix him?”
Dr. Grey glances at Kimball and Doyle, who both nod at her and leave the room. Tucker’s stomach drops, and he glances in alarm between Grif and Dr. Grey. “What? What?”
Dr. Grey sits next to him, folding her hands in her lap. “Tucker, I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do.”
He stares at her, waiting for the follow-up, the punchline, anything. It doesn’t come. “What?” He asks dumbly, and startles when Grif pushes away from the wall.
“This is bullshit,” he informs them both, and leaves the room.
“You mean...” Tucker swallows hard, tries again. “You mean there’s nothing we can do like, now? Today?”
The room suddenly seems very small with just the three of them in there: Wash shivering in the bed, and Tucker and Dr. Grey staring at each other. “Where is everyone else?” Tuckers asks loudly. He can’t do this. He sit here in this tiny room by himself and listen to Dr. Grey tell him that there’s no fucking hope. “Carolina and Caboose, and...”
“They don’t know yet,” Dr. Grey says. “General Kimball is going to tell them now. You simply happened to be in the—“
“Don’t,” Tucker says harshly. “Do not fucking say I was in the right place at the right time. Don’t.”
He glances at the dart that Grif has left on Wash’s bed, an absurd laugh threatening to bubble up in his chest. “But...but this is so stupid,” he says, the corners of his mouth twitching up in a smile. “It’s a fucking dart, it’s...there has to be an antidote for this.”
“It’s...possible, that there may be one,” she says carefully. “But even if there was...I’m afraid he doesn’t have much time.”
“How much time?”
“I’d estimate about three days. Seventy-two hours. Before...”
Her words barely register over the rushing in his ears. He can’t do this. He can’t sit here, alone in this room with Wash’s hand shaking in his own, with Dr. Grey telling him he has three days—three days—
“I—can you tell the others?” He mutters. “They should be here—“
He doesn’t have to specify who the others are, and she stands with a nod. “Is he in pain?” Tucker blurts, when she’s almost out the door.
The hesitation before she gives him a vague, noncommittal answer is all Tucker needs.
Dr. Grey leaves him alone with Wash and somehow that’s even worse than none of their friends being there. They need—they need Simmons, babbling on about antidotes, they need Caboose’s unwavering, obnoxious optimism, they need Sarge trying to manufacture some ridiculous fix-it machine, they need Epsilon like, cataloguing all of the planet’s plants and pretending he doesn’t care or something.
Wash lets out another one of those hurt noises and Tucker wants to run. Instead, he tightens his grip on Wash’s hand and yanks his chair closer to the bed. “Wash. You with me?”
Wash doesn’t answer, just lies there and shakes, and after a moment’s hesitation, Tucker brushes Wash’s sweaty hair back from his forehead. It’s getting long, and even soaked with sweat and grime, Tucker can feel how soft it is. He’d always wondered—
He directs his thoughts so forcefully away from that dangerous path that it leaves him reeling, causes him to almost miss the way Wash leans into his palm like a flower stretching towards the sun. Tucker freezes a little, the vulnerability of the action bringing a lump to his throat, and he does it again, stroking his fingers more firmly through Wash’s hair.
Wash’s eyes crack open, little slivers of blue fever-bright in his pale face. “Tucker,” he says, quite clearly. “Tucker. Are you alright? Is anyone hurt?”
“No,” Tucker says, startled. “I mean, yeah—I mean, I’m alright. No one’s hurt.”
Wash frowns at him. “But the crash,” he says. “I...how—“
“Oh,” Tucker says. “You mean the—no, Wash, that was months ago. You were on a mission, remember? Felix...Felix shot you with some kind of dart.”
Wash blinks at him, eye going fuzzy. “Felix.”
“Yeah. That motherfucker—“
“He hurt you.”
There’s a raw, unfiltered venom in Wash’s voice that makes Tucker go quiet. He brings a hand halfway to his abdomen as if he needs to check himself, forcing it back down onto his lap. “Yeah, but that was months ago too, dude. I’m fine.”
“I won’t let him hurt you again,” Wash tells him solemnly. “I’ll protect you. I promise.”
Something pulls and flutters in Tucker’s chest at those words, at the way Wash’s hand tightens around his own. Wash has expressed this sentiment multiple times since the radio tower, but never—it was always wrapped up in mission plans and tactics. It was never like this, a softness behind the anger in his eyes, a fervent promise on his lips: I’ll protect you.
“I’ll protect you too,” Tucker says, and it’s kind of sappy but he suddenly doesn’t care, suddenly wishes he’d been sappy five fucking months ago. He’d thought—he’d thought maybe, after the war, after the next mission, after the next meal—
He’d thought there’d be so much more time to do this. Thought that the first time he’d tangled his hand in Wash’s hair it would be after kissing him senseless (in a hallway, on a lake, in a storage closet)—not while Wash lay half-delirious in a hospital bed with seventy-two (seventy-one?) hours left to live.
“Oh,” Wash says suddenly. “I’m hurt this time. Aren’t I?”
Tucker swallows hard. “Yeah. But it’s—" he can’t lie to him. “I’m right here. I’ll stay right here.”
He does. He stays as their friends filter into the room, in groups of one and two and three. He stays as Simmons talks to Dr. Grey about antidotes, as Caboose tells Wash cheerfully that all he needs is a good night’s sleep, as Sarge muses about potential new healing devices, as Epsilon scans what passes for the internet on this planet for potential cure and pretends he doesn’t care that Wash is horribly hurt. Tucker doesn’t leave until Grif forcibly tugs him out of his chair, telling him to go take a piss and get some goddamn water.
“You’ll call me?” Tucker asks him suspiciously. “You’ll call me, if—”
“Yes,” Grif says impatiently. “Yes, I’ll call you. Now go eat. Fuck’s sake.”
Tucker does not eat. Tucker takes a piss and then heads straight down to the lower levels of their base, takes off his helmet and hurls it across the room. He picks up a broken chair and hurls that too, then another, then snaps the leg off of a table, then the next thing he knows he’s standing in the middle of a thoroughly wrecked basement with his head pounding and cheeks suspiciously wet. It frightens him, a little. He’s never been one to get violent when angry, but this is more than anger, this is—this is—
He does not have a word for it. He only has a howling chorus of not fair, not fair, not fair screaming inside his skull, and he knows that trashing all the basements in the galaxy will not be enough to get them out. Tucker retrieves his helmet, goes back to Wash’s room and resumes his seat.
Dr. Grey tells them to leave next, to get some rest, but Tucker categorically refuses. A half hour prior, Wash had called him Maine and everyone in the room had frozen for a solid thirty seconds. He’s confused, delirious, and only recognizes who they are about half the time. As if Tucker’s going to fucking leave Wash when he doesn’t know his own goddamn name.
Tucker tries not to count down the minutes—seventy-two hours, sixty-seven hours, sixty-three—but it’s impossible. The digital clock on the wall seems to be moving deliberately quickly, and the path of sunlight falling across Wash’s bed races from one end to the other until night is falling. Their friends filter out one by one, and Tucker resents them for it even though he knows it makes no sense for them all to hold vigil for three days with no food or sleep.
Caboose isn’t leaving either, he realizes. It takes him a few minutes to realize that everyone is leaving Caboose strict instructions to notify them if Wash takes a turn for the worse, Caboose nodding solemnly at their words and assuring everyone that Wash will be fine. Normally, they’d be telling Tucker to notify them, because Tucker is clearly the more competent of the two. At least, he likes to think so. But they’re not, which means that Tucker—
“You look terrible,” Wash slurs up at him, cracking an eye open. “Should sleep.”
“You look terrible,” Tucker says automatically, except it’s not nearly as funny as it usually is because it’s true in the worst possible way. “I look fucking gorgeous.”
“Yeah,” Wash sighs, eyes drifting closed. “You do.”
Tucker freezes, hand stuttering on the blankets where he was adjusting them around Wash. “Wait, what? What did you just say?”
Wash doesn’t answer right away, just opens his eyes again. It looks like it takes a monumental effort for Wash to keep them open, and even more of an effort for him to lift his hand and tug affectionately at one of Tucker’s dreads. “Y’heard me.”
All of a sudden, Tucker wishes he hadn’t. He wishes Wash would stop looking at him like that too, because—it’s not fair. The careful barrier that’s normally between them, the one that has Wash yanking a hand away after it lingers on Tucker’s shoulder for too long, the one that has Tucker hiding his stupid moony grins when Wash laughs for real, the one that has them both scrambling away from each other when they find themselves too close while sparring—it’s gone now, Tucker realizes. That barrier has been utterly stripped away, and the way Wash is looking at him—he wouldn’t be looking at him like that if he wasn’t hurt, if he wasn’t about to—
“You should rest,” Tucker says. He feels horribly guilty, as if he’s taking advantage somehow, but he just can’t bring himself to pull his hand away from Wash’s, and leave him without something to hold. “Just rest.”
Wash does, for a while, and to his surprise, so does Tucker. He drags another visitor’s chair over and props his feet up in it, falls asleep with his head lolling on his shoulder. His sleep is an uneasy one, with half-formed, fuzzy dreams chasing their way through his head. A black sky, raining poison. Someone screaming. Felix’s laughter, low and ugly in his ears. Dr. Grey’s words, over and over: there’s nothing we can do, nothing we can do, nothing, nothing, nothing. Someone moaning in pain—
Tucker awakes with a gasp, nearly tumbling out of his chair as he realizes that someone really is moaning in pain, and that it’s Wash, curled up in the fetal position, hands clawing at his chest. Tucker lurches to his stand, his chair clattering to the floor. “Wash—Wash, it’s okay! You’re okay—”
No he’s not, Felix taunts him, and although Tucker knows he’s nowhere near them and the voice is only in his memory, he can’t help looking around the room. He’s not okay. He’s in pain. He’s dying.
Tucker’s hands flutter helplessly over Wash’s shoulder as Wash breathes, low and shallow, tucking his head nearly to his knees. It takes Tucker a moment to realize that Caboose is standing on the other side of Wash’s bed. “Help,” Tucker whispers, eyes locking with Caboose’s. “Help—help—”
It’s like being caught in a nightmare, the kind where he can’t run fast enough or scream loud enough, but it’s real and it’s awful because Wash is in pain and Tucker can’t even pull it together enough to yell for a doctor.
But Caboose—Caboose, who Tucker normally wants to kill for being incapable of using his indoor voice--takes a deep breath and shrieks, “HELP!” so loudly that Tucker’s pretty sure the entire base heard him. He doesn’t stop there, just crashes out of the room yelling his head off, and Tucker has never been so grateful in all of his life.
Caboose screaming unlocks something inside of him, and he rests a hand on Wash’s shoulder, crouching down at his level. “Wash,” he whispers, “Wash—it’s okay—here—”
He jams his hand in between Wash’s where he’s still clawing at his chest. Wash doesn’t even seem to know he’s there, but he does grab desperately at Tucker’s hand. He wraps one hand around Tucker’s wrist and the other just up under his elbow, clutching onto Tucker’s arm, eyes flying open. “Tucker,” he wheezes. “Tucker—”
Dr. Grey finally bursts into the room, hauling Tucker away. She injects Wash with something, and for a moment hope explodes in Tucker’s chest—but Dr. Grey just shakes her head. “Not an antidote—just something to help him breathe—”
“He can’t breathe?” Tucker asks, stricken. He lunges back to Wash’s side, where Wash is slowly uncurling, gasping for air that does seem to be reaching his lungs a bit easier now. “Hey, hey, you’re okay…”
He offers a hand once more, which Wash takes immediately. “Tu…cker…”
“Don’t talk,” Tucker blurts. “You—Jesus Christ—just breathe, alright? Just breathe…”
Feeling ridiculous, he makes his own breathing nice and deep, and after a moment, Wash begins to mirror him. When Tucker glances up, Caboose is sitting in Tucker’s vacated visitor’s chair, his forehead pressed into the mattress, and Dr. Grey is nowhere to be seen.
Tucker doesn’t see Dr. Grey again the entire next day. The doctors that come in to check on Wash and make sure he’s comfortable are, as far as Tucker’s concerned, deliberately vague about where the fuck she is. There’s no way they couldn’t know where Dr. Grey went, no fucking way—
“She abandoned him,” Tucker says hotly to Carolina, who merely looks at him wearily. “She fucking—she can’t fix him and she can’t handle it so she fucking abandoned him. Didn’t she? Don’t you think so?”
“I have no idea, Tucker,” Carolina snaps. “Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters!”
He’s so focused on where Dr. Grey went, and on how Wash is doing, that it takes him a moment to realize how fucking weird everyone else is acting. Letting him storm and rage, not kicking him out of the precious visitor’s chair on Wash’s right side, bringing him food and asking Caboose for updates, not Tucker. When Tucker finally has to duck out to use the bathroom, he grabs Grif’s arm and drags him, protesting, out into the hallway outside the infirmary.
“Why is everyone being so weird?” Tucker snaps, not bothering to throw up any sort of pretense. “Wash is the one who’s sick, not me, but you’re all treating me like I’m about to break in half. Wash is important to all of us.”
The look Grif gives him is half-pitying, half-exasperated. “Dude.”
“What?” Tucker asks insistently, when Grif fails to elaborate. “What?”
Grif sighs, long and loud and looking as if he’d rather be anywhere else. “Are you really going to make me spell this shit out for you?”
“Spell what out?!”
“You. Wash. You’re...”
Grif gestures vaguely, eyeing Tucker meaningfully as if that’s supposed to explain everything. It doesn’t. “Grif—“
“You have a thing for each other,” Grif finally groans, glaring up at the ceiling.
“A thing?” Tucker says blankly. He shoves down half-acknowledged thoughts of Wash laughing, and the way Tucker’s stomach flipped about whenever he did. “What kind of thing?”
Grif finally looks at him, unimpressed. “Dude, you’ve been pining over each other for months. Everyone in the army can see it. If you’ve been trying to be subtle—“
“I haven’t—I’m not—“
They both fall silent, Tucker weakly trying to marshal his defenses or come up with an excuse before giving it up. “I hadn’t...figured it all out yet. He just...”
He can’t continue, and Grif sighs. “Dude.”
“It’s not fair,” he snaps, and it’s cliché and trite but Tucker doesn’t care. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.”
“I know,” Grif says.
Neither of them speak for a long time after that.
It’s far, far too soon before it’s evening again, before Tucker finds himself alone with Wash. It takes Tucker a while to realize that they are, in fact, alone, and he’s instantly on guard. This—it’s a bad idea, one that he’s almost convinced was orchestrated by their friends. He can’t be alone with Wash right now, because Wash has been absolutely drinking in the sight of him all day—of all of them, it’s true, but there’s something about the way he’s looking at Tucker. It’s one part longing and one part sadness and one part adoration and one part—well, Tucker doesn’t know what the last part is. All he knows is that no one’s ever looked at him like that. He wants Wash to stop. He wants Wash to never take his eyes off of him. He wants—
But he can’t have that. He can’t have what he wants most, can’t even give voice to it. So he sits and stares back, drinks in the sight of Wash the way Wash is drinking in the sight of him. The silence is not uncomfortable, but Tucker has to say something, but before he can—
“Remember when we met?”
Oh god. Oh no. He can’t do this. He can’t. Tucker wants to pretend he didn’t hear Wash, but Wash’s words are sleepy but not slurred, and Wash’s eyes are sharp on his. “Yeah,” Tucker says, striving for nonchalance. “You were bleeding all over the fucking snow and being like, so fucking dramatic. ‘It’s too late for me—just leave me here, men—‘”
“I know you didn’t want to bring me with you.”
And just like that, Tucker can’t breathe. They’ve never talked about this, ever, and Tucker’s always been grateful for that because he can’t deny what Wash is saying now. “Wash…”
“S’okay,” Wash says. There’s nothing accusatory about his gaze, just something unbearably fond as he smiles at Tucker. “S’okay. I know you didn’t want to. I just…I just want to say thanks. For doing it anyway. For…for bringing me…”
Home, he doesn’t say, but it’s all over his face and Tucker finds himself blinking back tears. “Dude, shut up.”
“You’re a really good singer,” Wash says. “But you should leave the drumming on every available surface thing to Caboose. He’s better at it than you.”
“He is not!” Tucker protests. He gives Wash’s shoulder the tiniest, gentlest shove. “I’m fucking awesome at the drums.”
“You’re not,” Wash says, one corner of his mouth pulling up in a half grin. “And you know how you think you’re really good at cartwheels?”
Tucker huffs. “Okay, if you’re about to start dragging my fucking cartwheels—”
“They’re all crooked.”
“They are not!”
“They are. All of them. Every single one.”
Tucker throws up his hands, pretending to get up and leave until Wash tugs him back down. “So crooked,” he says again, “But you sing nice, and you always make my coffee right, and your hair looks good when you leave it down. Actually, always. And I know you cheat every time we play Monopoly, but I let you win because I like your victory dance. And I…I really, really love your pancakes.”
“I put extra chocolate in,” Tucker says. It’s all he can manage. “When I make them for you.”
“I like chocolate.”
His voice cracks, and something tightens around the corners of Wash’s eyes. “Tucker…I…”
Don’t, Tucker should say, but he’s mesmerized, utterly captivated by the look on Wash’s face. He couldn’t look away even if he wanted to.
“Tucker, I love you.”
Tucker’s heart soars straight through the ceiling, before crashing back down and shattering into a million tiny pieces.
“You—stop it,” Tucker whispers. “You don’t know what you’re saying.”
“S’I do,” Wash murmurs, and there’s something sharp and lucid behind the haze in his eyes. “I do. I love you.”
“You don’t,” Tucker says, louder this time. “You don’t know what the fuck you’re saying, because you’ve been poisoned and you’re delirious. And if you’re not delirious, then this is some sort of deathbed confession, and we’re not doing that.”
“I’m sorry,” Wash says, the words leaving him in a sigh. “It’s not fair, to you, but I couldn’t...I wanted you to know.”
“I wanted you to know, because you—you deserve to know. That you’re loved.”
“Wash,” Tucker says loudly. He can’t fucking do this. “Stop it.”
“Okay,” Wash says, and he does stop talking but he doesn’t stop looking at Tucker, like he’s trying to memorize every inch of his face, like he’s the most magnificent thing Wash has ever seen.
“And don’t look at me like that, either,” Tucker snaps, but when Wash obediently closes his eyes he panics a little. “Hey, wait, never mind, fuck that shit.”
Wash opens his eyes again, and does that quizzical eyebrow lift thing that always makes Tucker feel—something. “What d’you want me to do, then?”
“Not die,” Tucker says, before he can stop himself. The words come out choked and thick with unshed tears, and for a moment he’s mortified before decided fuck it. “Please.”
“I’ll try,” Wash says, “but you’ll be okay if I do.”
“No, I won’t,” Tucker snaps. “I will not fucking be okay. No one will, so, you know, don’t use that as some sort of cop-out. You can’t die. You can’t.”
Wash nods a little. He says nothing more, and neither does Tucker, although he desperately. His own I love you is threatening to claw its way out of his throat and scream itself from the rooftops, but he bottles it back up, over and over and over again. He can’t. He won’t. Not like this.
Even now, he won’t allow himself to think that this might be his only chance. He will tell Wash in the morning.
But morning comes, and Wash does not wake up.
Tucker finds his words this time, screaming for Dr. Grey, someone, anyone. Wash’s pulse is weak and thready under his fingers, but it’s there, and that means there’s still time, still hope—
Several doctors burst into the room, none of them Dr. Grey. Someone yanks Tucker away from Wash and when he fights tooth and nail when the try to drag him out of the room, they settle for holding him tightly in the corner. Caboose, he realizes dimly, and he clings to him as tightly as Caboose is clinging to him. It seems to take hours before the doctors back away, before the screaming of the monitors dulls to a frantic beeping. One of the doctors looks between him and Caboose, her eyes sad. “I’m so sorry—we think…we think this is it.”
Tucker shoves past her, horror pulsing through him. “Wash? Wash?”
Wash’s breathing is slow and labored, eyes cracking open. His fingers twitch as if he’s trying to find Tucker’s hand, and Tucker takes it between both of his own. “Wash,” he whispers, “Wash. I love you too.”
Everything happens very quickly, after that.
Wash’s eyes slip closed and his hand goes limp in Tucker’s and someone starts screaming, starts shaking Wash’s shoulders—him, Tucker realizes dimly, he’s the one making those agonized cries. The monitors start to scream once more and the entirety of Red Team bursts through the door, in full armor with Dr. Grey in tow. They’re covered in mud and rain and what looks suspiciously like blood, and Tucker can’t hear what they’re saying over the roaring in his ears. All he knows is that they’re trying to pull him away from Wash and he can’t go because he needs to make sure Wash heard him—
It’s Donut who finally yanks him around, tugging off his own helmet as if that will help Tucker hear him better. It does. “An antidote,” Donut is saying earnestly. “Tucker, we found one! We had to journey deep into the bowels of the jungle, but we think we found one! Look!”
He turns Tucker around to where Sarge and Dr. Grey are both bent over Wash. Dr. Grey has a needle injected right into Wash’s forearm, which Sarge is holding steady for her, one armored hand around Wash’s wrist and one under his elbow. It looks as if he’s bracing for something and sure enough, the next moment Wash jolts, twisting under his hands with a cry of pain. Tucker lunges forward, but Donut catches him around the chest. “Tucker, wait!”
“Almost there!” Dr. Grey says cheerfully, but there’s a tension underlying her words. “Just a wee bit more…”
Wash cries out again and Tucker struggles harder—although what the fuck he was gonna do if he got loose, he sure as shit couldn’t say—but Donut holds him tighter still. Moments later, Wash is falling back limp against the pillows, and for one horrible moment Tucker thinks the worst—
Until Wash heaves a great gasp, the deepest breath Tucker’s heard him take in days, and everyone else in the room breathes with him. His eyes open, blinking around at all of them. Dr. Grey rests a hand on his forehead, beaming. “Just rest, Wash. You’re exhausted.”
Wash’s eyes close almost immediately, and Tucker collapses back against Donut, and shakes and shakes and shakes.
He paces inside of Wash’s hospital room. He paces outside of Wash’s hospital room. He paces the bathroom, the hallways, the armory. He paces around Dr. Grey’s office, fires question after question at her, all of them some variation of what the fuck. “Tucker,” she finally says testily, “do you want to go over the whithertos and the whyfors of just how we came across that antidote—”
“And saved the day, in true red team fashion—”
“Yes, thank you Colonel—or do you want to go see Wash?”
Tucker stops pacing. Stares at her. “Wash is awake?”
“Yes,” she says impatiently, “that’s what I’ve been trying to tell you—”
Tucker runs. He runs clear across the hospital and shoulders Wash’s door open so hard it bounces off the wall. Wash is sitting up in bed, looking at the door—almost expectantly, almost as if he was waiting for Tucker—his eyes bright and clear, breathing even and gloriously normal. “Hi, Tuck—”
“Are you okay?” Tucker demands.
“Yeah,” Wash says. “At least, I think so—”
“But I mean, are you like…” Tucker flaps his hands around. “Are you lucid?”
Wash lifts an eyebrow. He lifts his eyebrow in that way he does and Tucker’s heart picks itself back up off the floor from where it broke last night and knits itself back together. “My name is Agent Washington. I’m on a planet called Chorus. I’ve been very sick, because I was poisoned via some sort of dart that Felix shot me with on our latest mission to retrieve weapons.”
“And me?” Tucker asks. It comes out as a breathy whisper. He doesn’t care.
“You,” Wash says, “are Lavernius Tucker.”
“Okay,” Tucker says. “Okay. Right. Okay.”
He strides across the room, ignores the visitor’s chair completely, and sits right on the edge of Wash’s bed. “Right. Okay, so, you can’t sing. At all. You have zero musicality.”
“Yeah. It’s super cute how you try to harmonize when I sing, but you suck at it.”
Wash sputters indignantly, folding his arms across his chest. “I do not—”
“You do. But don’t stop, I dig it. Oh, and I know you think that you just happen to have awful luck with cars, but you’re actually the world’s shittiest driver. Seriously, what is up with the thing where you…” Tucker mimes accelerating and then braking, accelerating then braking. “What is that?”
Wash doesn’t try to deny that one, just rolls his eyes. “Anything else, Captain Tucker?”
“Yeah.” Tucker inches closer, until his hip is pressed against Wash’s leg. “Yeah. I like it when you call me Captain Tucker. Think I’d like it even more if you bent me over a desk and whispered it real slow. Also, your hair is so soft—like, what the fuck kind of conditioner do you use? Who has hair like that in a warzone?”
Wash’s mouth is twitching now, as if he’s trying not to smile. “I like watching you throw knives. When anyone else does it, it makes me feel weird, but you…it’s not scary, when you do it. And I thought of you, after Felix stabbed me, and I…”
He clears his throat. “I may not have wanted you to come with us after Sidewinder, but it was one of the best fucking things that ever happened to me. I want you to come with us, now—I want you to come with me. Wherever I go. I want you there. Or I’ll come with you. It doesn’t matter, as long as…as long as you’re there.
Silence. He realizes that Wash’s hand is in his, although he isn’t quite sure how it happened. “Oh, and I love you too,” Tucker says. “In case that wasn’t obvi—”
For some reason, he’d always imagined that he would be the one to kiss Wash first, but this—Wash leaning in, Wash cupping his jaw reverently, Wash pulling him closer and closer until their chests are pressed tight together—it’s better than anything, anything, Tucker could’ve imagined. He kisses back, twining his fingers through Wash’s soft hair. “I love you,” Wash says at one point, murmuring against Tucker’s lips, and then they’re wrapped together in a tight embrace, faces pressed into each other’s neck.
“I’m glad you’re alive,” Tucker says thickly, and Wash hugs him tighter still.
“Me too,” he says, pressing hips lips to Tucker’s neck. “Me too.”