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The long story

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The short story: The Reds and Blues are trapped on the Staff of Charon, hideously outnumbered and outgunned, outdoing their enemy only in the badassness of their guns and their accumulated stupidity. They have no choice but to fight their way out, and so they do so. They survive. The Staff of Charon, built to be a flying gun to unfairly oneshot K.O its enemies rather than host an all out gunfight inside of itself, crashes. They survive this too. The good guys win the day once again, and with only a couple of heroic sacrifices along the way.

The long story: This.

 

Grif doesn’t think he was unconscious for a long time, because he’s still falling when he wakes up. Or rather, sliding. Fast, knocking hard into corners and doors and machines and a bunch of fucking bullshit that’s also sliding and falling all over the place. He can’t tell, because everything’s a quick moving blur, and also the lights have gone out. It’s like he’s been thrown out of a boat during a storm in the middle of the night and is being tossed around by the waves, not knowing what is up and is what is down or left or right or when it’s safe to breathe. At least he’s wearing armor. (He’s always wearing armor.)

Turbulent gravity smacks him into something big and unmoving, an anchor in the storm caught within a ship, and his body desperately grabs onto it, his arms acting to try and stop himself from breaking his neck or being buried under debris or something without his brain telling them to. There’s no time for thought, for ideas or plans, nothing but flashes and impressions and instinct and reflex and overstimulation and what the fuck is going on.

He gets a grip on the unmoving thing--a pillar, he thinks--and gravity swings again and he swings too but he keeps his death grip on the pillar, hugging it like it’s the only thing keeping him alive and honestly that’s not an overstatement, actually. Random shit hits him while everything clatters towards the new ‘down’, lost guns (he’s lost his gun, he realizes) and who knows what else. He exists without context, purely in this moment with no time to recollect where he is or why he’s wherever he is and how this is happening.

Gentlemen, looks like this is--been an honor--you too, Lopez--the hearts of our enemies--the smartest thing you’ve ever--hate you all the least--on the other side, Church--

He’s on the Staff of Charon. They were all on the Staff of Charon, way too many goddamned Space Pirates between them and safety and surviving, and they’d all held their guns and stood and talked like they seriously planned to, what, fight their way out of it like they were Freelancers or some shit, and the worst thing is that that was the honest to god plan, that was how shit out of luck they were. The Reds and Blues, forced to rely on their competency. Doomed.

Except Grif is, while seriously disoriented and hanging from a pillar over what feels like a great distance but could be like two feet for all he knows, it is so fucking dark in here, still alive. Against all odds. He feels like he’s covered in bruises, like he’s a doll in a package an overgrown super strong toddler on coke is shaking like a maraca, but he’s fucking alive.

He remembers shooting a guy who’d been about to blow the back of Sarge’s oblivious brains out. Taking the bladed part of the Grifshot to the soft parts between armor plating of a guy who’d been aiming his gun in Donut’s direction. Standing back to back with Simmons as bullets whizzed around them.

Simmons.

Where the hell is Simmons. He has to find him. Now.

Gravity swirls again, Grif swinging around the pillar he’s stubbornly clinging at like a pendulum, objects raining down from the new sky-- he realizes it’s not gravity that’s moving in ways it shouldn’t. It’s the ship. It’s in a tumbling freefall down from the atmosphere towards the surface of the planet-- fuck, that’s bad, that’s really, really bad. He’s in the ship. Simmons is in the ship. The whole goddamned gang. Shit. Are they gonna be squashed? Crushed flat like--

There’s a jolt, a crash, and he’s moved so violently that his grip on the pillar doesn’t stand a chance. He smashes his helmeted face against it, and then he’s falling again, a ragdoll in a storm of loose weaponry and equipment that smacks harshly against his armor as he tumbles in some kind of direction.

He blacks out for a bit again. When he wakes up, the world is red. He blinks. Still red. There’s two rifles, a locker, and a dead Space Pirate on top of him. (It registers as dead immediately, just something about the weight of it, how it lies on him, animal instinct.) He’s too dizzy and disoriented and bruised to immediately freak out about it. He just tries to move, groans as he’s stopped by pain and immense weight. He gives himself a moment to breathe. The world is still red. He can see shit. Emergency lights. That’s it. The emergency lighting has finally come on.

There’s a dead body on top of him. He grimaces and shoves at it. It moves most of the way off. Both of his arms are free. The rifles don’t really weigh anything, but the locker lies heavy across his legs. They don’t feel broken, though. He wriggles slowly and painfully out from underneath it, the ringing in his ears fading, the chaos finally slowing down enough for him to think.

He’s stopped sliding, falling. Everything is still. They’ve landed, and he’s still alive. Damn, this armor’s good. He snatches his foot away, and the locker falls with a thunk the rest of the way onto the floor.

Think. They were trapped, they fought, they survived? The ship started crashing. Then now. He doesn’t know where anyone is, if they’re all okay. Everyone thrown away from each other. Nothing looks familiar any longer. He thinks he’s lying on what used to be the ceiling. He grabs one of the rifles (figures, he lost the Grifshot less than an hour after finding it again), and slowly stands up. His head swims, but he doesn’t fall. He doesn’t think he’s too injured, even though his whole body hurts and he wants nothing more than to lie back down and nap and hope that someone’s come up with a plan while he was out. But he needs to go and see if Simmons is okay first. Then nap and leave all of the problems to someone else. Probably a Blue. They love problems.

He takes a step and stumbles. The new floor isn’t entirely the right angle, tilted, sloped. The red emergency lighting is weak, dark, shadows everywhere.

Think. Radio. God, he’s an idiot.

Grif turns on the Reds and Blues frequency. “Anyone still alive?”

Silence. He stands there and waits in the red light for a long, long moment. There’s only the gentle shh noise of a quiet, open line.

He switches to the Red Team frequency. “Simmons? Sarge? Donut? Anyone? Fuck, I’d take Lopez.”

Nothing. He switches to the Blue Team frequency he’s not supposed to have but that everyone on Red Team has anyways. “Tucker? Caboose? Hey, idiots! Reds rule, Blues drool!”

Nothing.

(“--the lone survivor of Outpost Wo--”)

No.

He switches to his and Simmons’ private channel. For bitching and bickering, mostly. He opens his mouth and nothing comes out. He tries to push the words out. They don’t cooperate. Only silent air. His heartbeat is still thundering like he’s still being thrown across a ship that’s falling like a gigantic comet full of soldiers like it’s a Kinder egg surprise.

“Grif?” Simmons’ voice says across the channel, tense and scared and alive.

The breath he’d been holding--he hadn’t been breathing, he hadn’t noticed--leaves him like he just got gutpunched. He slumps, sways with relief, has to scramble to maintain his footing on the tilted floor.

“Grif? Are you there?” Simmons asks, increasing panic creeping into his voice, audibly barely held at bay. (His voice sounds wonderful, amazing.)

“Simmons,” he says, just to say his name, and is startled by just how ragged he sounds. He sounds like he was dragged through hell and back. Well, more like tossed through hell. “I’m here.”

A noise of pure exhausted relief leaves Simmons, crackles across the line, and then he immediately moves to cover it up with anger. “You should have answered sooner!”

“You mean while I was being treated like god’s piñata?”

“Shut up, you--” whatever insult Simmons was getting ready throw is lost in a sharp, pained inhalation. Grif had been sinking back into the comfort that is mindless, pointless, toothless arguments with Simmons, like wrapping himself up in a favorite blanket. The small, pained noise thrusts him back into reality, into the present. It’s dark and unbalanced and unfamiliar, the world tinted the color of blood.

“Simmons?” he says, voice high and alarmed. “What’s going on?”

“... Grif?” Simmons says muzzily after one long stretched out moment, like he just woke up.

“Are you hurt?”

“I-- I don’t think so… no, not really. I’m just stuck. Can’t move.”

He’d sure sounded hurt. “Where are you?”

“I-- how should I know? Everything looks the same here! All of the direction signs are dozens of feet up and upside down by the ceiling.”

“The floor.”

“It’s above my head, so it’s the ceiling.”

“But it’s supposed to be the floor so--” Goddamnit, as wrong as it feels, now is not the time to fall into safe and comfortable pedantic bickering, arguing for arguings sake. He can’t believe that he seriously just thought that. The things Simmons do to him. “Whatever. Try and figure out where in the ship you are, I guess. I’m gonna try and radio the rest of the guys again.”

He changes the frequency back to the last one he was on, Blue Team, before Simmons can get a word in edgewise. If Grif lets him, they’ll be sucked into yet another utterly meaningless and utterly distracting conversation, no matter how fun it might feel in the moment. He hates having to make actually reasonable decisions instead of just standing around and talking and using zero of his brain cells, but he hates being inside this ship even more. It was enemy territory before, and now it’s that plus creepy. Red and upside down and tilted, full of blood and guns and corpses, an improvised sarcophagus with a few still living bodies trapped inside of it like they’re just small animals within a giant waiting to be digested in due course.

“Tucker? Caboose? Church? You guys there?”  He gives them a moment to reply. Caboose’s brain has a bit of a lag, sometimes. “If you don’t answer then that means that Red Team’s the best team.”

Nothing. They really weren’t there, then. He switches over to the Red Team channel.

“--so rude not answer when--”

Grif really isn’t that attached to Donut, he’s just… relieved. In a normal way. To hear that he’s alive. That someone else is alive, at least, and it’s not just him and Simmons left. That’d be fucked up.

“Hey, Donut,” he says. “Who’re you talking to?”

“Grif!” Donut gasps. “Thank god you’re alive! I was sure that you’d died in Simmons’ arms!”

“Based on what evidence?”

“You weren’t on the Red Team line?”

“Solid. Seriously though, have you heard from anyone else?”

“I heard from Caboose for a bit,” he says, and another small part of Grif relaxes just a bit. Each confirmation is another tension vanished. Honestly, this is just like the Hand of Merope all over again, really. All of them surviving against all odds and logic. He shouldn’t be so goddamned nervous. They’re all a bunch of cockroaches. “I didn’t really understand what he was trying to tell me? I don’t think he understood it either, he seemed confused. He said that he’s with Tucker, and that he was acting weird. I think Blue Team’s busy dealing with, you know, blue stuff.”

“Typical Blues,” he grunts. Tucker accounted for too, and Church was on his freaky Meta armor. All Blues accounted for, then. They can get themselves out of this ship on their own, with their fancy alien swords and AI/ghost-ness and super strength. Simmons is stuck somewhere, and probably panicking about it, knowing him. Nowhere for his nervous energy to go but up in his head to drive him stir crazy.

“And I found Lopez’s head! He’s optimistic about our chances in getting out, and glad that we all survived. Oh, also, Sarge! But he’s… asleep.”

“Asleep as in dead?” he asks, because this is Donut he’s talking to here.

“No!” Donut exclaims, sounding aghast at his question. Grif only realizes that he was bracing himself until he relaxes instead. “He’s breathing! I did mouth to mouth to check and everything. I just think that he needs to go and see Doctor Grey for a bit is all.”

“And I just heard from Simmons, so we’ve got the whole set,” Grif says.

“Lucky!”

“No one forgotten at all.”

“Nope! No one’s occuring to me!”

“Yeah. Simmons said he’s stuck, so I’m gonna go and find him to get him unstuck.”

“Then I’ll just have to carry Sarge across the threshold myself with Lopez in his lap. He’ll love that. He’s a real sleeping beauty, you know!”

“He snores like a chainsaw. He’s a gross old man.”

“Grif, don’t insult a man’s appearance.”

“You insulted my hair this morning.”

“I didn’t insult! I just suggested that you might want to get a haircut soon! And then have all pictures of yourself from the last three months burned, as a friendly favor.”

“Sure, sure. Meet you on the outside of the ship sooner or later, I guess.”

“Fingers crossed that we didn’t crash land into the ocean and are now stuck thousands of miles underneath crushing amounts of water!” Donut laughs.

“I… wasn’t worried about that, until now. Thanks, Donut.”

“You’re welcome!”

Grif switches back to his and Simmons’ channel.

“Simmons, have you figured out--”

“Grif?” Simmons interrupts, sounding worn down to the bone and fragile, voice raw like an open wound.

“What’s wrong?” he asks urgently, immediately. He’d been fine, only minutes ago before Grif had switched channels. Something must have happened.

“Where have you been?”

“I was on the Red Team channel, talking to Donut. Everyone else is alive, and they can deal with their shit on their own. Do you know where you are?”

“Are you okay?” Simmons asks instead of answering. It’s a question that really does need an answer, but Grif’s off balance, and not just because he just slipped on a stray clip of ammo, grasping at the wall to steady himself. Are you okay is way more sincere than they tend to get. It betrays a certain genuine care and worry that’s mortifying. Simmons saying it like that, like it’s urgent and important, the most important thing in the world-- his face feels hot. He shakes his head. A bit of sincerity can be forgiven and forgotten (or at least never spoken of again) during life or death situations at about ‘thrown over a cliff by the Meta’ levels, and he thinks that this qualifies.

(Weirdly delayed reaction, though. He thought that they’d already quickly worked past the ‘embarrassingly genuine feelings’ stage and onto the ‘bitching like nothing’s wrong or out of the ordinary’ stage. They’re not supposed to take a step back.)

“Fine,” he says. “Tired as shit, though. Mondays, eh?”

He’s got no idea if it’s Monday, or even what month it is, and actually he’s kinda iffy on the year as well. He hasn’t had to live by a calendar since before he was enlisted, which was a while ago.

This is the part where Simmons is supposed to make some overdone jab at Grif being lazy, lazily going for the low hanging fruit himself in an entirely unappreciated display of perfect irony.

There’s silence instead.

“... Simmons?” he asks. He hadn’t heard the telltale click of him leaving the line.

“Grif,” Simmons replies, sounding startled.  “Where are you? Are you okay?”

“You already asked that,” he says.

“No, I didn’t,” Simmons says, sounding confused and indignant, as if he’d just tried to insist that the sky is green despite all available evidence.

Grif continues to walk, steps slow like a tightrope walker, hand braced on the nearby wall for support, feet not leaving the floor by many inches so he doesn’t trip on something unexpectedly again, eyes down on the floor. Simmons is acting weird. Normally, nothing he says or does really evokes surprise in Grif. Exasperation at most, maybe alarm if he’s doing something supremely stupid. But otherwise, they’re like the teeth of two gears intersecting perfectly, like a river falling smoothly down the path its carved into the face of a mountain over the course of years. Time and habit has worn grooves into their personality and words and minds and behaviors, spaces carved out of themselves for each other. Utterly familiar, predictable in the best sort of way.

But Simmons is acting off right now. He says things like himself, but they come at the wrong time, or don’t make sense according to the situation, to what he said only moments ago. It feels strange, bad, worrying.

Simmons had said that he wasn’t hurt. It’s just now occurring to Grif that he may not be able to trust what Simmons says, right now. That he might not be in his right mind.

It had been a hard crash.

Grif walks faster.

“Simmons, where in the ship are you?”

“How should I know? All of the direction signs are dozens of feet up and upside down by the ceiling.”

Worry, gnawing at him like a rat on drywall.

“Well, try and figure it out,” he snaps, or at least tries to snap. He doesn’t quite have it in him right now. He feels beaten and battered and empty, his limbs and eyelids heavy with exhaustion and bruises, and all he wants to do is lie down somewhere soft and quiet and warm and safe, alone, except for maybe the achingly familiar snoring of his--

--teammate.

Grif steps over a corpse in dark armor, awkwardly climbs over some unwieldy machine that he doesn’t recognize that’s in his way.

“I see an airlock up there,” Simmons interrupts the silence of Grif’s footsteps and breathing. “So don’t go further inside the ship. I’m at the edges.”

The nerd really can be kind of clever sometimes. A fond grin twists at his lips, the closest thing he’s come to a smile since reckless adrenaline had been coursing through his veins, his heartbeat thundering with fear, the door between them and the enemy steadily being cut open, fuck it ringing like a gong in his mind, muting everything else in his head like common sense or self preservation or dread.

“Edges, got it.” The lighting’s weird and everything’s jumbled and slanted and turned upside down, and he was ridiculously distracted for the entire short time that he’s been in this ship, but he thinks he can at least manage that. There are red stripes on the hallway floor up over his head, each red stripe leading to an airlock. He’s still not sure where the yellow and green stripes lead, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s hard to tell which one of them is red, though. They all kinda do, at the moment, at this distance. He squints up at them for a long moment until he gets a crick in his neck, and then decides that it’s probably the innermost one that’s red, right? Right. Probably.

He follows the (hopefully) red line, glancing up often enough that he ends up tripping way more frequently.

He’s sweating, and aching, and thirsty, and kinda starving, and he hates this ship and that it couldn’t land in a slightly more upright position, at the very least. But nooo, every single detail about this day just has to be as grating as humanly possible. He had to wake up alone, has to stumble through this with zero distractions. Simmons has to probably be concussed, confused and upset. He has to be stuck. He has to be hurt.

He’ll be fine. It’s probably nothing serious.

“How are you stuck?” he asks, to get away from his own thoughts.

“Who says I’m stuck?” he snaps defensively.

You did.

“Intuition,” he says dryly enough for the single word to be an insult. He can practically hear Simmons bristle in response. “Are there any other clues--”

A light low to the ground flickers, the only thing he can see in a pool of shadow underneath some debris in a corner of the hallway he’s currently in. Grif freezes.

“... Grif?” Simmons says, and there’s a weird, dizzying bit of dissonance as it echoes strangely, a glitch in the radio--

No. He’d heard it outside of his helmet as well, fainter but--

“Simmons?” The hope in his voice appears without his sayso. Nothing to do but to move on and act like it never happened. He’s got some practice at that.

There’s a dull scraping sound from underneath the debris. “I-- I think I’m stuck.”

And just like that, Grif’s crossed the distance between him and the rubble, he’s on his knees, he’s fumbling with his HUD trying to figure out how to turn on the flashlight mounted in his helmet, cursing at the damned thing, why didn’t they bother making this freaking display more intuitive, why does everything have to be a goddamned acronym, and then he chooses the right icon apparently because the light turns on and there he is.

Simmons. He doesn’t immediately ping Grif as wrong-not-a-person like the Space Pirate’s corpse had. He looks like he’s alive and breathing and tense. Grif would be too, if his leg was pinned underneath a big hunk of--what, engine?--and he was trapped unmoving in the dark. Grif sways with relief anyways, something inside of him releasing. Something in his throat, his eyes, his stomach, his chest.

He’d already known that Simmons was alive. He’s being stupid.

“Hey,” he says, his voice too rough.

“Hey,” Simmons responds, voice high and cracking with nerves. He’s on his back, his hands on the rubble pinning him down like he’s keeping it up with his own strength, which he obviously isn’t. His head is twisted in an uncomfortable looking way so that he can look at Grif. His visors cracked, Grif realizes. A big, jagged shard of it missing, revealing his red cyborg eye and some of the metal plating around it. What he’d seen flicker before. The red light glows steady and strong now, as Simmons stares right back at him.

“You said you weren’t hurt, dumbass,” he says.

“What?” Simmons says. And then, “I’m not hurt, I’m just stuck.”

“A machine that looks like it weighs more than a Warthog is squashing your leg, and it doesn’t hurt?”

“It’s my robotic leg, so who’s the dumbass now?”

Fair enough. “Do you think this hunk of junk’s gonna collapse and flatten the rest of you like a pancake?” He gives said hunk of junk looming over them a light knock to indicate it.

“Um, I don’t think so but don’t knock at it like that!” His voice rises sharply, reminding Grif deeply of being scolded to use the fucking coasters, fatass. He can’t believe that Simmons uses the same tone of voice that he uses to protect tables from stains to protect himself from being crushed to a pulp, except yes he can.

“Well, unless you’re planning on finally settling down and peacefully living out the rest of your life in this exact spot--which, hey, I’m not against--then we’re gonna have to do something.”

“That something is called waiting until Kimball sends a team of people with equipment that can be used to get me out of here alive, instead of trying to fulfill a delicate operation on our own when it’s my life on the line. I didn’t survive an entire actual war just to be killed in the aftermath!”

“Sounds good. But are you sure that thing isn’t gonna move at all until then? Could take a long while.”

“It doesn’t seem like it’s budging. That’s kind of the fucking problem, Grif.”

It really does look stable enough, where it is. So he’s just gonna have to stand around and wait until help comes. Fuck, that sounds perfect. He can just shoot the shit with Simmons and maybe even doze a bit--

The ship, sickeningly, lurches, and Grif falls from his crouch onto the floor with a yelp, the sound lost in the clamor of everything loose inside of the ship sliding and scraping on the floor again, rattling, like the sarcophagus beast’s stomach is rumbling. The hunk of junk that looks like it weighs over a ton and is keeping Simmons pinned like a butterfly to a board shifts. The thud as it resettles is dull and big, and along with it comes the crunch of different parts of Simmons’ leg being crushed like an empty soda can in a fist. Simmons makes a strangled, wheezy noise from his mouth like it was punched out of him.

Things stop scraping and sliding, everything in the ship coming to a new unmoving status quo. Grif and Simmons pant rapid shallow breaths in the stillness, like the moment of movement that couldn’t have lasted for longer than five seconds had been a full marathon.

“Nevermind,” Simmons says, voice strangled by nerves. “Let’s try and figure something out on our own. Now.”

“Right,” Grif says faintly.

And then the steady red glow of Simmons’ revealed eye flickers like a bulb that needs switching, so quick that Grif wonders if he just blinked, just imagined it.

“... Grif?” Simmons asks.

“Yeah?” he says.

Simmons looks over at him, around himself. He twitches, tries to move, sparks spitting out of his leg for a moment. He grunts. “I think I’m stuck.”

Grif doesn’t say anything.

“Are you hurt?” Simmons asks.

“... No. Are you?”

“No, I don’t think so. I just can’t move.”

“Simmons,” he says carefully, “what’s the last thing that you remember?”

“Fighting the Space Pirates. Then all of the lights went off and everything lurched and I fell… I guess we crashed? Fuck, how many spaceship crashes have we caused by now?”

“I haven’t tried to keep count.”

“You should at least be able to count to as many fingers you have, even Caboose can do that.”

“He calls four ‘double two’.”

“So, have we crashed ‘double two’ times?”

“Something like that, I think. Can you remember if you hit your head during the fall?”

Simmons is slowly shaking his head no, but Grif realizes that it doesn’t matter. Simmons’ visor broke. Of course he hit his head.

“We need to get you to Grey.”

“I said I’m not hurt.”

“Whatever. You sure you can’t wriggle your way out of there?”

“I’d rather try and not tempt fate, Grif,” he says peevishly. “I’ll just wait for someone who actually knows what they’re doing to come along. I don’t think this thing’s going to move any time soon, anyways.”

Grif opens his mouth, closes it, swallows dryly.

“I think…” he says, clears his throat. “I think that it will. You don’t have as good a view of it as I do. Come on.”

“Are you sure?” he asks doubtfully.

“I’m sure,” he says as firmly as he can manage. He reaches out a hand to him.

Simmons hesitates, but then he takes it. Grif remembers abruptly, intensely, hanging over the side of the cliff at Sidewinder, clinging as tightly as he could to Simmons and still slipping, slipping. The situation really isn’t all that different. He grips Simmons’ hand as tightly as he can, and then he gets up on his feet and pulls.

Simmons holds tightly back, but after only a moment a strangled sound leaves him. “Stop, stop, stop!” he says in a rush, and Grif freezes, despite feeling like Simmons is falling off a cliff and he has to move as fast as possible to stop it. His heart is hammering again.

“This isn’t going to work,” Simmons says. “We have to come up with a different--”

Simmons’ eye flickers. He trails off into silence.

“... Grif?” he asks.

“Simmons,” he says, feeling hollow. He still hasn’t let go of Simmons’ hand.

What if Simmons is stuck like this? Not just underneath a ton of metal inside of a crashed, unsteady ship, but resetting to just after the battle over and over again in random stops and starts, like a glitching computer--

--the eye, the flicker. Maybe this isn’t the sort of thing that Grey specializes in, but that Sarge specializes in. Machine, not flesh. The eye, it’s sort of hooked up to Simmons’ brain, isn’t it? Grif stares intently at it, and wonders if the hairline crack he sees in it is just wishful thinking or not. If this is just a glitch with the eye’s wiring, something knocked loose, then that’s fixable, isn’t it?

“Are you okay?” Simmons asks softly, cautiously, not pulling his hand away from Grif’s, but definitely looking at it like it’s something worrying.

He’s seen Sarge outright pop the whole thing out of Simmons’ eye socket for a tune up during maintenance, he can fix it--

“Oh my god,” Grif gasps. “We’re idiots.”

“Yes?” Simmons says uncertainly. “Are you just now realizing this?”

“Your leg!” he exclaims.

“My leg?” he asks, and then twitches, sparks. “My leg! Oh god, it’s stuck!”

“Yes! Your robotic leg’s stuck!”

“Don’t say it like it’s a good thing, you ass!”

“No, Simmons, your robotic leg is stuck.”

“I-- yes? So?”

“So you can just take it off! Right?”

“Oh,” he says. “Oh. I can!”

Grif lets himself collapse onto his ass where he’s been crouching for so long that his thighs are kinda fucking screaming at him, Simmons fumbling as best he can at one of his armor compartments while stuck underneath a giant inconvenience. He draws forth a wrench with a noise of triumph, and then gets to work.

“It’s good that it didn’t take us long to figure that out,” he says. “That’d be pretty embarrassing.”

“Embarrassing. Yeah.” He closes his eyes, and lets himself believe that everything’s going to be okay. Everyone survived. The bad guys are gone, one way or another. The war is won. He’s gonna get Simmons out from this ship, and Sarge is gonna fix him up. Everything’ll go back to normal.

Simmons keeps glancing over at him as he slowly unscrews his leg from his metallic stump, and Grif realizes that he’s still holding Simmons’ hand. A spasm of panic, discomfort, mortification. He should let go now, before it becomes even weirder, before--

Simmons is going to flicker and forget all about this in just a few moments anyways. He thinks about it, and then cautiously, experimentally leaves his hand where it is. Simmons doesn’t let go either. If Simmons doesn’t want to hold his hand, he can just say something about it at any time, he can just pull away on his own. But for now, Grif isn’t letting him go, isn’t letting him fall.

His heart isn’t slowing down, but it’s beating for different reasons now. The implications are sinking in. He can say anything, do anything, and consequences just… won’t exist. They won’t happen. None of it will be remembered by anyone but Grif, who will never talk, never share, a tree falling in an empty forest. He suddenly realizes that he’s in a liminal space, a patch of time that will be completely adrift from all others for the rest of time. True isolation, true freedom, true privacy, true safety.

Grif can’t move a muscle.

“Grif,” Simmons says, and he flinches like Simmons heard everything he just thought, finally letting go of his hand like he was burned. “I can’t reach some of these bolts because of the angle. Get them for me?”

“Sure,” he says, mouth dry, and he takes the wrench that Simmons passes him. He looks at it dumbly for a moment, and then he gets on his hand and knees and crawls into the small space, trying to get at Simmons’ damn leg. It’s uncomfortable and awkward, tight, the flashlight not lighting everything up sufficiently. He fumbles for the bolts, swearing under his breath.

“I won’t be able to walk out of the ship like this,” Simmons says.

“I’ll carry you,” he says, trying to get the wrench to stop slipping off of the bolt he’s found.

“As if you could, fatass.”

“You got any idea how much the Grifshot weighs? Fine, I’ll help you hop out of here, happy?”

“No. Also, you’re crushing me.”

“More than the gigantic machine pinning you down?”

There’s a grin in his voice as he says, “Yes.”

Grif snorts derisively to stop himself from having sappy feelings. It doesn’t quite work. A bolt clinks down onto the floor.

This is his chance to say something. Anything. Shout at him, all of his resentments and prickly, petty feelings, just really let him have it without being thought of as melodramatic and sensitive.

(Those aren’t the feelings he wants to let out of himself like a dam exploding, a volcano erupting, unbearable pressure finally released.)

“God, you’re bad at this,” Simmons says, hands on his back, voice soft and quiet like he has to make it small to fit in with them in the cramped space.

“Shut up,” Grif says, just as soft and small, “Not everyone gets as much practice as you do. And I’m basically doing this blind, you know.”

(Say it.)

He can hear his own heartbeat, loud and fast like he’s about to willingly put his own hand into a fire.

He leans and twists to try and get a better angle on the bolts, and suddenly he can hear Simmons’ heartbeat too, ear pressed against his chest. It sounds just the same. Grif shivers. The wrench slips again, and he swears, finds his spot again.

“Grif--” Simmons says at the same time Grif says, “Got it.”

The last bolt falls off, and Grif scrambles back and off of Simmons and the small intimate, dangerous space. Simmons’ maroon and black hand comes out from the shadows, and Grif stares at it for a moment before it clicks, and he grabs at it. He gets to his feet and hauls as strongly as he can, and Simmons’ twunk ass comes sliding out from underneath the rubble, missing only one leg.

There’s a great scream of metal, the beast who’s belly they’re scurrying inside of howling as it wrenches, moves again, and he’s sent falling down onto the floor but he will not cannot let go of Simmons’ hand.

“Don’t let go,” he shouts, and the emergency lighting goes out, leaving them in darkness and overwhelming sound, and neither of them lets go of the other.

He opens his eyes and groans, all of his bruises and aches very mad at him for falling on them like that, and he looks over at his hand, at Simmons who is clinging to it. He can still see him, even in the darkness. His helmet flashlight is still on. Simmons pants and looks at him.

“Holy shit,” Simmons says, holding his hand, clutching at his arm with his other arm, curled around him like someone’s going to try and rip them apart from each other.

“I love you.”

Grif realizes after a long moment that he’d said that. Oh god. Oh shit. No, the flicker--

--that hasn’t happened for a really long time, now that he thinks about it, shit, no no no, this can’t be happening, play it off as a joke, distract, distract--

“I love you too,” Simmons says, sounding just as stunned as him.

His heart is so loud.

Simmons thumps his visor against Grif’s shoulder and laughs, loud and genuine and hysterical. “I love you too!” he repeats, sounding almost ecstatic.

Grif loves the sound of those words so much that it hurts, more than any of the bruises or sprains. He’s never going to forget those words, that laugh--

Simmons’ eye flickers, and then he forgets.

“... Grif?” he says after a moment, looking at him, at their hands. Grif lets go, sits up, puts space between them.

“We have to get out of this ship.” He realizes, again, that he’s the one who spoke.

“Right, yeah-- what happened to my leg!?”

“Must’ve lost it in the crash. Come on.”

And he helps Simmons up, Simmons leaning against him as they make their slow progress out of the slanted, dark, messy, dead ship, looking for a way out. They stumble and shuffle and trip and swear and bicker at each other, comforting and old and safe. Grif had never realized that new could feel so giddy, exciting instead of dangerous. He suddenly, for the first time in a long time, wants for things to change.

Grif thinks about telling him when he can remember, when the light of his eye is steady and reliable and permanent. Thinks about that hysterically happy laughter, the thundering of Simmons’ heart.

He thinks he will.