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Old Friends

Chapter Text

Loud knocking woke Agent Washington with a start. As he sat up gingerly, sore muscles and cracked ribs protesting, he called out for whoever it was to enter. A nervous Lieutenant Andersmith opened the door and poked his head inside. Wash motioned for him to come in all the way, which he did quickly and before Wash could swing his legs over the edge of the bed.

“What’s wrong, Lieutenant?” Wash tried his best to school the pain out of his features. The final battle against Charon had taken its toll on him (and maybe facing off against a Mantis by himself wasn’t the brightest idea).

“Sir, a small ship capable of slipspace showed up here just a few minutes ago. There were two soldiers on board, who demanded to talk to the highest authority here.” Andersmith paused, clearly distressed, “We confiscated their weapons, of course, but they refuse to leave their ship or let us inside.”

Wash narrowed his eyes. “And why are you telling me this, rather than Kimball?” He asked suspiciously.

Andersmith rubbed at the back of his head, a nervous habit apparently not lost with the addition of a helmet. “Well...Kimball and Carolina are both talking with some top UNSC officials. They wouldn’t let me in.”

Wash sighed. “Alright, tell them Kimball is busy if you haven’t already, but that someone else is on their way. Tell them I need to get my armor on—and don’t mention I’m injured.” Andersmith nodded, offered a crisp salute, and exited the room. Wash sighed again and rubbed a hand across his face as he rose from his bed. It was hours before dawn. Was it too much to ask for a little sleep around here?

A few minutes later, a fully-armored Washington strode through the halls of their current base. The relatively few soldiers scurrying around nodded or saluted to him. Despite the pain radiating from his ribs, Wash smiled. He was glad he, Carolina, and the Reds and Blues had managed to save these people. It was well worth the effort.

The walk to where the small ship was docked was short, and passed silently and without event—for which Wash was grateful. He did not need another crisis caused by the Reds and Blues on his hands. He rounded the last corner slowly, so as to take stock of the situation without being noticed as the obvious authority.

The ship was pretty small. It was barely double the size of a pelican. Two soldiers in full armor stood in front of it, arms raised in surrender. Ten guns pointed at them. Lieutenants Palomo—how was Palomo awake at this hour?!—and Andersmith stood a short ways off, and spotted Washington immediately. Palomo jumped and walked quickly over to him.

“Sir!” Palomo greeted almost cheerily, “These two refuse to tell us who they are and what they’re doing here!”

“We said we’d tell your highest authority!” One of the two soldiers snapped.

Wash narrowed his eyes. That voice sounded oddly familiar. Coupled with just as familiar tan armor, an awful sense of deja-vu hit him.

“Well I’m here,” He announced, moving to stand before the two soldiers, “And I’d really appreciate it if you’d talk.” The two soldiers glanced at each other, but remained silent. “Now.” Wash growled.

“Hey, is that any way to greet people?” The first one asked, “What’s your name, grumpy?” Wash noticed a few heads swivel nervously to look at him. He barely contained a snort of amusement.

Wash nonchalantly grabbed his gun. The two soldiers followed his movements, obviously tensing a little. “Seeing as my men and I vastly outnumber you, I don’t think you’re in any place to ask that of me. Now tell me your names.”

After a beat of silence, the first one chuckled. “Tell me your name, sweetheart, and I’ll tell you mine.”

Wash raised one brow. The second soldier remained silent. His men were incredibly tense. “Let me get this straight,” He said, stepping forward, “You fly into my base. Refuse to answer my men’s questions. Demand to talk to our highest authority. And then attempt to ridicule me?!” He raised his gun slightly, and the second soldier stepped back and raised his hands higher. “Lieutenant Andersmith must have told you I’m not first in command. I think you’re mistaking me for one of the captains. Trust me,” His voice lowered to a growl as he lowered his gun, “I’m much, much worse.”

It was silent.

The first soldier took a breath as though to speak, but the second stepped forward and in front of him. Wash lifted his gun again in warning, but waited. Then the second spoke in an unmistakable voice.

“What’s happened to you, Wash?”

If Wash had thought the air was tense before the second soldier had stepped forward, this was ten times worse. Wash shook himself out of his shock and raised his gun higher, fully aiming at the second, taller, purple and green soldier.

“I’m not a big fan of seeing ghosts,” Wash said, “Especially when they pose a possible threat and attempt to ridicule me. I’m going to ask you, one last time—what the hell are you doing here?!”

The first soldier—tan and white—tried to speak again, but was cut off from a glare from the second. “We heard Epsilon’s transmission. We came to find him. To figure out what was going on. We heard there were Freelancers involved.”

Wash gritted his teeth. “You’re supposed to be dead. In fact, I distinctly remember blowing up both of your corpses.” Wash heard a number of exclamations from his soldiers.

“Theta and Delta helped us get out in time,” The second spoke again, “Once we stumbled into each other by accident, we stuck to the shadows and tried to distance ourselves from the Project as much as possible. We got a ship capable of slipspace and disappeared far away. We never planned on coming back, on showing our faces, but then we saw Epsilon’s message. We came as quickly as possible.”

Palomo stepped forward in the silence that followed. “ guys know each other?”

Wash lowered his gun. He took a deep, steadying breath—ow, ribs hurt—and turned to the Lieutenant. “The asshole in tan—” “—hey!—” “Is Agent New York. The one in purple is Agent North Dakota. They supposedly died shortly after the fall of Project Freelancer.” He growled slightly in frustration. “Smith, do you know if Kimball is done?” The Lieutenant shrugged. “Well go ahead of us and tell her that two soldiers have arrived. I’ll fill her in on the situation when we get there.” Andersmith nodded and ran off.

“Can we put our arms down now?” York practically whined.

Wash nodded. “Make any threatening moves and...well, my men and I won’t be happy.”

“Why take us to Kimball?” North asked as he moved his hands down slowly, “I thought she was busy to begin with. Why bother now?”

Wash levelled them with the best glare he could while still covered by his helmet. “Because I’m not the one who decides whether or not we keep you.” He said bluntly. “Follow me.” With that, he turned and walked away. York and North followed, surrounded by the still on-edge soldiers. Palomo walked next to Wash, fidgeting the whole way.

Again, the walk passed uneventfully. A few curious looks later, Wash strode into the room where Kimball, Carolina, and the Reds and Blues were standing in wait. He paused in the doorway, blocking York and North from view.

Kimball stepped forward. “Lieutenant Andersmith informed me that two soldiers arrived via slipspace, refused to speak, and demanded to talk to an authority. I apologize for sending him away earlier. I also sent for the Reds and Blues to join us. What happened?”

Wash grimaced. Carolina was not going to be happy. “They received Epsilon’s message, and heard mention of Freelancers.” He looked at Carolina. “I told them it wasn’t my job to decide what to do with them.” He stepped out of the doorway and into a space in between the Blues and Carolina, facing the door.

York and North stepped inside, immediately raising their hands in surrender. Carolina froze. 

By the looks of it, neither York nor North had recognized her with the different armor. She certainly recognized them.

By now, everyone was watching Carolina. The atmosphere turned from tense to downright nervous.

Kimball turned to Wash. “...Who are they?” She asked hesitantly.

Wash ignored her. “The two of you might have less guns pointed at you if you removed your helmets,” He suggested, “We’ve seen enough A.I.s in robotic bodies to be fairly suspicious.” Both moved slowly, but complied. Wash breathed a small sigh of relief when he recognized the slightly-older features of both men.

Wash stepped forward again to face Carolina and continued from earlier, “They obviously recognized Epsilon’s name. They wouldn’t have recognized either of us with our different armor—mine was still blue, you changed yours.” He paused, “They’re probably jumping to conclusions about Epsilon, especially with my hostile greeting.” He added as an afterthought.  

Carolina still didn’t move. Wash sighed and turned. “Epsilon destroyed himself yesterday.” York and North snapped to look at him. “He deconstructed into the other fragments in order to run the Meta’s suit—which you probably noticed Tucker is wearing,” He gestured to where Tucker stood to his right, “They were trapped on Charon’s ship and needed the upper edge. Also, I never had another A.I. after Epsilon’s implantation.” He paused, glancing to his left at Carolina, who had finally unfrozen and glanced back at him. “Epsilon was stabilized some years ago, and has been with her,” He gestured towards Carolina, “Since shortly before we took down the Director.”

North stepped forward a little. “And...who exactly is she?”

Carolina pulled off her helmet and glared. Wash watched with satisfaction as North and York’s expressions dissolved into shock.

It went silent again, until York dropped his hands and stepped forward. His one good eye sparkled.

“Are you secretly Agent Tennessee?” He asked Carolina, and smirked, “Because you’re then only ten I see.”

Wash groaned. Kimball reeled back in shock. North facepalmed hard.

In the silence that followed, Wash heard Grif whisper “Simmons, we’re going to watch a man die,” and a response of “I know, I’m scared.”

And then Carolina moved. She surged forward and grabbed York by his chestplate. York, to his credit, didn’t flinch—he just wore that goddamn smirk. Carolina lifted her other arm as though to strike, making North step back. Only, instead of punching York in the face, she reached out and grabbed him by the neck—and kissed him. She pulled away after a moment and delivered a quick punch angrily to the left side of York’s face before storming past him and out of the room.

Yet again, it went silent. York looked stunned and a little pained.

Wash snickered, and all eyes and helmets turned to him. “About fucking time,” He muttered.

“Uhh...What the fuck just happened?!” Grif yelped.

Tucker threw his hands up in the air. “She tries to kill me when I use pick-up lines on her! No fucking fair!”

Simmons rubbed at the back of his neck. “I can’t believe he’s not dead. Sarge? Did I just see that?”

“Enough!” Kimball yelled, gaining everyone’s attention. “Washington, would you mind explaining what just happened?”

Wash chuckled and stepped a little forward again. “The tan one is Agent New York, the purple one is Agent North Dakota—”

“Wait what the fuck?!” Grif shrieked, “They’re Freelancers?!” Wash nodded. Grif jumped back. “Ack! We’re gonna fucking die!” With that, the orange soldier dove behind Simmons muttering something about a ‘meatshield’, only to have Simmons squeak and dive to the ground behind one of the desks in the room. Tucker threw Caboose behind the same desk and jumped behind Wash. Sarge went to grab his shotgun, but was stopped when Lopez pushed him to the ground behind the now-crowded space behind the desk before following the red leader. Donut squeaked, left out in the open, and yelped “Please don’t shoot me! I don’t like it when Freelancers shoot me!” and jumped on top of the pile. Wash glanced at Kimball, who glanced at him, the desk, and him again before he burst into laughter.

York scratched the back of his head. “I’m not sure I wanna know who they’ve met to get that reaction out of them.”

Wash managed to calm down his laughter after receiving a withering glare from Kimball. “’s actually a pretty impressive list,” He sighed, “Let’s see, who has tried to kill them?” He began to count on his fingers, “Texas, Wyoming, the Meta, South—well, Caboose anyways—and, Carolina did threaten them a lot, and, uh—”

“—And you!” Tucker supplied helpfully.

North raised his brow.

“Hey!” Wash protested.

Tucker, the bastard, snickered. “As Church said, don’t gloss over the good parts!”

“Shut up.” Wash grumbled, “That was a misunderstanding.”

Grif poked his head up from behind the desk, “Misunderstanding my ass!” He yelled, “You shot Donut! And Lopez!” North and York turned to Wash, eyes wide.

Simmons poked his head up as well and added, “And took me and Doc prisoner!”

Wash crossed his arms. “As I said, a misunderstanding. You guys are fine now! Also, aren’t you supposed to be hiding back there?” Grif and Simmons yelped and ducked back behind the desk.

Kimball started to growl, so Wash continued, “These two were soldiers from Project Freelancer, same as Carolina and me. They supposedly died shortly after the fall of the Project, however they claim their A.I. units helped get them to safety. They faked their deaths—same as me—and fled, intending to remain in the shadows. Then they saw Epsilon’s message, which implied that some Freelancers are alive. They just didn’t know which ones. And—for god’s sake, you guys don’t have to hide behind the desk. It wouldn’t save you from bullets. They don’t even have guns!”

Sarge’s head poked up this time. “I’ve seen what you can do without a gun, Agent Washington,” He pointed out, “And Carolina, too. I think it’s perfectly acceptable for us to, ah, retreat. Behind this desk. Which may or may not stop bullets.” Wash was caught between the urge to facepalm or to shoot the desk to make a point. He settled for shaking his head slightly with a sigh.  

Wash turned to Kimball again. “I’m guessing, by Carolina’s reaction, that we’re keeping them. If nothing else, they’re good fighters. And they would never dare argue with or defy Carolina.”

Kimball cocked her head slightly. “I figured they wouldn’t give Carolina trouble. I’m more worried about them giving you trouble.” She admitted.

York barked out a laugh. “What, afraid we’re going to give the rookie trouble? Of course we will!” North glared disapprovingly.

Kimball marched up to York, causing the tan soldier to back up a step. “Agent New York, I expect that you give Washington your full respect. He has put more time and effort into shaping up this army than anyone else. The soldiers here, especially the Reds and Blues, are rather protective of him.”

Tucker snorted from behind Washington. “I’m not sure we’re exactly protective of him. We just blame him whenever shit goes wrong.”

“Yeah!” Grif yelled from behind the desk, “Looks like you really fucked up, Wash! Epsilon’s gone, Locus made it out alive, and these two assholes are causing trouble!”

“How is any of that my fault?!” Wash screeched, flinging his arms out in exasperation.

Kimball sighed. “Alright, so maybe the soldiers are more protective of him than the Reds and Blues. My point still stands.” She looked back at Wash, “You, Washington, should be resting. You have three cracked ribs and multiple other injuries. I thought Dr. Grey forbade you from wearing armor?”

Wash coughed nervously. “Well, yes. I figured she wouldn’t be awake at this hour. And I needed to deal with them,” He gestured to York and North, “Which I couldn’t do without armor.”

York cocked his head to the side. “Man, are you okay? How are you standing? What happened?!”

Tucker stepped forward from behind Washington. “Wash lost a fight with a Mantis,” The teal soldier shrugged.

Wash shook his head. “Hey! I won! The Mantis ended up worse-off than I did. I didn’t lose, I just...didn’t...uh...” Wash trailed off, at a loss for words.

Sarge stood from behind the desk, finally. “Win?” He supplied. Wash huffed.

Caboose stood as well, and piped up, “We are all winners here!”

Grif snickered, “Caboose, I don’t think three cracked ribs and being turned into one enormous bruise can be classified as ‘winning’.”

Wash crossed his arms over his chest gingerly. “Are you all done yet? It’s far too early in the morning, and I’d like to sleep this off now.”

Kimball nodded. “Go get some sleep. I expect you’ll follow Dr. Grey’s orders more closely in the future.”

Wash nodded, barely suppressing a yawn. “Good night—er, morning, everyone.” He moved past York and North, and walked out as quickly as he could without his muscles and ribs protesting.

As he walked through the doorway he heard North ask hesitantly, “Wait, he shot two of you guys and you lived?!”

York added on, “And you don’t, um, hate him?”

Wash heard Tucker’s voice, “Yeah, it’s kind of a long story. We’ll tell you when it’s not fucking late. Early. Whatever.”

Wash groaned a little. He knew Tucker and Grif would fuck it up. Massively. He and Carolina would likely have to do damage control over the next few days, giving York and North more correct versions of the story. Oh well. He needed to sleep now, and worrying over the situation wouldn’t help that. Kimball could take care of York and North for now, and Carolina would pick up in the morning.

He yawned. Sleep definitely sounded like a good idea.

Chapter Text

Carolina shut the door to her quarters with a little more force than was necessary before sagging against it wearily. After all these years, York still hadn’t changed a bit. He saw her for the first time in years, and he’d recovered so quickly and then just used a stupid pickup line. There had been no anger in his face. There was none of the hurt she had seen the last time they’d seen each other, when they fought. There was none of the hurt she’d seen in the journals Epsilon showed her. She had no idea what to do, so she ran. She’d gone back to her quarters under a mask of anger—seriously, though, why had she punched him in the face? The action hurt her more than it hurt him. Emotionally. The poor guy probably had an aching jaw and—

Loud knocking on the door she still leaned against startled Carolina out of her thoughts and a few feet away from the door. She reached out, cursing her nerves for making her hands shake, and opened it.

York stood on the other side.

“Uh, hi.” York coughed awkwardly. “I had a feeling this would be your door. See—I’ve asked a bunch of people where I can stay, and stupid North went off to the showers first, and people keep telling me to go here, but there’s a key code on the door, and while I could pick it I realized that this is probably someone else’s room, and it must be yours, so I decided to be smart and not fall for the prank and started to leave, but there’s a crowd of people around the corner, and I really don’t know what to do—” York broke off when Carolina yanked him into the room and slammed the door shut behind him. “—Okay, sure, that works. Um. Hi.”

Carolina looked away. Both stood there awkwardly for a moment before Carolina began to take off the armor plating she wore. York silently followed suit. The silence lasted until both were stripped down to their body suits.

“Sorry for the word vomit,” York finally spoke up, “I’ve just been nervous. Seeing you again.” He scratched the back of his head. “I missed you,” he added.

Carolina turned to face York for the first time since he entered the room. He looked a little older. Lines were etched more firmly into his face than they had been before, but they didn’t detract from his appearance. His scar had faded a bit, and the scarring over his eye didn’t appear to be quite so bad. She wondered if he could see out of it. His hair was a little longer, shaggier, like he hadn’t gotten it cut in a while. A little bit of grey had begun to sneak onto his temples. There was a slight red mark on his left jaw from where she’d punched him. Her gut twisted a little. “I missed you too,” she whispered.

He reached out to her. Opened his arms in a silent request. She dove into them, not bothering to lean away when he staggered backwards a step. His arms closed tightly around her, just snug enough to be warm and safe without caging her.

Carolina thought of all the years she’d hated him. She’d hated him for leaving her, for siding with Tex over her. It wasn’t true. She’d left him—she came to that realization after Epsilon showed her those journals. He’d been alive, after the MoI crashed, and she could have gone after him. But she didn’t. She left him. She left him alone. And she hardly wanted to think about how horrible that must have been for him, but the thoughts came to her mind anyways. Tears pooled in her eyes before she snapped them shut and buried her face in his shoulder. The tears overflowed and began to wet York’s bodysuit. She took a quavering breath and sighed.

“Hey, what’s wrong?” York asked, burying his nose in her hair.

“I-I’m sorry,” Carolina murmured into his shoulder.

“For what?” York hugged her a little closer. “My jaw doesn’t hurt that bad. It’ll be fine, don’t worry about it.”

Carolina shook her head. “For leaving you. For being so easily manipulated by him. For holding onto my hate and anger for so many years.”

York lifted her chin with one hand, his other still wrapped around her to hold her close. “Hey, look at me.” She looked up and into his eyes, blinking away tears when he wiped her cheeks with one hand. “It’s okay.” She shook her head and opened her mouth, but he shushed her. “No, listen to me. It’s okay. I knew what I was doing when I chose to go with Tex. I know why you did what you did. I just wish you hadn’t. I forgive you. As you said, the Director and the Counselor manipulated you. They manipulated all of us.” He cupped her jaw and wiped her cheek with his thumb. “I hoped that one day you’d figure that out. That you’d look back and see exactly what happened during the Project. And you did. You did what even Tex couldn’t do. You took down the Director, and Project Freelancer with him.”

Carolina took a deep breath before shaking her head. “You give me more credit than I deserve. I would have failed miserably if it wasn’t for Wash. None of that would have happened if he and the sim troopers hadn’t been there. And I hurt them in the process.”

York cocked his head to one side. “From what I’ve heard, Wash hurt them, too. You have to tell me that story sometime. But the point is, they seem to forgive you guys. I wouldn’t worry about them too much. And regardless of how much help you had, I’m still proud of you.” He smiled gently down at her.

Carolina buried her face in his shoulder again. “I missed you so much,” she murmured.

York kissed the top of her head. “I missed you too,” He said into her hair. “Um. Sorry to ruin the moment, but—do you have any clothes that would fit me? My bodysuit stinks a little.”

She snickered. “Mm, yeah, I don’t think I gave Wash his sweats back when I borrowed them.” She pulled away and rummaged through her dresser. “Here, these should fit.” She shoved Wash’s sweats and a T-shirt in his direction before locating her own clothes.

“Thanks,” he said, “I promise not to look if you don’t.” She nodded. They changed quickly, backs to one another until Carolina gave the okay.

York looked good in comfortable clothes, she thought. He smiled at her, “By the way, I like the upgrade. I just didn’t recognize you in the new armor.” She chuckled, and he paused before looking her in the eyes. “Hey, Carolina?” She raised a brow. “If I said I liked your armor, would you hold it against me?” The corners of his mouth turned up as he tried to suppress a grin.

Carolina rolled her eyes and shoved him backwards, onto the bed. The startled squeak he emitted was more than satisfying. She grinned and climbed in beside him. “Oh, I’m sorry, I was going to suggest we sleep without armor, but if that’s not something you’d like to do, I can go change again.” She reveled in his quick protests of “No no no, it’s okay!” and how he pulled her closer to him until her head rested on his shoulder and he held her close. She draped an arm over his chest.


“I swear, if you use another pickup line...” She threatened. He lifted her chin with one hand looked into her eyes again. He cupped her jaw gently.

“No pickup lines at the moment,” he promised with a small smile.

“Then what?” His smile grew for a moment before he leaned in and kissed her gently on the lips. She closed her eyes and kissed back until her lungs burned for air. When they parted, she settled her head back onto his shoulder and hugged him tightly. “Goodnight, York,” she murmured sleepily.

“Goodnight, Carolina.”

Chapter Text

Wash woke up to knocking a second time.

“Come in,” He slurred sleepily as he sat up. He rubbed at his eyes while someone opened and closed his door. He blinked up at them. “Oh, Tucker. What—”

“You’re never going to believe this!” Tucker said in a rush. The aqua soldier was wearing all of his armor sans helmet, thankfully. Seeing the Meta’s helmet put him on edge.

“Tucker, what’s going on?” He asked. Tucker was practically bouncing up and down in excitement.

Tucker grinned widely. “WetrickedYorkintogoingintoCarolina’sroomand—”

“Tucker!” Wash laughed, “Slow down! I can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

Tucker took a deep breath before starting over, “We tricked York into going into Carolina’s room last night!”

Wash blinked, stunned. “Oh no.” He could imagine poor York falling into that one—and, oh no, Carolina would skin him alive. “Is he okay?”

Tucker laughed and danced in place. “Dude. He hasn’t come out yet. Which either means she murdered him, or—bow-chicka-bow-wow!” Tucker accompanied his catch-phrase with an air thrust and a stupidly large grin.

Wash pulled a hand over his face. “Okay, okay. Let me go break up the crowd that has undoubtedly gathered in front of her door and see if he’s alive.” Tucker stopped bouncing to look at him oddly. “I wouldn’t rule out the first option,” he explained.

“Dude,” Tucker protested, “She kissed him last night!”

Wash stood up and stretched gingerly. “She also punched him,” he pointed out. “Don’t stare at me while I change.” He reached for the pants and shirt he wore only when forbidden to wear armor.

Tucker turned slightly to the side. “Do you really think she’d kill him?” He asked.

Wash shook his head. “No, I don’t. But I also don’t think she’d go for the second option just after reuniting with him.” He finished pulling on his clothes and went to brush his teeth in the small bathroom.

Tucker snickered, “Dude, reunion sex is only second to make up sex. Which, uh, might actually be on the table for them.”


“What? I’m just saying!” The aqua soldier held up his hands in a peaceful gesture.

Wash sighed as he finished, taking the time to drag a hand through his hair. “Alright, let’s go. I expect you’ll help me clear the crowd instead of adding fuel to the fire.”

Tucker huffed. “Fine. As long as I get to find out if they did it or not.” Wash grunted as he opened his door and walked out.

Turning the corner to Carolina’s hallway revealed a corridor full of people. Grif and Simmons, unsurprisingly, stood at the front.

“Alright,” Wash said loudly enough to get everyone’s attention, “Everybody out. You have work to do that doesn’t involve pestering your superiors.”

A collective groan rose up from the crowd. Grif slumped dejectedly. “But Waaash—”

“Out.” Wash stood his ground and pointed down the hallway he’d come from. “Now.”

Tucker sighed. “Come on, guys, let’s go get breakfast.” The crowd followed the aqua solder towards the mess hall, disappointed grumbling making way for excited murmurs at the thought of food. Wash sighed heavily. He then turned to Carolina’s door and, steeling himself, knocked.

There was no answer.

Wash knocked again, this time adding, “You’re welcome for dispersing the crowd.”

He heard soft shuffling and murmuring, too quiet to make anything out, before he heard a much clearer, “Come in.” He opened the door and entered the room, making sure to shut it quickly behind him, before turning to look.

York and Carolina were cuddled together on the bed, York’s arms around her. Thankfully, they had clothes on, Wash noticed with a quiet sigh of relief. “Neither of you want to know just how many people were waiting outside your door,” he told them.

Carolina groaned and pressed her face into York, who actually looked embarrassed.

“I asked where I could sleep, and everyone kept telling me this room,” York explained, “But there was a number code on the lock. I knew the room must belong to someone, probably Carolina, so I went to leave and heard whispering around the corner. A lot of whispering. So I went back and knocked and—yeah.” York shrugged. “I guess we’re good, now.”

Wash smiled a little. “I’m glad,” he said, “You guys deserve to be happy. Just, uh, be prepared for most of the army to congratulate you on doing it.”

Carolina huffed and rolled her eyes, but it took York a moment for that to sink in. When it did, his eyes bulged and his cheeks turned red. “Wh—no! No, no, no! We didn’t!” Carolina laughed at York’s near-incoherent sputtering. “Tell them we didn’t!” York pleaded.

Wash smirked and opened the door. “See you guys at breakfast,” he said as he closed the door behind him, bringing about another round of sputtering and squeaking from York. Wash laughed to himself most of the way to the mess hall.

When he opened the door to the mess hall, the occupants went dead quiet. Wash stopped in his tracks, the hair on the back of his neck standing on end.

Grif stood up quickly. “Did they do it?” Every soldier in the mess hall watched Wash, waiting for his answer.

Wash thought about shrugging, and telling them they’d have to ask York or Carolina themselves. He hesitated for nearly thirty seconds over the dilemma. Finally, he decided on shaking his head. “No, they didn’t.” A chorus of disappointed awws could be heard. Wash smirked. “They are together, though.” A loud cheer erupted from the soldiers. Grif punched his arms up in the air in celebration. Simmons typed something furiously on his datapad. Caboose seemed to be yelling incoherent nonsense, and Tucker laughed uproariously. Sarge looked oddly proud. Donut was leaned against the red leader, happy tears streaming down his face. North—

Oh, right. North. North sat next to Donut, hovering worriedly. Wash decided to grab his food quickly so he could distract North. He managed to return just as North reached towards Donut. Wash tapped the older man on the shoulder, breaking his movement, before sitting across from him.

“Don’t worry about Donut,” Wash said, “He’s fine.”

North’s brows creased, and he looked like he was about to object, but Donut chose that moment to cry, “I’m just so happy! It’s so wonderfully romantic!” Sarge patted the pink soldier’s shoulder awkwardly before turning back to his meal.

Wash nodded, “See?”

North relaxed a little. “Alright.” Wash watched him turn his attention to his food for all of three seconds before snapping up to look at Wash. “How are you?”

Wash blinked. “Me?”

North nodded. “You. Kimball mentioned you were pretty beat up. You okay?”

Wash nodded, too. “I’m alright. Dr. Grey patched me up. I’m not allowed to train or touch my armor for a few days, but I’m fine to be up and moving around.” He took a bite of his eggs before adding, “She knows she can’t keep me in bed for more than a few hours, anyways. Better to bend the rules than to break them outright.”

North shot him a disapproving look, but let it slide. “How’s Carolina been?”

Wash shrugged. “When she first showed up she was focused entirely on revenge. She hated all of us and didn’t care if she got us killed.” North looked queasy. “She’s gotten a lot better. She sees them as family, now. Epsilon’s death hit her hard, but I think she’ll be okay.”

North frowned, “I was told not to use the E-word.”

Wash nodded. “Generally a safe word to avoid around here.” He avoided North’s gaze by taking a sip of orange juice. “Who told you that?”

“Tucker.” North said quietly.

“Ah,” Wash nodded again, “Yeah, don’t use it around Caboose. He’ll cry. And not like Donut cries,” He added with a glance at the pink soldier, who was busy wiping his eyes delicately. “It’s also not good to use around Tucker and Carolina.” Wash paused. “And, on some days, me.” North sent him a look that said I’m going to figure you out whether you like it or not. Wash ignored it. “It’s only been two days. It’s still a sore subject.”

North ate his food in silence, obviously contemplating something. “What about—” He broke off, giving sideways glances to the pink soldier sitting on his left.

Wash grimaced. “Later,” he promised.

North looked like he was about to protest, but at that moment the mess hall went quiet again. Wash turned around to see York and Carolina awkwardly paused in the doorway. York jammed his helmet on and marched towards the food in the back, while Carolina crossed her arms and asked, “Any questions?” Wash shivered at the tone. The entirety of the mess hall looked back down at their plates and continued eating. Wash got an elbow to his good side when Carolina sat next to him a moment later.

“Stop smirking,” she grumbled. York appeared with two trays, and sat next to North after sliding one of them over to Carolina.

Wash’s smirk grew wider as he looked at York. “You know that waste disposal never got added to these helmets. You can’t exactly eat inside your helmet,” he said. He looked innocently down at the remains of his breakfast when he felt the stares of all three Freelancers.

North snickered. York and Carolina’s heads snapped to look at him, and the purple Freelancer lost it. He snorted loudly and covered his face in his hands, body convulsing with laugh after laugh. Sarge reached over Donut and patted North on the back briefly.

A soft noise to Wash’s left made him look up, finally. Carolina had a hand over her mouth, but the crinkles around her eyes gave her away. She giggled for a few seconds before all-out laughing.

York managed to look offended even through his helmet.

Wash swallowed his last bite and smiled innocently at York. “I should get going. Enjoy your breakfast.” He snagged Tucker’s elbow on the way out, much to the aqua soldier’s horror, and made his way to the training area, leaving York annoyed and slightly shocked for the second time that morning.

* * *

Hours later, Wash sat down against the wall of the training area with a heavy sigh. He’d done a few light trainings with everyone who was well enough. Not enough to bother the sore and bruised soldiers, but enough to keep them moving. He hadn’t done anything physical himself, but Palomo’s antics had exhausted him as usual.

“They sure look like a handful.” Wash jumped, his head snapping up to look at whoever had snuck up on him.

North walked towards him, a concerned frown on his face. Wash sighed again. “Believe me, they are,” he said wearily.

North sat next to Wash, with his legs stretched out in front of him. They sat in companionable silence before North looked over. “How are you, Wash?”

Wash stared straight ahead. “I told you this morning, I’m alright. I’ll heal.”

North shook his head slowly. “I wasn’t talking about that,” he said.

“Then what were you talking about?” Wash asked.

North paused for a moment, obviously choosing his words carefully. “The last time I saw you,” North spoke gently, “You had just woken up from a four day-long coma. Before that, you were, well. In a coma. And before that, you were delirious, unresponsive, and—”

“I get it,” Wash snapped, “You were there for the aftermath of Epsilon.”

North went quiet.

Wash sighed. “He went insane. He was meant to. He was a collection of all the horrible memories the Alpha needed to purge to survive.” Wash saw North wince out of the corner of his eye. “I’m better, now. I’m not the same person I used to be, and I’ll never be the same, but I’m better.” Wash took a deep breath before adding, “I’m good enough.”

North reached over and put a hand on Wash’s knee. “If you ever need anything, you know I’m here,” he said. Wash nodded. The silence dragged on for a few minutes before North burst, “Okay, what happened with Donut?”

Wash snorted. “You really couldn’t stand not knowing, huh?”

North took his hand off of Wash’s knee to scratch the back of his neck. “I just can’t imagine you shooting someone important to you,” he admitted.

Wash shrugged. “He wasn’t important to me at the time,” he said, “I was angry and felt betrayed. He was in my way.” North shook his head like he didn’t comprehend that, so Wash continued, “At the time, that’s all there was to it. I felt guilty later. I’m glad he’s okay. We thought he wasn’t.”

North’s comforting hand settled back on Wash’s knee. “They seem to respect you,” North said thoughtfully, “Everyone here does.”

Wash snorted. “Are you surprised?”

North lifted one arm in a shrug. “No. It just didn’t occur to me that you’d be good at leading men.” North shrugged. “You seem to do pretty well.”

Wash shook his head, “I have no idea what I’m doing. It was a train-wreck at first, back in the canyon. The Reds and Blues hated me.”

North smiled. “I doubt they could have hated you.”

“You’ve only known them for a few hours,” Wash scowled, “Watch. If I fuck up again they’ll turn on me.”

North squeezed Wash’s knee. “Then don’t fuck up.”

“Easier said than done,” Wash grumbled, but he turned his head slightly so North couldn’t see him smile.

“So what exactly happened after the MoI crashed?” North asked.

Wash settled back against the wall. “That is a long story.”