Step 3: Introspection

"No, no, no, I'm serious!" Ashley insisted between her breathless giggling, slamming a fist on the bar a few times. "Right in his ass. He got shot. Literally. In. His. Ass."

Nelson was struggling not to laugh but it was a losing battle as she ran her claws along the fourth empty bottle in the small pile that had started to gather between them. " gotta be shittin' me, that shit doesn't happen in real life!"

"Swear to god, the little guy was tryin' not to cry, that shit musta gone right through -- he couldn't walk or sit, that big dork of a partner of his had to carry his skinny ass the whole flight back," Ashley explained with a grin, pushing her messy mane back from her eyes and shaking her head. "You say all the shit you want 'bout them Freelancer boys, but they at least know how to fuckin' do the teamwork thing, I seen those two drag each other back from some crazy shit."

Nelson snickered and elbowed her companion lightly. "Don't fuckin' ruin my buzz talking about those bastards," she demanded even as she shook her head amusedly. "But still. Woulda paid to see that. Giant dumbass haulin' around the tiny pissy one with a broken ass, woulda never let them live that shit down."

"Good, always give those boys shit," Ashley agreed as she nodded and then draped an arm around Nelson while she dropped her head onto her shoulder. "Gawd, how are you still sittin' up straight, woman?"

Nelson snorted and tried to shrug the pilot off. "'Cause I'm not all fuckin' skin and bones like you, Mills -- get offa me, some asshole could come walkin' in here any minute."

Ashley chortled and grinned up at her bemusedly. "So? Who gives a fuck. Is there anyone here whose ass ya can't kick? An' I don't give a shit." She paused, swaying slightly even as Nelson continued to try and push her away. "Heh, wait. Do you care what other fuckers think?"

Nelson made a face when she finally managed to shove Ashley off her arm, which earned a huff from the pilot. "I don't give a fuck what anyone thinks, but unfortunately it matters," Nelson muttered as she searched the bottles for any that might have any booze still hiding at the bottom. "Someone sees your skinny ass hanging all over me, they start talkin' shit and then, 'oh gee that stupid woman, not only is she a woman but she's a dyke too, le's lissen to her even less', don't take a genius to see that," Nelson added with a dark look at herself in the mirror behind the bar.

Ashley exhaled and looked at Nelson's reflection as well while she held her muzzle up with both hands. "Goddamn, lady. I wasn't wrong 'bout your self-esteem. You're a fuckin'...fuckin' real sad potato, y'know that?"

Nelson scowled and turned toward her companion. "I'm not fuckin' sad, I just need m'fuckin' people to respect me."

"Bitch, they do, otherwise you wouldn't be their fuckin' leader," Ashley retorted, her tail switching to and fro with her irritation. "An' you know that, too, you ain't a stupid bitch. You're jus'...sad and you think you can't enjoy yourself none because this fuckin'...fuckin' you chose don't let you." She pursed her muzzle and reached over to shove a finger against Nelson's rippling bicep. 'But it's only you that's stoppin' you."

"Don't you...fuckin'...drunk-analyze me," Nelson growled as she shifted on her stool and then glared at the empty bottles again. "My fuckin' people don't respect me, they...fear me. Which..." She shrugged loosely. "Fuck it. I don't care. But they ain't gonna fear shit if they see me doin' some weak shit getting plastered and clinging to some other woman."

Ashley grumbled as she propped her head up again while studying Nelson. "Y'know what, bitch -- that's the stupidest shit you said yet." Nelson bared her teeth, but Ashley was undeterred, merely snorting dismissively and waving her free hand. "Nah, I'm serious. You think it's fuckin' weak to be yourself, let the world see your soft side? Fuck that, there ain't nothin' fuckin' weak about showin' everyone who the fuck you are."

Nelson narrowed her eyes but the bolt of guilt she felt through her inebriation was hard to ignore. She couldn't accept this young, dumb bitch knew a damn thing about what she'd seen and experienced...but here she was, spouting shit off that was getting to her, whether she liked it or not.

It was her sign.

"You know who I am?" Ashley raised an eyebrow and Nelson wrinkled her muzzle before pushing herself backward to half-slide off the stool with a grunt. "I'm the fuckin' bitch who's running late to start a long fuckin' walk back to Qoppa."

"Woman, I told you I'd fly ya back!"Ashley called out before squawking as she tumbled backward off her stool to flop down to the floor. "Aw fuck."

Nelson paused mid-step, looking back over her shoulder and then grimacing as she forced herself to continue forward, leaving Ashley sprawled out on the floor. This was a bad decision already. No point making it worse. "No offense, Mills, but I'm not lookin' to tempt fate in a ship with you again. Plus you're fuckin' wasted. It's been a treat, though, I'll get back to not callin' you," she slurred over her shoulder before closing her eyes and demanding her body to keep walking out of the bar.

Each step she took removed a bit more of the regret, replacing it with a far more palatable relief at avoiding...whatever that was. It didn't matter that she was seeing double, nor that the wide corridor seemed to be slowly twisting itself in a loop around her. She just needed to get outside. The fresh air would help bring her enough sobriety to get moving, figure out her best options at avoiding the entire walk back to the base.

She nodded to herself, keeping one hand on the wall to provide herself a physical link to the rest of the world before it could spin away from her. Screw Tracer taking the truck, screw the ex-Freelancers for being...ex-Freelancers, and especially screw Mills for making her so goddamn self-conscious. She didn't have to worry about hiding who she was, everyone knew who the fuck she was, she was --

"Nelson, ya tall-ass, beefy-ass, stupid-ass bitch, were you really gonna leave my drunk ass back there on the floor?"

Nelson snarled and looked over her shoulder to see Ashley squinting at her and stumbling after her down the hall. "Woman, you're better off stayin' flat on your ass, don't make me knock you back down there myself," she warned before continuing to stride drunkenly forward.

"Oh, hell no, we ain't done talkin' yet, butch," Ashley grumbled, and Nelson heard the footsteps behind her quicken. "You get your stupid fuckin' giantess ass back here..."

Nelson glared around the hallway -- at least they still appeared to be alone, but that wouldn't last very fucking long with this loud bitch chasing her. She tried to ignore the approaching steps, keeping her focus ahead, telling herself the dumb woman would give up eventually. She could only get stood up so many times...right?

But for all the carelessness she attempted to pile on, her instincts still worked even through the drunken haze, and when she heard the stumble and the surprised curse, she found herself spinning around before she could even process why. The next thing she knew, a mass of skinny limbs was being wrapped up in her muscular arms as she caught the pilot before she could fall flat onto her face.

Ashley looked up at her with a crooked grin as she struggled to stand again, hanging limply from Nelson's thick arms. "Heh. See. Y'do care."

Nelson was half-tempted to simply drop her. She glowered down at the pilot, trying to ignore the shiver she felt as one of Ashley's hands slid up over her stomach and then wrapped around her waist. "Fuck off, Mills." She looked into Ashley's eyes as her tail flicked. "I don't have...whatever it is you want this to mean," she growled as she started to loosen her arms from around the slender female.

Ashley glanced in either direction and it was enough of an obvious motion that Nelson couldn't help doing the same...which left her vulnerable to Ashley suddenly shoving her back against the wall as her smaller body pushed close, her long legs grinding against Nelson's, her torso mashing into her companion's while her muzzle drifted up to press into the rebel's throat. Nelson's eyes were wide, staring across the hallway at the flickering light as her whole body threatened to shatter into a thousand frozen pieces. "It don't have to mean shit," Ashley murmured against her neck before she kissed it softly, letting her breath glide over the warm fur while her fingers clutched into Nelson's sides. "Let's jus' do this already, rebel-chick..."

Nelson inhaled sharply, but goddammit if her body wasn't screaming at her to please just fucking listen this one time. She breathed out harshly and then closed one hand around the back of Ashley's skull as her teeth ground together, pulling the pilot's muzzle further into her neck even as she growled: "I'm not...I'm not doin' shit out here in the hallway, so unless you--"

Ashley's eyes lit up and she pulled back even against Nelson's strong grip. "Oh, don't you fuckin' worry about that," she interrupted with a soft laugh, grabbing Nelson's wrist and yanking her by the arm as she pulled away to start stumbling down the hall. "You think this is the first fuckin' time I've had to sleep off a fuckin' booze-party before flyin' back outta this swamp-hole?" Ashley added with a low chuckle as she led Nelson down another hall before half-falling through a door with a triumphant sweep of her arm and a toothy smile over her shoulder at her companion.

Nelson blinked before looking around the small room -- it was essentially a small, private bunk. Looked like it had maybe been some kind of storage room converted into a compact sleeping space, complete with a bed, a tiny dresser and a few uncomfortable chairs. She half-considered backpedaling and leaving this whole stupid idea behind...but Ashley kicked the door shut before she could, reaching past her to slam the deadbolt into place and then giving a throaty laugh as she pushed into the rebel again. Her head tilted back to gaze up at her hungrily as her fingers began to trace more leisurely over the snug shirt that covered her muscular torso. "Goddamn yer a helluva woman," she noted as her tongue darted out to trace over her muzzle, eyes dancing eagerly. "Really wish you woulda called me..."

Nelson twitched before closing her eyes for a moment at the strange sensation of claws dancing lightly along her sides. She didn't hate it, but gods had it been a long time. A very long time. "Mills..." she began, pausing to hiss softly when a hand drifted up beneath her shirt to move slowly along her taut abdominal muscles. She parted her jaws and then gave a quiet but helpless groan as she felt teeth nipping lightly at her neck again, her head rolling back against the door. "I'm old enough to be your fuckin' mother," she muttered even as one of her hands shifted up to glide slowly through the pilot's mane.

"You think that's a problem for me, ya she-beast?" Ashley replied from against her collarbone as she continued to nibble along Nelson's neck and toward one shoulder. "I'm not lookin' to deal with no fuckin' stupid young whores who don't know what they're doing..."

Nelson snorted softly around her quiet rumbles of pleasure in response to Ashley's hand snaking up toward a breast, cupping it firmly under her shirt. "Yeah, well, who says I am?" she shot back, which was met with Ashley's other hand diving down the front of her combat pants and effectively silencing her attempts at defusing the explosive passion that had begun to build between them. "You fuckin' bitch," she panted, her legs quivering slightly as her own hands began to move automatically, one peeling Ashley's taut shirt up over her slim torso while the other deftly unclasped the strap of the pilot's bra.

"Beggin' for more, like I toldja," Ashley whispered up from her neck with a lilting laugh. Nelson's body felt electrified, her pulse quickening in response to the pilot's roving fingers. As the blunt claws dragged down teasingly through the softer fur between her legs, Nelson had to fight her instincts, which simply wanted to give in and admit that her cocky companion was right, that she did want more. But oh, how she would refuse to beg. That was a step too goddamn far.

...It was a helluva fight, all the same. Her muzzle dropped down, snorting a hot breath through the top of Ashley's mane. She had the pilot's shirt pulled up nearly to the top of her back and she felt a grin teasing her features as she waited for Ashley to shift her weight in search of another place she could put her admittedly skilled jaws to...and the moment the smaller female leaned to the other side of her neck, Nelson quickly yanked the hem of her shirt up. Ashley's arms were forced up as well, and Nelson smoothly gripped both of her wrists with one hand. Her motions were slow thanks to the booze, but she still had it. Ashley had a half a second to fire a grin up to her before Nelson whisked the shirt up across her head and along both arms.

Ashley's undone bra dropped to the floor as Nelson released her wrists to tug the shirt free and toss it aside. They shared a drunken grin and Ashley took a step back while settling a hand on her hip, letting Nelson take all the time she wanted to drag her eyes slowly down across her form. Nelson remained silent...but she appreciated what she saw. Skinny bitch or not, Ashley was still toned in the right places, her curves subtle but her attitude sharp. For whatever fucking reason, it was just the right mixture to make Nelson want it.

As her eyes stayed on the silver ring in her bellybutton for a few seconds, Ashley's voice trickled through the thick desire settling between them. "You sure you're not gonna beg?"

"One of us is," Nelson replied calmly before she moved her gaze back up to Ashley's dancing blue eyes, taking a reasonable detour to trace over her chest. "You gonna take those pants off, Mills?"

"How 'bout you take 'em off for me?" Ashley cooed.

A spark ran through Nelson and she let her muzzle split into an entertained grin. "The balls on you, woman," she murmured before quickly stepping forward to take hold of Ashley's slight shoulders.

"I ain't hearin' no complaints," Ashley replied as she was pushed back toward the side of the bed, grunting when her legs collided with the mattress.

"Give me time," Nelson retorted as she shoved her companion onto her back and then moved her hands down along the slender arms as she pushed their muzzles together. She could taste the liquor on both their breaths, wondering for a moment if she was going to regret this after the hangover. She figured she would.

She didn't think she cared, though. She wanted this, now.

Her fingers fumbled with Ashley's belt, but her companion didn't say anything, only continuing to grin up at her as they panted softly across one another. When she at last succeeded at undoing the buckle, she all but tore it apart before ripping Ashley's pants down with a soft growl. Those cerulean eyes stared up at her eagerly and she felt fingers squeezing into her sides. She felt the thin fabric of Ashley's panties and she ran a thumb slowly down one side to elicit a gasp against her muzzle.

But before she could curl her fingers into the waistband, she was overtaken by vertigo when Ashley suddenly pulled her down and then rolled to one side to swap places with the muscular female. She kicked her pants free of her legs so she could straddle Nelson's waist with a grin. Nelson's heart thudded but she let the drunken haze collide with the unexpected rush of passion, savoring it rather than fighting it. "My turn," Ashley informed her as her eyes glowed excitedly.

Nelson narrowed her eyes, but a smile teased her muzzle. "Fine then. Let's see what you've got..."

"I'll show you what a damn whelp can do," Ashley rumbled with a toothy grin down, leaning in to kiss Nelson's neck as her fingers played over her torso. "Prepare to have your damn mind blown..."

~ * ~ * ~ *

Ashley shifted to rest half-atop her, still panting quietly while she rested her head on top of Nelson's collarbone. " I was worried...about wearing you out..."

Nelson snorted softly as she traced a claw slowly up along Ashley's spine to coax a shiver from her. "Hmph. I suppose you did alright...for a whelp," she murmured, though the playful smile danced through her tone as she eventually settled one hand on Ashley's shoulder while the other cradled her lower back to keep her held close. "Goddamn if I ever go drinking with you again, though, Mills..."

The pilot gave a muffled snicker against the fur on her chest, her soft blue eyes eventually lifting to meet Nelson's. "You really suck at th' whole...afterglow thing, bitch..."

Nelson smirked and lifted a hand briefly to brush Ashley's mussed-up mane back before dropping her hand back across her shoulder. "Who says this wasn't just an exchange to get a ride back to Qoppa?"

Ashley blinked before grinning amusedly and lightly pinching Nelson to bring a squirm and scowl to the muscular chupa. As Nelson eyed her dangerously, Ashley only winked and then curled a bit closer. "Yeah, I guess I c'n afford to drop you off. Even if you owe me a new pair of panties, you drunk sex-beast."

Nelson rolled her eyes and tucked away the small smile. "Shocked you bother with underwear at all, Mills. But fine -- put it on my tab."

"I'll need your number for that," Ashley purred, her eyes dancing up at Nelson, who squinted back at her and then sighed in resignation.

"You really are a persistent cunt," she noted, which only made Ashley grin and shrug easily. Nelson shook her head but allowed the tiny smile to return. "Fine. I'll give you the frequency on the way back. But it's for emergencies only, understood?"

"Mhmm, absolutely," Ashley replied cheerfully before chuckling and nuzzling over Nelson's bosom while closing her eyes.

Nelson asked herself what the hell she was doing, and didn't have any good answers. This felt frightening close to the start of a relationship, which was the last thing she needed. But Ashley was young, and they were both drunk. She'd understand the need for this to be a fling, why there was no way this could be anything more.

And if she didn't, was about time to change their frequencies, anyway. Her smile faded as Ashley's breathing slowly settled into a quiet snoring, though she kept the gentle embrace secure. It didn't matter what she wanted -- like Tracer reminded her constantly, friends and lovers were fleeting but she had only one life to fight this war. The Movement came first.

They rested together for a few hours before Nelson finally grumbled quietly about needing to get back to her base. Luckily Ashley had been willing enough to participate, even if she pouted and made a point of flinging her torn panties at Nelson while they gathered their clothes back up to get dressed.

Nelson caught them with a scowl and then balled them up. "If you're hoping I keep these as a fuckin' keepsake, you're dumber than you look."

"Oh please, like you don't still have my SSF coat lying around in your top-secret rebel mine-shaft somewhere," Ashley replied airily while hopping into her pants. "Bet you gaze lovingly at it every day and wonder why you never called me, eh?"

Nelson looked at her flatly. "If you think I didn't immediately burn that blood-soaked thing the minute I was back to base, you're a damn fool."

...It was a lie, but Nelson didn't figure Ashley would ever be inside the repurposed mines to see the stained jacket hanging in a corner of her personal quarters.

"Heh, well I guess we'll just have to get into another losing firefight and crash into another fuckin' forest so we can get you a new one," Ashley suggested with a wink. "My schedule's lookin' free next week, let's settle on a time!"

"Still a mouthy bitch, how the fuck is it you haven't had your jaw broken by someone with less patience than me?" Nelson asked ironically.

"Oh yeah, that's you, Nelson, the rebel-bitch with infinite patience and a heart of gold!" Ashley crowed as she tossed the wrinkled shirt back over her bra while her eyes stole a delighted look at Nelson struggling to cover up her own plentiful bosom. "And one helluva rack, too..."

"I shoulda broken off your fingers inside, made a fuckin' keepsake outta them," Nelson replied mildly. "See how cocky you are walking around with nubs."

"I'd probably be a much shittier pilot, but guarantee I'd still make you come," she quipped, grinning enormously and dancing out of range of the wild swing Nelson gave with her tail.

"You goddamn bi--" They both paused as there was a sharp rap at the door. Nelson's eyes widened slightly before she hurriedly buttoned the rest of her shirt while Ashley smirked at her but calmly strode forward while speaking loudly.

"Listen, ya butch bitch -- you want a fuckin' lift to Qoppa, fine, but I want a favor in return!"

Nelson frowned at her before giving a slight smile and the tiniest nod. Ashley winked and grinned back at her before the voice outside the door called in curiously: "Ashley? Are you in there with--oh."

Ashley yanked the door open to find CT standing there. The ex-Freelancer blinked and then glanced between them before tilting her head a bit. "Oh, uh. Nelson. Hey. York and Wash were wondering if you'd already left or..."

"Needed to wait to sober up a bit," Nelson replied gruffly as she folded her arms and glowered down at CT. "Heard Mills was going to pass near Qoppa for a job, was negotiating a spot on her ship."

"Heh, she's expensive, but usually worth it," CT replied with a smile at the pilot, who grinned again and offered a middle finger. "You just gotta deal with all the bullshit she spouts the whole time."

"Trust me, I've handled worse," Nelson muttered back before glancing back at Ashley. She knew that casual smile was only barely restraining the delighted cackle, and she appreciated it more than she wanted to admit...even if Agent Connecticut tended to piss Nelson off less than the other Freelancers. "I'm short on resources at the moment, Mills." It wasn't even a lie, technically -- they were fairly strained right now with how much they'd been pouring into their secondary location.

Ashley chuckled with her hands on her hips. "Tell ya what, Nelson. You can owe me. It ain't too far outta my way." Her eyes glimmered and Nelson pursed her lips but forced a grunt and accepting nod.

CT tilted her head before snorting amusedly and stepping aside so the two other females could join her in the hall and head as a group toward the loading dock. "Damn, Nelson, she must like you -- not even York's best flirting gets us anything free from Ashe. And she did hard time with us back at Freelancer."

Ashley simply grinned and hooked her thumbs into her pockets while sauntering along at Nelson's side. "Hey, comrades or not, I got bills to pay. And York just ain't my type, I guess."

"Don't let him hear that, we'll have to deal with his shocked gasps for the next week or two," CT grumbled, even as she smiled slightly. "Men, am I right?"

Ashley nodded wisely, but Nelson only grumbled as she straightened her shirt idly. "Trust me, women can be just as fuckin' bad. Everyone's got it in 'em to be an asshole, far as I've learned." CT and Ashley both glanced up at her before the former looked quizzically at the pilot, who only shrugged and lifted her palms helplessly.

"Remind me never to get on your bad side, Nelson," CT noted before leading them down another hallway. "Come on -- I'm guessing neither you nor the boys want to see each other, I'll take you straight back to Ashe's ship."

"CT, you were always my favorite," Ashley chirped even as she stole a playful grin up to Nelson. "Even just talking to this angry bitch for a few minutes is enough to tell me the last thing I need is for her to get all riled up before flyin' her ass halfway across the ring. Thanks for saving me the headache!"

CT snorted in entertainment, even as she glanced briefly at Nelson as if afraid the insult-even-if-true from the pilot would earn her any residual wrath. But Nelson only gave a placid smile and remained otherwise unreadable. No point in giving away any hints about what she'd stand for and what she wouldn't -- better that all these bastards just remained nervous around her.

"Appreciated, Agent Connecticut," Nelson replied briskly. "We've already discussed what we needed to, and the faster I can return to my base, the better."

CT nodded before clearing her throat. "You can just call me 'CT', you know, we don't work for Freelancer anymore."

Nelson's eyes narrowed. "Perhaps not all of you, but old ways die hard," she replied coldly, pointedly falling silent as the trio awkwardly continued on their way.

There was a better mood to leave things on. Or at least one she was more used to.

The flight back to Qoppa was unexpectedly quiet for the first couple of hours. Although Ashley offered multiple times for Nelson to join her in the copilot's seat, the rebel remained staunchly in the back as she took the time dissembling and cleaning both her trusty revolver as well as the shotgun she'd taken from the truck even before knowing Tracer was going to 'borrow' it. Apparently she favored over-preparation above all else.

But as they reached the Sea of Vossler and the gleaming reflections of the sun bounced off the calm waters and into the cockpit, Ashley found her usual chatty stride.

"Heh, hey, woman."

Nelson wrinkled her muzzle but glanced over her shoulder into the cockpit all the same. "What?"

Ashley grinned and held out a pair of sunglasses. "Here. Got spares."

"I don't wear sunglasses."

"Well, why not?" Ashley scoffed, peering back over her own pair. "You're a badass bitch, you realize how much more badass these would make you?"

Nelson's expression could hardly have been more dour. "Are you really trying to use that as a legitimate argument? For me?"

"Uh, yeah? You already got that effortless take-no-bullshit look with that button-up and those fatigues...ya got the haircut of a drill instructor, the voice of a ten-year sergeant...why not complete the whole deal?" Ashley grinned and waved the sunglasses just in front of Nelson as the dropship swerved a bit.

"Get your goddamn hands back on the stick, Mills," Nelson grumbled even as she reached out to snatch up the eyewear. "I ain't gonna take fashion advice from someone who wears shirts two sizes too small and has a damn bellybutton ring."

Ashley smirked. "Shit, bitch, I seen the way you were starin' at it. You project about as much as a priest in a pussy-house, like you haven't been thinking of getting your own." She smiled slightly over her shoulder even as she turned her attention back to the cockpit. "Don't think I missed those tattoos."

Nelson frowned immensely, automatically gripping her upper arm. Ashley hadn't mentioned anything about them during their bout of intimacy. The hissing cobra on her right arm was coiled around her thick bicep, the black ink fused into the scarring faded to a pale grey that was nonetheless still visible thanks to the shorter fur around the burns. "You gotta problem with them?" she muttered, even though she already knew the answer.

"Oh, yeah, you know me, they're such an offensive sight to my fuckin' delicate sensibilities," Ashley retorted even while she smiled back again. "You really were big-time Red Army, weren't you?"

Nelson shifted her weight but eventually stood up and let herself lean into the doorway to the cockpit. Up here, the reflections dancing up from the Vossler were unexpectedly bright and she sighed before rolling her eyes and donning the aviator-style sunglasses.

Ashley glanced up at her, then grinned cheerfully. "Hell yeah, toldja, you look like a fuckin' boss!"

The rebel snorted softly but didn't argue as she gazed down into the distant waters. "I was. I signed up for service voluntarily -- a rogue group of Blues decimated my home village. We were too small and too far away to be afforded the usual protections of the Law of Conflict, so." Nelson shrugged. "As what was technically a Red territory, they took it upon themselves to help themselves to what we had. Food, bullets, most of our stronger men were pressed into service. By the time the nearest Red contingent arrived, it was too late for most of us. Those who could flee did, the rest of us scraped by and tried to starve to death as slowly as possible."

Ashley blinked but kept silent even as she gave a long look up to Nelson to study her hardened features. Nelson eventually grunted and rubbed at her thick bicep again. "I joined for all the worst reasons. I wanted revenge but I also just wanted to eat, to have a place to stay that still had a roof, that didn't feel like a graveyard waiting for the tombstones. Found out quick I was good at being a soldier. Didn't take long for my first promotion, and eventually a transfer to a new base."

Ashley gave a small smile. "After you got your cowboy gun?"

Nelson eyed her but found a tiny smile in return. "Yeah. I was offered a commissioned rank but didn't want that." She studied her arm again. "I wanted to keep fighting. It was what I lived for. So I made it to Master Sergeant. Probably would have kept going if it wasn't for meeting Tracer and ending up being a goddamn rebel."

The pilot nodded slowly and stole a look over her shoulder again. "Guess that explains why the other one's a snake, too."

Nelson grunted as her arms folded over her chest again. She wasn't sure when Ashley had been clear-headed enough to notice the much-newer carving across one of her shoulderblades. A beheaded cobra entwined with Omega's symbol, crossed by the bold diagonal that had become representative of the Movement as a whole. Perhaps when they had been getting dressed. She exhaled slowly. "That's the symbol for our particular branch of the Movement," she murmured. "Tracer, the fuckin' bastard -- he made me design it. I was too stupid back then to realize it, but it was just one of many goddamn things he was doing to prepare me for leading these people."

Ashley smiled again and shrugged while gently steering the ship around a cluster of low-hanging clouds. "I've never met the bastard, but I'd say he chose well."

Nelson grimaced, her claws digging into her arms. "You barely know me, Mills. And you have no idea of how I lead my people, how they're faring. Hell, when you did meet me, it was escaping from a mission where I got all three of my men killed...and for fucking nothing."

The pilot frowned but then twisted around to reach up and grasp Nelson's hip gently. Nelson's nostrils flared as her eyes widened a bit, but Ashley only squeezed her quietly before placing her hands back on the yoke. "You've beat yourself up enough for that, Nelson. Only thing worth remembering about all that is meeting me." She smiled but it was gentler than her tone suggested, making Nelson grumble and cast a sour glare back down at her.

"Yeah, real cute," she muttered even as she shifted her weight. "Point still stands."

"Not really," Ashley replied softly while she gestured idly with a thumb at the radio mounted to her cockpit. "You realize how much I fuckin' despise authority, right? Like. Fuckin' hate it. I'll go outta my way to find loopholes in every order I'm given, every possible way to get the job done without actually listenin' to what I'm told."

"And your point?" Nelson asked icily.

"My point is I fuckin' like you plenty!" Ashley exclaimed. "I trust you and I fuckin' used to work for the Director at Freelancer! And his mysterious ass taught me to never trust anyone who gives orders, no matter their affiliation to you. But goddamn, I'd follow you into a shit-storm, hands down. So fuck off with any doubts you got, because the damn right woman's got the job for once."

Nelson grumbled quietly even as she rubbed at her collarbone self-consciously. "I..." She sighed and then forced the words she loathed but knew were honest. "Thank you, Mills."

"You're welcome," Ashley returned even as a playful grin tugged at her muzzle. "So, what, I only get 'Ashe' when I'm fuckin' knuckle-deep in your cooch?"

Nelson's revolver was out in a flash, pointed at the instrument panel. "Woman, I wrecked your last bird. You think I won't do it again??"

Ashley's eyes widened slightly and she reached out to push the barrel of the pistol away. "Damn, bitch! Calm down, calm down! C'mon, they gave me the big girl this time, don't go fuckin' it up already!"

Nelson snorted again and glanced over her shoulder -- she had noticed, yes. The passenger area and cargo hold were considerably larger than the last craft, and the loading door for this one was a ramp that opened from the rear instead of the smaller side-door. It was certainly an upgrade. "Yeah, I see. Good for you, dumbass -- try not to get this one shot down."

"I thought we already established that it was mostly your fault, "Ashley replied with a teasing smile.

Nelson smiled despite herself. "Let me see your radio."

She immediately received a suspicious glare from the pilot. "Why, so you can fuckin' shoot this one, too?"

Rolling her eyes in amusement, Nelson tucked her revolver away pointedly and held out her empty hands. "Better?"

"Barely," Ashley answered warily. But she reached out all the same to grab the microphone and hand it to Nelson. "Who you callin'?"

"My people. Letting them know not to shoot at the SSF ship that shows up at our base in an hour or so," Nelson replied before she half-smiled. "You'll need to know the frequency, though."

Ashley blinked before lighting up and grinning back at her. "Heh, ain't you clever, bitch. But I guess you did promise," she laughed, leaning toward the receiver. "Go on, then, what is it? And don't mind me while I treat this like the most fuckin' romantic thing you're capable of doin' for me, as I go outta my way to drop you off at your damn front door."

Nelson snickered quietly. "Take what you can get, Mills. No guarantees in our line of work."

"Well, ya got one guarantee," Ashley shot back with a smile over the top of her sunglasses. "I ain't ever gonna stop chasin' after you, woman."

Nelson laughed faintly, a bit of reluctance seeping into her thoughts. She wasn't so sure Ashley's dumb, bright outlook on life was going to overcome her...everything else.. "Yeah, yeah, we'll see. Anyway, here's the frequency..."