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no hero to call home

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Tucker looks up at the sound of an engine slowing to a halt outside. It’s not an unusual occurrence – Tucker is a mechanic, after all. People bring him their cars and vehicles as often as they bring everything else. But this engine is chirping and groaning and gurgling in a way Tucker’s intimately familiar with, because the owner never asks him to fix the stupid car.

One of these days Wash is going to break down in the desert and get eaten by skags, and it’ll be because he doesn’t listen to Tucker.

But forget that. Wash is back, and that’s what really matters.

Tucker drops everything – his screwdriver, the casing of the gun he’s been prying open, and all its innards spill into a parts box. If he had a desk, he’d vault over it to get to the hall, to the front door faster. God, it’s been months.

“Hey, Wash,” He beams, as the front door swings open to reveal… a black eye and a cut cheek. Tucker’s smile shrinks. Stupid Vault Hunter and stupid not doing proper medical stuff. “… How’s it going?”

“Tucker.” Wash nods down at him. His expression isn’t positive—but it’s not negative, either. It’s just there. Whatever, Tucker can work with that. After three months of… basically radio silence, this feels like a declaration of Ultimate Friendship or whatever.

Wash hasn’t really answered his question, but it’s cool. They’ll have time to catch up later. “Come on in.” Tucker frowns, squinting at Wash’s bruised eye. “Did you ice that?”

“A bit.”

“Ugh, get in here,” Tucker says, grabbing Wash’s wrist. He can put the gun maintenance on hold for a little bit if it means he gets to school Wash in Basic Taking Care of Yourself. It’ll be nice to be the bossy one for once.

Tucker pulls Wash into the kitchen and shoves him towards a chair. Wash plays along, falling into a seat and waiting. Bag, bag—Tucker pulls a plastic bag out of the plastic back hoard that sits in the corner and yanks the freezer open. The entire contents of the ice cube tray clock in at about eight cubes. Should be enough. Tucker’s never been super conscientious about the whole ‘keeping house’ thing, but there is a guest, so he’ll refill it. He cracks the tray, dumps the ice into the bag, and shoves the makeshift ice pack at Wash.

“There,” he says at he goes to run the tray under the sink. “Tie that up, put it on your face. And don’t come crying to me when you get brain damage.”

“I’ll try not to,” Wash deadpans, but Tucker can hear the crinkling of the bag and the crunching of ice even through the running water.

Christ. He’s gonna get killed some day if he keeps this up. Mauled by skags, set on fire, electrified, exploded, acid-ified (is that even a word?), axed by psychos, even plain old shot—there are so many ways for Wash to die out there.

As Tucker watches Wash flinch and then settle under the cold of the ice pack, those thoughts twitch inside him. His brain feels jittery and sharp, like he’s stuck his finger in a Maliwan electricity cell. Tucker decides it might be better to focus on other things.

“You got new chairs,” Wash says slowly, scratching at the green paint on one of the metal legs. “They used to be blue, what happened?”

Tucker plops the ice cube tray back in the freezer and shrugs. “The old ones started rusting through a month or so back. I decided it wasn’t worth replacing every broken piece.”

“So, you sat in one and it broke under you.” Wash isn’t smiling outright, but Tucker can hear the laughter in his voice.

“Shut up, man,” Tucker says, pressing the freezer door shut and turning back to Wash. Better to just cut to the chase. “So. How long are you planning to stay this time?”

Wash’s eyes meet his, then dart away. He shrugs. “I just need my leg fixed up. So, whenever you can, uh, pencil me in. After that, I hit the road.”

Tucker bites his lip. That could mean anything, depending on how bad Wash’s leg is broken. “It’s, uh… what’s wrong with it?”

Wash finishes tying the ice pack up and brings it up to his face, hiding his bruised eye from Tucker. “Not much. I just figured, after three months, it was probably time for a tune-up.”

A tune-up.

A fucking tune-up.

Tucker’s heart sinks. “I mean, that’ll probably be like… two hours. Four, tops, if I find anything that could really screw up later.”

Wash shrugs again, his face impassive, and Tucker wishes he would sound sad at all when he says, “Then I guess I’ll be gone by this evening. If you’ve got time for me today.”

And what a joke that is. Wash’s projects come first, always have. Reinventing that leg is the most interesting thing he gets to do on this job. And besides, as much Tucker should be practical and tell the truth, tell Wash he’s got a backlog five days long, he knows Wash will leave if he does. Wash isn’t going to wait five days for a tune-up. He’s got places to be, bad guys to shoot. Better that Tucker just fixes his leg, makes sure nothing’s gonna go wrong while Wash is on the road, and says his goodbyes. Safer that way.

“I can make time,” Tucker says, which is sort of kind of technically true in a way. “If it’s, uh, if it’s just a tune-up.”

Wash nods and says nothing, his eyes distant. Like he’s forgotten about Tucker entirely. Like he’s thinking about the other planets he’s gone to, the other adventures he’s had, and all the secrets he’s hiding.

Tucker hates when Wash goes away inside like that. It always leaves him alone in the kitchen, watching all the adventures the universe has to offer play out on a screen that’s always just out of his field of view. They’re supposed to be friends.

“So, uh,” He says, plopping himself down in the chair next to Wash. “How’d it go this time?”

Wash blinks and shakes his head, and Tucker can just see the memories dissipate. “Hm?”

“You know,” Tucker rolls his eyes, dropping his voice to imitate Wash. God, this guy. “The whole, “I’m here to hunt Vaults and kick ass, and Vaults are rare as fuck’ deal? How’d it go, stupid?”

Wash shrugs, and Tucker is going to beat him into the ground if he gives another vague non-answer. Wash has a freaking black eye. Last time it was cracked ribs. Tucker can only take so much mystery. Apparently that shows on his face, because Wash tries to elaborate. “It was fine. A lot of bandits. I blew up one of Charon’s outsourced research facilities.” Tucker exhales hard through his nose and raises an eyebrow, because he knows Wash can do better than that. Wash shrugs again, like he doesn’t know what Tucker wants to hear. (Hint: Tucker’s not interested in stories about merc work from Charon’s competitors.) “I… went over to Lynchwood and killed a giant skag. Kept them from getting eaten.”

“This is the greatest story of our generation.”

Wash rolls his eyes, but he acquiesces and tips his head back, trying to think of some detail good enough to sate Tucker. “And… she fired a laser? And electric orbs. She was some sort of mutant, I think. And then my car overheated for times trying to get back.”

“Whoa, seriously?” That—that is fucking sick. If Tucker were telling the story, he totally would have led with the mutant laser beam skag, what the hell.

“Yes, seriously. It was incredibly inconvenient,” Wash says, his face like stone. He shifts his ice pack again, revealing behind it—oh, right. The cut on his cheek. Tucker never gave him anything for that.

“Hang on,” Tucker says, getting up from his chair and heading for the workshop. He’s probably got a first aid kit somewhere behind all the screw guns. “Wait, so, inconvenient – you’re talking about the skag, right?”

Behind him, Wash’s chair scrapes against the ground as he stands to follow. “Not really. Skags are dangerous, but they’re not very smart. My car stalling out in the desert means I’m a sitting duck for bandits, or any mercenaries Charon decides to hire.”

… Oh. Well, shit, okay, that’s a fair point.

But still, that’s not anywhere near as cool as a giant mutant skag with a laser attack.

Tucker bends to rummage through the cabinet with the screw guns. He’s really got to clean up sometime; he’s got drill bits and battery packs mixed in together in a way that totally camoflages any kind of medical kit.

“What are you looking for?” Wash says, and Tucker jumps and whacks his head on the top of the cabinet, because Wash is right behind him, Jesus Christ.

“Make noise when you walk, jackass.” Tucker feels his head. That’s definitely gonna be a lump sometime in the next thirty seconds. Ugh, ow. “I’m getting the first aid kit, because otherwise your face is gonna get infected and fall off. We don’t have any fancy health syringes, but this should be okay.”

“Do you need my ice pack?” Wash offers. Tucker would say yes, but he’s used to this shit. A bump on the head isn’t exactly news, not in this mechanic’s shop.

“ ‘m fine,” Tucker waves him off and keeps searching, stacking battery packs in precarious heaps. Aside from the ache on the crown of his head, Tucker can barely feel it.

Wash pauses. Sighs. “You know, you don’t need to find a first aid kit. I don’t need a band-aid.”

“Uh-huh,” Tucker says, because he’s heard that one before. That one ends with another scar on Wash’s face, another spot that hurts to see because Tucker knows he could help if only Wash would ask. “Sure thing, brainiac. Go find the peroxide.”

Washington sighs and grunts an affirmation. Tucker waits until the footsteps have disappeared into the hall to sit back on his heels and rub the top of his head, then huffs out a breath. Ow.

And then, staring into the cabinet, searching for a medi-pack among screw guns and drill bits, and the metal grinder, seriously, that’s where it’s been, Tucker has an idea.

A really good, really bad idea.

“I found the first aid kit,” Wash shouts from the bathroom.

Dazed, Tucker nods at the metal grinder that’s been missing for a week.

… Oh, right. Wash is in the other room. He can’t see that.

“Uh-huh,” Tucker calls, barely focused. “That’s cool.”

A moment of silence from Wash. Good – Tucker’s still reeling from his own genius. Or the knock on the head, either one. Then—“Do you want me to bring it in?”

Oh. Wait. Shit.

“Uh, bring what in?” Tucker yells over his shoulder.

Wash groans. “The first aid kit, Tucker!”

“Oh, yeah! Definitely bring that!” Tucker stands, taking his time – oof. Two minutes bent over and he’s already stiff. Bow chicka bow wow.

When Wash returns, Tucker’s perched himself on the workbench at the back of the shop, crosslegged on top of the cabinets. He’s thinking. He has the idea, now he just needs to bring it up in conversation. Subtly. That’s key.

The peroxide is tucked into the pocket of Wash’s vest, so he’ll start there. Tucker swips the bottle and… tugs Wash back to the bathroom, because, oh right, towels. That’s a thing they’re actually gonna need. Washington has given up protesting at this point.

Tucker kicks the door shut behind them and pushes Wash down to sit on the lid of the toilet. “So,” He says, super casually thank you very much. He casually shakes the peroxide and then casually pours a little onto the cleanest towel he can see. “I was thinking.”

“That’s a bad sigh,” Wash says, his voice dry, and then winces when Tucker casually shoves his peroxide rag on Wash’s cut.

Serves him right.

“So I was thinking,” Tucker repeats, squatting down to rub the cut clean more gently. “You know your car?”

Wash eyes him across the foot-wide expanse between them. He looks like—like a hawk, almost. Careful. Calculating, if hawks knew how to use calculators. Tucker doesn’t think he’s ever noticed those flecks of grey in Wash’s brown eyes. “Yes, I know my car.”

“Yeah, your car,” Tucker says, his brain stalling out just a little. God, those eyes. “Your car. Your… car.”

Washington raises an eyebrow. Focus, Tucker.

Tucker busies himself with the first aid kid, plopping it on the toilet between Wash’s knees to hunt for a band-aid. He can’t use any of the ones with the cartoon characters on them – they’re hard to find, and Tucker’s saving them in case Junior ever gets to visit – but Tucker gets cut in the workshop so often that he’s running out of plain ones.

“I was thinking.”

“You know, I actually heard about that.” Wash’s voice rumbles in Tucker’s ear, breath warm on his cheek. “Was it about my car?”

“Don’t be a dick,” Tucker says offhandedly, rummaging through the gauze and splints and tweezers and is everything in this house a goddamn mess, why is this only ever a problem when Wash is here.

“Let me help,” Wash says, exasperated. Suddenly his hands are in the med kit, almost wrapped around Tucker’s. How in the hell is Tucker supposed to find anything like this? He pushes Wash’s hands away.

“Wash, you’re a guest. Seriously, let me.” Okay, for real, they have a hot-water bottle in the desert but no fucking band-aids? “I was thinking, it’s gotta be a pain for your car to break down as often as it does. The thing’s a lemon, Wash, c’mon.”

And Wash’s hands are back. Wow, this guy cannot take orders to save his life. “I already told you—”

“Wash, for real, don’t—” Tucker bats Wash’s hands away. They’re callused (probably kickback from his assault rifle, Tucker’s super helpful brain provides) and they’re so big it’s hard to see anything in the stupid kit. “Anyway, I was thinking, what if I fixed it up for you? It’s kind of a job, but… but it’d only be like three days. Four, tops.”

There we go. Tucker’s fingers close around a band-aid, no thanks to those huge, rough hands still taking up all the space in the kit, and Tucker looks up.

Six inches away, Wash is staring back at him. His eyes are bright and wary, and his lips are pulled tight where his teeth are biting down.

Most of Tucker’s brain stops functioning. Some very distant part of his brain thinks, good thing I didn’t hit him, I don’t need another whack on the head, but clearly that part of his brain needs to get with the program, because lips. Six inches away are those lips, chapped and bitten raw, with that scar on the left that cuts the upper lip in half. Those lips that look exactly the way they have in Tucker’s dreams for—

“Found it,” he murmurs.

“You’d fix my car?” Wash’s eyes are wary, or maybe… confused? Maybe both. His breathing is shallow, almost nonexistent, and he’s tense, like he could bolt at any second.

“Band-aid,” Tucker says, because that’s totally the right answer to that question. He knows he’s staring. Knows he should stop, even. Wash is just so close. “I mean. Found one,” He tries to clarify. His tongue is swollen in his mouth. Why is this happening? “Found a band-aid.”

Wash swallows. Tucker tries to look like someone who totally wasn’t thinking about all the best ways to cover that throat in hickeys. “You’d fix my car?” Washington whispers again in a hoarse voice, side-stepping the topic of the band-aid. Oh, Jesus.

“I—I thought I was the one who was repeating stuff,” Tucker says, his fingers fumbling to unwrap the band-aid. It would probably help if he was actually looking at it, but fuck that. Fuck anyone who tries to get him to look away from those eyes, dark brown that catch the light to shine like mica in the desert sun. How has he never noticed those eyes before today?

“Tucker, I—” Wash coughs, clears his throat, and tries again. “I can’t ask you to do that.”

“Whatever, man,” Tucker says, and the band-aid is open, and he can just—put it on. His hands shake a little bit smoothing it down, thumb running over Wash’s cheek, but his voice is steady. “It’s cool, I’m offering.”

“No, Tucker,” Wash says stiffly. He draws back a little, and whatever spell has been entwining them together is broken. Tucker’s jaw sets. He snaps the first aid kit shut and turns away from Wash, shoving the box into the medicine cabinet. “Like you said,” Wash continues. “My car is—close to totalled. I can’t ask you to do that. That would take—”

“Three days.” Tucker stands up. Wash follows suit. “Maybe four if it’s a real piece of shit, I don’t know, I’d have to look at it.”

Wash bites his lip, and Tucker tries not to stare. He’s done enough staring in the past few minutes. Tucker will have spank bank material for months, until Wash comes back from his next trip probably; he doesn’t need any more.

“Look,” says Tucker, pressing his advantage. “Like you said, you’ll be safer if your car doesn’t break down all the time. And—and look, I’ll check your weapons, too. Weapons, leg, everything, and then you’ll be good to go for the next two or three months.”

A thoughtful look comes over Wash’s face as he presses his way out of the bathroom, with Tucker on his heels. “Actually, if my car got fixed… barring any bad accidents, I could stay out for a bit longer. Maybe six months, depending on how supplies go.”

Tucker’s stomach drops. Six months?

“Well— I mean—” He starts, but Wash is already turning back to him.

“You’d do that for me?” Wash says. There’s a weird look on his face, some sort of cocktail of suspicion and confusion and – and hope. All Tucker can do is nod. It’s fine. Six months is fine. Six months for four days – that might actually be more Wash time than he’d get otherwise. Tucker bites his lip, trying to calculate. Two days per three months – one day per month and a half – that’s definitely more Wash time than usual. He never gets to hang out with Wash for that long.

So it’s fine. Six months is fine.

“Yeah, I can definitely handle that,” Tucker says, his mouth dry. “Usual rates,” he adds, heading past Wash towards the workshop door. That means usual rates for Wash, which is definitely not his usual rate for anyone else, but fuck it. Wash doesn’t know how much he charges for a car repair. This time there’ll be no arguing the price up, no protesting when Tucker drops the bill. This is a good thing. With one hand on the door handle, Tucker turns back, tilting his head to invite Wash to follow.

“Of course,” Wash says, eyebrows furrowed like he’s confused Tucker even has to specify ‘usual rates’. “But, wait – before, you said you’d have to make time for my leg. Do you have anything else going on?”

Five days of backlog.

“Not really,” Tucker lies, reassured by that small glimpse of hope in Wash’s eyes. He leans on the door to the shop. Play it cool. “Just a couple of minor things. If you can wait, like, two hours, I’ll get started then.”

Naturally, the handle twists, the door falls open behind him, and Tucker stumbles back onto his ass.

“Well, then.” Wash snickers, his eyes crinkling as he stretches out a callused hand. Asshole. “I think I can make time for that."

Tucker groanes, rubbing his tailbone, and takes Wash’s hand. He can sacrifice his dignity just this one. “Cool. I’ll open up the garage door and you can bring your car in.”

Wash nods his approval, starting towards the door, and then pauses. “Do you have any groceries? I can… make dinner. As a thank you. Is there anything you want?”

And Tucker has to smile a little, because it’s so easy, this routine they’ve fallen into, this simple rhythm of cook-fix-sleep-gone. It’s kind of perfect, actually, and it sucks that they don’t get to do it more often. (Haha, do it, obligatory bow chicka bow wow.) “There’s probably stuff in the fridge. Bring your car in and then I’ll eat whatever you make me.”


 

Wash pulls a few leaves off the rosemary Tucker keeps on the windowsill and crushes them in his hand. Tucker groans as he tosses them into the oil, next to the garlic that’s already sizzling. Reason number two why Tucker loves Wash’s visits: he never eats like this when he’s the one cooking.

The car’s in the garage, along with all the gear that needs to be repaired; Wash is humming (terribly) as he works his weird kitchen magic. It’s comfortable, and Tucker doesn’t feel too remiss about picking through the sale pile they’ve put together on the kitchen table. He’s worked all day, he deserves a little geek time.

“There’s a rare Tediore there for you,” Wash says, his eyes still on the pan. His voice is neutral, but… Wash is keeping an eye out for those now? They don’t exactly earn much. Tucker’s the only one who really wants a cheap, secondhand Tediore.

“Yeah? Which one—ooh, hello.” It’s a shotgun, light blue woven carbon fiber casing, but something’s put a dent in the barrels that’s big enough to block ammo. No one in their right mind would buy it as a weapon. But that’s fine. Tucker doesn’t want it as a weapon. “How’s the reload speed on this, do you know?”

Wash chances a surreptitious glance over his shoulder, like the garlic will go up in flames if he so much as blinks. “That’s the—what, the…”

Tucker glances down at the barrel to read off the name. “Sportsman?”

“One point two,” Wash replies, immediate – he must have been using it before it got dented. Tucker whistles, patting the butt of the gun. Not bad.

“Okay,” he says, putting it on a chair that he’s just now decided is going to hold the ‘keeper’ pile. “Let’s see what else we’ve got.”

All Charon weapons automatically go on the keeper chair – Wash won’t touch Charon for some reason. Too bad for him, increased aim kicks ass. Tucker mentally flags one of the shittier shotguns and a sniper rifle for parts, in case Wash’s leg ever needs new casing. But everything else, orange and black with those sleek, sleek lines – those are all his, and he can’t wait for a little private time with them later.

… Geek private time. Not—not private private time. Important distinction.

The next thing Tucker does is sort through the more common Tediores. Some he’ll scrap for parts, some he might sell. He divides the nicest ones into a pile for him and Wash to split; he’ll say they’re average, that Wash needs something to defend himself with. What Tucker’s on the lookout for mostly is the digistruct chips. He’ll crack that system one day.

From the Maliwans, Tucker mostly wants unscratched elemental cells. Vladofs Wash can keeps, and Torgues… Torgues Wash can definitely keep. He has that weird, exclusive deal with the Torgue sargeant for his shotguns, and… politely put, there are zero interesting things, scientific or personal, about Torgue pistols and assault rifles. Tucker piles anything Torgue on the newly-formed ‘sell’ and ‘give back’ chairs.

“So, uh, how’s the Sarge?” He says, trying to be casual as he begins sorting shields. Maylays, novas, spikes… as usual Wash has sold the boosters and the Pangolins, the shields that could actually keep him safe. Ugh.

“What, Torgue?”

“Mm-hmm.”

Wash is quiet for a minute, but the sound of stirring doesn’t stop. Watched pans never burn, Tucker guesses. “He’s all right,” Wash says slowly. “Called the other day.”

Tucker pauses, waits for him to elaborate.

Wash keeps stirring the garlic.

“… Yeah? What about?”

“He wanted to talk about sponsorship.” The words pour out like tar, slow and sticky as they run over Tucker’s skin and burn. “I wear—I don’t know, a red and white check jacket with his name on it, and he pays me. Fixes my gear, gives me new guns.”

The tar hardens, silence falling in the kitchen, and Tucker quickly clatters the shields together to break it. The noise gives him a moment, time enough to figure out a response that isn’t fuck no. “That’s… not a bad offer.”

“It’s not,” says Wash quietly. He grabs a cup of some sauce he’s mixed and splatters it into the pan. It hisses like a spiderant but it smells like heaven, whatever it is, so Tucker’s 80% of the way towards trusting it already.

“So… you… took it?” Tucker probes. The shields are a mess, the way he’s scattered them around; he’ll have to redo his piles completely. Wash can’t have taken the deal. It’s not possible. He wouldn’t be here if he had, he’d be at one of Sarge’s industrial outposts, getting his leg, all Tucker’s work, ripped to shreds. He’d be getting those shitty diesel engines Torgue loves so much installed, and he’d be getting paid handsomely for it. Wash wouldn’t do that to Tucker. Wouldn’t do that, period.

The second Wash takes to respond feels like an eternity. “… No. I didn’t.”

It’s… surprising how much relief Tucker feels, considering he knew Wash would never go for that deal. “Yeah?” He says, not caring if it’s rude to trashtalk his competitors. “Good. His guns are shit, anyway. Explosions are a cheap trick, who needs them? And you know that bandana you got me? Literally blew up when I left it on the clothesline to dry. Who does that? How do you even make a bandana explode?”

The pan clatters to the stovetop and Wash is across the room in almost the time it takes to blink, crowding Tucker up against the cluttered table. “It did what? Are you all right?”

Tucker gulps. Okay. Vault Hunter reflexes just as terrifying as they are hot, that’s cool. “Yeah. I’m fine. Down a few shirts, but not like I need those anyway, am I right?” He tries a little mock-flex, to see if Wash will laugh, but he doesn’t go for it.

Wash’s eyebrows furrow as he stares Tucker down. “I didn’t know it would do that. I didn’t mean for that to happen.” He looks so genuinely concerned that Tucker almost wants to smile; it’s kind of sweet, that Wash thinks Tucker needs looking after.

“I know you didn’t, man. I know.” Wash continues to just… look at him, and Tucker clears his throat. Not that he doesn’t appreciate the concern, but the stare is a little unnerving. “So, uh, the food? Is—how is that? How’s that going?”

Wash blinks. Jesus Christ. “The food you were making?” Tucker clarifies. “On the stove? With the burnable shit? Over there?

Again Wash blinks, and then a slight tinge of pink spreads across his cheeks. “Oh. Uh, right.”

It takes Wash significantly more time to get back from the stove, away from Tucker, than it did to get to him. Tucker takes a moment to catch his breath, then – back to business. Shields.

The shields, as it turns out, are a pretty mixed bag. Maylays are, as always, recombined bandit crap. No thanks. Those can go in the giveback pile, since Wash is always so keen to get his face bashed in. Spikes – eh, some of them are okay. Tucker swipes one of the nicer fire spikes to examine later, but the good ones Wash will probably need, and the bad ones aren’t worth keeping. Novas are where it’s at, though: Tucker’s been considering whether he could add a concussive blast to the elemental projectiles, and for that, he needs test subjects.

Fifteen minutes later, he’s got the grenade mods sorted as well. Most of those are either getting sold or going back to Wash; Tucker’s never cared about how to make explosions explode more. He drops the last Rubberized Tesla mod on the sell pile just as Wash turns off the stove. Perfect timing.

“All right, let’s see what you’ve got.” Tucker pushes the weapon-covered chairs away from the table, sliding the two that are left closer together. He also makes a concession to hospitality by grabbing the forks and a couple of napkins on his way to the stove to look at Wash’s concoction.

It’s the last of the rakk thighs he’s had in the freezer, but Wash has done… something to them, sizzled the meat brown and gold and flecked it with herbs. The smell is rich and savory, and Tucker’s stomach growls. Whenever Wash visits, he takes over cooking; the first few meals after he leaves are just depressing.

“Well?” Wash says quietly. His eyes are fixed on the pan, but Tucker’s pressed close up against his side to get more of that smell; there’s no need to speak any louder.

“Eh,” Tucker grins. “It looks okay.”

Wash raises an eyebrow, and Tucker smirks. It’s so much less boring with Wash here to tease. God, this doesn’t happen enough—

“I should make you niu rou mian sometime.” It tumbles out of Wash’s mouth quickly, and Tucker blinks.

“You should – what?”

Wash looks just as confused as Tucker feels, which is weird, because he’s the one who said it, but.

“It’s…” Wash pauses, bites his lip. “It’s a type of soup. Beef and noodles, it’s… I like it. I think.”

“Where the hell did you get beef noodle soup on Pandora? Wait, you think?

“I don’t—it wasn’t…” Wash’s eyebrows furrow, and Tucker just knows he’s about to go to his mystery man place.

Tucker nudges him. “So what you’re saying is, it could be terrible. It could suck balls, and you still want me to eat it,” he teases. Wash rolls his eyes.

“Go get the plates, Tucker.”

They dish up the food in relative silence; the two of them have done this before, and Tucker has learned exactly how to avoid tripping over Wash as they dance around the kitchen. But when they sit down, after Tucker’s taken a bite (and groaned in appreciation) Wash opens his mouth to speak. Tucker perks up; usually he’s the one who has to make conversation around here.

Watching Tucker intently, Wash opens his mouth and then closes it, then opens and closes it again. His fingers flex on his fork, and finally he looks away, turning his head down to cut his meat. Only then can he mumble, “So – Junior.”

“Yeah?” Tucker quirks an eyebrow. Not winning any prizes for verbosity, Wash.

“How… is he?”

Tucker shrugs. “Same old, same old. Still on Hera with his dad. Other dad.” Fucking Crunchbite. Tucker’s still not sure how the whole polo-shirt alien douchebag routine was ever hot. He takes good care of Junior, though, which is the important thing. “He’s got a science fair coming up, so he’s been ECHOing every few days to ask me to check his work. Building a robot, it’s really cool.”

“Really?” Wash glances up to meet his eyes, and Tucker grins. “Sounds… impressive.”

“Yeah, well, he’s a smart kid. Best in his class. And he’s center on his school’s basketball team.” Tucker likes to brag about his kid, sue him.

“That’s great.” Wash takes a bite of the rakk, closes his eyes in appreciation, and then swallows. “Do you get to watch his games? Do they… stream them? On the ECHOnet?” Tucker snorts, because Wash knows absolutely zero about the ECHOnet, and always has.

“Nah. No one’s gonna stream elementary school basketball.” It’s not an issue, though. It’s fine. Tucker shrugs. “Sometimes Crunchbite sends me videos. Can’t send the whole game, though, a file that big all the way from Hera would fry my connection. Just Junior’s choice moments, you know how it is.”

“Of course. Maybe you could show me some clips later,” Wash offers, like Tucker wouldn’t jump at the chance to talk about Junior, the chance to help Wash connect with the greatest kid in the galaxy.

Something pings in Tucker’s memory. “Oh! Junior had an ECHO drama for you. Something to add to your list, y’know?” Tucker’s been stockpiling tapes for Wash’s drives across Pandora for ages, but ever since Junior mentioned his favorite show a few months back, Tucker’s kept it at the top of the pile for Wash’s return.

“Oh?” Wash says, but Tucker’s already half out of the room at that point, dashing back to the workshop. Most of the ECHOs he keeps in a cardboard box under his tool bench, but he’s left this one leaning up on the workbench where he can periodically re-read the description.  It always makes him smile, this weird bit of the past that Junior’s managed to dig up. Crunchbite says they found it at a used recordings store near the house.

Tucker snags the echo and flits back to the table, dropping it into Wash’s hands so he can observe the look on Wash’s face when he sees the title. If this doesn’t get a laugh, or at least a grin, nothing will.

Wash’s eyes narrow as he scans the description on the audio log’s body. “… Borgman 3000?” He says finally. He looks completely baffled, but Tucker’ll take it; by Wash measurements, he considers that roughly the same as hysterical giggling.

Tucker nods. “Borgman 3000: Cybernetic Supersoldier,” He says helpfully, not quite managing to contain his chuckle. “It’s Junior’s favorite. Some thirty-year-old pulp story from the store across the street, I guess.”

Wash nods like he has any idea of what it’s like to be in one place long enough to conceptualize ‘the store across the street’, but Tucker smiles nonetheless. Then Wash bites his lip, looking back down at his plate. There’s a thing called eye contact, Wash. Live it, learn it, love it.

“I have something for you too,” He says slowly. “Another bandana.”

“Yeah?” Strictly speaking, Tucker doesn’t need any more bandanas – Wash brings them back every time he visits, and Tucker’s collection is getting large. But hey. Unlike Wash, Tucker never turns down a gift.

Wash nods, putting his fork down to fish in his vest pockets. He reaches to the interior pocket, right over his heart, and pulls out a little grey and yellow square. Then he looks up to hold it out to Tucker.

Tucker’s eyes meet his (and once again, holy shit) and he reaches out to take the handkerchief. He fumbles for the cloth (more shaky hands, what is with him today), but when their fingers brush, just barely, Wash draws back at the touch and drops the cloth into his hands.

“Thanks,” Tucker says, because That was weird seems like maybe it’s a little rude. “It’s nice.”

And it is. It’s not flashy like the Torgue bandana, good riddance to it, or elegant like that silk Jakobs number Wash brought back almost a year ago. Not even stylish, like the blue one Wash said matched the swirling tattoos that run up and down Tucker’s arm. This one is just a grey square with a yellow line running along each edge, overlapping each other to form a perfect, infinite loop. But it’s soft, worn like it’s years old, and big enough that Tucker will be able to tie up his locs in it no problem. No logo, which is a nice change, because Tucker’s not sure he wants to wear someone’s brand if he’s not getting paid for it. He twists his fingers in the fabric gently.

Wash still hasn’t said anything. He’s just… watching, in that way Tucker can’t quite parse. Tucker clears his throat to dispel the silence. “It’s simple. Chic, you know? I like it. A lot.” Wash nods, and ugh¸does Tucker have to make all the conversation around here? “It’ll match my coveralls.”

“Your coveralls are blue.” Wash raises an eyebrow.

“It’s called a joke.”

“I thought jokes were supposed to be funny.”

“Oh, how would you know?” Tucker snarks back.

And just like that, the moment’s over. Thank God.


 

It’s when they’re laying down to sleep that Tucker actaully thinks ahead to the next few days, to what he’s done. Because Tucker sucks at foresight, he doesn’t realize the problem until he’s slipping his shirt off over his head. While he’s long since given up trying to get Wash to just take the bed already, he usually has some cooldown time after Wash leaves to, uh, ‘take care of business’. (And yes, Tucker wants to bang Wash like an explosive barrel in a bandit camp. Wash is fucking hot. There’s no shame there.)

But just then, he begins to realize that four days of bed sharing might throw him off his groove. There are a couple of things wrong with what’s about to begin.

One, Tucker doesn’t wear clothes at night. Normally he doesn’t wear anything at night, but in deference to Wash’s bizarrely old-fashioned ideas about sex, Tucker will pull on a pair of boxers when he stays over. That said, a thin layer of fabric between them is not exactly the same thing as, like, the Great Wall of China. There’s always some contact.

Two, Tucker doesn’t really jack off when Wash is around. That’s again in deference to Wash’s notions of what constitutes Appropriate Behavior. It’s also because the walls are super thin. Tucker’s not gonna skeeve out his bro.

Normally when Wash stays over, he’s gone by lunchtime, and Tucker can jerk it during his lunch break. This… might be a little bit harder.

Bow chicka bow wow not intended.

… Wash is still in the bathroom, probably taking one of those monster baths he always wants after he’s been on the road. Tucker has time to—no. Nope, not gonna. He wouldn’t have a way to clean up after, and Wash is in the next room. Fuck no.

Fine. Fine. Tucker grabs his least sexy pair of boxers (bright orange, purple stars, gag gift, don’t ask), pulls them on in one fluid movement, and steps into bed. With any luck, he’ll be asleep by the time Wash is out of the World’s Longest Bath. Wash always wakes up at the asscrack of dawn, so if Tucker times this right, he won’t even have to worry about this. He’ll wake up to Wash sitting at the table downstairs, cleaning his favorite assault rifle, and there will be zero weirdness about anything.

Hopefully.


 

Tucker’s right on two counts – when he wakes up, with that special Pandoran sunlight streaming through the window, there’s nobody lying next to him. And there is in fact zero weirdness… because Wash is gone, not even a note left on the fridge to explain where he’s run off to. At least his ammo bag is still stashed next to Tucker’s dresser; Wash might drive off into the desert without even a change of clothes, but he’d never leave without his weapons.

He did leave a sandwich, covered by a plate so no flies could get at it. Tucker guesses that’s for breakfast. It’s leftovers from last night, marinated rakk between what was probably the last of the bread, and it tastes great, but it would taste a lot better if he had someone to eat with.

Tucker takes his time, spinning a single sandwich into an hour and a half, but eventually he can’t make any more excuses. The sun outside’s no help, with its ninety-hour cycle, but the clock ticks on. So he chucks Wash’s gross, blood-sweat-and-dirt-stained clothes into the washing machine, grabs a bandana to tie his hair up in a ponytail, and heads for the workshop. It’s time to tackle… the car.

The car is terrible. The car is busted beyond belief. The front axle’s bent and the back one’s rusted in a way Tucker doesn’t like. The steering column is so loose he’s surprised the car even turns, and the engine is a special kind of horrible. In addition to the collection of squeaks, wheezes, groans and gurgles it’s perfected, the car dumps half its fuel into the back wheels and out the bottom. (Wash has mentioned before that the main issue with this is it leaves a very visible trail). Half the windows don’t open; the other half are cracked or broken so there’s no point trying to close them. The car is a piece of shit.

Tucker kind of loves it on principle. Who needs people when you have a machine and a problem to solve? He hops down onto the creeper, rolls himself under the carriage, and takes a deep breath.

He’s not a masochist (okay, maybe under specific circumstances, sometimes), but he loves being able to bury himself in a project. Servicing guns is fine, he’s not gonna complain about easy money, and buzzard turbines have become almost instinctive at this point. Household appliances? Bish bash bosh, one and done. But no one ever brings anything new or difficult; it’s all the same problems, shit Tucker worked out how to fix ages ago. On its own, each broken part of the junker would be a relatively simple fix. But this is all one car. Suddenly Tucker’s looking at four days of work that he can bury himself in, a transformation that he can create with some time, some tools, and his own two hands.

First: patching the wheels. All four of them are terrible, so flat and patchwork they’d be more useful as a quilt. Even though they’re more patch than rubber, the rocks of Pandora have torn fresh holes in them, and the grooves are worn way past what’s safe. Just looking at them gives Tucker a headache. But he puts the car on the trolley jack anyway, pops the wheels off and replaces them with some temporary spares. Maybe he’ll be able to convince Wash to take one or two new tires with him, instead of just patching these Frankenstein… things.

Most of what’s lodged in the tires is – grenade shrapnel, Christ. Charred and corroded, parts of the rubber have melted and reformed. Tucker puts on his safety goggles and gets out his pliers to pick out every last shard. Then he cleans the holes (and there are so many), and enlarges them so that he can slip in the patch. The patches go on, and finally he can pump the tire full again and put it aside. Only… three more to go.

After the tires it’s the front axle – bent in two places, more than a quarter inch off, it really should be replaced, but Wash will try to pay more if he finds new parts. So Tucker resigns himself to spending time smashing the axle as straight as it can get. For that he has to take the wheels off again (why did he even put them back on), pry the axle out of the transmission, and… go at it with a hammer. Then it slides back on, on go the wheels, and he can take the car off the trolley jack for the second time. There’s nothing he can do for the rusted back axle without an actual replacement, so he reluctantly forgoes it.

Check, check on the checklist, and up next is—changing the transmission fluid and oil. God. Damnit.

The car goes back on the fucking trolley jack, because he can’t seem to check these things before he hikes the two-ton vehicle up and down, up and down. Tucker groans and sets up, then rolls onto the creeper. The transmission pan is a familiar shape, almost reassuring, but somehow it never seems to get easier being trapped by the underbelly of a car that’s being lifted a foot off the ground, supported only by a lever that weighs less than a Golden Retriever.

This part Tucker finds almost instinctive. He’s done this before, on the jeeps the miners use to carry eridium shipments, on the little runners people use for expeditions to nearby settlements, on nearly every vehicle in town. Tucker falls into a rhythm, easy like a heartbeat: fifteen half-inch bolts, left-y loose-y, until the fluid drips red down the left side of the pan. When there’s too little left to drain on its own, take the bolts all the way off the left side and let the last of the fluid pour down into the train pan. Then, off with the rest of the bolts, remove the entire transmission pan, and perch it on the corner of the drain pan. Inspect. Well, at least the bolt holes aren’t raised. That’s one thing Tucker won’t have to hammer back into place.

Filter off, gasket off – these, at least, Tucker can replace without Wash trying to argue. Wash has no concept of what the underside of his car looks like, and Tucker doubts he ever will.

Finally, the transmission pan is back on, gasket secure but not squashed, filter replaced. Tucker pushes the drain pan, full of crap he doesn’t want to think about, to slide across the floor and under the workbench where he can forget about it. Then he allows his head to tip back, lets his eyes flutter shut as he takes a deep breath. He’ll relax for just a moment.

“Do you want me to make dinner?” Wash says, from about two feet away.

Tucker jolts awake, nearly jumps out of his skin; he barely avoids smacking his head on the transmission pan. He narrows his eyes up at the carriage and waves the half-inch wrench in the direction of Wash’s voice. “Don’t do that, man. You want me getting another whack on the head?”

“It’s getting late. Nearly seven.” No need to apologize, Tucker mumbles sarcastically at the underside of the car. Then Wash’s words finish processing.

“What?! No it’s not, it’s like—” Tucker calculates. Diagnostics usually take, what, an hour? Double that for this wreck of a machine. And then patching the wheels (all of them), rebending the axle (in both places), changing the transmission fluid and the filter… and if Tucker started around eleven… “It’s like, three. Tops.” He reaches a hand out between the front tires.

“… No. It’s not,” Wash says. Tucker’s stomach rolls. Well, that’s great. How long did he sleep?! Then, from the driver’s side: “Do you need a—a wrench?”

“Pull me out, Wash.” Tucker rolls his eyes at the car; it may be a piece of shit, but it understands. They’re the only ones who see Wash in prime dweeb mode.

Footsteps sound, one muted and one clanking, as Wash moves around the car. Then a callused hand wraps around Tucker’s wrist and he feels the creeper moving backwards, feels himself almost flying. God, this is way better than awkwardly wheeling himself around.

Tucker sits up, rolls off the creeper, stretches – ugh, nothing like fucking napping under a car to make you feel stiff – and takes in the car. It creaks on the trolley jack. From underneath the carriage, it’d looked like he was doing so well. Here, sitting on the floor, he can see the dents in the hood, the smashed windows, rusted paint, dented fenders… ugh. His stomach rumbles. That’s eight hours gone, eight hours that should have been five, or four if he was lucky. The car really is a piece of shit.

He peers at Wash. The overhead lightbulb casts his face in shadow and gives him a halo, but Tucker can still see—

New bruising along Wash’s jawline. Dried blood along his temple. Tucker leaps to his feet. “Did you get in a fight?

“I went to get groceries.” Wash looks back at him, jaw set.

“The hell you did!” Jesus, who did Wash even find to hit him? This town isn’t exactly huge, and most people are in the eridium mines during the day. “Go to the kitchen and make yourself another ice pack, I’m getting the first aid kid. Again.”

“I’m fine, Tucker,” Wash says, taking a step back. “I need to put the groceries in the fridge.”

“What? No! Screw the groceries, you’re bleeding, Wash—”

“It’s clotted, Tucker. I’m fine.” Wash reaches out to pull bags full of groceries Tucker hasn’t even noticed until now off the workbench. He heads out the door, towards the kitchen. Tucker kicks the creeper into a corner and scrambles after him, because fuck that.

“For real, Wash, you need to disinfect that cut, and you need an ice pack, and—are you limping, what the fuck, sit down, you stupid—

“Tucker,” Wash says, stopping at the fridge door. “I’m fine.” He turns away, movements rigid like everything hurts, and—

Tucker bites his lip. Hard. “Fine.” He stares at Wash, across that endless expanse of his shitty little table, looks him dead in the eye. Wash looks back, with a face as blank as granite. “Just—fine. You’re fine.”

Wash nods and pulls open the fridge, starting to unpack his bags of whatever the fuck he’s bought.

“Tell me about your day, then.”

A shrug from where he’s hunched over. “I went for a walk.”

“Long walk,” says Tucker, icy.

“I’ve never really seen Blood Gulch.”

“Well, you saw it plenty today.”

“I got some meat to freeze,” Wash says like Tucker hasn’t even spoken. “Since I used up the last of your rakk.”

“Great, we can put it on your face,” Tucker bites out, and Wash stiffens.

“I didn’t mean to interrupt you, Tucker,” he says, knuckles white around the fridge handles. “You can go back to the workshop if you’d like. I just thought you might want a break.”

“Weird, ‘cause I thought you might want a car instead of a barely-moving deathtrap.”

“I’m going to make dinner,” Wash snaps. “Sorry if I disturbed your nap.”

And – ugh. Tucker can’t do this right now. He’s stiff and hungry and can’t even fix this one thing for Wash, can’t seem to make headway on a project he volunteered for. “Fine. Do that,” he hisses, and turns on his heel, back to the workshop to replace the warped firing pin on Siris’s pistol. To do the work he’s supposed to be doing, instead of – whatever this is.


 

Dinner sucks. The food is great, but Wash is still sulking and won’t meet Tucker’s eyes. Instead Tucker has to stare at Wash’s forehead, at the dried blood caked on his temple. It kind of ruins his appetite.


 

The next day goes about the same: after an icy night, Tucker wakes up alone. There’s no sandwich this time, but he’s not hungry. Instead he just goes to the workshop. Tucker refuses to let this car beat him.

But he’s done doing things Wash’s way. Today, he’s going back, replacing both axles, replacing the tires, replacing whatever else needs it. Putting in new, good parts, instead of reworking junk. Because fuck it! Wash will never know the difference. He’ll never even know how to check.

Tucker grins bitterly as he muscles the car up onto the trolley jack, ready to take off the axle he spent most of yesterday smacking back into shape. Never let it be said that Tucker doesn’t know how to be petty.

The pettiness is spoiled somewhat when Wash comes back smelling like smoke and blood. He’s still not talking to Tucker.


 

Wash’s third day visiting follows a similar pattern. Wake up, eat—whatever’s left, go fight and wrestle with the world’s biggest heaping pile of junk. Replacing parts has helped – new tires and a new axle go a long way – but it does mean Tucker essentially wasted the first day of work. None of it would be so colossally sucky if Wash had hung out the way Tucker thought he was going to, but apparently Wash considers them colleagues with benefits.

Not even the fun kind of benefits, either.

The day isn’t all car, though. At one point Tucker gives up patching the fuel tank and starts working with the buzzard turbines. Niner hasn’t said when she’ll be popping by other than ‘in a few days’, and she’s a scary lady. Tucker doesn’t want to be entirely empty handed when she shows up. It’s a nice break from the engine from hell, considering buzzard turbines are basically the engines from purgatory – they never get any harder, but they never get any more interesting, either.

It helps, mixing up his projects like this; normally the machines Tucker’s given to repair don’t take too long, a day or two at most if he doesn’t have a backlog. And honestly, he’s starting to realize that the most frustrating thing about the car isn’t that it’s a big project, or that the job is tricky. It’s not.

Wash’s car is boring. Everything’s falling apart, but there’s nothing that Tucker hasn’t seen in one form or another on the jeeps and the technicals. Hell, the car isn’t even as interesting as that toaster Junior managed to half-melt. It’s just… a slog.

But he’s almost done, which is the one good thing about an empty house. He can do what he does best: marathon work, all day and into the dead of night. He can blast the radio to keep the workshop from getting too quiet, until his head swims with mashed-together songs and his arms feel like they’ll turn into power tools. It’s a great way to get shit done.

Finally, finally, Tucker finishes adjusting the steering column. He can check the last box on his checklist now; the car may be as ugly as a goliath without a helmet, but it’ll run. And it’ll run well.

It’s getting dark now, almost nine, with the late sunset of summer in the Dust. They’re going on the forty-fifth hour of Pandoran day; now it’s time for the dark part of this ninety-hour cycle.

Tucker clicks off the radio in the middle of a jaunty little ad for Tediore’s Speedy Shields – he’ll stick with the Novas, thanks. Only once the radio clicks off does Tucker realize how quiet the house is. How empty.

No sounds of cooking in the other room, no one walking, not even snoring. Wash isn’t home. He’s still out.

You don’t stay out alone past dark on Pandora.

Tucker tells himself that Wash doesn’t leave the house without a weapon, without at least a pistol and a belt knife, that Wash could take on every bandit and raider that might roam through town. He tells himself that the odds Wash will even find someone stupid enough to take him in a fight—well, for a third day in a row—have gotta be pretty slim. He tells himself all these things as he yanks a Torgue shotgun out of the giveback pile that now sits in a cardboard box in the hall, piles shells into the pockets of his coveralls, and heads for the door.

There’s a couple places in Blood Gulch Wash could be if he’s looking for a fight. There aren’t any bandit camps nearby; Charon wiped them out before the town was established, so there wasn’t any risk of raids on the eridium mines Charon wanted so badly. Wash couldn’t go clear out one of those. But there are some options. There’s an inn on the southwest edge of town that’s not too picky about clientele as long as they don’t stick around long, where marauders sometimes stay if they’re out on a mission for their bandit clan, or whatever. There’s the bar, if Wash wants to antagonize some drunks.

But mostly, there’s the ring.  A little outside the east part of town, not close enough to people for noise complaints, but far enough from the mines that no one worries about drunk thieves or daredevils. The fighting ring. Win a round, win a prize. Another round, another prize. Five rounds, you make the gamblers very happy.

Tucker decides to try there first.

And wow. Wouldn’t you know it. He gets lucky.

Tucker presses his way to the edge of the arena – arena, hah, it’s basically a tiny pit with a fence. Intellectually he knows there can’t be many people here, but the people jostle up against him, cheering and booing and screaming, spurred on by an announcer with a megaphone, and it’s hard to breath between the B.O. and the tight squeeze. Everyone here is armed, and the only people who aren’t wearing body armor or a shield of some type are streaked with blood from very ambiguous sources.

And down in the pit is Wash, Wash and a beefy bruiser with muscles like a bullymong, Wash and an idiot who has no idea what he’s getting into. The guy stumbles back, bloodied; Tucker’s only been here thirty seconds and he can already tell that this fight is almost over, that Wash has his opponent on the ropes. It’s kind of amazing to watch. Wash moves like water – no, like sand, too fast to be dodged, everywhere at once, letting nothing block him. Sliding out from underfoot, but getting in everywhere. The other guy may be huge, but he looks clumsy by comparison. And the true difference between them: Wash can dish it out, but he can take just as much, and maybe more.

The bruiser swings a fist into Wash’s gut, and the announcer lets out an oooooooh, but Wash just weathers it – the guy might as well have punched a boulder. But it does give Wash the opportunity to seize his opponent by the arm and spin, hurling him across the pit. The guy lands in the fence with a crash and a groan, and – one, two, three – doesn’t get up again.

The announcer goes wild, and a second later, so does the crowd. Tucker golf-claps. He’s still pissed, but… that was cool. Wash is kind of a badass. He can admit that much.

Tucker backs away as Wash stumbles towards the fence. Now that the fight’s over, he’s not moving as fluidly, his right arm close to each other and stiff, every step of his real leg ginger. Tucker steps further back, disappearing through the crowd as Wash reaches the fence and starts to clamber over it; he doesn’t have a plan for this. He wasn’t supposed to see this.

When Wash has reached the crowd, the announcer comes up to him, megaphone away. He says something Tucker can’t make out, tilts his head towards the arena. Wash shakes his head no. Not today.

Good. The announcer shrugs, passes Wash a bag – probably money – and pulls out his megaphone. He shouts something to the crowd, but it just sounds like a roar through the blood that’s pumping in Tucker’s head. Not today. It’s enough for now.

Tucker melts back into the crowd as Wash passes, a plan starting to form in his mind. If today is anything like yesterday, Wash will go straight to the kitchen; Tucker can sneak into the garage and be there when Wash comes to get him for dinner, and Wash will never know better. And tomorrow—well, Tucker will cross that bridge when he comes to it.

Wash doesn’t stick around, immediately making his way out of the throng of people around the ring. He’s heading back towards the northern part of town, where the shop is. Tucker skulks back – he’ll wait a minute or two, until Wash is back in between the buildings, and then—

And then a bandit pushes out of the crowd, straight for Wash, SMG in hand.

“Hey, asshole!”

Wash pauses. Turns. Tilts his head. Looks up and down the barrel of the gun that’s pointed at him from eight feet away, like he can’t quite believe someone is that stupid.

“I lost good money on that fight.”

“If you want to make money off of fights, you should be fighting.” Wash says coldly, his eyes narrow. He’s got a hand on his hip, by his pistol, but Tucker’s not sure he’ll get it out in time – Wash is fast, but this guy’s already got a finger on the trigger.

Tucker shoves his way out, past a miner who’s had way too much to drink. He steps right up behind the bandit, and takes the Torgue gun in two hands. Steadies his feet, bracing himself.

And then he slams his shotgun into the side of the guy’s head.

The bandit crumples between them, and Tucker doesn’t meet Wash’s eyes. Instead he bends down to where this fucking dickbag is groaning on the ground, and says, “Stay down.”

He takes the SMG out of the man’s hands, and holds it out to Wash, who takes it wordlessly. Then Tucker looks up.

“Let’s go.”

“You hate Torgue.”

“Explosions are a cheap trick. But this thing still makes a decent club.”

Wash looks at him. Tucker can’t tell how he feels about what he’s seeing.

“It’s dinnertime, Wash. Let’s go.”


 

The sun is set now, won’t be up for another two days. Outside the window, spiderants rustle and hiss – Tucker’ll have to dig them out sometime soon. Inside… well, inside the bed dips into a well where two bodies lie side by side.

Wash isn’t asleep. He’s pretending, but Tucker knows Wash’s sleeping habits by now. He snores like a freight train. He rolls around. Tucker’s pretty sure he wakes up every two or three hours – he’s heard Wash pacing around downstairs once or twice.

Tucker sighs as he stares up at the ceiling. “So… that thing.”

Dinner was awkward, quiet with uncertainty instead of hostility this time. Wash didn’t say more than a few words, asking Tucker to pass the salt and whether he wanted garlic or onion in the sauce. All evening Tucker’s been biting his tongue, starting and stopping sentences that don’t seem to know where they’re going, and he’s getting sick of it.

Silence. Wash rolls over. He’s trying to be casual about it, like it’s a bad dream or something, but the movement is too fast, too deliberate, and he’s trying not to put weight on his injured arm and leg. He hasn’t used a healing syringe: he won that fight, too.

“I know you’re awake, Wash.”

Still no sound.

“Wash. C’mon, man.”

After another minute of silence, Tucker huffs and rolls onto his side to face Wash’s back. This is stupid. “For real, talk to me here.”

“… You shouldn’t have followed me.”

“Technically, I didn’t follow you,” Tucker says to Wash’s shoulderblades. “I guessed, and I was right.”

“Tucker.”

“I’m just saying.”

“You could have gotten hurt.”

“Uh, you did get hurt. And also, did you forget the part where I kicked some dude’s ass?”

“You shouldn’t have—”

“Shouldn’t have what? Kept you from getting shot? Cause I’m pretty sure I saved your life, so, you know, maybe a thank you would—”

“Tucker.” Wash sits bolt upright, so suddenly Tucker almost jumps. There are those fucking Vault Hunter reflexes again. “I could have handled it.”

“But you didn’t have to—” Tucker scrambles to sit upright, to look at Wash, to get Wash to look at him.

“But you shouldn’t have had to!”

Tucker grips tight at the sheets, balling up his fists. “I was trying to help you. Because that’s what friends do, Wash!”

Wash freezes. In the dark, Tucker can see his outline, can see the tenseness in his shoulders, the way he’s hunching in on himself.

“I’m—Tucker.” Wash pauses. His swallow is loud in the frozen bedroom. “We’re not…” He pauses again.

Something hard tightens in Tucker’s chest.

“… You barely know me.” Wash finishes.

“And whose fault is that?” Tucker snaps. It comes out meaner than he wants it, and it’s not even totally true – he knows Wash, knows he likes cooking and cheesy ECHO dramas. He knows Wash goes off into the desert for two, three months at a time and comes back exhausted and bloody. He knows Wash is looking for something, racing some of the biggest corporations in the galaxy to find some alien treasure a million years old. He doesn’t know where Wash came from, doesn’t know why, but he knows what. He knows who. Why can’t that be enough?

Wash flinches at his words. Tucker’s not sure he feels guilty about that – there’s blood rushing to his head and a tight knot sitting in his lungs and they don’t leave much room in him for guilt. “I keep trying—so many fucking times, I try to talk to you, I ask you about stuff, about the Vault, and whatever, and you don’t—you won’t say anything. It’s not my fault we’re not friends.

“It’s not that simple, Tucker.”

“Oh, ’cause you would know. You’ve tried so many times.”

“I can’t,” Wash hisses, and the words echo off the walls of the dark room.

Tucker’s mouth drops open. He wants to say something snappy, but the degree of bullshit he’s just been served is— it’s— it’s bullshit, that’s all he can come up with. Tucker’s blood rushes in his veins and his breath is shallow and huffing, and it’s all too loud for him to begin to hear his thoughts and make them into words.

But apparently silence is what does it for Wash, because Wash turns away in full, lets his legs dangle on the bed, so he doesn’t even have to look at Tucker. “I can’t be your friend,” he offers, and it’s muted this time, quieter and slower, but that doesn’t make it sting any less.

“Great,” says Tucker. “Then I’m back to zero.”

They were the only words he could form, in the storm of his head, but the second he says them Tucker wishes he could take them back. Fucking… perfect.

Wash doesn’t say anything, and for a second Tucker lets himself imagine a world where Wash has suddenly not heard him, miraculously gone back to sleep sitting up in the middle of a fight, he’s had in earplugs the whole time, never even woke up to begin with and is talking in his sleep.

Then: “… What?”

Tucker cringes. “Nothing.”

“Tucker.”

“Nothing.”

Tucker.”

“You first, asshole.” Tucker snaps.

Wash freezes.

“Yeah, that’s right. You go first. Why can’t you be my friend? And don’t try anything like ‘Robots don’t have feelings’ because you’re, like, eighty-five percent meat, and I should know.”

Wash’s head tips back, like he’s looking to the ceiling for answers, and Tucker scoffs. Fucking typical.

“Never mind, then.” Fuming, Tucker kicks the sheets down the bed. They scrunch, and he yanks them up so he can get back under them, pull them up over his face, and pretend like he’s going to get any sleep tonight. He throws himself into the pillow; his face is burning, and like hell he’s going to let Wash see the angry tears that are pricking at the corners of his eyes.

Tucker takes a deep breath and forces his brain into work mode. The car’s done, bar one last check. Gun servicing will take two, maybe three hours, depending on how many Wash needs looked over. If Wash’s leg just needs a checkup, that’ll be between an hour and a half and four, if something is going to go wrong. So, ballpark, between five and a half and eight hours – if Tucker wakes up early, he can be sending Wash out the door by mid afternoon. Then he’ll have six whole months of peace – and that’s even assuming Wash will come back after this crap, that he won’t run off to Torgue and find a mechanic who’s not such a fucking bleeding heart. Who will look at him and see just a client with a problem to fix, not the only interesting person in the entire desert, the only person with stories and adventures bubbling under the surface, not a—

He’s not even talking and the words catch in his throat. Pet project.

It’s not even right, that word, pet project, because sure, that leg is his baby, but it’s not something he has to work on over time, it’s just fixes, an occasional upgrade, not a long-term design effort. Wash wouldn’t be able to use a pet project. A pet project would sit on Tucker’s workbench. It would take time and energy, take focus, would stay here, safe in Blood Gulch, instead of getting dragged into Vaults and ring tournaments and raids on bandit leaders by Wash and his stupid death wish--

Tucker slams his head back into his pillow. He’ll never get back to sleep if his brain doesn’t shut up.

“I’m not—”

Tucker’s fingers curl tight at the low voice. He doesn’t need choked out excuses. He needs to sleep.

“I can’t—” Wash tries again, and again the words die in his throat. He coughs. “I can’t—have friends. It’s not… it’s for your safety, Tucker.”

“Awesome,” Tucker mumbles into his pillow. The words come out mumbled; Wash might not even hear them. Perfect. “Good for you, bro.”

“Besides, even if it were—even if you would be okay. I’m not…” Wash sighs. “There are better people for you. Real people.”

Buried in his pillow, Tucker’s eyebrows go up.

“Real—you know, not… Because I’m…"

“Are you trying to tell me you’re an alien, or something?” Tucker rolls over.

“What? No!”

“Weird, ‘cause it sounded like you were gonna say you weren’t a real person, but that would be stupid, because—”

“Real people have lives, Tucker, you have a life, and I shouldn’t get to invade—”

“Get to what?” Tucker repeats, incredulous.  He sits up and crawls across the bed to Wash, who’s still staring at the wall like he’s got laser eyes and he’s ready to burn the house down. “You don’t invade jack shit, and you sure as fuck have a life!”

Wash whips around, and suddenly he’s inches away. Tucker narrows his eyes. “Listen to me, Tucker. I live in my car, and my only job is destroying Charon. That’s not a life.”

“Um, you’re a Vault Hunter?” Tucker reminds him, perhaps a little more sarcastically than is necessary. “That’s the coolest life. I wish I was a Vault Hunter.”

Wash’s face contorts, anger and shock and horror all at once. “Why would you want this?”

“Because!” Tucker cries, and he’s almost shouting now, here in this motionless room at three in the morning. “You get to go places, and see people, and do stuff—do anything, not just sit on your ass in a mining town where the most interesting things to work on are buzzard turbines! Where the only things for miles around are sand and rocks and spiderants! And people look at you like you’re a freak just because of some fucking birthmarks, and even if they didn’t everyone else is down in the mines or out on patrol, so you just sit here alone and bored and you wait to die!

Wash’s mouth hangs open, and Tucker realizes he’s leaning over him, that Wash is bending back to keep Tucker even six inches away. He freezes.

Shit.

“I mean…”

“Tucker.”

Tucker swallows, sits back upright to give Wash some space to breathe. He turns his head away from Wash’s searching eyes. Fucking idiot.

“Let’s just… go to sleep.”

The bed shifts as Wash moves towards him, then goes still as he pauses. Tucker waits, breathing shallowly.

“All right.”

Tucker pads over to his side of the bed and pulls the sheet up. The plaster wall, grey in the shadows of the room, looms in at him as he waits for sleep, words echoing in his head.


 

Tucker groans, pacing back and forth in the tiny bathroom. Wash is taking forever getting changed. They need to run tests, so Tucker can account for any problems that will come up in the next six months. Or… forever, if Wash decides to ditch his ass.

They’d woken up side by side and eaten breakfast together in silence; Wash knew better than to try his disappearing act again. But the only things they’ve said have been work related, about the leg or the last checks on the car. Wash has been skittish, running some errand he won’t tell Tucker about while Tucker went over the wheels and tested the engine. He’d been back almost immediately, just half an hour, and hadn’t come back with injuries, so Tucker hasn’t pressed it.

He’s curious as fuck, though.

Tucker sighs, looking at himself in the mirror. He runs his fingers over the mottled skin of his left arm, his reflection watching silently. Wash has never tried to mention it, and as the only person Tucker ever has real contact with, Wash’s opinion is the only one that counts for something. But Tucker knows it freaked him out the first time he saw the birthmark. Or at least surprised him, with the way his eyes had gone wide at the sight of those blue-black swirls on Tucker’s dark skin.

Whatever.

Tucker’s not self-conscious about his body. He’s done the dysphoria shit, got those two crescent scars and a shiny new dick as souvenirs. And who cares? He’s hot. Like hell anyone’s making him bodyshy now, after all that bullshit. And about a few lousy birthmarks, too? Fuck that. Tucker’ll wear tank tops every day if he wants to. And he lives in the Pandoran desert, so you’d better believe he wants to.

“You good in there?” He calls, half to distract himself. Wash is taking fucking forever to get changed, and Tucker is sick of being exiled to the bathroom. The silence, broken by an occasional thud, has Tucker half-convinced that Wash has fallen and brained himself on the bedpost; the only evidence to the contrary is logic. Wash has managed to drive halfway across the desert with a concussion and a broken wrist before, so he’s probably not going to be stopped by Tucker’s bed.

“Fine,” Wash calls absently, and Tucker decides to try a different tactic.

“Are you done in there?”

“What?”

“Are you done, Wash?”

“Oh.” A pause from the other room. “Yes.”

“Finally,” Tucker mutters to himself, and pushes the door open.

In the bedroom, Wash sits on the edge of the bed, wearing just his T-shirt and a pair of briefs; the leg glints in the lamplight. The paint, blue and yellow, is wearing a little thin, but there’s no trace of the orange and black from before. Tucker did well when he stripped that off.

“All right.” Tucker claps his hands together. “You know the drill. Joint checks first, then reflexes.”

Wash nods, and they go through all of their standard tests: flexing the knee, rolling the ankle, running, jumping, and testing reaction time. There’s no delay, no issues with the neural linkups, so Tucker has him disconnect it and put on his analog leg. This prosthetic doesn’t respond, but it’s definitely better than no leg at all when Tucker’s working.

Now, after the tests, now is the time when Tucker goes over the interior structure of the leg for weaknesses, patches up any casing issues, and tweaks the wiring. If the situation were different, he might try to persuade Wash into letting him add something new (he’s been thinking about the specifics of a rocket booster for a long, long time). But, as it is, Tucker is more than ready to just grab his tools and the digital leg and seclude himself in his workshop. He can bury himself in the radio and the smell of electricity, and feel like he’s working on something real.

Or, he could.

If Wash didn’t pull him into the kitchen and sit him down in one of those terrible green chairs.

“I thought…” Wash swallows, and then looks away. The pause makes Tucker feel twitchy. “I was going to make dinner. It would be… it would be nice to have some company.”

Something in Tucker cringes. “You don’t have to do that.”

“Do what?” Wash still isn’t looking at him, is moving away to pull something out of the fridge.

“Pity me.” The words come out hollow and sour, flat, and Tucker lets his eyes focus on the middle distance so he doesn’t have to see Wash’s reaction.

The fridge shuts with a clunk. “I don’t pity you.”

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

“Tucker.”

“What else is this supposed to be, then?”

Wash tries to say something, the words cutting off just as he starts to let them tumble out. He tries again, and then, finally, a third time: “Telling you about me.”

That catches Tucker’s attention. His eyes snap over to Wash, who is hugging a few plastic bags to his chest. Groceries. That was his errand, this morning. Just… groceries.

“Yeah?” Tucker’s voice is rough. He hates it a little bit, so he swallows and tries again. “What about you?”

The plastic bags rustle as Wash slowly steps over to the counter and sets them down, pulling a stockpot from the shelf. “My…” Wash pauses and swallows, every movement jerky. “My job?”

“I know your job. You’re a Vault Hunter.”

Slowly, Wash shakes his head. Out of one of the bags, he pulls a smaller baggie, full of chopped meat, and pours the contents into the pot. “Not entirely. I’m also—” His feet pause on the way over to the sink, and Tucker wants to pull the words he’s searching for from the air between them, where they seem to hang. “I guess the word is saboteur.” Wash smiles. It’s almost a grimace, actually. He rests the pot in the sink, twists the faucet to let it fill up, and stands back, hands in his pockets. He won’t look at Tucker.

“Saboteur.”

“Of Charon.”

“The weapons company?”

A nod. Tucker lets this information sit in the front of his mind, rolling it over and over. Saboteur of Charon.

“Why?”

“It’s not a very happy story, Tucker.”

“I didn’t really expect it to be.”

“Well,” says Wash, and turns off the water with a twist of his wrist. “As long as you know. Then it’s fair.”

That, Tucker has to snort at. “Nothing about this is fair, Wash.”

Wash sighs, and the sound gusts around the kitchen. Outside, there are crickets chirping. With a clunk, Wash drops the pot onto the stove, and Tucker watches wordlessly as the gas burner click-click-clicks to life in a flowering of blue fire.

“I was… it’s difficult to explain, Tucker,” Wash says. Tucker opens his mouth to protest, but Wash shakes his head, coming back to the table with his plastic bags, a cutting board, and a knife. He sets up efficiently, hands moving like the movements are ingrained in his bones. Kchunk, kchunk, kchunk. An onion falls to pieces on the board. “I don’t remember. That’s the issue.”

“Don’t remember,” Tucker repeats, because that’s the theme for today, repetitive skepticism.

Wash nods, shoulders hunched in tight as he slices the onion quarters into thin slivers, into crescent moons. “They said it would make me more efficient. A better soldier. If I had other people’s experiences to inform my judgement.”

That, Tucker isn’t sure what to do with. He holds his tongue.

“I was implanted with—no, that’s the middle of the story. Not the beginning.” The knife hangs in the air over the cutting board for a moment as Wash thinks. Then he begins chopping again, twice as quickly, twice as forcefully. “I was a soldier. I know that. In Project Freelancer—”

“The Atlas army?”

“The elite squadron of the Atlas army. There were—a few of us. Fifty. They codenamed us after states, that’s why…”

“Washington,” Tucker guesses. Wash stares at him for a long moment. His shoulders drop, and he nods. “It’s kinda obvious when you put it like that, dude.”

“Well. Anyway.” Wash’s words roll out quickly, jerkily. “The scientists working with Atlas wanted to implant different chips in the Freelancers, to enhance certain areas in their brain. Mine was memory.” Tucker sees Wash’s hands shake, and reaches to take the knife, but Wash takes a deep breath and begins to chop again. This time his movements are more rhythmic, and when he speaks, it’s with no emotion. “It worked, to some extent. The Epsilon chip enhanced my perception, and my recall. I was a better recon agent, and I could improvise better in the field. I noticed more details, and worked more efficiently.”

“I thought you said—”

“Efficiently,” Wash murmurs, eyes distant. “I worked efficiently.”

“You said that.”

“I—” Wash blinks hard, shaking his head. “I did. I meant… things worked well. The chips mostly did what they were meant to. There were… some issues, as much as you can expect with heightened perception, or logic, or deceit. But the project worked. It wasn’t enough to save Atlas, though.”

“Good riddance,” Tucker says, his smile sour. Everyone’s heard of what happened to the Atlas corporation and how Pandora drove it to ruin. First, wasting their resources trying to keep an unstoppable Vault. Then market takeover by Charon. And finally ditching their facilities, their workers and their soldiers on this deathtrap of a planet as the company crashed and burned.

Wash grunts, and Tucker winces, remembering a half second too late that Atlas was Wash’s company, even if they probably left him to die in the Pandoran wastelands.

“After Atlas fell, I… wandered around. Fought for people who would pay.” He means banditry, Tucker knows, but it’s fine. You don’t take it personally unless you’re the one who gets attacked. Everyone finds ways to survive on Pandora… or they don’t. But Wash did, which is the important part. Wash clears his throat and continues, still expressionless. “I got infamous for it. Enough that I got contracted by a Charon programmer looking for some bodyguards. Right before Dahl attacked their moonbase.”

Tucker’s eyes go wide, and Wash nods in recognition. “That’s right. Felix. Before he took over the company.”

“You hate Charon. You hate Felix.

Wash’s mouth goes tight, a thin pale line in his sand-gold face. “I do.” He pauses. Tucker’s an engineer; he can see the gears in Wash’s head turning as he tries to find the words. “He contracted me for work as his bodyguard, with a few others. But that… went badly. We had to help him retake Helios. That’s when I lost…” Wash gestures with the knife at his right leg, his missing leg, at the knee. “On that job.”

“What about the rest?”

Wash’s eyes go flat. “You’ll see. After we took over the moonbase, he became CEO of Charon, and… we kept working for him. He trusted us, or he trusted that he understood us. He trusted our arrangement. Locus was his right hand, when he had to make decisions in two places at once. Siris gathered information and dealt with people who didn’t like Felix. And—well. Vic was just an annoyance. One he got rid of quickly.

“I was… an enforcer, I guess. I had a reputation on Pandora, and the skills to carry out solo jobs. So I spent a lot of time away from the base. Out of Felix’s sphere of influence. And I wasn’t like Locus, so he didn’t trust me. I wasn’t like Siris – I didn’t have people he could help, or… threaten. The only thing he had to keep me on his side was the paycheck. And he knew it.”

Wash pushes the pile of onion slices to the side and begins to mince a piece of ginger violently. “Felix told me they’d found Atlas’s old files. On the Epsilon chip. How it worked, what the effects were… how it was made. When he offered me a new one, one that was backed not only by Atlas’s technology but improved upon by Charon’s, I accepted. The new chip wouldn’t just boost my abilities, he said. They could implant information, too. I would have other people’s muscle memory, relevant tactical information, all the benefits of special ops training without having to waste my time on the basics. Well, I got that. And more.

“I told you I don’t remember. It’s not… entirely true. I remember too much. Everything. And not all of it is mine.”

“… shit,” Tucker breathes. It’s so much less than he wants to say, but it’s the only word he can think of.

Wash’s mouth twists bitterly. “I… actually don’t know what is mine. What’s me. What came before Atlas. All of this is classified, technically, but my clearance level at Charon was high enough to get the files. So I know the facts, anything that got written down in reports. And everything after that, I’ve been keeping notes. I… I ripped the chip out, once I could figure out what was happening. Felix wanted me to depend on him for more than just a job. He wanted to control my reality.

“So I quit. More than quit. I attacked him. Went at him with an assault rifle and a knife. He managed to toss me into a moonshot and shoot me off the moonbase, down to Pandora. I survived the impact.” With a sarcastic smile, Wash gestures to the upper half of his missing leg, where the metal and plastic contrast harshly with the green paint of the chair. “Mostly. I did need a bit of an upgrade.”

Tucker opens his mouth, then closes it again. Then he opens it—no. There’s nothing he can think of to say. Nothing will fix this, nothing will relate to it. Any sort of comfort is too small for this. And Christ, should he even be offering comfort? Should he be swearing vengeance against Charon? It’s… too much. Wash’s story sucks, it’s horrible, but it’s so huge. It might as well be a dream.

“And then the rest you know. More or less. Found a doctor, had her move my interface plate from my knee to my hip, Sarge reworked my leg, and then… eventually, coming here.”

“Because this is a Charon town,” Tucker says slowly. “You were going to blow something up, or something.”

Wash almost looks ashamed. “Siris caught me before I could do anything. But he’s been… having tensions with Felix. So he sent me here to get my leg and weapons checked, and…”

“And you collapsed on my doorstep with a baseball bat covered in blood.” Tucker smirks. He does remember that part of the story.

“Right.” Wash nods, pushes the ginger aside, and moves to crush some garlic and chop some tomatoes. “And that was a year ago—”

“Two years ago.”

Wash blinks.

“It was two years ago. Two and a half, in a couple months.”

“… Oh.”

“You forgot.” Tucker knows he can’t really be upset, not if Wash’s brain is really all fucked up, but it still stings a little bit.

“I didn’t forget.”

“You forgot a little bit, dude.”

“I didn’t forget!” Wash protests. “I just…” Tucker can see now that his hands are trembling.

Tucker lets out a breath and smiles, reaching out to cup Wash’s hand. Gently, he uncurls those unsteady fingers from the handle of the knife, and pulls the cutting board toward him. It’s almost full, no room to dice those veggies that are left, so he slides everything that’s already been chopped onto a plate. They mix together in a bright patchwork of colors. That’s probably fine – it lets the flavors blend together, or something. “It’s okay, man,” he says slowly, making sure Wash can meet his eyes. “I’ll chop for a little while.”


 

When the vegetables have been chopped, Wash turns down the water to a simmer and puts them in with the meat and a few spices. Then he places the cover back over the pot. They’ll sit for an hour, warming into a broth and filling the meat with flavor.

Wash has calmed down, which is why Tucker feels fine letting him take over a shadowy corner of the counter with a knife, some flour, a rolling pin, and some scalding hot water. Besides, Tucker jokes to himself, as long as Tucker gets to reap the benefits of this control-freak cooking spree, he’s all right with anything. He is a little curious, though…

“So… what are you making?”

Wash looks up and over his shoulder at Tucker, who’s returned to the table to fiddle with the leg after the vegetables were finished.

“The food,” Tucker repeats. “What are you making?”

Niu rou mian,” Wash says, turning back to his weird flour project.

“The soup thing?”

“Mm-hm.”

Tucker nods, then scowls down at the leg. He’s oiled the joints and hinges and generally cleaned the whole thing up, so he’s running out of reasons to stay in the kitchen. All his equipment for other touchups is in the workshop. “So what’d you use? I know you didn’t get beef out here.”

“It’s skag,” Wash says. “And a couple of other substitutions. Or simplifications.”

“Smells good, whatever it is.”

“I hope it’ll taste good,” Wash murmurs. The words are even in a way that Tucker likes. Progressing on the broth has tempered Wash, and Tucker is a big fan of that calm tone, that almost content quality that fills Wash’s voice when he’s cooking.

He wipes a bit at the knee joint, but there’s no gunk, no elbow grease that he could clean up. Maybe it’s okay just to sit. Any other work at this point would be cosmetic anyway. And the kitchen does smell awesome.

Tucker slides the leg under the table to lean up against a chair, and rests his tools on the table. The instant his hands are empty, shivers seem to run up and down his arms, tickling his bones. Ugh. Tucker bites his lip. Wash shared. It’s his turn.

“I don’t—I said some shit last night.” That seems like a good place to start, right? Grab the bullymong by the tusks, or whatever. “But that’s not… I wanted to freak you out. It wasn’t true.” … Well. “Mostly. Mostly it wasn’t true.”

Wash’s hands slow and stop on the rolling pin, and Tucker can see the tension and alertness in his back. He rushes to clarify.

“I mean, like, I don’t wanna die. No way. Just—like, this town sucks. And it’s not… every day feels like time ticking down, you know?”

Wash straightens up, tilting his head back like the ceiling will give him the answers Tucker can’t seem to explain. “So why do you stay?”

“Can’t leave.” Tucker shrugs. “Pandora’s the only place people don’t chase you.”

There’s a click, clunk, as Wash turns himself around to look at Tucker. Tucker looks back, smiling sardonically.

“… Tucker.”

Tucker waves a hand. “It’s not a big deal.”

“You’re a fugitive?”

“So are you.”

“What did you do?”

“It wasn’t my fault. First of all.” Tucker always likes to get that out of the way, whenever he has to tell this story. “Justice system’s just a bitch like that.”

“Mm-hm.” … okay, that is a disbelieving eyebrow, but he is telling the truth.

“For real.”

“What happened, then?”

“Okay, so… Back on Hera. I had a workshop, right? Nicer than this, but whatever. I did some similar stuff, a bit fancier sometimes. And it was – it was this great day, first nice weather we’d had in… a long time. And I was sitting outside working with some of the Charon E-tech guns and some rid-head came over and tried to get the eridium out of the gun, like an idiot.” Tucker shifts in his chair, splaying out his legs. “And I told him to fuck off, get his fix somewhere else, but he got the chamber open and the stuff started getting everywhere. The refined stuff, the stuff they use in E-tech, is a gel—did you know that?”

“I remember.”

“Oh, right. Ex-employee. Duh.” Tucker’s getting more into it now. He plays up his irritation a little; it’s always fun to dial up the drama. “Anyway, the dumbass didn’t get that you don’t fuck with the refined shit, that they do stuff to it in the labs so it’s super powerful. And he starts trying to yank it away from me, and it’s spilling all over us. Burned a hole through my coveralls.” Tucker rubs his left forearm, remembering. It had been weird. The ooze burned through cloth and then absorbed into his skin without leaving a mark. His arm, his tattoos, had been softer after… for the few seconds he’d been awake.

“And then I blacked out, because that’s pretty much what pure, concentrated eridium will do to you. And… when I woke up, the street had been ripped to shreds, and the rid-head was screaming and calling me a witch.”

Wash’s back and neck are very straight; his eyes narrow until Tucker feels more than a little exposed, and not in a good way. “He called you a witch?”

“Yeah, and a bunch of other shit.” Tucker rolls his eyes. That had been an adventure. “Said I’d started glowing, and then the street started pulling itself apart. Must have been some trip, right?”

The thin line of Wash’s mouth tightens even more. “But you got charged for it?”

“I don’t know, the courts wanted someone to blame. But fuck that, I wasn’t sticking around so Junior could watch his dad go to jail for nothing.” That part had been hard. But Crunchbite’s done good by Junior, so… well, it’s some comfort. “This way I get to video chat. And hey, maybe someday they’ll visit.”

“Visit Pandora.” Wash’s tone is dry, almost sarcastic. But he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Tucker lives in a town, one of the few real towns on Pandora. He’s under Charon’s protection from bandits, and from any other weapons companies that might think about sending in troops to take over the eridium mines. It could happen.

“Fuck yeah, dude. And in the meantime… I mean, I’ve got a bounty on my head if I ever go back to Hera, or… any other place that isn’t a border planet, really. But I have a job. I have my own shop, which is pretty sick.”

Wash is still staring. It makes Tucker itch, and he starts to fiddle with his crescent wrench, swirling the crank open and shut, open and shut. “You hate it here,” Wash says, just as the silence starts to become almost too much.

“I don’t hate it here.” It’s only half a lie. Pandora is awesome. It would be even more awesome if Tucker ever got to see any of it. “It’s just annoying when the coolest project I ever get my hands on only comes around every three months.”

Wash wrinkles his nose in confusion, and Tucker tilts his head towards where the leg leans up against the chair Wash usually takes. “Oh.”

“Yeah.”

After a few seconds, Wash shuffles uncomfortably, then turns back to his rolling pin. Maybe Tucker should lighten the conversation a little.

“It wasn’t a big deal, though. Aside from getting screwed by the courts. Like, people used to call me a witch all the time. I’m used to it.”

“That’s not funny.”

“It’s—I’m not joking, I’m just saying. The birthmarks freak people out. When I was six a couple of my classmates tried to convince me I was an alien.”

Wash snorts at that. Good.

“I don’t remember much of anything about being six,” He says, and it… hurts to hear, actually. That’s sad, to not even have those scattered, chaotic images of being a kid.

His throat a little scratchy, Tucker says, “Yeah?”

“Mm. I remember this, though. I think.” He gestures at the pot on the stove, at the rolling pin in his left hand.

“Remember from where?”

Wash pauses. “Home. Definitely home. I think it was mine.”

“Yeah?”

“I remember more of it than most of the others. Or… I remember more separately. Not mixed together. A restaurant… my dad liked to cook. He wanted his own restaurant. And my mom…” He smiles. “She used to tell him that if he was going to tell me what his dreams were, he’d better make sure they came true. That she wasn’t going to let me grow up to quit on my goals. So he had to be a good example.”

That catches Tucker a little off-guard, and he chuckles. “She sounds fun.”

“She was great.” Wash nods. “She ran a… I think she organized one of the Star Scout Troops. I was one for a while, so…”

“Was it fun?”

“It was like drilling for the army,” Wash says, the wistful look on his face a little at odds with his words. “Mom was a sargeant. Way back. So she took that approach to the troop.”

“What else?”

Wrinkles etch themselves into Wash’s forehead as he thinks; pulling any memories more specific than that take effort, more than Tucker knows they should. “My dad worked at a—it wasn’t his, but it was a restaurant. I remember… the woman who owned it, she loved the new year. We would go there, and Dad would make jiaozi.

“Jow…”

“Dumplings. Fried dumplings.” Those words are immediate; Wash doesn’t have to concentrate to pull forth a translation, like the language is ingrained in him deeper than his bones. “Dad didn’t like making them often. He said they were unhealthy, but… you have to eat dumplings at New Year. And Mom loved them. She and the owner would sit and talk in the shop, and Dad made jiaozi. I had a couple, but Mom ate most of them. So he made me soup instead.”

“This kind of soup? New—new—niu?” Tucker’s not great with languages, but he doesn’t like to think of himself as someone who quits easy.

A nod. “Niu rou mian,” Wash says. This time his hands are steady and sure when he picks up the knife, leaving the rolling pin aside. Tucker watches, fascinated, as Wash scores thin lines into the dough with a quick, practiced hand. “It was my favorite. We would—we would have it on my birthday. And when I got older, he said… he said…”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t…” Wash’s hand slows, then he clears his throat and shakes his head. “He thought I should know how to cook. So I learned. Or—maybe… maybe that was someone else? That might have been…”

Tucker can see where that train of thought is going to derail itself, so he shakes his head quickly, hair whipping back and forth and catching Wash’s eye. “You probably learned different recipes from different people. Like me. You know, the egg thing?”

“That’s not cooking, Tucker,” comes the dry response. “That was a horror movie.”

“That was practical, functional cooking,” Tucker snipes back. He’s relieved (and still intensely interested) when Wash returns to his dough-slicing. The Egg Incident isn’t something he’s sure Wash will ever stop making fun of him for, but regardless of how wrong Wash is about the correct way to cook eggs, it always seems to lighten his spirits.

As the afternoon stretches into evening, Wash’s broth fills the kitchen with something that smells heavenly. Tucker coaxes a few more facts out in exchange for stories about the weird shit that happened to him as a kid. Like the time Tucker switched around everyone’s lunchboxes so that no one would know he’d taken someone’s dessert, or the fact that the nurse who helped deliver him had a nervous breakdown upon seeing his tattoos and started shouting about angels. Wash laughs at the silly stories, but the more the weirdness starts to edge into sci-fi territory, the more pensive he gets; after a few of those tales, Tucker starts to leave out the spookier memories. This is happy time, hang-out time. Fuck the weird backstory shit.

At some point, Tucker drags in the cardboard box Wash keeps his guns in, and starts to clean and check them. It’s nice to spend the afternoon out of the workshop; even if he’s technically working, the kitchen is warm, friendly and bright, and the company isn’t half bad. It feels more like… Tucker’s not even sure if hanging out is the word to describe it. This, this… this whatever this is, Wash cooking and Tucker tinkering in a mix of chatty laughter and companionable silence… it just feels right.

The soup is done mid-evening. Tucker’s first instinct on tasting it is to make a noise that isn’t really polite, but he plays it off as surprise, and Wash just rolls his eyes. He explains that it’s not right, that he didn’t have the exact ingredients, that homemaking the noodles means they’re thicker than they should be, but Tucker can’t imagine a better version of this. When he says so, Wash’s eyes light up, and something warms inside Tucker.

“Maybe I’ll make you jiaozi next time. They freeze, so if I made a large enough batch, you’d have enough to last you—”

“Until you came back?”

“… A long time. It would take a lot of dumplings to last until I’m done with Charon.”

“Next time you come back for your leg, genius.”

Wash laughs, surprised, and Tucker takes a sip of soup to hide his smile. “Oh, well, in that case…”

When they’re done eating, they crash, an ECHOdrama playing as they sit on opposite sides of the bed. Tucker draws in his project sketchbook, charcoal lines etching out all the possibilities that play behind his eyes when he sleeps, and Wash fieldstrips his weapons in a smooth, efficient rhythm. It’s peaceful, perfect, and Tucker is sad when they decide it’s time to turn out the lights.


 

They’re saying their goodbyes when it hits him, like the shockwave from a moonshot or a sudden harsh wind over the sand and dirt. Wash is laying out his plans, to challenge one of Felix’s lieutenants to a duel over in Irontree. His fingers run along the newly undented roof of his car, eyes gazing off towards a sandy horizon, and suddenly the words are falling out of Tucker’s mouth before he even realizes what they mean.

“I love--” Tucker chokes on his tongue halfway through the sentence. What?

Where did that come from?

“To...” He pauses, floundering, as Wash’s confused eyes roam over him. “See. That.” Sure. Yeah, that’s good, go with that. “I’d love to see that.” Nailed it.

“I’ll… try and… save you a seat?” Wash says, one corner of his mouth quirking up, and then he’s saying something else that Tucker isn’t hearing because what the hell just happened.

It slipped out easy, on instinct, like a habit he can’t wait to build. He… whaaaaaat.

He… loves Wash? What? Tucker likes him, sure, likes his dry wit and his steady hands and the fact that he’s not afraid to call Tucker’s bullshit. Tucker likes his cooking. Tucker likes his body, Jesus, tanned and freckly from travelling in the sun, calloused hands and strong shoulders and a back like stone, sharp and proud. Tucker wants Wash around all hours of the day, sitting in the shop telling stories instead of doing stupid shit like punching skags or shooting bandits. He wants to watch those shoulders relax for once, God. He wants to hear Wash’s breathing slow down, safe in sleep on Tucker’s pillow. But that’s liking someone, not…

Oh my god holy fucking shit.

“Tucker?”

Tucker jumps at the hand on his shoulder. “I’m okay!” That’s a fucking lie. Biggest one he’s ever told. Nothing’s okay. The sun is crazy hot all of a sudden and Wash is staring down at him with concern in his eyes and Tucker’s heart is beating in his chest like a rabbit’s or a hummingbird’s or some other small animal that Pandoran evolution got rid of a million years ago. He’s in love with Wash. Oh, god.

“That’s… good?” Wash’s grip loosens on Tucker’s shoulder, lingers for a moment, and then his hands drop back to tuck in his pockets. Wash hunches over, like he’s trying to match Tucker for height and width. Good luck with that one, buddy.

“Listen,” Wash says, staring at his feet. His voice cracks as he tries to say whatever it is he wants to say. Tucker has no clue what’s wrong, or how to help. So he just watches Wash fumble for words. “I… thank you. For-- for the car. And for my leg. And letting me stay. You’re very… it’s generous of you. So-- thanks. I… yeah.” He breaks off and crushes himself smaller, still staring at his toes.

“See you in six months,” Tucker says, because he can’t think of anything else to say. The words hurt his throat a little bit.

“Right,” Wash nods slowly. “Right. I should… go, then. I guess.”

And right on schedule, there’s that familiar ache at the thought. That’s… that’s been put in a whole new perspective, wow. Tucker nods back. “Yep. Probably.”

What does he usually do now? Should he reach out and hug Wash, cross that two-foot ocean of space? High five? Handshake? Tucker can’t remember what their routine was. Wash makes a weird gesture, like he was going to punch Tucker in the neck or maybe grab his shoulder again but decided to stop halfway. Tucker’s never gonna find out. In the end, Wash settles for a small, awkward wave with his right hand as the left one fumbles blindly with the handle of the car door.

He gets it open as Tucker watches. Sinks into the seat. Places one hand on the steering wheel without turning away from Tucker, keeping eye contact until this becomes officially the worst, most awkward conversation Tucker’s ever had to be part of.

“Well,” Tucker says, shifting on his feet. “Bye.”

“Uh-huh,” Wash says, fingers straining white on the steering wheel. He swallows. Tucker tries not to watch. (He fails.)

“I guess you… gotta go.” Tucker nods at him, and Wash nods back, and please dear lord let a rakk come down from the sky and beat Tucker unconscious with its wings. Anything to not be a part of this anymore.

“Yeah.” Wash bites his lip, finally tucking himself fully into the driver’s seat. His eyes are sharp as he stares at the steering wheel. “Tucker. I. I mean it. Meant it.”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. For everything. I… I owe you.”

“You paid,” Tucker reminds him, not adding that he was way undercharged. “We’re square.”

“Then I’m grateful. Really.”

“No problem.” Tucker manages to force the words out without his voice breaking. He’s very proud. He’s even prouder when he manages, “You should get going. Gotta… gotta go hunt treasure, right? Get babes? Fight evil?”

“... Sure,” Wash says, and the corners of his mouth turn up in a fond, genuine smile. Tucker wants this moment to last forever. He also wants to die a little bit. Neither one is a great plan, so in the end Tucker pushes the door shut with one hand and waves with the other.

“Bye, Wash.”

“Goodbye, Tucker.”

And then the car pulls away, past Tucker’s fuel barrels and the dumpster by the side of the building. It picks up speed as it rolls out of town, and under its newly patched tires a road seems to churn itself into existence, stretching longer and longer until both it and the car are a tiny dot among sand dunes and scrub brush. And then, finally, both of them disappear over the horizon.