Bit 1: An Innocent Blindness

"Remind me why she isn't just sending a bat?"

Wash sighed and shrugged without looking up from the inventory sheets. "I don't know, York. She sounded frustrated, so. Who the fuck knows. I stopped trying to figure her out forever ago."

York snickered while dabbing at his still-damp neck with a towel. "I mean. She always sounds frustrated. That doesn't narrow it down much." He gave Wash an amused look. "Not that I'm gonna complain about light duty, but why are you putting me on it?"

"Because you've got that supply job later, and I'd prefer you staying out of trouble until then," Wash replied dismissively. "On that note, I haven't seen Kelvin -- can you also track him down and make sure he's ready to go? Want to make sure this goes smoothly. You've been bitching about a lack of parts in the garage for a while now."

York grinned slightly. "Oh right, a mission that actually benefits me for once. Yeah, sure thing, little buddy." He cocked his head a bit. "Was this really something you had to interrupt my workout for, though?"

Wash paused and then grumbled as he looked up, a sliver of guilt visible on his features. "Uh...shit, you. Were, weren't you, sorry. I've been so caught up in this stuff..."

Smiling a bit, York took a step closer and poked at the paperwork. "Dude, you should get someone else to help you out with this stuff. We've got other people who might be pretty good at this desk work around here, you know."

York worried a lot about his partner these days -- sure, they were out of Freelancer, but it wasn't like he'd seen Wash do much to try and reduce any of the stress he carried on his shoulders in his new role as one of the Movement's leaders. He got why Wash strained himself, he just hated to see it.

Something told him he'd already know the answer, though, all but whispering it himself when Wash replied: "No, it's better I take care of this. Don't want someone else screwing it up."

York rubbed the back of his head but smiled again nevertheless. Some things never changed. "Alright, little buddy."

Wash took a moment to set the pen down, surprising York by glancing up to meet his eyes. The lines across his features faded a bit and he gave a small but honest smile. "Hey, maybe after I get a rundown from South how her trip to Qoppa went, we can grab some beers or something."

York brightened. "That'd be awesome! Always happy to chill with you, buddy, we don't do it enough!"

"Yeah, I know. Busy, busy, busy," Wash replied in a murmur before he half-smiled. "And hey, just so you know -- showing Nelson's greenhorn around is helping me. Making it so I don't need to waste my time and get annoyed by him -- you get to do that for me, instead."

York grinned as he gripped into the towel around his neck with both hands. "I can always count on ya for your honesty, Wash. Consider my time wasted!" He fired a fingergun at his long-time companion, then turned to saunter out of his office and toward the showers. Showing a newbie around, maybe getting some insider scoops on what the hell Nelson and her mysterious ass were up to -- yeah, that didn't sound so bad.

"Eyyyy, c'mon,, I'm s'posed to be here, man! Ya handsy sumbitch, at least grab me where it counts!"

York blinked, momentarily speechless as one of their rebels awkwardly held the stocky grey chupa by the shoulder while he glared around. Nelson's new guy was a handful already, it seemed like.

As soon as he saw York, however, those piercing blue eyes widened a bit and traced over his broad frame like a pair of goddamn focused lasers. York tilted his head at the matching crimson studs on either side of the newcomer's lower jaw before noting the rippling musculature visible through the guy's too-tight shirt. Something was jingling...he leaned to one side curiously, and the short-statured rebel immediately smirked and flicked his tail to the same side so the odd hoop-and-bar piercing was visible for York to study.

"He, uh. He arrived on motorcycle, sir, and just...walked through the front door. Said he was here with a, um. Vital package." The impromptu guard shifted his weight away from the visitor.

"Hell yeah I am!" he replied loudly before peering up at York again with a smirk. "Bet y'all got a vital package or two 'round here, yerselves, though, goddamn, Nelson didn't say nothin' 'bout no fuckin' cute lumberjacks holdin' things down out here, bless my eyes, yer somethin' else."

York blinked but grinned despite himself -- wasn't the first time a guy had hit on him, and he was confident enough in his preferences to take it into stride. "Heh. And you're...short."

The visitor squinted up at him before shrugging easily and grinning back. "Sports cars 'n monster trucks both get heads turnin', ain't they?"

...Okay, this guy wasn't what York was expecting. Certainly not from Nelson. But suddenly he was starting to see why she wanted to send him rather than use a courier -- he couldn't imagine her spending more than a few seconds around him before being annoyed. Kinda like how she was around York, too. "Nelson didn't tell me she was sending the junior squad," York teased, making the stranger huff. He nodded to the rebel still holding warily onto the guy's shoulder. "It's all good, Al. I've got 'im. You wanna make sure his bike gets covered up?"

Al grunted even as he frowned briefly at the visitor. "Yeah, for sure. Thanks."

"'Ppreciate the thought, y'all ain't just easy on the eyes out here, gotta real sense'a manners, t'boot..." the newcomer drawled, his gaze shamelessly floating over York's chest again. His eyes lingered for a moment on the tattoo marking York's side. York wondered if he knew what it meant. "Pleased to meet ya, big fella...and I do mean pleased."

York snorted bemusedly. "I can tell," he retorted while crossing his burly arms. "Do they teach a little thing called shame wherever you come from, uh..." He trailed off expectantly.

"Samael. Samael Wurlitz, from good ol' cousin-fuckin' Sampi." The new guy winked. "But you c'n call me 'Sammy', Agent York."

York blinked again and did his best not to be surprised. No reason to be that shocked -- he kind of stood out, and he was sure Nelson had given...Samael, apparently, a helluva briefing. She was anal like that. "Hmm, you know, you probably coulda saved yourself the prisoner-march if you'd just told the guys up top you were here to see me by name," he noted before his eyes inevitably shifted again to the unique piercing through his tail. The damn thing had no right being so fascinating, especially with the way Samael grinned toothily and made it clear he knew it was intriguing.

"Well, sure, I coulda...but that'da been borin' as shit, way better to see what kinda greetin' I get playin' stupid," Samael replied casually.

York chuckled quietly while nodding down to the smaller chupa. "What, you training to be undercover? Nelson doesn't strike me as the type to be big on infiltration-type stuff, she seems to prefer a direct approach."

"Well, so do I, 'cept sometimes ya gotta be a li'l sneaky first to figger out how to get what ya wanna get," Samael shot back with one last brazen sweep over York's bare chest. "Damn, son, but if yer dress code's this loose, I'mma 'bout to lose my own damn shirt, I like how y'all do over here in the jungle, fuckin' a'right by me..."

"You really don't get humiliated easy, do you?" York marveled, sounding probably more impressed than he intended to. What a strange, little, loud-mouthed dude. Couldn't let him keep getting the last word, though. "But I mean, if you really want to go shirtless, you're free to." York grinned confidently to himself. "Just don't be mad if everyone keeps staring at me inste--" He halted mid-word to watch with mild astonishment when Samael whisked his shirt off and simply tossed it over a shoulder. "...Geezus, dude." He took a moment to notice the fresh carving over Samael's left bicep, spelling out R-E-S-I-S-T in scrawling letters through his grey fur.

Samael grinned back up at him again, looking like he was used to that kind of reaction. "Don't go makin' invitations to no parties ya ain't gonna show up for," he purred in response.

...This guy was something else. York arched an eyebrow but refused to be completely speechless. "Yeah, alright, guess I earned that," he huffed back before he put his hands on his hips. "Anyway, down to business -- why the hell did Nelson send you out in person? Is whatever you brought that important, or is she just tired of having you distract everyone with your striptease routine?"

"Only a tease if you ain't willin' to go all the way," Samael retorted before he laughed and waved a hand cheerfully. "Prob'ly a li'l bit'a both, though. We found us a li'l somethin' on'a trip to Honkal -- we're still workin' on gettin' all the tech replaced, so Nelson couldn't do much with it..." He paused to dig around in a hip pouch. "But I'm pretty sure she also jus' wanted me to check this place out, introduce myself, all that jazz." Those striking eyes lifted to York again for a moment, the coy grin enough to make York rub the back of his head sheepishly. "She cain't stand y'all, but goddamn, ain't sure seem like a real nice fella, 'n yer a helluva fine parkin' spot for my eyeballs."

...York wondered for a moment if this was how he sounded to people he was hitting on. And then for a fleeting second, he wondered if they felt the same tinge of curiosity that he did even as he laughed off the flirting with a dismissive shake of his head. Regardless, there was at least something more serious that came to mind, helping him shoulder the intrusive thoughts aside. "Wait -- were, uh. Were you...there at Qoppa?"

Samael's grin finally had a reason to fade as he pulled his hand out from the pouch. "Eh...nah." He shifted his weight and his features became more guarded even while he offered a compact storage device in an open palm. "I joined up a li'l bit after. But we're still kinda short on numbers, so I been gettin' a jump-start on field duty 'n stuff."

York nodded and picked up the device to study it inquisitively. The Freelancer logo was etched into it -- he was sure Nelson would have absolutely tried to poke around in its contents if they weren't still recuperating from the HADES raid. "It's, uh. It's rough, what happened to you guys. I've only seen Nelson a couple times since then and...what happened to her, especially, it's..."

Samael gave an expressive smile that somehow danced between sad and reassuring. "I din' know her before the, uh. Accident, but. I think she's gettin' better 'bout it. Accordin' to the other guys I work with, we're finally startin' to get up an' runnin' like the way they was 'fore all that shit went down." York nodded even as he still felt a little uncomfortable -- it had been rather clear that the whole situation hadn't just brought Nelson's world crumbling around her, but Wash had also been more wary with his communications to her since then, like he was somehow afraid the same would befall them just for associating with her. And considering how much those two were already at each other's hadn't made things easy.

...But at least Samael seemed different so far. Bouncy, chipper, a strikingly similar personality to York, himself...even if those cheerful eyes hinted at a more soulful, protected side. But that was something else York was familiar with, wasn't it?

He tossed the device in his hand once before squeezing it tightly. "Cool. We appreciate you guys returning it -- where'd you find it?"

"One of our guys was meetin' with a li'l hoop on the Strip, talkin' some ammo deals. He uh. Saw it on the table 'n just sorta. Yoinked it. Guess Nelson figgered it should go back to y'all...mostly since we ain't gotta good way of peekin' at it ourselves," Samael admitted with a wink.

"Heh, well, if it's any consolation, we don't really have solid access to the network out here," York added as he turned to start walking down the hallway with a jerk of his head toward Samael. "Nearest connection's almost thirty miles away, so..."

"Dude, that sucks." Samael trotted after him and hooked his thumbs into his belt loops while his eyes began to drift along everything they passed. " ain't seen our new place yet -- I woulda remembered yer fine ass -- but 's literally on the Vossler. We recently found a li'l natural underground cove that we're diggin' out to...opens up right into the lake but it's pretty well hidden. We're gonna look at gettin' us some boats, an' Nelson wants to hook up to the fiber runnin' along the lake bed. Get us a connection on a main-line!"

York blinked and pursed his muzzle. "Whoooa, jealous...okay, that sounds pretty freakin' awesome."

"Yeah, long as ya don't mind havin' no real walls, our joint's startin' to come together," Samael chuckled. "Which I mean...I sure don't. I grew up in a place like 'at."

"What, you guys don't have walls in Sampi? Come on, now, I've been out there -- it's not actually all incest and dirt floors, I saw plenty of real buildings and stuff," York replied skeptically.

"Haw, somethin' tells me ya ain't seent where I grew up," Samael chortled, reaching over to jab a finger into York's arm. "I come from way back in Sampi. Cave-raised 'n grown."

York studied the shorter rebel thoughtfully. "You're from a tribe?" Now that was unique...those small pockets of chupas living off the grid rarely had anything to do with most of Sirca, let alone the war...or the rebellion against it. Certainly explained his piercings, though. "Huh." Samael glanced back up at him intently but York only smiled wanly and gestured to an intersection ahead. "Let's drop this off with Wash. We don't really have a tech guy out here, little buddy's good with this stuff, anyway. Better than I am. Then I'll give you the grand tour!"

"Works fer me, hon, I ain't in no rush to get back...Nelson wanted me to make nice with y'all'n such," Samael replied airily. "Lead on, cutie-pie..."

Wash hadn't been in his office and so York had left the drive on his desk with a small note before taking Samael on a winding exploration of the entire facility. They popped their heads into most of the public areas and a few bunk rooms as well -- Samael was treated to an arched eyebrow from CT and a jovial grin from Arizona -- before they'd swung by the infirmary.

York was expecting to just point it out and move on...but then he found Kelvin sprawled out on a cot with a grimace and a damp towel over his forehead. Their resident 'medic' (a college student who'd dropped out to avoid service and found herself in the Movement shortly thereafter) let them know the rebel had come down with a rather severe case of food poisoning from a batch of bad rations from the mess. He'd need a half-day of bed rest and fluids, apparently...which left York kinda screwed for his drive in a couple of hours.

"Well, that sucks," he mumbled as he led Samael back out of the infirmary and toward the center of the base that acted as their unofficial garage.

"Whyzat?" Samael piped up curiosity. "Ya need a new date, eh?" He wagged his eyebrows playfully. "I don't even need no dinner to put out, y'know."

York scoffed even as he grinned back down at Samael. "You're relentless, huh? But you're not actually that far off -- Kelvin and I had a mission later today, s'posed to head out to Episemon for a quick job. Guess I can probably still do it solo, though Wash won't like it."

"Well, shit, I'll go!" Samael offered with a toothy smile, jogging in front of York and turning to lope backward so he could peer up at him. "What's the gig?"

"Heh, nice try, but I'm just supposed to give you a tour and you're supposed to give me some secrets about Nelson, and then you head on back," York retorted while smiling back. "I don't think Nelson would be too pleased if I dragged you along on a mission that has nothing to do with her." He paused. "And Wash would probably be pissy about it, too."

"Uh...yeah, but don't that kinda make ya wanna do it more?" Samael replied as his eyebrows bounced energetically, his tail giving a little swish as well. He spun around on his paws, arms held up high, before he continued walking backward. "C'mon! I'm here to help build bridges or some shit, this'll be perfect! I'm ready to get out there s'more, an' you need a partner, right??"

York didn't hate the way he grinned in response, but he knew a few people who probably would have been horrified to see it. This was a terrible idea...except Samael wasn't wrong. Bad ideas were kind of his bread and butter. "Damn, Sammy, you're gonna be a bad influence on me already, huh?" Samael only smirked and York snorted before tapping the side of his muzzle in thought. "Hmmm. How big's the bike you came on?"

Samael tilted his head slightly. "Ain't no dirt bike -- we had a contact I met up with after the ferry-ride, he had a full-sized beast stashed for me."

A slow grin spread across York's features as he weighed his options. This would make it a little less conspicuous for the drive back, at least. "Hmm. Well...hell, alright." Samael immediately grinned back up at him. "I'm driving, though, you get to take the bitch-spot."

Samael laughed and tipped his head down in mock surrender. "I s'pose I c'n live with it. So what the hell are we doin'?"

"Heh -- what do you know about truck-jacking?"

Samael was grinning even as his heart pounded anxiously. York drove the motorcycle with the same disregard for safety and common sense that he did...but it was a little different when he was perched on the back of the seat while clinging to the big bastard.

He had pretty much zero reason to trust York despite how nice it was to snuggle up to his thick frame and cling to his muscular torso. But for all of Samael's still-growing experience, he'd still had plenty of lessons hammered into him, first by Tracer and then courtesy of Nelson. Trust was to be the hardest earned and most warily given resource...even your fellow rebels were to be treated with caution, since anyone could be a traitor, anyone could be a double-agent. Anyone could use you and what you knew for their personal gain, or simply to have something against you, something that would come back to bite you in the ass if you weren't careful.

Tracer had spoken to him plenty about Freelancers -- his contempt seemed to lie more in the organization itself than with the agents, however. He despised what they did, how often they were involved in experiments and projects that rivaled even the darkest corners of the House's research and development. Samael was never able to learn where Tracer had gleaned so much information, but most of it had been corroborated in one way or another, at least according to Nelson. And for all her biases and strong opinions -- lord did she distrust the agents, to the point that Samael had wondered briefly if he'd be detained upon arrival just because they feared some kind of low-key retribution mission on Nelson's orders -- Samael still recognized that the angry rebel leader didn't operate on hunches and hearsay. She valued facts and evidence, perhaps bolstered by her paranoia of ever having another tragedy befall her group like the one they'd suffered in Qoppa.

One thing they'd both told him about had been the werewolf program. Part of him was admittedly a little terrified he was apparently clinging to one, now that he'd spotted the tattoo. But part of him was fascinated...and maybe a bit confused, too. York had been nothing but friendly so far. No sign of being some snarling beast, ready to snap in an instant. Sure, he knew enough that the 'werewolf' part of the whole deal only happened with some kind of command or trigger...though ya still had to imagine there were other signs.

But York just reminded him of...himself. A much larger but probably just-about-as-sexy version of himself. Which meant, yeah, pretty awesome to be mashed against him. On the other hand, it also meant that the effusive charisma and endless grinning could have been as easily painted on as his own, an effortless facade meant to ease everyone else into feeling comfortable around you. It made Samael wonder if he would trust himself, were he on the other side of the whole ordeal.

He wasn't sure he would.

"Yo, Sammy! You been kinda quiet back there -- you ain't gettin' cold feet on me or anything, right??"

York's shouts slipped back to him on the wind as they rushed through the jungle with the southern rim looming to their right. They were taking a path directly into Episemon based on intelligence that a truck loaded down with mechanical and engineering supplies was heading out from the Blue Army Headquarters to drop parts off at various bases that were in need. And while Samael hadn't lied about his field experience...he also hadn't done quite as much as he'd suggested. A few quick runs into Sampi and Honkal to provide support to the more experienced operatives, one recruiting gig so far, too. He'd had to draw a weapon once so far, and had gotten to put some of his improvised fighting skills to use when a meeting with an unaffiliated hoopie in Honkal had gone to shit.

Hijacking a truck was a step or five up.

But he found a brave laugh and squeezed York's stomach tightly. "Yup, all good here, dude! Just thinkin'...we really ain't bringin' even one gun or nothin' with us?"

"Heh, ya aren't scared, are you?" York teased, stealing a quick look under one arm.

Samael huffed back up to him. "Naw, naw -- jus' surprised, is all! Figured you Freelancers would always be packin' some heat. Everyone's been warnin' me 'bout what paranoid, suspicious fucks y'all are!"

York snorted as Samael rested against his back again. "Hey, hey -- ex-Freelancers, pal." He hesitated before grunting. "Okay, most of us are ex-Freelancer. But I guess I can't even be all that mad!" he admitted over a shoulder. "We still got some good equipment lying around, and we weren't exactly your run-of-the-mill guns-for-hire! We were the real deal!"

"Oh, I'm sure," Samael replied with a laugh. "But yeah, 'swhy I'm a li'l surprised!"

"Ehhh, we shouldn't need any hardware for this -- not trying to do an armed robbery here, this is meant to be a snatch and grab!" York chuckled and reached down to idly pat Samael's clutched-together hands where they rested across his abdomen. "Don't worry, ya tiny redneck -- I'll do all the heavy lifting, you can just provide the distraction and watch the York do his thing!"

Samael scoffed, mumbling against York's back: "Fuck that, the, uh. The Sammy's gonna show you a thing'r two, too!"

York snickered and Samael immediately flushed, glad the enormous fucker couldn't see it. "Sorry, dude, but 'the Sammy' just doesn't have the same ring to it!"

Samael wrinkled his muzzle and grumbled a few choice words. "Yeah, yeah, yeah -- you jus' focus on the road, ya damn mercenary fuck." Now he really had to avoid looking like a rookie to this guy, who unfortunately oozed cool confidence as he proceeded to send them roaring through the jungle.

Samael did his best not to fidget.

It was really fuckin' hard.

They'd had the good fortune of coming across the truck -- and its unexpected military jeep escort -- as it was pulling off the highway and into a dusty travel plaza. A few other vehicles were stopped as well, but the parking lot was mostly empty. Samael wasn't sure if that was good or bad for their purposes.

As soon as they'd pulled into the lot, York and Samael had realized almost simultaneously that the smaller rebel's rather prominent tattoos would be an issue. So much for the freedom of going shirtless. But Samael had found some oily rags inside the seat compartment of the motorcycle and used them to wrap around his bicep and wrist. Now he just looked like a hyperactive punk who spent most of his free time at the gym and the local dive bars.

He was posted near the entrance of the store, where the drivers of both vehicles had gone inside. The soldiers in the jeep had hopped out and wandered toward a series of movie posters that were plastered across the coffee shop attached to the plaza, giving York the opportunity to dash over to the jeep and roll beneath it -- Samael assumed to sabotage something and make a chase more difficult.

Samael's job was to make it clear if anyone was returning...which seemed easy enough. His eyes were on the soldiers from his spot by the plaza entrance, and as they started to turn around, he gave a low whistle. But a flash of tan caught his attention before he could wander away, and he glanced over to the jeep to see a muscular arm waving from beneath while holding two fingers.

...Didn't take a seasoned operative to guess what that meant. "Well, shit," he muttered as he shifted his weight and grit his teeth. Three soldiers wearing what looked like very nice, new Blue armor, the standard battle rifles holstered on each of their backs. Tracer had put a lot of time and effort into his training. And he'd done countless more hours with O'Neill and a few of the other veterans at the new base...but three fully-armed soldiers? In broad daylight? When he was wielding only his stupid bravado and bright, shiny piercings?

His heart was doing its own rendition of an energetic line dance as he took several quick breaths and then started a casual pace toward the soldiers when they headed back toward the vehicles. One of them turned his head toward him with a frown, and Samael did what felt natural and plastered on a broad, disarming grin. "Whoooa, are y'all fancy soldiers or summin'?? That armor looks shiny as hell!"

The first soldier made a face, his muzzle screwing up somewhat at Samael's accent. "Geezus, man, where the hell are you from?"

Samael tilted his head and gave a loud guffaw. "Whatcha mean? Hey, man, y'all talk kinda funny."

His companion to his right, a bulky dark-green fellow, snorted derisively. "He sounds like my gramps -- probably 'bout as stupid as him, too."

"Yeah, if anyone here's talking funny, it's you, kid!" the third Blue chimed in, grinning broadly around the gum he was chewing loudly.

Samael did his best impression of a confused blink as he shuffled from paw to paw, then peered up at Number One. "Wait, y'all callin' me dumb 'cause'a how I'm speakin'?"

"Uh...duh, quick on the draw, ain'tcha, little guy?" Green sneered before he looked between his compatriots. "Christ, no wonder we send all the local recruits to the front lines, killing guys like him is doing us a favor!"

Samael scratched the back of his head, doing his best to contain his...excitement. This was actually working? "Aw, shucks, fellas -- y'all signin' up? My pa's bar's 'bout to close down, I ain't gonna have no more floors to sweep' they ain't had no recruitment posts 'round here lately."

...He was kind of impressed with how smoothly the lies were coming out.

Both Green and Gum did double-takes before sharing a broad grin. "Wait...your family has a bar around here?" The same thought seemed to come to them at once as Green continued with his chest puffed out. "I assume Blue Army gets a generous discount, right?"

Gum cackled. "The lieutenant was just sayin' how he wished he could have a cold cider -- bet they'll let us take a little detour..."

Number One poked a finger into Samael's chest and the stocky rebel peered back at him owlishly even as his eyes flicked to the magnum pistol on his hip. Number One must have been a...oh yeah. There was the corporal insignia on his shoulder armor. "Hey, kid. Where's your bar? We can uh..." He snickered, rolling his eyes at his companions. "Put in a good word with our CO, see if we can get you on an express bus to Basic."

"I dunno, I think he's more cut out for Specials," Gum added in a lilt.

Samael only gave another goofy grin while glancing past them to see York giving him a thumbs up and then moving quickly to ease the door of the transport truck open. "Haw, you fellas really think I could do Specials?? Dang, that'd be summin' else, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah, I heard there's a shortage of target dummies," Green supplied as Samael did his damndest not to groan -- the insults weren't even that creative at this point. Not even one incest joke so far.

They were all distracted, however, when a surprised shout came from the storefront. "What...what the fuck?!" Four heads all turned to see who was presumably the Blue lieutenant staring at York behind the wheel of the truck a moment before the engine fired up thanks to whatever magic his fingers were working under the dashboard. "Hey, assholes, someone's stealing the fuckin' truck!" he yelped in a strangled voice as he dropped the two paper bags he had clutched against his chest.

"Oh shit!" Number One spat out, shoving past Samael...only for the grey chupa to slide a leg between the soldier's while reaching for his pistol. The Blue corporal's eyes widened as he stumbled forward into Green, who cursed in surprise before they both tripped over one another and landed in a heap. Samael lunged toward Gum as he yanked on the slide of the magnum to load the first round, and the soldier had just enough time to twist his head toward him in confusion before Samael shouldered into his gut -- armored or not, Gum bent forward with a gasp, which brought his muzzle down to the perfect level for a vicious headbutt into his chin.

Samael saw stars for a moment after his skull slammed into the soldier's jaws, but the spray of blood and loose, flailing limbs told him the other guy was way worse off. Disoriented, Samael spun around on his paws and saw the lieutenant bringing a pistol up toward York. "Aw fuck, York!" Samael squinted through his hazy vision and then fired a quick burst of shots at the officer's legs, two of the bullets slamming home into his armored thigh.

The lieutenant cried out in pain as he dropped and automatically turned toward Samael, releasing a wild blast from his own pistol. Samael winced with a whimper he couldn't repress when the round grazed his arm. But the officer's handgun clattered out of his grip, regardless, giving the rebel the freedom to bolt toward York as he yelled: "Go, go, go, I'll be right behind ya!" He flung the pistol toward the open door and York reached out on instinct to snag it neatly out of the air.

"Sammy, wait! Just leave the bi--shit!" York cut himself off and Samael glanced over his shoulder to see the two tangled-up soldiers gaining their bearings and, shortly thereafter, their rifles. Samael grimaced but the magnum in York's hand rang out sharply as he pumped the rest of the clip into the ground around the Blues to make them flinch away as bits of asphalt ricocheted all across them. He slammed the truck door shut and then shoved the transmission into gear to squeal the tires in his bolt for the highway.

Samael jumped onto the motorcycle from behind, his momentum enough to force the brake up as it started to roll forward before he could even turn the ignition over. The engine roared to life an instant later, and he sped through the rear entrance to the travel plaza. He looked back over his shoulder and then cursed loudly when he heard a peal of automatic gunfire, watching as a crooked line of bullet holes appeared along the side of the truck, tracing all the way up to the driver's side window before shattering it and causing York to swerve to one side. "Shit, York!"

He bared his teeth, both concern and horror gripping his chest as he looped back onto the highway and then blazed after the truck. It only took him a few seconds for the overpowered motorcycle to race up to the side of the truck, and he almost lost control at the sight of all the blood. "Y-York!!"

The tan chupa's features were drenched in crimson, yet he managed a grin even as he kept one eye closed, yelling through the shattered window while they sped down the highway side-by-side. "All good, Sammy!! Just some cuts from the glass! Follow me to the next exit -- we'll throw the bike in back!"

Samael exhaled in relief and nodded rapidly before pulling the clutch and letting the motorcycle decelerate enough to drop back behind York. He stole another look over his shoulder but didn't see anyone pursuing them -- whatever York had done to the jeep had apparently been enough to prevent them to take chase. It was time to try and remember how to breathe now.

There'd been just enough room in the back to squeeze the motorcycle in among the boxes of supplies; while Samael maneuvered things around to fit the bike in, York tracked down the locator module for the truck and tossed it into the culvert before -- somewhat reluctantly -- allowing Samael to hop behind the wheel and take over driving.

The fact York's face was still oozing blood helped make the decision a bit easier. "Geezus, sure you don't wanna like...find a pharmacy or somethin'?" Samael asked warily, glancing over for the umpteenth time as York continued to dab at his muzzle with a cloth from the pile resting between them. Luckily one of the boxes of supplies had contained clean rags, although Samael was starting to wonder if there would be enough. "You got a real pretty face, man, I don't wantcha losin' none of it," Samael joked, although his worry still trickled through.

But York only smiled over at him with a chuckle. "Please -- you almost got shot for me, Sammy, a little glass to the face is no big deal. Besides, head wounds always bleed like nothin' else. Looks way worse than it is." Samael shifted a bit even as he nodded a few times. "What we should do is pull over so I can wrap that arm of yours, pal -- you sure it's just a graze and not a through-and-through?"

Samael stole a peek at his arm to be sure, then nodded again. "It's a'right, promise." He found a more honest smile as he studied York for a few seconds. "An' hey, you woulda done the same fer me, I'm sure."

"Yeah, except I've a lot more empty space for bullets to go through," York reasoned with a raised finger. "You're all...small and stuff, way easier to hit vitals."

Samael grinned despite himself. "Hey, screw you, dude -- I ain't small, I'm jus' not a mutant!"

"That's still up for debate," York fired back playfully before he peered at the latest rag to be mashed against his face. He gave a bright smile when he saw there was only a spot or two of blood on it. "Oh sweet. Think it's finally slowing down." He grunted in satisfaction and let himself relax into the seat.

Samael felt York's eyes on him and he glanced back across the seat curiously. York's gaze was thoughtful...and perhaps a bit exploratory, too, considering the way his attention seemed to drift from Samael's piercings to the bold anti-Omega symbol on the inside of his wrist.

Not that Samael minded -- he all but preened under his temporary partner's eyes. And he was all the more delighted when York ventured slowly into an inquiry. "So...those piercings. What is Red...stone? Are they from your, uh. Your tribe?"

Samael smiled and glanced toward York for a moment before he nodded and looked back through the windshield. "Yeah. 'S a mineral that you don't usually find much outside'a Sampi. I made the ones here..." He pointed to the smooth, round studs in his lower jaw before flicking his tail toward York playfully. "That one was a li'l too complicated fer me, one'a our crafters made the two pieces after I described what I had in mind. Turned out pretty okay, I think!"

He wiggled the end of his tail and took a shameless amount of happiness in the way York seemed entranced for a few seconds by the jingling hoop-and-bar. "Heh, you c'n touch it if ya like," he offered teasingly, and York smirked over at him before crossing his arms firmly over his huge chest. "Hey, man, I'm just makin' a friendly gesture!"

"Oh, I'm sure," York retorted. He then nodded toward Samael's wrist after a moment or two. "Those tattoos seem a lot newer, though. You always been a fan of the resistance, or...did you just go nuts after you joined up?"

Samael's smile almost faltered but he kept it smooth while he reached up to rub a hand slowly over the RESIST tattoo. "Nah, I...I did get both'a them pretty soon after joinin' Nelson 'n her folks.'s." He saw Tracer's face and took a deep breath. "It's what I wanna do. Someone once gave up everythin' fer me to live, an' so...I wanna do the same. I wanna be able to honor that 'n make this my life."

York nodded slowly, his features less readable. But he smiled all the same when Samael peered over at him. "Still just kinda weird that some guy from out in the middle of nowhere, where the War is practically non-existent...that guy decides to go gung-ho for the Movement."

"Hey, man, just 'cause I'm from the boonies don't mean I ain't gotta lick'a care fer the rest'a the ring!" Samael protested, his eyes warm as he nodded several times. "I...I jus wan' people to be able to live the way they wanna live, be free'a that...asshole Omega 'n all the shit he's stirrin'."

"That's all, huh?" York teased gently even as Samael noted the way his calm features softened at the admission. "Haw, guess I've heard dumber reasons to join our crazy band of insane insurgents."

"It ain't took me long to realize bein' a li'l crazy do help in this line of work," Samael murmured, thankful for the melancholy to drift past. His eyes wandered back to York inquisitively. "So how 'bout you? What's the story behind that funky burn you got?" He reached over to poke a finger lightly into the markings on York's hip, making the larger chupa shift slightly.

York fixed him with a bemused look, his arms still folded. "You tell me, Mr. Infiltrator-in-Training," he fired back with a raised eyebrow. "Wanna at least gimme enough credit to recognize when someone other than me is playing dumb?"

Samael blinked, then smiled despite himself as he bowed his head slightly. "Heh, aight. Ya got me there, bud." He gripped into the steering wheel with both hands and allowed himself another long gaze at York. "You were in Project Werewolf, right? Super-secret thing them Freelancer fuckers workin' on?"

"Apparently not that secret," York commented, even as he nodded and smiled a bit. "Nelson didn't take long to teach you everything, huh? Anyway...yeah." He nodded and his expression grew more withdrawn as he glanced down at the tattoo. "Not a lot of great memories there. But important not to forget, either, I guess."

Samael nodded as well before his eyes caught the bronze key nestled into York's chest fur. "An' that li'l shiny-bit?" He almost made a bad joke, but he immediately noticed the way York's smile faded even further still. Samael grimaced and murmured apologetically: "Sorry. Bad habit to ramble."

"Not a problem, Sammy," York replied quietly. "It's just...another reminder."

Samael reached up, a finger silently gracing the scar that laid hidden beneath the thick fur covering his chest. "An' it's important not to forget," he repeated in a near-whisper. The two glanced at each other briefly, and they both seemed to understand there was something that neither of them was ready to talk about...and Samael was okay with that. Knowing there was something there simply meant they had one more thing in common.

Samael eventually left the highway and found his way to the rougher trail that cut into the heavier vegetation of Lactan, York only needing to spout the occasional direction on which way to travel. The silence was otherwise mostly comfortable between them...until York finally cleared his throat awkwardly.

Samael blinked and looked over to see the massive chupa tapping his fingers together musingly. He arched an eyebrow with a small smile. "Ya got somethin' on yer mind, hon?"

York rolled his eyes innocently toward him, then finally grinned sheepishly. "'re. You're, uh. Into guys...right?"

Samael tried not to laugh, but it was difficult. He managed to stifle most of it, giving York a sympathetic smile as he rubbed a hand over the end of his muzzle in the attempt to muffle the snickering. "Ahyep. Ya nailed that super-unexpected mystery right on the head, Super-Secret-Special Agent York."

York huffed in protest. "Hey, look! I don't judge, alright? And I didn't want to assume, maybe that's just how, uh. People from. Caves in Sampi...behave. And talk. And stare at other dudes."

Samael snorted the laughter he failed to repress, propping his head up on the steering wheel with a cocked elbow as the other hand dropped onto his hip while he peered at York. "Nice save, ya big ol' dork. But yeah, I'm one'a them dangerous homos them priests always warnin' y'all 'bout." He let his eyes dance curiously over York, who grumbled and shuffled on the seat. "I ain't the first one ya ever met or nothin', am I?"

"What? No, no, of course not, you're just...not like most of the other, uh. Guys-like-you that I've met," York replied carefully.

"I sure fuckin' hope not, I work hard on bein' a special motherfucker," Samael retorted even as he smiled quietly and reached over to prod York's arm. "Anyway, I been havin' a helluva time with you. Cain't get no good readin' on you -- ya seem like yer into everyone!"

York chuckled and held both hands up. "Haw, sorry, man -- the York is a friend to all, but a lover only of the ladies!"

Samael grinned toothily, taking his time to watch the way York shifted the tiniest bit again. Oh this would be delightful to dig into. But as the path through the jungle began to grow more narrow and precarious, Samael was forced to pay more attention to driving. He smiled to himself even as he replied easily: "Heh. Aight, we'll see 'bout that."

"I do love your confidence," York laughed while shaking his head. "I can already tell we're gonna get along just fine, Sammy..."

Samael smiled brightly again and nodded agreeably. "I do believe ya jus' may be right 'bout that..."