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Didn't Your Mother Ever Tell You

Chapter Text

Felix is pretty disappointed when he finds out that Vanessa Kimball is gay.

“I mean, honestly, can’t you imagine?” He complains to Locus later, as they’re scoping the landscape for the latest crash site. “When we reveal that we’ve been screwing with them all, all along, that I’ve betrayed her-“ and here his voice edges up a pitch, “can’t you just see the look on her face? The guy she trusted her resources, her army, her body with, was lying to her the whole time. It would be fucking awesome. But no, she had to go be a lesbo.”

“Quit your whining, Felix,” Locus grinds out.

“Hey. I don’t whine, I bitch, how many times do I have to say it?”

“Until it becomes believable.”

Grumbling under his breath about jackass crazies, Felix finds his new source of entertainment for months to come.


 Once they decide on a course of action, there’s not much to do with the Reds and Blues until one or both of the sides catch a transmission from them. And until they get their radio tower into some semblance of working, that’s not going to happen. That leaves Felix with nothing to do but watch them and feed Locus commentary.

“Oh, hey the stripey one is taking off his helmet. And ooh, he’s even hot, how exciting – maybe I can fuck him, make him feel like a moron when I betray him.”

“Are you still on that?”

“Of course I am, it’s a fucking brilliant plan. So much fun to be had there. Plus I get to, you know, fuck somebody. You should give it a try sometimes.”

Locus doesn’t deem that worthy of response. Felix keeps watching, and the teal-turquoise-what-the-fuck-ever one takes his helmet off, too, to yell at the striped one as he throws it violently (and badly) aside. Those two yell at each other a lot, and Felix is beginning to develop a theory on that.

“Oh, that one’s hot, too,” he mutters to himself as his smirk curls out. “Decisions, decisions.”

He always did like to have a nice selection.


 

“RUN!” he yells at them as he activates the light shield in front of them to perfectly divert Locus’ shot at Washington.

They don’t move. Morons.

“Look out! It’s another one!” the maroon one shouts. Simmons. He aims his gun at Felix. Locus shoots Felix in the leg, as planned. It still hurts, of course.

“Son of a bitch!” He exaggerates, crouching down to take weight off the leg.

“Well done, soldiers,” intones Locus. For him, it’s practically dramatic. I’m such a good influence. “You killed my men. I suppose that makes you the real deal.”

“Okay, now I’m really confused,” the Simmons one says. Quelle surprise.

“Quiet. All of you, come with me.”

“And why would we do that?” the agent queries coolly. Felix doesn’t have to work hard to suppress his shiver at Washington’s tone, but does have to suppress it.

“Because if you don’t come now, I’ll have to take you later.”

Way to be menacing, Locus. At least you can do that well.

“Fuck off!” Felix cries, still crouched.

“You… Shut your mouth and be glad I missed your head.”

“Oh, my God, you are such a douchebag,” he replies. He knows that Locus is rolling his eyes under the visor.

“Yeah, what he said!”

It’s the other pretty one, Tucker. He’s got a nice energy to him, at least. Felix had had a half a mind to bet he’d run screaming from any sort of real battle up until now.

“This is your last chance,” Locus warns. A heavy, if short, pause follows his words.

“Freckles!” Washington’s voice is sure. Damn, he could be fun, Felix thinks, and stores the thought for later.

Locus vanishes into the gunfire. The thought reoccurs when Washington ticks the barrel of his gun in Felix’s face.

“You need to start talking,” the agent suggests clearly.

“Mm. Aggressive, paranoid, aaaand a little melodramatic. You must be Agent Washington,” Felix says, as though he is only coming to this conclusion now.

“Hah, melodramatic!” Tucker chortles. Oh, my God. These two. Felix can’t wait to fuck with them.


 He’s actually surprised that they aren’t even a little interested in saving a planet. He thought they would be interested in nobility or some shit.

But he’s not surprised that he can still guilt the shit out of them.And getting them to trust him is almost as simple as turning on the charm and purposefully executing a few clumsy jokes.

And the concern Washington and Tucker express for each other is just adorable, really.


 “Quick! Get to the cave!”

“But what about Wash and Freckles?”

“There’s no time! Get out of here!”

“But-“

“Caboose, come on!”

...

“Wait, guys, there he is! Wash! Wash, come on!”

“We’ve gotta seal this tunnel!”

...

“Freckles! Shake!


 Felix is a little sad he didn’t more of a chance to screw with Washington. He’d practically had the agent in his hand, ready for playing with. But at least he still had Tucker to work over. That - he – isn’t nothing.

So he makes sure to be there when Tucker regains consciousness.

“He’s waking up,” the medic alerts him. Felix stands, stretches a little.

“Whoa-whoa-whoa, easy now,” he cautions as Tucker starts to move. “You’ve been knocked out for a while. Just take it easy, there’s nothing to worry about.

“You’re safe, Tucker.” He makes sure to add a special, comforting tone.

And Tucker just ignores all of it, hopping up out of the cot as if he didn’t have a concussion. “Uhh. what?”

“You took a rock to the back of the head,” Felix tells him cheerfully. “Good news is, we made it back to base undetected.”

“Back to base?” Yeah, there’s that concussion, you pretty idiot.

“Welcome to the New Republic.”

There’s pregnant pause as Tucker considers this.

“Felix, what the fuck is going on? Where is everyone?”

“Grif, Simmons, and Caboose are up at the main compound.”

“Well, what about everyone else? What about Sarge?” Tucker persists. Inside his helmet, where no one can see, Felix allows himself a brief grin in anticipation. This is going to be fun. “What about Wash?”

“Uh… I’m gonna. Go,” the medic says.

“Yeah. Thanks, doc,” Felix says, faking tiredness. In reality, his veins are buzzing with the energy of a con.

“Dude, do not fuck with me right now,” Tucker says flatly. Of course I will. That’s the best part.

“We had to leave them, Tucker.”

“What?” The shock is beautiful in the sim fighter’s voice. Enchanting, even.

“Look, the Feds were closing in. If we’d stayed any longer, they would have taken you too,” Felix says.

“No! That’s bullshit,” Tucker spits.

“That’s war, Tucker. Not everyone makes it back.” He stops, gathers his composure, because really, this is too much fun. “You guys put up a good fight. I can see why Kimball wants you.”

Man, this kid is practically a wreck already. This is fantastic.


 “Something’s come up. Kimball and Felix want you in the war room, sirs.”


 Felix has this planned perfectly. He’s learning up against a wall, feigning exhaustion but not the wounds he allowed Locus to inflict. After all, Kimball will make him go to the infirmary when this is done. There’s blood on his gloves, smeared and drying on his chest plate.

(He’ll never tell how long it took to decide how to arrange the blood just so.)

“They killed them,” he says bleakly, once the four are in the room and the tension is at its peak. He’s holding the helmet Locus made sure to grab for him, and it’s dangling loosely from his glove tips. The visor is cracked, and some of the yellow is scraped off.

The silence is terrible and wonderful. Felix drinks it in.

“What – what are you saying?” Tucker says.

“By the time I got there, they had already shot the Sergeant and the Private. The robot was scrap. The bodies – they were against a wall. Washington was chained to it. I guess he must have fought to hard, but by the time I got there… Like I said, the other two were dead. He looked dead already, just. Breathing still.

“Before I could get to him, they shot him. I managed to grab this before I got out of there.” He holds up the helmet, the gray and yellow helmet Locus told Washington was too broken to repair, like he’s only just remembered it’s on his person. He offers it to Tucker.

Tucker takes it, his hands trembling. “Fuck,” he whispers.

It’s the sound of a man falling apart and voice breaking and his shoulders are tensing with emotion, and god, Felix is going to love watching him put himself back together all wrong. This moment, it’s fucking poetry to Felix. This going to be the best fun he’s had in years.


 … not to play with your food, Felix?

Chapter Text

The thing was, to pull off a con the right way, you have to do a lot of watching and waiting. Going in and just trying to get what you want without a plan, without background knowledge, without knowing how your mark is going to react – going in half-cocked, that is a surefire way to cock things up. And it’s been a very long time indeed since Felix fucked himself over on a con.

That means he spends a lot of time watching Tucker. Because while he’s pulling on over on all the sim troopers, on the rebels, hell – the whole planet – right now, the one that he’s focused on is Tucker, and Felix doesn’t quite know everything he wants to know yet.

The trick is to watch without people noticing. Felix is pretty good at that, too. The visor blocking where he looks benefits Felix significantly, but so does the recording option in his helmet. And, most helpfully, that he has unrestricted access to surveillance for the whole base.

All of this leads Felix to a pretty fucking solid seduction plot.


 Felix finds himself, despite all odds, impressed with what Tucker manages to do with himself.

The moment he decides that he wants to avenge his friends (and Wash), the newly-promoted captain becomes a soldier very nearly worth following. He gets up before even Kimball to start his own training, and before breakfast, forces his soldiers to get up and start as well. He doesn’t allow for any excuses or complaining. Despite this, he’s very nearly silent, only ever opening his mouth the give orders. The result is a very scary captain for the weaklings under him.

Felix would be lying if he said he didn’t find it a little funny, how easily his lie changed the ne’er-do-well jokester.

But Felix knows this sort of behavior isn’t really sustainable. He guesses that Tucker isn’t too interested in keeping it up, just long enough to go down in flames. And while that would be a sight to see, Felix would like to keep the Reds and Blues alive long enough to let them wreak a bit more havoc.

“How long are you planning on running on fumes like this?” He asks Tucker one morning, having followed him into the training room. Tucker chooses not to respond. “Tucker.”

The soldier in cyan drops the weight he’s holding and moves onto a heavier one.

“Tucker. I don’t think your teammates would have wanted you to burn out like this. I don’t think Washington would have, anyway,” Felix says, watching carefully for any signs of response.

Tucker’s arms twitch in an aborted attempt to make fists. His jaw clenches, the lovely muscles under his brown skin rippling so enticingly.

“You can take a bit of a break, you know. You’re pushing yourself too hard. Washington wouldn’t want you to kill yourself over him.”

This time, Tucker does make fists, and takes a swing at Felix. He misses, of course, because of Felix’s skillful dodge, but the reaction is exactly what the merc was aiming for. He lets Tucker throw a few more, to get it out of his system.

“How would you know what Wash would want?” Tucker snarls, leaning against the wall, looking exhausted all the sudden. “Huh? You barely knew him.”

“He cared about his men, even I could see that,” Felix shrugs. “And as much as I’m sure he’d be impressed at your growth, I think he’d also like to see you get more than two hours of sleep every three nights.”

“I’m getting more than that,” Tucker mutters, but Felix can see him trying to figure out the hours he’s gotten over the last week, and find himself lacking. It’s a strangely beautiful look on him, this self-deprecation and tiredness.

Felix shakes his head. “Breakfast doesn’t start in the mess hall for a few more hours. Get some sleep, Tucker. Clear your head.”

Before the door closes behind him, he hears Tucker start on the punching bag.

Predictable, Felix muses, but not at all disappointing.


 “Why the fuck do you keep coming here?”

For over a week now, Felix has been working on various paperwork in the training room by the time Tucker comes in. The first few days, Tucker had glanced over and seemed to decide he didn’t care. Then he started pointedly ignoring Felix, his workouts ratcheting up with obvious irritation.

“Well, it’s something of a public area for the soldiers of the –“

“That’s not what I mean.”

Felix waits for elaboration, but it seems the loss of Washington and the other sim troopers has taken its toll on his usual verbosity. Anyway, Tucker’s point is clear without it.

“If you’re going to work out at the ass-crack of day every morning, I’m going to make sure it doesn’t end with you killing yourself by accident,” Felix says finally. “There’s a reason you’re supposed to have a spotter. And we really can’t afford to lose the only captain we have who both takes his duties seriously and is capable of speaking coherently to his subordinates.”

Tucker considers this and gives a single jerk of his head in response. Then he silently returns to his routine, but some the bitter aggression has left his movements.

To nearly anyone this would hardly seem like a victory, but Felix has gotten Tucker to initiate conversation. It means Tucker noticed him, and furthermore didn’t tell him to get out.

It means a step in the right direction, as far as Felix is concerned. The next morning, Tucker gives him a curt nod. Felix returns a saucy salute.

It’s progress.

And two days later, Felix starts working out with Tucker.


 Because of the unique position Felix and Locus have delicately maneuvered themselves into, communication can be a tricky thing. They’ve worked a pretty smooth system between the two of them- a radio channel only they have access to, alongside the ones the pirates and Hargrove have, for starters. But even that is a little too… messy for their tastes. There’s a direct link between their helmets that only uses text, which is their primary modus outside of emergencies.

In other words, they’ve never used the radio channel.

With the link, they use code. One their troop invented and used, many years ago, when Felix and Locus still had scruples and a government paycheck. It’s been altered for their use, but the base code remains the same.

Since the sim troopers have joined the war with the respective armies, Felix has felt a quiet but growing nervousness regarding the text communication. He keeps it to himself.


 Felix is getting this itch under his skin, right around his neck, that he gets when a plan is about to bear fruit. It’s a good sort of itch, but it’s still, you know. An itch.

He knows it’s about time to push forward to a new phase of his con on Tucker, but he’s a little concerned about pushing him. After all, a person in love is the most dangerous kind to pull one over on. Even if Tucker believes Wash is dead, that feeling doesn’t just up and vanish. In fact, it’s inimical to Felix’s plan – but it does make his next move necessarily cautious.

In the mornings, when they work out together, alongside and spotting, there’s a perfect silence only broken by breathing and that strange static that breathes off of anxious skin. And in the silence, Felix slips in small touches, ones he believes Tucker hasn’t fully noticed. They are small, purposefully, just little nudges between brushing shoulders and fingertips grazing over a wrist as he reaches for a weight.

Tucker is, after all, stuck enough inside his own guilt enough to not realize Felix’s game.

Oh, god, Felix is hungry. He wants more touches, more all the time, and it’s been agony to slowly increase them without the other man’s notice. However, Felix has trained himself and his greed is kept firmly under leash. For now.

He knows this isn’t the plan that would have worked on Washington. For Washington, he would need a fellow soldier, someone he could provide counsel and leadership to – but someone who was different enough from Tucker so as not to remind him too strongly. For him, Felix would have been more serious, a virtuous-if-witty almost-protégé. That approach would do nothing for Tucker.

Tucker needs guidance, and he also needs to fight it, just a little bit. Felix offers training tips, and every time, Tucker turns him down. Yet, Felix knows he watches him to see how he does things, silently imitates.Yesterday, Felix used his hands to gently mold him into the correct form, but sparingly. Today, Felix places a mild hand between Tucker’s shoulder blades for a weighty moment before leaving for the mess hall.

As he strides down the hall, he feels Tucker’s pretty, confused eyes on his back. A small smirk forms on Felix’s face. He’s so close to being ready, Felix just knows it.


 After that, Felix feels eyes on him quite frequently. Tucker has finally noticed something, and all he seems to feel about it confusion.

Well. It’s not ideal, but Felix can work with that.

Tucker is training his troop, barking orders at them with an edge to his voice sharp enough to split hairs and egos. Felix parks at the edge of the training field and watches, evaluating. Of course Tucker’s leadership and the soldiers, who are quickly becoming the best the rebels have (as little as that says), but Felix is monitoring Tucker’s mental state, too.

Is he ready for the next level of manipulation? Or will he break? Or, worse, choose to totally reject Felix?

The answer comes when Tucker notices him. The cyan helmet twitches in surprise before jerking back to his soldiers. But when they’re running laps, Tucker’s head swivels ever-so-slowly back to where Felix is.

He wiggles his fingers cheekily at Tucker. Hesitantly, Tucker raised his hand for scant moment. Then he screams at his men again.

He’s ready.

At dinner that night, Felix sits next to Tucker, who is silently inhaling his food as quickly and efficiently as possible. The fat knot of dreads at the base of his neck wobbles when Tucker jerks his head to look at the newcomer.

Felix puts his tray on the table, pulls his helmet off, and runs a gloved hand backwards over his hair.

“Your men are improving,” he says to Tucker, and sets into his meal with similar focus.

Tucker’s eyes stare at him for several long seconds. A quick blink, and then he looks back at his own nearly-empty tray. The rest of the meal is eaten without conversation.

“See you in the morning,” he tells Tucker as he gets up to go, snagging his helmet and rolling between his hands.

“You going somewhere tonight?” Tucker asks, and there’s almost sass in his tone – the closest he’s come, anyway, since the day Felix told him the others died.

“Recon for Kimball. Pray I don’t die – you’re all fucked without me,” he replies cheerfully. Tucker flinches. Felix pretends not to see.


 “How are they doing?” Felix asks Locus gleefully. Locus scoffs.

“They believe their comrades are dead, with barely any proof. They deserve the grief that overwhelms them.”

“And you call me a drama queen,” Felix laughs, smacking Locus’ shoulder. “Man, it’s people who are messed up that are the best to fuck with. They don’t see it coming the way regular people do.”

“I fail to see the fun in overreaching orders, Felix.” The disapproval is clear in his partner’s tone.

“Hey, he never said I couldn’t fuck one of them. In fact, he’s never so much as hinted that I shouldn’t, either. As long as we get everyone killed, he doesn’t care how many marks I fuck,” Felix points out. “And let’s be real here, Locus. I’m a lot more fun when I’ve gotten my rocks off.”

“I really can’t say,” Locus says in his driest voice. A regular fucking Sahara, he is.

“Just because you’re a prude doesn’t mean I have to be, Locus.”

All Locus does his sigh heavily. Prude.


 Felix barely sleeps that night. He has a few hours allotted after his “recon,” but with all the excitement settled into his veins like carbonation, with his plans for Tucker fina-fucking-lly moving forward…

It’s worse than coffee at bedtime.

In the morning, this shows with a yawn right as he enters the training room. Tucker nods to him, and Felix thinks that he looks a little lost.

Good.

Their workouts are not so different today, still quiet and motivated, but there’s another energy tucked into their movements. For Felix, it’s obvious. He’s been banking on this. But Tucker’s confusion stains his every moment – he drops a weight at one point, and stares at it wretchedly for a bare moment before Felix picks it up for him.

“And I thought I was tired,” he jokes, and Tucker’s hand twitches. The silence swallows them again.

For once, Tucker is the first to finish up. He seems to recognize his own clumsiness isn’t receding, and his frustration at himself is only making it worse. As he scrubs his face clean of sweat with a towel, turning to go, Felix curls his fingers around Tucker’s free wrist.

“Captain Tucker,” he says, quietly. “It’s okay to have an off-day. It’s also okay to have feelings.”

“How would you know?” Tucker snaps, tugging his arm futilely. Felix leans in towards the man’s face, until their noses are less than a centimeter apart.

“I know,” he breathes, and lets go. Tucker almost bolts out of there, his brow creased most wonderfully when he spares a glance over his shoulder. Felix couldn’t have planned it better himself.

Oh, wait. He did.

Chapter Text

Wash remembers what it was like to wear a straitjacket.

When his AI committed suicide inside the space of his skull, when Epsilon splintered and drove little slivers of his pain into Washington’s neurons, he did so much more than just die and leave behind stained memories in the echoes of his psyche. He left behind wedges that stuck into the connections of his thoughts, little spidery pieces that reflected back twisted bits of himself and Leonard L. Church all mangled and entwined in a horrible amalgam, like an extra-fucked up house of mirrors.

Problems that were neither of theirs cropped up. The one that resulted in the straitjacket was this particular fixation with scratching – waking up from dreams that were not his own, Wash would be certain there was poison bubbling under his skin, and that only peeling it off and letting the venom leak away would let it out. No matter how short his nails were, or how they wrapped his hands, he always ended up with horrific strips of flesh rended away and blood dribbling onto the cell floor, silent tears drowning in his open mouth.

He still has scars from these episodes. Striped scars of pinkish, silvery skin down his neck, shoulders, chest. They’re the reason he always wears a shirt, why he closes his eyes in the shower. The scars are both an embarrassment and a reminder that his sanity is not his own to claim.

The straitjacket, at least, gave his skin time to heal. Even if it did precious little else.


 At first, when Locus returned from his rescue mission with a heavy silence and the irritable acknowledgement of his failure, Wash didn’t believe him. How could he? These men, his men – they had nothing going for them but sheer dumb fucking luck and an inability to get logic to function for them in the real world. They couldn’t be dead.

Locus comes bearing Tucker’s helmet. It’s that dumbass shade of teal, and a perfect sniper’s shot through the temple, leaving cracked metal and plastics and paint spider-webbing away. The blood and brain spray inside sparks a gag reflex Wash had forgotten he possessed.

But a helmet doesn’t prove anything. Tucker’s armor is, except for the color, generic-issue, and anyone with a can of spray paint could replicate it. That could be anyone’s blood, anyone’s gray matter. It’s the paperwork that pushes Washback towards reality.

The pages of clinical detail devoted to bulleting exactly why this is the best military course of action hurts every goddamn bone in Wash’s body to read, but he does it. It makes his throat ache to go over the signatures for the death orders, but he does it. It makes his eyes sting to see the certificates of death, but he does it.

He vomits in private afterwards, but he does it. These men, his men, they deserve every moment that he can devote to remembering every fucking second he can of their lives. Including the end.

He doesn’t sleep that night. Wash’s mind does this horrible, grotesque dance of pros, cons, revenge, blood, and regret. He already knows what he’ll do – and what he won’t force Sarge, Donut, and Lopez to do – but his brain still whirls and dances grotesquely around every fucking awful, cold detail in the file Locus handed him so blandly.

In the morning, Wash leaves his bed with jagged red lines curled around his forearms. For a bland moment, he stares at the puffy, raw strips made by his fingernails when he wasn’t paying attention. Then he puts his armor over them.

There are some things he can’t change.


 He tries so hard to keep functioning. The last time he found himself this distracted and out-of-focus was… god, before he found York again.

It’s like the world is a poorly buffered video, the sights and sounds not syncing up with the way his brain is interpreting them. There’s something off, in every moment, but he can never pin the exact way in which it’s wrong. Wash had never fully considered that they could die. On the Mother of Invention, there was this general feeling of risk and danger – yeah, you were among the best and had the most up-to-date tech, but you always knew there was a chance you or your teammates weren’t coming back. But after settling in with the Blue Team, getting to know everyone in that fucking box canyon … it didn’t seem somehow real that they could die.

Some people, Wash thinks, are just too moronic to actually die.

Then he feels guilty, because they’re dead, and because they are dead. Their stupidity and luck didn’t save them. Tucker and Caboose and Grif and Simmons are gone, truly gone. They aren’t going to bust through a wall with the Warthog, or adopt a mechanized supergun, or make poorly-timed jokes about sex. Wash failed them, like he’s failed everyone else to come before.

And every morning, the scratches are more and deeper. The healing ones are purple, edging into maroon, and strangely ugly. The fresh ones are scarlet and pink and swollen. Every morning, he covers them again with his armor, as if by ignoring them they’ll go away, as if by making sure the others don’t see them, he can protect them from dying, too.

Consciously, Wash knows this is bullshit. Underneath that, he isn’t willing to risk it.

Who would have thought that loss could turn him superstitious?


 He does sleep, after that first week. That isn’t to say that he sleeps well, or that he stops carving into his arms after the suns are down. But he does sleep.

Some nights he dreams gentle things. He dreams of training Tucker, and getting bitched at, bitching in return. Those are relaxing, more than the ones where he’s playing cards with the Freelancers, even if those are filled with teasing and laughter and York deciding to strip when he gets one too many shots of tequila in him. But the nights where he dreams gently are few, and he’s found himself liable to wake up and vomit from wayward emotion.

Most nights, his dreams are angry, confused, and wild things, like the feral cat he tried to adopt as a child. The thing had been tabby-striped with a white chest and paws, and it liked him well enough until he tried to pet it or pick it up. Then it would buck and twitch and fight, furious and upset. Like the cat, the dreams were best left to run their course uninterrupted. Fighting the dreams only made them worse.

Like torture, Wash supposes. Rather a lot like torture.

In those dreams, he can’t pin what is happening, or where, or when. Things are blurred. On one side of him, Maine loses his voice forever to the sound of gunshots and bullets in his neck, and on his other, Wash is shooting out the pink soldier’s (Donut, he think later, furious at himself. His name is, always has been, Donut. Remember it) throat. The two events are parallel in the dream, belonging together in sickening guilt.

The mornings after those, Wash learns, are the ones he is most likely to bleed. He’ll wash his arms off in the minimalist sink and put his armor on over them as usual anyway.

Fewest of all are the nights where he does not dream at all. These nights feel like a benediction and a blessing. Wash does not question their rarity.

Wash knows that Donut is worried about him. It’s clear to him from the way the man will stop and tilt his head at him, and when his helmet is off, a fine crease grows between his eyebrows. How he’ll delicately ask Wash if he’s sleeping, or eating, or showering regularly. “That kind of thing is important to keep up morale, you know!” He’ll say, and nudge an elbow gently at Wash’s chest.

It’s almost as horrifying as it is touching.

But what’s wrong with Wash isn’t something that Donut can solve with a joke or a well-meant pastry. What’s wrong with Wash is the kind of thing that was inevitable, really, given enough time. He’s falling apart. Wash has glued himself up so many times, he hoped it would stick, but when you try to stick things back together like that, sometimes you miss pieces. And there’s so much of Wash left behind by now, he doesn’t think he’ll ever be anything resembling whole again.

Humpty-Dumpty and all that, he thinks sardonically. How tragic.

But better him that anyone else, right?

That logic would hold up better if everyone else was doing alright, but Sarge is not coping well, either. And he’s hiding it far worse than Wash. No alcohol is safe from the Red’s leader, and Wash has suspicions that he’s starting making moonshine in his quarters. The telltale scent lingers on his armor at all times.

It smells like grief. Grief, years of regretted words, and corn mash. Wash knows from experience.

Donut is trying to hold them together, and Wash pities him deeply for the self-assigned task. But perhaps, like North so long ago now, Donut feels better with something to do. Loss and idle hands only gives room for the former to grow, after all. It’s certainly why Wash has taken so nicely to training the young and inexperienced Feds. He still takes care to keep the evidence of his raw forearms from Donut, though.

Wash wishes he could just turn back the clock, and save just one person. Just one.

Chapter Text

Tucker doesn’t sleep much these days. He gets a handful of hours one night, none the next, and then as many as two. If he exhausts himself through exercise and paperwork and drills and forcing his troop into shape, then he sleeps better. If he focuses tightly until the moment he literally cannot be awake any longer, until his body collapses against his regulation bunk, then he’s more likely to get dreamless, heavy sleep and wake up without a static buzz weighing on his head.

That means, of course, that there are nights where he does have dreams. None of them are kind, anymore.

He’d run a challenge with his troop, that day, in competition against Simmons and his women. Tucker’s team had absolutely flattened Simmons’, of course, because the red could barely string together a coherent pair of words to his team, but it had still ended with Tucker listing the movements his had flubbed and strict orders to run them again the following day until “you can fucking recite every member of this squad’s position in thirty-second intervals!”

They were about the best the New Republic had, and they weren’t good enough. Tucker seemed to be the only one to see it, to do something about it.

So when he falls asleep that night, that’s what echoing through his skull like a skipping-rope chant in a school yard. Not good enough. Not good enough. Get better. Not good enough.

He’s still hearing it, three hours later, when he wakes up in a burning, soggy sweat under his thin and itchy blankets. It’s reverberating through his mind, painfully loud, as the vestiges of his dream cling to him and seemed to play on repeat, even in consciousness.

He’s back in that damn valley, the one they’d crashed in on Chorus, the one where Wash didn’t even answer him, just told the walking turret to shake. He’s playing that scene again, but it’s different. He’s got his troop with him, this time, and even Simmons and Grif are listening to his orders. Things still go wrong. Wash still orders them into the tunnel, and even as Tucker is telling his legs, no, you can’t, he’s going to die, you can’t go , they follow instructions. He turns in the tunnel just in time to see the rocks falls, to see blood pooling under the rocks, that shouldn’t be possible, Wash wasn’t in the caves, he shouldn’t have gotten crushed oh god there’s his helmet, oh god, no -

Tucker doesn’t go back to sleep after that. He can’t distract himself from the litany.

Not good enough. Get better. Not good enough. Not good enough, Captain Tucker.


 

Tucker would never admit it, but he’s a little ashamed to realize how long it’s taken him to notice Felix’s behavior. In the before, in ten seconds he would have realized the flirting for what it was, latched on, and claimed a space in the guy’s sheets. In the now? Now, he finds himself at a loss.

It’s just… he wasn’t expecting it, he guesses. Ever since puberty hit him like a towtruck pulling a freight train, Tucker’s been on the hunt for just this sort of thing (“this sort of this thing” being, obviously, sex); he never felt the need to abandon that mindset, not through high school or a very weird year at community college or in UNSC training or, especially, Blood Gulch, where he had literally nothing else to distract him from a raging libido. He could, even at the most hectic times, spare a corner of his consciousness for being a horny dude.

Until now. Clearly. Maybe he could blame the poor sleep?

Maybe something about the sudden losses of his… well, what were they, even? Sarge and Donut weren’t really his teammates. Church was already gone, multiple times and in multiple ways. And Tucker had learned from his many times trying that he couldn’t really qualify what he’d had with Wash.

Tucker was a person who liked being able to box things up and label them. Knowing what something (someone) was mattered in an inexplicable way. Being unable to fit Wash into a category bothered him, in a way that was at least distracting from Tucker’s angry, unending grief.

Like a really fucked-up fountain, he thought. It moves and moves and feeds itself and just keeps coming.

Wash had, at first been a Bother. Bossy and twitchy and irritating and demanding, taking the role of leader with Church not even cold behind him, and Caboose hadn’t even questioned it - hell, the moron had embraced it. The freelancer had even taken the fun out of beating the Reds, for a while.

He’d sort of progressed, from there, to being a Fixture. Wash was always there, in the way the Red Base was always there, and the sun was always there, and the rock and the lonely tree was always there. He was a bit easier to tolerate at that point. Still a bother, though, but then, so was Caboose and the Red Team and the sun that never fucking went away, and Tucker was used to being bothered by those things, too.

At some point, Tucker had started to think of Wash as a - well, not exactly a friend? But that was as close a word as Tucker had been able to procure. Somebody he could bitch at and be bitched at in return, or be bitched at to start with, even; somebody he could complain bitterly about and still trust to get his shit done, or even just. You know. Trust.

Maybe that was what made Tucker take so long with Felix, then. He’d thought he was done trusting.

(But is that unfair to Wash? After all, he’d done his shit, everything he was obligated to do - he did the dishes on Tuesdays, Fridays, and alternating Sundays; he checked out sprained ankles and rashes; he’d trained the Blues, and kept them alive; he done what he was supposed to, every little thing. Except survive.)

And now, with the grace of hindsight and twenty-fucking-twenty vision, Tucker thinks they had the potential for something else. There had been moments, little moments, where Wash had taken off his helmet in a fit of temper or he'd been stretching his arms over his head or he'd been concentrating on the tower... little moments, little possibilities where Wash had been very beautiful. Between and a part of is freckles and crooked smile with a chipped front tooth, with his scars on his arms and around the places where ports had been on the nape of his neck. In the parts where fire had lit under his eyes as he muttered dire things about Tucker and willful insubordination.

Those had been little chances, Tucker now believes, chances that could have (fucking should have) developed into maybe-something-like a romance. Really could have, Tucker thinks, he really could have loved Wash.

(No, it isn’t unfair.)


 

Tucker has pretty much always been a person of impulse - feel a thing, do a thing, and maybe apologize later. Pulled by the seat of his pants and intuition. Therefore, with this sort of self-knowledge, it shouldn’t surprise him as much as it does when he kisses Felix over paperwork a scant week after the reconnaissance mission, three days since the nightmare.

But it does surprise him, and it surprises him greatly.

Not when Felix’s warm, dry hand brushes the back of his hand as he trades his analysis of troop movements with Tucker’s request for more official time on the range for his squad. Not when he responds with a subtle finger tracing the underside of Felix’s wrist -  not even when they make eye contact, and in response to Felix’s tiny little smirk, Tucker surges forward and presses their lips together.

No, it’s about .3 seconds into the kiss that the surprise is pretty much overwhelming. It’s that feeling that makes him rear back and clock his head into the overhanging light. Tucker sees stars.

When the constellations fade from existence, Felix is still sitting there, a single finger tracing the edges of Tucker’s lips.

“Is this something that you want , Tucker?” he says, very softly and even more gently. It’s the sort of kindness that almost brings tears (back, damn he hit his head hard) to his eyes. It’s a thoughtfulness not a lot of people Tucker’s been around lately seem to have. It’s more than he deserves, but god fuck it all, it’s something that yes, of course he wants.

And when he nods, there’s something like triumph lighting up Felix’s pretty face as he cups Tucker’s face and kisses him.

(For the first time in days , the litany is quiet, if only in this moment.)