The War is over. Aliens and humans are no longer killing each other. Everyone gets to go home.
Project Freelancer never does get its day in the sun and neither do its agents. That magic bullet they needed to win the war has been found, and it isn’t them. The Director screamed himself fuchsia when the military brass arrived to retrieve UNSC property, Project Freelancer’s funding cut. The Mother of Invention is docked for the last time; when she flies again she’ll be a medi-transport, ferrying medical supplies to the Outer colonies. Everybody gets to go home.
Except Wash doesn’t really have a home to go to. He tells himself it’s not the last time he’ll see them as he watches them all walk away on the sun-soaked pier of the base. North and South have each other. York’s going to follow Carolina, and she’s probably going to let him. Florida and Wyoming walked off base shoulder to shoulder, and Wash wishes them luck with whatever as long as the creepy fucks stay far away from wherever he’s going to end up. Connie gets picked up by some guy with a Mohawk, waving to them and smiling over her shoulder. They’ve all already said their goodbyes. She’d gone up on tiptoe to give him a hug, whispered in his ear so the others couldn’t hear, “This is for the best, Wash. For all of us. Trust me.”
Maine and Wash stand together at the gate, one standard-issue duffle bag apiece and nowhere to go. Wash glances at Maine out of the corner of his eye. He looks different without his armor, smaller somehow. But also larger, the slick angles of the white titanium traded for the curves of human muscle. Wash knows this is the part where they’re supposed to say goodbye.
“Wanna find some place to stay?” he asks instead.
Maine grunts in reply, but he follows Wash out, which is answer in itself.
They get a two-story in one of the shittier neighborhoods of the mining colony they end up on. It’s more space than they need, but with their pension’s checks (including Maine’s substantial one—Wash never knew he was somehow involved with the Spartan program, and doesn’t know how to ask how) they can afford it. Wash gets a job blowing up stuff that the mining operations needs blown up. Maine doesn’t have so much luck. The colony’s a quiet one, not many jobs for the kind of skills on Maine’s resume, namely the ability to utterly destroy things and people (but mostly people).
Wash has slept with his fair share of women and men. It was alright. He could see the appeal.
Project Freelancer was full of sex. South made it a mission of fucking every woman on board who had even the slightest inclination towards ladies. Florida and Wyoming got caught on more than one occasion in the showers. Everyone knew what was going on between Carolina and York, even if no one had any actual idea what had actually happened or had yet happen between Carolina and York.
Wash didn’t fuck anybody. Now that he thinks about it, he doesn’t remember if Maine did either, despite the many pursuers who (bravely) dogged his steps for a chance at that. He doesn’t remember.
They have separate bedrooms, in their house.
Sometimes they go days at a time without speaking to each other. Wash wonders if he should be more worried about that.
“It’s just weird that we all went our separate ways so fast,” Wash says. “I mean, I know it was just a job, but, still—“
“What do you think I’m comming you for, doofus?” Connie asks.
The picture is a little hazy through the vidscreen, the connection not very secure. Whatever it is, it’s on her end.
“Now, tell me about your life.”
“Uh, I got a job?” Wash says. “I live with Maine. We talk sometimes. We’re good, I guess.”
“...Wow, Wash. What a ringing endorsement of how happy you are.”
“I’m still figuring shit out, okay? Let’s talk about you again, I liked it better when you were talking and I was thinking up the snarky replies.”
“Have you heard about the old Director of Project Freelancer?” Connie asks, a slight edge of caution to her voice.
“What? No,” Wash says. He doesn’t keep much of an ear out for that stuff since it ended.
“He got arrested a while back.”
Connie tugs at her bangs, brushes them out of her face.
“Ethical violations, they say. He was supposed to give back the AI that the UNSC gave him. And he did, he just didn’t give all of it back. Word in the news was all it ever did was insist it had to get something back, that it had to ‘go back for her.’ They thought it was just going rampant, until the second half of the AI escaped him and practically tore down the UNSC’s door.”
“He split it?” Wash asks, nausea rising.
“Looks that way. He’s got his trial in a month. Carolina’s pretty upset.”
“Wow,” Wash says. “Wait, why would Carolina be upset?”
Connie rolls her eyes at him, like he’s always been too thick to see what she does.
“Never mind, Wash.”
Wash studies her. He remembers what she said to him on the dock that day, when he’d felt like the world was ending, like his family was falling apart. This is for the best.
“You knew,” Wash says. “You knew somehow. Or at least you suspected.”
Connie just smiles.
Maine is bored. The entire fucking house is color coordinated. His socks are organized in order of grunginess. The pans are stacked from shittiest to shiniest. The grout is fucking impeccable.
“Dude, you gotta get a job, or a hobby or something,” Wash says. “You can’t keep going like this. And stay away from my socks!”
Maine shrugs, goes back to organizing the silverware. Again. Wash decides to let it rest for a few days.
The next day when he gets home half the backyard is tore up.
“’Destroying shit’ is not a hobby!” Wash yells, searching the house for Maine. “This is not what I meant and you know it! We’re renting, there goes our deposit, Maine—“
Maine looks up at him from the kitchen table, where he’s sorting seed packets.
“Oh. Gardening. Really?”
Maine just shrugs.
The garden grows. Wash blows shit up at his job. No one dies. It’s kind of strange, really.
Maine doesn’t scream when he has nightmares. Wash almost wishes he would.
What he does do is dig his fingers, his nails into whatever he can reach. He’s left jagged pink and red marks in the palms of his hands, in his arms, claws through the sheets, his entire body tense and coiled in on itself. He doesn’t make a sound, and yet Wash’s developed some sort of sixth sense for when he’s having a nightmare. He’ll slip into Maine’s room, try to take his hands off wherever he’s hurting himself in his sleep, spread a cold towel or his palm over his eyes, easing the tension out of his brow. He’ll sit with him, listen to him breathing until it goes soft and slow again, the rigidity of his form easing into the slackness of sleep.
He doesn’t remember if he ever saw Maine sleeping before the Project ended. He thinks if he did, it was probably in armor. He would have remembered how Maine looks when he’s sleeping undisturbed, like a big cat spread out on a rock, all power and peace and the promise of potential violence when it wakes up. They don’t talk about nightmares during the daylight hours. Either of theirs. They don’t talk about nightmares at all.
Maine eventually gets a job as a bouncer in one of the rougher bars in town, purely on his ability to actually be able to bounce people on the body part of the proprietor’s choosing. One day he comes home, length of bandage messily wrapped around his forearm.
“What happened?” Wash asks, going to him, his fingers already working at unwrapping the gauze to check him over.
“Lucky shot. Wasn’t even sharp,” Maine says in explanation.
He lets Wash gingerly remove the bandage, getting a good look at the six-inch cut beneath. Wash’s inspection is thorough. Whoever tied wrapped the wound gets a D- in looks, but a grudging pass for cleaning the wound well. It’s already been treated, and was shallow in the first place. It isn’t even bleeding anymore.
“This isn’t even that bad,” Wash says.
Maine chuffs a laugh at him. Maine’s skin is warm and bronze under his hands, no longer pale from too many hours spent in orbit and/or in armor. Maine showed him a picture of his parents once, the only one he had. Wash always thought he looked more like his dad, a big-boned Scandinavian type. Looking at him now, Wash can better see his mom in him, where the genes of the smiling afro-latina in the picture ended up on the mountain of a man before him. He’s got her eyes, for one.
Wash realizes he’s probably been holding onto Maine’s arm for way too long.
“Sorry,” Wash says, releasing his arm. “Got a little lost in my head there.”
Maine snorts in laughter and pats Wash on the head, half hair-ruffle, almost half a caress.
Months pass. A year passes. Wash blows up more things, helps integrate more equipment into the mining operations. The bar Maine works off stops having fights. He switches to a more violent bar. The garden grows.
The sound of Wash’s shout is what brings Maine into the living room. Maine briefly wonders if he’ll need to get the brute shot out of storage before he catches sight of Wash flailing at the vidscreen
“You’re what?” Wash shrieks.
“Preggers!” York replies, shooting the camera a jaunty thumbs up. “We are expecting a sprog, in the pudding club, we are knocked up.”
“Shut up, York. We are not pregnant. I’m pregnant,” Carolina interjects.
“And I would totally help if I could. I’d carry it myself, I would spare you that, darlin’, I would—“
“Oh, go baby-proof something,” Carolina shoves him off the chair they were sharing, York squawking his displeasure.
Carolina catches Maine’s eye and smiles.
“Hey, big guy,” Carolina says. “Hear the big news?”
Maine grunts, a bit of a curve to his lips his only expression.
“How’s the job?” he asks.
“It’s great,” she replies, obvious pride in her voice. “A challenge, keeps us busy. Ain’t anyone better to develop security for the UNSC than people who were so great at breaking in, huh?”
“I’m sorry, why are we talking about work?” York calls from off screen. “Baby! We’re having a baby!”
“Someone’s excited,” Wash comments.
“He’s been insufferable this entire time.”
“And you?” Wash asks, and immediately feels awkward about it. “I mean, are you excited?”
“Well, I can’t say we planned on this, but it feels right for right now,” Carolina says. “War’s over. I even get a year off maternity leave, but I don’t think I’m going to take it all. Got to have something to do, you know?”
“Suit yourself. I’m taking whatever I can get,” York calls from off screen again.
“You volunteering to be a stay-at-home parent?” Carolina yells back, affection in the lines of her body.
“Hell yeah! I’ve always wanted to be a kept man!”
Maine catches Wash’s attention with a hand on his shoulder.
“Going for a run,” he says to Wash, before turning to the screen. “Bye, Lina.”
“Talk to you later, you giant jerk,” she calls after him.
“Go jump off something,” he replies over his shoulder.
The screen door thuds behind him.
“How is he?” Carolina asks.
“I think he’s bored,” Wash says, turning back to the screen. “It’s like he’s…waiting for something?”
“For what?” York asks, poking his head back into frame. Carolina shoots him a look of fond annoyance.
“I dunno,” Wash says. “Something.”
Carolina smiles at him, that big sister smile she used to give all of them when they did something right for once. Wash is suddenly struck by how happy she seems, how content.
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out, Wash,” she says.
“You know, you shouldn’t let me hold you back, man,” Wash says one day, watching Maine tend the garden. “If you want to go do something else, I mean.”
Maine stares at him.
“I mean, we never really talked about it, or how long this was supposed to last. If you want to move on, we’re good. I won’t take it personal or anything.”
Wash keeps looking forward, overwhelmed and a little surprised how serious this conversation is turning out. It didn’t sound like that big of a deal in his head. Maine places a gentle hand on his shoulder near the near the nape of his neck, fingers sliding against his hair.
Then he pushes, the tiniest of shoves. Wash nearly squawks in surprise. Maine chuckles and gets up, goes inside.
“What does that mean, though?” Wash calls after him.