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Chin Up, Buttercup

Chapter Text

At what point does someone count as dead? Legally, once their heart stops beating or their brain stops functioning, they’re pronounced dead, but to Wash, that just couldn't be the truth.

 

To him, it was only once someone was forgotten for the very last time that they truly died. Whatever remains of their soul would shrivel up and disappear like dust in a breeze. He was never really all that much of a religious or superstitious guy, but after his family and closest friends passed on, he couldn’t bring himself to count them off as dead and go about life as normal. Everything felt too empty for him to not pay his respects.

 

Seven years straight, this ideal had been upheld by him taking flowers down to all of his old friends’ graves once a month. Sometimes Carolina would join him, but most of the time, he went alone.

 

He liked it better alone.

 

The only downside was the fact that the only florists around were too expensive for him to buy flowers for each of his friends so often.

 

But. On the walk to the cemetery, he'd always pass by this one yard with an unsuspecting garden, so he'd take a single flower for each grave. If he took any more than that, he knew it would be too noticeable of a change, so although he wanted to build intricate bouquets for each of them, he stopped himself.

 

The day loomed over Wash as he brushed his teeth, minty foam spilling over his bottom lip and hitting the sink with a splat. The memories whispered in his ears as he buttoned up his only formal shirt, fingers fumbling for the buttons. The fear of the inevitable death in which he would eventually join his friends took him by the hand and guided him down the hallway as he hopped forward on one foot, trying to shove the other foot into a worn-down shoe.

 

The sun shone too bright. A hole in his left sock constricted his big toe. Some asshole down the street was blaring his weird polka music so loud that even Wash could hear it. Mud coated the sidewalk and, soon enough, his shoes as well. His shirt felt too tight around the shoulders. Some trees that he passed by had low-hanging branches that snagged and caught on his hair.

 

Everything was wrong, but it usually was. Wash simply just sighed and carried on with his routine, shoving his hands in his pockets. 10 minutes later and Wash was nearing the garden, that very same garden he so often thefted from.

 

This morning felt no different.

 

It was no different when he glanced around to make sure no one was looking. It was no different when he crouched down, his bones creaking in protest. It was no different when he plucked a couple flowers.

 

It was different, however, when the front door of the house flew open.

 

Shock passed through Wash’s body and rooted him to the spot, eyes trained on the ground. After a few moments of both him and the other person processing the situation, Wash finally brought his eyes up.

 

The man, as Wash immediately noted, had dark skin, dreads, and glasses hanging off his flat nose. It wasn’t until he hopped down from the top of his steps that Wash realized exactly how short the man was, probably a head or two shorter than him. A large tee-shirt and pajama pants hung off of his tiny frame, his feet bare and exposing toenails messily painted cyan. Wash assumed that was from a child or maybe the guy just had shaky hands, who knows? Either way, he didn’t judge.

 

¨Hey, dude,¨ Wash was shocked at the casual words that went against everything he'd been expecting out of this situation for the past seven years. The man trudged forward, ¨You know, uh, those aren’t your flowers that you’re taking, right?¨

 

¨Yes, sir,¨ Wash still had one hand around the stem, so he jolted upward so fast he stumbled to regain his balance, dusting his hands off on his pants, ¨I’m really sorry, I just--¨

 

¨Nah, it’s cool, go ahead and take them. These aren’t even my flowers, but I know the people who live here and I’m preeeeetty sure they’d be fine with it,¨ Wash blinked, the words still processing in his mind. He couldn’t wrap his mind around the fact that he was being given permission to do something that he thought would get him into trouble for years straight .

 

He knelt and slowly, hesitantly plucked one of the flowers, glancing up for after doing so. When the man cracked a smile and nodded in confirmation, Wash repeated for the next flower and the next and the next until he had all 10 that he needed, feeling chagrined by the large number.

 

¨You can only take them on one condition, though,¨ The man's sly grin as he approached did nothing to set Wash at ease, nor did the casual arm he slung over Wash's shoulder as if they hadn't only just now met, ¨You show me the hot babe they’re for.¨

 

¨I...¨ Wash’s mouth felt full of cotton balls. How could he explain that the man had majorly fucked up on his intent with the flowers? He couldn’t just say ‘Oh, no, you have it all wrong! These aren’t for a girl because first of all, I’m just about as straight as a slinky, and second of all, my love life is as dry as could be...They're just for my only friends. All of which just so happen to be dead.

 

¨Don’t worry, I won’t try to step in on your girlfriend. In the Tucker household, one of our family values is to not take what isn’t rightfully ours….Chicks included,¨  Mr. Tucker rushed to defend himself, eyes naively wide and hands thrown up.

 

¨Well...¨ Wash trailed off, his eyebrows knitting together as the end of the sentence drifted in the distance between the two. He lifted his eyes to meet Mr. Tucker’s expectant gaze and found himself unable to refuse, ¨Okay. I suppose it wouldn’t be too much trouble,¨ Wash cracked a guilty, unsure smile.

 

¨Sweet! Lemme just pull on a pair of jeans, and we can jet the fuck outta here,¨ Mr. Tucker was already halfway to the door when he started yelling over his shoulder. As soon as he was gone, the realization of what Wash had just done came in the form of pressure building on his chest and restricting his breathing to shallow breaths.

 

He just invited a complete stranger to a personal reunion between him and the memories of his friends, who were wary around strangers when they were alive let alone now that they're dead and gone.

 

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

 

Mr. Tucker burst out from the front door, zipping up the fly on his jeans. Combat boots were now on his feet, neither one laced up.

 

¨Lead the way, big guy!¨ He pulled up to a stop in front of Wash, bouncing on the balls of his feet, a casual smile tugging at his lips. The smile somehow managed to ease Wash's racing heart and set him more on edge at the same time.

 

Wordlessly, Wash turned and headed down the direction he was originally walking in, hoping to God that maybe if he walked fast enough and took long enough steps, Mr. Tucker wouldn’t be able to keep up, but he matched pace with Wash, forced into an almost-jog.

 

¨So...Tell me a bit about the lucky lady,¨ Mr. Tucker finally spoke up, shoving his hands in his pockets in what was probably meant to be a casual manner.

 

Wash thought of all the deceased females they were visiting that he could lie about. He thought of South and Tex. He even thought of Carolina, who, as far as he was aware, was still well and alive.

 

¨She was -- is? -- my closest friend, she accepted me for me. Before all this happened, she always was so easy to talk to, but now...¨ Even Wash could tell that sadness was emanating from his entire being, so he tried for a small smile that didn’t look like he was about to burst out crying at the drop of a hat, ¨Her name was--¨ He hesitated, ¨Her name's CT.¨

 

¨Damn,¨ Mr. Tucker snorted, ¨She must be a terrible girlfriend if she doesn’t listen to you anymore.¨

 

¨She’s not my girlfriend,¨ Wash hinted at, secretly hoping that Mr. Tucker would just lay off already.

 

¨Ooooo, a schoolboy crush, huh? Admitting your undying love? I gotta see this shit.¨

 

At the sight of the graveyard’s fencing, Wash fell silent and let his fingers run along the familiar metal as he walked. It was as cold as he felt.

 

He didn’t bother to even so much as look at Mr. Tucker’s reaction as he made an abrupt turn into the cemetery. The path was so familiar to him that his legs carried him through the lines upon lines of tombstones on autopilot.

 

¨Uhhhh…¨The pointless noise fell from Mr. Tucker involuntarily as he stumbled to follow Wash’s complex pathway.

 

¨Here she is,¨ Wash murmured, pulling up to a stop in front of the tombstone that had the first name scratched out, leaving only the word Connecticut. Mr. Tucker and Wash stared at the dirt, neither bothering to say a word or look at the other.

 

¨Well...Hey there, CT, it’s a shame we had to meet under these conditions,¨ Mr. Tucker finally spoke, turning his eyes up to look at Wash afterwards, ¨Do you want me to leave? I understand this is really private, man. You can keep the flowers, sorry for bothering you.¨

 

Wash gulped, tears blurring his vision as he still refused to look up at Mr. Tucker. His jaw clenched involuntarily as he tried to keep the tears from falling. It was futile, he knew that, but he couldn't be blamed for trying.

 

¨No, you can stay if you want,¨ Wash laid down a Canterbury bell flower on the soil, ¨I miss you, Connie. Everyday.¨

 

He took one large step to his right to Maine’s tombstone and laid down a poppy flower on the soil, choosing to sign out ‘Your absence hurts’ instead of saying it. He zig-zagged through the tombstones to each Freelancer’s grave with Mr. Tucker trailing at his feet. He left flowers and spoke at each grave. Mr. Tucker remained politely silent.

 

As they began walking away from York’s grave, the tears finally began to fall, and they didn’t seem to be able to stop anytime soon, so Wash pulled to a stop, Mr. Tucker twiddling his thumbs awkwardly.

 

Wash must have over-counted the flowers because he held one last one in his hands.

 

¨I’m so sorry,¨ He said, ¨I didn’t mean to push you to take me, man. You can take the flowers whenever you want. It'll be our little secret. But...before we go, can we make one more stop?¨

 

Wash nodded wordlessly, his voice caught in his throat. If he opened his mouth at all, he already knew the only sounds he would make were small, weak gasps that usually accompanied gross sobbing.

 

He found himself standing in front of yet another grave, this one not even left with any engravings. Mr. Tucker was gentle with his touch when he took Wash’s hand and took the last flower, a yellow flower. Wash still had tears streaming down his cheeks, so Mr. Tucker let a weak smile pass over his face as he pointed the yellow flower at him with a remark of ¨Chin up, buttercup¨ before placing it on the grave.

 

Apparently, Mr. Tucker didn’t want to linger too long because he immediately spun around and began marching out of the cemetery, ¨That was my ex. She died right after she gave birth to my son.¨

 

¨Fuck,¨ Wash ran a hand through his hair, letting his bangs flop over his forehead when he untangled his fingers. He lifted his gaze from the ground to meet Mr. Tucker’s and, through a mutual unspoken agreement, they both paused a moment at the gates of the cemetery to breathe, to exist in this moment, to pull themselves together in a manner that meant that they were alone in their thoughts but not lonely.

 

¨Well. I've already had enough of today and it's not even noon,¨ Mr. Tucker attempted a smile. He did not feel like smiling, but he felt that Wash needed the emotional support of a kind smile. It didn’t leave the intended effect.

 

¨Thank you, Mr. Tucker, but--¨

 

¨Mr. Tucker?¨ The shorter man’s tone expressed his confusion.

 

¨I...assumed that was your name?¨ The taller man’s expression expressed his fear that he had made a simple mistake, ¨You mentioned that your family name is Tucker, so. Connecting the dots, I guess.¨

 

¨No, yeah, that’s my name and you can totally call me that if you want, but my name is Lavernius Tucker. Drop the mister at least,¨ Tucker let his head fall back onto the solid metal of the gate.

 

¨Okay...Tucker,¨ Wash spoke experimentally, letting the name rest on his tongue comfortably. He chanced a glance at Tucker to gauge his reaction.

 

Tucker’s head was still leaned back, his eyelashes fluttering against his cheek as he closed his eyes. He had no visible reaction to the nickname, so Wash nodded to himself.

 

¨By the way,¨ He huffed, not moving his head or opening his eyes, ¨I still don’t know your name.¨

 

A rush of embarrassment flooded over Wash briefly before he licked his lips and introduced himself, ¨David Washington.¨

 

¨I would say this has been a joy, David,¨ Tucker cracked another small, bittersweet smile, ¨But I don’t really consider crying over dead people a good time. Maybe we can hang out under less shitty circumstances some other time, dude. Feel free to take flowers from the Docnut household whenever you want to. It can be our secret.¨

 

¨Hey, Tucker?¨ Wash was already turning away from Tucker and toward the direction they had come from.

 

¨Yeah?¨ Tucker stayed put, only bothering to peek open one eye to eyeball Wash with.

 

¨That wasn’t a buttercup.¨

 

¨Fuck,¨ Tucker closed his eye again, one side of his lips quirking up in a smile.

 

¨It’s the thought that counts,¨ Wash huffed out a small laugh, walking down the street alone, ¨Thank you, Tucker. Have a good life.¨

 

Tucker stayed silent.

 

Wash only glanced back once, right before he lost complete sight of the gates and Tucker’s figure leaning against them. For some reason, even with the sad undertones, that had been a surprisingly not-terrible experience, so he tried to imprint that last image of Tucker in his mind, boots unlaced, glasses hanging off his nose and oversized t-shirt off his short frame, and dreads pulled back into a loose ponytail.


That night, Wash had dreams of cyan-painted toenails and buttercups.

Chapter Text

Three months, three visits, no Tucker. Not even when he lingered, side-eyeing the door and anticipating it flying open like that time long ago.

 

After the second time Tucker was a no-show, Wash tried to move on but, the third time he stopped by, he allowed a small flutter of hope in his stomach.

 

Tucker didn't show up the third time.

 

By this point, the air was beginning to hold undertones of chilliness and foreshadowing of a freezing winter. The heavy breezes snuck under Wash's skin, causing him to feel like the dreary air around him. School was starting for kids, and Halloween loomed just around the corner. Wash hated Halloween.

 

At one point in his life that he could only distantly remember, Halloween had been his favorite time of year, he loved the shit out of it.

 

Spirit Halloween became a second home during autumn, although he'd always use the same, shitty fake-cobwebs in the shubbery in his yard year after year. His costume lay in his room months in advance. He even wore those shitty little plastic spider-rings that you could get out of any quarter machine. Every night of October was spent with friends, verbally tearing apart a B-rate movie over some beers.

 

For years, this was how he dealt with Halloween, but now the holiday only hit him in the gut with vertigo and bone-deep exhaustion.

 

He had almost attended that Halloween outing.

 

If it had been scheduled just a day earlier or later, they could have all lived, they wouldn’t have just been reduced to names scrolling across a news channel the next morning, the internet wouldn’t have gotten worked up about their deaths and then completely dropped interest within a week. Wash had even gotten asked by random people on the street about how he felt about the situation and that they sent their condolences to him and the Freelancer’s families.

 

He always acted like he didn’t know what they were talking about.

 

The worst part about it was that he couldn’t spend time with Carolina this time of year, literally the only other person he knew who would understand his situation, because her brother’s birthday was coming up soon and she was always at his side on the days preceding his birthday.

 

Wash didn’t have a brother he could cry with. It dawned on him that he didn’t really have anyone other than Carolina that he could cry with. His family was dead, his friends were dead, he didn’t have enough money to see a decent therapist. All he had left to rely on was himself, which was a pretty shitty thing to rely on.

 

Don’t get him wrong, he had plenty of acquaintances. Just no friends. No one that he could freely vent to without their relationship growing strained or awkward and without them never seeing each other again. Cue the mental, pointed glare at that Tucker guy that Wash had met once upon a time and then proceeded to never see again.

 

A small huff escaped his lips as he pulled his coat closer to his chest, letting his fingers linger on the rough fabric. It was early morning, so the sun was dancing on the horizon, shining directly into his eyes.

 

He was walking Sobaka, the most beautiful Golden Retriever to walk this Earth and also the only dog he could stand to be around, who kept stopping every couple of minutes to stare up at Wash with darling, dark eyes as if checking with her owner to see what he would do so she could follow his lead.

 

Every time, he just smiled back at her while she panted lightly, and they spent a couple seconds just beaming at each other and basking in the other's happiness before continuing along the sidewalk.

 

Just looking at Sobaka made Wash’s chest feel lighter, as if she genuinely was a ray of sunshine that could drive away the darkness inside him. That was one of the perks of owning a Goldie; She seemed so pure, so kind, that she seemed to balance out Wash’s seemingly always-weary disposition and thaw him out when he was in his numb moods.

 

This walk wasn’t even a cemetery visit (he had already had one not even a week previous) but when Wash reached the garden, he glanced up once, out of habit rather than conscious effort. He found himself glancing up again shortly afterwards, one side of his mouth quirking up ever-so-slightly.

 

"Tucker, hello. It’s nice to see you again,¨ Wash brought Sobaka and him to a full halt, choosing to linger around the edge of the lawn rather than approach.

 

With half a piece of toast hanging out his mouth, Tucker sat atop the front steps to the house, eyes widening as they landed on Wash. A pair of dirty sneakers had been tossed on the bottom step without a care while Tucker sat with only-socked feet on the top step. He still looked the same as that first time they met, only this time he wasn't clad in pajamas, instead wearing skinny jeans and a tee with a jacket hanging precariously off his shoulders. Wash pondered on how practical that jacket was until he noticed how thin it was.

 

Definitely just for show, he decided.

 

"Hey, you’re that guy,¨ Tucker managed to get out through a mouthful of food before choking. After his hacking fit, he cleared his throat, ¨David, right? Shit, never thought I’d see you again. Is it that day again?¨

 

"No, I was actually just taking Sobaka for a walk,¨ Wash gestured down to the dog, "No traumatic experiences or sad backstories here."

 

¨Even though I was so looking forward to another depressing encounter with my dead ex, you mind if I still join you?¨ Tucker didn’t bother waiting around for a response and was already snatching up the previously-discarded shoes and slipping them on before Wash could even open his mouth.

 

He jogged up shortly after, Wash patting Sobaka’s head absentmindedly while he waited.

 

¨Y'know,¨ Tucker spoke as they set off down the street, ¨I know we’ve only met, like, once or whatever, so don’t take this the wrong way, but who the fuck names their dog Sobaka?¨

 

¨I wasn’t the one who named her,¨ Wash blinked at the bluntness, his eyes drifting back towards the trotting sunshine-in-canine-form in front of them, ¨I didn’t even really adopt her. The papers still say she belongs to Maine.¨

 

¨Maine…?¨ Tucker echoed, his eyebrows furrowing together, ¨Maine...Maine….Maine. Yeah, I dunno who that is, but I’ll play along and act like I know who you’re talking about.¨

 

¨One of the graves we visited,¨ Wash still didn’t bring his eyes up from Sobaka, who chose this time to pause and swivel her head back to stare at him, ¨She was only a puppy when he found her on the streets. He died a week or two after that, though. With life comes death, I guess,¨ Wash didn’t linger around for her this time, instead choosing to scratch behind her ears as he passed by her. Her tongue lolled back into her mouth as she watched him pass by before padding ahead of him, clearly not too worried about his odd behavior.

 

A small concern niggled in the back of his brain that he shouldn't have every encounter with Tucker be so upsetting.

 

Rather than dwelling on why that of all things bothered him, he quirked one side of his mouth up and cleared his throat as if it could dislodge the words that were previously there, ¨Tucker? Do you know what Sobaka is Russian for?¨

 

¨Oh, if I had to guess….Probably, like, courageous or badass or something, right?¨ Tucker perked up at finally being addressed, an inquisitive smile on his lips at the sudden U-turn in the conversation. His left eyebrow quirked up a little over the rims of the glasses, and Wash decided he liked the curious expression on Tucker's face.

 

¨Nope. It means dog. That’s it. It literally just means dog. The guy was Russian, and he couldn’t think of a better word than Dog,¨ Wash chuckled, shaking his head, and chanced a glance at the grin making its way onto Tucker’s face. Wash’s heart did a flip when he realized that Tucker was looking at him with darling, dark eyes. The sunshine bursting in his chest was no different from when he looked at Sobaka; so why did it leave his nerves burning?

 

"You have really nice eyes,¨ Wash blurted out. He immediately cleared his throat again, averting his eyes. Alright. Sunshine nerves = Word vomit.

 

He decided the sunshine nerves were a bad thing.

 

"Dude,¨ Tucker pulled a weird face, ¨They’re literally just brown. Not really all that special, last time I checked.¨

 

¨I wasn’t talking about the color of them."

 

Even Wash hadn’t expected those words to leave his mouth, mostly because they were true . Tucker wasn't lying, the color wasn’t anything that stood out too much. A nearly-black brown that seemed to meld with his pupils. But it wasn’t really the color or the shape of his eyes or anything of that sort; It was more the emotion in them. Tucker’s eyes were like fire, not in the sense that they were super passionate or warm, but rather by the way that they lit up when he was pleased, like pouring gasoline on a bonfire, or the way they seemed to flicker out and fade away that time when he was standing in front of his ex’s grave, like a match being slowly blown out. His eyes left every emotion he felt on display.

 

Wash stopped that train of thought in its place too. He barely even knew the guy, he didn’t need to be analyzing his fucking eyes, for God’s sake.

 

¨Okay? I’ll ignore the gay undertones in that alarmingly ambiguous statement, dude,¨ Tucker cocked an eyebrow at Wash and the flush that was creeping over his ears and cheeks.

 

¨Those are some big words. I feel both intimidated and impressed,¨ Wash gladly grabbed the olive branch that was being offered to him to change the conversation topic, not pausing to think about how he probably shouldn't use dry sarcasm on a stranger.

 

Tucker didn't seem to mind.

 

"Yeah, everything about me is big! My words, my love for Junior, my di--"

 

"Your ego," Wash cut him off with a completely straight face, cocking an eyebrow when he glanced over. Despite his dry tone, Wash was still flooded with relief that Tucker wasn't about to make this any weirder than Wash had only moments ago.

 

"That too, but more importantly, my di--" Tucker waved off Wash's addition before getting cut off again.

 

"Counterargument: Your height," Wash finally looked away and refused to look back, trying (and failing) to repress a smirk.

 

"Shiiiiit, now we're making short jokes? How's the weather up there, big guy?" The effect of Tucker's glare was completely lost on Wash because the fact that he had to look up at him made the experience so much better, "Bet it's hotter up there cuz you're way closer to the sun. You spot any aliens from that high up?"

 

"That's...not at all how altitude works," Wash let out an exasperated breath out, "And this isn't Area 51, Tucker."

 

"Yeah, well, it doesn't need to be when you're 500 feet tall," Tucker said with a harrumph.

 

"Close," Wash snorted, "I'm only 6'2."

 

"What?! Holy shit, dude, you're, like, almost a whole foot taller than me!" Tucker ran a hand through his dreads, Wash's gaze lingering on the action. Tucker scoffed, "Only 6'2."

 

"How tall are you?"

 

"5'4!" Tucker exclaimed.

 

Wash's withering gaze turned alarmed in a matter of seconds, "How old are you again? 12?"

 

"Ha ha, very fucking funny. Look, I'm laughing so hard there are tears in my eyes," Tucker deadpanned, tilting his head challengingly and staring Wash down with half-lidded eyes and a frown.

 

"Oh no, I made a child cry, I feel horrible," Wash grinned, his beaming expression a huge contrast to Tucker's unamused glare.

 

"I'm 24! I've graduated high school! I pay taxes! I have fathered a child!" Tucker reminded Wash with an exasperated huff.

 

"24? I'm half a decade older than you, son," Wash whistled, side-eyeing Tucker with an unimpressed smirk.

 

"Don't call me son!"

 

"Okay, dad," Wash immediately responded without thinking about the responses that comment would breed.

 

"Now THAT is a step in the direction that I want to be going in."

 

"I immediately regret everything," Wash openly scowled at Tucker's triumphant expression.

 

"Ohh, yes, kinkshame me, daddy! Kinkshaming is my kink!" Tucker moaned, attempting to make a sexy face at Wash and failing extremely. All that resulted in was a sudden laugh out of Wash, somewhat out of a discomfort from the fact that he didn't know how else to respond but mostly because of the stupid expressions Tucker was trying to contort his face into.

 

"Okay, but that kink is honestly really gross, can we agree on that?" Wash snorted.

 

"Ohhh, stop, I'm gonna bust a nut," Tucker couldn't stop roaring with laughter at this point, pausing mid-step to grapple onto Wash's shoulder so he wouldn't fall over.

 

"Come on, Tucker, stop messing around, our turn is literally the next one," Wash grinned, gesturing at the left turn that was only a couple houses away.

 

"Dude, you live down there? That place is filled with fuckin’ weirdos that call themselves FH69 or something retarded like that," Tucker clambered to his feet, a faint grin still on his face and wiping away tears from his eyes.

 

"I don't live down there; I live on the other end of your street. Tucker, you know what 4 left turns makes?"

 

"Lemme guess: A triangle?"

 

"Well, I guess that's better than you saying a triacontagon,"  Wash chuckled, rolling his eyes.

 

"You know, you had me at daddy, but you’re really losing me with the nerd speak," Tucker cocked an eyebrow as they continued on at a considerably slower rate than before.

 

"Well, that's how it usually goes, I suppose," Wash shrugged, not bothering to point out how he wasn’t the one to bring up kinks of any kind.

 

"I have to leave immediately," Tucker deadpanned, not stopping or slowing down in the slightest, "Why can't we talk about good movies or something?"

 

"Shattered Glass."

 

"What?" Tucker sent a cautious glance at the ground.

 

"You said something about good movies. Shattered Glass is really good," Wash hummed.

 

"That sounds like a horror movie. You're into horror movies?" Tucker asked, his tone clearly disapproving.

 

"Shattered Glass isn't a horror. It's about a journalist who..." Wash shook his head, "Er, I think it'd be better for you to watch it to understand it."

 

"Next Saturday night. I'll be seeing you on those doorsteps at 5 on the dot....if you're free then."

 

"I don't even have it on DVD," Wash sighed. Again, he was surprised at where his priorities lay.

 

"Then, I guess you're just gonna have to pirate it, man," Tucker shrugged as they came to the turn, "Not my problem."

 

“Didn’t you say you don’t live at that house back there? Where would I even go?”

 

“I stay the weekends there with Junior so that place is fine, dude,” Tucker said, “He’s staying with his grandparents Saturday so I’m not gonna have to ditch the movie every 2 seconds to check up on him.”

 

It wasn’t that Wash didn’t want to watch his favorite movie with a chill guy that he met only twice, it was more the fact that he didn’t know what to expect from a movie night with a chill guy that he met only twice.

 

How many people would be there? How awkward would it be? Would Tucker even like the movie? How uncomfortable would Wash feel in a new environment?

 

All of these questions were ones Wash wanted to have answered before he agreed to this movie night.

 

And yet, without an answer to a single one of these questions, he still found himself saying, “I guess I’ll be seeing you next Saturday, then.”

 

Even while they bantered back and forth for the rest of the walk, even while they paused for Sobaka to sniff at a tree and then pee right in front of it, even while Tucker awkwardly departed when they finally reached Wash’s house, even while Sobaka tugged on her leash to follow Tucker’s retreating back, and even while Wash unlocked his front door, he found himself pondering the same question.


How the fuck am I gonna get that movie?

Chapter Text

This was the correct house for Wash to go to, he was sure of it. Tucker had been sitting here both times he’d seen him before, Tucker had even clarified that this house should be the one Wash went to.

 

Right?

 

Of course it was the right house, why was he doubting himself? There was no chance in hell he could mistake this pastel pink, lavender-accented house for a different one. After all, the garden was identical.

 

So why wasn’t he getting an answer at the door?

 

It’d be pretty shitty if all the time and effort he had put into preparation had been wasted. After searching the internet for far too long, Wash had successfully (and illegally) downloaded the movie, and, after an internal conflict in which he stared at his hair brush for a while, Wash decided to attempt to battle the many knots and tangles in his jungle of hair. He’d even spent an eternity just deciding on an outfit for this occasion and another eternity trying to locate a bag to carry his laptop in.

 

His anxiety spiked more and more by the second as the sun dipped lower and lower behind trees, the sky painted beautiful shades of pink, orange, and purple that Wash couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge. The white door loomed over him, the chipping paint around the doorframe laughing at him.

 

After knocking for the thousandth time in yet another futile attempt, he turned around, ready to just ditch, and finally allowed disappointment to seep in.

 

Whatever. Now he had another night to himself. Maybe he could marathon some shitty cooking show until he couldn't see straight.

 

Just as he was about to step off the lawn and onto the pavement with hands shoved in his pockets and jacket zipped up halfway, a car came screeching past and turned sharply into the driveway, immediately followed by Tucker hopping out of the driver’s seat and whooping loudly with his arms thrown up in victory. Two men that were physical opposites in every way stepped out from the backseat of the car.

 

One was short and plump, every contour on his body looking soft and gentle. He looked to be lightskinned with platinum blonde (nearly white) hair. His undercut matched Wash’s nearly identically, aside from the fact that it was freely grown out while Wash’s was buzzed to light stubble.

 

The other man, on the contrary, was all height, gangly limbs, and angles. He was Latino with glasses perched low on a large nose. Curly, chestnut brown hair was pulled back into a messy bun, although a few wispy flyaways framed his face.

 

The two strangers chattered away while they started pulling out various plastic bags from the backseat, and Tucker waved frantically at Wash, jogging over.

 

Wash watched all of this, frozen to his spot and eyes wide, only stirring out of his stunned daze when Tucker brought himself to an abrupt stop in front of him, apologies spewing from his mouth and his hands gesturing placatingly as if Wash were a startled animal about to dart outta there.

 

Which, in retrospect, he kind of was. But it still felt pretty insulting.

 

“Doc and Donut have a car, but it’s in the shop right now, but I don’t trust either of them behind my steering wheel, and they needed groceries, I’m so sorry, I knew about our movie thing, but traffic-- and then we picked up a pizza that took a fuckin’ eternity for whatever reason,” Tucker explained all of this hurriedly in one breath, then paused to inhale before adding, “And basically, I hope you’re fine with pepperoni.”

 

One blink.

 

Tucker inhaled deeply.

 

Two blinks.

 

Tucker looked like he was starting to get nervous.

 

“Pepperoni’s fine,” was all Wash managed to get out as he recovered. Everything had happened so fast, he was still trying to process the car screeching to a halt.

 

“Oh, heeeeyyyy , you’re that Washington gentleman Tucker told me about,” Soft Man walked up towards the two, squinting and leaning over Tucker’s shoulder to size Wash up. Multiple plastic bags were clutched in his fists, and now that he was closer, Wash could see loose glitter scattered across his face, “Franklin Delano Donut. It’s nice to meet you!”

 

“Hello?” Wash was so overwhelmed by everything already, and it hadn’t even been 2 minutes since he’d trudged away from the steps. However, in an attempt to let none of these emotions show, he chose to just send a small, unintentionally strained smile towards Donut.

 

“C'mon, Donut, give him some space, go get the rest of the groceries,”  Tucker groaned, pushing Donut’s face away from his shoulder.

 

“Oh, don’t worry about that! Doc’s got the rest of the bags,” Donut gestured at Angular Man -- apparently Doc -- and the unbelievable amount of plastic bags currently hanging on his arms. Donut turned back and commented with a wink, “Perks of being married to a tall man.”

 

Wash flushed when Donut clearly gave him an up-down. Donut gave Tucker a meaningful elbow-nudge in the ribs before spinning around and rushing to help Doc, who clearly struggled with balancing the bags on his arms and unlocking the front door at the same time.

 

Now, with just a single person in front of him and time to think, Wash could feel himself being able to take in a full breath again.

 

“Dude, I’m so sorry for that. Donut’s like that with everybody I invite over,” Tucker sighed, his eyes sheepish, “Anyways, I’m assuming you got the movie, so. After you.”

 

Ten minutes later, Wash was perched on the edge of the couch, his stiff posture screaming ‘discomfort’ as Tucker attempted to broadcast the laptop screen onto the TV.

 

Tucker had thrown on pajamas while Wash unlocked his laptop and located the movie file, leaving Wash horribly overdressed. He had taken off his jacket, left it strewn across the back of the couch, and his shoes lay forgotten next to Tucker’s ratty sneakers next to the front door, but Wash was seconds away from asking for a spare tee-shirt instead of this stupid button-up that suddenly felt wrong on him.

 

Finally, the title screen appeared when Wash pressed a random button at the request of Tucker, and Tucker whooped yet again.

 

“Now that that hell’s over with, I’m gonna go grab the pizza and some beer from the fridge,” Tucker sighed, content with the TV setup. He paused before the kitchen door, “We also have vodka, Fanta, water, and Doc’s homemade juices -- though I doubt you’d want that shit. Aaaand if we fly through the pizza, there’s ice cream if you want.”

 

“Uh, beer and pizza’s fine for now, thank you,” Wash blinked, immediately smothering his curiosity about Doc’s “”homemade juices”” and why Tucker had to phrase it like that.

 

“If you change your mind, just tell me,” Tucker grinned before disappearing for a couple seconds, returning not too long after with a couple beer bottles balanced on top of the pizza box.

 

It was uncomfortable for Wash at first, but as soon as a couple beers helped loosen him up, settling in became easier and easier.

 

At multiple points that Wash hadn’t noticed, Tucker had gotten up to fetch some more beers. At another point, the top couple of buttons on Wash’s shirt had come undone. At yet another unpinnable point, Wash and Tucker had started making snide comments to each other about the movie, the characters. And by the end of all these points, Wash realized how surprisingly easy all of this was, this interaction, these comments, the growing and tentative -- dare he say -- friendship. Alcohol or not, he could get used to this.

 

“I bet he’s insane or somethin’,” Tucker didn’t tear his narrowed, suspicious gaze away from the screen, enraptured in the unfolding mess that was Stephen Glass’s career.

 

“Huh,” Wash snorted into his beer, trying to smother the reaction. He blamed his splitting grin on the alcohol.

 

“No, seriously! Think about how manipulative this guy’s been, he’s a total asshole,” Tucker harrumphed, reaching for a slice of pizza before realizing the box was empty. He slouched back into the couch disappointedly.

 

“Shit, we probably should’ve saved some for your roommates,” Wash’s eyes dropped to the offending pizza box.

 

“Nah, it’s cool, dude. Doc’s a dedicated vegetarian -- he’d never even look at a pepperoni pizza without gagging -- and Donut only eats very specific pizzas,” Tucker rolled his eyes at the last part, twisting his voice into a shitty imitation of Donut for his next comment, “I’ll only eat it if it’s medium. Light on the cheese, heavy on the sauce, and with stuffed crust. Topped with meatballs and sausage, but not too much meatballs and sausage, you know?”

 

“What ever happened to simple pizzas?” Wash shook his head, still unable to wipe the giddy smile off his face.

 

“They’re fucking dead. We killed them,” Tucker huffed out a half-laugh, half-snort before rising to his feet, “I say we mourn them with that vodka in the kitchen.”

 

“Not straight vodka, though, right?” The slightly-disgusted tone in Wash’s voice was unconcealable, his nose crinkling up briefly.

 

“That’s what the Fanta’s for,” Tucker tapped his temple wisely and swept out of the room.

 

And that’s how Wash found himself already quite inebriated, sipping a drink that couldn’t hide its bitterness no matter how much sugary citrus was mixed with it. He closed his eyes briefly, inhaling deeply and accepting the stench of alcohol that hit his nostrils. Honestly, he couldn’t tell whether that smell was coming from him or the red solo cup in his hand.

 

He lolled his head to the side, eyeballing Tucker’s profile silhouetted against the dim room.

 

Memories flashed through his mind, that tucked-away memory of the dark-skinned man leaning against the gates of the cemetery, eyes closed and dressed messily with an equally-messy ponytail. That combat boots with the untied laces.

 

He compared it to the image he had now. Dreads hanging loosely around his face, his nose curved gently against the darkness of the room beyond the TV's light. The bit of pizza sauce staining the corner of his mouth. Pajama pants that seemed to consume his tiny frame as he pulled his knees closer to himself.

 

Tucker looked like a new man when he wasn’t dwelling on his dead ex. Wash definitely liked this one better.

 

He thought about Tucker’s comment earlier. ‘They’re fucking dead ’ and how he never once thought in his life that he would be able to find a distinct relation between his old friends and simple pizzas. He stopped that thought as soon as it came.

 

He thought about the fact that he was draped across some guy’s couch. A guy that he had only met because of his thievery and bad past. He thought about the fact that for those seven years he’d been snatching from that garden, he’d never thought he’d actually enter the house, let alone be spending a Saturday night drunk in it.

 

He didn’t know whether to be impressed or concerned.

 

It was only when Tucker yelped out a shocked, “Dude!” that Wash snapped out of his thoughts and realized they were past the halfway mark of the movie.

 

Tucker spun around to face Wash, his pupils blown wide, “Holy shit! I told you he was bad vibes central! That fucker’s been lying!

 

“Who?” came Wash’s muddled reply, his vision fuzzy around the edges. He busied himself with rolling up his sleeves to avoid looking at Tucker for the moment being.

 

“Stephen,” The side of Tucker’s countenance that faced the TV was being highlighted by the light it cast, the other side residing in the dark. Wash’s eyes focused on the shadows dancing behind Tucker for a brief moment before returning to his earnest eyes.

 

“And what makes you think that?” Wash asked, wanting to talk more about the movie than dive back into the thoughts his brain had just been drowning in.

 

“‘Cuz it’s fuckin’ true,” Tucker slurred simply, cradling a matching red solo cup against his chest before turning back to the movie.

 

“I told you it’s a good movie,” Wash chuckled before downing the rest of his drink, cringing inwardly at the taste.

 

“Shhhhhh,” Almost as if to show off to Wash how patience is truly done, Tucker sipped delicately at his drink but paused, “Are you done with drinks for the night?”

 

There was an ever-constant, pleasant fluttering in Wash’s chest at this point, making him feel light and giggly despite his depressing mind. His stomach felt warm, and his vision seemed to blur at seemingly random intervals. So yeah Wash would say he's only at a pleasant stage of tipsiness. As much as he’d like to drink himself to death, he nodded, tossing his empty cup into the discarded pizza box.

 

“Wait, wait, wait, sorry t' be shitty, but liiiike, can you handle one more drink? I don’t want to waste it, man, but I want to finish this movie with a’ least a semblance of sobriety,” Wash’s hand grabbed greedily at the cup, downing this one just like he did the last and tossed it with the other one in the pizza box.

 

Minutes passed.

 

He blinked hard.

 

More minutes passed.

 

He blinked again, rubbing his face with his hand.

 

What would Connie think if she could see him right now? What would Maine think? How many of the others would judge him horribly for getting smashed with some guy he hardly knew? Just accepting alcohol from strangers willy nilly?

 

He knew York of all people would just clap him on the back and make a cocky remark, but that only made him feel more guilty.

 

Christ, what would Carolina think?

 

She’d probably call it a coping mechanism Wash was experimenting with. What bothered him was that he couldn’t tell whether it actually was or not. He just wanted a friend. Somebody other than his own cousin to spend time with and laugh with. Not that Carolina wasn’t nice to hang out with. It was just…

 

Although she made him pretty happy, there were just some things that she would never understand. And the both of them were OK with that. They had their differences. That part was understandable, and he knew it would never change.

 

Before they had the chance to fall, Wash wiped away the tears that were blooming in his eyes as discreetly as possible. After all, he had just come to terms with the fact that he wanted a friend. You didn’t make friends by crying the first time you’re at their place, you scare them the fuck away by doing that.

 

If he and Tucker never spoke again, that would be OK by Wash. Maybe then he could stop caring. Maybe then he could finally get it through his own thick skull how most people are just going to hurt him, no matter how indirectly it may be.

 

But when Wash openly stared at Tucker’s profile, at the way his eyes were so enraptured with the movie, at the underlying tension in his shoulders, at the way he would subconsciously push his glasses up with his pointer finger instead of his middle one -- Wash didn’t see someone that would hurt him. He saw a 20-something year old who just wanted some new friends. He saw a father. He saw someone just seeking acceptance and family. He saw a poor man that had experienced someone close to him dying and was hurting deep down.

 

Which, sans the father part, was pretty fuckin’ similar to Wash.


Maybe being open to friendship would be worth a shot.

Chapter Text

When Wash awoke the next morning, it was with a throbbing headache, the heavy stench of vodka staining his skin, and a new contact in his phone.

 

The sequence of numbers that had been named Love-rnius with the tongue emoji and water drops emojis stared at him. He stared back.

 

After registering exactly what was on his phone screen, exhaustion seeped into his bones. He lay back in his bed, blocking out the sunlight with the palms of his hands, rubbing the rough skin into his eyelids. Since the last thing he could remember of yesterday was his internal lament about friendship, he grabbed his phone, typed out a simple ‘ How bad is your hangover right now?’, and hit Send, then sighed and set his phone back down on his bedside table.

 

The reply came almost immediately after he put his phone down. It read ‘ probably not as bad as urs lmao’ and was quickly followed up by a ‘anyways go back to sleep its like 7 am and ur probably hungover af’. The concern made Wash almost smile until he realized the accuracy of the statement and groaned, his temples disagreeing with him standing up.

 

A thing of aspirin, an almost-fall down his stairs, and a bite of toast later, and Wash was typing out his reply, ‘ I have plans today so I can’t, but I didn’t think you to be the kind to rise early, Tucker .’ Crumbs spilled from his half-eaten toast onto the couch he was lounging back on but he couldn’t find it in himself to care.

 

and i didnt take u to be the kind to have plans. the only reason im up rn is cuz ive gotta leave for work soon >:(‘

 

You didn’t stop drinking. Then you even decided beer wasn’t enough by bringing out vodka. Even though you had work the next day.’

 

‘im not appreciating those judgemental vibes dude adding insult to injury is just cruel’

 

‘Of course not, Tucker, I would never judge you’

 

At this point, Wash brushed his teeth, slipped into some clean jeans, and threw a cardigan over his rumpled button-up, not caring enough to change out of his shirt. When he returned to his phone, there still was no response. He was starting to think back on the few texts he’d sent, if he could’ve offended Tucker somehow. Was the dry humor too much?

 

‘i cant tell whether ur being serious or not’

 

Oh.

 

‘Go to work, Tucker’

 

‘dont rush me’

 

‘He says before he gets fired for being late’

 

‘DONT JINX ME’

 

‘What can I do then?’

 

‘fight me’

 

‘You better watch what you say, Tucker, I might take you up on that’

 

‘i already see enough fights in MOI so tomorrow. the new republic. anytime between 6 & midnight. fckn. fight. me.’

 

The New Republic? Wasn’t that that small coffee shop that was caught in that infamous feud with the other local coffeeshop?

 

Ah, yes, Wash remembers now. The New Republic and Federal Coffee, they were coffee shops situated across the street from each other and were always competing. The line between ‘mocking each other’ and ‘breaking the law’ was often crossed by both stores, so Wash had tried to stay out of either establishment ever since they both cropped up.

 

So Tucker was working there?

 

‘Tucker.’

 

‘yes?’

 

‘Go to work.’

 

Again, the reply was immediate, making Wash roll his eyes and let out a huff that was exasperated with undertones of amusement.

 

‘oh shit before i leave u forgot ur jacket here last night. feel free to pick it up while im out. ill tell doc to keep an eye out for u

 

As soon as the words registered, the jacket became dead to Wash. He could always just buy another.

 

No offense to Doc and Donut, but he had already had his fill of social interaction with strangers for the week. Maybe Tucker would be understanding enough to drop it off at Wash’s house when he noticed that he hadn’t come to pick it up, no matter how long that took.

 

Before Wash could ponder further on all the possibilities involving his jacket, the lock to his front door started jingling and the door slammed open.

 

Carolina looked surprised to see him sitting there on his own couch.

 

“I thought I might have to drag you out of bed again,” Carolina cracked a smile, leaning against the doorframe, twirling her keys around her finger, and gesturing her head back towards her car, “Now come on, before the store gets overrun with kids.”

 

“Hey, Carolina,” and a noncommittal wave were Carolina’s only greeting before Wash rose to his feet, grabbed his wallet, and they both left in Carolina’s Jeep.

 

“So, how'd the race go?” Wash rolled his window down, staring at his reflection in the side mirror.

 

“Do you even need to ask?” They exchanged a knowing, amused glance.

 

“Can you say that again, just a little bit more cocky this time?”

 

The rest of the ride was spent in comfortable silence. Wash liked these moments. The car rides with ‘Lina, where the cold wind whipped against his cheek, and she was too busy channeling her rage into yelling at the asshole tailgating her to start up a conversation. His bangs tickled his forehead, them being thrown around by the aforementioned wind.

 

Wash could see the building peeking over the trees on the next turn. The kingdom of racist, white Americans. Walmart.

 

“So, what are we going to get Church?” Carolina turned to Wash as they pulled up to a red light. Panic immediately flooded through his system.

 

“What? I thought you were going to buy something and I’d just write my name on the card,” Wash’s eyes widened, unable to bring himself to meet Carolina’s expectant gaze.

 

“You're too easy to tease, Wash,” She smirked and turned back as the light turned green and she pulled into the shopping centre, “Why did you even come if you aren’t getting him a gift?”

 

“Eh, just needed to leave the house,” Wash shrugged, ducking his head to squint at his reflection again. Then he stopped squinting because that really brought out his undereye circles and he really did not want to accentuate them any further than they already looked, “Anyways, who else would bail you out of jail if you got in a fistfight over the last Alienware laptop?”

 

“Deflection-- Common symptom of you tagging along because you need milk but your cheap ass doesn’t want to pay for gas money,” Even though Carolina’s unimpressed, half-lidded stare was directed more towards finding a parking spot, Wash still felt ashamed and analyzed, his fingers fidgeting awkwardly. He didn’t answer, even as he pointed out a parking spot fairly close to the entrance and Carolina immediately went for it.

 

As soon as they were inside, Carolina shooed him away and headed off towards the back of the store where Wash knew electronics were located. Huh, Carolina going for the safe present this year. Can never go wrong with getting Church some more nerd stuff.

 

As he grabbed a basket, he pulled out an old, crumpled receipt that had his grocery list scrawled on the back, and he set off.

 

It was while he was debating between two brands of bread that his phone pinged in his hand. He was embarrassed to find that he had actually jumped at the sound but thankfully, nobody else had been in the aisle with him.

 

‘megamind is the single most underrated movie of our generation’ read a text from Tucker. Wash’s response was immediate.

 

‘Sure?’ and with that, Wash shoved his phone back in his pocket, only briefly glancing up at the bread before backtracking completely, ‘ Wait, why are you thinking about Megamind at work????’

 

Wash decided on not caring about bread anymore because it was bringing back his headache from earlier and he just tossed a random loaf in his basket before ending up in the cereal aisle. However, he stopped halfway through and hesitated before turning abruptly to the vast amounts of candy on his right.

 

Six years. Six whole years he went without buying anything for Halloween, and he just carelessly threw that record away by snatching up a bag of fun-sized chocolates before he could overthink his choice.

 

For some reason, he felt ashamed. He was fully aware that he shouldn’t be -- After all, candy and other Halloween-related products were what most of those families in the store were here for. In fact, there were a couple other people browsing the candy as well. But, he wasn’t anybody else, he was David Ellis Washington, and this just wasn’t a very  David Ellis Washington thing to do. Nor was he a compulsive buyer, so this? Completely new, which meant that with it came with shame, no matter how conscious he was of the normalcy of it.

 

Thankfully, a chime from his phone distracted him.

 

‘palomo & some smashed customer are arguing over the best cgi movies. the top contenders are monsters university, brave, zootopia, and wreck it ralph. im still rooting for megamind tho’

 

Wash cracked a small smile at the text.

 

Honestly? Wreck It Ralph wins my vote’   Wash grinned, knowing fully well what response that would provoke.

 

Wait for it….

 

u fuckin traitor, i cant believe this...after i fed u & alcoholed u up too'

 

There it was.

 

Wash chuckled, mindlessly grabbing a box of Frosted Flakes and, satisfied with his basket full of food, he paid and headed to the electronic section where Carolina was very clearly irritatedly speaking with an employee.

 

That didn’t bode well.

 

“Wash!” Carolina welcomed Wash into a conversation he very much didn’t want to be apart of, “A witness to my Mortal Kombat kickassery, mind relaying?”

 

Wash’s expression darkened at the memories of him fruitlessly trying and trying and trying to fight back against her, but no matter which shitty character he made her use, no matter how much he practiced, it was all to no avail.

 

“Oh, uh, she definitely kicks ass. Not just Mortal Kombat, any fighting game, really,” Wash hoped that the gaze he directed at the employee gave off enough of a 'Let's wrap this up' vibe.

 

“What about Brawlh--”

 

The employee was thankfully interrupted by Wash’s phone going off, which also snapped Carolina out of her agitated glare and reminded her that she was here for a video game for Church. She named off the game to the employee as Wash whipped out his phone.

 

‘theres this guy who keeps speaking french at me what do i do he keeps calling me connor but thats n o t  m y  n a m e ’ and although it was all in lowercase and Wash still hardly knew the guy, he could feel the panic emanating from the text.

 

‘I'm not Google Translate or anything but if he’s saying connard , then I believe he’s calling you a shithead’

 

It was only a couple seconds before Tucker responded.

 

‘ WHAT????!’

 

‘Motherfucker, shithead, shitass. Take your pick.’

 

At that, Wash clicked his phone off and slipped it back in his pocket, glancing up at where Carolina was currently paying for some console game that Wash could really not care less about and a Steam card, which he already knew was the product he would take credit for despite never even touching the thing.

 

Every year, he felt kind of like an asshole for doing this. Church and him had been close friends once upon a time when they were really little, but after Church hit puberty and started acting like a total douche, the video game wasn’t the only thing that Wash couldn’t care less for.

 

He wondered briefly on what excuse he’d use this year. ‘Sobaka needs to go to the vet’ was a tried-and-true, probably-overused one. But then he realized that, oh shit, he actually has an excuse this year because Church’s birthday landed on a Friday and Fridays just so happen to be the days Wash did volunteer work at a local animal shelter.

 

When Carolina caught up with him and they started walking towards the car, they discussed the video game. They discussed who Wash was texting (“Just a friend,” Wash had said and even though it was such a simple, normal thing, Carolina looked so proud of Wash in that moment, her face practically beaming). They discussed how terribly behind they are on pop culture. What they did not discuss was Church’s birthday or how Wash was most certainly not going to attend or how he hadn’t seen Church outside of a family reunion for years now.

 

It wasn’t that it was a taboo topic that they were avoiding; Carolina had lectured him countless times about it, tried so hard to get him to join them on a night out. It was just that there was nothing left to say. Carolina gave up years ago, having used up all of her defenses for Church. She’d already learned how stubborn Wash was about the topic.

 

In the car ride back to his house, they discussed how the cats were doing, how Carolina had tried a new tea the other day that tasted bomb as fuck, how Wash’s job was going. They did not discuss the Freelancers because that was a topic that actually was taboo for them. Don’t mention that night, keep it out of your mind, don’t think about it. Don’t mention that night, keep it out of your mind, don’t think about it. It was a vicious cycle that Wash both hated and found comfort in.

 

Some days, he just wanted to blurt out how he felt about the whole mess, about how he wanted to know how Carolina felt about it all, discuss the best way to deal with their problems. He wanted to ask how messed up they were and whether or not they brought back bad memories for each other just by being near one another. He could just never find the words to even begin to describe these thoughts without sounding accusing or starting an argument. He didn’t know where to even start. And, the fact that was most intimidating, he didn’t even know how Carolina would react to him voicing any of these.

 

Most days, however, he was just grateful for this unspoken agreement. He didn’t want to talk about that night after all, he didn’t want to keep it anywhere in his mind, and he didn’t want to ever think about it again. Out of sight, out of mind.

 

By the time Wash was clambering out of the passenger side of Carolina’s Jeep and waving goodbye, he thankfully hadn’t brought it up. He didn’t want to ruin his only tie with his past life.

 

How odd Wash thought of his life in two parts.

 

Before he lost himself. And after.

 

It was the same with Carolina. They were both different after what had happened. Of course they were, who wouldn’t be? But it was just... frustrating . He wanted to laugh at the things he used to laugh at, wanted to use curly straws like he always would before the incident, wanted to be able to sleep a full night’s sleep again, wanted to look at trees and sunsets and little moments like he used to. But, no matter how hard he tried, nothing was the same anymore.

 

Now, he was lonely and surrounded himself with cats. Now, he took solace in this loneliness and knowing his death will never affect anyone as much as the Freelancers’ deaths affected him and ‘Lina. Now, he forgot about indulging and just tried surviving.

 

Guns in TV shows and movies had never caught him off-guard as much before as they do now.

 

Wash nearly dropped his phone when it pinged in his hand.

 

hey u free this friday? its only fair that i subject u to my favorite movie too. plus youd get a tour around my horrible shithole of an apartment ;)’

 

Wash stared at the words.

 

He forgot he had Tucker now, and yeah, it was unhealthy to immediately attach to a person just because you’re so horrifyingly unsocial but Wash just couldn’t help himself. Tucker didn’t seem so bad. The guy had respected his privacy back at the cemetery and fed him and given him an enjoyable time and genuinely given his favorite movie thought and had cared about how Wash forgot his jacket and continued texting Wash and even just invited him over again and, yeah, these were all little things that people normally did for other people and, yeah, Wash was looking into it way too much, but this was something that he needed, that he’d needed for the past however long.

 

A new person. Someone who didn’t remember him as his past self, someone who didn’t pry about his old friends, someone who understood death, someone who could make him smile and laugh again, someone who was willing to look past Wash’s many flaws just to banter back and forth and kill time with. Someone that Connie and Maine might approve of if they were alive now.

 

Wash didn’t want a new friend.

 

Wash wanted Tucker. Because, out of all the people Wash had met for the past 7 years, Tucker was the first person to fit all of that criteria.

 

So Wash threw all his volunteer plans and birthday plans out the window. He could always just make up his volunteering with extra hours next week and it wasn’t like Church actually expected Wash to show his face.


‘I’ll bring the pizza this time. I also have a bag of candy we can split :)’

Chapter Text

Before the movie date -- which was a way that Wash would really rather not put it but he couldn’t find another term to describe what he and Tucker had scheduled -- he had braced himself for just about anything. Surprises, plot twists, even a scenario in which Tucker laughs and tells him to fuck off.

 

What he did not prepare for was a kid.

 

Like, yeah, okay, Wash should’ve expected it because of the few times he and Tucker had hung out, Tucker’s child had been mentioned every now and then. In fact, that was one of the first things Wash really learned about Tucker, that day at the cemetery that seemed like ages ago.

 

And yet, here he was, perched on yet another couch, his posture stiff as a board while a child no older than nine peeked around a corner, unabashedly staring at Wash.

 

When Wash met the kid’s eyes, however, the child immediately dropped his gaze downward. Soon as Wash glanced away though, the kid was back at it again, eyes unwaveringly locked onto Wash.

 

What should he do? Should he address Tucker’s kid?

 

Wash mentally belittled himself for being stupid, of course he should address the kid. What other option did he have?

 

“Uh, hey,” Wash forced a smile and a small wave.

 

Smooth.

 

The kid looked surprised to even be acknowledged and, clearly encouraged, stepped forward into the room, revealing a small figure that was all bony elbows and cerulean tutu.

 

“Are those--” The child’s small voice shocked Wash, it was so gentle and scared that it reminded Wash (for surprisingly not the first time in his life) that, oh shit, right, he’s a 6-foot tall, muscular grown man, his physical appearance was bound to intimidate the kid. It felt so surreal, the thought that he was bigger then he felt like he was.

 

Realizing he was asked half of a question, Wash nodded because he understood what the kid meant, understood that he was obviously side-eyeing the bag of candy Wash had sitting on top of the unopened pizza box.

 

“Can I-- Er, sorry, may I have some?”

 

Jeez, this kid. Puppy dog eyes and good manners? Wash feel guilty for even considering not giving him candy.

 

And with that, Tucker finally returned from the bathroom, too busy tying his dreads up with a rubber band to notice his wide-eyed child now holding some candy.

 

When Tucker lifted his eyes, his face immediately dropped into an unimpressed stare, and it was made clear to Wash by Tucker lifting a disapproving hand and the child dropping the candy in it that what he had chosen was definitely not the right choice.

 

“I see you’ve met my spawn, Junior,” Tucker ruffled Junior’s hair as he approached the couch, “who should know that he’s not supposed to eat candy before dinner.”

 

“Sorry, dad,” Junior pouted, plopping down on a nearby armchair.

 

“Ah, so right now, we’re…?” Wash hummed, leaving the end of the question open for Tucker. He paused, half-expecting the man to leap across the room just to yell 'Not the only thing you'll open for me, huh? Bow chicka bow wow!'

 

“Waiting for Sarge. He’s gonna watch Junior tonight since Sarge hates my best friend, the same best friend who's having a party later,” Tucker hummed in confirmation, plopping down on the couch.

 

Thank God he didn't live up to what Wash had expected.

 

“I see,” Wash nodded, “So, what movie are we going to watch?”

 

“Reservoir Dogs, just the greatest movie in existence!” Such a simple question he had asked, yet the reward was Tucker’s posture straightening out and a bright smile, one that turned out to be rather contagious, the corner of Wash's lips moving up on its own accord.

 

“Wait, Daaaaad,” Junior interrupted, his legs dangling off the couch, “We’re still going out tomorrow even if it’s gonna rain, right?”

 

Tucker’s grin had wavered briefly when his child addressed him but it returned full-force with a quick “Yeah, of course, munchkin.”

 

“Oh? You two have plans tomorrow?” Wash’s eyebrows raised.

 

“I believe that’s what I just said,” Cue Tucker grinning that heart-melting grin, and Wash immediately tensed up and averted his gaze. The older man gulped down the fleeting desire to move in closer and lean on Tucker, just some small physical contact at the very least. A slow discomfort permeated through his torso at the thought of actually going through with that, the feeling only heightening with the lingering fear of rejection that tightened his throat.

 

Without realizing it, Wash scooted a couple inches away from Tucker before pausing and, for the sake of keeping the conversation going, asked "Where?"

 

"Why? You planning to stalk us or something?" The comment was spoken in light air so maybe Tucker hadn't noticed Wash's uncomfortable behavior, thank God. Just past his view of Tucker, Junior was eyeing Wash with an intense expression, eyebrows furrowed together and mouth scrunched up.

 

"Yes, of course, because I, as a grown man with a job and responsibilities, have nothing better to do than stalk my friend and his child," Wash deadpanned with a roll of his eyes, completely oblivious to the judging eyes on him. The only sign that he was joking was the way his lip twitched up ever-so-slightly.

 

Silence dawned upon the group. This, as per usual, led to Wash immediately turning to the other two, ready to apologize for saying or doing something wrong, only for him to stop in his tracks at the sight of Tucker beaming back at him. The words he was so ready to blurt out died in his throat at the sight.

 

"Dude! You busted out the f-word already!" Tucker laughed and the tension seeped out of Wash and everything just felt right. So Wash laughed too.

 

"The f-word?" Junior spoke up, finger tapping his chin thoughtfully, "You mean fu--"

 

Luckily, someone knocking at the front door cut Junior off. The noise apparently distracted him from what he had just been saying because he wordlessly rushed back into his room and ran out with a backpack in hand. When he threw open the door, he practically launched himself at Sarge. Tucker hadn’t even looked up at the sudden action, so when Junior squinted at Wash and pointed his index finger and middle finger at his eyes and then back at Wash intimidatingly, Tucker didn’t even notice. It left Wash shell-shocked, his jaw dropping.

 

Why had Junior done that? Did he fuck up that badly? Was the candy a test or something? How did he mess up?

 

"Hey! This time, don't give him any firearms--" Tucker's sentence was punctuated by the door slamming and a loud yell of 'You goddamned useless blue, shoving your offspring onto me like this! It's a fate crueler than death! No, you miniature fiend, I won't teach you how to drive a motorcycle. Actually, on second thought...' Each word caused Tucker's face to turn paler so Wash cleared his throat, more than ready for a distraction for the both of them.

 

Seriously, why had Junior done that?

 

The shorter man whipped back to face Wash, perched tensely on the couch cushion, "Uh, I'm probably going to get complaints about all that racket," He shrugged, "Hm, well, not the worst we've ever done."

 

"Oh?" In an obvious attempt to shift their thoughts to something other than Junior, Wash raised an eyebrow, “Clarify.”

 

"Yeah! My friends are the worst, they blare stupid polka music whenever they visit, even if it's at the asscrack of dawn," Tucker pointed a glare at the wall behind Wash, "If you leave Caboose alone, he'll go up and down the halls, knocking on doors just to make friends... even if it's at the asscrack of dawn. Then Donut-- you met him, tall, dark, gay as fuck? Yeah, one time, he found out his favorite reality show got cancelled when he came by to pick up Junior and punched a hole in my fuckin' wall. The landlord still doesn't know because guess what? I'm a damn genius when it comes to cleaning up after my friends' messes. It's kind of what I do."

 

Mere moments later, Wash stood in Tucker's bedroom, the wall that they were facing littered with a couple posters that had been placed with an obvious lack of care. The posters, however, did not capture Wash's attention for long, so he found his eyes wandering around the room.

 

Nothing really looked out of the ordinary. Beige walls, white curtains, a birch desk with a rolling chair that had a blanket strewn across the back of it. The only parts of the room that showed the fact that a person actually lived in the room was the dirty laundry piling up high in the corner and, on the bed, there lay a blanket pile that had been shifted into a makeshift nest.

 

Wash glanced around the room once more, "Why so many blankets?"

 

"Oh, dude, fuck if I know, Junior's granny sends a ton down for Christmas. Anyways, that's not what I wanted to show you..." With a flick of his wrist, Tucker brought down a poster to reveal the hole in the wall, "Donut wants to call it the Infamous Donut Hole, but I don't think I could sleep easy in the same room as something called a Donut Hole."

 

"Understandable," Wash murmured amusedly, crossing his arms as he inspected the hole. Not as bad as he expected but still not something that wouldn’t extremely piss off a landlord.

 

"Yeah, my friends are assholes with no regard for others but y'know, can't live with them, can't live without them, all that sappy bullshit," Tucker let a breath out through his nose and plopped down in his rolling chair, rolling the chair towards Wash, "So, I told you some grade A stuff, that's gotta get me some stories back, right?"

 

"What? Oh, no, no, if you want interesting stories, you've got the wrong guy for that," Wash huffed out a laugh, "I live with a ton of cats, a dog, and emotional baggage. Nothing too interesting."

 

"C'moooon, man, you can't tell me your life's that boring. What about old friends? Ex-lovers?" Tucker waggled his eyebrows with a grin, circling Wash in the chair, "I know you've got something for me, cough it up."

 

"Well..." A couple seconds of hesitation preceded Wash's resignated sigh and him crossing the room to settle down on the edge of Tucker's bed, "Okay, I guess I might have some stories from when I was younger...My old friends weren't much better than yours from the sounds of it. They were unbearable in a sort of endearing way, I guess. The responsible one was this guy named North, right? So I’d given him a spare key to my old apartment because that's what you do when someones responsible, but he'd always let himself and the others in at...how did you put it?" By this point, Wash's voice dripped with equal-parts amusement and nostalgia, "The asscrack of dawn? He'd make everybody breakfast using my food because, as he always put it, the day he wasted his own milk and eggs would be the day he died. Ironically, uh, no, he...he did not do that when--" Wash cut himself off, clearing his throat/

 

Tucker inhaled sharply and pushed up his glasses with his middle finger, letting out a single pity laugh, "Harsh, dude."

 

“Sorry,” Wash huffed out a small laugh and rubbing at his eyes with his palms, falling back onto the blanket pile, except...wait a minute.

 

It was overwhelming how strongly the blankets smelled like Tucker, the scent ensconcing Wash as if it in itself had been just another blanket. Not that he’d been sniffing Tucker enough to know what he smells like, of course. It had just been a passing observation.

 

Really though, how often were these things washed? Or was the smell just that strong that it survived through it all?

 

“Dude,” Tucker snorted, gesturing vaguely in the bed's direction, “Does my bed smell like sex or what? What's going on here?”

 

With a jerk, Wash abruptly tried to sit up straight -- or rather, he would’ve, if he hadn’t gotten caught in the blankets and slipped ungracefully onto the floor in a tangle of limbs and fabric.

 

Judging by the way Tucker was now snorting with laughter, he probably hadn’t caught on. Not that there was anything to catch on to.

 

They both fell silent, just comfortably absorbing the moment together, even as Wash rose to his feet and pulled himself back onto the bed, embarrassment still itching under his skin.

 

“Anyways, I don’t think my group really has a mom friend like North or whatever,” Tucker finally broke the silence, absentmindedly spinning in the chair, “I mean, Sarge is like a tough-love grandpa. Kai is the aunt who’s still stuck in 2008. Grif and Simmons are the gay uncles who're always bickering over everything. Caboose is the annoying little brother. But I don’t think we have a mom friend...or a dad friend, for that matter.”

 

“Sucks for you guys. All of us, we were a bit, ah…” Wash motioned with his hands in a way not even he understood, although he hoped it properly conveyed to Tucker the words he lacked, “So North would take care of us when we couldn’t. Sometimes getting out of bed felt like the most impossible fucking thing but he’d drag me out of bed by my ankles and make me brush my teeth, wash my face, eat some breakfast. Connie used to get panic attacks so he learned how to help people with-- with that kind of stuff. The guy was ob-fucking-sessed with all of us staying hydrated,” Wash heaved a breath out. All the tension and good feelings he’d been having only moments before whisked right out of his body with the air, “He was the only reason most of us were functioning as well as we were.”

 

Tucker was regarding him from across the room, Wash knew it. He could feel the eyes examining him and, when he looked up, he expected a face full of the oh-all-your-friends-are-dead-sucks-for-you pity he always received when he reminisced on better times but Tucker’s face was more concerned and thoughtful, gears clearly working in his brain.

 

“Dude,” Tucker’s eyes widened, “He was part of that friend group that we visited?”

 

Speechless, Wash just nodded (or tried to, what with him laying with his head at an awkward angle to look at Tucker.)

 

“You haven’t found a new guy like that, have you,” It wasn’t a question, and Wash knew it. He didn’t even need to shake his head for Tucker to continue, “You’re looking at him.”

 

“Excuse me?” The surprised laugh burst out of Wash after swirling in his chest for a nanosecond.

 

“You heard me. I’m your mom friend now, deal with it, dude,” Tucker beamed, puffing his chest out, “I mean, I assume you still feel like getting out bed’s the fucking worst, so? Y’know? You shouldn’t have to wallow in your bed alone, starving and being dehydrated.”

 

“I…” Wash was touched. He really was. They'd met and hung out with only a couple times before, he really cared that much? Now, instead of sarcasm, his voice was warm with gratitude, “Thank you, Tucker. But,” Wash snorted, “I’d like to see you just try to drag me out of bed.”

 

“Oh, you would, would you?” Tucker grinned and, within seconds, he was across the room, not latching onto Wash’s foot as Wash had expected but rather onto the blanket underneath him and yanking it into the floor -- Wash included.

 

A strangled yelp made its way out of Wash’s mouth as he, unfortunately for the second time that day, tumbled to the ground, limbs flailing everywhere and catching Tucker in the shin. The surprised screech that Tucker let out rivalled Wash’s yelp by far as they both landed in a heap of blankets and body parts.

 

Wash let out a loud groan into a mouthful of blankets, the impact of Tucker’s elbow in his spine hitting him belatedly.

 

“Fuuuuck,” Tucker stretched out against Wash’s back, ten tons of blankets between them, “A mountain of blankets and a mountain of a man couldn’t even break that fall.”

 

“You say at the top of the pile to the poor man at the bottom,” Wash pushed himself up to sit on his knees, Tucker and all the blankets sliding off his back onto the floor.

 

“Hey,” Tucker’s eyes were fixated on the ground, or so Wash thought, until Tucker brought a hand up and, with a single finger, gently pushed Wash’s jean leg a little higher. Tucker’s eyes were clearly interested in the scar that traced up the back of Wash’s calf and disappeared under the denim, “You told me you don’t have interesting stories. What’s this little fucker, then?”

 

“That little fucker is just from a skateboarding accident I had ages ago,” Wash tucked his leg in closer to himself, eyeing the scar as if looking at it for the first time, “Fell off, skidded across a road, tore up my leg like a motherfucker, broke an arm too. I haven't worn cargo shorts or touched a skateboard ever since."

 

“No fucking way you, of all people, used to skateboard,” Tucker huffed out, brushing himself off.

 

“No way you, of all people, have a son,” Wash countered without thinking about it.

 

“Hey, no need to get family involved! I'm a great father, thank you very much,” Tucker crossed his arms, “I was just saying, you’re, like, the most uptight guy I’ve met in a while, isn’t skateboarding just for junkies and punks?”

 

“As a matter of fact, no, the man selling me the skateboard did not deny my purchase on account of lack of drugs or eyeliner,” Wash cocked an eyebrow, absentmindedly settling into a criss-cross applesauce position and pulling one of the blankets over his lap.

 

“Okay, smartass, what other kinds of things did you do ages ago?” Tucker prompted, clearly mocking Wash when he said the words 'ages ago'. He leaned back, chilling with his back against the bed, legs stretched out so one of his feet was just barely grazing Wash’s blanket-covered knee.

 

“Well, now I’m not gonna tell you because you won’t believe me, of all people, ever used to do these things,” Wash cracked a smile.

 

“Dude, c’mon, now I’m curious. What has shaped David Washington into the man he is today?” Tucker gestured grandiosely with each word in the sentence, inflicting each word with emphasis of the utmost importance.

 

“I drank chocolate milk everyday out of those crazy swirly straws that everybody wanted when they were 8,” Wash rubbed the back of his neck, a sheepish grin making its way onto his face, “I was 20.”

 

“Not juicy enough, I want something that will make me not look at you the same ever,” Tucker stretched his leg out so he could properly hit Wash in the leg with his foot.

 

“Tucker, I did teenager kind of stuff, not locked-up-in-jail-for-murder kind of stuff,” Wash laughed, “Although one time I accidentally killed my friend’s pet bird. Don't really wanna talk about that.”

 

Tucker grinned at that, and Wash was left to realize that he’d been pouring himself out but hadn’t gotten much out of Tucker.

 

“What about you? What kind of dumb teenager shit did you do?” Wash prompted, flicking Tucker’s foot.

 

The answer was immediate: “Drugs and shitty people.”

 

“Wow,” Wash’s eyebrows climbed so far up his forehead, they hid under his bangs. Feeling as if he should say more but unsure as to what to say, all that came out his mouth was, “I smoked once. Didn’t really like it so I didn’t do it anymore.”

 

“Ha! Wish I had that option,” Tucker’s head fell back against the bed, similar to the way it had fallen back on the gate back at the cemetery. The action left Wash with a stab of familiarity in his chest before Tucker continued, “Dated the biggest drug dealer around. Wasn’t the type to let people turn down his weak-ass weed but he did it so subtly that you wouldn’t really notice, y’know?” Tucker made eye contact with Wash and only then did the freckled man notice how his eyes had grown tired with the topic change, “Fucker stole a shit ton of money from me too, just to buy more weed, then turn around to sell it back to me at a higher price. Fucked me over more than that too, but that story's for another time. Mmm, glad that guy’s outta my life.”

 

“Jesus,” was all Wash breathed out, and, with that, Tucker made eye contact with him again, blinked as if realizing how dismal he made the mood, then brightened his expression.

 

“Hah, yeah, I don’t really remember much from high school until after Junior was born. Elementary school, though? That was lit. Had this friend named Morales who ate sand at recess. Oh, and my friends and I made a band where all of us played invisible instruments. Yours truly rocked out on the invisible drums--”

 

“Demonstrate.”

 

“What?”

 

“You heard me, Tucker,” Wash grinned, “Demonstrate.”

 

“Oh, nooo, I couldn’t,” Tucker laughed, mimicking a pair of drumsticks in his hands, “Haven’t picked up these babies in years, my skills have gotten rusty, buuuut, if you insist,” For a moment there, Tucker flailed his arms in what Wash assumed was supposed to look cool until Tucker stopped and looked at Wash with a smug look on his face, “That do anything for you?”

 

“Well...I think it's safe to say it was certainly smart not to money on an actual drumset.”

 

“C'mon, dude, fuck you,” Tucker laughed, pulling his phone out of his pocket at the sound of a text tone. He jumped to his feet, almost slipping on all the blankets now strewn across the floor, “Shit!” He hissed out, throwing all the blankets onto the bed without a care as to where they landed before spinning around and grabbing a bag in the corner of the room.

 

“Um, Tucker?” was all Wash got out before Tucker was across the room, dragging Wash to his feet.

 

“I’m late for the fuckin’ party,” Tucker slipped his feet into some sneakers hidden in the corner of the room, not even bothering to tie the laces, while Wash struggled to keep up, searching for his own shoes, “Can’t believe we killed like two hours just talking."

 

Wash finally located his shoes, pulling them on while Tucker patted his pockets down to assure himself that he had everything he needed.

 

“I dunno if he’ll like me doing this, I don’t care, but you wanna tag along?” Tucker asked, pulling open the door as Wash rose to his feet, "I wanna hear about that thing with the bird. And elementary school."

 

At the question, Wash’s tongue dried out. How big was the party going to be? Would they even like him? What would he do? He didn’t even have a gift for whoever’s birthday it was. Not to mention, he usually liked to know what he was getting into, but he was completely clueless as to what the party would be like or even what the people there would be like.

 

“Listen, you don’t have to if you don’t want to, but it’s, like, just down the street from your house so if you wanna leave, you can at any time.”

 

He wanted to continue that carefree conversation with Tucker. It was just down the street.

 

Plus, he wanted to become closer friends with Tucker, maybe he should start hanging around the people Tucker did, right?

 

But what if they didn’t like him? Would Tucker just drop him? Or even worse, would Tucker do that shitty fade-out where they just stopped talking over time?

 

“Wash?” Tucker’s voice shook him out of his thoughts.

 

“Ah, yeah, sure, I’ll go,” It was like the word no was erased from his dictionary.

 

“Cool. Like I said, if you wanna leave at any time, feel free to,” The two walked out, chattering all the way down into the parking lot, even as some old lady with a walking cane and sharp eyes glared at them.

 

The smile Tucker sent her way was sheepish, so Wash nudged Tucker with his elbow, “Is there a history there?”

 

“With Ms. Nordyke? I like cougars, but even that ’s pushing it,” Tucker snorted, baffled at the idea, “Her granddaughter’s hot though. Sucks she’s a lesbian, but y’know, to each their own or whatever.”

 

“Not what I meant and you know it,” Wash rolled his eyes.

 

“Oh, well, she lives in the apartment below mine and, no offense, but you’re a pretty big guy,” Tucker eyed Wash at the declaration, “A thousand pounds of muscle hitting the ground, topped with my scrawny ass? Probably not music to the ears.”

 

“Oh,” Wash’s ears heated up, him wondering if he should go back to apologize real quick, but before he could reach a decision, he was already pulling open the passenger door to Tucker’s car.

 

Tucker paused after turning the keys in the ignition and turned to Wash, “Just a warning, though? Yeah, my friends are total dipshits if you couldn’t tell by the stories. They might be overwhelming, they might ask too many questions, but that’s just how they are. Tell me if they start acting like a bunch of insensitive pricks, though, okay? I don’t want them to scare you off,” Tucker finally started the car and began to pull out of his parking spot, “You seem like one of the first sensible people to live 'round here.”

 

The words warmed Wash’s chest and he couldn’t do anything but nod, his ears turning even redder. He directed his gaze out the window so as to avoid staring at Tucker.

 

The guy had guts. Spilling stuff that easily to any old soul that would listen. Wash wished he could bring himself to tell people things like that, that whole ‘I don’t want them to scare you off’ spiel that had ‘I don’t want to lose you’ written between the lines so blatantly it was almost a line in itself, but every time he wanted to, he would always just freeze up. The words would get caught in his throat. He didn’t really know why, he just couldn’t bring himself to tell anyone other than Lina what they really meant to him.

 

He wasn’t always like that. He used to remind all his friends how much he cared for them. Platonic ‘I love you’s were, like, his thing back in the day. But, then, all his friends died and…

 

Oh. Right.

 

That’s why.

 

Before he knew it, they were pulling onto Blood Gulch Avenue, pulling up to a periwinkle, one-story house, front door wide open for anyone to come in and two pathetic, deflated balloons tied to the crooked mailbox.

 

Wash sweated.

 

How long had this ratty house been here? And why hadn’t Wash noticed it until now?

 

“Well, here we are, the idiot's kingdom,” Tucker sighed as they both stepped out the car, not even waiting for Wash to catch up as he strode across the lawn.

 

Already getting ditched? Bad omen.

 

Maybe Wash could just leave now, return to the safety of his own home, where he could spend the night cuddling with Sobaka, Burnie, Gus, Joel, Matt, Jason, Shannon, Dan, and Geoff. One dog, eight cats, one lonely man, and maybe three scoops of ice cream--

 

Before he could make his hasty retreat, Donut was already bounding out the door as Tucker strolled in. He spotted Wash immediately and headed towards him, pouncing once he was in Wash’s general vicinity.

 

“Heeyyyyy! Didn’t expect to see you here!” Donut eyed Wash, glanced at the car, then back at Wash, his eyes crinkling in what Wash understood was supposed to be a meaningful way yet he couldn’t quite figure out how, “Oh, cute! Shame he’s being a terrible date though, huh?”

 

“Beg your pardon?” Wash’s face flared up in heat, but before he could deny the whole ‘date’ thing, someone was yelling out the front door.

 

“Donut, you better get back in the kitchen if you want to finish decorating that cake before Grif’s fatass swallows it whole!” A tall, gangly man with freckles that rivalled Wash’s screeched. Wash could already tell it had been unintentional, that's just how the guy's voice was, “And...oh, come on! Don’t tell me you actually brought a stripper.”

 

Donut just laughed at that and watched as a much shorter, darker-skinned man came up behind the tall one, “I’ll swallow you whole if you don’t shut up.”

 

“Grif, you sound like Do--” The tall man’s eyes widened and Grif snorted at the slip-up before the tall man stammered out, “Do..D-D….Uh....” Clearly defeated, he mumbled out “A douche. You sound like a douche,” even as Grif spun around and, snorting with laughter, walked away in the middle of Simmons speaking.

 

Now armored with a grouchy expression, Simmons slunk back in the house.

 

Wash stared at the door, still wide-eyed at the exchange.

 

Seriously, any moment now, if his legs could just start working again already, he was going to walk the fuck away.

 

But, then, Donut was guiding him inside, arm wrapped amiably around his tense shoulders, and there was nothing he could do without seeming rude, so he gave in and allowed himself to look around at all the strange faces around him, so many faces he didn’t know. Surrounded by scars and stories he didn’t know, shoulders and freckles he’d never seen before, eyes that hid thoughts he couldn’t even guess.

 

And where was Tucker? Was Wash just going to have to stick with Donut the whole time?

 

Well, there was no other choice, was there?

 

So, he lingered by Donut who insisted on introducing him to everybody he could find, a hand delicately poised on Wash’s forearm the whole time so he couldn’t escape.

 

There was Simmons, the tall ginger that had been the one yelling out the door early. By his side, with frosting decorating his patchy stubble (which Donut frowned at), stood Grif. He clearly didn’t like Wash.

 

First Junior, now Grif. Who else was going to see right through him and hate him on first sight?

 

Donut tried reassuring Wash that Grif didn’t like many people, but even Wash could see how the short man acted around everyone else.

 

Then, there was Lopez, who only spoke Spanish, so neither Donut nor Wash could really understand anything he might’ve said about himself.

 

There was Kai, a girl who looked extremely similar to Grif, except with more of a plunging neckline and less facial hair.

 

The one in the group that should’ve seemed like the most of a threat was Caboose, what with his tall and broad figure, and he did seem like a threat but that first impression flew straight out the window as soon as he opened his mouth.

 

Then, of course, there was Doc, who just waved awkwardly at Wash before shaking his hand, palms so sweaty that Wash was left wondering what the guy was so nervous about. Doc expressed his gratitude at being able to actually introduce himself to Wash, and Wash decided he didn't like the guy. Some kinda vibe he gave off didn't quite feel right.

 

“So, that’s almost everybody. I just don’t know where the birthday boy or his sister is!” Donut harrumphed, walking up and down the hallways, peeking into each room. At some point in these introductions, a red solo cup of beer had been pushed into Wash’s hand so he had been sipping absentmindedly at it instead of also looking. It just felt too intrusive to look into someone else’s rooms, especially considering that he didn’t even know who the supposed birthday boy was.

 

“Wash?” A voice spoke up behind them.

 

Wash spun around, startled and confused, “Lina?”

 

There, standing next to Carolina, was  Church, and behind them, Tucker stood unsurely with 2 bottles of booze in hand.

 

Everything clicked into place.

 

Friday. October 25th. You skipped volunteering for this. You told Church you wouldn’t be able to make it to his party.

 

Liar.

 

Then, leave, leave, leave, was all that chanted through Wash’s mind. This was definitely not a party he was going to be welcome at. It wasn’t a party he wanted to be welcome at.


So, he strode straight out the hallway, not even pausing at the collective call of “Wash!” from Lina, Tucker, and Donut.

Chapter Text

It was actually Doc that managed to catch up to Wash before he could burst through the front door. The man slid between Wash and his escape route, question marks evident in his eyes as he glanced hesitantly at someone behind Wash.

 

When a hand grabbed Wash’s bicep, he realized Donut was the one that Doc had been looking at.

 

“Wash, what the fuck was that? You good?” Catching up shortly after, Tucker stared at Wash with wide eyes and a silent, brooding Carolina strolling behind him. Church loomed in the doorway between the living room and the hallway.

 

“I was told that I could leave whenever I wanted to, and…” Wash took a deep breath in, unsure of who to look at, “I want to.”

 

No, actually, he didn’t.

 

“Good riddance, just run away like you always do, asshole,” Church snorted before slinking away, probably off to loom somewhere else.

 

...Except, okay, yeah, maybe Wash kinda really did.

 

“You know Carolina?” With a discreet glance at the redhead behind him, Tucker tried at another question, confusion painted across his face.

 

“Tucker, we’re cousins,” Carolina rolled her eyes, “I’ve talked about Wash before.”

 

“Wait, wait, wait, this,” Tucker swiveled back to stare at her, gesturing wildly behind him at Wash, “This is the David I’ve heard about? What?! No interesting stories, my ass!”

 

Later, Wash would probably worry about the fact that Carolina had talked about him, what the hell did she say and what does Tucker know and also wow Carolina knows these idiots too and this is so surreal, but at the moment, he was just debating on whether or not he should leave while they were distracted, shifting his weight from foot to foot, itching to just go already. Get out of this damned place.

 

“Wash, are you sure you wanna go?” Donut asked softly, breaking him out of his thoughts by touching his arm lightly where he had grabbed it mere moments ago, “You looked pretty into it earlier. After we worked so hard to make you come, too.”

 

“You all seem like an...interesting group and all, but this is Church’s house, Church’s party, and Church’s friends. I shouldn’t step in on that,” Wash answered equally as softly, unable to meet Donut’s kind gaze.

 

“Oh, screw Church!” Tucker piped up between the sentimental moment, throwing his hands up, “Any friend of mine is someone he can put up with. Like I told you, Church is an insensitive asshole but I don’t want any of my friends to scare you away.”

 

“It’s a pretty big party, avoiding Church wouldn’t be difficult,” Carolina cocked an eyebrow, “It’s not like you two don’t have years of experience of just that.”

 

The situation struck straight to Wash’s core. Three people were asking him to stay. That's three more than usual.

 

They weren’t wrong too. Although the house was small, the crowd was spread out enough that Wash could stay on one side of the house and never have to confront Church the whole night.

 

“I mean...it’s Church’s birthday, I’d really rather not intervene,” Wash shrugged, caught between feeling bad for leaving and feeling bad for staying.

 

“But--” Donut began, only to be cut off by Tucker.

 

“Okay, Wash, good night. Give Sobaka a big ol’ kiss for me,” Tucker nodded, waving a small goodbye to Wash before retreating into the kitchen with a frown.

 

“You know, you could always just not act like a couple of total babies and talk about it, right?” Carolina cocked an eyebrow, an unimpressed expression on her face.

 

“What, me and Tucker? I wouldn’t say we’re acting like babies, but to each their own view of adolescence, I guess.”

 

“You know what I mean,” Carolina frowned.

 

“I’ve tried! Time and time again, I tried, Lina,” Only one step further and he’d be out the door, just one step further… “Maybe, for once, I’m not the problem.”

 

“I didn’t say you were,” Carolina snapped, “This has gone on long enough. At least stay long enough to have at least a semi-civil conversation.”

 

“I told you, Lina, I’ve tried. Maybe I shouldn’t be the only one putting effort in. Maybe Church and I just don’t get along, and that’s how it’s supposed to be,” A cold breeze from outside slid indoors, hitting Wash in the back and gently tousling his hair.

 

Finally, he took a step back and spun around, already heading across the lawn, Carolina’s last words of ‘We’re talking about this later,’ lingering in the breeze.

 

No, Wash decided, the fuck they won’t. He appreciated the concern, he understood that she just wanted her two closest family members to get along, but Jesus fucking Christ, that was asking too much.

 

Church was insufferable.

 

Every conversation they were forced to have left Wash on edge, frustrated, filled with an urge to punch something. It was always taunts and insults spilling out of Church’s mouth whenever Wash was around, no matter how much Wash restrained himself and grit his teeth and tried, for Carolina, to have one conversation about the weather or their jobs or anything that isn’t them at each other’s throats.

 

Wash had tried. He really had, but Church just really, really hated Wash. So, Wash finally accepted that and learned to step out of the way and send glares back.

 

And this, Wash leaving the party? That was him being polite. That was him acting nice by not staying around because he knew if he stayed around, especially with alcohol in their systems, they were bound to get into a fistfight or something worse. It was Church’s birthday, so that was his gift: A night Church could spend with his closest friends and not the cousin he so clearly loathed.

 

Tucker be damned. New friendships be damned.

 

It had begun to become too much for him, anyways. Loud music, loud people, small house, the stench of alcohol and B.O.? It was a sensory overload just waiting to happen.

 

The buzz of adrenaline -- which was sad, really, that he got an adrenaline rush from being introduced to people -- was starting to fade, leaving him feeling gray in the October evening. Matching gray clouds hung low in the sky, threatening to crush him any moment now.

 

Do it, he taunted. Then, he could reunite with his friends and family and not have to worry about dumb cousins that hate him or about new friends that make him nervous for more reasons than he thought possible or about how much energy it took to interact with other human beings or about the fact that he was currently hanging in a limbo with no idea how to step forward.

 

Limbo (n) An uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution.

 

Wash stared harshly at the clouds, asking them what decision he was waiting on. Whether to kill someone else or kill himself? Because, wow, yeah, that was proving to be a real dilemma right about now.

 

This time, as he walked down the street with clenched fists shoved in his jacket pockets, he picked up on things he hadn’t before: colorful jack-o-lanterns sitting in front of one house,  DIY ghosts hanging from a tree in front of another house. A lot of them, though, were completely barren of decorations.

 

On one hand, Wash was relieved. Less Halloween, the better. On the other one, though...Being an adult was a fucking bummer. Everybody already lost their spirit and awe for the holiday. Hell, Wash wouldn’t have lost his love for Halloween if the holiday didn’t remind him of a dark time in his life.

 

He sighed as he grabbed the bowls he had set out on his porch and unlocked the door, already holding the dishes up high in the air so that Sobaka wouldn’t knock them out of his hand when he--

 

Oof . There she was, all paws and tail colliding with him as he stepped in, kicking the door shut behind him.

 

A small chorus of meows followed her as Shannon, Jason, and Gus brushed against his legs.

 

“Hey, babies,” A smile stretched across Wash’s face subconsciously at the sight of his animals, “Bet you’re hungry already, huh? Sorry I was out later than I thought I’d be.”

 

He bent down to pet the cats, Sobaka bounding up to lick the side of his face and sniff his shoulder.

 

“Oh, Tucker, right,” He shifted his attention to Sobaka and put down the bowls to scratch behind her ear, her head leaning into the action, and he planted a kiss right on her nose. The cat trio started up their meows again at the lack of attention, Jason even pawing at Wash’s ankle.

 

“C’mon, let’s get you guys fed up so I can take a shower and a nap,” Wash picked up the bowls again and rose to his feet, stretching his arms up with the action.

 

After setting out the cat food-filled bowls out on the porch and one kibble-filled one in the kitchen, he hopped into the shower and cranked the hot water knob all the way, letting today swirl down the drain with the water.

 

Just down the street, a whole different scenario was happening. As a redhead munched on pretzels unaware to his other half smoking a joint in the bathroom the next room over, a man with a son and a job and a life of responsibilities pouted into his beer, leaning his face into the palm of his hand. Across from him sat a soft man, all swaddled in a salmon-colored sweater and white skinny jeans.

 

“If you wanted him to stay so bad, why didn’t you just ask him to?” Donut sipped at a cup of something that somehow managed to smell sweet and absolutely disgusting at the same time. Tucker wrinkled his nose, pulling his hand away from his face.

 

“I mean, I wanted him to stay, yeah, but I’m not gonna force the guy to be somewhere he doesn’t wanna be,” Tucker knocked back the rest of the beer, wanting to throw himself into the party and not sit here, talking about this.

 

“It is Church’s birthday after all,” Donut reasoned.

 

“Exactly. So I’m gonna get shitfaced and celebrate my best friend’s anniversary of the last time he was near a vagina,” With a tilt of his head and a grin, Tucker rose to his feet and headed back into the crowd.

 

In the next room over, a redhead was yelling at his other half, who simply just took another hit from the joint as a response.

 

Two hours later, the sun sank behind the horizon as someone in one house pulled out a game of Twister to show off to a room full of drunkards, and someone in another house flipped the page of a novel.

 

“Left foot, green,” Tucker called out to the drunken idiot-pile on the floor. This idiot pile consisted of Kai, Church, Donut, and Doc, all tied up in a grand idiot-knot.

 

With a flash, Tucker took a quick, blurry photo of the four toppling down, Doc’s expression of horror clear as day despite the shitty quality. Without even hesitating, Tucker sent it to a contact whose name was just the cat emoji.

 

Wash nearly fell out of the bed when his phone pinged. He dog-earred the page he had been absorbed in and checked out the picture he received from a contact whose name now just read Lavernius.

 

Wash’d only played Twister a couple times before, none of which had been sexy. It was more a game of inconvenient leg cramps and trying to maintain the least amount of physical contact possible.

 

Glad he didn’t stick around for that to happen.

 

He responded with a simple ‘Rest in peace, Doc, he will be missed.’

 

Tucker sent back a string of laughing emojis with no context to be had. Wash returned to his book.

 

After what felt like someone else’s lifetime later, as Wash was putting down the novel, his phone pinged again.

 

This was how it went for the rest of the night. Throughout menial tasks, Wash would receive another update on something stupid the others did.

 

At one point, Wash received a video of a figurine of a cat in a Santa hat dancing along to a Christmas song, then a blurry photo of Church dunking the cat in a kitchen sink filled with water, followed up with a video of the same cat, still cheerily dancing, now demonically singing.

 

Way later in the night came a video that started out panning around the room, displaying all the drunkards splayed across the ground, the only exception being Caboose sipping at a wine glass filled with what looked to be strawberry milk. He sat on the couch, waving enthusiastically at the camera as if he didn’t have Church sprawled across his lap, drooling and snoring loudly. Then, the camera spun around to show Tucker shaking his head disapprovingly. The caption for that one was ‘what a bunch of weakasses.’ After rewatching the video once, Wash noted the only one that some people were missing, but he couldn't put his finger on who.

 

Explanations came in the form of a video of Grif absolutely slumped in a doorwayeyes half-lidded and a box next to him. Grif asked, “How nutritious do you think dog biscuits are? Cuz’ I’ve eaten, like, at least six so far.” A silence followed before Tucker’s voice finally said, “Dude...Church doesn’t have any dog biscuits.” The video cut off just as Grif’s brief expression of dawning horror dropped into sudden acceptance.

 

Wash smiled at all the antics but felt pretty excluded. Even though he understood the idea that Tucker wanted to share with him the happenings so as to avoid that from happening, it only furthered the feeling that he was the one banished from Verona and still receiving letters from the friar.

 

“Oh!” Wash exclaimed as Shannon hopped up on his bed. He hadn’t even realized any of the cats were still in his room. He’d thought they’d all migrated to the living room already, “Shannon, are you my Juliet?” He murmured, running his calloused hand across the cat’s back. Shannon arched his back into the touch, curling his tail around Wash’s palm. A purr resonated throughout Shannon's body and subsequently helped to calm Wash down. He lifted his phone and sent a picture of the cat in his lap to Tucker.

 

This was the life he liked to live. Cats. Silence. Thinking time. Alone but not completely lonely. Maybe being Romeo wasn’t that bad.

 

But, then again, every Romeo meets his demise of a broken heart, every Romeo brings out the dagger, every Romeo gets denied his happily-ever-after.

 

Maybe this metaphor was beginning to hit a little too close to home.

 

Or maybe Wash should just stop reading so many edgy young adult novels, he decided, brushing his newly-finished book aside to grab at the photo underneath it.

 

This picture always stayed as an ever-constant presence on his bedside table but he hardly ever even touched it, as shown by the layer of dust that had gathered on the back of the photo. He brushed the dust off and flipped it over.

 

A young Connie grinned at him from under lamination. Maine glowered as he always did, but Wash used to be one of the lucky few to be able to decipher Maine’s happy-glower from his angry-glower. It was with a horrified start that Wash realized that his ability to read Maine had faded significantly. If it hadn’t been for his own good memories of that day back in 1994, ten lifetimes ago, he would’ve thought Maine was glaring at the camera, straight at future him. Almost as if he expected Wash to pick up the picture on a fateful night 22 years later.

 

Then, there was that unlucky, chubby boy with a forced grin settled underneath Maine’s hulking arm. They were all kids, granted, but that boy still had the boyish pout and chubby cheeks that marked young adolescence. The freckles speckling across his cheeks and unflattering bowl-cut didn’t really help either.

 

Growing up, people always told Wash that he’d lose the freckles and baby fat over the years. Baby fat, sure, all of that was long gone. He’d already molted out of any semblance of childhood left in him. For fuck’s sake, he lost more friends in the past decade than he lost freckles in the entirety of his life.

 

It was surreal returning his gaze to the picture, to the life in Connie’s eyes. The fact that they had managed to suspend that specific moment from a time before her life was taken from her,

 

Wash could almost feel Maine’s heartbeat under his fingertips as he ran his fingers over Maine’s form.

 

The three had promised each other forever, but, fuck, if that was forever, then forever wasn’t long enough.

 

He dropped the picture back on his bedside table face-up, choosing instead to shut off the light and ignore all the messages pinging his phone. Chest feeling hollow, he stared at the ceiling, trying to dig up memories of his old friends.

 

Geeking out over Transformers with York. Ping. Watching York skateboard back before Wash knew how to, and thinking York was the coolest kid in school because of it. Blaring obscure music in South’s room with York, North, South, and Carolina. Eating the nasty, burnt ramen York had made just because he wanted York to think he was cool too. Ping . Going Christmas-shopping with York and watching him freak out over what to get for Carolina. Carolina’s broken expression when she realized that her fiance was dead.

 

Okay, no. Not a good road to travel. Shift the gears, bucko.

 

That night when Wash found South crying in the Dakotas’ old treehouse so he came back with ice cream and Twinkies and they spent the whole time in a comfortable silence, broken only by the sound of the top to the tub of ice cream being popped off. Wash helping South sneak out to get a tattoo when she was 16. South trying to teach Wash how to throw a proper punch. Ping. South throwing a glass cup against the wall, her voice a hoarse yell, her narrow eyes locked onto Wash's equally-furious form. Ping. That last furious, very loud interaction they had the night before she died.

 

Not okay either.

 

People should not be allowed to die when you’re still in the middle of fighting. Arguments are supposed to be like commas, just a separation between another phase of life, intended to be resolved and finally brought to an end.

 

Maybe that was the limbo Wash was hanging in. He was stuck in the empty space between a comma and a period, hanging onto the punctuation with both hands and desperately trying to drag himself into the preceding clause, even though the words had already dissipated into thin air. Nothing awaited him on that side of the comma, but nothing awaited this side of the comma either. No forwards, no backwards, his story was finished by being left unfinished. All there was left to do was for him to finally let go. 

 

Ping.


With what little bit of energy he had left, Wash reached over and flipped the picture face-down instead and fell asleep before he could even pull the blanket over himself.

Chapter Text

There’s that noise again, Wash thought, blinking blearily against the harsh sunlight streaming through his curtains. He wanted to get up to check his phone but with his face buried in a pillow, a blanket half-strewn across his legs, and a cat nestled against the curve of his back, he just really, really, really didn’t want to.

 

Thankfully, whichever cat it was stretched up and leapt off the bed to Lord knows where, so he took his chance to grab his phone only to see the words ‘22 missed messages’ and ‘2 missed FaceTime calls’ lighting up his phone.

 

Unsurprisingly, Tucker had been about a little less than half of those texts (as well as both attempted calls) but what was surprising was the fact that the majority had come from Carolina .

 

He considered only opening Tucker’s texts. Carolina was probably drunkenly sending him angry paragraphs about how he had made a mistake leaving the party and how he should grow up and all that

 

Then again, that was the thought process he had 7 years ago too.

 

He opened Carolina’s first.

 

‘Wash did you remmber to feed sobaka’

 

‘Wash’

 

‘Wash seriousy that poor dog needs to EAT’

 

‘Im gonna cry pleasse tell me ur taking care of sovaka’

 

‘Hey buddy ol cousin of mine can u pick up like 7 mild sauces from taco bell pleas dont ask questions just get them’

 

‘Sned me pictures of jason the cat ples’

 

‘Miss yu wishy-wash :-( wish you stayyyyed’

 

‘Sorry i yelled at you’

 

‘Are y”ou ok :-(‘

 

‘Please text me back to let me know oure ok’

 

‘If you sont text me back by noom tomorow im coming over’

 

He responded with, ‘I’m fine, thanks for the concern. It may not be 7 sweet and sour sauces but I could bring you some aspirin and breakfast’ before moving on to Tucker’s texts.

 

They were just more pictures and videos throughout the night of stupid shit happening, like a picture of when he was in the middle of drawing a dick on Church’s face. The latest picture was taken of Tucker hunched over a toilet, his face hidden in his arms on the toilet seat. Wash couldn’t even guess who would’ve taken the picture.

 

Wash’s personal favorite from Tucker was the only actual text, which read ‘omfg dude i lost wash i cant find him he was here likr a minute ago????? :( plz help me find him’

 

At first, Wash was pretty sure it was an attempt to guilt-trip him for ditching the party but when he did the math about how late in the night the text was sent and how much alcohol Tucker probably had in his system by that point, Wash realized how genuine it more than likely was.

 

‘I’m already bringing breakfast to Lina, should I bring you some too? ’ and, with that, Wash trekked to his kitchen, where he popped open a bag of kibble for Sobaka and the boys and started making some scrambled eggs with bacon and some toast.

 

So. Last night didn’t go as bad as he had expected as soon as he had set eyes on Church. Although he kinda regretted leaving (he knew from personal experience that Tucker and Carolina drunk were a blessing to this Earth), the choice to diffuse the situation before a bigger problem could arise was probably the best option in the end.

 

After all, last night may’ve gone well but it might not end up the same way in the future.

 

Tucker would probably pick Church over him any day anyways and Lord knows that Lina cares about Wash a lot, yeah, but not enough to pick him over her baby brother.

 

‘PLZ&THANKU’ came Tucker’s response.

 

Once the breakfast was done, he threw it into some Tupperware, grabbed the aspirin, threw on clothes without looking at his choices, and headed out.

 

He hummed a little tune stuck in the back of his mind as he walked, subconsciously tapping on the containers until he paused at the periwinkle house -- Church’s house, he now knew.

 

Okay, so chances were, judging from the videos, Lina and Tucker passed out at Church’s place. And even if they hadn’t, then it would be fine! Wash would quickly explain that he thought they were here and all interaction with Church would be kept to a minimum. It was going to be fine.

 

Right as he finished psyching himself up and took a single step onto the lawn, the front door creaked open, and out stumbled Carolina who was sporting bags under her eyes and an irritated crease in between her brows. It was only after she pulled the door shut that she noticed Wash and the tension fell out of her face.

 

“You’re heaven-sent, you know that?” was all she said as she approached.

 

“Is Tucker in there?”

 

“Tucker? No, I think he went back to Donut’s place, why?” She stopped in front of him, shoving her hands in her pockets and huddling in closer on herself.

 

“Uh, promised him some breakfast too -- are you cold?” Wash blurted, eyeing her thin jacket.

 

“A little,” She admitted, “Hopefully the docnut household has a working fucking heater at the tail-end of cold-as-shit October.”

 

Wash hummed in response.

 

When they rang the doorbell, it was Donut that answered so Wash tried at an casual smile that feels more awkward than it should and joked, “Got any sugar, neighbor?”

 

Donut’s eyes immediately lit up, a grin stretching across his face as he held up a single finger, “Wait here a minute, I have the perfect thing!”

 

Carolina’s snort hardly registered to Wash, who was too busy staring at the door with wide eyes to pay attention. He hadn’t expected Donut to take him seriously, he didn’t want to take the guy’s sugar for no reason .

 

In a few moments, Donut was back at the door, dragging a very confused and frazzled Tucker by the arm. Donut gave Tucker a shove out the door and purred, “He’s sweet as can be.”

 

Now Carolina let out a barking laugh and Wash paled, although he was having a hard time fighting a smile off his face.

 

“An explanation would be--” Tucker began with a grimace but then he eyed the Tupperware Wash was holding and sighed out, “You know what? I’m not gonna complain if it gets me some of that.”

 

“I already offered to make you breakfast!” A voice shouted from the other room. Doc, Wash felt pleased with himself for recognizing so fast.

 

“Vegan pancakes with a side of tofu? I’d rather eat dirt,” Tucker grumbled to Wash and Carolina, which earned him a slap on the arm from Donut.

 

“Be nice, he’s trying,” Donut snorted with a small smile, shaking his head disapprovingly.

 

Trying and succeeding are two completely different things,” Tucker rolled his eyes and turned back into the house.

 

When they entered the kitchen, Wash immediately placed the Tupperware onto the counter and slid off his jacket, folding it over his arm.

 

“You know, I’m glad y’all are here now,” Donut’s beaming face dropped into a wide-eyed look, “I need the emotional support.”

 

Wash tilted his head, his eyebrows already furrowed together.

 

“I’m dying my hair!” Donut’s grin came back full-force, and he hopped from foot to foot.

 

“More like I’m dying his hair,” Tucker grumbled from where he was grabbing plates from a cabinet.

 

“I just needed a change, you know?” Donut carried on as if he hadn’t heard Tucker, “Blond is soooo boring . Lightish red is in!”

 

“Lightish-- isn’t that just--” Wash started, leaning against a counter and absentmindedly tracing a finger along the pattern of the marble, but he was quickly cut off.

 

“Don’t,” Carolina hissed, elbowing Wash in the side. Confused and defensive, Wash threw up his hands, which Tucker promptly shoved silverware and plates into.

 

“Go set up the table, big guy,” Tucker gestured his head toward the door to the dining room.

 

“No, wait, let Wash finish, you of all people should know it’s terrible not being able to finish,” Donut blinked big eyes up at Wash, who cleared his throat and headed into the dining room as an excuse to not make eye contact. Tucker stared at Donut for a beat too long before sighing and shaking his head.

 

“He was gonna say ‘isn’t that just the most wonderful choice,’ isn’t that right, Wash? Now go put out the food out,” Tucker shoved the containers into Donut’s hand and steered him toward the doorway, “The sooner we eat, the sooner you can dye your hair, the sooner I can go home and take a nap.

 

“What, you weren’t drinking the night before work again? I’m surprised,” Wash hummed as he stared down at the silverware, wondering if they gave a shit about correct placement.

 

“Ha ha, real funny,” Tucker rolled his eyes, slinking down into the seat.

 

“Y’know, Donut,” Wash spoke, although he lingered around the table, waiting for everybody else to take a seat so he could take whichever one the others’ didn’t pick, “You said he was sweet as could be. I don’t think I’m seeing it.”

 

“Tucker, stop being a Sour Sally! We have a guest,” Donut took the seat next to Tucker, then yelled, “DOC! COME EAT!”

 

“GIVE ME A SECOND, I’LL BE RIGHT THERE!” came a voice from further in the house.

 

“OKAY! LOVE YOU!”

 

“LOVE YOU TOO!”

 

“LOVE YOU MORE!”

 

“Okay!” Tucker groaned, “We get it! You’re in a happy relationship, the rest of us are very single, my head’s killing me, we get it.

 

Carolina was grimacing, rubbing her temples.

 

“No need to be so snappy,” Donut sniffed, popping open one of the containers, “I’ve been telling you you gotta ask Kimball out sometime! You two would be the absolute cuuutest together.”

 

“And risk getting my dick cut off? No, thanks, that’s my best feature,” Tucker immediately dove in for the eggs, getting as much on his plate as possible before Carolina cut off his egg tirade by smacking his fork with her own.

 

“Kimball’s too focused on one-upping Fed Coffee. Now, Grey , that’s a woman,” Carolina whistled as she stabbed some bacon to deposit on her plate.

 

“Grey?!” Tucker had been shoveling the mountain of eggs on his plate into his mouth but immediately stopped to start coughing and hacking, “Nice legs, but she’d probably perform brain surgery in my sleep.”

 

Wash had already begun to tune them out; he kinda forgot for a moment there that he still wasn’t all that close to them. Lord knows who all these women they were mentioning were.

 

“Ooooof!” Wash glanced up to see Doc standing in the doorway to the dining room with a hand waving in front of his nose, “Now our dining room smells like alcohol and bad choices, do you know how difficult that is to get out of upholstery?”

 

“Smells better than those ocean breeze candles you light in here, that’s for sure,” Tucker huffed out in between bites of toast.

 

Tucker, ” Wash finally made eye contact with the shorter man and slid the bottle of aspirin across the table, “Go drink some water and stop acting like a douche.”

 

Tucker instinctively caught the bottle, blinked, and looked down at them before looking back up at Wash.

 

“You didn’t think to offer this before?” He stared at Wash for a hard second.

 

“Didn’t get a chance in between all the snark and being forced to set up the table,” Wash rolled his eyes as he piled up eggs on a piece of a toast.

 

“You didn’t have to do that, y’know,” Tucker stood, “After all, you’re the guest.”

 

Wash eyed Tucker incredulously as the shorter man slunk into the kitchen, followed by the noise of a faucet being turned on.

 

The rest of breakfast passed without much of a lurch. Tucker had passed the aspirin off to Carolina, who tossed ‘em back dry. They joked, they laughed, and at some points, Wash felt extremely left-out from their conversation topics.

 

But it was fine, enjoyable even, and Wash had to admit he sorta, kinda, maybe missed domestic gatherings like this.

 

“Are you guys sticking around for the big finale?” Donut clapped his hands together with a big grin on his face.

 

“Washing dishes? Sure,” Wash shrugged, pushing his seat out from under him and starting to take the plates, but his hand was quickly smacked away from Donut’s plate.

 

“No, silly, I meant my hair!

 

“Oh,” Wash’s hand hovered for a second before reaching out again, “I can still do the dishes though.”

 

“I can’t really stick around, I promised Sheila I’d meet up with her at the gym today,” Carolina stretched upward gracefully, unknowingly (or maybe knowingly; you can never really tell with her) blowing everyone away with the sight of her biceps.

 

“Awh, well, if you come back before my hair’s done, maybe we could share the shower,” Donut tittered, fiddling with the centerpiece -- A vase of flowers was as detailed as Wash could get describing it.

 

The only flowers Wash knew were roses, buttercups, and sunflowers. Anything other than that might as well have been completely foreign.

 

“And you, Wash?” Tucker asked from where he was leaning in the doorway between dining room and kitchen. Thankfully, his temperament had evened out as his headache continued to subside.

 

“Huh,” He blinked, feeling oddly called out just for looking at the flowers. Lord knew why, maybe it was just the guilt taking shape from him taking Doc and Donut’s flowers for so many years now.

 

“You staying?”

 

“Uh,” Wash shrugged a shoulder noncommittally, “I don’t have anything else to do today.”

 

Tucker eyed him up as he approached the doorway, “Can I dye your hair too?”

 

“No,” Wash was immediately brought to a halt, staring hard at Tucker.

 

“Please?” He stood unwaveringly.

 

“No.”

 

“I’ll pay you.”

 

No.

 

Wash .”

 

“I said no,” Wash finally went to go past Tucker, but Tucker shifted so that he was still blocking Wash’s path.

 

“But, Wash, pink would so be your color. Matches your cheeks,” With a lopsided grin, Tucker reached up -- clearly with the intent to pinch his cheeks -- but Wash gently smacked his hand away.

 

“Tucker, I need to wash these dishes,” Wash had attempted to shift his expression to one as serious as he could manage, but clearly that wasn’t much because he could tell the corners of his mouth were still quirked up.

 

“Fine, buzzkill,” Tucker relented, throwing up his hands defensively.

 

Once the dishes were washed and put away, Doc headed out for class and the remaining trio took respite in the bathroom.

 

Wash leaned heavily on the sink counter while Donut sat, perched on the edge of the bathtub, his lip bitten from trying (and failing) to hold back an eager grin. Tucker was somewhere else in the house, apparently grabbing “supplies.” Wash had no idea what that meant, considering they already had the box-dye, color-safe shampoo, and dark towels as far as the eye could see.

 

“So, Wash, what kind of weird stuff are you into?” Donut finally broke the silence in a tone that made Wash cock an eyebrow, “Don’t look at me like that! Everybody ’s got a guilty pleasure, don’t tell me you don’t have one. Mine are Swedish soap operas. Tucker makes fun of me all the time for it!”

 

Oh, ” Wash nodded once, mostly to himself, “Interests, you mean.”

 

“Well, yeah, ” Donut eyed him oddly, “What did you think I meant?”

 

“Uh…Never mind,” Wash blinked twice, trying to think of his interests, which was a depressingly short list, “I...like…..uh…”

 

“Fine,” Donut sighed, clearly taking pity on Wash, “Just tell me a random fact about yourself. I know next to nothing about you, but you know everything about me! Hardly fair.”

 

Wash didn’t bother pointing out that he knew next to nothing about Donut as well, but instead chose to blurt out the first thing to come to his mind, “I played soccer in high school.”

 

“Really? Neat! I hate sports. See? We’re bonding!” Donut nodded sagely, “Like friends do. I really shouldn’t gossip but I could tell you Tucker’s guilty pleasur--”

 

“My kinks don’t count as guilty pleasures since I don’t feel guilty,” Tucker spoke up as he strode through the door, scaring the shit out of Wash, “Loud, proud, and getting plowed, y’know what I’m sayinnn’?”

 

“Not...at all what we were talking about, but thank you for that. Really needed to hear that,” Wash grimaced, moving aside so that Tucker could get to Donut. In his arms were bags full of chips.

 

“Mad snackage, dude,” was the only explanation Wash got before Tucker shoved them all into his arms and set to work.

 

When Tucker had said the dye was pink, he didn’t properly accentuate how vibrant of a pink it was.

 

Tucker let out a low whistle at the sight of it on Donut’s hair.

 

Throughout it, Wash’s eyes kept wandering to Tucker’s hands. It was weirdly entrancing to follow the movements of his wrists, to watch how sometimes he would just disregard the brush and massage the dye in with his gloved-hand instead.

 

Wash counted it off as just because he had never seen someone dye their hair before.

 

“Wash, I trust you with my life,” Tucker suddenly spoke in the middle of a silence, causing Wash’s blood to run cold at the words, “I trust you. So please, I’m begging you. Please, pour some of those Cheetos into my mouth right this moment or I will keel over on the spot.”

 

Feeling returned to Wash’s fingertips and he breathed a little sigh, already reaching for the Cheetos. He popped a couple in his mouth before following directions and pouring the open bag directly into Tucker’s mouth.

 

“Oo, me too! Except maybe... not so messily,” Donut hummed, opening his mouth wide.

 

“Impress us, Wash,” Tucker spoke through a mouthful of Cheeto, sending dust flying, “Throw them into his mouth.”

 

And that’s what they spent the next 20 minutes doing: Tucker still trying to chew through an excessive amount of Cheetos as he worked pink dye into Donut’s hair and Wash throwing Cheetos into Donut’s mouth from across the room.

 

He would’ve made most of those shots too, Wash would swear, it was just that Donut kept moving.

 

It was a good way to spend a Saturday. In fact, it was the most fun Saturday he’d had in a long while -- the runner-up would have to be that time he and Carolina drove off to a secluded field for Fourth of July so they wouldn’t have to deal with the fireworks. But even then, that was only enjoyable because Carolina was there.

 

While the dye was developing, Wash found himself on a coach under a blanket and half-heartedly watching an episode of Game of Thrones with a hair-capped Donut curled up on one side and Tucker curled up on the other.

 

“Why do I have to be the one everyone’s laying on?” Wash felt all-too aware of the tension in his shoulders where all the physical contact was being initiated.

 

“That’s what happens when you’re a beacon of warmth, dude. Just accept it,” Tucker yawned, “I think I’m gonna move that nap up from when I get home to now.”

 

“Please don’t fall asleep on me.”

 

The only response he received was Tucker throwing a leg over his lap and another yawn.

 

“Well, time for me to go wash all this out! Wish me luck! Hopefully it turns out how I want it to and not some dumb color like...like pink or something,” Donut hopped out from under the blanket and slipped out of the room.

 

“How’s your head feeling now?” Wash murmured to Tucker, nudging him gently enough to keep him awake but not enough to move him.

 

“Mmbetter, I think,” Tucker squinted through bleary eyes but didn’t dare move his head from where it was comfortably laying against Wash’s shoulder, “but it’ll definitely feel better after a goddamn nap .”

 

Wash only hummed in response and finally let Tucker be. At some point, he started flipping through the channels until he came across one that was familiar -- A marathon of The Twilight Zone. He gladly dropped the remote and actually started paying attention now. The first couple episodes were interesting enough but ones he’d already seen a couple times before. He already knew how they ended, what the plot twist was supposed to be.

 

In the middle of the third episode with still no sign of Donut, a yawn escaped his lips and he had less time than Tucker did before his head lolled to the side and he started snoring.