Step 4: Recovery

True to Ashley's word, she dropped Nelson off within fifty meters of the entrance to the abandoned mines. She'd hopped out of the cockpit to give Nelson a tight bear-hug before the rebel could escape, and she'd reluctantly wrapped one arm around Ashley's shoulder in return, allowing herself a few seconds of quiet intimacy.

...But also true to Nelson's word, the ensuing calls from the dogged pilot were all ignored over the following weeks. Nelson had to hand it to Mills -- she wasn't just persistent, but she was unexpectedly reserved in her responses even as the days ticked past. The latest call had just contained three or four outbursts of "motherfucker!" The only downside was the fact that Nelson could expect to have her radio operator barge in on her at any time of day or night whenever the pilot's voice came over the airwaves, despite how many times she told the bastards to just ignore it. She wasn't sure if they were trying to help her with her lack of a personal life, or if they were just fucking cowards.

So it was with the usual loud groan and pinch to the bridge of her muzzle when one of her late-night operators awkwardly pushed aside the cloth covering of her personal living quarters, since she already knew what it was. "Goddammit, Green, I swear to fucking god, if you motherfuckers don't learn how to just ignore that loud-mouthed b--"

"S-sorry, m-m-ma'am, it''s just she sounded...very upset, and..."

Nelson opened her eyes to stare at the dark rock wall next to her bed. "She's a fucking drama queen. That's what she does. Just ignore it, she'll give up in a few minutes. I'm tired of--"

"Ma'am!" Nelson snarled and whipped her head toward the entrance and the rebel flinched before silently rubbing the back of her neck and murmuring nervously: "It's...she mentioned a small hoopie...and I also heard gunshots in the background...I...I think she's actually in trouble."

Nelson blinked with a curse but she couldn't deny the fact that her heart was suddenly pounding in her chest. "God-fucking-dammit," she growled as she threw the covers off her body and threw a nearby pair of pants on as Green averted her eyes sheepishly. "Okay. Details," she ordered while her eyes skimmed the darkness for a bra.

Her rebel shifted from paw-to-paw but when Nelson's glare swung back to her, she widened her eyes and quickly began to ramble: "She...she said she's over the Emberoth range and someone opened fire on her dropship about five minutes ago, and that she wasn't going to be able to stay in the air long..."

"Motherfucker," Nelson muttered, hating how much her throat clenched. Her fingers struggled with the strap of her bra and she snarled wordlessly only to freeze up as Green hesitantly came up to her back.

"L-let me help, ma'am..."

"Quit calling me that," Nelson hissed even as she dropped her arms while mentally running through potential scenarios. The Movement wasn't the only group to take advantage of the myriad abandoned mines...and the nearby Devil's Salt Flats were a haven for small clusters of outcasts and criminals alike looking for a place to lurk out of sight. A Sircan Special Forces ship with valuable cargo would be a helluva target for anyone with a bit of stolen ordnance and nothing to lose. "We aren't the army. Just 'Nelson' is fine," she added in a low voice before glancing back when Green quickly stepped away after fastening the straps. Nelson glowered for a moment and then nodded once. "Thanks. Okay, I'll go take the radio. I..." She grit her teeth briefly before snatching a heavy coat from a nearby hook and grabbing a bandolier lined with shotgun shells. "Get Paulson up. I need the fastest vehicle we have ready in five minutes."

"Y-yes, m--I-I mean, Nelson," Green stammered as she nodded quickly and then dashed back out of her room.

Nelson exhaled slowly and glanced at herself in the chipped mirror. Her eyes were already adjusting in the darkness, and she wasn't proud of what she saw glaring back at her, because part of her was still ready to come across the radio and tell Ashley this wasn't her problem, that the fucking mercenary needed to deal with her own shit, because the Movement wasn't here to be her personal strike force when she ran into trouble.

The other part of her knew that she had no choice but to help, however. Not even because she 'owed' Ashley for the ride back from L-Base. There was more between them than a fling, and she hated it...but knew it was true, all the same. She looked down at her hand for a moment before clenching it into a fist and storming out of her room to make a beeline for the radio room.

A shotgun was grabbed on the way, along with the side pouch filled with her revolver and specialized ammunition. An ironic thank-you went to the darkness for the fact that Tracer was still off on his rookie-hunt in Sampi. He would have given her a lot of shit for this...might have even been enough to make her reconsider, and that frightened her in ways she didn't want to admit aloud.

She snatched up the microphone as soon as she reached the communications room. "Mills. This is Nelson. What is your status?"

A few seconds of static met her and her fingers slowly clamped around the microphone hard enough to make the plastic whimper. Maybe it was just an elaborate drama. Maybe Mills was just going the extra mile to get her attention.


Nelson closed her eyes as a mix of frustration and concern bolted through her, lifting the microphone again. "Goddammit, Mills, this better not be--"

"Fuckin' hell, bitch, I'm fuckin' tryin' to multitask here!" Ashley's voice burst back through the speaker. "It ain't lookin' good, though! I can't keep her in the air, the fuckers had a rocket, clipped my tail!" There was a crackle of distortion as Nelson leaned forward with a grimace.

"Mills! Location!"

"--Bout two klicks south...ntrance to your fuc...nt door!" the broken message came back through, her normally bouncy voice filled with honest panic. "Goddammit, Nels...oing down!" The radio crackled and squealed as the transmission broke into a long, broken hiss.

"Motherfucker!" Nelson snarled as she threw down the microphone, staring down at the radio for a few seconds. But she realized there wasn't a debate to be had. As much as she wished there was -- she couldn't do nothing. She closed her eyes and growled a string of curses before taking the shotgun into hand again and racing to the large cavern that acted as their makeshift garage.

Green was holding up a fuel can to top off a jeep that must have just come out of maintenance, since another rebel was hurriedly tightening the lug nuts on one of the oversized tires. The two looked up at Nelson as she threw the shotgun into the passenger seat, then stomped past to yank a single-shot grenade launcher from a workbench, along with a small bag of loose grenades. "Ma-...uh, N-Nelson? Should we get one of the fighters up?" the mechanic asked as he quickly wiped a bit of grease from his muzzle.

She tossed the additional weaponry into the vehicle and then grimaced while doing her best to steel her nerves -- the last thing Green and Paulson needed...hell, the last thing any of her rebels needed was to see her losing her cool over something that definitely counted as personal at this point. "No. This isn't something we can afford to expend anyone else on. This is my op," she muttered while moving around to climb into the driver's seat. "What you can do is wake up O'Neill. Give me ten minutes so the asshole doesn't try to follow me. He's in charge if I don't make it back."

"Until you come back, Nelson," Green murmured, her eyes flicking nervously up to the rebel leader's.

Nelson snorted quietly but nodded once. "Fair enough." She started the engine before glancing between them. "Thanks, you two." She shifted it into gear and tore out of the cave, quickly twisting the radio inside the jeep to the same frequency before steering the vehicle toward the south as her eyes began to search the surrounding peaks for any sign of the downed dropship.

She didn't know if it was good or bad that she didn't see any plume of black smoke against the dark blue skies, nor any towering flames. But the headlights cutting through the night-shrouded mountain trails in the distance might have been just as ominous. These weren't shipping lanes and there weren't any active mines for miles around. Whoever that was didn't belong. Nelson ground her teeth and urged a bit more from the jeep. It was dark and she was purposefully keeping her own lights doused, but she knew these trails well...and if there was a time to be a little reckless, this felt like it.

The jeep tore across the gravel path at breakneck speed, leaping dangerously into the air more than once as Nelson roared down the winding trails with little regard for her own safety. Her eyes shifted to the radio when Ashley's garbled voice came across. "--ound me! Shit! Woman, if you...scue me, anytime, now! Hey, you fuckers bird!"

"Goddammit, Mills, why didn't you just run??," Nelson snarled before she grabbed the microphone. "Mills! If they get in, give them what they want!"

"Fuck that! This shit's for motherf...ually need it!"

"You do-gooding bitch," Nelson cursed under her breath, spitting into the transmitter a moment later: "Stay down, Mills! I'm on the way!" She narrowed her eyes as she heard the crack of gunfire over the jeep's engine. She was close. The microphone went back into place and she tightened her fingers around the wheel as she stared through the windshield for another sign of the headlights ahead of her.

And then a brief flash of pale-yellow against the rocks to her right caught her eye, her head snapping around to spot two vehicles on a higher ridge. Looked to be a pick-up truck and some worn-out sedan. Typical fare for a small hoopie...and hopefully the entirety of their fleet. If their numbers were more than whoever arrived in those...

She growled and shook the possibilities from her head as she whipped the jeep around a hairpin, eyes burning as she threw out every stray thought except the mission in front of her. Uneven odds. Nothing new to her. That just meant she'd need to do whatever necessary to pull the odds into her favor, a skill she was particularly well-versed in.

As her jeep ascended the path leading directly to the two other vehicles, she at last spotted a glimpse of Ashley's ship. It appeared mostly intact -- a small column of smoke trailed out from the tail, likely where the rocket had hit, but the rest of the craft looked to be in one piece. Goddamn but she really was a talented pilot. Nelson muttered something between a curse and a blessing before her eyes locked onto a single figure she saw trotting back toward the vehicles, his voice just audible over her approach.

"Gonna bring the truck! Maybe we can use the winch to tear that fucker op--what...the fuck?!?" He stumbled to a stop as he stared in confusion at the third vehicle climbing toward their location. His eyes widened, perhaps at the sight of the enraged female at the wheel as he struggled to yank a pistol out of his waistband while shouting in a panic: "Someone's coming!"

Nelson snarled before flinching to one side as an uncontrolled burst of gunfire tore through her windshield and just past her seat. When she didn't slow, the wannabe hoopster shouted and dove for cover behind the sedan...which she promptly rammed into with a furious roar.

The jeep's reinforced bumper all but disintegrated the side panel of the car as the smaller vehicle was shoved violently backward and over the edge of the ridge. Her attacker was allowed a single scream of horror before his voice was silenced by the car rolling over his body to crush him into the rocks as it tumbled down into a steep ravine. She snorted in distaste before grimacing as a peal of automatic gunfire ripped into her door from higher up the ridge. Several more voices shouted in confusion and she didn't think twice as she slammed a hand down into the passenger's seat to grasp into the grenade launcher.

She used a roll bar to pull herself into a standing position, her other arm swinging over with a snarl to level the weapon toward the source of the small arms fire. A stray bullet clipped her side and she winced but bared her teeth in protest before pulling the trigger to send an explosive round thumping free. Her muscular arm twitched backward from the recoil as the grenade spun through the darkness with a grey trail of smoke; a voice shouted in denial an instant before the round smashed into a boulder with a thunderous explosion to send metal shrapnel and bits of rock across the narrow entrance to the small niche where Ashley had gone down.

Nelson saw a few bodies flung aside in the brief burst of light but didn't stop to think about it, her arms moving automatically to grab the shotgun and haul herself over the top of the jeep and immediately into a sprint up the ridge. Her paws pounded across the gravel as her eyes glowed with a deadly focus, every one of her nerves tensed and ready to fire.

She raced past the charred rock, ignoring the burning scraps of clothes and severed body parts. She heard more voices ahead and racked the first round in the shotgun in response.

"Is it open??"

"Almost! I think I can squeeze through!"

"Get the fuck inside and let us in! Kill anyone in there!"

Nelson's eyes bulged and she grit her teeth before spotting one of the survivors of the grenade stumbling backward. His jacket was singed and a few pieces of shrapnel stuck out of his bloodied torso. He stared in horror as she charged him, trying to raise his rifle with an arm that didn't want to work.

He wasn't worth the ammunition.

She simply lowered her shoulder and barreled into him with a grunt, and her momentum was enough to launch him into the air with a cry of shock. He flailed uselessly at the air while his body soared bonelessly into the chasm surrounding the ridge, his screams fading into the darkness below while Nelson twisted on her paw to continue her relentless rampage forward.

She heard the screaming of metal and turned another tight corner to once more spot the dropship. Three or four hoopsters were at the back, struggling to force the bay door open. Nelson's eyes burned as she lowered the shotgun and fired it three times in rapid succession. One of them was dropped instantly, his torso all but dissolving from the force of the buckshot. Another dove sideways, suffering only a grazing wound to his side as he cursed and whipped out a pistol to fire blindly toward Nelson.

The rebel dropped to a knee and held up the shotgun defensively, covering her head and center of mass -- one bullet tore through a rippling arm as two others drove into the massive weapon. She lowered it again and tried to load another shell, but found the mechanism stuck. Without a thought, she threw the shotgun aside and with a movement more natural than breathing, she produced the revolver and sent two rounds into his neck and forehead to leave another limp corpse.

Another panicked shout came from the other side of the ship even as she watched one of the remaining two squeeze through the narrow gap of the loading door before a muffled peal of gunfire sounded from within the craft. Nelson shouted wordlessly, barely even registering the wild shots that peppered the ground around her. She unloaded the rest of the revolver at the fighter when he stepped out from behind the fuselage with an assault rifle, his body knocked sprawling in a spray of crimson before he could pull the trigger again.

"Ashley!" She gripped into the ramp with both hands -- it had been partially pulled down with the collective efforts of the hoopie members, but Nelson had no time for weakness as her arms bulged. She roared with the effort as metal creaked and the internal mechanisms cried out before they shattered under the pressure, allowing her to shove the ramp down and throw herself into the back of the craft, armed only with her righteous fury and balled fists.

She saw a limp body and her heart stumbled to a stop, managing a choked gasp as she took an unsteady step forward...

"Eat shit, you fuckin'...whoa, fuck!"

Nelson whipped her head around and instinctively threw an arm out when she caught the flash of metal in her periphery. Her hand clamped into a heavy wrench, slowing it before it could smash into her skull as it sent a bolt of pain through her arm. But the discomfort melted effortlessly when her eyes fell onto Ashley, clutching into the other end of the oversized tool as she stared up at her in disbelief. "N-Nelson?"

Nelson breathed in slowly, not sure how long it had been since her last inhale. "Fucking...christ, woman," she muttered. The pilot trembled a bit but Nelson released the wrench to let it drop between them as she immediately wrapped her arms around Ashley to pull her into a fierce embrace. Her eyes closed when Ashley hugged her back tightly, and every last bit of hesitation drifted away from her heart as the innermost walls at last crumbled to let the warmth flood in. "I...I thought..."

The muffled laugh that came from somewhere against her chest had an unmistakable sniffle buried into it. "H-Hey, I'm not some stupid bitch about to go down that easy..."

Nelson only held her tighter and shook her head a bit as a hand drifted up to slowly caress the back of the pilot's head. She felt wetness on her fingers and stiffened up as she leaned back and stared down to see crimson on her fur. "Mills, were you hit??"

Ashley grimaced when Nelson ran her hand along her skull again. "Ow, bitch, watch it...damn, I think I'm fine, musta hit my head coming down. Landing was a little rough." Nelson grumbled but gently turned to force Ashley into the narrow beam of light from the cockpit so she could examine the back of her head. "Dammit, Nelson, I'm fine, quit manhandling me!"

"Oh shut up, like you don't enjoy this shit," Nelson muttered as she leaned down and then nodded to herself. "Yeah, looks like a small gash. Must have knocked your big stupid head on something." She took a step back even as her hands remained on Ashley's shoulders to look her over. Their eyes met briefly and Nelson's heart pounded, though she forced herself to examine the pilot again and ensure there were no other obvious injuries.

"Geezus, I'm fine, I'm fine, but you're fuckin'...covered in holes again, ya giant monster," Ashley murmured, reaching up to run her thumb over the bloody wound in Nelson's arm. The rebel flinched slightly before blinking as Ashley lifted her thumb to her muzzle and licked the blood off.

Nelson raised an eyebrow and tried to ignore the weird twist she felt. "What the fuck is wrong with you, woman?"

Ashley smiled slightly while reaching up to caress her cheek. "Like we ain't both fucked up from the shit we've seen at this point."

"Fair enough," Nelson admitted, taking a moment to glance at herself. "Anyway, this shit is nothing I haven't dealt with before. Nothing stuck inside, just...more holes to patch up."

"Thank you," Ashley blurted as she stepped forward, all the cockiness dropped as she grasped into Nelson's wrists and looked up into her eyes. " didn't have to show up. I actually..." She glanced away. "I wasn't sure if you would."

Nelson bit her lip before leaning down and silently nudging Ashley's muzzle back to meet her gaze again. "I wasn't, either. And I'm sorry I hesitated. This...isn't easy and...I. I can't promise you anything normal or stable or..."

"You don't think I know that?" Ashley interrupted gently, clutching harder into her wrists as she stared up with a faint smile. "I might just be a whelp to you but...I'm not stupid, Nelson."

Nelson glanced away before taking a deep breath and meeting her companion's eyes. "Marisa."

Ashley blinked before smiling brightly. She gave a delighted laugh, but Nelson didn't miss the way the pilot's eyes grew moist. "Marisa? Seriously? No wonder you don't want anyone to call you that, makes you sound like someone's ol' granny!"

"I'm already regretting telling you," Nelson muttered, even as she smiled slightly. This bitch was so annoying and yet...

"I'd be dead without you, Marisa," Ashley murmured. She released her wrists to instead hug her torso again. They both winced when the blood from the graze on Nelson's side rubbed onto the pilot's arm, but they embraced tightly all the same. "That's not an exaggeration."

"I know," Nelson replied quietly. "I...I don't know if I could have lived with that."

They held each other for a few silent but reassuring minutes, at last pulling apart when Nelson lifted her head with a a grumble of discomfort. "Can you get airborne again? And do you know if there are any more of these fuckers?" She eyed the limp body nearby -- he was still breathing. "Guess I should start by asking what happened..."

Ashley jerked a thumb at the pallet loaded into the center of the dropship, wrapped in plastic and secured with a multitude of straps. "Got a job to transport a shitload of non-perishable food to a refugee camp in Stigma. Some asshole probably just using the charity as some kinda write-off, was still something fuckin' good for a bunch of innocent bastards so yeah, I took it on. Guess these fuckers heard about it, figured I'd be easy pickings if they brought me down out here."

"They weren't wrong." Nelson's eyes narrowed coldly as she studied the unconscious gang member.

Ashley mumbled a few choice words before she hefted up the wrench again and then glanced toward the back of the craft. "I can patch up the tail with what I have on board. They clipped a thruster with their shitty baby-bullets, nothing I can't repair enough to get back into the air." She then eyed the lowered ramp and gave Nelson a half-smile. "Although some asshole broke my fuckin' back door with her goddamn Queen of Sirca strength."

"Yeah, yeah, next time I'll let a motherfucker shoot you," Nelson scowled. "It's your turn to take a fuckin' bullet for the team."

"Ha, Team Badass Lesbian Bitches -- yeah, I'm down for that shit," Ashley replied with a grin before her expression softened a bit. "We should take care of you, first."

"Get started on your ship, woman -- I gotta finish with these assholes and then I'll patch myself up. If you end up needing backup from your people, last thing I need is them seeing a buncha dead fuckers outside and nosing around for clues."

Ashley nodded as she put her own gaze on the chupa she'd knocked out. "Guessing you don't exactly plan on, ah. Taking prisoners." When Nelson only gave her a flat look, the pilot cleared her throat and raised both hands. "Yeah, alright, alright, just do that shit outside, I'm trying to reduce the amount of blood I get in this bitch, they ain't gonna give me a new bird again that quick."

Nelson rolled her eyes but nodded back as she stomped over, picked up the unconscious fighter by his collar and hauled him over a shoulder. She stalked back outside and threw him down to briefly check his pockets and remove any spare ammunition before she simply tossed his limp body over the edge of the ravine -- if the fall didn't kill him, the broken bones and concussion wouldn't make death all that far away.

The two began their very different activities of 'clean up' as Ashley scrambled up onto the top of the dropship to begin repairing the damaged tail fin while Nelson meticulously stripped each body of any useful gear and resources before flinging each corpse into the same steep abyss. At least the scaled coyotes and horned salamanders would have a nice feast and quit lurking around her provisions cave for a week or two.

Ashley proved to be as able with her repairing skills as she was with piloting, considering the fact she strolled out from inside the bird as Nelson returned from checking over the pick-up truck. It was in surprisingly good shape -- would make for a decent acquisition for their garage. "How's it look, Mills?"

Ashley grinned, scratching at her muzzle and spreading a bit of grease over it. "Pretty fuckin' good, if I say so myself. Fin's gonna work just fine, and the thruster'll be okay -- not a hundred percent, but enough to get me there. Council said they'd send a supply ship to meet me at the drop-off point. They're already on the way."

Nelson snorted quietly but nodded with a small smile. "Lookit you, guess you aren't just a cocky fly-girl."

"Hell no! Besides, you know by now how good I am with my hands," Ashley cooed, leaning in close as she rubbed a hand over Nelson's stomach with a wink.

Nelson pretended she didn't shiver, reaching up to pull Ashley's wrist away. "We were both drunk, I'm not ready to write you any fuckin' five-star reviews," she retorted, even as she smirked in entertainment. "You need to get on your way, then."

"Aww, c'mon, we should celebrate -- those benches are comfier than they look," Ashley purred as she stepped closer with a hopeful grin.

But Nelson only gave another quiet smile as she prodded Ashley's collarbone. "Sounds like your people are expecting you to make your drop on time. And I know you need this fuckin' job, so...gotta take a rain check." She paused, and not only because Ashley's pout pulled just a bit on her heartstrings. "But...look. You can take a sec to get me bandaged up. Romantic enough for you?"

Ashley chuckled and put her hands on her hips for a moment to eye the rebel. "You're a real fuckin' delight, you know that?" Her warm smile, however, said enough, and she held out a hand. "C'mon, then, ya big angry bitch..."

Nelson took her hand in spite of herself, sighing around her hidden smile as she let the pilot guide her into the back of the ship and to a bench next to the first aid kit mounted on the wall.

She shrugged off the jacket and rolled up her sleeve so Ashley could start to disinfect and wrap gauze around the bullet holes. Ashley's eyes shifted up to meet hers for a moment and she tilted her head a bit. "So...after this is done..."

Nelson frowned quietly but kept their gaze even as her other hand clenched silently into the hard bench. "Ashley..." The pilot widened her eyes a bit in surprise. "I...I know you were hurt by me not calling."

"Uh, yeah? But it's fine, Marisa, geezus, like I told you -- I ain't fuckin' stupid, I knew what I was gettin' into the minute I laid eyes on your buff, crunchy ass..." Ashley huffed while finishing the bandaging on Nelson's bicep and then shifting her attention to the long graze over her ribs. "I didn't expect much from you, figured I'd have to pester you 'til you agreed on another date if only to shut my ass up."

Nelson rolled her eyes while keeping her arm raised so Ashley could work. "Fuck, but you really are a persistent bitch," she murmured. Ashley tossed an amused smile up to her and she returned it briefly before warily letting her arm settle down across her companion's shoulders. "I don't...I really don't like the idea of personal connections with what I do, you...gotta understand that, Ashley..."

The pilot sighed, pausing with her hands resting atop the gauze patch she'd placed over the wound. She stared at it for a few seconds, then flicked her eyes up. "I get it. I do." She took another second or two smoothing out the patch before she sat up with Nelson's arm still curled around her shoulders so she could press to her side. "But fuckin' hell, Marisa. I'm gonna be the easiest girlfriend you could hope for. I don't want no fuckin' gifts, I don't need no fuckin' promises other'n you trying not to get yourself fuckin' killed too easily. Don't give a shit about anniversaries, don't give a shit if you wanna rub clits with some other rebel-chick if I ain't around to do it."

Nelson snorted but looked away as the goddamn depths of her soul begged her to listen, to not let this goddamn miracle of a crazy bitch get away. "Ashley, it...isn't just that. If I'm thinking about you in the middle of a mission, worrying about what you'll think if something happens to me, that's...a distraction."

Ashley wrinkled her muzzle as she glared up at Nelson, surprising her with the look of disapproval. "Goddamn, that's always fuckin' pissed me off, you know? I've heard that shit before, see it all the fuckin' time. Not just in the movies and books, but with fuckers just like you, too. All those dumbasses in fuckin' Freelancer were the same way, 'cept for...those two..." She flicked her eyes away for a moment, a memory of something painful passing over her features. But she sighed and then directed her gaze back to the rebel. "Why's it always gotta be some negative shit like that? Why can't I be your fuckin' reason to not die, to get through in one fuckin' piece so we can laugh about it and I can fuckin' bandage your ass up and then go tongue-deep in you 'til you scream my name?"

Nelson's eyes widened despite her best efforts. "Christ, woman..." She shifted on the bench before grumbling and then silently pulling the pilot tighter to her side. "It. It isn't that simple." She felt Ashley opening her muzzle to argue but she continued quietly. "But I'm not saying you're wrong. You...just gotta understand what I'm trying to do. What I've devoted my life to."

Ashley gazed deep into her eyes for a moment before leaning up to kiss her neck and murmur against her: "Don't be a fuckin' idiot, Nelson. That's why I'm so fuckin' crazy for you. Don't stop being who you are for me. Just...make sure you fuckin' do your goddamn best to keep being a survivor, because you matter to this stupid bitch as more than just the most badass rebel-chick-leader on the fuckin' ring. Got it?"

Nelson smiled faintly but god, was it honest. She nodded and hugged Ashley close to her side before leaning down to nuzzle the top of her head. "Yeah, alright. Fucking hell but you're determined."

"Yeah, and you're secretly a squishy bitch under that spiky bull-dyke armor you wear," Ashley retorted, laughing at the growl she earned. "It'll be our secret, don't worry."

"Good," Nelson muttered even as she gazed down at the top of her companion's head while holding her securely. She didn't know how well she could actually keep her promise. But Ashley made it seem worth the effort. Even Tracer wouldn't be able to argue that having another reason to fight was necessarily a bad thing.

They eventually pulled apart and shared another tight hug before Ashley grumbled about the stupid, fucking deadline. With Nelson's help, the two managed to force the broken ramp back into place to be secured and Ashley got the ship successfully off the ground -- it was a bit shaky, but it looked more than able to finish the trip. She'd spun the craft around to blow a kiss at Nelson, who responded with a smile and middle finger, then headed onto her destination in Stigma while Nelson returned to her jeep to call the base and give them an update, along with providing coordinates to the new-to-them pick-up truck.

...Now all she had to do was actually answer the call when it inevitably came through in the near future. Maybe she'd consider it next time.