Round 3: Trigger


Wash grimaced as he studied the dog tags in his palm. Freelancer. The 'dream job' at the end of a long slog through Specials. The recruitment opportunity he and York had jumped into together...along with Connie, South, North...so many others from that group. A journey out of hell and...into more hell, at least as far as Wash was concerned.

His tenure at Freelancer hadn't exactly been the most decorated, and it had been a far cry from the nearly-positive way he and York had begun their career as agents. He smiled faintly at that thought -- christ, their second mission and he was nearly fatally wounded, yet that somehow felt nice compared to the weeks that followed. To the days now, even, when Connie spent most of her time stalking the halls with a visible lack of sleep cracking her normally-calm features, when York trudged along with eyes that barely held even a flicker of the life they once did. His two best friends, at wits' end for very different reasons -- they were normally his rock, his shelter from his own oppressive thoughts. But now he found them coming to him for reassurance, for an escape from their overflowing frustrations or encumbering emotions.

Connie -- CT, he had to keep calling her CT for now -- wanted to break away from Freelancer as soon as possible. She'd shared with the other two the details of her meeting with the representatives of the Movement all those weeks ago, admitting it had been a big reason to convince her this was the right thing to do, aided by the rather blunt push of losing Carolina. Wash wasn't sure how he felt about it, especially if she'd met with Raymond Tracer. The guy was notorious for his low profile and the way he handled not only his contacts, but a ring-wide campaign of both spies and disinformation. It was hard to believe he'd been even remotely candid with a Freelancer. Although after she'd mentioned that he and his terrifying lieutenant had hinted at a mole or two within Freelancer...and considering the rather horrible accident that befell Georgia...it was a little easier to swallow, at least.

Not that Wash wanted to trust him for an instant. He was known for sowing chaos, for whipping people into a frenzy and pushing those he recruited to be ready to sacrifice their lives for some impossible future. And CT wasn't like that -- she was smart, she didn't take unnecessary risks, and she believed in justice. He couldn't imagine her starting some fanatical arm of the rebellion, his childhood friend cared too much about integrity, about the truth. About doing the right thing. After all, that's why the three of them were doing this. They were tired of playing the puppets, tired of the lies and the way the Director and his team used them all to achieve whatever shadowy ends he had in mind. They wanted to escape his cruel machinations...and more than just escape it, but drag him out to face judgment for what he'd done to them all...and bring justice for Carolina.

He knew CT would want to do things the right way. But if Tracer was a means to that end, then...well. They'd use him to get what they needed. Even if CT had confidence in the grizzled rebel, Wash knew their time at Freelancer had taught them to take everything with a grain of salt, and to remember that even a trusted ally still amounted to no more than a useful tool if the mission was on the line.

His eyes traced his codename before his thumb shifted the first tag so he could gaze at York's name on the other. God, how long had it been since that first week in Freelancer? With everything that had happened...with all they had gained and oh-so-much they had lost...time seemed almost irrelevant. The only constant, the only thing that had kept him from coming completely apart at the seams had been his friends.

Wash glanced up when a familiar mutter graced the doorway to the bunk he shared with three other agents -- or should have, if two of them weren't still 'missing' from the experimental treatment they'd been encouraged to participate in. The morbid thoughts were gladly pushed aside by CT's presence, however.

"Hey, Con--er, sorry. CT."

She tossed a bemused smile at him, briefly losing the glower that had painted her features for almost a week now. "No matter how shitty things get, I can still count on you to remind me it could be worse." He scowled before flinching as she flicked the end of his muzzle. "You dork."

He huffed, then opened his maw to invite her to sit, but she had already dropped onto the uncomfortable bed across from him while rubbing her hands slowly across her face. "How are you doing?" he asked, leaning forward a bit to keep their voices low.

"Fine, fine. I've gone over the plan so many times now I'm sick of it," she muttered before lifting her head to drop her muzzle into her palms. "And I'm the one who came up with the damn thing."

"It's a good plan," Wash replied as he released the dog tags and rested his hands in his lap. "You've thought of more contingencies than I can even remember, you've got like four places in mind and you've already been working on a design." He smiled slightly as she smirked across at him. "What? I'm not making fun of you."

"I know you aren't, that's why it's adorable," she chuckled while rubbing a hand through her mane and exhaling. "Most people would probably consider it just a little obsessive, though."

Wash shrugged and watched her for a few seconds. Once upon a time, he'd bristled whenever his childhood friend stood up for him. He'd learned the hard way that, even if his friend-who-was-a-girl could kick just about any bully's ass, it would always portend some really shitty retribution for him in the future. It hadn't taken long to realize he needed to learn to deal with shit himself, whether it was taking the licks, learning to avoid them, or eventually...hitting back.

But now, now there was no one else he'd trust to lead the charge on this insane plan. She had a determination that was impossible to flatten, a sense of justice like no one else he knew...and yeah, her over-the-top planning meant that no goddamn stone would be left unturned in terms of all the potential bullshit that might come to pass. "I dunno. I'd rather be over-prepared than caught up by some surprise no one saw coming." He met her eyes curiously. "What location do you like the most?"

She chuckled and glanced at the doorway before tilting her head from side to side in thought. "Lactan."

"Ugh. All that humidity."

"Yeaaaah, not excited for that, but it's a helluva lot harder to find if you don't already know where it is...apparently Krainen's only a few hours' drive from the place, and. From what they told me the last time I got a note, the facility is basically operational."

Wash couldn't help his suspicious frown, not to mention the second "Ugh."

CT arched an eyebrow and gave him a bemused smile. "You haven't even met the guy."

"He's one of the leaders of the Movement, CT. I know they feed us all kinds of propaganda, but. Geezus, they're still a bunch of crazy, suicidal assholes."

Her smile widened. "You...you realize what we're planning to do...right?"

He sighed. "Yeah, yeah, I know, but. You're not crazy or suicidal."

"Dude, I'm pretty sure everyone here in Freelancer is crazy and suicidal. None of us are stupid enough to believe the shit they do to us, the shit they send us to do is remotely sane, even for special ops." She made a face but had that squared expression Wash had come to admire. "We're already taking ridiculous risks on every mission we run, no matter the paycheck. We might as well do it for the right reasons."

Wash chewed on his cheek but couldn't find a reason to argue. He didn't agree with her just because she was his oldest friend. What she believed in and what she wanted for them to do with their lives, with all the training they'd sweat and bled for...it wasn't a cause he would ever take up on his own. But her genuine passion for it inspired him, made him want the same. She gave him all the inspiration he needed to join her side and take up arms against the Director...and beyond that, against everything that defined Sirca. He normally had no patience for impossible goals, but his friends were the bridge to those thoughts. He was ready to cross it.

"I'm with you, CT." He managed a hesitant smile. "Just like old times."

She smiled back as she stood and reached down to grip into his shoulder. "Just like old times. Except now we'll grow our own apple tree." She squeezed her fingers into him and then walked out of his room as he gazed after her, continuing the small smile. Sometimes all the darkness made it easy to lose track of his companions...and how lucky he was to have them.


"Dammit!"

Wash felt the ripples in the air from the punch as he shifted his head just enough to avoid it, the massive fist hurtling inches away from his muzzle. He scowled even while he reacted smoothly with one hand lifted to push the offending arm aside while sliding closer to his attacker, his knife glinting in the opposite fist. The blade sliced mercilessly toward its target, halting just against the tan fur as a low chuckle from above broke the intense atmosphere. "Ah, nuts -- got my kidney again, little buddy..."

Wash grumbled as they both lowered their arms, glancing up at York but not able to bring himself to complain when he saw the tiny smile on his companion's features. Smiles were rare from York these days. "Come on, York, I'm. I'm trying to talk to you."

York only rose his fists gamely again while bouncing a bit from one paw to the other. "And I'm trying to keep up our training, 'cause you know we're gonna need it." He smiled again before jabbing lightly at Wash to spur the smaller male into automatically weaving to one side and using the flat of his blade to nudge York's arm further away from his slight frame. He grinned victoriously as his other arm shot out to grab at Wash's wrist, only to blink when the nimble chupa released the knife before York could trap it, catching it in his other palm and then lashing it out to stab it lightly toward York's thighs. "Hey, hey, watch the goods!"

Wash pursed his muzzle but smiled faintly all the same as they continued to circle and trade swift blows. It reminded him of when they had still been partners and his follow-up mutter was silenced when his eyes caught the flash of silver and bronze from York's necklace. He focused on dodging another haymaker, his paws carrying him closer to York so the muscular limb only slammed harmlessly into his shoulder. "Alright, alright...look, I just don't think you should go." He grit his teeth and hopped backward from a follow-up thrust punch before letting the knife dance over York's forearm. "Especially without backup."

York grunted and pulled his arm back. "I get it, buddy, but it'll be suspicious if I don't." He waited a beat and deflected a jab from Wash before darting in to grapple his ex-partner, attempting to fling him to the ground. But Wash was as quick as ever, his body moving like liquid to twist around and land on his paws while back-stepping rapidly. "You're already worried enough about someone watching us too close..."

Wash grimaced. York wasn't wrong. Despite her having been one of Freelancer's best, there was hardly a mourning period after she'd dropped off the roster -- all off them had been assigned missions almost immediately, like the Director was making up for the lost asset by shoving the other agents back into the field to take up the slack. Mostly retrievals, too, data chips and hard drives, even physical journals and logs from all across the ring. Whatever his intentions, the loss of his...star agent, the Director wasn't letting anything slow him down.

But the mission laid out for York was dangerous. A solo breach into one of the most highly-guarded wings of the research facility in Stigma. Something that should have been designated for at least two agents, and even then...two of the best.

Wash was worried about York -- he hadn't been the same since Lina's last mission, and even if he didn't see York as suicidal...there was no denying the chill he felt from the hopelessness he'd seen in his friend's eyes during those dark occasions the last several days. It wasn't a familiar sight on York's features, who had eternally been the positive and optimistic one, who never let anything get him down. It scared him for York to show that genuine despair, something Wash normally only ever saw in the mirror.

Wash was brought back to reality by a hook that caught him squarely in the muzzle as York winced, pulling the punch at the moment of contact and quickly rushing forward. "Shit, you okay!?"

Wash stumbled back a step but raised a hand quickly. "I'm fine, I'm fine..." He rubbed at his jaw, then forced a small smile. "What I get for not taking training seriously, just like you always used to yell at me for in Specials..."

York blinked but gave a smile far more honest than the last as his features became warmer. "Heh. That's right, little buddy. I...I hope not all those memories are--"

"Eh." Wash rubbed the back of his neck and then nodded a few times. "They...they were worth it. And they've really paid off." He wasn't sure if he believed the words, but he spoke them anyway. "I've come a long way since then."

York took a step closer and gripped his friend's arm gently. "You have, Wash. And, uh. I appreciate you being here for me. I know that things. The way they've been going, and how we..." York's eyes dropped and Wash knew it was the key he was staring at, not their dog tags. But York's effort still meant something to him.

He exhaled and then reached up to pat York's hand. "It's alright, York." His friend's eyes flicked back up to meet his gaze. "This is what we do, right? We...we cover each other."

York took a deep breath as well before nodding. "Yeah. Yeah, we do."

"And that's why I don't want you to go on this mission," Wash added softly. York started to argue but Wash continued. "We'll. We'll just go before then."

"Wash, the mission is in two days..."

Wash frowned and bit his lip. "Tomorrow night. We...we'll leave tomorrow night."

York laughed a bit while tilting his head, looking surprised at Wash's determination. "You know I'm all about going off the cuff, but...CT's timetable. Her plan's for Friday night, isn't it?"

...She'd worked really goddamn hard on that plan. But she'd understand...right? Wash shifted his weight before nodding once. "It is, but. But I'll talk to her. It just feels like it'd be really stupid if we're getting ready to..." He paused and glanced around them -- they were the only two in the training room, but they'd all had reason recently to be more paranoid than usual. "If we're getting ready to leave. And. And you get hurt." He looked back up at York, forcing himself to look at the cream-colored fur that had begun to overtake his entire chest. "Or worse."

York quirked a small but genuine smile. "And you say I'm the emotional one, buddy."

Wash made a face and scrunched his shoulders, then shrugged silently. "You guys are my only friends. Con--CT wants to do this, and I. I think you should be there with us, too." He sighed as York gazed down at him. "I want you to be there with us. We've been through a lot, and --"

The massive hand on his arm slid up a bit to give his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "You know I'll be there either way, little buddy. Let me know what CT says, and whether or not I get to play hooky." He chuckled and Wash felt a mix of relief and nervousness all at once.

Now he just had to convince CT he wasn't being an impulsive jackass.


"Are you kidding me, Wash? Since when are you such an impulsive jackass?!"

Wash shifted his weight uncomfortably while rubbing along his bicep. "It's just a few days early, Con...er. CT."

Her sigh was exasperated, even as she gave him an unexpectedly soft look for a few seconds. He wondered if it was pity, which wouldn't have surprised him. He was rather sure he looked like a scolded child at that moment. "I'm not even even mad that you want to move this forward, I'm just. Frustrated I did all that planning for nothing." He flinched but she only shook her head with faint amusement etched into her features. "And a little surprised you actually stood up and said something."

He mumbled and leaned against the wall, his fingers still massaging over his arm. "I know you've gone through the plan inside and out, ten times over."

"Twenty times."

"Yeah, so. That's why it's not for nothing," he replied with more vigor than he intended. CT arched an eyebrow and he almost hesitated, then charged ahead before he could convince himself otherwise. "You said Tr--" He paused to glance around before muttering: "That guy is all but hoping we do this, right? So I'm sure he'll make it work if we move the day. And then we keep going with your plan after we're out of here, just a few days earlier." He shrugged and she frowned a bit. "It still works, right?"

"I'm not saying it won't, but where the fuck did this come from?" She leaned toward him slightly. "This is a different Wash than I'm used to, even if you have been kind of a cold asshole the last several weeks."

He twitched and squeezed into his arm. How would she even know -- she'd still been getting plenty of missions, still carried weight in the organization. Her name wasn't a disgrace, she didn't have to worry about never having a partner, about having every other agent mutter that a mission with her was an insult, a punishment. Between all her planning and the fact she'd been running missions regularly at the same time, she was still constantly gone. So what would she even know...

Wash's eyes closed and he let his hand drop away from his bicep. That wasn't fair. It wasn't her fault, just like it wasn't York's fault he'd fallen in love and had been given the opportunity to work with the woman he cared so deeply for. Blaming them never made him feel better, and had only made those conversations with the Counselor sting that much more. They were still his friends. He knew even without asking that CT had come to him -- and only him -- with her escape plan. She hadn't trusted anyone else, she hadn't even wanted to reach out to anyone else first. And he knew he would follow her to hell and back, because she was one of the two people on all of Sirca he trusted, himself. And if anyone could make this crazy plan work, it was her.

"I...yeah, alright," he mumbled as his eyes finally lifted to meet hers again. "Do you really blame me, though? I've basically been by myself, sent constantly out on missions where I'm pretty sure it would have been considered a bonus if I'd fucking died. My two best friends are never around and now...now..." His shoulders slumped and the honest concern slowly enveloped the blind frustration, leaving his body feeling thick with emotions he had never been comfortable tasting. "Now I'm. Afraid that York's next mission...what if he doesn't come back, either?"

She made a face but let her hands drop to her hips as she studied him for a few seconds. "Are you really that worried about him? You know he can take care of himself. He wasn't just dating one of the best, he's usually near the top of the boards, himself."

"Fuck the boards," Wash muttered before he could help it, bitterness overtaking him long enough for him to regret it as he sighed. "Yes. Yes, I am worried about him. Yeah, maybe he wants to do this to keep his mind off of things, maybe he wants the distraction, but..." He looked down, feeling CT's eyes still boring into him curiously. He didn't know what he was doing, what he was saying, but he didn't want to regret not saying it. "This is bigger than that. Us leaving to start some...crazy, suicidal underground rebellion with you, that's more of a distraction than anyone could ever ask for. And...even if it all goes to shit, if we get caught and fucking killed." His eyes lifted to hers again. "At least we'll all be together."

She offered him a small smile as her hips cocked slightly. "Christ, you're a downer. Guess some things never change." She lifted a hand with a helpless shrug of one shoulder. "But you've come a long-ass way from being that scared kid on the playground. And I'm not gonna fuckin' complain about you showing some actual emotion for your friends." Wash grumbled and looked away awkwardly as she continued. "Alright, then. I was supposed to have a quick chat with the old man tonight, anyway -- you're coming with me, though."

Wash immediately made a face. "Ugh, no, I don't want anything to do with that guy. I'm not doing this for him, I'm doing it for you, CT."

She smirked. "Hate to break it to you, but we're gonna be spending at least thirty, forty hours with the guy, assuming changing the plan doesn't fuck everything up."

"Ugh."

"Hey, trust me, you'd rather spend it with him than the scary bitch he works with."

Wash wrinkled his muzzle. "I dunno, I see all kinds of scary bitches here already..." When she squinted at him, he blinked and then awkwardly took a step back. "Not...not you, though, you're. You're not a bitch."

CT only grinned slightly. "I'm kind of a bitch. Anyway, don't be a pussy -- meet me around 5200 on the observation deck. Supposed to rain tonight, won't be anyone out there."

"...Great."


Wash scowled as the rain lashed against his slight frame, his soaked features illuminated every few seconds by the regular cracks of lightning that dotted the barren landscape. The bastard was just so...calm. Why wasn't he freaking out about the changed plans, why wasn't he yelling at them for fucking up what had been at least two weeks' worth of planning? Christ he was insufferable.

"Heh, you guys are lucky for the proximity. It shouldn't be much of an issue, though. I won't be able to get too close thanks to that asshole's perimeter drones, but it won't be much more than a sprint for you fine Freelancers, I'm sure."

CT gave Wash's rumpled features a bemused smile before she lifted the communicator. "Hey, you bastards won't be so bitchy about all our training when it's on your side."

"Oh, I'm sure Nelson will be more bitchy. Anyway, those 'skills' won't mean much to us if you're dead, so tread carefully until then. I'm sure I don't gotta tell you all about the fact the walls have ears in your happy little mercenary nest." There was a pause long enough for Wash to affix an even deeper frown. "Consider this schedule change a nice introduction to how we do things around here, anyway. We ain't got the luxury of waiting for the stars to align -- somethin' crosses the sights, we take the shot. Hope all that brainwashin' hasn't dulled your improvisation, my friends."

CT smirked while Wash rolled his eyes, taking a moment to brush her soaked mane back. "Just don't be late, old man. We'll be ready."

"Good luck, kiddos. See you on the horizon."

CT grunted her response before flicking off the device while Wash glared out into the dark curtains of rain whisking across the flats. "He sounds like a douche."

"You think everyone sounds like a douche," CT retorted before she and Wash suddenly spun around at a noise behind them. A knife glinted in Wash's hand while CT had her fingers closed around the hilt of her sword as they both stared up at the overhang of the deck.

"Heh, I've heard doucheier voices than that," a deep voice rumbled from a huge silhouette sitting above them. "But I gotta say -- mighty curious about who y'all are chattin' with..." The bulky figure shifted to lean forward.

Wash narrowed his eyes before a bolt of lightning illuminated their interloper. The bright flash cast a gleam across a broad muzzle sporting a prominent scar, and Wash frowned in recognition, keeping his knife raised. "North."

He felt CT shift at his side, though her weapon remained sheathed as she stepped closer. "How's it goin', big man?" Wash could hear her voice twisting between wary and genuine. "You uh. You hang out here in the rain a lot?"

His booming voice chuckled down to them before he slid forward and dropped down with a grunt, making the entire deck quake when his enormous paws smashed into the flooring. Wash shrunk back while brandishing the knife with a scowl, but North only stood up straight and then glanced between them with a slight smile. "Sometimes. Used to hang out up here with a few folks. Gotta good view of things."

CT tilted her head a bit. "What kinda view you got out here?" Wash frowned at her but then glanced back as the gigantic Freelancer looked between them thoughtfully before gazing up into the downpour.

"Pretty clear." He inhaled and then folded his arms across his barrel-like chest. "So you guys are gonna go rogue, huh? Full heretic, sounds like." As Wash's grip tightened around the handle of his knife, North only smiled faintly. "About goddamn time. Things around here...they. They've been pretty rough lately." He turned his eyes toward the door leading back into the facility. "War's war, but we've been scratchin' out some names that cut all of us deep."

CT seemed to weigh her options for a moment before she jerked her head at North. "Yeah. You 'n Madison --"

North grinned, meeting her eyes. "God, she hates you still call her that."

CT smirked. "Well aware." She finally let her hand slide away from her weapon. "You two should join us. You're not an idiot, and your sister..."

North grunted and offered an amused look. "Hey, watch it. That's my family you're talkin' about."

"I was gonna say she's not that stupid either," CT retorted with her own small smile. "Even if she is a huge bitch."

North's grin returned as easily as ever. "Blame our mom. She got both from her." The bear-like Freelancer strode past the other two to approach the railing, gripping into it and looking out through the torrential rain. "She'll probably be a harder sell. You got a plan?"

Wash reached out to place a hand on CT's arm and she glanced at him for a moment. It wasn't that he didn't trust North. And the hazing, well...that was in the past. But he'd be lying to say he put much stock into anyone who wasn't in his circle of...two friends. She seemed to recognize it, then gave him a sympathetic smile while turning her attention back to North. Wash didn't blame her -- despite his own misgivings, she was smart enough to know they'd need more than just three idiotic turncoats to make this whole thing work.

"We do. York, Wash and I, we're leaving tomorrow night. Got a place scoped out, we're getting a hand from someone who's...been kind of doing this for a while." CT pushed her wet mane back once more. "Gonna start making our own choices. Try to stop all the bullshit we've been part of for way too long, now. Bring some justice for our friends, too."

North continued to gaze into the distance for a few seconds before he turned around and nodded a few times while studying them both. "Alright, then."

CT smiled a bit. "You're in?"

North held up a hand with his own half-smile. "You'll need spies. Five of us bustin' out at once, that's just asking for trouble. Let me 'n South stay on the ground here. We'll spread the word to the folks we can trust, and we can keep you all in the loop more than you woulda been otherwise, too."

Wash blinked and at last lowered his knife. As much of an asshole as North had always been to him, it was hard to deny the guy had also always been about as gentle as York. Two giant, cocky assholes with the hearts of lambs. And the brains of horny teenage jocks. He sighed and sheathed the blade as North shifted an unexpectedly sad smile toward him. "Three of you, though. I'm glad you're gettin' out. You've all lost enough already." He lumbered back up to them, then dropped a ham-sized hand on CT's shoulder. "Can't promise much, but if we can pull off a little distraction without getting our asses nailed, count on it. Maybe give you three a little more leeway on the way out."

CT nodded a few times while Wash frowned at North's back. He wasn't sure if he would have had the trust CT did, the natural instinct she had for reading people. But he could see it in the guy's body language, the way he bore no hints of accusation, didn't try to extract any additional information. He seemed to actually care about what...who they'd lost. And they all knew what happened to spies if they were discovered. It might have looked like an accident, but there was more than one reason Georgia's body had been unidentifiable.

"We appreciate it, big man. In that case, we'll be in touch. And with any luck, you won't even know when we're gone," she replied with a tip of her head.

He fired a crooked smile down at her before turning to look at Wash as well. "Yeah, uh huh. I'll believe that when I see it..."


"Shit! They're fuckin' everywhere," CT cursed under her breath as she held her arm out to halt her two companions. "Of all the fucking nights..."

Wash fed himself another helping of guilt and closed his eyes while swallowing the bitter sensation. He'd been the one to convince her to move their timetable back. Apparently to the evening the Director had scheduled a full drill for the security teams. Guards were stationed at every exit and were patrolling the main corridors. And while the fact they were agents meant they would normally have little issue strolling past any member of the security team...doing so with three packs full of supplies and information wouldn't be nearly as straightforward. Agent status carried a good deal of weight, but protocol was still protocol.

York read Wash's thoughts as easily as he'd done back when they were partners, reaching out to pat the smaller male's shoulder. "Hey. Don't blame yourself, little buddy," he whispered.

But how could he not? If he'd just let things go, trusted York to complete his mission and be back, safely and still breathing, they wouldn't be in this mess. He squirmed in his discomfort before blinking as York gently nudged him aside to walk past CT. "Y-York, wait!"

He glanced over his shoulder and then winked before muttering to them both: "C'mon, this is my thing -- just wait for the opening and then get your asses moving." Wash started to reach out, but York was already striding confidently out into the hallway and turning the corner toward the guard station by the exit. Wash cursed under his breath and CT frowned before looking back to her friend.

"He's right, he could convince a shrine maiden to break her vows," she murmured.

Wash grimaced all the same. "Yeah, but shrine maidens aren't armed with battle rifles..."

The two stayed pressed into the shadowy corner while listening as York's voice boomed easily down the corridor. "Yooo, buddies! You guys look crazy-hyped tonight, what's up?" One of the guards began a reply, but York cut him off smoothly. "Hey, wait -- Amy, is that you? Damn, girl, look at you! That promotion is treating you just right, the new uniform looks great!"

The sheepish denial was nearly sidetracked by the giggle and Wash couldn't help rolling his eyes. Sometimes it was easy to forget how quickly York could flip that switch on, no matter his emotional state. The guy was a master of masks. "Oh, stop it, Agent York. We can't chat tonight!"

"Uh...yeah, uh. Sir, we're under orders to --"

"Sir?!?" York scoffed dramatically. "Aww, Mikey, c'mon, sir? I was just spotting you in the gym last week, and you're still gonna call me 'sir'? Man, just because I get a sweet codename and get sent on the baddest-ass missions on Sirca doesn't make me any better than you! You two are the ones keepin' all the riffraff out, amirite? Us fancy-pants agents can't handle that ourselves, we're too wrapped up with how cool we are -- you're the guys doin' all the hard work!"

"Heh, now you're just pulling my tail, Agent York."

"I gotta better idea -- you considered letting Amy pull your tail? Because you two make a cute couple!"

"A-Agent York!"

Wash groaned into his palm while the two guards continued to stammer awkward denials as York cajoled them into letting him behind the guard desk so he could show off his latest scars. CT gave Wash an amused look before poking her head around the corner. "You gotta admit, it's kind of impressive."

"Kind of impressive what a whore he is," Wash mumbled as CT shoved her muzzle into her elbow to muffle the snort. "Ugh. Is it...working?"

"He's behind the counter and he's got his waistband pulled down so they can see --"

"I don't need details," Wash interjected with a huff. CT grinned and then quickly tugged his wrist.

"There's the signal -- let's book."

His features quickly hardened as they both ducked out from the niche in the hallway, turning the corner and moving silently along the wall toward the exit. York lifted his eyes briefly, offering the tiniest wink before reaching down to casually grasp Amy's wrist and move it to another point near his hip. "Check this one out, guys -- it was caused by a piece of dropship."

"What?!" 'Mikey' looked as fascinated as the female guard, his face screwed up in disbelief and admiration alike while he leaned in. "What happened!?"

York looked up as CT and Wash both slipped past, speaking casually even as he gave his friends a nod. "Oh, you shoulda been there! I was on a motorcycle, right? Just flyin' down the road, trying to lose this crazy dropship they sent after us, and it starts to make a dive but -- oh shit!!"

Both guards blinked and stared up at him, completely engrossed...and conveniently also distracted enough that CT was able to flash her access tag at the reader by the door without them hearing the beep, allowing her and Wash to ease it open. CT slipped through first to check the grand foyer, then signaled to Wash.

Wash jerked his head at York, who nodded again and cleared his throat loudly. "Sorry, guys! I just remembered, I can't sit here jabberin' away, I gotta get my jog on!"

Amy tilted her head a bit. "Uh...so I was gonna ask about the pack, uh. Agent York. We don't have any missions on the log..."

York grinned cheerfully. "No mission! Just wanted to get out there, do a little sprint around the place. I ate way too much, and taking a full pack's a great way to build that cardio!"

It was Mikey's turn to frown, though Wash didn't miss how it was almost nervous. "S-Sorry, York, but. We're sort of on lockdown for the drill, and --"

"Hey!"

Wash's eyes widened as he stared further down the corridor, where another pair of guards had turned the corner. "Shit!" he hissed as Amy and Mikey both whipped their heads around.

"Sorry in advance!" York announced as he grabbed their skulls and bashed them firmly together, the pair slumping forward with matching groans as the enormous Freelancer vaulted the desk with a hup to charge toward Wash. "Go go go, little buddy!"

"Hey, freeze! Shit, f-fire??" The cry from the other guards sounded hesitant, but the crack of a pistol was far less wavering as both Wash and York ducked before York all but shoved his smaller companion through the door and then slammed it shut behind them.

"What the fuck!?" CT raised both hands in consternation. "What happened?!"

"Think we failed our stealth roll," York mumbled while yanking a decorative tree from its pot to shove into the door handle and buy them a bit of time. "Go!"

Wash waited for York to break into a run before he joined CT to sprint toward the entrance. There was another guard station by the main doors and the gunshot had drawn them out curiously...though the three figures racing toward them elicited a less inquisitive response as they reached for their weapons. "Halt!"

CT was already on the first one before he could yank out his sidearm, leaping up to loop an arm around his neck and slinging her body in an arc around him. He choked in surprise, then gave a yelp as she released him and used her momentum to throw him into his companion to send them both in a sprawling heap. Wash was quick to boot one of their pistols away as York reached down and snagged the rifle from the back of the other before the trio hopped the turnstiles, raced through the glass doors and into the open parking lot.

Wash glanced at one of the jeeps -- they weren't anything impressive, the better vehicles were all kept in the underground garage near the hangar. "Should we take one?!" he suggested before they all winced as a loud siren began to wail from the facility. "Fuck!"

"No, they installed those fucking remote activation systems on even the shitty vehicles," CT muttered. "We'll be harder to see on foot, anyway, let's go!"

As the klaxon blared, several spotlights came to life with heavy thunks, quickly sweeping the parking lot as the three raced toward one of the fences. "C'mon, we gotta head east!" CT directed as she dropped to a kneel and produced a pair of metal cutters to start trimming a hole through the fencing.

Wash's heart pounded in his chest as he glanced over his shoulder and then grimaced when one of the spotlights slid toward them. "York, the lights!" He drew his pistol and York ducked to the side before spinning and shoving his newly-acquired rifle into his shoulder. Wash narrowed his eyes in concentration, automatically aiming for the furthest light to fire three quick precision shots toward it. His bullets hit home with a burst of sparks and shattered glass while another hot-white beam bolted toward the direction of the gunshots.

York was ready, though, unleashing his own burst of automatic fire to destroy the searchlight, then shifting to take out another. But three other columns of harsh radiance were already converging on them, clawing through the darkness like the fingers of a child attempting to retrieve a toy from the sandbox. Wash grit his teeth and aimed for the next one before he heard York gasp. "Wash, get down!"

Wash blinked and widened his eyes in time for a tan-colored mass to smash into him and tackle him to the ground as a spray of machine gun fire tore through where he'd stood a moment earlier. He winced as York curled over him protectively, then hissed as a stray round ripped between his shoulderblades. "York!"

Behind them, CT spun around with her pistol in both hands, spotting the guard racing toward them and directing several shots at him, most of them slamming into his chest and torso to knock him back with a cry of shock. "You two okay!?" she yelled. "Fence is open!"

York glanced down to quickly search over Wash before he grunted. "Nothing major!" He looked back down and grinned. "Not outta the woods yet, little buddy, let's--"

"Priority override."

York froze as the Director's voice spilled into the night, echoing from the speakers that no longer screamed their alarms. Wash's eyes bulged, fear gripping his slender frame while he stared up in denial at his friend, his partner still engulfing him with his monstrous form. No, no, no!

"Codeword Foxtrot Del--"

Wash gasped and then thrust his handgun up toward York's head as his companion trembled uncontrollably, closing his eyes and then yanking the trigger with a curse...

The blast went off right next to York's cheek and he yelped as Wash grimaced and then rapidly moved the pistol to the other side to repeat the process. York's muzzle flew open in a soundless gasp of pain as his claws dug furrows into the dirt on either side of Wash while a bit of blood trickled down one side of his face.

"--blade. Delta-Seven -- please eliminate Agents Connecticut and Washington, then return to base."

Wash barely heard the insidious voice as all his attention was on York, his gun still trembling next to the enormous chupa's head as York snarled and arched his back.

"Christ...Wash...Wash!" He heard CT shift and he quickly looked back to her.

"N-No, Connie, wait!" She had her pistol leveled coldly but her eyes were full of fear. Wash forced himself to look back up at York...and found green eyes staring back down at him. "York!?"

York grit his teeth and then worked his jaw a few times before shaking his head out and then pounding the side of his head a few times. "Can't...ow. Can't fuckin'...hear," he announced loudly before looking down at Wash again as a mixture of terror and relief tore his features in two. "Holy shit, you okay?" he mumbled.

Wash nodded rapidly. "Yeah, but we gotta go!" York only looked at him blankly and Wash grimaced before jerking his head toward CT. York looked up and saw her crouching by the hole in the fence while gesturing rapidly, and he nodded before glancing back down with worried look at Wash.

But the smaller male only shook his head and tapped York's shoulder. York grunted and then sprung back to his paws before yanking Wash up as well. Wash muttered gratitude he knew wouldn't be heard and then winced as another wild burst of automatic fire screamed past them. "Go!" he shouted as he tapped York's back and then dropped to one knee to empty his clip at the small group of guards that came racing from the front entrance to send them scattering for cover.

"C'mon, Wash!"

He glanced back at CT on the other side of the fence, holding the gap wide for him, and he nodded. A quick glance back to the guards regrouping, but he knew it wasn't worth their already-precious ammo supply and he spun around to duck through the fence. He and CT both glanced up at York as he jabbed a thumb inquisitively toward the east. CT replied with a brisk nod that he immediately returned, and all three of them sprinted into the welcome darkness.

Wash snarled as he heard a few engines starting behind them, reaching down to reload his pistol as they ran across the uneven terrain. "Fuck me, the old fucker better be waiting for us!" he growled.

"Yeah, no shit!" CT shot back. A peal of gunfire from behind them made the two of them wince while York continued racing obliviously ahead. A lone jeep had caught them in its headlights and was veering toward them, and both CT and Wash turned to fire several shots at the grille and tires. They managed to extinguish the twin beams of light and a lucky bullet slammed into a tire to put the jeep into a half-spin as the occupants shouted over one another in confusion. CT grunted her satisfaction and turned to chase after York as Wash glowered and kept his gun on the jeep for a few seconds longer, then followed his companions.

The random bullets were still whizzing past them but Wash knew they were just firing blindly, given a glimpse of them only during the flashes of lightning that threw phosphorescent light and wild shadows across the landscape, making it even harder to pinpoint their travel. He heard the vehicles behind them, but they were moving in different directions in what was likely an attempt to fan out and try to come across them using a simple pincer. Holy shit this was actually working...

His pulse was deafening as his paws pounded across the cool rock and sandy soil, the crackle of thunder just a muted rumble at this point while the pops of gunfire began to fade as he focused on freedom, on a truly new beginning, a decision the three of them were making completely of their own accord instead of just 'doing what they had to'. This was it, finally a turning point in the shitty timeline of his life so far, and he was doing it with his two best friends--

CT's shocked cry of pain ripped through his muffled senses and he stumbled to a halt, staring in disbelief at the splatter of blood from her chest as her body seemed to drift forward in slow-motion. Her limbs flailed while her body twisted sluggishly to one side from the force of the impact...before the passage of time snapped back as her head smashed against a rock and left her in a boneless heap. "Connie!!"

Wash's eyes went wide as he skidded to a stop next to her, his heart in his throat. He rolled her to the side fearfully, but saw her chest moving shallowly as blood trickled from her skull. "Fuck, fuck..." He glanced up -- York was still sprinting. "York!!"

His friend was still running before a twitch spasmed through him. He glanced over a shoulder and noticed the two several paces behind, gasping and racing back toward them. Wash slid his fingers under CT's neck to feel for anything out of place as York dropped to a kneel next to them, staring at Wash for direction. Wash was silent for a few seconds as he continued to check for any other trauma. He winced as he placed a finger against the bullet hole, but saw that it had gone through completely. It was just above her breast, and the exit wound suggested it had glanced off her collarbone. He could only hope it hadn't hit anything vital.

He stared up at York, but his huge companion only looked back with the same wide-eyed expression. For a moment, fear clutched at Wash's neck, squeezing slowly...but he took a deep breath and shoved the indecision aside before quickly making a scooping gesture with his arms and then pointing at CT.

York nodded immediately and leaned down to gingerly pick her up, cradling her head against one arm while holding her to his chest, pack and all, with little show of exertion. Wash had never been so thankful for the big bastard's size and he swallowed thickly before glancing past York -- still no headlights coming directly at them -- and then nodding once as he tipped his head to the east once more and broke back into a jog. There was no hesitation from his partner, York's heavy steps quickly following as the two made a beeline for one of the natural towering structures of rock looming ahead. He had no idea where Tracer would be coming from, but anything was better than staying out in the open as the endless bolts of lightning continued to give hints to their location.

They continued to run for several minutes before Wash grimaced at the sound of an engine somewhere to their right. He instinctively leaped in front of York and CT, his muzzle breaking into a wary snarl as his pistol jumped into his hands while his legs slid into a defensive stance.

But there were no headlights, only the squeal of tires as a dark-blue truck roared out of the darkness and then twisted to one side to come to a skidding halt several feet away. Wash narrowed his eyes and kept the gun trained as the door was thrown open and a shadowy figure shouted out: "Time's-a wastin', kiddos!"

York took a step forward but Wash held an arm out as he grit his teeth and refused to lower the pistol. "Are...are you..."

The driver leaned toward the passenger's side in time for a flash of lightning to illuminate a grizzled muzzle dotted with scars and greying fur. Wash caught a glimpse of a calm smile and eyes that seemed to glow invitingly before the voice drifted out again to wrap with unsettling ease around them despite the crash of thunder above. "Name's Raymond Tracer, Agent Washington." Wash couldn't help widening his eyes in surprise, even if he knew there was no reason to be shocked. "Would love to welcome y'all to the Movement...but you're gonna need to get in the goddamn truck first."

Wash frowned but slowly lowered his pistol before he glanced back at CT in York's arms. "Co--CT, she. She took a round, upper chest."

"Get her in the back seat, got some supplies. Guessing you got more nimble fingers than the werewolf, so you'd better ride with her." The back door was thrown open and Wash looked at York again. His friend offered him a reassuring smile and Wash exhaled quietly. This was it, the moment separating the jagged darkness of their past from the inky uncertainty of the future. Hard to tell what was more frightening.

"Don't mean to rush ya, but now or never, Washington!!"

He locked gazes with York for a few seconds. This wasn't just to escape, though. This was for York...for Lina. This was for every single one of their friends and companions who'd been twisted and used. This was to make things right, to get justice. He nodded once and York returned it confidently. Wash had never taken such solace from his partner as he closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and moved toward the back seat of the truck.

There was no turning back now.