Round 4: Impact

Wash couldn't be sure, but he was fairly certain he'd stopped the worst of CT's bleeding. Her breathing hadn't gotten any more shallow, at least, and the grimace of pain had shifted into a neutral expression while Wash awkwardly cradled her hastily-bandaged head in his lap. Tracer hadn't stopped yet...which Wash wanted to hold against him, but knew was the wiser decision. They were still absolutely still within range of Freelancer's vehicles, especially if a dropship was sent out.

...He thought of Ashley for a moment, wondering if things would have been any easier had they let her in on their plans. Escape maybe would have been smoother. But probably not much quieter.

Tracer had asked if they'd made up their minds on where they wanted to go -- with CT unconscious, it'd been up to Wash to mumble that her last preference was Lactan. He only hoped it was the right decision. He wasn't sure if he was glad or not that Tracer approved of the choice, noting that the facility there was remote and still in need of service, but had the potential to serve as a formidable stronghold, one that could be a bulwark of the entire rebellion. Wash would have asked why Tracer and his people weren't using it...but his antisocial nature was feeling even less charitable than usual.

Wash didn't regret the decision they'd made, but someone had to take the blame for everything that had happened. He held himself in contempt already, but if it hadn't been for this goddamn old bastard, they wouldn't be here in the first place. CT wouldn't be severely injured, York wouldn't have been seconds away from being forced to kill his own friends. Wash didn't have much stock in the Movement -- he trusted CT, not these fanatics.

In the dim illumination of the truck's dome light, he was able to get a better look at the man, at least. His fur was a rich ebony, nearly black as night, though it was permeated with flecks of grey that outlined his face and muzzle, dancing down through his shaggy hide and into a chest that looked strong despite his age. Wash estimated him to be a little over six and a half feet tall, his build somewhere between toned and muscular. His eyes were a striking shade of violet and Wash found himself glancing away more than once whenever he caught them in the rear view mirror. He wasn't listening to half of what Tracer said, yet his stare alone was enough to make Wash feel drawn in. It wasn't a quality he handled well in others.

York's hearing was starting to return, and with it, his usual overly curious and friendly nature. He, of course, was just fine with being drawn in. After he'd spoken with Wash to get a rundown of CT's condition, it'd only taken him a few minutes to peer curiously at Tracer and then jab a finger at him. "The sketch they use on your wanted posters makes you look like a demonic nerd." Wash resisted the urge to groan and drop his head into a hand as Tracer eyed York bemusedly. "I'm just saying. You don't look like a nerd."

"I'll take 'demonic'," Tracer replied with a gruff chuckle. "Not necessarily an insult since it is a goal to try and lure folks away from Omega's bullshit light 'n all that."

York squinted at him before leaning back and crossing his arms. "Okay, but seriously -- how long have you been doing this? Honestly, I half-expected you to be a myth, like a bedtime story to scare little kids into following the rules and stuff."

Tracer snorted quietly but shrugged easily. "Sounds fair enough." He smiled while gazing through the windshield and steering the truck toward the west. "Been doing this since the beginning, kiddos. Minute they declared the Holy War, I knew I wasn't gonna be a part of that shit. Was never one for religion to start with -- I believe in real life, the shit you can see and touch and hold. Always thought the House was full of shit, and once the War was kicked off..." He shrugged again. "Just proved it for me. Watched my friends, my friends' kids, sign up for that shit. Get carted off to that shit. Die pointlessly for that shit." His eyes narrowed as his hands gripped the wheel tighter. "Like fuckin' lambs to slaughter."

York glanced back at Wash and the two shared a brief glance before the larger chupa shifted his weight. "So. So how did you get started with the Movement?"

The mood lifted somewhat as Tracer chuckled and studied York for a few seconds before turning his attention back to driving. "Organization's always been kind of my thing. My father taught me the importance of obedience..." His smile became sly. "Or at least how to fake it. My mother, though. She was a force of passion. She was an activist, as much as a woman could be in our home town. Pushed for equality and fought for what she believed was right. Pretty sure the only reason the old man didn't beat the shit outta her was because he died on the job when I was still in school." He didn't seem particularly emotional about it, not that Wash would have expected it. "So didn't take me long to get the bug, myself. Did student leadership, then joined up with the union while I was still interning for my first job."

"Okay, I gotta know what you were doing before the War," York inquired as he leaned forward with a tilt of his head. "What kinda job prepares you for...y'know. Being a wanted heretic?"

Tracer smirked. "How 'bout a day laborer?"

York blinked in confusion, and Wash could hardly avoid his own befuddled scowl. Tracer grinned between them while gesturing toward his head. "Hard hat and all. Worked construction from the day I was outta classes. But I put in about as much time with the labor union, too. Now, with you two spending most'a your recent years in the military and spec ops, I'm sure you don't gotta be told much about how locked down the House is, the state'a the world we're living in." Wash only shrugged and leaned back again but York nodded several times as he grumbled and rubbed at his back -- Wash was guessing the scrape from the bullet was already closed up, thanks to the phials they'd stashed in their gear.

"Yeah, we're not that sheltered," York mumbled. "I've heard of labor old man was once part of one, but. He was also kind of a lazy asshole. Never learned much about it."

Tracer eyed York thoughtfully again and then grunted. "You get the right people together with the right motivation, you can get some shit done. Not much, mind you -- the House ain't a fan of any kind of organization that ain't under their purview. But we busted our asses to make life a little less shitty for us common folks out there sweatin' our tails off for the bastards up top." He rubbed at his muzzle quietly for a few seconds. "The job took me all over. Worked different sites around Sirca. Started with the pickaxe and the shovel, worked my way up to brick-laying and eventually heavy equipment." A hint of a nostalgic smile quirked his tired but vibrant features. "Did the same at the union. I was the representative for most of central Honkal before the War was declared."

He glanced back for a moment. "How's Agent Coh-neh-ti-ket?"

"It's 'Connecticut'," Wash corrected icily. Tracer just gave him the same calm smile and the...ex-Freelancer grumbled and looked down to press a hand lightly against her chest wound. "The phial and bandaging stopped most of the bleeding. But they aren't...magic, it won't just fix her. She's...she's still gonna need..."

"I already got folks on the way to Lactan," Tracer interrupted smoothly. "You can borrow a few of my people while you're findin' your sea legs. Our doctor's probably older than me, but she's alright, long as you don't mind the occasional misplaced stitch."

Wash narrowed his eyes, trying to bite back the sarcasm and settling instead for a lack of gratitude. "We don't need your pity. Conn--I-I mean CT wants to start a separate branch." He attempted to find some sort of middle ground. "Seems like it'd make more sense for us to not bunch up, anyway."

"Yeah, no kidding, Agent Washington," Tracer retorted, even as he smiled effortlessly. "Besides, Nelson would fucking break my spine if she caught even a whiff of any attempt to fold you all in to our branch. No, no -- trust me, it's very temporary." He curled his maw into a bemused chortle. "No need to thank me, although that, you already seem to have under control."

Wash wrinkled his snout but only shifted his attention back to CT with a mutter. Tracer turned his own eyes back to York before giving an unmistakable glance toward the tattoo on his hip. "So, Agent York. Delta Pack, right?"

York blinked a few times before gawking. Wash couldn't help his tired sigh -- CT had explained multiple times that Tracer was getting information from the inside, but the big dumbass apparently wasn't willing to remember that tidbit. "Whoooa, how did you know!?"

Tracer visibly hid his smile. "Magic Movement tricks, naturally." His eyes drifted briefly over York's bare chest. "You've turned more than once, though. I'd wager more than a few times, judging by that coloration."

This made Wash frown and glance up with a furrowed brow. It was hard not to think of the first time he'd seen York transform, how he became...something else. It was harder still to not think of Carolina...of the other werewolves who had succumbed. Details were hard to come by, but they'd been digging. It was nothing positive, nothing that meant good news for York or anyone else who'd been a part of the project. And how the fuck did this bastard know so much about it?

But York, the giant jackass, just grinned sheepishly and shrugged. "Yeah. You get kinda used to it,'s a lot better to do it yourself than have someone else do it to you."

"So I'd imagine," Tracer replied softly before his features became briefly unreadable. "You plan on using it on the other side now?"

Wash bared his teeth and Tracer glanced back at him before looking to York when the larger male shrugged slowly. "I'd...prefer not to. But I'll do whatever I need to do to protect my friends." He looked over his shoulder at Wash, and every bit of angry resistance crumbled to dust as a pang struck him somewhere deep inside.

As he choked down a swallow and looked away silently, Tracer grunted. "Good news is I wouldn't dream of asking you to use it, not for the sake of the Movement. We're not out to make friends, but we are fighting monsters. Turning into the enemy don't do us a whole lot of good, not in my opinion." Wash's eyes slowly drifted back to Tracer, surprised more than he wanted to admit. Tracer's gaze was back onto the dusty path ahead of them, however. "My last work site, after the War started. Different from usual, wasn't construction. Archaeological dig on the edge of Honkal." Both York and Wash looked at the old rebel while his expression hardened. "They were working us hard. Twelve hour shifts, six hours between. Pay was shit, too, but with war on the horizon, jobs were hard to come by. We took what we could."

His knuckles tightened slowly around the wheel. "Most of the scientists and House representatives were already assholes. We did what we could to avoid them. But one of them...he was different. A real piece of shit. Treated everyone around him like shit, too. Just tools, just numbers. Even his fellow researchers." His eyes moved back to York for a moment. "His name was Lionel Church."

York's eyes widened as Wash stared in disbelief. "The...the Director?" Wash stuttered.

"Before he was head of Freelancer," Tracer replied quietly as his body slowly relaxed again and his eyes returned to the drive. "But whatever he found there was what propelled him to where he is now. To the man who did this to you." His gaze flicked to York, then to the two in the back. "To all of you."

" that why you...joined the Movement?" York asked awkwardly.

Tracer gave a throaty chuckle. "Christ, no. I had no idea what Lionel was doing, what any of them were doing. But I knew whatever it was wasn't gonna make life easier for anyone on Sirca. That shit never was, when you had those kind of people at a site." He clenched his jaw briefly before rubbing at his throat. "I quit the day before the site was closed. Had enough of the House, of Omega and all his damn bullshit. Used my contacts at the union to get in touch with what was the beginning of the Movement." He paused and gave a faint smile, tinged with wistfulness and irony alike. "This iteration of it, anyway."

"There's been a Movement for almost every Holy War on Sirca," Wash murmured as he looked down at CT again. "What made you think yours would be any different?"

He didn't need to look up to feel Tracer's gaze on him in the rear view. "Honestly, son? Not a goddamn thing." Wash frowned and glanced up to see the violet eyes boring into him through the reflection. "My mother died in prison after she was arrested for protesting the forced drafting of kids. It didn't change a thing, either. But it didn't stop her from trying." His eyes swung back to the windshield. "Ain't nothin' gonna change if you aren't willing to try."

Wash looked down silently and then grimaced as CT mumbled incoherently and shifted a bit against him. Tracer was just what he imagined. A goddamn fanatic with a silver-tongue, using his cult of personality to draw people in and convince them to fight an impossible fight simply because they wanted to make a difference. It was idiotic, and it was why they were going to be different. Better. CT wasn't a blind idealist, she'd grown up in the same shitty orphanage as Wash, she'd come up through the same harsh world as him. He trusted her because she knew what her own blood tasted like, she knew what despair felt like. She knew there was no point in just hoping things got better -- it required a plan, determination, discipline. All things they'd have, and that this bastard probably rebelled against.

That was fine. This was their shot, now. And they'd do things their way.

The drive had taken them to the middle of the next day -- Wash was loath to admit it, but Tracer was showing them plenty of new routes of travel across Sirca, things they hadn't known about even with all their ring-trotting during their time with Freelancer. Underground tunnels, abandoned railway lines, even a few paths that had been carved into the deep ravine that ran along Sirca's rim.

They'd been driving through the jungles of Lactan by the time Wash would have expected to maybe be at the border of Lamtha or somewhere in the middle of Episemon. He could hardly complain, much as he looked for reasons to do so. CT had come in and out of consciousness a few times, which was a relief...but he knew she needed an actual infirmary to recover, or at the very least something more stable than the back seat of a truck that only touched real pavement every twenty hours or so.

Tracer explained plenty as he drove them through the thick jungle, noting where their safehouses where, how they'd be able to stay in touch, the best ways to travel to their other bases...then casually remarking about the 'bats' like some urban legend of Sirca's underground species was real. York had gasped, excitedly enough for all three of them. Wash was too tired at that point to sigh, only asking in a mumble how far they were and then looking annoyed when Tracer commented cheerfully that now they were like little kids.

What a dick.

He was jostled awake by York shaking him energetically and he shook his head blearily when he realized they'd come to a stop. Wash didn't know when he'd fallen asleep, but he didn't have time to ponder it as he blinked and stared at the rusted facility, overgrown and nestled in the trees just ahead of them. "Christ, it's exactly what the intel said...why the fuck couldn't we find it?" he muttered.

He glanced over to see York beaming at him. "Guess that's why it'll be a good hideout, huh? Look how big it is, little buddy!" He pointed through the windshield. "Tracer went to check the perimeter. He said there's a freakin' cargo lift around back, we should be able to get it fixed up and be able to bring vehicles right inside! Along with anything else we'll need out here..."

York took a step back and Wash looked out through the door before widening his eyes a bit despite himself. It wasn't like they hadn't spent the last several hours driving through the wilds of Lactan, but still. The sunlight streaming through the viridian canopy surrounding them formed thin shafts of illumination that danced across the jungle floor, making for one hell of a picturesque scene. Even with the oppressive humidity, it felt so...alive. Nothing like the Freelancer Headquarters in Qoppa. This place was soaked with a vibrant energy, thick with the intangible sense of possibility. Like this truly could be a place for them to start anew. "...Wow."

York smiled brightly, acting like he hadn't just been shot a half-day ago and his hearing likely damaged for god knew how long to come. "I know, right!? It's awesome!" He put his hands on his hips with a happy sigh and Wash couldn't help giving his own helpless smile. "It's all ours, too. This is ours, buddy." He looked back at Wash and the two locked gazes for a moment. Wash thought back to the last time they'd been partners, how good they'd been on jobs together.

...York had promised they'd always be partners. No matter what. And Wash had made that promise with him. they would have that chance again. "Yeah. Yeah, I guess it is...partner."

The word tasted funny, like calling out a name he hadn't used in years. York blinked and glanced back down at him before grinning broadly. "Heh. Now how 'bout you get outta the way so I can get our fearless, comatose leader out 'n get her inside." Wash nodded and gingerly lifted CT's head before sliding out from beneath her and resting her back on the bench seat before hopping out so York could lean in and scoop her up. "Tracer said his folks should be here in an hour or two. We better go call dibs before all the best bunks are taken!"

Wash rolled his eyes but couldn't help the faint smile again. This familiarity was nice. Something he'd missed more than he realized he would have. The sun glinted off the mismatched dog tags and key hanging around York's neck and Wash studied them for a moment. Symbols of the people York cared about. One he'd loved and lost, but another he'd kept close to for years now. His best friend, still by his side after everything they'd gone through.

A whistle from the front of the complex caught their attention and they saw Tracer waving next to a heavy door he'd pushed open. "C'mon, kiddos! Let me give you the grand tour of your new home..."

Wash looked up to York, who cradled CT carefully to his chest before nodding as Wash returned it firmly, the two striding forward together. It was a forgotten facility, buried and reclaimed by the jungles of Lactan, abandoned by some army or company or civilization from who knew when and left to ruin.

But it was theirs, now, and this would be where they'd start doing things their own way and finally start putting their past behind them.

Like that idiot Georgia had said: this was for the future.

"Yo, buddy! North and South are both comin' by later today -- Ashe is bringin' 'em. You figure out what rooms we can mark as theirs?"

Wash groaned and dropped his head into his hands, scrubbing at his mane slowly. This wasn't where he wanted to be. He wasn't the goddamn leader, this wasn't his skill set. In fact, according to Freelancer, his skill set didn't include much beyond "above-average mobility" and "compact size, ideal for infiltration into small/dangerous places".

But CT was still stuck in the infirmary, and the terrifying old doctor from Tracer's crew had all but demanded that she stay on the cot and get as much rest as possible. Apparently otherwise she'd risk a brain hemorrhage. And Wash had tried, he'd absolutely come by and told her they were ready to start organizing and had a few people already showing up thanks to the signals Tracer's propaganda arm had been sending out. Apparently having a few Freelancers break away and start their own branch of the rebellion was causing waves of inspiration through weary, disillusioned soldiers and angry, determined civilians alike.

She'd been unable to do much more than grimace, smile faintly, and tell Wash he needed to stop being a baby and take over for a little bit. It wasn't exactly the most inspirational speech, but the look in her eyes had been honest. She trusted him to manage things while she recovered, and that had been enough for him. At least, almost enough. He still really didn't want to do this. And the thought of York doing it, well. It wasn't that Wash didn't trust him, either, but...he was York. He gave Wash enough awkward, hesitant looks just when he was trying to figure out where to put the furniture they were dragging from storage, or as he tried to figure out how to properly use a broom. Wash didn't think he was quite ready to take the reins, certainly no more than he himself was.

"I...ugh...just a sec," Wash mumbled as he lifted his head and then spun around in the creaky office chair to look at the map they'd taped up behind what was essentially now CT's office...and temporarily Wash's. He studied the layout of the facility before producing a pen and grunting as he tapped one of bunk rooms. "North can go here. I know he doesn't mind the boiler sounds, that idiot snores worse than you."


"And South hates...everyone, so. She can go...there." He tapped another one far away from most of the others before quickly scrawling their initials across them. "God, I hope CT is on her feet soon..."

"Aww..." Wash turned the chair around and found York smiling brightly at him from the other side of his desk. "I think you're doing a pretty great job! You've got so much more...confidence!"

Wash looked at him flatly. "It took me twenty minutes to decide whether we should fix the lift or repair the second boiler."

"Yeah, they're both fixed!" York exclaimed while throwing his hands up. "Not to mention, not even counting the three of us, there are nine more people here already!" Wash winced at the thought, shrinking slowly in the office chair. "We're exploding, dude!"

"Please don't say things like that, we don't want to explode, not with numbers, nor with the god-knows-how-old boilers," Wash muttered while rubbing slowly at his temples.

But York was undeterred as he smiled and strode forward to pat the desk a few times. "Hey, I'm serious -- you're too hard on yourself, little buddy. You know what missions were our best ones when we worked together?"

"The ones where you did everything perfectly and completed the objective flawlessly and then still had time to bang a chick before we reported back?" Wash replied dryly. "Since those were the ones that got me into Freelancer, after all."

York faltered and cleared his throat awkwardly as the silence spun out for a few seconds...before Wash gave a faint smile and sighed, the tension between them immediately melting again. "C'mon, we didn't even have that many missions where I took the lead."

"But you did a lot of planning, and trust me -- I know I was more of an idiot than I am now --"

"You're still an idiot."

"Yeah! But...back then I was worse. And looking back, I know that every time I did listen to you, and every time we did stick to your plan, or your direction...we kicked ass. We got shot less, we did our missions faster and cleaner." Wash opened his muzzle to protest but York jabbed a finger toward him firmly. "Every time."

Wash frowned and gripped into his own arm for a moment. "York, I appreciate it, but that was...different. It was just you and me, and I. I trusted you. It wasn't a whole group of people." He remembered the orphanage and closed his eyes. He didn't survive because he'd tried to make friends, or because he'd attempted to blend in. When CT wasn't defending him, he got through that hell by looking out for himself, by doing whatever necessary to avoid the others and put himself in a safe place. Confidence wasn't a requirement, nor were the opinions of anyone else. "I've never been that person..."

"Maybe that's just because you've never let yourself try to be that person," York replied softly as he crossed his arms and gazed down at Wash. "You know, when you're not being all self-conscious, when you're not assuming the kinda kick ass, little buddy." Wash rolled his eyes before flinching in surprise when York suddenly dropped his hands onto the desk while leaning toward him. "I mean that! Screw the Director, screw everyone else who didn't give you a chance!" Wash looked up at him with what was almost fear at the implication, and York took that hesitation and used it to continue firmly: "They were all wrong about you, because I did give you a chance. And..." He paused as he reached down and silently grasped into his necklace. "There's a reason I wanted to be your partner after Specials." A tremor slipped into his voice but he pushed himself through as his tone became thick with emotion. "And even if...even if things changed, and we worked with...other people..."

Wash stared silently as York looked down and then carefully removed the two dog tags from his necklace, still joined on the same key ring. York gazed at the tags for a few seconds and then walked around the desk to hang them up on a nail jutting from the wall. "You were still always my first partner. My battle buddy. The guy who always reminds me that you can do anything if you're willing to fight for it, willing to be stubborn and angry and refuse to let the world tell you what to do."

Wash looked up at their dog tags for several seconds as a hundred different emotions crashed through him. God damn York. He had always been good at this, at digging deep into someone and pulling out their best features...all without forcing a feeling of pity or manipulation. Wash's eyes dragged back up to York's when a huge hand rested gently on one of his shoulders. Every conversation they'd had when Wash was in the infirmary...and that night they'd spent talking and reminiscing after Lina...they'd shared too much for even Wash's cruel mechanisms to convince him of anything beyond the genuine appreciation and friendship they'd forged over their years together.

Wash finally sighed as he reached up to gently pat York's arm, his friend pulling back after a second. "I. Thanks, York." He looked down at the desk for a moment or two. "I still don't want to do this, this was Connie's idea."

"I know, little buddy." York moved back to the front of the desk and then offered a reassuring smile. "But I know she appreciates you taking over while she recovers. And it really won't kill you to take a little pride in it." Wash shifted uncomfortably and York added softly: "You are good at it. And don't forget -- we all trust you, too." Wash's eyes shot back up and York's were there to meet him without a hint of anything that wasn't honesty. "You got this, man."

Wash gave a faint smile before picking up the pen and pulling the latest inventory sheets toward him. "Thank you, York. I mean it. should get back to training the new guys, though. And I'll go see Connie after I finish this."

York smiled back warmly and gave his companion a wave. "Better get back to 'CT' or she's gonna put you in the cot next to her!" Wash grumbled but kept the small smile as York chuckled and strode out of the office. "See ya soon, buddy!"

"Christ, it smells like a fucking locker room in here -- how is it the fucking mines got better circulation than this facility...with a built-in ventilation system?"

Wash blinked and lifted his head from the desk at the voice that echoed down the hallway outside. He didn't recognize the snarling tone, but it sounded like an angry female. And based on CT's rundown of the Movement operatives she'd met during her accidental incursion...he was going to guess this was the infamous Nelson. It'd been a few days since Tracer left, though he'd mentioned that he was sending a small detachment to check up on them. Apparently Wash's forceful insistence that they were fine had fallen on deaf ears.

"Yeah, but you assholes got your vehicle lift all fucking fixed -- fucking Freelancers, priorities are shit as always..." The voice drew closer and Wash lifted an eyebrow before flinching backward when the door was suddenly slammed open violently. "Connecticut, what the hell--"

Wash stared at the immense shape that nearly filled the doorway. Her body looked like it had been sculpted from brown, furry clay, muscles rippling across a frame that had to be almost as tall and broad as York, if not even more so. His jaw dropped despite himself and he almost didn't register the furious glare in the dark green eyes that burned into him. "Who the fuck are you!?" she snarled. "Where the fuck's the woman in charge?"

He found himself pressed back into the chair despite his efforts, taking a few good seconds to catch his breath and then thrust incredulity in front of his shock. "Who the fuck are you?" he retorted, forcing himself to stand and lean forward...only to wince as she barged into the office with a growl.

"Who the fuck do you think I am?" she spat out as she looked him over and then wrinkled her muzzle in contempt. "Don't fucking tell me you're Washington."

He repressed the urge to swallow and instead dug up the willpower to meet her glower as evenly as he could. "That must make you Nelson."

"Top fucking score, Agent Washington, just what I'd expect from a fucking mercenary," she retorted before swiveling her head to give the office the same disdainful sweep. "Motherfucker, Tracer said Connecticut was recovering."

"She is," Wash replied shortly, quickly clutching into more of that unfamiliar confidence his friends had somehow managed to encourage in him. "But she's not supposed to be moving much. Your doctor said the bullet clipped a lung and we don't want it tearing."

Nelson's eyes shot back to Wash as she approached the front of the desk. Her presence was enough to block almost all the light from the hallway as a menacing shadow was cast over Wash to swallow him in her dangerous aura. "He mentioned a head wound as well. She still coherent or is she a fucking vegetable?"

Wash frowned darkly as he refused to back down despite the all-too-real threat he felt from this woman. "She's fine, it's just another precaution to make sure there's no additional trauma while she gets back on her feet."

Nelson glared silently for several seconds before snorting dismissively and finally straightening her spine. Wash wasn't sure if that was better or worse than her leaning over him -- the goddamn she-beast loomed no matter what she did. "Finally some good fucking news. There's a reason she walked out of that first encounter alive. She's the only goddamn one of you House-beaten assholes to have two fucking bits of sense about her."

Wash narrowed his eyes and ground his teeth slowly. "How would you even fucking know? We've never even spoken before you came bursting into my office and --"

"Your office?" Wash felt a pang, guilt and self-consciousness twisting through him. But he shoved it aside as York and CT's words alike rang out in his mind. "Fucking hell, and I don't need to speak to you fuckers to know how you work. I've dealt with your kind before, long before you were even out of Basic, you little bastard."

Wash felt his claws digging into the top of his desk before he forced himself to slowly exhale and then meet her venomous glare as evenly as possible. "Is there a reason you're here?" he muttered, ignoring the snarl that nonetheless made his spine seem to clench. "Or are you just going to shit all over everything we're trying to do? Because if so, it's really not helpful."

He could hear her jawbones creak as she clenched her muzzle before she let out a low grumble of discontent. "Oh, I haven't even started on all the issues I have with how you fuckers are doing things. The fact you've got so many stupid fucking assholes begging to be recruited when we've got the far better setup at Qoppa is both bewildering and insulting," she seethed.

Wash wasn't going to admit that he'd been starting to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of newcomers who had been willing to fight through the surrounding wilds to ask to join their budding branch of the resistance. But he knew she was full of shit, anyway -- no matter how impressive their abandoned mine shaft base of operations was, this was a complete facility. And as more people showed up, the faster it was starting to come to life. "If you really care so much about this rebellion, then shouldn't you be glad our numbers are growing?" he retorted, earning a frustrated growl.

"I care about surviving this fucking mass suicide mission, and I feel like we had a much better shot before we had a buncha fuckin' mercs show up -- if you aren't gonna fuckin' slip up and pass some vital piece of information back to one of your pals still on the inside, then at the very least, you're painting a much brighter fucking target on the Movement since clearly you didn't just sign your letters of resignation and walk out through the front doors!"

He clutched into the memories of their escape, how he'd almost lost both of his best friends. "I don't give a fuck what you think!" he snapped as she rounded on him with a furious expression. "You're right, it wasn't just a fucking walk through the doors! The three of us nearly died escaping, but we did it anyway because we're willing to take that fucking risk, knowing now we have not just our old organization gunning for us, but everyone you assholes have on your backs, too, so we can put an end to all this shit!"

Her nostrils flared and Wash could see her fingers twitching, a tiny tell that reminded him of the pistol he had stored in one of his drawers. But he refused to be intimidated, even as she leaned down toward him and spoke in a low, dangerous voice: "Just remember to keep your fucking shitshow away from ours. We don't need any of the fucking excess bullshit you dragged out here with you. We've been doing just fucking fine without you 'elite' assholes so far, and I'm sure that ain't gonna fuckin' change any time soon." She eyed him coldly for another moment and then shook her head briskly. "Brought two engineers. They'll take a look at the systems still offline, see what they can do with this fuckin' gift we dropped in you ungrateful motherfuckers' laps. But I'm taking them back with me when I leave tonight." She grumbled and then moved for the doorway. "I'll find my own goddamn way to the infirmary, remind myself of the tiny fucking silver lining that this bastion of incompetence at least won't last forever."

Wash bared his teeth against his own will but only glowered silently at the massive woman as she stormed back out of the office and then down the corridor. Christ, she was a nightmare on two legs. If he didn't hate Tracer, too, he would have felt bad for him having to deal with her by his side. Wash had no idea how CT had been somehow inspired by meeting those two...he'd have to ask her about it later, because he sure as fuck knew there was no way he'd ever feel anything but raw loathing for that woman.

CT made a horrible face at the soup as Wash rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Uh. Sorry."

She smiled at him and reached out to lightly smack the end of his muzzle with the spoon. As he scowled and rubbed at the droplets of broth, she slurped down a bit more. "You're fine, Wash. Better cook than most of us are. It's not bad, just a little...salty. Kinda like you."

He huffed and shifted his weight on the side of the thin mattress. "I'm not salty. I just. Look forward to you being up and about again so you can take over this stupid job." He looked down at his hands but could feel her gazing up at him intently. He grumbled and then flicked his eyes back toward her. "What?"

Her smile shifted to one mixed with tenderness and entertainment. "C'mon, Wash. It'll be a week tomorrow."

"So? It's just a week, that's nothing, we've--"

"There are...what. Almost thirty people here now?" CT watched him closely as he tried not to squirm while directing his eyes away. "At least that's what the medic told me, and he doesn't seem to be much for exaggeration." She paused and then squinted toward one of the darker corners of the infirmary. "Or fighting off the raccoons, I swear to god, I hear them fucking over there."

Wash groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "Dammit, Connie..."

"Hey!" Another firm rap of the spoon against his elbow, making him twitch and look back at her sheepishly. "You and York get to keep your codenames, why do I gotta hear my old name? We're not kids anymore." He rubbed at his shoulder and then yelped when the spoon smacked into his wrist. "Unless you want me to start calling you David again."

Wash wrinkled his muzzle and raised a hand in surrender. "Okay, okay, sorry. CT." She smirked and turned the silverware back to its intended purpose as Wash sighed and gripped into the mattress at his sides while staring down at his paws. "This is your show. I'm just helping out until you're--"

"Norman says I gotta hang out for at least three or four more days, 'til the last stitches close up and the headaches are done," CT interrupted.

"Then I'll start bringing the paperwork in here, we'll start having the meetings around the gurney and--"

CT's quiet chuckle broke through his words and he slumped, already knowing what she was going to say. "C'mon, Wash. That's fuckin' stupid and you know it."

"I don't...I don't want to do this," he murmured as his claws dug silently into the mattress.

"That's why you're gonna be good at it," she replied while tilting the bowl back to finish the last of the soup. "York's been coming by to update me -- as if your obsessive-compulsive reports aren't doing the trick -- and he says things are getting done. People are listening to you, to your plans, to everything you're laying out."

"It''s just what you would have done," he protested before automatically flinching as she raised the spoon, only for her to snicker softly and then let it dance between her fingers.

"Don't bullshit me, Wash. Don't bullshit yourself. It's insulting. I've been a squad leader before. Did I like it?" She shrugged. "Yeah, for some reasons. But I hated it for others. All I did was give us a direction, a start for this crazy trip into what's probably gonna be a real shitty, bloody end for us all." His shoulders shrunk together, but she reached out and squeezed his forearm, coaxing his eyes slowly back to hers. "Everything after that has been you."

He sighed again. "It shouldn't have been, though."

" was. it or not, Wash, this is your show. Your partner trusts you -- I trust you, too. And from what I've heard about the new recruits, they listen to you."

"Probably because I'm angry and don't let them pull any stupid bullshit," Wash mumbled, eliciting a quiet laugh from her.

"Yeah? Nothing wrong with that. I've seen the way York looks at you, man. He's happy to follow you, and you know what?" He met her eyes as she smiled and reached up to flick his muzzle. "I am, too. You're doing a good job. And as long as you're willing to listen to your friends' advice every once in a while, not be so damn're gonna be exactly what we need."

The third sigh made his entire body deflate. He looked down again and picked at an invisible spot on his pants. "That giant bitch Nelson doesn't think so."

CT snorted loudly and he wrinkled his muzzle. "Yeah, I kinda got that vibe when she came by to see me," she replied amusedly. "You two really hit it off, huh?"

"Still don't understand why you didn't just shoot her the first time," Wash mumbled while kicking at the ground childishly. "She might be worse than the old man."

CT smirked and shrugged in her usual carefree way. "Crazy bitch probably woulda survived it, and you know I wouldn't have come out in one piece afterward. She's...yeah. She's angry, and she's a bitch, and she speaks her mind, and hates everyone. But she's the reason Tracer's crew is as tough as it is. She's the reason they haven't lost more people. Like it or not, we're gonna be dealing with her."

"I don't like it. I don't like her," Wash groused while propping his elbows onto his knees and dropping his chin into his palms. "She just spent ten minutes insulting me, insulting all of us, then stomped back out like she owned the place."

"Yeah, you made an impression, alright," CT chuckled. "Honestly, probably better you stood up to her instead of just letting her run you down, though. She's ex-Army, long-term. Bet she'd respect you even less if you'd been a pussy."

"Great, a fanatic and a jarhead, those are our counterparts in this dumb rebellion," Wash grumbled. "Super."

CT gave him another smile, letting her hand rest on his arm for a few moments. "We don't get to pick the cards we're dealt, Wash. We just do what we can with 'em." He exhaled and looked back at her. "I'm sorry you didn't get the hand you wanted. But I know you, I remember that tree you learned to climb, when that was your only way out. But you've come a helluva way, and you haven't folded in a long, long time, now." She squeezed into him and he dropped a hand atop hers. "It'd be pretty shitty to start now."

His shoulders slumped but he found himself nodding all the same. "Fine. But..." He lifted his eyes again and smiled faintly. "Doesn't mean I want you stuck in bed any longer. better hurry up and recover. It's kind of exhausting trying to wrangle York all by myself."

She cracked a grin and flipped her hand over to grasp into his wrist briefly, then releasing it to lightly punch his shoulder. "No shit, we need to find that dumbass a babysitter, or some other equally-dumb friend to keep him occupied while you're busy leading the resistance."

He groaned but felt some of the tension unwinding from around his nerves as he shook his head and then leaned over to take the empty bowl and spoon. "Please don't say...either of those things. The last thing I want to be is the 'leader of the resistance'. And the last thing any of us needs is another York, so..." He grumbled and then looked at her with gratitude scrawled across his features. "Just get better soon. And...I'll try not to fuck all this up."

CT smiled and gave him a firm nod. "You got this, Wash. And we've all got your back."

He stood up and gazed down at her. "Thanks, CT." He meant it, and he knew that his friends were the only reason he was here in the first place. They were going to be his reason to keep moving forward, too.