The pelican was completely silent as it travelled back to the Mother of Invention, the only noise being Four-Seven-Niner’s muffled conversation with command behind the cockpit door.
Four freelancers were sat on opposite ends of the passenger hold and everyone’s heads were down as they grimly recalled their failed mission. The air was tense and it was making Wash increasingly uncomfortable like an itch on the inside of his suit. The young freelancer looked to his right to Carolina, who was sitting ramrod straight with her arms crossed. He could tell that behind her visor, her eyes were trained on the floor at her feet. Across from him sat C.T, looking just as uncomfortable as him and, as if feeling the eyes on her, she looked up to Wash, before subtly turning to her left at the fourth Freelancer. North sat opposite Carolina, hunched over in his seat and hands balled into fists
A voice over the intercom broke the awkward silence, “Mother of Invention in sight, prepare for boarding.” Four-Seven-Niner announced, the sombre mood hardly affecting the pilot.
Wash and C.T looked at each other again, then to Carolina as she stood up. She moved silently, even with the Mjolnir armour, and roughly snapped her assault rifle into place on the pelican’s weapon rack. She made a point out of not looking at North, who was steadily ignoring her - and everyone else, it appeared.
The thrusters we gradually getting quieter, signalling that the pelican was landing in the Mother’s landing bay, before it eventually eventually came to a stop. The cockpit door slid open and their pilot took a look at her cargo, “Wow, who died?” she drawled, noticing the tense air.
Carolina’s head whipped around, a glare so powerful behind the visor that it made Four-Seven-Niner shrink back slightly.
“Sorry, I get it. Shit.” She muttered, quickly leaving the Freelancers be. She had better things to do than get chewed out by grumpy soldiers.
Wash watched her go, before turning back to the squad. They still hadn’t moved.
“I’m going to debriefing.” Carolina announced tersely and finally looked at North, whose attention was also trained on her. They shared a deadly few seconds of silence, before Carolina stormed out of the pelican. C.T shortly followed her, mentioning something about a ‘shower’ and ‘bed’.
Wash awkwardly remained on the ramp of the passenger hold, waiting for North to move. It was strange seeing the older Freelancer so silent and Wash didn’t really know how to handle the situation.
“Are you okay?” he tried, immediately cursing at how feeble he sounded. It didn’t help that it was completely obvious that, no, he wasn’t okay. “North?” Still nothing. Boy, was he bad at this. “I’m gonna’... I’ll just… Leave you to it.” Wash wished he knew what to do, but he was too tired and worn to even think. Eventually, he followed C.T’s example and headed for the locker room.
On the pelican North let out a long breath of air, glad that he’d been left alone. Washington meant well, but North couldn’t be dealing with the guy right now, he was too angry. The mission had totally failed and if it hadn’t been for- No. He clenched his fists again, his hands shaking at the effort.
North slowly got to his feet. He stretched his neck from side to side, rolling his shoulders to try and get the kinks out of the muscles that had buried there. Once he was satisfied, he turned, swinging a fist into the side of the ship, making a deep dent in the hull. He pulled his hand away slowly. Four-Seven-Niner was going to kill him for that.
Wash set his tray down on the table and slid onto the bench, glad that he’d turned up when the cafeteria was still serving. He felt better after the shower, his blonde hair still sticking in wayward directions, and had changed into some old training pants and a faded Grifball shirt.
He didn’t feel much like eating after what Carolina had told him after her debriefing of the mission, especially since he’d left North alone on the pelican too. The guilt in his gut told him he should have gone looking for his friend, but the sound of his stomach rumbling told him he should definitely eat first.
Wash dug in with a lack of enthusiasm that he’d never shown around food, contemplating the news in silence, but he wasn’t alone for long and was surprised when York strolled into the deserted mess-hall.
“Well, look who’s returned.” His friend grinned cheerily, nicking an apple from one of the fruit bars on his way to Wash. He rubbed the fruit against his jeans, eliminating the imaginary germs, and took a bite of it.
Wash was in the midst of eating a sandwich when he replied, “Been back a while.” Although it was slightly less intelligible with all the food in his mouth.
York rolled his eyes, unamused by his friend’s habit of eating and speaking at the same time.
Wash gave York a once-over. It seemed that he hadn’t seen any of the others yet if he was in this mood.
“What?” York arched an eyebrow in question, before taking another bite of his apple.
“Nothing, I just- I’m guessing you haven’t seen Carolina or North yet?”
York shook his head slowly, “No,” he drawled, before continuing, “Why, are they looking for me or somethin’?”
Wash mirrored his actions, shaking his head, then he gazed down to the remaining items on his food tray. He slowly began to pick at the food.
“What’s the matter?” York’s demeanour had changed completely, Wash noted, the man’s eyebrows were drawn together in concern and he leaned forward from across the table.
How could Wash explain this? It didn’t feel right that he should tell, it should be North, or at least Carolina. He was saved from answering when Wyoming entered, followed by Maine and South.
“Evening, chaps.” The former greeted with a nod, making himself some tea while the other two sat on Wash’s side of the bench. “Don’t suppose any of you have had the pleasure of running into Carolina? The girl’s on a bloody mad one tonight.” the Englishman continued, then grimaced at the sad excuse of Earl Grey from the drink machine.
York sent him a questioning glance, before training it on Wash - who was looking intensely at his empty tray.
“Wait, when did you get back?” South suddenly piped up, as if only just noticing Wash’s presence. Beside her, Maine neither spoke nor seemed to care.
All eyes had turned to Wash in the space of a few seconds, everyone silently waiting for an answer. All except Maine, who was more interested in eating a meal that could feed a small family.
“The mission kind of… Tanked.” The Freelancer winced at the memory of the awkward ride back. “Carolina and North-”
He was cut off by South, “What’s my brother done?” Her answer was a look that read 'Shut up and you’ll find out' from Wyoming. She sent him a lewd gesture in return.
Once again at the centre of attention, Wash sighed, gaze flickering to South and making her frown further, “Well…”
C.T ran a hand through her short hair, gazing up at the scoreboard with disdain. Usually she had better things to do than to pay attention to the wretched thing, but her curiosity had gotten the better of her. It didn’t escape her notice that North’s name was higher on the board than it had been before the mission. It didn’t make sense, the mission was a failure?
A bullet echoed from the training arena nearby and C.T jumped, cursing at being caught off guard. From the viewing area, she could see a Freelancer changing weapons in the shadows down below. North emerged with a sniper rifle, unaware that he was being watched.
C.T observed as F.I.L.S.S began the training routine, multiple green targets circling the Freelancer below, before shooting off into all directions of the arena. There was a reason why North was their go-to sniper and C.T got to witness first hand, multiple times, her friend’s skill in long-range targeting.
“Round complete. A 2.4% increase in efficiency since your last training session, Agent North Dakota.” F.I.L.S.S announced as all the holographic targets disappeared.
“Again.” North demanded, usually polite, even to their resident AI. It was the first time C.T had heard him utter a single word since the mission, and it didn’t even sound like him.
Footsteps pulled her attention from the training floor and C.T turned to see Carolina enter the room. She looked tired and it was clear that she’d only just changed out of her armour, it appeared that they’d both had the same idea to come to the gallery.
C.T expected Carolina to leave at the sight of her, preferring to be alone after the mission, but was surprised when she closed the distance between them.
“Is he down there?” she asked softly, already knowing the answer.
C.T raised her eyebrows at the lack of anger in the other woman’s voice, “Yeah.”
They fell into silence, watching North complete round after round. By the end of the seventh session, Carolina sighed.
“I don’t understand why he did it.” She began quietly, still watching the man in question.
C.T stared at her, “What do you mean?”
Carolina finally turned to her, a solemn look on her face as she repeated the same words she’d told Wash, “The target was his father.”
North had lost count of how many times he’d reset the program and was concentrating intently on the holograms, eliminating the targets. He was feeling the strain of his mission deep in his bones, the twin had come straight from the landing bay to the arena, needing to vent some anger. However, as time past, it was only having the opposite effect.
“Round complete. Agent North Dakota, you were only able to hit seven out of ten targets.” F.I.L.S.S’ voice broke through his concentration.
“Again.” He felt himself repeat for the nth time, looking through his scope as the targets reappeared.
Hit, miss, miss, hit, hit, hit, miss, miss, miss, miss.
North let out a sound of frustration.
“Again.” He demanded before F.I.L.S.S even had a chance.
Hit, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, miss, hit, miss, miss.
He slowly lowered the gun as the AI recounted his success - or lack of.
“Would you like me to run the program again, Agent?” F.I.L.S.S sounded unsure of what to do when no order came.
North sighed, “No, thank you F.I.L.S.S.”
York urgently navigated the corridors of the Mother, a concerned look on his face that made people part to let him pass without question. After Wash told them what happened, South had immediately gone in search of her brother - after denting a few trays and sending Wyoming to the medical wing with a few broken fingers. It was worrying him, of course. North was one of his closest friends and he’d be damned if he was going to let him deal with this alone. His own mind was reeling, he didn't necessarily want answers or clarification, he just wanted to make sure North was okay.
He heard someone running behind him and looked over his shoulder, spotting Wash trying catching up with him. “I just ran in to Connie,” he panted, reaching for the other man's arm and pulling York to a stop in the middle of the corridor, “She said that North was in the training room last time she saw him.”
"When was that?" York questioned, but turned and followed Wash to the viewing room regardless. He didn't get a reply, instead the two ran in silence for their new destination.
As it turned out, the arena was empty, which caused York to grow more worried.
“F.I.L.S.S when did North leave?” Wash made a futile attempt to see every angle of the arena, pressing his head against the glass.
“Agent North Dakota left less than sixty seconds ago and is currently in the locker room.” the AI replied, her naturally optimistic tone sounding out of place with the urgency of Wash’s question.
The two soldiers shared a glance before exiting, taking the shortest route to the locker room.
“Do you think he’s okay?” Wash asked as they hurried to the room a few floors down, earning a look from York. “Stupid question, I know. It’s a nervous habit.”
They reached the locker room and opened the door, half expecting it to be empty and send them on another wild goose chase. However, to their surprise and relief, North was standing in the middle of the room, a trolley beside him for the armour he was about to remove.
“Can I help you gentlemen?” North asked when it appeared that York and Wash weren’t going to speak. He took off one of his gauntlets and placed it on the trolley.
Wash looked to York, unable to decide on what to start with.
York avoided rolling his eyes at the man beside him, instead taking a step closer to the armoured soldier. “South is looking for you.” He wished that North would remove his helmet, so that they could read the other man’s expression. It seemed he was leaving it on intentionally.
Instead of the reaction they expected, North merely hummed with a nod. “Thanks for telling me, I’ll find her when I’m finished here.”
Once again, Wash looked at York, his mouth halfway open and earning an urgent head shake from York. Unfortunately he’d already started to speak, “We know what happened on the mission.”
It must have been York’s imagination, but he was sure the room turned a few degrees colder. North had his back to them, fingers frozen at the base of his helmet. He didn’t move for a long time and Wash thought that he’d actually forgotten they were there. However, to their relief, the twin slowly took his helmet off.
“It was your father, wasn’t it? Our target.” Wash knew he was pushing his luck, especially since York was signalling for him to shut the fuck up, oh my God shut up. Or, at least he guessed that’s what he was trying to say. “Look, it’s okay, none of us blame you for letting him get away-”
Wash’s voice faded to silence when North turned around, a cold expression on his face. It looked unnatural to see it on their friend, Wash didn’t even know that North was even capable of looking this angry at something. York, however, did. But what he was shocked by, was the absolute hatred in those, usually kind, blue eyes.
“You think I let him get away?” The facade was completely gone as North regarded them, “No, I emptied an entire clip into that bastard.”
Wash was stunned, that was unexpected.
However, the following pause allowed him to finally able to piece it together. They didn’t fail because North had choked and let the target escape, they failed because he’d eliminated the target.
York, unlike Wash, was still in control of his mouth, “Your father was the leading scientists of the Orion Project? But the Director said for him to be questioned about dealings with the Resistance…”
North slammed the other gauntlet onto the trolley. “You think I’d pass up a chance to pay that asshole back for what he did? Not even the Director’s orders could have stopped me from doing that.” He was gradually getting more agitated, tearing off pieces of his armour and letting them clatter to the ground. “After what he did to our mother, to me and to my sister-”
“North…” Wash tried to interject, but he was ignored when the twin turned his back on them once more.
“-All this time and the coward was hiding among the one group of people he thought he’d be safe in-”
“-He didn’t deserve the quick death I gave him, I almost regret-”
The Freelancer whipped around, knocking the trolley of equipment over, “Don’t ‘North’ me!” he yelled, face contorted in anger. “Let me be angry!”
Wash’s jaw audibly snapped shut at his friend’s words. If he’d had thought Carolina was scary when she was mad, North was on a whole new level. It was like an extreme Jekyll and Hyde, going from two opposite ends of the spectrum.
“He killed her, his own wife for his stupid experiments!” The anger dulled away to pain, “I couldn’t let him- He had to pay for what he’d done to us.”
Before anything else was said, the door slammed open and South came running in. She made a beeline for her twin, slamming into North and wrapping her arms around his middle. North held her tightly in return, the siblings comforting each other.
Seeing that the two should be left alone to grieve together, York placed a hand on Wash’s shoulder, taking his attention away from the Dakotas. “Come on.” he murmured quietly, guiding him out of the locker room so the two would be left in peace. He’d make sure to check on North tonight, but for now, he’d let him be.