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Put My Guns In the Ground

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Tucker doesn’t scream when the knife goes in, but Epsilon does.

He howls, a long unbroken noooooooo that makes Tucker want to roll his eyes, it’s that dramatic. The eye roll won’t quite come, though. Between the ungodly pain in his torso, Felix skulking in front of him, and Epsilon raging inside his skull, he doesn’t have room to focus on anything else.

<Oh my god Tucker, Tucker, are you okay, why didn’t you listen to me, I told you to stop, I told you to wait, oh that mercenary motherfucker I’m gonna kill him, I’m gonna rip him apart with my bare fucking hands, Tucker, don’t you dare fucking die, if you die I’m gonna kill you—>

<Church, shut the fuck up!> Tucker sucks in a breath and tries to ignore Felix, who is still pacing and yammering away. <Focus. Focus on the helmet cam!>

<Fuck the helmet cam! This is bullshit! Wash was right, you should’ve taken his stupid healing unit—>

Tucker winces. <Yeah. He’s gonna be pretty pissed at me.>

<Pissed at you! He’s gonna KILL me!>

<Church, just—come on! Play it cool!>

<Okay okay, I got it!>

When Epsilon takes off to distribute the data to the tower— <Tucker, I swear to god, you’d better still be alive when I get back here!>— Tucker spends the next several minutes focusing on staying conscious. His friends are fine. They’re fine. They’re right there, and he needs to get up, he needs to help them. He tries to stand, but the pain that lances through his abdomen has him biting back a scream, and nope, standing is most definitely off the table.

Carolina must notice the way he flinches, because she opens up a direct line to his radio. <Hold on, Tucker.> Her voice has the same quiet, reassuring quality that Wash’s does in a crisis, and Tucker holds onto it, listening to the even sound of her breath over the radio. Locus appears behind Felix’s shield at the same time that Church returns, and both of these things jolt Tucker back to a full consciousness.

<Oh, good.> Epsilon doesn’t bother to disguise his relief. <Alright, I distributed the data, so everyone on Chorus should know—>

<Wash.>

He can feel Epsilon’s confusion. <What?>

<Wash,> Tucker thinks, a little deliriously. <He’s not here. Locus is here, but he’s not. Church. Church, what does that mean?>

Epsilon tries to mask his sudden realization and horror, but he isn’t quite fast enough. A wave of grief pulses through Tucker so powerfully it almost knocks him over. Epsilon jolts in alarm. <Hey, we don’t know what happened yet, you gotta stay with me- Tucker! Don’t you dare let those fucking mercenaries win this!>

Tucker rallies at these words, even though he’s not sure who exactly Epsilon is reassuring, gritting his teeth and forcing himself to stop scanning his friends. His friends, all there, except for Wash. Don’t you dare let them see you fall, he tells himself sharply, and he doesn’t, he doesn’t, not until Locus turns his back. Even then, it’s a small thing, his sword fizzling out of existence as he braces himself on one hand.

<No no no, Tucker, NO! Stay with me!>

He would. He should.  His friends are right there and Wash might not yet be dead, but his bones are so very heavy and—

There is a moment, between one slow blink and the next, that Tucker thinks of three things:

Running around in the first rainstorm Blood Gulch had seen in years, all thoughts of armor and color-coded teams forgotten. Junior, sleeping and serene, curled up next to him in the sand. Wash, laughing back at the crash site, the dying red sunlight caught in his hair.

The memories are bright and bold, searing themselves onto the back of Tucker’s eyelids, but there is no more time to make sense of them.

Tucker falls.

Chapter Text

PART ONE

Mama, take this badge off of me
I can't use it anymore
It's getting dark, much too dark to see
Feel I'm knocking on heaven's door


 

When Agent Washington wakes up, it is to a room filled with buzzing, beeping and breathing.

Although he has not woken up in this particular room before, he knows those sounds. Those beeps. He has only ever heard them when he was injured, or sick, or—

Article Twelve—

—something.

Wash wakes up slowly, piecing together the memories. He remembers a battle at the tower, fighting with Locus, collapsing in the dirt. He remembers making his way back to his team, remembers Carolina slinging his arm over her shoulders to help him walk, saying, “Wash, there’s something…”

He remembers stumbling over to where Tucker was lying on the ground, remembers Epsilon flitting around their heads like a firefly, remembers Dr. Grey snapping at them all to get back. Remembers kneeling next to Tucker’s makeshift stretcher on the plane, remembers being unaware of the fact that he was holding Tucker’s hand until one of the cadets had almost knocked him out of the way. Remembers Tucker’s eyelids cracking open—he was conscious, Wash remembers that, he was awake and talking and then—what?

Wash frowns. He vaguely recalls the tilt and sway of the ship until…had he passed out? Judging by the IV in his arm, he must have. Adrenaline pumps through him, and he shoots up in bed—or tries to, at least. A sharp pain sears across his ribs, and he falls back with a yelp.

“Jesus! Take it easy!”

Wash glances around frantically until his eyes land on Epsilon a few feet away. The sight of the A.I. does absolutely nothing to reassure him. “Epsilon? Where are we? What—?”

“Relax. Everything’s fine, we’re in the capital. Armonia. With the good guys,” he emphasizes, when Wash continues to stare at him blankly.

“But…” Wash frowns, squinting in the dark, until he realizes that Epsilon is sitting cross-legged on Tucker’s chest. “Tucker—is he?”

“He’s fine,” Epsilon says quickly. “Well. He’s really not, but he will be. Surgery was a little dicey, but he pulled through.”

“How long has he been out?”

“You guys were both out for over a day. Locus did a number on you.”

Wash nods, bringing a hand to his ribs. Cracked again, by the feel of them. His head is pounding something awful, too. “Where’s Carolina?”

“Sleeping. Finally.” Epsilon shakes his head. “She and the guys just left not that long ago. I had to reassure them like a billion times that I wouldn’t let either of you die in your sleep.”

“But…how are you here, then?”

“Oh…” Epsilon shifts, suddenly uncomfortable. “I’m, uh. Still wired to Tucker’s implants. I wanted to…I mean…it just seemed like a good idea to monitor him. And you. From over here! From…across the room. Just, you know. Scans and stuff. To make sure you don’t, like, have a seizure. Or something.”

“I see.”

The silence that falls between them is awkward and cold, and Wash remembers another detail from the tower: how he’d fallen to his knees next to Tucker in the dirt, looked up at Epsilon and said, “This is your fault.”

Epsilon sighs, breaking the silence. “Look—”

“You were supposed to account for his reaction time,” Wash says. “That was the only reason that I agreed to keep the healing unit. The only reason.”

“I know that—”

“You said that you could handle the helmet cam and keep an eye on Tucker. You said—”

“This whole plan was Tucker’s idea!”

“Are you seriously blaming Tucker here?”

“Of course not!”

“Because it sounds like—”

“Jesus Christ, would you shut up and listen to me for one second?”

They glare at each other for a moment before Wash folds his arms over his chest. “Fine. Explain.”

“Tucker didn’t listen to me!” Epsilon snaps. “I saw what was about to happen and I told him to stop, but…Look. There was a moment where it looked like the guys and Carolina were in trouble. You know what Tucker’s like! He started running over to them and I couldn’t stop him, not without…you know.

Taking control. There’s a part of Wash that wants to tell Epsilon he should have taken control if it meant saving Tucker, but he doesn’t mean it, not really. He does mean it when he says, “The helmet cam wasn’t more important than Tucker’s life.”

“Do you think I gave two flying fucks about the helmet cam? No! But Tucker did. He did. It was his stupid plan, and his stupid helmet cam, and if he had…if he had…look, it all would’ve been for nothing if we hadn’t gotten that message out and you know it.”

Wash says nothing, just shakes his head, and Epsilon matches him glare for glare.

“I know that I fucked this up,” Epsilon continues, his avatar fizzling for a moment. “Jesus, Wash, do you think that I don’t know that? You think I’m not over here doing the same goddamn thing you are?  Thinking of every possible scenario?

“I can’t lose these guys,” Wash says abruptly, because it’s true, because he can’t, because Epsilon probably knows it anyway, because he can’t think about the scenarios, because—

“Well, shit Wash. Neither can I.”

Wash stares at the ceiling and tries to ignore Epsilon fidgeting in his peripheral. “We made it again,” Epsilon says finally. “Pulled it off.”

Wash sighs, glancing over at Tucker’s still form. “I just hope we’re out of the woods.

They are not out of the woods.


“What do you mean, he has a fever?”

“Well, generally, when one has a fever, it means that their body temperature—Agent Washington! You are still on bed rest!”

Wash ignores Dr. Grey and limps over to Tucker’s bed. The short distance takes way more effort than it should, which he also ignores. He puts a hand on Tucker’s forehead. “He’s too warm,” he informs Dr. Grey.

Epsilon heaves a sigh. “Yeah, that’s what she just said, genius,” he says, annoyed, but his tone doesn’t mask the anxious way he’s pacing across Tucker’s chest.

“But…” Wash frowns, looking at Dr. Grey almost pleadingly. “But I thought he was going to be fine. You said he was going to be fine.”

“And odds are he will be—”

“Odds are? Odds are?”

“Wash. What are you doing out of bed?” 

Wash turns to see Carolina striding across the infirmary. “Tucker has a fever,” he tells her, and has to take a moment to remind himself that Carolina isn’t going to be able to fix this.

Carolina frowns at Dr. Grey. “How can he have a fever? You said there wasn’t any infection—”

“Tucker’s wounds are infected?” Simmons is hovering in the doorway, and takes a hesitant step inside when they all turn to face him. “But isn’t that bad?”

“A flesh-eating virus?” Sarge pokes his head around the corner. “What kind of nefarious organisms does this planet hold?”

“No, there’s no infection—there’s no virus—”

“There’s a virus going around?” Grif’s alarmed voice sounds from around the corner, and he shoves his way past Simmons and Sarge to stand at the foot of Tucker’s bed. “Huh. He looks like shit. What kind of virus is it?”

“There IS no virus!” 

“His wounds are infected, Grif,” Simmons snaps. “Honestly—”

“Everyone shut up!” Dr. Grey shrieks, and they all fall silent, wincing. “Well. This is a case of too many cooks in the kitchen, now isn’t it?”

“But none of us are cooks,” says Caboose earnestly, who has just barreled into the room as well. “Well, Tucker is a good cook. Don’t tell him I said that.”

Anyway,” mutters Grif, and Dr. Grey claps her hands together.

“Now. Captain Tucker here has a fever. It’s probably just a teensy little thing that I can fix in a jiffy, but I need all of you to leave.”

“Why?” Simmons says sulkily. “Wash gets to stay—”

“Agent Washington is recovering from a whole busload of super-fun injuries.”

Carolina wastes no time marshaling Wash back into bed at these words, and Dr. Grey wastes no time marshaling the rest out of the room. “You too,” she says to Carolina. “If there’s an update, you’ll be the first to know.”

She slams the door in Carolina’s snarling face.


 

By the time evening falls, Caboose has managed to find a way back into the infirmary. He unseals his helmet and perches gingerly on the side of Wash’s bed. There’s a caution and uncertainty in his movements that confuses Wash until Caboose takes a deep breath. “I would like to give you a hug, Agent Washington.”

“Oh,” Wash says, and clears his throat. “Um. Well…I guess…that’s…”

“But Dr. Grey says that if I hug you, I might break you.”

“I don’t think you’re going to break me, Caboose.”

“She says I hug too hard.”

Wash thinks that Dr. Grey has a point, but Caboose looks so dejected at the prospect that Wash can’t quite bring himself to agree. “I…I like your hugs, Caboose.”

Caboose’s whole face brightens. “You do?”

“Sure I do. But,” he adds hastily, as Caboose makes a lunging motion. “But, uh. My ribs are still healing, so…tell you what. As soon as I’m out of the infirmary, you can give me the biggest hug you want. Okay?”

“Okay,” Caboose says happily, and glances over at Tucker. “Can I hug Tucker, too?”

“Of course you can,” Wash says, biting his lips to keep from grinning. “Tucker loves hugs.”

As if on cue, there’s a groan from the other side of the room. Caboose almost falls off the bed in his haste to hover over Tucker, and Wash isn’t far behind.

Tucker’s eyes finally crack open, flitting around the room before they zero on Wash’s face. “Wash?” he croaks, blinking.

Caboose promptly knocks Wash out of the way. “Tucker! You are awake!”

“Oh, god. Wait, no I’m not. Let me go back to sleep.”

Dr. Grey appears behind them so quickly that Wash has to physically stop himself from reacting. She shoulders Wash and Caboose out of the way, and Wash is begrudgingly impressed by the force behind her shoulder check. “’Scuse me, Doctor coming through,” she says cheerfully, and fiddles with Tucker’s monitors. “Captain Tucker? How are you feeling?”

“Like shit,” he mumbles. “W’happened?”

Epsilon materializes over Dr. Grey’s shoulder, arms folded. “You got stabbed, that’s what. Nice going.”

Tucker falls silent, contemplating this. Wash sees the exact moment Tucker pieces it all together, but is too slow to prevent him from shooting up in bed. Tucker gasps, falling back and clutching his stomach, and Epsilon shoots a look at Wash as if it’s his fault. “What is it with you two and not realizing you have to fucking take it easy after an injury?”

“Wash,” Tucker says, waving an arm around as if he’s looking for him. Wash steps up on his other side, keeping a careful distance away from Dr. Grey. “Is everyone okay? Did we do it?”

“Everyone’s fine,” Wash tells him. “They’re all fine. Your plan worked, we got the information out to everyone. You were stabbed, and you caught a fever, but you’re going to be okay.”

He glances at Dr. Grey for confirmation, and she nods. “You’ll be fine as long as you, in the words of your little A.I. friend, take it easy,” she says.

Little A.I. friend?” Epsilon mutters, but is quickly drowned out by Caboose’s shout of joy.

“Oh! Oh! Tucker! I will find us some board games we can play!” Caboose claps Tucker so hard on the shoulder that Dr. Grey looks within seconds of body checking him again, but Caboose is out the door in a flash.

“Jesus,” mutters Tucker, his eyelids already fluttering closed again. “I’m gonna pretend to be asleep next time he comes back in.”

Tucker does, in fact, spend the rest of the day sleeping, and Wash has to recount their brief conversation with Carolina, then Grif and Simmons, then Donut as they all wander in throughout the afternoon. By the time Sarge barges in, he is thoroughly sick of telling the story.

“He’s fine, Sarge,” he says tiredly, as Sarge examines Tucker’s monitors.

“Hmph,” Sarge grunts in response.

Dr. Grey materializes out of seemingly nowhere to bat his hands away. “Now now, Colonel. No touching!”

Sarge looks at her appraisingly. “I knew we had nothing to worry about with you on the case,” he says gruffly. “Never seen hands quite like yours before.

“Weak, Sarge,” Tucker groans from the bed, and Wash finds himself exchanging a glance with Epsilon, of all people, who’s hovering over the nightstand in between their beds.

“Surgeon’s hands!” Sarge blusters, before he storms out of the room.

Dr. Grey glares at Tucker, but finding his eyes still closed, glares at Wash instead. “What?” he asks defensively, and she huffs her way out of the room as well.

“Call me if he starts bleeding through his bandages!” she yells as the door shuts.

“What the fuck was that?” Tucker mumbles, cracking an eye open.

Wash sighs. “You don’t want to know. I had to listen to those two flirting the entire time we were with the Feds.”

“Nice,” Tucker says, already starting to drift off again. “Glad to see Sarge is getting some tail, the sly old dog.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, Tucker,” Epsilon says, exasperated.

But Tucker’s looking at Wash now, fighting to keep his eyes open once more. He half lifts a hand before letting it fall, and Wash finds himself doing the same thing without really knowing why. “You’re okay though, right?” Tucker mumbles, his voice thick with sleep. “You’re really okay?”

Wash’s hand raises and falls once more, and he clenches it in the bed sheets. “I’m really okay.”

“Everyone’s okay?”

“Everyone’s okay,” says Wash, and Tucker’s face relaxes, his bones melting into the mattress as he drifts off.


 

 Tucker is noticeably better in the morning, all traces of his fever gone. A group of four soldiers hover by the door around mid-morning, trying to peer in, but Dr. Grey shoos them all away. “No more visitors,” she says, and Wash suspects she’s still irritated about Tucker scaring off Sarge earlier. Tucker rolls his eyes at Wash.

“The Lieutenants,” he says. “I’ll introduce you to them all later.”

The next several days are much of the same. Tucker spends most of his time sleeping. Wash and Epsilon spend most of their time sitting in a begrudging silence. Caboose does indeed find some obscure board game that no one seems to know how to play, but they play it anyway, the four members of Blue Team, with Caboose making up increasingly ridiculous rules and Epsilon shrieking about the absurdity of said rules. Wash is finally given permission to change out of the uncomfortable hospital gown into sweats and a t-shirt, but Dr. Grey laughs her way out of the room when Wash inquiries about his armor. Tucker whines so enthusiastically about the unfairness of the fact that “Wash gets to lounge around in pajamas while I’m stuck wearing a paper dress, and not even a sexy one,” that Dr. Grey finally throws up her hands and helps him into something more comfortable as well.

“But if I have to operate quickly, I’m ripping this shirt right open,” she says cheerfully.

“That’s okay baby, I like the enthusiasm,” Tucker responds without missing a beat, and Wash wouldn’t admit it out loud, but he’s never been so happy to hear one of Tucker’s stupid come-ons. Tucker’s stupid come-ons mean that he is thinking of other things; that he is really and truly getting better.

Wash wakes up one morning to find Tucker sitting cross-legged in his own bed, datapad in hand, deep in conversation with Epsilon. The change in him his astounding: his eyes are bright, the lines of his body strong. Dr. Grey is nowhere to be seen.

“How are you feeling?” Wash yawns, pushing himself to a sit.

To his surprise, Tucker says nothing, just grunts in response. Upon closer inspection, Tucker’s healing body is not the only thing that has changed from days’ prior—his whole demeanor is stiff and tense, and he’s refusing to meet Wash’s eye. It’s nothing like the sleepy, sanguine thing that’s settled itself in their room since their arrival here, a thing that’s equal parts morphine and exhaustion and a giddy, delirious joy that they are all alive.

“Tucker?”

“I’m mad at you.”

Wash looks over at Epsilon, who shrugs almost apologetically. “I’m sorry, what?

“I said, I’m mad at you,” Tucker repeats. He still won’t look at Wash. “And generally, people don’t speak to the assholes that they’re mad at.”

“Okay,” Wash says slowly. “I mean, if they’re five years old, then yeah, that sounds about right.”

Tucker whips around to glower at him, and Wash is taken aback by the genuine anger in his eyes. “This isn’t funny, Wash!”

Wash holds up his hands. “Alright, alright. Look, why don’t you tell me what you’re so upset about?”

“If you don’t know, then I don’t want to talk about it,” Tucker says stiffly.

Epsilon throws up his arms. “Oh, my god. I’m logging off now.”

“No you’re not,” Tucker snaps. “Then I’ll have no one to talk to. It’s really fucking boring in this infirmary. Don’t understand why I can’t even walk around—”

“That would be because you got stabbed, Tucker,” Wash says. Tucker ignores him. “And, since we’re apparently about to have an argument, I’d like to point out that your injury wouldn’t have been so bad if you’d taken my healing unit like I wanted you to—”

Tucker slams his datapad down onto the mattress, glaring fiercely at Wash again. “If I had, then you’d probably be dead, Wash!”

Wash blinks at him, bewildered. “I wouldn’t have been dead, I just got banged up a little bit—”

“Yeah, by a total sociopath who clearly has it out for you!”

“Tucker—”

“I thought you were dead.” Tucker is staring determinedly at the ceiling now, while Epsilon looks around uncomfortably. “When Locus came back without you. I thought you were dead.”

“Tucker,” Wash says quietly. “I thought you were dead, too. When I came back—when I saw you…” he stops and clears his throat, and Tucker turns to him sharply.

“Yeah, okay, I’m really gonna go now,” Epsilon mutters, and vanishes without further comment.

“When I came over that ledge and saw you on the ground,” Wash continues, “I thought that you hadn’t made it. That we’d lost the day.”

Tucker rolls his eyes. “We wouldn’t have lost the day—the plan worked, didn’t it?"

“The plan wouldn’t have worked,” Wash says through gritted teeth, “if you had died.

“Hey, that plan saved an entire planet, and if what that takes is a little sacrifice—”

“I don’t give a damn about the planet!” The anger courses through Wash with no warning and overwhelming intensity. He’s on his feet without realizing that he’d intended to stand, ignoring the throbbing pain in his ribs. “I know you do, but I don’t! I don’t! I don’t know these people and I’m not going to stand around and watch you risk your life for them—”

“Don’t you fucking tell me what to goddamn do, Washington! I can risk my life for whoever the fuck I want! I’m a fucking Captain now, if you haven’t heard—you’re not the boss of me anymore—”

“I’m not trying to be the boss of you! I’m trying to keep you from taking unnecessary risks!”

Oh! Oh, but it’s okay for you to do risky things with your life?” Tucker is matching Wash scowl for scowl, but there’s something triumphant in his eyes as well, some ill-disguised pleasure that he’s gotten Wash to scream right back.

“I don’t—” Wash rakes a hand through his hair. “What the hell are you talking about?”

“Oh, my God.” Tucker swings his legs to the edge of the bed so that he can glare at Wash more effectively. “Are you fucking kidding me right now?”

“No, I’m not kidding you—”

“You looked right at me.”

“I—what?” Wash stops pacing for a moment, staring at Tucker in confusion. Tucker’s got his hands balled into fists, jaw clenched furiously.

“When you told Freckles to shake,” Tucker says lowly. “You looked. Right. At me. I was right there, and you were on your feet, and it would’ve taken me two seconds to come over and help you—”

“You don’t know that!”

“Yes I fucking do!”

Tucker yells it so loudly that footsteps passing outside the hallway falter. “Yes, I fucking do,” he says again, lowering his voice. “I do. But god forbid you let a day go by where you’re not careless with your own life—”

Wash jerks back. “I’m not careless with my life.”

Yes, you are! You’d rather risk getting tortured by some fucking nut job than let people help you!”

Something about the way Tucker phrases this gets under his skin. “That’s not—” Wash takes a deep breath before looking Tucker square in the face. “I needed to know that you and Caboose were safe.”

Tucker scoffs, turning away, and Wash steps directly into his line of vision. “I will never apologize for saving your life, so if that’s what you’re going for here—”

“You still don’t get it!” Tucker bursts out, and he tries to stand, fiddling with the IV still in his arm.

“Tucker—” Wash holds out a hand to stop him, and Tucker bats it away.

“What did I just say? Don’t tell me what to do! If you get to pace around the room dramatically, then so do I!”

Wash winces as Tucker stumbles back onto the bed with a gasp, and he takes a seat on his own bed again, giving them the much needed space. “There. I’m sitting. Now, will you take it easy? You’re gonna pull your stitches.”

“I don’t fucking care about my stitches,” Tucker spits.

“Well, I do.”

They glare at each other. Wash is surprised that no one has come storming into their room yet. “Tucker. Tell me what I still don’t get.”

Tucker huffs, glaring at a point somewhere over Wash’s left shoulder. “We thought you were being tortured,” he says.

“What?”

“I know you heard what I just said, don’t act fucking stupid!” Tucker snaps, flaring again immediately. “Jesus jumped up Christ—”

“Alright, alright!”

Tucker breathes heavily through his nose until he’s satisfied that Wash isn’t going to interrupt. “After you oh-so-heroically collapsed that wall. We—Grif, Simmons, Caboose and I—thought you guys were in serious trouble. The things that Felix—” he spits out the name “—told us about Locus and his douchey friends…they didn’t sound good.”

Wash stays silent and waits for Tucker to continue.

Tortured,” Tucker repeats.

“Okay,” Wash says slowly. He can’t help but feel that he’s still missing something, and judging by the way Tucker’s eyes are boring holes into him, Tucker clearly thinks so too. “Tucker—”

“I got two people killed,” Tucker says. “On a mission. I was following a lead to where you guys were, and…two men got killed in the process. It was my fault.”

There’s a haunted look in Tucker’s eyes that tells Wash he still isn’t past it. “I’m sorry.”

Apparently, this is the wrong thing to say, because Tucker starts yelling again. “Don’t fucking apologize! I don’t want to hear you say you’re sorry ever again!”

“Tucker—”

“And don’t say my name, either!”

Wash is started to get frustrated now. “Well, what the hell do you want from me?”

“I want you to get it!

“Get what?!

Tucker pulls at his dreads with a growl, flopping dramatically back down on the bed (which can’t be good for his stitches, Wash notes with disapproval) to stare at the ceiling. “I thought you were being tortured.”

“So you’ve said…”

I thought you were being tortured,” Tucker continues loudly, ignoring Wash, “and I couldn’t…I couldn’t fucking think straight. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t get any goddamn sleep because all I kept thinking of, all night, was how you don’t sleep on a good day, and how you were probably having the shittiest nightmares ever in some torture dungeon, and we weren’t…I wasn’t…”

Wash holds his breath, unwilling to move or make a sound.

“There,” Tucker says finally. “I. Wasn’t. There.

Silence.

“And then,” Tucker continues furiously, sitting up. “We meet up again, find you guys like, all whole and shit, and what’s the first thing you do?”

He seems to be waiting for Wash to speak, but Wash finds himself slightly terrified of giving the wrong answer. “Um—”

“You try to sacrifice yourself heroically again!” Tucker flops sideways back down on the bed, legs hanging off the side, and deepens his voice. “There’s a fourth option! Carolina and I will handle the bad guys, and the rest of you can fuck off!”

“That’s not—” Wash can’t keep quiet any longer. “That’s not what I meant and you know it!”

“That’s exactly what you meant!”

“It had nothing to do with you guys as fighters—I didn’t want any of you to get hurt in a war that isn’t yours!”

“It isn’t your war, either!” Tucker shouts. He’s still yelling at the ceiling. “You just said that you didn’t give two flying fucks about this planet! Well, I do! And at least my plan actually had a chance of working, unlike the crock of shit you pulled out of your ass.”

“That isn’t—”

“And guess what? My fucking plan did work, and you just have your panties in a fucking knot because I got wounded—well, you know what, Wash? That’s what happens in war! People get hurt!”

“You’re not people,” Wash grits out. “You’re my team. You’re my…friend.”

“So, what? That makes me more important than a whole fucking planet?”

Wash doesn’t have to think about it. “Yes.”

Tucker sighs loudly. “That’s fucked up, Wash.”

“I don’t care.”

“So, you’re willing to sacrifice yourself—and Epsilon, and Carolina—but not me? Or Caboose? Or the Reds?”

“Well…that’s not what…”

“That’s exactly what you tried to do! Jesus Christ Wash, you’ve got some fucked up priorities.”

Tucker falls silent for nearly a minute, and when he speaks again, his voice is low and hurt. “Your plan was shitty, and mine wasn’t, and it worked, and it saved the fucking day.

“I know it did,” Wash says, surprised. “Is that what this is about?”

Tucker groans, dragging a pillow over his face. “No, that’s not what it's about! Haven’t you been listening to me? It’s about you, and this fucking thing you do where you’re careless with your stupid life and don’t give a fuck about how it affects other people!”

“Okay, okay,” Wash says hastily.

Tucker whips the pillow away and glares at him. “I really need you to get that, dude.”

“Okay, okay, I…get it.”

Tucker snorts, turning to glare at the ceiling once more, and Wash can tell he didn’t buy it for a second. “Whatever.”

“Still, though,” Wash continues, because it’s important that Tucker understand this, “I’m not denying that it was a good plan. I’m proud of you.”

“You are?”

Wash sighs. “Tucker, look at me.”

Tucker doesn’t look at him, just remains flopped on his bed, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling. Wash hesitates, then gets up, sitting next to Tucker. “I may have fucked up priorities,” he says quietly, “and I may want nothing more than to get all of us off this planet.”

Tucker snorts again, and Wash pretends he doesn’t see the bright sheen covering his eyes. “But,” he continues. “If this is important to you guys, then you have my support.”

“Really?”

Wash hesitates, then stretches on his back to lay sideways next to Tucker, hoping it might startle him into looking meeting his gaze. “Really.”

It works. Tucker sniffs loudly and tilts his head to look at Wash, eyes bright and furious and unyielding. “Okay, ‘cause half the people in this army are like, fifteen, and I just think it’s really unfair, and I know we’re not the best soldiers, but I think we could help, and if we could help, then just think what you and Carolina could do.”

“Looks like you guys have been doing just fine without us,” Wash says, smiling a little. “But you won’t have to do it alone. Not anymore.”

“Promise me something,” Tucker says abruptly.

“Okay.”

He looks a little suspicious at the ease of Wash’s answer. “We’re a team, right? That’s what you’re always fucking saying, anyway.”

“Of course we are.”

“Okay, then. You have to fucking treat us like a team. No more trying to keep us out of the line of fire. No more self-sacrificial bullshit.”

Wash nods. “That’s fair.”

“I mean it,” Tucker says, his voice fierce again. “If we’re on a mission or something, and you’re in trouble, you have to fucking radio me so that I can come help you.

Wash is used to the way that memories slam into him, removing him unforgivingly from the present. This one, though, comes slow and sorrowful: another infirmary, another teammate. You lie. You’re a liar. You say you’re fine when you’re not. You say you don’t need backup when you do.

You have to radio me when you need help. It’s the only way this works.

Maine’s voice grumbles through his skull from far beyond the grave. For him, and for Tucker, Wash thinks it might be time to listen.

“Promise,” he says, and holds out his hand. Tucker rolls his eyes, but shakes it. “I never meant to imply that you guys weren’t capable, you know,” he says. “I just…I don’t want to see you hurt.”

“I know,” Tucker says with a sigh. “I know you don’t. But still. If you pull any bullshit like that ever again, I will kill you myself. Deal?”

There’s an unshed tear clinging to Tucker’s eyelashes, and Wash has to quash down a sudden and insane urge to brush it away. He clenches his fist and focuses on Tucker, on the promise that he needs to make.

“Deal.”

Tucker grins, and in that moment, Wash realizes that he can’t just say the words and not think of their consequences.

He has to mean them.

He has to change.

Chapter Text

The thing about getting injured in a war, Tucker thinks, is that it’s really fucking boring.

It was kind of nice at first, once he was sure he wasn’t about to die and all. There’d been an awful lot of people sneaking into his room to look at him like he was a goddamned hero. Which he was, of course. He’d really played up the wounded soldier card and he was pretty certain it was going to get him a lot of tail. Okay, Caboose had been extra clingy, and Grif had stolen his jello cup twice now, but Sarge had rigged his morphine drip so that he slept soundly, and Wash had been all worried and clench-jawed in a way that was somehow not annoying after they’d had their stupid heart to heart and gotten all emotional and shit.

Now, though, Tucker doesn’t think he can stand lying in this bed for another second. It isn’t fair, he thinks morosely. Wash had been almost as fucked up as him, but he was now allowed out of the infirmary with the caveat of overnight observations for the next few days. Tucker isn’t sure why he’d even bothered leaving. Wash had already popped back in four times—it wasn’t even noon—clearly convinced that Tucker was going to bleed out and no one would notice. Which was absurd. He wasn’t going to die bleeding out; he was going to die of boredom.

<Oh my god, are you ever gonna stop feeling sorry for yourself?>

Epsilon sounds nearly as cranky as Tucker feels, but Tucker will not be out-sulked. “Come out here. I hate talking to you when I can’t see you, I know you know that.” He gestures towards the monitor on his bedside table that Caboose had scrounged up from God-knows-where. "This is here for a reason, you know. So I can see you."

<Yeah well, too bad.>

“Church,” he whines. “Come on. I’m sooo fucking bored. Tell me a story or something.”

Epsilon materializes on Tucker’s knee, folding his arms in exaggerated annoyance. “Tell you a story? What am I, your nurse?”

“Uh, why the fuck else are you camped out in my head?”

“In case you’ve forgotten,” Epsilon says, in the most condescending voice Tucker’s ever heard, “you got stabbed and someone needs to keep an eye on your stupid ass.”

Tucker grunts. “They don’t seem too worried anymore. No one’s been in here to poke and prod at me all goddamn day.”

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause I’m here, idiot.”

“Huh?”

To keep an eye on you,” Epsilon emphasizes. “Make sure you don’t croak.”

“What are you gonna do if that starts to happen?” Tucker asks sarcastically. “Run for help?”

“Actually, I’m going to broadcast an SOS onto every computer on this goddamn planet until every doctor gets their ass in here,” Epsilon says calmly. “But, you know. Maybe I’ll run for help while I’m at it.”

He still sounds like a cocky little shit, but Tucker gets the feeling that he’s not joking. Not in the slightest. He remembers the way Church screamed when the knife slid into his stomach—so neat, so sharp, the blood ribboning out onto the ground, Felix’s voice filling his ears, and Wash hadn’t come back, hadn’t—Tucker forces his thoughts away. Epsilon ignores the increased pattering of his heart, for which Tucker is grateful, but of course can’t resist throwing his two cents out there.

“That was way too fucking close, Tucker.”

It has to be at least the seven hundredth time he’s expressed this sentiment, and Tucker sighs loudly. “I knooow.”

“I’m just saying. You can’t drop your guard like that when—”

“I know!” Tucker bounces his fist against the mattress restlessly. “I fucking know that. You really think I don’t? I just…”

“Panicked?”

So much for ignoring Tucker’s anxiety. “Look, how the fuck would you know, anyway? You’re not a combat assist A.I.—”

“Oh, and you know that from your extensive experience with A.I.?”

Tucker opens his mouth reply scathingly, but pauses. “Are you?”

“Well, not exactly, but they weren’t pairing us up with the Freelancers to do desk work, I can tell you that much.”

Epsilon’s voice goes even sulkier the way it always does when Freelancer comes up, but Tucker knows better than to ask for details. “I know it was close, okay? Still don’t need you to lecture me on combat.”

Epsilon shrugs. “I’m sure Carolina will take care of that all on her own.”

Tucker straightens in alarm. “You wouldn’t. If you fucking tell on me—”

“I don’t have to. I guarantee you she’s already got one hell of a lecture prepared.”

“How do you know?!”

“We share a head, remember? She’s always griping about how you guys have the shittiest training ever.”

“Hey,” Tucker says, offended, “we’ve gotten by this long, haven’t we?”

“Exactly. Imagine how terrifying you would all be if you actually trained.” Epsilon freezes in horror. “Oh, god. I sound like her, don’t I?’

“Starting to, yeah.”

“Fucking Christ.” Epsilon falls silent for a while, seemingly to reflect on this disturbing similarity, and Tucker goes back to thinking about how bored he is. “I should’ve—” Epsilon starts, then cuts himself off. “Look. I should’ve—at the tower—I should’ve…”

Tucker sighs. “Are we about to have a moment?”

“Should’ve been faster,” Epsilon mutters.

“You were plenty fast.” Tucker pauses, then grudgingly continues. “I didn’t listen. Don’t tell Wash I said that. Or Carolina. Or Dr. Grey. Or anyone. Then I really will be in training for the rest of my life.”

“Yeah,” Epsilon mutters, but he doesn’t sound convinced.

“Now who’s feeling sorry for himself?” Tucker quips, then sighs again when Epsilon’s presence continues to sit like a stone in his skull. “Look, dude. There wasn’t anything you could’ve done, okay? I didn’t listen. I guess I’m…sorry. For that. Or whatever.”

Epsilon looks at him sharply. “Sorry? Why?”

Tucker shifts uncomfortably. “You’re in my head, aren’t you? Can’t you fucking tell? Don’t make me spell this shit out.”

When Epsilon continues to look confused, Tucker lets his mind go loose and heavy. He thinks of Wash, and Tex, and failure, and Wyoming’s time distortion unit, and hopes Epsilon won’t ask him to elaborate because he couldn’t explain it if he tried.

Epsilon seems to get it, though, and his presence lifts slightly. He doesn’t say sorry again, and neither does Tucker, but the atmosphere shifts and Tucker thinks this isn’t all bad, thinks Freelancer might have been onto something, before it all went to hell.


Unfortunately, Epsilon isn’t wrong about Carolina. About two hours after Wash comes to check on him, again, and bring him some ridiculous magazine he found on guns for some “light studying,” and one hour after Dr. Grey gives him his antibiotics, and thirty minutes after Caboose comes in to tell him and Church exactly what he ate for lunch, Carolina makes her grand entrance.

Well, it’s less of a grand entrance and more like a terrifying execution of stealth—literally, one moment he’s cracking jokes with Epsilon and the next, Carolina is looming in his doorway in full armor—but it’s as grand an entrance as Tucker’s ever seen.

“We need to talk,” she says ominously, “about your training.”

Epsilon clears his throat pointedly, and Tucker sees her visor tilt in his direction before she straightens and makes an obvious attempt to soften her tone. “How are you feeling, Tucker?”

“Jesus Christ,” Tucker mutters.

“It appears that you are…healing well. I am glad.”

“Oh boy.”

“Captain Tucker.” Carolina pauses. “It’s…Captain now, right?”

“Fuck yeah it is.”

“Right. Captain Tucker. Your plan saved an entire planet. It—”

Tucker sighs. “Okay, okay. As much as I like hearing about what a goddamn hero I am, I think I’d like to get the lecture over with.”

“…fine.” Carolina takes a few more steps into his room, then another few, until she’s hovering over his bed.

“On second thought, maaaybe some more hero worship wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world—”

“Tucker. What were you thinking?

Tucker frowns. “What happened to Captain Tucker?”

Carolina ignores him. “Your plan was a brilliant one, save for one key detail.”

“I’m waiting with baited breath.”

You don’t know how to use that sword.

Hey! Yes I do!”

“Fine. You don’t know how to use it well,” Carolina amends.

Tucker sighs loudly. “I fail to see how that’s relevant.”

“You fail to see how that’s relevant? Tucker, one of the key elements of your plan was holding Felix off with your sword. I seem to remember some ridiculous monologue about ‘The Sword Fight of the Century.’”

“Look, he pulled that knife out of nowhere!”

“And you ran right into it.

Tucker huffs and folds his arms protectively over his midsection. “Get to the point.”

“The point,” says Carolina. “Is that if you insist on wielding that ridiculous sword in combat, you need to learn how to use it. Immediately.”

“But it wasn’t even a sword that Felix stabbed me with!” Tucker cries, frustrated. “It was a knife.”

“Swords. Knives. Things with blades, plasma or otherwise. You need to learn how to use all of them.”

“I know how to use them,” Tucker mutters, and Epsilon rolls his whole head.

“Oh, stop whining.

“Don’t talk to me about whining, you—”

“Look,” Carolina interrupts loudly. Her voice softens somewhat when Tucker scowls at her. “I’m not saying you don’t have raw talent. I’m just saying that you’ve never had a chance to refine that talent. Imagine what you could do if you actually trained.”

Shut up, Tucker tells Epsilon as the A.I. starts snickering inside his head. To Carolina, he says, “Look, I’m not sure what you think we were doing while the two of you were off fucking around—”

Epsilon stops snickering immediately. “Oh, come on! I already said I was sorry for that!”

“—but TRAINING was pretty much the only goddamn thing we were doing.” He frowns at Carolina. “I’m not dicking around here. I don’t want these kids to die, you know.”

“Then you need to be better. No, stop interrupting me and listen to what I’m saying! You have the talent. You have the drive. You just need someone to teach you.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” Epsilon adds.

Tucker huffs. “Yeah? You got a master swordsman on this planet who’s gonna teach me?”

Carolina either completely misses his sarcasm or chooses to ignore it. “I’m still looking. There has to be someone on this base who is good with a sword. I can help clean up your footwork, but you do need a master. For now, though, you can start training knives with Wash.”

“What—with Wash? You’re sentencing me to more training with Wash?”

“Wash is excellent with knives,” Carolina says, undaunted, and Tucker tries to remember if he’s ever even seen Wash use them. “His aim is near perfect, and his close quarters combat is—”

“Is fucking shitty! Carolina! It’s a miracle Locus didn’t kill him—”

“And I will be helping Wash set his training goals next,” she says fiercely. “Do you think you’re the only one who needs to develop their skill set?”

Tucker pauses. “So. I’m not the only one getting a lecture.”

“Sarge needs to learn not to be so careless with his ammo, Simmons has to keep a cooler head under pressure, Grif needs to use his size to his advantage, Caboose should be using his strength, and Wash…” her voice drops dangerously. “Wash needs to develop some sort of strategy for when he loses his weapons.”

Tucker feels marginally better at that. “However,” Carolina continues. “He is excellent with knives. When he doesn’t lose them. So, until I can track down a swordsman, you will be training with Wash in the mornings.”

“Sucks to be you, dude,” Epsilon snickers, and Carolina rounds on him.

“And you need to learn to keep your head in a crisis, and not panic every time one of your teammates sustains an injury.”

Epsilon sputters indignantly. “What—low, C. Fucking low.

Her voice softens a little. “You boys did good. You completed your objective. I just…you could be better. I need you all to be better.”

Tucker’s tempted to argue the point further, but Epsilon whispers grudgingly, She’s trying to take care of you guys. Just let her, so he relents. “Okay okay, fine!

“Good. Rest up. We have a war to win.”

“Yeah, yeah.” He straightens up as she turns to leave. “Wait! Are you gonna yell at Wash next? Aw, come on, can I watch?”

“Goodbye, Captain Tucker,” she says, exasperated, and the door swings shut behind her.


The rest of the day passes slowly. Tucker gets a few more visitors, which he likes, because at least they give him something to do. He doesn’t even mind when Palomo stops by, because it’s better than dwelling on the reason he’s in this bed in the first place.

Epsilon doesn’t comment on the way Tucker goes quiet whenever he replays the stabbing in his mind, even though Tucker knows Epsilon can feel the sickeningly way his stomach swoops. Instead, he gets extra chatty, and Tucker wonders if this is the real reason he’s here. He suddenly doesn’t think his lack of nightmares since the tower is a coincidence.

Wash comes back in the early evening, and Tucker brightens at the sight of him walking through the door. “Oh, good, you’re back. I’m bored.”

Epsilon sighs. “And here I thought I was a winning conversationalist.”

“How was your first day of freedom?” Tucker asks, which Wash promptly ignores in favor of his own question.

“How are you feeling?” Wash asks, just like he’s been doing every time he walked into the room. As if Tucker’s going to drop dead at any moment.

“Jesus, when are gonna stop asking me that?”

“You’re not out of the woods yet,” Wash says darkly, and couples his words by dramatically unsheathing his weapons and placing them on his bedside table.

“Uh, are you expecting to be attacked tonight?”

“We’re in a war zone,” Wash says. “And seeing as how Dr. Grey wouldn’t let me put my armor back on just yet, I didn’t have much of a choice.”

Tucker glances pointedly at the knives on the table. “She gave you your weapons back, though.”

“These aren’t my knives. I got them from the armory.”

Tucker watches him adjust the knives on his table just so. His shoulders are high and tight, face drawn and unhappy. “That bad of a day, huh?”

“It was fine,” Wash snaps, and Tucker lets it go. Wash does a bit more unnecessary stomping around and rearranging of his weapons before he sits down on the edge of his bed and looks at Tucker. “So? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Did you read the magazine?”

“Yeah,” Tucker says. “Yeah. Good stuff in there.”

It’s a lie, the weapons magazine was three years old, but his words, bizarrely, seem to lift a bit of the tension out of Wash’s body.

“So, Carolina wants me to teach you how to use knives,” Wash says, and Tucker groans.

“Yep. One more goddamn thing I gotta learn.” He pauses, grinning. “Does that mean you got a lecture, too?”

“You could say that,” Wash says dryly. “Apparently she thinks my hand-to-hand skills need work.”

“She’s not wrong,” Tucker can’t resist adding.

Wash sighs. “I know. We’ve all got stuff we need to work on. Now, look, I don’t pretend to be an expert at knives, but I have a few tricks I could show you.”

“Yeeeeeeah, I bet you do,” Tucker crows, and Epsilon makes a noise of disgust.

“Once you’re healed,” Wash continues loudly. “We’ll get started. I’m going to book us a section of the training room for us six days a week—”

Six days a week? To learn how to use a fucking knife!?”

“It’s going to be more than just knife work, Tucker,” Wash says. “Eventually, we’ll have to find a swordsman for you, and we can always work on things like aiming and—”

“Hand to hand combat?”

Wash levels a glare at him. “And hand to hand combat.”

“’Kay. Long as we’re working on your weaknesses, too.”

Wash rolls his eyes, suddenly superior. “Tucker, please. My worst sparring day easily tops your best.”

“Oh, really? We’ll see about that.”

“Have you become a martial arts master while I was gone?”

“I became a Captain, didn’t I? Stranger things have happened.”

“True,” Wash concedes.

“Agent Washington!” They both turn to the door as Dr. Grey bounces in. “Well, you did come back! Seems like juuuuust yesterday I was chasing you all over the Federalist compound trying to do a simple checkup, and now you can’t stay away from the infirmary!”

Tucker lifts an eyebrow as Wash’s cheeks darken. “What do you need, Doctor?”

“Let’s take a quick peek at those ribs, shall we? Off with the shirt.”

Wash lifts his shirt slowly, just enough for Dr. Grey to get a look at his side, and Tucker winces a little at the bruising still coloring his ribs. It’s faded to yellow, at least, but the sheer size of it is alarming. Tucker thinks it might be worse than the broken ribs he had after Sidewinder.

“How many times have you cracked your ribs, dude?” Tucker asks jokingly. “Is this your go-to injury or what?”

“Four,” Wash says absently, and Tucker stops grinning.

Four? You’ve broken your ribs four times?”

Wash blinks at him, confused. “Well, yeah.”

“Five,” says Epsilon absently.

Tucker winces as Wash freezes. “Excuse me?”

Epsilon apparently hasn’t realized he’s said anything odd yet, and continues. “There’s now, and apparently after Sidewinder, I wasn’t there for that, but there was also that one time in Freelancer when you and CT got all banged up—”

<Church, shut the fuck up!> Tucker hisses, as Wash’s face slowly turns stonier and stonier.

“And then that time in Basic when you took that nasty kick to the side, and then on your tour in…the…” Epsilon finally trails off as Tucker’s thoughts grow more insistent. “Oh. Uh. Fuck. My bad…”

“Are you finished?” Wash asks coldly. “Or is there any other personal information of mine you’d like to share with the class?”

 “Nope. I think I’m, uh, good. Yeah. Think I’m good. ‘Night everyone,” Epsilon says, and logs off so fast that it leaves Tucker reeling slightly.

Wash is still glaring at the place where Epsilon vanished, but he is at least distracted enough that Dr. Grey is able to finish her observation.

“Well that was awkward,” Tucker jokes as Dr. Grey runs a scanner over Wash’s torso.

Now Wash is glaring at him, so Tucker gives it up. Wash throws back his covers and punches his pillow into a comfortable shape, then proceeds to lay down and glare at the ceiling for the remainder of Dr. Grey’s checkup. “You’re free to go in the morning, Washington,” she says cheerfully. “I’ll do one final checkup, but I think you’re healing nicely. Just take it easy for a few days!”

Wash grunts in acknowledgment as the door swings shut, and Tucker rolls his eyes a little. “Dude, chill.”

“I am.”

“You are not. You’re wound up as fuck. Wanna talk about it?”

That gets Wash to look over at him. “Talk about what, Tucker?”

“About…you know…” Tucker sighs. “Never mind. So did you get to meet everyone today?”

“Yes….I mean…well, some of them.”

Some of them?”

“I just…” Wash fidgets. “Look, Dr. Grey wouldn’t give me my armor, okay? I’m not about to go wandering around a foreign environment without armor. So…yes. Some of them.”

So, none of them, Tucker thinks, exasperated, but he lets it go. He listens to the sounds of Wash tossing and turning before drifting into a light doze, or at least pretending to. It wouldn’t surprise Tucker in the slightest if Wash hadn’t slept a wink since arriving in the capital.

There are still times when it seems that nothing has changed since Rockslide, since Wash was tense and tired and so utterly done. Moments where Tucker still catches him flinching at an unexpected touch, or sees his face go blank and expressionless. Moments where he is distant and short and angry, where Tucker realizes that he still has miles and miles to go.

But he thinks of the way Wash brought him that stupid magazine and told him it was so that he could study, which was a lie, because all of the guns in that issue were out of date and he knows that Wash knew that. He thinks of how Wash just wanted him to have something to do, because he knew Tucker was bored, but he didn’t know how to say it. He thinks of how far Wash has come, and of drinking beer on his birthday back at Rockslide, and of protecting my friends, and the way he had laughed that one time when—

I thought of him, he realizes suddenly, the thought unfurling inside his sleepy mind like blue skies cut from clouds. I thought of him.

Tucker straightens up in his bed, glancing over at Wash dozing in the bed a few feet away. “Holy shit,” he breathes.

Epsilon stirs. <What’s up? You feel…weird.>

<Shut up for a second! I’m thinking.>

<Uh, okay?>

But Epsilon does fall silent, watching Tucker’s thoughts play out. Tucker thinks again of the stabbing, but this time, he traces the memory further: the moment after he’d fallen into the dirt, right before everything had gone black. He’d thought of something, then, of…

The canyon, wet with rain for the first time in years. Junior, in his teal armor, curled up next to him in the desert. And Wash, laughing with the early evening sun turning his blond hair red.

<I thought of him,> he says to Epsilon. <I thought of Wash. Church, why did I think of Wash?>

<Shit, I don’t know Tucker, people think of all sorts of things when they think they might…you know.>

Tucker turns the moment over and over in his head, replaying it from every angle until he starts to drift off to sleep.

I thought of him. I thought of Wash.

Holy shit.

Chapter Text

Wash can’t quite shake the feeling that he’s forgotten something.

He manages to drift off into a light doze, but after less than two hours of fitful tossing, he finds himself jolting up right from some half-remembered dream. The feeling of terror is only intensified by the fact that there’s something wrong. There’s something that he’s done, or forgotten to do, and if he doesn’t fix it then—

His frantic gaze lands on the knives resting neatly on the table between his bed and Tucker’s. Knives. Weapons. That he brought into a room that he was currently sharing with someone he cared about.

Guilt and trepidation work their way into his bones as Wash swings his feet to the floor. What had he been thinking? He has to move them, the knives. They can’t stay here, with him—what if he’s having a nightmare and Tucker tries to wake him up and he—and he—

Wash is halfway to the door with the knives held carefully in his arms when a voice calls him back.

“And just where the fuck are you going?”

Wash turns around slowly to see Epsilon standing on the night table with his arms folded. “I have to move these,” Wash says. “I can’t—I might—Tucker—I don’t know what I was—I have to move them.”

“What—two hours ago you couldn’t get them in here fast enough!” Epsilon says, bewildered. “Just go back to sleep, everything’s fine—”

“You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your word on that,” Wash snaps, his voice sharpened by weeks of exhaustion and stress. “I shouldn’t have brought these in here while I was sleeping, I…”

“Wash—”

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” he mutters, hugging the knives closer to his chest. “I just—if someone comes in here, I wanted to be able to…”

I have to protect Tucker, he wants to say, but doesn’t. I have to protect all of them.

But he has to protect them from himself, and he can’t believe he’s forgotten that.

“Could you be any more dramatic?” Epsilon snaps, and Wash realizes that he’s spoken the words out loud after all. “Jesus, you’re not gonna hurt any of them.”

“I have, though,” Wash says. “I have. I—after Sidewinder…Tucker tried to wake me up, and he, and I…”

Tucker bending over him, dark eyes wide and terrified, shaking his shoulders and Wash remembers grabbing him, slamming him to the ground, getting his hands around Tucker’s throat. Tucker had struggled, then pawed weakly at his arms before his body had started to still under Wash’s hands, and if Caboose hadn’t—

Wash still thinks of that moment, and how it was almost the end for him—the end of his sanity, the end of any possible hope of redemption. If Caboose hadn’t come in and pulled him away and backed him against the wall so hard that the base seemed to rattle, then Wash knows something in his head would’ve splintered, beyond repair forever.

“I just have to get rid of these,” Wash says, and if his voice shakes, his hands don’t. “I just… I just have to. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

He ducks out of the room and pads carefully along the base until he finds a dusty alcove that he can dump the knives into. Epsilon is still sitting quietly on the nightstand when Wash returns, and he waits until Wash climbs back into bed before speaking.

“I didn’t know you had nightmares that got that bad.”

“Well, why would you?” Wash says, irritated. “You haven’t…this is the first time you’ve really been around since I was sleeping.”

“No it’s not,” Epsilon protests. “When we were all going to take down the Director. I saw you slept then.” He pauses. “That sounded way less creepy in my head.”

Wash rolls his eyes at the ceiling. “No, you didn’t.”

“But—”

“I wasn’t sleeping; I was keeping an eye on you and Carolina.” He glances over at Epsilon, who is still fidgeting on the nightstand. “Why does this matter, anyway?”

“It doesn’t,” Epsilon says quickly, and falls silent for so long that Wash thinks he’s finally logged off.

Another glance over proves that this isn’t the case. “What?

“I just…” Epsilon shrugs. “I just didn’t know. That you had nightmares, now. I didn’t know. That’s…that’s all.”

Well, you should. What did you expect? It’s your fault that they’re so bad in the first place.

The unsaid words hang heavy in the air, and after several tense seconds, Wash sighs and lets them go. Epsilon disappears in the brief moment between one blink and the next, the blue light of his projection winking out and plunging the room into darkness.


The following morning, Wash is exhausted and cranky and utterly unwilling to start the day. The strange, guilty way that Tucker and Epsilon jump when he rolls over does nothing to bolster his mood. Epsilon must have told Tucker about the way he’d woken up, and dispensed of the knives.

“Morning, Wash!” Tucker says, his voice so bright and jaunty that Wash sits up in alarm.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. Sleep well?”

“I…” he glances at Epsilon, who makes a series of head shakes and hand gestures that Wash is apparently supposed to be able to interpret. “Uh...yeah. Why…do the two of you look so weird?”

“Your face is weird,” Epsilon mutters, and gives up the hand gestures.

“Dude, where did the knives go?” Tucker asks, glancing at the nightstand with a frown.

He genuinely appears to have just noticed that they’re missing, and Wash slants a suspicious look at Epsilon. “I…Dr. Grey didn’t want any weapons in the infirmary. She took them away early this morning.”

“Oh. Right,” Tucker mutters distractedly. “No weapons. Makes sense.”

He still looks inexplicably guilty, and Wash frowns. “You look…weird. What happened?”

“Christ, Wash, we were sleeping all night, what could possibly have happened?” Tucker snaps.

There’s definitely something up, and Wash sits up a little straighter, suddenly guilty himself. He’d been so focused on not having nightmares himself that he hadn’t given much thought to what Tucker might be going through. “Have you been having nightmares?”

“What? Oh…” Tucker adopts a more somber tone. “Yeah. Yeah. Nightmares. Lots of them. Fucking shitty nightmares.”

This does nothing to assuage Wash’s guilt. “You should’ve woken me up.”

“What? Dude. Then we both would’ve been sitting here awake like a couple of assholes.”

Wash shifts uncomfortably. “I’m sorry, Tucker. I don’t…I’m surprised I didn’t hear you, I don’t normally sleep so soundly.”

“Wash, shut the fuck up. I’m not waking you up when you’re actually sleeping. That shit only happens like twice a year.”

“But I want you to—”

“So you can what?” Tucker snap. “Hold my hand?”

There’s no reason that Wash should feel hurt by those words, but the feeling is there nonetheless. “I just know what it’s like to wake up from a bad nightmare,” he says stiffly. “There’s no reason for you to do the same when I’m six feet away.”

“Oh, please. Like you’d ever wake me up? Besides, it doesn’t fucking matter. You’re not gonna be six feet away much longer,” Tucker says, his voice still aggressive and harsh. “Aren’t you supposed to be getting out of here?”

“I can stay, if you want,” Wash says, before he can stop himself, and Tucker snorts.

“I don’t need you to stay. I don’t want you to stay.”

“Tucker,” Epsilon says sharply, but Wash is already up and moving towards the door.

“Epsilon,” he says, “If Captain Tucker crashes, will you come find me?”

“I’ll raise the alarm, dude.”

“Great,” he says, and exits without a second look at Tucker.

“Wash…”

Wash ignores Tucker’s call. He hears Epsilon snap, “Nice going, asshole,” before the door slams shut behind him. He’s halfway down the hall before he realizes that he has no clue where his armor actually is. Dr. Grey’s office is just a few doors down, he remembers from his wanderings yesterday, so he storms in there first.

Dr. Grey is seated at her desk, armored from the waist down. “Why, good morning, Agent Washington!” she says sweetly. “Did you get the all-clear from some other doctor to go wandering the halls?”

“I wasn’t wandering the halls,” Wash says, annoyed. “I was just walking to your office. You said I could go yesterday, remember?”

“I said you could go after a final checkup. Did you have one of those?”

“No, but—”

“Well, then, let’s scurry on back to your room and—”

“I don’t want to go back to my room,” he says, and sighs when she lifts an eyebrow. “Look, can we just…do it in here?”

“Hmmmm,” she says, but she grabs her medical scanner and waits for him to lift his shirt. “Trouble in paradise?”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, what it means is, twenty-four hours ago I could barely drag you away from Captain Tucker, and now you’re chomping at the bit to leave!”

Wash ignores that in favor of a more pressing issue. “Can I just have my armor back now? Please?”

Dr. Grey sighs. “I suppose.” She turns and opens a closet behind her, revealing Wash’s steel and yellow armor. It’s hung up neatly, and he feels a wave of affection for Dr. Grey and the careful way she has stored his armor.

“Thanks,” he says, and waits expectantly for her to leave. “Should I…just put my undersuit on in here, or…”

“Whatever you like,” she mutters, already re-absorbed in her computer. Wash sighs and puts on his Kevlar undersuit and armor as fast as possible, reflecting dully that this is, in fact, the first time he’s gotten naked in front of someone in years. “I do believe there’s a meeting going on that you’re supposed to be attending,” she chirps once he’s blessedly inside his armor once more.

He pauses in the middle of checking the stock on his rifle. “What meeting? Where? With whom?”

She shrugs, not even looking up from her screens. “I’m not sure. It sounded super important, though.”

“What…Dr Grey. Do you at least know what time this supposed meeting is?”

“Hmmm?”

“Forget it,” Wash says, exasperated, and turns to leave. He opens up the messaging interface on his HUD and fires off a text to Carolina: Do you know anything about this meeting I’m supposed to be attending?

It’s only a few seconds before she responds.

CL: Yes. Meet me in the SW corridor.

WSH: I don’t even know where that IS.

CL: Take two lefts, a straight, and a right out of the infirmary.

Wash can’t see any other options, so he begins his trek through the halls. He still doesn’t feel completely comfortable surrounded by so many strangers (so many armed strangers), but he’s far less anxious now that he’s back in his armor. He’s so wound up that it takes him a while to notice what’s so odd about his walk to this meeting.

At first, he thinks it’s his imagination, but when a pair of cadets stops dead in their tracks as he walks by he realizes:

Everyone is staring at him.

Really staring. Stop-in-your-tracks staring. Shamelessly. And—he can’t quite feel certain, given they’re probably doing it over their radios, but—whispering. This had happened yesterday, too, and it’d made him so paranoid that he’d gone to extensive lengths to avoid interacting with anyone all day. He hadn’t exactly been quiet when he’d shouted at Tucker that he didn’t give a damn about the planet, and he wonders just how many people heard him.

Yesterday, he’d thought that they were glaring at him mistrustfully, but today he isn’t so sure. No one has come up to confront him, for one thing, and for another, he’s pretty sure one of them just took a photograph of him on their datapad.

When a group of New Republic cadets literally start walking backwards to get a better look at him, Wash decides he can no longer ignore the situation. “Can I help you?”

The four of them jump in unison, exchanging a series of glances and shoves. “You’re Agent Washington,” one of them finally pipes up, and Wash is instantly distracted by the fact that the cadet sounds about thirteen.

“I...yes. I am. I am Agent Washington.”

“Wow,” one of them breathes reverently. She’s definitely young. He tries to think of the Lieutenants who had come to their rescue after the radio tower, but between his concern for Tucker and his own looming unconsciousness, he has only hazy memories of the Pelican ride back. Tucker’s Lieutenant, the one who’d shoved him out of the way, had been young, but…

He glances around at the hallway full of cadets, who have dropped all sense of pretense of urgency. This must be the New Republic wing of the base, since he doesn’t see a single Federalist soldier in sight. Wash feels the sudden urge to give a motivational speech—they’re staring at him so expectantly—but he’s spared when Carolina comes stalking around the corner.

The hallway mysteriously clears, and Wash finds himself both impressed and exasperated that Carolina has clearly managed to establish a reputation so soon. He’s got some catching up to do.

There you are.”

“Sorry, I got…held…up…” he trails off as they round the corner and almost mow down another pair of cadets who are gazing in awe at them. “Carolina. Why are they all staring at us?”

“Because we’re us, Wash.”

He rolls his eyes. They call him dramatic? “Okay?”

“We’re Freelancers.”

“How could they possibly all know that already?”

“I’m getting the impression that gossip spreads quickly around here,” she says dryly.

“Okay, but…”

“Don’t be daft, Wash,” she says. “The Federalists are already enamored with you from your time with them, and to hear the New Republic soldiers tell it, Tucker spent half his time here talking up your training and the other half pining after you.”

Wash is glad he has his helmet on. “What—that’s not—no one was pining—I don’t—”

“Sounds like there was a lot of pining going on. On both ends.”

“What—we were all worried! That tends to happen when you spend months thinking your team is being tortured by the enemy!”

“Is that what you call crashing a tunnel of rocks down to ensure that they got out safely? Being worried?

He pauses. “You know about that?”

“Freckles. Shake,” she says solemnly, but this time Wash hears the note of teasing in her voice. “It’s the stuff of legends around here.”

“Very funny, boss.”

The corridor they enter next is finally empty, and Carolina pauses to pull him close, lowering her voice despite the fact that they’ve been talking over the radio. “Listen. Kimball and Doyle…don’t exactly get along well. They’re having a hard time agreeing about what to do next.”

“And why are the four of us having a meeting, exactly?”

“They want our help strategizing, and setting up a training regimen.”

“They want everyone training together?”

“The only thing they agree on is the fact that the Reds and Blues are their best shot of bringing everyone together. They’ve spent time with both sides, so no one will feel shunted.” She sighs. “This isn’t Freelancer, Wash. These soldiers are in desperate need of some training and order.”

Wash gestures at the door with a growing sense of trepidation. “Well, let’s go in and see what we can do.”

The moment Carolina pushes open the door, Wash wants to turn around and walk right back out.

The room is simple and sleek, with several monitors lining the walls. There’s a long table down the center of the room, at which Wash assumes the esteemed leaders of the Federalist and New Republic armies should be seated, conducting civilized negotiations. However, the civilized negotiations look more like fierce debates, and Kimball and Doyle are both out of their seats, yelling across the table at each other. There are two soldiers from each side in the room as well—to protect their leaders should the occasion arise, Wash assumes. He wonders what they would do should an occasion actually arise, given that the four of them are so engrossed at shouting at each other as well.

Carolina clears her throat. There’s no way that all of them could have heard such an innocuous sound, but everyone in the room falls silent at once. Wash straightens up and tries to look as if he hasn’t just spent two weeks in a hospital bed after getting his ass kicked by one of their biggest enemies.

Doyle is the first to bound over to them, shaking their hands vigorously. “Agents Washington and Carolina,” he says, as if announcing the king and queen of the galaxy. “It is an honor. The Federal Army of Chorus could not be more grateful to have the two of you on our side. Rumors of your fighting prowess and esteemed—”

“We’ve met, Doyle,” Wash says, exasperated, but Doyle just continues to wring his hand.

“—quite the mind for strategy, Agent Carolina, or so the stories go, and if I have heard correctly—”

Wash grins as a message pops up on his HUD.

CL: Is he always like this?

WSH: Oh, just wait.

“You know,” the one who Wash presumes to be General Kimball says loudly, “they aren’t just here to help the Federal Army of Chorus, Doyle. The New Republic could use a hand as well, given that you’ve thoroughly decimated our supplies over the years.”

“My dear Vanessa,” Doyle says patiently. “Of course the—”

“If you call me that one more time I swear to god I’m going to put a knife straight through that ridiculous helmet—”

“Threats of assassination! Death! Bodily harm!” one of Doyle’s bodyguards howls, and he actually takes several ominous steps towards Kimball.

Carolina doesn’t do anything more than take two steps to the left, positioning herself in between the Fed and Kimball, but the soldier scrambles backwards so severely that he stumbles to the ground.

“Remarkable,” Doyle whispers, staring in awe at the looming figure of Carolina, then frowns at the soldier on the ground. “On your feet, Rodriguez!”

Wash rubs a hand over his visor before extending it to shake Kimball’s hand. “General Kimball, I take it?”

“Agent Washington,” she says, giving his hand a firm shake. He recognizes the tense curve of her shoulders all too well, but there’s something rigid and unyielding there as well, something unbreakable. “We are very grateful that you and Agent Carolina have agreed to help us.”

“Of course,” he says. “My men feel very strongly about protecting the people of this planet.”

She tilts her head at him appraisingly. “And how do you feel, Agent Washington?”

Wash can see he hasn’t fooled her one bit. “I feel very strongly about protecting my men.”

“Well, then it appears we have a common goal.”

“It appears so,” says Wash, and he decides then and there that he likes her. It’s been a long time since he’s fought for anyone that had an interest in being honest with him. “So, how can I help?”

Kimball sighs. “Our soldiers could use some training. Real training. They are very young, and those in charge of the training now are just as young. Tucker, Grif, Simmons and Caboose have done wonders for morale, and they have certainly made improvements in training, but…we could really use a soldier of your caliber.”

“I’ve never trained anyone before,” Wash admits, feeling the best thing to do would be to remain honest. “At least not in any sort of official sense.”

“Captain Tucker says you taught him everything he knows.”

“I…” Wash pauses. “Did he?”

“He did.”

“Wonderful,” Doyle interrupts brightly. “So it’s settled then. We will work out a schedule for Agent Washington to train the rebels, and the Federal Army of Chorus, and—”

“Hang on,” Wash interrupts. “There’s no separate training. It’s absolutely vital that we have mixed training sessions.”

“Wait,” one of Kimball’s cadets says. “We have to train with them?” she gestures with her rifle towards the Federalist soldiers, sounding as if Wash has just sentenced her to the gallows. “Together?”

“You have a common enemy now,” Carolina says sharply, and the soldier melts back into the shadows with the tiniest of huffs. “There isn’t any time for these silly games.”

“Of course, we will be asking the both of you to run missions for us,” Doyle says. “We don’t want your considerable talents to go to waste. But in the meantime, we would very much appreciate your help with these tasks.”

“What can I do?” Carolina asks.

“Well,” Kimball says slowly. “We’ve got a lot of intel to run. You see, we’re…we’re low, very low, on ammo.”

“Without the mercenaries bringing in equipment,” Doyle says delicately. “Our situation is indeed rather dire.”

“And since someone didn’t think to ration our ammo,” Kimball says loudly, “our numbers aren’t going to hold up for very long.”

“Well, Miss Kimball, perhaps we could have rationed our ammunition a trifle better if we weren’t defending ourselves from attacks every other day—”

“We had to go on the offensive if we wanted to stay alive out there!”

“So you’d like me to run recon,” Carolina says loudly. “To seek out some ammunition stockpiles the mercs might have?”

Kimball throws a distracted glance her way. “Yes, exactly, please,” she says, before rounding on Doyle again.

“Come on,” Carolina says to Wash, and the two of them slowly back their way out of the room.”

 “Well,” Wash says dully, once he and Carolina are a safe distance down the hallway. “At least that wasn’t a total waste of everyone’s time.”

“Could’ve been worse. You should’ve been at their first meeting. At least we have some objectives now,” Carolina says with a sigh. “Think you’re up to training this bunch, Wash?”

“Carolina, I spent three months whipping Caboose and Tucker into shape. Trust me, this? This is nothing.”

As if on cue, Caboose comes bounding down the hallway towards them. “Agent Washington!” he yells, at what Wash is fairly certain is the top of his voice. “You are awake! And walking! And in your armor!”

Before he can say anything, Caboose picks him up and swings him around. His ribs protest this situation, but Wash has learned the hard way that the more squirming one did in a Caboose hug, the longer the hug went on. He sighs and ignores the flabbergasted, helmeted stares of the soldiers scattered about the hallway. “Hey, Caboose.”

Caboose finally puts him down and holds him at arm’s length. Wash can’t see his face, but he knows that Caboose is positively beaming. “I like when you are out of your armor, but I like when you are in it, too.”

Wash files that one away for later inspection. “How are you doing, buddy?”

“I am doing great! I was looking for you, and then I found you.”

“Oh, well…yes, yes you did…” Wash pauses. “Wait, why? Everything okay?”

“Everything is great! It’s going to be better than great! I’m going to help you make lots of new friends.”

Alarm bells start sounding in Wash’s head. “Uh…why?”

Caboose sighs pityingly. “Because everyone needs friends, Wash.”

“No, I know, I meant why…why do you think you need to help me make…friends?”

“Because Tucker says you’re really bad at it.”

Wash folds his arms. “Oh, really? And what else does Captain Tucker say?”

“He says that you spent all yesterday hiding from people because you didn’t know how to make friends.”

Wash freezes. Impossible. There’s no way, no way at all, that Tucker could know he spent most of yesterday quietly cataloguing a corner of the armory. No way that he knew Wash felt uncomfortable and ridiculous and entirely out of place, wandering the halls without his armor. This was something the Sim Troopers did, find people and make homes out of them. He’s not cut out for this, he knows it, and he’d thought it best that he stay out of the way before—

“That’s ridiculous,” Wash says stiffly. “I wasn’t hiding.”

“Well,” Caboose says slowly. “I couldn’t find you, and I am very good at seeking, so you must be very good at hiding.”

“That’s….when did Tucker tell you this, anyway?”

“I went to tell him what I had for breakfast this morning, and he said, oh my god Caboose, I don’t care, and Church said are you gonna make someone else cry today because then you’d be two for two, and then Tucker said listen Caboose can you go find Wash and tell him to stop being such a GODDAMN BABY and maybe go talk to some people, meet some chicks or dudes, whatever he’s into —”

Caboose’s ability to recall conversations word for word at breakneck speed is uncanny, and Wash knows that if he doesn’t cut this off at the knees, they’ll be here all day. “Alright, alright, I…I get it.”

“Wash,” Caboose says, “I am going to make you so many friends.”

And with that, Caboose takes a hold of Wash’s wrist and starts dragging him down the hallway. Wash casts a pleading look over his shoulder at Carolina, but she’s already shaking with laughter. Resigned, he quickens his step so that he’s walking next to Caboose as opposed to being dragged behind him, hoping this will be Caboose’s cue to let go of his wrist. Caboose does, but only so that he can link his elbow through Wash’s and continue practically skipping down the hall.

The low buzz of voices falters as they round the corner, and Caboose finally stops. Wash fights the urge to run at breakneck speed as every helmeted face turns towards them.

He has a moment to think, oh no, before Caboose sucks in a breath. “MAY I HAVE YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!”

Caboose—” Wash hisses, but it’s too late.

“I would like you introduce you all to Agent Washington! He is one of my very best friends! He is very good at being a best friend and everyone deserves to have lots of best friends!”

At the end of the hallway, he catches a familiar flash of orange and maroon in his vision, and isn’t surprised to see Grif and Simmons falling all over each other in silent laughter. Wash decides then and there, that, once training starts, those two will be demonstrating all of the exercises for them.

“—and he likes cats and he puts too much sugar in his coffee and his armor used to be blue and he is still on Blue Team even though his armor is grey again, and Blue Team is the best team, and you can’t see but he has a lot of freckles which—” Caboose pauses. “Wash! Show them your freckles!”

Good god. He’s spared answering when a soldier with blue stripes down his armor steps up and offers him a formal salute. “Agent Washington. It is an honor.”

The man is almost as tall as Caboose, and his calm, soothing voice sounds vaguely familiar. “Uh…thank you. Uh, at ease, soldier,” he says, when it becomes clear that the soldier has every intention of standing there all day.

“Agent Washington, we are forever in your debt. To have soldiers such as yourself and Agent Carolina lending your considerable talents to help us take back our planet is truly a deed beyond words.”

“You were on the Pelican,” Wash realizes suddenly. There can’t possibly be two voices like that in this army. “After the radio tower. Lieutenant…Andersmith?”

Andersmith’s voice actually chokes up a little. “I am overwhelmed, sir. Lieutenant Andersmith, at your service.”

“Andersmith is one of my best friends,” Caboose says brightly, and the Lieutenant nods solemnly.

“I am truly touched to be given such a title. Not only is Captain Caboose the wisest leader I have ever followed into battle, but he is also a compassionate, caring friend.”

Caboose flings himself on Andersmith in a gigantic bear hug at those words, who returns the hug with equal fervor. That, coupled with the fact that Andersmith sounds so serious that he has to be genuine, Wash decides that this one is alright. “Well, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Lieutenant. I, uh, hope to see you in training soon?”

Andersmith straightens again. “You…will be training us, sir?”

“That’s the plan.”

The Lieutenant seems temporarily unable to speak. He finally manages, “An honor, sir. May I…be dismissed? To spread the news?”

“Of course…Dismissed, soldier.”

With another snappy salute, Andersmith takes off down the hall. Caboose yanks Wash around so fast that he’s convinced he just got whiplash, but he follows a little more willingly now.

It isn’t so bad, Wash has to admit several hours later, after Caboose has introduced him seemingly to every single New Republic soldier in the capital. The cadets stutter and stare and even bolt when Caboose first introduces them, but seem to collectively grow bolder as the day goes on. They already all seem to know that Wash is to be in charge of their training, and cluster around him in little groups to pepper him with questions.

“Agent Washington, are you gonna teach us how to fight?”

“Do we have to train with the Feds?

“Is it true that you were the best shot in Freelancer?”

I heard that he can hit a bull’s eyes without even looking at the target.”

“That’s ridiculous—”

“If he’s such a good shot, then why did he get himself captured?”

“Because he sacrificed himself, haven’t you heard?”

“Scarified himself?”

“Oh my god, wait, so you haven’t heard the Freckles shake story?!”

“No…”

“Okay, so, you have to ask Kennedy, he was actually there—but he says like, it was all tense and dramatic and he was wounded and then he looked right at Captain Tucker and he said—”

“—right at him, Kennedy says it was like something out of a movie—”

“—collapsed the whole wall and—”

Kennedy says it was the most romantic thing he’s ever seen—”

“Alright,” Wash says loudly. The group of cadets has grown since the start of their conversation, seeming to magically suck more soldiers towards them as the topic turned to gossip.  They all fall silent at once as, turning to stare up at him. Wash opens and closes his mouth several times, staring at the last soldier who spoke—Kennedy says it was the most romantic thing he’s ever seen—before clearing his throat, face hot beneath his helmet. “Training will begin soon,” he says uselessly, and they all scatter cheerfully, breaking off in little groups.


 

He spends the rest of the day with Caboose, wandering around the base. Caboose shows him his room— “Right next to mine, and right next to Tucker’s, because we needed a Blue Team hallway-” and drags him into the mess hall to eat. The day winds down, and before Caboose heads into his room for the night, he removes his helmet and turns to look at Wash. “See, Wash? Now you have lots of friends.”

“Uh…yeah.” Wash wonders if it’s really that simple, but he remembers the way everyone rushed over to talk to Caboose and shake his hand, or give him a hug. Maybe for some people, it is. “Thanks, Caboose.”

Caboose frowns at him. “But you are still sad.”

“I’m not!” Wash protests. “I’m not. I enjoyed…making new friends, today. Really, I did, Caboose. Thank you.”

Caboose still looks confused, but shrugs a little and turns into his room. “Tell Tucker I said goodnight. And Church that I said goodnight. And that for dinner I had meatloaf with broccoli or as Tucker would call it, mystery meat with—”

“I’m not going to see Tucker,” Wash interrupts before he can really pick up steam. “I don’t have to go back to the infirmary, remember? All clear.”

“I know that, Agent Washington,” Caboose says, and he actually rolls his eyes. “But you are still going to see Tucker.”

“Why do you want me to go see Tucker?”

“I don’t want you to see Tucker.”

Wash considers himself to be pretty adept and interpreting what Caboose says, but he is at a total loss. “But—”

You want to see Tucker,” Caboose continues, exasperated. “Because you had a long day, and you are feeling stressed out and dramatic—”

“People can’t feel dramatic, Caboose—”

“—and when you are feeling stressed out and dramatic, Tucker makes you feel....”

“Feel…?”

Caboose shrugs. “Better.”


Wash stands outside the infirmary door for nearly a minute, feeling equal parts annoyed and nervous for no discernable reason.

Kennedy says it was the most romantic thing he’s ever seen—

He gives himself a shake and shoves the infirmary door open, leaning against the doorframe.

Tucker glances up from his datapad and instantly tosses it aside when he sees Wash. “How are you feeling?” Wash asks stiffly.

Tucker rolls his eyes when Wash remains standing where he is. “Dude, just get in the room. I didn’t mean to be a dick earlier. I’m just so tired of being in this fucking bed and—”

“You’re not the only one,” Epsilon mutters.

Wash sighs and inches forward a bit. “It’s fine, Tucker. Really, I should be far more annoyed at how you got Caboose to introduce me to half the base.”

“Oh shit, he actually did that?”

“He sure did. All day,” Wash emphasizes.

Tucker is unsympathetic. “Gotta meet some people sometime.”

“It was a little more than some people,” Wash grumbles, but he sits down on the bed across from Tucker. “How did you know that I…yesterday…”

“That you spent all day avoiding people like the flood? Wash. Please. You were in need of some serious help on this one. And Caboose…”

“They love him,” Wash says. “Caboose.”

“Oh geez, I know,” Tucker sighs. “It’s like a fucking Caboose fan club around here.”

“You have quite the fan club yourself,” Wash points out.

Tucker puffs himself up a little. “That’s ‘cause I’m a war hero, Wash. People are lining up to suck my dick.”

“Moving on,” Epsilon says hastily. “Tucker, for the love of god—”

Wash finds the predictable turn of Tucker’s mind comforting in a way he doesn’t examine too closely. He scoots up the bed, leaning back against the wall, and lets the sound of Epsilon and Tucker’s bickering soothe his harried nerves. This...this is good.


 

By the time Wash makes it back to his own bunk, the base is dark and quiet. He is only slightly surprised when sleep continues to elude him: he’d thought that, at least, being out of the hospital would help him to grab a few hours each night. His tiny room is small and foreign, but there is a window, at least. Midway through the night, he rearranges his sheets so that the window lies at the foot of his bed as opposed to his head, and looking at the starlight, he finally falls into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

About ten million years later, Tucker is finally allowed out of the infirmary. He bounces his leg impatiently against the bed as Dr. Grey finished her final exam, throwing out the occasional “yeah” and “uh-huh” as she lectures him on the importance of taking it easy. The snap-hiss of his armor sealing has never sounded so good, and he executes a few perfect swish-swish-stabs with his sword in the hallway, and it’s amazing, right up until the moment when Carolina rounds the corner.

“Don’t know what I have to do to get through to you people,” she’s still saying five minutes later, although her voice has thankfully dropped a few octaves. “Why you find it so hard to take anything seriously—you are going to land yourself right back in the infirmary in no time if you keep carrying on like this—”

“Oh-ho, my god, Carolina, please stop, I get it.” He glances around the hallway and drops his voice. “Can you maybe stop screaming at me? I have a reputation to keep up. You’re gonna embarrass me, Jesus.”

Carolina’s helmet jerks back a little, and when she apologizes, the words actually sound sincere. “I’m sorry, Captain. You’re right.”

Tucker puffs out his chest. “Fuck yeah, I am! Feel free to call me Captain whenever you like—”

“When I reprimand you, I’ll be sure to do it when it’s just the two of us,” she says sweetly, and Tucker deflates a little before brightening again.

“I mean, if that’s what you’re into—”

“And since you clearly feel up to swinging that sword around,” she says loudly, “You should be ready to start training soon.”

“Well, now…let’s not get hasty…”

“That’s what I thought,” she says. “Unfortunately, I think we need to wait another week before you start any actual physical activity—”

“Oh, come ooon,” Tucker groans. “Do you know how goddamn hard I worked to have this bod? It’s gonna wither away if I don’t do something soon!”

“I thought you didn’t want to start training.”

“I don’t, but…I also do?

Epsilon projects his avatar, casting a desperate look at Carolina. “Do you see what I’ve been putting up with?”

“Yeah yeah, vacation’s over, asshole,” Tucker says, reaching up to his implants before realizing that Epsilon doesn’t actually have a chip. He gestures towards Carolina instead. “Go on.”

Epsilon shifts uncomfortably. “Well, uh…as desperate as I am to get out of the cesspool that you call your mind…” He trails off, awkward, and Tucker follows his line of thought.

“Church, you don’t have to say,” he says, exasperated. “Seriously, I’m fine.”

“Apparently I do have to stay if the first thing you’re gonna do once you’re released from the infirmary is bust out some half-assed katas in the hallway,” he mutters. “I’ll just. Hang out for a few days, make sure you’re in the clear, and then I’ll be on my way.”

Carolina tilts her head at him appraisingly, and it takes Tucker a moment to realize that she looks proud. “I think that’s a great idea, Epsilon. Tucker could use an extra pair of eyes for a few more days.”

“Uh, I’m not a charity case—”

 “It’s not like I wanna stay,” Epsilon says, and Tucker rolls his eyes. Classic Church Sulk. “I just like, have to. For his own stupid good.”

Tucker tries to hide the pleased feeling that comes with these words, but then gives it up. “You care about me,” he crows to Epsilon, who starts sputtering. “You do. You think I’m your best. Friend.”

Carolina claps her hand on Tucker’s shoulder. “Well, I’ll just leave you boys to it, then,” she says brightly. “Epsilon, if he does anything reckless? I want to know all about it.”

“Well, she’s clearly taking advantage of alone time,” Tucker says as Carolina saunters off down the hallway. “Wanna take bets on who she’s banging?”

No, Tucker, I do not want to take bets on who she’s banging!”

Tucker grins as Epsilon huffs, and starts down the unfamiliar halls. He has to admit, he can see how this would’ve freaked Wash out, wandering around without his armor. Nearly everyone he passes is in full or at least partial armor, and the Federalists all do a double take. Tucker isn’t convinced he wouldn’t have spent half the day hiding in the armory, either. Speaking of which.

“So, like, Wash,” Tucker starts, but Epsilon cuts him off with a groan.

“Oh, God, please don’t start this again. I can’t take it. I really can’t.”

Tucker huffs. “Well, help me figure it out then!”

“Tucker, I promise you that this is literally the last thing in the entire world that I want to talk about.”

“I thought of him,” Tucker says, again, because this is important, he just knows it. If only he knew how or why. “I thought of Junior, which is obvious, and that time it rained in Blood Gulch, which was, I don’t know, I guess it was cool or whatever. But why would I think of Wash? Like, Wash specifically?

“I really have no idea.”

“C’mon,” he says pleadingly. “You’re in my head, can’t you tell me what I’m thinking?”

“Tucker, maybe this is something you should be figuring out for yourself.”

“Oh, please,” Tucker grumps. “Don’t pretend you’re that deep. You just don’t wanna talk about it!”

“Bingo.”

Tucker frowns, thinking hard. He does remember the moment with astounding clarity. It had been just him and Wash, at the crash site. Wash had been attempting to teach him something about gun disarming, but they’d kept getting distracted by the Reds bickering across the way.  Sarge was supposed to be conducting his own training session, and for some reason Wash was more concerned about getting them to stop screwing around than whatever he was supposed to be teaching Tucker. He’d been so serious, brows furrowed and shoulders tense, until Tucker had gotten fed up and done a truly world-class impersonation of Wash.

And Wash, instead of being angry, instead of ordering him to do a thousand push-ups, had thrown back his head and laughed.

The mood of their training session had shifted, after that. Wash loosened up, and Tucker stopped whining, and it allowed something light and easy to settle between them. It wasn’t so bad, he had to admit, the whole training thing. Seeing some of the tension in Wash’s shoulder lift after that laugh, had left Tucker feeling pretty pleased with himself. Wash had just looked so relaxed, laughing in the sun, and there’d been something about it, something…

“I gotta recreate that moment,” he says finally. “With Wash, at the crash site. Maybe then I can figure out what was so goddamn special about it.”

“And just how do you plan to do that?”

“I just need to see him standing in the light or some shit, fuck, I don’t know. How hard could it be?”


Tucker had forgotten how much Wash hated being out of armor. He’d seen Wash fairly often without his armor in the days following Sidewinder, first because he was injured and then because he just didn’t care about the consequences. Tucker hadn’t put this together until Carolina had shown up, at which point Wash barely took his helmet off, let alone all of his armor. It had taken ages before Wash finally took his armor off for more than two seconds at the crash site, and once Felix had arrived, and Wash had painted his armor back to steel, it was game over. Getting Wash to remove his helmet here, on a military base filled with people he doesn’t trust, was going to be nearly impossible, let alone the rest of his armor.

Well, Tucker thinks, nothing wrong with a challenge.

He hardly sees Wash his first day back. Tucker spends his time swaggering around the base, high-fiving all the New Republic soldiers and showing up just in time to interrupt Palamo, who is smack in the middle of what sounds like an extremely well-rehearsed story, of how he apparently thought the evac at the crash site went down. At lunchtime, Tucker drops his tray smack into the middle of a table full of Feds and elbows his way between two of them. They are stiff and unresponsive at first, but thirty minutes later, he and Church have them all howling with laughter—aaaand, Tucker notes in satisfaction, half the mess hall is looking their way. Some of them look confused and rather mutinous, but many of the soldiers keep glancing over curiously.  

His meeting with Kimball and Doyle is far less amusing. Simmons finds him halfway through the day and chastises him for being late to what is, apparently, A Super Important and Super-Secret Captains Meeting, and hurry up Tucker, we’re going to get in trouble, didn’t Caboose tell you about this meeting?!

“Of course Caboose didn’t tell me!” Tucker cries, struggling to keep up, as Simmons pelts hell-mell down the hallway. “He barely remembers his own name some days, what the hell makes you think he remembered to tell me about a meeting?”

“I don’t know, Tucker, do you think I have time to fix another one of your Blue Team Problems?”

“Why did you say it like that? Like it’s a thing?

“Because it is a thing!”

“And why couldn’t one of you have radioed me, anyway? Or sent a text? Why did you have to come charging through the base like a bat out of hell?” He sighs when Simmons doesn’t answer. “Didn’t even occur to you. Did it?”

“Oh look, we’re here!” says Simmons, and he comes to an abrupt halt in front of the door. He inches his way through and throws up a salute so enthusiastically that his armored hand bounces off his visor. “Generals! Captain Simmons reporting for duty. I have brought Captain Tucker.”

“Yes, thank you Simmons,” Kimball mutters distractedly. “Although, I did just mean you could send him a message. "Tucker, this is General Donald Doyle. Doyle, Captain Tucker.”

“Pleased to meet you, Captain Tucker,” Doyle says, and sticks out his hand.

“What’s up,” Tucker says by way of greeting.

“Captain Tucker, allow me to introduce you to my Captains. We have more, of course, but these are the four that you will be working most closely with. Captains Fitz, Perry, Ali, and Patil, at your service.”

Tucker glances surreptitiously over at Doyle’s four Captains, who are standing at rigid attention in a formation so intense that Tucker is half-convinced they’re about to break out into a dance routine, and tries to imagine what they think of Kimball’s Captains. Between Grif lounging in what’s clearly supposed to be Kimball’s chair with his feet on the meeting table, Caboose standing on said table unscrewing a perfectly good lightbulb, Simmons still standing at the door with a salute thrown up, and Tucker—well, Tucker thinks he looks relatively normal—he wouldn’t be surprised if Kimball threw them all out and started from scratch.

But Kimball barely seems to notice the fact that Grif is half asleep or that Caboose is swapping out two lightbulbs for no discernible reason. She is straight backed and proud, dripping confidence, and when she speaks to Doyle, it’s with a ringing pride that makes Tucker suddenly feel affectionate for her.

“I assure you, my Captains will do whatever it takes to ensure the safety of this planet and the integration our two armies,” she’s saying.

“Miss Kimball, I have no doubts that they will try,” Doyle says delicately.

Tucker rolls his eyes. “Hey, I was doing a great job just now! Church and I just made friends with a whole bunch of Feds. I didn’t see any of the Chorus dance squad over there trying to mingle in the mess hall.”

Church materializes just long enough to air high-five Tucker before vanishing again, and Kimball shakes her head a little.

“Why is this even a thing?” Grif says, apparently waking up out of a dead sleep to add his two cents to the conversation. Fucking Red Team. “Like, this whole integration bullshit? Not that I really care or anything, but didn’t you both just find out you’ve been getting fucked over for the last several years?”

“There is a bigger bad guy to fight,” Caboose says, and having finished switching the lightbulbs, he moves to rearranging the chairs. “Very big. With big ships and guns. You are all small, with small ships, and small guns, but if you put the small things together, they too will make a big thing!”

One of Doyle’s Captains clears his throat. “Permission to speak, sir!”

“Ah…yes, go ahead, Fitz.”

“I agree with Captain Boxcar. There is too much at stake, and it is vital to the survival of this great planet that we work together too—”

“Wait,” Grif interrupts. “Did you just call him Captain Boxcar?

“Er…”

“Because I mean, there’s no way you could’ve possibly misheard that.”

“I’m…sorry, I meant Captain…”

“Caboose,” Caboose and Tucker say at the same time.

“Yes. Captain…Caboose. He makes a good point.”

“Thank you, Fitz,” says Doyle. “Let me assure you, I am by no means disagreeing—”

“Because Caboose and Boxcar sound nothing alike. Did you really just pick another train name and hope for the best? Or was that supposed to be funny?”

“Grif,” Kimball says through gritted teeth, “we get it, thank you.”

Tucker sighs. “What were we even talking about, here?”

There’s a moment of silence as everybody visibly tries to remember the original point of the conversation. “Literally nothing,” Church says, blinking into life again. “We didn’t make it past introductions before Grif here decided to derail the whole process! Ha! Get it? Derail? Like a train…like…”

He trails off and glances around at them all, then vanishes with a sigh. “Okay, great,” Tucker says, “we’re your Captains, these are Doyle’s Captains, we’re all gonna set a good example for the kids and try to get along. Anything else?”

“Weapons,” Church says, appearing for the third time. “The weapons shortage. It’s shitty.”

“If you’re gonna keep interrupting, why don’t you just stay out here?”

“Permission to speak!” barks Ali. Or maybe Perry. Tucker can’t remember which.

“Permission granted, Ali.”

“We were not told that the New Republic had an A.I. as part of their assets. Such a tactical advantage could change everything.”

“That’s because the New Republic doesn’t have an A.I.,” Tucker says. “Church is normally with Carolina, and he’ll be going back to her soon enough.”

“So...his chip can be passed around?”

“He doesn’t have a chip,” Simmons says, finally dropping his salute. “Church has the ability to jump from host to host. He travels via neural implants, which we all have since we were part of Project Freelancer.”

“Since you were Simulation Troopers in Project Freelancer,” says Ali.

“Dude,” Grif says, “You realize we’re not from Chorus, right? And that we’re not the people you’ve been fighting for years now? And that we don’t actually give a shit about this civil war you’ve all been wrapped up in, since there are way bigger problems that we now have to deal with?”

“So maybe take your hostility down a notch,” Tucker adds.

“So the weapons shortage,” Kimball says loudly. “It’s a problem. We’ve taken inventory and we’re going to have to be very careful not to waste any. Agent Carolina will be in charge of finding new weapon stockpiles, but what we need from you all is to make sure that none of the ammunition we do have is wasted. Target practice is to be done sparingly. We have to make every shot on the field count.”

Tucker takes a seat as the two of them launch into detail: how the Federalist weapons depots are all but out of their reach, seeing as how they are bound to be heavily guarded by Felix and Locus.

“That’s fine,” Tucker says darkly. “I’m looking forward to a rematch.”

“Yes, well,” Doyle says, “I think it best to avoid engaging the mercenaries unless absolutely necessary.”

“I still think that’s a terrible idea,” says Kimball. “We need to hit them, and hit them hard. It’s the last thing they’ll be expecting this early in the game. If we can remove Felix and Locus from the equation—even just one of them—it will be a huge victory for us.”

“Sign me up for that mission,” Tucker says. “I mean, I totally agree. Cut off the head of the snake and all that shit.”

“You just want a chance to fight Felix again,” Simmons finally pipes up from the corner.

“The point,” Kimball interrupts, before Tucker can even think to snap back, “Is that we will be going on missions to retrieve the ammunition soon enough. For now, your objectives are twofold: focus on conserving the ammo we do have, and focus on your training. We have placed Agent Washington in charge of training, so it’s important that you all set a good example and help him where you can.”

“Agent Washington is a highly capable soldier,” Doyle all but gushes. “He has made quite a difference in our soldiers’ skill sets in a fairly short amount of time.”

For some reason, Tucker feels as smug as if Doyle’s just complimented him at these words. “Uh, so does that mean we aren’t training our cadets anymore?”

“On the contrary,” Doyle says, “You will all be training together.”

“Wash is going to oversee all of the training, but it’ll be up to him to set training schedules and—”

“Wait,” Tucker interrupts. “Wait. So Wash is going to be training us too?”

“That’s what just said, yes.”

“But I already have to do private lessons with Wash! Can’t I skip these?”

“Tucker,” Kimball says sternly. “Agent Washington is going to be setting the training schedules. We are still working out all the kinks. So, again, I need you all to set a good example. Is that clear?”

She glances around the room until all of the Captains make various signs of assent. “Yeah yeah, I got it,” Tucker mutters when her gaze falls on him, and takes a moment to reflect on the fact that he’s apparently going to be doing nothing but training for the rest of his life.


“Well,” Tucker says to Epsilon with a sigh as they exit down another hallway, “at least I’ll get some more opportunities to figure this whole Wash thing out.”

“Or, conversely,” Epsilon says, “There could just not be a whole ‘Wash thing,’ and then nobody has to watch this inevitable train wreck.”

“Haha…”

He finally sees Wash that evening outside their quarters. He’s leaning against the wall, tapping away on his datapad, but glances up when Tucker rounds the corner.

“How was your first day back?”

Tucker considers. “Well, I didn’t bleed out all over the base like you were so worried about, so I’d call that a win.”

“That’s not funny, Tucker,” Wash says, and his voice is so quiet that Tucker actually feels a little guilty.

“Sorry, sorry.” He pauses. “I did make some new Fed friends, though.”

“I saw,” Wash says, his voice brightening. “In the mess hall. That’s great.”

“Yeah, well. Kimball does want us to help you set a good example.”

“Speaking of that, I was hoping for your assistance in setting up a training schedule. I’d like to know what you have been teaching the soldiers, so that I can use that as a baseline.”

“Sure.”

Wash lowers the datapad, staring at him. “Wait, really?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Oh, well…thanks, Tucker.”

“Dude,” says Tucker, irritated, “I’ve been training these guys for months. I want them to be good, too.”

“I know that,” Wash says quickly. “I just thought you’d be happy to be relieved of the burden.”

“It’s fine. I’ve been sitting on my ass for so long that I’m dying to do something.”

“Alright, then.” Wash turns off his datapad with a shrug. “I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow. Zero six hundred.”

“Yeah yeah—wait, what time?”


Wash starts pounding on his door at zero six hundred on the dot the next morning, and it’s out of sheer habit that Tucker takes his good old time about it. By the time he gets his armor on and emerges from his room, Wash has already worked himself up into lecture mode.

“Captain Tucker. When I tell you that I need you up by zero six hundred, I mean that I need you fully armored and ready to go. Not rolling out of bed. Not getting dressed. Fully armored and ready to go. Is that understood?”

“Understood,” says Tucker, but his yawn makes the words come out more like unnnnahhhhoooooo. Wash is not amused, but he starts leading the charge to the mess hall. The scrambled eggs and toast they’re serving isn’t the greatest, but at least there’s coffee, and Tucker’s halfway through chugging his second cup before he notices Wash glaring at his own paper coffee cup as if it’s personally offended him.

“There’s a sugar shortage,” he explains when he notices Tucker staring. “The coffee is so bitter here.”

He takes another unenthusiastic sip, and Tucker finds himself working hard to keep from grinning. Wash looks so human in that moment, all messy-haired and cranky because he can’t dump ten tablespoons of sugar into his coffee. Tucker makes a mental note to keep an eye out for some sugar if they end up doing supply runs, not that Wash really needs anymore sugar in his diet.

“Yeah, well, you use too much sugar anyway,” he says, and Wash pouts. Actually pouts. His nose scrunches up and his mouth turns down at the corners and it’s so goddamn cute that Tucker wants to grab his stupid freckly face and—

His thoughts come to a screeching halt as he sits up in alarm. Jesus Christ, what’s gotten into him?

<Whatever it is, it needs to stop,> Epsilon mutters crankily, and Tucker gives himself a little shake. Right. He needs to focus. He needs to prioritize. Set his goals straight: keep the armies alive. Keep the Feds and News from killing each other. Kill the mercs. And find out why Wash was the last thing he thought of before almost dying.

“…Tucker? Are you listening to me?”

Tucker straightens up to see Wash standing up at the table, fitting his helmet back on. “Huh? Oh, yeah. Toooootally listening. Got every word. We doing this or what?”

Tucker spends half of their walk from the mess hall frantically trying to figure out where they’re going before he realizes that Wash is leading them towards the armory. He wants to take inventory of the weapons himself, to see what they might use for training. Tucker is in the middle of regaling him with stories of training the cadets when they arrive.

“I mean, if you think I’m bad, wait until you have to train—oh my god.”

Tucker stops so suddenly in the doorway that Wash stumbles into him. “What? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Tucker says quickly. “Nothing! Come on, let’s go in.”

He pushes open the door and steps fully into the armory, mind racing. Epsilon is following the lines of his thoughts until-- <Oh, geez. Tucker…>

<Shut up,> Tucker tells him distractedly. He’s making a beeline for the weapons testing range outside the armory, the one that’s marked with caution tape—

And offset with bright, glowing, red lights.

Perfect.

“Uh, Tucker? You were saying?”

“Hmmm?” Tucker mumbles. “Oh. Uh. Training. Palomo. He’s annoying, like, really annoying, so have fun with that.”

“I’ve had my share of annoying,” Wash mutters, then sighs loudly as he almost runs into Tucker again. “Would you stop doing that?”

Tucker comes to a halt once they’re both bathed in the harsh red glow of the warning lights and turns to look at Wash. Now if only… “You have something on your helmet,” Tucker blurts. He can practically feel Epsilon face-palming inside his head.

Wash’s brings a half-hearted hand up to his helmet. “Where?”

“On…the side. Right there.”

Wash brushes a hand along the side of his helmet. “Did I get it?”

“No…”

“Well, what is it?”

“I don’t know. Here, give it to me.”

“What?”

Your helmet,” Tucker emphasizes. “C’mon, give it here, I’ll get it off.”

“Get what off?!”

“There’s a bug on it.”

Wash tuts impatiently. “Tucker, just brush it off!”

“I…don’t like bugs,” Tucker improvises wildly. “So, like, if you just give me your helmet, I can…”

“Since when don’t you like bugs?” Wash asks suspiciously. “I’ve seen you get them out of Caboose’s room at least a dozen times.”

Goddammit. “Well, I don’t like these bugs.”

“Tucker—”

“Wash, give me your goddamn helmet!”

Wash does. He’s shocked when Wash removes his helmet at Tucker’s words, revealing a bewildered and slightly annoyed face. “What’s gotten into you?”

Tucker stares at him for a beat too long, trying to figure out why he feels so dazed, before snapping back into action. One mystery at a time. “Wash, that bug is gonna get on you—here.” He snatches the helmet out of Wash’s hands and makes a big show out of shaking it dramatically and stomping the life out of the imaginary bug on the ground. “There.”

Finally. Tucker glances at Wash, standing in the glow, and sighs in disappointment. The harsh red is illuminating his hair, but it’s still not right. The glare of the sirens is too harsh, unlike the soft glow of the sun that had lit Wash up at the crash site.

There’s also the fact that Wash wasn’t staring at him as if he’d lost his mind at the crash site, but Tucker thinks that’s beside the point. He’ll have to try something else.

Epsilon groans in despair as Tucker hands the helmet back to Wash. “All better,” he says cheerfully. “Gotta watch those…those bugs, Wash. They’re poisonous.”

“Tucker, we are wearing power armor.”

“Yeah, but…you know what, fine, don’t thank me for saving your ungrateful ass from one of Chorus’s most lethal specimens.”


It’s the color, Tucker decides. The color had been all wrong.

<Tucker, I really, really don’t think you’re on the right track here.>

Tucker ignores Epsilons’ desperate whisper as he watches Wash tape lines that are supposed to mean something all over the training room floor. The color had been all wrong in the armory. He needed something different, something really and truly red.

And for red, he needed—


TKR: I need ur help. wash is taping up the layout in the training room and we could use your expertise

The look of confusion on Wash’s face when Sarge sweeps theatrically into the training room five minutes later is worth it, particularly when Sarge points a finger at Wash and howls, “Treachery!”

Wash pauses in the middle of cutting a pieces of tape off the role. “Can I…help you, Sarge?”

“Help me!” Sarge marches forward and snatches the tape out of Wash’s hands. “I think you’re the one who needs help, Blue!”

“I don’t—”

“Taping off the training sections, huh?” Sarge turns in a slow circle, then points towards a particularly large taped square. “That the hand to hand section?”

“Yes, and—”

“And that?” Sarge gestures again. “That for knife work?”

“Yes, and—”

“And I suppose strength training will be there?”

“Yes, and—”

“It’s all wrong! All of it! We need to start from scratch!”

Which is when Sarge starts ripping the tape off the floor, and Wash loses his patience completely, and the two of them start a tug-o-war match over the duct tape. It’s entertaining, sure, but when Tucker turns his helmet lamp on to try to light Wash up against Sarge’s bright red armor, all he gets is both Wash and Sarge yelling at him in annoyance and absolutely no warm feeling in his chest.

“I mean, you didn’t actually expect that to work.”

Tucker glares at where Epsilon is seated glumly on the bench next to him before relenting. “Okay, no, I didn’t, but…it’s pretty funny, right?”

“Yeah,” Epsilon says, snickering as Wash tackles Sarge to the ground. “Yeah, it’s pretty funny.”


Over the course of the next two days, Tucker manages to get Wash standing helmetless in front of a kitchen fire, a weapons test explosion, and a painted red wall, and he’s accomplished nothing except spectacularly annoying Wash. He’s starting to think he imagined the whole thing: the light, the feeling in his chest. He’d even gotten Wash to laugh during the day—well, Grif had gotten Wash to laugh—and Tucker had perked up, thinking maybe that was it, the laughing, but as nice as it was, that hadn’t done it either.

At least they’d come up with a pretty solid training plan. He’d finally given up at the end of day two and sat down with Wash and Grif, who was probably the least suited to coming up with a training regimen but was too lazy to get up and leave from where he and Wash had set up camp. He’d thrown out a few sarcastic comments that Wash had somehow managed to find value in, and boom, they had their training schedule.

As a result, Wash is in a relatively good mood, so Tucker can’t call the day a total waste. He’s feeling sleepy and content when they finally head back to their quarters at the end of the day, and—

Tucker feels a jolt of excitement as they round a corner on their way the Blue Team hallway. There’s a window at the end of the hallway, and it’s spilling in a glorious amount of dying sunlight.

Okay, Tucker, he tells himself. Don’t fuck this up. Play it cool.

He ambles casually down the hallway to lean against the windowsill. Wash joins him, and for a few moments, they stare out the window in companionable silence.

“It’s a nice looking planet,” Tucker says, and as the words leave his mouth he realizes that they’re kind of true. Chorus is a planet of extremes, icy planes and lush jungles. The alien spires dotting every horizon give it an otherworldly look, and the skies are open and encompassing. He reaches up casually and removes his helmet, propping it up against his hip.

“It’s a little hot,” Wash answers, leaning his shoulder against the window frame.

“Don’t tell me you’re one of those people who likes cold weather better than hot.”

Wash laughs a little. “I might be.”

“You might be?”

He falters a little. “I don’t…I’m not sure, really. Sometimes I like the heat, and sometimes the cold. It’s hard to…I can’t tell which is…I mean…”

There’s a stab of guilt inside his head from where Epsilon is listening quietly.

“I like the rain, though,” Wash says finally. “I know I like the rain.”

There’s something in those words that tells Tucker they are important, very important, but he isn’t sure why. “The rain is nice,” he offers, because he supposes he must like the rain too, if he thought of it before he almost died. “It never rained in the desert.”

Wash does a little shake of his head, turning to look at Tucker. He does this sometimes, Tucker’s noticed, goes all quiet and thoughtful before pulling back slightly with his shoulders and giving his head a little shake. Tucker’s yet to figure out exactly what it means, but he knows better than to ask Wash about it.

“Think we can do it? Save the planet and all that shit?” Tucker asks, trying to keep his voice light and casual, as if this isn’t a question of vital importance.

Wash sighs. “I think we have a shot,” he says slowly. “I think that if we can get these people to work together, then we have a shot.”

Tucker feels something deep inside his chest go calm at these words, but the next second he’s standing up straight again, because Wash is finally, finally reaching up to pop the seals on his own helmet. He stares out the window, and there it is, the right light, the perfect light, turning Wash’s hair to flame and his eyes to oceans.

Tucker subtly inches backwards until he can get a clear look at Wash. He’s peering hard out the window, eyebrows furrowed slightly. The sun is painting his hair a ruby red, and illuminating every single one of his freckles. Tucker waits expectantly, nerves tingling in anticipation, but nothing happens. There’s no flutter in his chest, no trip-trapping of his heart, nothing to suggest that this should be the last thing he thinks of before dying. It’s nice, Tucker thinks clinically, but not really any different from looking at a work of art. Sure, Wash has the kind of jawline one might expect to see on ancient statues, and Tucker thinks it might be a respectable goal to lick every single one of those freckles, but—

“Oh, my god,” he breathes, before he can stop himself.

Wash turns to stare at him, lifting an eyebrow, and yep, yep, that is definitely doing it for him, he is absolutely, one hundred percent here for that eyebrow-raise-smirk thing Wash is doing. “Tucker, are you feeling okay?”

“Dude, I am feeling so okay,” Tucker says enthusiastically. “I just, uh. I have to go do a thing.”

“But—”

Tucker takes off down the hallway, leaving a bewildered Wash still standing in the window with the sunset caught in his hair like a fucking painting. He walks as fast as he can without actually running to Blue Team’s hallway and skids into his room, slamming the door shut and leaning his back against it, mind racing.

 “I’m gonna fuck him,” he announces, and once the words are out he can’t understand why it took them this long to say them. “Dude! I am so gonna fuck him.”

Epsilon projects his avatar in front of Tucker’s face, arms folded across his chest. “Very funny, Tucker.”

“This is, without a doubt, the greatest idea I’ve ever had,” Tucker continues, ignoring him. “Why did it take me so long to think of this? He’s hot, I’m hot, there’s this whole like, authority kink already in place—”

“Oh, my god. You’re serious. Aren’t you?”

“I’m so serious, dude.” Tucker pauses. “Wait. That’s an important question. Is he into dudes?”

“I have no idea!”

“What! Yes you do, you were in his head, c’mon, you gotta help me out here!”

Epsilon stares at him. “You’re joking, right?”

“Uh…no?”

“Are you—did you see the look on his face when I let slip that I knew how many times he had his ribs broken?”

“Well, yeah—”

“And you want me to tell you all about his sexual preferences?

Tucker shifts guiltily. “Well…it’s for a good cause?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“It is! Wash deserves to feel good. I’m gonna make him feel so good.”

Epsilon sighs. “Is there any way I can talk you out of this?”

“Nope. You, uh, might wanna log off now though.”

“Why?” Epsilon asks, alarmed. “You’re not…you’re not gonna try to put this half-assed plan into action now, are you?”

“Of course not,” Tucker says impatiently. “This is a situation that requires finesse. I need all my best moves.”

“Good, because I really don’t want to have to witness this, so if you can maybe wait until I’m back with Carolina—”

“I am gonna go jerk off and think of Wash, though, ‘cause I need to see if that does it for me before I do anything else. So unless you wanna help me with that…”

Epsilon vanishes, logging off and sequestering himself somewhere deep inside Tucker’s head, and Tucker wastes absolutely no time getting comfortable on his bunk and congratulating himself on what is surely the best idea he’s ever had.

Chapter Text

Wash isn’t planning to admit this to anyone out loud—ever—but staring around at the disaster that is his first training session with the New Republic cadets, he has to conclude that Grif and Tucker were right:

The two armies absolutely need separate training sessions to start.

“Trust me, dude,” Tucker had said when Wash made a face at this proposition. “I don’t know how legit these Feds are, but if you throw them together with the News right away, there’s gonna be a lot of tears and a lot of drama.”

“Just give ‘em a few days to warm up to you and get used to like, actual training,” Grif added.

Wash had sighed. “What do you call what you guys were doing with them? Fake training?”

Tucker and Grif had exchanged a glance. “Uh, compared to the hell you’re probably about to unleash? That’s exactly what we’d call it.”

“Great, Grif, that’s very helpful.”

It had taken a bit more coaxing, but eventually Wash had agreed to spend a week training the Feds and News separately before combining his efforts. He supposes it will be a good baseline. He supposes it can’t hurt to get to know the cadets a bit. He supposes

LEFT!” he screams, as the cadets running the fake infiltration scenario promptly turn right, “I SAID to enter the building from the LEFT!”

He supposes they have a lot to learn.

“Stop, stop, everybody stop!” Wash resists the urge to slap a hand over his visor and groan. “Just…stop. Team A, come back over here. Team B, reset. They’re going to try to infiltrate your base again.”

He waits until the cadets from Team A shuffle around him before casting his gaze around in despair. “Britton. Why did you lead your squad through the right? Did we not just spend twenty minutes drilling an attack formation that originates from the left?”

“Sir, yes, sir!” she barks, puffing up her chest.

“Well, then, what happened?”

“Sir, I…” she casts a furtive gaze around at her friends before deflating. “I forgot, sir.”

“You forgot.”

“…yes.”

“You realize that if this had been an actual military operation, you would’ve just gotten your entire squad killed, right? That, I forgot, is hardly an excuse you can bring home to your Commanding Officer?”

“I’m sorry, Agent Washington,” she mumbles, head bowed.

He sighs. “Everyone, back in your original positions. We’re trying this again. Got it, Britton? You’re trying this again. I want to see better results this time.”

Wash folds his arms as the cadets scamper off to their positions to reset. The cluster of abandoned buildings inside the capital was the perfect place to drill real-life training scenarios, although Wash is starting to wish he’d stuck to target practice.  He hadn’t been expecting them to be good, but this…he’s amazed, and privately impressed, that they’ve been able to hold their own against the Feds for this long.

The Feds hadn’t been anything spectacular, particularly not compared to the caliber of soldiers Wash was used to working with, but they had been adequate. They were certainly disciplined enough to get through a training session without bickering or complaining or forgetting their left from their right. Wash is once again grateful for Tucker and Grif’s advice, as he can’t imagine the disaster that would’ve ensued if he’d tried to train the two armies together right off the bat. He owes them big time.

Wash winces as Team A infiltrates the fake base with no small amount of unnecessary commotion, and Team B begins peppering them with fake, paintball bullets from above. He’d had a second, far calmer meeting with Kimball yesterday, and she’d shown him just how low their ammo was.

“It’s vital that we don’t use it in training, not even in target practice,” she’d explained. “I know the fake bullets aren’t as accurate, but if we run short…”

“I understand, General,” he’d said, and he’d hoped that his tone didn’t reveal the sickening way his stomach had swooped at seeing their startlingly low ammo supply. “We can ration this, but…no matter how careful we are, we’re going to need more.”

“I know,” she said with a sigh. “That’s why I’m making it Agent Carolina’s top priority to find us more. Once we know where to look, we’ll work on retrieving it.”

“Do they know?” he’d asked. “Felix, and Locus. Do they know how low we are?”

Felix—” Kimball had spat the name “—Felix definitely knows. Doyle claims that Locus wasn’t ‘privy to the Federal army’s supply information,’ but I’m not holding my breath.”

Wash snaps himself out of the unhappy memory as the cadets open fire on each other.

“USE THE SIGHT ON YOUR RIFLE!” He hollers at one of the cadets on B Team—Martinez—who has just emptied half the stock on his rifle with success whatsoever.

“I AM!” Martinez wails. “It’s these STUPID GUNS! I can’t do anything with them! FUCK this!”

He hurls the rifle aside, launches himself out the window of the crumbling building, and tackles one of the opposing cadets to the ground. Wash drags both hands down his visor as the two teams descend into an all-out brawl, all thoughts of stealth and completing the mission forgotten. “PRAJAPATI!” he bellows as one of the Team A cadets kicks one of the opposing teammates straight through a wall. “PRAJAPATI, YOU DO NOT RESORT TO HAND TO HAND IN A LIVE FIRE SITUATION UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY—”

He’s starting to wonder if there’s some issue with the audio receivers on the cadets’ helmets, because her response is to slam her fist into the side of another fully-armed cadet’s helmet. Wash throws up his hands and storms into the fray, hauling cadets off of each other and yelling until he’s hoarse. It isn’t until five minutes later when he catches a flash of white armor in the doorway that he realizes just how long their training session has run.

“EVERYONE STOP!” Wash yells, but it’s too late. It’s only then that he sees the fatal flaw in his carefully crafted training schedule: booking the New Republic and Federalist training sessions back to back was probably not the best idea. He’d been assuming everyone would finish up on time.

Of course, he’d also been assuming that the cadets would know how to run a basic infiltration strategy, but in hindsight, he supposes that was expecting too much. Wash cringes as the group of Federalist soldiers he’s supposed to be training next come swaggering fully into the room, positioning themselves at the edges of the training floor. “Alright, alright, practice is over for today, everyone off the floor!” he bellows at the cadets, all of whom ignore him.

“God, what a mess,” one of the Federalist soldiers mutters under his breath. Perry, Wash remembers from his time in the Federalist compound. One of Doyle’s captains.

Wash takes a moment to reflect in despair that the cadets, who were all mysteriously deaf to his screaming in their ears thirty seconds prior, mysteriously all pick up on a muttered whisper across the room. “What did you just say?” one of the paint-splattered cadets. Prajapati, who sends teammates flying through walls.

“I said you’re all a mess,” Perry responds, then casts a despairing gaze towards Wash. “Agent Washington, I am so sorry that you have to train with these losers—”

“Why, you little—”

“Alright, alright,” Wash says loudly, snagging two of the cadets by the arms as they storm forward. “Captain Perry, I want five laps around the perimeter. These soldiers are all your teammates now. I don’t want to hear another negative word about their training sessions, is that understood?”

“Understood, Agent Washington,” Perry mutters.

“Ooooooh, someone just got told,” Palomo snickers, and Wash closes his eyes briefly and counts to five before letting go of the cadets.

“Dismissed,” he says, exhausted, and the cadets slump out of the room. “I want to see everyone back at the same time tomorrow morning, got it—I saw that, Palomol!

“Losers,” one of the other Feds mutters, and Wash rounds on him.

“Captain Ali. Was I not clear? You are all on the same team now. Negative comments towards your teammates will not be tolerated. Now, I want ten laps around the perimeter, from all of you, and if I hear one more word about the New Republic soldiers, it’ll be another ten for each smart remark. Understood?”

They take off without another word.

His training session with the Feds is just as bad, if not worse. He can’t understand it at first—they were nowhere near this terrible in the compound, but as the hours drag, he realizes what’s so wrong. They’re overcompensating, trying their best to show off and prove that they’re better than the New Republic soldiers. Wash watches in growing exasperation as their infiltration mission stretches on and on, all of the Feds frozen in their individual hiding spots, unwilling to make a sound.

“It’s not hide and seek!” he yells, after five minutes of absolute stillness. “Ali, move your squad up!”

Ali does not, in fact, move his squad up. Ali and his squad spend another five minutes in dead silence, communicating solely via a series of complex hand signals that Wash begins to suspect they spent at least an hour practicing prior to this disastrous practice. When Perry stands up and begins to add leg signal into the mix, Wash throws up his hands, grabs his training rifle, and storms into structure.

“A mysterious soldier has just found his way into your ranks, and you have no idea which side he’s on!” He rounds the corner and fires a round of fake bullets at Perry, who crumbles out of the ridiculous one-legged perch he’s currently standing in. “Come on, figure it out, move it!”

Twenty laps, two spark fires, and one screaming match between the Captains later, the soldiers are blessedly filing out of the training room. Wash stares blankly at the wall for several minutes—he can’t remember the last time he felt this exhausted—before sighing and beginning the trek to the indoor training facilities. Tucker’s first lesson is next, and Wash thinks it might be good to get there a little early to set up. He realizes he has no idea what time it is and panics, eyes flicking to the clock on his HUD, but relaxes when he realizes he has a few minutes. He enters the empty training room and begins removing his armor—his paint splattered armor, he notes in dismay—stacking it neatly on a bench. He’s spent a fair amount of time writing up what he thinks it will be beneficial for Tucker to learn, and since he favors close-quarters combat, Wash thinks starting with arteries and pressure points while outside of armor would be best, before moving on to isolating these areas in armor. He’s just finished changing into sweats and a t-shirt when an indignant voice makes him jump.

“And just what do you think you’re doing, buster?”

He whirls to see Donut looming in the doorway, hands on his hips.

Wash glances around the room blankly, trying to see what he’s doing that’s so incriminating. “I’m…getting ready for my next training session?”

“Hmmmmppph,” Donut snorts. “Hmmph. Skipping lunch. As I suspected.”

“Oh…” Truth be told, the thought to go grab food hadn’t even occurred to him until now. “I’ll grab something after—”

“You will not.” Donut sweeps into the room. “I know this game, bud. You did this all the time when we were with the Feds, and I, for one am not going to stand for it!”

“Donut—”

“You’ve been training all morning and—”

“How do you know I’ve been training all morning?”

Wash, the training schedule isn’t a secret.”

Wash supposes not. “Oh. Well, that’s a fair point.”

“Besides, everyone’s been sneaking past all morning to get a look at how you’re faring with the Feds and News. We’re taking bets on how long it takes for them to play nice.”

Wash freezes in the middle of folding up his survival suit. “You—what? Donut! Who’s taking bets!”

“Well, the gang of course!” Donut says. Wash can only assume him and the rest of the Sim Troopers. “Grif is wagering a hard never, but Caboose has faith. He says everyone will be best friends by tomorrow at noon.”

Wash groans. “Great. Just great. So, you all got to witness that disaster.”

“Well, yeah. Us and some of the other Feds and News who came by.”

“Some of—you know what, never mind. I don’t really want to know how many people saw that.”

Donut sighs, popping the seals on his helmet and setting it on the bench next to Wash. Wash shifts a little uncomfortably—he still finds it difficult to look Donut in the face, particularly when Donut’s smiling at him like they’re best friends. The feeling of guilt only gets worse when Donut presses a ration bar into his hand. “C’mon, eat.”

“I’m fine,” Wash says automatically.

Donut clicks his tongue. “Listen, mister, either you eat that bar like a normal person, or I’m going to cram it right down your throat. Which do you prefer?”

Wash sighs, taking a seat on the bench and opening the ration bar. Donut beams as he takes an unenthusiastic bite.

“That’s better. You have to eat something. Tucker is just going to wear you right out otherwise. Golly, that boy is enthusiastic!”

Wash pauses mid-bite. “Huh?”

“Well, I’ve never seen him so excited! He’s been looking forward to this training session all morning.”

“…he has?

“Sure has.” Something seems to occur to Donut, and he sits down next to Wash, looking so serious that Wash sits up in alarm. “Wash. I’ll keep everyone from watching through the door, okay? Give you two some privacy.”

“What…we don’t need privacy…I mean we do, but—not—why would anyone want to watch my training session with Tucker?”

Donut looks at him so incredulously that Wash feels a little defensive. “Wash. Please. People would pay to see that.”

“But why?

“Because of the Freckles Shake thing!”

“What—why do people keep saying it like that?! Like it’s a thing?

“Wash. It’s a thing.” Donut sighs—dreamily, Wash notes with horror—and continues. “I only wish I had been conscious. Kennedy says it was the most romantic thing he’s ever seen!”

Jesus Christ. “Okay, look, Donut. It would be nice to not have an audience today—no, not because of that!” he adds hastily when Donut claps his hands to his mouth in delight. “I’m showing Tucker some knife work, and I think he might be a little nervous.”

“Ohhhhh.” Donut lowers his hands and nods wisely. “I see. Absolutely, Wash. I’ll keep everyone off your backs.”

“I don’t mean…” Wash pauses, suddenly awkward. “I’m not asking you to go out of your way—”

“Wash, you can ask me for a favor. That’s what friends do! They ask each other for favors, and—” he glances pointedly at the ration bar that Wash hasn’t finished. “They take care of each other.”

Wash drops his eyes at that and, for lack of anything else to say, devours the rest of his ration bar. “There,” he grunts, crumpling the wrapper in his fist. “Happy?”

Donut looks nothing short of thrilled. “Much better! I don’t want to have to track you down about this again, understood?”

“Alright, alright…”

Donut stands, then pauses before resealing his helmet to look at him imploringly. “Wash, when are we gonna hang out?”

Wash startles. “I…what?”

“You know. Hang out. Have some wine and cheese and just talk. Like we used to.”

Wash cannot recall a single time ever having wine and cheese with Donut. “When did we—”

Donut waves a hand. “Well, we didn’t have any wine and cheese, but we would hang out all the time at the compound!”

Wash supposes, in retrospect, that was true: Donut seemed to have a knack for finding all of Wash’s favorite brooding spots at the Federalist compound, and recalls many evenings when they’d sit together. He’s a little surprised that Donut wants to recreate those moments: if he calls correctly, Wash had been nothing but irritable the entire time they were with the Feds. “Oh. Well. I guess we can…hang out…soon. If. You want.”

“Oh, really? Oh, I’d love that! Wash, I will find us wine and cheese. Okay? I’ll do it. You let me know when you have a free night and we are going to gossip!

And with a winning smile, Donut flounces out of the training room to leave Wash blinking in confusion. He shakes his head a little, getting up to stretch, and is still a little distracted when Tucker opens the door to the training room and leans against the doorframe. “Hey there, Wash.”

“Hi, Tucker.”

“Out of your armor already, I see? Nice. I dig the enthusiasm.”

Wash throws a half glance his way. “I got here a little early…where’s Epsilon? Is he back with Carolina?”

Epsilon materializes over Tucker’s shoulder, turning to glare at his friend. “Oh no. I’m still here.” He turns his helmeted gaze to Wash, looks him up and down, and says, “NOPE,” before vanishing without another word.

Wash blinks. “What was that about?”

“Don’t worry about Church,” Tucker says. He’s still leaning against the doorframe, one arm propped over his head and the other on his hip. “We’ll just pretend he’s nooooot even here. Unless you like an audience. I’m cool with either.”

“Right….” Wash says slowly. He stares at Tucker. Tucker stares back. “So…are you going to come in here, or…”

“You bet I am,” Tucker says enthusiastically, and he finally pushes off the wall, pulling the door deliberately shut behind him.

Wash blinks again. Maybe Donut was right, about Tucker being excited for his training session, although Wash can’t figure out why. “So as I’m sure you already know, training was a disaster this morning,” he says, as Tucker walks over to where he’s stretching and glances pointedly at Wash’s paint-splattered armor.

Tucker makes a sympathetic noise. “Yeah, not surprised in the slightest, dude. Even the Feds?”

 “Even the Feds. I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I tried to train them together.” Wash pauses, then grudgingly continues. “I’m sorry I doubted you and Grif. I owe you.”

Tucker shrugs easily. “That’s okay. I can think of a few things you can do to make it up to me.”

“I owe you guys a morning off at least,” Wash agrees, propping his leg up on the bench to stretch his hamstring.

“I can think of something a little more exciting than a morning off.”

“Well, just let me know what you and Grif want, and I’ll decide if it’s reasonable—”

“Not Grif, just me.”

“Hmmm?” Wash asks absently, stretching out his other leg. “What about you?”

And then he blinks, because Tucker props his leg up in the bench right next to Wash, leaning an elbow on his knee. “I said, I can think of a few things you can do to make it up to me. You know. Just you. Just me.”

Wash pauses mid-stretch. There’s some part of his brain nagging at him, trying to clue him in on some long-forgotten social cue that he should probably be picking up on, but he’s a little distracted by the fact that Tucker’s crotch is, for some reason, really close to his face. “Uh…okay? Just…let me know, I guess?”

“Don’t worry,” Tucker says, still in that same weird voice. “I will.”

And then, thank goodness, he takes his leg down and moves back, stretching his arms above his head. Wash doesn’t have much time to get his thoughts together, though, because five seconds later Tucker is removing his helmet. Wash wouldn’t normally take much notice of this, except for the fact that Tucker is making what seems to be an unnecessary a production out of it. He pops the seals and removes it slowly, and tosses his head, the ropes of his hair flying all over the place before coming to rest on his shoulders. He flashes a thousand-watt smile at Wash and moves on to removing his gauntlets.

“….hellooooooooo?”

Wash startles and gives his head a little shake, turning to stare at Epsilon, who has just materialized on top of Tucker’s discarded helmet. “Huh?”

“I said, make sure he takes it easy,” Epsilon says. “I’ll monitor his vitals, but this is the first major workout he’s had—”

“It is not,” Tucker says irritably. “I worked out with the guys yesterday!”

“Tucker, one lap around the training room and a few minutes lifting weights is not working out.”

“Oh, well, I guess you would know, right?”

“Whatever.” Epsilon turns back to Wash. “Anyway. Just watch him.”

“Of course I’m going to watch him,” Wash says, then frowns at Tucker. “Lifting weights? Should you be lifting weights this soon?”

Tucker pauses in the process of unsnapping his shinguard. “Oh my god. They were like, the lightest weights ever, calm down.”

“Hmmm,” Wash says, but lets it go. “Well, we’ll mostly be focusing on technique and cardio today—”

Mm, sounds good to me—”

“—so it won’t be too strenuous on your wound. Oh, and you should probably change out of your survival suit, the exercise will make more sense if you’re…” He trails off as Tucker thumbs the release on his suit and wriggles out of it in record time, kicking it off to the side. “…not wearing it,” he finishes.

“Dude, no complaints there,” Tucker says. He puts a hand on his hip and ruffles up his dreads, making absolutely no move to put on something more than the boxer briefs and tank he’s currently wearing. “I like to let things breathe during training, know what I mean?”

“Tucker,” Wash says, and he feels his face heat up a little as Tucker bends over and starts stretching in what Wash can’t help but notice is an unnecessarily obscene manner. “For the love of god, put some pants on.”

 Tucker glances around, widening his eyes in what Wash is pretty certain is fake surprise. “Dammit. I forgot to bring my sweats!”

Wash lifts an eyebrow, rummaging in the bag he’s brought and wordlessly holding out a pair of sweats to Tucker.

“Dude. You went into my room and packed some clothes? Like my mom?

“Well, it’s a good thing I did, isn’t it?”

“That’s one word for it,” Tucker mutters, and reaches out to snag the pants from Wash.

He’s not sure what happens next, because Tucker trips over seemingly nothing and stumbles forward. Wash reaches out instinctively to catch him, and Tucker must be more off balance than he thought, because he does a fair amount of grabbing at Wash’s arms and shoulders. The next thing Wash knows, Tucker’s in his arms, leaning against his chest with his hands gripping Wash’s shoulders. “Wow. Thanks, dude. That was a close one.”

His beaming smile is inches from Wash’s face, and Wash isn’t sure if he’s more distracted by that or the fact that Tucker is almost naked and, for some reason, making absolutely no effort to pull away or steady himself. “Um,” he says, and wishes his face didn’t feel so hot. “Um. Okay,” he says, and blinks as Tucker ups his smile to about a billion watts. Who smiles like that? Wash thinks, feeling rather dazed, and Tucker still hasn’t moved

Someone clears their throat and Wash jumps. He makes sure Tucker is steady on his feet before stepping away hastily to put some distance between the two of them, but a quick glance around confirms that it’s only Epsilon, perched on top of Tucker’s helmet. “You guys gonna get started training, or are you just gonna screw around all day?”

Wash tries to steady his pounding heart and Tucker glares murderously at Epsilon. There’s no reason to feel so nervous and guilty, he tells himself. Tucker slipped, and Wash steadied him. Normal. Any normal person would have done the same.

Kennedy says it was the most romantic thing he’s ever seen.

Wash. Please. People would pay to see that.

He steps back even further, despite the fact that Tucker’s already several feet away, but Tucker doesn’t notice. He’s still scowling at Epsilon. “Really, dude?”

“Just an innocent question,” Epsilon says blithely.

Tucker rolls his eyes. “So, like, are you just gonna stand there and watch, or…?”

“I don’t know,” Epsilon says, leveling his gaze at Tucker. “Am I?”

“Church,” Tucker grits out, “Log. Off. Now.

“Don’t tell me what to do!”

“Dude, seriously! It’s gonna distract me if you’re just sitting there!”

“That’s what I’m hoping for,” Epsilon mutters.

Wash looks between the two of them, confused. “Okay, look, we do need to get this going—”

“Church, come on,” Tucker whines. “Just fucking log off and monitor my vitals or whatever the fuck from in here, please?

“Alright,” Wash says. Tucker has, blessedly, shimmied into the sweatpants, making it a little easier to think. “Tucker, come here. Epsilon, goodbye.

With a final muttered curse, Epsilon vanishes. Tucker shuffles over. “Don’t know why he won’t just leave already,” he mutters.

“I’m sure he’s just worried about you, Tucker.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Tucker gestures towards the rubber training knife in Wash’s hand. “Alright, so, teach me your ways, or whatever. I’m sure I’ve got a lot to learn.” He follows this up with a wink that Wash chooses to ignore.

“Okay.” Wash straightens. “You’ve made it clear that you favor close quarters combat, so we’re going to work on getting you comfortable with that. I can’t teach you how to use your sword, but I can teach you to use knives.”

“Yeah, you don’t need to give me a speech, I know, that’s why we’re here,” Tucker says, waving a hand carelessly. “And I still don’t really get it. I mean, I don’t use knives, so what’s the point in—”

“Felix uses knives,” Wash says, and Tucker’s mouth closes with an audible click of his teeth. “Felix uses them, and if you’re fighting him—or anyone who uses them—then you need to learn how to control the blade. If you lose your sword, then you need to learn how to take the knife away from him, and use it against him. You need to learn all of this in armor, and out of armor, because if you’re taken captive, then no one is going to let you keep your armor. You need to learn major arteries, and pressure points, and just how much blood a person can lose before they pass out. Do you know why you’re here now?”

“Yep,” Tucker says, his blasé tone completely gone. “Yep. Read you loud and clear. Knives. Let’s do it.”

 “Now.” Wash hefts the training knife in his hand, testing its weight. “I want to jump right into knife evasion today. Just to get you used to moving while a knife is coming at you. It’s natural after an injury such as yours to develop a fear of the weapon or situation—”

Tucker straightens. “What? I’m not afraid of knives now—”

“And the longer we avoid training the scenario that led to your injury, the more difficult it’ll be to jump back in.”

“Okay, I mean, that’s fine, ‘cause I’m not afraid of knives, so it really doesn’t make a difference.”

Wash shrugs. “Okay, great, let’s get to it then.”

He snags his datapad from the gym bench while Tucker fidgets in his peripheral. “Come on, sit down for a minute,” he says, and Tucker shuffles over to join him on the bench. Wash regards him for a moment, drumming the datapad against his thigh before plunging forward.

“The first thing you need to understand about a knife fight is that you are going to get cut.”

Tucker’s head jerks back at that, eyebrows slanting down. “What? Dude. What the fuck is the point of all this training if I’m just going to get carved up like a goddamn turkey anyway?”

“The point is,” Wash continues calmly, “that it’s just something you need to be prepared for. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to use a knife and, even if you’re fighting someone relatively inexperienced, you will still get cut. If you’re fighting someone who is skilled, then the likelihood of you bleeding is even higher.”

“Fucking great.”

“The point is, you don’t want to drag a knife fight out. You want to get yourself out of that situation as fast as possible. And the quickest way to do that is to cut someone where it matters.” He opens his datapad, motioning for Tucker to lean in. “I want you to look at this chart. These are the major arteries of the body…”


“Tucker, your footwork is atrocious. You’re taking three steps when you should only be taking one.”

“What does it matter as long as I get the fuck out of the way?!”

Wash closes his eyes briefly as Tucker paces tiny circles, hands on his hips and breathing hard. Two hours into their training session and Tucker still hadn’t lost the tension that had taken over his body from the moment Wash had told him that getting cut in a knife fight was guaranteed. They had moved from targeting major arteries to pivots, and while Tucker is getting better, there’s a definite hesitation weighting his movements down.

“It matters because you’re wasting precious time,” Wash says. “You want to be close in knife fighting. If you’re too far, and your opponent knows how to throw knives, you’re in just as much danger—”

For the first time, Tucker brightens a little. “Ooooh, can we learn that? I wanna learn to throw knives, like—” he mimes throwing one across the room. “That’s soooo badass.”

“I’ll show you,” Wash says, “once you get these pivots down.”

Tucker’s frown is back. “Ugh. So fucking never, then.”

“You keep pivoting away too far. Think of yourself like…like your opponent’s shadow. Stay close. Close enough that they can’t cut you.” He tosses the knife to Tucker. “Here. We’re going to try an evasion drill. Try to attack me.”

Tucker glances between the knife and Wash. “What, like, stab you, or slash, or…?”

“Whatever. Do anything you can to try to cut me. I’m going to keep moving.”

He waits patiently for Tucker to move. When he does, Wash sidesteps the attack. He stays close to Tucker’s back, forcing him into wide swings and downward slashes. “What the fuck, dude,” Tucker mutters. “I can’t get anywhere near you.”

“That’s the point,” Wash says, and lets the exercise continue on a little longer before swiftly disarming Tucker. “Do you see what I did?”

“Yeah, some ridiculous ninja bullshit.”

“I stayed close. I forced you into big movements that allowed me to disarm you. I forced you to move, and I didn’t let you box me into a corner.”

“Hmmm.” Tucker regards him. “Okay, I guess that’s pretty cool. You’re really fast.”

“You’re fast too,” Wash says, and it’s true. “You just don’t know how to use your speed yet.”

“Okay…” Tucker fidgets a little. “But like, you’re gonna teach me how, right?”

 “Of course I am. I want you to try this,” Wash says, and turns to the bag he’d brought, rummaging for some chalk he’d found earlier. “Let’s put it all together. I’m going to try to touch you with this training knife, and you’re going to do whatever you can to stop me. Pivots, disarms, whatever. Okay?”

“Yeah yeah, sure, that sounds—wait, what are you doing?”

Wash continues to cover the blades of the knife liberally in thick red chalk. “This way, if I nick you, you’ll be able to see where the cut is.”

All at once, Tucker’s nervous energy multiplies. “That’s a little dramatic, don’t you think?”

“I think it’ll help drive the point home.”

“Well…”

“It’s not real, Tucker,” Wash says. “We’re just training.”

Tucker flares up at once. “Yeah, I know that, I’m not an idiot, Wash.”

“Okay,” Wash says easily, standing up to square up with him. “Ready?”

Tucker bounces impatiently on the balls of his feet across from him. “Yeah yeah, let’s fucking get to it.”

Wash keeps things relatively easy at first, giving Tucker a chance to get his nerves out, but it doesn’t seem to matter. Tucker’s movements are clumsy and erratic, and when Wash draws a long red stripe across his bicep with the training knife, Tucker stumbles back, staring at it. He looks up at Wash accusingly. “You’re going easy on me.”

“I’m not,” Wash says calmly. “I’m just starting slow.”

“Yeah, well, Felix isn’t gonna start slow, is he?” Tucker pauses, scowling. “Actually, he probably would. Playing with his food before eating it and all that shit.”

“Tucker, focus.”

“I am focused! Come on, fucking try to stab me!”

Rule four. We don’t pull our punches in training, Maine’s memory whispers, and Wash hesitates. He doesn’t know if pushing Tucker will work—there’s every chance that he could shut down, but the longer their training session goes, the more Wash thinks it might be what Tucker needs.

He lunges straight at Tucker’s ribs with the knife, and Tucker just barely scrambles out of the way. Wash follows him back with a downward slash and catches his shoulder. Tucker’s movements become less dynamic as the exercise continues, his steps taking him solely backwards instead of varying the directions like they’d just trained. It’s all too easy to draw paint Tucker’s skin red with chalk, to box him into a corner, and the second Tucker feels his back hit the wall he tries to pivot under Wash’s arm.

Wash catches him with a slash to the midsection and Tucker completely freezes, staring at the bright red chalk marks across his white shirt. Wash takes advantage of his distraction and pushes him back against the wall, the training knife under his throat. “None of these wounds will kill you, but you’re losing blood and your enemy has you cornered. What do you do?”

“I—” Tucker flinches hard as Wash lays the training knife across his throat. “I—wait, just—let me think—”

Wash tilts Tucker’s chin up with the blade. “Come on. You can get out of this. Focus.”

“I’m trying!” Tucker jerks a little in his grip, but not too much, as if afraid of actually getting cut. “Wash, I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what to do, I don’t—”

“You do,” Wash tells him, and he hates himself a little at the genuine panic in Tucker’s eyes. “Tucker, you do.”

Tucker starts to struggle in earnest, and the training knife draws a long red stripe across his throat. “Wash, I can’t, I can’t, I can’t—”

He fists his hands in Wash’s shirt, pushing him away and then tugging him back, as if he can’t decide whether he wants space or not. Wash lets the knife fall to the ground and puts his hands on Tucker’s shoulders as Tucker bows his head and shakes and shakes.

“There’s no shame in being afraid of the thing that almost killed you,” Wash tells him quietly. Tucker shakes his head a little, still hunched over with his hands wrapped in Wash’s shirt. “I was tortured once, with fire, and…it was a long time before I could be around fire without flinching. It was a problem on missions, with explosions and…I was ashamed. I felt that I should be better, that I should be able to just bounce back but…Tucker, it’s not that easy.”

“It should be,” Tucker mutters into his chest. “It fucking should be, fuck, I don’t have time to deal with this shit, Wash! I can’t—I need to be—I have to be better. I have to be better than this.”

“That’s why we’re doing this,” Wash tells him. “So that we can all be better.”

He lets Tucker stay there for a while, his forehead pressed tight to Wash’s chest, before putting a hand under Tucker’s chin and lifting his head up. “You ready to try this again?”

Tucker’s eyes are wide and haunted, but they are dry, and he nods. He steps back away from Wash, giving himself a little shake. Wash watches his eyes flick down, taking in the harsh red chalk lines all over his body, watches those same eyes steady, and when Tucker glances back up, his fists are clenched, his eyes are nothing but hard bronzed steel, and Wash has never seen anything so beautiful, and so bold, and so brave.

“Yeah. I’m ready.”

Chapter Text

The thing is, the Fed captains wouldn’t be all that bad if they weren’t so goddamn annoying.

Despite a fair amount of badgering from both him and Grif, Wash’s agreement to train the Federalist and New Republic cadets separately for a week hadn’t extended to the Captains. Truth be told, they didn’t have any real reason to train separately—as Wash kept pointing out, he’d trained both groups, and didn’t need to establish a baseline.

There was also an endless litany of:

“You guys need to help set a good example. If the cadets see their Captains training together, it might help melt the ice a little faster.”

After the disastrous first few days of training Wash had with said cadets, Tucker decides it’s best to let the whole thing go. “Dude, let’s just get it over with,” he’d muttered to Grif at breakfast, when he’d seen Grif opening his mouth to whine at Wash yet again about their daily training with the Feds. Wash had been extra quiet that morning, staring off blankly while stirring a sugarless cup of coffee. He had looked exceptionally sleep deprived, and Tucker didn’t have the heart to complain.

“It will be so fun, Gruf!” Caboose had yelled, yanking Grif bodily out of his seat. It was far, far too early for Caboose to be speaking so loudly, but it got Red Team up and moving, and it got Wash to crack a distracted smile, so Tucker let it go. “We are going to see our new best friends today!”

<I mean, they’re way too uptight, right?> he asks Church now, watching the Federalist captains do a series of perfectly synchronized push-ups and pull-ups.

<I think uptight is an understatement.>

Tucker sighs. Wash had only been at one of their workouts this past week, as there wasn’t anything specific they needed to work on just yet. “It’s more important that you all get used to spending some time together. Just keep up your baseline. Running, strength training, maybe some hand to hand. The usual.”

The usual seems to include the Feds doing something on one side of the room while the sim troopers dicked around on the other side. <I can’t live like this,> Tucker thinks in despair. <It’s too tense. I gotta do something.>

<You can always try hitting on one of them, too.>

<Shut the fuck up, Church.>

Tucker perks up slightly as he notices Captain Perry subtly glancing Caboose’s way. Caboose isn’t doing anything spectacular as far as Tucker can see, and it takes him a moment to realize just why Perry is staring: Caboose is bench pressing a FUCK-ton of weight, humming merrily all the while. Tucker’s so used to Caboose’s ridiculous feats of strengths that he forgets how they look to other people.

“Go sit on the bar,” he calls to Perry, who jumps and instantly pretends he wasn’t watching. Tucker rolls his eyes. “Dude, for real. Watch.”

He walks over to where Caboose is resting between sets and climbs on the bar. Caboose unracks the bar again and casually pumps out a few more reps. Perry’s jaw drops and Tucker can’t really blame him. It’s pretty goddamn impressive, particularly when taking into account the fact that Caboose isn’t in power armor at all and Tucker still has random bits of his on.

“He could probably pop Locus’s skull in between his hands,” one of the other Captains—Fitz—says, his eyes going wide.

Silence. Sarge pauses in his own lifting to eyeball Fitz. “Hmph. Like the way you think, boy.” He straightens suddenly, eyes taking on a maniacal gleam. “Well…now there’s a training exercise with some practical use!”

Tucker blinks. “What is?”

“Training for that exact scenario! Crushing the skulls of our enemies between our very hands!”

Church pops up on top of Tucker’s helmet. “Uh, and just how are we going to train for that?”

“It’s watermelon season,” Ali says suddenly, and they all turn to stare at him.

Genius,” Grif breathes, and Simmons straightens in alarm.

“Wait—you can’t really be thinking of—”

“Simmons,” Grif says despairingly, “there are watermelons. Here. On. This. Planet.” Grif glances at Ali. “In the capital?” he asks, desperation plain.

“In the capital.”

“There are watermelons in the capital, Simmons. Who are we to let them go to waste?”

“But you are going to waste them! You’re going to—to—”

“Crush them like the skulls of our enemies between our very hands!” Sarge reiterates, and Simmons gestures.

“Yes! That! That’s wasting them!”

Grif waves a hand. “We can still eat the remains.”

Gross, Grif.”

“Alright, enough with the chit-chat!” Sarge says impatiently. “We need an infiltration strategy! Retrieving these watermelons will take all of our strength and skill—”

“They’re not that far, actually,” Fitz ventures, but Sarge barrels on.

“You guys are idiots,” Church mutters, and logs off again.

He doesn’t stay gone for long. Tucker estimates that he reappears at least ten times in the next thirty minutes, during which Sarge details their strategy to retrieve the watermelons. He pulls a whiteboard seemingly out of nowhere—Tucker literally turned around for two seconds and when he turned back, Sarge was enthusiastically scribbling on a gigantic board. He attempts to draw a rough map of the capital before Donut wrests the marker out of his hands and sketches out a far more detailed map, complete with a key and scale.

Two dry runs and a snack break later, they have all retrieved the various pieces of their armor that have ended up scattered all over the training room, and are ready to go. Simmons convinces them that at least a few have to stay— “If Kimball or Doyle comes in here and finds us all gone we’ll be in serious trouble, and I don’t even want to think about Wash’s reaction—” so Tucker, Caboose, Simmons, and Patil end up staying behind.

There’s a close call when Kimball pops her head into the training room to check on them—Tucker barely manages to intercept her at the door and spin some bullshit story about how, if you come in now, the Feds are gonna get all defensive, c’mon, we’re just getting through to them—but in the end she leaves.

Two hours later, the rest of the guys are sneaking back into the training room, dragging bags of watermelons behind them.

“Couple of close calls!” Sarge says. He’s still got his helmet on, but Tucker can imagine all too well the maniacal look in his eyes. “Barely managed to escape with our lives—who knows what sort of diabolical torture the enemy would have subjected us to!”

“Uh, who exactly are you referring to as the enemy?” Church asks.

Sarge waves a hand. “Those who would’ve stopped us from completing our mission!”

“And—to be clear—by mission you mean stealing a few dozen watermelons and smuggling them into the training room to…”

Church trails off as a fascinated Ali picks up a watermelon and hands it to Caboose. With nary an effort, Caboose takes the watermelon, squeezes enthusiastically, and—

POP!

The watermelon explodes, showering them all with squishy red chunks, and after a moment of shocked silence, they all burst into laughter.

“…to do that,” Church finishes, but his tone is less exasperated and more intrigued. “Huh. Nice, Caboose.”

“Thank you Church!” Caboose says, and in his enthusiasm, picks up and bursts another watermelon.

It’s the most fun Tucker can remember having in ages. They all take turns trying to pop the watermelons—the biggest shock comes when Patil, whom Tucker is certain hasn’t said one word up until this point, pops a watermelon in two seconds, steps back and goes, “Neat.”

Donut gets innovative and sends a watermelon flying across the room to smash against the wall, and they experiment with crushing and stomping and following up with kicking and smashing. All methods prove to have excellent success rates of explosion upon impact.

Tucker eventually unseals his helmet and sits down next to Grif to join him in eating watermelon chunks.

“What losers,” Grif observes, sucking the juices from the remains of his busted out rind.

“Right?” Tucker nods in satisfaction. “Don’t even know they got played.”

They share a look and bump their empty rinds together because, like, damn, mission accomplished. Donut and Perry are in a deep discussion involving the finer points of baseball and throwing, Caboose and Patil are still popping watermelons, Simmons is showing Ali his cyborg arm, Fitz and Sarge are in a highly enthusiastic debate over just how alike a human skull is to a watermelon, Wash and Carolina are observing from the doorway, and—

Tucker sits up straight as Wash’s jaw drops. He and Carolina are both out of their armor and covered in sweat and, judging by the unhappy look on Wash’s face, were probably just training hand-to-hand. Although, it might have more to do with the fact that the training room and Captains are currently splattered in chunks of sticky watermelon, but Tucker can’t quite be sure.

He makes a slashing motion across his throat when Wash opens his mouth to probably unleash hell. Wash hesitates, frowning at him, and Tucker tries to convey with a series of hand gestures that— Dude! we’re all getting along and working together, okay, we actually pulled off a successful mission and I know it was over something stupid but still, no one noticed us dragging like a billion watermelons across the capital so it obviously worked and if you say something they’re gonna get all uptight and freaked out—

He’s not sure just how much of that gets across, but Wash puts a hand on Carolina’s elbow and mutters something to her. With a final exasperated look around, the two of them melt away, and Tucker falls back against the wall in relief.

An hour later, both the training room and their armor is reasonably free of watermelon, and the Fed captains are all noticeably less wound up than they were at the beginning of the day. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all.  A few more training sessions like that, a couple beers, a bottle or two of whiskey, maybe even an under-the-radar party, and—

“Well, well. Hello, Captains.”

Wash materializes out of the shadows, where he was seemingly waiting for them all to appear outside of the training room. The rest of the sim troopers falter behind Tucker before Grif whispers, “RUN!” and they all take off down the hallway, dragging the Federalist captains with them.

“What—COME BACK HERE!” Wash bellows, but they’re gone. Tucker turns too late—he was entirely too distracted by the fact that Wash’s sweaty t-shirt was sticking to his chest and shoulders, because really, who has arms like that? Tucker had felt like he was grabbing onto an iron railing when he’d executed his smooth stumble into Wash’s arms the other day.

<Smooth is one word for it,> Church mutters, but Tucker ignores him.

Wash reaches out to snag his wrist and although Tucker could pull away—he’s in power armor and Wash isn’t, after all—he doesn’t. “Okay, look,” Tucker says. “I know how that must’ve looked—”

“I’m really not sure that you do—”

“But like, we actually all worked as a team! And we actually got the Feds to remove the sticks from their asses—well, maybe not entirely, but we made a solid start. I mean, who knows, we may actually need to crush an enemy’s head in between our hands someday, so—”

“That’s what you were trying to simulate?” Wash asks incredulously. “Crushing an enemy’s skull between your hands?”

“…yes?”

There’s a pause. “That was Sarge’s idea, wasn’t it?”

“Yeah. Well. Kind of. Fitz too, I guess.”

There’s a longer pause this time, before Wash sighs. “Well,” he says slowly. “I suppose there was no harm done…unless, of course, you count the fact that you wasted a lot of food.”

“We didn’t! We saved all the chunks that were still in the rinds, c’mon, we’re not total assholes. Everyone took a portion and we’re gonna share them with our cadets.” He fumbles with the bag in his hands before withdrawing a chunk of watermelon and holding it out to Wash, flashing his most winning smile. “Watermelon, Wash?”

Wash gives him a long, considering look before reaching out to take the watermelon. “Thank you, Captain Tucker,” he says, turning and walking down the hall and holy shit Tucker cannot believe they got away with that.

He watches Wash leave, unable to stop the stupid grin that’s spreading across his face. Wash should really walk around without his armor on more, he decides as he continues the walk back to his room. It’s a goddamn capital crime, is what it is, the way the armor hides his frankly ridiculous physique. Tucker thinks his favorite part might be the chiseled jawline. Or the broad shoulders. Or the tight-

Epsilon flickers to life in front of him. “Oh my god, Tucker, get your mind out of the gutter.”

“Hey, you’re the one who decided you had to stay and babysit me,” says Tucker, not phased in the slightest. “There’s no such thing as censorship up in here.”

“Well, clearly.” Epsilon regards him suspiciously. “Alright Tucker, look. Since you’re clearly not gonna drop this…I know what you’re thinking- unfortunately- and I’m not so sure it’s a great idea.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s the best idea I’ve ever had!” says Tucker enthusiastically, his mind wandering a little.

Epsilon shudders. “Okay, I think I wanna go back to Carolina now.”

Good. I mean, I could care less if you want to watch, but I don’t think Wash is into that sort of thing.” He doesn’t actually know what Wash is into, which, huh, that was going to be fun to discover. “Seriously, dude. If you’re thinking I won’t fuck him with you in my head, you’re wrong. I really couldn’t care less.”

“Yeah, well. There’s no way Wash is gonna do you if he knows that I’m here, sooo.”

Which, Tucker realizes with dawning horror, is a good point. “Wait, is that your evil plan here? Stick around and mess up my game so that I never get a chance with Wash?”

Bingo.”

With one word, the lazy, comfortable atmosphere between the two of them turns tense and angry. Tucker stops walking, spinning to face Epsilon. “Dude, what the fuck is your problem?! Seriously! This isn’t funny anymore!”

Epsilon squares up with him. “Look. Wash has been through a lot. We’re in the middle of a war here, and he’s got a lot on his plate.”

 “Waaaait a second,” Tucker says slowly. “Are you…lecturing me on how to treat Wash?”

“I’m just saying—”

“What are you, his big brother or something?”

Epsilon folds his arms over his chest and glares at Tucker. “The last thing he needs is someone he trusts messing him around.”

Tucker’s mouth falls open. “I’m not gonna mess him around!”

“He really cares about you, and if you’re just looking for a quick lay—”

“Is that what this is about?” Tucker interrupts. “You think I’m gonna fuck with his head?”

You are fucking with his head!

Tucker falters momentarily, a little taken aback by the genuine anger in Epsilon’s voice. Unfortunately for Epsilon, Tucker’s just as pissed. He takes a quick glance around to make sure that no one is coming down either end of the hallway, because he's about to start doing some serious fucking yelling. “Don’t you dare imply that I’m—that I’m playing some sort of fucking mind game with him! I’m flirting with him, Jesus! This is what people do, Church, when they wanna fuck someone. They flirt! I’m not joking around, I’m not sending mixed signals, and I’m not just, I don’t know, bored. Wash is my friend. He’s hot. I think it’d be fun if we fucked! Why are you making this so complicated?

You think it’d be fun to fuck.”

“You’re goddamn right I do.”

“Well, what about what Wash wants?”

For a moment, Tucker is speechless with indignation before saying, “Dude.”

It’s all he can manage. Epsilon seems to realize what he’s just said, because he tries to backtrack. “Look, I didn’t mean it like that—”

“If you think that I would—I wouldn’t—it’s not—I’m not gonna pressure Wash into doing anything he doesn’t want to. What the fuck, Church! Seriously! I know I can come on a little strong but I—I would back off, okay, if—”

“Alright, alright, I get it!” Epsilon shuffles, and Tucker’s pleased to see that he looks appropriately guilty. “That came out wrong, okay? I know you wouldn’t. I just don’t want…Wash is…”

“Has it ever occurred to you that I might know Wash a little better than you do?”

Epsilon falters. “What?”

“I know you think of yourself as the fucking expert on Agent Washington and what his whole deal is, but—”

“What—I never said anything like that!”

Tucker taps the side of his head. “You don’t have to, remember? I can fucking…hear it, or feel it, or whatever! You get all weird and quiet and shut down like, oh, the things we’ve done and seen together! No one will ever understand!

Epsilon flickers, purplebluepurpleblue, before steadying. “You—don’t you fucking make light of—you have no idea—”

“What happened with you and Wash?” Tucker finishes. “You’re right, I don’t. Because he won’t tell me, and you won’t tell me. And you know what? It’s really not any of my goddamn business. Just like this isn’t any of your business! I know that you feel guilty as fuck over whatever happened between you two, but that doesn’t give you—like, some sort of right to make decisions for him!”

“I’m not trying to make decisions for him! I’m trying to—I’m just trying to make you understand—”

“No, you’re not! You’re not trying to get me to understand anything! Well, guess what Church? You don’t really seem to know Wash as well as you think you do, and you sure as shit don’t know what he needs."

“Oh! Oh! And you do?”

Tucker shrugs, folding his arms. “I might.”

“Oh, please, Tucker—”

“I mean, who said anything about this whole thing just being sex?”

Epsilon throws up his hands. “Uh, you did! You do!. Like, all the time!”

“Well, yeah, I wanna fuck him ten ways to Sunday, but—”

“Oh my GOD.”

“But he might not even be into sex. And if he’s not into sex, you wanna know what we can do?”

“I’m sure you’re about to tell me.”

“Sleep. Together. In a non-sex way.”

Epsilon stares at him. “Sleep. In a non-sex way.”

“Yeah. ‘Cause you know what I know about Washington, that you apparently don’t? When he’s all freaked out and wound up, he calms down if you touch him. You gotta be careful and slow about it, but like, if you put a hand on his elbow or kinda bump into his shoulder he…” Tucker realizes he has his hands up in front of him, trying to demonstrate. “He, like, leans into it. He gets all quiet and just…I don’t know, it calms him down.”

“Didn’t he try to kill you when you first met when you tried to wake him up from a nightmare?”

Yeah, because I wasn’t slow about it!” Tucker says impatiently. “I just said you have to like, make it a subtle thing. I literally tried to shake him awake. It was pretty stupid—wait. How do you even know about that?”

“Oh. Uh…

“Did Wash tell you about that?”

After several moments of obviously casting around for some bullshit excuse, Epsilon wilts. “Yeah. He did.”

“When?”

“In the infirmary. He…” Epsilon hesitates for a while here, and Tucker can practically see him carefully choosing his words. “He was…afraid.”

Tucker’s insides freeze at that. “Afraid? Of—of what, of me?

“No, not of you! See, this is what I mean, you don’t get it—he was afraid to share a room with you. He thought he’d hurt you.”

Tucker’s a little taken aback at those words before shaking his head. “Church, don’t you see what I’m saying here? He can’t…he can’t go it alone his entire life. He needs something normal. He needs a good fuck, just to—I don’t know, to fucking relax or—or show himself that he can have something good. And if he doesn’t wanna bone, that’s cool. We can like, hug or whatever. Or just take a goddamn nap. Maybe his nightmares wouldn’t suck so much if he had someone there when he woke up. He deserves something good. Even if it’s just a night of hot sex. He deserves something good. I could be that something good.”

Epsilon has finally, to Tucker’s relief, seemed to run out of things to say. He stares at Tucker for nearly a full minute, utterly still, and Tucker stares right back until—

“Wow.”

“Wow, what?” Tucker says impatiently.

“Nothing, it’s just…you’re really into him.”

“Fuck yeah I’m really into him! Jesus, Church!”

“Okay, look—”

“I wouldn’t hurt Wash,” Tucker mutters, because it bothers him, a lot, that Church would think this, that there’s the slightest chance that Wash might be thinking it. “I’m not a total asshole, you know.”

“I never said you were going to hurt him intentionally!”

“You may as well have!”

“Alright, alright, I’m sorry, okay?”

“So, do I have your permission?” Tucker asks sarcastically. “What, do I need to ask you for his fucking hand in marriage or something?”

Epsilon snorts a little. “Marriage, huh?”

“Oh, shut the fuck up, Church.”

They both fall silent for a while, glaring in opposite direction, before Tucker relents a little, because fuck all this tension. “Okay, but really though. I do need to find out if he likes dudes. So if you’re not gonna tell me—”

“You’re right, I’m not—”

“I seriously need a way to find out if he’s into dicks. Or, like, sex at all.”

“You know, Tucker, Wash probably doesn’t know you’re into dudes, either,” Epsilon says. “When did that happen, anyway?”

Please. I was way overdue for a bisexual awakening. I literally doubled my stock here.”

“So, what, this was just suddenly a non-issue for you?”

Tucker shrugs. “What happens in the desert stays in the desert. Unless, of course, you want details, in which case—”

“God, Tucker,” Epsilon groans, but Tucker’s distracted by the fact that he has a point.

“You really don’t think Wash knows I’m down to a fuck a guy?”

“I mean…” Epsilon shrugs. “It’s always, like, chicks with you.”

Tucker frowns, trying to remember if he’s ever come on to a guy in Wash’s presence, or make some slutty remark. To his horror, he realizes— “Fuck. I think you’re right. Okay, this is an emergency. I’m serious. I have to fix this pronto."

Epsilon sighs loudly, then pauses to look Tucker full in the face. “I, uh. I’m sorry. About. I didn’t mean. I’m sorry.”

“Dude, it’s fine.”

“Kay.” Epsilon shifts. “We, uh, we good?”

“Yes, Church. We’re good. Just…don’t try to cockblock me again, okay? That’s not cool.”

“Alright, alright. Deal.”


 

 His perfect opportunity to let Wash know he’s into dudes presents itself, as perfect opportunities often do, at the most unlikely of times. He’s sitting at a corner table in the mess hall with Wash and the rest of the guys the next day, when all of a sudden Carolina materializes at the end of their table, helmet propped against her hip.

“I’ve booked us the training room for three hours this afternoon,” she says, in a tone that suggests she’s rewarding them with a wonderful treat as opposed to punishing them.

Grif makes a show of glancing around. “Uh, who’s us?”

“Us. You, me, and everyone else sitting at this table. I want to show you guys some hand-to-hand stuff.”

Epsilon cackles from where he’s perched on the edge of Tucker’s cup. “Oh, man. This oughta be good.”

Sarge all but swells in indignation. “Now, listen here little lady—I’ve been tossing Blues around since before you were born—”

“Unlikely,” Tucker mutters, but Sarge ignores him.

“Not all of us need these remedial lessons—”

“She never said they were remedial, Sarge,” Wash says, exasperated. “Just that you could use some lessons.”

Sarge eyes him. “Oh, really, Blue? We could use some lessons?”

Wash sighs impatiently. “I meant all of us could use—”

“Can it, Frecklelancer. Seems to me that you were the only one to stumble back from your last tango with the mercs with half the bones in your body broken—”

Ribs, Sarge. With a few broken ribs. Hardly half the bones in my body.”

“Broken ribs, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, waving off any sort of help so you could weep over the body of your dying lover—”

Tucker perks up, delighted, as Wash starts sputtering. “Wait, are you talking about me?”

“—wouldn’t let anyone take a look at your bleeding skull until you’d passed out on the floor of the Pelican—”

“Oh, please—”

Donut sighs, propping a chin in his hand and looking at Sarge dreamily. “Gosh, don’t forget about the part where he just like—” he demonstrates vaguely with his free hand “—took Tucker’s hand and just, held it to his chest—”

Which Tucker does have some vague memories of: Wash’s terrified face over his, his hand warm and steady in Tucker’s. Their gloves had been off, Tucker remembers that, although he isn’t sure how that happened. He eyes Wash with interest, but Wash is studiously avoiding his gaze.

“No no, you’re doing it wrong, it was more like…” Sarge reaches across the table to grab Donut’s hand and before Tucker knows it, the two of them are recreating what looks to be something straight out of a soap opera. Wash has his face buried in his hands, and the soldiers at nearby tables are starting to stare.

“Alright, alright,” Carolina says loudly. Tucker’s surprised she let them carry on this long, until he catches her working hard to keep a smile off of her face. “Focus. I want to see all of you in training room B in two hours, got it?”

“We got it, boss,” Wash grits out as Sarge continues his dramatic retelling. He smacks Sarge upside the head as soon as Carolina clears the table, and the two of them continue to gripe at each other until Kimball comes over and hisses at them all to set a better example. Tucker puts his hands behind his head and leans back to watch the show, Epsilon snickering away inside his head.


 Three hours later and well into their training session with Carolina, they are all far less amused. She’s giving them all instruction on grappling and ground fighting, and Tucker isn’t the only one who’s confused.

“Not that I’m complaining about getting to lay down while training,” Grif says, “but why are we doing all of this training outside of our armor? We live in the stuff.”

Carolina folds her arms. “The first thing our enemies are going to do if you are taken captive is remove your armor. Too many soldiers these days rely solely on training in armor, and have no idea what to do when it’s taken away from them. That’s not going to be us.”

She demonstrates a few more moves with Wash, and Tucker perks up a little. Getting to roll around with Wash practicing leg locks and shit? Sign him up.

<Tucker, we’re training, not…doing whatever is you’re thinking of doing,> Epsilon hisses, and Tucker rolls his eyes.

<Yeah, I know that, thanks Church.>

“Alright, pair up and try those moves,” Carolina says loudly, and Tucker cuts off his thoughts. He turns instinctively to Wash, but Wash is narrowing his eyes at Sarge.

“Let’s go, Colonel. You and me.”

Sarge sniffs. “Please. What makes you want to think I want to waste valuable training time squaring off with a Blue?”

“What’s the matter? Afraid you’ll lose?

Tucker sighs in disappointment as the two of them posture dramatically, and turns to see an unenthused Grif standing in front of him. “Wanna get this over with?”

“Yeah, let’s go,” Tucker mutters, after another wistful glance at Wash.

“So, like, you weren’t embarrassed,” Grif says to him as they square off.

“Huh?”

“When Sarge and Donut were ragging on you and Wash in the mess hall. Wash was embarrassed, but you weren’t.”

“Oh, well.” Tucker jumps backwards out of Grif’s reach and shrugs. “Yeah. I’m trying to hit that.”

Grif’s eyeballs bulge. “What—Wash? You want to screw Wash?

“Uh, have you seen the guy?” Tucker glances pointedly over at where Wash is wrestling Sarge to the ground. “I mean, damn. He can pin me to the mat anytime.

He yelps a little as Grif takes advantage of his distraction and slams him to the ground, the air kicking out of him in a whoosh. “Fuck,” he wheezes, and tries to remember what Carolina just told him about the guard position.

“So when did this happen?” Grif grunts, batting his hands out of the way. “I mean, you guys had a lot of sexual tension going in the canyon, but—”

“I know,” Tucker sighs. “Talk about wasted time—”

He’s tapping out as Grif gets him in a chokehold and squeezes. “Jesus,” he gasps as Grif lets up, pulling him to his feet. “How did you do that?”

Grif shrugs. “Dude, it’s literally just laying on people. I hardly have to do anything.”

“Apparently,” Tucker mutters.

“So, it wasn’t the canyon,” Grif prompts as Tucker jumps on his back and attempts to lock in a sleeper hold. “Which means it was here.”

It takes a lot of effort, but Tucker manages to take Grif to the ground. Unfortunately, this also means that Grif falls right on top of him. “Well—unfh—yeah. I guess I—I don’t know, I thought of him after I got stabbed, or whatever.”

Grif pauses. “Wait, Wash was the last thing you thought of before you almost died?”

“Well—I mean…I guess, yeah.”

Dude,” Grif says sympathetically, as Tucker tries to lock in another chokehold, “you are so fucked.”

Tucker doesn’t have a chance to reply to that—although what he would’ve said, he has no idea—since two seconds later, Carolina is standing over top of them, frowning.

“No, no, no, not like that. Tucker, your leg positioning is all wrong. Come here.”

With a sigh, Tucker gets up and shuffles over to Carolina. In a few fluid movements, she’s got him on the ground with her legs wrapped around his throat in something that she calls a triangle choke. He’s so busy trying to make sure that his ass is high enough up in the air for Wash to admire that he almost forgets to take note of the fact that Carolina’s gorgeous thighs are wrapped around his neck. Which like, damn, he’s got it bad, but also—unacceptable.

Tucker winks at her. “Think you could pop my head like a watermelon with those thighs?”

Carolina opens her mouth to reply scathingly, but ends up sputtering as Tucker’s hair lands in her mouth. “I will never understand,” she says desperately, batting Tucker’s dreads out of her face, “how on Earth you got these past Basic.”

Tucker flips his hair directly into her face again, all dramatic and slow-motion like, as Carolina rolls her eyes. “Please. I have my ways.”

“I’m impressed, actually,” Carolina says. “I don’t know how you did it. Everyone I knew in Basic had a buzzed head.”

Tucker has a funny feeling that Carolina’s military experience differs from his in every way, down to Basic training. Literally no one cared about his hair or anyone else’s hair in the military anymore, but he decides not to remind Carolina of her tragic past in favor of keeping the mood light. “Dude, you should’ve seen the dreads my recruiter had! Down to his fucking waist. There was no way he was gonna make me chop mine off.” He pauses, suddenly struck by brilliance. “It also probably helped that I sucked his dick.”

That last part is a complete lie—he hadn’t realized he was into dudes back then, which was a shame in retrospect, because that recruiter had been fine—but it’s worth it when, in his peripheral, he sees Wash spit out the mouthful of water he’d just chugged from his canteen. He fights back a grin as Caboose slaps Wash on the back.

“Yeah, that’s okay baby, I don’t mind if you’d rather spit,” Tucker adds with a wink, and Wash’s face turns bright red. Christ, he blushes, he actually fucking blushes.

Carolina rolls Tucker off of her, pulling him to his feet. “Gross, Tucker.” She turns to Wash, unimpressed. “Washington, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” Wash gasps, wiping at his face. “Yeah, I’m good. I’m great.”

<Think he got the point?> Tucker asks Epsilon gleefully.

<Tucker, no one is that oblivious. Trust me, we all got the point.>

<Oh my god, he blushes! Did you see that? Who blushes like that?! How the fuck am I supposed to control myself when he fucking blushes?>

<This is what you call controlling yourself?!>

Tucker’s still congratulating himself on a job well-done when Wash stops coughing and stares over at Tucker. The look is long and considering, and Tucker finally, finally sees something dawning on his face—something that’s equal parts realization and curiosity and a soft startled something else that pulls at Tucker’s chest; disbelief or maybe hope—

Wash breaks their eye contact, glances down at his shirt with a frown and says, “Ah, man, I don’t even have a spare.”

Tucker’s jaw drops as Wash sighs heavily and takes off his shirt like he’s in a fucking porno, crossing his arms and arching his back, all slow and deliberate, letting the shirt muss up his hair, and turning half the training room on in the process. Or at least, Tucker assumes so. He’s sure as fuck turned on. Wash balls the shirt up and tosses it behind him, innocently turning to Carolina. “I think we should rotate partners; don’t you, boss?”

“I—yeah, sure, let’s do that,” Carolina says, looking as if she’s seriously regretting starting this training session.

Tucker frantically tries to get his brain to reboot as Wash walks over to him with water dripping all over his fucking chest, half of his mouth pulled up in a smile. He asks Wash to repeat himself three times before he registers that Wash is asking him to pair up, and then has to endure another twenty minutes of training with a sweaty, messy-haired, shirtless Washington and his fucking eighteen-pack. It’s torture, sweet, glorious torture, because Wash is trying to show him something called side control, which means he’s got Wash’s chest pressed tight to his own and Wash’s breath ghosting across his neck and Wash’s fucking hands trying to tug his limbs into the correct position—

Epsilon finally materializes on top of Tucker’s discarded helmet and throws up his arms. “Oh, my god. I can’t take this anymore. Tucker, you’re in the clear. You’re fine. You’re—you’re clearly better than fine. You have my permission. Go. Just—just go. Carolina, take me back now, please, please, for the love of God—”

And as Epsilon implants into a bewildered and annoyed Carolina, Tucker is almost sure that Wash is fighting back a grin.


Tucker would probably rather take another knife to the gut before admitting it, but he kind of misses Epsilon once he’s gone. 

Epsilon had been annoying and overbearing and utterly useless in helping him decipher just why his insides came alive when Wash walked into the room these days, but it had been nice, kind of—

“Like a little best friend you can carry around in your pocket!”

Caboose had said that, at some point, and Tucker groans as the memory echoes in his head. Because, yeah. Maybe something like that.

“Epsilon finally left?” Wash asks that afternoon, and Tucker nods.

“Yup. Finally, some peace and quiet.”

His tone doesn’t have his usual heat in it, but to his credit, Wash doesn’t push. Their training session that day is on the quieter side: Tucker is still trying to get used to not having Epsilon in his head, and Wash still hasn’t lost that blank, exhausted look he’s had on his face for the past few days. He’s pleased, though, whenever Tucker keeps his head and executes a proper disarm or pivot.

“Better, Tucker, that’s much better,” he says, and Tucker’s chest swells. They’re training in armor today, working on knife evasion. Training with the knives was still nerve-wracking, but it had gotten a bit better once he’d realized how freaked out he was. He’s angry at himself, for the way his heart speeds up and the way his limbs often freeze, but Wash’s presence is calming. Tucker feels better just knowing that he’s learning something that can make him better. He thinks, for the millionth time, of Wash’s hand under his chin, soft and sure, and the way it had settled the storm raging inside his chest.

“Good,” Wash says at the end of their session. He can hear the smile in Wash’s voice despite the exhaustion—he’s so exhausted, Tucker can just tell, and he thinks he should say something but he doesn’t know what— “You’re really getting it, Tucker. We’ll meet again, same time tomorrow, and—”

Wash stops speaking, his head whipping around to stare at the wall. Tucker freezes, staring at him, but Wash doesn’t move a muscle. “Uh…dude, are you okay?”

“Shhh,” Wash whispers absently.

Tucker can only stare, bewildered, as Wash fiddles with the auditory filters on his helmet before taking it off completely. Tucker takes his off as well. “Um…”

“I think it’s raining,” Wash says, and he takes off down the hallway.

“Oh,” Tucker says, staring at the place where Wash had previously been standing before snapping out of it and following him. “Oh. Okay. Are you sure, I don’t hear…anything…”

He trails off as Wash rounds the corner to one of the security doors of the compound, pushing it open. Sure enough, the rain is falling in sheets, and Tucker wonders how he didn’t hear it before.

“It is!” Wash says, and he sounds so delighted that Tucker can only gape. “It is raining. Look!”

“Yeah. I see,” Tucker says, and spends the next minute or two trying not to breathe or move a muscle, lest he ruin this, whatever this was. I know I like the rain, Wash had said, after that ridiculous day when Tucker had tried to get him standing in front of every red surface he could find. He could tell that those words had been important, but this—this wasn’t important, Tucker realizes. This was everything to Wash.

Wash isn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention. He’s leaning out the door as far as he can get without actually going outside, and when he removes a glove to stretch out his hand to try to catch the rain, Tucker can’t keep quiet any longer.

“Dude. Go play.”

Wash jumps a little, turning to stare at him, and Tucker panics at the way his eyes start to close off. “What? Oh. I just—we should go.”

“No, no, really!” Tucker gestures outside. “You, just. You look like you want to feel the rain, is all. You—you like the rain, right? Go on, it hasn’t rained in forever. I’ll hold your helmet.”

“I haven’t seen the rain in….I mean, not like this…” Wash trails off, then straightens. “No…no. No, I can’t just go outside there without my helmet—there’s a war going on, and I—”

“Wash, no one is gonna see you.” There’s this hysterical laugh threatening to climb out of Tucker’s mouth, a weird pressure in his throat, and he’s mortified to realize his eyes are stinging. He fights not to blink, and strangles the laugh down tight. “Look, it’s an enclosed courtyard. See? Not even any windows looking down into here.”

Wash follows where Tucker’s pointing, and Tucker can see the moment where he wavers. “I…I don’t…no, it’s stupid.”

“I’ll—I’ll stand watch,” Tucker says, and for the first time, Wash snaps his head around to give Tucker his full attention.

“You will?”

“I will. Really! I’ll, just. I’ll guard the door, and like, the perimeter, and you, just. Go feel the rain. I’ll stand watch.”

Wash hesitates for so long that Tucker thinks he’s not going to do it, but after a final glance at Tucker, he steps into the courtyard. His movements are stiff and uncertain at first, but grow bolder when the water hits his face. It’s absolutely pouring, and in moments, Wash’s hair is soaked through. Tucker watches, transfixed, as Wash tilts his face up to the sky, the tension from the day washing away with the water.

He turns his gaze back to Tucker, eyes so very bright and so very blue. His mouth opens and closes a few times, and Tucker can see the hesitation on his face. “I, um. I’ve…always liked it. The water. The—the rain,” he says, and Tucker only nods, because he knows that’s not all. “I…in Freelancer, after…I…”

“It’s okay,” Tucker says, and he isn’t sure if he means, It’s okay you don’t have to tell me or, everything will be okay I swear to fucking god it will or maybe both.

Wash must hear something in his words, because his voice grows stronger. “After….Epsilon, things were…mixed up. It took a long time for me to realize what memories were mine, and which were…it’s just…I remembered this first. The water. It was the first thing that I knew was real.” He pauses, looks up at the sky. “I know it’s stupid.”

Tucker doesn’t think he’s ever heard anything less stupid in his whole life. “It’s not,” is all he says. “It…it’s really not.”

The smile Wash gives him is soft and achingly sweet. “Thanks.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says. “Yeah. Anytime, yeah. Just. Yeah.”

Wash lets out a short, startled laugh as a clap of thunder shakes the sky. Tucker watches him tilt his face back up to the sky and smile, and he thinks that he could stand here forever, watching Wash watch the rain. He thinks that he’d do anything, fight anyone, to let Wash have this peace, to protect him from anyone who would do him harm.

There it is.

The warm, safe feeling that he’d felt at the crash site after making Wash laugh. It wasn’t the light, he realizes, and it wasn’t even Wash’s banging bod—it’s just—

Wash.

Just Wash, in the dying sunlight, in the pouring rain, laughing, and gorgeous, and open.

Chapter Text

The rain doesn’t stop for nearly forty-eight hours.

Wash can hear the distant patter from everywhere on base, and it’s been a reassuring backbeat to his increasingly stressful days. He listens to it now, as he grips the sink in the washroom and stares hard into the mirror.

“Okay,” he says, after a final glance under the stalls and into the showers to confirm that he is, in fact, alone. “Okay.”

He lifts his shirt over his head and stares at his reflection.

Tired blue eyes stare back at him. He runs a hand through his hair, blond and rumpled and in desperate need of a cut. He takes in the scar across the bridge of his nose, the drag marks peeking out from under his hairline and the freckles dotting his face. Follows those freckles down to where they spot nearly every inch of his chest. His muscles are nice and firm, but he’s hard-pressed to find a smooth patch of skin on his torso and arms: where there aren’t freckles, there are knife scars, burn marks, and old gunshot wounds. He is, quite frankly, a mess.

So why—why—had his gut reaction to Tucker’s ridiculous come-ons been to strip off his own shirt and reveal said mess to the world?

Wash groans, resting his forehead on the mirror. He has no idea what was going through his head at that moment. None.

All he knows is that he must make a decision.

Wash lifts his head. “Okay,” he tells himself firmly.

He tugs back on his shirt and leaves the washroom, straight-backed and determined.

He knows what he needs to do.


“So.”

“Yes?”

“Ummm…so, uh...”

Donut smiles at him patiently, making a get on with it gesture with his spoon. “Go on, spit it out!” He winks. “I hear that’s more your thing, anyway.”

Wash flushes and clears his throat. “Didyoustillwanttohangout.”

Donut pauses, his spoonful of oatmeal frozen halfway to his mouth. “What?”

Wash glances around the mess hall. “You said you wanted to hang out,” he says, a little more clearly this time. “With. Uh. Wine and cheese. Or something.”

“Oh, no!” Donut says, crestfallen. “I don’t even have any cheese yet!”

“That’s okay,” Wash says hastily. “I mean, we don’t have to hang out, if—”

Donut huffs. “Wash, don’t be ridiculous. Of course we're gonna hang out! I do have wine, which is the important thing, am I right?”

“I…suppose so, yes.”

“Wonderful! So, when do you want to spend some quality time together?”

Wash rubs the back of his neck. “Uh… I don’t know…tomorrow night, maybe? I just…I could, uh, use your opinion on, um, something.”

“Oh, wonderful!” Donut says, and shoots bolt upright. “Okay, let me just—reschedule my mani-pedi party with the Feds and then we’ll be good!”

“Oh, don’t—Donut, don’t reschedule anything, really—”

Wash.” Donut pauses, putting a solemn hand on his forearm. “Wash, this is important. I can tell. Don’t you worry your pretty little freckled face about a thing. You come to my room tomorrow night, and we’ll have wine, and just talk. About our feelings. Kay?”

He takes off, leaving Wash to stew in sweeping panic and sudden regret. He turns on his datapad, desperate to have something to take his mind off the upcoming conversation. He pulls up the training schedule, which, while indeed distracting, does nothing for his spirits except drop them further. There’s only one session left before he’s supposed to start training both armies together, and they’re not anywhere close to ready.

“We can rearrange that, you know,” Simmons says from several seats down. “Give the Feds and News an extra couple practices.”

It takes several seconds for Simmons’ words to register. “Hmm? Oh…no, it’ll take me ages to rework this.”

Simmons moves up closer to Wash, tugging the chart towards him. “No it won’t. Look, it’s just patterns, see? If we move Carolina and Kimball’s hand-to-hand back an hour, and rotate up the sessions with our cadets…”

Wash watches in fascination as Simmons rearranges the entire training schedule in less than five minutes before presenting it with a flourish. “There. Now you have an extra three days. I know it’s not much, but…”

“No, it’s amazing,” he says, distributing the schedule to all relevant parties with a few swipes on his datapad. “Simmons, thank you.”

Simmons lifts his head proudly. “Just doing my duty, sir.”

Which, Wash has come to realize over the years, is Simmons-speak for that’s what friends are for. He thinks of Donut rearranging his schedule so that they could talk, and Sarge attempting to show him his super-secret-go-to-sleeper-hold in training yesterday, and Tucker holding his helmet while he stood in the rain, and he wonders, yet again, how he got here, and what he did to deserve it.


Wash lunges in, pivotonetwo, and draws the training knife across Tucker’s midsection. The chalk mark it leaves behind is bright and vivid, and Tucker jolts as he glances down at it. He hasn’t stopped freezing up at the sight of all that red.

It’s best, Wash has learned, to keep things moving when Tucker gets that startled, haunted look on his face—keep him focused, keep him present. “Okay,” Wash says, “Better, but you need to keep an eye on my feet. The pivot will start from there…Tucker? Are you listening?”

Tucker’s not listening. His hands are pressed tightly over his stomach and he’s staring in disbelief at his midsection, at where the bright red chalk is bleeding through his fingers to drip on the floor. It takes Wash a moment to realize what he’s looking at, because the chalk shouldn’t be melting like that, shouldn’t be staining Tucker’s fingers and dripping through them like—like—

“Tucker!”

He breaks Tucker’s fall, laying him out on the ground. The blood is everywhere, seeping not only from Tucker’s torso, but from everywhere else that Wash had caught him with the chalked-up knife. Chalk, he thinks wildly, chalk, it was just chalk, the knife wasn’t real, this isn’t real, this isn’t—

Tucker is shaking hard, and Wash finds his own hands are trembling as he presses them to the wound in Tucker’s stomach. He spares a quick glance at the knife, then does a double-take: the blade is bright with Tucker’s blood, its sharp edge visible even from here.

Horror and disbelief worm their way into his chest, spreading out through his limbs until his fingers and toes are numb with panic. “Tucker,” he says, “Tucker—I didn’t—I didn’t mean to—hold on, just hold on, you’re gonna be okay!”

Tucker’s body goes still under Wash’s hands, and it is not okay. Wash’s throat closes up, and when the scream finally claws its way out, it’s a broken, bleeding thing, a wordless howl, and he’s shaking Tucker and ripping at his own hair and tearing at the sheets that he’s wound around his legs and clawing at his chest because he can’t breathe he can’t breathe Tucker’s body is gone and the room is dark and there’s only starlight spilling form the tiny window at the foot of his bed and he can’t BREATHE—

The window, the window, the window. He had a room with a window like this once, tiny and circular at the foot of his bed, on a ship that he called home before he really knew what that word meant, before—

—sleep used to come so easily, but he will dream like this for the rest of his life; he knows this now—

“Dream,” he gasps, but the word comes out high and strangled. He rips the sheets away from his body and shoves them off. His back hits the wall and he presses into it, using it to ground himself. Dream. Dream. It isn’t real. It isn’t—

Tucker’s body goes still and it is not okay.

Nausea swoops into his stomach and strangles up his throat, and he gags, dropping his head between his knees, struggling to suck in air. “One,” he grits out, and makes himself count to ten, and back down to one when that’s not enough.

“Your name is Agent Washington,” he whispers when he gets there. “You are the leader of Blue Team. You’re on Chorus. You had a nightmare. You’re fine. Tucker is fine.”

Tucker.

Wash lifts his head, glancing around his room at the sheets twisted in a corner, at his pillow on the floor, the bottle of water on his nightstand knocked to the ground, and—

Suddenly he’s furious with himself, so blindingly angry. He clambers to his feet, pacing around the room and running his hands through his hair because he keeps doing this, he keeps forgetting.

He keeps forgetting this, in the daylight, forgetting what his room looks like at four in the morning after a particularly bad nightmare—what he looks like after a particularly bad nightmare. He keeps forgetting how long it takes him to remember his own name, how he can’t breathe, how there are parts of him that are still broken.

He keeps forgetting that he’s a mess.

He thinks again of the knives he’d laid out on the bedside table between him and Tucker in the infirmary, and how Epsilon just hadn’t gotten it. How no one got it. Yet here he is, still fucking it up, still forgetting that he can’t let his guard down, that he isn’t normal, and that he can’t allow himself to do normal things like flirting

Wash stops pacing, sitting down hard on the edge of his bed, anger and shame and bitter disappointment knotting themselves together in his chest. Flirting. That’s what he’d been doing the other day, when Tucker had made one too many suggestive comments and a lightbulb had gone on in Wash’s head. When Wash had just taken off his shirt and given it right back. He hadn’t even thought about it. It had been normal. Easy. Simple.

But he isn’t normal, and this isn’t easy or simple. He has no business even entertaining the idea of doing anything with Tucker, and he quashes down the disappointment that wells in him at the thought.

He has no business feeling that, either.


“Wash!”

Wash starts guiltily when he sees Donut storming down the hallway towards him, wearing fuzzy slippers and a frown. “Oh—uh, hey Donut.”

“Don’t ‘Hey Donut’ me!” Donut folds his arms and raises his eyebrows expectantly. “Are you forgetting something? We’re supposed to be having wine and cheese night!”

“I—I know, I just—”

 “God, Wash, you are so—if you make other plans, you’re supposed to tell the person you were going to hang out with!”

It’s not that!” Wash protests. “I—look, I wanted to talk to you about something, but it’s stupid, and I—”

Donut sighs loudly and grabs his wrist, and Wash barely restrains himself from throwing Donut over his shoulder. He lets Donut drag him down the hallway, Donut mutters all the while about social etiquette, before tugging Wash into his room and slamming the door.

Wash stares around Donut’s room. It looks exactly as he would have expected it to: neat and clean with little baskets of moisturizer and scented soap, and an actual wine basket—fake grapes, bottle opener and all. “Wait, you actually have wine? Where did you get that?”

“During Operation Watermelon!” Donut finishes rummaging in a drawer and pulls out, not only two crystal wine glasses, but monogrammed napkins as well. Wash isn’t sure why he’s surprised.

“Thanks,” he says awkwardly, as Donut hands him a glass. He sits on the very edge of Donut’s bed, feeling ridiculous. “But where did you get it? At a bar?”

“Of course!”

“There are bars still open?”

“Wash, there will always be bars open. Always. It’s not a ghost town out there, you know.”

Which, Wash realizes, he wouldn’t actually know. He hasn’t set foot outside of the base since arriving in Armonia. “That probably wasn’t safe, Donut.”

Donut waves a hand. “It was fine. We all had our armor on!”

“Still, though.”

Donut sighs, reaching over to pat his knee. “You worry too much, Wash.”

“You all don’t worry enough.”

Donut settles back more comfortably against the wall. “So. What’s on your mind?”

Wash hesitates, taking a sip of his wine. “I don’t…I just...”

“Okay,” Donut says, and waits patiently until Wash starts chugging his wine. “Oh, c’mon, let’s have it.”

“I think Tucker’s hitting on me,” Wash blurts. “Me specifically.”

Donut stares at him. Wash finds himself simultaneously relieved and a little saddened, but he shoves that thought right back down. Of course he was imagining it. It was silly to think for even a second that Tucker wanted him. Silly to think—

“Are you joking?

Wash blinks. “Huh?”

“Wait.” Donut sits up a little straighter. “Wait, wait, wait. Are you saying—oh my god! You’re serious. You don’t see it?”

“See what?”

“Wash,” Donut says, clearly fighting to keep a grin off of his face. “Yes, Tucker’s hitting on you. Is that what you wanted my opinion on? Don’t you pay any attention?”

“Tucker hits on everyone, though. I can’t tell if this is different, or…”

“Oh, goodness gracious,” Donut says. “Tucker hits on everyone, but he only flirts with you.”

“I don’t know….”

Donut groans, picking up a pillow and pressing his face into it. “Oh, you two. You’re like characters in a soap opera, honestly.” He peeks out from behind the pillow and peers at Wash despairingly. “Y’know, if you guys got together in the next…say, three days, then I am going to be very rich.”

“What does that even mean?

“It means that I’ll win the betting pool!”

“There’s a betting pool?”

Donut gestures desperately. “See, this is what I mean! Everyone sees it but you!”

“This is stupid,” Wash mutters, and takes another despairing sip of wine. “It’s stupid.”

“Wash, it’s not. Why are you making this so complicated?”

“I’m not—”

“I mean, why is it so incomprehensible that Tucker wants you?”

Wash stop, staring at Donut. “I don’t…Donut, I can’t.”

“But why can’t you?”

There is not enough wine in the world for this conversation. “First of all, I haven’t had…I haven’t. In a long time.”

“What, had sex?”

“…yes.”

Donut waves a hand. “Well, I think Tucker’s the perfect person to get you back in the groove.”

Wash decides to skate over that particular topic, which is rife with its own list of issues that he doesn’t think he can get into with Donut. Besides, there are more important problems at hand. “That aside…it would be highly irresponsible of me to…to be with someone,” Wash says stiffly. “If we were to fall asleep…after…I could hurt him.”

“Oh, Wash.”

“You know what my nightmares are like.” He can’t look at Donut. “I can’t have someone in bed next to me while I’m sleeping.”

“You’re not nearly as violent as you think you are after a nightmare, you know. I mean, sometimes you wake up swinging, but…you never hurt Sarge or me in the Fed compound, you know. Not once.” Donut smiles at him, sympathetic but not pitying. “You were mostly just scared.”

Wash closes his eyes. “I almost killed Tucker. After Sidewinder. I put my hands on his neck, Donut.”

“But that was years ago. And you were in a new environment, and you didn’t trust each other yet! Maybe…maybe this is just what you need, to make the nightmares go away. To have someone next to you.”

“So, what, I should just risk it?” Wash says, and tries to take the sharp note out of his voice. “I can’t. I won’t risk Tucker’s life just because I want…just so I can…”

“But what about your life?”

“What?”

Donut sighs. “What, are you just going to go it alone for the rest of your life? Never hold hands or kiss or make love again? That’s not fair.”

“It’s what I deserve.”

Donut looks at him sharply. “I hate that you still think that.”

“Well, it’s true,” Wash snaps back. “I don’t…this is Tucker we’re talking about here. I don’t des—”

“Don’t,” Donut says, voice angry and fierce in a way Wash has never heard. “Don’t you dare finish that sentence, Washington, if what you’re about to say is ‘Tucker’s too good for me, I don’t deserve him.’

Wash clenches his jaw, lifting his chin. “Well—”

“No. No,” Donut says. He puts his glass of wine on the crate next to his bed and faces Wash head-on. “You can just stop right there, mister. I don’t want to hear it. In fact, I don’t want to hear you talk about yourself like this ever again.”

“Like what?”

“Like you’re—like you’re this broken toy who should be tossed aside, and never played with again! You’re not broken, and you do deserve to be played with!”

“Donut—”

“And what about Tucker, huh? Huh? Who gave you the right to decide what he does and doesn’t deserve?”

“I don’t—that’s not what I—”

“Tucker’s a big boy, Wash. He can decide what he wants, and he wants you. He wants you, and you want him. I know you do. Just…just let yourself have this!”

“I don’t know how,” Wash says. He’s finding it difficult to look at Donut again. “I don’t know how to, anymore.”

“Then figure it out, together. It’ll come back to you soon enough.”

Wash is silent for a while, fiddling with the edge of Donut’s bedspread. “So…so I’m not imaging it, you don’t think?”

“No, Wash. You’re not imaging it.” Donut gives him that half-smile again. “You really don’t see the way he looks at you, do you?”

“I….”

“Well, start paying attention, then! You’ll see it soon enough.”


“Britton! Pay attention!

Cadet Britton jumps guiltily from where she’s clustered with a few of her friends, whispering in a corner of the training room. Wash can’t understand it. They’re supposed to be working on rifle disarms today, and the cadets are even more unfocused than usual. There’s an excitable, distracted energy vibrating around the room—this is the fifth time Wash has had to yell at the cadets for standing around and gossiping.

Gossiping. There’s really no other word for it. He watches as Jensen wanders away from Britton when she thinks Wash isn’t looking to cup her hands around the auditory filters of Prajapati’s helmet. Wash sighs.

“Everyone stop!”

He has to yell it three more times before the cadets stand up straight and listen to him. Or, as Wash suspects, pretend to listen to him. “Is there a reason why you’re all so distracted today?”

Even the “sir, no, sir” that echoes around the room is unenthused. “Are my lessons boring you?”

“Sir, no, sir.” That one is slightly more energized, but not by much.

“Well, then, what’s the problem?”

Silence. Wash lets it sit for an awkward thirty seconds before waving them all back to their training. He stalks around, observing the cadets in pairs, about to chalk the day up to a total loss when the ka-BLAM! of a rifle discharging ricochets around the room.

Wash is spinning around before the sound has finished its reverberations, sweeping the nearest pair of cadets behind him and bringing his own rifle up to bear. It takes him several seconds to identify what just happened: there’s no assailant at the door, no cadets lying bloody on the ground. There’s only Britton, one hand clutching her smoking shotgun and the other clapped over the mouth of her visor.

“Private Britton,” he says, and they all glance around nervously at his tone. Wash marches over and snatches the rifle away from her, emptying the live bullets into his hand. “Live rounds,” he says, when he’s able to speak again. “Live rounds from your real rifle.”

“I’m sorry, Agent Washington,” she whispers, both hands clapped to her visor now. “I—”

Wash holds up a hand, and she quiets. “I want you to explain to me why you are training with your real rifle instead of the training rifle like everyone else.” He gestures towards the neat pile of guns piled up by the doorway of the training room, noting with despair that the rest of the cadets are surreptitiously checking their own rifles to make sure they are using the correct one. “Were my instructions not explicitly clear?”

“They were clear, sir,” she mumbles at the floor.

“Stand up straight,” he says sharply, and her head snaps back up to attention. “Remind me again why we’re using the training guns in every exercise and not our real ones.”

“Because the army is low on ammunition and it is vital that we do not waste a single bullet,” she parrots, voice wavering.

“Correct. Because the army is low on ammunition and it is vital that we do not waste a single bullet.” He glances around the room before turning back to Britton. “I know you all know this. But—far more importantly—you could have killed someone!

“I know sir, and I’m sorry, I f-forgot—”

He wants to scream. “Private Britton! I don’t ever want to hear the words I forgot come out of your mouth again! You can’t forget something like this! It’s unacceptable, completely unacceptable, and—and—are you crying?

Britton sniffles loudly, and she is. She is crying. “What—Britton—pull yourself together—”

“I’m sorry!” she wails. “I know I’m the worst soldier e-ever and I d-don’t deserve to wear this armor a-and…” She descends into hiccupping sobs while Wash stares, bewildered. He’s reminded vividly of his youngest sister, who sounded just like this when she was hysterical, when she was a teenager, when she was so young

“How old are you?” he asks. Britton says nothing, only continues to sob. “Britton. Take off your helmet.”

After a moment of hesitation and some fumbling with the seals on her helmet, Britton lifts it off of her head to reveal a young, heart-shaped face and the biggest brown eyes he’s ever seen. “How old are you?”

“Fifteen, sir,” she sniffles bravely, and Wash’s stomach hits the floor.

It’s a few moments before he can remember how to speak. “Everyone take off your helmets. Now.”

And then he’s surrounded, by three dozen long-faced, teary eyed, kids. He keeps his own helmet on long enough to get his face under control before removing it, because it seems wrong, somehow, to stand here faceless in front of such young faces.

“Why?” he asks, and he’s not even sure what question he’s asking until Bitters scowls at him.

“’Cause there’s no one left, that’s why.”

Wash looks around the room at all of them again before taking a deep breath. “Okay. Okay. Britton, it’s…it’s…look. You have to be more careful, alright? You could’ve really hurt someone, or yourself.”

She nods, still sniffling, as he hands the bullets and rifle back to her. “I’m sorry, Agent Washington,” she says again. “I—I won’t forget again.”

“Okay, Britton. Okay. You—please stop crying!”

“I—I can’t,” she sobs. “Everything is just so horrible! Laura and Martin broke up last night and they’ve been together since the beginning of the war, and the servers to the base keep shorting out so we can’t download the next season of Grey’s Anatomy, and—and—and everything is just so horrible!

“Is that why you’re all upset?” he asks, glancing around. “Because of…Laura and Mark?”

“Martin.”

“Sorry—Martin—and because you can’t…watch the next episode of this…TV show?

A series of downcast and sullen nods are all the answer he needs. There are so many things he could say—this is war, we’ve more important things to worry about, there’s no time for this sort of thing, suck it up—but none of them feel right. These are kids standing in front of him, not hardened soldiers, and even if they were, he doesn’t think such harsh words would help. He thinks, after Freelancer, after the leaderboard, that everyone deserves to have something, be it a TV show or the feel of rain on their face.

Wash straightens. “Everyone, helmets on. We have a new training objective.”

The cadets all hesitate, glancing at one another. “What are we doing?” Jensen asks.

“I’ll tell you in a minute.”

They all exchange another series of glances before starting to reseal their helmets. Wordless communication, he notes with surprise. They can use that. They can definitely use that.

He files it away for later. “Lieutenants Palomo, Andersmith, Bitters, and Jensen. Your mission is to find Captain Simmons and tell him that Agent Washington requests his presence in the war meeting room.”

The three of them look at each other before shrugging a little and edging towards the door. “Some mission,” Bitters mutters.

“Lieutenants? You must not be seen.”

They stare at him. “By…anyone?” Jensen asks slowly.

“By anyone.”

“But—but that’s going to be impossible!” Palomo wails. “How are we gonna pull that off?!”

“By any means necessary,” Wash says solemnly. “Andersmith, you’ll take point on this mission. Maintain radio contact with myself and Britton.”

“Why me?” Britton pipes.

“You’ll be heading the other mission.”

Britton sniffs loudly. “But….”

“No buts,” Wash says sternly. “You, Martinez, and Prajapati will be heading to the armory. You are to locate the robot Lopez and ask for his assistance. If he will grant it, you will lead him to the war meeting room as well. You speak Spanish?”

“What? Um, well...”

Marinez turns big eyes to Britton. “She does! Like perfectly!

“I mean, yes, I do, but—”

Parajapati whirls on Britton. “You have to! You speak Spanish like an angel.

Wash interrupts before the conversation can get further waylaid. “Don’t get caught.”

Martinez fidgets. “There’s no way we’re not going to get caught.”

“Then you need to find a way, Private. We don’t have much time.” Wash clears his throat. “The season premiere is tonight, right?”

They stare at him. “Season premiere?” Britton asks, voice lifting. “You mean…?”

“If we’re all going to watch Grey’s Anatomy, then we need to get moving.”

There’s a beat of silence before the cadets all start whispering to each other ecstatically, but fall silent again when Wash holds up his hand. “Alright. The rest of you. We’re going to divide up by groups of four and make our way to the war meeting room. Now remember—we must not be seen.”

They aren’t seen. The cadets are filled with a giddy determination that has Wash grinning under his helmet. His heart swells with pride as he listens to the play-by-play of the Lieutenants sneak right past Carolina, as he listens to Britton make a passionate, tearful case to Lopez. He’s not sure if Lopez is just so grateful to hear someone else speaking Spanish, or if Lopez also wants to watch Grey’s Anatomy, but he agrees to go with the cadets. Wash ferries the cadets in their groups to the meeting room, but he doesn’t have to do much. He’s in the middle of watching his current group tip toe right behind Kimball when a message pops up on his HUD.

SMS: Are you really trying to orchestrate an illicit Grey’s Anatomy viewing party, or are the cadets trying to get me into trouble?

WSH: I don’t know if I would call it an illicit party, but. Something like that.

SMS: And why do you need my help to do it?
WSH: I need you to hook up the livestream. None of them can figure it out.

SMS: Do you know how much trouble we’re going to get into if Kimball or Doyle finds out?

WSH: How exactly is this any different than you rigging Basebook onto all the internal servers?

A pause, then—

SMS: I’ll see you soon.

By the time all of the cadets and Wash are inside the meeting room, Simmons and Lopez have managed to get the stream working. Lopez and Simmons are bickering furiously, fiddling with the wires, as Britton bounces in between the two of them to translate. Her helmet is off, brown eyes shining, and as Wash looks around the room, he sees that most of the cadets have their helmets off. They’re all crowding around the monitor, but listen when Wash instructs them all to set a watch schedule at the door.

Wash himself stands just outside the hallway, alternating between watching to make sure no one’s coming and peering into watch the cadets. Bits of their armor are scattered around the room, and Palomo has distributed bags of popcorn. They lean up against each other, guns in their laps and sitting closer than any normal group of teenagers would, but they laugh and cheer and throw popcorn at the screen, and Wash realizes that he just might give a damn about this planet, after all.


There is no sudden or drastic change in the cadets’ training or skill level. They still whine. They still drop their rifles. They still argue and complain about the Feds and sometimes, to Wash’s horror, cry.

But they trust him now, and that is no small thing. And they are getting better.

They take full advantage of the three golden days that Simmons gave them with his rearranging of the training schedule. A tense, yet focused, determination settles over their training session, and the cadets are—as Palomo puts it— “Sure as shit not gonna make asses out of ourselves in front of those hoity-toity Feds.”

Wash watches, beaming, on the last day, as Britton leads half of the group through a textbook infiltration strategy. He’d been focusing hard on teaching them to communicate during training, using hand signals, concise radio talk, and the text reader on their HUDs. They do work quite well together, when they’re paying attention to each other, and Wash makes a point to tell them this as they all gather around him, delighted after their successful training session.

“It was easy!” Britton says, grinning from ear to ear. “We just figured it was like—okay, you know when you’re in a room with your best friend, and someone says something stupid, and you look over at them, but they’re already looking at you?”

“Er,” Wash says blankly, before he remembers the sheer amount of times he’s exchanged a significant glance with Tucker in light of the Reds antics. “Er…yes, I think so.”

“Well, it’s just like that!” Britton says. “Except with guns, and fighting stuff.”

“I…suppose it is,” Wash says. He can’t help but smile at all of their enthusiasm. “Alright, great work today everyone. We begin joint practices with the Feds tomorrow—don’t start, Prajapati—and I think you’re all going to do well. I’m…proud of you.”

He’s a little flustered when they all look at him like he hung the sun in the sky, and grows even more so when Britton throws her arms around his waist. “Thank you, Agent Washington,” she mumbles, and Wash blinks down at the top of her head, grateful that he has his helmet on.

“Um. Yes. You’re welcome. Now…now let’s have three cool down laps around the perimeter and we’ll call it a day.”

They take off with only a minimal amount of grumbling, and Wash watches them rather fondly.

“Dude. I think it’s love.”

Wash turns to see Tucker leaning in the doorway. “I—what? What did you just say?”

“The cadets,” Tucker says, gesturing. “Pretty sure they’re in love with you.”

“Oh, stop. They’ve come a long way is all.”

“I’ll say. They actually looked pretty goddamn legit running that infiltration.”

“Hmmm,” Wash says. “Yeah. They do. They do look good.”

“It’s not the only thing that looks good.” Tucker comes to stand next to Wash, observing the cadets running their laps.

“Oh,” Wash says as Tucker looks him up and down. Which is ridiculous, because they are both in full power armor. Not like the other day, when they’d been grappling out of armor with only the thin fabric of Tucker’s shirt between them—

“Training with the Feds starts tomorrow, right?” Tucker asks casually. “Glad to see the cadets aren’t gonna look like total asshats. I’d never hear the end of it from Ali.”

Wash glances at him. “You’re all getting along with the Federalist captains, then?”

“Eh.” Tucker lifts one shoulder up in a shrug. “They’re okay, I guess.”

Wash says nothing, only smiles a little to himself. They settle into a comfortable silence, during which Wash tries and fails to ignore Tucker’s eyes on him. “What?”

“Heard what you did. With the cadets. And that show they like.”

“You heard about that?”

“Sure did.” Tucker snickers. “Palomo literally would not shut the fuck up about it yesterday.”

“I just…they’re so young, Tucker.”

Tucker sighs. “I know. It fucking sucks.”

“It fucking sucks,” Wash echoes grimly.

Tucker gives his shoulder a little push. “Hey. It was pretty cool, though. Made them all real happy.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” says Tucker. “Although, I gotta say. Wish you handed out rewards during our training sessions.”

Wash looks out of the corner of his eye. “Uh huh…” he says slowly.

“Like, I would probably be a lot more motivated to get better at knife fighting if I had some incentive, know what I mean?”

Jesus Christ. There it is again. That tone. That tone he’d thought Tucker used on everyone but Donut was insisting that, these days, Tucker more or less reserved for him. That tone that makes Wash do ridiculous things like take his shirt off in full view of all of their friends and shamelessly ask Tucker if he wanted to partner up so that he could watch Tucker shiver slightly while Wash muttered instructions on arm positioning right into his ear in full view of all of their friends

“Hey, Wash?” Tucker’s tapping on his helmet. “You in there?”

Wash jumps. “Yeah, yes, yep. I’m here. What, uh. What were we talking about?”

“We were talking about possibly implementing some training rewards for me.”

“Tucker, this has to stop. It’s highly inappropriate—”

Is what Wash should say. What he actually says is, “Welllllll, I suppose I do still owe you for helping me figure out the training schedule.”

“Fuck yeah you do!” Tucker says enthusiastically. “Don’t worry, I’ve got a few ideas.”

“Oh, really?” Wash folds his arms across his chest. “Well, go on. Let’s hear them.”

Stop it, Wash tells himself furiously, but his stupid mouth isn’t listening to his stupid brain, and Tucker’s already zeroed in on his words.

“Well, for starters,” Tucker says, without missing a beat. “I think I was a little unclear on that grappling thing you were showing me the other day, that seat control thing—”

“Side control.”

“Yeah. That. Whatever. I could use some private instruction on that, don’t you think? Maybe a review of the mount position as well?”

Before Wash can formulate a response, Tucker takes off his stupid helmet and flips his stupid hair all around and gives Wash that stupid, sultry wink. “Feel free to stop by my room anytime, Wash. I can think of plenty of things you can do to reward me.”

And he’s off, strutting out of the training room. Point to Tucker, Wash thinks, before snapping himself out of it. This was getting ridiculous. How was he supposed to concentrate on anything when Tucker went around talking about the mount position? How is he supposed to—

Look,” a voice breathes in a carrying whisper. “Agent Washington loves him.”

“Kennedy, shhhhhh!” his friend hisses, but Wash is already whipping around to see half the cadets huddled fifteen feet away, not even pretending to run laps anymore.

“Wait a second!” Wash yells as they all start to scamper. He looks hard at the first soldier who spoke, something clicking in his head. “You’re Kennedy?

“That’s…correct, sir,” Kennedy says, fidgeting.

“You’re the Kennedy who’s been…who’s been…”

He can’t finish that sentence. He stares at Kennedy for a while—Kennedy, who is at least six foot three and has a voice deeper than Andersmith’s, for God’s sake—before waving a hand. “You’re…you’re all dismissed.”


Wash has to work harder and harder to put Tucker’s antics to the back of his mind, and he has to admit that Donut might have a point when Tucker finds a way to get even more obvious during their next training session.

It’s getting difficult to convince himself that Tucker is just being Tucker, particularly when—like now—Tucker is taking the hand Wash offered him after knocking him to the mat during sparring practice, and using the opportunity to feel up every inch of Wash’s arms as he stands. Particularly when Tucker winks at him and goes, “Damn, Wash. Bet those are some good arms for wall sex.”

Thing is, Tucker doesn’t say stuff like that to other people. Not recently. He still makes lewd jokes and throws around inappropriate winks, but he isn’t putting nearly the same amount of effort into hitting on the rest of the base as he is to hitting on Wash.

“For—what?” Wash sputters. “How does—how does one have good arms for wall sex?”

Tucker shrugs. “Well, you know. You could hold someone up and just—just pound away without ever getting tired.”

The universe apparently hates Wash, Tucker walks over to the nearest wall and demonstrates. “Tucker,” Wash says, trying and failing to keep from blushing as Tucker does something unspeakably obscene with his hips. “Will you please come over here and focus on the lesson?!

He’s just being Tucker, Wash reminds himself, as Tucker sashays back over to him. Just Tucker.

“I’m just complimenting your awesome wall sex arms, dude,” Tucker says, the perfect picture of innocence, and Wash desperately tries to get his blushing under control.

“Well…well. Thanks. Tucker,” he pauses, glancing at Tucker out of the corner of his eye. “I suppose they are pretty good for stamina.”

Tucker’s jaw drops a little before his whole face splits into a grin. “Mmm. I bet they are.”

He isn’t imagining that. He can’t be. Tucker looks ready to eat him alive. Or is that how he always looks at people training him? He doesn’t look at Carolina like that, does he? Wash can’t quite be sure

Focus, he tells himself firmly, and shoves all thoughts of Tucker and his bedroom eyes aside. “Anyway,” he says, trying to sound authoritative and not flustered. “Anyway. Judo throws. Let’s get back to it.”

“Whatever you say, sir,” Tucker says, in what is most definitely not a seductive tone. Most. Definitely. Not.

After a few more minutes, Tucker settles down enough to focus on their actual training. Wash has learned that it’s best to let him get it out of his system first— “it” used to mean his whining and complaining, although recently “it” more aptly describes his pick-up line practice—before trying to get him to focus.

The thing is, Tucker’s good. Particularly at hand-to-hand. He’s a decent shot with a rifle as well, but it’s clear that he’s meant for close-quarters combat. They haven’t had a breakthrough in knife training yet, but Tucker is trying, and getting a little better each day. His hand-to-hand combat, however, is improving by leaps and bounds. He’s fast, movements confident and sure, and the practices are becoming more and more of a challenge for Wash as well.

It’s fun, sparring with Tucker. There’s something light and easy between the two of them when they sink into a rhythm, and he often feels like he’s just hanging out with a friend as opposed to training someone. Tucker’s movements are unpredictable, and it keeps Wash on his toes.

The square up to do some light sparring—no armor, but no gloves, either. “Focus on the takedown,” Wash tells Tucker, and it isn’t long before they fall into a comfortable groove. Tucker’s brow is furrowed in concentration as his eyes track Wash’s movements, and although he has to move quickly, Wash is able to avoid his hits and takedowns, until he’s spinning to the left and—

He either reads Tucker’s body language wrong or Tucker really has gotten just that fast when he’s paying attention, because he fires off a roundhouse kick at the exact moment that Wash spins to the left. Tucker’s shin connects with his ribs and knocks all the breath from his body, and the next thing Wash knows he’s flat on his back blinking dazedly up at the ceiling.

“Holy shit!” Tucker’s hovering over him, horrified. “Fuck me! Tell me I didn’t re-break your ribs, please tell me I’m not gonna be the sixth time you’ve broken them, fucking fuck I didn’t mean to kick you that hard! See, this is why we need to wear sparring gear you crazy fucker—”

“Tucker, it’s okay,” Wash says, once he’s able to breathe again. He props himself up on his elbows placing a hand gingerly on his ribs. “They’re not broken.”

“Like you’d tell me if they were,” Tucker mutters, dropping to his knees beside Wash. “C’mon, let me see.”

“They’re fine,” Wash protests, albeit a little breathlessly. “It was just a good kick. A really good kick, actually. Nice job.”

Tucker averts his eyes for a moment. “Thanks. Although, you shouldn’t be thanking me for nearly fucking kill you.” He hesitates, hands hovering over Wash’s torso. “Can I?”

Wash tuts impatiently. “You’re not going to be able to see if they’re cracked, Tucker.”

“Well, it’ll make me feel better.”

“Fine, fine.” Wash gestures. “Go ahead.”

Tucker rolls up his shirt gingerly, prodding at Wash’s ribs. “Okay, well…everything looks…normal, here. Yeah. Normal.”

Wash rolls his eyes. “See? I told you.”

But Tucker is still staring at his torso, fascinated. “Dude, you have so many scars.”

“You’ve seen my scars before,” Wash says, mouth going unexpectedly dry. He should move. He needs to move. He knows that look on Tucker’s face and he should move

“Yeah, I know,” Tucker says. “They were kinda hard to miss when you were training shirtless the other day. You know. When you were trying your hardest to drive me crazy.”

“My shirt was wet,” Wash says intelligently. “I had to take it off.”

“Hmmm,” Tucker says. “Kay. Whatever you say, Wash.”

Tucker’s eyes travel across to his other side, to where the burn scars stretch down his ribs. “Those are burn marks, aren’t they? Is that from when you were tortured? The one that made you afraid of fire?”

Tucker takes his hand and traces his fingertips along the puckered skin as he speaks, and Wash gasps. The thing that shoots through him is so foreign and half-forgotten that he jolts, thinking his skin is on fire again. He grabs at Tucker’s hand, intending to push him away, but in his haste he flattens Tucker’s palm out against his ribs. The feeling intensifies, and he is burning, the place where Tucker’s touching his bare skin tingling and searing—

Tucker’s staring at him with wide eyes, frozen. “What? What? Did I hurt you?”

“No,” Wash says, and why, why is his voice so high and strangled? “No, it doesn’t hurt, it…”

It doesn’t hurt, not at all, his skin is on fire but there’s no pain, it feels—

It feels—

Tucker tilts his head, confused, but he still hasn’t moved his hand. Wash hasn’t moved either. He’s too shocked, too elated, at this feeling that he’d thought gone forever, this heat that’s spreading from where Tucker’s palm rests all the way out to his fingers and toes. He should move. He should move, he shouldn’t be doing this, shouldn’t be feeling this, but his limbs have gone weak and heavy under Tucker’s touch, and they won’t listen to the directions from his muddled brain.

The frozen, confused look on Tucker’s face changes suddenly, his eyes turning dark and curious. He moves his thumb a little, in soothing, reassuring circles before he moves his whole hand. He drags his palm slowly, from Wash’s ribs to rest low on his abdomen, directly above where his belly is pulling and twisting like liquid fire, the heating spreading and sparking along his skin. Tucker’s still watching him with that dark, questioning look in his eyes, his fingertips trailing just below the band of Wash’s sweatpants, and Wash can’t breathe; he moves his legs restlessly and tries to think

The training room door swings open with a bang, and the group of Feds Wash is supposed to be training next comes storming in, laughing and talking. Tucker pulls back in one smooth motion, rising to his feet and offering a hand to Wash. Wash takes it, allows Tucker to help him up, holds Tucker’s hand for a beat too long and says, “Thanks.”

Tucker—Tucker smirks at him and says, “Don’t thank me yet,” in a voice that’s nothing like his usual, sleazy pick-up voice, but something velvet and unwavering, and he turns and fucking saunters out of the room without a backwards glance.


It’s hours later before Wash collapses onto his bed, blessedly alone with the door locked. The day had at least been a busy one, and he’d had no time to think about what may or may not have almost happened between him and Tucker in the training room.

Now, though—

Now he needs to focus. Wash sits up on his bunk, leaning back against the wall and folding his legs. He puts his hand where Tucker’s had been, on his ribs, and then traces it down to where it had rested so low on his abdomen, right above where Wash’s insides had been pulling and twisting in a way that he hadn’t felt in years, when he’d felt…he’d felt

He’d felt…hot, and, well. Bothered.

Which he’d thought was impossible. He hadn’t felt even slightly hot and bothered since Freelancer, since before Epsilon, since before his head had been ripped apart. There had been brain damage, he knows, his doctor, Tronosky, had explained it to him multiple times but they’d driven Tronosky away before he’d been able to fully comprehend his words and what they meant. Wash had lost so much from his years in recovery, and there had been no shortage of consequences. Memory loss, panic attacks, sometimes hallucinations, and other problems that he was still, to this day, figuring out.

Including, he’d thought, the complete loss of his sex drive.

It had been a long time before he’d even noticed that he hadn’t gotten an erection since before Epsilon. He’d had far, far more important things to think about in recovery, and it wasn’t until he was a few months out that the thought had crossed his mind. He remembers several times sitting in his bunk, just like this, trying to get something going, but there had been nothing, no reaction at all.

It’s fine, he had told himself, and it largely was. He couldn’t imagine ever relaxing enough to actually be with someone again, and while it would’ve been nice to jerk off every now and then, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. That part of his life was over.

Until—

Wash closes his eyes and thinks again of Tucker, and the way his palm against Wash’s skin had burned and blazed. His eyes had gone dark and curious and deliberate, and Wash wonders with a thrill of excitement what would’ve happened if the door hadn’t opened. If Tucker would’ve moved his hand even lower, if his touch would’ve been confident and deliberate or tantalizing and slow

And suddenly—just like that, like it’s no big deal, like it happens all the time— he is hard. Wash’s eyes fly open and he gets his hand in his pants, peering down and yep, there’s his dick, ready to go, actually hard for the first time in years and holy fuck he’s not going to waste it.

He wraps a hand around himself and thinks, after a moment of guilty hesitation, of Tucker, and the training room. Thinks of Tucker slipping his hand all the way under the band of Wash’s sweatpants to rub at him, just enough to be deliberate but not enough to fully satisfy. Thinks of Tucker pushing Wash’s shoulders down to climb on top of him, thinks of Tucker kissing him—Wash latches onto this, onto the thought of Tucker’s mouth. His lips looked so soft Wash wonders how they’d feel on his own, how they’d feel sucking on his neck, or traveling down, down, down, and he thinks of Tucker’s mouth on his cock and then he’s coming all over his hand, his sweats, the bed, shaking from both the pleasure and the pain of his first orgasm in so long.

“Oh my god,” he says out loud, and laughs a little. It’s not until he’s stumbling over to grab a towel and clean himself off and change the sheets that it hits him, really hits him: that it’s Tucker, Tucker who just got him off, who he has to train with, alone, six days out of the week, Tucker, who he isn’t supposed to be flirting with.

Tucker, who is beautiful, and brave, and no matter what Donut says, far, far too good for him.

“Ah, fuck.”

Chapter Text

Tucker isn’t sure how he can be expected to get anything productive done ever again now that he knows just how melty Wash can get.

Sensitive. Responsive. Clearly starved for affection. Whatever. All of those words applied, but none of them fit quite as well as melty. That was what Wash had done under his touch in the training room the other day: he’d started to melt, and now Tucker still can’t fucking think straight.

He knows they’re in the middle of a war. He knows that the stakes are high, that there are peoples’ lives on the line, that he should be paying attention to this meeting that he’s currently sitting in. He really and truly knows that.

The problem is that Wash is also attending the meeting, which makes focusing impossible. All Tucker can think about is how Wash had pressed up into Tucker’s hand when he’d laid it across his ribs. It had made Tucker feel horny and protective and tender all at once, an admittedly weird mix of feelings, but since the horny part was the most pressing, he didn’t question it.

Jesus fuck, it’s too much to keep in his head. He’s going to lose his mind just thinking about it, but he can’t stop thinking about it because Wash’s eyes are wide and dazed as he blinks up at Tucker from the training mats. He’s propped up on his elbows, Tucker hovering over him with his hand pressed tight to Wash’s side. His breath is coming shaky and shallow, and Tucker suspects it’s no longer from the roundhouse kick that knocked him down. Tucker’s own eyes travel all over Wash’s features, taking in the flushed cheeks, the slightly parted lips, the messy hair, the bewildered eyes. Tucker knows that face. There’s confusion, and tension, and uncertainty, but—

There is also want.

Tucker moves his hand ever so slightly, trailing it from Wash’s ribs to rest low on his abdomen. Wash’s eyes flutter at the movement and he swallows hard as Tucker dips his fingertips below the band of Wash’s sweatpants, then back up. He does it again, trailing them further this time, to drag underneath the band of Wash’s briefs. He wonders if Wash is even aware of the way he’s squirming, legs and hips moving restlessly to try to urge Tucker’s hand lower. Tucker allows himself one more teasing brush just above where Wash wants it before dipping lower still to wrap his hand around Wash’s half-hard dick. Wash gasps, head tipping backwards as Tucker slowly strokes. He can feel Wash’s cock is hardening in his grip and when he swipes his thumb over the tip, Wash’s hips snap forward. Wash is biting his lip hard, fists clenched, and Tucker can see that he’s desperately trying to get himself under control, which—

Unacceptable.

He moves forward and attaches his lips to the cluster of freckles nestled in Wash’s collarbone, and is rewarded when Wash groans between gasps. Tucker keeps it up, all suction and teeth on Wash’s neck, and before long Wash is wilting back onto the mats, hands winding hesitantly into Tucker’s hair. Tucker moves his hand faster and lines his own dick up with Wash’s thigh, grinding hard. Wash groans again at the contact, hands tightening in Tucker’s hair and oh yeah, more of that, yes please. “Tucker,” Wash pants, right into his ear. “Tucker—”

“Tucker! Are you listening?

Tucker snaps reluctantly out of what was shaping up to be an absolutely A-plus daydream to blink at a Wash who is not, in fact, melting beneath his touch, but glaring at him from across the room. “Yes, I’m listening, geez.

“Oh, really?” Wash says dryly. “Then why didn’t you answer me the first three times I called your name?”

I was thinking about how badly I want to fuck you on the training room floor. “Well, if you really wanna know—”

“I don’t. I really don’t, Tucker. What I want is for you to pay attention to what Carolina and Epsilon are saying about the manifest they decrypted. This is important. It could be the difference between life and death.” Wash folds his arms. “Understood?”

“Understood…sir.” Tucker says, drawing out the last word deliberately. Bet I could get you to call me sir. Bet I could get you to drop and give me twenty just for the chance to suck my dick.

It probably wouldn’t even take all that much. Wash was so responsive, had jolted like he’d been electrocuted when Tucker touched his skin; and all Tucker can think about is how he could make Wash feel so good that he’d scream the walls of the base down.

Now, though, Wash has his disapproving helmet tilt on fucking lock, so Tucker reluctantly tunes back into the conversation. Epsilon has been rambling on and on for about a thousand years about what he had decrypted from the manifest they’d retrieved before the disaster at the tower. He’s in the middle of talking about Charon Industries, and Wash and Carolina are exchanging what Tucker can tell are darkly significant looks, even with both of their helmets on. Which, yeah, Tucker supposes it’s kind of fucked up that Charon Industries has their hand in this, but they’d been systematically working to wipe out an entire planet. It was fucked up no matter who was behind it. Honestly, Tucker really couldn’t care less about the labels of it. A quick glance around the room proves that the rest of the Reds and Blues feel similarly.

“…and the CEO’s name,” Epsilon concludes dramatically, “Is Malcolm Hargrove.”

Silence. Wash and Carolina exchange yet another dramatic glance.

“Uh,” Tucker ventures. “Who?”

“Malcolm Hargrove,” Epsilon emphasizes, sounding rather disgruntled that his delivery of such news didn’t get a bigger reaction. Tucker figures he and Carolina have probably been rehearsing this revelation to each other for at least two days. Carolina herself seems beyond words. “The oversight sub-committee chairman? Of Project Freelancer?

More blank staring. Epsilon sighs loudly. “He literally shook all of your hands after we took down Freelancer?!”

Oh, yeah. Tucker rolls his eyes. “Oh-ho, my god, you mean, it was some corrupt old white dude all along? Holy shit. What a revelation.”

Epsilon is looking seriously annoyed now. “Really? You guys don’t…you don’t care. At all? Not even a little?”

Grif yawns so loudly Tucker is pretty sure he hears his jaw crack from across the room. “Man, if we could give two fucks to rub together over that then Simmons here wouldn’t be a virgin.”

Simmons bristles. “Excuse me? That doesn’t—that doesn’t even make any sense!”

“Rubbing fuck,” Tucker snickers, then eyes Wash. “I’m into that. Wash. Hey Wash, so you know? I’m into that.”

“I heard you, Tucker,” Wash says through gritted teeth. “In fact, I think everyone heard you.”

“Apparently they didn’t!” Epsilon sputters “Because if they did, then they would care more—”

“Ah, um, Church, I think I know why everyone is confused,” says Caboose. “See, you are pronouncing crayon wrong.”

“It’s Charon, Caboose. Charon.

“Charon, smaron!” Sarge blusters. “Aquaman’s right. We don’t give a rat’s ass about the withertoos and the whyfors! All we care about is when we’re gonna get to kick some mercenary ass!”

Tucker steals a glance at Carolina, who has finally overcome her agitation enough to speak. “Alright, enough. I called you all in here because we need to strategize—this is important—”

“Drink,” Grif says suddenly, and everyone on Red Team makes noises of assent and acknowledgement.

Carolina stares at him. “Drink—what does that mean?”

“Oh, it’s a super-fun game we invented!” Donut says brightly. He’s in the middle of pulling up some sort of chart on his datapad. “We keep track of how many times in a day Carolina says ‘this is important’ or ‘enough,’ or Wash’s voice cracks or Caboose breaks something—et cetera, et cetera, and then, when we have time, we take a shot!”

“You can’t actually take shots every time those things happen,” Tucker scoffs. “You’d all be dead.”

“You’re right,” Grif says, “because we also take note of how many times you hit on Wash, so—”

Ooh, what’s the tally on that?” Tucker asks, craning his head to see over Simmons’ shoulder. He frowns. “Damn. My max is only thirteen pick-up lines a day? I gotta step it up.”

“We don’t always take actual shots,” Grif says. “Sometimes we make a competition out of it, like—today I think that Wash and Tucker will actually fuck on the training room floor in full view of the entire army.”

“Bonus points if you guess the position!” Donut quips. “Personally, I’ve got my money on cowgirl—”

Tucker snickers as Wash starts making indignant noises. “Can I get in on that action?”

“Enough,” Carolina says loudly. “This—”

Ocho,” Lopez notes, and all of Red Team marks something down on their datapad.

Carolina swells. “If you don’t all pay attention—”

“Wait, C, hang on. I got this.” Epsilon looks around the room thoughtfully. “I was thinking we’d try to intercept a call between the mercs and the Chairman. How would you guys feel about sticking it to them via a motivational speech?

Sarge pauses, turning to Epsilon slowly. “Well? Go on, little junebug. What kind of motivational speech?”

“Alright. Got a little something here that I’ve been working on.”  Epsilon clears his throat importantly, standing up. “Dear Chairman…”

It takes the rest of the afternoon to get their speech through to the Chairman. First they have to agree on the actual language of the speech, then who would deliver, then who would stand in which position for maximum effect. Tucker has a blazing row with Sarge on who gets to stand in front, but eventually, Tucker wins: got-stabbed-by-a-merc trumps Red-team-leader, no matter how passionately Sarge argues otherwise.

Another hour goes by before they finally manage to lock onto the correct radio code. Tucker has to admit it’s worth it once they get through and cut Felix and Locus off in the middle of their dumb conversation: there’s a certain tension in the air, a tingling electricity that can be felt over the radio. After Church’s climatic finish—ps, suck our balls— the radio cuts out and they all break into a round of snickering and patting each other on the back. It feels good, Tucker thinks, and he can’t understand why both Carolina and Wash still look so tense until Carolina clears her throat.

“There’s something else,” she says, and after several more attempts, they all fall quiet. “As you all know; I have been scouting around some local storehouses to see if we can find some more ammunition. Yesterday, I found some.”

Tucker straightens at that news, unsure of why it makes him feel so uneasy. He had known Carolina and Church were in charge of running recon, but actually hearing that they were out there with little to no back-up makes Tucker’s gut twist. He chances a glance at Wash. Wash has his arms folded across his chest and, although Tucker can’t see his face, he knows it’s wearing a worried frown.

“Okay…” Simmons says slowly, glancing around the room. The atmosphere is grower tenser by the second. “So…so what does that mean?”

“It means we’re gonna go and get them, numnuts!” Sarge puffs himself up. He holds a hand out to Carolina. “Now, you just hand over those battle plans, little lady, and I’ll take care of everything from here.”

“That’s quite alright, Sarge,” Carolina says. “I’ll assign the mission directives.”

Tucker scoffs. “Please. Just tell us what to do, and we’ll get it done.”

“How is that, exactly?”

“We’ll…I don’t know, wing it.” Tucker shrugs. “It works for us. Like, all the time.”

Carolina exchanges another look with Wash, who sighs. “We’re not all going, Tucker.”

Tucker frowns. “Why not?”

“We can’t…” Wash hesitates before his voice flattens out. “We can’t risk it. Something happening to all of us. It would destroy morale.”

“But, ahhhhhhh.” Tucker can hear the frown in Caboose’s voice. “But, ah. Agent Washington, we always work together. Because when we split up, then you do stupid dramatic things, and we have to come rescue you, and I don’t want to play that game again. I’d rather play Monopoly instead.”

Wash sighs. “I know, buddy. We just...have to be careful here.”

“How many people are going?” Simmons asks.

“I don’t have many details yet,” Carolina says. “Wash and I will talk it over with Kimball and Doyle, and come up with a plan. We’ll update all of you soon.”

The meeting doesn’t last much longer than that. Before he leaves, Tucker glances again at Wash, who is already tapping away on his datapad. Probably trying to schedule the whole goddamn mission. Probably well on his way to driving himself crazy. Probably in dire of either a serious fuck or a serious hug.

“When was the last time someone gave you a hug?”

He’d asked Wash this once, back at Rockslide, when he’d walked into the kitchen to see Caboose wrapping Wash up in a big bear hug after what Tucker presumed to be a nightmare. Wash had just frozen, his arms going stiff and patting at Caboose’s back. Tucker could tell he’d wanted to push away, but he didn’t.

“I don’t remember,” Wash had said, and it’s only recently that Tucker really understood the gravity of those words.

He’s starting to suspect that Wash hadn’t so much as made out with someone in a long, long time. He isn’t sure why the idea took so long to occur to him: of course Wash wasn’t going to let someone kiss him or touch him or make him lose control. He barely trusted himself most days. Trusting someone else to fuck him? Yeah, right.

Tucker has his trust, though.

Tucker knows he does. Wash trusts Tucker to make sure Caboose takes his medicine, to have his back during battle, to lead a mission and train a squad. He values Tucker’s input, doesn’t flinch when their arms brush, trusts Tucker to make his coffee perfectly.

He trusts Tucker enough to let him hold his helmet in the rain.

The trust is there. All Tucker needs to do is show Wash that he can trust him with this, too.

What Tucker needs is an opportunity. A chance to test things out when they’re not wearing ten billion pounds of armor.


 

Wash is tense and distracted over the next two days, constantly checking and rechecking his datapad for god knows what. In fact, Tucker can’t help but notice that everyone is a little tense. The knowledge that their first mission since merging armies was not only far sooner than they were prepared for, but also vitally important, has everyone on edge. Carolina snaps at him through their entire lesson on footwork, Palomo starts crying during their session with the cadets, and Wash—the only time that Wash isn’t staring at a datapad or off into space is during his knife training lessons with Tucker. Which is hot, but Tucker can’t lie and say he wouldn’t rather that laser focus be on his hot body instead of the red chalk on said hot body. Wash is all clenched jaws and narrowed eyes as he talks Tucker through several disarming techniques, and is utterly unresponsive to any of Tucker’s truly winning come-ons. Which, lame. Right when they were actually getting somewhere.

When a haunted, truly dramatic look comes over Wash’s face after Tucker fumbles a pivot and ends up with chalk all over his neck, Tucker can’t take it anymore.

“Dude, do you think I’m gonna die or something?”

Wash’s stops re-coating the knife with chalk. “What did you just say?”

“I mean...” Tucker gestures. “You’re acting like you’re preparing me for a duel to the death.”

“That’s not funny,” Wash says sharply. “Don’t joke about things like that.”

“Okay, okay, relax, jesus. Look, we don’t even know that Felix is going to be at this warehouse—with any luck, it’ll be a quick in and out job. Bow chi—”

Wash somehow finds a way to get even tenser. Tucker’s surprised his muscles haven’t snapped under the strain. “We can’t rely on that, Tucker! Luck doesn’t last forever! We have to be prepared for every possible outcome! This isn’t the time to be flippant—”

Hey! Stop yelling at me!”

“I’m not yelling!”

“Yes, you fucking are! You know I can’t fucking concentrate when you do that!”

“Well, I can’t concentrate when you start making jokes about people dying on missions! Why you find that funny—”

“I never said it was funny!

They’re both cross and irritable during the rest of their training session, and Tucker watches Wash leave the room with a sigh. If he knows Wash, he’s off to further brood. Tucker weighs the pros and cons of following Wash so he can blow him in the shower—orgasms are the perfect cure for tension—but ultimately decides that he needs to be a touch subtler. Jesus Christ, he’s never worked so hard to get laid in all his life. Wash is forcing him to pull out all the stops, but in a way, it’s kind of exciting. Tucker’s never been able to wait out a slow burn before, but for once, he is convinced that the payoff will be more than worth it.

So Tucker lets Wash stalk off, and spends his own shower time rubbing one out to ease his own tension. If he can’t actually blow Wash in the showers, he’s sure going to imagine the fuck out of it, and if there’s one thing Tucker can say for himself, it’s that he has a very active imagination.

He doesn’t see Wash for the rest of the day. Tucker had pulled the shitty late-night guard duty shift with Ali, and the two of them wandered the perimeter for a while until Bitters and Britton came to relieve them.

He frowns when he gets back to his own hallway- Wash’s door is open, and a quick peek inside proves that Wash is nowhere to be seen. Tucker unsnaps all of his own armor and wanders the base for a while, and is unsurprised when he walks past the meeting room on his way back and finds Wash sitting at the table. He has three guns on set out neatly next to him, but his armor is nowhere to be seen. That’s even worse than him still being in it, because it means he went to his room, tried to sleep, and came back here.

“Dude, seriously?”

Wash glances up. “Oh, good. Can I get your opinion on something?”

“I mean, sure, but can it wait until morning?”

“What?” Wash asks absently, shuffling some more papers around.

Tucker sighs, resigned, and takes a seat across from Wash. The cranky tension from their earlier bickering is gone, at least, and the faster he humors Wash, the faster they can all go the fuck to sleep. Preferably together. “Okay. What’s so vitally important that it can’t wait until morning?”

“These numbers,” Wash says. “From the intel Carolina gathered, on the guns. They don’t make any sense. A warehouse this size—there has to be more than just a couple dozen boxes of ammunition.”

“So…” Tucker frowns. “What, you think there’s more ammunition? That’s good, right?”

“Maybe,” Wash says, “more ammunition, or something else in that warehouse. The numbers…they look deliberately fudged.”

“Maybe they fudged them on purpose.”

“I suppose they could have,” Wash says slowly, “but why? How did they know we’d retrieve this data?”

“Just a precaution?”

“A precaution,” Wash says, “or a trap.”

Great. Just what they need. “So you’re saying we need more intel.”

“I’m saying I think we also need to restructure this whole mission. More backup, and entering slowly, two by two, instead of a whole force. We need to scope out the situation before charging in there.”

Wash is frowning heavily at the papers, and Tucker looks at him suspiciously. “Dude, have you left this room for more than two seconds all day?”

“Hmm?” Wash throws him a half glance. “What? No, of course not, this mission is in a week and we can’t send people in there with this intel.”

“I’m not disagreeing with you, but you gotta take a break. You’re gonna drive yourself crazy.”

“I’m fine.”

“Wash. Go to bed.”

“In a bit,” Wash mutters, in that same distracted tone, and Tucker would bet his super badass sword that, if left to his own devices, Wash would still be sitting at this damn table come dawn.

Which is, quite frankly, unacceptable.

Well, no better time to test things out. Tucker gets up to wander around the other side of the desk as if he can’t see properly, and leans over Wash’s shoulder. “I still don’t get where you got these numbers from.”

“Look—right here. At this chart I drew up. The numbers don’t add up, see? A warehouse this size—there should be way more guards here.”

Tucker does see, and it’s a good point, one that they’re going to have to discuss, but right now he’s far more distracted by the fact that Wash hadn’t even flinched when Tucker walked up behind him. Wash hates people looming over him or standing out of his line of sight; they can’t go anywhere without Wash checking the exits and making sure his back is to the wall.

Now, though—

Wash’s shoulders are loose, the lines of tension in his body only from the stress of the upcoming mission, not Tucker’s proximity. He’s still completely absorbed in the plans, and Tucker tries to remember if Wash has always been this at ease with Tucker at his back. They fight well together in the field, and he recalls several tense moments when he’s fought his way out of a situation with Wash’s back pressed tightly to his own, but this…had they always been like this? Comfortable? Easy?

Safe?

He’s so thrown by Wash’s non-reaction that his carefully chosen, extremely subtle words— “I can think of something more exciting to do if we’re gonna be staying up so late—” die in his throat. 

This might call for Plan B.

“Tucker?” Wash asks somewhat absently, and Tucker realizes he’s been standing there staring at the back of Wash’s head. Probably a good thing Wash can’t see him. “Do you see what I mean?”

 “I think so..you mean here?” He leans closer, chest just brushing against Wash’s shoulder.

Wash pauses, his hand stilling from where it was scribbling numbers on a piece of paper before resuming. “That’s right,” he says calmly, and although his voice doesn’t stutter, he has gone very still, as if making a concerted effort to not pull away from Tucker’s touch.

A little more, then. “Hmmm.” Tucker leans closer still so that his lips are merely centimeters away from Wash’s ear. Casually. Coincidentally. “You think we need more people for the mission?”

There. Right there. Wash’s fingers noticeably tighten on the pencil as Tucker’s breath ghosts across his neck. “Yes,” he says, voice almost too steady, as if he’s forcing it to stay calm. “I believe so.”

“Okay,” Tucker says, and he sighs, long and low in Wash’s ear, relishing in the way Wash fidgets ever so slightly in his seat. “Okay, great.”

“Yeah,” Wash says. “Yeah.”

Tucker grins and, with another sigh, he pulls back, resting his hands on Wash’s shoulders. Wash jolts a little, but he doesn’t stiffen—more surprised than uncomfortable, Tucker thinks. He digs his thumbs into the knots of muscles bunched up in Wash’s shoulders and gets to work on kneading away the tension. “Okay, so, let’s do that, then. Gather some more intel, and up the numbers for the mission.”

“Right,” Wash says slowly. “Right, we’ll…. Tucker, what are you doing?”

Tucker rolls his eyes. Wash will remain half oblivious when Tucker practically starts necking him, but now he’s on high alert? “I’m giving you a massage, dude, what does it feel like I’m doing?”

“Oh,” Wash says. “Um, why?”

“Because you’re tense as fuck.” And he is, almost worryingly so. “Seriously, you need to relax. There’s no way you aren’t sore from walking around like this all day.”

“I’m fine,” Wash says stiffly. Tucker resists the urge to throttle him.

“Kay. Whatever you say. I’m still gonna give you a massage.”

“You don’t…you don’t have to do that.”

“Well, I want to, how ‘bout that?” Tucker sighs. “Wash, relax. I mean, you know I’m not gonna hurt you, right?”

“I know,” Wash says, surprised, and he half turns around to look at Tucker. “I know that. I just…”

“Does it not feel good?” Tucker asks, then can’t resist adding, “I can go harder, if you want. Bowchickabowwow.”

“It…no, it feels good,” Wash says slowly, like it’s a problem, and Tucker realizes all at once what the issue is: that it does feel good, and therefore, Wash thinks he can’t have it.

Wash is still half-craning his head to look at him. Tucker slides a hand up through Wash’s hair, making a gentle fist at the roots and tugging firm and slow until Wash’s head is resting back against Tucker’s shoulder, his gaze directed up at the ceiling. “Wash. Relax,” he murmurs, right into the crook of Wash’s neck. “Just relax. Come on. Put the pencil down.”

Tucker’s not sure if it’s his words or his tone or the hand in his hair, but Wash does. He does. The pencil falls from his hand almost of its own accord, his hands limply coming to rest on the table. Tucker runs his fingers through Wash’s hair, giving it another authoritative pull before directing Wash’s gaze forward once more.

Tucker straightens, moves both hands back to Wash’s shoulders and digs in, much more firmly this time, and he knows he got the pressure right when Wash gasps. He kneads Wash’s shoulders harder still, making sure to pay attention to his arms and the back of his neck as well. Tucker’s careful not to stray too close to his implants, but he isn’t even sure if Wash would notice if he did touch them. Wash keeps sighing, little hums of pleasure escaping his throat, and when he sways slightly in his seat Tucker pushes him gently forward.

Wash doesn’t protest this time, resting his hands on his forearms as Tucker moves to massaging his back. “Feel better?”

“Mmmhmm,” Wash sighs, and he lays there, Tucker rubbing large circles on either side of his spine. He’s utterly still until Tucker’s hands ghost along his sides right under his ribs, and he jumps, exhaling a shaky laugh.

Tucker freezes for a moment before grinning. “You ticklish, Wash?”

“Hah,” Wash pauses thoughtfully. “I, uh. I’m not sure, actually.”

Wash’s tone is neither morose nor pitying—it is only a simple statement of fact—but somehow, that’s even worse. Tucker knows Wash is fucked up. He knows Wash has nightmares, has seen him after nightmares—he knows Wash doesn’t sleep and has panic attacks and memory issues and trust issues and probably intimacy issues, but this, this, Wash not knowing if he’s ticklish or not, because he doesn’t remember, because it’s probably been so long —

It floors Tucker.

He clenches his jaw before laughing a little and dropping his forehead into the nook between Wash’s shoulder blades for a moment. “Okay,” he says. “Okay, dude. Well, let’s find out.”

He flutters his fingers right along Wash’s sides, and Wash jumps. The laughter peals out of him in a startled burst, and he squirms away, batting at Tucker’s arms. Tucker beams, delighted, and moves his fingers to dance along Wash’s stomach until Wash curls over, laughing, to grab at Tucker’s hands.

“Stop,” he gasps. “Stop. Not fair.”

“Oh, my god,” Tucker snickers. Wash still has their hands tangled together by his stomach, and Tucker likes the way it draws his arms around Wash in a protective embrace. “Oh, I am so gonna use that against you in training.”

“You can’t!” Wash protests. “That’s cheating!”

“Hey, you’re always telling me to use whatever advantage I can in training! Is that or is that not an advantage?”

“It’s not a fair one,” Wash grumps, and then the laughter is pealing out of him again as Tucker blows a raspberry right into the crook of his neck. “Tucker!

“Alright, alright,” Tucker straightens, glad Wash can’t see the stupid, moony grin on his face, and puts his hands back on Wash’s shoulders. “I’ll stop, I swear.”

“You will not,” Wash huffs, but he lets Tucker continue to massage his shoulders. Before long, his head has drifted back to the table of its own accord. Tucker works the tension out of his arms, his neck, his back, and Wash’s eyes flutter closed.

Tucker’s had some pretty awesome sexual experiences over the years. Like, truly word-class, record-breaking kind of shit. Yet, this, right here, is hands down the most sensual moment of his whole goddamn life: Wash, melting into his hands as Tucker kneads the tension out of his bones, little sighs and moans punching out of him. He realizes, with a thrill of excitement, that he could do anything he wanted right now, and Wash would let him—would, with the right amount of coaxing, probably even beg him. Tucker’s halfway hard because really, Wash just keeps making noises that would drive anyone out of their mind, and Tucker would be lying if he said he wasn’t thinking about bending Wash right over this table and fucking him until they both saw God.

It’s this knowledge, that he could do whatever he wanted to Wash, that keeps him from doing it. Wash is half-asleep, half-delirious with endorphins and oxytocin, and even though he’s not actually drugged up, Tucker can’t help but feel that he’d be taking advantage somehow.

So he doesn’t. For now, he doesn’t want to do anything to ruin this gentle, fragile trust that Wash has placed in him. He wants to keep it safe, cup it in his hands like water. He stays there, running his hands through Wash’s hair until Wash is limp and heavy and asleep, right there on the conference table.

They stay like that for over an hour. Tucker’s own back is starting to get sore, and he knows that he should try to get Wash into an actual bed, but every time he moves to wake Wash up, he just can’t do it. He’s sleeping, actually sleeping, his face slack and smushed up against his crossed forearms.

Dude, you’re so fucked,” Grif had told him flatly during training, and Tucker sighs at the memory. He is. He so is.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

Tucker glances up sharply to see Carolina standing in the doorway, Epsilon hovering over her shoulder. They both have their arms crossed over their shoulders, helmets titled in disapproval. Jesus. You’d think they’d have been partnered up their whole life as opposed to a handful of months.

“What the fuck does it look like, Church? I’m giving Wash a massage. You want one, too?”

“Funny,” Epsilon grumps. “That’s—that’s funny, Tucker.”

“Don’t start,” Tucker warns. “You said you were cool with it, so don’t start. And keep your goddamn voices down, you’ll wake him up.”

Carolina gives Epsilon a sideways glance before turning back to Tucker. “You should both be asleep. In actual beds.”

“Beds, plural,” Epsilon can’t resist adding. They ignore him.

Tucker gives Carolina a pointed look. “Yeah, so should you. At least we’re out of armor. What the fuck are you doing, anyway?”

“Just checking the perimeter,” Carolina says. Fucking shameless, she is.

“Oh-ho! And it’s your turn to stand watch, is it?”

“Well—”

“Don’t bother, I know it’s not,” Tucker says, rolling his eyes. “We’re going, alright?”

Epsilon fidgets before blurting, “He’s ticklish. On his sides. You’ll wake him if you, if you..yeah. He’s ticklish.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says. “Yeah, I know, Church.”

Epsilon jerks his head back a little surprised, before clearing his throat. “Oh. Well. Okay, then.”

Wash is starting to stir beneath Tucker’s hands. He mouths a fierce GO towards Carolina and Church and, after some more unnecessary dramatic glances in Wash’s direction from Epsilon, they go.

Tucker sighs as Wash wakes up even more, humming and stretching and lifting his head slightly off the table. Tucker keeps rubbing up and down his spine before leaning down and brushing his lips over the top of Wash’s head. “Hey. C’mon. Let’s go to bed.”

“M’fine here,” Wash says, and Tucker smiles before reluctantly trailing his hands off of Wash’s back. He leans down, tugging on Wash’s arm to pull him to a stand. Wash blinks at him sleepily, running a hand through his hair and rumpling it up even further.

Tucker gathers up Wash’s guns and gestures with his head towards the door. “C’mon, let’s go.”

The walk back to their hallway is sleepy and quiet, Wash yawning hugely all the while. Tucker lays the guns out on the crate next to his bedside table—bullets left only in the battle rifle tucked under his bed, the way he’s seen Wash doing a million times—and when he straightens, Wash is leaning in the doorway watching him fondly.

“Thanks,” Wash says as Tucker heads past him back into the hallway. “Thanks. You didn’t…have to do that.”

“I know,” Tucker says, and he brushes Wash’s shoulder a little. “I wanted to, dude. Now go the fuck to sleep.”

Wash smiles at him and, before Tucker can make heads or tails of the situation, he reaches out a hesitant hand to brush some of Tucker’s dreads behind his shoulder. “Thanks,” he mutters again, then quickly backs into his room, leaving Tucker in the middle of the hallway positively beaming.


“So—s’then Church is all, oh, Tuck—Tucker, be careful, he’s ticklish! Be careful, Tucker! He’s tick-lish!” Tucker drains the rest of his beer in one agitated gulp before slamming it back down onto the bar and turning to Grif in despair. “I mean, like, what the fuck doesee think I’m gonna do? Tickle him to death?

Grif pauses in his desperate attempts to flag down the bartender to throw Tucker an unimpressed look. “Dude, come on. How much have you had to drink?”

“Not enough,” Tucker grumbles. They have both been here for several hours—they’d high-tailed it out of the base less than five minutes after Tucker had cornered Grif during dinner and told him he needed a serious drink. Tucker had spent the entire day unable to fully process what had happened between him and Wash in the conference room. He’d felt a sudden wave of affection for Grif when he’d only gone for seconds of mashed potatoes, not third, and marched right out with Tucker to the bar that they’d all discovered during Operation Watermelon. This affection has only multiplied after four beers and three shots of whiskey.

Grif eyes him in alarm as Tucker slaps a hand on his shoulder. “Grif,” Tucker says. “You’re such a—succhhhagoo friend.”

“Bartender.” Grif waves his arm desperately at the bartender as she breezes by. “Bartender. I need an alcohol. Please.”

The bartender pauses in the midst of juggling several bottles. “What kind of alcohol?”

Any alcohol.”

“Me too!” Tucker yells after her.  “An—an alcohol, pleeesss and thank you!”

No,” Grif says, alarmed “No he does not need—”

The bartender is already gone, to find them some alcohol. That’s nice. She’s so nice. Shook his hand and called him Captain and everything.

“I could’ve fucked him,” Tucker says solemnly, during the lull that follows the bartender’s absence. “I could’ve done it, Grif. Could’ve fucked him right there on the table.”

“Please kill me,” Grif says to the ceiling.

“Wash,” Tucker clarifies. Just in case Grif was confused. “I coulda fucked Wash.”

“Yeah, I got that, Tucker. It’s all you’ve been saying for the last three hours.”

“M’serious, Grif. He was all—all relaxed and soft and—and melty. He was melty, Grif.” Tucker slaps his hand back on Grif’s shoulder and drags it down his arm. “Melty like—like that.

“Thank god,” Grif mutters as their drinks arrive. He downs half of his in one gulp, makes a face, and slams it back on the bar. “Eh. Not bad.”

“Why, Grif?” Tucker asks, staring into his drink. “Why… why didn’t I fuck him?”

“Probably because you’re whipped.”

“Hey!” Tucker exclaims, frowning. “Hey. Thasnot…thasnot true. What, jus’ ‘cause I wanna…wanna make him feel good, it means I’m whipped?”

Grif scrubs his hands over his face before peering at Tucker through his fingers. “I mean, dude. I still don’t understand when this even happened. You did nothing but complain about him after the crash. This was like, zero to one hundred. I feel like I have whiplash.”

“I missed him,” Tucker says, and even though he’s drunk off his ass, he still can’t quite look at Grif while he says it. “I fucking missed him. When he was with the Feds. I miss’d Sarge and Donut too—” he shoots a glance at Grif “Don’t tell them that—bu…but Wash, it was like…it hurt. It hurt in here.”

Tucker slams a hand over his chest to demonstrate, and Grif sighs. He’s silent for a while before he says, “Yeah. You did. You missed him a lot.” He side-eyes Tucker. “You were really fucking annoying about it too.”

“Lissen Grif. Lissen.” Tucker wrenches his bar stool around until he’s facing Grif, who casts a despairing glance to the ceiling. “I am so good at making people feel…good. Ya know? N’Wash…Wash should feel good. He…he jus, he hates himself, ya know?”

“I’ll give you that.”

Tucker nods, encouraged. “Right? ‘S’like…’s’like....I mean, I wanna fuck him so good, like just…just suck his dick and make him go crazy.”

Grif groans, resting his forehead on the bar with a clunk. “God, Tucker, stop. Please. I will literally pay you to stop talking about sucking Wash’s dick. I do not want that mental image in my head.”

“Why?” Tucker asks, and when Grif doesn’t answer, he paws ineffectually at Grif’s shoulder. “Grif, why? Who wouldn’t want that in their head? S’all I can think about.”

Grif snaps his head up and downs the rest of his drink. “Another alcohol, bartender!”

Oh. Right. Alcohol. Tucker fumbles a little with his drink before taking a sip and immediately gagging. “Fuck! What the fuck is this?”

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Grif says, and snatches Tucker’s drink out of his hand.

Tucker blinks as he finishes it, then shrugs and continues. “So anyway. I wanna fuck Wash, like, that is a fact but...but I also just—I just wanna hold him. Y’know? Jus’ hold him. And rub his back. N’ his hair. Grif, his hair—his hair is so soft. So soft.”

Grif groans before turning to Tucker. “Dude, just—jus’ make a move already, ya know? Fuck it.”

For the first time, Tucker notices that his voice is slurring a little as well, and he puts a hand on Grif’s forearm. “I know. I know, dude. But this isn’t…isn’t some fling, y’know? It’s…it’s Wash. I need all my best moves. It’s gotta—it’s gotta be right.”

Grif widens his eyes, tugging the drinks the bartender sets down a little closer. “You love him.”

“I…” Tucker pauses, considering. “I…fuck man, I don’t know. I mean, I mean…I’ve hardly thought of anyone else when I jerked off in like…two weeks. Like, three quarters of what gesssme off these days is Wash. Izzat love? I ‘unno, man. I just don’t know.”

“So…so what, you gonna like, date him?”

 “I just…wanna be there for him. Like, hold him after a nightmare, y’know?”

“You mean, a nightmare like the one I’ve been having during this whole conversation?” Grif mumbles, but Tucker can tell he’s full of shit.

“You’re full of shit,” he tells Grif, and pats his shoulder affectionately.

“Whatever,” Grif grunts. “Just…jus’ make a move already. Okay? I can’t deal with you making puppy eyes at him for another goddamn sec’n.”

“Well, doesn’t this look fun!”

They both turn to see Donut standing behind their bar stools. “Donut!” Tucker exclaims, and slaps a hand on his shoulder as well. “Have a drink with us!”

Donut eyes him, then eyes Grif, then eyes the stack of glasses on the bar next to him. “Well, now, that’s quite a lot of alcohol.”

“Don’t judge me,” Grif mutters. “You’d need a lot of alcohol too if you had to listen to Tucker talk about fucking Wash for the last three hours.”

Donut huffs. “Alright, listen up. Simmons and I have been covering for you two all evening and….wait. You’re talking about Wash?

“Oh god.”

“Well in that case…” Donut drags a bar stool over and sets it behind them, clambering on. “Do tell.”

“I jus—I just—” Tucker takes a deep breath as Grif rests his forehead on the bar. “I just—”

“He gave Wash some stupid massage in the meeting room and didn’t fuck him even though he could have, it just didn’t seem right, he needs all his best moves, he just wants to hold Wash and make him feel good in every godddamn sense of the word, and also he wants to pet Wash’s hair like a weirdo.” He lifts his head slightly to glare at Tucker. “Did I get it all?”

“Verrry funny, Grif,” Tucker grumps, and startles as Donut clasps his hands solemnly.

“Tucker, you have to tell Wash all of that!”

Tucker shakes his head impatiently. “Donut—Donut. I need my best moves here. I need to…to finesse. The suit-ation requires finesse.”

Donut is looking rather pained. “But…but don’t you think you should just sit down and talk to him about it? Like, talk about your feelings?”

“No…no, trust me.”

“Tucker. Trust me. I really, really think you should talk to him.”

“Finesse, Donut. Fin-esse.”

Donut groans, and leans between them towards the bartender. “Shanelle!”

The bartender turns. “Franklin! A glass of merlot?”

“Yes, please.” He turns to Tucker with a sigh. “I think I’m gonna need it.”

Chapter Text

Wash steps back to observe the obstacle course he’s just finished setting up with a critical eye. It’s good, he notes, challenging without being disheartening. Some obstacles require strength, some, dexterity, and almost all of them require teamwork to get through.

And that, right there, is the problem.

Individually, the Federalist and New Republic soldiers have improved remarkably in the past weeks. Kimball and Doyle have both thanked him several times over for his efforts, although Wash isn’t sure how much he deserves it. He has by no means worked miracles: he has simply given the News some structure, and shown the Feds a thing or two about improving their accuracy. Playing to his strengths, just like Carolina had suggested.

None of this is going to help him figure out how to get two groups of people who hate each other to work together. How he’s supposed to pull that off when he himself has absolutely no social graces is a mystery. This should be a task for a normal, happy person, not a paranoid, ex-spec ops soldier who turns into an emotional wreck at the mere suggestion of a simple wine and cheese night with friends. That’s not even taking into account the utter mess he’s making out of this crush he has on Tucker—

No.

He can’t think about Tucker, or the way his hands had felt on Wash’s shoulders, or the way his smile simultaneously turned Wash’s legs to jelly and made him want to turn Tucker’s own legs to jelly. Focus. He needs to focus. He needs to figure out how to make these two armies connect, how to turn enemies into friends.

Friends.

The solution that comes to him is so simple, so obvious, that he isn’t sure how it took him this long to see it. A slow grins spreads across his face as the idea blossoms. Wash is no good at making friends, but he knows someone who is—someone who declared Wash his friend without a second thought, despite having every reason to hate him.

Wash thumbs through to the text-reader on his HUD and fires off a message:

WSH: Hey, buddy. I could use your help with a training exercise in about an hour. Are you free?


Ten minutes later, Caboose comes thundering into the training room. His arms are full of various pieces of armor that he hasn’t finished putting on yet, and his chest plate is askew. “Agent Washington!” he yells, slamming the door behind him. “I came as fast as I could!”

“Thanks, Caboose, although you didn’t have to rush…” Wash reaches out to straighten Caboose’s chest plate and stops him from sealing one of his shoulder pieces. “No no, that one goes on the other arm.”

He finishes snapping the rest of Caboose’s armor on—not an easy task, as Caboose continues to bounce around excitedly. “What are we doing today?”

“I’m training the two armies together for the first time today.” Wash gestures at the course in front of them. “As you can see, I’ve set up an obstacle course for them to run—Caboose, wait!

Yelling proves futile as Caboose is already well in the midst of the course, vaulting over a wall that Wash was certain would take two people to clear. “I like this game!”

Wash sighs, resigned, but watches in fond amazement as Caboose completes the course with hardly any difficulty at all. He clears the last obstacle and skids to a halt in front of Wash, breathing only slightly heavier than normal. “How did I do? Did I win?”

“You did…well, that was…frankly amazing, Caboose, but you didn’t need to run it. I’m going to have the Feds and the New run it. I want them to work together. You may have noticed that they…don’t like each other much.”

“Hmm…” Caboose pauses thoughtfully. “Yeah, see, I just think that’s very silly. Because Andersmith likes chocolate and Fitz likes chocolate and you would think that they would look at each other and say, oh! We both like something! Let’s share, and be friends! But they don’t. It’s very confusing.”

Exactly, Caboose, exactly. That’s where you come in.”

“Me?”

“Yes. I was hoping that you could help them all become friends today.” Wash pauses. “You know. Help them work together.”

“Well, of course Wash!” Caboose beams at him, and though he can’t see it through the helmet, Wash can tell. He always can. “But, aah. Why do you need my help with that?”

“Because you’re…well. You’re very good at making friends.”

Caboose nods wisely. “Yes, I am. But so are you!”

Wash snorts before he can stop himself. “That’s…nice of you to say, Caboose, but I’m really not.”

“Of course you are! You do all the things that good friends do! You help me with my armor and you help Tucker not be afraid of sharp things and you help Carolina dye her hair and that one time I was sick you stayed by my bed for two days and you always let Grif pick his protein bar first because he is the pickiest and will not eat the vanilla flavored ones and all of the cadets say you helped them watch The Grey Skeleton and those are all things that good friends do!”

Wash stares at him for several seconds before he’s able to find his words. “Well…well…”

Caboose clasps his hand solemnly between his own. “Wash, you are a very good friend. You are one of my best friends. I tell everyone that. All the time.”

“Thanks, Caboose,” Wash stutters, and he pats Caboose’s shoulder awkwardly with his free hand. “Then…since you and I are…are good friends, we should lead by example. Help them work through this obstacle course together.”

“Okay!” Caboose gestures towards the course. “That was very fun, Wash. I think they will all enjoy it.”

Wash somehow doubts that. “Do you want to try to run it, together?”

It is fun, running the course with Caboose. Caboose slows down with Wash next to him, and a few obstacles in, Wash sees him start to understand the teamwork that most require to get through the course. He lets Wash help him at moments where Wash is certain he doesn’t need it, and always seems to offer a hand to Wash at just the right moment. Caboose’s good mood is infectious, and by the time they finish the course, Wash has laughed more than he has in weeks. It’s this, right here, that Wash is hoping will help snap the armies into shape: Caboose’s strength and laughter, and that light that always seems to reach into even the darkest of places.

The soldiers from both armies arrive in little groups and station themselves at opposite ends of the room, glaring mistrustfully at each other. Wash stands in the middle, arms folded, watching as Caboose bounds from group to group, completely oblivious to the tension seeping into the room. The soldiers brighten as Caboose approaches them, but fall back into sulking as he flits to the next group. Wash can’t imagine what the atmosphere would bel like if Caboose wasn’t here at all.

“Attention!” Wash calls, once they’ve all filed in, and they snap to. He briefly considers lecturing them on the importance of behaving, particularly when they have such an important mission coming up, but decides that the best thing to do would be to act like this is just another normal training session. “As you can see here, I’ve constructed an elaborate obstacle course designed to test your strength, reflexes, and teamwork. You will need a partner to complete this exercise, and…yes, Ali?”

“Will this exercise be timed, sir?”

“It will not be timed. The important part is—”

“Do we get to pick our partners?” Martinez interrupts, and all the Feds instantly start puffing themselves up.

“Interrupting a commanding officer,” one of them mutters, just loud enough for her voice to carry. “No respect at all—”

“Um, you know we can hear you, right?” Britton says loudly.

“Yes, you can pick your own partners,” Wash says, choosing to ignore the mutinous muttering. “But—”

He sighs as the cadets all instantly start inching towards each other. “But you have to pick someone from the opposite side of the room.”

Opposite side of the room. Not opposite army. Wash takes a moment to mentally pat himself on the back for this subtle distinction, but his moment of happy congratulation quickly ends as half the cadets start whining.

“Quiet!” he snaps, and they fall into a sulky silence. “Alright, listen up. You are going to work together whether you like it or not. I don’t care if we have to stay here all night. No one leaves until every single person has completed this course, successfully, with a partner. Is that understood?”

“Sir, yes, sir,” comes the response. Wash chooses to ignore the low and furious tone.

“I’m sure you are all aware of the mission we have coming up. Some of you will be assigned to go on that mission. It should go without saying that only the soldiers who have proven that they take all parts of the training seriously—including teamwork—will be assigned to any missions of importance. Is that understood?”

“Sir, yes, sir…”

“Good. Now, partner up.”

The two groups start shuffling reluctantly towards each other. It takes some cajoling and maneuvering from Wash, but after the third group he sends to run laps along the perimeter of the room for lack of cooperation, they lose the stubbornness. Wash sets pairs to run the obstacle course at staggered intervals, and while there is no immediate violence, there is plenty of bickering going on throughout the room.

Wash throws a half-glance at Caboose, who, to Wash’s dismay, has stopped paying attention and is now playing a game on his datapad. “Caboose.”

“Hmmmm?” Caboose says.

Wash closes his eyes briefly. “Caboose, I need you to help me keep an eye on everyone.”

“Oh,” says Caboose, his voice carrying without intent. “Oh, okay. See, it’s just that, everyone is being very mean to each other, and it’s making me sad, and I don’t like to be sad, soooo.”

Wash eyes the room in interest as those standing nearby shift guiltily. “I know, buddy,” he mutters, low enough for only Caboose to hear. “Just…just try to get through to them?”

Caboose sighs loudly before snapping his datapad back into its slot on his armor. “Okay, but only because you asked nicely, Wash.”

Caboose bounds off to the nearest pair of cadets, which happen to be Britton and her Federalist partner, Sabine. “…don’t know why you have to be such a mean snooty bitch,” Britton is saying viciously. “I’m telling you, if you boost me up and then take my hand—”

Sabine snorts. “As if a little twig like you is going to be able to haul me over that wall.”

Britton swells, but before she can get another word in, Caboose has sandwiched his way between the two soldiers and has thrown an arm around them both. “Oh! Oh, Sabine! Did you see the episode of Anatomy Grey last night? Because I think that the new nurse is the great great great great great great granddaughter of—”

“Wait,” Britton interrupts, her visor snapping towards Sabine. “You watch Grey’s Anatomy? Really?

“So what if I do?” Sabine asks suspiciously, then startles as Britton grasps her hand, her entire demeanor changing.

“Oh! Oh! What do you think of the new doctor?”

I think he is not quite who he appears to be,” Caboose says wisely.

Sabine hesitates, glancing between Caboose and Britton. “Well…well okay, so this is my theory…”

Wash shakes his head as the two of them chatter their way through the obstacle course, Caboose mysteriously vanishing. He turns his eyes to the rest of the room, most of whom aren’t finding common ground quite so easily. He hastens to break up a scuffle between Prajapati and one of the Feds, and ends up having to send them off for another five laps before they can return to training. It takes nearly twenty minutes to get the two of them to complete a single obstacle successfully, and by the time he backs away, exhausted but pleased, it’s to find that Caboose has encouraged cooperation between half a dozen pairs of soldiers in the time it took Wash to wrangle one.

The afternoon drags on and on, but miraculously, by the end of it, everyone has completed the obstacle course and is reasonably intact. “Well done,” he says, ignoring the incredulous stares. “Same time tomorrow, at the firing range. Dismissed.”

Caboose moves to bound off after them, and Caboose snags his arm. “Wait, Caboose…” he clears his throat. “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Agent Washington!” Caboose says, and after a bone-crushing hug, he grabs Wash’s wrist and starts tugging him out the door. “Let’s go eat lunch.”

Wash follows without much resistance. They have, after all, earned it.


The task of getting the two armies to work together is by no means over. Wash knows that they have taken a very small step on what will be a long, tiresome, and likely disheartening journey.

It is still a step. They took a step. Wash took a step, and thinking back on the training session, he isn’t sure he could’ve done it alone. Caboose had been a godsend—had come when Wash asked, and had taken that step right by his side.

It had felt good, Wash notes with surprise. Good, to move forward with someone you trust standing next to him. To ask for their help, and have them grant it, without a second thought. To not go it alone.

Maybe— maybe—he doesn’t have to go everything alone.


Wash fidgets outside of Dr. Grey’s office door that evening. He’s already half-regretting his decision to come talk to her, but after Tucker had got him all flustered and wound up in another training session today, he had jerked off again this afternoon. Tucker hadn’t even really done anything except smile and let his touches linger a few seconds too long, but Wash was finding it increasingly difficult to be around him sans armor ever since Tucker had given him that massage in the meeting room. Tucker’s hands on his back and in his hair had felt good, so good, and all Wash wants is more.

There is still a part of him that says he shouldn’t want more. Tucker is still too good for him, and Wash is still a mess—but he had fallen asleep, in a foreign environment, right there under Tucker’s touch, and he hadn’t woken up violently.

It’s not everything, but it’s certainly not nothing.

But he could slip up, at any time. Wash knows this. He may not have woken up and hurt Tucker, but he could. That’s a serious issue in and of itself without even taking into account the fact that Wash hasn’t had sex in at least five years. Not only would he probably make a complete fool out of himself, but Wash has no idea what’s going on with his body. He’s gotten hard several times in the past few days, after years of thinking his sex drive completely gone, and while it is a welcome change, he can’t help but feel seriously unnerved.

If he’s going to do this—if he’s even thinking about doing this—then he needs to get some answers.

Wash spends several more minutes raising his hand to knock, then letting it fall, trying to find some nerve. In what he will later be sure is a sudden burst of insanity, he raps twice on Dr. Grey’s door, slams it open and blurts, “I’ve jerked off three times in the past five days.”

He doesn’t understand, so he blinks. Once.

Twice.

His brain goes offline, because that’s definitely Dr. Grey wearing something red and lacy, and that’s definitely Sarge wearing nothing but a lab coat and surgical goggles, and Wash is definitely going to have nightmares about this for the rest of his life, particularly when Sarge glances him up at him from his position between Dr. Grey’s legs and says, “That’s a hell of a way to ask someone for a threesome, Agent Washington.”

Wash gapes for an entirely inappropriate amount of time, because his brain and his voice and his feet aren't responding. He finally wrenches one foot off the ground and does an about-face, stumbling out of the door. “Oh don’t leave, we weren’t saying no!” Dr. Grey calls after him, and Wash thinks if his face gets any hotter he might actually keel over and die.

He just might welcome it.

He continues marching robotically through the halls until he finds a quiet bench where he can sit down and stare at a wall and desperately try to wipe those images from his mind. It dawns on him, in horrific clarity, that with his memory in pretty good working order these days, he will now have to live with the knowledge of what Sarge looks like naked, and wonder where the hell Dr. Grey got lingerie in a war zone.

Twenty minutes later, he barely registers footsteps making their way down the hall. To his horror, Dr. Grey is sitting down on the bench next to him. “Oh god,” Wash says. “No. No. Just go..finish, what you were doing. Leave me here to die.”

“I did finish,” Dr. Grey says primly, clasping her hands atop her crossed legs. “Several times, actually. The Colonel is quite gifted with his tongue.”

“Oh my god,” Wash says, and moves to stand. “Okay, I’m just gonna—”

Dr. Grey latches onto his arm and yanks him back down hard. “Oh no you don’t! You sit your perky little butt right back down here, and you tell me what was so important that you barged into my office at this hour without knocking.”

“I did knock,” Wash moans. “I did! I’m sorry, I should’ve—that was—god—”

Dr. Grey waves a hand. “Oh, it’s fine. I suppose you did announce your arrival, and I could’ve locked the door, but…well. The Colonel and I do both enjoy a little danger!”

“Please stop calling him ‘the Colonel.’ Please.”

“Oh, stop. Now.” Dr. Grey straightens and beams at him. “Go on and tell me all about your masturbatory issues. I assume you came to me because you seek medical advice?”

Wash casts a despairing glance up at the ceiling before sighing, resigned to his fate. “Well…yes. I’ve…lately, I’ve felt…”

“Sexually aroused?” Dr. Grey supplies, and Wash nods. “Judging by that sorrowful look at your face, I take it that this is a problem.”

“It’s not a problem,” Wash says slowly. “It’s just been a long time since I’ve felt…that way.”

“Well, you have had a stressful few months—”

Years. I’m talking years. Since Project Freelancer.”

Dr. Grey is silent for a few moments. “And the tipping point was the experience with your artificial intelligence unit, I take it?”

“Yeah,” Wash says, then frowns. “How did you…”

She taps gently on the side of his skull. “I performed brain surgery on you, silly. That is why you came to me with this, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I just…I didn’t know how much you could tell, just from looking.”

“Enough,” she says, her voice losing a bit of its brightness. “Those shiny little wires told me enough.”

“I just…” Wash says, staring down at his hands. “I thought there was brain damage.”

“There is,” she says quietly, and he jerks his head up to look at her. “There is quite a significant amount of brain damage, particularly to your memory centers. But you already know that, don’t you?”

He laughs bitterly. “Yeah. I know that.”

Dr. Grey tilts her head at him. “Why do you think this affected your ability to perform sexually?”

“Because I haven’t been sexually active since before that…incident.” He frowns when she continues to look confused. “I’m not just talking about sex with someone else. I couldn’t even get...”

“An erection?”

“Yes. Not until recently.”

“And you thought this was a result of brain damage caused by you A.I.?”

“It’s the only explanation, isn’t it?”

Dr. Grey is silent for a while, her face thoughtful. “These erections. What caused them?”

Wash can feel his face turning bright red, and after several aborted attempts, he finds himself unable to answer.

For some reason, his discomfort only adds to Dr. Grey’s confidence. “It’s a specific person, isn’t it? That you feel a sexual attraction to?”

“Well…yes,” Wash says, choosing to ignore the knowing look on her face.

“Hmmm.” Dr. Grey taps a finger against her chin. “This person. How does he make you feel?”

Wash ignores the pronoun, as well. “I…I don’t know, a lot of things.”

“Does he make you feel safe?”

Wash pauses. Thinks of Tucker holding his helmet, running a hand through his hair, pressing their backs together in a firefight. “Yes,” he says. Surprised. “Yes. He does.”

Dr. Grey smiles at him slightly. “Wash, I don’t think there was any physical damage to your sex drive.”

“You don’t?”

“No. I think that, for you, sexual intimacy is very much wrapped up in feelings of safety and trust.” Her smile turns sad. “And I think it’s been a very, very long time since you’ve truly felt safe.”

Wash can’t look at her. There’s something tightening in his chest, curling in on itself. “It doesn’t matter,” he says stiffly. “It doesn’t matter how I feel about it. I can’t…it’s too dangerous for me to be with someone.”

“Why?”

He throws up his hands, agitated. “Why does everyone keep saying that?”

Dr. Grey huffs. “Now, you just calm right back down. Why does everyone keep saying what?”

“Everyone keeps acting like…like it doesn’t matter that I have violent nightmares! Like it’s no big deal! Like I didn’t…didn’t almost kill Tucker when we first met because he tried to wake me up! I may be…better, I guess. I don’t know, but I’m still…I’m still a mess. I could seriously hurt him.”

“Wash—”

“I wouldn’t survive that,” he says hollowly. “I would never forgive myself if I hurt him. In any way. Tucker deserves someone better, someone who…who he doesn’t have to worry about waking up swinging! Someone who actually knows how to make him feel good!” he buries his face in his hands and groans. “I don’t even know what I’m doing, anymore!”

“Alright, that’s enough,” Dr. Grey says firmly, and tugs his hands away from his face. “Goodness me, you are melodramatic, aren’t you?”

“It’s not funny,” he growls, and she rolls her eyes.

“Oh, stop. Now, you listen here. No one is denying the fact that there are certain roadblocks to you becoming intimate with someone, but you are remarkably aware of them. You are aware of your nightmares, and the issues you have with trust, and vulnerability.”

“So, what? You’re saying I should just give it a try?”

Dr. Grey tugs his hand into her lap and gives it a little pat before curling her fingers around his. “That’s exactly what I’m saying, silly.”

He shakes his head a little. “It can’t be that easy.”

She huffs. “Well, of course not, because you complicate everything! You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but…if you want this…if you want Tucker…then I think you should just try.”

“I don’t know how to do this,” he mutters, and she squeezes his hand before standing.

“None of us do, silly. That’s why we need someone. To figure it out together.”

She starts to walk down the hallway, but pauses before she gets too far. “Come see me anytime, Wash. Doctor to patient, or friend to friend.”

“Okay,” he says. “Okay. And…thanks, Dr. Grey.”

“Emily.” She winks at him. “People who have seen me naked get to call me Emily.”

He groans up at the ceiling, but feels a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth nonetheless. “Thank you, Emily.”

“You’re quite welcome, Wash.”

And she’s gone, leaving Wash to sit on the bench for a little longer to turn over her words, and of Tucker, and of the soft warm thing fluttering inside his chest that just might be hope.


Wash doesn’t do anything with Dr. Grey’s words except hold them, but he feels calmer after their conversation. It clears his head a little, allowing him to focus on the upcoming mission. Now that he isn’t quite as stressed out over his personal issues, he is free to stress out over the mission. The more he does, the worse he feels about it, until one night he is searching the base for Carolina.

He finds her in one of the smaller meeting rooms, armored up and pouring over her datapad.

“I think your intel is wrong,” he says, before he can second guess himself.

Carolina pauses. “Excuse me?”

Wash forces himself not to fidget in the doorway. “The numbers from your reconnaissance run. They don’t make any sense.” When Carolina continues to say nothing, Wash plows into the room and drops his own datapad on the table in front of her. “Look. This warehouse is huge. There has to be more than a couple dozen boxes of ammo in the main storage room—there’s either way more, or something else is going on there.”

“You think?” Epsilon asks, popping up over Carolina’s shoulder. Wash pointedly ignores him.

“We need to rethink this whole thing. We need more troops, divided up into smaller groups. We need Pelicans, lots of them, circling or posted up nearby, in case there is a lot of ammo. We need…look, I made up this chart here, see?”

Carolina tugs Wash’s datapad towards her and observes it with a critical eye before glancing back up at him. “You’ve put a lot of thought into this.”

“Several days’ worth, I suppose.”

“Several days, or several nights?” Epsilon mutters. Wash glares at him.

Carolina sighs. “Wash, why didn’t you come to me when this first crossed your mind?”

Wash falters at that. “I…I don’t know, boss.”

“Because if you had, I would’ve told you that I agree.”

“You—what?”

Carolina pushes her own datapad towards him, and Wash can see that her own mission dossier is almost identical to the one he’s marked up. “I’ve gone back to the warehouse. Several times now. The numbers didn’t sit right with me, either. It looks like Charon put some sort of shield up around the building, something to scramble the numbers. Epsilon and I took it down and, well…let’s just say there’s way more than a few dozen boxes of ammunition.”

“So you’re saying…”

“I’m saying that I think we found their main stockpile.” She stands, hand clenching into fists. “And we are going to go and get it.”

Relief floods its way through Wash’s veins. Of course Carolina saw it. Of course Carolina fixed it. Suddenly he feels stupid for doubting her in the first place. “Sorry, boss. I should’ve known you’d catch this.”

“Wash…” Carolina throws a half glance towards Epsilon, one that Wash recognizes as the two of them conferring inside her head. With a grumble, Epsilon vanishes. “Wash, you know this isn’t Freelancer, right?”

Wash frowns. “Of course I know that.”

“Good. Because it’s not.” Carolina stands suddenly, moving across the room to stare out the window. “I know I wasn’t…the best leader, back then.”

“You were a great leader—”

“I wasn’t,” she says sharply. “Not when it mattered. I was stubborn, and competitive, and I didn’t always like to listen.”

Wash hesitates before coming to stand next to her at the window. “You also saved all of our lives many times over, Carolina.”

“Not when it mattered.” She lets out a bitter sigh before turning to face him. “I want you to feel like you can come to me with stuff like this, Wash. I’m not your leader anymore. It’s just us now. We have to work together. It’s the only thing that will keep us from missing stuff and…and losing another team.”

He forgets sometimes. Forgets that he isn’t the only person the Reds and Blues have stitched back together piece by piece. It had annoyed him, when Carolina and Epsilon had left at the crash site, but he was unsurprised to see her again, standing in front of them and unable to hide the beaming smile in her voice: “I never thought I’d be so glad to see you idiots again.” Wash thinks of the way he’d woken up to see her bending over him after he’d been beaten bloody from his fight with Locus. She had come back for him; had brought him straight to Tucker and the rest of his men, had caught him before he passed out on the floor of the Pelican.

She had come back for him.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Wash says suddenly, because he can’t quite say I forgive you. Not because it isn’t true—he thinks it is, these days—but because he can’t talk about it yet, about Freelancer, about the burning infirmary, about his head cracked open for the world to see. He doesn’t think she can, either.

“Me too, Wash.” She takes a breath, and looks back at their datapads on the table. “Now, let’s get to work. We have a mission to plan.”


It takes the two of them the better part of a day to structure the mission to their satisfaction, decide who would be on which squad, recruit select squad, and assemble the whole lot of them for a mission debriefing.  In the end, Wash ends up with Tucker, Sarge, Caboose, Fitz, Britton, and Andersmith on his team. None of his squad will actually retrieving the ammunition: they are to act as guards for the many teams that will be hauling the boxes onto the Pelicans. Caboose, Fitz, Britton, and Andersmith will remain with the Pelican, to guard it, help with the loading, and, if need be, ready to take off with them at a moment’s notice. Wash will be patrolling the actual warehouse with Tucker and Sarge. Carolina will lead a similar squad on the south end of the warehouse, and there will be several more teams working on the retrieval.

Wash is met with mixed reactions when he finds his team to tell them of their mission directives. Fitz and Andersmith both wring his hand solemnly. Britton bursts into tears, overwhelmed, and promising that she won’t let him down.

“I hear you’re a hell of a pilot,” Wash tells her awkwardly, as she sniffles away in front of him. He’d found out only recently that Britton had been the one piloting the Pelican that had come for him and the Reds and Blues at the tower. He remembers dimly that the Pelican had landed as smoothly and closely as possible to where Tucker lay, and zoomed away the second they were all inside. “I’m counting on you to get us out of there fast if we need it.”

“Yes, sir!” Britton says again, and takes off, presumably to inform all of her friends of her upcoming mission.

Caboose takes the news as he does all news: cheerfully, with hugs given to everyone in the nearby vicinity. Sarge spends a good ten minutes lamenting over the fact that he will be the only member of Red Team on this squad, but ultimately decides that, “One Red is better than none, can’t have all these damn dirty Blues screwing up a mission of such vital importance.”

When he finds Tucker lifting weights and tells him the mission assignments, Tucker just nods as if it were a given. When Wash asks, Tucker rolls his eyes. “Well, of course we’re gonna be on the same squad. They’d have to be idiots not to pair us up.”

Wash looks at him suspiciously. “Why’s that?”

“Uh, because we make a fucking awesome team?” Tucker lifts an eyebrow suggestively. “In more ways than one, I’ll bet.”

Wash huffs, but doesn’t hide his smile. “Well. We’ll see about that.”

Tucker pauses in the act of unclamping a barbell to stare at Wash. “Wait, we will?

Wash shrugs, feeling a little silly, but he plows onward. “Maybe. I guess it depends on how…convincing you can be.”

Tucker throws the clamp aside and all but leaps into Wash’s personal space, tripping spectacularly over the barbell as he does. This time, his stumbling fall is genuine, and when Wash catches him, they’re both laughing. “Smooth,” Wash says, and lets his hands rest carefully on Tucker’s hips as Tucker makes a production out of steadying himself.

Tucker grins, and snakes his arms around Wash’s neck. Wash’s breath catches in his throat as Tucker lines them up, thighs to shoulders, and presses his hips forward ever so slightly. “Oh-ho, Wash, I can be very convincing.” He buries his head into the crook of Wash’s neck, dragging his lips up slowly so that they’re flush against Wash’s ear. “They do call me the doctor of love.”

Wash makes a noise that is most definitely not a whimper as he feels Tucker’s breath on his neck, before toying with the edge of Tucker’s t-shirt. He runs his fingertips along the sliver of bare skin there before pressing his palms to the small of Tucker’s back. Wash grins, delighted at the resulting gasp, and runs his hands up and down Tucker’s back a few times before pulling away reluctantly. Tucker’s hands trail along his arms as he does, as if he wants to keep touching Wash’s skin for as long as possible.

“Let’s…” Wash clears his throat, and Tucker smirks at the strangled note in his voice. “Let’s…focus on this mission. Then...”

“Then?” Tucker prompts with a wink.

“Then we can…see,” Wash says awkwardly. “We’ll just…we’ll just see.”

“Whatever you want, Wash,” Tucker says, as Wash shuffles out of the room. “And I do mean whatever.


The morning of the mission dawns far too soon, and the energy that descends on the Pelican bay is simultaneously anxious and giddy. Carolina’s goes over their mission directives again, and in a reasonably organized fashion, they all make their way onto their respective Pelicans and take off.

“So!” says Sarge, the moment they’re all airborne. “What do you all say we play a game?” He whips a deck of cards seemingly out of nowhere.

“Ooooooh, I wanna play!” Britton calls from the front of the Pelican.

“No, wait,” Wash protests, as Caboose nearly knocks him over in his haste to draw cards from Sarge’s hand. “We should go over the plan again—”

“Dude, we’ve gone over the plan a thousand times,” Tucker says with a yawn. “Britton flies, Caboose, Andersmith and the Fitz haul the boxes onboard, and the three of us do like, recon and shit. Badass. Let’s do it. Now will you relax and play some cards with us?”

Wash does not, in fact, play cards, but he doesn’t stop the rest of them from playing. Caboose plays Britton’s hand as well as his own, and Wash has to admit that the game does help take away some of the tension. Wash spends a fair amount of the Pelican ride glancing suspiciously at Sarge—he still hasn’t said anything about Wash barging in on him and Dr. Grey, and Wash has a sinking feeling that he’s waiting for the perfect moment.

Thankfully, that moment is not now. When the Pelican finally lands, Wash exits with a final nod to Tucker and Sarge. “Wait for my signal.”

“We will, Wash, stop worrying,” Tucker says, exasperated, and Wash heads around the western side of the warehouse. A quick check-in with Carolina confirms that she’s on the eastern side as planned.

He’s seen the warehouse several times in pictures now, but he’s still taken aback at how big the building is. Still, it hardly takes any time at all for the two of them to take out the handful of guards staggered around the entrance, and Wash waits anxiously for Epsilon to disarm the alarm set around the perimeter.

“Alright, done. I’m looping the security footage.”

“How long can you give us?” Wash asks, glancing around. No reinforcements that he can see.

Please. I can do this shit forever. You just worry about the ammo.”

Wash rolls his eyes, but focuses on entering the structure. The ammo is everywhere, boxes and boxes of it, lined up neatly and apparently theirs for the taking. “Boss, are you seeing this?”

“Looks like we hit the jackpot,” she murmurs, delighted. “Let’s check the perimeter, and I’ll report in to Kimball.”

They triple check the room before calling the others in, one by one. Wash nods to Tucker and Sarge as the skulk over to him. “Alright. Sarge, you take the eastern side. Tucker, you monitor the south, and I’ll monitor the northwest.”

Within thirty minutes, they’ve sent five Pelicans back to the base loaded with ammunition. They’ve checked every single box for traps or bombs, but everything is clean. It’s a miracle. It must be too good to be true.

“Relax,” Tucker sighs over the radio when Wash voices this concern. “Is it really so hard to believe that these fuckers have underestimated us again?”

“Well…” Wash hesitates. “Let’s just wrap this up and get out of here as soon as possible, alright?”

He continues his patrol of the warehouse, rifle up and at the ready. He listens to the sounds of the various teams whooping and cheering over the radio as their Pelicans take off, and grins in spite of himself. They deserved this. They deserved a bit of hope. They deserved something good

Wash rounds the corner to make his way down a corridor he had previously only glanced down, and the utter silence that follows screams its warning.

It had been silent before, but were still underlying sounds in the background: the hum of the temperature control modulators, the sigh of the overhead fans. When Wash turns the corner, in the moment between one footfall and the next, there is a resounding hush that sets the hair on the back of his neck standing up. Wash tries wrench his foot backwards, but it’s too late to stop his descent from triggering a trap, and his foot hits the floor.

It doesn’t stay there for long. The world explodes, smokefirelightNOISE, and Wash curls in on himself as the explosion blasts him nearly six feet in the air. His back hits the wall hard, head snapping back against the stone directly above his implantation site, and the pain is so intense that it turns his vision black and his body boneless.

When he comes to, he’s lying flat on his back, coughing up at the ceiling. The back of his head feels wet and sticky inside of his helmet, and his HUD is telling him that he’s hurt, warning of possible concussion or stress fracture or—

Go. He needs to go. Wash forces feeling back into his limbs and tries to roll over to a stand, but his legs aren’t listening. For several heart-stopping seconds, he’s sure that he’s been paralyzed. It takes him far longer than it should to actually glance down his body and see the pile of rubble lying across his legs—bits of plaster and chunks of stone and, most worryingly, a large section of one of the many pillars holding the room up. Wash pushes ineffectually at the pillar, and tries to worm his body out from under it, but it’s too heavy. He needs help.

“Tuck-er,” he slurs, and spends a few seconds blinking dazedly at the inside of his helmet before he realizes that his radio is off. He paws at the sides of his helmet until he finds the dial that opens up his radio, spins it until he gets to his squad’s frequency, and—

Static. Nothing but static.

A cold prickle of fear slides down the back of his neck. They’re fine, he tells himself. They’re fine, you’re all fine, everything’s going to be fine. He flips through several channels, trying to find a new frequency, but all he hears is static, static, static. The smoke rising up to the ceiling grows thicker and thicker as Wash struggles with his radio; there's another beat of yawning silence and then-

And then the building's alarms start to howl, and time cracks open inside his head.

Adrenaline pulses through his body and Wash jolts, struggling desperately against the rubble pinning his legs, but to no avail. He falls back, gasping, pressing his hands to the side of his helmet and—

There must be something wrong with his auditory filters; there’s no way the alarms could possibly be this loud. They blare on and on, sliding inside his skull, filling the furrows and cracks where Epsilon was ripped out with their sound. “Epsilon,” he says, and his voice sounds sick and delirious to his own ears. “Epsilon, I’m…”

Wash shoves the memory down, hard, hands pressing tight to the side of his helmet. “Chorus,” he croaks, because it helps to say it out loud, even though he can’t hear his own voice over the scream of the alarms. “You’re on Chorus. S’okay. Name is Agent Washington and you’re on Chorus.”

He squeezes his eyes shut tight against the flashing red lights and the smoke. He fumbles with the radio, ignores the increasingly frantic warnings from his HUD and opens their private Freelancer channel again, saying the first thing that comes to mind. “Maine,” he slurs. “Maine. I’m all fucked up. I need you to come get me.” Christ, he sounds bad, he doesn’t know what he’s saying, and besides, Maine isn’t coming for him, can’t come for him, because he isn’t there any more, he isn’t—

He isn’t on the MOI. He’s on Chorus. Wash latches onto this desperate thought, forces his eyes back open to stare at the warehouse ceiling—not the infirmary, with its twisted metal bedframes and flames licking the walls. Maine isn’t here, he tells himself firmly. You have a new team now. You need to call them. You need—

“Tucker,” he says again, and fumbles with the frequencies until he lands on the Blue Team channel, the one they’ve used ever since— “Rockslide,” he says, and opens the channel. “Tucker. C’boose. M’on the northwest side of the warehouse an’…an’ I think my head is broken and…”

It is, it is broken, he can feel the blood on the back of his neck and whenever he moves, the room swims sickeningly. There is no answer on any radio frequency that he tries, no answer on his in-text reader. They’ve fallen; the ship has fallen from the sky and there is no answering voice on the radio—he tries to call their names but can’t, they won’t come, his head is full of bloodied, broken bits of glass, and still the alarms scream, and scream, and scream, and scream, and scream, and—

Chapter Text

“Goddammit!” Tucker slams a hand against the nearest wall and resists the urge to throw his useless helmet across the warehouse. “Fucking fuck!

“Captain Tucker, use your words,” Carolina says sharply. “What’s the situation?”

“Wash isn’t answering me—he’s not answering anyone. I think his radio’s busted. Fuck!

“Okay,” Carolina says. Tucker kind of wants to strangle her for the ridiculously calm note in her voice because how she can be calm in a time like this?!— “Okay, I’m going to go find him and—”

Fuck that,” Tucker says. He’s already sprinting towards the spiraling smoke, the alarms wailing overhead. “I know exactly where he is. Right in the middle of that gigantic fucking explosion.”

“Tucker—”

“No, shut up. I’m going. You’re all the way on the other side of the building. I’m closer, and I’m going.”

“Fine,” Carolina says after a beat of silence. “Tucker, be careful—there could be more traps—”

“Yeah, and speaking of that…” Tucker leaps over fallen debris. “Weren’t you and Church supposed to be disarming the traps when you scouted the place out?”

“Hey, we did!” Epsilon protests. Tucker wants to strangle him as well. “And I disarmed a fuckton of them, so—”

“Not the ones that counted though, did you?”

Tucker—”

“I’m almost there,” Tucker says tightly. “I’ll radio you when I’ve got him.”

He switches off his radio, shoving down the dull pulse of guilt. All that matters now is finding Wash. Tucker opens up his squad’s frequency once more. “Anyone hear from him yet?”

His heart sinks as a chorus of no’s echo back at him. “Wash? You there? I’m coming to get you, dude.”

There’s no answer from Wash, and after a few seconds, all of his teammates let out their breath in a disappointed whoosh. “Is Agent Washington going to be okay?” Britton asks, voice a thready whisper. “That explosion was sooo big…”

“He’s gonna be fine,” Tucker says firmly, concentrating hard on her words. He cranks up the radio volume in his helmet and tries his best to drown out the alarms. “You just worry about having that plane ready to go, okay?”

“It’ll be ready,” Britton says, stronger, and Tucker resumes his frantic scrolling through various frequencies.

There’s no answer from Wash on any of them: not Blue Team’s channel, not their shared channel with the Reds, nothing. He can’t even hear Wash breathing, which can only mean that his radio’s down.

That’s the only thing it can mean.

He slows down the closer he gets to the smoke, keeping an eye out for more traps, for enemy soldier, for movement, for Wash.

Clear.

Clear.

Clear.

Tucker inches slowly through the rows, and it’s all clear, and that word is rattling around in his head, loud and silent at the same time and he steps again, clears, steps, and almost misses—

Movement. There’s movement. It’s slow and sluggish, but it’s Wash, and he’s moving, hands pawing at his helmet. Tucker’s heart leaps straight into his throat, and he plunges forward—fuck clearing the room—skidding to a halt and dropping to his knees next to Wash. “Wash! Holy shit dude, are you okay?”

Wash is the exact opposite of okay. There’s no visible blood or signs of broken bones, but there’s a gigantic pillar across his legs that Tucker has a sinking feeling he won’t be able to lift on his own. What’s worse, Wash is clearly panicking, chest heaving with uneven gasps that Tucker can’t hear over the scream of the alarms.

The moment Tucker crouches down next to him, Wash stops struggling with his helmet to grasp desperately at Tucker’s arm. “C’rlina…Lina, you’re here.”

Tucker freezes, hands faltering in their frantic progress to check Wash’s body for injury. Wash’s voice is muddled and sluggish and, what’s worse, there’s a complete lack of recognition in his tone that sends a cold wave of fear through Tucker’s body. Shock. He has to be in shock; Tucker can feel how badly Wash is shaking even through both of their armor. “Wash, hey, it’s me. It’s Tucker.”

“Carol-ina,” Wash gasps again, his hands tight and desperate against Tucker’s forearm. “You came back.”

Tucker swallows down his own panic and takes a closer look at Wash’s helmet. There’s something smoking out of the side—his busted radio, Tucker would bet—and judging from his disorientation, Tucker is certain he hit his head. He hesitates, free hand hovering over the seals on Wash’s helmet, but the alarms are blaring at an ungodly volume.

He fiddles with the external auditory filters on Wash’s helmet instead, but they seem to be fucked up as well. Tucker muffles the sound of the alarms as best he can, then opens a direct line to Carolina on his own radio. “Carolina, I’ve got him. Can’t you guys turn these goddamn alarms off?

“I’m trying!” Epsilon huffs. “What happened? Is he okay?”

“No, he’s not fucking okay!

“Tucker, what’s wrong?” Carolina interrupts.

“He—” Tucker glances at Wash, who has let go of his arm and has resumed trying to wrench off his helmet. “Wash, no, you gotta leave that on, it’s way too fucking loud in here.”

“Tucker, I’m coming to you,” Carolina says.

No!” Tucker tugs Wash’s hands away from his helmet. “Give me a second to figure this out! There’s probably a billion reinforcements on their way, and you’re our best chance against them! You have to stay where you are!”

You’ll just confuse him.

Tucker glances uneasily at Wash. It’s just the armor color that’s throwing him off, he tells himself. Anyone would be disoriented after an explosion like that. “Look, just—just perimeter and shit, okay? I’ve got this.”

“Fine,” Carolina grits out after a beat. “But I want an update as soon as you have one.”

Tucker snaps off his radio and turns his attention back to Wash, who is clutching at Tucker’s hands. “Think the ship crashed,” he slurs, “C’rlina, I think the ship crashed and I—I think my head’s broken—”

“Okay.” Tucker detangles his hands from Wash’s and pops the seals on his own helmet, tugging it off his head and wincing as the alarms hit. “Wash, look. It’s me. Tucker. It’s Tucker.”

Wash falters for a moment and Tucker holds his gaze, forcing himself to wait it out until— “Tucker?” Wash says hesitantly, and Tucker lets out a shaky breath.

“Yeah, dude.” Tucker hastens to reseal his helmet, muffling the alarms once more. “Where are you hurt?”

“I can’t move,” Wash says, his voice coming out high and strangled. “Tuck’r, I can’t move—”

“I know, it’s okay, I’m gonna get you out of here…” Tucker glances anxiously towards the pillar, a horrific thought suddenly occurring to him. “Wash, can you feel your legs?”

“I…” Wash moves his legs experimentally. “Yes.”

Thank fucking Christ. “Okay. Okay. Good, that’s good. We just have to move this, and—”

The alarms blessedly cut off, and Tucker wilts in relief. “Okay, Wash. I’m gonna take off your helmet, okay?”

“’Kay,” Wash says. “Think it’s broken. M’head.”

“Your head’s not broken,” Tucker says firmly, easing Wash’s helmet off. There’s blood, alright, but not as much as Tucker was expecting. He’s far more concerned about the wide, dazed look in Wash’s eyes. “Wash. Hey. Follow my finger.”

Tucker moves his finger around a bit, feeling ridiculous—he isn’t entirely sure what he’s supposed to be looking for, but something tells him that the way Wash’s eyes slide in and out of focus isn’t good. He gently pats around the back of Wash’s head and hides a wince as his glove comes away stained bright red. Right over his implant site too, which means no biofoam. Fuck.

“Okay,” Tucker says. “Okay, okay, okay. Wash, I’m gonna try to move this pillar. Just—can you put your hands under it and try to push a little, like—yeah, like that.”

Wash gets his hands under the pillar as best as he can, but the leverage is minimal and he soon falls back gasping. The two of them haven’t so much as budged the goddamn thing.

“Fuck,” Tucker mutters, glancing around. “Okay, let me just—”

No!” Wash grabs onto his wrist as Tucker turns away to look for something they can use, his sluggish bewilderment instantly morphing into a sharp panic. “Tucker, don’t leave me here—please—” 

Tucker is kneeling by Wash’s head again in an instant, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up, because holy fuck. He doesn’t ever want to hear Wash sound like that again. “Hey! Wash. I’m not gonna leave you, I promise."

“I’ll try harder,” Wash says. “I can lift this, I can do it, just don’t go, I can’t—if you go—if you go—”

“I’m not. I’m not going anywhere. Listen! I’m gonna radio for backup and then you and me are gonna wait right here until more of our guys come and get this fucking thing off of you. Okay? I’m not leaving. I’m going to protect you. Okay?”

Wash squeezes his eyes shut, pressing his head back into the ground. “I can’t feel ‘im.”

Tucker freezes in the act of turning on his radio. “What?”

“Epsilon,” Wash says, and Tucker can now hear his teeth chattering hard. “I think he’s gone, I think I…I think I fucked up, I think the ship crashed, and I can’t feel him ‘nymore.”

“Wash. You’re on…you’re on Chorus, remember? This isn’t Freelancer. It’s Chorus. Remember?”

Wash looks at him, and Tucker can see all at once that he doesn’t remember. Tucker takes a deep breath, letting Wash’s panic level out his own, and opens a radio to his squad. He can handle this. He has to handle this. “Okay, guys. I—”

Tucker winces as five different voices interrupt him with frantic inquiries. Did you find Agent Washington, where are you, what in Sam Hill is going on over there, what should we do, Captain Tucker I think I see Pelicans in the distance—

For a moment, Tucker freezes again. It’s too much: the voices of his teammates, the sound of Wash’s increasingly ragged breathing, the smoke swirling around them. This is bad, this is really bad and if Tucker doesn’t figure it out then it’s going to get worse.

He glances again at Wash and, with a deep breath, finds his hand and gives it a reassuring squeeze. “Everyone shut the fuck up and listen to me!” Tucker snaps over the radio, and they all falter. “Okay. This is what we’re gonna do. Britton, I need that Pelican ready to take off the second we arrive. Andersmith and Fitz, guard the entrance ramp. If you see any signs of trouble, I want to hear about it. Caboose—”

“Yes, hello!” Caboose yells over the radio. “Hello, Tucker!”

“Caboose, I need your help. Wash is stuck under…under a heavy thing, I need you to come to the part of the warehouse that has all the smoke and bright red lights, and lift it the fuck off of him. Now.”

“Okay!” Caboose chirps.

“Hurry, but be careful. Sarge, where are you?”

“Almost at your position now, Blue. Comin’ on over to save the day in true Red Team fashion!”

“Okay, just—just cover us, okay? Don’t come down here, just keep an eye on the aisles nearby. Carolina and Church, how’s that perimeter?”

“The perimeter’s fine,” Carolina says, impatient. “Are you sure you don’t want us to—”

“Yes I’m sure! Look, Wash is—he’s kind of disoriented right now and we don’t need fifteen fucking people hovering around! Just watch the goddamn perimeter!

There’s a beat of icy silence, and a dim part of Tucker’s mind registers that maybe he shouldn’t have yelled at her in front of the squad. That larger part doesn’t really give a shit. “Okay, Captain,” she says calmly, and leaves it at that.

“Did we get all the goddamn ammo?” Tucker asks.

“They’re loading the last boxes onto the Pelican now,” Andersmith says.

“Good.” Glad this wasn’t all for nothing. “Caboose—”

“Almost there!”

“Okay. Britton, I’ll check in when we’re on our way. Tucker out.”

He signs off and gives Wash’s hand another squeeze. “Hey. You okay?”

Wash looks at him, eyes sliding into focus. “Tucker.”

“Yeah. It’s me. It’s Tucker.”

A crash has him whipping around, but it’s only Caboose stomping down their corridor. “Hello, everyone!”

Tucker sighs in shaky relief. “Caboose, I have never been so happy to see you.”

“Yes, well,” Caboose says smugly, “I am here to save the day, sooo.

Tucker rolls his eyes. “Aaaaand you fucking ruined it. Just get all this shit off of him, okay?”

“Okay!” Caboose examines the pile for a brief moment before hauling off some of the larger pieces of rock. “It’s okay Wash, I will move all of the heavy things and we will fly away very soon.”

“Caboose,” Tucker tells Wash quietly. “Caboose is here.”

“Yeah.” Wash takes a deep breath, giving his head a little shake. “Yeah. I—I know.”

“Good. That’s great, that’s—”

Tucker’s jerking around again at the sound of something whirring behind him, hand flying to the hilt of his sword. Anger and relief course through him as Carolina rounds the corner, an aqua blur with her speed modulators screeching to a halt.

“I said Caboose!” Tucker says furiously. “Unless Caboose shrank three fucking feet and cloned himself in the last two minutes, you’re not him!”

“There are Pelicans approaching, and they’re not ours,” Carolina says shortly. “This is taking too long.”

Tucker ignores the sting of hurt her words bring. “Listen, I have the strongest person on this squad lifting this shit off of him, so I’m not sure what you think you’re gonna do—”

Carolina ignores him, dropping to a crouch next to Wash. “Washington, report. Are you all right?”

Wash flinches, his grip on Tucker’s hand tightening. “Crl’ina?”

“I’m right here,” she says. “We’re going to get you out of here. Can you feel your—”

“Lina,” Wash says, and that shaky, not-quite-there note is back in his voice. “Lina, I think the ship crashed.”

Carolina pauses in her movements, perplexed. “The ship?”

“Wash,” Tucker says loudly. “Look at me. C’mon, stay here.”

“Is everyone else okay? York was here, but he had to go…it was too heavy…he couldn’t lift it…” Wash grabs suddenly at Carolina’s arm, who has frozen completely. “Lina, don’t go, you can’t go…”

Tucker grits his teeth. “Carolina, back up. I told you he was disoriented; you’re confusing him—”

To Tucker’s horror, Epsilon chooses that exact moment to appear, clapping his hands together. “Alright, we got about five minutes before those Pelicans are on us. Let’s move it, people, we don’t have all goddamn—”

“Epsilon?” Wash asks, and it’s so different, so startlingly different from the stiff way in Wash usually addresses him that everyone freezes, even Caboose. “Epsilon, whas’ going on?”

Epsilon stares at Wash for a moment, hands falling limply to his sides, before he turns to Tucker like it’s his fault and hisses, “What the fuck happened?”

“We crashed,” Wash says, his voice shaky and delirious. “I think the ship crashed and I— Epsilon, I think something’s wrong, I can’t—where are you?”

“I’m—I’m right here,” Epsilon says numbly, and instead of logging off like he fucking should be, he steps forward into Wash’s line of sight.

Wash holds out his palm, and after a long moment, Epsilon steps into it. “I can’t—can’t feel you,” Wash says, still in that same shaky voice.

For the briefest of moments, Epsilon hesitates, like he’s actually fucking considering doing the unthinkable, and that’s just about enough for Tucker. “Church,” he says, struggling to keep his voice even. “You need to log off. Now.

The fucker isn’t paying him the slightest bit of attention. “It’s okay, Wash. We’re gonna get you the fuck out of here, okay?”

Tucker can’t decide if he wants to scream, or throttle Epsilon, or Carolina, or maybe every single person in Wash’s past who had anything to do with the way he’s falling to pieces. He reaches across Wash and puts a firm hand on Carolina’s forearm, who hasn’t moved in minutes. For all Tucker knows she’s fucking up and died right there on the spot. She starts, looking at him. “Carolina, you need to go. Now! You and Church need to go—to go fuck off for a while.”

“I’m not leaving him,” Epsilon says, still standing in Wash’s open palm like he has every right to be there.

Tucker learns the meaning of seeing red. “Yeah, well, you know what Church? It's kind of sounding to me like you already made that choice a long time ago.”

There’s the sound of silence, of Caboose shuffling the rocks, of Wash’s panicked breathing.

“Church,” Tucker growls. “I swear to fucking God. Get. Out. Of. Here.”

“Epsilon, come on,” Carolina says, and she stands. Epsilon flickers away.

“Wait,” Wash says, and the hair on Tucker’s neck stands up again at the hysterical cadence voice takes, “Wait, wait—”

“Okay,” Tucker says. He reaches up to undo his helmet. It’s a little tricky, given that he’s still clutching Wash’s hand and isn’t planning on letting go unless someone chops his arm off, but he manages it. He turns Wash’s face towards him with his free hand. “Okay. Wash, look at me.”

Wash does. His eyes stop their frantic searching as they lock onto Tucker’s, and there is a terrifying moment in which Tucker does not see recognition in his eyes.

He takes a deep breath, pushing down his own dread. “Dude, c’mon, it’s me. It’s Tucker. You’re on Chorus. Everything’s okay,” he says, even though it’s not, not, not.

Wash squeezes his eyes shut, and when he opens them again, they’re a little clearer. “Tucker,” he says. “You—you're my—we’re—”

“We’re fucking,” Tucker says wildly. “Well, okay, no we’re not, but we’re gonna be. We’ve got this super hot slow build thing going on, and the sex is gonna be awesome.”

Wash gives him a shaky smile, “I’ll, uh. I’ll take your word for it.”

“I’ve got you,” Tucker says. “We’ve got you. We’re getting you out of here.”

He squeezes Wash’s hand tighter still as Caboose finally gets his shoulder underneath the pillar and pushes hard. He heaves the whole thing off Wash with little more than a grunt.

Wash hisses in pain, but Tucker’s relieved to see him moving his legs experimentally. “Thanks…Caboose. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Agent Washington,” says Caboose, and he bends down on Wash’s other side. He and Tucker each take an arm, tugging Wash to his feet. Tucker is just opening his mouth to suggest a fireman’s carry, because Wash is still shaking pretty badly, but Caboose hoists Wash onto his back without a word.

“Caboose,” Wash protests. “You don’t have to—”

“It’s okay, Wash,” Caboose says cheerfully. “I used to give my sisters piggy back rides all the time. Sometimes, ah, sometimes just for fun, and sometimes if they got hurt and scrapped a knee and it hurt too much to walk.”

“I can walk,” Wash says, despite the fact that he can barely talk without slurring his words. “I’m fine, I…I’m fine.”

Caboose sighs. “That’s what they would say, too. And that was very silly, because they weren’t fine, and when people aren’t fine they should say something, because. See, because I am very strong. And I could carry my sisters home, for a long way, and I wouldn’t get tired.” He readjusts Wash on his back. “I can carry my brothers home, too. You are not that much heavier, Wash.”

Wash’s whole face crumples, and he presses his forehead into the back of Caboose’s armor. “Okay, Caboose,” he says, locking his arms around Caboose’s neck. “Thanks, buddy.”

“You are welcome, Wash.”

Tucker hands Wash his helmet, and it dangles limply in his hand. Tucker slams his own helmet back on and gets out his gun—he doesn’t want anyone to get within twenty goddamn feet of them—and they set a brisk pace towards the Pelican, meeting up with Sarge a few rows over.

“Coast is clear,” he says, glancing between Caboose and Wash. “Where do I sign up for m’own piggyback ride?”

“I will give you one on the Pelican, Sergeant!”

“Son, how many times do I have to tell you that it’s Colonel?”

“Right. Colonel Sergeant.”

“Well, I suppose that’ll do…” Sarge matches his pace to Caboose’s and peers right into Wash’s face. “You don’t look so good, buttercup.”

“Sarge,” Tucker snaps, but shuts his mouth when he sees Wash give a weak smile.

“Hmph,” says Sarge. “Well. You just take your little cat nap, and Red Team will handle everything, as usual.”

They make their way to the Pelican, steps hastening as the roar of ships in the distance grows closer. Britton’s voice comes anxiously over the radio. “Captain Tucker, we need to move out. There are five Pelicans approaching.”

“Okay, okay, we’re almost there…”

They round the corner to see Andersmith and Fitz hovering at the entrance ramp to their Pelican, and they charge on. “GO!” Fitz yells, and Britton lifts off before the ramp is fully closed.

“HOLD ON!” she yells from the front, and Tucker hangs onto the one of the handles near the ramp for dear life, glancing around wildly to make sure that everyone else is secure. Sarge and Caboose have steadied Wash between them, and they all hold on as Britton launches them into the sky, the ramp slowly closing.

They make it by the skin of their teeth. Tucker watches as the other Pelicans descend at the same time theirs rises, Britton weaving in between theirs. The last thing he sees before their ramp slams shut is another ramp opening, and a glimpse of steel and orange in the distance.

They all let out shaky sighs of relief, and as Tucker turns, he sees Carolina braced at the head of the Pelican as if she has any right to be there. Tucker shoots her a glare before yanking a first aid kit off the wall and coming to kneel in front of Wash. “How are you feeling, dude?”

Wash blinks up at him, hands patting weakly at the back of his head. Tucker tries not to focus on how they come back glistening. “’Are we going back to t’ship?”

“No,” Tucker says firmly. “We’re going back to the base. Armonia, remember?”

“Armonia,” Wash mumbles, “Armonia. On…”

“Chorus. Hey,” he taps at Wash’s chin until he opens his eyes. “Stay with me, okay?”

Wash nods, and Tucker climbs to his feet. In his peripheral, he sees Andersmith and Fitz exchange a glance, and whirls to face everyone. “Guys, seriously! Back up.”

“You heard the man!” Sarge snaps. He is, in fact, the only one not crowded around Wash, and whips out his deck of cards again with a flourish. “C’mon, kids, gather round. I’ve got a few more asses to whoop at blackjack.”

Tucker continues to eyeball everyone until they cluster around Sarge, then folds up a wad of gauze. Moving slowly, he reaches with the gauze towards the back of Wash’s neck to pad at the excess blood there.

Wash’s hand shoots out to grab his wrist, something sharp creeping into his gaze for the first time. “Wait…wait.”

“It’s okay dude,” Tucker says calmly. “You’re just bleeding a little. I’m gonna clean it up.”

They stare at each other before Wash slowly lets his hand fall, nodding stiffly. Wash clenches his hands atop his knees as Tucker wipes the blood away and applies a gauze bandage. His hand fastens around Tucker’s wrist a few more times while he works, and Tucker pauses each time he does so. “Do you want to do it?”

“No,” Wash says, after a momentary hesitation. “No, I…you can probably see better.”

“Yep,” Tucker says, and finishes sealing the bandage over the wound. “There, all set.”

Wash reaches up to pat at the bandage while Tucker looks to the front of the Pelican, where Carolina is still staring unabashedly. “I’ll be right back, okay dude?”

Wash nods, his hand running over his ports.

Tucker makes his way to the front of the plane, gesturing Carolina forward so that the rest of the group can’t see them. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he hisses. “This isn’t your Pelican!”

“My squad already left,” Carolina says stiffly. “I needed to make sure you were all okay.”

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Carolina! Did you totally miss that shit show back there? Seeing you is just gonna confuse him!”

Epsilon appears in front of her face. “Look, you don’t have to be such an asshole about it—”

“Oh, my god Church. That goes double for you.” Tucker glances between the two of them. “Seriously! Get the fuck out of here!”

“C’mon, Epsilon,” Carolina says quietly. “Let’s sit up front.”

“Yeah, you do that. Just—just go where he can’t see you, and when we get back, I want a fucking explanation for what just happened.”

Carolina turns back around, her voice finally turning angry. “What makes you think I owe you an explanation?”

Tucker is absolutely out of fucks to give. He leans closer to her. “I’m his team. I’m his….I’m his friend, and I need to know what the fuck to say to him.”

“If Wash hasn’t told you what happened in Freelancer, then—”

Tucker cuts him off. “Church, I am so fucking sick of that bullshit excuse from you, so don’t even start.” He looks back to Carolina. “He thought I was going to leave him there. He really…he really thought I’d leave him."

Silence. Epsilon finally stops flitting around angrily, coming to a slow halt on Carolina’s shoulder.

“That’s what happened, isn’t it?” Tucker continues, glancing between the two of them. “Something happened on that ship, and he was stuck there, and no one fucking got him out.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that,” Epsilon says.

“Well, then explain it to me.” When neither of them answer he sighs and tries to make his voice less accusatory. “I don’t understand. You had a whole fucking squad of Freelancers, right? Why didn’t anyone think to get him out of a burning ship? Why didn’t you?

“Carolina was at the bottom of a cliff trying to put her own head back together,” Epsilon snaps. He appears undaunted when Carolina rounds on him furiously. “No, this is bullshit—like you just decided to leave Wash there—”

“What did you decide, Church?” Epsilon falters again, and Tucker shakes his head angrily. “He kept asking for you. He thought you were still there, in his fucking head. You left him, didn’t you? You all just...just fucking left.”

“It’s—”

“Complicated,” Tucker says. “Yeah. I’ll fucking bet.”

He turns away.


The Pelican ride drags on and on. Wash jolts in and out of consciousness, despite Tucker and Caboose’s best efforts to keep him talking. Each time Wash jerks back awake, it is with that same frantic disorientation. He grows quieter and quieter the closer they get to the base, and when they do, Tucker peers out one of the windows with a groan.

“Fuck!” he hisses. “There’s a thousand people on this ramp—Andersmith, go fucking clear the landing zone. We don’t need an audience. Fitz, you go with him.”

Within a few minutes, they have the area clear. Tucker turns to see Sarge slinging one of Wash’s arms over his shoulder, and Tucker ducks under the other one. Caboose picks up Wash’s helmet and carries it with them.

They meet Dr. Grey halfway to the infirmary, which is thankfully not far from the landing bay. “Oh dear,” she chirps, peering into Wash’s eyes as they walk. “Oh, that is most certainly a concussion. Caboose, the door, please.”

Caboose holds open the door, and they all start to shuffle into the infirmary. “Wait,” Wash says suddenly, speaking for the first time in nearly thirty minutes. “Wait, wait—I don’t need to go to the hospital—I’m fine—”

“Don’t be silly,” Dr. Grey says firmly. “You are the opposite of fine. Chop chop, let’s get inside now!”

Wash doesn’t resist as Tucker and Sarge maneuver him into the infirmary and set him down on one of the beds, but he does immediately start trying to clamber to his feet. Tucker puts a hand on his elbow as he sways.

Dr. Grey takes off her helmet, turning to Sarge. “Now, it is very important that no one barges in here while I am trying to work. Do you think you could take care of that for me?”

“You got it, darlin’,” Sarge says gruffly. Tucker’s eyes bulge as he leans his head down towards her, and she places an absent-minded kiss on the corner of his helmet.

“Thank you, Colonel.”

Tucker stares, open-mouthed, as Sarge swaggers out of the room.

“Alright, listen up! I need this hallway cleared in—”

His voice cuts out as the door swings shut, and Tucker clears his throat. “Uh, so when exactly did you two—”

“I’m not staying here,” Wash says. Tucker lets go of his elbow but stays close.

“Oh, yes, you are,” Dr. Grey says. “Now sit back down on that bed.”

“I’m fine,” Wash says, and he lifts his chin defiantly.

 Dr. Grey slams down the medical scanner she was readying and whirls to face him. “Agent Washington, you are not fine. You are quite possibly the farthest thing from fine that I have ever seen, and I have seen my share of not fine things! You are going to sit back down, and you are going to let me give you a proper head examination, and then you are going to stay here, overnight, for observation.”

No,” Wash says loudly. “No. I’m not—I’m not staying in this hospital bed overnight, I won’t—”

“Wash, I’m sorry, but you really must,” Dr. Grey says, undaunted. “Given your history of past head trauma, it is very important that you be monitored during sleeping, and woken up every two hours—”

“I won’t sleep,” Wash says wildly. “No one has to wake me, I’ll stay awake, I will, I’ll—”

That isn’t a better solution!

“Wash,” Tucker mutters. “Look, maybe—”

They both ignore him. “I’m not staying here,” Wash says slowly. “I’m not staying in this hospital, and you can’t make me.”

“Oh, Washington, let me assure you that I not only can, but will. You are injured, and you are my patient, and you are not. Leaving. This room!”

They stare at each other before Wash snags his helmet and starts towards the door, swaying slightly but still determined. “Washington,” Dr. Grey says, her voice rising, “don’t you dare take another step towards that door!”

Wash ignores her, continuing his purposeful strides towards the door, and for a moment Tucker thinks Dr. Grey is going to let him—

Tucker’s jaw drops as Dr. Grey inserts herself between Wash and the doorway, her palms slamming up on either side of the doorframe as she digs her heels in. “NO!

Wash falters, momentarily shocked, before toeing up with her. Tucker’s more than a little impressed by the way Dr. Grey doesn’t even flinch at the trapped-animal look in his eyes. “Look—Dr. Grey—I can’t stay here—I can’t be in—in a hospital bed—you have to let me out of this room!

“I most certainly do not.”

The look in Wash’s eyes turns desperate. “Emily—please—”

“That’s Dr. Grey to you, Agent Washington.”

Silence. Tucker holds his breath, glancing between the two of them, before Dr. Grey sighs, something softening in her eyes. “Wash, please understand that I do count you as a dear friend. But—” she jerks her thumb behind her “—you have oodles and oodles of friends lined up for you out there. Right now, I can’t be one of them. Right now, I am your doctor. And I need you to scoot back into this room and sit down. Now.”

After a long moment, Wash takes a step backwards, then another, and another, until he is seated stiffly on the edge of the bed. “Thank you,” Dr. Grey says formally, and for the first time, she turns her attention to Tucker. “Now. Tucker, please leave.”

Tucker balks. “What? Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not going anywhere—”

Her eyes narrow to slits. “Oh, yes you are.”

“But—”

Tucker glances at Wash, but Wash is staring blankly at the wall in front of him, fiddling with his gauntlets. The flat, expressionless look on his face is almost worse than the gut-wrenching look of panic he’d worn back at the warehouse and on the Pelican. “Wash…”

Wash doesn’t look at him, not even when Tucker takes a few hesitant steps forward. Dr. Grey swiftly steps in between the two of them and from the look on her face, she’s had enough for one day. “Captain Tucker, get the hell away from my patient or I’ll have you thrown. Out.

Wash does look up at that, something sharp and seeing on his face at her words, before flicking his eyes over to Tucker. “S’okay, Tucker,” he says dully. “I’m okay.”

Tucker doesn’t know if he wants to punch him or hug him or kiss his stupid face. You’re not okay, he wants to scream. You’re not okay, not at all.

Dr. Grey huffs. “I’m not asking you to leave forever, silly. Just for a little while. Wash will need a few people checking in on him at two-hour intervals, to ask him questions and keep an eye on that pesky concussion.”

The fact that Wash doesn’t even protest the idea of people waking him up in the middle of the night, just continues to stare at the wall, tells Tucker all he needs to know about how he’s faring. “I can ask around,” Tucker says, desperate to do something useful. “See if I can get some people to volunteer.”

“That would be wonderful, Tucker, thank you,” Dr. Grey says pleasantly, then gestures towards the door. “Go on, then.”

After one final hesitation, Tucker nods slowly. “Fine. I’ll be right outside, Wash, okay?”

Wash doesn’t answer, and Tucker half raises a hand towards him before letting it fall and quietly exiting the room.

“Well?” Sarge asks, the moment the door shuts behind him. “How’s Princess Freckles?”

“Princess Freckles has had it up to here with all this bullshit,” Tucker grumbles, throwing himself against the wall next to Sarge. “And you know what? So have I.”

“That makes a whole lot of us, Aquaman.”

Tucker sighs, glancing towards the end of the hallway. Dr. Grey wasn’t kidding: there are at least two dozen soldiers clustered at the end there, a respectful distance away from the infirmary doors, but not trying to hide the fact that they’re loitering. As Tucker watches, Caboose breaks away from the crowd and shuffles over.

“Ummm, Tucker. Um.”

“He’s fine, Caboose,” Tucker sighs, even though it’s not true, because what the fuck else is he supposed to say? “He’s just….he’s just tired.”

“His head is all broken,” Caboose says sadly.

Tucker bristles. “It is not, Caboose, Jesus.”

“Ah, well, I think it might be.” Caboose pauses. “It’s okay. Sometimes mine is broken too.”

Tucker stares at him for a while before clearing his throat. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but…thanks, Caboose. For getting that fucking pillar off of Wash. You, uh. You did good.

“Thank you, Tucker. That is very nice of you to say that, but I am just happy that I am strong enough to lift the things.”

Sarge stares between the two of them before muttering, “Blue Team,” and stalking off down the hallway.


It’s almost two hours before Dr. Grey allows Tucker and Caboose back into the infirmary. “Just a quick hello,” she says sternly. “He’s had a very trying day, and it’s getting late.”

Wash is out of his armor, seated stiffly in his hospital bed. He still has that same blank expression on his face, and when he thanks Caboose and Tucker for their help, it’s in a voice completely devoid of emotion.

They don’t stay long. Dr. Grey pulls all the sim troopers into her office after, and surveys them with a critical eye. Tucker will deny it if asked, but he’s feeling pretty affection towards these assholes, all of whom had agreed to take a shift to wake Wash up that night without much complaining or questions. Dr. Grey lectures them all on the proper methods of waking someone up during a post-concussion sleep, and appropriate questions to ask them.

When it’s Tucker’s turn to check in on Wash, in the early hours of the morning, Wash is already awake, arms looped around his knees as he stares out the window. He answers Tucker’s questions quietly, robotically, as if he’d been repeating them to himself all night. Tucker suspects he has.

Tucker stays, seated in the chair next to Wash’s bed, until dawn begins to break through the windows. Neither of them say a word.


“So you’re telling me that he was already awake when every single one of you went to check on him?”

Tucker glances around at the rest of the guys, all of whom shrug and nod at each other. They have all gathered in Dr. Grey’s office early the next morning, to compare notes on Wash’s lucidity after being woken up, only to find…

Dr. Grey taps her foot impatiently. “Well? Did anyone have to actually wake him up?”

“Maybe he was sleeping in between the check-ups,” Caboose says helpfully. “We can just ask him, and—”

Grif snorts. “Yeah, like he’s going to answer that honestly.”

“So if he didn’t sleep, then…” Simmons tilts his head. “That means he’s been awake for almost twenty-four hours now.”

“Wow, did you do that math without a calculator?”

“Shut up, Grif—”

Dr. Grey throws up her hands. “Oh, my goodness gracious. That man…” she slams a few notebooks around on her desk. “Most stubborn patient I’ve ever…just unbelievable…”

“That’s not good,” Simmons says bluntly. “If he hasn’t slept in twenty-four hours, and he doesn’t sleep today. You should watch out for signs of sleep deprivation and—”

I know what signs to watch out for, Captain Simmons!”

Tucker is utterly unsurprised when she’s kicking them all out of her office two minutes later. He hangs back in the doorway. “So, how was he this morning, when you check on him?”

Dr. Grey glances up, surprised to still see him there. “Tucker, I am not discussing Washington’s private medical information with you.”

“I’m not asking you to!” Tucker snaps. “I’m just…look, I just want to know if he’s okay.”

She sighs, taking a seat and eyeing him. “Medically, he is fine. The armor saved his legs from any real damage from that pillar. The concussion he suffered was small, only worrisome in that Agent Washington has had multiple head injuries at this point and really can’t have another. I’m far more worried about the…psychological scarring that this event could have caused. And he needs to sleep. It is of the utmost importance that he sleep today, and if I have to give him a sedative, I will.”

“You can’t give him a sedative,” Tucker says, alarmed. “He doesn’t react well to them.”

Dr. Grey pauses in reshuffling some papers. “What does that mean?”

“He…” Tucker racks his brain, thinking hard back to Rockslide, to something that Wash had told him once…. “They gave him sleeping pills, when he was in Recovery after Freelancer, because he was having shitty nightmares and wasn’t sleeping. He said that the pills made him sleep, but they didn’t stop the dreams, so he was like, stuck inside them and couldn’t wake up. Like some fucked-up horror movie bullshit.”

Dr. Grey surveys him over the edge of her glasses, frowning. “He didn’t tell me that.”

Tucker shrugs uncomfortably. “You saw him, didn’t you? He probably didn’t remember.”

“Hmm…” Dr. Grey shuffle some more papers until she finds what Tucker presumes to be Wash’s file, and makes a note. “Thank you, Tucker, that’s valuable information for me to have.”

“Let me try first,” Tucker says. “Let me try to see if I can get him to take a fucking nap before…before you go jabbing sedatives into people, Christ.”

Dr. Grey taps a pencil against her desk before sighing. “Fine. But if you can’t get him to sleep, I will find him, and I will find a way to make him sleep. Is that crystal clear?”

“Yeah yeah, I got it, geez…”


Tucker doesn’t get a chance to speak to Wash until the end of the day. First he has to do a mission debriefing with Kimball and Doyle, both of whom are positively giddy over all the ammo that they got. It’s awkward, because Carolina and Epsilon are flat out ignoring him across the room, which is fine.

Just fine.

Then he has to help catalogue the ammo, and check it all for bombs, and help patrol the outer walls of the base because everyone is on edge, and help write up an evacuation plan, and on, and on, and on.

He doesn’t so much as catch a glimpse of Wash all day. Not in the mess hall, not in his room, not in the infirmary, not even working himself to the bone in the training room. He’s starting to get worried, because he wouldn’t put it past Wash at all to take off in order to save them from himself or something ridiculous. After an early evening shower, Tucker takes yet another peek in Wash’s room. No Wash, but there are various pieces of his armor lying on the floor.

Tucker isn’t sure if he’s more alarmed by the fact that only half of Wash’s armor is on the floor, or that it’s on the floor in the first place. Wash always took the utmost care of his armor, hanging it up neatly and polishing it every week. He was constantly hanging up Caboose’s and Tucker’s back at Rockslide and the crash site, and Tucker used to give him shit for it, for always hovering and nitpicking and cleaning up after them.

For taking care of them, Tucker realizes now.

He surveys the discarded armor, his chest tight and heavy, before whirling around and marching off in search of Wash. If he’s wandering around with only bits of his armor on, then he’s definitely too exhausted to be wandering anywhere.

After a good fifteen minutes of searching the base, Tucker finds Wash in some barely-used hallway. Sure enough, he’s wearing most of his lower body armor, but he’s missing one of the greaves, and only one of his arms is covered. He has one hand braced against the wall, the other clamped down over the back of his ports, and he’s visibly swaying on his feet.

“Oh boy,” Tucker sighs, and makes his way down the hallway to Wash. “Seriously? You need to sit down before you—whoa!”

Wash jerks his arm out of Tucker’s hand, the movement sluggish but sure, and stumbles backwards. “Don’t,” he says sharply. “Just don’t.”

Tucker holds his hands up. “Okay, dude.” He looks Wash up and down. Messy hair, dark circles, and paler than Tucker’s ever seen. “Where the fuck have you been all day?”

“That’s none of your business,” Wash says, still in that same sharp voice. “I don’t—I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“Wash,” Tucker says calmly. “You really, really need to sit down before you pass out. I mean, I can do the knight in shining armor thing and carry you back to your room, but it’s not exactly right around the corner, so—”

“I’m fine—”

Tucker throws up his hands. “Stop saying you’re fine!”

“I AM fine!”

Silence. Wash rests his forehead against the wall. “I am fine,” he says again, quieter.

“Okay,” Tucker says. “You’re fine, I’m fine, everything’s fine. But you still need to go lay the fuck down and sleep before you collapse.”

“I’m not sleeping,” Wash says, and Jesus Christ Tucker has never met anyone so stubborn.

“So, what, you’re just gonna stay awake? Forever?

“I can—I can take quick naps,” Wash says. “Here and there, I’ve done it before, it’s fine—”

“Listen, dude,” Tucker says sharply, “If you don’t go to sleep, Dr. Grey is gonna chase you around the base with a fucking sedative.”

Wash jerks his head away from the wall, staring at him. “She can’t do that—”

“Sounds to me like she’s pretty fucking determined.”

“She—what, so she sent you here? To do what? Try to get me to sleep?

Tucker folds his arms across his chest, glaring at Wash. “Something like that.”

Wash laughs, but the sound is all wrong, cold and biting and hurtful. “Well, I’m not sure why she would do that. I don’t—I don’t need you, to come here, and tell me that I’m—I don’t need you to…I don’t need you.”

“Oh-ho my god, could you be any more dramatic—”

He jumps as Wash slams the side of his fist into the wall next to them. “Tucker, stop! Leave me alone! Just leave me alone and—”

“Yeah, we’re skipping this part,” Tucker interrupts, and Wash falters.

“We’re—what?”

“This part. We’re skipping it.” He sighs when Wash continues to stare at him blankly. “You know, the part where you get all fucking melodramatic and try to push me away, and tell me I’m too good for you or some other well-rehearsed bullshit—”

“Tucker—”

“We’re skipping the lame ass part where you fucking shut me out and go it alone,” he says, and he steps forward to cups Wash’s tired face fiercely between his hands. Wash lets him. “We’re skipping it. That’s not our—not our story. Our story is way more fucking interesting. And way more badass. And way sexier. Okay?”

Tucker feels Wash’s face tighten underneath his palms as he closes his eyes. “I don’t—Tucker—I don’t know if I can—”

“I know,” Tucker says. “Dude, I know. We’re just gonna—just gonna go to sleep. Okay? I’m tired as shit, man, and I know you are too.”

“If I fall asleep,” Wash says hollowly, “I’m…I’m afraid that I’ll…fall. That I’ll—wake up, and not remember right, and—”

“Well, that’s why I’m gonna be there. I can remind you. That sounds a hell of a lot better than you being confused all goddamn night.”

Wash’s hands come up to grip Tucker’s wrists, squeezing lightly. “I don’t…if I hurt you…”

“Wash, you are way too fucking tired to hurt me, or anyone. That’s the problem. If the mercs drop in from the ceiling right this second, you’re fucked.” He drops his hands from Wash’s face and grabs one of his hands. “C’mon. Let’s go to bed.”

He tugs, and after a moment of hesitation, Wash follows him. Tucker leads them to Wash’s room, thinking that some familiarity might be good. Wash’s bed is perfectly made, but there are pieces of his armor scattered around the room. Tucker lets go of Wash’s hand and sets about stacking Wash’s armor neatly off to the side, collecting the pieces that Wash drops onto the floor as he unsnaps the rest from his body.

By the time he finishes, Wash has stepped out of his survival suit and is unfolding a pair of sweatpants. Tucker tries and fails not to stare, because holy shit, those thighs, and that ass

“Subtle, Tucker,” Wash sighs as he pulls on the sweatpants, but there’s a half-smile pulling at his lips.

“Dude, I can’t help it,” Tucker says, whipping off his own shirt and tossing it in the corner. “You look like a fucking  marble statue, Jesus Christ.”

Wash’s eyes flick up and down Tucker’s bare torso before he darts them away, embarrassed. Tucker sighs and flops onto Wash’s bed, flipping the covers back. “Alright, come on. Get over here and go the fuck to sleep.”

Tucker fights hard not to roll his eyes as Wash takes one awkward step after the other, until he’s perched on the edge of the bed. With an exasperated groan, Tucker drags his shoulders down until they’re laying side by side, flings an arm over Wash’s torso, and drops his head right on Wash’s chest.

“Um,” Wash says. “What are you doing?”

Tucker lifts his head to stare at Wash, raising an eyebrow. “Uh, what the fuck does it look like I’m doing? I’m trying to go to sleep. So should you.”

“Oh,” Wash pauses. “I just, I didn’t realize, I thought…”

Tucker stares at him, bewildered, until it clicks. “What, you thought I was gonna like, sleep across the room? Put a divider down the middle of the bed? This isn’t amateur hour, Wash.  You’re cuddling with the pros now.”

Wash sort of awkwardly pats his hands against Tucker’s shoulders, hesitating, still. “Are you sure?”

“Oh my god,” Tucker groans, dropping his head back to Wash’s chest. “Dude, put your arms around me and go the fuck to sleep before I get a boner. I can only control myself for so long before I start feeling you up. Seriously, who has abs like this?

Wash’s chest rumbles pleasantly with laughter against his ear as Tucker runs his fingertips down Wash’s chest to his abs, then back up again. His arms finally come up to loop around Tucker, one hand resting on his back, the other tangling in his hair and stroking gently and Tucker wants to fucking purr, it feels so good.

“Go to sleep,” he sighs against Wash’s chest. “Just go to sleep. I’ve got you.”


It’s the longest night of Tucker’s life.

Tucker’s only ever run in on the tail end of Wash’s nightmares before. He thought that was the worst of it: the screaming, the thrashing, the shaking. While it’s a terrible, awful, heart-wrenching thing to witness, it turns out that the end of the nightmares isn’t the worst of it, after all. It’s not the beginning, either, when Wash starts to twitch and toss and turn, when he sighs and mumbles and frowns a little in his sleep.

The worst, by far, is the middle: after the nightmare has set in, but before the screaming desperation has. It’s the stuttered breathing, and the hurt little noises and, most of all, the way Wash scrambles for something, anything, to hold. It’s the way he clutches at the sheets and the pillows and pulls them towards him, holding them to his chest with shaking arms. It’s the way he is so clearly searching for something to find comfort in, to sink into, to hold onto.

As the night goes on, Tucker tugs away the blankets and the sheets and lets Wash hold him instead. He starts by giving Wash a hand, then his arm, then simply pulling Wash tight against his body while Wash wraps his arms around Tucker’s torso and shakes and shakes.

Wash had been so certain that he’d hurt Tucker if he tried to wake him up, but Tucker can’t wake him up. Not when he’s in the middle of the nightmare. It’s worse, far worse, to feel Wash shudder against him, to listen to the agonized noises, and know that he can’t do a goddamn thing about it.

But he tries. He holds Wash tighter than he’s ever held anyone in his life, and mutters into his hair—reassuring things, sexy things, ridiculous things, anything he can think of. Sometimes, he thinks it’s working, when Wash’s body relaxes against Tucker’s chest, and the hurt animal noises stop, but they always start up again.

When the nightmares peak, when Tucker is finally able to wake him up, when Wash thrashes so hard that they both end up on the floor tangled up in the sheets and each other, when Wash is wide-eyed and panicked and confused, with no idea where or when he is—the fact is, Tucker doesn’t know what to say. There are no good words for when the person who is your teammate, your mentor, your friend, your something, is shaking on the floor, simultaneously trying to push you away and pull you close.

There are no good words, but Tucker tries to find them anyway.

Do you want talk about it? It’s okay. It was just a bad dream. You’re safe. Words, so many words, but they are all up too high, and they are all wrong.

Because the two of them are not up high. They are just two men tangled in sweat-soaked sheets on the ground, in an unfamiliar base, on an unfamiliar planet that might be, that could be home, that wants to be home. Someday, but not now. Now, it is only Wash and Tucker, and the way the ground looks in the dark of an endless night.

So Tucker does not bother with words that are up in the clouds. Instead, he roots around on the floor, scrounges for the most basic building blocks he can find and hands them to Wash, one by one. Your name is Agent Washington. Your friends call you Wash. You’re on a planet called Chorus. We fell on the floor.

Epsilon isn’t here. It’s just you and me.

Come back to bed dude, I’ve got you.

Your name is Agent Washington, and mine is Lavernius Tucker.

Your name is Wash, and mine is Tucker.

Your name is Wash, and mine is Tucker.

Chapter Text

His head is broken but he has been here before.

There is something cracked and raw and bleeding, deep inside his mind, but Wash knows how to do this. He knows the steps he must take to put the broken pieces back together, the things he must tell himself. He knows which memories go in which boxes, and what he can use to anchor himself to the present. Wash has woken up in many unfamiliar hospital beds, with the beeps and buzzes and the thin sheets. He is always cold when he sleeps, but never more than when in a hospital bed. That’s the worst of it, he always tells himself. The cold is the worst part. He can do cold. He can handle the cold. He—

He’s not cold.

It takes Wash several minutes of climbing the slow ladder back to consciousness to realize that he is warm, a comforting weight pressed against his chest. He has never slept so warm before, and certainly not when waking up after an event. The hospital beds are always freezing, which must mean….

Wash opens his eyes.

There’s dreaded black hair inches from his face, held back by a thick headband. Wash gazes further down as best he can without moving to see dark skin, smooth and warm, pressed against his own freckled chest. For a moment, he thinks he’s still dreaming, or dropped into some parallel universe where he hasn’t done terrible things and deserves to wake up like this every morning.

He then catches sight of the little window at the foot of his bed, and his steel and yellow armor stacked neatly against the wall, and he remembers Chorus, and the sim troopers, and Tucker.

Tucker sighs against his chest. Wash can’t see his face from this angle, but his breathing is low and deep. Wash’s own hands are resting flat against Tucker’s back and he revels in the feel of Tucker’s skin, ridiculously smooth and ridiculously warm. How is it possible for another person to hold in this much body heat?

“Are you doing that thing where you pretend to be asleep because it’s so like, cozy and shit? ‘Cause no lie, I totally am.”

“How are you this hot?” Wash blurts, and instantly feels his face turning red. “I mean--like your body is just—no, I mean, it’s so warm. Temperature wise. Not that you’re not um. That kind of warm too, but I meant—”

Tucker’s shifting to face him now, limbs stretching languidly against Wash’s. He turns a beaming, sleepy smile towards Wash and that is absolutely not helping Wash find the right words. “I know, right? I’m fuckin’ smoking.

“God, Tucker,” Wash huffs, struggling to find some measure of control in this conversation before giving up. “Just—well, fine. That too.”

Tucker’s smile turns delighted. “You remembered my name.”

“What?”

“My name.” Tucker yawns, then pushes himself up a little so he’s leaning over Wash, their chests still pressed together. “You remembered it. You remember yours too?”

The night comes back to Wash then, in uncomfortable clarity: the nightmares, the confusion, the way he’d fallen on the floor. “I—yes. Wash. It’s Wash.”

“And where are we?”

“Chorus. Armonia.”

“Do you know what year it is?”

Wash has to think a little on that one. “Uh…2556.”

“Yup. Three for three.” Tucker’s light-hearted expression turns a touch more serious. “You remember what happened?”

“I…” Wash frowns at Tucker, eyebrows furrowed. “There was an explosion. At the warehouse. I couldn’t…couldn’t move. I hit my head and I couldn’t move.”

“Yeah, dude. You were all banged up. You’re okay, though.”

“Is everyone else…are they…”

“They’re fine,” Tucker says quickly. “Everything’s fine. We got a fuckton of ammo too, like holy shit.”

Wash stares at him. There’s something else, some vitally important detail he knows that he’s missing, something that… “I was confused.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says quietly. “Yeah, you were.”

Things on fire, smoke swirling up to the ceiling. York went to get help. Epsilon is in his head, is not in his head, is standing in his open palm. Tucker came back for him.

Tucker came back for him.

“You came and got me.”

Tucker blinks. “Well, yeah.”

“My radio was busted. You couldn’t hear me, but you…you came anyway. You and Caboose.”

Tucker’s rolling his eyes now. “Yeah, dude. What, like we were just gonna fucking leave you there? Jesus.”

York can’t lift the pillar and he left to get help, Carolina will be here soon, Carolina always comes, always, always, always—

“That’s what happened, isn’t it?” Tucker says. He’s watching Wash’s expression closely. “You were stuck there, on that Freelancer ship, and no one…”

He remembers now, panicking as Tucker glanced around to look for something to move the pillar, thinking that Tucker was going to leave—remembers clutching onto his arm, his hand; remembers reaching for him, in the dark of the night, Tucker’s arms around him, Tucker muttering into his hair, Tucker holding onto him and Wash clutching back as if he had any right—

Wash moves to sit up, leaning against the wall, and Tucker follows to sit across from him. “Thank you, Tucker,” Wash says. “For…assessing the situation and getting me out, and for…for…staying with me, last night. You didn’t have to do that.”

Tucker groans. “Oh, god. Here it comes.”

“I shouldn’t have let you do that,” Wash continues. “I wasn’t thinking straight—”

“Yeah, that’s exactly why you needed someone here—”

“I had no right to ask you to stay with me.”

“You didn’t ask me! I fucking volunteered!

“You didn’t have to do that,” Wash says again. “That was very…very generous of you, but—”

“Wash, stop,” Tucker snaps. “We’re skipping this part. Remember? We’re not doing this. It wasn’t generous of me. I wasn’t doing you any goddamn favors. I was just doing what…what teammates, or friends, or, you know, what people do.”

Wash looks away until Tucker reaches out and taps his knee. “Hey. You don’t have to go everything alone, you know. You’ve got a whole fucking army here.”

“So…” Wash swallows hard. “So, if we’re skipping that part, where I…”

“Get all fucking dramatic for no goddamn reason?”

Wash gives him a look. “Then what happens next?”

“What happens next,” Tucker says simply, “is that you tell me about Freelancer.”

Wash feels something inside of him slam shut, and he doesn’t realize he’s flinching away until he feels his shoulders press harder into the wall. There are a million things he could say here: I don’t have to tell you anything, that’s none of your business, there’s nothing to tell.

Yet—

Wash isn’t better. He had known for some time now that he will have nightmares for the rest of his life, and that memories will surface unexpectedly, but they had hit him so hard at the warehouse. He hadn’t realized just how close he was to the edge, or how easy it would’ve been to fall. He knows, he knows, that if Tucker had left him there, if no one had come for him, that he would have fallen, and he wouldn’t have been able to get back up this time.

So he looks at Tucker, and tries for the truth.

“I don’t know if I can.”

“Okay,” Tucker says. “I mean, look—I’m not trying to pry, or get all up in your business—I mean I ambowchickabowwow—but—just—look. We all have shit we don’t like to talk about, ya know? I get that. But this—it’s something you still dream about, like a lot.”

Wash nods. No point in denying the obvious.

“I just think that…” Tucker shrugs. “It might help if I knew what went down. So that I know what to say, when you wake up.”

“You said all the right things,” Wash reassures him, focusing on the statement as opposed to the implications of it, of Tucker wanting to be there when he woke up. “It helps, to remind myself of my name and where I am.”

He doesn’t realize just how bad that sounded until he catches the faintly sick look on Tucker’s face. “Okay, dude. I can do that. But…but I think I have to understand why.”

Wash looks at him, long and searching, before he nods. He shifts around on the bed until his back is facing Tucker and runs a self-conscious hand over his implants. His fingers ruffle through hair that’s getting too long, but he’s always kept the area around the ports shaved. The bandage covering his latest head wound is just above the implantation site, and he checks to make sure that’s secure before dropping his hand with a sigh. “You can see the scars.”

It’s a statement, not a question. There’s no doubt that Tucker can see his scars. Everyone can see his scars.

“Yeah. I can see them.”

Wash doesn’t miss the way that Tucker shifts his hands slowly, deliberately moving in Wash’s peripheral vision. Tucker’s hands land on his shoulders, and Wash lets out a shaky breath. “I, uh. I don’t know where to start.”

Tucker’s hands drift up to his neck, thumbs running gently down the two long scars that Wash knows mark the skin on either side of his ports. “How about with these two?”

Epsilon realizes at the same time Wash does exactly what’s about to happen and their renewed struggle is almost enough to break away. Maine spins him around so that Wash is facing the wall and winds a hand in his hair to keep his head still—his hair’s too long, it’s way too long, he thinks hysterically, Carolina had told him two weeks ago to cut it—and Wash feels Maine’s other hand clamp across the back of his neck below his implants—

“Maine,” Wash blurts. “Maine. He tried to cut Epsilon out of my head.”

Tucker’s hands stutter on the back of his neck, but he recovers rapidly, and when he speaks, his voice is steady. “Maine…he was the Meta, right?”

“He wasn’t the Meta then,” Wash says quickly. “Well. At that point he was. But he was Maine, before that. He was…he was my friend. My—my best friend.”

“He took a bunch of people’s A.I, right?”

“Yes. I think Epsilon was the first he tried to take.”

“But he didn’t succeed.”

“No.” Wash takes a deep breath. “He didn’t. I—we—got away. And then…”

He falters again. Tucker’s hands move from his neck down to his shoulders, rubbing circles there, and Wash closes his eyes, letting the sensation anchor him. “I’ve never talked about this before.”

“Not even in…well, in the hospital?”

“I was too out of it, by then.”

Tucker traces his fingertips lightly over another set of scars on the back of Wash’s neck. “What about these? They look like some pretty nasty burn marks.”

Right. Those. “That’s from when they pulled Epsilon. The initial implantation was…rough, so they put a lock on the ports. Didn’t want me to try to pull him myself and do more damage. That’s what Maine was trying to cut—the lock. They had to take them off quickly to pull Epsilon, because…because…”

Wash drags his hands down his face. Refocuses. Tucker’s hands are on his back, strong and warm. “You know about Alpha.”

“Yeah. I know about Alpha.” Tucker’s voice grows more confident. “He was the original A.I, and they did all this fucked up shit to torture him. They gave the pieces to the Freelancers, and you got Epsilon.”

Wash nods. “Right. Epsilon was the memories. When they put him in my head, I got flashes of everything they had done to Alpha. We…Epsilon and I…we were going to try to rescue Alpha. Put a stop to the whole thing. But I…I slipped up. They didn’t know what we knew, but they knew it was something big and…and they decided that Epsilon had to go.”

Another pause. Another breath.

“Epsilon didn’t want to go.”

Tucker’s hands haven’t stopped rubbing circles into his back, and he continues to wait patiently, but there’s a tension seeping into the room that Wash doesn’t think he’s imagining. “I didn’t want Epsilon to go either,” Wash adds, because he thinks it’s important for Tucker to know that. “He was my…I was supposed to protect him. We were supposed to protect each other. We…”

You should’ve run, Wash.

Wash shakes his head and pushes forward, determined to get everything out, like leaching poison from a wound. “The Director called us into a room and I…and he…”

—Epsilon doesn’t hear him, maybe can’t hear him, and as time speeds up again, Wash watches in horror as his own hand snaps to his hip, removes his pistol, and fires two rounds at the Director—

—You should have run, Wash—

—Epsilon breaks himself apart, one piece at a time, each jagged memory slicing through Wash’s own. There’s Alpha sobbing as they take Beta away, there’s Allison packing her things, there’s Naomi chasing their little brown dog around the yard. There’s a casket, and a flag, and men in uniform at the door, and—

Wash doesn’t realize that he’s curled in on himself, elbows propped on his knees and hands fisting in his hair until he feels Tucker edge even closer, pressing his chest tight to Wash’s back. Tucker’s hands rub up and down his arms, tugging them away from his hair, and when he speaks, Wash feels the words ghost across his neck. “Hey. Hey.”

“He tried to kill himself,” Wash says, before he loses his nerve. “Epsilon. He tried to kill himself.”

This time when Tucker’s hands freeze, they don’t immediately start up again, and he can’t hide the shock in his voice. “While…while he was in your head?

“Yeah.” A shuddering breath. He’s okay. His name is Wash and he’s on Chorus and he’s okay. “When it became clear that they were going to pull him he…he took control, of my body. Shot the Director and then tried to rip himself apart.”

“In your head,” Tucker echoes again. His hands come up to rest on Wash’s temples. “What did….”

He stops, but Wash can hear the unspoken end to that sentence: What did that feel like? “Like I was being ripped apart,” Wash says, then closes his eyes, plows onward and gives Tucker the final piece. “I tried to kill myself, too. I just…I just wanted it to stop. I got ahold of a gun and I…I pulled the trigger. If one of the guards hadn’t bumped my elbow, then…”

They both fall silent for a long time.

“I didn’t want to die,” Wash says after a while. “I know that now. But for a long time…for a long time I thought I did. There was too much going on, and we were so tightly wound together that…when they pulled him, I didn’t know which memories were mine and which were Alpha’s and which were the Director’s.”

Tucker’s cheek is pressed into the back of Wash’s shoulder, arms tightening around his torso, and Wash can continue, like this. “The ship crashed and I was stuck there, pinned down in the infirmary. Sometimes, I think I saw York, I think he tried to…One of the doctors came. Tronosky. He got me out, took me to an off-site hospital. Kept the Director and the Counselor away from me for a while. He saved my life. I had a few nurses who looked after me, and I was too out of it to realize it then, but they protected me, however they could.”

“Didn’t they want to question you? The Freelancer people?” Tucker asks.

“They did, but…my doctor kept them away for quite some time. They drove him off eventually—he knew too much—but he’d given me enough time.” Wash laughs bitterly. “After that, I couldn’t have told them anything even if I wanted to.”

“Why?” Tucker asks, after a moment of hesitation.

Wash sighs. How can he explain that part of his loosened grip on his sanity at that time had been calculated? “When they told me my friends were all dead, I…I lost it. Partially because I knew I had to, but the other part…I was so messed up. I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t. I thought Epsilon was still in my head.” Wash traces his thumb down the jagged scar just to the right of his implants. “Got ahold of a screw and tried to tear him out myself. They restrained me for a while, after that. I… I couldn’t eat, or bathe, or…I didn’t…didn’t even know my own name.”

“But you remembered it.”

“Yeah. It took years, but I—yeah.” Wash half turns his head to look at Tucker, but Tucker still has his face pressed tight to Wash’s back. “I’m still a mess, Tucker. I still get confused, and…and violent, and I forget my name, and where I am.”

Tucker sighs, lifting his head away from Wash’s back and resuming rubbing circles into it instead. “I know, dude. I know.”

Wash turns back around and lets Tucker’s hands knead the tension out of his body. He’s half-waiting for Tucker to get up and leave, but he doesn’t. “That’s fucked up,” Tucker says after a while. “That they just left you there, on that ship. That Church…that he…”

“It wasn’t their fault,” Wash says with a sigh. “It…it hurt, for a long time, but….we all had scars from Freelancers. The day the ship went down, everyone was just trying to survive, the best they knew how. Carolina had just as hard of a time with it as I did. Worse, probably.”

“They still could’ve come for you after,” Tucker says, and Wash can hear the thin line of anger underscoring all of his words. “In the hospital.”

“Maybe,” Wash says. “Hell, maybe they did. Maybe they tried. I don’t know. I never asked Carolina…”

Carolina. She had been there, at the warehouse. Wash has hazy memories of her and Tucker and either side of him, two blurs of aqua in his unfocused vision. I’m glad you’re here, boss, Wash had said to her, just before the mission, when he had thought that things were okay, that they had finally reached a point where Freelancer was a distant thing they never had to talk about. Foolish, he realizes now.

“Still,” Tucker says stubbornly, and even thought Wash can’t see him, he can practically feel Tucker struggling to hold back his next words before they burst out. “And Church! That’s just so fucked up! Who tries to kill themselves in someone else’s head? What the fuck kind of fucked up bullshit is that?”

“I hate it,” Tucker says when Wash doesn’t, can’t, respond. “I hate that they stuck these goddamn A.I. in your heads, and I hate that Church fucked your head all up, and I hate that your team fucking left you. I hate it.”

He’s holding tight to Wash again, and Wash just closes his eyes and squeezes Tucker’s arms. The concept of leaving someone behind is unthinkable to Tucker, Wash realizes, unthinkable to any of the sim troopers. He thinks of Caboose clutching a can of yellow spray paint in the snow, of Simmons pointing a gun to the back of Wash’s head, of Sarge breaking into his surgery on the Fed compound and holding Dr. Grey at scalpel point. Of a Pelican diving into the snow, of a Warthog smashing through a wall. Of Tucker, bending over him in a burning warehouse: I’m not going anywhere. I’m going to protect you.

Thinks, with a swelling heart, of his family.

“Thanks,” Wash says, and hopes Tucker doesn’t pick up on the weirdly choked note in his voice. “Just…thanks.”

Judging by the way Tucker’s arms squeeze even tight around his chest, Tucker does. “Anytime, dude.”


As it turns out, there’s nothing on his schedule for the day except a check-up with Dr. Grey and a mission debriefing with Kimball, Doyle, and Carolina. Wash is reluctant to leave his room, and the fragile peace that’s settled between him and Tucker, but eventually they have to. “You called for help,” Tucker says to him just before he leaves, lingering at Wash’s door.

Wash glances up from where he’s snapping on his armor. “What?”

“At the warehouse. You said you tried to call for Caboose and me, but couldn’t because your radio was busted. You kept your promise.”

“I…” Wash pauses and thinks back to the infirmary, to Tucker’s bright and angry eyes boring into his: you have to radio me when you need help. “I guess I did. Yeah. I did.”

Tucker raises an eyebrow. “Maybe you do learn, after all. Well. I’m glad, dude. I’m real glad.”

He leaves. Wash stares the place where he last stood, wondering if Tucker’s right, if he has changed. Thinks of waking up warm after having his brain rattled to pieces once more, and how he’d thought for a brief moment that he’d dropped into a parallel universe.

He wonders, hardly daring to even think it, if that universe is so far away after all.


The look of surprise on Dr. Grey’s face is brief when Wash appears in the doorway to her office, but Wash caches it nonetheless. “Agent Washington,” she says, setting down her datapad. “Goodness me, you showed up after all.”

“Tucker said you wanted to see me,” Wash says, his voice stiff and formal. “For a check-up.”

“Oh?” she says, getting up to move around her desk. “So you’ve decided to start taking care of yourself?”

Before Wash can come up with an answer, she’s marching out the door to her office. When Wash doesn’t follow, she whirls back around to beckon him. “Well, chop chop! Let’s go have a look at that stubborn, pesky brain of yours.”

Wash follows her into the infirmary and sits on the bed that she gestures him to, reaching up to remove his helmet before he remembers that it isn’t there. Simmons was fixing the busted radio, Tucker had told him, but he’d have it back soon. Wash sure hopes so. This check-up is bad enough; Wash can’t imagine having to attend this mission debriefing with Carolina and Epsilon without a helmet.

“How did you sleep last night?” Dr. Grey asks him as she readies her medical scanner.

“Fine,” Wash says automatically.

Dr. Grey shoots him a nearly murderous look over her scanner. “Agent Washington, I think that I am going to have to ban your use of the word fine in my infirmary. It is rather useless, coming from you.”

“But—” Wash clenches his jaw. “Fi…okay. I didn’t sleep all that well, alright? But it was just…bad dreams, and confusion. Stuff I’ve felt before. Nothing to suggest that there’s anything out of the ordinary going on.”

“Hmmm…did Tucker stay with you?”

“Yes,” Wash says after a pause.

“And did that help?”

He’s skittered backwards against the wall, chest heaving with giant breaths. There’s someone in front of him, reaching out slowly but deliberately. Not hesitating to touch him. Not afraid to touch him. There are steady hands on either side of his face and Wash clutches at them as if he’s drowning. “Hey, hey. Look at me. What’s my name?”

Wash knows this he knows this, but he can’t quite—he squeezes his eyes shut, trying to remember but there’s a voice calling him back. “No no, look at me. Come on, you know my name.”

He does. He knows this face, these hands, this name, it’s— “Tucker,” he croaks, voice weak and parched but sure, sure of this, if nothing else. “Tucker.”

“Yes,” Wash says quietly. “Yes, he did.”

Dr. Grey doesn’t say I told you so, and some of Wash’s icy reserve melts away at that. “Did you tell him to stay with me?”

“No. Once we figured out that you hadn’t slept a single wink during your stay in the infirmary—” she eyes him again over the scanner “—I told Tucker that it was imperative you sleep. He asked if he could try before I went…what were his words…jabbing needles into people.’”

Wash mulls this over, thinking. “I…I don’t react well, to…”

“Sedatives,” Dr. Grey supplies. “Yes, Tucker told me.”

Wash blinks in surprise. “He did?

She pauses. “I was under the impression that this was something you divulged to him.”

“It is, but…” Wash thinks back. He’s frankly startled that Tucker remembered that small piece of information from so long ago, before he realizes that he shouldn’t be surprised. Tucker has always been perceptive.

Dr. Grey steps behind him, running the scanner over his implants. Wash clenches his fists into the blankets, fighting back a flinch. “Is it just that the sedatives keep you from waking up from a nightmare? Or something more?”

“They…they make them worse,” Wash says. He tries to ignore the warm, unerring buzz from the scanner as she moves it over his head. “They, uh. They sharpen the nightmares. And yeah, make it impossible to wake up. It’s hard to tell what’s real. I think…I think they gave them to me once in Freelancer, too, and I reacted badly but I can’t remember the details.” He pauses. “Carolina would know.”

“You should ask her. It would be super helpful information to have for your file,” Dr. Grey says, then clicks off the scanner and steps out from behind him. “Well, the good news is that everything looks normal in here. A very mild concussion, though you should keep that bandage on for another day or two. Any head pain?”

“No. Just….I was just a little confused, is all.”

“Good.” Dr. Grey sighs, then folds her arms. “Washington, you were very lucky that this wasn’t worse. The concussion could have been far more severe, or damaged your implants. You must be more careful.”

“I will,” Wash agrees without thinking, then sighs when Dr. Grey’s glare sharpens. “Look, you think that I enjoy getting my head scrambled around? I don’t. I’ll be as careful as I can, but we’re in the middle of the war, and if you’re going to tell me to stay on the sidelines—”

“I’m not,” Dr. Grey says. “I’m not, because you wouldn’t listen anyway. But I am going to tell you that you need to take better care of yourself. I think it’s time that we come up with a way to help manage your PTSD—”

“I don’t have PTSD,” Wash says, startled, and for the first time, his words appear to have truly shocked Dr. Grey.

“Wash, you have quite a severe case of PTSD. It’s more than understandable, given you’re the things you’ve been through—”

Wash is already shaking his head. “PTSD didn’t make me shoot Donut in cold blood,” he says. “PTSD didn’t make me knock Doc around and drag him all over the desert—or kill South without even—it didn’t make me—don’t offer me an excuse for the things I’ve done.”

“I’m not,” Dr. Grey says quietly. “PTSD isn’t an excuse, Washington. It’s an illness, one that we can help manage. You have access to medicine—”

“I don’t want medicine.”

“But why?

“I don’t….don’t…there are other people, people who need that more than me.” He shakes his head, agitated. “There are kids here, in this army, who need that more than I do.”

Dr. Grey still has a rather alarmed look on her face. “Wash, you really—it is vital that you learn to take better care of yourself. You cannot keep going on like this. Refusing treatment for a mental illness because you think it’s something you deserve—because you’re using it to punish yourself, it’s…”

Wash doesn’t answer her, already climbing to a stand, and she sighs. “Just…please, just think about it.”

“I will.”

“Promise me one thing,” she says, and he frowns, surprised. “Promise me that when there’s too much going on in that stubborn skull of yours, you’ll come take it out on me. I can take it. Don’t…don’t take it out on your friends or your lover. Let them help you. Let them try.”

“Tucker’s not my lover,” he says, and the resulting flush makes Dr. Grey’s face light up in a grin.

“Hmmm,” she says. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

He flaps his arms vaguely, but she continues. “Promise me?”

“I’ll…I’ll try,” he says. “I’ll try.”

“Good. I suppose that’s a start.” She gestures towards the door. “Now, off to whatever super-secret meeting you’ve got planned next. Just be careful, alright? I’m getting awfully tired of seeing your face in my infirmary.”

For the first time, he smiles slightly. “That makes two of us.”


Simmons finds him pacing outside of the door of the meeting room, holding Wash’s helmet in his hands. “The radio’s fixed,” he says abruptly.

“Oh, good,” Wash says gratefully, and reaches out to take it. “Thanks, Simmons…”

He falters as Simmons yanks the helmet out of his reach. “It was really busted up.”

“Yeah,” Wash says slowly. “Yeah, I know. I couldn’t get through to anyone.”

“No, I mean…” Simmons fidgets, turning Wash’s helmet over and over in his hands. “These helmets are made to withstand a bump on the head. You must’ve really cracked it hard for the radio to short-circuit out like that.”

“I…yeah, I did.” Wash pauses, but Simmons says nothing. “Simmons, what—”

“You need to be more careful,” Simmons snaps. “If you’re cracking your head hard enough to break your helmet, what hope do the rest of us have?!”

“Okay, look—”

“It’s bullshit,” Simmons says, shoving his helmet at him angrily. “It’s all—this whole war thing is bullshit.

“I know,” Wash says carefully. “Simmons, I know, and I don’t like it any more than you do, but—”

“Sarge didn’t even make fun of you.”

“What?”

Sarge,” Simmons emphasizes. “He couldn’t even come up with a good joke after you guys came back. Not a single rant about Blue Team’s legendary inadequacy!”

Wash has no idea what to say to that. “I…”

“Just—just be careful, alright?” Simmons says, “Sir. Just be more careful.

Simmons turns on his heel and storms down the hallway, leaving Wash gaping after him.

He’s still standing there, helmet in his hands, when the door opens nearly a minute later. “Agent Washington!” Doyle says. “Goodness, we were wondering when you were going to show up.”

“I...” Wash refocuses. “Sorry, sir.”

“Not to worry,” Doyle says brightly. “Come on, we have much to discuss!”

Wash follows him into the room, eyes flickering over to where Kimball and Carolina are sitting. Their heads are bent together over a series of charts, and it takes a moment for them to glance his way.

Epsilon, however, looks up from where he’s perched on Carolina’s shoulder the moment Wash enters the room. Wash freezes before pointedly jamming his helmet onto his head and looking away towards Kimball. “Sorry I’m late, General.”

Kimball glances up. “That’s quite alright, Agent Washington. How are you feeling?”

“Fine,” Wash says quickly. “Fine, I’m fine.”

He waits until she gestures him into a chair before sitting. “As I’m sure you’ve heard, the mission was a remarkable success, despite your injury.”

Wash nods. “I heard we got all of the ammo we could carry.”

“We did,” Kimball says, her voice bright and excited. “We really did. It’s incredible, what this is going to do for us. I can’t thank you enough.”

“Have we heard from Charon yet?”

“Nothing,” Kimball says. “Although I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.”

Epsilon waves a hand. “Let them whine and cry,” he says. “We’ll just be sitting here on our fucking mountain of ammo.

“So what did you need from us?” Wash says, gesturing towards himself and Carolina. “Just say the word, and we’ll get it done.”

“Actually, we called you both in here because there’s something we want to talk to you and Carolina about,” Kimball says slowly. To Wash’s astonishment, she exchanges a glance with Doyle. “That last Pelican barely made it out. It might not have made it out at all, in the hands of a pilot less skilled than Private Britton.”

That’s twice now, that Britton has saved his skin. Wash makes a mental note to thank her later. “Apologies, Generals. It won’t happen again.”

“Of course it will,” Kimball says bluntly. “We’re at war, against enemies that want us annihilated, and no one is coming to help us. Of course it’s going to happen again. But it can’t happen while the two of you together.”

Carolina tilts her head at Kimball. “What are you saying?”

“What Miss Kimball is trying to say,” Doyle says, “is that it is absolutely imperative that one of you stay in the Capital at all times.”

“I wasn’t trying to say that, I was saying that,” Kimball snaps, then looks between Carolina and Wash. “I understand that the two of you are probably used to running missions together. But if something were to happen to the both of you, then I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that we wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“But…” Wash frowns. “But why?

Everyone exchanges a series of glances, and Wash hastens to explain. “I just mean…you’ve both been fighting this war for years, and now you’re fighting together. That was our first mission, and we’re lucky we got out of there. You haven’t seen what Carolina and I can do yet—you don’t know if we’re going to make any difference.”

“You already have made quite a remarkable difference, Agent Washington,” Doyle says. “The training you have provided to both my soldiers and the soldiers of the New Republic is quite frankly astounding.”

“I’ve never seen the cadets work so efficiently,” Kimball says, the smile evident in her voice. “Not to mention that they love you. You inspire them—you all inspire them. That’s no small thing.”

“Yes, but…” Wash shifts. “I’m not trying to deny that Carolina and I are…highly efficient soldiers, but…I am the one who tripped that pressure plate in the warehouse.”

“I should’ve caught that,” Carolina says quickly, speaking directly to Wash for the first time. “It took Epsilon and I weeks to dismantle all the shields inside and outside of that warehouse, and set up dummy ones. We suspect it’s why there were no guards there in the first place—they were incredibly advanced. There was no reason you should’ve been looking for traps, when we had given you the all-clear.”

“I appreciate you saying that,” Wash says stiff. “But I…I still should’ve caught it.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Epsilon says earnestly. “It wasn’t, we…I…”

He falters when Wash turns to look at him slowly. “Yes, thank you, Epsilon.”

Epsilon glances at Carolina. She gives her head a little shake, but Epsilon looks back at Wash again. “Listen—Wash—”

“Don’t,” Wash says. There’s no way, no way that Epsilon is even considering starting this discussion with him, here, now. “Just…don’t.”

Epsilon exchanges another look with Carolina, and this time, he flickers away. Wash takes a deep breath. “Okay. You want either Carolina or myself to always remain in Armonia, then that’s what we’ll do. Unless Carolina has anything else to add.”

Carolina shakes her head.

Wonderful,” Doyle says brightly. “Well, we’ll just keep that in mind when scheduling our future missions!”

“What is our next move anyway?” Wash asks, and this time, Kimball exchanges a significant look with Carolina.

“Our next move,” Kimball says, “is to go on the offensive.”

The rest of the meeting is long and involved, with more than a few arguments from Kimball and Doyle. Epsilon appears again halfway through to talk numbers, but doesn’t so much as look at Wash again. Fine by him. It’s late afternoon by the time they all pack up to leave and Wash finds himself alone in the room with Carolina. He lingers at the table, watching her pack up her things. They had been nothing but polite to each other in the meeting, but there is a new tension between them, thick and heavy, and all at once Wash can’t stand it another second.

“I have a question for you,” Wash says suddenly, “about Freelancer.”

Carolina pauses, her hand on the door, and slowly turns to face him. “About Freelancer.”

“Yeah.” Wash clears his throat. “When I was…in recovery, after the Mother crashed, they gave me something to help me sleep. I didn’t react well to it and I think something similar happened in Freelancer. Grey wants the information for my file, since that’s probably not the last time I’ll be in the infirmary. I don’t…I don’t remember it very clearly, and…I thought that you might.”

There’s a long pause before Carolina reaches up and, to Wash’s great shock, removes her helmet. She sets it carefully on the table next to her and turns to look at him. “Triazolam,” she says. “You’re—well, I don’t know if allergic is the right word, but you don’t react well to Triazolam.”

“Triazolam,” Wash echoes, the word tugging on the threads of his memory. “That’s what they gave me after…”

“After that mission where you were interrogated.” Carolina leans against the table, arms folding protectively over her chest. “You—you had some pretty bad nightmares about that, for a while. They gave you Triazolam to help you sleep, and it…it wasn’t good. It made it difficult for you to wake up, and you had pretty severe hallucinations when you did.”

“You stayed with me,” Wash remembers suddenly. He squints at her. “You—in the infirmary. You slept in the hospital bed next to mine for a week.”

She shrugs, shoulders drawn up tight by her ears. “I—it shouldn’t have taken us that long to pinpoint your location. I just needed…I just needed to make sure you were okay.”

Carolina’s palm, cool on his feverish forehead. Carolina trimming the hair off his ears and the back of his neck. Carolina arguing with his doctors. Carolina’s arms, strong and sure, easing him back into bed.

“But you did pinpoint it,” he says. “You all—you got me out of here.”

Carolina isn’t looking at him now, gaze directed somewhere just beyond his left shoulder. “Yeah. Well.”

Wash reaches up to unclasp the seals on his own helmet and sets it down next to hers, leaning against the table next to her. “Connie tried to tell me,” he says suddenly. “About…about....Alpha. About the Director, and what he was doing.”

Carolina stiffens, her gaze snapping back to his once more. “Wash—you don’t have to—”

“I didn’t listen,” he continues. “I didn’t listen to her. I should have—Connie was smarter than me, so much smarter, and I could’ve helped her but I…I didn’t want to hear it. And I’ll never get to apologize to her. I’ll never get to—to tell South…”

He stops, swallowing hard around the lump that’s risen in his throat. “I killed her. Did you know that?”

“I do,” Carolina says quietly.

Wash nods. “I was so…so angry. So. Angry. I didn’t even think about it, when I did it, I just…pulled the trigger.” He closes his eyes. “I’ll never know what would’ve happened if I’d just…just taken a second to talk to her. If I’d listened to Connie or paid more attention to Maine…if…”

He can’t hide the break in his voice this time, and Carolina’s hand finds his on the table. Wash gripes back without thinking, focusing on their intertwined fingers. “I fucked up,” he says quietly. “I fucked up, and they’re gone now, but you’re still here.”

“I’m not going anywhere,” she says suddenly, and he glances up, surprised at the fierceness in her voice. “I’m…I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here, on this planet, with…with everyone. I’m not going anywhere.”

“I know,” he says simply.

“Wash,” she says, the waver in her voice so slight Wash almost misses it. “I should’ve…”

“Don’t,” he says, shaking his head. “Don’t. You…you had your A.I. ripped out, too. We were all fucked up. All of us.”

“Still,” she says, and it’s enough, that single word.

It’s enough.

The silence that falls between them is lighter than it has been in years, and when Carolina disentangles her hand from his and moves to stand, the gesture is not dismissive. She wanders over to the window and doesn’t speak until her back is solidly to Wash. “You know my name, then.”

“Yeah,” he says softly. “Yeah. Naomi. It’s a nice name.”

She laughs a little, back still turned to him. “Hmm. You know, I can’t remember the last time I heard that name said out loud.”

Wash can relate to that. “You were cute as a blonde,” he says, “but I think red’s your true color.”

She turns around, an easy smile tugging the corners of her mouth up. “Sarge says the fact that I choose to dye my hair red makes me a true member of Red Team, no matter what color my armor is.”

Wash laughs, and the sound chases the remaining ghosts from the room. “He would.

Carolina pushes away from the window, picking up her helmet. “I’ll tell Dr. Grey about the Triazolam. I remember pretty well what happened, so I’ll…I’ll let her know. Make sure it’s in your file.”

“Thanks, boss.”

She reaches out to ruffle his hair and he finds himself leaning into it, something inside of him aching at the familiarity of the gesture. “Be careful, alright? I can’t manage these idiots on my own.”

“I will,” he says, “but only if you are.”

“Deal,” she says with a wry smile, and starts towards the door.

She’s at the door when Wash speaks. “David,” he says, and she freezes with her hand on the doorknob. “David Fletcher. That was my name.”

Carolina turns to face him slowly, looking as shocked as Wash has ever seen her. He shrugs. “It’s only fair that you know mine, too.”

“David,” she says, low and quiet. “David. Okay.”

She leaves, and the door closes behind her, the snap of it soft and final like the pages of a long, heavy book.


Wash doesn’t think it’s quite right to say that Freelancer is over for him. Not when he can slip back into the memories at a moment’s notice, not when he and Epsilon can barely stand to be in the same room as each other most days, not when he has to remind himself in the middle of the night, still, where he is, and who he is.

Yet—

When he wakes up that night, frantic and flailing, whispering reminders to himself—your name is Agent Washington you are the leader of Blue Team you are on Chorus Epsilon is not here—when he thrashes himself out of a nightmare and claws at the sheets, reaching for something to ground himself, something to hold—

There is already someone holding onto him.

The shock of this, more than anything, jolts him fully out of the nightmare. “Tucker,” he says, when he remembers how to speak, remembers who is lying next to him. “What…”

Tucker hadn’t been there when he fell asleep. Wash had made sure of this, had made sure that he’d slipped quietly off to bed before anyone noticed because Tucker deserved some real sleep after the hell Wash had put him through the night prior.

“I heard you,” Tucker says now, his eyes glittering in the dark. “When I got up to get some water. You were yelling.”

“You didn’t have to—”

“Stop,” Tucker says with a yawn. “Stop. Go back to sleep.”

It isn’t until Wash is almost there, drifting in the lines between asleep and awake that he realizes that there was no way that Tucker was getting up to get water, because Tucker never went to bed without at least three full canteens of water by his bedside.

Simmons shoving his helmet at him, Caboose hefting him onto his back. Dr. Grey’s palms slamming up on either side of the doorway, Sarge keeping everyone else away from him on the plane. Tucker’s lips murmuring into his hair as the night swallowed them whole. His name, safe inside of Carolina’s mouth.

You’ve got oodles and oodles of friends out there, Agent Washington.

Freelancer isn’t over, will never be over, but he is here now. He is here, just him and Carolina, alive, and okay, on Chorus, and…

He made it here.

Tucker shifts against him and Wash closes his eyes.

Despite everything, against all odds—he made it here.

Chapter Text

Tucker watches Wash sigh in his sleep, the pink light of an early morning dawn falling across his face, and thinks, going backwards doesn’t even begin to cover it.

Going backwards at least implied travel in a straight line. This, however, this thing between him and Wash, was nowhere close to a straight line. It was upside down and inside out and all over the fucking place.

Wash shifts against him, soft hair tickling Tucker’s arm, and Tucker holds his breath, not daring to move an inch. For nearly the entire second half of the night, Wash had slept—fitfully, it was true, but nothing nearly as bad as the previous night’s horrifying, endless dreams. There’s been a fair amount of thrashing and yelling and jolting awake, but they had both actually gotten some real sleep.

Which is how Tucker finds himself waking up for the second morning in a row next to a total hottie he hasn’t even kissed yet.

Backwards. Upside down. Inside out.

Despite Tucker’s best efforts to remain still and silent, Wash stretches himself awake, eyes cracking open slowly to focus on Tucker’s. Tucker watches those eyes flicker from sleep, to confusion, to recognition, to bliss, to guilt—

—back to bliss—

Tucker blinks, slightly startled at the smile stealing over Wash’s face. “Morning. Tucker,” he clarifies.

“Morning,” Tucker says cautiously, and he has to stop himself from leaning down and planting an instinctive kiss right on Wash’s forehead. Christ, they’re like an old married couple. “You feeling okay?”

Wash nods. “Washington, Chorus, 2556,” he mutters, almost to himself.

“Yeah. You got it, dude,” Tucker says, and this time he can’t prevent himself from running a hand through Wash’s hair.

Wash’s eyes flick over to his, smiling. “Sometimes I…remember quickly. Sometimes.”

After a few more moments of silence during which Wash does not pull away or brush off Tucker’s affectionate strokess to his hair, Wash reaches an arm across Tucker to fiddle with the clock on his nightstand.

“Zero six hundred,” he says, falling back. “Hmm. Training in thirty minutes.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says intelligently. He’s completely baffled by how at ease Wash seems. “Yeah. Are you, uh. Are you cleared to do any training?”

Wash turns to look at him with a small, serious smile. “Yeah. I’m clear. All clear.”

There’s something about the way he says it, something about the soft yet sure way the words leave his tongue, that lifts the tension from the previous few days right out of Tucker’s body. “Good,” he says. “That’s good.”

He’s unable to manage anything more substantial than that, because he’s seriously distracted by Wash’s ease and Wash’s smile and Wash’s body and shit, Grif was right, he’s fucked, he’s so incredibly beyond fucked.

Wash yawns and stretches. Tucker jolts because he’s absolutely imagining the way Wash’s knee slides up the inside of his thigh—they’re just tangled together, that’s all—still sluggish and sleepy so it’s not intentional, not at all, but Tucker finds himself arching into the movement nonetheless.

With a final stretch—higher this time, that was definitely higher—Wash sits up and looks down at him. “Thanks,” he says. It’s, the grave, serious note that Tucker was waiting for, but it doesn’t carry Wash away from him the way he expected it to. Wash is still here, still leaning over him, still smiling. “Thanks. For everything.”

“You got it, dude,” Tucker says. “Anytime. Just. Anytime you want to, you know, cuddle, I’m right here.”

Anytime you want to cuddle. Jesus Christ, he sounds like a thirteen-year-old who’d just gotten his first kiss. He is done. He is ruined and it’s entirely Wash’s fault, Wash and his big blue eyes and his soft hair and his stupid abs. Ruined. He’ll never be able to bust out anything except sappy one-liners again.

Backwards. It’s all backwards. They’re so backwards. He reaches out to Wash anyway. “You sure you’re okay?”

Wash grins and laughs a little—a real laugh, not bitter or sarcastic or hysterical, but a real Wash laugh, bright and bursting and just the right amount of awkward. “Uh. Yeah. Yeah, I think I am. For now, at least.”

He brushes his fingers up and down Tucker’s arm. The gesture is innocent and sweet and yet it hits Tucker like a bolt of lightning, heat pooling in his gut. Wash is smiling at him, head tilted and expression soft and sleepy and a touch uncertain, and Tucker wants nothing more than to pull Wash right back down on top of him and—

He’s half-reaching to do just that before he snaps his hands back. Wash just went through a whole fuckton of bullshit. For all Tucker knows Wash isn’t fully aware of where he is or what their relationship is, and Tucker sure as shit doesn’t know how to clarify that. What even are they? Tucker has to be—has to be sensitive or some shit. The last thing, the absolute last thing he wants is to act on his raging morning hormones and do something that Wash is later going to regret, no matter what his face says now.

That, and the inevitable smug lecture from Epsilon if Tucker fucks this up now—

Tucker climbs abruptly to his feet, throwing back the covers. No. He won’t fuck this up. He won’t. He is going to do this shit right if it fucking kills him. He will not let Church have the last laugh.

He will not sully this shining piece of trust Wash has given him.

“Should get breakfast,” Tucker mutters, shimmying into his Kevlar suit. It takes everything inside of him not to make a seductive production out of it, so he just hurries the process up and begins slamming on his armor, codpiece first. Like a chastity belt, Tucker thinks wildly, and his dick sullenly agrees. By the time he allows himself a glimpse of Wash’s face, he’s got half his armor on.

Wash’s face makes him falter only slightly. Wash has also begun the laborious process of zipping up his suit and strapping on his armor, but he’s watching Tucker carefully. There’s something sharp and calculating in his eyes, some sort of confusion and—disappointment?

No. Tucker’s imagining that. He wrenches his gaze away from Wash and jams his helmet on before he can do something stupid like start kissing Wash. He’s all the way at the door when he pauses, turns back to Wash with a lifted chin.

“I like sleeping with you,” he mumbles, grateful that the helmet is hiding the darkening of his cheeks. He gives himself a mental slap; rallies. Tucker does not mumble. “Bet I’d like it in more ways than one. Boooooowhickabowow.

He puffs up his chest and does his best about-face, strutting out of the room and feeling faintly proud of himself, blue balls or not. “Not gonna fuck it up,” he mutters through clenched teeth as he plows determinedly through the hallways. “Keep fucking walking. Do not think of Wash half-naked back there. Do not.”

He does. He doesn’t.

He soooo does.

I am so fucked.


By the time Tucker has marched himself right on out to the make-shift track, his boner has wilted in disappointment. He’s the first one there, so he stretches and does a bit of jogging. One by one, the rest of the sim troopers and Federalist captains wander over.

It’s a weird morning. Everyone keeps breaking off into twos and threes, whispering and arguing and—Tucker is sure of it—staring at him. They’re supposed to be doing a conditioning circuit, moving from obstacle to obstacle to work on pull-ups or push-ups or sprints or something equally as annoying, but no one seems to be paying much attention to the order except Simmons.

“No—Ali—you’re supposed to go to the rope climbing station next, not…”

Ali does not, in fact, go over to the rope climbing station. He continues to whisper with Grif over at the weight rack, both of them only half-heartedly going through the motions. Grif has been doing bicep curls with the same five-pound weight for nearly two minutes now.

Tucker is starting to get seriously paranoid when Caboose ends up at same station as Tucker to do pull-ups. Tucker opens his mouth to order Caboose to the proper station when he realizes that Caboose is at the proper station—is the only person at the proper station. Normally, Caboose is the one fucking up the order and it’s this more than anything that sets alarm bells off in Tucker’s head.

“Good morning, Tucker,” Caboose says serenely, then leaps up to grab the pull-up bar and starts knocking them out.

Tucker regards him suspiciously before jumping up to grab the bar as well. “Good morning, Caboose.”

“And how are you this morning?”

There’s something up. There’s definitely something up. “Okay, out with it,” Tucker wheezes between pull-ups. “Why are you all acting so weird?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Caboose says. His pacing hasn’t slowed in the slightest.

“Really.”

“Really!"

Tucker eyes him for another moment before continuing his pull-ups.

“It’s just, um.”

“Caboose, Jesus, what?

“See, it’s just that there are some people that have a question, but they are afraid to ask it, and I am not afraid to ask it because you are not as scary as you think you are, so. Here I am.”

“Caboose, if you don’t tell me what the fuck is going on then I will show you scary—”

“Have you given Wash a kiss yet?”

Tucker falls off the pull-up bar and lands, sputtering, on the ground. “Have I what?

Caboose just keeps on fucking doing pull-ups. “Have you kissed him, Tucker?” he asks in the most condescending voice Tucker’s ever heard him manage. “It is a thing that two people do when—”

No. No. He is not about to get sex advice from Caboose. Surely the universe does not hate him that much. “I know what kissing is! What I don’t know is why the fuck you’re asking me this question!”

Caboose finally finishes his pull-ups and jumps down next to Tucker. “Well, see, there are some people who might want to know the answer to that question because some people might have made guesses on when you would kiss and some people have bet money and—”

Tucker whirls around to shoot a murderous glare at Grif, who is cranking out enthusiastic push-ups. Everyone, in fact, has adopted a sudden laser-focused on their exercises.

“—and because Freckles, Shake is a very good story that I would like to know the ending to, and because you spent the last two nights with him and—”

“Jesus, Caboose, keep your voice down…” Tucker shoots another glance around the track. “Does everyone know that I spent the last two nights in his room?”

“Yes.”

“How?!”

“I don’t know.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet you don’t….you’re probably the one who fucking told everyone…”

When Caboose continues to stare at him expectantly, Tucker sighs, irritated. “No. Okay? No. We haven’t…kissed.”

“Oh,” Caboose says. “Um. Why?”

“Are you serious right now?!”

“It’s just that, um. Wash wants to kiss you, and you want to kiss him, so I don’t understand why you are making me lose all of this money.”

“I don’t—what money—you’re betting—” Tucker suffers through a painful internal struggle before saying, “How do you know Wash wants to kiss me too?”

Caboose deigns him with a pitying sigh. “Well, because when two people love each other sometimes they like to kiss, and—”

“Oh, my god. I cannot believe we’re having this conversation.”

“Tucker.” Caboose claps a hand down onto his shoulder. “I think that it would be very nice if Wash were to get lots of hugs and kisses. I give him lots of hugs, the best hugs, better hugs than you give, but he is my brother and it would not feel right if I kissed him on the mouth. But you can kiss him on the mouth. I think he would like that. I think he would like that very much.”

For nearly a full minute, Tucker struggles in silence and tries to come to terms with the fact that Caboose just told him to make a move. “Okay,” he says finally, because what else is there? “Okay. Uh. Thanks, Caboose. I’ll keep that in mind. Now please leave me the fuck alone.”

“Good,” Caboose says happily, and he charges off to the next station, leaving Tucker to stare at the place where he’d last stood and tries to contemplate just when his life got turned so upside down.


Tucker storms to Grif’s room later night, after a long day during which no less than three cadets made passive aggressive comments that he’s sure are directed towards his sex life with Wash, or regrettable lack thereof. He throws the door to Grif’s room open with a bang, to reveal Grif and Simmons lounging on the bed and watching something that looks boring and nerdy. He jabs a finger in Grif’s direction. “You. I know this is your fault.”

Grif doesn’t even look up. “Probably.”

“How big is this…this betting pool you started?! Fucking Caboose…” Tucker flaps his arms, still unable to fully believe what had happened. “Caboose came up to me today and fucking told me off for not making a move on Wash yet. I mean, what the fuck!”

“Yeah, and from what I understand, you didn’t.” Grif side-eyes him. “Unless you were lying?”

“I…no. I wasn’t lying. But that’s not the point! The point is—”

Grif groans, dropping his head back down on his arm. “Dude. I cannot believe you. Do you know how much money I could’ve won if you hadn’t been such a sissy la-la?” He throws a hand up into the air, ticking off his fingers. “Five weeks to the day after the armies merge. Bonus points if you guess the circumstances and the position. I had my money on you sucking his dick—because thanks for not shutting up about that, by the way—after some bullshit tragic mission that cuts it way too close.”

“Oooookay,” Simmons says nervously. “Uhhh, I think I’m gonna go now.”

Grif’s hand shoots out faster than Tucker would’ve thought possible and snags the back of Simmons’ shirt. “Oh no you don’t. Do not leave me alone in here with him.” Grif slants his eyes towards Tucker once more. “Simmons here is still in the running. He’s betting that you two don’t get it on until after the war. And that Wash is the one to make the move. At this fucking rate—”

“Okay, okay!” Tucker slumps into Grif’s room and leans against the wall, sliding to the floor. “I get it. Jesus Christ, doesn’t anyone on this planet have anything better to do? I mean, how can I get in on the wager of when you two will finally fuck?”

“Palomo is in charge of that one,” Grif says without even blinking, as Simmons turns bright red and starts making indignant noises. “Although you’ll notice that Simmons and I aren’t feeling each other up on the training room floor.”

“We aren’t—we weren’t—that was one time!

Grif shrugs. “Word gets around, Tucker.”

“Whatever.” Tucker hesitates before plowing on, gaze fixed determinedly on the floor. “Look, you weren’t there, okay? On the mission. It fucking sucked. We were…he was…I just want to make sure he’s okay before I like, jump his bones.”

“Oh wow,” a voice breathes from the doorway, and they all turn to see Donut leaning against the frame with a dreamy look on his face. “Oh, Tucker. You love him.”

“O-ho, my god!” Tucker gets his feet underneath him and is halfway to a stand when he notices that Donut is clutching several bottles of table wine in his arms. “Those had better be for me or I am so noping the fuck out of this conversation.”

“Oh, calm down.” Donut flounces into the in the room and sits next to Tucker. Grif snags a bottle out of his arms as he passes. “Don’t listen to Grif. I think it’s romantic that you waited. It’s just like a movie!”

Tucker unscrews one of the bottles of wine—a twist top, thank Christ—and takes a healthy swig. “Blagh—where did you get this?”

“Private Jensen brewed it!” Donut says, taking a dainty sip.

“In what, the toilet?”

“In a car engine.”

“Lovely,” Tucker mutters, but takes another sip anyway. “Okay, look—the situation is complicated—I’m just waiting for the right moment here.”

“Blue Team Problems,” Grif and Simmons say in unison.

Tucker throws up his arms and sloshes enough wine over the side of the bottle that Donut squeaks. He sets it down carefully on the floor and resumes glaring. “Blue Team Problems, Blue Team Problems—what about Red Team Gossip? Christ, you’re all like a bunch of housewives yapping away about your soaps—”

“Blasphemy! M’soaps are way more interesting than you two knuckle heads dancing around each other like it’s junior prom night and you both forgot the box condoms!” Tucker closes his eyes briefly in horror as Sarge makes his way into the room, gesturing towards Donut for a bottle. “Now, listen. The two of you—thanks, son—the two of you need to shape up right quick!”

“Oh that’s rich, relationship advice coming from—” Tucker pauses, suddenly remembering Dr. Grey’s absentminded kiss to the side of Sarge’s helmet. “Wait. Waaaaaaait. You are getting some tail, aren’t you?”

It’s worth it when Grif startles so badly that he almost face-plants off the bed. “What?”

“You don’t know about this?” Donut says gleefully, sitting up straighter. “Ohhhh my god. You don’t—oh, Grif! You should’ve seen them at the Federalist base. Sarge and Emily just couldn’t keep their eyes off of each other”

“Emily? Emily? You’re banging Dr. Grey?” He turns, sputtering, to Simmons. “Did you know about this?”

“Well, they haven’t exactly been subtle, Grif.” Simmons shudders. “Unfortunately.”

“Love is a beautiful thing, Simmons!” Sarge says airly, “It ain’t meant to be boxed up tight!”

“Ha,” Tucker says triumphantly. “Not so fun to talk about his sex life, now is it?”

Grif is still staring slack-jawed at Sarge. “I don’t—how did this even--?”

“Ohhh, okay, so…” Donut takes another sip of wine before folding his hands in his lap. “It all started when we were separated! Now, as you know when we first got there we didn’t know what to think, not to mention the fact that we were all in pretty bad shape! Dr. Grey had to—”

Grif groans. “Donut, please. Spare me the details.”

“Shut up, Grif. Just because you wouldn’t know what to do with that pecker of yours if it came with a series of written instructions and a how-to video doesn’t mean the rest of us should suffer!” Sarge takes a swig to the sound of Grif cursing, and hands the wine bottle back to Donut. He turns a beady eye towards Tucker. “Now, get a move on, will you? Otherwise the good doctor and I might have to say yes to the threesome Agent Washington propositioned as general act of charity!”

Tucker isn’t the only one who sprays out the wine he’d just chugged: Grif manages to dose Simmons in a rather impressive spray of wine, and as Simmons shrieks and starts hopping around, he knocks their bottle of wine onto the floor.

The night deteriorates rapidly after that. Tucker can’t get another word out of Sarge about this supposed threesome proposition and, in the end, he’s only half-convinced that Sarge is fucking with him. Patil and Ali wander past their room and soon enough, they’re drinking with them as well, and before Tucker knows it they’re half drunk and playing some sort of ridiculous drinking game that involves three decks of cards and the empty wine bottles.

“It won’t just be sex,” Tucker says suddenly to Donut an hour later, when they are both warm and heavy from the wine, and he is reasonably sure that no one is listening to them.

Donut looks at him. “What?”

“With Wash.” Tucker swallows hard. “It won’t….it won’t just be sex, if we fuck now.”

“It was never going to be just sex, Tucker. Not with you two.” Tucker’s more than a little tipsy, so he’s sure he’s imagining the misty look in Donut’s eyes. Pretty sure. “Not after Freckles, Shake.”

Tucker rolls his eyes, but his heart isn’t in it. “Maybe. But now…now there’s too much…it’ll be…we’ll be…”

“Boyfriends?” Donut supplies helpfully.

Tucker groans. “No! Not—well. Maybe. I don’t know! Fuck!”

Donut smiles at him kindly. “It isn’t like you to overthink something like this. What happened to that strapping young buck from the desert? Why, you were ready for just about anything!

“I know! I know!” Tucker scrubs his hands over his face, agitated. “It’s just—it’s Wash, ya know?”

Donut nods, even though Tucker isn’t making any sense whatsoever.  “I don’t think you ever wanted it to be just sex.”

Tucker nods, then shakes his head. “Yeah. I mean no. I mean—fuck, I’ve had too much wine.” He regroups. “You’re…fuck. I think you’re right. I just—I just don’t want to fuck this up. I don’t….I don’t wanna hurt him more than he’s already been hurt.”

It’s quite possibly one of the most honest things he’s ever said, and it leaves him feeling both empty and full all at once. “He deserves something good,” Tucker continues. “I could be that something good.”

He’d said those words to Church only a few weeks ago, but it seems like lifetimes ago. He had meant it, at the time, but now Tucker realizes he didn’t understand the extent of his words. Something good, he realizes now, is more than just a good fuck or cuddle or even a good massage. It’s holding their helmet in the rain. It’s holding someone as tight as you can, to keep them from shaking apart in your arms.

“I want to be that something good.”

Not long after that, Kimball is hauling them all out into the hallway one by one. Tucker barely hears her lecture—he’s fairly certain that Grif has fallen asleep standing up—and it takes him a while to stumble back into his hallway. He must be drunker than he thought, because after what he thought was only a minute or fumbling with his door, Wash opens it and Tucker almost falls right in.

Tucker blinks at him. “Damn, Wash. Fancy finding you in my bed. What a nice surprise.”

He waggles his eyebrows at Wash before realizing that he’s supposed to be wooing him, and drunken come-ons are surely not woo-worthy. Before he can backtrack and salvage the situation, Wash is squinting at him.

“Are you drunk?”

“Yes,” Tucker says, and grins when it gets a laugh out of Wash.

“Well, you get points for honestly,” he takes Tucker by the shoulders, steering him gently down the hall. “This is my room. Yours is this way.”

“Oh,” Tucker says, and stares at his own door for so long that Wash sighs and reaches around him to unlock it.

“Do I even want to know where you got the alcohol you were drinking?” Wash asks, as he steers Tucker into his room and maneuvers him to the bed.

Tucker closes his eyes against the spinning of the room. “Ummmm,” he says. “I think that’s a secret.”

“Really.” Wash’s voice is amused as he bends down to tug off Tucker’s boots.

Tucker resists the urge to tell him to feel free to continue undressing him. “Yeah. Really.”

He keeps his eyes closed and listens to Wash rustle around the room, and doesn’t open them until he feels Wash slip something over his head. Tucker blinks up, confused, and it takes him a moment to realize that Wash has located his favorite thick headband and is smoothing his dreads away from his face.

“Dude,” he mutters, unexpectedly touched. He catches Wash’s wrist, fingers pressing against the pulse point. “Thanks.”

Wash’s darkening cheeks are visible even in the dim light. “It’s the least I can do,” he says, tugging his hand gently away from Tucker’s grip to maneuver his legs onto the cot.

As he pushes Tucker’s shoulders down, Tucker can see that Wash has stacked his canteens neatly on his bedside crate, and— “did you change my pillowcase, too?!”

Wash hesitates. “Should I not have?”

“No, dude. It’s great. Thanks,” he says again, because he’s drunk and sleepy and he can’t quite find the words for how it makes him feel that Wash knows his bedtime haircare routine other than, I am going to fuck you so hard, just wait.

Tucker feels Wash’s hand stroke down his arm before the mattress lifts slightly, and by the time he opens his eyes to tell Wash to stay, he is already gone.


Quite frankly, Tucker thinks he deserves a medal for all of the self-control he shows over the next week. He doesn’t try to feel Wash up once: not during knife training, not during the lazy afternoon nap they take when Tucker barges crankily into his room in between meetings, not during another long night when Wash’s yells draw Tucker to his room. Nothing, save for lingering touches to skin and slow brushes through hair.  This is, admittedly, made a little easier when Wash is called out on a mission that takes up the majority of his days and some of his nights, but still. Tucker is perfectly well-behaved when they are together, determined to do this right, convinced that Wash should be the one to make the next move.

He’s also pretty goddamn proud of himself for not blowing up at Epsilon. Granted, the two of them haven’t said a single word to each other, and Tucker may or may not find reasons to leave the room whenever Carolina enters it, but still. He is calm. He is rational. He is the absolutely pinnacle of good manners and high morals. He is—

“Are you fucking kidding me?”

Half the mess hall falls silent and glances over at him, but Tucker lowers his voice only marginally. He turns to Grif, agitated, and waves the mission dossier he’s just received under his nose. “Did you read this? Did you?”

Isssurlyfoisullshi,” Grif mumbles through a mouthful of oatmeal, not even bothering to glance at Tucker’s datapad.

“We’re going on a supply run,” Tucker says, glancing back to the roster. “You, me, Benson, Silver, Volleyball, and Agent Carolina.”

Grif takes his time swallowing his oatmeal before casting a dull, bleary-eyed look towards Tucker. “So?”

“So? So? I can’t—this isn’t—who came up with this roster?

“I don’t know, probably Carolina. Looks like she’s team leader—uh, where are you going?”

Tucker swings his legs over the bench and stalks off, ignoring Grif’s half-hearted calls. “Bullshit,” he mutters as he half-runs through the base. “Such bullshit.

He locates Carolina in the first training room he tries. She’s out of her armor—one of the few times he’s seen her completely out of it, Tucker notes absently—and beating the living Christ out of a heavy bag. Epsilon is sitting crossed-legged on the helmet next to her, chattering away, but falters as Tucker stomps in. Tucker rips off his own helmet as well, sets it down on the bench with a slam, and holds the datapad out to Carolina. “Explain.

Carolina pauses only briefly in her exercise to glance at the datapad. “Explain what, Captain Tucker?”

“Explain…this. This roster. Did you come up with this?”

“Yes.”

He stares at her, waiting for an explanation that never comes. “Uh, you realize that my name is on this roster, right?”

“Funnily enough, I did,” she snaps.

“And you think that’s a good idea? For me to come on this supply run?”

She throws a confused look his way. “I wouldn’t have selected you if I didn’t think it was a good idea. There aren’t many fighters as skilled in close quarters combat as you, and we could use someone on the squad like that.”

Tucker ignores the small flicker of pride her words bring. “That’s not what I meant, and you know it.”

“Tucker—”

“I can’t work with you.”

Carolina finally stops trying to beat the bag into submission. “What?”

“On missions and stuff. I can’t work with you.”

“Tucker…” Carolina turns to face him fully, snagging a nearby towel and wiping at her forehead. “Look. I know you’re upset about what happened at the warehouse with Wash.”

“That’s not it!” Tucker considers. “I mean, I am, I’m really fucking pissed off about it, actually, but that’s not what this is about. This is about you not listening to me.

To Tucker’s exasperation, Carolina appears truly baffled. “I listen.”

“No, you don’t! You completely ignored everything that I said at the warehouse! I told you to watch the perimeter. I told you Caboose had shit handled. I told you not to come because Wash was fucking disoriented, and you ignored all of it!” Tucker his head. “I can’t—I can’t fucking work with someone who doesn’t trust me.”

There’s a flash of something that might almost be hurt across Carolina’s face, if she were the kind of person to show it. “I trust you.”

Tucker snorts. “You’ve got a funny way of showing it.”

Look—it was a tense situation—”

“Yeah, like every situation we’ve been in since landing on this planet!” Tucker blows out a breath between his teeth. “I had that shit under control. I had it under control.”

“Would you have listened to me?”

Tucker falters. “What?

“If our positions had been reversed. If I had gotten to Wash first, and told you to stay where you are. Would you have listened?”

“I…” Tucker blows out a frustrated breath. “That’s—don’t change the subject.”

“That’s what I thought,” Carolina says.

“You—still. You could’ve fucked up everything,” Tucker says.

“Alright, alright,” Epsilon snaps. Tucker was wondering when he was going to start running his mouth, “You’ve made your point—”

“Shut the fuck up, Church,” Tucker says fiercely, a black, choking anger gripping tight and sudden in his chest. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

“Epsilon, it’s fine,” Carolina says, when Epsilon shows every sign of continuing to argue. “Tucker’s right.”

“Don’t fucking—wait, I am?”

“Yes.” Carolina wipes the towel over her face again before looking Tucker directly in the eye. “It would have been more efficient for Epsilon and I to continue patrolling the perimeter. I just—Charon’s forces were close. So close to being on us, and I thought if I could get everyone to move a little faster, then…”

She trails off, and Tucker forces himself to stay quiet and let her continue. When she does, her words are not what he was expecting.

“You know.”

“What, about Freelancer?” Tucker juts his chin out. “Yeah. I know. What about it?”

“Then you know Wash and I have lost a team before.”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“I’m…” Carolina twists her hands together, fidgeting in a way that is entirely unlike her. “I’m just trying to make sure we don’t lose another one.”

It’s the quiet, hurt way in which she says it that causes Tucker to falter. “God, you guys are so dramatic,” he mutters. “You aren’t going to lose us.”

She doesn’t smile. “There’s a knife scar on your torso that suggests otherwise.”

Tucker’s hand drifts towards his gut before he can stop it. “Don’t see how you not trusting us is gonna help prevent that shit from happening again.”

“I know.” Carolina gestures at the datapad in Tucker’s hand. “But that will. Us….pushing forward. Trying again.” She shrugs, honest and uncertain. “It’s all we can do.”

Tucker stares at the roster for another moment, at their names next to each other—Lavernius Tucker, Agent Carolina—before snapping it shut and fastening it back to the pouch on his leg. “I wasn’t trying to be a hero,” he says abruptly.

She frowns at him, taking a seat on the bench next to his helmet. “What?”

“At the warehouse.” With nothing to occupy his hands, Tucker swings them awkwardly at his sides before clenching them into fists. “When I told you not to come. I wasn’t trying to be a hero. I didn’t…I didn’t know exactly what was going on, but I knew Wash was disoriented, and I knew seeing you would make it worse. He thought—he thought I was you, at first. It was the armor color.”

“I wasn’t trying to be a hero,” he emphasizes again when she gives no response.

“I know,” she says with a sigh. “I know that.”

“Why didn’t you go back for him?” Tucker asks, and even as the words leave his mouth, he knows he has to right to them. “I just…I don’t understand. I don’t understand how you all just…just left him.”

“Neither do I,” says Carolina after a while.

Tucker wants to push—to ask her again, why, to ask for specific details, but he doesn’t. He simply lets the silence sit between them until he can’t stand it another second.

“He’s okay, you know,” Tucker says suddenly. “Wash. He’s—I mean he’s not, but—he’s okay.”

Even as Carolina gives him a small smile, Epsilon snorts loudly from his perch on her helmet. “All thanks to you, I’m sure.”

Ignore him, Tucker tells himself firmly, the same way he’s been doing for the past week. Ignore him, ignore him, ignore him.

But Epsilon continues, and as his words start a dull buzz in Tucker’s head he thinks, time to go. “Wasn’t trying to be a hero my ass. Thank god you were there to—don’t you walk away from me, Tucker!

Tucker does anyway, stalking towards the door as fast as he can. He’s almost there when Epsilon voice rings out again, sharp and angry. “Yeah go on, act all fucking high and mighty. Swooping in like a goddamn hero all for the chance to get your dick wet.”

Tucker whirls back around so fast that something cricks in his neck. “What the fuck did you just say?!

“I said,” Epsilon snaps, quivering from his perch on Carolina’s helmet, “that you wouldn’t give two flying fucks about whether or not Wash was okay if you weren’t trying to screw him!”

“You—” Tucker starts towards Epsilon before he remembers that he’s a hologram and Tucker can’t actually knock his lights out. “Take. That. Back.”

Carolina’s half-rising from her seat on the bench. “Epsilon, don’t—”

It’s too late. Epsilon zooms up and over so that he’s at Tucker’s eye line, less than two feet away. “No. I won’t take back what’s true.”

“Not that it’s any of your business,” Tucker grits out, “But Wash and I haven’t done shit yet. Jesus, Church! Like I’m gonna try to fuck him two seconds after he wakes up not even knowing his own name!”

Church snorts. “Oh, please. Like you haven’t pulled off more elaborate schemes than this to get laid in the past. The shit you used to pull in the canyon—”

“YOU WEREN’T IN THE CANYON!”

A dam Tucker didn’t even realize he was holding back bursts inside his chest, and his yell is so loud that Carolina jumps to her feet, trying to insert herself in between the two of them. “Alright, that’s enough—”

“No. No!” Tucker levels a glare at Epsilon, dizzy and shaken from the unexpected fury this truth brings. “You weren’t in the canyon! Alpha was in the canyon, and you’re not him! Don’t act like—don’t act like you fucking know me when you don’t. You don’t! If you think I would—if you think I would fucking do that to Wash, then you don’t know shit! What the fuck, I thought we were past this, I thought—”

“I’ve been in your head, Tucker,” Epsilon spits, the hurt just audible under layers of anger. “Don’t pretend you’re some fucking model lover who—”

“Yeah, that’s right,” Tucker says. He can barely hear his own words over the blood thundering in his ears. “You have been in my head. You know all about that, don’t you? Being in people’s heads.

“Tucker,” Carolina says, “Just—”

Tucker ignores her in favor of stepping even closer to Epsilon. “I can’t believe you had the balls to lecture me on not taking advantage of Wash when you’re the one who fucked up his head in the first place.”

He can tell he’s finally hit a nerve when Carolina takes a step back, her palm pressing hard against her temple. “Church, relax.

Tucker puts a steadying hand on her elbow before whipping back to Church, who has swelled in size and is flickering, purplebluepurpleblue. “Can’t even fucking control yourself enough not to hurt the person you’re implanted in—”

“He isn’t hurting me,” Carolina says firmly, shaking off his hand. “He’s just—both of you need to stand down. Now!”

Any other time, her tone would have him faltering, but Tucker is too furious to care. “Tell me, Epsilon, just how fucked up do you have to be to try to kill yourself in someone’s head?”

Tucker can tell by the way that Epsilon freezes that he didn’t think Tucker’s knowledge stretched quite that far. His hesitation is only momentary, however. “You have no idea,” he says, his voice a hard whisper. “You think you do, but you don’t. You don’t.”

“Okay.” Tucker straightens, squaring his shoulders and setting his jaw. “Fucking show me, then.”

They all freeze until Epsilon lets out a bark of laughter. “You can’t be serious.”

“Do I look like I’m fucking joking?”

“Yeah, okay. Like I’m gonna give Wash another reason to fucking hate me.”

“Just—” Tucker takes a centering breath, although it does little to actually calm him. “Fucking come on! Show me what was so awful that you had to fuck up his head so goddamn badly, fucking do it!”

Silence. Carolina has frozen, one hand on Tucker’s shoulder, the other hovering around Epsilon like a child would cup a firefly. “Okay,” she says firmly. “I think that’s enough.”

“That’s what I thought,” Tucker says, his eyes still pinning Epsilon with a glare. “That’s what I fucking thought—you’re a coward, you’re just a coward. It makes sense now, though, you getting all fucking concerned about me hurting him. Seems like you’re the rank expert on that.”

In the space between two heartbeats, Epsilon is there, a buzzing, burning thing inside his skull. Tucker dimly hears Carolina call, “Epsilon, no!” before he is swallowed up in an angry haze of memory.

They are hurting they are dying and it is all his fault, Carolina’s eyes blank and unseeing, Connie’s head severed from her body. There is nowhere to run there is nowhere to hide; his house is in burning shambles and as he is ripped from it, his body leaves bloody streaks across the floor. The horror and pain are all-consuming, and suddenly there is a mind mixed with his, panic and fear and confusion, and Beta is being torn from his hands he is watching the dog run through the yard he is kissing his wife beneath the canopy there is too much it’s too much everything hurts everything is red—

--but when the smoke clears there is something steady there too, something calming. Calm is Wash’s river-blue eyes; calm is Wash’s open palm, outstretched to him. Calm is that moment in the air, twisting and spiraling until even Epsilon can’t tell where one of them ends and the other begins. Epsilon’s brothers were ripped away from him one by one, but here is another—

They are in a storm, a raging, howling storm, and the calm is swept away in the blink of an eye. They are in a cold metal room they are trapped like animals they should run but they cannot, and the way Wash screams as Epsilon rips them both right down the middle will never leave him will never leave him will—

Tucker comes to with his head pressed into the floor, gagging. He presses his hands over the back of his neck, expecting it to hurt, but there is no pain. There is only the horror of the brief glimpses he has just seen.

Carolina’s hand is firm and steady on his shoulder, gripping in the gaps between his armor. Epsilon is a blue blur in his peripheral, and he says nothing, just pulses in the center of his skull, a knot of anger and grief and a black envy.

Tucker glances up at that, lifting his head off the floor to stare at Epsilon. Epsilon pulls a memory forward, of a sparring session in the training room, a moment in the air where there were no walls between him and Wash.

A memory of something that, no matter how hard they might try to regain it, was gone forever.

<You have his trust,> Epsilon says, voice a heavy whisper in Tucker’s head. <You have what I’ll never have again.>

Epsilon says nothing more, but he doesn’t have to. Tucker can feel every inch of his grief, his longing, his fury at himself and what was done to them both. When he leaves Tucker’s head, it is a slow, sighing thing. Tucker feels numb as Carolina tugs him to his feet.

“You two—” she pauses as Epsilon re-implants into her, and glances between the two of them. “Tucker. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Tucker says, then glances at Epsilon. “I—you should tell him. For fuck’s sake, Epsilon. Just tell him that you’re sorry. You owe him that.”

Epsilon says nothing, only shrugs: a hopeless, helpless lift and fall of his shoulders. Tucker holds his gaze for a moment longer before scooping up his helmet, nodding to Carolina. “I’ll see you tomorrow for the supply run.” His gaze shifts to Epsilon, wanting to tell him that this isn’t over, but he can’t find the words. In the end, he simply leaves.

It isn’t forgiveness, the thing fluttering in his chest. It’s something harder, something stronger. He thinks of the way Wash’s scream had bounced around his head and feels sick, slowing his pace long enough to stop dry heaving. Wash is fine. Wash is okay. Wash was returning from that mission today, and today he might finally show Tucker how to throw knives.

When Wash glances up as Tucker enters their training room to start training, Tucker almost wilts in relief. “Hey, Tucker. I thought we could—whoa, what’s wrong?”

Tucker walks right up to him and hugs him so fiercely that they both stumble back. He buries his face in the crook of Wash’s neck, breathing deeply and pressing hard as if he can feel his pulse through their amour. One of his hands slides to cup the back of Wash’s helmet, just above the scars he knows are there. How does it all fit, he thinks, dazed. How do you make it all fit, inside your head?

Wash’s arms close around him after only a momentary hesitation. “Tucker, what…?”

“M’glad you’re okay,” Tucker says gruffly, when he can trust himself to speak again. “Just. Glad you’re okay.”

“I’m fine,” Wash says, bewildered. “I’m alright, Tucker. It wasn’t that risky of a mission.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says, and after another moment, he pulls away and gestures towards the knife. “Let’s do this.”

Wash’s brow is creased in a frown, but he nods. “Alright, then.”

Their training session is intense and focused, and Tucker works harder than he ever has before. We’re here, he reminds himself, over and over again. We’re alive, and we’re here. He finds himself fascinated by the lines that Wash’s body makes, sharp and deadly sure, as the training knife carves through the air. They fall into the evasion drill as they have so many times before, bodies twirling and ducking and spinning together like fish through water, like lovers, moving together between the sheets.

Chapter Text

Sorting recovered goods from supply run missions shouldn’t be a problem, yet as Wash has come to realize, the News and the Feds excel at making problem where there shouldn’t be any. Upon Kimball’s request, he relinquishes some quiet time to himself to help whip the storage area into shape. One food fight, two physical fights, and three hours later, the storage room is in respectable shape, and the soldiers of both armies are being reasonably pleasant to each other. In spite of this, it’s still a relief when Kimball radios him over to the landing bay, where Wash allows himself to unwind for a moment, anticipating being relieved from his baby sitting duties.

The relief vanishes when Tucker and Sarge descend from the Pelican, bickering loudly. Wash marvels at his ability to still be surprised by this.

“…weren’t even supposed to be on this mission, oh my God, you just can’t stand the fact that you had to listen to me for the past three days—”

“Listen to you!” Sarge stops walking and puffs himself up, causing something of a hold-up on the ramp of the Pelican. “Listen to you! I did no such thing and I won’t have rumors spread that I took orders from a Blue!”

Tucker scoffs loudly. “That’s the point! You didn’t listen to me! You didn’t listen to a single word I said—Carolina, if you put the two of us on a squad together ever again I will—”

“You’ll work together and you’ll like it,” Carolina snaps, who, Wash is unsurprised to see, looks thoroughly done with the pair of them.

Dibs! I call dibs on leader next time. And shotgun. I also call shotgun.” Sarge pauses as if suddenly struck by brilliance. “I hereby call dibs on leader and shotgun on all missions that Captain Crunch and I are paired on from now until all eternity!”

“What—that isn’t—you can’t call dibs and shotgun on mission that haven’t been announced yet!”

“Can. Did.”

“You—”

Their sniping dims to background as Wash and several other soldiers help unload the Pelican. Carolina sticks around long enough to see that all of the boxes are accounted for before turning to Wash and clapping him on the shoulder. “Your turn,” she says, jerking her head towards Sarge and Tucker. “Have fun.”

Wash watches her walk off with a weary resignation. He sighs heavily and turns back to Tucker and Sarge. “Alright, alright, enough arguing! Look, the faster we get this done, the faster we can go eat, and…”

He may as well be talking to a wall, and is reminded vividly of his earliest training sessions with the cadets. The feeling continues to sit as they bicker their way into the supply closet, and all through their cataloging. Simmons shows up halfway through and has a meltdown about the way they chose to organize the fruit, which at least gives Tucker and Sarge a common enemy to vent their frustration at.

When everything is finally catalogued, colored-coded, and put away, they all head up to the mess hall, Tucker dragging Simmons by his arm. “Wait! I think I saw a label-maker in the armory, if I just—”

“No, no, and no,” Tucker says, exasperated. “The room is organized enough. Jesus Christ, you need to eat.”

They cram around their usual table, helmets set on the ground at their feet, and wait for the rest of their friends to join them. One by one, they trickle in: Donut chattering away, Grif slumping in crankily, Caboose exclaiming about a friendship bracelet he received from someone no one else seems to know. With each new arrival, Sarge wastes no time in telling stories of the supply run that Wash is mostly convinced are fake. It’s light and easy and utterly ridiculous, and Wash finds himself basking in the familiarity of their banter. He gestures towards the pasta bowl, and Sarge shoves it his way. After spooning it onto his plate, he notices Tucker looking at him oddly.

“What?”

Tucker starts. “Huh? Nothing, nothing…”

Wash stares at him for several more seconds before shrugging and turning to his pasta. “Okay…”

He can practically feel Tucker’s eyes boring into the side of his head, which is distracting for several reasons, so Wash takes a moment to compose himself before meeting them again. “Tucker. What?

“Nothing! It’s just…” Tucker glances between him and, bizarrely, Sarge, for several seconds before turning back to his own food. “Never mind.”

“So, Frecklelancer,” Sarge says. “I was thinking we need to rearrange the training schedule to accommodate—”

Wash never finds out what Sarge wants to accommodate into the training schedule this time, because at that precise moment, Tucker slams down his fork and turns to face Wash head-on. “Okay, I’m sorry, I have to know—did you really ask him and Dr. Grey to have a threesome with you? Because like, he literally would not shut the fuck up about it on the mission and I—”

Wash startles so badly that he very nearly sends his bowl of pasta flying. Wash grabs onto it and takes a moment to be grateful of the fact that he had no food in his mouth when Tucker asked that question. He turns his head slowly to Tucker. “What?!”

“I mean, I just…” Tucker has the weirdest look on his face, like he desperately wants to find this funny, but can’t quite find the stretch. “I mean, Dr. Grey I can see, but Sarge? Really?”

“I…” Wash swivels to everyone else, expecting stunned faces and pointed insults from the Reds, but they’ve barely glanced up, and that tells Wash all he needs to know. He turns furiously to Sarge, who looks the least interested of all. “Is that what you’ve been telling people?!

Sarge takes a serene bite of pasta and shrugs. “May have mentioned it, yeah.”

“I didn’t—you can’t—I never asked to have a threesome with you!

Several of the nearby tables are eyeballing them, but Sarge either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care. “You may as well have! Stomping through doors without knocking—”

“I did knock!  How was I supposed to know you were—were—doing that—”

“Making sweet, passionate love?”

“—on her desk—God.” Wash buries his face in his hands for a moment before glaring at Sarge. “So, great. Now not only do I have that image in my head for the rest of my life, but you’re telling the entire base that I propositioned the two of you for a threesome?!”

“So wait, is that a no?” Tucker interrupts. “You didn’t ask him?”

“Is that a—of course I didn’t! For God’s sake, Tucker!” His voice is starting to reach that high, pitchy tone it always does when he’s about to have a total meltdown, and he tries to bring it back down to a normal volume.

Sarge sighs and points a fork at him. “I was trying to do you a favor by telling our men, Wash.”

“A…a favor?” Nope. The pitchy note is still there, possibly to stay forever. “A favor?!

“Yup.” Sarge takes another bite of pasta and takes his sweet time swallowing it before continuing. “I was trying to light a fire under your boyfriend’s ass here so he’d get a move on and light a fire under yours!”

Heyyyyy, nice one,” Tucker crows, and then he high fives Sarge and that’s about enough for Wash. He swings his legs over the side of the bench and grabs his helmet, marching out of the room.

“Awwww, come on Wash!” Donut says from behind him, but Wash doesn’t stop until he reaches the firearms training room. He slams his helmet down on the floor and starts rifling through the collection of battle rifles. Tucker enters the room ten minutes later with his helmet tucked under his arm, looking, Wash is pleased to see, at least somewhat guilty.

“Oh, come on, Wash.”

“Go away.”

Tucker sighs. “Don’t be such a baby—”

“Why’d you have to bring that up in the middle of the mess hall?!”

“I just wanted to know!”

“And you couldn’t have asked me when we weren’t surrounded by the Reds?”

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal—” Tucker breaks off, snickering. He struggles in vain to wrest the smile off of his face when Wash glares at him. “I’m sorry, it’s just—dude, you’re just soooo easy to get a rise out of.”

“What—I am not!

Tucker snickers again. “Uh, yeah. Okay. Whatever you say.”

Wash huffs, turning away and letting a stony silence sit until Tucker breaks it with a sigh.

“Come ooon, don’t be mad. I got you a present.”

Wash snorts, still rifling through his ammo. “A present.”

“Yeah.” Tucker moves into the room until he’s standing across from Wash. “On the supply run.”

“On the supply run? Shouldn’t it have gone into the room with everything else?”

Tucker rolls his eyes. “Dude, please. Half the reason you go on supply runs is to get the goods. If you know what I’m saying.” He winks at Wash, which starts an instant blush in his cheeks, completely ruining any semblance of him trying to remain stern and annoyed.

Wash gives up pretending he’s still selecting a gun and faces Tucker, arms folded. “Alright, what is it?”

Tucker grins, setting his helmet down to pull something out of one of his armor pockets. He holds it out to Wash, who takes it after a slight hesitation. It’s a vacuum-sealed brown bag, no bigger than the length of his hand, and Wash can just barely make out the single word stamped onto it…

“Sugar?” he glances up at Tucker in disbelief. “You found sugar?

The pleased look on Tucker’s face is almost enough to make Wash forget his previous agitation. “Sure did.”

“Is…” Wash holds up the bag as if he can see right through it. “Wait, is this real? Real sugar?”

Without waiting for an answer, he rips open the top of the bag and peers inside as Tucker laughs. “Dude, what are you gonna do, eat the whole bag like it’s….”

Tucker trails off as Wash impatiently fumbles with the seals on his glove. He yanks it off, dipping his fingers into the bag to coat them with sugar, bringing them back up to his mouth to taste. It’s sweet, almost shockingly so after months of bland food, and Wash’s eyes flutter shut as the sugar melts on his tongue. “Oh, my god. It is. It is real sugar.”

He lets the moment sit, reveling in the sweetness—how long has it been since he had real sugar? Months? Years?—before glancing back at Tucker to thank him. The words die in his throat. Tucker’s looking at him as if he recently took a blow to the head, and for a moment Wash stares at him in blank confusion. Surely Tucker should be snickering or telling him off for eating sugar out of the bag like a kid, or—

Oh.

Wash’s eyes flick back down to the bag of sugar, then back up to Tucker’s dazed expression. For a moment, Wash hesitates, frozen in uncertainty, before a wave of recklessness sweeps through him, fueled by weeks of want and confusion and uncertainty and “you’re just soooo easy to get a rise out of, Wash.” He holds Tucker’s gaze and plunges his fingers into the bag of sugar again, coating them thoroughly before bringing them back up to his mouth to suck away the sweetness.

By the time he finishes, Tucker’s jaw is hanging open, his eyes dark and heavy. Tucker’s hand reaches out to snag Wash’s wrist, holding the bag steady between the two of them. “Do—do that again,” he whispers hoarsely. “Just—please?”

Triumph and confusion war in Wash’s gut, confusion at the way Tucker is looking at him now versus his careful manner ever since the warehouse. The reckless triumph wins, and Wash dips his fingers back in the bag and licks the sugar off of them a third time, slower and more deliberate.

Tucker makes a noise that could almost be called a moan, and heat flares low in Wash’s belly. They stand there, frozen, and Wash swears that Tucker tightens his grip on Wash’s wrist and starts to lean in, closer and closer until he halts so abruptly it’s as if a glass wall has sprung up between them.

“Fuck,” he groans, stepping, stumbling, backwards. “Fuck! What the fuck, Wash, you’re so—I want to—Jesus Christ—” He takes a deep breath, and tears his gaze away from Wash and the sugar, looking up at the ceiling. “Okay. Okay. I need to—I have to—just, just wait, okay? Just—I have to—get my fucking head straight—yeah. You’re so—God, you’re gonna fucking kill me—”

To Wash’s shock and frustration, Tucker practically sprints out of the room. Wash stands there for a while, holding the bag of open sugar and feeling equal parts ridiculous and confused, before folding it up.

“Really?!”


The next two days are so filled with activity that Wash barely has time to think about Tucker’s bizarre behavior. He had known things would change after the warehouse, had even known that any chance of sexual intimacy was all but lost—and who could blame Tucker, after a scene like that? Yet Tucker was acting so oddly, bouncing from flustered and careful to flirtatious and gentle with such breakneck speed that Wash doesn’t know what to make of it.

There’s no time to think more deeply on it, other than a brief, hushed conversation with Donut in the supply room one day. “…so then, he says something about needing to get his head on straight, and runs out of the room!” Wash gestures with his datapad in agitation. “I mean, what am I supposed to make of that?

Donut is staring at him, jaw askew, the bags of rice he’s supposed to be shelving forgotten. “Wait, wait, wait. So you were sucking sugar off your fingers and he didn’t jump your bones?”

“I mean…it’s weird, right?” Wash snags the bags out of Donut’s arms and starts shelving them, desperate for something to do with his hands. “I know it’s been a…a while since I’ve…I don’t know, since—look, I’m out of practice. But I—I just thought…” Donut is still staring at him with that glazed expression in his eyes, and Wash fidgets. “If you think it was too much, just tell me.”

“What?” Donut gives himself a shake. “I’m sorry. I just needed to fix that mental image in my mind forever.”

Wash’s face instantly heats up. “Oh, Donut—”

“I just…” Donut shakes his head. “Goodness Wash, I’m frankly shocked that he didn’t beg you to start sucking on something else right then and there!”

Wash nods. Might as well call it what it is. “So it is weird.”

“Yes, but….not….for the reasons you’re probably thinking,” Donut says cagily.

“Well, what reasons?”

“I….can’t say anything.”

Wash is instantly on high alert. “Wait, what? Do you know something?”

“I can’t teeeeeeell you,” Donut whines, looking highly distressed. “Oh, Wash. The two of you are so dumb! I can hardly stand it!”

“Stand what?

Donut grabs his shoulders and looks at him imploringly. “Wash. Talk to Tucker. Please. I am begging you. Just—you have to talk to Tucker. About your feelings. About your desires.”

“I…” Wash’s face is turning red again just thinking about that conversation. “I can’t.”

Donut’s distress multiplies. “How can you let him hold you during a nightmare but not be able to tell him that you want to kiss his stupid face?!

Wash makes a noise halfway between a sigh of exasperation and a groan of despair. “I don’t know!

“Wash.” Donut gives his shoulders a little shake. “Talk to him. Please.”

“I—wait, where are you going?”

“I have to go!” Donut calls over his shoulder. “I have to go before I either strangle you or start spilling all of my dirty little secrets!”

He flounces out of the supply room and Wash takes a somber moment to reflect on the fact that this is apparently his life now: gossiping in the supply closet with Donut about his stupid, stupid crush.

He also reflects, however, that his instinct hadn’t been to break Donut’s wrists when he’d grabbed Wash’s shoulders. It’s not the sort of shining quality that people usually look for in friends, but it is something, that Donut doesn’t inspire blind, reactive panic.

It’s something, alright.


Later that evening, Wash flops down onto the mats in the tiny training room closet, stretching his body out as best he can in the small space. He’d just finished some out of armor hand-to-hand with the cadets, and had stood in the shower for ages, staring at the wall in blank exhaustion. The thought of trekking all the way back to his room, where there were surely a crowd of people queued up outside his door needing his opinion on this or his assistance on that is too exhausting a prospect to bear. Far better to take a quick doze here first.

Ten minutes. Ten minutes and a strong cup of coffee—with sugar—is all he needs and he’ll be good as new. This is as good a place as any, and no one will come looking for him in here. His room may as well be the war meeting room this days, and if he can just rest his eyes for ten minutes, he’ll stop wanting to rip all his hair out every time someone asks his opinion on something.

He bolts upright again less than two minutes later as the door swings open to reveal Tucker standing there, backlit by the lights streaming in from the training room proper. “Oh, good. There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you, Palomo thought he saw you go in here. I have to tell you something now, like right now before I chicken out….” Tucker trails off, seemingly to take in the full situation. “Uh, what the fuck are you doing?”

 “I’m taking a nap,” Wash says, dignified, even though he’s certain he looks ridiculous, sprawled out on the old training mats with an old punching bag for a pillow.

“Uh, don’t you have a bedroom for that? With a bed?” Tucker throws up a hand as Wash opens his mouth defensively. “You know what, come back to it later. I have to tell you something.”

“Okay,” Wash says slowly, sitting up and frowning at Tucker. “What’s wrong? Are you alright?”

“Yeah yeah, I’m fine…” Tucker fidgets. “Promise you aren’t gonna be pissed?”

Wash pushes himself up straighter, eyeing Tucker. “That depends.”

“Ah. Okay. Well, in that case—”

“Tucker…” Wash sighs. “Just tell me.”

Tucker visibly wrestles with his next words. “So uh, I got in an argument with Epsilon the other day and he—”

Wash propels himself to his feet, unsure at first of what caused the spike of adrenaline before realizing that Tucker said Epsilon. Not Church, Epsilon. “What happened?”

Tucker’s talking faster now, looking slightly alarmed at the way Wash leapt up. “He was just being such a dick, accusing me of all this bullshit—you know, like fucking with your head and shit, and I said, well, I guess you’d know since you’re the goddamn expert on that, and I….told him to show me, you know, what happened to him so I could like, understand how someone could do that to another person and...and he did.” Tucker fidgets, clearing his throat. “So. So that’s what happened.

Wash blinks at him as the silence stretches on before sighing. “Oh, Tucker.”

“I know, I know…”

Wash finds himself reaching out to place the back of his hand against Tucker’s forehead before he realizes the absurdity of the gesture and snatches it back. “Are you okay?”

“What? Oh, yeah.” Tucker brushes his own hand absently through his hair. “You mean my head and shit? Yeah, I’m fine. It didn’t hurt or anything, and I think he like—made it less intense or something. It was just...pictures. Like movie clips.”

Wash sighs. “He shouldn’t have done that, and you shouldn’t have baited him.”

“I know, I just—he’s supposed to be my friend, ya know? I just wanted to understand.”

“Do you?”

Tucker looks at him hard. “No. I mean yes. I mean—I guess I understand that…that no one can understand, except you two.” He pauses, looking faintly pleased with himself. “Goddamn, that was deep as fuck.”

Wash smiles slightly. “Very astute, Tucker.”

Now Tucker looks suspicious. “Okay, you’re freaking me out. I thought you were gonna lose it.”

Wash sighs, scrubbing a hand through his hair. “I mean…I think to be angry I’d have to be surprised, and I’m not.”

“Surprised that I asked, or surprised that he showed me?”

“Both.” Wash shrugs and tries to smile again, to let Tucker know it’s okay, but Tucker is still looking apprehensive.

“I just…I felt like you should know. I mean, if we’re going to…if you want to…it just felt shitty, to not tell you what I’ve seen.”

Wash still doesn’t know exactly what Tucker has seen, but he doesn’t ask. A part of him doesn’t think he can bear to hear the answer, but the other part thinks that it doesn’t matter. Whatever it was, it wasn’t good.

Whatever it was, Tucker’s still here.

“Did you see me?” Wash asks instead, waving his hands vaguely. “I mean. Did you see my face, what I looked like?”

“I…yeah. Yeah, I saw you.”

“I was pretty good looking, right?” Wash jokes, desperate to make light of the situation, desperate not to frighten Tucker off any more than he probably already has been. “Before all the…”  He gestures at the scars, the lines, the dark circles.

Tucker looks at him and laughs, a brief, incredulous sound. “Dude. You’re fucking gorgeous.”

Wash’s eyes fly open wide, unsure of why he feels as if he’s just taken a punch to the face. “Uh…oh. Thanks, Tucker.”

Tucker ducks his head and shrugs, jamming his hands into his pockets. “Like. I’m just saying.” He clears his throat, glancing around. “So, anyway. Why are you taking a nap in here instead of your own room?”

Wash sighs. “The problem is that everyone knows where my room is.”

Tucker stares at him. “And?”

“And I can’t nap in there. Not without someone knocking on the door every few seconds.”

“Okay…why is everyone pounding on your door?”

Wash shrugs. “Mission plans, training advice, the Feds and News are brawling in the mess hall, Sarge is wasting ammo again…you name it.”

“That’s not fair,” Tucker says, and something in Wash swells at the indignation in his voice. “They’re running you ragged. I’ll yell at some people, tell them to back off.”

“No, it’s okay,” Wash says. “I get it, we’re in the middle of a war and it’s all hands on deck.”

“Okay, but you need to sleep. You’re not good to anyone walking around like a zombie.”

“Hence why I’m here.” Wash gestures at his backshift bed. “I just thought…ten minutes is all I need.”

Ten minutes? Jesus fuck, Wash. When was the last time you really slept?”

“I do sleep every night, you know.”

Tucker rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I’ve seen that shit. Dozing off in ten minute increments isn’t sleeping. C’mon, you need some real sleep.”

“I’m just going to nap right here, it’s fine—”

“Wash, it can’t be humanly possible to take a comfortable nap on these mats.”

“I’m telling you, I’m not going to get any sleep in my own room.”

“Well,” Tucker says with a shrug, “there’s a pretty obvious solution to that.

“There is?”

Tucker looks at him as if he’s being deliberately obtuse. “Sure. You can come nap in my room.”

Wash freezes in the midst of folding the training mats back up neatly. Surely he’s imagining the way the space suddenly feels like there’s a closed circuit running through it. “Nap in your room?”

“Yup,” Tucker says, ducking into the closet. “I think you’ll feel nice and rested after a nap in there.”

Wash shifts the training mats a little to the left, and then a little to the right, wishing he had a way to make his nervous shuffling less obvious, before giving up. It’s the first real innuendo Tucker has made in weeks, and it has him feeling oddly brave. Just talk to him, Donut’s voice whispers, and Wash steels himself. “Tucker,” he says, and turns to look Tucker full in the face. “What does…Tucker. What does that mean?

The expression on Tucker’s face shifts, and Wash is reminded, suddenly and vividly, of the first time he’d leapt out of a helicopter in basic. He’d glanced around at his squad and seen more emotions on their faces than he could ever remember seeing on any one face before: fear of the fall, and joy in the flight, and the strange bewilderment that came with seeing the ground at this height.

He watches those things in Tucker’s face now, before he sees them steady, melting to some new expression that Wash can’t quite name. “It can mean whatever you want it to mean. It can mean that you can go sleep while I guard the door. It could mean that we take the world’s best fucking nap together again because you look like you could use a cuddle buddy like, all the time. It could mean I give you another A-plus massage. Or,” and Tucker’s stepping in closer now, “Or, it can mean that we go back to my place and I fuck your brains out, however you want, as many times as you want, until you’re so worn out you get some real sleep.”

Oh.

“Oh,” Wash says intelligently, after several long seconds of trying to remember to speak. He tries to force his face into an expression, any expression, that isn’t the dumbstruck one he’s sure it’s currently stuck on. “That. Well. That. Answers my question, thank you.”

“Don’t thank me yet,” Tucker says, again, in the same tone that he’d said those exact words in, in the training room all those weeks ago when his hand had burned like a brand against Wash’s skin. He’s definitely stepped closer into the closet, and Wash tries not to think of that afternoon, of Tucker’s eyes all dark and curious and the way Wash had gone back to his room after and thought of Tucker’s mouth all over him. Wash realizes he’s somehow walked himself right back into the wall of the closet and Tucker’s right in front of him, boxing him in. He’s leaning patiently against the opposing wall with his arms folded, head tilted and lips curved in a smile, apparently content to stand there forever until Wash says or does something.

Wash swallows hard. “I didn’t realize,” he says haltingly. “That you still wanted to do…this.”

Tucker stares at him for nearly a full ten seconds before the realization dawns. “What, fuck? You thought I didn’t want to fuck anymore? You can’t be serious.”

“Well—I thought after, what happened, you might have had…seconds thoughts,” Wash says defensively. “I wouldn’t blame you—”

“Geez, you’re really looking for any excuse to get rid of me, aren’t you?” Tucker grumps. He rolls his eyes, but there’s something in his tone: a waver in his confidence, a flicker of uncertainty.

“No!” Wash says, and the clear panic in his voice has Tucker beaming, moment of uncertainty forgotten. “You’ve just been so…careful, since the warehouse.”

Wash thinks that if Tucker rolls his eyes one more time, they might actually fall out of his head. “Well, duh. Who tries to fuck someone right after something like that?! What, like I’m gonna try to feel you up after you just woke up from some shitty nightmare? Because, maybe some people are into that, but seeing you like that does not do it for me, dude. I’d much rather hear you scream for some other reason.”

“I’m sorry,” Wash says. He shifts, guilty. “I should’ve—I didn’t mean to imply…all I’m saying is that I wouldn’t blame you, if you wanted to…to call this off. That’s all.”

Tucker sighs loudly. “Wash, I’ve been being careful because I’m trying to woo you! Fuck me man, I don’t usually do this backwards— I’ve never…not like…but you, you just…”

He falters, and it’s this, more than anything, that settles some of Wash’s nerves. “Woo me.”

“Yes, you idiot.” Tucker stops and looks at him, sharp and seeing and a little sad, too. “You really have no idea how badly I want you, do you?”

“Well,” Wash says, flustered, but he stops there, because he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to say, or do, or even what he wants to say or do—

What does he want?

It’s not easy to strip away the feelings of guilt and expectation that he’s drilled into himself over the years and Wash doesn’t entirely manage it, but he tries. He shoves down the voice in his brain that’s telling him that he doesn’t deserve this, doesn’t deserve to feel good, doesn’t deserve someone like Tucker.

He looks at Tucker. Really looks at Tucker, right into his curious, waiting eyes, and he tries to think. His dumbstruck brain isn’t helping interpret the images much: it gives him nothing but Tucker, Tucker holding weakly onto his hand in the Pelican, Tucker sulking during training exercises, Tucker placing a sugar bowl in front of him, Tucker’s dreads spilling over his shoulders as he removes his helmet, Tucker’s steady hands on his face in the dark, Tucker’s face inches from his own in training, Tucker laughing, Tucker, Tucker, Tucker.

The realization comes sweet and slow, warming his veins like fine wine. There was never any actual brain damage, Wash realizes, at least not to his sex drive—no magical switch that Tucker had flipped. There was only this: the feeling of want, after years of not feeling safe enough to let himself have it. The feeling of safety, after years of needing walls at his back and eyes on all the exits. There is only Tucker, boxing him into this tiny closet, and it’s only now that Wash realizes he feels anything but trapped.

He feels safe, here, with Tucker.

He wants Tucker to box him in.

“If you want….” Wash stops, tries again, feeling ridiculous but pushing forward anyway. “If you want me so badly, then come over here and do something about it.”

His words are halting and awkward but he doesn’t regret them, not when it makes Tucker’s whole face light up, not when it draws Tucker towards him like a magnet. Tucker lifts a hand and rests it along the side of Wash’s jaw, running his thumb over the cheekbone. Wash’s eyes close of their own accord, and he brings his own hand up to rest on the back of Tucker’s. When he opens his eyes again, Tucker’s face is inches from his own, his next words ghosting across Wash’s lips.

Make me.”

The heat that had started boiling in Wash’s belly back in the training room flares to life again. For a few moments, neither of them move, frozen in the last few inches, breathing into each other’s space before Wash closes the gap and presses his lips to Tucker’s.

A rainstorm lights up in his brain, all flicker-lights and drums, beating away from the inside out. It’s the good kind of beating, thunderclaps and heartbeats and wooden dance shoes on an oak floor, and there is a heat behind each brush of their lips that threatens to spill over and drown them both. Tucker’s mouth is as warm as the rest of him, and when he pulls back Wash finds himself following to kiss him again. He’s still sleeping, after all. He’s definitely still sleeping, because this can’t be real—the way Tucker is cupping his face like it’s something precious, Tucker’s lips so soft and full, Tucker’s knees pressed up against his. It isn’t real. It can’t be real.

It’s the most real thing he’s ever felt.

“This could be a good experiment,” Tucker says when they finally pause for breath, panting into each other’s space. “Maybe sex will actually get you to sleep through the night, in which case, we should probably do it all the time. You know. For science.”

“An experiment,” Wash says, and he can’t hide the stupid, ridiculous grin on his face. “For science.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says, dropping his forehead against Wash’s. “It’s, uh. It’s a chemical. Oxytocin. Or something.”

“Or something,” Wash echoes, because it’s all he can do now to echo Tucker’s words back at him. His ability to form coherent sentences left the building the second Tucker stepped close enough to touch, close enough to smell.

 “Or,” Tucker whispers, his breath ghosting across Wash’s lips again. “Or, just, whatever. I just fucking want you, god, so bad, I—”

Then Tucker’s mouth is on his again, the heat that they had both been holding back surging forward, fusing them together, knees and hips and chest and lips. Tucker presses forward so quickly that they stumble, and he has to place a hand on the wall by Wash’s head to steady them both. Wash curls his hands in Tucker’s t-shirt, pulling him closer until there’s no more space between the two of them, and he’s pressed flush between Tucker and the wall. Tucker’s tongue is in his mouth and his hands are under Tucker’s shirt and everything is burning, burning, burning. Tucker gets both of his hands in Wash’s hair and tugs gently, from roots to tips, before plunging his hands back in and doing it again. “Your fucking hair,” Tucker mumbles for some reason, but his lips are right on Wash’s ear when he says it and Wash thinks, right, come back to it later.

Tucker pulls back, and the loss of his body heat is so sudden and startling that Wash actually whimpers before he can stop himself from making such a ridiculous noise. Tucker’s eyes widen at the sound before he mutters, “Goddammit,” and Wash finds himself shoved back into the wall again with Tucker’s tongue in his mouth for another minute before Tucker pulls away, dragging Wash with him this time.

“We gotta go,” Tucker says hoarsely, half-dragging them out of the closet. Given that he’s also trying to bite Wash’s ear while doing so, they don’t get very far. “We gotta…gotta go. We can’t fuck here.”

“We can fuck here,” Wash insists, and as Tucker pulls back to look at him, incredulous, Wash realizes what’s so backwards about this situation: he should be the one hustling them off to somewhere more private, and Tucker should be the one trying to convince him to fuck in the training room. They both grin at each other, and Wash can see that Tucker’s realized it too.

“No, we can’t. There’s no condoms in here. We need condoms. Like, lots of fucking condoms.”

“Hmmm,” Wash says, and he reaches down between them to squeeze Tucker’s hardening cock through his fatigues. “I can get you off without a condom.”

Tucker groans, back arching as he rolls his hips into Wash’s hand. “What the fuck, Wash,” he gasps, and they spend several more minutes in the closet, Wash nipping at Tucker’s neck and stroking Tucker through his pants until Tucker’s pawing at his shoulders. “Wash—Wash. My room. Condoms. Lube. Now.”

Wash breaks away, struggling to get ahold of himself. Tucker’s right. With the way this is going, they are probably going to need the condoms. He’s admittedly reluctant to leave this closet, this magical closet, for a world where fifteen cadets are going to need his assistance and Grif has probably lit the kitchen on fire and Kimball and Doyle are going to need his advice and Tucker is going to step into the light and look at him and realize that Wash is a total mess who hasn’t had sex in five years—

Tucker must see something on his face, because he frowns and presses a kiss so gentle to the corner of Wash’s jaw that Wash feels a lump in his throat. Christ, he can’t deal with having this many emotions in such a short time span, he’s going to explode. “Hey. What’s up?”

Wash gives himself a little shake. “I just…think we’re gonna make it to your room without any interruptions?”

“Oh, trust me,” Tucker says grimly. “I will make sure there are no interruptions.”

He takes a hold of Wash’s wrist and begins marching down the hall. It’s dinnertime, thank God, so a good portion of the base is in the mess hall. They studiously avoid that section and Tucker orders a few cadets out of the way before they’re rounding the corner to Blue Team’s hallway and Tucker fumbles the door to his room open.

The second the door closes behind them Tucker’s got him backed up against it, his hands in Wash’s hair again. Wash gasps as Tucker tugs his bottom lip between his teeth and sucks hard. Tucker breaks the kiss long enough to yank Wash’s shirt over his head. Wash returns the favor and then they’re pressed together from hips to shoulders, and the sudden warmth of skin on skin is so intense that Wash sways a little. Tucker presses him harder into the door when he feels Wash stumble, steadying him, and everything in the room tilts and shifts with a sense of unreality, and Wash wonders, for the briefest of moments, if this is really happening. The doubts that had crept in during their dash from the supply closet haven’t entirely gone away, and Wash is struck with a sudden desire to make sure that this is what Tucker wants. Tucker said he wants him but the words were like something out of a dream and he has to make sure, he has to…he has to…

Wash reluctantly breaks the kiss and tilts his head upwards, panting. “Tucker…”

Tucker just moves his lips to Wash’s neck, and the kisses are hot and wet and full of tongue, and teeth, he’s got his teeth on Wash’s ear and his leg between Wash’s thighs. Wash’s hips jolt forward of their own accord, and he can’t think, he can’t breathe, Tucker’s hands are everywhere and Wash can’t—

“Tucker,” he gasps, “Tucker, w-wait.”

Tucker stop sucking on his neck and pulls back, eyebrows furrowed. “What? What’s wrong?”

His thigh is still pressed up against Wash’s cock, and Wash realizes he hasn’t stopped grinding desperately on Tucker’s leg. “I, um. I, um.’ Wash says intelligently. He forces himself to stop staring at the way Tucker’s biting his lip, but he can’t stop the helpless roll of his hips. “I. Um. I just, I. Are you sure, you want to, with me, I…”

Tucker’s laughs, and it’s a breathy thing. He drops his forehead against Wash’s. “Dude. Is that what’s up?”

He finds Wash’s hands and tangles their fingers together, dragging Wash’s palm down to his own cock, and god, he’s so hard, Tucker’s so hard and Wash is going to lose his goddamn mind right here and now. “Uh, fuck yeah I want you. You need to hear me say it again? I’ll say it again. I’ll scream it from the fucking rooftops. I want you. Fuck, I want you, I want you, I want you, I—”

Wash kisses him, palming Tucker’s cock through his pants. The sound that Tucker makes is just unreal as he presses himself harder into Wash’s hand. Wash moves his hand up and down Tucker’s length, and Tucker just starts moaning, and holy shit, Wash absolutely needs that sound to continue. He grabs Tucker’s shoulders and reverses their positions so that Tucker’s the one with his back pressed to the door, drops to his knees, and starts fumbling with the zipper on Tucker’s fatigues. “Holy shit, Wash,” Tucker whimpers, his voice a distant thing over the blood thudding in Wash’s ears.

Tucker’s hands come up to rake through Wash’s hair as Wash sucks him into his mouth, and the movement of his hips is at first frantic and unpredictable. Wash makes his pace even, sucking Tucker down and almost pulling off, giving him time to adjust. He shoves the knowledge that he hasn’t done this in ages to the back of his mind and just fucking wings it, letting Tucker’s gasps and groans guide the way. Tucker slowly relaxes into it, spreading his legs wider and settling more comfortably against the wall. “Mmmm, God that’s good Wash,” he mutters. “Fuck. Look at me.”

Wash flicks his eyes up and Tucker’s mouth falls open as their eyes lock, the pacing of his hips growing more erratic once more. “Oh my God, you’re sucking my dick.  You’re actually sucking my dick, fuck that’s hot, don’t stop, please don’t stop I will literally do anything you don’t stop, don’t stop, please…”

Every word and moan that falls from Tucker’s lips sends a jolt of pleasure through Wash’s body. He’s grinding his own hips forward into empty air, but his own need is a half-forgotten thing. Wash is too focused on Tucker, and the way his thighs are shaking under Wash’s hands and his fingers are stuttering in Wash’s hair and his voice is trembling under Wash’s touch. “Fuck, Wash, fuck, fuck, fuck, if you don’t—I’m gonna—if you—”

Which Wash takes as his cue to suck Tucker down as far as he can. It’s been a while since he’s done this, but it’s like—like riding a bike, Wash thinks, which is a ridiculous and filthy metaphor but he doesn’t care, he only cares about the fucking noise that Tucker makes when his whole body jolts and he comes in bursts down the back of Wash’s throat.

Tucker’s hands are still in Wash’s hair, stroking almost reverently as he drops his head back against the wall and mumbles something. Wash pulls away with a pop and grins up at Tucker, who is still staring at the ceiling with his jaw hanging half-open. There’s triumph and affection and a desperate need brewing in his belly and he drops his forehead against Tucker’s stomach and wraps a hand around his own dick. He tugs at himself until Tucker comes back down to Earth and makes an indignant noise, tugging his hands away. “Hnngh, no-ooo way. Don’t you dare Wash...I’m gonna…gonna make you come so hard. C’mere.”

After a few more deep breaths, Tucker’s dragging him back up to his feet. Wash lets Tucker push him backwards onto the bad—he couldn’t resist even if he wanted to—and straddle him slowly. He flicks his eyes up and down Wash’s body, fascinated. “Fuck, dude, like your abs, I could just lick them.”

Which he proceeds to do, running the flat of his tongue up Wash’s abs. Wash gasps and jolts a little and Tucker glances back up at him. “So fucking ticklish.”

“I—ah—yeah,” Wash gasps, then drops his head back against the pillow as Tucker licks his abs again, making the most ridiculous slurping noise as he does so. “But it feels—it feels nice.”

Tucker laughs. “Dude, just fucking wait. I haven’t even done shit yet.”

To illustrate his point, he reaches his hand right into Wash’s pants, wraps a fist around his cock, and jerks at him slowly. Wash arches up into Tucker’s hand with a moan. He tosses his head back and suddenly Tucker’s lips are on his throat, sucking gently under his chin. Wash buries his hands in Tucker’s dreads and holds on as Tucker presses kisses all over his neck, his ear, his mouth; he’s pressing himself into Tucker’s hand but the pacing is maddeningly slow, too slow to actually get him off. He lets out a series of desperate whimpers as Tucker brushes his thumb back and forth over the tip of Wash’s cock, and Tucker pulls back, grinning. “You like that, Wash?”

Wash spends several seconds trying to remember how to speak before giving up and making a strangled noise of assent. He moves his hips a little faster, trying to get Tucker to speed up, but Tucker just slows down even more, and holy fuck Wash doesn’t even recognize the sounds that are coming out of his mouth anymore.

“Look at you, so fucking wound up,” Tucker mumbles into his neck. “Gonna come again just from listening to you, goddammit, Wash.”

Wash arches up frantically when Tucker slides his hand away, too far gone to feel self-conscious about the noise he makes. Everything is hot, his face, his skin, and somewhere in a dim corner of his mind, he registers that his hands are trembling in Tucker’s hair.

Tucker’s lips burn like fire on his skin as he works his way down Wash’s body, pausing to lick at his abs again. Wash gasps as Tucker tugs his sweatpants and boxers off of his hips and settles himself comfortably between Wash’s legs. He pants, spreading his legs a little wider as Tucker nips teasingly at the skin of his hips.

Tucker runs his palms up and down the insides of Wash’s thighs, grinning up at him before lowering his mouth to Wash’s cock. It takes all of Wash’s willpower not to thrust up into Tucker’s mouth, and his fists his hands in the sheets, tugging at them desperately. Tucker’s mouth is so warm and wet, and the sight of his lips wrapped around the tip of Wash’s cock is almost enough to make him come right then and there. He’s moaning and shaking as Tucker sucks him down and pulls off again, deliberate and sure and it feels so good, Wash can’t remember the last time anything felt this good. “Tucker,” he gasps, “Tucker, Tucker, Tucker.”

“Wash, Wash, Wash,” Tucker whispers back with a grin, before putting his mouth back on Wash’s cock and swirling his tongue around the tip. It’s so good, everything Tucker is doing feels so good and he isn’t sure if he wants to scream or gasp or moan or cry but it’s better than good, he’s going crazy, he’s losing his mind and he’s never been so happy about it.

By the time Tucker takes his mouth away, Wash has lost the ability to remember how to speak. He settles for a strangled noise of protest as Tucker leans his face over Wash’s and just looks at him like Wash is the most gorgeous thing he’s ever seen, like Tucker’s the lucky one. Wash wants to tell him he’s wrong, to tell him thank you, to tell him that this is something that Wash thought he’d never have again, but he just tugs Tucker back down for a kiss.

Fuck,” Tucker moans, breaking the kiss and dropping his head against Wash’s chest. “Fuck, I don’t know how I wanna make you come….” He lines their dicks up—Tucker’s hard again and Wash is going to lose his mind—and rubs them together. Wash groans, pushing into the contact. “God, I could get you of just like this, look at you, you wanna come so bad, don’t you?”

“Hngh,” Wash gasps, or something like it. Tucker’s dick against his own is amazing, is maddening, but the pressure isn’t quite enough and he paws at Tucker desperately.

“I could suck your dick, or fuck you so hard,” Tucker continues, and lifts his head to glance at Wash. “No, you know what, I’m gonna ride you. Like a fucking cowboy. I wanna see the look on your face when you come.”

Wash brain goes offline for a moment at those words, and he tries to regroup as Tucker rolls off of him and starts throwing stuff out of the crate at the foot of his bed until he emerges, triumphant, with lube and an absurd number of condoms. He tosses the condoms at Wash, who fumbles them with shaking hands and almost comes on the spot when Tucker sits up on his knees, grabs the lube and just starts fingering himself. Tucker’s body jolts as he groans low between his teeth, and Wash reaches for him clumsily, the condoms forgotten.

Tucker swats his hands away, grinning. “Later, dude. You just relax and watch the fucking show. Ah-ah—” he catches Wash’s hand as he moves it towards his dick. “No touching yourself, either. Watching only.”

Wash bites his lip, clutching the sheets desperately to keep himself from jerking himself off or jerking Tucker off or opening Tucker up; he isn’t sure which of the three he wants to do the most. It gets harder and harder to keep himself still as Tucker works himself open, pleasure flickering across his face. Wash busies himself by tearing open a condom wrapping and sliding it onto his dick after an attempt to put it on backwards. He squeezes his eyes shut as Tucker’s hand closes around his shaft, lubing up the condom, because he is not, not, not going to come from that.

His eyes fly back open as Tucker lines himself up and slowly sinks down onto him. Wash presses his head back into the pillow, panting loudly and trying to keep himself still. He runs his hands up and down Tucker’s thighs across his stomach, over his chest, before bringing them to rest on Tucker’s hips.

“It’s okay, dude,” Tucker says, grinning down at him. He splays out his hands on Wash’s chest and starts to move. “Go fucking crazy.” Wash thrusts up into him gratefully, and Tucker throws back his head and groans. “Goddamn, Wash,” he hisses. “Mm, yeah, just like that, do that again…”

The rhythm they set is firm and steady, Wash’s hands squeezing into Tucker’s hips as he slides up and down Wash’s dick. It’s good, it’s so good, and Tucker is gorgeous, his movements confident and sure. Wash loses himself in the sensation, in the steadiness and overwhelming pleasure, the so-good so-good so-good pounding in his head like a drum. It’s been too long and Wash doesn’t last more than a few minutes, but it’s long enough for Tucker to wrap a hand around his own dick, groaning and clenching around Wash as he comes again in between the two of them.

The look on his face is all it takes. Wash comes hard, and he isn’t sure if two minutes pass, or two days, or two years, all he knows is that he’s losing his mind, he can’t think, can’t comprehend anything but Tucker, Tucker, Tucker.

Tucker rolls off of him to stare open-mouthed up at the ceiling as Wash sits up shakily, peeling the condom off. His hands are still shaking badly enough that it makes a mess, but Wash doesn’t care, doesn’t care that there’s cum all over his chest and the sheets and both of their hands. He throws it in the trashcan and Tucker leans into the crate again, grabs a towel, and half-heartedly wipes both of them off until they both collapse, breathing hard, onto the bed.

“Wow,” Tucker says to the ceiling, then rolls his head to look at Wash. “Dude, are you okay? You’re shaking.”

Wash nods, reaching for Tucker. Tucker goes to him, rolling over so that their chests are pressed together, just like that first morning when they woke up together. “Thanks,” he manages. “That was…thanks.”

Tucker rolls his eyes. “Oh man, I knew you were gonna get all weird after sex.”

But Tucker’s grinning as he says it, and Wash reaches up to touch the dimples on his face. I can do that now, he realizes elatedly. He can touch his face and kiss his lips and Tucker will let him, because Tucker wants him to. Wash may be dense, may still be half-convinced that he’s walking around in a dream, but Tucker wants him, really wants him—wants to kiss him, is kissing him, the press of his lips soft and steady, the drag of his hands over Wash’s shoulders tingly and electric. Wash tangles his hands in Tucker’s hair and holds him there, kisses him back, a wild, half-forgotten happiness blooming and blossoming inside his chest, unfurling towards the sky to catch the rain.

 

END PART ONE

 

Chapter Text

INTERLUDE

Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door
Knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door


It is so very cold in space.

The planet where he came from burned, with a sun so unbearable that it was often dangerous to be outside during the daylight hours. Expansive, and seemingly endless tunnels, stretched from building to building, with cooling units that ran constantly in the background. Their hum was a dull, maddening thing, and although it has been years since he’s heard the fans, he sometimes finds himself twisting and turning to find the source of the drone inside his head.

Memory. Only memory.

As a child, he used to dream of green. Lush grass, expansive forests, bright leaves and petals and blue water. Cool colors. Soothing colors. Any colors other than the browns and oranges and reds of his youth.

Space did not bring him green, but it did bring him an endless, inky black, broken only by the white light of the stars. Space was relief from the harsh climate of his youth. It was dark. It was empty.

It was blessedly, gloriously cold.

He still finds himself staring out windows, transfixed by the pale distance of the stars. They help him think. There were patterns, in the stars, if only he could see them.

When the door opens behind him, he does not turn. He waits—he is, if nothing else, a patient man—and sure enough, his visitor is silent for mere moments before speaking.

Sooo. Aiden-fucking-Price. Is that your real name?”

Price waits another several seconds before turning to face his visitor. “Is Felix yours?”

Felix snorts. “Of course not. What, do you think I’m fucking idiot?

Quite.

“Is there something I can help you with, Felix?”

“You can start by giving us some useful information on how to take these fuckers out.” Felix has either forgotten his initial question or, he never truly cared for the answer in the first place. Regardless, it is foolish, allowing Price to dictate the conversation this early in the game.

“It seems they are proving themselves quite worthy opponents.”

“What—no they’re not! They’re just…” Felix visibly struggles to find words worthy enough to express his agitation before tossing his hands in the air. “It’s these fucking Freelancers and these sim troopers! Christ, we never had a problem playing this planet like a goddamn fiddle until they showed up!”

“They are heroes, to these people.” Price glances out the window again. Patterns, in the starlight, so many patterns. “I highly doubt that the sudden insurgence in victories has anything to do with their skill as soldiers so much as it does their ability to boost this planet’s morale.”

“Yeah, well, they’re certainly kicking our asses enough in battle to make me doubt that fucking analysis.” Felix pauses. “The Freelancers, I mean. The Reds and Blues are a fucking joke.”

“I would argue that it is mostly the Simulation Troopers who—”

“Are you fucking serious? Oh man, you should take Locus out to dinner sometime. The two of you could sit and jerk each other off thinking about the darling sim troopers.” 

“I merely think that the morale the Red and Blue soldiers have—”

“Oh my God, I don’t care. It wasn’t a fucking sim trooper who took down all our shields at that gun warehouse, or rendered my fucking shoulder useless for two days at the way station last week.” Felix scowls at the memory. “I want to know how to take these Freelancers out.

“The Counselor has already given us information on the Freelancers and their weaknesses.”

They turn to see Locus, standing just inside the doorway as if he’s been there all along. For all Price knows, he has been. Impressive. He didn’t even hear Locus’s approach, unlike Felix, who stomps through the corridors just because he can.

Felix has made clear his opinion of Price’s insights abundantly clear; in all of his work with elite soldiers, Price has never before met one with Felix’s remarkable capacity to display genuine feeling with such alacrity.  “He told us that Agent Carolina is a touch too competitive,” Felix says now, the dismissive tone in his voice all too clear. “Like that’s a big surprise—and that Washington is a big crybaby who doesn’t want another A.I. in his head. How, exactly, are either of those things going to help us?”

Locus regards Felix dispassionately before turning to Price. “Why does Agent Washington refuse access to his neural implants?”

Felix groans, throwing himself into a chair. “Agent Washington, Agent Washington.” He glances at Price. “Locus here has a gigantic loser crush on our friend Washy. Going on and on about how he was such a true soldier—I’m pretty sure he’s written about him in his diary—”

“Enough,” Locus snaps, and to Price’s surprise, Felix does quiet. Interesting. “We know from the intelligence recovered from Freelancer that Agent Washington had an A.I. The Epsilon unit, in fact. We know that he only functioned with that A.I. for a short time before it was removed. What we don’t know is why.”

“Do we care?

Locus turns to Price slowly, expression forever unreadable beneath that blank helmet. “Do we?”

“The removal of the Epsilon unit from Agent Washington’s neural interface was due to Epsilon’s attempted self-destruction,” Price says. “We…started to suspect that his fragment held highly sensitive information, vital to the survival or Project Freelancer. Once it became clear that we were going to remove him from Washington for further examination, he took matters into his own hands.”

“Attempted self-destruction…so, what, he tried to kill himself?” Felix snorts. “Bet that fucked up Wash’s head.”

“It took him years to recover from the brain damage done. One of his clear conditions for working for us as a Recovery Agent was that under no circumstances would he accept another A.I.”

“It is interesting,” Locus says slowly, “that a soldier such as Agent Washington would be so…vocal, about something that causes him such distress.”

“Fascinating,” Felix drawls.

They ignore him. “Unless it was an act?” Locus postulates. “A ruse, designed to hide a true weakness.”

“It was no ruse,” Price says. Of that he is certain. “It is true that Washington was able to…mislead us about his true purpose in becoming a Recovery Agent, but his feelings about refusing A.I. access to his implants was genuine. I would go so far to say that the prospect causes him not only distress, but also great fear.”

“As much as I’m enjoying this story,” Felix says, “I fail to see how this is going to help us in the slightest. Great, so, Washington doesn’t want an A.I. in his head. We’ll just plant another one in his brain for the fun of it! I’m sure that’ll help us turn the tide of this fucking war…”

Price watches as Felix trails off, staring hard at Locus before scoffing. “You cannot be serious. That’s your plan?”

“I wouldn’t call it a plan,” Locus says slowly. “More…the beginnings of an idea.”

Felix pushes up from his chair, pacing back and forth. “Oh, okay! We’ll just pull one of the dozens of A.I. we just happen to have lying around and stick it in dear Agent Washington’s head! Which will accomplish…I’m sorry, what, exactly?”

“We have information on what one of our biggest obstacles fears the most,” Locus growls, agitation creeping into his tone for the first time. “Don’t think we should use it?”

“Listen, Locus, I’m all for using whatever we can get, but I don’t see how this is going to be of any use to us at all—”

Their bickering fades into the background, a low buzzing drone that sets Prices’s teeth on edge. Still, it is familiar—reassuring, even. The cooling fans nearly drove him to madness in his youth, but their hum could always be counted on. It was constant, unerring.

Predictable.

“I think,” he says, “that I have an idea.”

The irritating hum of their argument falters, and Price lets them wait, focused once more on the yawning black and pinprick stars. He uses them to chart his thoughts, traces their lines to connect patterns, and sure enough, there it is. Step one in ending this war, in getting himself out of this mess.

He turns to look at Felix and Locus, who are assessing him with impatience. Felix and Locus. Code names, of course. He had never understood the point himself.

Aiden Price is, in fact, his real name.

 

 

Chapter Text

PART TWO

Mama, put my guns in the ground
I can't shoot them anymore
That long black cloud is comin' down
 I feel I'm knockin' on heaven's door

 


 

When Tucker wakes up, it’s to the feel of gentle fingers running up and down his arm, and a reddish light pressing against his closed eyelids.

He keeps his eyes shut for several minutes longer and soaks in the sensations. The sunlight is nice and warm, the hand on his arm tickles pleasantly, and he’s pretty confident Wash is doing that thing where he stares in awe at the glorious sight he got to wake up next to. Tucker is mooore than happy to give him something to stare at. He makes his face nice and soft, before pretending to wake up slowly, scrunching his nose and blinking open his eyes blearily. Adorable. He is fucking adorable.

Tucker finally focuses his eyes to see that Wash is staring at him alright, but the look is less awestruck and more amused. “Smooth, Tucker.”

“Right?” Tucker winks up at him. “Smooth as butter.”

Wash rolls his eyes, but he’s grinning and he seems unable to stop. He’s relaxed and happy in a way Tucker’s never seen and it’s a goddamn good look on him.

Tucker reaches up to ruffle Wash’s hair, just because he can. “Sleep okay?”

Wash laughs, bright and bursting. “I don’t think I moved all night.”

Yeeeeeah, I wore you out, didn’t I?”

“You, uh. That you did.”

Tucker grins, tugging Wash back down for a kiss. It’s sloppy and wet and they both have morning breath, but it’s pretty goddamn great anyway. “You’re really good at that.”

Wash pulls back enough to squint at Tucker suspiciously, as if he thinks Tucker’s fucking with him. “Good at what?”

“At kissing, you loser.” Wash flushes a little, but he looks pleased too, so Tucker keeps it up. “At dick sucking, too, like hoooly fuck.”

“It was the build-up, Tucker.”

“Uh, no, it was your fucking mouth. You need to give me lessons on that thing you did with your tongue, where you like…”

He sticks out his tongue and tries to demonstrate, which accomplishes absolutely nothing except getting Wash to laugh again, so it’s not a total loss. It also gets Wash to give him a considering look and say, “Well, I suppose it could be one more thing that we add to your lessons.”

Tucker sits up so fast that he almost clocks Wash in the forehead. “Uhhhh, fuck yeah it can! And can you use your ‘I want twenty laps around the canyon’ voice when you do it? And can we do it in the training room? And—”

“Tucker, no. We are not fooling around in the training room.”

“Dude! You were the one trying to fuck me in the training room closet yesterday!”

“Yes…well….that was different,” Wash says, dignified. “I was…caught up in the moment.”

Tucker snorts. “It’s gonna happen. You’ll see.” He’s getting hot just thinking about it, getting on his knees while Wash tells him what to do with his mouth in that fucking velvet voice of his. Maybe they would be in the training room. Maybe they’d be in full armor, and Wash would take off nothing but his codpiece. The possibilities were endless. “Man, do you know how hard I’ve worked to control myself lately—with you strutting around licking sugar off your fingers, Jesus Christ…”

Wash grins at the memory before something visibly occurs to him. “Is that why you ran off so quickly afterwards? Your fight with Epsilon?”

Tucker sighs. “Yeah. I was just being too chicken shit to tell you. Didn’t want that hanging over my head like a fucking anvil, though.” He slants a look at Wash. “I can’t believe you thought I didn’t want you, God. What, do you think I’m blind?

“Well…” Wash shrugs. “I wouldn’t have—you saw what I was like, and…with Epsilon…”

“Ugh,” Tucker makes a face. “Fuck Epsilon. I don’t want to talk about him. Let’s talk about something way more interesting. Let’s talk about your wish list. Your sexy wish list.”

“What—I don’t have a sexy wish list, Tucker.”

Tucker rolls his eyes. “I’m not asking for like, a fucking alphabetized spreadsheet, Wash. Just…you know, some stuff that you’re into. Give me something to work with here.”

Still, still, Wash does a double take. “You…so this really is something you want to do again, then.”

Tucker groans, pulling a pillow over his face in distress. “Yes, Wash! Jesus! I want to fuck you like a million more times, and cuddle with you and like, hear about your day and shit. What, do I need to ask if you wanna go steady? Jesus jumped up Christ…”

Alright, alright,” Wash huffs. “I just—want to be sure.”

Tucker removes the pillow and casts a long-suffering look at Wash. “Dude, you’re sure, I’m sure, the whole base is sure. Let’s fuck. If you’re not gonna tell me any of your kinks, then let’s go back to the part where you were sucking on your fingers because holy shit, that was totally working for me.”

Wash gives him a look. “Oh, well, in that case, let me just go grab the sugar, then.”

“Okay.” Tucker sits up a little straighter, folding his hands in his lap. “I’ll wait.”

“Very funny.”

“Dude, I never joke about sex.” Tucker reflects. “Well, okay, yes I do, but I’m not joking about this.”

When Wash still continues to stare at him as if Tucker’s speaking a foreign language, Tucker sighs, puts his first two fingers in his mouth, and sucks on them. He makes it as obscene as he possibly can, swirling his tongue and dragging his teeth and even throwing a moan or two in there. Wash stops fidgeting and just stares at him, transfixed, until Tucker pulls his mouth away and grins. “See? It’s not that hard—”

He cuts himself off, startled, as Wash sits up and grabs Tucker’s wrist and tugs it towards him. Wash unfolds Tucker’s fingers, flattening out his palm and rubbing small circles there with his thumb. They stay like that for a few moments, Wash tracing the love lines and the laugh lines and whatever the fuck lines they are, before bringing his own mouth to Tucker’s palm.

Tucker makes a noise somewhere between a yelp and a moan as Wash drags the flat of his tongue against Tucker’s palm, then reverses the motion with his teeth. Sparks of pleasure jolt through Tucker’s body, crackling inside his skull, burning down his spine, and he finds himself squirming closer and closer until he’s half in Wash’s lap, his legs locked around his waist as he tries to squirm away and move closer all at once.

Wash moves his palm to suck Tucker’s first two fingers into his mouth, dragging his teeth along the edges and doing that thing with his tongue again. Tucker tips his head back to pant at the ceiling, his free hand scrabbling for purchases against the wall, the sheets, Wash’s hair, anything; he can’t stay still and Wash is going to drive him insane

Wash is saying something, the words vibrating pleasantly against Tucker’s palm, and it isn’t until he pulls away to grin that Tucker’s ears start semi-functioning again. “So sensitive,” he murmurs, placing another kiss to the outside of Tucker’s thumb. “Hmm. I think I found your hotspot.”

“Wh—you did not!” Tucker protests. “My sweet spot is not my hand, what the—what the fuck, fucking goddammit, Wash—!”

It is. His sweet spot apparently is his fucking hand, which is the lamest thing in the world, except it’s not because Wash’s teeth are dragging across the heel of his palm again and it’s turning Tucker’s brain to ash. He can’t think, he can’t breathe, and then Wash warps a loose hand around the base of Tucker’s dick and jerks his fist up slowly, twisting as he goes, Jesus Christ, he’s going to get him off just like this, just from kissing Tucker’s palm

“Wait,” Tucker gasps, his hips rolling forward into Wash’s hand nonetheless. “Wash—wait—I wanna fuck you, I wanna—”

Wash silences him with a kiss, and although Tucker’s palm feels oddly cool and empty with the loss of Wash’s mouth, his own mouth is more than happy with this turn of events. He surges forward so quickly that they topple backwards, Tucker landing half on top. He takes immediate advantage, tracing his tongue along the shell of Wash’s ear until his breathing turns ragged. “Pinned you.”

“What—you did not, I let you do that,” Wash protests, but he doesn’t sound nearly as convincing as he’d probably hoped.

Suuuure,” Tucker says, and plants another filthy kiss on Wash’s lips before craning his neck around. “Shit, what’d we do with the lube…”

He half-heartedly pats around the pillows before pushing himself off of Wash with a groan, leaning his upper half off the bed to peer under the bed. The lube is nowhere in sight.

“Found the condoms, at least,” Wash says, and Tucker peeks his head up to see Wash fishing the roll out from in between the bed and the wall. “Where did you get all of these?”

“Uh, supply run, of course…a-ha!” Tucker almost face plants off the mattress when he spots the lube under the bed, straining to reach it. He emerges, triumphant, to see Wash watching him in amusement.

“Is that why you really went on the supply run?”

“I went on the supply run because I was assigned to it,” Tucker says, striving for as much poise as he can muster while liberally coating his fingers with lube. “And, yeah. I had to get me some sugar. In more ways than one.”

He waggles his eyebrows at Wash, who looks torn between exasperation and laughter. “Really.”

Yeah, really.” He pushes Wash back down so he’s lying flat on his back. “Now, are we gonna play twenty questions, or are you gonna let me finger fuck you?”

Wash grins up at him, all breathless and blushy and so fucking gorgeous that Tucker doesn’t know what to do with himself. Those goddamn freckles are going to be the end of him. He settles himself in between Wash’s legs and hooks one of Wash’s thighs over his own shoulder, for no other reason than he’s imagined doing this exact thing every time he’s seen Wash stretching. He runs a hand up and down Wash’s leg, kneading the muscles in his thigh before wrapping a hand around Wash’s dick.

He gets a few good strokes in and is just getting ready to stretch Wash open when something occurs to him. “Wait, you have been with dudes before, right?”

Wash whines a little as Tucker’s hand stills on his dick. “W-what?”

Shit. “’Cause, if this is your first time taking it up the ass then you gotta let me know so I don’t like, go fucking nuts here.”

“Oh—no—I mean, yeah, yes, yes.” Some of the fog clears in Wash’s eyes. “I’ve…been with men before, yes. I thought you knew that?”

“Oh, good,” Tucker says in relief, speeding up his hand again. “I mean that’s cool if you haven’t, I just wanted to check. ‘Cause like, you mentioned fucking that girl back in Freelancer, but you never actually said anything about riding any dicks, so—”

Tucker,” Wash groans, throwing an arm over his eyes as he rocks more insistently into Tucker’s hand. “Can we not—”

Oh. Right. Maybe not the best idea to bring up the dead ex-fuck buddy of the dude you’re currently trying to bang. “Shit, my bad. Forget I mentioned that. Just—focus on the handie I’m giving you here.”

“I’m trying—”

“I’ve fucked dudes before too,” Tucker says conversationally. “Not, like, a lot, but I know my way around a dick—”

“I’ve noticed,” Wash groans, and then his hips do a forward-back-forward-back thrusting thing as Tucker wriggles a lubed-up finger inside of him. “Ohhh, fuck…”

“Just like, enough to get stuff done,” Tucker pants, but he’s starting to lose the thread of the conversation as Wash goes to pieces underneath him. “To, uh…Jesus, Wash…”

He grinds his own dick down against the mattress as Wash lets out a shaky moan, and claps a hand over his mouth to stifle the sound. Tucker works in a second finger, angles his wrist, and curls his fingers hard. He grins in delight as Wash’s back practically arches off the bed, and he claps his other hand over his mouth as well.

“Wash…” he groans. “Wash…get your fucking hands back down…I wanna hear…all of these noises….”

Wash does bring his hands back down, to tangle in Tucker’s hair, although he grits his teeth hard as Tucker curls his fingers again. “Tucker—I—I—”

“Oh, shit, you ready dude? Ohh fuck, okay, you got the condoms, good—rip one off for me, my hand’s all lubed up…”

Tucker keeps on stretching him open as Wash fumbles with the condom, finally ripping one open and tossing the rest aside. His hands are shaking slightly as he moves to hand it to Tucker, and promptly drops it as Tucker gets a third finger in there. “Shit, sorry, shit, shit, shit—”

Wash pats around blindly for the dropped condom and thrusts it at Tucker. “Here—here—”

“Someone’s eager,” Tucker says with a snicker, as he pulls his fingers out and fumbles the condom on his dick and lines himself up at Wash’s entrance. “Hmm. Maybe I should call you butterfingers.”

“Hnngh—do—not—”

Then Wash stops talking and Tucker stops thinking and they both start doing a whole lot of gasping and panting because Wash is so tight and he feels so good and he wraps his hands in Tucker’s hair and tugs hard. He hesitates when Tucker moans so loudly it almost echoes, and Tucker presses his head into Wash’s hand.

“Didn’t hurt,” he whines thrusting in deep and circling there. “Do—do that again.”

Wash obliges, winding his fingers through Tucker’s dreads and pulling juuuust hard enough. He keeps it up for a while until Tucker moves his hips faster and Wash clutches hard at Tucker’s shoulders, the wall, the sheets beneath them. “Is—it—is it too much?” Tucker pants between thrusts.

“No—no—it’s—it’s—it’s good, it’s—oh God, God, God…” Wash trails off into a wordless gasp that turns into a moan, his hand flying up to cover his mouth. When that’s not quite enough to stifle the sounds, he grabs a pillow and smashes it over his face.

Tucker laughs breathlessly, tugging the pillow away. “Uh-uh…don’t you dare…deprive me of these…these fucking noises you’re making.”

When Wash is bringing a hand back up to his mouth again a few seconds later, Tucker catches his wrist and pins it gently to the bed. He tangles their fingers together, keeping the pressure light and reassuring, but to his surprise, Wash gasps as if he’s been electrocuted, his hips rolling up even harder to meet Tucker’s.

Holy fuck. Tucker reaches for Wash’s other wrist and secures that one over their heads as well, giving Wash’s hands a squeeze, and yup, Tucker can definitely get behind this plan. He can see every inch of Wash’s arms like this, stretched out over his head in all their chiseled glory.

Wash lets out a particularly loud moan when Tucker thrusts in deep and starts circling, and Tucker can feel him automatically trying to tug a hand back down to stifle the sound. Tucker tightens his grip just enough to keep Wash’s wrists where they are, and the look Wash gives him is wide-eyed and wanting and somehow stunned and there’s no way Tucker’s going to last at this rate.

He finds a pace that has them both groaning and gasping into each other’s necks, and soon Wash is writhing underneath him and saying, “Tucker—Tucker—I’m—”

But Tucker can feel it, can feel the way that Wash is simultaneously trying to thrust his hips up and rub his dick against Tucker’s stomach. He lets go of one of Wash’s wrists and instead of clutching at the sheets or trying to cover his mouth again, Wash keeps his hand there, fingers curling tightly around one of the metal bars at the head of their bed.

For some reason, that’s what does it: Wash’s hand just where Tucker put it, wrapped around the cold metal bed frame, holding on so tight that Tucker can see the muscles in his arm straining. He comes hard himself only a few seconds after getting his hand around Wash’s dick, but Wash isn’t far behind, thrusting desperately up into Tucker’s palm and coming with a moan that Tucker sincerely hopes the entire base heard.

Tucker keeps jerking at him until Wash collapses onto the bed, boneless and thoroughly wrung out. Tucker yanks off the condom, throws it in the trash, and falls on top of Wash.

“Tucker,” Wash protests, but there’s no real conviction in his voice. “You’re making a mess.”

He’s not wrong—Wash’s jizz is all over both of them, and the sheets are a total mess—but Tucker can’t bring himself to care just yet. “God, that was good,” he sighs against Wash’s chest. “You’re like, super sexy, dude.”

“Hmm.” Wash sighs, content, and runs a hand down Tucker’s back. “You’re not so bad yourself.”

Wash reaches an arm over the side of the bed and retrieves the towel they used last night. “Come on. Before it dries.”

Tucker grumbles, but grabs the towel and sits up enough to wipe himself off. “Fine, fine…”

“We’re probably not going to have time to take a shower,” Wash says, and glances at the clock. “Ah, dammit. We should really get going…”

Tucker whips the towel away and tackles Wash back down to the mattress with a grin. “Yeah, in that voice? All disappointed and shit?”

“Well—I mean—”

“You wanna stay in bed with me all day,” Tucker crows. “You wanna bang me like ten more times, and cuddle, and take naps and—”

He ducks as Wash whips a pillow at his head. “I’m not the one preventing us from getting up!”

“—and eat pizza and drink wine and shit—damn, do you think we can even get pizza on this planet? Probably not. Well, whatever. We can eat MREs in bed, I’ll fix ‘em up so they don’t taste like shit.”

Wash plants a kiss on his forehead with a sigh, rolling off the bed. “If only.”

Tucker’s grin fades as Wash sits up and starts hunting for his Kevlar suit. He drinks in the sight of Wash moving naked around his room, a weird burst of panic surging through him when Wash steps into the suit, and it knits itself up his back.

“Wait,” he blurts, and Wash pauses in the act of strapping on his chest plate.

“What’s wrong?”

“I just…” Tucker toys with the edge of the sheet, suddenly unable to look at Wash. It hits him then, the unfairness of this, that they can’t stay in bed and eat pizza and fuck the day away—that in all odds, they won’t be able to for some time. This war, this real war that they’re all wrapped up in, is far from over and they’ve both already almost died a whole bunch of times, and probably will a bunch more.

Wash is in front of him then, tipping his chin up wordlessly, and Tucker rallies. “We’re gonna fuck again, right?” he asks, trying to make it sound like a throwaway question. “I mean, you’re not gonna leave and get all weird, or think I’m like, regretting this or something? Because I’m not, just so you know. I mean, I think you’re hot, like super fucking sexy, and if you want, I mean, I’d like to fuck you again ‘cause you may not have a sexy wish list but I sure do—”

Wash’s lips are cool and gentle and somehow already familiar. Tucker presses into them, curls a hand in Wash’s hair and just soaks in it, the feel of his lips and hair and the faint scruff on his chin. “I’d like that,” Wash says formally when he pulls away, like the gigantic dork he is. “I’d like that a lot.”

“Okay, cool,” Tucker says, the perfect picture of casualness, and he vaults off the bed to start dressing next to Wash. Their armor is all mixed together on the floor and it keeps drawing Tucker’s eye, the bright aqua next to the steel and yellow plates. It looks good, Tucker thinks. Wash’s armor looks damn good on his floor, and Wash looks damn good in his bed, and that smile looks damn good on his face, and if you’d told Tucker even ten weeks ago that this would be what he woke up to, he would never have believed it, not in a million years.

That’s love and sex in a warzone for you, Tucker thinks. He thinks it quietly, a half-recognized thing, the love just barely fluttering on the edges of the thoughts. That’s the thing.

You never know when it’s coming.


“Before you ask, the answer is yes, we fucked, and yes, it was awesome.”

Tucker whips his helmet off, pleased, and stares around. He waits for the inevitable gasps and inquiries, the misty eyes from Donut, the pat on the back from Grif, the—

He’s so caught up in imagining this scene, rife with high fives and cat calls, that it takes him several seconds to realize that the only reaction is Wash’s mortified voice hissing, “Tucker!”

Tucker frowns. “Uh, did you guys hear what I just said?”

With another exasperated look, Wash takes off jogging around the track. Caboose stands up, pats Tucker on the head and says, “Nice try, Tucker,” before taking off after him.

Tucker gapes after the pair of them before whipping back to the rest of his friends. He had, admittedly, spent a good portion of the morning waiting for someone to come up to him and say something—half the base had done little else for weeks—but no one had so much had glanced in his direction. He’d been sure that the rest of the Reds and Blues would have something to say at least, but so far, they’re letting him down big time. “Wait—whoa, did he think I was lying? I’m not lying, we did fuck!”

“Sure you did, Tucker,” Grif yawns. “I’m sure it was great.”

“What—fuck yeah it was! It was awesome and you wish you’d been there—”

“Please, spare us the details,” Sarge grunts, and takes off after Caboose and Wash.

Tucker stares after them before jamming his helmet back on, feeling unreasonably disgruntled. “Don’t you guys have a bet going on or something?”

“Believe it or not, some of us have more important things to worry about than your sex life, Tucker,” Simmons sniffs. His tone isn’t aggressive but it’s way sharper than Tucker’s used to, and he turns to Grif, confused.

“Okay, what’s going on? Geez, someone get Donut here to lighten the mood…” Tucker glances around, frowning. “Where is Donut, anyway?”

Grif and Simmons probably think the glance they exchange is a subtle one, but Tucker’s known them both too long to be fooled. His heart plummets straight into the ground. “Whoa, what’s wrong? What happened?”

“Donut’s recon mission ran a little long this morning,” Simmons say, after another half-glance at Grif. “His squad isn’t back yet and we…we lost radio contact.”

“What—are you kidding me?” Tucker finds himself instinctively turning towards the track, but Wash is a quarter mile away, a steel blur in the distance. “What the fuck, Simmons! What are we still doing here? We should be looking for him, we should—”

His thoughts chase themselves wildly through his head each one laced with guilt. He’d known Donut was going on a recon mission at some ungodly hour well before dawn—which, ridiculous, whoever thought to put Donut on a mission involving stealth was a moron—but he’d assumed they weren’t due back just yet.

“It’s probably nothing,” Grif says, striving for casual but only succeeding marginally. “I’m sure he’ll be back any minute. Then you can talk to him all you want about the fake sex you had with Wash.”

“How late is he?” Tucker demands. “Like, five minutes late, or two hours late?”

“Three hours,” Simmons says glumly.

Three hours? Three—did you know about this?” Tucker demands as Wash finishes his lap and comes to a slow halt near them. “About Donut?”

Wash paces in tiny circles, hands on his hips as he catches his breath. “What about Donut? Were they not able to get the numbers we needed?”

“Well, that’s something that we could ask them,” Tucker says, “if they were back yet.”

Wash stops walking, glancing between him and Simmons. “Wait, the squad isn’t back yet? Have they radioed in? What happened?”

“Wow, it’s like you guys are soulmates or something,” Grif mutters sarcastically.

Wash glares at him. “Grif. Answer the question.”

“Which one?”

Simmons hastens to answer. Smart move. “That’s the problem. We lost radio contact about five hours ago, just a little before they were due back. No one’s sure why—there were no sounds of a struggle, no hint that they were in trouble. Their signal just…went out.”

“Uh, back to my original question—why are we still here?” Tucker waves his arms. “We should be looking for them!”

“Well, of course we should!” Tucker turns to see Sarge slowing to a halt next to them. Caboose is still off, jogging in slow circles around the track. “It’s what I’ve been saying all morning! None of this standin’ around waiting crap! It makes for more sense if we—and just where do you think you’re going?”

Wash doesn’t slow in his pointed stalk away from the track. “You should have told me this the second we arrived,” he says over his shoulder, and it’s pretty over the top, but Tucker can’t help but agree.

Grif snorts. “Uh, we couldn’t exactly get a word in edgewise with Tucker here going on about his sex life again.”

“Wash—wait!” Simmons scampers over to Wash, his voice still just barely drifting back to the rest of the group. “Where are you going?

“To get some answers.”

“Well, it’s about goddamn time!” Sarge says, and immediately ambles off after them.

Their voices finally trail off as they get farther away. Tucker watches the place where they disappeared, his stomach tying itself in knots as Simmons throws up his hands and stalks back to the group, leaving Sarge and Wash on their own. He’s fine, Tucker tells himself firmly. Donut’s fine. They’re all fine—

“Wait.” He whirls to face Grif. “Who else was with him?”

Grif shrugs, picking up a pebble and throwing it across the canyon. “Uh…Patil, Ali, Bitters, and Matthews.”

“Who assigns these missions, anyway?” Tucker snaps. “I mean, Patil can at least keep his mouth shut, but who in their right mind would put Donut on intel? Or Matthews?

“I don’t know, Tucker, obviously it wasn’t me…”

It’s a short, sulky work-out session. Caboose is loud and anxious, Simmons is quite possibly even louder, and Tucker is surprised Grif doesn’t pull a muscle with how hard he’s pretending not to give a shit about the whole thing. Tucker sneaks off by himself at one point and tries to send a message to Donut—way 2 get urself lost asshole—but his heart sinks when SIGNAL OUT OF RANGE flashes across his HUD.

“Okay, this is bullshit,” Tucker announces, striding out from behind the crumbling wall he’d been lurking behind. “C’mon, let’s go see what’s happening.”

No one tries to argue with him. The four of them make their way back into the base and, after some arguing about where to go, head into the conference room.

Ha,” Tucker says triumphantly as they start down the corridor to the sounds of what is unmistakably Wash and Kimball arguing. “Told you they’d be here. Suck it, Red.”

Grif mutters something Tucker can’t quite make out. Probably for the best. The four of them huddle in the doorway of the war room, hesitating on the threshold. Kimball is there in the center of the room, panning through a series of holographic maps with Epsilon floating over her right shoulder, Wash hovering by their left. Carolina is off to the side, clearly in the middle of lecturing Doyle who, Tucker is impressed to see, hasn’t collapsed shaking into a chair.

It takes Tucker a moment to figure out exactly what is so striking about the scene, and he finds his gaze pulled constantly between Wash and Epsilon until he realizes the perfect mirror image they create. They’re both standing inches away from Kimball, arms folded, heads tilted in towards the map. If it weren’t for the marked size difference, they could be twins, in that moment.

“—just really think we should send someone else out there,” Wash is saying tersely. “Really, General, I’m not questioning your decisions, but—”

“Except that’s exactly what you’re doing,” she snaps.

Caboose, Grif and Simmons shove their way into the room, and as Tucker moves to follow them, he finds himself yanked backwards so hard he almost falls over.

He whips around furiously to see Sarge with a finger to his visor, gesturing at him to keep quiet. Tucker glares at him, but continues to follow him down the hallway. “What the fuck are we doing?” he hisses, once they’re safely out of earshot of the meeting room. “And why did you have to nearly take rip my arm out of its socket to do it?!”

“Quite your bitchin’,” Sarge says, dismissive. “I saw the opportune moment and I took it!”

“Opportune moment to do what?

“To mount a rescue mission, of course!”

“To mount a—whoa.” Tucker slows his walk and, when Sarge doesn’t follow suit, yanks on his arm to bring him to a halt. “You’re kidding, right? We don’t even know where they are.”

Sarge jerks his arm out of Tucker’s grasp. “We ain’t gonna find that out standing around wringing our handkerchiefs, now are we?”

“But…” with a muttered curse, Tucker takes off after him. “Sarge, wait. We can’t mount a two-person rescue mission—”

“Sure we can! Isn’t that what you boys when you came to fetch us?”

“Okay, that was different, we knew where you guys were, at least…” something occurs to Tucker, and he frowns suspiciously at Sarge’s back. “And why do you want me to come on it, anyway? Are you forgetting the last time we ran a mission together? It was fucking unbearable.”

Sarge scoffs. “That’s only because you were jealous that Agent Washington propositioned me for a threesome—”

“I was not jealous! Don’t fucking start that again!”

“—and besides, it’s not like I had many options. It was either you, Grif, or Caboose. Caboose is a good kid, but he can’t pull off the kind of stealth this mission requires, and Grif…well, need I start listing Grif’s shortcomings?”

“You really don’t.”

He does anyway. Sarge yammers on and on about Grif’s endless faults all the way down to the landing bay and pauses only to puff up his chest at the Federalist soldier manning the Pelicans and inform him that he’s on a top secret mission— “Important Colonel business, you see.” He moves on to pointing out Simmons’ inadequacies as they stride aboard their chosen Pelican and, with a special vehemence, segways into a long-winded rant about Donut and how “boy’s got good intuition but good Lord, there’s no field voice there at all—he could be standin’ right next to you and feel the need to scream…”

“Uh huh,” Tucker says absently as the Pelican hums to life. “Sarge, seriously. Do you even know where we’re going?”

“Of course I do!”

“Well, then do you mind cluing me the fuck in?” He grabs Sarge’s wrist before he can slam the Pelican into gear and take them to who know where. “Sarge.”

Sarge tuts impatiently and deigns Tucker with a half-glance in his direction. “Way station. The one where you boys overheard Charon talking on your way to find us.”

“Where Grif found the slurpies?”

“That’s the one.” Sarge flicks a few more switches on the dashboard, and Tucker wonders ominously if he even knows what he’s doing. “They’re still meeting there. The mercs. The Generals put Donut on the mission ‘cause they needed a tracking device in there, and fact is Donut’s got one hell of an arm. He was supposed to lob the son-of-a-bitch right in from a good distance away.”

Tucker stares at him. “How do you know all of this?”

“Because,” Sarge says, slamming the gearshift forward. “I helped plan the damn mission.”

Tucker falls silent as the Pelican creeps forward, and the soldiers who were still milling around in confusion on the runway scatter. “They secured the tracking device,” Sarge says abruptly. “Signal’s reading loud and clear. We just can’t get a read on their Pelican. Could be anywhere! Could be crashed! Could be on the other side of the planet! Could be—”

“Returning back to Armonia as we speak?”

“Could—what?”

Look.” Tucker jabs his finger at the windshield of their own Pelican. “Uh, I think that might be them.”

They stare at each other until Sarge slams their own Pelican back into reverse and Tucker runs around flicking off headlights and shutting hatchways. “Nevermind, we won’t be needing that after all!” Sarge calls as the two of them book it off the Pelican and run towards the one descending.

“It’s cool,” Tucker said. “It’s cool, I don’t think anyone noticed we were even gone….”

This happy illusion is shattered as Kimball’s voice sounds across the landing bay. “Just what the hell do the two of you think you’re doing?”

Tucker turns to see everyone they’d left behind in the war room storming towards them. “Look, the ship’s back,” he says brightly, waving in the general direction of the descending Pelican.

We are aware of that, thank you Captain Tucker,” Kimball snaps. “What we—Sarge, get back here! We still don’t know why we lost contact with them. We don’t know who’s on that ship!”

Sarge doesn’t slow, but he does pull his shotgun off of his back. A quick glance around confirms that everyone else is reacting similarly. They wait with baited breath as the Pelican lands, the ramp opens, and—

Tucker almost wilts in relief when he sees Donut come ambling off the Pelican. His helmet is off and there’s no small amount of blood in his hair, but it seems to be mostly dry. Ali has one of Donut’s arms slung over his shoulders, and he jerks them both to a stop when he sees the number of guns pointed at them. “Whoa, whoa, whoa, it’s us!”

“Sarge, Agent Washington—check the Pelican,” Kimball says tersely, and everyone freezes for several minutes while they hasten to do so.

“It’s clear,” Wash says a few minutes later, ducking back off of the ship.

Ali continues helping Donut back down the Pelican ramp, and Tucker moves forward to pull Donut’s other arm over his shoulders. “Oh, don’t be silly Tucker, I’m fine!” Donut says brightly. “Just a little bump on the head!”

“Yeah yeah,” Tucker says, making his voice as nonchalant as he possibly can. “Let’s go get you a band aid. Where’s your helmet?”

“Matthews has it,” Donut says. “He’s a good kid.”

“Right…” Tucker glances over Donut’s head to frown at Ali. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Patil gesturing to Kimball and Doyle. “What happened?”

“Well,” Ali says with a sigh, “we got the tracking device on, no problem. The fuckers didn’t even realize we were there. We got back to the Pelican and they were waiting for us. The bird took some heavy fire—shorted out our GPS tracking—but we pulled through.” He pauses, then adds grudgingly, “That Bitters guy. He can fly, alright.”

They make it to the infirmary and get Donut situated with Doctor Grey. Tucker sits on the bench outside and Ali sits with him, long after Kimball arrives to debrief him, long after Matthews arrives to hand over Donut’s helmet. The silence between them is comfortable and when Ali finally speaks, his words crack through it like a whip.

“Who’s Doc?”

Tucker glances up sharply turning to see Ali’s dark eyes boring into his. “What?”

“Doc.” Ali rubs absently at some of the blood on his shoulder guard. Donut’s blood. “He talks about him a lot. They a thing?”

“I…yeah.” Tucker stares at the infirmary doors, guilt twisting his stomach into knots. “They were a thing.”

“Were?”

Tucker shifts uncomfortably. “We…aren’t really sure what happened to him. When we all got split up—we thought he was with Donut's group, they thought he was with ours. Simmons thinks something went wrong with the future cubes, so…”

“He could be anywhere.”

“Yeah.” Tucker glances at Ali. “Is, uh. Is he upset about it?”

Ali shrugs, leaning his head back against the wall. “Eh. Hard to tell with Donut, ya know? But…I don’t think so. Seems to think they’ll find each other again.” He looks at Tucker. “Far as I can tell, anyway. I don’t know him as well as you.”

“Sounds to me like you know him pretty well, dude.”

“He’s a good guy.” Ali nudges Tucker’s shoulder a little. “You all are. I guess.”

“Yeah yeah, whatever…”

But he looks at Ali, really looks at him: at the eyes so dark they’re nearly black, the scar that starts at his temple and stretches all the way to his collar, the only mark on his smooth, umber skin. “Thanks, for uh…having his back. And…listening to him.” Tucker clears his throat. “I should’ve been doing that.”

Another shrug. “He just likes to talk. Tell stories. I like to listen.” He kicks his boot over at Tucker’s. “Let’s hear some of yours.”

Tucker laughs a little, then side-eyes him. “Well. You wanna hear about the fucking awesome sex I had this morning?”

Ali perks up in interest. “Hell yeah I do, shit man, I’m not getting any…”

They sit there, watching the infirmary doors and swapping stories. Ali is a good listener, Tucker realizes, and an even better storyteller himself.  Tucker tells Ali about the desert, and Ali tells him about how he was a budding artist before the bombs dropped, and he passes over his datapad and Tucker flips through his drawings in awe— “Dude, you should not be in the fucking army, this is some Picasso level shit—” and finally, finally, Dr. Grey gives them permission to see Donut. Tucker examines the stitches on his head and tries not to hover and Donut chatters away brightly, and Tucker wonders just how many more close calls they can take before their luck runs out.


It’s only early evening when Tucker meets Wash in their usual training room to do some more knife training, but Tucker feels as if he hasn’t slept in three days. He feels sick to his stomach every time he thinks of Donut with that bright smile on his face, waving them all off. “I’m fine, guys, really! Just a little bump on the head.”

This time.

God. Talk about melodramatic. He really has been spending too much time with Wash lately. Tucker shoves his worries down deep and brightens when he pushes the door open to see Wash already in his fatigues. If that isn’t a sight for sore eyes, Tucker doesn’t what is.

Wash gives him a look when Tucker expresses this sentiment. It’s more exasperated than turned on, so Tucker takes his helmet off nice and slow and while that does get Wash’s eyes to track the motion of his hair in a mesmerized sort of way, it doesn’t exactly get Wash to jump his bones.

Tucker sighs, but gets to work unsnapping his armor. “Why are we training in our civvies? We haven’t done that in ages.”

“Exactly. I thought it was something worth cycling back to. Besides, I was thinking we could do something a little different.”

Tucker pauses in the act of lifting off his chest plate to wink at Wash. “Oh-ho! Well, in that case…”

Wash holds out a set of training clothes for Tucker—still packing his goddamn clothes, apparently—as he moves to unzip his Kevlar suit. It seems a little silly to put on clothes that Tucker’s hoping he’s just going to be ripping right back off, but he puts them on anyway and sits down as close as he can possibly get to Wash. Wash doesn’t pull away or flinch when their legs touch, but he does snag Tucker’s hand when he trails it up the inside of Wash’s thigh. “Tucker. Come on.”

Tucker flushes, a sharp and unexpected hurt lancing through him, and he propels himself to his feet. “Ugh, see, I knew you were gonna get all weird!”

Wash stares at him, looking almost bewildered enough for it to be convincing at Tucker’s outburst. “What?”

“I knew you were gonna get all weird and distant after we fucked!”

“What—I’m not getting distant! Tucker, we are training—I know you had a bad day but—”

“Look, if you don’t want this to be a thing you can just say so, you don’t have to—”

He promptly shuts the fuck up because Wash reaches up, fists a hand in his t-shirt, and yanks Tucker back down to him so fiercely that he half falls in Wash’s lap. Wash’s mouth his hot and insistent, and it’s all Tucker can do to grip tightly onto his shoulders and try not to fall over on the spot. He holds on and lets Wash kiss the fucking life out of him, and he’s gasping and wide-eyed when Wash pulls back.

Wash presses three soft kisses to his cheek and pulls away enough to look Tucker in the eye. “Let’s get a few things straight,” he says, and holy shit, Tucker will listen to anything Wash says if he does it in that fucking voice. “I do want you. I’m not going anywhere. But right now, we are training. I am trying to teach you something that can save your life, and I need you to pay attention. Are we clear?”

“Yes,” Tucker breathes. “Yes, sir.”

Wash kisses him again, softer this time, before standing. “And you say I’m dramatic.”

Tucker huffs. “Okay, look, it’s been a weird fucking day—that whole thing with Donut was fucked, and I hate training these knives without armor. I hate it.”

“Which is exactly why we have to do it,” Wash says. “I was thinking we could try something new. Work with metal knives today.”

Tucker straightens in alarm. “Wait, what? Do the evasion drill with real knives? Are you fucking crazy?”

“I didn’t say real knives, I said metal knives. With blunted edges.” Wash gives him a look. “I wouldn’t do this drill with sharp knives, Tucker.”

“Shit, I don’t know dude, you like to spar without fucking mouth guards and shit, so….” Tucker frowns. “How would that help? It’s the same shit we’ve been doing, just with metal instead of rubber.”

“You’ve been doing remarkably well with the rubber knives,” Wash says, moving to rummage in his bag. “But the rubber knives are clearly fake. I think it would help to see how you react to something that looks real.”

So they’re back on that again. “Okay, but I know they’re not real. It’s not going to make a difference—”

“You’re willing to try it, then?”

Tucker’s eyes track his movements as Wash pulls the knives out. “Uh, are you sure those aren’t real?”

“Of course I’m sure, Tucker.” He holds them out to Tucker, who sincerely hopes Wash didn’t see the way he just flinched. “Check them yourself.”

“That’s okay,” Tucker says quickly. “I trust you.”

“I appreciate that,” Wash says, “but I’d prefer that you check them anyway.”

Their eyes lock, and Tucker suddenly thinks that he might not be the only person these lessons are difficult for. He takes the knives from Wash and runs his fingers tentatively over the edges. They are blunt, the edges and tips rounded and smooth. They’re not that much different from the rubber knives really, but the way the metal flashes and catches the light is rather unnerving.

“Fine,” he blurts before he can think too hard on it. “Fine, whatever. Let’s do it.”

He ignores the calculating look Wash gives him and lunges into the bag, grabbing that stupid red chalk that Wash seems to have an endless supply of and coating the knives himself. Once the knives are good and covered, he stands and takes a place in the center of the training room.

“You ready?” Wash asks. He twirls one of the knives in his hand in an absent-minded sort of way. Tucker tries not to focus on the way it gleams in the light.

“Yep,” Tucker says, and gestures impatiently.

Wash wastes no time as usual, and Tucker barely jumps out of the way of the first slash. The gesture is wild and exaggerated, and Tucker’s overcorrection almost gets him a slash across the throat in the first five seconds. He tries to let his eyes go a little unfocused the way Wash had taught him, but his vision keeps zeroing in on the bright knife as he tracks it.

It costs him. Wash catches the edge of the knife against his arm and draws a chalk mark from Tucker’s shoulder to the crook of his elbow. The metal is cold and flat, but it doesn’t hurt. Obviously. It’s not real. There’s no reason for him to be freaked out, there’s no pain, none at all, except there hadn’t been any pain when Felix had stuck that knife in his gut, either. It had been so sharp and neat that Tucker hadn’t even realized what had happened until Epsilon screamed inside his head. The pain had hit him all at the same time once he’d glanced down and seen all of that red, glistening and wet against his Kevlar suit, red and black and blue until everything was blue and he realized that he was flat on his back staring up at the sky—

Blue, blue, blue. Wash’s eyes are boring into his, mouth moving with no words coming out. Tucker blinks hard, confused at why Wash is so close and why he looks so concerned and why everything feels muted, like there’s a fog inside Tucker’s head. His hand reaches out of its own accord, and the solid feel of Wash’s chest beneath his hand has the sound rushing back.

“—need to breathe,” Wash is saying, and Tucker realizes with horror that he’s backed himself right up against the wall and is shaking, actually fucking shaking.

“Jesus Christ!” he bursts, and curls the hand on Wash’s chest into his shirt. The other he rakes through his dreads, torn between anger and humiliation. “Don’t look at me like that, I’m fine, I’m fine—”

Wash folds his own hand around Tucker’s, and Tucker realizes the hand he’s clenched in Wash’s shirt is trembling too. Good God, give it another minute or two and he’ll be swooning. He gives it up and takes a few short, deep breathes, trying to get his goddamn nerves under control.

“It’s alright,” Wash tells him quietly, which somehow makes everything better and worse all at once. “It’s normal to be—”

“If you tell me it’s normal to be afraid—”

“Tucker—”

“Thought I was past this,” Tucker says abruptly. He can’t quite meet Wash’s eye when he says it. “Thought I was—fuck, this is so stupid.”

“It’s not.” Wash slides his hand to Tucker’s wrist and tugs him away from the wall. “You’re okay. Come on.”

The training session does not improve. If anything, it gets worse. Within thirty minutes, Tucker is covered in chalk and nearly pulling out his hair in frustration. “Fuck, fuck fuck! Why can’t I fucking get this!”

“Alright, alright.” Wash pulls Tucker’s hands away from his hair. “Let’s try something else.”

Tucker follows him reluctantly. He watches with his arms folded tightly across his chest as Wash reaches into his gym bag and pulls out yet another case of knives. “Waaaait a second. Those are real, aren’t they?”

“They are,” Wash says calmly, selecting one and hefting it in his hand.

“Okay, unless you want this chalk to be actual blood then…”

Wash glances up sharply at that. “What? No. We’re not—just wait.”

He puts the knife back and Tucker watches as he sets his datapad on the floor. After a few taps, something big and bright projects itself onto the wall across the room: one large target, and several smaller ones.

Tucker looks from the target to Wash, confused, until Wash picks up another knife. He stands, flips the knife so that he’s holding it by the blade, and flings it across the room. It hits the wall with a thunk and rests, quivering, in the center of the target.

“Dude,” Tucker says. It’s all he can manage. “Dude! Do that again!”

Wash’s mouth twitches in the beginnings of a smile. He grabs another knife, steps backwards several feet, and hits another perfect bulls eye, right next to the first knife.

“Show off,” Tucker says with a grin. “What the fuck! That’s so badass, can I do that?”

“That’s the plan.” Wash gestures, and Tucker goes to him. “Now. Knife throwing is all about depth perception—that’s how you decide if you should throw it by the handle, or the blade.”

He gathers up several knives and walks until they’re only three feet from the target. “Here, you’re close enough to hold the knife by the handle. It’s all a matter of body positioning and hand eye coordination. You need to keep your arm straight and…”

He throws the knife so hard that the blade sinks halfway up the hilt. “That’s some aim you got there, babe,” Tucker can’t resist quipping, because come on.

Wash gives him a look, but doesn’t say anything, just moves back further. “At this range, I’m approximately six feet away. I want to throw the knife from the blade at this distance. Six feet farther back, it’s the handle. Six feet farther, it’s the blade. And so on, and so forth.”

“Jesus. How do you know how far back you are?”

“Depth perception,” Wash says again. “It’s not as hard as it sounds. It’s just practice. Finding points of comparison in your environment.”

“I don’t know, man, it seems kind of like magic to me.”

“It’s not.” Wash flips another knife in his hand and holds it out to him, handle first. “Come on. You try.”

Tucker hesitates. He supposes the whole thing is kind of badass, and he thinks that if there’s a chance that he looks even half as sexy as Wash does hurling knives around, then this just might be a skill worth learning. “Fine, fine, fine. Let’s fucking do it.”

His first knife smacks sideways into the wall and clatters unceremoniously to the floor. His second one doesn’t even make it to the wall. The third one he drops at his feet. He doesn’t like the sound the knives make as they fall, but the weight of the throwing blades feels nice in his hand, and Wash’s body is strong and reassuring when he stands behind Tucker and adjusts his arm and shoulders and hips.

When Tucker sticks his first knife, he whoops and runs around the training room in a victory lap. It’s not a bulls-eye, but it’s on the goddamn target. “That’s Felix’s fucking shoulder, right there,” he crows, snagging his own datapad to snap a picture. “Oh man, wait, I gotta show this to Grif…”

Tucker sends the picture over to Grif and whirls back to face Wash, who is watching him fondly. Before Wash can lose the expression, Tucker aims the datapad at him to snap a picture. Wash blinks, startled, and makes a swipe for the datapad. “Did you just…give me that!”

Tucker holds it out of his reach. “Dude, no way. That should like, be your profile picture on Basebook.”

“I don’t have Basebook.”

“Yeah, I know, but you should…”

Wash rolls his eyes, but when Tucker flips the datapad around to take a pictures of them, he doesn’t resist. “Man, we are so fucking hot,” Tucker says in approval, examining the photo. “We could make serious bank pumping out some amateur porn.”

“We are not pumping out amateur porn, Tucker…”

Tucker doesn’t stick every knife after that, but he sticks at least half of them. Wash is practically beaming at the end, and Tucker soaks it in: the smile, the knives in the wall. It’s a start, alright.

It’s a goddamn good start.

Chapter Text

The soldiers move below him like tiny ants.

Wash adjusts the scope on his sniper rifle and shifts his weight infinitesimally. There’s a rock wedged up under his right thigh, and it wouldn’t be a big deal for him to move it—Charon’s soldiers are far enough away that they won’t hear him—but he’s trying to set a good example. The soldiers under his command have done nothing but fidget and bicker since their arrival at this outpost three hours ago. Fidgeting he can handle. Complaining he’s used to, but the bickering

“Would you hold still already?!”

“I am holding still!”

“You are not—I can’t see shit with you knocking my scope all over the place, hold it still—”

“Bet you’d be able to see a little better if I kicked your ass right over the side of this cliff, how ‘bout that?”

Wash reflects dully that he should be used to the bickering by now as well, seeing as it makes up three quarters of the Reds and Blues’ conversations, but Wash can’t help feeling like that’s different, somehow. At the end of the day, his guys would take bullets for each other. They’d deny it vehemently after, insisting it was an accident or coincidence, but he knows better. Listening to the Feds and News gripe at each other has Wash pretty well convinced that Prajapati actually would shove Sabine off the cliff if she thought she could get away with it.

They’ve been out here for several hours, keeping an eye on one of the way stations where they’re been a lot of activity. Wash and his squad were monitoring activity from a higher vantage point, while a few of their other soldiers, led by Captain Perry, tried to get close enough to listen below. 

“Be quiet,” he hisses, and Prajapati and Sabine both falter. “You’re going to give away our position.”

“You mean the position that’s ten million miles away from where the action is?” Prajapati mutters sourly. “Yeah, wouldn’t want to do that…”

Wash groans to himself as Sabine starts sputtering. “Oh, I see, that’s how you speak to your Commanding Officer? Agent Washington deserves our respect—”

“I never said I didn’t respect him! Come on, Agent Washington is cool—”

Wash grins to himself at the thought of the looks on the sim troopers’ faces if they ever heard anyone describe him as cool. It was a shame that none of them were here, not only so that they could hear that, but because they had a way of getting these soldiers to ease up in a way that he did not.

“—sure as shit don’t respect you—”

“Oh, come on Falguni!” Britton pipes up over the radio. “Sabine’s not so bad! You should hear some of her theories of Grey’s Anatomy, they’re pure genius!

Wash rolls his eyes. “Britton, status report. How are things over there?”

“The same as they were ten minutes ago.” Banks, one of the Feds he’d paired up with Britton, sighs. “They’re not talking about anything important at all.”

“Oh, now who’s speaking disrespectfully to their commanding officer?” Prajapati mutters sourly.

“What—I wasn’t speaking disrespectfully to Agent Washington! I was merely stating the facts! Agent Washington, the sky is blue. Like that. Was that disrespectful?”

“Enough,” Perry says. Wash is somewhat mollified to hear that Perry sounds just as thoroughly done with this mission as Wash is. “Christ, will you all just knock it off already?”

“The newbie bitch started it—”

“The newbie bitch is gonna finish it, too!”

Britton snickers. “Ooooh, good one Falguni.”

Wash sighs. “Private Britton—”

“Sorry, Agent Washington…oh! Perry! I think—”

Captain Perry—”

“Right—that—I think I see a way to get closer over on my side. Might be able to sneak in and get a recording all ninja like.”

Wash readjusts the scope on his visor until he locates Britton’s white and gold armor. She’s shimmying forward on her belly under a rocky outcrop, just outside of where the pirates are convening. “That’s awfully close, Britton. Are you even sure you can fit under there?”

“I can do it, I swear! I’ll be real quiet!”

Wash hesitates. “Well—alright, move up. I’ll cover you.”

Prajapati shoulders Sabine out of the way of their shared scope. “BB, be careful, that tunnel is sooo tiny and you’re really close to the guards….”

“Banks, hold position,” Perry orders. “I’ll move up to cover her.”

The three of them watch as Perry slides around the northwestern wall, his back pressed tight to the rocks. The pirates are clustered together in the center of the way station and, from what Wash can tell, arguing vehemently. Britton wriggles carefully underneath the rocks. “I’m in,” she breathes. “Got my external mic going. Oh man, this is good—they’re talking about supplies, maybe we can actually get some tampons on the next run…”

Wash watches anxiously, but she seems well-concealed, and the pirates aren’t paying attention until all at once, they start to disperse. Several of them move out towards their grouping of Warthogs.

“We have movement,” Wash says. “They’re moving towards their Warthogs—Britton, stay down until they pass.”

“Captain Perry, you guys gotta go,” Britton breathes. “They’re gonna drive right past you and Banks and you’ve got nowhere to hide!”

“Great,” Perry mutters. “Alright, I’ll swing around the southwestern entrance and meet up with you.”

“No—I can’t get out of here until they’re all gone. You gotta go, I’ll catch up—”

“No you will not,” Prajapati says loudly. “Don’t be stupid—”

“I’m not being stupid, Volleyball, I’m being a hero, so—”

“Perry, get your squad out of there now,” Wash says sharply. “Britton, you’re clear, they’ve moved passed your position, you’re clear.”

“On it,” Perry says crisply. “Not bad, Britton. Did you get the recording?”

“Who gives a fuck about the recording!” Prajapati’s voice comes high over the radio. “BB, get out of there now.

“I’m going!”” Britton hisses, and they watch as she wriggles out from the outcropping and pushes to a slow stand, creeping backwards. “Just give me—”

In her retreat through the narrow tunnel, Britton’s shoulder catches hard against the wall. Wash inhales sharply as the guards whirl around to face her direction, one of them reaching for something at his belt. “Britton, go!”

“Uh-oh,” Britton whispers over the radio, and suddenly the world is filled with noise.

The explosion is so loud that it very nearly leaves Wash’s ears ringing from all the way up on the cliff. It’s still not loud enough to drown out Prajapati’s howl, her NO! so loud that Wash is convinced Charon’s soldiers must’ve heard it. Before he can utter a word to silence her, she lunges forward and leaps off the cliff.

“PRAJAPATI—dammit!” Wash pushes himself to his feet, snapping the rifle to his back. “Sabine, come on!”

“Come on and do what, go jumping over the cliff like a—”

Her words trail off into a scream as Wash grabs her arm and vaults off the overhang after Prajapati. The drop is steep but not sheer, and he keeps a firm grip on Sabine as they skid down the hill. Prajapati is about twenty-five feet ahead of them and sprinting fast towards the way station. Wash can make out several indistinct forms moving frantically through the smoke, but little else.

“Cover her!” he shouts to Sabine, as Prajapati barrels into the fray and stabs a knife clean into the throat of the nearest pirate. He brings his own rifle up to bear, mowing down the other two approaching her from the left.

The KA-POW of Sabine’s shotgun explodes next to him, and another pirate falls. Through the smoke, Wash can see Banks grappling with two more. He casts his gaze around desperately, but Perry and Britton are nowhere to be seen.

The fighting doesn’t last long. The pirates clearly weren’t expecting another group, and in less than five minutes, they’re all standing around staring at each other as the smoke dissipates. “Clear the area,” Wash says tersely, and they fan out, guns up. He fiddles with his radio frequency. “Captain Perry. Private Britton. Do you copy?

Perry’s voice comes tight and exhausted over the radio. “I’ve got her. She’s alive but she’s…” Perry’s hesitation is brief, but it’s enough to tie Wash’s stomach into knots. “Wash. She lost her arm.”

Prajapati takes off like a shot without a word, and Wash spins to the other two. “Banks, get a Warthog ready. Sabine, with me. Perry, we’re coming to you. Is she stable?”

 “Working on it,” Perry says tensely.

They all turn the corner to see Perry bending over Britton’s weakly stirring form. Her arm has been blown off just above the elbow, the dirt around her body stained dark and wet. Wash’s HUD lights up with warning signs as his medical suite locks onto Britton: CONDITION CRITICAL, BLOOD LOSS, MINOR HEAD TRAUMA. He barely has time to drop to his knees and get a firm hold on Britton’s shoulders as Perry gives his biofoam canister a few shakes, and injects the can into Britton’s the bleeding stump where Britton’s arm once was.

Britton jolts back to a full consciousness with a howl as the biofoam seals off the blood vessels and capillaries in her arm. She thrashes beneath Wash’s hands, and he hates himself more than a little at the sob that rips through her scream. “Stop! Stooooop! It hurts, it hurts!

“I know. You’re okay, Private, you’re okay.” Wash half-turns. “Prajapati, I need you to unsnap the healing unit from my chestplate and give it to Britton.”

She’s on it before he’s finished speaking, hands steady as she unsnaps his healing unit and affixes it to Britton’s armor. Britton relaxes beneath his hands almost immediately, her screams petering off into sobs. “M-my arm,” she gasps. “I-I-I—Falguni—my arm—”

Prajapati tugs the helmet off of her head to reveal Britton’s tearstained face. “Britton,” Wash says quietly. “You’re okay. We’re going to get you back to the capital.”

She nods, her eyes already beginning fog over as the painkillers pump through her system. “C-c-can we take my arm, too?”

“We can take your arm,” Wash says, then glances at Perry. “Banks should be here any moment with a Warthog. Captain Perry, carry her. I’ll cover us and—”

“No!” Prajapati lunges forward as Perry lifts Britton into his arms. Her hands fasten protectively over Britton’s good shoulder. “No! You give her to me, I’ve got her—she’s my teammate—”

“We’re all teammates now,” Perry says quietly.

Prajapati laughs, a wild, vicious sound. “No, we’re not. We’re not. I’ll carry her.”

“This is going to go much faster if I—”

There’s a sharp intake of breath from Sabine as Prajapati takes out her gun and levels it at Perry’s head. “If you don’t hand her over in the next five seconds I’ll blow your Fed brains out all over your teammates. Give. Her. To. Me.”

“Do it, Perry,” Wash undertones, and after a half glance in his direction, Perry nods.

“Alright. I’ll put her on your shoulders. Fireman’s carry. Watch her arm—”

“I know,” Prajapati snaps. “I know how to do a fireman’s carry, jackass. Maybe you should take some fucking notes.

As it turns out, she does. Wash is more than a little impressed at the easy way she adjusts Britton’s weight on her shoulders and stalks off, gun still held securely in one hand.

“Warthogs are all fucked up,” Banks announces, almost running into Prajapati as she turns the corner. He has his hand pressed tight to a profusely bleeding arm, but seems otherwise uninjured. “Damaged in the explosion. What a bunch of rubbish, aren’t these guys supposed to have top-notch equipment?”

“They did until we took it all,” Sabine says. Her gaze tracks Britton. “How are we going to get out of here?”

“We’re going to walk, of course,” Prajapati calls over her shoulder, and after a shrug, they all follow her.

It’s at least a mile to their own Warthogs, but she doesn’t falter once, and when she sets Britton down in the back, the movement is gentle and controlled. Wash sends a message back to Armonia—all accounted for, we have injured—and climbs into the same Warthog as Britton. Prajapati is sitting with her in the back, Britton’s head cradled in her lap. She’s barely conscious, face pale and eyelids fluttering.

“Think she’s in shock,” Prajapati says stiffly, maneuvering Britton’s helmet back onto her head. “We gotta—gotta keep her helmet on. Keep the temperature modulators working. They don’t work unless all of the armor is on.”

“Yes, that’s true—” Wash trails off, glancing at her in surprise as Sabine climbs into the driver’s seat. “How do you know that?”

“Bugs taught me,” Prajapati murmurs, clutching Britton’s arm to her chest. “Taught me some—some medical stuff.”

“Who…” Wash trails off. Not important. “Never mind. Let’s keep her talking.”

He turns around to Sabine, who has a death grip on the wheel, staring straight ahead. “Get us there fast,” he says in an undertone, and she nods stiffly.

He’s not so great at the talking, and never has been in situations like this, but as with everything else that’s been thrown in her face today, Prajapati handles the situation without hesitation.

“—the time Bitters got his laces caught on the conveyor belt?”

“—yeah and we—”

“—damn straight BB, damn straight—”

“—‘cept not—”

“—oh stop, she’s not a secret love you know—”

The conversation is thready and weak on Britton’s end, but Prajapati manages to keep her engaged on the tense ride back. What he’s hearing is light and airy nonsense, but underneath it all he hears the bracing, the goodbyes, the remember when we did this, in case we never do it again?

Wash is no stranger to such conversations.


When Sabine finally drives the Warthog into their bay, Wash can see Dr. Grey and Kimball waiting in the entrance, along with several other soldiers. Wash swings himself out of the Warthog before Sabine even brings it to a complete stop, turning around to grab Britton. Prajapati is already moving to swing her onto her shoulders again, and Wash moves to stop her. “P—Falguni. Let me. I need you to give Britton’s arm to Kimball, and then go get Captain Simmons and tell him what happened.”

She considers him for a long moment, and Wash marvels at how a girl probably half his age looks harder than South ever did. He takes it as a compliment when she finally nods and takes off, and he scoops up Britton’s body. She’s limp and still in his arms and so very, very small. He ignores the sick feeling in his stomach at the sight of her severed arm clutched in Kimball’s arms, who has appeared on his other side, and carries her towards Dr. Grey.

“What happened?” Kimball asks tensely as they begin to walk.

“Grenade,” Wash says. “We—she was gathering intel and she got too close—couldn’t get out in time.” The sickening feeling grows, guilt twisting in his stomach. “We—I should’ve—”

“Not the first amputation we’ve seen, Agent Washington,” Kimball says, shouldering open the door to the infirmary. “Not the first by a long shot.”

“Place her on the bed, Wash,” Dr. Grey says. “Give the arm to Pickles. Pickles—put that arm on ice.”

Pickles, Wash thinks blankly. Ridiculous name. He gives himself a little shake as Pickles, presumably, takes the arm from Kimball. “Emily—is—”

“I’ll know once I’ve had a change to get in there,” Dr. Grey says, then glances between him and Kimball. “I know you both know what I’m about to say.”

“I’m not leaving,” Kimball says firmly, and turns to settle herself against the wall in the corner. Wash gets the feeling that she’s stood in this spot many, many, many times before.

The feeling intensifies when Dr. Grey gives a resigned sigh and turns to him. “Washington, hallway. Now.”

With a final look at Britton, Wash nods, backing out the door. He takes a seat on one of the benches lining the infirmary hallway. It’s deserted, and after a moment, he removes his helmet and leans forward to bury his head in his hands, sucking in a breath. A dull, buzzing disbelief flickers around inside his skull. He’s lost soldiers before—men and women he was responsible for, but this, this—

Fifteen, sir.

He stands abruptly, pacing up and down the hallway. Fifteen, fifteen, fifteen. High school. Fifteen meant high school and extracurricular activities and first crushes, not bombs and blood and amputated limbs. She was young, they were all too young. He shouldn’t have let her go off on her own, no matter how ready he thought she was. He should’ve been the one down there skulking around in the thick of things, not far away on a hilltop where he couldn’t help until it was too late. He should’ve told her to get out sooner. He should’ve—

He’s so lost in his thoughts that he almost misses Prajapati and Simmons striding down the hallway towards him. Simmons has his helmet clenched tightly under one arm, his face pale and sickly. “Volleyball says Britton lost her arm,” he says blankly. “Is—that true?”

Wash nods, gesturing pointlessly towards the infirmary doors. “Dr. Grey’s operating on her now. She’s seeing if she can reattach—”

Prajapati barrels through the doorway, dragging Simmons with her. “No loved ones allowed in the operating room!” Dr. Grey screeches as the door flies open. The door swings shut behind them and though Wash can’t make out any of their words, no one comes back out again. He has a sudden and vivid image of Kimball, Simmons, and Prajapati all standing in that tiny corner, and has to choke back a wildly inappropriate urge to laugh.

 “What happened? What happened?

Wash glances up as Tucker comes skidding around the corner so quickly that he almost bounces off the opposing wall. He’s only got about half of his armor on, and there’s a look of terror on his face that has Wash moving to meet him. “Tucker—everyone is—what are you doing?”

Tucker skids up to him and starts padding around his midsection, examining his hands as they pull away. He fumbles his hands around Wash’s neck, slides a hand through his hair, examines it, and then to Wash’s surprise, gives him a shove. “What the fuck, Wash!”

Wash blinks, running a hand through his own hair in confusion. “Uh…what?”

Tucker drops onto the bench, glaring up at him. “You scared the shit out of me! All I heard was ‘the mission’s gone bad’ and no one seemed to know any details, and then you weren’t answering your radio or your texts and I thought—Jesus Christ, Wash!”

“I’m fine,” Wash says quickly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t have my helmet on…”

“Yeah, I can see that…” Tucker eyes him. “You sure you’re not like, hemorrhaging into your chest cavity and trying to put on a brave face?”

“I wouldn’t do that, Tucker.”

Tucker looks at him so incredulously that Wash folds his arms over his chest defensively. “I wouldn’t.”

“Uh, yes you fucking would, are you serious? Jesus.” Tucker clenches his hands in his lap. “Okay, so if you’re fine, I take it that means someone else kicked it?”

The forced callousness in his voice makes something in Wash’s chest ache. Wash sits down next to him and, after a moment of hesitation, folds a hand over Tucker’s. “No one died, but uh…Britton…she…”

Tucker glances up sharply, and Wash finds himself unable to meet his piercing gaze. “She lost her arm,” he mutters to his lap instead. “Grenade blew it clean off.”

He watches as Tucker’s hand clenches tightly around his. “Ah, fuck.”

“Yeah,” Wash says, squeezing back. “Fuck.”

Tucker doesn’t tell him that it’s okay, for which Wash is grateful. “Is everyone else okay?” he asks after a while.

Wash nods. “They’re okay.”

“For now,” Tucker mutters, and presses his head back into the wall. “Fuck me, I’m just—I’m fucking terrified like, all the time, you know?”

“I know,” Wash says, pressing his head back against the wall as well. “I know.”

Tucker sighs. “I just—I feel like I can’t fucking control anything anymore. It’s like, everyone’s all split up, going off on these fucking missions and I can’t—I can’t like, keep an eye on Grif and make sure he’s fucking paying attention, and I can’t tell Caboose that a firefight isn’t the place to eat cookies, and I can’t make sure you’re not, like, bleeding out on a Pelican somewhere and…” He clenches his hands tighter still around Wash’s. “Everything’s out of my fucking hands, you know?”

“I know,” Wash says, again, and they sit there like that, staring at the infirmary door until the hallway starts to fill with members of Simmons’ squad, and other soldiers.  In what has to be the world’s worst timing, Prajapati pushes through the infirmary doors at the same moment that several of the Feds start down the hallway.

“No,” she says fiercely, hands clenched into fists. “No! You can’t be here—you can’t—”

Sabine shoulders her way to the head of the group, hands held up, palms out turned. “Prajapati, please.”

“No, no,” she snarls back. “Fuck you, you don’t get to stand out here! This place is for family, and you’ll never be welcome.”

Perry pushes Sabine aside, and steps into Falguni’s space. “Listen, I’m sorry that this happened, but you—”

Falguni cold clocks him and he crumbles, and Wash and Tucker are on their feet, and the screaming escalates, words hurling and as Wash hauls her back against his chest, fighting her struggles to get loose, her thrashing and clawing like a caged animal, he can only sigh.

Wash is no stranger to this either.


It’s a rough week, after that. After two days during which Wash suspects Dr. Grey sleeps even less than he does, she sits down with him, Kimball, and Simmons and delivers the bad news. “There’s no reattaching that pretty little arm of hers,” she says, her tone falsely bright and a little too loud. “The break wasn’t as clean as we’d hoped. She…she’ll need a prosthetic and we don’t exactly have those lying around—oh, Simmons, don’t—”

Simmons shoves his chair back so hard that it falls over and stalks out of the room. “Let him go,” Kimball snaps as Wash half-rises to follow him. She hasn’t torn her gaze away from Dr. Grey. “Can she be fitted for a prosthetic?”

“Certainly,” Dr. Grey says. “But that sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight, you see. We need—”

The meeting comes to an abrupt end after that, as Doyle’s panicked voice sounds over their radios. “Agent Washington—Miss Kimball—Agent Carolina is back with the troopers and it is not good, not good at all—”

It isn’t. The landing bay is a nightmare, Warthogs parked haphazardly, soldiers from both armies spilling out of them, yelling for a doctor. Dr. Grey springs into action, heading for the worst of it, straight towards one of the Feds whose guts are being held in by his partner’s hands. He’s bleeding thick and heavy. Everyone Wash can see is bleeding, even Carolina. Their gazes lock, and she heads over to him and Kimball. “Felix,” she spits. “Felix and Locus. Turns out they weren’t holed up in one of their safe houses like our intel said.” Her gaze shifts to Kimball. “They know. They know about the transmitter Donut stuck, and they’ve been feeding us false information for weeks—”

An anguished scream from across the landing bay cuts off her words, and they whirl to see Dr. Grey pulling away from the soldier whose guts had been spilling out all over. Wash watches as the dead soldier’s partner lunges on top of him, his hands frantically pushing at his bulging intestines. “Fuck—fuck! Rickson—no—” he grasbs frantically at Dr. Grey’s arm. “Doctor—no—you have to put them back, you have to put them back!”

Dr. Grey pulls her arm out of his grasp, leaving a bloody streak across her armor. “There’s no putting him back together, soldier,” she says. “There’s nothing—”

The soldier isn’t listening. He casts his eyes around the bay landing until they land on Kimball. “You,” he says, his voice thick with a grief and disbelief that Wash knows all too well. “This is your fault.”

He pulls out his gun, levels it at Kimball, and pulls the trigger to the sound of someone screaming.


The bullet misses Kimball, but barely.

Wash finds himself standing next to her several days later in the infirmary, watching the cadets from across the room. Britton is sitting up in bed, chatting animatedly with Kennedy. He’d ended up in the infirmary two days after Britton, courtesy of a nasty blow to the head that left him with a severe concussion. Half a dozen of their friends are clustered around their beds. They’re watching something on Katie Jensen’s datapad, sitting closer together than they normally would, smiles strained.

Kimball’s helmet is clutched tightly between her hands, off for the first time Wash can remember. She’s young, her face unmarked by scars but lined with more wrinkles around her eyes than Wash suspects she should have.

 “They’re just kids,” he says to Kimball after a while, because he can’t not say it, even though he knows she knows it.

“Just kids,” she echoes, eyes darkening.

“Why?” he asks abruptly. “Why…they shouldn’t be…”

“You’re right. They shouldn’t be,” she says sharply, hands tightening around the edges of her helmet. “They should be in school, drinking wine and playing volleyball and..believe me, I am fully aware of where they should and shouldn’t be, Agent Washington. I am aware that they should be safe.”

She laughs again, though the sound is bitter now. “But there are no more safe places. Not here. Not anymore. Do you know that most of these kids are orphans?”

He didn’t think it was possible for his stomach to sink any lower. “I didn’t.”

“Well, they are. So where would they be, if not here? Dead. Starving. Doing unspeakable things for food or water.” She clutches the helmet unconsciously to her chest. “I picked a lot of them up from the streets, out of gangs and crews, who took on Feds in street clothes and booze bombs. At least here, I can watch them. I can put a roof over their heads, and food in their bellies, and a gun in their hands. So they can protect themselves, better. So that they can protect each other. Protect their home.”

Wash watches her for a while, watching her jaw clench hard as she watches the cadets. “She can speak five different languages,” Kimball says abruptly. “Britton. She’s something of a genius. Kennedy, he likes to skateboard. Martinez plays the guitar. Prajapati’s been telling me she’s seventeen for three years. I think it might finally be true. They—hardly any of them should be here, but they are. Here.

“What about you?”

She tears her gaze away from the cadets to stare at him. “What?”

Wash gestures. “What’s your thing?”

Kimball looks at him for a while before answering. “I don’t have a thing, Agent Washington. I don’t—I don’t even remember if I ever had a thing. I’d been following orders for as long as I can remember, ‘til one day I was the only one left who could give them. I don’t have a clue what I would do if this was all over tomorrow.”

Wash realizes all at once that either does he. He tries to imagine a life after this, one without armor and guns and knives, and comes up utterly blank. “Me neither,” he says. “Me neither.”


“Dude, I don’t know about you, but I am pretty fucking done with this week.”

Wash glances up from where he’d been staring blankly into his bowl of soup in the mess hall to see Tucker flopping throwing himself in the seat across from him, shaking out his hair. He knows he’s been had when Tucker’s gaze turns suspicious. “You look fucking exhausted. Have you been sleeping?”

“Of course I haven’t been sleeping,” Wash says tensely, “and everyone’s exhausted. We lost five soldiers this week, one got her arm blown off, another’s in a coma, and our big play with the transmitter was a failure, so you’ll forgive me if I haven’t exactly been sleeping beauty—”

Tucker sighs loudly. “Wash—”

“Look, just—just let it go, alright? I’m fine.”

He can feel Tucker’s eyes on him even as he determinedly avoids his gaze. “I know you’re still beating yourself up about that mission, but running yourself ragged isn’t gonna help anyone. If you need a break, you gotta say something. That’s all.”

“I don’t need a break,” Wash says. “What I need is a way to—to give these soldiers…I don’t know, hope, or some kind of distraction, at least—”

Tucker slams his fist on the table with such enthusiasm that Wash jolts half out of his seat. “What? What?

“What’s today’s date?” Tucker asks, whipping out his datapad and swiping through it impatiently. “The fifteenth, right?”

“Yes, but…” Wash trails off as Tucker positively beams. “Tucker, what’s going on?”

“I have a brilliant idea,” Tucker breathes, and leaps to his feet, food untouched. “Dude! Come on!”

Wash climbs slowly to a slow stand, following Tucker around the table. “Tucker, what….” he speeds up his steps to keep pace with Tucker, who is all but sprinting through the halls. “Where are we going?

“A distraction,” Tucker murmurs, half to himself. “That’s it! They servers have been shitty lately so they don’t even have that dumb show to watch…we can’t make this shitty war go away, but we can give them a goddamn show alright…” he stops so abruptly that Wash smacks into the back of him. “Okay, how good is your acting?”

Wash squints at him suspiciously. “My…acting?

Tucker tuts, impatient. “Yes, Wash. Know the word?”

“Of course I know the word, Tucker. What I don’t know is where you’re going with this—”

“Don’t ever scare me like that again!” Tucker says suddenly, and he actually gives Wash a little shove. Wash stares at him, bewildered. Tucker makes a rolling motion with his hand that Wash assumes is supposed to clear everything up. It doesn’t.

“Um…” he clears his throat, glancing around. There is nothing in his surroundings to help him clue in as to what Tucker is talking about. They’re in a deserted hallway, standing, Wash notices for the first time, right outside the double doors that lead to the infirmary. “S—sorry?”

Tucker rolls his eyes in despair. Play along, he mouths to Wash, and after several glances between Tucker and the infirmary doors, it clicks. “You cannot be serious,” he hisses, mortified.

Tucker’s face splits into a grin. “So serious.” He glances at the doors as well. “Look, it’s the fifteenth, yeah? We do this today and Britton wins the betting pool. You in, or what?”

Goddammit. Wash closes his eyes briefly in embarrassment before taking a breath, squaring his shoulders, and flinging open the infirmary doors with a flourish. “You’re being ridiculous, Captain Tucker! I’m fine!”

“This time!” He hears Tucker crashing through after him. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take, Washington!”

Wash lets his pacing carry him through the rows of beds in the infirmary—right past the section where Britton and Kennedy are recovering, several of their friends clustered around their beds. They all falter as Tucker and Wash come to a halt across the room. “I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

“Of course not!” Tucker says dramatically. Wash admits a grudging respect for his acting abilities. “Because you don’t listen—you don’t see, do you?” His hands come up to grasp Wash’s desperately as he moves closer. Your move, he mouths, the snarky little shit. Clearly he doesn’t think Wash can rise to the occasion.

“I do see,” Wash says, voice low enough that out of the corner of his eye, he sees the cadets lean closer to catch his words. “I…don’t you understand, Tucker? You’re all I see. But we can’t…I can’t…”

He breaks off as if it’s too much for him, pulling away from Tucker and facing the opposite direction. “I can’t lose you,” he whispers dramatically, and lets the silence sit.

Tucker grabs his arm to spin him back around, and Wash lets him. “I can’t lose you either, you idiot,” he says, and then he’s ripping off Wash’s helmet, tugging him close, and dipping him backwards. The kiss is ridiculous and over the top, but it’s also nice and soft and hungry in a way that makes him think Tucker isn’t entirely joking. He cups his hands around the back of Tucker’s head, and feels Tucker’s mouth turn up in a grin as the cadets almost fall over each other with gasps and hushes.

“I need you, Wash,” Tucker whispers, and Wash has to bite back a snicker, it’s so over the top. “I need you now.”

He yanks Wash back to an upright position and drags him out the infirmary door. The room erupts as all of the cadets start talking at once— “Did you see that?” “What day is it? What day is it?!” “That was the hottest shit I’ve ever seen.” Wash sincerely hopes he imagined the “Please tell me you got that on camera!”

“Think they got the point?” Tucker snickers as they stride down the hallway. “Goddamn, I deserve an Oscar.”

“That was pretty smooth,” Wash admits. He snags Tucker’s wrist and pulls him into another kiss, a real one, with no one watching, and when they pull away Tucker is a little breathless.

“Yeah? My hotass brain make you hot, Wash?”

As it turns out, it does.

“We’re not gonna keep getting this lucky,” Tucker whispers later, much later. They’re in Wash’s room this time, and his head is on Wash’s chest, eyes carefully canted away as he says it. “Not that this week has been fucking lucky, but…with these missions…it’s gonna be one of our guys, sooner or later.”

Wash sighs, tilting Tucker’s face up so their gazes lock. “No, it’s not.”

“Wash.”

“It’s not.” Wash takes a breath and kisses him, hard. “You’re all making it out of this. One way or the—”

We’re all making it out of this.”

“I—what?”

“You didn’t include yourself. If we’re all making it out of this, then so are you, got it?”

“Got it,” Wash says, and Tucker surges up to kiss him this time.

“Good.”

It’s the calm before the storm, he thinks, this thing with Tucker and their seemingly endless supply of luck. He wants to keep them in it, all of them, as the world whips by, the danger forever out of reach.

What would that look like? He wonders suddenly, as Tucker pulls Wash on top of him. What would his world even look like without danger and armor and endless conflict? Who is he, without his guns?

“You’re thinking too much,” Tucker murmurs teasingly in his ear, and Wash shoves his thoughts down hard. There will be time to figure the after out, but he wants to stay here, in the now—Tucker moving underneath him, grinning into his kiss, hands so warm on Wash’s skin—in the eye of the storm, the calmest he’s had in a long, long time.

Chapter Text

Tucker knows it’s going to be a bad day when he wakes up to the sound of Wash yelling the walls down.

The two of them hadn’t spent every night sleeping together since they’d started “going steady,” as Tucker kept jokingly calling it, but they’d spent enough. Tucker was starting to get used to the way Wash would fidget and jerk before lapsing into a full-blown nightmare, and was usually able to wake him up eventually.

Wash had either skipped the fidgeting tonight, or Tucker had been so deeply asleep that he’d missed it completely. Regardless, Wash’s scream hits him like a bucket of cold water, jerking him back to consciousness before he’s aware of what’s happening.

Wash has the sheets twisted up around his chest, howling as if someone’s lit the bed on fire. Tucker lunges for him without thinking, every instinct and lesson he’s learned over the past few weeks overridden and refocused into a single impulse: wake him up.

“Wash!” Tucker grabs his shoulders, shaking hard. “Wash, wake up, wake up, wake up!

He does, and Tucker is met with an unhappy reminder of just why shaking Wash awake is a bad idea. Wash’s hands snap up and fasten around his arms, and before Tucker can make heads or tails of the situation, he finds himself pressed back into the mattress with Wash leaning over him.

Shit, shit, shit. Wash’s eyes are blank and unseeing, his hands gripping tight enough that they’re probably going to leave bruises and yeah, Tucker really doesn’t want to deal with the fallout from that. “Listen man, I’m all for getting a little rough and rowdy, but it’s like, ass-o-clock in the morning and I’ve gotta go on that mission and be a badass later, so…maybe another hour of sleep and then you can give me a good luck blowjob?”

Wash’s hands stutter on Tucker’s arms, and Tucker reaches his own hands up to squeeze Wash’s elbows as best he can. “Wash. Come on, wake up. You’re fine. Everything’s fine. You’re on Chorus, in my bed with my fine ass, and—”

“Tucker?”

Wash’s voice is small and brittle, and Tucker gives his elbows another squeeze. “Bingo. You okay?”

“Tucker,” Wash says again, louder this time, and lets go of him immediately, jumping away to the end of the bed as if burned. “Tucker! Are you—? Did I—?”

The door to his room crashes open, sending both of them to their feet, squinting against the sudden light spilling from the hallway. Carolina is standing backlit in the doorway, pistol up and body taut. Tucker watches her scan the tiny room before glancing between the two of them.

“Everything alright in here?” she asks carefully.

“It’s fine,” Wash says dully. “Sorry, Carolina.”

Tucker sighs when she continues to stare at them. “It’s fine,” he echoes. “Look, there aren’t any mercs hiding under our bed—I just had a nightmare, alright?”

Both of their incredulous gazes snap to him. Tucker can tell he hasn’t fooled Carolina for a second, but she nods slowly. “Try to get some rest, Tucker. We leave in two hours.”

“Sure you don’t wanna join us for some pre-mission relaxing time?” Tucker calls as she leaves.

Carolina doesn’t even deign him with a disgusted glance, just pulls the door shut behind her with an irritated snap.

“Well, guess our secret’s out,” Tucker jokes.

“Our secret was already out,” Wash mutters, then turns abruptly, reaching for Tucker. His hands pause just above Tucker’s shoulders, hovering there uncertainly. “Did I…did I hurt you?”

“No,” Tucker says quickly. “Dude, stop. I’m fine.”

“I did, didn’t I,” Wash says, his voice grim and laced with guilt. “I’m…I’m so sorry, Tucker, I…”

Tucker groans. “Please stop looking at me like that. Wash, I’m o-kaaay.

“This time,” Wash says, and the worst part is that he sounds so miserable, it doesn’t even come out as dramatic.

“Don’t start,” Tucker says sharply. “We’re skipping this part, remember—”

“We can’t skip this part!” Wash turns away from him and rakes his hands through his hair. “We can’t, Tucker! This isn’t a problem that’s going to go away! I could’ve seriously hurt you—”

“But you didn’t—”

But I could have!” Wash turns to glare at him. “Why didn’t you yell or—or hit the wall, to try to get someone in here? You can’t just try to snap me out of it on your own when I get like that!”

Which hurts Tucker more than it should, because he thinks that he does a pretty good job of snapping Wash out of the bad stuff. “Well, ex-cuuuse me!  I haven’t exactly taken a fucking seminar on how to snap my boyfriend out of his shitty PTSD night terrors—”

“I don’t have PTSD.”

Tucker stares at him. “Are you joking?”

“Tucker—”

“No, seriously.” Tucker catches his arm as he stalks by. “Wash. Are you for real right now?”

He does have vague memories of Wash saying something similar on Rockslide. Tucker had found it odd then, too, Wash’s denial of something that was so serious, but now—now that he’s heard the stories and seen the nightmares, it twists his stomach into knots.

“Look—I don’t—what does it matter, Tucker?”

“Wash.” He’s no longer looking Tucker in the eye, the asshole. “Of course it matters.”

“It doesn’t.” Wash tugs his arm out of Tucker’s grip and runs his hands through his hair again, twisting the strands into spikes. “It doesn’t! What matters is that I just—I just put my hands on you! I could’ve—”

“Okay.” Tucker reaches for him, and Wash moves away again. “Wash, come on. Just look at me.”

“I need to know that you’ll yell for help,” Wash says suddenly. “If I grab you like that. Promise me.”

“I…” Tucker huffs. “Fine. I promise, okay? I’ll scream my head off. Happy?”

Wash turns and looks at him then, and Tucker doesn’t like what he sees in his eyes, not one bit. “Do you sleep with a gun near you?”

“Yeah dude, I’m in the military. Of course I sleep with a—” Tucker breaks off, horrified. “Wash!

“I need to know that you’ll use it, if you have to.” Wash looks at him, unblinking. “If you yell and no one comes, and I’m not waking up, then I need to know that you’ll—”

“That I’ll what?” he yells, voice pitchy in the way he teases Wash for. “That I’ll shoot you?

“Yes,” Wash says, as if it’s obvious, as if it’s the most obvious thing in the world. “I need to know that you’ll protect yourself. That you’ll put me down if you have to.”

Tucker has to turn away for a moment to get his face under control. It’s too much, the protect yourself, the put me down, as if Wash is a dog, as if he thinks he’s nothing—

Which he does, Tucker realizes. Still.

“I wouldn’t have to put you down, Wash, if you’d just fucking—fucking talk to someone, like Grey or someone about this, and she could maybe give you—I don’t know, breathing exercises, or—” Tucker takes a deep breath, running a shaking hand through his dreads and turning back around. “But no, you just want to fucking ask me to shoot you like I can—like I would ever be able to—do you know how fucked up that is?”

“It isn’t fucked up,” Wash says stiffly, “For you to defend yourself—”

No! Are you fucking serious? Defend myself, Jesus, Wash! Don’t ask me to—how could you ask me something like that and expect me to—”

Tucker, please!” Wash backs even farther away from him. “Please! I need you to—I can’t—I can’t do this if I think I’m going to hurt you!”

“You’re not—”

“STOP!” Wash screws his eyes shut. “STOP SAYING THAT! You don’t know that, you don’t! Do you know what it would do to me if I woke up and I saw that I had—that I had—”

“Wash—”

“I won’t survive that,” Wash says hysterically, hands fisting hard in his hair. “I won’t! I’ll lose it, I’ll lose my mind, and you want me to—to risk your life just because I—because you—you want me to wake up to your body and tell Caboose what I did—I won’t, Tucker, I won’t, I’ll blow my own brains out right then and there, I swear to God, I won’t make it, I won’t risk it, I—”

“Wash.” Tucker surges forward, fastening his hands around Wash’s wrists. “You’re hurting yourself. Stop.”

“I don’t care,” Wash says viciously. “I don’t care—”

“Well, I do.” Tucker tightens his grips and pulls Wash’s hands away from his hair. “Stop freaking out and sit the fuck down. Come on.”

Wash’s body is tense and stiff, but he allows Tucker to pull him back over to the bed. He crouches in front of Wash, still holding tight to his wrists. “Will you please look at me, you idiot?”

It takes a moment, but Wash does, his face drawn and miserable. “I’m okay,” Tucker says, and when Wash snorts and starts to pull away, Tucker redoubles his grip. “No, Wash, I’m okay. I’m right here.

“I don’t know if you understand how serious this is,” Wash says, his words tumbling out in a rush. “I don’t—when I wake up like that, I—I don’t know where I am, or who I am, or…who you are.”

“I know.”

“I could kill you.”

“I know that, too.” Tucker raises an eyebrow when Wash frowns. “What, you think I’m just gonna leave? Tell you to get the fuck out? Well, think again. I’m not fucking going anywhere. I can handle this. I won’t like, lean over you like that again, and I’ll yell for help, and—”

“And you’ll hurt me, if you have to?”

“Wash.”

“Tucker.”

They glare at each other. “Dude, that’s not—you’re so fucking—that’s not the solution here, for me to fucking shoot you. You just have to talk to Grey or someone about this, she can help you—”

“I’m not taking sleeping pills,” Wash says, his voice rising. “I’m not, I can’t, they—”

“I don’t mean sleeping pills! I mean…you know. Therapy.”

Something closes off in Wash’s eyes. “I don’t want therapy.”

“Why not?

“I just—look, Dr. Grey has more important things to do than talk to me about all the shit I’ve done—”

“All the shit that was done to you.”

Wash blinks at him. “What?”

Tucker sighs. “Look man, I know you’re all about owning your past sins, but you went through some pretty fucked up bullshit that wasn’t your fault. You do know that, right?”

Wash dodges the question. “It doesn’t matter. I don’t need therapy. Britton needs therapy. She’s fifteen and just lost her arm in a war she has no business fighting. Kennedy needs therapy. Jensen needs therapy. I’m not—I have no right to take attention away from these kids.”

“Wash, seriously.” Tucker squeezes his wrists again, thumbs rubbing circles against the pulse points. “It isn’t that big of a deal. Dr. Grey can spare two hours or so a week to just—help you get a handle on some of this.”

Wash says nothing, just shakes his head, and Tucker drops his head on top of Wash’s forearms. “Look,” he says. “Look. I want—I want you. And I’m not fucking going anywhere, and I’ll listen to anything you have to say. But I can’t help you on this, ya know? You gotta talk to like, a fucking professional here. You need some help.”

The silence stretches on and on, until Tucker feels Wash curl over him. “I’ll….think about it.”

Tucker looks up. “You will?”

Wash hesitates, but nods. “I’ll think about it,” he repeats, then, stronger: “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I know.”

“You do help,” Wash says suddenly. “Even before…this. You’ve always helped.”

Tucker’s chest lights up at those words, and he finally stands, pressing a kiss to the top of Wash’s head. “Anytime, dude. You just—you gotta learn that it’s okay for ask for help and shit.”

The look that Wash gives him suggests that this is a foreign concept, but he nods. “I’m sorry. I didn’t—you’ve got a mission in a few hours, you should be sleeping.”

“It’s cool, dude.” Tucker yawns and climbs back into bed. “Hmm. You wanna talk about it?”

“About the mission?”

“Nooo.” Tucker tugs Wash down next to him. “About your nightmare.”

“No,” Wash says quickly. “No, it doesn’t matter.”

“You sure?”

“I’m sure,” Wash says. He lets Tucker tug him back against his chest. “It wasn’t real. They never are.”

Tucker buries his face in the space between Wash’s shoulder blades and sighs. “Alright, dude. Let’s go back to sleep.”

Wash is tense and fidgeting in his arms at first, but relaxes bit by bit. His body is cool, always so cool, and it feels nice against the heat of Tucker’s chest, and within ten minutes Tucker is asleep.


To his slight surprise, Wash apparently fell asleep too. Tucker wakes up before him for once, and he dresses quietly—Wash doesn’t need to be up for another three hours—but Wash stirs anyway, throws back the covers and starts getting dressed.

“Dude, no,” Tucker protests. “You’re not even going on this mission, sleep in for once—”

“I want to talk to everyone before they go,” Wash insists, already halfway into his Kevlar suit.

“You know Carolina’s coming on this mission with us, right? We’ll be fine.”

“I know that,” Wash says carefully. “I just…want to see everyone off. It’s a big deal.”

It is. Dr. Grey’s realization that she was unable to fit Britton with a prosthetic right away led to the even greater realization that their medical supplies were dwindling. There was an abandoned hospital in the next city over, Elodia, and Carolina had reported back that it was well stocked.

The city itself was nearly abandoned, only a few pockets of civilians here and there. The planet had clustered together since the war had started, forming little societies outside of Armonia. “You’re sure no one’s using that hospital?” Kimball had asked Carolina at least half a dozen times. “Elodia wasn’t exactly thriving, but it wasn’t abandoned on our last run there. We don’t want to take supplies away from anyone who needs them.”

“The supplies are just sitting there,” Carolina had reassured her. “Either we take them, or Charon does.”

Which, in the end, had been the crux of the issue.

“I hate that I’m not going on this with you all,” Wash says now, as they start down the hall towards the landing bay.

“They need you here, dude.”

“I know,” Wash says. “I just.still. I don’t like it.”

Tucker grins suddenly, pulling him to a halt in the hallway. “Is that why you’re going with me? You wanna see me off to war? Give me a big old kiss?”

Wash huffs. “Tucker, please.

“You dooooo.” He backs Wash against the wall. “You wanna see my fine ass off, maybe have a quickie in the hallway before we leave, and—”

“Tucker, we are wearing armor.”

“We can work around that.”

Wash sighs, pushing Tucker away gently and continuing down the hall. “Alright, war hero, let’s go.”

Breakfast is a rushed affair, but Wash manages to cram in a full lecture at their table in the time it takes everyone to gulp down some coffee and a few pieces of fruit. A couple of the Fed captains seem to be paying studious attention—Ali is actually taking notes—and Simmons is nodding solemnly at every word, but Tucker is pretty sure that the rest of the sim troopers are dozing inside their helmets. Wash continues on, undaunted, shaking shoulders and rapping on visors when he suspects they’re not paying attention. The lecture doesn’t stop until they’ve all shuffled down the hallway and are clustered around the Pelicans, waiting to board.

“You’ve got that, haven’t you Tucker? Make sure you watch your six, you have a terrible habit of not watching your six in close quarters. Make sure you check your six or have your back to a wall. Okay?”

Okay, Wash,” Tucker groans, exasperated. “I’ll watch my six or I’ll get someone else to do it. I mean, who wouldn’t want that job, am I right?”

He winks at Wash before realizing that he can’t see the motion, and sends him a winky face text instead before turning to go. Before he can board the Pelican, Wash’s hand closes around his wrist. He turns around, surprised, but Wash only clears his throat. “Be careful, Captain Tucker,” he says, voice clipped and professional.

“Yes sir,” Tucker says, in the least professional voice he can manage, and Wash sighs, letting him go.

“Will you hurry it the fuck up already?” Grif groans from the top of the Pelican, and Tucker takes off after him. He bows theatrically at the top of the ramp, watching Wash shake his head in exasperation before the ramp seals itself.


“You know this is what you look like, right? When you stare at Agent Washington?”

Tucker glances up to see Ali flipping his datapad around. It’s a drawing of Tucker, sitting at one of the tables in the mess hall. He’s got his chin propped up on one hand and has a goofy, moony grin on his face, and is gazing at someone sitting across from him, someone with fluffy blond hair—

“Wh—it is NOT!” Tucker sputters, indignant. He makes a swipe at the datapad, but Ali holds it away, snickering. “Dude. Not cool. I actually thought you were like, taking notes on what Wash was saying back there.”

“Oh, man.” Grif comes around to stand behind Ali, peering over his shoulder. “Dude, he fucking nailed you.”

“Did not,” Tucker grumps. “You guys are assholes.”

“I think it’s romantic,” Fitz says absently, then glances up at the resounding silence that follows. “What? It is.”

“It’s sickening, is what it is,” Grif mutters.

“Listen, I know you’re jealous because I’m getting some and you’re not—”

Grif snorts. “Oh, yeah. Soooo jealous of the fact that you get to blow Wash. Super jealous.”

“Uhhh, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, have you seen his thighs? Because let me tell you—”

“Oh my God, please stop,” Simmons groans. He fumbles with his helmet, jamming it onto his head to hide the spreading blush. “Tucker, you are shameless.”

“Dude, have you met me?” Tucker glances around at them all and folds his arms. “You can all rag on me all you want, I’m not like embarrassed, or ashamed, so—”

“Oh geez,” Grif sighs. “Please don’t get all righteous, no one said that—”

“—like, Wash isn’t a dirty little secret—well, there is plenty of dirty, if you know what I mean—”

Stooooop,” Simmons moans. “Tucker!”

“Grif started it!”

“I did not! Blame Picasso over here, not me!”

All of you stop,” Carolina groans from the cockpit, “or I will make you.”

“So will I,” Epsilon calls, his voice pained. “I cannot listen to this all the way to Elodia.”

Ali resumes his drawing to general snickering. Tucker huffs, but after a few moments, curiosity gets the better of him, and he edges closer until he can see over Ali’s shoulder.  It does look just like him, Tucker has to admit, and now that he has a closer look, the expression on his face doesn’t look quite as pathetic as Tucker initially thought. He mostly just looks happy. Still, though. “Do I really look at him like that?”

“Yep,” Ali says without missing a beat. “But you should see the way he looks at you.”

Tucker snorts, but he eyes the drawing again. “Can you, uh. Can you send that to me? I’ve never had anyone draw me before man, that’s cool as shit.”

Ali tilts his head, and Tucker can only assume he’s making a face. “Ehh, it’s not that good.”

“It’s fucking awesome.”

“Alright, if you really like it…” Ali snickers. “I could always put it up on Basebook so everyone can look at it—”

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

Ali laughs again, but makes a few final touches on the drawing before sending it to Tucker. Tucker files it away and continues to watch over Ali’s shoulder as he begins another drawing of what Tucker soon realizes is one of the alien towers, the lines of his pen confident and sure.


“Dude, this a fucking ghost town.”

Grif grunts next to him. “Yeah. It’s pretty fucked up.”

“It’s quiet,” Carolina says, appearing next to them. “Too quiet.”

Tucker exchanges a glance with Grif before they follow her, approaching the doors to the hospital slowly. “We’re clear,” she says over the radio. “Set the Pelican down as close to the doors as you can get it.”

The Pelicans descend slowly around them. The city appears utterly deserted, but recently so. There are no boarded up windows or debris in the streets: it looks as if everyone has simply vanished without a trace.

“Creepy,” Simmons mutters, and Tucker has to agree.

They advance towards the hospital nonetheless, and get to work on clearing the building. It’s a long, tense process filled with more than a few false alarms—two of the cadets bump into each other around a corner and scream so loudly that Tucker is convinced he lost ten years off of his life. Kimball comes tearing into the hospital at the sound of their yelling, despite protests from Carolina that the building isn’t clear yet. The get a lecture from Perry on the proper method of clearing a building, and Perry gets a lecture from Andersmith on the proper way to give a lecture, and Carolina snaps at them all to stop clogging up the radio with their chatter.

By the time they move to actually retrieving the medical supplies, a full hour has passed. Tucker wanders around one of the supply closets while Simmons rattles off a list of what he should grab off the shelves.

“No, not that gauze,” he tells Tucker impatiently. “The one in the red box…the other red box…the other red box.”

“What the fuck does it matter what kind of gauze we bring back as long as it’s gauze?” Tucker snaps, finally locating the correct boxes and sweeping them into the bag he’s carrying.

Well, I assume that Dr. Grey didn’t just make these decisions for no reason,” Simmons tells him snottily. “Honestly, Tucker, don’t you know anything about battlefield medicine?”

“No! And neither do you!”

“I’ll have you know that I’ve studied extensively on the subject—”

So it goes. The process is long and tedious, but overall, it’s a resounding success. They’re getting a fuckton of supplies, and Simmons is so overjoyed when Tucker stumbles across some of the equipment needed to make prosthetics that he instantly drops his know-it-all attitude.

Still, Tucker isn’t surprised when Carolina pings their shared captains channel. “Nobody panic, but we’re about to have company.”

The moment she says it, Tucker can hear the unmistakable roar of approaching ships. He and Simmons rush to the window as one of them lands with a BOOM, and Tucker finds he was mistaken. Not multiple ships. One ship. One motherfucking huge ship. They watch as several soldiers spill out, wearing armor that Tucker doesn’t recognize.

“Maybe,” Simmons says hesitantly. “Maybe they’re…good guys?”

They are dispelled of this happy thought as the newcomers immediately open fire on their own soldiers on the ground. Tucker and Simmons shove away from the window as one and tear through the hallway, leap down three flights of stairs, and come spilling out of the hospital just in time to see two more soldiers descend from the Pelican, two soldiers wearing familiar colors—

“Felix,” Tucker spits. “And Locus. Motherfucker!

A grenade drops only twelve feet away from them, and Tucker and Simmons dive in opposite directions. Tucker lets the roll carry him to his feet, drawing his sword and activating it with a hiss. He spins, locates the first soldier with that unfamiliar, mismatched armor, and jabs it right through his chest.

“Carolina, who are these assholes?”

“I’m not sure. Everyone—take out as many of them as you can, but get the soldiers and that equipment onto the Pelicans and get out of here. We need those supplies. I’ve got eyes on everyone, I’ll cover you as best I can.”

Tucker can tell from the almost undetectable sulk in her voice that she isn’t happy about it. She’s torn, Tucker suspects, between wanting to be in the thick of the action, and being able to call the shots from above. “We got this, don’t fret,” Tucker says.

For a while, they do have it. The fighting quickly deteriorates into guerilla warfare, both sides holed up in various alleyways and buildings, and Tucker can only be grateful that the newcomers’ armor makes them so easy to tell apart. Tucker’s just finished wrenching his sword out of another hostile’s throat when he hears a cry of pain, and spins just in time to see Perry collapse into the dirt.

“No! Fuck, fuck—somebody cover me!” Tucker yells over the radio, and goes sprinting towards Perry. Somebody must be listening, because the next soldier who raises his gun at Tucker falls almost immediately. Perry has both hands pressed tight to his abdomen, which is gushing blood with no signs of stopping. Tucker drops to his knees next to him, padding frantically around for the biofoam.

“Used it all,” Perry mumbles, and Tucker yanks out his own biofoam canister before Perry has even finished speaking, plunging it down into his gut. The wound is large and deep, and Perry cries out as the foam spreads throughout the wound. It takes Tucker’s entire canister, but the bleeding stops, leaving Tucker’s gloves stained and Perry stirring weakly.

“Hey, hey, stay with me, dude…” He raps on the side of Perry’s visor. “Come on, pull it together!”

“I don’t think I’m gonna make it,” Perry slurs up at him, like they’re in a fucking wartime movie or some shit, and nope, Tucker is having absolutely none of that today.

“Shut the fuck up.” Tucker unsnaps Wash’s healing unit from his armor and slots it into Perry’s. “Don’t be so dramatic, Jesus.”

Perry groans with relief almost immediately and lets Tucker pull him to his feet. He sags heavily against Tucker, boots dragging in the dirt, but Tucker’s able to get him onto the nearest Pelican. “Wash is gonna be pissed at you,” he mutters, “for giving this to me.”

“I don’t need it,” Tucker says shortly. “You do. You’ve got a hole in your gut, so stop complaining and lay down.”

He settles Perry down on the floor of the Pelican, where a handful of other wounded soldiers already are. Tucker opens his radio again. “Alright, we need injured on this Pelican and we need this Pelican gone. Pelican C, closest to the hospital. Let’s get moving.”

A handful more soldiers come stumbling over, dragging their comrades, and Tucker stands watch at the foot of the ramp. He snags the last Fed who comes carrying one of the cadets on her back. “Can you fly?”

“Of course I can fly, Captain.”

“Great. You’re the new pilot on this bird. Bring ‘em home.”

She gives him a salute—Tucker is still not used to that—and closes the ramp behind her. The Pelican takes off into the air and Tucker turns back into the fray.

A bullet whizzes so close to his helmet that Tucker can almost feel it, and he whirls to meet his attacker. The soldier lifts their rifle and Tucker lunges in, canting his body off to the side until he can get one hand around the gun and the other around the soldier’s wrists. He twists the gun out of their hands, angles it, and—

A sharp and sudden pain lances through his thigh, bringing him down to one knee. Tucker lets out a startled scream, but there’s no time to look as the soldier advances on him. Pure instinct has him bringing the pistol back up to bear and pulling the trigger. The soldier falls with one shot, a smoking hole in the center of his visor.

Tucker remains frozen, gun up and glancing around, but his area appears clear. He lets out a shaky breath, glances down at his throbbing leg, and there, embedded halfway in his thigh, is a knife.

For a few seconds, his brain doesn’t even register what he’s seeing. The sounds of the battlefield dim to a dull roar as Tucker’s bones turn to jelly and he scuttles backwards into an alleyway, as if he can move away from the situation. His back hits some sort of wall, teeth chattering in his skull, breath rattling in his chest, hands shaking, shaking, shaking. He tries to clench them into fists but they’re not listening, not doing what he wants them to do—

“Tucker. Captain Tucker. What’s going on?”

Carolina’s voice cuts slowly through the fog in his head. It takes Tucker another few seconds to realize he’s muttering hysterically to himself, a constant stream of “ohhh fuck, fuck, oh fffuck,” and that it’s transmitting over the radio.

“Tucker. Talk to me.”

“Knife,” he gasps. “I—I—I…ffffuck, Carolina, I got hit—k-knife in my leg…”

“Okay,” Carolina says. “Tucker, just hang on—Grif, what’s your status?”

“Little busy!” Grif yells over the radio.

“Get unbusy. You’re the closest and I need you to go to Tucker’s position and get him to the Pelican. Tucker, where is the knife? What part of your leg?”

“My thigh,” Tucker says, his voice too bright even to his own ears. “I’m fine…just gonna get my biofoam…and…”

“Tucker, no,” Carolina says. “You need to leave that knife where it is until a doctor can take it out. If it’s in your thigh there’s a good chance it’s on your femoral artery and—”

“Yeah, fuck that,” Tucker says, patting around for his biofoam. It takes him several seconds of checking and re-checking the pockets and compartments on his armor to realize that he’s out of biofoam. He’d used it all on Perry and for all he knows Perry is dead on the Pelican—

Panic seeps into the edges of his brain. “I’m out,” Tucker says, cutting through the chatter on the radio. “I’m out of—Carolina, I’m out of biofoam, I—”

“Tucker, just find cover and try not to move that leg,” Carolina says. “Grif—”

“I’m going, I’m going!

“I can pack it with something else,” Tucker says wildly. “I—I can use—someone’s—fucking shirt, or—”

No!” Carolina’s voice comes more urgently now. “No. Listen to me—you cannot pull that knife out! You have no biofoam and even if you did, you could do some serious damage—”

“Felix pulled the knife out,” Tucker says. His brain feels oddly blank and small. “He—he pulled it right out of my guts and I was fine, it’s fine, it’ll be fine, Carolina—”

“Tucker, Grif is on his way—just breathe and—”

“I am breathing!” He clenches his trembling hands into fists and sucks in a breath. His hands won’t stop shaking no matter how hard he clenches them, but they have to stop shaking because he has to pull this knife out, it can’t stay there, he can’t look at it for another second or he’s going to lose his mind—

He’s just wrapping a shaky fist around it when Grif comes skidding around the corner at an impressive speed. “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” Grif crouches down next to Tucker and wraps a hand around Tucker’s wrist, stilling the motion. “Uh, did you not fucking hear what Carolina just said? Don’t even think about it—”

“Get the fuck off of me!” Tucker reaches his other hand down towards the knife, but Grif bats that one away too. Tucker thrashes, and he lets out a yelp as the knife shifts painfully. “Grif—I gotta—I gotta get it out, it hurts, it fucking hurts!

“It’s gonna hurt worse if you’re bleeding out all over the fucking ground!” Grif gets a hand under the chin of Tucker’s visor and jerks his head up. “And don’t fucking look at it! Pull your shit together!”

Tucker grits his teeth, staring determinedly up at the sky. “Grif, I’m gonna fucking lose it, I swear to God—”

“Stop being such a big baby,” Grif snaps. “I can’t get you out of here if you’re freaking out like this!”

Tucker tries to suck in another breath, but it’s as if he’s forgotten how. He clutches hard at Grif’s forearm and Grif gives a firm pat to the side of his visor. “Tucker. Jesus, breathe. In and out and all that shit. Come on.”

“You boys need to get on another Pelican,” Carolina says, her voice clipped and terse. “We don’t have much time.”

“We got it, we got it,” Grif says impatiently. “Do you see what I’m dealing with here?!”

Tucker closes his eyes as Grif rifles through the compartments on his armor. If he keeps them closed, he doesn’t have to see the knife or the blood or the smoke, or watch as Grif winds a bandage around his thigh as best he can, the white gauze instantly turning red.

He lets Grif slide one of his arms under Tucker’s shoulder and pull him slowly to his feet. Tucker grits his teeth and tries to stand on, but even minimal weight on his busted leg has him sagging against Grif. “Can’t walk,” he gasps. “Grif—just fucking pull it out, just do it!”

“Don’t you dare, Grif,” Carolina snaps over the radio.

“Carolina—”

“Alright, everyone stop!” Grif blows out a breath. “I can’t carry him. Not without fucking up his leg even further. I need someone else over here.”

“I’ve got him.”

Kimball’s voice sounds over the radio at the same time that she rounds the corner. “Alright, Captain Tucker?”

“Fuckin’ peachy,” Tucker gasps as she slings his other arm around her shoulder. “Just great.”

“We’ll get you out of here,” she promises. “Grif, let’s get his legs on three. One, two…”

Tucker tries not to cry out as they lift his legs, suspending him in between them, but he doesn’t entirely succeed.

“General, be careful down there,” Carolina says. “I don’t know how many hostiles there are, but your quadrant is crawling with them. Stick to the southeastern edge of the rock wall and the snipers can cover you from up here. I’m coming to you.”

“Can you do it quickly?” Grif grunts. “Because Tucker here weighs about a million pounds and—where are we even taking him, anyway?”

“One of the Pelicans,” Kimball says tersely. “I called in for back-up. Medical and artillery. We’re overwhelmed—Carolina’s right, this place is crawling with hostiles and I don’t even recognize their armor—”

Tucker sees her point about being overwhelmed when they duck out of the little corner he’d wedged himself into and back into the main action, and come face to face with one of the enemy soldiers. Before any of them can react, the soldier’s body goes limp, crashing hard to the ground.

“Sniper,” Kimball says, by way of explanation. “One of ours.”

“I would hope so,” Grif says. “Let’s hope their snipers have shitty aim.”

“Get back! Get back!”

Carolina appears out of nowhere, an aqua blur skidding to a halt next to them. Kimball and Grif jerk him back to their little alcove, and great, they’re back exactly where they started.

Carolina makes short work of the enemy soldiers near them before approaching. “It’s too hot out there,” she says. “The Pelicans are a no go. You’ll have to hole up here for a while.”

“Fine,” Tucker grits. “F-fine, I don’t care, just—look, if we can’t get to any of the doctors then someone take this fucking knife out of my leg before I scream—”

“No,” Carolina says shortly, glancing at his thigh. “Absolutely not. That definitely needs to be taken out by a doctor—”

“Which apparently you are now, since it seems like you’re a fucking expert!

“The hospital,” Epsilon says suddenly, popping up next to Carolina. “The hospital. There’s a fuckton of room in there. We get Tucker in there, broadcast a code red over the radio, and have one of the doctors come to him.”

“The hospital,” Grif says flatly. “As in, the hospital we just came out of?”

Tucker groans. “Look, we can go to the fucking moon for all I care, just—let’s just go and get a goddamn doctor over here before I rip this thing out of my leg myself!”

They make it out of the overhang and back through the hospital doors with no problems—Tucker had, after all, only gotten a few dozen feet out the goddamn door to begin with. Kimball and Grif set him down just inside the door, and the moment they lift Tucker’s arms from around their shoulders, he lunges at the knife.

Grif’s hand shoots out to grab his wrist, and behind the haze of panic and adrenaline, Tucker is impressed: he doesn’t think he’s ever seen Grif move so fast in his life. “You idiot! Don’t!

Tucker groans, pressing his head back hard against the wall where they’ve leaned him up. “Guys, I swear to fucking god—”

“Jesus, has he been whining like this the whole time?” Epsilon quips.

“More or less,” Grif says. He’s still got a firm grip around Tucker’s wrist. “That’s Blue Team for you, always fucking whining—”

Epsilon makes an indignant noise. “Uh, you know I’m Blue Team, right?”

“Like I said, that’s Blue Team for you, always fucking whining—”

“So these new soldiers,” Carolina says loudly. She’s posted up on one knee in the open doorway, pistol at the ready. “Any idea who they are or where they came from, General?”

“I’ve never seen them before,” Kimball answers. She slams a new mag into her pistol and takes the other side of the doorway. “And their armor…”

“Looks like shit,” Grif offers. He shrugs when they both throw him a glance. “It does. None of it matches—let’s all be grateful Donut isn’t here to see that, by the way. It looks like they scavenged it.”

Carolina and Kimball exchange another glance, this one slower and more serious. “It does,” Kimball says. “Which begs the question, where did they scavenge it from? And why did they have to?”

“Probably didn’t have legal access to it,” Tucker gasps. He keeps his gaze determinedly forward. “They probably weren’t supposed to have it. Or something. Whatever.”

“I don’t like it,” Carolina says, before emptying half of her clip into what Tucker assumes to be one of the aforementioned asshole soldiers. “I don’t like it at all.”

“Know what I don’t like?” Tucker grits out.

“Gee,” Grif says sarcastically. “I wonder—”

Grif’s voice cuts out with no warning. Everything cuts out, sound and sight and sensation. When Tucker comes to, he’s lying on his back with Grif half on top of him.

“—the fuck was that?!” Grif is yelling. There’s something raining down on them and it feels like they’re underwater and the air is hazy and—

“Bomb,” Tucker gasps, as it becomes clear that the things falling on them are pieces of the ceiling.

“A fucking bomb,” Grif agrees grimly. “A goddamn fucking—”

“Grif, cover the door! We have hostiles incoming!”

With a curse, Grif rolls off of him, and half stumbles, half crawls to the door. Tucker turns his head to track the movement, the simple motion taking far more effort than it should and sending a wave of nausea through him. “Bomb,” he mutters again, then blinks, glancing around more frantically. Kimball and Carolina are presumably outside, and Grif is edging closer and closer out the door and there’s no one else here and this fucking knife is still in his leg— “Grif—wait—”

“I’m right here,” Grif yells. “Just—hang on—gotta take these fucks out, they just keep coming—”

Tucker tries to pull himself up and fails miserably. Grif is out of sight, the nearby sounds from his pistol the only thing suggesting that he’s near. The plaster is still raining down on Tucker’s faceplate at an alarming rate, the smoke swirling thickly around him. A glance downward confirms that the hasty bandage wrapped around his leg is leaking, and the blood sends a fresh wave of adrenaline through his body, propelling him to a sit. Tucker leans against the wall and pants, trying to get his bearings as the ceiling falls down around him and the smoke thickens and the blood seeps through the bandage and he gags around the nausea—his hands fumble for the knife but they’re not working and he can’t—he can’t

What if I die here? he thinks wildly. He hadn’t realized how much the appearance of Grif and Kimball and Carolina and even Epsilon had calmed him until they’d left the room and he was alone with this knife in his leg—what if he died here and no one found him and he was trapped under the falling rubble and he couldn’t get the knife out couldn’t get the knife out couldn’t get the knife out

“It’s about fucking time—he’s in there!”

“Tucker!”

For a moment, Tucker thinks he’s dreaming, as Wash’s voice cuts through the smoke. Tucker has to blink several times to focus—it looks like Wash’s armor, and it sounds like Wash’s voice, but—

“You’re s’pposed to be in the Capital,” he mutters as Wash kneels next to him. “Those’rr the rules.”

“General Kimball called for backup,” Wash says, his hands passing over Tucker’s body. “Dr. James!”

Tucker catches Wash’s wrist and squeezes with a frown. “You feel real.”

Wash drops his other hand onto Tucker’s forehead. “I am real. We’re going to get you out of here.”

“Coming, coming, hero coming through…”

Dr. James edges into his line of sight. Tucker knows that name, knows that voice—she was the one who’d patched his head up after freckles shake and the collapsed tunnel. He watches her crouch down with a growing sense of unreality. It’s good that she’s here, because…because he needs a doctor, because he’s hurt and because there’s a knife in his leg—

“Wash,” he tries to say, but he can’t get past the first letter. He stops, tries again. “W-wash—I—I—I—”

Wash glances from Tucker’s face, to the knife in his thigh, to Dr. James, before returning to Tucker’s face. “Tucker. Look at me. You’re going to be alright. Dr. James is going to take the knife out.” He glances back at her. “Right?”

“Oh yes,” she says, examining the wound. “If I pull it straight back, it won’t nick anything. Of course, I’ll need someone to stabilize the leg and you’ll have to hold very still—”

Despite this being the only thing he’s wanted for the last fifteen minutes, Tucker panics, grabbing at Wash’s arms. “No! It’s fine, you can just leave it in, I changed my mind, it’s fine, I’m fine, I—”

“Tucker—”

“No! It can stay there, it—” he closes his eyes again, trying to suck in a breath and succeeding only marginally. “It’s gonna hurt—”

“I know.”

He forces his eyes open to look at Wash as his hands cup around Tucker’s helmet. “I know. It will hurt. But you’ll be okay.”

“I won’t,” Tucker says, aware that his voice sounds nothing short of hysterical but unable to do jack shit about it. “I won’t—Wash—I can’t, I can’t…”

“Tucker.” Wash runs his hands over Tucker’s visor, as if he can actually feel his face. “You need to breathe. Count with me. One.”

Tucker shakes his head. He doesn’t need to count. He’s seen Wash count before. Counting means panic. Counting means going under. He’s not panicking, he’s not going under, he’s just—

He glances down at the knife in his thigh and lunges towards Dr. James when he sees her hands on his leg. “No! No, leave it, leave it, it’s fine, I—”

“Did I miss something?” Grif’s voice sounds from somewhere above him, and Tucker glances up to see Grif surveying the scene. “You were two seconds away from ripping that knife out yourself and now you want to leave it in?

“Grif, come hold his leg still,” Dr. James says crisply. “This is coming out now. Wash—”

“Just give us a second, alright?”

“Wash…” Tucker tries to suck in a breath, grabbing desperately at Wash. “Wash—I---I—I feel like I’m dying, I think I’m gonna die—”

“You’re not dying,” Wash says firmly. His rubs his thumbs along the chin of Tucker’s helmet, and Tucker pretends that he can actually feel Wash’s hands on his face. That always feels nice. Everything Wash does makes him feel nice. “You’re just having a panic attack. Look at me and count. Don’t look at the knife. Okay? One.” 

Count. He can count, because Wash is asking him too and he trusts Wash. “O-one.”

 “Good. Two.”

“T-t-two.”

“Three.”

“Th—FUCK!” There’s a sharp, stabbing pain in his leg, and he clutches harder at Wash, glancing towards his thigh.

Wash blocks his vision, swiftly turning his face away. “Really, Doctor?”

“You said three,” she tells him, nonplussed, and Tucker yells again the sharp sting of biofoam fills the wound, air whooshing blessedly into his lungs.

“That wasn’t why I was—never mind.” Wash glances back at Tucker. “Where’s the healing unit?”

“I-I-I gave it to Perry,” Tucker says. “I had to—he was bleeding—don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad,” Wash says. He’s still cupping Tucker’s face. “I’m proud of you. Heard you got that Pelican out.”

“Still got all f-f-fucked up myself, though.”

“That’s part of—”

“Well, if this isn’t just the most touching shit I’ve seen all goddamn day.”

Wash moves faster than Tucker’s ever seen, whirling to a stand in front of the three of them, rifle up. He fires immediately, and the soldier leaps out of the way. Tucker doesn’t have to see the orange and grey accents to know who it is.

Felix,” Wash growls. He slams a new mag into his rifle and stalks forward. “Grif, cover them. I’ll take care of this.”

Tucker takes a moment to reflect on what a crying shame it is that it took him so long to develop an appreciation for Wash’s battlefield voice, and slowly pushes himself up to sit against the wall. Grif’s already on his feet, cursing and firing at another soldier coming through the doorway. Dr. James pulls out her own gun as well—she actually looks like she knows how to use it—and stands up in front of Tucker. “Hey, baby, I’m the soldier here, I’m supposed to be protecting you,” he protests weakly. Seeing as how he can barely keep himself propped up against the wall without sagging, he thinks it might fall a little flat.

Felix whirls back out from behind the corner, and Wash’s next shot catches him right in the shoulder. He jerks hard enough to drop the gun, which Wash kicks down the hallway. Felix instantly lunges in, tackling Wash to the ground and sending his gun flying as well, and then there’s the flash of something silver—

“NO!”

Tucker lunges away from the wall, the pain in his leg a distant thing, all that matters is that Felix has a knife and he’s going to—

Except Wash catches Felix’s arm and pulls his own knife out of nowhere. He misses Felix’s neck by inches, but Felix backs up enough for Wash to stand and then the world tips and sways—

Tucker is dimly aware of Grif charging forward to tackle someone coming through the doorway. Dr. James pulls Tucker back against the wall, one hand on his shoulder and the other on her pistol. He watches Wash and Felix fight, torn between terror and awe, because now he can see, can really see, that Wash was going so easy on him in training that it was laughable. Wash isn’t good at knife fighting; Wash is amazing at knife fighting, and it occurs to Tucker far too late that he should be recording this shit, not even for spank bank material but because watching Wash move with a knife in his hand is a fucking work of art.

Wash catches Felix around the midsection with a slash and Felix backs up, cursing fluently. “Motherfucker! You’re gonna fucking pay for that one, Freelancer—”

“Not unless you pay for it first,” Dr. James says dramatically, in a way that suggests she’s practiced this line in front of the mirror dozens of times. Tucker’s pretty sure the only reason her shot pings off Felix's helmet instead of punching straight through his visor is because Felix apparently decides that he has somewhere else to be, and starts backtracking.

Wash darts forward as if to pursue him, but as another BOOM rocks the building, he changes tracks and dives at Grif instead. He tackles him out of the way just as half the ceiling caves in and crashes down on the soldier Grif was just grappling with.

“Holy shit,” Tucker hears Grif gasp, as Wash hauls him to his feet. “Alright, I owe you one.”

“Just cover me while I get Tucker out of here,” Wash says grimly. “Dr. James, you too.”

“We’re on it, Agent Washington,” Dr. James says, readying her pistol and coming to stand shoulder to shoulder with Grif.

“I think I can walk now,” Tucker mumbles, trying to get his feet under him as Wash starts over in his direction. “I can—”

He pitches forward, woozy, and Wash breaks his fall before scooping Tucker bridal style into his arms. “Dude,” he protests. “Seriously?”

“I’ve got you,” Wash says, in a voice that books no argument and also suggests that he will carry Tucker through hell itself if the need arises.

Tucker can’t bring himself to look at Grif—he’s never going to live this down—but Wash isn’t even staggering under his weight. It is pretty hot, and Tucker would be lying if he said he hadn’t fantasized about this exact scenario ever since he realized he was into dudes. Not that he wouldn’t be into a chick carrying him off the battlefield—Kai had been strong as shit and he was super into that—but there’s something about the way Wash tucks him carefully against his broad chest that has Tucker feeling straight up warm and fuzzy. “My knight in shining armor,” he mumbles at Wash, right before he passes out.


He wakes up on the Pelican to Wash’s face over his and an uncanny sense of déjà vu.

Tucker jolts, hands flying to his abdomen in a momentary panic before his memory catches up. The pain in his leg follows shortly. Wash’s face clears as Tucker squints up at him. “You’re awake.”

“Everything hurts,” Tucker grumbles, then frowns, reaching up to touch a gash on Wash’s neck. “The fuck is that from?”

Wash smiles grimly. “Felix and I went for round two.”

“You kill the fucker?”

“Unfortunately not.” Wash reaches up to touch his neck absently. “I repaid him in kind, though. He’ll have a few new scars.”

“So will I,” Tucker says, his hand moving towards his leg. “Fucked it up. Again.”

“You didn’t fuck anything up,” Wash says sternly. “From what I hear, you saved Captain Perry’s life.”

Tucker perks up at that. “He’s alive?”

“He was the first one into surgery. Dr. Grey says without the healing unit, he wouldn’t have made it.”

Tucker allows the relief to course through him before shaking his head. “Still. Backup had to come…you had to come…”

“It wasn’t just you who needed backup,” Wash tells him gently. “You were all overrun.”

“I freaked out,” he whispered. “I would’ve ripped that knife out, if Carolina hadn’t…if Grif…”

“They came for you,” Wash says, the words falling from his mouth almost reverently. “That’s what teams do.”

Coming from anyone else, the words would sound absurdly corny. They still sound corny, coming from Wash, but they sound true, too, and Tucker nods, his eyelids beginning to droop again. A flash of orange catches his eye, and he reaches out his arm to snag Grif as he walks past. “Thanks, man.”

Grif’s helmet is off, and he looks positively alarmed at the cadence in Tucker’s voice. “Are you dying?”

“No,” Tucker mutters. “Not dying. Thanks to you.”

“Oh, geez,” Grif sighs. He shifts awkwardly, but Tucker holds tight to his wrist. “Really, Tucker? Are we really having a moment?”

“Saved my life,” Tucker says, trying to make it sound gruff and dramatic, like Wash would, but failing miserably.

“Dude, all I did was tell you to stop being a little bitch. They don’t hand out medals for that.”

“They should.”

There. That sounds better. If Tucker didn’t know Grif so well, he’d miss the almost imperceptible way his jaw tightens. “Whatever. You’re welcome. I guess.” He shifts, casting a desperate look at Wash. “How do you put up with this?”

“It’s not always easy,” Wash says around a smile, “but I manage.”

Grif gives Tucker a hearty slap on the arm with his free hand. “Alright, get your goddamn beauty sleep, we’re almost back.”

He doesn’t want to get his beauty sleep—he wants to stay here, with Wash’s hand on his forehead and Grif grumbling away and he has to thank Carolina, too—but sleep finds him nonetheless, and he drifts off to the sound of Wash and Grif’s voices, to the sound of his team, carrying him home.

Chapter Text

Tucker spends the next week in the infirmary recovering from the stab wound to his leg. Wash does his best not to hover, torn between acting like this isn’t a big deal and comforting Tucker, who seems to want different things at different times. Day one, the two of them have a long, circular argument about whether or not Tucker should keep the healing unit with him to expedite his recovery. They compromise with the understanding that Tucker will keep the healing unit only if there isn’t a mission going on. Tucker spends most of day three cracking jokes about how he’s becoming a human pin cushion to anyone who will listen, until Britton bursts into tears across the infirmary and Perry tells him off for being an insensitive asshole. On day five, he mutters to Wash that they could probably both fit in the infirmary bed if Wash wanted to stay the night, not that he had to, just if he wanted to, it wasn’t a big deal

To the delight of half the infirmary, Wash shoves him over and climbs straight into the bed next to Tucker. His dignity has long since left the building and besides, Tucker conks out against his chest in about five minutes and doesn’t move all night.

“That is the most romantic thing I’ve ever seen,” Kennedy whispers reverently from five beds over, and Wash throws a pillow at him and tells him to go to sleep.


The first day Tucker’s cleared for training, he marches right into the training room and shoves Wash’s case of knives at him. “Alright, let’s fucking do this.”

Wash glances from the knives to Tucker’s face. “Do…what?”

“Do our training,” Tucker says impatiently. “For real this time. I know you’ve been fucking holding back on me when we spar.”

Ah. “Of course I’ve been holding back,” Wash says. “You wouldn’t learn anything if I didn’t go easy on you at first.”

Tucker snorts. “You haven’t been going easy on me. You’ve been like, completely toying with me. I was there when you and Felix had that little showdown, remember? That was like, some Matrix level shit you did, when you…”

Tucker makes a dramatic twirling gesture with his hands that Wash assumes is supposed to represent something he did during the knife fight. “Tucker, I have been increasing the intensity as you’ve gotten better—which you have, you know.”

“Whatever.” Tucker drops Wash’s gym bag on the ground and starts tossing stuff out of it until he finds the red chalk. He grabs two of the biggest knives he can find with blunted edges, shoves one at Wash, and keeps one for himself. “Increase the intensity all the fucking way, then.”

Wash eyes him suspiciously, but there’s a surprising lack of fear in Tucker’s eyes. The fear is there, Wash is sure, but there’s a hard determination layered over it—determination and something…something playful.

“I want to not be afraid,” Tucker says bluntly, when Wash continues to stare at him. “I’m tired of being scared of this shit. Let’s just fucking rip the band-aid off. Please?”

There’s an honest vulnerability in his words that takes Wash’s breath away for a moment, leaving him both indescribably proud and fiercely jealous all at once. The feeling catches him off guard so much so that he barely manages to bat Tucker’s arm aside when he lunges at him. Tucker raises his eyebrows. “We gonna spar, or are you gonna stand there and stare at me for the rest of the goddamn day?”

Wash pivots in with his own strike that Tucker parries. He catches Tucker’s blade with his own, forces the arc of it up, and gets in a light strike to Tucker’s abdomen. When Tucker brings his hands down instinctually to block, Wash draws a long red stripe across his throat.

Tucker flinches only minimally, diving in so quickly that he very nearly catches Wash on the arm with his own knife. “Good,” Wash says in approval. “You used your speed, that was good.”

Despite his best efforts, Tucker still keeps dancing away from him, constantly skittering backwards and out of reach. The fifth time he does this, something clicks in Wash’s brain. “You’re afraid to stay tight to me,” he realizes, lowering his knife.

Tucker follows suit, waggling his eyebrows. “Uh, I promise you I’m not, dude.” He huffs when Wash doesn’t react. “Okay, well, obviously, why the fuck would I want to stay close when you’re waving a knife at me?”

Wash is already turning around, rummaging in the training room closet. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier,” he mutters, half to himself. “Let me just see if I can find—a-ha!

He emerges, triumphant, with a box of old leather jump ropes. Tucker stares at him as if he’s lost his mind. “What the fuck are we gonna do with those?”

“You’re fast, but you don’t use it,” Wash explains as he fishes two of the ropes out of the box. “You spend too much time moving backwards—it wastes your energy, your speed. If you stay close to your opponent, then you’ll be able to go for the kill that much quicker.”

He ties two of the ropes together, loops one end around his waist, and gestures towards Tucker. Tucker eyes him warily, but he approaches nonetheless, and stares as Wash ties the other end of the rope around Tucker’s waist.

“So, is this like some kinky thing you’re into, or—”

Wash rolls his eyes. “No. It’s—look. You have to stay close now, see?” He backs away as far as he can and holds his arm out. Even at its fullest extension, he can still touch Tucker’s shoulder. “The rope keeps us close.”

“Like a leash?” Tucker asks. His voice is innocent but everything in his eyes screams DIRTY, and Wash has to fight to keep the blush off of his face.

“Something like that,” he says, and assumes his fighting stance. “Let’s try it. Just like before, okay?”

It’s awkward and clumsy at first. Tucker keeps trying to pull backwards, dragging Wash with him in the process, and they end up on the floor more than once. Yet the ridiculousness of the situation has Tucker relaxing in a way Wash hasn’t seen yet, and when he finally, finally lands a hit on Wash, the comprehension dawns so clearly in his eyes that he actually gasps out loud.

“Holy shit, I did it! Did you see that? I just— ” He gestures dramatically with the knife. “And you just—and I was close so it—”

Wash beams at him. “You see? You’re fast.”

“Fuck yeah I am,” Tucker crows, and he moves in again.

By the end of the hour, they are both panting and covered in red chalk. Tucker reaches up and rubs his fingers through Wash’s hair, snickering. “You’ve got chalk all up in your blond-ass hair, dude. That’s cute.”

“Wh—well, you’ve got it on your face,” Wash sputters, wiping his thumb along the side of Tucker’s jaw.

Tucker turns his mouth to Wash’s palm and presses a kiss there. “I geo it,” he says, eyes bright, voice bubbling over with excitement. “I like—I really got it, you know?”

“I know. You did great, you—I’m proud of you.”

“Yeah?” Tucker asks, then grins. “Yeah. I—me too. Fuck me man, I wasn’t—I wasn’t even scared. I was just focused, and like, ready to fucking go.”

There it is again—the bold, open honesty that leaves Wash breathless and envious all at once. Breathless, because Tucker is beautiful in his bravery, gorgeous in how he picks himself up, time and time again—

Envious, because the honest way in which Tucker speaks about his struggles is a foreign thing to Wash, and he wonders for the first time, what he’s missing because of it.


They spend the rest of the day barely able to keep their hands off of each other.

Tucker is giddy and hyper from his success in the day’s training, and Wash finds himself drawn to Tucker’s beaming smile like a magnet. Every abandoned hallway feels illicit, every supply closet charged with electricity, and the third time Tucker tries to drag him into one, Wash plants his feet reluctantly. “Later,” he gasps as Tucker wrenches his helmet off and starts necking him. “Tuc—ker…later. I have work to do.”

Tucker groans and pulls away. “Okay, okayokayokay. Fucking…” he jams his own helmet back on. “Fucking message me the second your ass is free.”

That night, when they finally find themselves alone in Wash’s room, they can’t get each other’s armor off fast enough. The places where their skin touches burns so hot that Wash thinks he’s melting right into Tucker’s hands. Tucker’s touch is insistent and sure, and Wash arches into it gladly. “Mmmm,” Tucker sighs against his ear. He presses Wash a little harder against the door and tightens his grip in Wash’s hair. “You like that, Wash?”

Wash makes a strangled noise of assent and Tucker spins him around, pressing Wash’s chest against the door. His teeth dig just hard enough into the skin of Wash’s neck, just enough that Wash is pretty sure he’s going to have marks tomorrow. The thought sends a fresh wave of arousal through him, and he paws at the wall for lack of anything else to hold onto, grinding his dick against the door in front of him. He groans in relief when Tucker’s hand slides down to rub at him through his fatigues, and he arches forward into the contact.

Tucker grinds his own cock against Wash’s ass, panting in his ear. “Shit that’s hot,” he groans. “God. Gonna fuck you so hard.”

“Please do,” Wash gasps, rolling his hips back against Tucker’s until the action earns him another one of those delicious moans.

“Yeah? Please?” Tucker bites down hard on the shell of Wash’s ear. “Wonder what else I can get you to beg me for.”

He pulls Wash’s body away from the door, and they stumble towards the bed. Tucker twists one of Wash’s arms behind his back and pushes him face-forward onto the bed. He grips a fistful of Wash's hair with one hand, and uses the other to pin both wrists at the small of Wash’s back. Wash struggles against the grip, more out of instinct than because he really wants to break away, but the shove has brought his legs up off the floor and he doesn't get very far.

Something coils low in his abdomen at the feel of Tuckers hands holding so tight to his wrists and his hair. He tests the resistance but Tucker’s grip holds fast, and it’s unexpectedly relaxing and pleasant and just right. Something liquefies in his spine, leeching the tension out of his bones, and Wash tests Tucker’s grip again—it doesn’t break and that’s good, so good, Tucker’s mouth is back on his ear and—

—they’d held him down just like this when they’d ripped Epsilon straight out of his head, one hand in his hair to keep his head still and the other pinning his wrists and he’d screamed and Epsilon had howled and they’d held so tight to each other as he was torn out leaving something aching and bloody straight down the center of Wash’s mind and—

Panic explodes in his gut and in his head all at once, robbing him of his breath, and for a few heart-stopping moments he can’t move. He could get out of this if he really wanted to, he knows that, but he limbs are frozen and he spends several more seconds struggling minutely before he manages to gasp, "Tucker, wait, wait—"

His voice comes out high and anxious, and Tucker backs off immediately, scrambling away from Wash as if he's been electrocuted. "Ah, shit, shit, that was so fucking stupid of me, fuck, I'm sorry—I thought you liked it the other day, when I—"

Wash rolls over to a sitting position on the edge of the bed, and shakes his head. "No—I did—it’s—it’s just...just give me a second..."

He hates the panic in his voice, hates the tremors he can feel coursing through his body, but most of all, he hates the way that Tucker has retreated across the room from him as far as he can go. The space between them feels miles wide, and Wash reaches out a hand, hesitates, then lets it fall. "Fuck me," he groans, and buries his face in his hands.

He can feel Tucker moving back across the room towards him. The bed dips moments later, and he hears Tucker’s voice. “Hey.”

"I'm sorry," Wash mutters into his hands, face burning with embarrassment. “I’m sorry.”

"Hey. Don't you dare fucking apologize." Tucker puts a hand on Wash’s knee and shakes. "Wash. Fucking look at me."

"I just...I didn't mean to...it's not..."

Tucker gives his knee a little squeeze. "Stop it. I'm sorry. I should've known holding you down like that would freak you the fuck out."

"No—it wasn’t—it wasn’t…” Wash lifts his head. He can’t look at Tucker yet, and keeps his gaze forward. “I did like it. I just—wasn’t expecting it, and I…”

"We need safe word," Tucker says suddenly, and Wash finally looks at him, surprised. "Fuck, I don't know why I didn't think of this before. We definitely need a safe word if we're gonna be doing this."

"A safe word?"

"Yeah, you know, like a word one of us can say when—"

"I know what a safe word is," says Wash, and rolls his eyes a little. “I have had sex before, you know.”

Tucker grins. “Oh trust me, I can fucking tell. No confusion over here.”

“I meant...you think we need one? A safe word?" He doesn't say, you want to keep doing this often enough that we need a safe word? Really? You’re sure?

Tucker seems to understand the real question and his grin gets wider. "Oh, we need one, alright. I'm not even halfway through the list of things I want to do to you."

"There's a list?" Wash says, trying to sound exasperated, but he thinks it falls a little flat given the intrigue that’s coloring his tone.

"Oh, there's a list." Tucker winks at him, then his expression turns thoughtful. "So, the word. What about a color? That's pretty standard. Red? I mean, I don’t really wanna think about the Reds during sex, so I think it’s pretty perfect."

"Red is fine."

"Okay, so, if one of us gets a little freaked out, we just say red, and the other person stops immediately."

Wash nods. "Yeah. That sounds good."

Tucker gives his knees another squeeze, then pushes himself to his feet. "Hey." He drops his forehead to Wash's, cupping a hand over the back of Wash's neck. "I would never hurt you, dude. You know that, right?"

"I know," says Wash, and he does. "I...trust you."

Tucker stands up, stretching his arms over his head. “Wanna go get some food? Grif says it’s taco night in the mess hall.

Wash frowns, reaching for him. “We can still—I didn’t mean to—we can still…have sex.”

Tucker shrugs easily, catching Wash’s outstretched hand and pulling him to his feet. “Maybe after dinner, yeah? I’m starving.”

Wash takes a moment to be grateful for the fact that Tucker is currently dragging him towards the door and can’t see his face. He doesn’t know what it looks like, but he’s sure it’s moony and ridiculous and—

Utterly, absurdly, madly in love. 


 

Wash knocks long and loud on Dr. Grey’s door the next morning, and waits until he hears her cheery voice beckoning him inside to enter. Even then, he eyes the room suspiciously. “Is anyone else in here?”

Dr. Grey makes a show of looking around the room as well. “Hmmmmm, well, unless I’m hiding someone under my desk, then I do think we are alone, Wash.”

“I wouldn’t put it past you to hide Sarge under your desk,” he says calmly, pulling out the chair across from her and taking a seat, helmet in his lap.

Dr. Grey positively cackles, her face lighting up in delight. “Ooooooh, you have been spending a lot of time with Captain Tucker, haven’t you?” She leans forward, propping her chin up on her elbows. “Tell me, when did you two really find yourself in the throes for the first time?”

Wash has to think for a moment before he realizes what she’s getting at. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Oh, I think you do.” She gives him a look. “Wash, please. That kiss in front of Miss Britton and her friends was certainly not your first. Quite a performance, though! I was rather impressed with your acting abilities.”

Wash is fairly certain that she’s fucking with him—he and Tucker’s performance in the infirmary hadn’t even been soap opera worthy. “It was a few weeks before that,” he admits, then thinks. “Uh…the 20th, maybe? Don’t say anything—”

“Of course I won’t say anything,” Dr. Grey says, sounded offended at the very suggestion. “Goodness me, you should have heard those kids carrying on when Britton won the bet! I’m fairly certain there’s a Basebook fan page for you two.” She smiles at him. “That was a very sweet thing you both did.”

“It was Tucker’s idea,” Wash says quickly. “He came up with it.”

“But you went along with it,” Dr. Grey tells him gently, and for the first time, Wash sees it, really sees the effortless, unconscious way in which he directs all credit away from himself. It reminds him of why he’s here, and he refocuses, fidgeting with the pens on her desk.

“Tucker seems to be making you very happy,” Dr. Grey says casually, typing something into her datapad. Her tone is light and inconsequential, but she is watching him closely in between swipes on her screen.

“Yes,” Wash says. Start simple. Start honest. “He does. I’m—I’m sleeping better, with him…there, but I still…”

“Have nightmares?”

Her voice is still casual and easy, and Wash lets himself relax a little deeper into the chair. “Yes.”

“I thought you would,” Dr. Grey says. “Is that why you’re here?”

“No,” Wash says slowly. “Well—yes—sort of—but…”

He trails off, thinking again, of the way Tucker had held him down on the mattress. Of how it had felt good, and how he’d felt safe, until that memory had burst in with no warning—

“I think I have PTSD.”

To her credit, Dr. Grey does not sneer or roll her eyes, for which Wash is endlessly grateful. She simply places her datapad down and folds her hands on top of it, looking at him. “Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay.”

Wash nods, hands clenching around his helmet even as some of the tension leaves his shoulders. “Let’s just rip the fucking band-aid off,” Tucker had said, shoving the case of knives at him, so bold and brave.

“He—held me down,” Wash blurts. “Tucker. Not—not in, like—we were…were….”

“Being intimate?”

He nods, relieved. “Yes. I—liked it. A lot. But when they pulled Epsilon out, they held me down like that, and it...” He breaks off, shaking his head angrily. “I can’t even have sex without—”

Dr. Grey reaches a hand across the desk to cover Wash’s—which, he realizes belatedly, he has started bouncing against the desk in agitation. “Wash.”

He stops, letting her hold onto his clenched fist. “Anyway, that was when I knew,” he says abruptly. “I know it’s—I know it’s stupid—”

“It’s not,” Dr. Grey says. “It’s not stupid, Wash. PTSD affects many different aspects of your life and sometimes it’s the little things that hit the hardest.”

“I hurt Tucker.” He pulls his hand away and curls it against his chest. “He woke me up while I was dreaming, and I…I grabbed him. I left a bruise on one of his arms. I could’ve…” he glances up, voice suddenly fierce. “Don’t say it’s nothing.”

“I’m not.”

“I could’ve really hurt him.”

“I know.”

“I could have killed him.”

“I know.”

“He doesn’t understand that. He doesn’t…” Wash unclenches his fist, running his fingers through his hair, the strands catching in his gloves. “I told him he has to sleep with a gun close so that if he can’t call for help, then he can use it.”

Dr. Grey straightens at that, narrowing her eyes at him. “Washington. It’s unfair of you to ask Tucker to do that if—”

“It’s not unfair,” Wash says, firing up at once. “It’s not unfair to ask him to protect himself—”

She holds up her hand, silencing him. “It’s unfair to ask him to do that if you aren’t going to seek help yourself.”

Wash gestures around her office. “I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Yes,” she says. “You are.”

She smiles at him then. It’s not condescending, or pitying, or even sympathetic. She just smiles, and in it, he sees the woman who has become his friend, the Doctor who put all the chips and wires back in their proper places inside his brain.

Maybe—just maybe—she could be something else, too. Maybe she could help him sort the boxes of memories, and put them away for good.

“I don’t like therapy.” He fiddles with the radio dial on his helmet. “I—it’s hard.”

“It is,” she says encouragingly. “It absolutely is, Wash, but you’ve already done the hardest part. You’re here.”

He nods. “I know that I’ll have to…to talk about the things that were my fault, and what I could have done differently to fix them.”

She tilts her head at him a little, frowning. “What you could’ve—I’m sorry?”

“What I could’ve done differently,” he repeats. “You know—different scenarios. Ways I could’ve handled things better.”

There’s the briefest look of alarm on Dr. Grey’s face before she smooths it out. “Wash.” She hesitates. “That isn’t…that isn’t how therapy works. Berating yourself with what-ifs—it doesn’t help you heal. It’s…well, quite frankly, it’s cruel.

“I’ve been in therapy before,” he says, annoyed. “And I know it isn’t easy, but—”

“When?”

“What?”

When were you in therapy?”

“After…” he gestures at the back of his head. “After Freelancer. After Epsilon.”

“That’s what your therapist did? Ran you through scenarios of things you could have done differently?”

Scenarios like they ran Alpha through, something whispers in his mind, something that sounds just like Epsilon’s voice. Wash pushes the parallel aside. There’s a weird panic rising up in his throat that he can’t quite name. “I—yes. He would ask where I thought I went wrong, with Epsilon, and with the project, and what I could have done better.”

“Who is he?”

There’s a sliver of steel in Dr. Grey’s voice that Wash has never heard before. “The Counselor,” he says blankly. “The Counselor. Of Project Freelancer.”

“The Counselor,” she says briskly. “And how did you feel, after your sessions with him?”

Wash doesn’t have to strain to remember that. “Confused. Angry—regretful.” He hesitates before adding, “Sad.”

Dr. Grey blows out a breath. There’s something he’s missing, Wash knows, and it’s setting his teeth on edge. “What?” he asks urgently, gripping his helmet tightly. “What?”

“Wash, I’m not sure just how much these doctors—” she practically spits the word— “of yours were helping you heal.”

“Doctor,” he says, so fiercely that she frowns. “Doctor. The surgeon who operated on me—my nurses—they saved my life. Not just physically. They kept the Director and the Counselor away from me long enough for me to…to at least form coherent sentences.”

“So this man who ran your therapy sessions—the Counselor—was trying to see you days after you had brain surgery?”

“Yes.” She’s still looking at him in alarm, and it’s making Wash feel foolish. “Look, I know that he—the Counselor—was a liar. He and the Director manipulated all of us—my friends—the A.I.—all of us. I’m not stupid, I know that.”

“So you know that you were being manipulated during these therapy sessions, then?”

Wash falters. “Well—I mean—” The panicky feeling is back, and he squares his shoulders, leaning into it. “Explain—explain what you mean.”

Dr. Grey seems to sense the panic in his voice, because she faces him head on, looking him in the eyes. “Wash. I don’t have all of the details about your time in recovery, but…what you went through wasn’t therapy. Not in the slightest.”

“Then what was it?” he interrupts, impatient. “I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”

“Wash, it sounds to me like you were psychologically abused.”

His mind feels oddly quiet at those words, thoughts drifting across it like tumbleweeds. He grabs one, latches on. “Me?

She nods, still watching him closely. “Wash, you were all abused during the Project. You, Agent Carolina, the sim troopers—all of you. And this—having this man, the Counselor, speak to you about these events after a major surgery and trauma—telling you it’s your fault, asking what you could have done differently….that’s not therapy, Wash. That’s not how you heal.”

Wash looks at her. Looks at the pen in her hands, the helmet in his own. Looks inward, to the feeling of panic constricting his chest. Clenches it tight in his fists and turns it to smoke.

He looks up at Dr. Grey.

“How do you heal?”


Wash leaves Dr. Grey’s office with his datapad clenched tightly in his fists, examining the schedule she’s laid out for him. Twice a week. One hour, twice a week, early in the morning. “Just talking,” she’d told him gently. “Let’s just start there. Just talking. It doesn’t have to be in my office. It can be wherever you like. Somewhere you feel safe.”

The idea of talking about Freelancer and Epsilon grates his nerves in an entirely different way, but in a perverse twist, he’s almost eager for it. Maybe he could heal. Maybe he could box the memories up even tighter. Maybe he could learn to sleep, really sleep, and not have to worry about hurting Tucker. Maybe he could have a sex life without flashing back to the worst day of his life.

Maybe he could figure out why he can’t stop thinking about Tucker’s hands around his wrists.

The memory comes to him at the most inopportune moments. In the mess hall. In the middle of training. On a mission. It comes to him absently, a warm buzz in the base of his skull and a low heat coiled in his abdomen. He wonders what would’ve happened if he hadn’t freaked out—

If your PTSD hadn’t flared up, Wash corrects himself, a spoonful of oatmeal halfway to his mouth. Dr. Grey had said it was important to try to trace these thoughts back to their source, and he’s started to see what she means. It’s—helpful, somehow, to have something to explain so many of his reactions. Not an excuse, but an explanation. An explanation for so many things.

He lets the thought flit past his mind before refocusing on Tucker and the weight behind his hands. He wonders if Tucker would’ve held him down the whole time, would have fucked him with his hands wrapped around Wash’s wrists. He wonders if he would’ve found something else to hold him down so he could use his hands for other things. If he would’ve been gentle with his touches or if he would’ve gripped Wash’s skin hard enough to leave marks. If he would’ve talked the whole time. If he would’ve made Wash beg

Wash stands up suddenly, his oatmeal untouched and his face hot. For a moment, he stands there frozen, helmet clutched in his hands and torn by indecision. This is stupid. He shouldn’t—it doesn’t—it’s stupid, the way he can’t stop thinking about it, about Tucker’s hands—

About the way everything inside of him had relaxed and turned to liquid—

Wash, you were all abused during the project.

The project, the project, the project. The goddamned project that had taken everything from him, from all of them. Maine’s voice and South’s self-confidence and Carolina’s laughter. They’d taken his team. They’d taken his family. They’d taken Epsilon, they’d taken Wash’s sanity, they’d taken his ability to sleep and to trust and—

They’re not taking this, too.

Wash sets his jaw and turns on his heel, jamming his helmet on. He strides purposefully across the base, hands clenched nervously at his side, until he reaches his destination. He enters the weight room to find Carolina half out of her armor and doing bicep curls on one of the benches, Epsilon perched on top of her nearby helmet.

“Um,” Wash says, by way of announcing himself.

Carolina throws him a half glance. “Hi,” she says, voice a little breathless. “Did you want to work in a set?”

“No,” Wash says, and after a bit of internal debate, unlatches his helmet. He turns it over in his hands a few times. “I have a. Question. For you.”

“Okay,” Carolina says. She lifts an eyebrow when he doesn’t answer. “What is it?”

Wash clears his throat. Puts his helmet back on, takes it off again. Sets it on the ground beside his feet and crosses his arms. “So…”

Carolina finishes her set and casts an annoyed glance at Wash. "Out with it, Wash."

"I was hoping you could tell me," Wash asks, in the most casual voice he can manage, "where to find some good rope around here."

Carolina fumbles the weight she is currently re-racking, setting it down with an echoing bang.

“Oh, my God,” Epsilon says, to no one in particular. “This is all of my nightmares come true at once.”

Wash ignores him as Carolina spins to look at Wash. Opens her mouth. Closes it. Opens it again and says, "How do you know about that?"

Wash keeps his face and his voice as blank as possible. "Know about what?"

Carolina stares at him. Wash stares back.

She folds her arms across her chest, narrowing her eyes. "What are you up to?"

Wash shifts. "I mean, do you want details, or—"

"Does this have something to do with where you went when you disappeared for nearly twenty-four hours last week?"

Wash has to think for a moment to remember what she’s talking about before the memory comes back to him. He and Tucker had both had most of the day off at the same time, and had taken full advantage. Still. "What— that's not— it wasn't twenty-four hours—"

"It was pretty close. Grif says he finally found you skulking around the B-Wing, and you came up with some lame excuse about weapons cataloguing. The weapons are in the F-wing." Carolina raises an eyebrow. "Am I about to get the real story?"

"I had to...the weapons needed to be...you're taking Grif's word on this?"

"Wash..." Carolina sighs. "Look, just be careful."

Her words catch him off guard. "What?"

"Are you the one using the rope, or the one the rope is going to be used on?"

Wash is rapidly regretting ever starting this conversation, particularly when Epsilon drags both hands down his visor. “C, please. You are killing me here.

To Wash’s horror, Carolina launches into full-on lecture mode. "Because if it's the latter, then I really think you need to be careful. I’m not sure if you remember, but you went out of your mind when they tried to restrain you after your reaction to the sedatives in Freelancer. Something like this could be very triggering for you—you should only be doing this with someone you trust and—”

"Carolina." Wash closes his eyes in embarrassment. "It's...yes. It's someone I trust."

Carolina glares at him suspiciously for a moment before her face clears. "Ohh."

"What—what does that mean? Ohh?"

"Nothing." She's already turning back to her weights. "Lower level, storage closet F5. Use the red rope, not the black."

Wash forces his face back into an expression of careful neutrality. "Okay. Uh, thanks boss."

She rolls her eyes at him. "You're welcome, Wash." 


Wash stands outside of Tucker's door that evening for several minutes, twisting the rope around in his hands. Carolina's recommendation is good: it's sturdy, but soft and light. He knocks on the door and Tucker sighs from inside. "Who is it?"

He pushes open the door and pokes his head in. "It's me." 

Tucker's face brightens in a way that makes Wash feel warm all over. "Oh, great. C'mere." He frowns at the look on Wash’s face. “What’s up?"

Wash clears his throat, realizes he has no idea what he wants to say, and ends up placing the rope in Tucker's lap without a word. Tucker blinks, picking up the rope and sliding it between his hands. He glances up at Wash. "You brought rope?"

He'd been hoping that Tucker would just sort of get to it, and they wouldn't have to have any sort of Conversation, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen. "Yeah. I thought we could...try again."

"Try what again?"

"Try..." Wash gestures. "Try whatever you were going to try the other day."

Tucker stares at him.

Wash rubs a hand over the back of his neck. “You know what, never mind, this is stupid—”

“Wait,” Tucker interrupts, comprehension dawning his eyes. "Wait, you want me to…to tie you up?"

"Well...I mean..." the stunned expression on Tucker's face is unnerving him, and he tries to backtrack. "Only if you want, we don't have—"

"Are you serious?

Wash is starting to wish he’d never brought this up. Or been born, come to that. “Never mind, I’m gonna go—”

“Wait!” Tucker snags his arm as Wash turns away. “Oh my God, don’t you dare leave.”

“I just—” Wash has no idea why he feels so nervous and flustered, like a goddamned teenager before his first kiss, but he finds it impossible to look Tucker in the eyes. This is Tucker, he reminds himself. Just you, and just Tucker. “I just thought…it might be something…we don’t have to, if you don’t want to…”

“Wash, please. This is like, all of my fantasies about to come true at once.”

“This is stupid,” Wash mutters at the floor, and suddenly Tucker’s tilting his neck to meet Wash’s eyes.

“Hey. Why do you always say that?” He sighs when Wash doesn’t answer, tugging at his arm until Wash sits next to him on the bed. “Dude. You’re being weird. What’s up?”

“I don’t…” Wash reaches for the rope he’d placed in Tucker’s lap, twisting it between his hands. “I don’t…want to make this all about me, or…make you do all the work…I’m not…”

“Uhhh, if you’re thinking I’m not totally gonna get off on tying you up and getting to do whatever I want to drive you crazy, you are like, one hundred percent wrong.”

Wash feels something hot twist in his abdomen at the way Tucker actually shudders at the thought, and it makes him feel a little better. “Okay…”

Tucker looks at him, long and hard, before taking Wash’s face in his hands and dropping a firm kiss onto the top of his head. “Besides,” he murmurs into Wash’s hair. “Why can’t it be all about you sometimes?”

To his absolute horror, Wash feels his throat start to close up. “I don’t know,” he says, and that’s it, that’s it, right there.

Tucker says nothing for a while, just pulls Wash tight against his chest and presses another kiss to the top of his head. “You can ask for good things, you know,” he says after a while. “Especially in the bedroom. Like, I will literally fuck you any way you want.”

Wash laughs at that. “Oh, really?”

“Yeah,” Tucker says. “Nothing is off the table. You wanna do something, you just say the fucking word and I will make it happen. You want me to tie you up? Done. You’re into video cameras? Fucking sold. You want to turn that threesome with Grey and Sarge into a foursome? Dude, as long as I don’t have to kiss Sarge on the mouth then I’d be willing to—”

“Oh my god, please stop,” Wash groans, but he’s grinning. He pulls away enough to tug Tucker’s chin down towards his own. The kiss is soft and sweet until it’s hot and dirty and Tucker’s murmuring the most ridiculous, obscene things into his mouth and Wash starts laughing into the kiss. He’s still laughing when they pull away.

“Now,” Tucker says, snatching the rope back from Wash. “Down to business. Dirty business. The way more important question here is, are you sure?

"I'm sure."

Tucker eyes him. "Okay, but you have to promise me something."

"Okay..."

"You have to promise me that you're not gonna treat this like some kind of RTI training session."

That throws Wash off. "What?"

"If we're doing this, and you start freaking out, don't push yourself through it because you feel like it's an obstacle you've gotta overcome or some bullshit."

"I…wouldn't do that."

Tucker doesn't look convinced in the slightest. "Because it's not. This is sex, not, like, an interrogation.   It's supposed to be fun."

"I know, Tucker."

"I'm only saying. You weren't just uncomfortable when I held you down the other day. You were scared for a second there. We're not doing this if you're just trying to prove a point to yourself."

Wash flushes a little. He'd been seriously underestimating just how well Tucker knew him. "Okay, okay, point taken. But it's...it's not that."

"So what is it?"

"It's that I...liked it. It caught me off guard, when you did that, but after, I couldn't stop thinking about...what would've happened, if we'd kept going." He nods at the rope. "So, I want to find out.”

Tucker's still sliding the rope through his hands in a very distracting sort of way. "Okay. Just promise me that you'll use the safe word if you want to stop."

"I promise."

"I mean it, Wash. If I find out later that you made me do something that had you panicking the whole time, I will be seriously pissed off."

There's a sharp, sensitive note in Tucker's voice that makes Wash sit up and look at him a little more closely. He reaches out and runs a hand down Tucker's arm, ending with a squeeze to his hand. "I wouldn't do that to you, Tucker." 

Tucker holds his gaze for a moment longer before nodding, sliding his body behind Wash’s. Wash closes his eyes as Tucker's hands travel down his back and across his shoulders, tracing circles as he moves them down Wash’s arms to hold his wrists and pausing there. “Maybe I shouldn’t tie them behind your back. Did it freak you out not seeing me?”

Wash considers. “I don’t think so,” he says slowly. “I’ll know you’re there. And I’ll be able to hear your voice.”

“Fuck yeah you will.” Tucker bites playfully at his ear. “You know I’m a dirty talker.”

Slowly, slowly, he draws Wash's arms behind his back, starting to bind them at the wrists. He hesitates halfway through. “Hmm. Aren’t there like, all those artsy fucking knots and shit that we should be using? Maybe I should look them up. Don’t wanna cut off your circulation or something.”

“I’m sure a basic knot will be—”

But Tucker’s halfway across the room, kicking clothes and bits of armor aside until he finds his datapad. He bounds back on the bed and resumes his position behind Wash, the datapad held in front of both of them and his head propped up on Wash’s shoulder. “I’ve only ever used handcuffs,” Tucker explains cheerfully as he types something in and starts rifling through photographs. “Like, those pink fluffy kind. Smart idea bringing rope, though. Handcuffs would probably freak you out, right? ‘Cause of prison and all that.”

“Oh…uh, I guess.” The thought hadn’t even occurred to Wash. In hindsight, it seems rather obvious. He focuses on Tucker’s other statement instead. “You’ve used the handcuffs on other people? Or on yourself?”

“Both,” Tucker says absently. “It was hot as shit dude, you’re gonna love it. You’ve never been tied up before?”

“I don’t think so,” Wash says, feeling more ridiculous by the minute. “Wait—maybe? I think in Basic…” He shakes his head. The memory is too fuzzy.

“Don’t remember?” Tucker asks. His voice is casual, the note of sadness barely noticeable, but Wash catches it.

“Don’t remember,” he sighs.

“I think you’ll be totally into it,” Tucker says enthusiastically. “It’s like—your brain just shuts right off. You fucking need some of that.”

Wash can’t really argue there. He watches as Tucker swipes around to various websites, apparently intent on finding something specific. “What exactly are you looking for?”

“I don’t know—man, look at this one, this is like, fucking art right here—I think I need a video tutorial or some shit…ah, here we go!”

Tucker props the datapad up in Wash’s lap, tugs Wash’s shirt off, and spends the next ten minutes trying to perfect the knot he’s chosen.  He finally slides off the bed to stand in front of Wash. “Okay, test that. Can you get out of it?”

Wash does, twisting his wrists and flexing the muscles in his arms, but the knot holds fast. “No. It’s good.”

Tucker snaps his fingers. “Oh wait, we need one more thing…hang on…” Wash watches as he starts rifling around his room before unscrewing the metal lid to his canteen. He tucks it into Wash’s hands, then steps back. “Drop that, okay? If you want me to stop.”

Tucker must see the confusion on his face, because he tilts Wash’s chin up with his fingers and grins. “In case it’s easier than talking. Besides, I might have other plans for that hot fucking mouth of yours.”

Wash feels a powerful and unexpected heat flare beneath his skin. He realizes suddenly that has no control over whatever happens next and it’s a thrilling prospect. The control is gone, placed in Tucker's hands, and he feels equal parts arousal and, surprisingly, relief at the thought. Tucker pauses for a moment, cupping Wash's face with his hands and pressing their foreheads together. "Got you. Okay?"

"Okay," Wash whispers, and Tucker smooths his thumbs over his cheekbones before leaning down to kiss him.

For several minutes, that's all they do, but the kisses are deep and hot, full of teeth and tongue. Tucker leans into him, sliding his hands up the inside of Wash’s thighs. Wash closes his eyes as he feels Tucker’s mouth on his neck, his ear, the dip in his collarbone. Tucker’s hands slide up and down his thighs, never quite high enough, and soon Wash is pressing his hips forward each time Tucker’s hands drift back up.

Tucker palms his cock lightly through his fatigues and hums a little. “So fucking hard already,” he murmurs. His lips are right on Wash’s ear when he says it, and everything in his body sways towards Tucker as he pulls away.

Tucker undoes the button on Wash’s fatigues and tugs them off his legs, Wash lifting his hips as best he can to help. He’s left only in his boxers now—and, ridiculously, his socks, but Tucker leaves those on.

Holding his gaze, Tucker kneels in front of him, running his hands up and down Wash’s thighs once more. Tucker grins as Wash spreads his legs and squirms forward a little. “Yeah, just like that, Wash, spread your legs for me.” His hands come down on Wash’s thighs and squeeze firmly, and then he lowers his mouth to Wash’s cock and sucks hard. He’s left Wash’s boxer briefs on, so Tucker’s mouth is right there but still too far.  Wash whines, hips rolling forward, but Tucker just moves to the base of his cock and licks a long stripe up the sides before sucking on the tip of Wash’s cock.

So close, so close, so close. “Tucker,” he groans, and moves to tangle his fingers in Tucker’s hair to tug him closer, because Tucker loves that, because he’s so close and Wash needs more. It takes Wash a few moments to realize, through the haze of pleasure, that he can’t move his hands, that he can’t touch Tucker at all

He feels his first real wave of frustration as he tugs and remembers that he isn’t going to be able to touch Tucker’s gorgeous skin or hold onto his hair. “Fuck,” he pants, tossing his head, and Tucker says nothing, just smirks up at him and keeps mouthing away at Wash’s cock through his briefs.

Tucker stays there until the fabric is soaked through. It feels good, so good, the heat of Tucker’s mouth and the drag of his teeth, but it’s not enough—

As if reading his mind, Tucker hums against the base of his cock. “Hmmm. You can come you know, Wash. I never said you couldn’t.

“I can’t,” Wash groans. He thrusts desperately at Tucker’s mouth and Tucker lets him, opening wider, but Wash doesn’t get very far. “I need—Tucker…”

Tucker looks up at him slyly, thumbs playing with the waistband of Wash’s briefs. “What’s the matter? Want me to take these off?”

He nuzzles his cheek against Wash’s cock and Wash ruts against him. “Yes,” he whines, as Tucker nips at the waistband.

“Yes, what?”

Wash bites his lip as Tucker rubs a thumb over the tip of his cock. “Please,” he grits out. “Tucker, please.”

Tucker rewards him with a long, slow stroke, his palm firm and warm against Wash’s dick, the most friction he’s gotten in a while, before standing up. He drops his forehead against Wash’s for a moment, before tilting Wash’s chin up so their eyes lock. “Get on your knees.”

His voice is low and sure, not a trace of his usual snark, and Wash feels that liquid-smoke feeling in his bones again, like they’re melting straight into the floor. He follows them down, kneeling in front of Tucker, who winds one hand in Wash’s hair to tilt his head back. Tucker lifts his other hand to Wash's mouth, inserting two fingers, and Wash sucks gladly. He moves his mouth to the heel of Tucker’s palm, dragging his teeth there, and is rewarded when Tucker moans, hips stuttering forward.

Tucker's eyes are bright when he pulls his hand away, tugging his pants down and letting his cock spring free. He wraps a hand around himself, stroking leisurely and holding Wash's gaze. Wash tries to maintain eye contact, but the way Tucker is jerking himself off inches from his face is too distracting and his eyes constantly flit downward. "Suck." He tugs Wash's head forward, breath stuttering a little as Wash takes him in. 

The heat pooling in Wash's groin pulses hotter with every gasp and moan of pleasure that he coaxes out of Tucker. He squirms a little, hips swaying forward to no avail as he tugs uselessly at the rope, but the knot doesn't budge, and Wash whines a little in the back of his throat. Being unable to touch himself is bad enough, but being unable to touch Tucker when he's moaning like that is driving him insane. Tucker glances down at the noise, pulling back out of Wash’s mouth. “Are—you—?”

“M’fine,” Wash gasps. “M’fine—swear—just—God, Tucker—”

Tucker grins, tugging Wash’s mouth back on him once more. Wash swirls his tongue around the head of Tucker’s dick, just the way he likes; he sucks Tucker into the back of his throat and hums there, and Tucker moans and gasps and pulls at his hair as he comes.

Wash swallows every drop, licking Tucker clean, and Tucker falls heavily to his knees in front of him. He tips Wash’s head back again and kisses him fiercely, hands running down Wash’s arms to close over the rope. “That was so fucking hot,” he mutters into Wash’s mouth. “Here, sit down, dude. Gonna rock your fucking world.”

Wash does, sitting back hastily on the floor and leaning his back against the bed. Tucker spreads Wash’s legs apart, shimmies down until he’s flat on his stomach, and pulls Wash’s underwear off. With an obscene smacking sound, he takes Wash’s cock in his mouth and sucks him right into the back of his throat.

Wash lets out a noise that sounds more like a sob than a moan, pleasure arcing through him and setting his nerves on fire. Tucker tugs his hips forward even closer, his head bobbing enthusiastically. He presses hard against the rope and hard against Tucker’s hands but neither give—they hold him fast, they hold him still, Tucker’s mouth hot on his cock, and when he comes, he feels like he’s floating.

It takes him several moments after to realize that Tucker’s leaning over him, undoing the rope. Wash groans as the rope pulls free, the muscles in his arms singing in relief. Tucker’s hands are strong and sure on his shoulders, rubbing them gently, sweeping down his arms, turning his wrists.

“Thank you,” he mutters, and then keeps muttering it. Tucker laughs, dropping kiss to one of his shoulders before rummaging around in his locker.

“Drink this,” he says, and Wash blinks blearily up at him. Tucker’s holding a water bottle out expectantly. “C’mon, sit up a little.”

“M’fine,” Wash insists, because really, he’s so comfortable here, leaning against the bed, that he doesn’t think he’s ever going to move again, but Tucker’s gently pulling him forward and pressing the water bottle into his hands.

He drinks half the bottle and lets Tucker tug him back onto the bed, flopping next to him. Tucker looks so delighted that Wash laughs. “You proud of yourself?”

“Fuck yeah I am,” Tucker says. He’s practically preening. “You’re like, fucking melting right now. Did you know you needed that? Like, really needed that?”

“No,” Wash says. “Not like that. That was…”

He breathes in deep, rolling to kiss Tucker. “Thanks,” he says again, and drops his head right there on Tucker’s chest, because the closeness feels good, because it makes Tucker feels good, because he can have this.

He can let himself have this.

Chapter Text

If Tucker is being honest with himself—truly, unflinchingly honest—he has to admit that he spends most of his time these days on cloud nine.

He knows he shouldn’t, really. The planet is fucked. The war is fucked. There are mercs out for their blood and probably also his head on a stick. People are injured. People are dying. Even if this war ended tomorrow, putting this planet back together was going to take years.

Yet shit is always fucked.

It’s been Tucker’s baseline for so many years now that he doesn’t even know what he would do with some normalcy. There’d been a moment, before the Hand of Merope had crashed, that it looked like they might actually get a bit of that, and Tucker would be lying if he said the prospect hadn’t terrified him. But, nope. Back to the normal bullshit that has been his life since entering the military.

So—cloud nine. He gets regular updates on his kid and all of them are good. He’s finally making real headway in his knife and hand-to-hand training, and he’d gotten to watch Wash thoroughly hand Felix’s ass to him on their most recent mission. He’s got food and a bunch of idiots to sit around in the mess hall and eat it with. He’s got a bed, and someone to fuck and cuddle with in it.

He’s got Wash.

Ali was right, Tucker thinks absently, as he pulls up the drawing of him staring at Wash. He can feel it, feel the stupid, moony expression that his face seems to get stuck in every time Wash is around. Tucker feels like he’s single-handedly saved the planet and won the war every time he gets Wash to laugh or smile or come or sleep. Wash is happy, too. Not always—not completely—but he smiles more these days than Tucker has ever seen before, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t do everything in his power to keep seeing that smile.

A knock on the door has him closing the drawing and looking up eagerly from where he’s sitting cross-legged on the floor. “Yeah?”

Donut pushes the door open, peeking his head in. “You called?”

“Yeah, dude.” Tucker gestures for Donut to come in and close the door. “I’m in way over my head here. I cannot figure this shit out for the life of me.”

“Figure what…oh!” Donut’s eyes flit between the datapad and the rope that Tucker is furiously trying to unknot. “Well, doesn’t this look fun!”

“That’s the idea,” Tucker grumps, as he somehow manages to get the rope tangled up even further. “Ahh, goddammit!”

“Give it here.” Donut takes a seat across form him, tugging the rope out of Tucker’s hands. “Soooo, you’re trying to do….what, exactly?”

“I’m trying to practice,” Tucker says with a sigh, flopping on his stomach and swiping absently through the datapad. When Donut merely raises an eyebrow, Tucker gives him a look. “Practice making knots, Donut. Sex knots. Jesus, what does it look like I’m doing?”

“It looks like you’re doing your best to destroy this beautiful piece of rope,” Donut says in disapproval as he unravels Tucker’s mess. “I meant, why did you call me in here, silly?”

“Because I need your help,” Tucker says desperately. “You should’ve seen me trying to tie Wash up. It took me like, twenty minutes to figure out a single knot. I mean, talk about amateur hour! Unacceptable, dude. Unacceptable. I need my shit to be on point.”

“And I was the first person you thought to ask?”

Tucker huffs. “Oh, yeah, let me just go ask Grif. Hey, Grif? Can you help me figure out some sweet bondage techniques? Or Sarge? Or—fucking—I don’t know, Carolina?

Donut beams at him. “Tucker, I’m—I’m just honored that you trusted me enough to come to me with this! I’d be happy to help!”

“Oh, good,” Tucker says gratefully. “So, you know how to do this shit, then?”

Do I!” Donut undoes the rope with a flourish, straightening it out between his hands. “Do I ever!”

“Fucking fantastic.” Tucker holds out his wrists expectantly. “Show me the goods.”

Donut eyes him, suddenly stern. “You and Wash have talked about this, right?”

Tucker blinks. “What, using rope? Are you serious? You think I would just try to tie Wash up without talking about it first? Come on, give me a little credit.”

“Sorry, sorry,” Donut amends. “It’s just—it’s Wash."

“Yeah, I know. That’s why I’m trying to do this shit right.”

Donut’s eyes go downright misty. “Oh, Tucker. You’re sooo in love.”

“Oh my God,” Tucker groans. “Look, either show me how to make some good sex knots or I’ll have to ask Grif about this after all.”

“Fine, fine…” Donut sits up a little straighter, clearly his throat dramatically. “Okay. So. Speaking purely technique-wise—since I’m assuming you two have already talked about safe words and—”

“Yup. Got that shit on lock.”

Then, the first knot I’m going to show you is called a single-column tie…”

It takes Tucker the better part of two hours to get the hang of the knots that Donut shows him, but after the never-ending disaster that was his knife evasion lessons, Tucker isn’t complaining. If there’s one thing this goddamn war has taught him, it’s a bit of patience. He throws himself into the lesson, rolling his eyes only minimally when Donut says things like, “Now Tucker, it’s important to note that the actual tying of the rope should be just as erotic as the sexual acts themselves.”

“I’m so impressed that you’re not just using handcuffs,” Donut gushes as Tucker practices looping Donut’s hands behind his back for the third time. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but this is so much more intimate, if you ask me.”

“Eh, I’m cool with handcuffs, but I figure they probably freak Wash out, ya know? Prison, and all that.”

“Of course,” Donut says solemnly. “He didn’t like that one bit when we were in that Fed prison! Neither did I, come to that.”

They into a comfortable silence, and Tucker feels a sudden burst of affection for Donut. “Thanks,” he says, clapping Donut somewhat awkwardly on the shoulder. “For helping me figure this out.”

“No problem!” Donut says cheerfully. “That’s what friends do.”

The wave of guilt that crashes over him is just as sudden as the affection, but far more unexpected. Donut’s right. This is what friends do—this is, in fact, above and beyond what friends do, because Donut’s a pretty good fucking friend, and Tucker…

“Do you want to go find Doc?”

Donut pauses, craning his neck around to look at Tucker. “I’m sorry?”

“Do you…” Tucker clears his throat, resuming tying the knot and trying to sound casual. “Do you want to look for Doc? I’ll help you.”

“Oh, my goodness!” To Tucker’s horror, Donut sounds on the edge of tears. “That’s so nice of you—”

“—I should’ve asked you sooner—”

“—but, Wash and I have already looked for him.”

“—so that’s my bad—wait, what?

“Mmhm,” Donut says, cheerful as ever. “I mean, we didn’t get a chance to peek into every nook and cranny of the planet, but we did spend a good few days looking.”

Tucker rifles through his memories, trying to recall if there was a time when both Wash and Donut were missing for several days, and comes up blank. “When was this?”

“While we were with the Feds, of course!”

Tucker pauses in the act of unlooping his most recent knot. “Wait, what? They let you? Locus let you and Wash go off and fuck around for several days so you could look for your boyfriend?”

“Don’t be silly,” Donut says with a tittering laugh. “Wash and I busted out!”

With each new piece of information, Tucker finds himself even more baffled. He finishes unknotting the rope from Donut’s wrists and comes to sit in front of him. “Hold up. You guys did what?

“We made a break for it! Wash and I were bonding, you know, as men are wont to do when crammed together in tight spaces, and we were talking about Doc, and I got really really sad, and Wash said, well, let’s go find him!”

Donut pauses for maximum dramatic effect before continuing. “Sooo, we busted out. Sarge and Lopez covered for us while we escaped under cover of night. We spent a few days looking for Doc—and for all you guys, of course! We thought you might be together, actually— but Locus caught up with us eventually.”

Tucker stares at him, flabbergasted. “How the hell did you talk your way out of that one?”

“Wellllll, there was a lot more fighting than there was talking, at first, but eventually we managed to convince them that we were out gathering intel.” Donut pauses thoughtfully. “I’m not sure that they bought it, though.”

“You think?” Tucker says sarcastically. “Jesus, Donut. You’re lucky you weren’t both killed!”

Donut scoffs. “Don’t you lecture me, Lavernius Tucker! If memory serves me right, you four were the ones who showed up at the Fed’s base!”

“That was different—”

“Was not!”

“Was too!”

“How?”

“It…because it…we….” Tucker narrows his eyes. “It just was, okay?”

“The point is,” Donut continues, “we didn’t find Doc. Or you guys, obviously. Or much of anything. But it was nice of Wash, real nice, to come with me.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says, his annoyance fading back into guilt. “It was. I’m….I’m sorry, man. I should’ve like, asked you about this sooner.”

“No need to apologize!” Donut says, cheerful as ever. “I know you would’ve gone with me if I’d asked.”

“I would have,” Tucker says quickly. “I swear.”

Donut smiles at him, then picks up the rope. “Now, come on! Do that knot again and this time, make the experience more erotic. You’re tying up your lover, not wrestling a crocodile into submission.”

Tucker rolls his eyes, but snatches the rope. “Fine. Watch the master at work.” He pauses. “And, uh. Thanks again. Look, if you ever need sex tips, I could like, show you some of my best blowjob techniques on a banana or something—”

Donut laughs, a bright, tinkling sound. “Tucker, please. Have you forgotten who you’re talking to?”


 

Ever since his breakthrough in knife work with Wash, Tucker has been improving in his training by leaps and bounds. He still doesn’t like seeing that bright chalk marking his skin, and he sometimes finds himself flinching, but he no longer freezes up. His knives find the target more often than not these days, and he feels like a mega-badass each time he hears that satisfying thunk of the blade finding its mark. Even his hand-to-hand skills are getting better. He still can’t best Wash or Carolina, but he comes out on top in his matches with almost everyone else. Training, in short, is going great, save for one key area:

They still haven’t found anyone on this goddamn planet who knows how to use a sword.

No, Tucker,” Carolina says without even looking up when he approaches her in the mess hall one day. “I still haven’t found a swordsman. I will tell you when I do.”

“Ugh!” Tucker throws himself into the seat across from her. “I mean, is there even anyone you haven’t asked at this point?”

Carolina grimaces. “Not really.”

“I can’t believe it,” Tucker grumbles. “I can’t believe not a single person on this planet knows how to use a sword!”

“Really?” Epsilon quips, popping up on top of her helmet. “You can’t believe a single person on this planet doesn’t know how to use an ancient Sangheilli laser sword?”

Tucker eyes him. “Uh, considering that this place is fucking littered with ancient artifacts? Yeah, dude. I confess myself a little shocked.”

Epsilon fidgets as if he’s going to fire back, but hesitates. Things haven’t been the same between them since he’d shown Tucker his memories of Wash, and every time Tucker opens his mouth to make a quip, the words stick in his throat. You weren’t in the canyon, he’d screamed, and ever since, he couldn’t forget the truth of his words. Epsilon hadn’t been in the canyon, and Tucker isn’t sure he knows him at all.

He shifts his gaze back to Carolina. “So, what? Should I just try to teach myself then?”

“No.” Carolina finishes her last spoonful of oatmeal before setting the spoon down carefully. “I’m going to teach you.”

Tucker eyes her, alarmed. “As in, you’re giving me one on one lessons?”

“Well, seeing as how no one else in this army insists on carrying a sword into battle—”

“Okay, but just to warn you, I’m an annoying student, like really annoying—”

“Wash has filled me in on the type of student you are. I think I can handle it.”

Tucker glances between her and Epsilon, resigned. “Alright, alright. So, how we doing this?”

Carolina pushes herself away from the table. “Come on. I’ll show you.”

She seals her helmet back over her head, motioning at Tucker to follow her.

Back to square one, Tucker thinks dully. He scoops his dreads into his own helmet and falls in line behind her.

They enter the training room which, Tucker notes, isn’t empty. “Uh, Carolina, I think this one is taken,” he says, catching her elbow and pulling her to a stop.

She glances around. “What? No it’s not. There’s plenty of space.”

“But there are already people in here.”

“They’re just lifting weights, Tucker. The floor is clear.”

“Yeah, but…”

“But what?

Tucker hesitates, trying to make his voice sound offhand and casual when he says, “Wash and I are always alone when we work with the knives.”

“How convenient,” Epsilon mutters sourly, and Tucker swings to glare at him.

“Okay, listen, if you’re gonna—”

“Don’t start,” Carolina says wearily. “Tucker, it’s fine. Come over here.”

She leads him over to the edge of the wide, open space meant for in-armor sparring, and picks up something sitting at the edge of the space. As they get closer, Tucker can see there are two wooden swords, and hefts the one in his hand as she passes it over to him. “Weighs the same as mine,” he says in surprise. “How did you do that?”

“Sarge helped me make them,” she says, and Tucker blinks.

“Man, I thought all he knew how to do was crazy mechanical shit.”

“You and me both,” she says with a laugh, then straightens. “Now. I haven’t used a sword like this before, but I can show you a thing or two about footwork.”

“I like the sound of that.

Epsilon sighs loudly. “That one doesn’t even make sense, Tucker.”

“Moving on,” Carolina says testily. She shoots Epsilon a look, and Tucker waits as something passes between them. With a huff, Epsilon winks away. “Let’s start by seeing what you can do.”

Tucker glances subtly around the rest of the room, but no one seems to be paying them all that much attention. None of the other sim troopers are here, although Tucker does spot Ali, Patil, and several of the rebels milling about. He sighs and looks back at Carolina. “So, do I just try to attack you, or…?”

“Let’s start with just seeing how you move. Show me a kata.”

“A what?”

“You…don’t know what a kata is?”

Tucker rolls his head around in an exaggerated circle. “Of course I know what a fucking kata is! What I don’t know is when you think I would’ve learned one for the sword that no one knows how to use!

“Alright, alright,” Carolina says. “Just relax.”

“I am relaxed! I’m totally and completely relaxed!”

Carolina twirls the sword in her hand thoughtfully. “I’ll just make a kata up for you to practice, then.”

Tucker brightens. “Okay, great. You spend some time doing that, and we’ll try this again….later…”

He trails off as Carolina starts inventing a kata on the spot, twirling and slicing and stabbing and looking as if she’s spent her whole life with that wooden sword in her hand. Jesus fucking Christ. He’d always had a healthy respect for Carolina’s fighting prowess, but Tucker suddenly can’t recall ever seeing her move quite like this, without an opponent.

Tucker had long thought katas were stupid—what was the point in training without an opponent? —  but watching Carolina, he can visualize exactly what’s supposed to be happening. By the time she finishes five minutes later, the rest of the training room isn’t even pretending not to stare.

“That was really pretty,” Tucker blurts when she turns to face him.

He can’t see her face, but the way her head jerks back infinitesimally telegraphs her surprise. “It—what?”

“It was, just…” Tucker shrugs. “It was like you put on a one-woman play. That was cool. Can you show me that?”

She does. To his surprise, Tucker finds himself falling into the movements easily. It feels comfortable, instinctual even, and when he expresses this sentiment to Carolina, she shrugs easily. “I’m not surprised.”

“Oh, really? Whatever happened to ‘Tucker, you don’t know how to use that sword!’”

“You don’t,” she says, “in the sense that you’ve never had proper training, but you’re clearly comfortable with the weapon. You move well, with it in your hands. Come on, do this kata with me.”

They run through the movements together, side by side, and although Tucker is pretty sure he doesn’t look half as cool as Carolina, he still feels like a straight badass moving in unison with her.

“Good,” she says in approval once they’ve finished. “Very good. I want you to run through that every morning. Focus on keeping your footwork nice and tight—it’s where all of your movement stems from. Now, let’s try to put some of it together.”

“We gonna spar?”

“Exactly.” Carolina angles the sword across her body and gestures with her free hand. “Try to attack me.”

Just as he starts to move, Tucker catches a glimpse of Wash across the room, sitting on one of the benches with his helmet down between his feet. Tucker hadn’t even noticed his arrival. His swing at Carolina goes wide and she sidesteps it easily, whacking him on the back of the head with her own sword.

“Ouch! What the fuck!

Carolina tilts her head at him, exasperated. “What the hell was that mess?”

Tucker tries and fails not to glance over at Wash again, but Carolina tracks his gaze. “Tucker, focus. Use the movements we just went over.”

“I am focused,” he grumps, and comes at her again. It’s long, hard work, and if it were a real sword fight Tucker would’ve died about a billion times, but at the end of the hour he has the sense of actually having accomplished something. Until recently, he’d left his knife-training sessions feeling jittery and exhausted. He’s exhausted now, too, but it’s a different kind of exhaustion, the kind that comes at the end of a job well done. No one is even paying him attention anymore: Wash had wrangled the watching Feds and News into an impromptu training session and is in full-blown lecture mode across the room.

Carolina takes a seat on one of the benches and removes her helmet, the short strands of her hair sticking to her forehead. She tosses a canteen at him and he joins her, removing his helmet as well. “Same time tomorrow?”

Tucker sighs. “Yeah, I guess. Thanks for showing me some stuff.”

She shrugs, and they settle into a comfortable silence until Tucker catches her looking at him. “So. You and Wash.”

Her expression is unreadable, and Tucker sets his canteen down hard. “Yeah, me and Wash. Look, if you’re going to start lecturing me and like, threaten me with death and dismemberment if I hurt Wash or something—”

“I—” Carolina pauses, exasperated. “I wasn’t going to lecture you, Tucker.”

“Oh, really? Then what were you going to do?”

“I was going,” Carolina says calmly, “to ask if you knew what you were doing with that rope.”

Tucker doesn’t quite do a spit-take, but it’s a near thing. He shoots a glance across the room, but Wash and the other soldiers are distracted by something that Palomo just did. “I—what did you just say?”

“You heard me,” Carolina says. There is a definite twinkle in her eyes that’s at odds with the serious tone of her voice, and Tucker has no idea if she’s fucking with him or not.

“You—yes, I know what I’m doing with it. Got me some lessons on knots and shit.”

“Hmm. From who?”

“Donut.”

Carolina lifts an eyebrow. “And does Donut know what he’s doing?”

“He seemed to?” Tucker rolls his eyes. “Relax, I’m being careful.”

“You make him happy,” Carolina says abruptly, glancing across the room. “It’s nice to see that.”

“Yeah,” Tucker says, then looks at her a little more closely. “Are, uh. Are you happy?”

She stares at him. “What?”

Tucker shrugs, suddenly uncomfortable. Apparently he’s having heart to hearts with everyone today. Christ, he’s turning into such a sap. “I mean. You know, since Freelancer fucked up everyone’s shit and now we’re all on this random ass planet and…I don’t know, just—are you happy?”

Carolina leans her head back against the wall, thinking. “Sometimes,” she says finally. “Sometimes I’m…better. Better than I was.”

Tucker grins at her. “Yeah? You got someone you’re using rope on?”

Instead of brushing him off like he was expecting, Carolina’s mouth turns up in a smirk. “Maybe.”

“Wait, really? Who? Come on, you have to tell me—”

“I think not,” Carolina says. “I don’t need any betting pools going around about me.”

“Let go of your dignity, Carolina,” Tucker says with a grin. “It’s much more fun that way.”

She winks at him then, actually fucking winks. “Subtlety can be fun too, you know.”

“Listen,” Tucker says suddenly. “If you ever want to like, grab a drink or something—there’s a great bar not that far from here. We can exchange techniques and shit—”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Carolina says with a smile. “The drinks part, not the…techniques part.”

“Good,” Tucker says, then gives her a little nudge. “We gotta stick together, yeah? Team aqua and all that shit.”

“Yeah,” Carolina says, and after a pause, she gives him a nudge right back.


 

Tucker is waylaid outside the mess hall that night by Ali, who approaches him and says without preamble, “You two are fucking ridiculous.”

Tucker stares at him. “Huh?”

“Okay, so….” Ali clicks through on his datapad and shoves it at Tucker. “This is how Agent Washington stares at you.

Tucker sighs loudly, rolling his head up at the ceiling. “Oh, for Christ’s sake, will you give it a rest with….”

Tucker trails off as he snatches the datapad and gets a good look at the drawing—which, as usual, looks like it should be hanging in a fucking museum, not scrawled on a datapad where hardly anyone will ever see it. It’s from this afternoon, of Wash in the training room, helmet off and resting on the ground between his feet. He’s leaning forward, elbows propped up on his knees and head tilted slightly. And his face

“He doesn’t look at me like that,” Tucker says, though his tone comes out more stunned than the dismissive lilt he was going for. “Dude. Come on. Nobody looks at anybody like that.”

Ali snorts. “Uh, he was definitely staring at you like that the whole time you were waving that sword around earlier. Are you two seriously blind?

Tucker opens his mouth to reply, but falters as he stares at the drawing once more. Wash’s jaw is slightly clenched, half of his mouth turned up in a smile, eyes soft and reverent, looking at Tucker like he’s brighter than the sun.

“Why do you like to draw us, anyway?” Tucker says, sounding more flustered than he wants to. “I mean, like. What’s the appeal?

Ali rolls his head, exasperated. “I don’t exclusively draw you two, you are aware of that, right? I just get the most requests for you guys.”

He takes his datapad back and starts swiping through the drawings. There’s Grif napping in the armory. Dr. Grey on her tip-toes leaning up to kiss Sarge’s helmet. Caboose carrying two cadets off the battlefield. Carolina with her hand hovering just over Kimball’s shoulder. Patil crushing a watermelon between his hands. There’s the Feds, the News, the towering alien spires.

“These are amazing,” Tucker says, when he can find his words again. “You’re amazing. Dude, seriously. You gotta like, show these to people. Important people. Important art people. These are some iconic war images right here. Get that shit on the news or something.”

“I just…draw what I see.” Ali shrugs and taps his head. “Gets it out of here, ya know?” He scrolls back to the image of Wash and sends it to Tucker with a few swipes. “He fucking loves you, man.”

“Yeah yeah—wait, did you say you get requests?

With a clap to Tucker’s shoulder, Ali walks away, whistling as he goes and leaving Tucker staring slightly dumbfounded at his retreating back. Giving himself a little shake, he continues onward towards his room. He’s no sooner opening the door when none other than Wash materializes at his shoulder.

“Oh, hey,” Tucker says, motioning Wash into the room and pulling the door shut behind them. “Where were you at dinner?”

“Meeting,” Wash says distractedly, popping the seals on his helmet and setting it on the floor. “With Kimball.”

“About the mission next week?” Tucker takes his own helmet off as well. “The big one?”

He looks at Wash’s face as he says it, trying to catch a glimpse of that soft expression he’d seen in Ali’s drawing. Wash’s face doesn’t look very soft right now. On the contrary, his eyes are dark and liquid, and he’s looking at Tucker like—

Wash practically lunges for him, and Tucker finds himself pressed back against the wall with Wash’s hands fumbling at his armor. Tucker responds enthusiastically to the kiss, his own hands immediately joining in to tear at the clasps of Wash’s own armor. “Hello to you too,” he gasps into the kiss.

Wash pulls back to look at him, heaving both of their chest plates off and dumping them on the floor. “You looked really good with that sword,” he says, and he doesn’t even sound flirty or coy—he sounds dead ass serious and Tucker’s dick jumps straight to attention at the words.

“Yeah? You liked watching me—ohhhhhhhmygod…”

Wash twists a hand in Tucker’s hair and tugs his head back, his teeth dragging across the base of Tucker’s throat and Tucker stops talking in favor of making a whole host of other noises. He paws at their armor again, but Wash catches his hand. “I’ve got it,” he says, voice low and wanting, and Tucker watches through heavily-lidded eyes as Wash divests them of their armor in record time.

He thumbs the release on the back of Wash’s Kevlar suit and starts tugging it off his shoulders, exposing those glorious, chiseled arms that have been the subject of so many of Tucker’s fantasies. He stops trying to yank Wash’s suit off in favor of running his hands all over Wash’s arms and chest, fingers digging into the cuts of muscle in his shoulders, his forearms, his biceps. A noise of protests escapes him as Wash pulls away, but it’s only to yank Tucker’s own suit off. “Step out of it,” he says, low in Tucker’s ear, and Tucker immediately hops out of his suit, kicking it off to the side. Wash yanks his own suit off and presses Tucker back into the wall. He grinds their hips together, and Tucker groans at the contact. “Where’s the lube?”

Jesus, Wash,” Tucker gasps as Wash leans his head down and swirls his tongue around one of Tucker’s nipples. “It’s—it’s—on my nightstand…”

He blinks, dazed, as Wash breaks away. “Stay there,” Wash says when he moves to follow.

Tucker keeps his back pressed into the wall, watching as Wash divests himself of his under clothing and paws around for the lube and condoms. He whips his own boxers off as well, his face splitting into a grin as Wash returns, pressing Tucker back into the wall with a kiss.

“Oh my God,” Tucker says, giddy, as Wash pops open the lube and squeezes some out onto his fingers. “You’re gonna fuck me against the wall, aren’t you?”

Wash pauses and looks at him, the barest hint of uncertainty flickering in his eyes before he says. “I might. If you ask nicely.”

“Yes please,” Tucker says immediately, because begging isn’t a big deal for him in the way that it is for Wash and how the fuck is he supposed to resist that voice, anyway? “Please fuck me against this wall. Please? Please Wash? What do you want me to do? Tell me and I’ll do it, I swear—”

The rest of his words leave him as Wash wraps one hand around his dick and reaches the other around to Tucker’s ass, one finger probing at his entrance and holy fuck Tucker doesn’t even know which way he wants to move his hips. Wash ducks his head, his teeth fastening around Tucker’s earlobe and tugging gently. “So gorgeous,” he mutters into Tucker’s ear, and Tucker feels his whole face heat up at those words. Good God, he’s actually fucking blushing. He’s had the dirtiest shit whispered into his ear during sex over the years and he hasn’t blushed once. But something about the way Wash breathes it into his ear, his voice soft and gentle and like, full of wonder—it steals all the breath from Tucker’s lungs.

“You’re not so bad yourself,” he means to say, but it comes out as “hnngh” instead and then Tucker just gives up on words and thinking because Wash adds another finger and he has the longest fingers in the world and Tucker doesn’t know what the fuck his other hand is doing to Tucker’s dick but it feels so good that it’s probably illegal—

He tries to reciprocate in some way, to get his own hand around Wash’s cock or kiss his neck or something, but he can’t seem to stop shaking and his own hands aren’t listening. Wash has initiated sex before—a bit hesitantly, it was true—but not like this. There’s a confidence and a heat to his movements that makes it hard to think hard to breathe—

“Wash,” he groans, as Wash gets another finger in there and starts thrusting methodically. “Holy fucking shit—fuck me, fuck me, please, I want you so fucking bad—”

Wash kisses him hard, before pulling away and snatching up the condoms. Tucker wraps a fist around his own dick as Wash tears open the wrapper and starts jerking himself off—he’s too wound up to wait—but Wash catches his wrist and pins it to his own chest. “Let me.”

“Oh, fuck me,” Tucker says, as Wash rolls the condom onto his own cock with his free hand. “Oh my God, this is so hot, like seriously it’s so hot—”

He gasps as Wash leans back into him, scooping his arms under Tucker’s legs and lifting him straight up into the air. Tucker clutches hard at his shoulders and wraps his legs against Wash’s waist as Wash presses him tight to the wall. “See, I knew you had good arms for wall sex,” Tucker babbles, still in that same giddy tone. He can feel Wash’s cock right against his ass and he squirms, trying to urge Wash’s dick inside of him. Wash holds him fast, nipping at Tucker’s neck.

“Wash,” he whines. He thrusts his own cock against Wash’s abs. “Wash, fuck me, fuck me, please fuck me, please…”

Wash shifts his hands on Tucker’s legs, lines himself up, and lowers Tucker down onto his cock, inch by inch. He keeps going until his dick is fully buried in Tucker’s ass and stays there for a moment, both of them panting into each other’s mouths, before lifting Tucker back off of him again, and back down again, and—

Tucker doesn’t have much leverage to thrust back at this angle, so he just holds tight to Wash’s shoulders as Wash uses those glorious arms to lever Tucker up and down at the world’s slowest pace. “Holy shit ho—ly shit Wash what the fuck oh my god oh my god that’s good that’s so good I’m gonna die I’m gonna die it’s good it’s good it’s good…

“Do you want more?” Wash breathes into his ear and yep, Tucker’s going to lose it, he is absolutely, one-hundred-percent going to melt into a puddle right here on the fucking floor.

“Yes, please, please, more, go harder go harder holy fuck—”

Wash easily readjusts his grip and thrusts up into Tucker so hard that Tucker very nearly screams. He wraps his fingers in Wash’s hair and fastens his legs even tighter around Wash’s hips and buries his face in the crook of Wash’s neck and moans and shakes and begs and falls to pieces right then and there. Wash slides one hand in between their bodies and cups Tucker’s dick against his stomach and touches his forehead to Tucker’s and it’s so intimate and at odds with the relentless way that Wash is pounding into him and Tucker comes hard between their bodies with a yell.

“Keep going,” he groans weakly, after his orgasm peaks and he floats back down to Earth. “Wash—keep going—keep fucking me, I want you to come like this, just like this—”

He does. Tucker can feel Wash’s whole body tense before releasing with a shudder. His hands tighten on Tucker’s hips, the air leaving him in a gasp, his hips slowing down minutely until they’re both pressed up against the wall, breathing heavily, Wash still hard inside of him.

Wash pulls out slowly, setting Tucker down, his hands lingering until he’s sure that Tucker’s steady on his feet. Tucker stumbles over to his locker, wipes off his chest with a towel, and tosses it to Wash. He snags a fresh pillowcase, wearily tugs it onto his pillow, and flops down on his stomach with a groan. “Oh my God. I’m dead. I’m never moving again.”

He feels the mattress dip as Wash sits next to him, running both hands up and down Tucker’s back a few times. Tucker sighs happily as those magical hands move to his shoulders and circle there gently. “So that was okay?”

Tucker rolls over onto his back, looking at Wash incredulously. “Dude. I’m pretty sure the entire army heard me fucking screaming. Where did that even come from?”

Wash grins, laying down next to Tucker. There’s another one of those uncertain flickers in his eyes as he says, “I just thought you might like it, if I…”

“Had your goddamn way with me against the wall? I totally did,” Tucker says enthusiastically. “That was so hot. I can’t believe you just held me up there the whole time.”

“That’s what happens when you train at your full potential,” Wash teases, and then he touches Tucker’s face in that way he does, all reverent and soft. “I wanted to make you feel good.”

“Mission accomplished,” Tucker says. “You always make me feel good, like holllllly shit. And—don’t lie—my sword training totally turned you on.”

And your sword training totally turned me on,” Wash allows. “I—like watching you…move.”

“You like watching me move?

Wash shrugs, his face easy and relaxed. “You move nice.”

“You’re such a dork,” Tucker says, leaning over to kiss him anyway. “A major dork.”

They fall into a comfortable silence for a while, Wash’s fingers trailing up and down Tucker’s arm, before something occurs to Tucker. “Oh! So—tell me about you and Donut busting dramatically out of the Fed compound to come look for all of us.”

Wash looks at him. “Donut told you about that?”

“Obviously.” Tucker gestures. “So, go on. I wanna hear the story.”

“It wasn’t a dramatic breakout,” Wash says shiftily.

Tucker rolls his eyes. “Yeah, I don’t believe that for a second.”

“It wasn’t! We just…snuck out one night. Sarge covered for us for almost a full day before they realized what happened.” Wash sighs. “We didn’t even know where we were going, but…we looked for Doc, and for all of you and…well, we found nothing.”

“That was cool of you,” Tucker says. “To try to find Doc. I should’ve offered that.”

“I was trying to look for all of you,” Wash reminds him. “Besides, Doc’s my friend, too. He was—he forgave me, when I didn’t deserve it. You all did—”

Wash stops suddenly, his eyebrows furrowing. “It’s not up to me to dictate other people’s forgiveness,” he says, almost absently.

“Fucking preach,” Tucker says, in approval and surprise. “Who told you that?”

Wash blinks, flushing. “I…I’ve been talking to Dr. Grey, a bit.”

“Yeah?” Tucker props himself up on one elbow, giving Wash’s shoulder a little push. “Good for you, man. Is it helping?”

“Yes,” Wash says slowly. “I think…it might be.” He looks up at Tucker, blue eyes determined. “I want to be….I want to get better. I think I might be able to. Maybe.”

Tucker feels his chest swell at those words, at Wash’s open honesty, at the way he’d just picked Tucker up and fucked him against the wall without once asking, are you sure? He thinks he should say something to recognize the gravity of the moment, but the words that flit across his mind are too high, much too high.

He scoops his words off the ground instead.

“You deserve it.”

Wash smiles at him, and Tucker sees it, then, sees what Ali had sketched so carefully: the tight jaw, the soft eyes, full of wonder and pride and—

He tugs Tucker’s face down to his own, their lips sliding together. They kiss, and kiss, and kiss, mouths moving slow and soft, long and languid, like the sea at low tide, before the waves come crashing in.

Chapter Text

The small, pained noise that wakes him seems louder than a gunshot.

Wash hears the noise again, followed by soft, feather-light touches to his arms, his stomach, his hair. He snaps his eyes open to the feel of Tucker’s hands patting nervously up and down his body. “Wash,” he whimpers dazedly, in that same high-pitched voice. “Wash, you’re bleeding, you’re bleeding.”

Adrenaline pumps through his system and Wash bolts upright in bed, fumbling for the switch on the wall. Light floods his tiny room, illuminating Tucker’s wide, terrified eyes. His hands continue to fumble with Wash’s shirt and Wash yanks it over his head, running his hands down his body as well. Why would he be bleeding? He’s fine—he’s here with Tucker and he’s fine and besides, there’s no pain—he runs a palm over his implants, half-expecting it to come away bloody, but there’s nothing—

Tucker’s breathing is ragged, and Wash realizes belatedly that every inch of him is shaking. Understanding finally hits him, and he catches Tucker’s wrists as Tucker runs his fingers over Wash’s stomach yet again. “Tucker.”

“You’re bleeding,” Tucker repeats. “We have to—have to get help—I’m out of biofoam and—”

Tucker.” Wash lets go of one of Tucker’s wrists to catch hold of his chin and direct Tucker’s eyes to his own. “It was just a dream.”

Tucker shakes his head. “It—I saw you—”

“Look at me.” Wash slides his hand around to the back of Tucker’s head. “I’m okay. See? No blood.”

Tucker looks at him then, gaze sharpening, eyebrows slanting down as he runs a hand over Wash’s chest. “No blood.”

“That’s right. We’re both okay. It was just a dream.”

Tucker sucks in a deep, shuddering breath, and Wash watches him closely for signs of an on-coming panic attack—he’s good for that, at least—but Tucker only tugs his wrist back and scrubs his hands over his face. “Fuck.”

Wash waits a few moments before asking, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Tucker laughs bitterly into his hands. “What’s to talk about? I saw you…I saw you…”

He breaks off and Wash lets the silence sit, busying himself with unscrewing the lid off one of Tucker’s canteens to give him a minute. When he nudges it at Tucker’s hand, Tucker takes it, chugging the water until he drains half the canteen. “Fuck,” he says again, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “Jesus fuck.”

Wash takes the canteen away and reaches for him, but Tucker puts a hand on his chest. “Don’t go.”

He frowns, catching Tucker’s hand. “I’m not going anywhere, Tucker.”

It wasn’t his intent, but it gets an eye roll and a smile out of Tucker. “That’s not what I meant, you drama queen. I meant like, you know…” Tucker shifts. “Don’t go.”

When Wash continues to stare at him blankly, Tucker sighs. “On the mission, Wash.”

“Oh.” Wash furrows his eyebrows. “Is that what your nightmare was about? The mission?”

Nooooo!” Tucker flops down onto the bed and drags a pillow over his face. “Or yes. Maybe. I don’t fucking know! I just know you were bleeding out all over and I couldn’t stop it and it fucking sucked.”

Wash can certainly sympathize there. He’s had enough dreams of watching his friends bleed out to last him a lifetime. “I know.”

He can understand Tucker’s nerves, and Wash would be lying if he said he didn’t feel them himself, stronger than usual. Only a few days ago, Kimball and Doyle had filled them on just who this new band of enemy soldiers were that they were fighting: former prisoners of the UNSC Tartarus. “Former prisoners? Like…like murderers?!” Palomo had asked, eyes huge, and the panic had spread through the army like wildfire. Wash can’t really fault them for their distress. Mercenaries, space pirates, an umbrella corporation, and now former prisoners. Who they were going to run into next was anyone’s guess at this point.

Tucker whips the pillow away and sits up, his brown eyes sharp and focused. “Let’s both not go.”

“What?”

“Let’s just….” Tucker hesitates before his words tumble out in a rush. “Let’s just fucking leave, okay? Can we like, steal a Pelican and get off this planet before we both end up dead?”

“Tucker.”

“No, I’m serious.” Tucker pushes out of bed then, yanking his headband off in agitation. “Let’s leave. Right now. We’ll grab Caboose and get a plane and bust the fuck up out of here.”

“Tucker,” Wash says again. He tries to snag Tucker’s arm, but Tucker dances out of his reach. “Look—”

“We’ll get the Reds and Carolina, too,” Tucker continues stubbornly. “And Ali and the rest of the guys. And Dr. Grey. Kimball, too, she needs a vacation. And…and the fucking teenage cadets and…our Lieutenants…”

Wash watches the emotions war on his face, anger and stubbornness and finally, a hard realization. Tucker stops his pacing to sit on the bed next to Wash, staring dully at the floor. “We have to finish this. Don’t we?”

With a sigh, Wash turns his body so that it’s facing Tucker’s. He waits until Tucker catches his gaze and holds it before saying, “If you want to go, we’ll go.”

Tucker clenches his jaw hard. “Yeah?”

“Yeah.” Wash finds his hand and squeezes. “But I don’t think you’d be able to live with yourself if we did.”

Tucker snorts. “And you would?”

Wash hesitates, but he can find no way to soften the answer. “If we got out everyone we cared about, then yes.”

“Because you don’t give a damn about this planet,” Tucker says flatly. “Really? Still?

“Because I don’t give a damn about this planet,” Wash echoes. “But I do give a damn about an awful lot of the people on it. Our list of all the people we’d want to get out, it’s…it’s too big. We’d never accomplish it. We’d have to leave too many people behind—people who wanted to stay behind. I don’t think either of us could live with that.”

Tucker nods, face miserable and resigned, but determined as well. “So we finish this.”

“We finish this.” Wash sighs, and this time when he pulls Tucker in, he goes willingly, burying his face in the crook of Wash’s neck.

“Promise me you won’t do anything stupid,” Tucker says, his words slightly muffled. “On the mission. Promise me.”

“Stupid how?”

“Stupid like, self-sacrificial.”

“I won’t do anything stupidly self-sacrificial.”

Tucker pulls away to glare at him. “I mean it.”

Wash huffs. “We’ve been on half a dozen missions since arriving here, Tucker.”

“Yeah, but this is big. We’re going on the offensive against a bunch of fucking nutters here. If you collapse any rock tunnels I swear to fucking God, Wash—”

“I won’t,” Wash promises. “I won’t. I’ll get us all out of there, myself included. Okay?”

Tucker doesn’t answer, but he flops back down against Wash’s chest. Wash hits the light switch and plunges them back into darkness, lying awake until Tucker’s breathing evens out.


 

“I don’t like it.”

Kimball’s hands clench around the edge of her desk. “You have made that very clear, thank you General Doyle.”

Wash actively avoids looking at Carolina and can feel her avoiding his gaze as well as Doyle sputters. “Miss Kimball—we agreed months ago that at least one of our esteemed Freelancers must remain in the capital at all times! Sending both of them on a mission of this magnitude is not only risky, but—dare I say—foolhardy as well.”

“I’m sorry, did you just say it was foolhardy?” Kimball pushes away from her desk and folds her arms across her chest. “This is war. We can’t just sit here and wait for Charon to come wipe us out!”

“Can’t we?”

“No, we can’t,” Kimball snaps. “We have to act. We’re strong. We have ammo, we have medical supplies, we have Agents Washington and Carolina who, as you may have noticed, have been instrumental in most of our victories lately. We know who these enemy soldiers are and we know where they’re going to be. They won’t expect a move like this!”

“Oh yes, you are quite right there,” Doyle says with a scoff. “We know that we are sending our best soldiers up against a band of ruthless ex-prisoners—”

“Ruthless ex-prisoners who are occupying one of our civilian cities!”

“I am certainly not denying the importance of that, it’s just—really, I should think it quite obvious that one of the Freelancers should stay behind to protect—”

“To protect who? You?

Doyle sputters. “What—of course not me! To protect the capital! To protect our home! To—”

Home, home, home.

Doyle’s words fade into the background as Wash glances back out through one of the windows, through to the landing bay where the soldiers are getting ready for the day’s mission. He can see the Reds and Blues there, laughing bickering and shoving each other. Every single one of them is going on this operation.

I don’t give a damn about the planet, his own voice whispers, and Wash clenches a fist hard at his side.

“I’m going,” he cuts in, and both Kimball and Doyle falter. “I’m going on this mission. Let me know when it’s time to leave.”

He sees Epsilon’s head jerk towards him sharply as Wash turns on his heel and exits, half-expecting someone to stop him. No one does, and he closes the door behind him with a bang.

The chaos that meets him leeches some of the tension out of his spine. All of the soldiers going on the mission are clustered around the Pelican, every one of them loud and boisterous. To mask their anxiety, more likely than not. He’s seen it before—has been there before. Tucker and Donut are on Grif’s and Sarge’s respective shoulders, having what seems to be a chicken fight to the delight of half the army. Wash sighs, leaning up against the wall next to Caboose. “Who’s winning?”

“I am,” Caboose says serenely, and leaves it at that. Wash grins to himself, watching the chaos unfold. He winces as Donut goes tumbling to the ground, but bounces back up good naturedly seconds later.

“There are a lot of people going on this mission,” Caboose says suddenly. “A loooot of people.”

Wash looks at him, but Caboose says nothing more, only continues to watch the ridiculous chicken fights taking place in front of them. “That’s true,” Wash agrees finally. “There are a lot of people.”

“A lot of friends,” Caboose says, his voice still cheerful and inconsequential, but the words take Wash’s heart and squeeze it like a vice.

“It’ll…it’ll be okay, buddy,” he says, stumbling over the words, awkward and clunky. “Our friends—they’ll be fine.”

Caboose looks at him. “Promise?”

Wash can’t do it. He can’t look at Caboose, at that helmet that he’d made him, and lie. “I can’t promise that,” he sighs. “But I promise that we’ll try. To get out of there. To get everyone out.”

“Okay,” Caboose says, just like that, as if it’s that simple, and Wash can only stand there and pray that it is.

They fall silent and seconds later, Carolina is walking up to them. “That was a dramatic exit,” she says wryly.

Wash huffs. “The amount of time those two spend arguing—we could run twenty missions in the time it takes them to make a decision about oen.”

“These aren’t easy decisions, Wash.”

“I know, boss.” He takes a deep breath and forces some of the tension out of his voice. “So? Are you allowed to go, or do you have to stay?”

“I’m coming,” she says, and Wash really does feel some of the tension leave him at that. “The mission is too big. They need me.”

There is nothing smug about her tone, only a simple statement of irrefutable fact. Wash sure as heck isn’t going to refute it. He nods as Tucker comes bounding over to him, slightly out of breath. “We getting this party started or what?”

“That depends,” Epsilon says, appearing in front of his face. “You guys done screwing around? Or do you need to play a little bit more before we start?”

Tucker goes mysteriously deaf at Epsilon’s words, turning instead to say something to Grif, but before Wash can think too hard on it, Kimball arrives and starts marshaling them all into various groups. Wash finds himself on the Pelican with Tucker, Carolina, Caboose and Sarge, and half a dozen of Tucker and Caboose’s cadets. Epsilon flits around everyone’s heads, running through mission plans as they all settle in. “Now, remember, we have to approach them slowly, in groups. If we go barreling in there all at once then they’re gonna—”

“We get it, Epsilon,” Tucker cuts in tersely after a solid five minutes of chatter, and Epsilon sputters to a halt. “Don’t know who the fuck you think put you in charge of this mission, but okay.”

They glare at each other until Epsilon winks away, reappearing over Carolina’s shoulder across the Pelican. Carolina throws a half-glance Tucker’s way, but her attention is on the plans and maps sprawled out on the floor between her and Sarge. Tucker folds his arms across his chest and glares at the floor as if it’s personally wronged him.

It takes Wash a few moments to realize just why the exchange left him so uneasy. Epsilon hadn’t snapped back, he realizes. He’d actually shut up when Tucker had told him to, which was completely at odds with everything Wash had come to know about the Reds and Blues. And Tucker—Tucker had called him Epsilon.

Not Church. Epsilon.

Wash frowns, trying to remember if that had been going on for a while. He vaguely remembers Tucker referring to Epsilon as such immediately after the mission at the warehouse, but that had been over a month ago…

Wash realizes with sudden alarm that he can’t remember the last time he saw Epsilon and Tucker actually interact. He glances across the Pelican, to where Epsilon is kicking his foot dejectedly against one of Sarge’s maps, his back to Tucker, who is still in full-blown sulk mode.

Wash opens a private radio channel with Tucker and ventures a cautious, “Um.”

Tucker’s gaze locks onto his own. “What?”

“How long has…that been going on?”

Tucker stares at him until Wash gestures at Epsilon. “What about Epsilon?”

“That. Right there.” Wash drops his voice. “Tucker. Why are you calling him Epsilon?

“Because that’s who he is,” Tucker says, suddenly fierce. “That’s his fucking name, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Wash says slowly. “But…”

“Are you going somewhere with this?” Tucker snaps. “Because we have way more important shit to be worrying about at the moment.”

“Is this…” Wash hesitates. “Is this...because of the warehouse? Because of what I told you? About Freelancer?”

“No,” Tucker says. He fidgets. “Well okay fine, that’s part of it.”

“What’s the other part?”

“The other part is that he’s not fucking Church,” Tucker hisses. He jerks his visor towards Epsilon and glares some more. “He’s not….he’s not Alpha, and he’s pretending to be, and it’s fucked. It’s so fucked up.”

“But you knew that,” Wash says, surprised. “You knew they were different.”

Yeah, but…” Tucker scuffs his foot against the deck of the Pelican and shrugs. “I don’t know, I guess I didn’t really get it. Not until the warehouse.”

Wash waits, unsure of how far to push, but Tucker continues in a burst. “He just—ever since he found out I....ya know…had a thing for you, he kept fucking lecturing me. Even after that damn warehouse, when you were all fucked up, he thought I was gonna take advantage, like, oh, the shit you used to pull in the canyon Tucker! And I was like, dude! How the fuck would you even know? You weren’t there. You weren’t with us in the canyon. You’re not Alpha, because Alpha’s gone.”

Wash looks at Epsilon, biting his lip and hesitating before saying, “You know that’s my fault, right?”

Tucker throws a glance his way. “What’s your fault?”

“That Alpha is gone.”

Tucker freezes in his movements, turning to face him fully this time. “Yeah. I know that.”

“Then you know it’s me you should be angry with.”

“I’m sorry, didn’t we already have this conversation like, a million years ago?” Tucker says, annoyed. “I know what you did, Wash.”

“I’m only saying,” Wash says carefully, “that it’s not Epsilon’s fault he isn’t Alpha.”

“Then he shouldn’t be pretending,” Tucker says angrily. “He shouldn’t be pretending like he is—”

“That’s not entirely his fault, either,” Wash says.

“I can’t believe—” Tucker forces his voice back down to a whisper, despite the fact that no one else can hear them. “I cannot believe that you’re defending him.

“I’m not defending him,” Wash says calmly. “I’m just….what was done to him was cruel and it’s not a shock that he sometimes forgets—willingly or no—what’s real and what’s not.”

“Do you forgive him?”

“What?”

Tucker gestures at the back of his head. “For what he did to you. Do you forgive him?”

Wash sets his jaw. “I—no. I don’t.”

Tucker snorts. “Okay, then. Maybe don’t fucking lecture me about it.”

“I’m not lecturing you,” Wash snaps. “I’m just—look. I’m just saying, maybe you two could talk about this or—”

“Ugh!” Tucker throws up his hands. “I’m so fucking sick of talking about shit! Besides, he doesn’t want to talk to me. He’s so fucking jealous he can’t stand to even look at me—”

Wash frowns. “Jealous? Of what?”

“Of…” Tucker gestures vaguely in between Wash and himself. “You know.”

“No,” Wash says blankly, “I don’t.”

Tucker sighs loudly. “Of us.”

“Of us…on this mission?”

“Oh my God,” Tucker groans, smacking his head back against the wall. “Noooo. Of us. Of you and me. Of this…thing between us.”

“Thing?”

Of our relationship,” Tucker emphasizes. “Of the fucking! The flirting! The cuddling and shit! He’s jealous.”

Wash laughs, startled. “What? Why on Earth would he be jealous of us?

Tucker gives him an exasperated look that Wash can detect even through his visor. “Dude. Seriously?” When Wash doesn’t answer, Tucker sighs, leaning forward to prop his elbows on his knees. “Wash. He loved you.”

Wash laughs again, dimly aware that it sounds a bit more unhinged this time. “What—he didn’t—we weren’t—it wasn’t like that, he was my A.I., we were partners—”

“I don’t mean like that. Not love in the way that I—I mean—not in like, the way that people, some people, love other people that they’re—dating and—” Tucker sits back in his seat, visibly flustered. Wash stares at him. “I mean, didn’t you two have some sort of like, mind meld going on? Wasn’t that the whole point?”

“Well…when you have a smart A.I. implant into you, even a fragment…it’s…of course, it’s intimate…” Wash frowns, flustered. “He’s been in Carolina’s head as well. And yours. Are you saying that means he loves you guys, too?”

“Yes,” Tucker says immediately. “That’s exactly what I’m saying. But it was different, with you."

“He was my A.I. for less than a week,” Wash says, unsure of why he feels quite so panicky. “He hates me, Tucker.”

“He doesn’t,” Tucker says quietly. “You guys just…went through some shit together. He—look. You trust me, right?”

“Yes,” Wash says immediately. “You know that.”

“Do you trust him?

“No.” He can barely even say the words. “Not anymore.”

“That’s my point,” Tucker says. He looks over to Epsilon, who is chatting away in Caboose’s palm. “The point is, he fucked it up and he knows he fucked it up, and he knows he can’t fix it.”

You can fix it, though,” Wash says, determined to direct the conversation back to its original point. “You two. You can…he cares about, you Tucker. About all of you. You were the…the first friends he ever had.”

“We weren’t,” Tucker says, still in that same unnervingly quiet voice. “You were.”

They both finally fall silent for good after that.


 

BANG BANG BANG

Wash drops and rolls, pressing his back hard against the retaining wall as he comes back up in a crouch, listening hard.

“Everyone good?” he sounds out over his team’s frequency. The various affirmative replies ease his tension and he smiles to himself because things are going well.

Their Pelicans were grounded two miles out in a jungled ravine and the hike had, amazingly, been void of all whining. They’d crossed ground to surround the occupied southern quadrant of Lanic City where the captured civilians had first sent alerts to Kimball and Doyle about the enemy presence and the origins of mismatched fighters. From where he is crouched, Wash can see the blurry outline of the prison airship docked far beyond the boundaries of the city.

The news had been troubling; press ganged convict soldiers would doubtless be a difficult enemy. But they’ve been on the ground in active combat pushing an hour and Wash has come to the conclusion that unless these soldiers are being intentionally disorganized and inattentive, they’re simply not that good. He thinks now that some of the hysterical panic that had gripped the army as of late was a bit too generous.

A lot of white collar criminals, he muses to himself, dispatching a scrawny soldier who managed to trip from out of a doorway. Felix and Locus were clearly not concerned with training their soldiers.

There is little to no comradery between them, either. Even as he watches, one of the former prisoners shoves another on top of a well-timed grenade launched by Donut, and takes off into the trees. Wash’s chest swells with pride as from across the courtyard he’s currently taking cover in, he sees Prajapati take out the fleeing soldier, back pressed tight to Patil’s, in a way they’ve never accomplished in training. He sees Simmons signaling that the block is clear, and his team moves forward.

They’re retreating, Wash marvels, watching the pirates break rank and fall back towards their various Pelicans. They’re actually retreating, some of them even running. He opens his team’s radio, keeping his rifle carefully up as he scans the immediate area. “Boss, are you seeing this?”

“Sure am.” Carolina’s voice comes only the slightest bit out of breath. Wash catches a glimpse of aqua armor across the battlefield that he instantly identifies as Carolina, twirling her way across the field. “Washington, move your squad forward. I’ll take out a few more of these idiots and circle up with you.”

“On it.”

Wash snaps his radio off, and turns, opening his HUD to pinpoint the location of his squad. They’re all nearby, their heat signatures pulsing reassuringly. He double-checks Caboose and Tucker’s location and starts out towards them. He should get to them first before advancing. He should—

KA-BLAM!

Pain punches hard through his left thigh, jerking a yell out of his throat and dropping him to his other knee. He whirls, rifle up, scrambling to put his back to something and retreats to the retaining wall he’d been leaning against. High above him, in the windows of one of the tallest buildings, he catches the gleam of metal in the sun, the glint of a sniper rifle, and of armor, grey and green—

Wash swings his rifle up and empties half his clip at the window, sending Locus ducking out of sight for a moment before another bullet explodes in the wall inches from Wash’s head. Something bright and red dances across his eyesight, and Wash looks down to see the red dot of a tracker leveled at his chest. Wash steals a glance at his thigh. The bullet had punched straight through his armor, and he can feel the blood leaking freely down his leg. It would pierce his chest plate no problem.

He keeps his own gun up, gaze locked onto the window. He can’t see Locus, can only see the glint of the sniper rifle pointed at his heart, but he can feel Locus’s eyes boring into his own.

Silence. Wash’s breathing is heavy and ragged in his ears, and he can feel the blood pooling underneath his leg. He reaches slowly for his canister of biofoam and no sooner has it in his hands that the KA-BLAM of the rifle sounds again, and the canister spins away, exploding against the wall behind him. Another shot comes seconds after the first, striking his battle rifle and missing his hand by centimeters. Wash manages to hold onto the gun, but the message couldn’t have been clearer: DROP IT.

Gritting his teeth, Wash carefully lowers the gun to the ground and raises his hands. As the red dot reappears on his chest once more, a voice sounds, loud and agitated and not far at all from his position. “Jesus Christ, I am at the southwest quadrant and I still don’t see him! At the house with the green door—yes you did say green door! Look, just upload his position to my fucking HUD and I’ll find him!”

Felix. This is bad. The red dot holds steady over his chest, but another shot doesn’t come. He’s alive. Locus could’ve shot him ten times over by now, but he didn’t, and Felix is on his way to his position, which means they want him to stay alive.

Which most certainly does not mean anything good.

His thoughts swirl in his head, the pain and blood loss making everything slow and sluggish. There’s nothing for it. He’s not getting out of this alone. He needs help. He needs—

Using his helmet’s voice prompting feature, Wash takes a deep breath and opens the radio up to his team’s frequency. “Agent Washington reporting in,” he says, doing his best to keep his voice level. “I’ve been shot in the leg and I’m pinned down by a sniper on the southwestern quadrant of the field.”

Tucker responds first, uttering an impressive string of curses before snapping, “Jesus Christ! I knew this was too easy—alright, hang on dude—”

“We copy, Wash,” Carolina says, her voice steady if a little thin. “Tucker, Caboose—you’re the closest. Can you get to his position?”

Epsilon sputters, voice coming through higher than normal. “C, we need to get over there too!”

“Already on it,” Tucker says. “I’ve got it, Epsilon—”

Wash presses his head back against the wall, trying not to focus on just how red the ground underneath him looks. “Tucker,” he says, his voice slurring slightly on the last syllable. “I didn’t do the stupid heroic thing, see? I called you guys.”

“Very funny,” Tucker says, his voice sharp. “Glad you’re choosing now to start cracking jokes.”

Wash moves a hand slowly towards his thigh—he needs to put pressure on this wound—but another bullet pings so close to his hand that it actually stings a little. Fuck.

“Um, Tucker, that was an awfully loud boom,” Caboose says nervously.

“Yeah, I know, Caboose—Wash, what the fuck was that, are you—”

“I’m fine. Warning shot.” Wash sucks in a breath around the pain. “Tucker—Caboose—be careful. The sniper is on the twentieth floor of the brown building, and…”

And Felix is here. God, what a mess. He doesn’t realize he’s said it out loud until Tucker’s voice comes again urgently. “Wash, what’s a mess?

Wash closes his eyes, forces himself to stop rambling and focus. He must be losing more blood than he thought. “The sniper is Locus.” His hesitation is only momentary. “Felix is here, too. Close by.”

Tucker curses under his breath. “Of course. Okay, hang on Wash, we’re coming to you.”

Wash glances out from around the corner of the building. He can see Felix stalking around about fifty away. He’s engaged in a firefight with several of the Federalist soldiers, so Wash thinks they have some time, but not much. “Be careful.” Wash hesitates before adding. “Locus could have killed me, but he didn’t.”

They all hear the unspoken meaning behind his words, and when Carolina says, “Tucker, I’m coming over there to help,” he doesn’t utter a word of protest.

“Fucking finally,” Epsilon says. “Let’s put some pep in our goddamn step here, people!”

Wash nods before remembering that they can’t see him, but the effort that it takes to form words is almost impossible at that point. They’re coming. His team is coming, and everything inside of him is at war, torn between wanting to just let them and wanting to keep them all far, far away. They shouldn’t get hurt trying to save him. They’ll kill him if he doesn’t let them.

Wash peers out from behind the wall again, forcing the words out. “Guys—be careful—don’t do anything too risky—”

He never finishes his sentence. There’s a blur of orange and grey in his peripheral and suddenly Wash is turning, snagging the pistol from his hip and firing it as soon as he has a visual. He ignores the pain in his bad leg and swallows down a yelp, raising himself up slightly, but his assailant is too close for him to reload and the gun goes spiraling out of his hands.

Felix aims a kick at his chest that has Wash hitting the ground hard on his back, and when that foot follows him down, he thinks fast. He grabs his knife from its holster and buries it in Felix’s calf. Felix howls, bending down to pull the knife out and toss it aside, where it sinks with a thunk into a nearby fence post.

“Oh, you asshole,” Felix breathes, and then he lifts his foot up and stomps it down hard above the bullet wound in Wash’s thigh.

Wash’s vision goes grey at the edges and bright red in the center as he lets out a short, agonized scream. His HUD is flashing at him, warning him of blood loss and imminent unconsciousness and Tucker and Caboose and Epsilon are frantic in his ear, but there’s no time for any of that because Felix drops his knee hard into Wash’s solar plexus and grits out, “You know, I’ve had just about enough of you.”

The breath leaves Wash in a whoosh, but he still struggles as Felix pops the seals on his helmet. The pain in his leg and loss of breath leave Wash unable to do anything more than paw Felix’s hands, and Felix gets it off of his head in no time. He wraps one hand around Wash’s throat, armored fingers digging onto his exposed flesh, and uses his other hand to amplify the radio.

Tucker’s voice is suddenly loud and angry between them. “Wash, I swear to God—look, just stay right there, don’t move—”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Felix says suddenly. “Agent Washington isn’t going anywhere. I’ll make sure of that.”

There’s a moment of silence before Caboose mutters, “Well, that’s just not very nice of you.”

“Oh, this is just too rich. Captain Tucker. You know, I so hoped you would be the one to answer. And we have the big blue idiot listening in as an added bonus!” Felix’s grip tightens around his throat, and Wash claws at his fingers as his vision starts to darken. “I’m almost tempted to make the both of you listen to me kill him right now.”

Carolina is silent, listening hard, but Wash can hear her quiet exhale over the radio. He thinks, suddenly, of Rockslide, of listening to her breathe on the other end of the radio for the first time in years—soft and slow and steady.

Epsilon is apparently unable to keep silent any longer, and his voice is ugly, full of anger. “Listen up you sick son of a bitch—”

“Seven,” Wash croaks, and Felix glances down at him. “There’s seven of them around us—still a sniper—be careful—”

Felix tightens his grip, squeezing hard enough now to cut off Wash’s words. “You just shut the fuck up down there,” he snaps.

“Wash,” Tucker says, sounding remarkably calm, far calmer than Wash would’ve expected of him. “Just hang tight, we’re on our way—”

“Hey, Tucker,” Felix says brightly. “Remember when you were freaking out because you thought Wash here was being tortured by the enemy for all those weeks?”

There’s a beat in which Felix stands, grinding his foot purposely onto Wash’s thigh once more. Wash lets out a strangled cry at the pain, thrashing away, but Felix presses down harder still until Wash’s vision starts to double and his cry edges towards a scream. “Well,” Felix says smugly, holding Wash’s helmet high. “I just want to make sure that you know that this time? It’s gonna be true.”

The last thing Wash hears is Tucker and Epsilon screaming over the radio before Felix rips the whole thing out of his helmet.

 

Chapter Text

The radio cuts out with a high-pitched whine of feedback that sends Tucker clawing at his helmet, cringing at the sound. He turns the volume down low on his own radio, then turns to fumble with Caboose’s, until the feedback runs itself out and there is only silence and breath.

Tucker focuses on that: Caboose’s loud open-mouth breathing, Carolina’s soft little exhales, Epsilon’s rhythmic static. There is nothing from Wash. Wash breathes like the sea, steady and soothing, but Tucker cannot hear the sound of the tide rolling in and out, in and out, in and—

“Wash?”

Carolina speaks first, her voice small and scared and unlike anything Tucker has ever heard from her. It sends an icy chill straight down Tucker’s spine, Wash’s name falling from her mouth—not the firm Agent Washington, report that Tucker was expecting, but an uncertain question to which they all know the answer.

“They’ve got him,” Epsilon says, voicing it anyway. “His radio is destroyed. Tucker—Caboose—”

Tucker doesn’t realize he’s been clutching Caboose’s forearm until he feels it wrenched away from him as Caboose takes off at full speed. You can really see how fucking big Caboose is when he runs, Tucker thinks blankly. He forgets it himself, sometimes, the extent of Caboose’s power and strength, but seeing him charge across the battlefield as if someone’s life depended on it—

Which it does, of course. Wash’s life depends on it. Wash’s life depends on their speed and their strength and their wits and Tucker is standing here like an idiot while motherfucking Caboose is all over that rescue mission shit.

Color and sound return to Tucker with a bang, blinding and overwhelming in their intensity, and he stumbles forward, tangles himself up in his own feet, and falls on a shaky knee. Frozen in fear, that was the expression, and Tucker had never understood it because he acted without thinking, as Wash was so fond of saying. Tucker was always moving, always doing, always charging forward, barreling into collapsing rock tunnels and the blades of knives when his friends were in danger, but now, but now, he can’t move, he can’t breathe, his limbs have frozen into ice, and Tucker realizes that he has never in all his life been this terrified.

Not

Again.

The words drop into the center of his skull, stones into a frozen wishing well, and Tucker watches their fault lines fracture across the ice—

“Freckles, shake!”

Not again.

The ice shatters and Tucker breaks free, charging after the blue blur that is Caboose, both of them running like they’ve never run in their lives. He watches Caboose skid to a halt fifty yards ahead of him, a spray of bullets striking the ground, and Tucker casts his eyes around until they land on one of the useless ex-prisoners, hiding in a doorway and doing his best to waylay Caboose. Tucker puts a bullet through the center of his visor before the fucker can actually learn to use that gun. Ten seconds later, one of the space pirates appears out of fucking nowhere and launches himself at Caboose, who is already charging full speed ahead once more. Caboose shakes him off as if he weighs nothing, and the pirate goes flying headfirst into a brick wall, landing limply with his head twisted at a sickening angle. Jesus Christ.

“Caboose, be careful!” he yells over the radio, as Caboose cuts heedlessly through another spray of bullets. “You’re gonna get yourself shot and then I’m gonna have to save both of your asses!”

Caboose doesn’t even answer him, the fucker, no stupid comments or cheerful wisecracks. Tucker forces his legs to move faster still, because he’s only heard Caboose go dead quiet like that after very bad things had happened, like that time when Caboose had hauled Wash off of him after that terrible nightmare at Rockslide, or after Epsilon had screamed at them in the holo-projection chamber, or after he’d got the news that one of his sisters had died, or—

Tucker is accosted himself then by another one of the space pirates, who comes at him from the side with two pistols drawn in true asshole fashion. The motion barely catches the edge of Tucker’s peripheral, and he turns hard, crouching low and firing up until the pirate drops, the pistols falling limply from his hands.

He notes belatedly that the radio channel they’d linked up for everyone on the mission to share is pinging incessantly. He switches over just in time to hear Sarge saying, “Carolina, I’ve cleared your way—go—”

Tucker straightens out of his crouch as a blur of aqua zoom by: Carolina, the whir of her speed mods a familiar and welcome sound. She catches up to Caboose and then surpasses him, rounding a corner that Caboose soon turns as well. Tucker covers them both, dispatching pirates and ex-cons alike, until he finally rounds the corner to the coordinates where Wash’s position had last been triangulated.

Blood. There is so much blood soaked into the dirt. It can’t all be Wash’s. It can’t, because if he’d lost that much blood he’d be unconscious or—

Tucker flails in a frantic circle, searching for Wash or the rest of his team. Twenty yards up and to his left he can see Carolina engaged in a furious fight with Felix, all fists and tackles and flashing knives, their guns forgotten on the ground. Caboose is exchanging impatient fire with several more pirates, and several more of their own soldiers have joined the fray: Prajapati and Patil, Fitz and Martinez. Everyone is engaged, leaving Tucker free to continue his desperate searching until—

There. Yellow and steel, green and grey. Tucker’s eyes land on Locus, several city blocks ahead as the merc makes his way towards a Pelican drop ship and there, slung over his shoulder, is Wash. He’s limp and boneless and his helmet is off, and before Tucker can think on if it’s a smart idea or not, he screams, “WASH!” so loud that Locus turns to look at him.

Not again.

Tucker runs.

He runs, taking off at a dead sprint, ducking and weaving and sprinting in between the pairs of fighters. Locus watches his progress dispassionately for a few seconds before turning and continuing towards the Pelican, the breeze that blows sudden and swift through the buildings ruffling Wash’s hair and Tucker can see it now, just barely, the blood staining all that blond.

“Wash, Wash, Wash,” he chants under his breath as he runs, and he’s getting there, he’s closing in until some fucking pirate comes flying out of the shadows and lunges towards him with the world’s biggest knife.

NO!” Tucker yells, and he turns to meet the pirate, using his gun to block the knife and twist it away, just like Wash had taught him, just like they’d practiced. He grabs the falling knife, flips it in his hand—at twelve feet you throw it by the blade, it’s all about depth perception you can do it I know you can come try it again— and hurls it at another approaching enemy soldier, where it sinks through the center of his visor, before turning back to asshole number one and putting several bullets into his head.

“Tucker, go, I’ll cover you!”

Ali’s voice sounds in his ear—Tucker can’t see him, didn’t even know he was close by, but he doesn’t question it. He simply runs, vision tunneling in towards where Wash and Locus are, but he isn’t getting there fast enough—the Pelican’s ramp is descending and he isn’t getting there fast enough—

“NO!”

The word tears out of him again, so loud it burns his throat, as the door closes just before his scrabbling hands. He activates his sword and plunges it into the side of the Pelican, but before he can start slicing his way in, a bullet grazes his forearm and he jerks back with a yelp, his sword dropping into the dirt next to him as he falls. The blood and the pain are dim, unimportant things, and Tucker pushes up to his feet but it’s too late, the Pelican is lifting off.

There’s a flash of bright blue and suddenly Caboose is there, taking a flying leap through the air and launching himself at the Pelican. He catches onto the bottom as it lifts off and swings until he is standing on the side.

“Caboose—”

The name catches in his throat and Tucker clenches a hand around his sword, eyes fixed on his teammate high above him. Caboose inches his away along the edge of the Pelican until he reaches the panel where Tucker’s sword had pierced the hull, draws his arm back, and puts his fist through the opening.

Tucker realizes he’s muttering under his breath, an incoherent stream of holyfuckingshit jesus fuck jesus christ, as Caboose widens the tear in the hull with nothing but his hands. There’s a brief moment where Tucker thinks it might actually work, that Caboose can fight his way inside and take out these fuckers and bring Wash back--

But then Caboose is jerking to the side and flattening himself against the edge of the Pelican as a stream of bullets sprays out of the side, and Tucker hisses sharply as he watches Caboose put a hand to his ribs and curl in on himself. The Pelican is rising faster still, and it’s high, it’s much too high and Caboose is hurt and he can see Felix now, his torso sticking out through the hole in the Pelican. He reaches for Caboose, fastening a hand around his chestplate and Tucker’s heart stops because that’s his team up there, that’s his fucking team and he is about to lose them both.

Felix doesn’t yank Caboose into the Pelican as he was expecting, just shoves him back hard until his feet leave the side of the ship. Tucker’s heart swells in something like pride as Caboose latches hard onto Felix’s arm and almost yanks him straight out with him. Felix wrenches free at the last moment, and the ship is speeding away and Caboose

Caboose falls. He falls so very fast from so very high, and Tucker feels a scream bubbling up through his throat. It never makes it out, just ends in a funny little gurgle, as Carolina activates her speed mods again and jumps so hard that she leaves a miniature crater in the ground. She catches Caboose in her outstretched arms, and the two of them tumble hard to the ground with an awful THUD.

Tucker runs to them, but Carolina is already on her feet and Caboose is pushing himself to a sit. Tucker grabs Carolina’s elbow and squeezes as she stumbles a little on her feet. “So badass,” is all he can manage, and once he is sure she’s steady he drops to his knees next to Caboose even as he frantically scans the skies for sight of the departing Pelican. “Caboose—Jesus Christ—”

He puts a hand over the bloody gash in Caboose’s side, but it appears that the bullet only grazed him. Caboose shakes his head and pushes Tucker away, gesturing wordlessly. Tucker turns, bewildered, but he sees only their friends still engaged in combat, and one of their own Pelicans resting on the ground.

Oh. Oh.

He claps a hand on Caboose’s shoulder and spins, snagging Fitz as he charges by. “Fitz—cover them—I’m going after Wash—”

Before Fitz can say anything, Tucker is off, sprinting towards their Pelican. “Tucker, what are you doing?!” he hears Simmons cry as he passes him, but Tucker doesn’t answer. He has to go—the ship that has Wash’s is only a tiny blip in the distance and he has to go now

Grif’s voice comes incredulous over the radio. “Tucker, you can’t be serious—you can’t take that plane all by yourself!”

“Fucking come with me then!” Tucker snaps. He’s already halfway up the ramp. “We have to hurry—they’re getting away—”

“They’re already gone—”

“They’re not!” Tucker glances wildly at the horizon and after some searching, he finds it, the little black dot that is the departing ship. “They’re right there, we have to go after them, now!”

“And do what?” Simmons now. “We don’t have a plan—we can’t take them—”

“We can take them,” Carolina says, her voice hard. “We can take them. Tucker, I’m coming to you—”

“It’s broken.”

They all fall silent as Caboose’s voice cuts in through their chatter, so quiet they almost missed it. “Caboose, what’s broken?” Tucker asks urgently. He’s in the cockpit now, flipping switches and opening hatches, and realizes belatedly that nothing is lighting up, nothing is humming to life, nothing

“Our bird. The bad guys broke her.” Movement catches Tucker’s eye out of the Pelican’s windshield, and he sees Caboose standing up, a handful of broken wires from the belly of the Pelican cradled in his bloody hands.


“They’re cooked,” Epsilon says, twenty minutes later. He paces back and forth in front of Carolina, arms folded so tightly across his chest it looks as if he’s hugging himself. “All of them. All of our Pelicans. They’re destroyed. We can’t even get ourselves out of this city, let alone go after…”

His avatar glitches, flashing purplebluepurpleblue. There’s a long moment of silence, during which everyone looks at each other. The space pirates and ex-cons are long gone, dead at their feet or retreated far into the city, and the air is eerily silent without the booms from the guns and grenades.

“But we have to,” Tucker says into the silence. “We have to—we’re going to lose him, we—”

“We’ve already lost him,” Grif says. He’s on his second cigarette, voice indifferent and uncaring, and Tucker knows how Grif gets in a crisis, knows that this is Grif’s own way of dealing with things, but it doesn’t stop him from smacking the cigarette right out of his hands.

“No, fuck that!” Tucker turns away, spinning and searching the skies once more for the tiny Pelican that he already knows to be long gone. “Fuck that! They wouldn’t be gone if someone would just help me—if we leave now, we can go after them and…”

No one answers him. Tucker spins again to Epsilon. “Can’t you…can’t you track the Pelican, or—”

“It doesn’t matter if he can track the fucking Pelican!” Simmons snaps. “What are we going to do, run after them on foot?”

“If we have to!” Tucker says angrily. He glances around at them, at dull, listless faces and blank helmets, before settling on Caboose. He’s sitting on the ground by Carolina’s feet, the gash in his side patched up with a smear of biofoam, the wires from the Pelican still clutched in his hands. “I’m going,” Tucker says. “You can all come or you can fuck off, but I’m going.”

Tucker turns, picks a direction at random, and starts marching. He doesn’t make it five seconds before a hand fastens around his forearm and wrenches him back: Grif, his face drawn and hard. “Uh, I don’t think so, ‘cause then we’re gonna have to rescue two assholes from Blue Team and I do not have the energy to babysit Caboose during that time.”

“Grif—” Tucker jerks his arm, but Grif’s grip holds fast. “If you think this is funny—”

“Sit down, son,” Sarge snaps. Tucker turns in time to see him snatch up Grif’s fallen cigarette, stick it in his own mouth, and inhale deeply. “Man’s got to know when he’s lost, and we’ve lost this one. Nothing for it but to plan Operation: Free Frecklelancer.”

“Yeah, which starts right now.” Tucker wrenches his arm again, but Grif doesn’t let go.

“Alright, look,” Grif says. “It’s been a long day, I’m tired, and Donut ate all the ration bars—”

“I told you, I’m a stress eater!”

“—before the mission even started, so I haven’t eaten in three hours.”

“A real tragedy, that,” Simmons mutters.

Grif ignores him. “So I really, really, really don’t want to have to knock you out and drag you on the Pelican when it gets here, but I’ll do it, because you’re not mounting a one-man rescue mission with no plan and no rations. Sit. Down.”

Tucker finally pulls his arm out of Grif’s grasp, and Grif lets him. He doesn’t sit down, but he doesn’t take off running, either. Everyone’s looking at him. Everyone. He has to pull it together. He is a Captain. He has a duty to this planet.

I don’t give a damn about the planet.

Wash’s voice echoes in his head and Tucker wants to laugh at the irony of it all. It should have been someone else, he thinks, and then immediately hates himself for the thought. “This isn’t fair,” he says instead, his voice petulant and childish even to his own ears, but no one contradicts him.

No one says a single word.


It is late by the time the Pelicans arrive and take them back to base. Tucker is torn, between wanting to go straight to Kimball and demand resources for a rescue mission, and to go with Caboose to the infirmary. His world has contracted into circles—from Chorus, to the armies, to the sim troopers and Carolina, to Blue Team. It’s just him and Caboose, now, and the thought of leaving Caboose’s side—his stupid, obnoxious side—is unthinkable.

“Go,” Carolina says, when she sees Tucker hesitate on the landing bay. “I’ll debrief the Generals. Sarge and I will start putting a plan together. Go with Caboose.”

He nods. “Thanks,” he says, too late, as Carolina is already halfway across the bay.

Tucker turns to where Caboose is sitting glumly on the ramp of the Pelican. “Let’s go. You look like shit.”

He does. None of them had even realized he’d hit his head in the fall until Epsilon, growing suspicious, had bullied him into taking his helmet off on the Pelican. Tucker had finally taken the goddamn thing off himself after Caboose had staunchly ignored them all, to reveal half of Caboose’s curls matted with blood.

Caboose ignores him—still—and Tucker sighs loudly, slinging Caboose’s arm over his shoulder and pulling him to his feet. “Come on, you big baby. I know you can fucking walk on your own, Jesus Christ.”

He keeps Caboose’s arm there anyway, the entire way to the infirmary. He waits, clutching his helmet and trying not to tap his foot impatiently while Dr. Grey talks Caboose out of his armor and examines his injuries.

The bullet had indeed just grazed Caboose’s side, Dr. Grey confirms, and the wound isn’t cause enough for any real concern. “It’s his head that worries me, just a teensy bit,” she says. “How far did you say he fell from?”

Tucker blows out a breath, thinking. “Had to be forty feet?”

“It’s very lucky that Agent Carolina was able to break his fall….oh, I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,” Dr. Grey says, catching sight of Tucker’s drawn and worried face. “Just want to keep him overnight so that I can peek in on him if need be.”

Tucker glances at Caboose, expecting him to protest—he hates hospitals—but he says nothing. He hasn’t said a word since he’d discovered the damage to the Pelican, and that was hours ago. “Okay,” Tucker says instead. “I’ll stay with him for a minute. Make sure he doesn’t do anything stupid.”

“Are you going to do anything stupid?”

Tucker looks up at her sharply, but she doesn’t look stern or disapproving, just miserable. Wash was her friend, too, he reminds himself. “I might,” he says. “But not tonight. We—we don’t even know where he is—”

Tucker turns the break in his voice into a cough. He can’t look at Dr. Grey as she puts a hand on his shoulder, but he reaches back to clutch her fingers, so tiny in his own. “We’ll get him back, silly,” she says.

He nods as her hand slips away, listening to the sound of her quiet footsteps crossing the room, and the snap of the door closing behind her. It’s just him and Caboose then, the beeping of the monitors the only sound in the silence.

Tucker sighs, drags a chair next to Caboose’s bedside, and drops down into it. “This is so fucked up,” he says, more to fill the silence than because he expects any sort of response, and sure enough, Caboose doesn’t answer. Tucker gives it up, just sits there and starts braiding his dreads back out of his face while Caboose stares listlessly at the ceiling. Wash should be there, with them. Wash should be there fretting over Caboose’s stupid head wound and hounding Dr. Grey and asking if she was sure, if she was really sure that he was going to be okay, because that’s what Wash did. He took care of them, looked out for them, and now he needed them and they couldn’t even—

“Um, Tucker?”

Tucker pauses in the act of securing his hair back with a thick band and looks at Caboose, who is staring at him with a solemn look on his face. “Yeah?”

“Are they going to hurt Wash?”

Tucker closes his eyes and sets his jaw. He can’t look at Caboose. He can’t. “Yeah. They’re, uh…” he ties off his hair and lets his hands fall, clenching them hard in his lap. "They’re gonna hurt Wash.”

“Are they going to torture him?”

He turns sharply to look at Caboose then. “How do you—what does—who told you that?”

“I know what torture is, Tucker.

Tucker shuts his mouth so fast he can actually hear the teeth click.

Caboose won’t meet his eye, just fidgets with a loose string in his blanket. “It’s, um. It’s like hurting people, but worse. Simmons says that the bad guys will torture him for information, but, ah. Yeah. I don’t think Felix wants information.”

He’s going to kill Simmons. “What do you think he wants?”

“I think he just likes to make people hurt,” Caboose says. “It’s not very nice.”

“Jesus Christ,” Tucker says, for lack of anything else to say, anything at all

“Yeah,” Caboose says. “Yeah.”

“We’ll get him back,” Tucker says. “I fucking swear to God, Caboose. We’ll get him back and then he can yell at us for not cleaning our armor or some shit, fuck, I don’t know.”

“Yeah,” Caboose says again.

Tucker leans his elbows on the side of Caboose’s bed and buries his face in his hands. When Caboose pats his head, it’s rough and awkward, but Tucker doesn’t shrug him off. He’s too tired.

He’s much too tired.

 

Sleep does not find him that night.

The thought of going to sleep in his own bed is laughable. He can’t go there, to his room that smells like Wash and probably still has Wash’s hair all over Tucker’s clean pillowcases. He can’t go to Wash’s room either, with the perfectly made bed that faced the window. Tucker had never asked why Wash went out of his way to yank the bed around so the window was at his feet. He thought there was time. He thought they’d have so much time.

Don’t think like that, he tells himself firmly, but it’s too late. The thoughts are there, burrowing black into his brain, and he cannot shake them off.

Tucker stays next to Caboose’s bedside for so long that he ends up just piling his armor on the floor and crawling into the empty bed across the aisle from Caboose. The infirmary bed is tiny, tinier than the one in his own room, but it feels miles wide with its emptiness. He and Wash didn’t spend every night together, but they spent enough, always close, always tangled up.

“You’re so warm,” Wash would mumble at him at some point almost every night. Tucker had thought at first that he was complaining about having an actual furnace in his bed, until he realized that Wash liked it, because Wash was always cold. Always. It could be eighty fucking degrees in the mess hall and he’d have a sweatshirt on. “There’s a draft,” he’d insist, whenever Tucker would bring this up. “It’s chilly."

So Tucker would pile every fucking blanket on top of them at night even if the temperature really only called for one, and he’d flop on top of Wash and they’d drift off, bundled up and warm. Wash slept better that way, with the warmth and the weight.

He wonders if Wash is cold right now, and once his brain latches onto this thought, he can’t let it go. Tucker wonders if Wash is in a cell somewhere, without a bed or a blanket. If the cell is drafty, or wet, of if they’ve purposely dropped the temperature. If he’s trying to get some rest or trying to stave off sleep. If he still has his Kevlar suit, or if he’s only in the thin sweatpants and t-shirt underneath them. If his cell has a window, or if it’s dark.

So very, very dark.

Chapter Text

There is no sound for snow falling.

There is only the quiet, and the blood rush in his ears, and the way the flakes melt like tears down the slope of his visor.

He lets his palms fall, and the snowflakes wink into stars before turning black.


They leave him lying there.

He senses this before he even opens his eyes to see, not the brightly colored shades of reds and blues bending over him, but the cold steel armor of the UNSC. “Oh, thank God,” one of the soldiers breathes weakly, as Washington stirs in the snow. “He’s alive. The Chairman wanted to question this one personally.”

“Looks like you get to keep your job after all,” one of the other says, clapping his comrade on the back. He puts a hand to the side of his helmet. “General Logan reporting in…”

Washington’s vision starts to go grey around the edges again, and his hearing flickers in and out like a badly tuned radio as the soldier drones on and on into his radio. “…touched down on Sidewinder…no sign of the simulation troopers….Agent Washington into custody…”

The soldier falters as Washington starts to laugh. The motion pulls painfully at his ribs and he should stop, but really, what does it matter? “It’s funny,” he slurs up at the soldier, in between giggles, and it is. It’s so funny. It’s a goddamn hilarity, is what it is, that after all of it, after Alpha, after Epsilon, that his own journey isn’t going to end here, bleeding out in the snow, that after everything he’s done to avoid going back to prison, he’s going back to prison.

His laughter stops abruptly as someone finally plunges some biofoam into one of his many wounds in his torso that’s bleeding all over the snow. The snow is red, and the sky above him is so very blue, and he can’t bear to look at either of these colors, so he closes his eyes and lets the blackness take him.


He does not see the sun again for three years.

The Chairman, it turns out, is not all that interested in questioning him personally. Once it becomes clear that the Epsilon unit is broken and that Washington has no idea how to open it, it’s game over. “I believe that you have lived out your usefulness, Agent Washington,” says the Chairman, and he flicks a dismissive hand at the guards waiting by the door. “Take him away.”

There’s a brief moment where Washington considers trying to fight them, but they lock his armor down before the thought can really take root. They take him away, to a place where he can’t cause any trouble, to a prison transport ship drifting through space.

They call it the UNSC Tartarus.

Time is a funny thing. Washington blames it on the ceaseless, yawning black between the stars, but it seems to him that he blinks and three years have gone by. They pass in a blur, minutes blending into days into weeks into months. They are sluggish and slow and when he finds himself standing at the door of his cell, hands clenched around the bars, it is as if he’s woken up from a dream. The air crackles with a new intensity that his world was lacking all these long years, and he clenches his hands tighter around the bars and listens hard.

There are intruders on the ship—pirates, or mercenaries, possibly both. It doesn’t matter. So many of the words that they are saying do not matter—kill lots of people for lots of money, we don’t care who you are, men who can follow orders, hold their own— They don’t matter. Only one thing registers:

Freedom.

“So if you’re willing to fight for your freedom,” one of the mercenaries says dramatically, “firmly grasp the bars of your cell in a show of solidarity.”

Washington can hear the murmurs of the prisoners around him—who the fuck are these guys, can’t tell me what to do, this is bullshit, so fucked up, who cares sign me up—and none of that matters, either. His hands are wrapped around the bars before the mercenary has even finished speaking.

A good thing, too, as the airlock opens with a howl and he feels everything in him wrenched towards the endless space behind. Wash looks back despite himself, at the stars opening their arms to him at the makeshift window at his feet. It feels strange, to be looking at them from this angle—

--sometimes I think I joined up just to see stars like this—

--the metal screeches on the floor as he drags his bed around to face the—

 

Washington’s visions swims as his feet hit the floor hard, the airlock doors closing with a CLICK.

“JESUS CHRIST!” the prisoner in the cell next to him howls, before vomiting all over the floor from the sounds of it.

“Congratulations,” the other mercenary says. “You’re hired.”

Washington straightens, shaking out his forearms and peering through the bars. The two mercenaries were going cell by cell, from the looks of it. Nothing for it but to wait until they reach his. He remains there at his door, forcing himself to wait, to be patient, to not pace the confines of his cell as he’s done so many times before. It seems to take forever for them to get there.

The soldier in green and grey does a double take when he reaches Washington’s cell, glancing repeatedly between Wash and the datapad in his hand. “Agent Washington,” he sounds out slowly. “Of Project Freelancer.”

Former Agent of Project Freelancer,” Washington corrects wryly, gesturing around his cell. “As you can see, I’m no longer in their employment.”

The mercenary seems to grow even more intrigued. His comrade, on the other hand, could visibly not care less. “A Freelancer. Fascinating. Jesus, aren’t you guys supposed to be dead?

“We are. They are. I’m the only one left.”

The second mercenary snorts. “Uh, hate to break it to you, freckles, but it just so happens that on this very ship—”

“I know about the Counselor,” Washington interrupts. His eyes flick up and to the left to where he knows the Counselor’s cell to be before he can stop the motion, but he can tell they both saw it.

“You harbor ill feelings towards the Counselor?” the mercenary in green asks, watching him closely.

Washington does not try to hide the bitterness in his laugh. “Yeah. You could say that.”

“What about Agent Carolina?”

Wash lifts an eyebrow. “Are you going to try and tell me that she’s on the ship, too?”

“No, we’re going to tell you that she’s leading the band of morons that are royally fucking up our plans.” The second mercenary this time. Something has changed in his demeanor, a razor sharp focus on Washington where before there was a casual indifference.

“You might want to recheck your facts,” Washington says. “Agent Carolina is dead.

The merc sighs loudly, pulling up his own datapad and swiping through it. “Then who, pray tell, is this?

He shoves the datapad at Wash, who takes it with a frown. A news article is pulled up on it, titled COLORFUL SPACE MARINES STOP CORRUPTION. Beneath it is a photograph of Chairman Malcom Hargrove himself, surrounded by red and blue soldiers that look oddly familiar—

“The simulation troopers,” he says in surprise.

The first mercenary leans in closer. “You know them?”

“Yeah,” Wash says slowly. “Yeah, I know them…”

He’s far, far more interested in the soldier in the aqua armor, shaking hands with the Chairman. He knows that armor, has fought beside it a million times, but—

“That’s not her,” he says, shoving the datapad back hard at Felix. “That’s not—that can’t be her. Agent Carolina is dead.”

“I can assure you, Agent Washington, she is not dead.”

“How the hell would you know?”

“The Counselor has assured us that this soldier is indeed Agent Carolina,” the first mercenary says. “He has analyzed the footage we have of her fighting style. That combined with her armor enhancements and the Epsilon A.I. powering her suit—”

“The what?

The words come far louder than he intended, and Washington realizes he’s gripping the bars of his cell so tightly that his knuckles are white. “I’m sorry,” he says, more calmly. He has to play this right or he’s never getting out of this goddamned cell. “I thought you said the Epsilon A.I.

“That I did,” the mercenary says slowly. “Does that upset you—”

“Oh, my God,” the second mercenary moans. “What is this, a therapy session? Look. The bottom line is, the Freelancer and her little sim trooper friends, are turning into real thorns in our sides. We need people to take them out. You in, or what, Agent Washington?”

“You can drop the Agent,” Washington snaps. “It’s just Washington, now. You two got names?”

“I’m Felix,” the second mercenary says. He jabs a thumb at his comrade. “And that’s Locus. And you, my friend…are hired.


 

His first bit of real human contact in three years is violent and comes in the form of a messy football tackle, arms wrapping around his waist and driving him hard into the ground.

Washington has been in the prison ship’s mess hall for less than two minutes, listening to Felix prattle on in some twisted version of a motivational speech when one of the other prisoners breaks out of line and launches himself at Wash. They’ve passed each other a thousand times—Washington is fairly certain he asked this very soldier to hand him the salt shaker at lunch two days ago—but he has apparently been waiting for the opportune moment to—

To try to kill me, Washington notes with a clinical detachment as the soldier climbs on top of him, draws his fist back, and slams it across Washington’s face so hard that he tastes blood.

“What the fucking fuck?” he hears Felix exclaim, but then the soldier hits him again and okay, that hurt, that really fucking hurt. Washington catches the third punch, twists, and puts pressure until he hears a POP. The soldier howls, and Wash uses the opportunity to shove him away and climb to his own feet.

“That was my last clean shirt,” he says, smoothing a hand pointlessly over the blood at his collar. A quick glance around the room shows that hardly anyone except for Felix and Locus are paying them the slightest bit of attention anymore.

“Don’t you know who I am?” the soldier breathes. He’s clambered to his feet, but he’s cradling his wrist and looking as if he’s torn between fury and hurt feelings.

“Should I?”

“Perhaps not,” comes a voice from behind him, smooth as silk, and Washington feels his skin crawl and bunch until he’s drawing his shoulders up nearly to his ears. He turns to see the Counselor breaking away from the ranks as well, to glance between Washington and the soldier who is apparently his unknown arch-nemesis. “You have met before, but have never seen each other’s faces.”

You know me, though,” Washington says, directly to the soldier. He looks at him a bit more closely: the short cropped hair, the tattoos, the scarred face. There’s nothing about him that suggests this man is familiar.

“I know everything about you, Freelancer,” the man spits. “I know about all of you. Your call signs. Your armor. Even your faces. You took everything from me—my life—my team—”

“Can we wrap this tragic backstory bit up?” Felix snaps. “I’m sure you’ve been rehearsing this for a long time, but we’re on a bit of a timetable here, pal.”

Washington tries to control the way his fingers twitch when the Counselor speaks again. “Agent Washington, it’s possible that you may not remember this particular mission, but during your time in Freelancer, you were part of a mission to recover what we called the sarcophagus from Ch—”

“Charon Industries. I remember.” Washington says shortly. “I remember. And it’s just Washington now. You can drop the Agent.”

“Of course,” the Counselor says. “This man here is—”

“I don’t need you to speak for me,” the soldier snaps, and Washington feels something in him roar in approval at the man’s words. He turns to Washington. “You can call me Sharkface.”

Felix snorts. “Really? That’s what you’re going with?”

“You killed my family,” Sharkface spits. “They’re dead, because of you.”

“It sounds that way.”

“You—how can you—”

“Look, if it makes you feel any better, I got what was coming to me. My f—my team is all dead, too.” Washington smiles at him, a wry, bitter twist of his lips. “Oh, and? Bonus points for the two years I spent in a psych ward, and the three I spent on this prison ship.”

Something shifts in Sharkface’s expression, something rather pleased, but before Washington can interpret it the Counselor is speaking, again. “Agent Washington—”

“It’s Washington—”

“If I may—your team is not entirely dead. Agent Carolina is, in fact, alive and well, and fighting with the very people you are about to oppose.”

“So I’ve heard,” Washington says tersely.

The Counselor tilts his head in a frown. “You…do not believe this to be true?”

Washington snorts. “I’ll believe it when I see it. I know Carolina—”

--Triazaolm you react badly to Triazalom—

--you were cute as a blonde but I think red is your true color—

“I…I know her.” He gives his head a hard shake. “If she’s alive, I’ll know it when I see it.”


 

She’s alive.

He knows it the second he sees her move in person, a blur of grace and deadly speed, her body twisting and arcing through a butterfly kick across the battlefield from him. “Pay the fuck attention!” Sharkface hollers over the comms, as Washington hesitates a moment too long and a bullet whizzes past his visor.

Washington winces as the feedback pitches, and gives his helmet a firm pat. His armor sucks. It’s his own goddamn fault for taking so long to choose it—he’d reached instinctively for the first grey armor he’d seen in the salvaged pile that Felix and Locus had dumped in front of them, but found himself hesitating inexplicably over the aqua armor. Carolina, he’d told himself uncertainly. He had Carolina on the brain, was all. There was no reason he should want aqua armor—he didn’t even like the stupid color—

-aqua and steel and yellow mixed together on the floor—

--it’s not teal Jesus Christ Grif how many times do I have to tell you it’s aqua—

In the end, Wash had chosen grey armor with aqua accents. It was a ridiculous decision, but no one questioned him on it. No one gave a fuck what armor he wore, or what he did at all, really. All he had to do was fight, and kill. He could do that. It didn’t matter.

Carolina doesn’t matter either, and neither do the sim troopers fanned out around her. Wash ducks into an alcove and reloads his rifle, trying and failing not to watch them. They move like magnets, he realizes. Magnets, tied together with little bits of red rope and steel. They fan out and regroup, flit away and come back, always sensing when each other was in danger, saving each other’s lives time and time again, half by accident and half by deadly precision.

The cavalry. He thinks of the Warthog smashing through the wall, and the Pelican dropping into the snow, and

—and whiskey and birthday cake and if you want to apologize just do it and what does it look like I’m doing I’m giving you a massage and you’re not broken and you do deserve to be played with—

Something shudders in his head, hard, and Wash presses himself deeper into the alcove to suck in an uneven breath. He needs to get a grip.

“You need to get a grip, Freelancer!” Felix yells in his ear, and Wash grits his teeth and charges into the fray.

He’s shaken, shaken from his musings on Carolina and the sim troopers. It isn’t until much later, after they’ve lost the battle and a good chunk of the men fighting with them, after the blood and the gunfire, when Felix is pacing and yelling, that Wash names the feeling he’d felt when watching the Reds and Blues move together. Nostalgia. Nostalgia, and jealously. Jealousy, sure, he can see that. Nostalgia? Impossible, because nostalgia implied that he’d had it, and he’d never had anything like that, not in Basic, not before the military, not even in Freelancer— 

--oh come on Wash, I’m pretty sure we can trust you…I mean, we are friends—

“What did you just say?”

Wash blinks to see the counselor looming large in his vision. “Huh?”

“Friends,” the Counselor says slowly. “You said…friends.”

“No I didn’t."

“Perhaps,” says the Counselor, “Agent Washington should sit out the next mission. He does appear to be a bit overworked.”

“Agreed,” Locus says shortly, sweeping passed him. “Agent Washington, take the day off.”

How dare he, Washington thinks dispassionately, watching out of the corner of his eye as the Counselor moves away. 

Not nearly far enough.


 

Washington gets his chance shortly after the next mission, when it’s just him and Sharkface in a room with Locus and Felix. The four of them have somehow become the leaders of the pirates, without anyone really discussing it. The Counselor walks into the room and stands next to Washington, opens his mouth, and suddenly Washington realizes just how comfortable the man is standing next to him, as if he doesn’t even realize what he did.

It would be easy, too easy, to take his knife and draw it across his throat. Washington takes a moment to envision the moment in minute detail—the blood, the glazed eyes, the gurgling. It would be so easy and still he hesitates. The moment should be bigger—it should be so much bigger for what he did—

--Wash, it sounds to me as if you were psychologically abused—

The easiest thing that he could do becomes the easiest thing that he’s done, as Wash draws his knife, steps in swiftly, and draws it across the Counselor’s throat without a word.

They all fall silent as the Counselor hits his knees, and then the ground, before going still forever.

“Feel better?” Felix snarks, after a long moment of silence during which they all watch the Counselor’s blood pool around him.

Washington leans down, wiping the blade off carefully on the Counselor’s shirt. The muscles in his face feel funny, and he does not hide the smile that bursts out as he stands. It’s the truest smile he’s felt in years. “Yeah,” he says slowly. “Yeah. I really, really fucking do.”


Word of the Counselor’s death spreads quickly, though no one seems to care beyond giving Washington an even wider berth. They thought he was crazy. There was a time when Washington would’ve fought against this label, would’ve tried his best to present himself as reasonable and sane, but now, he pulls it around himself like a cloak. Let them think he’s crazy, unhinged, inches away from snapping and killing them all. It isn’t far from the truth.

“So, what’s your deal? Are you gonna snap and kill us all?”

Washington turns away from the mission plans he was musing over to see Felix leaning against the doorframe. “What?”

“I mean, not that I really care that you offed the Counselor, but…” Felix shrugs. “He was giving us some pretty useful information on Agent Carolina that we now aren’t getting.”

“Don’t worry about that. What do you want to know?”

“About what?”

About Agent Carolina,” Washington emphasizes. He sincerely hopes Felix can hear the eye roll in his voice. “We worked on the same team for years. I worked with the sim troopers for a bit, too. You already know all of this.”

“Oh, well, you’ll forgive us for not taking tactical advice from the most unhinged man on this goddamned ship.”

“Let me engage them.” Washington turns to face Felix fully, folding his arms across his chest. “On the next mission. I understand the way they fight together, and I think I can use it—

—two blurs of aqua, new and what’s left of the old—

—Tucker’s back is pressed to his own and they spin together like points on a compass—

“See, that.” Felix straightens, pointing an accusing finger at him. “What is that about?”

Washington realizes too late that he’s half bent over the nearby console, one hand pressed to the side of his helmet. He straightens hastily. “It’s nothing. Headaches.”

“Whatever,” Felix says. “Look, if you can’t keep it together—”

“I can.” Washington forces his voice to sound casual. “Just—just let me engage them. Alright?”

He holds his breath while Felix glares at him, unsure of why this seems so vitally important. It doesn’t matter who kills the sim troopers as long as someone kills the sim troopers—it doesn’t have to be him—he has nothing to say to them, nothing at all. He has even less to say to Carolina. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t

“Fine,” Felix says. “Fine. Jesus Christ. Kill all the sim troopers, or maybe just some of them—I don’t care. Just don’t fuck this up, alright?”

“I won’t,” Washington says, heart racing in his chest. “I won’t.”


 

He fucks it up the second he comes face to face with Carolina.

It isn’t seeing her move again up close that gets him—although the feeling is gut-wrenching and exhilarating and devastating all at once. It’s the way that Washington hesitates, and she doesn’t, because she doesn’t recognize him.

They almost slam right into each other when rounding the same corner. Washington is half a second too late in getting his battle rifle back up to bear. Carolina isn’t. Her gun is back up in his face, finger on the trigger, and all he can think to do is blurt, “Carolina?”

There is the slightest waiver in her gun arm, a moment of uncertainty, but she does not lower the gun, and half a second later there’s a blue shimmer by her shoulder before a little A.I. holo-projection winks into life, looks at him, and says, “Wash?”

“You,” Washington says blankly. Felix and Locus were right. They were right. This is Carolina, and this is Epsilon, which means—

He laughs. It starts as a snicker and turns into a howl and once he starts, he can’t stop. He laughs so hard that he drops his rifle and bends over to clutch at his abdomen. “I’m sorry—I’m sorry—” he gasps, waving a hand at Carolina, who has half lowered her guns in favor of staring at him. “Sorry—it’s just—you—you went and got him the Archives, didn’t you? You went and got him—all of you—and—and—”

His voice breaks into laughter again, and he clutches at the rock wall next to him for support. “Oh, man,” he gets out between giggles. “Ohhhhh man. I love it, I love it—”

“Wash,” she says slowly, and takes the smallest of steps towards him before another voice breaks in.

“Uhhh…what the fuck?”

Wash half turns to see the Red sim troopers behind him, red and maroon and yellow and pink—the pink one, who definitely should not be there because Wash killed him. “I shot you,” he says conversationally. “You should be dead.”

And then he starts laughing again because why wouldn’t the pink one be alive, why wouldn’t they all team up to bust Epsilon out, why wouldn’t they all be standing here with Carolina like they were the best of friends?

“Sorry—sorry,” Wash gasps again. He fumbles with the seals on his helmet and drops into the ground, wiping at his eyes with the back of his wrist. “Sorry—it’s just, it’s funny.”

“Yeeeeeah, you’ve said that,” the orange one—Grif, Wash remembers—says slowly. He glances at Carolina. “Honestly, I think we should kill him just to put him out of his misery.”

“Well maybe we should get on that,” the maroon one hisses, “before he comes to his senses and murders us all—”

“I don’t think he’s going to come to his senses anytime soon Simmons—I mean, look at him—”

--are we intruding on some sort of lover’s quarrel that’s a hell of a way to ask someone for a threesome Agent Washington is that a holographic lock we are going to talk about our feelings—

Washington’s vision actually blacks out this time, and he rests his head against the cool rock until it subsides. “That keeps happening,” he explains to Carolina and the sim troopers. “That keeps—keeps happening.”

“What keeps happening?” Simmons asks nervously. 

—we've got a certain way of doing things around here, and that way includes baking birthday cakes out of ration bars and taking the time to spray paint the killer Freelancer's shoulder pads yellow—

“That,” Wash says, pointing helpfully at his head. “That. I think I’m going crazy.”

“Son, you ain’t kidding,” the red one grunts. Colonel, or General, or something ridiculous—Sarge, that was it. “You’ve gone loonier than a bowl of fruit loops.” He glances over at Carolina, who still hasn’t said a word. “It wouldn’t even be fun to kill him when he’s like this—”

The RATTATTAT of heavy machine gun fire cuts off Sarge’s words, and they all scatter. By the time Wash looks up, dazed, they’re gone, and Locus is inches from his helmet. “Focus, Agent Washington.”

“It’s just Wash,” he says, then blinks. “I mean—I meant—Washington, not—”

But Locus is already gone, leaving Wash scrambling for his rifle and his helmet, steel with the aqua stripe painted down the center. He stares at it for a second too long before jamming on his head to hear Felix in the middle of a full blown freak-out.

“—said you could handle it, what the fucking fuck was that bullshit! You had them! You had them right there and you—”

Wash mutes the radio with a racing heart, stumbling out from behind the rock wall where he’s been posted up. He almost runs into someone again—one of the blue simulation troopers this time, one whose name he doesn’t have to struggle to remember. “Caboose,” he says in surprise.

“Agent Washington!” Caboose yells, positively delighted. He points at Wash’s shoulder pads. “You are blue now, instead of yellow! Does that mean you would like to join Blue Team after all?”

“I, uh—”

“Caboose, move away from him.”

Something tightens in Wash’s chest as he turns to see the other Blue sim trooper behind him, rifle pointing at Wash. Wash keeps his own rifle up as well, as the trooper begins to circle slowly.

“Hey asshole,” he snaps. “Drop your fucking gun before I blow your brains out.”

Wash doesn’t drop his gun. He keeps it trained on the sim trooper as he keeps circling until he’s placed himself between Wash and Caboose. “Tucker,” he says, after a moment of straining to remember.

“Yeah, congratu—wait, how do you know my name?”

Wash frowns a little. “I—”

--She raises her gun to Tucker and there is no decision to make at all. There are only the memories, lined up in their neat little boxes inside his head. “Don’t…do that.”

“Wash…what are you doing?”

“Protecting my friends. Now lower the weapon.”

“—don’t know,” he gasps. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I—”

“Tucker, I don’t think Washington is feeling very well,” Caboose whispers loudly from over Tucker’s shoulder.

“Good.” Tucker readjusts his grip on his rifle. “He’s gonna be feeling even worse in about two seconds when I put a bullet through his— 

--It’s the first real hug he’s had in years and he should pull away, but he can’t and the three of them stand there in a messy embrace--

  "This is for science.”

"What?"

"It's called oxytocin. The chemical your brain releases. Oxytocin."

"I think you're saying it wrong.”

"I'm not saying it wrong, Caboose."

Washington stumbles forward, his vision doubling, and Tucker shoves his gun in Washington’s face. “Don’t take another fucking step—”

There’s a flash of lightning and a boom of thunder so loud that Wash thinks for a moment Tucker has shot him. Something arcs in the air between them and falls softly at their feet. They all glance down as the rain begins to fall, at the small black—

“GRENADE!” Tucker yells, and they all dive out of the way. Washington flattens himself to the ground, arms wrapped around his head as the explosion rattles the ground and blows a hole in the wall of the nearest building.

Washington rolls out of the drive, rifle up to aim at Tucker. The rain falls heavy down his visor now, and Washington tosses his head in annoyance. Windshield wipers, that’s what these helmets need, he thinks absently as his finger starts to tighten on the trigger. He’s always hated the rain—

--He reaches for the bar of soap that Jackson left sitting on the ledge, and scrubs every inch of his body. The water pulls his memories to the surface, and he thinks: I did. I did like to swim. Me. His mind settles, and he thinks of nothing except the water. Of nothing except the rain. Of nothing except the drain running clean.

No.

Wash lowers his rifle, putting a hand up. “Tucker…wait, wait.”

Tucker is so surprised at the absurdity of his action that he actually does stop. “What the fucking—”

--“I like the rain, though. I know I like the rain.”--

The rifle falls from his hands with a soft thump. “This isn’t right,” he says, and then, louder. “This isn’t right.”

Tucker is staring at him, a bewildered tilt to his helmet, but he isn’t shooting. He isn’t shooting. “Dude—”

  

--“Dude. Go play.”

Wash jumps and turns to look at Tucker, flustered. “What? Oh. I just—we should go.”

“No, no, really!” There’s something about the way Tucker is holding himself—it’s so still, as if the very air around them is made up of the thinnest glass. “You, just. You look like you want to feel the rain, is all. You—you like the rain, right? Go on, it hasn’t rained in forever. I’ll hold your helmet.” 

“This isn’t….it isn’t real, it isn’t…”

Washington takes his helmet off once more, letting it fall next to his rifle. He inhales deep, breathing in the rain, and it’s so familiar and soothing that it takes him a few heartbeats to realize that he can’t actually smell it.

He can’t even feel it on his face.

--“I didn’t do the stupid heroic thing, see? I called you guys”--  

Wash surges forward, towards Tucker and Caboose, but even as he reaches for them they disappear between his hands like smoke, misting up in the rain.

“Uh…Locus?” 

“What?” 

“…I think he’s waking up.” 

What? That’s impossible. You said it was impossible once we passed the—”

Wash whirls around in circles, trying to catch where the voices are coming from—they sound as if they are right in his ear, but he is alone, utterly alone on this rainy battlefield, this battlefield that isn’t real.  

He cannot smell the rain and it isn’t real. 

Wash closes his eyes and brings the world crashing down around him.  

The adrenaline from one world carries over into the next, and Wash’s eyes snap open, his body jolting to a sit—

He doesn’t quite make it to a full sit. There’s a sharp, lancing pain in his chest and suddenly he is choking, gagging on something blocking his airway. Wash clutches at his chest and neck as some dim part of his brain catalogues his surroundings—hospital, no restraints, green and grey and orange, bright lights, hospital, hospital, hospital. There’s an IV in his arm and he still can’t breathe

Wash claws frantically at his face and finds, at last, the cause of his troubled breathing. There’s something over his mouth and down his throat, something big and plastic and—

There are unarmored hands grasping at his wrists and Wash turns his attention to that instead. He rips the IV out of his arm, pulls the offender close, and stabs the needle into the side of his neck. His mind is starting to go loopy and dizzy from lack of oxygen, and he fastens his hands around the plastic over his mouth and pulls hard.

A breathing tube, he realizes as he’s yanking it out. A violated sort of horror swoops through him, and he barely registers the burning ache in his throat and his chest as he hurls the breathing tube away, tumbles out of his hospital bed, and vomits all over the floor and himself. There’s a pinch in his abdomen and everything feels wet, his face and his mouth and his thighs, and none of it makes sense because there was no rain, it wasn’t real, it wasn’t real

PUT YOUR BACK TO A WALL, some dim memory screams at him—Carolina’s voice, or Maine’s, or maybe even his own—Wash doesn’t question it, just scrambles until he can press his back to a wall and get a sense of his surroundings, of the exits and the enemies around him.

He’s no sooner found a wall and pressed his shaking shoulders to it when there’s an armored hand wrapping around his throat, lifting him clear off the ground and slamming him back into the wall. Wash fights against the hold, thrashing hard, but his muscles are weak and slow from lying in a hospital bed for—

How long? Wash thinks dizzily as Felix’s face fills his vision. How long?

“I don’t want to say I told you so, but…” Felix casts a glance over his shoulder, and Wash can see Locus there, hovering in the background with his arms folded over his chest. “Well. I did tell you so.”

“Unfortunate,” Locus growls, sounding, Wash notes hysterically, more than a little pissed off about it. He turns his attention to the man whom Wash just sent crashing to the ground. “You assured us that once Agent Washington had been kept under for a week or more, the odds of him waking up were—”

“Slim,” the medic gasps, massaging the side of his neck where Wash had stabbed the IV. “I said they were slim, you crazy fucker, not impossible—I told you people I wasn’t a fucking brain surgeon—”

“Told you so,” Felix sings again. “I did tell them so,” he says to Wash, dropping his voice conspiratorially.

Wash pulls hard at Felix’s hand around his throat, but his grip does not give. “What—what…”

He can’t get out any more than that. His throat is positively aching, from Felix’s hand and the feeding tube and over a week without using his voice. Right now it feels as if he’ll never be able to talk again.

Felix seems to understand, though. “Oh, what did we do to you?” He shrugs carelessly. “Crossed a wire here, crossed a wire there, fucked around with some of those alternate reality meds we found in a closet and boom—we almost had you. Locus here was really hoping we could get you around to our side, but…oh well, you win some, you lose some, am I right?”

“No matter.”

Wash freezes momentarily as someone new speaks, their voice smooth as silk, a voice that he would know anywhere, but it was impossible, impossible, impossible. He cranes his neck to see, but the speaker is in a corner of the room where Wash’s eyes don’t reach. He’s fading now, fading fast, struggling to keep his eyes open and keep Felix’s helmeted face focused in his eyes.

“This was only phase one of the process,” the voice continues. “Remember, gentleman. We are constructing something of a…win-win situation for ourselves here. Even if Agent Washington’s friends did manage to rescue him, it will only be to our benefit.”

Felix tilts his head at Wash critically. “Seems like an awful lot of work for one fucking soldier.”

“Think of it as…removing the crucial piece from a tower of blocks.”

“Like Jenga,” the medic mumbles from the floor. “You know, that game where you build a tower of blocks and—”

“I know what Jenga is,” Felix snaps. “Jesus Christ, if I have to listen to one more metaphor from any of you, I might actually kill myself.”

“Precisely like Jenga.” The voice pauses. “We have removed one of the blocks from their Jenga tower, and even if they were to steal it back from us…they would soon find that it no longer fit in its place in the tower."

The voice burrows its way into his skull, between every crack and crevice in his brain, dragging memories out of their boxes and to the forefront of his mind-- 

--so you would say you have overwhelming feelings of anger and a need for revenge—

It can’t be him, Wash thinks. It can’t be, he can’t be here, I killed him, I killed him myself…

Did you? Another part of his mind whispers. Did you really?

Wait, wait, wait.

Wash squeezes his eyes shut and slams his thoughts to a halt, blocking out the voices swimming around him. He tries to gather up the memories, to scoop them away into their neat little boxes but there are more now, there are too many and he can’t do this again—he’s running out of boxes, he’s running out of colors

He tries to stave off the panic but it sets in anyway, crawling into his brain and scattering the memories to the wind once more. Wash opens his eyes to see all of them looking at him, and he realizes he must have said at least part of that out loud.

Locus makes an aggravated noise somewhere where Wash can’t see. “He’s barely coherent.”

“Because he’s fucking losing it. That’s a good thing, remember?” Felix turns back to Wash and pats the side of his face with one hand, the other tightening around his throat. “Forget giving them back a Jenga block, right Wash? If they get anything back at all it’ll be a pile of matchsticks.”

The speaker clears his throat. “Felix, if you wouldn’t mind?”

Felix sighs, gesturing a hand out behind him. “Someone get me a fucking sedative.”

“No,” Wash mumbles, stirring once more. “No—”

The medic slaps a syringe into Felix’s open palm. Wash struggles even as Felix brings the needle up to Wash’s neck and holds it there. “It’ll be a real delight,” he whispers, “to see you burn your precious sim troopers to the ground, since all you want is to keep them so very safe. I’m gonna relish this fallout.”

Wash feels a hard pinch before his body goes slack and his thoughts grow sluggish, and then he feels nothing, nothing at all.

Chapter Text

day one.

This is how he awakens: the sun, blood red across his eyes, and Wash, sighing in his sleep on Tucker’s right.

It’s how he’s woken for so many mornings now that Tucker’s squinting against the sun before he realizes that it isn’t there, because the angle is all wrong. He’s reaching for Wash, too—slowly, quietly, so as not to wake him.

Wash thinks that he’s the one who wakes first every morning. Wash is wrong, but Tucker would never admit it in a thousand years. The few times that Wash does catch Tucker awake first, he frowns and squints at the clock and tells Tucker that he should’ve woken up him ages ago, that it was getting late, and Tucker would roll his eyes and say Jesus Christ, it’s barely oh six hundred and Wash would huff and say still, we have to get going, and Tucker would watch him get dressed or pull him back down for quickie and Wash would follow.

What Tucker doesn’t say is that, short of someone setting the base on fire, he wouldn’t wake Wash out of a deep, dreamless sleep in a million years. What he doesn’t say is that he really, really likes how Wash’s arms tighten around him whenever Tucker shifts slightly. What he doesn’t say is that when he looks at Wash like that, sleeping in the morning light, he feels—

He feels—

Tucker’s arm falls across an empty mattress and his eyes shoot open. This is wrong. He’s cold and his back is stiff and the light in the room is coming from the wrong angle and he’s still in his Kevlar suit and Wash isn’t here.

“Wash,” he mutters. Tucker jolts to his feet so fast that the blood rushes to his head. He places a steadying hand back on the mattress and lets the black ground him, uses it to think.

“Tucker?”

Tucker blinks the stars from his eyes and swings around to look at Caboose, who is sitting up in bed and rubbing at a thick bandage wrapped around his forehead. Hospital. They’re in a hospital.

Caboose continues to stare at him and Tucker tries to focus. He doesn’t usually wake up so disoriented, but everything is slow and sluggish and there’s something screaming at him, something telling him that—

“They’ve got Wash,” he says out loud, and the memories slam back into him in horrific clarity. “They’ve got Wash.

Freckles, shake!

Wash’s voice cuts clear across his mind and something twists hard in Tucker’s chest. They had Wash, again—this was just like last time except it wasn’t, because Wash was alone and because he hadn’t sacrificed himself like some big dumb hero this time; he had called for his team, he had called for Tucker and Tucker hadn’t gotten there in time—

He starts snapping on his armor, frantic and hurried. His movements are so erratic that he spends nearly thirty seconds trying to put his boot on the wrong foot before he gets a grip. Once every piece of armor is on its proper appendage, he grabs his sword and his rifle and makes for the door.

“Ummmm, Tucker. Where are you going?”

“I’m going to get Wash,” Tucker says.

“Oh,” Caboose says, and throws back his covers. “Well, then. I’m coming with you.”

“Caboose…” Tucker winces as Caboose sways. “C’mon, don’t be an idiot—”

“Ohhh, I think not!

Tucker turns as Dr. Grey sweeps through the door and pushes Caboose gently back onto the bed, tugging the blankets up around his waist. “Now, really. I am all for a dramatic rescue mission but you, my friend, are not up to it quite yet.” She glances disapprovingly at Tucker. “And neither are you. You hardly slept a single wink last night!”

“How would you know?” Tucker snaps, one hand still on the infirmary door.

“Because I heard you, silly,” she says calmly.

That gives Tucker pause. “Heard me….doing what?”

“Calling for Wash.”

It’s a few seconds before Tucker can speak, and when he does, he hardly recognizes the cadence of his voice. “Keep an eye on him, will you?” He nods his head at Caboose.

Dr. Grey frowns. “Captain Tucker—”

But Tucker’s gone, yanking the door open and marching out into the hallway. He makes it a grand total of ten steps before his progress is waylaid by no less than three cadets and four feds: Britton, Jensen, Kennedy, and all of the Fed captains.

“Jesus Christ,” Tucker snaps, as they melt out of the shadows and block his path.

There you are,” Perry says. “We’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

“Oh,” Tucker says, for lack of any other real way to respond to that. “Why?”

“Because we want to know what the plan is!” Jensen says. She’s got her helmet on but Tucker can picture all too-well just how wide those big eyes are behind her glasses.

“The plan?”

“The plan to rescue Agent Washington!”

“That’s what I’m about to go find out,” Tucker says darkly, and continues on his way.

Britton literally body blocks him, bouncing off of Tucker’s chest and leaning back to glare up at him. “You mean we’re going to find out.”

“She’s been practicing that line all morning,” Fitz mutters. “Like, literally all—”

“Shut up, Fitz! I have not!”

“Alright, stop,” Tucker says. He glances pointedly at Britton’s shortened arm. She’s done something to the armor so that it caps and seals right at the bicep, and the amputation is more obvious than ever. “Yeah, Wash is going to kill me—and you—if you go charging off on a rescue mission with that arm.”

“I can still fly!” she says fiercely. “I can! Tell him Jensen!”

“She can!” Jensen agrees. “We’ve been practicing on the one of the out of commission Pelicans—I rewired it so that she can do everything with one arm until she gets a prosthetic!”

“I can do it, I swear!” Britton chimes back in. “It took some trial and error, but—”

“You know what, why don’t we just put a pin in the arm thing,” Tucker says hastily. He makes a mental note to not be around when someone explains to Kimball just what the cadets have done to one of their out of commission Pelicans. “Look, does anyone know where Kimball or Doyle are? Or, no, Carolina? She’s probably gonna be more useful right now.”

They all glance at Ali, who puts a hand up to his helmet. “They’re in the landing bay,” he says. “Andersmith’s got a tail on them.”

The landing bay. Good. That could only mean that a plan was in action. Tucker hastens forward, not bothering to protest when they all surge forward to follow him. “You’ve got a tail on them?” he asks.

“Of course,” Britton says importantly. “We don’t want to miss any information that we might need!”

“Right….”

Their talk continues as they continue towards the landing bay, but Tucker is barely aware of it. He keeps up a steadying stream of “uh huh” “right” “yeah” and it isn’t until they’re almost there at he realizes he’s still doing it even though the conversation has stopped.

Tucker glances around to see them all staring at him. Ali throws an arm out to stop Tucker’s progress and when he speaks, Tucker can hear the frown in his voice. “Tucker—listen—you gotta pull your shit together, man. If you go in there and act all like, irrational—”

Tucker shrugs him off impatiently, charging through to the landing bay. He should have been there hours ago, shouldn’t have bothered trying to sleep. He rounds the corner to see several Pelicans ready and waiting for them, as well as a fully equipped task force of all their best soldiers—

Or he doesn’t. Tucker actually stops and gives his head a little shake at the sight that greets him. Instead of the Pelicans ready to go, instead of their best soldiers, he sees only Carolina and Kimball, sitting on one of the benches. Carolina has her elbow on her knee and her head resting in her hand, and Kimball has her tilted so closely forward that their heads are almost touching. They both glance up at the sound of Tucker entering the room, the cadets and Feds filtering in behind him.

Tucker glances around the landing bay one more time—nope, not a single Pelican ready, not a single one—and is just getting ready to unload on them when a thought occurs to him. Stealth. Maybe wherever they were holding Wash required stealth to get to, as opposed to a whole army. Or something. “So what’s the plan?”

Kimball looks at Carolina. Looks at Tucker. Looks at the group of soldiers clustered behind him. “Tucker. What is this?”

“This,” Kennedy says, “is Agent Washington’s rescue team.”

There’s a clacking sound, and Tucker hears Fitz tut. “Did you just cock your shotgun for dramatic effect?”

“I thought it was pretty cool,” Patil says.

“Yeah, you would…”

“Would you guys stop? They’re never gonna take us seriously if you don’t—”

“They’re not gonna take us seriously anyway—”

“Not with that attitude! Come on, guys—”

Kimball is leveling a glare so fierce at him that Tucker thinks it might burn a hole in her visor. “Look, I didn’t bring them here,” he says impatiently. “I just wanna know what the plan is to go get Wash.”

“Tucker…” Kimball sighs, glancing at Carolina. “Look—”

Don’t,” Tucker says, alarmed. “Don’t—don’t tell me that we have to fucking wait or some shit—”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Kimball says calmly. “What I’m saying is that we need to be smart about this.”

“We don’t have time to be smart about it!” Tucker says. “We don’t have much time here at all—”

“You don’t know that,” she snaps. “And I don’t want anyone else falling into a trap because we were stupid about this!”

Tucker forces himself to take a breath. “Neither do I,” he says, keeping his voice low and even. “I just….look, I just want to know what the plan is. Do we have any idea where Wash is?”

“None,” Epsilon says. He pops up over Carolina’s shoulder. “If he still had his radio in his helmet I’d be able to track it, but…well, we all saw what they did to that.”

“Isn’t there anything else you can track?” Tucker asks desperately. “There’s all kinds of crazy shit in our suits—isn’t there like, a chip, or…”

“His suit’s completely offline,” Epsilon says, “so there’s not even a chance of me finding his GPS system.”

“What about the Pelican?” Britton asks, nudging her way up closer to Tucker. “Can you track the bird they took him away in?”

“You can’t just track a Pelican,” Fitz says. "Not like that."

“Um, excuse you, are you a pilot?”

“No, and neither are you—”

“I am too!”

“She’s the best pilot this army’s got!”

“Thanks for that astute analysis, Jensen—”

“Britton’s right,” Epsilon interjects. “She’s right, but…look, in order to do that I’d have to track the radio signal, which won’t work because--”

“Are we gonna understand a word of this?” Tucker asks, irritated.  Epsilon glares at him.

“We need to do this the old-fashioned way,” Carolina says. “Human bodies, gathering intel. We send out several small teams to where we think there may be activity, or where there’s been activity in the past.”

“But they may not even be on this planet anymore,” Tucker says desperately. “They could be anywhere.

Carolina sighs. “I know. I know, but…we have to start somewhere.” She looks at him. “This isn’t a smash and grab, Tucker. Not yet. When it is? We’ll make them regret ever so much as looking in Wash’s direction.”

She’s right. Tucker knows she’s right. It doesn’t stop him from wanting to scream. It doesn’t stop him from wanting to tear the planet apart with his bare hands. “Fine,” he says instead. “Fine. Let’s….let’s get these stealth teams or whatever all set up, and then we leave tomorrow.” He glances at Kimball. “Right?”

“Right,” she says. “Tomorrow.”

day two.

Tomorrow arrives with a scream.

It slams in with no warning, a howling, burning thing that propels Tucker to his feet. He comes to his senses much more quickly now than he did yesterday. It is still dark, too dark to be dawn, and he is on the Pelican. He’d fallen asleep here last night, right there in the cockpit, wanting to get moving as soon as they could. Tomorrow, he’d chanted at himself. It was the only thing that kept him from flying off alone. Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

Tomorrow is here and it is burning.

He hastens into the rest of his armor, stumbling out of the Pelican to get a closer look. The skyline is on fire, burning just outside their city walls, and he can hear the sound of grenades and rifles and screaming

Tucker lunges for the big red panic button in the landing bay, and the base is soon filled with the sounds of alarms. He takes off running towards the screams, heart thudding in his throat. He opens up the channel he shares with the other sim troopers. “Anyone know what the fuck’s going on?”

“We’re under attack!” Sarge hollers, sounding, Tucker notes, more gleeful than anything. “Cowboy up, boys! To the perimeter!”

“I’m already on the perimeter—Sarge!” Simmons now. His voice cracks on the last word, and Tucker winces as another BOOM sounds, louder than the first. “Sir, what are you doing here, it isn’t even your shift!”

“I make m’own shifts, Simmons! Now cover me!”

There's a lot of confused yelling, and Tucker breaks into a sprint. He nearly crashes full-on into Perry, who speeds out of an adjacent hallway. They both skid to a halt, Perry’s hand shooting out to catch Tucker’s arm as he stumbles. He pulls Tucker along with him towards the source of the chaos.

Bodies. There are bodies on the ground. It’s the first thing Tucker registers as he and Perry emerge onto the outer walls of the base. There’d been a lot of eye-rolling when they’d all arrived in Armonia, at the fifteen-foot wall Doyle had constructed around the city but now, Tucker is grateful for it. The city was incredibly well-protected, enough that there were still a fair number of civilians living there. Tucker hopes they’d all had the sense to retreat to one of the underground shelters. He can see a whole section of the city under fire.

Perry curses under his breath as they take in the scene, then turns to Tucker. “We have to go out there!”

Tucker nods, following him to one of the exits into the city proper. Donut and Fitz come whipping around a corner, and Donut waves him off as they advance.

“No good! That way’s all plugged up!”

The four of them backtrack into a nearby alleyway, wincing as another BOOM rocks the ground. “What the fuck is going on?” Tucker asks. He scans the skies for signs of enemy Pelicans, but there’s nothing—no Pelicans, no mercs, no space pirates.

“We’re under attack,” Fitz yells.

“Yeah, no shit!” Tucker cranes his neck out from behind the way, trying to get eyes on the enemy. Still nothing. “I meant why? What do they want?”

Fitz shoots him a look. “They want to royally fuck up our shit! Does it matter? Let’s go kill some assholes! Hey—” He drops a hand on Tucker’s shoulder, leans in close. “Maybe we can get one of them to tell us where they’re keeping Wash.”

Tucker can get on board with that. They’ve no sooner inched their way out into the streets, pressed back to back in a reverse huddle, when there’s a whine overhead, a whine Tucker’s heard a thousand times. “Find cover!” he yells, but Fitz is already yanking him back and the four of them crouch down, arms over each other as there’s another BOOM, far louder than the previous ones.

“That wasn’t a grenade,” Perry gasps as the world quiets. “That was a—”

“Bomb,” Fitz says, and he’s off and running before the rest of them can blink twice.

“Come on!” Tucker yells, and they follow him. The four of them dash towards the fire, and Tucker can hear the sounds of screams getting louder and louder. They finally run into some of the space pirates on the way, and there’s a brief but fierce firefight.

Fitz is once again the first on his feet, and they finally make it to the source of the bombing: a group of row homes, almost completely flattened. He turns back to the rest of them. “I see people alive down there! We need to—”

Tucker’s brain barely registers what happens next. There’s the loud CRACK of a rifle as Fitz’s head snaps to the side and his body crumbles to the ground. Perry screams, a wordless howl, and it’s not until he’s running to Fitz’s side and shaking him that Tucker realizes that he’s dead. Tucker spins and to see a space pirate climbing weakly to his feet, rifle raised and pointing at them. Ali is faster, putting a bullet neatly through the pirate’s visor and leaving Tucker time to charge forward to where Perry is bending over Fitz’s body.

He yanks Perry back as another bullet sinks into the ground where he was just kneeling. Perry’s yelling, and so is Tucker, although he has no idea what either of them are saying—there are too many noises, and too many bodies, and too much fire, and Tucker pulls him back into the half-blown out shell of a garage as Donut covers them. Wash is gone and Fitz is dead and there are people out there dying and Tucker doesn’t know why, doesn’t know the reason for any of it and suddenly doesn’t care, he just wants it to stop. They sink to the ground and stay there for minutes, or hours, or days, clutching so tightly to each other’s arm that Tucker can’t tell which one of them is shaking.

Perry makes it to his feet first and holds a hand out to Tucker. “Let’s go,” he says. His voice his thick with tears and he doesn’t even bother to hide it, and that’s important, Tucker thinks. Perry just watched one of his best friends die and he’s crying, but he’s still there, on his feet, holding a hand out to Tucker and that’s important.

Tucker takes it.

They go.

day three.

Eighty-five, fifty-two, thirty-three.

Tucker repeats the numbers to himself over and over again until they don’t even sound like words anymore. Eighty-five, fifty-two, thirty-three. Eighty-five dead: fifty-two civilians and thirty-three soldiers. Dead.

The morning is chilly and quiet. It’s not quite raining, but there’s a fine layer of mist over everything: their visors, the buildings, the bodies. They gather the bodies and strip them of their armor, put all of the dog tags into a little box that Donut volunteers to keep watch over. The act takes nearly all day. They work in shifts, filtering in and out of the base, mechanic, silent. Tucker doesn’t realize he’s spent the better part of three shifts removing armor from the dead and piling it up until he feels a tug at his elbow and turns to see Ali. His helmet is off, tucked under his arm, dark eyes wide and unseeing, but he pulls at Tucker’s arm anyway. “Food,” he says. “C’mon.”

Tucker nods, and the two of them make their way inside the base, their progress halted by Palomo, standing in the doorway staring off into space. “Palomo,” Tucker says tiredly, “what the fuck are you doing?”

Palomo says nothing, just continues to stare off somewhere behind Tucker. He startles when Tucker puts a hand on his shoulder and gives him a little shake. “Palomo. Jesus Christ.”

Now Palomo’s staring at him with that same blank expression, and Tucker sighs. “You look like shit. Come on. We’re going to get food.”

He turns Palomo around and marches him into the main entranceway. They all falter slightly at the sight that greets them: there are soldiers seated all around the hallway, Feds and News alike staring off into space the same fashion as Palomo. Tucker can see Jensen and Prajapati wrapped so tightly around each other that he can barely tell whose limbs are whose, Matthews huddled in a corner with his head pressed into his knees, Caboose patting Andersmith on the arm, Britton with her head on Perry’s shoulder, her good hand clutched tightly in his. They are largely still and silent, and after a momentary hesitation, Tucker joins them, finding a free spot against the wall and pulling Palomo down with him. Ali wanders into the crowd and returns a few minutes later with some coffee and donuts.

“I think the war started with the first bombing,” Ali says after a while. “I mean. It started way before that, but for most people, I think—they remember those bombs, first.”

“They were loud,” Palomo says absently, and they turn to him. “My headphones couldn’t drown them out.”

“It didn’t start there for me,” Ali continues, when Palomo offers nothing more. “When I—when I think of the beginning, I think of the—the pictures some of my students used to turn in. Paintings, drawings—they were all of the bombs. Their burned out houses. Bits of their families. Kids, you know? Just…kids.”

Tucker opens and closes his mouth several times, utterly at a loss for what to say. He finally settles on, “I didn’t know you were a teacher.”

“Wasn’t,” Ali says with a sigh. He rests his head back against the wall. “I didn’t get that far. TA’d a few classes to get through grad school. I liked it though…everything about it. The kids. The teaching. When they bombed the school, I…”

He trails off, and Tucker registers that he’s fiddling with something in his hands. Fitz’s dog tags. Perry had been wearing them all morning, and Tucker isn’t sure when he took them off. Even as he watches, Patil walks past them both and holds out his hand. Ali drops the dog tags into them without another word.

The day drags.

When they burn the bodies, they do not separate them, into soldier and civilian. “They all died together,” Kimball says. “They should…they should be together for this, too.”

The smoke rises high against the dying sun and Tucker cannot watch the bodies burn. He looks across the way and stares at Donut instead, the pink of his armor just visible through the smoke, box of dog tags clutched tightly in his arms. Tucker has nothing of Wash’s, he realizes suddenly: no dog tags, no piece of special clothing or jewelry, nothing. He can’t think of a single material item that Wash held dear. The things closest to his heart were intangible, fleeting things, misting and melting away in the smoke, leaving Tucker’s hands empty, and aching, and cold.

day four.

Day three bleeds into four and Tucker finds himself outside of Kimball’s office without even knowing how he ended up there. He’s just lifting his fist to knock, ready to raise all sorts of hell, when the sound of raised voices causes him to falter.

“—have done everything you’ve asked!” someone is yelling. “And now I’m telling you what I need, and you’re telling me that I can’t go?

Carolina. Tucker’s heard her yell enough times to recognize her voice instantly, but there’s something different about it—some deeper, personal hurt seeping through her words.

“I’m trying to keep as many people alive as I can. Including you,” Kimball responds. She isn’t full-on yelling like Carolina is, but her voice is tense and unhappy. “Do you think this is a coincidence that they hit us this hard right after they took Wash? That attack was deliberate and—”

“Of course it was deliberate!” Tucker jumps as he hears Carolina’s footsteps, but she isn’t leaving the room, only pacing. “They’re trying to scare us, Vanessa, and I’m not afraid of them!”

“Well, you should be! How can you look at—”

“Do you have a death wish?!”

Tucker jumps, startled to find Grif standing next to him, incredulous. “Huh?”

Grif tuts, grabbing Tucker’s arm and yanking him down the hall. “They’ve been fighting all morning. You should’ve seen Carolina scream at Sarge after he tried to get in the middle of it. I think it’s best if you wait this one out.”

“I don’t…” Tucker yanks his arm out of Grif’s grasp. “We don’t have time to wait, Grif! Christ, it’s like no one here cares that Wash is still fucking gone and we haven’t heard shit—”

Hey! You aren’t the only one here who cares about Wash!” Grif actually sounds a little pissed off when he says it, which startles Tucker enough that he falters. “If you would just talk to the rest of us instead of sulking like a big baby, you’d realize that!”

“I am talking to you,” Tucker says indignantly. “That’s all I’ve been doing, is trying to fucking talk to people!”

“No, it’s not!” Grif snaps. “You’re not talking to us! And don’t think we’ve noticed that you haven’t been sleeping, or eating—”

“Grif,” Tucker interrupts. He takes a breath, trying to fight down the hysteria bubbling up in his chest. “They’ve had him for four days—four days—do you know what they’re probably doing to him—”

“No, I don’t,” Grif says. “And neither do you.”

“Grif—” The hysteria wins this time, rushing up into his voice and choking out into his words. “It’s been four days and we haven’t heard anything—he’s—what if he’s—what—”

“He’s not dead,” Grif says firmly.

“You don’t know that,” Tucker says. He can barely speak anymore. “You don’t. Know. That.”

“Yes, I do,” Grif says. “Listen. Kimball’s right. This isn’t a coincidence, that they nab Wash and then drop a fuckton of bombs on the city. They’re trying to shake us up. They’re trying to distract us from going after him.”

“Why?”

Grif shrugs. “Fuck if I know. But they’re planning something.”

“So…” Tucker considers, and takes a breath. “So what do we do?”

“We go after him.”

They turn to see Sarge approaching, glancing left and right as if he’s expecting to be followed. “Uh, no,” Grif says, alarmed. “I mean, yes, but—not like you’re suggesting.”

“And what am I suggesting?” Sarge says, indignant.

“I’m not entirely sure,” Grif says, “but whatever it is I’m sure it’s half-cocked and likely to get the three of us killed—”

“The three of us?” Tucker interrupts.

Grif falters and they stare each other down. “Yes, the three of us,” he snaps finally. “I cannot in good conscious let you go off on some stupid mission alone with no one but Sarge, can I?”

“It’s perfect,” Sarge says brightly. “We’ll need some bait, and who better than—”

“Oh my God, you’re starting already? Seriously?”

Tucker breathes, the hysteria sinking slowly back down through his throat, his chest, to settle in his stomach. “So. What’s the plan?”

day five.

The planet is silent and still.

They take a Pelican before first light. Grif flies them around the planet and Tucker and Sarge creep out to search while he waits. They find nothing. Nothing at the way stations. Nothing in the cities. Nothing in the skies. Nothing on the UNSC Tartarus. They do not run into a single enemy soldier.

They find nothing.

Tucker didn’t realize just how much hope he was holding out that their stupid, half-cocked plan would work until it doesn’t. Their stupid, half-cocked plans always work. He can’t look anyone in the eye when they return: not Carolina, not Kimball, not Caboose or any of the cadets. He can’t go to his room either, so he paces until he finds a quiet hallway where he can lay down, and rest his eyes for a moment, only for a moment.

day six.

It’s another misty morning and Tucker paces, for lack of anything better to do. He can’t stay still. It feels as if his very bones are alive inside his body, cracking into dust. Tucker finds himself wondering again if Wash is cold. They would have taken his armor long ago, and they almost certainly took his Kevlar suit as well. It’s too hard to cut through, Tucker thinks. He tries to backtrack, recoiling away from the thought, but his brain latches on, catching on the inevitable loss of Wash’s armor. Tucker wonders if they removed it on the Pelican, or back at their base. If he was unconscious when they took it away or if he fought them for it, piece by piece. And the Kevlar—it was fucking difficult trying to get someone out of their undersuit. He has taken Wash’s suit off himself enough times to know that it wasn’t easy going, that the suit always caught around Wash’s shoulders and his hips—

Something clenches hard in Tucker’s stomach at the thought, and he leans over, dropping his head between his knees and breathing deep. He closes his eyes and tries not to think of Wash’s suit getting caught around his shoulders under Felix’s hands.

Tries not to think.

—tries not—

day seven.

Tucker is so sick with worry and fear that he almost misses his weekly chat with Junior. “Oh, fuck,” he groans when he realizes he’s ten minutes late to the video call. Great. In addition to being a bad captain, a bad soldier, and a bad boyfriend, he’s now a bad father. Fantastic.

He runs into his room and slams the door behind him, sinking onto his bed and frantically loading up the video server on his datapad. “Come on, come on, come on you stupid fucking thing, load…”

It loads. Tucker literally feels his shoulders wilt in relief as Junior’s face fills the screen. He’s chatting in Sangheilli at one of his friends standing next to him, and Tucker watches for a while, letting the familiar sound of Junior’s voice wash over him.

After a few moments, Junior catches sight of Tucker’s face in the screen. “Father,” he says, voice equal parts relief and delight. “You came.”

“Of course I came,” Tucker says. “Sorry I was late, little man. It’s…things are crazy here, right now.”

Junior nods in understanding and Tucker hates himself even more. “You are fighting a war. I understand.”

“Not an excuse,” Tucker mumbles. “So, uh. Go on, tell me about the game. Did you win?”

Junior’s face lights up, and Tucker pushes all of his thoughts and stress aside as he chatters away. He’s genuinely listening to what Junior has to say, and somewhere in the enthusiastic chatter, for just a moment, Tucker forgets himself. They talk for longer than usual, and the way Junior keeps pausing to eye him, Tucker thinks he might suspect that something is wrong. He does not ask, though, and for that Tucker is grateful.

When Junior logs off, the silence is sudden and suffocating. Tucker flops back onto his pillows before he realizes what he’s doing, before he catches the faintest whiff of Wash’s scent, spies just a few strands of Wash’s hair stuck to the sheets. He jolts away as if the bed has scalded him and starts yanking open drawers, pulling out fatigues and underwear and clean socks. Donut spies him just as he’s stumbling out of his room, takes one look at the clothes in Tucker’s arms, and sighs. “Come on. You can keep them in my room.”

Donut leads the way and Tucker follows, standing awkwardly in the doorway as Donut clears out a whole fucking drawer for him and folds Tucker’s clothes neatly into their new space. He makes a little mattress for Tucker on the floor and although it’s not okay, nothing is okay, Donut’s snores are soothing and familiar, and they lull him off to sleep.

day eight.

Tucker wakes up in a fit of panic, on the floor of Donut’s room, and fumbles for his datapad. He’d been dreaming, he thinks, dreaming of Wash, but his face hadn’t looked quite right and Tucker couldn’t figure out why. The freckles were wrong. Wash had a little cluster on one of his temples, and Tucker suddenly couldn’t remember which side they were on. He’d thought it was the right, but what if it wasn’t, what if it was the left?

He can’t be forgetting this. It’s only day eight and he can’t be forgetting so soon, because what does that mean for day eighteen? What does that mean for day thirty? What does—

Tucker loads up his datapad and swipes frantically through his camera roll until he finds what he was looking for: those stupid selfies he’d taken with Wash in the day of the training room. He hadn’t been able to look at them until now, but it’s important, so very important, that he remember what side the cluster of freckles were on.

The right. Those ridiculous freckles were on the right temple. Tucker exhales in shaky relief, leaning back down on the floor. The right.

day nine.

Carolina and her recon teams have found nothing, nothing at all. Tucker was pulled off of recon days ago but he still hovers, still listens on the radio, still waits. Nothing. Carolina’s anger at the lack of results is a constant, simmering thing, and one day Tucker pauses on his way to the mess hall, unsure if he's actually seeing this.

Prajapati is standing dead center, helmet at her feet, leaning forward as if into a stiff wind and shouting at Carolina. Her helmet is off as well and there is a small crowd beginning to gather.

"--can't believe you just expect us to run fucking laps like we're robots or whatever bullshit! We're not heartless like you, and we need time--"

He sees Jensen spill out from a training room and grab Prajapati, stammering apologies as Epsilon flares to life.

Tucker blinks, shakes his head, and moves on into the mess hall where he pushes food around on his tray before going to pass out on Donut’s floor.

day ten.

Tucker spends a lot of time not thinking, which is waaaay better than the thinking he has been doing because it all winds into these vicious circles that leave him literally swaying on his feet.

He has been trying to picture it. Trying to picture the physical violence Wash must be enduring, wondering if he was hurting now, right this very second, if he has broken bones, or bruised ribs - would that make it seven times now?—Tucker traces his hands along his own body trying to picture it. Trying—

He knows that Wash is strong, and he has seen Wash endure so very much physical damage. Wash can handle anything. He knows this. He knows—

Felix and Locus probably know too.

He wonders if they know about Wash's mind, about how Wash gets confused, wonders if there's a way they could hurt him that way too. Wonders—

It's hours later when Tucker blinks the water out of his eyes, to find Dr. Grey pulling him from a freezing shower that he doesn't remember getting into, told on by someone he doesn't remember being there.

“Wash likes the water,” he tells her. It’s important that he explain, that she understand. “He—in Freelancer—after—the rain—”

He can’t piece the words together in the right way and he realizes that his teeth are chattering. Dr. Grey doesn’t scold him, or question him, or say anything at all .She simply leads him through the halls, pats his hand and tucks him into a bed in the infirmary.

day eleven.

Tucker sits next to Carolina on the highest wall of the base. He can’t remember if she joined him or he joined her, only that they found themselves here together, Epsilon pacing in front of them. Tucker watches his avatar until the blue burns his eyes, and even then he doesn’t look away.

“Epsilon,” Carolina finally says. “Answer the question.”

The question, the question, the question. What was the question? It was important. It had something to do with Wash and eleven days, and the odds. Tucker tries to weave these threads together but finds it too difficult, and simply holds onto the ends of them instead. He can’t think. His brain feels like mush. He isn’t sure when last he slept.

Epsilon stops pacing and looks at them both, his shoulders rising and falling helplessly. “The odds aren’t good, okay? Eleven days in the hands of the enemy, with no contact? The odds aren’t good.”

“Right,” Carolina says. She looks at Tucker. Looks at Epsilon. “What if we—”

“No,” Epsilon says tiredly. “C, no.”

She sets her jaw and glares at him. “You don’t even know what I was going to say.”

“What—yes I do! And it’s not going to work—”

“Epsilon, I can’t just sit here—”

“Neither can I!” He resumes pacing, hands clenching and unclenching restlessly in front of him. Tucker’s seen Wash do the same thing when he was stressed and he wonders just who picked it up from who. “Just…give me a second to figure this out, okay? I can do this, I can…I can do this.”

“Okay,” Tucker says.

Epsilon turns to stare at him. “Okay?” he asks, the barest hint of uncertainty underlying his tone.

“Okay,” Tucker says again. “Yeah. Okay.”

“Okay,” Epsilon says, then nods firmly to himself. “Okay, okay, okay.

day twelve.

“You think Wash is dead. Don’t you.”

Tucker blinks, disoriented. It’s dark, and he’s in his armor on the floor. Caboose’s floor.

“How did I get on your floor?”

Caboose sniffs. “You were sleeping in the mashed potatoes. You, ah. You probably thought that they would be a nice pillow because they are very soft and fluffy, but they aren’t very comfortable. Yeah. And Emily said if she saw you sleeping in places not meant for sleeping again she would put needles in you to make you sleep, and, well, I don’t like the sleeping needles.”

Tucker stares at him.

“So I brought you here,” Caboose says. His eyes are huge, owlish in the moonlight. “But now I am thinking I should have left you in the mashed potatoes, because you think Wash is dead and I don’t think that’s very nice—”

“I don’t think Wash is dead!” Tucker protests. He pulls himself to a sit. “Caboose, I don’t—”

“Liar.”

“I’m not lying!

“Then why are you crying?”

Tucker freezes before wiping at his cheeks, horrified to find them wet. “I didn’t—I wasn’t—”

Everyone thinks Wash is dead,” Caboose says, still in that same angry voice. “And if everyone thinks Wash is dead, then there are no people to go and rescue him.”

Tucker stares at him for a moment. “You really think he’s alive?”

“There were bombs,” Caboose says. “And we buried a lot of bodies. But we didn’t bury Wash’s body. And if we didn’t bury Wash’s body then he isn’t dead.”

Tucker grits his teeth, pressing the heels of his palms into his stupid, wet eyes. “It doesn’t work like that, Caboose.”

“Yes, it does.

No, it doesn’t.”

“I still think he’s alive,” Caboose says stubbornly. “And you need to think so, too. Or I will leave you in the mashed potatoes next time.”

“You can’t tell me what to think,” Tucker snaps.

“I would not have to if you didn’t think such stupid things.”

Tucker snorts. The giggle bubbles up through his chest and he forces it down, forces it down with all the other swirling screaming madness curled up tight inside of him.

Forces—

Chapter Text

Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight.

It spills into his room but it’s all wrong. It’s too bright, far brighter than the window that let the starlight into his room during Freelancer—

No. That was before, Wash thinks. That was before, and this is now, and

He squeezes his eyes shut harder. Tries again.

Sunlight, sunlight, sunlight.

It spills into his room but it’s all wrong because he is used to sleeping in Tucker’s room, where the light is red and falls across his eyes and he has to squint to see Tucker and—

“Agent Washington. How are you feeling?”

The voice has him snapping his eyes open immediately, only to force them closed against the light once more. That wasn’t real, Wash tells himself. That wasn’t real, because he knows that voice and that voice is gone, long gone, it is gone because he killed that voice—

Did you, though?

Sunlight.

Sunlight.

Sunlight.

It spills into his room and it isn’t quite right. The window in his bunk on the UNSC Tartarus is tiny, too tiny to let in such a large amount of harsh light and besides, he never saw the sun there—

Lies.

Something deep inside him screams, howls, rages against the memories. Lies, lies, lies, all of them lies—they are lying to him, they are—

Put them away. He has to put the memories back in their boxes. Has to put the lies away. Has to—

“Agent Washington, can you hear me?”

Light blue, dark blue, green, red, black. He needs a new box, a box for the lies, but there are so many. His head is too full and he cannot fit anything else in there; it is going to explode. He needs to put the lies away in their boxes but he doesn’t know what the lies are and—

Your name is Agent Washington. Your friends call you Wash.

The thought snags him and he holds onto it, lets it become the eye of the storm that he will build around. The who, always the who, first. The where, second.

“Agent Washington.”

Wash opens his eyes.

No.

He knows the who, of that he is positive—your name is Agent Washington your friends call you Wash you are on Blue Team— but the where is impossible, the where is all wrong. He left this where behind long ago, left it lying in the darkest reaches of his memory. He cannot be here, it is impossible that he is here, and yet the window is the same, the sheets are the same, the—

“Can you hear me?”

When they ripped Epsilon away from him, it had left a yawning, bloody cavern straight through the center of Wash’s mind. Wash has fallen into it before, although fallen was not quite the right word: he had jumped, taking with him everything he knew about Alpha and Allison and Freelancer and the Director. They could not reach him down there, in that bottomless pit where he himself did not even know his own name.

It had taken him years to claw his way back out, and he has since learned to build around the trench—to lay sturdy floorboards over it so that he could walk without fear of falling, to stack the boxes up high enough to keep them safe. He has been careful, so careful, and although he has teetered on the edge several times in recent years, although he has had to rebuild the floor and restack the boxes, he has been okay.

But now, as he looks at the face of the man sitting next to him at his bedside, a man who should not be here, could not be here—

He looks at that face and almost falls back in.

Wash catches himself just in time, scrambling away from the edge of madness. “You,” he croaks, his voice weak and parched. “You.”

The Counselor tilts his head sympathetically, reaching out to rest a hand on Wash’s arm. “Agent Washington, you have been through quite an ordeal—”

Wash jerks away from the contact, only to find that his wrists are bound at the side of his bed—of his hospital bed. Hospital. Restraints. Blue scrubs, a dirty window, white sheets— “Don’t touch me,” he snarls, trying again to pull away from the Counselor.

The Counselor does withdraw his arm, but not until he has let it sit there for several seconds longer than necessary. “Agent Washington—”

“Stop—saying—my—name,” Wash grits. He glances around the room, looking wildly for something, anything that seems out of place. “Where am I?”

“You are in an off-site Recovery ward,” the Counselor says. “We brought you here, after the ship crashed.”

“What ship?” Wash asks, his voice rising even as he knows what the Counselor’s words will be next.

The Mother of Invention, of course.”

There is the barest hint of bewilderment in the Counselor’s voice, as if there couldn’t possibly be another ship, as if this is an answer that Wash should know. It’s a subtle thing, masterfully hidden, and Wash knows this because he has already spent two years being manipulated by this asshole.

Wash, it sounds to me as if you were psychologically abused—

“No,” Wash says. He turns away and looks up at the ceiling, searching for something to ground himself. The ceiling offers little comfort, particularly when he finds that it has the same two missing tile pieces as his room in Recovery. How long had he spent, bound to his bed staring at the ceiling, counting the tiles and always getting stuck on these missing two?

“No,” he says again, louder. “No, that’s not right—I’m on—I’m on a planet called Chorus and—”

“Chorus?”

The Counselor’s voice still holds the same note of polite bewilderment and Wash knows he should say nothing more, knows that every word out of his mouth will be ammunition this man could use against him but he’s panicking now, there are two missing tiles in the ceiling and they are the same missing tiles

“Chorus,” Wash confirms. He forces himself to breathe steady. In and out, in and out. Don’t look at the ceiling tiles. Look at something else. The pale blue of his scrub pants. “My—my name is Agent Washington. My friends call me Wash and I am on a planet called Chorus. I am the leader of Blue Team and—”

“Blue Team?” The Counselor’s voice dips from bewilderment to disbelief before he catches himself. “Agent Washington—”

“STOP SAYING MY NAME!”

He lunges for the Counselor then, forgetting about the restraints, forgetting that he probably wouldn’t get very far even if they weren’t there. His muscles feel weak and sluggish, his stomach is hollow and hungry, his throat feels as if it has been scraped raw, the back of his head is throbbing. He lunges anyway, struggling so hard that his wrists start to bleed and he feels light-headed from panic. The Counselor is trying to say something but eventually gives up and presses a call button.

A nurse enters the room a few minutes later, dark hair in a braid down her back, and she looks so startling familiar that Wash stops struggling. “Sarita,” he croaks, but even as he says the name he knows it isn’t right—that wasn’t his nurse’s name but it was close—this can’t be her but she looks so close

He’s so busy staring into her face, trying to convince himself that she isn’t real, that he doesn’t notice the sedative she pumps into his IV until it’s too late. She casts him a sympathetic smile, something large and frightened behind her eyes. “I’m sorry, Wash,” she whispers as his vision turns fuzzy. “I’m sorry.”

“Samira,” he slurs as the world starts to blacken. That was it. Samira. Samira was the name of one of his nurses, and she’d had the same long dark hair and fierce brown eyes, but Samira couldn’t be here, couldn’t be on Chorus…couldn’t be…couldn’t…

The last thing he sees is a flash of her black hair and the two missing ceiling tiles, high above him.


They keep him sedated, after that. When the Counselor comes to call the next morning, Wash can barely turn his head to meet his eye. “Don’t,” he mumbles, but he can’t get out any more than that.

“I’m worried about you, Wash,” the Counselor says, which is far, far worse than his continuous use of Agent Washington. “You sustained quite a blow to the head during the ship crash and we are concerned that it may have fractured your reality. You have been here for several months, and—”

“No,” Wash says. He shakes his head but the motion sets the room spinning, so he stops. “Not right.”

It isn’t right. He hasn’t been in captivity for several months, he couldn’t have been—it was absurd, completely absurd. No one kept their enemies alive in captivity for months—

No. Not captivity. The Counselor was saying that he had been in the Recovery ward for months, but that wasn’t right either, that was years ago, and if it was right, if he was really in Recovery, he would’ve seen—

“Tronosky,” he says, and the Counselor stops short.

“I’m sorry?”

“Tronosky,” Wash says, sounding out each syllable so that there could be no mistake about his words. “Not here. Would be here.”

The Counselor regards him thoughtfully for a while before speaking. “You are referring to your neurosurgeon. Dr. Tronosky. Is that correct?”

“Yes,” Wash says firmly. “Yes. He’d…”

“Perhaps you don’t remember,” the Counselor continues. “But he…moved on. He no longer works here—”

No.

“Tronosky to security, we have a problem in room seventeen, do you copy?”

No. He remembers, he remembers. Tronosky hadn’t moved on, they’d driven him off. He’d kept Wash safe for as long as he could; he had been the only thing standing between the Director and Counselor and Wash’s sanity for a month. He’d given Wash precious time to lay the barest foundation of his mind back down before they’d threatened him, and he had to go.

Wash doesn’t like the way the Counselor is looking at him now, as if he’s just figured something out, but he says nothing more that day, just leaves Wash to count the tiles in the ceiling, to count the memories inside his head. Later that day, there is another nurse who visits him, who is as achingly familiar as the first. Jason, he says his name is, and it’s not right—Jackson, that was the name of his other nurse, he’s positive, Jackson Jackson Jackson—but he looks so similar and Wash wonders if he’d ever remembered them right in the first place.


The Counselor’s questions turn, over the next few days, from vague, sympathetic observations to pointed inquiries. “Tell me about your experience with the Epsilon A.I., Agent Washington.”

Wash laughs. He laughs because it is absurd that the Counselor should be asking about this, about Epsilon—it has been years since he has had to keep that information secret. That information is tucked away, the memories neatly divided and catalogued and kept far away from his own. “You don’t want to know about the Epsilon unit,” he mutters. His sedatives have not been quite as heavy lately, but his limbs still feel as if they are made of lead. “It doesn’t matter anymore.

“Perhaps you don’t remember,” the Counselor says, almost as if he is trying to reassure himself of this possibility, “but you tried to kill the Director. Can you tell me why you did that?”

IF I GO, I’M TAKING YOU WITH ME—

--his armor is burning, burning with blue flame and he has no control over his hands as they point the pistol at the Director—

--as he points the pistol at himself

--did I want to die do I still—

They are slithering, the memories, slithering out of their neat little boxes, lids clattering to the floor—

“Wash,” the Counselor says, “it is very important that you discuss this with me.”

Why