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a cat in more ways than one

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Church’s eyes flew open.

He was outside, lying on top of what felt like grass. The sun was directly above him, and he found himself squinting at the sight of it.

He was breathing.

The air tasted crisp, new. It filtered through him as easily as the sunlight had, settling deep into his lungs.

He… had lungs.

“What the fuck?” he muttered to himself.

Church carefully pulled his body into a seated position, knees bent slightly as he examined his arms.

He was wearing a plaid shirt, which was rolled up to his elbows, exposing his pale arms beneath.

He blinked, turning his hands around. This… wasn’t Private Jimmy’s body. It was… his? Young skin stretched across bones and muscle and sinew that was actually familiar.

“How--” and he shook his head, quickly bringing his hands to his hair.

It was soft, thick. He curled what he could grab in his hand and squeezed.

He could feel again. He could touch again.

Church closed his eyes, letting the sensations overrun him. He brought one hand back to the grass, laying it palm-down and letting his fingers comb through it all. The touch -- the feeling -- sent warmth to his brain.

Holy shit.

Holy shit.

He was human again.

He was…

Church stifled a cry, angling his chin up.

How?

He opened his eyes again, blinking out the dots from when he’d stared at the sun.

The last thing he remembered was… was Chorus. Was dying.

Was this real?

In front of him, there was grass, trees, blue skies with little cloud cover. It was so stereotypically serene.

With a soft grunt (because he had real vocal cords, wasn’t an artificial projection) he stumbled to his feet. His legs were longer than Jimmy’s had been, and he found them bowing out awkwardly as he tried to get used to them and--

“Hey, are you okay? Looks like you got some sea legs there.”

He whipped around toward the voice only to nearly fall.

The person grabbed him and--

And he felt the contact through his whole body.

It’d been… he’d never really felt someone’s touch before. The warmth spread from those hands, almost pushing under his fabric.

He found himself both vulnerable and wanting all at once.

A small hiss escaped his lips, not biting despite how it may have sounded -- he was just surprised and the contact touching another human just felt so-- so alive.

The person pulled back and examined him.

“Are you okay?” And Church could finally make out long, brown hair and bright, worried eyes on a fairly young face.

How old did he look?

“Uh,” he said, and silently cursed himself, cursed the way the touch lingered like static even though she’d pulled away, effectively frying his brain. “Uh, yeah. I’m fine.”

She lifted her brows, disbelieving. “You’re still swaying. What are you doing out here all by yourself? I don’t see any ships.”

He couldn’t think of a single convincing lie. “I,” he said dumbly, “uh. Don’t know. Can’t remember.”

She pursed her lips, studying him. “Well, that’s certainly interesting. Are you feeling dizzy? You’re still--”

He fell back, arms circling rapidly as he made a small noise of surprise, and landed on his ass. “Oh, fuck me,” he growled.

“... Right. How about you come with me?”

He studied her face. She was looking at him like he was a total moron, and he wanted to snap his defense but…

There was a large complex behind her, but only one small ship. As if the place had recently been emptied. She may be his only way back to civilization.

Wait, fuck. Where would he… What would he do?

Okay, just start by getting off this island. Where he’d just, like, appeared suddenly. In a human body. After dying.

Right. “Why are you here?” he interrogated from his position on the floor. “This place looks like a fucking ghost town.”

She shrugged. “I was sent by Emily to check if there were any leftover medical supplies I could scavenge now that Temple has been taken care of. Besides, I wanted one last look at it before I submit my report.”

She said that like he was supposed to know just who Temple was. “Right,” he said. “What report?”

She pinched her lips to the side. “I’m Dylan Andrews. The reporter.”

He had no idea who that was. “Oh.”

“So? You coming or not? I doubt many people would make this kind of offer to someone they just met.”

Church had the feeling that she just wanted to question him or something. She seemed like the kind of person who didn't care much about the danger so long as she got the story. Hence the invitation to her ship.

Or maybe she was just a halfway decent person.

Or both.

“I’ll come,” he said, glowering.

She nodded sharply and extended a hand.

After a second, he took it, letting the feeling buzz through him again.

Could people get contact high? Like… high by contact. Touch-high. Fuck, he wasn’t making any sense.

“Do you remember your name?” she asked once he was back on his feet.

Balancing was a bit easier this time, so she released him, watching for a second to make sure he didn't topple over again.

He thought on his response. Giving out the name ‘Leonard Church’ probably wasn’t a good idea. “Leo,” he said.

“Okay, Leo. Come with me.”

 

----

 

She did question him the whole way back.

Church kept his responses stiff and short, not offering anything of substance.

“I just don’t understand how you could have landed there without anyone noticing. You weren’t there when I went inside, and you were there when I came out. I wasn’t gone long enough for someone to drop ship, abandon you, and pull out without--”

“I can’t help you there,” he said, crossing his arms and glaring at her from the corner of his eye.

She stared at him for a moment.

He shifted uncomfortably.

“You look somewhat familiar,” she said. “I haven’t been able to place your face.”

He hadn’t seen his face in a while. He hadn’t really had his own face in a while.

He sniffed and looked forward.

Church needed to take this one step at a time. Dealing with this reporter was one step.

Suddenly, Dylan perked up. “Doyle General Hospital,” she commented, and he stiffened. By Doyle, did she mean-- “You should be able to find someone who can get you where you need to be from here. Plenty of ships coming and going. I’d also recommend getting yourself checked out.” She stood up, pressing a small series of buttons. “Emily’s always interested in new cases.”

Emily. Dylan had mentioned her before. “Do-- do you mean Dr. Grey?”

Curiosity flashed behind her eyes. “I do. Do you know her?”

He swallowed before huffing and looking at the hospital. “No. Not really.”

She clicked her tongue. “Right. Either way, you can talk to her.”

The ship landed with a small jump.

The hatch slid open Church stepped outside, inhaling the different air. It was more metallic, tasting like antiseptic. The wind was faster here, coming in sharp gusts and pulling at the edges of his flannel.

“Are you coming?” Dylan asked, her face carefully neutral.

He’d been goggling. Fuck, he wasn’t someone who goggled. “Yeah,” he said.

She nodded once sharply and led the way inside.

Most of the people were wearing body armor. Some had their helmets off like Dylan.

As soon as Dylan was inside, the receptionist perked up. “Oh, Dylan! You’re back! I’ll let Dr. Grey know you’re here.”

“Thank you, Annie,” she replied.

The receptionist buzzed Grey, and Church started to panic.

She wouldn’t recognize him, would she?

But if Grey was alive, and if they were in a hospital named after Doyle, that meant the Reds and Blues had won. Had they all survived? Were they all okay?

“Hello!”

He yelped and spun around, stumbling back one step.

Dr. Grey was standing there, covered entirely in her medical suit. She was tilting her head in a way that suggested she was wearing her usual smile. “I imagine any supplies you found are in the dropship?”

Dylan nodded. “It’s not much, but it’s there.”

“Excellent! Kling is on his way to retrieve everything you’ve found. In the meantime,” and she whipped toward Church, taking a step closer to him, “who’s this?”

He swallowed, attempting to hold his ground.

God, this was weird. He forgot how unreliable human bodies were.

When Church didn't reply, Dylan sighed. “His name’s Leo. He knew who you were.”

“Fucking snitch,” he shot reflexively.

Dylan looked unaffected.

“I just need… out of here,” he continued, darting his eyes around the area. Not too many people were milling about.

“Oh? And where would you go?” Grey said, her voice sugary.

He blinked. “I-- um--”

“He was stranded when I landed. I don’t know where he came from. He claims not to remember.”

“Oh, don’t worry!” Grey put one hand on her hip. Church could feel her eyes boring into him, and he shifted awkwardly. Fuck-- he fucking hated the human body.

Well, not entirely.

He just needed to get used to it.

“I’ll be happy to give you a quick check-up and--”

“No,” he said too quickly.

Grey cocked her head predatorily and Dylan’s lips twitched.

“No-- I’m fine. I don’t fucking need a-- a check-up or whatever.”

“Well, Leo, how about I rephrase? Come with me. Now!”

She sounded so happy, but…

She was dangerous. She did things even Carolina couldn’t.

Church winced. “Fine,” he spat.

“You know,” she said as she turned and immediately began to walk through different corridors, “I’ve always had very, very good memory!”

“Congratu-fucking-lations,” he drawled. He really shouldn’t be this much of an asshole to her, but he was getting antsy.

She made a sharp right turn as he continued straight, so she quickly grabbed his elbow and steered him correctly.

The pleasant tingles shot up his arm as his heart sped up. Fuck -- was she going to, like, touch him during the check-up? She was probably just going to scan his brain, right? Oh, God, he hoped his brain was normal. He was a fucking AI not that long ago.

“You seem anxious,” said Grey as she continued bustling. If she’d noticed his reaction to the touch, she didn't mention it.

Ugh -- knowing her, she’d definitely noticed it.

“I’m not anxious,” he said waspishly.

She chittered a bit at that, and he bristled.

“Right this way, Mr. Church,” she said, opening a door.

He froze. “Wait, how the fuck did you know that I--”

“Good memory, as I said. I don’t forget a voice!” She was still holding the door open.

So she… knew. That he’d been… ah, fuck.

He groaned and practically stomped inside, only belatedly realizing the room was more like a private waiting area than a place for invasive examinations.

There were people in there, hovering close together and bickering.

He froze.

The door fell shut behind him, Grey apparently opting to leave him alone.

A strangled sound escaped his throat and he stepped back, unthinking and awkward, almost falling to the floor.

The chatter ceased as they turned to the source of the noise.

It was… it was them.

All the Reds and Blues.

They were-- they’d made it.

“Um, wrong fuckin’ room, pal,” Tucker shot at him. All of them were out of uniform, gathered in a half-circle. “Unless you’re the dude Dylan sent to look for Carolina. She’s visiting Wash.”

Carolina was alive.

Wash was alive.

He blinked.

“Dude, what’s your problem?” Grif added, narrowing his eyes as he turned to look fully at Church.

“You’re all alive,” he said dumbly.

“Um, yeah, we noticed.” Tucker scoffed, tilting his head and giving him a Look. “Wait, don’t tell me you’re a fan or--”

He glared. “A fan? You could earn the Universal Nobel Peace Prize, and I’d still know you’re an asshole.”

Tucker straightened then, looking almost hurt. “Look, I don’t know who--”

“Church!” came a familiar shout, and then suddenly he was engulfed in a hug and

Every neuron felt like it fired at once, every cell vibrating from the force of feeling and touch and it was like he was going to explode and it was nice and so, so much--

He hadn’t noticed that he’d been hefted off the floor until Caboose put him down and stood back, a wide, exhilarated smile on his face. “You are taller than before!”

He was still tingling. His knees felt weak, like they were a half-second from giving in.

There was so much pure sensation but

Everyone was alive. Caboose was alive.

Tucker was saying something, most likely directed at Caboose, which Caboose was ignoring in favor of looking at Church with his hands clasped together.

He’d never actually been touched by Caboose before, though not by the soldier’s lack of trying. It was even more overwhelming than he’d expected -- probably because the only times people had touched him before had been fleeting, and not particularly affectionate so much as helpful.

“Caboose,” he said, and his tone wasn’t as biting as he was trying to be, “don’t fucking hug me without asking. Dumbass.”

He was practically shaking at this point.

“What the fuck?” Simmons muttered from somewhere behind Caboose.

“Ah, why?” asked Caboose.

He felt himself flush, realizing, after a moment, the redness would be far more visible now than it’d been for Alpha in Jimmy’s skin. “It’s… a lot to take in, buddy.”

“Gah, I understand! Overstimulated,” Caboose said, quickly and without much pause.

“Hey!” Tucker shouted, and he was standing now. He maneuvered himself in front of Caboose almost protectively, and Church felt something akin to both pride and jealousy at the action. “I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you need to stop… leading Caboose on like that. We’ve all just been through a ton of fucked up shit--”

“On Chorus?” Church interrupted.

“With gods and time travel, actually! It’s been a fucking day.

Church scowled. “I--”

“Not to mention Temple -- you think it’s funny to show up here like this? After he fucking manipulated us into thinking Church was alive? After he did that to Caboose? You can go fuck yourself.”

Tucker looked absolutely pissed.

“You look nothing like Church. It’s not even a good act, asshole. Church was fucking-- he was shorter, and tanner, and honestly? fucking uglier, and his hair color was different and--”

“You’re thinking about Private Jimmy,” Church barked. “I was a fucking AI, you absolute dumbfuck.”

“Stop!” and Tucker’s voice was pitching higher now. “We’ve been through enough. We’re not doing this shit again.”

This was an odd situation.

His eyes slid to the side, and he tapped his foot once against the floor.

“But Tucker -- that’s Church’s voice!”

They were alive. That was what mattered, right? Even if they didn't know it was him, they were alive and apparently survived more than Chorus since he sacrificed himself.

“It’s easy to confuse voices,” Tucker said, and his tone was tired. Exhausted. “You need to go,” he continued, and he gripped Church’s forearm, and

Church froze, all his muscles tightening. Tucker’s grip was firm; his hand was warm. Again, the heat shocked through him, redubbling since he still hadn’t recovered from Caboose’s hug

Before he could stop it, a small whimper crawled from his throat.

Tucker pulled back like he’d been stung. “What the fuck?”

Church held that arm close to his chest as he tried to back away. His legs got tangled together and “Son of a bitch!” he fell to the floor. “God-fucking-dammit,” he bit out.

“Why the fuck did you whimper?”

“I didn't, you cockbite!” he defended.

“Oooh, who’s this asshole?” said a woman immediately upon opening the door. “Hey, he’s hot! And he looks kinda like Carolina, so fuckin’ double-time!”

“Sister?” he said, blinking.

“Oh, I would totally do him and Carolina in a--”

“Stop!”he cried.

“Why the fuck did you make that sound?” Tucker repeated, completely ignoring Sister. “Why did you freak the fuck out?”

“How’d you know they sometimes call me Sister?” Sister asked.

Those words seemed to register in Tucker’s mind. He blinked, hovering a foot over Church’s face, and his expression turned from pissed to confused to “What the fuck? How did you know that?”

“Because Caboose told me that was what Alpha called her! I don’t know her actual fucking name!”

“Kaikaina,” she said. “What’s yours?”

He made a strangled sound.

Tucker started to back up, his eyes widening. “I-- prove it. Prove that--”

“That I’m Leonard Church. Or Epsilon. Uhh-- um-- gimme a sec. I need to fucking recover, so back the fuck off.” He was still hot, still feeling the tingling that made the hair on his arms rise. The shaking wasn’t as bad as before, but he could still feel his own flushed cheeks.

“Recover from what? All I did was touch your fucking arm.”

“Right after Caboose fucking hugged me!”

“What difference does it make!”

“I’ve never been touched before, asshole!”

Tucker blinked. “Uh, b--”

“Don’t you fucking say bow-chicka-bow-wow!” Fuck, he was mortified. Why the fuck did he say that out loud? “I’ll-- I’ll fucking-- ugh!” He put his face in his hands and released a muffled yell.

“Y’know,” said Grif after a moment, his voice casual, “I’m pretty sure that really is Church.”

“Shut the fuck up! I can handle this myself!” he shouted, shooting a glare at Grif, who in turn lifted his arms in mock surrender and rolled his eyes. Simmons smacked his arms down.

“Oh, holy shit,” said Tucker. “You’re--” He put his hands behind his head and took a step back. “Kai was right. You have the exact same eyes as Carolina. Weird.”

They were all looking at his eyes now, and he flushed even further. “Fuck off!” he said brusquely.

“So… you’re human--”

“And a Blue!” Sarge called, emerging behind Tucker with his shotgun.

“Not this again--”

“Which means we need to even out the teams! Dibs on Locus!”

“Hell yeah,” said Grif.

Church blinked. “Wait, do you mean--”

“You can’t call dibs on people, assholes,” Tucker said.

“Suck it, Blue,” said Simmons, sticking up a middle finger.

“Locus is ours! You can keep his scrawny behind,” Sarge said, pointing his shotgun at Church.

“Fuck you, old man,” Church retorted.

“Anyways,” said Tucker, looking back down at Church, “you’re human now.”

“Oh, yeah? What gave you that idea?” he said, trying to stand up.

Tucker watched him. “Jesus, you look like a giraffe.”

He pitched backwards, arms swinging wildly at his sides. “I’m figuring this shit out as I go, okay?”

Caboose suddenly stuck out an arm and… left it there. Hovering near him. “Do you want help?”

Church sighed, grumbling nonsense under his breath. Then he grabbed it, steadying himself.

Tucker eyed him. “You’re touch-starved, aren’t you? Is that why--”

His grip on Caboose’s arm tightened. Caboose didn't budge, didn't tense beneath Church’s fingers. “Fuck off, Tucker. I’m an AI. In a human brain.”

“I wasn’t saying it like an insult, dude. And you’re obviously no longer an AI,” he finished, gesturing broadly at Church’s body.

He wrapped his arms further around Caboose’s arm. At this point, he probably looked like he was clinging. He didn't technically need Caboose’s help anymore, but the simtrooper seemed happy to let him hang on. “Shut up.”

“Wait!” Grif’s head perked up, his eyes shining. “That means you’ve never eaten food, right?”

Church blinked. “I… well, I have memories about taste and--”

“You haven’t! Ohmygod! Somebody get this guy a pizza right. Fucking. Now.

“Oh, I cannot do that!” said Caboose, and he lifted his arm, taking a yelping Church with him. “I have a cat!”

“I’m not a fucking cat, Caboose!”

“Yes, you are my best friend! I am glad I accidentally brought you back when Labyrinth was trying to feed me!”

Church blinked. He stretched out his legs so they touched the floor, rather than keep them curled into his chest. He didn't want to look like the cat Caboose accused him of being. “Does that make sense to anyone else?”

Tucker put a hand to his mouth. Took it off. Opened his mouth. Sighed. “Let’s just assume Caboose played God.”

“Oh, not that shit again,” Church said, frowning.

“I wasn’t God! I was afraid!”

Church froze. Caboose seemed calm now, unaware of the impact of his words. Church had never seen Caboose actually scared before.

“I thought I would never see you again because you were dead! But wh- what if you weren’t dead, and you were alone and dying and Icouldn’tsaveyoubecauseIthoughtyouweredead!” Caboose shook his head. “But you are alive, and I am glad.”

There was a small silence.

“Well, fuck,” said Tucker.

“Goddammit,” said Church. “I-- fuck. I’m sorry.”

“You are back, though! This time, I will not kill you,” he said, nodding resolutely, “because you would probably stay dead!”

“Er… thanks?”

“Caboose? No more team kills? Unstoppable force and immovable objects!” Sarge announced.

“Yes,” said Caboose.

Church shook his head. “That’s not-- you know what? I’ll hope for the best.”

“Would you like to ride on my shoulders?” said Caboose, bouncing forward excitedly. “It has been so long!”

“That’s a thing he let you do?” Simmons asked, giving Tucker an incredulous look.

Tucker shrugged. “He made us carry him places a lot. Caboose liked it.”

“I still don’t understand why he looks like Carolina,” said Sister, hands on her hips.

Caboose was still giving Church a hopeful look. He sighed, telling himself it was because he couldn’t walk properly yet, and promptly started climbing Caboose, using his hands and shoulders as stepping stones. Then he sat, one leg dangling on either side of Caboose’s face. It was pretty fucking high up. “Well,” he said, “the first Leonard Church was her dad, so I’m basically like her brother.”

“You’re her what?” cried Tucker.

Church blinked. “Hey, Caboose?”

“Yes, Church?”

“Get me out of here.”

“But I have questions--” Tucker said, one arm outstretched as Caboose immediately started running.

The doorway almost immediately posed a problem, and Church barely had time to curse and drop so he was hanging upside-down along Caboose’s back, only held in place by Caboose’s tight grip on his legs.

He got to witness, in that upside-down state, as Kai and Tucker started fighting about ‘the Churches’ with Sarge egging them on.

“CHURCH IS ALIVE!” Caboose yelled as he stormed down the hallways, Church bouncing against his back. People were jumping out of the way, staring at him in shock and confusion. “CHURCH IS ALIVE!”

“Fucking--” Church used all his resident abdominal strength to get back in a sitting position, hunch over, and grip Caboose’s (soft, curly) hair. It was like he was riding a fucking racehorse.

Eventually they made it to the reception area where Dylan still was, making conversation with one of the employees.

She spotted Caboose. Spotted Church on top of him. Her eyes narrowed, and she did the dumbest fucking thing ever and stepped right in Caboose’s path as the employee stayed back in shock.

She didn't flinch as Caboose hit the brakes faster than Church thought possible. He almost flew right fucking over, and damn-- that would’ve been painful. Not that he’d actually felt pain in a while.

“Caboose,” she said calmly, “what are you doing with Leo?”

“Ah, fuck,” said Church as Caboose yelled, “CHURCH IS ALIVE!” even though she was only standing a good six inches in front of him.

Her face immediately started to crumple, sympathetic, when Caboose continued, “Say hi, Church! This is Dylan Andrews, and she is a very nice lady!”

“We’ve met,” said Church.

She frowned. “Wait, what does he--”

“I’m back from the fucking dead because Caboose played fucking God and I’m Epsilon. Not the Director. Kind of. Just to clarify,” he said as fast as possible. Dylan’s eyes suddenly lit up, and he had a feeling that she was thrilled to have stumbled onto another story.

He tightened his grip on Caboose’s hair. “Hey, Caboose? Let’s go see my sister.”

Caboose turned, and the sprint began anew. “AGENT CAROLINA YOUR BROTHER WANTS TO SEE YOU!”

Church wasn’t sure if they were anywhere near Carolina at this point, but there was a solid fucking chance everyone in the goddamn building just heard that shit.

He grumbled to himself as Caboose made turn after turn, apparently knowing exactly how to navigate to Wash’s room. It was almost impre--

Caboose made an abrupt turn into another doorway, immediately slamming Church face-first into the wall above it.

He yelped, promptly falling off Caboose and landing on his back on the floor. He groaned as Caboose simply dashed inside.

“Fuck,” he said. “I don’t miss pain. Fuck pain.”

A face appeared above him. “I don’t know. Not as good a warning system as some coding, but it works.”

A familiar smirk and bright green eyes met his.

He smiled at Carolina. “Hey, li’l sis. Fancy seeing you here.”

“I’d argue that I’m older, looking at you.”

There was something in her eyes and…

She offered him a hand.

He’d finally get to hold his sister’s hand.

He’d actually feel it.

Perhaps too eagerly, he reached up to grab it.

She seemed surprised, but knelt down slightly to grab his shoulder with her other hand.

He closed his eyes, making a startled sound as her warmth circulated all through him; his arms, his legs, deep into his chest.

But he needed--

Rather than letting her pull him up, he yanked her down, engulfing her in a tight hug.

She landed onto his stomach with a surprised “ooph!”

She obviously wasn’t prepared for the handshake to turn into him wrapping his arms around her back, fingers curling against her shirt as he pressed his face into her neck and felt.

Eventually, she wrapped his arms around his neck and head as best she could. “I missed you,” she said, quiet, wet.

He clenched his jaw, nuzzling his nose against her. His sister. His sister.

Every cell was vibrating. Carolina was running through his core.

He’d missed her. He felt like he’d barely been gone, but he missed her.

Suddenly, both of them were lifted in the air. “Church! You didn't ask to hug her!”

He pulled back, swiping a sleeve across his eyes and nose. “Fuckin’-- shut up, Caboose,” he said, and then he was throwing himself at the soldier, arms around his neck and legs around his waist.

Caboose easily caught him, giggling excitedly as Carolina laughed tearily behind him.

“Jesus,” she said, her voice shaking. She wasn’t even trying to hide it. A lot must have changed since he’d seen her last. “I don’t remember you being like that… ever.”

“I don’t mind!” called Caboose.

“Of course you don’t,” Church snapped, glaring head-on into Caboose’s eyes. “I’m your best fucking friend.”

Caboose gasped, eyebrows shooting up as his cheeks pinkened. “Yes! You are!”

“And I promise I won’t leave you again, buddy. I’ll do everything I can to keep you from being afraid again.”

Caboose smiled fondly, head tilting slightly. “Aw, Church! That’s very nice, but I… I think there’s a lot to learn from fear, you know? Now, I will take care of you! I will not shoot you with a tank!”

It wasn’t easy to hold back a smile when you were so used to having a chip implant as your physical body and when every fiber of your body felt like it was alight in physical happiness and Caboose was looking at you like he knew the fucking secrets of the universe and you were still the most important person within.

Church leaned forward and planted a kiss on Caboose’s cheek.

Church felt like fire in that second, felt like bright fucking fire and Caboose looked back at Church like he’d just proposed to him.

Then his face brightened with the force of his smile. “Carolina! Did you see that?”

Church looked over to get a view of his sister, who was wiping at her eyes with the butts of her palms.

“I--” and she chuckled, looking at Church with teary eyes, like she was happy and surprised and still trying to take everything in.

He knew the feeling.

“I think she missed it,” Church said appraisingly, and Caboose looked scandalized.

“No! Carolina! Church kissed me!”

She fucking snorted.

Caboose pouted as Church looked back to him. Then he said, “Can you do it again?”

“Fuck off, Caboose,” Church said, jumping off Caboose and looking up at him.

“I think it was cute,” said Carolina.

“You did see it!” Caboose exclaimed. “Yes! Church! She saw it! It happened! No take-backs!”

“I never called ‘take-backs,’ asshole. And it wasn’t cute,” he said, turning on his heel to face Carolina.

She shrugged. “Whatever you say.” Then she cocked her head. “But, really. It’s… good. To have you back. Caboose said he did it somehow?”

“We’ll leave it at that,” he said. “Best not to question it.”

“Right.”

He bit his lip. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you cry--”

“Shut up while I’m still thankful you’re alive.”

“Church! What the hell, man? Why’d you run off like that?” Tucker stepped into view, frowning. “Oh, hi Carolina!”

“Hey, Tucker.”

“Church kissed me!” said Caboose.

“I should have anticipated this,” said Church.

Tucker crossed his arms. “Caboose, for the last time: getting punched in the face isn’t the same thing as being kissed.”

“No, he did kiss Caboose,” said Carolina. “Right on the cheek. It was cute.”

“Hey!” Church squawked. “What did I just say about that!”

“Bow-chicka-bow-wow? Church has a fuckin’ soft side? Huh.” He opened up his arms and smirked. “Bring it here, buddy.”

“I’ll kick you in the balls,” said Church.

“C’mon. One hug.”

“You’ll never reproduce again.”

“Pleeeeaaaaaaaa--”

“What? You want me to kiss you, too?”

“Nah, I’ll let you leave that to your boyfriend.”

“Go fuck yourself, Tucker.”

“You aren’t denying it.”

“Still go fuck yourself.”

“Aw, you love m-- OW!”